Here’s a real testament to how much I love Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; I went there not once, but twice already this year! And it’s only October! Now if that doesn’t speak volumes for a jet-setting, international traveler, I don’t know what does. Read all about my first visit here.
On both of these trips I stayed at the wonderful Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa. The Marriott Puerto Vallarta (PV) just completed a huge renovation with everything from rooms to the gorgeous new pool with swim up bar and restaurant. I absolutely love the décor and inviting space the Marriott PV has created. The beautiful landscaping and welcoming design aesthetics really create a relaxing environment for your stay. Take a look:
I was so lucky to have the opportunity to bring both of my parents on this trip. One thing we consistently noticed throughout our stay was the exceptional service. The staff always greeted us saying “welcome home” and asked if we were enjoying our stay and if there was anything we needed. A dedication to next-level hospitality and the utmost in customer service are definitely a cornerstone of the Marriott PV ; you can see and feel it, without it being overbearing. We truly felt the warmth of each and every staff person, who seemed vested in making our overall stay extraordinary.
In addition to the stunning property and friendly hospitality, the resort lends itself to fun activities as well as the ultimate in relaxation. The Marriott PV team set us up with some great adventures, but also built in plenty of downtime for us to relax and enjoy the hot Mexican sun by the new infinity pool (I’m still rocking a lovely bronze glow from my trip by the way).
More than that, you’ll notice how the team went above and beyond to personalize our stay. They truly took to heart who we are and what we enjoy and created unique moments to celebrate us. We felt so special and were literally left speechless at moments; just take a look at some of the ways we were treated like royalty:
In- Room Deliveries– Upon arrival to our room, we were greeted with so many lovely gifts and treats! And, every single day there were more surprises awaiting us.
Private Tequila Tasting– A dedicated tequila tasting of the proprietary blend the Marriott PV has developed on its own, led by Audrey Formisano, the resort’s tequila sommelier . This was my first time doing a tequila tasting like this. It was fun…and strong 🙂
Special Vegetarian Dinner– An exquisite 7-course vegetarian dinner prepared just for us. Not only did the team create a beautiful vegetarian menu for us to take home, they designed white linen napkins with my Vegetarian Tourist logo on it! Talk about attention to detail! The executive chef presented each course to us and we absolutely LOVED everything we had for dinner and still talk about it to this day. And, wait til you see what the pastry chef created at dessert, just for me:
Spa Treatments– A visit to the tranquil spa Ohtli on the Marriott PV property is a must. A full-body massage and body wrap definitely helped this city girl feel completely relaxed and left my skin feeling baby soft. I highly recommend getting any treatment you can at Ohtli, it’s so serene and has the best amenities!
Puerto Vallarta City Tour– We had the privilege of a private half day tour to see Puerto Vallarta with the ever wonderful guide Adrian. He took us to the main area of downtown to walk along the Malecon and see all the great art, walk through Old Town and even visit a tortilleria to see where fresh tortillas are made.
Private Oceanside Cabana– Our own private cabana that overlooked the ocean was right next to the new outdoor restaurant and swim up bar. We thoroughly enjoyed our days here, ordering exotic drinks like strawberry mojitos and pina coladas and having them delivered straight to the cabana. One more than one occasion you would have found at least one of us taking an afternoon siesta. Truly living our best beach lives!
Eco-Friendly Adventure– The Marriott PV has a dedicated program for nature conservation and one of the cool offers they have for guests at the resort is a turtle release program. They take and monitor the turtle eggs until hatching and then along with guests, release the baby turtles back into the Bay of Banderas. We unfortunately missed the evening they were doing the release, but we did get to meet a baby turtle!
Free Time!– And more than anything else, just spending our days relaxing and enjoying the beautiful property and amenities of the Marriott PV was one of the best parts of our stay.
So, as you can see, we lived it up at the Marriott PV! I have to say that in all my years, I have NEVER seen my parents so incredibly happy and so relaxed on a vacation. My parents are not normally beach people and to see them enjoy afternoons in a pool or sitting in a cabana with a pina colada in hand, just seriously touched my heart. That coupled with the BEST hospitality made this a trip we will ever forget. And for that, I can’t thank the Marriott PV enough for the memories they helped us create.
As our wonderful hosts Cristina and Mariana said, “it’s not goodbye, it’s see you soon. Mi casa es su casa.” It’s true, we will come back home soon, that I promise! Wondering if I should just make a trip in December and visit PV 3 times this year??? 🙂
Please Note: While this post is in collaboration with Visit Puerto Vallarta and the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, all opinions are my own.
Being the international traveler that I am, I was kind of shocked when I first heard about luxury barging in France. I was shocked because I never heard of it before! As I learned more about this unbelievable way to see France (and other parts of Europe) at a much more relaxed and intimate pace, my curiosity was definitely piqued.
It is no mistake that I am not a typical “cruise” person. But, the Barge Lady Cruises/ European Waterways are anything but typical when it comes to exploring places off the beaten tourist path. Think a luxury hotel on water, with a small group of guests (the average barge accommodates 6-12 people), stopping along in new towns each and every day, all while moving at a very modest 4mph for a one week journey. Basically the exact opposite of a Caribbean cruise with thousands of people aboard a massive ship.
My trip aboard the L’Art de Vivre barge (translation: the art of living) included a full week of exploring Northern Burgundy in France in all its glory the last week of August. What’s nice is you know the general itinerary for the week when you book your trip, so I was well aware of most of the fun in store for before we left. Here’s a link to our itinerary for the week. Our adventure began with pick-up in Paris and a chauffeured connection about 2 hours south to Auxerre. Once we arrived at our beautiful barge, we kicked-off with a champagne toast with majestic Auxerre in the background and then we leisurely got settled into our new quarters for the week.
The barge itself is very well-kept and cozy, and I never felt stuck or claustrophobic (which I have felt before on those large cruise liners). You are able to move freely about the space and really only spend a few hours each day cruising through the locks and canals, which in of itself is so fun to watch and experience. I was usually found sitting on the deck with a latte or some kind of beverage in hand, taking in the breathtaking views and enjoying the quiet stillness around me.
Each day a 3-4 hour excursion was planned off the barge. These excursions are included in the cruise and you are chauffeured to the site by the captain, who also serves as the tour guide! Our captain/tour guide Matthew was absolutely exceptional with his knowledge and made touring through Burgundy so much fun. Here’s a quick summary of the excursions included in our trip; a visit to a limestone quarry and a sparkling wine tasting in a cave, visiting the famous Auxerre Cathedral and free time exploring the cobblestone streets of the lovely town, a grand cru wine tasting in Chablis and a visit to Domaine Laroche, a visit to the town of Vezelay, where both the town and its 11th century Romanesque Basilica of St Magdalene are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites and lastly, visiting the private Chateau of Bazoches. What I absolutely loved is that none of these excursions felt rushed or too heavy on the history and touring part. It was a nice balance of being with the group and getting an understanding of where we were, but also enough free time to roam and do our own thing.
Back on the barge, the rest of the day is yours for whatever it is you might choose; relaxing and reading a book, going for a bike ride or walk along the towpath that is parallel to the canal, sitting on deck and taking in the scenery, chilling in the hot tub, or taking a nap in your cabin. The options are endless and there is no pressure to do any one of the above; you make what you want from your trip on board. This is also something I loved; not having to commit to any one thing in particular and just doing whatever I wanted each day.
Because I love being active, I went for a bike ride pretty much every single day (the bikes are stored on board so you can use them at any time). And, these bike rides were hands-down, the best bike rides of my entire life! Why you ask? There are many reasons; the flat, paved towpath that follows the entire canal route the whole week, the fact that there were hardly any other people around, you don’t have to worry about cars or stoplights, the absolutely gorgeous views out in nature and silence! You can imagine as someone who lives in the heart of downtown Chicago, I truly appreciated every single one of these reasons. I jokingly called myself the Tour de France each day.
There was another huge reason for my daily bike rides; the sheer volume of unbelievable food and wine I was consuming on a daily basis! Being vegetarian, I was a bit nervous of how the food on the trip was going to be and work out for me. And let me just tell you, there is absolutely NOTHING to worry about, no matter what your dietary restriction. The chef on board can absolutely accommodate whatever your needs are, and quite honestly, will definitely exceed them. Every single meal I had was beyond words; beautifully and artfully presented, imaginative and absolutely delicious. Not to mention our Hungarian chef Robert, after learning how much I like spicy food, went out of his way to even prepare an Indian meal for me one day! Wow, talk about stellar and personal service. Also, Kat, our hostess, explained in great detail the lovely selection of white and red wine at each meal, as well as the large selection of cheeses we were delighted with each evening. Here’s just a highlight reel of some of the unbelievable food, wine and cheese from the week. And, exactly the reason I needed to go for 2-3 hour bike rides each day!
Overall, it’s hard to put into words what a wonderful week this was. It was rejuvenating, relaxing, fun, adventurous, beautiful, welcoming and amazing. I absolutely recommend you look into Barge Lady Cruises and find an itinerary that makes you really excited (truthfully, they all sound awesome to me and I want to go on all of them, ha ha). It’s the perfect way to explore an area of France (or Europe) that you most likely would not have visited on your own and it’s a way to see some quaint places that are not on the tourist map. It was a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively) if you ask me and was just the getaway I needed.
After returning from this exceptional trip, I was asked a lot of the same questions (and from messages I received on social media while on my trip), so I thought I’d do a little Q&A here to help with some of the most frequently asked questions.
What does the star rating mean? Is a 3 star barge not as good as a 5 star barge?
Quoting the Barge Lady Cruises website here, “All barges have been rated based on a star system, which is modeled after a hotel rating star system. The higher the star, the bigger the cabins and more amenities on the barge. It is important to note that the service, cuisine, daily excursions and overall experience remains comparable across the board. The star system is helpful in establishing a budget and setting expectations with regards to cabin size and barge amenities.” It’s true; everything about the entire trip really is 5 star luxury and next-level. Do not let a 3 star rating deter you from joining a trip. Our trip was actually a 3 star and as you can see, exceptional in every way possible.
Is this a good trip for families? For kids?
Absolutely! What’s great is that you can even charter your own private barge for just you and your family/friends. I’d love to do this one day and bring my parents, brother, sister-in-law and nephew. The crew is absolutely accommodating to all age groups and I think this would be a family trip for the books.
Did you ever get bored? Was there enough to do?
Before my trip, I was a bit unsure of how the days would go, so I brought a book to read, a journal to write in, some magazines and of course had my smartphone (there is wifi available on board). I think in total I read like 20 pages in my book, never wrote in my journal, didn’t even touch one of the magazines and used my phone on board only to share on Instagram! My point being; I was never bored. Ever. I’m also the kind of person that loves to take in my environment and just relax, so it’s not to say that you couldn’t read, write, etc. I just chose to spend my time reveling in the gorgeous French countryside.
What was the highlight of your trip?
As you can see from all the photographs of the scenery, our excursions and the delectable food, there was no shortage of fun to be had. But, what made this trip truly stand-out was the incredible crew. Every single person from the pilot Pierre Yves, to our captain Matthew to our chef Robert and the hostess Kat, they each made this trip so personable and memorable. The care and consideration they showed toward each one of us was beyond what I could have imagined. I was really sad to say goodbye to them on the last day because I felt I had developed a great connection with each of them. In this day and age of less personal connections, it was so heartwarming to be greeted and treated with such respect and consideration. Hats off to this crew who worked so hard day and night for our comfort and enjoyment. They were definitely the highlight of the entire trip!
It’s hard to capture everything I experienced and felt during this trip of a lifetime. I hope I’ve been able to convey even a small portion of how much I truly enjoyed my time on the barge. I look forward to my next adventure with Barge Lady Cruises and I hope you’ll consider it now too!
Please Note: While this post is in collaboration with Barge Lady Cruises, all opinions are my own.
I’m not sure there are enough or the correct words in any language to describe my dreamy visit to The Peninsula Paris, but I’ll do my best. All I’m really trying to convey is that you absolutely MUST experience this extraordinary Parisian gem for yourself.
After spending a week touring through adorable little towns, Medieval castles and vineyards of Burgundy, Ashley and I returned to Paris to spend two opulent days at The Peninsula Paris. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the lovely staff and given a brief tour before heading to our luxurious room.
To say the staff went above and beyond to show us the
highest level of hospitality would be an understatement. I was absolutely blown
away by the detail and thought that went in to make us feel special and
welcome. Just take a look at what was waiting in our room, with the utmost care
and consideration; rich, gold-dusted chocolate truffles with a purse made from
chocolate, fresh-pressed juices, macarons, a bellman statue made from
chocolate, a gorgeous flower bouquet and personalized, framed pictures of us
that we had just posted on social media but a few days before. The Peninsula
Paris’ next-level hospitality had me feeling like a queen.
Our spacious room would be considered a mansion in comparison to most Paris hotel rooms that can feel somewhat small and cramped. Our twin bed suite came complete with a massive bathroom with separate sinks, a lovely rain shower, relaxing bathtub and even a toilet with heated seat. Now that’s a first for me! In addition, we had a separate luggage and powder room where we stored our belongings and definitely made it look like we moved in. I loved having this extra space because it kept all of our personal things in one central location and not in our way in our actual room.
The property of The Peninsula Paris is absolutely breathtaking. From the welcoming lobby to the pristine hallways to each and every restaurant and bar, it’s truly a feast for the eyes and senses. Each one evokes a sense of grandeur and beauty that you must just take a moment to appreciate.
We were so incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to dine at each restaurant and I’m sharing just a few shots here of the lovely vegetarian options available. It can sometimes be difficult to dine in Paris as a vegetarian, but every single restaurant at The Peninsula Paris was able to accommodate any dietary restriction. And if you find yourself there may I suggest the following; Afternoon Tea and/or the famous Sunday Brunch at Le Lobby, early evening or late night drinks at Le Rooftop with a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower, Cantonese dinner at LiLi and of course a true French dinner at L’Oiseau Blanc also with views of the Eiffel Tower. I relished in each and every meal and took a moment at each to enjoy not only the delectable cuisine, but also the stunning surroundings. A feast for the stomach and the eyes.
Our two nights at The Peninsula Paris were truly a dream come true and quite honestly, the nicest, most pristine hotel I’ve ever stayed at. I just don’t know how to capture my gratitude for such an unbelievable visit and how I’ll ever stay at another hotel again. I’ve been ruined! If you are visiting Paris, I absolutely recommend that you stay at The Peninsula Paris or at the minimum, make it a point to have a meal at one of the restaurants and indulge in a cocktail at Le Rooftop. I promise you will not regret it!
Please Note: While this post is in collaboration with The Peninsula Paris, all opinions are my own.
There is a first time for everything and this was my first time flying United Polaris international business class. What an unbelievable experience flying from Chicago to Paris in comfort and style. And, when I say in style, I really mean it.
Upon arrival at Chicago O’hare International Airport, I used my TSA pre-check to swiftly get through security and head straight to the United Polaris Lounge, located right outside of gate C17. And, how lucky, our flight was leaving out of gate C18!
From the moment I entered, I knew this was going to be a great experience before boarding my flight to Paris. I took a quick walk through the massive lounge, walking by all the comfortable chairs, sleeping pods, large bathrooms with showers and so much more. United really put a lot of thought into designing this exquisite lounge.
I met up with Ashley and we immediately scoped out all of the drink options at the bar as well as the plethora of food. There was so much to choose from (and very clearly marked for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free) that I just had a hard time figuring out what to get. I couldn’t help but try a few things, because, why not?! First things first though, we needed to kick-off this adventure with some champagne.
What’s also really great is there is an actual sit-down restaurant where you can order food too at no extra charge. Unfortunately we did not get the chance to dine at the restaurant this time around, but that’s ok, I’ll save it for the next time I fly Polaris 🙂 I wish I could’ve come to the lounge like 6 hours in advance and just hung out! When does that ever happen? Usually I’m timing my arrival at the airport to get to the gate right when they are boarding. But, this was one experience where I wish I could’ve gotten there early to relax in the lounge and take full advantage of all the amenities.
Our time flew by quickly and all of a sudden it was time to head to the gate. I was so excited to get to board with Group 1 for my epic trip to France! And, how fortunate, our plane was one of the newly outfitted aircraft with the updated Polaris seating pods. Seat 5A, here I come!
I’m Ready For Takeoff to Paris photo credit: @mushroomstew
Having a private pod was hands-down the best airline seat I’ve ever had. It was such a comfortable, cozy little area and I felt like I could relax, sleep, watch a movie, eat, whatever, and no one would know otherwise. I also really appreciated all the lovely amenities like the Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, the Sunday Riley skincare and even the white terrycloth slippers so I could really get settled in.
Saks Fifth Avenue and Sunday Riley Products on Polaris
Getting Comfy In My Slippers on Polaris
Being vegetarian, I always request the Asian Vegetarian meal when I fly. We enjoyed a three course meal which included a salad starter course (lentil salad, green salad, naan and bread) and then the main course (paneer, spinach and mixed vegetables with yellow saffron rice) with the best for last, the dessert cart! A cart full of options from mini pies to little cheesecakes to a make-your-own sundae option are all there for the taking. I tried all the things (duh) and I’m telling you, that hot fudge sundae is honestly one of the best sundaes I’ve ever had. You can imagine I made sure to have it on the way home too!
First Course For Dinner on United Polaris
Main Course Indian Meal
The Polaris Dessert Cart!
The Best Hot Fudge Sundae Ever!
Stunning Sunset During Dinner
After our filling meal, I got cozied up and fully reclined my seat to lay flat to get some rest. I used the eye mask to cover my eyes and slept for a solid 3 hours. I woke up to the crew getting ready for our breakfast service. Already? Didn’t I just eat? I had another great Indian meal and poof, we were landing in Paris. Honestly, this was the fastest 8 hour flight I’ve EVER been on. If only every flight could be like this.
Asian Vegetarian Breakfast on United Polaris
Approaching Paris Half an Hour Early!
Not only that, we landed half an hour early in Paris!!! I didn’t think this flight could get better and it just did. Overall, I can’t rave enough about my experience on United Polaris. Everything from the comfort to the service to amenities were top-notch and now I’ve officially been spoiled for life. If you have the chance to fly United Polaris, I highly recommend it. It is definitely going to be my preferred choice when flying international.
Please Note: While this post is in partnership with United, all opinions are my own.
Calling all my wellness and spa friends (that should really be ALL of you). I’m here to tell you I’ve found the BEST Ayurvedic Aromatherapy products I’ve ever come across in my life. No seriously. The brand is called Subtle Energies based out of Australia and you can find it here in Chicago at The Peninsula Spa (at all of the world-wide Peninsulas as a matter of fact).
What sets apart Subtle Energies from other products I’ve come across is how pure the products are. “Subtle Energies creates results-based aromatherapy, natural skincare and wellness solutions founded on authentic Ayurveda principles. The range is created with intent to address multiple skin and body concerns, whilst delivering high performance results empowering one’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.” They use a process sourcing the highest grade of oils, by extracting the quality active ingredients, rather than crushing the plants for extraction, like most others do.
The results are the purest, highest quality products available. Having just returned from India, I came across many Ayurvedic products while out shopping or during a spa visit and each and every time I would think, these are no where near the luxurious quality like those of Subtle Energies products. That’s a testament in of itself.
I’ve now had the chance to try the full skin care line at home, as well as most of the essential oils. I can genuinely say that each time I use any of the products, morning or night, it completely centers me and brings me to the present to appreciate the amazing aroma from each product. I really love all the products, but if I could only choose one, it would be the facial blend serum. I’m obsessed with the scent of mogra (Indian jasmine) and every time I apply the serum to my face, I close my eyes and just enjoy that deep, pure scent. It’s true that using these products are more than just a physical sensation; it truly incorporates mental and emotional well being.
I also had the chance to try out the Subtle Energies Holistic Anti-Aging Customizable Facial at The Peninsula Spa and it was straight up glorious. Not only did I feel completely relaxed and rejuvenated afterwards, I was mesmorized by the heavenly scents and my skin was glowing and so soft. It was just the reboot my skin needed after the long, harsh winter we had in Chicago this year.
Moral of the story: you need to try out all of the Subtle Energies products. I simply can’t rave enough and it’s become such a part of my daily routine. I’m starting to run low on my products so I’ll definitely be stopping by The Peninsula Spa to restock. I can’t survive without them now.