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Re: Banyan Tree Mayakoba and Hyatt Ziva Cancun TR On Wednesday morning we went down to the main breakfast area to see what we can eat. We were seated inside because outside was crazy windy again. For starters they had kosher cereal, cut up fruit, some drinks and coffee if you need kosher. We met a couple there who had brought their own pan and left it with the guy making the eggs. They told us to use it and they even gave us their extra cheese that they had brought along. The chef was very knowledgeable and showed us a bunch of pans that he had there that other Jews had left there throughout the years. We asked for the one that this couple had brought and gave him the cheese to put in the omelets. They make it on a separate burner and they even have kosher Pam to use for this. The waiters were very knowledgeable as well and brought us disposable cutlery to use.

We had originally planned on going to Isla Mujeres that day. The dock is basically a couple of properties over from the hotel and they sell tickets there. We bought tickets, however, because of the wind, they couldn't depart from there and they needed to take you on a bus to Playa Turtugas where they were able to depart from. We ended up cancelling and rescheduling for the next day instead. We hung out by the beach instead and enjoyed the ocean. They have a few hammocks in the water which were pretty relaxing.

That night we had reserved at Ember Grill. The restaurant is literally down the block from the hotel and across the street from Red Heifer. During yeshiva week Red heifer had a separate fee just to sit down which is part of the reason I chose Ember Grill. The restaurant is really nice and made me feel like I was back in Brooklyn. The ambiance was very nice and was very full when we got there. The only drawback was that it was a little too fast paced which may have been because of yeshiva week and them trying to turn over the tables as quick as possible. The food was pretty good and for desert we got Churros because we were craving them after seeing them all over the place on every street corner and being unable to try them. We were very unimpressed by them as they did not taste fresh at all. We walked back to the hotel and hung out at the bar for a little bit to enjoy a few drinks before calling it a night.

The next morning we woke up early to take the earliest boat out to Isla Mujeris. I asked for late checkout which they said they couldn't really give because they were full but I decided to gamble on it instead of checking out then because I wanted to be able to change normally when we got back. Thankfully the wind had died down then and the dock by the hotel was open. The way to the island takes much longer than the way back because it makes a stop to pick up more people before going to the island. The boat is a double decker and we sat on top outside as it was beautiful. They are constantly trying to scare you into paying for golf carts in advance while you are on the boat claiming that they are cheaper but you should definitely not listen to them and just rent when you get there. They had a guy on the boat singing a few Spanish songs on a guitar for tips.

When we got to the ferry terminal we were accosted by people trying to convince us to rent golf carts with them but we just went right across the street to a normal looking place where they don't charge more for paying via credit card and was the same price as everyone else. Renting took about 2 minutes as they quickly take a picture of your license and hand you over the keys. IIRC it was worth taking it for the full day if you were going to take it for any amount more than an hour. We headed down to the south side of the island and used google maps to get around. It was pretty cool driving around the town with almost everyone driving golf carts. We stopped on the side of the road to pick up a coconut which they made a hole in to drink on our drive. Someone had told us about a place called "Shark Beach" and we wanted to check that out. Basically it is a small enclosure in the ocean off a dock where they house 2 or 3 sharks and you can go in the water and hold, hug, and even kiss a shark. We payed either 50 or 100 pesos a person which is a couple of dollars. The manager dives down to get one of the sharks while you wait in the water up to your shoulders on a step and he brings you the shark to hold and take pictures with for about a minute or 2. It was really cool and he even brings the sharks mouth to your mouth to give it a kiss if you want. We left there and headed down to the southern tip of the island called Punta Sur. It was beautiful there overlooking miles of ocean from atop cliffs. There are nice paths there to walk around and make your way down the cliffs if you want. After that we headed back to the main area of the island to eat lunch. The Chabad house there was a couple of blocks past the ferry terminal and they have both milk and meat restaurants. We got falafel which was very good as they make the food specifically per order so it was fresh. They also only accept cash so I basically just gave them the rest of my change that I had. At that point we needed to get back already because we were supposed to be out of our room a few hours before already and we needed to catch our flight. We returned our golf cart and took the first boat back. The way back was really quick. We ran to our room and obviously our keys were not working anymore. Someone had to come and open for us but our stuff was still there so we were able to quickly shower and change and checkout.

Returning the car was simple. They drove us back to the terminal and we relaxed in the priority pass lounge until our flight. The flight back took really quick and we were back in JFK in about 3 hours.

Doing it over, I would probably suggest skipping the Ziva portion and just doing Banyan Tree and that area. I would say that 3 nights there is probably the perfect amount of time for Banyan Tree. If you wanted to do both places, I would probably do it the opposite way by staying in the Ziva first for 2 nights and then doing Banyan Tree afterwards for 2 nights as that really is the highlight. I also highly recommend renting a car (even if you were just staying in one place) as it is really not that expensive and makes everything so convenient. The driving is easy and I did not have any run-ins with police. The only issue is the parking in Playa Del Carmen is very complicated to do with credit card so make sure to have some cash to feed the meters.

June 24, 2020, 04:44:13 PM
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Mdv's Aspen Colorado trip report This is my first trip report so I hope I do this right!
 I am the kind of guy who's always planning trips but rarely actually gets to go on one so when the opportunity came up I jumped on it . For a destination we wanted to stay within USA just for simplicity due to all the covid restrictions in other countries ....our first idea was just boring miami but we quickly ditched that due to weather and covid spiking... next idea was arizona but also too hot so we settled on Colorado for the perfect no humidity weather in the mountains during the summer.

Ever since getting married I've become a stickler for nice hotels (before that i just looked at it like a waste of money/ points) so my planning was partly (alright- mostly) based on where I can find a really nice hotel on points and the winner was the St Regis Aspen which was at the time pricing at 70k Marriott per night for the entire duration of the stay (which usually is quite hard to find) due to covid .The hotel is actually quite an old building but was renovated about 10 years ago and its very luxurious even for today's standards albeit with more of a rustic mountain feel (more on that later) . In regards to the location obviously everyone recognizes the name from the tissue boxes so I knew I wouldn't be let down.

 I spoke to a well travelled friend who told me the nicest thing to see in the Colorado Rockies is Maroon Bells which is right next to Aspen so that sealed it ! The other thing my friend told me about was Mt Evans which is a drive thats supposed to be very cool (highest road in USA) but that's closer to denver and too far from Aspen to be a day trip.
 So I was thinking to do one less night in Aspen and 1 night closer to denver so we can do that drive ( and also by only doing 3 nights I wouldn't feel so bad not taking advantage of fifth night free....staying 5 nights would have meant having to stay for shabbos in denver and that just didn't work for me)
However by the time I decided to do that the off peak promo was over and if you want to shorten a stay with marriott its based off the current rates (which had gone back up to 85k) so essentially you are just canceling the stay and rebooking it for 1 less night for the current rate - they can't just knock off the last night and keep the rate you booked (which seems quite foolish). I tried huca and supervisors to no avail. They said the only other option is to get the hotel to make the change but when I spoke to the property they said they can't change a points reservation all I can do is check out a day early and I would get the points back but then would be charged $4000 (!) for "making a change within 24 hours" and no they can't make any exceptions as it's a rigid rule. Obviously I asked for a manager and was told he was in a meeting so I should leave a voicemail. So as a last ditch effort I left a message explaining the situation and saying that I'm coming with my 5 month old baby this is his first trip blah blah blah not expecting to get a call back.
To my surprise i got a call a bit later from Carlos who introduced himself as the reservation manager for the St Regis and the W (the W aspen is an insanely cool and modern property but the rooms are a bit quirky - some rooms have weird bunkbed style beds and some have no views at all i.e. no windows and it has a rooftop pool open to the public and seems to have more of a party vibe - more on the w later -the st regis just seemed more classy and luxurious) and he goes I have a 2 month old myself and i can definitely help you change your stay no problem no fees! I actually ended up staying all 4 nights but Carlos ended up helping me alot with something else I'll elaborate later.

For flights we had the option of united from newark or Philadelphia or southwest from Philadelphia and I ended up going with southwest because I had some Sw points left from getting 2 cards last year and some very cheap rates , flexible changes (@Dan southwest systemwide free changes) , 2 free bags and guaranteed middle seat free so i can bring my baby's car seat on the plane - although the flight times weren't the greatest.

And for a rental car I had a whole bunch of points leftover from my single years of renting and from buying some a few years thru daily getaways (thanx to @Dan )and coupled with presdents circle (got from the LH Senator code a few years back and kept up thru status match thru national) I was hoping for something nice ( although I had never previously gotten anything better than a challenger with PC) .
Being that we were landing 9am and taking off 430pm I would've had to pay for a whole extra day for those extra few hours but I decided to take my chances and use the amex platinum cdp which allows you to set up your reservation online to return 4 hours later than pickup , hoping that they wouldn't ask me to prove my card membership
(I actualy have a business platinum card that I canceled a while ago but the expiry date on the card is still on the future and i happened to have kept the physical card for situations like these).
So I managed to get a rate for 4 days ( 3000 points) for a 10am pickup and 2pm drop off plus a quoted $100 and some change for taxes and fees (for some odd reason they ended up charging only 19 dollars but I ain't complaining)
 
So here's some numbers :
Breakdown of costs
Flights (for myself and my wife) :
PHL to DEN Sunday 7am
10746 WN + $11.20
DEN to PHL Thursday 435pm
14646 WN + $11.20
Car :
10am pickup 2pm dropoff .paid for 4 days and got 4 hours extra with amex plat code
3000 Hertz points + $19.10
Hotel :
St Regis Aspen Resort
280k Marriott points ( 4 nights @70k per night off peak rate due to covid promo)(yes it killed me to not take the fifth night free )

For food we needed to bring with us because the closest kosher food is in denver 3 hours away so we did a combination of premade food from yapchik which they vacuum packed for us, some premade homemade food frozen in pans and some raw steaks , all individually wrapped in silver foil, labeled (I made a corresponding list on my phone to keep track of everything) and then as per my rov I taped each one in a specific way to be able to tell if it was tampered with. Next I froze everything and put it in a Polar Bear suitcase (thanks @Dan for the tip worked perfectly) and then the rest of the stuff - milk , cheese frozen pizza etc we made an order from East side kosher deli which we would pick up after landing in denver. To prepare the food we brought a sous vide (to warm the vacuum packed yapchik food and cook the steaks )and a plastic bin for the water, a mini blowtorch to sear the steaks and a toaster oven to warm up the things in pans and for frozen pizza. Honestly a toaster oven is quite a schlep and we only brought it because we had so much free baggage but next time I would probably just try to get one at my destination and leave it there when I'm done
So that's pretty much all the planning ... next up is the actual trip and some pics
..... to be continued.....

July 14, 2020, 11:48:36 AM
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