Excellence Resort ~ Dominican Republic, Punta Cana

Excellence Resort ~ Dominican Republic, Punta Cana

If you are thinking about visiting the Dominican Republic, Punta Cana should be on your list. There are plenty of all-inclusive resorts including Excellence. We stayed at the Excellence resort a few months ago and are set to go back this spring. Below I have listed an overview of the property and all of the perks of the resort that we enjoyed.

Accommodations: Our room was a junior swim up suite that has it’s own beach bed just steps away from the pool.  There are quite a few suite options that include mountain view, garden view, ocean view and ocean front. All suites range in price so it is the perfect place to stay as you can find one that fits your budget.

Food: With nine all-inclusive international dining options, one buffet restaurant and beach snack grill, you will not have to worry about getting hungry or hangry in my case. The food was quite good and elegant. It is not quite as gourmet inclusive as the El Dorado Casitas but we still very much enjoyed it.

Drink: You may get drunk, but you will not go thirsty. Unlimited alcoholic beverages and soft drinks are just a beck and call away wiith 24-hour room service and pool and beach waiter service. Or you can visit one of the 12 bars on the property! My favorite is the Piña Colada served oceanside in a fresh pineapple.

Activities: I was pretty content to just hang out in the beach bed or pool most of the day but I did manage a few workouts in the fully equipped fitness center. If you are not like me and want to get up and go, there are plenty of daily activities, snorkel gear and scuba lessons available. If you wish to venture off the resort, there are plenty of excursions including four wheeling, shopping in the local village, spelunking down the Caribbean’s longest underground cave, golf and more.

Entertainment: If you haven’t worn yourself out during the day and are still sober, there is nightly entertainment featuring a different theme show every night you can enjoy.

Spa: If laying out in the beach bed all day is not relaxing enough, you can pamper yourself at the Miilé Spa.The grounds of the spa are tranquil and tropical with a flock of flamingos lounging in the nearby lagoon.

There are plenty of treatments to choose from including massage, body wraps, facials, manicures, pedicures, salon services and more. I enjoyed a body scrub with a massage and it was heavenly!

Service: The entire staff is friendly and ready to serve you what ever your heart desires and being that it is all-inclusive all taxes and gratuities included.

Booking Specials: The prices are always changing but there is usually some type of special going on so just check out the Excellence Resort Website for information on rooms, pricing, amenities or any other questions you have.

As a traveler I enjoy researching and reading about people experiences on places we may visit so I hope this helps if that is what you are looking for. I need to be clear that I am not endorsing the resort nor was I compensated to write about this.  This was a vacation we took and paid full price.

We very much enjoyed it and as I mentioned earlier already have a return trip booked. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions by commenting below or contacting me.

SafeTravels!

Sharm

Airline Compliant Carry-On Travel Essentials

Airline Compliant Carry-On Travel Essentials

These travel essentials that are airline compliant can be put in your carry-on bag and will save the day should something go awry!

I have been traveling quite a bit over the past few years and am guilty of being an over-packer. After some trial and error have finally scaled down my bag but always include these travel essentials in my carry-on.

Whether I need to wipe down my tray table, my face, hands or take a spit bath when stranded in the airport.  I love these chemical free Waterpura wipes. I received these as a sample and have fallen in love with them.  I don’t see any sample packs available for sale on the website, so I will be investing in a travel wipe container as the next package I get will be way to large to carry-on

 

I am usually not a fan of the hotel soaps and shampoos and like to bring my own. I found these great containers at an IKEA store in Dallas.  I cannot find them online to give you a link.  They could be an in-store product only. The banded labels came from the Container Store.

IKEA Travel Containers

If your shoes start rubbing you the wrong way, the Fab Feet stick from target will help prevent blisters from forming. The tinted sunscreen from Chanel I found at Macy’s and that with a little tinted lip balm from Pacifica can help brighten up your complexion after a long day of travel. I also love the roll on perfume from Pacifica. It is lightly scented and easy to pack.

To freshen up my breath I love the Mouthwatchers travel toothbrush. MouthWatchers uses antimicrobial patented silver technology on its bristles which eliminate 99.9% of bacteria build up on the toothbrush bristles. The special designed bristles are thinner than that of other toothbrushes which clean in between teeth better and adds a flossing effect.

Mouthwatchers Toothbrush

I love having a pill box when traveling and fill it with prescriptions, pain relievers and any other medications or supplements I want to have on hand.

For a quick fluff of the hair, a travel brush and pony tail holders are a must. Tissues, mints, hand sanitizer, glasses, contacts, saline are a few of my other essentials. I always have a nail file and a little travel size of nail polish remover pads.

To put it all together,  the non liquids go in a zipper pouch from re-pac bags and for liquids we all know by now they must be in a TSA approved container.  Mine is a zipper package that some pillow shams came in.

Instead of spending money on those packaging cubes, save those clear zipper pouches that a lot of sheets or bedding comes packaged in. They make great packing cubes for items that will go inside your checked luggage. I love using them to organize my workout gear, swimsuits, accessories and anything else I want to keep from getting mixed into my other clothes.

Now that you have all of your carry-on items packed.  What is the best bag to use to put them in? I love a bag that has multiple storage areas like my Tumi bag.  It fits my laptop, carry-on essentials, sunglasses, snacks, chargers, headphones and pretty much whatever else I need while still being slim and compact.

I would love to hear some of your ideas on packing for travel and what essentials you take in your carry-on.

Safe Travels!

Sharm

Giveaway from Larkburger ~ A Fast Casual Concept Perfect for the Whole Family

Giveaway from Larkburger ~ A Fast Casual Concept Perfect for the Whole Family

When Chef Thomas Salamunovch of the fine-dining restaurant Larkspur in Vail, Colorado had a desire to bring fine dining to the masses, the fast-casual concept of Larkburger was born.

Larkburger is a Colorado based fast-casual gourmet burger chain that is quickly expanding beyond it’s borders. Overland Park, Kansas is the first city outside of Colorado to score this restaurant which opened in early 2017.  Another location is in the works for the Missouri side just off of the County Club Plaza in Kansas City.

I recently had the chance to try it out thanks to a couple of “free burger” cards they sent me.

Guess what? They want to give you some too along with some other Larkburger swag. Two winners are eligible for that and details are below, but first here are the details on the menu and some really cool things you should know about Larkbrger.

The menu is diverse and a perfect place to take the whole family. From burgers to kale and a few things in between everyone can get something they like. I think one of my favorite options is the steamed edamame.

Larkburger Edamame. Chicken and Tuna burgers

Although, I am a sucker for fries, which are hand-cut in-house and are amazing, it is nice to have an unfired option when I am trying to cut back on calories.

The day I visited I had to grab a to go order for my son and I. The sweet girl taking my order was so patient with me as I could not decide what salad to get. I finally decided on the kale salad.

I knew my son would go for a burger but being the picky eater he is I knew I had to order it plain. I got him the traditional Larkburger with meat, cheese and bun which means he missed out on the special sauce which is made from scratch and what I think is the best part! All burgers are cooked to order at your desired temperature and of course served however you want it. All of Larkburgers sauces and dressings that accompany their array of burgers, sandwiches and salads are made in-house using only the freshest ingredients.

Although, I scored a bite of the burger which was tasty even without the sauce, I really enjoyed the kale salad and appreciate the diversity of the menu items Larkburger offers. It makes it super easy for carnivores and vegetarians alike to both order something that will satisfy their appetite. As I mentioned before it is great place to take the whole family. Not only do kids under 12 eat free on Monday’s with an adult purchase, it allows mom who may be watching what she eats get something satisfying when the rest of the family is craving burgers and fries.

I do need to mention that although a burger is going to have more calories then kale, you don’t need to feel as guilty if you indulge in one at Larkburger. The burgers are fresh and made from local Black Angus beef. That in itself is already going to be lower in calories than the average processed fast food burger that is shipped frozen from who know where.

Everything is fresh at Larkburger including the tomatoes which ripen in an in-house cabinet until they are at peak flavor and the house-cut fries are cooked in a trans free canola oil.

The Larkburger with Hand-Cut Fries

 

I recently attend a blogger event they had and got a little swag myself along with some tasty samples.

Larkburger Swag

 

Larkburger Chili

Larkburger Rocket Power Salad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Larkburger Salted Caramel Shake

Apart from having great food, Larkburger is also kind to the environment and takes sustainability seriously.  Outside of the condiment packets and juice and milk cartons, everything is compostable. Every napkin, utensil, wrap, cup, bag, box and straw! The size of the restaurant trash can is no larger than a 9×13 baking dish. The space and decor is sleek and clean with the chairs made from recycled materials and the walls are reclaimed cypress wood. In addition, their fry oil is recycled and converted into alternative fuel and 100% of the electricity usage is offset by purchased wind credits.

Larkburger Decor

Larkburger also is committed to supporting local and will source beer and soda from the region the restaurant is in to serve at that location. For a list of all Larkburger location visit their website.

Now in order to get free burgers and swag from Larkburger all you have to do is comment below on how you top your burger!

Two winners will be drawn using random. org from the number of entries. Example first commenter is number on and so on. Contest ends midnight Monday, June 12.  Winners will be notified via email so be sure to leave a valid email with your comment. Good Luck!

 

 

Chicago Dining Guide for Local Fare

Chicago Dining Guide for Local Fare

This Chicago dining guide for local fare just highlights some of my favorite spots. If you are serious foodie like me and are spending the day in Chicago, I recommend adding these to your list to check out while visiting. Most of these places fill up quickly so it is best to get your reservation in at least a few days ahead of time if not weeks before dining.

Click on the restaurants link for directions, hours and menu information

Breakfast/Brunch: Farmhouse

The Farmhouse Chicago, Stuffed French Toast

The Farmhouse Chicago, Stuffed French Toast

This locally owned cafe is located a few minutes from downtown but feels like an old rustic small town cafe you might find in the middle of Iowa. The decor will take you back to your Grandma’s childhood kitchen with antique furnishings and appliances placed throughout the space. Dishes are prepared using local and seasonal ingredients from area producers as well as the restaurants owners farm.

Must try: Stuffed French Toast with extra syrup

Lunch: Fronterra Grill

Frontera Grill Sopecitos Rancheros

Fronterra Grill owned by Celebrity Chef Rick Bayless, is always on my list when visiting the windy city. The elevated Mexican fare is like non other. Rick is passionate about using produce and meats from local farms. The flavor combinations he uses in his dishes set Fronterra Grill apart from any other Mexican restaurants I have tried.

Must try: Sopecitos Rancheros

Snack: Garret’s Popcorn Shop

A visit to Chicago is not complete without a visit to the iconic Garrett’s Popcorn Shop. Once in the door the caramel corn aroma will have your mouth watering. I prefer the Almond Caramel Crisp, but the Garrett Mix that combines sweet Caramel Crisp with savory Cheese Corn is the most popular.

Must try: Garret’s Mix

Dinner: The Girl and The Goat

The Girl and The Goat

Get your reservation in early for The Girl and The Goat owned by celebrity chef Stephanie Izzard.  The dishes are served family style, which make them ideal for sharing. Most come in the “small plate” format so it is ideal to go with a group to try a variety of things. The restaurant serves only dinner and opens at 4:30 pm. This makes a great spot if you are need of dining late as it does not close until 11 pm Sunday – Thursday and 12 am Friday and Saturday.

Must try: Chickpea Fritter

The Girl and The Goat, Chickpea Fritter

The Girl and The Goat, Chickpea Fritter

 

El Dorado Casitas Royale ~ River Maya, Mexico

El Dorado Casitas Royale ~ River Maya, Mexico

A stay at the El Dorado Casitas Royale will sweep you away to paradise. Hubby and I vacationed there a few months ago and oh my was it heaven! I can’t really call this post a review as there was no compensation involved so I will refer to it as an experience.  If you are looking into staying at the resort, I hope this experience will help you make your decision. Please feel free to reach out to me by commenting below or sending an email if you have any questions.

The El Dorado Casitas Royale is part of the Karisma Gourmet Inclusive line of resorts. The Gourmet Inclusive resorts take pride in the food served.  Most fresh herbs, fruits and vegetable are grown on site to ensure freshness, quality and of course taste. There is tour available to visit the on-site green houses and gardens.

Locally sourced meats and fish are served when available and unique ingredients are imported from the country of origin. For instance in the Italian restaurant on the property, the ingredients used in the house-made pasta are imported in from Italy.

With so many restaurants to choose from it is best to stay a week so you can try them all. Not one of them dissapointed and each of them serve such artfully plated food that it can almost be to pretty to eat.

In addition, the resort has what I have called “Foodie Experiences” and must not be missed.

 

Foodie Experience one is the Fuentes Culinary Theater.

This live action cooking demonstration hosted by the Chef and Sommelier will ignite all of your senses with a 5 course dinner with wine parings.

Foodie Experience two is the Chefs Table.

Tucked away in the back of D’ Italia there is a private room awaiting to indulge your senses. You will interact one on one with the chef as he prepares a special and unique menu just for you.

The food at this meal was some of the best I have ever had and even made me a fan of goose liver. Who new it could be so good!

At one point there were three chefs preparing house-made sorbets and syrups to create a stunning masterpiece of a dessert.

Reservations must be made for all of the restaurants and experiences, so it is best to get with the concierge upon arrival and book all of your reservations for the duration of your stay. Here is a listing of all of the restaurants and descriptions of each.

Now to the accommodations.  The resort is divided into two sections with the Casistas being a little more secluded. Access to personal concierge service is included when staying at the Casitas as well.  It is a little farther to walk to some of the amenities such as fitness center and theater but having the selection of beach front beach beds was heavenly. There is also a golf cart type shuttle available to get you to and from if needed.

I cannot comment on other accommodations other than the room we had which was lovely. Upon arrival there was champagne chilling on the table.

The room was spacious and very accommodating.

The bathroom features an indoor and outdoor shower so that speeds up the process for two people getting ready at once.

Our room had a small private pool area along with seating for lounging.

Speaking of lounging, my favorite place was the beach front beach beds. It seemed my day consisted of hubby getting up early to grab us a bed while I did morning yoga overlooking the ocean. On the way back I would grab a protein shake made with fresh tropical fruit and lounge the morning away overlooking the ocean.

By the time lunch rolled around it was time for a tropical drink and then maybe a seaside nap. Before I knew it, it was time to get ready for dinner.

Now by all means, you do not have to be lazy like me if adventure is your thing.  The resort offers plenty of activities, excursions and a tequila tasting featuring unique and local tequilas.

I was most pleased with our stay. All of the staff were courtesy and friendly. The grounds, rooms and venues were clean and well kept. After writing this and reliving it through the photos, I am ready to go back!

 

Happy Traveling!

Sharm

 

The Clean Living® Experience with Tosca Reno

The Clean Living® Experience with Tosca Reno

The Clean Living® Experience with Tosca Reno could just change your life.  It did mine, so that is why I am writing this today.

I first encountered Tosca Reno in 2007, when a magazine I subscribed to had her graced on the cover at age 40 in tip top shape. Once tipping the scale at 204 pounds she decided enough was enough and dropped the weight by using her eat clean® diet plan and eventually even competed in a figure competition.

The fact that she was older and had been overweight and now looked amazing, peaked my interest, so off to the store I went to get her Eat Clean® Diet book. It was easy to follow and it worked! I lost the weight I wanted to lose and I have been a fan ever since! I have most of her books, follow her on social media and subscribe to her newsletter, which is how I found out about this retreat.

A few weeks ago I got an email from her newsletter that she was hosting a wellness retreat at the beautiful Villa Estrella in Costa Rica through a company called Retreats Unlimited. Enough said for me as I know she knows her stuff and booked the retreat. I could not wait to meet her.

This retreat came at the perfect timing in my life as I have put back on a few of those extra pounds I lost so many years ago. In addition to the weight, my personal life was on the rocks as a move away from family and friends as well as becoming an empty nester all at the same time has thrown me into a tizzy. I know her plan works and thought this is just the ticket I needed to get recharged and back on track.

Once at the resort and meeting Tosca, it was clear I needed this even more than I thought. Not only did she address health and wellness issues, she gets to the core of the emotion. By sharing her own struggles, she became one of the group and made a safe zone where if desired, others could share their struggles. I’m pretty sure I was a blubbering idiot but it felt good to release the emotion.

Come to find out, we all have struggles and hurt, even Tosca. Your hurt looks different from my hurt, but it is still pain. It was comforting to see I am not the only one out there that feels like they are drowning in this thing called life.

Tosca worked ahead of time with the chef and every meal was clean eating® approved and delicious. Just after a couple of days of eating like this, the body starts detoxing as there has been no sugar intake, just clean healthy delicious foods. Some detoxing symptoms the group experienced were headaches and acne which is the bodies way of expelling the toxins we carry around.

With all of the amazing food, I really did not feel like I was losing any weight but decided to go ahead and weigh when I got home. I was down 3 pounds! Not bad for a four day retreat, I’ll take it!

Along with informational sessions on healthy eating, supplements, metabolism, and even a little sex, you will spend time with Tosca in the kitchen.

She will teach you her secret recipe for wetter water, plus easy tips and tricks to clean eating® so you will be able to cook and eat like this at home!

I am now back home and am back on track. My kitchen is stocked and I am not missing the sugar or anything else I have taken out.

Eating six meals a day, I had forgotten how much food you can really eat on this diet. Honestly, it is not a diet but more of a lifestyle way of eating as it is easy to follow and you get to eat real food.

For those interested in the fitness side you will not be left out. Tosca personally leads workouts in the pool, on the beach and fitness facility throughout the day. Nothing is mandatory at the retreat and at any time you may opt out of a session or workout with no judgement.

If all of the above is not enough, you also get a personal coaching session with Tosca if you wish.

There are a limited number of guests allowed on this retreat so the setting is intimate, personalized and Tosca is literally walking beside you!

Our group was very flexible and bonded well. I have made new friends that I will treasure for a lifetime. As a super fan of Tosca I thought it might be intimidating to meet her. It turned out to be the exact opposite. Tosca is humble, gracious, knowledgable, inspirational, strong and truly beautiful inside and out.

She was a blast and joined the group in all areas even accompaning us into the town to do some souvenir shopping and got a fish pedicure at the fish spa. So fun!

She took the time to bond with each one of us and embraced our individual needs.

She was gracious enough to sign all of the books that I brought and laughed when I was labeled the stalker of the group. I am honored to be called her friend now and not just a fan.

If you are in need of getting recharged physically, emotionally, mentally nutritionally or just looking for a fun getaway, I encourage you to seek out this retreat, it is truly a life changer.

The Retreats Unlimited staff go above and beyond to make sure you have the most amazing experience. They have more wellness events scheduled through out the year with various health and wellness ambassadors. Tosca’s are in March, April, May and October.  Get more information at the Retreats Unlimited website. For more information on Tosca Reno or to order her books visit toscareno.com.