Virgin Voyages

(Disclaimer…You do not have to be an actual Virgin to set sail)

I just finished a training program and seminar about Virgin Voyages and I’ll admit it…

I am hooked and can’t wait to cruise with them!

What’s the Virgin Voyages Advantage?

  • Adults only.  Yep!  No kids programs, chicken finger/hot dog meals or kiddie pools.  I remember the days of traveling with kids on their schedule and feeling like I needed a vacation to recover from our vacation.  This is the trip where you leave the little ones at home with the grandparents while you party like a rock star.   This is also a perfect option for all of us “empty nesters”!  We’ve raised our kids and deserve some adult time.
  • They include most of those “extras” that the other cruise lines tack onto their base price, like bottled water and soft drinks, tips, wifi and alternate dining charges.  Most of the mainstream cruise lines feel like my cable bill…they add so many extras to the base price that the actual cost doubles!
  • Speaking of alternate dining, it is all ala carte restaurants onboard with no set dining times or tables.  Imagine that?!?  Eat what you want, when you want, where you want.  No more bellying up to the buffet!
  • There is no dress code.  Wear what you want, when you want.  Feeling fancy?  Go for it!  Still feeling the effects of last night’s party and opting for comfy and casual?  That works, too.  Do you see a common theme here?
  • They don’t offer a drink package.  You can pre purchase drink credit in $300 increments and get a $50 bonus added to your onboard account.  Drink prices are reasonable, with $5 bottled beers, $8 glasses of wine and $10-12 cocktails.  You can even shake your cellphone activating the Virgin App and a bottle of champagne will be delivered to you wherever you are on the ship.  That’s the rockstar lifestyle we love!
  • Virgin Voyages stays later in port so you aren’t rushing to make it back before the ship sails without you.  One of our favorite past times is relaxing on our balcony watching the running of the drunks in Cozumel as they stagger up the pier trying to get back onboard in time for the 5 pm sailaway. With Virgin Voyages, you can sleep in and head out to explore whenever you are ready.  And, they stay late into the evening at their private beach club in Bimini so you can dance the night away in the sand under the stars.
  • All crew and passengers must be fully vaccinated to sail, so you can relax and enjoy your vacation knowing you are covid safe.  Finally.

Come Sail With Me

Pricing is reasonable considering all that is included.  Check out their brochure and email me if you are interested in booking a Virgin Voyage, because they have some great promotions available.  If it’s not in the budget right now, I am planning to kick off 2022 onboard the Scarlet Lady and will take you with me virtually.  😊

March Minimalist Challenge

So, I’ll admit it…I love a good double dog dare.  I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro (I mean…on my treadmill in my family room using the I Fit App). I’ve been known to do a nice 7 day fruit and veggie detox cleanse to debloat and reset.  I am a self-proclaimed goal getter.  Tell me I should drink half my weight in water daily and I’ll have it done by noon.

In the era of Covid, it’s literally been a challenge to stay challenged.  I’ve been watching lots of YouTube videos and listening to self-help podcasts and stumbled upon the minimalist challenge.  I am intrigued.

The premise is pretty simple…you eliminate the non-essential items in your life over a month-long period by throwing them out, selling them or donating them to charity. So, on the first of the month, you eliminate 1 item from your life.  One the 2nd, you reduce by 2 items.   Easy-peasy, right?  The challenge part comes in on the 21st, 22nd, 23rd.  I originally planned to do this in February because it’s the shortest month.  LOL!

So, here I go.  Ready to Marie Kondo my way through my stuff to see what sparks joy.  I have a few big boxes set aside to fill with donations and I am ready to be cutthroat as I cut through the clutter.  Check back to see my progress as I attack Minimalist March!  

Traveling to Cancun and Covid Testing- Follow Up Questions

Y’all had some great questions about traveling to Cancun and Covid testing, so I wanted to do a quick Q and A to get you some answers!

Did you have to get a Covid test done to go to Cancun?

Nope!  The U.S. only requires a negative test result within 72 hours of your return.  Mexico does not require any testing to enter the Country. 

Did you have to convert your U.S. dollars to pesos?

Nope again!  We used US cash for tips without any issues.  You may get Pesos as change, though, if you are paying in shops or restaurants.  I also used my Visa everywhere to take advantage of the exchange rate. Both US dollars and Pesos were accepted at the airport shops and restaurants and they quoted prices in both denominations. My daughter ordered a spicy margarita at Margaritaville at the Cancun Airport. It was served in a plastic cup for $24. So, the good news is you can take your cocktails to go at the airport in Cancun. The bad news is you will pay a crazy price for that privilege. 😉

Did people in Cancun wear masks everywhere?

Yes, inside.  We only had one encounter during our stay where a woman rushed into our elevator at the last minute and wasn’t wearing a mask.  People wore masks in the restaurants until they were seated.  But masks were not worn outside by the beach or pool.  I mean, can you imagine those tan lines?  But seriously, the hotel was not crowded at all and it was very easy to stay socially distanced outside. 

Did you feel safe?  Would you go back?

Yes.  I’d go back tomorrow.  The worst part of the whole experience was quarantining when we got home.  If you feel like you need a tropical vacation and can work from home for a week when you get back, treat yourself to a Cancun vacation.  You may never see pricing and crowd levels this low again.  Need an agent to help you?  Click here and start packing.  😊

Onsite Resort Covid Testing for Re-Entry into the U.S.

A week before we left on our trip, the CDC implemented a new policy requiring all international passengers returning to the U.S. to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test administered within 72 hours of their flight. More information is available here. My first thought was to cancel, honestly.  I had visions of my daughter and I paying some guy in a parking lot in downtown Cancun for fake COVID-19 tests to get back into the country.  Within 48 hours of the CDC’s announcement, many resorts advised that they would provide free antigen (quick) testing onsite, including our hotel, the Beach Palace Resort.  We decided it was worth the hassle and moved ahead with our plans.  Tequila and tan lines were waiting!

When to get tested?

We went ahead and scheduled our COVID-19 tests while enjoying our welcome cocktails during check in at the Beach Palace.  We arrived on a Thursday afternoon and scheduled the test for Friday morning, since our return flight was on Sunday and the test is required to be taken within 72 hours of your return.  I really just wanted to get it out of the way so that we could relax and enjoy the rest of our stay.

Where to get tested?

The Beach Palace had a clinic set up near the Sports Bar dedicated to COVID-19 testing.  Our appointment time was 11:15, but they were running a little behind schedule because a family of 6 was in front of us and the kids were simply not cooperating.  Once we filled out a basic form and sat down, the process was quick and painless.  I joked before we went to Cancun that they would just stick a q tip up our nose and say it’s negative, but they actually did a real test and we had the negative results in 15 minutes.  The paperwork and results were emailed to me that evening and we were able to print off the required document in the hotel business center.  Everything ran seamlessly and there was no cost to us at all.  It was my first COVID-19 test, so I was a little nervous about the whole swab up the nose process, but it is just a little uncomfortable for about 3 seconds.  I, of course, made my daughter go first…

Who cares if we got tested?

When we checked in at Delta Airlines for our return flight, they asked for the COVID-19 test documentation and stapled it to our boarding pass along with the bottom part of the Mexican immigration form that we completed upon arrival.  There was a QR code that they asked us to scan with an online survey to complete.  It was basic questions like your name, birthdate, home address, had you been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days, did you have any symptoms, etc.  When we got to the security agent, the QR code would not scan, so we ended up having to answer the questions manually on a little piece of paper.  No big deal and the entire process probably added about 5 minutes to our total check in time. 

Yes, you should go ahead and get tested

I would not let having to get a COVID-19 test be a deterrent to traveling to Mexico or the Caribbean.  We were actually joking around about hoping for a false positive on our test, because Palace Resorts will provide you will free accommodations for up to 14 days if you test positive.  The actual hard part is quarantining for 7 days after you return if you have a real job where working from home isn’t an option. I took a follow up test yesterday and am waiting for the results before reentering the world.  My main concern is exposing my 86-year-old mother to COVID-19, so I am being extra cautious before seeing her. 

Hopefully, this will be a short-term mandate and we can get back to living and traveling soon!

Cancun During Covid – Beach Palace Resort

This was just a quick girl’s getaway.  My daughter and I decided we needed a few days of sun and fun to help us regroup so we can power through another brutal Michigan winter.  We picked the Beach Palace Resort because we have stayed at the Moon Palace twice and enjoyed it but wanted something different and close to the airport so we didn’t waste a lot of our limited time transferring back and forth. 

Random Resort Ramblings:

  • Reservations are not required at the restaurants, so that was nice compared to some of the huge all inclusive resorts that require preplanning.  We were seated immediately each night around 7 pm. We ate in Tequila (The Mexican Restaurant), Bocelli (The Italian Restaurant) and The Smokehouse Grill (The Steakhouse).   All of the food was good.  Bocelli was very good.  Breakfast and lunch we ate in the main restaurant or the snack shop poolside. 
  • Our room was sealed when we entered and we did not utilize housekeeping during our 3 night stay. I did bring Lysol and Clorox wipes and wiped things down myself just for extra peace of mind. The hotel also provided a kit of supplies in the room.
  • We had a lagoon view room, which was perfect to watch the sunset at 6:30 each night.  The ocean side offers sunrise views.  We had 2 double beds, a large jacuzzi tub in the room, a large balcony with a lounge bed and double sinks.  Counter space in the bathroom area was limited.   There was a stocked mini fridge and liquor dispenser, plus a bottle of wine and coffee maker. 
  • Another favorite sunset spot for us was the rooftop pool bar, where they have 2 pools and 2 large Jacuzzis to enjoy along with stunning views.
  • We enjoyed open air massages on the beach while listening to the waves crash in for $45 each for 30 minutes.  They were fantastic and just what we needed to relax and unwind.
  • The beach was beautiful white sand with very little seaweed.  It was windy during our stay, so the waves were crashing in.  Lifeguards were on duty.
  • They had limited daytime activities poolside (Zumba, water aerobics, bingo, beach volleyball) and a nightly show.
  • Drinks were wonderful and liquor brands varied by bar.  My daughter learned how to make amazing spicy margaritas and bloody marys during our visit.  My mojitos were perfection. 
  • We did a little shopping in the gift shop and used my credit card to get the best exchange rate.  My daughter loved the spa-ey air freshener scent that they use throughout the resort and they sold it in the gift shop as a spray and a reed diffuser, so we got both! Now our foyer at home smells like a vacation.
  • We tipped in USD everywhere and no one complained.  I’ve been reading that the Mexican government is requiring that pesos be used by tourists, but it was not an issue at the resort or at the Cancun airport.

Overall, I would rate Beach Palace a solid 4 ½ stars.  The food was good, the drinks were cold and the service was outstanding.  Every single person we encountered went out of their way to make sure that we were happy and well taken care of.  Occupancy was very low…I would guess around 25%.  Beach Palace is a good option for really anyone looking for a long weekend getaway.  We had no complaints and would return without hesitation.  The sun was warm and the drinks were cold…what more can a girl ask for? Questions? Ask away in the comments or shoot me an email at ellen@ellensemptynesters.com

Hotel Transfers in Cancun During Covid

Here’s a pro travel tip from your buddy Ellen…we upgraded our transfers in Cancun to meet and greet service with a private car and driver.  If you haven’t ever been through the Cancun airport before, it’s a real treat.

As the automatic doors from customs open wide to welcome you to the sun and fun of Cancun, you will also be welcomed by 100 vendors working aggressively to earn your business.  Car rental agencies, tour suppliers, time share hosts and transfer drivers all compete for your hard earned vacation funds.  Loudly.  Aggressively.  Enthusiastically. “Hey, pretty lady!  Come rent with me!”  “I have your name on my list right here!”  “Free Tequila!”

Even if you have prepaid transfers through a tour company, you still need to weed through the people waving signs and yelling to find the company that you booked with.  Then, you will be led to another area to wait until everyone that is assigned to your bus or van has checked in.  Then you will line up and wait to have your luggage loaded and begin the process of boarding the vehicle with other hot sweaty tourists.  Once you are ready to hit the road, you’ll make regular stops along the way to drop off guests at their designated hotels.  Then, eventually, you will arrive at your resort, wait for your bags to get unloaded, check in, and get that vacation started.

With the upgraded service, our car and driver were waiting outside for us with a sign that had our names on it.  He took our bags, sprayed them down with some sort of disinfectant, loaded us into our private air-conditioned van and we were off for the 20 minute ride to the Beach Palace.  Well worth the $35 per person round trip add on to your price. Do it. You’re worth it. 🙂

Delta Airlines During Covid

For our weekend girls trip, we flew from DTW nonstop to Cancun.  Honestly, the flights were on time, the planes were clean, and the crew was all fun and friendly.  We couldn’t have asked for better service from Delta and there was nothing else they could have done to make us feel more safe.  There was hand sanitizer at the self-check in kiosks and the baggage drop.  They had plexiglass barriers everywhere.  As we boarded the flight, the Delta crew handed out individually packaged wipes to wipe down your seating area.  The middle seats were blocked off on the entire aircraft and Delta has extended this policy until April 30th, 2021.  Snacks were handed out in prepackaged plastic bags and included bottled water, another wipe, cheese goldfish crackers and a mini Cliff bar.  No Biscoff cookies!?! It is now a federal requirement in the U.S. to wear masks in airports and on planes, and everyone we saw was wearing one.  Really, I don’t think there has ever been a more sanitary time to fly.  You can find out more about flying Delta Airlines during the Covid Pandemic here

Views from 30,000 feet

Cancun During Covid

I’m leavin’…on a jet plane…

Yep!  You read that right!  I have volunteered to be the crash test dummy and fly down to Cancun, Mexico for the weekend to review the safety protocols in place at the resorts, how the CDC guidelines are enforced during our flight on Delta Airlines and to also be one of the first Americans to experience the new Covid testing process required for return travel to the U.S.  I also promise to enjoy some sun, fun and mojito or two along the way.  Have any specific questions you need answered about traveling to Cancun, Mexico during the Covid pandemic? Email me at ellen@ellensemptynesters.com and I’ll try to get you answers. Check back for updates! Hola!

A Little Slice of Paradise…

(Beach in Cozumel, Mexico)

Ellen and family relaxing at Paradise Beach in Cozumel, Mexico

Let’s pretend you happen to find yourself in Cozumel and you want to have an amazing day.  What does that look like for you?

Does dad want to lounge on the beach under an umbrella watching the waves roll onto shore while sipping buckets of beer?

Do the kids want to go kayaking, snorkeling, or jumping and sliding through an inflatable water park?

Hair braiding and henna tattoos plus free wifi for insta posting for the tween? 

How does mom feel about having a relaxing massage on the beach, followed up by one of Cozumel’s best mojitos and lunch from a taco truck?

Parasailing? Yep!

Jet skiing?  You got it!

Banana Boat Rides?  Heck yes they do!

Huge freeform pool?  Check!

Clean restrooms and showers?  Oh my goodness, yes.  Ellen does not do porta pottys!

In honor of their grand reopening on February 1st, I wanted to let you know about one of my secret happy places.  But, lets keep it between us so it doesn’t get overrun with tourists, ok? 

Paradise Beach in Cozumel is about a 10-15 minute ride from the cruise ports and easily accessible by taxi.  When you get into the cab, the driver may try to convince you to go to another beach club (where he gets a kick back), so just let him know you are meeting friends at Paradise Beach.  No need to arrange return transportation because there are always plenty of taxis waiting when you are ready to leave.

Upon arrival, you can purchase the $3 pass, which is access to all of the facilities and use of a beach chair with or without an umbrella for the day.  Come early in the day (they open at 9) if you want a front row view of the water.  But, they always have plenty of chairs at the beach and the pool, so sleep in if you want.  It’s your day, your way.

The $18 fun pass upgrade will also give you access to all the inflatable water toys, kayaks, paddleboards and snorkel gear. 

You will be expected to spend some money on food and drinks during your stay, so don’t miss the homemade tortilla chips with fresh salsa and guac.  We have never had a bad meal at Paradise Beach, so work up an appetite and order away.  Check out the menu here

Or, you can opt for the all inclusive day pass, which currently runs around $64 per person and includes all of the fun pass activities plus all you can eat and drink for the day.  We don’t usually opt for this option, because I am “Two Drink Ellen” and my husband tends to take “all you can eat and drink” as a personal challenge to get his money’s worth.

Parasailing ($50 per person), Jet Skis ($50 for 30 minutes), Banana Boat Rides ($10 for 10 minutes), Massages ($30 for 30 minutes), Henna Tattoos and Hair Braiding are all available but additional. 

Why do I love Paradise Beach?  It’s safe and clean.  There is something for everyone.  You can just hop in a cab and go there whenever it works for you.  Same thing on the return.  When you’re ready to go, just settle your tab and hop in a cab.  See what I did there?!?

Sometimes, I hate having a “tour” and a “schedule” to follow.  I don’t want to pay 2 months in advance for “A three-hour horseback riding excursion from 9 am until noon” only to find out it is actually only 45 minutes on a horse.  The rest of the time is standing around in line waiting and traveling to the horses in a bus packed with sweaty tourists.  And then it starts to rain.  Priceless!

I have lost count as to how many times we have visited Paradise Beach in Cozumel, but it never disappoints.  It’s just flexible and fun.  What’s that you say?  Your friend told you there was another beach club on Cozumel that’s way better than Paradise Beach?  Awesome.  Check it out.  Then visit Paradise Beach and let me know how they compare.  😉

This is not a paid ad and I have received nothing from Paradise Beach except happy memories.  They are currently offering a discounted rate if you prepay your day on their website here.

I will wrap this up with a personal video example of what happens when you let grown adults play all day while enjoying buckets of beer.  My daughter was the projectile.  Good times.  😊

Oh 2020, Why’d You Have to Do Me Dirty Like That?!?

I rang in the New Year 100% confident that 2020 was going to be my Best.  Year.  Ever.  Seriously.  I was so confident; I MADE A VISION BOARD!  Swear.  I really did!  For the first time in my 54 years, I laid out all of my goals and my hopes and my dreams and I planned to manifest them into my reality.  Oh, silly naïve Ellen. 

By the end of January, I had planned, booked and paid for an amazing array of travel adventures, including

  • Sailing from San Diego to Vancouver on Holland America’s Konigsdam ship, including a stop in Seattle which was a new destination on a new cruise line for me
  • Celebrating my daughters 21st birthday with a weekend train trip to Toronto to see Hamilton (well, the girls were planning to see Hamilton while my husband and her boyfriend checked out the NHL Hall of Fame Museum), followed by dinner at the top of the CN tower
  • An Alaskan adventure with a group of 100 friends and family in July, including a day trip to Katmai National Park to watch the bears feeding and salmon spawning and then sailing from Seward to Vancouver on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas for 7 nights, with stops in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Icy Straight Point
  • A romantic adventure with my hubby to Hotel Xcaret in Riviera Maya where we planned to ride ATV’s, go ziplining and swim in the cenotes
  • And, to finish out the year, a New Years cruise on Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Odyssey of the Seas, sailing to their private islands of CocoCay and Labadee

By the end of February…Covid was starting to spread around the world and the entire travel industry was beginning to crumble. 

By the end of March, everything was shut down, all travel was cancelled and my full time career became signing and mailing refund checks to hundreds of disappointed clients.

And here we still sit, 10 months later.  In this crazy limbo land between what was and what will be.  Between staying home to stay healthy and getting immunized, so free, and able to travel again.  Life of a vagabond is not cancelled…just postponed. 

The vision board still hangs in my bedroom on my side of the bed, so it is the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I see before I go to bed each night. 

I’ve changed the 2020 at the top to 2021.  My momma didn’t raise no quitter.  Laissez le bon temps rouler!

2020 2021 Vision Board