About Renee Blodgett
Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.
She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.
Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.
Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.
Latest Posts by Renee Blodgett
As I listened to the discussion over the new Administration’s (can’t even say his name) proposed $250 million cut of Planned Parenthood on NPR this week, I thought “is this a throw-back Thursday joke of some kind?
This de-funding proposal, as all listeners of the latest developments know, is for standard women’s reproductive health services since federal funding doesn’t fund PP abortion. As someone who has lived in Africa twice and helped to bring on TEDx speakers to address the importance of birth control and empowering women in Africa and other developing regions of the world, I find it astounding that in the supposedly most developed country in the world, we’re having this conversation in 2017. Apparently most Americans still support Roe v. Wade (most recent numbers from Pew Research say 69%) and we’ve come so far with women’s equality and rights or have we?
I was raised by my grandparents which means that my conditioning came from people born in 1915. Think about it. When I went on the pill for the first time after returning to the U.S. from living abroad, it came from Planned Parenthood – I wasn’t in an at risk category but felt safe going there when there were few people I could talk to about birth control. The grandmother who raised me died when I was 16 and I wasn’t about to turn to my grandfather. Yet, an interesting thing happened after I finally disclosed it to him. He said, “smart move – I’m glad you took the initiative, especially without your mother here to guide you.” Then we started talking.
He told me about a hospital scene when my grandmother was giving birth to my dad and the doctor asked him if there were any issues, what his decision was: to save my grandmother or the baby? I asked him with my wide open 21 year old eyes, “What did you say?” “Of course, I told him to save your mother. What kind of question is that?” as if I was a fool for not knowing the answer. My eyes watered up. Pro-lifers will likely say that the baby’s life is equal to the mother’s and sure, it is – after all, in an ethical argument, all lives are equal. After all, if there were labor issues in this scenario, I wouldn’t be here to write this heartfelt stream of consciousness or whatever it is turning into. Moments after his response, it occurred to me that the doctor asked my grandfather to make that decision. “Didn’t mom have the right to make that call herself?” I asked him. “No,” he responded. “It was the man’s decision.”
My grandfather was about as Republican as it gets, conservative about a lot of things and born in 1915, was an adult during times like this and yet he was pro-choice. Here we are having this conversation over a hundred years later as to WHY any government has a right to decide for a woman about her reproductive health? To decide for or in any way, impact a woman’s constitutional rights? Oh United States of America in all of your intellectual, financial, military and world power glory, haven’t you become smarter? Don’t you know that women and diversity are the pulse of this powerful land?
How and where did this country get so lost? To a place of putting other desires above honor, truth and dignity. We have charted into a new world and definition of what it means to be an American or at a minimum, what American will now project to and come to be defined by the rest of the world.
Let’s not be so complacent or remotely okay with a new status quo, one which has begun to suggest that a man or woman’s honor, word, integrity, or conduct means nothing. How do we explain that words, conduct, and honor are not fundamental to America’s ideology to our children who are watching and listening every single day? Words can’t describe how I feel as a woman listening to what is happening to this country and knowing what is yet to come in the next four years. The PP cut is just the beginning of many decisions that will take us far far back in time.
Meryl Streep summed it up in 5 powerful sentences in a response to the President’s Elect’s distasteful mocking of a reporter’s disability: “It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a move. It was real life. It was the moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life. Because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing”.
Truth be told, I tend to hate lists but readers seem to love them. The reason I hate them is because it requires me (or one) to choose. As a parent, if someone asked you if you had a favorite child, it’s like asking whether you have more love for one or the other, not necessarily who you align with the most. As a traveler, when someone asks you what your favorite country is, dang….it’s hard, at least it is for me. I have my least favorites but even in the gloom of some treacherous experiences I had in China when the doors first opened up to westerners so many moons ago, when our room was broken into in Naples or when we were scammed in India, there were insightful outcomes from all of these incidents. And, as all travelers know, one isn’t like the other and as easy as it is to stereotype (and I do at times based on a myriad of similar experiences in one place), one STILL isn’t like the other. It’s important for us to be open and to constantly yearn to learn, for it is in that openness that magic happens, on the road…or not.
Above is a shot I posted on my feed towards the end of 2016 which we took near my home along the northern California coast. There’s a little distortion from it when I blew it up to nearly 2,000 pixels, but I love how I felt that day and so here it is. Taken on my iPhone 6.
I curate this list with trepidation because there were so many feeds that inspired me this past year and 2016 marked a shift for me with Instagram; I became more addicted to the platform and therefore more engaged. As time consuming as it is, I have begun to think about Instagrammers I have met through my travel world and my foodie one through my food Instagram account @LuxuryFoodies, and their lives on a regular basis. This is building community at its essence, at least in an online world. Unlike other platforms, I learn more about their inner worlds and perspective on life — it’s the combination of carefully thought out language, creative descriptors and powerful photography that even long form blog posts like this one can’t capture. Note that I didn’t select these because they necessarily have the best photos but because I “felt” something powerful through their posts over time, which included their engagement with me and with others. Taking the time to inspire AND be inspired by others is hard and time consuming and deserves applause.
Photo credit: @dotzsoh, taken of Singapore, where she says in her description: Never let a little stumble be the end of your journey! (Hear Hear)
As a nature lover, there’s no doubt that I have had more photography aha moments from folks like @earth.pro (198K followers), @jacob (443K followers), @nature.geography (1.4m followers), @tree_magic (111K followers), @earthpix (10.3m followers), @destinationfervor (389K followers) and one of the earliest feeds I discovered @dotzsoh (@742K followers) whose tagline is: Live the Life you Love and Love the Life you Live. There’s plenty others who have truly inspired and touched me this year (and where I felt ‘understood’ because they resonated with what I wrote or posted), so this Top 12 List could easily be 100 if I had more time. There’s a rawness and authenticity to those on this list however and I love that aspect of their feeds. Note: I have listed them alphabetically to keep things simple.
Amrita and Rich are Canadian-based and it shows through their authenticity. They share their own shots but occasionally of friends they meet on the road; I love the sharing and pro-community piece of this, which is a gift to us as followers of their feed. Their account is genuine and raw and weaves in questions for us to ponder with real-live shots of both their urban and natural experiences. Their tagline: they want to help inspire the traveler inside everyone.
She’s more of a new discovery for me. Danielle Ashley calls herself a photographer first, not a traveler and while she doesn’t have a lot of posts yet, I love the dreaminess and colors she chooses in her editing process. There’s plenty of beach shots and sunsets, something that calms my mind in the flurry of stressful moments when I’m not on the road. Her tagline: This is the incredible world we live in. She hopes that her photography will inspire others to travel.
Esther makes me laugh — she provides insights, asks questions and makes us think. Based in Portland Oregon, her tagline has her moving to a new city every year, which will undoubtedly give her a very unique perspective on the U.S. and the world around her. Bravo!
Sarah and Kris call themselves JetSettingFools, so there’s a bit of humor in their perspective and feed, which I love. Their tagline: One Life, One World — we want to experience it, not just exist in it. How can you not love that mantra and way of looking at the world? Experiential travel (and I’d argue life), is what truly transforms us.
Janie and Scott are independent travelers based in San Francisco and yet we still haven’t met. No tagline, but all photos are theirs and I find them everywhere — in other words, they seem to really take the time to engage with their community with words that go a little deeper than I often have time for, even though I almost always feel more moved than perhaps the words “Fabulous shot” invoke. I should create a glossary of what’s going on in my head when I say fabulous versus nice versus awesome versus wow moment versus incredible versus you had me at hello. Who doesn’t want to feel seen and heard? They make you feel that way by adding more texture to their shares on a regular basis.
I love nature and dreamy skies and it shows in my posts, so it should be no surprise that I connect to photos that bring color to life in unique and creative ways or simply happy and joyous ones. This feed is more realistic in that its not full of pinks and oranges that I often gravitate to in nature or cloud porn that makes me reflect. Colors do pop in this feed however which I love — it’s hard to believe that I have shot so many black and white shots in my life given how much I connect to dreamy colors in my life today. Their tagline? There are on foreign lands, it’s the traveler who is foreign. I love this and it’s so spot on.
Traci shares a lot of street and urban shots as well as nature, posting her own and occasionally highlighting others on her feed. She seems to be present; it’s what I feel through her feed although we’ve never met. Her tagline? Dance me to the end of love — Leonard Cohen. I so so LOVE this! Let’s go on a hike together someday Traci.
Could I be biased because they’re kiwis and I absolutely fell in love with the authenticity and generosity I experienced in New Zealand? Who knows, but I do love the energy of Terry and Maura’s feed. How brave is this? They sold their home to travel. I do feel like I’m browsing through a photo album of sorts but it just works and they draw me in for reasons I can’t explain. Perhaps it reminds me of my first world trip or perhaps its their genuineness that just shines through again and again.
Anthea seems like someone I could travel with and well, she’s from South Africa, one of my top countries, so we’d likely share a lot of “favorite spots.” Remember I lived there twice and my ex-hubby is South African. Now based in Heidelberg, also a gem destination for photography, her tagline is: Photographer, Traveler, Dreamer and Light Chaser. Simple but beautiful, right? Light is so critical to all that we capture, whether it shows up in reality in our photography or remains just in our mind’s eye.
I discovered this traveling couple a little more recently. Their tagline is: Travelers. Adventurers. Storytellers. AND, they want to prove that you are never too old to explore. Often, I hear people who say they’re too old for adventure travel or to change the way they travel or even live their life. You’re never too old for a new perspective or a new routine in your life and let’s face it, life truly begins just outside your comfort zone. I love that they seem to be big believers and advocates of this viewpoint and are living their dream with new remarkable views each and every day.
Lori seems like she’d be a blast to travel with — she covers food, culture and experiential travel around the world according to her tagline and this is reflected in the photos she shares. I think food is such a big part of my travels and always used to incorporate food shots into my @weblogtheworld feed and only separated it out over to @LuxuryFoodies in 2016, but I applaud people who can weave both into their feed and make it work. She shares a bit more culture than nature, but she does a great job at both. Two thumbs up! I’d love to explore a village or two with her one day.
Michaela posts a lot of photos from Asia, especially dreamy sunsets, whether that be traditional beach ones or those from a magical experience like a balloon ride. Words that she uses to define her? Cultural, Stylish and Luxury. Bucharest based, her tagline says she loves Asia, sunsets and sunrises and rooftops. I resonated with rooftops since my grandfather was a roofer and I spent most of my childhood looking at the world from the top of them…..and, I’d argue that it has changed my life. One of these days, I have a feeling our paths will cross.
Let’s face it — the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) which is held every year in Las Vegas, can be a dizzying experience. I’ve been going for about 25 years, almost always repping a product and sometimes more than one, from kids education software and the world’s best speech recognition system in my younger days to a myriad of startup innovations ever since. I tend to find the product recaps predominantly male; in other words, most of the top picks tend to center around early adopter products and they tend to fall in the following categories: video, cars, audio, and big screen TV’s. While these categories impact all of us, especially car technology, I tend to look at unique designs, products and services which also appeal to women and solutions that help travelers on the road, either be more productive, or have more fun.
I’ve curated a list of 25 products in several categories and some of the factors that I looked at when making the cut include originality, innovation, design, and whether it is or can look at the bigger picture and solve a need beyond what it is doing today. I include wellness, because that matters to me a lot, so much so that we’ve expanded the Wellness category. In this piece, you’ll find the following: Toyota’s futuristic car that thinks for you, the easiest to learn electronic guitar you’ll ever use, a smart suitcase cover, a smart bed, a personal connected wine bar, a companion robot, the world’s smartest air purifier, a fashionable wrist wearable that pairs with headphones, vibrating jeans and swim suits that alert you when to apply more sunscreen, a stylish panoramic camera with 17 lenses, smart dumbbells, a smart skateboard, the world’s first electric violin made from a 3D printer, a genetic measuring kit, a smart assistant, a Titanium folding bike, a wireless speaker with a wool covering to integrate with your living room, a wireless antenna so you can cut those ties to Comcast and others, intelligent thermal clothing, a device that helps women increase their readiness and interest in sex, an AI-based smart home hub, a voice operated kitchen assistant, a pocket flying camera that all travelers will love and smart aromatherapy to improve your well-being. I also shot some video of this year’s CES, which runs around five minutes but it includes product shots and some on-site experiences, so be sure to tune in.
The Toyota Concept-i
Cars are always fun to see at CES since it allows you to get away from large TV screens, audio and video devices, and in this year’s case, Virtual Reality and Connected Home promised life changing innovations everywhere. The new Toyota Concept-i is focused on utilitarian autonomous transport. This car is so futuristic looking that it may be hard to imagine driving, at least if you’re a woman that is. It has scissor doors and edgy styling and while it’s not available to purchase just yet, it is setting the bar for other manufacturers to meet in this category.
The guys at Calty Design Research center have dreamed up a new concept of automotive UX for Toyota — intelligent cars that continually learn, and, in turn, keep getting smarter. They idea was to build a brilliant car that gets to know you and your needs, and then starts to anticipate them for you. Yui, in tandem with Artificial Intelligence (AI), anticipates your needs and informs the car so that Concept-i can consider and execute that next action accordingly.
It may sound all too futuristic, right? The key is that you’re still in charge of the car however, through biometric sensors throughout the car, Concept-i can detect what you’re feeling. That information then gets analyzed by the car’s AI after which, automated features kick in. If you’re feeling sad, the AI will analyze your emotion, make a recommendation and if necessary, take over and drive you safely to your destination. Yes, really! One of these days, it would be great to test drive this sleek device — in the meantime, she’s beautiful to look at for those into modern and future design.
D-Vine Connect, Your Personal Connected Wine Bar
At the Sands in Eureka Park, it seemed as if French startups were dominating the aisles. You couldn’t turn around and not hear a French accent or French being spoke. Enter French start-up who apparently launched at last CES but came back with more innovation. Keurig for wine on steroids and beyond? Sort of. Their D-Vine Connect is a 10-Vins’ wine-centric appliance, which allows you to taste a whole lotta wine at home without having to head to a restaurant or a vineyard. Given that we’re big foodies here at We Blog the World and have a whole section dedicated to Food/Wine and Restaurant Reviews, we love this innovation. Their product features an interactive built-in touchscreen, which allows you to get top notch information instantly, kinda like having your own sommelier in your own kitchen.
Imagine having wine transform into even better wine immediately. In other words, it actually changes the QUALITY of the wine. Additionally, D-Vine Connect helps you pair wine as well. For example, say you’d like to grill a steak with a salad and string beans for dinner. Or alternatively, you’re in the mood for a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon or a Chardonnay — D-Vine Connect will deliver suggestions on dishes, food pairings and so on that will go best with your preferred wine for the evening. This can be incredibly useful when you have guests over or simply don’t want to think about it.
Given my background in Artificial Intelligence (AI), I was impressed by the AI integration. Yes, this machine learns your tastes over time, so it can even make recommendations to you in the future based on your preferences. Simple, easy and oh so wonderful for wine lovers like me. Bravo! We liked the user interface as well, which makes it easy for anyone to browse through a myriad of wines and learn in the process. It’s great for discovery and for making meals that much better.
We also love the fact that the D-Vine Connect sets the right temperature for each chosen wine. The machine decants it for you from a dispenser after you make a selection and approve, automatically. Their assistant plays movies with views of the vineyards and explanations from 10-Vins’ oenologist about the wine you’re tasting — how cool is that? Apparently, it will also analyze data on wine consumption and share it with the wine industry. The D-Vine will be shipping later this year and apparently is planning to open a wine lounge bar in California before the end of the year – we hope that they let us know when they launch this so we can check it out.
Sleep Number 360 Bed
While we’re talking lifestyle and home, we should also mention the Sleep Number 360 Bed, which was getting a bit of attention at the show. Imagine being tired after a long day and you’re ready to head to bed, but before you do, the Sleep Number 360 automates a process that will keep you toasty warm before you dive under the sheets. Yes, really. The bed will heat up the foot of the bed, which is such a great feature for those who live in cold climates — oh so lovely right?
What else is cool is that the bed also adjusts the actual angle as well as the firmness of the mattress as the user moves in his or her sleep, making it a more comfortable and relaxing sleep overall. For example, if you move from your back to your side, it will adjust accordingly. And, this feature will be a godsend for so many — et hem, but can it work? I call it the Reduce Snoring Feature. In other words, if it senses you or your partner snoring, it will automatically adjust one of the individual headrests to make it stop. Wow, right? Could potentially save a lot of marriages.
The bed also has a feature that will alert you to wake up, adjusting your alarm to your own preferences. The Sleep Number 360 smart bed uses SleepIQ technology and intelligent biometrics to sense everything you need so it can customize a sleep experience for you. Yup, the bed is kinda like a smart bed in that it knows how you’re sleeping and comes with a mobile app so you can track it. In the morning, you’ll both learn how the Sleep Number 360 smart bed is adjusting to your individual comfort and the effects the bed has on your sleep quality through something they refer to as a SleepIQ score.
My Buddy Robot
This adorable robot is being pimped as the Companion Robot, a new innovation from San Francisco and Paris-based Blue Frog Robotics. My Buddy Robot has a number of fun and useful features that enhance your home, making it smarter I suppose one could say. On the edutainment side, you can participate in interactive games, math and language learning, which is great if you have kids of the right age. There’s also a security component as well. You can use My Buddy to patrol, detect, alert and notify you remotely of any issues at home, including a potential burglar. It can also act as a smart baby monitor, another great family feature in a device that does look like a friendly ‘companion.’
He’s adorable right? On the smart home side, My Buddy can act as a hub and connector to IoT and home automation appliances — think thermostat, smart TV, door locks, motorized curtains, lights, a HiFi station and more. You may not want to enable all of those features depending on your needs and interests, but from climate control to the kitchen, there are useful benefits. Imagine it also acting as a photographer, a concierge, a messenger of daily weather, news, recipes and more.
I also think the elder care piece of it is also a wonderful feature. For example, you can use the robot to detect any falls from an aging parent, and it can maintain social links as well as act as an agenda posology. Cool stuff and…..the design is incredible cute. See a few second video clip of him buzzing around in Vegas in early January.
They were pitching the Helix Cuff as the world’s first fashion wearable with smart wireless headphones — on your wrist. Helix Cuff is the flagship product of Ashley Chloe, which caters to fashion-forward consumers who crave sleek digital wearables that are modern and elegant. Helix Cuff aims to bridge the gap between high fashion and functional form, they say. It comes in six fun colors and is paired with a smart app.
Magic Instruments Guitar
If you love to sing, Magic Instruments elevates your talent by providing you with the power and freedom to accompany yourself. I somehow found myself singing on the Sands show floor ignoring who was watching, simply because I was ‘so into the learning process.’ Why? Because it was so easy and so much fun. Whether you want to personalize your favorite songs, or create your own original music, the guitar contains an encyclopedia of chords and scales in every key, all instantly available at your fingertips. Since I didn’t have enough time to fully go through the process, we’re keen on reviewing this fabulous musical device sometime this year, so we’ll be covering it in more depth a little later on — be sure to watch out for it. So far, I’m a huge fan though, so bravo to the team for making learning both easy and fun.
Spinali Design Clothing
Spinali Design produces smart clothes which are designed to integrate with your smartphone with a goal of helping to fight the “burnout” factor in your life. French designed and owned, they manufacture smart clothes (they had their jeans and swim suits at CES) and smart accessories. Their “smart bikini” line Neviano, embeds a device that alerts you when to apply more sunscreen. Cool, right?
A range of 70 swimsuits numbered from 01 to 06 (from the most covering to the least covering), combine design, sensuality, innovation and technology. The Neviano UV Protect has “suntanning tips” and as noted above, a “sunscreen alert”, which integrates the function “Valentine” which makes sure you apply more sunscreen when necessary. The Neviano UV Protect also manages the UV index, the Distance function and the Multisensor function.
Their vibrating jeans (yes, really — and we hope to review them soon) comes with two vibrating sensors on the belt which is connected to your smartphone via Bluetooth. The geo-location feature allows you to make it easier to find your car or your meeting place. A feature called “Ping” will allow people to interact with their surroundings through a vibration that can be customized by duration, frequency and intensity. They tout this feature for those who want to discreetly attract someone’s attention, for people communicating in open offices, or for students. The system can also be programmed to inform you if you are running late. With its integrated push button, this smart clothing has a variety of uses, from security alerts, home support, geo-location of your children, isolated workers, and more.
The Hair Coach by Kerastase
You’d expect a hair coach product to come out of a French company wouldn’t you? Powered by Withings, I had a chance to see the new hair coach at CES in early January. Totally personalized, they tout this as the world’s first smart hairbrush that empowers you to track and improve hair health over time. This product results from a collaboration between Kérastase, L’Oréal and Withings, which brings state of the art sensors and app connectivity to everyday products. The resulting innovation is a brush that syncs seamlessly to your smartphone to provide valuable insights that can help revolutionize the home beauty routine. I had a chance to chat with someone about their new innovation in their booth, so while the sound isn’t great, my short video will give you an idea of the jist of it from a spokesperson at the show.
You simply brush and the technology does the rest. For dry hair, you can follow hair elasticity to learn how to avoid dry hair and measure your cuticle damage to help ensure moisture retention. It also helps with breakage and the ability to optimize sebum distribution to avoid tangles. The smart app will measure all of this and provide insight into how to avoid damaging hair. I love this since this so called gesture analysis helps you understand and improve brushing habits.
The handle is sleek and lightweight and boasts high density of professional-grade boar and nylon bristles and the brush seamlessly integrates with a mobile app. The brush detects when it is being used and begins data collection automatically. As soon as you complete your brushing session, all data will be sent automatically to your phone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. They tell me it should be available sometime in Q3 of this year.
STARO: Panoramic Camera
I love the design of this very cool panoramic camera, STARO, not yet out and only shown as a prototype, at least that was my understanding. This 360 panoramic camera claims to have the highest resolution at 136 mp which avid travelers will love. It’s also small,easy to pack and beautiful to look at as well. Of course, I only saw it at their booth so didn’t have a chance to test it out though we’d love to sometime this year on a trip where we can catch the best drama of course. The stitching of photos is decent but may require software to make it all come together.
See a sample shot of the Great Wall below, where you can see that the camera was able to capture most of the highlight detail in the clouds, while also showing detail in the wall itself. As noted above, the camera has quite a few lenses — 17 in total (multi-lense simultanous imaging), which makes shooting sports easy. All lenses can simultaneously photograph and stitch 17 photos into a single panoramic photo with 136 million pixels.
They also boast one touch shoots, all of which can be managed within the Staro mobile app. Three photos in different EV levels automatically do HDR-merge, which is what provides the higher dynamic range they tout as a notable feature. Auto 3D modeling makes scene roaming more fluent and smooth and it is compatible with computers/tablets/smartphones and VR equipment. They offer wifi synchronization as well which makes it easy for travelers on the road to post to social media and share with friends/family at home. Total weight is sweet at only .4 pounds.
This is a standalone device that can supplement other camera devices you may already be using, unlike the Insta360 Nano which I reviewed recently and included in both our Holiday Gift Guide as well as my top picks for 2016. The Insta360 Nano churns out a few different 360 effects and note that the below shot was a selfie I took from inside a balloon on my most recent trip to the Dominican Republic. Here’s another shot taken on a boat from the same trip.
Helko’s Smart Dumbbells
Since we’re huge fans of wellness and holistic lifestyles here, I was drawn to the smart dumbbells at the show, which bring games to fitness from Helko. It seems to be early days from these guys so I don’t have a lot of details on the product itself, except that its goal is to combine universal fitness equipment with multi-functionality of a biotracker and gamepad. These dumbbells are most definitely futuristic in every way with a modern sleek design that is sure to attract women and hipster millennials. They weave games and entertainment together to motivate your workouts — cool idea and I’m looking forward to hearing more as they get closer to shipping.
SPECTRA: Most Portable & Intelligent Personal Vehicle
While we’re talking about transportation, let’s visit something smaller but also elegantly looking. Enter the SPECTRA, the most portable and intelligent personal vehicle. Like the Segway, you need to be aware of your posture and stance but it has a lot of great features to help you along the way. Unlike the Segway, it’s portable, electric and they say, you’re up and running after only five or so minutes of learning.
While this may be a little male dominated (it seems to be a theme for my post, right?), I love what these guys are doing. As a kid, I was a big skateboarder, so this chic innovation really resonated with me. As someone who has always had good balance, the Segway was a natural for me the moment I stepped on one so the SPECTRA in a natural progression, only smaller and cheaper.
Its length is around 19.4 inches, its range can go 11.2 miles at a 12.5 mile (top speed) and it only weighs in at around 12 pounds — there are heavier laptops than this if you get all of the bells and whistles. The device boasts a 2D posture sensing module which has a series of pressure sensors and an intelligent algorithm, meaning you can control it simply by shifting your weight. Even though I gravitated to it because I’m a former skateboarder, you don’t need any skateboarding experience to be able to use it — they’re designing this for everyone.
With the same stable structure as a skateboard, SPECTRA is mechanically robust (they say) and adaptive to all kinds of commuting needs. With the dual-hubmotor design in the front, it has the ability to climb up a 20 degree ramp and recharge when decelerating or going down ramp (nice feature!!). It comes with an app, which has a speed mode selection, digital control keys, a battery status and odometer screen, lock mode and sharing economy feature and a path post and SNS. There’s also flashing brake lights in both the front and the back and in addition to the brakes on the bub motors, SPECTRA has dual protection with its extra electromagnetic drums. The company is Walnutt Technology and they’re planning to do a Kickstarter campaign this spring, with shipping planned for sometime in the late spring or early summer.
Varius, World’s First Electronic Violin (from 3D Printing)
3D printing is growing in popularity and is becoming more known among the masses. There seems to be no shortage of new products that can be created from a 3D printer, but an instrument? If you’re a serious music guru regardless of what instrument you play (or teach), you may have a hard time thinking that an instrument created through a printer can deliver the same quality of sound as a traditional one. This will largely be a personal opinion of course, but the bottom line is that a 3D printed violin is now possible. Varius claims they’re first to market with a 3D printed concert electric violin. Have a listen to a very short video I shot on the CES show floor of someone actually playing it.
Printed as a single piece, the 3D Varius violin departs from traditional musical instrument production technology. This particularity ensures a perfect accuracy of the audio spectrum and a total respect of the musician’s emotion, they say. It was designed to facilitate the transition for all violinists from a classical violin to the 3Dvarius. Its dimensions can be customized and adapted to any morphology. The instrument was also designed to offer a maximal playing comfort as the weight distribution was optimized to re-create the comfort of a classical violin. Its sound sensors, located under each string, were carefully selected to accurately translate the sound frequencies.
They had a successful Kickstarter campaign in early 2016 where they pimped their edge, which is all about combining the precision and power of 3D-printing with ancient violin-making skills. Certainly, its innovative design, marks a further step towards the perfect symbiosis between musician and instrument.
Join the genetic movement if you haven’t already. I love this stuff — bottom line, the more you know about your personal temple, the more proactive you can be to take better care of it. A very cool genetic assessment kit by Orig2n measures a bunch of things, including food sensitivities, fitcode (exercise, recovery, endurance, etc), your skin and whether you have genes or not for super strength, speed or intelligence (yes, really!).
I actually did this test with their team on the show floor so am still waiting for my results and whether I’m a SUPER WOMAN or not. It’s a simple and quick process that merely requires you to take a swap of the inside of your cheeks (left and right) and send it in. Genetic assessments can empower you with information about your body so you can make more informed decisions about your fitness, diet and skin health. The company behind this cool test is ORIG3N, which is involved in stem cell research and regenerative medicine and apparently has established the world’s largest cell repository in the world – how cool is that?
Based in my former hood and stomping ground — Boston — these guys are at the forefront of genetic testing in ways that can directly help consumers. After I get my results back in a month or so, I’ll post an update on my experience including using their app.
Lenovo’s Alexa Smart Assistant
Truth be told, I’m a Lenovo fan and no, I am not a Lenovo ambassador nor have they ever been a client. I’ve owned a few of their laptops over the years and long for one today after several years of glitches with my MacBook Pro. I don’t want to hear it from Mac fan boys — there are issues despite your love with the simplicity and beauty of a Mac’s design and I don’t just mean compatibility ones. The Lenovo at CES I’m referring to is not one of their latest laptops however but a speaker…something they refer to as the Alex Smart Assistant, which many in the press room compared to the Amazon Echo although it’s a tad cheaper.
They call it a smart speaker (of course it has to be smart given the trend at CES in the last couple of years) and it employs Amazon Alexa. The speaker is available in two models and a variety of colors. I cringed when I saw a male writer talk about how he gravitated toward the black edition, which apparently sports Harman Kardon speakers.
If you read WBTW often enough, you know that I applaud vendors who think about women buyers and offer a variety of fun colors and I don’t mean masculine red, orange and bright blue. Lenovo gives us choices in elegant soft colors – bravo!! I’ve yet to test them out and would love to review a set, so check back for more when we get our paws on a pair. The basic Lenovo Smart Assistant is priced at only around $129. The Amazon Echo has 7 microphones whereas the Alexa has 8so in addition to their beautiful design, the sound should be top notch as well. The more advanced version (aka the Harman Kardon edition) delivers even better audio apparently.
Seattle Cycles’ Titanium Folding Bike
This beautiful prize isn’t an option for those on a budget. Starting at around $10K, the gorgeous titanium folding bike on the CES show floor was a stunner. Seattle Cycles tout their latest as the worlds lightest e-bike — it folds up, is airline ‘legal at only 16 inches and weighs about 18 pounds.
Designed for taking on travels by plane, boat or train, the Burke 20 can be folded and packed into a 28″x22″x12″ suitcase in one minute, without disassembly of wheels, handlebar or use of tools. Unfolded, the 20-inch wheels, wide gear range, and a full titanium frame with an extended cockpit give a fast and reassuring ride. It apparently ‘fits’ like a full-size bike, has adjustable seatpots and handlebars and will work well for any rider from 5′ tall to 6′+. It has a leather saddle, foam grip and MKS pedals. They may be targeting men, but I love the design and let’s just say, wish I had one in my garage.
Photo credit: Seattle-Cycles.
Beoplay M5 Speaker
Not quite as attractive as the Alexa Smart Assistant, but a speaker that touts itself as a piece of furniture, the Beoplay M5 is a wireless connected speaker that can function as a standalone or be connected to other speakers across multiple rooms. It is covered in wool so I applaud them for getting away from ugly black and gray, and the material is soft, covering is soft and can integrate well into a living room.
Beoplay’s music systems and speakers feature the Bang & Olufsen Signature Sound, sound which they say is honest, clean and with passion. We haven’t tested these out yet either, but hope to sometime this year, so stay tuned. All their products are made from premium crafted materials and offer a palette of colors and placement options to match your style and interior. (YAY — thanks guys!)
For technical geeks, you may want to know that it’s actually Bang & Olufsen’s sub-brand which is a bit more affordable than some of their higher end solutions. To get your music music to the Beoplay M5, simply connect via Bluetooth, Chromecast, AirPlay, Spotify Connect, or Bang & Olufsen’s Beolink Multiroom. It seems like this is going head-to-head (so to speak) with the Sonos Play:5, however unlike the Sonos, you don’t need a dedicated app. With the M5, you can play it all via a regular Bluetooth speaker. Many of us want the ability to have Spotify et al to deliver music directly and have a little more flexibility and freedom for how we use the device. The cost is around $599.
The Mohu AirWave Wireless Antenna
Let’s be honest, I HATE dealing with Comcast and am not alone. We’ve all been at dinner parties or networking events where there’s a hate fest discussion over Comcast and it doesn’t seem to be any easier to cut ties with them — believe me, I tried. The last time I called to nuke my TV to bring my cost down and just use them for wifi access, it cost more, a way to keep you tethered to their God awful expensive plans.
Also shown at CES, the Mohu AirWave wireless antenna can go anywhere in your house, and I have to admit, I love the fact that you can avoid those ugly wires which none of my engineer friends seem to mind. This flexible feature allows for optimal positioning, so you can access live, local broadcast channels onto your Fire TV, Apple TV, Android, iOS, Roku, and more.
They tout this as the industry’s first-of-its-kind wireless over-the-air (OTA) and over-the-top (OTT) device that integrates live, local broadcast TV with free streaming channels across popular streaming devices as noted above. It is really dedicated to people like me who are looking for smart and creative ways to CUT THOSE CABLE CORDS for good. AirWave was built to give cord cutters open, simple and complete wireless access to the live TV and streaming content they enjoy, all in one place and with no monthly fees.
AirWave wirelessly connects to the Mohu TV application (available for free across all compatible devices), so you can channel up and down through live broadcast content and free streaming content in a familiar, cable-like TV guide. You’ll be able to view streaming video in a cable-like program guide, complete with program descriptions and select your favorite channels, while also being able to view up to 14 days of upcoming content. You can set up AirWave anywhere in a home where there is an Internet connection and the price point is sweet at only $149. (available this spring). Bravo!! We can’t wait to test this out — if it works, I’ll be their loudest voice and biggest fan!
Sprimo, World’s Smartest Air Purifier
Let’s face it — indoor Air Pollution is dangerous and climbing at alarming rates. Air pollution in general rise worldwide, killing more than 3.3 million and one study says it could double by 2050. Given that we spend nearly 90% of our time indoors (some research says more) and indoor air pollution is slated to be from 3 to 10 times worse than outdoor air pollution, it’s no wonder that that cases of Asthma and Allergies are climbing and at an all-time high.
If you think that all the places where you or your kids spend time is at safe levels, think again. Studies show that 50% of America’s schools have problems linked to indoor air quality and an issue in 6 out of 10 homes worldwide. Purer air is said to improve kid’s productivity and results at school. Bottom line, what we breathe in day after day, can impact the quality of our sleep, energy levels and even life span.
Enter Sprimo, the “go-to” product for people who want the best quality air in the personal spaces they work, play or sleep. Unlike traditional air purifiers that focus on large square footage areas to measure success, Sprimo is aimed at improving the quality of life through bursts of clear air instantly. Sprimo’s small, lightweight and nearly silent air purifier is smart and adapts based on people’s issues, from chemicals and dust to seasonal allergens.
Anyone who suffers from allergies can benefit from Sprimo as well as those at higher risks, such as children and the aging. The purifier’s low entrainment air flow works as a shield to block contact by reducing the chance of you breathing an airborne virus by up to 60%. Sprimo’s new Personal Air Module (PAM) and cloud-based mobile app delivers real-time data on air quality via your smart phone so you can be alerted wherever you may be. Simply plug it into your iPhone and you’re good to go – you’ll be alerted whether you’re breathing in poor quality air or not. They’ll be taking pre-orders starting in March and Sprimo will ship sometime in Q4. See a video of me at their booth – note that the steam you see was made possible by cold ice and merely for the purpose of seeing roughly how large the clean air blanket is around you when using Sprimo.
C-me Pocket Flying Cameras by Hobbico
Truth be told, I didn’t have much time to learn about this product at all but I did SEE it briefly and loved the design as well as the fabulous four color options. I’ve been wanting to test out a drone for awhile now, however the combination of ugly designs, the price and the fact that they seem to cater mostly to men, has held me back. Top all of that with the need to get a certificate, a process of registration that albeit I’m told is easy, is still a barrier. They’re also sizeable and I get the feeling there’s more of a learning curve then I’m willing to commit to, at least now. And dang, they’re noisy.
Travelers will likely be most interested in camera drones, which are typically ready-to-fly quadcopters that have stabilized cameras for shooting both video and stills. Drones with cameras can be used for a variety of things, including video production, search and rescue, agriculture and more. The simplest reason to use one is to simply see the world from above, which is an entirely different perspective than we normally get when we travel. I ran across a small and attractive one that seems to be a great fit for travelers called C-me, which they don’t really call a drone, but a pocket flying camera — they tout it as the smallest micro folding pocket flying camera to be precise. Those who think (like I do) that most drones are ugly, made for geeks and too bulky, take a look at this more consumer-oriented option that comes in fun colors and cloaked in a design that women will love.
It’s small enough to fit in your pocket and provides one-touch instantaneous social media sharing of full HD images and videos including selfies – bravo! So, whether you’re taking high-flying selfies or full HD aerial images and videos of your trip to the Grand Canyon, Hobbico’s C-me makes selfies and video easy. It is the first micro folding drone that fits in your pocket, the first device of its kind with a Full HD 8MP digital camera, and the first to feature touch-of-a-button social media sharing to your favorite social channels. It’s also a snap to use – no previous flight experience necessary – as it comes with an innovative single-thumb control interface that can be mastered in only five minutes plus connectivity to the most popular IOS and Android smartphones via their free-to-download C-me app.
When not in flight, the arms and propeller blades uniquely fold completely inside the body cavity for the ultimate protection against accidental snagging or catching that can cause damage or imperfection to the blades or arms resulting a less-than-perfect flight performance. A proprietary chip delivers many of the features of a commercial-grade drone for half the price of other camera drones. The device uses a Full HD 8MP digital camera with resolution equivalent to the iPhone 6 and self-generated WiFi, which all travelers will love. There’s also a 360° option for panoramic video, a burst mode that captures up to 15 images sequentially with one touch and a feature which I love, a ten second delay timer, although I wish they offered longer options, i.e., 25 seconds and even up to a minute for those harder to take shots when you’re on the road. Nature shots come to mind. And look at this fabulous C-me in PURPLE!
Although we haven’t tried it yet, they tout one-touch takeoff and landing, which for those who fear the drone learning curve, seems like a godsend. It’s not quite available yet (dang) but a spokesperson tells me I may be able to get my paws on one sometime in March to review — we can’t wait!
Clim8: Intelligent Thermal Clothing
This is a B2B innovation — in other words, it’s not clothing you can go out and buy, but technology that will be built into clothing you already know, a bit like the Intel chip inside for clothing, but rather than speed, it’s about warmth, or more accurately — regulation. They don’t think of themselves as a smart wearable but it absolutely is in that it’s smart about regulating the temperature in your body. You can receive what they refer to as thermal consistency in order to maintain personalized comfort, no matter what the weather conditions or activities that you do.
Their revolutionary (their word, not mine) textile process, integrates tiny sensors into the yarn, leading to optimal temps. Sensors in the garment monitor skin temperature and their app analyzes your surroundings, activities and skin temperature. From this process, heating zones embedded into the garment activate to adjust skin temperature and maintain thermal comfort. Cool, right? The garment then regulates heat exchanges by evaporation as it matches sweating zones on your body.
Fiera: Personal Care Device for Women
So many online sites cater to the geek in all of us, but let’s face it, most of the picks and reads are tailored to men. I read the round-ups and rarely do we find cool innovation picks that’s about something a bit more obscure or, hmmm, controversial, like sex.
Fiera, which they refer to as a Personal Care Device, is the first hands-free wearable product for women, which is designed to increase interest in and physical readiness for sex, naturally. Fiera is used before sex to help get her mind and body ready for a physical, mental and emotional connection with her partner. Given that the chief ‘scientific officer is a woman, I decided to listen for a bit longer when I first heard the pitch at the Showstoppers media event.
The device is typically worn for 5-15 minutes and features pattern and intensity settings for a customizable experience. Fiera uses gentle suction and stimulation to enhance blood flow, increase lubrication and get a woman ready to go, so to speak. The company was founded by ExploraMed Development which is an incubator that has launched a bunch of disruptive healthcare solutions to market apparently. Does it work? Let’s just say I haven’t tried it yet, but I think it’s a cool idea.
WooHoo’s Smart Home Hub
WooHoo is an Artificial Intelligence based Smart Home Hub & Cloud-based platform designed by SmartBeings. They were exhibiting at Showstoppers and at the Sands (Eureka Park), so in the early startup category. They say they’re the first device with facial recognition, voice recognition, an Internet of Things (IoT) hub and a 7 inch touchscreen all in one. The world’s easiest-to-use cloud based SmartHome software is also baked in, they say. Is it the easiest and most innovative? Hard to say since I only had a quick peak at it, but I like the promise.
With a name like WooHoo, it’s no surprise that they’re Silicon Valley based, the home of some of the silliest names I’ve ever heard. That said, its easy to remember and I suppose….cute! Think of it as an Amazon Echo combined with a Nest Cam except that it also has a touchscreen. Its motion detection is a useful feature as well, meaning you can use it as a security cam for your home (cool) and you can make video calls on it as well, the connection being via Bluetooth, Z-Wave, Wifi, and more. The extra security comes from a number of ways, but some of it has to do with its smart ability to recognize both your voice and your face, as well as your own personal touch, i,e, customize it with your own commands that you use frequently.
Its early days, so it’s not shipping yet, but I’ll be curious to test it out when it is and not one of the earliest shipping ones either – I’d rather wait until any early version bugs are ironed out, but overall, it seems to be a really comprehensive solution with lots of bells and whistles for the price.
AromaCare, a Wellness Aromatherapy Companion
You know we’re huge fans of mind/body balance here at We Blog the World, so much so that we have an entire section dedicated to wellness, from general wellness travel to wellness stays and health-related products and services. I love Aromatherapy and am a huge believer of its value — we even included essential oils in our holiday gift guidethis past year. Imagine a smart aromatherapy diffuser and a smart app that allows you to control smells through your smartphone. The AromaCare delivers you a blend of essential oils by a simple and calibrated way to improve your well-being and health.
Their connected diffuser creates a well-being bubble for 20 minutes, which they refer to as a “personal and natural care” session. The company behind it, Aroma Therapeutics, has developed six blends as ready-to-use essential oil capsules: Sleep to help improve falling asleep and improve sleep quality, Calm to destress and calm down, Tonic to stimulate the body and soul, Memory to improve concentration, Breath to liberate the lungs and Pollen which provides seasonal support. AromaCare also plans a White capsule for people wishing to use personalized treatments (by using their own essential oils), a feature that I personally love. It works with a mobile App which allows you to control sessions, get access to the consumption as well as coaching – Boost, Air or Zen - sessions over a one-month period in order to obtain longer lasting health benefits.
What a name right? Hello Egg seems like it would be an assistant right? Maybe even one that belongs in the kitchen? This smart voice-operated kitchen assistant from a company called RnD64 (seriously??) has a number of useful features, including the ability to plan your weekly meals and order groceries for you. It will also provide easy-to-follow step-by-step recipes via video RnD64, whose name I’ll never remember, unveiled it for the first time at this year’s CES.
Think of it as a smart digital assistant that can automate your meals for you based on dietary preferences and needs and can also adjusts to unplanned surprises, such as a friend stopping by for a bite and you have very little in the fridge. Hello Egg can also overlook your kitchen pantry, orchestrates your shopping list priorities, and if you want, handles the delivery of your groceries, a godsend for so many single men I know. The device will also answer cooking-related questions and backs you up with 24/7 support of a real cooking experts team — who couldn’t use that? I know I could. Give or take, it will be priced around $350 and available sometime in Q2.
My video recap of the show:
Punta Cana is known for its pristine beaches and resorts, main of them all-inclusive resorts on the coast. Beaches worth noting include Cabeza de Toro, and the Bávaro and El Cortecito beaches. From north to south, other beaches include Uvero Alto, Macao, Arena Gorda, Bávaro, and Las Corales, all north of the cape; and Cabo Engaño, Punta Cana and Juanillo, which are south of the cape. Along these beaches are many renowned hotels with restaurants and eateries, some of them serving local cuisine but more of them serving international dishes than not. The Dominican Republic is predominantly a tri-creole culture: indigenous Taino, African from African slave ancestry, and Spanish. It also has a peppering of other cultural influences thrown in, which shows up in the Dominican cuisine. The best way to sample authentic Dominican food is to step out of the hotel buffet line and explore more of the authentic culture, however on my most recent trip, I spent more time at luxury hotels and chic restaurants, so please consider this guide more of a culinary gallery of the dishes I sampled from upscale kitchens rather than from local eateries. While I typically make sure to sample more of the local restaurants, this getaway was more focused on pampering, spa sampling, and beach life, so read this guide with that in mind.
Before I dive into the resort food however, here’s a little education on Dominican food and culture. Let’s start with one of their staples. You’d be hard pressed to miss a deliciously crispy flat bread made by the native Taino called Casabe which you can find at restaurants that serve traditional Dominican cuisine. It is made out of the indigenous cassava (yucca) plant and I’m a huge fan of yucca. This root veggie can be found in most markets anywhere in the country. Occasionally, they will serve meat on top of this flat bread or other toppings, all of which are spiced up with salt, spices, and fresh lime. Like other Caribbean countries, lime is in and on everything. You shouldn’t be surprised given the vicinity to South America and it’s African influences to find a lot of rice, beans and fried chicken on the dinner table in many Dominican homes. YUM!!
In addition to rice, beans, bananas, pork, chicken, fish and seafood, you’ll find more Creole-infused dishes as well. One of the more popular fixtures is something they refer to as The Bandera, which is cooked beans and cooked meat (can be beef, pork or chicken) served in one dish and they will typically serve it with fried plantains and salad. Sancocho is a delicious stew prepared with veggies, Moro is a variant of Bandera, except that you mix the rice and beans beforehand, after which it is cooked together and often accompanied by a meat stew. Locrian is similar to paella, in that it is combined with seafood and vegetables whereas Mangu is simply a plate of boiled and mashed green plantains (we had these nearly every night when I lived in Africa). They use it in the Dominican Republic to accompany other dishes. Then there’s one of my favorites — Fried Plantains; they are so delish! Pica Pollo are pieces of breaded fried chicken which are usually served with Tostones (fried green banana slices). While you’re imagining these scrumptious flavors, I’ll throw a twist your way by showing you my favorite dessert from the trip, prepared by a French and Dominican sous chef who used to work at a Michelin star restaurant. Then, I’ll take you on a visual tour of a variety of dishes I tried while staying at some of the more luxe hotels and resorts along Punta Cana’s coast, two of which were all-inclusive properties. Only a couple of photos are from a “buffet” however and all other dishes and “bites” are from hotel, club and resort restaurants and cafes. Enjoy!!
Hard Rock Hotel’s EPIK Restaurant Bar
Called the Corazon Espinado, it is made with tequila, Don Julio, cointreau, a dash of OJ though he made mine with pineapple instead, and smoked sea salt. (I think the pineapple made the difference). The decadent saffron garnish is made with dehydrated orange peels.
One of their Pomegranate martinis:
EPIK @ Hard Rock Hotel
Since we were there as a group, we started with a choice of Alaskan King Crab cakes, a Coconut Seabass and Salmon Ceviche with passion fruit, mango, coconut milk and habanero or a Grilled watermelon and goat cheese salad, which they served with fresh mint, olive oil and house croutons. These were followed by a choice of Pan Roasted Chilean sea bass with cauliflower puree, crispy capers and edamame, Braised Beef Short Ribs with truffle polenta, broccoli, roasted tomato and onion confit, a Roasted Chicken Breast with bourbon mustard sauce and roasted cumin carrots or a Mushroom Truffle Pasta made with poached eggs and parmesan. Dessert included a choice of White chocolate Tiramisu (espresso, Khalua, and peanut praline), sorbet or a Triple Brulee, which I had. The combo of Brulee included Vanilla bean, chocolate and toffee.
Ciao Restaurant in the Hard Rock Hotel
Desserts at Punta Cana CHIC
Brunch at Tortuga Bay Resort
We started off with Bruschetta with tomatoes, basil and extra virgin olive oil and then moved onto Fisherman’s Risotto or a Tenderloin “Rossini” Style, followed by Panna Cotta for dessert.
Desserts at the Mansion at Punta Cana CHIC Resort
Appetizers at the private Palmera Villa
Dinner by a former sous chef of a Michelin star restaurant at a Private Villa
Dessert Table in the Main Bar & Lounge at Punta Cana CHIC
Outside Brunch at the Beach Club at Minitas Beach
Pastries at the Buffet
Be sure to read my write-up on Punta Cana hotels and resorts and my top ten picks for the Punta Cana region (adventure, fun and water activities) for both romantic/couple getaways and if you have children in tow.
Note: I was hosted by the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.
We’ve written about some of these events, festivals and carnivals in prior years and others not, but if they’re on the list again, it should tell you something. Classic. Epic. A must do experience. These are all the reasons why. Take a look at some of our favorite picks.
The Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival: China
In northern China where it is beyond just a tad bit chilly, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is an annual winter festival that takes place in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China, and now is the largest ice and snow festival in the world. The festival includes the world’s biggest ice sculptures. The results? Astonishing, breathtaking and mind blowing are three words that come to mind. Have a look!
Photo credit: Complex Mania.
The Festival has been around since 1985 and lasts for over one month. If you go, be sure to bring a very WARM coat — it is located in an arctic climate which is one of the reasons it can boast so much ice and snow for such amazing creations. The Ice Lantern Festival is the forerunner of the Ice and Snow Festival and has a cultural background, connected to early (very early) Chinese history.
The first Ice lanterns were a winter-time tradition in northeast China. During the Qing Dynasty（1644 – 1911), the local peasants and fishermen often made and used ice lanterns as jack-lights during the winter months. Tradition extended for years later where people made ice lanterns and put them outside their houses or gave them to children to play with during some of the traditional festivals. Additional activities during the festival include Yabuli alpine skiing, winter-swimming in the Songhua River, and the ice-lantern exhibition in Zhaolin Garden. Remember how we said it was COLD? To give you an idea of winter temperatures, the average in winter is 16.8 °C or a breezy 1.8 °F, and annual lows of -35 °C or minus 31 °F, are apparently not uncommon. Ouch!! But for this beauty, it may very well be worth it — just bring that down parka with you.
Photo credit: Harbin Ice Festival Pinterest Page.
Carnival of Venice: Venice Italy
Carnival of Venice is an annual festival held in Venice, Italy and most known for its fabulous masks, costumes and myriad of events. The Carnival ends with the Christian celebration of Lent, forty days before Easter, on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. It is probably the most known festival in Italy and one of the oldest, having started its tradition as far back as the 15th century – yes, really. Technically, it has been traced back to the beginning of the 14th century.
Early on, it wasn’t just about the carnival because back then, there were other things that grabbed people’s attention including gambling dens, brothels, theaters, cafés, wine shops and the festivities of the event itself, which included exotic animals, ropewalkers and jugglers. One of the biggest draws to the event, in addition to the visual spectacles of course, is the DINNER, which is a decadent evening with performances at the tables and shows you can view over dinner that extend throughout the night.
Above two photo credits: Carnival in Rio website
n,the photo opportunities are vast, from the performers filling the piazzas and main waterways of the city to private parties and masquerade balls within Venice’s grand noble palaces. People describe it as an experience where time stands still and you are taken back to ancient times, but ancient decadent times to be sure. You’ll also witness what they refer to as the Flight of the Angel (or Flight of Colombina), a tradition that began with a Turkish acrobat in mid-1500′s. Here, you’ll see an artist hanging from a metal cable, and, suspended in air, makes his descent from the top of St. Mark’s Bell Tower to the Doge’s Palace. For more information on this internationally acclaimed event, visit http://www.carnevale.venezia.it.
Carnival in Rio: Brazil
Rio is turned upside down during this spring event, held every year. Even though Carnival (Carnaval in Portuguese) is celebrated in towns and villages throughout Brazil and other Catholic countries, Rio de Janeiro has long been regarded as the Carnival capital of the world, which is not only the biggest Carnival, but one of the most well known around the globe, attracting more than a half a million visitors every year.
Photo credit: WorlddFestival.net.
The event is known for being wild and over the course of five days, 40 days before Easter, Carnival is all about decadence and excess. Celebrated as a profane event, it is said that it “could be interpreted an act of farewell to the pleasures of the flesh.” During this window, there are carnival celebrations on virtually every corner of Brazil, the best-known ones taking place in Recife together with the neighboring Olinda (in the Northeast of Brazil) and Salvador. As for the rest of the world? They tend to head to the largest gathering which is in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. Nearly all the music played during Rio Carnival is samba — dance lovers, get ready!. It is a uniquely Brazilian music originating from Rio, a dance form that was invented by Afro-Brazilians.
More information on this incredible event can be found at: http://www.rio-carnival.net/.
New Orleans Mardi Gras
For those who may not realize this, the holiday of Mardi Gras is celebrated in Southern Louisiana — in other words, it comes with history and tradition. There is typically a parade during every day of the celebration. Since we’ve been giving you a little bit of history of these events, Mardi Gras also has its own. The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced to medieval Europe, passing through Rome and Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries to the French House of the Bourbons. From here, the traditional revelry of “Boeuf Gras,” or fatted calf, followed France to her colonies. The very first Mardi Gras event took place in 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile. Today, it attracts people from around the world and the city shuts down while people dance, drink and celebrate in the streets of New Orleans.
Photo credit: from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/421086633887345390/
By the 1730s, Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans, and around ten or so years later, it became more prestigious when elegant society balls were integrated, an extension of the event that still occurs today. Don’t confuse Carnival and Mardi Gras — Carnival refers to the period of feasting and fun that begins on January 6: the Feast of the Epiphany. Mardi Gras refers to Fat Tuesday, the final day of revelry before Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins.
As a kid, I remember people talking about Mardi Gras throws so the intrigue grew over the years. This too have become known around the world — members on floats throw items to parade-goers as the floats pass by and items they throw include doubloons, beads, cups, homemade trinkets, toys and more! The throwing of trinkets to the crowds was started in the early 1870s by the Twelfth Night Revelers and today, they tend to throw medallions rather than trinkets, which are aluminum and anodized in many different colors. You can buy these all over New Orleans btw, and I tend to pick up more every time I go. They represent the parade theme on one side and the Krewe’s emblem on the other and some people collect them. I have them on hand for Burning Man, Halloween and other costume parties I get invited to throughout the year.
Other popular throws include cups (otherwise known as New Orleans dinnerware), long pearl beads and stuffed animals and I have a ton of those long pearl beads in a variety of colors as well. Mardi Gras, albeit crowded and crazy, is a photographer’s haven. More information on this annual tradition can be found at http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com.
The Shetland’s Viking Fire Festival
I have to include some Viking culture in here given that I have some Scottish background after all. At the end of January, the Shetland’s Viking Fire Festival brings together a l’il Dungeons and Dragons with fire lovers, all of which is let loose on a remote Nordic Island. Cool, right? This traditional is also historical and has been around since the 1880′s, starting with a massive bonfire and booze festival and has grown in popularity and acclaim ever since. Like many “viking things,” there’s an air of secrecy around it (don’t ask), but that’s part of the charm and mystery of this delightful event held in northern England every year.
Thank God there’s fire as part of this annual event since it’s a bit on the chilly side, but nowhere as cold as the Harbin Festival as noted above. Imagine nearly a thousand heavily disguised men marching through the a small town (Lerwick), with rockets exploding overhead, and a ritualistic burning of a longship. I used to live in England, so despite the dampness in the heart of winter, I know this country’s magic, which includes quirky cultural traditions, not unlike this one.
Photo credit: Shetland Tourism Board/Viking Fire Festival Page.
Shetland lies 600 miles north of London so you kinda need to plan ahead. More than a hundred islands, just 15 of them inhabited, span the hundred milesbetween Fair Isle and Out Stack, the northernmost point of Britain. This little town is pretty quiet for the rest of the year, however on the evening of Up Helly Aa Day, vikings form ranks in the darkened streets. They shoulder stout fencing posts, topped with paraffin-soaked sacking. Yes really.
On the stroke of 7.30pm, a signal rocket bursts over the Town Hall. The torches are lit, the band strikes up and the amazing, blazing procession begins, snaking half a mile astern of the Guizer Jarl, standing proudly at the helm of his doomed replica longship as noted above, or ‘galley’. Try to visualize it if you can beyond the photo above — apparently, it takes half an hour for the Jarl’s squad of burly Vikings to drag him to the burning site, through a crowd of four or five thousand spectators.
More information can be found at http://www.shetland.org which provides information on the area as well as the festival so you can plan ahead.
Let’s face it — indoor Air Pollution is dangerous and climbing at alarming rates. Air pollution in general rise worldwide, killing more than 3.3 million and one study says it could double by 2050. Given that we spend nearly 90% of our time indoors (some research says more) and indoor air pollution is slated to be from 3 to 10 times worse than outdoor air pollution, it’s no wonder that that cases of Asthma and Allergies are climbing and at an all-time high. In addition to seasonal allergens, many also suffer from dust and chemicals from cleaning products, paints and other residues at home, work and school.
Photo credit: Air Filters for Clean Air
Think Your Indoor Air is Safe? Think Again!
When we think of air pollution, we tend to think of outdoor air pollution and that we’re safe inside where we spend most of our time. If you think that all the places where you OR your kids spend time is at safe levels, think again. Studies show that 50% of America’s schools have problems linked to indoor air quality and an issue in 6 out of 10 homes worldwide. Indoor air may contain lead from the old paints which have been connected to early brain development in children. Not only does research show that clean air helps people be more focused and efficient at work and can reduce sick leave time, but shows that purer air improves kid’s productivity and results at school as well. Bottom line, what we breathe in day after day, can impact the quality of our sleep, energy levels and even life span.
Photo credit: The Climate Chief
Indoor air you breathe can be hazardous to your health without any telltale signs, so having a personal air purifier by your side can improve your health and your life. Enter Sprimo, the “go-to” product for people who want the best quality air in the personal spaces they work, play or sleep. Unlike traditional air purifiers that focus on large square footage areas to measure success, Sprimo is aimed at improving the quality of life through bursts of clear air instantly. Sprimo’s small, lightweight and nearly silent air purifier is smart and adapts based on people’s issues, from chemicals and dust to seasonal allergens.
Anyone who suffers from allergies can benefit from Sprimo as well as those at higher risks, such as children and the aging. Parents who want to ensure their children are breathing in fresh air while they sleep can place a Sprimo on their bedside table at night. Because Sprimo is light, easily portable and nearly silent, you can bring it to work to improve the quality of air you breathe at your desk every day. Its convenient size also makes it a godsend for travelers who can use it on the road at hotels, gyms, spas, cafes and more. The purifier’s low entrainment air flow works as a shield to block contact by reducing the chance of you breathing an airborne virus by up to 60%. With Sprimo, you can take charge of your health wherever you go.
Sprimo’s new Personal Air Module (PAM) and cloud-based mobile app delivers real-time data on air quality via your smart phone so you can be alerted wherever you may be. Simply plug it into your iPhone and you’re good to go – you’ll be alerted whether you’re breathing in poor quality air or not.
Sprimo showed its latest at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this last week in the health and wellness section at Sand’s Eureka Park. They will be kicking off a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in March where they’ll be taking pre-orders. More information can be found at www.sprimo.com and via their social media channels @SprimoLabs where you can sign up for their newsletter and be alerted when product is available among other useful tips on improving your lifestyle through healthier air.
Disclosure Note: I provide consulting to Sprimo Labs however all opinions expressed are my own.
In what feels like another lifetime, I first visited the Dominican Republic now over a decade ago. It was all about unwinding and hitting the country’s northern most beaches in Puerto Plata. There, I rented a small bungalow and didn’t migrate very far from the nearby beaches where I ate fish and pineapple, brought to me by locals who came to my door with their freshest catch of the day at around 3. I lounged in hammocks, rented a bike to explore the coastline, read novels and swam in the sea for about four hours day. Rest assured, Puerto Plata is one spot in the Dominican Republic where you can get a whole lotta rest and relaxation however it is much more built up today than it was when I was there.
On my most recent trip, I headed in the opposite direction, to a region called PUNTA CANA, where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean. While it is all about large resorts and all-inclusive hotels in this area, which makes for a great family escape, you can find some smaller luxury properties in the area or rent your own private villa if you want to escape the crowds. Be sure to read my hotel and resort write-up on the area for some recommendations based on your needs and interests. Dream weddings are also often held here, largely because of Punta Cana’s renowned silky-fine white sand and beaches with coconut palms.
Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) is the best-connected airport in the Caribbean and Central America, with flights from 26 countries. It also has a new highway which makes it easy to get out to the cultural attractions in La Romana, one of which is included in this guide. Punta Cana is also only two and a half hours from Santo Domingo, which makes it an easy day trip (also noted at the end of this guide, with some recommendations for what to see and do there). Golf lovers will appreciate its abundant golf courses and even though I didn’t hit one ball on this particular trip, I visited two courses. Cultural and music fans will want to mark March on their calendar, which is some of the best carnival in the Dominican Republic at Punta Cana Village. In addition to festivals and annual cultural festivities and events, there are some fun things to do in the sun and sand in the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana. Below, check out my top ten picks based on my most recent adventure to this Caribbean hot spot.
With these choices, how can you go wrong? I cover eco-tourism with Laguna de Bavaro and beautiful nature reserves, a day on a Private Yacht, Spa Time at Land & at Sea, a visit to Saona Island, Eating & Drinking your way along the coast, where to get Pool Time, Ballooning over sugar plantations near Verona, Getting a culture fix at Altos de Chavron, a replica of a 16th century village in nearby La Romana, Pristine Beaches and Sunset Walks, and lastly, exploring sites, museums, churches and architecture on a day trip to historical Santo Domingo. Below, is the Punta Cana Resort & Club taken from above.
Photo credit: PuntaCana.com.
Laguna de Bavaro, Nature Reserves & Adventure Parks
If you have kids in tow, there are adventure parks, zip lining, and several companies offer off-road adventures inland and to off-the-beaten-track beaches on monster trucks, jeeps, 4-wheel motorbikes or buggies. Nature seekers will love the fact that they support eco-tourism. Starting with a nature reserve located inside the Puntacana Resort & Club, you’ll be able to explore trails that meander through tropical forests around 12 lagoons, most of which are swimmable. There is even one with a diving platform. The Segway tour to this attraction includes a visit to the Puntacana Ecological Foundation with their beekeeping and worm composting projects.
In the ever so lush Laguna de Bavaro, you can go kayaking, take small boat rides, take a hike or go bird watching through mangroves and wetlands in an protected area. The lagoon alone covers 1.15 square miles in size and is incredibly beautiful and pristine.
Photo credit: Panoramio
Below, Laguna Bavaro from above.
Photo credit: Turismo Azul
Bavaro Adventure Park is the area’s newest entertainment park with skywalker, skydiver, zorbing, CrazyBall, Segway tours, pirate ship, climbing garden, bungee trampoline jumping, paintball, and an animatronic dinosaur park, all great options if you’re traveling with kids.
Rent a Private Yacht
There’s no better sense of independence and owning your own schedule than to rent your own boat with a captain and crew. Punta Cana Yacht Charters offer the largest selection of private yacht charters, boat rentals, catamaran rentals, and fishing charters in Punta Cana. Some of these boats and catamarans go out on daily excursions and some are only available for private charters but they have options for dinner and lunch on the beach, at private beach clubs and/or waterfront restaurants, extra hours, snorkeling and swimming off the boat. They also offer a variety of national alcoholic drinks and top shelf drinks, along with snacks, hors d’oeuvres and cakes for special occasions. It was a fabulous way to spend the afternoon, from relaxing on the front deck and meditating with the breeze blowing in our faces to sipping champagne and swimming off the boat in shallow waters. I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story….
Our captain also knew how to walk with a bottle of champagne on his head — opened!
Inna, Jenn and I take time for a l’il breathing and meditation on the front of the boat.
Get Your Spa on at Sea & On Land
In Punta Cana, they offer a unique 3 hour excursion on a double deck boat designed to be a SAILING SPA. From bio-pilates exercises while you cruise the calm and crystal clear waters to doing a low key yoga class on the deck, it’s a relaxing excursion. The Bio-Pilate Class focuses on several stretching and breathing exercises while you take in the view of the Bavaro-Punta Cana coast. Afterwards, you are given an individualized massage on the lower deck in private cubicles, all of which have ocean views. It includes a head massage, and full back massage, including foot massage and some stretching. Then, you can hang out on their floating mattresses in a natural pool where you can also opt to swim if you’d like (I did)!
Below, our yoga instructor leads a class.
They have a Buddha in the middle of the boat, just to set the right mood of course.
In the offices of Ocean Spa before we set out to sea.
Outside the spa boat, our group relaxes on blow up rafts in pristine crystal clear waters.
They are known here for Dr. Fish, which kicks off the experience before you hit the boat. If you’ve never had it done before, it’s essentially a Feet Exfoliation treatment. The tiny fish called Garra Rufa will gently exfoliate your feet while you watch in amazement the whole process. The Dr Fish gently exfoliate your feet by removing the dead skin creating the feeling of a gentle massage and leaving your feet rejuvenated and soft to the touch. Dr Fish secrete enzymes called Dithranol which improves skin regeneration. Note that Dithranol is found in creams or products used to help obtain smooth soft skin.
They also do a detox foot treatment on the boat, which is essentially a therapy aimed to improve among other things, liver and kidney function through an electromagnetic detoxification process carried out on the feet. The treatment is activated with an array placed in the water, which causes ionization of the water and allows detoxification through the feet, which are a natural detox output because they have over 200 large pores. During the excursion, natural juices and fresh fruits will be served, as well as natural herbs infusions. Toward the end of the excursion, they offered us sandwiches and salad along with a glass of white wine.
The below shot was taken inside the spa at Punta Cana CHIC Hotel. Their on-site ROYAL SPA is a full-service health facility which features a hydrotherapy circuit and a full-range of massage, body and facial treatments. The spa facility is massive and boasts dipping pools inside darkly lit quarters with candles and relaxing lounge chairs.
Head to Saona Island for the Day
Beautiful Saona Island is a tropical island located a short distance from the mainland on the south-east tip of the Dominican Republic. It is also government protected nature reserve and is part of East National Park. You can do a more traditional tour or you can opt to rent a private yacht or sailboat like we did (see above). The Island is famous for the natural beauty of its beaches, and has been used on many occasions by film-makers and advertisers looking for a stereotypical ‘desert island’ setting for their film or product. Another fun tidbit worth noting is that it is apparently the setting they used for the famous Bounty chocolate bar adverts.
The water around the Island are rich in wildlife, with many species of birds and tropical marine fish, and there are large areas where natural sandbars offshore bring the depth to just a few feet. It’s a great place to find massive starfish on the bottom of the ocean, easy to spot if you bring a snorkeling mask with you.
Apparently the island was baptized “Saona” by Christopher Columbus, who discovered it in may 1494 on his way to the Americas. The name was meant to honor the commune of Savona, where Columbus lived at the time. Columbus named Michele da Cuneo, his friend and a savonese himself, first governor of the island. Saona Island and the modern city Savona, in Italy, still have twinning relationships; the small power plant in Saona Island is a gift of Savona. We had time for a lobster luncheon with salads and pasta. Of course, there were cocktails on offer as well, from Pina Caladas and Margaritas to beer and wine. I loved the enormous and abundant palm trees on the island, a feature I can never get enough of…..
There are also lounge chairs, hammocks and beds facing the ocean you could use to relax and take it all in…
Above two shots of me, courtesy of Nick Argires for the Ministry of Dominican Republic Tourism
Private yachts, chartered boats and catamarans anchor just off shore while people go in for the day to sunbathe, swim and walk along the coast. The beaches are ever so lush and the palm trees overarching in that paradise kinda way….
As for those starfish I mentioned earlier? You will find them but be careful to protect them — we tossed this one back after only a few seconds out of the water to make sure it lived.
Eat & Drink Along the Coast
The Caribbean is known for its fresh fish and holiday cocktails and the Dominican Republic doesn’t disappoint. Below, the Corazon Espinado is made with Tequila, Don Julio, OJ, Cointreau and smoked sea salt, and then garnished with saffron and dehydrated orange peels — it was enjoyed at EPIK Restaurant inside the Hard Rock Hotel in Punta Cana. Be sure to read my foodie journey through Punta Cana.
Then There’s Pool Time
Below, taken at the Punta Cana CHIC Hotel, an all inclusive that caters to adults. Be sure to read my hotel and resort write-up, which includes more details on Punta Cana CHIC, Hard Rock Hotel and Casa de Campo as well as other luxe properties in the region.
While the below pool isn’t to swim in, it is too beautiful not to post — Hard Rock Hotel Punta Cana does have 13 swimming pools to choose from including a couple of adult-only pools.
Below, hammocks around one of the adult only pools…
Below is the pool at the ever so luxe Caso de Campo…
Balloon Over Sugar Plantations
We had a blast with Luis Leonardo who is not only the most experienced balloon pilot in the country but the owner and operator of Dominican Balloons, which is apparently the only balloon rides company in the Caribbean. They’re proud to boast no accident in their 14 year history and this could be because Luis follows the wind patterns, which means that you don’t always take off and land at the same time or in the same spot. He informs us that balloons need stable winds to operate effectively and the hours just following sunrise are the best for finding these winds so dusk is when they take off. Since balloons move with the air, the weather is very important in deciding to whether or not to fly and Luis will change launch sites depending on the wind for that morning and then fly us towards a safe and suitable landing site.
When we arrived, the sun was just on the horizon and dampness was in the air. We watched the guys prepare the balloon. The burners are attached to the uprights, and the basket is attached to the cables on the bottom of the envelope and then an engine driven fan is used to inflate the envelope with cold air. When partially inflated, the air is heated by a burner and the envelope rises above the basket. With further heating, there is sufficient ‘lift’ for the balloon to fly.
A couple of locals we ran into on a nearby dirt path near the sugar plantations.
View from above…..
While we were in the air — taken on the 360 Nano gadget that I attached to my iPhone to get a full 360 degree view.
Below, more views from the air.
On the dirt road where we landed.
The sugar plantations off in the distance after we landed. You typically travel around 15 miles, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the wind. The balloon also flies at different altitudes and although the balloon is at the mercy of the wind when it comes to direction, the vertical control of a balloon can be very precise. It is not unusual to brush the bottom of the basket across the tops of brush, or inches from the ground, which we did on many occasions during our morning balloon ride. We were in a rural area just outside the town of Veron, which is a major town in the area, and what they refer to as a spontaneous – and poor – urban development running along the original road from the west. Verón, last name of the French proprietor of a timberline business in the early 1930s, is now the base-city for hotel and resort workers in the area. Veron has, besides Bávaro, one of the only four gas stations in Punta Cana.
Altos de Chavon & Outdoor Amphitheater
Altos de Chavón is a re-creation of a 16th century mediterranean style European village located atop the Chavón River in La Romana — you can stay at the hotel which is part of the property as well and I included it (with photos) in my hotel & resort guide of the area. It was apparently designed by a Hollywood set designer to look like a medieval village from halfway across the world using the stones of a blasted mountain. His idea was to use the leftover stones from the demolition of the mountain to recreate an entire village that would celebrate the artisans of the Dominican Republic. It took six years to be completed but thanks to the efforts of a small army of regional artisans, the village was handcrafted using era-appropriate techniques including woodworking and stone-cutting, to make it as authentic as possible.
There is also an art school located in the hilltop village devoted to young artists and artisans and we had an opportunity to have a private tour of the school (and library) during our stay. Even though Altos de Chavron is a fabricated village, it’s incredibly charming and makes it feel as if you’re stepping back into medieval times. I loved the on-site historical church as well, where they also hold weddings from time-to-time.
Altos de Chavón also hosts a cultural center, an archeological museum, and a wide stone outdoor amphitheater, which can seat around 5,000 people. Needless to say, it’s an impressive site and I only wished we had an opportunity to see a performance here. This architectural wonder has been the setting for countless concerts, events, and performances since its opening in 1982, including Frank Sanatra, Sting, Elton John, Andrea Bocelli, Gloria Estefan, Alejandro Fernández, Marc Anthony, Spyro Gyra, Michel Camilo, Juan Luis Guerra, Air Supply, Julio Iglesias, and Placido Domingo to name a handful.
We were able to watch some of the guys weave mats using traditional machinery below.
It’s worth bringing up LARIMAR, largely because it’s a rare blue variety of the silicate mineral pectolite and is only found in the Dominican Republic. Also referred to as “Stefilia’s Stone”, its color is mesmerizing and given that I collect stones and gems from around the world, I couldn’t help but pick up some jewelry and loose stones. They sold it at one of the shops in the village, but you can also pick them up from one of the guys who sell them from a stand on the beach — we also saw them running around the beaches on Saona Island as well and you could get a stone on a necklace for around $15 (with steel fixtures) however they well exceeded $100 if you wanted sterling silver.
Pristine Beaches & Romantic Sunsets
The province of Punta Cana has a 100 kilometer coastline, which was pretty windy when we were there in December. That said, the temperatures were mild so still warm enough to swim. The ocean waters are pretty shallow, with several natural marine pools. From north to south, the main beaches are Uvero Alto, Macao, Arena Gorda, Bávaro, El Cortecito, Las Corales and Cabeza de Toro, all north of the cape; and Cabo Engaño, Punta Cana and Juanillo south of the cape. Below, on the beach in front of Hard Rock Hotel, the largest all inclusive hotel along the coast with nearly 2,000 rooms.
The beach in front of Punta Cana CHIC
Below, the sunset on the beach in front of Punta Cana CHIC.
On the beach in the VIP section at Hard Rock Hotel
Outside a private dinner just outside Punta Cana
At Altos de Chavon, the 16th century village replica at sunset which is in nearby La Romana.
At dusk, setting up the balloon to soar above Dominican Republic sugar plantations…
In the rural countryside at sunset….
Take a Day Trip to Santo Domingo
If you’re a history buff, then you’ll want to head to Santo Domingo, which is not only the capital of the Dominican Republic but it is also oldest European city in the Americas and has made the UNESCO World Heritage List. You’ll want to get an early start since it’s about a 2.5 hour drive each way and I’d recommend taking a small van with plenty of windows so you can get out for photos along the way.
Founded by Christopher Columbus’s brother Bartolome Colombus in 1496, it was the first seat of the Spanish colonial empire in the New World. The city is divided into two parts by the Ozama River; the western side is very developed economically, whereas the eastern part, known as “Santo Domingo Este,” has historically lagged behind. The most important tourist destination of the city is the Zona Colonial or Colonial Zone, on the western bank of the river and facing the Caribbean Sea. To the west of the Zona Colonial lies Gazcue, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, filled with old Victorian houses and tree-lined streets and the city’s waterfront George Washington Avenue, knows as “El Malecon,” borders the Caribbean Sea and houses the majority of the hotels, casinos, and monuments. Surrounding this Gazcue area, you can explore the Palacio Nacional (seat of the Dominican government), the National Theater, the Museums in the Plaza de la Cultura, churches and the Palace of Fine Arts.
Photo credit: Wikitravel.org.
In the less developed Oriental Santo Domingo you will find other major monuments and tourist spots, such as Columbus’s Lighthouse, where the explorer’s remains are buried, the open caves of the Parque Nacional Los Tres Ojos, and the National Aquarium. The city is highly cosmopolitan with a ton of culture, a deep history, great restaurants, nightlife and sweeping urban views.
Photo credit: Instagram: Dronestagram
One fun area to walk through is Calle del Conde, a very old pedestrian shop-lined street which leads to the Puerta de la Independencia, where the Dominican Republic proclaimed its independence from Haiti, and the Parque Independencia, where the country’s founding fathers’ remains are kept. Every Sunday, they apparently have live bands playing Merengue, Bachata, Salsa and Son at the Ruinas de San Francisco and then later, you can stroll along La Atarazana where there are many romantic outdoor cafes, including a brasserie called Pat E Palo,which has been around since 1505.
The Malecon (George Washington Avenue) runs along the waterfront and is a great place to people watch. If you’re a festival lover, be sure to check out some of the events they have throughout the year so you can plan your trip accordingly. Plaza de la Cultura, as noted above, is home to the National Theater and five museums, and home to exhibits by artists from Jamaica, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and of course, the Dominican Republic.
Then there’s Parque Mirador Sur, which is a lovely park where you can take kids or rent bikes. Nature lovers will also love the Jardin Botanico, another lush park in the city, that boasts different ecosystems from rainforests to a Japanese garden. If you want upscale, go to the Piantini and Naco neighborhoods where you can get some high end boutiques, shopping plazas, chic cafes and restaurants with international culinary experiences. From decadent fashion and cigar shops to Ferrari and Bentley, they’ve got you covered. The nearby Blue Mall, is a large shopping mall with a Hard Rock Cafe, Louis Vuiton, Cartier, Tous and L’Occitane. Sweet lovers shouldn’t miss La Cuchara de Madera for dulce de leche “Piramides”.
A useful link for all things culture, history, nature, beaches, shopping, nightlife, food, accommodation and more can be found at http://www.godominicanrepublic.com. Watch my video on Punta Cana compilation below for a whole lotta fun in the sun:
Note: I was a guest of the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.
This past December was my second trip to the Dominican Republic however my first trip is hazy at best. After a quick stay in the country’s capital, I headed north to the now well known Puerto Plata along the coast. The trip was a bit of a blur because it was around the time of my divorce but what I do remember from that trip was a whole lot of reflection time on pristine beaches in the far northwest corner. I snorkeled, sunbathed, read novels, drank out of raw coconuts and ate a lot of fish. I barely remember a hotel since we had rented a little bungalow right on the beach – simple, authentic and about as close to sea salt and white sand as you can, with a simple hammock at the entrance. In fact, I slept on it a couple of nights and don’t remember coming home covered in mosquito bites. There are still simple and authentic beach stays in the country although tourism has grown substantially since I was last there as noted from our van drives, although after landing in historical Santo Domingo in the center of the country, I spent most of my time in the area they refer to as Punta Cana, which boasts plenty of luxury stays inland and on the ocean’s edge.
Above shot, taken on my Canon 7D at Punta Cana CHIC on my last night
Punta Cana lies in the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic, abuts both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. That means that sometimes the water is warm and sometimes a little nippy, but nothing like America’s East Coast and the water is so pure and the beaches so divine, that you’ll want to dive in regardless of your swimming preference. Think 32 kilometers of exquisite beaches and clear waters. Combine Bávaro with Punta Cana to form what locals refer to as La Costa del Coco, or the Coconut Coast, which is known for its all inclusive hotels, including Club Med, my first all inclusive experience when I was barely 20 on the island of Corfu. Some are larger than others and they all have their own perks and draws, whether you want romance, exquisite food or have kids in tow. A great choice for millennials or if you want an escape getaway with friends (there’s dancing in the main lounge nightly), let’s first visit Punta Cana CHIC.
Punta Cana CHIC Hotel
Since we arrived mid-afternoon, I retreated to the pool right away, largely because I needed a ‘water fix’ as quickly as possible and there wasn’t enough time for a long beach walk or body surfing in the ocean. It was late enough to order a cocktail (on the house of course) and so I went for a Pina Colada to move my mood into a Caribbean one instantaneously. Like many all-inclusives, they have late afternoon games at the pool with a DJ which is always a good distraction if you’re traveling with a group and want to take a breather. I was able to take in the sunset which was dreamy and soft before heading back to my room. Note that it’s a decent sized property although the main dining room area with a massive buffet is centrally located by the pool and just in front of the beach. Its location is perfect since it’s a great meeting point and there are other restaurants around it as well, all worth trying so your only foodie experience isn’t a buffet. After all, when faced with all you can eat, I don’t k now about you, but I find that I eat a lot more than I would have otherwise. Enuf said! The rooms closest to the ocean are also closest to the main lounge and lobby so can be a little noisy. The plus side of course is that the walk from dinner to bed is very close and they offer lounge chairs in the water immediately in front of your room – sweet right?
The pool has a variety of areas you can take it all in, from queen sized beds that are covered to shield you from the sun, to standard lounge chairs pool-side. There are also bubbly ‘warm’ tubs in front of some of these cabana areas. If you love a hot jacuzzi, they don’t have one on the premises, but they do offer warm more secluded jacuzzis and an incredible sauna inside the spa, which is incredibly relaxing and decadent.
Before I take you into the spa, have a look at the luscious white sandy beach. While it was a bit windy when we were there, the breeze was warm, the palm trees were swaying and it was a beautiful place to breathe in the ocean air any time of day.
Services and treatments they offer include facials, body treatments, spa rituals, a variety of massages, hand and feet services, and full packages, which may be in order if you’re there for a special occasion or a romantic week away. There’s also special seasonal spa packages as well as a fitness center with cardio and weight equipment.
The resort is only 17 kilometers from Punta Blanca Golf Club which is a huge plus for the golf fans among you. Below, a front view of the property.
The last thing worth mentioning is their Mansion, which is a luxury house you can rent out for your exclusive use. It’s a great option for a group or a family gathering. The 11,500 square-foot luxury mansion has six suite-style rooms, a living room with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto a private pool, an exclusive dining room and premium extras like your own fully-stocked bar with top-shelf liquor. We had our final dinner inside the Mansion pool side, which included lobster, steaks, fish and decadent desserts of course. I went with red wine but they also had a myriad of cocktails to choose from. Staying in this Mansion comes with luxurious round-trip airport transfers, butler service, exclusive private Chef Experience, private pool cabana with attendant, a Day Pass to Royalton Punta Cana with transportation to enjoy the waterpark and a complimentary spa treatment for each person staying in the house. In addition to a private pool, they have a hot tub, patio, sound system as well as a games room with a pool table. Below, one of the many desserts we devoured on our last night dinner in the Mansion.
Their cabanas were oh so lovely as well. One afternoon, I started out reading a book with clear blue skies, played in the water for an hour, ordered a Margarita and shrimp cocktail and then took a nap. The following two photos demonstrate the difference a few hours can make. The beach was empty when I woke up, the skies pink and I was blissfully happy and well-rested.
Palmera Villa’s Villa Blanca
Palmera Villa has a number of properties that range in size from 3 to nine bedrooms depending on where you want to be in the country and what amenities you’re after. We had cocktails at one of their Punta Cana villas they call Villa Blanca, which is a six bedroom house with its own private swimming pool.
The views of the nearby golf course and swimming pool from the upstairs level is incredibly serene and I’d note quiet and we were there for a few hours. Our visit was for cocktails, not to stay but we did get a fairly extensive tour of the villa, inside and out.
Sunsets were glorious as well.
Below, a fountain in the courtyard. They have a private chef, maid and butler as part of your rental but note that if you do have a dog traveling with you, then this property isn’t for you as pets are not allowed.
As we were getting ready to leave, a beautiful sky greeted us as we set off to tour another property and have dinner.
Inside, there’s a 50 inch television with cable in the TV-room, complimentary wifi and a sound system. This 10,000 square foot home is located inside the gated Puntacana Resort & Club, home to celebrities such as Julio Iglesias, Mikhail Baryshnikov and the late Oscar de la Renta. Villa Blanca sits on 1.5 acres of land with views of the La Cana golf course; a 27-hole championship golf course designed by P. B. Dye, with 4 oceanfront holes and 14 holes with ocean views. The private beach club with swimming pool, restaurant, bar and the renowned Six Senses Spa is roughly 400 yards from the villa. As a guest staying at Villa Blanca, you will have full privileges to the Puntacana Resort & Club.
Entering the property, you’ll take note of the lit entry columns after you drive over a quaint wooden bridge with ponds and manicured gardens on both sides. There are two guest houses as part of the villa and the main house has two levels with four bedrooms upstairs and there’s also a grand master bedroom (1,000 square feet) which has a King size bed and a large walk-in closet with make-up counter. The master suite also features a large in-suite bathroom. Outside, in addition to the pool, there’s a barbecue dining area, which has two stone dining tables and cast iron chairs. They also offer private airport transfers from/to Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) which is only 1.5 miles away and wellness travel lovers can book services at the nearby Six Senses Spa.
Ave. Italia, Plaza Shopping Bavaro #225
Bavaro, Punta Cana
Hard Rock Hotel
Welcome to what Hard Rock Hotels do best — everything at your finger tips under a massive umbrella property that boasts restaurants, bars, cafes, live entertainment nightly, buffets, shopping and casinos. They apparently have the largest casino in the Caribbean, and for those who love late night, they have nightlife,state-of-the-art meeting facilities and rooms with fabulous views, all infused with that legendary rock and roll vibe they’re known for so well. Casinos do nothing for me quite frankly, so I could be found at the beach more often than not during my stay, when I wasn’t exploring the grounds with a book or my camera in hand. Oh yeah, and after an ocean swim, I most hung my hat in one of their beach hammocks more than once. There are plenty of beach lounging options to choose from, some with a bar or barbecue pit offering chicken, burgers and dogs throughout the day and others which are a bit more remote. There are VIP and Exclusive Member sections of the beach as well as hammocks (my favorite), beds under cabanas with draw curtains and a volleyball court.
The property is massive but there are plenty of mini buses whizzing by you can jump on to get to one of the 13 pools, restaurants or cafes. I walked everywhere for the experience, the exercise and to prove that I could eventually get over my lousy habit of getting lost, even when there’s no reason to, map in hand and all. Truth be told, I still get lost in my own home town at times, so no surprise I’d get lost at a property with 2,000+ rooms.
One of my favorite pools is shown below….known as the all adult pool, it had a great vibe to it, bar, plenty of cabanas (quiet, except for when they turned up the dance music end of day) and hammocks. You could also bathe topless if you wanted — a great way to get away from the running kids at some of the other pools. There’s so many pools to choose from however, you’d be hard pressed to get to them all during one visit and they all had their own personality.
While I’m a huge nature gal and would always prefer outdoor time over indoor time, Hard Rock Cafe did have a decent night life scene with a couple of bars open until around 2 am. The upscale EPIK Restaurant inside Hard Rock’s casino had a bartender who had me at hello with his delicious tequila concoction I couldn’t get enough of — it was oh so delish! Called the Corazon Espinado, it is made with tequila, Don Julio, cointreau, a dash of OJ though he made mine with pineapple instead, and smoked sea salt. (I think the pineapple made the difference). The decadent saffron garnish included dehydrated orange peels. There was a lot of wow to this scrumptious creation!
Below, the Moon Lounge – oh so chic and modern.
They also have shows on a regular basis. When there in December, they had a Michael Jackson show and I suddenly found myself up on stage in front of around 1,000 people performing a Michael Jackson dance (SOLO). Yes, really!! I was the only woman of five from the audience they chose, so needless t o say, they didn’t vote me as the dance winner despite the fact that I knew more Michael Jackson moves than the other yanks and Canadians on stage. It was fun and unexpected, nevertheless! Below, inside the guts of the hotel between the casino, the restaurants, the lounges and the main stage.
Below is a standard luxury room – mine had a beautiful quiet pool view. All of our rooms came with a bottle of champagne and the below styled hot tub in the room — a massive 2 (I’d argue 4 person) shower was housed in the main bathroom, which was also incredibly spacious with beautiful marble tiles.
Below, the Rock Star Suite
The Rock Spa is a must try when you stay there. They have a cutting edge innovative ice room (which I didn’t test out….on purpose) and apparently the most complete hydrotherapy circuit in the Caribbean. They also have an elaborate fitness center. Below was my favorite part of the spa — a few pools, ranging from cool and warm to hot and relaxing and you could pop into one and then into another for hours of relaxation. The environment was very serene and quiet, perfectly lit and perfectly calm. There’s plenty to experience at their 60,000 square foot oasis spa area, from 46 cabins amd six palapas to lagoons, two whirlpools, a steam room, sauna, food creek pathway, hydro-reflexology, and sensory expertise pool. Oh yeah, and that ice room I mentioned above. Brrrr!
There’s also an indoor pool area as well. They have an unusual Rhythm and Motion experience at their spa, which is the world’s first fully immersive music-centric spa menu that utilizes amplified vibrations, pressures and patterns, as the foundation of its treatments. And yes I tried it out of course. The massage therapist synchronizes movements together with a curated playlist. Utilizing Hard Rock’s differentiator –music– each treatment connects the healing power of music with the artistry of message therapy. The treatment taps into memories to create an experiential journey, in sync with a performance of techniques, pressure and rhythm. The massage is infused with a choice of natural organic essential oils to reduce stress, ease muscle tension, and detoxify. Bravo — I loved it!
Note: inside room shots, Moon Lounge and car shot courtesy of Hard Rock Hotel. All other shots taken on my iPhone and Canon 7D.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana
Boulevard Turístico del Este Km.28No.74
Macao, Dominican Republic
Caso de Campo Resort & Villas
Truth be told, I’m not a huge all inclusive property fan, but if you are, then Punta Cana has much nicer options than a lot of Caribbean choices I’ve experienced over the last few years, so it’s a great spot to head to if you don’t want to think about a thing. I have to admit, I loved the unlimited access to fresh juices and the insanely massive choices of cheese and yogurt options on the buffets in the two all-inclusives we did stay at however, so there are plenty of upsides even for us boutique property lovers. Bring it on I thought on more than one occasion, and yes, the beaches were divine. If you do love smaller and more custom accommodations, you may prefer this gem of a find called Caso de Campo. Incredibly convenient, historical luxury property is is only six kilometers from La Romana International Airport. I really loved this place!! There are a number of things that make this property unique, starting with its private beach, high end marina and on-site Altos de Chavón, which is a replica of a 16th-century European village.
It’s great to be able to access such a Euro-style old world village close to your villa or hotel room and they have some lovely jewelry, fashion and bag shopping options on the premises. The views are breathtaking, breakfast and golf carts are complimentary and the outdoor lounge areas are chic with a great outdoor bar. Other amenities include seven upscale restaurants, six bars and 3 renowned golf courses, as well as a spa, gym and an outdoor pool.
Wellness & Mindfulness: there’s a beautiful labyrinth nearby you can access; it added to the already fabulous energy of this place. At Casa de Campo, they have holistic health professionals who can work with you to make mindful changes by engaging your mind, body, and emotions. You have options to consult with their naturopathic doctor to design an inspiring lifestyle program that you can take home with you. For guests looking for a more immersive experience, Casa de Campo’s holistic living farm offers botanical walks, bonfires on the beach, guided excursions to explore and forage in the herb and vegetable gardens, cooking classes, and advice on the art of wholesome eating and being more in tune with your body.
They have a beautiful spa on the property that integrates nature into its core. You can get obvious treatments such as massages, facials and more and they also offer restorative yoga classes right on nearby Minitas Beach. Classes are open to everyone—including beginners and first-timers—and include a combination of pranayama (breath work), asana (posture), and yogic thought. They have several classes each week that incorporate the elements of vinyasa, hatha, yin, ashtanga, and kundalini yoga styles. In addition to classes on Minitas Beach, they also hold them in the spa’s labyrinth garden. This place is so up my alley!
Also available is physical therapy and detox packages you can choose from depending on the length of your stay. Spa Massages include a signature Ayurvedic massage, a Classic Sport Hot Stone option, a Pre-natal and more. Body treatments include a Four Hands Exfoliation treatment with Coco, Coffee, Cacao Cane Sugar as well as a Caribbean Sea Salt Scrub Back Exfoliation, an Indian head neck and shoulder massage and more. They have Water Sanctuary Steam, Sauna, Hot and Cold Pools and a number of healthy body wraps, from Tropical Fruit, Organic Cacao, Green Mud Detox, Green Calming After Sun treatments, and others. You can also sign up for Reflexology and Shirodhara Holistic Weight Loss programs and get consultations that are tailored to Ayurvedic, Naturopathic and Nutritional methods depending on your interest and needs.
Posh, contemporary rooms and suites are available in the main building or you can opt for a restored golf lodge, which feature free wifi and flat-screen TVs, minibars and coffee makers, with attached verandas or balconies. Sleek villas also are available if you plan to travel in a group — they make a great choice if you’re heading to the Caribbean with your family. The indoor decor is tastefully designed and is a mix of Mediterranean, old world and chic luxe.
Tortuga Bay Hotel
Tortuga Bay Hotel is a member of Leading Hotels of the World and the only AAA Five Diamond awarded hotel in the Dominican Republic. This chic property is all about elegance, privacy and personal service, with every convenience at arm’s length. Located in a private enclave within the resort, Tortuga Bay is small and only has 13 luxurious beachfront villas with one, two, three and four-bedroom suites all of which were designed by Oscar de la Renta. You’re picked up VIP style at the airport and whether you go for one of the villas or opt to rent one of their homes, it’s all about luxury. Renting a home in one of their residential communities is a more private alternative to hotel accommodations. Private residences offer views of the nearby beaches and golf courses which were designed by Tom Fazio and P.B. Dye. They offer two to five bedrooms options with private pools, full kitchens, staff and other luxe amenities.
Golf lovers will appreciate the vicinity to their 45 hole championship golf course. The P.B. Dye designed La Cana Golf Course, consisting of 27 holes across Tortuga, Arrecife and Hacienda, was apparently declared the number one course in the Caribbean by Golf Magazine. Designed by Tom Fazio and set between rocky cliffs, coral reefs and the Caribbean Sea, the Corales Golf Course features six oceanfront holes, multiple lines of approach and picturesque canyons. Foodies will love that you can access many restaurants in the nearby Punta Cana Resort & Club, although located right inside Tortuga Bay,the AAA Four Diamond awarded Bamboo Restaurant blends modern cuisine with Mediterranean influences, in a luxury setting also designed by Oscar de la Renta. There’s also the Mediterranean and seafood restaurant La Yola which is located at the Marina and modeled on a fisherman’s boat, perched right on the sea. Located at La Cana Golf & Beach Club is The Grill, which is a great lunch spot.
More notes for food lovers. Also on-site is AnanÍ Restaurant for contemporary breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Brassa Grill which touts USDA Prime steaks, Playa Blanca, a beachfront tropical restaurant and bar that serves fresh local seafood, grilled cuts and superb cocktails. In addition to golf, there’s kite surfing, kite boarding, paddle boarding, a tennis center, a PADI scuba diving center, snorkeling, waterskiing, deep sea fishing, catamaran excursions, a petting zoo, horseback riding and horseback riding lessons, For more serious adventure seekers, they have segway tours, a fitness center, bicycles, kayaks, numerous water and land, and a stunning ecological reserve with walking trails. Nature lovers will love the fact that they have 12 natural springs nearby. You can sign up for spa treatments at Six Senses which offer signature treatments and Asian therapies. For those who really want very upscale service, attention to detail, pristine beaches and intimate accommodations that are quiet without the noise and crowds, this is your spot. Two thumbs up!
Above photo credits from Tortuga Bay Resort.
Note: I was hosted by a couple of these properties and a guest of the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.