Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Author: Canadian Wanderer (page 1 of 21)

Hotel Review: TownePlace Suites Minneapolis Downtown/North Loop

To use election analogies, there are hotels I confirm after months of careful consideration having emerged from a field of candidates as having the most positive attributes and there are others that win by acclamation for their price or location and my recent two night stay at the TownePlace Suites Minneapolis Downtown/North Loop fell into the latter category as its value for a central location proved a winning combination.

Marriott’s TownPlace Suites brand was launched in 1997 as a mid-tier, all-suite extended stay accommodation chain that’s grown to over 300 hundred locations throughout Canada & the U.S.  Each unit includes a full kitchen with small range, microwave and dishwasher plus a living room and desk with plenty of plugs for laptops and recharging devices.

The TownePlace Suites Minneapolis Downtown/North Loop is conveniently located a 10-minute walk from Target Field – home of the major league baseball’s Minnesota Twins – and the adjacent Light-rail transit (LRT) station on the Blue Line which offers a direct, 30-minute ride in from Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) for only USD$2.00 for non peak hours while travelling between 6-9 AM & 3-6:30 PM costs an extra $0.50. The walk is through a former industrial area that’s transitioning to a hip neighborhood with a variety of shops, restaurants and craft breweries but not without some construction so be prepared to dodge a few detours. And don’t let the “North Loop” moniker fool you as locals scoff at the trendy term noting the whole area is part of the Warehouse District.

Once at the TownPlace Suites guests will find the door locked which it is 24/7 for security but a buzzer is well located and signed and once granted access you find a small lobby and front desk.

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My arrival was hours ahead of the normal 3 PM check-in but happily found my room ready so dropped my bags in room 224, a Studio with Queen bed and fully equipped kitchen complete with utensils and plates, a small range, dishwasher and full size fridge.

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The view from the room is of N. 2nd Street and the condo complex opposite and while nothing too scenic I found very little street noise filtered into the studio.

The bathroom has a tub & shower with a nice curved shower rail that means the shower curtain isn’t clinging to you while you enjoy the morning shower.  The complimentary bath products are Paul Mitchell but unlike many moderate hotel chains aren’t the wall-mounted refillable shampoo & body gel containers but the old school little plastic bottles.

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While spacious and comfortable the studio is lacking some user-friendly features such as a bathroom exhaust fan, closet safe and suffers some sound leakage through the connecting door to the next suite but luckily my neighbors weren’t late night partyers so it wasn’t a huge issue. For a property that caters to long-stay guests on business, the lack of an  in-room laptop size safe is a glaring omission that should be corrected.

The breakfast room is just off the lobby and the morning meal is served 6:30 – 9:30 AM with the early risers able to claim their preferred places.

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Beyond the coffee station, there’s a good selection of sausage rounds, scrambled eggs or mini-omeletes , cereals, bagels and bread, fresh fruit plus juice  to feed all but the most finicky of guests. It’s food, not cuisine but more than enough fuel the start to my day although I can see how it could become quickly repetitive for guests on a longer stay than my two-night duration.


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Yes, a do-it-yourself waffle maker! A variety of toppings are on hand including chocolate chips, strawberries and plain old syrup.


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While the weather was warm enough, my short stay didn’t leave enough time to take a dip in the heated outdoor pool which is open daily 9 AM – 9 PM. The pool deck is at the rear of the building beside the parking lot however does offer a scenic city skyline view.

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On-site parking is available for a fee.

For a three-star value suite hotel the TownePlace Suites Minneapolis Downtown/North Loop  delivers a comfortable stay with a convenient location within walking distance of the Minneapolis city sights and a wealth of local craft breweries so more than met my expectations.  Those guests wanting more of the boutique or upscale, full service hotel experience should look elsewhere but for cost-conscious families or extended stay singles looking for a home-base this TownePlace  is worth a look.

Pros

  • Walking distance to Target Field and Warehouse District restaurants and craft breweries
  • Breakfast included
  • Large suites with full kitchens
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Individual unit heating & cooling controls

Cons

  • No in-room safe
  • Lack of a bathroom exhaust fan
  • Fee for parking
  • Some sound transmits through connecting door to next suite

ArtTourYEG; The Quarters

If ever there was a neighborhood that could be called “in transition” it would be an area in the shadow of Edmonton’s skyline that’s been re-branded as “The Quarters” as the city partners with private enterprise to push the ignored, somewhat seedier side of the city toward the gentrified mainstream. I joined a free lunch hour walking tour of the district sponsored by ArtTourYEG,  a project made possible by the Downtown Walkability Initiative and the Department of Sustainable Development of the City of Edmonton, and saw the area for what it is and the direction the city wants to see it go.

The Quarters became Edmonton’s first commercial district in the late 19th century as the first real business and residential zone beyond the walls of Fort Edmonton. The area occupies a 100 acre area extending from 97 Street to 92 Street, and from 103A Avenue to the top of the North Saskatchewan River Valley and takes its name from four “quarters” –  the Civic Quarter, Heritage Quarter, McCauley Quarter, and Five Corners Quarter – each with its own character. The centerpiece of the Quarters is the Armature, the first City-led “green street” pilot project that’s created a pedestrian-focused green street.

The artists rendering in the video is a reasonable facsimile of the current avenue minus the construction and midday drunkards ensconced outside the local liquor store, a reminder that some things about this part of town haven’t really changed that much despite the city’s best efforts.

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Etched into the granite at each mid-block crossing along the Armature is Derek Besant’s poem entitled Then, Here, Now  which can be can be read backwards and forwards.

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The Salvation Army’s wall has been decorated with the Edmonton Peace Mural created by both Canadian and Central American children and unveiled and unveiled to mark Change for Children who celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2001.

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Public art sprinkled throughout The Quarters includes Wild Rose by Rebecca Belmore & Osvaldo Yero which has a pair of symbols of Alberta, the wild rose mounted atop a tall lodgepole pine.

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Along the Armature are street signs with both the original street & avenue names and current numbers and the tour guide Ian explained that the move to rename Edmonton’s streets resulted from the amalgamation of Edmonton and Strathcona in 1912 as until then street names were the sole creation of realtors which created a haphazard grid for local police and firefighters to try and navigate in emergencies. The first map with the new street numbers appears in 1913 and the street renaming process was completed in 1914

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Similar street signs may be found throughout Old Strathcona and I’ve come to appreciate the elegant way my city melds past & present in a utilitarian street sign.

There are some unique buildings along Jasper Avenue that are being preserved including Edmonton’s “flat iron” building the Gibson Block. This 1913 four-storey brick building constructed for commercial use on four city lots at the eastern edge of Edmonton’s pre-World War One commercial core was added to the register of Canadian historic places in 2005.

A few block West stands the Ernest Brown Block, another 1913 brick building which housed the studio of Ernest Brown, one of Alberta’s most famous early photographers. The facade of the original building endures with a new, thoroughly modern addition rising behind it complete with floor-to-ceiling glass offering dramatic river valley vistas.

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The Goodridge Block was completed in 1912 and housed a menswear store, barbershop, wine, liquor and cigar store, and pool hall before becoming the local landmark  W.W. Arcade hardware store, Edmonton’s largest, between 1932 – 1991.

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Upscale eatery Hardware Grill opened in 1996 after a multi-million dollar restoration of the building and earned many culinary accolades including appearing on lists ranking the best restaurants in Canada before suddenly announcing it’s permanent closure on Twitter the week after the tour.

The tour ends behind the modern Edmonton Law Courts opposite the Oil Lamp Greek Restaurant whose exterior wall has been adorned with a mural by Ian Mulder entitled ‘City Slickers’ which features the magpie, a bird residents either love or hate. I’ll admit to being in the latter category having had many a morning interrupted by the loud, incessant chatter of this scavenger bird.

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The ArtTourYEG Series is a free walking tour was made possible by the Downtown Walkability Initiative and the Department of Sustainable Development of the City of Edmonton. Other tours  cover an assortment of downtown districts and include the Jasper Ave., Capital Boulevard, and  Churchill to McKinney tours.

Flight Review: Delta Boeing 717

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If the Boeing 717 has the familiar look of the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 it’s because this twin-engine, single-aisle regional commuter aircraft began its days as a derivative of the sturdy DC-9 before being re-branded following the $13-Billion, 1997 merger of the two American aviation giants. Despite the new model name however airlines were unwilling to take a flyer on the 717 and so only 156 were built before production ended in 2006. Delta Airlines is the largest operator of Boeing 717 aircraft with 91 aircraft flying regional routes around North America making up 10% of the airline’s fleet as the time of writing.

The Economy seat lay-out is an uncommon 2 + 3 configuration with 78 main cabin Economy seats,  20 extra legroom Comfort + and 12 First Class seats in a two-by-two seat arrangement.  My airfare included complimentary advance seat assignment so I selected 16A just behind the Comfort + section on the two-seat side of the aircraft and the legroom of 31-inches was just enough for this 5-foot-10 flyer for a short sub 3-hour flight Edmonton – Minneapolis but taller travelers may want to consider paying for the upgrade to Comfort + for the extra 3-inches of seat pitch.

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When selecting an economy seat on a future Delta Boeing 717 flight, I’ll opt to sit further back as seat 26A has two windows. If having a view if important I’d recommend against assigned seats any further back as rows 28 & 29 are obscured by the fuselage-mounted engines.

The seat width of 18.1-inches is a fraction wider than newer jetliners and the leather seats comfortable enough for a shorter flight but according to this report Delta is moving ahead with plans to restrict the seat recline to two inches.

With no in-seat entertainment units, there are no under seats wiring or boxes so the foot well is large enough for a small backpack, briefcase or purse. All rows of seats include in-seat power USB and power plugs.

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The overhead bins are generous enough to hold enough bags for a full flight as I found when boarding among the last passengers in Delta’s Main 3 boarding order with only Basic economy passengers boarding later however it’s luck of the draw and I was preparing myself for a lack of bin space and being forced to check my carry-on. For those passengers not wanting to risk finding no overhead bin space upon boarding, Delta sells Priority Boarding in the Main 1 zone for USD$15 per segment but note this fee is lost if the itinerary is changed as it’s not transferable to a new flight.

With an average Boeing 717 fleet age of just over 18-years there are bound to be a few more  mechanical delays than newer aircraft as I encountered departing Minneapolis however the speedy substitution of another 717 on hand prevented it from being a lengthy delay so applauded the airline’s efforts to minimize inconvenience to passengers.

The Boeing 717 isn’t without some quirks as frequent flyers on other regional jets such as the Bombardier CRJ are likely familiar with including stooping over to access seats because of low overhead luggage bins however the Delta Airlines workhorse delivers a smooth flight and comfortable enough in-flight experience that a short flight passes quickly.  If given the choice, I’d rather fly the Embraer 190 for its increased cabin comfort however its poor cold weather record made it temperamental so the rugged 717 in an able alternative when necessary.

 

 

2019 Edmonton Craft Beer Festival; Beer Sampling Nirvana

The Edmonton Craft Beer Festival is one of the fastest growing beer festivals on the planet with over 500 brews from more than 100 breweries on tap to discover over two-days at the 2019 edition and I wanted to drink it all in one small sample at a time.

“There definitely seems to be something special going on for the festival this year,” says Alberta Beer Festivals CEO Mark Kondrat. “Every year, the Edmonton Craft Beer Festival (May 31 & June 1) has gotten bigger and better, but this year, the growth has been incredible. We’ve doubled ticket sales and we have over 125% of the exhibitors we had last year.” In its 7th year, the event has become one of the fastest growing and largest beer festivals in the world. “So much goes on at the event, it really is a festival everyone can enjoy. You don’t have to love beer to love Beerfest, and you don’t have to love every beer or spirit being sampled. The whole point is to try things you might not normally try so you can find a new favorite and have a great time!”

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I spied a $19.99 “buy one,get one free” general admission ticket promotion for the Fri., 31st May opening night that proved too hard to resist. Upon presenting your ticket at the Expo Centre venue and being scanned in, patrons are given a plastic 4-ounce tasting mini-mug but to fill ‘er up  $1 sample vouchers sold in blocks of 10 need to be purchased. Most beer samples around the cavernous convention hall are 2 tickets with food ranging from 4 to 6 tickets. I invested $30 to try an assortment of the best craft beer from all over Western Canada and consider that a bargain!

Popular local brewpub Brewsters tempted tasters with a variety of beers and while I normally favor Kolsch, wheat beers and amber ales, I went off script to try the Peanut Butter Porter whose flavor isn’t subtle as it hits you like a peanut butter sandwich between the eyes.

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There’s an event map and list of all the breweries, distilleries, food vendors and others here and they include a few quirky booths such as the Canadian Drink Mitt which is a sock with a beer holder at the end to allow thirsty drinkers to keep their hand warm in the depths of winter while still enjoying a cold beer. Perhaps a Christmas gift for the man (or women) who has everything.

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The boys of Bent Stick Brewing are all smiles as they shared their microbrewery magic with the masses. I sampled and fell for the B.S. Wit, a cloudy Belgian style wheat beer that’s the Edmonton brewery’s first canned beer. I’ll drink to that!

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Calgary-based Wild Rose Brewery paid homage to its Alberta roots with a DJ in the bed of a pick-up but after a 2019 sale to Sleeman Breweries, itself owned by Japan’s Sapporo Breweries,  it was immediately removed from the Alberta Small Brewers Association.

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Before the town of Ponoka was named for the Blackfoot word for elk it was simply identified as  Siding 14 on the Calgary-Edmonton Railway Company serving as a supply point for steam locomotives making their way between Alberta’s two main cities.  Siding 14 Brewing Company takes its name from the town’s original  name and delivered a host of choices but I settled on the Switch Point Honey Cream Ale which surprised me with its subtle flavors. I could easily make this a regular, year ’round favorite as its such a balanced beer.

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Troubled Monk Brewing shared their Red Deer-based craft brew and when asked where the brewery name originated the staff on hand hinted that it was chosen to allude to the beer history of the Belgian Trappist monk slaving away to create a beer worth celebrating.

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Speaking of monk’s, Edmonton’s Blind Enthusiasm Brewing brought their award-winning beers to the festival which include the Extra Special Monk, the very first beer brewed by the founders of this  Ritchie neighborhood brewery.

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The Alberta Small Brewers Association says 117 independent craft breweries operating in Alberta are a  35% growth since 2017 meaning the 2020 Edmonton Craft Beer Festival should be even  bigger and better and I can drink to that!

Resort Visit: The Fives Azul Beach Resort Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

To borrow a Yogi Berra quotation my recent look at The Fives Azul Beach Resort Playa Del Carmen was like Déjà vu all over again as it marked the second time I’ve seen the upscale beachfront Caribbean resort but the interval between visits long enough I didn’t recall this fact  until after entering its grounds.


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A friend who owns a villa at The Fives was kind enough to reach out to resort sales staff to arrange a visit for me while holidaying in the area but after steeping out of the cab I realized I explored the resort shortly after it opened in late 2010.  While there was enough that felt familiar there are new additions to the resort including a cluster of new villas carved out of the jungle around the central cenote that defines the resort layout.

Resort map courtesy of The Fives Azul Beach Resort

Nature and the natural world is a part of this 480-unit family friendly all-inclusive resort with frequent appearances by local spider monkeys and raccoon-like coati and other wildlife, many spotted from the wooden boardwalks than span the cenote in the middle of property.

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The main pedestrian plaza features a cluster of restaurants, shops and a Starbucks which is included in the all-inclusive dining plan.

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On the plaza just outside the main buffet restaurant, Flavors, is a list of daily activities for adults and kids who may join the supervised activities program called Azulitos which has games and play space in the Azulitos Playhouse as well as a kids-only pool and even spa services for the little ones.

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Among the 13 buffet and À la carte restaurants is Koh Thai, an Asian influenced eatery with the choice of dining on an outdoor deck or indoors beneath a 15-foot standing Buddha in the Bangkok-inspired dining room.

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A cozy corner is Nineteen Ten, a Mexican cantina flavored bar named for the year of the outbreak of the Mexican revolution and decorated in colourful terracotta tiles offering a vast selection of tequila and mezcal from all over Mexico. Make a point to  visit this adult-only bar as its well worth a refreshment detour.

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Steps from the beach and reached by a glass elevator is the roof top Zky Bar which is an all ages sports bar and lounge until 11 PM when it becomes adult-only.

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While The Fives lacks a huge section of white sand beach, the small area it does have is organized well with two pools, an adult-only infinity pool and an adjacent all ages pool.

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Like the beach lounge chairs most of the the white fabric cabanas are available on a first come, first served basis.

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Like other areas of the Riviera Maya which have been beset by the brown seaweed Sargassum in recent years so has The Fives been affected making beach watersports and swimming a challenge however the appearance and quantity varies from nothing to ankle deep depending upon wind, time and tide so it’s not something that can be accurately forecast prior to arrival.

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I was shown an adult-only  ‘One-bedroom Swim-up Resort Residence’ which are the newest suites featuring a king bed, his & hers vanity, a walk-in rainfall shower stall,  large walk-in closet and direct access down a few steps into the pool.

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The Fives Azul Beach Resort Playa Del Carmen is just north of the city of Playa Del Carmen  offering  good access to shopping and sights but is just far enough removed to be beyond the busy tourist zone along Fifth Avenue. The variety of exotic cuisine and authentic Mexican flavours paired with larger family-friendly suites at very competitive price makes this resort a strong contender for best luxury resort value in Riviera Maya.

Pros

  • Giant rooms and suites up to three bedrooms
  • White sand beach with loungers and cabanas
  • Family friendly with extensive facilities and activities for kids including kids’ menu and cribs, cots, baby food and and baby monitors for infants
  • Seven swimming pools, including enormous main pool and kid-friendly options
  • Thirteen restaurants serving cuisine from around the world
  • Nine bars and lounges, including a couple of swim-up options
  • Free Wi-Fi throughout the resort and free international calls

Cons

  • A smallish section of beach
  • Located away from the action of Fifth Avenue (could be a pro for some)
  • Lots of kids running around might put some solos and couples off
  • At times a lack of loungers around the infinity pool
  • Newer villas a bit of a walk from the beach; golf cart rides available

 

High Level Bridge Streetcar Edmonton; History in Motion

There is nowhere else except in Edmonton where riders can experience the highest streetcar river crossing in the world transported along at a stately pace in a restored almost century old streetcar across a century old bridge like a transportation time machine.

The Edmonton Radial Railway Society is the operator of historic streetcars boasting the largest fleet of heritage streetcars in Western Canada with over twenty-five streetcars including eight in seasonal service, two undergoing restoration and fifteen others in storage or awaiting restoration.

The streetcar takes riders from Edmonton’s historic Old Strathcona area through the only Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Tunnel built east of the Canadian Rockies along former CPR tracks out onto the High Level Bridge for the short journey into Edmonton’s Downtown.

Hankai Electric Railway (Osaka) No. 247 was built in 1921, rebuilt in 1947 and remained in service in Osaka until 1990 when it was acquired for spare parts by the Edmonton Radial Railway Society and shipped to the Alberta capital. When the streetcar arrived however it was in such excellent condition that the plans were revised and the car restored for use on the High Level Bridge Line.  Osaka No. 247 has been in regular seasonal service since 1997 and was for a time the only streetcar running on the line.

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The High Level Bridge is an iconic Edmonton landmark but this bridge is both a physical as well as historic link to the past as work began in 1912, the same year as the separate communities of Edmonton and Strathcona amalgamated to become one city. The rail deck soars 47 meters or 155 feet above the North Saskatchewan River and the crossing via streetcar affords riders sweeping river valley views in all directions. The bridge was designated a Municipal Historic Resource  when it was added to the Alberta Register of Historic Places in 1995.

At the southern end of the High Level Bridge there is a siding that allows the two streetcars to pass as there is only a single set of tracks across the bridge’s rail deck. Passing Osaka No. 247 is the 1947 vintage Melbourne 930 which served the Australian city until its retirement in 1997 before being shipped to Edmonton as an ambassador for the City of Melbourne and the State of Victoria. Following extensive truck and brake overhauls, car 930 entered service in 2006 and is well suited to the High Level Bridge Line because of its seating  for 50 and max.  capacity of 140 passengers.

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The tracks of the former CPR line winds their way through the Old Strathcona neighborhood on Edmonton’s south side terminating at the Strathcona Streetcar Barn & Museum, just north of the Strathcona Farmers Market. The route runs to Jasper Plaza south of Jasper Avenue on the north side of the river with three intermediate stops where passenger may request a stop.

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A 34-minute round trip ride costs $7 per passenger and includes admission to the Strathcona Streetcar Barn & Museum which has gathered artifacts, pictures and information relating to Edmonton’s original streetcar system whose service ended in 1951 as well as the historic streetcars gathered from around the world. A short 1949 colour film of Edmonton’s streetcars is also shown.

The High Level Bridge line runs daily May 17 – September 2 before dropping to weekend only service between September 6 – October 14 before the last run of the 2019 season on 14 October.

Resort Review: Paradisus Playa Del Carmen La Esmeralda

Guests checking in to the Paradisus Playa Del Carmen La Esmeralda Hotel could be forgiven for thinking they were in Bali as the beachfront all-inclusive resort exudes an upscale exotic vibe that is unlike other family-friendly resorts along Mexico’s Riviera Maya coastline.

A short distance from Playa Del Carmen’s famous Fifth Avenue and 45 km from the Cancun airport this five-star resort offers 510 sumptuous suites, a variety of fun amenities for kids, and a charming environment surrounded by lush tropical landscaping with the adult-only  enclave Paradisus Playa Del Carmen La Perla right next door.

Upon arrival, the lobby greets guests with an aquatic oasis complete with koi fish, small turtles and large modern art.

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The front desk is less a central station and more of an anteroom off the lobby with an adjacent lounge for guests awaiting their rooms or transportation pick-up. I appreciated that during the check-in process while a resort wristband was required of all guests it wasn’t the cheap plastic variety but rather a small wooden disc with the Paradisus logo and black string making it more of a trendy bracelet and less of a utilitarian identification item.

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Sporting the spiffy new wristband but being too early to be assigned a room, I tour the resort and beach before stopping for a bite at The Market, a casual restaurant serving an à la carte international menu which includes an awesome smokie sausage on a bun that really hit the spot.

Room 2252 is a Junior Suite with two double beds and at just over 500 sq. ft. is spacious with a small white leather sofa and coffee table as well as a glass table next to the mini-bar which worked well as a spot to power up the the laptop.

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There is an electrical outlet at the glass desk however only one so charging multiple devices here wouldn’t work. The room overall has enough outlets but most are used for the items such as the nightstand LED clock radio and iPod docking station and while the relative lack of outlets stood out to me the upside is the large, laptop size room safe does have a pair of USB ports on the inside back wall so charging devices while they’re locked up turns what could be a negative into a positive.

The bathroom has a large sliding door to the hallway as well as two smaller sliding screens above the jetted tub that when closed offer some privacy and is a much better format to the open concept bathroom.

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In addition to the deep soaker tub is the rainfall shower stall with shower wand that offers an invigorating morning shower experience with upscale French fashion designer Thierry Mugler toiletries. The frosted glass doorway to the toilet opens both inward and outward which is infinitely more user-friendly than other similar doors I’ve encountered at other resorts than open only one way.

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The space-saving sliding door concept is carried over to the closet which opens to the safe and trio of drawers below as well as the clothes closet which has more than enough wooden hangars to house my meager resort-wear collection.

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The 360-degree room view of the Junior Suite is here and is exactly the same layout as room 2252 but on a higher floor as it features a distant glimpse the ocean however not enough for the resort to categorize it as ocean view. In fact none of the resort’s rooms are close enough to the the waters edge to be called ocean view so those travelers wanting a room with a view take note.

The large (108 sq. ft.) balcony features a pair of wicker chairs and small coffee table but could easily fit a chaise lounge chair which would be a really nice addition. The tropical view overlooks the swim-up pools and forest of towering palm trees.

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The aquatic center of the family-friendly resort is the pirate ship playground which is perfect for smaller children with the Sunrise Grill serving snack food and a swim-up pool bar nearby  for adults.

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Once during my stay staff set up a foam party on the pool deck that proved massively popular with younger kids.

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Surrounding the pools are thatched roof Bali beds plus lounge chairs and umbrellas scattered beneath towering royal palm trees. The Bali beds really suit couples but I noticed two adjacent beds used by extended multi-generation families with chaise loungers for teens or adults wanting some time in the sun. There are day beds away from the more active pirate ship pool that are very quiet and I found these my preferred spot to relax and read with an occasional cocktail delivered by one of the attentive waiters who make regular rounds to deliver thirst aid.

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Not all Bali beds are not created equal as a chart at the pool hut shows with the ten beds in red nearest the Sunrise Grill being part of the resort all-inclusion program and free to claim each day without charge however the others, including the “Premium” beds immediately around the pirate pool, cost an extra USD$29 – $79 per day. The beds themselves are identical and there are no extra perks earned with paying more so the only real difference is location.

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Coatis, also known as the coatimundis, are members of the raccoon family native to South America, Central America, and southwestern North America and roam freely throughout this family-friendly beachfront resort.

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As the coatis are wild animals parents should talk with their children about giving the furry foragers room to do their own thing and not try and pet them. It seemed fitting that at a family-friendly resort families of coatis could be seen from time to time around the grounds.

A recent addition to the choice of pool play places is the Splash Water Park opened in December, 2018 with zones for toddlers and water slides and a central climbing castle for older children. The big bucket dumps its water every few minutes bringing shrieks of delight from kids doused by the deluge.

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The water park, which is open daily 10 AM – 5 PM, is part of the resort’s all-inclusive program so no extra fee is required to enter.

The beach at the Paradisus Playa Del Carmen La Esmeralda is reached by walking down a long wooden boardwalk and is one of the few disappointments as it ranges from good in spots with lots of room from the tree line and water’s edge to other sections which are noticeably narrower.

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In places erosion has left the beach with a high spot sporting lounge chairs several feet above a lower level which is short gap to the water.

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The lack of guests occupying spots on the beach is likely due to the brown seaweed Sargassum that’s fouled beaches around the Caribbean in recent years and despite the best efforts of resort staff to remove it the volume is enough to make that very hard. The ankle-deep seaweed extended in spots 3 – 6 feet from the shoreline making wading through it to swim in the water where it floats like a brown stain on the surface very unappealing.

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I spent far less time at the beach during my 3-night stay at this Paradisus because of the Sargassum than I would’ve had it not been a factor but found solace in the serenity of the Bali beds by the pool so was more than content with my stay. It’s almost impossible to predict the future scale of Sargassum as time & tide may deposit it more in certain areas and less in others but for those vacationers preferring pristine beaches the options are to seek alternate resorts  less affected by the seaweed, alternate beach destinations or accept that it could impact a future vacation.

The nightly entertainment in the North Avenue Bar outside the main buffet Noas varies from magicians to the Mexican theme night which includes a mariachi band playing favorites such as “La Bamba”, a traditional Mexican folk song that’s one of the most popular songs in the state of Veracruz and was written decades before its most well known version by Richie Valens released in 1958. The dancers are a pair of lovers who, as the choreography progresses, place a red sash on the floor and dance around it until the end when using only their feet they tie it into a bow with which symbolizes their commitment to each other.

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Outside Noas is a stroller parking pad reserved for VIK, Very Important Kids.

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The dining is a high point of this resort as there is a restaurant to suit every taste on both the La Perla and La Esmeralda sides but over a short three-night stay I was sadly unable to enjoy all the restaurants.

Bana is an Asian-fusion restaurant with menus featuring sushi served Western and Eastern-style along with Teppanyaki and a sushi bar only for adults.

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The Grill in La Perla is an Italian-Argentinian steakhouse with an outdoor patio feel. The host welcomed us but said finding an open table may prove tough due to a large corporate group that had reserved one section of the restaurant but within minutes a table was set and we were seated much to our pleasure. The interaction summed up the resort staff’s willingness to bend a few rules to accommodate guests I experienced during my short stay.

Hadar on La Perla side is the buffet breakfast restaurant twin of Noas in La Esmeralda and I appreciated its quieter morning mood without the tiny tot tantrums and volume. Don’t get me wrong as I like kids but there’s something to be said for a leisurely breakfast and coffee without the interruption of other little diners.

Passion by Martin Berasategui is a Basque-French restaurant named for the famed Spanish chef whose restaurants hold a total of ten Michelin stars, more than any other Spanish chef. There’s a    a 360-degree view of the restaurant here but this eatery is not part of the all-inclusive program and will cost MXN$1,650 or roughly CAD$115 per person.

Adult guests of the Paradisus Playa Del Carmen La Esmeralda may enter the neighboring adult-only Paradisus Playa Del Carmen La Perla by way of a hallway in the Zocalo, a zone my adult friend jokingly dubbed the DMZ or demilitarized zone separating the two halves of the larger Paradisus resort complex.

photo by author

Travelling with a friend I’d chosen the La Esmeralda for its two double beds over the one king bed rooms on the adult-only La Perla side and before arrival expected we would spend virtually all of our time with the adults however I preferred to spend the day pool side in La Esmeralda for its quieter Bali beds and visit La Perla for its tamer morning breakfast buffet restaurant and spicy evening entertainment which includes live DJ’s. The one morning I tried La Perla side I’d just settled into my lounge chair when a  speaker a few feet away began blasting the soundtrack to an aquatic Zumba class being held in the main pool and so I abandoned my spot shortly thereafter due to the noise.

Speaking of noise pollution, even on La Esmeralda side there are speakers seemingly everywhere around the pool deck with satellite radio broadcasting an upbeat tempo all day long which for those like myself who prefer a quiet zone free from audio interference is an issue. The Royal Service pool areas on La Perla side seem an island of tranquility so perhaps next visit I’ll upgrade to this room category.

There’s lots to like about the Paradisus Playa Del Carmen La Esmeralda from its seamless exchange privileges with the adjacent adult-only sister section, Paradisus Playa Del Carmen La Perla, to the variety of quality cuisine options, ultra user-friendly rooms and suites to the authenticity of the staff who are genuinely eager to please guests and would rate is as one of the  best family-friendly, all-inclusive resorts in Riviera Maya and one of my top resort stays ever.

the resort map and overview

Pros

  • Family-centric, all-inclusive beachfront resort
  • Sumptuous suites; some with direct access to swim-up pools
  • Several fun and interactive outdoor swimming pools; one with a swim-up pool bar
  • White sand beach has sun loungers, umbrellas, and water sports
  • Guests have access to 14 buffet and specialty restaurants and 11 bars and lounges
  • Yhi Spa offers massages, a sauna & steam rooms plus a fully equipped fitness center
  • Extensive interactive Kids’ club
  • Family Concierge available with some rooms with a member-only lounge and dedicated staff at the beach & pool
  • Free Wi-Fi throughout the grounds
  • Evening entertainment

Cons

  • Some rooms are a bit of a hike from the beach
  • Some restaurants and facilities are located in the adjacent adult-only Paradisus Playa Del Carmen La Perla
  • Detached from the nightlife of downtown Playa Del Carmen
  • Some restaurants require reservations
  • More in-room electrical outlets would be handy
  • Seaweed on the beach
  • Wristbands required

 

the

Blatchford Hangar, Fort Edmonton Park Edmonton

There could be few more suitable venues for hosting a travel presentation than the historic Blatchford Hangar at Fort Edmonton Park and so it was with interested I learned the hangar’s  roots trace all the way back to Edmonton’s pioneering years in aviation history which began barely a decade after the Wright Brothers took flight.

The building is a reconstruction of the aircraft hangar at the the first licensed ‘air harbour’ in Canada named in honour of one of its biggest proponents, Edmonton Mayor Kenneth Blatchford. The original hangar was officially opened on January 8, 1927 and saw the city grow up around it before its demolition in 1979.

The modern, multi-purpose space may be rented for conferences, fund raisers, social gatherings and weddings with room for 200 –  600 guests depending upon configuration and equipment.

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An outdoor picnic site is also available as part of the facility rental and the immense sliding hangar doors open complete for an indoor/outdoor event.

photo by author

photo by author

photo by author

Fort Edmonton Park is nestled on 64 hectares (158 acres) of wooded parkland along Edmonton’s River Valley. What began as a Canada Centennial project in 1967 to reconstruct the old Fort Edmonton, quickly grew to encompass much more after construction began in 1969 and now includes the 1846 Hudson’s Bay Fort as well as the Streets of 1885, 1905, and 1920, depicting the evolution of Edmonton’s early history. The city owned attraction celebrates it’s 50th anniversary in the Summer of 2019 but inexplicably opted to close its doors to the public during its special anniversary year and for all of 2020 to complete a $165-million dollar upgrade project aimed at turning the local facility into Western Canada’s biggest cultural attraction. There’s more on that project here.

Fort Edmonton Park Maps

Edmonton’s 124 Grand Market Opens for its Summer season

A staple of the West Edmonton Summer scene since 2012, the 124 Grand Market returned for  it’s 2019 season on 9th May, the warmest day of the year with the first Thursday Market and the lure of eclectic food truck cuisine and local vendors is enough for an early office exit.

Under sunny skies with the mercury peaking at 21 Celsius, Edmonton’s Public Market as it bills itself showcases quality, locally farmed and focused products and supports growing small businesses in and around Edmonton. 

One of those local vendors is farmer Brian Wilson of Dawn Agri. Ltd, a Camrose-area farm who sells his free range non-GMO, soy free pesticide free, and herbicide free fresh farm eggs.

photo by author

Brian, who is no relation to the Beach Boys founder of the same name although probably hears Pet Sounds on his farm,  explained that most chicken feed contains soy which is transferred to the eggs in concentrations of up to 5-percent, enough to affect those with soy sensitivities or allergies. As I am always eating eggs for breakfast, I picked up a dozen of the extra large brown eggs at a price not much more than the generic white eggs sold at the local supermarket.

A popular tent is Bent Stick Brewing, a local Edmonton nano-brewery with a dare to be different mantra and palpable passion for beer. Pick up a few of the 650-ml beer bottles of brew such as Four-Thirty PM Stout or my favorite the Wizard Device Belgium Amber. And yes, samples are available.

photo by author

Among the rotating line-up of food trucks is Little Village, the freewheeling Greek eatery (try  their lamb & potatoes covered with tzatziki) or Meat Street Pies which Specializes in baked-on-board their Partridge Family-like multi-coloured food truck ethnic pies, pasties and patties, gluten free & veggie options.

video by author

photo by author

Each week, a new crop of vendors (think food trucks, artisans, produce and prepared food) hits the market, so no two weeks will be the same.

Thursdays on 108 Avenue & 124 Street from 4:00 PM-8:00 PM. Enjoy live music, performances, food trucks, local growers, bakers, makers, and kids programming including a Little Beans Program for the young ones.

The 2019 Season will run outdoors from May 9 to the Harvest Thanksgiving Market October 10.

Thursday Market
Thursdays from May 9 – October 10, 2019
4:00 PM – 8:00 PM
108 Avenue & 124 Street

Sunday Market
Sundays from June 2 – September 29
11:00 AM – 3:00 PM
102 Avenue & 124 Street

Resort Review: Riu Palace Mexico – Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

Located in the upscale gated residential, resort and luxury golf club community of Playacar 3 kilometers south of Playa Del Carmen, Mexico the  434-room Riu Palace Mexico will delight beach lovers with its stunning stretch of sand while its extensive all-inclusive amenities are outstanding if not quite palatial.

photo by author

My first impression of the family-friendly Riu Palace Mexico is one of loud Las Vegas-like luxury with a soaring lobby adorned with acres of marble and a purple design theme that runs throughout the resort following an extensive 2012 renovation. Garish may not be the right word and too harsh a critique but ‘understated elegance’ isn’t how I’d describe the Riu Palace Mexico.

photo by author

A welcome drink at check-in is always a nice touch but less so is having to wear a plastic wristband for the duration of the stay as this is becoming increasingly rare at luxury all-inclusive resorts.

The assigned room 2134 is a second floor Junior Suite at the end of the accommodation building nearest the beach and features two double beds and a lower level loveseat and desk with handy outlet to use or recharge devices. The complimentary Wi-Fi for up to 4 devices with the username and password  included in the welcome packet given to guests upon check-in.

A light cotton sheet was all that the firm but comfortable beds are fitted with but unless you set the air conditioning to deep freeze level it should be all that’s needed.  A ceiling fan is a good alternative to cool the space enough without cranking up the AC.

I did appreciate the heavy drapes blocked out more Mexican sunlight  than I expected allowing this light sensitive sleeper to sleep in past dawn as is rarely the case at most tropical hotels & resorts.

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The open concept bathroom with a jetted tub may in the middle of the room not be to everyone’s liking however the vanity with dual sinks did come in handy. The toilet is hidden in a small water closet behind a white door and while not roomy serves its purpose.

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The large shower stall with shower wand and rainfall shower head is behind a frosted glass door and purple glass tiles but has only one small light so I found it on the dark side in the morning with the drapes pulled.

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There is a wall-mounted multipurpose body wash and shampoo but extra lotion, shampoo and conditioner on the vanity.

One brand trademark of Riu resorts is what I call the “medicine cabinet”, a wall-mounted liquor dispenser just above the coffeemaker and mini-bar stocked daily with cans of beer and soda.

photo by author

The view from the smallish balcony with two plastic chairs of the central courtyard with reflecting pools and fountains is good but because there is a set back of the accommodation from the swimming pools and beach the resort doesn’t have ocean view rooms or suites.

photo by author

The room does offer a large laptop friendly wall safe in the closet and plenty of hangars and drawers to hold all my tropical beach and resort wear.

A big screen TV has dozens of channels and even some in English but it was barely on the whole four night stay as there are more than enough activities and evening entertainment around the grounds to keep me occupied.

There are some room quirks I found such as an array of light switches everywhere but it’s comfortable and user-friendly enough to serve as a good base. Hallways in the block-long accommodation buildings do amplify sounds but an absence of loud late night revelers made for very good sleep quality.

The biggest deciding factor about the room is its modern open concept so for those wanting an enclosed bathroom and a more traditional design the Riu Palace Riviera Maya is a few hundred meters down the beach .

Playacar Beach is miles long and deep with a gorgeous grove of towering palm trees and plenty of shady lounge chairs for everyone.

photo by author

photo by author

This was my favorite spot between the resort pools and the waters edge as it was an uncrowded and quiet oasis visiting only occasionally by waiters taking drink orders and the odd brown agouti, a large but timid rodent relative of the guinea pig found throughout Central and  South America.

photo by author

photo by author

The Sargassum seaweed that has fouled Caribbean beaches in recent years has washed up in the Playacar beaches making swimming in the sea impractical for all but an intrepid few. The ankle deep brown plants are removed by resort staff daily by hand and skid-steer loader but there’s only so much that can be done to keep up with the volume that washes up all along the Riviera Maya.

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video by author

The Riu Palace Mexico’s pools are clustered just off the beach with two pools, one adult only and the other family friendly, flanking a central pool with a swim-up bar that comes complete with tiled lounge chairs, stools and a  long pool table.

photo by author

photo by author

I noticed an innovative sun shade design in the metal trellises around the main pools with a screen that could be opened or closed like a window blind to allow or block the sun from guests occupying the loungers.


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It wasn’t too hard to find a spot by the pools or beach although inevitably there were the early risers who reserved their spots early in the morning.

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One disappointment for me was the lack of a quiet adult pool as a DJ stand was set up between the two main pools at the El Palmeral swim-up pool bar with the tunes going throughout the day but for those who like lots of pool games and music this active environment would be to their liking.

A central plaza served as the evening entertainment zone with a variety of local and imported bands entertaining the assembled guests. One Cubano band was a particular favorite.

 

Some resorts I’ve stayed at leave printed daily activities calendar in each guest room however the Riu has several touch screen information kiosks in the main building and lobby.

photo by author

The main buffet restaurant Don Julian is open for breakfast 7 – 11 AM and for supper 6:30 – 10 PM.  I liked that diners could choose between an indoor and covered outdoor patio section.

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The beef tenderloin I had at the fusion restaurant Krystal Restaurant was among the best main courses I’ve had at an all-inclusive but the same can’t be said however about the chocolate  dessert calzone on another night at the Italian La Dolce Vita Restaurant as the dough was too  thick to consume with a fork. Maybe I should’ve opted for the more traditional tiramisu.


photo by author

photo by author

The steak at the beachfront Steak House Guacamole was tasty but a little overdone (more well done than the medium I’d ordered) while I ran out of time to try the Japanese Miyagi and Mexican La Bodega specialty restaurants.

The family-friendly Riu Palace Mexico does offer a supervised kids activity play place called Riu Land which comes complete with outdoor kiddie pool and indoor kid’s club.

photo by author

photo by author

Guests of the two palace resorts in theory have access to the facilities at the five others adjacent or nearby Riu resorts however upon check-in the Hotel Riu Lupita was crossed off the resort map (see the resort complex map here) and was advised that we needed to stay within our own resort for specialty restaurant and morning buffet breakfast dining.

I visited the adjacent Hotel Riu Yucatan which was hotel chain’s first property in Mexico when it opened in 1997 and underwent its own renovation in 2013 and found the main pools near the beach quite crowded but there is an uncrowded quiet pool just off the resort’s main lobby. The resort has a number of individual walk-up villas instead of the large “U” shaped main building and accommodation wings as at the Palace resorts. The inter-resort exchange privileges are a perk better utilized on longer stays.

My stay at the Riu Palace Mexico was very enjoyable as I was able to find a quiet beach lounge chair in which to devour a few paperback books and while away the first few days doing almost nothing. I’d rate this as a solid four plus star all-inclusive resort but it just doesn’t compare to the true five-star resorts that aren’t far away within the Riviera Maya corridor.

Find a Riu Palace Mexico resort map here.

Pros

  • Miles of glorious white sand beach
  • Four swimming pools including one for adults only with swim-up bar
  • Kids’ club, playground, and swimming pool
  • Renovated rooms have liquor dispensers and jetted tubs
  • One buffet and five specialty restaurants and seven lounges and bars
  • Exchange privileges with other neighboring Riu resorts
  • 24-hour all-inclusive plan
  • Live entertainment in a central courtyard
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the resort

Cons

  • Lack of a quiet adult pool
  • Bathrooms with a modern open concept may not be to all guests liking
  • Seaweed on the beach
  • Plastic wristbands
  • Big rooms, small balconies

 

 

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