Family Brunch at Cracker Barrel

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Jenni and Ben were in town visiting this weekend. They spent the night on Thursday night before heading to Kansas City on Friday and spending the night there coming back on Saturday. Since they were in town, they joined us for the monthly poker game at Rune’s. I was worried about taking them to poker for fear that they would be bored. Little did I know, Ben is an avid and skilled poker player. He took third last night. As for me and Brian, let’s just say it was an expensive evening and leave it at that. LOL.

It took us about an hour to get home last night, but that’s a story for another time. Needless to say, we were up too late and had to be up early to meet everyone for brunch. I’m glad I’m a morning person or I would have been cranky about the wait.

Jenni and Ben got there first. They were told there would a 35 minute wait, which is long but not unreasonable. Anyway, we find out later that a group of nine who arrive after us got seated before us while we continued to wait. After waiting almost an hour, we were finally seated. In the mean time, the wait gave me a chance to play Ben a game of checkers. I’m thinking that I might switch to checkers because I’m actually not bad at it. I have a better record at checkers than chess this year.

Brunch was good despite the slow service. Our server was nice. I can’t really blame her for the mix up with the seating. It took a long time for our food to arrive but that could have been the kitchen’s fault. They were probably just busier than usual that day. I didn’t want to let these things affect the rest of my day though, so I chose to be more tolerant about the whole situation. Plus, I was just really grateful for the wonderful company (and free lunch because mom and dad paid – LOL).

After brunch Brian and I took grandma to Kohl’s to pick out a watch. We had promised her one for her birthday but didn’t get a chance to buy it because we had a busy week following our trip. This actually worked out better because then grandma got to pick out the exact one that she wanted.

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Overall it has been a great day so far. We had a great time with family, got grandma’s watch, and Brian fixed her computer. Hope the wonderfulness of the day continues tonight at bowling. I’m looking forward to winning some points again tonight so we can start moving up in the rankings.

Old Friends

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We had a busy weekend last week. We had the Annual Filipino Ball on Saturday and then hosted breakfast at our house for the Sharons since they were in town. Brian and I got to meet Richard and Amy’s kids for the first time. Misty came over and join us for breakfast also. We had a nice time visiting and catching up.

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Immediately after our guests took off I had to take off as well to attend Etaf’s bridal shower. She’s a friend from grad school who I hadn’t seen in years. Thankfully we have Facebook so we can still stay in touch. Anyway, Mary was at the bridal shower as well. It was great seeing both of them.

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Etaf’s bridal shower was super fun. I normally don’t like playing games but the games her sister came up with were great. I wish I could have stayed for the opening of presents except I had to drive back to Wichita for bowling league night with Brian and my folks.

We actually had a great night last Sunday. We didn’t bowl particularly well but the opposing team was having an off night so we won all four points. It’s the first week that we actually won. We tied our opponents on the first night and have been on a losing streak since. It was so refreshing to finally win. I can’t wait to bowl again next week and win four more points. Woot!

Pictures From the Annual Filipino Ball

The Filipino Ball is a celebration of milestones — debutantes, wedding anniversaries, achievements — in the Filipino community. It’s a chance for us to relive prom night in that we get to wear our fanciest clothes. Women are in beautiful gowns and men are in colorful and stylish barongs. It’s a pretty formal event so you can be as fancy as you want to be. Brian opted to wear his tux this year. Yeah, we’re still trying to get our money’s worth. LOL.

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These are some of my favorite photos from last night. Huge thanks to Jennifer Cannady for taking the photo above. I’ve put on some weight in the last couple of years and actually don’t look too bad in this photo. LOL. Brian, my very own James Bond, looks amazing as always.

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If you recognize my dress it’s because I recycled it. It’s the same dress that I wore to the American Heart Association benefit earlier this year. I would have preferred to have worn a new dress but life has been hectic and I didn’t have time to shop. Rather than stress about it, I figured I’d just wear one of the ones I already had hanging in the closet. I wore new jewelry to freshen it up a bit. This is the Kahlo line. If you’d like to see it up close or want to schedule a trunk show, contact me.

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Mom and dad with the Cannadys at the Filipino Ball.

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Obligatory selfie… because we have to take at least one of the two of us.

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The Filipino Ball is the one time a year that we get to see people who we don’t normally see on a regular basis. Kids babies and children grow up to be adults almost overnight it seems. It’s like one year they were children and the next they’re hosting the event. Yes, I’m talking about Jenna. She was a baby when Brian and I first started attending the gala and now she’s a grown woman. Amazing. Brian and I still feel pretty youthful but this is the one event that’s guaranteed to make you feel old. Before the evening is even over I always end up wondering, “Are we really that old?”

We must be because I actually enjoy the event now and I didn’t used to. In my youth I used to dread having to attend. “Do I really have to?” This was one of those parties that was forced upon you by your parents. I don’t know how the other kids felt or how the kids today feel. It was not a fun party for me. It wasn’t really that much fun watching old people drink and make fools of themselves on the dance floor. Now I’m one of those old people. It’s awesome how time can change your perspective.

It used to that you couldn’t pay me to attend now and I’m actually paying to go. If you told me years ago that this would happen, I never would have believed you. LOL.

The Filipino Ball has become one of those events that I actually look forward to attending each year. I love watching the kids grow up and watching families expand as they welcome new family members. As long as I can look youngish and have my handsome James Bond by my side, I really don’t mind feeling old for a night.

Grandma’s 92nd Birthday

We celebrated grandma’s 92nd birthday at Firebirds last night. It was also a late birthday dinner for Brian and late Father’s Day celebration. We didn’t have time to figure out what to do for gifts for everyone so we just decided to buy everyone dinner. It was a little lazy on our part, I know; but what can you do when you’ve just gotten back from traveling and you have to get on with everyday life real quick? I was back to my day job and teaching my Zumba classes right off the bat.

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Without further ado, here are some of the pictures from last night.

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Mom and dad were able to join us so that was great.

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Brian got a card that makes noise and some cash for his birthday from his mom and dad. He is so easily amused.

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Mom really thought this was a half portion.

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Brian got ribs. He said they were very good.

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Grandma got pasta.

Dad got a wood grilled salmon.

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Kevin got a cheeseburger.

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I had a Fireside BLT with grilled salmon.

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Donna got meatloaf.

David got a steak filet and fries.

We all shared a couple of slices of the banana cream pie.

Close up!

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Grandma got a nice card from the Firebirds staff.

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We had to take a selfie!

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Here’s a photo of the Brubakers outside the restaurant after dinner.

Picture from last night.

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill on Urbanspoon

Food at the restaurant was actually better than I remembered. I have always liked their bread because it reminds me of pan de sal. The servers brought us several loaves well before we could even finish one.

I’m not sure about the others but my food was pretty good. The last time I had salmon at Firebirds it was a little overdone. It seemed that way anyhow. I thought I would give them another chance and get salmon again. This time to just add to my salad. The salmon was done absolutely perfectly. It didn’t dry up so that was great.

Our server recommended their seasonal dessert, a banana cream pie on steroids. We shared two slices of the pie. It was delicious. I hope Brian learns how to make it because I would love to have some again. LOL.

Poolside Massage, Anyone?

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Jocelyn worked on both Brian and me. She’s one of the friendliest and most enthusiastic massage therapists we have ever met. Super nice and friendly. I highly recommend requesting her if getting massage services at the spa.

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Our poolside massage was complimentary for booking the club premium package. We thought it was a really good deal. But it’s only a good deal if you take advantage of all the perks such as the free poolside massages, unlimited wifi for multiple devices (that is, if you want to stay connected), room service etc.

I have read reviews online from people who say that it’s not worth paying the extra for club premium but Brian and I really found it worthwhile. Club premium guests get the best rooms on the property. From a couple of people who absolutely loved the room that we were given, we think that alone was worth the difference in price.

The club premium lounge isn’t really anything spectacular but it’s less busy than the regular client services desk. The ladies are all very friendly and helpful also. You wouldn’t think that you’d need that much assistance throughout your stay but you’ll have to make dinner reservations and club premium guests supposedly get priority.

You also have access to a couple of restaurants that are not available to other guests unless they pay extra. And, you have access to the hydrotherapy section of the spa throughout your stay.

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Speaking of spas, the facilities at Barceló are top of the line.

Check out this amazing relaxation room where you get to hang out before, after, and between treatments.

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The spa has several treatment rooms just like these.

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We’ve been to many and few can compare to their treatment rooms. Almost every room had a private pool.

They also had outdoor massage beds. The downside is that these are right by the main pool at Palace Deluxe so it’s not really the most peaceful or quiet place to get a massage despite the privacy fence. You can still hear people (and their kids) yelling and screaming in the background.

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The spa is connected to an amazing fitness facility that rivals the best gyms in Wichita. Plus, you can’t beat the view.

The walls are glass so you can enjoy the view outside as you workout, which also allows lots of natural light into the workout areas. Imagine doing yoga in this studio.

The health and wellness facilities at Barceló are amazing. If I had one complaint it’s that it’s at the Palace Deluxe so you have to either walk a long ways or take the Barceló train to get there. And, Palace Deluxe always seems so crowded which can be a turn off if you want to relax. Once you are inside the spa, the noise dies down except if you’re outside in one of the private pools or in the outdoor massage area. That would be my one complaint about the spa/fitness center.

Other than that it’s a fantastic resort amenity that is not to be missed. You’ll have to check it out at least once during your stay.

Chess, Reading, and Cocktails

Chess was one of our favorite activities at the resort. Yes, we’re nerdy like that.

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It’s hard to resist a giant chess board. It just begged to be played.

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Hmmm… Decisions, decisions.

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This is the forlorn look on Brian’s face when he lost. LOL.

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This is what he looks like when he wins!

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Besides chess, Brian also did a lot of reading. Thank you, Stephen Coonts! And, yes. That guy behind Brian is smoking. Apparently, smoking is welcome everywhere. Even at the Palace Deluxe (family side) smoking was permitted everywhere. Except the casino. We thought that was a little weird or, at least, backwards. LOL.

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Here’s another photo of Brian reading.

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BTW, the coconut cocktails in the fresh coconut are not to be missed. They cost $2 but worth ten times that. They are delicious. Even Brian liked them.

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You can get these at La Piña at the West end of the resort.

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We thought they were even better than the pineapple cocktails in the fresh pineapple, also available at La Piña for $2. I kept mine and just get refilling it with frozen cocktails from the bar. I could use one of these cocktails right now.

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I have more pictures and trip recaps coming. Stay tuned!

Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort

Barceló is definitely the largest all-inclusive resort property we’ve ever experienced. We’ve now stayed at a small all-inclusive property with limited amenities, a medium-sized all-inclusive with lots of activities and nightly entertainment, and a large scale property where you actually have to take a train to get to parts of the resort.

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The Barceló trains run every 15 minutes from about 8 o’clock in the morning to 4 am the next day. There are several stops throughout the Barceló Resort complex.

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Our room is the on the leftmost tip of building 4 (upper left corner of this photo). We felt it was the best room on the property because we were ocean front, had our own private lounge chairs on our lawn, and had beach access from our patio. It was also away from all the noise and activity at the pool so it was a peaceful retreat for us at the end of the day.

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The room assigned to us was perfect in every way, including the room number. We got 4013, which is perfect because we were there to celebrate Brian’s 40th birthday and 13 is his favorite number.

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When you look at this panoramic photo below, our room is the one that is right next to the La Piña hut on the right.

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The pool on the adults only is huge but it’s actually just a fraction of the size of the pool at Palace Deluxe (the family side). It was plenty big enough for me and Brian. The only down side is that there’s not a swim-up bar. They have one at Palace Deluxe.

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The best feature of Barceló is the location. The property is on one of the best beaches in the world.

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There are ample lounge chairs. The setting is natural and beautiful. The grounds are well-maintained. The powdery, white sand feels amazing beneath your feet.

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This is view of the Palace Deluxe beach from a distance.

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That’s the biggest downside. You had to ride a train to Palace Deluxe in order to take advantage of the water sports and borrow kayaks etc. You also had to make a reservation in order to take out one of the hobie cats.

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The one thing they didn’t have at the Palace Deluxe is Zumba Week.

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Yira and Johanna, a couple of awesome Zumba instructors from Santo Domingo, led Zumba throughout the week. This is a photo of Johanna teaching Aqua Zumba.

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Here’s a video of us doing regular Zumba at the pool.

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I’m so glad I brought a pair of sneakers! They came in handy for Zumba.

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Besides Zumba Week there were actually lots of activities throughout the day. The activity coordinators (they call them “animators” at the resort) did a great job of getting people involved. My favorites were Amiley and Julio.

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Activity coordinator Amiley led yoga on the beach. That’s one activity that Brian and I enjoyed together.

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I also got to play dardos or darts. I actually won against four others and they gave me a small bottle of rum that night during the nightly award ceremony prior to the evening entertainment.

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I played beach volleyball with some Russians. I think they were Russians anyway. Some European people too. It seemed like the Americans just wanted to do their own thing and didn’t want any part of the resort activities. The Europeans seemed more social or they were interested in the games at least. There was this one guy (I can’t remember his name or where is he from) who participated in almost every resort activity available. Well, everything but Zumba. LOL.

They had dance lessons on the beach, language lessons, bocce… Lots of stuff. I recommend participating, specially in the individual sporting events, because they choose winners and then the winners get prizes at the end of the day. They’re not cheesy resort knick knacks either. You get a bottle of rum, and who wouldn’t want that? That’s how I won a bottle of rum for Brian.

Another fun activity I participated in at the resort is Zumba on the beach.

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The variety of swimsuit styles we saw made me feel severely over-dressed. Seriously. I’m buying a thong bikini and taking it on our next trip. LOL!

Speaking of swimsuits, you could actually tell where people were from based on their swimsuits styles. The Brazilian women wore the skimpiest swimsuits and tended to sunbathe topless. Anyway, the swimsuit theory was even more true for the men. The American men tended to prefer longer surf shorts. The European men preferred Speedo bikinis or tight, skimpy, little swim trunks that left nothing to the imagination. Some younger European guys did tend to wear surf shorts, but they were shorter in length and you can tell they’re not American based on the colors and pattern. Shorts worn by European men were often colorful and wild. Not the sort of prints that American guys go for usually.

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Brian’s favorite resort activity was double-fisting beers. Although, he was quite disappointed that the only beer he could get for free was the local beer El Presidente. If you want American or other foreign beers then you had to pay for it. Apparently, Barceló’s idea of all-inclusive excludes all beers except for one brand. I don’t drink beer so it didn’t really bother me. It only bothered Brian the first day. Although he wasn’t too fond of El Presidente, it didn’t really matter much after you’ve had a few. Specially if you’re double-fisting them.

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Brian turned double-fisting beverages into an olympic sport. He was even double-fisting at breakfast. This time coffee on one hand and beer on the other.

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We did a lot of laying around at the pool also.

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This is my favorite chair at the resort. It’s so comfortable that you could sleep in it, which makes me wonder how many people have gotten drunk and passed out in it.

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They really should have added mango-picking as a resort activity. The mango trees throughout the property were overflowing with fruit. Check out this tree.

Anyway, now that we’ve stayed at a variety of all-inclusive resorts, I’d have to say that a medium-size adults-only all-inclusive resort like Couples is more my style. We loved staying at Barceló and had a lot of fun last week but the resort was just too big for us. We wanted water sports to be more accessible and we hated having to go over the crowded Palace Deluxe side.

Adventure Boogies

Brian and I went on this dune buggy adventure. They spell them as boogies in Punta Cana. I thought that was funny because boogies here are dried snot hanging from your nostrils. LOL. Their boogies are the kind you ride.

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The excursion was through Wild Tiger.

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This photo was taken before we got really dirty. If you go on a similar excursion we recommend wearing sunglasses (though Brian thought goggles would have been better) and bandanas to keep the debris from getting into your eyes and nose.

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My handsome dune buggy driver. Too bad you can’t see his face.

This is how you get dirty and why you need a bandana.

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Brian tried some freshly rolled tobacco. He said it was delicious. We should have brought more cash so we could have purchased a box of them to bring home.

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We also got to drive to Macao Beach. One of the best beaches in the Caribbean.

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This was taken right before we left Macao Beach. This is of Brian with our hilariously funny tour guide, Chico, who speaks seven languages: Haitian Creole (he is from Haiti), French, German, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, and English.

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La Cueva Taina was a bit of a disappointment. I thought it would be a bigger cave. This one was small and there were way too many people trying to get down there to dive.

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Chico expertly maneuvered our group down into the cave past the long lines of people.

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This is a video I took of Brian diving into the dark abyss.

Dune buggies parked by the cave entrance.

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Street vendors set up shop by the cave to entice tourists.

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Here’s a group photo we took at the end of the excursion on our way back to our respective resorts. What a fun group of people!

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Some tips for when you go:

  • Negotiate the price of the excursion. Don’t pay more than $60. I think the web site had the price double that. When you get to your resort, talk to the tours rep. They’ll usually let you know what kinds of deals are available. Brian and I only paid $50 each. Another group we met who came from the Melia Caribe Tropical paid $45 each for the excursion.
  • Don’t wear your best clothes because you will get super dirty. At worst you’ll have to throw the clothes away at the end of the adventure. At best you’ll have to hose yourself off before stepping foot in your hotel room. That’s what we had to do. We’re not just being pansies either. You drive over mangoes and the guts splash all over you. It’s also hard to avoid the cow pies. The wheels kick them up and some may land on you. The mud puddles are the least of your worries.
  • Wear sunglasses and a bandana. The sunglasses will protect your eyes from dust and debris. The bandana will help you breathe while keeping dirt out of mouth. If you did not pack a bandana you can buy one at the adventure site for $5. They sell some souvenir trinkets and stuff, but I bet it’s the bandanas that they make them the most money. If you’re resourceful like Brian and me, you’ll buy some from the resort gift shop for half that. We got two bandanas for the price of one.
  • Bring lots of singles for tipping. You’ll need cash to tip the driver that gets you to and from your resort. You’ll need cash for the tour guide, the tobacco guy, the guy who sells the coffee grounds, the guy with the docile iguana, etc. Just bring lots of cash because you may want to buy stuff from the local shops too. And, if you want to purchase photos and videos, that costs too. The pricing they gave us was $40 for photos, $42 for video, or $60 for both. We didn’t have enough cash but I took enough photos and videos for us.
  • Driving the buggy requires a lot of effort. It’s not a smooth ride and these buggies aren’t in the best shape. There’s only one gear that works — drive. We know park didn’t work because the buggy continued to move forward even when you put it in park. We didn’t get to try reverse but I’m sure that probably didn’t work either.. There’s also a lot of play in the steering. Brian said it took a lot of strength and effort to overcompensate for the play in the steering. Brian said he was sore the next day.
  • Bring snacks, specially if you are hypoglycemic. Your tour guide will have water on hand and that’s included. However, food was not included for us since it’s technically a half-day excursion. Lunch is typically only provided on full-day trips. If you want more than just water, bring your own snacks.

Dinner Photos

Here are some photos from our dinners at the resort.

La Brisa

Out of all the restaurants, La Brisa was our favorite. I think it was the only restaurant that we went to with a full bar. The other restaurants offered only regular drinks and wine. The location was perfect. The restaurant had spectacular views and the breeze felt great against your skin.

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La Comedie

La Comedie is one of two French restaurants. This one isn’t included in the regular all inclusive package but it’s free to club premium guests. Naturally, we had to give it a try.

Brian was not too fond of this place because he said it smelled very fishy. I couldn’t smell anything because I caught a cold while we were there and I was at the peak of my illness at this point. The creepy puppets didn’t help matters any either.

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This is how they served water out of water bottles.

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My shrimp cocktail starter was served out of a pineapple cup.

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I got the lobster thermidor entree. I’m sure it was very good but I didn’t have much of an appetite that night.

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Brian had chicken cordon bleu.

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I did eat all of my crepe suzette despite my lack of appetite.

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Brian had chocolate ice cream.

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Kyoto Teppanyaki

The following night we had dinner at a Japanese hibachi place. Like La Comedie this restaurant is also located on the family side, Barceló Bávaro Palace Deluxe.

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This is their version of miso soup. I thought it was good but Brian didn’t like it because it had a lot of crap in it. He’s used to the clear miso soup that they serve at the teppanyaki restaurants here in Wichita.

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I didn’t get a picture of my plate but it looks exactly the same as this with shrimp instead of chicken. I ate a lot of shrimp while we were down there.

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I had coconut encrusted flan. Brian had some kind of chocolate cake roll/log.

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La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita is an Italian restaurant at Barceló Bávaro Palace Deluxe. It was Brian’s pick and his least favorite of all the restaurants that we tried.

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They gave us bread that reminds me of lavosh.

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The minestrone was not very good. It was very watery.

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The chicken cacciatore was just okay.

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Brian fared worse. His spinach and four cheese ravioli was overcooked.

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The only thing good, besides the cheesy flatbread, was the tiramisu.

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Chez Gourmet

We ate at Chez Gourmet on our final night at Barceló. This French restaurant is included in the regular all inclusive package and the best part is that it’s located in the adults only side so we didn’t have to take the train over to Palace Deluxe. Even though my lobster wasn’t cooked all the way, I actually liked this place better than La Comedie.

Brian said the place didn’t smell fishy and there were no creepy puppets. I still couldn’t smell so I can neither confirm nor deny the existence or lack of fishy odor, but I was definitely glad there were no creepy puppets watching us eat our meal. Jokes aside, the restaurant was furnished nicely and well-decorated. The ambiance of this restaurant is also more romantic than stuffy.

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This is the stuffed squid starter offered to everyone at the restaurant. Brian didn’t touch his. I ate mine. It wasn’t bad.

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The seafood soup was watery just like the minestrone from the previous night.

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This is the martini shrimp. The fried shrimp outside was yummy. The shrimp ceviche under the martini glass was just okay. Cool presentation, though.

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I had the seafood trio of shrimp, crab, and lobster. The shrimp was good but the crab was overcooked and the lobster was not done all the way.

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Brian had the chateaubriand. He said it was just okay.

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I had the crepe suzette again for dessert.

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I don’t get to eat crepes very often so I took advantage of it while we were at Barceló. I ate crepes everyday. If not at dinner, at breakfast. I didn’t know there was a crepe station at Caribe Buffet until our second or third day at the resort but after I found out, I got it every time.

As far as resort dining goes, La Brisa and Caribe are your best bets. They’re on the adults only side so you don’t have to ride the train to Palace Deluxe. Lots of options at Caribe (and guys can wear shorts because there’s no dress code) and they have a full bar at La Brisa so you can enjoy cocktails with your meal.

Seafood was abundant at the resort and you have lot of choices. I took full advantage and ate a lot of seafood, specially shrimp. Brian is not a seafood lover so he ate a lot of pasta. LOL. I hope you enjoyed all the food photos and you found the comments helpful. Until next time.

XOXO,
Ching

Caribe Buffet

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Brian and I ate at the Caribe Buffet on our first night at the resort. The buffet is nice because you can wear pretty much anything you like. Actually, that’s true for women anywhere you go. However, guys are required to wear pants at the restaurants except for the buffet. They don’t care if you wear shorts at the buffet. As long as you’re not in your swimsuit and have shoes on, they pretty much don’t care.

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They always have various fresh fruits.

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There are several food stations.

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This is the create-your-own-pasta section. It’s was Brian’s favorite station.

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This is the crepe station.

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They always have all sorts of fish dishes. That first night I was surprised to see these two whole fish, complete with the head and everything.

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This is one of the dessert stations.

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There are always so many choices.

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There’s so much food. If you go hungry, it’s your fault.

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This is the view from the restaurant. It’s pretty nice, but there’s actually an even better one. I will show you guys next time.

My strategy at the buffet was to try a little bit of everything first and then once I figured out what I liked that’s all I got for the most part. Brian really liked the pasta and the pizza. I leaned more towards rice, beans, shrimp, and pork.

The buffet has some slightly different options at breakfast and lunch than at dinner. During breakfast there is a mimosa station and a smoothie station. The mimosa station is self-explanatory. They have bottles of wine and orange juice. You make your own mimosa. The smoothie station is really cool. They have a wide selection of fruits and you just tell them which ones you want in your smoothie. It’s really cool.

They also have an omelet station where you can create your own omelet. What I like best about their omelet station is that they don’t assume that you want cheese so they don’t put cheese in your omelet unless specifically requested so I never have to say “no cheese” every time. LOL.

The breakfast buffet is actually much better than getting room service. Even though room service was included for us and, despite the convenience, the wide array of food options makes it worth going to the buffet for breakfast. The room service menu is quite limited. Plus, I don’t think you can get smoothies via room service (but I don’t know for sure since I didn’t try).

The Caribe is a really good option for casual dining. If you don’t really care about trying the restaurants, just plan on eating at Caribe buffet every time and you don’t even have to pack any pants.

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