Category Archives: The Wandering Boozehound

Visiting Mexico’s Riviera Maya with The Beach Planner

I love to plan vacations. Like, really love to. But, between my consulting agency, freelance writing, and the time I put in for y’all here, I have less time to do the research to make for a great trip than I’d like. So, when I was planning a trip to Mexico and found The Beach Planner, and after hearing what she does, I was more than happy to let her take the reigns.

It sounded too good to be true—Devin Alenky, a former personal assistant, she opted for the beaches of Mexico over New York City to do what she loves—plan travel for the most adventurous of us. (We’ve all wanted to take that kind of a chance, right?) Her attention to detail and conscientiousness make her the perfect travel planner. From airport transportation to upgraded lodging and even restaurant and bar suggestions (including some menu item suggestions!), she handles the nitty gritty for you.

Each group she works with is given a completely tailored experience—bachelor(ette) parties, couples, families, etc.—she can make the best suggestions for your group, whatever your situation or budget. Her services allow you to take your vacation beyond the all-inclusive to see get than a cookie cutter experience our of your vacation. “When booking an all inclusive resort, one essentially never leaves the hotel,” says Devin. “People are often hesitant or even afraid to wander the area on their own.” As a result, Riviera Maya travelers miss out on the true culture here, the real gems of Mexico.”

The Beach Planner assists with every aspect of your vacation, including:
– lodging
– airport transfers
activities like cenote tours (cenotes are natural sink holes used as swimming holes), mermaid school, private boat charters, zip lining through the jungle, and cooking classes
– dining and cocktail recommendations
– fitness class recommendations and ways to stay active
– currency exchanges
– general recommendations, travel tips, and more
– local event notifications

The best part of the completely tailored trip planning experience offered by The Beach Planner is that her trip planning services are free as long as you book your lodging through her. Tell me, honestly, how is this not worth it?!

In the coming weeks, I’ll write up the experience Sarah and I had specifically in my Riviera Maya travel guide—from airport transportation complete with bus beers to a full day of rooftop pool/beach club hopping. We were blown away by the detail, but ultimately happy to have found someone who wanted to make our experience so authentic and enjoyable. … because sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and enjoy a vacation from time to time.

So, when are you heading to Mexico … and taking me along?


THE BEACH PLANNER
thebeachplanner.com
@thebeachplanner

Andaz Napa—a Napa Valley Respite

Napa is hard. (Stick with me here.) Between multiple wine tastings and tours of more barrel rooms than you can count, rich food at every meal bloating you up (who can eat like that every meal!?), and the long drives through the valley, it all makes for a wildly exhausting “vacation”. So, after the long days of fun on my last trip to Napa, I was delighted to come home to the Andaz in Downtown Napa.

Its beautiful, slightly rustic yet modern decor and the incredibly friendly valets welcome you and start your visit on a wildly high note. And to make the welcome complete, you’re given a glass of wine.       *Hello, new favorite hotel e-ver.*       The hotel marries natural elements and high-end design, giving guests a ridiculously comfortable yet luxurious experience. The lobby offers a ton of comfortable seating and is roomy enough to make sure guests aren’t crowded. (I mean, waiting on people is the whole point of a lobby, so you may as well do it comfortably!)

The location is right in the thick of things with easy access to the highway up to Yountville, Oakville, etc., and plenty of local shops and restaurants. Our room faced Main Street overlooking Oenotri, which ended up being one one of the many amazing meals we had in Napa.

The rooms themselves are clean and spacious with a comfortable flow. Look for hardwood floors, fireplaces*, a desk, and a fully stocked bar. Our room had a little sitting area that gave us an extra space to relax and unwind. Oh, and the bed … that bed was hard to leave. The pillows were perfect for a full cocoon situation.
Pro Tip: Looking at the room layouts while writing this made me sad that I didn’t think to request a balcony. So make sure you do that.

In my opinion, the most delightful part of these lovely rooms was its bathing options. Between the roomy eastern white marble bathrooms with rainfall showerheads in wildly spacious (curtainless) walk-in showers and a freestanding soaking bathtub in the bedroom*, getting clean was always an enjoyable process. And with so much room and Jack and Jill sinks, there wasn’t any elbow throwing to get mirror time.

Outside of the rooms, the hotel offered quite a few appealing elements. I was happy to stumble upon an outdoor oasis (apparently called The Mercantile Terrace) with cabanas and fire pits. I spent some time out there taking calls here and there and sorting through work emails in peace on their complimentary high-speed WiFi. Other standard perks like free non-boozy drinks and snacks in the room and wine tastings in the lobby made the us feel like we were real VIPs.

If all of this isn’t convincing enough, it’s a surprisingly affordable option when hotels in Napa Valley can cost you upwards of $700 a night. For my money, I’m staying here every visit. (They should just go ahead and put my name on a suite.)

I know this may sound like one of those “there’s no way this place was that awesome” kind of reviews, I have to insist it was. The Andaz Napa was such a delightful respite that it really is at the top of my list for future visits.


ANDAZ NAPA
napa.andaz.hyatt.com
1450 First Street, Napa, California
707-687-1234

Images courtesy of Andaz Napa. My visit to the Andaz Napa was partially comped.
*amenities available only in select rooms

Travel Must-Haves

I’ve been traveling a lot more the last couple years since I quite my “job”. I like to think I’ve gotten better at it, but I’ve also realized that part of being good at traveling is having the right stuff so I can arrive at my destination somewhat refreshed. So, here are some of my must-have items when I hit the road!

1. AWAY Luggage with Ejectable Charger
This suitcase is my new best friend. With four wheels that roll like butta and a tough, hard shell to keep your valuables safe. What’s more, you’ll never need a charge because the bags have a built-in (ejectable) battery! Even more exciting for someone like me who travels with a laundry bag is that there’s one built right into the bag. And they’re cute as hell.
$225-$295 at AwayTravel.com

2. TRTL Travel Pillow
Some of the most helpful travel items look … well, ridiculous. Case in point: the Trtl “pillow”. It’s a neck brace that you wrap around with the super soft tail with velcro. It’s machine washable and super light, so it’s easy enough to travel with.
$29.99 on Amazon

3. Powerbank
If your plane doesn’t offer electrical outlets as some are now, this will save the day. Arrive fully charged with this powerbank that holds more than five charges for an iPhone.
$29.99 on Amazon

4. TILE Bluetooth Tracker
These little bluetooth beauties help you keep track of your luggage using an app! While it won’t ensure your luggage shows up at your destination, you will know exactly where it is!
~$40 for a 4-pack on Amazon

5. L’Occitane Lavender Hand Cream
Keep your mitts moisturized with this heavenly smelling goop. With shea butter and essential oils, you can avoid the usual horror of dry skin! (Other scents and sizes available.)
$12 for 1oz on Loccitane.com

6. Bucky Eye Mask
Traditional eye masks can be too tight, not fit our noses, or tend to just be downright heinous. This lightweight, foam mask is contoured and allows room for blinking and plenty of room for eyelash extensions for us ladies! (Available in 23 colors.)
$9.99 – $22.99 on Amazon

7. OLEHENRIKSEN Banana Bright Eye Crème
Right before landing, dab a bit of these vitamin C-rich cream below your eyes for a quick brightening effect.
$38 at Sephora

8. Cooling Eye Patches
Flights often mean early mornings, so get rid of those bags with these depuffing eye patches. Bonus: they’re natural and paraben-free.
$16.95 for 12 pairs on Amazon

9. Go2 Compression Socks
For long trips, it’s important to keep your blood flowing. If you’re (God forbid) in a middle or window seat, it can be difficult to get out and stretch your legs. Compression socks can help reduce swelling on these long flights … and we finally found some that aren’t hideous. (They come in 35 colors/designs!)
$12.13 on Amazon

10. Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones, Series II
If you’re anything like me, the kid in the row behind you playing a video game with the sound on is basically the devil. Instead of having to deal with confronting the parents, best to get some noise canceling headphones. I’ve tried a few, but these are the winners. Bluetooth and soon to be Amazon Alexa-compatible, you’ll find plenty of use for the 20 hour battery life.
$349.95 (or custom for $449.95)

StretchLaces
(Not pictured.) If you haven’t found the perfect travel slip-ons, these stretchy laces make it easy to shimmy out of your kicks.
$8.50 for three pairs on Amazon

EVERYTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK BAG
I always travel with a bag of travel goodies that come in handy in a pinch. Make sure to pack helpful, little items like Advil, Simply Sleep, mouthwash, mints, hand sanitizer, ear plugs, etc. … and don’t forget a small bottle of your favorite booze.

 

Tequila Patrón—the Spirits

I always feel bad for characters that are misunderstood.  I mean, the Bumble in “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” wasn’t a bad dude … he just had a toothache.  That said, I thought I knew all about Tequila Patrón … a big company that makes a great product.  I drank it, I mixed cocktails with it, I enjoyed it … I left it at that.  After being invited to see Hacienda Patrón at the end of 2016, I have a much deeper appreciation not only for the tequila, but the craft behind it and the company that makes it.

I was invited by Patrón to take a few days to explore Jalisco and tour the distillery, and I’d be an idiot not to go, right?  Right.  I went (with some shiny, noisy AF) bells on—I was fucking stoked.  After my immersive experience, I learned some remarkable things that took me from a consumer to a loyalist.

First I’ll say this, Patrón not only produces their own spirits, but they do it expertly.  For those of you claiming that Patrón is “fake” … go suck a piña.  Yes, when the company was founded 1989, they produced their spirits in a facility they didn’t own, but they did so while adhering to their strict standards and following their exacting recipe.  In 2002 they opened The Hacienda and have been producing their own product since.  And yes, the company was started by a beauty product mogul, but he knows enough to have hired people that know the industry.

**UPDATE: Patrón Spirits was sold to Bacardi in January 2018.**

QUALITY.  To ensure perfection in every bottle, everything is done on-site with one exception.  Every one of their products is distilled with great oversight by the best in the business.  Many distilleries in Jalisco will produce multiple brands under one roof (there are 1700+ brands of “tequila”, but only 140 distilleries), but NOM 1492 only produces Patrón.

CONTROL.  The distiller behind the spirit, Francisco Alcaraz, has been the artisan who has helped the brand maintain the integrity of the product while meeting the ever-growing demand.  He has a really difficult job (I’m only kind of kidding) … he tastes every single batch of product before it’s bottled to ensure consistency and quality.  If he’s out?  It takes four expert tasters to take his place.

They don’t stop there.  Patrón claims that at least 60 hands will touch the product before it leaves The Hacienda.  That’s 60 hands checking every step of the process and ensuring that every step of their painstaking process is followed to the letter–from distillation to packaging.

INGREDIENTS.  The only part of the aforementioned process that doesn’t happen on The Hacienda’s property is the growing of the agave itself. Since it takes more than seven years to hit the sweet spot (pun intended) for the maturity of the agave piñas used in distillation, they decided that, instead of trying to own every step, they’d simply ensure they had the very best ingredients possible.  That meant reserving (and paying for) “first dips” on the best Blue Weber Agave from carefully selected fields in the Highlands of Jalisco.  Only the best.  Since Patrón only produces 100% blue weber agave tequilas, they obviously need quite a bit.  (Other brands that don’t call it “mixto”, which only had to be 51% agave)

No flavors, dyes, etc added to any tequilas

PROCESS. After harvesting, the agave is taken to the Hacienda where jimadores remove the leaves the old fashioned way (with a coa) to get to the heart of the agave, the piña.  The piña is then baked in their ovens for 79 hours for the perfect sweetness.  From there, the agave is either taken to a tahona or the roller mill–the tahona is a two-ton volcanic rock that painstakingly crushes the agave to remove the juices.  Patrón’s core line utilizes tahona and roller mill (more modern and efficient) distillates and blends them (55%/45%, respectively) to create the flavor we all know so well.

Why the mix?  Agave macerated using the tahona tends to be slightly sweeter since it allows more of the agave’s fibers themselves to lend flavor, giving the spirit more complexity.  (There are only four other tequila distilleries making tequila with a tahona, none of which operate the wheel daily.)  After tasting distillates from each production method, I love the flavors of the tahona-produced tequila. Lucky for me, Patrón’s newer line, Roca Patrón, is 100% tahona-produced.

INNOVATION. You may have seen a few new Patrón bottles popping up at your local bars–Roca, Piedra, Bordeos, Sherry Cask, XO, Citrónage, Platinum, Patrón en Lalique, etc.  The beauty of that is that they’re never done exploring new ways to make an incredible product even better.

Stay tuned for more about Patrón in upcoming posts!

Where to Enjoy the Finest Cocktails in Las Vegas

Written by Maria Taylor
Above photo by Ash EdmondsCC0

Las Vegas is the perfect place to enjoy the most innovative and luxurious cocktails in the state of Nevada. Despite its location within the Mojave Desert, this is no dry island, but instead, is overflowing with fantastic places to sample expertly crafted drinks with unusual ingredients to leave your taste buds tingling. Here we’ll look at the best places to visit while you’re in Sin City, including a few of the most inventive cocktail menus and bars around.

Las Vegas, the Live Entertainment Capital of the World | Las Vegas Sunrise by Daniil VnoutchkovCC0

Entertainment in Las Vegas goes much further than the casinos; the city is often called the Live Entertainment Capital and with good reason. Here you can enjoy a world-famous show like the Cirque du Soleil, see an international superstar like Celine Dion or marvel at top-quality magicians as they perform logic-defying acts. While it’s worth checking out what’s on before you arrive to make sure you snag tickets for the big shows, it’s also a good idea to see what tickles your fancy once you’re here. After all, with this guide, you’ll be sorted with where to enjoy a cocktail or two, so why not investigate the entertainment on offer for the evening?

Velveteen Rabbit
The Velveteen Rabbit in the Arts District of the city is the invention of sisters Pamela and Christina Dylag. Raised in the Mojave, the two sisters chose to travel the world as adults before returning to their hometown armed with the knowledge and experience to open a unique craft cocktail and beer bar. Their creation boasts a seasonal menu, incorporating both fresh produce and homemade ingredients, with contemporary flavors and taste combinations. I would recommend trying the delicate Spa Day, which fuses vanilla vodka with lavender gin, chareau and lemon curd — delicious! Or if you fancy something a little more out there, try the Bong & a Schlitz cocktail, which incorporates bizarre ingredients like butter and cream cheese-washed bourbon, blueberry-hemp syrup and American lager. What a treat!

Atomic Liquors
Atomic Liquors has the distinguished title of the oldest freestanding bar in Las Vegas, with a dedicated clientele and an enticing menu to keep bringing in curious new customers. Originally named Virginia’s Café in 1945, Atomic Liquors has since grown into an established bar serving lip-smacking sour beers along with a selection of exclusive cocktails. Although people used to drink here while watching nuclear bombs at the nearby Nevada Test Site, now they come for the expertly crafted cocktails. My personal favorites are the aptly-named F-Bomb, made with Fireball cinnamon whiskey, Fernet and Atomic energy drink — guaranteed to blow your socks off!

Commonwealth
With a mighty 6,000 square feet of space decorated with a pre-Prohibition theme and a secret speakeasy bar hidden within, Commonwealth is an experience! Thankfully, their drinks more than live up to the showmanship of the décor with originals from mixologist Juyoung Kang on the menu alongside classics like the Sazerac and the Negroni. A stand-out choice for me is the Tam-Tam, which combines cacao, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur as well as the classic combination of salt, tequila and lime to create a jaw-dropping sensation.

I think that we can all agree, Vegas is a city that can show you a good time. However, it sometimes has a reputation for being loud and tacky without much space for class and craftsmanship. Hopefully, with this short guide, I’ve convinced you that top-quality cocktails abound in this desert city and that it is well worth checking out!


Click for Susie’s Las Vegas Travel Guide

A Four Seasons Las Colinas Staycation

Sometimes a girl just needs to get away. But with all the (shudder) responsibilities, it’s nice that you don’t have to go  TOO far. For me, the perfect answer to scratch the staycation itch last week was a one-night villa stay at the Four Seasons Resort in Las Colinas. The drive from my Oak Cliff apartment to the resort was less than twenty minutes, but it felt like a world away. A world where I could just sit back in my plush terry robe and let the relaxation wash over me while I starfish the coziest, most comfortable king size bed.

 

Now, I had more reason to want a luxe getaway than just my own Calgon Take Me Away moment. It was also my boyfriend’s birthday weekend, so I wanted to make it special for him. Jackie, Samantha, and the room reservations team were so amazing and helpful with making sure our villa room was decorated and even had a birthday dessert surprise for him when we arrived.

The villa room we stayed in is separate from the main building, so once we unpacked and got situated, I used the Four Seasons app (more on this marvel later) to request golf-cart service to transport us back to the lobby so we could go to OUTLAW Taproom for a late lunch. Our driver was ready for us by the time we walked to the front courtyard. The drive was short and gave us a nice tour of the golf course and the main pool.

Lunch at OUTLAW was quick with friendly service. We were famished so we both ordered burgers to satisfy our hunger and then moved outside to enjoy drinks on the covered patio overlooking the resort pool.

After our lunch and cocktails, we returned to our room, and no shame, we got in bed and started watching “Fixer Upper” on TV. Before we knew it, it was four hours later and we hadn’t moved an inch, but it felt so good to relax in the room! So instead of heading back out to LAW, the steakhouse on property, we opted for room service. Using the Four Seasons app again, we ordered our hearts out like it was UberEATS, and within an hour, two attendants rolled in our feast on a mobile table.

I didn’t remember to take a photo of the room service table because we attacked it so quickly, but rest assured, it was delicious and very fulfilling! We ordered a tequila-poached shrimp cocktail appetizer, salmon, chicken, AND steak entrees (good grief!), as well as a New York cheesecake dessert that had a sweet happy birthday message scrawled around the plate.

That meal effectively put me to bed, and the next morning I enjoyed a nice cup of Nespresso coffee on the balcony … still in my robe of course.

Also, I mentioned the Four Seasons smartphone app earlier and said I’d say more about it: The app’s interface was so convenient to use, I have to make a point to sing its praises. I used it to check in a day early, and because of that, my room was prioritized on my day of check-in, and I was alerted that it was ready for me before noon, when standard check-in time is 3PM! I also used the app’s chat feature to request the birthday welcome amenity and every time I needed transportation from room to lobby (and vice versa). When it was time to check out, I used the app as well, and my folio was promptly ready for me to review. Everything was so easy to use, and I always received a prompt response. The app gets fives stars from me!

We didn’t rush to leave since we had a late check-out time and had the room until 3PM. So after a shower in the roomy marble bathroom, we made our way to LAW for its decadent mimosa brunch. One word: SEAFOOD. I’m talking shrimp, oysters, crab claws, mussels, ahi poke, smoked salmon, THE WORKS. For $59/person (which includes two mimosas), the price is so worth it on the seafood alone! But for those who aren’t as crazy about seafood as I am, there’s bountiful other options which include omelet and carving stations, pastas, salads, breakfast staples, pastries, sushi, and an entire room dedicated solely to sweets (which includes a station making fresh donuts).

Somehow, we didn’t eat ourselves into food comas at brunch and actually made it back home. It was a perfectly relaxing and quick getaway. I really felt like I was out of town for the weekend and came back rejuvenated. Thanks to the Four Seasons for providing a wonderful weekend experience! I’ll find another excuse to stay there again one day.


Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas
4150 N MacArthur Blvd, Irving, TX 75038
(972)717-0700
Four Seasons Dallas

OUTLAW Taproom
Off the Main Lobby
Mon-Fri: 3PM-1AM
Sat-Sun: 12PM-1AM
OUTLAW Taproom

LAW Restaurant
Sunday Brunch: 11AM-2PM, $59/adult, $24/child
Check website for complete service hours information.
LAW Restaurant

Driving, Not Drinking: Toyota Prius Prime Plus

I’ve gotten three speeding tickets in my life—one on the way to get my braces off (I mean, can you blame me?), one in a company car, and my most recently in a Prius. That’s right … I got a freaking speeding ticket in a Prius. Whoever thinks these babies don’t have any get up and go, is wrong.

I was lucky enough to have the chance to drive a Toyota Prius Prime Plus for 10 days, and it’s the second time I haven’t wanted to give the car back after a media loan. It was much more exciting than expected. (Yes, I had a little bias against the Prius before experiencing one myself.) The car had a luxe feel without sacrificing the looks. I mean … the non-hatchback version is so much nicer.

 

The plug-in hybrid vehicle had the usual trappings of the 90s hipster-before-we-knew-what-they-were favorite, especially the incredible fuel efficiency. Not only did I not have to fuel up the entire time it was in my possession, but I had a bit of fuel left when they collected it!

The interior was delightfully roomy, and the seats were comfortable (enough so to enjoy the short road trip I took it on) and cradled my body nicely. The standard 11.6″ media and navigation display was so big that I felt, at times, like I was driving a spaceship. However, it was incredibly nice to have such a large map to keep me on track and the display was very intuitive and user-friendly.

Beyond being a lovely car, it handled like a dream … if your dream is a seriously responsive, nimble car with some nice pickup. I felt in control every second driving it. As previously mentioned, the TPP wasn’t slow, though it took a bit of time to accelerate.

For the price tag, it seems a bit of steal for this luxe hybrid. So, if anyone wants to gift me one of these babies, I’m all in.


TOYOTA PRIUS PRIME PLUS
Starting at $27,100
Seating capacity: 4
Range: 25 mi battery-only
Horsepower: 121 hp

***All pictures taken by Aaron Hendrickson***