The minds of the weak

Sandra and I went to a restaurant the other night for dinner. It was really crowded at the door and they were very backed up. I heard the hostess tell a couple, “Yeah, it’s crazy! All our 8 pm reservations came in at the same time!”

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Missing 1k status…

Boy do I miss the perks from being 1k on United. After 3 years on that list and being in the Red Carpet Club, I sure miss the little things. Sitting on the hard tile floor of Chicago airports I write this… /sigh

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Self drive or cab it?

I’m interested in getting feedback on this:
Do you drive when on vacation in a foreign country or use cabs/busses?

I know some cities make it easy to use public transport (Paris, London, New York…) but how about rural France or Italy? I choose to drive myself but want to know: How do you get around those areas?

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Playa Del Carmen – 5th Avenue

5th Ave is THE street in Playa. It starts at the pier near the small airport which also is the terminal for the Cozumel ferry. It stretches north for about 17 blocks to 34th street. (note the east-west streets are all even numbered 2,4,6, etc. And the north-south avenues go up by 5’s 5,10,15,20, etc.

The street seems to get a little nicer as you head north from the ferry terminal. The shops change from cheap trinkets to bars to nicer restaurants as you go north. The prices of things also seem to go up a bit and the nighttime noise goes down.

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Self drive or cab it?

I’m interested in getting feedback on this:
Do you drive when on vacation in a foreign country or use cabs/busses?

I know some cities make it easy to use public transport (Paris, London, New York…) but how about rural France or Italy? I choose to drive myself but want to know: How do you get around those areas?

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Empenadas and tacos… look for fresh!

If you venture out to the street carts, and you really should, look for the tacos and empenadas (like a fried sandwich) stands. These are fun places to get small bites of food for a good price. Depending on the stand, a taco runs about 9 pesos and so do the empenadas. The tacos are usually cooked to order but the empenadas are sometimes fried up and put into a cooler. They really taste much better when fresh so try to get them right out of the fryer if you can.
You will probably want to get a couple of these at a time but for a few bucks, it’s a tasty meal that you should not miss.

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Timeshares … Watch out!

The streets are crawling with special deals for people that agree to attend a 90 minute presentation for a timeshare/all inclusive. It seems like a good deal, and it could be, but there are some things to keep in mind before you do this:
1) it will most likely take you more than 90 minutes. It “includes breakfast or lunch” but still, it will be more like 2.5 hours.
2) it will not be easy to simply say no and leave. There are a number of people you will need to talk to because they “want to survey for quality” This is not true. They are additional people that will try to sweeten the deal and make different offers.
3) do a quick google search for the name of the resort you are visiting. Add “scam” to the search and you will likely see that many people claim to have been taken advantage of. DONT THINK YOU ARE SMARTER! If this is a scam, you are no match for them. They have years of practice at this and you, hopefully, don’t.

If you do think the deal is great, be VERY SURE that all the benefits are described in the contract! It is likely that they will leave out key bits of information like the price of future vacations. If it’s not in the contract, it does not exist!

If you do sign something, you have 5 days by Mexican law to resend it. Good luck.

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Xplor – Playa del Carmen

Xplor is a theme park just outside Playa del Carmen. It is about 10 miles south on the main highway for those with a car. It’s very pricey at $99 US ( off season) and a whopping $139 in high season but you can get price breaks or even free tix by doing time share presentations ( which is what we did)
So, ok, it was free but cost us 2.5 hours of our time but it was well worth the time. There are 4 things to do there. That may not seem like much but each can take a fair amount of time. We got there at 9am and it was about 4pm when we finished everything and left. Note, you can only do each thing once. They marked our wristbands so we could not do them over again.

Note!!! Leave your camera in the lockers! Nearly everything will get you wet! If you have a waterproof camera, even better but don’t think you get “Just a little wet”. Trust me and leave the camera.

4 activities:
Zip lines:this is the big attraction. it consists of many zip lines (14) that fly you above the treetops from tower to tower. It’s fun but you must keep climbing the towers. If you are not in good shape, you will be winded. Also, the heat can be a killer. But the experience is great and Sandra had a smile on her face the whole time. It also includes one water slide and 3 of the zip lines end in the water.

ATV drive: kinda fun unless you get stuck behind a slow driver. Watch you control, whoever, since you WILL have to pay for any damage to the car! It’s fun, you drive through caves and stuff. Not a big wow thing but kinda cool.

Cave swim: this is a swim! Not a river, it’s all you. The water depth is between 5 and 7 feet mostly so you will not be able to “walk” the whole way but can walk some. They give you a lifreserver but Sandra didn’t like the fact that you needy swim the whole time. Too bad you can’t just float the whole way, that would be nicer.

Rafts: ok, first off, LEARN to control a raft! So many traffic jams because some brain dead couples couldn’t turn their raft properly! Argh!!! They should have a special river for the short-bus people. Having said that, this may have been my favorite. The pace is fairly slow, the river is very nice, and it’s nice and cool.

The park does offer a free buffet lunch. It is a fairly good selection but none of the food is very good. It’s what you would expect from an all-inclusive place. Free beverages and juice. No alcohol though.

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A word on changing money

My preference is always to use local currency when ever possible. It avoids any confusion with exchange rates and the possibility of merchants giving a poor exchange rate.
Here in Playa prices, nearly all prices, are given in pesos and US dollars. This is nice for the cruise ships that dock here. In fact, most of the ATMs in Playa actually dispense US dollars! Great right? Well, maybe.

The problem is the exchange rates given. First, it is usually not as good as the official exchange rate that banks and credit cards give. Second, the merchant may take dollars but give change in pesos and that gives them a huge chance to take advantage of you. See the example below:

Bill was 140 pesos or $12 (the given exchange rate is about 11.7 which is not bad)
I paid $20 and was told change would be in pesos. No problem, i said. The change I got was 80 pesos. Which is only a 10 to 1 conversion of the change owed. So the true exchange rate I got was only 11 to 1, a bit lower than the norm.

Now, it is true, they are offering the money conversion service but not at a very good rate. I suggest using local currency whenever possible. Even building in the ATM fees, the exchange rate should be the official exchange rate and if you pull out enough at a time the fees should not be too bad.

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Playa del Carmen to Cozumel

The first thing to know is that there are 2 companies that run these ferries between Cozumel and Playa. They leave on the hour and the two alternate their trips, so one goes out on odd hours, the thereon even hours. This means you should NOT purchase a round trip ticket because you may get stuck on Cozumel for an extra hour if the return time is not right or you miss the return you wanted.
This happened to us. We booked round trip and wanted to leave on the 4pm back. However we got really slow restaurant service and missed the 4pm and had to wait for the 6pm. Since Cozumel was nearly shut down (Sunday in the slow time of year) there was very little to do!

Each trip is about US $16 so round trip is 32 per person. You can get special prices by swinging a deal with snorkel or diving tours. Also, these tickets are fairly well used so if you end up with extra tickets, you COULD sell them fairly easily around the dock areas.

The trip takes about 30-40 minutes and can be a little rough. The two companies are similar but the Ultramar boats have bars on them and we hear that the Mexico Jetboats do not. Also the Ultramar boat had live entertainment on deck but I’m not sure if that was a normal thing.

Cozumel is a big port for the cruise lines and so the economy is based around that and snorkeling/diving. If the cruise line boats aren’t in, the town slows way down. Add Sunday in the slow time of years and nearly everything was closed down.

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