Travel: Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun

Oh, Mexio. How I love you. Your warm breezes, your sunny beaches, your friendly people, your delicious tacos….and your all-inclusive resorts. This trip marked our 4th straight year to Riviera Maya (the area that includes Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and so on), and it still amazes me that places like this exist.

We spent a week at the Royalton Riviera Cancun, and I just….wow. I want to be back there so badly. The weather was perfect (though the ocean was a little too cold for me), the resort was breathtaking, and the trip was desperately needed. Coming home to the allergy-capital of the world in East Tennessee was pretty awful, frankly – I’m still trying to recover.

This is the first of two Royalton posts – I did a much better job taking pictures of food this year, so food and drinks are getting their own post. For now, here’s a tour and review of our new favorite resort.

I mentioned in my Sneak Peak that we had a hard time choosing a resort this year, and that we ultimately chose something totally different that what we were used to. Royalton Riviera Cancun is large – I wouldn’t call it massive after spending a week there – and a completely different feel. Where Valentin Imperial Maya and Catalonia Royal Tulum incorporate some of the more traditional Mayan architecture, Royalton Riviera Cancun is fairly modern. I can see how some people would call it cold or sterile, but we liked the modern look. (I reviewed VIM and CRT extensively, so head over to my Travels page for more info on those.)

View from the lobby of the Royalton Riviera Cancun

View from the lobby of the Royalton Riviera Cancun

The other big difference – and this one was a massive change for us – was that Royalton is a family-friendly resort. There’s an adults-only section, called the Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun, which is a different package. We booked Hideaway, and had access to the rest of the Royalton’s amenities. The only exception to that was the Diamond Club area, which is kinda like an extra-special package that includes butler service and a private pool. We didn’t have it, and didn’t miss it, though if given the opportunity to add it for less than a couple hundred bucks next time, we’d consider it.

Map of the Royalton Riviera Cancun. Hideaway is on the far right (orange), Diamond Club is in the blue square. All the restaurants and bars were centrally located, so it's really not as big as it seems.

Map of the Royalton Riviera Cancun. Hideaway is on the far right (orange), Diamond Club is in the blue square. All the restaurants and bars are centrally located, so it’s really not as big as it seems.

We booked a Luxury Junior Suite Swimup in Hideaway. We were in Building 3, Room 3114, which had a king bed and a killer view.

Night view from Room 3114 (Hideaway) at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

Night view from Room 3114 (Hideaway) at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

We actually didn’t spend a ton of time in Hideaway, other than our swimup – the water in the Hideaway pool was FREEZING, and it was a lot more crowded. There’s definitely a lot more drinking in Hideaway (understandably), so it’s lots of fun, but also a little hard to relax and read a book. More on our swimup in a bit.

Hanging out in our Swimup at Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun

Hanging out in our Swimup at Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun

We split our time pretty evenly between our swimup, the main Royalton infinity pool (there are two, one in the main section and one in the kids area), and the beach. The infinity pool had the best view.

View from the infinity pool at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

View from the main infinity pool at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

The main infinity pool at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

The main infinity pool at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

The beach was the quietest, and of the three resorts we’ve stayed at, my favorite by far. The chairs were comfy, the service was great, and you didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn for a decent spot (I’m looking at you, Valentin).

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Beach at Royalton Riviera Cancun

As for the swimup, I’m fairly certain I will never again NOT have one. It was heated and we had a decent view of the Hideaway pool so we could see the activities going on. It was attached to our room, so we didn’t have to drag all our stuff or worry about getting chairs, but it was also its own little section, so random people couldn’t just wander in.

Swimup in the Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun

Swimup in the Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun outside room 3114

We had an absolutely phenomenal server named Karina who climbed through bushes three or four times an hour to bring us drinks. We had friendly Canadian neighbors who are the reason I never want tequila again.

Making new friends at Royalton Riviera Cancun

Making new friends at Royalton Riviera Cancun

We didn’t leave the resort once, because that’s not our thing. This is our thing.

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Reading The Woman in Cabin 10 (review to come!) and sipping a mimosa on the beach at Royalton Riviera Cancun

As for the rest of the resort, it’s fabulous – though I will admit, it’s a little concerning some of the maintenance issues, considering it’s about 2 years old. We saw broken furniture, crumbled pool tiles, faucets that didn’t work, etc. Nothing major, and it certainly didn’t affect our time there, but I hate the thought of the place falling apart in a few years. The service was consistently top-notch, some of the friendliest staff we’ve encountered anywhere, and you can tell they work hard. It may just be that the resort was built quickly, and with such a large number of people at any given time, it’s not surprising for things to break down. Regardless, it was clean, and not enough of a concern to keep me from going back in a heartbeat.

I’ll talk about the restaurants in my next post, but the food was outstanding. Entertainment was fine – there were shows every night, though we didn’t really go to them. The bars stayed open late, and there were plenty of things to do. We took a few small games and played Archer Love Letter one night in the lobby.

An accidental shot of the lobby interior at the Royalton Riviera Cancun. I blame the martini.

An accidental shot of the lobby interior at the Royalton Riviera Cancun. I blame the martini.

We loved our room, and though it was possibly smaller than other resorts we’ve been to, it was perfect for what we needed. The AC worked wonderfully – Jimmie’s biggest concern – and I’m pretty sure this was the first time I’ve been able to dry my hair in Mexico.

Proof that my hair wasn't a frizzy mess the entire time

Proof that my hair wasn’t a frizzy mess the entire time

The bed was comfy, the sheets were always cool (seriously, how did they do that?!), and the shower had double rain shower heads. The only thing I didn’t like were the toiletries, so if you go, take your own stuff.

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Room 3114 (Hideaway) at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

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Room 3114 (Hideaway) at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

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Room 3114 (Hideaway) at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

And since I know you’re wondering…having children at the resort was so not an issue. We saw one child misbehaving, and even that was fine because he was hitting his mother and not us. We had enough space to get away from kids if we needed, but honestly, they were pretty chill for the most part. And they had an awesome pool, so if you’ve got kiddos, this is definitely the place to take them. (Yes, I wanted to play, and no, I didn’t. Next time.)

Kids pool at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

Kids pool at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

Stay tuned for the food post, because the food was incredible. I’m also planning another resort showdown post, though it’ll take me a little while to get that up most likely.

But in case you were wondering – yes, we’ll be back.

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Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

caravalAbout Caraval

• Series: Caraval (#1)
• Paperback:
 407 pages
• Published: January 2017 by Flatiron Books
• Source: Purchased

Goodreads DescriptionWhatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

My Thoughts

This book was exhausting.

Caraval is the story of two sisters, Scarlett and Donatella (Tella), who live with their abusive father. Scarlett is engaged to a Count she’s never met, but is convinced will save her and Tella from their father. Then there’s Caraval. Caraval is a game, sort of like a scavenger hunt, that’s hosted by a magician named Legend. As a child, Scarlett wanted nothing more for Legend to bring Caraval to her home island so she and Tella could see the spectacle. After 7 years of writing letters, Legend finally responds – with tickets for Scarlett, her fiance, and Tella to come to Caraval to play the game. The only problem is, Scarlett’s wedding is a week away, and if she goes to Caraval she might not get home in time to marry the Count. Of course, Tella thinks going to Caraval will solve all their problems, so she kidnaps Scarlett (with the help of an attractive sailor named Julian) and carts her off to Caraval.

Nothing goes to plan, but long story short, Tella ends up being the treasure Scarlett has to search for during the game, and if she wins, she’ll get a wish – and presumably, her freedom.

I’m so sad to say – this book was just not for me. Perhaps if I’d read it six or seven years ago, I’d have felt differently. But it’s so angsty, so repetitive, and so just plain irritating, that I found myself sighing and rolling my eyes more than enjoying it.

The biggest problem for me was Scarlett – which is pretty key, since she’s the main character and all. For the first 200 or so pages, every third thought she has is either, “I must save my sister,” “I must make it home for my wedding,” or “I can’t share a room with Julian because I must marry the Count.” Around page 200, she gets slightly better – now, every third thought becomes, “I must win the game,” “I must not be afraid,” or “Julian has made me realize I don’t want to marry someone I’ve never met.”

I wish I was exaggerating.

Honestly, the only character I found even remotely tolerable was Julian himself, simply because he basically tells Scarlett to man up and stop being a whiny brat.

What makes it even worse, is that the idea for Caraval was great. Garber did a decent job building the world of Caraval, incorporating just enough magic to make the story, well, magical. There are brief moments where the story takes center stage over the character drama, and that’s what kept me reading. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of elements that don’t really make sense – Scarlett “sees” emotions as colors, but I’m still not sure what the purpose of that is. In a lot of ways, the whole idea of “it’s just a game” doesn’t really work, and that isn’t explained either. For me, these holes (among others) made it difficult to fully buy into the story and the world of Caraval, unlike some of the stronger YA fantasy novels out there.

That said, I did finish the book – and while I don’t heartily recommend it, I do think there’s an audience who will love it. Where I found Scarlett annoying, others might find her loyal and determined. What I saw as a lack of detail, others might see as magical.

Final verdict? It’s a quick read with a gorgeous cover, and with all the hype this one’s getting, worth a shot if this genre is your thing…..but don’t expect to be blown away.

2 stars

Review: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

salvage-the-bonesAbout Salvage the Bones

• Hardcover: 261 pages
• Published: September 2011 by Bloomsbury
• Source: Purchased

Goodreads DescriptionA hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn’t show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting.

As the twelve days that make up the novel’s framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family—motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce—pulls itself up to face another day. A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.

My Thoughts

I mentioned this book last year, but it deserves its own review, because it’s such a powerful book. It’s a book I never ever want to read again, but one I haven’t been able to forget, and one I find myself saying, “Just trust me, you need to read it.”

I’ll be the first to admit the description did nothing for me. I was interested in the book simply because of the cover, and because it won a National Book Award. (Though honestly, I don’t always agree with the award committee, so sometimes that steers me wrong.) The cover though – the cover kept tugging at me. And one night I just figured, why not. And started reading.

And was immediately…confused. Not by the story, but by my reaction to it. I was both appalled and fascinated by what I was reading. I immediately liked Esch, but I couldn’t tell you why. I cared about her, though I hated her brothers, her father, and the boys she went to school with. That didn’t change throughout the story – Esch was always the only one I cared about, though I did come to sympathize with the rest of them.

Ward builds the tension quite well in Salvage. It happens almost without you realizing it, and then all of a sudden you’re in the middle of Katrina with Esch and her brothers and her father and you’re terrified with them. You feel everything they feel, experience everything they experience. The last couple of chapters are some of the most gripping chapters I’ve ever read in a book, and the emotions that go along with it are both conflicting and powerful. Reading this book truly feels like you’ve lived through a hurricane.

I won’t say too much more about it, other than it’s a book I think everyone should read.

4 stars

 

Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

undergroundrailroadAbout The Underground Railroad

• Hardcover: 306 pages
• Audio: 10 hours
• Published: August 2016 by Doubleday
• Source: Purchased (Scribd Audiobooks)

Goodreads Description: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven – but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

My Thoughts

I knew I wanted to read The Underground Railroad even before it won the National Book Award for fiction last year. There was so much press around the book, for one thing, and for another, it sounded interesting. I listened to it on audiobook, which I highly recommend.

It wasn’t exactly what I expected, though to be honest, now I can’t tell you what I expected. I guess less backstory and more…thriller? More about the journey itself along the railroad. But that was me assuming it was a “Point A to Point B” journey, which is most definitely NOT the way the story unfolds. That’s a good thing though – the book was much more character-driven, and it’s easy to see why Whitehead won the NBA.

In some ways, the Railroad is used as a metaphor, though it’s much more complex than that. I’ve struggled trying to explain it, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Cora’s journey isn’t an easy one, but the tension is a slow burn rather than a raging inferno. The final resolution is enough to satisfy, yet doesn’t entirely smooth over what’s happened. It’s a masterful blend of emotions. I found myself humbled, angry, and inspired all at the same time.

Perhaps that’s what makes Whitehead’s story such a great one – the emotions it inspires in the reader. You don’t pity Cora, because she’s too strong to be pitied (and she wouldn’t have wanted it anyway). But you can’t help but hurt for her, and you can’t help but mourn those who weren’t fortunate enough to make it on the Railroad.

There are implications here, gentle warnings about how we treat those who are different from us. About the society we’ve been, and could be again if we’re not careful. About how easy it is to let fear and prejudice rule us. And about how there will always be those who fight for equality, no matter the cost.

4 stars

 

Review: The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

gracekeepersAbout The Gracekeepers

• Hardcover: 320 pages
• Published: May 2015 by Crown
• Source: Blogging for Books

Goodreads DescriptionA lyrical and moving debut in the tradition of Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood, introducing an original and commanding new voice in fiction

As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, sending the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance.

In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives–offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future.

Inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, The Gracekeepers tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world: one that harbors the same isolation and sadness, but also joys and marvels of our own age.

My Thoughts

When it was time to choose my next Blogging for Books book, there were a ton of great choices and I was starting to feel like I’d never be able to narrow it down. And then I looked at The Gracekeepers, and right there on the front page it said it was for readers of Station Eleven. Immediately I knew this was my book. (If you’re new here, Station Eleven blew me away. Read my review here.)

Honestly….I’ve had this book for a looooong time. Probably long enough that I’m risking getting kicked out of Blogging for Books. It got buried on my bookshelf (easy to do), and if I’m honest, I was a little turned off by what I consider a so-so Goodreads rating of 3.6. Typically Goodreads ratings are pretty in line with my opinions, though Emma Straub’s work is the exception – I’ve loved both of hers that I’ve read, and I think they get a rating somewhere around 3.2.

Anyway. I finally picked it up a few weeks ago, and I can happily say this is another book that deserves a higher Goodreads rating. Or if not higher, at least a disclaimer for people like me who typically sneer at anything less than a 3.75.

The Gracekeepers follows two girls, North and Callanish. North lives on a boat, is part of a traveling circus, and is best friends with a bear (who’s also her circus partner). She grew up with the circus, and has lived on the water her entire life. Callanish is a Gracekeeper, and lives in what I can only describe as an over-water bungalow. Her job is to care for Graces, birds used in the Resting, which is essentially a water burial.

The first half of the story focuses more on North and the circus, and I found that much more interesting than Callanish and the graceyard. Much of the tension is built on references to a mistake Callanish made (you have no idea what), a baby North is carrying (you have no idea whose), and a world where those who live on land scorn those who live on the water (you have no idea why). North and Callanish’s stories intersect about halfway through, and the two feel a powerful bond. The remaining half of the book is more or less the two of them trying to find each other again. Truthfully, I found the ending a little rushed, and wished there had been more depth – the story was neatly wrapped up in about 10 pages.

If you asked me what I liked so much about this book, I’d be a little hard-pressed to tell you. Sure, the prose has a rhythm to it, sort of a rocking like the sea. That said, the characters are fairly…dull. Or unremarkable, maybe, is a better word. We don’t really get to know them, and we don’t see much growth. Normally that would drive me batty, but for some reason here it works. At first, the lack of detail comes across as lazy and frustrating. However, the more you read, the more the haziness lends itself to the story. This is one of those books where the rhythm of the writing creates the atmosphere, not the words themselves.

There’s something about The Gracekeepers that draws you in, and even though it’s a somber story, it doesn’t feel depressing. There’s a sense of longing and searching, and a quiet satisfaction that even the rushed resolution doesn’t quite take away. It’s the kind of story to read on a rainy day, with a cup of coffee and a down comforter.

3 stars

I received this book free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own.