Breezes Negril (formerly Grand Lido).

Grand Lido Negril – A review
By Sue McGarvie and Blaik Spratt
Clinical Sex Therapists, Syndicated Talk Show Host, and Authors of The Ethical Hedonist

We’ve both had a few friends who decided to skip the big production and head down south to get married. No seating arrangements to organize, no huge expense of feeding extended relations, and no church ceremony for couples who have rarely darkened a church door. Getting married in a simple ceremony on a beach (whether you elope or drag immediate family down with you) has the advantages of having your honeymoon start immediately, and enjoying the breathtaking view of turquoise water, lush vegetation, and a sunset of pinks and purples that beat any kind of man-made decorations.

Most resorts in the Caribbean offer weddings – usually under a simple trellis overlooking the water. Sometimes they are set apart from the rest of the resort, but we’ve found many are wedged between the jet skis screaming in the background, and beach walkers tromping by. We know because we’ve accidently stumbled by a few beach weddings in the search for interesting seashells. Oops. This trip we saw four beautiful weddings far at a distance, in the wedding cabana at Grand Lido Negril over the time we were there, (and later having run into three of those brides who raved about their ceremonies). Although sold as an upscale Superclub concept, it seemed that Grand Lido is also a perfect venue for elegant and romantic weddings.

Grand Lido is a majestic resort on one end of Negril’s famous seven mile beach of white sand. The resort reminded us of one of those perfectly turned out southern ladies – well appointed, gracious, classic, and understated. Laid back with a traditional style, young couples (and parents, even grand-parents coming for a holiday or attending a wedding) will appreciate the quiet refinement of the grounds, sumptuousness of the food, and sophistication of the other guests.

Given all polish that is Grand Lido Negril, (and classic elegance really are the words we would use to describe it) what’s really interesting about Lido is its slightly flirty feel. Between the oversized drinks, the activity staff that greet you with a wink and a smile, and the fact that half the resort is clothing optional (yup, they have a nude beach), Lido feels decidedly grown up. We met a number of people who had been coming to Grand Lido for decades, loving its mix of relaxation and discernment. Many of them had started on the huge regular beach, and had migrated to taking off their wet, sandy and uncomfortable suits over the years. And as we said before, taking your bathing suit off is the second hardest thing you’ll do on vacation. The hardest thing is putting it back on. The resort didn’t have a sexual feel, just a relaxed openness about it that was nonchalant and accepting. Many had made great friends over the years as clothing optional bars, pools and hot tubs lend themselves well to starting conversations with strangers. Nudity really does lend itself to openness.

Terrific staff was mentioned again and again as the reason guests returned for an annual trek to western Jamaica. Without fail we experienced very friendly, relaxed hospitality, and the staff seemed kind and long serving. And the good service isn’t artificially enticed. Tipping at any of the Superclubs is simply not allowed, and so with the exception of paid catamaran “booze cruises” and European spa service, you don’t spend any money. The spa seemed busy (due to a plenary of weddings), and offered a variety of services at comparable prices.

We had a fantastic meal in the Japanese restaurant – which was fun and inclusive with eight to a table. They were sensitive to food allergies, and the food was varied and plentiful. The service at the French restaurant was great, although we found the food mediocre with some good dishes and some not-so-great ones. We did however enjoy the live piano dinner music that accompanied the food. During the day, we ate jerk chicken at the poolside Jamaican restaurant and it was notably tasty.

Evenings (after dinner in one of the five restaurants), a band played up-tempo reggae dance music. One of things we really loved about Jamaica was the music everywhere. All the Jamaicans moved beautifully (wish we could dance half as well), and even the lowly house bands are head and shoulders above the mediocre music played at resorts anywhere else we’ve travelled. Grand Lido is not really known for it’s nightlife (the resort is usually quiet by 10:30), but it is literally across the road from the notorious Hedonism ll resort, where you can get a night pass to see the shows, piano bar, and dancing if you are looking for more action. Lido is about relaxation, romance and fine dining, and you may be disappointed if you expect a lot more in the way of serious night life. The nights we visited the piano bar there was only guest karaoke (we couldn’t take the Tammy Wynette “Stand by Your Man” cover and left after one song), but found sitting in the hot tub with the cognac and cookies they had left in the rooms a much more typical Lido late night experience.

The thing we need to note about Grand Lido Negil, (besides the nude pool- smile) was the physical location. Lido is set on a spectacular coastline. The turquoise water that stays shallow for a good distance offers world-class snorkeling right off the beach, which can be hard to find at a resort of Lido’s quality. We saw hundreds of multi-colored fish, rays, beautiful fan coral, and even an octopus within sight of the resort. Sailing, sea kayaking, separate reef snorkeling and scuba boat trips are offered daily. We had an easy walk up the beach for a good hour of soft sand and shoreline, which was as romantic a stroll as we’ve had anywhere. Security guards are stationed at the entrance to each resort along the way and we felt completely safe, and were able to walk drink in hand.

There are a few interesting things about Grand Lido Negril that are worth mentioning. A plaque at the bar at the far end of the resort says it is home “far bar” to the band Little Feat (can you say “Be my Dixie Chicken?”) and their fans who are compared to deadheads (legions of the Grateful Dead band) for their dedication to attending hundreds of concerts. The Feats appear at Grand Lido every February and pay homage to the bartenders and hospitality of Lido as well. Grand Lido also used to have a 147-foot M/Y Zein, a luxury power yacht that was originally presented as a wedding gift to Princess Grace and Prince Rainier by Aristotle Onassis that took guests out on sunset cruises. A number of the guests we spoke to remembered it, and said it symbolized the kind of resort it was, and the honeymoon atmosphere of the place. Unfortunately it was sold as the yacht became a bit leaky and tired at the end of her life. But that majestic “Grand old Dame hotel” feel still lingers about the place. And they probably have one of the coolest trees in the middle of the property that we’ve ever seen. It is a 100 plus year old cottonwood tree that is so statuesque, and so magnificent, that it looks like a Disney caricature of what a tree should look like. And it makes a one-of-a-kind place for wedding pictures.

The casual elegance of the place really lends itself to the dress code. A bathing suit, a wrap (that turns into what Blaik calls “his man skirt”), good sun hat, fitness clothes, and a couple of evening dinner outfits, (maybe even less if you don’t go off the nude side during the day) is really all you need. We didn’t see people getting all dolled up for breakfast, and since we travel in Tilley adventure clothes (the most amazing clothes that let you wash them wearing them in the shower), they took up from excursions, to dancing, and travel. We went to the French restaurant Le Piacere for dinner with another couple from Ontario and the guys needed dinner jackets. Blaik shook out his travel Tilley blazer from the bottom of his suitcase and was complimented on his dapper look. Check us out standing in near the cool Lido tree.

They offer a decent gym (the one at Hedonism across the street however, is four times the size) and may be worth checking out if you are a serious fitness buff. Grand Lido has a tennis court and they claim they have a PGA rated course up the road that free to use for guests, but we never saw anyone playing tennis or golfing. Everyone was mesmerized by the ocean and there was lots of floating on the water sprawled on rafts. So if you’ve got a sports lover and beach book worm combination in your house, Grand Lido would make a great combination so that everyone got the kind of vacation they really wanted.

Our interactions with the water staff were pleasant. In speaking to divers, they had an outstanding experience diving on the far reefs, and the help and instruction – like all the service got great reviews.

Grand Lido is a fabulous all round choice if you are looking for water sports with its ocean bay location and one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. Or, if you are simply looking for an upscale vacation, nude or not, it is well worth putting on your itinerary.

Have you ever had sex on a beach?

No, I’m not talking about the cocktail with orange juice and vodka. I’m talking about sand in your bathing suit and fish nibbling on your toes kind of sex. Think of the “From Here to Eternity” scene where the couple is making out, rolling around in the surf and dream about how hot and exciting that looked.

It turns out that many Canadian women have a fantasy about beach sex. In a new Ipsos Reid survey done for tripcentral.ca, 43% of women admitted that they had sex outside of their hotel room while on holidays. These women fantasized about sauna sex, hammock sex, public bathroom sex, and just about other private and romantic spot you can think of while on holiday. And who said that Canadian women are conservative!
I wasn’t surprised. When I speak to women about the best sex of their lives they invariably talk about parking, picnic blankets, or any place outside of the bedroom as their most memorable romps. Most people think that it is men that are looking for newness in the bedroom (and they would be right), but it turns out that it is women who overwhelmingly prefer the unique locations. Men tend to think about interesting positions and duration as their best sex. So holiday sex works for both parties.

I often ask my sex therapy patients how much sex they have on holidays. It’s a great barometer of the health of a couple’s sex life. If you have no outside stress, and your only decision of the day is a Mojito or Margarita, how easy is it to re-kindle some of that waning passion? Given that I think everyone needs sensual adventures, a great romantic holiday is one of the best things you can do for your relationship. It can certainly help your sex life. And in keeping with the survey results, if you can sneak out for some discreet shagging outside of the hotel room then the vacation ranks up there with the best sex of your life.


Hedonism, Jamaican Tourism and how the bus ride to Negril is forever changed

One of our most vivid memories of our first trip to Hedonism stared in the SuperClubs holding room in the Montego Bay Airport. We were handed a bottle of water and asked where we were going. Hedonism 2 was our tentative answer. “Ah the Zoo” said the Jamaican porter. “You get the narley bus”.

It was a bus ride to remember. Three hours of windy roads, small fishing village, goats in the middle of the road, a couple of beer and bathroom stops and a gaggle of Jimmy Buffet wannabees singing Bob Marley songs at the top of their lungs. Unlike the ride back to the airport where everyone left double fisting banana daiquiris before falling into an exhausted stupor most of the way. All with sunburns and in various stages of undress.

The bus trip now may be the way have gone the way of the dodo.
Hedonism has dropped the free airport transfers. In response to a new tourism tax that the Ministry of Tourism has levied on Jamaican resorts.

Here’s the skinny.
“As part of the agreement, all arriving visitors will be required to pay a US$20 fee, which will be included in the ticket cost, effective Aug. 1, 2012. The agreement will also see the introduction of a new daily accommodation tax per occupied room, per night of US$1 for properties with less than 51 rooms, US$2 for hotels with 51 to 100 rooms and US$4 for hotels with 101 rooms and above, effective Sept. 1, 2012. Currently, unlike most destinations, hotels in Jamaica do not charge an accommodation tax.”

But how do you get there you may ask? You can still pay to get ground transportation. Or as Chris Santilli says in her book “Tales from the Naked City”

Windjammer Cruises. It should be on your bucket list too.

One of the things that both Blaik and I had on our travel bucket list is a trip aboard one of the Windjammer sailing cruises. Not quite the tall ships of Master and Commander that Blaik would like to crew for a voyage, more like a relaxed, inclusive adventure for grown ups who like their creature comforts. The challenge has been in finding the right time and cruise to embark on.

Apparently this week the Windjammer people have announced two new cruises for the fall of 2011. They are both 9 day outings (a perfect length of time for landlubbers). You get the magic of the tall ships, the chance to really get to know your sailing companions, and the opportunity to really feel like you are sailing. These are more than just the typical Caribbean island hop.

The first called The Hidden Treasures of the Ionian, features sailings between Athens and Malta. The vacation includes a 7-day voyage, complimentary hotel accommodations for two nights in Athens at a Windstar designated hotel, complimentary transfer and invitation to Windstar’s Yacht Club Party. This is a chance to let your hair down and see the Mediterranean the way it was meant to be seen. It’s also a chance to highlight the rich history and culture of enchanting destinations, UNESCO World Heritage sites, ancient Greek civilizations, charming coastal villages and breathtaking islands.

The second is the” I dream of Turkey” (okay that’s just my name for it) cruise. It’s the Cyprus and Turkey cruise that lets you re-live the voyages of the swashbuckling sailors in the movies of our youth.

The press release reads:

“The intoxicating aromas of exotic spices and luxurious oils beckon from Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Lobster risotto and other decadent treats call from the restaurants of Mykonos. The ruins of Ephesus near Kusadasi invite you to wander along their well-worn paths. Celebrate another brilliant Santorini sunset with a glass of ouzo. See Ottoman mansions and wooden yatis the way they were meant to be seen – from a small boat sailing the Bosporus. Delight in the pleasure of discovering an energy and earthiness found nowhere else in the world.”

I don’t know about you, but it has moved way up on our bucket list. We’ll let you know how it goes after we give them a whirl at some point in the (hopefully) not-too-distant-future.

Hedonism. Now with 3 closed, everyone is back at 2

Hedonism ll and Hedonism lll A review

By Sue McGarvie, and Blaik Spratt
Clinical Relationship Therapists, Syndicated Talk Show Host, and Authors of The Ethical Hedonist
www.sexwithsue.com

When I was 16, I spent arguably the best summer of my young life as a counselor at a large family camp in Ontario. I was one of 60 co-ed staff. It was an amazingly fun place, and I made lifelong friends. Camp was singing by the campfire, raiding the boy’s cabin, skinny dipping, dancing at costume parties, and summer romance.

Going to Hedonism was the closest thing I’ve experienced as an adult to re-creating that community feel of laugh-out-loud fun of camp. Only instead of mystery meat in the dining hall, and outhouses with flashlights, Hedonism offers spectacular sunsets, unlimited perfect banana daiquiri’s, hot tubs, cabaret shows, and sensuous spa massages. And it’s the scurrying crabs, not mosquitoes that abound.

Forget what you’ve read about Hedo in Playboy, or the myth of it being a sexually aggressive place. The words we would use to describe the two Hedonism resorts are silly, zany, relaxing, casual, outrageous, sensual, saucy and friendly. Clearly, some of the legends are no more than wishful thinking. Nobody jumps you, and it isn’t a place to go trolling for sex. You would probably have more luck at a nightclub like Rick’s Cafe down the beach atop Negril’s cliffs (one of the 10 most famous bars in the world, and home to the fearless cliff divers). However if you want to make real friends who may want to play with you, then Hedonism does offer the best opportunity we’ve ever found to meet the group we call “Ethical Hedonists.” This is an open-minded and adventurous crowd.

People who “get” Hedo are almost cult-like in their love of the place. There are books written about it, Hedonism cocktail parties that organize themselves in large cities, and groups of travel friends that make an annual pilgrimage with names like “the Wild Bunch”, the Bubbly Bares”, and the BareAss Buccaneers”. It’s really about community and the need for like and open-minded people to congregate. Hedonism is not about orgies on every flat surface of the place. We did see some relaxed, but loving, open sexual play going on a few times between partners. It wasn’t offensive, and was limited exclusively to the nude hot tub. You had to look for it, and if you think it’s about getting all the sex you want there then you are likely mistaken.

We think the magic of Hedonism can best be defined by Serena, the nude pool bartender at Hedo lll, who said “It’s not craziness. Hedo is just about people being who they really are.” And having grown-up fun (which includes, but isn’t limited to a flirty sexuality) and relaxing in a place where nobody judges you- provided you offer the same in return. This means you can use your ball cap to comb your hair, dance naked, play the game that shows off the tattoo closest to your pubic region, pretend you are a Roman Emperor on toga night, or just honeymoon away from it all floating in the warm Caribbean Sea on a raft. It’s different from the elegant but over-dressed crowd at other resorts (fashonista’s at breakfast) Hedonism overall is much more down to earth and friendly.

There are two large resorts, the 27 year old Hedo ll in Negril (we were there during their anniversary week the end of October), and the newer, nine year old Hedo lll in Runaway Bay about three hours apart from each other on the coast of Jamaica. They have almost the same amenities, and similar clientele. They both have a 40% return of guests (unheard of loyalty for a resort, so those who love it, love it again and again), but if you have guests returning for over 27 years, they tend to now be in the 45 to 65 age group on average. Don’t get the idea that it’s a place for the over 50 crowd, there were a range of ages (we met five large “girls gone wild” groups of girlfriends in their 20’s having an adventure week together a la Sex in the City), and newly-weds wouldn’t be out of place. A majority (80%) of the guests are couples, unless they are in organized travel of girl groups, and the wandering single guy syndrome was something we simply didn’t see. And despite the perfect people shown in the brochure, (don’t go expecting to see nothing but gorgeous supermodels rubbing suntan lotion all over each other) the majority were ordinary looking people dressed in 45 sunblock and a smile. Hedo lll as a rule skews younger, but there was a couple in their 70’s who we met there as well. You can go online to www.hedonism.com and see what groups or activities are happening the week you’re thinking of attending, and register to start talking to other guests in advance of your arrival. We met people that greeted each other like long lost friends when they met after chatting a few times online. It allows you to recognize people, and gives you an opening to start conversations and have friends to have dinner with from the get go.

Kevin Levee, the General Manager of Hedonism lll calls Hedo a “facilitator”. “The Hedonism resorts open a door to play if you want it. Or simply lets you have an outgoing and interesting all inclusive vacation, on one of Jamaica’s great beaches if you just want to hang” he says.

Don’t let the stories scare you off. Both Hedo ll, and lll (there never was a Hedo l) are clothing optional – not nude. There is a place for all stages of undress at Hedonism. There are two definite areas at Hedo ll, one for the clothed (which is far, far larger than the nude section), and there is an invisible line in front of the dive shack that will have the smiling security guard handing you a towel if you cross naked. The nude pool and hot tub are discreetly tucked away at the far back corner of the resort. At Hedo lll there is the clothed and naked side, and there has also evolved a “confused” (not nude or prude) area they call the quad with its own gorgeous swimming pool. It’s open to clothed, topless, or nude, (wear or don’t wear whatever you want), and the two groups mingle easily. It offers a safe alternative for nudists who don’t want to see any open sex. The one thing I know about people who like to get naked in public is that they are a friendly bunch. They tend to be a more tolerant and open minded, with a philosophy of “we are all the same under our clothes”.

Kevin goes onto say (in his sexy Jamaican accent), “when you lose your clothes you lose your “isms”, and it’s just about people talking together.”

Jamaica has stereotypical tropical weather. Cloudless sunshine all morning, and heavy showers for an hour during nap time mid afternoon. And you need your nap. Unlike most comparable resorts, Hedo offers terrific nighttime entertainment right on the property. A large entertainment staff and the available nightlife were two of the things that brought most of the first timers we met to try out Hedonism. The music was well worth taking in. The Jamaican culture of music and dance was prevalent from the singing “eggman” at breakfast to a couple of the best dance bands we’ve ever heard play anywhere. We would have gladly paid separately to see the rockin’ Commitments-type band, or the exceptional reggae group whose style was tight, infectious and great to dance to. Hedonism also provided a strong house band during dinner and before the 70’s style disco (complete with age-appropriate music) got going. Or guests had the option to make their way to the notorious Hedo piano bars. The piano bar is half sing-a-long, half variety act, and all with mandatory audience participation, where the host changes the words of songs to be hysterically naughty. Late night has everyone congregating in the hot tubs, or doing a kamikaze waterslide that shoots you like a bullet through the disco. The hot tub bars stay open until the last patron stumbles their way to bed, often at 6 am. Each night is theme night where a good portion of the patrons dressed up in costumes that included a “pimp and ho night”, a pj’s and lingerie evening, a swashbuckling pirate themed night, and the infamous toga party where the staff leaves you a extra sheet on your bed so that the whole resort is wrapped up in billowing while cloth.

Beyond a raucous nightlife, consistently hot weather, and an all-inclusive price (tipping is disallowed, so we spent less than $40 extra for airport gratuities only), Hedonism is set on a spectacular coastline. Turquoise water that stays shallow for a good distance, offers world-class snorkeling right off the beach. We saw hundreds of multi-colored fish, rays, beautiful fan coral, and even an octopus within sight of the resort. Sailing, sea kayaking, separate reef snorkeling and scuba boat trips are offered daily. We walked thigh-high through the water as the sun was going down, and had to watch out not to step on the fish floating above the sandy bottom.

It should be noted that Hedonism isn’t five star rooms and impeccable venue. As one house inspector from Calgary said, “they have 100% humidity, salt water, and off-the-scale UV rays. The only way they could keep up with the peeling paint would be to close the resort down and paint for a month every year.” The resorts were clean, the rooms pleasant with the usual accessories, but abject luxury isn’t how we would describe it. This is a place you go to watch the picture perfect sunsets, hang on the beach, dance the night away, chat with exceptional people, and roar with laughter at the friendly stories. Most people just use their rooms to sleep in. The two complaints we heard expressed were about a shortage of beach towels, and the occasional presence of “working girls” (although we didn’t see any) who snuck in on a purchased night pass with other locals or guests at different resorts to see the nightly entertainment. They are escorted off property, and banned if caught “selling their wares”, but are a fact of life in a country with disparaging incomes.

There are a few package-included on-site restaurants which take reservations in the morning, and three beach grills that offer typical beach fare (most notably amazing jerk chicken and pork, a Jamaican specialty). We ate everyday at the beach for lunch as it was that good, especially at Hedo lll, where the jerk festival was just finishing as we arrived, and their reggae restaurant had spectacular (but hot!) jerk meats. Otherwise, a large buffet was provided for guests that did offer a decent variety of food. Having made changes in the kitchen over the last year, guests commented that the food was much improved from the previous year.

One of the things we heard again and again when we asked why people returned to Hedonism (the place is littered with colored rocks with the names of couples and their dates visited) was the quality of the people – both staff and guests. We can’t say enough about the great staff, who went out of their way to say “ya mon” the Jamaican hello, every time you walked by. Everyone from Robert, the 25 year old maintenance guy to the General Managers were approachable and smiling. It was infectious to the guests, and without fail the people we spoke to stated the thing they liked best about Hedonism was the interesting and kind people that frequent the resort. Think of an amazingly friendly staff, with big hearts and a great spirit about them, and the kind of like-minded guests that morph into friends you stay in touch with long after the holiday is over. It really is that kind of place and we loved it and can’t wait to add our own painted rock as soon as possible.

Hedonism offers “booze cruise” boat rides a few times a week that you pay separately for, and go out for a three hour cruise. Their Saturday trip is a nude excursion that takes you to the snorkeling spots, let’s you splash down the attached slide, and shows you the magnificent Jamaican coastline. We heard a story about a recent nude trip that set sail out of the Hedo ll dock’s on the afternoon before the swashbuckling theme party. The participants brought along their pirate hats and plastic cutlasses on board as part of the festive theme during the cruise, and pirate lingo flowed. When a boat from a neighboring resort anchored close by to gawk at the naked revelers, and as the rum punch took hold, a group of naked Hedo men got into the spirit of things. They swam over and boarded the other boat (fake sword clutched in their teeth and pirate hats askew), and demanded “their beer or their women”. Stealing a few cans of Miller beer, they swam triumphantly back to the nude boat with their bounty to roaring laughter and leaving behind a stunned plundered vessel. That in essence, is a classic Hedonism experience. Being outrageous but fun, hanging with other silly new friends, and playing the part of a naked pirate on the Caribbean Sea. And where else can a group of middle aged people dress up and behave like pirates in the safest and most accepting of ways?

El Dorado Royale. Something different in 5 star all inclusives

El Dorado Royale Review

By Sue McGarvie and Blaik Spratt, Clinical Relationship Therapists, Travel Journalists

On the surface the El Dorado Royale is just one of a number of five star all inclusives that frequent the coast from Cancun along the Mayan Riviera to Tulum on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Albeit an enormous resort with over 630 rooms and 450 acres of land. The property includes horse and camel (yes camel) stables, its own desalination plant, and with ocean frontage so wide that you need a golf cart to get you to dinner. With over 1000 employees, the El Dorado Royale and the attached high-end El Dorado Casitas Royale is like a small city. Think of a land where everyone says “Hola” as you walk by. The resort emphasizes their specialized beach butler service, personal concierges, impeccable grounds, and wedding and spa services. You can find the same services at many other resorts but what stands out at the El Dorado Royale is the food.

The El Dorado is an adult only resort that emphasizes unbelievable, wildly varied, all-inclusive gourmet food. If you are a foodie who is tired of huge restaurant bills but don’t want to compromise on quality then the El Dorado is the holiday you need to explore. They have gourmet theatre where you can watch the chef prepare while you eat, or alternatively take day classes in gourmet cooking in the Mexican Fuentes restaurant. The food was fantastic. We are still talking about the duck/lamb combination dinner with the best chocolate lava cake (warm, melt-in-your-mouth, hmm) that has ever been devoured. It showed amazing restraint not to order a second dessert with its side of Baileys ice cream.

Over all the El Dorado is the “no surprises vacation”. You can bank on warm weather (when not during the rainy season), five star service and rooms with a Wow factor. Swim up plunge pool rooms, outdoor double (or quadruple) showers, indoor Jacuzzi’s, rose petals on the beds and overall abject luxury. You have the choice of 11 pools, 15 different bars (and over 50 different umbrella drinks), seven different restaurants, and three “gourmet corners” for emergency late night pizza and healthy choices. You could happily book your parents, honeymooners, even grandparents and know that there would be universality to the food, accommodations and service that you can bank on. Elegant, sophisticated, adult, and very high end are the words we would use to describe the El Dorado Royale.

But we wanted to look beyond the amazing food, weather, and property to find out what was truly special about the El Dorado. And we found it in the most unexpected place.

Mexico has been late in embracing environmental and “green” concerns. However in keeping with a new recyclable and organic emphasis at the El Dorado, the Mayan owner has embarked on an ambitious new greenhouse program. With acres of greenhouses using the latest technology, this new program is defining freshness for hotel foods, and offering up a model of organic farming. Yup, the El Dorado luxury winter palace for discriminating tourists is getting into farming vegetables in a big way. They currently produce over 1.5 tons of fresh vegetables a day. They supply all of their El Dorado and Azul chain of hotels, sell vegetables and herbs at a reduced cost to employees and are now able to sell more to other neighbouring hotels. Besides the awe inspiring volume of food produced in the automated greenhouses, what is cool is that the growing materials are crushed up coconut shells and beach sand. The agronomist on staff is using abundant and readily available natural products as a growth medium for the plants. They use natural tree saps as insecticide and their own bee colonies for pollination. Coupled with perfect temperatures, and loads of light it represents ideal growing conditions.

The staff has really bought into the concept of fresh, organic food as a way to differentiate the resort from a crowded marketplace. Our tour was conducted by an enthusiastic tennis pro turned junior agronomist and everyone from the bellmen to the wait staff knew how special the greenhouse program is to the resort. With plans to expand to fruit, berry and additional herbs, the greenhouse is one of the ways that the El Dorado chooses to be serious about food. The chef picks his produce every day for dinner, and works with the greenhouse staff to try different varieties for subtle flavours. The resort offers daily tours of the greenhouse for interested guests, and can include samples of home grown vegetables as take aways to add to the fresh fruit bowl found in all the rooms.

It is an organic success story at a resort that has embraced healthy living among all the decadence. And the care put into the all inclusive food that the El Dorado Royale serves is definitely a difference maker when selecting a holiday resort.

Earth Day and Eco Tourism

Eco Mexico- Earth Day article
By Sue McGarvie and Blaik Spratt, Clinical Relationship Therapists, Travel Journalists

Mexico in the past hasn’t been known for its recycling programs or environmental concerns. Recently that has been changing in a big way. Eco tourism, while not a new concept has really begun to take off.

As the planet celebrates Earth Day we went looking for examples of Green Mexico during a recent eco-minded trip to Tulum. Known as the “eco coast”, Tulum is home to a few large resorts and many small, six to 20 room boutique hotels. It is an area of authentic Mexican feel, lots more wilderness, and a bohemian, Jimmy Buffet laid back lifestyle. Many of the Tulum resorts have an emphasis on being green. Driven by the close proximity to the Mayan reservation and the indigenous “spirit led” Mayan Shamans, there is a movement afoot to respect the land. Tulum is in the heart of Mayan (or native Mexican) country.

This part of the Yucatan is home to beatnik travelers, authentic Mexican music and amazingly fresh and healthy food. The Eco Tulum is a chain of resorts made up by three villa hotels Azulik, Copal, and Zahra. The concept is to provide huts on the beach, and blend in as closely as possible with the natural environment. In fact, the whole resort fits into the landscape better than anyplace we’ve ever visited. There are no lights, no outlets (so leave your hair dryer at home), and a generator powers a ceiling fan during the day. The rest of the time you are feeling a bit like you are in an episode of Gilligan’s Island. If you are looking for an accessible, convenient, well groomed hotel- this isn’t it. Eco Tulum is the opposite of a “big box resort” and we heard again and again how much guests were looking to stay anywhere but at one of the typical all inclusives. Each hut was unique, the pathways were made of sand and the stairways to climb into the hut were not for anyone with a disability. Some of the stairs were downright scary, but they had muted lighting at night, and the area had a very safe feel. The rooms were beautiful, clean, entirely made of wood (including a huge bathtub made out of a hollowed log) and offered a beach that would rival anywhere in the world.

There are iguanas on your deck, and gekkos in your room. The pelicans, ospreys and other large sea faring birds cast shadows over the patio canopy beds all day. We were woken up by spider monkeys on the thatch roof along with the nocturnal Kinkajou (a monkey-like mammal). Dolphins are known to swim up and down the coast, and crocodiles are common in the neighbouring mangrove swamps.

Eco Tulum has now introduced a recycling program and had separate recycling boxes out for batteries. And you needed to bring batteries. The downside of rooms with no power is that you had to set up your candles in advance of going for dinner otherwise you returned to pioneer-like blackness. It is a way to get in touch with your circadian rhythm (we were in bed by 9 pm and up with the sun). We found the candle light too dim to read by, and would strongly recommend packing flashlights or head lamps for walking. The wind blows constantly from the sea, and the waves ranged from gentle to spectacular during the week long visit. With Tulum’s wild coastline, it would be an astounding place to be in a mild storm.

One of the most notable things about a movement to more eco understanding in the Yucatan is the appreciation of the native Mayan peoples. The eco Tulum resorts and it’s adjoining Mayan Spa had both a Shaman and holistic healer on staff. They use only organic products, and many of the treatments are done with natural plants picked from the spa garden just minutes before treatments. They are known throughout the area for their traditional Mayan Temascal. A Temascal is a native sweat lodge that has been used for both healing and ritual purposes in Mexico for thousands of years. Throughout the Temascal, the Shaman used different herbs in conjunction with red-hot stones, misting, chanting and singing to cleanse the body and spirit. It is an interesting two hour (or longer) process that is to leave you feeling re-born.

The municipality of Tulum has been putting in bike paths to encourage this form of transportation. Biking really is the way to get around eco Tulum. They have them for rent inexpensively all over. You can tour the Tulum ruins, or head off to discover one of the 3,000 cenotes (fresh water sinkholes) in the area. Think of a limestone lagoon that opens up into underwater caves as part of the underground water table. They are all different, and the one we visited was like a small, deep lake filled with fish. It reminded us of swimming in a fish tank. We were able to snorkel, and see the entrance to the underwater caves that are so popular with divers.

In keeping with the eco-theme of this trip, we opted to go on the highly recommended Sian Ka’an community tour. This tour absolutely made our trip. Sian Ka’an is a protected natural reserve of 630,000 hectares that crosses traditional Mayan land and is now a UNESCO heritage site as well as a wildlife reserve. Sian Ka’an Community Tours is an international success story. Many Mayan’s had been living in “reservation-like” communities in the jungle without a source of income. Many Mayans didn’t speak Spanish (only their local Mayan dialect), and despite vast knowledge of the jungle and various biospheres, they were just eeking out an existence. With the aid of a couple of non-profit NGO’s (including Equator Initiatives) that help indigenous peoples with sustainable development, the Mayan community near the Sian Ka’an reserve got together and started a business giving tours. They did intensive training in English, and business management. All of the money from this low cost tour ($99 per person including lunch, snacks, park fees, and transportation) stayed locally. It was a great education and we left feeling like we contributed to the local community.

Our seven hour tour included a guided hike through secluded jungle ruins. It followed with an adventure into an underground Mayan passageway built in 300 BC (where we got up close and personal with some fruit bats). We then went into the jungle on the Mayan reservation where we tasted edible roots, smelled copal bark, and burned dead termite mounds as a bug repellent. We climbed a 17 meter tower to observe all eight biospheres in the park before jumping into boats to re-enact a 1000 year old trade route crossing across two crystal clear lakes. After lunch we did a river float along a natural passageway through the grass savannah. We floated peacefully four kilometers an hour for a few kilometers at the edge of the mangrove trees- nursery to millions of baby fish. During our section of the river we saw vultures, a variety of multi-coloured song birds, and countless tropical fish. We ended the day with a snorkeling trip to a nearby cenote with an opportunity to hand feed schools of fish.

The final piece to our eco holiday came in a unexpected place as we made our way back up the coast to Cancun. We made a point to stay overnight at the El Dorado Royale resort in the Mayan Riviera to see their organic greenhouses. The El Dorado is one of those huge all inclusives and is changing the way produce is grown in Mexico. They currently produce over 1.5 tons of fresh vegetables a day. They supply all of their El Dorado and Azul chain of hotels, sell vegetables and herbs at reduced cost to employees and are now able to sell more to other neighbouring hotels. Besides the awe inspiring volume of food produced in the automated greenhouses, what is cool is that the growing medium is crushed up coconut shells and beach sand. The agronomist on staff is using abundant natural products to produce tomatoes the size of grapefruit along with a plenary of other herbs and vegetables.

Our eco holiday was affordable, personal, and left us feeling healthy (actually down a pound or two given the exercise and fresh foods). It was also a feel good story as we left Mexico feeling we had connected to the people, culture and land that is Tulum.

Desire/Temptations in Los Cabos. How to make friends naked.

How to make friends at a Nude Lifestyle resort
Desire Los Cabos
by Sue McGarvie, Clinical sex therapist
It’s not just that we’ve had 17 feet of snow this winter in my part of Canada, that has me wishing I could emigrate to Mexico. I have fallen in love with the lifestyle, and culture of our southern neighbors. The Mexico I experienced, was absolute paradise. Los Cabos Mexico, where I spent a week in March this year, is home to the most charming Latino waiters, almost perfect weather, the world’s yummiest coconut ice cream, and now arguably the best couples resort in the world. Move over Hedonism, the new Desire Resorts has got serious game.

{Insert photo 1. here}
Los Cabos Mexico, which bills itself as a place of guaranteed sunshine, (only six days of rain all of last year), is located on the tip of the Baja, where the sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. It’s a thousand miles of desert, along Mexico’s west coast, Los Cabos has come into it’s own due to a spectacular coastline and the advent of desalination, and with bevy of fresh water out of the sea that has turned desolate scrub brush into an oasis. This is where the wealthy Californian’s come to vacation (typical real estate prices for a vacation property is over a US million). And at the Desire Resort, it is where the sexually adventurous come to explore the romantic and erotic side to their relationship.

Desire Los Cabos, is similar to Desire Cancun in many ways. An exclusive, couple-only, clothing optional, all inclusive hotel, with a boutique resort feel, with a maximum capacity of 150 rooms. Desire comes with complete privacy and serious security. It’s the honeymoon of decadence and sensuality that you may have always wanted. I find that like with any nude place, the minute you take your clothes off, your inhibitions go as well. That means fellow guests are open, and conversation and friendships start easily all over the resort. However unlike with a typical nude or clothing optional resort, (like the Caliente resorts where PDA’s –public displays of affection- can get you kicked out), there are places where you can be overtly sexual with your (or possibly someone else’s) partner. It is more centrally located than in Cancun, (in the zone tourista, as opposed to Cancun which is way, way off the beaten path). This means there is no nudity on the more public beach, (too bad, as the Desire Cancun beach beds are one of life’s great pleasures). It also means swimming in the ocean is out (the flags read FATAL due to the undertow), but provided you wore a bathing suit, the beach was a delight to walk. With no beach activities, it meant that everyone congregated in the rooftop hot tub, and heated, extra-large, central swimming pool. This central congregation meant it was easier to meet everyone staying in the resort on a first name basis. This also meant you had less of the “gilded cage” feel, as you could easily walk to shopping, restaurants and leave the resort if you needed a change of scenery. So if you are social, and a perfect holiday is having everyone know your name and making friends, the west coast Desire may be a better fit for you, than the isolated, and spread out Cancun Desire. Overall I thought the food was good, (I hugged Antonio, my evening grill chef who made something he specially concocted just for me every night), and I loved the live music played outside between dinner and dance club opening outside on the mezzanine.

{Insert photo 2 here}

They’ve set the lay out well, so that sexual interaction happens only on the secluded hot tub area, or in the playroom in the dance club. Which means that if you choose not to watch the sex going on, (although who’s kidding, everyone is curious to see if their pool buddies are doing anything more interesting than they do), you can completely avoid that section. So with sex only going on in very specific places, you can otherwise treat it like any other first class resort except that a good 60% of the guests are in various stages of undress.

This is the place where you can be nude (or not), overtly sexual with your partner (or not), and meet other couples for friendship or more. Or you can stay to yourself, and honeymoon in an erotic environment. As Sylvia the Guest Services manager said “The experience at Desire is strictly what you make of it”. So Desire can be called sensuously discreet. It’s there if you want it, but sex is done with ease and elegance. I would say that only about 25% of the guests (in my humble estimation) were in the “swinging” or lifestyle play. Some people were direct in their approach that they were looking for an exchange, but most were just having their partner only eroticism. What surprised me was how many “first-timers” there were, who had never even been to a nude beach before. There was a large group of people who booked off Expedia looking for a vacancy, and although seemed surprised at how sexually open the place was, very quickly dropped the laundry and joined in on the semi-clothed frolicking. When in Rome… seemed to be the philosophy, and the comfortable atmosphere relaxed even the most prudish. I watched a Catholic, grade 1 teacher go from cover-ups, to commando, to sex in public with her husband, over a three day period. Desire has a minimum age of 25 posted on their website, and the age ranged from mid to late 20’s, with the bulk of the guests between 30 and 50. Certainly a 60 year old plus couple wouldn’t be out of place, but most of the bodies were better than average, and a majority had been enhanced. The crowd was affluent, well-preserved, and well-groomed, (with more than their share of silicone and botox).

{insert photo 3 here}
The Los Cabos is less crowded than the always booked Cancun location (114 rooms), but my guess is that it will be as equally difficult to get a room over the next year as word gets out. During the high point of the regular travel season (March break, where every other resort was fully booked), Desire Los Cabos was at only 35% capacity. This isn’t a place you bring your kids, and around family holidays, the Desire resorts are slower. Times that are typically not “family holiday time”, you’ll find the parents have pawned off the kids and are engaging in the sensuous adult play that a trip to Desire offers. As an example, May, a warm month up north is 100% booked at Desire Los Cabos, when there are vacancies everywhere else.

A couple of things you may want to take note of when packing for Desire. With guaranteed sunshine, and predominate nudity, we went through far less clothes than anticipated. Although day time clothing needs can be put into a toiletry bag, most women dressed elegantly for cocktails, dinner and after dinner drinks, and for the
disco party, every night is theme night. So my suggestion is bring a big suite case full
of erotic costumes to be creatively silly. It is hot and sexually charged at the disco. Themes included Rodeo-cowboy, naughty school yard, pink, red, and black and white nights, jungle, along with emergency (fireman, nurse). Cancun had similar (but different themes), and it was an adult dress up, with a smile. You should also know that Desire has a camera verboten policy, so you won’t end up in someone else’s pictures naked. However, you may need to plan a day trip if you need pictures to take back to the kids because you can’t otherwise take photos.

Despite what a good job Desire is doing running its resort, it wasn’t perfect. The highlight was the staff and service. I can honestly say that I’ve never met a more gracious, more accommodating staff anywhere in the world. They learned your names from the get go, and made a point to make everyone feel special.

The food however, was a bit inconsistent at times. We had the best steak we’ve ever eaten on holidays, as well as the worst steak, only a day apart. I thought there could have been a more rounded out room service menu, and the pool lunch food was repetitive as the only option to eat. They had great bartenders however. I was very surprised as a therapist, (you would think even for strictly liability reasons), there wasn’t condoms in the playroom and hot tub areas. I also wished that the disco should open earlier for those of us who turn into a pumpkin after midnight.

{insert photo 4 here}

Most significantly, I also felt that there was a real thirst for information on what is the erotic lifestyle, and there was a need for clear, non-judgmental facts about what full swing, lifestyle play, group massage, bisexual swap meant to the new attendees. Having tourists books in each rooms were helpful, but those weren’t the questions it took five margherita’s, and a week of beating around the bush to ask. Everyone it seemed, was looking for information on “how do you spice up your relationship with group play without messing up what you have”, or just “how do you keep it hot after years together?” Desire seems to be marketing to the large middle group that one guest described as “Empty Nesters gone wild”, who are curious, open, but very tentative in trying out any kind of extra marital play. Not the serious swingers who are open to anything and everything, but more than the romance marketed by conventional couples resorts. With a few minor changes (better training of their activity staff, more ice breakers, and delicately written information packages), the Desire resorts will be the premiere location for sensuous couples world-wide. Book your holiday soon, because as they make the final adjustments, they will continue to be sold out year round.

Picture Credits:

www.desireloscabos.com, www.desirecancun.com

http://www.desireloscabos.com/multimedia/index.asp?media=fotos&Title=1