Scuba Trip #2 – Cozumel Palace [All Inclusive Style]

After getting certified in 2017 and doing our first Scuba trip in Grand Cayman we were ready to go again.  We added Nitrox/Enriched Air diver to our certifications last fall and looked forward to going to Cozumel with the couple that we went to Grand Cayman with.

They organized group trip to take advantage of a third room free deal at Cozumel Palace.  So after spreading the cost of the two rooms across 3 couples, our out of pocket was less than $2000.00

That included 7 nights of all inclusive goodness, meals and alcohol.  It also came with $1500 worth of resort credits, which we used primarily for scuba, and a couple’s massage and still left the resort with almost 300 credits for the next visit.

Our other out of pocket expenses were:

  • $450 each for the flights.
  • $350 for a baby sitter for Matthew while we did the morning dives (coverage from roughly 8am to 1-2pm each day).  We were initially told they had a kids program for Matthew to be in while we dove.  Turns out that wasn’t accurate. They do, sort of have a kids club, and Sonya who runs it was great, but it’s only available in the afternoons and you cannot leave the resort while your kids are in there.  Meaning you cannot leave your kid(s) there and go dive.  We were forced to hire a babysitter which they set up for us for $10/hour.  Mrs. Martha (the sitter) was amazing and worth every penny.
  • Tips for Scuba, spa, occasional exceptional service plus the required dive T-shirt.
  • We also rented a Jeep ($99) to run around the island including a visit to Chankanaab marine park (admission was free and provided by the resort), a little beach time looking for sea glass, visit to Coconuts for lunch and then downtown for some shopping.
  • $72 for parking at the Airport (economy)
  • The on-site dive shop/operation is run by Aqua Safari. We were able to use the resort credits for our morning two tank dives.  The out of pocket expenses you have to pay were $16 per person for taxes plus $2 per person for the daily marine park fees ($36 total).  They picked us up every morning at the dock on site.  We also had a $14 daily up-charge for Nitrox, optional, but it was completely worth it.
  • We also completely avoided the time-share/membership sales pitch. Though if you could get through it, you could score a free jeep rental, and/or other freebies.

Resort Review

Outside of cruise ships we had not previously stayed at an all-inclusive resort. Given the ‘value’ our expectation weren’t very high.

First, the resort is small, some might say ‘intimate’.  I think there are only 169 rooms? There are 3 onsite restaurants, which really means there is only one, but it’s divided up into 3 sections; the fancier higher-end, dress code required Italian restaurant, as well as a Mexican and Oriental themed restaurant.  There is an additional buffet outside, so I guess, technically 4 places to get some food as well as room service 24/7.

Drinks were also included, beer, wine, and mixed drinks.  The  liquor was weaker, so you needed to get two of what ever it is you wanted.  Seems that’s run of the mill for all-inclusives though.

The resort was nice, very clean overall.  The rooms were exactly like what is pictured on the web-site.  We had two double beds, an in-room Jacuzzi tub, nice sitting area, and balcony with hammock. Read that again, two double beds. Had it just been Claudine and I we’d been good.  Claudine drew the short straw and shared a bed with Matthew and didn’t sleep well the entire trip.  The rooms could have easily held two queen beds.  We wanted to get one of the loft rooms with a king and two doubles but they didn’t include those in the buy two get one free special that we were part of.

The outdoor pool area was clean and nice, again exactly as pictured, not a lot of marketing magic going on.

Note: there is no beach, but you are on the ocean.  There’s a great area for swimming and snorkeling and at times there is a life guard on duty.  They have snorkel gear on-site and paddle boards for kids 14 and older.  Matthew and I spent two long afternoons snorkeling.  Lots of good wild life to be seen in their little area.

Food quality: On a scale of 1 to 10, and I’d put Royal Caribbean meals about about an 8/9 on average.  I’d put the Cozumel Palace food in the 5-8 categories. Some stuff was pretty good.  Breakfast, with made to order omelettes was well above average.  Most other meal items were average to above average.  Nothing was really exceptional though.

Service: Service was spotty, when you got service it was good, but there were too many times when we had to go to the bar (while sitting at an outside table) to get a drink or get someone’s attention.  Same with food at the outside bistro.  Once you ordered food it got there fairly quickly, but you had to work to get it sometimes.

One of the couples did the $300 romantic dinner which included Surf/Turf Steak/Lobster which they said was excellent.

At the end of the day the value was still amazing.  Once we back out our scuba costs which we used credits for the bulk of it, it was a great deal and we’d gladly stay there again.  We know how to work the system now. We know when we need to be at dinner to not have to be on a wait list, and how to get someone’s attention.  Every one of the staff that we interacted with was great.  Martha the sitter took good care of Matthew and he eventually knew . just about everyone that worked there.

The Diving:  I would rate the actual dive staff a 10 out of 10.  They really took care of you on the boat.  From helping with your gear to the dive masters being super attentive.  The went out of their way to help Tammy who was 6 weeks from having a knee replaced.  From making her transition to and from the boat as easy as possible to getting her in and out of the boat after dives.

The boat itself was very clean and well maintained.  They provided towels, bottled water, and fruit between dives during the surface interval.

Some of the drift dives were a bit ‘exciting’, like hopping in the fast lane of the freeway with no way to get off.  We’ll eventually get used to it but some of the currents were pretty aggressive for our newbie dive status.

Palancar Caves, Palancar Reef, Paradise Reef, Chankanaab Reef were all amazing calm dives.

While we will look at other options on the island, we’d would definitely stay at Cozumel Palace again if the right opportunity were to present itself.

 

 

Coffee, this aint no game.

Yes, we love our coffee we’ve loved our Krups coffee maker.  Actually we’ve had quite a few of them and I wrote about that here.

Since the last couple of repairs making one good Krups out of two, we’ve been looking for the next replacement.  We located what we wanted and just waited for the right deal.  We got that deal this weekend (Black Friday) on a refurbished unit from Seattle Coffee Gear with a 2 year warranty.

The Saeco Moltio Carafe HD8869/47 Superautomatic Espresso Machine

Removable Bean Hopper – Removable bean hoppers make it easy to clean and swap out beans. (Comes with two hoppers so we can now have decaf)
Double Thermoblock – Dedicated steam and brew thermoblocks offer unbeatable on-demand heat.
Removable Milk Carafe – A refrigerator-ready milk carafe makes it easy to store milk when not in use.
Ceramic Burrs – Heat-resistant ceramic helps preserve the delicate aromatics of espresso beans.
Pre-aroma – Programmable pre-infusion helps to reduce channeling and improves shot-to-shot consistency. < This sounds like marketing nonsense.
Programmable – Set and save your ideal drink temperature, coffee dosing and water to milk ratio.

All the things we wished about in the Krups, with a removable, washable brew unit and a few other upgrades.

It’s very early in, we ordered this as a co-Christmas gift.  It arrived today and of course we needed to set it up and make sure it worked.  It does. No point in putting it away until Christmas.

BMW Take 2

So after the 335i debacle, I still needed to upgrade my ride. The new role at Juniper has me spending way too much time in the car between Cincinnati, Louisville, Lexington, Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland.  The RX8, as awesome as it is, just isn’t a highway road warrior car.  I need comfort and quiet so that I can continue to live on the phone an in conference calls while I drive around.

During the debacle I got to drive relatively new Honda loaner and I just wasn’t impressed.  I had also test driven a few other cars and just couldn’t shake the feeling I got in the BMW so we started looking around.

As much as I loved the performance associated with the twin-turbo 335i, we decided to take a different approach. We lucked into a pretty good deal on an older and larger 528i.

2008 BMW 528i

No Turbos, just a regularly aspirated straight 6.  *most* of the bells and whistles.  The bluetooth integration works well. The nav is old and crusty and non-updatable because it’s DVD driven, and  it doesn’t even have heated seats.  Who orders a car without heated seats these days?  It’s had most of the normal BMW leaks fixed recently and the stealership just put brakes all the way around and new shoes too.  So it’s likely I can drive this for 2-3 years and flip it without having to buy brakes and tires.

It’s a quality long distance commute vehicle. I’ll report back on any maintenance that’s required.  We’ll see how much the Bring More Wallet adage is true.  So far it gets a smooth 30MPG on the highway so that’s a significant boost.  I can get from Dayton to Louisville to Columbus on a single tank.   That I like.

More as it develops.

Scuba Cayman – May 2017 Trip

Claudine and I had been planning to get our SCUBA certification for a while.  In the fall of 2016 we booked our classes with Scuba Unlimited.  Our plan was to do all the prerequisite work here but do the open water certification somewhere warm.  Grand Cayman to be exact.

So basically, for my 50th birthday that’s exactly what we did. We did the classwork and pool work in November and December of 2016 and the open water work over the week of May 13th through 20th, 2017.

We booked a condo for a week in Grand Cayman at Seven Mile Beach Resort with some friends (the same one’s who recommended Scuba Unlimited) who have a time share there and who has been spending a week on Grand Cayman since the early 90’s.

The flight down was anti-climactic.  Since we’re staying for a week and everything is expensive on Cayman we brought a suitcase full of food at the suggestion of the folks we’re going with.  (Sandwich fixings, meat, some steaks to grill, etc, etc.) So that we can cook our own breakfast and lunch, and have a cookout once or twice.  We also brought 4 bottles of wine (4x 750ml).  We also each brought a liter of liquor from the Duty Free.  Claudine a bottle of Vodka, and I opted for a bottle of Kraken rum.  For those doing the math, you can see that’s too much.  You’re allowed 1 liter of liquor per person, or 5 liters of wine, but not both which was a misunderstanding on our part at the time.

During the immigration/customs shakedown we disclosed that we had some FDA approved meat, which they wanted to see. Upon inspecting the meats they discovered the wine.  We had declared the 2 liters of Vodka and Rum but totally disregarded the wine.  Customs wasn’t happy with that and we were now treated like world class smugglers. In the end it cost us $12 duty.  Not the end of the world[tm].

We rented a car from Andy’s Car Rental who matched a budget price, it was $89 US for the whole week.  The car was a midsize, which in the US is a sub-compact.  I’d do that again, I’d think.

On the way to check in we stopped at the grocery and picked up all the other things we needed but didn’t bring.  Condiments and the like, we also discovered, outside of alcohol, food prices weren’t all that outrageous so we’ll not be bringing a suitcase full of food next time.

The condo was great, two bedrooms, nice living area, on the first floor, thanks to our Hosts.  About a half a block walk to the beach.

We arrived on a Saturday, with time to settle in and get a little beach time.  We would spend the next 6 days diving and enjoying the Cayman life.

Basic Dive Log details for each of the dives:

Sunday: Dives 1 and 2 of our 4 Certification Dives.
At the Aquarium (46 ft /41 mins) and Victoria’s Secret (48 ft / 44 mins) Dive sites.  At each of these sites we did skills for the first 20 mins in a sand spot and got to spend the rest of the time enjoying the dive.

Monday: Dives 3 and 4 of our 4 Certification Dives.
At Darvin’s Theory (60 ft / 38 mins) and Spanish Anchor (50 ft /  40 mins) Dive sites. At each of these sites we did skills for the first 20 mins in a sand spot and got to spend the rest of the time enjoying the dive.

(Yea! we’re now certified)

Tuesday: Dives 5, 6, and 7
At Sentinel Rock (80 ft / 28 mins) and Turtle Schooner (39 ft / 42 mins) Dive sites and afternoon at Stingray City (14ft /32 mins).
Sentinel Rock was a little deeper than expected, with our first swim through, completely awesome.  Turtle Schooner was a sweet shallow reef dive.  Our afternoon dive was a shallow dive at Stingray City west where our give master spent time feeding the rays.

Wednesday: Dives 8 and 9
Two short dives at Turtle Reef (60 ft /  45 mins) and (58 ft / 39 mins).
Our first real experience with significant current.  Dive one was a bit tough, dive 2 was better despite the shorter down time.  Spent some time working on buoyancy.

Thursday: Dives 10 and 11
At Slaughterhouse (104 ft / 35 mins) and Anglefish Reef (52 ft / 52 mins) Dive sites.  Slaughterhouse was awesome, deep wall dive with swim through, Anglefish Reef was also amazing, we’re hitting our dive stride now.

Friday: Dives 12 and 13
At Round Rock (100 ft / 35 mins) and Kittewake (61ft / 44 mins) Dive sites. Claudine and I coming through the 100 foot swim through.  I’m behind and below.

We had an amazing week, 2 dives a day on average, looking forward to buying our own regulators and BCD’s.  We ate at some amazing restaurants while we were there.  We also had excellent Snorkeling at the beach at the resort.

Other photos from our trip.

Coffee, we love our coffee, and our KRUPS Bean to Cup.

A few years ago when visiting the company office in Munich Germany I was introduced to this “Bean to Cup” concept that wasn’t a vending machine.  They literally had the same coffee maker.  While I thought the maintenance, and extra work seemed like a little too much to have to deal with every time you wanted a cup of coffee.  I quickly got over it.

Krups bean to cup

When I returned home I started looking at them.

Krups Espresseria  (< $600 now)

$900, $700, are you kidding me? So I turned to ebay, and bought a ‘barely used’ like new model for about $300.  When I told Claudine I had purchased a $300 coffee maker she gave me that look.

The look I had seen once before, when we were first married, over 27 years ago, when I had to explain to her that I spent the rent money on a new camera body. It was not a good look.

Needless to say it didn’t take long to convert her.  This thing makes excellent coffee.  Is it worth over $600? (These are now under that new, because they are a little long in the tooth).  I’d say yes.  Hard to believe but yes.

The red one in the photos is the original used unit that I purchased about 3 years ago.  It has been back to the factory for repairs, twice.  Once for the grinder, and then when we got it back it wasn’t right so we sent it back and the put new brains in it.  It has over 4400 coffee cycles today and had over 3600 when that event happened.

We drink a lot of coffee.  There are at least 4 of us that have multiple cups per day.  Word on the street is that they really only last about 3,000 cycles.  But we’re going strong at over 4400 after the last rebuild.

It is not perfect though, and there are things I’d change and be willing to pay money for.  So if you know of a similar sized unit that has some of these features for less than $2000 let me know.

  • This is a single bean unit.  Which means you can have any flavor coffee you want as long as it’s the kind that’s in the hopper.
    • I’d love a unit that would let me side-load decaf now and then (for guests of course).
    • Or some other flavor, or even pre-ground coffee.
  • The ability to brew more than 10 ounces (a double) in a single button push (actually two button pushes but who’s counting?).
  • Ideally a larger used coffee hopper, since most of the folks in my family are doing double or long coffee’s and you have to empty the thing about every 4 or 5 cups.  (both the drip tray and the grind hopper).
  • Would be nice to have a larger cup area so you could put a tall travel cup.  Today we have to make 2 or 3 coffee’s and dump them in.  Not a deal breaker but would be a nice to have.

This thing get’s two thumbs up from the disher household.