Two Dives Down, Two Dives to Go!

img_5870We arrived in Bonaire yesterday after we island hopped from Aruba to Curacao to Bonaire. The flight from Aruba to Curacao was 25 minutes and from Curacao to Bonaire, 12 minutes.  Located in the Netherland Antilles,  Bonaire is part of the Southern Caribbean and is known for it’s incredible scuba diving, windsurfing, and kitesurfing.

We had a great BBQ buffet dinner at the Divi Flamingo Beach Resort and Casino, one of the first properties on the island of Bonaire.  We have set up shop at Captain Don’s Habitat where they call themselves the home of diving freedom.  What makes Bonaire and Captain Don’s so special is that right off the shore there is incredible marine life, so while boat diving is great, you can also go right off the pier of Captain Don’s Habitat.

img_5921Today, I started the part of my confined water certification, which includes four dives in the ocean.  Roger Haug is my instructor and he does a great job teaching the scuba skills and making you feel comfortable and confident from the start.  Bonaire is a great place to learn how to dive because you can go from shallow to as deep as you want in increments right off the shore.

I was excited to use my new equipment from Sherwood Scuba and Henderson, a local New Jersey company that does a great job with their wet suits.  Many of the other divers had Henderson wetsuits as well.  img_6102Sherwood supplied me with my mask, snorkel and fins, as they are a sponsor of DEMA’s “Be a Diver Program.”  The kinesis fins cut the water really well and the frameless mask folds up easily, so it makes for a great second mask.  I can’t believe the variety of fish in size and color, some that can be seen close to the surface.

img_5898Captain Don’s Habitat has a real homey feel with people from all over the world becoming friends as they dive together.  In my certification group there is a mother and daughter from Washington D.C. getting certified together and a 12 year old boy whose parents have been diving for years here in Bonaire.

I can’t wait to finish my last two dives! I’ll officially be a certified scuba diver with the rest of the week to enjoy the beautiful marine life of Bonaire!

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Paradise awaits at the Divi Resorts in Aruba

img_57761After a four hour plane ride from JFK, I was just a 10 minute car ride from paradise.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when we pulled up to the Divi and Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusives.   I’ve been to  a few Caribbean destinations before, but the deep crystal blue water and beautiful beach was a spectacular site to see.  img_5685 Divi has a few properties in Aruba…the two all-inclusives, Divi Aruba and Tamarijn Aruba, and a la carte properties which also offer timeshares at the Divi Phoenix, where rooms include  your own kitchen equipped with everything including a blender for frozen drinks to bring to the beach, the Divi Links which sits on the beautiful 9-hole gold course, and the Divi Dutch Village .   We’re staying at the Divi Aruba and I love the fact that it’s a little more laid back than Tamarijn Aruba, but you have access to all of the restaurants and activities at the Tamarijn Aruba including a children’s camp.  And, get this, if you are traveling with children or teens, they stay and eat free up to 18 years old when traveling with two paying adults!   The properties have a total of 11 restaurants and almost as many bars between them and the food is top notch.  When we first arrived, we were really hungry, so we sat down at the Coco Grill and had some cooked to order thin crusted pizza made in front of you.   img_5779Last night, we had a progressive dinner…an appetizer of sushi, spring rolls, and tempura at Ginger, the Asian restaurant, an appetizer (I had the salad nicoise) at the Red Parrot, the main course at Paparrazi, a delicious Italian restaurant, which serves great fish and pasta dishes, and desert was at the bar/restaurant, Mulligans over at the Links, which is a fun hangout for tourists and locals.  Last night was karaoke night and while it’s been awhile, I did get up and belt one out the best I could!  I love the open air atmosphere at Mulligans.  While it’s inside, it is open around the perimeter and offers an incredible view of the impressive golf course.   Today we had lunch at Purebeach on property at the Divi Phoneix.  The bar/ restaurant is really chic with a lounge type feel of Miami Beach or Ibiza, Spain, with a mix of European and Caribbean music playing in the background.  img_5718Situated right on the beach, you’ll want to kick back with a drink  or enjoy their lunch or dinner menu.  I had  a salad nicoise with fresh seared tuna which was wonderful in taste and presentation.  For dinner, we ate at the romantic, high end restaurant, Windows on Aruba, which is upstairs from Mulligans and offers an even better view of the golf course, which they light up at night in different color lights, making it a gorgeous setting.  The food was phenomenal.  I got the sea bass upon recommendation img_5750and an appetizer of scallops with seaweed salad mangoes.  The vintage wine selection is also expansive with many top of the line wines from which to select.  To set the mood, there is usually a sax or flute player.  The best part about this restaurant, is that for just $30, you can enjoy anything you’d like off the menu if you are staying at one of the all-inclusive properties. img_5761

The Divi and Tamarijn All Inclusives are  low rise buildings which  sit right on the beach if you opt for an ocean view.  I’m sitting here now as the sun goes down, a wedding is taking place in front of me with the gorgeous sunset and waves crashing in the background and the cool wind blowing the brides dress ever so gently.  img_57311Tunes of Louis Armstrong are playing in the background.  I couldn’t ask for anything more peaceful than this.  Earlier today, I had a swedish massage at the Indulgence by the Sea Spa, which was amazing.  It usually takes me awhile to unwind, but the therapist was great and I was in total relaxation mode in just a few minutes.

The two properties offer an array of activities, including kayaking, snorkeling, and a rock climbing wall right on the beach!  As a guest of these resorts, you also can golf for free over at the Links after 2pm, which is a must!  The golf course is really nice and James Kiley, the head golf pro is available for lessons and guidance at the learning center.  He’ll videotape your swing  and then give you tips for improving your form.  The golf shop offers stylish apparel for men and women.  img_57081And ladies, if you want your man to actually spend some time with you on the trip, you’ll be happy to know it is just a 9 hole course! There is a casino within just a few minutes next door to the Divi Aruba which is always a must stop to see if the slots will be good to me.  Sorry to say they were not tonight, but the casino had a fun vibe.

If you’re looking for an easy escape, definitely think Aruba and the Divi resorts.  Just an easy direct flight and you’ll be soaking up the sun and relaxing on the gorgeous beaches surrounded by swaying palm trees, and all of the food, drinks, activities, and romance you can ask for!  If you’re lucky enough to meet Alex or Marin, the guys who make it all happen, tell them I sent you!  They are so much fun and can definitely offer some great tips on what to do at the resorts and in the area.  Just remember, before you come down to brush up on your papiamento!

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Get Scuba Certified!!!

I am a huge water person…always have been.  I’ve done some introductory scuba diving in Israel where I swam with the dolphins and in Turks and Caicos, but I’m headed to Bonaire in a week, and since they are known as one of the top three places in the world for their marine life, I decided to finally get PADI certified.  www.padi.com I hooked up with DEMA’s (Diving Equipment and Marketing Association) “Be A Diver” program.  You may have seen their 20×40 15,000 gallon mobile pool at various events, fairs, and sports expos around the United States, which allow you to try scuba for the first time.   You can learn more about what they do at www.beadiver.com.

I’ve always talked about getting certified, but for some reason I was little hesitant, maybe because I cut open my foot on some coral during an introductory dive, but I can’t be more thrilled that I finally went for it.  PADI along with The Dive Shop in Cherry Hill is making the process so easy! www.thediveshopnj.com With PADI, you can choose to do the e-learning which takes up some time, but you go at your own pace online.  After each of the five sections, you’ll be given a test to make sure you comprehend everything.  If you get anything wrong, they will give you the opportunity to go back, clarify, and take it again.  There is no failing…they just want to make sure you understand everything for your own safety.

The second component of the certification is your training in the pool.  You can find a local dive shop in your area that runs the classes and instruction.  If you choose not to do the e-learning, they usually hold group classes.  I went to “The Dive Shop” in Cherry Hill for my pool instruction and I have to say, they made my experience phenomenal!  David Barnes was my instructor and not only is he so knowledgeable, but he really makes you feel confident with all of your equipment in the water.  In just two three hour sessions, we were able to go through all of the skills and he always asked if I had any questions and if there was anything I wanted to do over.   Each day I left class, I was so excited that I was one step closer to my certification and that much more psyched for my trip to Bonaire. www.tourismbonaire.com

When it came time to picking out my mask, snorkel, fins, wetsuit, and boots, Arin Centrone, the owner of “The Dive Shop” was so incredibly helpful.  This is all new to me, so of course I had a lot of questions and she went through everything in the store  and explained the differences in the gear.  We also emailed back and forth a bit and any question I had, she or  David was also a huge help in pointing me in the right direction.  I would highly recommend getting your certification there.  They really know their stuff, are so patient, friendly, and excited for you to explore this new world!

For the third and final part of my certification, I’ll be doing four open water dives in beautiful Bonaire! I’ll be sure to tell you all about my adventures  and hopefully get some great pictures and video!

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A True Epicurean Escape

trumbador-small2In just four days, I had the most relaxing and fun filled getaway with delicious food and wine.   What more could you ask for?  The Grand Lido Negril did such a wonderful job with its 10th Annual Epicurean Escape.  I had the opportunity to meet and learn from some of the most world renowned chefs and somelliers.   jamaica-535There is nothing that turns me on more than someone who cooks healthy, and so when  “Rock and Roll Chef” Kerry Simon, a winner on Iron Chef America and owner and chef of restaurants in Las Vegas and LA,  made a delicious raw salad, he had me hooked.  My brother had a pseudo crush on Nikki Cascone, owner and chef at 24 Prince in NYC and a former Top Chef Season 4 contestant , after he experienced her style of healthy cooking and environmental consciousness.   In Jean-Francois Bonnet’s class, we sampled delicious chocolate that he hand crafts at his shop, Tumbador Chocolate, in Brooklyn.   “The Royal Chef” Darren McGrady has been the private chef for Queen of England and Princess Diana and shared his culinary expertise with us as well.  Sommeliers from Las Vegas, California, and Jamaica were also there to share their outstanding knowledge of wine with us and we  definitely benefited from their expertise!

jamaica-327Our days were a great mixture of cooking and wine classes, and activities like kayaking, water ski lessons, snorkeling, pilates and yoga classes, spa treatments on the beach, and parasailing.  Most activities are included with the resort, but if you’d like to go parasailing, you can contact the concierge and they can hook you up with Ray’s Watersports.   You can even renew your vows, as the resort does an outstanding job at creating a romantic ceremony on a beachside gazebo, complete with a terrific minister, champaign, delicious rum cake, and Bob Marley music for the walk down the aisle.

The food was outstanding.  In addition to the formal dinner Saturday night, which featured an eight course meal prepared by the celebrity chefs with well researched (and incredibly rare) wine pairings picked by the sommeliers, the resort’s six restaurants offers a diverse selection.  We ate at the French restaurant, Piacere, where the food was magnificent and the ambiance romantic with  a pianist playing throughout the meal.  Other cuisine specific restaurants include Jamaican, Italian, and Japanese Hibachi.  Even the lamb chops at one of the poolside eateries were delicious!  jamaica-284Every Friday night, the general manager puts together a grand gala featuring over 100 local and international dishes and a room dedicated just to desserts.  Plus, there is a live dance band after dinner to work it all off!

We did head over to Hedonism II for an hour during the day and checked out the Saturday night dance party which was a lot of fun.  If you’re open minded and would like to see what all of the talk and excitement is about, you can purchase a day pass.    When I talked to two couples over there, they told me they had been going there since 1989 a few times a year and have made friends that last a lifetime.

If you are planning a trip for next year, definitely try to make it for this culinary event.   The resort itself is amazing, but couple that with  outstanding meals and wine, and you have the perfect romantic escape!

One Love… from Jamaica!

blog1After just a three and a half hour plane ride from JFK on Jet Blue, we were in beautiful Montego Bay. In the airport, there are lounges for the many resorts in Jamaica including the SuperClubs properties where we quickly dropped our luggage and were taken to a van and transported to Negril, where we checked in to the Grand Lido Negril Resort and Spa, the flagship for the SuperClubs all-inclusive resorts. The resort is extremely romantic, specializing in honeymoons and weddings. There is a two mile stretch of gorgeous white sand beach, two pools, five restaurants, and a fabulous spa which offers complimentary manicures and pedicures. There is also a clothing optional section. Of course as amazing as this is, I am probably the only single woman here and with my brother! Not that I’m not happy he’s here doing my video work with me, but how do I always end up in the most amazing of settings alone or with a relative?!

blog2Since we were pretty tired today, we just drifted away on a raft in the rather calm sea, ate some great Jamaican food and had a few frozen drinks. I love resorts like this because everything is included and you can eat and drink as much as you want and not think about it! Also included are non-motorized water and land sports such as kayaking, snorkeling, windsurfing, tennis and volleyball.

Tonight kicked off the 10th annual Epicurean Escape, which will feature world-renowned chefs and sommeliers such as Darren McGrady, Kerry Simon, and Jason Quinn, giving cooking demonstrations, pastry classes, and tasting seminars devoted to champagne, wine, rum and martinis. This evening featured an array of Jamaican cuisine prepared right on the resort’s beach, and was capped off by a dramatic pirate themed musical, dance, and acrobatic performance.  As the epicurean weekend continues, I’m looking forward to learning a thing or two and trying all of the samples! Plus, if you’ve ever wondered what Hedonism is really like, you can purchase a day pass to the resort which is right next door. After all, I couldn’t come down here without checking it out…of course for the purposes of reporting back to you! blog3

Rum and Fun in Barbados

img_4505_1These past two days in Barbados have been full of adventure and activities I’ve never done before. I hate the feeling, but I find that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a little more frightened when it comes to things I haven’t done before. Maybe it’s the fact that I seem to be very accident prone and the possible consequences are always running through my head, whereas when I was younger, I was more carefree. However, I try not to let the fears get the best of me, and if there is an adventurous activity, especially one that involves the water, I always sign up for that option. 

This morning I took a surf lesson with Melanie Pitcher, who has been surfing for fourteen years and teaches adults and kids of all ages. While I used to lifeguard and be an avid swimmer, I can’t say I’ve ever been on a surfboard, except to paddle out into the bay during one of my lifeguard certification tests, and that was sixteen years ago. I was a bit nervous that the surfboard was going to end up cracking me over the head, but she was a terrific instructor, and I had the option of choosing a softer board, so even when I got pumbled by a gigantic wave, flipping a few times under water, and getting hit in the mouth with the board, it didn’t do any damage. She took us to Freights Bay, Atlantic Shores where there were smaller waves (except for a few)…a perfect spot to learn. While I never managed to totally stand on the board for an extended period of time, and surf, but I got myself standing once for about two seconds. Would I have liked to have been able to do more? Of course. But I was very happy getting a great workout paddling the board over the waves and diving forward (not by choice) off the board more times than I can remember.

img_4609For lunch, we went to a great rum bar, the Fishermans Pub in Speightstown, and had real down home Barbados cooking, including flying fish, fish cakes, a deliciously prepared chicken dish, plantains, sweet potato mash, and cou cou, a popular corn meal and okra dish. Speightstown is a fun little shopping area as well.  

Yesterday, we had a polo lesson with Jeff Evelyn. Barbados is well known for it’s polo, as it’s was introduced in the nineteeth century by the British calgary. Again, I was a bit nervous, as I can’t remember the last time I was on a horse, let alone with a stick in my hand, trying to hit a ball at the same time. Jeff was a great instructor and taught us real methodically. We each had someone guide the horse as we practiced reaching down and hitting the balls. I thought we were going to play a full on game and was wondering if my horse would go crazy and toss me off, but Jeff asurred me it was his daughter’s horse and he would never do that. We actually just spent the time practicing on our own with the guide by our side, which was a great introduction to the game.img_4543

The food has been really phenominal everywhere we’ve eaten, and yesterday, we enjoyed lunch at Whispers, a beautiful restaurant in Bridgetown with huge windows which allows every table to look out in the ocean. Bridgetown is where the cruise ships usually dock and is a great spot for souvenir shopping.
For dinner, we ate at Lonestar, also right on the water. The lobster and prawn salad and the Mahi Mahi with spinach and mash were delicious.

Yesterday afternoon, we went to see the George Washington House, the house he stayed in with his older half brother when he was trying to cure him of tuberculosis, as the island was well known for the treatment of respiratory ailments. It is said that this is the only place George Washington resided outside of the United States. We also visited the Bridgetown Syngagogue and the Nidhe Israel Museum. While restored, the original syngagogue was built in 164 and is recognized as the earliest constructed temple in the western hemisphere. The present Jewish community of Barbados continues to maintain and use the cemetary which surrounds the historic synagogue and the synagogue is open for worship most months out of the year.

Afternoon tea was at the spectacular Crane Resort. We were supposed to stay there, but from what we heard there   img_4594was a major last minute booking, and while I don’t have complete confirmation, we suspect it may have been the “Big O,” as we saw many airforce planes at the airport upon arrival. The beach at the Crane has been named one of the top ten in the world by Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. The sand is actually pink and is the softest on the island. 

If you’re looking for a fun local hangout, check out a fish fry. The big one is at the fishmarket, Oistins, but we went to a local one, half moon fort, which was a lot of fun. For drinks, they’ll give you a bottle of alcohol (usually rum), a soft drink for mixing, and a bucket of ice. Across the street it was kareoke night at St. Elmos, and the talent was quite impressive!

img_4648Tomorrow we’re going to experience the submarine Atlantis, and see all of the wonderful underwater life, which should be a lot of fun! We’re off to dinner now…I’m going to come back five pounds heavier, but it’s all worth it!

Rich History in Barbados

What a fabulous day today in Barbados!  The bed was really comfy last night, so after a good night’s sleep, I went down to the Colony Club’s generous breakfast buffet which consisted of an omelette station, fruit, yogurt parfaits, various fish and breads, and other breakfast standards.  After breakfast, it was off to the Lancaster Great House in St. James.  img_4459_1Under the direction of Roger Chubb and Virginia Trieloff, the exhibitions highlight the best of Barbadian, Caribbean, European and Canadian art and raises money for various Barbadian charities.  While ownership has passed through a few families, there has been a house on this site since the latter part of the Seventeenth Century.  Current exhibitions include Barbadian Furniture from 1680-2009 and Sculpture in the Garden by Jerome Radigois, which is definitely a site to see.  Both will be highlighted until the end of May.  Corrie Scott is a successful artist and well known in Barbados for her magnificent portraits, paintings, and promotion of the arts.  She is very involved with the Lancaster House and takes it upon herself to get the word out to the world of all the various art exhibits, music and theater events.    She works closely with Wendy Kidd, who planned the incredible Holders Festival, which included numerous local and national well-known music acts, as well as artists, jewelers, and craftsmen.

After seeing the Lancaster House, we paid a visit to St. Nicholas Abbey, and took a tour of the plantation and distillery.  This house was bought by Larry Warren in 2006, but still preserves its 350 year history.  The plantation is developing aged rum and is barreled in the finest oak bourbon casks and aged in old stables.  img_4489You can go home with your very Barbados Rum in a personalized etched bottle.  It’s the perfect place to come for an hour or relax for an entire day on their patio, just reading a book and enjoying the cool breeze. 

The food today was fabulous.  For lunch, we were treated to a true Barbadian meal.  But it wasn’t just a meal…it was an experience!  John Chandler and his wife Rain own the Fisherpond Great House, an incredible 350-year old plantation home and have it filled with wonderful antiques.  They also have a spectacular flower garden and make the flower arrangements for many weddings, both at their plantation and elsewhere.  img_4513The brightly colored hibiscus flowers that covered the long wooden dining room table were gorgeous and all of the glasses and silverware were antique.  The meal itself was phenomenal.  We started off with a carrot, pumpkin, ginger soup, then some mango sorbet, and for the main course, a delicious mahi mahi.  John and his wife host Sunday brunches and people can enjoy over 30 traditional food items while sitting outside and enjoying the peaceful setting.

Dinner was at The Cliff, an amazing restaurant, owned and designed by Brian Ward and overlooks the calm Caribbean sea.  img_4526The drink menu was extensive and I enjoyed the first drink on the menu, called the #1, which included dark rum, amaretto, pineapple, coconut, and cherry liquor.  Let’s just say I felt really good after just one!  I started off dinner with a delicious portobello mushroom salad followed by seared tuna and topped it off with a wonderful mix of guava, mango, and rasberry sorbets.  Leave yourself plenty of time at The Cliff, as it is the perfect setting for a relaxing and romantic meal.         

Tomorrow morning, we’ll be getting a polo lesson.  This should be interesting, since I can’t even remember the last time I’ve even been on a horse!

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Welcome to Barbados!

With the past few days of rain in New Jersey, I was really looking forward to my trip to Barbados.  The alarm went off at 3:20am, just two hours after going to bed, but it was all good.  Instead of driving up to the city like I always do, I decided to treat myself to a comfortable limo ride from Ross Limousine.  I was up for about a half an hour before stretching out on their very comfy leather seats and dosing back off to bed.  Jeffrey was right on time, actually a bit early, and was such a gentleman!  He really made my ride very comfortable and convinced me this is the way to go from now on!   

After an easy five hour flight on American Airlines, we were cruising over the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean.  86 degrees and sunny we were told by the captain…nice!  I was waiting at the baggage carousel and my suitcase was laying above all the others, so it was hard to reach.  I tried the first time and couldn’t grab it.  Second time it came around and I triumphantly held tight and pulled it over all the other suitcases.  I think the handle went into my hand and I just remember thinking, ouch, that hurt, but it’s 86 degrees…I’ll be ok!  And then I looked down and saw my left middle finger swelling up instantly and turning purple.   Ok, I guess I caused some damage.  But it can’t be broken…I have surf and polo lessons coming up over the next few days!  So for now, it’s ice, advil, and wrapping. 

After we checked into The Colony Club, we went to dinner at the Fish Pot at Little Good Harbour.  It was such a quaint restaurant right on the water.   As you’re eating dinner in the semi-enclosed area, the open spaces allow you to see and hear the waves of the ocean crashing.  I always love trying new foods, so tonight I tried the conch cakes, alligator skewers, and Barracuda!  The only encounter I’ve had with a barracuda is swimming really fast away from one while snorkeling, but I definitely enjoyed their taste!  

After dinner, it was back to the hotel, with the left hand in a bucket of ice in hopes of getting it healed for surfing this weekend.  I love the shower in my room….so spacious and also doubles as a heart shaped tub.   The room has a great terrace for relaxing and looking up at the stars.  Tomorrow should be a fun day filled with culture, beach, and more great food…stay tuned!

 

Culture and Luxury in the DR

As you know from my last post, I had such a great time in the Dominican Republic. The travelogue from my trip to Santo Domingo and La Romana is up, so check it out to the right.  Enjoy!

A Valentine’s Weekend to Remember

I’m not one to make a big deal out of Valentine’s Day, but the fact that it fell over the President Day weekend this year, made it an appealing time for a quick getaway.  I’m all about spontaneity, so when I was asked a few days before if I was interested in going,  of course I couldn’t say no.

I immediately jumped onto Jet Blue’s website, as they are great with last minute travel.  While their prices go up as it gets closer to the departure date, just like with other airlines, they are usually very fair in the pricing.  They also happen to be my favorite airline because of their in-flight entertainment, spacious legroom, and friendly and accommodating crew.  They also give you little bottles of water instead of pouring you a cup from their big “I don’t know where that water came from” bottle.  The blue chips also beat the mini bag of nuts you usually get, if you’re lucky.  I was excited to see they still had room available on their flight from JFK to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, which was a quick three and a half hour flight.  

We spent one day in Santo Domingo and stayed at the Hilton Santo Domingo, which is the newest hotel in the city.   While the city is not for long trips, it’s nice to see the Colonial Zone and experience the culture and people of Santo Domingo.  

The next day, we transferred to La Romana, two hours from the city.  Tropical Tours provides transfers with vans that can fit up to seven people, so getting around can be fairly easy.  You definitely want to take this option, as driving can get a bit crazy!  Even this girl, who drives all the time in NYC, would have been a bit scared!  

Casa de Campo in La Romana is an incredible resort, and while it caters to families, if you are going as a couple, you will never feel overwhelmed by the children.   Since the resort is so huge, they give everyone their own personalized golf cart so you can get to the marina, beach, shooting center, horseback riding stables, or incredible spa.  There is a beautiful part of the resort, Altos de Chavon which consists of cobblestone streets, quaint shops and boutiques, phenomenal restaurants, an amphitheater and disco.  The resort also works with Scuba Fun, a local diving and snorkeling company that takes you out on their various sized boats to the gorgeous nearby islands where you can see some very colorful fish, huge sting rays, and starfish.  My only wish is that we had more time to check out all of the fun activities and amenities.  Stop  back soon to read more about my trip in my travelogue, and in the meantime, if you’re thinking about a quick getaway, think about the Dominican Republic.