Like this? Share it!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Travel Review: Grand Memories Varadero


My family and I had the fortunate opportunity of traveling to Varadero, Cuba in April 2016.  I won a trip courtesy of FamilyTravelCA and Sunwing Vacations.  Although we received our trip free, the opinions in this post are all mine, and some my family wanted to share as well.

We flew with Sunwing direct from Fredericton, New Brunswick, to Varadero, Cuba.  The ability to take a direct flight from a local airport was so convenient.  No airport transfers to deal with, and no long distance to drive to board our flight.

When we boarded our flight, my daughter received a Sunwing bag with some crayons, colouring page and an inflatable beach ball.  Each child on the flight received one.  My daughter was so excited to get hers, she put her stuffed animal right inside.


Our Sunwing flight featured sparkling wine, a new movie (Creed was the selection on our trip down), a meal, and beverages.  A great way to start our vacation!

Upon landing in Cuba, once we got through security, we exited the airport to find a Sunwing Representative to directed us to our bus to make our way to the resort. 

After a bus ride of less than an hour, we arrived at the Grand Memories Varadero.  We were greeted by a beautiful lobby and helpful staff.





The check-in process was quick, and we were on a trolley on our way to our room very shortly after.  Once we arrived in our room, we were very quickly asleep, but in the morning, woke to this view:


Not a bad way to start the day, right?

Next, it was off to the buffet.


So many choices every day - from pancakes, French Toast, omelettes, bacon, fruit, yogurt and more.

After breakfast, we made our way around the resort to see what there was to offer.  First, we found the "quiet pool", a beautiful and serene setting with a zero entry pool and a waterfall.  A great place to relax!


There was another pool at the resort that was a little more active.  This pool had several sections including a smaller kid's pool (not very deep), a shallow section for loungers to be put in the water for a cool rest, and a swim-up bar.  








This pool is very active with activities happening at most hours of the day.  There are plenty of "full sun" areas, but equally as many shaded areas.  The schedule can be found just outside the buffet - it includes the activities for both the pool and beach:



Next to the pool is a fantastic snack bar where you can get snacks 24 hours a day.  The pizza was my daughter's favourite.  I really liked the French Fries.


For lunch and supper, the buffet featured a wide range of foods such as pasta, hamburgers, french fries, potatoes, vegetables, fruit, chicken, pork, beef, shrimp and even lobster on some nights.  My daughter is a very picky eater and she never had trouble finding something to eat.  Rest assured that none of us lost any weight on this trip.

The evening featured shows in the very large theater, close to the buffet.  There is a bar at the rear of the theater for your refreshments, and the shows were lively and fun.  This was one of my daughter's favourite things to do at the property.  As an added bonus, for kids involved in the Kids Club, they often put on a show just prior to the main show for the evening.  This Kids Club Show was a highlight to the vacation for my daughter.  She couldn't wait to perform each day.

The fabulous dancers!

And then there's the beach.  Anyone who has ever been to Varadero knows how beautiful the beaches are, and the Beach at Grand Memories is no exception.  Gorgeous clear water, and even warmer than the pool!  Always busy and lots of activities happening.


When I told my daughter I was writing this post she wanted me to make sure I mentioned the Kids Club.  There is a building next to the "activity pool" that has a playground and a very shallow "baby pool".  This is the Kids Club.  Each day there are activities planned for kids to participate in.  Some inside the building, and some outside.  The activities range from arts and crafts, to sand castle building at the beach, swimming, games and shows, and even visits from Toopy and Binoo and the Berenstain Bears!


The schedule posted outside the Kids Club


And, as mentioned above, the kids have the opportunity to participate in a little evening show, which they practise for each afternoon.  

The staff at the kids club were so friendly and welcoming.  They would often walk around the pool to recruit kids for their programs.  My daughter has said that she can't wait to head back to Grand Memories to play at the Kids Club again.

Don't forget to take some time to head off resort as well to take in the sights and sounds of Cuba.  We actually were able to pre-purchase a trip in to Havana while on our plane ride down to Cuba.  This day-trip was a long one with lots of walking, so be prepared for that, but we had lots to see and the tour guide was very informative.






The weather was gorgeous, people were very helpful and hospitable, and the accommodations were great!

Our trip home was comfortable and included a movie, beverages and food.  The Sunwing crew was happy to answer any questions, and prepared us well for arriving back in Canada by providing the proper customs forms and answering any questions we had.

Overall this was a fantastic experience.  We look forward to heading to Grand Memories again, and we will definitely be travelling with Sunwing in the future!



Friday, May 6, 2016

How Does She Do It?



Yes, the age old question that we sometimes ask ourselves, or even ask out loud.  I've thought it, you've thought it, we've all thought it at some point: "How does she do it?"

I know the term "mommy wars" gets a lot of press these days, and before you tune out because you've heard enough about mommy wars.... this post is not about that.  I think that as much as we talk about moms tearing each other down, sometimes, or even frequently, we can be our own worst critic.

I thought about this the other day, a friend of mine said to me "I don't know how you do it, working full time, going to school, busy mom.....  I could never handle all of that".  It made me smile, because just says before, I was thinking the same about her: mom of 2, busy job, busy social life, I don't know how she does it.

I think we all have moments when we think to ourselves "I don't know what I'm doing", or feel frustrated or overwhelmed.  And while we all have those moments, I think we also are far too critical of ourselves for having those moments.

I think it's great to recognize other great moms that you know in your life.  Know someone that's doing a great job?  Fantastic!  It's great to have good moms and friends.  Just remember, you are a great mom too.  We're all just doing the best we can for our kids.  We may all have different methods of getting there, but ultimately, we're all just trying to do right by our children.

All of this to say, take a breath, take a bow, take a moment for yourself.... and pat yourself on the back, mom, you're doing a good job.


Friday, March 18, 2016

L'Oréal Hydra Total-5 Ultra Even - Product Review

I was fortunate enough to have been selected to try L'Oréal's Hydra Total-5 Ultra Even products as part of Influenster.  I received the products free to try.  The opinions are all my own.

I'm going to start by saying, I came in to this with no skin care regimen.  I mean, none.  I very rarely wear makeup, but when I do, I typically take it off with soap and water (gasp).  The only products I really use on my face are sunscreen, and the odd moisturizer if I notice my skin is looking dry.   I'm what you call low maintenance.... probably too low, but I digress.

L'Oréal's Hydra Total-5 Ultra Even products offer a 3 step skin care regimen: 1 - cleanse; 2 - tone; 3 - care.   I received 4 products in my box: scrub/exfoliant, toner, ultra-even lotion and ultra-even moisturizer.

You can check out my "unboxing" here:




Here is my "before" picture.  No make-up, and right before I used the scrub, toner and moisturizer for the first time:


So I started the regimen right away.  Beginning with the scrub.  There are small little "beads" within the scrub, which you feel as you massage it over your face.  The smell of this scrub is very enjoyable, a citrus scent.  You can feel the scrub working as there is a tingle as you massage.

Once finished with the scrub I moved on the toner.  A little bit on a cotton ball, and dabbed around your face.  No real scent to this product, and didn't feel too much when I was putting it on, it was like dabbing water on my face.

Finally, the Ultra-Even moisturizer.  I took a little too much my first time around, you only need a little to cover your whole face, so don't go crazy.  Again, no real scent, nice cool and smooth. 

Almost immediately I could notice a difference in my face.  This picture was taken right after the first use:


I continued to use these products for 3 weeks.  I will admit that I was not always vigilant to use it twice a day, every day - sometimes it was once a day, and I did miss a day here and there.  But generally I did the routine in the morning when I woke up, and before bed at night.  I usually used the lotion in the morning, and moisturizer at night.

My skin looks and feels noticeably different.  In my opinion, my skin looks more radiant.  My skin was typically prone to dry patches - patches of skin that were dry and flaky, very noticeable when wearing any kind of foundation.  With these products that has been reduced drastically.

I went back to my original photo location so you could see the difference in my skin - again, no makeup in this picture, this is a photo taken at the end of the day:




Overall, I love these products.  I have to say that my favourite products of the 4 were the scrub and the lotion.  The best part - a little bit of each product goes a long way, so you don't go through them very quickly!

Thank you to Influenster and L'Oréal for the opportunity to try these products out!  #5Works #BeyondHydration

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Disney on a Budget 2016 - Part 3

Welcome back to my tips for traveling to Disney on a Budget.  Just a quick mention once again that my tips from my previous two posts can also help with travel to other areas as well, but given that these are the tips I've used myself when booking Disney, I've kept to that theme.  

Missed the first two installments?  Check them out here:  Part 1 - Click here; Part 2 - Click here.


Today's post will be more specific to Disney/Orlando Parks.  We're going chat today about park tickets.


When looking for deals on park tickets, there are some discounts to be had, but beware of "deep discounts".  If you've ever driven around Orlando, you may have seen a number of places that offer tickets for ridiculously low prices.  These places are "buyer beware" - my recommendation is to always buy from an authorized ticket vendor.  Some examples of authorized vendors include Undercover Tourist, Kissimmee Guest Services and even WalMart.   There are a number of hotels that are authorized dealers too, but always watch for that claim, if they aren't authorized, you're taking a big risk.

Tickets are a often a significant financial investment in your trip, so make sure you take steps to ensure you aren't getting scammed.

No matter which parks you're considering going to, the multi-day tickets offer the better deals, however, if you are considering more than one park, it can get costly.  I recommend having an honest discussion with your family about what your "must dos" are.

Also keep an eye on price increases.  Disney has periodic price increases, and there is often a little bit of warning prior to the price increase.  If you know you're going, it's common sense, buy before the increase.  Once the increase happens, sometimes websites from authorized dealers will continue to sell at the previous prices until their stock is sold.  

Also watch for deals on authorized seller sites.  We've been able to purchase tickets to Universal that gave us 3 days for the price of two, and I've also seen Disney tickets selling 5 days for the price of 4.

One tip we came across - 1 and 2 day Disney tickets tend to be cheaper at the gate, but depending on the time of year and the time of day, the lines can be long.

All of this to say, we've found some good deals on Undercover Tourist and Kissimmee Guest Services.  They both also offer some additional tips and information on their websites, so they are very useful tools!



Good luck with your planning!

Have your own tips?  Share in the comments!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Disney on a Budget 2016 - Part 2

Welcome back!  As I've said before, there's nothing I love talking about more than travel.  Particularly Disney travel!  Started Part 1 of this post with tips on accommodations and rental cars.  Missed that post?  Check it out here: http://www.overtiredmama.com/2016/02/disney-on-budget-2016-part-1.html

In today's post, I'm going to discuss airline tickets.

My daughter on the airplane.


Airfare is always a challenge.   Not everyone likes to hunt for good airfare prices, but I actually do!  So the tips I'm going to share are from my own experience.  You may have a different experience or different tips, so please feel free to share your comments!

I'm a "plan ahead" kind of person.  With airfare, there is such a thing as booking too soon.  Generally, with my accommodations, I have booked as far out as a year.  It's not always necessary to book that far in advance, depending on the property you're planning on staying at.  With the first rental property we stayed at, a rental in a quiet neighbourhood (check it out here: http://www.overtiredmama.com/2014/11/planning-our-florida-vacation-part-1.html ), it was necessary to book that far in advance because the property is very popular and books early, but the property we stayed at this year, which I found on Vacation Rental by Owner, we booked about 4 months out.

For airfare, prices are pretty high a year out.  So unless the airline you plan to use has made some announcement about an increase in fares coming, I probably wouldn't book that far out.  There is an exception.  If you plan to travel during major holidays (ex - Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc), prices tend to stay high during these periods, and this is a busy travel time.  There are always exceptions, but it's best to book earlier for these types of travel dates.

The other thing I noticed, in my own experience, is that even if your travel dates are not during a holiday, if you are booking your travel just prior to a holiday, prices can be higher.  Just as an example, we were looking at flight prices just prior to American Thanksgiving, for travel in March, and when I checked again the week following the holiday, prices were almost $200 cheaper.

I found the "sweet spot" (meaning the prices being best) to be about 8 to 10 weeks out.  I also am big on subscribing to airline and travel site emails, as they will notify you if a particular promotion is happening.  The other thing I have found is that airlines tend to have the best prices on their own website.  While, again, there are some exceptions, I do find the airlines to have better prices than "discount travel" sites.   Also, pay attention to "price guarantees".  Sometimes airlines or other travel sites will guarantee you the best price, and if you find a better price they will refund you the difference.  Read the small print though, there is often a lot of proof required to claim the refund.

You may also want to consider discount airlines or alternate airports.  you have to decide what is a "must have" for you.

Discount airlines are often cheaper, but sometimes use "secondary" airports, and don't have a lot of "bells and whistles", so lack of in-flight entertainment or food are some examples.

When considering an alternate airport, there are a few things to consider.  How much further is this "alternate airport" from your "home airport"?  Will it require an overnight stay?  A lot more gas?  Will you have to pay for parking for the duration of your trip?  And how valuable is your time?  These are all costs of selecting an alternative airport.

Consider my own example.  Our home airport is Saint John, New Brunswick.  I looked at flying from Fredericton, New Brunswick (1 hour away), Moncton, New Brunswick (2 hours away), Halifax, Nova Scotia (4 hours away), Bangor, Maine (3 hours away), and Portland, Maine (6 hours away).
Flights out of Fredericton and Moncton were very similar to the price from Saint John, so they were ruled out right away.  The flight from Halifax was $50 cheaper, but considering the distance, we would have spent that in gas, and would have had to stay over the night before, so that was ruled out.
With the exchange rage, the flight from Bangor was the same price, so it was ruled out, and the flight from Portland, with exchange, was about 100 cheaper, but would have required a lengthy drive and hotel stays.  So we stayed with our home airport.

That being said, we have selected alternate airports before, prices will differ all the time.

You can also fly in to alternate airports.  In the case of Orlando, there are two airports, Orlando International and Sanford.  Not all airlines fly in to both, so be aware of where you are flying in to.  And if you are renting a car, be sure you're renting at the correct airport.

So those are my airfare tips.  Have some tips of your own?  Feel free to share in the comments!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

World Cancer Day

I had originally planned to write a post today about saving money on travel, but given that it's World Cancer Day, and cancer is a cause close to my heart, I thought I would share my experience in hopes of raising some awareness.

As a young adult, still pretty fresh from my university studies, I took a job with the Canadian Cancer Society.  My dad had worked in non-profit my whole life, and that was an area of interest for me, so it seemed meant to be.  Little did I know how much this work would affect me.

Growing up, I knew that my dad's parents had both succumbed to cancer before I was born.  And I knew of other family friends, acquaintances and members of my own extended family that had their own cancer experiences.  I knew, even at  a young age, that cancer affects many.

When I began working at the Canadian Cancer Society, I knew that 2 out of 5 people would be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.  I knew that it also meant that each diagnosis was life changing for those diagnosed, as well as their friends and family.

I worked for the Canadian Cancer Society for just under 9 years, and in that time I met so many amazing people - cancer survivors, family members impacted by cancer, widows/widowers, and amazing volunteers passionate about the cause.   I also got to see the impact of the work we did:  children with cancer experiences that were able to attend summer camp, people who were able to receive emotional support from the one-on-one peer support program, people who received financial assistance with their travel costs for treatment, the years of advocacy work that resulted in things like the Smoke Free Public Places act and flavoured tobacco bans.... to name a few.

But nothing reminded me more of why I was working for this organization than when my own father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013.  This diagnosis came as a shock to all of us.  My dad lived for 18 months after his diagnosis.



The loss of my father was devastating, and I miss him every day.  

Unfortunately, my story is not unique.  Cancer affects many and will continue to affect many.  But in saying that, we have come a long way from where we were even 30 years ago.  Survival rates get better, treatments become more precise, and new discoveries are made.

This June I will participate, once again, in the Canadian Cancer Society's Relay for Life.  This uplifting event connects me with others and gives me hope for the future.

On this World Cancer Day, I encourage others to get involved in the cancer cause.  There are so many ways you can be involved, whether it be participating in your local cancer fundraiser, cutting your hair and donating it to have wigs made for people with cancer, contacting your government officials to encourage them to implement healthy public policies, or even just taking charge of your own health.  

Monitoring your own body and reporting any changes to your own health, participating in the screening programs available in your own area, being physically active, being a non-smoker (or quitting smoking), protecting your skin from harmful UV rays and maintaining a healthy diet are all some examples of ways you can take your health in to your own hands.

Let's work together to raise awareness!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Disney on a Budget 2016 - Part 1

Yes, I've written a post about heading to Disney on a budget before, but I thought I would post an updated version.  Why?  Because I love Disney!


We've traveled to Florida for the last few years.  When I told friends we were heading back to Florida this year, they asked how we could do it with the Canadian dollar being so low.  There are a few things to keep in mind: 1 - We save hard, we don't travel any other time of the year, we save for this trip the whole year.  2 - We limit gift giving (Christmas/birthdays, etc) in favour of this - I love the idea of giving "experiences" instead of "stuff".  We've embraced this concept wholeheartedly.

When we started our trip planning, we began by identifying a few different vacation destinations, and I kept a running spreadsheet, and compared prices between all of them.  

One piece of my planning that I found very helpful was signing up for travel alert emails.  Some people find this annoying because you get emails, a lot.  The advantage is that I often got emails about some great sales and promotions.  I wound up securing a flight for a great price because of one of these promotional emails - a week later the very same flight I booked was selling for double!

We have always stayed offsite when we travel to Disney.  The downside?  No Disney transportation, and it often means you have to rent a vehicle.  But there are many positives.

First advantage, price.  Depending on where you stay, the savings can be significant.  When deciding where to stay, there are a few things to consider - your group size, distance from the parks, and the types of facilities you're looking for in a property.

There are lots of hotels that offer shuttles, water parks, and other fun features.  There are condos/villas that have similar features.  Or you may even want to consider renting a house/villa that isn't attached to a resort.  We have done both resort and non-resort properties.  

If you like privacy, non-resort properties offer the most privacy - usually private pools/spas, but it also means that you're entirely on your own - no business center, staff to offer directions, etc.



Resort stays can still be pretty private, but usually mean sharing pools, etc.



We love both, but you need to decide what works best for you.

When searching for properties, we've used Vacation Rental By Owner, but you can also take your chances doing just a general internet search.  You can also find some properties on sites like Expedia.

My tips for finding a good property?  READ THE REVIEWS!  I can't stress that enough.  Pay attention to what people complain about - paint colour?  Not a big deal.  Mold or bugs?  Bigger issue.  If there are no reviews, you're taking a gamble.

As for rental cars, book as close to your trip as possible - the closer you get to your trip, generally, the cheaper the rental price.  However, if you are renting during a busy season - like Christmas - and if you need a specific type of vehicle, book earlier.  A simple internet search can usually help you find some good coupon codes for major rental companies too.  Beware of the small print!  If you and your spouse plan to share driving duties, look for the fine print - additional driver charges can be substantial.  Some companies, like Budget (at the time of publication) do not charge for spouses as an additional driver.  Also be sure that you know your insurance options - do you have insurance through your credit card?  Does your regular car insurance have a provision for additional coverage for a rental?  All things to consider beforehand.

I have many more tips to share, so I will post Part 2 soon, but in the meantime, have your own tips to share?  Post them in the comments!  I may share some of your suggestions in my upcoming post!