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Sarah C's Site Visit


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#1 Sarah

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    Posted 01 October 2006 - 02:11 PM

    This is a review of our vacation/site visit from Sept 15-22. I know this is REALLY long, so just pick through the topics that interest you and ignore the rest!

    Departure: Detroit (DTW) to SJD by way of Houston International (IAH).
    We arrived at the DTW airport at 4:15 for our 6:20 flight. However, by the time we found a parking spot and got into the actual airport, it was about 4:50. Lesson: leave earlier! Somewhere along the trip from the parking structure to the check in counter, I lost my birth certificate (I of course have put off a passport as long as possible- big mistake!). After nearly having a heart attack, they let me travel using my Voter registration card. Thank God for the wonderful ticket lady at Continental who kept me calm and promised she's get me on my flight somehow. We make it through security with 15 minutes to spare. Houston was easy to navigate, clean, and the people were friendly. SJD airport is much smaller than I expected, and there are two separate buildings/terminals. When we went through international arrivals, the man at the counter wasn't going to let me in without my birth certificate. Freak out time #2 of the day! No, I kept it together, and after some talking he let me through "This is the last time you'll be able to do this". No kidding! I'll have a passport next time!

    Inspections: I know Tammy has talked about this before, but after they scan your luggage, you have to push a button and if the light turns green you get to go through, and if it turns red you get your luggage searched. If you are traveling as a couple or as a group, they will ask you if you are together or separate. Depending on your amount of luggage, you might choose to say either way. However, the group in front of us was a group of about 8 people with about 18 pieces of luggage. They said they were together and their light turned red- so all 8 people and 18 pieces of luggage got searched! Lesson: When traveling in a big group, don't say you are together!

    Rental Car: We had booked a car online with Thrifty for $94 for one week. My credit card includes rental insurance, so I wasn't planning to purchase theirs. The man at the Thrifty counter was very helpful and drew us a map to get us out of the airport without having to stop or be confused by the dozens of timeshare vultures. No problem- we breezed right through the airport and were met by the Thrifty shuttle. At the Thrifty building, we were met by their front desk person who didn't care that I had rental insurance through my credit card. They weren't going to rent me a car unless I bought theirs. We insisted that we weren't going to purchase it, so then he said we could rent the car + $11/day for the liability and they would put a $3000 hold on my credit card- heck no! We were going to walk out when one of the other workers said he used to work for Payless car rental right down the street, and they didn't do a credit card hold, or require you to purchase the insurance. He called the Payless shuttle for us and off we went down the road. By this time we're wondering if everyone is trying to screw us over and what sort of scariness we would encounter at Payless, but figured we didn't have any other option at this point! Thankfully, their rental was as described, and it cost me $97 for one week for an economy car, automatic with air conditioning, no hold on my credit card, no mandatory purchase of insurance. Lesson: Go with Payless- avoid Thrifty!

    Driving: Mexicans drive crazy! Speed limits are merely suggestions- example: the speed limit was 60 km/hr. I was driving 80 km/hr and people were passing me like I was standing still! Just stay in the right lane and let them pass and you'll be fine. Also, take the toll road (highway 1) from the airport to your hotel, rather than the road through San Jose. We did both roads over the course of our trip and the toll road is twice as fast. $2.50 USD and way less traffic.

    Presidente Intercontinental: We stayed at this AI resort for the first 3 days. We were upgraded to an oceanfront room (from a garden view) that was right by the pool and gorgeous. The food there was nothing to get excited about, but Jeff & I aren't picky. Breakfast was awesome, omelets made to order, waffles, pancakes, pastries, and all the other "normal" breakfast stuff. Lunch and dinner were less exciting. They usually had 4 or 5 entree selections at the buffet and a few selections of side dishes. The reviews I read on Trip Advisor really slammed their food- and I can see why. However, we always found something good and never went hungry. The drinks were awesome. The bartenders were super friendly and the waitresses always made sure you had something to drink. We brought 150 $1 bills and burned through about 80 of them in the 3 days we were there. Not as a bribe for service, but because the service was so good we wanted to tip them. They also had 24 hour room service that was really nice at 1 am. The entertainment at night was fun, maybe a little cheesy, but we enjoyed it. The pools were always clean and the grounds very well kept. Avoid the people in the lobby with shirts that say "The Club". It is a timeshare company. Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there and would definitely go back. There was a wide variety of guests, young and old, kids and adults, honeymooners and vacationers. If you want a quiet vacation, this is the place to go. The pool never was packed and you felt like the staff got to know you. This is literally the last resort the farthest north of San jose del Cabo so it's pretty quiet. Definitely a long drive to anywhere you want to go though. They also gave us a late checkout, 2pm. If I didn't have to rate the food, I'd seriously give this place an A or A+, however, because of the food I'd drop it to a B+. We will probably go there again.

    Dreams: We went for our site visit on Sat. the 16th and met with Mariana. The hotel is easy to drive to and I like the fact that they screen who enters at the gate. They radioed in to let Mariana know we were there and confirm our appointment, then let us in. Mariana promptly met us in the lobby and began our tour. She was very friendly and informative. The resort is gorgeous! As soon as we were there, we knew we wanted to get married there. There was such a nice atmosphere and everyone was so friendly. The grounds were well kept and there was no evidence of any damage from the hurricane. That day, they had found out that hurricane Lane was going to miss the Baja peninsula, so they were just putting chairs back out and resuming activities. She showed us the different options for wedding/reception sites and different rooms. We are going to get married at the gazebo with our reception at the Oceana terrace. Mariana was very friendly and accomodating and has thus far answered my emails promptly. We were so sad that we weren't able to stay there during our trip, but they were completely booked. We do plan to go back in Feb or so to finalize plans.

    Riu Palace: We moved from the Presidente to the Riu on Monday, our fourth day. We waited in line for about 30 minutes to check in. We were there at about 2:30 in the afternoon. Once we finally got our room the bellboy helped us take our luggage up. When we got to our room, it was not an oceanview (which we paid for and specifically confirmed at the desk). The bellboy said "It is ocean view" and proceeded to show us how if you went out onto the balcony and leaned over the railing (I'm not kidding!) you could see the ocean. I'm generally not a complainer, but this was not acceptable to me. We went right back down to the desk where we were informed that "all" the rooms are ocean view, just some are better than others. He said they had one more room (on a lower level- 2 rather than 4) that had a better view. We said we'd take it. Thank goodness because about an hour later when we were in the lobby we saw 3 irate couples at the desk trying to get the "ocean view" room they had been promised. A word to the wise- get there early and ask to see your room, or call ahead and specifically mention that you want a center ocean-facing room, not one of the side rooms. Our room still wasn't that great of a view, there was a huge palm tree right in front of our window- but at least we could kinda see the ocean.
    There are lines everywhere at the Riu! You have to wait in a line to eat. You wait in line to make reservations for dinner. You wait in line at the bar to get a drink. You wait in line to get into your dinner even with reservations. If you know this going in (which we did) it's not too much of a problem, just something you need to be aware of.
    The food was amazing. There was unlimited selection for every meal and we couldn't believe the detailed carved fruit and carving stations just for the regular buffets. We liked the buffet so much we only made reservations one night.
    The nightly entertainment was fun. They had dancers, musicians, and games. The servers brought plenty of drinks, it just took a little longer than the last resort we were at. The drinks were good, just not as strong as the Presidente. Also, if you ordered something with a premium liquor, you might not always actually get the premium, even though you could see it at the counter. I never got real Kahlua no matter how many times I asked for it!
    The beach has huge waves, but there were people swimming. My FI went out once and I just waded at the edge and got washed out into the water one time by an extremely large wave. We spent alot of time at the ocean because it was so beautiful and you could actually go in the water. There was a red flag and you weren't supposed to, but many people were anyway.
    There is a concierge in the lobby that will book excursions for you. We utilized his services for booking ATV, Canopy tour and glass bottom boat tour (more about those later). He was very friendly and accessible, and spoke excellent English. Most staff that had contact with the guests spoke pretty good english, but not the housekeeping staff.
    We had about $80 left in tips when we arrived at the Riu, and only used probably $30 of that (1/2 of what we went through at the Presidente). It's not that their service was terrible, it just wasn't that great. We were not unhappy, just didn't feel the need to tip since we didn't feel like anyone actually "tried" to do anything for us.
    The bellboys were always helpful, they always retrieved our car for us quickly and carried our luggage. The bartenders and servers were friendly and fun.
    The pool was a little gross at times. There were many broken and patched tiles around the stairway. There always was a film of sunscreen, etc on the pool. There was tons of sand at the bottom of the pool. THey closed the pool at 7pm (early- we usually weren't ready to get out!) every day to clean, but we never really ever saw anyone cleaning.
    There is definitely a big party atmosphere at the Riu, which we enjoyed. But, we decided that was not what we wanted for our wedding. The grounds, pool, rooms are absolutely beautiful (probably better than Dreams), but we just like the atmosphere at Dreams better. They have wonderful set up options for weddings and events and anyone who gets married there will have a beautiful wedding and a great time, I'm sure.
    Overall B+ (not an A because of the sometimes slow service, room fiasco, and dirty pool!)

    Glass Bottom Boat Tour: Our concierge at the Riu booked us a glass bottom boat tour for $25 each. But, we found out that some people we met while we were there walked 20 minutes down the beach and got a glass bottom taxi for $8 per person. The concierge was going to charge us a $15 cancellation fee that somehow the FI was able to talk him out of. Be careful with booking excursions- the price varies widely depending on where you book it! Also, everything is subject to a little haggling. We ended up with a private glass bottom boat taxi with a driver that spoke excellent english, gave us a wonderful tour and even waited for us while we got off at Lovers Beach to swim for 15 minutes. Definitely worth the 20 minute walk if you're staying at the Riu, or another hotel around Medano beach. A+!

    Costa Azul Canopy Tour: Not for the faint of heart! This is the "zipline" that runs over the Costa Azul arroyo, dozens and sometimes hundreds of feet off the ground. For $77 each, we got picked up at the Riu and taken to the site. You do ave to walk about 15 minutes uphill to get to the start of the tour, then keep walking about 2 minutes uphill to each new zipline. It was VERY hot doing this up in the mountains at noon, but we absolutely loved it. If you have any adventure seekers in your groups, this would be well worth it. http://www.cabosanlu...Canopy-Tour.htm
    At the end of the tour, you can do a tequila tasting (and of course purchase some if you want), and that was fun. They have beer and water available for purchase at the end of the tour, and they supply you with water throughout the tour. Overall: A, very fun!

    Amigo's ATV tour: SO much fun! We booked this through the concierge at the Riu, probably could have gotten a better price elsewhere, but paid $60 each for the ATV's. The bus picks you up and drive you about 45 minutes north, towards La Paz for the tour. They explain the ATV's, give you a little lesson on driving and you are off! We went up the mountains, along the beach and through the desert. You even get to go off on your own for an hour. FI & I own ATV's and are experienced riders, and have ridden in a variety of environments, but this was by far the most fun we've ever had on an ATV. The people in our group who had never ridden before had tons of fun and were easily able to learn how to run the quad. Overall: A+ This was a great value for the money in our opinion. We did the 4:00pm tour, which returned us to our hotel at about 7:30pm (we left at 3:30). So we thought $60 ea for 4 hrs of entertainment was pretty good.

    #2 gkashmira

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      Posted 01 October 2006 - 03:23 PM

      Sarah,

      GREAT! Review! I was especially interested to hear about the Zip Line! I didn't even know they offered this in Caboa nd it's something me and my FI would definitely like to do!

      I also thought your review of Juan was very interesting. I am still not sure if we can afford his services but I am trying to learn as much as possible. So did you have to pay him for his time and then again during 5the wedding? Or was this like a trial run to decide is you want to use him? I'm going to go check out your pictures right now!
      Kashmira & Dan
      Happily married since June 16, 2007
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      Our mini-video: http://www.bajavideo...m/Kash_Dan.html
      Photo slideshow: http://www.tomasbarron.com/recent.php

      #3 Sarah

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        Posted 01 October 2006 - 03:37 PM

        Quote:
        Originally Posted by gkashmira
        So did you have to pay him for his time and then again during 5the wedding? Or was this like a trial run to decide is you want to use him? I'm going to go check out your pictures right now!
        Oh yes, we paid! It was $600 for 1 1/2 hours. This included all the pictures on DVD, no photos printed. He originally would only do two hours for $800, but I was able to talk him into the hour and a half because we're hiring him for 4 hours for the wedding. I've given him my $800 deposit for the wedding.

        #4 SASSYGIRL

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          Posted 01 October 2006 - 03:44 PM

          Great review Sarah!

          I had a similar mixed review of the photographer we used in cabo to take our engagement pictures. He even charged us gas $ to pick us up at our hotel and take us to the beach where he suggested we take our pictures. Not a huge deal but it was kinda weird. In the end we got some great pictures that we will look at forever.

          After looking at your pictures, I can see what you are saying about all the pictures of you alone and none of your fiance. I am still confident in my decision to use Juan based on everyones experience with him. Your review will be helpful to keep in mind so that I can be sure to dirrect him on what shots are importand to us!

          Thanks!
          Sarah's little girl-Isabella Nicole-10/31/08
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          #5 Sarah

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            Posted 01 October 2006 - 03:47 PM

            Quote:
            Originally Posted by SASSYGIRL
            After looking at your pictures, I can see what you are saying about all the pictures of you alone and none of your fiance. I am still confident in my decision to use Juan based on everyones experience with him. Your review will be helpful to keep in mind so that I can be sure to dirrect him on what shots are importand to us!

            Thanks!
            I don't want anyone to get me wrong- I'm very happy with my decision to use Juan, and I love the pics he took. I just am very glad we did this first so I know what I will want to do differently next time. One thing he mentioned to me is that he doesn't want to repeat stuff or have people's pictures look the same. Well, there are many shots of Tammy, Carrie, and other on his website that I LOVE. I told him that I want certain poses that he's already done because of how nice they look.
            I am sure if you go into your wedding with a little direction for him, you will be just fine. He really was a lot of fun to work with, I just wanted to be completely honest about everything in my review- which is why it's in this folder!

            #6 TammyWright

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            Posted 01 October 2006 - 03:59 PM

            Great review Sarah!! it is so awesome you got to experience juan so you can be more firm about what you want from him for the wedding pics. I am sure your will be awesome. Also, make sure to give him time with your groom. I had him take pics of steve and his groomsmen before he came to see me. I absolutely LOVE those pics he took of the guys and am so glad he went down there and did them...because once you get in sight, it will be hard not to make it the "sarah show"...

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            #7 TammyB

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              Posted 02 October 2006 - 09:40 AM

              Thanks for your review, I'll have to keep that in mind when he takes our wedding pictures. I'm still worried that I haven't booked enough time with him. We don't care to have "before pictures" but we also don't want to run out of time.. Maybe I'll add a half hour just to be safe..

              #8 Sarah

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                Posted 02 October 2006 - 09:52 AM

                Quote:
                Originally Posted by host
                Also, make sure to give him time with your groom. I had him take pics of steve and his groomsmen before he came to see me. I absolutely LOVE those pics he took of the guys and am so glad he went down there and did them...because once you get in sight, it will be hard not to make it the "sarah show"...
                Live and learn, you know! I wish I would have specifically asked for more pics of Jeff, but I didn't realize he was taking so many of just me. Selfishly, I don't mind, since a good pic of me is so rare but Jeff wasn't as happy.
                He's fine now, and likes the pictures and is glad we have Juan for the wedding. I love your tips you posted on the other thread. I'm sure that will be very helpful to make sure the wedding pics turn out how I want them. I think with engagement photos, it was hard to know what we wanted until we saw them!

                #9 Sarah

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                  Posted 02 October 2006 - 09:54 AM

                  Quote:
                  Originally Posted by TAMMYM
                  Thanks for your review, I'll have to keep that in mind when he takes our wedding pictures. I'm still worried that I haven't booked enough time with him. We don't care to have "before pictures" but we also don't want to run out of time.. Maybe I'll add a half hour just to be safe..
                  I think it just depends on how many pictures you want to have. He took a total of 240 of us over 1 1/2 hours, there are probably 20 "must haves" out of that 240. Soo, if that's enough for you stick with what you have...maybe he'd let you make that decision on that day, or I don't think you'd be doing too much to add 1/2 hr, especially since you're going to lose some "posing" time because of the ceremony.

                  #10 Janet

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                    Posted 02 October 2006 - 10:17 AM

                    Sarah, thanks so much for this long and very honest review. You two seem like smart travelers who are able to overcome little bumps in the road and still have a great time. And you are so right about the Mexican drivers! Even when you are speeding, they make you feel like a granny driving so slow in the right lane :)




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