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Fun For All in Punta Cana

All I can say – “Who is up for the same thing next year?”

Shelley and I just returned from a 7 day all inclusive (adults only) trip to The Grand Palladium Punta Cana Resort and Spa in the Dominican Republic. Under the auspice of our 10th wedding anniversary, Shelley and I decided to treat ourselves to some rest, relaxation, and of course libations!

Back in May we started talking about what we should do this year considering it was our 10th year married (13 years together). Last year for our 9th we had a great time in Chicago over a long weekend. We decided that we needed to step it up a notch. A cruise? Europe? Nope…Punta Cana it will be! We also concluded that it would definitely be more fun if we could get some other couples to join in on the excursion. We floated the idea to a number of friends and two other couples were up for the sun and fun. The Robertson’s (Tina and John) and the Noltings (Andy and Stacy) were both quick to agree to joining in on the adult vacation coup.

This was our first trip to Punta Cana and it came highly recommended by Stacy and Andy that had visited twice previously. The trip we picked was a full inclusive package (flight, hotel, food and adult beverages included) purchased through Apple Vacations – departing from Cincinnati with a direct flight to Punta Cana. It ran July 26th through August 2nd. The picture shown here was our first picture as we set foot into the Punta Cana airport. Look how nice everyone looked. :)

Group shot on arrival at Punta Cana airport.
 

Property – The resort was quite large once we got a chance to explore the whole property. It was made up of three different hotels – Grand Palladium Palace, Grand Palladium Punta Cana, and Grand Palladium Bavaro. All restaurants, shops, pools, and amenities where shared and included in the package. You had your pick of 4 pools, 10 bars, and 9 restaurants within the walls of this resort. Here is a picture of some of the grounds as we walked around. The grounds were nicely kept and included tremendous amounts of tropical vegetation.

Overview of Grounds
 

Grand Palladium resort grounds
 

Grand Palladium Resort grounds
 

View from building 4000
 

Rooms –  The rooms in the Punta Cana were nice and clean and included all of the needed essentials. Our hotel was the smallest of the three, but was the most convenient to the beach. Shelley and I decided to opt for the Junior Suite (see below)…best view in the building (end view and next to beach), but turned out to be a mixed blessing. It was a larger room and had three exterior walls – that made for a warmer room in general. This would be our only complaint regarding the whole experience. Note to self ~ “interior rooms are cooler and darker”.

Junior Suite
 

Food – The food was plentiful and spectacular. We ate at a mixture of buffets and À la carte restaurants. The consensus for the group favorite had to be the Italian restaurant (Mare Nostrum), but all of them had something that everyone could enjoy. I included this shot of one of the buffets because Andy fell in the love with the turkey carving station on the last night’s meal.

Buffets
 

Bars – As described above, you had a wide selection of water holes throughout the complex. Given our location and desire not to unnecessarily walk to far to get our “drunk on”, we mostly gravitated to the Macao Bar. It was located right off the our hotel lobby. It was only 30 yards away from our building 4000. That also meant we could exert the least amount of effort after consuming some of the local beverages. I would have to say the most popular drink consumed by the guys was the only beer available throughout the property – El Presidente. The ladies gravitated more towards the rum or vodka infused juices or “slushies”. During one of our early drinking sessions, we befriended a server by the name of Margarita. She had the nicest personality and was always smiling. From that point on, we went out of our way to end each day drinking, laughing, and communicating (any way we could) with Maragrita.

Hanging at the lobby bar
 

Margarita, Chris, and Shelley
 

Excursions – We booked two different “off property” excursions. One half day trip to Marinarium (snorkeling) and the other full day adventure to Saona Island (boat cruise and dancing). Marinarium was a pretty standard snorkeling trip with the highlight occurring at the end when we got the opportunity to swim with sting rays and nurse sharks. It was quite eerie at first considering these animals are quite large and intimidating, but after a while it was clear that you had nothing to worry about. The Saona Island trip was significantly more enjoyable. The trip does require travel by bus from Punta Cana to the small fishing town where you have to board power boat to reach the island. Once on land, it is clear why this island was discovered by Christopher Columbus, in May 1494 on his way to the Americas. It is simply beautiful and relaxing. We ate, danced, and swam in the ocean until it was time to leave. The remainder of the trip was a leisurely cruise aboard a “party” catamaran. We danced some more while consuming much of the local beverages. I have attached some pictures from the Saona Island trip given that we haven’t developed the underwater camera pictures yet from Marinarium.

On the way to Saona Island
 

Andy striking a provocative pose on the catamaran ride back from Saona Island
 

Group shot on catamaran from Saona Island
 

Shelley and Chris enjoying the catamaran ride back from Saona Island
 

Entertainment – The resort had two different outdoor theaters with nightly shows. The shows would rotate between each of the venues such that each side of the resort would have the opportunity to see every show. Saturday and Sunday were both crowd participation activities that were centered around slap-stick comedy at the guest’s expense. The other nights were mostly musical impersonation shows. One night was all Michael Jackson and was well done. Another night was a mixture of famous acts like Queen, MC Hammer, Madonna, etc… We enjoyed them all.

Conclusions – The first sentence should paint a clear impression of our trip to Punta Cana. Everyone agreed that we would return to the same resort without hesitation. Not withstanding some minor issues (as discussed), the fun and enjoyment was quite abundant. Most importantly, the ability to reconnect with our spouses and friends was an excellent byproduct of the trip. After 10 years of marriage and kids, it is easy to loose ourselves in the day to day grind and forget about what made us who we are. Love, fun, and sun for us all!!!

Glacier National Park

I was in Spokane this week attending a meeting at Itron headquarters. A few of us decided to head into Montana (4 hour drive) to visit Glacier National Park in Northwest Montana. It is another breathtaking national park that I will recommend to anyone looking for an all inspiring trip. We left early Friday morning and headed towards the park. We checked into the McDonald Lake Lodge and then did a quick hike on Avalanche Lake trail.

Avalanche Lake Trail: It was a nice 1.9 mile trail and ended up at a lake that is created by snow melt. Avalanche Lake has an exit that runs down toward McDonald Lake. As shown below, the water is running with considerable force and has cut trough solid rock. Really cool color that is created by pulverized rock minerals.

The next morning we got moving early and headed over Logan pass to the Many Glacier area. About 9:30am we started a 4.9 mile hike into Iceberg Lake.

Iceberg Lake Trial: This trail starts at Swiftcurrent and leads you 4.9 miles Northwest heading towards the Ptarmanigan Wall. I’m not sure of the change in altitude during the hike, but it was quite gradual. The weather could not have been better. 60-70F during the accent and 70-80F during our travels back. The total round trip travel time was approximately 5.5 hours. As you can see by the pictures below, the views are incredible and well worth the effort.

After the Iceberg hike, we hopped in the car and drove back to Spokane.

Avalanche Lake. Melting snow above cascading down multiple place to feed lake.Avalanche Lake. Melting snow above cascading down multiple place to feed lake.
 
Exit stream from Avalanche LakeExit stream from Avalanche Lake
 
View into Iceberg Lake. Walls are approximately 2000' high.View into Iceberg Lake. Walls are approximately 2000′ high.
 
Iceberg LakeIceberg Lake
 
Nice flower and peak in backgroundNice flower and peak in background
 
Young buck decides he wants to walk the trail. He passes us and continues on along the trail.Young buck decides he wants to walk the trail. He passes us and continues on along the trail.
 
Random girl decides to wade out and stand on ice block.Random girl decides to wade out and stand on ice block.
 

Stars Wars Weekend

We went to Disney’s Hollywood Studios yesterday to take part in the Star Wars weekend. It was a surprise for Eli and this video shows his reaction as we pulled up to the entrance. Here are some other candid shots from the day. You can check the full album here.

Eli posing with a Clone Trooper.Eli posing with a Clone Trooper.
 
Eli and Natalie in front of Muppet Vision 3DEli and Natalie in front of Muppet Vision 3D
 
Wykles with Sulley and Mike.Wykles with Sulley and Mike.
 
Natalie, Eli, Nagi & JPop with Sulley and MikeNatalie, Eli, Nagi & JPop with Sulley and Mike
 

Trip from HELL!

It has taken me 24+ hours to recover and get up enough gumption to write about the Wykle’s most recent road trip to visit Nagi and JPop in Orlando.

June 11 – We started the day off like a well oiled machine. Everyone was up and ready for our early start and left the house by 5 AM. This would clearly allow us to make it to Orlando by 7 PM. Everyone piled in the car and off we went down interstate 75 heading south. Shelley, Natalie, and Eli where all snuggled up in their blankets sleeping away while I was focused on navigating the sparse traffic until the sun broke the horizon. About 1-1/2 into the predicted 14 hour trip, a loud “POP!” broke the drone of the grooved pavement. Quickly the sinking “thmp thmp thmp” sound echoed through the cabin. FLAT TIRE! I jumped out and swapped the donut for the flat with a 3″ gash in the middle of the tread. This isn’t starting off to a good start.

Given that it was only 6:30AM it was obvious that it was going to be hard to find a tire repair shop. We decided to keep heading south on the donut and look for a Walmart later in the morning. We sped along keeping our eyes pealed once the clock hit 8. We found a Walmart Super Center in Knoxville that would be our savior. 45 minutes later we had a new Goodyear and upbeat spirits.

$105

Fast froward 11 hours…

The GPS was reading only 65 miles left to salvation. Then it happened at 70 miles an hour. The van lurched and then the engine revved. I quickly noticed white smoke coming from under the hood. I quickly pulled the van onto the shoulder and rolled to a stop. Upon lifting the hood, white smoke bellowed from the engine compartment. Their were signs of liquid all over the right hand side of the engine. Something had given way and spewed liquid and then quickly turned to steam under the heat. We made a few calls and decided to try and make it to the next exit only a 1 mile away. The van started right up and made it to the exit. After talking with a few of the locals, we landed in a Wendy’s parking lot with a toe truck on the way. Nagi met us and we loaded what we could into her van and then had the car hauled to Blount Honda in Leesburg. The whole ordeal ended when we pulled into 380 Hamocks Dune Place at 10:45PM. 17:45 minutes after the start of our trip.

June 12 – We just received a call from the service manager at Blount Honda. “Full transmission failure” is the diagnostic code that has been determined from the “all knowing” computer. The only option at this point is to put a new rebuilt transmission into the 2004 Honda Odyssey with only 80K miles.

$4,600

You can guess how this news was received. Holy S#$T and we will not have a van until next Wednesday. We are going to be stranded and out nearly $5,000!

The real shame in this whole fiasco is my utter disappointment in Honda’s failure with this van. This was the 4th Honda that Shelley and I have owned over the years. Up until now all of the vehicles have been worry free and only require PM and the scheduled maintenance. I have 165K on my 2001 Accord and we also got 190K out of another 1990 Accord. We pay more for Honda’s because we expect more. I will now have to seriously think about our next purchase given our new found experience with Honda.

This last picture says it all.

Kid melt down after 17 hours and a broken van.Kid melt down after 17 hours and a broken van.
 

Mama Didn’t Raise No Chickens!

Just made our first trip of the season to Kings Island. It was a momentous day for both Natalie and Eli. Natalie has finally broken the 48″ barrier and is able to ride most attractions (except for inverted things) at the park. Eli also achieved the 40″ mark meaning he could also move up out of the “so called” kiddie rides.

We started the day with the Fairly Odd Coaster (a.k.a The Beastie). This would be Eli’s first venture onto a “big kid” ride. He was apprehensive at first, but hung in there and loved the experience. You can see the video of the ride here. He smiled after the first big drop and wanted to go again!

Natalie also cut her teeth today by riding one of the scariest rides in the whole park. As we walked around looking at all of the ride height requirements, she noticed that she was tall enough for the Drop Tower (a.k.a The Drop Zone). When Shelley asked if she wanted to ride it, she had no hesitations…YES! Luckily, I had to stay back and chaperon Eli while we waited. You can see the whole video here.

Natalie continued to break new ground throughout the park. She rode Drop Tower, The Beast, Flight Deck, and Viking Fury. Eli also rode most everything that he was big enough to ride – Viking Fury was the biggest feat next to the Fairly Odd coaster.

Needless to say…Shelley and I both are quite impressed with both of the kids. They were both riding things that we would have never attempted at their ages (or even older). They both seem to have a fearless streak in them.

The Grand Canyon

I was in Phoenix this week attending the American Gas Association trade show for work. After I could take no more of the classes and demonstrations, a group (Nicole, Scott, and I) decided to make a run to the Grand Canyon. On Thursday morning we got up at 5:00 AM (8 EST) and left for the Canyon. It took us a little over a 3.5 hours to get there and the temperature dropped 30 F. The entry point for the Canyon is at 7500 ft and was a little overcast with a fair bit of wind to go along.

All I can say is WOW! Not much can prepare you for the overwhelming size and beauty. The pictures do not do it justice, but I still will post a few here. You can see the album for more.

Neat rock formations.Neat rock formations.
 
Chris grits his teeth...it was 55F with strong winds.Chris grits his teeth…it was 55F with strong winds.
 
See the people...upper left standing on the ledge.See the people…upper left standing on the ledge.
 
Chris, Nicole, and Scott pose for a quick picture.Chris, Nicole, and Scott pose for a quick picture.
 
Nice clouds.Nice clouds.
 

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone! The Wykle family had a relaxed but stormy day. The weather sure took a turn for the worst during the night, but it did not dampen anyones spirits. Rainy and low 50’s was the backdrop for the day.

The day started off with the exchange of cards and home made gifts from Eli and Natalie. Natalie also presented a copy of her class’ Poetry Anthology that has been bound into a book. She proceeded to read her submission titled “The Lollypop”.

Lollypop lollypop
I want a sweet colorful
Lollypop I
Got a Lollypop
I like lollypops
But soon you
Will be gon
But I will
Get anuther
Lollypop I
Love lollypops
Yeah!!!

Shelley also received a bracelet (see below) from the “kids” (a.k.a. daddy). The jury is still out on the bracelet…may need to be exchanged due to the ability to resize. The day was concluded with a nice meal at one of our favorite restaurants (Bone Fish Grill) and desert at Graeters Ice Cream.

Shelley, Eli and Natalie on Mother's Day 2008
 
Chris, Shelley, Eli and Natalie on Mother's Day in front yard.
 

First Big Bike Ride!

A momentous day! Natalie rode her bike WITHOUT the training wheels. She had been playing around for a number of weeks with the trainers raised up about 3″ from the ground. She hounded me all afternoon to remove the trainers…finally I gave in. She was apprehensive at first, but as you can see in the video…she took right off!

However, she got a little full of herself and had a slight accident…just scuffs and scrapes.

First bike riding scuff.First bike riding scuff.
 
First bike riding scuff...closeup.First bike riding scuff…closeup.
 

And She Returns

Super Dad can retire now that Shelley has made it back from her trip to Denmark. As you can see by the photo, the kids were very happy to see her. They insisted on making a welcome home sign. I printed the sign at work and we decorated it the afternoon before she arrived.

Shelley seems finally recovered now that it is Sunday. Friday and Saturday were early nights.

Earthquake in the Midwest

At around 5:30 EST this morning, Shelley and I were awakened by what I thought to be the cats romping and wrestling under the bed. After fully assessing the situation, we quickly realized (after hearing the glasses in the kitchen rattling) that we must have just experience an earthquake.

Holly shit! My first earthquake! I know this isn’t much for people used to this type of activity, but it was quite unnerving for rookies like us.

It was confirmed on the news this morning that a magnitude 5.2 was recorded in southwest Illinois. The origin was 177 miles away. You can see more info on the following government website USGS. Look for the big box in the middle of the country…that’s it. And after further investigation regarding the earthquake potential in our area, I was shocked to find out that there is a considerable fault line that runs throughout the Midwest (see here). You can also find additional information with this informative document.

Update – Another tremor (4.5) was recorded near the same origin at 11:15 this morning. This time I was at work and did not feel the effects.