Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – A Tropical Paradise Vacation

Warm ocean breezes, pure white sand, swaying palm trees and waves crashing against the shore all await you in the Dominican Republic.

I recently visited the Dominican Republic for the fourth time. My husband and I like it there so much we keep going back every year in December right before Christmas. Right before the Christmas holiday is a great time to go because it is less expensive and less crowded. For us December is also the time when we are already sick and tired of the cold New England weather and need to get away to warm sun rays. (We are definitely not cold weather people).

Every time we fly down to the DR we leave from JFK in New York City. It is a short plane ride (about 3 1/2 hours). We fly directly to the airport in Punta Cana. Punta Cana has a great airport. It is privately owned and is very easy to navigate. Everything is written in Spanish and English. It is very clean. The bathrooms are so clean it is almost like you are in someone’s home. It is also easy to navigate through immigration in customs.

Punta Cana Airport Dominican Republic
Airport in Punta Cana is all decked out for the holidays.

Each time we have visited Punta Cana we have stayed Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana. It is all-inclusive and you literally do not have to worry about anything while you are there. The resort is only a 20 minute shuttle ride from the airport. I highly recommend staying in Punta Cana because the resorts are close to the airport and it is easy to take a shuttle back and forth. You can add on the shuttle when you book your vacation online. I have used different websites to book our trips to the DR, but I have found that www.cheapcaribbean.com has the lowest rates for flight, resort and airport transportation.

Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana
We really like staying at the Dreams resort. When you arrive they treat you like family. The first thing the workers say upon your arrival is “Welcome home family!” While you stay they treat you exactly like family. We are always greeted with a wet, fresh towel infused with lavender and drinks (usually champagne). On our last trip we arrived earlier than we expected (we didn’t have a wait through customs or immigration and our shuttle ride was ready right when we landed). Despite arriving before check-in the resort workers were able to get us our room early.

When staying at a Dreams Resort you are given the option of saying in a regular suite or a Preferred Club Suite. Always stay Preferred Club! The upgrade doesn’t cost that much more. On our last trip it was $25 more per night. The upgrade room gets you upgraded amenities including a room with either an ocean or pool view.  You get turn-down service at night, upgraded mini bar (everything is already included), access to two lounges with TVs, bars and food all day (one is for families and the other is for adults only). You also gain access to Preferred only pools. There are adult only and family pools for those staying in the Preferred Club suites. In addition to these upgrades you also gain additional access to poolside food service and drinks, your own section of the beach where you get beachside food and drink service and access to additional restaurants for breakfast and lunch. It is well worth the extra money. For me it was a must because you also get to use the business center in the Preferred Club lounge – which I needed for work while I was away.

Preferred Club Lounge Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana
Preferred Club Lounge in Punta Cana.

At Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana we have stayed in rooms with an ocean view and rooms with a pool view. Either room has a beautiful view from it. Rooms include a terrace or patio and large bathrooms. We have stayed in rooms with Jacuzzi tubs and rooms with giant walk-in showers. I prefer the giant walk-in showers with two rain shower heads.

The rooms also have a mini-fridge that is filled up daily (all included), a sitting area and outside sitting area. The best part from the room is the view. See the video below.

The beach is very relaxing if you stay away from the people trying to sell to you. The resort does give permits to certain “vendors” who will try to sell to you on the beach. The best way to avoid these individuals (trust me, you want to, they will not take no for an answer) is to sit further away from the water and not make eye contact. We did this and were able to avoid the vendors and relax.

Punta Cana is located on the Atlantic Ocean, so usually when we have visited the water was too cold to go swimming in. On our last trip there was also a lot of seaweed. The resort tries their best to clean up the seaweed with a tractor and they also have nets in the water to try to keep the seaweed from reaching the shore. Below is a video that shows what the beach looks like in Punta Cana.

At the Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana there are also several pools to relax in. Our favorite one is the Preferred Club adult’s only pool. This pool is quiet, always has plenty of seats and there are also lounge chairs that sit in the water. My favorite part is the waiters come up to you throughout the day to take your drink and food orders without you having to worry about losing your pool chair.

In addition to spending time by the beach or pool there are plenty of activities to keep you busy at the resort. The resort workers plan different activities each day from movie nights, dance contests, Spanish lessons, dance lessons, live music, aerobic classes and more. If you don’t want to get involved in a group activity, there are plenty of other activities to do too, including volleyball, tennis, board games, windsurfing, kayaking, hobie cats, snorkeling and more.

Besides taking time to relax and take part in all the activities you never go hungry while staying at the resort. Because it is all-inclusive all meals, drinks and snacks are included with your stay. You literally do not need to spend any money if you do not want to when you arrive at the resort. Room service is available 24/7 so even if you are hungry at 3 a.m. you can get food. For breakfast you can eat at the buffet, which has everything from pancakes, omelets, traditional Dominican food, pastries, bacon, cheeses, sausage, etc. Those staying in a Preferred Club suite can go to the sit down restaurant Seaside Grill for breakfast as well.

For lunch you can eat by the pool or beach (if you stay Preferred), at the Barefoot Grill on the beach, which has things like hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries and nachos. Or you can go to the buffet which will have a variety of pizzas, salads, Dominican food, Mexican food, Italian food and also American favorites.

Beach Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana Resort

Dinner is when you really get to try a variety of foods. The buffet is also always open for dinner, but why eat at the buffet when you can try other sit down restaurants? You have the following options:

Bordeaux – a restaurant with gourmet French cuisine
El Patio – an authentic Mexican restaurant – they even have a mariachi band play throughout your dinner.
Himitsu – a pan-Asian restaurant
Portofino – serving gourmet Italian cuisine
Seaside Grill – featuring grilled food (steaks and seafood)

Besides the restaurants there are also three different bars to visit at night. After dinner we liked visiting the Coco Cafe for coffee con leche (coffee with milk) and a pastry or going to one of the bars for a tropical drink.

The one extra we always pay for when we visit is massages at the spa. When booking at Cheap Caribbean they have always given us coupons to use at the resort. We usually get $40 off each massage. It is worth paying the extra. We have always opted for the 50 minute Swedish Massages. Every time they have been relaxing and the tension and stress melted away. After your massage you get to relax in the spa pool/hot tub area. On our last trip we spent over two hours in this area relaxing. The have lounge chairs to relax on next to a mini waterfall. There are also three different pools to go in. One is ice cold, which is used to close your pores. There is one that is slightly warm and then there is a hot tub pool. You are supposed to go from the hot to the slightly warm to finally the cold. The cold however is just too cold! I forced myself to try it out, but it felt like walking into a pool of ice cubes.

We usually go for four days. After everything (flight (Jet Blue – even more room seats), transportation, resort stay (with all our food, drinks and activities) and drive to airport in NYC) we pay a about $950 per person. I think it is a pretty great deal for a few days in paradise.

For more information on Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana visit here.

Things to Avoid While Visiting Dominican Republic

When visiting another country there are always things you need to avoid and things you need to do to stay safe. When you get off the plane and out of customs/immigration you will be approached by people who want to help you. Avoid these individuals. They will try to take your bags and they are looking for a tip. Go straight to ground transportation (you will see the signs) and find the company you purchased your shuttle from.

You will be given a time from your shuttle person with information that says you need to see someone the following morning to find out the return shuttle information. Don’t go at this time. The person will be in the lobby all day. They are attempting to get you to attend a sales pitch to go on outside excursions. The sales pitch will last up to 1/2 hour and they will make you wait to find out your return shuttle information.

I don’t recommend going to the excursions. Some of the places the excursions are located are far from the resort and safety can be iffy. If you are looking to just relax you have everything you need at the resort without spending this extra money and taking the risk.

You will be hit up with one more sales pitch when you arrive. After arrival and check-in you will be introduced to the concierge. He or she will try to get you to sign-up to attend a special breakfast the following morning. This special breakfast is also a sales pitch. They will be trying to sell you a time share. We did this once. They got us to go because they promised it wouldn’t last more than an hour and we would get $100 for the spa. We wasted three hours during this sales pitch that we could have spent relaxing at the pool or beach. Avoid it – tell them you are not interested, but thank you.

Also, I previously mentioned avoid the people trying to sell to you on the beach. They will try to sell you everything from cigars, excursions, clothing, souvenirs, etc. On our last trip someone even had a monkey they were trying to get people to take photos with (which really annoyed me because I wanted to free the monkey). Avoid eye contact and if you have to talk to someone and they ask you to buy something just say no thank you and that you left your money in your room. Once they know you do not have money they will leave you alone.

If you do want to buy souvenirs there are stores at the resort, however the cheapest place to buy your souvenirs is the airport.

Other Videos my husband took:

This first one is the takeoff from the airport in Punta Cana.

View of the beach at Dreams Palm Beach Punta Cana with Louis’ commentary.

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I’m in Love with Burt’s Bees New Eye Makeup Products

Note: I am not getting paid for this review – this is all based on my experience that I decided to share with others.

I am allergic to so many things, including most beauty products, soaps, shampoos, lotions, etc. One manufacturer I have found that I do not have any issues with is Burt’s Bees. I have been using their products for almost 15 years now and continue to try every new product they come out with. What first thing that enticed me about Burt’s Bees was the fact the majority of their products are 100% (to almost 100%) all natural. I also like that the company does not test on animals. Animal testing is a hot button issue with me and I try my best to stick to products that do not test on animals whenever possible.

Burt’s Bees came out with a new line of makeup this year. In the past the company has been known for their lotions, soaps, lip balm, lipsticks and cleansers. I have been having issues with my usual eye make-up and I was very excited when I saw Burt’s came out with an entire line of eye makeup.

I have been using Burt’s Bees eye liner, mascara and eye shadow for a few weeks now and love the products. I haven’t had any allergic reactions when putting on this make-up like I have with other products. The eye liner goes on very smoothly as does the eye shadow. There have been other eye shadows that I have used that seem cakey, however this is not the case with the Burt’s Bees product. The colors go on very smoothly almost like you are painting your eye lids. It blends very well and lasts. The mascara wand takes out any excess mascara when applying to your eyelashes so you don’t get giant clumps and it dries very quickly so there isn’t any smudging.

The eye shadow comes in four different sets – shades include: Blooming Desert, Shimmering Nudes, Countryside Lavender and Dusky Woods. According to Burt’s Bees, the eye shadows are 100% natural and are made with bamboo, honey and Vitamin E.

The mascara product comes in Classic Black or Black Brown. The mascara is also 100% natural and is made from a formula of Jojoba Oil and naturally moisturizing Glycerin.

The eye liner comes in three shades – Soft Black, Warm Brown and Midnight Gray.  It is 99.9% natural and is responsibly sourced from cedar wood.

Has anyone else tried out this new line? What has your experience been like? Leave your comments below.

14 Ideas to Decorate with Succulent Plants for Christmas

Succulent plants are very easy to grow and require very little care. The best part when it comes to the Christmas season is most succulents are green, which are great when you are trying to create unique holiday decorations. Below are 14 different ideas for using succulent plants to create Christmas decor. You can use real succulents or opt to use fake ones. These ideas make great decorations and there are even some ideas I have included that make great gifts (especially for co-workers or your kid’s teachers).

  1.  Succulent Christmas Tree Decoration succulent1Source

2. Santa Mug Succulent Decoration succulent2.jpg
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3. Succulent Holiday Wreath succulent 3
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4. Succulent Glass Christmas Tree Ornament succulent4.jpg
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5. Succulent Christmas Kissing Ball succulent 5.JPG
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6. White Birch Succulent Gifts

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7. Succulent Candle Centerpiece Wreath succulent 7.jpg
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8. Succulent Christmas Treesucculent 8 .jpg
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9. Candle Holiday Succulent Centerpiecesucculent 9
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10. Succulent Winter Table Centerpiece succulent 10
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11. Succulent Reindeer Wreath succulent 11.jpg
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12. Succulent Centerpiece with Lightssucculent 12.jpg
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13. Succulents, Berries and Evergreens Arrangement succulent 13.jpg
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14. Merry Christmas Succulent Planter Box

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OrnamentShop.com 960x150

Easy to Make Sparkly Starfish Christmas Ornaments

These starfish ornaments are really easy to make and add sparkle to any Christmas tree.

The first thing you need is starfish. I prefer to use fake ones. You can purchase them at your local craft store or you can find a wide variety of sizes on Amazon. I usually make these in batches. They make great Christmas gifts or they are a fun craft to do with the kiddos.

starfish.jpg

Step one is to layout some newspaper on your work area to avoid making a mess.

You will now layout the starfish you plan on decorating. You should then coat each starfish with a coating of glitter glue. You can pick whatever color your prefer. I like using gold or silver because it matches almost everything on the tree. You can basically get glitter glue anywhere from the Dollar Store, Walmart, crafts stores or online. I like the variety pack available on Amazon.

glitter glue

Make sure to smooth out the glue with a paint brush so that it doesn’t dry clumpy on the starfish.

After the glitter glue dries you can now add the rhinestones. Pick any color your like for your rhinestones. You can even put a variety of colors. I really like this grouping of stones you can purchase on Amazon that has 20 different colors and over 3,000 pieces.

Even though these gemstones are self adhesive, it is best to adhere each piece to the starfish with a jewelry glue to ensure they stick.

If you want the gemstones to dry fast you can use a hairdryer to speed up the process.

The last piece is to add a string or rope to the starfish to hang on the tree. I used metallic cord tinsel string, however you can use any type of string, rope or ribbon you like.

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The final step is to attach your string with glue from a glue gun.

Then your starfish ornament is complete!  Enjoy!

starfish


BettysAttic.com

 

Remodel Your Entire Kitchen for Under $8,000

One of the most expensive things you remodel in your home is your kitchen. Some people spend upwards to over $50,000 on a kitchen remodel. Even if you walk into the kitchen department at the home improvement store they are going to try to tell you it will cost $6,000 to $10,000 just for cabinets (on the low-end). Trust me, these are all lies you are told to get you to spend more money than you need to for your remodel. With some research and pricing around you can get a dream kitchen for under $8,000. We recently did this in our flip house remodel and the kitchen came out amazing. I love it so much I wish we were moving into the home.

Remodeled kitchen
After photo of the new kitchen.

We started out by checking out the cabinets at our local home improvement stores – Lowes and Home Depot. It turned out Home Depot had the better deal. At our Home Depot (not sure if all of them do this) if you buy 10 or more cabinets you get a 10% discount off your total cabinet order. We decided to go with the white Madison style cabinets they have in-stock at the store. We did not get any special orders and only used the ones that were in stock. If we didn’t, it could take up to several weeks to get the out-of-stock cabinets to the store. We brought out kitchen dimensions to the store and the cabinet sales associate was able to create a kitchen with their computer program with all in-stock cabinets based on our dimensions. The cabinets came to approximately $2,000. We also ordered our granite countertops from the store. They tried to up sell us and tell us that we needed to pay an extra $20 per square foot to have it specially sealed. Then after talking to the sale’s associate we found out you can seal the counter yourself with a spray they sell at the store for under $20 to seal the entire thing! The counters cost more than the cabinets and came to approximately $2,400.

We were able to take the cabinets home the next day (they needed a day to pull all the cabinets down for us). The counters are a different store. The company that installs them isn’t Home Depot. It is another company that has a contract with Home Depot. It took about one week for this company to come and measure the counters after we had the cabinets installed. Then it took another two weeks for the counters to be installed.

cabinets in truck bed
All of the cabinets are loaded onto our truck ready to head to their new home!

It took about three weeks to do the entire kitchen from top to bottom (including demolition of the old kitchen.) If you have a really old kitchen demolition may take you awhile. It took us a couple days to completely demo our kitchen because there were 60 plus years of flooring to remove! The cabinets we had were custom-made into the walls, so we had to remove them and level out the floor where they had been. We also opted to open up the entry from the kitchen into the living room. There was a very small opening beforehand (remember, this house was built in the 1950s, before the idea of open concept). We opened it up to about a 10 foot opening and now the living room and kitchen flow well together.

After demolition it was time to install the cabinets. We opted to hire someone to install the cabinets based off the design plan (created for free) at Home Depot. We found someone that installed them for $500. The counters were installed by the manufacturer and it was included in the $40 per square foot price of the granite.

We also added knobs and drawer pulls to the cabinets. They had some really nice ones at Home Depot, however they were $5-$10 per knob and I knew I could get a better deal online. I ended up getting 20 knobs for under $20 on Amazon and they were the same style we saw in the store.

For flooring we went with laminate Lifeproof plank flooring that looks just like hardwood, but it is better. This floor is amazing! It really is lifeproof – waterproof, scratchproof, dentproof, stainproof! (I tested it out, it does work!) The flooring was $2.77 per square foot and we installed it ourselves in one afternoon. We also purchased this at Home Depot.

I also went shopping on Amazon for the light fixtures in the kitchen. There are so many lighting options for kitchens and the prices range from anywhere from $20 to hundreds of dollars.

I picked out a really cool blown-glass pendent light to put over the kitchen sink. This cost me $25.  I found a three light pendent light for where the kitchen table would go.

The last fixture was a ceiling fan with lights, which I picked up at Walmart for $50.

Lastly, we added remote control operated lighting under the cabinets for $15. We picked those up at Lowes.

For appliances I waited until there was a holiday sale. We just so happened to need appliances right around Labor Day when the stores are fighting with each other for who can get the best prices on appliances. I managed to get 40% of the stove, microwave and dishwasher.

We also left space for some open-shelving in the kitchen. We found some unique rustic shelves at Hobby Lobby.

The final touch was the paint on the walls. I used a Chic Gray on the dining area accent wall and the rest of the walls were painted with a light gray that is called Silent White. Both are produced by Behr.

After everything was tallied up (including labor and supplies) it cost us a little less than $8,000 for the entire kitchen remodel. We now have a modern kitchen with stainless appliances that is bright and open.

With some time, and doing a lot of the work yourself, you too could create a dream kitchen for yourself. Now I just need to convince my husband we need a kitchen like this in our house too!

Get a before the remodel tour of the flip house here.


How to Update Your Fireplace for Under $50

Have a fireplace in your home that when you look at it you feel like you jumped back to 1975 or earlier? Tried of seeing this fireplace? If you answered yes to any of these questions you can easily give your fireplace a makeover without breaking the bank. All it takes is some time, patience and paint!

Before photo of fireplace
Before the update the fireplace wall was stuck in the 1970s.

We recently bought a house that was built in 1955. The living room looked like it was still in 1955. The fireplace wall had pine wood paneling, the mantle was also pine, the fireplace doors were bright gold and the hearth had a thick flagstone.

Before fireplace update.

I decided the living room was too dark with all of this wood and stone. It needed an update to 2018. The easiest and most cost effective way to do this was going to be with paint!

The first thing I did was remove the fireplace doors. These got sanded with steel wool and then spray painted with a black, heat resistant spray paint.

The pine wood paneling wall got sanded. There was a polyurethane coat on the wood. The same coating was on the mantle as well. After both were sanded they  received a coating of stain Kiltz to prevent the dark wood from coming through when I went to paint with the final colors.

I decided to paint the wall panels a light gray – this particular paint color was called chic gray from Behr. I purchased the paint at Home Depot. I made sure to use painter’s tape on the mantle first to prevent bleed through or any mistake paint strokes from hitting the mantle. After painting the wall and letting it dry I pulled off the painter’s tape off the mantle and then taped the wall to prevent the white paint I planned on painting the mantle hitting the wall.

After the mantle paint dried I then taped the mantle yet again so I could use the chic gray paint to cover the red bricks.

Finally, the flagstone on the floor got coated with a white paint.

For everything I painted I needed to do two coats to prevent any bleed through from showing.

The finishing touch was placing the fireplace doors back on and giving them a nice clean with window cleaner.

After Photo of Fireplace Update
After photo of the fireplace and wall.

Although it was very time consuming to do this update (I think I spent a lot of time waiting for paint to literally dry for this project), the finished product came out great and it cost me under $50 to update. The paint that I did have to buy I used for other walls/projects in the house.

Now the living room finally looks like it stepped into the 21st Century!

Shoreline Flippers Tackle Challenge of Clogged Toilet in Flip House

One of the challenges of purchasing a foreclosure property to flip is the condition the previous homeowners leave the home. The house we are currently flipping had a bathroom that was left with a clogged toilet. Watch as we tackle this toilet – will we be able to unclog it or will we be over our heads in toilet water?

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Also check out the first episode of Shoreline Flips

Shoreline Flips – Join us on our journey as we flip a ranch-style shoreline home

Welcome to our journey as we flip a shoreline home in Connecticut. Not only will Beach Expressions continue to provide you with content and products related to beach decor, cooking, travel, gardening and more, we are also launching a series of home flips, which we are dubbing Shoreline Flips.

We finalized the purchase of a shoreline house this week. The home was a foreclosure auction sale that we won about a month ago. It took the lawyers approximately a month to get the paperwork together for us to purchase the home.

This is my first flip house, however my husband has been flipping houses for over 20 years and has flipped more than 30 homes.

For me the process so far has been exciting and stressful at the same time. We purchased a bank-owned property, which can be filled with unexpected surprises. Usually with a bank-owned property you don’t get the option for an inspection. You can sometimes get an inspection, but almost always the bank will not provide any concessions, so you buy the property as-is.

The house we purchased is a ranch built in 1955. To us it is a gem in the rough. It has a newer roof, new mechanicals, siding, central air, new heating system and newer windows. These are all major expenses that potential buyers don’t really notice when they are looking to see how pretty the house is, but all of these types of updates are very expensive.

Right now the house isn’t pretty—it needs a makeover. The kitchen is original from 1955. The house needs a paint makeover, the bathrooms need to be updated with new toilets and vanities. The fireplace wall looks like you jumped back into the 1970s with wood paneling.

Downstairs is a full accessory apartment, which also needs a makeover. We are going to pull out the carpeting and ceiling tiles. There is a small kitchen that needs to be replaced and the bathroom needs an update. It is very dark in the basement. One of the reasons why it looks so dark is because the walls are painted a dark maroon. We are going to work to make this lower-level space lighter, brighter and more inviting to potential buyers.

Everything outside of the house is overgrown. We are going to need to hire a landscaper to cut down all the weeds and pull out all the trees that have started to grow in the garden beds next to the house. The trees on the property also need to be pruned. The driveway has also seen better days so this will need to be torn up and replaced as well.

Over the next month I will be posting weekly updates. You will get a chance to see each room transform. Click on the video below to get a tour of the house from my husband Louis before we start #demoday.

Also below are photos of the house before we started. Make sure to follow our blog to get our next update as we will be working on the kitchen first.

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