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margPuerto Vallarta, on the Pacific seacoast in the Mexican state of Jalisco, is famous here as the source of Tequila.

Guadalajara is the capital of the state, but lying inland among mountains, its climate and cuisine are different from that of the coast.

A recent visit to Puerto Vallarta introduced me to some intriguing new culinary delights as well as new spins on familiar favorites.

It also brought a few surprises, for foods with familiar names sometimes turned out to be far different from what I expected.

But you have to get away from the resorts and tourist magnets to find the real food. Fortunately, that’s easy to do, and what you’ll find is inexpensive as well as tasty.

Also note that the food isn’t necessarily very spicy, just flavorful. However, as in other parts of the tropics, hot sauces are popular, and you can spice up the dishes to the level you like. The favorite commercial

As in other parts of the tropics, hot sauces are popular there. The favorite there is Salsa Huichol, which is available in local Mexican markets. It reportedly contains cascabel peppers, cumin, salt and vinegar.

Tapatio is a nickname for the native for natives of Jalisco, but Tapatio hot sauce is made in California by a native of Guadalajara. It appears to contain garlic but not cumin.

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aaCourtesy Sundance Helicopters 1
Courtesy Sundance Helicopters

When visiting Las Vegas there’s no better VIP experience than buzzing the famed strip by helicopter en route to a tour of the Grand Canyon—especially one paired with a champagne picnic in the colossal canyon, itself. And, no company does this better than Sundance Helicopters that for nearly 30 years has been making passengers feel high and mighty in Sin City.

Partner Power

Founded in 1985, Sundance Helicopters is the most experienced tour company in Las Vegas. Its litany of mission critical partnerships is a testament to the company’s sound business practices and aviation expertise. For one, Sundance has the longest standing relationship with the Hualapai Nation Native American Indian Tribe—a partnership that itself extends over 25 years—which has facilitated incredible access to their reservation within the Grand Canyon. Sundance Helicopters is also the partner of choice to assist the U.S. government in military support missions. Additionally, Sundance works with top production companies in the entertainment industry such as Disney, Warner Brothers, the E! television network, and Paramount. However, perhaps the company’s most important partnership is with Air Methods Corporation, making it the world’s largest provider of helicopter tours. With nothing taken for granted, rest assured Sundance Helicopters is at the top of its tour game.

Lounge Lizards

Paramount among the company’s luxe offerings is the VIP Deluxe Grand Canyon Champagne Picnic Tour. This elite experience begins with a complimentary limo pickup from any property on the strip. Tours start early, and there are booking time options available all day long. As would be expected, the sunrise and sunset tours are particularly popular, since the Grand Canyon—unforgettable and magnificent in any moment—is nothing short of awe-inspiring when the rising and setting sun gleams over the majestic terrain.

The limo drops guests off at the revamped Sundance Helicopters terminal—a 13,000 square foot facility complete with a VIP lounge where celebs and other A-listers and high rollers can enjoy added privacy and security as well as charging stations, a patio waiting area and a conference room. Visitors are greeted at the terminal by a walkway shaded with a 25-foot canopy leading into a bustling reception and registration area. A gift shop sells an assortment of apropos keepsakes, including stunning hand-made art and figurines from the Hualapai Nation.

Earth tones and comfortable leather seats set the scene in the adjacent VIP lounge while photographs on display, taken by artist Paul Michael, provide a show-stopping glimpse of the tour ahead, including incredible scenes from both the Grand Canyon and the Las Vegas Strip. A decidedly impressive view from the VIP room is the Sundance helicopters, themselves, which include five new state-of-the-art choppers soon to comprise the entire fleet.

Haute Helicopters

Sundance offers 16 different Grand Canyon tours with its fleet of 25 helicopters. However, the face of that fleet is changing, with five new EC-130T2 helicopters and plans to replace the entire fleet with these sleek new models by 2018. The more technologically-advanced, environmentally-friendly EC-130 provides better performance and more comfort and luxury than its predecessor with features such as ample leg room and leather, energy absorbing, forward facing seats; a Bose sound system; larger, wraparound windows; and air conditioning—a blessing during the blazing summer months. Additionally, while the EC-130 helicopter overall is 23% larger than the older choppers, it is also the quietest aircraft in its class, adhering to or exceeding stringent noise standards.

Aesthetically, the EC-130 is a stunner with a sleek body that gleams with reflective chrome plating, embellished with genuine gold and silver detail. It’s sky bling at its best!

Tour-Tacular

Once everyone is secured on board and headsets are in place on all passengers, the Sundance Helicopter tour is poised for take-off. Once airborne, the first point of interest on the tour is the Hoover Dam, even more impressive from this sky-high vantage point, and then Lake Mead. The headsets play strategically timed and themed music interspersed with an audio recording—available in nine languages—distilling facts and figures about the sights below. The friendly and knowledgeable pilot adds interesting first-person perspective and commentary as well. Passengers really hit pay dirt amid a breathtaking approach to the Grand Canyon, flying above and within the behemoth, beautifully striated stone formations. Like a magic carpet ride, the helicopter ever-so-smoothly descends 3,200 feet to fly passengers over the Colorado River and in between the walls of the Canyon as they’re bathed in the golden light of the desert sun.

Bubbles and Boulders

There is no restaurant on the planet that can compare to a picnic on the floor of the Grand Canyon. While the company offers various picnic options, I basked in the champagne breakfast tour that was simple yet stylish, made all the more delicious by the spectacular surroundings. Various tour groups convene at a picnic site owned and leased to Sundance by the Hualapai Nation. The pilots make an extraordinary effort to respect the land, ensuring no litter is left behind. On the day of my tour the continental breakfast consisted of a blueberry muffin, Nature Valley granola bar, croissant, fresh grapes, orange juice, bottled ice water and champagne for the 21-plus crowd. Amid the splendor that surrounds, photo opps abound and the pilots are perfectly happy to oblige and take pictures of you and your companions in front of the helicopter, stone crests and any other available vista of choice. These are photographs certain to be cherished for a lifetime.

Amazingly, the tour continues to surpass expectations with an after-breakfast flight through the Valley of Fire, Nevada’s oldest and largest state park. The final leg of the helicopter tour is a spin down The Strip itself, impressive and interesting at any time of day. Of course, for those with a burning desire to see The Strip at night, Sundance offers twilight tours as well.

A Fab Finish

With the VIP tour option you can take a complimentary souvenir pre-recorded tour DVD and personal souvenir photograph (taken in front of the helicopter before take-off) home with you. While you’re certainly welcome to take your own pictures and videos, it’s good to have the option of professional quality photographs and video footage.

The tour, which lasts about three and a half hours in total, culminates with complimentary limo service back to your hotel. The current per-person cost for this tour is around $538 and includes all taxes and fees. Considering the high level of service, the exciting ride and the unparalleled scenery sure to leave an indelible mark on your memory as a remarkable life experience, this tour is truly priceless.

aaaaaaMAIN Courtesy Sundance Helicopters sm
Courtesy Sundance Helicopters

“The Luxe List” Executive Editor

marileenMerilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at www.LuxeListReviews.com. Follow her on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***

 

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marriot-las-vegas-1The JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa has done it again.  For the tenth straight year this prodigious property has earned a coveted AAA  4-Diamond Award, further entrenching its position among an elite class of distinguished resorts and hotels that consistently earn top industry honors.

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MAIN-3-Zip-Courtesy-Canopy-River-298x192The beautiful city of Puerto Vallarta is perfectly situated along the western coast of Mexico. Over the last several decades, this city has become a mecca for travelers seeking an all-in-one vacation destination. Puerto Vallarta certainly fits the bill, proffering everything a leisure traveler could want: amazing sunsets, gorgeous sandy beaches, exceptional authentic Mexican cuisine, stellar hotel and resort properties, world-class spas, gorgeous golf courses, and a bevy of fun and exhilarating activities to ensure a good time is had by all.

Relative to activities, Puerto Vallarta certainly has all of its bases covered. Below are details on two of my personal favorites—the Canopy River adventure tours and the Rhythms of the Night dining extravaganza—for pure adrenaline experiences by day and an unrivaled enchanted evening al fresco.

Canopy River
If you are an action seeker looking for excitement and a way to see the beauty of Puerto Vallarta up close and personal, Canopy River tours are for you. This company offers everything from a fast-paced zip line boasting no less than 12 heart-pounding sections to thrilling ATV tours, which include diving and dipping at a gorgeous hidden river and waterfall basin, to exciting expeditions through the rainforest. You can complement any of these adventures by dining at the breathtaking on-site Los Coapinoles Restaurant where guests can also participate in one of the greatest tequila tastings in the area.

Your zip line adventure begins with a brief safety training provided by experienced, talented and affable zip line professionals. You will then be safely hooked up to a full-body harness and provided with a security helmet, as you and your tour guides head off for an experience of a lifetime. You will zip through 12 different lines that fly directly above the amazing rainforest located in the Sierra Madre Mountains to heights as high as 709 feet. Each zip line ends on a large platform that gives you the opportunity to stop for a moment, enjoy the surroundings and take memorable photos. Adding to the adventure, at the end of the line, you will travel by mule back up the mountain to the point of origination.

The river expedition is definitely designed for both nature lovers and adrenaline seekers. These expeditions starts on the coastline of Rio Cuale and take a six-hour journey through the remarkable rainforest of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Among other notables, you will travel across two bridges that reach heights of up to 88 feet. This journey is only meant for true thrill seekers looking for the thrill of a lifetime.

If you are looking for a fun experience, but may not have the daredevil aptitude for zip lining or a full-blown expedition, an ATV tour can provide an amazing experience. These tours are crafted for those with even little or no ATV experience, so even if you have never ridden an ATV before, this tour is for you. This 60-minute thrill ride will take you on a journey through the Sierra Madre Mountains. You will be given the opportunity to stop at several prime locations to view the ample beauty this area has to offer, from stunning flora to incredible wildlife to mountainous vistas beyond. As mentioned, halfway through the trip, the experienced tour guide will take you to one of the most beautiful hidden treasures in the mountains: Piletas. This location will reward you with the opportunity to see a breathtaking waterfall and even take a swim in the pristine waters beneath the falls before hopping back on your ATV and heading back.

Rhythms of the Night
Rhythms of the Night is an immersive dinner show experience like none other, transforming your night into an enchanted evening on a mystical land. The experience begins with a relaxing cruise across the Banderas Bay where complimentary snacks and cocktails are served. As the sun sets across the sky, you will be rewarded with a stunning light display along the coastline, as the sun sets and the moon starts to rise. This picture-perfect setting is a primer for the experience ahead. As your cruise ship ports at the secluded Las Caletas cove, you will be greeted with a beautiful starry night, a torch–lit pathway, and mysterious islanders coaxing you to your initial destination.

As if the journey to this tranquil cove was not enough, your evening will only get exponentially better. The fire-lit path will guide you to an exceptionally romantic outdoor dining area right along the coast. Nature provides the perfect setting for this outdoor dining experience, as a light wind from the Pacific Ocean blows in the air and through the decorative palm trees. Light from the torches and litany of candles scattered about flickers on the water. The sounds of nature are intertwined with table-side serenades from talented musicians wandering through the dining area. The atmosphere alone transforms dinner into a mesmerizing experience.

Guests are then treated to a full-service buffet that includes thoughtfully prepared food selections to accommodate any dietary preference. The buffet includes grilled chicken, fish and steak, along with a delicious display of vegetables, salads, and, of course, tortillas that are hand-made exhibition style. The dessert buffet is equally tantalizing, with pies, rice pudding and brownies among the many offerings.

After dinner, you will be beckoned to the outdoor amphitheater where talented local artists will perform a spectacular theatrical performance amid the backdrop of a pyramid adorned with candlelight. Through fire, acrobatics, dance, song, music, comedy and magnificent costuming, the performance proudly reenacts some of the ancient customs that highlights the rich history of this region.

At the conclusion of this perfect enchanted evening, you will receive a final toast as you dance the night away as the cruise ship transports you back to the port with music bumping and cocktails flowing. As with the ride to the cove, the return trip also provides scenic views unique to this part of the world.

Overall, this enthralling evening offers the opportunity to have a relaxing, peaceful and exciting night filled with sights, sounds, smells and tastes you will not soon forget. Whether you are looking for the quintessential romantic dinner experience, a fun-filled family adventure, or are planning a group event, an evening with Rhythms of the Night is a magical journey sure to impress.

No matter which of these day or night excursions you choose to partake in while vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, you are assured a special experience. The adventures at both Canopy River and Rhythms of the Night are exceedingly well-organized and planned by people prideful of the rich history of this area—and their enthusiasm is nothing short of contagious.  Rhythms of The Night

marileen“The Luxe List” Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at www.LuxeListReviews.com. Follow her on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: http://www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***

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Blu-man-group1I had seen the famed Blue Man Group Las Vegas show before albeit more than a decade ago. Even so, I recently proceeded to secure tickets to see what has since become a Vegas entertainment staple. I wondered how, or if, this show had evolved so it would seem fresh and new the second time around.

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