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Adventures in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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Archive for the ‘The Hotel & Bar’ Category

News, gossip & happenings at the Luna Blue Hotel and Garden and Luna Blue Bar

The Nightmare with Expedia Continues

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 22, 2013

Quite a bit has happened since we wrote a blog last month detailing our difficulties with travel industry giant Expedia, Expedia: Bad for the Traveler, Bad for the Hotel, mostly due to the power of social media.

Tony & Cheri, Owners of the Luna Blue HotelFor starters, our story seemed to touch a lot of folks. In fact so many people liked what we had to say and shared it with others, that our blog eventually went viral. Thousands of people have read our story and many have e-mailed Expedia to complain about how we were treated.

The blog was first shared on various Facebook pages and then by internet news networks Hacker News and Reddit.com. Adrianne Jeffries of The Verge online news service interviewed us and wrote an excellent article about the situation: One Small Hotel’s Long Nightmare with Expedia.  Next came the The Daily Mail, London’s second largest newspaper, which posted an online story about Expedia’s bad behavior towards us.  And it just kept going.  Blog after blog picked up our story and shared it; people throughout the world tweeted and retweeted our story on Twitter, and it was spread all around Facebook.  Most recently we were interviewed on Blogtalk Radio by Canadian Travel Expert Deanna Byrne: David vs Goliath. Small Independent Hotel Battles Expedia.

We are overwhelmed by this amazing response and moved beyond words by the avalanche of support we have received.  To everyone who passed our story along, commented on it, and e-mailed or messaged us words of support or suggestions on how to handle this situation, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Expedia Finally Responds

As a result of this internet activity Expedia finally responded to our situation…kind of.

One common reaction to our blog was a bit of healthy skepticism.  Many people said ‘That’s terrible, but it’s only one side of the story. I want to hear from Expedia.’  So did we.  We had been waiting for a response from Expedia for months.  We never got one.  However it seems that while Expedia could and did ignore all of our e-mails and phone calls, they were less able to withstand the power of social media and the press.  Expedia finally broke its silence on our situation when contacted by Adrianne Jeffries for her story on The Verge. Of course they didn’t have much to say.

The Expedia spokesman refused to comment on our allegations and would only say that: “Expedia … can confirm Luna Blue Hotel and Expedia are no longer working together.

So Expedia says it isn’t doing business with us.  That’s great; it’s what we have been asking for for several months.  But we have just one more question:

Expedia: If we are no longer working together, WHY ARE WE LISTED ON YOUR AFFILIATE BOOKING SITES ACROSS THE INTERNET AS A PARTNER HOTEL AND WHY ARE YOU STILL TELLING PEOPLE WE HAVE NO ROOMS AVAILABLE AT ANY TIME?

Expedia still hasn’t answered that question.

Expedia by Any Other Name is Still Expedia

Photo by Tim SmithShortly after our story appeared on The Verge, and after causing several long months of damage to us, Expedia finally disabled the Luna Blue Hotel pages on the Expedia website.  At least people going to Expedia’s main pages would no longer be told we had no rooms available.  Unfortunately this is a tiny step with little consequence given the size of Expedia’s reach. Expedia STILL continues to list us on dozens of their affiliate sites throughout the internet. The on-line booking site Venere is a perfect example.

Venere is a subsidiary of Expedia.  Like Hotels.com, Hotwire and many other travel sites, it is wholly owned by Expedia and acts a booking site using Expedia’s database.

We have never contracted with Venere and never given it permission to list our property.  Yet Venere/Expedia claims it is a booking agent for our hotel.  When anyone uses Venere to check for availability they are linked back to Expedia which says we have no rooms to rent ever… and then they are directed to other more expensive hotels!  And we continue to be listed, with no availability showing,  on many sites linking to Venere/Expedia such as travelyahoo.com, cleartrip, holidaywatchdog.com, travelpod.com, tingo, reservetravel.com and many others. 

The biggest and most important site to link to Expedia/Venere’s false information is TripAdvisor.

TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel website. It maintains pages about nearly every hotel in an area, including ours, upon which people can post reviews. Also on these hotel pages, TA sells space for advertisers and vendors like Expedia, Venere, Hotels.com, etc.  On our TripAdvisor page Expedia/Venere places a link or tick box which says you can check with them for availability and “best rates” at our hotel. There are two problems with that… 1.) we aren’t doing business with Expedia/Venere and 2.) when you click the link, Expedia once again falsely says we have no availability ever.

Photo by Tim SmithIn other words, anyone looking at our hotel on the largest travel website in the world will be directed to Venere/Expedia and told, falsely, that we have no rooms to rent!   And yet…Expedia says it’s no longer working with us.  To Expedia, we guess “no longer working together ” doesn’t mean that they won’t use our name to fraudulently lure people to other hotels on their site.

We recently asked TripAdvisor to remove this link, which they have temporarily done.  However they removed this link in the past at our request only to have it return shortly thereafter.  Unfortunately TA tells us they really have no control over the space they sell to Expedia. Each month Expedia resubmits its designated links to TA for posting on its pages. Although Expedia/Venere is saying they don’t do business with us, they have been continuing to advertise our hotel each month on TripAdvisor, claiming to be our booking agent.  We will see what February brings. For now, Expedia’s war on small hotels continues.

We Aren’t the Only Victims of Expedia

So as you can see, Expedia’s tiny gesture of removing us from the Expedia page does little to stop the continuing damage they are doing to us. And frankly we are not surprised by this.  Because along with the well wishes and messages of support we have received in response to our first blog, we have also been swamped with people–both consumers and those in the travel business–telling their horror stories concerning Expedia.  For some examples just take a look at the comments people have posted on our previous blog post.  Many of them relate their own nightmares with Expedia and are quite enlightening.

Photo by Tim SmithThe stories we have heard range from horrible customer service to stories similar to ours… i.e. hotels being listed as having no availability on Expedia when there are plenty of rooms open. However the one that struck us as the most outrageous was the story of Columbus, Georgia. It seems that this small town had a dispute with Expedia, demanding that Expedia pay certain taxes which were required of anyone booking hotel rooms. Expedia refused, and the city of Columbus brought a lawsuit against them.  However, Expedia wanted more than a court decision. It wanted to punish this little town and anyone who did business there. So Expedia wiped Columbus off the map by removing EVERY hotel in the town from all of its affiliated travel sites, as if the town didn’t even exist.  If you went to Expedia and looked for a hotel in the town of Columbus, you were told there weren’t any, and directed to hotels in the next town!  To embarrass the city government and bring pressure on it, Expedia attacked every hotel in that town not because the hotels had done something wrong, but because they were being used as pawns in Expedia’s ever widening attempt to control all travel bookings.  Expedia continued to hide every hotel in Columbus, Georgia from every one of its websites for over five years, until the case was finally settled.

In our opinion this example clearly shows Expedia’s corporate goal is not mere financial success but it is instead to seek complete and improper control of the travel industry market…and woe to anyone who protests or stands in its way.

What to Do?

So people continue to ask: what can be done about this? The answer is we aren’t sure. A lot of people have written and urged us to lead some sort of campaign against Expedia. But that is not our role here.  We work full time to make our hotel a success. It is a 7 day a week/24 hours a day job. We jokingly say that we are the whitest people in the Caribbean. Everyone has a better tan than we do as we never seem to have time to get to the beach. So we are not in a position to lead a crusade.  All we can do is speak out to tell people the truth about what was done to us by Expedia and help educate others about travel companies such as Expedia and its affiliates.

Photo by Tim SmithThe simplest response to Expedia’s misconduct is …don’t use them or their affiliates: Venere.com, Egencia.com, eLong.com, Hotwire.com, Hotels.com, Localexpert.com or any of the websites listed above.   Don’t book your vacation though a nameless, faceless data bank but instead talk to people who actually know about the places you want to visit.  Call the hotel or restaurant or tour operator directly.  Or call a travel agent who specializes in the type of travel or destinations you want.  We don’t suggest this just because we feel that Expedia harms small businesses such as ours.  We suggest it also because you are better off making your own decisions about your vacation than leaving them in the hands of large corporations who do not act as your advocate.

Remember: the claim that Expedia offers lower rates is not generally true.  Expedia may at times buy blocks of rooms from large hotels or hotel chains and offer them at a discounted rate.  However those hotels are unlikely to offer additional amenities or benefits as they have already tremendously discounted the rate to Expedia.  On the other hand, you may get a better deal by contacting the hotel directly.  In dealing with guests directly, hotels–particularly independent and small hotels–may be much more willing to offer discounts, upgrades, specials or promotions if you book directly.  Remember, Expedia has no ability to negotiate with you for hotel prices, special requests or amenities.  The hotel does.  Call them directly.

Don’t Start Your Research on Expedia or Related Sites

Some people say they use Expedia just to get an overview of available hotels before booking directly.  The problem with this is that Expedia ONLY lists hotels it has chosen to promote.   There will be many other fine accommodations which you will miss if you limit your search to Expedia.  If you want to do your own research, which we strongly suggest you do, check out Tripadvisor, which will list nearly every hotel available in an area, since hotels do not pay to be on those pages, and read their reviews.  Or have a reputable travel agent give you options. A travel agent will act as your advocate, if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, ultimately leading to a better vacation–which is what it’s all about.

Always remember it is your vacation and your money…don’t let somebody else tell you how or where to spend it. Don’t let some mega-corporation limit your travel choices.

Some Good News

We continue to receive not only messages of support, but bookings as well. The word is getting out and people are finding they can reserve at our hotel by contacting us directly via our website, e-mail or Facebook.  2013 Travelers' Choice Award Winner - Luna Blue Hotel - Best Bargain MexicoAnd we have been contacted by several quality travel agents with whom we have begun working.  Sadly, we we are still getting way too many messages that say “I heard about the problem with Expedia too late. I booked another hotel because I thought you were full.”  So we are keeping up our efforts to tell travelers around the world…we are open and we have availability.

We are also very excited, as this week were were awarded a 2013 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for being one of the best Bargain Hotels in Mexico!  TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards have been given each year for the last 11 years to the world’s top properties.  This is the second time we have won this award, and we are very proud about that.  According to TripAdvisor, “Unlike any other hotel honors, TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice winners are based on millions of valuable reviews and opinions covering more than 650,000 hotels and collected in a single year from travelers around the world.”  Thank you to all of our guests who wrote such great reviews about us on TripAdvisor’s Luna Blue page. We remain committed to offering our guests the same high level of service and accommodations which have earned us this award. 

In closing, once again, we would like to say thank you to all who offered support and helped spread the word. We deeply appreciate it.  Now…come join us in paradise.

Posted in Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar | Tagged: , , , , , | 26 Comments »

Expedia: Bad for the Traveler, Bad for the Hotel

Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 4, 2012

There is a lot of talk in the news these days about the difficulties facing small business owners around the world. Nowhere are these difficulties felt as deeply as in the travel industry. The rapid growth of the control of travel by big business with its multi-billion-dollar internet and advertising power has caused many small travel business owners to be pushed aside. As a result the consumer ends up with limited access to travel choices while the Mom and Pop hotel or tour or shop ends up on the brink of extinction. We know this firsthand, as we are one of those small businesses being unfairly crushed under the weight of travel industry giant Expedia. In fact we think Expedia is trying to put us, and small independent businesses like ours, out of business. And here’s why:

Expedia and its many affiliates, including Hotels.com and Venere.com, invite people to come to their sites to book our hotel, the Luna Blue Hotel in Playa del Carmen Mexico. Yet when people get to these websites they are told that our hotel is completely occupied for all dates now and in the future. If someone calls on the telephone, they are told that our hotel is going out of business! They are then directed to book another more expensive hotel, which provides Expedia greater commission. It seems that Expedia and its affiliates use small hotels like ours to attract people to their sites so they can get those people to book with bigger resorts. It is the classic “bait and switch” scam.

We think what Expedia is doing is completely outrageous, and we think you should know the whole story:

Living the Dream

Tony & Cheri owners of Luna Blue Hotel in Playa del Carmen MexicoSome years ago we fell in love with Mexico’s Caribbean coast. We left our home, quit our jobs and headed south. We had scrimped and saved and put our entire life savings into buying a small, rundown backpacker hotel in Playa del Carmen. It wasn’t anything fancy. It wasn’t a part of some chain or franchise. It was 18 rooms and a garden on a side street a few blocks from the beach. But it was now ours, and we loved it.

The plan was to turn this property into our vision of a slice of paradise and to live the good life as innkeepers on the Caribbean Sea. That’s what happened…for a while. And not to toot our own horns, but we were a success. We won some awards, received great reviews and filled our rooms. We renamed it the Luna Blue Hotel, and we’re quite proud of what it has become.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing of course. The swine flu scare and the hysteria over central Mexico’s drug wars really did some damage to tourism in this part of the world. But we held on and weathered the rough spots. We weren’t going to give up. This was not just our life…it was our dream. We put all of our money, time and heart into making it work. Then we made a mistake. We signed up with Expedia.

Expedia

If you are not already familiar with Expedia let us give you some background. Expedia, Inc. is the world’s largest online travel agency. People can use their various websites (and they have many affiliated companies) to book a room, a flight or a complete travel package. The company now operates in 60 countries around the world. When you want to know what we mean when we talk about the “Big Business” of travel, just look at Expedia. Besides Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Hotwire and Venere, Expedia also owns Egencia (the world’s fifth largest corporate travel company), eLong (China’s second largest online travel company); Expedia Local Expert (an online concierge company in 18 markets worldwide), Classic Vacations (a leading luxury travel specialist) and much more. It also has tight corporate ties to industry giants Ticketmaster and TripAdvisor.

Expedia has an office in Cancun and offers its services to the hotels along the Riviera Maya where we live. A year ago we were visited by the Expedia Market Manager for this area, Javier Polanco. Expedia, he told us, could help us recover some of the business we had lost in the lean years. It wasn’t cheap, as Expedia takes 25 % of every booking made through their sites–a fact that hotels are forbidden by Expedia to disclose to guests.   But we figured that if it brought us more business it would be worth it. So…we signed on the dotted line and became “partners” with Expedia. However we soon discovered that Expedia had a different vision of a partnership than we did.

“That’s Not the Room we Reserved!”

Almost immediately we began to have trouble with our new “partners.” As requested, we provided Expedia with a long, detailed list describing our rooms, amenities and property to use on their website. Yet that list was completely ignored by Expedia when putting together a profile of our hotel. Many of the descriptions of our hotel and rooms Expedia posted were completely wrong. We repeatedly emailed the “content department,” which was in charge of the website details, asking them to make the changes necessary to correct the problems.  However the response to our emails was almost non-existent.

As the months passed, every so often someone in the content department would rewrite our Expedia listing to correct one inaccuracy and in the process add several new problems. More often than not they simply ignored us. As a result, guests would arrive at our hotel having made a reservation through Expedia or Hotels.com and find the room they reserved to be nothing like the erroneous description on Expedia’s website. Sometimes the guest would roll with the punches and accept there had been a problem with Expedia’s site. However other times the guests were angry and demanded an upgrade, or would even leave the hotel.

While this greatly affected our hotel’s reputation, Expedia didn’t seem to care. We began to realize that our “partner” Expedia operated on a mass production scale: Their policy seemed to be keep the inventory of available rooms high enough from a large number of hotels, and the monetary return would compensate for growing customer dissatisfaction over a lack of service.

Our Rooms Suddenly Disappear from Expedia

fightexpediablog3Eventually our Expedia Market Manager Javier Polanco was promoted. All that inventory the big hotels were loading must have reflected well on him. We were told that there was a new Market Manager in Cancun, Judith Monroy. We thought that maybe with a new representative at Expedia things might change for us. And we were right; they did change. They got worse.

One day we noticed our Expedia bookings had suddenly stopped. We went to Expedia’s site and saw the problem right away. The links on our Expedia and Hotels.com pages were broken. The pictures and descriptions of our hotel rooms were gone. They used to be incorrect, but now they had vanished completely! No wonder people stopped booking our hotel through these websites. Potential guests could not find information about our rooms or see what they looked like, and so they quickly moved on and reserved at other hotels. Our bookings came to an abrupt halt. We called Judith. Then we e-mailed her. Then we called again. There was no response whatsoever for weeks. The only response we received was a boilerplate email from Judith telling us to load more inventory!

“It Won’t EVER be Fixed”

Finally we were told the problem had been reported to the Content department. Two weeks later we were told the problem was an IT problem and that the IT department had been notified. All this time our pages remained broken. We kept asking, “What is the point of being on Expedia if no one can see our rooms?” We were told there was a system-wide bug and that many hotels were affected (we found out later this wasn’t true) and that the problem would be fixed…in one month. We waited.

Of course, one month came and went and our Expedia pages were still not working. This time we called Javier, who emphatically told us that the page would never be fixed, and that the links would always be broken. Then he laughed and said that it wasn’t his problem. We told him we were tired of the lies and the stalling and we demanded some sort of helpful response.

If You Complain…We’ll Cut You Off

In response to our demand that Expedia help us, we received an e-mail from Pablo Castro, Javier and Judith’s boss and the Manager for Expedia’s Latin America-based hotels. Pablo wrote to tell us he was going to disable our page at Javier’s request because of our bad attitude but that if we would like to meet with him in Cancun perhaps we could resolve the situation. We wrote back immediately to say we would like very much to meet with him, and asked him to name the time and place. We waited for a response. And waited. And waited. We wrote a second time asking when and where we should meet. Pablo never responded to us and never met with us. To this day we’ve never heard another word from him.

We wondered how long we would stay in business if we treated people like Expedia was treating us. Imagine if a guest checked into our hotel and found that the toilet didn’t work or that the bed was missing and we responded by telling him he had to leave the hotel because he was complaining. Is that really how people in the travel business should act? We certainly don’t think so.

Things Get Better…and Then Much Worse

We thought our time with Expedia had come to an end—and that was okay with us—when suddenly we started getting a flood of reservations from them. What the heck was happening? We went to the Expedia site and couldn’t believe it…the page was fixed and working. After all the months of having it broken, after being told it could never be fixed, after being threatened with expulsion from Expedia for complaining about lack of service, the page was back up and working.

But Expedia wasn’t done punishing us yet. Within a few days we received an e-mail from a guest with a reservation booked through Hotels.com. Why, the woman wanted to know, had we cancelled her reservation? We hadn’t. Judith had! Without our knowledge or consent, our Expedia Market Manager cancelled ALL of our existing Expedia reservations, including ones people had made months before, telling the guests that their reservations were being cancelled because we had no available rooms. This was of course not true.

Expedia Says the Luna Blue has No Availability…Ever

fightexpediablog2Instead of leaving our page up and finally working, or even disabling or removing our hotel’s Expedia page as they had said they would do, the Cancun office did something much worse: They set our hotel page on Expedia’s website to show that we never had any availability for any room at any time. What this meant was anytime anyone looked at our hotel on Expedia, Hotels.com or Venere.com they saw a message saying there was no availability for the requested dates. Any dates. Ever!

You have to understand Expedia’s reach and power to know how bad this can be for a small hotel like ours. Expedia has agreements throughout the world and all over the internet to have travel sites link to their main page. If you click to see the Luna Blue Hotel rates and availability on Hotels.com, Venere.com, Lonelyplanet.com, Yahootravel.com, Travelpod.com, Holidaywatchdog.com, Trivago.com, Cleartrip.com and other similar sites you will be informed via link to Expedia that the Luna Blue Hotel has no availability ever, and it will suggest other more expensive hotels. So the lie manufactured by a couple of people in Expedia’s Cancun office is now spread across the internet. Throughout the web, Expedia is telling people they can’t get a room at the Luna Blue, so those people look elsewhere. You don’t have to be an expert in the travel industry to know how incredibly damaging and unfair this is.

And while it may be unfair, it seems to be the standard operating procedure for Expedia. The country of France recently fined Expedia for this exact scam…telling people a hotel had no availability in order to get them to book with other more expensive properties: Expedia Hit With Major Fine in France Over Misleading Marketing. But apparently being fined wasn’t enough to make them stop this egregious behavior elsewhere.

Expedia Demands That We Pay Them to Relocate Our Guests to Other Hotels!

Not content to simply deny us reservations, Judith and the Cancun gang went further. A few days later we were contacted by Expedia’s Collections department and told we owed an exorbitant amount of money for “relocation fees.” Here’s how it works normally: an Expedia partner hotel agrees that if it cancels an Expedia generated reservation because the hotel cannot accommodate a guest, Expedia will then book the guest into another hotel in the area and charge any difference in cost to the original hotel. Judith, after secretly cancelling our reservations and telling the guests we had no room (a lie), was then booking the guests (our guests… people who wanted to stay at our hotel) into other bigger, more expensive hotels and then having Expedia bill us the cost–costs sometimes as much as three times what our room rates were! As you might imagine we were stunned and angry. Then it got even worse.

And Finally…Expedia’s Biggest Lie Yet

We saved the most outrageous for last.

After everything Expedia had done to block guests from making reservations at our hotel, some people still wouldn’t take no for an answer. Some guests figured, quite reasonably, that no hotel is 100% full for every day in the conceivable future. They wondered if there was a problem with Expedia’s page. So they called Expedia’s customer service telephone line to try and book at our hotel. Expedia then told those fine folks that “the Luna Blue Hotel is going out of business” and that’s why there were no rooms available there. We know this because the guests who were told this lie by Expedia then contacted us directly.

It seems that Expedia will stop at nothing to punish a small independent Mom and Pop hotel which had the audacity to ask to be treated fairly. And that’s how it stands today. Expedia refuses to acknowledge our calls and e-mails and refuses to either open up our Expedia page to reservations or take it down, but instead continues to spread the lies across the internet that we are going out of business and refusing to take reservations.

How Can a Small Business Protect Itself from the Dishonest Actions of a Goliath like Expedia?

fightexpediablog4In today’s world, a corporate Goliath like Expedia has way too much power to be worried about stones thrown by small business owners like us. We have done what we can to explore our options by talking with attorneys here in Mexico and in the US as well as with travel experts and government agencies in both countries. The advice we have received has been appreciated, but truthfully there are few options available to us.

It is unrealistic for us to bring a legal action against Expedia either in the US or in Mexico. The money necessary to hire lawyers to pursue the cases wouldn’t even be missed by Expedia, but would probably bankrupt us.

We have also been told to file complaints with the US Federal Trade Commission and with various federal and local watchdog agencies here in Mexico, including the Ministry of Tourism. We are doing all of that, but we are realistic about the chances of any results or relief in the near future. In the meantime the damage to our small business by Expedia continues.

If you’re a small hotel thinking of doing business with Expedia, think long and hard before making that commitment. If you are already doing business with Expedia, we hope you learn from our experiences here and tread carefully whenever you complain to them, lest you suffer a similar fate.

Spreading the Word

In the end we are really left with only one way to combat Expedia’s misconduct…telling the truth. And we are going to offer that truth to whoever wants to listen. We will tell our story to our friends, return guests, newsletter readers and fans of our blog and Facebook page. We will talk to other small business owners and hotel associations here in Mexico to warn them not to deal with the Cancun office of Expedia unless they want to be threatened with a fate like ours. And we will pass our story along to whoever in the travel industry will listen.

What we are trying to do here is to educate the public…the people who travel…the people who spend their very hard earned money on that one or two weeks of vacation they get each year. Those folks shouldn’t be lied to. Those folks shouldn’t have some pre-set website decide for them what kind of vacation they should take or what choices are available. The big boys in the travel world want to limit the public’s access to only those resources they market and can make a profit on. They would rather the paying public not even have a chance to consider the independent vendor. In our opinion, that’s unfair to those of us who are small business owners, and it’s unfair to the people just wanting to plan a nice vacation.

And so we have told our story here and we hope it opens some people’s eyes. Please feel free to pass it along if you know anyone who might be interested.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself from Being Abused by Expedia?

Most importantly: don’t use Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Venere.com or any of their affiliated websites!  First of all they have a well-deserved reputation for bad customer service. Just Google the words “Expedia bad customer service” and see what comes up. Secondly they do not offer discounted rates as many claim. Many people believe that Expedia will offer better rates for a hotel room that the hotel does. That is not true. Expedia offers the hotel room at the same price as the property. Expedia gets a large percentage of what you pay for the room. Why would they give it to you cheaper? And why would a hotel offer a lower price on Expedia when they are already paying them a 25% commission? Obviously hotels save that 25% when you book directly with them, so why would they encourage you to book through a middleman by discounting their own prices on those sites? They don’t. But Expedia doesn’t want you to know that.

fightexpediablog5Also, remember that Expedia and other travel websites offer a limited number of hotels and rooms. Not all hotels list with Expedia, and those that do rarely list all their available rooms on the Expedia site (for the reason listed above.) For the most availability, best prices and service, always book directly with a hotel.  For more tips on how to have the vacation you choose, read 5 Reasons Not to Book Hotels Using Expedia, Hotels.com or Hotwire.

And finally, if you need help in planning a vacation or finding travel choices, either use the internet to do the research or go to a reputable travel agent. Don’t rely on a mammoth bureaucracy to understand what will be the best vacation for you. It’s your money, time and vacation. Don’t let somebody else make the plans…do it yourself!

The Luna Blue Hotel and Bar

As for our own future, we are not going to be discouraged or intimidated by Expedia’s bad behavior. We are not giving up on our business just because some industry giant tells us to. We are still living the dream here on the edge of the Caribbean Sea and still running one of the finest small boutique hotels in Mexico’s Mayan Riviera.

If you would like to know more about our hotel just visit our website at http://www.lunabluehotel.com. You can book directly with us. We would love to have you as our guests and show you the wonders of our little slice of paradise.

Thank you for taking the time to read our story. And happy travels to you all.

Tony & Cheri

For an update on what has happened since we posted this,

please take a look at our latest blog entry:

The Nightmare with Expedia Continues.

 

If after reading our story you would like to add your voice to ours in protesting Expedia’s behavior please consider sending the following e-mail to Expedia:“We strongly condemn how Expedia has treated the Luna Blue Hotel in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, as outlined in Expedia: Bad for the Traveler, Bad for the Hotel.  Please stop blocking their reservations.  We think it is grossly unfair for Expedia to treat small businesses in such manner.”Here are some addresses at Expedia where you can e-mail your comments:

General Corporate mailbox
: travel@expedia.com

Dara Khosrowshahi, President of Expedia
: darakh@expedia.com

Pablo Castro, Manager for Latin America Expedia
: pcastro@expedia.com

Javier Polanco, Area Manager for the Riviera Maya
: jpolanco@expedia.com

Judith Monroy, Associate Market Manager for Southeast Mexico
: jmonroy@expedia.com
12/28/12: The Verge, one of the internet’s largest technology and news media networks, has just published a story regarding our dispute with Expedia. The Verge’s reporter, Adrianne Jeffries, contacted Expedia and gave them a chance to tell their side of the story. As you can see from the article, their response was that they no longer did business with the Luna Blue Hotel. So the question remains: If they are not doing business with us, why are they tying up the internet with dozens of sites claiming that they have booking rights to the Luna Blue but that we are completley full? We’ll explore that soon. In the meantime, we ask that you please take a look at the Verge’s article, One Small Hotel’s Long Nightmare with Expedia.

Posted in Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar | Tagged: , , , , | 438 Comments »

St Patrick’s Day in Mexico

Posted by Tony & Cheri on March 5, 2012

We love St Patrick’s Day. We always have. It’s right up there with Christmas and Halloween as one of our favorite holidays.

Yes, we are Irish by heritage. Well, at least Tony is. His great-grandfather James Head emigrated from County Kerry in the 1800’s. And even if James was a bit of a scoundrel (drinking was his vice and gambling was his profession) he still managed to leave his descendants a legacy of love for all things Irish. Cheri is mostly Irish by choice rather than heredity, having fallen in love with the country and the people on a backpacking trip through the Emerald Isle after college.

St Paddy’s Day in the Irish Bars of San Francisco

We established our holiday traditions many years ago in San Francisco where a large Irish population joins with other hard drinking citizens each year on March 17 to wear the green and hoist a glass…or two…or twenty. There has never been a shortage of Irish bars in San Francisco, and we had several favorites when we lived there.

Harry Harrington’s Pub is a dive bar where lawyers and longshoreman rubbed shoulders (and sometimes exchanged punches) in riotous old school St Paddy’s Day gatherings; Pat O’Shea’s (sadly no longer in business, whose famous motto was “We Cheat Tourists and Drunks”) lined the bar with cups of beer and whiskey to be handed back through the packed, standing room only crowd; Ireland’s 32 featured pipers, step dancers and live performances of the classic rebel songs while the hat was passed for various Irish causes.

But our favorite St Paddy’s day destination was O’Reilly’s…owned by our old friend Myles O’Reilly who came to America to find fame and fortune. It was, and is, a classic Irish pub with good food and strong drinks and the finest St Paddy’s Day Party in town. In fact the celebration there became so popular that the local government finally just started closing the street in front of the bar to traffic so that revelers could sing, dance, drink and mingle on the boulevard.

Long ago we agreed we would never work on St Patrick’s Day. We took vacation days so that we could spend the holiday celebrating with friends and family. And each year would find us heading home at the end of the day full of beer and corned beef, covered in green beads and glitter, and with the sounds of “A Nation Once Again” ringing in our ears.

Finding Shamrocks South of the Border

When we left San Francisco for the sunny shores of Mexico’s Caribbean coast we were determined to hold onto our St. Patrick’s Day traditions. The only question was how. When we arrived here in Playa del Carmen, March 17 was just another day on the calendar. This or that bar might sell some Guinness or have 2×1 beers but nobody really celebrated “the wearing o’ the green” in the ways we were used to. We decided to change that. We wanted to show Playa how St Paddy’s should be celebrated.

And so it was that when we opened the Luna Blue Bar we held what we believe was the first real St Patrick’s Day celebration in town, and we have been holding them every year since.

What’s a “real” St Patrick’s Day Party?” you might ask. It’s loud, messy, fun and green. There’s corned beef sandwiches and plenty of beer. There’s Jameson’s Irish whiskey, Baileys and Guinness being served. There’s music…from live performers to recordings of Van Morrison, Christy Moore, the Chieftains, Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys. There’s dancing on the floor…and on the bar. There are hugs and kisses and pretty girls stamping your cheek with shamrock stickers or draping beads around your neck. And there are toasts to the Irish…and on St Paddy’s Day the whole world is Irish.

Of course this being the tropics we added some new traditions to the mix…like giving free shots of tequila (or Irish whiskey) to any lady who shows up wearing a green bikini or thong…and like letting people float in the swimming pool among green balloons as they listen to the music and sip their beer (a St Patrick’s Day pool party…only in the Caribbean!). And there is another tradition surrounding St Patrick’s Day here in Mexico: Remembering the San Patricio Battalion.

The Story of the San Patricios

We first heard this story from San Francisco’s legendary bartender, Mike McCourt, who you may know as baby Michael in his brother Frank’s memoir, “Angela’s Ashes.” On a quiet San Francisco day just before we moved to Playa del Carmen we went to say goodbye to Mike. He smiled broadly when he heard the news. “Mexico you say? It’s a fine place where they treat an Irishman like the hero he is.” As he filled our glasses for a farewell drink he told us the story of the Irishmen who had fought and died defending Mexico.

It was in 1846 that young men fleeing the famine back home in Ireland arrived in America only to be shipped off to fight as conscripts in the war against Mexico. Many of the young soldiers saw the war as an unjust action against a poor, oppressed, Catholic population…not unlike the people they had left behind in Ireland. John Riley, a professional soldier and veteran of many battles, led about 200 Irish soldiers in crossing over to fight with the Mexicans in defending their homeland against the Yanks. The Mexicans called them “los San Patricios”… “the Saint Patricks.”  Most of the Irish soldiers were killed in the war. Those who were captured by the US Army were executed as traitors, but here in Mexico they are still remembered as heroes. A plaque listing the two hundred names of members of the Battalion can be found in Mexico City where several times a year bagpipers play in memory of the young Irishmen who gave their lives for Mexico.

A few years ago the famous Irish band, the Chieftains, along with American singer/songwriter Ry Cooder invited some of Mexico’s finest musicians to join in creating a musical history of the San Patricios on CD. We will be playing some of that music here in the bar on St Paddy’s Day as we raise toasts to Ireland, to Mexico and to the heroes they share.

St Patrick’s Day at the Luna Blue Bar

This year the Luna Blue Bar’s Annual St Patrick’s Day Party will be on Saturday, March 17th. We will have some Guinness (in limited amounts), Irish whiskey and plenty of beer and tequila. We will also have corned beef sandwiches…with real corned beef. Trust us…it ain’t easy finding corned beef down here…but we did. There will be plenty of music: local favorite Mike Grabow (who does a great Playa styled version of the Dropkick Murphys’ song “Drink and Fight”) will be playing from 3-7; and the legendary unshod troubadour of the Caribbean coast, Barefoot O’Skinny, will play from 8-11. In between live sets our own favorite Irish music playlist will provide the tunes. As always, ladies in green bikinis and thongs will get free drinks. The pool will be open so wear/bring a swimsuit. We promise a day of fun and surprises.

Please join us if you can…and if you can’t make it, wherever you are be sure to raise your glass high on St Patrick’s Day and say “Slainte!”

Here are some photos of past years’ celebrations at the Luna Blue Bar Saint Patrick’s Day Party.

A green thong will get you a free shot of tequila at the Luna Blue Bar

Ireland meets Mexico in a south of the border St Paddy’s Day

Everybody in green

Our shot girl, Ginger O’Cutie, with a guest

Tony and a bagpiper

Irish Consulate Anthony Leeman came down from Cancun for the celebration. Here he poses with Tony and Ginger O’Cutie.

A typical Tony moment on St Paddy’s Day…surrounded by pretty girls

Nothing says St Paddy’s Day like funny hats

Our friend Rob Kinnon making the most of St Paddy’s Day

It’s always a party at the Luna Blue on St Paddy’s Day

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Happy Anniversary to Us…But the Gift is for You

Posted by Tony & Cheri on February 1, 2012

Happy Anniversary to UsSeven years ago today we looked at each other one more time, took a collective deep breath, and signed the papers which made us the owners of a small hotel in Playa del Carmen, Mexico…that which shortly afterwards became the Luna Blue Hotel.

It has been a long, strange, exciting trip…and we’re still going strong.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, we’re offering a little gift to our fans and friends. For any reservation made on our website during the next 7 days (February 1-7, 2012) for any stay now through December 20, we will give a 7% discount.

You must write “Happy Anniversary” in the notes field and make a regular deposit. We will apply the discount and send confirmation. This offer doesn’t apply with other discounts and must be made via our website.

And in case we haven’t said it enough, let us take this opportunity to thank our fans, guests and friends who have been so supportive to us over the years…both in person and online. It has made a huge difference to us both personally and professionally.

Help us celebrate our anniversary by coming to Playa and celebrating yours….or your birthday…or just being alive.

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Christmas in Playa del Carmen

Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 10, 2011

It’s Christmastime again, and Mexico, like the rest of the world, is celebrating. Here in our home of Playa del Carmen on Mexico’s Caribbean coast we have found that celebration is a unique mixture of holiday customs drawn from America, Europe and Mexico.

Mexico’s historical Christmas traditions have usually been centered around the religious nature of the holiday and have focused more on church, family and friends and less on the commercial rush to buy things so often seen in the United States. That’s something we enjoy. While the stores are more and more filled with holiday gifts and toys, there still does not seem to be the near hysterical feeling that one must find the perfect gift or buy the latest electronic gadget in order to make the holiday special.

Instead there is an emphasis in Mexico of taking time to enjoy people during the holidays. Schools, city offices and many businesses shut down from the middle of December until after the new year to allow people to spend more time at home.

Christmastime is made a little easier for folks by the fact that business are required by law to give a Christmas bonus called an “alguinaldo” to employees. Many employers also give a little more or give gifts to their employees, as well. A common present given to employees is a dispensa. This is a package or box of practical items for the home. It could include foods like rice or beans, cleaning products or other things used in the household. Stores like Costco and Sam’s Club will sell pre-packaged dispensas, much like fruit baskets or boxes of candy can be found on the store shelves in the US and Canada.

With the holiday vacations from work and school, people have more time for socializing. Many families host “posada” meals to gather together their friends and loved ones. Posada means “inn” and refers to the inn that had no room for Mary and Joseph. Guests ask to be admitted to the dinner but are told there is no room until they produce a statue of the baby Jesus. A traditional dish for a posada meal is Chiles en Nogada, a poblano chili stuffed with rice, nuts fruits and meat, covered in a creamy walnut sauce and topped with pomegranate seeds. It is one of our favorite dishes in Mexico.

Of course children are a big part of any celebration in Mexico, especially at Christmas when the little ones expect wondrous gifts to appear. Traditionally it was not Santa Claus who brought gifts to good girls and boys, but the three kings, the same kings who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child. However, in modern times Santa Claus has become a popularly-accepted figure, and children in Mexico now often receive gifts from both Santa on Christmas Day and from the Kings on Three Kings Day (January 6th).

It’s also common for children in Mexico to go caroling. They take a branch from a tree and decorate it with tinsel, ribbons and a picture of Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe. They then go through the streets singing. On 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen the little ones, usually accompanied by an older sister or brother (who often stand nearby talking with friends on their cellphones) go door to door or even table to table in a restaurant singing an enthusiastic but often humorously tuneless version of a Spanish Christmas carol like Peces in El Rio (Fishes in the River). They hope for a reward of a few pesos before going on to the next table.

During the weeks leading up to Christmas the town of Playa begins to decorate. At the Palacio Municipal (City Hall) a giant Christmas tree can be found right next to an large inflatable Santa Claus and a life-sized nativity scene. In fact you can find decorated trees all over town.

When we first moved to Mexico, we brought our own artificial tree with us as we had been told the Christmas tree was not a custom which was celebrated in this part of Mexico. That was true back then. However over the last five or six years the custom of having a decorated tree has caught on among locals. Fir trees are hauled in by the truckload and can be seen lined up for purchase at Walmart and Mega stores.

Living here in Playa del Carmen we have been able to continue our own beloved Christmas traditions while enjoying the slower, less commercial feel of Mexico’s version of the holiday. However we must admit, our first Christmas in Mexico wasn’t exactly idyllic.

Our first Mexican Christmas occurred only a few days after we had our grand opening as the Luna Blue Hotel. We had been working frantically for months trying to get the property ready. We finished only a few days before Christmas, and when December 24th came every room was occupied. We worked late into the evening that night to get everyone checked in and taken care of. Then we walked home to the little house we had moved into the week before (up until then we had been living in the hotel while we renovated it). We had not even unpacked yet and were sleeping on a mattress on the floor among piles of boxes.

We had not put up a Christmas tree or bought a single present. We had just been too busy and there had been no time with all the demands of getting ready for the hotel to be opened. We had been too busy to even go food shopping. There was no turkey or ham or a single candy cane to be found in our little house.

When we realized we hadn’t eaten all day we headed out to find a restaurant, but by then it was 11 o’clock on Christmas Eve and everything was closed. We finally gave up walking the deserted streets and went home to have peanut butter on white bread for our Christmas Eve dinner. Then we got a few hours sleep.

The next day we arose early to go the the hotel to clean the rooms and take care of the guests. Finally in the late afternoon of Christmas Day we finished our work and went down to the beach to swim in the warm Caribbean Sea. After a dip we laid down in the white sand side by side…and fell asleep. That nap beside the ocean was our Christmas present to each other.

Since then our Christmas celebrations have become a little less exhausting. With our wonderful staff and with the hotel now being well established we now happily have more time to enjoy the season.

We put up our tree early (Before Thanksgiving this year!) and decorate it with ornaments we have picked up on our travels around the world. A lot of the decorations are tropical themed…things like a snorkeling Santa, tropical fish, and Santa flying over palm trees. This year we also topped our tree with a large colorful mermaid.

We decorate the house and will have friends over for dinner or drinks through the holiday time. Christmas Eve we will call family back in the US and then settle down with some treats and a few favorite videos (A Charlie Brown Christmas, Love Actually, The Night of the Meek and a few others). Then we will get some sleep because…of course…we will have to be at that hotel front desk early Christmas morning. Yes…that is still part of our tradition. And afterwards we will go down to the Caribbean Sea. That too is part of our Christmas celebration now.

What we have learned living in Mexico is that how the holidays are celebrated is not as important as making sure they are filled them with love and happiness. So however you celebrate the holidays…be it Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or Buddha’s Enlightenment Day…we wish you peace and joy.

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Owning a Saloon in Mexico: The Luna Blue Bar Story

Posted by Tony & Cheri on November 29, 2011

Luna Blue BarWhen we first thought about opening a bar in Mexico, we simply wanted a quiet little place for our guests to have a cocktail in the evening before and after visiting 5th Avenue.

We did have some strong opinions about how our bar should look. We wanted it to match the old-school tropical ambiance of our Luna Blue Hotel. So we decided it would be open air, with ceiling fans, a roof made of palm leaves, and–in the Caribbean tradition–swings instead of stools around the bar.

We also decided there would be no TV and no DJs playing music we didn’t enjoy. Instead we installed satellite radio and turned it to Radio Margaritaville. We wanted our bar to be funky, laid back and tropical. In short, we built the kind of place where we ourselves would want to drink margaritas.

After building the bar, we designed a few special drinks with the help of our good friend Eric Rogers, one of San Francisco’s best bartenders. We have great top shelf margaritas like the “Papa T Margarita” and twists on old favorites like the “Playa Colada.” We also have unique drinks nobody had seen before (but have since been widely copied) like the “Beso Cubano” (Cuban Kiss) and our all-time most popular drink, the “Sarita B Careful” margarita made with pomegranate infused tequila.

Leon J Morton at the Luna Blue BarOf course one of the most important parts of a bar is the bartender. And we found the perfect one in Jorge Sierra. Jorge is honest, hardworking, speaks perfect English, loves people, always has a smile and pours a strong drink. And he is creative. He is always coming up with new ideas for drinks like our very popular “Sex on the Bar” cocktail. Yes, Jorge is the inventor of Sex on the Bar!

Once we had the bar built, the drinks figured out and a great bartender hired we looked around the place and decided we needed one more thing…live music. After all what is a margarita in paradise without some good tunes to listen to? Since we couldn’t get Jimmy or Kenny, we hired local musicians whose music we liked…guys who played funky or bluesy or plain old good rock n’ roll.

Over the years the best musicians in Playa have performed at the Luna Blue. Chris Bolister, “Bad” Brad Ryan, most of the Nasty Bastards at one time or another, Barefoot Skinny, Pako Mondragon and Mike Grabow (who wrote “Where I Want to Be” about the Luna Blue). You can currently see Mike Grabow every week at the Luna Blue Bar. Even the infamous local legend Sharkey has growled “House of the Rising Sun” at the Luna Blue Bar.

This coming holiday season we are going to keep up that tradition of great music while trying to expand the type of music that is available here in Playa del Carmen. And one type of music that Playa needs more of (and we can’t get enough of) is the BLUES!

This December we are bringing back Blues Hall of Fame artist Leon J Morton. Jay (as he is known to his friends) is famous for his traditional roots Blues renditions and his bring-down-the-house performance of Blues-inspired rock n’ roll classics. Jay’s extraordinary performances have been honored by the Telluride Blues Festival and by the National Blues Hall of Fame which has designated him an “Ambassador of the Blues.” When he is in Playa Jay plays exclusively at the Luna Blue Bar.

Jay will be performing his repertoire of classic Blues songs on Friday Dec. 2nd. On Saturday, Dec. 3rd, he will be back offering his take on the best in Rock, Rhythm and Blues, as well as some original tunes. On Sunday, Dec. 4th Jay will be playing mellow and easy at our Barbeque and Pool Party.

Luna Blue BarThen later this month Brent “Guitar” Parkin will be returning to the Blue. Brent is one of the greats on the Canadian Blues scene and winner of the Canadian Recording Arts and Sciences’ prestigious Juno Award. In his forty years of performing he has toured with the likes of BB King, Johnny Winter, Otis Rush and Bo Diddley among others. The Edmonton Sun calls Brent, “one of this country’s best blues guitarists.” The Winnipeg Free Press says Brent is “One of the Prairie’s great blues guitarists.” The bottom line is that Brent puts on a heck of a show every time he plays.

Not only will Brent be a regular at the Luna Blue Bar this winter, but we are especially proud to announce he will perform at our New Years Eve celebration. That will be quite a party.

And we are pleased to announce that Brent has just agreed to play at for us on Sunday, Dec. 4th at our Barbeque and Pool Party. Both Jay Morton and Brent Parkin the same afternoon. We’re very excited!

Of course this year the Luna Blue Bar has something new: a swimming pool. Our beautiful sunken tropical garden pool is open most nights for bar guests to take a dip and float beneath the stars while sipping a margarita or listening to music. We are the only swing bar in town with its own pool. We think that is kind of special.

In the end the Luna Blue Bar turned out to be bigger and more popular than we ever dreamed. But in a lot of ways it is still exactly what we wanted when we decided to build it…it’s still a great place to get a margarita, enjoy a laid back tropical vibe and hear good tunes from great musicians. It’s also a good place to hang out and chat with your friends…or make some new ones. What more can you ask from a saloon in tropical Mexico?

And who knows…maybe someday Jimmy or Kenny will drop by…maybe.

If you’ve been to our bar or one of our events, please share your best memories in a comment below. Gracias!

Jay Morton

Mike Grabow

Barefoot SKinny

Chris Bolister

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Mexico’s Day of the Dead Alive & Well in Playa del Carmen

Posted by Tony & Cheri on November 2, 2011

People visiting Mexico at this time of year will undoubtedly see references to Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The colorful iconic figures of decorated skulls and dancing skeletons may lead some to believe that it is part of the American/European tradition of Halloween. It is not.

Day of the Dead is a pre-Christian, multi-cultural tradition which took root in Mexico centuries ago, possibly as early as the Aztec civilization. And despite its somewhat scary title the holiday is a celebration and a memorial to the lives of family and loved ones who have already passed on. Traditionally there are two days in this holiday. On November 1st children who have passed are remembered, and on November 2nd deceased adults are recalled.

As the first days of November approach, families in Mexico begin preparing ofrendas or small altars or shrines. The ofrenda will often be decorated with photographs of dead family members, along with flowers, candy, and various images of the calavera and calaca…the skull and the skeleton. Skulls are made of spun sugar and decorated like a cake. Paper skeletons are portrayed in all manner of dress and behavior (often comic). These figures are not meant to be scary but to show death is not to be feared but instead laughed at as having no power over us.

As the days of celebration approach, the altar will also be filled with the things the deceased may have enjoyed in life. Alcohol, cigarettes and favorite foods are placed on the ofrenda. We even saw a marijuana cigarette placed on one! Water and a special bread called pan de muerto (bread of the dead) are also included in the gifts to the dead.

The purpose of the ofrenda is to call the spirits of the deceased back to this world so that they might experience the love that is still felt for them here. On the days of the dead families will have memorial dinners or visit the graves of loved ones. It is meant to be a happy remembrance of those who have passed. Sadness is discouraged as it is said tears will make the path back to this world too slippery for the spirits to make the journey.

We fell in love with this tradition when we first moved here to Mexico and found it to be a wonderful alternative to the fear and suppression of death often experienced in Anglo-American culture. We quickly adopted the tradition for ourselves and have built an ofrenda every year since moving to Playa del Carmen.

When we were first visitors to this area we often would stop and admire an ofrenda only to be told all about the deceased individual by the altar’s owner. We cherish those memories lovingly shared by people about their departed loved ones and still remember some of their stories.

On our ofrenda this year we celebrate family and friends who have passed away:

John Vernon Head ~ Tony’s older brother John was only 63 when he passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack this past June. He had lived his life fully as a loving son, brother, father and grandfather to his four children and grandchild. He had been a lawyer admitted to practice law in several states and for many years operated his own law firm. Although a tough-minded and practical attorney, he still delighted in his family, directing great celebrations for Halloween, Christmas and birthdays where he would even bake the cakes. He was as sweet as he was strong.

Tony’s Mom and Dad, Jack and Rosalie Head ~ Rosalie’s picture is her high school graduation picture showing her red hair, green eyes and bright Irish American smile. Jack’s picture is when he was 21 just after he made corporal in the Marines on the eve of WWII. It is inscribed “To Rosalie, The Sweetheart of the Marines.” On the back of the picture of Rosalie is a brown smear. It is Jack’s blood. The picture was inside his shirt on the island of Guam when he was hit by mortar fire. He carried it with him through the rest of the war, and still had it when he returned after the war to marry Rosalie. They remained together until Rosalie passed in 1997. Jack passed away in 2002.

Cheri’s dad, Ed Skultety ~ Ed is pictured on our altar in his US Air Force uniform. He spent twenty years in the Air Force serving honorably in Vietnam. He was later stationed stateside, mostly in Omaha, Nebraska. He married Sally Vernon (Cheri’s mom who now lives in Sacramento) and together they had six children. He retired from the Air Force in 1974 with the rank of Master Sergeant. That year he and the family moved from Nebraska to Pennsylvania where Ed had grown up and where much of his family still lived. He passed away in Pennsylvania in 1985.

Bill and Barbara Oates ~ Bill and Barbara were one of the strongest, most loving couples we ever met. They lived through a time when interracial couples (Bill was black, Barbara white) were often ignored, treated with disdain, or worse. They never complained, never returned the hatred they occasionally saw and never looked back. They held on to each other no matter what. They found a wonderful life in San Francisco where they were known at every good restaurant and decent bar in town. After they got older and ill they passed away within a few months of each other…it seemed they couldn’t live without one another. We miss them very much.

Our Pets ~ We also include on our ofrenda some of the many pets which have lived with us, brightened our lives and given us their love, including Huggybear, Belle, Pixie and Carib and the latest of these, our cat Shammy. Shammy was 21 years (over 100 in equivalent human time) when he passed just a few days ago.

Over the next few days we will take time to remember each of these members of our family. We will treasure those memories and renew our love for them. It is our hope that if the spirits of the dead pass this way tonight and tomorrow, they will feel nothing but the love we still have for them.

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Another Epic Playa del Carmen Halloween Party

Posted by Tony & Cheri on November 2, 2011

Last night was an epic Halloween party as only can be found at the Luna Blue Bar. We think the pictures speak for themselves.

For many more photos, check out our Facebook page.

Feliz Dia de los Muertos! We’ll be blogging again later today about our Day of the Dead ofrenda and our favorite Mexican holiday.

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Halloween in Playa del Carmen: The Best Party in Town

Posted by Tony & Cheri on October 22, 2011

Halloween in Playa del Carmen at the Luna Blue Hotel“From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, May the Good Lord deliver us!” ~ Traditional English Prayer

It’s Halloween again. Here in Playa del Carmen it is time for your every wicked fantasy to take control at the annual Luna Blue Bar Halloween Party! The wildest spirits in Playa will come out to play in outrageous costumes, drink seductive beverages and dance to tantalizing music, all in our garden of spooky delights.

Keep an Eye Out for Mermaids and Sea Monsters

And this year there is something new. Our Halloween party is also a pool party! The Luna Blue’s new sunken garden swimming pool will be open for a dip by our party guests. Just buy a minimum of two drinks at the bar to get a pool access wristband.  So bring a swimsuit… or a costume that floats. But be careful…you never know what lurks just below the water’s surface!

The Return of Barefoot Zombie Skinny

Earlier this month a wild rumor hit the internet that the legendary Caribbean troubadour Barefoot Skinny had met his untimely end in the tropical forests of Belize. Stories abounded that Skinny had been eaten by piranhas, carried off by jaguars or become the love slave of beautiful Amazons.

No one knows the true story, but thankfully Skinny has stumbled out of the jungle still breathing in time to play and sing at our party.  Dead or alive, Skinny is one of Playa del Carmen’s best-loved musicians.  He lives the life Jimmy Buffett only sings about, and if you haven’t seen him perform before, you are in for a treat.

A Night to Let it All Hang Out

Halloween in Playa del Carmen at the Luna Blue Hotel Halloween is a time to dress up, dress down and show off your inner witch, ghost or vampire.  You can strut your stuff at our annual costume contest with prizes and awards for Best Men’s costume, Best Women’s costume…and our all-time favorite…the Sexiest costume.

The only limit is your imagination and (dare we say it) sense of propriety and good taste. Costume contest judging will begin around 9:30 (depending on the sobriety of our judges).

Eye of Newt, Toe of Frog

The cauldron will bubble at the Luna Blue Bar where Jorge, Playa del Carmen’s best bartender. will be concocting magic potions and preparing all your frightfully favorite drinks like the blood red “Sarita B Careful,” the irresistible “Sex on the Bar” and the deadly “Papa T’s Margarita.”

Tequila shots are 2 x 1 (dos por uno) from 6- 9 pm.  The bar will open at 3, the music will start at 8 and the party will go until the witching hour of midnight.

Here at the Luna Blue Bar we love to party…so put on a mask, paint your face, or wrap up in a cape and head on over for the best Halloween celebration in town.

The Luna Blue Bar
Halloween Fantasy Costume Party
What’s Your Fantasy?

Halloween in Playa del Carmen at the Luna Blue Hotel

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Discover Scuba: Underwater Thrills in Playa del Carmen

Posted by Tony & Cheri on October 18, 2011

Diving in the Riviera Maya - a sea turtle up closeA week ago we were sitting on the bottom of the ocean, the air bubbles from our scuba tanks drifting slowly to the surface 40 feet above us. Beneath a swirling school of silvery fish, we spotted a large sea turtle casually munching on underwater plants. As we slowly approached he lifted his head and blinked his huge eyes once or twice as if trying to focus on us. He decided we were no threat to him and returned to his lunch as we swam past. This was only one of many amazing sights that greeted us on a very special day of scuba diving.

Not everyone realizes that Playa del Carmen is near some of the premier diving spots in the world. The 600 mile-long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest continuous coral reef in the world, sits just offshore from Playa del Carmen. The reef, with its beautiful coral and abundant sea life, offers a myriad of diving and snorkeling experiences. The reef is home to thousands of amazing sea creatures, from tiny shrimp to large sea turtles and fish of every size and color imaginable. It is an underwater world which has to be seen up close and personal to be believed.

We have both tried diving before. Years ago Tony went diving in Playa a couple of times and both of us went on an introductory dive in Belize a few years back. At one time we even took a diving certification course but never completed the open water dives due to a motor scooter accident Tony had which kept him out of the water.

We both wanted to go scuba diving again, but we knew we needed some refresher time first. Cheri was hesitant as she has always had a fear of being underwater. She knew she would need a lot of patience and help to try it again.

Diving in the Riviera Maya - pool demo at the Luna Blue Hotel poolSo we were thrilled when our friends Patrice and Laure, owners of Mexico Blue Dream dive shop, invited us to join in one of their “Discover Scuba” introductory classes. They promised Cheri she could go at her own pace and that their instructors would give her all the help she needed. They convinced us to give it a try.

We started out with a short instructional video at the dive shop and met with Eric, the instructor. We also met Bruno, who would be taking videos and photos of the class’ adventure. We were each fitted with all the proper equipment: a wetsuit, a BCD (buoyancy control device, or what you might consider a very special life jacket), weight belt, mask and fins. The Mexico Blue Dream staff then brought all the equipment, including tanks, over to the Luna Blue Hotel pool where each person received personal instruction from Eric. We learned proper hand signals and practiced breathing underwater, clearing our masks of water that may have seeped in and swimming around the pool with our equipment on.

Of course, at first it seems a bit strange to be breathing underwater, and until you find your comfort zone it’s nice to know you can simply stand up in the pool if you need a moment out of the water. When everyone was ready and felt comfortable with the equipment we were all taken back to the dive shop and after a short rest break (in case anyone wanted a a bite to eat), we headed down to the beach and the Mexico Blue Dream dive boat where we were joined by Craig, another dive instructor.

Diving in the Riviera Maya - a seahorse up closeA short 10 minute ride later we were at the reef. One by one we got into the water. Once the class and instructors were in the water we began our controlled descent to the bottom. As Cheri was still very anxious, Eric took everyone else down while Craig continued to work with Cheri near the surface.

When Tony and the rest of the class reached the bottom–about 35 to 40 feet down–the tour of the reef began. The clear water made visibility perfect. We found ourselves surrounded by colorful forms of coral and schools of fish of all sizes and types. It would be impossible to list all the sea life we saw, but among the various sea creatures we encountered were sea turtles, moray eels, various crabs, brightly colored parrot fish, beautiful angel fish, sun fish, pipe fish, and even seahorses.

We did two separate dives in two different locations. Both were what are called drift dives, as the current carried us along the reef. Most reef diving in the Riviera Maya is drift diving–what many believe to be the most pleasant and relaxing diving experience there is. With a drift dive, one simply “goes with the flow” and simply drifts past the scenery with the natural current. We literally just floated past the sights of this colorful underwater world. By the end of the day we were tired but exhilarated from the things we had done and the sights we had seen. Cheri was happy that the instructors had been so patient and kind with her.

The day was unhurried and relaxing, something we really appreciated. Extra time is built in so that the day flows more at a Mexico pace. Since students in a Discover Scuba class are new to the sport, Mexico Blue Dream believes in having that extra time for mental preparation and relaxation along the way, so that the experience is positive and enjoyable for everyone.

We have always highly recommended Mexico Blue Dream and came away from this experience even more enthused about their operation. Every single person we encountered–from the owners to the dive instructors to the boat staff–was friendly, approachable, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and calming. Their focus is clearly on making each dive a special experience for everyone involved.

Scuba diving in the Riviera Maya with Mexico Blue DreamAnyone can have the same experience we had when visiting Playa. Mexico Blue Dream offers a SCUBA pool demo where instructors will assist you in trying on scuba equipment and then teach you how to swim and breathe while underwater. This can all be done in the safe confines of a shallow swimming pool.

For guests of our own Luna Blue Hotel, the Mexico Blue Dream pool demo takes place only steps from your room in our new sunken garden swimming pool. Best of all, it’s free when you stay at the Luna Blue.

If after learning to use the scuba gear in the pool you want to try it in open water, the nice folks at Mexico Blue Dream will be glad to take you on a “Discover Scuba” dive, much like we did. You will see a short instructional film and then take the Mexico Blue Dream’s boat out on the Caribbean Sea where you will have two 45-50 minute dives. You will always go with a dive instructor who will watch you closely, monitor your safety and guide you past the incredible sights of a living coral reef.

Many people find that once they try scuba diving they want to go again and again. The good news is that Mexico Blue Dream can help you become certified as a scuba diver. The dives you make in your initial Discover Scuba program count towards your PADI scuba certification requirements.

If you are going to be a guest at the Luna Blue Hotel, just let us know that you would like to try the FREE scuba pool demo.

You only live once. You owe it to yourself to experience the vast world that lives just beneath the surface of the sea.

Bruno’s video talents

Mexico Blue Dream Dive Shop in Playa del Carmen Mexico
On the road to Mamita’s Beach Club – Calle 28 between 1st Ave and the beach
Mexico Blue Dream Dive Shop in Playa del Carmen Mexico

Tony & Cheri practicing in the pool
Scuba Diving in the Riviera Maya

The Mexico Blue Dream dive boat taking us to the reef
Scuba Diving in the Riviera Maya

Tony trying out his gear
Scuba Diving in the Riviera Maya

Cheri getting instruction from Eric in the pool
Scuba Diving in the Riviera Maya

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