Paradisus La Perla – Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Happy Valentine’s Day! While we love this special day, it’s been the everyday married life for the past three months that has been so incredibly special. We knew each other for almost 10 years before getting married, but you learn so much about someone when you live together. We’ve learned that it works best when we each do our own laundry, but that we make a pretty good team when cooking and cleaning in the kitchen. While we’re still in this “honeymoon” phase of life, we thought it was only fitting to share some of our favorite things from our phenomenal honeymoon at Paradisus La Perla in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

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It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, we were knee-deep in wedding planning. There were three things on our list that we were most excited to plan – the food, the band, and the honeymoon! You spend so much time, effort, and money planning the perfect day to celebrate the start of your marriage, so it was important to us that we picked a honeymoon location that we could relax in paradise to truly begin our life together. Originally, we were going to pick three places and Grant would ultimately decide and book the resort, keeping it a surprise for me. But…..once we started looking, we decided it would be more fun to plan things together (and it took some of the pressure off Grant!).

I love planning and organizing, especially when it comes to vacations. I kept a spreadsheet with our options, including notes about number of restaurants, number of pools, included amenities, location, and traveler reviews. We probably had close to a dozen options we were considering. A big factor in our decision-making was finding a location where the weather and water would still be warm in November, a place that had direct flights from Atlanta, and a resort that was all inclusive, so we didn’t have to worry about budgeting when we were supposed to be relaxing.

I had been to Mexico before with my family and loved the resort we had always stayed at, the Moon Palace. But for our honeymoon, Grant and I wanted to experience a place that neither of us had been to. We narrowed down our options to Mexico or the Dominican Republic, and eventually zeroed in on Playa del Carmen in Mexico. Playa del Carmen is outside of the typical, touristy Cancun resort area that most people associate with Mexico. The resort we decided on was Paradisus La Perla and was about a 45 minute drive from the Cancun International Airport.

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We had some concerns from family and friends about traveling to Mexico, but neither of us ever felt unsafe during our visit. The resort arranged complimentary transportation to and from the airport, and the resort was only accessible by visitors staying there. The one thing that would have been a benefit to us was if either of us spoke Spanish. We knew a few words here and there, but not enough to carry on a full conversation. Maybe it’s time we start listening to Rosetta Stone on our commutes to and from the office!

It’s hard to narrow down our favorite parts of our honeymoon, but here are our top 5 favorite things about Paradisus La Perla:

  1. Royal Service – The name itself just sounds magical, and trust us, it was! Royal Service guests have access to a special concierge for booking preferential dining reservations and spa treatments, have their own personal on-call butler, have a private Royal Service only pool and bar, private Royal Service-only a la carte restaurant, and the “Free to Lounge” area with specialty snacks and top shelf beverages. Gilberto was our butler and was fantastic about getting us the dinner reservations we requested and just making sure we had a wonderful stay. We definitely took advantage of the “Free to Lounge” area since many of our reservations were later in the evening and found it the perfect place to have a quick snack and relax before dinner. img_1855img_1914
  2. Incredible Food – There are 14+ incredible restaurants here! So many that we didn’t even make it to all of them. When you think all-inclusive, you sometimes think it is equivalent with buffets or average food. Not the case at all with Paradisus. While we didn’t get a chance to try it this time, their Passion restaurant is run by Seven Star Michelin Chef Martin Berasategui and is supposed to be phenomenal. Our favorite restaurants included Hadar for breakfast, The Market (or a poolside snack!) for lunch, and Fuego and Bana for dinner. You really could not go wrong with any of their restaurants! And they were very accommodating with food allergies. Grant is allergic to tree nuts, and he received a card that noted his allergy in English and in Spanish that we gave to each of our waiters before dining. img_1911img_1921
  3. All-Inclusive – Similar to our comments about food, having an all-inclusive resort was amazing after a year of budgeting and paying for a wedding. The Paradisus staff was truly top-notch with customer service, and were genuinely appreciative when we did tip someone for exceptional service. The all-inclusive aspect really made us excited to try some new foods and drinks while we were there that we might not have spent the money on otherwise. Grant in particular enjoyed all of the frozen drink variations (Mango Tangos every day), and it was a special treat to enjoy so much fresh seafood. One of our favorite pre-dinner spots was the M Bar, a martini bar. It was so fun to try some new variations of the classic martini and take some notes for when we entertain at home. img_1883-1img_1885
  4. Variety of Things to Do – The Paradisus resort is a combination of two properties, La Esmeralda (family side) and La Perla (adults only). Having such a large, combined resort gave us a ton of options when it came to eating, exploring, and activities. While we were there, we got to go to a Mexican wine tasting class (TLB fun fact: per capita consumption of wine in Mexico is only one bottle per year!), went to a sushi making class, and went on a snorkeling tour. The wine tasting class and sushi class were both right on property, and we booked the snorkeling adventure through AquaWorld. The tour boat left right from the Paradisus beach, drove us out to the reef for an hour of snorkling, then brought us back – all without ever leaving our resort! img_1872img_1891img_1896
  5. Property & Views – Having access to two resorts in one was a great feature! We never felt bored and had some many places to explore. The pool areas were amazing, with comfy lounge chairs, easy access to the bar for food and drinks, and the ocean breeze to whisk your mind away to paradise. The beach was beautiful, and we took a few walks along there to feel the sand under our toes and smell the cool ocean breeze. They had an awesome Royal Service only section on the beach as well, which we tried out only once. 37 minutes under the direct sunlight, and we had to make a retreat for our pool chairs and umbrella! These two pale people can’t take too much of the Mexican sun! Our room was amazing as well – we had our own swim-up access to the pool, jacuzzi, and sitting area. The Paradisus team covered every detail you could imagine! img_1878img_1871img_1841

Sound like a place you’d want to go? Take a look at the website here to read more, see pictures, and book your stay! Have more questions? Comment below or send us an email at thelocalbells@gmail.com

TLB tip: join Melia Rewards (it’s free!) to get an even bigger discount when booking.

Homemade Limoncello – Part 1

For those of you who don’t know, Grant and I met on a European studies trip to Italy and Greece nearly ten years ago! My great grandfather on my dad’s side came over from Sicily, Italy, so you could say Italy has played an important role in both of our lives! When we were deciding on a rehearsal dinner location, we had one of the best Italian meals (that wasn’t in Italy) at Tuscany Italian Restaurant in Woodstock. After gorging ourselves on a sampling of basically the entire menu, the owner sat down with us for a celebratory toast of limoncello. Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur, mainly produced in Southern Italy. Traditionally, it is served chilled as an after-dinner drink. I love all things lemon – lemon bars, lemon Italian ice, and limoncello! For whatever reason, I decided to see how it was made and found out that it is surprisingly simple! Being the patient man he is, Grant indulged me and agreed for us to give it a try at making some homemade limoncello this weekend.

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We started off by gathering all of the necessary ingredients: lemons, alcohol (we went with vodka), and a large glass jar. After a visit to Costco to purchase the biggest bag of lemons I’ve ever seen ($6.99) and a 1.75 liter bottle of their private label vodka ($13.99), we grabbed the final item – the glass jar – from Target ($5.79), all in all spending less than $30 dollars! There are a lot of recipes out there for homemade limoncello, but this is the one we decided to follow with a few tweaks: http://theitaliandishblog.com/imported-20090913150324/2012/7/3/how-to-make-homemade-limoncello.html

You start off by zesting or grating the lemons. I used ten lemons and alternating between using the large grater for thicker peels with the small zester to get the hard to grate edges. A word of caution that every recipe says: make sure to no zest the white pith of the lemon or else it will be very bitter.

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It took a good 30 minutes to grate and zest all of the lemons. Once they are settled into the glass jar, you add one liter of alcohol. Some recipes call for Everclear, others call for vodka. Vodka was more easily accessible and cheaper, so that’s what we went with! Costco has some awesome deals on both their private label as well as other national brands. TLB tip: you don’t even have to be a Costco member to go to their liquor store!

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Once we sealed the jar up tight, it goes in a cool, dark place for the next 7-30 days (we read differing reviews on this one, but plan to err more on the longer side of it). At that point, you make a simple syrup to add to the lemon/vodka mixture. TLB tip: use the leftover grated/zested lemons to make lemonade, lemon bars, or infuse into water.

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Stay tuned for part two of our limoncello making adventure! Keep your fingers crossed for us that it turns out!

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Roswell Restaurant Week – The Mill Kitchen & Bar

Last Saturday, we had the opportunity to try out one of the fabulous restaurants that was participating in Roswell Restaurant WeekThe Mill Kitchen & Bar!  We’ve heard about all of these different “restaurant weeks” in Roswell, Alpharetta, and Atlanta, but have never actually visited during the promotion period. This time, we made it a goal to plan one of our weekend date nights at a participating restaurant!

Before we ultimately decided on The Mill Kitchen & Bar, we scoured through over 30 participating restaurants’ prix-fixe menus to narrow down our options. For those of you who are unfamiliar with restaurant weeks, typically the restaurants will offer a set two or three course menu with a handful of their specialty options at a fixed price. For Roswell Restaurant week, most menus were either $25 or $35 per person for two or three courses. We usually don’t order dessert when we eat out, so restaurant week was an excuse for us to make date night extra special!

The Mill Kitchen & Bar holds a special place in our heart – we celebrated our engagement with our families at brunch the morning after Grant proposed. So it was already high on the list before looking at the food options! After looking at the menu, we came to the conclusion that it had some of the best options that appealed to both of us (and we had never been there for dinner). For the appetizer, we each had a choice between Pimento Cheese Fritters, Fried Pickles, or a Wedge Salad. Entrees included Fried Chicken, Shrimp & Grits, and Short Rib. And finally, dessert was either a Flourless Chocolate Torte or Bread Pudding. Additionally, they had some beer and wine flight options that included either 3 beer tastes for $7 or 3 wine tastes for $11. Take a look below to see what we decided to try!

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(Wedge Salad; Pimento Cheese Fritters; Domaine Bousquet Malbec, Slow Press Cabernet, Bortoluzzi Pinot Grigio; Eventide Highlander Strong Scotch Ale, Lexington Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, Scofflaw Porter; Shrimp & Grits, Flourless Chocolate Torte; Bread Pudding) 

So, was Restaurant Week worth it?

Despite it being Restaurant Week, we were able to score a great reservation on OpenTable only a few days in advance. In terms of cost, we saved $6 by ordering from the Restaurant Week menu as opposed to ordering the exact same thing during a normal day. Their appetizer and dessert portion sizes were HUGE! We easily could have split both on a normal night out. All of the flavors and food quality were amazing; you definitely felt like you got what you paid for. On a downside, the restaurant was super busy with it being Saturday night and Restaurant Week, so service was a little slow – we didn’t get water until our first course and our beer and wine didn’t get there until the entrees. They also were out of quite a few wine options from their tasting flight menu, so I probably would have preferred just ordering a glass of wine rather than scambling to pick tasting options from what they had left. Also, if you are someone that likes to substitute or ask for special requests, there are no substitutions from the Restaurant Week menu, so something as simple as switching out blue cheese for ranch dressing with the salad could not be accommodated.

All in all, we had a great date night and would definitely recommend coming back to The Mill Kitchen & Bar! Neither of us left hungry and it was fun to try something new! We’re glad we tried out the Restaurant Week menu, but think we’ll probably stick to the regular menu next time, as well as plan to go during a time when it’s not so crazy to try new places.

Did you visit Roswell Restaurant Week? Any recommendations on new places for us to try?

Be sure to follow along with us in between blog posts on our Instagram – instagram.com/thelocalbells

Gate City Brewing Company

Hey everyone – Grant again! Today I’m excited to tell you about one of my favorites things ever: BEER! This is my review of Gate City Brewing Company. This is a small brewery located in historic downtown Roswell, GA. This is actually Roswell’s first brewery in 2015 when they first opened their doors. Everyone knows that craft beers are very popular right now, from IPAs to Amber Ales, all the way to Stouts and Porters. Gate City Brewing has a style of beer for every type of beer drinker. Now, there are many aspects that people look for when going to a brewery. They are: beer, atmosphere, crew and community.

The beer. The single most important part of a brewery is and will always be the beer. Now, Gate City started with their Cooperhead Amber and 1864 IPA. These are the staples of Gate City along with OTP IPA and Terminus Porter, which are all available for purchase at your local grocery store (hopefully,). A bill was passed recently in Georgia that allows small craft breweries to not only produce the beer, but also sell their own beer. In the past, you would attend a brewery and only be allowed to purchase a “tour,” which usually included a glass, 6 beer samples, and a tour of the brewery. Thankfully, Georgia legislation passed a new law so that these craft breweries could also sell pints of beer to customers along with a already canned beer. You can request a 32oz fresh canned beer or whatever your favorite is on tap. I am personally an IPA fan. I love the hoppy taste they have with that bitter finish. My usual go-to at Gate City is the OTP. This is a great IPA with a great hoppy flavor but also not over bearing to where you are dying for a palette cleanser. Terminus would have to be my second favorite. This is an awesome Porter with a greater coffee finish on it. Both of these beers are canned and available for purchase at your local grocery store (well, that is if you’re in Georgia). The newest brew they have at the Tap Room is Black Magic. This is like if the OTP and Terminus had a baby. This is a dark IPA which is very new to me. I definitely had to get a little taste before committing to a full pint. This might be my new favorite beer. It had a very nice IPA flavor to it, but still had the body of a dark beer without being so heavy, I highly recommend coming it the tap room and giving it a try!

Now to talk about the crew and the atmosphere. Gate City Brewing is above the rest when it comes to this. They have a great feel with their new larger tap room (opened up in 2017). There are plenty of large tvs, a large bar, lots of picnic tables along with a more luxurious couch area. Tons of games are spread out across the seating area like large Jenga and UNO. We came to Gate City to watch the AFC Divisional Playoff game and it was perfect. They usually have a food truck come in during the week and all day on Friday and Saturday. If you don’t like what they are serving up, there are tons of restaurants in Downtown Historic Roswell that you can order from and bring into the brewery or use the UberEats app to make it even easier. The staff at Gate City is also awesome. If you don’t know exactly what you want, just let them know your usual type of brew and they can recommend something for you! A few friends and I sat at the bar for a whole NFL game, and not only were the bar enders very conversational but they also paid attention to the other customers and made great recommendations.

Now we talked about the beer, the crew and the atmosphere, but the most underrated thing is the community. All of the Gate City staple beerspay homage with their logo. Their 1864 is named after the Battle of Atlanta during the Civil War in September of 1864. Terminus is named after the railroad that was built through Georgia that linked Savannah to the Chattanooga River and the Mid-West in 1836. If you’re from Atlanta, you know what OTP stand for (Outside The Perimeter). All in all, Gate City embraces the history of Atlanta and embeds it into its culture through and through.

To sum up everything, Gate City Brewing is an awesome to place to hangout, watch a football game, spend a lazy Sunday afternoon, meet up with friends on a Saturday, or just enjoy some great craft beer. We highly recommend visiting Gate City Brewing and hope to see you there!