The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba is Chanel Cleeton's fourth book in the series about the Perez women. While they are all considered a series and some of the character make appearances or have ties to characters in other books, they can all stand alone. Meaning - you don't have to read the three previous books (Next Year in Havana, When We Left Cuba, or Last Train to Key West) to understand the story.
Like many other Cuban-American women of my generation, Cleeton's books have resonated so deeply because for us, Cuba is a thing of our imaginations. I personally have never been there. My mom just visited for the first time a few years ago. We feel a connection to this land, to this culture, to this place - but our experience is one built on memory - the collective memory of those who were exiled and longed for their home but had no chance of returning. There is so much of Cuba that I don't know, and with each of Cleeton's books, I learn a little more. So while the story moves along, I also find myself learning new bits of information that I didn't know.
The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba takes place in the late nineteenth century during the Cuban War for Independence and is inspired by real events. It follows three revolutionary women who all end up connected.
At the turn of the century in New York, newspaper tycoons William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer run rival newspapers. Grace Harrington becomes a stunt girl reporter for Hearst's paper and quickly comes to realize that getting the scoop can make or break your career. By proving her mettle, she scores the story of a lifetime coming out of Cuba.
Evangelina Cisneros is unjustly imprisoned at the start of the war. When the papers in New York catch wind of her story, they dub her "The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba" and use her story to sell papers.
Marina Perez, a revolutionary working as a courier, helps Grace and Hearst's staff get messages to Evangelina in an attempt to free her.
It's a story of how three women sacrifice so much of themselves in the fight for freedom.
Cuban or not, if you enjoy historical fiction, I think you'll enjoy this one.
Get the book.
Last week we kicked off summer vacation by hopping on a plane with the kids and our friends and taking our first international flight in over a year and a half! The flight was short, but I was just excited to whip out our passports again and visit a country I have come to love over the years. You see, Eddie was born in the Dominican Republic and he and his family came to the US when he was young. Before we had Caleb, we used to visit at least once a year, and I always loved it. Oftentimes we stayed in Santo Domingo visiting family and friends, but we had also gone to a couple of resorts. We had been to visit Casa de Campo but had never stayed there together.
Casa de Campo is a beautiful resort area that has SO much to offer. It is over 7,000 acres large and includes 3 championship golf courses (including the famous Teeth of the Dog course), a marina, restaurants, an equestrian center, a shooting course, shopping, a hotel, villas, and countless other activities. Basically, if you can think about doing on vacation, Casa de Campo likely offers it.
When you visit Casa de Campo, you can stay in the hotel or you can stay in a private villa - which is a house. We stayed in a villa that we found on vrbo. You can also book directly through the Casa de Campo website. Many of the homes come with a cook and a housekeeper as a standard feature. Houses vary in cost depending on the size and what they include, and many are made to fit multiple families. Make sure you read the full description of what your rental includes and what it doesn't, as well as bed/bath setups. Pro tip: ask the cook to make you Dominican breakfast (tres golpes).
There is an airport nearby, La Romana, but as of right now there were no flights from Miami to there, so we flew into the capital, SDQ. From there we took a transfer. The ride was just under 2 hours. We stopped in a nearby town along the way to buy groceries, but the truth is there is a grocery store in the Marina in Casa de Campo. It isn't super expensive, and while it's small, it has all the necessities!
When we went, the entire country was under a curfew (toque de queda). It was 6 pm during the week and 3 pm on Saturdays and Sundays(!). The housekeeper and cook had to leave earlier because of this, but we still took advantage for breakfast, lunch, and help around the house. This also means that restaurants had to close at that time. There were no bars/restaurants open after curfew - I'm not sure how long curfew will last so definitely think about this!
There is a beach area called Playa Minitas. It has a Restaurant, some food trucks, a bar, and a pool area (I think there is an adult pool area too but we didn't make it there). Due to COVID-19, they aren't handing out towels at the beach club so make sure you take your own from your Villa or hotel room. The service on the beach was pretty slow - your best bet for getting your drinks is standing up and going to the bar (you also need to wear your mask when you go to the bar area or they won't serve you).
The beach is nice, but I wouldn't say one of the most beautiful beaches I've been to. It is shallow and there's a rock formation that keeps it calm. It's perfect for letting the kids play. If you want gorgeous beaches, there are excursions that will take you to places like Isla Catalina or Isla Saona for the day - and the beaches there are beautiful.
There is a Dude Ranch/Equestrian Center so we took the kids horseback riding. You do need to make reservations for this. We did thirty minutes. We did an early early morning ride and it was perfect because it wasn't too hot yet. Each of the big kid riders had a guide on their own horse and the two little ones rode ponies and were led by guides.
We only got to spend about 30 minutes in Altos de Chavon, a replica of a 16th century Mediterranean village. But it really is a gorgeous area and I wish we had had more time to explore there and maybe have a meal at one of the restaurants there. There is also an amphitheater where they hold concerts, a church, an art gallery, and shopping.
Restaurants we ate at: La Casita (at the Marina), Peperoni (at the Marina), and Minitas Beach Club (at the beach). There are many other restaurants but since everything was closed early we didn't get to try more places. The Marina has a lot of restaurants next to each other in a little plaza. The grocery store is also located in the Marina.
You definitely need a golf cart to get around. Make sure you reserve one for the duration of your stay.
We did not need a COVID test to enter the country, but we did need one to return to the US. Casa de Campo has a testing site near the hotel. You do need to book your test in advance. It's $80 for hotel guests and $110 for villa guests (yes, per person. If you're traveling as a family, definitely factor this into your budget).
There has been a big push to vaccinate employees at Casa de Campo so they can get back to business as usual. Aside from that, nearly everything there is outdoors. Even the common areas in our villa were open to the outside, and the majority of restaurants are outdoors as well. Just do all the common sense things like washing your hands and limiting touching your face.
I think that's everything! I hope I answered your questions about Casa de Campo, and I hope you'll consider it for a vacation!
Additional things to do:
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Disney and Pixar’s original feature film “Luca” is a coming-of-age story about one young boy experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta and endless scooter rides. Luca shares these adventures with his newfound best friend, but all the fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: they are sea monsters from another world just below the water’s surface.
New Disney Pixar films are always big hit around here, and Luca is sure to be no different! It begins streaming on Disney+ this Friday, June 18, and Disney has shared some activity pages you can do with the kids in anticipation of the film's release or once you've had a chance to watch it! Watch the preview and download the files below. Fair warning, just the preview has me wanting to book a flight to the Italian Riviera!
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