Ruby Princess – Day 5 – St. Thomas


I’ve been to St. Thomas several times before, but I do love it so was excited to go back again.  This time the plan was pretty much the same as in the past – a little shopping, then head to the beach.  I woke up not feeling great – a little too much rich food, I think – so I decided to skip the shopping and just meet up at Lindbergh Beach.  It was nice to sleep in a little, have a light and leisurely breakfast, and get off the ship after most people had already gone.  It was a little strange when I was walking out of the port area (which always has some shops and such for those who don’t want to venture too far) to see all the Christmas trees and decorations.  It just didn’t feel like Christmas was approaching with the sunshine and 80 degree weather. 

I had a little trouble getting a taxi because I was alone and the trip to the beach was only $4 per person.  In the islands it often costs so much a person and the drivers weren’t going to make anything off of me.  Finally one driver said he would take me – and he had a full size van.  It’s a quick trip and most people were already off the ship so he was good with it.  By the time I got there the family was already there.  Dennis (or Jacques as I’d started calling him) was out swimming with his goggles on looking for fish.  Danielle was at the bar ordering Red Stripes – thank goodness she saw me in time to add one to her order.  I pulled a chair up next to theirs, paid my $6 to the gentleman who was in charge, drank a little beer, then headed into the water. 

When we found this beach 5 years ago, it was pretty unknown and deserted.  More people have found it, but it’s still much less crowded than some of the more popular beaches on the island.  Last time there were 2 vendors, this time none.  The area we sit on is in front of the Island Beachcomber hotel.  There is a great little bar there for drinks and lunch.         

Right behind the beach is the airport, but there are not a lot of flights so the noise is not a problem. 

This hotel is adjacent to the Best Western Emerald Bayand the beach on that side is a little more crowded.  I would definitely consider staying at the Emerald Bay in the future.  I have had clients stay here and after seeing the beach the first time I understood why they enjoyed it so much.    

One of the great things is that this is a nice little cove which is great for swimming.  You can go quite a ways out and still touch bottom – it’s all nice and sandy with no drop offs.  We spent several nice hours here drinking beer, swimming, sunning and having a little lunch.  The only fish we really saw were close to shore – there were a bunch of silver fish about 4 – 6 inches long, when one would come up to you suddenly there would be a bunch of them.  Kind of freaky.  There were a couple of sailboats moored in the cove – I seriously considered swimming out and stowing away on one so I wouldn’t have to come home.              

The taxi drivers on these islands are great.  They know when the ships leave and they start coming around to the beaches an hour or so before you really have to leave to make sure that everyone gets back.  I guess they know that we are going to lose track of time.  We rode back in one of the open air jitneys – this is my nephew wearing the cool sunglasses he bought in town that morning.     

Although we had a fabulous day at the beach, we were looking forward to that night because we had reservations at the Crown Grill.  I’ve always been one of those people who couldn’t understand why, when there is so much fabulous food included with the price of the cruise, anyone would want to spend $20 – $30 to eat in the specialty restaurants.  I decided that as a travel consultant I should try it so that I could advise my clients as to whether it was really worth it. 

We started with the appetizer – most of us had scallops and foie gras.  I’d never had foie gras before, and frankly didn’t like it so passed it off to Dennis.  The scallops were fabulous though!  I had the goat cheese salad which was really tasty.  For the main course my nephew ordered a 22 ounce Porterhouse, my niece and I ordered the Maine Lobster Tails (we didn’t notice the plural and thought we were getting one 4 ounce tail).  This is what we got! 

Amazing.  And we still had dessert to come.

We were at the restaurant for 2 ½ hours.  The service was wonderful – we really enjoyed this experience.  I am a believer now!  This was a fabulous dining experience.  For $25 per person ($12.50 for my 12 year old nephew), you can’t beat it.  I will always recommend that my clients try the specialty restaurant at least one night during their cruises from now on.

I think I’m going to need to spend a week on St. Thomas so that I can see some other beaches, take the ferry over to St.  John and see what else it has to offer.

Cruising The Ruby Princess – Day 2


One of the things I enjoy most about cruising is that it’s so easy to just head out to eat whenever you are ready and I don’t have to wait for my travel companions or try to decide where to go.  This morning I decided to just order room service and got a breakfast sandwich, banana, juice and milk.  No charge except for a tip to the delivery person.  I love that!

I met up with my group to get off the ship and take the tender ashore.  Pam had gotten a clamshell (little cover with 2 chairs) and we were renting aqua chairs and snorkel equipment.  When you get onto Princess Cayes (their private beach area on theislandofEleutherain theBahamas) you head left for the free, unreserved chairs or right for the clamshells and beach bungalows.  We headed to the right and dropped our stuff at the clamshell and Dennis and I snorkeled up and headed into the water.  The others got a cocktail and headed out in their aqua chairs.  I was somewhat surprised at how many fish we saw in the roped off swimming area.  There were not a lot of swimmers on this side so the water was pretty clear.  We saw some fairly big blue fish with yellow stripes on the side, some flat blue fish that looked like the kind you see in aquariums (one turned on it’s side and waved at me), some yellow & black fish, plus more.  I also enjoyed looking at the plant life on the bottom of the sea. 

This is really a great place for a beach day.  They have some shops so you can do some souviner shopping; a couple of bars so you can get drinks – as well as waiters on the beach which I loved; you can go just outside of the Princess property for some more shopping (we didn’t do this because everything we needed was inside); they serve lunch (no charge – just like on the ship) on both sides – hotdogs & hamburgers, with salads and desserts on our side and a BBQ on the other side; watersports rentals; even a few excursions.  You can go back and forth to the ship if you need to.  I think the last tender back was around 3:15.  Here is the one picture I took this day – our ship from shore.

This day was Pam’s actual birthday so we went out and partied.  We stayed very late in the disco.  There was a lot of ship movement on this cruise so the dance floor was pretty interesting.  As time went on people seemed to adjust and when the ship rocked, we all went with it.  As a group we’d dance from one side of the floor to the other – almost like a line dance.   A good time was had by all.

The exciting life of a Travel Agent


As a travel agent, you probably think I travel all the time.  Oh, how I wish I could.  But who would take care of my clients and book their trips if I was traveling?  And my dog would miss me.  And then, there’s that pesky part time job that pays the bills during slow travel months.  Instead, I spend a lot of time reading travel magazines – both mainstream and industry publications; taking webinars and classes offered by tourist bureaus, hotel/resort companies, The Travel Institute, etc.; and of course, watching The Travel Channel.

This past weekend we had a rare, for us this summer, beautiful warm weekend.  Normally I would spend the whole weekend outside enjoying the sun, but this weekend I was suffering from a toothache and 2 sleepless nights.  I did get some pain meds from my dentist on Saturday (thank you so much, Dr. Fisher!) but still had very little energy by Sunday afternoon.  So, I turned on the Travel Channel and they had two great back to back episodes that featured beaches in the United States.  Since I specialize in tropical destinations and beach vacations I tuned right in, and took notes.  I wanted to share some of what I learned.

The first episode was on Extreme Beach Experiences and first aired in 2007.  Here are some beaches you might want to check out depending on your interests.

Sand Dollar Beach at Big Sur,CA.  This made the list for Surf Kayaking which utilizes a modified kayak to ride the waves like you would in surfing.  It looked pretty amazing and I would love to go to watch, but don’t think I would try it.  This is on a beautiful, long stretch of beach at Big Sur, and you find the entrance at Los Padres National Forest.  The best time to go is September.

Extreme Happy Hour can be experiences at Shooters Waterfront Café inFort Lauderdale on the Intercoastal waterway.  This sounds like a pretty happening place if you are into a party – million dollar yachts, fresh seafood, daily specials, entertainment, special events and best of all, great people watching!

How about some Extreme Snorkeling on the North Shore of Oahu.  North Shore Shark Adventures will take you out (best time is early morning) to “swim with the sharks”.  Don’t worry, you will be safe in the shark cage they put you in before they start throwing bloody bait into the ocean around you to attract the sharks.  I think this is something I might be willing to try.

Newport Beach, CA offers extreme body boarding at “The Wedge”.  The waves break at a depth of 1 – 2 feet so if you wipe out, you may seriously wipe out.  One of my friends told me the did this when she was a bit younger, and it is pretty crazy.  I might watch, but won’t partake. 

For extreme sports, Huntington Beach, CA has it all.  The Travel Channel said they have Beach Games during the first 2 weeks of July, but I can’t find it on their calendar.  However, there are tons of events going on all the time – surfing, volleyball, skateboarding contests, music & entertainment. Huntington Beachhas been known as “Surf City, USA”.  Definitely a fun place to spend a few days anytime.

You might also want to try some extreme swimming (read very cold) at the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska.  You can also do extreme salmon fishing on a river near here where your guide will be equipped with a loaded gun in case a brown bear wants to challenge you for your catch (this one you can do as an excursion from your cruise). 

The second episode I watched was about the 10 best Florida beaches.  This originally aired in 2003 so some things may have changed in the last 8 years.  But, I would still love to visit a few of these beaches.  I’ll just list them briefly:

#10,Daytona Beach– 23 miles long, best for activities such as surfing; rides and fun on the boardwalk; biking, ATV’s or golf cart rides on the beach; or just drive your car onto the beach til you find your spot and spend the day.  #9, Sanibel Island – one of the best places for shell collecting in the world – great sunsets, relaxing, and friendly people.  #8, Panama Beach – best for Spring Break – 500,000 come then – 26 miles long – 19,000 hotel rooms and the businesses cater to the Spring Break party crowd during March – the other 11 months it’s a quiet, cozy beach town.  #7, Sandspur Beach on Bahia Honda Key – secluded, quiet, relaxing – 3 miles of beach.  #6, Smathers Beach on Key West– this spot is closer to Havana than toMiami– it was built with imported sand from theBahamas– volleyball, sunsets, nightlife on famous Duval Street.  #5, Clearwater Beach near St. Petersburg on the gulf is a boaters paradise with soft, white sand.  #4, Lovers Key – secluded for romance – boating, canoeing, biking – outside Fort Myers.  #3, Palm Beach– the playground of the rich and famous – high end shops – rub elbows with the wealthy.  #2, Siesta Key Beach on the gulf coast near Sarasota– the white, sugary sand is the softest you will find – volleyball, swimming, watersports – and sand sculptures.  #1 is no surprise –South Beach, Miami.

So, that’s how this travel agent spend the last, beautiful, sunny weekend we had here in thePacific Northwest!

Adventures in Paradise – The End


(I just realized that I never posted my last installment of my Hawaii Vacation – sorry for the delay.  I hope you enjoy it.)

After visiting Kona Village Resort we headed to the airport for the flight back to Honolulu.  We stayed at the Hilton HawaiianVillage which is at one end of Waikiki Beach.  This is a beautiful resort with several pools (including the Paradise Pool with several small slides), a fabulous beach, numerous restaurants and bars, shops – both touristy and fancy.  And they have fireworks over the beach every Friday night.  I also had a fondness for the pool with the turtles and penquins. 

            

We started off in the Tapas Tower in an Oceanfront Suite.  The room was wonderful – roomy, great view, and well located.            The only problem was the kids upstairs who started running around at about 6AM.  I requested to move for the last night so Lisa decided to go back to her own place since she was working both days anyway.  I moved to the Rainbow Tower in an Oceanview King room.  I had views of not only the ocean, but also Diamondhead.  I also looked over the main pool area.  I really liked the location of this tower and the view was fantastic – I could sit on the bed and see the ocean – what can be better than that in Hawaii?

             

We had a lot of fun inWaikiki, just wandering around sort of playing tourist.  Of course, Lisa took me to a few of her favorite bars.  One day we toured Pacific Beach Hotel – I had some clients staying there the following month so I wanted to check it out.  It is at the other end of Waikiki Beach from the Hilton.  It’s a great location – right across the street from the beach with no other buildings blocking the view.  They have a 3 story aquarium with all kinds of fish in the lobby / restaurant area.  This is a moderate property, but for the price I think it is great for those on a budget that want to be near the beach.  The rooms are basic, the pool is fairly small, but there are fabulous views, friendly staff, and the food at the lunch buffet was pretty darn good.

            

I had some time to myself so I did a little exploring and had a nice lunch at the Shorebird Restaurant at the Outrigger Reef at the Beach.  More fantastic views, $3.50 Mai Tais, and a reasonably priced lunch buffet. 

I had not really spent much time inWaikiki for quite a few years and what I found is that with a little exploring you can find some real bargains, including some great free entertainment.  Although, if you are looking for a more high end experience you can certainly find that as well.  During all of my hotel tours I was reminded of how misleading some of the room categories can be.  You have to do some investigating to find out what an individual hotel property may consider to be an Oceanview as opposed to a Partial Oceanview (do you have to lean over your balcony railing to see the ocean, will you have a full view of the ocean or just a peek-a-boo?  But the bottom line for me is –Waikiki is a great place if you enjoy nightlife, fine dining, people watching, shopping, or even just relaxing in a lounge chair with a good book. 

It snowed in Gig Harbor the week I returned– I wished I was back in Hawaii right now!  (And with the “summer” we are having here in the Pacific Northwest, I really wish I was back in Hawaii, right now.)

Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts


Welcome to Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts, where Paradise is affordable is included from meals, drinks, watersports and entertainment! 

Grand Pineapple Antigua sits on Long Bay Beach, one of Antigua’s most beautiful beaches with fine white sand, calm turquoise water and Almond trees along the shore.  Some of the islands best snorkeling is just a short walk from the resort.  With just 180 rooms, this is a delightfully casual resort. 

Enjoy your day by hanging out at the beachfront pool sipping a fruity cocktail, or unwind in a hammock with your favorite book.  For lunch visit The Outhouse, perched high atop a hill overlooking the water, where Miss Mary will cook up some lip-smacking ribs and invite you to carve a message into a wood shingle – a memory to take with you as well as one to leave behind.   There are also 3 restaurants, 4 bars, a game room, and 2 pools including an oceanfront adults only pool.

An extra inclusion at Grand Pineapple Antigua is a complimentary day pass to enjoy Sandals Grande Antigua and experience one of their 8 gourmet restaurants, 8 bars, 6 swimming pools as well as land and water activities.

Grand Pineapple Negril sits on a perfect stretch of Seven Mile Beach within walking distance of Negril’s upbeat reggae clubs and offbeat cafes.  With acres of luscious gardens you will have no problem finding some private spots as well.  The 65 charming rooms are colorful and inviting.  The Orchid Restaurant sits right on the beach – a perfect place to enjoy one of Negril’s stunning sunsets.  A freshwater pool is tucked into the gardens, or you can enjoy a swim or some snorkeling in the warm, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. 

Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts are the perfect, laid-back resorts for families, singles or others who want to enjoy the all-inclusive vacation experience while on a budget.

Royal Plantation Collection by Sandals


Royal Plantation Ocho Rios sit atop a seaside bluff above the stunning Caribbean Sea offering the perfect setting to truly get away from it all.  The 74 All Oceanview Suites come with Butler Service and is a member of “The Leading Small Hotels of the World”.  All your needs will be taken care of at this resort – with 3 Gourmet restaurants, two private coved beaches with Beach Butler Service, a Red Lane Spa, and the only Champagne & Caviar Bar in the Caribbean you will feel pampered from morning to night.  Enjoy Yoga on the Pier, golf at the nearby Upton Gold & Country Club, or get your workout in the 24 hour Fitness Center or on one of the 2 lit Tennis Courts.  Enrich yourself with Cooking Demonstrations and Cigar-rolling Classes.  Make this a true worry-free vacation by opting for the “Royal Plan” and receive all of the complimentary inclusions as well as all meals, snacks, spirits & wine, scuba diving and roundtrip luxury shuttle airport transfers.

For an even more indulgent vacation, choose the Villa Plantation, an exclusive 3 bedroom villa with private pool, butler, plus a car & driver to get you around town. 

This resort will truly exceed your expectations with its combination of old world charm and Jamaican hospitality.

Royal Plantation Island is in the Exumas, Bahamas.  This breathtaking, private 50 acre island has 6 magnificent rental houses to choose from.  All include a full kitchen, all food & drinks, a golf cart (per house), tennis court, kayaks & sailboats, and a motorized boat for guest 18 and over.  You can also stay well connected with Satellite TV, DVD & CD player and Internet enabled computers.  Not to mention the sensational cuisine in the Harbor Club Restaurant.

What an incredible place this would be for a Destination Wedding or Family Reunion to celebrate a special occasion. 

The Royal Plantation Private Villas of Jamaica are Butch Stewarts private homes which he makes available to those who insist on the very best and would like an unforgettable experience. 

Any one of these 4 stunning villas would be the perfect setting for a Destination Wedding or other special occasion.  With accommodations for up to 16 adults these would also make be the ideal place for a small group of friends who want a private, exclusive vacation.  Or you could choose one of the properties with a guest cottage which sleeps 4.

You will feel like Royalty when you choose one of these fabulous Royal Plantation properties for your special vacation.

Sandals Grande Antigua


Welcome to Antigua – an island with a beach for every day of the year!  And Sandals Grande Antigua sits on one of the best.  Set among lush gardens, this incredible resort offers everything you could possibly want in a Romantic vacation.  The gentle trade winds will keep you cool, even during the midday sun.  The glimmering turquoise sea will beckon to you.  Relax in a lover’s chaise or hammock.  Sip cocktails in the sunset tower, reserve a private cabana in the Eastern Caribbean’s largest pool, browse quaint shops, or renew your senses at the Red Lane Spa.

When choosing your room from the 17 available categories, you will need to decide if the Caribbean Village, Mediterranean Village, Rondovals of Eden or the Mediterranean Plunge Pool Villas suit you best.  At meal time, which of the 9 restaurants sound good today, or maybe room service would be best.  Which of the 8 bars does the best job on your favorite cocktail?  Should you enjoy a private plunge pool, or will one of the 6 main pools in the resort do? 

If you enjoy getting off the resort, (although why would you need to?) there is plenty to do on Antigua.  You can go next door to the Casino.  Definitely visit English Harbour, established by British admiral Lord Nelson in 1784 as a naval base and still a working shipyard.  Visit Shirley Heights and get a great view of neighboring islands or see a fabulous sunset.  Take a catamaran for a Bird Island cruise for bird watching or to neighboring Barbuda or go zip-lining over the rainforest.

Of course, Sandals Grande Antigua offers all of the Luxury Included amenities that you find at the other Sandals properties.

Where it All Started – Sandals Montego Bay


(This was supposed to be the first in the series, but I forgot to publish it, sorry)

I’ll start where it all started, Jamaica and Sandals Montego Bay.  This is the most active of the Jamaica Sandals, with a fun party atmosphere.  This resort is on the largest private white sand beach in Jamaica, making it the perfect choice for a high-energy beach oriented vacation.  This resort offers casual elegance with Caribbean style, with 251 rooms in 17 different categories including Butler and Concierge level suites.  That’s right – 17 categories from the Deluxe Oceanview Room all the way to the Prime Minister’s Beachfront Suite at the Bay Roc Villas.  Which category would you want to stay in?  Maybe a Grande Luxe Beachfront?  Or the Water’s Edge Concierge Room?  Or one of the Bay Roc Villas complete with Butler?  So many choices!

Speaking of choices, with 7 restaurants, including the new Stewfish Restaurant and 5 bars to choose from you have plenty of dining choices.  There are 4 pools, 4 whirlpools, a wedding chapel as well as beach gazebo and garden locations for weddings, and the fabulous, award winning Red Lane Spa!

This resort is located under the flight path for the airport.  The staff has started a great tradition of waving at the planes as they depart, and all the couples kiss.  The resort also has new Fire Pits on the beach for extra romance in the evening, plenty of palapas for shade during the day – some with hammocks or beds for comfort.

Want a little privacy, the 26 acres of grounds provide many opportunities for you and your loved one to have some time to yourselves, walking through landscaped gardens filled with fresh fruit trees and tropical flowers. 

Daytime activities include watersports, beach and pool volleyball, tennis, a fitness center, or you could opt for a local tour like Bamboo River Rafting, Deep Sea Fishing, a Zip Line Canopy Tour, or a Catamaran Cruise.  In the evenings there is nightly entertainment including music and theme parties.  You can indulge in as many of these activities as you like, or none at all.

7 Mile Beach, Sandals Negril


I have a special place in my heart for Negril.  I love the 7 Mile Beach, and Sandals is set on the longest and best stretch of this beautiful, white sand beach.  This is the ultimate Jamaica Beach Resort.  You will experience breathtaking sunsets from all but one of the restaurants making this a wonderful setting for romance!  No building stands taller than the tallest palm tree, most rooms are just steps from the beach.

Sandals Negril features 3 pools, 3 whirlpools, 6 restaurants, 5 bars (including 2 swim up bars) and 13 room categories.  It is hard to choose which room category is best – do you want a Swim-up Suite, a Sundown Loft Suite or one of the private Millionaire Suites?  The concierge categories include 24 hour room service, but the Butler categories include personal butlers trained and certified by the prestigious Guild of Professional English Butlers. 

Enjoy a long, romantic walk along the 7 Mile Beach, spend an afternoon at Rick’s Café on the cliffs – watching the daredevils dive from high atop the trees into the crystal waters of the Caribbean Sea, take a glass bottom boat ride – the water and beach activities are endless in Negril.

Sandals Negril offers numerous choices for evening entertainment, but if you prefer you can try out one of the clubs along the beach.  Last time I was there I got to see Gregory Isaacs playing – what an incredible experience to see this Reggae legend playing at a club right on the beach in Jamaica!

Sandals Grande Ocho Rios


This is one of the most romantic of the Sandals resorts, set on the incredible stretch of beach called the Caribbean Riviera.  This resort encompasses 100 acres and includes exotic gardens, gorgeous beach, a Grande Promenade stretching out over the sea, and a hidden grotto pool tucked into the shade of a secluded garden. 

You can enjoy complimentary golf at the Sandals Golf & Country Club located here, as well as not one, but TWO Red Lane Spas.  You have your choice of an incredible 11 restaurants and 10 bars, 7 main pools, 93 villa pools, 22 whirlpools.  There is a scuba diving center, Rock Climbing Wall, and 22 room categories.

The Ciboney Villa Suites are nestled among lush tropical trees and flowering plants and offer the exclusivity of a private villa with all the advantages of a world class resort.  These are perfect for a private party – many villas feature 4 luxurious bedrooms and a private pool.  The Romeo and Juliet Suites are perfect for Honeymooners, each with a private pool. 

This resort offers a vacation with everything – spa, beach, pools, sight seeing, shopping, and golf.  There are fabulous tours available including the a trip to Nine Mile – Bob Marley’s birthplace, Dophin Encounter, Jamaican Bobsled experience, or a Bicycle Adventure in the Blue Mountains.