Jamaica again!


I was going through some of the stories I’ve written for my blog and realized that I never published this one.  It was a little series I did – I think this is the 4th (and last, for now) installment. 

About a year later I took another trip to Negril.  This time I went by myself.  I had some personal decisions to ponder and what better place than Negril, Jamaica?  I always feel so renewed when I’m there.  I felt comfortable visiting there by myself because I had a few friends there and I had met a couple of people on Jamaicans.com who would be there the same week.

Sienna & Solomon of Talk of the Town Tours were picking up some other people at the airport so I got a ride with them.  How wonderful to see my friends again after almost 2 years.  (If you ever go to Jamaica, please contact them for tours or airport transfers – they are the most wonderful people I’ve ever met on vacation!  Be sure to tell them that Beth in Seattle recommended them.) 

I started my stay at the West end of the beach at Travellers Beach Resort.  My first order of business was to go for a swim.  Then a nice cold Red Stripe and some food.  I had an early night – that red-eye flight always does me in but I prefer it to spending a whole day traveling. 

       

I spent a couple of days at Travellers.  This is a pretty good location if you want to be near town.  They have some very nice rooms – I was in one of the little cottages, but I wouldn’t recommend them – they were very tiny.  I spent my days walking the beach and meeting up with my new friends from Jamaicans.com.  Turns out one of the couples that I had been communicating with lived only about 5 miles from me.  They have turned into good friends. 

Later in the week I moved to Yellowbird.  This is a very budget property, but I really liked it.  They have regular hotel rooms with refrigerators; a bunk room with a shared bathroom; a kitchen that everyone can use if they want.  They also have 2 bedroom units in duplexes.  In these units you go in the front door and have a living room on one end, dining room at the other and a kitchen in the middle.  This big room is screened in with louvers and a couple of fans for cooling.  The furniture and appliances are pretty old, but I found it to be comfortable. 

           

There are 2 bedrooms, each with their own locking door.  Again, there are screens with louvers into the living area.  The bedrooms have 2 double beds, a small dresser, air conditioning and their own bathroom.  

The security was very good here and also there is a fence across about 2/3rds of the property between the beach and the property.  This way you can sun yourself on the sand among the palm trees without being bothered by the vendors on the beach.  The bar is nearby, as are the soothing waters of the Caribbean Sea! 

I really enjoyed traveling by myself.  I met a lot of wonderful people and everyone wants to take care of you when you are alone.  I got invited to dinner a lot.  

I hired a driver to take me out and about a couple of days.  Tommy was wonderful.  We went up to Benji’s at Roaring River one day.  It was so peaceful and beautiful.  We spent several hours there.  Unfortunately Benji had to leave shortly after we arrived – but he did have time to cook us our Ital lunch. 

                     

A couple of days later we went down to Treasure Beach.  I wanted to check out Jake’s for some clients who were interested in staying there.  What an incredibly beautiful and peaceful place!  If you really want peace and quiet this would be a great place to spend a week.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. 

              

I also toured several other small properties including the Grand Pineapple which was very cute.  What a fabulous bargain this is – as part of the Sandals family it is a bargain all-inclusive right in the center of Seven Mile Beach.   I also toured Coco la Palm and Legends.  I think there were a couple of others, but they don’t come to mind right now.

As always, this week went by much too quickly.  I love Jamaica and can’t wait to get back, but I know that I need to visit other Caribbean islands too.  So, my next trip, hopefully soon, will be to another of these beautiful islands.

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.

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.

Jamaica “haute” Cuisine


I just got my new issue of Caribbean Travel & Life yesterday.  I love this magazine, since the Caribbean is truly Paradise to me!  One of my favorite destinations is Jamaica – I love the people, the beauty of the island – mountains and beaches, and the food.  There is an article in the May issue of CT&L about how the Caribbean in general is working to be more of a draw for foodies.  The food is fabulous, but not attractive (their words, not mine). 

The article focused on Round Hill Hotel & Villas and how they are reconstructing some traditional dishes to make turn them into more “haute cuisine”.  I have to say, the traditional method of cooking is fine with me.  They also stress how local ingredients are used, for instance using conch rather than importing escargot from France; yams & yucca from local farmers (they sometimes even offer loans for equipment) instead of russet potatoes; and they also grow some of their own herbs, beans and tomatoes.

Although they are working on elevating “road food” to make it more pleasing to the eye, they compete annually with 15 hotels to create the best dishes using traditional methods – 2 coal pots and a “pan” (one end of a 55 gallon drum). 

For those of you who don’t receive the magazine you can go to their website and get a trial issue.  If you love the Caribbean and consider it Paradise, you will be hooked and waiting every month for the new issue.

Negril, Jamaica


The day finally arrived for us to leave.  We were so excited.  We took the red-eye and arrived at the airport in Montego Bay in early afternoon.  We got on the shuttle bus and a young man came onboard and asked if we would like him to get us some beers.  “Yes!”  We gave him some money and he brought us back our first Red Stripe.  Soon we were on our way.First Red Stripe

 

By the time we got to the hotel and checked in it was close to sundown.  We changed and headed to the beach in time to get our feet wet and get some pictures before dark.  The first thing I always do when I reach the Caribbean is get in the water!  First Feel of the CaribbeanAhhhh, I feel like I’m home.  I always feel so renewed here.  All we managed that evening was dinner and early to bed.

I loved Negril immediately.  I enjoyed walking on the beach and talking with the vendors – vendors selling fresh fruit, arts and crafts, tours – pretty much anything you need or want.  Everyone is really friendly.  I know that a lot of people (including my co-travelers) find it to be annoying and sometimes intimidating to be constantly approached by these vendors. I took it as an opportunity to talk to the locals about their country and learn more about this wonderful island.

White Sands is a moderate resort.  We were on the beach side – there is a pool on the garden side but we never went over there.  It is in a pretty good location on the beach and has a nice little beach bar and a sun deck.  MA and Pam were in the end unit which got quite a bit of light.  Sandra and I were in the middle of the building and so our unit was fairly dark – there were not a lot of windows and there is a lot of vegetation on the property so there is a lot of shade.  The property is very pretty, the furnishings in the apartments was a little tired, but they were roomy.  The bedroom has 2 double beds, the living room had a couch and 2 twin beds, there is a dining room with table and chairs, and a small kitchen. 

We spent most of our days getting some sun and swimming, walking the beach, enjoying the wonderful local food, and going out and dancing barefoot in the sand to live reggae in the evenings.  Just ask any local which bar to go to each night – or walk the beach until you hear the music.Dinner on the Beach at Tamboo

We took a glass bottom boat one day – those pictures you see in magazines of the crystal clear, blue-green water that seems like it can’t be real – it is!  We went over to Bloody Bay where we hung out on the beach and our captain and crew cooked us fresh lobster over an open fire.  Oh, my gosh, it melted in your mouth!  I have never had anything as good as this.

Then we went over to Booby Cay where the young Italian girls that were on the boat with us did some snorkeling.  We’d been drinking a bit of rum and I didn’t think I should try snorkeling – I took a little nature walk around the island instead.

Another day we took the tour with Talk of the Town Tours.  This was one of my best days ever.  We started off around 8AM, we stopped for our first patties.  Yummy!  These are pastries filled with seasoned meat or vegetables.  Then we went to Peter Tosh’s mausoleum.  After that we headed to take the Black River Safari.  Sienna joined us on the boat.  It was really beautiful and our captain pointed out the different plants, birds, crocodiles (very fat, well fed crocodiles), showed us the shrimp traps.  It was very interesting.

We came to a wide spot in the river where we would turn around.  The captain (or mate, I can’t remember which) jumped in the water and invited us in.  Sienna encouraged us – I was worried about getting back into the boat, but everyone said “no problem”.  MA, Pam and I jumped in – it was really refreshing.  As I suspected, getting back into the boat was a bit of a problem – I don’t have a lot of upper body strength and there was no ladder.  It took a bit of pushing and pulling by the captain and mate, but eventually I was back on board.  I’m sure it was very entertaining for the rest of the passengers.  As were heading back down river Sienna commented that she had never had clients jump in and swim – most people were afraid of the crocodiles.  The way she had encouraged us I thought everyone did it!  The crocodiles were so well fed, I don’t think they were anything to worry about – anyway we lived to tell the tale.Black River Swim

Our next stop was YS Falls.  Solomon went on the tour with us here. He was so cute – making sure all his ladies were accounted for when we went from one area to the next.  There are several pools here on each level of the falls.  We walked to the top, then on the way down there is a big pool with a rope swing.  You swim across this pool to a waterfall the guide called the natural massage.  He put us under it so it would hit on our upper backs – it felt good but it came down so hard he had to hold me in place.  The falls are surrounded by beautiful foliage – Solomon and the guides pointed out many different varieties of flowers.

We went back to the entrance and had some lunch.  Then it was on to the Appleton Rum Estate.  I have done some other tours like this and it was interesting, but I probably could have skipped it.  We were getting a bit tired after all of our activity.  We did do some tasting and got our little sample bottle.

During the day as we were driving around the beautiful countryside, we had stopped at a fruit market so we could taste many of the local fruits.  We also got some pepper shrimp – yum.  On the way back we also stopped at a market for Sienna to get some fish for dinner.  This was very interesting – the locals shopping for fish, both fresh and already cooked, bread and other necessities. 

The best thing about this day was meeting Sienna and Solomon.  I have friends for life!

We also went to Rick’s Café a couple of times and watched the cliff divers.  They are amazing – jumping from high up in the branches of the trees.  This is a fabulous place to watch a sunset. 

On our last full day in Negril, the other 3 went to Half Moon Beach which they said was lovely.  Very few people and very relaxing.  I spent the day walking the beach and the road.  I had made many acquaintances throughout the week and it was fun to walk around and say my goodbyes.  I was so not ready for the week to end, although it seemed that my companions were ready to go.Sunset

The next morning the shuttle bus came way too early.  Oh, well, I know I’ll be back.  My friend Lisa wasn’t able to make this trip and I know she’ll be ready to plan a trip. 

Sorry for the picture quality – these were before I went digital.

Cancun with the Girls???


A few months after my trip to Puerto Vallarta, another friend, MA, suggested a girls week to Cancun.  She put together a group of 4 of her friends – we didn’t know each other before this, but she felt we would all get along well. 


Our first meeting was at Sandra’s for a group craft day.  I can’t remember what we were doing as far as crafts went, it turned into a wine drinking day.  During the day, Sandra brought out her mom’s RCI book and someone started thumbing through it and saw Jamaica.  Everyone squealed “Jamaica”, maybe we should go there instead.  Well, I was all for that.  Cancun has never held a lot of appeal to me – I enjoy the beach and sun, but I’m not really into the big mega-resorts.

 

A couple of weeks later we had a planning session at my house.  The girls were throwing out other island ideas and I said that anywhere in the Caribbean would be great – sun, sand, clear blue water, and relaxation!  After a little more investigating we decided on Negril, Jamaica because it would be easier to get to than some of the other destinations.  This was all before I got into the travel business.

As time went on we settled on a week in January, 2004 and started contacting travel agents.  It was this experience, along with a timely ad in the paper for a local agency, that moved me towards my travel career.  Out of 6 agencies we called, only one called us back. 

I’m one of those people who loves details and research so I had been designated to work with the TA.  I told her when we wanted to go, that we wanted two rooms – we needed a refrigeration or kitchen in at least one, and what our budget was.

She came back to me with a list of 4 resorts that fit our budget – beyond that she did not give us any information.  We started investigating and found that one got horrible reviews on Tripadvisor so we crossed that one off.  One was an all-inclusive which might have been alright, but we didn’t like the location.  I called the agent again and asked if they all had refrigerators.  She said “oh, I don’t know, let me check.”  The ONE requirement that we had she had not even checked.

She came back and only 2 of the resorts had the possibility of refrigerators, one of which had some 1 bedroom units with full kitchens.  We decided to go with this property, White Sands. 

We kept researching and found a great tour guide recommended by numerous people on Jamaicans.com.  They are Sienna and Solomon of Talk of the Town Tours.  I wrote back and forth for several months – the other girls would only agree to leave the beach for one day so we booked a great one day tour with them.  We also checked out restaurants and entertainment so we would be ready when we got there. 

The travel agent we had used did not offer any suggestions of tours, restaurants or anything else.  By the time we left I had arranged to start training with the agency I had found.  I was looking forward to it because I knew that I could offer better customer service, starting with returning phone calls from prospective clients.

 

The Second Cruise (or The Love Affair Continues)


In my previous post I told you about my sister and I winning a FREE cruise on our last night of our first cruise.  The final night of Cruise Bingo had as grand prize a FREE cruise.  Our dinner tablemates felt it wasn’t worth the $10 for a card with 3 games because the odds would not be with us.  I even had to do a lot of talking to my sister to get her to put up half of that – I finally told her that when I won I would not take her! The game was in the large show lounge.  We sat at a table with 3 couples who were not playing.  Many of the people around us had several cards – we just had one.  As our cards were filling up the people at our table were getting even more excited than we were.  We were concentrating so hard to hear the numbers and our tablemates were yelling “you’re going to win, you’re going to win!”  And then – WE DID!!!!  I jumped up and ran to the front to claim our certificate.

We immediately went to gloat to our dinner companions.  The drinks were on them.

We chose to cruise the following January on a 7 night Itinerary to the Western Caribbean.  We would be on the Carnival Imagination (sister to the Inspiration that we had previously sailed on) and our ports of call were Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel.

We flew another red-eye to Miami, but this time arrived in much better condition.  I think we were just more prepared this time.  It was so nice to get on the ship in that wonderful Florida sunshine after the cold dreary Seattle weather.

We had our Deluxe Verandah stateroom this room.  Oh, it was so luxurious and roomy compared to our inside cabin we’d had before.  I loved going out on our roomy balcony.  We had a nice big couch at one end, a refrigerator, and a nice sized vanity.  There was even a bathtub in the bathroom.

We started with a day at sea.  This was so nice after being in port almost every day on our first cruise.  We found lounge chairs by the forward pool and relaxed in the sun with our books.  Ah, this is the life – fabulous service, a nice frozen drink to keep us cool.  This is what I really love about cruising – the opportunity to really relax, get fabulous service, and have everything you need right there!

This time we are seated at a table for 10.  There is my sister and I, a mother & daughter (mom is probably 50, daughter around 30), 2 young ladies in their 20’s, 2 young guys in their 20’s, and another couple of guys probably early 30’s.  We have a fabulous time together all week – lots of joking and fun with our waiters Peter and Pieter. 

Our first stop was Cozumel.  We chose to go to the ruins at Tulum.  I am so amazed by the detail in the stonework of these buildings.  And Tulum is such a fabulous setting overlooking the water.  When we returned from the ruins, we walked around Cozumel a bit and got a bite to eat.  Did a little partying with our cruise tablemates at Carlos and Charlies.  If you’re looking for a fun party bar in Cozumel, this is it. 

Our next stop was Grand Cayman.  We did the typical tour here.  We started at the turtle farm.  I loved seeing them from tiny little babies up to the great big old guys.  Our next stop was Hell where we bought the t-shirt and sent home postcards.  Then we went swimming with the stingrays.  This was incredible.  The guides would hold them so you could see them up close and touch them.  It was a weird sensation to feel the stingrays brushing against me, especially when I was swimming back to the boat. 

Our final port of call was Jamaica.  I had done some research and had found a driver to take us on a private tour.  He met us right at the pier.  We started with a drive through Ocho Rios up into the hills and through some neighborhoods so we could see how the people live.  I find it very interesting because the people on these islands are so resourceful and don’t waste anything.  Many people can’t see past the poverty – but I really enjoyed seeing a slice of how the Jamaican people live.

We went through Fern Gully and took some pictures – I absolutely loved how green and alive it felt!  We also went to Dunn’s River Falls.  Even with the cruise ship crowd and the group holding hands, I loved this.  (I’ve done it again since with Jamaican friends without the crowds – enjoyed it both ways!)  Our guide was wonderful, carrying out towels and cameras and taking pictures when we wanted.  We played in the pools and took our time.  It is absolutely beautiful to look down from the top of the falls to the ocean beyond – this should not be missed!

At the top is the craft market which, can be a bit overwhelming the first time.  The vendors are quite aggressive, but if you have the right attitude it can be a lot of fun.  First of all, they expect you to bargain over price and enjoy it.  If you engage the vendors in conversation you can learn a lot about Jamaica – her people really are the best asset.  We bought a couple of souvenirs here then went out and found our driver again. 

I can’t remember the exact order of all of our stops, but we took a nice drive along the coast, we stopped at a little pottery shop.  There was no one else there so the 2 guys working there gave us a complete tour and explanation of how everything was made – of course I bought a piece which I still have on my dresser.  We also stopped at an old plantation house that is now a museum and art gallery.  After doing a bit of research I believe it may be Harmony Hall.  We were the only visitors here this day as well.  We even stopped at a local outdoor market where they sold fruits and vegetables and got to try some local fruits.

The wonderful thing about taking a tour with a private driver was we got to see things that others didn’t, we had time to chat with the locals and get a better feel for Jamaica, it was really a wonderful experience.

Before we went back to the ship our driver stopped at The Ruins restaurant so we could have our picture taken in front of the waterfall. 

What a perfect day.  I fell in love with Jamaica and knew I would be coming back (and I have been back 4 times since, and hoping to get back again this year).

We had another day at sea to end our cruise.  I really feel that cruising is the way to travel when you just want to relax, be pampered and not have to worry about anything!  Again, lounging around the pool, reading, having some frosty drinks.  I also love all of the entertainment onboard, the meals of course, and being able to see several places on one trip.

We were back in Miami and back home much too soon.  Damn, where is that breakfast buffet?  Why isn’t my bed made?  Oh, reality can be so harsh!

Again, I’m sorry for no pics, but they just don’t come out well being scanned.