Sandals Ochi Beach 2016

Hello my fellow travelers!

I know it’s been a long time since I last updated this blog. We added a new traveler to the family in the form of a tiny human, so I haven’t had much time to write. But that is (hopefully) about to change! We are still traveling – although not as much – and I intend to add a few entries about Traveling with Kids, now that we are in that club. I hope everyone is well and hasn’t completely unfollowed my blog! lol

Since my last entry in 2014 (yikes), we have been to St. Lucia, Dominican Republic, Jamaica (again), Turks and Caicos, Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Jamaica (again). This year we have travels planned to Cancun (x2) and are considering a cruise right now. So I have a LOT to catch up on in terms of blog posts and reviews. I actually have notes in my phone from most of the travels, so I should have some pretty good content for you…starting now!

I just had the pleasure of returning from a short FAM trip to my beloved Jamaica. As you may recall, I spent a week there back in 2013 touring all of the Sandals and Beaches properties on the island. Things have changed since then, especially in the Ocho Rios region. We were given the opportunity to spend 3 nights at Sandals Ochi Beach Resort, which used to be Sandals Grande Riviera until it was renamed and renovated 2 years ago.


Many of my thoughts from that original post remain intact, and most of the changes made were relatively small in the scale of the resort. There are 16 dining options for resort guests and I didn’t have ONE bad meal! Kelly’s Dockside is no longer exclusive to Butler suite guests, but DOES require reservations. Some of the restaurants were renamed and reimagined; I had a delicious dinner of shrimp & grits, catfish and red velvet cake at The Southern Table (formerly Bayside). I had an incredible “Local Breakfast” at Le Gourmand French Restaurant, which consisted of ackee and saltfish, callaloo, fried plantains and johnnycake. (I am kicking myself for not going back there before I left, btw).


For our stay, we were all placed in one bedroom poolside villa suites, which offered a separate living room, bedroom, en-suite bathroom and mini bar. There was a villa pool that is shared with the other 3 villas in your block, so these rooms would be AWESOME for a group to book!



To get around the resort, you would call a Hop…a vehicle a bit larger than a golf cart to take you down to the main building. There, you could board a bus to go down to the other two resort sections, Riviera Seaside and Ochi Beach Club. Because I loved the pool at the Great House (the hillside section of the resort where we were staying), I didn’t venture down to the other sections very often. Guests staying in Butler accommodations can call their Butler for a ride instead, and they are transported by golf cart. Another nice perk!

I HAVE to talk about The Rabbit Hole. I was so excited when I heard that Sandals added a 1920’s speakeasy to the resort and I loved everything about it! You have to get the daily password from a staff member, and there’s a bouncer at the door who won’t let you in without it. You walk in and Big Mama/Phylea is in there singing her heart out. The bartenders are mixing classic details and people are dancing….it’s just a great time. You cannot miss out on this venue when you visit Sandals Ochi!

As much as I loved the Ochi Beach Club on my last visit, this time I found myself gravitating toward the pool. The water was just perfect and the swim-up bar had my name written all over it! Maybe next time I’ll dip in the ocean….

Overall, with a few more years of experience under my belt, there are two groups this resort works well for: those who love a good time/party, as the Oceana Night Club and weekly beach party will keep them happy. I saw many couples hanging out with one another, whether they knew each other before or met on the ride to the resort. The other group I would send are those who want complete privacy. The Butler Villas on the hillside are fairly secluded, and those who book a Romeo and Juliet Suite really don’t need to leave their room for anything. They would love it here.

I plan to return with updated thoughts about Sandals Royal Plantation and Beaches Ocho Rios. Also keep an eye out for my review of Beaches Turks and Caicos, my new favorite resort in the entire Caribbean!!!


Quantum of the Seas: Cruising’s First “SmartShip”

Yesterday morning, Royal Caribbean International announced that their newest ship, Quantum of the Seas, will be the first “Smartship” at sea, offering fast connectivity and new technological advancements never before found on a cruise ship. Check out the details:

Personally, I use a week at sea to escape from the outside world, only checking in on occasion to make sure everyone is alright and posting to my Instagram once or twice. (Guilty!).

What do you guys think about this? How do you feel about being connected throughout your entire vacation?


Say Hello to All-Inclusive Cruising

All-Inclusive Resorts are a huge draw to the Caribbean region. The concept of paying one price for all of your meals, drinks and activities is attractive to travelers who don’t want to worry about such charges once on vacation. This concept has been available on upscale, luxury cruise lines such as Regent Seven Seas and Crystal for years, however purchasing one of those cruise vacations can be out of reach for some.

Today, Norwegian Cruise Line has announced that, for a limited time, they will bring the All-Inclusive Experience to the mass market. This is a first for any major cruise line in its category, and I certainly expect the other lines (Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Disney) to follow suit!

The details of the new All-Inclusive Package are as follows:

“The All-Inclusive package is available for 2015 sailings from three to 14 days in length, is priced by the number of days, and is available for all stateroom categories, including The Haven by Norwegian.

When adding the All-Inclusive to a selected cruise, guests receive 10 percent off the cruise fare. For a seven-day cruise, the $899 package includes

  • the Ultimate Dining package
  • the Ultimate Beverage package
  • Shore excursion credit of $200 per person
  • Pre-paid daily service charges/gratuities
  • 250-minute Internet package per person
  • 20 photos of any size
  • Chocolate-covered strawberries
  • A bottle of wine
  • One bingo session
  • Six bottles of water

For cruises from three to five days, the shore excursion credit is $100 per person; and for sailings from 9-14 days, the package includes 12 bottles of water.

As part of the All-Inclusive offer, Norwegian’s Ultimate Dining package provides complimentary access to one of the line’s specialty restaurants every night of the cruise, including Cagney’s, the popular steakhouse; French bistro, Italian restaurant, Moderno Churrascaria, Asian-Fusion restaurant and more.

The Ultimate Beverage package includes a variety of spirits, cocktails, draft beer, bottled beer and glasses of wine up to $10 and unlimited fountain soda and juices at all bars, lounges, restaurants and on Norwegian’s private island, Great Stirrup Cay.

*Includes all scheduled 2015 sailings from three to 14 days (excludes back to back sailings)
**Does not include Pride of America; not applicable to bookings made in Continental Europe or United Kingdom.”

Book your 2015 cruise between August 4-24 and your sailing will be eligible for this package!

Norwegian Updates Smoking Policy

Hot off the presses…

Norwegian Cruise Line has just released the following update to their shipboard smoking policy:

As the health and well–being of our guests and crew is of the utmost importance, Norwegian Cruise Line will institute changes to its smoking policy for all sailings on or after November 1, 2014. The specific changes prohibit smoking on stateroom balconies and limit smoking in the casino to players. On Norwegian Getaway and Norwegian Breakaway, smoking on The Waterfront will be permitted on the starboard side, except by the outdoor dining areas. 

They are following in the footsteps of other cruiselines, such as Carnival, who have a very similar smoking policy aboard its fleet of ships.

Does this policy change have an impact on your choice of cruise line?

A First-Timer’s Guide to Essence Music Festival

Hello Travel Lovers!

Last night/this morning we returned from 6 days in New Orleans a.k.a. NOLA, where we enjoyed the 20th Annual Essence Music Festival. Every year, Essence Magazine and their bevvy of major sponsors bring together musicians, celebrities and inspiring speakers for 4 days of concerts, exhibits, empowerment seminars, panels, parties and fun. The event attracts thousands of people from all over the country, and I’ve wanted to attend for years. Once this year’s musical headliner (Prince) was announced, I KNEW I had to be there and immediately purchased tickets. It was also a nice way to surprise Mr. B with a birthday gift to see his all-time favorite artist.


My goal with this post is two-fold: to provide my Essence recap while providing tips for those who plan to attend in the future. We had an amazing time, but I would certainly do things a little differently in the future, if/when we go again.

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Headed to St. Lucia!!!

So THIS is exciting! I was just invited on a FAM trip by Sandals to visit all three of their properties in St. Lucia! YAY! I’ll be spending 4 days and 3 nights at Sandals Regency La Toc, with visits and resort tours at Sandals Grande St. Lucian and Sandals Halcyon. I can’t wait to share the photos and reviews of each resort with you all; this is an amazing opportunity and perfectly timed, as one of my friends/clients is getting married at La Toc in March!

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Coming Soon: The Caribbean’s First Overwater Bungalows


Last month, the wonderful folks at Sandals Resorts made a major announcement, one that those of us in the travel industry had long awaited: the addition of overwater bungalows to the Caribbean! Currently, you can only enjoy these accommodations if you travel to Tahiti, where the overwater, glass-bottom bungalows are readily available to travelers. In 2015, they will be available at Sandals Royal Caribbean in Jamaica!

At this point, Sandals is only planning to construct 5 suites, which means they will disappear as soon as they become available. They are using the back end of the private island at Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay to construct, which is slated to begin next month.

Guests staying these suites will be able to step down in the Caribbean Sea directly from their room. There will also be an outdoor shower, hammock for two and hot tub jacuzzi on the exterior of each bungalow.

Inside, expect nothing less than the finest Sandals has to offer. Their standard 4 poster, mahogany bed will be present in the room, along with modern accommodations, a soaking tub and a glass panel in the floor that will provide a view directly into the water!


I mean, wow. I can’t WAIT to get back to Montego Bay to experience these suites for myself. These would be perfect for honeymooners, couples celebrating their anniversary, or anyone looking for a luxurious romantic getaway.

The suites are not yet available for booking, but once they are, I PROMISE to let you all know!

Relaxing with Princess Cruise Line

As part of my training as a travel consultant, I completed Princess Cruise’s Commodore training last year. For my Commodore Graduation, in addition to celebrating my April birthday, Mr. B and I completed a 5 day Eastern Caribbean Getaway cruise aboard Ruby Princess. It was by FAR the most serene, relaxing cruise I’ve taken to date. Here is my full review:
Since we reside in Tampa, we only had to drive 3.5 hours to Fort Lauderdale, where Port Everglades is located. We had pre-purchased parking at the nearby Park ‘n’ Go lot, which offered a free shuttle to the port. (BVB Tip: If driving, buy your parking online in advance. You will save some serious money by pre-paying). We arrived to the ship around 1:00 PM. After going through the motions of security, we walked straight to the Reservation Agent to complete check-in. Since we’d done most of it online in advance, there was very little to complete at the desk. The agent gave us our Cruise Cards; since I had graduated from Princess’s Academy, I was granted a black Elite card (which is their highest loyalty tier; you’re ship royalty at that level). We headed up to take our pre-cruise photo and strolled onto the ship.

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Norwegian Getaway Inaugural Experience

On February 6, 2014, Norwegian Getaway arrived to her new permanent home port of Miami, Florida. On February 7, my mother and I drove down to Miami to participate in the ship’s inaugural event, a 1 night sailing dubbed “Norwegian Lights Up Miami”. We had the privilege of joining fellow travel partners, journalists and other VIPs for the event, which offered a chance for us to tour this magnificent ship, dine in the amazing restaurants, enjoy on-board entertainment and party the night away. The cruise was a bit of a tease – being only 1 night – but we had a wonderful time and am looking forward to sailing aboard the ship again!


Driving up to the terminal, we were immediately impressed with the size of Norwegian Getaway – it was the largest ship in port! Standing tall with 19 decks, she is a sight to behold. The hull art, designed by local Miami artist David “LEBO” Le Batard, gives the ship a flavor all its own. You can sense the Miami culture throughout Norwegian Getaway, from the interior design to the music to the mojito bar. There is no question that this ship belongs in South Florida.

Due to our late invitation to the event, we were lodged in an interior cabin on deck 13. Since the cruise was just one night, this was not a big deal (normally, I’m a balcony girl). We were impressed with the fact that the interior cabins were housed in their own separate hallways, away from the main corridor. Although they are the least expensive cabins on the ship, they offered a feel of exclusivity. Our cabin itself was cozy; interior cabins are small, but well-organized. The bathroom was much larger than we expected. Truth be told, we had no plans in remaining in the cabin for any period of time, so we didn’t need anything larger for that one night. A longer cruise, however, and I would’ve at least wanted an Oceanview.🙂

After putting down our overnight bags, our next goal was to tour the open cabins. We headed straight for Deck 16, where The Haven is located. I had yet to physically lay eyes on this uber-exclusive area on any Norwegian ship, and this was my chance. For those who do not know: The Haven is where the suites are housed on Norwegian’s newer ships. Guests staying in a Haven suite have a private shared courtyard, restaurant, bar, pool and hot tubs. The Haven can only be accessed via keycard, which explains my lack of prior access to the area. (not “baller” enough, not yet anyway). We were able to tour the Penthouse Suite, the jaw-dropping Deluxe Owner’s Suite with its wraparound balcony and incredible closet (I might’ve literally left some drool on the floor of this cabin), and Owner’s Suite. Amazing, beautiful cabins. I can’t say enough. Anyone who books a cruise in one of them will NOT be sorry.


Our tour then took us down a few decks to the 2-bedroom Family Villa, which is designed specifically for parents and their children. It even comes with a child-sized shower. J

At this point it was time to eat. We chose to visit Sabor, one of the complimentary dining venues aboard the ship. I had some incredibly yummy calamari, roasted chicken and peanut butter cup cheesecake. This food was DELICIOUS. The drinks were amazing.. (did I mention that there was no charge for alcohol? This was a VERY special cruise, lol)

Our self-guided tour continued to the other entertainment decks on the ship and eventually outside to the AquaPark and pool deck. The AquaPark has an impressive 5 waterslides, including 2 “drop” slides that are too scary for me to try. The main pool is flanked by hot tubs, two pool bars and faces the main entertainment stage. Spice H2O, the adults’ only entertainment venue in the aft of the ship, also features a stage, hot tubs, and grotto-type pool with waterfalls and built-in seating. (This is where the VIP-Only Inaugural Festivities were held, complete with a concert by “Mr. 305” himself, Pitbull).


One pretty cool feature aboard Norwegian Getaway are the touch-screens throughout the hallways. Although other cruise lines feature these, they add a touch of convenience as you roam about the ship. You have the ability to view a map, see what’s currently happening onboard, reserve show tickets or make your dinner reservations at a specialty restaurant. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t realize that the specialty restaurants were free of charge until they were completely booked for the night. We wanted to check out Ocean Blue or the Imaginarium, but were unable to do either. Next time. Since there are 28 dining venues aboard the ship, we knew we wouldn’t go hungry. We chose to have dinner at The Tropicana Club, another complimentary venue that is designed after a 1920’s Miami supper club. The food was incredible and the ambiance cannot be put into words. There was a live band playing American and Latin-American standards, and several guests got up to dance throughout dinner. My mother said that she’ll dine there every night when she returns to Getaway.🙂

After eating, it was time to party! The Sail Away party was held in Spice H2O, where everyone was handed glow sticks. The DJ played a mix of house and Top 40 music while we danced and sailed past South Beach. We looked out on the shore and saw a group of about 100 people with their own glowsticks waving at us. And once we were away from shore, we were treated to our own fireworks show. What an incredible and surreal experience; I was so honored to be part of it!


From there, we headed to Bliss Ultra Lounge for more partying, although at this point we just sat in the curtained “VIP” section and watched everyone else party. It had been a long day, we had walked about 4 miles, and were exhausted. However, since the cruise was just one night, we wanted to take in as much as possible.

Of course, there was plenty we missed – from the aforementioned Imaginarium show, to Legally Blonde, to The Grammy Experience…so much more to see, not enough time. We are planning to re-experience this ship in 2015, so we’ll have time to catch up. I also have cabins available on the 7/26/14 sailing – why not book your space and experience Norwegian Getaway for yourself? Check out this link for more information!