Jamaica FAM Trip: Sandals Montego Bay

Ahhhh, Sandals MoBay. I have fond memories of this resort; I think we (as a group) really bonded during our two day stay at Sandals Montego Bay. But more on that later. This isn’t supposed to be about me anyway! 🙂

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Sandals Montego Bay is situated near Sangster International Airport. Actually; “near” is not the appropriate word. The airport is quite literally across the street from this resort. The plus side is, you don’t have far to travel to get there. The negative? Airplanes. Those guests who are looking for a soothing retreat away from the noise and sounds of the city will not enjoy their time at Sandals Montego Bay. The airplanes fly over more regularly during the day, but honestly after the first day I barely noticed them. It soon became a reflex to lift my arm up and wave at the jets as they flew over, which is customary at this particular resort.

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Jamaica FAM Trip: Sandals Carlyle

After an hour of travel time between Negril and Montego Bay, we pulled up in front of Sandals Carlyle, the next, FOURTH, and LAST resort tour of this tiring Tuesday. Those of us who managed to stay awake for the ride had a chance to see the “Hip Strip” in Montego Bay right before we arrived to the resort; we passed Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, complete with an inflatable obstacle course in the middle of the water that rivaled that of ABC’s “Wipeout”. (Looked fun too, I MUST go back!) We also passed a number of shops, restaurants and bars; Montego Bay is definitely the place to go if you’re looking for some great local nightlife!

Sandals Carlyle’s tagline is “The smallest Sandals resort; with the Biggest Heart”; I could see why upon our arrival. The resort IS much smaller than its counterparts, presenting itself like a boutique hotel. The Sandals standards are still present however; all-inclusive amenities, Butler service (in specific rooms only), and even better – ALL rooms are eligible for 24 hour room service. Furthermore, this resort features the “Stay at One, Play at Three” option, giving guests of the Carlyle access to Sandals Montego Bay and Sandals Royal Caribbean via complimentary shuttle buses that run throughout the day.

 

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First allow me to apologize…my camera AND phone were both dying by the time we arrived to this resort, so my photos are very limited.

Accommodations: Sandals Carlyle has 52 guest rooms in 4 different categories, ranging from Seaside Deluxe to Carlyle Club Oceanview Penthouse (with Butler service). This resort does not have a Concierge level guest room. The two top tier rooms have all recently been renovated and updated. All of the guest rooms are housed within the main building at the resort, which has three stories (no elevator, just so you know!) We were shown the Oceanview Penthouse Room, which is pictured below.

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Dining/Bars: There are onsite restaurants at the Carlyle: Bay Window, Nibbles and The Carlyle. However, guests have access to over NINETEEN restaurants should you choose to visit Sandals Montego Bay or Royal Caribbean. As previously mentioned, ALL Carlyle guests are also eligible for 24 hour room service if you don’t feel like leaving the resort.

Pools/Beach: Sandals Carlyle has one main pool and a whirlpool. The resort is situated across the street from a public beach, which is accessible to resort guests as well. All of the watersports and diving inclusions that come standard at Sandals are available to Carlyle guests at the two other Montego Bay properties. There is a resort spa, but the Red Lane Spa with full services must be accessed at Sandals Montego Bay.

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Overall Atmosphere: The sales manager told our group that people who stay at Sandals Carlyle become regulars, and I certainly understand why that is the case. This is a very intimate resort where the staff will know your name very shortly after your arrival. Those who are looking to avoid a huge resort where you are forced to walk 15 minutes to dinner would thoroughly enjoy the Carlyle, as would those who are looking for a more affordable Sandals option with the same amenities as the bigger resorts. The “Stay at One Play at Three” feature gives guests the opportunity to sample what the bigger resorts have to offer,  at a lesser price. Would this kind of resort fit your personal style?

Jamaica FAM Trip: Sandals Negril

Our final destination in Negril was the lone Sandals property in the city: Sandals Negril. Also located on Norman Manley Blvd, this property is located in close proximity to Beaches Negril and Grand Pineapple, two of the other resorts I previously discussed. After all, they are all located on Negril’s Seven Mile Beach and are trying to take full advantage of the real estate!

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This was our third resort tour of the day and after being out in the hot Jamaican sun, we travel agents were DOG tired. The kind folks at Sandals knew it too, as they greeted us with cool lemongrass-scented towels and cold refreshments (note: the cool towels are a staple at ALL Sandals resorts and have a way of making you feel relaxed instantly). We also knew that we’d be having lunch at this resort – yes, we toured three resorts all before noon – so we were definitely looking forward to some good eating as well.
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My Own Personalized Quantum Site!

So THIS is fun…I was able to obtain my very own, shiny, sparkly Quantum of the Seas microsite from Royal Caribbean, which went live yesterday! Now, those of you who have interest in the ship, want to learn more about her features, staterooms, and public areas), or explore the various itineraries or ports can do so directly from here. The page even links you back to my website so you can start booking your trip. I think it’s really cool of Royal Caribbean to allow its travel partners to have so much access to this new spectacular ship. I already have group space reserved onboard for Spring Break 2015 so let me know if you’d like more information — it’s never too early to plan! 🙂

Check out the new site and let me know what you think!

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Jamaica FAM Trip: Grand Pineapple Negril

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The next stop on our whirlwind Jamaica trip was actually right up the street from Beaches Negril…Grand Pineapple Beach Negril. This resort is one of two Grand Pineapple resorts; the other is located in Antigua (my brother actually honeymooned there a few years ago). Grand Pineapple is owned by the Sandals group, but have an identity all their own. They provide an affordable all-inclusive experience to families and couples alike, allowing those who may not have the resources for a Sandals or Beaches getaway to still enjoy the Caribbean and all of its beauty.

Grand Pineapple Beach Negril is divided across Norman Manley Blvd, with security present to ensure that guests cross the road safely. Our resort tour began on the beach side, where we walked past several quaint, brightly colored cottages.

Accommodations: The cottages are free standing and house 4 rooms per cottage. Grand Pineapple does not have the various room categories like its “big brother” Sandals; the only distinction between accommodations are “Beachside” and “Gardenside”. The rooms are cozy, quaint and have a lot of personality. These resorts are not for those who wish to spend the entire day in their room; all of the cottages have quick and easy access to the beach or pool (depending on which side you are housed). IMG_2362

Dining: Orchid Terrace is the sole restaurant at Grand Pineapple. In order to offer variety, each night has a different theme and prepares food to coincide with said theme (FYI: Thursday is Jamaica night!). Orchid Terrace is located right on Negril’s famed Seven Mile Beach, giving guests an amazing waterfront view with every meal. There is also a full-service bar, which..of course…is all-inclusive. (Note: tipping IS allowed at Grand Pineapple properties).

Pools/Beach: There is a freshwater pool located on the Garden side of the property, complete with deck chairs. A self-service bar will soon be erected at the pool to give you access to alcohol without having to cross to the other side of the property. On the Beach side, you are able to take advantage of non-motorized water sports at no extra cost. The stretch of Seven Mile Beach that houses Grand Pineapple is public, so guests will have to opportunity to interact and mingle with locals. If you wish to try your hand at scuba diving, no problem mon! You can make arrangements with Beaches Negril or Sandals Negril to take a scuba class (nominal fee applies).

Overall Atmosphere: Grand Pineapple Beach Negril is a small resort with a lot of personality. This resort would be ideal for the person/family who is looking for an authentic beach vacation with a lot of local culture and influences at their fingertips. You can get serenaded by a musician who has set up shop on the beach that night. Negril’s famed Rick’s Cafe is only a short taxi ride away. Vacationers who want to experience Jamaica without all of the bells and whistles of a Sandals/Beaches resort stay would fall in love with Grand Pineapple!

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Jamaica FAM Trip: Sandals Whitehouse

Sandals Whitehouse

Sandals Whitehouse

 

After a VERY relaxing and fulfilling night of sleep, the next stop on our Jamaican adventure was Sandals Whitehouse, the only resort located in the southern part of Jamaica.  We had a VERY early wake-up call, which is why I can’t call this trip a “vacation”…I sleep in on vacation. :-/ Thank goodness that Cafe de Paris was open @ Beaches, because I needed a pick-me-up before we boarded the bus to Whitehouse.

Sandals Whitehouse is known as the brand’s “Jewel of the South Coast”, as it is the only Sandals resort on this portion of the island. It’s ideal for those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and are looking for a true retreat. Since we were coming from Negril, the ride to Whitehouse was approximately 90 minutes. If you were to transfer directly to Whitehouse from Montego Bay, it would take a little over an hour. I was impressed by the resort upon arrival,with its long winding driveway and impressive entryway.

We were first treated to a Sandals Certified Specialist class led by the warm and knowledgeable Iesha Hibbert. It was a form of torture being in a room for 4 hours when there was all sorts of resort beauty to be seen, but the class was informative and went quickly. And now I’m Sandals Certified! (Still waiting on my certificate to prove it…).
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Royal Caribbean’s 3 Day WOW sale

 

From now until Wednesday, Royal Caribbean is running their always-wonderful WOW sale. This is the only opportunity to book a cruise on one of their fabulous ships (Quantum of the Seas, anyone?) for half of the initial cost. I’m trying to resist the temptation to book a cabin myself, so let me book one for YOU so I can live vicariously through your travels! (hehehe). If you want more information, click the pic below to shoot me a message!

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Sandals Awarded 2013 Certificate of Excellence

Well how about that for timing? Just as I’m writing up my reviews of the wonderful Sandals, Beaches, and Grand Pineapple Resorts, TripAdvisor goes and gives them the Certificate of Excellence for 2013. This award is provided to those establishments who receive amazing, positive, and glowing TripAdvisor reviews from their guests.

If you’ve ever spent time on TripAdvisor  (and if you haven’t, I suggest you give it a whirl), you’ll see reviews for hotels, cruises, car rental agencies, tour companies…pretty much anything you can imagine. You’ll also see that these reviews range from glowing to condemning. Personally, I sometimes take reviews with a grain of salt, especially if they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. I swear, sometimes people write reviews JUST to be contrary. In many cases, what appeals to one traveler is abysmal to another. Which explains why Sandals receiving this honor is so notable.

The specific resorts receiving this honor are:

Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa
Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort & Private Island

Sandals Montego Bay
Sandals Grande Riviera Beach & Villa Golf Resort
Sandals Carlyle Montego Bay, Jamaica
Sandals Royal Plantation Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Sandals Negril Beach Resort & Spa
Sandals Whitehouse European Village & Spa
Sandals Royal Bahamian Spa Resort & Offshore Island
Sandals Emerald Bay Great Exuma, Bahamas
Sandals La Toc Golf Resort & Spa in St. Lucia
Sandals Halcyon Beach St. Lucia
Sandals Grande St. Lucian Spa & Beach Resort
Beaches Ocho Rios Resort & Golf Club
Beaches Negril Resort & Spa
Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa
Grand Pineapple Beach Antigua

Congratulations to Sandals, Beaches and Grand Pineapple! Keep up the good work!

On a similar note: I have completed two additional resort reviews that will be published later this week. Keep your eyes peeled…

Hurricane Season is Here!

Tropical Storm Andrea dumped on Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier today
Photo Credit: tbo.com

 

 

Hurricane season is effective every year from June 1 until November 30. Those of us in the directly affected areas (namely: Florida) expect balmy mornings, afternoon showers and steamy humidity on a daily basis. Typically, hurricane and tropical storm activity picks up from August until October. So imagine my surprise when I found myself driving in the midst of a tropical storm this morning. What?

Yes…5 days into hurricane season, the Tampa Bay area was blessed with Tropical Storm Andrea. This one snuck up on everyone, I think. The area has been afflicted with tornadoes and floods today, but thankfully no one lost their lives. Some businesses closer to the beach suffered property damage, and many of the tourist attractions (Busch Gardens, Sea World, Legoland) closed early today. We remain under a tornado watch until 10pm, so although the worst has passed, we are not yet out of the woods. In fact, the wind is howling against my window as I type this.

I’m reading reports that this early tropical activity is a warning of things to come. If so, this will be an active hurricane season. Someone even said that this may be the year that Tampa is hit with the “big one”. (*knocks on wood that this isn’t true*)

If ANY of this ends up being true, then it leads me to emphasize the importance of Travel Protection insurance if you are planning a trip to a hurricane-prone region. Some may remember the mess that Hurricane Isaac caused for Royal Caribbean and Carnival last year; those with insurance were able to easily rebook their trips and return home (or get refunded), while those without had a bit more trouble. Travel Protection covers severe weather events that may interrupt, delay or cancel your trip. You can purchase it through the travel supplier, or an outside vendor (I personally work with TravelSafe and Allianz). Many of the plans also offer a “Cancel for Any Reason” option, which would allow you to cancel the trip for an “uncovered” reason (i.e. not due to weather, medical emergency, etc) and still receive some or all of your investment back.

Obviously, no one can predict the future or what could happen; you could pay for the protection with no need to use it…which would be ideal, really. However, I personally believe that Travel Protection is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Jamaica FAM Trip: Beaches Negril

And so it begins. I figured I’d start my Jamaica FAM trip review with the first resort that I actually laid eyes on, which also ended up being my home for two days: Beaches Negril.

SAM_2022Located about 1.5 hours west of Montego Bay, the ride to the resort was lengthy. But our excitement about being on this trip made the time pass quickly. I was on a bus with two other members of our group, so we had a lot to discuss on the ride to the resort.

My first impression of Beaches Negril was that is is very TROPICAL. We arrived at night, however I could tell through the lush landscaping and open-air lobby that this place was designed to make you KNOW that you are in Jamaica. We were escorted to the Concierge lounge, where we were treated to Mesmerizers (it’s a drink!) and a swift check-in/orientation process. Since my flight was almost two hours delayed coming out of Atlanta, we were one of the last transfers to arrive to the resort.

After providing a credit card to imprint for incidentals (they will pre-authorize $400, so be mindful of this if you use a debit VISA or Mastercard, as your funds will be frozen), we were escorted to our room. No need to lug our bags; similar to the cruise ships, you leave your bags with the bellman upon arrival and they are later delivered to your room. No need to tip, as it is disallowed at Beaches and Sandals properties.

We were escorted through the main aqueduct (as they call their main hallway), past the Big Top Theater, through The Mill Restaurant (I still find it awkward that we had to walk THROUGH the restaurant to get to our rooms), and finally arrived at our building. When they opened up the door to my room, I was amazed! I was in a 1 bedroom Beachfront Concierge Suite, and it was incredibly spacious! After being awake for 22 hours and being in/out of airports for 18 of them, I was ready to crash in the luxurious king-size 4 poster bed, but that would have to wait: we had a welcome dinner to attend. Beaches had a lovely fruit tray laid out for me as a welcome gift….we received a bottle of Appleton Rum on the second night, at which point I said “Beaches knows how to treat its guests!!”.

Beachfront Suite (super dark pic, sorry!)

Beachfront Suite (super dark pics, sorry!)

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We toured the resort on the day we checked out, which exposed me to amenities that I didn’t know existed and would have been good to know upon check-in. Overall, here was my take of Beaches Negril:

Accommodations: We were shown two rooms other than the one I occupied; a Beachfront One Bedroom Suite that sleeps up to SIX people, and a Grande Luxe Beachfront Room (sleeps up to 4). The resort has a variety of rooms that can accommodate 3 to 12 guests, giving a diverse array of options to families of all shapes and sizes. Several of the rooms are handicapped-accessible as well. The highest category of room (Beachfront Three Bedroom Suite/Two Bedroom Suite) offers Butler Service.

Speaking of which…

Perks: The services of a Professional Butler are available at all Sandals and Beaches properties (with the exception of Beaches Ocho Rios). The highest tier of rooms/suites provide guests with a personal butler, who is available at the guests’ beckon call. He/She will unpack your luggage, make your dinner reservations, set up dinner on your balcony, romanticize your room…whatever you want. Personally, I never thought I’d be interested in having a butler, but after my colleague’s butler brought her neatly folded swimsuit to her as we dined on jerk chicken at the pool, I said “I need THAT in my life!” (lol). Note: butlers are exempted from the “No Tipping” policy at Sandals/Beaches….butlers are tipped $10-30 per day, at the guests’ discretion. Spa employees are also exempt.

If a Butler Suite isn’t on your wish list, the resorts also offer Suite Concierge Service to its guests. Those staying in Concierge Rooms are offered preferred check-in (as I mentioned above), in-suite bar with a wide assortment of liquor and wine plus soft drinks, his/her bathrobes and a dedicated concierge to assist with restaurant/spa reservations, excursions,  and expedited check-out. It’s nice, trust me. A few of my colleagues were fortunate enough to be placed in Butler Suites, but I was more than pleased with my Concierge accommodations.

Dining: I had the opportunity to dine at three restaurants at Beaches Negril:  Stewfish (seafood), Kimonos (teppanyaki) and The Mill (breakfast buffet). I also grabbed coffee/snacks from the Cafe de Paris, which ended up being one of my favorite features at the resorts! I can’t wait until they’re added at all of them. I enjoyed all of the locations where we dined, and wish that we had the time to try the other spots (BBQ Park, Arizona’s, Dino’s Pizzeria,  and The Venetian). One thing is true: you won’t go hungry at Beaches Negril.

Part of our group dined at Kimono’s on the second night, which required reservations. We were all a little trippy about having Japanese style food cooked by Jamaicans, but it was a BLAST! The hostess, servers and chefs all sang and danced all night. The food was GREAT and we had an amazing experience. It truly set the tone for our week!

Pools/Beach: At this point in my trip, I wasn’t super interested in swimming. Our second night at the resort found us hanging out at the pool/pool bar, which stayed open until 10 PM. My fellow travel professionals were having a blast playing in that water…I went to bed, lol. The resort also had an impressive looking water park with 4 slides and a lazy river, but due to some unfortunately timed rain and a busy schedule, we never got to take advantage. Likewise, other than our lovely beachside dinner on night 1, I didn’t get to spend much time on Negril’s Seven Mile Beach. Next time mon…next time.

Atmosphere: It may have been due to the time of week (we were there on Sunday and Monday nights) or time of year, but to me, Beaches Negril was RELAXED. It was also my introduction to Jamaica! The resort was very lush and tropical: in fact, many of my colleagues were plagued by some unwanted visitors…April – June is crab season, and many of the baby crabs get lost on their way to the water and end up in people’s rooms. Quite unfortunate. They are definitely focused on the family; we passed the Sesame Street live performance show on both nights and had a close encounter with Elmo. The kids’ facilities are plentiful and activities well-structured. They have a massive Xbox lounge for the kids (and kids at heart), as well as the Scratch DJ Academy for those who want to learn how to mix on the 1’s and 2’s. (I’m so cool). Red Lane Spa is also available for adults AND kids at an additional cost.

Overall, this is a great resort to take your families and relax to get away from it all. They have a great deal of activities and fun aimed at families of all ages!

If you want more information or want to book a stay at Beaches Negril, drop me a line!