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.

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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).

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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!

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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!
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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!!!

 

2013 in Review

It is VERY hard to believe that this is the last day of 2013! My father always warned me that time would pass more quickly as I age, but I never believed him until now.

I must say that, in retrospect, 2013 was an incredible year both personally and professionally. I had all kind of amazing opportunities come my way during the past 12 months; some I took full advantage of, while others had to be postponed. I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of the awesomeness that 2013 brought to me and to Bon Voyage by Barbour:

* I traveled. I try to take at least two “big” trips a year, however a scattering of “smaller” trips works as well. In 2013, I:

– Spent a weekend at Universal Orlando resort at the Portofino Hotel. The Express Pass and proximity to the parks made it worth every red cent.

– Had a BFF weekend in Puerto Rico. Stayed at the Gran Melia and La Concha Resorts during our 4 day weekend, plus got lost in El Yunque. Good times.

– Visited Key West for the first time with Mr. B.

– Attended my cousin’s wedding in Pittsburgh, PA. I wish I’d had more time to spend refamiliarizing myself with the city I’d spent so much time in as a child.

FINALLY got to visit Jamaica on a FAM (familiarization) trip with 20 fellow travel agents. Went to Ocho Rios, Negril and Montego Bay during our week and visited ALL of the Sandals and Beaches properties on the island. Also climbed Dunn’s River Falls, which was totally on my bucket list. This was one of my favorite trips of the year, and I fell in LOVE with Jamaica. (There are tons of posts on this blog testifying to this…)

– Visited Ann Arbor and wandered around my alma mater (U of Michigan) on an incredible September afternoon. I couldn’t have asked for better weather.

– Made my inaugural visit to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for my good friend’s wedding. Had an opportunity to visit 5 other resorts while there…and I know, I never wrote those reviews. They are coming, I promise!

– Went on a two-day cruise on the newly revitalized Vision of the Seas with 90 fellow women, a group cruise that I helped organize. Visited Nassau, The Bahamas (4th island of the year!) and spent the afternoon at Sandals Royal Bahamian. These reviews are also forthcoming!

– Spent the weekend at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and attended Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival

In addition to my personal travels, I helped clients realize their own travel dreams, including:

* 3 honeymoon cruises

* Several trips to Jamaica

* A birthday group cruise

* A family reunion group cruise

* A family reunion at Disneyland California

And more!

Bon Voyage by Barbour accomplishments included:

* Acquisition of my IATA and CLIA card

* Multiple certifications, including Certified Sandals Specialist and Graduate of College of Disney Knowledge

All in all, this was a wonderfully blessed year and I’m excited about what 2014 has in store!

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Black Friday/Cyber Monday Travel Deals

Another year, another Black Friday. To those of you who were brave enough to face the masses at your shopping venue of choice, I applaud you! I’m more into Cyber Monday..Black Friday kind of scares me.  Another blog I follow posted the following gif to their page, and I instantly became anxious and uncomfortable:

 

Once upon a time, I used to post weekly deals on this blog. I have since stopped doing that, as I want to use this website to discuss my personal travel experiences and travel news instead of focusing on promotions.

However, since this is one of the biggest shopping days of the year, I would be remiss NOT to point out that Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals are stretching far beyond laptops and flat screen televisions. Almost ALL of my favorite travel suppliers are having promotional deals and specials at this time. I wanted to use today’s post to just point out a few of these amazing deals, since they are all time-sensitive. Maybe you’re considering surprising that special someone with a getaway, or looking to plan your 2014 vacation? Whatever the case may be, there is likely a deal for you. So bear with me while I share some highlights; hopefully you’ll find something that catches your eye!

Cruise Specials

Holland America November 27th-December 1st, 2013 – Great savings and get up to $150 shipboard credit on select 2013/14 cruises.

Princess Cruises November 27th-December 4th, 2013 – Upgrades, bottle of wine and onboard credit on select sailings

NorwegianNovember 27th-December 3rd, 2013 – Up to $250 onboard credit on select sailings

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MSC Cruises November 27th-December 4th, 2013 – Up to $300 onboard credit on select sailings

Celebrity Cruises November 27th- Feb.14th. –1,2,3 Go! Pick from complimentary drink package, free gratuities or onboard credit on select sailings

Royal CaribbeanDecember 2-4, 2013 – WOW Sale: 50% reduced deposits and up to $200 onboard credit

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Resorts/Packages

Sandals/Beaches ResortsNovember 29 and 30th Only! – Save up to 65% off and receive up to $550 in air credits at Sandals and Beaches properties throughout the Caribbean. Additional inclusions (spa credits, couples massages, free golf, free nights, etc) for a limited time only

Funjet VacationsNovember 29-December 2, 2013

  • Receive up to a $700 INSTANT AIR CREDIT when you book at the El Dorado Royale, by Karisma (Cancun)
  • Up to 55% EXCLUSIVE SAVINGS at the Riu Vallarta – and up to 2 kids ages 12 and under stay, play and eat free
  • An EXCLUSIVE ROOM UPGRADE TO OCEANVIEW and exclusive savings at the Sunset Beach Resort & Spa (Jamaica)
  • Up to 35% OFF and reduced room upgrades at the Gran Caribe Real Cancun

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AMResortsNovember 29 – December 1, 2013 – Book a stay at Dreams Punta Cana or Cancun for only $99 per person, per night! (Savings from $320 per person, per night). 50% off your stay at the adults only Secrets properties and brand new Breathless Punta Cana!

Those are just a few examples of the many deals now available….

Happy Black Friday to you! Did you brave the crowds today?

6 Awesome Benefits of Group Travel

When I founded Bon Voyage by Barbour in 2012, my goal was to specialize in cruises. I knew enough people who liked to cruise that I figured I could book one or two, here and there, and make it something fun to do on the side. I also figured I’d dabble in some all-inclusive resorts; my experience at the Barcelo Maya Palace Deluxe was so incredible that I wanted others to experience the “AI” life too!

Almost immediately I received a request for a group cruise. Then another. And then yet another. Now, I’m finding myself working on 3 group cruises (so far) for 2014, a group AI getaway and two destination weddings. WOW!

I’m not sharing this information in a boastful way whatsoever. I never intended to work with groups, but I’m finding that they are SO much fun to work with, as everyone is SO excited about their vacation. Furthermore, group trips can often offer additional incentives to make this type of travel even MORE beneficial than they already are.

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So here are my reasons why group trips are awesome, in no particular order:

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Sandals and Beaches Resorts to open in Barbados!

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SANDALS RESORTS INTERNATIONAL SET TO MAKE EXCITING DOUBLE DEBUT IN BARBADOS

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, 18th October 2013 – Sandals Resorts International (SRI), parent company of Sandals Resorts, Beaches Resorts and Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts, today applauded the Government of Barbados following the announcement of a deal which will result in opening of two resorts in the country.

SRI and the Government of the Barbados reached the agreement following months of negotiations that will see the Caribbean’s leading resort company open the former Couples Resort in St Lawrence as a Sandals Resort as well as managing a new Beaches Resort set to be built on the site of the former Almond Beach Resort in St Peter.

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One Year Down…

I am very honored and proud to commemorate the first anniversary of Bon Voyage by Barbour. This first year has been amazing, far and beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to pursue my passion, and can’t express enough how much gratitude I have for those who have entrusted me with their travel arrangements! A special acknowledgement goes to my host agent, KHM Travel Group, for their guidance, leadership and the sheer number of training opportunities a/k/a temptations that have been offered to me in the past 12 months.

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New Year, New Logo!

A few highlights of my agency’s first year:

* Earned both my IATA and CLIA cards, cementing me as a professional travel agent

* Participated in a week-long FAM trip to Jamaica, visiting Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Negril (blog followers: only one review left!!)

* Earned the following certifications:
– Royal Caribbean Cruise Line “Expert Plus”

– Norwegian Cruise Line Freestyle Specialist

– Sandals Certified Specialist

– Celebrity Cruises Five Star Graduate

– Princess Cruise Line Commodore Agent

– Hawai’i Destination Specialist

– AMResorts Master Agent

– Jamaica Travel Specialist

– Official Cancun Counselor

– GoGo Worldwide Vacations Specialist

– Graduate of the College of Disney Knowledge (covers Walt Disney World, Disney Cruise Line, Disneyland, Adventures by Disney)

* Coordinated three group cruises (15 passengers or more)

* Arranged vow renewal ceremonies in Caribbean

 

There is so much more, but those are just a few of the highlights. In the next few months, I am making plans to travel to the Dominican Republic to tour resorts, as well as trips to Bahamas and Mexico. I look forward to learning more as my agency continues to grow. Here’s to many more years for Bon Voyage by Barbour!!

 

Why IATA?

Last week granted me with quite a surprise: I was informed that I had qualified for my IATA Card. Now, a year ago, this would’ve meant nothing to me and honestly wouldn’t have even made sense. This year: it’s a big deal. Allow me to explain why….

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is a globally recognized organization that is designed for travel professionals. There is a certain number of criteria that a travel professional has to meet before allowing to apply for their IATA ID card; he or she must work a certain number of hours per week and gross a certain amount in commission, among other things. It takes some agents several years to meet the criteria; for me, it took 11 months! I’m completely humbled by this achievement and grateful to all of my clients who trusted me with their travel arrangements. (This is starting to sound like an Emmy acceptance speech…)

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Jamaica FAM Trip: Sandals Royal Caribbean

Please excuse my unintended hiatus; some out-of-town trainings got in the way of my blogging and now I feel completely behind!!!

So when I left off, we had just settled in at Sandals Montego Bay and were preparing for 4 more resort tours to close out the week. Sandals Royal Caribbean & Private Island was the only remaining resort to tour in Montego Bay before we headed east to Ocho Rios.

Sandals Royal Caribbean is only located a stone’s throw away from Sandals MoBay, which further enhances the convenience of the “Stay at One, Play at Three” program through Sandals. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a great deal of time to explore the resort due to our late arrival for the tour. Which is a shame, as this resort was my favorite one of the entire FAM trip.Private island wm

Why did this one stand out from the others? Two words: Private Island. But more on that later.

 


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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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