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

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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!

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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!

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!

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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!

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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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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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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!

Jamaica FAM Trip: Club MoBay

Before I get into the reviews of all of the resorts that I visited during my recent trip to Jamaica, I wanted to touch on the specifics of actually getting TO the island. (plus, these resort reviews will take forever and I’m procrastinating bigtime). Since this was my first time going to Jamaica, as well as my first time flying internationally unaccompanied, I had a healthy amount of anxiety going into the trip. I repeatedly confirmed that my passport was with me and not about to expire — fortunately, it doesn’t expire until 2022, but it’s still worth checking, right? (smh)

Prior to leaving the US, I purchased an arrival/departure package from Club MoBay, an exclusive service operated by VIP Attractions in Jamaica. There is also a Club Kingston for those guests flying into Norman Manley airport. Upon arrival, Club MoBay provides guests with escorted arrival services through baggage claim, a fast track line for Immigration and Customs, and a VIP lounge complete with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (rum punch, anyone?), snacks, warm towels and free wi-fi while awaiting resort transfer. It feels good to get off of the plane and have a person standing at the end of the jetway holding a sign bearing your name. It was also nice to skip all of the lines in the terminal and go straight through immigration. This service would be very beneficial to folks traveling during Jamaica’s busiest tourist seasons, couples there for their weddings, senior citizens, and families traveling with small children. The less lines, the better.

Reception at Club MoBay

Reception at Club MoBay

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Ya’ Mon: My Tour of Jamaica

We went. We toured. We conquered. And now, Jamaica has shot up to a very high ranking spot on my list of Favorite Places!

Over the next few days/weeks, I plan to review and recap each of the TEN Sandals, Beaches and Grand Pineapple Resorts that we visited while on our FAM trip. These resorts were (in order of visitation):

1. Sandals Whitehouse European Village

2. Beaches Negril Resort and Spa

3. Grand Pineapple Negril

4. Sandals Negril Resort and Spa

5. Sandals Carlyle

6. Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort

7. Sandals Montego Bay

8. Sandals Grande Riviera

9. Sandals Royal Plantation

10. Sandals Golf & Country Club ** not a resort **

11. Beaches Ocho Rios Resort and Spa

We managed to visit all of these locations over the course of 5 days. Those of us who were feeling adventurous were also given the opportunity to climb Dunn’s River Falls with Island Routes (YES, my hope became reality!!!).

The beauty and people of Jamaica caused me to fall in love with the island. I’m so excited to return, and have been sharing my wonderful impression of the island with anyone who will listen. The Sandals family of properties truly have something for everyone, making them an excellent choice in planning your next getaway. If you’re looking for romance, relaxation, nightlife, or fun for the family, there IS a resort for you.

Contact me for more information, or keep your eyes open as the reviews start to get posted!