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!!!

 

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!
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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

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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!

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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Jamaica FAM Trip: Beaches Ocho Rios

Hello my good people! I know it’s been awhile, but for good reason: your favorite travel consultant has been TRAVELING! Yes, I had the opportunity to visit one of my favorite Domestic Destinations, Ann Arbor Michigan, as well as go on a long-awaited trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. While in the DR, I had the opportunity to tour SIX resorts and will begin posting about my experiences shortly. Hopefully it won’t take me 6 months to write up those reviews….

When I last left off, we had just toured the all-butler, all-fabulous Sandals Royal Plantation, and had boarded our bus for the final stop of our whirlwind week in Jamaica, Beaches Ocho Rios. We would be checking in and staying two nights at Beaches before heading back to the USA. (sadface).

What a view!

What a view!

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Jamaica FAM Trip: Sandals Royal Plantation

I’m back: Picking up where I left off on my comprehensive review of my Jamaica FAM trip , with only 2 resorts left to go! (You can do it, Carla!)

When I last left you all, we had just finished touring the VERY large Sandals Grande Riviera Beach and Villa Golf Resort, and were headed to our last tour of the day, Sandals Royal Plantation. Fortunately this resort was all of 10 minutes from Grande Riviera, so we arrived before we even had a chance to get comfortable.

Sandals Royal Plantation is steeped in European influence and is the ONLY All-Butler/All-Suite resort in the Sandals/Beaches family of properties. It’s located cliffside with gorgeous views of the Caribbean Sea available from EVERY suite on property. In other words, if you are looking to be pampered in an upscale setting, this would be the Sandals property for you.

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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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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?