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Sandals and Beaches Review Part 1- Exuma and Antigua

Posted on January 21, 2015 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (462)

Last month I had the pleasure of touring and visiting the Sandals resorts at Exuma and Antigua, as well as the Beaches resort in the Turks and Caicos.  Today I'm going to focus on the two Sandals, as they are couples only resorts.  Then will do another blog for the Beaches resort, a family friendly vacation hotspot.


Sandals Emerald Bay-



While all Sandals resorts may have been created equally, they were not all created for the same client.  Emerald Bay is the perfect place for rest and relaxation with the one you love.  This is not a resort full of parties and loud music.  It is serene, quiet, and makes you either want to enjoy a day at the first class spa, or just curl up in a chair with a good read, and an even better cocktail!  The beach, as with all Sandals resorts, is gorgeous white sand and turquoise waters.  One of the biggest draws for this particular resort is for golfers.




The longest course in the Caribbean, winding through seaside dunes along a stunning peninsula, this Greg Norman-designed, 18-hole, par 72 championship course is consistently regarded as one of the best in the Caribbean by Travel + Leisure Golf.  All guests enjoy one round of complimentary greens fees, while butler suite guests receive unlimited rounds with free greens fees.


Sandals Grande Antigua-




Gorgeous, right??  Where Emerald Bay is calm and serene, Grande Antigua is lively and fun.  As with all Sandals resorts, it boasts a gorgeous beach, delicious all inclusive food (amazing, gourmet food) and beverages.  It also includes unlimited scuba, snorkeling, kayaking, etc.  If you need relaxation, it's not hard to find!  There are tons of quiet areas, fire pits, pools, and beach.  And of course the world class spa! 




It definitely depends on your personality, which one is right for you.  I personally prefer Antigua.  I am not a golfer, and my husband and I enjoy the more lively atmosphere.  At the same time, I can think of several people who would find Emerald Bay to be heaven on earth.   


Insight on Beaches Turks and Caicos coming soon!


 

Packing Tips to Live By

Posted on December 3, 2014 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (14)

Packing has not always been my strong suite.  Ok.  If we're being honest, I have always prettty much stunk at it.  But after some embarrasing faux pas (including one particularly awful time when all of my "unmentionables" packed for a romantic getaway first fell out and covered the floor at the baggage check at the airport, and then again in the lobby of our hotel), I have learned a few key lessons on packing the right way.


  • Follow TSA Guidelines- Failure to do so will lead to all of your brand new lotions and shampoos being tossed in the trash.  And in case you didn't think of it, that means that the rest of your bag will be open for all eyes to see what else is in there!  3 ounce bottles in a one quart clear bag for carry ons.  Or you can just check your bag and keep your pampering potions in full size bottles!  But if you do check your bag, make sure the monster is under the 50 lb weight limit.  Over weight bags will bring on a hefty fine (been there, done that).


  • Plan ahead!- Now this is a tough one.  As a long time procastinator, I usually end up trying to throw things together at the last minute!  Here are some things to think about ahead of time, to keep your packing under control:
  1. Choose staples-  I know its vacation, and its fun to have lots of clothing options, but if you have never put on that short sequined dress at home, you probably won't on vacation!  Same for those fuschia heels!  
  2. Choose a color scheme- Not that you can't have some fun shirts or dresses, but try to plan it so you only need a few pairs of shoes, instead of one pair for each outfit.  Shoes are heavy and bulky!!
  3. Choose multi-use outfits- Dresses that can go from day to night, tanks that can be used in a number of ways, etc.
  4. Use accessories to liven up your basics- Scarves, belts, and jewelry take up very little space but can transition your black tshirt from day to night with no trouble at all!
  5. Leave out the easy to wrinkle clothes- I think this speaks for itself.  And let's be serious... If you are on your trip and you have a plain white T that is not wrinkled and that really cute silk blouse that needs ironing, which are you going to choose?? Seriously.  Tshirt wins every time.

 

  • Roll most of your clothes instead of folding- When dealing with something that is easily wrinkled, go ahead and fold it and wrap in a plastic bag or tissue paper.  You can also roll these items in tissue paper, and that works well to keep the wrinkles out.  Rolling will save tons of space over folding!


  • When placing the items in your bag-  Put heavy items like shoes and jeans near the wheels (so your bag doesn't keep toppling over), pack jewelry and other small items in socks and stuff them in your shoes to keep them safe from bends, breaks, and loss, pack all your liquids in ziplocks to keep your shampoo from exploding all over your carefully packed wardrobe!


  • After you've got everything packed-  Review what you have, and try to take out at least 3 items...  You'll need that space for souvenirs!!


Now that you're nicely packed, have a great trip!!  A must have packing list will follow soon!!

Luxury on a Budget

Posted on November 13, 2014 at 9:40 PM Comments comments (145)

I just posted on Facebook about St. Barths, and it made me reflect back on my trip there.  Here are a few facts about Saint Barthelemy:




1.  St Barths is BEAUTIFUL!!!  It is pristine, with beautiful beaches that offered different experiences-- secluded or busy party atmosphere, sprinkled with the volcanic rock that makes up the island or white sand, there's even one that is covered in magnificent shells.  The food is to die for!!  Exotic fruits and gourmet eats at every corner.  It is a duty free shopping mecca, filled with high end boutiques.  There are gorgeous views from many areas, many places for rest and relaxation, and what was probably the coolest, most fun bars I've ever been to (complete with a fashion/variety show, a room filled with costumes for everyone to wear, and dancing on the tables)!!!




2.  St. Barths is EXPENSIVE!!!  My husband and I have traveled throughout the Caribbean and expect inflated, high costs for food, beverage, activities, etc.  But this was the first time we experienced true sticker shock.  I'll just give one example.  When we went to hike into Colombier Beach, we stopped at the grocery store to carry a picnic lunch with us.  We bought two deli sandwiches, two apples, a bag of chips, two bottles of water, and two sodas.  At home, this would be around ten bucks.  I would anticipate maybe twenty, even thirty, in the Caribbean.  It was 50 euros.  Which is over $60!!!!




Our mistake:  Not doing the research to know that before we went.  We stayed at Tom Beach Hotel, which was fabulous!!  There was a restaurant on site (that was delicious!  Especially lobster night!), and an amazing breakfast was included daily.  I loved sitting with my feet in the sand eating eggs, bacon, and fruit I'd never seen before!   The problem was that, we had thought we could just walk everywhere to get food and cocktails.  But this was the most expensive part of the island, and after one day of paying over $100 for lunch and $250 for dinner, we were starting to get a little stressed about how much this five day vacation was going to put us back.


The solution:  We rented a car.  And it turned our vacation around!! 




We got a little white Mini Cooper convertable!!  It was so fun to drive around the curvy roads and hillsides, and the views from up high were phenominal!!  It opened up our options, and we found several little out of the way places to eat that were more reasonable ($40 for lunch and $100 for dinner), but were still delicious!!  Maybe even better!  But the best part is that we got to explore!




We walked the streets of Gustavia, a charming and quaint little town, full of character, boutiques, and cafes.




We drove the whole island, and visited all of the beaches.  And we got to do our favorite thing for the whole trip... the hike into Colombier Beach! 



  

The only way to get there is to take a boat or walk approximately 30 minutes along a rather rugged trail. But well worth the effort!! The views along the way are stunning! And then just to arrive at a beautiful, secluded beach, with great snorkeling. In a nutshell... unforgettable!!




In the end, we had a great vacation!!  We also learned, that you can rent condos on the mountainside, with their own pools, hottubs, and milllion dollar views for a pretty reasonable price.  That also allows you do cook some meals and save money there. If you are on a very limited budget, St Barths is not the place!! But if you have a some wiggle room, and really want to go, it is doable, and will be worth it.  And if budget is not a concern, then I would highly recommend the tropical destination!!  It is a beautiful, charming, and luxurious island playground that will not disappoint!! 

PARADISE ISLAND

Posted on October 31, 2014 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (9862)

Paradise Island has become a very popular vacation spot, and for good reason!  Easy to get to, Nassau (which connects to Paradise Island by bridge) is only a few hundred miles off the coast of Florida, with multiple nonstop flight options from many US cities.  The crytal blue Caribbean Sea serves as the backdrop for white sand, sunshine, and uninhibited pleasure.  There are many hotel options, from budget to high end luxury resorts and suites.  And there is, of course, a little place called Atlantis.


Now this place is a playground for children and adults of all ages!!  Looking forward to a nice, relaxing vacation, my husband and I left our 16 month old and 3 year old at home with family, and visited the enormous resort in May of 2013.  As soon as we stepped on site, our plans for relaxation were basically thrown out the window, and we magically reverted back to being children ourselves!!  Waterslides, the "not-so-lazy" river (as we called it) full of rapids and waves, unbelievable aquariums and marine life at every turn.  And the world class casino helped us to keep up that kid-in-a-candy-store feeling late into the night!! Oh yeah, and then there were the beaches...




The only set back for many people visiting Paradise Island is the cost of everything.  Food and drink can be inflated on the happy little island, but there are a few tips for spending less money.  For one, there is a small market across from Atlantis, where you can buy your bottled water, sodas, and even some snacks.  Keeping that in mind, the further you venture away from Atlantis, the less expensive you will find the restaurants.  The small places right outside on the marina are still a little pricey, but if you walk across the street, you can find pizza and beer at a reasonable price (I think we spent about $50 for 2 beers each and a pizza... not too bad). 


BUT if you have on your walking shoes, and are looking for some authentic Bahamian food at very good prices, walk back across the bridge towards Nassau, and grab lunch or dinner at one of the Potter's Cay Fish Shacks.  They are just what they sound like, shacks, located right over the bay, serving up genuine Bahamian fare prepared fresh when you order it.  Twin Brothers is a favorite, and where we are the first night.  The food was AMAZING!!!  Some of the best Caribbean fare I've had!  The conch salad was cut up fresh for us right when we ordered it and the conch chowder was delicious!  Unfortunately, they were out of lobster, but the fish we ordered was still divine!  And the prices were right! Ice cold beer for $2, daquiries for $3, and food that went far above the price!!  Warning- if sanitation scores are your priority, Potter's Cay may not be the place for you.  But if good food, good prices, and friendly locals are your idea of a perfect dinner, this is your place!!!


Why I love the Turks and Caicos (Part 1- The First Trip)

Posted on October 24, 2014 at 8:15 AM Comments comments (222)

I've made a few Facebook posts this week that referenced the Turks and Caicos, so I thought I would make a blog entry to explain what it is that I love so much. 


My first trip to the islands was in 2007 with my husband.  He had a job offer on Provo (Providenciales, the most inhabited island), so we had done a lot of research before going.  We studied the islands and learned a lot of facts:


1. History- Located between the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos were originally inhabited by Lucayan and Taino Indians, until Christopher Columbus landed on Grand Turk in 1492.  After centuries of going between French, Spanish, Bahamian, but mostly British rule, the islands ultimately became a British crown colony, which it remains today.  The islands have been sparsely populated for  centuries, and only became a tourist destination in the 1980's.


2. Economy-   The economy relies mostly on tourism, with around 30,000 residents welcoming over 200,000 tourists per year.  Currency is the US dollar, the official language is English.  There is also fishing, a conch farm (the only one in the world), and finance ("zero tax" jurisdiction) to name a few other sources of income.


3. Other things I cared about-  The islands are safe.  Very little crime.  There is a modern hospital as well as many independent practitioners on the island. 


4. Things to do-  The islands are a haven for water sports- snorkeling, scuba, fishing, etc.  There is even a live reef right off the beach at one point where you can walk right out and see some of the best snorkeling I have anywhere.  There is also a small casino on Provo, and I love roulette!!! 


5. Where to stay-  There are a number of high luxury resorts on Provo situated on beautiful Grace Bay (see pic below).  There are also homes and condos to rent.  Beaches and Club Med are the only all-inclusives, but this is one island that is great to get out and explore.


The facts were all interesting, and positive, but it wasn't until we got there that we fell in love.  The food.  The people.  The atmosphere.  The most beautiful beaches I've seen. 


We rented a car and drove all around Provo.  We never felt in danger or afraid.  We got help from plenty of friendly locals guiding us when we lost our way.  And we stumbled upon my favorite local beach bar in all of the Caribbean... da Conch Shack!!


Cold drinks.  Caribbean music.  Fresh conch (And I mean fresh!! Pulled out of the crystal blue water right beside the restaurant!!).  Perfect cracked lobster (fried lobster... and yes, it's delicious!!). Literally feet from that indescribable water.  It was amazing. 


Unfortunately, the job was not what we had hoped and my husband had to turn it down.  The silver lining was that we had immersed ourselves into learning about an island and fell in love.  In fact, we loved it so much that we started looking for real estate down there.  At one point, we almost pulled the trigger and bought a parcel of land on Middle Caicos.  But that is an adventure for another blog....


All Inclusive vs. Pay on Site Resorts

Posted on October 14, 2014 at 11:40 AM Comments comments (393)

I recently had a discussion with a friend about an upcoming Caribbean vacation I was planning for myself, my husband, and a few other couples.  She was hesitant about committing because we planned to stay at an all inclusive resort.  She has never stayed at one before and said the idea turned her off, because she likes to "experience" the cultures in the places she travels, and she feels that wouldn't happen at an all inclusive resort.  I thought I would post a blog, since other people may have the same concerns. 


I should start off by saying, I am a fan of ALL vacations!!  I LOVE TRAVELLING!!  I do not discriminate!!  I have my preferences, but as your travel agent, my first and foremost responsibility is to find the perfect vacation for YOU, not me. 


So here's the myth:  You can either experience the culture, or go to an all inclusive resort. 


The truth is:  You can have both!!


Your vacation is what you make of it, regardless of the type of hotel/resort you choose to stay in.  If you want nothing more than to lay on a beach and have some one bring you umbrella drinks, you can do it.  If you want to spend your days scuba diving, zip lining, cave tubing, and ancient ruin climbing, you can do it.   You want a little of both?  You can do it!  The place you stay at does not define your vacation.  You do.  Of course, the quality of the hotel/resort may have an impact as well!!


My favorite thing about all inclusives is the ease of it all.  It is so easy.  Anything you need is right there.  Relaxation and pampering are at the top of the menu.  My favorite thing about not being all inclusive is that it forces you to go out and explore.  I've had some of my favorite Caribbean experiences and food at local dives in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.  Of course, being all inclusive doesn't mean you can't go out and explore, but you may feel less likely to since you can eat and play for free right where you are.  


Location is one of the factors to consider when deciding which is right for you.  In places such as Punta Cana, the resorts are often a ways out from towns.  And there are few places to stay that are not all inclusive.  You have to take a taxi into town if you want to go.  No walking into the local village.  That said, the last time I was there, we did just that.  Got a taxi for the day and bar hopped in local dives.  It was one of the best days of our vacation.  But, on the other hand, drinks and steak at the swim up bar was pretty good too!  There are plenty of tours to experience the island as well.  There are other destinations, like the Caymans and Belize, where there are no all inclusives.  So if that's where you want to go, decision made!  And if you want the best of both worlds, there is a destination for that, too!  Playa del Carmen has tons of all inclusives within walking distance to the center of town and the ferry to Cozumel.  Montego Bay, Jamaica is similar. 


One of the biggest factors, though, is budget.  The great benefit of the all inclusive is that you have paid for your entire trip before you leave.  You don't have to spend another penny if you don't want to.  No worries about $10 beers or $50 hamburgers.  You can just eat, drink, and be merry.  If your budget is flexible, there may be more wiggle room for on trip expenses.  As far as cost per night of the stay, there are luxury and budget friendly options in both categories.


If size is a factor for you, there are boutique all inclusives and large resorts that are pay on site, so we can definitely find the right one for you either way.


All in all, there is a perfect vacation for you.  Keep an open mind, and make the most of your trip!!  It is YOUR dream get-a-way!!

 

I HEART Republica Dominicana

Posted on April 29, 2014 at 10:50 PM Comments comments (5)

Many people have reservations about the Dominican Republic. They are worried about the safety of the Caribbean destination. Having been there twice, and planning to go again, I have to disagree!! If you are looking for an all-inclusive get-a-way with all of the bells and whistles, this is the place. The Dominican Republic has become the new Cancun. There is world class golf, 5 star resorts and spas, and a mecca of water sports.

I went 8 years ago for my honeymoon, and stayed beach side in La Romana. While the 3 star resort we were at was not recommendable, the beaches and landscape were unbelievable. We went on a horse back ride through the woods, down a beach (where our guide freshly cut coconuts for us to drink coconut milk), through a rural town, and again into the woods where we finally stopped. Our guides led us a short distance through the woods to a fresh water cave, where we went swimming. It was an unforgettable experience!! As was the soreness from riding back wet (bring a towel and dry clothes!!!)!

Three years ago we returned, this time to Punta Cana. Staying at the adult's only, 4 1/2 star Excellence Punta Cana. I can't say enough... it was amazing!! Food, service, nightly shows... we had a blast!!

And yes, I realize this photo is a little ridiculous, but it was part of a package we won for winning second place at a Couples Contest (which was part of the nightly entertainment)!!  Hilarious!!

Throughout both visits, I never felt in danger or in any way afraid. I felt pampered and in paradise, which I was!!

Trapped in the snow...

Posted on February 16, 2014 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (129)

Like so many people, I have been trapped and waylayed by the harsh winter weather.  While the rolling hills of northern Maryland covered in snow are beautiful, it makes me long for the warmth of the sun on my shoulders.  I've been spending a lot of time imagining my toes in the warm sand with a cold drink in my hand.  Unfortunately, I've got cold toes and a warm drink in my hand.  Especially since I missed Valentine's Day due to multiple flight cancellations, I've been day dreaming about my last Caribbean get-a-way with my sweet husband to St. Barthelemy's in the southern Caribbean.  Check out more pictures of St. Barth's in the photo gallery! Stay warm! And if you can't stand it anymore, I'd love to help you plan your next dream get-a-way!



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