We recently visited Sandals Emerald Bay for a week. We have been there previously and have posted well-deserved glowing reviews on our website. However, we have always been blessed and enjoyed wonderful weather for our entire trip. Not so with this visit, so the question is, can Sandals Emerald Bay still “reign” when it rains?
We had beautiful weather on our day of arrival
and our day of departure,
but every day in between was cloudy with various intensities of rain from drizzle to downpour.
So were we still satisfied with our stay at Sandals Emerald Bay? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
Sure, we didn’t get to soak in the sun as much as we anticipated (probably to the delight of our dermatologist), but we were still able to soak in the sunshine and warmth of its incredible staff. We were also able to enjoy the protective cabanas at the quiet pool and get in a good swim when the rain subsided, since the quiet pool is well-heated. I believe there are plans to heat the main pool, but it wasn’t heated during our stay.
We were also able to fully partake not only of the fine restaurants and food we had come to know and love, but also explore the four new restaurants which had just opened:
The Kimonos Japanese hibachi;
the Soy sushi bar and restuarant;
the Bombay Club Indian restaurant;
and the outdoor Jerk Shack.
We are happy to report that they all maintain the same high standards we have come to expect with Sandals properties. We had a particularly good time at the Japanese hibachi, where our chef not only prepared the selections perfectly, but entertained us as well.
Because of the storm at the time, we had a few brief moments of power outages. Guests around the table happily pulled out their cell phone flashlights and the meal preparation and dining experience went on uninterrupted until the generators kicked in. We all gladly accepted this unique “challenge” and reveled in our joint ability to overcome it easily, thanks to modern technology.
We came to realize that Sandals is at the ready to make provisions during bad weather and skillfully accommodate Mother Nature. While the Barefoot By The Sea beachfront restaurant and the Jerk Shack are closed during inclement weather, there are so many other eating alternatives. Besides the main restaurants, you can grab a pizza at Dinos or something sweet at Café de Paris.
One of the draws for us to visit Sandals Emerald Bay is the on-location 18 hole golf course. Even with the intermittent rain, we were able to take our golf carts and go out most days, sometimes having to wait in our cart for a few minutes until rain showers passed. One time we really lucked-out as we played the first nine holes, which brought us back near the club house, when it started to really pour. We took refuge in the clubhouse for about 15 minutes and when the rain subsided, we were able to play the rest of the next nine holes. This golf course is as beautiful as it is challenging and we never tire of playing it.
Yep, that’s my ball on the first shot. I birdied this magnificent par-three hole! The fact that it is right on the resort property makes it that much better. You can see a more in-depth discussion of the golf course, restaurants and everything else Sandals on previous blogs. You can see a more in-depth discussion of the golf course, restaurants and everything else Sandals on previous blogs.
So what did we do when we couldn’t lie out on the beach or participate in water sports? There is a well-equipped game room, a wonderful Red Lane Spa and a nightly karaoke sing-a-long. We still had our beautiful room on the beach overlooking the ocean. We still had our butlers surprise us by preparing and decorating our bathtub and bed, and providing snacks. We still had twenty-four hour room service, included, and we still had each other, so use your imagination. :)
Earlier, I mentioned the warmth of the staff, and this should not go without being highlighted and emphasized. The General Manager, Jeremy Mutton; Hotel Manager, Kreshville Ritchie; and guest relations director, Sharlaine N. Adderley-Lloyd, are gems – all personable as they are professional.
Our butlers, Garth and Jackson were a dynamic duo and our restaurant servers Sonia at Il Cielo and Crystal at La Parisienne enhanced our dining experience with their exceptional personalities and their ability to remember all our dining preferences.
No sooner did we get back home, than we made a reservation for another trip to Sandals Emerald Bay in four months’ time. And although SEB “reigned” while it rained, we will still be keeping our fingers crossed for the amazing weather we have experienced in the past.
We returned to Sandals Emerald Bay (SEB) July 6-14 to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. Our first visit was two years ago, celebrating our 38th anniversary. (See our in-depth review) We enjoyed it so much that we booked this 2016 trip while we were still at the resort in 2014.
Well, you know what they say – the sequel is almost never as good as the original, especially when the bar is set so high the first time. Honestly, we were a bit concerned that our second experience wouldn’t be as thrilling as our first. But we are happy to report that this was not the case at all, as SEB once again exceeded our expectations. It was evident from all the repeat guests we met at the Awards Dinner, that this was not just a matter of luck.
In fact, the extraordinary experience at SEB is well-orchestrated by people whose passion it is to deliver service excellence. And this starts at the top. When we first visited SEB in 2014, we had the pleasure of meeting General Manager Jeremy Mutton, who is a not only a consummate professional, but a warm and caring person. Though we were not able to see Mr. Mutton on this trip because he was away on vacation, the resort was left in the capable hands of Mr. Kressville Ritchie, who had a wonderfully buoyant, friendly, yet dignified personality and who was genuinely interested in getting to know us and making sure we were having a wonderful stay at SEB.
On arrival, we were absolutely thrilled to meet with a familiar face and friend from our last visit, Sharlaine N. Adderley-Lloyd, Director of Guest Services. Seeing Sharlaine really made us feel that we were “home again.” Sharlaine has a profound concern for the well-being of all the guests at SEB and we can’t thank her enough for making sure everything went smoothly during our stay.
We were also happy to see Sno Watson again and discuss the work of the Sandals Foundation and how we might use our musical background to help the growing band program.
The land landscaping were still amazing. One new thing that we learned is that all the products used to keep the grounds beautiful are organic. We love that!
During our last trip, we chose the One Bedroom Beachfront, which we were very pleased with. But the accommodation next to us was an Oversized One Bedroom Beachfront with a balcony large enough for a table as well as two chaise lounges overlooking the exquisite beach and Caribbean Sea. From our room we could see glorious sunrises.
Our daily care was in the capable hands of our expert butlers, Logesh and Waldens. This dynamic-duo tag team never ceased to amaze in their attentiveness.
We particularly enjoyed our philosophical discussions with Logesh, as well as the foolish pranks we would play on each other. It added another dimension to the enjoyment of our stay.
Along with familiar acquaintances came new ones who were highlights to us. Tricia Bennett was the host of our table at the Repeat Guest Awards Dinner. She is beautiful, elegant, articulate and a wonderful entertainment representative for the Sandals company. As in 2014, we thrilled to the sounds of Shamond Smith, an extremely talented saxophonist and flutist.
Dining is a large part of the Sandals experience and Crystal in La Parisienne was our outstanding server. Even days after our first night, she still remembered all our personal preferences to the last detail. She was, as the French say, formidable. We continue to give our highest menu recommendation to the Rack of Lamb.
Sonia stood out above all others at Il Cielo. She was poised, yet so warm and friendly and the service she delivered was impeccable. We were delighted to receive a visit from Chef Piaget Cleare at Il Cielo and surprised to see a young lady who was so accomplished. Being of Italian heritage and having a mother who was a master of Italian cuisine, I can say without hesitation that Piaget’s offerings were perfetto. She was kind enough to prepare a little side dish of Gary's favorite pasta.
We were disappointed that the after-dinner “create your own dessert” option had been discontinued, but delighted to see Chef Aldin, who had created some amazing desserts for us on our last visit. He was so kind and gracious to have remembered us and surprised us with a special dessert creation for our 40th anniversary candlelight beach dinner. Nikki was our attentive server and Makenzie, the security guard, was so kind to offer taking a video of our arrival at the romantic beach table. The private candlelight dinner creates an eating ambiance which is as unique as it is romantic.
The Café de Paris was a favorite stop of ours, with a delectable assortment of coffees, pastries, brownies, cupcakes and ice cream.
During our last trip, we spent more time at the Quiet Pool than the Main Pool, but this time we reversed it because the days were a bit warmer and the Main Pool was cooler and more refreshing. We had a nice cabana that was prepared for us by our butler, but there always seemed to be vacant cabanas for non-butler guests to enjoy.
Yet, there still is something to be said for the Quiet Pool . . .
We went on the Island Routes Castaways excursion to a different secluded island than our last visit and had an even more enjoyable experience. This excursion is almost surrealistic in its idyllic experience. Thanks to Captain JJ and driver Patricia Wring for making this romantic journey “smooth sailing.” We would strongly recommend asking for them in particular for this excursion.
Kita reports that Endalyn, with her “tidal” movement massage expertise, brought Kita in sync with the magic of Exuma.
For golfers, the SEB is the best choice out of all the Sandals resorts. The back nine is magnificent, with the crashing waves of the Caribbean accompanying you on all the way. It is a challenging course of which we never tired, even though we played six days out of our eight-day stay trying to tame it. We would recommend bringing extra golf balls. Rather than being asked, “How was your golf game,” by fellow golfers, it’s typical for them to say instead, “How many balls did you lose?” Sometimes we just had to stop our play, look out at the vista, and just shake our heads at the beauty of it all.
We originally were attracted to SEB because of its magnificent and challenging golf course. Thanks to Michael and Anthony for setting us up and sending us off with much-needed words of encouragement.
As travel agents and writers, we like to explore different destinations and resorts. As golfers and romantics, the golf course and Castaways excursion, Sandals Emerald Bay will see us again.
Another plus about SEB. As of this writing, according to the Pan American Health Organization, the Bahamas are Zika Virus - free.
Please feel free to call us at 516-300-9924 to book your next dream vacation.
We look forward to speaking with you!
For those of you who read our previous blog "Don't Leave your Destination Wedding to Destiny" (11-19-2015), you will know that our son was married in November of 2015. Since he and his new bride were still in a magical, dress-up mood, they wanted to find a place to celebrate New Year's Eve with us, "dressed to the nines," but not have to go into New York City to do it. After the openness of our private island and beach Jamaican wedding, we didn't feel like fighting the New York City congestion. So we turned to Google and searched for "New Year's Eve, black tie" and found a New Year's Eve celebration at "The Mansion" in Glen Cove, Long Island. Less than a half-hour from our home, it was a perfect location and not only was it "Black Tie Required," but it was a "Black and White Masquerade Ball." How cool-sounding is that?
The price was a reasonable $185 per person for a cocktail hour, dinner, dancing and champagne toast. Plus if you wanted to stay over at The Mansion and have breakfast as well, it was only an additional $180 per couple.
We decided to check out The Mansion in person before making our reservation and it was an absolute gem. The long drive way to the oval entrance had an old-world elegance that made you think, "This is going to be perfect."
We went inside to discover that the exterior was just a tease to the elegant interior.
We wanted to see the accommodations, not only for the purposes of this article, but in case we wanted to stay over. We met with the reservation manager, Matt Todd, who made arrangements for us to see several accommodations. Alicia Washington Bellamy from corporate sales showed us around, shared with us the scrumptious menu and along with Derica Doward at the front desk, made us feel comfortable and welcomed and gave a positive impression of the staff.
The Mansion has an indoor heated pool with hot tub and an outdoor pool.
Wi-Fi is complimentary and there is 24-hour access in their Overlook Lounge with two computer workstations and printer.
The Mansion has a 24-hour fitness center with racquetball court, table tennis, a steam room and sauna.
There is also a lounge where you can play billiards.
We would have reserved a room for the night, but all the king and queen size beds were taken, with only double-bed rooms available.
We did, however, immediately reserve the New Year's Eve Gala for the four of us.
Arriving a few days later in the evening was even more magical than in the daylight.
Dressed in our tuxedos and gowns, with our masks secured, we signed in and began the revelry.
The cocktail hour was a lavish array consisting of an edible martini bar Mediterranean seafood salad wild mushroom risotto with boneless short ribs and crispy onions; jumbo shrimp cocktail; Asian dim sum and wok station featuring General Tso chicken and broccoli and, sweet and sour Hawaiian shrimp; Slider station with made-to-order Kobe beef, mini franks, and New England lobster rolls with truffle Parmesan fries; Seafood carving five spice tuna with seaweed salad and sesame crusted salmon with sweet chili sticky rice.
The main ballroom was beautifully decorated for the Gala. We had several dining location choices. We wanted to be seated where we could partake of the festivities, yet still be able to talk to one another without shouting over music coming from the DJ's speakers. Shaniqua Dean, food & beverage manager, gave us three choices. We opted for a table in the Beech Room, where we happened to sit with the congenial friends and family of Jacelyn Dastas, the evening operation's manager.
Our meal began with an appetizer of seared scallops with tuxedo orzo in an herb cream sauce and a Pratt salad, followed by the main entree, Chateau Briand with a mashed potato pinwheel, roasted asparagus and Merlot truffle sauce. They also offered a vegetarian dish, as well as chicken or salmon option. We all had the Chateau Briand and it was perfectly prepared. Dessert was a warm red berry crumb cheese cake and lollipop cookie. All the food and drinks were excellent as was the service. Our waiter, Brandon Olivera was attentive, yet discrete. The DJ played a wide-variety of music and people were constantly up dancing without having to be coerced. Bill Dougherty, a managing partner, checked in on us periodically to make sure everyone at our table was satisfied and having a good time. At a quarter to twelve, midnight, elegant black and white noise makers, hats for the gentlemen and tiaras for the ladies were handed out. Brandon poured our midnight champagne and very happy guests enthusiastically brought in the new year of 2016. Thanks to Jaime Abrams, the special events manager, for supplying the full names of the staff and management.
We're looking forward to making reservations for a large table of our friends for next year.
Where does a high-end New York wedding planner go for his own destination wedding?
Good question. With many of his guests also in the wedding business, and his parents in the travel business, our son, along with his fiancée had to find something unique to “wow” guests who thought they had seen it all.
They wanted the wedding to be somewhere tropical, yet accessible to guests from all over the country. After looking at all the possible locations, they settled on Jamaica – in particular, Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Reasons included accessibility, friendly people, common language, lots of venue choices, excellent weather, beautiful beaches and Caribbean ocean, wonderful food with naturally healthy drinking water and plenty of varied activities and excursions for guests.
We went to Jamaica in March of 2015 and after visiting a handful of resorts including two Sandals resorts, Jamaica Inn, and two Couples resorts, we all decided on Couples for the November wedding. Any one of the other resorts would have provided an excellent wedding experience and we have stayed at each of them as a couple and have nothing but raves for them, their management, and staff (See our reviews on TripAdvisor and in more detail right her on our Blog). But our couple wanted something absolutely unique, with a cliff-like ceremony and a sandy beach reception. Turns out using Couples Tower Isle for the ceremony and Couples Sans Souci Sunset Beach for the reception fit the bill perfectly – and was less expensive than the other resorts.
Couples Tower Isle has a private island a short four minute boat trip from the resort itself, which provided the unique cliff-like, castle setting for the ceremony.
Couples Sans Souci had the amazing Sunset Beach, famous for its incredible . . . you guessed it . . . sunsets. Perfect for our sandy beach reception.
So if you plan a 3:00 ceremony on Couples Tower Isle’s private island and a reception on Couples Sans Souci Sunset Beach about a half hour before sunset (exact time depending upon the time of year), you get the best of both worlds.
Now, this happened to fit our couples’ vision of their wedding, but you don’t have to do it this way. You can easily use one resort or the other for both the ceremony and the reception. For a larger group, you may want to go with Couples Sans Souci, because it is a larger resort with a more expansive beach. They have also recently completely refurbished the rooms facing the beach as well as one of their main restaurants, "The Palazzino," which overlooks the beach and Caribbean Sea. But I would do what we did which was to visit both resorts ahead of time and then make your decision.
Although unique and considered by everyone (including our wedding pros) to be the best wedding they had ever attended, using two resorts presents logistical complexities you can’t imagine and must be handled by a travel agency like ours with personal experience in doing this. We know every “nook and cranny” of this plan and how to anticipate and facilitate its smooth outcome because we planned our son’s wedding and we have just been through it, personally and on premises. We also know and have worked with the people on the inside who will assure you a fabulous experience. Whatever you choose for your venue, we would urge you to contact us on our dedicated phone line 516-300-9924 and let us guide you with your particular needs. If you get a recorded message on this number, try 516-338-4420.
The GMs of both Couples’ resorts are fantastic – Mr. Leonard Henry of Couples Tower Isle and Mr. Pierre Battaglia of Couples Sans Souci. GM, of course is the abbreviation for General Manager, but I referred to them as Great Magicians, as they can make the seemingly “impossible” happen. We have experienced the work of both these gentlemen and they are truly amazing.
Accommodations at both resorts are outstanding as is the food and the staff. Our wedding guests stayed at Sans Souci, since this is where our reception was held. Special mention of the Sans Souci staff goes to:
Creshena House, wedding coordinator and Georgette Hyde, the new wedding coordinator who both stayed on top of all our wedding details from beginning to end.
Guest Services Manager, Nicola Barker along with Tasha-Gaye Braham and Tanesia Thomas were outstanding in coordinating golf reservations, excursions and transportation.
Deluise Fung– who prepared the gift baskets, was professional, accommodating, even with the last minute changes to the gift basket quantity.
Milton Lewinson, entertainment coordinator – provided talented entertainment nightly and at special events.
Roadian Slue – with an unforgettable smile and laugh, he was fun, outgoing, and seemed to always be there whenever you needed him. He was very helpful at our reception getting our lanterns to fly and even gracing our guests with a quick break-dance performance
Oshane Wright – super attentive, friendly, and polite.
Here we are with our pals, Roadian and Oshane:
THE DRESS REVEAL AT COUPLES TOWER ISLE
THE CEREMONY AT COUPLES TOWER ISLE ISLAND
THE RECEPTION AT COUPLES SANS SOUCI SUNSET BEACH
A magical moment captured on video:
Please feel free to call us at 516-300-9924 to book your dream destination wedding.
We look forward to speaking with you!
Contributed by Michael & Emila Balagula - Gary D Travel Clients
We arrived at the Nixe Palace in Majorca early in the morning and received a very warm welcome from the staff. While our room was being prepared, we had the opportunity to speak with the General Manager, Francisco Serrano, about the resort, his staff and his work ethic. He joined the Nixe team as a bellboy, carrying luggage, assisting hotel workers and running errands. He loved being around happy and pleasant guests, who clearly loved the services and accommodations of this magnificent hotel. Very soon, the management noticed his dedication to the business, the right attitude, the willingness to learn and as such he was promoted to receptionist. Because he loved to chat with people from different parts of the world and the fact that he speaks Swedish, French, English, German, Spanish and Catalan he felt that the position was invented specifically just for him. Over the years he developed close and lasting relationships with the guests who witnessed his rapid growth.
He said that he was able to assemble a great team of people who are dedicated to make every one of their guests feel special and privileged. And he was exactly right. An indispensable part of his team is Nina, head of Guest Relations. Nina is fluent in English, German, Spanish, French and conversational in Russian. Francisco and Nina show up every morning in the restaurant to chat with some of the guests. While Francisco would cover the social aspects, exchanging pleasantries and jokes, Nina would be more attentive to details, asking guests specific questions that pertain to their everyday needs. Nina is very observant and in fact, when she noticed that I was reading some English paper, she asked me what American published paper I would like. Sure enough, the next morning a stapled printout of the Wall Street Journal was placed at my door. A few times, I noticed how Nina would quickly approach an elderly man and advise him where his wife was. Somehow, she sensed that this is who he was looking for and sure enough, that was it. She remembers people’s names, which I think is a unique and amazing quality. When my wife, Mila got sick, it took Nina less than 10 minutes to send us some special tea for cold treatment with lemon and honey. Those small things are what make guests feel like they are being cared for.
Nixe Palace is an apt name because you are made to feel like royalty! Thank you Francisco and Nina!
The hotel has five dining areas. The formal dining room is inside the hotel and is located on the main floor. Despite the impressive spaciousness and high ceiling, it still gives an intimate feeling. White cloth covered large tables are spread adequately apart to allow for a private dining experience. It has a sense and feel of an expensive 5-star restaurant. One side of the room has large sliding windows facing the sea.
A video of our fish entree being expertly filleted and served:
During breakfast time the windows are wide open so guests can feel a light sea breeze. The other dining area is a wide balcony (I would say 18 ft wide) which runs alongside of the main dining room separated by the sliding windows. The dining experience on the balcony is almost the same as in the main room except protected by a roof. Because the balcony is on the main floor, which is really the 6th floor counting up from the beach, the view is awesome. One can see the panorama of the entire bay. The other food serving areas are outside, spread out through the facility including one next to the pool, where guests wearing bikinis can grab a snack or even a full meal (which will cost you extra).
Breakfast is served buffet style. The variety of food is astonishing and makes one feel like you are on an unlimited expense account. Coffee selection is excellent including espresso and cappuccino of the highest quality. The dinner menus are expertly designed, change daily and reflect the freshest seasonal ingredients. At dinnertime, food is served to you. Plate presentation is beautiful and makes one salivate as soon as it is placed on the table. Need to note professional service: waiters are almost invisible in the morning but clean plates and new sets of utensils magically appear on your table as soon as you get up for a refill. In the evening, the approach is opposite – they are very visible and right there on your slightest gesture.
Our room was spacious and clean with a nice welcome note from the management. Furniture is up to date. AC works well and louvers direct cool air up to the ceiling as it is supposed to be (most of the hotels have AC set up to blow air right in your face). Bathroom is sizable but not too large. Everything is clean and new. Water pressure is adequate and hot water temperature just right and safe. There are enough towels for two showers per day for each person. There is no forced ventilation in the bathroom, which cause mirrors to fog up – hate this. No ironing board in the room – ask and they’ll bring it. The built-in wardrobe is large enough for all clothes. The balcony is enormous in size.
The view from our balcony was exquisite:
The beach is public but locals are not visibly present. Hotel guests start to show up around 11. Beach towels are provided by the hotel pool manager. The towels are standard-large and good quality. The beach lounges and stationary straw-covered umbrellas are rentals at $25 / day. Beach sand is white, soft, clean and well maintained. Getting in to the shallow water, gradually deepening is easy. There are no rocks, no pebbles and no sharp shells – just wonderful.
There is one relatively (compared to Jamaica resorts) small outdoor pool on the main level surrounded by a few rows of lounges. There is no shade to hide from the mid-day sun so make sure you are protected.
The front of the hotel is facing the street and it appears like a no big-deal two story small structure. The part of the hotel facing the sea (the rear side) is constructed on a 60 degree cliff. Architecturally designed stairs have very large landing zones with patches of landscape where palm trees and decorative plants are growing. At night time the trees and the stairs are cleverly illuminated making the atmosphere soft and peaceful.
GARY D TRAVEL TO THE RESCUE
The Nixe Palace is a fantastic place to take a week and wind down after touring the mainland of Spain. Our tour and hotels were booked by Gary D Travel Agency and they did a fabulous job of making all our arrangements, from tours to hotels to transfers. Some may wonder why you need a travel agent to book your travel when you have the internet. Well, we found out why! A day before getting ready to leave the Nixe, we received an email from Ryan Air, saying that "Spanish baggage handlers in Madrid were on strike," and that we would be unable to take ANY checked baggage! Can you image?! We needed to get to Madrid the next day for a connecting flight to NY which we had already paid for. When we found it nearly impossible to communicate with Ryan from the Nixe Palace in Majorca, we called Gary D Travel in the states. They were able to do some detective work and find out that it was not ALL baggage handlers in Madrid, as Ryan Air would have you believe, but just Ryan air handlers. Gary D Travel immediately found us another flight into Madrid which arrived in time to make our previously arranged connection to NY. We honestly don't know what we would have done without Gary D Travel. We highly recommend them for your travel needs. You can call them at 516-300-9924.
Please feel free to call us at 516-300-9924 to book your next dream vacation.
We look forward to speaking with you!
On our recent expedition to help our son and his fiancée find the perfect destination site for their wedding (see our separate article on this process), we decided to use Couples Tower Isle as our “base of operations,” not only because it was, itself, a contender, but because it was a property we had not reviewed previously, although we did review the sister resort, just minutes away, Couples, Sans Souci. (See our review here.)
Travel to Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Travel from New York’s JFK to Montego Bay was a breeze on JetBlue.
Travel Tip: We always recommend taking the earliest flight out. It’s less crowded and there are fewer delays, since the plane is already at the airport and you are not waiting for it to come from another location. You’ll get through immigration quickly in Jamaica, but most importantly, you will have more time to spend at your resort! For the same reason, you will want to take the latest flight out.
Travel Tip: Inform your resort ahead of time that you will be arriving early, to see if you can get an early check-in time. Just in case, pack some beach clothes on the outside flap of your carry on, so that you can start enjoying the resort as soon as you arrive, whether your room is ready or not.
Travel Tip: Though there are porters available to help you with your luggage, free portable wheeled luggage carriers are plentiful. These same carriers cost six bucks a piece at JFK! Seems like they were just twenty-five cents, fifty cents and a dollar not too long ago!
Some have complained about the long immigration process in Montego Bay’s Sangster airport. We sailed through with “no problem, mahn!” Out of immigration, you proceed directly to the Couples Lounge, where you can check in and enjoy a cool drink while your luggage is carefully watched over, then transferred to your bus.
Travel Tip: Couples has a no tipping policy, but be aware that the porter that takes your luggage to the bus is not a Couple’s employee, so you many want to tip his service.
Unless you are traveling by private jet, traveling to Ocho Rios will require an extra one hour and forty-five minute drive from Montego Bay’s Sangster airport.
If you don’t want the extra journey, you can always stay at a resort in Montego Bay, but we have always found it worth the trip to stay in Ocho Rios. You can use the travel time as “unravel time,” to “decompress” or take a snooze, if you couldn’t or didn’t sleep on the plane, or just enjoy the roadside vistas of the multi-colored Caribbean Sea as well as the land “attractions” of hotel resorts, golf courses and farm animals, including horses, cattle and goats. A friendly bus driver is always willing to answer questions and/or discuss points of interest.
Unfortunately, you will also see plenty of poverty along the way, but never depravity. No matter the humble state of their dwellings, we have always found that Jamaicans dress appropriately and carry themselves with dignity. As you reflect on those less fortunate, please consider getting involved with and/or donating to the Issa Trust Foundation, named after the Issa family who owns Couples Resorts.
Travel Tip: If you are fortunate enough to have access to a private jet, you can land at Ian Flemming International airport, right in Boscobel, St. Mary’s Parish, just minutes from your Ocho Rios resort!
Our Arrival at Tower Isle
At the main entrance of Tower Isle we were treated with a live three-piece Jamaican band, refreshing towels and the familiar “welcome home” greeting, accompanied by smiles as warm as the sun. We have been to Jamaica enough times over the years and have developed personal friendships to vouch for the authenticity of Jamaican friendliness. They are appreciative and will go out of their way to make your stay outstanding. Scattered comments to the contrary are as fallacious as they are suspicious.
Since we arrived early, our room was not quite ready, so we took the opportunity to confirm our dinner reservations.
Travel Tip: Doing your due diligence ahead of time by reviewing the restaurants and menus available below, and already have in mind, where you want to dine and when.
While our room was being readied, we had a delightful lunch at the Italian-Mediterranean style Patio Restaurant buffet. The general manager, Leonard Henry came over to our table and introduced himself. Our immediate impression was that he reflected the healthy energy of the resort, itself. He was upbeat, yet dignified and made us feel so personally welcomed, letting us know that he was available to us should we require his assistance.
The Patio Restaurant is available for breakfast, lunch and dinner and we enjoyed all our breakfasts here.
A stop at the pancake, waffle and omelet bar is definitely worthwhile. Karon and Shauna-Kay were the dynamic-duo at their respective stations.
Travel Tip: If you like coconut like we do, ask the pancake chef to put a bunch of shredded coconut into the batter. It was our favorite breakfast indulgence.
See a sample Patio Restaurant menu
Eight Rivers is one of the two reservations-required restaurants and features gourmet continental cuisine with a Caribbean twist in a stylish ambiance.
Its unbeatable location over the water often overshadows its culinary prowess in some Trip Advisor reviews. But those who know and understand authentic Thai and Asian cuisine can appreciate its gourmet quality. We were not surprised to find out that the chef Mayuree Saipetch is a resident of Thailand. Opt for the "Bayside Tasting Platter for Two" appetizer and the Tom Kla soup. When selecting your entrée, ask for several of the "Finishing Sauces" on the side so that you can taste several of them to see which best accommodates the entree you selected. Of the "specials" on our menu, the "Pork Spare Ribs" were absolutely outstanding. All the dessert offerings were amazing.
Equally outstanding was the service. Garfield attended to us with a delicacy which matched the cuisine and he was under the watchful eye of the manager, Mr. Barrett.
If you have a sophisticated Asian palate, don't miss the Bayside! See a sample Bayside menu
The Verandah, which like the Eight Rivers, features continental cuisine in a fashionable space overlooking the Caribbean Sea and Tower Isle.
You don’t need reservations, but the cuisine is, nevertheless, excellent. We would suggest the “Curry Coconut Shrimp & Local Seafood” appetizer and the “Grilled Catch of the Day.” We had the snapper, which was wonderful. Have the “Blue Mountain Coffee Layered Cake” for dessert along with, of course, a cup of Blue Mountain Coffee, one of the best coffees in the world. We received the most professional service from Joseph and Odane. See a sample Verandah Menu.
Day or night, the Pool Grill offers classic hamburgers, a variety of sandwiches, including snapper, salads, jerk chicken, and Jamaican patties. Get a side of fries or fried calamari with it. We had the hamburger and the snapper sandwich, both of which just hit the spot. Don’t forget to visit the popcorn machine and the soft frozen vanilla and chocolate machine, where you can make your own ice cream cone.
Feeling guilty about yesterday’s noshing at the Pool Grill? Make up for it at the Veggie Bar for lunch, with fresh juice of the day, fruit smoothies and healthy salads, sandwiches and panini. See a sample Veggie Bar menu.
Room service is always available from 7:30 am to 9:30 pm. See a sample Room Service menu.
Following our lunch at the Patio restaurant buffet, and a pleasurable and productive meeting with Latoya, the wedding manager, we stopped back at the front desk. Check-in was seamless, our room was ready, we were handed an informative pamphlet which included our room key cards and were escorted by the bellman to our room. We had made several requests regarding the room location, all of which were met in our room 3216. We never tire of the exhilarating feeling of opening our room door for the first time, seeing that our room is beautiful and orderly, walking onto the balcony and receiving a big "hello," from our unobscured view of the ocean, beach and palm trees. You exhale from your held breath, and think, "This is going to be great!"
Every room had a generous view of the ocean, including the bathroom, which was modern with a large shower. We loved our jacuzzi with a view!
The small fridge was stocked with juices and soft drinks. You can ask for full size bottles of liquor delivered to your room by filling out a request card.
It should be noted that our room was meticulously maintained and well-supplied by the housekeeping staff throughout our stay, particularly Sheree.
The king size bed was incredibly comfortable as were the pillows.
Travel Tip: If you like the sound of the surf while you slumber, as we do, open the windows by your bed and let the sea sing you its lullaby. Worried about insects? Don't be. We didn't see a one, anywhere. Not in the room, not in the restaurants, not on the beach. Sweet dreams!
Our particular room view was unique, as we were directly facing Tower Isle for which this resort is named.
Check out a video view from our balcony
Our personable bellman gave us a tour of the room, pointing out all the various amenities and how they operated. As he closed the door behind him on the way out, our only thought was, "How quickly can we get onto that beach and into the ocean!
The beach is what you would expect from a luxury Caribbean resort -- smooth, powdery and clean. However, do not expect a sprawling beach for very long walks. It has a more Mediterranean feel, size wise, minus the rough rocks under foot on land and in the sea. As mentioned by some reviewers, there are no umbrellas, implying that there was no protection. But what was not mentioned is that shade is provided by overhanging canopies and trees, thus eliminating problems that occur when umbrellas encounter wind.
Tower Isle is a balanced marriage between the modern and the yesteryear. We believe some comments regarding the "age" of some of the furnishings miss this nuance. A day did not go by that we did not see some painting or other upkeep going on. This is a nineteen acre property which is maintained immaculately.
Our impression of the resort entrance, pool and beach reminded us of some of the upscale, sophisticated Mediterranean seaside resorts we have visited and it requires a different sense of appreciation than some of the more glitzy luxury resorts. Tower Isle is, in fact, self-described as a "boutique" resort.
On the other side of the ocean front are beautifully maintained lush gardens with meandering walkways.
Night walks are accompanied by serenading coqui
There are four pools on the property -- all beautiful and well-maintained.
The Main Patio Pool overlooking the ocean is equally impressive in the daytime . . .
as it is at night.
As with the beach, there are no umbrellas or cabanas, but one side is shaded by trees, the other side provides full exposure, so make sure you use sun protection.
Speaking of full exposure, the Tower Isle Pool Bar, as well as the entire island, is "au naturel" only.
Weather permitting, a pontoon boat shuttles guests back and forth throughout the day up until 5:00 pm.
The Pool Bar on the mainland provides plenty of space for sipping and swimming.
While the Buddha Pool is a perfect place for tranquility - day or night.
After the spa officially closes at 7:00 pm, the Buddha Pool and Jacuzzis remain open. Though separated by gender during the day, they are co-ed at night. Our first night, at about 9:00 pm, we entered the quiet spa area, to be greeted by Joe Wayne Grey, a young man who was working so diligently cleaning the empty spa. No one was there to witness his thoroughness. To see that kind of trustworthiness put into a job was reassuring, to say the least. It set the bar for us regarding the staff at Tower Isle. Joe Wayne was accommodating, polite and knowledgeable, all the while never missing a beat in his responsibilities.
Included Activities and Amenities
Couples takes "all inclusive" seriously. In fact in 1978, owner Abe Issa, known as "The Father of Jamaican Tourism," pioneered the all-inclusive concept for couples to the island. With a list of activities and amenities too numerous to mention individually, we provide for your convenience and viewing pleasure, a complete Activities and Amenities List.
Although we didn't personally participate in the scuba diving/snorkeling excursion, we did notice how newlyweds and fully-outfitted senior citizens were well-taken care of. A lot of happy faces came off those boats.
Travel Tip: Make the climb in the pure water of Dunn's River Falls -- a natural wonder not to be missed.
So how would we rate Couples Tower Isle overall? We mentioned at the beginning of our review that we traveled to Jamaica to help our son and his fiancée find the perfect destination for their wedding. Our son and many of his guests are in the wedding business. He has a clear idea of what to look for, and together with his bride-to-be, chose Couples Tower Isle for their wedding ceremony. Enough said. Plenty happy!
Please feel free to call us at 516-300-9924 to book your next dream vacation.
We look forward to speaking with you!
We continue our series on Sandals’ resorts with a review of Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau, Bahamas. Our last two reviews of Sandals’ resorts were of summer travel. We wondered if would have the same experience in the middle of winter, so we booked our vacation for a week in December.
Traveling to Nassau
Traveling from New York to Nassau from New York Following a flawless JetBlue trip from JFK, we sailed through customs at the modernized Lynden Pindling International Airport Nassau airport. We left the gate at 6:41 at were at Nassau Customs by 9:40.
Travel Tip: Take the earliest flight you can to avoid airport delays. There is less chance you will be waiting for an incoming flight to board for your outgoing flight. You will avoid traffic jams to the airport and from the airport to the hotel, especially if cruise ships are docked. Use the hotel facilities until your room is ready so you don't waste that part of the day waiting. Take the latest flight back home and use the hotel facilities until you have to leave.
We were greeted by a Sandals’ representative and escorted to the Sandals’ airport lounge. Within minutes, our bags were collected and in fifteen minutes we were driving up the stylishly long tree-lined roadway leading to the entrance of the resort.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the Hotel Manager, Charles Blacher and several hotel staff, all of whom were warm and gracious. Even though this was our first trip to Sandals Royal Bahamian, we were welcomed with smiles and hugs. The Bahamians are a very open and approachable people. We were given moist towels and champagne as part of the welcome.
We were brought to the Club Sandals Lounge, where we were introduced to Dionte, who expertly checked us in to the category room we requested. Dionte gave us an orientation and booked our restaurant reservations.
Travel Tip: Doing your due diligence ahead of time by reviewing the restaurants and menus available on the Sandals’ website, and already have in mind, where you want to dine and when. If you are planning to have a romantic, private dinner (Amare), this can and should be booked ahead of time.
Since we arrived early and an availability existed, we were given a temporary room in which to relax, freshen up, change into island attire and/or bathing suits and to immediately get into the full swing of our vacation. Even if you don’t have a room, you can always use the hotel’s facilities to change.
Travel Tip: To avoid frustration, plan on having to wait for your room, and bring an appropriate change of clothing in your carry-on bag, so while your checked luggage is stored, you can use the resort facilities that you are paying for.
The grounds, which are immaculate, have a Greco/Roman feeling, with columns, murals, fountains, sculptures and statues tastefully scattered throughout the resort.
.Our chief complaint was that the pool was not sufficiently heated for swimming this time of year, and as a result, there were very few swimmers. The pools are surrounded by several whirlpools and fire pits, which were well-frequented.
Travel Tip: Not all the whirlpools are heated equally, which is good, because you can find the one whose temperature "is just right."
Travel Tip: There is a well-kept “secret” alternative to these pools, if like us, you enjoy warmer water. This warm pool is tucked away in the courtyard between the Hibiscus and Cassia Villas. When we discovered it, it was like having a private pool. It also has a very hot whirlpool adjacent to it.
Tennis and basketball courts are available, as well as other activities including croquet, shuffleboard, bocce, table tennis,
and even an over-sized chess board
The Game Room is stylish with its billiard tables and board games.
Not only will the up-to-date equipment at the fitness center literally take your breath away, but so will the view from the top floor.
The property was beautifully decorated for the Christmas season with lights . . .
Christmas Trees of all kinds . . .
as well as an authentic gingerbread house!
Even the staff "decked the halls" for Christmas as represented by Dawn Murphy from the Club Sandals Front Desk
Here's another fine example of a beach that owner, Gordon "Butch" Stewart scouted out for its powdery white sand and crystal clear water. Those who opt for the beachfront accommodations, which we highly recommend, will appreciate falling asleep to the “lullaby” created by the combination of surf sound and “cuddly” sea breeze. Below is a live recording of the actual waves at the shore of Sandals Royal Bahamian Beach.
Travel Tip: Do be aware that the water is considerably cooler in the winter months than it is in the summer, so if you plan on swimming, unless you are from the “Polar Bear Club,” you are going to have to acclimate your body to the temperature difference. Once you do, it's divine!
Water sports are available right on the beach.
Excursion for snorkeling and scuba diving are also included. We did not avail ourselves of these, but we can tell you that the people coming off these excursion boats were very happy.
Offshore Island – Sandals Cay
A unique and "key" attraction of Sandals Royal Bahamian is the offshore island, aka Sandals Cay (pronounced "key.") We guess you could say it is a "son of a beach!"
Here, you can scuba or snorkel in the sea . . .
or sun and snooze under a secluded canopy.
A well-groomed beach and swimming area is yours to enjoy from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm. The Stew Fish restaurant is complemented by a whirlpool, pool with swim up bar, and chaise lounges of all shapes and sizes.
An annex to The Red Lane Spa is available for treatments on the island.
Travel Tip: If you like to shower after your spa treatment, be aware that the offshore island has the advantage of location but the disadvantage of being without hot water. Alternatively, you can be treated on the main island.
We selected the "Bahmoral Beachfront Club Level Room with Beachfront/Oceanfront view and Concierge service." We used Butler Service at the other two Sandals' resorts -- Royal Plantation (which is Butler Service only), and Emerald Bay. We highly recommend its unmatched personal service. So if you can afford it, go for it -- it's worth the extra price in our opinion. But on this trip, we wanted to see the kind of service we would receive at the next level down, which is Club Level/Concierge. Some reviews on TripAdvisor intimated that those guests who were not using Butler service were somehow treated as "second-class" citizens. We did not experience that at all. Our concierge, Dionte, was fabulous, and we had no problem with reservations or any other services. The picture below points to "OUR ROOM."
We requested a top floor, corner room, which has spectacular views of the beach, ocean, off-shore island and pool area.
From right to left looking out from our balcony
The balcony has room for two chaises lounges and a table and chairs to enjoy room service meals. The higher floors provide more intimacy and privacy than the first floor and aerial views, but if you like being literally “on the beach,” ask for the first floor “walkout.”
Check out a video view from our balcony.
Nature provides an amazing array of ever-changing colors from sunrise to sunset.
Sometimes, it's hard to know what to look at first.
We found the king-sized bed to be ultra comfortable, along with some turn-down surprises.
Housekeeping kept our room immaculate and well-supplied with towels and toiletries. The room comes with all the amenities you might expect from a luxury resort, including hair dryer, magnifying mirror, and bathrobe. Of course the mini-bar comes stocked and the bar area is lined with premium label liquors.
The sliding door to the balcony has a screen, so you can keep it open at night to allow the ocean waves to lull you asleep, and the surf and distant cooing of the doves to waken you.
There are ten dining choices at Sandals Royal Bahamian. Baccarat, the French Restaurant, serves anal à carte breakfast and white-glove al à carte dinner. At our various breakfasts, we had yogurt with refreshing fresh fruit; fresh eggs to our liking; french toast, and what we now call "our signature breakfast dish" -- coconut pancakes. It wasn't on the menu, but Troit, our server, had the chef make them up. Of course, nothing says "good morning" like the always amazing Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.
For dinner, we recommend the Bisque de Coquillages et Crustacés, the very light and crisp Salad Panache “Fromage de Chevre,” Carre D’Agneau Provencale - Lamb and the Chef's Pasta of the day with in a Lobster Cognac Sauce. The signature dish is the Grilled Beef Tournedos laced with a Green Brand Peppercorn Sauce, but if you are in the mood for "surf and turf, or "surf and surf," ask for it. If it's available they will gladly oblige you. The Dark French Chocolate Mousse or the La Passion du Crème Brulée pour les deux (for two) are excellent choice. But you must also try the Brandy Truffle. We first discovered these at Sandals Emerald Bay and were delighted to be able to experience them, again. Click here for Baccart sample menu.
The Crystal Room, named after its magnificent crystal chandelier, serves a white-glove international cuisine dinner in an elegant setting, with a player-piano offering all classical music.
Our menu favorites were the Salad “Mazzedonia,” the Roasted Garlic Soup, the signature dish Catalan Seafood “Casserole,” and Chocolate Molten Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream for dessert. Click here for The Crystal Room Sample Menu
Gordon’s on the Pier is upscale dining on the Caribbean Sea. It is reserved for Butler-only clientele.
For the purposes of this review, we were allowed to sample the menu, even though we were not at Butler Service level. We would recommend the Grilled “Digbey” Scallops, Bahamian Fish Chowder, and the signature Grilled Reef Crustacean Platter. For dessert, go with the Chocolate Mousse Espresso. Click here for the Gordon's On The Pier Sample Menu
Travel Tip: If you don't have Butler Service, ask if there is an availability at Gordon's. Depending upon availability, the management may allow it, but may also charge you a fee. Never hurts to ask!
Having a parent who was a master of Italian cuisine and having dined at the best Italian restaurants in New York and Italy, we almost decided to pass up Casanova for dinner, the Northern Italian restaurant, which serves a buffet antipasto and al à carte entrees. That would have been a huge mistake! The cuisine was first-rate. Even thought the signature dish is Osso Buco alla Milanese, we preferred the Costolette d’Agnello all’Erbe as it was the best we had ever tasted. Don't leave without having an authentic Italian pasta dish. We had Penne alla Bolognese and it was perfetto! Dessert offerings were Tiramisù, Cannoli, and Gelato in various flavors. It doesn't get better than that! Click here for the Casanova Sample Menu.
Spices serves a buffet breakfast featuring made-to-order omelets. Each lunch showcases a different “theme” cuisine from around the world in a casual atmosphere.
Travel Tip: Pass on the prepared scrabbled eggs at the breakfast buffet. It was the only thing we didn't find edible. Instead, take a few steps to the left and have your eggs made to order by the chef.
We lingered a bit too long at the nice warm pool mentioned above, and we just missed lunch at Spices. Click here for the Spice Sample Menu.
The Royal Café and Grill offers salads, sandwiches and grilled items for lunch. Click here for the RoyalCafé Sample Menu
We were at the beach, worked up a bit of an appetite swimming in the ocean, and just had a hankering for some pizza. Thankfully, just a minute walk away was Bella Napoli, where a whole array of combination pizzas are made to order. You place your order, come back in fifteen minutes, and voilà, or ecco in Italian, you have a hot mozzarella-melting, mouthwatering, box of pizza to take back to the beach and enjoy. The signature pizza is Frutti di Mare and it is outstanding. Currently, the Bella Napoli menu is unavailable online, but, luckily, I snapped a shot of it before ordering.
Travel Tip: You can order different types of pizza in one pie. We split our order, half Margherita and half Frutti Di Mare. Just like other pizzerias, they have pre-made slices ready to go. Our advice is to experience this pizza the right way -- fresh out of the oven.
The offshore island restaurant, Stew Fish offers a Bahamian-style lunch and dinner. We had fabulousSandals Island Conch Fritters -- tenderized conch morsels battered and lightly fried with tartar sauce and lime wedges. The Mahi Mahi sandwich was also good, especially with its side of delectable french fries. Click here for the Stew Fish Sample Menu.
We didn’t dine at The Cricketer’s Pub, serving English fare in a British-style pub, but we did stop in to see the beautiful Christmas tree and decorations.
Everyone seemed to be having a great time as did the people around the piano bar and lounge at the Balmoral Tower. Click her for The Cricketer's Pup Sample Menu.
Kimonos is a group, Teppanyaki-style restaurant. Again, this is more like "Just the Crew of you," than "Just the Two of you," so we decided to pass on this restaurant. Click here for Kimonos Sample Menu.
Now if you want something that is really for "Just the Two of You," partake of the Amare Private Candlelight Dinner on the beach, which is optional, but not for us. We loved it! Accompanying our Symphony of Land and Sea dinner was food for the heart and soul as well as the palate. Our server was Chris, who was as elegant as he was gracious.
To the one negative comment on Trip Advisor that the private tables were so close that each party could hear the conversation of the table next to them -- it's just not the case. From our room, we could watch the private beach dinners being set up and there was never a time where tables were placed too near to one another.
As if all these food alternatives were not enough, Club Sandals always has coffee, tea, alcoholic drinks, apples and snacks on hand in case of an attack of the "munchies," The Royal Theater, which has excellent nightly entertainment, also has a coffee machine, as well as a popcorn and frozen yogurt machine.
Every week, Sandals hosts a Manager's cocktail party as well as a Sandals Select Dinner for returning guests. Good food and conversation are complemented by talented entertainment and information about the Sandals Foundation, a philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International, whose mission it is to play a meaningful role in the lives of the communities where it operates across the Caribbean.
Dinner was followed by dancing at the White Chic Party and dessert from the abundant Decadent Chocolate Buffet.
Trying to dance off some calories with staff member, Phadailio
Ynise , the master Chocolate Crepe maker
Don't let that smile fool you -- Vonasha mixes a "mean" Chocolate Martini.
After an evening of great food and fun, it's nice to wind down at one of the numerous fire pits around the property.
The magic of Sandals cannot truly happen with out the magic of a dedicated management and staff who not only have a marvelous attitude, but truly delight in sharing your happiness. This is why you will find them not only eager to take your picture when you ask, but always taking several different shots, just to make sure you get a great one.
We were on our first boat ride to the off-shore island, when in the middle of our crossing, a sea breeze caught the hat of one of the female passengers and tossed it into the sea. The captain immediately began to turn the boat around in pursuit of the hat, but the male partner of the hat owner, in consideration of the other passengers, yelled out, “That’s okay, it’s just a hat!” However, the boat crew continued its “rescue mission,” while all of us waited with baited breath for the outcome. As the captain continually tried to maneuver the boat close to hat, we all sadly watched the hat slowly sink into the depths. One of the crew quickly grabbed a snorkel, ran to the boat’s edge and plunged the long hook-end into the water and “presto,” he had nabbed her hat! In unison, we all burst out in applause and whistles of approval! Of course for the rest of her stay, she was dubbed by all those who experienced it, as “the hat girl.”
This kind of accommodating manner is authentic. It comes not out of obligation, but from the essence of the people, and we would like to recognize those who we were privileged to have touched our lives, briefly but memorably.
Kudos to General Manager Patrick Drake, whom they call "a man with a plan" and it is evident that his plan is to lead by example and make Sandals Royal Bahamian live up to it's title of "the most elegant resort in Nassau." While a great attitude is a vital foundation, training also comes into play, and as Mr. Drake explains, "it's all about details."
We went out on our balcony one day to shoot some video and we just happened to spy the General Manager going out on the rocks by the ocean to pick up a piece of scattered litter. Exactly what we mean when we say "leading by example.
Thank you, Patrick Drake. Your attention to detail made our trip a memorable one.
Along with Patrick Drake, Hotel Manager Charles Blacher can be seen walking the premises, making sure everything is in order, not “beneath” picking up some of the stray cups or papers left by some neglectful guests, in an effort to keep the property up to its pristine standards. Their excellent example is evident by the demeanor and hospitality of the staff we met. Charles is as accommodating as he is affable, always willing to help make your stay an exceptional one.
Club Sandals Manager, Sandra Rolle is to be commended for the superlative service provided by the Club Sandals staff.
Our check-in and initiation at Club Sandals was masterfully handled by Dionte Burnside and he took excellent, watchful care of us during our entire stay. He was our “go to” man – always a young mannerly gentleman and a thorough concierge. We have dubbed him Dionte “The Gallante.”
The qualities of the dinners at Baccarat were only enhanced by the expert service and wonderful personalities of Nate “The Great” Mackey and Moral Adderley. Nate, like a leprechaun, managed to appear at most of our dinners, whether it was at Baccarat, The Crystal Room, or Casanova. Moral, with his dignified manner, had a profound knowledge in the art of service. Valerie, the The Crystal Room Manager, was exemplary in her hospitality and complemented our dining experience with fascinating historical information.
White glove service at the Baccarat with Nate "The Great"
The Sandals Club Lounge with Nate "The Great" (left) and our concierge, Dionte "The Gallante" (right).
Janika Mackey started our days with very hot coffee, breakfast, a warm smile and a big hug. Troit Lynes always took care of our special requests, especially what should now be the “signature” breakfast entrée—coconut pancakes. Janika and Troit could also be seen spreading their charm and expertise at the Royal Café.
Janika Mackey kept our breakfasts and our hearts toasty warm.
We had the opportunity to meet Sebastiano Sironi, the chef at Casanova, who prepared a Penne Bolognese which was as authentic as our mom’s (who was a master of Italian cuisine), or any of the pasta dishes we have tasted in the finest restaurants in Italy. Sebastian also prepared just about the best lamb chops we have ever tasted. Cooked to perfection, they were so tender and juicy, they just melted in your mouth.
Our Amare Dinner on the Beach was so elegant, yet comfortable because we were in the capable hands of Chris Davis, our butler-for-the-night, photographer and entertainer.
Speaking of entertaining, we can’t forget the performances of Rhondi Smith and Damian Hall at the Sandals Select Dinner for Returning Guests.
Thanks to Ynise for making chocolate crepes and Vonasha for the chocolate martinis at the The White Chic Party and Decadent Chocolate Buffet. Such sweet stuff and staff!
We also wish to thank the “behind the scenes” housekeeping staff, especially Phylicie Ferguson, who kept our room immaculate and well-supplied, and for Gayle Edward, who was on immediate hand to help with technical issues.
The security staff always kept a watchful . . .
and respectful eye over the property.
Thanks to Karen Paragon-Singh, Operations Manager, Front of House for arranging our transportation back to the airport with Tamar Bowe.
Together with Hotel Manager Charles Blacher, they gave us a warm Sandals send off.
Tamar Bowe interjected historical perspective about Nassau, and engaged us in educational and philosophical conversation. As sad as we were to leave Sandals, Tamar provided us with not only a buffer with his jokes and warmth, but smooth access for our luggage and check-in to go back home.
The take-away from this review is that you will be treated "royally" at Sandals Royal Bahamian.
WISHING ALL OUR READERS A MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HANUKKAH AND
A JOYOUS AND HEALTHY NEW YEAR!
KITA & GARY
We had been guests of the One & Only Ocean Club three times in the past, long before we created IntimacyTravel.com. The Ocean Club is an exclusive resort on Paradise Island in Nassau Bahamas. The last time we were there, some years ago, we played on the Ocean Club Golf Course, which, surrounded by the multicolored blue waters of the Caribbean, is just amazing!
We had been guests of the One & Only Ocean Club three times in the past, long before we created Travelwise.com. The Ocean Club is an exclusive resort on Paradise Island in Nassau Bahamas. The last time we were there, some years ago, we played on the Ocean Club Golf Course, which, surrounded by the multicolored blue waters of the Caribbean, is just amazing!
Before playing golf, we took some time out to visit the Ocean Club lobby and bring back some very fond memories.
The Tom Weiskopf-designed 18-hole, par 72 golf course features breathtaking seaside signature holes, greens and tees, stretching over 7,100 yards of stunning coastline. It was even more beautiful than we had remembered it and we had an exciting round of golf. It’s not surprising that the Ocean Club Golf Course was recently recognized by Golf Digest Magazine as the number 8 Resort Course in North America and the Caribbean.
We are looking forward to staying and reviewing the One & Only Ocean Club in the future and playing more golf there.
Keep your eye on the ball . . . if you can
One of the many beautiful, palm tree-studded fairways
Surrounded by the sea
So inviting, even our ball wanted to go there . . . and almost did!
Some views from the Travelwise private helicopter . . .
not really . . . not yet!
Par-fect . . . together!
“So where are you guys going and what are you going to write about next?” our friends would ask us. “Great Exuma,” we would reply. “Exuma? Where’s that?” all but one of our well-traveled friends would ask. “The Philippines? Africa?”
These questions, alone, made it obvious to us that we had picked a perfect location – exotic, Exuma.
Exuma is actually a district of the Bahamas, consisting of over 360 islands, also called cays (pronounced “keys.”). Great Exuma is the largest of the cays and is only 37 miles in length and has an area of 61 square miles. It’s joined to another island, Little Exuma by a small bridge. The capital of Exuma and location of the airport is George Town, with a population of 1000. Between 2000 and 2010, the population doubled, due to the construction of resort properties and the increased direct air flight accessibility from distant locations, such as Toronto, Canada.
Traveling to Exuma
Oddly enough, even though there are direct flights to Exuma from Toronto, there are no direct flights from New York, our home “hub.” Are you listening JetBlue? But still the trip is quite easy. We recommend taking the earliest flight out (ours was 5:40 a.m. on American Airlines to Miami, then Miami to George Town), so that you can arrive by 12 noon and be at Sandals Emerald Bay a short ten minutes later and enjoy a full day. This is important since the return trip leaves in the morning, so you’re kind of “cheated” a day on the way back
We were so impressed with the Sandals Royal Plantation resort in Jamaica (see our article at http://intimacytravel.weebly.com/what-size-sandals-is-right-for-you-royal-plantation-jamaica) that we decided to try another Sandals, this time, Sandals Emerald Bay, Exuma, one of the newer Sandals resorts. We were attracted by the beautiful beach, beachfront accommodations, and unlimited golf. Of course, it’s hard to beat Sandals for its value, since it is an all-inclusive resort with five-star quality all around.
A stylishly long and narrow tree-lined roadway leads to the entrance of the resort, misleadingly creating a relatively “petite” appearance.
However, once the doors open to the lobby and you see the expansive outdoor pool extended further by the Caribbean Sea, the colors of which are truly breathtaking, you realize that this is a formidable resort with endless possibilities of enjoyment
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the General Manager, Jeremy Mutton, a warm and gracious gentleman, who leads by example when it comes to his top priority -- which is service. He was not above getting on his knees to unzip our rather large golf club travel bag and dig out our sneakers, before stowing the bag and clubs for our use, later.
Even though we arrived hours before check-in, our room was nearly ready. While they were putting the finishing touches on our accommodation, we were given a tour of the resort by Valentino, one of three butlers assigned to us. We were first introduced to the butler service last year when we stayed at Sandals Royal Plantation, which is an all-butler resort. We are “do it ourselves” kind of people, so we would have never opted for butler service. But having experienced it at Royal Plantation, we would not book a Sandals resort without it. We highly recommend spending a bit more for this service, as it will enhance your vacation experience exponentially. The service these hard-working, congenial butlers provide goes above and beyond. It’s only second to having your own genie with you, as they literally try to provide for your every need, whim or fancy. This is aside from the practical chores of booking dinner, spa reservations and tee-times for you and taking care of your accommodation necessities, such as stocking the room bar with your favorite drinks. But instead of rubbing a lamp, you will receive a cell phone connected directly to your butler. If there is something you desire, just press a button and they will answer. If you don’t call them, they will periodically call to check up on you. You will be delighted and thrilled, even, by some of the surprises your butlers will have in store for you. Unlike a "real" genie, "wishing for more wishes” IS allowed!
Travel Tip: Sandals sends you a form to fill out in advanced of your trip, so that you can customize your butler experience with your personal preferences. Make sure you fill this out along with any additional needs and desires you may have. If you wish, they will even unpack your luggage upon arrival and repack it for your return.
The huge grounds of the resort are immaculately kept with great attention to every detail
There are two pools. The Main, large, signature pool, overlooks Emerald Bay, where aside from a long swim and swim-up bar, you can enjoy a variety of music and activities to enhance your poolside experience. You can also sit on comfortable sofas while dipping your feet in the pool and enjoying the fountain sculptures
Near the Main Pool are other activities, such as croquet
shuffleboard, bocce, table tennis
and an over-sized chessboard.
There is also a Games Room with several billiard tables and board games
If you want more of an intimate experience, and much warmer water, you can go to the Quiet Pool and enjoy swimming and serenity. The quiet pool has a smaller, walk-up bar.
Both pools have well-equipped cabanas and plenty of chaise lounges and Jacuzzis. You may want to know that the water in the Main Pool is cooler, which on a really hot day, or after 18 rounds of golf, you may prefer. The Main Pool is so large, that even there, it is possible to find your own “spot,” relaxing on the floats while provided with a nice cool drink in hand.
We have been told that when looking for properties on which to build a Sandals resort, that owner, Gordon "Butch" Stewart first looks for an amazing beach. This is evident at Sandals Emerald Bay, with its powdery white sand and perfect temperature multi-colored blue-green water. You should be aware of two things about this beach that you may not find at other Caribbean beaches. Although sandy, you have to be a little careful getting in and out of the water due to a soft drop-off in the sand level beneath you and the small breaking waves, which depending on the tide, can have varying degrees of undertow. Because of the waves, you won’t find the water to be crystal clear like some other Caribbean beaches, but, on the other hand, the sound of the surf can’t be beat, especially as you are dozing off on your chaise lounge.
Those who opt for the beachfront accommodations, which we highly recommend, will appreciate falling asleep to the “lullaby” created by the combination of surf sound and “cuddly” sea breeze. There is a “secret” way to find an easy-access, crystal clear, sandy beach, but more on that later.
We selected a Beachfront Junior Butler Suite on the second floor with a balcony, which provides more intimacy and privacy than the first floor and a beautiful overview of the beach and ocean. But if you like being literally “on the beach,” ask for the first floor “walkout.
We found the king-sized bed to be ultra comfortable, along with some "turn-down" surprises from our butlers.
There are plenty of towels and toiletries, a lighted magnifying mirror and hair dryer. Kudos to the housekeeping staff for keeping our room well-supplied and well-kept.
Travel Tip: Sandals has harder and softer pillows, so make your request known ahead of time.
The room comes with all the amenities you might expect from a luxury resort, including bathrobe and slippers. Of course the mini-bar comes stocked with all your favorites, which you would have requested ahead of your stay, using the preference form, which is sent to you prior to your arrival. An added luxury we found was the water pressure in the shower – nice and strong. Be careful of the hot water, though, because it can get very hot.
Having been soothed by the sounds of the sea throughout the night, we opted to have breakfast on our beachfront balcony the first morning. “Dressed” in our Sandal’s robes and slippers, sipping Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (one of the best blends in the world) and enjoying fresh eggs, French toast, and fruit, we planned our day.
There are a number of choices when it comes to dining. Il Cielo, an Italian restaurant, serves an a la carte breakfast and white-glove a la carte dinner. Make sure to try the dinner signature dish – ours was the Risotto al Frutti di Mare (Arborio rice, seafood medley, ricotta cheese). If you like lobster, as we do, try the Aragosta Arrostata (Roasted lobster tail, basil-oregano topping, Parmesan-ricotta mash, vegetable medley, and lemon-garlic butter). It is sweet and tender. For dessert, visit the Il Cielo's Dolce Lounge as your chef will exquisitely prepare fresh pastries and serve Italian gelato. Our chef, Aldin, was as delicate in preparing the desserts as the desserts themselves. Click here for Il Cielo sample menu.
La Parisienne, the French restaurant at the resort serves an al a carte white-glove dinner. As appetizers, we had the Foie Gras Aux Truffes (seared foie gras with white truffle oil & toasted brioche) and Coquille St Jacques au Cognac (fresh king sea scallop flamed with cognac, served with sautéed asparagus and mixed greens). For the main course, we ordered the Carré d'Agneau (juicy grass-fed New Zealand lamb, presented with caramelized apple and dauphinoise potatoes, fresh herbs and minted lamb essence). As an after-dinner drink you must try the signature drink, Brandy Truffle. It is out of this world! Click here for La Parisienne sample menu.
Travel Tip: If you use limited salt as we do in our daily cooking, make sure your request no added salt in your entrees, adding your own, to taste, if needed.
Bahama Bay offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. The buffet breakfast features made-to-order omelets and smoothies. Each lunch showcases a different “theme” food from around the world. If you like tropical drinks, sample the Sun Downer, a combination of Coconut Rum, Crème de Banana, Pineapple Juice and Orange Juice. We loved this one. Dinner is an a la carte menu featuring Caribbean-style cuisine. We particularly enjoyed the Coconut Shrimp appetizer, Bahamian Conch Chowder, Celery Soup (soup de jour), Pork Tenderloin and the Crab Cay Seafood Combo for Two, combining mahi mahi, shrimp, mussels & salmon. Yes, we know – three entrees for two. That’s the nice thing about an all-inclusive – no one’s counting! Click here for Bahama Bay sample menu
Our first meal was at Barefoot By The Sea. Before our initial tour, our Butler escorted us here for a quick lunch. We took off our shoes, planted our feet in the sand and had the Grouper Sandwich with some of the best French Fries. They were so good, we didn’t even add ketchup. But you must return for dinner and try the other great seafood dishes, including the signature, Grilled Lobster with lemon butter, vegetables served with peas and rice. Add an organic greens salad and for dessert, try the warm Exuma rum cake with ice cream. Click here for Barefoot By The Sea sample menu
Speaking of desserts, Café de Paris is dedicated to desserts and coffee. Opened from 6:30 am to 10:00 pm, you can choose to grab and go, or sit outside and enjoy pastries, ice cream, and all different types of coffee, including our favorite, Caramel Frappuccino. Go ahead and top it off with a scoop of coffee ice cream to make a Caramel Frappuccino float. We discovered this when Valentino, our butler, surprised us with this treat at the Quiet Pool, along with lunch. We sampled all the desserts – all scrumptious. Click here for Café de Paris sample menu.
You just never know when that “slice of pizza urge” will hit. It could be at the pool or late at night. Dinos Pizzeria is waiting to satisfy from 11:30am to 5:00pm and from 6:00pm to 9:30pm. You can grab a slice, order from a variety of homemade pizzas, or a slice from each offering, or create your own pizza combination. Take a box to the pool or beach – even better, have your butler deliver it to you. Dinos offers dinner a few nights a week, adding pasta and other Italian favorites to the all-outdoor menu. In preparation for this review, we asked for a sampling of all the pastas. The best was the Pork Scaloppini Linguini, followed by the Seafood Linguini, Linguini Alfredo with Chicken, and Penne Marinara (which was on the sweet side), with ricotta and basil. We were surprised that the Fettuccine Alfredo was even better than at the Italian Restaurant, Il Cielo. Click here for Dino’s Pizzeria sample menu.
We didn’t make it to The Drunken Duck, which is a British-style pub, offering a pub menu from 3:00pm - 1:30am and “gastro” menu from 6:00pm - 9:00pm, but we did hear a lot of laughter and “good times” coming from its vicinity. Click here for The Drunken Duck sample menu. The same hearty sounds came from the Il Cielo lounge, with the nightly sing-a-longs and karaoke.
Of course, nothing matches dining intimacy like dinner for two on the beach, especially with the sound of the surf and the full moon above. Add a grilled lobster entrée with lemon-butter, grilled vegetables served with peas and rice and you have romance for the palette as well as the heart and soul
We attended the White Party, where everyone dresses in white while enjoying chocolate delicacies, live music and dancing. Our stay happened to fall on Bahamian Independence Day, which was celebrated with a “street party,” including outdoor dining, live music, a Caribbean buffet and a Junkanoo parade
A predominant attraction for us in choosing Sandals Emerald Bay was the unlimited golf, which comes with your butler service. The really great thing is that the golf course is right on the premises, so you don’t need to take a taxi, wait for a ride, or any of that. Just leave your clubs at the clubhouse and walk over. If you want a cart, the fee is $30 for one and $40 for two, but there are no caddies that you need to pay for or tip. If you didn’t bring clubs, you can rent them. You will be supplied with plenty of water in your cart cooler and of course, you can ask your butler to bring you some sandwiches and fruit to take with you as you play. Another convenience is that, except for the actual putting greens and the number 11 hole, you can literally drive your cart up to your ball, no matter where it is – unless of course you happen to hit your ball into the thick rough or into the ocean and its splashing waves which accompanies the back nine. This is a big time and energy saver. The Sandals Grande Emerald Bay is a 7,200-yard, par 72 golf course, designed by Greg Norman, with six signature holes beautifully situated, hugging the perimeter of Emerald Bay’s peninsula. Many of the holes are challenging and fellow golfers won’t ask you, “How was your game?” but “How many balls did you lose?” But don’t let that discourage you. Give up distance and go for accuracy and you won’t regret it. We found ourselves stopping our game play to take in the ocean – with our lungs and our eyes.
After a round of golf, you may be inclined to make reservations at the Red Lane Spa to relax and loosen up and avail yourselves of the many optional health treatments. The Spa also has a fitness center for your daily workout routine
and a few semi-private pools for you to enjoy
We mentioned earlier that we would reveal a “secret” way to find an easy-access, crystal clear, sandy beach. What we didn’t tell you is that this optional excursion, “Castaways,” is the piece de résistance of intimacy. A taxi from the hotel takes you to a boat dock, where your captain whisks you away on a fifteen-minute ride to a deserted, idyllic island with powdery beaches and turquoise-colored water, so crystal clear that even though you are provided with snorkeling gear, you don’t need it to see a variety of multi-colored fish swimming around you. Where, left to your own devises for the day, you can easily out-perform Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity; Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward in Against All Odds; Giancarlo Gianni and Mariangela Melato or Madonna and Adriano Gianni in Swept Away, if you catch our “drift.”
Taken with our camera’s built-in timer
After creating your own steamy beach scenes, you can turn your attention to other hedonistic needs, as you are supplied with a cooler of champagne and glasses
delectable cheeses and fruit, sandwiches and beverages of all sorts, all to be enjoyed in your chaise lounges, under the protection of a large beach umbrella.
But like this one!
Travel Tip: Also, let your butler know if you desire any special food or drink items in your cooler. You can also request some beach floats. Bring plenty of sunscreen protection. Don’t be fooled by the perfectly cool water – you can still get burned. We prefer not to use chemical sunscreens. There are several good, affordable, natural sunscreen products that you can search for online. You can find some recommendations on the Good House Keeping or Prevention websites. In the past we’ve used “Tropical Sands” and “MexiTan” brands. On this trip we decided to use "Dr. Mercola’s Broad Spectrum Sunscreen 30 SPF” and it worked very well.
Don’t forget to have your captain snap a picture of you before he leaves you and when he comes to pick you up. Once our captain left, we used the bucket that was given to us to store the snorkeling gear, turned it upside down, rested our camera on it, and used the built-in camera timer.
With no official name, the natives refer to this spot in the sea as “Love Me More Island” (yeah, you think?!). It may be too small for a proper nautical name, but for just two people, it is quite large. And as you can see, you are totally alone.
Large enough for exploring, you can throw on your beach shoes and walk to the Atlantic Ocean side for some rougher “surf and turf.”
This is truly a unique intimate experience, which can take the two of you back to your primordial roots and will surely be among your most thrilling fantasies fulfilled.
We feel compelled to mention that it takes numerous hard-working people “behind the scenes” to make an exceptional experience for “just the two of you.” The administration and staff at Sandals Emerald Bay are service “virtuosi,” delighting in going “above and beyond” to fulfill your desires.
Stephen Clarke, Butler Manager, who was as professional as he was affable, attended to every detail of our stay and went out of his way to make our experience at Sandals Emerald Bay a very special and personal one. He is the “genie-in-chief.”
We weren’t at the resort ten minutes, when Patric Loeser, Food and Beverage Manager, not only recognized us from our stay at Sandals Royal Plantation last year, but remembered specific details about us. We had several delightful conversations with Patric during our stay. He could be seen constantly going from one eatery to the other, supervising and speaking with guests to ensure their satisfaction.
Sharline Adderly Lloyd, Director of Guest Relations, with whom we had the pleasure of sitting next to at the Sandals Returning Guests Dinner, connected with us on so many levels, professionally and personally and was instrumental in introducing us to Sno Watson, with whom we had a productive conversation about how we can assist the Sandals Foundation. We would encourage our readers to support this very worthwhile charity by visiting www.sandalsfoundation.org .
While at the Returning Guests Dinner, we were treated to the music of Shamond Smith, an extremely talented saxophonist and flutist, who on one evening during the week provided sweet and sultry music on the Sandals Tower, overlooking the Main Pool, where we and other guests did some slow dancing and relaxing by the surrounding fire pits.
Pandora, at Il Cielo, started our mornings with breakfast and a warm smile and we were fortunate on our last day to engage her in some deeper philosophical conversations about life.
The qualities of the dinners at Il Cielo were only enhanced by the service and wonderful personalities of Sheira and Simeon.
along with the artistry of our dolce chef, Aldin.
Even our tour of the Yacht Club was extra special because Hotel Manager, David Latchimy, with whom we quickly connected . . . in French and Italian.
Nebat Williams, manager at the Island Routes desk was professional and gentlemanly as he took a personal interest in our Castaways tour experience.
Kevan at the Shark Shack always provided a much needed “can do” pep talk before sending us to tee off on the challenging golf course.
The “behind the scenes” housekeeping staff kept our room immaculate, changing our pressed linen sheets nightly. Thanks to David for coming right away to tweak our AC.
We met a very special Sandals repeat guest, Derick, who has stayed a total of 197 nights at Sandals’ resorts. His youthfulness of spirit hid both his chronological age of 88 and the grief of his recently departed wife. Derick raved of the support he received from management and staff, who treated him not only as a beloved colleague but as family.
Enough cannot be said for the extraordinary daily care our butlers, Valentino, Hilton and Samson, provided.
Under the management of Stephen and supervision of Darrion, these hard-working butlers never ceased to amaze, undeterred by the largest or smallest request. You just never know what surprises you are going to find when you walk into your room. It could be a romantic message on the door mat:
Or, on your bed, made with natural flowers around some afternoon snacks or turn-down.
.You may also find “strangers” in your bed.
A new meaning for “throw in the towel.”
You may come back after diner and find a luxurious bubble bath waiting for you.
We have yet to see, not only a staff that works harder, but also a management who gets right “in there” with their staff to serve their guests and the resort.
How it is that in a week’s time, so many genuine friendships can be formed is part of the “magic” of Sandals Emerald Bay and a testament to the exceptional quality of the individuals as well as the hiring acumen of the Sandals Corporation.
Things can and do go “wrong” even at the most prestigious hotels, and you can read all the complaints for any resort on Trip Advisor. While the overwhelming majority of reviews for Sandals Emerald Bay are outstanding, there were some complaints, including some negative reviews about the food, which we found particularly odd. Of course, taste is subjective, but we would like to inform our readers that we live on Long Island, New York, in close proximity to New York City. We have access to and have availed ourselves of the best restaurants. We have traveled to Italy several times, again, dining in the best restaurants. While “there is no accounting for taste,” you can be assured that our palates would be considered sophisticated. As you can see from our review, we found the food at this Sandals and also at Sandals Royal Plantation in Jamaica to be excellent, and not just excellent for an all-inclusive, but excellent on its own merit.
The service ethic we found at Sandals Emerald Bay was that when anything went wrong, if the guests were disappointed, the staff was dismayed, and would do anything they could to rectify or remedy the situation. We saw this first hand when we just mentioned to our waitress that we found our lamb to be a little too salty for our taste. You would think the culinary world was coming to an end, as we were offered a replacement, other entrée, or anything else they could do. Without asking, the manager came over to our table to inquire if she could do anything for us “to make it right.” We didn’t find this necessary, which seemed to make her more upset that we were not 100% satisfied.
When the Main Pool bar temporarily ran out of CO2 for the draft beer pump, we observed that the repeater guests just sat comfortably, socializing, knowing with complete confidence that beer would shortly arrive from somewhere, which, indeed it did, as members of the staff scattered to other locations to fulfill the guests’ orders. At Sandals, it seems wherever you “plant yourself,” you will be accommodated.
So you can listen to the few naysayers and opt out of Sandals Emerald Bay, which will leave more room for the rest of us or you can trust this and countless other positive reviews of seasoned travelers and have a glorious experience at Sandals Emerald Bay in exotic Exuma.
“When It’s Just The Two Of You”
A friend of ours sent us one of the most beautiful emails from Distracity (www.distractify.com).
The word of Mella Noha (Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000924256614&fret=ts) in this pictorial of "40 Incredible Secret Places Most Travelers dont' Know About" is just an amazing journey!
TRAVELWISE makes no distinction regarding age when reviewing its resorts. While we do write from our own personal experience as a middle-aged couple, we try to compare and contrast activities that may be enjoyed by the more activities-oriented couple with those of the less active, yet no less intense travelers.
But on this, our first trip to the Dominican Republic, we decided to take a different approach, by soliciting the actual experiences of a younger couple, our son and his significant other, both thirty, heretofore, referred to as “the kids.” What would we enjoy together? What different choices would we make on this vacation? And what overall and specific impressions would we come away with from our stay at "Dreams Punta Cana," an all-inclusive resort.
We let the “kids” choose the hotel, since we wanted to be sensitive to their budget restraints but we decided that each couple would book flight and accommodations separately, so we could compare all the choices that were made from beginning to end.
As it turns out, the “kids” booked their hotel/air fare vacation package first through Cheap Caribbean, which was running a so-called “big sale” with “only one day left at these prices.” They booked the earliest flight out of JFK, flying JetBlue non-stop to Punta Cana and the latest JetBlue flight coming back. We booked our vacation package with Expedia later on. They were not running the “hype,” and their prices were virtually the same, without the “one day left” gimmick. We tried to get the earliest flight as well, but evidently, the “kids” must have grabbed the last two early flight seats at that price. So we booked the next flight out, which was several hours later. We were forced to book an earlier flight back, because of our work schedule.
We preferred to fly together with the “kids,” so we called JetBlue the day of the flight at 12:01am and asked what the availability was on that first flight. There were about six seats left. At this point we had two choices – take a chance and fly standby, hoping two seats would still be available at no extra charge, or pay $50 per seat and be confirmed on the flight, with the seats to be assigned at the gate, beginning four hours before the flight. We really did want to fly together, not only because it would be enjoyable and we would have a few more hours use of the resort, but because, this way, we could take one transfer to the hotel together, rather than pay separately. So we opted to pay $50 per seat. As it turns out, they assigned the four of us, together, in the only seats they had left – the more leg room seats, for which you would normally pay an additional $40 per seat. As luck would have it, no one took the third seat of our rows, so each couple had an additional seat in which to stretch out.
You do have choices when it comes to transfers to and from the hotel. The first choice is not to stop where you are led by your porter for a sales pitch on excursions and time shares. It is advantageous to book excursions and golf online before you leave as you get better bargains. For transportations an excursions, checkout www.puntacananow.com, andwww.gobecon.com. For golf, go to www.puntacanagolf.net. More about golf, later.
There is a new highway presently under construction from the airport to all the hotel areas. It was partially finished for our trip, but promises to be completed by January, 2014. This will cut down on travel time to your hotel and hopefully on fares as well.
You should be aware, that unlike Sandals’ all-inclusives (which do not have resorts in the Dominican Republic), the all-inclusives in the Dominican Republic may not include transportation to and from the airport. When booking transportation, we would recommend using a private van rather than a group bus, which will stop along the way to drop off other vacationers at their respective resorts.
We arrived at Dreams Punta Cana and were greeted in a friendly and exuberant manner as well as a welcome drink. Although the “kids” went for the less expensive Deluxe Room, and we, the Junior Suite, we both chose the “Preferred Club” level. We heartily recommend paying a little extra for this distinction, as the privileges it carries are well worth it:
"Dreams Punta Cana" has an impressive entrance and lobby, reminiscent of Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
As you walk toward the toward the Preferred Club,
you can’t help but notice the spectacularly manicured gardens, with its
pheasants and flamingos
and "Dreams Punta Cana" signature meandering pool.
As you enter the Preferred Club you’ll find a private bar with top-shelf liquor, a table filled with finger sandwiches, cheeses, bread, olives, canopies and sweets. There are also two computers for members’ use. We were immediately greeted by a Preferred concierge, who offered us drinks and explained everything about our rooms and the facilities. We were given our room cards and escorted to our prospective accommodations. We were hungry from our travels and decided to have some lunch at the Oceania, before heading to the beach.
The Oceania is for preferred members only and the quality of the food, alone, is worth the small price of Preferred membership. We each tried to order different selections, so that we could sample as much as possible in order to provide a comprehensive review for this article. We all had a different type of fish for lunch and were all very satisfied with the entire meal. Breakfast at the Oceana is a feast and a great way to start the day, especially when it’s topped off with delicious Dominican Republic coffee.
We had some concerns about the water and/or ice used in the drinks and were told by our waiter that only bottled water is used, even for the ice. There was a comment on Trip Advisor about bringing your own Pepto Bismol, since the one at the gift shop was so expensive. But all four of us discovered that any warnings about stomach upset from the food or water were totally unfounded and we sampled food from every one of the restaurants and beach grill.
We all went back to our rooms to change for the beach. One of the nice things about the Preferred club level is that you pick up orange towels at the club, which identify you as a club member, and reserves a special section of the beach. From some of the reviews, we were expecting a rocky, unswimable beach, which is on the Atlantic side. In fact we brought some beach shoes to navigate the beach. This was totally unnecessary as the beach was sandy and the water was inviting.
We caught a wonderful sunset while floating on beautiful water.
Another perk of the Preferred Club are the reserved Beach Beds. They are ultra-comfortable and have a canopy that can be fashioned in any number of ways to suit how you wish to block or absorb the sun.
Travel Tip: You’ll want to get out on the beach early if you want to guarantee a beach bed. You can leave them unoccupied for up to an hour before they become fair game for another Preferred guest.
We pretty much give up meat during the year for health reasons, but there’s something about having a burger on the beach that we find irresistible, so we indulged and enjoyed it! Driving from the airport to the hotel, you can see grazing cattle. The beef you get is local and it has a wonderful, unprocessed texture and taste. You can choose to walk up to the “Barefoot Grill” or just order it with drinks from one of the beach waiters or waitresses.
After your burger on the beach, walk toward the pool and pick up a delicious fresh mango or pineapple on a stick. You’ll watch in amazement as your server cuts and carves before your eyes.
On the other side of this informal eating are two not-to-be missed more formal and intimate dining experiences. One is “The Cellar,” with menu choices from three different restaurants and a personal sommelier who chooses appropriate wines for each of your selected courses.
The other is the romantic champagne dinner on the beach with candlelight and torches and the music of the ocean waves. There are several menu choices, which are priced accordingly. For the most intimate experience, we recommend reserving the most remote table, number “8,” right near the bending palm tree.
(No, the palm tree is not a backdrop)
You’ll want to spend part of your stay relaxing on an “in-pool” chaise lounge or grab a floating mat, and follow the winding pool, which goes from one end of the property to the other.
There’s a lot of activity available for all ages at "Dreams Punta Cana," and Stephanie, the entertainment director extraordinaire, does a great job of involving all willing participants. She is full of good energy and enthusiasm. After enjoying the pool with the “kids,” they signed up with Stephanie to play beach volleyball,
while we were content to play a game of chess with the over-sized board, poolside and a round of croquet. Ping pong, or any number of board games is also available at the entertainment center. Water sports activities are plentiful at the beach as well.
Tours and excursions are plentiful and your Preferred concierge can help you with all your needs in that area. The “kids” opted for the beach Dune Buggy excursion,
and a "dip" in the ocean,
while we played golf at two beautiful golf courses – La Cana
and Espanda. Espanda was rated the #1 golf course in Mexico and the Caribbean, and when you play it, you will see why.
But be prepared. Most everything in the Dominican Republic is very reasonably priced . . . except for golf! Go online for the best prices. You also get a break on the price if you play “twilight,” which is after 2:00 pm. We particularly enjoy that time, anyway, as sometimes you feel like you have the whole course to yourselves . . . very intimate!
At night, the “kids” went to the Disco, while we opted for some outdoor dancing on the veranda.
We found our room and bed very comfortable and we made use of the pillow menu. It was really nice to sleep with the window opened and be soothed to sleep by the ocean breeze. Room service is available 24 hours, although the menu is limited. Our turn down service was quite special, with little surprises each night in the form of towel sculptures, rose petals, flowers and chocolates.
We particularly enjoyed our private balcony Jacuzzi. The advantage of being on the upper most floor and in a corner room is that you are obscured from sight, so foam bath, champagne, candles and petals went into the Jacuzzi with us.
The Spa offers couples massages, but the most intimate is the slow couples massage on the beach in a private waterfront cabana.
We found the staff to be courteous, willing to please, and make everything “excelente.” Even though Dreams is an all inclusive, we found ourselves wanting to show our appreciation for that extra special service with some tipping along the way.
There were two problems that we encountered. Smoking is not permitted indoors and there is a stiff penalty of $250 for ignoring the restriction. However, we did find that smoke alarms went off in the hallway on several occasions in the middle of the night as some quests disregarded the ban, much to our discontent.
The other problem was the language barrier. We have been to a lot of foreign countries, and haven’t found the communication to be difficult. Aside from hotel management, concierge staff and the entertainment directors, other employees such as taxi drivers, porters, waiters, caddies, housekeepers just did not have enough English skills for us to understand one another comfortably. Since tourism is so important to the Dominican Republic, we were surprised that more effort was not made in this regard. You can see evidence of this on the sign inside the taxi regarding tips:
If you speak Spanish, you are at a distinct advantage. Had we not chosen to go to the Dominican Republic on short notice, we might have been able to make an effort to learn some key phrases and vocabulary.
Knowing this, when we return, and we do plan to, we will be more prepared, linguistically. It may not be excelente, but, hopefully, it will be mucho mejor.
One thing is certain. To the de Sesa men, these two women are excelentes y son hermosos!
Time for one last tropical drink before heading back home.
The final analysis to our age experiment was that "Dreams Punta Cana" provided fun and intimacy for younger and older generation couples, alike. You could be as fast or slow-paced as your mood would dictate. And while we were able to enjoy the beach, ocean, pool, and some meals together, we were also able to easily find our private space and pleasure in our own excursions and intimacy.
We had occasion to eat at the Gulf Coast Kitchen of the Montauk Yacht Club, with three friends of ours. We are sorry to report that it was sub-par.
The atmosphere was okay, but quite noisy and the service was a bit less than adequate. The food however, for each of us was awful. The bread offered was a few very small rectangles of garlic/cheese bread. The French Pinot Gris was okay, but nowhere near the Pinot Gris we have had from Washington State, e.g. Chateau San Michelle Pinot Gris.
We all had the NY Chowder Soup, but it was heavily-laden with mostly potatoes.
The chicken dish, which had been asked to be served with the sauce on the side, came drenched in the sauce. It was replaced with the sauce on the side. Good thing, as it can only be described as “turpentine” based! The garlic mashed potatoes and spinach served with it were fine.
The osso bucco was also destroyed by the over-handed sauce. The pork chop was tough, and even a request for a steak knife didn’t “cut it.”
Considering the fact that Long Islanders tend to be fussy about the quality of their food and that there are other fine restaurants in Montauk, we would recommend making the Montauk Yacht Club Restaurant “walk the plank.”
Under new management, we wanted to revisit Jamaica Inn and compare it to our review of two years ago to see what changes have occurred, if any.
Revisiting a resort, which you loved on your first visit, can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you are familiar with it and can get right into vacationing, without having to get accustomed to the property. But on the other hand, there may be some trepidation that the second or subsequent visits may not live up to your first impressions.
We gave a glowing review to Jamaica Inn two years ago and wanted our readers to know whether it just made a good first impression or did it have sustainability. We have to say that Jamaica Inn was every bit as good as the first time.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, really, since the five-star Jamaica Inn is still the number-one ranked hotel in Ocho Rios, with the Sandals Royal Plantation, number two. (see our review of the Royal Plantation.) In addition, Jamaica Inn is one of those resorts whose return guest list is impressive. We met a couple who have been coming to Jamaica Inn for twenty-five years, and they are seasoned world-travelers. Over its long history, Jamaica Inn has played host to some famous celebrities, not the least of which was Marilyn Monroe, who have the option of staying anywhere in the world they wish.
Even when fully booked, Jamaica Inn never appears crowded, giving you the sense that the entire resort belongs to you which you may share with a few others. As return guests we were greeted with the Jamaica Inn traditional, “Welcome home!” And you do feel right at home the minute you step back onto the property.
Replacing the long-standing manager of eleven years is Mr. Kyle Mais, an engaging and affable gentleman who is also a native Jamaican. We had an extended conversation with him and owner Eric Morrow about some of the changes and “inn-provements” that have been made and will be made at Jamaica Inn in the near future.
Jamaica Inn, which is usually closed in September, will remain open. Beginning August 4th, they are reinstituting Sunday Brunch, which judging from all the meals we have had here, should prove to be very impressive. We partook of the Tuesday night beach barbeque, which we missed on our last visit. Along with a fire pit, it’s elegant dining from head to toe. Well, not really to toe, since you are welcomed to put your bare feet in the sand. The selection of salads, meats, fish with all the trimmings, were prepared to perfection, and topped off with fresh fruits and sumptuous desserts. Chefs Derrick and Maurice continue to be an impressive gourmet team.
Jamaica Inn is also planning on a new villa accommodation, along with a larger fitness facility and new entranceway.
In our White Suite accommodation, an outdoor love seat was added in the garden. Owner Eric still talks about building a tree house on this accommodation as well. We’ll have to take some vine-swinging classes when that happens!
For a detailed review of the White Suite, please see our article at www.intimacytravel.com.
The privacy, expansiveness and tranquility of the Jamaica Inn White Suite continue to impress us the second time around. You can enjoy an in-suite breakfast in the morning (try the coconut pancakes) . . .
Take your private stairs for a swim in the crystal clear, perfect temperature Caribbean Sea, or just laze in your private pool at sunup. . .
Sunsets are truly spectacular as the “light show” changes minute by minute, with each scene more extraordinary than the next. They can be viewed from various vantage points on your property.
Make sure to schedule a romantic, candlelight dinner out on your private promontory.
Another new and impassioned project of Jamaica Inn is supporting the preservation of sea turtles. It’s unfortunate that we had an early Thursday departure, because Jamaica Inn arranged for transportation for its guests to witness an actual hatching of sea turtles at a nearby beach preserve later in the day on Thursday. Evidently, the guardians of this preserve know the exact day and hour of the hatching, so this is truly, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Jamaica Inn believes that “that more we give the more we get back.” And to that end, they ask guests to contribute $1.50 a day to the Jamaica Inn Foundation, which sustains “critically needed services for vulnerable Jamaican girls who have been abused; in need of education, counseling and guidance or any other situation that requires our help.”
Kudos to Jamaica Inn for supporting and promoting these worthy causes.
As we continue to write reviews on hotels and resorts around the world and especially the Caribbean, the White Suite at Jamaica Inn will be the standard by which we measure all others. Thus far, it remains our best accommodation.
Entering the long driveway to the entrance of Sandals Royal Plantation, Jamaica, one is immediately struck that it is indeed, royal. The entire entrance is reminiscent of the quality you see in “Small Hotels of the World.”
This is not your typical mammoth all-inclusive, but rather a boutique size hotel. It is unique in this respect from all the other Sandals resorts.
When we arrived at the Royal Plantation, we were greeted by the new manager, Mark Starkey. Mark has a vivacious spirit and takes pride in the work ethic of his staff and the total dedication to customer service. He is constantly visible around the facility, speaking with guests and being in contact with staff, to make sure everything is running smoothly. If a guest finds something that isn’t working up to standard, Mark won’t give you the typical “I’ll look into it.” He gets on his cell phone and has it taken care of immediately.
All the accommodations are butler suites, which face the ocean. Our room was well-appointed and clean, with all the amenities one would expect including free Wi-Fi. The mini-bar is fully stocked, and there is a coffee maker so that you can partake of the magnificent Blue Mountain Jamaican coffee whenever you like.
Travel Tip: You can call ahead of your trip if you would like the bar to be stocked with particular beverages. They will do their best to fulfill your order.
Although our particular accommodation, room 256, didn’t have a walkout balcony, the view was still spectacular.
There are other suites with medium and large-sized balconies. Some of them are adjacent to the Governor General’s Suite, which is a third-floor, corner room. When you book this accommodation, the four-poster beach bed is automatically reserved for you.
All the Sandals’ resorts are all-inclusive but the tipping restriction is lifted for beach waiter service and butlers. You would think by the way they advertise it, that butler service would imply that you don’t have to lift a finger for anything. This is not the case – you do have to lift a finger . . . to press a button on the cell phone the butler gives you, to call for anything you wish! And, unlike many of the famous “genie” stories, you do get unlimited wishes. The use of cell-phones by the butlers makes for very fast service. So if suddenly, as in our situation, we wanted to have breakfast in the pier gazebo, jutting out into an unobstructed view of the Caribbean, we just picked up the phone, called, Tafari, our butler and he arranged it, right then and there.
We had a sumptuous breakfast, with an unobstructed view of the multi-colored, crystal clear blue Caribbean Sea, with a breeze on your body that felt like caresses from God.
The gazebo is a perfect place for a wedding ceremony or a private candlelit dinner. As with all the resorts we’ve visited, private dinners like this are an added expense. (But not the breakfast – hint, hint)
Speaking of breakfasts, the Royal Plantation has a “Make Your Own Healthy Martini.” From a list of native fruits, like papaya, melon, orange, pineapple, strawberry, mango, etc., you can select any combination and your non-alcoholic “creation” will be served, pureed in a martini glass.
Of course, being an all-inclusive resort, you can’t expect first-rate, gourmet food, right? Wrong! The Royal Plantation cuisine and presentation is top-notch! The drawing room leading into “Le Papillion Restaurant” is breath taking, which, in itself, is an appetizer and sets up a dining expectation that does not disappoint.
Being a boutique-sized hotel, you can expect the Royal Plantation to be relatively quiet and private. If you want something more up-beat, you can go next door to the Sandals Grande Riviera. It’s a much larger resort with more activities, a younger population, proportionately, and a lively nightlife. As with other Sandals’ resorts, you can “pay at one and play at the others.” So you can take the shuttle from either of the resorts and have full access to the facilities at the other.
Just because the Royal Plantation has a less lively night life, it doesn’t mean that it lacks quality entertainment. Just as we sat down for our first al fresco dinner, the “Rapture” band came up on stage – two guitars, keyboard and drums. We thought, “Well, there goes our romantic, peaceful dinner!” But with the first notes of this group, we realized that along with the candlelight and moonlight atmosphere, we were going to be serenaded, not assaulted.
On Jamaican Cultural Night, however, the scene is quite different, with Jamaican music, drummers, fire-dancers and colorful costumes. The emcee, Oshane Holmes added to the spirit of the evening and motivated everyone to participate in the festivities.
The Wobbly Peacock bar is great place to get your favorite drink, expertly made. They had some of the best Pina Coladas we’ve tasted. But if you want a special treat, return to the bar after dinner until midnight and delight to the sounds of pianist, Andre Campbell. His ability to play music of any genre and style is truly amazing.
You may want to plan excursions to the many off-site adventures Ocho Rios has to offer. Sandals’ own Catamaran offers the Dunn’s River Cruise, Lover’s Rock Cruise, and Survivor Cruise. You can also go deep-sea fishing aboard the 32’ Bertram Sabrina. The Dolphin Encounter and Swim is an unforgettable experience as is the Horseback Beach Ride. Other adventures include the “Jamaican Bobsled, Zipline and Skyride,” or “River Kayaking,” “Bamboo River Rafting,” “Bicycling in the Blue Mountains,” “Dune Buggy Safari,” even a “Camel Ride.”
If golf is more your speed, then you will want to experience the Sandals Country Club Golf Course. The greens fee is included while staying at a Sandals’ resort. You just pay for cart and caddy.
Travel Tip: If you are going to play golf at least three times, ask for the “Play Three, Pay For Two” golf cart package. Also try to arrange for Ortigo as your caddy. He will definitely improve your game!
In the “rec” room, which has TV and a computer area, there is also a pool table. Can’t find anyone to play with? Call your butler for a challenging game. Or, you can play a round of croquet, which is located just by the fitness center and spa.
The fitness center is equipped with treadmills, ellipticals, fitness bicycle, large exercise ball and a full complement of weights. There is also a TV to distract you from a tedious routine and a refrigerator with water to keep you hydrated.
If you are thinking of a couple’s massage, we recommend arranging one right on the beach. The spa is immaculate with treatment rooms, sauna and steam room.
There are two sides to the Royal Plantation beach – east and west. The west side has a pier and is mostly for swimming or having lunch, either served to you or at the beach restaurant. Smoking is not permitted on this side of the beach.
The east side has all the water sports and activity boats. You can take out a sailboat, kayak, water bicycle, or hop aboard one of the Sandal’s boats for, either a glass-bottom experience, snorkeling, or fishing. Smoking is permitted on the East side.
There is something very special about the warmth and genuine friendliness of this Jamaican staff, which immediately makes you feel comfortably right at home and difficult to leave. Yet you can ease the separation anxiety somewhat by taking advantage of the “Soon Come Back Promotion.” With a $750 discount off your next visit, plus airfare credit and earned points, this is an exceptionally good value. We took advantage of it before we departed and booked our next trip to Sandals Emerald Bay on the island of Exuma. We’re looking forward to bringing you our next review!
You can find luxury just about anywhere, for a price. But at Sandals, you can have luxury and a great value at the same time.
What size Sandals do we wear? We prefer a “small,” and Sandals Royal Plantation is just the right fit for us.
You’re in a swimming pool and you hear a young voice yell, “Marco . . .” What comes to mind? “Polo,” of course. But our last experience may change that expectation. Now, when we hear, “Marco . . .” we are likely to think “Island!”
We are very fond of vacationing in the Caribbean and have reviewed and will continue to review Caribbean resorts. However, on this assignment, we were looking for a resort that had a Caribbean “feel,” but was actually stateside.
Mission Accomplished: Marco Beach Ocean Resort
The most northerly of the 10,000 Everglade Islands and a paradoxical combination of sophistication and wild nature, Marco Island allows you to seek out the best of both worlds. We went for the sophistication of the all-suite hotel, Marco Beach Ocean Resort.
From anywhere to South West Florida International Airport in Ft. Myers, it’s a 45 min ride to Marco Island. You can take an $80 taxi ride or rent a car from Hertz for about the same price, get your shopping done, explore the six-mile island and then drop your car off at the Marriot office next door to Marco Beach Ocean Resort.
Travel Tip: When booking the Marco Beach ocean Resort, request the highest floor. The ceilings are much taller, and the views of the sweeping crescent beach and sunsets, are spectacular – much more so because of the regulated darkness of the Beach between May 1st and Oct. 31st. The beach is a vital habitat of the Loggerhead Sea Turtles and the law requires that room drapes be closed after 9 pm. No excessive lighting so as not to disturb their nests.
Marco Beach Ocean Resort has a heated pool (with a two-for one “happy hour”) and a private beach area with complimentary umbrellas, lounges and towels. At mid afternoon, complimentary smoothies are served to you at your umbrella location. Dolphin and Manatee watching, parasailing, wave runners, kayaks and paddleboats are available. Although beautiful, the beach is not the super soft sand you might expect. It does have a crushed-shell quality. So if you are tender-footed, make sure you bring beach or water shoes. Alternatively, you can purchase them cheaply enough at Alvin’s Island, just cattycorner from the hotel.
Travel Tip: Pick up groceries at the nearby Publix before you check in. It’s remarkable how much it offers (like Whole Foods) in the organic department – as sophisticated as any high end New York grocery store, but unlike NY, you may purchase wines, champagnes and beers. Speaking of liquors, if you want a mind-blowing experience, check out a nearby Total Wine supermarket, (www.totalwine.com) which is like a Costco or Sam’s Club for liquor. (5048 Airport Pulling Road North, Naples 239-649-4979.)
We were in room 1202, a one bedroom corner suite for romantic privacy with beautiful views day . . .
The fully stocked kitchen offers daily regular and decaf coffee/tea for its coffeemakers. Housekeeping provides shampoos, body wash, and daily amenities. Although you have a kitchen, you still have the option of ordering room service and daily breakfast delivered if you wish. We wanted to arise “whenever” without someone ringing our door with breakfast. We were able to make our own fresh coffee, drink our own fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice and fry up our own organic egg whites. In short, keep up our back-at home routine of healthy eating at breakfast and lunch so that we could indulge more in dinners out and that we did. But more about that later on.
Branka Guberina the Marco Beach Ocean Resort’s chief concierge, who arranged for our request (top floor-corner suite), golf tee times, restaurant choices, etc., was as efficient, invested, caring and personable as could be hoped for. But the “Ace of the Place” was Front Desk Manager Robert Keane, a man in whose capable hands any vacation couple/family would also hope to be. Sincere and adept at fulfilling and overseeing all of our needs, he was instrumental in upgrading us to more spacious suite which became available next door to 1201, with a larger kitchen/dining room and even more spectacular views. The expert service staff made it an easy move and a supervisor came in to give it a “white-gloved” inspection before we entered our new accommodation.
If you are a golfer, there are a number of golf courses to choose from. We went to Hammock Bay, which was a country club style golf course, but others are available. You can check with the concierge for availability and reservations.
The hotel has a fully equipped spa. We took advantage of the summer specials – a Swedish massage, customized to your preferred touch by expert Tatiania Beloshapkina.
Two restaurants you shouldn’t miss:
The Blue Heron Restaurant – Sunset over the mangroves at Johnson Bay
Over the bridge to 387 Capri Blvd., Isles of Capri, Naples, 239-394-6242 www.the-blue-heron.com
An intimate setting of just 12 tables, we can personally confirm what Zagat describes as “extraordinary to perfection for food,” which has been delighting palates for 37 years. The Blue Heron is expensive, but offers a light, less expensive menu between 5 and 7 pm from May 31 until October 31.
As an alternative to arriving by car, you can rent a boat, watch the Manatee and Dolphins, then dock and dine at the Blue Heron.
Travel Tip: Since seating is limited, reservations are a must.
Sale & Pepe at the Marco Beach Ocean Resort
The magnificent décor and grand Toulouse Lautrec Bar, with its paintings out of Florentine Museums, serves as a backdrop for native Umbrian, Chef Matarese, whose southern Italian, homemade fettucine al ragú brought tears of remembrance of our mothers’ own cooking. What a find – a romantic ambiance and brilliant cuisine. Socially refined and most knowledgeable, hostess Denise saw to it that we had an intimate dinner, highlighted with nature’s own spectacular display of a panoramic sunset. She also assigned to us the best waitress, Vessey.
At Sale & Pepe, you have the option of dining indoors, if you prefer being surrounded by art work and air-conditioning
or you can dine al fresco
and be closer to the magnificent sunsets
Travel Tip: Sale & Pepe can be pricey, but amazingly, an early bird dinner between 5-6pm is a 3 course dinner is only $29. Come back for the sunset and request to ring the traditional sunset bell, signifying the second the sun disappears below the horizon.
As you return to your suite at the end of the day, you'll find the crisp turn- down service has left mints and a decorative card with the next day's weather, sunrise and sunset times and a thought to sleep on by Victos Borge, "Laughter is the closet distance between two people." Laughter is good, but at IntimacyTravel.com, it is our goal to explore as many possibilities as we can fro attaining and maintaining closeness.
The Ritz-Carlton, Naples is not only celebrating it's 25th Anniversary, but most recently, it was awarded the 2011 AAA Five-Diamond and 2011 Forbes Five-Star designations, both of which the resort has received for 22 consecutive years. The Ritz-Carlton, Naples is the only resort in Florida to have both of these prestigious industry designations, and it’s one of only two resorts in the nation to have received the Five-Diamond and Five-Star awards for as many consecutive years. It was also voted the number one hotel in Florida by readers of Travel + Leisure in its annual survey "World's Best Hotels: T+L 500" in the January 2010 issue.
The editors of ItimacyTravel.com raise our glass to the Ritz-Carlton, Naples and its vice-president and managing director, Ed Staros, who we had the pleasure of meeting six years ago in 2005 at a most memorable and need we say, intimate celebration of our wedding anniversary.
We remember our magnificent stay as if it were yesterday. We arrived early to play golf and the staff had our room ready when we arrived. We had a wonderful room with a view of the Gulf. In fact all 450 guest rooms, including 35 suites and 70 Ritz-Carlton Club Level rooms and suites, each have a view of the beach and Gulf of Mexico, and all but eleven with private balconies. There are also two Presidential Suites. Not only did The Ritz-Carlton honor the reservations we made, they exceeded our expectations. We stayed at Club level, which was just wonderful -- well worth the extra charge. Although it was our first stay at the hotel, the staff greeted us by name and everyone went out of their way to do whatever they could to make our stay as pleasurable as possible. Whenever you thank a staff member, they respond with "A pleasure" -- elegance to match the ambiance of the hotel.
We had a great experience at the pool. Make sure to note that there are two heated outdoor pools including a family pool, a junior Olympic lap pool, a whirlpool and a children's pool. One pool is reserved for adults, so if you're spending your time at the hotel for some relaxation, quiet and/or romance, as you should be if you're on this website, opt for the adult pool. It is wonderful. If you are drawn to the ocean and beach, you can see by the picture above that the hotel is situated on three miles of pristine, sandy beach, where you will find comfortable lounges to relax and soak in the sun.
The Ritz-Carlton, Naples is also blessed with a world-class spa which features more than 30 treatment rooms that combine relaxation and body therapies with wellness and nutrition programs and a complimentary fitness center. Despite its size, the feeling is intimate.
If you are into golf, you are in luck there as well. Guest of the hotel have access to the Tiburon Golf club, two 18-hole Greg Norman-designed courses, offering championship golf and instruction at The Rick Smith Golf Academy, located nearby at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples
The hotel offers eight dining choices. Our dinner at "The Grill" and "Artisans" was first-rate. "Artisans" has since been transformed into a beautiful, intimate indoor setting, accommodating receptions up to 120 guests, and offering spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico. It is the perfect setting for a small ceremony, dinner and/or reception.
Although we have been to some of the best hotels in the world, our stay at the Ritz in Naples was distinctly memorable and we look forward to staying there again. We discovered during our visit that the hotel was planning to undergo a complete renovation and upgrade, so we will look forward to seeing a great hotel become even better on our next visit. Speaking of visits . . .
As a “thank you” to the many guests and local Neapolitans who have been a part of The Ritz-Carlton, Naples’ history, the resort will offer special silver-themed room rates, packages and events through April 2011, so you still have a couple of weeks to take advantage of this offer. You can check availability and detailed information about the hotel on The Ritz-Carlton, Naples website.
Congratulations to the staff and management for upholding their motto: "Legacy of Excellence."
If “all inclusives” conjure up images of busyness, noise and crowds of people gobbling up food and guzzling down drinks, then you are not imagining Couples Sans Souci all- inclusive resort. At the time of our arrival, Couples was at full capacity, yet the enormous 35-acre property absorbed the amount of guests so well, that it gave the impression of exclusivity. The resort motto, “The all-inclusive refined, redefined” rings true.
When Couples says “all-inclusive” they mean all inclusive. Once we landed at Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport, we were led to the Couples airport lounge, where we were able to “check in,” get complimentary drinks at the bar and use the private bathroom facilities to freshen up as we waited for our transfer to the hotel. All our bags were taken care of, and in short order, we were on our way to the resort in a comfortable air-conditioned mini-bus. Our driver made accommodations for us to stretch out and snooze, if we wanted to, during the easy 1 ½ hour drive to Ocho Rios. The new highway is an exponential improvement over the old road that once existed. The friendliness of our driver made the trip seem even shorter. So if you’re balking at traveling to Ocho Rios because of the extra drive time there, don’t. It is more than worth it.
Travel tip (literally): Even though the transportation is included, the skycap that brings your luggage to the bus as well as the driver should be tipped, as they are not connected with the Couples resort.
We arrived at Couples Sans Souci and were greeted by Michelle Gordon, sales team leader and escorted to the lobby where cool wash cloths, glasses of champagne and most importantly the infectious smiles and demeanor of the Couple’s staff awaited us.
We met General Manager Pierre Battaglia who was professional, gracious and informative as he gave us an overview of the property and its history as well as an enticing preview of what our vacation could be.
For as beautifully as the brochure and website descriptions are written, Mr. Battaglia added a personal and intimate flavor that “wet our whistle” and made us impatient to start our adventure at Couples Sans Souci.
The staff, in general, is as friendly and caring as can be and they really do, “engage your hearts and enrich your spirits.”
Just exploring the massive grounds is an adventure in itself and you can get a good idea of what the resort has to offer. There are many stairs to climb, paths to meander and “nooks and crannies” for lovers to discover, including the only Couples resort which has a pool fed by curative mineral springs, dating back to the 1700’s.
The “featured” cabana for the Couples Resorts is the “Hide Away,” where we enjoyed our simultaneous couple’s massages. They were “delicious” and eased us into the perfect frame of mind to enjoy the rest of our stay.
Yet later we discovered an even more sense-evoking massage nook, “The Drift Away,” at a private cove at Caribbean Sea level, where you were soothed by waves on your left
and cascading falls of Charlie’s Grotto on your right.
A feast for feeling and hearing.
Although there are four pools to choose from, we liked the mineral pool best. It‘s adjacent to the spa and has a beautiful view on a bluff overlooking the sea. For a change of pace, you can easily scoot down to the ocean for a dip if you‘d like.
The mineral pool is also next to Charlie‘s Spa Veggie Bar, where you can get scrumptious, natural healthy drinks and hot-off-the-grill Panini sandwiches. This pool hosts the aqua fitness classes, which we took with Winston. He combined laughter with drive for a fabulous appetite-raising experience. Fellow-guests, who were professional personal trainers, A-rated the equipment in the fitness center next to the pool, where yoga and meditation classes are also offered. So you can pretty much have it all without leaving this area.
All-inclusive also encompasses a full range of water sports: windsurfing, Hobie Cat sailing, water- skiing, kayaking, snorkeling, sea-cycling, and scuba diving – all with equipment and instruction included.
If you want to go outside your intimacy and explore Ocho Rios, Couples Sans Souci provides inclusive multiple offsite excursions to view the local phenomena.
Travel Tip: Planning a destination wedding? How’s this for all-inclusive? Wedding ceremony, cake, flowers and coordinators are free. Photography and government license fees do apply. Contact Gary D Travel at 516-300-9924, where all your wedding and romance packages can be arranged.
Unlimited tennis with instruction and golf are also included. Golf carts are optional, but caddies are mandatory at additional cost. But in our case, it was more than worth it and turned out to be a highlight of the trip. We lucked-out with a caddy extraordinaire, Ortigo Hinds. Not only did he caddy and provide wonderful and patient instruction but also found some ripe mangos and coconuts for us to eat along the way.
Travel tip for golfers: If you plan on playing at the Upton/Sandals Golf Course, we would highly recommend calling ahead and requesting Ortigo for your caddy.
Note: Free transfers from Couples to the golf course are designated at 8:15 or 1:15 with pickups accordingly. If you want to play at other times, it’s a short trip by cab that will cost you about $20 either way.
Food and drink is literally available 24/7 and Couples Sans Souci and Couples Tower Isle are the only Couples resorts that offer room service from 6 am to 11 pm. Each room comes with a fully stocked bar of domestic and international premium brand liquor, beer and soft drinks, which can be custom ordered to your taste.
There are four restaurants, each with its own character, ambience and menu:
The Palazzina is for breakfast lunch and dinner, and offers buffet or table service. The Bella Vista and Beach Grill are both beachfront and therefore, casual attire. Bella Vista serves Jamaican fare in a romantic torch and moonlit setting. Amazingly the Beach Grill offers grilled specialties from 11 pm to 6 in the morning. Lunch is from 12 to 5 pm.
The food at these three restaurants lived up to our expectations, both in quality and presentation.
Travel tip: Reservations are required for dinner at the Palazzina restaurant.
But the Casanova is another story. We have had the good fortune to dine at the Cipriani Hotel on the isle of Giudecca, and Harry’s Bar, both in Venice and the Cipriani Restaurant in lower Manhattan. Learning that the chefs at the Casanova were initially trained by Arrigo Cipriani, we were eager to partake of that tradition – and indeed we did. The Italian dishes were excellent and complemented the fusion of tropical Jamaican and Caribbean cuisine. The up-scale Casanova adheres to a semi-formal dress code and gave us the opportunity to dress up for one another. We dined at the intimate far corner table overlooking the pool with live entertainment and dancing below. We never felt rushed by the staff so consequently, we were the last ones to leave.
Travel Tip: Reservations for dinner at the Casanova can book quickly so plan your special night in advance.
For those who are sensitive or bothered by smoking, be aware that even though smoking is not permitted indoors at the resort, smoking is allowed elsewhere and you may encounter second-hand cigarette and cigar smoke at the beach, pool area, or when dining al fresco.
The ultimate in romantic, intimate dining, is the private candle-lit dinner for two. This can be set up on the beach or gazebo overlooking the ocean. You can make arrangements through the Romance Concierge listed above. There is an additional charge of $170 per couple.
Although all 150 suites have ocean views, accommodations vary by “blocks” and floors. We had a one-bedroom oceanview room in block E. Our only complaint was that the room had a musty smell. As soon as we alerted the front desk about this issue, Michelle Gordon was on top of the situation and searched for other suitable accommodations. Even though the resort was “at capacity,” she did find us an alternative, and during our massage, she had our room “treated.” So when we got back, we had choices. We decided to stay in our original room, since the problem was resolved satisfactorily. When selecting rooms, if you want to be by the beach and pool, then you will be looking at blocks A and B, but for intimacy, we recommend block D “Dahlia.”
Travel Tip: We mentioned earlier about the amount of steep steps required to navigate the premises. If you require an elevator, we recommend E, F or G blocks, which are closest to the one and only open, glass elevator.
The most extravagant accommodation is the Prime Minister Suite, however there are other penthouse suites in various blocks.
The most secluded accommodation is the Hibiscus Cottage. Check the website: http://couples.com/sans-souci/accommodations.php for details and rates then call Gary D Travel for extra-special rates.
Couples Sans Souci accommodates diversified couples with a grand palette of different appetites and tastes which explains why Couples Sans Souci has garnered the following awards:
2011 Travel + Leisure World's Best Awards – Ranked #2 Best Hotel Spa in the Caribbean and Ranked #56 of the Top 100 Hotels in the World and the #2 All Inclusive Hotel.
2011 Trip Advisor Ranked #2 of 37 Hotels in Ocho Rios.
2010 Travel + Leisure World's Best Service Award in the Caribbean
2009 Travel + Leisure World's Best Awards—Ranked #7 of Top 25 Resorts in the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Bahamas.
We met many returning guests who agree that at Couples Sans Souci, wishes are fulfilled and dreams become reality.
We just spent five nights and six days at Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios. Not since our honeymoon in Venice in 1976 have we actually cried upon leaving. This should give some indication as to the intensity of intimacy Jamaica Inn provides. You don’t just “stay” at Jamaica Inn, you experience it spiritually.
Our Jamaica Inn “journey” began in its alluring lobby with a warm “welcome home “ greeting from owner Eric Morrow, General Manager Mary Phillips, and the breathtaking, multi-colored Caribbean Sea framed by lush tropical landscape. Eric, having grown up on the property and taken over the reins from his father, has intriguing details about the history of Jamaica Inn. Mary is the perfect hostess, the type of person who, after only a few minutes in her company, makes you feel as if you have known her forever.
The lobby, which is pictured on the website, www.jamaicainn.com, was for us, one of the immediate selling points. It drew us – wanting to experience it live, and unlike many other “brochure-type” photos, it was more magnificent in person. This entrance sets the tone for the entire resort – a natural, inviting, quiet elegance.
One may think of an “Inn” as quaint and rustic, but Jamaica Inn is far from that. The simplicity of its name is deceiving. Confident of its identity, for over half a century Jamaica Inn hasn’t needed to hyperbolize or aggrandize its name with descriptors like “Royal,” “Palace,” “Grand,” “Excelsior,” “Majestic,” et al. It knows what it’s about, as do its discerning guests, many of whom have been returning for decades.
Jamaica Inn’s high style and sense of decorum have attracted many notables including Noel Coward, Joan Collins, T.S. Elliot, Princess Margaret, former Prime Minister John Marsh, Winston Churchill, and Marilyn Monroe with Arthur Miller on their honeymoon (pictured below).
It speaks well of Jamaica Inn that some of its staff have been serving loyally and energetically long enough to actually recall having served and engaged these famous guests. Teddy, the singing bar tender, for instance, has been at Jamaica Inn for fifty-three years, riding his bicycle to work and still going strong.
All the ambience and rich history in the world, however, cannot take the place of excellent accommodations and cuisine, both of which are first class at Jamaica Inn. Every room is pristine and has been thoughtfully and elegantly appointed. We have stayed in penthouses, presidential suites, European palaces and castles, yet in terms of intimacy, none, so far can compare with the ultimate White Suite - Churchill Suite (“room” 21). It is the “be all, end all” of any accommodation we have stayed in thus far – period. You can look at pictures and read descriptions, but nothing will prepare you for this villaesque playground for intimacy.
French Doors lead to expansive living quarters with an intricately carved wooden four-poster bed.
Exotic orchids and floral arrangements abound, created by a sweet and creative lady named Winsome. A walk-in closet, sofa, loveseat, 1940’s vanity, library, and a colonial desk with seemingly anachronous 21st century WI-FI, complete the room’s furnishings.
There’s even a fancy chess set on a wooden pedestal in case you want to try your hand at checkmating your soul mate.
Odd, we never did get around to checking – just mating.
The newly remodeled dual-sink bathroom is adorned with small crystal chandeliers, a fancy old-fashioned footed bathtub and separate shower. But the amazing part is when you open the three sets of double-shutters, the Caribbean Sea suddenly becomes part of the room. Bathing and showering with this live marine mural promotes almost involuntary sighs of contentment.
Adjacent to the bathroom, another set of double doors leads out onto an enormous ceramic-tiled wrap-around terrace with the Caribbean Sea “right there,” practically at eye-level. It’s the perfect place for the outdoor breakfast table for two along with a coffee/tea corner and mini refrigerator to store your champagne.
Adjacent to the bathroom, another set of double doors leads out onto an enormous ceramic-tiled wrap-around terrace with the Caribbean Sea “right there,” practically at eye-level. It’s the perfect place for the outdoor breakfast table for two along with a coffee/tea corner and mini refrigerator to store your champagne.
Don’t miss the opportunity of also taking a dip on a balmy Jamaican night.
Mr. Henry cared for the surrounding tropical garden whose centerpiece is a more than two century old fig tree, which is romantically illuminated at night.
A few steps, down a short ramp, your private stairway awaits to bathing in the crystal clear water of the Caribbean Sea. Buoys mark the protected swimming area and complimentary snorkeling gear is available for perusing sea life by the coral ree
After a nice cool swim in the ocean, you may want to dry off and sun at your very own private “point lookout” promontory with double chaise lounge, some 25 steps away along a path just past a hammock and tree-shaded chaise lounges.
This spot (which you will quickly name “our spot”) is the epitome of intimacy, and we returned there often to view the magnificent
sunrises and sunsets
Make sure you set aside one night here for a romantic torch-lit dinner, impeccably served by your private wait staff.
All in all, the entire feel of the White Suite accommodation is that of an Italian villa with a vista of its northern lakes or Gulf of Sorrento.
But if you can tear yourself away from your suite, perhaps while the expert housecleaning team spruces it up, you can enjoy something the northern lakes and Sorrento don’t have – an absolutely perfect exclusively Jamaica Inn beach. No stones, no pebbles, no seaweed, no mucky bottom, and no crowds – all with a temperature-perfect clear, clean, sandy-bottom sea. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
Who needs food when you can live on love? We all do and in fact, living on love can make you mighty hungry. Breakfasts were sumptuous (not a buffet, but prepared to order) and the five-course dinners delectable, so we strongly recommend the MAP plan the Inn offers. We ordered an intricate breakfast for delivery to our room and it came on time and precisely as ordered.
Every meal at Jamaica Inn was first-rate, as was the service. The “catch of the day” and the lobster tails on Lobster Night (Saturday) were outstanding.
Travel Tip: Jamaican seasoning can be spicy, so make sure to tell your waiter exactly how you would like your entrée prepared.
If you are like us, always “worried” if you are going to snatch that romantic table in the corner, don’t be. The corner table for breakfast and another at dinner is already reserved for White Suite guests.
Weather permitting, which luckily in our case it always was, meals are served al fresco under the moonlight. The indoor dining area is a chic and artistic all-glass enclosed alternative.
Kudos to chef Derrick Mullings, who incidentally, took time out to discuss menu options prior to our private torch-lit dinner.
Somehow, we never made it to lunch, but did partake of the complimentary “Tea” and delicate finger sandwiches elegantly served on the terrace daily from 4:00-5:00. Of course you can opt for the amazing “Blue Mountain” Jamaican coffee instead of tea if you prefer.
The main bar is tended by Derrick Walker who can serve up just about any drink imaginable. The room also boasts a grand piano, which Noel Coward played on many occasions while visiting and entertaining Jamaica Inn guests. We were able to reminisce while playing our favorite songs on this fine instrument.
Although we were staying at the White Suite, Nicole Henry, Director of Sales graciously escorted us to view the other accommodations available. There are one and two bedroom cottages with ocean-view plunge pools, private access to the ocean and tropical outdoor showers. (Cottages 3 and 4 are the more exclusive ones.) Smaller suites are right off the beach or overlooking the pool and ocean. All are appealing in their own way and you just can’t go wrong no matter where you choose to stay. This was confirmed by other guests we spoke to, all of whom were delighted with their own choices.
We also took a tour of the KiYara Ocean Spa located on a cliff overlooking the sea. Its color scheme and layout reflect its philosophy of balance and nature. It offers a full range of treatments and of course, couple’s massages using local, organic ingredients. Hair braiding is reasonably priced and expertly but gently done.
KiYara staff have a passion to please and go out of their way to cater to individual needs, so much so that someone was dispatched to the local market to purchase a particular color bead that was not on hand. More details and pricing can be found at http://www.kiyaraspa.com/home.html.
For activity buffs, Jamaica Inn offers croquet, swimming pool, snorkeling, kayaks and sunfish sailing, which are all complimentary. Exercise equipment includes a top-of-the line Landice treadmill, stair climber, stationary bicycle and free weights. Tennis and golf (with preferred rate green fees) are nearby.
For love buffs, this is the perfect place for a destination wedding and/or honeymoon; a place for young lovers to discover each other and for the more mature to rekindle their “heightened depths.”
The entire Jamaica Inn staff is extraordinary – ultra-attentive, yet unobtrusive. Uniformed guards are stationed at its gates and we felt safe and secure. It’s not surprising that Jamaica Inn has garnished so many top awards. The most recent are:
Travel and Leisure’s 500 World’s Best Hotels 2011 – #1 in Jamaica, # 3 in the Caribbean and # 38 in the World.
TravelandLeisure.com March 2011 World’s Best Island Hotels – #3 Island Hotel in World.
GQ Magazine(UK) December 2010 - ”the world in 20 Perfect Nights”-- #5 on the list including cities, restaurants, etc.
Travel + Leisure ‘Worlds Best Service’ June 2011 – 3rd in The Caribbean, Bermuda and The Bahamas and 1st in Jamaica.
And the list goes on.
If you are in love, you’ll want to stay at Jamaica Inn. You are sure to fall in love with it and more deeply in love with one another.
This trip, we set our sights on the Ritz Carlton Golf & Spa, Rose Hall, Montego Bay, Jamaica for several reasons, not the least of which was that it was one of the better rates for a luxury hotel in the Caribbean during high season. We also wanted something that included golf and spa. Although we had been to Jamaica several times in the distant past, our travels then took us to Ocho Rios and Kingston. We have wanted to visit other parts of Jamaica like Montego Bay and Negril, and this was our opportunity to do so. The Ritz Carlton met and exceeded our qualifications for the test.
When we started looking for flights, I was reminded of a pet peeve. Wouldn’t you think that flights to warm sunny destinations would arrive early and leave late, giving you a day more to enjoy the escape? It was disappointing to find too many flights arriving late and leaving early, thus “robbing you” of a day, just for travel.
So we were delighted to find a non-stop Air Jamaica flight from New York’s JFK that left at 6:00 am, arrived at by 9:45 am and returned at 7:00 pm. Perfect! But, it’s Air Jamaica, not Jet Blue and we’re fussy about airlines. The first time we flew Air Jamaica, many years ago, we weren’t impressed. Our afternoon flight out of Kennedy had been so delayed that we didn’t get there until after 10:00 pm! But who knows, maybe they’ve changed? Time to check the website, http://airjamaica.com. Ooo, pretty funky looking. Not the sophistication we were hoping for, but not to “judge a book by its cover,” we investigate further. We check out the fleet first. Nice. Seven new Airbus A-320s, one A-321, and one A-319. What about the on time record? A Google search for “Air Jamaica on time record” revealed an article entitled “Air J boasts 89% on-time record.” This is looking good! Here’s a short bit of the article:
AIR JAMAICA is now boasting a new on time record that has put it ahead of its major competitors. The airline says attention to detail, phenomenal teamwork, daily briefings, re-organisation of a number of departments and effective planning and process have brought the turnaround for the national carrier, infamous for delayed flights. The new 89.43 per cent on time performance sees the carrier outclassing major competitors such as American, United and Continental airlines. It is outranked, however, by Jet Blue at 92 per cent. Air Jamaica has made a 360-degree turn from the years when it held the reputation of being one of the worst carriers, because of its tardiness …
But a funny thing happened on the way to Air Jamaica . . . Caribbean Airlines. Evidentially, they are merging. When we made our flight reservations on the 6:00 am flight, we noticed that the ticket said “Operated by Caribbean Airlines.” We figured that Caribbean Airlines was handling the tickets but Air Jamaica was flying. When we called to inquire, and subsequently triple-checked, we were given three different answers: 1) it was an Air Jamaica flight, ticketed by Caribbean Airlines 2) it was a Caribbean Airlines flight ticketed by Air Jamaica, and 3) it was an Air Jamaica flight crew including pilots flying a Caribbean Airline plane. The later answer turned out to be correct and we would be flying an old Boeing 737 instead of a new Airbus. We didn’t mind the Boeing, it was that we didn’t know anything about Caribbean Airlines and we were not happy that Air Jamaica was not upfront about this “sleight of hand.” However, we still liked the schedule and as travel writers, we felt an obligation to report with a first-hand experience on this new development.
As it turns out, we had a good experience with Caribbean Airlines. When we entered the aircraft, there was a cozy feeling about it. The lighting was a more subdued yellowish white, instead of the stark white florescent quality of the newer planes. The staff was friendly and crisply dressed, the free sandwich snack was tasty and the flight, which was smooth left on time and arrived only five minutes behind schedule. We had left the worn-torn blizzard-hit New York at 6:00 am and were on the ground in sunny Montego Bay Jamaica at 9:50 am.
The trip from the airport to the Ritz is only a ten to fifteen-minute drive, another advantage to staying at the Ritz.
Because of our flight times, we had requested an early check-in and late check-out in advance. By the time you we actually arrived at the hotel, it was around 11:00. (Don’t forget time spent at the airport to go through immigration, get your luggage, and then go through customs).
The entrance to the Ritz was impressive, especially since they were still decorated for Christmas.
So, the intimacy test has begun. Private balcony – a no-brainer. The thing about a large hotel is that you can sometimes find more space for yourself. Of course you have to be reasonable – you are going to have more privacy during low-occupancy vs. high- occupancy periods. But with the Ritz, not only is the hotel large, but the property is huge - a 5000 acre plantation!
Poolside is the least private area, but, you can get a cabana for two with privacy curtains. The only problem is that there is only one and it’s elevated like a throne -- a bit too pretentious to be private. Also, there are loud speakers all around the pool and Reggie music plays constantly – and the same music every day like clockwork. For those who would like to relax and perhaps catch a snooze to the sound of the ocean and accompanying breezes, this was impossible. We can’t understand why you would want to drowned out the sound of the ocean, especially when individuals who would like to hear music are equipped with iPods and ear buds and can listen to any music they wish without imposing it on others.
The beach area for swimming is only for Ritz guests, so in that respect it is private, but you won’t be able to get “lost” there as a couple. Again, if occupancy is low, you can find a spot that is off to the side, but the beach area relative to the size of the property is small.
There is, however, a non-swimming beach area set on the other side of the property that it quite private. You can set up two chaise lounges there and be quite alone. You just can’t swim
Near that same area, the Ritz offers “Dinner Under the Stars,” a very special and romantic private dinner for two by the ocean.
Although we weren’t able to experience this first-hand, we did inspect the area during off-hours and it was a fabulous setting for an intimate and memorable evening. The brochure below explains all the details and the price:
After your late dinner, you may want to digest your meal with a cozy walk through the dimly light pathways of the property, then grab a couple of tropical drinks at the elegant Cohoba Lounge.
You can take some drinks to the lovely billiards room which is open 24 hours. If you go late enough, you will have the room all to yourselves for an intimate game of pool.
The Ritz has a beautiful Spa, and of course couples can get his & hers massages or other spa treatments. You can find a complete menu at:
http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/RoseHallJamaica/Spa/Default.htm If you are going to book a massage, make sure to book one with Suzette, who is the best masseuse we have ever experienced.
Puttin’ on the Ritz . . .Golf Course
If you are into golf, we believe you will be amazed by the White Witch Golf Course. http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/RoseHallJamaica/Golf/Default.htm and http://www.whitewitchgolf.com. White Witch, which is just a 10-minute free shuttle ride from the Ritz, boasts being the “best golf course in the Caribbean.” Not having played every golf course in the Caribbean, we can’t vouch for that, but we can tell you that it is the best golf course we have played so far in the Caribbean. This course is total eye-candy. The pictures on the internet don’t even begin to do it justice. It is a challenging course, but a complimentary caddy for two comes with the green fee (although a $20 tip per person is expected) and far from expecting to be intimidated by having a caddy, we are now going to be spoiled by not having one all the time. These caddies really know their stuff and help you navigate every hole with expertise. The phrase, “listen to your caddy” cannot be overstated. Guests at the Ritz get a reduced green free, but we would advise taking the even more reduced $109 twilight fee that starts at 1:30 pm. It’s a wonderful time to play – cooler and less crowded.
Don’t forget to head back to the White Witch for dinner, the best of the Ritz restaurants, in our opinion. If you are on the all-inclusive plan, there is an additional charge of $25 per person and it is well-worth it. Get a table for two on the outer side, overlooking the golf course.
There are two other golf courses, also within a short distance of the Ritz – the Cinnamon Hill Golf Course http://www.rosehall.com/golf_cinnamonhill.html
and the Half Moon Golf Course http://www.halfmoonbaygolf.com/ . We played the Cinnamon course, which we found a lot flatter and less challenging, but pleasant, with some beautiful and famous holes (the James Bond movie, Live and Let Die filmed on the 15th hole). It is definitely worth a round of play. The green fees were the same as White Witch.
We didn’t get to play the Half Moon golf course, which is the flattest of the three, but we will do so on our next trip and report on it.
We mentioned earlier that we chose Air Jamaica because of its early arrival and late departure, but due to snow in New York, or so we thought, our 7:10 pm flight didn’t leave until 11:55. You should always check your flight before leaving your hotel, which we did, so we were able to stay at the hotel, keep track of what was an ever-increasing delay and leave for the airport at the appropriate time. We found out in the afternoon that our flight wouldn’t leave until after 11:00 pm, so we headed to the White Witch for another round of golf. The delay gave us another day to play and the hotel was able to give us an extension of our check-out time. Upon arrival in New York at 3:30 in the morning the next day, the immigration officer volunteered that the couple of inches of snow had nothing to do with the delay and that Air Jamaica has a 100% late arrival time in New York. Again, this could be an advantage, but do consider it when booking. If you want to insure a better chance of arriving home on time, consider JetBlue out of Montego Bay. Come to think of it, we were never told the reason for the delay, nor was an apology offered.
Be aware that Jamaican’s have a whole different mind-set when it comes to time. Everything there is more laid back and nothing is rushed. It is just their way – probably a healthier way to live, and you will enjoy yourself more if you are prepared for this ahead of time. “Yah Mon,” “No problem, Mon” and Irie Mon” (meaning “everything is good,” “good morning,” “how are you today,” “I love you,” “take it easy,” “see you later,” “yes,” “may be,” “ok,” and so many things you would not believe) are the building block phrases of the Jamaican way of life. Just saying them is like biofeedback. Embracing them will enhance the pleasure of your trip.
Good times as the Ritz-Carlton? Yah, Mon!
According to WikiAnswers “roughly 34 million passengers take a cruise holiday each year, spending upwards of US $60 billion annually.” Yes, a lot of people love to cruise on their vacation. But the key phrase here is “a lot of people,” which for intimacytravel.com, raises a red flag. We have nothing against cruising, but cruising with hundreds or thousands of other passengers is not our idea of intimacy. So if you love to cruise and still want the intimacy, what do you do? You rent your own boat, of course!
We had occasion to be invited to a destination event in St. Thomas aboard a friends’ yacht, and it was there that we discovered the possibilities, pleasures and intimacy of island-hopping aboard a private boat.
We took an easy non-stop flight from New York to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. From there it was only a few minutes by Taxi to the very unassuming ferry dock, where we purchased a Fast Ferry ticket to Soper’s Hole Marina on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
While we waited for the ferry, we went upstairs to the Petite Pump Room, an indoor/outdoor restaurant and had a delightful lunch overlooking Charlotte Amalie Harbor.
The Fast Ferry not only transports you physically, but psychologically, by combining local flavor with the sights, sounds and smells of the Caribbean. The sea air is cleansing and every so often its mist will grace you with a gentle welcoming “kiss.” In a half hour you are at Soper’s Hole Marina, Tortola where you disembark and go through Her Majesty’s customs.
A short walk later we were at a primitive little doc, where we were met by our yacht’s tender, tied to a dock across the water at Frenchman's Cay (pronounced 'key').
We boarded the yacht, got acclimated, settled in to our cabin, had some refreshments and hors d'œuvres on board, then took our tender and docked at the Jolly Roger Restaurant for dinner. This casual atmosphere eatery with good food is located on the water's edge at the entrance of Soper's Hole at the West End of Tortola. The JR (as it is affectionately known) has been called the “heartbeat of the West End.”
The following morning we set out to Peter Island Resort and Spa on, you guessed it, Peter Island.
This is a classy resort with a magnificent beach and pool. They also have a relaxing recreation room with large screen TV, two computers and a pool table.
Whether day or night, Peter Island is a feast for the eyes and food for the soul. And speaking of food, the Tradewinds Restaurant, with its large picture windows overlooking Sir Francis Drake Channel and Tortola, offers opportunity for intimate dining with many corner tables for two. Try to reserve table #11 or #40.
We also dined at Deadman’s Beach Bar & Grill, which was having a grand buffet dinner and were festively entertained by a live band and colorful dancers on long stilts.
An alternative to the Peter Island Resort you can travel from Tortola to Scrub Island Resort, reportedly a very boat-friendly establishment.
We enjoyed the facilities at Peter Island Resort for two days, then preceded on to Virgin Gorda and The Bitter End Yacht club.
The facilities at The Bitter End Yacht Club are more modest and casual than Peter Island Resort, but some like it just for that reason. The Bitter End refers to it as “barefoot elegance.” We preferred Peter Island Resort, its beach and pool. Even though Peter Island is larger, we didn’t find it less intimate – just the opposite, in fact. Because it was larger, we felt that we had more secluded space to ourselves, especially on the beach.
From the Bitter End, we walked on a wonderful nature path to Biras Creek Resort. We have never been disappointed with a Relais & Chateau resort and this was no exception. Like other Relais we have visited, Biras Creek is a sophisticated, up-scale resort providing luxury and privacy. “Do Not Disturb” signs are replaced with discreetly placed stones or ropes draped across your entrance way. Everything is focused to preserve the natural beauty of the island. Even the outdoor pool deck seems to co-exist with the sea.
The next day we took the yacht’s tender to a private beach around back of Prickly Pear Island looking out onto Necker Island which belongs to Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin Group which includes Virgin Atlantic Airlines and Virgin Records.
We packed a picnic lunch and had one of the most unique experiences. Ever see one of those commercials where a couple has an entire island to themselves and wished that you could be that couple? Well, you can! It was just us and a few goats that wandered by. The water and beach were perfection. We made “friends” with a school of very friendly small semi-transparent silvery fish who hung around us while we waded in the water. We were even able to have some fun feeding them with some crumbs we made from our chips. They loved it!
From our private island we could see Saba Rock in the distance, the smallest occupied island in the British Virgin Islands. There you will find Saba Rock Resort and Restaurant.
So if you are not invited aboard a friend’s yacht, how do you make all this come true? Well, when we returned to Soper’s hole we decided to find out. It wasn’t easy to miss as it was quite well advertised.
We went aboard several of their South-African made catamarans of different sizes. They were well equipped and we saw several groups of people meeting with their captains and arranging their private itinerary. Just go to www.voyagecharters.com to find out all about the cost and the details. In brief, here is their pitch:
If you are an experienced sailor and can prove it, Voyage Charters will allow you to captain your own vessel.
If you are looking to rent a motorized yacht or your choice of either, try http://www.bareboatsbvi.com/ . The Charter World website also provides what they say is “objective” information about renting yachts worldwide. You can check them out at http://www.charterworld.com/ as well as do your own internet search for “British Virgin Island yacht rentals.” Of course you are not limited to The British Virgin Islands, but it seemed to us user-friendly enough to try it out for the first time. The advantage we would see to sailing rather than motoring would be that with sailing, you don’t need a dingy or tender to get close to all the beaches. You can anchoring right up close.
After an overnight in Soper’s hole, we continued our journey to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We had a nice lunch in town, then went to Caneel Bay. The resort on Caneel Bay is amazing in that it is nestled within the natural beauty of the Virgin Islands National Park. In this low-key luxury resort, there are seven “secluded” beaches and the resort “remains purposefully absent of modern glitz and digital distractions.” You can do some very satisfying snorkeling right off the beach.
After our stay at Caneel Bay we set sail for St. Thomas and the Yacht Harbor Grande. You will get an eyeful there of some of the most amazing private yachts. We’re talking multiple dining decks, helicopter pads – the whole works. We thought our yacht was pretty big until we arrived in St. Thomas. We were a small fry by comparison, but still stylishly unique. Our yacht had that sleek, James Bond look that a group of water patrol agents gave their approval to with a thumbs-up as we pulled into our slip.
We had dinner at the Grand Cru which offered a most impressive Osso Bucco and a fine selection of wines.
Our trip back home was routine, but the memory of this trip was anything but. This was truly an adventure in travel!
There is still time for a trip to see the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C., although the official festival is from March 27 – April 11. We were there last week and it was beautiful. If you want intimate and convenient lodging, stay at the Fairmont Hotel. You can find photos and all the information you need at the Fairmont Hotel website. http://www.fairmont.com/washington
Be aware that there is a charge of $40 for 24 hour parking but you can take your car in and out whenever you want.
If you are planning ahead to next year, the Cherry Blossom Festival is from March 26 – April 10 with the Festival Parade on April 9. The hotel concierge can fill you in on all the activities or you can go online to the official website at http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/cms/index.php?id=390
The rooms are fine and you can get a comfortable king size bed if you request it.
The outdoor dining area is beautifully spacious with fountain and cherry blossom trees.
It is lit up at night, providing a warm and magical atmosphere.
If you are thinking of planning a wedding in the future, think about planning one during the Cherry Blossom time at the Dalhgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart in Georgetown University – 37 and O Streets Northwest.
During Cherry Blossom time, the courtyard of the chapel is surrounded with cherry blossom trees and you can have one of the Georgetown University a cappella singing groups perform in the courtyard after your ceremony. Contact Gary D Travel for more information about planning a wedding. See the website at http://campusministry.georgetown.edu/programs/Weddings/
As an alternative, you can also plan your wedding right at the hotel Fairmont or for a large reception, at the nearby Four Seasons Hotel, which is within walking distance.
On your way, you can stroll through Rose Park.
Make sure to ask each hotel for their reception rates.
If you’ve already delighted in the traditional must-see menu tour of Italy – e.g. the Coliseum, Forum and Sistine Chapel in Rome; the Duomo, Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio in Florence and St. Mark’s Square, the Grand Canal and the Doges Palace in Venice, you may want to experience a more hedonistic-style “tasting tour” of this magnificent country, where you will be vacationing more like a native than a tourist. This was our desire as we planned the celebration of our wedding anniversary and renewal of our vows. We had already been to Italy on our honeymoon, and spent a month circumnavigating the country by car, attempting to see as many of the important sights as possible. We returned to conceive our son and then again with our son to show him the country of his heritage.
We wanted our celebration tour to be private, romantic, sensual and relaxing and it was all of that and more -- like a gourmet tasting menu with a touch of the best culinary sensations. From high altitudes to low altitudes; from mountains to lakes to seas; from high tech accommodations to centuries-old castles; from luxury dining to a picnic lunch, all accompanied by delicious food and wines of each region. So may we offer as an
Verbier, Switzerland – the Nevaï Hotel (Room 221) – 159 km./99 mi. ~1 hr. 44 mins. from Geneva International Airport; 279 km./173 mi. ~2 hr. 52 mins. from Zürich International Airport www.nevai.ch Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Attention: Anne-Françoise Rosset
Now, why would you start an Italian tour in Switzerland? There are a few reasons, the first being Swiss International Airlines. Swiss International is ranked as one of the best airlines. Typically Swiss, they have a passion for perfection so their on-time record and maintenance of their aircraft is excellent. As a people, they are warm and friendly, making service and the entire flight experience on board a pleasure. To add to your jetting enjoyment, there is a full array of entertainment, from movies to games on your personal seat monitor.
Second, if you are renting a car, as we were, it’s better for your rental to initiate in Switzerland, since it is one of the countries where you can waive the loss and damage insurance if you use the American Express card. (For some inexplicable reason, you can’t do this in Italy.)
Third and most importantly, Switzerland is a great place to decompress from the stress of preparing for your journey, the airport ritual, the eight-hour flight (as pleasant as it may be) and the six-hour change in time.
Verbier is a beautiful little Swiss town up in the mountains, where the air is fresh and the scenery is magnificent. The drive from Geneva Airport along the lake to Verbier is breathtaking.
We found the Nevaï Hotel to be the perfect place to catch our breath, settle in and relax and get very cozy. The Nevaï is not the typical mountain chalet format, but a sleek contemporary design that has not lost its warmth. Our corner terraced room, the eider down comforters, the sensual mountain breezes and super-comfortable bed make ideal conditions for romping and resting. All in all, a perfect atmosphere is created for clearing one’s head. Email Anne-Françoise Rosset and request a room facing south for a panoramic view of the Alps. If you want total peace and quiet, make sure that you book reservations before or after the Verbier Music Festival (mid-July through the first week in August). If you love classical music, then you may want to partake of this musical feast. Two golf courses are available, one very easy and one very challenging (complete with grazing sheep.) One thing you should not miss is the traditional Swiss raclette, a meal of melted cheese, scraped in front of a fire, then onto your plate. It is accompanied by small firm potatoes, pickled onions, and dried meat, such as prosciutto. If you dine at La Marmotte, high on the mountain, the sound of distant cow bells adds to the Swiss charm. http://www.lamarmotte-verbier.com/
Moving on to our appetizer, the surprise special of the day is:
Sulzano, Italy – Hotel RivaLago (Room 208) – 335 km./208 mi. ~3 hrs. 55 mins.
www.rivalago.it. Email: email@example.com Skype: rivalago Attention: Antonela Pastore
RivaLago is “Paradise Found” – if you have the desire to find it!
Just fourteen short and beautiful kilometers off the Palazzolo exit of the autostrada heading toward Venice, is a hidden jewel if there ever was one. This is such a best kept secret, that even the Michelin Guide missed this gem. The RivaLago hotel is just 20 miles from Brescia and 35 miles from Bergamo. The entrance to RivaLago itself is mysterious and somewhat adventurous as you take a sharp left off of the tiny main road into an even tinier driveway to an unassuming entrance. But what lies beyond the entrance is magnificent – a beautiful hotel overlooking Lake D’Iseo, a lake so large that it is visually endless, with overlapping mountains sprouting up as its backdrop. As you walk into the lobby of RivaLago, you are immediately welcomed with the scent of fresh flowers and the warmest greeting by the staff and the managers, Antonella and Gianluca. The hotel is wonderfully decorated – a tasteful mix of stylish contemporary and luxury lakeside. As you cross the lobby, you can’t help notice the large, immaculately clean and inviting pool, which adjoins the lake, almost as one. The rooms are equally tasteful with relaxing colors and furnishing with balconies and terraces overlooking the lake and mountains. We had a double lake view with balcony. Every modern convenience is available in the room including internet access. Everything says “you are in full vacation mode, here.” The rooms are reasonably priced for the luxury provided and motor boats, bicycle, and motor scooter rentals are available for an additional fee.
Breakfast includes an array of organic honey (miele) from five different regions of Italy, organic (da Agricoltura Biologica) jams, preserves, breads, seed, rice cakes, juices and cereals. Hard boiled eggs are cooked to exactly 8 minutes and you have your choice of prosciutto or the most delicate sliced ham. For the even more specifically health conscious, Gluten free Magdalenas, soy milk, and special salt-free seasonings are also included in the breakfast buffet. If you would like breakfast served in your room, you may advise the front desk the night before.
If you have a special request, Gianluca gladly goes to the market and tries to provide whatever is asked. Yet, with all this carefully planned delicate abundance, if you require pancakes, omelets, potatoes and bacon, you are better off staying at a Marriot.
The restaurant is indoor or outdoor, but outdoor dining overlooking the lake can’t be beat for romance. The food presentation is excellent with unique choices either in a tasting menu at a fixed price or a la carte. As night falls, candles are lit all around to create an even more magical setting. For an extra-intimate dining experience, a table as close to the water as you can get, should be reserved ahead of time.
If you are anywhere near this area of Italy, certainly on your way to Venice, and want to really rest, relax and romance in a quiet and secluded Mediterranean style getaway, don’t miss the opportunity to indulge at RivaLago. Antonella’s goal is to make all her guests feel as comfortable as if they were in their own home. And achieve this, she most certainly does. In all of our travels, we count this as among our best unexpected finds.
Asolo – Villa Cipriani (Room 201) – 205 km./127 mi. ~ 2 hrs. 29 mins.
http://villaciprianiasolo.com Email: villacipriani@HO10.net Attention: Sigfrido Magagna
As you’re traveling to Venice, you need a stopover and a perfect choice is Asolo, an enchanting town that seduced famous royalty, poets, and lovers to choose it as their home. The Villa Cipriani prepares your travel palate for the sophistication of the Venice experience. It has a British-Italian flavor with rooms in old-world décor and an intimate, romantically lit garden in which you can stroll and dine. The food maintains the high standard of the rest of the hotel. (Try the Branzino, Italy’s Sea Bass). We had a spacious deluxe room, garden view with sitting area, separate bathroom and closet quarters, surrounded by wood-paneling, ultra-high beamed ceilings and antique furnishings. As repeat guests, champagne, fruit, and a personal note from the manager were waiting for us in the room. Caterina, a woman in a man-dominated profession, was as efficient a concierge as she was gracious.
Venice – San Clemente Palace Hotel (Room 334) – 69 km./43 mi. ~ 1 hr. 25 mins.
http://sanclemente.hotelinvenice.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Attention: Signore Michele Zanconato
Mmm, Venice! Venice is Venice, right? Not when you’re staying at the San Clemente Palace Hotel. Only seven-years old, the newest addition to the five-star luxury hotels, is a magnificent two-hundred room oasis, occupying its own island, the entire four-acres of Isola San Clemente. Though the hotel is new, the grounds themselves are centuries old and restoration of all the buildings and open courtyards have been meticulous. It lives up to its palatial name with an imposing entrance, but the moment you step off the boat onto the private dock, the staff makes you feel as if you are the only guest. You are referred to by name, even by personnel you’ve never met before. The staff is young, vital and intelligent, and we must mention the consummate professionalism of head concierge, Alessandro Heinrich and Sales and PR Manager Linda Bertoni. Alessandro has a wealth of knowledge of all things Venetian and Linda expertly arranged our accommodations.
Upon entering the lobby you are again struck by the immensity of its structure and the luxury and elegance of its decor. It is an impressive walk to your room through the grandeur of its hallways, adorned with Murano chandeliers suspended above granite floors, and carved stone staircases. We were fortunate to have a Lagoon-view double deluxe room with long windows that opened up to a distant view of the domes of St. Marks and the Campanille -- far enough to be alluring and close enough to be accessible. The San Clemente provides 24 hour complimentary boat service to and from St. Marks, which is only a ten to fifteen minute ride, but with a romantic itinerary. On the way from San Marco, it passes by San Giorgio, Giudecca and San Servolo before coming around the older side of the Island, with a view of the Church of San Clemente which dates back to 1131.
The property is large enough to house a sizable pool, 2 tennis courts and even a 3-hole executive golf course complete with a fountain. It’s surrounded by a park and accompanied by brown and white bunny rabbits running through it. The Laguna Restaurant, overlooking the pool and park offers a plentiful buffet, grill, surf and turf menu and drinks of all varieties. You may also choose to relax at the Beauty and Wellness Center, set along the waters of the Lagoon, where you can be pampered with any number of aromatherapy treatments, thalassotherapy applications and massages. Or you can just unwind in the co-ed steam room, sauna and exercise room.
We had planned on renewing our vows in the Church of San Clemente, but since it is still being restored, the inviting exterior is betrayed by the gloomy interior. So we scouted the grounds for our special place. In a large courtyard, a long walkway provided the perfect isle for the bride to process, (in her original wedding dress we might add), until met by the groom who escorted her up the steep curved path to a gazebo on a hill overlooking the Lagoon. Perfect. We recited our vows privately in the sight of God, cradled in the arms of the beauty surrounding us. Following the “ceremony,” we had a luscious gourmet dinner, overlooking the Lagoon and the Venetian backdrop at the San Clemente’s own Le Maschere Restaurant. As the sun set before us in the elegance and privacy of this location, we rejoiced in the abundance – a feast for the eyes as well as the palate and we lost ourselves in the splendor of our love, attaining the living dreamlike state only lovers know.
We were “awakened” by the surprise fruit plate that came out with the words, “Happy Anniversary” decorating the rim of the dish in swirls of chocolate. The misspelling somehow made the presentation that much more endearing. Is there anything that could have made this evening more perfect? Only a private midnight gondola ride that we decided to take impetuously. Still dressed in our wedding garb, we hopped the San Clemente boat to San Marco and found one gondolier willing to take us for a quiet, romantic ride through the back canals of Venice.
We spent the following day on the crowded main land of Venice, a stark contrast to the serenity of the previous evening. Still, Venice is ever magnificent, regardless of the time, weather or amount of people.
For a second night of romantic dining, Gary D Travel would recommend the Fortuny Restaurant, the outdoor restaurant at the Hotel Cipriani, another five-star luxury resort on the Island of Giudecca. Gary D Travel will make your reservation ahead of time and reserve a table by the Lagoon. Hopefully, you will catch the wonderful piano music provided by Massimo Nason, which wafts gently in the distance as you dine. After dinner, join Massimo at the cozy café for an after-dinner drink and enjoy this brilliant musician’s vocal talents as well. He sings in a least four languages and can play music in any style.
Parting is such sweet sorrow as, inevitably, we must leave Venice. But we will find equally delicious “delicacies” to be tasted and memories to be made as we continue on our travel tasting journey.
Florence – Marignolle Relais & Charme (Room 3) – 263km./154 mi. ~ 2 hrs. 47 mins.
http://www.marignolle.com Email: email@example.com Attention: Lorenzo Bulleri
We clear our palate with Marignolle Relais & Charme, and a charmer it is. The Marignolle, located among the Tuscan hills only 3.5 kilometers from the autostrada is as intimate as the San Clemente is grand. After traveling up a long and narrow gravel road, you come to a large electronic gate, which opens once you have announced yourselves through the intercom system. Traveling a little further up and even more narrow road, you come to the main entrance. With only nine rooms, arriving at the Marignolle is like coming back to your summer estate in Tuscany. You are greeted, usually by a member of the Bulleri family and after a quick check-in, you are briefly shown around the facility, which includes a doll-house looking sitting room-library with fireplace. Adjacent, is the semi-enclosed glass gazebo breakfast room.
Gardens exuding scents of roses, lavender and rosemary surround the property and down a staircase off the gardens is a nice sized pool with a view of the countryside. In the distance, you can see a small “Bibe” sign, which is the recommended restaurant for lunch or dinner. After settling in to our cozy soundproof double deluxe room, (equipped with all the amenities one would expect, including local wines), accomplishing some necessary internet communications using the free Wi-Fi and relaxing at the pool, we took the short drive down the hill and indeed had dinner at Bibe. The Bibe is a romantic outdoor trattoria, seemingly carved out in the middle of a lush green forest, serving rustic Tuscan cuisine and wines. We recommend tasting the rare wild ovoli mushrooms, which are even more revered than porcini. The following day’s activities may include a cooking class with Paola Bulleri or a golf outing with her husband, Claudio at the nearby Ugolino golf course or Florentine tours recommended by their son, Lorenzo.
Anguillara Sabazia – Country Relais I Due Laghi (Room 5 “Etruscan Suite”) –
243 km./161 mi. ~ 2 hrs. 43 mins.
http://www.iduelaghi.it Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Attention: Fabio Fanciullis
Is this “wild” or “farm-raised?” . . . Both . . . and organic!
In a little more than two and a half hours, you will be transformed from the hills of Tuscany to the lakes of Roma. I Due Laghi (The Two Lakes) is between the lakes of Bracciano and Martignano and is immersed in the Regional National Park. The entrance to I Due Laghi feels more like visiting a farm-ranch than an organically certified 4-star hotel. Its pathway is lined with grazing horses of which there are 200 on the property. The other 400-plus inhabitants comprise hunting dogs, cows, goats and sheep. Before you even get to your room, the mood is set for rough and ready rustic romance. There are 25 rooms and 7 theme-suites. We chose the Etruscan Suite – a good choice for our taste, but you can check the web site for a picture of the
room that appeals most to you.
There are lots of activities for more dynamic duos, e.g. hiking, biking, golfing, tennis and lake-sailing. Horseback riding is available but you must provide your own equipment. For more of a laid-back experience, a large outdoor pool and wellness center (with 36 beauty treatments of various modalities) is on the premises. The award-winning La Posta de’ Cavalieri restaurant serves fresh food, organic meats and cheeses directly from their farm. We heartily enjoyed its offerings.
Fish dish “to die for”:
Positano, – Buca di Bacco (Room 48) – 302 km./188 mi. ~ 3 hrs. 44 mins.
http://www.bucadibacco.it Email: email@example.com Attention: Salvatore Rispoli
“From the mountains to the prairies to the ocean” right from Rome
We promised contrasting landscapes on this journey and none is considered more spectacular than Positano, hence the expression, “see Positano and die.” Getting to Positano by car is synonymous with traveling the Amalfi Drive. So if all your friends and your mother have you scared about it, don’t be – you’ve already negotiated the Alps on this trip. Relatively, this is a piece of cake. There are safety stone guard rails along the road and the breathtaking vistas make this excursion a must. So be cautious but don’t be scared.
We feel particularly confident walking into a restaurant which has an open kitchen that clientele can view. But the renowned Buca di Bacco restaurant goes a step further by putting its kitchen on full display through a big picture window which looks onto the street for all to see. Expertly preparing their recipes, the chefs smile and wave to the passersby, but the biggest smiles are on the customers who have the good fortune to partake of the delicacies. We recommend the zuppa di pesce, a harvest of the day’s catch. It’s to “die for!”
Tivoli (Roma) – Torre Sant’Angelo (Room 214) – 261 km./162 mi. ~ 3 hrs. 3 mins.
http://www.hoteltorresangelo.it Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Attention: Barbara Costa
We clear our palate once more as our travel tasting menu heads North again toward our final offerings. Just 25 kilometers from Rome, old world elegance awaits you at Torre Sant’Angelo, a 2000 year-old medieval castle, restored to a 4-star luxury hotel, complete with a distinctive Roman-style swimming pool and waterfall.
On a previous visit, we had stayed at the renowned and grand Villa d’Este Hotel, which is nearby and well worth a visit. But this time, we wanted a more intimate experience and the Torre Sant’Angelo offers what we considered an irresistible package for two. It included accommodations in a suite, romantic candlelight dinner with sparkling wine, beautiful flowers served in our room, breakfast again in our room, and a late check out. It’s called Una Notte di Follia, which translated could mean “night of folly,” “madness,” “craziness,” “recklessness,” “abandonment.” Alla follia means “to be head over heels;” farei follie means “I’d do anything” – take your pick – it’s all good! Our delectable meals were discreetly served to us in camera and our suite was totally conducive to the follia part, with its king-sized bed, and Jacuzzi master bathroom (in the turret of the castle.) The real surprise was the door that led onto our private rooftop terrace, which was the length of the hotel – all to ourselves! Right after dinner, we took advantage of our terrace as we grabbed a rose from our table, our iPod and two little battery-operated speakers and under the stars, Tangoed the night away – well not the whole night. Oh, did we mention the splendid views from the rooftop? Whatever.
How do you continue the magic of the Torre Sant’Angelo? Simple –- book another castle:
Cenerente (Perugia), – Castello del’Oscano (Room 208 “Tower Suite”) –
189 km./117 mi. ~ 2 hrs. 19 mins.
http://www.oscano.com Email: email@example.com Attention: Valentina Fratti
Bread and Olive Oil:
“May we have some more bread and olive oil, please?”
While many travelers are all agog with Tuscany, and justifiably so, a secret is that the lesser publicized Umbria is just as beautiful. Seven minutes from the antiquity and culture of Perugia, amidst the forests that surround Monte Tezio, rises the majestic Castello del’Oscano. The drive to the castle is mysterious and enchanting as you take the long winding one-way road up through the woods. Castello del’Oscano sits on an immense property surrounded by flower gardens, olive groves and organically certified farm lands.
We were greeted most hospitably by Signora Fratti who took us on a tour of the castle and then, up the grand staircase to the sitting room and bathroom of La Torre, our tower suite. To our surprise, it was another 26 spiral stone steps up to the round four-poster bedroom chamber with turret windows which opened onto the Umbrian hillsides. We were among the treetops looking down at the birds. For those of us who don’t want an aerobic workout with each trip to the room, there is an elevator approach. The furnishings were in keeping with medieval taste yet integrated with contemporary comforts. Like Sant’Angelo, our rooftop terrace was the entire length of the castle, but from here we were able to see both sunset and sunrise.
A new addition to the property is the three-year old infinity pool. It is a bit of a walk through the olive groves, but it is isolated on a promontory and perfectly private. Swimming was a joy and we worked up a large appetite for dinner. Memories from our last visit raised expectations for an exceptional meal and we were not disappointed.
The aroma of dinner cooking, fresh baked bread and coffee wafted up to our terrace. It was good to finally get our hands and palates onto the very things that were drawing us to the restaurant. The bread tasted as good as it smelled especially when dipped into the castle’s own homemade olive oil, La Macina – the lightest and best we had ever tasted. The pasta was spectacular and most of the menu and wine selections came directly from the property’s farm. Did we mention the bread and olive oil? And guess what we drove away with the next day, after a wonderful night’s sleep and a divine buffet breakfast? Gifts from the hotel of a bottle of olive oil and hot bread for our journey.
Prosciutto and Parmigiano a la Parma:
Samboseto di Busseto (Parma) – Palazzo Calvi (Room 2) – 357 km./222 mi. ~ 3 hrs. 36 mins. http://www.palazzocalvi.it Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Attention: Michaele
Even though Palazzo Calvi, an 18th century patrician villa, has lodging accommodations, it is best known as a shrine for Parmesan cuisine and an enoteca which houses thousands of bottles of wine. We had stayed at Palazzo Calvi before, and were anticipating another epicurean adventure. So we were terribly disappointed to find the restaurant closed for renovations. However, the proprietor had arranged for us to dine in town at Due Foscari in Verdi square. How serendipitous, for we found the town enchanting at twilight -- music playing from the different cafes, and all dedicated to the town’s pride, the great composer, Giuseppe Verdi. We selected only regional cuisine and the dinner, from the Prosecco to the pasta, to the pastries, was perfection. Back at the Palazzo the next morning, we had a unique breakfast, as Michaele proudly carved and served the Palazzo’s own prosciutto (aged 14th months) along with fresh eggs, cheeses, fruit juice, croissant and memorable-tasting coffee. He continued to replenish our plates to our heart’s content and concluded our stay with a personal tour of the Palace, wine cellar and catering facilities. It made us dream of having a wedding reception there.
Mövenpick Zürich Airport - Glattbrugg (Zürich), Switzerland (Room 728) – 461 km./286 mi. ~ 4 hrs. 39 mins. http://www.Moevenpick-hotels.com
The sweet end to our “tasting” tour was the completely renovated Mövenpick Zürich Airport Hotel. We booked this hotel through American Express and paid with points. Although a five-star hotel, pricing was very reasonable. The Mövenpick is only 2.4 kilometers from the airport which makes it easy to return your rental car and prepare for departure the next day. You may think that close proximity to the airport translates to congestion and noise. Not so. The environment surrounding the Mövenpick is rural, with cows grazing just around the corner. The rooms are totally soundproof, shielding any jet noise. The Mövenpick’s motto is “Passionately Swiss,” which means convenience, comfort and courtesy all the way. Once in the oval driveway of the hotel entrance, free portable baggage carts are positioned to easily transfer your luggage. A secure parking lot is adjacent to the hotel, but this will cost you $30 for the night.
At check-in, we were not only offered a welcome drink of orange juice, champagne or a mimosa, but a free upgrade as well. The public rooms are chic and include four restaurants, a fitness center and a business area with free computers and Wi-Fi. The bathrooms are a must see – with separate children’s sections and automated, digital, self-sanitizing toilet seats. Now that’s “passion!” The rooms are equally chic with sparkling white down comforters and all the amenities, including a high-tech individual-cup coffee maker with a selection of different coffees and complimentary Swiss chocolates. Free bicycle rentals are available for exploring the surroundings and free shuttle buses are provided to the airport. The popular three hundred and thirty-three-room Mövenpick has the bustle of a cosmopolitan hotel, yet its Swiss penchant for anticipating needs helps to ease the intricacy of international travel.
After Dinner Mint Reflections:
As we reflect upon our “tasting” tour, having partaken of eleven different locales, we remember: the sounds of the cascading Swiss waterfalls as we traveled through alpine passes; the feel of the Positano sun glowing on our skin; images of glacial lakes, Venetian canals and fields of sunflowers; the lingering bouquet of the wines we’ve tasted and indigenous culinary tastes all vying for first place.
But most of all, we feel the sense of fulfillment as “the miracle of the full glass” comes to mind. Just when you think an entirely full glass cannot accept another drop without overflowing, a drop, then more drops, and even more drops pour in and suddenly the glass has an infinite capacity for more. So, too, with a great travel itinerary – just when you think you have experienced everything to the fullest, you are amazed by your ability to savor further, and luxuriate in allowing your senses to reach their deepest potentials.
“CB Stands for Cambridge Beaches but also Coming Back!” Reviewed July 15, 2008
My wife and I just returned home from a week’s stay at CB, celebrating our 32nd wedding anniversary. This was our second visit to CB, the first being two years ago.
This review is not meant to cast dispersions on some of the negative reviews nor question their validity, since everyone enters any experience with his or her own set of expectations. Everyone’s opinions are valid from their own perspective. We can only give you our travel background and detail our experience for you in the hope that it will help you make your own decision.
We consider ourselves seasoned travelers and have been traveling together, domestically and internationally for 37 years. Both our childhoods were filled with a plethora of travel experiences, provided by each set of parents. We are “fussy” about where we stay and expect excellent value for our hard-earned money.
Our first visit to CB was in 2006 and we had a wonderful experience, despite the fact that right outside our room, there was heavy-duty construction on the now completed new pool area. (The resort did warn us about this ahead of time.) We didn’t experience any of the few negative comments we read about in TripAdvisor at that time. We decided to go to CB that year because of the overwhelmingly excellent comments, the amount of repeat visitors and the fact that CB is more secluded, private and romantic then the other resorts. We thrive on romance and privacy.
We booked a visit to CB for 2007, the following year, but had to cancel just days before due to an unexpected family medical situation. But CB reservations was kind enough to hold our deposit for an entire year until we were able to travel again this year.
This year’s trip started out routinely enough with a JetBlue flight from JFK in NY . . . or so we thought. We left the gate exactly on time, but as soon as we began taxiing, the pilot announced a delay due to weather conditions over the Atlantic Ocean. When we got closer to the runway, we saw a line of planes waiting to take off as far as the eye could see. We waited on the runway for TWO HOURS before finally taking off! As soon as we took off there was a distinct smell of smoke in the cabin. Fifteen minutes later, we were making an emergency landing back at JFK on a runway lined with emergency vehicles. When we landed, we were escorted to another plane and by the time we took off again, another hour had passed.
So we arrived at CB over three hours late and in no mood for anything else to go wrong. And we are happy to say, nothing did.
Check in and Accommodations:
We received a warm greeting at check-in and we immediately went to our room (the exact one we reserved) which was immaculate, a nice cool temperature and smelled great. (A previous reviewer mentioned a mildew smell, which we only noticed a hint of in the front desk area but nowhere else.) It had all the amenities we would expect. The CD player on our “Dream Machine” was not functioning and was replaced immediately after we reported it. The bed was very comfortable and we slept well the entire week.
One of the other reviews found the staff lacking in friendliness and competence. In our two stays we have found the opposite to be the case. However, one must realize that on a first visit, the resort staff and Bermudians, in general, are going to be very respectful of your privacy and “comfort zone” and not ply you with phony cliché resort platitudes. But once YOU decide to initiate a more open relationship, you will experience a GENUINE and personal warmth and friendliness that is sure to enhance your Bermuda experience.
In fact, we became friendly with a taxi driver in 2006 who was an educator as we were. He had given us his card and asked us to contact him on our next visit. We did this year and ended up dining with his family and being invited to an outdoor concert in Hamilton, where he was performing with his choir. We spent a wonderful and authentic Bermudian evening with them and will reciprocate when he comes to New York in the fall with his choir.
As far as reservations go, all ours were accurate and honored throughout the week, with no problems.
On our first visit to CB we took “advantage” of the “dine around” plan and experienced the cuisine of the other resorts. We concluded that the CB two restaurants were, by far, the best and so this time we took the meal plan and except for dinner with our Bermudian friends, had all our meals at CB.
Since there truly is “no accounting for taste,” nor should there be, we can only comment on the quality of the food at CB relative to our other experiences. We live in the NY-metro area and have traveled internationally, so we have had the privilege of dining at some of the best restaurants. Relative to these experiences, we found the food at CB, both at the Tamarisk and Breezes to be outstanding, both in its gourmet quality and presentation. Contrary to another reviewer’s comment, the menu at both restaurants varies nightly. One night, there was blackened grouper on the menu, and while we both had a craving for grouper, neither of us like it “blackened.” So we asked if the chef could prepare it differently. It was “no challenge” as they say in Bermuda and we had grouper that was so delicious we had to go out of our way to thank the chef personally. So not only do you have varied menus at both restaurants, but they will try to honor your personal requests. Even when we ordered California whiskey sours, which the bartender, Barbara wasn’t familiar with, she followed our recipe and made a good first round which continued to improve as the week went on. We didn’t find the Tamarisk to be “old” as another reviewer described it. We found it to be elegant. But certainly you are free to dine on the adjacent and more contemporary outdoor terrace. We prefer “al fresco” dining, so we chose this option.
The breakfast buffet is abundant with a chef on hand to make your fresh eggs any way you want them, and the daily 4:00 tea is delicate and delicious. Service at all our meals was excellent and the staff was more than very attentive. The meals were well-timed and we never had to wait longer than expected for the next course.
Swimming and Snorkeling:
There is a beautiful new outdoor pool area at CB with an infinity pool with a waterfall and two separate levels leading some to comment that the pool is not as wide as they expected. It’s true that each level is not wide, but it is long (good for lap swimming), immaculate and a comfortable temperature. Even though the resort was full, the pool was never too crowded. If you want something with more width, there is the indoor pool area with an open sky roof and separate whirlpool. If you like even wider, there is of course the magnificent ocean or bay, also clean and perfect in temperature.
We rented a motor boat for a few hours and enjoyed exploring the many “nooks and crannies” you can anchor on to enjoy a private picnic and snorkeling. In 2006, we took the “Hat Trick” catamaran at CB for an amazing snorkeling experience, both educationally and visually.
In 2006 we golfed at Port Royal, which is now closed and under a complete renovation. This year, we golfed at the executive course at the Fairmont, which was in excellent condition and provided not only good golfing but beautiful ocean vistas. We also tried Riddle’s Bay course which was much more expensive and in deplorably dry condition. Despite that, they didn’t even offer a discount, not even for “twilight play” and didn’t tell you ahead of time about the condition of the course or that, because of the dryness, the course was “cart path only.” The fairways were like hay, the greens were riddled (excuse the pun) with little pot holes that made accuracy impossible. Although over $155 per person, they didn’t offer complimentary ice or bottled water. Although we played a good game scorewise, we found the experience exhausting and frustrating. Before playing any course, find out what the conditions are and the limitations.
The Ocean Spa:
For our anniversary, we booked a couple’s experience at the SPA, which really caters to romance. It was well appointed with knowledgeable staff in a truly relaxing atmosphere. Speaking of romance, we met a couple who had just been married at CB and they were deliriously happy with everything. Nadja, who has been mentioned positively in other reviews is really deserving of the praise. Her competence at special events planning is only matched by her infectious smile and enthusiastic manner. Including Nadja, other individuals who went out of their way to make our stay special were Richard, George (and the “brothers four”), Eddie, Dey, Borha, Yousef and Barbara.
The beauty of CB is that is can be as private and quiet or as social and filled with activities as you would like. Putting green, croquet, tennis courts and more are all on the premises. For the few scattered reviews that didn’t give CB top marks, the reviewers wondered why CB was rated 5 star. If you are looking for the kind of glitzy, Buckingham Palace guard dressed doorman, crystal chandelier type 5-star, you won’t find it a Cambridge Beaches. CB earns its 5 star rating in a more gentle and subtle way, commensurate with the character of the resort, providing a magnificent setting, with excellent staff, accommodations, dining and amenities. We found our second encounter with CB to be even more rewarding than our first.
Of course, everyone knows that the initials CB stands for Cambridge Beaches, but for us (and the countless couples before us) they also stand for definitely “Coming Back!”
It is said that the best way to teach is by example. In our more than 30 years each as educators, we found that this could not be more true than in the case of adolescent education. What a teenager learns by direct instruction from a teacher, parent, or book can be easily forgotten in a relatively short time. What they learn by example or experience can easily last a lifetime.
It is on this precept that we strongly recommend that parents consider giving their children what many, including ourselves, consider to be the ultimate learning experience and summer vacation -- foreign travel. It is adventurous and broadening and it demands cooperativeness and fosters a benign dependence upon each other. In short, it provides a busy family, with multiple schedules during the year, the opportunity to bond and enjoy that precious "quality time" together.
And speaking of quality, we believe that it is well worth the splurge to take your children to as many luxury/charming accommodations as possible. The examples and experience which they will absorb at these venues will most certainly have a positive effect on their senses, and in turn, their attitude, behavior and manners.
Sounds great in theory, but does it really work? We decided to test it out on our first vacation abroad with our 16 year old son. But everything in this article would apply to a daughter as well.
We had long dreamed of taking our son to Italy, not only to visit the land of half of his heritage, but also to bring him to the country in which he was conceived. We decided that 16 was the perfect age to take him; young enough to room with mom and dad, if necessary and old enough to remember the experience for the rest of his life. Next year we would be all wrapped up in college plans and the year after that, well, we felt that at 18, he would be a little too old to room with his parents. And who knows, he might not even want to be on vacation with us at that point. So it was settled -- a summer vacation for us in Italy. For you, it can be any destination of choice.
The Planning Stage
From the very beginning it is important that both parents and teen be involved in planning the trip and the first order of business is to decide whether you are going to take a chartered tour, go independently, or a combination of the two. If you have never been abroad, we recommend that you consider a charter. Otherwise do what we did, which was to rent a car, travel independently, but in some heavy-duty sightseeing cities, take a chartered tour. In cities where the tourist sites are closed to traffic except for buses and taxis, this is really your best bet. You can book these charters in advance or wait till you get there.
Next, it's time for the family to hit the book stores for guides, maps, language books, and travel diaries. The Red and Green Michelin guides are indispensable -- they are a must in our opinion. We also picked up Frommer's and Pauline Frommer's Spend Less Guide. (We’ll tell you why, later.) Another beautifully written and descriptive guide is Karen Brown’s. We also strongly advise bringing a GPS unit and maps from www.googlemaps.com and www.viamichelin.com to go along with the red and green guides. There are many language guides, but we found two excellent ones. The “10 Minutes a Day” series (available in many languages at www.bbks.com/products.aspx), is great as a study guide before your trip. It has these neat little stickers that you can put on objects around the house to help you learn vocabulary before you leave and comes with a CD-ROM. The pocket-sized Berlitz for Travelers is concise, comprehensive and well-organized. You should carry this book with you and keep it handy. Good travel diaries are hard to come by, but we found Complete Trip Diary by Marlor Press to be excellent. Marlor Press also publishes a Kid's Vacation Diary. If you can't find one on the shelf, you can write MARLOR PRESS, INC. at 4304 Brigadoon Drive, Saint Paul, MN 55126. You can also find a list of sites on the internet at http://isbndb.com/d/book/marlors_complete_trip_diary.html. Everyone in the family should be encouraged to keep a diary of the trip. It's a great keepsake.
The most important factor in the success of your trip is that everyone has a designated responsibility. Categories might include packing and luggage, itinerary and reservations, driving, navigating, sightseeing and photography (still and video). Of course, responsibilities can be shared or rotated. In our case, mom and dad shared the driving, mom was in charge of packing the luggage; our son was in charge of organizing it in the car. Dad made the reservations, our son was the navigator and photographer, and we shared the decisions regarding itinerary, sightseeing, and places to eat.
The vacation really begins with the planning stage, and it was a joy for us to come home from the book store, open up the road map of Italy and the guides, and begin to decide where we were going to go and how we were going to get there.
Travelwise and Gary D Travel have two recommendations regarding the planning of the itinerary. One is to keep the travel distances reasonable -- 3 to 4 hours driving time between cities, max. Figure on 80 kilometers an hour, although you will probably do a little better than that, especially on the super highways. If you are traveling to Italy, as we were, the second recommendation is to fly to Geneva, Switzerland first and pick up your rental car in Geneva. There are several advantages to this strategy. You can fly Swiss International, which in our opinion is a superior airline -- punctual with excellent service. Geneva airport is user friendly, civilized and organized. You will get your luggage in record time and be on your way. And lastly, renting a car in Switzerland is less expensive with the advantage of having your car insurance covered for free if you use your American Express Gold Card. American Express will not cover insurance if you rent in Italy (or six other countries).
Renting a car is pretty straight forward. You can get a list of companies off the internet. You really have to shop around, sometimes the European based companies are less expensive than their American counterparts, and we got the best deal from “Europe By Car,” which offered a discount for a cancelable reservation at the time of the phone call, plus an additional 5% for educators. But if you have the American Express Card, you may do better with Hertz, depending on your destination. We would strongly advise renting a car with air conditioning (most come standard with AC) and making sure your vehicle will have enough space for your luggage to be hidden from view and to accommodate your passengers comfortably. We were surprised to see the number of large cars and mini vans being used in Italy. After finding out that our car was going to be a Volkswagen Passat, a nearby Volkswagen dealer allowed us to bring our empty suitcases there to see how they would fit in the trunk. Sound extreme? It isn't. It was one of the smartest moves we made. When we arrived at the car rental in Geneva with full capacity luggage, we knew exactly how they were to be placed. No guesswork, no shifting around of heavy bags, no wasting time.
With your itinerary set and your car reservations made, you need to turn your attention to hotel reservations. Get out your Red Michelin, Frommer and Karen Brown guides and go through each city on your itinerary, one by one, making a list of two or three hotels in each which strike your fancy. Make a note of their fax number and/or email address and details which the guide books mention, like, air conditioning, breakfast included, parking, particularly nice room numbers or rooms with views. We made our reservations by using a combination of travel agent, personal email, and fax. Since we are travel agents, we did all the correspondence ourselves. Having a travel agency like Gary D Travel, who specializes in independent tours like this one is invaluable. They can check over everything including reservations.
Gary D Travel sets up a personal relationship between you and the hotel they are then able to be really specific about what you want -- double room with extra bed, junior suite, room 202, balcony with view, newly renovated room, etc. They will get specific information regarding parking or non-smoking rooms, for instance. They will get any special rates available and can you send specific driving directions from each location. Sometimes they will know things your GPS doesn’t. This will wave save money on room rates and time traveling.
Contact Gary D Travel at 516-300-9924 and discuss your travel plans with them. They will go over every detail of your travel plans and secure reservations. Make sure to include your teenager in all the discussions and correspondence.
Make Luxury Accommodations
We recommended earlier taking your teenager to luxury or "charming" accommodations. Isn't luxury and "charm" a waste on this age group? Not at all. Think back to some of your family dinners. Ever wonder as we have, where, on earth, your kids got their table manners from? We were both brought up with European table manners, and yet many times we would look at each in dismay to see our son's eating habits and how he handled food. For teenagers especially, teaching by example means needing more than the example of your parents. It means needing confirmation from a whole lot of other people. And this is exactly what luxury/charming accommodations provide -- mass confirmation that there is a demeanor, a gentility, a politeness, a propriety, an orderliness, a quiet dignity without pretentiousness, which is practiced by many. By being in luxury/charming accommodations, teenagers not only get to witness this first hand, they are immersed in it, surrounded by it, gently forced, at least to observe it and consider it.
The preparation and the serving of food in Italy, for instance is an art form, an act of love, which commands attention and makes an impression. We'll never forget the look of wonderment on our son's face at his first dinner in Italy at Emiliano's in Stresa as our courses were placed in front of the three of us, covered, and then, in perfect unison, the covers were removed to reveal our entrees. We noticed that our son's slightly slumped posture discreetly became erect; the nape of his neck took on a very dignified contour, as he quietly realized that he was in the presence of something to be respected -- not because his parents said so, but because the ambiance commanded it. We noticed also, that he began watching more carefully how we ate, to ensure that his manners would be correct. It was an amazing metamorphosis which began at that first meal, and continued throughout our journey.
Walking into a luxurious room had a similar effect. This was just not going to be a place to throw your stuff around. It too, commanded orderliness (neatness) (cleanliness) and respect.
This is not to say that every accommodation must be a luxury or charming accommodation. Lesser accommodations will provide some financial relief (although luxury and charm do not necessarily mean more expensive), as well as a means by which your teenager can compare and further appreciate the various life style levels.
Maintaining Intimacy While Traveling with your Teen
Just because we planned this trip with our teen in mind, does not mean we had to give up our intimacy as a couple. Obviously, when making accommodations, you have to keep this in mind. When we wrote our letter to the various hotels, we explained the purpose of our trip and asked, when possible if a separate or adjoining room could be supplied at the same rate as a triple occupancy. Most obliged us. Some provided a suite with a separate bedroom. So we were able to enjoy our intimacy. But of equal importance on this trip, was for our son to see his parents treating each other romantically and tenderly – to see us holding hands; for dad to hold mom’s chair as we were seated in a restaurant; to stand out of respect when mom left and approached our table; to hold open the car door for her; and to dress for each other elegantly at dinner.
In the finer restaurants, the “boys” enjoyed wearing their white dinner jackets with black bow tie as if we were James and James Jr. Bond escorting a beautiful James Bond lady. This, of course, inspired mom to dress “to the nines” as well. It is interesting that after the first few times, our son initiated holding the chair and car door for his mom and he loved doing it. We’re sure that when the time comes for him to escort his date, he will enjoy performing the same elegant manners and so will his young lady. Again, all this can be extrapolated from a daughter’s perspective. Children watch everything parents do, and in this day and age of a 50%-plus divorce rate, it is comforting for them to see their parents as a solid couple, who respect one another and even in their “old age,” are romantic with one another. You may think their reaction would be “ech,” but it’s not. They love it and sets it up as a standard for the future.
Teens Need Activity
Teenagers need to be active, especially on vacation, and another plus that luxury accommodations provide is the benefit of extra activities. Most have beautiful swimming pools, which is a wonderful refresher for you and your teen after a day of sightseeing. Kids can occupy themselves for hours in the water, and it’s a great place for them to interact with peers, and make international friendships. Other activities might include gym and health spa, tennis, nearby golf, horseback riding, biking, hiking and parasailing (in the mountain regions). And for those hotels which are on the water, most luxury hotels provide water activities, such as boat rentals, (motor, sail, paddle, kayak) as well as water skiing, snorkeling, wind-surfing and paraskiing. The concierge of a luxury hotel is an invaluable resource in your search for activities within or in the surrounding environs of the hotel. This person can gain you access to: music festivals with classical, jazz and rock concerts; seminars and workshops; film festivals and cinemas; soccer games and other spectator sports. Our son is a musician, as we are, and we tried to plan our trip around musical events that were going on. If your teen has a particular passion for an activity, you might want to get detailed information in advance and plan your itinerary around it. There are some good web sites to consult, which are easily searchable on the internet.
Our son came home with several "first" experiences that he will never forget: befriending and later attending a jam session of Nigel Kennedy (renowned jazz and classical violinist) and Lalo Shiffrin (composer of Mission Impossible) in Verbier, Switzerland; water skiing on Lake Como; snorkeling in Positano in the grottos of the Mediterranean; golfing and parasailing in the Dolomites; synchronized diving at the Lido in Venice, hearing a performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons in a truly baroque setting, and of course the absolutely, not-to-be-missed gondola ride.
A word of caution about navigation. At some points, you are going to get lost, while walking through streets and driving -- it's inevitable, even with GPS. It's a bit frustrating, and everyone at this point naturally wants to chime in with his or her opinion as to the direction in which to go next. We made this mistake early on in our trip and our son was rightfully upset to have his responsibility usurped. To avoid arguments and bad feelings, it is imperative that the navigator and the navigator only make the decisions as to which path to follow. And if some of those decisions are wrong, so what -- just think of it as part of the adventure of the vacation. The navigator on the other hand should not become too proud to ask for suggestions or to stop someone for directions. In Italy, though, you are going to find that the answer to almost any directionally question is sempre dritto (straight ahead) -- which is really funny considering the amount of circles (roundabouts) and turns there are. But if you learn to roll with the punches, and become comfortable with being lost, as we learned to do, you'll be okay. It's a good idea also for the driver and the navigator to confer before traveling from one location to the other.
Driving through Italy, even on the autostrada (superhighway), will provide you with endless new vistas, each one more beautiful, unusual, and unique than the next. It is unreasonable, however, in our opinion, that on these extended journeys, that your teen will be remain fascinated by every one of them. So make sure, that your teenager takes along activities for the car; perhaps a portable CD player or iPod with some favorite playlists, or a hand-held electronic game or even laptop computer. And for when you or your child need to nod-off for awhile, a little inflatable neck-pillow comes in handy. (It's great for the plane ride as well.)
Snacks and drinks for these journeys as well as for picnic lunches can be purchased at the supermercato supermarket or Autogrill off the autostrada. We recommend this method over stopping at a roadside restaurant, because it is not only cost effective, but it allows you to experience to some degree, shopping as a "native" rather than as a tourist.
One of the highlights of our trip was filling our collapsible cooler with authentic parmesan cheese and prosciutto (ham) from Parma, along with local bread and wine and picnicking in the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Earlier, we told you to pick up a copy of Frommer's Frugal Traveler's Guide. Here's why. It is an excellent guide for finding an inexpensive (but good quality) place to eat, shop or stay. While sightseeing, consult this book so that you are sure not to pass up the family-owned drogheria (grocery), salumeria (deli), and panetteria (bakery), for they truly are a wonderland for the senses and masterpieces of art in their own right. The pasticceria (confectioners) was our son's favorite "masterpiece" because it housed the most magnificent gelati (ice-cream), he or we had ever tasted. Before leaving Italy, he was determined to sample the gelati of every town on our itinerary! We, of course, being "enlightened" parents, supported him, well, actually, joined him in this quest. [Remember; when you want to see "only one more basilica," with its "must-see" frescoes, and your teen is whining, "No more!" just bribe that adolescent with the promise of gelati.]
Final Food for Thought
Adolescence is a delicate and often difficult period of transition for families. Teens are placing spaces between themselves and their parents, as stepping stones to eventual adulthood, while parents are trying to pour in every last bit of their wisdom in the form of advice and experiences, before the window of responsibility "officially" closes. Traveling to Italy or other foreign country with your teen can provide a most wonderful opportunity and setting with which to find mutual ground. Sharing a common adventure, being strangers in a distant land, bonds you together and fosters a feeling of unity, almost equality. Shared decision-making empowers a teen with confidence in the ability to make decisions in the future. Taking on responsibilities which immediately impact on the rest of the family affirms a teenager’s action and allows for a "taste" of what may one day be parenthood.
We are delighted to say that the result of our effort has exceeded our expectation. We wanted to share some of the details that we believe were contributing factors to our success and also provide some information in the hope that it will encourage and help other parents have a similar positive experience.
Gary de Sesa & Kita de Sesa are travel agents and owners of Gary D Travel. Contact us at 516-300-9924
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