Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jamaica - Retro Diary (Part One)

At the beginning of this month, Julie and I spent one incredible week (eight days, seven nights) in Jamaica, where we stayed at Sandals Grande Riviera, Ocho Rios, an all-inclusive resort in a beautiful part of the island nation. The resort was an adult-only (no kids allowed) that only allowed couples (no singles allowed). It was paradise.

Given that this trip was seven days and jam-packed with activities and stories, I have decided to write a two-part retrospective diary about the trip. This is 'Part One' of a two-part series, where I detail the journey to Jamaica, and the setup of what would turn out to be one amazing week. We hope you enjoy our trip as much as we did (I know it won't be as good, but hopefully you can take a relaxing break from your Excel, Word or Outlook and breathe easy as you take a retrospective journey to a tropical paradise).


The trip started with a red-eye flight (10:30pm) from San Diego to Charlotte. Being someone who has trouble sleeping in his own bed, you can imagine my concern with the thought of not being able to sleep on a plane! To calm my nerves I had three glasses of wine at home (don't worry folks, mom drove us to the airport). We got through security at the airport relatively quickly, and had some time to kill. We started walking inside the terminal, and like an oasis mirage in a desert you see in the movies, a beautiful site presented itself to Julie and I...Karl Strauss! Feeling the need to sedate myself in any way possible, we went into Strauss for another beer, Red Trolley, which was excellent. At the time we did not appreciate the fact that we would be drinking beers that start with "Red" the rest of the trip. "Hooray Beer!"

As expected, I slept ZERO percent of the flights, despite my attempts of alcoholic self-tranquilizing. Our flights were relatively uneventful, save for our one-hour delay in Charlotte en route to Montego Bay, Jamaica. The delay occurred out on the runway, but surprisingly this didn't affect my travel partner, who, after sleeping the entire 4.5 hour flight to Charlotte, promptly slept the entire delay on the runway. As we took off, she stirred and woke up and said, "Are we running late?" Oh, how I envy her.

Upon arriving in Montego Bay, we went through customs, which always takes longer than anyone would like. Standing in a line of B.O.-smelling, Hawaiian shirt wearing, Teva-wearing tourists is nobody's idea of a good time. As we got to the customs agent, I realized I was traveling with an experienced world-traveler when Julie pulled out her passport and had to find a page with any sort of open space to get stamped. I, on the other hand, opened mine to the first page and got my first international travel stamp. Mommy wow, I'm a big kid now.

After winding our way through the aforementioned Teva-travelers, we got our first taste of the hospitality that awaited us at the resort. Around the corner from the customs line was the Sandals Airport Lounge, where all Sandals guests (there are seven Sandals Resorts in Jamaica) were welcomed into a private, beautiful, air-conditioned lounge. We were immediately handed a cool towel, and were instructed where the bathrooms were, as well as the light refreshments. After cleaning up a bit, I made my way to the refreshment area, where I expected to find water and lemonade. Instead I found myself grabbing a cup and pouring myself a Red Stripe straight from a tap. Welcome to Jamaica!

Julie getting refreshments at the Sandals Airport Lounge.

Sandals Ocho Rios is about two hours away from the Montego Bay airport, and as part of our all-inclusive package, the resort runs shuttles to and from the airport to pick up its newly-arriving guests. After forgetting to fill my Red Stripe for the road, we were herded out to the "shuttles", which ended up being more like a sketchy, stretched-out 1994 Mazda MPV. We were divided up into groups of eight, and we met our driver Frederick and we were on our way.

When we weren't praying for our lives or gripping the hand-rails as tight as possible, our shuttle-ride was our best chance of seeing the countryside, as we would end up spending most of our time on the resort. So we took in all the tropical sights and beautiful water, while also noticing a few heavily-armed officers on street corners. The country of Jamaica is relatively poor, with many of their buildings lacking a roof or running water. It is always somewhat of an odd feeling to spend a week of pampered, spoiled activity, seemingly oblivious to the world outside the resort gates.

During the shuttle ride, we introduced ourselves to the other couples and had some idle chit-chat about travel and where everyone was from. After we exchanged pleasantries, we all started enjoying the scenery and starting to decompress and work our way into "vacation mode." And about five minutes later, a very sweet girl from Toronto seated next to Julie looked at me and somewhat shyly said, "I'm sorry, I have to ask...has anyone ever told you that you like that Focker guy?"

For those of you that know me and my distaste for "that Focker guy" well, you can imagine my response. I rolled my eyes emphatically and politely said "Yes, unfortunately I get that a lot," to which she replied, "I think he's funny."

The best part about that story? We ended up spending the majority of our time on the resort with that couple from Toronto (Ryan & Kelly). More to come on them later.

Ryan & Kelly

After a quick stop at a local gas station where we were able to watch a game of cricket, we competed our trek to Sandals Ocho Rios. Upon arriving at the hotel, we went to help our driver with the bags, but before I could even get my hand on the bag, one of the Sandals employees raised his voice and said "No, no no. You are on vacation now. You don't touch that bag until you're in your room!" Sir, yes sir!

Maybe the single bets part of the trip came when we set foot in our room. We immediately looked straight ahead to find ourselves with not only an ocean view, but with a huge, shared balcony with three other rooms. This may not sound that impressive given that we're in Jamaica, but one thing we learned as we looked up at the rest of the hotel was that there are 500 rooms, and only FOUR have walk-out balconies...and we had one of them. And the kicker? We didn't pay any more than anyone else...we just got lucky with our room assignment!

Looking out to our balcony.

Our killer balcony.

Needless to say, we were awestruck. While I struggled to keep my mouth from gaping open, my travel partner/roommate/girlfriend was having trouble holding back tears. She was absolutely in heaven with the setup, and she just couldn't believe we were in Jamaica, in the most perfect room, with seven nights free from phones, work, e-mail and the constant buzz we so desperately needed a break from.

And so our week had begun. We had made it to Jamaica and survived our moderately-scary shuttle ride. Now it was time to get into "relaxation mode", and see all there was to see at the Sandals Grande Riviera...

Stay tuned for Part Two, where we encounter aqua tricycles, dance competitions, eleven restaurants, toe-sucking fish, pool-bar parties and some of the craziest people-watching you've ever seen.

See you in Jamaica!

I Owe You All a Post

So I made a mistake. As soon as I got home from Jamaica, I should have put together a blog entry recapping the trip highlights, complete with some photos. I know some of you have browsed through the photos on Facebook, but they is still so much that we left out.

I am going to attempt to back-log this trip and post it later (within the next week). I apologize for the delay in this.

It's going to be a beast of an entry!