Sandals Royal Plantation – a romantic getaway

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Sandals Royal Plantation is a quiet couples only resort that boast an English charm. This 74 all suite, all butler and all oceanview resort is a wonderful retreat for any couple looking to reconnect. The resort is small and intimate and attacks a wide range of couples.

There are two main dining venues, The Terrace which serves a la carte breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Le Papillion, an elegant French restaurant has a wonderful menu and in a very romantic setting. Le Papillion has the only Caribbean champagne and caviar Bar, though the caviar is an additional cost. The Wobbly Peacock Pub is an English style Pub service exciting pub fare. At Sandals Royal Plantation you can get the full beverage and food menu on the beach and or in your room 24 hours a day. Also you have dining privileges at Sandals Grande Riviera but the guests at Sandals Grande Riviera cannot dine here.

The grounds are beautifully landscaped with lush tropical vegetation. On the terrace you can relax while you look out over the Caribbean sea. The resort has a family of peacock’s living on property so you will always see them hanging out on the terrace and in the gardens. They are not shy either and will come up to the guest for food. The pool is located on the lower level of the terrace. The property also has two beaches with all of the watersports you could want. There is a elegant room in the main building called the Drawing Room, this is a great place to have a small private dinner. There is a plaque on the wall that showcases the many famous guests such as Richard Nixon, Winston Churchill and Mrs. Coretta King that stayed at Sandals Royal Plantation. There are many stairs to climb throughout the resort so it may be challenging for guests that have mobility issues.

The all butler suites are well appointed accommodations which have king size four poster canopy beds, large baths with great soaking tubs. Some suites have a French balconies while the other have a full balcony to relax on and all have an oceanview, so there is never a question on what the view will be from your room.

Another special accommodation here is the Villa Plantana, a 3 bedroom villa located on the secluded east beach of the resort with its own swimming pool. “A stay at this exquisite three bedroom villa is like being wrapped in a cocoon of tranquility and privacy”*. The living and dining areas are spacious with great views of the sea. The pampering continues with the full time butler and private room attendant to cater to your every need.

Whether you are a young honeymoon couple or a couple celebrating many years of marriage you will have a great time together at Sandals Royal Plantation.

* Sandals Royal Plantation*

Sandals Grande Riviera – a wonderful retreat

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Sandals Grande Riviera Resort in Ocho Rios Jamaica is like two resorts in one, The Riviera Seaside and The Great House Manor mountain side. This couples only resort has a lot to offer many types of guests, whether you want quiet seclusion or high energy activities day and night, you can find it here.

There are 15 dining options to choose from so you will never go hungry. When I was there we were able to sample the China Doll restaurant that has some great Chinese dishes. Since our accommodations were in the Butler Village we also dined at Kelly’s Dockside which is reserved for butler guests. This restaurant is on the pier with some great ambiance. If you are in the mood for pizza, Italian, Caribbean or just some pub food there are so many selections that you could dine at a different restaurant each night of your stay. The bartenders at all of the bars have a wide choice of fresh cocktails and always have special of the day or their very own specialty. Andre at the poolside bar on the Riviera Seaside makes a great cocktail and is always recommended to guests.

When I stayed at the resort we were lucky to have accommodations in the Bulter Village. The suites here are very large each with a pool that is shared with another suite next door. The bedroom area is spacious with a separate seating area or a wet bar. The bathrooms have great soaking tubs and double vanities. The butlers work two together so from 7 am to 10 pm you have someone to take care of anything you need. You have your own cell phone to call your butler with one click to ask to make dinner reservations or provide you an afternoon snack in your villa while you are relaxing by the pool. My Butler’s Gladstone and Omar were great. They brought me my favorite wine when requested and one evening when I came back from dinner, I had a wonderful bubble bath drawn with flower pedals and candles. The Butlers are here to assist in any way they can. The Butler Villas are located up the hill from the Great House so the Butlers shuttle their guest back and forth on golf carts.

The most luxurious and romantic accommodations at Sandals Grande Riviera are the Butler Village Honeymoon Romeo & Juliet Sanctuary One Bedroom Villa Suite with Private Pool. These spacious suites have a separate bedroom area with a great bathroom. In the middle of the suite is an outdoor private plunge pool with hot tub and on the opposite side is a “man cave” with wet bar, large screen TV and great couch for relaxing. This is a wonderful suite for any couple looking to connect with each other.

For some added luxury at Sandals Grande Riviera the Red Lane Spa offers several couple treatments like the Scrub a dub dub – 2 in a tub. You can also relax in the couples sanctuary for more quiet time together.

On the ocean side is the Ochi Beach Club which offers all types of water activities from snorkeling to a dedicated scuba pool. There is usually a lively round of volleyball going on for guest to enjoy or take one of the small catamaran’s out for a relaxing sail.

As you can see there are many ways for couples to enjoy a wonderful vacation together at Sandals Grande Riviera, just let your imagination take you away….

Beaches Ocho Rios Jamaica

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Beaches Ocho Rios is a small intimate family resort in Ocho Rios Jamaica. The resort is about a 2 hour drive from Montego Bay’s international airport.   The drive is long but there are great views of the sea along the way and you will be sure to see some goats by the roadside along the way.

When you arrive at Beaches the staff is warm and inviting. The main reception area is open with many comfy couches and sitting areas. The staff is quick to check you in and shows you the way to your room.

The resort has 223 room and suites in a variety of categories. We stayed in the Greek Oceanfront Concierge Terrace suites overlooking the Caribbean Sea.   These suites have either a king bed or two double beds, a sitting area with sleep sofa and a desk area. The terrace area overlooks the ocean with a table for light dining. The only downfall with the terrace is there is a walk way in front of each room so there is no privacy on your terrace, which I would have liked some quiet time there.

The beach area is small but the water is Caribbean blue with the waves crashing off the reefs off shore. We had a chance to go snorkeling from the beach and off of the boats along the reef.   The water was a little rough so we could not get close to the reef.   We did see many colorful fish and shells. The banana boating was fast and fun.   We also had many opportunities to paddle board, kayak, ride the water bike and sailing on the hobie cat’s.   Even when the resort is close to full there is plenty of equipment for all who want to try something new.   An added bonus at any Beaches Resort is the scuba diving is included in the cost. PADI certified divers can dive twice a day if there is availability.

There are several dining options at Beaches Ocho Rios:

  • Venetian Italian restaurant for great food and Antipasti Bar. They had the tastiest lamb chops.
  • Neptune’s on the water has many seafood specialty dishes. A favorite was the shrimp scampi.
  • For a more elegant dinner, Eleanor’s serving Caribbean dishes. A great restaurant for a intimate dinner for two, resort evening attire required.
  • Bayside Restaurant for an international buffet, with a wide selection for adults and kids alike.
  • Bar-B-Q park and Bella Napoli Pizzeria – great Hawaiian pizza by the pool
  • Josephine’s Creperie – the best smoothies and Nutella Crepes for a quick chocolate snack.

The main pool is large with several cabana’s surrounding the pool. The cabana rental was well worth the extra cost. We had our own butler for the afternoon. Her name was Venice and she was great. She pampered the kids with food and smoothies. She also had my cooler stocked with wine and beer and waters for the us.   If the girls needed something from the store, she would go get it for them. They were getting a little too used to someone taking care of their every need, but it was a great experience. The water park has about 11 slides including the smaller kiddie ones.   It is a great size for families with younger children and the lines were never more than one or two guests.

The kids camp has structured activities for kids of all ages. It is fun to hang out with other kids while the adults are having some adult time. There is also a great arts and crafts place where we made some fun crafts from painted shells to picture frames. These have an added cost but it is worth the memories you can bring home.

The Beaches Ocho Rios Resort is a great first experience at a Beaches property since it is small and intimate and offers all of the amenities and activities the other larger Beaches Resorts.   Our vacation to Ocho Rios was memorable and we can’t wait to go back to the warm Jamaican sun and sea.

Oceania “Regatta” Ship Tour

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Oceania is an upper premium cruise line offering many distinctive amenities and itineraries. Oceania was introduced in 2003. This cruise line is known for its “points of distinction”. One area of distinction is the culinary experience. The lunch on board was wonderful with many choices. The feeling you get on the Oceania Regatta is country club casual. They want the passengers to leave the tuxedos and evening gowns at home. They provide passionate service on board where the atmosphere is very relaxed. The ships are mid size (ranging from 684 to 1250 passengers) so when you are in a small port like St. Barts you are not docked next to 5 other mega ships.

The Oceania is a great line for retirees that are experienced cruisers looking for a more intimate cruise.  An added benefit is the specialty restaurants do not charge extra for dining in them.  The onboard life is extensive. There is an artist loft and a great library that houses many books and has a warm inviting feel. The shows are musically focused and many itineraries have guest lecturers for more enrichment.   Hands on cooking experiences are offered on two of the ships.

Oceania cruises all over the world. Another distinction is the many overnight stays and late night departures so guests have the extra time to explore the destinations.   For example in Monte Carlo you can experience the Casino at night since the ship is not departing at 5:00 pm. Unique itineraries are the norm, for example when the ship is in Italy it visits Cinque Terre since the ship can get close to the port. In the Caribbean they travel to the British Virgin Isles and Tortola. Also the air is included in the brochure prices which can be a great bonus.   You can sail on Oceania from 7 day cruise to a 120 day around the world cruise.

If a client that normally cruises on Holland America or Princess is looking for a different more intimate cruise experience, then Oceania Cruise Line would be a great recommendation.

XelHa Park, Riviera Maya, Mexico

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The XelHa Park in the Riviera Maya Mexico is a great day trip for the whole family.  The park is a large natural aquarium where you can experience many different water activities.

It was a beautiful warm day in May when we had the opportunity to explore XelHa.  XelHa has a policy on the type of sunscreen you can use within the park.   It has to be organic with no chemicals.  I had thought I found the correct type but when we arrived they would not allow it.  The park gives every guest a sample pack of the sunscreen, which can last 1 to 2 applications.  So it is best to apply at least one coat of sunscreen before arriving at the park.

Our first adventure was to float on tubs down the river in the forest of mangroves.  To get there you can either take the shuttle bus or ride a bicycle.  They have all of the bikes in an area and you just get on and ride.  We choose this route and it was fun riding through the mangrove forest.  When we got to the river entrance you could choose a one person or two person tubs.  Our group started down the river, it was relaxing until I decided to move the wrong way in the tub and fell off.  The water was moving slowly but I could not touch the bottom as it was too deep and I did not want to touch the sides.  I luckily was able, with help of my friends, to get myself back on the tub without pulling anyone else in.  But it was a little unnerving and my heart was racing.  At little excitement always makes the day fun.  The river ends into the open lagoon that is great for snorkeling.

On the large lagoon there are several zip lining adventures.  All of them are at different heights and speeds.  We went on several and it was great to zip into the water.  The next adventure was cliff jumping.  The park also has different heights for jumping off.  I did try one and it was fantastic.  The employees at the park make all of these activities very safe.   There is a very large lagoon that you can snorkel in.  We saw many colorful fish around the coral rocks.  There were a few very large fish that we were not able to identify.   Snorkeling through the coral reefs was fun but tiring.

The park has many walking trails and other activities like swimming with the dolphins and SNUBA which is a combination of snorkeling and scuba diving without the tanks.   There are many areas to relax on a lounge chair and have a cold beverage.  There are iguanas all over the park and a great floating bridge that is fun to walk on.  Though you need to hang on if it is windy and the water is not calm.   I would recommend this park for families of all ages; there are so many fun things to try while soaking up the warm Riviera Maya sun.

Barceló Maya Beach Resort

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The Barceló Maya Beach Resort in the Riviera Maya area of Mexico is a wonderful family and friends getaway.  The resort is located about one hour and a half from Cancun’s International airport.   The best transfer is a private or nonstop transfer direct to the resort.

The Barceló is made up of 5 separate all inclusive hotels, the Barceló Maya Beach & Caribe, Barceló Colonial & Tropical and the Barceló Maya Palace Deluxe.  Similar to the Iberostar Resorts, the Barceló Resorts offers guest reciprocal use of the sister hotel you are staying at.   The entry level Barceló Beach & Caribe guests have use of all of the restaurants and facilities within these 2 hotels.  If you choose to stay at the mid level Barceló Colonial & Tropical, you will have use of both the sister hotels as well as the Beach & Caribe complex.   The top tier is the Barceló Maya Palace Deluxe where guests have the use of the full Barceló Maya Beach Resort.  The entire complex offers 18 restaurants, 19 bars, 10 pools, a kid’s water park, disco, fitness center, a spa with a special kid’s spa, and the Barcy Kids Club.  The Barceló complex is located on one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean with 1.5 miles of white sand and crystal clear water.   The beach, which is private by nature, is towards the southern end of the Riviera Maya is good for swimming as the surf does not get as rough as in the Cancun area.

We dined at several of the restaurants within the resort.  The Kyoto was great with the chef cooking the Japanese cuisine in front of our table.  We had lobster tail with some other great oriental dishes.  La Brasserie with its French cuisine was a great dining location overlooking the ocean.  The buffet restaurants set near the beach offered many choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner.   There was plenty of dining selection to choose from at the Barceló.

The rooms at each of the sections were all well appointed.   They offer either king or double beds with a spacious sitting area and a balcony that depending on where you are at the resort either looks over the tropical vegetation or the pool.  The bathrooms in rooms were very spacious with a nice shower and tub as well as generous space around the sink.  The Club Premium rooms offer towards the ocean and are closest to the pools.

The grounds and the pools at the Barceló are wonderful.  The lush green lawns, swaying palm trees make it a great place to stroll around and find the many iguana’s that are on property.  There is a great kid’s play area with a trampoline, water area, tennis courts, and soccer field.  The largest of the pools is within the Barceló Maya Palace Deluxe section, it is an enormous pool with in the water lounges and a great pool bar and snack bar.  In this section there is an adult’s only pool area where the adults can have some quite time.

I have sent several clients to this resort and all of them come back with high marks for a great family vacation for families of all ages and size.   Ever since I returned from the Pleasant Holidays trip, my children cannot wait to visit the Barceló Maya Palace Beach Resort.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Our last day of the river cruise is ending in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  It has been a wonderful trip and there is still so much to see in this great city.  Amsterdam is among the most livable cities in the world due to its numerous cultural institutions, modern architecture, and diverse variety of ethnic restaurants as well as its liberal policies on everything from euthanasia to drugs and prostitution.   As we got off the boat our first site was of the train station where you get a sense of how the residents of Amsterdam get around; there were thousands of bicycles at the commuter rail station.

Our accommodations are at a nice small hotel called the Die Port van Cleve hotel, in the heart of downtown Amsterdam.  Our room overlooked De Nieuwe Kerk Museum, one of the many museums in Amsterdam.  The Die Port van Cleve is the original site for the first Heineken brewery.

Our first tour of the city was on a canal tour.  Amsterdam has over 150 canals and 1,200 bridges and is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North”.  The boat took us down many of the canals that make up the city of Amsterdam.   Some residents of Amsterdam choose to have their home on a houseboat.  We saw some that looked very livable while others looked as if they may not stay afloat.  Along the canals were many beautiful buildings and tree lined streets.

Next we were onto the hop on hop off bus tour of Amsterdam.  This is a great way to see any city and get acclimated to where everything is.  Our first stop was near the Heineken museum where you can do the Heineken Experience which takes you through the history of Heineken Beer.  We had lunch in a great pub that sat on a corner of a busy intersection.  While at the pub I took a video of the street light changing with all of the bicycle riders.  It is truly was a great city to people watch.  You would see one person on a bike, then two on a bike with one on the front and one on the back.  Then there were the woman in their high heels, skirts and long wool coats riding to work.  Also the mother would be riding the bicycle with one child on the front and one child on the back.  Nearly every resident in the city owns a bicycle since drive is discouraged.  No matter what the season, the residents of Amsterdam are always riding their bicycles.

After a great lunch we went to the Van Gogh Museum.  The museum shares a beautiful park like area with the Rijksmuseum.  Between the two museums you could spend a whole day viewing all both have to offer.    During the evening we walked down to the famous Red Light District.   This was a very interesting area where there where many food shops, coffee houses and many other types of shops that are well known in Amsterdam.  One thing we noticed was that there were many vacant windows in the Red light District, all with for rent signs.  We wondered if this was a sign of the economy in the city.

Amsterdam is a great city with so much to see and do, you can easily spend several days there.  I cannot wait to go back to spend more time in the city.  In the morning we will board our flight back to Boston but not before we get to shop at the Schiphol Amsterdam Airport.