Monday, October 15, 2018

At Your Beck and Call: Sandals Royal Plantation All-Butler, All-Suite Resort, Jamaica



**Disclosure:  This trip was part of a FAM (Familiarization) Trip sponsored by AAA, Pleasant Holidays, and Sandals Resorts.  Please note that all photos are the author's own, except where credited.  As a travel industry professional, I make a big investment in first hand experiences, and I spend a lot of time to keep up with my accreditation and staying up to date with current and future developments in the airline and travel industries.  This means attending conferences, seminars, site inspections, FAM (familiarization) Trips, and even group trips.  I have been able to have some of these experiences shown and described in my blog entries at a reduced cost or comped by the hotel, tour operator, cruise line, or other supplier.  The feedback supplied is based on my own personal experience.  The first hand experience allows me to better serve my clients and match the experiences they are looking for.**

Sometimes you just want to get away from everyone and everything, relax, unwind, and be pampered.  Sometimes you just want to seek out other golfers' with the same mindset as well, and have no Golf greens fees.  Or maybe you're alone and just want to lay in a hammock all day long, then retire to your suite and order room service.  Either way, you need to be at the Sandals Royal Plantation in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.


Located an hour and a half away from either Montego Bay or Kingston, the complimentary transfer to and from the resort is a godsend (and if you're in one of the top-tier suites, you have pick up and drop off provided by chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce or Mercedes Benz).  Nestled on 10 acres of lush beachfront property, the Sandals Royal Plantation boasts only 74 suites (in 11 bookable categories for all my Travel Agent fans), and ALL suites have ocean views as well as Butler service and a pillow menu featuring 5 different types of supporting pillows for all guests' needs.

On property there are 5 world-class gourmet dining options and two bars, including the Caribbean's only Champagne & Caviar Bar (for an extra charge), known as the C-Bar.  From French cuisine to amazing seafood, fine dining under the stars at The Terrace, or right on the beachfront at the Royal Grill, you're bound to have an unforgettable meal each and every time.  For a quick, non-formal bite with a fabulous cocktail, try the Wobbly Peacock Pub and imbibe.

The best part of booking a Suite at the Sandals Royal Plantation is the Butler Elite service.  Your very own Butler can provide you with private in-suite check in, unpack your luggage for you and have it neatly stowed (I had this at the Sandals Ochi Beach), provide you with a cell phone to keep in touch with them when needed, take your room service orders, handle any and all laundry and dry cleaning requests with two complimentary pressings (that's better than the Langham Hotels!), drawing flower-petal bubble baths, bring you snacks and/or beverages ANYWHERE on the resort, continuously check and re-stock your in-suite bar with your preferred beverages, arrange for special surprises and private dining and picnics, and arrange for spa services without you lifting a finger.

There's no real downside to Sandals Royal Plantation, except it is not handicap accessible.  There are no ramps anywhere on property, only stairs, so if you have mobility or climbing issues, this is not the resort for you.  Other than that, this is definitely the place to get away from it all and completely unwind.  Along with all the other perks, you do have full exchange privileges with Sandals Ochi Beach Club, meaning you have full access to all activities and areas, as well as access to the Sandals Hop jitney to take you between resorts.  That access alone is worth the stay.


Photo credit Sandals Royal Plantation






Wednesday, October 10, 2018

MAXimum Effort: A red-eye ride on American Airlines' Boeing 737 MAX 8



So many negative things have been written and posted about the Boeing 737 MAX 8, especially with American Airlines' new layout, I had to get on one before I passed judgment on the type.  I was crossing my fingers it wasn't going to be as bad as so many people have said it is, and was booked on it with an open mind (sorta).

Photo Credit Joe Pries
I was originally looking at doing a daytime Los Angeles to Miami flight on American's Boeing 777-200, but, the fare for that took me well over the budget allowed by my work for the airfare by several hundred dollars.  *Grumbles*

So the day finally arrived and I found myself at LAX several hours early, and thank goodness I did get there early, TSA screening at American's Terminal 4 was insanely long and almost ground to a halt due to only 2 machines being in use in a separate, walled off area due to major terminal renovations and construction going on.  At least the screeners were in a good mood and I made it through in one piece, without much hassle, turning my formerly 4 hour stretch into a leisurely 2 hour wait.  Thank God there's a Dunkin' in this terminal, I needed coffee after the day I had been having thus far.

Finally, boarding came, and I boarded early, thanks to my Boarding Group, and found my seat, in Main Cabin Extra (MCE), with supposedly a bit more space.  My ride for the evening was the brand new MAX 8 registered N310RF.  At 6 months old, she still has that new plane smell.  At first glance she looked great, until you realize you're a 6'1" behemoth.  Normally, I'm comfortable in the window seat, but the instant I sat down (and got Philbin nicely ensconced in the seatback pocket), I banged my head on the sidewall!  Ouch...ah well, got myself as nicely situated as I could and hoped to God no one took the middle seat.  No such luck, after everyone boarded on came a nonrev (employee traveling free) and parked his derriere right next to me.  Normally I'm fine with is, as an airline guy I love chatting up with other airline folk.  But the three of us in that row were all pretty fluffy.  Now before you get your panties in a bunch, I'm not fat shaming.  But I gotta tell you, all 3 of us were in agreement, we felt like a pack of Easter Peeps.  With the minuscule seat padding already numbing my rear end and legs, this was not shaping up to be an enjoyable 6 hour ride.

Pushback and takeoff was great.  The MAX 8 is an incredibly quiet plane, even at full takeoff power.  A quick shot out over the Pacific as usual, then a turn to the Southeast and on our way to Miami.  This being a new plane, I looked for the power outlets, and sure enough the universal outlet is on the seat legs in front, while each seatback has a USB outlet.  To my chagrin, it didn't work, so I plugged in underneath...to no avail.  Turns out the inflight power was not working on this flight for ANY row, despite several attempts by the crew to start it.  Oh well, I'll have to wait until we get to Miami.  So much for that new airplane feel!

Since it was a red-eye flight, the crew dimmed the cabin lights to let the sardines...errm, passengers, sleep.  I was wide awake thanks to all the coffee I drank pre-flight, so I sat there reading for a few hours before nodding off myself, waking up as the Captain announced our descent into the Miami area.

The landing was bumpy, but then again, I've never been in a soft landing in a 737, regardless of series.  The taxi to our gate took a minute, since we landed on the other side of the airport, but that was ok.  We made it to the gate, and I quickly unfolded myself and hauled out of the plane and into the concourse to let the blood flow back into my extremities.  You think I'm kidding, well, I'm here to tell you I'm not.  A few feet away was the nonrev that was seated next to me, doing the same thing.  I swear, this was like a knock off of the old spoof movie Airplane!  That flight was done and in the books for me.  Now it was time for me to grab some breakfast, plug in, and wait for my onward flight to Kingston, Jamaica on a 737-800.  Yay!

This Travel Agent's opinion:  Stay clear of this plane if you value comfort (or blood flow) at all.  That being said, not all travelers can avoid this considering how many will enter the American Airlines fleet from here on out.  What I can advise them is to upgrade seats to Main Cabin Extra, or even First Class.

The AvGeek's opinion:  She's great to look at outside, and I'll be happy to spot her if she ever makes it to Salt Lake City, but, as far as riding her, I will avoid her for the time being, until American decides to free up a bit more space, or I'm flying in First.  Ah well, At least I managed to snag the safety card!

 *All photos the Author's except where credited*





Monday, October 8, 2018

Au Revoir, Jamaïque, Bonjour Montréal! The Jetlag Junkie Journals Jamaica (and other exciting locales) Pt. 3



As this is in journal form, it is a tad rougher around the edges than my normal posts.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - Kingston, Norman Manley International Airport, Jamaica; and Toronto, Pearson International Airport, Canada


Checking out that morning in the Club Sandals Concierge Lounge was a snap, and after a quick breakfast down in the Southern Table (the Biscuits & Gravy, oh my lord...), and I was on the Shuttle Bus bound for Kingston promptly at Noon.  After a very smooth (compared to my arrival, this was a dream ride) 2 hour ride, we arrived at Norman Manley Airport in perfect time.  Check-in with Air Canada Rouge was a snap.  I had heard stories both good and bad about Rouge, but I had to check them out for myself.  Within 20 minutes I was past security, and up in the sterile area waiting for my flight to be called.

Because of space limitations, you can't wait at your assigned gate for your flight to be called and have to wait in the main terminal until boarding is announced.  Fine by me, I had a great view of the ramp.  So I found me a spot to sit next to the window with a convenient wall jack to plug into and charge my phone, and whiled away the hour or so until time to leave the island (which I really couldn't wait for).

Boarding was a relatively painless process in those cramped confines by the jetway, and since I was in Premium Economy, I was in one of the first groups to board.  I had booked myself in 13A, the window, the 2nd row of Premium Economy.  I have to admit, I was so happy getting on that gorgeous plane, I really couldn't wait to get off Jamaica.  Don't get me wrong, I learned a ton about the Sandals and Beaches Resorts and met some incredible people from the Resorts, Pleasant Holidays, and fellow AAA Travel Agents, but, as far as my own personal travel, All Inclusive Resorts nor the Caribbean (except for St. Maarten) are my cup of tea.

The 4 1/2 hour flight to Toronto was fantastic.  After takeoff, I switched seats and let the guy next to me have my window seat (a 6'9" Jamaican basketball player takes up a ton of space, after all) while I got situated in the empty row behind.  All 3 seats were mine, so I spread out and even gave Philbin his own seat, haha!  The Flight Attendants thought that was hilarious and loved Philbin, especially after I told them why I take him with me on my journeys.  Back the flight at hand, I was on the 26 year old former Canadian Airlines Boeing 767-300ER registered C-GHLK.  I can already hear the grumbles from my readers at the age of the plane, but I have to tell you, she was well maintained, and even though she had an older layout and seats, she performed the flight admirably, and I really have no problem selling Air Canada Rouge (especially from the West Coast of the US to leisure destinations like Athens, Greece or Kingston, Jamaica).  The space in Premium Economy is perfect for someone of my size, and I passed the flight plugged into the inflight power, cranked up my music, and began journaling my trip thus far.

As with most landings I've experienced in the Boeing 767, this one was feather smooth.  Deplaning was quick, making it a breeze to get through the kilometers of corridors (seriously, have you been through Toronto's Pearson Airport trying to get to Customs?) before hitting Customs and Baggage Claim/Recheck.  Once through, and another round of security screening, I made my way through with a brand new boarding pass (I think I left the original in Customs...*shrugs*), and parked my tired keister at my departure gate.

I still don't know why people give Air Canada such a hard time or have issues with them (I wont go into the Travel Agent side of dealing with them), but every segment I've had thus far on them has been simply exceptional, both on Rouge and the mainline Air Canada flights, and let me tell you, this 40 minute jaunt to Montreal on a mainline Airbus A320 was no exception.  A quick departure and climb up to 31,000 feet (FL310 *grins*), just enough time for a beverage run through the cabin by the ever attentive and efficient crew, and we were on the descent into Montreal's Dorval/Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport, arriving just after midnight.

Photo Credit Joe Pries
By the time I deplaned, collected my luggage, it was almost 1AM, and by the time the Hotel Shuttle collected me, got myself check in to my hotel, and into my room, it was well past 2 in the morning.  I was so exhausted I didn't even bother unpacking my CPAP machine, I passed out the instant I hit the pillows.

Thursday, September 20, 2018 - St. Laurent, and Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec, Canada

I woke up incredibly late.  I used to stay in this hotel (the Sheraton Montreal Airport) quite a bit about a decade ago, when I made frequent trips to Montreal, and let me tell you, it's showing it's age.  I used to stay in Sheraton hotels almost exclusively, but in the latter part of the 2000's they stopped being the upstanding hotel brand they used to be, which is understandable as to why their parent company was bought by the Marriott Hotel chain a couple of years back.  But I digress, back to the present.

It took me a good hour or so to drag myself out of bed, and get myself ready for the day.  I was still a little tired, so a shower was definitely in order, I still had that island stank on me.  Yuck.  Once I got myself out the door (and housekeeping eternally pissed at me for shooing them away three times already!) I hightailed it to the airport and caught a cab to the shopping mall in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, where I holed myself up in Jack Astor's for what I had been craving (and one of the reasons I flew to Montreal in the first place), a big plate of a real Quebec delicacy, Poutine.  This is such an awesome dish, it's what comfort food up North is.  French Fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy, and sometimes with chicken, bacon, or smoked meat thrown in.  My plate at Jack Astor's had chicken AND bacon thrown in, and I was in Quebecois heaven while letting my arteries scream.

Poutine.  Worth traversing the continent for!
After the amazing repast and reconnection with Poutine, I hung around the town with several very special friends and family.  After a fantastic dinner, evening drive around the D.D.O (as Dollard-des-Ormeaux is known), we ended up at a great Irish pub and spent hours catching up.  I didn't make it back to the hotel until after 10PM.  This junkie was definitely feeling the jetlag.



Friday, September 21, 2018 - Montreal, Canada - Newark, NJ - San Francisco, CA - and Home




As usually happens the night before catching an early morning flight, I only get about 2 to 3 hours of sleep.  That being said, I was up and ready by 4:15AM, got my stuff together and hauled myself downstairs and on the first shuttle of the day for the airport.  Gave my luggage over to United, pre-cleared Customs and made it to my gate by 5:30, with a bit of time to grab a souvenir or two for Susie, and get some breakfast before boarding.

Photo Credit maarten-sr @ airliners.net
There was only 21 people aboard this flight to Newark, but United has rolled out a new 6-group boarding process, and it was in use on this flight, slowing things down quite a bit.  Once i got my self settled into the tiny Embraer 145, I fell asleep just after pushback, all the way through takeoff, the majority of the flight, and finally woke up during descent into Newark's Liberty Airport, with an AMAZING view of Manhattan and Lady Liberty out my window.  As usual with the 145 landings in Newark, we plunked ourselves down and came to a VERY quick stop to make way for departing traffic behind us.

After unfolding myself from the confines of the Embraer, I caught the shuttle bus from Terminal A, where we had parked, to my old haunt of Terminal C (formerly my beloved Continental's domain).  I could see the Boeing 777 I was about to get on just two gates down from the dropoff.  My layover was far too short, but as usual when in Newark, I see the weirdest things, like a well suited traveler coasting down the concourse on a longboard.  At 8 in the morning.  You can't even get me to remember my name at 8 in the morning let along try to balance my large posterior on one of those things.  More power to him, and I bet he made his flight.  As I said, my layover was far too short, and before I knew it, I was comfortably ensconced in seat 44L of the 22 year old Boeing 777-200 and on my way westward.

Luckily, I was awake for the entirety of the flight, and I have to admit, I am quite pleasantly surprised with United Airlines, at least with this flight (not that my flight from Montreal was bad).  Managed to film the takeoff and climbout from the very cloudy Newark airspace, before I settled back and just enjoyed the ride.  The Boeing 777 is truly a magnificent plane, and I have yet to have a bad flight on one, in all 38 times I've had the pleasure of riding on one.  Shortly after rocketing out of New Jersey, the very attentive crew started the first beverage service and sold food as well.  I had my own drinks with me, so I bought a few munchables to last me the 6 hour flight and I went back to reading and listening to my music, periodically gazing out the window and watching this amazing country pass by underneath.

After what seemed like no time at all, we were cruising over familiar territory.  First the Rocky Mountains, than I could make out that we were hurtling over Central Utah, with Utah Lake (not to be confused with the larger Great Salt Lake further to the North) and the cities of Provo, Spanish Fork, and Payson passing by, all the while beginning a slow descent into the Bay Area.   The approach into San Francisco was beautiful, and unfortunately we didn't have another plane parallel with us on landing (it's on my bucket list), but I did get the landing on film, and as with the Boeing 747, you can't have a bad landing on the 777.  We greased the landing, and pulled off the runway with nary a misplaced hair from braking.  I was shocked there was no ground hold due to lack of gates, as for the last few months, that's all I had been hearing about from my SFO bound and based friends in the airline industry and clients.  I made it a point to be one of the last ones off the plane, and I thanked the crew profusely, turns out a few of them were ex-Continental Airlines folks working their last flight of the day before deadheading back to their base in Houston, Texas.


This layover was quite a bit shorter than the earlier one, and after picking up another souvenir for Susie, I hightailed it to my gate in time for the gate staff to call final boarding!  Hurriedly grabbed my boarding pass and ID, presented both at the gate, then again at the end of the jetway, before stepping foot on the SFO tarmac and power walking the path to my waiting SkyWest Embraer 175.  I was the very last person aboard and I quickly got in my seat and wiped the sweat as we pushed back.  Phew!

The flight went by fairly fast, and again another fantastic ride, with no one in the seat next to me.  Before I knew it, we were landing, and in my haste to deplane, I left my cell phone aboard!  I didn't even realize this until well after I made it home.  I was going to show my family some of the photos and videos I took, and my phone was no where!  So I filed a report with United and hoped they would find it (They did find it, 3 days later, AFTER I had gotten a new phone).

Aside from the phone snafu, this was yet another adventure I had where memories were made, as well as several new friendships, plenty of laughs, and a LOT of job-related learning took place.  Stay tuned for my next adventure and posts, and thank you for your continued support and readership, this not-so little Jetlag Junkie is eternally (and humbly) appreciative!  As always, I do appreciate the feedback and comments!



Photo Credit Dmitriy D. Kuzin @ airliners.net

*All photos the author's except where noted*





Wednesday, October 3, 2018

See and Be Seen: Sandals Ochi Beach Resort, Jamaica



**Disclosure:  This trip was part of a FAM (Familiarization) Trip sponsored by AAA, Pleasant Holidays, and Sandals Resorts.  Please note that all photos are the author's own, except where credited.  As a travel industry professional, I make a big investment in first hand experiences, and I spend a lot of time to keep up with my accreditation and staying up to date with current and future developments in the airline and travel industries.  This means attending conferences, seminars, site inspections, FAM (familiarization) Trips, and even group trips.  I have been able to have some of these experiences shown and described in my blog entries at a reduced cost or comped by the hotel, tour operator, cruise line, or other supplier.  The feedback supplied is based on my own personal experience.  The first hand experience allows me to better serve my clients and match the experiences they are looking for.**

There are hot spots where the glitterati like to go see and be seen, and then there are HOT spots where EVERYONE must see and be seen.  The redesigned, revitalized, and rebranded Sandals Ochi Beach Resort is of the latter.  Buzzwords like trendy, upscale, luxurious, or awesome don't begin to describe this resort.  You'll just need to come down and see it for yourself.


Getting there is easy, from either Montego Bay or Kingston, it's about equi-distant from either airport at about an hour and a half away.  I flew in and out of Kingston on this occasion, and the folks at the Sandals Arrivals desk adjacent to the baggage claim got me on the road in mere minutes.  In fact, I spent more time in line at Customs than I did on the road to Ocho Rios.  But that is neither here nor there, this blog entry is all about the resort itself.

Set upon a very hilly span of 100 acres, the Sandals Ochi Beach Resort boasts 519 rooms, suites, and villas in 21 different bookable categories (ask your local reputable travel agent for details and which would be best for your needs), with 17 different dining choices and 11 bars (not to mention the Caribbean's ONLY genuine speakeasy, the Rabbit Hole, on property) to indulge from.

The resort is actually split in two areas, with the main road to Ocho Rios going through.  The South, hilly side houses the Great House where you will find check-in , concierge services, several pools and dining and athletic options, as well as the gift shop for the resort.  Here is where you will also find the more upscale Butler Villas (each villas has up to 4 bedrooms in it and their own private swimming pool as well), and the exotic Romeo & Juliet Honeymoon Villa Suites further up the hill in more reclusive privacy.  Definitely the place to be, and NOT be seen.  A word about the Butlers, they are amazing.  They have been trained by the Guild of Professional English Butlers, and they anticipate your every need, day or night.

Check-In is a cinch at Sandals, especially if you have access to the Concierge Check-In Lounge, around the corner from the main desk.  Just go on in, have the attentive staff get your check in rolling while you take it easy with a freshly made adult beverage and wait for your Butler or Concierge take you to your room.  After a short wait a very quick check-in, I was taken by cart up to my room, or so I thought.

The room looked great, and the Butler showed me around, until we got to the bathroom and found it flooded!  "Ya mon, no problem" I was assured as we hauled out of there and got myself re-situated in another room.  Once again, the Butler showed me around and we made sure the room was up to snuff, which it was, and he left to tend to the rest of his appointed rounds while I settled in and waited on my luggage.







The rooms are very nicely appointed and laid out, with entry into the quite spacious living room, with sofa, work desk and access to the patio and private pool beyond.  Off to the side of the patio doors is a little nook with a bar featuring a mini fridge stocked with beverages, and a wine rack with several selections from the Robert Mondavi Twin Oaks collection.  Into the bedroom and the full size wardrobe, nicely sized closet with safe, and King sized 4 post bed incredibly high off the floor (I banged my knees several times, not sure why, as the bed I have at home is just as high!).  The bathroom is also quite nicely laid out with toiletries supplied by the in-house Red Lane Spa in good quantity.


Moving on.


In the Great House you've got a few selections for wining and dining, from the low key and well lit Polo Lounge, with all sorts of top shelf liquors and drinks available, to the AMAZING French restaurant Le Gourmand, just downstairs, and the Southern Table for amazing Southern US Comfort Food (the Biscuits and Gravy were phenomenal!)  Just off to the side of the Great House you'll find a rather odd looking black door...that would be the entrance to the much hyped (and totally living up to said hype) Rabbit Hole Speakeasy.  On the other side of the Great House you have Dino's Pizzeria and the Jerk Shack, with some amazing Jamaican cuisine available (you HAVE to try the Jerk Chicken or Pork, simply to die for!)

Take a ride on The Hop jitney from the Great House Village down to the Beachside Village and you have the main Riviera Beachfront Tower, and along with the magnificent beachfront and all the accompanying activities, you also have AMAZING foodie-centric dining options as well.

From incredible Italian specialties at Valentino's, amazing Mediterranean (i.e. Greek, Italian, and pseudo Turkish) seafood at Neptune's, or a romantic over-the-water dining experience at Kelly's Dockside (try the Surf n Turf, you'll thank me later), the choices are virtually endless.  Another favorite of mine that I recommend is Kimonos, one of the few teppanyaki style restaurants in Jamaica.

Another perk is for the golfers, you have unlimited golf opportunities with no green fees and free transfers from the Ochi Beach Resort to the Sandals Golf and Country Club.

In closing, I have no problem at all recommending or booking my clients at the Sandals Ochi Beach Resort.  As far as All-Inclusive resorts go, it can't be beat, especially if you find yourself booked in one of the Butler Villas or the Romeo & Juliet Suites.  The thing that sets this resort apart from others is the staff though.  Incredibly attentive and on top of things, you will be taken care of and pampered from touchdown to departure when staying at Sandals Ochi Beach.





 
























Monday, October 1, 2018

Mi Irie: The Jet Lag Junkie Journals Jamaica (and other exciting locales) Pt. 2



As this is in journal form, it is a tad rougher around the edges than my normal posts.

Sunday, September 16, 2018 - Kingston and Ocho Rios, Jamaica

As I alluded to in the last post, Customs clearance and baggage delivery took a bit, but I was finally officially in Jamaica and thanks to the efficient guys at the Sandals transfer desk, I was on my way to Sandals Ochi Beach within minutes.

The ride from Kingston's Norman Manley Airport to Ocho Rios though was bumpy as all get out, and after 2 hours of getting knocked about in the van, I finally arrived at the resort.  Stepping out of the van I was greeted by one of the butlers and offered a cold towel.  If you've ever been to any Caribbean island and you feel that pre-storm humidity, these cold towels are a godsend.  I thanked the butler for the towel as he took my luggage and escorted me inside to the Concierge Level Check-In Lounge, and directed me to a seat until I could get checked in.

It was finally my turn to check in, and after turning over my credentials, I was informed my room wasn't ready, but if i wanted to, a butler could show me around the various food options that were open at the time and I could grab some lunch while my room was being prepared for arrival.  Fine by me as I was starving by this point.  The butler showed me around to several restaurants and explained what they had, and I decided to try the outdoor Jerk Shack, as most everyone I've talked to so far about this resort swore by it, but after a few bites, I just wasn't much of a fan, aside from the fact I can't really handle anything too spicy while I'm on the medications I'm on at the time.  Luckily, there was one of the resident felines lounging at the side of my table, so he got a good chunk of the chicken, while I feasted on the fish.  Happy kitty.

Finally, my room was ready, or so I thought.  The room looked great, until the Butler showed me around and we entered the bathroom to find it flooded!  

"Ya, mon, no problem" replied the Butler as we hauled out of there and back to the lounge.

Another 25 minutes later, I was given another room, a little bit further up the hill from the original room, but that was fine by me.  The Butler showed me around and we made sure the room was up to specs, and he left to the rest of his appointed rounds while I settled in and waited for my luggage.


 I was assured the luggage was on it's way up within a few minutes twice, but, in actuality, it didn't show up in my room until about 7PM.  Not a great way to win a skeptical agent over, but hey, there was 4 days left for that to happen, as I was there to be shown how to market these resorts to prospective Luxury Travel clientele.


Initial snafus aside, my luggage arrived just in time for me to start unpacking, and freshening up for the remainder of the night.  On the agenda was a Welcome Reception where I was acquainted with the 32 other agents, including another one from my own AAA Club, out of the Vacaville, CA office.  There were a pair of BDM's (Business Development Managers) from Pleasant Holidays as well (that's who AAA uses to book Sandals and Beaches Resorts through).  At the time of writing I have only booked these resorts only a handful of times, compared to other resorts like Riu, Hedonism or Hard Rock.

The reception was fantastic, and the accompanying dinner at Kimono, the beachside Teppanyaki restaurant, was pretty good as well, and the conversations I got dragged into with the group I was seated with were laced with hilarity and good vibes.

After dinner a few of us decided to hit up the Rabbit Hole, the only speakeasy on the entire island, and you had to have the password to get in the door or no entry for you!  Awesome.  Once inside though, there was this killer group belting out some amazing jazz, and the bar was on top of the drink action.  I had to have one at least, so I nursed that the rest of the evening there, before retiring for the night.

Back in my room I wasn't tired at all, despite the late hour and needing to be in class the next morning by 8AM.  My stomach started growling so I ordered some snacks from Room Service and got to reading my book (I was reading Robert Service's new book The Last of the Tsars: Nicholas II  and the Russian Revolution) while munching away.  I gotta say this...the Room Service was fantastic, and while they say it would take 40-60 minutes to get the food, it was there in less than 20 each night I ordered.



Monday, September 17, 2018 - Sandals Ochi Beach Resort

Sleeping in those beds was OK, but the height might be an issue for my shorter or older crowds, I bashed my knees and legs several times getting on and off the bed.  Ouch!

The morning started off great, even though I woke up late due to my cell phone still thinking it was in a different time zone!  Thankfully the conference room our seminar was in was fully catered and caffeinated with that amazingly delicious Blue Mountain Coffee Jamaica is known for.  A few cups of that and I was wired well enough to pay attention and power through the entire 4 1/2 hour long training course.  If you ask me though, it was so jam packed full of information I need to use to see Sandals and Beaches resorts that it could've served us a bit better had we added another hour or two, but we did have other matters to attend to that day as well.

Unfortunately there was only 20 minutes in between the time the training ended and the property tour began, so it was a quick grab n go situation at the pizza stand by the pool, before we were separated and sent off in groups around the property (both the Butler Villa side, and the Beachfront sides were covered), and at one point we were caught in a torrential downpour!  I won't go into massive or intricate details on each resort in these journal entries as I'll leave the details for each blog post I do on each individual property (as per my work rules for being on the FAM in the first place), but suffice it to say, we covered just about every part of the resort.  By 3PM we had finished the tour and left on our own.  I hightailed it back to my room to get back to work with a group I was putting together, and call home and check in on the family before getting ready for the night's shenanigans.

Dinner was late that night, met up with the group at the front desk by 8:30PM or so to catch the Hop shuttle to the lower portion of the resort for dinner at Kelly's Dockside Grill.  A fantastic place, with a great vibe and great food.

The festivities after dinner that night were unforgettable.  First stop was the Polo Lounge in the Main building for a bit of karaoke.  What happened there was insanity, pure and simple.  First off, I think I was the only one that was stone cold sober in the lounge, and I was also first up to the mic, doing my rendition of Metallica's "Enter Sandman", and riling the gathering crowd up.  After a few of my cohorts did their songs, I was back up, doing a hideous cover of KISS' "I Was Made for Lovin' You".  The funniest thing happened during this song though...while I was singing, this girl was grooving to the song and coming up to me and grinding against me...all the while my cohorts were hooting and hollering.  I thought it was hilarious.  Afterwards, we went for another round down the Rabbit Hole, me nursing water the whole time.  The adrenaline started wearing off by then and I made my way back to my room, where I was starting to unwind when the phone rang.  Turns out it was that girl that was grooving in the Polo Lounge earlier, wanting to know if I made it back to my room alright and if I needed anything or some extra company.  I said I was alright and I'm beat so I was going to sleep.  Found out earlier that night she and a few of her friends work at the resort too, and I guess in their off time solicit guests who are there on their own. *shrugs*  I passed out shortly after anyways.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - Sandals Royal Plantation Resort, Sandals Golf and Country Club, and Beaches Ocho Rios Resort



Gathering with the usual cast of misfits (love you guys, every last one of you.  Except for the creeper, lol!) for breakfast in Le Gourmand, the French Restaurant on property, we retold and went over the last night's shenanigans before hopping out buses to the first property on today's tour, the Royal Plantation Resort, adjacent to the lower beachfront portion of our resort.  This resort is a neat and luxurious smaller resort with only 74 suites, all with Butler service, and some of the best beachfront I've seen on the island yet.  The suites are nicely apportioned, and this would be the place I send my higher scale clientele with no handicaps, as there are stairs everywhere, so the beach is not accessible at all for those in wheelchairs or other mobility devices.

Next up was a trip to the Sandals Golf and Country Club, with its well manicured 18 holes and rolling fairways, not to mention great views of the sea (when it's not overcast and threatening to rain!).  After a quick run through the Pro Shop, we all piled into golf carts and tooled around the course with a few stops along the way taking us to the highest point on the island (at 780 feet above sea level) and some remarkable trees and vegetation lurking about.  Easily the funniest and most comical part of the day...or so I thought.


Last stop, and my favorite of all, was the Beaches Ocho Rios Resort, which is geared more towards families with small children, teens, or kids on the Autism Spectrum.




From the instant I got off the bus, I turned into a 5 year old when I was met by none other than Oscar the Grouch of Sesame Street fame.  Beaches has a deal with Sesame Workshop to use characters and whatnot for programs throughout the resorts, which I thought was awesome, especially after learning the attention to detail the resort go through for their guests.


This property is HUGE, and the tour was easily the longest of all, and took a while to get through, but that's alright, that's what we agents were there to see.  We were taken through all three parts of the resort, I especially liked the Greek area, with the buildings mimicking those you'd see on the island of Santorini.  The rooms we went through were fantastic (not to mention running into more characters from the Street), and great for families large and small.  The waterpark was pretty big too, and I wouldn't hesitate for a second sending a family with kids or teens here at all.  Afterwards, lunch was held in the cavernous Venetian Restaurant with, of course, a Sesame Street theme, but with some seriously fantastic adult food.  We also got a quick introduction to Beaches Autism Programs as well, something I am pursuing my certification in once I get back stateside.




Returning to our resort, I went back to work on the group I was putting together, only to find out they had gone around my back and booked everything on their own, piece by piece, saving them a grand total of $14 per person.  Ugh.  Oh well, now I can unwind and relax until dinnertime, which was our farewell dinner, again at the swanky Le Gourmand, and let me tell you, hilarity ensued at my table, thanks to several of us imbibing a bit too much, and over analyzing certain songs, or digging up others somewhat famous ex's (I'm STILL laughing about that, by the way).  Another final round down the Rabbit Hole, then saying my goodbyes I headed back to my room to get some of my stuff ready to leave tomorrow.



That does it for Part 2, hope you enjoyed it, Part 3 will be published October 8, 2018.  Stay tuned!