Saturday, October 27, 2018

All-Inclusive for All Ages: Beaches Ocho Rios Resort, Jamaica

Photo Credit Beaches Ocho Rios

**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 literally dozens of All-Inclusive Resorts in Jamaica that say they are family and kid-friendly, but how about one that goes far above and beyond everyone else not just for families and kids, but are also world renown for their Autistic Children's programs?  Take a look at the excellent Beaches Ocho Rios, then give me a call and let me book you and your family there.

Before I go into the property's details and room types and whatnot, let me speak out about their Nannies.  They are amazing.  From everything we've been told and what I've asked guests and seen first hand, the Beaches Nannies are phenomenal and a must have when you bring your children to play in Jamaica.  The Beaches resorts are the ONLY resorts in the Caribbean where Nannies and infant care are included all day, every day, for every level of accommodation, from newborns, toddlers to kids of all ages.    All Beaches Nannies are accredited by the International Nanny Association (INA) and they have added training in safety, nutrition, and child development.

My visit to Beaches was definitely my favorite part of the FAM trip.  I had been waiting to see this resort with my own eyes for a long while now.  The resort itself boasts 222 rooms and Suites (16 bookable categories to my Travel Agents out there) on 22 acres, a decent 2 hour transfer from either Kingston or Montego Bay, and the suites have Concierge services, however, unlike the Sandals Resorts in Ocho Rios, there is no butler service.   The rooms are broken up into the Caribbean Village main building, the Oceanfront French Village, and my personal favorite, the Beachfront Greek Village, right on the beach and perfect for couples.

From the minute I got off the bus I turned into a 5 year old when I was met by Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street fame.  Beaches partnership with Sesame Workshop makes it the ONLY resort where kids (and some adults) can play with their favorite characters every single day of their vacation.  There are 11 Sesame Street characters on site every day, including the latest addition to the show, Julia, an autistic 4 year old Muppet who can be seen playing around the resort with her long time pal, Elmo.  There are quite a few activities kids do with the Sesame Street characters, such as nature hikes, tea parties, story time, reusing and recycling (with one of my favorites, Oscar the Grouch), to full on character breakfasts and even nighttime tuck-ins (available for an additional charge, of course).

Of course, there's also things to do for the older kids too.  From the Xbox Play Lounge, with dozens of games to choose from on the XBox One and Kinect platforms, to the massive on property water park (11 water slides in all), the TrenchTown arcade with Foosball, air hockey tables and more, to outdoor billiard tables, unlimited scuba diving, tennis clinics, and glass bottom bot tours, there's virtually no end to the fun and activities the older crowd can get into.

Photo Credit Beaches Ocho Rios
As with the other Sandals resorts in Ocho Rios, guests at Beaches Ocho Rios also have access to the Sandals Golf & Country Club, along with complimentary transfers and no additional green fees.  Not a bad perk if you want some time on the links (unlimited rounds included) while the family lounges about on the beach all day!

There's no shortage of dining options at Beaches Ocho Rios, either.  7 distinct eateries abound on the property, from fine French and Italian cuisine to Seafood served dockside, to more run of the mill offerings like fresh made crepes, pizza and BBQ, private dining on the beach for a romantic getaway, or for those with special dietary needs, let the resort know (or your Travel Agent) about a month before hand and any needs you have can be met.

The resort itself is amazing, to be sure, but what blows this writer away, as this hits real close to home, is their attention to detail and laser focus on guests with autistic kids.  Their programs go so far to include and involve autistic kids it amazes me.  Beaches is the first resort to complete and implement the rigorous training set by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), allowing the resort to offer specialized service, engaging activities, and custom dining options so all families can enjoy a memorable Beaches experience.  The IBCCES training also extends out to Travel Agents to learn about and have the ability to better sell the resorts, and this particular Travel Agent is in the middle of my own Certification.

The programs they offer include the Kids Camps, which are certified Autism Centers that ensure the team members have the requisite knowledge, skills, temperament and expertise to cater to all children and offer age-specific programs for infants, toddlers, pre-teens, and teens.  Also, there are activities that involve the Sesame Street characters, now including the newest Muppet, Julia.
Photo Credit Beaches Ocho Rios

This Travel Agents Opinion:  I do not hesitate to quote and book Beaches, especially for my clients traveling with families, honeymooners, and those traveling with special needs, dietary concerns, or autistic travelers.  Everyone deserves an unforgettable vacation, an escape from the everyday grind, if you will.  All Beaches Resorts go above and beyond to achieve this, and the Beaches Ocho Rios, from what I've seen, covers all bases. 

**All photos the Author's except where credited**

Monday, October 22, 2018

Leisure flying, eh? A Ride on Air Canada Rouge

I get a LOT of static from my friends and Travel Agents up North about Air Canada, and especially it's leisure subsidiary, Rouge.  Yet, when I send Americans on AC from the West Coast to Europe, even on Rouge to places like Dubrovnik or Athens, I don't hear a single complaint, in fact, I hear the opposite.  Myself, up to this point have only traveled on mainline Air Canada (and loved the ride), so this trip on Rouge was a definite first for me, and I especially wanted to try the Boeing 767-300 service, as that plane serves those longer flights I book the majority of travelers on, to Athens, Greece.

Air Canada (let alone Rouge), does not serve my home airport of Salt Lake City (sort of, every few years they bring seasonal service back from Toronto, albeit on a minuscule Air Canada Express Regional Jet), so the flight I selected had me leaving Kingston, Jamaica (I was on the island for a AAA and Pleasant Holidays sponsored FAM Trip anyways) bound for Toronto, then connecting onto mainline Air Canada for a quick jaunt up to Montreal.  I was looking forward to this so much, I couldn't wait to get to Norman Manley Airport after the FAM.

Soon enough I was on my way from Ocho Rios to Kingston on a very smooth 2 hour bus ride (a FAR cry from the hideous ride on the way in), arriving at the airport with plenty of time to check-in, and get through security and passport control.  Don't get me wrong, the Jamaicans were very nice and very well meaning, and a vacation to the island is a dream for hundreds of thousands of people, but speaking for myself, a Jamaican (or most any Caribbean island - save St. Maarten) vacation is just not my idea of a vacation.  But enough about me.

Since space is at a premium in the terminal, passengers wait in the main hall until their flight is called for boarding, as there is very little room in the gate areas and jetways.  This was fine by me, I had found myself a fantastic place to sit overlooking the Kingston ramp and next to a wall outlet to plug in while waiting for boarding.  Before I knew it, the staff were calling for Premium Rouge (all 3 passengers), and Rouge Plus (that's me!) to line up at the gate.  I had booked myself in seat 13A, the window seat, in the second row of Rouge Plus.  Even with a not even a half way full flight, we pushed back a little late, but made it up in the air.

Today's flight was operated by the 26 year old former Canadian Airlines Boeing 767-300ER registered C-GHLK.  She was delivered on October 7, 1992 to Air Europe Italy, then sold to Balair in 1999, who then sold it to Canadian Airlines in November, 2000; just in time for the merger with Air Canada.  I can hear the grumbles from my readers at the age of the plane, but, I have to tell you, she was incredibly well maintained, and even though she has an older layout and seats, she performed the flight admirably.  I really have no problem selling Air Canada Rouge to my clients (especially those going from the US West Coast to holiday spots in Europe.  The space in Rouge Plus is perfect for someone of my size (are you listening, American Airlines?) and I stretched my legs until my seatmate boarded (it was turning out to be one of those kind of trips!)

The 4 1/2 hour flight to Toronto was absolutely fantastic.  Right after takeoff, I let the passenger next to me have my seat (a 6'9" Jamaican basketball player takes up a TON of space after all), and I moved to a completely empty center section of row 14.  All 3 seats were mine, so I spread out, and even gave Philbin his own seat.  I passed the flight plugged into the inflight power, cranked up my music, and began journaling my trip.

Yet another feather smooth landing on the 767 in Toronto.  Deplaning was quick, making it a breeze to get through the kilometers of corridors before hitting Customs and Baggage Re-Check and onwards to my connecting flight on Air Canada mainline to Montreal.

I still don't know why so many people give Air Canada (and it's subsidiaries) such a hard time, but every segment I've had on Air Canada and Rouge thus far have been simply phenomenal.

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 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 @
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 @

*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.