Posts Tagged ‘ Vacation ’

St. Lucia Trip: Part 2

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Continued from my St. Lucia trip, part 1!

I didn’t try out too many activities to review for you all this time (sorry. I think my tailbone is still traumatized from the Jamaica horseback riding adventure), but I did do some SNUBA-ing. Let me tell you how cool SNUBA is: it is so cool. We took a five-minute boat ride to the nearby Pigeon Island, which I will also just let you know used to be a military base and a pirate hideout, because I like to mention pirates whenever possible. Now it’s the location for the St. Lucia Jazz Festival in May, which I think is far less badass but we’re not talking about me here, are we. We’re talking about SNUBA. Right. So we took the quick SNUBA course, suited up in our flippers and weight belts and masks and regulators, and took an underwater tour of the gorgeous reef just offshore. We saw tons of brightly-colored fish, spiny lobsters, sea urchins, “feather-dusters” that shoot back into their little hideouts in a hilarious way if you poke at them which I would never do because I totally respect nature (wink wink), trumpetfish, starfish, and I even got to hold a seahorse. Kids as young as age 8 can participate in SNUBA tours, and kids ages 4-7 can do the surface “SNUBA-DOO” tours. Definitely try it out and don’t let the kids have all the fun with this one. After the first couple of disconcerting underwater breaths, it’s just like breathing air, and you can go up to 20 feet deep without being SCUBA certified.

I did, however, do my sightseeing homework for you.  The capital city of Castries, in the north, welcomes cruise ships and has tons of craft and food markets as well as duty-free shopping, along with the nearby white sand beaches. We made the two-hour drive to the south of the island to visit the laid-back city of Soufriere, where we saw the steaming, bubbling sulfur springs at the nearby semi-dormant volcano (relax, it hasn’t erupted since 1600-something). Close by are gorgeous botanical gardens and the Diamond Falls, where there are also mineral baths that you can bathe in that local marketing legend says will make you look ten years younger.

Then we headed over to the famous luxury resort Jade Mountain (once featured on The Bachelor) and its sister resort Anse Chastanet. I’ll confess that I’ve sat here staring at the screen for quite awhile trying to figure out how to put the beauty of these places into words that even halfway do them justice. Anse Chastanet is easier: the villas are all completely open-air, and are constructed with open floor plans around key pieces of the landscape like boulders and trees. Gorgeous pieces of modern artwork hang on the walls.

Jade Mountain is a place that you honestly have to see for yourself to truly appreciate. The resort is built on the side of the mountain, and the sanctuaries (as they appropriately call the rooms) are all open-air and built on open floor plans as well. Each sanctuary features an infinity pool tiled with brilliant blues, greens, or reds that forms the outside wall, where it abruptly falls off into a breathtaking view of the twin peaks of the Piton mountains across the Caribbean Sea.

There is no artwork needed for the walls here. The Pitons are the artwork. The service here is exquisite also. This is a place where celebrities stay, and the prices reflect that. Probably even my marriage would have worked out if we’d have honeymooned in a stunning place like this one. (Ha ha! Just kidding. It wouldn’t have.) I think it goes without saying that you’ll want to leave the kids at home to come here… Under age 15, they are not allowed anyway. But I had to include it in my write-up because a) it’s one of the most incredible places I have ever seen, and I have been around a bit, and b) if you’re looking for a kid-free resort at which to soothe your frayed nerves, and have a lot of money saved up to do so, this would certainly be the place to do it. 

You can go pretty much anywhere in the Caribbean for sun, sand, and beautiful views, but I would say the difference in St. Lucia is that the island is cleaner, more unspoiled and less crowded, and the people don’t have that manic, exhausting, you’re on vacation let’s do this thing frenzied enthusiasm that you’ll find elsewhere– they are laid-back, accommodating of any request from the trivial to the critical, and on the whole, the most genuinely friendly people I think I have ever met on vacation. We were all sorry to say goodbye, and I hope I’ll go back soon.

What to know before you go:

  • Direct flights are available from JFK, ATL, and MIA.
  • Electrical outlet converters (European-to-American) are handy but not necessary, as most hotels have a few American outlets.
  • American dollars are widely accepted across the island, but you’ll get the much-more-expensive “tourist price” if you use them. Do your currency exchange at a bank rather than at your hotel or on the street for the best rates.
  • Tap water is safe to drink.
  • If you tend to get carsick, bring Dramamine for the roads. This is a requirement, not a suggestion.

Have fun, kids!

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St. Lucia Trip: Part 1

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Hey guys, remember when I went to Jamaica and reviewed family-friendly resorts and activities for you? (Here and here?) Guess what– I got to do it again, and this time, in St. Lucia. Same disclaimer as last time: the people asking me to review this stuff let me come down there and try it all out for free… But you know me and you know I’m always honest, so you know you can believe me when I say it was awesome. This one is gonna have to be another two-parter. Here we go!

I didn’t know much about St. Lucia before I went down there last week. I’m willing to bet you don’t either. In my opinion, that’s the best kind of tropical vacation destination– gorgeous views, sun, sand, and far fewer people around than any of the islands that Americans actually know about. Honestly, if I were you, I’d get down there before everyone else figures out how amazing it is and gets all up in your beaches.

St. Lucia is a tiny island in the eastern Caribbean sea, south of Martinique and north of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It changed hands between the French and the British about a million times in the past, which explains why the people there speak a French-based creole but drive on the left side of the (terrifyingly narrow and carsickness-inducing) roads.

I stayed at a beach resort in Rodney Bay called Bay Gardens that was so luxurious that I just assumed it was an expensive chain hotel. My suite was legit bigger than the apartment that I live in, no joke, and right on the beach. Here’s the view from my balcony:

Not too shabby, huh?

I was surprised to learn that the resort, and the hotel and inn associated with it, were actually a family-owned business. I’m going to digress for a second and tell you the story behind it, because I think it’s something that, in and of itself, makes the properties worth staying at.

Caribbean society is fiercely matriarchal, full of strong and seriously cool women, and Joyce Destang is no exception. Over 20 years ago, she bought the inn and a bunch of reclaimed swamp land in the area as well, and planned to build more hotels on it. She told us that she used to sit in the empty lot and imagine what she wanted her resort to look like. Everyone told her she was nuts for buying that land, but long story short, she basically built the three properties out of nothing, and constantly works to improve them and keep them competitive in today’s market– no small feat when you are competing with giants like Sandals. I met her and she was a fascinating woman, far too humble for the things she has accomplished and the empire she has built literally from the ground up.

I loved the story, loved the “girl power” aspect of it, and most of all loved that it was a family-owned resort that I found was a pretty awesome place for families to stay as well. Their Bay Gardens Hotel (less expensive, starting at $110/night for a family of four, but further from the beach) and Bay Gardens Beach Resort (more expensive, starting at $200/night for a family of four, but has a beach on property) have rooms that can be rented as a king-size bed or two doubles.  They also have suites with a pull-out couch and full-size kitchenette and living room, with attached rooms that have two double beds and their own bathroom that can be rented in conjunction with the suite in order to sleep up to eight people. They have sitters on property who are also regular hotel staff, so you can get to know them before you trust them with your kids. And if the beach and pool aren’t enough to entertain your kids, there are kid-specific activities scheduled when there are enough children on property to enjoy them. Really, the rates for families are pretty incredible considering the location and how gorgeous the properties are (and they’re actually running a 70% off special on their websites at the moment, just sayin’.)

Another thing worth mentioning about St. Lucia is the food. The first night we were at Bay Gardens, we ate at their Caribbean fusion restaurant Trios, and honestly, you guys, there are no words. Well, okay, there are some words: seared ahi tuna with a ginger orange glaze and pineapple chutney with shrimp ceviche. King crab and coconut chowder infused with saffron and chive oil, served in a coconut bowl. Red snapper sampler with coconut rundown, creole, and rum cream sauces, St. Lucian sweet potato mash, and a calaloo garnish. Mango cheesecake with passion fruit mousse and a cinnamon, vanilla, and strawberry rum cream sauce. I am drooling all over my iPad and also I am super fat now, you guys. It was all so beautifully presented, too. And in case you were worried about the kids, although there is no kids menu, the staff is more than accommodating with requests for simpler dishes, and that goes for any meal at any of their restaurants.

On our last night on the island, we ate at Spice of India, one of Rodney Bay’s newest restaurants. Despite its short existence, it has already been rated #1 on the island via TripAdvisor, and let me tell you, it’s well-deserved. They serve authentic Indian dishes that truly are some of the best I’ve had, and the service is impeccable. If this place were in New York City, you wouldn’t be able to get in the door unless you were Oprah or something. Go. Eat. Love it.

To be continued shortly, with details of SNUBA, sightseeing, and the most incredible luxury hotel I’ve ever seen! Stay tuned for part two…

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Friday, November 25th, 2011

I didn’t have Caroline for Thanksgiving this year.  I wasn’t really looking forward to it.  I never do look forward to holidays without her… divorced holidays are pretty sucky in general.  It’s supposed to be family time, you know?  Maybe they get better, but it’s all still pretty new to me at this point.

She left with Tyler for his parents’ house in Phoenix on Sunday, and she’s coming back tonight.  HSD went to Florida to visit family.  My best friend went to Maine to do the same.

I was not looking forward to this at all.

I made sure to have a big, long to-do list of stuff around the apartment to keep me busy.  I told myself that the alone time would be good for me, that it would be nice to sleep in and work out and have a glass of wine on Thanksgiving without worrying about what Caroline was destroying in the other room.

And you know what?  It was actually really nice.

I’ve gotten a ton of sleep, gotten all Caroline’s old baby stuff bagged up and sold for Christmas money, cleaned my apartment from top to bottom, and gone on plenty of long runs.  I went to Thanksgiving at a family friend’s place with my family, and it was so relaxing to eat delicious food and have adult conversation and not chase around a toddler and try to get her to eat her green beans.  It was just… nice.  It wasn’t lonely at all.

So this year, that’s what I am thankful for.  For the silver lining to divorced holidays, for the time spent alone, the time spent relaxing, a respite from my crazy-busy life.  For the time to get things done, for a glass of wine, for adult time.  And for knowing that once I’ve had my little break, my daughter will be coming home to me with a huge, excited grin on her face and with her arms outstretched towards me.

And now?  It’s Christmastime, my favorite time of the year.  I get Caroline for Christmas this year, and she’ll be almost three, and it is gonna be awesome.  I’ve got all my boxes of Christmas stuff out of storage, and it’s ready and waiting for her to come home and tear into it.    I am so looking forward to sharing all that with her… and I’m thankful for that, this year, too.

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Jamaica No Problem: Part 2

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

(If you haven’t read part 1 of my Jamaica trip, you can find it here.)

The next day, I focused on sitting on one butt cheek while we made the short drive to Dolphin Cove Negril (ages 5 and up).  If I had to pick a highlight activity of the trip for me, this would be it for sure.  We put on lifejackets and jumped into the enclosed cove with five dolphins.  Their trainers had them “dance” with us, swim under our hands, kiss our cheeks, and give us rides while we held onto their flippers.  I think I squealed like a little kid the entire time, at a pitch only dogs can hear.

In the afternoon, we took off for Montego Bay.  First we toured the all-inclusive Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort.  Now, if I were going to Jamaica on a budget with kids, this is for sure where I’d stay.  It’s a nice 524-room resort on the beach with several pools, a little private island, and tons of activities and sports and bars, and a spa.  Kids age 12 and under stay, play, and eat free.  They have a ton of kids’ games and activities divided into three age groups, free babysitting until 9pm for age six months and up (with paid services thereafter), and a “KidSpree Vacation Club” that’s basically a full-service daycare center for all ages.  There’s a kids-only “snack hut” and a separate kids’ menu at the main buffet at every meal.  There’s also a teen center with Xbox and air hockey and stuff like that.  They have ten “KidSuites” that have a kids’ room within the suite, with bunk beds, a TV, and a play table (shown at right).

The crazy thing about this place is the price– $210 per night for a family of four, and it’s all-inclusive.  I mean, it’s not a luxury resort.  It’s a Holiday Inn.  I wouldn’t go there without kids, for sure.  But it seemed like a destination where kids of any age would have a blast, not just tolerate being there while mom goes to the spa and dad plays beer pong.  Oh yeah.  That’s the one caveat.  While we sat there eating lunch, there was a beer-drinking contest happening at the main pool right in front of us.  I’d personally want to make sure the kiddies were all “KidSpree’d” away before any of that took place.  But other than that, it seemed like the perfect budget place to stay with a family.

We left the Holiday Inn for the Rose Hall plantation, which is rumored to be haunted.

I won’t ruin the story if you choose to go, but basically this crazy chick lived there and murdered all her husbands and slave lovers because she was bored, or maybe crazed from all the lead in her pewter dishes.  One or the other.  (You might have noticed from my blog that it kind of sucks to get divorced so maybe this White Witch was onto something, is all I’m saying.) Anyway she allegedly still haunts the Great Hall, and I’ve got to admit that it is a very spooky, if fantastically-renovated, place, especially in the rain– so I’d maybe keep this trip to ages ten and up to avoid too many nightmares later on.

From Rose Hall we went to historic Falmouth, where we set sail on this techno-dance-pirate booze/dinner cruise.  No, I’m not kidding.

It was called Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship Adventure and it included drinks, dinner, and a cheesy but truly hilarious singing, dancing pirate show with audience participation and lots of pretty cute pirates, just sayin’.  I think this would be best enjoyed by kids age ten and up, alcoholic beverages not included for them, of course.

We were up bright and early the next morning for a day trip to the South Coast, where we met up with a different branch of Chukka Tours for a ziplining tour of the canopy over seven-tiered Y.S. falls.  Now this was super cool.  We climbed up a path next to these waterfalls:

And went shooting through the canopy on five different ziplines, one of which ran directly down the falls.  The view was truly beautiful and I felt like I was flying.  There’s also a rope swing halfway up the path that you can use to swing out over the falls– and jump out into them, if you’re brave enough!

From there we went to Black River to take a safari tour of the river of the same name.  We saw egrets and herons, petted crocodiles that came right up to the boat:

And got out at one point to climb among the mangroves on the shore.  There’s also a crocodile nursery at the end of the tour where they raise and rehabilitate the endangered Jamaican crocodiles.

On the way back to our resort, we stopped in beautiful freewheeling Negril at the famous cliffs of Rick’s Cafe to see the sunset.  Now, I’m just a dentist, not a real doctor or anything, so I might not be qualified to say for sure, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a bar that serves booze and encourages you to go cliff-diving may not be classified as the safest idea in the world.  Just a thought.  It was a gorgeous view, though.

I spent the last night having dinner and drinks with the wonderful ladies I met through this trip.  They were truly the best travel companions I could have hoped for– friendly, easygoing, hilarious, and possessed of fascinating stories about their previous travels.  I had a fantastic time meeting and bonding with them.  I only hope I am lucky enough to see some of them again someday (outside of Twitter, of course).

And I can’t close the post without noting that even aside from all the beauty and adventure of Jamaica, one of the country’s best assets is its people.  Everyone we met was friendly and chill and very, very knowledgeable, with an answer to any question, always an interesting story to tell, and a pride in their country and heritage that I think is rare and enviable.

So that was my trip.  I think I’ve made it clear that it was pretty much one of the most fantastic experiences I’ve had.  If I were going to take Caroline on a tropical vacation, for me– Jamaica would be it.  I hope I am able to go back soon.

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Jamaica No Problem: Part 1

Monday, October 10th, 2011

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been having the time of my life in Jamaica for the past week.

First things first– the disclaimer: this was a free trip for a few mom bloggers sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board.  I was totally thrilled by the invitation but not so sure how I would handle writing about it.  I’m not a reviewer or a travel writer and I have never blogged with the intent or desire to sell anything… and I don’t plan on ever changing that, and I’m not going to do it here.  I just want to talk about my experience and as always, be completely and bluntly honest… and the honest truth is…

It.  Was.  Awesome.

I’ve always loved to travel, but haven’t done much of it since I had Caroline.  It’s too expensive and too hard to manage as a single mother to a young child.  I had sort of forgotten, to be honest, how much I loved it and how much it is a part of who I am.  This trip was really great for me in that way.  To see these other moms who take all these trips and do all these awesome things, with and without their children… it was a good reminder that regardless of how your career and your children may consume you and change you and bury you– you are still you.  Just like I am still me.  And traveling, discovering new places and people and cultures– that has always been me, and I hope I do not forget that again.

I had been to Jamaica seven years ago, as a sophomore in college on spring break.  My memories of Jamaica have always been built around the drinking and the partying and the freedom of the OMGNOPARENTS, and for that reason I would never have considered taking my daughter there for a family trip.  It just would not have crossed my mind.  And still, I will wait until she is a little older than two to take her.  But as you’ll see, I was truly pleasantly surprised to discover another (more family-friendly) side to this gorgeous country.

I arrived in Montego Bay with eight other mom bloggers, and we were taken to our hotel in Lucea, the Grand Palladium.  I’ve never stayed at a resort so fancy in my entire life.

(I’ll always find it a little bit funny that it was my blogging hobby that brought me to a place like this, and not my allegedly lucrative profession as a dentist.)

The eight of us met, introduced ourselves, and had dinner together that night.  The flight isn’t long (about three and a half hours from JFK), but we were all tired from traveling and went to bed pretty early.  I had the first of four glorious full nights of sleep, and I’ll tell you what, I am still wired from sleeping through the night four times in a row.  With a toddler who never sleeps, that is like crack to me.  Anyway, where was I?  Oh right…

The next morning we took a guided tour of the resort.  The Grand Palladium is a seriously enormous resort with 1056 rooms, divided into 18 villas and 12 smaller, luxury “adults-only” honeymoon suite-type villas.  And there were plenty of honeymooners at this place.  (I kind of wanted to yell, a la Miranda from Sex and the City, “Yeah, it’s all so hot, three days in!”)  The resort has 10 restaurants, 13 bars, and five pools.  It’s all-inclusive, so I probably gained 45 pounds, 39 of which were exclusively from the thousands of pina coladas I drank, which is normal.  It has a casino, a theater, and a spa and gym in an adults-only area.  (Our tour guide looked at us apologetically as she explained that kids weren’t allowed in to the spa, and one of my fellow bloggers looked at her seriously and said, “That’s a good thing.  Never let them in.“)

There’s also a kids’ area, where they have kids’ and teens’ activities all day long, and babysitting that’s free for kids ages 4-12.  Honestly, I loved this resort and would go back in a heartbeat, but probably with girlfriends or a significant other rather than my kid.  Kids might have a good time there, but I wouldn’t call it a family-specific hotel.  If I’m going to book a luxury vacation (it’s about $300 per night, depending heavily upon the season and which type of suite you choose), I’d rather relax completely and not worry about what my kid is up to.  Maybe it’s just me!  Anyway, I absolutely loved the place for this trip.

That afternoon, we took off for a horseback ride and swim with Chukka Caribbean Adventures at Sandy Bay (ages six and up).

(This is from Chukka’s website, it’s not me. I was wearing a bikini and my thighs must have looked gargantuan so let’s keep those pics off the internet, kthx.)

We rode the horses on a long trail through a village to an old sugar factory, with guides who told us all kinds of cool facts about the vegetation and animals and people we saw.  I, despite being from Connecticut, have never in my life been horseback riding.  I loved it, but can’t exactly claim that I was skilled at it:

Horse: I think I will leave the path and go over there.

Me: I would really prefer–

Horse: I do what I want.  Now I will uproot and eat this entire baby palm tree.

Me: I don’t think that’s allow– well… that happened.

Horse: Now, I will gallop.

Me: I am going to die, aren’t I.

Horse: Probably.

I did not die, nor did I come close to it.  Not even when we rode the horses into the gorgeous, turquoise Caribbean Sea and they swam with us clinging to their backs.  It was an amazing experience.  My tailbone, however, may never be the same, and for that reason I recommend you save this very cool activity for the end of the trip.  You might be slightly uncomfortable sitting on the plane ride back, but at least you’ll be more comfortable for the majority of your vacation.

To be continued in part two: swimming with dolphins, haunted plantation houses, a disco-dance pirate dinner cruise (oh yes), ziplining over waterfalls, and more…

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