Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – Part III

***Continued from previous post.

{February 14 – 1:10 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Went down for breakfast at 10:00 am. Had my morning donut, yum! After eating, we headed out to the hotel shops to check out some prices on souvenirs. Cloudy sky, very warm, yet with a lovely breeze. Then we walked down the long, winding road that led to the resort gates, and left the property. Crossed the street to the “Steve’s Bar” side and continued to the right, passed Plaza Bavaro, and found ourselves at another plaza called Bavaro Shopping. Prices a bit higher here. If the vendor didn’t like our haggling, they shook their heads and just waved us away. Only bought one item here, a lovely picture frame for $15.00 USD. We decided to give Plaza Bavaro another shot.



We returned to the shop there that had originally asked $65.00 USD for a purple Punta Cana beach bag I really liked. Ended up buying the bag, 3 magnets, and a shot glass for $35 USD. No other good deals so we left. Crossed the street and looked in some more shops, trying to ignore the pushy vendors. Jordan struck up a conversation with one guy, who ended up giving us a magnet, playing cards, a shot glass, and a pretty stone turtle for $10 USD! I would have spent more money in his shop since he was being so fair but we were getting very warm and wanted to move on. Another young man asked us into his shop so we shrugged and followed him to his stall. I was definitely in a shopping mood as I hadn’t spent much on souvenirs, and that’s one of my favourite things to do while traveling. Bought 3 small paintings for $35 USD, which Jordan picked out. This guy told us he was from Haiti, but he was a little hard to understand. We talked to him for awhile. I picked out 2 larimar stone bracelets for $15.00 USD and he ended up giving me a set of matching earrings included in the price.



We made it back to the resort by almost one o’ clock. Stopped in the lobby for a “Melisa” cocktail, which turned out to taste very good! Back to our room to change into swimwear. Had a delicious pannini for lunch.

{February 14 – 5:50 pm EST – Punta Cana}
No available loungers on the beach so we laid towels in the shade of a tree by the main pool, close to the pool bar. Both of us read, napped, ate some French fries as a snack. Then around 4:00 pm we packed up our stuff and went back to the beach. We found a couple empty chairs.


Ron Barcelo advertisement


Back in our room now. The fan is on but the room feels humid still. I don’t think the air-conditioner is working. It’s our last full-day so it’s not a big deal. We have reservations at the Oriental restaurant at 6:30 pm tonight. It’s Valentine’s Day.

{February 14 – 9:20 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Dinner was rather disappointing. The grouper fish in my first course was too chewy and tasted like a block of salt. The sweet n’ sour pork was very tough to chew. Jordan also didn’t like his meal. We skipped out as fast as we could and went to the buffet for banana crepes. Valentine’s Day theme everywhere, including a guy dressed up as cupid running around the grounds. We ran into the couple who had been on the excursion with us the day before, and talked to them for awhile. They were from New Brunswick, no wonder they were so friendly.



Had our last “Victor’s Special” drink and one more mochaccino from the lobby. Back to the room to pack!

***End of journal.

We spent check-out day lounging around, waiting for our bus to pick us up. It was very hot and sunny. A few pictures from that last day:


Leaving the island

And some souvenirs:



Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – Part II

***Continued from previous post.

{February 11 – 11:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Slept in until 9:00 am! Yet another omelet and banana milkshake for breakfast for myself. Changed into swimsuits after eating and grabbed some beach towels from the hut. Cloudy but blue sky, very warm with a slight breeze by the water; better yet, no rain! We found two broken loungers on the beach and pulled them over to the shade of a palm tree. We only needed them for less than 10 minutes, though, as a family nearby vacated their spot and non-broken loungers. We pounced on them right away! Ah, nice to relax under a palapa with my Kobo in hand.



Around 12:30 pm we headed back to our room to freshen up and go to the 1 o’ clock lunch buffet. Had the alfredo pasta yet again. Jordan tried some this time, too. After lunch, as we were walking by the main pool, I spotted 2 empty loungers in the shade. Jordan saved them while I ran back to the room to collect towels, sunscreen, and my beach bag. We hung out there enjoying the beautiful weather for the remainder of the afternoon.

Strolled back to the beach again in the evening. Jordan grabbed a beer, then swam in the ocean for a bit while I took some photos. Then we went to dinner at 8:30 pm. Not much of a fan of the dinner buffet because I haven’t found anything that I really enjoyed. Ate the lasagna and calzone again and had a few sips of red wine. I had a craving for something sweet n’ sugary and found what looked like a tater tot but what was actually a really delicious, sweet … something. No idea what it was but this was the only night they were available!



Once again, a mochaccino from the lobby bar to end the night. Watched some of the “Copacabana” show at the theatre. Jordan went to the bar next to the pizzeria and tried “Victor’s special” drink – finally an alcoholic drink that tastes fantastic! All I know is that it tasted like grapefruit and quickly became our favourite.



{February 12 – 4:20 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Went for breakfast at 10:00 am. Just had a banana milkshake, donut, and random items this time. Found loungers by the pool and remained there all day. Figured we might as well take advantage of having them for once! Ate lunch around 2:00 pm and returned to our place by the pool. After an entire morning and afternoon spent lounging, we decided to head down to the beach for a change of scenery.



{February 12 – 9:45 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Tired out from a full day in the sunshine. We did end up hanging out at the beach for awhile. Jordan swam; I read. We ate dinner at La Taqueria this time. The chicken quesadillas are to die for! Ordered “Victor’s special” drinks again. Jordan’s meal didn’t quite fill him up so we moved over to the pizzeria side and he ordered himself a pepperoni and blue cheese pizza. After eating we went to the theatre to listen to the live music. The woman who sang has a beautiful voice. Her rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” was lovely.

{February 13 – 6:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Up bright and early at 6:30 am to get ready, pack our beach bags, exchange for clean towels, etc. Ate a quick breakfast at 7:45 am. Today we are going on an excursion: Outback Safari, the full-day tour. I was pretty excited as I’d read many reviews about this tour. We waited at the main entrance of the lobby for our pick-up until we realized that the hotel has a special excursion pick-up zone across the lot. We ran over there and waited on the benches, and talked to the other couple who would be going with us. At 9 o’ clock the Outback Safari open-air jeep pulled up and we were introduced to our guide, Jesus. Unfortunately, today’s weather was not so great. I only had a light, long-sleeved top on over a tank top and shorts so the ride was a cold one. I assumed the weather would clear up but boy was I wrong. The roads were very bumpy but there was plenty of scenery to watch.



First we stopped at a local school. Jesus explained that both Haitian and Dominican kids go to the school. He also told us how to distinguish between the Haitian and Dominican peoples. We said hello to the kids and some of us gave cash donations. Then we climbed back into the jeep and drove through more lush landscape, finally arriving at a ranch. Here, we ate a hearty meal of salad, rice with beans, potato salad, dried sweet potato, dried plantain, and the most delicious fried chicken I’ve ever had! For dessert, coconut cookies. While we were at the ranch the sky opened up and down-poured. I took as many photos as I could while trying to keep my camera dry. Jesus showed us around the ranch and talked about growing bananas, coffee, etc. We even saw some crocodiles.


Dragonfly

Later, we pulled up to a plantation to see how a local Dominican family lives. We walked through their living quarters and then everyone piled into a large open-air hut to sit on benches. We learned about the production of coffee, cacao, and sugarcane; sampled the island’s famous mamajuana drink (tasted like cough syrup to me), as well as real cacao hot chocolate; smoothed coconut oil into our legs; and tasted the incredible local vanilla. All these products were available for purchase. I ended up leaving with 2 bottles of the spicy, sweet-smelling vanilla, a bottle of honey, cacao, and coarse sugar for $20 USD total.

The final part of the afternoon was spent at Macao Beach. It was cold, rainy, and very windy! Jordan and Jesus went boogie-boarding while the rest of us stayed on the beach. There were lots of people there, some also in the water. It looked cold but I enjoyed watching Jordan fighting the waves. The excursion was definitely worth the money!



{February 13 – 9:15 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Just back from dinner at “Via Venneto”. We were a little late as Jordan was slow to wind down from the excursion and get dressed for dinner. Once seated, I ordered the penne carbonara, which turned out lovely, and Jordan had the pasta with salmon. Afterward, we walked to the very crowded lobby for mochaccinos. Couldn’t find any free chairs so we pulled a low coffee table over to a desk and sat on the coffee table. A special check-in area was being prepared for some visitors from Spain. Advertisements for “Ron Barcelo” rum were everywhere, as well as women in really tiny dresses. We people-watched while sipping a White Russian and Spanish coffee. Finished our drinks and walked down to the theatre to listen to some live music before returning to our room for the night.



There was a free 350 mL bottle of Ron Barcelo rum waiting for us in our room.

***Continued in next post.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – Part I

At last I got my wish: a trip to the Dominican Republic! Hello Punta Cana, with your lovely palm trees, blue skies, clear water, smooth sandy beaches, beautiful resorts, and tasty food. Like usual, we traveled in February as it’s the easiest time for the both of us to take holidays together. At first the idea of going to the Dominican started out as a chance for Jordan and I and our friends, Reg and Michelle, to take a trip together. We even chose the hotel that they’d stayed at a couple years earlier – the Occidental Grand Flamenco Resort in Punta Cana. Unfortunately, our friends had to cancel due to not having someone to watch their little boy, but my husband and I decided to book anyway. We got what I think was a really sweet Air Canada all-inclusive package out of Toronto, just before the price rocketed sky-high. We brought US dollars to purchase souvenirs. The time zone is the same as Ontario, however Punta Cana is an hour ahead in the winter because the country doesn’t keep daylight savings time. As usual, I kept a journal.

{February 8 – 8:20 am EST – Toronto Pearson Airport}
Yesterday after work we drove to the Hilton Garden Inn located near the Toronto airport. We had a late dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, splitting a very delicious chicken parmesan sandwich with a side of sweet potato fries. A little pricey, but it was worth it. I’m glad we didn’t order two meals because it was almost too much food. This morning I woke up at 5 am to shower and make sure everything was packed up properly. We went down to breakfast and had the $8.00 cold buffet, then caught the 7:30 am shuttle to terminal 1. Waiting at gate E80 right now; boarding is at 9:45 am. For some reason we couldn’t get seats together.



{February 8 – 8:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
When boarding time came and our flight wasn’t announced, I checked the screen only to realize that the gate had been changed. Other travelers began to notice this as well and we all rushed to the new gate. At the new gate we had our seats changed so that we could sit together. Flight took off a little late but we still arrived on schedule. During the flight beverages were free but any food or snacks were available for a fee. By this time I was absolutely starving, and when I get really hungry I also get a headache. Since our seats were at the very back of the plane, we were the last to be served drinks and of course there was only licorice, chips, and noodle cups left. I don’t usually buy food on the plane but I needed to eat something; that cup of noodles for $3.00 was disappointing but at least it was food.



Upon arrival at the Punta Cana airport, we skipped the long line for tourist cards since ours were included with the trip package. Customs didn’t even look at the forms we’d filled out on the plane; they just took them and waved us on. We made our way to the parking lot in search of our bus and arrived at the resort a little after 6 pm. At check-in we were asked for our voucher but I guess I never received one from itravel2000. I printed out and had with me every email the site had sent me about the package but there was no voucher so I don’t know what I was supposed to give them. Anyway, the hotel staff just had us sign a paper. We were also given a complimentary fruity beverage. After getting our luggage a staff member drove us to building #13 (room 201). Very close to the beach (less than 2 minutes) but a longer walk to the lobby and restaurants. Went looking for food after getting settled in. The buffet wasn’t open for dinner just yet so we decided to go to the pizzeria. Then we just wandered around the grounds to get familiar with the resort. At the lobby we paid $25 USD for the key to the in-room safe (for a week).


The beautiful beach

Looking out to sea... Posing on the beach

{February 9 – 10:45 am EST – Punta Cana}
Woke up early to shower and headed down to the breakfast buffet for a quick bite to eat. Meeting in lobby with our tour representative at 9 am. She gave us a bunch of information on the resort and available excursions, and said that if we ever needed anything we were to talk to her first. Afterward we booked two dinner reservations: La Hacienda (Mexican) for 6:30 pm on February 10th and Via Venneto (Italian) for 6:30 pm on February 13th.

Still hungry after the meeting so Jordan and I went back for more breakfast! I had some French toast, a sugar donut, and a delicious glass of freshly-made banana milkshake. Jordan had a plate of fresh fruit and some milkshake as well. Great food selection for breakfast. Earlier he had tried a mochaccino from the lobby bar (our friends had raved about them) and turns out they are very good! We ended up drinking many of them throughout our stay. We went for a walk around the grounds to work off breakfast and then returned to our room around 11:15 am to change into swimsuits. For some reason there was no water when Jordan tried to shower; good thing I showered this morning!



{February 9 – 3:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Went down to the main pool but there were no available loungers, of course. None on the beach either. No surprize there! Instead we just walked along the beach (facing the ocean, we walked to the right side). Perfect weather! The sky was very blue with just a few clouds. The water was also very refreshing on our feet. We took many photos along the way. After about an hour of walking, we returned to the resort for lunch. I ordered the pasta with white sauce that the staff make right in front of you. Mmm, it’s my favourite! Relaxed after lunch by sitting at a table outside the lobby area sipping mochaccinos and basking in the sunshine. A little later we returned to our room to change shoes only to discover that we had no power!



{February 9 – 6:30 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Turns out most of the resort was without power for little over an hour due to the hotel replacing a transformer. During that time we just walked around, checked out the spa facilities, and had some drinks. The sex-on-the-beach and lime margaritas were terrible but Jordan enjoyed his Presidente and also a Pepsi with whisky. Unfortunately, no power meant no flushing toilets and nothing but candlelight in the lobby washrooms!

We changed into our swimwear again at 5:30 pm, only to realize that the towel hut closed ten minutes early. So we sat around on the beach enjoying the breeze. I brought my Canon 60D and took some photos while Jordan went swimming in the ocean. So far the weather has been great; very hot during the day but a nice cool breeze in the evening.



{February 9 – 10:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Back from dinner! I had beef lasagna and a ham and cheese calzone. Oh, that calzone was heavenly! For dessert I ordered crepes from the “crepes station”: fresh slices of banana, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate syrup. Jordan tried some fish, rice, and various cheeses. I think we were there for a good hour or more, eating and chatting with the couple sitting at the table next to us. After eating we wandered back to the lobby so I could purchase wifi for our room ($25 USD for 25 hours worth of internet than could be used anytime over a 7 day period – I even connected to it using my iPhone on the beach). Ordered more mochaccinos and sat in the lobby to relax. On our walk back to the room there was a beautiful full moon in the sky!

{February 10 – 8:30 am EST – Punta Cana}
Woke up at 6:30 am this morning because we booked a tour with Punta Cana Mike for the Higuey Circle tour. Unfortunately, we received an email from him canceling due to severe muscle strain in his neck and shoulders. While this was disappointing because we were really looking forward to this tour, there isn’t much we could do about it and we appreciate that he at least emailed to let us know. I had some school supplies with us that I was going to donate but instead I’ll just leave them in the room on our last day. Now we have the day free. What to do? For starters, breakfast! Must have rained early because the pathways are wet and the sky is gray.



{February 10 – 8:40 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Calling it a night! It’s certainly been a long day. For breakfast I had a delicious omelet and a donut with a glass of fresh orange juice. Afterward we walked down to the beach and turned left facing the ocean this time. Walked for about forty minutes before turning around. All the time the sky was pretty gray but no rain. We came back for lunch around 1:15 pm and I had that awesome pasta again. I can’t get enough of it.



Before our walk we had spoken to our tour rep about taking the shuttle bus to Nicole’s shop this afternoon. We were picked up at 2:30 pm at the gates to the hotel. The bus turned right and passed the Bavaro Plaza. Nicole’s shop is at an old golf course. We browsed for a bit, more interested in the scenery than the jewelry. Mostly this was just something for us to do to pass the time. I ended up purchasing 2 bags of Santo Domingo coffee for $12 USD. When we got bored in there, we came outside and waited for the shuttle to come back. Jordan chatted with an older gentleman from Quebec; this nice man suggested we try shopping at “the stores near the pharmacy just past the Bavaro Plaza”. We also had a nice conversation with a guy from Peterborough.

Tipped the shuttle driver $2 USD to let us off across the street from Bavaro Plaza so we could explore on foot. We browsed through the stores in the Plaza but the vendors are extremely pushy and got upset if they didn’t get their way. That definitely turned me off from wanting to spend money there. We left and crossed the street again and looked through a few more shops but didn’t buy anything. At this point it was very warm and we were tired so we walked the short distance back to the hotel.



Had dinner at the Mexican restaurant tonight, “La Hacienda”. I ordered the chicken fajitas and Jordan ordered the Azteca dish (tortilla strips with chicken and re-fried beans). The food was very tasty but the fajitas weren’t served with shredded cheese, only a cheese sauce like what one would put on nachos (yuck). The dessert, “milk cake”, was really good as well. After eating we browsed through the vendor stalls that had set up outside the lobby area by the main pool. I ended up buying 2 necklaces for $15 USD, which is probably more than they are worth but I didn’t care so much as I hadn’t done much spending.

***Continued in next post.

Jamaica – Part II

***Continued from previous post.

{February 9 – 6:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Dragged myself out of bed at 5 am to shower, get dressed, and pack my beach bag with towels, cash, and sunscreen. We were in the lobby by 6 am, just on time to be picked up for our trip to the Blue Mountains. No time for breakfast, just a granola bar. Dark outside and we’re the first ones on the bus; turns out the driver made a special trip to pick us up. When we first tried to book the trip, the Jamaican Tours agent said there weren’t enough people wanting to go (meaning, in Montego Bay) so we would have to try for another day. But because we showed such an interest in this bicycling tour, she called the tour company again and they agreed to have us picked up. Anyway, we picked up more people in Ocho Rios and Runaway Bay, then headed all the way across the island to the Blue Mountains. We drove for hours, past lush banana and papaya plantations.



First we stopped somewhere for a quick brunch of toast, eggs, juice, and rolls. I really have no idea where we were. But then we hopped back onto the bus and drove up some pretty crazy winding roads to get to the top. Endless photo opportunities through the window. Absolutely breath-taking landscape. Once at the top everybody picked out a bike and were given a helmet, elbow protectors, and knee pads for safety. We were told we were not allowed to bike down the mountain without wearing them. Now I must mention that there was a Belgian family with our group, a mother, father, and daughter, and they caused some trouble when we first picked them up. Apparently they didn’t have their tickets (ie. proof of purchase) for the tour and weren’t going to be allowed on the bus. They delayed us quite a bit and finally were allowed to come. They were very loud during the ride. Now that we had our bikes and were ready to go, they put up a huge fuss over wearing the safety gear. Oh. My. God. I could not believe how annoying they were being; all I could think was “Just put the stuff on and let’s go already!” But they finally got their way and didn’t have to wear the knee and elbow pads. Idiots.



Anyway, we were finally on our way! A pretty smooth ride all the way down, some bumps and ruts, but lovely weather for biking and taking in our surroundings. There were special “check points” where our guides had the group stop and they spoke about the region and pointed out local flora and fauna. We inspected a primary school, tasted Blue Mountain coffee brewed outside in a large iron pot, and ate slices of grapefruit one of the guides picked off a tree by the side of the road. We were shown different leaves and herbs that are used to brew into a tea that, after drinking for a couple days, removes all traces of marijuana from one’s bloodstream so that the person can visit a doctor and not be caught with the drug in their system. At the bottom of the trail we got back on our bus and visited a nearby waterfall. By now it was cooler and I didn’t want to swim, but Jordan was the first into the water! He almost lost his glasses, too. There was also a beer-drinking contest that Jordan and two others volunteered for. Afterward, tipped the tour guide $250J and the driver $300J (approx $3.50 USD).



{February 9 – 8:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Just got back from dinner and some shopping. Delicious pasta for dinner at “Little River”. I am addicted to this dish. So far there hasn’t been much opportunity for me to shop. I brought money to spend and I was determined to spend it all before leaving. So after dinner we visited the hotel shop and I ended up spending about $75 USD on a beautiful sundress, a blue “Jamaica” T-shirt, photo frame, two postcards, and a gorgeous pink tote bag.

{February 10 – 10:15 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
First thing after breakfast, we went down and signed out one of the catamarans since it’s such a gorgeous day. However, not much wind so we didn’t get very far, just kinda floated around and enjoyed the solitude and sunshine. The sky was so blue and hardly any clouds at all. We were allowed to sail for an hour for free but got bored after half an hour of hardly any movement so we returned the catamaran and found ourselves some chairs on the beach. Jordan joined a game of volleyball, which didn’t last long because there were only a few players, and then we went for a dip in the water. Lazy, relaxing day. Later, we visited the craft stalls just off the property, along the beach, and bought some beaded bracelets, necklaces, and a couple shot glasses ($15 USD).



At four o’ clock we hopped on the free shuttle to “Rose Hall Shoppes” and wandered around there for awhile. There was a Scotiabank ATM there, even though two workers at the hotel said there wasn’t, so I used that to get out some cash without having to pay any fee. Bought some cool magnets, a black tote bag for my sister ($12 USD), etc.
Took some photos of me in my new sundress by the picturesque waterwheel. Back at the hotel, picked up two more bags of Blue Mountain coffee from the store, plus some Jamaican vanilla extract with cardamon ($30 USD). Also found a ladies Fossil watch that I actually liked, so purchased that as well for $85 USD (I’m so picky with watches). Ate dinner at “Jambalaya”, the Cajun restaurant, at 9 pm, but because we had a quick bite to eat before going to the “Shoppes”, we were not overly hungry. The food was just alright, nothing spectacular.


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{February 11 – 7:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Yet another fun and adventurous day on our final day on this beautiful island! We ate an early breakfast of fried eggs and then met in the lobby for 7:45 am. First off, an extremely bumpy ride out of Montego Bay to the south coast to Black River. Small group, only five of us and all Canadians, so we introduced ourselves and chatted during the ride. Once at the Black River crocodile safari, we piled onto a boat with some others. Black River is the country’s longest navigable river. Our guide pointed out egrets, herons, osprey, fish, mangroves, and five different crocodiles. For each one he brought the boat as close as possible. He explained that during the day the crocodiles are docile; it’s only at night that they are dangerous because it’s hunting time for them. We learned that the river is called Black River because the water looks a dark sludgy brown or black. But if you fill a water bottle with the river water, it’s perfectly clear. After that lovely, hot boat ride we ate lunch right in the open-air buiding: jerk chicken, rice, pork & beans (too spicy), and cole slaw.



Another winding, heart-jarring bumpy ride 30 minutes away to famous YS Falls. Hopped on a tractor that pulled us in a sort of trailer with bench seats that took us from the main building where the souvenirs are to the park where the falls are located. Got bit by mosquitoes! We were allowed to go off on our own and explore, as long as we met back at a certain time. The falls kind of rise at different levels and at each level there are pools that you can swim in. At one level there is a rope swing that Jordan jumped off a couple times. Everything was so beautiful, but there were also a lot of people. Took lots of photos, of course.



When we got back, we ate a hamburger at “Uncle Tony’s” and then walked down to the sister resort, Iberostar Rose Hall Suites. Wandered around their shops, which are a lot better than our measly two stores. Collected some final souvenirs: postcards and magnets ($11 USD). Now we are back at the resort. Suitcases are stuffed to the gills! We need to be ready to go at 10:45 am tomorrow (Saturday). Goodbye Jamaica!



***End of journal.

Getting through security when leaving the island is just as much a pain as arriving. Had to remove all excess sweaters/shirts and even shoes (that’s the first time I’ve ever been asked to take off my shoes at an airport). Regardless of those inconveniences, what an amazing trip! When I look back on our trip now, I’m so happy that we did more than just lounge around the resort. There was so much to do and see on the island! I think my favourite thing to do was climbing Dunn’s River Falls and bicycling down the Blue Mountains. For me, those activities were adventurous.

Jamaica – Part I

Jamaica, my first trip to the Caribbean! I really needed a break from work and I’m so glad we had the opportunity to go. After Europe in October, we didn’t think we would go on another vacation for awhile, considering the expense, but Jordan wanted to go somewhere after returning from his deployment. He knew he would have extra leave time to use in February so we chose a week in that month. I requested the time off work, and then started researching which Caribbean island to visit. Even though I would have loved to go to the Dominican Republic, Jordan specifically said anywhere but there. Since he was in Haiti last January as part of the DART team, he claims he has no desire to visit that island any time soon. Maybe another time I’ll convince him!

So my search led me to the lovely island of Jamaica. And once I’d decided on the destination, I hopped onto TripAdvisor and started sifting through all-inclusive resort listings. After reading a bunch of reviews and asking some questions on the TA forums, I picked out the Iberostar Rose Hall Beach Resort as the place to stay. I sent off an email to the travel agent who set up our Europe trip and she booked the Westjet package for us: Ottawa departure to Montego Bay, February 5-11th, 2011.

For spending money we brought some US dollars, but I had the majority of my cash turned into Jamaican dollars (represented as “J”). Most places will accept either currency. For tipping, we used either $1.00 USD or $100J. All the vendors would give us US prices and then I’d have to ask what that would be in Jamaican dollars. I think if we were to go again, I’d just stick with US dollars.

Jamaica is in the same time zone as Ontario, and the electrical outlets accept our plugs. Anyway, here is my journal from our fabulous stay in Montego Bay, Jamaica!

{February 5 – 9:10 am EST – Ottawa MacDonald-Cartier Airport}
Yesterday I worked until 4:30 pm and then rushed home to finish packing the rest of our – meaning Jordan’s – luggage. He stuffed everything into one carry-on bag, whereas I had packed a large suitcase and a carry-on. I never know what I want to wear, I’m terrible at packing light. Made egg-fried rice for a quick dinner. We locked up the house and headed to Ottawa sometime after 6 o’ clock and found our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, by 9 pm. Checked in, paid for a parking permit for the week, then went up to our room. Comfortable king bed and spacious room. Changed into our swimsuits and took a dip in the indoor pool. I hung out in the hot tub because I didn’t think the pool water was very warm. Went to bed sometime after 10:00 pm, knowing we had to be up extra early the next morning.



Woke up at 4:30 am this morning to have a quick shower and dress. Down to the lobby for 5:50 am to catch the free shuttle to the airport. Jordan grabbed a green tea to go. Once at the airport we checked in and then sat down for breakfast at one of the restaurants – fried eggs, bacon, toast, and potatoes, way too much food for that early in the morning. Found our gate and boarded just after 8:30 am. Sitting here on the Westjet plane, with nothing but a packet of Bits & Bites to eat and something to drink. Nothing on this flight, other than tiny snacks and beverages, is free, not even movies to pass the time. While I read a book, Jordan watched something on his Netbook.

{February 5 – Noon – Over the Bahamas}
Flying over the Bahamas! Took some photos. Wow, looks so beautiful from the sky. So much green and blue. Soon we’ll be flying over Cuba!



{February 5 – 7:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
We landed fifteen minutes early and spent almost one and a half hours in line to get through Customs. Heat not that bad; air-conditioning in the building made it bearable. By the time we got through that line, everyone’s luggage had been taken off the belts and piled on the floor – Jordan had to sift through everything to find my bag. Left that room and found the Jamaican Tours booth to collect our passes for the hotel transfer. We boarded the proper bus and the driver told us some information about the island. A few clouds in the blue sky, warm but with a nice breeze. We arrived at the Iberostar Rose Hall Beach Resort just before 4 pm and checked in quickly. We were given a cold drink during check-in; I don’t know what it is but it certainly tasted tropical! Our room is on the same floor as the huge lobby, but far enough away that we can’t hear any noise. To us it was the perfect location, because we didn’t have to walk very far for food or to get to the pool.



Decided to stroll around the grounds to get our bearings. The hotel provided us with a map that showed all the restaurants and listed the times that food is available at each one. Grabbed a hamburger and fries at the beach buffet, “Uncle Tony’s”. While we ate we watched a wedding take place on the beach. After eating we walked up to the lobby and made a reservation for 9 pm at the Japanese à la carte restaurant called “Samurai”. I’ve never eaten Japanese food before so this will be a new experience for me.

{February 6 – 10:10 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
The “Samurai” restaurant last night was cool. The food was cooked in front of us while the chef put on a show of tossing his cooking utensils. To start we were served sushi rolls, then our choice of soup, and finally teppanyaki with fried rice. The fried rice was delicious and for the teppanyaki I ordered beef and chicken, and Jordan had the salmon and octopus. Jordan had some desserts but they all looked like they were made of gelatin so I stayed clear.



Today we woke up early to eat breakfast at the indoor buffet, “Little River”. After sampling a bunch of different breads, fruits, cheese, and fried eggs, we headed inside to the lobby for a briefing with our Jamaican Tours representative at 10 am. We booked a trip to Dunn’s River Falls for Monday (tomorrow), costing $65 USD per person (on AMEX). Returned to our room to change into swimwear and then descended on the pool! I expected it to be much warmer, but brrr it was cold! The breeze certainly didn’t help. We went to the swim-up bar and ordered a couple drinks and then proceeded to shiver and drink cold cocktails. I decided I was not a fan of the cold water and climbed out and instead we lounged on the beach and soaked up the rays. There were no chairs available at the pool but plenty on the beach. There’s lots of natural foliage on the beach for shade if you’re not able to find a palapa.



Ate dinner at “Little River” in the air-conditioning. There is so much to choose from for food. I am in love with the pasta with cream sauce that is cooked right in front of you. Still wearing long sleeved shirts. Later, at the lobby bar, I had a frozen strawberry margarita and Jordan drank a mojito. The Super Bowl is happening in the Calypso Theatre but we’re not interested in watching football. Getting late so we’re heading to bed.

{February 7 – 6:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Today’s tour was a trip to Ocho Rios for shopping at a centre called “Taj Mahal” and then to a craft market. Bought some Blue Mountain coffee ($12 USD) at one of the shops, as well as a couple postcards, a keychain, and a country patch for a total of $25 USD (including the coffee). At another shop I spent $15 USD on a beautiful frame and 2 more keychains for a couple people at work. At the craft market, the people were very pushy, which I did not enjoy, and I only ended up buying one item – a pink waterproof zippered pouch for carrying money ($4 USD).



After shopping, and making friends with the ladies on our tour bus, we drove to the “Ruins at the Falls” restaurant where we had to each pay $15 USD for lunch buffet. I thought that lunch was included in the tour price, but apparently it wasn’t. The food was alright but definitely not worth what we paid. After eating there we headed over to Dunn’s River Falls and walked through the parking lot in our skimpy swimsuits to get our tickets. We had to leave everything on the bus, even towels. Our tour guide even said to leave glasses behind but I wore mine anyway, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see to climb the falls! A nice lady gave me a string to wear around my neck that attached to the glasses so that I wouldn’t lose them. Finally we were brought to our guide and walked down the beach, and then we all linked hands and started climbing! It was exhilarating and the water was very cold but after awhile you don’t even feel the cold. We brought along Jordan’s waterproof camera and there were plenty of opportunities to take pictures. I had a lot of fun during this part of the tour!



When we returned to the hotel, exhausted, Jordan and I ate dinner at “Little River” and we were back in our room by nightfall. Watched some television and fell asleep.

{February 8 – Noon – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
This morning we ate breakfast and then booked a dinner reservation for “Uncle Tony’s Steakhouse” for 9 pm tonight. Also booked the Cajun restaurant for Thursday at 9 pm and some other fun activities to keep us on the go! Excursion for Wednesday (Feb 9): full-day Blue Mountain bicycle tour, $157 USD per person (on AMEX). Excursion for Friday (Feb 11): Black River safari to see crocodiles and a visit to YS Falls, $88 USD per person (on VISA). Wanted to go sailing after completing these bookings but winds are too fast right now and we were asked to try back later.



{February 8 – 10:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Still couldn’t sail due to high winds. For a day that started out as the warmest so far, it turned chilly and rainy pretty quickly. We went for a walk along the beach all the way to the Grand grounds and back, even though it rained a bit on us. Ate dinner at the steakhouse. Buffet selection not that great but the onion rings, pork chops, and potatoes were delicious! Wake-up call set for 5 am tomorrow morning as we need to be in the lobby by 6 am!

***Continued in next post.