Maine is a beautiful place to celebrate summer, and I happen to live here! Every summer seems to arrive late and leave too soon, but for those few short months of bliss, we grab the sun by its rays and try to pull it closer! Here is a look at our summer in pictures….
Our son graduated this June, became an Eagle Scout and our daughter turned 15. We were busy people!
Our daughter started working this summer – two jobs in fact….one doing barn work and another bussing and hosting at one of our iconic seacoast restaurants in Perkins Cove called Barnacle Billy’s. I worked there as a younger woman and in fact, the last summer I worked there I found out we were expecting…and thus, Charlotte is affectionately known as the “Barnacle Baby”. Both of her work locations lend to some beautiful photos – I hope you enjoy them.
We celebrated my mom’s 70th birthday in July and took a fun touristy trip off the coast of Maine for an authentic lobster bake! My mom’s cousin joined and we had a fabulous time together on a rainy, windy July day!
We undertook our annual family camping week at Long Lake this summer. This trip is always such a joy – spending it with my mom and step dad, my sister and her family, and next year, my other sister and her girls will be joining us once again! This week is full off memory making experiences, camp fires, tubing, boating, great food and lots of laughs. It is a week I cherish and look forward to every year!
My “second daughter” came to visit and we took a little road trip to Philly to bring her to the airport. We had a blast in our short visit there!
In August, Charlotte and I undertook a mission trip to Mexico with our church. We grew as people and as daughters of God. Our mission there is dear to our hearts and we were able to also meet one of the children we sponsor – we are blessed by knowing these wonderful people!!
Later in August, Charlotte, Kelly and I visited Jamaica on the tail end of a tropical depression and enjoyed some family time there (missing Kelton, who was holding down the fort and working). We enjoyed the beautiful waters, wonderful people and steamy hot weather!
To wrap it up, my mom and I celebrated her birthday again on the cruise ship Carnival Horizon. We had a wonderful time, talking about our family history, laughing and trying new things! A time for making great memories!
I can’t even believe we had all this fun in three months! Along with our ups, we did have some downs, but life happens every day – and like Carnival Cruise Line, we Smiths Choose Fun. Make the memories. Fulfill the dreams. Love.
After departing South Coast, we took a bus across the island back towards the Montego Bay area to tour the flagships of the Sandals’ brand in Jamaica – Montego Bay and Royal Caribbean.
Sandals Royal Caribbean – just 15 minutes from the airport makes this Sandals a very popular destination, especially for quick 4 or 5 night trips. The proximity to the airport also leads to the occasional very loud plane noise, but some people can easily over look this. Folks staying there told me that after a day or so, they really didn’t notice it any more!
Sandals Royal Caribbean boasts not only the only private island resort in Jamaica, but also those gorgeous Over the Water Bungalows – and I got to tour one!!!!! So cool!!!! Look, here’s the thing – these Over the Water Bungalows are ELITE Butler service accommodations – they are EXPENSIVE (think approximately $1500/day PER PERSON) and the SELL OUT two years in advance!!!! I’m not kidding!!!!!
Sandals Montego Bay – another smaller resort with a nice beach and well appointed rooms. I LOVED the ones that were closest to the ocean with the swim out rooms and large soaking tubs! Our tour guide said that when these soaking tub upgrades were complete, they hadn’t put any type of screens of curtains up on the patios and balconies. Needless to say, privacy curtains were added quickly to all the patios and balconies!
Sandals Montego Bay is literally right next door to the airport – again – the jet noise bothered me enough that I do not think I would like to stay at either Montego Bay OR Royal Caribbean -but that’s me! However, the Montego Bay property had a SUPER fun and party vibe! We saw games being played, music on the beach, volleyball, lots of visiting and friends making and an overall joyful and fun atmosphere! I loved this! Oh and the Over the Water Chapel!!!
Folks at Sandals South Coast call it “Sweet, Sexy South Coast” and after touring this property, I can totally see why! Let me say that I fell in love with this property! It was VERY different from the Sandals Negril property in not only its size but also its privacy and overall feel. Let’s begin!
We departed Sandals Negril and drove south west to White House and Sandals South Coast. The drive took us about 2 hours and it was twisty, turny and ever so interesting. (The drive from Montego Bay airport is about 1.5 hours). Our arrival on the South Coast property was stunning! It instantly reminded me of a Mediterranean resort with its distinct architecture, open plazas and well laid out eateries.
This resort boasts ALL Ocean View rooms (except for the NEW Rondovals – which really do not need an ocean view – they are so amazing). The resort is similar in its layout to Beaches Turks & Caicos, with an Italian Village, a French Village, a Caribbean Village and at South Coast, the recently renovate and dynamic Dutch Village.
Something else I loved about this resort was that they have OVER the Water Bungalows! Oh, and an amazing overwater bar – Latitudes – and they sure know how to make a dirty martini!!!
The one evening I stayed there, I enjoyed sushi for my dinner and took some time to wander around the resort and marvel at the beauty. Many of my travel agent friends who accompanied me on the trip enjoyed the late-night circus-like show and the martini bar – but alas, I treasure my sleep more that entertainment and turned in around 9:30pm.
The next day we had our official walking tour of the resort – the eateries – the SPA – and also a number of the rooms. They were all beautiful, well appointed, and with lovely ocean views. Oh, and did I mention the Over the Water Wedding Chapel???? Stunning!
If I were forced to come up with something I didn’t totally love about this resort, it might the beach – it wasn’t as powdery as Negril and the water was not AS serene – but that would NEVER keep me from staying at this resort. If I had to personally pick one of the eight Sandals and Beaches resorts to stay at during my own vacation, I would pick South Coast (second choice coming up).
Here are some of my favorite grounds photos from this beautiful resort – Enjoy!
I want to start off by saying that I am going to present my PERSONAL points of view based upon my own observations, likes and dislikes. I very much enjoyed each of the eight properties I toured – but for different reasons. I believe that each of them have positive attributes – but some have negative attributes as well. So here we go….
Sandals Negril is a beautiful property, and I would argue, after touring what felt like half the beaches on the island, that the Negril area has the nicest beaches – beautiful, azure waters and powdery sand! The Sandals Negril property feels more boutique like in its set up. It feels quaint, intimate and well laid out. The swim out rooms we absolutely my favorite and I also loved the Barefoot eating area! It really felt like a tropical paradise!
I can’t say there were any real NEGATIVES about this resort – it was a bit on the small side – which some people would consider a PLUS! It was small but still not too small. It was VERY well kept and the grounds, as with all of the properties I saw, were absolutely gorgeous! Lush, mature tropical gardens and plants really augment the natural beauty of the sea and the build beauty of the architecture.
As with all Sandals and Beaches properties, so many water sports are included in your Ultra-Inclusive pricing. Diving, sailing, kayaking and even tubing and water skiing in some locations. Look at these gorgeous sail boats and dive boats! Talk about a fabulous groups opportunity!
Finally, the Negril resort area is about 1.5 to 2 hours away from the Montego Bay Airport (MBJ) – this is a colorful and enjoyable ride around Jamaica’s coastline and the opportunity to see small towns and villages along the way is a fabulous way to learn a bit about a county and her people.
While the topography and waters of Jamaica look similar to other Caribbean islands, there is something special about Jamaica. Her people say they don’t have problems, but situations. They believe in their “One Love” moto and live life to the fullest!
I heard a number of time that if you visit Jamaica three times, you ARE Jamaican. Well, I have one more trip to earn my “ya, mon”!
To say that my summer has been busy would be a gross understatement – and I will be sharing a picture journal of my summer in the next couple of weeks – but today, and for the next week or so, I will be sharing some of my experiences on what travel professionals call a FAM – a Familiarization trip. I did one of these in April to Beaches Turks & Caicos and you went along on that journey with me! This time, I am in Jamaica touring the two Beaches Resorts and all six of the Sandals properties on this beautiful, history filled island. Hold on….it’s going to be a wild ride!!!
So, a little background – a Familiarization trip is available to travel agents who either meet certain criteria (sales in the brand, for example) or are invited to join. Some FAMs are at a discounted rate. Some, you have to pay just to get there (airfare), but ALL of them have the purpose of getting to know a brand so that you can sell it more effectively! Personal experience. Last year, I missed out on a Disney Cruise FAM (super bummer) and an AMAWaterways FAM (even MORE of a super bummer) – but in 2021, I have had the great opportunity to be invited to TWO Sandals and Beaches Resorts FAMs and this time, in Jamaica.
My family and I (minus my hardworking adult son who is now in the workforce!!!) arrived at Beaches Negril on the tail end of what was a tropical depression, soon to be named Hurricane Ida. She did some damage here, and when we arrived it took three hours to get to the resort from the airport (usually a 1.5 hour trip) and the resort took a bit of a beating. Flooding everywhere, the beach was in rough shape and our room had a leak at the minisplit (AC unit) due to the heavy rain. We took it i n stride, realizing the folks’ homes probably were in a lot worse shape than this beautiful resort and we needed to have some grace and give some time to get things squared away.
The next day, we still had periods of rain, but crews were out in full force on the beach and on the grounds. First thing, a maintenance person came to look at our leak (again, it was specifically because of the heavy rain, not an enduring problem). The standing water all over the resort had receded a LOT during the night and the pools were being over-filtered and all surfaces were being bleached and sanitized (something we saw OFTEN here).
As the weekend went on, we began to see what this resort typically looks like (it takes time for a community to clean up after a big storm) and it is lovely! We saw a number of beautiful weddings, birthday parties, family groups here enjoying the last wisps of summer vacation, and couples enjoying each other. The wedding sites they have here and the services offered by Sandals and Beaches are just BREATH TAKING and absolutely special. We saw THREE Re-Tie the Knot ceremonies and one first time wedding and each were beautiful.
We also got to take part in all the other fun and adventurous things included in an Ultra Inclusive resort like Sandals and Beaches. Kelly went diving two days and did the requirements to earn his Advanced Certification from PADI (diving is always included on property – advanced certification was extra), Char and I went snorkeling (I was really impressed how well the reefs have been managed right off shore with how many people visit daily), we went in a glass bottomed boat, rode a banana boat (towed by a speed boat), Char and I went water skiing (which was BEYOND cool in the ocean!), paddle boarding, sea trike riding and kayaking. We loved the two waterslides and little lazy river, and Charlotte found so much joy in snorkeling right in and near the swimming area – she found star fish, we saw stingrays, small fish pretty little shells. We loved it!
Other seen wildlife on this highly touristy area were sandpipers, a pair on pelicans we named Edward and Edwina (they fished right off shore often), the BIGGEST hermit crab I have ever seen, lizards, kitties (pest control), and the craziest thing…..crabs that live in the hedges on propery….at night, they slowly skitter out to forage, but during they day, they sleep under the hedges – it was pretty cool to see!!!!
A resort “review” would be boring without talking about the food – and let me tell you there are tons of great options here – from Mariachi – the Mexican flare restaurant, to Stewfsih – the gorgeous breakfast and dinner place on the beach, to the Venetian – Italian delights, to Kimonos – hibachi grill and SOY – my favorite – the best sushi in town!!!! Notable mentions – the Mill – the resort buffet, Dino’s – WONDERFUL woodfired pizza place – WOW! Great pizza there! BBQ – your typical BBQ with a Jamaican jerk flare, and Yo-Yos – frozen yogurt bar with all the fixins! To wrap it up, Café de Paris…crepes, sweets and COFFEE!!!!!
Overall, we had a wonderful time enjoying this fun and adventurous resort as a family. But, all good things must come to an end and my family went home and my FAM began with a cocktail party meet and greet and a review of our blistering resort tour schedule. I will report all the beautiful sights back to you and hopefully give YOU some ideas about where you would like to spend your next vacation!!!
Our last two stops on our amazing Mediterranean journey. In Cadiz, the kids stayed on board the Anthem while Kelly and I did a little exploring! It was a windy day but we found time to sit and enjoy fabulous churros and hot chocolate!
Our last stop was Lisbon, Portugal! We didn’t know what to expect in Lisbon but LOVED every inch of this hilly city! We explored Jeronimos Monastery, Castelo de Sao Jorge, learned about the cork industry a bit (you can find anything and EVERYTHING made from cork in Lisbon) and marveled at this beautiful bitter sweet last stop of our adventure!
One of my favorite all time pictures!
The courtyard of the Monastery
Char and Sable being sassy.
Beautiful crucifix at the Monastery.
We found some beautiful peacocks on the way up the hill towards the Castelo.
Castelo de Sao Jorge
We loved the coloring on this fellow!
My princess of the Castelo walls.
Making the Anthem of the Seas our home for 16 days was an amazing way to see the Med and I recommend it to everyone!!!
I fell in love with Spain in Malaga. That should be a song….but it happened!!
Malaga is a gorgeous Mediterranean city with large seaside pedestrian ways, a state of the art cruise ship port, magnificent history and a liveliness that features flare, fun and fantasy. It was hands down a wonderful surprise and I cannot wait to go back!
Such beautiful architecture!
The gardens we saw everywhere were stunning!
I love these trees with purple/blue flowers!
We did our first Segway tour!
In Europe, I guess they believe that an 8 year old is able to safely ride a Segway!
My people on a gorgeous old walkway!
In Malaga, the fortress/castle is call Alcabaza. It was STUNNING!
The walls of Alcabaza
Gardens of Alcabaza.
Arab influences can be seen all over this beautiful city.
I am a Francophile. I love all things French!!! I really enjoyed Marseille – I had it imagined in my mind with lavendar all over and very romantic….while it was beautiful, I was a little disappointed. But that’s ok – it was a great day of exploring!!
La Spezia, my adventurous friends, is in northern Italy – and this port is the gateway to (longer) day trips to Florence, Pisa and for the Smith family, Cinque Terre.
Ah, this was one of our favorite days! The night before we went online and found a place to rent scooters for the next day in La Spezia. We got off the boat and started walking. We found the scooter rental place just as it opened, signed our life away, and rode off into the sunrise….pretty framatic, but let me tell you…..the non-Itlaian speaking Smiths taking directions from the friendly scooter guy was comical. We got out helmets (Char rode with Kelly and Kelton rode with me), got some sort of directions towards Cinque Terre, and off we went.
Have I told you how much we love adventure? Adventure brings us closer. It challenges us. It makes us think “outside the box” and forces us to rely on eachother. Because of all these things, we grow personally and grow closer together.
Cinque Terre will forever be one of my favorite days ever! We are always very aware of our land time while cruising – while I would love more time to explore, being left behind isn’t a great option! This trip, we only explored two of the five villages; Manarola and Riomaggiore. I guess we will have to go back! Check it out!
For any amature (or mature) historian, Rome is the place of dreams!
Our gorgeous ship docked in the nearby seaside port of Civitavecchia. This port is a good hour or more outside of Rome, and since we work on a budget, we didn’t take an excursion to Rome; rather, we got to the train station and figured out how to get round trip tickets to Rome and off we went.
To spend only a partial day in Rome is kinda crazy, but we did it and it was amazing!
And HOT! Wowzers, was it hot!
We decided to do the Hop On Hop Off buses that traverse the city and they were, for the most part, useful (not so much in Barcelona). We visted the Colosseum (got tickets ahead of time – a MUST) and Roman Forum/Palatine Hill and also went to Vatican City – but NOT for a tour – we didn’t know if we would have enough time. We DID, however, have pizza near the Vatican – isn’t that a must?
Here are some pictures from our day!
The Hop On Hop Off bus ride was a blast!
Sable really got into it!
This photo looks like a postcard but I promise I took it – It looks like everyone is social distancing!
Sable loved Rome!
The Colosseum was really stunning!
The picture quality is lacking but it is because it is SO HOT and the air quality was not great. The Roman Forum area.
Char and Sable with St. Peter’s in the background.