Sandals Resorts Whitehouse

Last July, Jim and I tried a Sandal’s resort for the first time. If you want a childfree vacation where you will be pampered, Sandals offers the ultimate experience. Everything from transportation to the resort, gratuities, use of the sailboats, kayaks, paddle boards, the snorkeling boat, all dining and drinks was included. You truly can leave your wallet in your room. Many of Sandal’s resorts are on the island of Jamaica. Once we landed in Jamaica, we made our way through customs to the Sandal’s lounge where were offered bottled water and Red Stripe beer as well as rum cake. The Sandals employees took our luggage, and we didn’t have to touch it after that. No bag drag here! From the airport, it is almost an hour’s ride over the mountainous terrain of Jamaica to get to the Whitehouse resort. The ride itself was an adventure. When we arrived at the resort, we were greeted with champagne in a beautiful lobby. Our luggage was taken to our room by helpful employees.

Once we landed in Jamaica, we made our way through customs to the Sandal’s lounge where we were offered bottled water and Red Stripe beer as well as rum cake. The Sandals employees took our luggage, and we didn’t have to touch it after that. No bag drag here! From the airport, it is almost an hour’s ride over the mountainous terrain of Jamaica to get to the Whitehouse resort. The ride itself was an adventure. When we arrived at the resort, we were greeted with champagne in a beautiful lobby. Our luggage was taken to our room by helpful employees.

At Whitehouse, we had eight restaurants to chose from ranging from French, Italian, seafood, Japanese, Jamaican, and gourmet European fusion. There was also a coffee shop which offered pastries, made to order crepes, as well as fantastic coffee. The meals at Whitehouse were all delicious. Even Jim, Chef Fussy Pants, enjoyed the dining. The meals were even better than we have had aboard Celebrity Cruise Lines, and that is quite a feat. I truly enjoyed all the fresh seafood, including the huge Caribbean Lobster I dined on one night, and we both loved the jerk dishes at lunch time.

During the day, there is a breathtaking beachfront with tiki huts to read, relax or nap. While we were there, swimming in the ocean did involve a lot of seaweed, but that’s because Whitehouse sits in a cove and recent storms had pushed the seaweed into shore. There were four pools, three of which had swim-up bars, and lots of lounge areas. Two of the pools had DJs playing reggae music and an activity director who offered pool games. In addition to the beach and pool, there were 16-foot Hobi Cat sailboats, kayaks and paddle boards for guests’ use. I grew up sailing so I took advantage of the Hobi Cats. There were always employees watching the pools and the water, so help was on hand if you tipped a sailboat over. (Yes, I did that, and Jim got his first taste of being dumped into the brine. He was not amused.) The employee in charge of the boats even offered sailing lessons. A snorkeling boat with a glass bottom went out three times a day to offer snorkeling or just gazing through the glass bottom. For those who were already certified as divers, a dive boat was also available. All of these activities were included. Sandals’ did have their own dive shop on site and offered dive lessons and certification for an extra fee. In addition, there was also a 40 -foot catamaran that offered sunset cruises. We got a free sunset cruise as part of our package, and it included a bar, DJ, and a chance to jump overboard and swim in a cove with beautiful azure waters and no seaweed.

In addition to the water activities at the beach and pool, Whitehouse has a spa on site that offers hot and cold pools in a lush courtyard garden, as well as massage services and saunas. As part of our package, we were treated to a couple’s massage complete with herbal iced tea and candles. The Sandals employees know how to create the most romantic moods and settings.

At night, Sandals offered homegrown Jamaican music such as reggae bands, steel drum bands and such in a small theater on site. We were there the week before Jamaica’s independence day, and it was wonderful to see people proud of their island culture. We both enjoyed the music, and thought it was well done and a lot of fun. Friday night of that week, we were treated to a white party. All the employees were dressed in white. They set up all kinds of chocolate delights in the courtyard and had a reggae band playing so everyone could dance. What fun! After the evening show, there was always a DJ or karaoke offered at Martini’s, the upstairs late night bar. We met two other couples there and had a good time talking and dancing.

Besides the beach activities and nightlife Sandals’ offers, another part of the resort company that Jim and I appreciated, was that Sandals gives back to the island. Sandals is a part of a program that sponsors teacher training in Jamaica. American teachers come to Jamaica to work with the children and teachers, and in turn, stay at a Sandals’ resort for less than half the average rate. Sandals’ is also part of ocean conservancy efforts.

The best part? No kids. We didn’t hear one whimper, whine or meltdown. Sandals is an adults only resort. It offered quiet spaces if you wanted to relax, beach activities if you wanted to be active, and parties if you were in the mood. Sandals is a top pick for honeymooners or anyone who loves the beach, fine -dining and relaxation with no kids in sight. Sandals’ counterpart, Beaches exists for families. What is not to love about this company? Jim and I are going back this summer to the Grand Plantation resort which will be our first time staying in a room complete with an English- style butler. Stay tuned for new information!

As far as costs are concerned, try to book when Sandals is running one of the 60-65% off sales. We went in July and got the sale price. Of course, if you book another vacation with Sandals, you accrue points. Our price for Whitehouse was $3,200 last year. The Grand Plantation resort with a butler this year will be $3,100 because we booked before we ended last year’s stay.

Celebrity Cruise Lines

Jim and I have sailed on seven cruises using three different cruise lines. We have sailed Norweigan Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity Cruise Lines. Celebrity is far and away our favorite for couples. Of our seven cruises, four have been aboard Celebrity’s Solstice-class ships. We have sailed on 2 Carribean Cruises, one Mexican cruise and one Mediterranean cruise aboard Celebrity’s Solstice, Equinox, Eclipse. We sailed aboard the Reflection in March. Celebrity Cruise Lines is not entirely child-free, however, there are not as many children as on some other cruise lines, and the Solstice class ships are far more geared to couples than kids from the cabins to the solarium and the nightlife.

Celebrity’s crew does a wonderful job of spoiling passengers. The cabins are modern, and if you get a veranda cabin, nicely appointed with a king size bed, a couch, coffee table, a bar, and refrigerator. The beds are quite good. We are spoiled at home with a Tempurpedic mattress, so Jim often complains about any other bed we sleep in while traveling. Not so on Celebrity. Even he likes the beds (Believe me, no small feat). The bathrooms are big enough even for his wide shoulders. If you spend a little extra and go concierge class, you get fluffy robes, a complimentary bottle of champagne, canapes delivered to your room daily, and extra attention from your cabin steward. We’ve never had a bad cabin steward aboard Celebrity. The canapes are normally quite good. We’ve had mini pastry shells filled with cream cheese and caviar in the past. During our last cruise aboard the Reflection, they were generally olives, chips, and guacamole, which was not quite as fabulous.

The main dining room on all Solstice-class ships has a floor to ceiling wine tower. The food is the best we have had on the three cruise lines we have experienced, and the head waiters go out of their way to make sure we are satisfied with our dinner. I am gluten and dairy free (not out of choice either) and I love that the menus on the Celebrity ships are coded so I know which are vegetarian, gluten-free, and dairy-free. The head waiters also make sure that I am always happy with my meals and have gone beyond my expectations to have the chef make me gluten free deserts at times. During this last cruise, they even had gluten free bread that was delicious. Jim doesn’t like anyone’s cooking except my mother’s, but he has been very pleased with the selections aboard the Celebrity ships. If the chefs aboard Celebrity ships can keep him happy, you won’t be disappointed.

During the daytime, there is the usual outside pool, but the wonderful part of Celebrity Cruise Lines is that on the Solstice class ships, there is also something called the Solarium. It is a glassed in area with its own pool and hot tubs. There is also small cafe with salads and fruit and wine located within the Solarium. The spa is right next to the Solarium and offers a range of services from teeth whitening to Botox. Tranquil music is piped in and it’s a relaxing place to read, relax and talk to other travelers. The best part? No kids under 16 allowed! On Celebrity Solstice class ships, you have a place you can relax and be assured that you won’t be disturbed. Jim and I have spent entire sea days in the solarium reading and chatting with fellow passengers.

One of the new trends aboard cruise ships is having an art gallery. Park West Runs the art galleries on many of the ships. They have fun art talks and raffles, and champagne art auctions. Walking through tons of art in the lobby while drinking champagne is a wonderful way to spend part of a sea day. Just understand that in these auctions you will find original Michael Goddard pieces and lots of Peter Max. None of it is inexpensive. If you have the money and the wall space, go for it, but understand that it is best if you know what to look for and how much to pay.

In addition to the art auctions and talks, you will find lots of live music. There is always a good band at the pool in the afternoons, and another band playing in the lobby as everyone comes to dinner. This last cruise, there was a lot of jazz played in the main lobby, which I loved. There was a string duo in Michael’s lounge every night. On past cruises, Celebrity has had a barbershop quartet roaming the ship which I thoroughly enjoyed. The evening shows are usually quite good with one show a Cirque du Solei inspired artsy, high flying affair. Jim and I have seen seven Cirque du Solei shows, in Vegas and Orlando and generally, Celebrity’s shows are engaging and capture the spirit of Cirque. You must, of course, understand that the performers are working in a ship sized theater without all the accouterments of a full Cirque show. What you won’t find are rock-climbing walls, surf -pools and ice skating rinks.

Nighttime also brings fun at the lounges. Whether you go to the casino, the Sky Lounge on deck 15 to listen to the band or do karaoke, or relax in Michael’s lounge, or visit the martini bar, there are plenty of options. Aboard the Reflection, the martini bar was our favorite. The bar is coated in a sheet of ice. There is lots of comfortable seating around it, and they had a DJ there a couple of nights. The chocolate martinis were delicious! The Sky Lounge aboard the Reflection was subject to what I can only call an experiment. Instead of karaoke or a band, they had what they called a silent disco. People would get headphones at a stand outside the lounge. These headphones had three channels, all of which were color coded, so the headphones lit up either green blue or yellow according to which channel the listener chose. There were people on the dancefloor all with the same color shining from their headphones singing at the top of their lungs and dancing. There was, of course, no background music. This little diva couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Jim refused to even give it a go. We tend to choose lounges where we can relax and chat with our fellow passengers, but there were others who loved the silent disco. We ended most of our nights at the Martini Bar having wonderful conversations with other travelers from all over the States and Europe. Whatever suits you, Celebrity has it.

Celebrity remains our pick for the best child-free cruise line so far, and well worth the money. Our last cruise was concierge class and the cost was $3,200. That included a pick two sale which allowed us a free alcohol package and $300 onboard credit. You do, of course, earn points and perks the more cruises you take aboard a cruise line. Since this was our fourth cruise with Celebrity, we got to go to a free wine tasting with one of the head somaliers, a cocktail party with the captain and officers, and sail away party on the helipad on the bow of the ship. We’ve had good luck booking our cruises with our favorite travel agent, although you can book with the cruiseline directly. You can book your next cruise while aboard ship. My parents are diamond members of Celebrity’s parent company, Royal Caribbean, and they did not think booking through the cruiseline directly was any less expensive. See my page about cruise tips and tricks for more information about how to save money on cruises.

How Do You Pay For your Vacations?

Jim and I have learned how to budget our money and use credit cards properly the hard way.   We were once in a load of debt between student loans, credit cards, and car loans.  We finally took out a second mortgage on the house to pay off the credit cards and paid more on that loan than the minimum.  We cut all the credit cards up to boot.  We paid off the first car and then added that car payment to that of the second car payment.  Once the second car was also paid off, we added all the money from the car payments to the second mortgage and got that paid off too.  I vowed that I would never again let a credit card company use us or end up in debt.  After all, how much traveling can you do without funds?

I remembered my mother, Rosemary Barton, always having a cardboard box with envelopes to budget her money.  She had envelopes for all her bills, one for savings, and one for going out.  Mom and Dad weren’t rich, but damned smart in the way they managed their money.  They had funds to send my sister and me to private colleges, finance a thirty-foot sloop and travel.  As we speak, they are touring the Netherlands and will soon board a Viking Cruise.  So, how to modernize Mom’s envelope system that worked so well?  Jim pays all the bills online right away.  We then have separate bank accounts that serve different purposes.  Money is taken directly out of Jim’s paycheck and sent to those accounts.  (Can’t spend what’s not burning a hole in our pocket.)  We have one account that is our vacation/Christmas account and the funds in that account are used at Christmas time as needed.  The rest of those funds then pay for vacations.  We don’t exceed what is in that account when we plan for a vacation.  Ever.  We also have a savings account for house/car emergencies, a flexible medical spending account with pre-tax funds, a savings account to put money away for a new car, and of course, retirement accounts.  Now we didn’t start out being able to put much into the Christmas/vacation account.  It was only $50 a month at first, but over a year’s time, that starts to add up.

After learning to divert money into a vacation fund, we also figured out how to use the credit card companies instead of them using us.  Credit cards, if used the right way, can help travelers.  So far, we really like the Southwest card for in-country and Caribbean flights.  We love Southwest because we have always had good flights with them and they don’t charge for baggage.  God knows, this little diva can’t pack light when going to Vegas!  If you qualify for the Southwest card, you get enough points for two, yes two, free flights.  Each year you renew your card, you get more free points.  It’s a $60 fee per year, but well worth it.  Everything you purchase on the Southwest card earns points, so we put all our normal purchases such as gas and groceries, clothes, whatever, on the Southwest card.  We’ve been able to fly free quite a few times to Vegas, Houston, Jamaica, and Rochester.  The only issue with Southwest is that they don’t fly overseas yet.  (I wish!)  After we went to Europe almost to years ago, we decided that we needed a card that would help us get back to Europe.  We heard good things about the Capital One Venture card, so now, we put all of our purchases on that.  I flew to Cozumel on points from that last year, and we have enough points for one ticket to Europe.  When we have enough to fly us both, we’re going to go back.  After all, one of the biggest traveling expenses is airfare.  Now, be warned.  Using your credit card for airline points doesn’t mean going wild.  Obviously, it’s never a good idea to buy things you don’t have the cash for, and as soon as you charge more than you can pay a month, you’re back to them using you because you’re paying interest.  Why do that?  Use those credit card companies to help you travel!  I would love to hear back from you.  How do you fund your vacations?

Welcome to Vacations for Couples Only

Welcome to Vacations for Couples Only!  This is my first adventure in travel writing.  I love to travel, and I love to write.  I love watching Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel.  Don’t worry.  I won’t eat bugs any time soon.  What I will do is share some of the adventures I’ve had with my husband, Jim, and give practical advice about places we’ve been that have offered wonderful experiences.  This blog must be practical as Jim and I know, travel funds are not always unlimited.  Considering the economy, there will be years when more money is available and other years when there is less.  No worries there.  We’ve found great places for all budgets.  Watch for future pages and posts about the New York State Finger Lakes region where family-owned wineries ring the lakes and pages about Barcelona and Rome.  Also, look for a coming soon page about Viking Cruise Lines with my parents as guests.  They embark soon on another European journey!  I’ve got lots more to write about, so please visit often and leave feedback.