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Hey, Mon…. it’s time for an early birthday celebration! 

We planned an early “50th Birthday” for Ken who will be turning 50 this June.  We (being us & Cathy) started working on our Jamaican vacation in March 2012.  Cathy made sure that Ken could get away from work for a four-day weekend near the Martin Luther King holiday.  Then, none of us let Ken know where we were going other than somewhere warm & sunny.  Unbeknownst to Ken, Cathy sent scans of their passports to us so that we could begin booking flights and accommodations.  Amazingly, January 2013 came quickly and we were off!

Thursday, 17 January:  We all arranged to meet at the American Airlines Priority Access Desk at about 10:30AM at the Miami Airport.  After exchanging hugs and kisses, it was time to get our seats to Montego Bay, Jamaica.  Ken had narrowed down the possible places we might be headed, especially since we flew to Miami rather than having them meet us in another city, and Jamaica was one of the spots.  Thanks to our status with American, we were able to upgrade everyone to First Class for the flight over (hey, what a nice way for vacation to begin)!

After clearing Immigration & Customs in Jamaica, we were met to Palmer of Uton Tours at about 4:30PM.  We took us to his van and got us and our luggage loaded inside.  Then, he offered us each a choice of ice-cold Red Stripe Beer and/or Coca-Cola.  It was a really nice touch!

Here's a map of Jamaica so
you can see that Montego Bay is
located on its Northwest coast

Because of our long-term relationship with IHG (InterContinental Hotel Group) properties - which includes the Holiday Inn chain - we were really treated well.  Upon arrival at the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort (an all-inclusive resort), instead of waiting in a check-in line, we were shown to a table and offered a cold beverage and a cold wash cloth to use to freshen up.  Then, our hostess, Renee, gave us information about the resort, our room assignments and nightly dinner reservations that had been made on our behalf.  Renee took wonderful care of us!  We were then shown to our rooms on the top floor of the resort with a great ocean view just a few doors apart from one another.  On an aside, we only used the buffet for breakfast.  Our dinners were all at sit-down restaurants on the property.  There were four of them and they were great.  For lunch, we used the “shacks” on the beaches (i.e., The Burger Shack, The Jerk Shack (fabulous) and The Nacho Stand). 

We settled into our respective rooms and then met for a pre-dinner cocktail.  Afterwards, we went to dinner at Sea Breeze, an ocean-side seafood restaurant.  They were enjoyed a delicious meal accompanied by wine.  Although the hotel offered evening entertainment, we all decided it was time to head back to our rooms after dinner to enjoy some well-deserved sleep after a day of travel.

Friday, 18 January:  We met at about 8:30AM and went downstairs to the breakfast buffet.  It was a bit crazy but we managed to find a table and the staff quickly made sure we had a hot carafe of wonderful Jamaican coffee.  We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the open-air restaurant.  Then, it was time to head to the beach for some “R&R”. 

We stayed on the beach – after staking out lounge chairs and a nice spot that had both sun and shade – until about 3:30PM.  While we were at the beach, we enjoyed some cold adult beverages.  Also, there were plenty of “shacks or huts” that, in addition, to serving beverages, also served snacks.  Our favorites were the jerk chicken – nice & spicy – and nachos.  Hey, why not enjoy a little bit of junk food when you’re on vacation.  We also took time to enjoy the calm sea by doing a bit of wading, shell collecting, etc. and Ken actually did some snorkeling.

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A few of the buildings/pool
in the main area of the resort
A beautiful sunrise from our balcony
Ken & Cathy relaxing on the beach
A few fish in the nearby ocean
A slice of Paradise
(with no one around)
An egret waiting for a snack

At 6:00PM, we met in the Lobby Bar for cocktails prior to dinner.  This evening we ate at the Italian restaurant, Sorrento.  Again, dinner was excellent and accompanied by a nice Spanish red wine.  Afterwards, we went to the area near Sea Breeze restaurant and watched a little bit of the evening’s entertainment.  We especially enjoyed the Jamaican women doing traditional West African dancing in native costumes.  Then, it was time for bed after a full day.

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Enjoying a glass of wine at Sorrento's
A family post-dinner toast
Traditional dancing

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Saturday, 19 January:  Again, we met at about 8:30AM and went down to enjoy a leisurely breakfast.  This time we found our beach spot in advance of breakfast (thanks to guidance from Ken & Cathy) to ensure we had the spot we wanted without rushing through breakfast.  Then, we headed to the beach and once again enjoyed lots of “R&R”.  Ed and Lindy actually tried a bit of kayaking.  It was fun but definitely work, especially when returning against the wind.  Oh well, it meant we could enjoy more jerk chicken and nachos!

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Amazing towel art featuring
beautiful hibiscus blossoms
The "Birthday Boy"
"Island Ahoy, Matey"
Family fun....
documenting our trip
Ed relaxing too!
Ed & Lindy sea kayaking

[ T O P ]

This evening we enjoyed pre-dinner cocktails in the Port Royal Pub located on the 2nd floor of the main building.  It was an “adult’s only” bar and was quite nice.  Afterwards, we enjoyed dinner next door at De Terrace, a restaurant featuring Jamaican dishes.  Everything was really good again!  Then, we once again passed on the entertainment now being held by the pool area and called it an evening.

Sunday, 20 January:  We had previously contacted Palmer and arranged to do a half-day tour of the Montego Bay area with him today.  He picked us up at 9:30AM (after we had again enjoyed a nice breakfast) and the touring began. 

Palmer gave us an excellent tour of Montego Bay. Throughout the drive, he provided ongoing commentary. We drove through the town of Montego Bay and Palmer pointed out various public and historic buildings. The town tour culminated in a stop at the Richmond Hill Estate (which is owned by the Dewar’s (Scotch) family). It’s a beautiful mansion which has great views of Montego Bay. From there, we drove into the mountains. We quickly left major settlements and were in the countryside. Palmer often stopped to show us various types of plants and fruits as well as some natural herbs used for teas. We passed through the village of Anchovy and continued further into really remote areas where we saw how people live and farm.

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Our host, Palmer Uton
Town Hall
Montego Bay
Dewar's Richmond Hill Estate
An interior room at the Estate
A lovely breezeway
at the Estate
The family at an overlook
of the Bay from Dewar's
Richmond Hill Estate
Palmer explaining banana
harvesting to our group
A typical farm house

A key highlight was a visit to the home of a local, probably a Rastafari. Rastafaris or "Rastas" are members of a religious sect that began in Jamaica and its most well-known follower was Bob Marley. These individuals live off the land growing their own fruits and vegetables and most shun meat. Our host was a gentleman who had the traditional dreadlocks which, when not hidden in his colorful loosely-knit cap, reached almost to the ground. He gave us detailed explanations and samples of his primary crops – coffee beans, ackee (a vegetable used in the national dish of ackee & salt fish), bananas, pineapples, turmeric root, cocoa, native apples, etc. – all while his hens & roosters wandered about. It was really amazing and great that Palmer shared this culture with us.

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Cathy and a local Rasta
Here he's explaining to Cathy
how he harvests cocoa beans
A cocoa pod on the tree
Some of this gentlemen's
wild apple trees
Those long dreadlocks are
now out of his knit cap
Our Rasta friend with a naughty statute

On our return (via the same route) we stopped in Montego Bay at a great souvenir/craft shop. We were able to purchase 100% Blue Mountain Jamaican coffee at great prices. We also purchased some traditional spices (again, great prices).

Palmer once again had a cooler filled with ice-cold beverages for us to enjoy during the tour. Palmer dropped us back at the Holiday Inn at about 1:30PM after a terrific time spent touring. We were all really glad we went outside the resort to enjoy a slice of the true Jamaica!

Now, it was time for a snack.  This time we tried the veggie burgers as well as some more jerk chicken (we just couldn’t get enough of the latter).  Then, it was time to watch NFL football playoffs.  We headed to the Port Royal Pub which was hosting the game.  It was a fun way to see the game rather than watching it on our rooms.

For our final night at the resort, we choose to have dinner again at Sorrento.  We surprised Ken by beginning dinner with a pre-ordered bottle of champagne so that we could toast his birthday.  An excellent meal followed once again.  Then, there was one more surprise – the embarrassing birthday dessert presentation with the staff singing “Happy Birthday” and all the patrons joining in.  Ken took it all in stride and was a good sport.  It was a fun way to end our last evening at the resort!

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The Birthday Boy!
A "Happy Birthday" Kiss

Monday, 21 January:  We enjoyed our last breakfast buffet and thanked all the staff who had assisted us.  Then, it was time to check-out in anticipation of being ready for our transfer with Palmer.  He was there as scheduled and we were at the airport in about 10 minutes.  Once again, we were able to upgrade everyone to First Class for the flight.  While we (being us & Cathy) were able to enjoy a cocktail, Ken stuck to beer knowing that he would be driving upon our return to Miami.

The flight arrived in Miami at about 2:00PM.  Then we made our way through Customs & Immigration.  It was then time for Ken & Cathy to head back to Coral Springs before the holiday weekend traffic got crazy.  We said our goodbyes with hugs & kisses and a commitment to get together again soon for another wonderful time filled with great memories!  After they left to collect their car, we called the Sleep Inn Miami and stayed there for the evening before returning to wintery weather at home.

[ T O P ]