Trip Review: Beaches in Turks & Caicos (Part 2 – The Activities)

A stay at Beaches in Turks & Caicos guarantees that you will never hear your kids utter the words, “I’m bored.”  This resort truly caters to kids of all ages with an incredible array of activities.  Each night, while preparing the turn-down service, housekeeping dropped off an itinerary with all of the special activities planned for the next day.  We used this information along with the weekly schedule for the Sesame Street character activities to plan each day in advance.  Inevitably, we were a little too ambitious with our plans and would run out of time to do everything, but we were never left wondering what to do next.  Finnegan and Declan slept well and turned in early most nights because they were exhausted from all of the fun by the end of the day.

The activities that we didn’t get to try were the ones geared towards older kids and adults.  One of the most impressive inclusions is free scuba diving for certified divers.  They also offer free snorkeling, paddleboarding, Hobie Cat sailboats, hydrobikes (which we wanted to try, but there is a minimum age of four so Declan wasn’t old enough), an X-Box Play Lounge, and a ‘night club’ for teenagers.

Listed below are of some of the resort activities that we did try.

Pools

There are at least nine pools (even though the Beaches website only lists six) and we tried almost all of them.  We even tried the adults-only pool that was located right next to our room before we knew that it was adults-only.  Oops.

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There are two kiddie pools attached to the main pools in both the French Village and Italian Village.  Because Declan doesn’t like wearing a floatie, these pools were a lifesaver because it was easy to keep an eye on both of them.  There are lifeguards at most of the pools, but they were not particularly attentive so I wasn’t comfortable relying on them.  In the back of each kiddie pool, the water was deep enough for Finnegan to practice his underwater swimming, which he did until his eyes were bloodshot.

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Beaches Turks and Caicos_Declan Swimming

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As an added bonus, there are swim up bars in both the Italian pool and French pool so you can easily grab drinks throughout the day to keep your kids hydrated.  If you don’t feel like going into the pool, you can also walk around to the back of the bar to order drinks.

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Water Park

We spent a lot of time during our first two days at the Pirates Island Water Park.  The pirate ship and water slides were perfect for Finnegan and Declan.  They loved running around this area with the other kids and going down the ‘big’ water slide.  Even Declan at 2.5 years old could go down all of the slides by himself.  They loved the pirate theme and Declan was impressed that ‘Captain Hook was all the way up in the scarecrow nest!’

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There is also a sprinkler area for the young kids and a tiny crab water slide for small toddlers to play on.

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We were also able to go on the lazy river a few times using the double tubes.  I sat on one side of the tube with Declan on my lap while Finnegan sat on the other side.  It was really relaxing and Declan started falling asleep both times.  I needed help to get both boys out of the tube, but it was never a problem finding someone willing to help.

Finnegan wanted to try the other water slides in the park, but he wasn’t tall enough to meet the 42” height requirement.  There is also a surf simulator for older kids that looked like it would be a blast.  If you’re not quite up for the challenge of surfing, you can also body board instead.

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Bobby Dee’s restaurant is located in the waterpark area and it’s shaped like a ship.  We didn’t eat any meals at this restaurant (which serves fare of the hot dog and French fry variety), but the boys had daily ice cream cones here as well as popcorn and cotton candy.

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Sesame Street Characters

We live very close to Sesame Place so Finnegan and Declan have had many opportunities in the past to meet the characters.  However, they’ve never had as much interaction with the characters as they did at Beaches.  There are signs posted around the resort with the list of weekly Sesame Street activities, including five different things each day.  From walkabouts with specific characters to science experiments with Grover to bird watching with Big Bird, the options were seemingly endless.  During our vacation, the boys decided to exercise with Elmo, go on a treasure hunt with Abby, and bake cookies with Cookie Monster.

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Baking with Cookie Monster was absolutely adorable and I would highly recommend it if you go to Beaches.

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You can also have pictures taken with all of the characters at the French Pool on specific days.  You can buy the professional photos for $50 each, which benefit a local charity, or snap your own.

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Declan with Elmo and Abby

There are other activities that you can do with the Sesame Street characters that have an additional fee, such as a breakfast with the entire crew, a nightly tuck-in with a character of your choice, or a morning cruise with Elmo and Abby.  We wanted to go on the cruise, but it is only offered one morning per week so it didn’t coincide with our stay.  I think it would have been a nice way to see more of the surrounding area.  The cost if I remember correctly (but we all know what happens to your memory after having kids) is $60/adult and ~$30/child.

Nightly Activities

Each night there is a different theme or activity that the resort hosts.  There is typically a show or activity for the kids and then one for adults.  We went to at least one every night during our stay and were not disappointed in any of them.

Beach Party

We arrived on Friday, which is Beach Party night.  The party started ~6:30PM with a Sesame Street show about Big Bird’s fear of the water.  The kids sat in front of the stage in the sand where they were encouraged to sing along during the show.  Declan was wiped out from playing in the sun all afternoon so he fell asleep during the show, but Finnegan enjoyed it.  They also had a woman making balloon animals, a bounce house and face painting.  Finnegan waited in line for a balloon sword and was thrilled to jab at everything in sight for the rest of the night.  There was also a buffet dinner set-up at the beach party, but we decided to try one of the restaurants instead.

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Movie Night

I learned that there is nothing more adorable than watching Despicable Me 2 outside with dozens of kids belly laughing.  Once a week, Beaches hosts an outdoor family movie night and serves fresh popcorn.  The movie didn’t start until 8PM, but Finnegan and Declan both took long naps during the day so they managed to stay awake and laugh through the entire movie.  Earlier that night, Beaches also had an Oscar Sesame Street Show, a Kid’s Dance Party and a movie trivia contest.

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Chocolate Party

Finnegan began counting down the minutes to the start of the chocolate party as soon as I read him the list of Sunday activities.  I think he was a little disappointed with the actual event because it wasn’t quite what he expected (think candy bars everywhere, chocolate statues and a chocolate fountain).  In reality, there were several buffet tables set-up with mostly chocolate desserts that were probably a little too rich for most kids.  I’m sure chocolate loving adults appreciated it more than the kids.  Notwithstanding, they each picked out two desserts to sample before calling it a night.

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Sesame Street Parade

Tuesday night is the parade and it’s another must-do with young kids.  In addition to the characters, there were drummers, a stilt walker, and pirates in the parade.  It is relatively short, but very interactive.  The characters stop to pose for pictures and generously hand out high fives.

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Kids Club

When we go on vacation, we prefer to spend as much time as possible with our kids since we both work full-time.  This time was no different so I never actually dropped the boys off at the Kids Club, but we did stop in on two occasions to participate in some of the activities with the Sesame Street characters.  I think it’s great that the characters are brought into the kids club several times a day to entertain the kids and lead the activities.  I also appreciated that the nannies didn’t mind whether the parents dropped off their kids or stayed in the room to watch.

I thought the Kids Club for the 2-5 year olds was crowded at times and there was always at least one kid that was really upset about being dropped off.  In comparison, the infant center looked amazing.  It was brand new and practically empty with a much better staff ratio.  The Kids Club is open from 9AM-9PM every day and there is no extra cost.

Train

There is a cute (and very slow) train that you can also ride.  It only takes about 10 minutes and is worth doing just for the pictures.  It is not a very exciting ride since it just goes out and back (very slowly) along the main entrance to the resort.

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There are many more activities at the resort that we didn’t have time to try and many excursions off the resort are also available.  In addition to the typical tours exploring nearby uninhabited islands and sunset cruises, there is a Sandals Foundation reading trip that’s offered on Thursdays.  I didn’t ask whether kids can go on this trip, but I think it would be a great experience for them.  You are paired up with a volunteer and will go to a local school to read and interact with kids between the ages of 3-10.  You are encouraged to bring a new or gently used book so something to think about if you’re planning a trip to Turks & Caicos.  One of the best parts about traveling is meeting new people and gaining an appreciation for what life is really like in the country.  This would be a great opportunity to get away from the resort and get a flavor for the local schools and teachers.

What activities would you look forward to the most at this resort?

Trip Review: Beaches in Turks & Caicos (Part 1 – The Resort)

Smiling faces and extra hands greeted us everywhere we turned during our recent stay at Beaches in Turks and Caicos.  It is hard for me to imagine an easier place to travel as a single parent with two young kids in tow. I brought Finnegan and Declan to Turks & Caicos without Russ and I was nervous that I was going to be stressed out the whole time and regret my decision to book the plane tickets all together. The reality was much happier. This wasn’t our typical trip exploring a new country or learning about a different culture, but it was a vacation. And it really did feel like a vacation – even for me.

Beaches is the family friendly version of Sandals. There are two Beaches resorts in Jamaica and one in Turks & Caicos. The resort in Turks & Caicos is the largest and it is absolutely enormous. There are four different ‘villages’ within the resort and it’s easy to walk between them.

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The Caribbean Village is the oldest part of the resort, but is centrally located and the rooms are close to the ocean and kid’s club. The Italian Village has the largest pool and is close to everything, including the beach. The one thing that I didn’t like about the Italian Village was the tower design for the rooms. Some of the towers were six stories high, which would have been inconvenient with two small kids.

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The French village is very close to the water park, but it is set back away from the ocean. Finnegan liked the pool in the French Village the best. Their favorite restaurant (sushi of course) is also located in this village along with an amazing coffee shop.

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We stayed in the Key West Village, which is the newest part of the resort. Our room was in the East Village located at the very far end of the resort. We loved our room and after I rented a two-seater wagon from the Kid’s Club for $10 a day, I didn’t mind the long walk to other parts of the resort. I actually appreciated all of the walking because it was my only form of exercise during the trip. If you travel there with young kids, you should definitely plan to bring a stroller or wagon.

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Our room was the least expensive one available at the time that I made our reservation just a few weeks in advance of our stay and it was even nicer than I expected.  When we made our reservation, the rooms were 65% off the published rack rate.  We booked a one bedroom concierge villa and it included more space and amenities than we really needed. The villa included a living room, four-person dining room table, kitchen with industrial grade appliances, a fully stocked bar and refrigerator, washer and dryer, and bedroom with a king sized bed. There was even an Xbox set-up in the living room, but I’m too old and the boys are too young to play video games. The room was also very close to the beach and we could see the ocean from our front porch.  With all of the amenities that are included at this resort, it was surprising to learn that we had to pay for internet access. Since Skype was our only option for keeping in touch with Russ, I paid $42 to have internet access for the week.

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We spent very little time in our room outside of nap time and bed time (which is really the point of going to a tropical destination during a frigid Northeast winter, isn’t it?) so I would have been perfectly happy staying in the cheapest room at the resort. There are 44 different room categories from which to choose and they vary dramatically in terms of price.

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Everything that I read about Grace Bay beach before arriving was true. The ocean is a brilliant turquoise and the sand is as soft as powder. The area in front of Beaches is the most crowded strip of sand on Grace Bay beach, but it’s easy to take a short stroll to find a spot that you can have all to yourself. We only went to the beach once because Declan didn’t like the sand getting stuck to his hands or the sun glare. There were very few people on the beach when we went right after breakfast and the water was crystal clear and extremely calm. Finnegan was more interested in building sand castles than swimming so we didn’t test out the depth of the water, which is funny since it was one of my reasons for choosing Turks & Caicos as our destination.

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The best part about the resort was the friendliness of the staff. Everyone greeted us with a smile and made us feel like they were happy to help. Have you ever noticed how most bartenders in tropical locations seemed mildly (or outwardly) annoyed when you order a frozen drink? Not so, at this resort. They gladly made our strawberry daiquiris (non-alcoholic of course) and didn’t make us feel guilty that they had to clean the blender yet again.  As an added bonus, many of the other guests were extremely friendly as well.  One woman in particular was like my own personal angel.  I started calling her Saint Heather because she always seemed to magically appear any time I could use an extra hand.  On our first night at the resort, Finnegan had a blister on the bottom of his foot tear open and was having a hard time walking back to our room.  Declan was sound asleep in my arms so I couldn’t carry both of them.  (This was the reason that I raced over to the kid’s club in the morning to rent a wagon!).  Right on cue, Saint Heather walked by and offered to give Finnegan a piggy back ride all the way to the restaurant where we had dinner.  She even went back to her room and got a band-aid and antiseptic to clean his foot!  Another time, she walked by as the boys were complaining that they were hungry and she gave both of them animal crackers.  Thanks again Saint Heather from Ottawa!

On the downside, we did have a bit of a mix-up with our luggage when we arrived and it was ‘lost’ for 24 hours. Because of our short connection time in Atlanta, I packed strategically and we had everything that we needed for our first day except toothpaste and sunblock because I didn’t want to deal with having liquids in our carry-on. The manager at the front desk was extremely apologetic and personally delivered toothbrushes, toothpaste, a razor, and a stuffed Grover doll for the boys. He also told me that I could purchase sunblock in the resort gift shop and they would cover the cost, which they did at check-out – no questions asked. It’s not clear how or why the luggage was misplaced, but it was delivered to our room the next day with everything in order so it was only a minor inconvenience. Problems can easily arise during a hotel stay and it’s the manner in which they are resolved that really counts. I thought the staff at Beaches handled our situation perfectly and left us happy customers.  Just look at this smile.

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Overall, we thought the resort and the staff were amazing. We would gladly return for an easy and relaxing vacation that involves no planning.

Have you ever stayed at this resort or another Beaches? What did you think? If not, would you consider this type of all-inclusive vacation?

Next up will be a review of the activities at this resort. Hint: they are amazing!

Turks & Caicos: Packing List

By the time this post goes live, we will be on our way to Turks and Caicos with forecasted highs in the low to mid-eighties.  This winter has seemed to drag on forever and we were without heat for a full day yesterday when an ice storm took down some trees in our neighborhood along with the power and phone lines.  Two winter storms in one week has just made us even more excited to escape and we will appreciate the warm sunshine even more.

With a very short layover in Atlanta, I had to be strategic about packing our carry-on bag in case our main suitcase doesn’t arrive with us.  We have everything we need for our first day in Turks & Caicos (except sunscreen because of the relentlessly annoying ban on liquids!) and hopefully enough entertainment to keep both boys occupied on the plane since this will be my first solo trip with them.

If I could put anything in my suitcase, here is what I would love to bring:

Turks Packing List

Sunglasses ($33): inexpensive – just how I like my sunglasses since I always seem to lose or break the expensive ones

Cover-up ($88): I could have made an entire board with things from Boden.  Love their new collection!

Anchor Bracelet ($11): from Furbish – my favorite store in Raleigh

Darva Sandals ($68) – they match everything

Baboon T-shirt ($242): while I would never pay this much for a t-shirt, I still love it and you could probably find something similar or have one made on Etsy for a lot less

Beach bag ($335) – this is actually a weekender bag, which means it might be big enough to haul everything that you need for your kids at the beach

Swing Dress ($33) – this is the only item on this list that’s actually in my suitcase.  This dress is so comfortable and so cheap.  I also bought it in white.

Stefani Dress ($108) – what beach bag would be complete without a Lily dress?!  This one goes perfectly from day to night.

Absolutely Free (& Possibly Good) Advice for a Family Adventure in Jamaica

One of my cousins recently asked me for advice about planning a trip to Jamaica. She is married and has two kids – a daughter that will be graduating from high school and a son in middle school. They haven’t traveled much and have never been out of the country so she wanted advice on where to stay in Jamaica.  We went to Jamaica last year and now all of this research has me itching to go back!

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Before I started researching hotels in Jamaica, I asked how they picked it as destination and what they wanted to do there. It turns out that Jamaica was the kids’ choice and they are interested in zip-lining, riding ATVs and having access to a nice beach. They would also like to be able to do the trip on a reasonable budget. They would prefer to spend their money on activities and excursions rather than on a hotel room that they won’t spend much time in anyway. Jamaica certainly fits the bill for all of these wishes. In addition, it is a relatively easy first international trip since the official language is English and it’s a short plane ride from the east coast of the US where they live.

With their interests in mind, I think they should consider staying in Negril, which means flying into Montego Bay, Jamaica. In Negril, they can stay on Seven Mile Beach and have access to many different restaurants and activities. A quick review of TripAdvisor shows that Country Country Beach Cottages would be a solid choice for a reasonably priced hotel located right on Seven Mile Beach.  Rates are ~$120/night for early June on Hotels.com and they are currently building a new pool.  The rooms look very nice and each cottage has a small patio.

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Another reasonably priced hotel option is Rondel Village, which has garden view rooms available for $90/night (in early June) and gets rave reviews on TripAdvisor.  Rondel Village also has two and three bedroom villas available for an additional cost, as well as two pools and two jacuzzis.

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With all of the options for activities in Negril and the surrounding area, there is no chance of her teenagers being bored. Here are the possible tour activities that are listed on just one company’s website (Island Routes – Caribbean Adventures): ziplining, bobsledding, Black River cruise and YS falls visit (which we did last year and highly recommend), catamaran cruise, riding ATVs (minimum age of 16) or dune buggies (for those 12 years and up), horseback riding through the rainforest and on the beach, Dunn’s River Falls visit, swimming with dolphins, and jungle river tubing.

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I just checked airfare prices from Syracuse to Montego Bay (MBJ) in June and the tickets are only $356/person with one stop in Newark.  (Julie – the best website for airfare searches is kayak.com in case you want to search airfare prices for other dates).

Have you ever been to Jamaica? Do you have any other suggestions for my cousin in planning her first trip to the island?

Next Up: Turks & Caicos

I am so done with winter this year.  Completely, utterly done.  I’m so over winter that I made a rash decision to book three plane tickets to Turks and Caicos for early February.  That’s right, only three plane tickets.  Since Russ started a new job recently, he hasn’t accrued any vacation time and while I love him dearly, I can’t wait until July for our first vacation of the year.  What made me go from waffling about this decision to hitting the purchase tickets button on the Delta website this morning was the upcoming forecast.  There are two nights next week with projected lows in the single digits.  You would think that growing up near Syracuse, NY would have made me hardy and impervious to the cold.  However, you would be wrong.  I feel like I’ve already dealt with a full lifetime worth of snow and cold and I wouldn’t be sad if I lived somewhere without winter.

So, I’m taking the boys and we’re heading to one of the most kid friendly beaches in the world – Grace Bay Beach (ranked the #3 beach in the world on this list from CNN) ).  It’s calm, shallow, and so clear that I should be able to convince Finnegan that it’s not possible for any sharks to sneak up on him.

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We haven’t booked our accommodation yet, but I might splurge for the easy option of staying at Beaches – an all-inclusive resort that caters to kids.  Once we step foot on the resort, I know we won’t leave, which is my only hesitation in booking.  I hate going to a new place and not really exploring it.  But I made the mistake of showing Finnegan and Declan the website for Beaches, and they are completely sold.

The hotel has a waterpark with a Pirate Ship and Lazy River.

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There are options to dine, sail, have tea, learn about science, go on a bird watching tour, and participate in a parade with Sesame Street characters, and the kids can even bake cookies with Cookie Monster.

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There are six pools and two kiddie pools, including one with a kid’s only swim up bar!

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And they have Finnegan and Declan’s two favorite types of restaurants – sushi and hibachi.

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I’m a little nervous about watching both of them in the ocean, but the beach looks too beautiful to pass up.

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The boys are too excited to back out now and I think a hotel that’s designed to entertain kids might mean more time to relax (or at least breathe) for me.

What do you think?  Does it sound like a good plan to forego a more authentic island experience in exchange for a hotel that offers endless options to keep the kids entertained?

Dolphin Encounter in Roatan, Honduras

After three days of rain in Roatan and missed flights, the Curley’s were ready to get out of our hotel room and have an adventure.  The break in the weather allowed for us to partake in a dolphin encounter at Anthony’s Keys Resort, which was a 15 minute drive from our hotel.  We picked up our tickets and took a short boat ride over to the enclosed dolphin pens with a dozen or so other passengers.  The large pens are used to train and study the dolphins, and while giving the dolphins plenty of room to swim, it keeps other marine life out and to our surprise were low enough for the dolphins to jump over and ‘escape’ if they desired.

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As soon as our boat pulled up to the dock by the dolphin pens, the boys squealed with excitement as they saw the dolphins swimming close by.  We were quickly ushered over to our guide, who gave the group a quick overview on what to expect during the encounter and instructed us on which areas the dolphins liked to be touched and where they do not (the guide also instructed us on where the male and female dolphin parts were and suggested avoiding touching those areas, as the dolphins might enjoy that touching a little too much).  Then, without much more fan fare, we were striding into the water and dolphins were everywhere!  The group was split up into two groups: English speaking and Spanish speaking.  One lucky couple from El Salvador were the only Spanish speakers, so they got a private dolphin encounter.  Jen thought we should have used what little Spanish we know to try and barge in on that group, but I thought better of it.

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Our group was the four of us, plus three other couples for a total of 10 people.  It was a small enough group where everyone one had ample time to touch the dolphins and pose for pictures.  With no more than a whistle or a hand gesture (and a bucket full of fish), the dolphin-guides could make the dolphins swim right up to them and perform a variety of tricks on command.  First, the dolphins laid still in front of us and everyone got to touch the top and bottom, being mindful to avoid the blow-hole and to be gentle around the dorsal fin.  It was remarkable how calm and trusting these creatures were, as it permitted a bunch of strangers to feel its body.  Several different dolphins cycled in to be touched and all were equally gracious and patient with its visitors.  Next the dolphins would give each person a “kiss” on the cheek, which was professionally photographed.  Although that felt a little staged and touristy, you can’t beat the photograph that you get!

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Roatan, Honduras

Roatan, Honduras

Roatan, Honduras

When the boys first got to touch the dolphins they could not believe it.  Both remarked how smooth and sleek the dolphins felt.

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I was impressed with how strong and fast they are as we were treated to tests of their speed and agility.  The trainer put the dolphins through their paces, racing them around the pen and then stopping just feet from us or leaping high out of the water.  Absolutely amazing!

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And then it was over all too quickly.  The tour guide thanked us for coming, but hung out on the dock to answer all questions put to him.  Finnegan broke the ice by asking the first question – do dolphins sleep?   After the guide answered everyone’s questions, he also explained that the dolphin encounters fund the research center as scientists are still learning a great deal about dolphins.

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Roatan, Honduras

On the ride back to the hotel I chatted with the couple from El Salvador that was staying at our hotel (his English was pretty good, hers was not).  I was curious to hear about El Salvador and what life is like there today.  For years I heard only of the civil war that ravaged that country.  Like Honduras, El Salvador has a lot to offer, but has many impediments in its way.  But, to hear this young man tell it, El Salvador should be high on our list of countries to visit.

There’s a Monkey on Your Head (Gumbalimba Park Review)

We took a chance by visiting Roatan in the rainy season, and unfortunately the gamble did not pay off. It poured three out of the four days that we planned to stay on the island and indirectly led to us staying an extra two nights, but more to come on that saga later.

On the second day that we were holed up in our hotel room, I was losing my mind and the kids were driving us crazy with their endless requests to build forts and watch cartoons.  We decided that we had to do something even if it meant getting drenched because like most Caribbean islands, there were no indoor attractions to be found in Roatan. When I asked the “activities director” at our hotel for suggestions of things to do inside with our kids, her only idea was coloring. Oh, so helpful.

We settled on a visit to Gumbalimba Park instead. It is a big tourist attraction on Roatan and a common shore excursion for the thousands of people that visit Roatan as part of a Caribbean cruise. If you are looking for an authentic island experience, this is not the place. However, it suited our needs of escaping the hotel room and entertaining the kids perfectly.

Upon arrival to the park, you have the choice of crossing the Pirate’s Bridge or taking the chicken walk around the small lake. Finnegan chose the Pirate’s Bridge and Declan picked the chicken walk. I’m not sure if Declan was afraid or just didn’t want to wait in the line.  He had too much pent up energy and was running down the trail before I could find out.

Roatan Honduras

Roatan Honduras

Since Declan took off before we could really figure out how the place worked, we did the tour without a guide. It worked out fine because there are only a few areas where you can hold the animals and it was easy to join in with other groups to hear the commentary.

The first area houses the parrots. There are scarlet macaws as well as green parrots (red crowned Amazon parrots, I think). It was raining during our visit to the park so I had a hard time keeping my lens clear and dry and most of our pictures are a little blurry.

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To my surprise Declan ran to the front of the line to hold the parrot. He’s normally a pretty cautious kid, but he had no fear of these birds that were almost as big as him.

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Equally surprising was the fact that Finnegan seemed too nervous to hold the parrot so we moved on to the monkey area.  The ‘park’ includes a large group of charming, mischievous white face capuchin monkeys.  Russ was carrying a backpack with bug spray and a plastic bag in the outside pouch. We were there for less than a minute before the monkeys spied these prizes and stole them in the blink of an eye.  As a warning, other people lost much more valuable things like sunglasses and cameras to these sneaky thieves so make sure you hide your things or hold onto them tightly.

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Thankfully, not all of the monkeys were so cheeky and a few came down to visit.

Roatan Honduras

Roatan Honduras

On the way back, we met another monkey off on his own. Perhaps he was looking for some peace and quiet or maybe some extra attention.

Roatan, Honduras

Roatan, Honduras

While we were at Gumbalimba, we also explored the rest of the grounds and visited the Pirate Cave. In nicer weather, there is a pool to enjoy and a small beach with hammocks. For the adventurous, they also have a zip-line tour.

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The grounds are very pretty and well maintained. There is even an area with several hummingbird feeders that were very active despite the rain.

Roatan, Honduras

Roatan, Honduras

The boys raced through the Pirate Cave so we didn’t see too much, but it’s worth a stroll through if you are traveling with kids.  There is some information on the history of the island and the famous pirates that visited the area.

Roatan, Honduras

Roatan, Honduras

If we were traveling on our own, I don’t think we would have paid Gumbalimba Park a visit, but it was a lot of fun and it’s always a thrill to get a chance to interact so closely with animals. There would have been even more to do if the weather had cooperated. Visit the Gumbalimba Park website for a full list of activities.

Roatan, Rabies, and Rain

I am reasonably sure that I don’t have rabies as a result of our recent trip to Roatan. My opening sentence used to read that I was certain I didn’t have rabies (you know since I’m still alive and all, more than a month after getting bit by a dog on West Bay Beach), but my confidence level has dropped significantly because of the internet. First year medical school students are warned not to convince themselves that they have contracted one of the rare infectious diseases they are studying, because frequently students will read about the symptoms of some disease found in a remote corner of Papua New Guinea and convince themselves they have it. Unfortunately, the internet doesn’t come with the same warning. Thanks to the CDC website and Wikipedia, I’ve learned that the incubation period for rabies in humans is far longer than it is for dogs. Did you know that rabies can incubate in people for up to six years before the symptoms appear, but death is almost certain within days as soon as the symptoms finally present?! Remind me that I can breathe a sigh of relief in 2019.

rabid dog

I should probably back up and start at the beginning. Our recent trip to Honduras consisted of two parts: the rainforest and the beach. After three great days of seeing exotic creatures and falling to sleep to the sounds of the jungle, we set off for the island of Roatan for some beach time with the boys. Roatan is an island 30 miles off the coast of Honduras with its own relaxed vibe. Roatan is renowned for its great diving and snorkeling, and has beaches that rank among the best in the Caribbean.

roatan diving

So, after taking a 75 minute ferry ride that had all four of us feeling queasy by the end, we met the shuttle van that took us to the Mayan Princess Resort. Also sharing the same van was a group of orphans from the mainland who were being treated to a stay at this all-inclusive resort courtesy of a Dallas-based Catholic Church group that does charitable work in Honduras.

Roatan Honduras

Upon our arrival at the Mayan Princess, we quickly made our way to the beach. The weather was perfect, the water was even more turquoise than I expected, and the beach was crowded with tourists and vendors selling all sorts of trinkets. The ocean water was warm and the boys loved running off the beach and into the water, where Russ and I would catch them just as they tumbled into the water. We told our kids to pace themselves because we were staying there for four nights, but we should have been telling them to soak it all in because a storm was brewing and we spent the next three days mostly inside watching TV and building forts.

Roatan Honduras
After spending a few hours hopping between the beach and pool at our hotel, the boys wanted to get some ice cream. We walked down the beach to the store at the Bananarama, a nearby hotel, to buy two ice cream cones as the sun was setting.

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On the way back, I noticed a pack of dogs running off-leash and made a mental note to keep Declan away from them because I was worried they might be attracted to his ice cream cone since it covered three quarters of his body by this point. As I was busy trying to clean Declan up, Finnegan and Russ were running down the beach and unbeknownst to me, the dogs started chasing Finnegan. Russ put himself between the dogs and Finnegan and told him to stay calm because the dogs probably thought he was trying to play. Finnegan was getting really nervous because the dogs didn’t leave. So instead of staying calm, he ran to me. However, my back was to him so I didn’t see him coming or the two dogs following him. It was quite a shock to get bit by a dog that I never even saw coming. I’m still so thankful that the dog didn’t bite Finnegan or Declan.

To my surprise, the dogs were not strays and it didn’t take Russ long to launch into all-out-lawyer-mode, demanding rabies certificates, payment for any medical expenses, and calling for the local police to launch a full-scale investigation. The dogs’ owner was an Australian hippie chick, who seemed high. It wasn’t until Russ screamed at her several times to leash her dogs that she finally did. Although she was mildly apologetic, she mostly seemed surprised that something could have gone wrong with her obviously well thought out plan to take a pack of four formerly stray dogs for a walk off leash on a very crowded beach. The bite was mostly a bruise and there was a doctor that witnessed the incident so he gave me some iodine to clean the wound.

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The hotel manager insisted that I go to the hospital and offered to send a babysitter to watch the kids while I saw the doctor. In the end, I relented to give Russ (and maybe myself) a little piece of mind. Instead of dragging the kids halfway across the island on the bumpy pothole ridden roads, Russ stayed behind and the babysitter acted as a translator instead. The private medical center was 45 minutes away in Coxen Hole, which was not a pleasant place to be after dark. The center was empty so I was able to see the doctor right away. He cleaned the wound and recommended antibiotics and pain medicine, but didn’t think the rabies vaccine was necessary since I only had a scratch with minimal bleeding (and I seriously doubt they had the expensive vaccine on hand to administer anyway). The doctor also said there haven’t been any rabies cases on the island in the last ten years. I felt pretty good about this reasoning before doing my own research on the internet. The internet is the worst sometimes. The worst.

So other than that, how did I enjoy Roatan you might ask. There’s more to come in the next few days on our visit to Gumbalimba Park, swimming with dolphins, and a review of our hotel.

In the meantime, I also have to get busy planning a weekend trip to Raleigh, NC for a girls weekend with some of my childhood besties in early January. So if you have any recommendations for Raleigh, let me know in the comments.

Trip Review: Saint Lucia

Disclaimer: This review is going to be a bit of a memory stretch, but since it was requested by my childhood BFF (scanned prom picture below), I enthusiastically agreed and will supplement the post with some more recent web info. 

prom pic

Russ and I spent a week in St. Lucia before we were married as part of a Group Study Exchange program through Rotary International.  It was a month-long trip to the Southern Caribbean that included one week in each of the following islands: Saint Lucia, Grenada, Barbados, and Trinidad & Tobago.  Here is a pretty accurate description of the program from Rotary’s website:

“For four to six weeks, team members experience the host country’s culture and institutions, observe how their vocations are practiced abroad, develop personal and professional relationships, and exchange ideas.

In a typical four-week tour, applicants participate in five full days of vocational visits, 15 to 20 club presentations, 10 to 15 formal visits and social events, two to three days at the district conference, three to four hours per day of cultural and site tours, and three to four hours per day of free time with host families.

For each team member, the Foundation provides the most economical round-trip airline ticket between the home and host countries. Rotarians in the host area provide for meals, lodging, and group travel within their district.”

Rotary still has the Group Study Exchange program and it is a fantastic opportunity to spend a month in another country (or countries depending on the Rotary district) living with a host family.  If you meet the program requirements and can arrange for a month away from work, you should apply!  Even though you live with host families, I wouldn’t describe our experience as living with an ‘average’ Caribbean family.  In many countries outside the U.S., it is seen as a prestigious honor to be a Rotarian so our host families were generally well-off and lived in beautiful homes.  We were basically spoiled for a month.

The first and probably prettiest island that we visited as part of our trip was St. Lucia. It is a mountainous island with a rainforest in the interior.  The most recognizable feature of the island are the Piton mountains, which rise impressively out of the sea.

pitons

During our week long stay, our hosts made sure we saw as much of the island as possible.  We went to Pigeon Island National Park, explored the drive-in volcano and Sulphur Springs, sailed on a catamaran, went on a rainforest hike, and toured a cocoa plantation.  I also visited a few construction sites as part of my professional exchange because I was a project engineer at the time, and ran everyday on the somewhat terrifying roads.  On more than one occasion I was startled by cows that were tethered by the side of the road to graze in random places.  While Russ was spoiled by servants that doted over him all week, he did get the short end of the stick when it came to running.  He was staying high in the hills and was frequently chased by dogs on his runs.  I’ll take cows over dogs any day.   

My favorite activities on the island included the catamaran day trip and the rainforest hike.  I think the southwestern part of the island near the Pitons is the most picturesque.    

cocoa plantation catamaran catamaran 2003

Since my friend will be staying near Soufriere and her trip will only be for a few days to celebrate their 10th anniversary (sans kids), I don’t think there will be too many activities on the agenda.  Here are some of the things I would put on the list for consideration, along with lazy days at the beach and romantic dinners out.

Hiking: Easy Option or Challenging Option   

Piton Falls

Snorkeling

Jungle Biking

Sunset Cruise

If you are planning a trip to St. Lucia with kids, the Castaway Tour sounds like a great option with plenty of activities for everyone.

Mariah – there’s also the Nature Segway tour if Jason has always dreamed of being a mall cop?

group-shot2

My friend was smart to schedule her trip for May.  High season runs from December – April and hurricane season is June – November.  May is the perfect time to go since prices are generally lower, the weather is likely to be good, and the tourist attractions won’t be as crowded.

Has anyone been to St. Lucia more recently?  If so, please post your suggestions in the comments.

Return to Reality & Bluefields Review

Nothing underscored our return to reality like waking up this morning and wearing three layers on top and two pairs of tights to go running.  That and the fact that we actually had to make our own breakfast, wash dishes, and go back to our man-to-man kid coverage.  Finnegan wasn’t the only one that wished Roanna, our nanny for the week, could come back to NJ with us.  Sadly it seems that all good things really do have to come to an end.

We had a great week in Jamaica at the Bluefields Bay Villas.  While you can opt for total seclusion while you’re there, I’m glad we didn’t because I feel like we truly made new friends on this trip.  Every week, management hosts a cocktail hour on Monday night and a jerk chicken lunch (or jerk tofu for the vegetarians) on Wednesday.  At these events, we met the three other couples that were staying in some of the other villas.  There were two couples from Kansas staying in the Hermitage.  They invited us to tour the house and it was fabulous in person – although probably not the best house for kids because of the stairs and pool layout.  We had a great time chatting with them and learning a bit about their lives and families.

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Table Setting at the Jerk Chicken Lunch

Finnegan Enjoying the Jerk Chicken Lunch

The other couple staying at the resort was from North Carolina and they had a daughter the same age as Declan.  We had a great time hanging out on the beach almost every day, and even got together our last night so the kids could play while we had drinks and actual adult conversation.  We even got some tips on new destinations to check out.  We have never been to Santa Fe, but it’s very high on our list now!

This fortunate couple had the great luxury of staying at the Cottonwood Cottage.  If you go to Bluefields as a couple, with a small family, or even two couples – this should be your first choice for lodging.  The cottage is next to the large sandy beach, has amazing views from both bedrooms, and the Treehouse is a great place to eat your meals.  To Finnegan’s delight, they also have a tangerine tree.  If we stayed at the Cottonwood, that tree would have been bare by the end of the week!

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We had a great time and would highly recommend this ‘resort’ to other couples and families looking for a week of pampering and relaxation.  The staff (butler, nanny, housekeeper, and your own personal chef) are so attentive that you really feel spoiled – like nothing is too much trouble.  If you’re interested in staying busy, there are plenty of activities as well.  They have snorkeling gear you can borrow and each villa has kayaks that you can take out any time.  Bluefields also offers a guided hike that I’m sorry to say we never tried since we only brought one infant carrier and the hike would have been a bit too much for Finnegan on his own.  Could we have left him with the nanny and gone by ourselves?  Of course, but that’s not why we travel with our kids.  Roanna really helped us entertain the kids and play with them at the beach so we had a chance to relax a bit, but we didn’t jet off and do our own excursions.

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I feel like the most common question we get asked when we talk about a vacations is, “Would you go back?”  In short, absolutely.  However, if the question is, “Will we go back?” then I’m not so sure.  There are still so many other places we want to visit and we have so little vacation time.  For our next trip to the Caribbean, I would really like to visit one of the out islands of the Bahamas.  I must see these swimming pigs in person.  They are high on my travel bucket list.

Photo: BARCROFT MEDIA

Photo: BARCROFT MEDIA

Photo: BARCROFT MEDIA

Photo: BARCROFT MEDIA