Chicago Photo Shoot

Last post on Chicago, I promise!

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that in lieu of any shopping, Aaron and I decided to take professional photos while we were in Chicago.  I actually got the idea from the blog of a couple who hired a photographer to document their Paris vacation, and I thought wow how cool to have vacation photos that are actually not terrible! I mean, usually we have to find a nice stranger who doesn’t look like they’ll run away with the camera, and then you never know what you’re going to get (and I feel bad asking for a “do-over” when our heads are cut off).

I googled “Chicago wedding photographers”  and contacted my favorite one.  Well, they were way out of our “vacation photo” price range, but they went out of their way to find someone within our budget (gotta love Midwest hospitality!).  This brought us to Lane Christiansen of Willow Lane Photography.

She was so adorable and super sweet (bonus…she emailed me a few days later and said she had decided to sign up for her first marathon!) and is actually getting married herself this upcoming weekend.  I can’t recommend her enough if you are looking for a photographer in the Chicago area.

We met up with Lane after the marathon expo on Friday (it was FREEZING), and I asked her to go crazy, be creative, and basically take the reigns and show off her city’s architecture during our session.  This craziness included standing in the middle of State Street and taking a water taxi down the Chicago River and crashing a shoot of a bride so we could get the pictures Lane wanted (it was a post-wedding shoot, so it’s not like we ruined her wedding day or anything).

We are really awkward models.  I forgot how weird it is to stand there while someone shoots continuously.

We also got yells of congratulations presumably because people thought we were taking our engagement photos.  I won’t pretend that it wasn’t fun to get all the attention, but now I want another wedding…3 year vow renewal maybe??? Daddy?….

After weeks of anticipation, our picture disc came in the mail yesterday!

We got well over 500 photos, but here are my favorites:

Chicago: So Much More Than Just a Marathon

Hey y’all!

Well, just when I thought the heat would be a topic of the past (because really that’s all anyone, including myself, has talked about this summer), here we are in the middle of another heat wave.  While it isn’t as hot here as it might be in Phoenix (sorry, Jac), we opted to do our intervals on the treadmill on Tuesday (I think Aaron wanted to avoid “you made me run when it’s too hot to run fast, so I’m going to run slow to spite you” Amy at all costs, so onto the treadmill we hopped, alternating, doing core work and weight lifting in between intervals.  I just wish treadmill running was exactly equivalent to real running because I kept up about a 6:30 minute mile pace the whole time, even venturing into the 6:07 territory for multiple tenths of a mile.

But sadly real life doesn’t have a moving conveyor belt to do some of the work for you, and neither is it flat unless you live in the midwest.  Chicago is in the Midwest!

Speaking of Chicago, I AM STARTING TO GET UNCONTROLLABLY EXCITED TO BE THERE!

“Bet your bottom dollar, you’ll lose the blues in Chicago
Chicago, the town that Billy Sunday couldn’t shut down “

-Frank Sinatra

(A quick Wiki search shows me that Billy Sunday was pro-prohibitionist and a Christian Evangelical).

I went on google earth and looked at the map of the course.  I mean, it isn’t New York where you get to run through the 5 boroughs and across the Brooklyn Bridge and into Central Park. And it isn’t Disney where you’re running through the happiest place on Earth with characters ready to take pictures with you.  And it might not even be the US Half Marathon (who I am SO disappointed in by the way…don’t ever do that race) where I got to run through San Francisco.  But it looks amazing!

You get to run through so many neighborhoods (29 according to Wikipedia), across that awesome looking urban river a few times (apparently named The Chicago River), and all over the city.

We have never been to Chicago.  In fact, I only made it to “the middle” two years ago for a wedding, so that whole section of the country is still a mystery to me.  Aaron’s mom is from Michigan, so he spent a lot of time there growing up, but I won’t dare compare Detroit/Ann Arbor to Chicago.

Our hotel is only a couple of blocks from the race start, so I think the energy of having some 40,000 runners in one concentrated area will be pretty cool.  Even Phoenix felt like Runner City for RnRAZ, so I can only imagine what it will feel like during Marathon weekend in Chicago.

We’re starting to look into what we want to do while we in the city.  We obviously don’t want to do a lot of walking in the days before running, and we may not be able to do a lot of walking in the days after, so we’re trying to figure out how to maximize our vacation without being on our feet too much.

I’m starting to research the following:

1) A Mafia Tour: I am weirdly obsessed with the mafia.  I want to see sites where people got whacked.

2) John Hughes Tour: I LOVE John Hughes movies.  No girl who lived in the 80′s doesn’t.  16 Candles? The Breakfast Club? Planes Trains and Automobiles? FERRIS BUELLER?!  Even Home Alone.  I want to see as many of these characters’ homes, schools, and shenanigan sites that I can.

3) The Art Institute of Chicago: Both Aaron and I thought at some point in college that we would be art history experts, so we both have a lot of art knowledge.  And we LOVE museums.  So, this is an obvious stop in our Chicago tour.  Known for the large Impressionist collection, Monet and Van Gogh are among the artists whose works hang on these walls.

4) PIZZA! And Hot Dogs! Post marathon, I can eat junk food AND not feel guilty about it!

5) Blues Clubs: Apparently Chicago is known for them.

6) Michigan Avenue: It has nice stores.  I like nice stores.

7) A dip in the Lake: I figure post marathon, this will feel like a giant ice bath!

There aren’t any local sports games that weekend.  I think seeing Wrigley Field would be cool though.  Also, Devil in the White City is one of my favorite books, and I would LOVE to see some of the World’s Colombian Expedition sites, but apparently they don’t exist anymore. It’s not like 1893 was THAT long ago.

What am I missing??? Recommendations are appreciated!

I hope everyone has a fantastic weekend.  We are running 19 and 9 this weekend.  For the first time ever, our weekend mileage will actually be higher than 26.2.  Getting closer!

Stay cool out there!

Lots and Lots (and Lots) of Durango Pictures

So, I know everyone knows we went to Durango (and everyone is thinking, seriously, it’s not Paris, stop talking about it), but for such a small vacation, we took an insane amount of pictures that will sit forever in my computer, unloved and neglected.  I hate making anything feel unloved and neglected.

I love our camera (and Aaron LOVES our camera), so between us we take a lot of pictures with lots of different settings, often of the same thing over and over.

So, if you are interested in looking at a ton of pictures of water and trains (and a few other things), here is our Durango weekend in 87 pictures.

And then we will move on!

Birthday Weekend Getaway to Durango

Aaron (who reads my blog but only comments in real life), sends a 30-years-big THANK YOU to everyone for the birthday wishes!

He also thought that I had an “interesting” choice of pictures in the post yesterday, so I thought I’d throw another one in the mix!

*************************************

SIDENOTE: We have had non-stop birthday action since Friday, so this will be a short on words post with a lot of unedited pictures (I’ll actually share about 10 million train pictures another day)

We celebrated Aaron’s birthday with a quick weekend getaway to Durango, CO (home of Zuke’s dog treats…thanks Ellie for that tidbit of information!)

Durango is a quick 3 hour-ish drive from Albuquerque, but pretty much a whole different world.

Durango is a small, ski resort town with an old western feel, and as a college town, almost everyone is 22 and beautiful (and drunk).  It is also pretty affordable and unpretentious unlike some of the other Colorado ski resort towns like Telluride, Aspen, and Vail.

We started off the drive on Friday afternoon, and immediately encountered a traffic jam in the first town out.  Fun.  We also ate potato chips for dinner because we had no other options in the middle of nowhere.  (I know it doesn’t sound like it, but I actually eat pretty healthy most of the time!).

After an uneventful drive, we pulled into Durango.  I hadn’t been in about 12 years, so I was pleasantly surprised to see an adorable town appear in front of the bug-gut covered windshield.

Despite being such a touristy spot, hotels are kind of hard to come by (condos, cabins, and vacation house rentals are plentiful however).  Low-budget options like Econo Lodge and Best Western were available in the north end of town, and the two options downtown (where all of the restaurants and action are) are really old.

We opted to go with really old to stay within walking distance of the action and chose the General Palmer Hotel (The Strater is the other, far more expensive option).  It was very cute, very convenient, provided free breakfast, had Keurig coffee machines in room, and real keys (as opposed to the magnetic swiper ones).

Even though Durango is a ski town, there are plenty of things to do during the summer including white water rafting, zip-lining, mountain biking, hiking, and…THE TRAIN!

Without getting into too much of a history lesson, the Durango-Silverton Line was a pretty big deal back in the day.  These days it is quite the experience, with authentic trains chugging customers through the mountains from Durango to Silverton, an old west mining town revamped into a tourist destination.  The 45 mile trip takes about 3.5 hours, but the time investment is well worth it because of the amazing mountain views! Also, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed along this stretch of railroad! Paul Newman and I have been to the same place!

We opted for an open-air car which allows for better viewing (though we did get cold, and soot covered).

Silverton itself is about 2 streets worth of restaurants and shops (apparently the mines were active up until the 90′s, but now the only thing supporting this town is the business from the train passengers).  You get to spend about 2 and a half hours exploring (or saloon patronizing) before getting back on board.

After the 3.5 hour ride back into Durango, we went exploring the various microbreweries and bars that Durango had to offer.  Durango actually has 4 microbreweries in town, two within walking distance to our hotel (more on that later).

Sunday morning we got up for a trail run (more on that tomorrow) to explore the amazing landscape that Colorado has to offer.

Sunday also happened to be the Taste of Durango event where local restaurants give small samples of some of their food in exchange for tokens.  I guess the token sales go toward Charity, but you are essentially paying $4 per sample portion.  It was ok, but we didn’t spend too much time there.

We opted instead to eat at this adorable French restaurant!

On our way out of town, we stopped at Ska brewing company.  I don’t know if it is as widely distributed in other places as it is in Albuquerque, but the brand is completely comic book themed.

But…it is closed on Sundays, so all I could do was take pictures of the sign.  Bummer.

So, even though it was just a quick getaway, hanging out in Durango was relaxing and fun, and at such a close distance, a destination I wouldn’t mind going to a couple of times a year.  Sometimes, just escaping to a different place can make life a little more exciting.

Playing Tourist in San Francisco

San Francisco is a city built on tourism.  From the famous skyline to the gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge framing the blue bay waters, San Francisco is easily the most beautiful city in the country.   Aaron hadn’t really done the San Francisco tourist thing, so when we weren’t running 13.1 miles up the hill of death during our half marathon, we got to as many of the sites as possible.

GETTING AROUND:

I personally think renting a car in San Francisco is nuts.  Unless you have inner city driving experience, the hills, 8 way intersections, and pedestrians will probably cause some stress. Most hotels charge between 30-50 dollars a night to park, and the CHEAPEST parking garage I’ve ever found was $6 an hour.  Taxis aren’t too expensive if you stay within a few miles.  We paid between $10 and $20 for about a 5 mile radius.  I highly recommend the $14 Day Transportation Pass.  This gets you unlimited rides on the famed Trolly, Street Cars, and City Bus (MUNI) for 1 day.  They can be purchased at Powell and Market by the Trolly Hub.  I believe they also have 3 day passes available.

STUFF WE DID:

Fisherman’s Wharf: Not too functional as a port, but lots of restaurants, novelty shops, and an aquarium.  Starts at Pier 1 and goes all the way down to Ghiradelli Square.

Pier 39: The most touristy of the piers on Fisherman’s Wharf.  You’ve got your Hard Rock Cafe, your aquarium, your vintage carousel, and all sorts of stores.

Hyde Street Pier: A first for both of us, this pier is at the end of the wharf.  It’s kind of a museum with historic ships and buildings.  Free (donations accepted), admission charged for boat walk-throughs.

Trolly: One of the most iconic parts of San Francisco. The main “hub” is at Powell and Market, but you can get on at just about any block along their route.

Street Cars: These vintage street cars will take you from Fisherman’s Wharf all the way up Embarcadero and then up Market to the Castro.

Lombard Street: The “crookedest” street in the world.  You can drive down (and deal with the tourists who jump in your way for a picture), or take a walk down.

Ghiradelli Square: At one point this was the  factory for Ghiradelli chocolate.  Now it is a chocolate store and ice cream parlour.  I think their sundaes are a San Francisco MUST.

City Hall: One of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen, especially for a city hall.  JLo almost gets married here in The Wedding Planner. The Opera House, Symphony, and Ballet are all right across from the City Hall.  Beautiful buildings, and definitely worth catching a show if you can.

Ferry Building: Another iconic San Francisco landmark.  This is where Fisherman’s Wharf starts at Pier 1.  There is a market inside, and the Occupy San Francisco movement is stationed right across.

Farmer’s market: Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning, there is a farmer’s market in front of the Ferry Building.  Seeing as how California produces some of the best crops in the country, the selection was amazing.  We picked up some honey and jam, but if we lived here, we’d definitely be buying some fresh fruits and veggies.

Biking the Golden Gate: Aaron convinced me to ride a tandem bike  across the Golden Gate Bridge (I was scared the whole time).  The route is undeniably beautiful though. There are several rental places along the wharf.

Chinatown: I’ve never been to China, but a walk around some of these streets makes you feel like you’re in a different country (the largest Chinese population outside of China lives in San Francisco).  Plenty of restaurants and some great souvenirs.

North beach: Also known as the Italian District, this neighborhood has the best Italian food and the best bars.

Union Square: Where all of the nice shops are (Saks, Neiman, Barney’s, Bloomingdales, Chanel, Louis, Tiffany’s, Burberry, Prada, Hermes, etc. etc. etc.).  Obviously one of my favorite places to hang out!

TransAmerica Pyramid: I’ve never actually been inside (I don’t even know if you can get in), but this building is what sets San Francisco apart from other skylines.

As much as we wanted to see everything, that was as we could fit in.  There is of course the Coit Tower, Golden Gate Park (and Japanese Tea Garden), Japan Town, Haight Ashbury, the Victorian House Row (I don’t know the real name, but you know what I’m talking about), the Castro, AT&T Park, and Candlestick Park.  There is really too much to see and do in San Francisco and far too many beautiful sights to capture on camera, but we definitely enjoyed our time there (as if it is possible not to), and will hopefully get back there in the near future!

One Final Thought on Jamaica

Exactly 4 weeks ago I was fresh off the plane in Jamaica.  It never ceases to amaze me how fast time passes by.  I looked forward to this vacation for months and it has already been a month since we were there.  I’ve been holding on to this post for awhile, mostly because I have a little white furball who consumes my life, but also maybe a little because once this is up, then Jamaica is over.  I’ve already developed the pictures, but up the souvenirs, and finally had to get a pedicure redo after my little toe flowers started to peel off yesterday.

As a recap, my other Jamaica posts are about what to pack, staying at a Sandals Resort, and a guide to all those fruity Jamaican cocktails.

So, here is my last post on Jamaica….our very small venture into Montego Bay.

As recent at 2005, Jamaica had the worst crime rate in the world.  In fact, most travel sites recommend that tourists stay safely within the walls of their resort after dark.  This is not only recommended in the country’s largest city, Kingston, but also in Montego Bay.  As Jamaica’s third most populous city, Montego Bay has a population of under 100,000, but has the busiest airport thanks to the tourist industry.

Despite the risk, Aaron and I made the decision to leave the safe compounds of the resort and venture into the real world for a bit.  TIP: Instead of taking a taxi in, we took the free shuttle to another Sandal’s resort (Sandal’s Carlyse) and walked from there into town.  The half mile walk from the hotel to the main street, “Hip Strip” was more of an inner city experience.  Lots of people sitting on the porch outside drug stores and businesses, lots of people driving erratically, and lots of people gawking at me in my big floppy hat.  Hip Strip is the “tourist approved” spot of Montego Bay.

Bobsled Cafe

To say that we really explored the city would be like saying that we explored Las Vegas without making it off the main strip.  We were in a highly tourist centered area.  For example, we walked by the Jamaican Bobsled Café (owned by Margaritaville), Harley Davidson Jamaica (come on…really?), and Margariataville itself which we had seen from the backside the day before on our Catamaran Cruise.

Harley Davidson Jamaica

Even that small venture into the real world was kind of stressful.  Jamaicans are amazing sales people.  Every person wants you to come inside their Jamaican store and they will offer you a special price.  Men wait on the side of the road offering their taxi services.  If you say no, then they suddenly become tour guides wanting to show you around Montego Bay.  People sell CD’s out of their backpack.  We were asked if we “Bob Marley,” which I can only assume was a reference to smoking pot.  We got lured into some back alley flea market where I learned about what the colors of Jamaica (and the colors of Rastafarian) represent.  The back alley itself and the people in it turned out to be ok, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend going off the beaten path.  With all of the interesting characters out there,  I didn’t want to pull my camera out too much though, so I didn’t get a lot of great pictures.

One of the main reasons we wanted to go into town was to get some good deals on souvenirs and folk art.  In all our travels, rather than bring back souvenir spoons or shot glasses or t-shirts, the Lavenders like to decorate our home with reminders of the places we’ve been.  We were in search of something less mass produced and more authentic.

Our artisan giraffe, Jethro

Jamaicans are a bartering culture, which I LOVE.  You get to name your price on anything.  It is like a 25% off sale wherever you! Obviously the resort store and the airport stores aren’t negotiable, but any street vendor or even drug store is willing to work with you in order to make a sale.   We did our research by stopping by the resort store and pricing items, so when we were bartering, we knew the estimated retail value of each.

For example, a similar version of this vase cost $40 in the resort shop (plus 17.5% sales tax), but I got it from a street vendor for $30, no tax.  Another great thing: everyone takes American currency! They name their prices in American dollars, and they give you back change in American dollars.  I don’t know if this would be the case further into town, but Jamaicans are well versed in the exchange rate.

We did exchange some of our currency as souvenirs.  Imagine our surprise when our $10 USD converted to $865 Jamaican dollars.  While the exchange rate seems to fluctuate, you can get anywhere between 85-90 Jamaican dollars to every US dollar. This explains why we saw lunch advertised for $1500.

Another glaringly apparent aspect of Montego Bay is the poverty.  Stepping outside the beautiful, luxurious resort is a wonderful reminder that while I see this place as paradise, other people live in abandoned buildings with no doors or windows.  I’d like to think that by buying merchandise straight from the artisans and local shop owners, I’m helping support the local economy.   This island depends on tourism to survive, and it is a little heartbreaking to realize that when our economy suffers, they suffer and they have very little control over the situation.

I'd like to think these cannons fought off pirates...

Right in the middle of Hip Strip...a beautifully peaceful cemetary

Red Stripe!

So, there it is.  My Jamaica vacation has been photographed and documented.   I’m glad I went, though I don’t know if I would go back unless I had a reason.  With all the places in the world that I haven’t seen, I think I can check this little piece of paradise off my list and head to the next destination.

Summertime!

It is safe to say that I REALLY hate the cold.  No matter how much people try to argue with me, I would much rather be uncomfortably warm without a way to make it better than cold and wearing 10 layers of clothing.  As a matter of fact, I turned on my office space heater yesterday when it was 95 degrees outside because I was a little chilly.

My bedtime outfit this past winter (taken by Aaron without my permission)

So, it is with extreme pleasure that I announce the arrival of SUMMER! Granted, it has been pretty warm here for about a month (don’t get me started on the freezing early May temperatures), and also granted that I’ve already had my summer beach vacation to Jamaica, but there is something so satisfying about knowing that for the next 3 months, I won’t have to worry about getting cold.  I will not be confined to my living room in order to stay warm, and leaving the house won’t involve putting on 10 layers of clothing.

Alas, summer only lasts so long, and I want to make sure that I take full advantage of the sunshine and fresh air.  I usually make a season “to-do” list.  In fall, I have to make sure I buy insane amounts of gourds to decorate with.  In winter, I have to make sure to do last-minute Christmas shopping.  Here is what I hope to accomplish this summer:

1)      Dine al fresco as much as possible.

I don’t care if it is in my backyard or at a restaurant patio.  Food tastes better outdoors.  The bugs agree with me.

2)      Spend an afternoon on a lake.

This might be easier said then done seeing as how I live in the desert and lakes are hard to come by.  And we don’t have a boat.  But nothing says summer like enjoying some chips, salsa, and margaritas in the middle of water…even if it is on a floating noodle.

I'm jealous of Washington Lakes.

3)      New Mexico Wine Festival

Every Labor Day Weekend the winos of New Mexico unite to sample the state’s finest vintages.  Since the age of 21, I have happily partaken in the festivities.

4)      Fireworks.

I am a sucker for fireworks.  I told Aaron I don’t care what we do on the 4th of July as long as I can see a firework show, preferably orchestrated to music while eating a giant funnel cake.

5)      Accomplish gardening success

We were waiting to come back from our vacation before we started doing some gardening, but now that we’re back, its time to start getting some flowers in those flower boxes. And I am determined to prove that palm trees can in fact survive in a dry, dry, dry climate.

 

6)      Go on a road trip

Nothing says summer like cruising down the open road with the windows down.  I don’t know where we’d go, but I’d settle for a trip to California.  

7)      Go whitewater rafting

The rivers nearby aren’t exactly brimming with excitement right now because we haven’t had rain in about a year.  While this should indicate a nice leisurely float down, in reality this means getting stuck on river rocks.

8)      Go to the Zoo

I actually think Albuquerque has a decent zoo.  I haven’t been in about 5 years, so I think I am long overdue for a visit.  Bring on the Koalas!

9)      Practice my golfing skills

Or rather, acquire some golfing skills. 

10)   Practice my tennis skills

Or rather, acquire some tennis skills

11)   Crash a pool party

I don’t have a pool.  I don’t have friends who live in apartment complexes.  We aren’t quite at the socio-economic level to afford a membership at the country club (trust me, I looked), and the nearest hotel pool party is a couple of hours away (and not really in a town I’d want to go to for a pool party…Google Espanola).  We may have to be strategic about how we get our pool fix.  It may or may not involve being “guests” at another hotel.

Photo by Paul Nguyen. I wish I had this pool at my disposal all the time

12)   Get my puppy potty trained

This needs to happen soon or else I will lose my sanity.  I’m definitely looking forward to the day that Giuseppe can indicate his need to go outside rather than me spending half my day out there with him, or cleaning up his little surprises.

I know you're cute...but can you just pee already?

So, Happy Summer! May you have 3 months of sunshine, BBQ’s, and pool parties!

But Why Is the Rum Gone? A Guide to Jamaican Drinks

Through all the vampires, ninjas and zombies, I have remained a devoted Pirate Person.  I know  in real life pirates were (and still are) very bad, violent people, but from my first ride on Pirates of the Caribbean at age 5, Disney has convinced me that being a pirate might be a pretty cool lifestyle.

One of the ways I got to live out my Pirate life was of course to fly to the Caribbean and drink rum.  Jamaica has no shortage of rum or rum drinks.  Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me! Plus, the house wine was Beringer, so switching to rum was kind of a necessity.

RUM BY THE BOTTLE

Sandals carried El Dorado rum.  It was served at the bars, it was the bottle in our in-room stocked bar, and it was given away as prizes for all sorts of contests.  I even won my own bottle! I won’t tell you what I had to do to win it.  What happens in Jamaica stays in Jamaica.

El Dorado tastes like cheap rum.  Luckily we were clued in by another guest and started asking for the “top shelf” version….El Dorado 12 Year Rum which was waaaay better.  Because Sandals is all-inclusive, you pay the same for the cheap stuff as you do for the top shelf stuff, so why not get the better of the two?

We did our Rum shopping at the duty-free stores at the Montego Bay airport.  It was cheaper there than at the resort shop, plus you don’t have to pay that pesky UNREASONABLY HIGH Jamaican sales tax rate of 17.5%.

You can get rum that is more of a souvenir than drinkable:

You can get really expensive fancy rum:

Or you can spring for some Appleton’s like we did.  Appleton’s is probably the most iconic Jamaican rum, and is actually available at our corner liquor store (which we didn’t realize until we came back).  But it is tasty, and cheaper to buy in Jamaica than here.

NOTE: You are only allowed to bring back 1 litre of alcohol per person back into the US.  I suggest if you win a bottle of the cheap stuff, pass it off to some appreciative resort guest who doesn’t have the fully stocked bar, and then buy 2 bottles of something better.  ALSO: Once you get back in the country, you will have to go through security again if you have another flight, so if you do buy duty-free at the airport, remember to stash your bottle in your checked luggage that you get back at customs.

RUM DRINKS:

Going to a tropical location and not getting a fruity cocktail seems rather counterintuitive.  Sure they have about 500 calories each and will rapidly cause you to lose your bikini abs by the end of your vacation, but nothing says “vacation” quite like a colorful drink topped with an umbrella or pineapple slice.

We obviously weren’t thinking about much of anything including watching the bartenders make our drinks so we could steal their secrets and make our own at home, but here’s what we’ve come up with.

Miami Vice:

This was by far my favorite of all the drinks we tried.  We figured out that it was strawberry daiquiri and pina colada topped off with dark rum.  The day after we got back from our trip, we immediately bought the supplies and made our own.  The transition back to reality is a tough one.

 

American Flag:

As far as we can tell, it is a Miami Vice with Blue Curacao mixed in.  Curacao makes everything cooler.

Jamaican Hummingbird:

This was my first drink at the resort, and apparently it is a Sandal’s specialty.  It is like a smoothie with rum.  I liked it, but I don’t think I had another.

 

Purple Rain

I don’t know what this is, but it was recommended to us by a New Yorker.  It was also disguising unless you like the taste of cough syrup.  I drank half and then let the nice man take it away.

 

Sex on the Boat:

This was the specialty cocktail of our catamaran cruise.  It tasted a lot like Sex on the Beach but it apparently is a lot smoother.  The Rum Runner seemed to be similar in taste.

 

Margaritaville Rum Smoothie Thing

First off, I will say that if our catamaran cruise didn’t stop at Margaritaville I would NOT have gone.  I did not go all the way to Jamaica to go to Margaritaville.  That being said, jumping on a giant trampoline in the middle of the bay was pretty cool.  Anyway, I don’t remember what this was called, but the rum is Appleton’s, and the drink was tasty.  Unfortunately we paid $37 for 2 of them.  You best be giving me the souvenir glass for that price.  Yikes.

Steel Bottom

I did not try this, but the guys seemed to give it high marks.  It is a glass of Red Stripe with a shot of rum.  Sounds yummy.  NOT.

Jamaican Coffee

Like Irish coffee, but with rum cream instead of Irish cream.  Rum cream is also good on the rocks.  Or drizzled over the buffet dessert selections.

Red Stripe

This is not a rum drink.  And it isn’t exactly exotic seeing as how you can probably pick it up at your local 7-11.  It is also not the world’s best beer.  It is the Budweiser of Jamaica.  But for some reason, in Jamaica, it tastes AMAZING.  They also have the lite version for those girls (and guys) wanting a break from the 500 calorie rum drinks.

By tomorrow I will hopefully have come to the full realization that the blue Caribbean will not be outside my window when I wake up.  I will conclude my Jamaica series with a look at Montego Bay the city, or at least what we saw of it on our brief adventure outside the resort gates.  And then I will revert to talking nonstop about my new puppy, Giuseppe who we will get on Friday!

I Had The Time of My Life (Cue Cheesy Commercial)

Part 2: The Sandals Experience

When friend Katie suggested Sandals for our group vacation, my first thought was of Michael from The Office being excited about his all-inclusive Sandals vacation.  That, and the overly cheesy “Time of Your Life” commercials that tend to play every few minutes on early morning Bravo programming (I get my Housewives fix when I can).

So, even though I try and live my life by “What What Michael Scott NOT Do,” we ended up at Sandals Montego Bay.  After stalking the resort page on tripadvisor.com for 4 months, I was worried.  There were a lot of mixed reviews.  Some people have great experiences, some people would rather coat themselves in sugar and stand in a room full of blood thirsty mosquitoes then spend another in another night at a Sandals resort.

A little background on Sandals:  The Company operates several resorts around the Caribbean including Jamaica, St. Lucia, Antigua, and Turks and Caicos.  Their family friendly version is called Beaches, but Sandals is adult couples only (in Jamaica, couples is restricted to heterosexual couples only.  I didn’t know this at the time of booking).  The big gimmick is of course the all-inclusiveness.  Anyone who has spent $10 for a Heineken at a Hawaiian resort can appreciate ordering drinks from a bar and not getting a tab.  Was this resort as nice as those Hawaiian resorts? Heck no.  But it definitely wasn’t a hole-in-the-wall, and we never ran out of things to do. Our experience wasn’t bad at all.

Sandals has three levels of packages.  We went with Concierge service which is the midrange package.  You can get the basic package, or you can upgrade to Butler Service (which we think is worth it after seeing it in action).  Concierge service allowed us to check-in faster, make reservations easier, and have a fully stocked bar in our hotel room included.  Apparently staff was also more willing to help us out than people who didn’t upgrade to concierge.  The room also came with a 4 poster bed, bathrobes, and a Jacuzzi tub. You can check out www.sandals.com for more specifics.

If you are considering Sandals or Montego Bay, here are some of highlights.

The Good:

Airport Lounge:
While we waiting for a ride to the resort, we got to sit in comfy couches, got complimentary Red Stripe (the official beer of Jamaica), and got to hang out with Cookie Monster! The resort itself was only about 5 minutes from the airport which was pretty convenient considering some other resorts were a 2 hour drive away.  Unfortunately this also made for some brief, loud, plane moments.  You also get complementary transport to the resort but you are expected to tip the driver and baggage handlers who are not Sandals employees.

All-Inclusiveness:
Food (from cheeseburgers to Sushi and caviar), drinks (including top shelf liquors if you request them), entertainment and activities (like beach volleyball tournaments and concerts), and water sports including water skiing, kayaking, hobie sailing, and snorkeling are included.   This means never having to carry cash or worry about waiting around for a bill.  Tips are included too.  NOTE: excursions, room service (unless you get a Butler), resort shop products, photos, and spa servicesaren’t included.

HUGE Beach:
We always got a beach chair, and we always had our own ocean spot. The beach was immaculate and staff made sure that cups/plates were picked up promptly, and that the sand was combed multiple times per day.

The Staff:
Jamaicans are such wonderful people.  Funny, outgoing, and full of personality.  We noticed that the resort staff tended to be a young, attractive bunch probably hired as much for their appearance as for their personality.  Many people at the resort developed friendships with staff members and we even saw some newly arrived guests greet staff that they obviously met on a previous visit.  That being said, service is SLOW.  There were times when we had to wait annoyingly long between courses, not to mention the hour and a half we had to wait before getting our luggage delivered to our room after check-in.

Other Guests:
I don’t know how much this changes from week to week, but the resort was full of beautiful, young, friendly people.  There was a good mix of ages including a great couple we met celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, but I would say the crowd was younger (20s-30s) and full of energy.  Everyone was extremely friendly, and actually pretty clean and respectful.  Public toilets were flushed, nobody stole our stuff when we were off splashing in the ocean, and nobody cut in line or acted entitled.

Basically, aside from the luggage delivery incident, I have nothing to complain about.  If you are used to higher end accommodations, you might find some of the amenities subpar, or if you are looking for a secluded, peaceful vacation without noise you will probably get annoyed by the party people.  If you like huge, lush poolscapes, you might think the ones here are small and boring.  If you are looking for a culinary experience, or even some authentic island cuisine, you aren’t going to get it here (though the food was really good and diverse…just not 5-star cooking).  I would definitely recommend this place, and we are absolutely looking into celebrating Aaron’s big 3-0 next year at another Sandals resort on a different island.

What to Pack on Your Jamaica Vacation

Welcome to Paradise

So, I realized that I haven’t updated or even obsessively looked at the stats on my blog for over a month.  Since this probably isn’t the best blogging practice, I figured I better hop back in the game and start writing again now that the Jamaican vacation is 48 hours over and I don’t have to work out quite as much or scramble around trying to get ready to leave the country.  Plus, next week we get our puppy, Giuseppe (!) and I may have to fall off the planet while I play responsible dog mom for a few weeks.

So I spent the last week in Jamaica.  AMAZING.  There really is too much to write about for one blog post, so this is the first in a series of travelling to the land of sun and reggae.

PART 1: What to Pack on Your Jamaican Vacation

I am of the “always be prepared” school of thinking.  While this doesn’t apply to say leaving, 15 minutes early in case of unforeseen circumstances like car accidents or unusually long security lines, I do always try and have any necessary products that might come in handy.  This is why the bags I carry are usually bigger than I am.

Before cramming everything into my suitcase (which Aaron graciously uncrammed than packed again in organized fashion), this was my inventory.  I had shoes for walking on the beach, shoes for walking around the airport, shoes for casual evenings, shoes for more formal evenings, and shoes for working out (which I did once!).  I had several outfits to match each possible
scenario including sweaters in case it got cold, 5 days worth of workout clothes, and of course more than enough bikinis which did come in handy for morning swimming and evening hot tubbing.

Here are my other “must-have” items for vacationing on in the Caribbean.

1. Sunscreen: The sun is brutal.  Even after multiple applications, we still got a little red.  We fared far better than the average sunburn person we saw walking around.  Tan is cute.
Peeling Lobster is not.   Bringing it from home is cheaper than buying it at the resort shop.

The drink is pretty...and the manicure is intact!

2. Gel Manicure: after hearing rave reviews, I got one myself and I am a devoted fan.  It dries almost instantly, and looks just like regular polish.  After
a week of splashing in the ocean (not to mention an intense pre-vacation house cleaning), my manicure is still completely intact!

One look down, and these are lost at the bottom of the sea!

3. Cheap Sunglasses:  My $80 Coach Outlet sunglasses got submerged in the pool, were worn in the middle of the ocean, got rained on, were left in the sand, and in general got a good beating.  If I had worn an expensive pair, I might be pretty mad about the damage that was done.

4. Underwater Camera: I found them for about $11 at Target while they were $20 at the resort.  This ensures you can have some crazy underwater pictures OR some good pictures of your snorkeling adventure. Equally awesome: Friend Katie lent us her camera sleeve protector thing that she found on Amazon.com which allows you to take your regular camera
underwater.

5. Dramamine:  4 out of the 8 people who went on boats got motion sickness.  Granted, we are a pretty landlocked bunch, but this little pill made the very bumpy Catamaran
Cruise much more enjoyable.

6. Curl Enhancing Mousse: The air is humid.  You are on a beach.  If you are trying to comb your hair, you will not only waste valuable beach time, but you will also have curly/wavy/kinky hair in minutes anyway.  I use Herbal Essences Totally Twisted, and my straight hair transforms into kind of wavy hair with the help of the humidity.

7. Insect Repellant: Paradise has a price, and in this case it is mosquitoes.  I didn’t use insect repellant, and 37 itchy little bites later, I kind of wish I had.

8. Snorkel Set: Yes, they have them at the resort, but I can’t help thinking of the yucky person who bit down on that mouth piece before I did.  We got ours at Costco for about $40 each.

9. A willingness to try new things and have a ton of fun!: During this trip I conquered my fear of snorkeling and water tubing, learned how to sail, and made friends with people from all over the country.  I had an absolutely wonderful time, and we are already dreaming of our next Caribbean vacation!