Ya Mon, Sandals, Drinks, Sand and Sun

Finally got around to posting about our Honeymoon. Omar and I spent a glorious week at the Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay, Jamaica. It was a week of pure heaven. I feel compelled to write a real review about Sandals, the room, the food, the experience. Before we went, I spent tireless hours reading bad reviews, good reviews, and sometimes discouraging reviews. If I listened to the crack pots and endless barrage of reviews from people that simply cannot be satisfied with anything, we may have changed our reservations. I am glad we didn’t.

Let’s start from the very beginning. We opted to sign up for Club Mobay, both arriving and departing. Club Mobay in a nutshell is a concierge service that expedites you through customs, ensures your transport to the resort is smooth and offers a special Club Mobay lounge with free snacks, and cocktails. Picture our arrival: We get off the plane with a lovely woman holding a “Jen and Omar” sign, We felt like a celebrities! She whisks us through the airport, guiding us into the short (separate) Club Mobay line and we literally just breeze through everything. We are guided to the Club Mobay lounge where we have a rum punch handed to us, directed to the small buffet of island snacks, and we sit and enjoy our cocktail while our concierge sets up our transport.

We quickly head to the transport van and along with only one other couple are take to our destination. Our bus driver was more tour guide than bus driver and regaled us with stories of the island, the sites, and the history in our short 15 minute drive.

Upon our arrival, we are greeted with iced cold washcloths infused with lemongrass to cool down and start our week of pampering. We are escorted past the standard check in area to Club Sandals, a perk of your room level that allows an expedited, pampered check in with snacks and cocktails. We are told to sit and relax while they get us checked in, we sipped out cocktails and enjoyed the aroma of lemongrass that lingered in the air.

Our room was available hours before we expected which was an unexpected surprise. We were escorted to the Windsor Beachfront Walkout Club Level Room with Patio Tranquility Soaking Tub. This room literally walked right out into the sandy beach which led right into the ocean. Let me tell you, for us beach lovers, it was perfect. We could walk right out to our beach chairs, frolic in the water, soak up some sun, with the room only a few feet away. I heard a lot of false statements and bad reviews of the rooms. I will give you a totally honest review of our experience.

Our Room:
Although the pictures on the website make the rooms look like the largest, most extravagant rooms you can imagine. If you are expecting the rooms to look that picture perfect you will be disappointed. However, if you go in with an open mind, you will see the rooms, although not super updated, and not super glamorous, were clean, beds very comfy, stocked fridge and bar, large TV and a beautiful walk out, with a patio that had an outdoor soaker tub and small table. So nice to sit on the patio and watch the water.

The Food:
There is a variety of restaurants in the resort, and you have access to two other Sandals resorts, Montego Bay and the Sandals Inn, offering a different variety of food and activities. The Royal Caribbean offers a private island, that has the over-the-water villas, the Royal Thai Restaurant, as well as a nude beach. There is a small ferry, that looks like a Chinese dragon that ferries people back and forth all day.

The first place we ate was the Mariner Bar and Seaside Grill. They have a wide range of food from quesadillas, burgers, and Jamaican “Patties” stuffed with spicy beef or chicken. The food was good and really hit the spot. The fries good, everything cooked fresh to order and the view was amazing. We ate here quite often, laying by the pool, wanting a small bite to eat, or grab an ice cream cone. takes some getting used to, going to restaurants, eating whatever you want, helping your self to a self serve cone and paying nothing.

Here is a breakdown of our thoughts of the other restaurants (and we tried them all). We did NOT however, ever leave the resort. Our reviews will be limited to the Royal Caribbean alone.

The Royal Thai: This was on the private island. You have to take a ferry there and you have to make reservations. We went to the island earlier to explore and peek at the nudist beach. Yes we went there, no we did not disrobe and there was no one there that day (I think we were lucky?). The day we ate at the Royal Thai was a raining stormy day and as half the restaurant (maybe more) is outside, they were delayed in opening waiting for the rain to stop. The food was really good, but not the best Thai we ever had. The appetizer portions are small, as were entree portions, but I still got really full. We both had chicken Pad Thai, with Omar’s being tongue numbingly hot. The restaurant was romantic and the food really good.

The Regency: We went here for breakfast everyday, They have an extensive breakfast and lunch buffet, along with a menu selection for dinner. You dine overlooking the boat dock area, and the view spectacular. The breakfast buffet filled with fresh fruits, made to order omelets, smoked fish, local fare, breads, sweets, oatmeal and so much more. If you can’t find something to eat you have a problem! For lunch, we mostly ate at the Mariner, but ate at the Regency once to find a huge selection of local dishes, sandwiches, salad bar, soups, sweets and more. The dinner was romantic, but of all the restaurants, this was our least favorite.

Le Jardinier: The French restaurant is the most popular, and busiest. You need reservations here as well and expected to “dress” for the evening. When they say “dress” I saw people from evening dresses to white slacks to dress shorts. I think as long as you are not in a bikini and flip flops you are ok. This place was nice, with little crabs running through the flower beds, small wire bistro tables and classical music playing. The ceiling was the sky, with draped greenery and flowers. The food again, small portions, but filing. Omar and I found that we enjoyed the smaller portions, it allowed us to sample the appetizers, main course and dessert.

The Cricketers Pub: A fun place to hang, and really any activity after 10 p.m. happens here. It offers classic British Pub Fare, fish and chips, bangers and mash, and cottage pie. We had to go eat some fish and chips with malt vinegar! Lots of action here. If you want to eat, get there when they open. It really fills up quick and you will have a really long wait.

Elenors: An outdoor eating area just off the pool and games area. This was our favorite spot to eat and the only restaurant we ate at twice. Although one night, lets say I had a wee bit too much to drink all day, so didn’t really enjoy my fancy dinner (drunk me just wanted pizza or nachos!!) The waitstaff here were funny and friendly. The food was really enjoyable.

Bella Napoli: The stone-fired pizza joint next to the Mariner. Although it was no green lantern, it was a decent pizza and a nice change of pace for lunch but don’t expect a late night snack as they close at 6 p.m.

Lastly, the Jerk Shack on  the private island. Typically, you sit out on picnic tables, and order from what looks like a permanent food truck, but they day we ate there, the weather was a little temperamental so we sat inside the Thai restaurant (right next to the shack). Get the sampler to try everything. Didn’t care for the sweet potato, it was very under done and the bread was ok, but hey it’s free right? So you pretty much have to try it.

The Drinks:
Did someone say drinks included? Ya mon! Beer, mixed drinks, whatever your pleasure. I was making drinks up by the pool and soon became “that chick that makes the cool drinks” because they caught on so much. Omar was “Omar is here!!” “Hi Omar” I was the chick that makes the cool drinks. LOL. My favorites were frozen lemonade with Blue Curacao (pronounced Keer-a-sow, not Cur-ack-co as I always called it, who knew) or frozen lemonde with Apple Schnapps. Once day they had to go on an apple schnapps run since everyone in the pool was drinking it. Try the Ziggy Marley, a three layered concoction of deliciousness.

The Activities:
Lets face it, this is not Broadway, this is entertainment akin to bad cruise shows, with cheesy skits, silly audience participation, dancing and music. The person running bingo during the day might be your nightly crooner or dancer. It is what it is. It was silly, it was fun. They have karaoke at night, although we never made it, as much as we tried. The sun, the drinks, the fun during the day had us old folks in bed fairly early every night.

We played giant chess, took a snorkel cruise, which was cool, but as soon as we left the breakers area, the waves really had us lurching back and forth. I got a wee bit sea sick, which I don’t usually do. I tried getting in the water, thinking it would help, but the waves took you so high, then so low, you felt like you were flying and didn’t help my unexpected nausea. I stupidly didn’t take any water, thinking we would only be gone a short time. If you go, take a bottle of water!! We also tried kayaking. The tide and wind was strong and the kayak did not allow ample leg room, and was massively uncomfortable. Let’s just say it was the shortest kayak trip in Sandals history. Just repeat the mantra “at least it was free”! We were there over Halloween, and I joined and won a pumpkin carving contest, tie dyed some shirts and shopped at the vendor booths they set up on the beach. On the one dismal rainy day we had we even took a couples massage. It was Omar’s first and most definitely not our last. Do all you can!

The Pool:
We spent all morning at the beach but every afternoon at the pool. Go early, grab a chair. Chairs at the pool do fill up, we never had a problem finding somewhere to hang our hats. A couple times we had to bide our time until a couple chairs opened up, but mostly we got there early and staked our claim. We never had a problem getting a chair outside our room at any time. The pool was just teeming with action and activity. Drinks flowing, strangers becoming friends, volleyball games, bingo, dance lessons, trivia and more. There was always something to do and the vibe was so fun we made it the place to be.

The Vibe:
The entire experience at Sandals is that you feel so decadent. With the free food, free drinks and plenty of action, it is simply a week of heavenly peace or fun frivolity and it was our choice which we preferred that day. The people there many of them go back often so they all know each other. We met some great people and even met a couple that lived a few miles from us! Your experience can be whatever you make of it. Our days were always the same, and so perfect. Up early, breakfast overlooking the marina, sipping coffee and taking in the view, then a few hours swimming, laying on the floats or lying in a beach chair. Talking to the local boat vendors who paddle up to try and sell you statues and trinkets but really want to know if you want the “Bob Marley”, which your shouldn’t, there are security watching very carefully. Oh and Bob Marley is code for marijuana. Then we make our way to the pool to claim our spot, start our day drinking with cocktail after cocktail (and helpful hint: bring plenty of tums the acid in all the drinks is a killer), then a shower to get all purty, and dinner at one of the restaurants. Catch a show, enjoy a theme night (like the luau, or “white night chocolate party”) relax with some checkers, play some pool, watch a show, or relax in your private tub for two on your patio (get some lemongrass essential oils from the gifts shop and kick that bath up a notch!!) and just enjoy  the relaxation.

The Bottom Line:
We would recommend Sandals and would definitely go again. Not sure if we would like to try a different location or go back to Royal Caribbean. Sign up for Club Mobay, so worth it. Skip the butlers, seems like more trouble than they are worth. Lots of people complaining that they had to wait for them for one reason or another. We were always just free to go where ever we wanted and do whatever we wanted. Get a massage. Go to the private island and get naked.

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It Was Our Destihl-y

Allison had her onsite visit and interview at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Science. We stayed overnight at the TownPlace Suites by Marriott. The hotel was nice and very accommodating. Parking was a bit difficult, you have to pull into a nearby parking structure and call by pressing a button on the ticket stand.  We rang and rang with no answer and wound up actually having to call the hotel to buzz us in.  Once we got the hang of the “system” it was much easier. After her interview for potential entrance into the Fall semester we visited Deshtihl Brewery with my niece Amber who already attends University of Illinois.  Deshtihl was recommended by the hotel staff who said the food was great and beer plentiful.  They tout themselves a Gastropub, They are an interesting place to visit. They are trying to be “fancy” but seem to be one of those pretentious restaurants where ingredients are randomly added to food to make it sound more “gourmet”.

Dishes include such items as Chorizo stuffed dates, fennel sausage and date pizza (they use a lot of dates. Dates must be fancy) and Weissenheimer Chicken. Now that’s a mouthful. Nothing on the menu really jumped out at me. I ordered the Ancho Chicken Salad sans blue cheese. The salad had lettuce, ancho spiced chicken, avocado, black beans, white cheddar, red onion, diced tomatoes roasted corn with a ancho lime ranch dressing.  The salad was ok. Toppings rather sparse, dressing good, but the salad itself was not huge.

Amber ordered the BBQ pulled pork two ways. It came on a plank, with pork a couple of ways, pulled and ribs. Served with lemon corn muffins and a chipotle coleslaw. She said the dish was good, not great. She didn’t eat much of it, so I think it wasn’t spectacular.

Allison ordered a spicy squash and cashew cream dish served over squash noodles.  The dish started out ok, with some interesting flavors of coconut milk, basil and a “cashew cream sauce”. It was very spicy and not an easy dish to finish.

They had quite a few beer choices, and some interesting fruited beers. Amber, not yet 21 didn’t drink and I ordered a simple red beer. It was again, an ok beer. I think OK is my ultimate review of Deshtihl.  I don’t know if I would ever even go there again.  As Allison has since been accepted into the fall program, I am sure I will find myself in Urbana-Champaign again, but may not revisit Deshtihl.

Sand and Snoozing at the Harbor Beach Marriott

During my January 2017 business trip to sunny Florida, we stayed at the Harbor Beach Marriott and Spa. The Marriott is a beautiful hotel, located right on the ocean, with amazing views and great amenities.

The staff is friendly and attentive, greeting you with fruit infused water and a smile. The hotel is easy to navigate, and offers a beautiful pool (one which I thoroughly enjoyed on a January day when it was subarctic in Michigan).

The rooms were ample sized, with comfortable bedding and nice glass enclosed shower. I was disappointed the room did not have a mini fridge, but that was my only complaint!

Omar got “stuck” an extra day due to the Delta debacle that shut down a bunch of flights due to an apparent computer crash. On Monday, while I was working the booth at the conference, he was tanning and swimming by the beautiful pool, munching on a crab salad from the poolside restaurant, “Sea Level”.  The bartenders here were fun and flirty, and the outdoor cafe boosts comfortable ocean al fresco seating.

We got some sun time too, no worries on Tuesday, when we had a break from the booth for a while so enjoyed some sun and cocktails by the vast pool.

I would most definitely recommend this hotel. The ambiance, cleanliness, amenities, all top notch.

Weston O’Hare Hotel – Chicago

Just wanted to do a quick review and post about the great people and service at the Weston O’Hare in Chicago.  I had a work conference there where I was attending as a vendor. My check in was 3 p.m., but my flight got in at 11 and I had a seminar to attend at noon. I so much wanted to get checked in early and drop my bags before my seminar.  I was priming myself for trouble, but was soooo pleasantly surprised to have them say, “sure you can check in now, your room is ready.” They even gave me a $5 voucher for not needing maid service, which I could conveniently use at the Starbucks.

My room was large and accommodating, with a soft plush bed, and plenty of pillows.  The bathroom had great counter space for getting ready.

If traveling to Chicago, I would highly recommend you to stay here. Great hotel.  Check out my review of Carlucci’s which we visited right across the street.

Brews, Chews and SNOOZE??

After a long day of brewery tours, and an exhausting couple of hours sampling different beers, we moved on to our hotel. Here is where the snooze part comes in.  We stayed at the Doubletree Suites Downtown.  This booked this hotel as it was within walking distance of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and many other bars/restaurants.  The hotel was decent, no complaints really.  They do charge extra ($18) a day for parking, which I found outrageous, until we found parking costs money EVERYWHERE! Some lots as high as $35. So the $18 we paid, and trying to walk or take shuttles everywhere paid off.

The room was adequate, and clean, but not real large.  Doubletree has those soft feathery pillows and comforters that I like, which is nice.  The bathroom was so small though, and there was no separate area for makeup, sink, etc.  My bathroom at home is tiny, but this bathroom was smaller. I can deal with the lack of counter space, but the lighting in the bathroom and the room itself was soooo dim, it made getting ready also very difficult. It had a fridge which was nice, and ample TV channels. More than other hotels we have stayed at.

The comings and goings of guests was very loud. The first night we had a couple ladies (which I use that term lightly) fighting outside our room from probably 4:30 am – 5:30 a.m.  Swearing, calling each other every name in the book.  It was lovely. Reminded us of some trashy people we unfortunately know.  I had trouble sleeping, but no big surprise as I usually do in new places.

I did wake up the next day with a super odd rash on my lower inside legs. Both of them.  It was super weird.  I thought I had bed bug bites and flipped out a bit, but we checked everywhere and everything looked fine.  They were not bites, so I think I may have had an allergic reaction to the detergent used on the sheets. At least that’s what the doctor says, so I am going with that. I thought maybe I had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or measles or something, but I seem to be fine??

The hotel had a decent pool, and not so decent hot tub. The hot tub seemed a lovely shade of green. The pool was clean though, but we never did swim.

There was a bar & restaurant, called Stadium 3 Bar and Grill.  The menu, as most hotels was limited and overpriced, and although we had intentions of having a drink at the bar, we never did.

The hotel had a shuttle service and their was one lovely older woman who wound up driving us many places.  Wish I got her name, she was very nice and chatty.

I would recommend this hotel, mostly because it has a great location, and really had all you needed.