Monday, December 2, 2013

Sandals Royal Caribbean - All Inclusive @ Montego Bay, Jamaica

Sandals Royal Caribbean - All inclusive resort located at Montego Bay, Jamaica

We recently had our wedding at Sandals Royal Caribbean and our experiences are below.

The reason we selected this resort was because we had moved to Arizona a little less than a year ago for my husband's job after we were already engaged. And having our family and friends located all on the East Coast, it did not make any sense for us to have our family and friends fly over to Arizona for our wedding when it would have cost the same for them to have a vacation at an all-inclusive resort.


Why we selected this particular Sandal?

We selected this Sandal because there are 2 other Sandals in 5-10 minutes proximity with various pricings, allowing our guests more financial flexibility. Additionally, these 3 Sandals are 5-10 minutes from the Montego Bay airport.


We were engaged at a Couples resort in Ocho Rios but after flying all day and arriving at the airport then having to ride on a bus for 2.5 hours to get to the resort, we didn't want to put ourselves or our guests through that so we selected the one closest to the airport.


We also looked at other Sandals, however, flights are more difficult and prices are higher, allowing less flexibility.


Wedding Planning:

We were assigned a wedding planner over the phone to start planning our wedding by selecting all the details prior to arriving at the resort which is also available on the Sandals website.


Pros: Having a wedding planner helps us think about things that we wouldn’t have thought about, like music selection for walking up and down the aisle, the type of ceremony, writing our own vows or using theirs, just little things like that.


Cons: Information sharing from the wedding planner over the phone to the wedding planner on site, some of the things we had discussed with the wedding over the phone did not translate to the wedding planner on site.  Upon arriving, we were told we did not have a reception dinner.  So we had to scramble to to get that situated.  The wedding planner on the phone did not know the resort as well as she should even though she is exclusively assigned to that resort as her home based.   The wedding planner on site was extremely helpful although steer us away from where we wanted to be on location for our wedding. Our wedding was delayed by 40 minutes which really impacted our pictures as we paid for the twilight time ($600 at 5pm), due to the delay, we did not get pictures with our family and friends like we wanted and the one picture we did get with the entire group was in the dark.  Our first dance was so late that large bugs were out and we were covered in them during our dance.


1.       Wedding itinerary: We couldn’t even get the wedding planner to arrange an itinerary for our guests, what she did was left them a voicemail of what the plan was for our wedding day! Really??? I was shocked, I thought they would get their act together having been in business for so long and promoting these destination weddings all over.

2.       Shuttles between resorts: Even getting a shuttle to bring our guests over from the other resort was something they did not even anticipate….as their shuttle that holds 20 people runs every hour on the hour!! 

3.       Dinner reservations: Arranging dinner reservations for our guests and us for each day that we were at the resort, this arrangement was made in July and upon arriving in October for our wedding, we all met up at a restaurant to find out that our reservation was not made or confirmed with the restaurant per the wedding planner, showing them the email confirmation did not change anything and for the entire time all our other reservations were not honored!

4.       Picture package, I am obsessed with pictures and capturing every detail to our wedding however our photographer from the wedding package we got were HORRIBLE, he did not the right setting for his camera and the only reason we know this was because my sister in a law is a professional photographer, who also took pictures of our wedding as a gift to us and was a complete surprise as we didn’t want to burden her so we had paid for a photography package.  The pictures were got from our paid photographer came out dark and blurry (as I am pretty sure he is not used to taking pictures in the dark as most weddings are not delayed like ours).

5.       Food (reception dinner) After we finally had our reception dinner set up, the appetizer and salad came upon us all sitting down, however our entrĂ©e came almost an hour later with our plates being burning hot as it appeared that these plates have been sitting under the lamp for quite a long time waiting for someone to pick them up and serve them.  And the only reason we even got our food was because 3 of our guests went up to the wait staff inquiring and insisting that they go handle the situation as it should not be something we had to concern ourselves about on our wedding day.

6.       Pricing: Too expensive for the experience we had, not worth it and it was not all inclusive!  For having a big wedding party, I was expecting Sandals to go the extra mile for us and do extra things like putting our nice flowers, making it more memorable in a good way rather than in a bad way, yet all they did was try to nickel and dime us for everything even though we had so many people come to their resorts

7.       Excursions/Amenities (Internet, in room mini bar): All extra unlike Couples resorts where these are included in the pricing.  Dunes river falls – included, ($100+ with Sandals), Catamaran Cruise with Snorkeling – included ($109 per person with Sandals), shopping shuttles – included (extra with Sandals)…mini bar in room/internet – included in all rooms at Couples, only available with Concierge level or higher, same with free internet, otherwise $14.99 per day.

Overall – I would not recommend having a large wedding at any Sandals, 10 or less people may be ok but overall, pricing and what is included, is not worth it. I would suggest Couples resorts. 



Thursday, November 21, 2013

5 Hotel Rip-Offs & Scams

1. Resort fees and other mandatory charges

Both these fees are the worst rip-offs and just plain scams.

Popular tourist areas like Orlando, Vegas and even JW Marriot resorts, artificially lower their prices but then charge these additional fees upon arrival to the resort. The fees ranges from $25-$75 a night, some even charges additional fees on top of that to use a pool available in their spa area, e.g., JW Marriot, charges an additional $20 a day for access to their spa pool and their spa fitness room.

These resort fees and mandatory charges claim to include a list of amenities, i.e., pool usage, fitness facility, etc... However, if the resort is already including this as part of their hotel and it is a mandatory fee, it is already part of the price.

 What to do about this? currently there is no way of getting around this, you can call and try to deal with the customer service folks and hope to get some additional incentives like resort money to spend while you are there to make up for these fees. JW Marriot being one of those resorts that are willing to accommodate their guests a bit if you are Marriott credit card holder of if you inquire about it prior to booking.

2. Mini-bars

These mini-bars are the worst and seem to be not only in hotels but also on cruises.

On a carnival cruise, if you did not plan ahead and bring on your bottle water or sodas, you are looking to pay $4-$5 for a bottle of water or $2.50-$3.00 for a can of soda.  Meanwhile, in posh hotels in Vegas or NYC, it may be $8-$10 per soda.

 What to do about this?

Planned ahead, upon arrival go to a nearby grocery store, get yourself some water/soda and use the fridge for yourself.  Or simply, avoid it all together.

3. Wi-Fi fees

Less than a year ago, I was still traveling to NYC quite frequently for work and I would stay in those boutique hotels that charges $500-$600 a night, however, breakfast is not included and Wi-Fi for some reason was only free in the business center (a.k.a. a room downstairs in the lobby), meanwhile, a holiday inn, residence inn and lower end hotels and even motels, Wi-Fi is free. How is that possible?

All I can conclude is these are just a big fat scam!!

 What do do about this?

There are plenty of hotels that include Wi-Fi and if a call to the front desk or reservation beforehand does not work, don't book there.

Another work around is that I found is get an upgraded room that will include this and possibly even a free breakfast daily, for slightly less than cost of Wi-Fi per day.

We recently traveled to Jamaica and stated at Sandals Royal Caribbean for our wedding, upon check-in, we were taken to our room and when inquired what is the password to log into to our Wi-Fi, we were told that we would have to pay $14.95 per day for access as free Wi-Fi was only available with a Concierge Class level rooms which were approximately $10 more day, so we immediately opted for that as it didn't make any sense to pay $14.95 for Wi-Fi when we could pay less and get all the amenities of a Concierge Class room which included an in-room stocked bar that include spirits, juices, beer, access to Concierge lounge and activities (i.e. Shopping trip into town, wine-tasting, etc..) however, this is just one lucky example, not all deals are this low but does not hurt to inquire and check.

4. Parking fees in surburban areas
We travel quite frequently and we do expect to pay for parking when staying in the heart of town but when we are staying on the outskirt of town where there are plenty of space for parking, having to pay for parking seems ridiculous.

We encountered this a ton since living in Arizona, the first time, we went to Roy's for dinner, again this is at JW Marriot, as we pulled up, we thought that the valet service would be free and we expected to spend $5 on tip, come to find it out, it is not free and they charge $10 plus whatever we want to tip on top of that and this fee is also per day if you are staying at the resort. 

What to do about this?

Call ahead and ask these questions as to where they have free parking.

We inquired about where free parking is and discovered that it was right around the corner, so we started to park there (literally 1 minute or less walking distance). 

5. Room Service

We discovered this when we were in Colorado, we came back from a concert and were hungry and we pulled the menu and found out that in addition to the phenomenal fee for a sandwich, the hotel add on a room-service fee and a service charge. And obviously, the person who delivers this would still expect a tip. Needless to you say, an ordinary BTL could cost you $25.

What do do about this?

Plan ahead; there is plenty of eatery in the walking area. Lots of hotel now allow outside restaurants to deliver to hotel guest rooms. And most even have menus or available information at the front desk.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Travel Tips for Honeymooners !

Travel Tips for Honeymooners

1. When you pack, pack 1/2 in each other's suitcase - just in case one gets lost.

2. When you travel to a beach destination, bring your own snorkel gear. When compared to purchasing on the island, buying at home can be half the price and often even less than renting them.

3. In a a carry-on pack one outfit, your bathing suit and any prescription medications, just in case your luggage is lost or you have to wait to check into your room.

4. When you rent a car, take a picture of any dings or scratches so you won't get charged or have any difficulties.

5. If you are looking for a great lunch at a great price, here's a unique idea: try a local culinary school's extraordinary meals prepared by student chefs.

6. If you are on a budget, split your cash into envelopes, either by day or by budget for shopping, activities, gifts, etc.

7. Research using food network or travel network or even other bloggers for local restaurants and unique finds for your destination(s).

8. If you are going to a large resort complex, bring along some walkie-talkies to keep in touch with one another on the property. Many cell phones don't work internationally or charge extra fees.

9. Leave plenty of time for romance and relaxation! Don't plan to much or move around, switching hotels. Moving around means a lot of packing and unpacking, checking in and out and waiting for transportation, just sit back, relax and enjoy your sweetheart.  (we opted to do a cruise to Hawaii because we wanted to see all the different island without the hassle of having to hop on a flight with our luggage and fly to the next island..more to come our honeymoon to Hawaii islands on a cruise).

10. Let everyone know where you are registered, ask your wedding party to help by posting your registry information to Facebook, emailing all your contacts or you can print out announcement cards to distribute out showers/parties.  (We used and also post on our Facebook group).