Exuma, Bahamas – May 2016

Our next trip was to mark off a bucket list item of mine….which was to see the swimming pigs of Exuma! We made this a family trip with my parents and my husband’s mom. I don’t think you can ever go wrong with Bahamas for any age group. It is a destination that anyone can love.

For this trip we made the 3.5 hour drive once again to Atlanta and then a direct flight on Delta into Exuma.  Flight costs were around $550 per person. We stayed in another VRBO (Vacation for Rent by Owner) called Aqua Vista and couldn’t have asked for a more perfect location. I still get asked where we stayed when anyone comes across our vacation photos. The total price for a 7 night stay was $2160 at the time of that booking. We split the cost between 5 people which equals out to around $865 per couple for the week. You will absolutely need to rent a car in Exuma. Places to visit on the island are not close together so I would imagine you would spend more on taxis than to rent a car.

Exuma was everything you see in photos but better. The water is so many shades of turquoise and blue and crystal clear. The water in front of our rental in an area called Bonefish Flats was breathtakingly beautiful. You could walk for miles and it was no more than waist deep. It was like a forever swimming pool. There were little cays about a mile out from the house that my husband I walked (swam) to and it had some of the most beautiful snorkeling. The small reefs were virtually untouched and perfect. If we ever go back, we will most definitely stay in the same area.

My bucket list reason for coming to Exuma was to see the swimming pigs. I booked a tour for us to do so. We used 4 C’s Adventures and did the day trip which included Starfish Bay, sight-see private islands, viewing a sunken plane wreck, snorkeling Thunderball Grotto, the swimming pigs, a sand bar, and swimming with the nurse sharks at Compass Cay. The price was $180 per person plus lunch which was $25 per person. While it was an experience I’ll never forget, it was not at all how I imagined it would be. I imagined getting onto the island and being surrounded by pigs. Instead, it was getting onto the island and surrounded by boats and people trying to take photos with pigs any way they could. It was really disheartening watching people chase the baby pigs around and pick them up while fighting and squealing all in the name of a photo op and selfie. Swimming with the sharks was the same way. You could barely enjoy the sharks from the amount of people in the water at one time. The same for Thunderball Grotto. Too many people snorkeling a small area. The excursion also felt rushed so I was a bit disappointed in the whole experience. I enjoyed it but it was more touristy than I like. If I did it again, I would probably spring for a private charter. I would have loved to snorkel the sunken plane, but we weren’t given that opportunity.

Visiting Chat N Chill at Stocking Island was on my “to do list” while we were there. We took a small boat over that cost about $3 per person. Once there, we just hung out and enjoyed the view. There wasn’t much snorkeling but there were stingrays that would come very close to the shore and you could touch them and feed them. We ate at Chat N Chill while we were there. Service is slow. Even for island time. We waited about 30 minutes for a drink and over an hour for food. But I have to say, it was the best ribs I have ever eaten so I that made up for it!

You absolutely cannot take a trip to Exuma without visiting Little Exuma and eating at Santana’s. If you do, go back because you missed an experience. Little Exuma is across the bridge from Great Exuma. The world famous Tropic of Cancer Beach is also located here. Tropic of Cancer Beach was probably the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. It was postcard perfect. White sand and calm turquoise water. We had it basically all to ourselves. No snorkeling here though. We tried but there was nothing under the water to see. The beauty of it is all above. We didn’t spend long here since there was no snorkeling and no shade. So back to Santana’s. The view is absolutely the best view you could ever imagine while eating the most delicious fried lobster and enjoying a Goombay Smash.

We saved the best part for last which was a dive trip. My husband had just became certified and I was awaiting my checkout dives. So this was our first official dive in the ocean! There are not many dive shops to choose from in Exuma and we were unable to get ahold of the main dive shop there. We left voicemails and went by their shop but our messages were not returned. We thought we were going to have to skip diving in Exuma and then a local told us of a dive master named Garvin Turtle and gave us his phone number. I called him and we had a dive booked the next day! He took us to a place called Stingray Reef. Although Exuma is not a world class diving destination, we thought it was gorgeous and we were not at all disappointed.

As I said above, Exuma has something for everyone of any age. From just relaxing on the beach to diving to exploring. It’s affordable and can be a romantic trip or fun for the whole family. It should be on top of any ocean lover’s bucket list.

Photos and videos of Exuma, Bahamas from our YouTube Channel: Exuma Excursion, Snorkeling in Exuma, Scuba diving in Exuma, Photos of Exuma 

Please subscribe to our YouTube Channel if you like what you see!

Advertisements

St. Croix – January 2016

My husband got some unexpected vacation time in addition to his regular vacation time that he had to use before the end of the year. I was self-employed so I could pretty much take time off at my leisure. This was a short notice trip so finding somewhere that the plane tickets were affordable and it was close enough to the equator to be as warm as I want it to be in January was a challenge. I started checking flights for all the southernmost Caribbean countries and discovered St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands was very affordable to fly and stay. 

We got a really good last minute deal on a studio apartment right on the beach in Frederiksted through VRBO (Vacation for Rent by Owner aka HomeAway) and a direct flight out of Atlanta. Flights to St. Croix from Atlanta on Delta was about $530 per person. Our studio apartment was $900 for the week which was a good price directly on the beach during high season in St. Croix. After researching as much as I could about St. Croix, a rental car was a must to get around so I booked a Ford Fiesta from Centerline Rental Cars. I think the rental car was about $300 for the week. 

We made the drive to Atlanta to catch our flight. I was surprised at the ease of going to a US Virgin Island! It is considered a domestic flight if you are US Citizen so no passport is needed. However, I would personally carry a passport if traveling outside of the continental US. Just in case. 

Our studio was nothing to write home about. The location was perfect but there was only a day bed for us to both fit on, no tv, appliances halfway worked, the stairs to get up to the apartment were VERY steep with many of them, and no place to sit outside at night unless we went on the other property adjacent to the apartment. But location, location, location and the grounds were also beautiful. Normally I wouldn’t have been the slightest bit bothered by the lack of television on vacation but things in St. Croix close early, especially in Frederiksted so your options of what to do are limited unless you want to drive around from other areas of the island in the dark. We were in paradise though so things could be worse for sure! We did alot of going to bed early and waking up early. It was ok though because that is my style on vacation. I do not waste any daylight. 

The water was unusually rough when we went. We snorkel pretty much all day and the water was too rough in most areas. We drove around the island looking for calm waters which we finally found at Hotel on the Cay in Christiansted so we went there a couple of times to snorkel. The locals said the trade winds were lingering and even Frederiksted which is known for calm waters was seeing rolling waves. I was disappointed in the water conditions but it also gave us time to explore the island more so than if we had just stayed in the water like usual. We found there was so much to do in and out of the water on St. Croix. And some of the best drinks we’d ever had! Painkillers and mango daiquiris are now my favorite drinks. I tried a Bushwhaker too which a USVI signature drink but it wasn’t my style. I am not much of one for super sweet drinks. 

We visited and explored around St. Croix so much this trip but I do want to point out one place in particular. Domino Club, which is home of the Beer Drinking Pigs. We went there just to visit the pigs thinking it was a tourist trap. What we found was some of the best food and wonderful people. Our first experience with Roti which is like a pastry filled with curry stew. I am not sure of how it should technically be described but that is how I describe it. Or you can call it heaven on a plate. Either way. So the pigs were great and a must see but be sure to try the Roti on a Friday for lunch. 

Our GoPro we had just bought broke right before this trip so we did not get any video. Only still photos so that is all we have. 

Oh…and I fell madly, deeply in love with St. Croix on that trip. 

Negril, Jamaica – September 2015

This trip didn’t start out as a trip to Jamaica. We had booked at all inclusive in Tulum, Mexico. I had been wanting to go back to Mexico since it had been over 20 years since my last visit. We got an unbelievable deal on an AI there. There had been a sargassum invasion all along the coast of Mexico on the Caribbean side so trips were going pretty cheap. Sargassum is a type of seaweed for those who don’t know and around that time it was washing up along several Caribbean beaches to the point you could barely get in the water. We watched the webcam at the place we were staying hoping it would be cleared out by the time we visited but when our trip was 3 weeks out and the sargassum was still piling up on the beaches and in the water, we decided to cancel and rebook somewhere else.

So back to Jamaica, we decided to go! We got a great deal last minute on Groupon to the all inclusive Sunset at the Palms for $1050 for 2 for a seven night stay.

As I mentioned before, Jamaica’s airport customs lines are long. I thought being September, that they may not be as long since that is not high season. I was wrong. If we ever go back to Jamaica, we will invest in Club Mobay. For around $80 per person, it will get you through customs quickly. Worth it in my opinion.

Sunset at the Palms did not offer free transfers from the airport so we took a taxi to the resort. We booked the same taxi back. I don’t remember what round trip transfer was but I believe it was around $100 plus we tipped the driver. On the way there, the driver let us stop for jerk chicken so we could get the real stuff before going to the resort. It was not nearly as good as the jerk we had on our way to Ocho Rios, but it was decent. Our driver also taught us about other food that was on the menu and we tried it.

Sunset at the Palms was great for what we paid. I would have been disappointed though if we had paid more. The food was just okay but nothing to be excited over. We ended up eating off the resort a couple of times because it just wasn’t great. One night we waited over 3 hours for dinner. Yes, 3 hours and then it was so tough I could not chew it. The food was frozen at the beach grill for sure. We know because we saw it being thawed everyday. The drinks were just okay too. There wasn’t a large selection of liquors. The coffee bar however, was incredible. I enjoyed a cappuccino every morning. I do not know if things have changed since we visited so just telling our experience at that time. The accommodations were beautiful but our room was near a busy road (as most were) so you did hear alot of loud traffic all night. The resort is also across the road from the beach so you do have to cross the road to get to the beach. That did not bother us but it may some. We quite enjoyed the walk everyday. A downside is you can’t watch the beautiful Negril sunsets because they advise you not to be over there after dark because there is no security. I don’t want to sound like Sunset at the Palms was just awful, it was not. We had an awesome time there. The staff was beyond wonderful. And for the price we paid, the rest was on par. However, like I said above, if I had paid more, I would have probably been disappointed in the food and drink quality. We talked to several couples who had paid double what we paid and they were somewhat disappointed.

On this trip, we visited Xtabi on the cliffs in West End and Appleton Rum Estates. We loved the cliffs and will probably stay on the cliffs if we ever return for Jamaica. Appleton Rum Estates was a must do and if you love Appleton Rum (#wearerumpeople) or rum in general, do it!! Plus you get pretty much unlimited rum tasting at the end. So that’s worth it, right? It was a far drive from Negril so plan accordingly.

Now to talk about the best lobster I have had in my life. If you ever visit Negril, stop in at Office of Nature on Bloody Bay. They catch fresh lobster pretty much hourly or any other creature that comes in their trap. Sometimes they have crab or other things. Then you take your pick from their catches and they put it on the grill right in front of you. It was SO delicious. You can also find other things at Office of Nature (Nature = other things in nature including the green) but since we don’t partake in those type of things we didn’t take advantage of that. However, if you do, this is your place. So you can do that and eat some fresher than fresh seafood. Hey 2 birds with 1 stone? Haha.

This was also our last all inclusive. I do not think we will ever do another all inclusive unless we just get an absolute great deal at great place but for the most part, we have learned that cost wise it just isn’t beneficial to us. I feel like when you put that much money into your cost of stay, you feel confined to the resort and their food since that is what you paid for. We like to explore too much and eat where the locals do and that is not at resorts.

In conclusion though, we absolutely love Jamaica so much we both got irie tattoos! We would love to go back but since I have been 3 times, I want to visit a few other places before we do. 😉

Photos of our trip on YouTube:

Eleuthera, Bahamas – May 2015

Almost 2 more years go by until I visit the Caribbean again. I had quit my job as a dental assistant, went back to school, started my own business, and was able to travel again. My husband and I were trying to find somewhere to go. We wanted to go back to Jamaica because he had fallen in love with it too. But I had been twice and I was eager to go somewhere else. We were researching and researching. We still had the idea of all inclusive in our heads because it was basically all we had known. Then a highschool friend had just went to the Bahamas and was sharing her photos on Facebook. This place was magical.  I had only known of the touristy Bahamas. Nassau, Freeport, Atlantis. You know, everything most people know of in the Bahamas. But what Bahamas is this in my friend’s photos?? I must know. Surely though it is out of our budget. This place was too beautiful for us to afford. But I take a chance that it could possibly, hopefully fall in our budget and message her. She gives me all the info. This magical place is called Eleuthera, Bahamas. I had never heard of it. I started Googling. I am in love. She gives me the name and contact info of the place she and her husband stayed which is Edge of the World Properties and tells me the price. I am floored. This is most definitely in budget. I cannot believe it. The property itself is pure heaven. This is also where we pretty much break up with the all inclusives. But I’ll get to that later.

I contact Edge of the World Properties. They basically operate off of referrals and most of their advertising is done through their FaceBook page. The cottages are owned by Kimy and Terry Johnson and they are both awesome. Kimy still keeps in touch with me til this day. Anyway, we book it. We end up reserving the Tamarind Tree Cottage which at the time was $1100 for a week in May. I do not believe the price has gone up at the time of this writing. I start showing my parents photos of this magical place called Eleuthera, Bahamas and tell them the price and details. My dad now wants to go! So after talking it over with my mom, he tells me to book one of the other cottages. So I book the Seahorse Cottage for them. I believe the price for it was $1200 for the week. Family trip!

Our vacation time finally arrives. Just worth mentioning but Delta now offers nonstop flights to Eleuthera from some airports, including Atlanta, but at the time we went it did not. So we drove 3 hours from home to Atlanta, flew out of Atlanta and a layover in Miami. The flight was short from Miami. I think around 30-45 minutes. We land in Eleuthera and it is the smallest airport I have personally seen to date. Customs was quick and we were on our way by taxi to Edge of the World Properties.

As we get out onto the property located up on a hill over looking a cove in Gregory Town, we are greeted by Kimy, Terry, and Morocco (their sweet dog). Our cottage is small and quaint but all we need and the property is more gorgeous than the photos. I walk down to the water and literally ask my husband to pinch me. I had never seen water so beautiful. It was the most beautiful shade of turquoise I had ever laid my eyes on. I was in tears of joy. And now even more obsessed with the Caribbean than I was before if that is even possible.

Eleuthera is a small, friendly island. The people are so friendly that I need to tell this story to get my point across how friendly they are. We did not realize we would need to rent a car to get around and the day after we arrived was Mother’s Day and we were informed nothing would be open. D’Oh! So we were eating at a little place called Unca Gene’s which was within walking distance of the our cottages. We asked the owner if she would be open and she said very few things would be open and that they would be closed as well. We explained we didn’t have a rental car yet and wasn’t sure what we were going to do. She then offered to let us borrow her car! She said she would be visiting her mom in Nassau and would not be using it. What?? As wonderful as that was, we could not take her up on that offer. She tried to get us to, but I just could not. It is not the way I am wired. But the offer was more than appreciated. We ended up walking to the convenience store that night and getting some quick eats to cook the following day. After that, we rented a car for the duration of our stay. Made things much easier since most things are spread out and not within walking distance. We now book rental cars in advance if needed! Ha! (BTW, I recommend the conch bites at Unca Gene’s. We ate them almost every day as a snack). 

Eleuthera is a must visit. It was the most unique experience. There are no food chains, no chains of any kind. No big, lavish resorts taking up most of the beautiful, natural land. In fact, we found the restaurants in general to be far and few between. Be sure to bring cash, we only found 2 restaurants that take credit card. US dollar is widely accepted so no need to exchange currency if you are visiting from the US. It is not a foodie paradise, but in all other senses, it definitely is. It is where we discovered our love for conch. If you ever visit, look for the conch stand on the side of the road in James Cistern. Get the tropical conch salad. You will thank me. It is the best conch salad I have ever eaten and I have had a many conch salads at this point. It is where I found my love of sea food. It is where my husband and I found our love of snorkeling.

There are many things I can recommend to do in Eleuthera. Glass window bridge, Preacher’s Cave, and Queen’s Bath are just among the many things to see. But your best bet is to rent a car or hitchhike and ask the locals. There are no street signs but just about any road will lead you to a deserted, beautiful postcard perfect beach.

Links to our YouTube photos and videos:

Ocho Rios, Jamaica – June 2013

I had been on a previous trip to Negril, Jamaica in 2009 which I mentioned in my first blog post. I fell in love with Jamaica. The people, the ocean, the vibe. So when my husband and I were planning our honeymoon, I thought it would be a great opportunity to make it back there.

My husband was (is) a mountain lover. I am an ocean lover. I have since converted him to an ocean lover as well but before that, he was a mountain lover only. I wanted to go back to Negril because I fell in love with it. But since he loved the mountains and I was also trying to convert him to an ocean lover, I thought maybe Ocho Rios may have the best of both worlds. Caribbean ocean for me and lush mountains for him.

My plan worked.

We decided on Couples San Souci for our honeymoon. We no longer do all inclusive expensive (to us) resorts. We have since found that we can stretch our budget and do at least a couple of Caribbean vacations per year by staying in VRBOs – Vacation For Rent By Owner – or less expensive hotels. Really just whatever to keep it in budget. All inclusives are awesome in their own right. All the food and alcohol in one package. It is definitely a much easier option, especially for some who may not have much interest in leaving the resort or who do not like to plan out their vacations. Many reasons to choose all inclusive, but we like the freedom of not feeling tied down to the all inclusive price tag. But to each their own. Just our personal preference we found through trial and error. But this post is about Couples San Souci in Ocho Rios and our experience there.

If I ever did do another all inclusive in the future, no question it would be Couples Resorts. We later stay in another AI in Jamaica and will get to that eventually. Our experience at San Souci was what a honeymoon should be. We were amateur travelers then – we are definitely not advanced now – but do have much more experience than we did for sure. Since this trip was 4 years ago, I will give basics and go by what I remember.

The airport in Jamaica is no joke. Custom lines are long. It is a larger airport than some of the other places in the Caribbean I have now experienced. We got out of customs and went to the Couples Lounge. There smiles awaited us with cold Red Stripes. Ah. At the Couples Lounge, they group you into what resort you will be going to. There are four in Jamaica. Two in Negril – Couples Negril and Couples Swept Away. In Ocho Rios, there is Couples San Souci and Couples Tower Isle.

We sit a short time in the lounge and load up in our shuttle to San Souci. The drive is a little over an hour I believe so on the way we stop at a road side Jerk chicken stand with restrooms so everyone can have a bathroom break and/or get some chicken. Our driver has some chicken and I ask him about it. He says it is the best jerk chicken we will ever eat and to get some. We take his advice. To this day, I have never had better jerk chicken. I wish I knew the name of the place but I do not. I often think of revisiting Ocho Rios for no other reason than to just find this jerk chicken stand.

We arrive at San Souci and are greeted with drinks and cold towels. I had paid for a specific room and we were not put in that room but was unable to change until the next night. Eventually we settled into our room and the honeymoon began.

The food at San Souci was wonderful. Nothing at all I can say bad about it. The service was wonderful. Basically your perfect all inclusive vacation. The grounds, you guessed it – wonderful. We visited the other Ocho Rios location, Tower Isle for a day pass. We were less than impressed compared to San Souci. But again, to each their own. We asked to leave early to go back to San Souci.

What I do love about Couples Resorts is their strict no tipping policy. Just kind of random in here but worth mentioning. At Couples, you know that your service will not be any different based on how big of tip you give. I am a big tipper but all inclusive really means all inclusive there. Even tips. Not unless things have changed since my visit.

We also visited Dunn’s River Falls during this trip. I don’t think we took photos during that excursion because we didn’t have rugged enough camera back then. Dunn’s River Falls was extremely crowded the day we went (I think a cruise ship was in) and it was like ants climbing an anthill. The crowds didn’t make it enjoyable for me but it was included in our price of stay. I would recommend it on a day where it is less crowded, it is probably beautiful when not packed in. My parents have photos of it from 25 years ago and it was a much different. It would have been awesome to experience it back before it became a big tourist trap.

Other than that, we just took it easy that trip. We enjoyed the grounds and the free flowing tropical drinks. There was a pond that had turtles that would come up and eat out of your hand. I loved going there every morning. There was also a parrot that took a liking to my husband and wouldn’t let me anywhere near it without scaring the bejesus out of me. My husband on the other hand, cracked nuts and fed it. It was before we really became avid snorkelers and started diving. But this was the trip that turned my husband into an ocean lover. Myrtle Beach was like a rough, muddy lake compared to the beautiful, clear, calm waters of the Caribbean. And at this point, I knew we would return.

Will work for travel…

A few photos from our trip. We forgot to include these on our YouTube Channel. Oops.

About lil ol’ me.

My love of water goes as far back as I can remember. My dad put in me swim lessons at a mere 6 months of age. From there, I was on the swim team and was a life guard in my teenage years. I basically grew up on the lake in Tennessee. Every weekend we would go camping and we had a boat where my youth was spent swimming in Norris Lake.

Almost every year, we would take a trip to the beach. Usually it was Myrtle Beach, SC or Panama City Beach, FL.

For graduating high school, my parent’s gift was a trip to anywhere in the world. I chose Mexico because at that time, I was obsessed with the Mayan Ruins. We went to Cancun. And thus began my thirst for traveling and culture beyond my home of Tennessee.

I dreamed to move somewhere else where the Caribbean ocean would be in my back yard. However, those dreams were indefinitely put on hold when I got pregnant at 20 years old. I became a single mother living paycheck to paycheck. I did meet someone that I married for a brief time when my son was 3 years old. That was in 1999. We visited Cancun a couple of times but our relationship was short lived and I went back to being a single mother barely scraping by.

It would be many, many more years before I visited the Caribbean ocean again. I was finally able to take a trip to Jamaica in 2009 and although Jamaica was beautiful, the circumstances surrounding that trip was not the best. Nevertheless, that trip made me start saving and thinking of ways I could get back to the Caribbean on a regular basis.

I went on a family cruise to Cayman Islands and Cozumel, Mexico in 2012. I thought cruises would be a less expensive approach to be back to my happy place. The cruise was just okay and I was certainly happy to be back to the Caribbean but it was not my style. I felt rushed at the cruise port. Spending a few hours at the port of call and then days at sea was not my idea of fun. So at that point, I knew cruises were out for me.

I got married to my now husband in June 2013 and we had saved for a honeymoon in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. He was not an ocean person. That made my heart sad. He had only been to Myrtle Beach, SC and while it is a beach, it is not the Caribbean! I promised him I could convert him to an ocean lover. He had doubts. Well….I did it, I converted him in one trip!

And here we are 4 years and several trips later. We are also now certified divers!! Someday we will be living in the Caribbean. But we are still in Tennessee for the time being. We have 2 young grandchildren now and want to stick around in Tennessee for a few years for them. So we travel as much as we can until we can move there.

I will be backtracking to that honeymoon trip to Jamaica in 2013 and go from there until we are caught up to the present. I hope you enjoy my little blog.

Thank you for reading!