This post may contain sponsored or affiliate links

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Destination Wedding How-To and Tips

The question's been popped, the ring is on her finger, and the excitement is building.  Now comes the hard part: Planning The Wedding.  If your like many other couples the task seems daunting and often insurmountable.  Well, there is a solution: Have A Destination Wedding.  No, seriously, have a Destination Wedding!!  There is nothing more romantic than being whisked away to an exotic land where you can enjoy both a beautiful wedding AND a beautiful honeymoon!  That's right, you can have them both all wrapped up in one!  Plus, IT'S SOOOOO EASY!  You get to enjoy all the fun parts (like picking a dress and planning your colors) but don't have to do any of the hard stuff (your wedding coordinator abroad does most of the heavy lifting for you!) My husband and I were married in Ocho Rios, Jamaica and here are all the tips and tricks we learned while planning our Destination Wedding:

1.  Set A Budget.  Yeah, yeah I know... This is the "uncool" part.  We all want to have those limitless weddings where you can splurge on everything. But lets face it, that's just not a reality for the majority of us.  Look in your bank account and decide on a limit for your wedding and honeymoon.  Set realistic limits.  You don't want to be paying off your wedding for years, so try not to borrow too much (or any at all!) to pay for it.

2. Decide If You Will Bring Guests.  Your mother has dreamed of this day since you were born and goodness knows your mother-in-law will be up in arms if she misses her baby boy getting married... but can you foot that extra expense?  Do you want an extended family gathering or just a few of the closest family members?  Will your guests pay their own way or will you foot that travel bill?  How long will they stay (through the honeymoon or just the first few days)?  My husband and I decided to go it alone.  We wanted it to be intimate and just the two of us.  Make sure to do what's right for you and put everyone else's needs on the back-burner (this is YOUR day, isn't it?).

3.  Find Your Ideal Honeymoon Resort.   Sounds easy, right?  Well it is.  Find a destination and check out the resort options.  Find one in your honeymoon budget.  Find one UNDER your budget (that way you can splurge on other things).  Look for the following:
     Water- do you want the kind of place that has water slides and lazy rivers?  or maybe you want crystal clear beaches?  Maybe you like water sports and plan on snorkling and diving?  Check the included water amenities and find what's best for you (and your guests if your planning on bringing them)
    Food- All inclusive resorts are SPECTACULAR.  I always try to find resorts with all inclusive packages.  Food purchases on your honeymoon can really add up quickly (and if you plan to consume adult beverages that ups the price significantly if your paying each purchase), that's why all-inclusive resorts really pay off.  They cost more upfront but often end up saving a bunch on food and drink.
   Location- How far is the resort from the airport?  Is it beach-side, mountain-side, or one of those fun new Eco-resorts nestled in back in the middle of no-where?  No matter what you decide, make sure that the travel time and distance is manageable for your time-table and budget.  Pre-purchase connections and travel packages before arriving at your destination. There's nothing worse than trying to hail a cab while holding a wedding dress over your head and pulling a rolling suitcase in the other hand (trust me).
   Rooms- Do you want the entire wedding party together in the same building?  or maybe you want people spaced out throughout a larger resort?  Look for a resort that offers special Honeymoon rooms (these tend to be in the quiet and private parts of the resort where there are fewer children and less noise).

Certain Details in a Honeymoon Room will really help to
make the room feel like more than just a Hotel Room.
Here are a few Resorts that get GREAT reviews:
Riu Montego Bay, Jamaica on TripAdvisor
Sandals Ochi Beach Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica on TripAdvisor
Sandos Caracol Eco Resort in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico on TripAdvisor
Now Jade Riviera Cancun, Mexico on TripAdvisor
Azul Beach Resort The Fives Playa Del Carmen, Mexico on TripAdvisor
Moon Palace Cancun, Mexico on TripAdvisor
Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort on TripAdvisor

4. Contact the Resort and ask about there Wedding and Honeymoon Packages.  Some resorts have packages listed right on their webpage, but call anyway.  Often they have additional deals that they can offer you.  Make sure you ask what's included in each package.  My advice is to find a package that covers the most things within your budget.  It's hard to add things on once you arrive at the destination and frankly it's a major buzz-kill to have to stress about extras once your there, so just buy the package with the most things covered and let the Wedding Coordinator take care of details.
Here are some things that you should consider:
    Flowers- You want these included in the price.  There is very little chance that you can ship flowers in or find flowers last minute, so make sure that the essential flowers are covered (boutonnieres, bouquets, etc).  Our resort had different flower packages.  We pre-purchased the package we wanted and when we arrived at the resort we picked the exact colors and styles of the flowers within the package.
    Wedding Music- typically resorts will offer you different methods of music ranging from live band to DJ to CD Player.  Make sure that your package includes whichever method of music you prefer and bring a CD of your music choices if necessary.
    Minister or Officiant-  We didn't travel with our minister (as most people don't on their honeymoon) but most Resorts will have contracts with local ministers or officiants who can legally perform the ceremony in that country.  Make sure to check ahead of time if you have specific religious requirements.  Some Resorts require Christians ceremonies while others are more open to a wide range of options.
   Hair, Make-up, Glamifying-  This seems like a given, but you really do need to check on this.  Some resorts have Spas that will do your make up and hair (and provide your pre-wedding room for bridesmaids, etc), but for an added price.  Better to know and plan for those prices upfront.  Make sure to also bring pictures of what you want your hair and make up to look like.
    Pictures-  You'd think this was given, but you really should check.  Most Resorts offer packages of various numbers of photos and various editing.  Pick what's right for you, but be prepared to add onto the package.  We bought the 25 pictures package, which ended up being a gross underestimation of the number of pictures we were going to want.  We upgraded to the 100 pictures package after seeing the proofs the day after the wedding.

We were able to get a good variety of photos in our package
all of which perfectly portrayed our special day

   Venue-  Most resorts will have multiple venues for weddings (varying in size, atmosphere and capacity).  Make sure that the resort you have chosen has a venue that meets your needs.
   Legal Documents-  This part could be the most complicated part of the entire process.  Talk to your planner (BEFORE arriving at the resort) and make sure that you bring the appropriate documents with you.  When we were married in Jamaica, we had to send them digital copies of a handful of documents weeks before arriving.  This was so that the planner could send the request for a marriage license off and the Jamaican government could approve of the marriage before we arrived.  Then it was just a matter of signatures and document verification.  This part of the process typically costs extra depending on the government your marriage license will go through. Also, make sure that the foreign marriage license will be accepted in your home country.
   Rehearsal Dinner- Most resorts will have on-resort dining facilities and will include a Rehearsal Dinner the night before the ceremony.  Make sure to ask if this is an additional fee and inquire about the menu if you have special requirements.
   Reception- Similar to the venue for your wedding, most resorts will have options for receptions.  My husband and I chose a quiet private dinner, just the two of us, at a special private outdoor table.  We've also see receptions that are sit-down dinners, large parties, gatherings that involve the entire resort, and private affairs.  Pick what's right for you.

Our Private Dinner after the Wedding

5. Buy Your Attire.  Yey!! Dress Shopping!!! Make sure to pick a dress that responds well in the environment you will be getting married in.  Beach weddings in hot climates require much different dresses than those in cold snowy climates.  Consider the surface you'll be walking on, temperature, weather, and how you will keep the attire from getting wrinkles in travel (perhaps getting a portable steamer would be advisable or check if your resort has a service).

logoConsider buying all your dresses online and save a small fortune: Shop Now Get Up To 60% Off Unique Dresses.

And Don't forget to buy some great new outfits for your honeymoon!!
Get Up to 15% OFF Tops & Bottoms.

6. Pack Your Bags and Be On Your Way!  Sounded too easy, didn't it?  Well it's not over yet.  Once your at the resort you will most likely have to have at least two meetings with the Wedding Planner.  Expect at least one of those meetings to be longer and the other to be short (just for follow up questions and detail confirmations).  They will walk you through the process, let you pick last minute details (like flowers, music, etc) and will prepare you for the big day (normally walking you to the various venues so that you can inspect them and change your choices if possible).

7.  Get Married.  The big day has arrived.  The details are set, all you have to do is show up when and where the planner has instructed!  You will be walked through each step by a very skilled planner.

8.  Enjoy Your Reception and Send Your Guests Home.  It's TIME FOR THE HONEYMOON!  I think you can wing it from here, after-all, what happens on the honeymoon stays on the honeymoon.  

Did you have a Destination Wedding?  Where was it and what was your experience?  Are you planning a Destination Wedding?  Ask your questions and share your comments below.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Top 7 Things-To-Do in Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Headed to Ocho Rios, Jamaica anytime soon?  I was married in Ocho Rios and spent a lot of time touring the area and experiencing the exciting local flavors and excitement of this truly Jamaican city. Stop looking at all those other lists of things to do while your there.  Those lists will have you spending HOURS driving around the island seeing sights all over the country.  Don't get me wrong, if your only going to Jamaica once in your life, then those lists are for you!  But if you plan to come back to "the land we love" then you need to take in all that each city has to offer individually.  Stop driving all over the island and really experience what's around you.  Ocho Rios is one of the larger tourist destinations on the island and features spectacular beaches, beautiful shopping districts, and once in a lifetime recreational activities.  It also features the major selling point of the entire island: friendly and laid back people. Here are my Top 7 Things-To-Do when your there:

1. Dunn's River Falls
Check out TripAdvisor for the Best Deals on excursions to Dunns River Falls
If your going to do ONE THING in Ocho Rios, you have to climb Dunns River Falls.  There is no adventure quite like climbing up a waterfall!  I was seriously worried about it at first (worried, intimidated, and a little bit scared!) but once our very knowledgeable guide showed us how NOT to climb the rocks (seriously, he FELL off one of the rocks and slid down a section of waterfall) I felt a little more comfortable.  Thankfully, they give you great grippy water shoes and show you all the best hand-holds along the rocks.  At the top of each waterfall (yes, there are a series of waterfalls an you climb them all!) there is a series of pools where you can relax, take pictures, and enjoy the scenery.  Make sure to wear a comfortable suite and bring your since of adventure!
Me, climbing up the falls
A view of the falls from the bottom... YES, YOU CLIMB UP THAT!

2. Jamaican Bobsledding at Mystic Mountain Rain Forest Adventures
Check out TripAdvisor for the Best Deals on Excursions to Mystic Mountain
One of my favorite adventures in Jamaica is visiting Mystic Mountain.  The History of Rum, Tree-Top Sky Lifts, but best of all: BOBSLEDDING!! Yes, we've all see that famous movie Cool Runnings, but did you know that you can actually RIDE on a Jamaican bobsled through a track in the rainforest!? Seriously this was one of the funnest adventures I've ever taken.  There is no rollercoaster that can compare to this ride across the mountainside!
Riding through the Rainforest on our bobsled

3. Eat Traditional Jamaican Cuisine at Mom's
Check out TripAdvisor for the Best Deals on Trips to Mom's

Take an afternoon to get away from your resort and while your out, taste some REAL Jamaican cuisine at Mom's.  Don't expect fine dining in this little "hole-in-the-wall" restaurant, but do expect AMAZING flavors and truly authentic tastes.  This small restaurant is hidden down a typical Jamaican street packed with evening commuters, market goers, and plenty of local real life.  Mom's was recommended to us by a Jamaican-born friend who I went to Graduate School with.  It really opened our eyes to the bold flavors of the island's foods.

The sign on the front of the door at Mom's
Our Lobster Curry dinner

4. Learn the history of Rum and take a tasting
Check out TripAdvisor for the Best Deals on a trip to Rainforest Adventures

Are you headed to Mystic Mountain to bobsled?  Well, here is anothe reason to visit Mystic Mountain and the Rainforest Adventures: The History of Jamaican Rum!! At the top of the mountain you will have the chance to walk around a wonderful exhibit detailing the history of Appleton Rum and explore the creation process.  Examine the variety of colors of rum, check out the historical images of plantations, and touch the barrels that give Appleton Rum it's intoxicating taste. While your there, take a tasting!  I recommend trying a little bit of each rum to get a full spectrum of flavors.  A good rum tasting also makes a great precursor for the bobsledding adventure!

The display of Rum flavors and colors

5. Head up to the top of Mystic Mountain via the Tree-Top Sky Lift
Check out TripAdvisor for the Best Deals on a trip to Mystic Mountain
Another reason to visit Mystic Mountain: The Sky Tram that brings you from the base of the mountain to the top.  With stunning views this wonderful tree top ride gives visitors the chance to see the park before entering.  It also gives Ocho Rios visitors the chance to see the aerial view of the beautiful city and coastline.  We were excited to be able to watch a storm roll in over the ocean and could watch the rain fall on our bay-side resort while we sat on the tram listening to the sounds of the rainforest.  If your familiar with ski resort lifts, this is very similar but with a tropical twist!

The view from the Tree-Top Sky Lift

6.  Stroll through Turtle River Park
Check out TripAdvisor for the Best Deal on a trip to Turtle Park

Hidden right in the heart of the city, Turtle River Park is a hidden gem that can take you to a whole new level of relaxation in the hustle of the city life.  Opened in 2003, Turtle River Park used to be a bus park, this park was developed to offer tourists and locals a chance to stroll flower beds, rest in gazebos, admire fish and turtles swimming in the rivers, and snack on concessions.  I found this park accidentally while walking around the crowded market area in the city.  It really is a gem of a find!  Absolutely refreshing!

Turtle River Park

7.  Walk the City.  One of the most important things to do when you visit any city in any other country is walk and talk.  Really SEE the city as a local sees it.  Talk to the locals and hear what they have to say.   You really can't appreciate the beautiful tourist attractions within a city without seeing the real life of the country's people.  When you walk around Ocho Rios you will see an interesting approach to architecture that is popular in Caribbean countries which consists of what typical North American's would consider an "add on" way of building (read more about it in the Montego Bay post).  Ocho Rios (as well as many other Jamaican cities) are famous for your ability to go from City to Country very quickly.  You can be strolling through grided city streets to the edge of the Jamaican rainforest in a few steps and you can see where nature and the city collide.  While your wandering the edges of the city admiring the nature, make sure to stop and talk to the people!  I have found that most Jamaicans are eager and willing to talk with you about their country and their lives.  They are truly a very friendly people with a rich culture and society, so get to know the REAL people and place, not  just what you see at the resort.

Also, check out my Top 5 List for Montego Bay, Jamaica

Want to visit Ocho Rios?  Check out these last minute deals: Ocho Rios
Want to head to Montego Bay?  Check out these last minute deals: Montego Bay
My next trip to Jamaica will be to beautiful Negril.  Do you want to go to Negril? Check out some last minute deals here:  Negril
Also, check out the other great deals on Check out the best hotel reviews and hotel deals at TripAdvisor!!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Top 5 Things-to-Do in Montego Bay, Jamaica

Are you headed to Montego Bay, Jamaica this vacation season?  Well stop looking at those lists of all the things to do in Jamaica.  Those lists will have you spending hours driving around the island to see all the sights all over the island.  Don't get me wrong, if your only going to Jamaica once in your life, then those lists are for you.  See as much as you can in that trip!! But if your a repeat visitor, then my advice is to visit each city in a separate trip so that you can fully engross yourself in the local culture and sites. Montego Bay is the largest geographical city in Jamaica with the 4th highest population.  If you are coming from North America or Europe, this is most likely the city that you'll be flying into.  It has a rich history of Spanish and English influence, the area was once the home of many sugar cane plantations. Checking out the local history is definitely necessary in this city!

I've been their twice and here are my

1.  Visit the haunted home of the "White Witch" Rose Hall. 
check out TripAdvisor for the best deals on trips to Rose Hall  
If you love local legend and a creepy tale of murder and haunting, then this is the tour for you!  Originally built in the 1770s the Georgian Mansion was destroyed in the Jamaican revolution and then restored in the 1980s.  This estate has been featured on Scariest Places on Earth, America's Next Top Model, and has inspired novels and songs in various genres.  Like Johnny Cash?  Well, he actually wrote a song AT THIS MANSION and your tour host will sing it to you at the end of the tour while your standing over the White Witch's tomb.  While your inside, you will see silk wallpaper (some of which has been hand embroidered in India), ornamental chandeliers, and beautiful European antiques.  And if historic Architecture floats your boat, just wait until you see the stone work!  Imported from Spain these stones where hand-laid in a truly inspiring.

The grand front entrance of Rose Hall that looks out on the Atlantic Ocean

2.  Visit the Craft Market, also called the Hip Strip.  
This site gets mixed reviews on ALL of the big sites, but I found it truly charming.  Build on the site of an old fort, this craft market features plenty of local crafts that will surely please the people back home who your buying souvenirs for.  The thing you have to remember is that these vendors are trying to make a living in a tight economy where every penny counts.  They purchase, make, or have family members who make all of the items in their shops and these struggling entrepreneurs spend countless hours putting a little bit of Jamaican love in each piece.  Don't expect to just site-see in this craft market as these shop keepers are ready to negotiate with you!   Bring small bills and be ready to buy something from almost every shop.  Just a $1 USD bracelet or key chain and a $5 USD wood carved figurine will go a long way in supporting these family-run shop owners.  Palm Baskets are also big!  If you visit the Market on a day where there is no cruise in port you will see fewer vendors and be able to peruse the shops slightly less interrupted by vendors biding for your patronage.

The Montego Bay Craft Market on a non-cruise day.
3.  Visit Fort Montego. 
If your visiting the Craft Market then you'll definitely want to check out Fort Montego.   You will have to venture around and explore the different elements because they aren't all centrally located around one site.  The Armory is located in the back right corner of the Craft Market, the park is located at the foot of the Craft Market, and the cannon is located right at it's entrance.  A truly interesting historical site, this is a must see!  A Fort that was build to help the British defend the Island from French and Spanish conquerors, it's stones were hand cut and laid by Jamaican slaves.  The craftsmanship and history in each stone is truly remarkable.  Make sure to also check out the intricate building of the walls behind the fort.  It's truly amazing the earth works and retaining ability of this mid 18th century fort.

4.  Watch a Raggae Dancehall Show.  
If your not quite ready to hit a club and try out your hips at dancing like a Jamaican, maybe you should watch a show instead.  I have seen a lot of dance shows from many different cultures, but none as breathtaking as the Jamaican Reggae Dancehall.  Be prepared for a lot of hip movement and fast beat-driven shaking.  And be prepared to want to join in, because it's a contagious style.   You can't visit the island without seeing this first hand!  Some clubs offer performances or you can check out the resort performances which often have at least one Reggae Night.

Reggae Dancehall Show
5.  Walk the City.  
One of the most important things to do when you visit any city in any other country is walk and talk.  Really SEE the city as a local sees it.  Talk to the locals and hear what they have to say.   You really can't appreciate the beautiful tourist attractions within a city without seeing the real life of the country's people.  When you walk around Montego Bay you will see an interesting approach to architecture that is popular in Caribbean countries which consists of what typical North American's would consider an "add on" way of building.  The interesting part is that Jamaicans build the first rooms of their home and leave re-bar and openings for future additions often time years before those additions will even be begun.  The idea is that as the family gets more money to invest in the house and as their families grow, they will add rooms.  This often gives buildings a hodge-podge of styles and ornamental details because they have been added together over years of additions after styles and tastes have changed.   This is very interesting when compared to American homes, which are typically build completely from the very beginning and often leave no room for additions.  It truly is a wonderful site to behold.  While your admiring the Jamaican city's architecture, make sure to stop and talk to the people!  I have found that most Jamaicans are eager and willing to talk with you about their country and their lives.  They are truly a very friendly people with a rich culture and society, so get to know the REAL people and place, not  just what you see at the resort.

Montego Bay apartments

Have you been to Montego Bay?  Tell us what you thought of these destinations and the many other great sites!  

Want to go to Montego Bay?? Check out these last minute deals: Montego Bay
Also, check out my list of Top 5 Things-To-Do in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

The next time I go to Jamaica, I plan to stay in Negril and take a Blue Mountain Coffee Tour (because I LOVE COFFEE!!), visit the Luminous Lagoon (how cool is a totally-natural glowing pond of water??), and finally visit the birth place of Bob Marley!  Want to go to Negril?  Check out these last minute deals: Negril

Summer Must Have: Ever-Ready PicNic Bag

I'm a stay-at-home-mom.  What this means is that come summer time I have to find ways to entertain not only my preschool-aged children (...