Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Review: The Knot Guide to Destination Weddings

I have always been a fan of The Knot for wedding information. When I discovered that they had a book devoted to the Destination Wedding I had to check it out. This book is very informative about the planning process and gives you the destination focus that is hard to find from other wedding planning books. A must have for the destination bride!

Here's a look at what's inside from the Amazon website:

The biggest trend to hit weddings in the past decade is the destination wedding. Whether on a Caribbean beach or in the Italian countryside, more and more couples throw their weddings far from home. The idea is an exciting one, but planning long distance can be complicated . . . .

In The Knot Guide to Destination Weddings, Carley Roney and JoAnn Gregoli break down the unique process of planning from afar—from deciding on your destination to whether or not you should fly in your officiant—and all the legal and practical considerations in between. Armed with a variety of experts on the subject, tips, and lessons from couples who have been through the experience, this book is jam-packed with checklists and practical, insightful advice from wedding people in-the-know.

With so many intricacies to take care of, couples “wedding away” need a clear game plan. The Knot Guide to Destination Weddings ensures no detail, big or small, will fall through the cracks. The authors tackle:
•picking out and booking the perfect location
•listings of the top wedding spots worldwide
•establishing the wedding budgets
•hiring planners and/or vendors from a distance
•the etiquette of destination weddings
•countless ways to make your wedding unique
•legal marriage requirements for foreign locales
•planning a full weekend of events, including the reception, rehearsal dinner, and guest activities
•using the Internet to coordinate the event

Sunday, March 29, 2009

An All-Inclusive Vacation?


Imagine a vacation where the hardest thing you'll have to do is pack your bags and get to your local airport. A vacation where you can literally leave your wallet and passport in the safe for the duration of the trip because you won't need to spend another dime. All-Inclusive vacations are the ultimate form of a relaxing and stress-free vacation where you could decide to engage in as much or as little activity as you want.

We choose to return to Sandals for our destination wedding because we were blown away with the resorts service, staff, and amenities during our stay in March 2008. We wanted to share that experience with our friends and family and trusted Sandals to provide that experience.

Another aspect of Sandals is their tag-line, "A Resort for Two People in Love". After hearing this and seeing their (sorry Sandals) cheesy commercials over the past decade I have to admit that I was skeptical of the chain. However, Matt and I both agreed that Sandals does a great job of creating a romantic atmosphere without being cheesy or overdone. It's also not the only vibe there, there is also a really fun vibe where you have the freedom to just have fun. This is something that I've never found in the US where there are far too many rules and you have to pay for evertything additional that you want to do!

We ended up booking at the recommendation of Matt's parents, who had visited Sandals Antigua and absolutely loved it. After doing some more research, we narrowed it down to Montego Bay because it seemed to be the all-around Sandals resort. Our trip was booked far in advance of our visit, 10 months, so while we were excited to go- it was always something that seemed so far away. Then during the winter leading up to our trip we were so busy on the weekends teaching skiing at Attitash that we really didn't have too much time to think about it.

Before we knew it, the trip was a week away and we were just excited to get out of the cold! We were leaving on a Monday and took the weekend off from teaching skiing to prepare for our trip. I was perfectly content with staying in Rhode Island for the weekend, however nature surprised us with a dump of fresh snow and Matt couldn't resist the thought of skiing in powder. We headed north to Sunday River in Maine to ski. In the East, fresh snow doesn't stay as fresh as you'd like it and by the time we got there it was bumped and churned like you wouldn't believe. We skied all day, and although it was fun- all I could think about was avoiding all injuries. That was the last thing I needed, an injury to prevent us from this vacation we'd planned 10 months ago. My paranoia was warranted, I was still recovering from a broken thumb from an incident involving a rouge chipmunk and the conditions were just ripe for an ACL tear, broken leg, twisted ankle, you name it- it was all running through my head at the time. Luckily we survived Saturday, phew. I thought I would be in the clear for Sunday- wake up early, drive home, pack, go to bed early. Of course not, now Matt wanted to wake up at 6 a.m. and go to early morning clinic at 7 a.m. Early morning clinic is where the Attitash ski instructors get to the mountain far too early in order to catch the first lift to the summit (technically the second, because the Ski Patrol goes first). I was never a fan of early morning clinic for a number of reasons, mainly because it's early, the temperature is usually ridiculously low, the people who attend are morning people and ridiculously chipper, and of course, that you have to focus on training topics- like, say, skiing with one leg locked- or something else that could easily send you into the woods. On this glorious Sunday morning, 24 hours before my trip to Jamaica was to begin, it was cold, I mean realll cold, and windy. Ideal conditions for crusty, craggy, blown-over bumps from the day before.

On the chairlift ride to the summit I sat in silent resentment of this decision to join 7 o'clock Clinic. Next to me sat rearing to go Matt and my mom, a 10+ year veteran Attitash ski instructor and one of those ridiculously chipper morning people who rarely misses the opportunity to attend this clinic. As the wind whipped through the chair, we went over Middle Ptarmigan. A trail that I usually avoid if given the choice because it's steep and usually icy and just not worth the thrill. This morning it was looking particularly heinous because overnight the wind blew off every last speck of the powder from the day before. It was probably the last place on Earth that I wanted to be that morning.

When we got to the top, we learned that the focus of this clinic would be bumps. "Sweet Moses on toast", I thought to myself as I shot Matt a dirty look. We made our way to Upper Ptarmigan and I waited until last to take my turn after watching the carnage ensue below me. Determined not to break something, I took the utmost care to make sure I wouldn't end up in a heap like a few people before me had. Little did I know the worst was yet to come when our fearless leader announced, "As we were going over it in the chair I thought to myself, wow Middle Ptarmigan would be a great place to work on bumps". Yeah... now I was really steaming. Somehow I got it done and managed to come out unscathed. The best part was when we rode up the chair for the second time and did it all over again. Magical.

Needless to say, I was so happy when it was all over and it was time for breakfast in the lodge. We sat down with another ski instructor couple and started talking about our trip to Jamaica. As it turns out, they were long-time Sandals patrons and have been to them all! Now we were really starting to get excited about our trip!

Our flights to Jamaica were uneventful and we finally landed in Montego Bay. Once we got through customs, we arrived at the Sandals lounge, grabbed a Red Stripe for the ride, and before we knew it we were ushered into a lounge area, given a glass of champage, and checking into our room. Everything was so smooth! We got to our room to discover that we had been upgraded to the Honeymoon Concierge Suite with a balcony that overlooks the ocean. We were loving it. We popped open another bottle of champagne from our room and were into the All-Inclusive swing of things in no time!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Destination: Jamaica

An Introduction to Jamaica:

Jamaica is an island in the Caribbean, directly below Cuba.

How to get there:
* Donald Sangster International Airport MBJ, in Montego Bay.

Jamaican food is a mixture of Caribbean dishes with local dishes. Although Jamaican food gets a reputation for being spicy, local trends lean towards more versatile food variety. Some of the Caribbean dishes that you'll see in other countries around the region are rice and peas (which is cooked with coconut milk) and patties (which are called empanadas in spanish speaking countries). The most popular jerk dish is jerk chicken, although jerk pork and jerk conch are also common. The jerk seasoning is a spice that is spread on the meat on the grill like barbeque sauce. Keep in mind that most Jamaicans eat their food well done, so expect the food to be a bit drier than you are accustomed to.

One of Jamaica’s greatest allures is its idyllic tropical maritime climate. Coastal temperatures average a near-constant 79°F to 86°F year-round.

A ‘rainy season’ starts in May or June and extends through November or December, with the heaviest rains in September and October. Rain can fall at any time of year, however, and normally comes in short, heavy showers, often followed by sun.

Jamaica lies in the Caribbean ‘hurricane belt.’ Officially the hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30; August and September are peak months.

When to go
Jamaica is a year-round destination, though there are seasonal differences to consider. Weather-wise, temperature isn’t an important factor: winter is usually warm by day and mild to cool by night, and summer months are hot. The rainy season extends from May to November, with peaks in May, June, October and November. Rain usually falls for short periods (normally in the late afternoon), and it’s quite possible to enjoy sunshine for most of your visit during these months. However, note that in Portland parish, it can rain for days on end.

Negril's 7-mile Beach
Stretching for 7 mi (11 km), the long, white-sand beach in Negril is arguably Jamaica's finest. It starts with the white sands of Bloody Bay north of town and continues along Long Bay all the way to the cliffs on the southern edge of town. Some stretches remain undeveloped, but there are increasingly few. Along the main stretch of beach, the sand is public to the high-water mark, so a nonstop line of visitors and vendors parade from end to end. The walk is sprinkled with many good beach bars and open-air restaurants, some of which charge a small fee to use their beach facilities. Bloody Bay is lined with large all-inclusive resorts, and these sections are mostly private. Jamaica's best-known nude beach, at Hedonism II, is always among the busiest; only resort guests or day-pass holders may sun here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Now what?

Now we start planning our wedding in Negril. Actually, before we knew we wanted the location to be Negril, we already knew one thing: it would be at a Sandals resort. We were actually back and forth between Jamaica or the Bahamas. We ended up with Jamaica because we had such a wonderful time there last March and we knew what to expect. Neither of us had ever been to the Bahamas so we decided not to risk it. Sandals Royal Bahamian looks like a wonderful resort and we do hope to visit one of these days! When it came down to selecting a Sandals within Jamaica, we weren't faced with an easy decision. We went back and forth a few times on exactly which resort we would pick.

Here's the breakdown:

Sandals Montego Bay- this was where we spent our last Jamaican vacation. Loved the resort, it's very fun and upbeat (super close to the airport) but we wanted to try something different.
Sandals Royal Caribbean- while at Montego Bay we visited the Royal Caribbean and found the resort to be a little smaller with an older clientele. We did really like the private island and the pool though!
Sandals Whitehouse- loved this resort! However two major drawbacks are the distance from airport and the fact that it is much more expensive than some of the other resorts. You definitely get what you pay for and we're still considering visiting this resort for our honeymoon week.
Sandals Dunn's River & Villagio- this resort has a very upscale feel, but is also on the smaller side and more Italian flair than Jamaican. Pro- close to golf.
Sandals Ocho Rios- this resort was our 2nd choice due to its size & proximity to activities (including golf, shopping, Dunn's Falls) however, we ended up not choosing this resort due to the smaller size of the beach.
Sandals Negril- the chosen one! We chose Negril because it seemed to have something for everyone- a gorgeous beach, nightlife like Rick's Cafe in town, and a Beaches resort 5 min down the beach in case we had singles coming who preferred that resort.

Have you been to Sandals Negril? Tell us your experience in comments : )

Monday, March 23, 2009

Why a Destination Wedding?

When Matt and I first got engaged (in Jamaica actually), we seriously considered having our wedding in the Caribbean. We ended up doing some research and getting feedback from our family and friends. Reactions were mostly positive, however after some reactions that were less than thrilled, we decided to scrap the idea and we moved forward with planning a wedding on our home turf.

With two years to go until our wedding, we felt that we had plenty of time to research and make our decisions. First, we viewed several ceremony/reception sites including Belle Mer and Ocean Cliff in Newport, RI, Glen Manor House in Portsmouth, RI and Blithewold Mansion and Arboretum in Bristol, RI. Matt and I both grew up on the ocean so our requirements we specific, yet simple- an oceanview. All of the sites we spectacular, if not outrageously expensive, and possibly overpriced for the New York crowd.

In the end, we selected Glen Manor House. We could not have gotten a better deal because Matt's parents are Portsmouth residents. Chairs and tables were even included in the deal! How could we resist. We loved the look of the mansion and planned to have our ceremony in the garden facing the water.

We decided to wait until after the holidays before researching and visiting caterers. The Glen has a list of preferred vendors so we selected three on the list and set up appointments. The first was Simply Devine, a couple from Barrington who only commit to a certain number of weddings each year. We visited their office and were fed some delicious appetizers while we discussed our needs. Our second visit brought us to Attleboro, MA to the highly regarded and well-known Russell Morin. We were very impressed from the moment we sat down. They were able to give us a unique offering that was flexible enough to fit our budget. I dare say that if we were getting married in Rhode Island we would have used Russell Morin. Finally, our last appointment was with Blackstone Catering in Newport, RI. Over and over again, we had heard the same thing from people about Blackstone. "They're really good, but really expensive." Honestly, their quote was pretty close to the other three but it was the feeling like they weren't listening to what you wanted. By the middle of the first meeting I knew it wasn't a match made in heaven by any means.

Somewhere between catering appointments, dress shopping, and bridal shows we had an epiphany one day. "Is this really what we want?" Does this really reflect our personalities and the way we want to celebrate. Once I got past the image of my ceremony in the garden at The Glen I realized that no, this just isn't right. In the end we decided together that we wanted to celebrate our marriage in a way that worked for both of us. We ended up going back to our original plan of a destination wedding to Jamaica. We had such an amazing time when we vacationed there last March that we knew it was the perfect place to celebrate with our friends and family.

Welcome to Destination: Jamaica

I'm switching gears with this blog while I plan for my destination wedding in Negril, Jamaica.