Friday, April 9, 2021

A First Class Exit All the Way - Almost...Saying Goodbye to Jamaica

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  It's been a fun and very quick week here on the island of Irie but now it's time to go home.

Check out goes smoothly, much better than check-in a week ago, and...just as we really start to get the hang of getting Tim into and out of the car...we put him in for one last trip back to the Montego Bay airport.

One last tip to the bellman who helped us pack the car and off we go.

Checking in at Hertz, the attendant tried to tell me there's a new scratch underneath the front bumper. I don't see anything different than when I picked it up but he keeps insisting. I tell him I've got enough travel insurance to buy the car three times over so go ahead and bill me...I don't care.

Suddenly, he's saying "no worries, I wasn't going to tell the office anyway."

So why bring it up? Was this a little payola scam in the making?  Don't know but he's sweet as pie after that and drives us...well, Tim and Letty the departure terminal. I had to walk because with our luggage, him, my wife and son, there was no more room in the little Corolla.

Going home from the Caribbean for us in L.A. is quite daunting. Unless you're traveling from Puerto Rico, there are no direct flights. It took us 20 hours to get here and it will be about 12 or 13 to get back home with a 3 hour layover in Dallas. Plus, you can see from above that we're leaving just in time as the sky's have opened up and drenched the airport with a thunderstorm.

I'm not looking forward to another, long day of waiting at the gate and squeezing into economy seats for hours on end. I'm going to see what I can do to alleviate it.

First up, I've booked us into Club Mobay, the VIP airport lounge at Sanger International Airport in Montego Bay. Once you've checked in with your airline, all you need to do is find one of the many Club Mobay information hosts at the airport or find their information counter. Admission is $30 if you prebook via their website, $35 at the door.

You're then escorted through a special line in security and taken to the club, who's entrance is about 50 feet from the American Airlines gate we'll be departing from in about 5 hours.

Downstairs, there is very comfortable, living room style seating with free wifi, many TV's, a light buffet, bar, view of the runway, spa, showers, a sports room (with TV's, next to the bar), and soundproofed kids play rooms. 

It's heaven down here and, frankly, I'm half wanting not to leave but leave we must. 

Another good thing I did was when checking in with the American Airlines automated kiosk, I checked for upgrades. Upgrading the Dallas to LAX portion of our flight to first class was a measely $110. 

Not only did this get us out of economy for the second half of our travel day, now our two checked bags were free.  I also told the gate agent that the porters who put Tim on the plane coming to Jamaica complained that the airline put us way back in the plane, making their job much harder and to ask if we could be moved forward.

The gate agent moved us up to the second row of coach which also meant an upgrade to the premium economy with more legroom and make it easier to move around.

After some great food, drink, and relaxation at Club Mobay, we were summoned to our flight (the club staff keeps you informed via announcements and a departure monitor). It was an easy flight to Dallas, where we splurged on a nice, pizza lunch with microbrews at Pizza Vino in terminal D. 

Next to Pizza Vino is the American Express Centurion Lounge. We didn't take advantage of it this time but for $50...or free, if you have a higher level of Amex card...American Express cardholders and their families can have the airport lounge experience we had in Jamaica.

Well rested, fed, and feeling good from our beer, we boarded into the third row of our flight back to LAX, reclined, enjoyed the cocktail service, and caught up on some sleep.

It was a very nice way to return home from a far-flung destination.

At LAX, it was a quick bus ride to our parking lot. Got in the car, turned the key, and...nothing.

Dead battery at a quarter past midnight. 

Oh, well. It was almost a perfect, first-class day. Time to call AAA and call this vacation over.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2014 - Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Cheapskate Rural Gardener: Making Hanging Flower Baskets

I love spring flowers, the more the better. A great way to get a quick and colorful accent is to hang flower baskets. You can buy them, premade, at local garden centers and home improvement stores but you can save a few bucks and have a bit more control if you do it yourself. 

You'll just need baskets to hang them in, potting mix, transplant solution, fertilizer spikes, and the plants...all readily available at your local garden center or even online in some instances.

I use iron hanging baskets with a coconut husk liner. I put in enough potting mix on the bottom so that it will push the smaller plants up to the side of the rim.

I'm getting snapdragons, pansies, and violets in 2 inch mini pots. I arrange then on top of the potting mix, leaning against the side so that the flowers can rise above the basket rim.

Next, cover up the roots and in-between areas with potting mix. I'm leaving a hole in the middle large enough to fit in the upright snapdragons that I bought in 6" pots.

This next step is just an experiment for me this year, I got some seeds for some plants with hanging flowers, amaranth, to see if it will grow in and extend the time for blooms so I don't have to repot the baskets so soon (usually, I have to replant my hanging baskets one time during each season to keep them going). I'm sprinkling them all around the top soil of each basket. You don't have to do this but it's just something I want to try.

Fill in the remaining spaces with your soil and tamp down. Mix up some transplant solution to stop transplant shock and water in the basket thoroughly.

Since the baskets will be hanging high over my head, I insert three fertilizer stakes in each basket. These release fertilizer slowly through the season when watered so I don't have to climb a ladder to feed the plants.

Hang them up where you want them, I put them on the front of our house over the porch. Water thoroughly every other day...every day when it is very hot. This is another thing I don't want to break out a ladder to do so I set it up on a automatic micro-sprinkler on my drip system, which I show you how to set up on our post The Poor Man's Sprinkler System.

Now, the only thing left is to relax and enjoy your new flowers.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2021 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 5, 2021

Getting Out of the Water to See Jamaica

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  Yes, it's a beautiful pool and beach here at the Luxury and Gran Bahia Principe hotels and we could easily spend the whole week here but we want to see what's on the other side of that big wall and guard gate.

On arrival, we picked up a Toyota Corolla from Hertz. If you've seen our video about traveling without a wheelchair accessible vehicle or power chair, you'll know that we've got a pretty good system about putting Tim in the car without the wheelchair.

Well, that works here in America very well but, since we're used to the passenger sitting on the right, it doesn't work so well for us when the passenger sits on the left as they do here in Jamaica.

Watch the Video!

It's definitely like putting a square peg in a round hole but, with some effort, we manage.

Driving in Jamaica isn't too bad but occasionally, you'll come across someone doing ten miles an hour (pulling over to let traffic pass does not seem to ever enter the local drivers' minds here) or some speed demon behind you will whip by in a pass, no matter that a big truck or bus is coming the other way.  Avoiding night driving and being on your toes, attention-wise, is the antedote.

We have three destinations today...the town of Ocho Rios, find a roadside jerk stand, and the Green Grotto cave.

First off, it's about a 10 mile drive from our hotel to Ocho Rios. Along the way, we pass Dunn's River Falls (which offer only accessible platforms for wheelchair to watch others full price, by the way). We did this 25 years ago and Tim won't be able to climb so we keep driving.

Then, it's past the Dolphin Encounter...also inaccessible...with many tour buses and vans parked along the side of the road. A Kiwanis Club sign welcomes us to Ocho Rios where we make a lap around the town to find a place to park.

On the way, we pass the "crafts center," which even the locals call the flea market. Letty and I have bad memories from that place where the vendors are very tenacious and literally hands on to get you to buy stuff. It makes the hagglers in Tijuana look like amatuers. 

The second time around, we pull into a lot that advertises aprking for $120 (Jamaican, about a buck twenty) for an hour. When I ask the attendant if they accept U.S. money, he gives me a slip.

"Have one of the shopkeepers stamp that for you and you'll get two hours free."

The shops are quiet on this hot and humid day. The highlight is picking up some premium rum, jerk sauce, and some mixers at the supermarket anchoring the plaza. Letty picks up a swim wrap and some Jamaican flag flip-flops at another shop and that's about the extent of it, except some hawkers from the nearby flea market exhorting us to accompany them over there.

Nothing earth-shattering about the shopping or selection of goods here, so we get back in the car and head out.

Checking out the map from and recommendations from locals, we were originally going to try Scotchie's, a jerk stand near Ocho Rios, but after some hardcore wrestling Tim into the car, we go to another jerk stand on the map, the Ultimate Jerk Center in Discovery Bay simply because it's across the street from the Green Grotto, meaning that we would only have to get Tim out of the car one more time instead of twice.

A bar full of local taxi, truck, and bus drivers welcomes us as a server shows us to a table. It's open-air and we can occasionally hear the whine of a nearby windmill that's powering the place. In the restroom, the electric hand dryers only work when those blades are spinning.

We order some sodas and plates of jerk chicken and pork. My wife pronounces them delicious and authentic but they seem a bit dry to me.  Authentic or not, I think the beachside jerk bar back at the hotel makes a better meal.

A five minute cloudburst livens things up as we watch the staff scramble to hang curtains to keep the water out of the dining area.

Whatever we think about the food, it's fun to hang out with real locals for awhile instead of our fellow tourists back at the hotel.

After the meal, we walk across the street to the Grotto.  Several online resources noted that they had installed a wheelchair accessible trail into the cave.

The management at the Grotto informs me otherwise.  No accessible trail exists and, no, you cannot walk up to the entrance to take a picture without paying for admission.

My wife presses them on this by simply walking up to the entrance and a few minutes of negotiation with the management gets us an ok to go and take pictures. The lady at the ticket office even volunteers to man the camera to take the picture of the three of us, above.

We end up with a drive through the countryside, including a minute of watching the local fire brigade battle a roadside brush fire, some mediocre shopping in Ocho Rios, a fun meal at the Ultimate Jerk Center, before being disappointed that the one attraction we thought would be accessible turned out to be off-limits.

Still, it's an enjoyable day out and a change of pace from the all day eat-and-drinkathon at the hotel's pool and beach.

Copyright 2014-Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 4, 2021

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Jamaican Swimup Drinking Tour

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Marius Kallhardt under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

I(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  t's another sampling of Caribbean all-access, all-you-can-drink, all inclusive drinks, this time from the pools of the Luxury Bahia Principe and the Gran Bahia Principe in Runaway Bay, Jamaica.

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The entire resort boast nine bars, two of which are the swimup variety. In our end of the pool, there's also a poolside bar reserved for the guests of the Luxury Bahia side of things with waiter service to bring your cocktails to the pool.

Watch The Video!

Since drinks are included in your room rate, you just ask and it shall be given up to you. Some guests take this to another extreme, since it's also unlimited, by bringing giant you'd find in the Big Gulp section of your 7/11...and fill them to the brim with their favorite cocktail.

There's a certain logic to this since the drinks are served in fairly small glasses, making frequent trips to the bar a necessity. Other guests, like us, got around this by just ordering two drinks at once or asking for the large size so we wouldn't be interrupting our pool time so often.

The resort would also have a "drink of the day," a special tropical concoction that every bartender could whip up in an instant.  We had Jamican Sunrises, Summer Winds, Bob Marleys, Green Islands, and more. Just ask for the drink of the day and you'd be set.

In the video above, you can follow along as we sample some of these alcoholic delights plus Rum Runners, Mai Tais, Dacquiris, and what the bartender referred to as "don't worry about it, you'll like it." This became the No Worries.



Friday, April 2, 2021

Changing from Travel Mode to Vacation Mode in Jamaica

(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  We left off in part 1 with challenges on getting the room we paid for on arrival at the Luxury Bahia Principe (LBP) in Runaway Bay, Jamaica. With that behind us, it's time for vacation...

Watch the Video!

25 years ago, my wife and I spent a week at Eden II not far from the spot we're at now. It was $1100 for each of us, all inclusive. This week is costing us $1300 each, not a bad rate of inflation over a quarter century.  Of course, back then much more was included in our all-inclusive experience: a tour to Dunn's River Falls, transportation into Ocho Rios for shopping, sailing, golfing...all which must have met the budget ax over time.

Here at the LBP, we still get all we can eat and drink...including a la carte dining at the resort's themed restaurants every day(the other side of the hotel just gets a couple of nights of a la carte during their stay)...a hour of water sports equipment checkout each day, entertainment, butler service (which we never used), and a few separate facilities (you can check out a more extensive list in part 1).

Dinner last night was at Dolce Vita, an Italian restaurant about a half mile walk from our room. It was good.  I had the saltimboca, which was more of a very good steak, and Tim and Letty had pasta dishes.

A common complaint here is that they keep the temperature too high inside the restaurants. For us coming from the north, it may feel warm but I think it's probably pretty comfortable for the locals that work here.

We're starting off by doing mornings at the pool and moving to the beach in the afternoon.  LBP has three pools that look like one, big, quarter mile long pool.  

Next to our building, the east end of the pool is reserved for the LBP guests and red-shirted security guards are there to enforce that.  Have a pink armband and you're OK. Any other color will get you deported to what we took to calling the riff raff pool.

Our special section also included our own bar with a slightly better selection of liquors and a better bartender but we could also float under the bridge into the riff raff pool and sidle up to the swim up bar. 

That was nice but I got tired of having to explain to the bartenders there how to make each drink I was ordering.  After a couple of days, we pretty much gave up on the swim up bar. Especially after a server on the other side named Kayann adopted us and brought us a tray of drinks every time we showed up to the pool without even asking.

Yes, for all the complaints I have about the front office staff, the front line staff were outstanding.

We take Tim to a wading platform on the riff raff side and gingerly...and not entirely successful...try to ease him into an inner tube.  We got it after much slipping and sliding.  Then, it was just a couple of hours lounging in the clear water with occasional cruises over to the Island of Happiness...our name for the swim up bar.

After a while, we made it to the end of the pool closest to our room and noticed that the pool got gradually shallower and shallower.  Hey, this is a giant ramp into the pool!  After that, getting Tim into the pool and his inner tube was just a matter of wheeling him in as far as his manual chair would go, popping the tube over his legs, standing him up, and letting go.

It made things much, much easier.

After the morning swim, we head over to the beach which is quite a hike away. Probably close to a mile from our room.

Again, the accessibility here is very good. Although quite a walk, it's a very smooth route for the wheelchair, including the hard-packed sand path that the utility vehicles used to service the bars along the beach. It makes for a good, accessible route to the beach for the chair.

The LBP has it's own private section so we set up a base station under a palapa and some trees.  A server keeps our glasses full of rum punch and we go for cooling laps in the warm water of the bay.

It's shallow and clear but I still can't get Tim to go in the water, especially after I show him a video of some stingrays that I took.

The hotel offers free loans of snorkeling equipment (again, quite a walk away from where we are sitting) but there's a $50 cash deposit required that you lose if you don't bring it back in an hour. I didn't know about the deposit and didn't bring $50 with me to the beach so I just bought a cheap pair of goggles from the gift shop and charged to the room.

The water was clear, maybe not quite as clear as when we went to Puerto Vallarta (Conchas Chinas beach) or Maui, but still the clearest we've yet seen in the Caribbean.

Along with the rays, we see an array of tropical fish on coral encrusted rocks and sea urchins. It's quite a sight.

We did adjust our schedule as the week went on to go to the beach in the mornings and migrating to the pool in the afternoons so we'd be as close to our room as possible at the end of the day when we've tired ourselves out.

The Jerk Bar was next to our beach so after a morning of swimming with the rays and the other guests, we regain our strength with heaping plates of Jamaica's national dish. 

It was incredibly delicious.

Hanging out at the beach and pool while drinking the day away was not the only adventures we had on the island. Stay tuned for part three where we strike out beyond the hotel's gate to see what mischief we can find.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Photos Copyright 2014 - Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Hungry? The Food of Jamaica

Before I get too deep in this post, I know that little of what follows would be considered true Jamaican cuisine. It's just a tour of the selections we had while on an "all-you-can-eat" vacation with no limits on when or where we could dine.

Starting off in the buffet, we could mingle with the proletariat in the main buffet or stick with those in our wing in the Palmyra buffet.  On arrival, that's what we did...go to the Palmyra for dinner.  The nicer, a la carte restaurants would come later.

Breakfast was at the main buffet, which had a vast array of selections with an equally vast number of guests with large appetites. Beware if you get get behind the Russian guests when they put out the bacon tray, they can clean it out in about 30 seconds. Never seen such mounds of pig flesh on one plate in person before.

Still, the eggs were good and occasionally they would put out an offal dish (kidneys, hearts, livers, etc) that Letty enjoyed on the side.  The breads and donuts were also pretty delicious but watch out for the corned beef hash.

Lunch usually meant the snack bar at the beach.  Another extensive buffet awaits here, steps from the sand.

While you can munch to your heart's delight on burgers, hot dogs, and other usual suspects, the main attraction here is the jerk bar where you could get the juiciest jerk chicken and pork, with your choice of three sauces to put on it. While the crawfish looked real good, they weren't so good upon opening. Still, a lot of great food here. Jerk and rice were outstanding.

Although we had unlimited a la carte dining, we were only to make it three nights during the week. These are the nice, sit down and waiter serviced restaurants as opposed to the buffet. Each has a theme like Italian, Japanese, etc.

First was Dolce Vita, a long walk down to the beach from our room nextdoor to the jerk bar. The food was great, such as the saltimboca I had, above, which was more like a good steak with sauce.

Letty and Tim were fine with their pasta dishes.

Next up was Picasso, which was just downstairs from our room. The lighting wasn't as good for pictures of our entrees and neither was the food. While serviceable, it wasn't as good as Dolce Vita but the desserts were outstanding, like this cream puff dish Tim ordered.

The highlight of the week, though, was the Don Pablo restaurant. It's the gourmet selection of the a la carte lineup. They were a bit late in opening, however, and Tim and I had to wait outside until the staff decided to open up.

Once there, all was forgiven. The food was outstanding.  The talk of the resort was the incredibly delicious Chateaubriand that was carved table side and served with your choice of Roquefort or peppercorn sauce. I ordered mine rare with the peppercorn sauce. I still dream about that dish. 

For dessert I got the bananas flambe, which is prepared with a flourish tableside.

I'm not really a dessert person but I ordered it mainly for the show. On the other hand, I've had bananas Foster before but they are only a dim comparison to the sweet, rummy sauce burned up to perfection to go with that unbelievable warm banana taste. This was another outstanding dessert from an island full of them.

So, as you can see, you needn't worry that we'd be going hungry in our time on the island. While there were a few less that great food options here, they were easily avoidable and we had a great time feasting on Jamaica.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2014-Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved