Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New Blog

If you enjoy this blog, please check out my new blog now that I have moved over to Wordpress.  I will no longer be posting on Postcards from Patrice so please check out my new blog The P Life which combines travel plus a few other topics.  The P Life can be found at

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jamaica Me Smile (Day 4)

Our last day at the Iberostar Grand Rose Hall in Montego Bay Jamaica was a short one.  We had to leave early in the day for the airport so we did not have much time.  We had decided the night before to get up early and try to get more beach time in before leaving, however the weather did not cooperate.  It was cold!  Well, cold for the beach.  We just sat on the chairs with our cover ups on and wrapped ourselves in the towels to act as our blankets.  There was not anyone else on the beach with us except for some sand crabs.  Then it was time for breakfast and off to the airport. 

We had previously arranged for a van to take us to the airport and it was right on time.  We thought we were giving ourselves plenty of time to get through security, have lunch and visit the duty free shop, but we had no idea how long the lines were going to be.  And how many lines we would need to go through.  We had to clear immigrations and customs leaving the country which I do not understand at all and the line was painfully slow.  My passport is filled with Caribbean island stamps so I was wondering what the agent would say about this.  He asked me how I liked Jamaica compared to the other islands and I of course said I loved it!  In reality, I had a great time on this trip, but I did not see much of Jamaica other than our resort. 

Finally through all the lines, we high tailed it to the duty free shop and had lunch at a sit down restaurant...which ended up being a mistake because island time is alive and well in the airport too.  I scarfed down some food as quickly as I could and Jenn brought her food on the plane...which ended up being a comedy routine watching her try to board a plane with her carry on, a bag of liquor from the duty free shop and a to go container with a hamburger in it.

Jenn and I both like aisle seats so we sat on the plane across from each other.  I had fun laughing at her because she was seated with two kids whose parents were in another row and the flight attendants kept thinking they were her kids. 

Overall we had a great time.  I think all inclusives are great for girlfriend getaways because it's relaxing, no need to have cash on hand (other than for tipping) and the pace is relaxing to just do what you want whenever you want.  I also highly recommend adults only resorts for girlfriend getaways so that the moms can get a break without any kids around...unless you get seated with two on the airplane!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Jamaica Me Smile (Day 3)

Our last full day at the Iberostar Grand Rose Hall in Jamaica started the same as the day before but definitely ended differently!  We started with a mimosa, the beach, breakfast and lunch.  I had found things I liked well enough to eat at the buffets but was happy I did not need to eat this food for an entire week. The people in charge of entertainment are called "Star Friends" and tried again to get us to do water aerobics or  play volleyball, but we again declined...there just wasn't enough time!  I needed my sun after all.  The Star Friend were all really nice and had fun names like Mr. Kool and Miss Sassy.

After lunch we changed things up a bit.  We walked back down to the snorkel hut to see if we could go snorkeling and we could!  After a very brief "safety briefing" we were given our equipment and forced to wear snorkel vests. 

Look how blue the water is!

We were told that the boat would go out to the reef and then we would get in the water and "drift".  The boat would go to the end spot where we would get back on at the end. Wait, what?  The boat was not right next to us, but probably a couple hundred yards away!  I get a little bit panicky in open water so Jenn promised to be my snorkel buddy and stay close to me.  

Our leader, Captain Jack, was a little too friendly, but did not really follow the idea of drifting and had us swimming...against the current.  I admit I cannot tell you what we saw because I was just concerned about getting back to the boat.  I much prefer snorkeling from a beach.  I also fought the vest constantly because it kept trying to choke me.  When we were done Captain Jack motioned for the boat to come get us. 

Between the salt water and wind from the boat our hair was in terrible shape and knotted messes.  Jenn cleaned up much better than me by going with braids.  I decided to just put on a hat and deal with the ratty mess of curls later.  It was time for a drink after all since we avoided alcohol before snorkeling.  I tried a new drink that one of our palapa neighbors recommended which was basically Grey Goose, lemon and ice blended together.  That packed a punch!

At some point we decided to try the swim up pool bar.  The water was coooold!  So cold that I kept walking around in the pool to try to keep warm.  I must have looked ridiculous because a woman sitting on the edge of the pool thought I was dancing.

We would be leaving the next day so we wanted to get as much beach time out of our last day as possible so we stayed until the sun started going down.  The Iberostar is an all inclusive resort and gratuities are included.  I still tip for good service though because a few dollars makes no difference to me and can make a difference to the people working at the resort.  I tend to tip $1 per drink and $5 for dinner (Jenn did the same).  I did not feel obligated to tip though for poor service.  The bartender who made fun of the way I said cafe con leche and the waiter who argued with me about the melted fried ice cream did not get any tips.  We tipped for everything else.  So when the pool bar was getting ready to close (which we did not know was happening), the waitress brought us an extra round of drinks, even though we did not order them.  Our palapa neighbors were jealous of this, but they did not tip so they did not get extra drinks. 

Getting ready for dinner was more challenging given the knotted hair and the impact of the extra drink.  The extra drink really was not a good idea because we were drunk which was not our goal. We were not going stop now though...

We managed to get ourselves to the Italian restaurant for our last dinner.  Our waiter was very friendly which was a welcome surprise after the prior night. 

We started with an amuse bouche, which I passed on since it was mostly sour cream and I do not like sour cream.  Then we had minestrone soup that was actually really good!  When I was at the Iberostar in Mexico, my favorite dish was the risotto so I ordered that for my main course.  It was sadly under cooked though.  Dessert was tiramisu and was pretty good too. 

After dinner we decided to go the show that happens each night at 10pm.  It has singers and dancers and I would say it is a little bit worse than a cruise ship show. 

Since we had plenty to drink though, it kept up entertained.  The funniest part of the show was that before it started they played a Celine Dion video!  Jenn played the part of crazy Canadian Celine fan and could not contain herself!

After the show we had to concede that the trip was coming to an end and we would be leaving the next day.  We agreed to get up early and try to get a couple more hours on the beach before going to the airport. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jamaica Me Smile (Day 2)

Day two at the Iberostar Grand Rose Hall in Jamaica started the routine we would follow for the rest of the trip.  My friend Jenn would wake up early to take a walk on the beach and get us a front row palapa.  Sunrise picture is courtesy of Jenn since I am not an early riser.

Once I woke up we would get breakfast. Breakfast was not very appealing to me but I was fine with that because I am not much of a breakfast eater anyway.  Certain things just taste different in foreign countries to me, especially dairy products. 

After breakfast it was time for a mimosa!  We stopped at the pool bar to get mimosas to bring to the beach with us.  It was a little disappointing drinking them out of hard plastic cups, but I understand glass cannot be on the beach.  There was a couple by the pool each morning at one of the best cabana spots who had an entire bottle of champagne in an ice bucket and a carafe of orange juice.  This seemed much more civilized than our plastic cups, but I wanted to go to the beach.  Although I did mention we should become friends with them so share in their mimosas. 

The pool area is very nice with cabanas and palapas around it, but I am a beach girl.

Jenn did another great job of getting us a front row palapa so I could pull my chair out to get soak in the sun.  Unfortunately Jenn must have seriously missed some spots with the sun screen and she needed to hide from the sun. 

Service on the beach for drinks was pretty good, but we would also stop at the pool bar after going to the restroom.  We were really good about pacing ourselves with the drinks as well (well, except once, but we'll get to that later).  Just a nice buzz from morning til night.  When I asked the bartender the name of the pink frozen drink that I saw many of the guests drinking, I thought she said "Jamaica Me Smile" so that is what we called it not knowing until days later that the name was actually "Jamaican Smile".  I thought it was ok, but I do not care too much for drinks with a banana and this one definitely had a banana.  This became Jenn's new favorite drink and I stuck to strawberry daiquiris, which I referred to as my smoothies. 

Note the sunburn...ouch!
After a morning on the beach we would saunter up to the outdoor buffet restaurant for lunch.  This was the only choice for lunch which I found disappointing because after being in the sun all morning, I like to cool off at lunch while eating.  There was usually the regular buffet as well as a Jamaican barbeque going on.  I struggled to find something I liked because everything was hot and did not stay fresh very well being outside.  We decided that the food only tasted so good the day before because we were starving from a long day of travel.  Dessert was a comedy routine most days because desserts were kept in a counter top refrigerator with a sliding door.  It was difficult to hold your plate, open the door and serve yourself a piece of dessert so usually the person behind you in line would hold the door for you.  The good things about lunch was that there was wait service to bring drinks and there was a beautiful view.
After lunch it was back to the beach for a nap.  Well, a nap for me and people watching and chatting with our palapa neighbors for Jenn.  She was so excited to tell me something when I woke up...she saw the bride walking down the beach (remember, the one from the night before who had the dress that would not lace up properly in the back?)...and she was pregnant!  Oh my.  We would later discover that the newlyweds were in the room right next to Jenn and the groom liked to hang out on the balcony smoking weed at night. 

We were also perplexed by a man out in the water.  There was quite a bit of security on the perimeter of the beach to keep locals and guests from the hotels next door off the Grand's beaches so at first we thought this guy might be some kind of security, but then realized he was selling coconuts.

Jenn was getting antsy hiding from the sun under the palapa and decided we should go snorkeling so we walked down the beach to the water sports hut.  The Iberostar property in Jamaica has three resorts and we needed to walk through the other two resorts to get to the snorkel hut.  Iberostar Grand Rose Hall is the highest end resort on the property.  It is adults only and luxurious.  Grand guests can go to the other resorts, but not the other way around.  Children are allowed at the other two resorts and they are called Iberostar Rose Hall Suites and Iberostar Rose Hall Beach with the suites hotel being the nicer of the two.  There was a definite change in atmosphere between each resort as it got louder and thumped more as we went from resort to resort.  The Grand has nice peaceful music, but by the time we got to the Beach hotel, it was like an outdoor club with music thumping and the pool filled with people standing in the water with their drinks.  The funniest part of being down there was watching people pass around a baby.  A BABY!  We had no idea whose baby it actually was.  At the bar we saw someone give a giant insulated cup to the bartender and just said, "fill her up with anything".  The people watching was definitely interesting down there!  The other difference we saw was that there was no wait service at the buffet.  What there was that I loved was this cool cat!  I got him some chicken from the buffet.
When we finally made it to the snorkel hut we were told the surf was too rough for the boat to go back and to maybe try again tomorrow.  We did not have a lot of confidence about when or if this boat may go out so we decided to go shopping.  The resort had a shuttle bus that took us to a nearby shopping center since Jenn wanted to buy some jewelry.  While we waited Jenn made more friends and we took more pictures...because we are girls and that is what we do!

After shopping we were not in the mood to get back into our bathing suits so it was time for another smoothie by the pool and then off to our rooms beautify ourselves for dinner.
Dinner was at the surf & turf restaurant.  We had all turf and no surf.  Most of the staff at the Grand was very friendly, except for some of the waiter/waitresses in the restaurants.  I am not sure why this is, but the waiter we had this night was not friendly or helpful.  I ordered a green salad and a NY strip steak.  There was no dressing on the salad and the steak I was given was a rib eye.  When I asked for dressing for the salad I was not given any options and brought oil and vinegar and was told my steak was a NY strip, even though I know it was not.  I let it all go.  I was on vacation after all.  Then for dessert I ordered the fried ice cream.  When I put my fork into it and pierced the outside shell, warm melted liquid ice cream poured out.  I brought this to the attention of the waiter and was told that was what fried ice cream was.  I was exhausted by this point in having problems and the waiter just telling me I was wrong.  I tried to order another dessert, but was told it would take twenty minutes so I just gave up and shared in Jenn's dessert, which was very good.
After dinner we went to the lobby bar for a drink then off to bed.  I wanted to be up early the next day to enjoy our last full day in paradise!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jamaica Me Smile (Day 1)

Our mantra for this trip was, "not sure if we have enough time".  Not enough time to do anything other than eat, drink, sit in the sun and walk on the beach.  A perfect girlfriend getaway with a great friend.

We had an 8am flight out of an airport about an hour away so Jenn picked me up at a half past dark.  Getting to the airport early has its perks.  We upgraded to business class for a nominal extra charge and we excited for our 1 free drink and snack...this was on Airtran by the way so nothing fancy expected.  Once on the plane we were quite excited.  Even though it was early, it was time for a drink...and of course we chose a rum drink since we were on our way to Jamaica.  They also had some little biscuit cookie things that I really liked and had quite a few.  The flight attendant noticed this and made a comment over the speaker about the blonde woman in the front who ate all the cookies.  Come on!  I did not eat that many....  We flew over Cuba and the landing into the airport in Jamaica was great because we got a nice view of the island...which is all we would really see of it other than our resort since there just wasn't enough time!
Once we arrived in Jamaica the van company was waiting for outside right on schedule and offered us a choice of water or beer.  It was water for me and a Red Stripe for Jenn!  We stayed at the Iberostar Grand Rose Hall (aka the Grand) in the Montego Bay area.  I had previously stayed at the Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso in Mexico so I knew what to expect.  (I will compare the two resorts in another post) This was Jenn's first stay at an all inclusive and I knew she would love it. 
We were greeted at check in with a glass of champagne and then headed to our rooms.  I had emailed our room requests to the resort prior to arrival and everything was perfect.  We had two ocean front rooms on the top floor on the far corner.
The rooms were beautiful and very spacious.
 The balcony had a couch, swing and table and looked right out to the beach and ocean.

Before the heading to the beach we went to the buffet to get some lunch.  I am not a fan of buffets and especially not outdoor buffets where the food sits in the heat, but this was the only place to get lunch.  There was also the BBQ going on as well.  We had not eaten since the cookies on the airplane so we were starving by this point and everything tasted pretty good.  We would not keep this opinion though on future days.  Note that all food pictures are thanks to Jenn so most of the food pictures are what she ate.  I am not patient enough to take pictures before eating!
Finally after about 10 hours since we started the journey...we were at the beach!
Jenn and I have traveled together once before but it was to Vegas so we learned a little bit about each other on this trip.  Jenn learned that I love to pull my chair out from under the palapa and bake myself while just staring at the ocean.  Maybe I should have spent more time under the palapa with her, but do not worry...Jenn is one of those people who makes friends with everyone!  She knew the people on either side of us quite quickly.  Which brings me to one of the few things that was not Grand about this resort...the palapas are really close together.  There is plenty of beach space, but the palapas are really crammed together.  Luckily Jenn is also an early morning person who would get up and get us a spot in the front row each day. 
After some sun and drinks it was time for dinner.  I had made reservations for each night before arrival so we were set and would not need to eat at the buffet for dinner.  First night was teppanyaki.
The food was good, but everyone else seemed to know the system better than us.  I ordered sushi as an appetizer, an entree (the teppanyaki part) and dessert.  Clearly everyone else knew better and ordered another course of all sorts of other appetizers after the sushi course but before the teppanyaki course.  This was a downer because we had to wait for everyone else to finish all their appetizers before the chef even started the show cooking part.  Overall the food was good, but the entree portion was small so we wished we would have ordered more appetizers.  The service was good though and my champagne glass was kept full!
After dinner we went to the lobby bar.  As soon as we walked in, a very tan man who smelled like a bar stumbled up to us and said, "you're new".  It was a very social bar where everybody seemed to know everybody.  I went to the bar to get a drink and Jenn a coffee and the bartender made fun of the way I said "cafe con leche" which made me feel really uncomfortable....big mistake...big...huge! (Pretty Woman  I normally tip on every drink, but no tip for this guy and then I never went back up to the bar on the trip because of him.  We relied on the waitresses instead after that.  When I came back with Jenn's coffee, the drunk/tan man's wife told Jenn she better get some Bailey's for that because the coffee is terrible...and she was right!  There was also a saxophone player roaming the bar and played for the first dance of a couple who had just gotten married.  We watched the newlyweds dance and noticed the back of the bride's dress did not seem to lace up properly in the back and was way too tight...more on that later!
We did not stay too long as we were tired so we went back to our rooms.  Jenn put the butler to work and he brought her some movies.  I sat on the balcony for a while to just listen to the waves and the wind.  What a great first day...
Any guesses where the "Jamaica Me Smile" post name comes from?  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Almost Grand in Mexico (Part 3)

When not eating or drinking, we spent our time on the beach with my preference being a front row corner palapa.  No need for the "towel game" here.  We got a good spot any time we wanted.

Our typical day consisted of sitting on the beach, walking on the beach and going swimming in the ocean.  My husband likes waves and the ocean in front of the Grand delivered enough to keep him entertained at least part of the day.  At one point I started to feel uncomfortable though and asked to go in.  At that point I realized we were the only ones in the water and the flag indicating rough water was flying.  Yikes!

There usually were not that many people in the water in front of the Grand, but there were rocks which made us choose our entry point carefully.

My favorite time was just sitting under the palapa staring at the ocean.  Here was my view.

I do not understand why people would come all this way to sit by a pool, but that just means more beach space for me!  The beach was empty.

Hello???  Hola?


Even though I am not a pool person if there is a beach available, I can certainly recognize a beautiful pool and the Grand's pool area is incredible! 

Cabanas and chairs galore.  There were even chairs in some very shallow water that looked nice.  I was not crazy about the pool bar though.  There were very few places to sit and all the smokers congregated at the swim up area.  Still pretty to look at though.

There was also a tranquility pool for those who did not want the noise of the main pool.  Not that there was much noise, just the occasional pool game.  This is not the type of place where everyone stands in the pool listening to thumping club music with their drink in a cozy.

Departure was uneventful since we did not charge anything extra.  That was nice. I am used to a good sized food and drink bill at the end of each trip.  It was a little weird that they held our luggage hostage until we checked out and settled the bill (which was zero).  The van was on time and got us back to the airport with plenty of time to get fleeced by the airport prices for food and drinks. 

My overall thoughts are that it is a great property and could be world class if they could figure out the food.  I think they were trying to over complicate the food and they just could not execute properly.  Simple fresh food would the fajitas!!!  I find the people of Mexico to be the friendliest I have met anywhere in the world.  They seem truly happy that you have come to visit their country.  The other guests were also all very friendly as well.  I would go back to the Grand, but unfortunately my husband will not because the food was too much of a challenge.  I have not been able to convince any friends to go for a girlfriend getaway yet either because they are concerned about safety in Mexico.  Hopefully one day I will be back...

Almost Grand in Mexico (Part 2)

Our initial impressions of the Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso in the Riviera Maya area of Mexico were quite good based on our arrival and our room.  We arrived late in the day so there was not time for the beach.  The next test was the one I was most worried about...the food.  After check in, we headed to the surf & turf restaurant for dinner.  When we first sat down, we had a good feeling.  We were very happy that all the restaurants were air conditioned.  It gets really hot in Mexico and eating outdoors in the heat is just not comfortable for us.  The menu looked good, the wait staff was attentive, it was air conditioned, what could go wrong? Well...the food.  The seafood platter was over cooked.  The steaks were not flavorful and dessert was just not good.  It was just ok.  Not terrible, but we left a bit disappointed.  Unfortunately, this would end up being the best dinner we had. 
After dinner we went to the lobby bar where we would meet what I nicknamed "the lobby bar crew".  What I liked best about the all inclusive arrangement is that more people hang out in the bar and are they are very social.  At other non-AI resorts it seems that people leave the resorts often at night to avoid the over priced food and drinks that most resorts serve.  We happen to love hotel lobby bars so this was perfect for us!  People would hang out in the bar either before or after dinner (or both).  We like to eat dinner early so our routine had us in the bar after dinner and we sat pretty much in the middle of the bar.  On our right each night were two men traveling together from Germany.  Next to them were two women traveling together.  I kept hoping they would get to know each other, but never seemed to happen.  On our left was an extended family trip with the parents, two adult children and their spouses.  This group was quite fun and they included Chris in on the "drinks on fire" ritual they have when visiting the Grand.  I found the drinks on fire to be great fun...but I wasn't the one drinking them.  The bartenders were also a hoot.  They loved trying out new drinks to try to please the guests and they would pass around testers for everyone to try when something was a hit.  The bartenders also provided games because I am a sucker for logic games.  Overall, we LOVED the lobby bar. 
After the lobby bar, we would usually go back to the room and hang out on the balcony or use the jacuzzi.  The combination of the breeze and sound of the ocean waves was incredible.  The balcony is also very spacious and comfortable. The jacuzzi takes a long time to fill up so if you plan on using it, I would recommend asking the butler to get it started while at dinner. 
Here is one more picture of the jacuzzi...because it was so awesome it deserves to be shown twice!
We were very happy with quality and service of the drinks.  We did not drink much during the day while at the beach, but the waiters kept us stocked with cold waters.  One day when I did order a daiquiri while at the beach I was impressed with the service.  Shortly after I ordered it, we went in the ocean.  The waiter must have seen this because he did not leave the drink to melt in the sun.  Instead, he waited for us to get out of the water and immediately brought the drink to me.  Now that is service!!!!  Quality brands were available (such as Grey Goose) and the drinks were not watered down.  I love champagne and the champagne they serve, while not as dry as I prefer, was very enjoyable. 
Now back to the food.  The Italian restaurant had good risotto, but everything else was not good.  Even the service was bad.  We ordered a bottle of wine, but after the first pour the waiter took it away and never brought it back.  We were disappointed that there was not a Mexican restaurant for dinner since we were in Mexico after all.  On the third night we went to the Mexican restaurant at one of the other Iberostar resorts in the same complex.  This restaurant was very warm, the food was really slow to come out and they brought me the wrong food.  On our final night, we gave up and got room service. 
For lunch we had a good routine of eating chips, salsa and fajitas, but the issues with dinner made getting dinner a chore.  The service was also good during lunch.  Once we realized dinners were not as good, we starting eating two portions of fajitas for lunch, but were glad we were not here an entire week eating the same lunch every day. We were happy to have the choice of being inside or outside for lunch since we like to be air conditioned and have a break from the heat in the middle of the day.
Lunch Restaurant
We are not big breakfast eaters, but tried it a couple days.  One day was room service and the food arrived cold.  One the last day I went to the restaurant by myself for breakfast.  Nobody greeted me to seat me so I sat myself.  I also never had anyone come take a la carte orders from me or bring me drinks.  I was completely on my own from the buffet. 
View from Breakfast
Overall the food was huge disappointment, but enough about that. 
Stay tuned for the final installment that will have tons of pictures and will be all about the beach and pools!