Sandals Negril Jamaica. Bliss for Couples.

Revised from original November 2014 article and posted again in October 2017.
I have been coming to Jamaica for 39 years but it has been 33 years since I last visited Negril. Ah, Negril, why did I wait so long? I am sitting on the spectacular seven mile beach with Bloody Bay just off to my right by less than a half mile, as I was writing this (in 2014).
I am at the all inclusive Sandals Negril resort. Does working get any better than this? As I write, a server is bringing me my drink from the bar which is only steps away. The dive boat and snorkeling boat go out four times daily to the azure waters of Negril.
The restaurants include a Japanese Teppanyaki, Italian, and Seafood restaurants. The food was quite good, and the service is up to the usual standards of Jamaica. Tourism is the number one business on this former British colony, and the Jamaicans keep us coming back with their friendly attitude.
What I like about all inclusives like Sandals is the complete lack of needing to fork over my money or credit card every moment.. Yes even the booze is free unless you want an expensive wine.
The specialty restaurants are not extra charge like they are on many cruise ships these days. That means no big surprise when you get your bill at the end of your vacation.
This adults only resort caters to the wedding and honeymoon crowd. There were several weddings on the beach while we were there. You can have a romantic dinner for two or massage for two right on the beach. And the top rooms come with your own butler service. The couples ranged in age fro the 20s to the 70s while we were there.
There are three Sandals on Jamaica. Negril, Montego Bay and just outside Ocho Rios. There are exchange privileges at the other resorts.
The owner, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, wanted to bring the Sandals experience to the families of kids, and hence Beaches was born. We visited Beaches Negril one of the days while we were here. Families with kids of any age will find there is plenty of fun at Beaches The Sandals residents have the privileges at any of the Beaches or Sandals properties on Jamaica if they so choose.

While Sandals is a great all-inclusive place to stay while in Jamaica, don’t spend all of your time there. Get out and see this wonderful Caribbean country. Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean and it is incredibly diverse. Negril is located on the western part of the island of Jamaica. Its about an hours drive from Montego Bay. Negril is home to the famous Rick’s Cafe, which is one of the best places to watch the sunset while drinking the local beer, Red Stripe. We chose to take a party catamaran trip over to Rick’s from Sandals, and swam in from the sailboat. Of course, you can take a taxi if you prefer to stay dry. There is a cliff here, and visitors take turns diving off the cliff into the Caribbean sea below. For the insanely adventurists, you can climb a pole and dive from an even greater height. Here is what that looks like … Diving at Ricks.

There is so much to do in Jamaica, you’ll have difficulty making that decision. My personal recommendations are: Rainforest Zip line at Mystic Mountain, The Blue Hole and Secret Falls, Rafting on the Martha Brae river, climbing Dunns River Falls, golfing at one of the 12 championship courses, beach activities, shopping in the craft markets and horseback riding.

Sandals continues to grow the number of resorts it has and the travelers it serves due to their unrelenting focus on delivering a great, upscale experience. They presently have 16 Sandals, and 3 Beaches properties located among seven Caribbean Islands. Under Adam Stewart, CEO and son of founder Butch Stewart, the company is the largest employer in the Caribbean with over 13,000 employees. For those who want an upscale all inclusive beach resort in the Caribbean, we heartily recommend any of the Sandal’s properties. Some even have OVER WATER accommodations! Those sell out early, so keep that in mind when booking.

Getting There: Connecting flights from MSP to Montego Bay, Jamaica are offered by Delta, Sun Country, United, Air Canada, and American. You can arrange for transport to the resort from the airport in advance. Best time to travel to Negril is December through May.

You may want to avoid the June to November time period when you could encounter a hurricane or tropical storm, but at that time you can get a great bargain on your vacation. Getting there from Minneapolis is easy. There are non stops from MSP and connecting flights via Atlanta, Miami and others to Montego Bay. Traveling from Montego Bay to Negril will take about 75 minutes by van. Although Kingston also has an international airport, but not recommended for travel to Montego Bay or Negril. There is a new tollway that opened recently and now traveling to Ocho Rios from Kingston is only 30 minutes longer than Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, making that airport an option for some. Tired of searching all the reviews and web sites to find your perfect vacation? Let the experts at Schilling travel help you. Call 612-332-1100, check out www.schillingtravel.com or email us at inquiry @ schillingtravel.com.

Real ID and Minnesota

NOTE: THIS IS AN UPDATE TO THE BLOG ABOUT MN DRIVERS LICENSES OCTOBER 2017

The Department of Homeland Security will implement its final phase of REAL ID requirements for travelers that board domestic air flights or cruises from/to US only ports on January 22, 2018. When phase 4 is implemented, only passports, Global Entry ID  or REAL ID drivers licenses will be proper identification for boarding. Minnesota does not have a REAL ID compliant drivers license, along a few other US states/territories. At the present time, Minnesota has been granted another extension which will allow MN drivers licenses that are non compliant to board domestic planes until October 10, 2018. Since MN and several other states have been granted extensions, there might be extensions granted in the future, but we  do not know for sure.

Once this finalized and you are beyond that date, you can no longer use your standard MN drivers license as proof of identity to get on a plane or take a cruise to US only ports. If you have a passport, or your Global Entry ID card, your good to go. If you have one of the enhanced MN drivers licenses, or a license from most other states, you are also able to travel. If not, and you do not have another acceptable document, you will be denied boarding. Minnesota does have an enhanced drivers license version that costs $15 more, but few have this despite the new requirements.

Minnesota has now passed an act to meet the requirements of the DHS Real ID requirements. The state is in the process of getting their offices ready for the new requirements, and some offices have that capability.

Until that is completed for all offices,  if you are a traveling Minnesotan without a passport, Global Entry ID or enhanced drivers license, you might want to consider getting the enhanced MN drivers license if your license is up for renewal before the state changes the regular drivers license standards. Standard MN drivers licenses for those over 21 are valid for 4 years, so you would have an issue boarding domestic flights in the future with the standard MN license if another extension is not granted.

If you are a US legal resident, sign up for the Global Entry program.  See my blog for information on how to apply for PreCheck or Global Entry. You will be able to use the Global Entry card to board domestic flights. And it is good for 5 years.

If you need to obtain an enhanced Minnesota drivers license, go to this link to learn more.

Have a question or comment on this? Please leave a comment below. Thanks.

Traveling with CPAP and Other Medical Devices

Wheelchair patient attended to by nurseMore and more, I get this question about traveling with medical devices. The most common one is CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). Other common questions are traveling with a scooter, wheelchair, oxygen, service animal, walker and crutches.

In the United States, travel with medical devices is never considered as part of your limitation on baggage checked or carried. So if you need that extra piece, you will not be charged. But there are rules that must be adhered to and it is up to you to disclose your medical devices at least 2 days prior to travel for many items, and in some cases, you should contact them before you even book a ticket..

Take electric scooters or wheelchairs for example. Airlines need to know specifics on the devices ahead of time. Typically, they want to know the size and weight, and whether the batteries are sealed or not. Call your travel agent or airline at least 48 hours before departure

Supplemental oxygen is considered hazardous cargo and typically is not allowed on the airplane either on board or in the cargo hold. Airline policy varies on this. If you require supplemental oxygen, you should contact your travel agent or airline carrier before you book a flight.

CPAP machines are medical devices that allow persons to avoid sleep apnea. They might be used on long haul flights for sleeping, but most times are just carried to a destination to allow for restful sleep overnight. If you intend to use a CPAP on the flight, you will likely want to bring your own battery operated power supply. While many airlines now have power outlets for use in flight, they may not be suitable for the power requirements of your CPAP. Check with your agent or the airline.

Canes and other assisted walking devices are allowed on board, but it is best to notify your agent or the airline ahead of time. If you need wheelchair assistance, it is best to order ahead as well.

Keep in mind that traveling outside of the United States that countries may not be as accommodating to persons with disabilities. It is always best to check on your specific needs before you travel. We can help with that.

With proper preparation, those with medical devices or physical limitations can explore the world.

12 Great Suggestions for Travel Packing.

I have traveled a lot. I visited all 50 states, about 58 countries and 6 continents. I have traveled enough to know how to pack and what to pack. This blog will give you some of the tips and tricks I have learned over the years, and is updated from my original blog in 2016.

Pack what you need, but no more. This is the most important rule. Inexperienced travelers traditionally overpack. Today, this is going to cost you in terms of excess baggage charges, or worse yet, a missing bag because you could not carry it on and it was delayed because you checked it.

Calculate how many days you plan to be gone, and figure out how many outfits needed. Compile a list in advance. Segregate those clothes in a separate area starting the week before the trip, so you know what you might need to buy, wash or locate. Start at your feet and continue to your head, thinking about all of the clothing items you will need. Be sure to check out the dress requirements (climate, activities, special events) ahead of time and find those items. On a recent cruise, there was a white hot night (all white clothes) and an 80s party, so I packed specific items for these events. Figure out what you need in sports equipment that you cannot or do not want to rent. Consider the cost of baggage fees (to and from) as it might be cheaper to rent equipment than to carry on.

If you travel often, put together a bathroom kit with everything in small sizes that you need (shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste)when you travel. Include items like a small sewing kit, earplugs, over the counter medicines like pain relief and upset stomach. Keep this in your suitcase even when you are home. After a trip, replace any items used so you don’t find them missing on the next trip out. Keep all your gels and liquids in a one quart bag with bottles that contain no more than 3 oz. Make sure it is accessible in your luggage for removal during screening. This is true also for any electronics larger than a cell phone.

Travel with color coordinated clothes you can mix and match. Limit the colors you take so that you can pull this off effectively.

Mark up your luggage with tape or ribbon so that it will not be mistaken for another similar looking bag. Make the marking a bright color that is easy to spot from a distance while riding around the airport carousel.

Roll up your clothes to keep the wrinkles to a minimum. Start at the bottom of the item and roll to the top after you have done your initial folding of sleeves, etc. Your appearance will be better since you will reduce wrinkles in your clothes. You dont want to spend your vacation ironing!

If you have a smartphone, leave most of your other gadgets at home. Your smartphone doubles as a map, alarm clock, music player, camera, flashlight, web browser, email communicator, etc. You really do not need to pack an extra GPS, for example. But if you plan to use your smartphone for a GPS, pack a cigarette lighter charger with your smartphone cable, or an external battery as the GPS function will drain your battery fast. I recommend carrying two charging cords and two chargers in case one gets lost or damaged. Of course, if you are traveling to a photographic intensive destination or are a serious photographer, then by all means carry your photo equipment, but skinny down on the accessories to only the ones you will need.

Check your airline baggage size and weight requirements on their website and measure and weigh your luggage before you head to the airport. Airlines have strict luggage weight requirements for checked luggage and some have weight limits for carry on luggage also. Baggage fees change often and depend on airline, passenger status, type of aircraft, type of luggage, credit card used, and destination. If you do not have a baggage scale, use your bathroom scale, for a close approximation. First weigh yourself, then weigh yourself holding the bag and subtract to find the weight of the bag alone. If you are over, consider repacking or choose to accept the fees.

And finally, when you get back home, survey what you used and what you did not. Make a mental note to pack less next time. If you keep a standard bathroom kit in your luggage, now is the time to replenish the items you used on the trip.

Your reward for packing lighter is less strain when you carry your bag, less baggage fees, less dealing with lost luggage and less hassle.

Road Warriors: Do you have any additional suggestions on packing? Please feel free to leave a comment here!

Phuket Thailand: Idyllic SE Asian Destination

I traveled extensively in SE Asia when I worked for 3M. It became one of my favorite regions to visit. I especially loved Thailand. The people were so friendly and the scenery is wonderful. One of our VPs was so enthralled by Thailand that he chose to live there in retirement. I also felt I might retire there. When I became engaged, I asked my wife to be where she wanted to go on our honeymoon. She chose SE Asia, a land she had never seen. In 1988, our honeymoon was to Singapore, Thailand, and Hong Kong. We spent the majority of our time in Thailand in Bangkok and Phuket. Phuket is a Thai island with beautiful beaches and breathtaking landscapes off of the Andaman sea southwest of the Thailand mainland. Few Americans knew about Phuket back then. We met only one American that time. We stayed in the new Le Meridien hotel which was a short plane ride from Bangkok, and a 40 minute drive over unimproved roads. We always wanted to go back, so we returned in 2013, twenty-five years later. As one would expect, sleepy Phuket has become a thriving tourist destination. This time we stayed at the incredible Banyan Tree Phuket. Banyan Tree properties are known for their luxury service and this one did not disappoint. We stayed in one of the luxury suites with our own secluded outdoor private pool with bedroom and living room. The doors to the bedroom opened up directly to the pool and were just a few steps away. At the other end of the pool, you had your own private cabana to sit and contemplate how fortunate you are to be staying here.

We visited Phuket both times in June, which is in the rainy season. On our 25th anniversary trip we did encounter some rain each day. We compensated by adjusting our schedules to be sure to be outside during the times when it was not raining, and did inside activities and tours during the rainy time. This is good advice for all travelers. Have the freedom to revise your activities based on the weather.

If you go to Phuket today, there are some places and events worth considering, depending upon your interests. Check out Koh Phing Kan, known as James Bond Island, where the “Man with the Golden Gun” and its signature rocky pinnacles are picturesque. You can get a tour from Phuket to this protected region via speedboat, longboat or kayak. Or perhaps a day tour of Phi Phi Island with its stunning archipelago flora and fauna and wonderful beach instead.

In Phuket City, consider Muay Thai Boxing on Patong Beach, or at the Saphan Hin Stadium. Check out the Bug Buddha 146 feet tall at the top of Nakkerd Hills. Visit the Bangla Road nightlife with exotic girls and lady boys. Or visit some of the important temples.

For shows, you might consider Simon Cabaret show, which is the biggest trans cabaret show in Phuket. You might not believe your eyes. And for a show the whole family would enjoy, try out the FantaSea Show at Kamla Beach. You might just see more elephants on stage at one time than you would ever see in your life.

Best time to go to Phuket is November to February, the high tourist season. After that, it gets hotter. Mid May through October is the monsoon (rainy) season and to be avoided unless you are looking for low pricing. Getting to Phuket from Minneapolis will take three flights. On Delta or its Skyteam partners, connecting flights via Seattle and Seoul, Guanzhou,  or Shanghai are available. You can fly Sun Country to Chicago and then Emirates Air via Dubai. Other flights are also available. Contact us for information.

 

12 Personal Safety Tips While Traveling

Schilling Travel and the travel partners we use have the highest priority on traveler safety. No one can guarantee your safety when you travel, but travel safety knowledge can help to protect you.   Traveling today is much safer than it was even 20 years ago. Airline, hotel, rail, ship safety standards have been put in place to maximize traveler safety. You have heard it before, you are safer traveling on a airplane, train or ship than you are traveling in a car from your home. Medical knowledge is greater, and there are strict requirements for vaccinations needed in the countries you plan to travel in. Weather forecasting and planning by travel companies is used to minimize danger to travelers due to the weather. And there is ample up to date information about political activity that might interrupt your vacation.

Do you know how to minimize chances of  trip interruptions or medical problems? We do. Do you know the latest information on the safety of the region you plan to travel to? We do. Are you aware of the typical weather problems you might encounter during the time of your trip? We do. Do you know where to register with the US government when traveling to a foreign land? We do. This is all part of the service we give our clients.

Here are a few of the recommendations that we have to minimize the problems you might encounter on the road. (Updated February 2018).

1. Always check your flight status before heading to the airport to reduce your waiting time or give you extra time to reschedule.

2. Carry over the counter and prescription medicines with you and do not pack into checked luggage. Be sure to pack over the counter items such as sun block, pain relief, insect repellent, anti histamine, anti diarrhea, and needed prescription medicines, and enough for an extra day or two if you get delayed. Its also a good idea to carry water with you,picked up after being screened for travel.

3. Register with the US state departments STEP program https://step.state.gov/step/ if you plan to travel outside the US.

4. Rid your wallet or purse of extra credit cards, gift cards, identification that is not needed on the trip, and store at home.

5. Confirm that your government ID and your transportation documents exactly match for the name and birth date.

6. Split up your cash into at least two different locations in case of loss, and do not flash cash in pubic.

7. Know where you are going at all times, and enough about the area you are in to avoid higher crime areas. Be wary of strangers who come up to you and ask if you dropped your wallet (so they can see you check your location), or want to take your picture with your smart phone (so they can steal it.)

8. Bring a complete list of all of your medical insurance, doctor and pharmacy phone numbers, and a list of what medicines and dosages you take.

9. If you keep all of your information in your tablet, computer, or smartphone, please keep a paper list of important information for your trip in case your digital device is broken, lost or stolen.

10. Check the weather forecast for the locations you plan to visit, including any airport stopovers to be aware of suitable clothing and any potential for weather delays that could affect your journey.

11. In areas where terrorism is common, do not wear clothing that identifies you as an American, and avoid demonstrations, and high traffic areas with minimal security. Be on the lookout for unattended packages and luggage, and report if found.

12. Be wary of your surroundings when in places with large groups of people and always know where you would go in the event of any possible type of emergency.

If you follow these steps, this will help to minimize any potential problems while traveling. Road warriors and seasoned travelers, do you have other suggestions? Please post them in the comments below. We’ll keep this post and comments alive for at least a year or two. Thanks and safe travels.

Norwegian Breakaway Review

Norwegian Breakaway is the line’s homage to New York, its year-round home port, and was launched in 2013. So what does the cruise version of the city feel like? In addition to the seafood restaurants by Zakarian (of Manhattan’s Lambs Club and Palm Court) and the Carlos bakeshop by Buddy Valastro ,whose original is in Hoboken, and is shown on the TLC channel show called “Bake Shop.”, there’s a Fire Island area with a Sabrett’s hot dog cart. There’s also The Waterfront, an outdoor space that runs along Deck 8.  Does it feel like Coney Island? Not really, but it’s a great invitation to spend time outside. When I first visited the waterfront, my initial thought was, why hadn’t this been done before now? Such an incredibly simple solution. Here, you will find many different bars and restaurants. All have their seating both inside (in case of bad weather) and outside. This gives the visitor an ocean side table for eating and drinking. The promenade is still there, so that people can stroll by the various restaurants and bars while deciding which one they want to visit.

In addition to the now standard waterpark and slides found on today’s mega ship’s, there are many other activities for the young and young at heart. They include the ropes course, complete with a walk the plank feature, a rock climbing wall, a miniature golf area, and a sport court. One of the five waterslides is claimed to be the fastest at sea.

A mega ship has mega entertainment and this ship did not disappoint in this area. Norwegian partners with land based entertainment companies and the results are awesome. Besides the usual singers, dancers, and other entertainers, there were shows that were spectacular. They partnered with Second City, and the shows are typical of what you would see at a Second City show on land. “Rock of Ages”, was as good a performance as you will find on a cruise ship anywhere. In fact, I would put this show equal to any performance of this show on land. The 80’s hard rock singing and staging blew me away. A warning, though. This adult show is not suitable for children, and the music is LOUD. “Burn the Floor,” is a virtual feast for the eyes with dancing from waltz to modern. They even had a Cirque du Soliel performance, although this dinner show was extra cost.

If you are not all that keen on cruising with almost 4,000 people, there are a few areas on the ship reserved for specific groups. The first is the singles section. This is an area with inside cabins built for the single traveler in mind. Here, there is no 175-200 percent increase in the cost of a cabin if occupied by one. These cabins are surrounded by a lounge just for the singles. Here you can meet your fellow singles and leave messages about trips to the lounges, dinner, or even port sightseeing. Norwegian also dedicates one staff member to help bring the people together. This area is accessable only by the singles whose cabins are located here.

The “ship within a ship” concept, for a stepped up level of luxury, is executed well on the Breakaway. Housed in a secluded area aft on the top of the ship, this secluded area gives a smaller luxury ship feel. This area houses the largest suites on the Breakaway, as well as smaller rooms to accommodate multigenerational families. Here, you will find your own private sun deck, pool, hot tub, fitness area, dining room, and bar. The level of service is very high. You have a 24 hour “Certified” butler, poolside valet, priority check in, restaurant reservations, and special events. Only the Haven class cabins are eligible to use the Haven facilities.

The Breakaway will sail for 7 days to Bermuda and the Caribbean year around from Manhattan. The cruise passengers come from mostly NY/NJ and the Northeastern US states. For those traveling from Minnesota, we do not recommend that you sail on the ship from November to March. This is because two of your 7 days on the cruise will be in colder weather, and in the deep winter, perhaps more. If you want to escape the cold for the full week, then select a southern port for your cruise (see below). Of course, if you don’t mind the cold, and want to combine with a visit to NYC, then go for it. Even if you take the cruise in the warmer seasons, you might still get cold. That’s because they have a Vodka ice bar on the ship. Imagine sitting on a stool made of ice as you sip your Grey Goose or other fav vodka. Don’t pack a parka, they have one they will loan you.

My recommendation is to come into Manhattan a few days ahead of time and enjoy this wonderful port city. Come at least a day ahead to prevent missing the ship departure in case of air traffic delays. Besides Broadway Theatre, Central Park, the 9/11 Memorial and Times Square, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this city. All of the major hotel chains have properties here, but I recommend that you stay at the Blakely Hotel. It’s in midtown. Times Square, Central Park, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Rockefeller Plaza, Radio City Music Hall, and the Broadway Theaters are all within walking distance. This boutique hotel is a small family owned property with a decided European feel to it. Each room has a microwave and refrigerator and offers robes in all rooms. The Abboccato Italian Kitchen serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a fitness room and conference room. You will feel like a member of the family at this wonderful hotel on 55th Street West.

If you like this ship, but would prefer a different destination, try the sister ship Norwegian Getaway, launched in 2014. This ship sails to the Caribbean from its home port in Miami. This is an excellent choice for the Minnesotan’s during the winter months when sailing on the Breakaway might be a bit cold out of NY.

Getting there: From MSP, you can take non stops to LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark on Delta, American, Sun Country, and United. Once you are there, if you have not taken transportation arranged by Norwegian, a short taxi ride will take you to the Manhattan cruise terminal. LaGuardia is the closest, followed by Newark and then JFK, but all are a reasonably close taxi ride to the terminal. If you stay at the Blakely or other midtown hotel, the ride to the Manhattan Cruise terminal will take 20-40 minutes depending upon traffic.