Saturday, August 22, 2015

Jamaica Wrap-Up: A Trip Worth a 10 Year Wait

If I close my eyes, put on the white noise app ocean setting, and don't write this blog post, does it mean we're still in Jamaica? A part of my brain refuses to believe Miss Ro isn't here to whisk Cora off on a nature walk when she gets up from her nap while I snorkel or read by the ocean or disappear with James. But it's 3:00 and I haven't had a daiquiri OR a glass of champagne yet today, so that must mean we're home and I am responsible for my children for all of the hours of the day. Ugh.

Our travels back yesterday went as well as they could go.

It was still a long day- we left the villa at 8:15 a.m. and pulled up in our driveway at 6:30 p.m. Our plane was delayed in Jamaica (thank god for the VIP lounge with open bar, buffet, wifi, and kids' playroom behind soundproof glass). Customs in Dallas was long and full of lines. It took forever for a bus to arrive to take us to our offsite parking spot and then we live an hour from the airport. But the kids were troopers and there weren't any fits or tears or really anything I can complain about. And though we're sad to have to pay for 5 plane tickets for every trip in the future, we're also super happy to never have a "lap baby" again. Cora was great, but she really doesn't fit in our laps for a 4 hour plane ride.

She was skeptical from the beginning.

~ ~ ~
It is now 8:30 p.m. and I'm finally getting to write again, proving that my home life does not involve enough nannies. Claire told Miss Tash she wanted to bring her home in her suitcase, but that didn't work out. The kids are as sad about this as we are. On the upside, one Bluefields amenity did come home with us- all of our clothes were washed and folded nightly throughout the trip, so I had all our bags unpacked about an hour after arriving home with only one small pile of laundry. Five people went on vacation for six days and I didn't even have enough for a small load. Bluefields is a place of magic.

Let's go back.

We stayed in Cottonwood Cottage. I can't think of any place more perfect. It's cozy, really just two bedrooms and two bathrooms, with a living room in the back connecting the two, and small kitchen of on the side, but the rooms were huge and both had spectacular views and 100% Cora-safe bars across the open windows.


They added a beautiful wood crib to the kids' room and all three fit perfectly in the space.  They had their own bathroom and dressing room that they loved and we barely saw since we didn't bathe or dress them.

One of the best parts of Cottonwood is the tree house midway down a flight of steps to the beach where we ate our meals, lounged midday, and sometimes sat at night after the kids went to bed. In addition to the big table and casual seating area, it had a beautiful bar with more of my tea in the morning and champagne the rest of the day, plus a bathroom so you didn't have to trek up to the house from the beach.

If you took the steps the rest of the way down, you landed directly on our beach, complete with hammock, lounge chairs, and a beach attendant with towels, cooler of drinks, and blender for daiquiris. And kayaks and paddle boards and snorkels, masks, and fins. And that blender.

The pool was steps away, to the left of the house behind a little row of bushes. The view was spectacular. Cora loved it and I drank champagne on a float most afternoons. I miss all of those things.

We ate all of our meals in the tree house. Views all around, the ocean crashing, amazing food arriving over multiple courses that I did not prepare. Maybe I miss the tree house the most.

The food was really wonderful. Each night the head of house would go over the next day's menu with me. We don't have any allergies, but I have annoyingly long list of foods I don't like, including coconut, curry, anything spicy, and shrimp, all of which popped up on the suggested menu, but the staff was awesome at suggesting substitutions and alternatives. I loved how many local dishes and ingredients we got to try- ackee, salt fish, callalloo, chocho, breadfruit, and more, but there was always something familiar and approachable about each plate.

For example, in one day we had ackee and saltfish egg scramble with crepes and fruit (breakfast; probably my favorite one); spiced beef crepes, roasted vegetables, Jamaican fried rice (lunch); cream of zucchini soup, mango salad, roasted rack of lamb with a red wine sauce, scalloped potatoes, roasted vegetables (dinner); and always a dessert made from scratch like grilled mango topped cheesecake or pineapple crumble. Our chef Sheldon tweaked the menu for James once he learned how much he likes things spicy, saucy, and large in quantity; they would joke through the kitchen window as we walked in and out of the house throughout the afternoon and Sheldon would always promise, "oh am I making something for you Mr. James!" and he always did.

The kids had virgin daiquiris with always changing fruit combinations nearly hourly. Since breakfast wasn't served until after the house staff arrived at 8, the chef always left some muffins or breakfast bread on the bar in the living room to have first thing. And most importantly, the night butler brewed a giant pot of fresh black tea at some mysterious time, always right before I walked out in the morning.

6:30 a.m. on day 1; feet in sand, tea in hand

No one made me tea this morning.

It was so wonderful because it was so seamless. Easy, never stilted or formal, always with the waves crashing in the background and spectacular views beckoning from every direction. Within 24 hours we had a rhythm and general familiarity with the 8-10 people who worked in and around our villa and everything just worked. Like when you're at a high end resort, but without ever having to interact with other guests or wait for a certain schedule for anything.

We did a few extras- the glass bottom boat and coral reef snorkel trip on Monday and the Black River and YS Falls on Tuesday. On Wednesday we took advantage of the free "nature walk" up the "hill" behind the resort. The walk was more of a climb up a small mountain in a tropical jungle full of humidity and bugs, but I'm so glad we did it. One, because it was my only exercise of the trip and I'm still sore, but mostly because we got such an interesting look at "how Jamaica lives" (as our guide described it).

As we rambled through the woods, we saw ackee and breadfruit trees. Our guide climbed up one, cut down a breadfruit, and carried for a while before handing off to a man to deliver to his mother to use for lunch. We saw houses scattered haphazardly throughout the hill and even got a tour of one from a friend of the resort- our guide was chatty and we learned a lot about daily life.  We saw goats, chickens, and even a pig roaming freely and we went from dark forest with caves to breathtaking views in mere steps.

3 miles, 90 minutes, a lot of vertical feet and mosquito bites later and we were back across the street from our villa and very ready for breakfast.

Wednesday was also my favorite night of the trip. After a day of snorkeling (as it turns out the coral right off our beach was just as amazing as the reef we boated to on Monday; we found a stingray, eel, a trio of lionfish, and a TON of big starfish; so fun), swimming, throwing Cora around in the pool, drinking beverages, and napping, we found the kids eating dinner in the living room at 6 p.m. This was new and the staff said they had a surprise for us for dinner.  And oh did they.

We got ready and came down to the tree house at sunset to find a trail of balloons and candles leading all the way to the beach where a candlelight dinner for two was set up near the water for our anniversary.

It was amazing.

So sweet, SO good (chilled watercress soup, garlic toast, filet mignon and lobster, twice baked potatoes, and veggies). And then our chef brought down a chocolate cake he'd made and decorated that afternoon. We were so touched and invited him and our butler to share- extra plates were produced immediately and then we sent the rest of the cake back up to the house for everyone else. We lingered over our cake and champagne and the ocean and I just can't imagine a better way to celebrate 10 years of marriage with my love.

And then it was made even better by our nanny arriving by 6 the next morning to whisk the kids off for a walk on the beach before we even knew they were awake.  Perhaps the biggest luxury of the trip was how often and easily we eased between making memories with our kids to not knowing where they were and not having to care.

A decade ago we were in Jamaica for our honeymoon.

And 10 years of changes with four moves, two graduate degrees, and three babies later, we were back with our whole party pack.

We'll never forget it.

~ ~ ~

Previous Jamaica posts
Paradise Perfection
You Jump?!


  1. Wow, that looks amazing! Adding it to our Jamaica list!

  2. Long time reader, not sure I've ever commented. Reading these Jamaica posts makes me feel like I was there. And that anniversary dinner? Amazing & romantic, and life full circle. Congratulations, and many more.

  3. Sounds awesome! Although I love interacting with other guests on vacations. My family loves to meet new people. Was it kinda weird not seeing other people?

    1. Ha, that was the best part! And honestly, the lack of interaction was one of the top priorities when we were picking where to go. I love people in my day-to-day life, but not on vacation. Our lives are normally pretty scattered, and James's whole job is based on talking with kids and families all day, so on vacation we just want to be with each other and our happy little family of five.

      There is a manager's cocktail hour and jerk chicken lunch at Bluefields that all the villas are invited to, so you could make friends and then make plans to meet up, but, much as it pains me to say it, I think if you were looking for something more sociable, it probably isn't the right place. It's mostly recluses like us :).

  4. So this sounds heavenly, but I have to ask. Does it feel awkward having your own staff? I always thought that would be kind of..I don't I was pretending to be someone I'm not. I imagine that the staff are well-paid and like their jobs. But I'm afraid it would feel slightly neocolonial. You said it took a day to get the into a good routine with them. While I always joke about wanting a butler and cook and nanny, the idea of actually having them makes me feel weird. I know it's only for a week. Just tell me that it's not a bit deal and I should go. :-)

    1. It's not at all. I was trying to get at that concern with the comments about how easy and seamless it was, and how it's like being at a big resort (you probably don't feel awkward at a beach resort when there's someone handing out towels or bringing drinks?) except private and quiet. I guess the best way to see it is it's their job to work there and they're completely comfortable (and I think happy, though I wouldn't presume to say so) with that job and seem to want you to be comfortable too. I guess you could feel neocolonial, and I understand what you mean, but then I think you'd have to stay away from being a tourist anywhere with less economic or political power than the US, which would be pretty much any tropical island. The staff are all friends with each other, so there's lots of laughing and joking among them, music was always playing in the kitchen (which I loved bc I always think music should be playing), and it's not stilted or formal at all. And unlike at my real home, where I'd likely be standing over a hypothetical chef or housekeeper, for the most part, you're on the beach or in the pool or in your room- they're doing their thing and you're doing yours, with some chatting as you pass by one another on your way. It's really their house, you're the guests (maybe that's the difference and why it felt so natural), and they want you to enjoy yourself.

    2. That makes a lot of sense. Especially the fact that you're not "there" standing over them while they do their thing. Thank you for expounding. I appreciate it!

    3. Oh good! I thought about it a lot after I wrote it, because it really didn't feel strange and I don't think I'm insensitive or have any natural expectation that someone would be waiting on me (I feel super awkward if I happen to be home on the day our housekeeper is here and will pretty much make up errands to run to get me out of the house so I'm not standing over here or worse, just sitting and watching her work), and I think it's really about being the guest in their location. Plus the laid back nature of it all. If it was super formal or someone was standing a few feet away at all times holding a tray of drinks, that would be uncomfortable. Instead, you just know that someone is on the beach or in the kitchen or in the tree house and you can go ask them anytime if you'd like something and/or they'll do a sweep every now and then to check on you. Easy, seamless, and casual. It was really lovely.

  5. This looks like so much fun! So great that you found a place that let you include the kids while also having some private time.

  6. What a perfect trip! I have a small addiction to reports on tripadvisor but this was so much better. Did you read anything good while there? I'd love some LL beach read recommendations.

    1. My newest obsession is the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. Urban Fantasy/Action - SO GOOD. I'm on book 3 and want to take off work just so I can read all day.

  7. Would love to know more about the nanny situation. How many hours a day did you have them? Do 2 nannies come with the rental of the house, or is it based on how many children you have? Did you pay extra for the nanny service? It just seems like such a luxury, would love to know more about how that works!

    1. One nanny per two children comes with the fee for the villa. It's one of the reasons I was telling a friend that it's a vacation best taken when you have young kids because you're paying for the nannies whether you use them or not and they're such a unique and wonderful feature about the trip. So you don't need to pay anything extra to get about 12 hours of nanny coverage per day, generally 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., though you can pay extra for an "overnight" where a nanny will stay overnight through the next morning when the regular nanny relieves them. We had the same two nannies the whole time we were there, which is always what they try to maintain, and we adored them both. Very warm and loving and mature (they only hire women who are already mothers) and just a seamless presence in our day. On our anniversary dinner night we had asked if one could stay a little late and then the other arrived early the next day to be there when the kids woke up (and then left earlier that evening), but we would have definitely paid for the overnight if that hadn't happened to work out for them. It was lovely to have one morning we didn't need to keep an ear open for the kiddos :).

  8. Ok, amazing, clearly. But how expensive was it? You generally always seem fairly frugal. Was this just a huuuuge splurge?

    1. It was definitely a luxury vacation. Cheaper than some, more than others. We booked it nearly a year ago, so I believe rates have changed, and they vary based on the villa you pick (Cottonwood is one of the cheaper ones) and the number of people and ages of your party (the all-inclusive part). Your rate also includes all your gratuities and a donation to the school system they sponsor, so other than extra excursions, you won't spend anything else once you arrive. It took our vacation budget for the year (no skiing for us this year for sure), but we felt like we got more than our money's worth.