A decade. This is how long we were together before we finally took that leap of faith known as marriage! We celebrated our ten year dating anniversary on August 20, 2008 and married less than two weeks later in downtown Chicago on August 31, 2008. We spent a good year or more planning our beautiful and intimate ceremony and lavish reception. I, Loren, am from the Chicago land area and always knew that was where I wanted to marry. Unfortunately, for planning purposes anyway, Kevin's company had moved us to Florida a few years prior due to his job. Planning a wedding, down to every last detail is difficult enough, but planning it from out of state creates even more challenges. Luckily, we seem to thrive off the pressure and rise to the occasion! Kevin was very busy traveling for work three to five days a week, almost every week for the entire year and I was just as busy. I spent the first few months of our engagement completing the details on the huge 30th surprise birthday bash I threw for Kevin and was completing my undergraduate degree the rest of the time, going to school double-time and even completing twenty-one credits in just five months the year of our wedding. To say we were busy was an understatement.
Our only consolation throughout this process, besides a glamorous and fun-filled wedding, was the thought of our honeymoon. Ahhhhh rest and relaxation, beautiful beaches, palm trees, and delicious drinks. It almost sounded too good to be true. As previously mentioned we had already been together for quite some time and knew we would not need the gifts found on traditional registries. Luckily, I had come across an article in one of my many wedding magazines regarding honeymoon registries. I did some research and found that Traveler's Joy was the best option for a honeymoon registry. I loved the website and loved even more that we could create our own personalized page! Friends and family could donate money towards our honeymoon easily, we could upload pictures, outline what we wanted, and give detailed descriptions of where we would be going and all that we were hoping for. It was perfect for us! I immediately signed up, but now we still had one decision left to make. Where would we go? Due to some travel/ work restrictions I met while flying between Florida and Chicago for all of my planning trips the wedding shower and bachelorette party had to happen fairly early in April 2008. Kevin and I decided to move forward with our honeymoon registry, listing all of the items we knew we would want, and explaining that we just did not have a particular destination in mind yet. Luckily, our circumstances could be easily explained on our Traveler's Joy page and updated once we finally made up our minds!
My wedding shower came and went, but we still had not made up our minds on where our honeymoon would take us. Luckily, our registry provided us with quite a nice chunk of money to apply towards our trip. Our friends and families loved the idea, loved the website, and were more than happy to give towards our dream trip. We could not have prepared for what happened next though.
We were trying to finally come to a decision on a unique destination that we could travel to and have that once in a lifetime trip, but hit a bit of a snag just four months before our wedding. Our beautiful Doberman puppy, Stella, who was just over one year old at the time decided to eat seventy feet of continuous black nylon string from her bed one day, which landed her in the vet's office in a hurry. The doctor had her in surgery for four hours and gave us only a fifteen percent chance of survival at the end. The amount of string she had eaten caused a severe amount of Necrosis (death of the tissue) in her intestines and twelve inches had to be removed and re-attached. Yes, a full foot! Luckily, she made it through and was allowed to come back home a week later. We were so happy to have her back and know that she was doing well, but her surgery cost us over $8,000 which took a definite chunk out of the honeymoon budget. Due to our now restricted budget we decided to go back to where this whole wedding process started. Jamaica!
Just one year earlier, in May 2007, Kevin and I finally took our first real vacation together. We took a four day trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica and stayed at the Montego Bay All-Inclusive Sandals Resort. Wow. We loved it! Everything was included except for items at the gift shop, spa, and certain activities, all the food we could eat and all the beautiful drinks we could handle! One night after a romantic dinner at Tokyo Joe's, an Asian-style outdoor restaurant where your food is cooked right in front of you with very large, very hot flames, Kevin decided to propose on the beach under the beautiful Jamaican night sky. It was a warm, clear night and just the two of us. Very romantic and also completely unexpected! We were so excited, but decided not to announce the engagement until Kevin could ask my parents for their permission face-to-face; even after nine years of dating (at the time) he still felt it would a nice gesture of respect. Unfortunately, my parents had moved across the country and were living in Las Vegas! We were able to see them that September though and they joyfully gave their permission. I believe there might have been a few "about time" comments in there too. So, after our fist lovely experience and knowing what we could expect for a great price we decided to return to the scene of the crime.
Our idea of a wonderful honeymoon was going somewhere with great weather, other adults, and a place that would allow us to just relax all day and night if we wanted to. Jamaica was the place! Our honeymoon registry paid for the down payment on our honeymoon and it was so helpful. We likely would have had to cut the time in half had it not been for this wonderful tool! We booked our nine day honeymoon through our local AAA agency and spent the first four days at the Sandals Negril resort and final five days back at Sandals Montego Bay. We reserved oceanfront honeymoon suites at both of the resorts.We knew we wanted views of the ocean and a patio to enjoy. The total honeymoon including airfare from Jacksonville, FL, resort stay, food, and drinks for both of us totaled approximately $5,500. We knew we would not want to rush to the airport after our reception so we scheduled to leave for the trip two days after our wedding, allowing some catch-up time for ourselves. We were scheduled to depart on Tuesday September 2, 2008 from Chicago O'Hare, and would return to Jacksonville International Airport on Wednesday September 10, 2008. Finally, our honeymoon was in place and we could not wait!
As soon as you step off of the airplane in Jamaica you can feel that nice, hot weather hitting you. My "Sexy Little Bride" zip-up hoodie had to come off right away! After going through customs the local resorts offer separate lounges within the airport where the guests can relax while waiting for the provided transportation. There are couches, tables, drinks, and they hold your luggage for you to the side. There are hosts that help you find the appropriate lounge and all of your luggage gets tagged for safety and organization. Our transportation was a shuttle that drove us to Negril which is about an hour south of the Montego Bay airport. We had a stop halfway for restrooms and water, and it was great being able to see the vastly different Jamaica countryside. Beautiful mountains, sheep, and fruit stands line the roads. It is always interesting, and a learning experience, to see how other people live their lives, especially since Kevin and I do not have the opportunity to travel as much as we would like to.
We arrived at Sandals Negril, and were then transported by shuttle to the Montego Bay resort four days later. Both of the resorts are fairly similar, but offer their own range of different restaurants and different atmospheres. Each resort is for adults only, has six restaurants with different types of cuisine, multiple pools, hot tubs, bars, and their famous Red Lane Spa. Negril's atmosphere seemed more laid back and offered their beautiful "7 mile" stretch of white sand beach. Montego Bay was a bit more lively and had a little more of a part atmosphere. At both resorts you are immediately greeted by someone at the front desk who will check you in and take you through a brief introduction of the resort while you sip on Mimosas and have cold washcloths to wipe your face with or drape on the back of your neck. We were already meeting other couples from across the country and world, and we had not even seen our rooms yet. It is really great to have so many other couples around; it creates a very fun adult atmosphere, and makes it easy for people to meet and enjoy other company while vacationing. We also have to add that the staff in Jamaica is untouchable. Extremely accommodating, pleasant, willing to help, wanting to involve you, and always passing you with a warm, "Ya Mon!"
Both of our rooms were oceanfront honeymoon suites decorated with beautiful dark wood furniture, we had a full wet bar, snacks, and best of all, the patio overlooking the ocean! How sweet it is! We took complete advantage of the patio and loved to enjoy just sitting there together and staring out at the amazing sunrises and sunsets. It was still pretty early in the afternoon when we first arrived and we were ready to hit the beach. Our luggage was brought up by a bellhop and we were ready to get started. We spent the entire honeymoon relaxing to the fullest. We slept in everyday, ate huge delicious meals at all of the different restaurants, enjoyed the shows that offered by the resort staff's, drank with our new friends at the different bars, and best of all, we helped ourselves to plenty of massages at Red Lane Spa! Our favorite was the Rub-a-Dub-Dub Two in a Tub.They exfoliate your entire body, give you full body massages, and then leave you alone in the room to hop into the ready and waiting hot tub with fresh fruit and Mimosas!! Heaven on earth! We decided not to take advantage of any of the excursions that the resorts offered while we were there. We wanted to take the three hour party boat cruise, but were not able to due to storms out in the distance that day. We had taken this excursion the previous year and loved it. The boats have lots of lively entertainment from the staff onboard, plenty of drinks, snorkeling, and then dock at Margaritaville for the 3-story water slide and water trampolines. After Margaritaville it is back to the resort with more dancing on the way and complimentary massages for the ladies on board!
The time finally came to return home, and while it felt good to get back to our home we definitely missed our beautiful honeymoon destination. We would definitely recommend Jamaica to other future honeymooners or vacationers, but suggest earlier in the year. When we went in May the beaches were pristine, and although they were still beautiful in September it was later in the hurricane season and the storms had already been hitting the beach. We noticed that the water had ripped the beach up a bit and there was now less of it to enjoy, but the staff worked hard to have it back in place and cleaned up for the guests. None the less, Jamaica is wonderful destination due to its close proximity to the United States, affordable costs, and because it is all inclusive guests do not have to carry cash around on a daily basis and do not have to account for food and drink costs which can normally be hard to determine. We would not only recommend, but truly encourage couples, to take advantage of Traveler's Joy. What a true joy and our trip would not have been possible without their help!
Cheers and Happy Honeymooning!! J Irie!!