I am a proud combat Veteran of the United States Air Force, and currently a program manager for HIV/AIDS programs in Africa, so I’ve had the amazing opportunity to travel around the world for work. I love to travel. It is truly when I feel most invigorated. My new husband TJ is also an avid traveler, having spent 19 months in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in the Peace Corps and exploring around whenever possible. Like personalities attract, we somehow found each other in this crazy world, and we continue our passion for traveling and navigating the journeys of life together.
It’s important to note that both of my parents have passed on, and it’s not the candy bowl that I have from their registry that makes me happy, it’s the experiences that I shared with them when they were alive. I’ve always felt that way. Experiences, throughout our entire lives, are what make us live. When my husband and I got married, we wanted to go somewhere beautiful, serene, relaxing, and not too far out of our time zone for fear of risking jet lag during our week-long honeymoon.
We wanted to take a big trip, but since TJ just started a new job, we didn’t have enough vacation time accrued to take something longer than a week. We weren’t sure if we could afford a nice honeymoon because of all of the recent changes and job difficulty that we were having. We wanted to be responsible and had a hard time defending spending that much money on ourselves. People told us “But you only get married once!” to which we’d reply, “Yes but we’ll have forever together with all of this debt!”
As my husband started researching locations for our honeymoon, I started researching registries. We knew before we even registered that many of our their friends and family didn’t want to get us a traditional blender, rather, they wanted to contribute to the experiences of our lives, the times and places that make us the most happy. That’s when I found Traveler's Joy.
I loved the idea that If people wanted to get us a set of sheets, they could (we also registered at Macy's), but I knew that many people would appreciate being able to contribute to an experience that would last a lifetime. We had people coming from all over for our wedding in Maryland: Rwanda, Chicago, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, North Carolina, you name it, and we’d met many of those people throughout our life adventures and trips. It was only natural that most of those people wanted to contribute to our honeymoon.
We looked at all-inclusive resorts, at chain hotels, at mom and pop B&Bs. We looked at Santorini, Greece but decided that it would be too difficult to swing a trip to Greece in a week. So we decided on Jamaica. We wanted an all-inclusive resort where we could add on fun excursions and activities, but we also wanted a small, personal resort that wasn’t too commercial. We also wanted a place without kids running around just because we figured we’d have enough vacations with kids in our future (hopefully). So, we settled on Couples San Souci, only to find out that our good friends had been there themselves.
We liked the option of doing everything or nothing all in one day. They offered water sports, diving (which was really important to my husband), snorkeling (which was really important to me), waterskiing, catamaran sailing, and boat rides. If you wanted, you could spend every day away from the resort exploring Jamaica or you could do the opposite and do absolutely nothing – just lie on the beach with a rum drink and a book. We liked the variety and the encouragement to make the vacation “yours."
We were exhausted after the wedding festivities. We had a brunch the day after the wedding where we were able to say goodbye to friends and family who had traveled so far. We left on the morning of May 14, 2012 for Jamaica, tired but so full of love in our hearts. While the wedding went off without any drama and we viewed it as the perfect day full of friends and family (and perfect weather to boot), we were excited to be able to finally spend some time with each other. We knew we had made the right choice for our trip when it only took a few hours to fly to our final destination. We arrived at the Montego Bay airport in Jamaica and had a beer while we waited for the shuttle to take us the resort. From the first interaction with the Couples staff, we realized that it would be a very laid back trip. “No worries, mon” was the mantra that we heard over and over.
When we got to our resort, we were upgraded to a top level suite with a view of the ocean. It was spectacular! The room was decorated in bright blues and whites, very fresh and clean. The all-inclusive price included unlimited alcohol so we decided to go down to the bar and have a drink on the beach. This would become a routine that we would hold during our entire trip. The little details were everywhere, for instance, the popcorn machine for snacking and ice cream machines for a quick cone if you so desired.
Meanwhile, salamanders were everywhere, flora and fauna (including a very famous parrot) hid stairways all over the property, many of which led to a hammock or a heated hot tub. It was like a tropical maze, a way for us to discover the resort and the pathways to the various restaurants and pools throughout. It was gorgeous.
It took about four days to actually get familiarized with the entire resort – and we enjoyed every single step. We especially liked the “spa” pool. It was smaller and less populated than the main pool (where a lot of the trivia and “swim up” bars were). The spa pool also had a free “juice bar." I even participated in the water aerobics that they offered. It was right next to the spa (they had a massage area cordoned off away from foot traffic) and it was very peaceful and beautiful. You could wander over to the life size chessboard, explore around the waterfalls right near the pool, and even take a dip in the fresh (cold) water natural pool that has been lauded for centuries for it’s health benefits. We started most days that way, hanging out by the smaller spa pool and the surrounding spots and then making the transition to the beach in the afternoons.
We really enjoyed that there were multiple activities going on at a time, so if we wanted to participate and be social with other couples, there was always an option. There was bingo, trivia, crafts, trips to other parts of the island, but my husband and I kept to ourselves and on the resort for the first couple of days. One thing that we did notice was that there were many people who were loyal fans of the Couples resorts. Many people knew each other, and the staff, from previous trips. It definitely felt more like a family, a place where people wanted to keep returning to. As it was our first time, we met a few couples here and there during some communal dinners but we didn’t make any lifelong friends during our trip.
My favorite activity was the snorkeling and diving trips. I knew that my husband truly loves to dive, so it was important for him to have that chance. I really love to snorkel, and the fact that we were able to do that every single day made the trip wonderful - immersing myself into another world, just under the surface of the water.
I loved being on the boat, taking trips around various parts of the island. It was so romantic, being there with my husband, cruising along the water in tropical weather, and slyly looking at each other and whispering “Hello husband!” to which he would reply “Hello wife!” (enter giggles). We also loved the Dunns River Falls trip. I had low expectations of the trip. I knew that it was a “must do” while in Ocho Rios, but I wasn’t expecting much. What really amazed me was the staff at the falls. They moved gracefully along the falls, and while we clutched onto each other as we walked up the falls, they would jump around on the rocks, holding multiple cameras, and pumping up the groups. It was beautiful and well worth the trip.
If we weren’t hanging out at the bars, floating on the water, swimming out to the deck in the middle of the cove to lounge and look at the fish, strolling around the grounds and marveling at the multitude of orchid species, taking naps, reading our books, or playing on the water with the many water activities, we were eating. We had so many choices. The menu changes once a week, and you can have as many (or as few) dishes as you want. We were able to eat beautiful Italian food one night, and then have a salad buffet the next night. There were two “fancy” dinner options, and there was always food available at the bars (burgers, etc.) and through room service. You could have eaten all day, every day if you so desired.
We loved to have dinner in the restaurants and then order dessert through room service. We became sun-kissed and relaxed. The lists that had pervaded my mind over the last few months “where should we seat THIS person?” or “how am I going to find an Irish fiddler at such short notice” melted away. I didn’t have to make any decisions except for deciding which restaurant I preferred that particular evening. The food was fantastic, and I loved that we could have it all if we wanted.
Traveler's Joy made our trip possible. We would have never been able to afford it ourselves. Our friends and family paid for couples massages, nice dinners, travel gear, and they even covered some of the lodging. Because I traveled so much for work, we used my airline miles to “purchase” both of our air tickets (which would have cost $2,300 total but ended up around $300 in taxes). The room and board at Couples San Souci cost about $3,000 for a week (which included our room and our meals, except when we upgraded), but we were able to add on nice details and luxury upgrades because of the generosity of our friends and family.
For us the honeymoon was perfect. We normally take trips that are more “adventurous” and enjoy the planning aspect of choosing a destination and deciding what to do. For our honeymoon, however, we wanted to rest and relax after such an intense and emotional time. We didn’t want to have to figure out how we were going to get from A to B to C. We wanted someone to hand us a cold frosty beverage, and say “just hang out here and we’ll make sure you get where you need to go.” If you want to just relax with Bob Marley on the airwaves, a cold rum drink in your hand, the sparkling blue water dancing between your toes, and your new partner in life smiling at you, Jamaica is the perfect destination.