My husband and I just returned from our 10 year anniversary trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica. if you follow me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter you may have already seen some sneak peeks. We celebrated our 10th Wedding Anniversary a bit early this year, leaving the winter wonderland of Vermont behind for the warm Jamaican beaches.  It was also the first time ever leaving my babies for more than a day or two… that was hard, but we had a great time and Facetime/Voxer helped us get through a couple of rough patches.

(Doesn’t that background look fake?! That was on the sidewalk just outside our room with the beautiful ocean and amazing sunset.)

My mother watched the kids for the week that we were gone, so prep before vacation included writing up a letter giving her permission to bring the kids in for medical treatment (I put this in an envelope with their Insurance Cards), and a detailed schedule of their days.  Mom stayed at our house for the week to help my kids keep their normal routine, which meant she got my two older ones on the school bus and my youngest off to daycare.

We stayed at the Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort in Montego Bay. It was absolutely beautiful and I definitely recommend for Honeymoon/Anniversary trips. We had a room right on the beach it was so nice waking up and eating breakfast right next to the sparkling water. We were in the Windsor building which is right in the middle of it all. The stages were right behind our building, but by midnight each night the shows were done and the noise was not a problem. If you do have any issues falling asleep, you may want to choose a different building. The resort is located near the airport and we did have an average of 5 planes a day fly overhead, but it too didn’t really detract from the resort. The staff were super friendly – shout out to Richie-Rich, Valentie, Devion and our concierge Andre! Everyone makes you feel very welcome and try their hardest to ensure you have a great vacation.

The resort was smaller than I had thought at first, but the beach was beautiful and the crew kept it clean. Each morning before most guests were awake, they were outside raking the sand, cleaning away any detritus and even cleaning out the water. Our room was adequate, although I hope they will be updating the bathrooms in the near future. They were painting the buildings while we were there – it’s always great to see upkeep. The maintenance workers were very respectful and tried to be as unobtrusive as possible.

I’m a picky eater, but the resort had enough food choices to keep even me happy. I really enjoyed their omelets, and the Chicken Cordon Bleu at the Regency was fabulous. I also really liked the Chicken Quesadillas at The Mariner’s.

The drinks were also amazing. My favorite was Skyjuice, which was a slushy style drink. Close behind that was the Blue Lagoon and the Jamaican Smile. Keep in mind that the drinks get stronger at night!

We also enjoyed the water sport options which were all available for free through the resort. My husband and I took a ride on a Hobie Cat and thoroughly enjoyed our snorkeling adventure. It was amazing to see the undersea life and even more amazing to see the natives swim! Valentie, our guide, dove to the bottom of the ocean, 30 feet down and had no problem staying underwater for minutes at a time! He even brought us a white sea urchin to hold.

The only real disappoint in the resort was the shows. We really enjoyed the Silver Birds Steel Band and the Limbo/Fire show, but the Sandals dancers were atrocious. Seriously hard to watch and even harder to take seriously. It was amateur hour for sure.

My husband enjoyed several activities, including volleyball and the beach regatta and was even on the winning team! I enjoyed making an authentic Jamaican necklace with help from a local native, which I brought home as a thank you gift for my mom.

We also loved the local wildlife. Peacocks came right up to our room door, crabs on the beach popping in and out of the sand, and amazing tropical fish. There were also plenty of cats on the resort, and during our travels we saw goats in the road, and cows wandering free.

Do be prepared when traveling to excursions – this country is poor. Outside the resort there is lots of trash on the sides of the road and the housing is very run down, some little more than shacks. It was very sobering to pass a dilapidated house with a clothesline full of baby clothes and even worse to see little children, the same as my own, selling fruit on the side of the road during school hours.

We found out a few things on our trip, so I thought I’d share a few tips:

Chairs are a hot commodity, so either pay to have a butler reserve one for you, or stow a t-shirt or book on one when you first wake up, but make it early!

Make sure you bring plenty of sunscreen, unless you want to pay $20 for an 8 oz bottle!

Bring a pair of water shoes if you’ll be visiting Dunn’s River Falls. You can rent them, but that grosses me out!  A pair that tighten and have good traction on slippery surfaces will do nicely. And a water resistant camera is a necessity! We bought one specifically for this trip. While at the Falls a couple actually dropped their expensive camera into the water… luckily it was found a few minutes later, unluckily it was no longer operational. Hopefully they were able to get their trip pictures from it!

 You’ll also want to pack bug spray if you plan on going into wooded spaces like we did for the Chukka Zip Line tour. We had to buy a small bottle for $7.

Bring plenty of small bills. Everything is in US currency on the resort and excursions, and bus drivers and tour guides expect tips. Our Dunn’s River tour guide even followed us back to the bus when one of the couples hadn’t yet tipped him! Sandals does not allow tipping and if caught accepting a tip an employee can be fired. You are allowed to give gifts though, so attach a note or a card stating that it is a gift from Mr & Mrs so-and-so, or find out their mailing information and mail it to them after you get back home.

The restaurant reservations fill up fast so if you think you might want to try them out, book them before you leave for your trip or as soon as you get there!

Stay away from the native kayakers!  Once they get you talking they are hard to dissuade… and they aren’t always selling legal goods.We knew this going in and ignored them whenever they tried to pull us in. Two couples from Iowa weren’t so lucky! They went right up to chat. The kayaker tried his darndest to get a necklace around the poor mans neck and kept them chatting for at least 10 minutes.  There is security at the resort and they do their best to keep them moving, but they stay in “public” waters so there isn’t much the resort can do. Remember the trinkets in the boat are usually a cover for what they are REALLY trying to sell you. One of our tour guides told us not to touch anything we didn’t plan on buying and to never let them put anything on you… she didn’t explain that, but I think once they got them on you, in their mind that means you bought it.