Teaching my kids about charity and philanthropy have always been as important as math and reading. We divide allowance into thirds, giving one to a favourite organization, and run countless lemonade stands for water well development.
It’s taken me an awfully long time to write about Half Moon Resort, Jamaica. It’s like part of me wanted to hold it inside because once it’s out there, it’s gone. This property is by far the most wonderful family destination I had ever had the honour to visit. A private dolphin cove, a kids club with villas specializing in certain skills, an equestrian centre and countless pools, I was shocked that I’d been invited to a place where British royalty has stayed.
In my own ocean-side villa, one memory replays in my head. After long days that one experiences on press trips that garner little sympathy from friends watching on facebook, I dropped my camera, laptop and bags on my doorstep, followed by my clothes. I did have a bikini on, but I would have done the same without. I ran into the warm ocean while the sun nodded into the water and I am not sure I have ever been so relaxed in my life. Going back into my room I smiled at the furniture made on property, covered in rich upholstery and called my kids from the sitting room. The bedroom smelled of jasmine and fresh Blue Mountain coffee that the resort had left as a gift. Could tomorrow be more magical?
Well, yes. Because after a day of touring I was writing by the bar and happened to meet Rohan Marley. Son of Bob. And owner of Marley coffee. We chatted. I was in awe. Spitting image-awe.
The next morning I experienced the spa. Yes, you may hate me. Gentle, skilled esthiticians recognized what I needed and even gifted me a bag of leaves to take home. The leaves were a tea for a foot bath that would drain out the toxins. I bought ergonomic flip flops and wanted never to leave.
Meals at the resort were taken in the main restauraunt or on the patio just outside while overlooking the ocean. Breakfast could have simply been the exquisite natural juices from fruits I’d never heard of, but they insisted on bringing more and more food, both traditional and Jamaican-inspired.
One evening we meandered on the property and attended an outdoor dinner that showcased local fare. WOW! I spoke to locals about spices, customs and regional flavours, and couldn’t stop eating. (No bikini photos from this point on).
The Sugar Mill restaurant is the jewel of Half Moon. And if you can manage it at all, try to connect with David Barber over dinner – the General Manager who exudes passion for travel and a true love of Jamaica. The food was subtle yet bursting with taste, and I learned from another travel writer (Laura Manske of Parade) how to properly light dishes for photography using the flashlight of a cellphone.
You must go. You may spot a royal. Or you may just have a life-changing moment in the ocean with the property’s dolphins after meeting one of Bob Marley’s sons.
Disclosure: UrbanMommies was hosted by Half Moon Resort on a media trip to Jamaica.
It’s one of those things you strive to do as a vacation, and yet so elusive that few manage. Sailing for a week on a catamaran in Bocas del Toro Panama with four cabins, a captain and a first mate was the pinnacle of relaxation. If it sounds like a dream to you, you’re right.
We flew to Panama with only carry-on and grabbed a puddle-jumper operated by Nature Air into Bocas del Toro. The heat was thick and local kids entertained themselves with checkerboards on their laps in puddle-filled playgrounds. The town was more rustic than Ambergris Caye, Belize, but also more economical and diverse in cuisine. The boat is moored in Red Frog Marina on the island of Bastimentos, and many water taxi operators were jumping at the chance to take us for $10 each.
Tradewinds Cruise Club is an all-inclusive vacation ownership sailing fleet with boats across the globe. RCI members can exchange once every four years to experience the yachts or individuals can purchase weeks within Tradewinds Cruise Club. There is a maintenance fee to be paid yearly to maintain the boats as well as an all-inclusive fee per week for the charters.
Our first time using the boat, we were greeted warmly by the crew and the manager and we happily paid our all-inclusive fee which covered food, drink, snorkelling, scuba diving (for Tradewinds members), housekeeping, mooring fees and water sports.
We boarded Jade, a 42 foot catamaran, and I began to relax. The forward cabins are spacious and each of the four rooms has an ensuite. Our double bed offered storage beneath, and a closet and dresser created ample space for our belongings. Shoes are not needed on the boat, and swimsuits, a sarong and a few light dresses were all that we needed. Clothes can dry on the deck with the clothespins supplied and devices can be charged when the generator is active. Toilet paper cannot be flushed, but water is not an issue like on many boats as Jade is equipped with a water maker that turns seawater to fresh.
Though I had purchased a Panamanian SIM card, my phone didn’t always work on the remote islands. Which marked the first time since starting UrbanMommies in 2006 that I was truly unplugged and ‘forced’ to relax. And it was pure magic.
Dining two nights on shore and swimming to beaches off the boat, land was always close by. I met a monkey friend and savoured the wildlife around me.
So I read a book while swinging on the hammock on deck. We slept on the trampoline one night. I held a monkey. I bartered in Spanish with a local fisherman who approached our boat in a dugout canoe with lobsters he’d caught free diving. (We purchased enough for the guests and crew for $3 each and the first mate was happy to cook the tails!) We saw a nurse shark while diving and seahorses and squid snorkeling.
We toured Green Acres Organic chocolate farm (whose chocolate was featured on the series Naked Dating, filmed on location) and hiked the jungle rainforest with poison dart frogs at our feet and howler monkeys overhead. I found a stash of sea urchins and coral washed up on a beach and was devastated by the amounts of garbage left on a tiny island by tourists who arrive daily by water taxi to enjoy its beauty. We talked global politics with the others on the boat. Together we represented Argentina, Canada, Mexico and Sweden. Sharing one’s culture and opinions in such a close setting was powerful.
The end of the week was bittersweet. Three gourmet meals had been prepared for us daily and somehow I adjusted to not doing the dishes. Every afternoon brought a new blender drink while we floated on noodles in the ocean.
I’d had a couple of showers, but swimming in seawater multiple times per day allowed me to cross that chore off my list quite frequently. I was more relaxed that I had been in years and I am counting the days until I can get back on a boat – but next time I hope to share the experience with my boys.
H+I Adventures, specialists in cultural mountain biking trips, is now touring New Zealand by bike! New Zealand is one of the world’s most naturally beautiful countries, with snow-clad mountains, towering glaciers, relaxing hot springs and unspoiled coastline. The South Island is a haven for adventure travellers especially and boasts a rich cultural history, making it the perfect destination for H+I to sink its wheels into. The thirteen-day trip debuted January 25th, 2016 and we think it would be a perfect family getaway.
The mountain biking journey begins in the garden city of Christchurch and wraps up in the mountain biking mecca of Queenstown. Intermediate riders will tackle the region’s best single and double tracks, exploring the backcountry with H+I’s expert local guide. Off the bike, travellers immerse themselves in New Zealand’s top cultural destinations like Kaikoura, Hanmer, Ghost Lake, Craigieburn and Wanaka.
“Travellers on our newest mountain biking holiday will storm the South Island and discover the local’s favourite trails and wilderness escapes,” says Euan Wilson, H+I Adventures Director. “We’ve custom designed the trip with our Kiwi guides to feature the country’s best riding spots and some South Island secrets that are not to be missed both on and off the bike.”
From breakfast to bedtime, mountain bikers venture deep into diverse island ecosystems, exploring rainforests, African-esque plains, glaciated valleys and volcanic landscapes. After conquering the day’s trails, travellers reward themselves with a hot springs soak, or cool off in the salty waters of the South Pacific and nearby freshwater lakes. Accommodations include comfortable boutique hotels, farm stations, and peaceful mountain huts that are so remote the luggage is helicoptered in.
Additional trip highlights include:
- Whale and dolphin watching in Kaikoura
- Hot springs visit in Hanmer
- Hiking Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak, to view the glaciers
- Riding along the ridge of Mount Pisa, with a 1700m descent
- Local meal of fresh seafood and craft beers in Kaikoura
For more information about H+I’s New Zealand adventure, visit mountainbikeworldwide.com
Great travel writers often begin with exceptional words, listing descriptors from A-Z about the place and experience. After hearing from Lavinia Spalding, author of Writing Away at the ROAR Retreat in Costa Rica, I attended Social Media on the Sand at Beaches Turks and Caicos. On the way home after learning, connecting with other influencers and seeing the perfection of Beaches Resorts in action, I made my list. Unfortunately there was so much to share and say that the individual words weren’t pared down – but I’ve certainly given loads of tips and tricks within my writing exercise!
Beaches Turks and Caicos A to Z:
B: Books for schools. Bring a bag of supplies and items for local schools. The Sandals Foundation invests in sustainable projects in education, environment and community to improve the lives of residents of the Carribean community.
H: Happy Birthday banners hang all over the poolside private cabanas and towels are folded in artistic ways inside.
I: Icing Sugar Sand covers the 12 mile-long beach.
J: Jolt your tastebuds with drinks made by expert mixologists using premium liquor. (There are 14 bars to choose from…)
L: Lazy River is a fun way to coast around the Pirate Island waterpark
M: Majestic Fountains are stunning at night in each of the four villages
N: No Tipping means true Freedom. Don’t you despise carrying a wallet on vacation?
P: PADI diving in the pool for kids aged 8+ means you can get them in used to diving two years before any other resort!
S: Scratch DJ Academy is rad for the teens and tweens.
T: Turquoise – If the easter bunny were blue, he’s leave eggs in the colour of the ocean
U: Undulate those hips as you dance at Club Liquid while your kids are taken care of by expert nannies
V: Vows – even renewing them are a magical way to experience Beaches Weddings
W: White Gloves worn by the butlers make you feel pretty pampered
X: X-Box Play Lounge. Related: I suck at video games
Z: Zumba like you mean it!
Needless to say, I highly recommend the trip to Beaches, and next time I go, there is NO WAY I am leaving the rest of my family behind!
I wish the luck of the Irish could get me to one of the countries of the world where I haven’t been! Here just may be my chance. Smart travellers to Ireland know that spring is the best season to visit the Emerald Isle. The bluebells and daffodils are out, the summer crowds have yet to arrive and transatlantic airfares are low. This year, there are even bigger spring savings, thanks to Vagabond Adventure Tours of Ireland. The company is offering a 10% discount for travelers who book a tour for travel during March and April 2015, including two festive St Patrick’s Day itineraries.
Not only does Vagabond Tours bring travellers well off the beaten path in Ireland, but they utilize custom-designed Land Rovers (oh yes!) that take no more than 13 passengers on adventures that can include hill walking, horseback riding along an Atlantic beach or mountain biking in a forest.
For anyone who has always wanted to experience an authentic St Patrick’s Day in Ireland, Vagabond’s 10% discount and the strong US dollar mean that this is the year. While Dublin often gets all the attention, small cities and towns around the country celebrate the saint’s day with festivities and music in their own local style.
How important is water? Very. A lemonade stand to raise funds for water wells is fabulous, but there are still 1800 kids who die EVERY DAY due to the lack of clean water in their communities. A billion people around the world don’t have access to safe water. Even with access to medications, people often take their pills with toxic water – it’s the only option.
A lack of education means that some wells are dug only feet away from the spots where latrines are situated, causing even more harmful bacteria.
UrbanMommies had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Jason Priestley – actor, director and activist who travelled to the Dominican Republic and is working to promote the Children’s Safe Drinking Water program (CSDW). Since the program launched, it has succeeded in donating over 20 million days of clean drinking water to those in need, and we hope to reach our goal of 25 million days of clean drinking water by March 31, 2015.
It doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference. Just 10 cents provides one P&G water purification packet that creates 10 liters of clean water. The packets are stirred into 10 litres of water and after ten minutes, the water can be strained through cloth (even a t-shirt works) and is safe to drink.
Just $1 gives a child clean water for 50 days.
$7.50 gives a child clean water for a year.
$30 gives a family clean water for a year.
Procter & Gamble and Walmart have partnered in a simple program to provide water to people in need. Every P&G product sold at Walmart Canada will provide 1 day of clean drinking water for a family. And these are the products you are buying anyway like Tide, Gillette, Bounce, Pantene and Tampax.
Here’s our exclusive interview with talented and kind Dad, Jason Priestley.
JP: I am a dad. 1600 children die every day. Its shocking to us who live in Canada where there in such an abundance of drinking water. This is a simple program that makes huge difference in people’s lives.
UM: I read your piece on your trip to the Dominican. When I travelled to Liberia with Right to Play I saw the need for clean water and also health education. How does Children’s Safe Drinking Water choose where to help? What about education?
JP: Kids can’t go to school half the time because they’re sick. There’s not enough education. We need to do something to break that cycle – water is one of the basic building blocks of society. Clean water makes people healthy and strong so they can get to school.
UM: You have 2 children – how to you teach them to be socially conscious?
JP: That’s one of the big challenges we all face. It’s difficult but I try to look at everything as a potential teachable moment. Scarcity and the importance of water is all around us – in California too. Water is a precious commodity. We talk a lot about the importance of helping others, not just giving people money but the tools they need to improve their lives. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Water is a tool. It restores people’s health and also their dignity, improving their lives and the strength of the community.
UM: How can Canadians help?
JP: This is such a simple program. Go to a Walmart store or walmart.ca and buy the household products you use every day. P & G takes care of donating. It’s a 1 for 1 swap. 1 product = 1 day of drinking water for a family.
So far they’ve given 21 Million days of safe drinking water to families in developing countries.
UM: How do they determine where to distribute the water purification packets?
JP: They work with not for profit agencies across the globe to determine need. Unsafe drinking water kills more kids every year than HIV, aids and malaria combined.
UM: I know I went through many life changes after visiting Liberia. What was your big take-away, as a dad, after travelling to the Dominican?
JP: I loved the children. Children are the same everywhere you go: happy, joyous, playful and beautiful. There kids playing in the dirt with a ball and stick are no different than my children. I felt the need to help them. They are innocent, joyous and pure and they deserve better. We can see what the future hold for these kids even when they can’t.
A billion people don’t have access to safe water. 1600 kids die every day.
You can learn more at Walmart.ca/cleanwater
Disclosure: I am a P&G Mom and was give then chance to interview Jason Priestley. I was not compensated for this article and all opinions are my own.
- Swim with the Dolphins – Travelers of all ages can befriend a dolphin at Jamaica’s Dolphin Cove. The Dolphin Encounter will give visitors an introduction to dolphins in shallow waters, while the Ultimate Swim will allow visitors to swim with two trained dolphins. Visitors can also enjoy live reggae music, bottomed boat tours, and shark and stingray excursions in the cove.
- Bike in the Blue Mountains– Jamaica’s Blue Mountains are home to a lush, cool environment. Biking is the best way to experience the mountains, and possibly get a glimpse of life on a coffee farm, where some of the most delicious coffee in the world is grown.
- Be one with 007 – Ian Fleming made his home in Jamaica where he wrote the very first of the famous James Bond novels. Guests can stay in GoldenEye Resort’s villa where Fleming found his inspiration for the famously smooth spy character. To truly summon the spirit of 007, visitors are encouraged to stake out the spots where some of the main Bond movies were filmed.
- Swim in the Luminous Lagoon – Also called Glistening Waters, this phenomenon is a must-see. Microorganisms thrive in the waters where salt and fresh water combine, and emit a bluish glow. Visitors can jump into these waters off of the coast of Falmouth at night, and experience an otherworldly marvel.
- Go Caving – In Jamaica, there are plenty of ways to accomplish a caving adventure. Cockpit Country’s Windsor Caves are best suited for the spelunking type of traveler, with helmets, flashlights and ropes. In the most extreme of subterranean tours, one can be underground for four hours in pure darkness, with only a large group of bats for company. To experience caves at a leisurely pace, or with the family, Green Grotto in Discovery Bay is the best bet. These caves are a prominent natural attraction, known for the algae-covered green walls and a sparkling lake in the innermost cavern. There is one more way to go “caving” in Jamaica, but it may not be the most traditional – The Caves Resort in Negril. To stay in pure luxury at The Caves may not be anywhere close to spelunking, but the cliff-side accommodations and cozy in-cave dining definitely counts for a check off the bucket list.
- Meet the First Female Master Rum Blender – The Appleton Estate is home to Jamaica’s oldest sugar factory and rum distillery and is where some of the best Caribbean rum is made. Visitors can take a tour and sample rum blended by Joy Spence, the industry’s first female Master Blender.
- Find the Nicest Jerk – The best and most delicious jerk chicken, pork, and seafood is found in Jamaica. Boston Bay in Port Antonio is the birthplace of jerk, the flavor that sets tongues on fire with the iconic pimento and scotch bonnet pepper seasoning combination. The Boston Bay Jerk Centre is where one can sample the best jerk on the eastern end of the island. On the west end, visitors can try Murphy’s West End Restaurant. Murphy provides tours of his property, showing diners the exotic fruit trees.
- Shiver Your Timbers in Port Royal – In the 1600s, visitors would have been prey to infamous pirates in Port Royal, known at that time as “The Wickedest City on Earth.” However, a major earthquake sunk most of the city of Port Royal deep into the Caribbean Sea. The underwater city that resulted is a pending UNESCO World Heritage Site and the many shipwrecks make the area an incredible scuba diving location for those who gain permission.
- Connect with Bob Marley – No bucket list is complete in Jamaica without a little reggae. Kingston is home to the Bob Marley Museum, located on the site of the legendary musician’s former home. Visitors can experience that as well as a tour of the Jamaican Music Museum, a visit to the Rockers International record store and a hands-on experience at the Dynamic Sounds studio. Here, guests can embrace their inner Marley and even make their own vinyl record.
- Go Bamboo River Rafting: The Martha Brae River provides the ultimate opportunity for relaxation. Two people can sit pretty on a bamboo raft while they glide along, catching all the sights at the edges of the tropical river banks.
So, what are you waiting for? If you want to enjoy some of these activities and add/cross them off your bucket list, its time to book your trip to Jamaica. To plan your Bucket List trip, and to add even more adventures, go to www.visitjamaica.com.
Leave the March Break woes behind! We’ve been told that Emirates is offering more than ever for families travelling with youngsters. They actually carried over two million children last year.
Though you should always bring a few things to keep the kids occupied on an airplane, Emirates offers extra special treats for the mini-fliers. Even before departure, complimentary baby strollers and changing tables are available within Emirates’ dedicated Terminal 3 in Toronto and there are play areas equipped toys within Emirates’ exclusive lounges. Priority boarding is provided to families with young children.
But it’s on board when the real fun starts. The dedicated children’s channels on the popular ice entertainment system brings an array of cartoons, interactive games, podcasts and CDs.
There are currently more than 60 children’s movies on ice, including the entire Harry Potter series, a whole section dedicated to Disney Classics, plus over 20 dedicated children’s television channels including CBeebies, Disney Junior, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. The young ones can also immerse themselves in hours of the very best music, such as One Direction, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry.
On board, young ones can meet AirBoe and Oggie, amongst the new cuddly monsters and explore activity-filled backpacks, all provided on a complimentary basis. Aircraft also carry kids’ favourite meals, as well as vegetarian options.
“We go to great lengths to entertain and occupy children with products and services that are constantly being updated and enhanced,” said Sheikh Majid Al Mualla, Emirates’ Divisional Senior Vice President, Commercial Operations, Centre. “ We know keeping the young ones happy is a key part of ensuring a smooth and enjoyable travelling experience for the whole family so investment in this area is very important.”
Emirates recognizes that loyalty is essential amongst its younger customers too so children even have their own frequent flyer program called Skysurfers. Miles can be exchanged for free flights, toys, books and entry to attractions in Dubai.
Children can also watch the Airshow channel to see a pilot’s view of take-off and landing.
Emirates Holidays, meanwhile, is well equipped to deal with families with specially-tailored packages. Many of the hotels available through Emirates Holidays offer kids’ and teens’ clubs.
Perks for kids travelling with Emirates:
- Meals for children (two to 12 years) and babies are available
- Exclusive children’s magazine called Fly With Me Monster – My Monster Magazine
- Brightly coloured children’s headsets
- Wide range of children’s movies, TV and interactive games on ice
- Quiksilver wallets, travel journals, backpacks, cooler bags, storybooks and eye masks
- Priority boarding and a complimentary stroller service at Dubai International airport
- Children’s facilities in the airport lounges
- Skysurfers membership with Emirates Skywards
*As per ticketing rules on emirates.com a child is defined as a passenger between 2-11 years of age.
I really need to keep track. I think this may be my 12th Fairmont. Not sure, but I know I love the brand and I’m always in for a treat. Highlight of the Fairmont Hamilton Princess Bermuda? The bronze statue of the man loitering on the bench in the entryway. I caught a very hip gentleman cozying up to him while talking on his mobile. Isn’t it great to have an arm around you?
The freshly renovated rooms were pristine, as are all Fairmont properties. There were baths in many rooms (highly appreciated for the kids) and 24 hr room service with a great kids’ menu. The new upgrades to technical amenities and wifi was perfect for savvy business people as well as our tech-crazy kids!
The new 1609 Bar and Restaurant, overlooking Hamilton Harbour is sleek and inviting. It is in fact Bermuda’s only open-air dining experience. I’m hoping that after their extensive renovation is completed, the famed grand piano will still be played during afternoon tea which will resume in April 2015.
Though you do not have direct access to a beach, the infinity pool and marina area are wonderful. A 5 minute walk from the ferry and downtown Hamilton, there are chi-chi juice shops and bars (Harry’s) along the way.
The BMW bikes for loan make the experience even more worthwhile for families. Just don’t forget the Bermuda shorts and pink shirts.