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international

Snorkelling in Costa Rica

Snorkeling in Costa Rica

International, ROAM By January 12, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , No Comments

I’m a certified scuba diver, have done a bit of free-diving and have had my fair share of aquarium visits. But apart from Belize, I’ve never seen the likes of snorkeling in Costa Rica. About an hour by boat from the Westin Playa Conchal, I dove off the catamaran only to encounter sea life I’ve only seen from afar.

 

Starfish Costa Rica 2

 

 

Jill and Octopus

 

And then I touched a few things… (AAAGH!!!) To be able to say that you’ve held and octopus and pried its’ suction grip off of your hand is a bucket-list kind of thing. And the puffer fish. And the moray eel who stared and stared.

 

Pufferfish Costa Rica

 

Very. Highly. Recommended. All photos were taken by Des Miller of Stress-Free Baby, who is a master with the underwater equipment!

I traveled to Playa Conchal in September for the ROAR Retreat, when the effervescence in the ocean was prevalent. In the darkness, moving the water back and forth with my arms made it sparkle with ten thousand lights. Lifting out of the water, our bodies glowed in the night. Pixies? Fairies? Magic? Next time I vist it will be with the entire family so I can share the wonders of snorkeling in Costa Rica with them!

Moray Eel Costa RicaStarfish Costa Rica Snorkling

 

 

 

 

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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5 tips for maximizing your air miles

Five Tips for Maximizing your AIR MILES

Canada, International, ROAM By November 30, 2014 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , No Comments

The weather becomes crisp and you’ve finally finished filling out mounds of paperwork for kids’ activities and school. Photos are done, pumpkins composted and you sit down for a steaming cup of orange pekoe when it hits – you need a holiday. But with the bustle of December looming, a holiday will have to wait. Panic rises from somewhere in your belly that you haven’t exercised in a while and deep breaths don’t seem to impact a racing mind that is compiling to-do lists faster than a room full of monkeys can type.

Calm yourself. This year it will be different. You’ve got a secret weapon that constantly reminds you of travel to come. This holiday season my family is using our five tips for maximizing your AIR MILES so that we can get away together in 2015.

This year I plan to do my usual over-the-top holiday décor – three themed spruce trees, a minimum of 5 holiday squares and cookies at the ready and way too many vegetables at Christmas dinner. The light at the end of the tunnel for me is always travel, and the collection of AIR MILES for my family helps facilitate our trips – either by using our reward miles for flights, or helping the budget by getting cash redemptions at AIR MILES Cash Sponsors.

My mantra? More travel = more educational opportunities. More savings = less stress!

Maximize your AIR MILESWe have a few tricks for maximizing the AIR MILES we earn and I want to let our readers in on the secrets!

1. Check the fliers at your local grocery store that issues AIR MILES on purchases. Better yet? Get on their email list so that you always know when you can earn bonus miles on the items you have to buy.

2. Ensure your spouse and any other family member who wants to help the cause have a duplicate AIR MILES card in their wallet. Sponsors always ask if you are a Collector, so you won’t miss any chance to accumulate miles! Our whole family uses the same account for flexibility and ease.

3. Use an American Express AIR MILES Credit Card alongside your AIR MILES Collector Card at Sponsors to earn double the miles. Earning twice is always much more nice.

4. Use that same credit card to earn rewards miles on all of your everyday purchases. I use the American Express AIR MILES Reserve Card to earn one mile for every $10 I spend at AIR MILES Sponsors but I also earn one mile for every $10 spent at other eligible stand-alone grocery stores, gas stations, and drugstores in Canada and one mile for every $15 spent everywhere else.

5. The AIR MILES website is full of special offers and promotions. When you need to rent a car, do the things that keep every family afloat on a weekly basis, be sure to check the bonus offers, as you can accumulate hundreds of bonus AIR MILES by being a savvy shopper.

American Express is currently hosting their #MoreAIRMILES contest to let AIR MILES members answer the question, “What would you do with more AIR MILES?”. Once answered, you’re entered into a draw for a weekly prize. Invite a friend and each one who participates in the contest lands you an additional entry.

Remember: AIR MILES + Amex = MoreAirMiles and You + Daily Entries + Your Friends = More chances to win! Check out the contest here.

Are you ready to dream? To save? To eliminate holiday stress? I’d love to hear about the holiday that your family is working toward throughout this holiday season! Bon voyage!

This post was sponsored by Amex Bank of Canada. The views and opinions expressed in this blog, however, are purely my own.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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Jamaica

Things to do in Montego Bay, Jamaica

International, ROAM By August 21, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , 5 Comments

I was a virgin to Jamaica.  And with a crazy hectic schedule I hadn’t had the time for preliminary research.  (I actually prefer it this way.)  I go in blind, with no feedback or opinions and can allow my artistic personality to sense everything without bias.  At first I was taken aback by the similarities with West Africa: corrugated steel, cement blocks and a native economy that was more advanced than I had seen in Liberia but not quite New York. My best advice?  Go off the beaten track in Montego Bay, Jamaica. And watch your children flourish.

The second thing that thrilled me were the people.  They are phenomenally vibrant.  Visceral.  Kind.  One New Yorker on the trip said that she longs to have a Jamaican nanny to care for her kids someday.  And now I see why.  I long to take my children to the island just so they can experience the care and spirit of the citizens.  I would hope that it rubs off on my kids.

I will tell you about the resorts and activities, but what needs to be talked about are the people.  The history.  The island.  Founded by Christopher Columbus in 1494 and ruled by the Spanish until the English took over in 1655, the history is rich and deep.  Slavery.. sugar cane.. plantations.. voodoo.. rastafarians.  And the history of the flag.  Originally it meant something slightly different than the current interpretation.  Green: lush vegetation, yellow: sun that always shines and black: the strife and hardship of the people.  Now, the black signifies strength.  I get tingles.  Jamaicans have been through so much and still thrive.

manta ray and camel jamaica
I stayed at Half Moon Resort and the Grand Palladium and would happily return to either property.  Half Moon exhibited the finest attention to families and children that I have ever experienced and must write about it in a fully separate article.  As much as I could have relaxed on either of the resort grounds, I instead familiarized myself with the unexpected activities offered in Jamaica.  After riding a camel at Dolphin Cove, I pet a stingray (the kind that killed Steve Irwin) and then got kissed by dolphins.  (In the photo above, try to peel your eyes away from our stingray guide and note the camel in the background).  On another day, Chukka Adventure Tours took me riding on horseback past Prince Charles’ polo grounds before I rode bareback into the Carribean ocean atop my swimming horse.  One of the top ten memories of my life.

A self-proclaimed foodie, the trip to Scotchies excited me to no end.  There is no replacement for authenticity.  Picture a wooden firepit, grates covered in 6-foot long, 3-inch diameter pimento wood with chicken set directly on top.  The whole thing is then covered with the corrugated steel that many Jamaicans use for housing elements.  The taste cannot be replicated with a powder or sauce.  The only downside is that they don’t ship directly.

The nightclubs of Montego Bay start ‘going’ at about 2am.  The dancing is phenomenal, as are the fashions.  As a dancer I can say I’ve never seen women or men isolate different body parts in such a sensual yet innocent way.  When I return I will sleep for a day so that I can dance all night.  The locals are so kind and warm that I’d place bets on getting some great dance lessons.

Marley and Me
“Don’t worry about a thing.”  The song played silently in my head and affected me greatly.  I always worry.  I have a hard time relaxing.  And in Jamaica the easy-going attitude is infectious.  Running into Bob Marley’s son Rohan was a mesmerizing experience.  Managing the Jammin’ Java Coffee enterprise as well as playing music along with his brothers Damian and Ziggy, I would think he has many reasons to be stressed.  But he’s not.  He’s also warm, open and fun.  But then again, he’s Jamaican.

I ended up at the market in Montego Bay on a Saturday.   We were all craving authentic Jamaican patties and went into a raw, stimulating corner where young men sold produce and cellular phone cases.  On the corner was Juici Patties, which served these decadent treats in take-away paper bags. The beef.  The spice.  There was cheese in them.  A perfect mystery cheese never to be duplicated at home.  Amazing.  Perfectly satiated, our dapper Jamaican Tourist Board guide took us to see Pablo Palair, his custom tailor.  Bespoke.  Jamaica may be classified as a third-world country but Tom Ford may have a bit of an international challenge.  Form fitting shirts with detailing on the cuffs and neck would make stylists for GQ do a double-take.

Rose Hall Great House
Rose Hall is a perfect place for the thrill-seeker.  Or pessimist.  You will both be equally challenged.  An original great house on a plantation manned by slaves, Rose Hall is rumoured to house ghosts and ill-will.  The rumour says that Annie Palmer murdered three husbands, each in a different room, and abused her slaves horribly.  Her slave lover one night decided to murder her, and the ghost of Annie Palmer still walks the premises.  You may visit Annie’s grave and see photographs of oodles of people who developed their photos were developed (in the old-school way) and were convinced that a ghost had appeared in the mirror or shadows.  In the 21st century we may attribute it to a ‘flash’, but you never know.  Regardless of your belief in ghosts, the ‘great house’ and antique reproductions are stunning, and lead your mind to question an era of slavery and passion that exists across so many cultures.

Montego Bay Market
Children are blessed on vacation in Jamaica.  But my gut feeling is that they must leave the resorts.  Check out the Rastafarian Indigenous Village.  The cuisine of Kingston.  And of course the dolphin, horse and stingray excursions. 

As with any travel experience that involves children, I would encourage parents to find someone you trust and explore.  Get a driver for a day.  Take a taxi with a destination in mind that you don’t find in a tourist guide.  You will raise your children to travel differently in the future.  To become little citizens of the world.  Even better?  Jamaica has developed a program called ‘Meet the People‘.  Ever want to spend a whole day with Usain Bolt and his family?  Or perhaps a third-generation Jamaican who cooks incredible delicacies daily?  You can.  The program, implemented in 1968 allows tourists to explore authentic experiences while on vacation.  Do it.  Quick.  It’s the opportunity of a lifetime and I have a feeling that Jamaica’s popularity is about to skyrocket because it is so unique, with beauty, cuisine, heritage and kindness.

Halfmoon Resort Sports
Jamaica is a true country.  And a culture.  Like in university when I wanted to wear the logos and emblems of my alma mater, Jamaicans (and tourists) revel in the green, black and yellow.  Jamaicans wear it all daily.  With pride and style.  At the airport I spoke to a couple who didn’t even experience jerk chicken.  They were sad that they didn’t go off their resort grounds.   Especially when traveling with kids, you have a perfect opportunity to teach them to recognize different cultures and cuisines instead of just remembering a stunning beach or pool and forgetting where they saw it.  In my experience, it bodes the traveler well to enjoy the amenities of a resort and then choose a way to experience the real country.

And don’t worry about a thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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Sibarth Villa Rentals on St. Barth

International, ROAM By August 2, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , , No Comments

SiBarth PoolI’ve had the experience of traveling to the French leeward island of St. Barth, located 35 miles south of St. Martin in the Carribean.  I’ve never been the same since.  The white sand on 22 beaches with shallow reefs coupled with the 2,500 acres of marine reserve make this a pretty special place.  For a family vacation, we’d advise looking into a villa.  At 2-4 bedrooms, sharing with extended family or a group of friends is a fabulous way to experience ‘les Anses’.

SiBarth VillaSibarth represents the best villas on St. Barth and has created a collection of villas that are perfect for a family vacation. Despite its jetset reputation, St. Barth is a perfect family destination with calm beaches, casual beach-side restaurants, and water sports such as snorkeling and paddle boarding. But the jetset reputation also doesn’t hurt.  Nor do the Parisian influences.  Bon Voyage!

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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family trip to Belize

20 Tips for a Family Trip to Belize

International, ROAM By July 30, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , 2 Comments

Belize Ambergris CayeSan Pedro, on the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize (Madonna’s ‘Isla Bonita’) is stunningly gorgeous with epic snorkelling and perfectly spiced food.  No wonder this was where the Material Girl longed to be.  I travelled in March with my family and the kids were given a rare look at a country whose scenic beauty rivals it’s poverty.

The pride exuded by the islanders was life-altering.  I watched a woman and her son shovel seaweed into wheelbarrows on her day off.  The houses in the poor community of San Mateo are mostly nestled in water and the seaweed is dumped into the pools in hopes of eventually producing earth.  We watched men wrestle goats onto a golf cart as the animals wouldn’t cross a bridge on foot.  We saw unprotected ruins in the wilderness where there are still artifacts lying around.  Iguanas, crocodiles, BBQ to die for and several encounters with sea life made the two week jaunt the memory of a lifetime for the whole family.  The trip begins with a flight from the mainland on Tropic Air over turquoise water and islands that dot the ocean.  It’s almost as if someone has written calligraphy using tiny islands.

20 Tips for a Family Trip to Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Chicken drop1.  Wahoo’s is a must to witness the Tuesday night chicken drop.  You bet on a number and sprinkle lots of feed on the desired area of a square board covered in numbers.  If the chicken defecates on your number, you win.  Endless giggles from the kids.  You can also purchase T-Shirts that say ‘Chicken Security’.

Coco Locos2.  Check out Coco Locos on Monday for the cribbage tournament and every night for bocce on the beach overlooking the ocean.  Marlon became the most popular bartender on the island for the splash of grenadine he swirled on the kids’ pina coladas.

3.  Bring school supplies from home to the Holy Cross Anglican School.  There is a list of needed items on their website and the kids are eternally grateful.  The students will teach your kids some pretty cool games during recess.

4.  Buy wood carvings on the road and make sure they are wrapped well for the trip home. Fins of the beautifully carved sharks tend to break.

5.  As the only sports bar, Feliz is a hoot and has the most gorgeous candy-coloured stools.  Ask to play the dice game.

Bocce6.  Fidos has great burgers and if you’re lucky you will catch some local dancers practicing on the beach.

7.  Head to Wild Mangos early for lunch if you want a seat.  Save me some armadillo eggs.  I went back over 4 times to devour them.

8.  Brunch at Estel’s is fab, and the whole restaurant has sand on the floor for barefoot enjoyment.  The town playground is also next door so you can sip a Belkin while watching your kids play.

9.  If you’re a McDonald’s fan, the Road Kill Cafe has managed to duplicate the taste of the famous burgers – using mostly organic and free range beef I might add.  (As a McDonald’s All-Access Mom I saw the natural beef and burger processes with my own eyes and giggled to see the taste replicated with Belizian organic ingredients).  Karaoke on Thursdays is a blast.

Coconut Tree10.  Crazy Canucks is the place to be on Sunday, if only to witness the weekly horseshoe tournament.  You’ll want the boneless wings.  Locals will scamper up trees for you and bring you fresh coconuts.  They will also make you a helmet out of a coconut shell.  Crazy Canucks is right.

11.  The Hol Chan Marine Reserve and shark/ray alley are must-dos.  You pay a fee as you enter the reserve by boat and the reef is so shallow that the fish life is the best I have ever seen.  My son saw sharks, turtles and a 7-foot moray eel in the first 4 minutes of his first foray into snorkelling!

12.  Rent a golf cart – it’s so fun!

Ambergris Caye Playground13.  Have your kids play with locals in the park at the town square.  You’ll be shocked at how language and economics make no difference in the games.

14.  Belize Zoo/Western Belize: This trip usually begins with a flight on Tropic Air to the municipal airport, where you connect with a shuttle bus which takes you on the Western Highway for a visit to the wonderful Belize Zoo, maybe a quick peep at Belmopan, Belize’s mini-capital, lunch and perhaps a tour of Xunantunich, a Classic Period Maya site.

San Mateo15.  Altun Ha Ruins: You go by boat across to the mangrove cut, where you transfer to a van to visit this Maya site, which dates back some 2,000 years, on the Old Northern Highway. There is an abundance of wildlife, such as monkeys… for the more leisurely who would rather see the jungle, cool off, enjoy swinging like Jane and Tarzan, and perhaps get mood mud treatments and lunch at Maruba Spa.

16.  Caye Caulker: A day trip to Ambergris Caye’s “little brother” island can be done by air or boat. If the latter, the trip is usually packaged with a snorkeling tour. One of the best trips to Caulker is on the Winnie Estelle, a classic island trader. Several catamarans also do this trip.

Lazy Croc17.  Lazy Croc BBQ is a north of the bridge must.  Eat your BBQ as you watch the crocodiles swim in the lagoon.  The cuisine is authentic and the atmosphere totally relaxed.  Just keep your feet out of the water..

palapa bar18.  The Palapa Bar is a two floor palapa attached to the mainland by a long dock.  Tied-up innertubes are serviced by a bucket that is sent to you filled with Belkin, and kids are able to draw all over the furniture, floors and walls with sharpies.

19.  The sand is extraordinary for castle building.  But beware – the tide will rise and you may have some disappointed kids the next day.

conch20.  Finally?  Hop on a catamaran and ask the crew to jump in and make you fresh conch cevice straight from the ocean.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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Kate Middleton to Become Godmother to the Royal Princess

cruises, ROAM By April 17, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , 1 Comment

Kate Middleton Princess CruisesAs if we weren’t obsessed enough with her baby bump.. she’s now going to add ‘Godmother’ to her many titles.  Princess Cruises has announced that Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge will name Royal Princess, the newest addition to the line’s fleet. Kate herself will name the ship in Southampton on Thursday, June 13.  The spectacular ceremony will uphold British ship-naming traditions including the blessing, a performance by the Royal Marines Band and the pipers of the Irish Guards, together with contemporary highlights.  So choose your fascinator, grab a Burberry bag and get ready to cross the pond, as this is one ceremony not to be missed.

Royal Princess AtriumThe 3,600-passenger Royal Princess is a new-generation ship. Among the special features found on board will be a greatly expanded atrium, the social hub of the ship; an over-water SeaWalk, a top-deck glass-bottomed walkway extending 28 feet beyond the edge of the ship; plush private poolside cabanas that appear to be floating on water; the new Princess Live! television studio; the largest pastry shop at sea; a special Chef’s Table Lumiere, a private dining experience that surrounds diners in a curtain of light; and balconies on all outside staterooms.  Royal Princess Gelato BarOh – and a gelato bar.  (Which means that you’ll have to also take advantage of the gym and spa…).  After her maiden voyage the ship will sail Grand Mediterranean cruises throughout the summer, followed by Eastern Caribbean cruises beginning in the autumn.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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Jacada Travel Gourmet Tours

International, ROAM By April 11, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , , No Comments

Jacada Luxury TravelIf you’re a gourmet-loving Mom, you have a great excuse to expand your repertoire.  Jacada Travel gourmet tours take you to the tastiest corners of the earth. The Gourmet Series offers luxurious, private guided food-focused adventures featuring exciting itineraries to Peru, Argentina, South Africa, and Chile. Either as a girl’s trip or a family bonding experience (where everyone else learns to cook!) you will see and experience spectacular tastes and sights. And with summer’s line up for exciting festivals to bring forth the finest cuisine, it’s a great time to indulge in a trip created to appeal to all of your senses.  You deserve it – take our word for it.  JacadaTravel.

Chile Gourmet Tour
Peru Gourmet Tour
Argentina Gourmet Tour
South Africa Gourmet Tour
A Gourmet Journey Through South America

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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top 10 travel destinations for kids

Top 10 Travel Destinations for Kids

Disney, International, ROAM, USA By May 16, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , 1 Comment

Once you have kids, the days of stolen mini-breaks with your honey are pretty much gone, unless you have a great nanny or very forbearing parents nearby! Traveling with a family can be tricky and expensive, but it is possible to enjoy a vacation with the kids; in fact, sometimes it’s even more fun than vacationing alone with your partner…although it is a different kind of “fun!” Here are the top 10 travel destinations for kids.

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Louis Vuitton City Guides

books, Canada, GEAR, International, ROAM, USA By January 24, 2011 Tags: , , , , No Comments

Every fall, luxury brand Louis Vuitton publishes gorgeous and super-helpful guides for some of the greatest cities in the world.  We tried the European editions (surprise surprise), and were able to discover off-the-beaten track lounges in Paris and family-friendly, hip gems in Rome.  Note to self: they also look great on your bookshelf, and they’re nice and light to pack.

Image Courtesy: www.luxuo.com

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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