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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Blended Life: Creating a Close-Knit Family


Families that are blended for any reason face obstacles to making connections that create bonds.  Still, there are proven strategies to strengthen the ties within any family - even those that weren't created naturally.

#1 - Verbalize that you are committed.  As often as possible state that you are family, that you are not leaving. "We are family and families help each other," is a statement often repeated at our home.

#2 - Demonstrate Appreciation. A quick hug, a heartfelt thank you, a note on the counter or even a quick text.  Making gratitude part of the fabric of your home creates a closeness.  Together find things for which to be thankful and let those you live with know they are valued.

#3 - Make time Together a Priority. We all must avoid the trap of becoming too busy to be together, or even too lazy (sometimes it's easier to just sit on the couch and veg). Even when the whole family can't be together, gather who is able and make the effort.  Games, meals, simple walks and drives are the stuff families remember. Vacations are icing on the cake! Whether it is a big or small event, deliberately schedule family time.

#4 - Invest in Faith Building. When the kids are grown, faith is the foundation we can give them in order to move forward through positive and negative situations.  The seeds you plant today have the power to grow into mighty reserves of strength for the future.

#5 - Bond during Crisis.  Hard times come to every family and it isn't fun, but it is the time when you can rally together to support one another and fortify each other for the challenge.  When money is tight or schedules are chaotic, let your crew know it's time to pitch together.  Siblings can support each other by lending a hand.  Children can bear with parents as they navigate difficulty.  The hard times have the power to pull members apart or to draw them together.  Chose to use your crisis to ask  for help an connect not to isolate or lash out.

I plan to share specific ways each of these values have brought our family closer during the seven years we have been together.  I hope you will read along and share your own ways to connect!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

For When There is Too Much Noise

As we began our isolation and quarantine, it seemed like there was more noise than ever.  Social media, traditional news, alerts, dings, and deadlines were demanding attention ceaselessly.  Add in the extra noise of the whole family home together, and it really was overwhelming.  I had to find a way to calm the constant buzz in my brain.

When I encounter a trigger, I need a skill to counteract the anxiety uptick that the trigger creates.  Here are three way I managed my own ebb and flow of negativity.

Noise to Calm
Inevitably, noise begins to distract me. I'm one of those people who has to turn the radio down when I'm driving with concentration.  It's just part of the way I'm made.  I can't always quiet my space, but I can quiet myself.  I can walk outside.  I can take a shower.  I can let those around me know that I'm seeking quiet.

Clutter to Order
Yes, it's proven that clutter creates stress.  When our college girl moved home, she spent the first week purging and ordering her space - it was a huge gift to herself!  She is now set up to continue living back home in comfort.  The same is true for me.  My newly established office space is also the dining room, which tends to gather the discarded items from other spaces.  I distributed what was necessary and tossed the rest.  Our pantry is extra stocked so we don't have to go out as often, so I spent an afternoon early in the quarantine really organizing in a way that made sense for our family.  It's still functioning well.  Other surfaces that gather junk are counters and dressers.  When I start to feel my tension rising, it pays off to take a few minutes and tidy those places.  Invest in yourself by taking action in the places you are able.

Chaos to Routine
Wearing my robe to work has been a long-standing joke between Mr. Wonderful and me.  But after about an hour of sitting at my desk, I realized I couldn't even take myself seriously while trying to work in the privacy of my own dining room.  I went and changed my clothes - not office attire, but at least not bedroom clothes, either.  From then forward I kept my morning routine and established some new markers in the day: lunch time, walking breaks and sitting on the patio swing with my daughter.  I was able to take advantage of the privilege of working from home and keep my rhythms in place.  I felt the drift toward later nights, and worked hard to maintain a normal bedtime.  Whatever works best for you, create some routine rituals to mark the phases of your day.

I think we will always remember 2020 as a year like no other!  We have been stretched and required to grow.  What skills will you take with you as life shift into yet another phase?


Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Joy and Ache of Letting Go As My Son Turns Sixteen


Sixteen years ago my firstborn arrived and we felt so connected.  I was his source of comfort, nutrition, education, everything.  He outgrew his need for just me years ago, and I've been letting go bit by bit ever since.  Over-mothering is a tempting act but it's more important to me to raise an independent, upstanding man.

I can still feel the texture of the blankets and his velvety skin. A photo brings me back to that place like nothing else quite can. My very own little guy was 100% dependent on me and that spurred me to rise to the challenge in ways I couldn't dream possible. So many of the moments that mattered happened when no one else was there to witness it.  The snuggles, the corrections, the encouragement, the laughter.  We grew together, indeed.


This day feels like a milestone birthday with a driving test and birthday gifts that look more like college prep than toy trains.  I feel like I gave so much of myself to him in those early years.  It's just a few more years that he will be sleeping (or not sleeping) across the house in his own man-cave. He's well on his way to adulthood but there are still lots of skills to master.

Help me to remember not to be annoyed when he is needy, because this man still needs comfort, reassurance, direction and support.  He's more of a man now, than a little boy.

My son still needs me to have time for him. The time is truly trickling away and moments to connect often comes when it's least convenient for me.  I want to take advantage of the late nights, the weird desires and random requests.

That chin stubble and quarantine-long hair are his way of accepting himself.  It's easy to let myself become critical and I see that it simply distances myself from from my son. It's really not important, so I am working at accepting him just the way he presents.  

Selfishly, it is painful to let him go into his own ventures and future.  Yet my heart is so proud of the person is today and who is becoming.  He is kind, honest, hard-working and reliable.  He thinks for himself and isn't easily influenced.  He is a fun friend and loves to laugh.  He possesses a deep and real faith for his age. He is moving forward with dreams for his future and I remind myself that our bond remains so he will always be part of my life, even though things might look differently.

Letting him go, with support and enthusiasm is right and good.  The hardest part is accepting that as I'm letting go of him, he letting go of me, too.






Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The End of Stay Home for Me & Looking Back

My life, like yours, has been impacted by global pandemic but the impact has been so gentle for us.  Mr. Wonderful and I have both been able to work from home and all five our children have been back and home.  It has been a sweet time of togetherness and "nesting" which I think we have all enjoyed.  The anxiety of those first days eased when I turned down the news and turned up the focus on hidden gifts.

The no-end-in-site-ness has shifted into a new way of doing things that I can accept and adjust. We have and will continue to grieve what we miss, yet I will not camp out there.  It's not a healthy mindset for me to dwell on what is gone.  I like to find the gifts in what we have!

My home office set up - never had one before.
As of this week, I'm back to my work office full time.  I am so sad to to leave the nest and routine we created at home.  Even though I was often interrupted and sometimes annoyed, I loved the way I could seamlessly move between work and family life.  I enjoyed leaning back to see my husband diligently working at his own desk.  I treasured the simple interactions we had over lunch, school work, video games and our spoiled pets.

Lots of family meals.  
Some of my memories of quarantine will always include how my kids pulled out all the old toys: Lincoln Logs, Legos, Minecraft figures became playthings once again.  My soon-to-be high schooler used her doll stroller to walk the dog around.  We didn't get any home projects done, but we did more baking and they finally got the routine of helping to unload the dishwasher!  We planted seeds and tilled a new garden area.  We tried a few new recipes and took many walks/drives.  Our youngest has mastered fish keeping and his aquarium is crystal clear.  I loved having everyone within arms reach.

Planting seeds.
I've read several books, and I've enjoyed my imperfect home so much.  I'm grateful for these days.  In the garden we have made it from daffodil to peony season.  We got outside a bit, had picnics, took long drives and created chalk art with most of the country.  I spent my first Easter at home.

Now, I'm shifting gears back to a morning that means getting ready by a certain time and commuting to work.  My children and I are texting often to stay connected.  My firstborn is turning sixteen this week and getting his driver's license!  My social daughter is getting connected with her real-life friends.   My youngest will finally have a procedure that has been rescheduled several times.  My step daughters have gone to other locations to catch up where they left off and our home is no longer packed.  We miss the togetherness and companionship.

A picnic makes a good day better.

Driving practice for the new driver.
Church at home, it's not the same and still we are grateful.

Those empty T.P. shelves!

Making every effort to get outside daily.

Siblings and friends.

A fish for fun!

Tree Climbing!



Monday, March 23, 2020

When I Am Afraid....

I will trust in Thee. Psalm 56:3

Fear is not the first response for me when facing unknown situations. Denial is usually my first go-to.  That's not healthy either and as I've grown, I've learned to live in reality.  Reality means that where I used to feel fearless (I wasn't, it was a mask), I now allow fear to be real. 

Now I find that if I don't stop the triggers, I find myself in a loop cycle where each news alert and blurb of info amplifies the impulse to respond.  I'm a doer and a fixer, and so with new bit of information I hear a new directive. 

In the beginning this was productive. I made a recipe list and shopped for the things my family would need.  Our medicine cabinet was stocked, our pantry prepared and I began to think of projects we could accomplish at home. I had dreams of the best Spring Clean ever!

Then our spring break trip got cancelled and we were sad.  A friend had to postpone her wedding celebration (they will have a private ceremony).  Entire cities and countries began to shut down and school is closed for who knows how long?  My step daughter moved back home from university.  So much disruption left me feeling unsettled and uneasy.

There is financial insecurity.  There is social isolation.  There is over-stimulating family togetherness.  And there is extra laughter.  There are fewer schedule requirements that pull us apart.  There is more time for leisure reading and gardening.  There is joy in small things we might have missed.  For this I am so thankful.

I'm grasping onto these moments.  Somehow, I think our family will look back on these days with wonder and fondness.  I love that there is less pressure and fewer demands on my children.  They seem rested and relaxed in a way they haven't for quite some time. 

I'm turning away from the constant stream of news.  It's the only way to stop the trigger to "do something" each time a new edict or news factoid is shared. 

I'm getting outside as much as possible, and encouraging my family to do the same.  I'm cleaning closets and corners along with the rest of you - I do believe we will have the best spring cleaning season in decades!

Also, I'm still working in my office each day.  We aren't closed, as of now.  I'm supporting my staff, working to keep cash flowing and affect what I can.  I wish I was at home all day with my family, but I trust God knows where I can best serve.  It's all a good reminder for me that He is unchanging.  He is not absent and will walk us through this time of uncertainty. 

The calendar turned to spring last week, and time will continue.  Throughout history pandemics have altered the human way of life so my focus will remain on the One who already knows the outcome.



Monday, March 16, 2020

Here We Are


Like many in the world today, our schedule has been upended and there are many unknowns about the future.  Spring break turned from a trip to Washington DC to ... honestly, I'm not sure how we spend our time.  It certainly won't be an exciting adventure.  It will be a season of much togetherness.

We are reaching out to those who might need some extra help.  I've asked my children to let their friends know we have food if anyone needs a bit extra.  We have reached out to our retired neighbors to make sure they have what they need, too.  I let my church know I could run errands for those who could not.  I feel the need to do more, yet I must trust God will continue to fill in those gaps where we fall short.

The good part is that uncertainty shines a light on what is truly important: faith. family. caring for others in tangible ways. I don't even know pretend to know how things will unfold and my human heart gets fearful when I think of those I love who could be devastated by Covid-19.  May my trust be in our God for whom there are no surprises.

So while I can, I'm loving on those in my home.  I'm doing the deepest spring clean that has happened in years!  I'm touching base with my neighbors to make sure they have their needs.  We are remembering God's promises of peace. May you be blessed with the same sense of calm and peace.

Here are some ideas and encouragement from those who say it much better than I do:

This song really hits home.

A Lazy Genius Survival Guide

Don't Forget This Sweet Side Effect of Gratitude.

Practical Tips for Working From Home: Small Things Blog

Let's all keep checking on each other, alright?

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Our Treat to All-Inclusive Secrets Montego Bay - Jamaica


Photographers will snap a photo, and
you can visit the Photo Shop to
purchase them, identified by
room number.


Mr. Wonderful turned fifty years old last year.  I knew I wanted to celebrate in a big way, so I hosted a party!  But I also started saving for us to take a special trip together.  I'd been saving for just over three years, and we booked an all-inclusive resort to the Caribbean this February.

Neither one of us had every done anything like this before, so I cannot compare to other locations, but our experience was wonderful and we hope to return one day.

We loved the way were treated by the staff - they were attentive, but not overbearing and never made us feel awkward when requesting service.  


Entry to our lobby - "Welcome Home!"

Room #1416 had every convenience and comfort.


Our room was in the mid-level range of what the resort offers: the lowest of the "Preferred Club."  It was the perfect option and it allowed access to all parts of the resort and tended to be the quieter side of things.  Because our goal was only to relax and spend time together, it worked great.  There was no pool bar or band/music playing at our beach or pool.  If we wanted that, we could have taken the short walk over to another area.  

There was only one afternoon where a group of guests got very loud in the preferred area. It was highly annoying and I'm thankful that wasn't the norm.

Can you see the Sergeant Majors and other fish?  Snorkeling was fabulous just a few feet offshore.

My favorite activity was snorkeling!  I had never been snorkeling before and it took about an hour to get comfortable inhaling underwater. But I just loved the views it made possible.  We saw incredible sea creatures: Octopus, southern ray, barracudas, needle fish, sergeant majors, all kinds of reef fish and shellfish. The most exciting for me was an eagle ray.  Mr. Wonderful was up on the beach, sitting in a beach chair and taking a conference call.  Poor man, he missed it.  The eagle ray circled me four times in water about 8-10 feet deep.  I was truly amazed and just can't believe I was alone when the encounter happened - I so wish there was someone else present to witness it with me!

The restaurants flow from indoors to outside.  
There was great variety in the meal selections and it was so nice to just arrive, order and eat.  We could be at any restaurant within five minutes and it was just delightful to have no waiting times and no commute.

The best part of the trip was adventuring with my man.  The fact that while were there, no decisions needed to be made and we could completely relax and be pampered was so indulgent.

Paradise View from our Balcony!  The beaches scalloped around the resort with gazebos.
It's not something that we can do often, but it sure is something I hope that we can do again! If you're really interested in the details, I've given in-depth descriptions below.  No need to read on unless you're considering going!

The most beautiful water I've ever seen. It was truly breathtaking.

Planning the Trip
I began saving about three years prior to our travel time, and started dreaming about what we might do together.  We discussed a cruise, exploring a new location/city, and finally settled on all-inclusive.  As we determined what we wanted, we realized that our main goal was to be together in a relaxing, low key environment without the pressure to make decisions or adhere to a schedule.  We wanted privacy and comfort, with a few indulgences.

View from one of the concrete walkways the jet out into the sea, looking back at our resort.  
I looked all over the Caribbean and priced trips on my own and through a travel agent.  I eventually settled with a travel agent because the prices were almost identical and I felt safer with an experienced person guiding us on our first venture into travel.  We also purchased travel insurance just in case something happened at the last minute.

Sunset behind the mountains casts a lovely glow. 
The reasons we chose Jamaica: Same time zone and fairly simple to get there.  We arrived in time for lunch and departed late afternoon, so we didn't lose any days to travel.  They speak our language which eliminates communication barriers. I chose Secrets because it is considered luxury and it is adults-only.  Also, it's only four miles from the airport with quick transfers.  Again, we were seeking the lowest stress and fewest hurdles to cross for true laid back vacations.

We needed passports, so I applied for one in the fall.  It took about six weeks for the approved passport to return to me.  Mr. Wonderful already had a valid passport.

Travel

Our first flight was canceled several weeks prior to travel, so we were automatically rescheduled for a 5:45 am flight to Miami, then onto Montego Bay, Jamaica.  I was not happy about beginning our relaxing vacation with a 3 am alarm call, but we did not have a choice.

We arrived in Miami and transferred planes, then onto Montego Bay without incident.  Customs in Jamaica took around twenty minutes to clear and was quite simple.  We found our transport company desk, and were immediately placed into a small van and took the 15-20 minute drive to our resort.  The driver @mo_jamtours was professional and informative.  We took an Amstar Resort van with other guests for our return trip to the airport.  As a former British colony, in Jamaica they drive on the opposite side of the road from the United States.

Resort Options

Within the same corporate property are three different resorts: Secrets Wild Orchid, Secrets St. James and Breathless.  All three are located on a peninsula within Montego Bay providing gorgeous views in every single direction.  Secrets St. James is first on arrival followed by Wild Orchid.  Breathless is on the opposite side of the street, but connected by a walkway bridge.  Both Secrets St. James and Wild Orchid were constructed at the same time, with the same architecture and are visually seamless.  The interior decor is slightly different, with St. James being more traditional British Colonial and Wild Orchid more contemporary furnishings and decor.  Breathless is a newer resort and the design is extremely modern and distinct from the other two.

Our Room

As with most resorts, there are various room levels from which to choose.

That's Mr. Wonderful on our balcony!
Ours was Wild Orchid Beach Front Junior Suite, Preferred Section.  We loved it!  We were on the top floor which had a soaring ceiling, sunset view and just enough space to spread out and be comfortable.  We arrived to fresh fruit, a welcome banner and plenty of comfort.

The king sized bed was very supportive and the "Pillow Menu" let us select our level of comfort.  The bedding was clean, changed daily and the entire room was well maintained.  There was one bedside light with a non-functioning lamp, which we reported and was replaced.

When you leave the lobby and enter the elevator, it opens to an outside view of the pools and sea.  It's a quick walk to the rooms.  The elevator was a bit dated and noisy, but it was never out of service and there were enough elevators that we never had to wait for another trip.  The photo at right is my view immediately upon exit from the elevator.  Nice.

A welcome place to retreat - Room #1416.  Room number is used often at the resort.

Snack Box in addition to
the mini-fridge options.

There was a large, flat-screen tv with built-in dvd player.  The speakers also played in the bathroom for continuity.  There was a dresser, which contained drawers and a mini fridge supplied with drinks (Coke, Coke Zero, Fruit Juice, Orange Soda, Red Stripe Beer and Bottled Wata).  A cabinet also had mugs and tumblers available.  On the dresser was a single serve coffee maker, with a few pods and sugar/creamer/etc.  There was also a snack box with Peanut M and M's, Granola, Pringles and a few samples of alcohol.  We never needed the snacks.

In-room coffee/tea options.


This is another beach on the resort property.  It would be considered the St. James portion of the resort.

We ordered room service one night.
A desk contained a few brochures and writing material.  It functioned well for hosting the laptop and work material Mr. Wonderful brought with him.  The small sofa and coffee table were perfect for lounging or enjoying room service.  There was a good view of tv from the sofa or bed.  A bedside table on each side contained outlets (compatible with US appliances) as well as USB connections.  There was a tablet that contained all resort information, including restaurant menus, programs, pillow menu, service requests, etc.  You can book a massage or request extra towels.

Our maid cleaned our room in the mid-afternoon, while we were by the beach.  The floor was noticeably swept (sand!), sheets changed, bathroom cleaned, etc.  Some towels we opted to reuse, others we had replaced daily.  We requested additional shampoo and body wash which were provided.  Turn down service was simple, but it made me feel pampered!


Can you see the ledge shelf?  
The bathroom was nice, but I wasn't a fan of the vessel sinks because they take up more counter space.  There is a ledge shelf under the mirror, which helps and extra space on the ladder shelf in the tub nook. There is an electrical outlet on only one side of the vanity.  We enjoyed the magnifying mirror!  An 1875 watt hair dryer and a clothes steamer are also provided.  The bathroom had anything you might need: toothbrush, comb, sunscreen (spf 15), bug spray, cotton swabs, soap, etc.  The shower was very nice with an overhead rainshower or handheld spray and they moved between the two water sources easily.  We never ran out of hot water and the pressure was firm and steady.  Body wash, Shampoo and Conditioner were supplied, along with a non-slip mat.  Use it!  The shower floor was slick!

The toilet area was quite tiny, but we were grateful it had a dedicated space behind a closed, frosted glass door.


There is a lovely soaking tub with jets, if desired.  It is between the bathroom and bedroom area, but may be sectioned off by closing the sliding shutters.  It was delightful to soak after a day in the sun.

Speaking of soaking, a separate jacuzzi tub is on the balcony!  It's larger than inside with room and headrests for two.  The balcony also has two chairs and small table with a drying rack attached to the wall.


Extra space in the closet for storage and a safe.
The closet is standard sliding closet, but it has a portion with shelves and drawers for additional storage, plus a safety lock box.  There is even an umbrella in the closet, just in case you catch a shower.  The closet lights come on automatically when you open the doors.  There is another cabinet near the outer door where you may place items you wish to have removed: room service dishes, trash, etc.  It's called a "Secrets Box" and you may also have room service delivered to it, if you don't want to see anyone or would like more privacy.

A word about the door - I found it to not seal tightly at the bottom, which made it noisy when others passed.  It wasn't enough to wake me, and the lock was solid, but I did notice when others slammed their doors or talked loudly.  At night, I placed a rolled towel along the bottom for extra insulation.

Loved the relaxed vibe of the whole place.

The air conditioning worked great, but we learned the hard way that it turns off automatically when the balcony door is open.  Don't be like us and accidentally forget to latch it!  Even though we were in the tropics, we had no issues with bugs.

Two set of slippers and robes are provided for use - you may keep the slippers!  All rooms have been renovated and are new as of 2020.

Meals

Forget the food and enjoy the coffee.  Don't miss the Coco Cafe!  It's tucked away in the shopping area but you can get coffee anyway yo like it!  They also have small sandwiches, cupcakes, pastries and other finger foods.

I must mention the jerk chicken cart because it has a serious fan club and cult following!  It was the first food offered to us upon arrival and the fresh jerk chicken or pork is very tasty.  The cart is open from around 11 am to 6 pm daily with constantly fresh items.


The grilled options at World Cafe were my daily staple.
We are not people who eat breakfast and that is just too bad!  The buffet at World Cafe looked fabulous with every breakfast option you can imagine.  It is open again at lunch time and we loved getting a quick bit without waiting to be served.  There was a huge variety which changed daily.  My favorite was something fresh from the grill with salad.  Jamaica has the bet tomatoes I've ever had in my life (including fresh from my own garden).  This is also a great way to sample local food: curry goat, jerk chicken or roasted oxtail - one is on the buffet daily.  Breakfast options of scrambled eggs, bacon and roasted potatoes are also in the Preferred lobbies daily, along with fruit, pastries, fresh, juice, etc.
Quick bite of hot food grabbed from the lobby.
The primary lunch option is the World Cafe buffet that I mentioned above.  It was just too easy and quick to get what we wanted and be on our way back to the shore.  We did eat at Oceana and enjoyed a fresh wrap, a burger and fries and salad. Seaside Grill is another sit down lunch option or just get something quick at the Barefoot Grill or Jerk Cart.

More options at the lunch buffet. 

View from the Rooftop Restaurant, Altitude @ Breathless.
Dinner has multiple options for sit down meals and none require reservations.
Never once did we have to wait for a table and for at least a portion of our time there, the resort was at capacity.  We tried El Patio (Mexican), Portofino (Italian), Bordeaux (French) and Himitsu (Pan Asain).  We enjoyed all, but had one evening of poor service at the French restaurant.  Eventually the manager took over, but the wait for food was very long and it was cold upon arrival.  Oh well.  Room service was quick and we loved the night we stayed in alone together.  Again, the Preferred lobbies have their own foods including hot dishes at meal times.  There is enough lobby foot to make a meal, if you don't feel like venturing out.

Himitsu is the only restaurant where you may make a reservation, if you want the hibachi table service.  It's worth it - but they will rush you through in order to make room for the next group.  You are free to dine at Himitsu without the actual hibachi service, so don't worry if you opt to skip it.

You may want to eat at the Breathless rooftop restaurant, Altitude.  The evening views are stunning and it's a unique atmosphere.  Even if you don't dine, it's a lovely place to venture for a walk.

At every meal we were asked
 whether we had food allergies or
special needs. Sometimes items were marked.


A note about the food: You will never be hungry.  But I did want to mention that the items are different than you might expect if ordering in the US.  For example, lasagna is a scoop of ground beef with a flat noodle and a bit of melted cheese.  The quesadilla has jerk chicken inside - tasty, but just different.


Mr. Wonderful loved grabbing pastries and bit sized desserts every time we entered or exited our building.  There is always something to eat!

I believe this was the Barracuda Grill with swing seats - just fun!
Activities
Look at Mr. Wonderful run!

Mr. Wonderful is a runner, and he was able to run on the walkway around the resort.  I preferred the gym treadmill and we were both able to exercise daily.  The gym is small and during the mornings from 8-10 it was very crowded.  They have televisions, towels, Gatorade and water along with treadmills, elipticals and weight equipment.  You can get in a good workout, but expect tight spaces.

There are daily activities such as a nature walk, guided snorkeling, kayak or games on the pool deck.  All non-motorized activities are included with your stay at Secrets and are posted on a daily schedule found on your room tablet, in the lobby or on bulletin boards around the resort.


Hard Rock Cafe Montego Bay is located directly next to the resort with an internal gate.  You can easily walk for site-seeing, shopping or a meal.

There is a glass bottom boat, trips to other locations and various excursions to be arranged that have additional fees.  The connected Breathless resort has pool parties which any guest may attend. I confess, we did not leave the resort.  We observed a Breathless pool party, but the live d.j. and dance party were not our style.  We were there to relax and that's what we did.



Can you see Mr. Wonderful snorkeling? 




Snorkeling is abundant immediately on the beach, especially next to the concrete bars and gazebo jetties.  We brought our own snorkel gear, supplemented with some from the resort shop and went out several times daily.  It was my favorite part of the trip!

Immediately off the beach you will find plenty of small fish to observe.  A bit further and you will find see grass.  On one cloudy day, there were more than usual, including barracudas, which we were told is the norm.  I regret not having a GoPro to capture the incredible underwater world.

This is the spot to join non-motorized activities.
There are several jewelry shops, apparel, souvenir and necessities shops as well as a casino.  In the middle of the shops, is a big screen where movies or sporting events are played nightly.

Secrets Wild Orchid pool with swim up bar.  Plenty of space to find a spot.
These are some of the items we purchased for the vacation.  The resort has pool floats, but they are in high demand and the ones below traveled easily. (Affiliate links below)

     

In the morning, I placed our towels and pool bag on our favorite chair to reserve
Yes, we are relaxed!
for the day.  Some use a butler, but we did not employ a butler on our visit. On the two days when I didn't save chairs, we still had great spots, but this trick helped us identify a nook on the beach that provided shade and comfort.  It was so fantastic to be offered multiple towels throughout the day and not worry about getting one sandy!

A server came by at least twice an hour to see if we wanted drinks.  Bottled water was on hand in large barrels.  We brought our own insulated cups to use and they were filled to the top each time.  A metal straw was nice because Jamaica only uses paper strawd that disintegrate quickly.

Secrets Wild Orchid at Night - music and shows by the water each evening.
You might even see a cruise ship at port.
There was plenty of evening entertainment: music, shows, games, and more.  Again, we didn't participate and were back in the room by ten each night.  After dinner, we would take a long walk all around the resort, over to Breathless, up to the roof, then back down and sometimes over to Hard Rock Cafe.  No one seems to be on the beaches at night and it is a wonderful way to walk off some of the dinner indulgence.  If you want nightlife, it's there.  It's just not for us.  We wanted quiet, relaxation and privacy.


Beaches/Pools
Seriously beautiful water - no filters, for real.

This was the most beautiful beach I've experienced.  The water was clear and very calm.  We had one day where the water was a bit more choppy and we saw true waves, otherwise it gently lapped the shore.

The sand at Montego Bay is white, fine and powder soft. It is raked every night, so there is no debris to hurt your feet. If you want to walk on the beach, wade in and float then you will be just fine going barefoot.  If you want to snorkel, consider water shoes of some kind.  There are cement shoals, coral, shells and you might scrape your leg.  Sea grass is soft, but I'm not a fan of the unknown!

When you snorkel, wear fins or water shoes.  I brought my Keens. Other water shoes (or snorkel equipment) are available in the resort shop.  You may use the resort snorkeling equipment  which is provided, but only for the guided snorkel tours.  Guided snorkel tours were scheduled for 9 am, 10 am and 2 pm each day while we were there.

This was the most active we saw the water, which was calm and clear most of the time.
This was the Main Wild Orchid Pool. Guests are free to move between
Wild Orchid and St. James pools and beaches. Separate areas are available for Preferred Guests.
All spaces are luxurious.

I believe this is the main St. James infinity pool, with
Oceana restaurant in the background.
The pools are kept clean, they were warm when we were there in February.  I was told the Preferred Pools are heated.  There are two large, general pools with swim up restaurants and two, smaller pools for the preferred clubs.  All looked comfortable and fun, but the pools with bars/restaurants had more activity.  There was music (sometimes live) and games or contests at various points.

This shows some of the poolside activities available.  The staff also hosts games and 
a schedule is posted for yoga, water aerobics and other adventures.
Plenty of space to relax on the beach, even when we were there while hotel was at capacity.
The gym is a bit crowded and tight, but has enough equipment for a good sweat.
Gym

The gym will let you get in a workout, but it is small for the number of people
sharing among the three resorts.  It is located at the far end of the complex (near
Infused water and Gatorade options
changed flavor daily.
the spa and Hard Rock Cafe).  It is closest to St. James and the walkway to Breathless.  They have five treadmills, three elipticals and free weights.  Two large screen tvs provide distraction and the walls all have windows onto the grounds and beach area.

The gym is functional, but try to avoid the popular times between 8-10 am.  In the gym, you will find bathrooms, towels and infused water or Gatorade.

The beautiful, but freezing plunge pool.
Spa

The Pevonia spa was beautiful and we enjoyed two couples massages while we
Relaxing sensory walkway.
were there.  The setting is relaxing and the service was excellent.  Spa costs are in addition to the all-inclusive resort fees, and be sure to tip well for this hands-on service.

Upon arrival, you will confirm your appointment and complete a health questionnaire.  Ladies and men will be escorted to separate changing areas where you will remove clothing (wear a swimsuit if you want to use hydrotherapy) and be provided with non-slip shoes and a robe.  Each is given a temporary locker with personalized combination to secure items.

The spa offers healthy, low sugar, options.
The hydrotherapy circuit consists of: Steam Bath, Dry Sauna, Rinse, Plunge Pool, Jacuzzi Tub, a variety of sensory showers (bucket dump, all over spray, etc.) and a sensory walk.  Be warned, the plunge pool is beautiful ... but it is freezing!  We waited in the Jacuzzi until our massage time and were quite relaxed.

For the couples massage we were
Chlorophyll Water
taken to the top floor with cool, dim rooms.  Mr. Wonderful and I were in adjoining rooms that opened to one another, and we loved the 50-minute Swedish massage so much that we booked again two days later.  A massage is the ultimate luxury for me.

They use massage oil and aromatherapy and you will leave your massage feeling a bit slippery.  If you desire, showers are available and anything needed to get ready is on-hand including hair dyers, brushes, mouth wash, etc.

The spa also offers hair salon service, manicures, pedicures, facials, skin treatments and more.

This is how one man delivered room service.


People

I know that the resort staff are paid to be nice to me, but I really enjoyed my interactions with the Jamaican people.  From our doorman to our maid, even the security staff - everyone was friendly and open.  I loved seeing them laughing and talking among themselves as they worked.  No one made me feel bad or awkward for making a request or needing service.  We felt safe and welcome, with staff showing genuine interest in us.

This is the Breathless Beach - only Secrets Preferred Club guests have access. This beach has the most shade.
Tipping

Some all-inclusives have a no tipping policy, Secrets does not.  It is strictly up to you whether to tip or not, but I liked being able to respond to excellent service.  US Dollars are the preferred currency, even in Jamaica, but you may exchange currency on site for no fees.  Bring lots of $1 and $5 bills. Consider the following opportunities to tip:
  • Driver ($5-$10)
    A groundskeeper offered a bouquet.
    I kept it in my room for our whole visit.
  • Bellman ($5-$10, depending on how much luggage you brought)
  • Server ($1 for any drinks, or in-lobby self service)
  • Waitstaff ($2-$3 buffet, $8-$15 dinner)
  • Pool Staff ($1 each for towel service, where they prepare a beach/pool chair)
  • Maid / Turndown ($5 daily, $3 if no linen changes, $2-$3 for turn down). I left our maid a gift upon departure, also.  She took good care of us.
  • Butler ($10-$20 daily, depending on what you request)
  • Extra Kindness ($3-$5 Examples for us are when a groundskeeper made me a coconut bouquet. Another is when a security personnel escorted us on a tour to a new area we would not have found on our own.  Any time someone went above and beyond, we were impressed and wanted to reward the behavior.)

Preferred Club or Not?

The reason I chose "Preferred" was because I knew we wanted to feel completely pampered.  I wanted us to be able to move freely about and between the resorts and have access to all locations.  I valued the private preferred beaches and pool and wanted more options for food which is only available in the preferred lobby.  It was very worth is for us and I will make that choice again in the future.  Preferred also positioned us closest to the restaurants and all Preferred Rooms have the balcony hot tub.  Those were not deciding factors for me, but they were nice extras.


Preferred Club Pool area - you can see the swim out suites.

View of the swim out patio.
The highlighted room for the Preferred Section is the Swim Out.  I am so glad I didn't select it because it lacks privacy and is very open to the preferred pool area.  I much preferred our bay view from up high than the pool view from the first floor.  If I was seeking an upgrade, it would have been to a Master suite, which has more room to sprawl.  There are several upgrade options, so check it all out, if you're interested.

All rooms above the Swim Out Suite have access to a butler.  He or she will go above and beyond to ensure you have a good stay.



Going Back?

I sure hope we can make it back one day.  I would easily recommend to a friend and Mr. Wonderful and I will plan another trip someday in the future.  Thank you to the people of Jamaica and Secrets Wild Orchid for a truly indulgent experience.  I felt pampered and welcomed in your beautiful country.

I watched a group guests board this boat to Negril, on their way to one of many optional excursions. 

Details

What about Wifi? Cell Service? Electricity? Bugs? Weather?
We had fantastic connectivity.  While not quite as quick as in the US, we were never out of communication or internet service.  The wifi worked throughout the resort and reached to the beaches/shoreline and beyond.

We use Verizon and Mr. Wonderful did opt for International Service.  Upon arrival in Montego Bay he received a text from Verizon stating that if he received texts or made calls a $10/day international fee would apply.  Mr. Wonderful remained in touch with work colleagues via phone calls and email.  He even participated in a conference call while on vacay.  I kept my phone in airplane mode and just used wifi.  I could communicate via apple messages or Facebook.  I texted with family and posted as I wished.  We did not change the plan prior to our trip. Note: Android phones could not communicate via text without cellular service, but I could email those persons.

Jamaica has the same electrical voltage as the US and you will not need a converter.  The outlets and switches have a different appearance, but all appliances are compatible.  No adapters are needed and we found the room to have plenty of outlets, including USB outlets on each bedside.  We had electrical power 100% of the time.

The resort uses pesticides to control insects and we had zero irritation while we were there.  It was recommended that we bring bug spray, and our room had a small bottle as well, but we never used it.  Mr. Wonderful got one bite on his ankle at dinner one evening.  Every night after dinner we walked fully around the grounds, but never had insect issues.  Maybe we were lucky.

In the same way, we had very pleasant weather in February.  Daily temps were in the low to mid 80 degrees with evenings about ten degrees cooler.  There were moments where the sun felt hot, but the humidity was quite mild.  We experienced just a couple of very mild showers but we snorkeled right though them.  Don't forget, there is an umbrella in the closet if needed.  Mostly, it was partly cloudy, with more clouds than sun which suited us just fine.  We used sunscreen daily, applied in the morning and early afternoon.  We didn't have any burns.

A word about Club MoBay

Club MoBay is a service available upon arrival in Montego Bay.  A personal assistant will greet you upon arrival and usher you directly though customs, then into a private lounge where you will meet up or hire transportation to your resort.  Many will recommend it, but I'm glad I saved my money.  For us, the trip through customs was quick and seamless.  There was no confusion about where to go.  I never went into the lounge, but the standard airport offered plenty of shopping, food and beverages.  Yes, it was crowded but I've heard Club MoBay is, also.  The cost of Club MoBay is $50 per adult upon arrival, or $40 for departures.  I'd rather spend that elsewhere.


Disclosure: All opinions are my own and copyright 2020.  No compensation was made to me for my thoughts.  All photos are property of myself. I included affiliate links for items we used on our trip and would received a small commission if you purchase through the link with no change in price to you.  Thanks!