Monday, December 31, 2018

Saint Lucia 2018 - Part One: Planning and Sandals Grande

Our first trip to St. Lucia was in 1995 for our honeymoon at Sandals La Toc.  It was our back-up destination after our “planned” honeymoon spot of Antigua was shutdown due to hurricane damage 3 months prior to our arrival.   We had a great time on our honeymoon, but never returned to the island because of the long flight from Chicago and distance from the airport to many of the resorts. We also presumed all beaches (like the one at La Toc) would be grayish volcanic sand vs. the nice white powder sand we like.

What brought us back to St. Lucia after all these years?  Jade Mountain.   Dave first read about this unique hotel when they first opened (around 2006) and has been plotting a way to make it there since.  The hotel was featured on “The Bachelor” several years ago, which increased the demand for space in the 25-room hotel.  With its limited space increased popularity, uniqueness and excellent service,  the resort is pricey!  No way could we make a week vacation there a fiscally responsible choice. We wouldn’t fly to St. Lucia for 2-3 nights either.   That’s where Sandals comes in.

Sandals (and their family-focused Beaches) has an excellent loyalty program.  We earn points towards discounts on future trips (valued at $0.025/dollar spent on lodging) and after each 70 paid nights we earn a free week trip.   The room you get for the free trip is based on some complex secret formula of your previous room category levels booked, prior resorts, and room levels at the selected free resort.   Luckily most of our recent stays were at properties with multipliers!   When Dave called to book the free trip at Sandals Grande St. Lucian he was shocked that they offered us a Grand Rondoval Suite (stand alone cottage) with private pool and hot tub.  We’d never pay to be in this room category - which priced out at + 10,000 for seven nights.  With seven nights booked at Sandals we added on 3 nights at Jade Mountain to bring our ten night trip to a “reasonable” cash outlay price.   To make the trip even more cost effective and decadent at the same time, we used our frequent flier miles for First Class tickets.

Getting There

We flew out of Chicago O’Hare the night before Thanksgiving and headed to Miami.  Direct flights to St. Lucia are only available from Chicago on weekends.   We stayed overnight at an airport hotel (that finally had a craft beer focused tap selection).  MIA was relatively quiet Thanksgiving morning and we took off with no issues.  We found our new Nintendo Switch was perfect for killing time on the long flight with games like Mario Kart and Mario Party.

As predicted, several planes landed in St. Lucia at the same time we did, and our plane was last one in the group.  We spent about 25 minutes in line at Immigration before collecting our luggage and meeting our driver. 

We hired a private transfer vs. taking the free Sandals bus to ensure we could stop for a beer/bathroom break and to avoid stops at the other two closer Sandals resorts.   Our driver was fun and chatted with us most of the trip.  The roads on St. Lucia are pretty curvy given all the mountains.  We took a half-way break for restrooms and beer at a bar that overlooked the town of Dennery.   We sat here for a while because the driver’s associate was going to let us follow him on a short cut to our hotel.   That man did stop at the bar, said hello, then ditched us.  We ended up stuck in Castries rush-hour traffic after an accident. The total trip took over two hours.

Sandals Grande

We finally made it to Sandals Grande.   It was night so we did not get to appreciate the beauty of the area until the morning.   We did our check-in with one of our three butlers (part of staying in the Rondoval) which included a quick orientation of the room and our pool/hot tub area (with built-in misters).   We went over our dinner plans for the week and discussed where to set up our chairs and cooler in the morning (another butler feature), arranged for room service breakfast, and our daily 5:30 cheese plate.   This may sound demanding but we are pretty low maintenance compared to other guests.  We do not ask them to unpack/pack us, walk us to dinner, or deliver a drink to us (but they do fill our coolers and we do have them bring us lunch to the beach occasionally).

For dinner that night we hit Barefoot, the no-reservations required beachfront restaurant.   Sandals dining is fairly harmonized across all properties....Italian, Beachfront Casual, English Pub, Steak House, Caribbean, Sushi, Indian, Cook-In-Front-Of-You Japanese and one beach buffet night.   Since we knew the drill we managed to make plans to skip the buffet, get reservations late at other restaurants, and book a dinner at Sandals La Toc - our honeymoon hotel.

The Grande has a little over 300 rooms.  Given the long Beach and two large pools people could space themselves out very well.  Since this property had the nicest beach for the three locations in St. Lucia guests from the other Sandals would come over for the day.  This was also the “party” Sandals of St. Lucia so the soca was always blaring by the pool all day.  We took part in the Friday Foam Party.  Two hours of soap flying out of a cannon!

Next to our resort was the Pigeon Island National Historic Landmark   For $21 we gained access to the grounds and a souvenir guidebook.   The site held a fort on one hilltop, ruins of barracks at the base, and a few other POIs.   We headed over first-thing in the morning to beat the heat.  Fortunately we had the fort mostly to ourselves.   We had great views of our hotel, the Caribbean, the Atlantic, and the surrounding area.  

When we finished up at the fort we made the decision to climb the higher peak.   The path was sketchy with a lot of loose rocks and steep little areas to work around.  The views were very nice from the top.

That was our only real activity for the week.  We wanted to go to the Castries Street Party but we assumed it was actually in Castries - at least 30 minutes away.  It was actually only 2 miles from the hotel.  Oh well.   We did leave one night to visit Sandals La Toc - our honeymoon hotel.   We had dinner and spent some time remembering our early days of marriage.    We recreated a photo we took on our honeymoon.

1995 / 2018

Most of our days were spent standing in the sea, depleting our cooler of beer faster than the butlers could replenish it, having unicorn races with our floating drink holders (great conversation starters because everybody wants one), visiting the swim-up bar for Peter specials, swimming to the floating bar (Dave screamed with excitement when he saw it in the water), winning couples Name That Tune at the piano bar, and catching sunset at 5:30.  The resort had perfect seating arrangements for sunset viewing THAT NO ONE TOOK ADVANTAGE OF.  We paddle boarded once, had a couple’s massage (insanely when we booked we got $250 in spa credits), and took the sunset butler catamaran cruise.  The overall food quality was good, not excellent.  Entertainment was a mixed bag of good bands, bad guest talent shows, and cheesy newlywed games.  The staff was friendly and did a lot to ensure guests were having fun.  Other than butler and spa tips (the only people you can tip at a Sandals) all this was free!

Next post will cover Jade Mountain.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Tizzel’s Christmas Countdown - Christmas Eve

You knew something from Hanson had to be coming.... Short video from The Dr. Phil Show.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Friday, December 21, 2018

Tizzel’s Christmas Countdown 2018 - Day Seven

Tizzel loved this ad from Intu.   But since it’s short he decided to add a 10 minute AFV compilation of Christmas Trees falling over. He didn’t want you to feel ripped off.

Tizzel’s Christmas Countdown 2018 - Day Six

Time for the educational portion of our series.   China is not a predominant Christian country but they do celebrate the Christmas season.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Tizzel’s Christmas Countdown 2018 - Day Four

Perry Como, puppets, and Santa all at the same time.  Enjoy watching tv the old fashioned way - blurry.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Tizzel’s Christmas Countdown 2018 - Day Two

Today’s short video shows the secret life of vegetables as carrot fights parsnip.   Thank you Aldi for the great animated ad.  

Friday, December 14, 2018

Tizzel’s Christmas Countdown 2018 - Day One

Ten days left until Christmas! Tizzel is ready to entertain you with this year's collection of holiday related videos. Each day he'll be posting something fun he found on YouTube.

Today we start with a fun little song that will likely be stuck in your head all day.  Enjoy Santa Shark.

State Number 50 Countdown: Best and Worst Race Medals

With the Maui Marathon almost a month away we wanted to look back on the experience of traveling to 49 states and the races Holly participated in.  Over the next few weeks we will post videos recapping the experience.  

Our first topic covers The Bling!  Race Medals come in all shapes and styles.  Some are great, creative designs.... others not so much!

Other videos: Race SwagBreweriesSpaghetti and MeatballsDestinations

Sunday, December 9, 2018

2018 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon Race Report and Video - November 2018

Here is Holly’s report from the 2018 Monumental Marathon.  Following her report is a short video and comments by Dave.

This race was going to be my Fall marathon for 2018.   I wanted to do an actual road marathon in Indiana since my marathon for Indiana was that crazy indoor one.    If you are following along, you know I got talked into doing the Detroit Marathon two weeks before this one.   It did not go well and I was a little worried that this would be a slug fest as well.   The race weather looked similara bit chilly, but it did look like it would be sunny and it was supposed to get a bit warmer than Detroit.    I was bundled up at the start and this was another large race with big corrals.   Soon enough we were off and running.   

This was another relatively flat course and it took you through a bunch of nice neighborhoods and parks.   I was feeling good early on and was hoping it would continue.    Navigating this course was again a challenge for Dave but he did a good job and saw me a bunch of times.  I was doing this one solo and it was nice to see his smiling face several times.    

The sun did indeed come out and the weather was pretty much perfect for the entire race.    The race had some dead zones along a river trail and that was towards the end of the race where you are getting tired but the race tried it’s best to keep us entertained with trivia signs along the way.   

The spectators and volunteers were all great and I had fun interacting with them.   I remembered that this was supposed to be fun and fun is what I had!   I did have one issue at mile 7.  My hydration belt broke/malfunctioned.   I could not get it to clip back together.   I had to tie it in knot around my waist, which was not comfortable at all and it kept sliding up towards my chest.   It was such a good look,  not!   I did start to get tired around mile 20 and had to walk a bit more but still kept a pretty good pace the rest of the way in.    

The finish line was fun, but I totally missed Dave, oops!   You got a medal and nice winter hat at the finish.    This time we slowly walked back to the hotel and took our time getting ready, because we were staying over.   We had a fun night bar hopping and then had a great steak dinner at the famous St. Elmo    It was a great day.   I’m glad I had a good race and now the big one is up next.   

Maui Oceanfront Marathon in January to get my 50th state.  I can’t wait!


Dave’s Comments

The day before the race and had to run out of a meeting to meet Holly in the parking lot so we could get to Indy before President Trump and the related traffic.  Fortunately it was only a little more than 3 hours from my office and we beat POTUS to town.  Unfortunately the best find I had near the hotel for pasta was Buca Di Beppo.  Yuck!  What made it even worse was the hostess stand was actually in the kitchen.  

The next morning I had to move the car out of the hotel so I wasn’t blocked in by the 5k.   The full course would have been manageable but the half and 5k ran on other downtown roads creating too many choke points for me.   After I saw Holly at Mile 2 I decided to take the long way to try to get to 5.5. It got a bit difficult navigating where I could cross the course and highway and I ran up to my planned point just as Holly showed up.   The rest of the course was not too hard to navigate and I got lucky with the ability to cross the course at several points.  I ended up at the finish line with enough time to have a beer at the well-placed finish line bar.  

Snacking was pretty good because I parked near a Whole Foods where I picked up coffee and baked goods.  I may have been a jerk at Mile ten and let the runners see me eating a darn good pecan tart. 

After the race we kept bar-hopping within walking distance to the hotel since dinner was only a few blocks away.   We ate lunch at The Tap - an extension of a brewery in Bloomington.  Even though nothing was brewed on-premise they had a great selection of their items and others on tap with some decent food. 

Afterwards we went to Rebar where they had self-serve beer taps, craft cocktails, and a nice whiskey collection.   After dinner at St. Elmo it was back to bed.  The next morning we left town and headed to get one of Holly’s favorite breakfasts: