Sunday, November 13, 2011

Flying high above Jamaica in 007 Sandals style

One of the items on my bucket list has been to tour Jamaica "off the beaten track." I envision renting a car and driving around the island seeing all the out of the way places that the average tourist never gets to see. The idea is always nixed because Jamaicans drive on the other side of he road. I tried that once in Australia..........

In my wildest dreams I never expected to tour Jamaica up in the air, but that's what happened when I visited Sandals Grande Riviera last month in Ocho Rios. Sandals Chairman Butch Stewart generously provided his private helicopter for a spectacular tour of the island and a stop at Sandals Whitehouse for lunch. To see Jamaica from the ground is gorgeous, but from the sky.....words can't describe.

After taking off from Ian Fleming International Airport (yes, the James Bond Ian Fleming) we flew over the beautiful North Jamaica coastline, Sandals Grande Riviera, Sandals Royal Plantation, the Appleton Rum sugarcane fields and the YS Falls. Francis, our expert pilot, got us all helicopterized in no time.  It may not be in the dictionary, but he did a great job in prepping us for the flight! I loved the fact that we could all talk to each other with our headsets on and the background noise was drowned out with a push of a button. In fact I loved everything about the experience. What an incredible ride!

"Dear Santa: Can I have a helicopter for Christmas?" Ok, that letter will probably get lost someplace between here and the North Pole.

Whenever I visit Sandals I never know what exciting things will happen. This was over the top!
A 007 kind of day. Stay tuned for our touchdown at Sandals Whitehouse on Jamaica's South Coast.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dinner with Sandals Chairman Butch Stewart

When I decided to start my own travel business, I thought about my favorite resorts. I decided that I would only send my clients to those resorts that I have visited and those resorts that I want to visit again and again.

Sandals and Beaches resorts top the list......gorgeous beachfront locations, great food, beautiful rooms, lots of inclusions. What sets these resorts apart is that they are family owned.

Sandals and Beaches Chairman Butch Stewart opened his first resort, Sandals Montego Bay, in 1981. When I began sending clients to Sandals they would come home raving about their stay and book another Sandals vacation. Everyone in the travel industry kept talking about this place. I had to see for myself.

After my first visit I was hooked. During my stay, I met Butch Stewart at Sandals Negril. He was very interested in what I thought about Sandals and what my clients needs were. Wow. This was different. Can you imagine if there was a Mr. Hyatt, and he would interrupt his lunch to find out what you had to say?

The second time that I met him was at Sandals Antigua when Hurricane Luis decided to pay a visit in 1995. The devastation was flipped over, a boat in the lobby, the uncertainty of what was next. Once the airport reopened, Butch flew in and sent us on his private jet to St. Lucia to finish our vacation at Sandals. This man truly cares about his guests. From that day on I realized that sending clients to Sandals was more than sending them to a hotel. I have been in the travel industry for thirty years and have never met anyone like him.

On my recent trip to see the spectacular renovations at Sandals Grande Riviera in Ocho Rios, Jamaica I sat next to Butch at dinner. It was great to catch up with him. I feel so fortunate to have had a long relationship with Sandals.

I got an email tonight from a couple who just returned from their honeymoon at Sandals Grande St. Lucian: "We had such a great time - already trying to figure out when and what Sandals we can go to next!!"

Thank you, Butch. You have made so many honeymoon, destination wedding and vacation dreams come true for my clients. I am honored to call you my friend.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Parry Town Primary School Visit

During my stay at Sandals Grande Riviera last week, I had the privilege to visit the Parry Town Primary School in Ocho Rios. The school is sponsored by the Sandals Foundation. Picnic tables and a basketball court are just a couple of examples of their generosity. Sandals Grande Riviera General Manager Brian Roper and his employees mentor students here as well.

Before I left for this trip, I decided to pack some school supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste to donate. The kids appreciation for these small items was beyond belief. I will be forever grateful to have had this experience. Some of these kids do not own a toothbrush or a pencil.

Please consider bringing an item or two to donate to a local school the next time you go to the Caribbean. You will make a huge difference in the life of a child and the joy that you feel will be priceless.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sandals Grande Riviera Beach Club Bliss

I was invited to spend a few days at Sandals Grande Riviera in Ocho Rios, Jamaica last week. Sandals gets it. Their philosophy is that if the travel consultant experiences the property, clients will benefit.  So true. I mean how are you supposed to know how beautiful the beach is or how relaxing the massage is unless I tell you first hand. A search engine website hasn't tasted the food....but I have and I can tell you it's to die for. More on that in another post.

General Manager, Brian Roper and his staff made me feel right home. What I love is that after the first day, the wait staff knows that I drink iced tea with lime at breakfast. I don't have to ask for it. They know that I like the first floor. They know that I like my refrigerator stocked with Coke and bottled water. Now multiply those "likes" by the number of guests staying there. Makes my head spin. They do it all and make you feel like you are the only one being catered to.

Last year when I stayed here, the property was under a massive renovation. The results are just beautiful. I was so excited to see the new Riviera Beach Club. I can't wait to spend a week here floating in the pool  or relaxing in one of the alcoves on the bluff.....listening to the waves and the rustle of the trees in the breeze.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Who is SusanSentUs?

My name is Susan Mackley and I have been traveling for the past 39 years. I've been working in the travel industry for most of my adult life. I got hooked during my sophomore year in high school when our French teacher took us to London.

To say that I am obsessed is an understatement. To support my habit I went to work for an airline after I graduated from college.

Like any addict, the more I traveled, the more I craved it. I would start planning my next vacation while I was on vacation. Who says you can't be two places at once?

I realized that details can make or break your trip. The best and worst trips stand out in my mind. It was the small things that could have steered it one way or another. I learned by trial and error.

There are things entirely out of our is a big one.....and there are things that you can do to ensure that you have the vacation you envision.

A little bit of research before you go can make a huge difference.

I want to share my knowledge with you so you don't end up.....

Flying from Chicago to Cleveland to pick up your lost suitcase of brand new clothes......

Stranded in Acapulco due to a cancelled flight, with your spouse, who let's just say, had a stomach that would have preferred different cuisine.....

Sleeping in a hotel in Brisbane, Australia where beer cans were stacked against the door as a security measure.....

Staying in a beautiful beachfront resort in Bermuda with a view of the dumpster....

Or being awakened by jackhammers renovating the hotel next door in Miami.

Travel should be a fun, positive experience. It can be costly in terms of time and money. People tell me that they spend hours surfing the internet only to feel overwhelmed. They come away feeling confused and less confident about planning their vacation.

I'll give you tips on how to get the best room, how to pack, the best time to fly. I'll even fill you in on how you can fly for of my FAVORITE topics!

I'll tell you how to "read between the lines" when checking out hotel reviews and photos.

I look forward to making sure that you can sit back, relax and enjoy the ride!

When I am not traveling or helping someone plan their vacation, I am cheering on the New England Patriots, going out to eat, taking a pilates class, and lately I've been reading rock star autobiographies. I went back to school and got my master's degree from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth last year so that I can teach travel and tourism at the college level someday.

I live with my husband David who does not share my addiction, but loves a great vacation....and our Welsh corgi Regis, whose life is a never ending vacation.