Montego Bay, a Perfect 3-Days in Paradise

Sunrise Beach at Half Moon Resort in Jamaica

Sunrise Beach at Half Moon Resort in Jamaica

I'm not really sure what took me this long to book a trip to Jamaica.  It's got all the things I dream about on the dreariest of New York winter days - endless crystal blue beaches, reggae music, Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, and the friendliest locals.  The best part?  Its all just a short 3.5 hour flight from NYC.

I'd been excited for my tropical getaway from the moment the tickets were booked, but upon landing in Montego Bay I quickly realized I was in for a real treat. I was greeted at the airport by one of the Club Mobay VIP hosts, a hospitality service that escorted me through immigration & customs, expediting the whole process down to mere minutes.  Before I knew it, I found myself sitting in a shuttle that was headed straight to my hotel, the beautiful Half Moon Resort

Just 15 minutes later I was already at the hotel, being warmly welcomed by the staff and given a brief tour of the grounds. It's easy to see why Half Moon is one of Jamaica’s most luxurious resorts.  Some of the countless amenities on its sprawling 400-acres include over 50 pools, 3 restaurants, a cafe, 5 bars (including a swim-up option), 2 miles of private beaches, a stunning Spa, 11 tennis courts, 4 squash courts, basketball & volleyball courts, an 18-hole golf course, an equestrian center for rescued racehorses, and a standalone children’s village. 

Catching the sunset at Half Moon Resort

Catching the sunset at Half Moon Resort

Views for days in Montego Bay

Views for days in Montego Bay

I spent my first two days in Jamaica taking full advantage of the hotel's many on-site activities and relaxation opportunities.  Long walks on the beach, Hobie Wave sailing, paddle-boarding, and practicing yoga in the outdoor cabana were just some of the ways I was able to stay active while enjoying the sights and sounds of the ocean.  Down-time meant reading on my balcony, chatting with other guests in the swim-up bar, or indulging in a 90-minute massage  at the tranquil Fern Tree Spa.

Paddle Board Yoga

Paddle Board Yoga

Hobie Wave Sailing at Half Moon Resort

Hobie Wave Sailing at Half Moon Resort

Every evening the hotel slips a piece of paper under each of the guests' doors listing a variety of both on and off site activities available the following day.   Some of the options included tennis lessons, scuba diving, a hike to a local waterfall, and zip-lining through the jungle.  I decided to treat myself to one of the off-site excursions on my last full day in Jamaica:  Rafting on the Martha Brae River.

Rafting down the Martha Brae River

Rafting down the Martha Brae River

The hotel arranged for transportation to and from Rafter’s Village (about a 30-minute drive in each direction). Once there, I had a short wait until a raft was available, but the time passed quickly as I enjoyed a complimentary fruit punch while listening to some live music by the outdoor bar.  The raft ride itself was one of my favorite Jamaican experiences. Each bamboo raft is poled by a local guide as you peacefully drift down 5 kilometers of lush, jungle-lined river.  The friendly guides make the ride even more enjoyable, as many like to talk about their beautiful country, of its local flora & fauna, or the meaning behind the colors of its flag.  Other guides enjoy serenading their riders with a few reggae songs, and some, I found out firsthand, may even let you have a go at poling the raft down the river, should you decide its something you'd like to try (tip: you should, it was fun!)

My time in Jamaica included everything I had hoped for and more: sun-filled activities, plenty of time for relaxation, new experiences, and fun adventures.  The only thing I would change about it for the next time, would be to schedule a trip that is much longer than just 3 days.

* I was welcomed as a guest of Half Moon Resort. As always, all opinions are my own.

All photography by Renee Choi Photography

Lisbon: A Perfect Portuguese Stopover

Praça do Comércio square in Lisbon

Praça do Comércio square in Lisbon

I often find, when planning a trip, that deciding on a destination is my biggest challenge. There are so many incredible locations that I have yet to see, and my wish-list only seems to get longer with each passing year.  So when I learned about TAP Air Portugal's Stopover Program, where you can spend up to 5 days in Lisbon or Porto on the way to a final destination (150+ to choose from), it felt as though my travel prayers had been answered.  I would finally have the chance to explore Lisbon, a city that’s been on my list forever, as a complimentary stopover on my way to Paris.

Aerial view of Portugal's western coast

Aerial view of Portugal's western coast

Getting to Lisbon was easier than I anticipated, thanks to TAP Air Portugal.  I took a non-stop overnight flight that seemed to go much faster than its 7 hours.  The crew was accommodating and friendly, and dinner on board was delicious (I ordered a yummy vegetarian meal).  There was also plenty of in-flight entertainment options to choose from, I decided on this year's blockbuster 'Wonder Woman’ before falling asleep for a few hours. I woke up just in time to catch a gorgeous sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean right as we began our descent into Portugal.

Pink Street in Lisbon

Pink Street in Lisbon

My Lisbon adventure began moments after checking into my hotel, the posh Pestana CR7.   The hotel is a perfect blend of old & new, in a beautiful historic building that’s been renovated with every modern amenity. It’s conveniently located just around the corner from the the Praça do Comércio, where I sampled some snacks at the festive Christmas Market.  Also within walking distance was the colorful Pink Street in Cais do Sodré, which was even prettier in person (so much so that I couldn’t resist taking a quick yoga photo right in middle of the street!)  From there I made my way to the popular shopping boulevard Avenida da Liberdade, (I always seem to make my way to the shopping area!) and enjoyed a tasty Pastéis de Nata - a popular Portuguese pastry - at a local bakery. Afterward, I went for a stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets of Alfama.  This is really where I began to fall in love with Lisbon, its charm and beauty so apparent in this historic district.  A friendly local suggested I head over to Cacilhas, on the other side of the bridge, for dinner and sunset.  I don't think I could have asked for a more perfect way to end my first day in Lisbon.

Admiring Lisbon 

Admiring Lisbon 

The next couple of days included more exploration of the city as well as a road trip out west to the delightful town of Sintra.  Getting lost in Sintra's scenic roads was the ideal way to discover some of the renowned landmarks that lie in this region.  Nestled among lush hills were extravagant mansions, hidden towns, and Disney-style castles; it’s no surprise that this is where Portuguese nobility would spend their summers.  It would be hard to choose a favorite spot in Sintra, but some serious highlights of my visit there include the  Pena Palance, the Quinta da Regalaria, the Palace of Monserrate, and the Centro Historico (just outside of the Sintra National Palace).  Each place was truly more beautiful than then next, but one magical moment that will forever stay etched in my mind was watching the sunset from high above the oceanside cliffs of Cabo da Roca.

From the pastry shops of Lisbon to the Sintra mountain range, my heart is full from this incredible adventure.  Many thanks to TAP Air Portugal for the opportunity to explore this beautiful part of the world before heading to Paris, my final destination.  It feels as though I've only just begun to discover all that Portugal has to offer, but I know in my heart that I will be back again.

Until next time, Portugal...  Xx

Cabo Da Roca, at sunset

Cabo Da Roca, at sunset

Yoga in Sintra

Yoga in Sintra

Exploring the beautiful Palace of Monserrate

Exploring the beautiful Palace of Monserrate

Pena Palace

Pena Palace

Praça do Comércio Plazain Lisbon

Praça do Comércio Plazain Lisbon

Handstanding in Sitra

Handstanding in Sitra

* In cooperation with TAP Air Portugal

All photography by Nathan Rose Photography