Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sandals Emerald Bay - The Flight Home

The weather during our stay at Sandals Emerald Bay was perfect.  I'll admit a few days were a little warm, but by midweek a nice breeze developed and some of the afternoon clouds provided some refreshing shade.  On the day of departure it was a different story.  We awoke to dark gray skies and rumbles of thunder nearby.  After thoroughly scrutinizing the weather forecasts the night before, it looked best to just wake up when felt in the morning, make the 11:00 am checkout and hopefully take off around noon.

I got up at 6:30 am and got a nice cup of coffee and a croissant from the cafe and enjoyed a peaceful walk on the beach.  I watched the weather move north through the area and found myself mostly alone during my walk.  I strolled through some of the other areas of the resort taking pictures for our "scrapbook".  I returned to the room and we took our time packing and enjoying paradise for a little longer.

I don't know if it was prearranged or we were just lucky, but the resort provided a fancy new white Cadillac Escalade taxi to take us to the airport.  As we left, a pretty good rain shower was pouring on us, but it looked like we would have a nice break at the airport.  As soon as we pulled up to the terminal, Ryan from Strachan's Aviation was there to meet us and help us to our plane.  Once again, they handled EVERYTHING!  He whisked us out to the ramp and I promptly began to pre-flight and load the plane.  I gave Ryan our departure tax money,$25 each, and he ran it back to Customs for us and returned with the receipt 

Unfortunately the break in the weather did not last and now Kristi and I were both hiding in the back of the plane trying to get the soaked plane cover rolled up and put in it's bag.  That's when it hit me, in the great haste of breezing from the taxi,  through the terminal, and out to our plane, I hadn't made the required call to US Customs to make notification of our arrival.  Failure to do so could result in a fine of $5000!  It was pouring and we were quite a ways away from the main terminal and I had no clue where the free "Blue Phone" for pilots was.  So I looked straight in front of the plane at the brand new building of the FBO we didn't use, grabbed our umbrella and made a dash for it.  So, thank you to Odyssey Aviation for not hesitating to let me use your phone to make my call even though we didn't pay for or use any of their services.  I still got soaked, but not as much as I could have been!

I hopped back in the plane and a few minutes later the rain tapered off so Kristi climbed out of the back and joined me up in the cockpit.  With the engine started and the run-up complete, we back taxied on Runway 12 for a right downwind departure   After all that we actually took off 2 minutes early.  Wow.  Most all the weather continued to move north, but it appeared the clearer areas were to the west and it was.  The route I filed for was ZQA ZFP ANGEE direct to Fort Pierce, FL (KFPR) where we would clear US Customs.  I knew I would not be able to fly that route because of the huge thunderstorm over Nassau, but I also knew I'd deal with that once I established communications with Miami Center.

As we climbed through 6000' I was able to successfully contact Miami Center for my clearance.  To my pleasant surprise we were cleared direct to ANGEE then direct to KFPR at 8000'.  Center and I agreed we would still need to deviate west for a while, but we remained in the clear the whole time.  We caught glimpses of some of the islands and beautiful waters from time to time.  We could see the tremendous cell over Nassau that had ALL the planes in the area making constant deviation requests.  As we passed over the north end of Andros and cleared the weather to our east, we were finally able to turn on course for ANGEE.

The route was pretty clear of weather after that and we had a nice and easy arrival into Fort Pierce.  We shut down in front of the US Customs building and unloaded our plane.  One of the officers was one we had checked through with a few times in the past.  They did x-ray our bags this time, but the whole process only took a few minutes and they were truly pleasant as always to work with.  We loaded up the plane and walked over to the APP Jet Center and Airport Tiki to put in our fuel request and get a quick bite to eat.  Unfortunately the restaurant is going through some remodeling so the kitchen was closed, but the waitress did kindly make us some cold-cut sandwiches.

With a little break and some food in our bellies, we climbed back in the plane for our last leg home.  Even though there was a huge thunderstorm to the west of Fort Pierce, the weather home up the coast was completely cooperative and the final leg of our journey was relatively short and easy.  We arrived back into Jacksonville with clear skies and a little cooler temps.  It didn't take long to get the plane unloaded and put away in the hangar.  We had an amazing week, but were ready to get home and see our little girls.  This was a trip we will definitely have to do again........soon!

So for this trip we flew over 1200 miles and these were our times from engine start to shutdown for each leg:

Jacksonville to Great Exuma = 3.9 hours
Great Exuma to Fort Pierce = 2.7 hours
Fort Pierce to Jacksonville = 1.6 hours

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sandals Emerald Bay - The Diving

My favorite part about the Sandals Resorts is that the scuba diving is included! If you are a certified diver, you can do a two-tank dive everyday during your stay except for the day of departure. If you are not certified, no worries! You can take the Resort Course for a small fee that is good for a year at any Sandals and/or Beaches Resort.

Anyway, I was fortunate to dive all week and got a total of 10 dives in! Some of the reefs are still quite damaged from the hurricanes that have come through in the last few years, but there was still plenty of sea life and beauty to enjoy!

The dive sites were not too far away from the resort. The furthest we went was maybe 25 minutes away, but most sites were about 10 to 15 minutes away. The water was warm and the visibility was fair. Gary, our Dive Master, was awesome. The whole Sandals Watersports crew were enjoyable to dive with.

Here is a slide show of some of my diving pics:
(If the slideshow doesn't work, please click this link for my album: Sandals Emerald Bay - Dive Photos)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sandals Emerald Bay - Our Stay

This was our 5th stay at a Sandals Resort since we got married 12 years ago, but our first visit to Sandals Emerald Bay.  It also happened to be Fall Reunion Week at all the Sandals Resorts for returning guests.  Apparently they were at 90% occupancy while we were there, but we couldn't tell.  We had a perfectly relaxing time.

Immediately upon arrival we were greeted by some of the management and staff who offered chilled towels to cool off with while we made our way inside for check-in.  Check-in is not officially until 3:00 pm, but no worries.  We were invited to enjoy the resort and find some lunch while we waited.  They informed us once our rooms were ready, they would show us the way and our bags would be in our room waiting for us.  Sounds good to me.

We made our way through the lush, tropical gardens and just enjoyed a few minutes in some lounge chairs while we took it all in and really began to relax.  We decided to have lunch at their pub, The Drunken Duck.  The food was excellent   Kristi enjoyed a very tasty bacon cheeseburger with steak fries while I had their fish & chips.  After lunch, and a few rum punches, we made our way back to the concierge lounge where we waited a few more minutes before I room was ready.  It was sad that some couples were really upset that their rooms weren't ready upon arrival.  I hope they eventually calmed down and had a nice stay.  Our room was ready by 3:00 pm and it was amazing.

We were shown to our room which was located on the 3rd floor of Bay House #4.  The location was perfect because it was close to everything we wanted throughout our stay.  The room had a nice king sized bed, a reading chair, a small dining table & chairs, stocked mini-bar, a beautiful bathroom with granite counter tops, a soaking tub, and a large walk-in shower, but best of all was the balcony and gorgeous view of Emerald Bay.  We quickly unpacked, changed into our swimsuits, and headed down for the Main Pool.

For the rest of the week we settled into a relaxing routine for us.  I actually got up every morning at 6:30 am and set up Kristi's stuff on a set of lounge chairs in a cabana located at the Quiet Pool.  I then had a delicious breakfast at the Bay House buffet.  Afterwards I returned to the room to gather my dive gear and departed for a wonderful morning of diving (I will post about that soon).  About this time Kristi would wake up and had her cooked-to-order breakfast delivered to the room.  Oh yeah, room service for our room was not advertised at all with our reservation, but it definitely was available for breakfast, lunch and dinner!  We used it many times and the food was great.  Anyway, after her breakfast, Kristi would get ready and head down to the Quiet Pool and her cabana I set up where she would enjoy the many books she read during our stay.  She did manage to finally have a massage at the Red Lane Spa one morning as well.

Upon returning from diving, I would meet up with my lovely wife.  Another plus of the quiet pool is that it has it's own bar so I would always request a nice rum punch.  After we visited for a few minutes, I would head over to Dino's and get us some pizza   They have their own specialty pizzas or you could order whatever you wanted.  The pizza was very delicious.  After lunch we would spend the rest of the day at the quiet pool just hanging out, talking, reading, and relaxing.  It was exactly what we needed.

Photo By Sandals

When it came to dinner we got pretty lazy.  We unfortunately did not get to try the fine dining at their French or Italian restaurants although I heard from numerous other guests that the food was spectacular.  We had dinner at Barefoot By The Sea one night where I had the Lobster & Steak and Kristi had the Grilled Shrimp. The food was very good, but we got eaten alive by the sand flies.  There is a reason they put bug spray in the rooms for the guests.  We also returned to the pub twice, but we usually ended up just ordering from room service.  I know, I know, but it made us happy and that's all that mattered!

The service, as always with Sandals, was wonderful.  Everyone was very cordial and made us feel at home.  They even tell you, as a returning guest, "Welcome Home!"  They go out of there way to ensure you have a great vacation.  If you want quiet and relaxing, you got it it.  If you want lively entertainment and activities, you got it.  I will honestly say the days in themselves did not go fast, but the week unfortunately did.  We had a great time and I certainly hope we can return much sooner than later!

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