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Monday, July 26, 2010

Foursquare, Are You There?

The social media application foursquare has been around a little while now and has gained popularity among a lot of the people I currently follow on Twitter. However, I had been resistant to joining Foursquare for some time now, despite the prodding of many of my friends and followers. After all, their arguments could not justify a reason for me to join this new craze. It took me quite a while and some serious convincing to even join Twitter, a application that I now use constantly. Yet even though I got the purposes and uses of Twitter, Foursquare practicality still managed to elude me. All I could see is useless messages of people checking in here and there and becoming a fictitious Major of some business establishment. But today all that changed!

Today I saw the light and a reason to attach myself to yet another social media tool and it's all due to Pizza Hut on Knutsford Boulevard! I was at a business lunch meeting at the mentioned restaurant and experienced a disappointingly poor level of customer service, one of the poorest I have had to endure. Yes it was that bad. When we entered the establishment, despite the sign saying we should wait to be seated, we had to wander about the restaurant to a table. This was followed by a lengthy wait just to get the attention of what seems to be the only person working the entire floor, even though the restaurant was practically empty. Nonetheless, we made our order and after waiting for a while the orders came out, but only for two of us, the third was missing. The waitress explained that the third order was burnt and would not be ready until 6 minutes later! I understand that we are all imperfect and things happen, but she didn't even offer some form of compensation for it! We had to ask what kind of compensation will we get for this extra wait for out food and a total disruption of our dining experience. After explaining that we would have to speak to the manager we agreed that we would speak to the manager. However, they manager took her own sweet little time to come. And even after hearing the situation she still did nothing to appease us, their paying customer, the ones putting money into her pocket. Now this is a typical example of the lack of customer service that is lacking in the majority of this country called Jamaica. But what does this have to do with Foursquare?

Well, Foursquare allows me to "check in" at business establishments in Jamaica and worldwide: restaurants, stores, hotels, etc. It also allows me to leave a review of my experience at that specific place, whether good or bad. This can now be shared with other friends I have on Foursquare and Twitter to give a first hand review of the service, decor, amenities, etc. By doing this I can spare someone the horrible ordeal I had to experience at that establishment! If my experience at this place was good I can encourage others to visit there based on my positive review. It doesn't end there, as I supposedly can see reviews of places, known as tips, before going there to determine if it's worth my time and money!  So with those cool features I finally decided to give it a try.

Now I can go on my crusade to improve customer service in Jamaica by means of this social media tool! Um, well not really as I doubt my checking in and tips at these establishments will not make much of a difference. But at least I will be able to give some form of help to my Foursquare and Twitter friends. I figure too that with each person making a contribution in the social scope by using Twitter and Foursquare we can all make some impact to prompt these places to pull up their socks! Time will tell as these social networks grow and transform. In the mean time you can follow me on Foursquare and Twitter, both have the user name StunnerJ. So are you there?

Friday, July 23, 2010

JTB Bloggers Linkup: The Finale

Wow, it seems as if it was just yesterday I was enjoying the luxuries of Secrets Wild Orchid and thinking about which of its restaurants I should have dinner! But time certainly flies when you are having fun as that was a whole week ago. Alas, all I can do now is just reminisce on the time I spend at the resort and mi fun filled weekend on the north coast of Jamaica. So now let me do a flashback to the last two days of the trip.

I would like to refer to Sunday as the winding down day, after all the excitement of Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It was the first day I could fully enjoy the plush bed in my room at Secrets Wild Orchid, yes I could sleep late as there were no activities planned for that day. It was also the day where I could really indulge in what the facilities had to offer. So after reluctantly pulling myself out of the very comfortable bed I started off the day with a hearty breakfast. However, I detoured from my normal omelet route and went straight for the Jamaican breakfast. I was certainly not disappointed with the ackee and saltfish, steamed callaloo, and fried dumplings as they had a Jamaican flavour to them! Yes I could feel and taste the lovely sensation and flavour of scotch bonnet pepper in the callaloo; the food did have the taste a true Jamaican cooking. Something surprising for a north coast resort!

The beach at Secrets Resorts
After breakfast I decided I would see what the beach at Secrets Wild Orchid was like as it did look quite inviting. Unfortunately though, my time in the warm Caribbean Sea was cut short by ominous clouds that threatened with lightning. Nevertheless, I did enjoy my five minutes on the lovely beach at the resort as I managed to swim and dive a little before being chased out of the water by the inclement weather. As a result I did not get the chance to try out the water crafts that the resort has. I retreated to the safety of the lobby where a few other bloggers where hanging out at the bar and after enjoying a tall Dirty Banana I ventured out once again as the weather seemed to have tamed itself a bit. I spent a few hours chilling the pool then had some delicious lunch, jerk chicken pizza. I then heard the call of the bed in my room, which of course I heeded.

Jerk chicken pizza

After a short nap it was time to check out that beautiful spa I toured on Friday morning. This was my first time sampling a spa, so I was looking forward to what it had to offer. My scheduled spa treatment started out with 10 minutes in the steam room, which took some getting used to! Both the heat and the steam made breathing difficult for me at first, but after getting accustomed to it I relaxed and let the sweat flow in the heat. But if I thought I was sweating in the steam room I was wrong as the sauna made the steam room look like a walk in the park! I sweat like I have never sweat before, as sweat poured from me like the Niagara Falls on crack! I could feel my pours open to release the toxins. Next it was off the the water treatments which consisted of hot and could showers, relaxing massages from jets in two different hot pools. This was then finished off with a dip in ice cold water and a walk through a shallow hot and cold water pools. After the treatment my skin was feeling tingly clean and refreshed while my body was beaming from the relaxing massage of the water. By the time the spa treatment was done I was running late for the final dinner as I had lost all concept in time while pampering my body!

Aesthetics of the spa

The sauna

The water treatment pool

The hot tub
Dinner was hosted at the Seawind Beach Club, which is a part of the Secrets Resorts, but is open to the public and not restricted to guests of the two resorts. The restaurant sported a warm inviting colour, high roof and had a open air design to allow the natural breeze to flow through. However, the beach club is more than a restaurant as it had a pool, a beach and several tent style gazebos which were illuminated with coloured lights. A nice environment to have a relaxing dinner with friends. After, a wonderful dinner the live band that serenaded the guests upped the tempo and it was party time! The guests danced to the live music while some guests had to jump in the pool to cool down after dancing up a storm. It was a nice way to bring down the curtain on a lovely, fun trip.

Seawind Beach Club
Bloggers dancing to the music of the live band
The following morning was time to get ready to leave and after breakfast we bid farewell to the wonderful Secrets Resorts Wild Orchid and the many activities the Jamaica north coast had to offer.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

JTB Bloggers Linkup: A Third Day of Fun!

Rose Hall Great House

After a fun filled Friday, I was looking forward to yet another day of fun on the North Coast. Saturday had two major events that I was looking forward to, a tour of the Rose Hall Great House and a party ride on the Catamaran in Negril! After yet another healthy breakfast at Secrets Resort it was time to head on our tour bus for another day of adventure and fun!

Our first stop of the day carried us again eastward to the neighbouring parish of Trelawny to do a tour of the famous Rose Hall Great House, the former home of the infamous Annie Palmer, also called the White Witch of Rose Hall. I have read the stories about this rich part of our Jamaican history when I was in primary school but have never been to the stage where this story had played out in in real life. From the highway the the house stood imposingly over the lawns of what was once a huge estate supported by slaves. The tour is a brief one, yet the house and the legend behind it was eerie enough to make the length of the tour negligible. The old style look of the furnishing, the soft light entering the house from the overcast skies and the awfully loud squeak of the wooden floors made the building look like somewhere you wouldn't want to be at the fall of night. I did manage to get quite a few photos of the interior of the great house, which was like a step back into the dark past of our island.

Me at the Rose Hall Great House

The Dining room of the Great House

Annie Palmer's bed room

A sitting room in the Great House

After the tour it was time to head back west again, but pass our accommodations in Montego Bay to another tourist destination, Negril. Our Negril visit started with a small stop at Margaritavlle, where we stayed long enough to wet our feet until our host Sandals Negril was ready for us. After a short tour of the Sandals Negril property, it was time to board the catamaran to set sail for Rick's Cafe! Budding with excitement I quickly changed into my swim shorts and waded in the water to board the boat fun some fun on the high seas! The boat was stacked with a tasty assortment of finger food and a bar with a bar tender willing to mix you up a drink or two... or three! The boat ride to Rick's Cafe was filled with chatter, music, food and the occasional chanting as we went over the larger waves. We docked at Rick's Cafe for a while was we watched the brave dance with danger as the take the 30 feet plunge of the jagged cliff to the deep blue water below. A few of our guests on the boat faced their fears and also took the plunge while the others, including myself watched from the safety of the catamaran. But the fun was just only beginning on board as our trip back to Sandals Negril was a party on the sea, as we all danced... some tried to dance and rocked to the beat of the music and just having a grand time.

Bloggers on board the catamaran

The food and liquor on board

The cliff at Rick's Cafe

Bloggers partying

Yes we party hard like a Rock Star!

When we returned to Sandals Negril, our group was split in two as both Sandals property wanted to give us a taste of what they had to offer for dinner. One set stayed at the Sandals Negril property while the set I was in headed to Beaches Negril. At Beaches Negril we we treated to a feast on the beach, which climaxed with surf and turf for the entree.

Surf and Turf at Beaches Negril

This brought down the curtain on our day as I can't even recall the bus ride back to Montego Bay since I was out cold from a fun, exciting day.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

JTB Bloggers Linkup: Day Two

Live band at Secrets

On Thursday night the staff of Secrets Resorts Wild Orchid, treated us to a nicely presented buffet style dinner on the beach and serenaded us with music from a live band. This gave us a chance to replenish ourselves and start the process of mingling and meeting the other bloggers who we would be exploring the North Coast with for the next few days. After the short mingle and food I was beat from the travel down to Montego Bay and retreated to the comforts of my luxurious room to recharge my batteries for the next day. But what would the day have in store for this eager set?

Buffet style dinner

Guests mingling

It seems everyone suffered from a bit of jet lag or was way to comfortable in their rooms as on Friday morning as we got off to a really late start. It seems I too was one of the guilty parties as I did not have breakfast until almost 10:00am due to the fact that I got up late. The breakfast buffet was made for champions as it offered a wide variety of international breakfast items as well as local breakfast combinations to start our day off right. Our late start to the day however negatively impacted us as we encountered a time constraint which forced the abandonment of the Chukka Caribbean Adventures ATV Tour and our trip to Mystic Mountain. Both of these events I was eagerly looking forward to, so you can just imagine my disappointment when I heard I would not get to enjoy those two activities. Nevertheless I was still determined to make the best of it. Now what was there to do apart from these two activities?

Breakfast buffet

Omelets being prepared

My breakfast!

We still made our first stop at Chuckka Caribbean Adventures, but not for the ATV tour, it was a new activity that they are now offering, a Dog Sled ride! Yes you read right, a Dog Sled ride! This was something I have only seen on TV and in the northern snow covered regions, not in the warm tropical island of Jamaica! This was something I had to see and at least try. The Chukka Caribbean Adventures team gave us a brief introduction to how this activity got started and its background, which led into a full interaction with the guests and the dogs. Next it was time to see what this ride was all about and after a brief demonstration on a single rider sled the guests as well as the dogs were eager to go! I gave the ride a try and made it on the second leg of the ride which was indeed a unique and new experience for me. The ATV tour may have been more exciting to me, but this ride sure did offer me a short thrill and fun. Five of us huddled together in the cart led by several dogs running to the command of the driver along the path. For a first hand view of the ride check out my little video below!

Gordon meets a new friend

Dogs are ready for the Dog Sled ride

Chukka staff prepping the dogs

The Dog Sled Ride!

First person video of the ride!

We later departed from Chukka Caribbean Adventures to get some fuel for our bodies and the place of choice was Scotichies, a local Jerk centre in St. Ann near to Ocho Rios. We all indulged in a mixture of jerked chicken, jerked port, festivals, roasted sweet potato and corn accompanied by our drink of choice... which in my case was a cold Red Stripe. The meal seemed to had score a hit with some of the guests who were having this kind of Jamaican food for the first time.

Pork being jerked at Scotchies


My lunch!

Our final stop of the day was at the famous Dunn's River Falls, where the majority of the bloggers on the trip had a ball climbing the falls. They started from the bottom and worked their way up, climbing the face of the slippery rocks, resisting the forces of the powerful cascading waters while still finding the time to pose for photos along the way. After a victorious climb our tired travelers were ready to head back to our rooms at Secrets Resorts Wild Orchid for some food and rest, as there was more to come!

Bloggers climbing Dunn's River

Tim and Frances

Stopping for a break

The climb continues

By 11:00 pm the bus was ready to leave and so were the eager party animals! It was time to hit the Hip Strip in the Montego Bay city centre to sample the clubs it had to offer. The first stop was at Blue Beat where Latin music reigned supreme. Several guests tried moved or at least tried to move their bodies to the music, myself included, as I did a brief attempt at dancing the Merengue with the aid of my partner Frances. Next we hopped over to the famous Margaritaville which was playing a serious mix of early 2000 Dancehall hits and kept the crowd moving to to the groove. The club hopping ended at Pier One which was in full swing upon our arrival.

Bloggers enjoying the music

Dancing the night away

After our club hopping most of us went back to the resort to rest up for another promising fun filled day ahead, while a few remained and partied until the sun came up. But little did we know how much fun was still to come...

Friday, July 16, 2010

JTB Bloggers Linkup: The Beginning

Our Travel Bus to Montego Bay

On Thursday June 15 Over 25 bloggers and travel writers converged on on the second city, Montego Bay, to explore what the Jamaican well known resort areas has to offer. This is not the first Bloggers Linkup ever to be held in Jamaica as several Caribbean Bloggers have has such an event twice before in  Kingston Jamaica. However the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) Bloggers Linkup is the first of its kind, a corporate sponsored Bloggers Linkup, and definitely the first of such a magnitude. The Bloggers Linkup is an initiative by the JTB to use the information highway, the internet, and its fast growing social media such as blogs, travel websites and twitter to not only introduce, but promote what Jamaica has to offer. This medium allows independent writers to have a Jamaican experience which they can share to their readers without the promotional skewing needed by an agency such as the JTB. Such bloggers and travel writers would be in a position to describe Jamaica based on what they have experienced and in their own way of writing, a reality marketing you may call it.

Secrets Resorts Wild Orchid

Included in this contingency of travel and writing interests, are Jamaican bloggers who were invited to participate in this project, yours truly included. We all departed from the JTB head office in Kingston at approximately 11:00 am destined for our accommodation in the country;s second city, Montego Bay. They JTB certainly knows how to choose a resort, as they chose one that certainly would impress even the most avid luxury hotel traveler! What hotel could be so impressive? Well, it is a relatively new resort in the Jamaica resort market, but it certainly not new to impressing! "Welcome home", is how they greet you to this splendid resort called Secrets Resort and Spa Wild Orchid. From the warm welcome, friendly staff and cold damp towel accompanied by bubbling champaign the guest is wooed without even a second thought! But that was just the beginning of what the hotel has to offer!

The Resort lobby

I was escorted to my room, but as I left the beautiful lobby I couldn't help wondering what my room would look like. This though was put to rest instantly when I opened my door and saw the luxurious room that I will be spending my 5 day 4 night stay at the Secrets Resort and Spa Wild Orchid! I would attempt to describe my accommodations, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so the pictures below will give you a more vivid idea of the splendour of my room.

For more information on Secrets Resorts you may visit there website and you may also follow them on their Facbook Page and Twitter @secretsresorts. The rest of the property is amazing and I will endevour to explore as much of what it has to offer over the next few days despite the busy schedule I have. Yes, I just said busy schedule! We will be touring the north coast for the next few days ranging from St. Ann to Negril in Westomoreland. So stay tuned for my adventures on this extensive North Coast JTB Bloggers Linkup. You may also follow me during my entire stay on this trip by following me on twitter @Stunnerj as well as the experiences or the other bloggers by viewing the hash tag #oneloveja.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Saint International Fashion Block 2010

A Saint International model wearing one of the designs

Sunday July 12 was the climax of the Saint International Style Week, The Fashion Block. The Saint International Fashion Block is held on the biggest catwalk in the Jamaican fashion scene right in the heart of New Kingston. It is held on Knutsford Boulevard right in the middle of the dual carriageway on a runway elevated some 5 ft above the street level surrounded by a huge crowd. On the night of Fashion Block Knutsford Boulevard is partially shut down as it becomes the stage for the Dewight Peters inspired free fashion show, which displays the craft of both local and international designers modeled by the Saint International models.

Another Saint model in a hot polka dot piece

I have been to Fashion Block once before, but at that time I had just bought my DSLR and only had my 18-55mm kit lens and as such had no real zoom power or even an external flash to capture a decent image. So this year since I have accumulated some more gears, I decided that this free fashion show could not miss me. Fashion Block is known for the display of creative designs, but it is also notorious for its very late start. It was scheduled to begin at 8:00pm, so I deliberately decided to arrive at some time after 9:00pm with this in mind. However, despite my best effort to keep in sync with the organizers, they still managed to "outlate" me and the show did not start until approximately 10:00pm! They also managed to outsmart me by relocating the stage from the top of Knutsford Boulevard to further down the road just in front of the restaurant area where Burger King and Pizza Hut are located, so my usual vantage point was no more.

Model and Photographer Edward Masias

I was not in the mood to put myself and my gears in danger while I concentrate on shooting by going into the crowd to shoot, even though there was a strong police presence I the area. I wanted to get on the inside to get some good photos. However, security was tight and there was no way of getting in, but just when all seemed lost, I gained entrance by means of some links. I got the prime position that I wanted, yes the media stage right at the end of the runway! However, that would not make it all a walk in the park as the lighting was  definitely not conducive to photographers! It was so bad that at one point the bar with the lights was blocking the stage and even after that was fixed there was a light pointed directly at the media stage! That too was later rectified, but the lighting still offered a challenge. So I had to contend with the poor lighting and just do my best in the face of the obstacles.

A pretty scary piece by local designer Dexter Pottinger

Despite the hiccups and the late start, I did get to see the creativity of some of our local designers as well as overseas designers who were invited to display their work. The MC Jerry D, kept the show going as he introduced the various collections that kept the crowd's focus fixed to the runway. Dexter Pottinger certainly outdid himself with his freakishly... downright scary, yet creative, piece which he used to introduce his collection. Certified Divas Tami Chyn and Tifa provided the musical entertainment with a very brief performance to punctuate the the struts of the models.

Tami Chyn and Tifa

Dewight Peters poses with his models and one of the designers

Overall, I did enjoy the experience as this was the first time I was shooting at a fashion show from the media stage. I am not too pleased with the photos I got though, but I viewed it as a learning experience and I am sure I will do better next time. To view all the photos click here. Note: All images are under the copyright of Joel Finnigen and should not be used or modified without my permission.