Everything’s ‘Irie’ In Sublime Jamaica

By Mindy J. Ginley

“Irie.” This Rasta slang term is used to describe when one is feeling good; when everything is all right.

I can’t think of a better term to describe my recent vacation at Sunset at the Palms in Negril, Jamaica. Originally named for its 40-foot black cliffs featured in the James Bond movie “Thunderball,” Negril is the ideal spot for an authentic, laidback getaway.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Upon stepping off the plane in Montego Bay, we were greeted by a Club MoBay representative who escorted us through immigrations and customs, assisted with our luggage and led us to the arrival lounge, where we enjoyed a cold Red Stripe while waiting for our transportation. (This first-class VIP treatment is complimentary for all resort guests and is the perfect way to start a vacation.)

We prearranged our hotel transfers through Paradise Travels, opting for a private car rather than a bus that stops and lets out passengers at several resorts. Our driver, David Rickets, was friendly and professional.

On the scenic 90-minute drive along the coast, David told us about the island’s history and culture and taught us some Jamaican patois phrases. He also explained Jamaican’s widespread use of the word “respect” (said with a first bump). Life can be hard in Jamaica, he said, and expressing your respect for those you meet can go a long way. Respect can be used as a thank you, when you aren’t interested in what a beach vendor is trying to sell you, and when you receive great service.

Welcome to Paradise

The adults-only, all-inclusive Sunset at the Palms is located just a few steps from Bloody Bay Beach. The treehouse suites and the resort’s intimate size make it a true hidden gem. Our room, with dark hardwoods and shuttered windows, was elegant and comfortable. The balcony faced the mountains and was surrounded by lush, well-manicured gardens. We enjoyed sitting on the balcony listening to the tropical night sounds before melting into one of the most comfortable mattresses I’ve ever slept on.

Staff members set up our chairs on the beach and gave us a flag to alert them when we were ready to order a drink. We were in heaven sitting under the umbrella sipping on a frozen Bob Marley (a red-, green- and yellow-striped colada) watching the beach vendors. Before we knew it, the delicious smells from the beach bar grill let us know it was lunch time: jerk chicken, fish tacos and fries with jerk sauce, washed down by ice-cold Red Stripes.

Authentic Fare & Friendly Service

We enjoyed all of the restaurants at the resort. The main open air dining area, Palm Grove, featured fresh local specialties served buffet style. At Chef’s Table, we dined under the stars as we watched the chef and staff prepare our five-course gourmet meal. Our favorite venue was Lotus Leaf, the resort’s Asian fusion restaurant, where we received superior service in a romantic setting.

Our entertainment highlight was Paul Tucker, The Piano Man, who performed fun singalongs with the guests before dinner. Afterward, we danced to live reggae music in the outdoor pool bar.

The staff members at Sunset at the Palms seemed to genuinely enjoy their work and went out of their way to make sure we had everything we needed. By the end of our vacation, we knew many of the staff members and greeted each other by name.

Exploring the Island

We spent a day touring Negril’s West End with our driver, David. In the ’60s, this area appealed mainly to free spirits because of its reggae music, white-sand beaches and laid-back lifestyle. That funky, eclectic vibe is alive and well today in its many cafes. We visited the famous Rick’s Cafe, where we watched daring cliff divers; Xtabi Cafe, where we explored the caves underneath; and Pushcart Restaurant, where we snacked on ackee and saltfish patties high above the caves.

One of the coolest experiences of our trip was the One Love Bus Bar Crawl. Owner Lenbert Williams picked us up at our resort in his magic bus and brought us to several little bars. Some tours stop in Shantytown, where you’re encouraged to bring school supplies and small toys for the children. We met fun people from all over the world and saw parts of Jamaica that tourists don’t visit. And best of all, the tour is free (although a $10 tip is recommended).

We visited Jamaica for its pristine white beaches and crystal blue water, but its people are the reason I will return.

Respect!

The Bottom Line

Q: How much money should I spend on a monthly car payment?

A: This really depends on how much money you make and how much discretionary income you’re willing to spend on a vehicle. The general rule of thumb is to spend 10 to 15 percent of your income after taxes, but if you cut down on the money you spend elsewhere you might be able to swing a little bit more. You should also consider other automobile-related expenses such as gas, auto insurance, registration fees and maintenance. These costs add up, so it’s important that you factor them in when you decide how much money you want to spend. When you are ready to buy, I would suggest you apply for a AAA auto loan. We offer great interest rates and competitive terms on loans you can use to buy the new or used vehicle you want. We also offer a refinancing program if you are looking to lower your monthly payments on an existing auto loan. You can apply for one of these products at AAA.com/AutoLoans or call 413-785-1381 for more information.

-        Steve Brochu, vice president of insurance for AAA Pioneer Valley

Top 10 Things We Love in Denver

By Katie McElveen

There was a time when the Mile High City was better known as a stop-off on the way to Aspen or Vail than a place to visit on its own, but an influx of innovative chefs, artists and other creative types has added an element of cool to Denver’s Western swagger. What hasn’t changed is the city’s love affair with the outdoors. No matter the weather, fun activities abound, including hiking, tubing and cycling during the warmer months and cross-country skiing, dog sledding and ice fishing in winter.

  1. More than a concert venue, Red Rocks Park is a great hiking venue, too: Trails wind around the park’s namesake garnet-colored monoliths and through scenic meadows and valleys.

  2. Refuel at The Source, a food-centric urban market filled with restaurants, bars and a brewery, as well as retail establishments that range from a cheese shop to an art gallery.

  3. Art, indoor exhibits and fun seasonal displays make the Denver Botanic Gardens interesting any time of year; stop by the help desk for free garden advice from master gardeners.

  4. Watch coins being made, learn how they’re designed and get a penny for your thoughts at the Denver Mint, which opened in 1863 to manufacture gold bars.

  5. Open May through October, the outdoor Cherry Creek Fresh Market is Denver’s largest. Grab breakfast or lunch and shop for fresh produce, flowers, handcrafted cheeses, jams and baked goods.

  6. Gear up at the massive flagship store of outdoor outfitter REI; on Saturdays, a specially built, 47-foot-tall climbing wall is open to the public.

  7. Attend an author event or just roam the stacks of new and used books at The Tattered Cover, a Denver institution and one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores.

  8. The River North Art District – RiNo – overflows with the work of painters, ceramicists, video artists, photographers and other artists, as well as museums and restaurants.

  9. Denver is filled with “secret” bars and speakeasies; one of the best is Williams & Graham, which is hidden behind the shelves of a bookstore of the same name.

  10. Reflecting the peaks and rock crystals of the Rocky Mountains, the Denver Art Museum’s radical extension is as much a work of art as are the 70,000 works inside.
     

Looking for a variety of great lodging options in the area? Visit AAA.com/Hotels.

Save & Splurge: Raleigh, N.C.

By Kim Foley MacKinnon

North Carolina’s capital city is a delight to visit, with a compact downtown, thriving restaurant scene, exploding craft brewery industry, and several free museums and green spaces. The walkable city is bursting with energy, and it can be fun to time your visit with one of the city’s many festivals. Make sure to check out its eclectic shops and boutiques, too.

Budget

Stay: The Holiday Inn Raleigh Downtown is ideally situated in the center of town. Once you park your car, you might not need it again until you leave: Shopping, restaurants and attractions are just minutes away on foot. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi and the panoramic views from its 20th floor Skye Tower Restaurant and Lounge are outstanding.

Do: Spend a day exploring the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the North Carolina Museum of History and the North Carolina Museum of Art, all of which are completely free! Admission is just $5 at the excellent Marbles Kids Museum, where families can enjoy dozens of hands-on exhibits and educational programs.

Dine: Any barbecue place that’s been around for more than 75 years, like Clyde Cooper’s BBQ, must be doing something right. The casual spot has been serving Carolina-style barbecue since 1938. Top lean pork shoulders are slow cooked until they are beyond tender and mixed with a secret barbecue sauce.

Mid-Range

Stay: The Raleigh Marriott City Center is within walking distance to entertainment, museums, attractions and dining. The 400-room hotel has comfortable guest rooms, featuring Marriott’s signature bedding, plus an indoor pool and a Starbucks. Rye Bar & Southern Kitchen offers tasty Southern cuisine.

Do: Hop aboard the Raleigh Brews Cruise, a bus tour that takes visitors to three local breweries. Guides explain the brewing process, the different styles of beer, and what makes each brewery unique. Of course, multiple samples are supplied, and – best of all – someone else does the driving.

Dine: One of Raleigh’s more creative restaurants is Bida Manda. The Laotian cuisine is a blend of Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese, with a dash of influences from the country’s French colonial past. Crispy pork belly soup with coconut curry is outstanding, as are more familiar dishes like fresh summer rolls and pad thai.

Luxury

Stay: Located about 15 minutes from downtown, the AAA Five Diamond Rated Umstead Hotel and Spa is worth the drive. The six-story hotel sits on 12 acres filled with gorgeous gardens and a lake. Guests have use of the spa facilities, including a steam room, sauna, whirlpool and pool, even if they don’t book a treatment.

Do: Raleigh is a real food-lover’s town, and a Taste Carolina gourmet food tour is a great way to get a feel for the area. You’ll meet chefs while enjoying their food. Guides also talk about the city’s history and architecture along the way. Tours might visit five to seven restaurants and shops. Various tours are offered every weekend.

Dine: Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern is one of the city’s go-to special occasion restaurants. The seasonal menu might feature dishes like grilled Australian rack of lamb or roasted five-spice Pennsylvania duck breast. For a truly luxurious meal, book the chef’s table and eat in the kitchen with chef Daniel Schurr and his staff.

Get a taste of Raleigh by planning your stay at AAA.com/Hotels.