Mark and I have been married for almost 15 years. We were married at the young age of 21 and still in college. And when 2 broke college students get married, there isn’t much money for a honeymoon. So our very budget-friendly honeymoon was at the Jersey Shore and we stayed in a beautiful bed and breakfast.
Don’t get me wrong, we had a great time… but we always wished we had gone somewhere tropical.
Fast forward 15 years and we were ready to get a vacation away from the kids! Over the past 15 years, we have had times where we were in debt up to our eyeballs, we learned how to budget, and we paid off our $40,000 of debt. We also had four children (ages 3-11) and have never been away from them on a vacation longer than 2 nights.
We had been setting money aside for a vacation. And because we had a certain amount of money in our savings, we wanted to look for an all-inclusive.
Friends of ours that travel often suggested we looked into going to Jamaica. The flights are reasonable, the beaches are amazing, and the food delicious. I looked around and found the Sandals resort in Montego Bay. It looked beautiful in the pictures, it was freshly updated, and it was all-inclusive!
I was SOLD.
I booked four nights at the resort with money that I have put away in my Smarty Pig savings account. We didn’t go through a travel agency, I actually worked directly with the PR company that books media for trips. It was easy and pain-free!
I’ve never been to an all-inclusive resort before, but one thing that I loved about it is that I could really stick to a budget. We knew our trip would cost us X amount of money, and that is exactly how much money we spent.
No spending money going out to eat. No spending money renting a car. No spending money on evening drinks – it was already paid for!
We brought a $100 in cash just in case and ended up spending that at the gift shop to pick up some gifts and treats for our kids. Surprisingly, it is a really budget-friendly way to travel.
We opted to pay for Club Mobay which is a private service where you get to skip the customs lines. During the busy hours in the airport, you can stay in line for up to 3 hours, which is the worst thing when you first arrive and are ready for the beach. By purchasing Club Mobay we were able to bi-pass all of those lines and get a straight shot through customs. It does cost you $50 per person, but it was well worth the price!
Once we arrived I was SO impressed with the resort. As soon as we walked in we were struck by the enormous lobby and lounge, which opens up directly to a gorgeous view of the ocean.
Sandals were so generous with us and gave us a BEAUTIFUL ocean front room. There was an amazing white bathtub on the balcony, and we woke up to the sounds of the ocean.
The room was spacious with a king-sized bed, a large dresser, flat screen TV, and 2 arm chairs. The bathroom was enormous with a huge walk-in shower, a large closet and double his and her sinks.
Our room was located in the Almond building of the resort. Everything has been recently updated and it was absolutely beautiful. We had a fully stocked bar in our room that was all included as well.
The food was DELICIOUS! There are seven different restaurants to eat at the resort. You can get room service for any meal. The first morning we were there we got room service just because we wanted to sleep in and take our time.
The beach was perfect. The first full day we were there the water was calm and bright blue.
The 2nd and 3rd days it was windy which made the water murky and rough. Those days you were not allowed to do any of the water sports, so we opted for hanging out on the beach and in the hot tub.
So here’s another cool thing about Sandals resorts that came in handy on those days where the water was a little rough… when you stay at Sandals they will give you access to the other Sandals resorts for free. We took a 10-minute shuttle to the Royal Caribbean resort on the 3rd day to check it out. Since the beach at the Royal Caribbean is located in a harbor, the water was beautiful, clear, and calm. So we decided to stay there for the day to swim.
While we were at the Royal Caribbean resort, we go to see these beautiful over-the-water bungalows. A few of them are completed but most were still in construction. We were told that they are booked straight through 2018 already!
The Royal Caribbean was pretty but I prefer the layout of Montego Bay better. The Royal Caribean was smaller, and not as open and inviting. It took us a few minutes to find the beach. They do have a boat that takes you out to their private island which is where we spent most of our day.
So what did I love the most about staying at Sandals:
- I didn’t have to worry about my budget while I was there. I could eat and drink whatever I wanted.
- Water Skiing, Scuba Diving, and Water Tubing – all free with the stay.
- Ability to visit any other Sandals in Jamaica for free + free shuttle to and from.
- The staff was SO amazingly nice.
- Rooms were clean and quiet
- Since Sandals resorts are adults only, there were no screaming kids while I was trying to enjoy my kids free vacation. (If you want to go on a family trip, try Beaches)
- It was the best vacation I’ve ever had!
What I did not like:
- Since this resort is 10 minutes from the airport planes literally take off right over your head. (Honestly, there were only a few planes per day that did this, so it wasn’t that much of a disruption.)
- I didn’t want to leave!
Here are my tips for taking an all-inclusive vacation like this:
- Find the resort that you want to stay at. (I highly recommend Sandals in Montego Bay, we hope to go back next year!)
- Set your budget and figure out how much you need to set aside every month.(Ex: If the trip is $3,000, set aside $250 per month)
- Start setting aside money in a savings account. (We use a Smarty Pig account and set up a goal for our trips)
- Once you have your goal money set aside take a look at deals to get you there (Expedia is a great place to look)
- To check for flights, use the app called Hopper or Airfarewatchguard.com. These two will show you the cheapest days of the week to fly. We typically arrange our flights around their calendars.
- Go with friends (often times there is a group rate if you book directly through the resort)
We went with 2 other couples that are also bloggers. Holly and Greg Johnson from ClubThrifty.com and Grayson Bell with his wife Melissa. Grayson blogs at DebtRoundup.com and also runs a WordPress support company called iMarkInterative. Going with friends made our vacation so much more fun!
It was seriously the best week of my life, we plan on going back again next year!
And here are some more pictures, just because I wanted to show you 🙂 Click here if you want to know more about Sandals Montego Bay.
Have you ever stayed at a Sandals Resort? I would love to hear what you loved about it!
Have you grabbed my Chaos to Control Starter Guide, yet? I might be biased but I think it’s pretty amazing! Check it out!