We lucked out this year because the kids’ holiday break from school was 2 full weeks. That meant we could squeeze in another adventure style trip. Belize had been on my list for a while and 9 days seemed to be enough time to explore both the interior, rainforest area and one of the islands.

The planning

Similar to last year’s trip to Costa Rica, because we were going to be traveling over the Holiday break, flights were going to be expensive, even with points. Flights from Newark to Belize on AA leaving the day after Christmas were 37,500 miles each, one way. I booked those, spending a total of 150,000 AA miles. Yes that is a lot of miles, but when you want flights to a tropical destination on one of the busiest days of the year, you bite the bullet and spend the points.

After that I was out of miles, however I did have a $750 AA voucher from volunteering to give up my seat and take a later flight on a work trip to DC a few months prior. I used that to book mine and one of my kid’s flights home (plus $98 to make up the difference). I then bought the two other return tickets through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel site using about 56,000 Ultimate Rewards Points.

I bought these tickets around February 2019 and a month or so later my husband was chosen to receive free Platinum Pro status from AA for 4 months. They do this about once a year, where they choose some AAdvantage members and give them status temporarily, hoping to entice them to book enough flights to keep their status for the rest of the year. Since I had received this the before, I knew that we could go into our flights online and upgrade our seat assignments to “main cabin extra,” for free because of his status. These are the seats in the front of economy and they come with priority boarding, a designated carry-on spot for your luggage, and free booze on the flight. So we did that and were able to snag those seats for free. Pro tip – if you do this while you have PP status, the seats will stay there even once your status expires.

For the flights home since we were on 2 separate tickets only my husband and son received the premium seating. However this fall my husband upgraded his Hilton Honors card to the Aspire for a 150,000 point bonus. This card comes with a $250 a year airline credit. You choose your preferred airline and then use the credit to pay for things like seat assignments and checked luggage fees. We needed to spend the $250 by the end of the year so I made his preferred airline AA and I purchased seats in main cabin extra for about $80 each for my son and I so we could be closer to the other two. These fees were then reimbursed by Amex for the credit.

For the lodging, I chose a small local hotel in San Ignacio called the Rainforest Haven Inn. Standard rooms were about $60 a night, so I chose a 2 bedroom apartment for $75 a night! That way we would have more space and the boys could have their own room. In my research on this part of Belize it seemed like there were some swank but pricey jungle lodges away from town or these inexpensive, but nice local hotels in town. I liked the idea of staying in town so we could walk to things, so I chose the inexpensive, in-town option.

For Caye Caulker, I chose a 2 bedroom Airbnb cabana that got good reviews that had a small pool shared with a few other cabanas. For more about how to book Airbnbs and not get scammed, check out this article I wrote for FinanceBuzz.

The trip

Our flight left Newark, NJ at 6am, which meant we needed to get to the airport around 4 or earlier. I chose to get there earlier because we couldn’t check in online since we were traveling internationally with kids. I also had a bag to check full of donations for kids in Belize through the Pack for a Purpose program.

We took an Uber from my mom’s house at 3am and got to the airport at 3:45. When we checked in, the AA rep asked for the kids’ birth certificates. Luckily I had them! This is really important to know if you are bringing kids to Belize and something I only knew through the many travel online groups I am in. Each country has different requirements for this and Belize is very strict that you prove your kids are yours, or that they have permission to travel with you, because at one point there were a lot of child abductions from the US to Belize. This is especially important if your kids have a different last name than you. I have heard stories of people being stopped from boarding their flight because they didn’t bring documentation such as birth certificates.

Luckily check in was smooth and with TSA precheck we got through the security line in 5 minutes. Our flight to Miami was on time and we landed early. Our layover was short but fortunately the Centurion Lounge at Miami airport was right across from our gate. Since my husband has cancelled his Amex platinum card and you can only guest 2 people in per card, I took the kids over there for a quick breakfast. It was so ridiculously crowded though! We could barely find a place to sit to eat our food. In fact the table only had one chair and I had to stand and eat. These lounges have becoming more and more crowded over the years as people get more into credit card points and miles. We quickly ate and went back to the gate where we boarded our flight and took off.

My husband still had about $48 to spend for his recently acquired American Express Hilton Honors Aspire Card airline credit after we paid $30 to check the bag with the donations. In order to use up the credit we bought a bunch of snacks on the plane to bring with us to San Ignacio.

We landed in Belize on time and spent about 45 mins going through immigration and customs. I had set up a shuttle service through our hotel in San Ignacio and the driver was a very nice Dutch guy who has lived in Belize for 11 years. It was a 2 hour drive to San Ignacio but we got to see some of the countryside. We got to town around 3:30 and checked into our room/apt. It was nice and spacious.

We had no idea that the Belizeans celebrate Boxing Day on 12/26, so most shops and restaurants were closed. Belize has an interesting mix of British and American influence. For example they drive on the right, and they use pounds, miles, and Fahrenheit. But then they maintain some British traditions such as this. Luckily there were a couple restaurants open so we got some dinner and headed back to our apt to get to bed early since we had been up since 2:30am.

The next day after breakfast we started our first tour which was a trip to the Belize zoo and then cave tubing. We went to the zoo first. It is very well done and features most of the native animals of Belize in the natural habitat. We got to see spider and howler monkeys, tapirs, peccaries, leopards, pumas, ocelots, margays, pelicans, a scarlet macaw, a toucan, and more. One of the zookeepers hung out with us and brought meat for some of the cats so we could see them up close while he fed him. And we got to hold a boa constrictor at the end!

After this our guide took us to a local restaurant where we had a traditional Belizean lunch of rice and beans, stewed chicken, and potato salad. Plus we got to try soursop juice (a local fruit) and their local beer, Belikin.

Next we headed over to the cave tubing place which is in a national park. We geared up with our life vests, helmets, and tubes and did a 45 minute hike through the jungle while our guide told us about the various fauna.

Pro-tip: our guide told us never to do this activity on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday because that’s when the cruise ships come in and they take people on excursions to go cave tubing. He said it is so busy the river becomes like a freeway of people in tubes. It was already pretty busy given that it was high season so I imagine had there been a cruise excursion it would have really impacted the experience in a negative way.

The river and jungle were beautiful and we splashed around at the mouth of the cave while our guide hooked our tubes together and waited for a time to go in where there were less people. As we floated through the cave he told us about how the Mayans used to use the caves for ceremonies and sacrifices and they would smash their clay pots when they were done as part of the ritual. The stalactites and stalagmites were so cool and you could see lots of shimmering crystals on them.

About halfway through he pulled us over to a spot where we got out of our rafts to go on a little spelunking adventure. We walked in the dark with our headlamps through the cave and walked over to an open ring with stairs. He pointed out some ancient petroglyphs carved into the stalagmites – a spooky face!

He then took us to a spot where the guides had brought over some shards of ancient Mayan pottery and we got to pick them up and look at them closely. The next part was our favorite. We swam back to where the tubes were in the dark river of the cave. He took us to a little semi-enclosed grotto and had us turn our headlamps off for the full experience. It was pretty epic!

We got back to the tubes and floated out of the cave and then down the river through the jungle for a bit, seeing orange iguanas along the way. The kids hopped out of their tubes and swam along side of us. When we were done we got some fresh coconuts from a guy selling them at the entrance and mom got a little rum in hers 😊

We headed back to San Ignacio and had a nice dinner at a really good restaurant in town, Cenaida’s. We were pretty tired after all the day’s adventures so we went back to the room and chilled out.

The next morning we decided to do a cooking class at our hotel. The person leading it took us over to the San Ignacio market. Saturday was their busiest day and it was buzzing with activity. He showed us some of the native fruits, vegetables, and spices and talked about how they use them in their cooking. We also got some freshly made pupusas and soursop ice cream!

Afterwards we walked back to the hotel and started class. We spent the morning learning to make the classic Belizean dishes of stew chicken, rice and beans (cooked in coconut milk), potato salad, fried plantains, fry jacks, and bread pudding. Then we got to eat it all for lunch and try various hot sauces. The company that makes a lot of the hot sauce here is called “Marie Sharp’s” and the hotel sells all of their products. The food was delicious and the kids had a blast learning how to make it. My husband even got to practice his kneading technique from watching the Great British Baking Show on Netflix.

We needed to rest after that huge meal but after that we walked uphill to a fancy hotel that houses the Green Iguana Project – an iguana sanctuary. The guide taught us about their work trying to help the Iguana population that gets hurt when hunters hunt pregnant mothers, and then we got to feed some iguanas in their enclosure.

After this we trekked uphill some more to the Cahal Pech Mayan ruins. The park was very quiet with only a handful of people but the ruins were pretty large and we had fun exploring and climbing all around them, trying to imagine what they used each structure for.

Later that evening my husband and I walked 20 feet across from our room where the hotel does rum tastings. Unfortunately about 10, very inebriated twenty-somethings joined us for the tasting. We still had fun and our host didn’t charge us since he said they usually like to offer a better experience.

The next morning we got up super early to meet our tour group for a day trip into Guatemala to see the ancient Mayan ruins at Tikal. We took a 15 minute bus ride to the border where we had to wait in line for about an hour to pay the exit fees to leave Belize and enter Guatemala. After that we took an hour and 45 minute bus ride up to Tikal. It was cool to see the Guatemalan countryside as went. It was very lush and green and we passed by a large, beautiful lake called Peten Itza.

At Tikal we met our local guide who took us through the site and taught us about the ruins. Tikal is pretty extensive. They started uncovering in about 1955 and they believe it was built around 300 BC. It is currently a UNESCO world heritage site.

I liked that for some of the structures you could climb they put up wooden stairs so you didn’t have to try to climb the original Mayan stone steps. It seems like that will preserve them more and also the guide said too many people were falling off the steps. It was fairly crowded, probably because it was the holiday week. However they also really limited the vending, unlike the large site, Chichen Itza, which is overrun with hawkers.

We spent about 3 hours exploring the ruins and then on the way back stopped for lunch in a small town nearby. We were starving after all that walking and climbing! We headed back to Belize and getting through the border took another hour.

After buying our hot sauce souvenirs from the hotel we decided to do a street food dinner. We got tacos, salbutes, tamales, and stuffed jacks for four people, all for $7 USD! Plus they were delicious!

Caye Caulker

The next morning we got up early for our 8am ride back to Belize City to catch the 10:30am water taxi. The taxi took off on time and we were all excited for the island part of our trip. When we landed in Caye Caulker we were hungry and tired, and the sun was very hot. We walked with our luggage in the heat about 15 minutes to our Airbnb. When we arrived, there was a large family there with about 4 kids, drinking and partying around the pool. The Airbnb was made up of 4 cabanas around a shared pool and patio area. The housekeepers were getting our cabana ready and told us it would be about 2-3 hours before it was ready. We decided to go for some lunch while we waited and we asked them where we could drop off our laundry. The housekeeper then told us there was no water but it would be back on around 5 or 6. We figured this may have been a routine thing, and didn’t think too much of it. After all, the water main by our house breaks about once every year in the summer, and we are used to being without water for 3-4 hours while they fix it.

We dropped off our laundry at a local woman’s house who also told us to check back around 5 or 6 when the water would come back on. We walked back to the middle of town and found a restaurant to eat lunch. It took forever to get our food but we tried to stay in a good mood. After lunch we walked up to the area called “The Split,” where I had heard most people go swimming and snorkeling. At this point I was starting to sour a little on Caye Caulker. The split was not what I had imagined. It was mostly taken over by a beach bar with a loud DJ and it seemed like in order to hang out there you had to order food and drinks from them. Plus it wasn’t really a beach, just a concrete area with sand on it with no shade, and you had to climb down a ladder, like into a pool, to go into the water. We walked around a little more and didn’t see any other promising areas for beach swimming.

Back at our Airbnb the cleaners were almost done and we talked to them a bit more. They told us the kids of the other family were really loud and that they were also staying through the end of the week. Great. They had left for the afternoon though, so we got on our bathing suits and took a dip in the pool. A little while later the cleaners told us that they had heard that the water pump for the entire island’s water supply was broken, and they needed a part from the States, which would not arrive until at least the end of the week. “So we may not have water for a week?” I asked the cleaning lady. She nodded. At this point I started to freak out. No water at all on an island for a week did not seem like a good idea. At the same time the owner of the Airbnb, who was off site, sent us a copy of the notification that the Belize Water Service had sent him, confirming that they were waiting for a part from the U.S. that wouldn’t come until the end of the week but they would try to fill the tank with some emergency water in the meantime.

I started panicking and thinking about how we could leave but my husband tried to keep me calm and that maybe we could wait it out. We went to the store and bought some extra water. The cleaning people gave us buckets to fill with the pool water to flush the toilet. I started to think about what the pool would be like after a few days with all these people who can’t shower using it and no fresh water to replenish it. I also read in the host’s guidebook that the only beach-like areas, were the Split, which we had seen, and another place north of the Split called Koko King, which was another beach club that you could use if you purchased food and drink. It said they had a sort of manufactured beach and they would ferry you across the split in their boat. At this point I was not thrilled that our only options for swimming were spending money at a beach club (likely lots of money as they are always over-priced), or crammed in a small pool with our boisterous neighbors. I looked up one way flights on AA (the airline we were using to fly home), and they were over $1000 each. This situation was bad but there was no way we were going to spend over $4000 to get home. It seemed like our best option was to wait it out and hope for the best.

We decided to head out for dinner and I tried to calm my anxiety and not think of all the Mad Max scenarios playing in my head about what this place would be like after 3 days with no water. We walked around the town a bit more. It was crowded and I didn’t feel the “laid back vibe” I had read about this place. Also I had heard Belize didn’t really have beaches but I figured they would at least have somewhere nice to swim. It wasn’t looking that way.

We made our way back to our Airbnb and found our neighbors on the patio in full-on party mode. This was not exactly the relaxing vacation we had hoped for. Inside the house I texted my friend who has traveled extensively to tell him about the water situation and ask his advice. He was pretty clear: “Get out. These things never go well. If you can leave do it.”

I went back on google flights to see what we could get to fly home. United had a one-way, nonstop flight back to Newark the next day for about $400. That wasn’t too bad. I checked what they were charging in miles. It was only 20k miles per ticket plus about $65 in taxes and fees. That was a really good deal. I looked at flights for the 1st and 2nd of January and they were over 40k miles each and had connections. If we were going to get out it had to be the next day. I only had about 2,000 United miles in my account, but Chase Ultimate Rewards will transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio and will post instantly. I had plenty of these points to transfer over to United to buy the tickets with miles.

I called my husband in from hanging out with the neighbors and we discussed our options. I even called my friend to talk it though. In the end we decided flushing the toilet with pool water, sharing this space with very nice but very loud neighbors, with a pool that was bound to get disgusting and no good beach to swim in, was just not worth it. We pulled the trigger and booked the flights for the next day.

The kids were very upset and we tried to explain that it wasn’t safe to be in a place without water for that long. We explained that at the restaurants they would not be able to wash dishes and food properly and there was a good chance we could get sick.

I also let our Airbnb host know we were leaving and I cancelled the one snorkeling excursion we had planned. Luckily that company refunded me because I canceled before 24 hours. I was pretty bummed to miss this because it seemed amazing and honestly the only reason to visit this area, but at this point it seemed like the right call.

I had difficulty sleeping because of the noisy neighbors and my nerves, and at one point in the middle of the night I got up to go to the bathroom and tried the faucet and some water came out. Now I was extra upset. Had they fixed it already? I just spent 80k miles on our plane tickets that could have been used for something else! I woke up my husband and showed him but he convinced me we should still leave. He said this was likely the emergency water they brought over to fill the reserve tank a little, but that would likely run out again soon as well.

The next morning we packed everything up and it started pouring rain, making the sandy roads filled with big grey puddles. We caught a golf cart taxi to the center of town and had breakfast a famous “stuffed jack” place. It was pretty good. We took some pictures of the island and then boarded the water taxi back to Belize City. Once there we took a cab for the airport and had a relatively easy time getting on our flight to Newark. We had a lot of Belizean dollars left but we spent a lot of them on the cab ride, lunch at the airport, some drinks, and some more hot sauce to take home.

Our impressions of Belize

We loved our time in San Ignacio. There were so many fun, adventure activities to do there, including exploring caves and ancient ruins. We also thought the people were nice, the food was good, and the town was very affordable.

We did not like Caye Caulker much at all. There is no beach for swimming or snorkeling and to hang out at the two beach-like areas you would have to spend money at the beach clubs. The food was also over-priced in much of the island. We had heard this was one of the nicest Cayes in Belize because of the “laid back vibe” with golf-carts and bicycles instead of cars. Well we didn’t think the vibe was laid back at all! Granted this was the busiest tourist week of the year so our impression could be skewed. But we also kept comparing it to another small, golf-cart island that we have been to several times –  Isla Mujeres, in Mexico. Isla  has gotten more crowded in recent years, but is still much nicer with a gorgeous beach and great, affordable food and lodging. In our opinion, they are similar locations, but Caye Caulker can’t hold a candle to Isla. It seems like Caye Caulker is best as a jumping off point for snorkeling and diving excursions out to the reef, rather than a tropical island destination in its own right. After doing some more reading, I found out that Caye Caulker, like so many places these days, has fallen prey to over-tourism. Apparently the Split used to be nicer until the bar took it over and started over-charging people for food and drinks.

Looking back, even if the water main break hadn’t happened, we would have liked to stay longer in the interior of the country. We probably would have done 4 days in San Ignacio and maybe 3 days in Guatemala near Tikal so we could do more than just a day trip there. Than we could have stayed 2 nights in Caye Caulker, just enough to have one full day for a boat trip snorkeling excursion before leaving the island. Hindsight is 20/20 but hopefully we can help someone else out who might be reading this when planning their trip to Belize.

We were definitely bummed that our trip took a turn for the worse at the end, but we had a great 4 days in San Ignacio and given that this was our 7th family trip of 2019 and the only one where something negative happened, we figured we had a good run! We feel lucky that we had the points to cover our trip home and that we didn’t have to stay and spend more money in a situation where we would have been miserable. It took a little leg work, but in the end we were able to get all of our money refunded for the cancelled Airbnb and cancelled flights home. Our Airbnb host refunded us for all the nights we didn’t use and 50% back for the first night since we didn’t have water. For our cancelled flights, I called and then sent a very nice letter to American Airlines, explaining the situation, and given that there was a disruption of an essential service they were super helpful and refunded both the voucher that I used and the points used through Chase. So in the end, we didn’t lose any money at all. My advice for trying to re-coup  from these situations is to be as nice as possible with the companies you are working with. It doesn’t always work out in your favor, but I have good luck being super nice and patient.

Grand Cayman!

The planning

Last year I took the kids to Florida for their spring break and Delta called me a few months before our trip and asked if we would change our flights for 30,000 miles each. Of course I changed the flights (to ones I liked better than our originals) and we banked 90,000 skymiles! I also had what I call “puke miles” from our unfortunate luck sitting in seats near or where someone puked on our Delta flights to Spain and home from San Miguel de Allende. By combining all of those points o was able to book three round trip tickets for the kids and I to Grand Cayman for their February break.

For lodging, I looked at Airbnbs. Similar to Turks and Caicos, Grand Cayman is known for being crazy expensive, and I just couldn’t afford the hotels. Plus as always I love having the space and amenities of an Airbnb. I found two that I liked and was really torn. One was right by the famous Seven Mile Beach, and had a washer and dryer, which is so helpful on a beach trip with kids. The. second was further down the island, closer to Rum Point, right on a snorkeling beach (and you know I love snorkeling) and had a pool! Which to choose?!? I decided to just book both and do three nights in the first one and three nights in the second. That way we could do the 7 mile beach attractions first and the other side of the island second. The only downside was paying the Airbnb fees twice.

Originally my husband had to work that week but in the Fall when he got his teaching schedule for the spring, he ended up only teaching one class on Mondays and Wednesdays and the rest online. I asked him if he would want to fly out and meet us on Tuesday, that way he could teach Monday and only miss one class that week. He agreed. I ended up getting him an AA basic economy flight Tuesday morning from Syracuse to Grand Cayman using Chase ultimate rewards. I was also able to get him on our same return flight home on Delta – I even got him seats next to us! I honestly can’t remember how I booked it but I think I used Delta miles and I may have transferred some from Amex membership rewards (I need to start writing some of this down!)

The Trip

The kids and I spent the weekend in NJ and then drove out to the Philadelphia airport after lunch. We were able to pop into the Centurion lounge and get another bite to eat before our flight to Atlanta. I had the kids find the gate as I am trying to teach them to read airport signs and learn how to navigate themselves. Our flight to Atlanta was uneventful and we were able to take the shuttle to the airport Hilton Garden Inn, booked with 20k Hilton Honors points. In the morning we enjoyed a free hot breakfast thanks to my Hilton Honors gold status and we took the airport shuttle back to the domestic terminal, and the international shuttle all the way to the international terminal (the ATL airport is SO HUGE!)

At Atlanta we had time to visit the Priority Pass Lounge, The Club at Atl, for some more refreshments, before we boarded our flight to Grand Cayman. Everything was on time and we landed around 2pm, went through customs, and got our rental car. We made it to our Airbnb around 3, after driving on the left, eek! It was a nice and clean two bedroom apartment in an area called West Bay, on the west end of 7 mile beach, away from all the big resorts.

We were starving so we went to a little restaurant for lunch and chatted with the Australian server for a while who gave us some local tips. I was prepared for food to be expensive like it was in Turks and Caicos. So while our lunch was delicious it ended up running us $75 US with tip!!! We had to make sure to hit up the grocery store soon.

After lunch we drove about 5 minutes to a beach called “Cemetery Beach” because it’s behind a cemetery. It wasn’t crowded at all and the kids swam while I watched the sunset. After heading back to the Airbnb to clean up I went to the grocery store for some supplies ($43 US, not too bad actually) and we had an early night. The kids liked this Airbnb because there is a big TV in their room with Netflix and YouTube on it.

The next morning my husband was to board a 6am flight in Syracuse with a connection in Charlotte to get to Grand Cayman around 12:30pm. He texted me in the morning saying he was at the airport and the flight was delayed for an equipment malfunction. He eventually took off about an hour later, but while he was en route to Charlotte I was biting nails as he only had 10 minutes to make his connection! Turned out he made it with 5 minutes to spare. The kids and I went back to cemetery beach for a little snorkeling before he arrived, and we got caught in a torrential downpour!

The sun came out, literally and figuratively, after he arrived. That afternoon we returned to the same beach and snorkeled for a few hours. Did I mention this happened to be my birthday?? That evening we fed the kids at home and hired a babysitter that our Airbnb hosts recommended. My husband and I went out to a fancy dinner at an Italian restaurant. Everything was fabulous. The food, the view of the moon over the water, the service…it was a wonderful ending to a great birthday.

On our third day after breakfast we visited the Cayman Turtle Farm, which was only about 4 minutes from our Airbnb. They are a turtle breeding farm and while they do release some of the turtles into the wild, they mainly sell the meat as it is a local specialty. In their informational video they said this keeps people from poaching turtles in the wild. They had several large tanks of turtles and some touch tanks where you can pick them up. They also have an entire other section where you can snorkel with turtles and swim on their pool which has a waterslide. That would have been an extra $100 however, so we decided to skip that part.

One helpful hint if you are in the area. A lot of the tour excursions from the cruise ship show up around 10am, when we did. If you want to avoid the crowds, go later in the afternoon after these folks have gotten back on the ship. We left after about an hour and a half and ate lunch at a nearby restaurant on the water. After that we rested and then later we headed back to the turtle farm for about a half hour since our armbands got us in all day (and it was much less crowded this time). Then we had some more beach time and dinner at home.

After dinner we headed over to an upscale shopping area (almost all of this part of Grand Cayman is upscale), called Camana Bay. It was fun to walk around and we got some delicious gelato. The kids had fun running through a fountain, and they got soaked!

The next morning after breakfast we drove to the office of the boat tour company for our trip out to Stingray City. We took a shuttle bus to the boat and they drove us out to Stingray City. This is the quintessential Cayman activity. The story is that the fishermen used to stop at this sandbar to toss their scraps, and so the stingrays started hanging out here once they realized there was food. Now hundreds, of not thousands of tourists flock here each day on tour boats, in order to kiss and hold these ultra calm sea creatures. We anchored in a circle with about 10 other boats and there were already hundreds of people in the water. That plus the choppy water that day made the experience somewhat stressful. You could stand in the water but the sea was pretty rough so you were treading water for a lot of it. The guide holds a stingray and gathers his group around so that everyone can get a turn kissing the stingray, getting a “back massage” from it, and feeding it. Although it was definitely a circus act, it was pretty cool to hold one of these guys up close. My youngest was very scared so he stayed on my back the whole time and then I went back on the boat with him while my husband and oldest son played with the stingrays for a little longer.

After about 20 minutes they gathered everyone up and then we stopped at two snorkeling stops. Unfortunately because the water was so choppy the snorkeling was tough. The guide even said he normally goes to the barrier reef but it would have been to difficult to snorkel so he picked another spot. I did manage to get some good videos, including some of more stingrays.

After our boat tour was over we went to a burger place for lunch and then we drove down to the east end of the island to our next Airbnb. This place was in a condo complex right on the beach and it had a really nice pool. The ocean view from the balcony was spectacular! The condo itself was nice too, with 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, and a fully equipped kitchen. We spent the afternoon hanging out at the pool and we ate dinner at the condo.

The next morning after breakfast we drove north to check our Starfish point. This is a little beach all the way on the northernmost tip of the island. In the crystal clear water are a bunch of starfish. Afterwards we headed almost next door to a place called, Rum Point. It was highly recommended in everything I’d read about Grand Cayman, but I was a little disappointed that this beach was pretty much a tourist trap. It’s a private beach club and so you can use their beach loungers but you can’t bring in any outside food so that you would only buy from their restaurants. I wish some of the guidebooks had mentioned that because we brought our own food!

There is a little public beach right next door so we camped out there for a bit and ate our picnic lunch. The water was very calm and shallow. There wasn’t much of a reef but a lot of sea grass. I did buy us each a mudslide from the bar as they supposedly invented them here. I have to admit they were pretty delicious.


The place itself was packed with tourists so we left after lunch and headed back to our condo to rest and swim in the pool for the afternoon. We had dinner at a little place called “the Czech inn” (run by, you guessed it, a Czech).

On our last morning we decided to go back to Rum Point to swim, since the water was too rough at the beach near our condo. We stopped at “the Blowholes,” an area of rock and coral where the water spews up like a geyser when the waves come in. We then drove all around the north end of the island and back to Rum Point. It was actually much less crowded this time which made it more enjoyable. You can sit in their beach chairs and unlike other beaches I’ve been to, they don’t make you buy a certain amount of food and beverage to use them. The coolest thing about it was we got to see two sea turtles swimming in the water near the dock!!!

After a swim we headed back to the condo for lunch, and once we ate and showered we drove over to the Pedro St. James castle, a national historic landmark. This was actually a really cool site, inexpensive, and we were the only ones there! They first show you an multi-media film about the history of this building and the Cayman Islands. It was so elaborate, we actually felt like we were on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney. They even misted you with water during a “lightning storm.” Afterwards you could tour the grounds and the Pedro St. James Castle, the oldest and largest building on the island, which has been restored to look as it had in the 18th century when it was built. The whole museum was very well done and we learned so much about the island.

Afterward we went to their bar and did a rum tasting and talked to a local to learn even more about how the island has changed since the 60s with the massive development of the last 40 years. On our way home we stopped by a great jerk stand for our only reasonably priced meal of the trip, and the kids got to have one last swim in the condo pool. The next morning we left at 5:30am to head back to the airport! Good bye Grand Cayman!

My review of our trip

I had read somewhere that Grand Cayman is kind of like South Florida, and I agree, it was definitely the most developed Caribbean island I’ve ever been to. There were lots of strip malls, high end stores, and no shortage of multi-million dollar homes. It was a little weird to be amongst all that money, but the upside was that everything being so developed made for nice roads and easy amenities. We also did meet some locals and they were very nice. The island has an interesting, insular history and lacks the problems of its neighbor Jamaica, although apparently the boom in development has led to an influx of immigrant workers which has led to some issues for the locals.

The beaches were gorgeous and there were lots of opportunities to snorkel, although the reef did not seem very healthy. We also got to interact with a lot of wildlife such as the turtles, stingrays, and starfish. The island was quiet and easy to get around. You could see most of the major sites in a few days.

I wasn’t sure whether splitting our time between the two Airbnbs was a good idea or not, but in the end I’m glad we did. It’s only about 20-30 minutes between the West End, (where our first Airbnb near Seven Mile Beach was), and our second Airbnb in Boddentown (which is kind of in the middle but closer to the east and north ends), but there is actually a fair amount of traffic on the island. Plus the driving is already stressful with driving on the left and all the traffic circles. So I liked that at our first place we were 2 minutes from Seven Mile Beach and 4 minutes from the turtle farm. We were also very close to our boat tour. For the second half of our trip, we got to see the quieter part of the island and we were closer to Starfish point, Rum point, and the blowholes. I did like that

the first place had a washer and dryer and the second place had a pool.  Also the first airbnb was cleaner with better


I could live with this view!

amenities but the second one was right on the beach with an amazing view. It was almost a toss-up but if I went back I would stay in the second one for a week. It was just so amazing to have that view every day.

What I didn’t like about the island was how expensive the food was, although we anticipated that and so we brought some dry food from home and also shopped at the grocery store there. I also did not like how crazy busy some of the sites were when the cruise ships were docked. If you are headed to GC (not on a cruise) I highly recommend you look at the cruise schedule before you do some activities such as stingray city.

Overall, it was a lovely trip and we got to cross another Caribbean island off our list. I’m not sure if we will ever be back but I would definitely recommend it as a great vacation spot for families looking to escape the winter weather for a week.



I have wanted to check out Jamaica and specifically Negril for a while now. I had decided that Christmas break would be a good time because the kids would have off and we could fly out of a major airport after visiting our family in NJ for the holidays.

The planning

So to try to book travel during the week between Christmas and New Years on a budget (including a points budget), is very challenging. This is probably the most expensive week to travel, especially to warm, beachy places like the Caribbean. I knew it would be tough and cost a lot of points but I was up for the challenge.

Sometimes when you don’t have enough points for round trip flights you need to get creative and look at one-way flights on different airlines. I had enough Alaska airline miles to book us one-way, so I booked us on American Airlines from Montego Bay (MBJ) to Philadelphia on 12/31 for 17,500 miles each, 70,000 total. Now to had to figure out how to get to MBJ. I found flights leaving at 9am from JFK to MBJ on 12/26 Delta for $407 each. Since Delta was my preferred airline with American Express business platinum I could buy the tickets for 162,840 membership rewards (MR) points and still receive 50% back. So total MR rewards spent was 81,420 (or 20,355 per ticket).

I really wanted to stay in Negril so I started looking at lodging on the Chase ultimate rewards portal. Eventually I decided on the Traveller’s Beach Resort on Negril because it was affordable and got great reviews. I bought 5 nights for 63,858 ultimate rewards. Now keep in mind this is about twice what this hotel usually costs, however I find that most hotels triple their price for that Christmas-new years week.

So, Christmas 2017 happens and we are down on NJ at my mom and step-dad’s house, with all of our stuff packed for Jamaica. We were planning on hiring a car service to drive us to JFK the morning after Christmas and since we came back through Philly we would do some combo of the train and Uber back to my moms, no big deal since they are about halfway between NYC and Philly. Unfortunately, life had other plans. My father-in-law has a major health crisis that landed him in the hospital. He stabilized but it became clear pretty quickly that my husband would need to stay in Philadelphia to help take care of while they figured out the next steps. We thought of every possible way but in the end there was no way we could make it to Jamaica. After many phone calls on Christmas Eve with the various companies, we were able to reschedule our trip for May. For the flights there, Delta agreed to waive our change fees so I just picked the same flight in May but leaving from Syracuse and commenting through JFK. With Alaska, they charged me change fees because they said they have a rule that there are no exceptions. I think it ended up being $200 total in change fees and I booked flights that landed in Syracuse as well. At least if we were going to have to stick with the exorbitant Xmas week prices we could travel throughout home airport.

The hotel got a little tricky. I did book the room as non-refundable (on points), because that was all that was available at the time. When I called to see if there was anything we could do, they said they could refund the last three nights but we would be out of luck for he first two. I thought I would need to file an insurance claim through Chase travel (included with your Chase Sapphire Reserve card) and started that process, which was going to entail tracking down doctors who treated my father-in-law. I also called Chase travel and explained my situation and the woman on the phone (working on Christmas Eve), was so helpful she actually called the hotel while I was on the phone with her and got them to refund the points! All of the original points spent were re-posted almost immediately! When I went back on the Chase travel site to book the room for May, the price had decreased significantly and I was able to get the room for 7,000 ultimate rewards points a night, for a total of 35,000 ultimate rewards!

The Trip

We flew Delta from Syracuse to JFK at 6am and had about an hour layover at JFK. Our gate was by the Delta skylounge, where my husband and I could get in with our Amex Platinum cards but they would have charged us $29 for each kid. Instead I went in quick, wolfed down some food, and made Malk and the kids some “to go” breakfast sandwiches.

We landed in Montego Bay a little early and went to Club Mobay, which is an arrivals lounge you can get into with your Priority Pass card. They had some snacks as well as rum punch for us and lemonade for the kids. After that we exited the airport into a downpour, but found our transport which I arranged ahead of time with Joe Cool transportation, whom I highly recommend. We then had a two and a half hour drive to Negril down the west coast where we got to experience Jamaican traffic and see some small towns.

When we arrived at our hotel we had some food and played in the ocean and pool. It was still a little overcast and rainy. The next day we also spent mainly at the beach and pool, and we were able to try some local Jamaican cuisine such as salt fish and ackee, johnny cakes, patties, jerk chicken, and escoveitch fish.


The following day we were picked up by Joe Cool again for a tour of YS Falls and a Black River safari. Our tour guide was super nice and taught us about the local towns and culture. We hit YS falls first which was very cool. When you first buy your ticket they take you in a jitney up to the falls. It’s very well laid out and you climb up steps to a part of the falls where you can swim and swing on a rope swing into the water. The kids were too nervous for the ripe swing but the hubs and I channeled our inner Tarzan and Jane. They also have some really nice salt water pools throughout the property and a decent little grill. Once we had our fill of swimming we got back in the car and headed to the town of Black River, where we did a tour down the river on a pontoon boat to see the mangrove forest and several crocodiles! They also had a small nursery where the kids got to hold a baby croc.


The next day we took a glass bottom boat ride out to the reef, where we were able to snorkel for over an hour. My oldest son went right in the water but my youngest took a little coaxing because he got scared from a snorkeling trip we did in Turks and Caicos where the water was kind of rough. Eventually my husband convinced him to go in and both kids had a great time floating around. The reef looked fairly healthy here and there were lots of colorful fish and sea urchins. Unfortunately my underwater camera stopped holding a charge so I didn’t get any pictures. On the way back we cruised along 7 mile beach and were able to see a lot of the resorts that line the beach.


The rest of the day we hung out at the hotel and later that evening we headed out to the famous Rick’s Cafe. The place was definitely a tourist trap but it was cool to see some cliff jumpers dive off the high cliff.


On our last day we just swam and ate, making sure to get some last patties and jerk chicken. The following morning we headed out early and made it to the airport with some time to go to the Club Mobay departures lounge (we could get in with Priority Pass), which was very nice with a good food selection. Our flight to Philadelphia took off on time, and thanks to our Global Entry/TSA pre-check, we flew through immigration! I have gone through immigration and customs at PHL a number of time, and it is always horrendous and can take over 2 hours. We made it through in 15 minutes, mostly because of walking!!! We then headed over to the Centurion Lounge, however unlike on our recent trip to Mexico, it was incredibly crowded and we barely got a place to sit. We were able to finally find a spot and got on our next flight to Syracuse. All flights were on time without issues!


Overall, we loved Negril and Jamaica. The food and culture were great, the beach was amazing, and we loved getting out to do a few excursions off the beach. We were warned that the hustlers on the beach were very persistent and they did not disappoint. And of course, I felt like I had a contact high as the whole place was covered in a cloud of ganja smoke. I also have to give a shout out to a few of our places to eat: Hammond’s bakery in Negril (for the best patties!), Kayuba restaurant, Naila’s on the beach, Cafe Goa and Coletta’s. I also loved Traveller’s Beach Resort! What a wonderful little resort right on 7 mile beach. The pool was awesome with a waterfall that the kids loved swimming under and the staff was fabulous. It’s super affordable, even without points, so if you are looking for a budget-friendly but nice place to stay in Negril, check them out.

Mom and sons trip: Turks and Caicos!

The planning

Winter in Syracuse. It’s long, it’s grey, and there’s more snow than anyone who hasn’t lived here can imagine. They also do this odd thing that so far I’ve only experienced in Central New York, the kids get off for a week in February, it’s called “February Break.” Usually since my husband has to work (his break is in March), we put the kids in a camp for a week. This year I thought, I can spend $600 on camp for both of them, or I can see what travel deals I can find so we can spend the week somewhere warm and tropical. Of course, since my husband had to work it would be just me and the boys, but he approved and so I got about researching.

For convenience the obvious first choice is Florida, but we already had a trip booked there for April break and honestly February was a little too iffy for me, weather-wise. If I am going to escape the great white north I want to make sure we’ll have lots of heat. So the next step was to search flights for the Caribbean. The easiest way to do this is to use the google flights explorer. You can’t just google this for some reason though. You have to actually type in the web address

Once you do this you can put in an area you want to travel to, like “Europe” or “Caribbean,” and some graphs will pop up showing you different dates. As I was searching for the cheapest flights a lot of what came up were islands recently hit by the hurricane, such as Puerto Rico and Barbados. But also, Turks and Caicos popped up for $280 on Delta, round trip from Newark over Feb break. Hmmm. I hadn’t considered TCI but after some research it seemed like a great option, especially for traveling alone with the kids. It’s safe, kid-friendly, and they speak English (cutting down on the stress factor). Bingo! Since I have the Amex business platinum and I had chosen Delta as my preferred airline, if I bought the flights using MR rewards points, I would get 50% of those points back. So the total spent was 28,000×3=84,000 MR points, but with 35% back the total MR points spent was 54,600. Not bad for 3 RT tickets!

For lodging, I started searching hotels and Airbnbs. I’m not gonna lie, TCI is expensive this time of year, but I was able to find a 2 bedroom Airbnb for $150 a night. That’s about half was most hotels there cost (and don’t even think about a mega-resort like Beaches or Club Med). Now, we would not be on the beach or have a pool, but the trade off is we get a whole cottage with a full kitchen to make some of our own meals. I could have used my Chase UR points to book a hotel but I didn’t feel like spending my cache of points on lodging so we went with the Airbnb. Plus, for reasons I’ve already stated so many times, I just usually prefer Airbnbs. You get more for your money and they are usually so much better for kids. I love having our own apartment or house. It’s so much more convenient and it’s cool to live a little more “local.”

Here are a couple pics of the place. There were also two bedrooms. Nice and large and bright!

Finally, I booked a snorkeling excursion using my Chase Ultimate Rewards points. In addition to flights, hotels, and rental cars, you can use Chase UR to book lots of tours and excursions (usually the ones booked through visitor). So the $300 boat trip was also free (minus tipping the guides of course).

The trip

Our flight did not leave Newark until Monday evening of the break, so we decided to drive down for the weekend to visit family, especially my Father-in-law who just moved into a nursing home in NJ. So we drove down with my husband and he left us at my mom’s house in NJ and drove home Sunday. Monday was my birthday but my mom was sick so we didn’t do much, and we took an Uber to the airport that afternoon. After visiting the priority pass lounge there for “dinner,” (kind of gross), we boarded our flight for Atlanta. We landed in Atlanta around 9:30, but it took FOREVER to get to the hotel shuttle because the air train was broken down. We finally made it to our Hampton inn around 10:30pm (have I mentioned how I always use Hampton Inns?), but thanks to digital check in and a digital key on my phone, we got in the room and went right to bed. The next morning we got up, ate the free Hampton breakfast, and took their shuttle to the airport. OMG the Atlanta Airport is HUGE! We then had to take another 15 min shuttle just to get to the international terminal! Luckily we got there early and so were able to visit another Priority Pass Lounge (the Club at ATL), which was much nicer than the one at EWR. The flight was a few minutes delayed but they got us boarded quick and we took off right on time.

We finally landed in Providenciales around 2pm. Immigration and customs was a breeze and we went straight to the rental car place to pick up our tiny little McCar. Now was the moment of truth, I had to drive on the left side of the road! To be honest I was kind of freaking out about that since I booked the trip. But I took a deep breath, asked the kids to STFU, and hit the road! It was actually not as bad as I imagined, it just takes some extra concentration.

Our Airbnb was really nice, in a residential neighborhood so we had to drive wherever we wanted to go. They provided beach towels and chairs for us and one of the nicest and least crowded beaches was a two minute drive away. We split our time between that beach and some of the more crowded beaches in Grace Bay, especially one in an area called “The Bight,” which has a reef for snorkeling.

As far as the trip, here are my pros and cons on Turks and Caicos


  • Small and relaxed
  • Amazing beaches, gorgeous water!!!
  • Great seafood
  • Locals are super nice
  • They speak English and use American dollars
  • Easy to get to from the east coast


  • Lots of rich tourists, hard to experience local culture
  • Have to drive on the left
  • Not a lot of extra activities other than than the beach
  • Food is really expensive – bring stuff from home!

For most of the trip we just spent time on the beautiful beaches and checking out some local restaurants. We did go to the Thursday night fish fry (like a food stand market) and we did our snorkeling trip where we got to visit a little island with lots of iguanas. To be honest,  if the kids were older or I had another adult with me, we would probably have done some more adventurous activities, but I kept things pretty low key.

Here are some pics. The light was incredible so it was hard to take a bad one!

Overall it’s a nice choice for a winter getaway, especially from the east coast of the US. I would love to get to Grand Turk and Salt Cay one day, which are supposed to have a very different vibe; to get there you would take an extra little flight from Providenciales. I’ll save that one for when my husband can join us.


Want to know how to take a week long trip to Curacao for free? Read on and I’ll tell you.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces, but I absolutely love snorkeling. I could do it all day. So for our latest trip I wanted to go to one of the Caribbean islands that had the best snorkeling that was easy for kids to do as well (i.e.; beach access). I did a little research and discovered in addition to some of the world’s best diving, Curacao also offers amazing snorkeling. Also, the temperature when we wanted to travel in late June/early July is, as it is year round, in the low 80’s and dry. I was sold. 

Initially I started looking at house rentals as those are usually are first choice, but I didn’t see anything online I liked and they seemed a little pricey. Time to start travel hacking! I looked at some of the hotels on the island that are connected to chains that offer big point bonuses for taking out their cards. Hilton and Marriott were the two that came up. After some more research it seemed that the Hilton had more of what we were looking for – on the beach and good for kids. Now to accrue the points!

For the flights, I saw that AA had pretty decent award redemptions. This is where you start to do your research by looking at the various airlines’ award pages for the destinations you want. It really helps if you start looking waaay in advance, even like 2 years, so that you an see for example to get from the east coast to Curacao in June will cost me roughly X amount of points (yes the award costs change but many do remain stable over time). American Airlines seemed to have the best options for us. To get there from Syracuse was out of the question – we would have at least two layovers (no big surprise there), so I started looking at my go-to east coast airports; JFK, EWR, and PHL. The one that offered the best schedule and points redemption with the least amount of layovers (only one in Miami) was PHL, so that was the route I picked.

Then my husband and I each took out a Citibank AA mastercard. I have had this one before and gotten the award (see my Las Vegas post), but Citibank lets you take this card out every two years and I was overdue for that. Yay! My husband had never had one so he took one out for a 60k mile bonus (enough for 2 tickets), and I took one out for 50k bonus and 2 admirals club passes. I don’t remember why my bonus was less but I already had at least 10k AA miles, so I would get the 60k needed for two tickets as well. Once we met the spent to get the bonus we had 120k miles and I waited until the day the award flights came out for the dates we wanted (331 days in advance) and then we each booked one ticket for us and one for each kid. Even though they were separate “purchases” we could choose seats next to each other.

At some point over the next year I looked at the schedules again, and I realized we could get to the island earlier if we took a flight to Miami the night before with an overnight layover. Initially we were scheduled to arrive in Curaçao at 8:30pm on Tues but if we left PHL on Monday at 12 and stayed overnight at Miami we could catch the earlier flight on Tues and get to Curacao at 3pm! The good thing with AA award flights is that you are allowed to change them like this for free as long as they have availability in your category (e.g. Saver). So I called AA and switched the flights. It worked out because we were going to be in NJ the weekend before visiting our family so flying out on Monday was no problem. I then researched some hotels in Miami that were near the airport and had shuttle service (there are a lot) and booked a Hampton Inn using my Chase ultimate rewards.

For the hotel in Curaçao, I started researching how many Hilton honors points we would need per night and figured we would probably be able to get enough points for about 6 nights (that would be 234,000 HH points. As a HH gold member you get your 6th night free).  It sounds like a lot of points but Hilton’s “scale” for points is different for a lot of hotels, and you can accrue those fairly easily. Since I already took out Hilton cards for our Disney trip, it was now my husband’s turn. Luckily, Amex was offering a 100k points bonus and Citibank was offering a 75k bonus on their card. He took out both and pretty quickly he had 175k points in his account. To make up the difference he also transferred some Amex membership rewards at a 1:1.5 ratio (so I think about 20k that became 30k HH Points), and then we just used the Amex HH to buy groceries and gas for a few months because you get 6x points for those categories. As soon as he had the 234,000 needed for 6 nights, I booked it.

Time to go!

A little bit about the traveling itself. When you travel hack you usually get airport lounge access as one of the perks of some of the cards. I find this to be an invaluable benefit, especially when traveling with kids. The lounges are quieter and cleaner than the regular gate areas, and they usually offer complimentary food and booze (and more!). For this trip, in the Philadelphia airport on the way out I used my two AA admirals club passes that I received from taking out the Citibank AA card to get all four of us in the lounge. They had enough fresh food to make a nice snack (cheeses, crudités, hummus, soups, and fresh, made to order guacamole!), and the grown-ups could have some cocktails and relax.

We landed in Miami right at dinner time, but before heading over to  our hotel, we hit the Centurion Lounge in the Miami airport. The Centurion Lounge is the lounge exclusively for Amex platinum card members, and there’s only a handful of them. They always have a gourmet buffet with a few main courses, side dishes, and salad. So we ate dinner here before calling for our hotel shuttle. You are able to access lounges on arrival, as long as you show your same-day boarding pass.

We headed back to the lounge the next morning for a delicious mid-morning snack (we had free breakfast at the hotel), and complimentary manis and massages in their mini-spa! On the way back home from Curacao we were able to use the lounge in the Curaçao airport with our Priority Pass membership (free with Chase Sapphire Reserve and several other cards), and then when we landed in Miami we had just enough time for a quick dinner back at the Centurion Lounge, thanks to our Global Entry passes that got us through Customs much, much faster than usual (also a perk of several cards – you can get reimbursed for getting TSA pre check or Global Entry).

At the hotel in Curacao, our Hilton honors Gold status (which you get with either of those cards or your Amex platinum card), allowed us access to the executive lounge which has free breakfast and evening snacks. So we saved more money with that. Here are some pictures of that executive lounge: 

We did get an upgrade on check in for $8 a night to a larger, oceanfront room. We asked about upgrading to a suite but the hotel, being older, does not have suites with separate rooms. The manager told us even their “executive” rooms just have a larger sitting area. So we got a room that had more of a sitting area than the standard rooms.

Our other expenses for the trip were rental car and food. I read online that the driving is fairly easy in Curaçao, and necessary if you want to do a lot of exploring (we usually do). In March, Chase was doing a promotion where you could get 10x ultimate rewards for hotel and car rentals booked through their travel site, so I booked the car through them for $175 for the week (and I got 1,750 UR for that).

The food on the island was equivalent in price to the US, although we have been traveling in Mexico so much the last few years we were in a bit of sticker shock. It’s not the peso! But we did a mix of restaurants and street food so overall it wasn’t too bad, especially considering our air travel and lodging was free!

My review of the hotel gives it a B+. It was dated and could use new carpets and furniture. Also I never really got hot water. The grounds were amazing though. They have two incredible beaches. The main beach was awesome for snorkeling. I saw so many varieties of fish and even some squid! They also have a 2nd beach that is shared with a beach club owned by the same guy who owns the Hilton. The two times we went to that beach hardly anyone was there. That one had more waves for th kids to jump and they loved it. Their pool was also awesome and the view was incredible. They also have a dive shop, a casino, an Italian restaurant, 2 bars, a coffee shop, and a spa an exercise classes (so I’ve heard, lol). The staff was great, especially in the executive lounge, and parking was free which was awesome because we definitely made use of the rental car to explore the island. 


The Hilton (the black marks on the corner are from my weird phone case, not an impending storm!)

Now for the fun part!

The island of Curacao was simply amazing. It had picture perfect beaches, incredible snorkeling, great food, and interesting culture and history. It was such a cool coincidence that I happened to travel to Amsterdam 6 months ago so I could see the similarities- in architecture, food, and culture. There were parts of Willemstad that almost looked like Amsterdam with the cafe culture and food, but with a Caribbean flair.

The west side of the island (where the hard core divers stay) was like a different world. It was a sparsely populated desert, almost like Arizona or Nevada, with amazing beaches on the edges. It was more quiet and laid back and if you wanted to truly escape, renting a house in this side would be incredible.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a trip to this island with kids. There are a few activities such as Hato caves and the aquarium and the rest of the time you could just swim and snorkel to your hearts content. Here are some more pics from the trip: