Montego Bay, Jamaica – 2016 – Day 1-3

Jamaica no problem.

I had the privilege to photograph my friends, Naomi & Steven’s wedding in beautiful Jamaica – more specifically in Trelawny, Montego Bay. I have never done a resort stay before so it was a new experience for me. We stayed at the beautiful Royalton Whitesands which is owned by Sunwing. We had over 20+ guests of whom majority were volleyball players.

The flight from Toronto is about 4 hours and Jamaica is 1 hour behind Toronto. The airport shuttle takes about 45 minutes from Montego Bay Airport to the resort.

I travelled with the videographer – Jess Cheng and we were booked a Diamond Club room. Diamond Club gives you some more perks than the normal bookings. These include, a separate private Cabana beach area (which I never used), the ability to make reservations for certain restaurants on the premises, a special Diamond Club room for your use (food, drinks, services etc). I can’t forget to mention your pillow options.

Your room key is actually a nice little bracelet that you just tap against your door to get in. Now onto our room. Jess and myself shared a room that is suited to fit a family with a king size bed, a fold out futon and bunk beds with a bathroom that is so long and large (Family Jacuzzi Ocean View Suite). There is also a option for a butler but that is strange to me. There is also a mini fridge in the room that gets restocked (I think this is a perk of Diamond Club). There is free WIFI covering the whole resort including the beach.

The main event of the week long stay was obviously the wedding day on the Tuesday (we arrived Saturday). Each and everyday, the Royalton hosts weddings every 3PM & 5PM. The Whitesands resorts offers a main buffet with 3 specialty restaurants – Italian (the best one in my opinion), the steakhouse and the teppanyaki. Also around noon on the beach, there is jerk chicken and Jamaican beef patties being served. The resort also offers a kiddie pool, waterslides, 2 family pools and 1 adult pool. The beach area is actually quite small to my imagination. The adult pool with the built in bar overlooks the beach volleyball court which is built on uneven concrete and a thin layer of sand (watch out for stubbed toes). There is also nightly entertainment.

The beach volleyball court leads onto the main stretch of beach that the resort owns as well as a Diamond Club members only beach with cabana’s to the left of it. The beach is patrolled by security guards as the actual beach is public and there are vendors who will stroll the beach and try to sell things. They are not allowed to approach the guests and must stay by the shoreline. There also is a feature of a little private island (manmade) and also the gazebo where the wedding ceremonies take place.

The resort also includes a Kids Club, a coffee / ice cream bar, sports bar, spa and gym facility as well as a water sports excursion centre where you can take out kayaks, paddle boards, sail and even for a price parasailing.

Resort life in a sentence is all about relaxing, eating, sun, sand, tanning – repeat. I can tell you that I for one am not made for resorts per se, but when it comes to working (photographing a wedding), it sure makes it more worthwhile. Now onto my week as a photographer and friend at the Royalton Whitesands.

Day 1

The sun rises at 530AM and the heat comes with it quite quickly.

For scouting purposes and just the explorer in me, Jess and myself ventured out of the resort and walked the street to find some locations to shoot the couple. (the resort cannot guarantee safety outside o the resort) We ended up walking the road for awhile and passed by a few other resorts and some local homes. Under British rule, they drive on the left so be warned to look both ways when crossing the streets. The locals that we did meet and strike up conversations with were incredibly friendly folk.

When we returned to the resort, we rallied up a few of our group and grabbed a van to town with our driver Andrew. He took us from Trelawny to Falmouth and told us stories and information along the way.

He was very informative. Apparently our resort is owned by Sunwing and is owned by a Canadian. The story of Rose Hall is about a man named Sam Rollins who married his first wife Rosa whom he built a white house for on top of a hill. She passed away and he re-married. Sam passed away naturally but then the new wife ended up remarrying. She murdered that husband and remarried then murdered that 3rd husband and in the end was murdered by her lover who was a slave. They do tours of the home and show you where each person was murdered for $20 entry.

Andrew drove us through the rich neighbourhood area, main tourist strip and pointed out Usain Bolts Highschool and the land where squatters have built homes. Our little taxi trip with Andrew through the city was nice but being a Sunday and Mother’s day, not much was happening. We wanted patties but the place to go was closed. We drove through Sam Sharpe Square and got out of the van to walk what was open of a little fruit market on a street. It’s not highly recommended for tourist to walk alone or venture into town without a local. For majority, the locals will leave you alone but also depends on your vibe. Apparently the large KFC in town has the most traffic and when you are in Falmouth or passing through, you need to stop there and grab some chicken as locals have told us. We stopped by a little touristy spot where Andrew said we can bargain and I picked up 100% blue mountain coffee beans that were priced at $70USD for $35USD. Andrew wanted to take us to the best look out spot to overlook the whole city – Richmond Hill but he called ahead and it was closed. Our last spot before heading back was Scotchies – the best place for Jerk Chicken on the island. We got 1/2 chicken, 1/2 pork, balmy (cassava) and festivals (sweet fried dough) and fresh Limeaid. They have their famous jerk sauce made of scotch pine nuts. To be honest, the food reminded me of Chinese food but nonetheless tasty. Between 7 of us, it was $7USD including tip.

We came back to the resort and just chilled/napped by the pool for about an hour before part of the group went on their lagoon excursion. Jess and myself stayed back and ventured the resort to scout spots to shoot. We didn’t make reservations early enough so we ate at the main buffet. There is a good selection of food ranging from american favourites – pizza, fries, burgers etc to a variety of Jamaican dishes like ackee fish, boiled dumplings & plantains to my groups favourites – ox tail and curried goat.

Day 2 – Group Excursion day!

We booked Sunwing Catamaran & Dunn Falls day trip – $106USD.

Woke up and went for a morning workout session. Grabbed breakfast at the buffet then off we went with our group of 20 with Cool Runnings for Catamaran and Dunn Falls with Chino our driver and Debby our guide. We booked a 20 person group of our own. We had one small stop before making our way to St Ann’s Parish – Ochos Rios. We were taken to a place where we had a light lunch of jerk chicken, coleslaw and beans with rice before embarking on a catamaran to Dunn Falls. The catamaran we thought was a private one with just our group but we were wrong. We hopped on and within 10 minutes or so we were anchored and got into the waters for snorkelling. After snorkelling, we had patties on the boat while we sailed to our next destination – Dunn Falls. You can opt for the wet hike or the dry hike. Dry hike is by far the better option. Wet option you need water shoes to climb (you can purchase for $10 USD or rent for $5USD). What sucks about the wet hike is that you are basically with your group and hold hands majority of the way up. The dry hike, we decide our own pace and there are several areas along the way up that you can get into the waters and we sure did. My dry hike group – Joseph x2, Kim, & Mimi went up the fresh water falls and came back down at our own pace to slowly meet up with our group (they were the last group to climb). The climb up is the same way the wet group comes back down.

We ended up leaving a little late but once we returned to the catamaran, it becomes a boozy boat. Unlimited alcohol plus patties were given out. The waves heading back were HUGE and you could feel each ripple of the wave as the catamaran would go flying up and then come down hard. Our group was good and the staff loved all of our guys. This one lady kept coming around dancing with alcohol (bottle and then a tray of drinks) on her hand and dancing when the boat was crashing those waves. Pure skills there.

We returned back to our resort after an hour – hour half ride from St Ann’s. Awaiting us was Jess, the videographer who stayed on the resort for the day. We ventured outside the resort to take some clips and shots of the couple on the streets. We even got some advice from the locals about marriage. We were hoping to get back in time for golden hour but the sun was already setting during our walk outside. Jess and myself made reservations for the steakhouse while everyone else went to Zen – japanese teppanyaki (which apparently sucked and was really bad). Our steaks were pretty decent and the creme brûlée was tasty but the mac & cheese was more of a casserole and dry.

Day 3

Wedding day!

I keep waking up early but its all good since the sun rises at 530AM each day and Jamaica is an hour behind Toronto. The wedding party met at 9AM to do a walkthrough and then off to the races we went with the bridesmaids getting ready at 930AM and the groomsmen to start getting ready around 1030AM. Things went slightly behind schedule but otherwise we did pretty good. It was a very humid day for sure and windy at times. Jess and myself tried to work fast with our filming and shooting but alas we didn’t get many shots that we wanted in the end (or at least what we had planned). We got to the beach for the bridal party and family shots and the weather started to shift as dark clouds started to loom. We were back down for 430PM and 5PM the ceremony was to begin.

As the ceremony prep was finished and the bridesmaids started walking down the path to the gazebo the skies were slightly darker but still the light emitting from far out was magical. Once Naomi and her parents started to walk down, the Jamaican skies decided to bless them with some liquid sunshine. It made the ceremony even shorter as things needed to get sped up to get everyone out of the rain as quick as possible. This left barely any time to get shots of the whole thing. The dark clouds above made way for a burst of light leaking far out on the side that made it soft yet a slight golden glow. Once the ceremony was completed, everyone hung under the gazebo to avoid the rain and until they setup our cocktail hour and steel drums in the same space. The rocks off to the left of the gazebo make for beautiful photos for sure. The skies cleared and going into reception we had smooth sailing in terms of rain.

After cocktail hour was over, 30 minutes to set up the reception area. They chose non tented seating area poolside. 3 long tables of 12 with buffet styled dinner. We had a live band and they were amazing. Tons of speeches and games. The reception went smoothly with music, drinks and dancing flowing everywhere. The night ended with the bridal party deciding to jump into the infinity pool. Bridesmaids went first in their dresses, Groomsmen went in matching boxers and bowties. With this group, even the guests decided to join in and jump in as well.

Kaʻaʻawa – Oahu – Hawaii – 2014 – Day 9

082414

It’s finally Wedding day!

The bride and groom were both busy trying to write their vows.

The videographer Philip and his assistant Gabriel of Supreme Video Productions joined us that morning to get well acquainted with the space and people.

In Hawaii, rain is counted as a blessing which we were blessed with a light sprinkle in the morning. The actual ceremony went off without a hitch after the morning blessings. It was a breathtaking and beautiful event to be present accompanied by the fact the couple was surrounded by loved ones and the environment just added to it.

For the dinner portion – John, Julian & tall Ryan our chefs (who came over from Toronto) created a wonderful feast kamayan style served on banana leaves. These family style platters included fresh locally sourced fish, ahi poke they made, chicken, kalua pulled pork, taro chips, corn, mac & cheese just to name a few.

The desserts were amazing too! They made rum cake with a pineapple glaze (apparently too strong) and Melissa and Juan’s wedding cake was actually a cupcake tower and smashed a cupcake into each others faces. They would have loved to do paper lanterns you light up or even sparklers but apparently both are illegal in Hawaii now.

Kaʻaʻawa – Oahu – Hawaii – 2014 – Day 8

082314

Rented 3 cars. Took a hour or so to get everyone and everything organized. They ran out of compact cars so we got upgraded to 2 SUV and still got 1 van – It was real life tetris to pack the cars with luggage and people. We left Aqua Bamboo to our next location – Plantation Estate in Ka’a’awa. Before we got there, we stopped by Mike’s Huli Huli Food Truck (43-525 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe). Guy Fieri has been here and you know Diners, Drive-in and Dives recommended is always good as I’ve tested in Vancouver. I got the garlic shrimp plate and it was so tasty and the shrimp were huge! The estate is so beautiful with mountains peaking from behind one side and the ocean across the street. This estate can accommodate 22 people.

The rental company came and set up the beautiful lanterns and brought all rentals including utensils, plates, cups, chairs and the archway. While that was happening, a group of us set out to Foodland (Kaneohe – 30 minutes away) to purchase food to feed 17-25 people for dinner plus breakfast as well as get alcohol for the wedding the following day. We purchased roughly $1100USD worth of groceries and alcohol but the savings (when you give them your phone number) were impeccable and we saved $245USD.

We got back and prepped dinner. We made chicken wings, steak plate styled steak, mixed salad, asian potato salad and rice courtesy of Justin, Eric, and myself.

All in all, perfect night.

Kelowna – Vernon – Vancouver – British Columbia – 2013 – Day 1-4

10/09/13

We flew to Vancouver via Air Canada. We rented a car (2014 Volkswagon Jetta – almost brand spanking new with only 2000KM) from Alamo. We took to the road and drove to meet with our friend Ben who works at BMO. We helped load his SUV with items to prep for the BMO – Okanagan Marathon in Kelowna. Had lunch at Edge Cafe. From there, we then hit the open road and drove 4-5 hours to Kelowna. Jo was first to drive but couldn’t make it past 45 minutes so I took over. The ride up was interesting as the weather shifted quickly and there was chances of ice and snow and chains on tires. We’re staying at the Delta vacation condos with 5 in the apartment (Joanne’s sister Marisa will join us in the morning). We finally arrived and drove around part of the town and ended up at Yamas for Greek food. Greek ribs with prawns were good but so salty.

 

10/10/13

Woke up early and went to workout. When everyone had awoken, we went to De Dutch for breakfast before heading off to pick up and drop off items at the run site. We spent the day setting up our space in the event tent which consisted of 2 tented areas to give away gloves, thunder sticks, apples, massages and where people can come to make signs to cheer on competitors. We finished relatively early and decided to drive to Vernon which is about 45min drive away to have dinner and see Marisa’s boyfriend Joshua and his family at Sir Winston’s for cheap wing night. We ended up at their home which is massive and overlooks Vernon with the lake view. The drive back to Kelowna was stressful seeing as there are no lights on the highway along the mountain so it was interesting flying down at 120-150KM turning around bends and trying to follow the person in front of you through the darkness. We got back with enough time to hit the hot tub for half an hour.

10/11/13

We had prepped enough the previous day so our start time for the race prep was noon. We drove over the bridge to Westbank and had White Spot for breakfast then onto Mission Hills Winery for some wine tasting and to purchase gifts for Yolande and Thanksgiving dinner with their extended family. It was perfect timing as we made it back in time to grab the last of the tents and officially set up our BMO stations in the tents.

Once everything was completely set-up, we drove back to Vancouver around 2PM. Joanne drove the whole way with one pit stop to get gas. She decided to make a buddy on the highway to follow but alas with us going 180KM we lost him because he floored it. We made it back in record time of 3 hours. We did however hit traffic once we got into Vancouver but that is to be expected. I cannot tell you enough about how Vancouver reminds me of Hong Kong with a little mix of Japan & Los Angeles on certain streets and a bit of Sydney too. We made our way to downtown Vancouver to meet with Yolande. We settled in for a bit before we drove to the airport to pick Vicky up. For dinner, we ate at Matsuyama in Richmond for fresh sushi! It was the after 9PM menu so it was cheaper and the food was pretty good. The sashimi slices are so thick and enormous. There aren’t any all-you-can-eat places in Vancouver however their sushi is the best (better than some of the best in Toronto). Nelson and Jordan joined us for dinner as well.

10/12/13

I had agreed to shoot the morning portion of Miranda’s wedding day so I had to wake up bright and early (only 3-4 hours of sleep for me) to head to her parent’s place. Her parents live right by the harbourfront overlooking part of Stanley Park and a yacht club but nonetheless the view from above (23 floors up) is unreal.

The ceremony was lovely. Miranda & Tom made the vows creatively echo one another. The wedding cake was actually the cupcake table where they had a cupcake periodic table. (Tom is a Bio Chemist)

We decided to go on a detour after to Thomas Haas for tea, coffee and the famous double baked croissants. Made it back to the apartment for a bit then off to Richmond where we went for the reception at Empire Seafood where we arrived just as the bridal party was making their entrances.

A lovely 10 course meal. The bridal party was very creative and performed like no tomorrow. They even performed a re-enactment of how Miranda and Tom met and proposed. They even sang “I’ll Never Break your Heart” by Backstreet Boys in Cantonese. By the end of the night, we took over the photo booth.