Philadelphia Soda Tax Reality Check

2017062101025444_DMR_AP3I7328We have not lived in Philadelphia for over twenty years now, but I still work within the city limits. My youngest son finds living in the city more energetic and interesting than our sleepy ‘burb. That’s fine for him, but the methods The City has chosen to fund operations and programs (i.e. taxing people and property more than ever) have made our decision to leave seem all the wiser.

Horror stories abound on how The City has executed its real estate reassessment initiative. Tales of how the Philadelphia Beverage Tax (PBT) has affected the people are far less dramatic, but perhaps more insidious for those who live and work there.

I haven’t really paid much attention to the dynamics and effects of the PBT, aside from noticing a 33% increase at the office vending machine and changing my drink-buying habits accordingly. Instead of laying out $2 for an 18.5 ounce bottle (formerly $1.50) of Turkey Hill’s magic ice tea elixir, I began to lug 64 ounce bottles into work, purchased near home at a savings of over $4 per bottle based on volume.

I guess you tend not to think about such things until you are gobsmacked through real-life experience. So after that adjustment was made, I never gave the issue another thought. Not my problem anymore …

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Then a few weeks ago, I forgot a critical ingredient to my latest healthy lunch fad (Greek yogurt*, honey, fresh berries, granola* … * low sugar options) at my Philadelphia work location. Granola – the critical missing ingredient – brings it all together.

So I trudge over to the local ShopRite to granola-up and – being low on precious Turkey Hill DIT – I decide to check on availability and price. After over a year of not buying ridiculously taxed, unsweetened drinks, the horror must have faded from memory.

For home use, I buy the full gallon (128 oz.) version of Turkey Hills best. Simple math and you can see where this is headed.

At home (Acme Markets) I pay $2.99 a gallon. (Sale price this week $1.99!) As I wander the ShopRite aisles, I eventually find the object of one of my obsessions … at $5.12 a gallon!!!

Pretty sure I now have PTSD (Philadelphia Tax Stress Disorder) …

DISCUSSION POINTS:

(I don’t pretend to have all the answers … just questions, reactions, and observation … and maybe one solution)

1. How does such a phenomena NOT affect the food shopping habits of Philadelphia families, the profitability of City food markets, and the tax revenue projections?

I know my shopping habits would be affected if still living in Philly. People are not likely to shop twice for groceries just to avoid an intrusive tax. More likely is the obvious solution of moving all grocery shopping outside the City limits.

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2. Does the tax impact the economically disadvantaged in Philadelphia disproportionately?

It’s easy for most to hop in the car and head over the City Limits to shop in suburban soda tax havens. But what about the poor? Do they shoulder the disproportionate bulk of the tax burden, when bad habits are hard to break and the corner bodega is the only short-term food source?

3. It’s difficult to deny the health benefits of laying off sugary foods and drinks. This is how Government justifies taxing cigarettes. So what happens to the economic goals of the tax if the citizenry wised up and changes their drinking habits?

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Philadelphia levies a 1.5 cent/gallon vs. the above

Frankly, this will end up being a win-win for the City of Philadelphia, regardless of where actual soda-tax revenue falls.  If the citizenry fails to make healthier choices, the city cleans up.  If they are successful in changing their habits and sugary drink sales – and the taxes – dry up, the city will claim Healthy Choices Victory!

4. If the selling point is #3 above, why are drink distributors (who actually pay the tax to The City) allowed to price the tax across its entire product line … whether the drink contains sugar or not?

This really rubs the wrong way! Sugar tax? Fine … So why are Philadelphians and visitors paying the tax on drinks without sugar?!?

One might understand if the tax 1.5-cent tax was applied proportionately over sugar and non-sugar drinks. But my calculations indicate that the full tax is being paid on non-sugary drinks as well, which should at the very least be considered a fraudulent act on the consumers!

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Do you see a common thread?

5. A “Big Aha” was revealed last week, when John Dougherty – leader of the Philadelphia chapter (Local 98) of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – was revealed to have supported the sugary drink tax as a way of punishing the local Teamsters affiliate for running a political ad during the 2015 Philadelphia election that portrayed Dougherty in a negative light.

The really funny twist to this curiosity is that apparently Johnny Doc targeted the wrong union!

Now I doubt Dougherty carried the day for the tax-happy leaders of Philadelphia; but it is an odd twist to see labor unions trying to stick it to each other using a general tax issue!

6. This discussion will become much more interesting if reliable grocery sales data were shared alongside the figures for actual beverage-tax collections. Both The City and grocery industry affiliations have been lobbing claims back and forth about the health of the city’s grocery industry as affected by the tax.

Frankly, I would be shocked if the figures did not show a significant decline in grocery sales in the city (as adjusted for the ridiculously high beverage tax). I would be even more surprised if The City ever admitted as much!

7. Finally, as recent as last year the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were willing to package $5.7 billion in tax breaks and incentives to mega-billion-dollar Amazon in a failed attempt to get the corporation to locate its eastern headquarters there. This in addition to huge financial packages to keep other corporate entities, such as Comcast and some Philadelphia sports teams in the city, and other smaller real estate abatement used to attract development.

Putting aside smaller development deals, and recognizing the civic commitments by those “such as” corporations named above, would it be too much to ask potential mega-tax-break corporations to pick up the tab for an initiative like full-day kindergarten as a legitimate giveback to taxpayer-funded corporate largesse?

In reality such a giveback would benefit employees of those city-based corporate entities by ensuring more attractive public education alternatives. This would be – in effect – an indirect employer-provided benefit, especially for those younger corporate employees with young children or expecting them in their future.

To me, it sounds a lot better than punishing those without the wherewithal or strength to break an unhealthy and expensively taxed bad habit.

Free Speech, the NFL, … and what about Security Clearances

To be honest, my nose was never out-of-joint over the protests by NFL players during img_0042-1the  National Anthem.  But in the interest of honesty, I will admit I have been a fan of the NFL (Fly, Eagles fly!) since the 1960s.

It’s not that I agree or enjoy watching million-dollar athletes taking a knee or raising a fist in protest of a Country that enables their lucrative careers. There are quite simply expressions that madden me much, much more, such as the burning of U.S. flags.  However, I do reserve a special level of rage for the sickly Westboro Baptist clowns, who are fond of expressing their Rights in the most insensitive ways at the most inappropriate times.

Maybe I prefer reserving my wrath for the greatest threats to Free Speech. The rage and discomfort we endure is the price one must pay for belief in our Constitution and for faith in the world’s most successful free and open republic.

Amendment I, United States Constitution

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Free Speech requires an appreciation for Advanced Citizenship in the U.S. of A.  The more centered and focused you remain on the guiding principle of Free Speech, the more likely you will recognize that such citizenship sometimes requires herculean self-control when someone expresses thoughts and ideas in ways that infuriate.

It’s a concept a lot of people have a difficult time accepting, whether the issue involves a student opting to sit for the Pledge of Allegiance or a couple of knuckleheads burning an American flag.  And sometimes – maybe at when it’s needed most – a remarkable moment unfolds in a way that’s unexpected and ultimately memorable!

And yes, when Rick Monday swooped to the rescue of the national standard, he too was expressing his Right to Free Speech as well!  He spoke with his actions.

Advanced Citizenship – a level of patriotism fewer Americans seem to achieve of late – demands the ability to grit our teeth and chalk your outrage up to a higher national calling. Not that such a thing makes the demonstration any easier to accept. Consider these challenges a test … an opportunity to exercise your appreciation for the ability of those with whom you disagree to exercise their Free Speech, not matter how infuriating.

And no … the excuse that “They do it!” is insufficient.  Let their actions define their character and Patriotism. Don’t let your reactions negatively define yours.

Keep in mind, it’s the lesser of us who choose to shout down or violently suppress Free Speech. It’s a tactic favored by those who would rather tell us what to think or how to vote at the point of whatever weapon might be handy. White supremacists and elements of the Far Left, such as Antifa, have much in common in that regard.

In the case of the National Football League, their recent misguided attempts to rein in the pre-game protests in the face of withering public opinion (more free speech about Free Speech) actually exacerbated the problem. My opinion is that the Players would likely have allowed the protests to die had they not been confronted in such a direct and public way.

But even as I encourage a daunting level of civic sainthood, I cannot give those Westboro Baptist idiots a sliver of accommodation. They are vile, mean-spirited, and unworthy – in my estimation – of even being called Americans.

Yes, if nothing else, I am a flawed American. But I can live with that …

There are nuanced limitations to this Freedom of Speech thing.

  1. You cannot scream “Fire!” in the proverbial crowded theatre.
  2. You cannot express thoughts or opinions under the name of your employer, especially if they serve to somehow conflict with business or embarrass them among consumers of their products.
  3. You cannot defame an individual or organization with false statements. A student’s free speech rights are limited somewhat while in school.
  4. You cannot openly exhort people to violence.
  5. At events deemed to be National Special Security Events (e.g. political conventions, inaugurations, Super Bowl), your Speech can be restricted to specified protest zones.
John Brennan

former CIA Director John O. Brennan

The recent hullabaloo over the National Security clearance of John Brennan, former head of the CIA, appears to fall into several of the above exceptions. Brennan’s security clearance was revoked by the Trump Administration, likely at the direction of President Trump, for – among other things – making wild, unsupported accusations of Treason on the part of The President.

My rationale for accepting the Trump Administration’s action against Brennan comes from the following:

  1. Although precedent has set the standard that former National Security officials keep their clearances in order to assist succeeding officials in consultation during sensitive events, the same precedent forms a link (in my mind anyway) between the former officials and the current Administration. In some ways, the relationship mimics the employee-employer relationship ,,, in a quasi kind of way. If the former official becomes an embarrassment to the Government, the Government should exercise their authority to withdraw the privilege of access to sensitive information.
  2. Brennan was spouting a lot of unsubstantiated viewpoints that in essence defamed the Government and The President. It would be impossible for anyone to successfully argue that Brennan – or anyone else – deserves to retain such access as they openly and continuously cause embarrassment and suggest treason unencumbered by any attempt to factually document the accusation.
  3. Yes, rescinding such access is a bit retaliatory in that it can affect Brennan’s ability to benefit monetarily. Yet that very sentiment underscores in a way that quasi-employer-employee exception to Free Speech. Ask yourself if any Administration (the quasi-employer) should allow a pointed and factually unreliable critic the ability to earn money using the very information managed, controlled, and heavily relied upon by the current Government? Seems like a slam dunk …
  4. Removing his security clearance does nothing to restrict Brennan’s Free Speech. He can still appear in forums, on cable TV, in print media. Brennan can say anything he wants, subject to the restrictions the rest of us are expected to observe. He might not make as much money doing it as he did before (in theory), but nothing about removing his clearance affects his ability to express his views.

And there you have the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of a beautiful Freedom instilled upon a Free People to ensure their freedom prospers and perhaps spreads to freedom lovers the World over!

Destination Wedding: The Other California Wine Country

In 2011 Carol and I trekked to Southern California to celebrate my brother, Pat’s retirement.  We spent a significant part of our trip pursuing our primary objective … several days of golf and touristy behavior within and about the Pebble Beach resort on the Monterey Peninsula.

That required a good bit of road travel between the Los Angeles area and Carmel/Monterey.  One of the impressions from that journey was the exponential growth in vineyards well south of Napa Valley – the commercial heart of California Wine Country – since our previous trip to the Left Coast about 12 years earlier.

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On past trips to The Golden State we never took the opportunity to enjoy California Wine Country.  Counterproductive it would be to enjoying a fine winely glow, when dragging one’s underage kids around with you …

Now our kids are grown … and as luck would have it one of our Shortall (West) nephews was taking the marital plunge with the festivities taking place in Temecula, California.  Sixty miles north of San Diego and ninety miles south of LA, Temecula touts itself as the center of California’s South Coast wine country.

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The vino was superb that day, my friend …

 

Temecula was untouched by the wild fires that hit parts of Napa prior to and during our December 2016 trip.  In early December the Thomas fire, one of the largest in California history, began in the hills near Ventura.  Smoke from those fires were clearly visible throughout our trip.

With both families established California locals, this was not much the “destination weddings” for them, but for us refugees from a rapidly winterizing region of the mid-Atlantic coast, it was Destination enough!

24312755_10102456606203576_5267595914899467934_nThe happy couple selected the Mount Palomar Winery as the site for their forever nuptials.  And frankly, it was quite the venue!  The scenery from atop the hills on which the main event took place was spectacular.  For a late afternoon ceremony followed by drinks and hors d’ourves set close to the ceremonial stage, one was treated to beautiful daylight vistas, a spectacular sunset, and as night fell, an immensely large and vivid moon rise over distant mountains!

This wedding venue rivaled the trip we took to the beaches of Nags Head, North Carolina for another family wedding.  Both venues were spectacular in their own right.  Comparisons are unfair due to the dramatic difference of each location; but no one can argue that each made their respective affairs indelibly memorable!

Mount Palomar provided a hilltop venue for the nuptials, which included a screen-saver background of a gorgeous Southern California day with the surrounding hills in the distance.  Afterwards, guests took the opportunity for scenic photos while snacking and imbibing the local vintage in salute of the happy couple.

The post-wedding reception was held in a spacious barrel room, the party surrounded by racked wine barrels (attempts to tap several failed).  A setting unlike any other wedding we have attended.

And yes, the food was as good as was the wine!

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Add in the opportunity to spend an extended vacation with close family and squeeze in a Philadelphia Eagles game (December 10) against a strong Los Angeles Rams team, and you have what was likely the BEST destination wedding I can remember!

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The play that could have cost Philly a SuperBowl! (Apologies for the gratuitous football reference …)

 

 

 

The Night They Killed the Donut

I don’t want to talk about it. I am traumatized.

At the Phillies game watching them get eviscerated by the Milwaukee Brewers …

Went to Federal Donuts and find out the only chicken they serve now is on a roll!!!!

WTF!!!

Used to be … Federal Donuts would give you a halved breast (2 pieces) and a drumstick accompanied by their delicious donut.  EVERYTHING was delicious!  Now it’s a chicken sandwich, take it or leave it.  So I left it.

Got two donuts and stomped off in crushing disappointment. Procured an Italian sausage sandwich to ease my pain. Never a disappointment … #wheresthechikin

Impressions of Jamaica

Pano-view of the main Sandals South Coast pool

 

This was our second trip to the beautiful island of Jamaica.  Our first was full 32+ years ago, in October 1985, on our honeymoon.  For that memorable experience we luxuriated at a resort then known as EDEN II in Ocho Rios on the north shore of the island.  Unconfirmed rumor had EDEN II (which we honeymooners were told stood for Every Day Every Night Twice) destroyed during Hurricane Gilbert. Further research – however – showed it had been a Sandals resort (Dunns River), then was renovated and reopened as Jewel Dunns River Resort & Spa (Hilton Hotels and Resorts).

A return trip to Ocho Rios would have been nice, and maybe someday we will.  But for this trip, a birthday excursion for two women who are very close friends, the group decided on a Sandals resort in Whitehouse (Sandals South Coast).  It couldn’t have been a better choice … with the exception of a little weather.

The Jamaicans were all too willing to admit that their wet, rainy season runs roughly from mid-April to mid-June.  It was apparent that we skirted a potential washout of a vacation (Dates of stay: May 1- 8, 2018), but we lucked out.  We experienced only one washout day during our 7-night stay and one very wet evening.  Not bad really since the rest of our time there was sunny and humid with occasional dark clouds that did not always produce rain.  Truly minor inconveniences that gave us the opportunity to work on our bar tans!

We did everything we wanted to (or not), and received all the sun we could handle.

The Sandals South Coast resort is phenomenal, although I imagine during the height of tourism season it could feel a bit crowded.  Our stay was considered “off-season”.

The Sandals property is not big enough to require motor transit (as we experienced at Barceló’s Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic).  Small enough to walk comfortably anywhere, the South Coast was an exceptional experience.  Nine restaurants, seven full-service bars (one out over the ocean), two swim-up bars (always a Big Plus!), four pools, unlimited water sports, top-shelf liquor, on-site spa, and shopping plaza.

img_0226For me, a man of modest needs and even modest-er desires to spend a vacation being active and adventuresome, Sandals was a perfect environment!  Extremely relaxing, plenty of space (at least during off-season) to enjoy the sun (Recommend early as possible poolside lounge chair claims!), adequate bar capacity and locations, excellent food (only one meal of questionable quality … Make sure you hit The Jerk Shack for lunch!), wonderful and friendly hosts, excellent spa (Red Lane), and well-appointed rooms.

Downers:  One disappointment was that our “beachfront room” was a beach/pool view, which did not front on any beach.  Quality of evening entertainment (We were told new acts were being broken in.), although the Silver Birds steel drum band is an act you absolutely MUST SEE!  Room service is reserved for only the top-shelf (i.e. $$$$$) accommodations.  The quality of meal with the special beach-side romantic dinner was not worth the price, though the service was excellent.  Make sure that “beach front” room you reserve is an actual beach-front room.

We left Jamaica with varying impressions on our second trip to the island.

People:  Definitely my most favorite part of vacationing in Jamaica (besides the beauty and wealth of adult libations) were the Jamaicans themselves. It’s practically impossible to walk past a Jamaican without expecting some sort of genuine “I love Life” encounter or leaving their presence without a smile or a laugh.  Almost everyone seems happy, content, and more than willing to spread the cheer around!  Given that Tourism is a crucial column in the Jamaican economy and in the quality-of-life, so the people you encounter tend to grasp the importance of being welcoming and accommodating.  Yet the genuine reactions and positive attitudes gives one the impression that tropical living promotes a most agreeable mindset in those who live there.

 

Peaceful waters and verdant hills

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Beauty:  I imagine somewhere I have yet to visit rivals Jamaica for its verdant scenery and peaceful beaches.  I found that I can stare endlessly at the Jamaican countryside … the mountains, blue-green water, vegetation, people, beaches, etc. … in complete bliss.  The mountains in particular provide a rich colorful background to everything on the island.

chinese-jamaicaRoads:  Our trip over the mountains from Montego Bay to Whitehouse made the Spring roads in my little slice of eastern Montgomery County, Pennsylvania appear merely “blemished” in comparison.  Hard to believe that such a warm, welcoming climate can create so many potholes and road canyons!  However, it was an eye-opener to learn that the Chinese are making HUGE infrastructure investment in Jamaica.  The one major highway project we saw was being financed completely by China who apparently employed contractors from neighboring Korea to manage construction!

Economics:  Cursory observation indicates that Jamaicans are probably better off economically that say those in the Dominican Republic, which we visited in October 2016.  The DR seemed much more impoverished in larger swaths than those in the part of Jamaica we saw.  Certainly, you do see some blight and destitute conditions, but it doesn’t seem nearly as prevalent as I observed in the Punta Cana area of the DR.

Drug Wars:  On our first trip to Jamaica in 1985, one of the first things we noticed on our two-hour trip from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios were the presence of telephone poles planted at angles to the ground on any field of reasonable size.  We were told those poles were intended to prevent the landing of drug-smuggling planes, looking to load up before heading to destinations to the north.  Thirty years later, and I saw none anywhere.  In 2015 Jamaica legalized medical marijuana with a bill so vague it has resulted in de facto legalization.  Naturally, it also eliminated much of the criminal element – and the crime – from marijuana cultivation and distribution.

In the end, I enjoyed my second trip to Jamaica almost as much as the first.  Remember though, we were honeymooning the first time (*wink wink*)!  I would not hesitate to take another Jamaican vacation, and Sandals would certainly be a short-list option.  Between north coast Jamaica and south coast, I would have a very difficult time picking one over the other.

If you get the chance, enjoy Jamaica wherever you decide to go!

Our poolside room view was supposed to be “beachfront” (-10).

Mothers Day Afternoon Delight

Perhaps the glow from our Jamaican couples massage had not completely faded. Maybe it was the Mimosas and Bloody Marys we enjoyed during Mother’s Day brunch.

Brian had left for work. Alex was still in the house, but occupied elsewhere.

Carol surprised me from behind, her hands delicately grabbing my shoulders. She whispered in my ear, “Do you want to do that thing you do so well?”

“Uh … OK”, I replied. “Are you sure? Alex is still here and the timing’s a bit weird.”

“Please”, she breathed. “I have been waiting so long …”

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And that’s how I ended up painting ceilings all Mothers Day afternoon!

Couples Massage Redux, Mon!

Our first experience in the stately art of the Couples Massage was a happening just 18 months ago during a memorable trip to Punta Cana in the beautiful Dominican Republic.  We so thoroughly enjoyed that initial experience, we made a point of scheduling one for our most recent trip to Sandals South Coast at Whitehouse, Jamaica!

This trip intended to celebrate milestone birthdays for Carol and her BFF.  And no, I will not be revealing the specific milestone in the desire to preserve my physical and mental health!

For this Couples Experience we would be in the good … uh … hands of the fine people of Jamaica.  No problems, mon!

As with any comparison, there are obvious and subtle differences, which can render comparisons somewhat unfair.  The most obvious differences were as follows:

  • Sandals SC:  a verdant and fragrant bungalow-type structure in a quiet section of the resort ;  Barceló PC: a somewhat sterile looking storefront in a large retail and restaurant complex in the middle of the resort
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    Red Lane Spa at Sandals South Coast (Jamaica)

  • Sandals SC:  common area in a centralized court for post-massage libations and quiet time and communal Jacuzzi and shock pool available for use any time; Barceló PC:  secluded private personal courtyard with bottle champagne and shock pool (i.e. shock as in damn cold!) with communal Jacuzzi, shock pools, swim pool and shade pool available for use any time
  • Atmosphere:  Advantage Sandals SC; Post-massage amenities: Advantage Barceló PC

As for me, I took a significantly different approach to my second couples experience.  The first time, I opted for Modesty, keeping my bathing suit on for our massage.  I was glad I did since my male counterpart was politely requested to don a “banana hammock” when he went au naturel!

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Red Lane treatment room similar to ours

My curiosity in this regard would give any cat a case of the heebee-jeebees. And yet I decided to go the Full Monty, arriving in nothing but the simple, yet comfortable robe provided.  I was relieved when I was not asked to “hammock up”!  Relieved because I doubt the massage would have been as enjoyable with Carol’s hysterical laughing.

Carol was a bit surprised to see me sans all Decorative Trappings of Modest Society.  But at least she held her laughter.  On the other hand I was a bit perplexed by her decision to retain a strategic piece of undergarment.

My Jamaican masseuse – on the other hand – did not skip a beat, although she discreetly conducted a tactile “undies check” through the sheet that was thinly covering my caboose.  During the massage, she ensured continued discretion through the strategic use of sheeting whenever she asked me to reposition.

Too be honest, I was a bit surprised at how things progressed once my lack of drapery was noted. I was betting on the area just south of the equator being completely avoided.

Boy, was I wrong!

The Jamaicans are nothing if not prepared for anything.

Instead of the entire Equator being tactfully avoided, only the Bermuda Triangle and Death Valley ended up being “no fly zones”!

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The central courtyard where post-massage recovery is fragrance-filled.

Afterwards we were provided with privacy and the chance to use a rather large and roomy shower.  Then it was out to the central courtyard where fragrant flowers, muted sunlight, and comfortable benches awaited.  Adult libations were served in the form of fruit-blended champagne.  The environment was heavenly.

To say the entire experience was enjoyable and relaxing is a gross understatement.  Although the exfoliation of the feet and lower legs – included at Barceló PC – was not part of the Sandals SC treatment, our Jamaican couple’s massage was slightly more enjoyable. (This is my own personal opinion, likely the result of surface area covered by the Hands of Jamaica!)

Differences in facilities and the extent of treatments are to be expected.  The important constant is the pleasure and relaxing nature of enjoying a sensuous massage with your significant other.

Don’t miss out should you have the opportunity!