For as long as Verna Baker can remember she always wanted to sail the high seas. That opportunity finally came in September 2018, when she was the lucky winner of an all-expense paid Mediterranean cruise.
The voyage, which set sail on the Norwegian Epic cruise line, was courtesy of JN Bank, after Miss Baker emerged winner of the JN “Off You Go” promotion, which was rebranded the “Billion Dollar Club.”
The cruise was the first prize in the developers’ category of the bank’s promotion, which is open to licensed real estate professionals and registered developers operating across the country.
The adventure took the Montego Bay-based legal assistant from the shores of the Caribbean Sea, across the Mediterranean, where she explored many of Europe’s classic cultural landmarks, in Spain, Italy and France.
“I can hardly find words to describe my experience. It was certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity. We spent seven days and six nights exploring some of the most popular venues in Europe, places which I had only read about or viewed on television,” she related.
On her stop in Spain, Ms Baker explored the famous cities of Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca. “It was incredible. The architecture, the food, the people and the culture were the most memorable aspects,” she said.
In Italy, she strolled around ancient towns, such as Naples, Florence and Rome. “I visited the City of Pisa; and, of course, got a firsthand view of the world-famous leaning Tower of Pisa,” Ms Baker related, excitedly.
The freestanding bell tower of the cathedral of the Italian city of Pisa, is known world-wide for its unintended “tilt.”
According to historians, the tower’s tilt began during construction in the 12th century. This was said to be caused by an inadequate foundation on the ground, which was too soft on one side to adequately support the structure’s weight. The tilt increased during the decades prior to the completion of the structure in the 14th century. It gradually increased, until the structure was stabilised, and the tilt partially corrected, by efforts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
At least four major earthquakes have hit the region since 1280; however, the apparently vulnerable Tower survived and is still standing.
“I learned so much about western history and early civilizations in Europe during this trip. It was eye-opening; and has made me more culturally conscious. It has certainly given me a fresh world view…that there are so many other people to meet, cultures to learn about, things to see and appreciate around the world,” Ms Baker informed. “I went to places with names I can’t even pronounce,” she jokingly informed, pointing out that, “My excursion also took me to Pompeii, Civitavecchia and Livorno in Italy.”
“Pompeii was another intriguing stop, because I remember the movie and the stories I heard about that ancient city, which was totally destroyed by a volcano many centuries ago,” she related in awe. “It was just so surreal to be exploring that area, learning about its history, and envisioning what it looked like in the early centuries, compared to today.”
The cruise also took Ms Baker to familiar sites in France, which she visited previously in 2017, after she also won the 2016 top prize in the promotion. The JN Billion Dollar Club offers opportunities for realtors and developers to benefit from attractive travel packages as well as commission payments on all successful mortgage referrals.
“I have been blessed. The ‘JN Billion Dollar Club’ promotion is a wonderful initiative. Through the promotion, I have been able to visit places I could only dream about. A Mediterranean cruise has always been on my bucket list; however, it would have probably taken me years to save enough money to afford such a vacation,” she affirmed.
Ms Baker, an employee at Gore Development, said she was also lucky to meet some wonderful people on her trip. “I made several friends from Ecuador, with whom I have maintained contact, since I returned to Jamaica. There were also many Jamaicans working on the cruise ship, including the main chef and his wife, who treated me like royalty, once they discovered that I was also Jamaican,” she recalled.
Other Jamaicans who have also benefited from culturally-rich vacations, courtesy of the JN Bank’s realtors and developers incentive programme, are Rena Reid and Sandra Thompson.
Mrs Reid, also of Gore Development, was the winner of an all-expense paid trip to Costa Rica. She was the second place winner in the developer category of the promotion.
“It was a wonderful experience and I would encourage Jamaicans, who can afford it, to travel to other places in the world. Costa Rica is beautiful, foreign in most respects, but familiar in many ways,” she related.
Mrs Reid explained that the food, especially the cassava and beef dishes were reminiscent of meals she’s had at home in Jamaica.
“I didn’t know that so many things which they ate, were similar to our agricultural produce in Jamaica. The landscape, especially along the countryside reminded me of Jamaica. It was beauty to behold and I would love to return to Costa Rica,” Mrs Reid said.
For Ms Thompson, who went on the Napa Valley wine tour in the United States of America, the experience was gastronomical. “The food was amazing. We toured three different wineries and sampled the most sumptuous food at more than five restaurants in San Francisco,” she said. “The truth is, this is an experience that will stay with me forever.”