We had very high hopes for RockHouse with all the great reviews & press - We found it to be a gorgeous setting, with some pitfalls that should really be addressed. Worth the trip - just be prepared.
We've done the big resorts in various islands, some have been terrific & others, not as much - Here, we were looking for a lower-key, smaller, quieter option - it does deliver on the quiet & low-key. But I found that I was unable to get into & stay in that "relaxed island bliss" mode achieved on most other visits to the Caribbean, due to the uneven service provided by the staff - which is unfortunate, as the little grounds could provide a near-perfect get-away.
* Spring for a villa - you'll be glad you did. It is worth the extra money to have your own stand-alone hut.
* Remember your bug spray & something like "after bite" - otherwise you will be buying the OFF from the minibar or boutique ($14 at either)
* It is over an hour's drive from the Montego Bay airport. The drivers can be really bad (understatement) - so you may want to take some dramamine. And say your prayers.
* If you'll be snorkeling, take an underwater disposable camera (or there's one in the minibar -$22)
* No bathroom door - so be comfortable with your travel companion!
* Get a bottle of rum from duty free or, buy one at the little store next to the resort (out the main gate & turn to the right) & pick up some soda or juice to make drinks in your room to enjoy on your lounge chairs - get a bucket of ice from the bar- (By your bottled water from the little store as well as it is $4 in the minibar) - There is nothing wrong with the drinks made at the bars - just can be pricey if you want a few - & it is nice to be able to have your drinks quickly & at your little chairs.
Some fast "Pros & Cons" for people who don't want to read lots of details:
* Many of the staff are charming, warm sweet people. (Some of our staff highlights: Bally, Latoya, Joy, Gossett, Oneil - I'm hoping I am getting the spellings correct)
* Unique setting in rocky coves - beautiful aqua water.
* Charming thatched villas, set in from the paths, - with breathtaking views - waking up to them is such a treat.
* Our villa has a set of adirondack-style chairs on the porch which were so comfortable & got plenty of use sitting & staring at the water & rocky coastline.
* Just listening to the sound of the ocean during the night.
* A/C in the rooms - or open the windows & just use the ceiling fan.
* The lounge chairs with umbrellas set up above the water on stone terraces.
* The beautiful grounds with gorgeous plants, trees, & flowers.
* Lots of little coves & walkways to explore.
* The spa! Every treatment we received was wonderful.
* The outdoor showers! (The water temperature is not reliable - but the air is always warm so this was not a real problem for us) - shower outside while listening to the tree frogs singing at night. Bliss!
* Very clean sheets & towels. Housekeeping seemed to do a good job.
* The food was usually very good at each of the three restaurants.
* The live music at Push Cart is fun & there was one trio that was terrific - authentic & not "touristy" (we ended up buying their CD) - though even the more "touristy" trio on the other nights, created a fun atmosphere.
* There is a computer that guests may use if they need to (Though we were not told this - so you have to know to ask)
(This may read like I had an awful time - I didn't. I just think that, were I to know some of these things going in, I could've been a little more prepared for what to expect & perhaps this will help someone else have a better trip)
* Some disinterested/unfriendly employees (& sometimes, downright rude, really making you feel unwelcome - this is the one item that you really cannot prepare for & is plainly unacceptable.)
* No overview of the resort at check-in. We were handed a sheet of paper with an activity per-day listed, but there was no in-depth informational reception & we would've missed some things had we not been in the right place at the right time (like the complimentary foot or hand treatment or mini-massage offered by the pool area one afternoon that we learned about from the ladies in the spa after having another treatment)
* No bathroom doors (at least in the villas - the bathroom is a rock partition with a toilet, sink, mirror & a door to the outdoor shower) - so be VERY comfortable with your travel companion. (There are *only* outdoor showers - at least in the villas - which we loved, but could be a "con" for some)
* The bed was not comfortable - kinda' hard & a bit on the lumpy side. (though, when I couldn't sleep - I could still listen to the ocean & look out at the water that was illuminated by the moonlight)
* A single key is given per villa. We were usually together, but there were times when one of us was locked out & had to wait for the other.
* Some activities could be really great with some thought & planning (the Wednesday evening Social Hour by the pool seemed poorly planned & awkward)
* In the afternoons, large party boats come to the cave in the cove for snorkeling. They can have very loud music & lots of screaming from excited passengers, which can jar you from your dreamy half-sleep that you've been working on from your lounge chair. (I have to say that I got used to it as the days went on & was happy for the revelers that they were so enjoying themselves) But on the last day, a bunch of ...maybe it was scum from the boat fuel...with a bottle & a plastic bag floating in it (which my husband happened upon while snorkeling & fished out the trash to throw away)
* We accidentally broke a bottle of sauce at the restaurant (it was very hot from the candle being against it & my husband reached for it, burned his hand & it fell from the table to the rock pathway below) - we told the staff several times (this was about 6:30pm) & it was still there when we went for breakfast (a little after 7am) & we told them again. They said someone was coming but it took another 45 minutes & there were no efforts (sign/rope off area) were made to warn barefoot guests that there was a danger. (After it was cleaned up - I ended up gathering several more small pieces of glass when I went to see if it was OK)
* No in-room coffee makers (we enjoyed getting a pot of coffee from the main restaurant & taking it back to our little patio area - but the restaurant doesn't open until 7:00 & we're very early risers - usually up by 6:00 & want coffee right away (food we can wait on...but coffee...my goodness!)
* The prices are that of a higher-end resort - but without the service & amenities that the higher-end resorts offer. (& they tend to "nickel & dime" you... there is a candle in the room - but it will cost you to use. As will the lighter. It would be really nice if they were to offer complimentary waters in the room....or have morning complimentary coffee/tea at the restaurant or common area until the restaurant opens)
* The resort is *right* on the street - so you hear the street traffic if you are at the restaurants - which isn't a big deal most of the time - but there were exceptions. (An insanely loud whistling like a tea kettle you cannot turn off - which is generated by the peanut vendor that pushed his cart along the street & stops outside with that ear-piercing whistling that seems endless.) If you step outside the gate, you are approached by vendors, and upon several occasions when we were walking along the path from our villa to the restaurant, there was a vendor (?) who was loudly talking to us through the fence trying to sell her "wares"... it was a bit odd & a little disconcerting as their is no visible security at the resort (though they have a note in the room that tells you there is a security team - but lock your doors)
* Due to the proximity to the street and flimsy hollow doors/old doorknobs with single locks, it feels less secure than larger resorts (there are small safes provided in the rooms for your valuables - but the single safe key is on the string with the room key - so again, if you need something from the safe and your partner has the key...you're waiting. Perhaps they should provide safes with a code instead)
* Jellyfish cut my snorkeling adventure short. Rude jellyfish. (That's not the fault of RockHouse...it was just a "con")
The "more details" portion of the review (sorry for some repetition):
Try to be VERY specific with what you are asking. There are a lot of one-word answers with little more information unless prompted. I noted that on several occasions I had to ask for things that would otherwise just be offered. (The wi-fi password - I called to get it & the conversation was strange - but funny):
"Hi. Can you tell me, is there a password for the wi-fi?"
"Is it complimentary for guests?"
"May I have it?"
"May I have it now?"
Then the password was given.
When checking into the hotel after long travels, there was no warm reception that we've experienced at other stays in various Caribbean islands. We were given a rum punch, which was nice, but there was no warm smile, the first staff we encountered seemed bored, & no overview of the property to let guests know what is available. (Our introduction was cursory & left us with many questions - & several staff members of whom we asked questions, made us feel as though we were imposing, so we were hesitant to ask more as we never knew what reaction we were going to get - and tended to save our questions for when we saw staff members who we knew to be polite & helpful - but it's hard to enjoy yourself if you don't feel completely welcome.)
We luckily happened upon one of the groundskeepers, Bally - he was awesome - a real sweetheart. He gave us an impromptu tour of the grounds, telling us about the different coves, trees & flowers, where was good to jump into the water, tips about how to deal with the vendors directly outside the resort, miscellaneous facts about the island itself. Just a really nice person. (We heard him with other guests & with his fellow staff members - he was always that nice & welcoming. Always a smile on his face and a kind word - he went out of his way to come say hello each day & to say goodbye to us when we were heading out)
Almost all the food we had at the main restaurant, Push Cart, & the poolside BBQ was really good. The food is prepared very fresh & is usually worth the wait.
There were complimentary mini spa treatments offered at the covered yoga pavilion by the pool (a short massage, a hand or foot treatment with a scrub, massage, & moisturizing oils) which was a really nice & we ended up buying spa treatments (facial & massage) because of this " free sample" (They need to tell you about this kind of offer upon check in)
Every single one of the ladies from whom we received spa treatments (& the ladies at the reception area) were very nice, friendly, and delivered great service. (Joy gives an incredible (understatement) Rockhouse signature facial! WOW!)
We had a couples "aqua detox" foot treatment which was included in our package (Latoya did my aqua detox service & was great...my husband couldn't remember the name of the lady who did his service - but she, too, was wonderful.)
There were a few unpleasant staff members who acted as if the guests were an inconvenience & gave a lot of attitude... Which is really not fair to all the really great people who work there (that 10% service charge added to everything is distributed evenly between all the staff). (examples: On the first morning we were there, we had a misunderstanding while ordering breakfast. I pointed to the "Jamaican Breakfast" on the menu & asked the waiter for clarification of what one of the items offered was - after hearing what it was, I told him that I'd have that (again pointing to the Jamaican Breakfast on the menu.) When the order came, I mentioned that it was supposed to come with juice... He said that comes only with the Jamaican Breakfast - when I explained that's what I thought I'd ordered, he told me no I didn't. He had thought I meant I would have *only* the item I asked about. Instead of seeing the communication error & making a guest feel welcome - he argued, called over another waiter & they both stood over me, loudly telling me that it was an entirely different order & i had ordered this & they didn't know if they could change it. I was very uncomfortable & people were looking, so I told them to never mind & I'd just have what they brought me... One kept standing over me & told me again this is what I ordered. I told him it was fine. He sighed heavily & walked away. A little while later, a polite manager came over & apologized & said they would bring me the Jamaican Breakfast and took the plate away. He soon brought out the order & the various items included were very good, but I felt so embarrassed at the whole scene that it was not a relaxing meal. I just wanted to leave. Misunderstandings happen, but guests should never be admonished & feel bullied because of them. Part of the same crew was working at PushCart a few nights later & again there was subpar service. I started to look for that crew of staff & tried to avoid where they were working.
Another night at Push Cart we ordered coffee after dinner (we'd gotten it there the evening before...& it is on the menu) & were told to go to the main restaurant to get coffee because they didn't have it. The following night we tried again & were told "we don't have coffee, we'd have to brew it" (why, yes! That is how restaurants tend to do it.) Then he leaned against the railing talking with his friends who were dining at the restaurant. (As opposed to the first night with an outstanding waiter who told us, "give me a few minutes to brew you a pot." And delivered it with a smile & dessert recommendation.) So consistency was a big issue during our four night stay.
There was a "Social hour" that was to be by the pool area with complimentary drinks & hors d'oevers. We were looking forward to the event and made sure that we would be around for it, but when we went it was uncomfortable & awkward. The hour was from 5-6pm so the sun was strong & coming in at an angle - everyone was in silhouette, there were no chairs & no umbrellas to provide a little shade. If you walked into the shade from the rock wall, you were not in a position to meet anyone. There was no music, two people were talking & others were standing around. A few staff members were there but nobody was in charge of welcoming guests so it was a bit confusing. There was a table set up as a bar for simple mixed drinks or sodas (but no blended drinks), the hors d'oeuvres that were offered we, at first, mistook as someone's personal plate - which was on a high cocktail table in the middle of the sunny area. My husband & I shared a chicken skewer (which was really tasty, but it would have been nice to be able to each have one) & a halved small roll-up of some kind in which there was a sharp piece of shell or bone) It was hard looking into the sun & there was a little shade where the staff was standing. We took our drinks back to our little patio & watched the sunset.
It could be really nice by having some chairs, some sun shades, a little low island music, a table situated near the bar with plentiful hors d'oeuvres, a couple of staff members there at the end of the path to welcome you & just tell you where things are, and maybe a table with a staff member to answer questions about the resort, or have some interesting information/history about Jamaica itself. Small measures could be taken to make it a really cool little event that could be comfortable & enjoyable.
Over an hour's drive from the airport in Montego Bay. (The rockhouse recommends Kenny's, which we took - The drive to the resort was in a minivan & that was fine until the driver turned on the TV in the dashboard for the last 20 minutes of the trip - nobody wants their driver watching TV) but the return trip was in a small car - the driver was personable, but we arrived at the airport so carsick from the driver following the cars ahead of him at a distance of less than one car length & slamming the breaks on so often that the sickness was like a terrible stomach flu (& we're not the sort of people who get carsick) ... I was feeling awful well into the flight....so, for several hours. Be forewarned.
The atmosphere at Push Cart is fun, with strings of lights and tiki torches. There was a live band on the three nights we went there for dinner. The first two nights the same trio played & they were fun & lively but a little more "touristy" - but still worthwhile. The third night, a new trio performed & they were really good. They were less tourist oriented & more of a Jamaican folk style that preceded reggae. It felt as though they could've been signing there 70 years ago. We ended up buying their CD. At least one night, go treat yourself to the fun atmosphere there. (If you're eating light, try the jerk fish salad. Delicious. The jerk pork was tasty but lots of fat & bones. The fried Calamari was lightly battered & fried - quite good, not heavy or greasy. The curried conch was good, but very saucy.)
Dinner at the main restaurant was good ( the coconut shrimp & grilled calamari were both delicious. As was the blackened Mahi Mahi. (The night we had dinner there the music was 60's/70's/80's soft rock - fine but didn't set that "island mood" - though I think that's possibly up to the staff on any given night)
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