This hotel rated itself as 3 stars, and when we arrived the first impression was that it all looked a bit dated, but was clean and is one of the smallest hotels I have stayed in abroad for some time, but it is very personal in its approach. We had booked a beach side hut, and indeed we could step out of the hut right into the sea.
Let's look at our experience in more detail -
Getting there - we booked with Thomson, was straight forward and trouble free, they did what they said and communicated it well. One little issue re travel money would advise you to shop around for best rates.
Flight - it is long around 10 hours from Europe, so if bringing children it is worth planning a little. The inflight entertainment of films etc is limited, but as most people have tablets now it is worth loading some favourite films and games, the display and sound will be better that the back of seat consoles. Also buy some water and some snacks when you have cleared departures.
Weather - we went at the end of April and start of May. Yes it's hot, even when overcast it's hot and you will burn easily, do take care, use sun cream, use a hat and cover up, take special care of children and use the shade.
Currency - the national currency is the Jamaican dollar, but American dollars are accepted easily and preferred in the hotel and by most shops - bring a mixture of both and in low denominations (best for tipping). Trips tend to be priced in US dollars. Exchange in the country is $100 Jamaican to $1US
Check in - was quick and everything was explained. Staff are very friendly and helpful. Bags are taken by the porter to your room who then gives a brief introduction to the room. Note: each room has a safe that is $2 per day, worth the expense to keep any valuables and passport safe.
The Room - there is a lot to choose from, from rooms or apartments in the hotel, to garden or beach huts, the choice is up to you.
We chose the beach hut, the sea lapped the steps and you could only get closer by being in it. The beach hut (no15) was basic and clean and split into three areas. The first and largest was the bedroom that had a very large bed (7ft wide) and a large singe, a tv and dressing area and a small sitting area and phone. Next there is a bathroom with combined bath/shower, sink and toilet and a fixed hairdryer, and finally a walk in wardrobe, with plenty of hanging space a iron and ironing board and wall safe, outside the was also a small balcony where you could sit and watch the sea, and the world go by. The room was made up every day, with flowers and sculptures made from towels. We tipped our maid $1US daily for great service.
Oh, don't be afraid if a lizard or crab, and even the occasional local cat walks into your room, they are as interested in you, as you are in them. All rooms have air conditioning.
Facilities - there are 2 swimming pools which are not the biggest (one away from the beach is for adults only), fitness gym, massages, tennis and daily activities and 3 small cove beaches of the whitest sand and warm water, areas around the beach are netted off and very safe to swim and lifeguards are present between 9 to 5. You can also take out the catamaran with the lifeguard, kayaks, pedalows, plus lots more. For children there is a club. It is well organised and are encouraged to join in, but the nice thing is you can do as much or as little as you choose. In respect of the pool and sun loungers there is no need to worry in getting there early, there are enough around the pools and beach it was never a problem.
Restaurants - there is a main buffet restaurant and a beach snack bar, with 2 a la carte (one focuses on Jamaican seafood and the other Asian) restaurants that are included in the holiday, you need to book the a la carte restaurants with the reception on the day you want to eat and there is no limit on the amount of times you can eat in them. The food is of good serviceable standard but choice is limited very slightly due to the size of the hotel, but in general it is as good if not better that I have had in other countries, but don't expect Master Chef.
The main buffet has Jamaican evenings twice a week, with rice, peas and chicken and curried goat among other dishes - it is delicious, don't miss it, and do give it a try.
Entertainment & Bars - there are 5 bar areas, these are not open all day, so you will need to move around them, serving a good range of drinks and cocktails, both branded and non branded drinks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
There is a themed evening show each night that starts a 9.30, which may be to late for younger children, and a disco that run to the very early hours of the morning.
Guests - this does appear to be a destination for all and of all ages. We met people from the UK as well as Italy, Holland, Germany, France, Canada, America and Mexico. The hotel is geared up to address all country needs. The French tour operators organise most of hotel activities around the pool, and they welcome anyone to join in, but can monopolise the children's pool for periods during the day.
It is a shame that the local community and culture do not undertake more of the activities, this is a major weakness.
Money Exchange - not available in the hotel, but a short walk to the high street and you will find an ATM that accepts all main cards and you can withdraw money in either Jamaican or American dollars.
WiFi & Mobile - for those of you wanting to keep in touch with the outside world this is available in the reception and is accessed by buying a card. Mobile phones and data all work well, our mobile picked up a provider when we switched the phone on (lime) - do check the costs with your provider - but in all honestly leave them off, you're on holiday.
Trips - if you have come from Europe you will have taken a 10 hour flight to get here and if you have come to lay on a beach for a couple of weeks, you could have done the same for a lot cheaper in Spain and around the Med. Get away from the bar and beach for a couple of days, and although it appeared you could only book via your agent, it is worth chatting to reception, or even better walking up to the taxi rank outside of the hotel near the shops and ask for Noel. Get a little sense of the country.
- Walk to the town: just a 5min walk and have a wander around the few shops and take some time and chat with the locals, have a beer in one of the small bars, and eat in one of the local restaurants, try Sharkies. Walk up to the beach and enjoy. You are extremely safe.
- Noel: this is not one you will find in any guide. Walk from the hotel towards the shops and the side road just before them you will see some private taxis, they have tourist permits. Ask him to show you Jamaica and he will take you on a tour through the country stopping at markets and villages and botanical gardens. His livelihood depends on looking after you and he did it well. He can do the same as the tour guides at the hotel at a much-reduced price. Example half-day trip was $80US for 3 people, same type of trip with an agent would be around $300US
Rated: 10 out of 10
- Dunn fall: the wettest climb you may ever make! we took a taxi to the falls which is 15min away. After checking in any clothes to a locker you walk down to the beach. This is the start of the climb, where with a guide in groups you work your way to the top, around and hour. The guide will take your camera and get snaps of you on the way to the top, no need to worry he is sure footed. We took our 8 year old, she scampered up the rocks with confidence, but for those who want to watch and stay dry there is a footpath to the side. This is a popular spot with tourists so can get busy, although seemed relaxed on our visit. You will need to wear water shoes or hire a pair there. Worth the experience. Rated: 9 out of 10
- Reggae & Culture: you are taken to Nine Mile, the birthplace and resting place of Bob Marley. This takes you off route through the country up into the mountains through villages and towns to over 2000ft. The views are amazing and the huts and roadside bars & shops with their washed out colours and in various states of decay and rebuilding made you want to get your camera out. One note to make, marijuana is openly sold in Nine Mile in ready rolled, flower head, chocolate brownies and tea. It is not pushed and is discreet and is OK to take children on this trip. We then drove onwards through the mountains and down to St Ann's bay for a Jamaican lunch.
The tour guides we had were excellent and was able also to point out historical landmarks and events in the forming of the country.
This is a trip worth taking to see another side of the country. Do take a bottle of water. Rated: 9 out of 10
- Horse Riding & Caribbean Swim: pleasant ride through the countryside finishing with taking the horse for a swim. You are taken through a beautiful countryside and smallholdings. As you are sitting high, you can see fields of breadfruit, scotch bonnet chillies among other crops down to a beach, and to a pool where the horses are unsaddled and you ride bareback and swim with the horse. After you come out and dry off, it's time to remount and ride back. A great experience and great views. Suitable for children and of all riding abilities (the horses know the route backwards). All safety equipment provided. Rated: 10 out of 10
- Blue Mountain Bike Ride: this was a day trip, do take water it makes them a little more comfortable. You are taken along the coast road then up into the mountains, through villages and passing outstanding natural scenery on some of the narrowest a steepest roads stopping for brunch on the way before arriving to pick your bike up at around 5500ft. The bikes is a beach style bike with peddle breaking, you are equipped with all the safety gear (knee and arm pads and a cycle hat), but if you miss one of the turns on the down hill it may take a few days to find your body! You set off in single file with a bus and guide on bike in front and a support truck behind. It is a leisurely descent, and mainly freewheeling. Some of the drops on the drive up had me worried for any children who may want to ride, but I would say if they are confident riders then they will be ok. On the way down we stopped to look at the countryside, and some small coffee plantations before stopping for lunch, after which we continued to the waterfalls at the run. For any reason you didn't want to cycle, or part way down you change your mind the support bus following will pick you up and not to worry. My only slight disappointment was the wish to stop more frequently to get the camera out, but if we all did that at a sight or of something of interest we may all still be there. Rated: 9 out of 10
- Ocho Rios Shopping: this is a very tourist destination, full of shops and craft markets that tend to sell the same thing. There is nothing you can't pick up locally without the hassle to buy. Get a taxi to Brown Town instead and look at the market there, which is real. Rated: 5 out of 10
Two other trips that I had good reports back from guests were the Mystic Mountains and the Martha Brae Rafting.
The Appleton Rum visit was felt to be disappointing by those I talked to who had been.
Tipping - you have paid for your holiday and it's all-inclusive so no need to do more! Well yes you do, if the service does warrant. We tipped the maid each day, the bar and restaurant staff, but don't forget the others, it is a team that works to make your holiday special - $1US seemed reasonable. Also don't forget your guides.
Drugs - yes drugs, it does happen, it is allowed and overlooked to smoke marajuana in the St Ann Parish, especially around the area where Bob Marley grew up which is close, and yes you will smell the herb smoke around the hotel, yes you may even get offered to buy some, all you need to say is no and they just leave you alone and no hassle. It is very discreet, if you have children you may even not know it happens, by the way this seems the case it most of the hotels in this area.
Safety - some people are a little wary about Jamaica, we felt safe throughout our stay, relax and enjoy. Everyone we met went out of their way to be helpful. Just take the same measures you always do.
Upgrade - after the first week out of the blue we were offered an upgrade to the sister hotel in Montego Bay - even though it was 4 star, it was an offer that was easy to refuse. This seemed to be commonplace and if you want a two-centre holiday it may be of interest.
Leaving - departure tax of £15 or $22US cash only, put away when you arrive.
So what could they improve on? - The hotel does need to address the moving of some of the pool games and activities to the adult pool, as on the main they are only participated in by adults, excluding child from the only pool they have access to, and a fridge in room to keep drinks cool.
In saying all this, explore for yourself, find out about the real Jamaica off the tourist route and have a great holiday. This is a great place to relax and to explore from which is friendly and personal, but if you want a large hotel with a couple of extra stars, or a few more pools this hotel may come up short for you, but you will have missed a treat.
But wherever you choose, remember you are working to Jamaican time - lazy but lively.
You are holiday - choose a beach front hut.
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.