Originally I selected this resort just based on price and was a little skeptical after having read the mixed reviews. From my perspective this deal was SMOKING (pun intended). We (my wife and I) stayed at the Grand Palladium on the Jamaica side and loved every second of our trip.
We landed in Montego Bay at 8:30pm on Wednesday 7/22/2009. Immigrations and baggage claim were really smooth. We checked in with our shuttle service and were on the bus fairly quickly. The resort is halfway between Montego Bay and Negril in a town called Lucea and we reached in under 45 minutes. Our check-in was smooth and efficient. I had called the day before and requested an ocean facing suite in villa 11 and I got what I asked for. We got the keys to our room and also 2 towel cards that you can use to get your towels at the pool/beach but MUST return when checking out else there is a $20 charge per card.
The room was beautiful - it came with an ocean view (overlooking the Gully Beach), a jacuzzi in the bathroom (which worked great), a flat screen tv, a mini bar that was a part of the all-inclusive package, which had a couple of beers and some sodas (we drank the beers and there were two new bottles the next day), a safe for our valuables (the lady at the reception also included instructions on how to operate the safe) and plenty of towels. Be sure to call-in and request a particular suite (11 and 12 are really close to the main reception lobby and close to the pool and all the restaurants).
I realize it may have been easier to get the room we requested since we went in on a Wednesday, which I assume would be relatively light from a travel perspective. Maybe I wouldn't have gotten lucky if I were checking-in on Friday when a lot more visitors come in.
The Pool and the Beaches:
The resort has a main pool called the Infinity Pool, which we frequented during the day and at nights (for a stroll, although there were ppl swimming in them well after the posted hours). The pool had a swim-up bar and jacuzzis all of which were working. There were some chipped tiles but nothing dangerous and the pool attendants worked hard at keeping it clean.
The resort also has 3 beaches, which are fairly rocky but the best beach is on the Lady Hamilton side called Sunset Cove. That beach is not rocky and its where all the water activities like snorkeling, kayaking and wind-sailing take place. We snorkeled the shallow reefs and also used the kayaks. Sunset Cove like the name suggests is also great for viewing sunsets.
Sunset cove also has a great little restaurant called Poseidon Cafe, which serves an amazing fried tilapia for lunch. (It also has jerk chicken but its not that good - see section on Tours and Attractions below to see where to go for good jerk chicken)
Tours and Attractions:
On our first day at the Infinity Pool we met up with this pool attendant called Dwayne - really great guy who hooked us up with his pal Carter who runs a car service. This is a lot cheaper/better than renting a JUTA cab service at the official posted rates, which are super expensive. Carter was fabulous. He was with us the entire day from 8:00am to 8:00pm and we felt extremely safe with him. He even showed us reviews other tourists had written about him to prove his credibility to us.
He took us to the 7 mile beach in Negril (a MUST SEE for all beach fanatics). Its 7 miles of pristine white sand and turquoise blue waters. The spot we parked at the 7 mile beach was a water sports center (it was right across from the Kool Runnings water park) and was in between the Sandals and Beaches resorts just in case any of you ever happen to be visiting the area. Carter offered to get us a good deal on any water-sport we wished to try. He hooked us up with a local fisherman (Sonny), on his time off to take us snorkeling for $15 USD per person for an hour. The snorkeling was great, shallow reefs with a lot of good marine life to see and enjoy.
For lunch I craved jerk chicken and Carter took us to this little shack called "Best in the West", which had some amazingly tasty and hot jerk chicken cooking in a cylindrical smoker for hours. I washed it down with some pina-colada. After a whole morning of snorkeling and swimming the food could not taste better or go down faster.
From there we proceeded to Margeritaville, which is another fun spot on the 7 mile beach where you can participate in any water-sport you want or just lay on the beach and relax. Just a note however this place is a little expensive. I paid 8 dollars for a pina colada and even the water sports are a little more expensive. You are better off going to the spot I mentioned earlier to try any of that.
We passed on Carter's offer to take us shopping at the duty-free stores and the crafts market in Negril but came back a later day to do that. Shopping for me is what it is and I did not want to spend too much time on it. We just picked up a few souvenirs for the house when we went back the next time. Most of the shops have the same things, you just have to look around to see where you can save a few dollars.
We then proceeded to the famous Rick's Cafe to watch the cliff divers and catch the sunset and the experience of watching "The Birdman" jump off the tree on the cliff was unreal. My wife even jumped off a shallow cliff herself. We caught a decent sunset (the sky was overcast with dark rain clouds and we did not see the sun all the way till it hit the water but it was fair). We came back a couple of days later to catch a fully blown sunset.
At no point on this trip did we ever feel rushed by Carter. I highly recommend you engage him if you are at the Grand Palladium and plan to visit Negril, Ricks Cafe and even the falls.
The Food and Drinks:
At the resort was not great but not bad either. They have a variety of restaurants and we ate at the Indian, Asian, Creole and Italian restaurants on different nights. The fried tilapia at the Poseidon Cafe is a MUST HAVE. Everything else is fair but worth the money you are paying for it. Breakfast is a great spread, with made to order eggs and bacon being the highlight for me. If its late at night you can catch a snack at the sports bar (the only place on the resort that serves food till late).
Drinks are great and part of the all-inclusive. Like reviewers prior to me have mentioned you are better off carrying a huge mug of your own and having the bar-tender fill it up rather than making multiple trips to the bar.
The Service: Impeccable. From Andrea who was in charge of our room service to all the waiters and staff that waited on us at the restaurants and bars the service was great. I tipped because I was happy with the service not because I felt the staff hover around me for one cause they never did. They were warm, extremely friendly and always smiling. Anyone who has had complaints is basically just a whiner whose sole aim is to carp and find faults with the most ridiculous things while on vacation.
The Place: Jamaica while beautiful is still a poor country and its important not to venture out of the resort without the assistance of a tour guide (arranged through a travel and tours company, which can be found in the resort lobby) or a driver like Carter. There will always be people trying to sell you something, from water activities to merchandise to hair braiding and even pot but its important to realize you can say no and walk away from anyone and they won't bother you. Always ask your tour guide for anything you want and they will hook you up.
I'm sure I paid a little more than I should for the stuff I wanted but I wasn't about to go "bargain hunting" in Jamaica to shave a few dollars at the cost of ruining my vacation.
I will DEFINITELY be going back.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.