This is going to be a really long one, but I really wish I knew these things before I booked & arrived, so I want to give others the benefit of knowing before they go. Please take note the first part of the review is going to be negative, but then I go on to discuss the really great things about this property.
Property Management and Policies:
I have been a loyal AM Resorts (Dreams/Secrets) customer for a few years now, I have gone to one of their properties once a year for the past five years and I started to notice some changes last year in Mexico and now the company is very different from my earlier experiences with them.
Even though their resorts are advertised as “all-inclusive, unlimited luxury” they are making a very obvious effort to sell & make as much money as possible. It starts from the minute you walk in the door. First you are given the very nice “welcome home” and are checked into your room, then you are directed to another desk to receive your resort coupons. At this other desk they take about an hour to explain to you that you are invited to a special 90 minute breakfast which will give you a tour of the Preferred Club and you will hear a sales pitch about how you can save money on booking your vacation directly through the company and in appreciation for listening to the sales pitch you will receive either a $100 Spa Coupon or complimentary admittance to the Mombay Club at the airport. The whole thing was really annoying because after a long day of traveling, the last thing you want to do is sit in the lobby and listen to an hour speech about a sales breakfast, but since we are frequent customers of these resorts and planned on using the spa, we agreed to it since it was only 90 mins during breakfast and we were open to hear how we could save money. First of all, it wasn’t a breakfast. The minute we arrived, we were repeatedly asked if we had already eaten and then a sales representative accompanied us to breakfast. The 90 mins didn’t include the breakfast or the tour of the Preferred Club. It is not until you sit down to hear the actual sales pitch that the 90 minute clock starts ticking. Basically they try to get you to buy into a vacation club for $7,310 which gets you a 25% discount on hotel stays (not including airfare) for 10 years, 20 with renewal. For $15,400 you get free room upgrades (if available) and the 25% off. I did some math on this and there are no actual savings unless you go to one of these resorts multiple times a year.
Anyway, we weren’t let out of this presentation until early afternoon and by that time the sun was gone and it had gotten a bit breezy, so I feel like I was robbed of one whole day of my vacation and in retrospect would have gladly paid the $100 extra at the spa instead of losing my vacation time.
The other thing that really bothered me was that at one point we had to take an emergency trip to the store and got a taxi from the bellman. There was a store about a mile away from the resort, so we thought it wasn’t a big deal. Once in the cab and almost to the store the driver said “you realize this trip is $35, don’t you”. We were appalled! The driver then got very nasty and told us that there was a rate sheet on the back of his seat (which we couldn’t see because it was pitch black in the car). When I got home I looked up “taxi rates in Jamaica” on the internet and found out that the resorts have relationships with the taxi companies and part of the fee is charged by the resort. Trip Advisor advises hailing a cab on the street yourself to avoid these exorbitant fees. We felt this was this was totally disgusting. $35 for a 5 minute cab ride!
Besides these two things there were a few other things that were just the icing on the irk cake. Prices in the gift shop were astronomical: A pack of cigarettes was $10, so if you smoke bring your own, or get them off the resort for $3.75; a float that broke in a day and a pair of swim goggles were $30-$40. Wine is free at the resort, but they will only give you a glass at a time. They try to upgrade you to bottles of wine ranging from about $25- $260 at the restaurants. I have been to other AI resorts that offer a selection of imported wines at no additional cost, so this bothered me. Hobcats are included, but they advice you to pay for a $20 instructor because if you flip the Hobcat they charge a $35 rescue fee. We got the instructor & flipped later on our own, so we got hit with both anyway.
Lastly, on the last day of our vacation we had a 6pm flight and were leaving the hotel at 3pm to go to the airport. By chance we went to the front desk to discuss check out. This was at noon and at that time we were told that we had to be out of our room at 1pm or we would be charged $25 an hour after. We hadn’t yet packed or showered and were given no notice of this prior to us going and asking ourselves. This has NEVER happened to us at an AI before.
I don’t know what is going on with AM Resorts, but I go to AIs to lock my wallet up in a safe and relax, not to be subject to all day sales pitches and price gauging. That is exactly what we are trying to avoid on an AI vacation. It really detracted from our overall experience of the resort and was very different from prior experiences with AM Resorts.
Now for the Good & Great:
The property is absolutely gorgeous and impeccably maintained. For some reason, pictures of the resort don’t do it justice. All of the furnishings are new & in great condition. The property will not disappoint! I particularly liked the starfish cove, which is a lit up cove of starfish that can be seen from the walkway by the piano bar.
The resort is pretty large and composed of 6 complexes: Restaurants& Bar area, SWO Preferred Club, SWO, SSJ, SSJ Preferred Club & the Spa. I could see no difference between the two, except that SWO was closer to the restaurants and bar/disco and SSJ had a better beach, but everything is in easy walking distance. Both properties had the same amenities and activities. SWO Preferred Club did look a bit nicer than the SSJ Preferred Club, because SWO had the swim out rooms.
The rooms are also absolutely gorgeous. The beds are out of this world comfortable. I felt like I was sleeping on clouds. I read on TA before I left that people thought the bathrooms were too open, but I didn’t really feel this way. The Jacuzzi and sink area are open to the bedroom, but the toilet & shower are closed off by frosted glass doors, so if you want some privacy just close the door. Each room comes with large flat screens with every channel you can image. Our room didn’t have an alarm or ipod docking station. WiFi is only included with the preferred club and is $15 a day for non preferred club guests. FYI: Electricity randomly shuts off a lot. It isn’t a big deal because it only happens for a second at most, but if you are starting to feel a little warm, its because the electric went off and you need to turn the air conditioner back on.
Restaurants & Food:
We thought the food was excellent and were even actually wondering if they import their steaks. The best restaurants are definitely the Italian and French. We tried to go to both around 8:30 so we could make the 9:30 shows, but both had a 15 table long waiting list at 8:30 both nights, so if you are trying to make a show, make sure to put your name down by 7:30ish. We didn’t really think the food at the Hibachi was good, but the restaurant is a really fun experience and the cooks are hysterical. The restaurant is like a party and you can always hear the people in that restaurant having a blast. Make sure you book that one the day you arrive so that you can make sure to get a reservation at a Hibachi table.
The buffet is also pretty good and has a great breakfast. For lunch they have a pretty good selection also. There is the buffet, the Oceana Grill by the pools which serves burgers and wraps, the Barefoot Grill by the beach which serves hotdogs, burgers and Jamaican pastries, and the Jerk Chicken cart (which is excellent and I think it was my husband’s favorite part of the resort)
We also did the romantic dinner one night and it was excellent. At first I was upset because I asked specifically for the dinner on the beach and booked it the day we arrived. The front desk people told me that the beach was the only spot available anyway, but then low and behold we were put in the gazebo. I was upset because the dinner on the beach was what I paid $180 for. The second the server saw I looked upset he was so nice about it and did everything he could to fix it. He immediately offered to move everything on the beach, but we didn’t want to make him do that and declined, but while we were eating our appetizer, he set up a table and candles all over the beach for us and we moved there for our dinner and desert. The dinner is very romantic, the food served is excellent and the server is very nice & pampers you with wine and champagne. I highly recommend going for the romantic dinner, its totally worth it and you can use $60 of resort coupons for it.
The drinks at this resort are excellent. Some of the AI resorts water their drinks down, but definitely not this one. They know how to make a drink here and the bartenders are excellent at what they do. There is no wine selection beyond red or white unless you want to pay. They do offer all kinds of beer besides Red Stripe (which we didn’t realize until the end of the trip).
Definitely try a “Mexican Desert” during your stay. It was the most delicious shot I have ever had in my life. It is grenadine, baileys and frozen milk and tequila. Sounds funny but it is yummy! I was recommending it to people at the bars and the whole trip people were coming up to me and thanking me for recommending it.
Beaches and water are beautiful. The water is very clear and seagrass free. The beach chairs are much nicer than those at other resorts. We never had a problem getting chairs and the beach waitresses are constantly checking up on you. We preferred the SSJ beach over the SWO beach because it is larger, more comfortable and that is where the water sports activities are. If you want to snorkel, bring your own gear. They don’t give out masks and snorkels like other AI resorts. They only have a 9am, 10am and 2pm snorkeling group that they give the masks out for and it is and extra charge. Masks and snorkels start at $35 in the gift shop, so bring your own.
Pools at SWO and SSJ are exactly the same. We picked which one we were going to based on what the daily activities were at each. Chairs are plentiful and nicer quality then offered at other resorts. Each pool has two sides divided by a bridge. The side where the pool bar is, is warm water and the other side is cold weather. I thought this was a nice feature because it caters to either preference.
Daytime entertainment was “okay”. They had a few things going on here and there. Mostly things that I personally wasn’t interested in: basket weaving & hat making type things. There is water aerobics at 12:30 but I kept missing it. There is also crab race betting which was fun and the winner gets a bottle of rum. There are dance lessons by the pool and darts. They give you a hand out called “the sundial” that lists all the daily activities and the times, but sometimes those activities just didn’t happen. We tried to do the pool basketball and volleyball, but both times there just wasn’t anyone there and no one ever came out to see if anyone wanted to play. If daytime activities make your vacation for you, this may not be the place.
They have open air movies at 6:30pm in the piazza. There are bands and things around 8:30 (but we never made it to them) then at 9:30 every night they have a main event at either the indoor “showtime” theater or the outdoor stage. The 9:30 show was a talent night, a cabaret, a couple’s game show and a Jamaican band. One night they also had a party on the beach. The shows were all really good and funny. The people that do the shows are crazy talented and really make the night. I only wish that I could have made more of them then I did, due to crowding at the restaurants. Every one of the shows that we did make it to were a goodtime.
Then at 10:30 is the piano sing along at the bar. There are always a lot of people there singing and having a good time. There is also a large outdoor seating area around the bar with a fire pit where everyone hangs out. My husband smokes cigars and that was a nice spot for him to sit and relax with a cigar.
The disco also opens at 10:30 but is unfortunately usually pretty dead. I must say though that we had a blast there on karaoke night with the staff. It was one of our favorite memories of the trip. The staff that works there is fun, so even if its dead hangout with them. They are a blast.
The staff makes this resort! Everyone there is a lot of fun and many of them are extremely talented. I have heard a few people on these boards wondering about theft at the resort and I have to say I had a very positive experience with this: My husband and I had one of the private dinners on the beach and I left my wallet on my seat. I didn’t realize it until 15 minutes later and on my way back to the beach, one of our waitresses (that I didn’t even see while at dinner) found me and took me directly to it. I was already at the other side of the property when she found me and she was talking on her cell phone when she found me. I think two people split up to search for us. I couldn’t believe it! It is a scary thing to lose your wallet on vacation and in most places you would never see it again. So, all I have to say is that there are definitely some good people working there.
We did two excursions and I recommend both highly.
1. Cool Runnings to Dunns River Falls:
Dunns River is 1:30 to 2 hrs away depending on where the other resort pick ups are. The Cool Runnings tour is a catamaran cruise that takes you snorkeling, to the falls and then it becomes a very fun booze cruise. These people know how to have a good time and once it becomes a booze cruise it gets crazy fun. Since I got home two of my friends told me they had a bad experience on the straight up falls tour because you get harassed at the entrance. We had a blast on the Cool Runnings and didn’t have to deal with any of that because the catamaran pulls right up to the base of the falls. Bring water shoes and a water camera from home. Both are expensive once you get there and a regular camera will get destroyed. You will probably also want lots of singles for tipping.
2. Dolphin Cove:
There are two dolphin coves in Jamaica, one in Negril and one in Ochos Rios. The one in Negril is closer to Secrets, about a half hour away and only takes three hours of your day. There are three prices for dolphins: 1 for the dolphin touch only, 2 for fin swim and 3 to have two dolphins lift you in the air. We did the fin swim and it was a lot of fun.
They also have a shark and sting rays that you can touch if you want after the Dolphin swim.
In the end I do recommend this resort. I had some very mixed emotions about the property while we were there due to the selling and the property trying to make a buck where they could. It is really annoying and no one wants to deal with that on vacation. It really detracts from the experience as a whole. I would give this property the best rating possible had it not been for this. It’s really a shame. I do think however, if you know what to avoid you can have an absolutely amazing vacation at this resort. As for me, I think I’ll try an Excellence next time. Happy travels!
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- Also Known As:
- Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay Hotel Montego Bay