Just to let you know upfront - this will be a long review. We just got back and I have lots to say - good, very good, bad and just plain UGLY.
First - a warning (this is Ugly). Do you know about "ATI"? I didn't. My wife didn't. I'd say about 99% of the people at Beaches this week didn't know about ATI. But ATI is an annual celebration in honor of Jamaican Emancipation. This ATI Festival occurs the last weekend of July on an annual basis (since 2001). As described direct from the website: http://www.atiweekend.com, ATI is "18 hours of partying with 6 hours of sleep spread out over 3 days... the ATI experience, fun, frolic and wild abandon." (And after lots of looking around, I finally found out what ATI stands for: "Absolute Temptation Isle" (sounds like a reality show that FOX actually TURNED DOWN!)
So why do I begin my Beaches Negril with a description of what sounds like a great event (particularly if you are of "Spring Break" age and a fan of "Jersey Shore"?) Well the ATI festival takes place throughout Negril. And two of the biggest events were held on the properties right next door to Beaches. Now, again, this may sound like fun. But they were permitted to remain open until 2:00am. The promoters and producers love to turn the Bass up. The DJs love to talk over the music. And the parties don't end at 2:00am, they ended at 5:00am. Right next door to a FAMILY RESORT. Did Beaches warn us, or even alert us that this festival was going to take place the first 3 nights we were staying at Beaches? No. We were told by the front desk that "everyone knows about ATI, there are signs about it everywhere." Well yes, on the highway to Negril, there were lots of signs (but there are lots of other signs on those roads as well, and I wasn't driving through Negril when I booked my trip!) You might say: Dave, surely this huge festival was promoted on the Jamaica tourism website, www.visitjamaica.com? Well, no, it's not. You can dig and find it, but only if you're really looking for it. So if you're planning a FAMILY VACATION - which would include kids who usually go to sleep before 2:00am, and you, as a parent, might want to get to sleep on your vacation sometime before 2:00am (or 5:00am!), you might want to know that Negril's largest festival will be right next door to your resort. Also, it might be nice if the managers and staff at the resort could answer your questions about how many nights the concerts were going on and what the official end times were.
Now, let me PRAISE Beaches Negril: When we spoke with the manager and asked to be moved to a room on the other side of the resort, we were initially told that the resort was sold out and it couldn't happen. But then my wife spoke to Daniella, the General Manager of the resort. Need to state this RIGHT NOW: She must have been a STRAIGHT A student in all of her Customer Service courses in college and in Beaches training. She went above and beyond for our family. She understood why we were upset, and went out of her way to resolve our problem. She found us a room on the other side of the resort, showed it to us personally and took care that we would be moved in. She also arranged for us to have a Cabana on the beach one day - we didn't ask for this, didn't expect it, and were very surprised and pleased that this was offered. Also, a note that one of the Porter's, Dalton, was also very gracious in helping us move rooms (and also volunteered to take our bags to the transport bus on our last day, allowing us to spend an extra hour on the beach!)
So remember, if you're planning a SUMMER vacation at Beaches Negril: last weekend of July is the ATI Festival. You may love it, or you may dread it. You're forewarned.
More Ugly: The Bugs. Or to be specific, the Sand Fleas. I know I'm not the first one and I won't be the last one to say this: bring extra, extra, EXTRA bug spray. The sand fleas are vicious (and invisible.) You just won't know what hit you, until you start scratching. Long pants are a must if you're going to be anywhere near the beach, particularly around and after sunset. Couple of notes here:
1. If you ask, housekeeping will spray your rooms when they make them up, or turn them down before bedtime. Thing is, we were never told this by staff. We found out about this from a fellow guest the day before we left. Personally, I think this should be offered to every guest (should not be mandatory, as some people may not want to have bug spray sprayed across their rooms, particularly if you have young children.)
2. THE NURSE and DOCTOR. The nurse (there are a few on staff) is very busy at this resort. My wife first went to her to show her the giant (and yes, they were mean and ugly looking) bug bites she had up and down her legs. The nurse took a quick look and said that she was having an allergic reaction to the sand flea bites. She wasn't the first person who had come in that week (and wasn't going to be the last.) Nurse recommended that she call the doctor and have him come and give her a shot of antihistamines and steroids, and get her a prescription. After some discussion, we agreed this was the right course of action. The doctor arrived in under an hour (would have been there sooner, but he was caught in - yes, you guessed it - traffic from ATI. He gave her the shots, and 3 days worth of meds (8 pills a day!) Started helping immediately. If you go to Beaches Negril, you will be stung by these bugs. Nothing you can really do to avoid this - if they look like they're flaring up, go to the Nurse. Don't wait and don't think you're being silly. Get it taken care of so you can enjoy your vacation.
One other note about the nurse and another surprise staff member. Our youngest daughter (5 1/2) had a fever for a few days. We brought Motrin, which brought the fever down, but it lasted too long so we finally brought her to the nurse; who recommended the doctor came. Her fever was higher than we thought (remember to bring a thermometer!) and he prescribed 5 days of Zithromax. He also gave us a version of Motrin (we ran out) called Cataflam that we never heard of (nor had our doctor from the US - yes, we called.) Prior to using the Cataflam, my wife went to the gift shop to see if they had Motrin. The store employee Carol Sue told my wife that she had always given Cataflam to her children and that it is a terrific medicine. They had a long discussion about kids and she really made my wife feel better, that our daughter would be on the mend soon. Now here's the GREAT: Yes, after a few days, my daughter's fever was down and she was feeling much better. Then, we got a call in our room - it was Carol Sue, checking in on us to see how our daughter was. We thought that was really wonderful of her. In fact, later that evening we all went down to the gift shop and met Carol Sue. She gave my daughter a big hug and told her how happy she was that she was feeling better.
Now we've been to Beaches 4 times total. Twice in Turks and this was our 2nd trip to Negril. So you can see, I hope, that on an overall basis, we are fans of the Beaches concept. But there are definitely some bugs in the system (yes, pun intended.)
A note about "Concierge level." (We did not pay for Concierge level service.) I guess if you do pay for this, you get a few extras - potentially. Butler service, reserved seating on the beach, etc. (We spoke to some people who did get the service - some were happy with it, some thought it a big waste of money.) I suggest you really research it before signing up. One thing about Concierge level that did bother me. As you may know, there are a couple of restaurants on Beaches properties that require reservations. At Negril, it was Kimonos (a hibachi-style restaurant) and Stewfish (a seafood restaurant on the beach - which we didn't even try out, because we couldn't imagine how bad the sand fleas would be at night, on the beach, with food in the open. We were told they were horrific!) Anyway, you had to make same-day reservations for these restaurants at a special concierge desk that opened at 8:00am. There would usually be a line. On Thursday, I got there at 8:00am and was about 5th on line. When I met with the reservationist, she told me that I could get a seating at either 5:30 or 10:00pm. For a second, I thought I was speaking to the reservationist at Locanda Verde or Momofuku (hot NYC restaurants). I asked how this was possible, as I was 5th in line. Her response: "Concierge guests can make reservations days in advance." Now I understand that there will always be the "haves" and the "have nots" of the world. But I was told, and I experienced in the past, that if I get in line like a good little camper at 8:00am on the day I want a reservation at one of those restaurants, I would get a reservation. May seem petty to you, but it's just plain silly to me.
There were also two other "extras" I thought should be included in an "all-inclusive." They charged for a "DJ Scratch Academy" - teaching you (or more likely your kids) how to be a DJ. Really a need for an additional charge? And they also offered a "Martha Stewart Crafts" program - designing sea shells, and things like that. I still don't understand why there would be an additional charge to do this, when the Kids Camp offers very similar programs. (And I don't see anything about the Martha program on the Beaches Negril site.
Want more? Here's the good and very good and some in between).
Can you beat the beach at Negril? No you can not. It is magnificent. Even when it rains (and we had our fair share, trust me - I've never heard thunder so loud or felt rain pelt down so hard. It was actually comical!), it's beautiful. The ocean is magnificent, very calm waters except for some gentle waves from the boats and jet skis passing by (quick comment on the Jet skis: I'm sure it's an insurance issue, but I do agree with some other reviewers: Beaches, get your own jet skis and rent them out. The guys on the beach "selling" jet ski and parasailing rides really get annoying. And those guys sitting on the jet sis right outside your swim ropes are like sharks circling for the kill - just kind of annoying. And come on... that guy selling cigarettes (you know who I'm talking about if you've been there: My 5 year old was walking down the street today shouting "Ciiiiig.... Ciiiiiig." She asked why he was saying that all the time and I said he was trying to sell cigarettes. She thought that was funny and did it again "Ciiiig.... I'm selling cigarettes!" Not funny.
The rooms. We were upgraded as returning guests. Basic room with ocean views (I highly recommend the 700 building, facing the chess set and the beach.) We did move twice (the first time because of a gang of wild cats that would not leave our balcony, making it impossible to go out there) and the 2nd time because of ATI. Again, thank you Dalton for helping us move in and out each time! Each room was slightly different. First room had a flat screen TV, 2nd two rooms did not. 3rd room had a small dressing table. Outlets are scarce. I've read and spoken to a number of people who had problems or issues with housekeeping. Can't say we did. When we needed extra towels, they came fast. Beds were made and rooms were made up on a timely basis. Sometimes they came a little late for turndown service (after 10:00pm?), but that's a small point. Thank you to housekeeping.
Restaurants. The one night we made it in to Kimonos was fun. Very entertaining chef, and the food was just fine. Arizona's I think is better for dinner than lunch. Very helpful staff and the food was delicious (especially the Tortilla Soup and my older daughter - 10 1/2 - loved the quesadillas. The Seville is an italian restaurant. It's air conditioned. That's about all I can really say about it - it's a white tablecloth type of place, but the food is okay. The Mill is where you will probably have most of your meals. Big buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You'll get to try some local foods, some good curries, etc. Highly recommend the fruit smoothies for breakfast. One funny thing. I need to find out if snapper is local to Jamaica. I really hope it is, because it was presented in so many different ways for every meal. Roasted, sauteed, curried, sweet & sour, etc. Made us laugh after awhile, and became a game, guessing what type of snapper would be available at each meal.
By the Piazza, near the pool with the waterpark, there's a grill that served yummy (hot and spicy) Jamaican beef and chicken patties, burgers, hot dogs, etc. Good to have that around, and the Pizzeria by the main pool served very good personal pizzas. (Yes, we ate a lot this week!)
The pools: The waterpark pool area was lots of fun (very hot - must have been 10 degree difference from the beach which was just a few yards away!) The kids loved the swim up bar (for their slushy drinks). The lazy river is one of the best we've been in - not SO lazy, lots of fun! The 2 water slides are also a good time. The Main Pool is beautiful - not a lot of shade, but tons of room to play around.
Kids activities. As I mentioned earlier (hope you're still with me!), this was our second visit to Beaches Negril. We were last here 6 years ago when my oldest daughter was 4. When we went to the Kids Camp this time, we saw some familiar faces, including Shelly Ann and PollyAnna - and they remembered us from that last trip! They were both as wonderful this time as they were the first time. Thank you for welcoming us back!
Water activities - we didn't snorkel or scuba, but I was hearing lots of good things about the scuba program (Negril isn't known for the best scuba. If you want Beaches and Scuba, go to Turks. Amazing diving there.) We all had a blast on the banana boat rides, had a really fun catamaran trip, kayaked and even used the Aqua-Cycles (a fun little bumper boat game ensued.) My 10 year old tried water skiing. She came this close to having a good run, but never quite made it. My wife got back on skis for the first time in 15 years. Was probably the last time, but I give her tons of credit for trying. One note about the skiing and the powerboat situation. Is it really true they share one ski boat with Beaches Sandy Bay? Seemed odd to us. If so, I'd suggest buying at least one more ski boat, especially since this one had engine trouble.
Entertainment team: The staff are always terrific. Both of my daughters performed in the talent show (5 year old sang "Blackbird" and 10 year old sang "Hot & Cold.") Lots of fun. The shows in general were about what we expected. Appreciated the short (thank you!) Sesame Street shows.
About Sesame Street: There is a partnership here, but it is NOT overwhelming. Just about the right amount. It's funny to see Big Bird walking around the Beach, or The Count walking around The Mill. They didn't shove it in your face - if you wanted more, you could sign up (and pay for) character breakfasts, character bedtime stories, etc.
More Entertainment: Our last night there was Thursday. Thursday night is Beach Party night. DO NOT MISS THIS. We had so much fun. Some of the same performers as the last time we were there, including the guy who breathes fire, walks on fire, spits fire, etc. The guy is crazy, and I don't think I'd want to sit down for a meal with him. I could only imagine how much hot sauce he would need to taste any food! And the Limbo Guy, who can go about as "low as you can go!" Great dining on the beach, dancing, etc. Lots of fun. (Just remember to bring the Bug spray!)
Will we come back to Beaches in another 6 years? I don't know. We may be done. It was a good trip. Started off shaky, got better and ended well. (My 10 year old made great friends with a boy and girl from England - through Skype and email, I actually think they'll be staying in touch!) Thanks again to Daniela and the staff at Beaches. It's hard to keep us all happy, and I truly believe you did your best.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- •Located on the widest stretch of Negril's seven mile white sand beach•Stay at one, play at two with full exchange privileges with Beaches Sandy Bay including a choice of 11 dining options•“Pirates Island” Water Theme Park with 4 slides, meandering “lazy” river and splash deck•Caribbean Adventure with Sesame Street themed activities with daily character appearances, parades and stage shows•Kids Kamp & Nursery with wide range of supervised activities•Interactive Teens Program with “Trench Town” Teen's Center and Teens' Coordinator to coordinate teen activities•Expansive Two & Three Bedroom Butler serviced suites•Supervised Xbox® Play Lounge with flat screen plasma TV's & Xbox® 360 game consoles•Beaches Resorts were voted “World's Leading Family All-Inclusive 14 years in a row•Five Star Diamond Award, American Academy of Hospitality Sciences•Six Star Diamond Award, Beaches Resorts – Keeping it Green•EarthCheck Platinum Certified ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Beaches Negril Hotel Negril
- Beaches Hotel Negril
- Negril Beaches Hotel