Okay, so I rented this Beach House from December 28-January 5 (inclusive) and although this review is long, I've gone to great lengths to ensure it’s both accurate and thorough.
If you prefer the illusion of security provided by sleeping security guards, maid service provided by individuals you've never met, seeing the “power drinkers” at a resort and conversing only with individuals you've met on your flight, then I suggest you skip this review and look at a resort.
If you are budget conscious and don’t mind saving money, making your own bed, cooking the occasional meal, and meeting locals then read on…..
The House: The house is exactly as shown. The owner (Neville) has clearly taken great pride in its building and upkeep and for Jamaican standards, it’s quite nice indeed. Now I’m from Canada and I’d equate it to a Cottage Rental north of the City. In fact, I've stayed at friends cottages that are not as nice.
I chose to rent the entire place and at the cost, it was a wise choice. Being an insomniac, my wife, daughter and “rented child” (brought down a friend of my daughters) could all sleep and I could use the lower unit to watch TV and make coffee during the wee hours of the morning.
The upper unit sleeps 4 in 2 bedrooms (1 Queen and 2 twin) and the lower unit sleeps 4 (2 queen) on an open concept. Plenty of hot water and I've stayed at resorts with less water pressure. Oh, BTW there are wall safes for use but I will not publically post where they’re located in each unit rather, I’ll leave that to Neville to tell you.
The Location: you’re about 20km east of Ochos Rios (maybe 20 minutes) and about 50km west of Mo Bay (about 45 minutes) so really, it’s a great location if you want to get out and “do the island”. A car rental is strongly advised and I rented a Mitsubishi Lancer from Budget for 8 days for $450USD and saved a lot of money. Given that a taxi is about $40pp from the Airport I saved $320 alone there (return trip). Dunn’s River Falls (Ochos Rios) is about $100pp if you’re at a resort but only $20 if you drive yourself so I saved another $320 so right there, I more than paid for the rental. Also, this gave us the freedom to go wherever we wanted and whenever we wanted to do so.
There’s a neighbor (Rico, great guy! More about him later under locals) that will allow you to park within his gated and secure house. A gratuity ($40 or $50 would be the right thing to do). I did pretty well the entire north side of the Island but didn’t go into the mountains (and I’m kicking myself for not doing so). Remember, they drive on the left and some drivers are overly cautious and others are simply wacko….
Shopping (& Groceries): Paulette, the property manager lives in a place adjacent to the house and she owns a little store up on the road (The Little Shop) that’s good for emergency needs but is also a wealth of information. It’s also a gathering place for locals and transplants as well. There’s a place in Mo-Bay called “Mega Mart” that’s a lot like a Price Club or for us Canadians, Costco. Pretty well has just about everything but milk sells out quickly so it’s best to go early. There’s also a new place on Ochos Rios that looks very clean and new but the name escapes me. You can find souvenirs anywhere so I won’t even go there. I brought down a couple pounds of frozen bacon, cereal, some instant rice and pringles chips and by the time I arrived (8 hours door to door) the bacon was just starting to thaw so choose what to bring depending on your flight time. There’s also a local Supermarket about a 5 minute walk to the west and it’s augmented by a lot of local street vendors (sugar cane, bananas, peppers, onions, plantain, coconuts, pineapples and that kind of thing). Remember, most of everything is a bit pricey and to get an idea, google Mega Mary or Hi-Low Supermarkets in Jamaica to get an idea.
Safety and Pot: Let’s face it, it’s Jamaica. There’s a lot of pot and it’s not my cup of tea so I simply said I was a police officer and they left me alone. The area is safe and the police station is a couple of miles away but just like everywhere else, use common sense. Both units (upstairs and downstairs) are quite secure with bars on the windows but again, tastefully done. Again, Paulette is right next door as well.
Dining and Nightlife: Great food everywhere and Paulette even hosted a Jerk BBQ one night (outstanding). There’s the Ultimate Jerk to the east by Green Grotto Caves (a nice tour and they filmed a James Bond movie there) and Sharkies to the west but the best Jerk is to be had at the “pop-up Jerk BBQ’s”. They appear every now and then (& gone just as quickly as they came) and it’s almost like a competition to see who has the best Jerk. They take great pride in their cooking and is a “must try”. Bars, well that’s up to you but again, use common sense.
The Locals: I made a lot of new friends that I’d like to stay in touch with. Paulette; a sweetheart who is always willing to help (sidebar, like Rico earlier, a gratuity is the right thing to do). Rico, one of the nicest guys you’ll meet. Claudia and her husband (German couple that winter long term at Rico’s) are very nice and provide a European perspective on things. Again, just head up to the “little Shop” for some good conversation and a drink. There is one spooky looking guy that apparently used to be one of the most promising artists on the island but sadly, he got mixed up with drugs and is now a homeless mess and although he may look spooky, he’s harmless and is “shooed” away quickly. Pogie is kind of jack of all trades that maintains the property and although a little difficult to understand, he’s always willing to help.
The Waterfront and Beach: The front is covered in sand and is fine for sunning but the water’s not really swimmable due to coral augmented by the fact that the wind blows from the north east and seaweed, rocks and plastic wash up nightly. With that being said; there is a rooftop hot tub kind of thing but Neville is also a member of a Club that has a private Beach down the road (20 minute walk but 2 minutes by car) and it’s quite nice. Beach lounging chairs can be rented for $200 Jamaican ($2) per day but again, with a car you can go anywhere.
Cellular and Wifi: If your kids are like all others, internet access (data) is a must and an all you can eat digital plan can be had for $20 + $5 (sim card fee but make sure that your phone can accept one of the larger sim’s otherwise they’ll cut it to size for you) at the Digicel store in Mo Bay down by Doctor’s Cave but Neville can get you directions.
A couple of Must-Do’s: Margaritaville in Mo Bay. Expensive but worth it and wear a bathing suit (you'll understand why once you're there). Dunn’s River Falls (Ochos Rios), Green Grotto Caves (neat), Negril, that’s a day trip but worth it and Doctor’s Cave in downtown Mo Bay.
Duty Free at the Airport: No real bargains to be had I’m sorry to say. Oh, have a bite before you go or you can enjoy your $8USD hamburger.
The Owner: I found the owner (Neville, from Canada) to be quite easy to deal with and most willing to make sure that your stay is enjoyable. Remember, things are tough to get on the island and small gestures like offering to bring something that is needed down would be greatly appreciated.
Summary: It’s EXACTLY what I expected and like anything else, it’s what you make of it. Given that I was down over New Years, I saved a few thousand over a resort. I’d recommend it for those that want to enjoy the sun at a reasonable cost.
Remember, its island speed and everything “Soon Come” so be patient.
Overall, good value for your dollar.
I hope you find this of use.