Happy Wednesday! I’m so excited to be sharing my Jamaica trip on the blog today! This was my first time in Jamaica and my first time staying at an all-inclusive resort. To say this trip was amazing would be an understatement! To be honest, I went into this trip slightly skeptical, considering I’d heard some not great things about Jamaica from friends and knew about the stigma surrounding all-inclusives. With that being said, I left Jamaica loving everything about our experience!
*Before we really get started, I should say that I really enjoyed my time in Jamaica and didn’t take my camera everywhere. I don’t have tons of pictures, so sorry about that in advance!*
***While I don’t want this to come off the wrong way, I also think it’s important to share that I’ve been really lucky to stay at some incredible resorts while traveling, such as The Ritz Carlton in Grand Cayman and The Four Seasons in Costa Rica. The reason why I think it’s important to mention my stays at these resorts is because it puts into perspective my point of comparison going into this all-inclusive resort. Of course I wasn’t unreasonable in thinking that an all-inclusive–at a much lower price-point–would be just like a Ritz or Four Seasons. That would be crazy. But I have to say, the all-inclusive we stayed at was really nice and had a lot of the same characteristics that a 5-star resort epitomizes.***
Alright! So if you’ve been wondering which all-inclusive we stayed at…drum roll please… we stayed at a Sandals! Specifically, we stayed at Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay, Jamaica. There are actually 2 other Sandals about 5-10 minutes from the one we stayed at: The Sandals Carlyle (super small) and The Sandals Montego Bay (the original Sandals, which just got renovated and is really nice). If you’ve done any research about Sandals you’ve probably come across the “stay at 1, play at 3” (or insert another number there) and I didn’t really appreciate that until getting on site. All you have to do is hop on a free shuttle and within minutes you’re at another Sandals resort, where you can eat, drink, do whatever, and it’s still all-inclusive. Before I get ahead of myself though, let’s back up a little. I’m going to walk you through every part of our trip to show you just why it was so amazing! Feel free to jump to whichever sections interest you the most!
There’s not too much to say about the airport here. It’s much smaller than many of our airports in the US (think, JFK, LGA, Charlotte, Dulles, just to name a few). The one thing worth talking about is an optional customs-expediting service called Club Mobay. I opted for the Club Mobay service, which is $40/person/way so in total we paid $160 for our roundtrip expedited service through customs. Our experience with Club Mobay: It was nice, but for us it was a waste of money. We wouldn’t have had to wait more than 20-30 minutes to go through customs without the service. With the service we went through customs in maybe 5 minutes? I guess if you have the extra $160 lying around and want to make sure you get through customs super fast then go for it. Also, if you know you’re traveling at a peak travel time you’ll be able to avoid 2-3 hour custom lines with the Club Mobay service. Unfortunately/fortunately for us we weren’t traveling at a peak time so there was a very short line to go through customs even without the Club Mobay service.
Once you get through customs you can find your way to The Sandals Lounge (only for people staying at Sandals). They have free fruit, water, beer, whatever. They also have private bathrooms which aren’t the cleanest restroom you’ve ever been in, but I would imagine they’re 100x better than the public bathrooms in the airport. So that was nice.
The scam that you’ll run into is the Red Coat guys who are NOT affiliated with Sandals, but will pretend to be. Without even asking you, they bring your bags to The Sandals shuttle and then you’re expected to tip them. While I’m usually a generous tipper, I did not want to tip these guys, I mean, I didn’t even ask them to take my one, small carry-on bag, which I could easily have taken by myself to the shuttle. Insert eye roll here. My boyfriend felt bad for them and tipped them, but I wouldn’t have based on principle. That’s just me though. As a suggestion, after the people who are actually affiliated with Sandals tag your bag, keep your bag with you and just bring it yourself to the shuttle. Maybe this is also just an American thing, I don’t know, but I just feel really uncomfortable with anyone handling my bags aside from me and really felt like they should have at least asked if they could take our bags for us. Okay. Rant over (for now).
The Sandals shuttle from Montego Bay Airport to your resort is included with your stay. We tipped the driver because it was a nice thing to do. I mean, if we had to pay for a cab ourselves it would have cost a lot more than the $5 tip we gave them.
Perhaps the least enjoyable part of the trip was the check-in process. I booked us in a Butler-Suite level room (which is the highest “room-type”, it was basically the only room avaliable when I booked our trip back in August) and so with that we had a special lounge to wait in for the check-in process. Which again, was a process. In the private lounge we were greeted with Champagne and any other drink you could ask for. There were 4 other couples in the lounge waiting to check-in at the same time we were there. All of the other couples had a pretty quick check-in process, but for some reason our room either wasn’t ready or our butlers weren’t ready. Ha yes, we actually had personal butlers! Anyway, I wish they had just told us our room wasn’t ready when we stepped off the shuttle. I wouldn’t have been upset for a second and would have just asked the front desk to hold our bags (which they were already doing), and we would have grabbed lunch on the beach until our room was ready. We were really hungry, I mean, we’d woken up before 5:00am and it was now 1:00pm!
Okay, I realize I’m not doing a great job being concise here, but I feel like it’s important to mention. After about 30 minutes of waiting in the lounge I finally was able to find someone to ask them to show us to a restaurant for lunch because we were hungry. The guy who showed us to our table had no problem doing so and we were much happier once on the beach with our lunch. After lunch we met up with our butler back at the check-in lounge and were shown to our room.
Our. Room. Was. Incredible. I couldn’t believe how nice and how huge our room was! Here are some pics, but honestly, they don’t even do our room justice! Not only was our room exceptional, but our balcony was so spacious! I’ve never really been one to spend time out on a balcony during vacation, but I realized this trip it’s probably because the balconies are never anything to write home about. I loved sitting on our balcony every morning before heading to breakfast and at night before bed. While we didn’t have an ocean view room, we were only a 2 minute walk to the beach. Our room looked out over a beautiful manicured lawn and our balcony hid behind lush tree canopy. From what we saw of the ocean front rooms, ours was much nicer, and I preferred to be a little less centrally located to avoid a lot of noise. So that’s a long winded way of saying, there were many plus sides to our non-ocean view room!
Maybe I’m just not the brightest one out there, but when booking our Butler-Level Suite it never really occurred to me that we’d have an actual butler. I mean, I thought that was something out of a movie, right?! Wrong! We had not 1, but 2 butlers who were really great guys: Nicholas and Steve. While it definitely felt a bit strange to have a butler (I’m more of a do-it-myself kind of person) the biggest plus side to having a butler was that they would reserve beach (or pool) chairs for you each morning in your preferred location (shade vs. sun) and they’d provide you with a cooler of whatever beverages you preferred (ex. champagne, beer, water, juice). Having a butler to reserve your beach or pool chairs in the morning is actually super helpful because then you don’t have to worry about getting up early to snag a good spot. You can take your time getting out of bed, having breakfast, and then finally making your way down to the beach knowing your spot is reserved with a sign on it.
Aside from reserving lounge chairs, we didn’t really use our butlers for much more. They made us dinner reservations for a few nights (which is important to do!), but we also made some dinner reservations on our own. It’s important to note, while Sandals has a no-tipping policy (meaning you don’t have to feel pressured to tip anyone, but you can if you’d like), you are expected to ti your butler. Tipping your butler is obviously dependent on how much you use the butler service. If you’re having your butler unpack your luggage, iron your clothes, run drinks out to you on the beach every hour, then you’re going to want to give them a really nice tip. Since we minimally used our butlers we tipped them between $20-$30/day. From my research online it says people tip anywhere from $10-$100/day, which isn’t really helpful! I mean, $10 did seem a little low, and $100 of course kind of seemed a little high!
There are a few different basic food options at a Sandals: Restaurants, Room Service, and Buffets. While buffets are technically under restaurants, I’d prefer to separate them for the sake of reviewing these experiences. In my opinion buffets and sit-down restaurants are very different!
Honestly, especially with a butler, the opportunities were kind of endless. While we didn’t demand anything too crazy, our Sandals resort definitely didn’t seem like a place that said the word “no” a lot. What I mean by that is when it came to food, you could basically have whatever you wanted. My boyfriend and I have some minor dietary restrictions, being vegetarian/pescatarian and not having dairy. Our first night at the resort our butler introduced us to the chef at the restaurant we were dining at and the chef basically said, I’ll make you whatever you want. How generous! So anyway, I got a little sidetracked there, but I wanted to help you understand the resort’s vibe.
Our resort had about 7 restaurants, ranging from a super casual lunch spot on the beach to a French bistro requiring long pants and a collared shirt. There were plenty of options to not get tired during our 5 days at Sandals, with that being said, we really enjoyed going to the Sandals Montego Bay, which had about another 7-8 restaurants for dinner two nights. Sandals Montego Bay had more of a club/bar atmosphere at night compared to our Sandals Royal Caribbean resort, and that’s one of the reasons why we had fun going there at night for some drinks before and after our dinner. Hey! We were on vacation!
Our favorite of the restaurants at the resort was the Thai restaurant on the private island. It had a great ambiance and the food was good! You need reservations for the Thai place, so just make sure you make those upon arrival. We also ate at the Regency Room for dinner and if you do, make sure you ask for a table outside. I think the best part of the Regency Room is that its patio is right on the water. The food was pretty traditional. It didn’t wow me, but it wasn’t bad either. **Something to note: you can order as much or as little as you’d like. As one waitress said to me, “you can order everything on the menu if you want.” The portion sizes aren’t huge, which I preferred because the last thing I want is to gain weight on vacation! There was one or two times though that I ordered a second appetizer because it was so good and I wanted more.
A Sandals Montego Bay (the other resort), we ate at Tokyo Joe’s (no reservation required) which was such a fun time! It’s right on the beach and you order your appetizers as you’d traditionally do at a restaurant, but then for your Wok entrée you go up and you get to watch them make it right in front of you! This was one of the places where I ordered multiple appetizers. We also ate at Cucina, which is known to be a fan favorite. Here’s the thing about Cucina, our butler told us he wasn’t able to get a reservation or us because he needed 2 days notice. That night after our dinner at Tokyo Joe’s we walked up to Cucina and asked if they could fit us in the next night. They said sure, not a problem! The next night we ate dinner there at 7pm, so a pretty busy time (or at least you’d think), but there were so many empty tables! I’m no expert, but if the reservations desk at your hotel and/or your butler say they’re not able to get you a reservation somewhere, it doesn’t hurt to go to the restaurant and ask them if they have any availability. They might say yes, like they did for us!
The two buffet options at our resort were The Regency Room’s breakfast and lunch buffets. Both buffets were really great! They boasted a wide selection of traditional Jamaican breakfast/lunch items along with our classic American expectations (ex. pastries and pancakes for breakfast, salad bar for lunch). I preferred to order lunch from The Mariner (beach-side restaurant), but I did enjoy the buffet breakfast every morning. We opted to eat our breakfast at our lounge chairs on the beach most mornings, this was really nice and relaxing! All we had to do was ask any waiter in The Regency Room for a set of utensils.
There are a few options here: there is a room service menu for normal business hours, and then a late night menu. I’m also pretty sure, if you have a butler, you could order any meal from the restaurants at the resort and have it delivered to your room. For instance, you might know they have pancakes at the buffet every morning, but they don’t have pancakes on the room service menu. So maybe you’d ask your butler to bring you pancakes and fresh fruit to your room and your butler would probably be fine with doing that. So again, the opportunities are kind of endless! We ordered room service fo breakfast one morning and it was nice. We ended up also having some breakfast at the buffet that same morning, but I felt like I had to test the room service out for you all for this blog review! #doitfortheblog
The biggest stigma towards all-inclusives I would say is that the drinks are watered down. Personally, a watered-down drink isn’t the end of the world for me. It doesn’t take much for me to start feeling the alcohol, especially when I’m sitting on the beach all day, so I’d actually invite a watered-down drink vs. a strong drink. That’s just me though! The most popular drinks seemed to be beer and frozen cocktails, I guess that’s to be expected at a beach resort. I didn’t really start drinking until late afternoon/early evening. I did order the occasional mimosa and even ordered a frozen cocktail called “Sky Juice” that was really good! The drink menus at the bar have about 20 drinks on them, but after talking with Raheem, a bartender, for a little while he explained to me that he knew how to make hundreds of drinks! Crazy! Anyway, I was really happy with all the drinks I ordered and was perfectly fine with the wine that Sandals pours. All in all, no complaints here! Oh, I should say though, I had a “Ball And Chain” cocktail one evening before dinner and that was really good! I think it was champagne, vodka, cherry, and pomegranate.
Speaking of doing it for the blog…I opted out of any spa services so I can’t say too much about them. I am lucky enough to get to do complimentary spa treatments as part of being a blogger, so I didn’t have that feeling of “I need to relax and have a spa day” while on vacation. The spa services offered at Sandals are one of the few things not included with your stay. Which makes sense. Now prior to our stay I did a fair amount of research and there were really mixed reviews. A lot of people said the spa was sub par. I guess it kind of depends on your standards, if you never go to spas then you’ll probably be really happy with it because you have nothing to compare it to, if you frequent high-end spas then the Sandals one probably won’t live up to your expectations. Honestly, laying on the beach is all the relaxing I needed! As much as I love a good massage or facial, I kind of felt like spending that hour inside was taking an hour away from my beach time.
Something I didn’t expect prior to arriving at our resort was all the fun activities Sandals offers throughout the day and at night! Each day Sandals puts out a newspaper with the day’s activities, restaurant hours, and any special events going on (ex. one night they had a chocolate buffet at 9pm!). Our favorite organized activity was beach volleyball! It was a blast! I hadn’t played volleyball since middle school, but somehow I was one of the best players on the court! Yay me! (I don’t even know how though because I was sooo bad at volleyball back in school!). Other activities included pool volleyball, balloon tosses, talent competitions, karaoke (did that too!), and battles of the sexes! You earn 10 points for each activity you do and if you rack up enough points you’ll get free swag at the end of your stay. I think we earned maybe 50-60 points? You probably need 100 to get some sort of prize. Totally not the reason why we were participating in stuff though! We just wanted to have a good time!
Perhaps the most impressive thing to me about our Sandals experience was how amazing the service was! Every worker we interacted with at the resort, whether part of the grounds crew, a waiter, a concierge, or a housekeeper, was so kind to us and so helpful! I totally did not expect this level of service at an all-inclusive, in fact, I expected the opposite of this! Honestly, the attention to detail and generosity extended to us at Sandals mirrored the kind of service I remember at a Ritz or Four Seasons. Incredible! I also have to give a huge shout-out to our housekeeping staff! If I have one super power it’s my ability to walk into a hotel room and notice anything and everything that hadn’t been cleaned at all, or just not sufficiently. Walking into our butler-suite I was of course skeptical. I hoped it was nice, but also wanted to be realistic in my expectations. I was floored to see how clean it was! The housekeepers didn’t cut corners and each day when they came to freshen up our room they mopped our floors, cleaned our shower, our two tubs, and replaced our towels. Truly amazing! I’ve never experienced that kind of attention to detail and that level of consideration before. They really went above and beyond!
The one complaint I had, which I guess I’ll share here, is that the bath towels weren’t plush or soft. They were pretty scratchy. I actually preferred the beach towels, which were a little nicer than the bath towels. Not a huge deal, but by day 2 I started carrying a few extra beach towels up to our room to use for after showers instead of the bath towels.
Jamaica is probably an amazing country to explore and experience culturally. With that being said, I have had more than a few people share not-so-great stories about their Jamaica experiences. Going into this trip knowing I was just looking for a few days on a white, sandy beach (versus a few days exploring and immersing myself in another culture), I figured Jamaica would be a great place. I mean, Jamaica is a lot more affordable than Grand Cayman, Turks and Caicos, honestly, it’s a lot cheaper than most places in the Caribbean! And that’s probably for a reason…right? With Jamaica you’re going to get locals trying to sell you stuff. While our resort’s beach was completely private, there were multiple locals trying to sell stuff who would paddle board up to our beach and would wait in the water and call out to people. It wasn’t a deal breaker, and it wasn’t that big of a deal, but it was a little annoying. I know lots of other resorts don’t have as well-guarded beaches as ours, so I am really grateful that we didn’t really have to worry about beachcombers, but again, I guess that’s what you kind of have to sacrifice with going to an affordable location like Jamaica.
Of course I would have loved to have explored Jamaica, my favorite part of vacations is always getting to learn about different cultures, but I guess this just wasn’t that trip. And that’s okay! The trip wouldn’t have been nearly as relaxing if we’d spent the time with a full itinerary trying to do adventurous, immersive activities.
Jamaica is definitely a gorgeous destination, a true paradise, but I can’t ignore the fact that our Sandals resort was so heavily guarded with security. Not only on the water-front, but on land too. That kind of has to tell you something, right? I’m definitely not going to be naive in thinking that those security guards were just standing there for the fun of it. Clearly there is some sort of safety concern to warrant so much security on the property. Did we feel safe the whole time? Yes! Not once did I feel unsafe, but we also didn’t leave the resort except on the resort shuttle from one property to the next. I guess that’s as honest as I can be about Jamaica. I didn’t really get to see any of the island, but I loved our beach and the water was really clear and calm. I’ll probably do a similar trip to Mexico, where you don’t have to feel badly about just staying at your resort the whole time because safety is questionable outside the resort. Alright- hopefully that made some sense! Ultimately, I loved our Sandals resort in Jamaica! That should be the take away!
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