Our trip started early on a Saturday morning. We departed Reagan National Airport just before 7am, had a short layover in Memphis, and were then promptly on our way to Montego Bay.
We arrived at 12:45pm, and since we only had carry-on luggage, were immediately ushered into the Sandals lounge, where we helped ourselves to refreshments (juice for the kids and Red Stripe beer for Mommy & Daddy) and fresh fruit.
I expected to wait for a while until more Beaches guests arrived, but we were barely able to finish our drinks when we were told our transportation to the resort was ready. We waited for a few minutes on the minibus, just in case someone else might need a ride, but ended up having it all to ourselves.
Our driver, Danny, was extremely nice and quite chatty. He gladly answered all our questions, and even pointed out the town where Usain Bolt grew up and the school where he first started his training. Driving down the North Coast highway, you could see how proud the country is of him. His face graces a variety of billboards.
The long ride to the hotel, just under two hours, could be considered a disadvantage, but I enjoyed it since it was all new to me. I was surprised to see that everyone drives on the left side of the road, as they do in Great Britain. I’m not entirely sure why (and thought it would be dumb to ask) but assume it’s because Jamaica was under British rule until the late 1950’s, so British car manufacturers got to Jamaica before anyone else had the chance.
Our bags were taken at the entrance to the resort, where we then walked down a red carpet into the lobby. Check-in at Beaches was a breeze. We were offered punch while we waited a few minutes for our paperwork to be taken care of. The manager on duty escorted us directly to our room, while telling us about the property on the way. It was less than a 5 minute walk from the lobby, and only about a minute from the pool. I’m not sure what category of room it was, as our travel voucher only said “prizewinner comp room”, but it was spacious, spotlessly clean, with a partial ocean view and within earshot of the entertainment stage. As for our sleeping arrangements, our bed was terribly uncomfortable. The mattress seemed really old; I could feel the springs. The girls slept fine, though – baby in a crib and Maya on the sofa bed.
In contrast to the condition of the rooms, the building itself seems a bit dated. There were parts that were dirty and sidewalks that needed repair. From looking at the Beaches brochure, I didn’t expect to encounter SO many stairs. The good thing about that is it made me feel just a tad less guilty for all the junk I ate/drank. There are numerous stroller-friendly ramps, an elevator to the beach, and two inside the main building, although I found them to be a bit smelly.
The resort grounds are beautiful. There are flowers of every color and tons of palm trees. The weather was kind to us, and it only rained a short time on the last two days. I was surprised, with the humidity, that there wasn’t a single bug to be found.
I wasn’t blown away by the food, but it was by no means bad. There was always something that the girls would like, which is all that mattered to me since I’m not picky.
The BBQ Park next to the pool first place we ate when we arrived. I promised my little brother that I would have jerk chicken (how could I not?) so it was the first thing I ordered, washed down with a margarita. My only complaint was that the portion was too small! Hubby had the BBQ ribs and the kids shared a hot dog.
We ate at the Bayside restaurant quite often. It’s the only buffet-style restaurant at the resort and the only place to eat breakfast. Most of the food was good. Lunch and dinner changed everyday, but breakfast was very repetitive and boring after day two.
The “cook-to-order” stations were the best! Eggs, omelettes, and a smoothie station at breakfast, and a pasta station at dinner.
There’s even a special area for kids to eat with little tables and chairs.
Traditional Jamaican dishes were served at the Bayside buffet, and jerk chicken could be found at almost every restaurant.
- Jerk chicken/pork/sausage – Delicious! Especially the chicken. I’m sure they have a different species of chicken in Jamaica, because it just tastes better than bland American chicken, regardless of how it was cooked.
- Fried dumplings – Reminded me of hush puppies.
- Steamed cabbage
- Rice and peas
- Ackee and saltfish – Served at breakfast everyday. I wasn’t a fan. It wasn’t bad, I’m just not used to eating fish for breakfast. Ackee is a fruit much like the lychee and saltfish is dried and salted cod.
- Raw sugarcane – Served along with fresh fruit. It was okay, but too sweet for my tastebuds.
- Pumpkin – Frequently used in rice and soups.
- Callaloo – A vegetable dish, much like spinach but better. Not as sour!
- With all the coconut palms in the area, I expect it to be used more in the food, but only had it in coconut cake (which was very good).
The Arizona restaurant is on the beach, and simple but yummy. The menu’s theme is Tex-Mex, although they do serve jerk chicken. Everything comes with curly fries, which was a change from the other restaurants. Since it’s right on the water, it was a big hit with the girls.
We ate at the Italian-themed Venetian one night. It was pretty good. I had lasagna that was surprisingly not tomato-ey at all, but still delicious. The girls loved their mac ‘n cheese.
Hubby wanted to have wine with his meal, and was only offered the “Manager’s List”, where every bottle was $30+. He decided on a $32 cab sav, to later find out that if he would’ve just asked for a glass of red wine there wouldn’t have been any additional charge. We felt a bit duped, but didn’t complain.
Eleanor’s was the only restaurant we didn’t actually eat at. It only caters to an adult crowd, but we were able to get our food to go and eat next to the pool. I had a pork appetizer and beef tenderloin as my dinner, and it was just ok. I forgot what hubby ordered, so I guess it was nothing memorable.
I found the bar drinks to be very inconsistent. Sometimes they were unbearably strong and other times you couldn’t even tell there was any alcohol in them at all. My favorite specialty drinks were the ‘Dirty Banana’ – similar to a banana daiquiri, and the ‘Jamaican Delight’, which consisted of rum, apricot brandy, pineapple juice, and a few other ingredients. I had to ask the bartender to “surprise” me to get these drinks. The only beer I remember them serving is Red Stripe. It is a good one, though.
Most likely due to British influence, tables were set up for tea every afternoon. I thought that was a nice touch. The mini-fridge in our room was restocked daily with a variety of juices, soda, and 4 bottles of water. I couldn’t find any bottled water anywhere else at the resort so I always carried one with me.
The staff was very laid-back. Don’t take me wrong, they’re super-friendly and the service was great for the most part. Everyone we passed would greet us with a “hello” and a smile, often stopping to talk and play with the girls. They loved the attention! The housekeepers were really sweet. The servers were always there to pick up our dirty plates promptly, but sometimes if we needed something, like a refill on our drinks, we had to ask. They wouldn’t automatically offer.
Oddly enough, I found the bartenders to be the least friendly of all the staff. The guy at the swim-up bar repeatedly ignored my request for a drink for my daughter, even though I was asking for the simplest thing – a Shirley Temple. After two tries, I had my husband go up and ask for it, and that finally worked. Even at the main bar the bartender wouldn’t automatically come up to you and ask you what you wanted, you had to call him over.
We had a frustrating start at the Kids Camp because I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know I needed to show the girls’ passports so I had to take them back to the room, grab the passports out of the safe, and make the trek back to the Children’s Centre. Then I was told I needed to pack a long list of things for them, which I didn’t know about either. At that point I was definitely irritated. I was drenched in sweat from carrying the baby up and down, back and forth, but knew it was partially my fault for not having asked them what I needed to provide in the first place. I went back to the room one last time, packed bags for both girls, and finally was able to drop them off. After those first harrowing moments, everything was great. I can safely say that attending the Kids Camp was probably Maya’s favorite activity. She went two days in a row, for the majority of the 8 hrs it lasted each day (9am-5pm). Their schedule was posted on a big board, so I would always know what she was doing (and where). They spent time at the pool, built sand castles on the beach, played games, watched a movie, and even had “chill-out time” on big bean bags. I was very impressed with the Children’s Centre. There was a room dedicated to arts & crafts, tons of toys, a big indoor playset, and everything was SO clean. Maya made friends that she continued to play with even when not at the camp. It was a relief that I didn’t have to entertain her every minute of every day. As for baby, I dropped her off for a few hours the first day. When I went to pick her up she was napping so I left and the staff was kind enough to call our room to let me know when she woke up. Most of the babies were younger than her, so I decided she wasn’t really getting anything from staying at the nursery and only left her there that one time. We enjoyed exploring the resort together while her sister was at camp, as you can tell from all the photos of just her!
A schedule of the day’s activities was posted daily near the Bayside restaurant. With separate agendas for Sesame Street, the Kids Camp, and everything else, it was easy to figure out what to do for the day. For adults, there was something different happening everyday, from coffee tasting near the bar, to a contortionist one night. After 8:30pm, a musical act played until the wee hours. We were generally back in our room at that point, but enjoyed the music from our balcony.
Sesame Street was one of the best parts of our trip! Except for baby’s fascination with Elmo from seeing him on all her diapers,the girls weren’t huge fans of the characters to begin with, but were familiar enough with them. Now they absolutely ADORE them. We would frequently bump into them in the halls of the resort, which was perfect because the girls got to interact with them personally. There were short mini-shows at various times during the day, and two evening stage shows while we were there. Both very different but full of singing and dancing. The characters would even visit the Kids Camp for “Storytime with Elmo” and “Baking with Cookie Monster”, for example.
The pools are great. The main one is huge! The depth is really random, but other than that it’s perfect. The temperature is just right and pool floats abound.
The water park is nice, but I found the hours it was open to be inconvenient. The kids pool was cute, with lots of sea creature sculptures to climb on. There are several slides/tubes, but we didn’t get around to trying them. Watching people shoot out of them was fun enough for us!
The beach is definitely smaller than I expected, but for our purposes it was just right. The water was clear, calm and just deep enough for the girls to play comfortably. And warm! Like bath-water. It was never crowded and we didn’t have to walk far to get where we needed to go. The Arizona restaurant is at one end, and the water sports office at the other. There were women on the beach that offered to braid our hair. It got annoying because they just wouldn’t give up, even after I turned them down multiple times. There was a “floating” souvenir barge that we never approached because we always left our cash back in the room.
The variety of water sports included in a stay at Beaches is amazing! Snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, boat rides, windsurfing… there’s only an extra charge if you need a private lesson. You have to sign up a day in advance, and we just didn’t plan things that well so all we did was go out on the glass-bottom boat.
WE SOON COME BACK
I really enjoyed how informal the resort was. I immediately felt comfortable. Two years ago hubby and I spent 5 days at an all-inclusive adults-only resort in Cancun, and I found that to be much more stuffy than Beaches. I don’t think I’d recommend a stay at Beaches to a couple without children, though. They might get annoyed by all the Sesame Street acts.
Having spent all our time on the resort, and knowing well just how much there is to explore in Jamaica, we’ll probably be back. The flight is very affordable and isn’t too long, but we’ll might choose a resort closer to the airport next time. It’ll definitely be all-inclusive, because there really isn’t a better way to go.
I hear Beaches Negril is beautiful…