Montego Bay, Jamaica
October 23-26, 2007
I recently took a quick trip to Jamaica to tour two of the Sandals Resorts in the Montego Bay area – Sandals Royal Caribbean and Sandals Montego Bay. This was my first stay in Jamaica (I visited the island briefly, last winter, on a cruise) and my second visit to a Sandals Resort (I stayed at the Sandals Royal Bahamian, in Nassau, two years ago).
My US Air flight from Providence to Jamaica (via Charlotte) was uneventful, and when I reached the Montego Bay airport I collected my bag and went straight to the Sandals lounge – an oasis of calm in the middle of a busy airport that’s undergoing major construction. At the Sandals lounge, guests relax on comfy couches, enjoy refreshing cold drinks, and wait for their transfer bus to arrive. The transfer from the airport to Sandals Royal Caribbean took no more than 10 minutes, and we were welcomed into the cool mahogany-trimmed lobby. At Sandals, guests do not have to stand in line at a check-in desk. Instead, we were invited to relax in a cozy seating area, we were offered a tropical drink, and the Sandals greeter took care of all our paperwork.
My room (#410) faced the quiet South Pool, away from the main hub of activity in the resort, and featured a private patio, a king-sized four-poster bed, and a large luxurious bathroom with double vanities and a corner Jacuzzi tub. It really was a shame to be there alone!
The resort itself is compact, with about 180 rooms/suites spread over the landscaped grounds. There are several pools, hot tubs, and tennis courts, as well as a pretty beach (what I would consider a “cove” beach, rather than a long stretch of sand for strolling) as well as a unique offshore private island (reached by frequent launch service) that features a Thai restaurant, a pool, a clothing-optional beach, and a regular beach with several romantic daybeds for lounging.
Besides the Thai restaurant (which was delicious!) there are five other restaurants, including an outdoor courtyard serving gourmet French fare, an English pub, a Jamaican restaurant, an international buffet, and a beachside barbecue. The accommodations range from the affordable Deluxe Garden View rooms all the way up to Royal Beachfront Suites with private butler service. The newest rooms – the St. James River Suites – feature a private patio that steps down into a lazy-river pool. The overall “feel” of the resort is friendly and European, and the highlight, to me, was the service. Even though I was the “odd one out” (one of just a few travel agents visiting the resort, alone, in a sea of couples) I felt welcomed and appreciated by the staff.
A few things to note:
- As at all Sandals resorts, watersports are included in the All-Inclusive price. This even includes snorkeling and diving trips, so be sure to take advantage of what’s offered, and sign up at the Watersports Shop for any trips that interest you.
- Because the resort is very close to Montego Bay airport, you do hear planes going overhead, but it is not disruptive at all. I was afraid it would be annoying, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was no big deal.
- Although there is live entertainment of some kind each night, the bars/lounges seem to empty out by about 10 or 11 pm. Those looking for late-night partying would probably be disappointed. But, for those looking for an enjoyable evening under the stars, followed by a romantic stroll back their room, it would be just perfect!
- The local Jamaican vendors are not allowed on the property, and this is enforced very strictly, BUT they do cruise along the shoreline on surfboards and rafts hoping to entice you to buy their wares. It’s not nearly as intrusive as the beach-hawkers in Mexico, and all it takes is a polite “not interested” and they’ll leave you alone.
While in Jamaica, I also had the opportunity to tour the original Sandals Resort – Sandals Montego Bay. This property is larger (250 rooms/suites), livelier, and boasts the largest stretch of private beach on the North shore of the island. The overall “feel” is fun and active, and that’s perfectly illustrated by the fact that there’s an entertainment amphitheatre right in the main lobby, and a popular disco/nightclub that’s just steps away from that. While this resort is even closer to the airport, and the planes are more frequent and noticeable, guests seem to take it in stride, and the tradition is to wave at every plane that flies over.
The property features six restaurants, including a casual (barefoot) Tex/Mex restaurant on the beach, an Asian stir-fry restaurant where dishes are prepared with flair in a show kitchen, a romantic Italian restaurant, a casual beach bistro, an international buffet, and a gourmet Jamaican restaurant with a water view to die for.
The rooms are clustered along the beach, and range from Premium Oceanside rooms to Water’s Edge Honeymoon Penthouse Concierge Rooms – with balconies, oceanviews, stocked minibars, and concierge service. Sandals Montego Bay also includes a resort-within-a-resort – the Bay Roc Villas – which are the most luxurious suites I’ve seen. We toured the “Prime Minister’s Suite” at the Bay Roc Villas and experienced a taste of the private butler service that comes with it. Take a look at the photo below, showing the canopy bed illuminated with twinkling lights, the room strewn with rose petals, and the whirlpool tub (drawn by the butler) surrounded by candles, champagne and roses. Ahh….
A few things to note:
- With Sandals dine-around policy, you can stay at either one of these Montego Bay area properties and dine at both. A convenient shuttle transports guests back and forth between the two.
- This property features a lovely little wedding chapel. For those who want a destination wedding, but whose religion dictates a church wedding, this is a really nice option.
All in all, my three days in Jamaica passed very quickly, but I truly enjoyed myself. On my way home, since I had some time to kill in the Montego Bay airport before my flight, I was able to prolong the Jamaican experience a little while longer with lunch (and one last Red Stripe) at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.