Tying the knot at Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall

I was fortunate enough to be invited, along with about a dozen other agents, to spend the weekend at the adults-only Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We were there to tour the new resort and learn about how it appeals to the romance travel market (destination weddings and honeymoons), and we got to meet the wedding/event staff and experience a “mock” wedding ceremony and reception. Most of my “FAM” (familiarization) trips are filled with dozens of hotel inspections, but since this one included a little more free time to enjoy the destination, I figured I’d share it as a trip report. Enjoy!


Fam group

I flew in from Orlando on Friday afternoon, and after a quick stop at Customs and Immigration, I was welcomed into the Hyatt Zilara/Ziva airport lounge. It’s a beautiful, serene oasis, where you can enjoy a cold drink, do your advance check in for the resort, and relax while you wait for your shuttle. Perfect way to arrive in Jamaica!

Airport lounge

The shuttle ride is about 10 minutes, on a nice main road, and we were welcomed into the Zilara lobby with tropical drinks and chilled towels. My room was not yet ready, so I headed off to the beachfront Jerk Shack for some lunch. My deliciously juicy jerk chicken was accompanied by “festival”, potatoes, and an icy cold Red Stripe beer – perfection!

Jerk Shack


Zilara 2

Afterwards, I was able to check into my room — an oceanview junior suite, with a large balcony overlooking the pool and beach. The rooms at Zilara are gorgeous! Light, airy and modern, without feeling cold or sterile. There’s a big daybed (for two) on the balcony, and another spacious seating area inside the room. The king-sized bed was one of the most comfortable hotel beds I’ve experienced in a long time, and behind the bed there’s a very unobtrusive desk for those who simply can’t get away from work. Sitting at that desk, with the views of the ocean, made answering emails a pleasure 🙂


I’m really picky about hotel bathrooms, and this one gets a “10” in my book. Large and open, but with sliding pocket doors you can pull for privacy, double sinks, lots of shelves/storage, a huge shower, and a deep soaking tub. Plus, the bathroom has a low-level motion-activated light that illuminates when you walk into the room in the middle of the night – genius!  The lighting overall was really well thought-out  — all the switches are labeled, there’s a subtle nightlight you can leave on in the entry hallway, and a master light switch right at the bedside.

Room 45

As at most all-inclusives, there’s a stocked mini-fridge with soda, beer and water, and the Zilara also stocks the room with some snacks, and three full bottles of alcohol (rum, vodka and gin). There’s a pretty extensive room service menu available as well. I did discover that room service operates on “island time”, as my breakfast took over an hour to arrive, but as long as you plan accordingly that’s fine.

Room 3


Room 2

I was able to go enjoy the beach for a couple of hours before our welcome dinner that evening, and I had no problem finding a shady palapa to sit under. To me, that was a MAJOR discovery, since most resorts these days seem to have too little shade and too many people “saving” chairs/umbrellas that they’re not using. I kept an eye on this all weekend, and I have to say I did not see any chair-saving at all, and there were always plenty of available shady seats. The resort said they were at about 50% occupancy for that (off-season) weekend, but even if there were twice as many people, it would not have been a problem.

Zilara 3

A quick note about the beach…this area of the coast is rocky, and the resorts have, for the most part, blasted out little “cove” beaches protected by jettys and breakwalls.  Hyatt Zilara (and sister property Hyatt Ziva next door) are no different. The beaches are small – no seven-mile- long stretches of powder white sand here – but perfectly fine for lounging, or a dip in the water. A true beach fanatic would probably be better off in Negril, but I thought the pools more than made up for it.

Room view

On Friday evening we enjoyed cocktails in the PotionZ lobby bar, and I had my first taste of Rum Cream (yum!) After that, there was a delicious welcome dinner in the open-air beachfront restaurant HoriZonZ, where my food was significantly better than I’ve experienced at other all-inclusive resorts, but the service was a little shaky (again, I put it down to “island time”  — we had a large table, and some people had not yet received appetizers while others were enjoying their entrees)

On Saturday we were treated to a fun catamaran excursion that included snorkeling at Doctors Cave Beach and a stop at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. I’ve snorkeled in the Caribbean, Mexico and Hawaii, and this was the first time that I’ve been swarmed by a school of fish! Tiny, colorful fish were all over and around me, and it made me wonder if they’re used to being fed by swimmers along this beach. Very cool! At Margaritaville, we were able to jump off the boat and have a snack/drink at the restaurant, or just play on their water slide and floating trampolines.

Sail 1 Sail 2 Sail 3 Sail 4 Sail 5

Back at the resort that afternoon, I had time for a shower, a nap, and a visit to the pool bar (not necessarily in that order!) before our evening reception. Our visit that weekend coincided with the annual JAPEX tourism expo, for which the Zilara/Ziva were hosting a beachfront reception that night, and we were invited. There were cocktails and appetizers near the wedding gazebo, with a bartender slicing open fresh coconuts and pouring in some coconut rum, and then they led us along a lantern-lit path to a toes-in-the-sand reception featuring international food stations from each of the resorts’ restaurants. We feasted on sushi, fresh hand-made gnocchi, French crepes, and Brazilian steak, and then the band cut loose and the dance floor opened. Walking through the rest of the resort that evening, I could see couples snuggled up around the fire pits, and families enjoying a Michael Jackson tribute show on the open-air stage on the Ziva side of the resort. We had a nightcap at Union Jacks (the British pub / sports bar) and then I called it a night.

Ziva firepit

Sunday morning I had a relaxing breakfast on the patio at FlavorZ, in the Zilara lobby, and then reported for our site inspection. We toured rooms, public spaces,  restaurants and function rooms at both resorts, and then had some classroom training about Hyatt Ziva and Zilara resorts in general (they have properties in Mexico as well as Jamaica) and what they can do for destination weddings. Weddings are held on the Ziva side of the property (which is for everyone, families included, as opposed to the adults-only Zilara), and there’s a wide variety of function spaces, from the oceanfront wedding gazebo to the sexy Sky Lounge. I loved the FeZ rooftop bar, which can be used for private events during the day, and the expansive terrace outside of the main ballroom, which can be used for all sorts of private events.


Ziva fez1

Ziva fez2

Our weekend culminated in a “mock wedding” on Sunday evening, where two of the agents stood in as bride and groom. We had a sunset ceremony in the gazebo, followed by cocktails and dinner on the ballroom terrace, complete with music and a wedding cake. The surf and turf menu was fabulous (easily the equal of any wedding dinner I’ve enjoyed here in the states) and the tropical setting was just magical. It’s easy to see why so many couples are choosing to get married in the Caribbean!

Wedding 1 Wedding 3 Wedding 5

Monday morning came all too soon, and it was time to check out and meet my shuttle in the lobby. I had pre-purchased “Club MoBay” VIP service at the airport, so I checked in at the Club MoBay desk and they walked me through the security line and sent me on my way to the VIP lounge. There, I was able to relax on a comfy couch, enjoy open bar and buffet snacks/lunch, and wait for my flight. If I had wanted to, I could also have ordered a full lunch from Margaritaville (at an extra charge) or booked an on-site spa treatment, but I was MORE than happy to sit and read my book with a cold Red Stripe and some Jamaican meat patties and plantain chips. The cost of the Club MoBay service is more than worth it, and it can be purchased for arrival OR departure. Having done it now, and knowing what the regular gate area is like (jam-packed and chaotic), I would never fly home without it!

zzz club mobay






Just right in Jamaica

Girls’ getaways come in all shapes and sizes, from a simple spa weekend to a whirlwind trip to Paris. Today’s trip report is from an all-inclusive “escape” that was JUST the right fit for three friends in need of some tropical R&R.

Hi Ann!

Thank you, so much, for all your help in planning our Jamaican escape. We really appreciated all your ideas and research beforehand, and we ended up in a great spot!

Here’s some basic info, in case you need it…

– Jamaica was a perfect location for a girls getaway. We wanted tropical, and also wanted to feel like we were going somewhere with its own culture / style… not an Americanized resort community. Jamaica was beautiful, and the people were so kind and fun — really helped to showcase the true feel of the island. Hilton Rose Hall was a great property — clean, beautiful, fun, and great service.

Montego Bay was a great choice for us because we wanted to be near the airport. However, I think if I went back and had the time, I would go to Negril, mostly for the beaches. The beach at our resort was a rather small, and it was completely within the resort. This is understandable and great for safety, but it is nice to have a bigger beach that you can walk along, which is what I think Negril has to offer. We still had a blast and thoroughly enjoyed the beach!

– Beaches / pools at the hotel:

– Main beach, a bit small and water a bit cloudy, but nice. They do offer kayaking and catamaran rides here for free, which was fun aslo.

– Adult beach – a little alcove next to the golf course that is great for a quiet day. It’s not easy to swim here – too rocky, but the beach is fantastic for just realaxing and so pretty.

– Main pool is a nice place to layout with a view of the ocean.

– Loved, loved the lazy river. There were a ton of families, but it was still really nice for us to just float around and chat in.

Hotel food was good. It was mostly your basic resort food, but on the higher end and all pretty good. There are 3 restaurants, all very nice and very tasty – Italian was our favorite. Great spot. There is an afternoon snack cart that serves great jerk chicken and Jamaican beef patties – yum!

Hotel was clean and enjoyable to be at. Always a lot going on, good energy. Service was fantastic – every single worker we encountered went over and above to make our stay pleasant. There was a lot of entertainment at the hotel. Not so much stuff we were into, but I could see it being a great property for families. There were a lot of families there and they all seemed to really enjoy it.

We only left the property one day. We did a full day tour with the Cool Runnings group. It included a bus to Ocho Rios, nice lunch, hike up Dunn’s Fall Waterfalls, and then snorkeling and an hour and a half or so on a catamaran party boat. Great day — definitely recommend the group. One note though… climbing the waterfalls is not for the faint of heart. There is a staircase next to it, if you just want to walk up along it, but climbing the actual falls was quite intense. A lot of people cut out halfway up. We’re all pretty active, and we had to cut out for part of it and then come back on. I’m only mentioning this in such detail because the Jamaicans really don’t tell you that when you are there. We were shocked at how hard it was, and were also shocked at how many older people and kids were climbing it… many of whom looked absolutely terrified and had to get help getting down. The Jamaican staff there were not so helpful — it was mostly other tourists helping each other down. But, it was a beautiful site and we had a nice time. The boat was great as well. It’s a long bus ride to get there, but personally, I sort of like that as you get to see other parts of the country.

We had a fantastic trip! All 3 of us really just needed to chill out and relax and it was perfect for that. I think the hotel is a little more geared toward families than couples or groups of friends, but that said.. we had a great time and it was just what we needed for this trip. Keep the property in mind though if you are looking for a Jamaican family trip.

Thank you so much for all your help!

Anne Marie

A Father/Son Escape to Montego Bay

Montego Bay, Jamaica  (May 2010)

Thanks, Annie.  We had a great time!

Overall, it was extremely trouble free.  We were rather well prepared, especially for me, since I generally don’t prepare for anything.  The plane was a breeze to confirm and we were able to get our passes before we left home.

I had always meant to try to get two aisle seats, but never did before.  That was very nice since the window is not important to PJ anymore and we’d both rather have room.  The flights were great; both were on time and very uneventful.  The JetBlue TV’s are a nice convenience.

On our arrival, right after we got through Jamaican Customs, there was someone directing people to the tour operators and we got right to ours.  There was no line and it took about 5 minutes before we were off to the bus. 

The hotel (Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort) was the second stop and about 15 minutes from the airport.  It was very hard to adjust to their driving on the wrong side of the road though. I don’t think that I ever did. 

At the hotel the check in was a little longer, though, but still pretty quick and painless.  We were able to store our bags until the room was ready and explored somewhat.  The hotel and location were really beautiful.  Everything was right on the water, including the pool. The gym was fantastic. Lots of equipment – all clean and available.

The hotel had the kayaking, snorkeling and sailboats, but we did not see any of the motorized activities while we were there.  On the last day (Sunday) they had a lot more.  There was wakeboarding, parasailing and fishing, but we were leaving.  It might have been the ocean conditions, but it generally seemed rather calm to me.  All the people we dealt with were nice and helpful.  I didn’t realize that there were a number of tour operators there until the end and the lady in the lobby directed us back to Jamaica Tours for a trip she couldn’t book.

The room was very nice; right on the ocean and very clean.  It was a little far from the pool, though, since PJ was not allowed in the adult pool which was right next to the room.

The food was great, and too plentiful. We ate like crazy.  We only went to the Caribbean restaurant and it was very nice and the food was good.  We weren’t too interested in the shows, so the nights were a little slow.

We took 2 excursions.  The first was for zip lining (through Chukka Tours) and it was a real adventure.  It was quite a way, but very nice. Lots of fun.  They advertise the longest zip line in the Caribbean, but omitted any mention of the height, which on one of the runs they claimed was a few hundred feet over the river.  In the very brief time I looked down all I could tell was it was high!  That was probably for the best since, had I known, I would have chickened out. They had very nice clean new equipment which was comforting.  They also were willing to teach what they could about what we were supposed to do.  That was a really good time.

The other excursion also involved ziplining (thankfully more tame and they did everything for you).  We also went to Dunn’s River falls and Mystic Mountain.  The climb up was really scenic and nice and had lots of photo ops. The bobsled ride was good too. 

As far as what we learned, I now remember that it’s a really good idea to have lots of small bills, since not doing it makes you much too popular! I would also inquire into how often each of the hotel activities were offered.  Other than that, relax and enjoy.


You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)