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Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Trip 10/99 This is the story of our wedding and honeymoon at Sandals, Negril, Jamaica. First, I must say that if you intend to go to Jamaica, whatever you do you cannot be in a hurry. We left on a Wednesday red-eye flight from Los Angeles. Our plane departed the airport an hour late. Needless to say you certainly get the slow pace of Jamaica straight from the airport. We intended on sleeping through the 5-hour flight, however, my husband (fiancée at that time) could not sleep. I being a little more prepared took my sleeping mask and earplugs so I slept almost the entire flight. I recommend this for the flight. The arrival: We arrived early in the a.m. at Montego Bay where we were met by a bus to take us on the road to Negril. This road really isn’t as bad as everyone says, it actually allows you to see more of native Jamaica. Upon arriving at the resort, we were met and taken up the VIP check-in lounge. We decided to pay the extra money and go with the concierge service, this was our weddingmoon, and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT!! We were given glasses of champagne and were then taken to our room. The Room: We got a room located in the Paradise block, our room was on the ground floor and a mere 10 feet from the beach. The room wasn’t spectacular but we were very happy with it and it’s location. We had a fully stocked in room bar. It was great, whatever alcohol you wanted to drink, they make sure you would get it. The Food: We found the food to be excellent at virtually all the restaurants. Our favorite was the Sundowner, where you are treated to white- gloved waiters who won’t allow your glass to get half empty. We also had 24-hour room service. Whenever we called in an order they were very polite and would even call us when the food was on its way. I must say it was all done with great deal of class. Definitely go to Kimono’s, this restaurant was a lot of fun and the food was great! There’s nothing like seeing a Jamaican man cooking Japanese food. You must dress up for Kimonos. Nothing fancy, men must have collared shirts and dress pants and women can get away with a nice sundress. Otherwise unless you’re getting married at the resort, there is no reason to get dressed up. Activities: There was always plenty to do. We did some scuba diving; the underwater corals and marine life were beautiful. I definitely recommend the scuba diving but I would get certified prior to going or you will have to spend almost an entire day going through the resort course. We were already certified so we did not have to go through the resort course. We took a trip over to the island, it was gorgeous, the water was very clear. Beware of the vendors, a polite “no” should do. We took out a sea kayak, and that was a lot of fun. The only complaint we had is that we did not have enough time to do everything. On our last night at the resort, we opted to take a cruise aboard “The Jolly Mermaid”. We had such a great time, we danced, we drank, and we laughed. This yacht takes you for a fun filled few hours for snorkeling, drinking, limbo, and they take you to the Pickled Parrot Bar. Once you arrive at the Pickled Parrot there are two ways to exit the boat. You can take the skiff or you can take the more imaginative route. Jump from the third floor into the water. We chose the fun way, once we swam over to the rocks and climbed our way up, we then chose to do some cliff jumping. It’s not very safe and quite scary so if you choose to attempt it, don’t wait too long while you’re standing there or you just might change your mind. I really don’t know what possessed me to do such a thing. But now I can say I did and it was a blast! The Wedding: On the most humid day of our stay, we were married on Sunday at 4:30. I had on a traditional wedding gown (sleeveless of course) and my husband wore a tuxedo. Poor guy was about to melt from the humidity. It was so nice not to have to worry about anything. Sandals took care of all the details, we told them what we wanted and they made sure it all came together with no problems. We also had the pleasure a having our wedding photographed for a magazine called Fantasy Weddings. We had met these people at the airport, and they were on their way to Sandals Negril for a photo shoot. After we had been at the resort a day or two, they had asked if they could photograph our wedding for the magazine. These people (Leon, Rene, and Bob) were so wonderful to us. They had my makeup done by their professional makeup artist and took an infinite number of photos. The ceremony was beautiful and afterward we had a small reception with 2 of our friends (Donna & Kurt) that came with us to celebrate our day. (Note: The last night of our stay our friends, Donna and Kurt, were engaged aboard the Jolly Mermaid.) Then we went on to the beach for the rest of the photo shoot. It was sunset and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful setting for our wedding pictures. It was wonderful and we are extremely grateful to Bob, Rene, and Leon of Fantasy Weddings for making our wedding day so memorable. The magazine should be coming out sometime in February. Needless to say, before we left on our weddingmoon, we read many posting to this site and were a little disappointed in what we read. That is why we felt it important to let you know that we had an incredible time and we are going back in October for our friends wedding and our anniversary. We hope that you’ll have as great a time as we did and remember: Everything is Irie and no problem mon.
Trip 12/99 For some long-awaited serious rest and relaxation, my girlfriend and I booked a trip to Grand Lido Sans Souci, and before you know it, we were sitting in first class in Air Jamaica sipping mimosas for our morning flight. Air Jamaica, as usual, was quite pleasant to fly with, with good food and good service... for the trip down. I had one run in with a snotty flight attendant on the way home, though. They had run out of beef for the dinner for first class, and the only option they had was a vegetarian meal... I'm an anti- vegetarian! :) Rather than apologize, I was asked "Do you want it or not?" in quite a nasty tone. I decided not to eat anything. Eventually, my companion finally asked what they were serving in coach... chicken. Why they didn't offer me a coach meal, I have no clue. I can do without the china, and have no problem with eating out of plastic. I ate the chicken after all. We arrived in MoBay a little early, which was fine with me. A quick wait at immigration, a short stop at baggage claim, no line at customs, and we were at the SuperClubs desk. As usual, we were told to wait 20 minutes outside while the bus was being readied. Also as usual, we were asked if we wanted "Jamaica Smoke" or a Red Stripe more than once while we waited. We only waited about 10 minutes, when we saw our luggage go by on a cart with a guy yelling "Sans Souci!" and looking around for us. We were on the bus with two other couples, both going to Breezes Golf and Beach Resort. Small bus... cramped bus... we didn't stop along the way, much to my girlfriend's disappointment, as she wanted to meet and mingle with the locals. We did stop, of course, at Breezes to let those two couples off. I had stayed at Breezes a few years earlier with my then wife (now ex). I think she must have left a curse there, because as my GF and I got out of the van to stretch from the ride, she slipped on the tile (which IS slippery!) and hurt her arm fairly badly! (After returning to the states, we learned her a small bone in her arm was probably broken!) After the cussing stopped, we hopped back into the bus, and headed for Sans Souci... about another 40 minutes East. We got out at Sans Souci, after the typical "Bus Ride From Hell" (I have had worse bus rides in Jamaica, but I have also had better!), tipped the driver and in we went to check in. My girlfriend noted that the lobby of Sans Souci was not as nice looking as Breezes... but that is about where that ended! (More on the grounds, and room later.) They handed us some fruit, and some champagne, as we sat down, and a cold towel, as other trip reports have reported. Our room was not ready and we were told to follow <forgot his name> down to lunch. We passed, and said we would investigate the resort while we waited. At that point we realized we had left a camera on the bus, so we reported it to the front desk. As usual, the response was "no problem, mon. We'll get it back for you." while the cynic in me thought, "We wont see that camera again". (To save you from waiting for what happened with this, I will tell you now. Two days later, I called the front desk to say I hadn't heard from them, and wanted to know if they had heard about our camera: "Ya, mon... he came back and dropped it off the day you left it in his van!" My question is, if Sans Souci is supposed to be about pampering, why didn't they call us to let us know they had our camera?? That would have been standard service/common courtesy in any other resort... why not GLSS?) Just about that time, our room was suddenly ready (Woohoo, we didn't have to wait after all!) so we hopped into one of the Sans Souci owned vans for the drive to "A" block...(I had specifically requested a Jacuzzi suite in "A" block). The bellhop carried our luggage in, showed us the room and it's features, said that if we wanted "anything" he would take care of us (I think anyone who works at a resort in Jamaica says this!) and quickly left. The Room: What can I say? Leaps and bounds over Breezes Golf and Beach Resort. Large two room suite (One=sitting room with couch, chair, coffee table, end tables, TV cart with satellite TV. Two=bedroom with small dresser, large closet, high backed chair, and king-sized bed... all with ample room around them!). The bath was huge, and decorated with marble from top to bottom. The Jacuzzi was quite large... able to fit three, but since we were not at either of the Hedos, we kept it at two <wink>. The shower was just as large! (note: The shower gel, which comes gratis along with the shampoo and body lotion, smells like Chloraseptic... I'd recommend bringing your own soap and stuff!) The room came complete with a remote control for the AC/heating unit, which we used constantly. I need to get one of those for home, now. <grin> The balcony had two sets of double doors: One leading out from the sitting room, the other leading out from the bedroom. Also, there were two sets of French doors that led out to either the hallway, or the sitting room. Both sets could be closed to section off the bedroom from the sitting room if you wished. A small, nicely stocked refrigerator was located in a "foyer" as you walked into the room. It did not have any Red Stripe at first, but a short note left on top of the 'fridge quickly remedied that! (though I could not get them to stock it with Ting, and my girlfriend's favorite Diet Coke took a day or so of haggling!) A note about where we stayed: Room A16 in the "A" block. If you plan on spending most of your time on the nude beach, STAY IN A BLOCK or B block if you cant get A. Otherwise, the walk will kill you. Same goes with the regular beach. The best places to stay for the regular beach is either B, C or A block if you cant get those. Unless you really want a spectacular view from your room, or you want a penthouse, avoid D, E and F blocks, as they are on the other side of the resort from the beaches, and up LOTS of stairs. LOTS of stairs. We couldn't have asked for a better room with A16, and I am thankful I specifically asked for A block! So is my girlfriend, who I impressed by planning that aspect ahead of time. Also, a note about A block... from the "door" side of the block, you are afforded a simply AMAZING view of the mountains of Ochie, and the Sans Souci duck pond is just across a small path from it... also giving a nice view. (Feed the ducks! They are very friendly!) More Venturing: We didn't bother to unpack... Me being a naturist, we just headed right out the door to check out the nude beach. We walked down the short path to "Sunset Beach" (so named due to it's facing West, offering a beautiful view of the sunset) and half way down we run into a staff member wearing what would become the familiar "watersports" uniforms. "Just get here?" he asked? "How can you tell? Is it the jeans? The lily-white skin? The confused, and tired yet excited looks on our faces?" Without pausing for an answer I asked "Where's the nude beach?" since at that point I didn't realize we were almost on it! "That's my beach! I take care of it!" he answered as he walked with us. We got to know this bright young fellow pretty well... his name is Brian, and I recommend you becoming friends with him as well! He may tell (REALLY) bad jokes, but he's an excellent guy and will do just about anything for you. The Clothing Optional Beach and Facilities: One of Jamaica's best-kept secrets is the clothing optional section of Sans Souci. When we were first shown the beach by Brian on the afternoon we arrived, there was ONE couple out there on the beach. This was my girlfriend's first time to a CO beach so she was happy the beach was dead! The place was quite beautiful, though... The new pool was large, with the little splash cave/fountain to swim in (though the water was frigid!), a swim up bar, and a grill which served some darn good beef patties and jerk! (And better yet... beef patties with jerk sauce!) The place stayed mostly empty the entire week we were there, even though the resort was booked solid! I have to say, one drawback, at least for the week I was there, was that half the people who DID show up for the clothing optional area never shed their clothes, making it a little uncomfortable at times. I think I'd prefer this beach to be a nude beach rather than clothing optional because of this. Another drawback is gawkers: The beach is bordered by a river where several small fishing boats enter and leave each day. While most of the fishermen seem to be used to the nudes being out there, some still gawk. Also, the tour boat at Ciboney resort kept coming by and stopping for a few minutes to let folks get a look. Very uncool, and I have thought about letting Ciboney know I will never stay there because of this. If you plan on going in the water on the clothing optional beach, BRING WATER SHOES! While the beach is beautiful, and the view of the mountains over Ochie quite stunning, the edge of the beach and the water is simply littered with stones, rocks, (even some small boulders!), broken coral... and worst of all, urchins. While the shell finding is quite easy and fun (I found 5 conch shells in one afternoon... not the little ones with the hermit crabs in them which are also plentiful, but the BIG ones you'd see venders selling, or a native blowing like a trumpet! I put all but two back... one I kept myself, and one I gave to our new friends from Canada, eh? Michele and Marie (Hi, guys!) so there are still some out there for the finding! :) While the bartenders seem to rotate from bar to bar, two of the best bartenders we encountered at the nude beach were Monster and David (David we saw all over the place). According to everyone we talked to (and my girlfriend who is a Bloody Mary conassierre) David makes the BEST Bloody Mary's in the world! He can also get you Cuban cigars for MUCH cheaper then the gift shop. ;-) Monster is just an all around good guy and I don't think I ever saw him without his floppy fishing hat on. Back to Brian. Ask him to take you on the trail sometime.... And half way up the hill, ask him "are you SURE you know where you are going now??". Here's the story behind that. :) When Brian first took us down to the CO beach when we first arrived at the resort, he bragged about a "cool little place" where all the staff go to "chill out". You see, there is this large outcrop of trees climbing up a mountain right smack between the CO beach and the regular beach. In the middle of this is a little hut (who knows how or why it got there) which offers a nice view of the water. He said it was his favorite place to go, and wanted to take us there... so we followed. After a 5-minute climb to the top, Brian got lost! "I swear, this NEVER happened to me before" he kept saying along with murmurs of "I come up here all the time... really!". Eventually, we gave up and went back down to the beach... but he promised us he would find it, and take us back up there! He did find it, and told us where it was, but we never did get a chance to have him take us! On our last day there, however, we decided to take the trek alone (We could not find Brian as he was off cleaning the algae off the conch shell I had kept). We found it, and hung out there for a half an hour or so. Not spectacular, but nice... almost feels like you have the island to yourself! The smell of ganja is very present, so I think I know why the hut is there, and so far away from the resort. :) The hot tub at the CO beach was quite small, and filled with tons of sand... very disappointing. On our first night there, we grabbed our "welcome bottle" of champagne, and headed out there. We were alone, the sky was clear with no moon, so the stars shined like diamonds. Was quite nice! Four nights later, we went back to find the tub was very cold. I reported it the next day, and twice the day after, and each time I was told "we're fixing it, mon" though it was still not fixed by the time we left. I heard tale of the main hot tub becoming a clothing optional hot tub one night because of this! I'm bummed I missed that! Also, at closing time at the CO bar one night, they started moving all the equipment out of the bar. "Replacing the tiles, mon" was what I was told. "We be back open tomorrow morning... don't you worry!" Tomorrow came, and the place still wasn't fixed. Seems the workers who were supposed to work through the night to fix it did not... and continued to work off and on that day... the bar didn't open back up again until almost closing time! The poor CO beach workers (Brian, Monster, etc) were running (sometimes being shuttled by a truck) over to the main bar and getting us all drinks, though they only did this a few times. The Grounds: What can I say... large, and beautiful. The place is paradise. I have not seen a place quite like it, ever. The many different palms, cacti, trees, bushes and flora smothered the place! It is, in fact, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. When I had stayed at Breezes in Runaway Bay a few years earlier, I was dumbstruck by it's beauty... with SS, I was awestruck! The groundskeepers get kudos from me, that's for sure! As you may have heard, one of the drawbacks of Sans Souci are it's major climbs... stairs are everywhere, or steep hills to climb to get to the lobby (the gift shops, the Casanova, the gameroom, the spa room, etc.). While some of these can be quite tiresome after climbing them a few times.... especially after a few to many "Get It Rights" and pina coladas :), I found them to be a quaint part of the grounds, and appreciated them more than cursed them! The tops of most of these climbs offered some of the best views of the resort! Some of the landscaping around the stairways were done extra special, as well, so it made it all the better. I suppose the landscapers did this on purpose, so that suckers like me will forget about those stairs and just dig the greenery! Either way... if you have a difficult time with stairs, have bad health, etc... you may want to try another resort... You have to climb those stairs from time to time, and there is no way to get around them unless you stay in your room all day and all night! The Service: Need I mention the camera incident again? Besides that, I had mixed emotions about the service at Sans Souci. The first two days, the service was impeccable! People bent over backwards to serve us, and please us. At the main restaurant, for example, my glass wouldn't even get half empty before someone would come along to refill it. Then, after day three, things changed... especially at La Palazina (the main restaurant I referred to). I can even recall one morning where no tables were ready. We waited and waited for one to be set up. Finally, someone came over and said "Seat yourself." And when we pointed out that no tables were ready, he said "Just sit...someone will set it up for you!". So sit we did... 5 minutes... 10 minutes... 15 minutes went by and the table still wasn't set. We finally went into the buffet area and got our food. Getting back to the table, it still wasn't set. I finally went up to the waiters station and asked for some silverware, and I was handed some. I asked for water and OJ while I was at it. The waiter said "Will bring it to you." It never came, despite me asking a waitress twice for some. That was the worst situation we had, though there were several other incidents at some of the bars and at La Palazina, such as standing at a bar for 5 minutes before even being acknowledged (the bartenders seemed to busy talking to other workers). Room service, on the other hand, was always prompt... even on the day it rained and EVERYONE was ordering room service. Bravo for them for that, as I know they were swamped that day! My one complaint is that they have a limited menu and they stick straight to it. I had a huge craving for a beef patty one afternoon when it was raining... all they had to do was make a quick stop at the beach grill to pick one up to add to our lunch order, but they refused. Doesn't sound like pampering to me! So, to wrap it up, some of the service was A#1! But many times I wondered why I paid so much extra money to stay at a Lido when I got MUCH better service at the outdoor buffet at Breezes Runaway Bay! The Food: Speaking of the food, I just wanted to make some quick comments. The food at the beach bars, though limited, was always good! My favorite was a beef patty with jerk sauce on it. Yum! The food at the buffet was a wide variety, and my like of it the same. :) Some of it was bland, some of it wonderful. It was a small buffet compared to the buffets they have at Breezes Runaway. On the Beach party and Gala nights, though, the buffet was rather grand and topped what I had experienced at Breezes. Overall, I'd say the experiences my taste buds had were good! The Spa Treatments: As per suggestions by hotel staff at check in, and trip reports, we signed up for the Spa treatments the day we arrived. I was a little annoyed that we could not call in the treatments, rather we have to show up in person to sign up for them. Seems "counter-pampering" to me. For the most part, the experiences I had with the spa treatments were very nice! I had reflexology first... my god what a nice treatment!! We were seated with some other folks just outside the spa office, right next to the water, and if I weren't busy chatting with the spa personnel about their lives, I would have fallen asleep like the Japanese couple next to us! I highly recommend this treatment! Next was the massage. Mediocre at best. I was in the habit of getting a massage every two weeks from the local massage school's students, and have always had a better massage there than the one I received at Sans Souci. It was rushed, and rough. But this was the only treatment I could have done without. The day after the massage, I had the facial (which I almost didn't get due to the beard... and it being... girly <grin>) but it felt simply amazing. This time, I DID fall asleep. Last but not least, I had the body scrub. Very nice treatment. It hurt when it was being done, I have to say... as it's akin to having wet sandpaper rubbed all over your naked body, but by the time I had the aloe on me, and had walked out of the place, my skin felt like it was breathing better than it ever had before! Also, a highly recommended treatment! The showerhead in the room I was in for the treatment, though, leaked, so it sprayed water all over the room. I would think they would have that fixed, but I was told it had been like that for months. The spa staff, for the most part, was very nice and professional. The Trip Out Beyond the Walls: I have to admit... I am one of those guys who the hard core Jamaican travels like to call an "All Inclusive Wuss". I like to hit my resort, and only leave the gates to go to the falls, or some other little excursion. My girlfriend, on the other hand, has traveled and lived in other countries, has a foreign studies degree, speaks 5 languages, and HAS to go out and see the real Jamaica! So, we asked Brian to take us out into town one night when he got off work. Thursday night was our plan, and we met Brian just outside the resort at a local bar (which is literally right outside the gate). We hailed a cab (which is just a person in their own car going into town, and if they can fit you, you pay them $60JA in fees). We stuffed ourselves in (they will fit as many people into a car as they can) and 10 minutes later we were in downtown Ocho Rios. Not the tourist part... but the true heart of the city! I must say it was quite an adventure. It seemed as though NO one was home, and EVERYONE was out in the streets. Reggae tunes were playing VERY loudly from a local disco (not one on the "Disco Tour" that they have for the guests at GLSS!), and people danced in the streets while openly smoking their ganja (and hash, and other things) and drinking their Red Stripe. It was one big party! I'd say the Jamaicans really like their fun, and they seemed to be having just that on that Thursday night. We ate at one of Brian's favorite restaurants... a small outdoor place right next to the loud disco. It was popular with the locals and they were busy when we arrived. We ordered LOTS of food (to try as much as we could!), though despite that the cashier complained when I said I only had US dollars (I thought those were good ANYWHERE! <laugh!>). I think she over charged us in the exchange, but no biggie... We ate, and talked, and heard some Jamaican humor (Jokes I had already heard in the states for the most part, but names changed to match Jamaica...) and soaked in the sights, smells (while I don't smoke anymore, I love the smell of hash!) and the taste of the local food (not much different from what we had at Sans Souci, really). We headed to the pool hall next door and shot a few games. For anyone trying this, get the rules ahead of time... 8 Ball in Jamaica is not the same as 8 Ball in the states! 8 Ball in Jamaica is more like 9 Ball, but with 18 balls! :) While the encounter itself was neat, and an experience I would not trade in, I would not recommend it to everyone. I would suggest going into town in the daytime, rather than at night. Many times during the evening, I felt like I was resented for being in "their" part of town, and even at times like a target. Were I alone, and not with a Jamaica guide, I might have been for all I know. I was uncomfortable for a good part of that trip out! But again, I would not have traded it for anything, as it was a nice experience! (and I could tip Brian legally without the fear of him getting fired for taking a tip on SS property!) The Trip Home: On Wednesday, halfway through our week at GLSS, I called the front desk to verify my reservations with Tim Air for the return flight to MoBay. I confirmed everything with out a hitch. Friday night comes, and our departure info is in my room... with instructions to meet the bus at such and such a time to go back to MoBay. I called the desk to remind them again that I was not taking the bus, but Tim Air, and had already confirmed. "We'll call you back" I was told. Later that day, I had not heard from them, so I called them again... and confirmed again my flight, though now they said the flight had been changed to a half-hour later. I called Tim Air to confirm this. Tim Air said "No way. We didn't change the flight". Called the desk back again. Desk person said "Sorry, that is the time we have for you". After arguing with them for a few moments, I was told again, I would get a return phone call. Never did. Went to the desk on Saturday morning, which was the day we were to leave. I checked to see when we were supposed to leave and was told my bus was leaving at 2. So, who hired and trained these people? :) I, again, explained the situation, and sat there as they called Tim Air, and confirmed my time with all parties.... Finally. We were then told we would get a hospitality room "for our troubles". It wasn't ready then. In fact, each time I went to find out when I could get into my hospitality room, I was always told it wasn't ready. It still wasn't ready when I left the resort to come home. It wasn't that big a deal to me, but I just thought I would mention another strike against them. We met the JUTA taxi at the appropriate time, and he took us to the airport while talking to us about Jamaican history along the way, and pointing out the houses of famous people as well as other resorts. Got to Boscobel airport, and it started to rain. :( There go my chances of getting decent shots of the GLSS from the air! We hopped the plane with a very nice pilot, and headed out for the ride. I had never been in a small plane before, so it was a little scary for me at first... especially in the rain! But sat back, and watched the coast, and picked out the resorts I knew from the air... I did get some pictures of the resort from the air, but, as I mentioned, it was raining, so they were not that good. The rain finally broke just as we hit Grand Lido Braco, and the view of the resort was WONDERFUL. I have to say, flying Tim Air is the way to go. Instead of a 1:45 minute bus ride seeing same ol' same ol' (not to mention the scariness of some of those rides!), I saw the island in a way I had never seen before, and the trip lasted only 20 minutes! I recommend it to anyone... especially going into the resort, since that gives you more beach time. :) Other than what was mentioned above, the ride home was pleasant, and one of the smoothest flights I have ever had in my entire life. Summary: I have to say that overall, I was disappointed. My expectations of Sans Souci were much higher than my experiences. I had heard tails and seen advertisements of pampering, strolling musicians, even someone who would time your suntanning so you wouldn't get burned! I saw or experienced none of this, and I did not experience "the ultimate in pampering" like some of their adverts have claimed I would. Instead, I got a nice room with available room service, and some included spa treatments. I honestly don't think the trip was worth the extra money for this. Maybe I would fare better at the other Lidos? Or maybe I was just there at a bad week for the staff? (We came in just as all of the guests from the TNT Bob Marley concert were leaving... So maybe they were worn out from waiting on the stars?) Either way, were I to get GLSS in a super surprise, I would not be disappointed. The majority of their staff are wonderful, the views and atmosphere are excellent, the food is great, and the clothing optional facilities were nice (minus the problems I mentioned earlier). I would even consider going back by choice to see if things have gotten better (or if we just had bad week!), but I don't think I would until I had experienced GL Braco or Negril though so I could compare. It's hard not to like the resorts of Jamaica, though, regardless of the experience. I still came home relaxed. I still would like to be back there, lounging in a hammock listening to the wonderful song of those pretty little blackbirds the natives call crows. And can't wait to get back regardless of which resort.:)
Trip 2/00 I should probably begin this report with our arrival at Sandals Ocho Rios in order to start on a positive note. Sandals Ocho Rios is a great all-inclusive resort. Having stayed at Braco Village (now Grand Lido Braco) in October of 1996 and Sandals St. Lucia Golf and Beach Resort in February of 1998, we have some baseline to compare resorts with. Sandals Ocho Rios overall was the best of the three, with Braco so close behind it that it was quite difficult to favor one over the other. After a rather difficult and trying arrival in Jamaica in the middle of the night, and problem circumstances in the resort we were originally book into, our greeting at Sandals was as if someone opened the door to paradise for us. A reception manager greeted us at the entryway with a warm smile, "Welcome to Jamaica and Sandals Ocho Rios," while handing us each a cool glass of champagne and a cool, damp, scented facecloth to was away the travel dust while we checked in. He seemed aware of our earlier ordeal, handing us our Sandals package of complimentary toiletries, keys, cards and towel token, saying "You will be our guests in room 4220, an oceanview room in the main building, compliments of Nadine." (Sandals rep at the airport). We followed our bell captain through this beautiful lobby and into some of the most lush foliage and landscaping we've ever seen, around a pool of ornamental fish, up a winding walkway lined with flowers and shrubs and plantings and into the main building oceanfront. Up the elevator and at the top of the stairs, we turned right and were standing right in front of 4220. When he opened the door, our first sight was of the Caribbean. No disappointment there! The room was attractively furnished, clean, large, king size bed. The bathroom was bright, clean and attractively appointed. Lots of towels. Ample storage for our clothing and gear and plenty of hangers. After the bell captain left, we just stood there staring out at the ocean. Eventually we realized we had but somewhat mesmerized by this view after the long travel day. We freshened up and went downstairs to scout the "lay of the land." Everywhere we looked people were smiling, saying hello and looking rested and relaxed. We found our way to a bar, ordered a Jamaican Rum Punch, our official arrival drink! After awhile, we went upstairs and changed for dinner. We ate in the main dining room, the Bayside. I had snapper and Andy had lamb chops. Everything was very good, service was too. Each day we were guests at Sandals, the food was good and the service was good. We both needed sleep and would rather begin a new day feeling refreshed and re-energized, so we went up to the room around 9:00 p.m. Watched a little tv from a good selection of cable channels and fell sound to sleep with the doors open to the sound of the ocean waves. Weather during this week was warm, overcast, rain one day, sun 2 days. Water was a bit choppy so snorkeling was hit and miss. We noticed people out on windsurfers, sunfish, kayaks and water paddlers. The Playmakers were very energetic, enthusiastic and managed to get people involved and having fun. We noted that if they invited a guest to join and the guest turned them down, they weren't pressured into it. We participated a bit - pool volleyball and a few other events - and enjoyed it. I met a very nice woman whose husband "gifted" her with the Jamaican vacation as a combined Christmas and Birthday present. He treated her to the $150 hot rock massage, hair treatment, pedicure and manicure. She said it was wonderful. The Sandals staff helped him decorate their room on her birthday while she was in the "Body Shop," bringing in birthday cake, balloons, banners and champagne and white wine in iced champagne buckets. He couldn't say enough for their cooperation and enthusiasm in helping him make this a special birthday. I also spoke with a young newlywed who treated herself to a massage and body wrap, manicure and pedicure and her comments were similar. The "Body Shop" looked neat and clean and everyone we saw walk out was smiling! We watched at least 10 weddings while we were there. While it wouldn't probably be something I would have done, it was lovely and in talking with them later in the week, they seemed very pleased by everything. The wedding area is at the end of a pier in a gazebo. When we checked out, I noticed a reception clerk helping a newlywed couple with the final paperwork to take back to the states. It looked like Sandals had everything under control and in good order. I'm not going to bore anyone with a long litany about the resort. At the manager's party for returning guests, we listened to testimonial after testimonial of people who were returning to Sandals Ocho Rios for the 3rd, 4th, 7th, and 8th time! It's sufficient to say that we too will return to Sandals Ocho Rios. If I had one negative comment to make, it would be with regard to the shower. Little pressure and sometimes luke warm was the best we could do with the lever turned all the way to hot. We mentioned it to the guest services manager, and they sent someone up who tinkered a bit (with no results) and told us they were having a problem with water pressure in the main building and were working on fixing it. I believe the goal of a travel forum is to inform/advise others of travel experiences in order to help them avoid problems or to make decisions about where to stay. With that in mind, I'm going to give a brief summary of problems we encountered with Apple Vacations, the sale package we bought and the chartered airline Apple Vacation utilizes. We experienced long delays in our departure from Detroit (3 hrs) and long delays in our departure from Jamaica (3 hrs). The Apple Vacation desk at Detroit Metro International Terminal was very slow and somewhat disorganized. Those of us who arrived on a ticketless booking didn't get the proper voucher and tickets and this caused all kinds of problems in Jamaica at the airport and our original booking resort. Apple Vacations in Detroit and Milwaukee uses Allegro Airlines, a Mexican airline with a Mexican crew, for their charters to Jamaica. We sat on the runway at Detroit for over an hour and a half. The passenger compartment was in poor repair. Some seatbelts were non functional, table trays broken, here and there an arm rest stuck. The bathrooms were dirty and very tired looking, with pealing paint on the seats. The meal was atrocious - not even as good as a mediocre tv dinner. The crew seemed tired, disorganized and there was a definite language barrier. Most of us couldn't understand them as they spoke to us in heavily accented English. Our takeoffs and landings weren't the most graceful. Someone behind me described our landing in Jamaica as the bootscoot boogey down the runway. Once we arrived in Jamaica and went through customs, we were directed to a chaotic scene near the arrival exit. This was the Apple Vacation desk. It was a thorough mess. We were told to wait right where we stood for the van to take us to our resort. The van was overfilled and we were left behind. We were told arrangements would be made. Around 2:30 a.m., almost an hour from the time the first van to our resort left, we looked for an Apple rep. An airport official said they had left the building. We explained our predicament and he arranged for a van to take us to our resort. We booked an Apple Super Club Surprise - and we've learned that the only surprise in this package is that we were stupid enough to fall for the misleading advertising Apple puts out with regard to this package. Unless you have children, you are almost bet you are going to Breezes Montego Bay unless you pay extra for the Plus program to eliminate one of the resorts. Couples with children are sent to Boscobel Beach Resort near Ocho Rios. If Breezes Mo'Bay is overbooked, then you are sent to Boscobel Beach even if you don't have children. Without the long story, it was confirmed by a Super Club resort manager that the cheapest properties are booked first, and that is the way they fill their least popular resorts. It is a rare occurrence for anyone to be sent to a Grand Lido property or Hedonism II or III. The manager at Grand Lido Negril said he has only booked in one Super Club Surprise package couple. When we finally arrived at Breezes Montego Bay, we expected the lobby to be empty and a night manager on duty. To our surprise, some of the people we traveled from Detroit with, and who had also booked the Super Club Surprise, still waiting to be placed in a room. The night manager was overwhelmed and annoyed - no warm welcome here. He said some of us were missing vouchers, some of us weren't on his "list," and that the resort was overbooked. No one offered to take us to another Super Club Resort. Our requests were ignored. We later found out that Grand Lido Negril was only 2/3 booked with lots of empty rooms. We finally got a room just after 4:00 a.m. We were directed to our room overlooking the city street side of the building via a walkway, with guest rooms windows so close we could touch them. He opened the door and our mouths dropped open. It was a dark, 10x12 room almost completely filled up with a Queen size bed. No room to place your luggage on the floor or closet. If you put it on the floor you would end up climbing over it, stepping in it or vaulting the bed to get from one side of the room to the other. The tv remote didn't work. The bathroom was very tired looking, with nothing more than a painted wooden top on stilts for a vanity which was snugged up so close to the toilet that no matter your size, you'd have to sit sideways to be comfortable - and the toilet didn't flush well. The shower had no water pressure and only luke cool water coming out. We left our luggage and started walking around in the dark, deserted hallways and common areas since we were too wired to sleep although very tired from the long and difficult flight and problems at the airport and hotel check in. Having stayed at other all-inclusive deluxe resorts, we had a benchmark of expectation for a Super Club. This resort didn't fit those expectations. We summed up our opinion with this review: Standard hotel with a nice beach. No real grounds to walk and little swimming pool. We didn't get a chance to dine at all. At 8:30 a.m. we met with an Apple rep along with 7 other couples, all of us complaining about the flight, the treatment at the airport and our arrival at an overbooked property in the middle of the night, with poor room condition and size. Two of us asked to be changed to another resort at our own expense. The Apple rep said all Super Clubs were booked full (and as we later learned, this was a lie). We requested to be changed to Sandals. She said we could do this, but all sales were off and she would figure the price. When she told us it would be $1500, we couldn't hand her the credit card fast enough, although some of the people at this meeting must have thought we were nuts. We decided it was because they have never experienced a Super Club or Sandals or truly DeLuxe resort not the kind of DeLuxe that Breezes states that it is. At that point, I think we were abandoned by the Apple rep who told us to go to the airport to find our rides to the resorts. While at Sandals, we left messages for the Apple rep because we wanted the travel voucher issue resolved before our departure. We never received any communication from a rep during our stay. On the day of our departure, back at Sangster, many of us were trying to find our check-in counter, looking along the walls at the impressive signs for Air Jamaica, American Airlines and others. We were directed to another room, and there in the back corner was a handwritten sign on an 8-1/2 x 11 paper taped to a post, "Allegro Airlines, Flgt 302." We stood in line and when we got to the front, we were pulled from the line and detained by an airport official, demanding our vouchers. Those damn vouchers! We still don't know what it is we should have had. The airport official and an Apple rep began interrogating us, bullying us and were unrelenting in the fact that we must present this voucher. I had just had it at that point. It was all just too much. I began crying. Another couple from our flight moved over by us and said that the flight had been delayed and not to worry, that we wouldn't miss the flight. I maintain it should have been the Apple rep calming us and working on solutions rather than this crazy interrogation. My tears drew attention from the other people in line and finally the official from the airport went behind the desk, pulled out a blank ticket for each of us and wrote something on it, stating my age as 11!!! He said, "Here, Go ... here are your vouchers." Back in line. Another couple from our flight approached us making sure we were okay and said there had been another flight delay and now we wouldn't be leaving for another hour after the first delay time. Our gate wasn't written on anyone's boarding passes and it didn't appear on the terminal screen until 15 minutes before the aircraft was to take off. Many of us were standing at the entrance to the gateways just waiting for the posting when we heard an announcement, "Would the pilot for Allegro Airlines Flight 302 please return to his craft." Within seconds, it seemed, the pilot and flight crew came blowing by us running down this gateway hall. Panic ensued and we all started running. We were quickly herded onto the plane with the attendants calling to us, "Vamonos, Vamonos!" As we were buckling up, we once again heard complaints from others that the seatbelts were broken. I looked up and here comes an attendant with a roll of duct tape, taping a table tray here, an arm rest there, an overhead compartment shut, and something in the galley. This aircraft may have been the same one we flew down on, maybe not, but it was also in poor repair in the passenger compartment which made us wonder and have concern for the overall condition of the aircraft. Once in the air, we were served the same substandard tv dinners. We experienced turbulence and the flight attendants tried to give us instructions but we could barely understand. We resorted to charades, hand signs in some cases. Twice I asked for a diet Coke and first got a Dos Exis (sp?) beer, then when I explained this wasn't right, she brought me a Miller Genuine Draft. I gave up and drank it. That's the end of our sad story, except to say that we will never book another vacation through Apple Vacations, nor fly Allegro Airlines. And we will most likely always chose Sandals as our resort destination because we can count on it meeting our expectations for cleanliness, neatness, good service, good food and lovely grounds. Beware the Super Club Surprise and Surprise Plus packages, and beware of Apple Vacations and Allegro Airlines! Other than that, hey, no problem, mon', just have fun in the Caribbean! It's a great place to vacation.
Trip 1/00 Our second trip to Negril, our first to Rockhouse Saturday, January 29th The Air Jamaica flight departed at 6:35am. This was our first trip on Air Jamaica- we were impressed. Unlike the charter flights, we didn't have a long check-in line and the service was far more pleasant. The flight was non-stop (4 hrs from Chicago) and the time passed by almost too quickly, as we sipped our early morning mimosas and eagerly awaited our landing in paradise. By noon we were on the bus to Rockhouse. The driver finally stopped so we could get our first Red Stripes at a little restaurant not far from Negril. The ride is much better once you've got your stripes!! I can't remember the name of the place we stopped at, but it had a steep set of stairs built up to an overlook- where you can see nearly all of Jamaica (or at least a good part of it). The road to Negril is still potholed, and it looks like the construction is nowhere near finished. Watching the ocean and mountains from the window, the effect of the potholes is diminished (could also have something to do with the beer)! After dropping off the other passengers, we pull up to Rockhouse. It looks just like the website, and better! We booked Rockhouse on a tip from a friend who had been a few years back and had the time of his life. It is a small hotel on the cliffs- a series of thatched- roof cottages and a set of two 2-story brightly painted buildings with studio rooms. The grounds have plenty of trees and plants with winding pathways. We checked-in to our studio room complete with 4-poster bed with mosquito netting and (the best part) an open-air shower!! The world would be a better place if everyone could start their day with an open-air shower in Jamaica- the sun shining, the birds singing…. Back to the room- there is a minibar stocked with beverages, a set of shelves and a rack for clothes, and a mirror and vanity with wooden bench. It was completely charming. I should mention that the rooms are not air-conditioned and there is no TV (who needs it anyway). There is a ceiling fan and another fan near the bed for circulation. All the windows have screens so you can avoid getting bugs in your room at night. We head out to the pool overlooking the ocean. It's so good to be back! We have lunch at the pool- jerk chicken sandwiches and Red Stripes. I let my husband know that he can send my stuff when he gets home because I'm never leaving this place!! Later we have dinner at Rick's Café (don't forget the mosquito repellent at night). There was only one other couple in the place (it's more of a sunset hangout than nighttime party spot). We had dinner by candlelight under the stars and next to the ocean. I can't think of a better setting for dinner! The food was good- snapper was great, lobster was a little dry. There was a reggae band playing on the stage to an empty dance floor. We'll take care of that! A few daiquiris from the helpful bartender and we're slow dancing in the moonlight! Sunday, January 30th We walked over to the Pickled Parrot for breakfast. It was good for the price, but no fresh-squeezed OJ. It gave us a good chance to check out the cove for snorkeling. There are several places at the Parrot and at Rockhouse where you can use ladders to enter the water from the cliffs. We snorkeled around for a while- the water is great. I would say the depth is 15 to 20 feet or more. The coral and rock formations give you a chance to see countless types of fish and marine life. We even saw a few stingrays hover across the sand at the bottom. We brought our own snorkel gear along this time, but you can rent it all over the place if needed. We also took a disposable underwater camera to prove that we actually did all this great stuff when questioned by relatives and coworkers! Later we hang around at the pool at RH. We get a good start at trying all of the different tropical beverages offered at the pool bar. All are tasty, but the banana daiquiri and pina colada are still my favorite. Banana daiquiris make a great breakfast drink- it's like a smoothie! My husband and I decide that there is nothing better than jerk chicken sandwiches and banana daiquiris- why don't more places offer these in Chicago? It wouldn't be the same anyway. RH has a bar and restaurant overlooking the cove. Happy hour (poolside or at the main bar) is 5-7pm with 2 for 1 drinks! We went to happy hour and had a few drinks before getting a cab to Margueritaville to watch the Superbowl. Margueritaville was packed, we got one of the last tables! We got a fried appetizer plate (it was not that great) and the most wonderful black bean soup I have ever tasted. We ended up ordering chicken fajitas. We were originally reluctant since we are both from Houston and consider ourselves authorities on all things tex-mex, but were we ever surprised - the chicken was excellent! A man at the next table ordered the shrimp fajitas and was not happy at all- the shrimp were too small. During the half-time show, the DJ hosted crazy drinking games involving men drinking as much beer as fast as they could for a wonderful prize of……more beer!! These men were very happy! For desert we tried a coconut pie (kind of like cake). It was very tasty. I think that there was a bonfire on the beach, but we ended up calling it a night before it was too late. On the way back we stop at the little convenient store to stock up on bottled water and soda (they are a little pricey at the hotel). Monday, January 31st Breakfast at the hotel today. We both get the Rockhouse special- something like eggs benedict but Jamaican style with callaloo. Love it! The price was around US$7 each, and worth it. We snorkel in the cove again, this time we explore a cave (Joseph's cave I think), it has a full bar inside where you can climb up a ladder and have a drink if you're thirsty (what planet am I on and do I have to go back?). There are also stairs leading up to street level from the cave. More hanging out at the pool and trying fruity drinks. At sunset you can enjoy happy hour poolside watching all the cruise boats pass by on their way to and from the lighthouse. We had dinner at RH. I have curried chicken, my husband has jerk chicken. They are reasonably priced and very tasty! We also found that the bartenders were very attentive and go out of their way to make sure you are having a good time. Tuesday, November 1st We get up early and decide we want to go to Grand Lido Negril on a day pass. Our first trip to Negril was last May when we stayed at Grand Lido for our honeymoon. We had a great time then, but never actually left the resort during our stay. We thought it might be nice to visit and indulge ourselves for the day. My husband read an ad in the Air Jamaica magazine that said the price of a day pass was US$50pp. When our taxi arrived at Grand Lido, the concierge/security guy at the front entrance told us we could go to the front desk and purchase a day pass for US$75pp. Perhaps this was the penalty for not purchasing the pass in advance, in any case, we weren't about to pay it! We offered the guy US$30pp, he finally settled at US$40pp cash to let us in. Next time we'll buy in advance and get in legitimately. We were just in time to have breakfast. The breakfast buffet at Grand Lido is not to be missed, and I am indeed a breakfast person. The coffee is delicious and the champagne even better- perfect with the delicious chocolate croissants! Of course there are a multitude of breakfast dishes, but we try not to stuff ourselves too much, we have to save room for the famous lamb chops later!! After breakfast we're off to the beach. The clothing optional beach is our favorite with more foliage and greenery than the main beach. It's usually less crowded also. We tried snorkeling for a while, but there is not much to see when compared to snorkeling off the cliffs. During our previous visit we found the beach waitservice infrequent, and usually just went to the beach bar to get our drinks. This time we could barely finish a drink before the waitress was back at our chairs with another round!! "Why thank you very much, I believe I will have another daiquiri!" We noticed that Red Stripe is still served out of the tap in a plastic cup- usually on the warm side. Bad news for beer drinkers, but there are so many other types of drinks to choose from that your bound to find something to your liking. Lunch was lamb chops on the beach- my favorite! To think that I've been in numerous fine dining establishments all around Chicago since my last visit, and I still haven't found lamb chops as tasty. They are small, just the right size for snacking, and perfectly seasoned. We also made a point to get a few meat patties from the bar before they vanished- they also make great snacks. After numerous frozen beverages and trips into the pool/Jacuzzi/ocean, we decided to head over and see what was going on around the rest of the resort. We stopped and chatted at the timber house while the good-spirited bartender supplied us with a bottle of champagne and ice bucket. We originally thought we'd take a break and head in for some a/c in the TV lounge, but it was closed for renovation. Instead, we drank our bubbly by the main pool and enjoyed the view. We then found out that it was tea time in the lobby! I don't know why we never made it to tea during our last visit, but we sure did miss out. There were several types of tasty finger sandwiches as well as freshly baked cookies. I had several cups of a sparkling lime drink- refreshing. We stayed for a while but no one else showed up. The sun was setting, and as we lounged in the Jacuzzi, we wondered when the Lido police would come and take us away- we would surely go kicking and screaming!! No one had said anything about what hour the pass expired. It was dusk and the restaurants were opening. We were both wearing shorts (the restaurants require pants), but we decided to go for it anyway. After neatening up as much as possible, we went to beg the hostess at Café Lido to take pity on us and let us in with shorts. She did take pity and (after consulting the manager) let us in! Café Lido was our favorite place to dine on our last trip. The snapper is excellent, and I didn't need a menu to decide what I wanted- the mountain pepper soup, the salad, the snapper, and for dessert crème brulee! Delicious! The food and service were better than ever. I think that we could have stayed at Grand Lido all night without being asked to leave, but after dinner (and the Chardonnay with dinner) we decided to head back to Rockhouse. That night we watched the stars from lounge chairs on the cliffside pool deck, waves crashed on the rocks below us. We don't ever want to leave. Wednesday, November 2nd Our last day! My husband has to drag me out of the water after our daily snorkeling- the bus will pick us up at 2. We pack, check out, and have our last jerk chicken sandwich with Red Stripe. The bus pulls up and we wave goodbye, "see you next time"! As we ride on the pot-holed road to the airport, I think about our next trip. The cover of Rockhouse's menu reads something like this: Warning- eating dinner at Rockhouse may lead to staying at Rockhouse, which can cause the need for regular vacations to Negril. I laughed when I first read it, but now I know it to be true. I've already booked our next trip.
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