Sunday, April 25, 2010

Back from Vacation (Reviews)

Mr. B and I got back from our wonderful vacation super early (1 am) Friday morning. We stayed 3 nights at an all inclusive in Montego Bay and 3 nights at a really small boutique resort in Negril. I think we booked the trip two weeks before we went, which is so out of character for the both of us. We did it because we've both been so overwhelmed with work commitments, school work, house selling stuff and everything else in between that we just needed some time for just the two of us to do nothing. And we did do absolutely nothing for a week and now I'm finding it hard to get back into the groove of things. Tomorrow is Monday and I'm dreading it so much that I want to call out. Is that bad?

So on to the trip details, pictures and reviews...

We booked our trip with the help of and We kind of started the whole booking process backwards in a way. We wanted to stay at this fabulous boutique hotel, The Rockhouse Hotel, but they only had 3 nights available due to an upcoming wedding. So we snatched up those three nights in an amazing premium villa and decided that we needed to tack on 3 nights to the end of the trip or 3 nights to the beginning. We looked for hotels within an hour or so cab ride from Negril and found so many nice looking hotels. We settled on the Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton and Jamaica Resort. The reviews from Trip Advisor were wishy washy, but it was relatively inexpensive and seemed nice.

I won't bore you with the details of the multitude of things that went wrong before we actually made it to Jamaica. All that stress melted away once we got to the resort. We booked a transport from the Montego Bay Airport to Grand Palladium (GP) with Clive's Transport Service, which was one of the recommendations we got from Trip Advisor (TA). The rates were much cheaper than other places and we didn't want to get stuck on a bus with a million other people. Before we left for GP, we set up the rest of the pick ups for the trip with the airport representative.

Grand Palladium Review

It took about an hour or so to get to GP from the airport and it's actually right outside of Montego Bay. We were greeted with some complimentary rum punch at check-in. Our room wasn't ready yet, so they strapped some wristbands on us (which you had to wear the entire time...woo-hoo weird tan line) and told us to get some lunch, go to the bar and come back in a few hours. We went downstairs and had some lunch in one of the buffet restaurants. There are three huge buffet restaurants on the resort and they all pretty much serve the same food, although some of them are open at different time slots. The food was pretty good. Nothing amazing, but nothing really gross. They had a good selection of healthy and not-so-healthy foods and the fruit was amazing. We've never had such good pineapple in our lives!

We went back to see if our room was ready, and it wasn' big deal, so we went to one of the bars. We had just sat down with our drinks and a group of 4 people come in and start playing cards. Guess where they were from? South Jersey. Unbelievable...we travel thousands of miles and see people that live a few miles away from us. Strange, huh? After a few drinks, we went to check on our room and it was ready, but at this point it had started to rain. We took a nice, soggy transport ride to the Lady Hamilton side of the resort (even though we booked with the Jamaica side...both on the same resort, just split on different sides). Our room was on the first floor of villa #35 (3504) and we had a nice view of the ocean, some mountains in the distance and one of the resort's three beaches.

The room was nice, but we did find a few critters during our stay which included a cockroach, some spiders and lots of gnats and mosquitoes. Bring bug spray and try not to bring anything scented because the bugs will eat you alive at night. The room had air conditioning, but it never seemed to get really cool in the room and our clothes always felt damp. Nothing really dried in the room.

Our Room

View from our room

The grounds were gorgeous including the massive pool. Thousands of people could fit in there without it feeling crowded. We went to the beach one day and Mr. B got so burned snorkeling that we sat at the pool the other two days. There were plenty of chairs at both the pool and the beach, but towels were scarce. We went and picked them up around 9am and always had one, but I did see people walking around complaining they didn't have any left. I didn't think that the grounds were so large that it was hard to walk them. Alot of people on TA complained about walking everywhere, but I think they were just super lazy. We did go to the gym 2 days while we were there and it was sufficient for a quick workout. Nothing fancy, just a handful of treadmills, 2 ellipticals, some mats, a few benches, a set of dumbbells and some universal machines. It was so hot in there though; like a fricking sauna, so we never stayed longer than 30 minutes.

One of the beaches

Massive pool

In addition to the buffet restaurants, they also have 'a la carte' restaurants. The lines for all the restaurants were out the door anytime after 6 or 6:30. All of them require reservations you make that night and it's included in the all-inclusive price. We only went to the Mexican restaurant and it was just ok. Nothing spectacular, but good.

Overall, we had a pretty good time here. The drinks were pretty strong, although they are served in small cups. The food was decent and it was much better than what I was expecting from the TA reviews. We'd definitely go here again, maybe with a group of people next time. I'm glad we went here first before going to Rockhouse Hotel (RH), because it was alot more lively and more of a party atmosphere.

Rockhouse Hotel Review

Let me just say that I already had extremely high expectations of this place from the amazing pictures on the website and TA, as well as the reviews. This place just looks like it oozes sexy solitude and relaxation from every inch. We used Clive Transport to take us from GP to RH and they were on time. We had the car to ourselves and the ride took about an hour. The driver had the windows open, so by the time we got to RH we were drenched and cranky. The front desk staff greeted us with a complimentary glass of rum punch and told us our room wasn't ready (we got there at about 1pm and check-in is at 3pm). They said to go hang out by the pool, get some lunch and they'd call for us. So we took our drinks and went off exploring.

One of the pathways on the property

The grounds here make you feel like you're in some kind of secluded jungle. It was kind of a maze to get back to the pool from the front desk area, but we made it and hung out in the pergola they use for yoga in the morning. It was so nice to just sit there, relax and overlook the ocean. After we finished our drinks, we did some more exploring of the property and took tons of pictures. A guest even came up to us and asked if we wanted him to take our picture....this was already much different than GP, everyone was so friendly.

Twenty minutes after we got to Rockhouse and I already felt uber relaxed. Could it have been the rum punch?!

After exploring, we decided to take a dip in the saltwater pool and grab some lunch from the poolside bar. We split the BBQ chicken sandwich, which was delicious and made right there. Eventually, the front desk called the poolside bar and told us our room was ready. We were in Premium Villa #5, which is on the other side of the resort past the Rockhouse Restaurant. Our room was exactly how I expected it; rustic and romantic and pretty minimalistic. I didn't expect that the windows would only be shutters, no glass, and the doors would not shut tightly, but it all added to the rustic feeling. The bed had a mosquito net that we used every night, but we still ended up with lots of bites on us from sitting outside after sunset. We had a nice little porch outside of our room that had two wooden chairs and it overlooked a sunning pad that we shared with our neighbors. Our room was situated in a little cove of the property and we had 3 different accesses to the water, which any of the other guests can also use. There is no TV in the room, but there is a mini-fridge with beer, water and some sodas (for a fee). Most people go to the local supermarket called the Hi-Lo and just pick up some beer to stock up the fridge and save some money. A cab ride there will run you about $5.

Our room

Premium Villa #5

Sun pad

The cove right by our room with access to the crystal clear water

Mr. B jumping off a cliff. I am no where near as crazy and did nothing of the sort!

The shower and the toilet were both outside in separate rooms. It was nice to shower outside, but it was a little distracting because the road is so close to the back of the rooms. There were constantly people zooming by in cars honking their horns and yelling. You couldn't really hear it inside the room though. There was also a small issue with hot water...there basically was none. After a day or so, we kind of got used to it. It's pretty hot outside, so you really don't need scorching hot water when you shower. Having the toilet outside was strange and I wish it were inside. The backs of the rooms are pretty much right on the walking path to other rooms and Push Cart, so people are constantly walking back and forth just a few feet from where you're trying to use the facilities. It's not a high-traffic area by any means, but still something to consider. The sink and dressing area were situated behind a half wall that the bed backed up to. It was a decent-sized space and we had plenty of room for our clothes, etc. We did have a little incident with a cockroach that crawled into a gap between the sink and the stone countertop. That was the only huge bug we saw inside the room and Mr. B took care of that with the quickness :)

It was really amazing how close everything is to the water and it is so unbelievably relaxing and beautiful. You can't help but fall in love with this place. We explored the water a little bit and then got ready for dinner. We made reservations for 6:30 at the Rockhouse Restaurant when we checked in (definitely recommend making reservations!) and we sat down just in time to see the sunset. Dinner was great; I had the Old Time Synting, which was a soup of sorts of different fresh seafood and Mr. B got this when we ate at Rockhouse Restaurant on our last night.

Every morning we ate breakfast at the Rockhouse Restaurant. It was a little on the expensive side, but it was within walking distance and what the heck, we were on vacation! I don't drink all, and every morning I had at least a cup of their Blue Mountain Jamaican coffee. It's delicious!!! I also suggest trying the callaloo, which is a leafy green veggie that is amazing. We had lunch every day at the poolside bar; Mr. B always got the BBQ chicken sandwich and I got the grilled snapper sandwich. The drinks were pretty good here; Mr. B stuck to the Purple Rain drinks and I fell into a groove of getting the Lime Daiquiris...I love rum and lime together :) Our second night at RH we ate at Push Cart, which is another restaurant that's right next door and adjoined to the property. We got a jerk sample platter with chicken, pork and shrimp and the shrimp was by far the best thing we ate. The drinks were just ok here...don't get the Watermelon Cooler! It was horrendous!!!!

Dinner at sunset at Push Cart

I honestly can't say enough about how beautiful this place is. I had to keep pinching myself because it didn't seem real or even possible that a place is gorgeous could exist. Everything just seems so well thought out and planned and natural...simply amazing.

Sunset over the pool our last night at Rockhouse :(

We got massages together at the spa and I was expecting a little more. I've had plenty of massages before and this was probably not in the top 5. I don't know what it was that made it just ok or what could have made it better. Both of us prefer to be in our own rooms when we get massages and I had asked for separate rooms, but they put us together anyway. It's just kind of distracting with other people in there and hearing them talking/moving.

The staff here was friendly, but I was expecting more of a personal touch due to the smallness of the resort. At full capacity, it only holds about 60 people. We said 'hi' to them more than they said 'hi' to us, which was quite different from when we were at GP where all of the staff greeted us when they saw us. Chevon at the poolside bar was definitely the exception; he was super friendly and always added a little extra rum to my drinks ;-) That could be why I liked him so much!! They have a happy hour from 5pm till sunset at the poolside bar where you can get 2 for 1 drinks. This made me happy!

Mr. B and I would definitely go back here again and we'd probably try to stay in the same vicinity near PV #5. I'm not sure if it's really worth staying here if you're not in a villa or a premium villa. Next time we go, we'd probably venture off the property more. We thought about going to Rick's or some of the local restaurants, but really just wanted to relax and do nothing. We had such a relaxing time at RH that it felt like we were there for weeks and we were only there for a few days. I wish we could have stayed longer and I can't wait to go back!

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