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We honeymooned in Jamaica from December 8-17th, 1997. We did the Lido Sampler, which meant we stayed four nights at Sans Souci Lido and 4 nights at Grand Lido Negril. Much of our perspective comes from our comparison of the two resorts. We really liked the Sans Souci better! GETTING THERE: We arrived in Jamaica on time, and stood sweating in our winter clothes as we waited to go through customs. It was our first time in Jamaica, so we weren't sure about changing money (not necessary) fending off unwanted porters (took persistence!) or how soon until we¹d be offered pot (unbelievably soon!!). However, it all went fine. We quickly found an Apple Vacations Rep who checked our names off, gave us a card with an appointment time for meeting an Apple Rep at the resort the nest day, and then sent us over to the Superclubs desk. We were the only people going to Sans Souci Lido, so we had the van to ourselves. As we drove along, I thought "Why does everyone say this is boring?" Fascinating! But it was fascinating for 45 minutes. Then it was boring. We arrived at the Sans Souci and I wasn't sure what to do about our driver. She had nicely pointed out some things to us and answered a few questions as we drove. I knew it was no tipping at the resort but she didn't seem to be a Superclubs employee. I asked her if she could accept tips and she said "no problem!" <grin> Check-in went very smoothly but we were too dazed to process much of the info they gave us at that time. Basically what we got out of it was to pick up the phone and call when we had questions. Our porter was very friendly, showed us how everything in the room worked, and got our luggage there pronto. Then we collapsed for a nap. I had a terrible cold and had gotten little sleep, so I needed it. ROOMS & FACILITIES, FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Our room was in block D, an oceanview suite. It had a small entryway (mostly useful for stashing room service trays), an ample bedroom, a large bathroom with two sinks, a Jacuzzi tub with shower, a hairdryer, shampoo/soap/lotion dispenser, and a nice long clothesline for wet things. It also had a sitting room which was open to the bedroom, but had two French doors that slid closed and heavy curtains that kept out all light if you wanted to darken the bedroom but still have a nice bright sitting room. Off the sitting room was a small balcony with a small table and two chairs. There was a small fridge under the TV, stocked with two beers, six cans of soda (three kinds) and two bottles of water. There was a small coffeepot and also a hot- water pot for coffee, with several types of tea available. There were two AC units (one for bedroom, one for sitting room) and two phones. Everything was well-maintained. Not brand-new, but certainly nice and clean. We really liked the room location. It was about equal distance from everything, and close to two nice hammocks! There were rooms much closer to the main building and spa, and others much closer to the beach. But we thought ours was just perfect. After a nap, we decided to explore the grounds and figure out where everything was. The resort is very nicely laid out, with some parts of it stretched out along the beach, and the rest tucked into rocky cliffs. There are a lot of stairs! Everything is beautifully landscaped and stairs seemed tucked in among the flora and fauna. We saw tons of lizards and frogs every day. (boy do those frogs scream all night though!!) By the beach there are a number of areas where crabs dig their holes and you can watch them run for cover in the mornings. There is a lovely hummingbird garden, too, and lots of butterflies. Some staircases lead to interesting little areas where they are hammocks or spa cabanas or hottubs--it¹s really charming. We didn¹t appreciate it adequately at the time--we just thought that all of Jamaica is like that. Not so--Grand Lido in Negril, for example, is on flat ground, and isn't anywhere near as beautiful. On the cliffside part of the resort, there is a roomy exercise pavilion, with an exercise room below; a main building with a small game room, open lobby, two restaurants, and the Baloon bar; a spa, with a small p are and various cabanas where the services are carried out. The wedding gazebo is also on the cliffside part of the resort. There are two pools; one is mineral water, the other just standard. One of the two hot-tubs is also there. By the main entrance, there are two small buildings which serve as the boutique & gift & sundries shops. Down by the beach there is a large building where the buffet restaurant is housed, a beach bar, another hot tub, and the watersports hut. There are also bathroom facilities convenient to the beach. As we walked around that first night we got a creepy feeling that there were only 3 couples staying at the resort--we saw very few people. We were there in a low season and some of the rooms were being renovated, so the resort was not at full capacity. But still, it really seemed deserted. We later figured out that there just seems to be a lull between 5-7 pm every day. I guess people are taking naps or dressing for dinner during this time, so few people are out and about. At other times it is much livelier and there are lots of people about. However, the way the resort is laid out, there are many secluded spots and you can feel pretty alone in some areas, even when there are lots of people around! One thing we noticed about the resort is that the service areas are virtually invisible. They did an excellent job of making everything beautiful and attractive, wherever you were. FOOD & DRINK: Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style at a restaurant down by the beach. Its name escapes me, unfortunately. We actually didn't discover it until a few days into our stay--we ate room service breakfasts on our balcony each day, and loved that. They have a hang- tang menu you can put out the night before, and your breakfast arrives when you requested it. It was a very pleasant way to start the morning. However, at the buffet place, we thought the food was good (lots of variety at both lunch and breakfast) and so was the service. For dinner you have 3 choices. Room service is the first option, which we found to be prompt and courteous, and the dishes we tried were pretty good. Or there's La Terrazza restaurant, a nice outside terrace restaurant with a menu that changes every day (one night French, one night Italian, one night Mexican, etc.). We ate there once and thought it was excellent too. Then there is La Casanova, the formal French place. We ate here twice (not bad for a four-night stay!) and it was also very good. I have to go with my husband's word, here, because I had a terrible cold. Not only could I not taste anything, I also had little appetite. Our server about choked when I ordered "just a salad" at Casanova that first night! I lived on pineapple and watermelon most of the time. There is also a grill by the beach, but we never ate there. We couldn't really figure out its hours. As for the drinks, we took the advice of others who gave trip reports and asked for name-brand liquors for mixed drinks. Red Stripe is the only beer available, except the room fridge features a Miller product. I drank very little due to my aforementioned cold (man, Superclubs sure saved some money on ME!). There is a bar on the beach and another up near the restaurants at the main building. I believe there was another small one by the spa. SPA, BEACH, & OTHER ACTIVITIES There are a number of services at the SPA that you can get for free. Body scrubs, massages, and reflexology are available at the spa, and at the nearby salon you can schedule free manicures and pedicures. My husband ended up canceling his massage because he ended up wanting to do some scheduled watersport at the same time. However, I enjoyed my bodyscrub. If you are there for only a few days, as we were, it can be hard to schedule these services around all the other things you might want to do. I found that the services are popular so it is wise to sign up early--but pay attention to the other things you want to do at the resort when scheduling! While I am talking about the spa, I should mention that there is a small grotto nearby which houses a large sea tortoise named Charlie. He is fed conch and raw chicken breasts by the staff every morning around 10 a.m. That's neat to watch. The BEACH is nice, sort of set back so the water is protected by rocky outcroppings. There are plenty of lounge chairs and ample palm trees for shade. They also have a large canopy for people who are serious about avoiding sun (my hubby and I are pale as ghosts--don't worry, there is plenty of sun room for the more golden amongst you!). Someone will come along and take a drink order for you, but the beach bar is close if you choose to fetch them yourselves. The water is nice and you can go out a long ways before the water is deep. There were some patches of seaweed along the ocean floor when we were there but they were not bad. At the beach you can get towels, snorkeling equipment & floatie things for goofing around in the water. You can also sign up for snorkeling trips, scuba classes & trips, and glass-bottom boat rides. They also have a catamaran. On your own, you can take out on of the numerous little sunfish sailboats or a sea kayak. I cant snorkel (my glasses) and don't know how to scuba, so I really enjoyed the glass- bottom boat ride. I could see all the stuff I was missing! You can see all the reefs that are beyond the swimming area, admire numerous fish, and they take you over "the wreck", the ship they sunk recently for diving. The catamaran ride was also tons more fun than I thought it would be. The watersports staff is very nice. One funny thing that happened was that my husband signed up for a little scuba refresher course (it had been 15 years since he last dove). When he showed up, the instructor took him through some very rigorous exercises in the pool with very little intro to the equipment. My husband just did his best. It took several HOURS and at the end of it, the instructor told Mark he could study the booklet that night and take the written test tomorrow. Mark said "What test?!?!" and then found out that the instructor mistakenly thought that Mark was one of the students who signed up for the $300 certification course, which had already had one day of instruction. The instructor laughed and apologized for the rigor and told my husband he was a natural! So Mark got several hours of one-on-one instruction at no cost. As for other ACTIVITIES, there is a shuffleboard court, tennis, and various other things, none of which we took part in because of my cold. There are daily exercise classes, so you have your choice of step aerobics, aquacize, and yoga. There are nature walks in the mornings. Several nights they plan special things, like a big cookout and beach bash with a Jamaica theme. Again, I'm not the person to write about this since I spent so much time in bed sick. That's why I'm not doing a minute-by-minute report of what we did each day. We elected to take on off-resort TOUR. We took a sailing yacht to Dunn¹s River Falls. It was about 3 hours and was a lot of fun--we ended up being with people who were staying at a whole bunch of other Ocho Rios resorts and it was fun to compare notes. We left from the beach, sailed to Dunn¹s River Falls, climbed the falls, did some snorkeling, and then sailed back home. On the way back they break out the alcohol and really open up, finished by a wild dance on the deck as we came to the pier. A good time, well worth the cost! We didn¹t have time to do any of the other excursions, but they had some neat options--horseback riding along the beach, for example. THE STAFF & OTHER GUESTS I'd thought I'd add a little info about the people there. It was very much a geographically diverse crowd. We met people from Canada and England and all over the U.S., and saw couples from other European and Asian countries. There was quite a range of ages. There were a lot of honeymooners, so we didn't feel too special. We saw several weddings while we were there, too. Incidentally, the wedding gazebo is at a neat location--sort of tucked into a cliff overlooking the sea. We found the staff to be very nice and friendly. It was hard for me to adjust to being "served" all the time--this took longer to get used to than I expected. I felt guilty asking for things all the time, yet this is what we paid for. I was also unsure of what to expect because I had heard from one bitter native Jamaican that tourists are secretly hated (this is clearly not true). Once we relaxed and started talking to the staff more, we found them to be interesting and informative. A couple of things made a strong impression on me, and convinced me that Sans Souci really does try hard for its guests. Our first morning on the beach, one of the managers walked along greeting everyone, shaking hands, checking how everything was going. He remembered us from check-in the day before. The other thing was as we were leaving the resort to go to the airstrip to fly to Negril. I happened to spy that the bellman was reading a long typewritten list entitled "Negative" comments from November -December This was apparently a list of comments taken from guest evaluations, shared with each and every staff member. That's a great policy. OTHER RANDOM THINGS We did not ever leave the resort except for that one tour. We didn't do any shopping or see much of Ocho Rios (sort of a function of being sick and not being there for long). Don't count on buying souvenirs or gifts at the resort. The shops are very small and the prices are rather high. A bottle of cough syrup, for example, was $8-9 (admittedly not a gift item but this is what I was buying while I was there!). If you want to do some shopping, get into town or wait until you get to the airport. We found rum and coffee there at better prices than at the resort. It may still be overpriced but it will beat the resort prices. At the resort you are very isolated and protected, as the beach is private and the only outsiders who come in are a few crafts people who set up on the beach and a person who offers braiding if you want it. I know some people think this is a drawback, but we liked it. We locked our wallets in the safe and rarely had to pull them out. We didn't realize that several other resorts in Ocho Rios (such as Ciboney and Enchanted Gardens) are not on the ocean. Instead, they bus you down to a beach. We didn't know we had it so good! There are at least 3 cats at the resort. They hang out by the buffet- style restaurant and look for people who look like they might be cat lovers. Then they park under their tables and wait for scraps. They don't beg, they just wait. Other times of day you'll see them sunning themselves. I found it a charming addition to our stay. GOING TO THE OTHER LIDO I'll save our impressions of the Grand Lido for another trip report. The only thing I'd add is that we really enjoyed our plane trip from Ocho Rios to Negril. It was a five-passenger plane and we flew low enough to see a lot. We flew along the coast for most of it, but then cut over the mountains at the end so got to see the interior of the country too.
Trip 1/98 Grand Lido, Sans Souci Just west of Ocho Rios, Jamaica P.O. Box 103, Ocho Rios, Ja. W.I. Telephone: 876/994-1353 Fax: 876/994-1544 Located East of Ocho Rios, right on the St. Mary/St. Anne Parish border, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, lies Grand Lido Sans Souci (formerly Sans Souci Lido). The name, as translated by its employees, means "without a care" or "carefree." And once we arrived, we were without a care. This all-inclusive resort is home to 147 ocean view rooms, 36 of which are brand new, an assortment of verandah rooms, one-bedroom suites, one-bedroom Jacuzzi suites, and penthouse suites ... 270+ employees, four pools, four whirlpools, spa amenities, water sports, four bars, two beach grills, and two restaurants. The grounds are hilly, with lots of stairs, and green terraces break into flowering foliage everywhere. There is an all-new clothing optional beach that offers a pool with a decorative waterfall and fountain, swim-up bar, whirlpool, and beach grill. The decision to go to Grand Lido Sans Souci: My husband thought I should use up some frequent flyer tickets ... and after much consideration, hemming, and hawing, I asked my sister to go on a trip with me. We knew we wanted a warm vacation, preferable to an all-inclusive ... My husband and I have had excellent luck at Grand Lido, Negril many times. He and I had been informed of Grand Lido Sans Souci in Ocho Rios by casual discussions while on previous trips. We used two frequent flyer coupons for United, getting us from Wisconsin to Atlanta via Chicago. The next leg of our flight was on Air Jamaica, direct from Atlanta to Montego Bay. Getting there: We left home early to connect into Chicago's O'Hare International Airport for a 9:20 flight. We arrived in on time, although there was heavy snow in Chicago. El Nino. We had delay, delay, delay, and cancellation ... and then we were given a new, later flight. Delay, delay, delay. We arrived Atlanta 10 minutes after our Air Jamaica flight's on time departure, and with our other flight options delayed as repercussions to earlier problems ... we ended up staying overnight in Atlanta. United Airlines was not helpful at all in getting us from Atlanta to Jamaica. Air Jamaica tried diligently to help us get there that day. To no avail. Oh, well. We would make the most of it. We were instructed to arrive to the airport the next morning, a full two hours before our 8:45 Air Jamaica flight direct to Montego Bay. We stayed at one of the nearby airport hotels. Morning: Departed hotel at 6:20 and by 6:35 we were in a long Air Jamaica line. There was a large group that would be traveling together to MoBay, and the flight was completely full. It took an hour to get to the counter, but departure was on time. We arrived to Sangster International Airport (MoBay) early, at 11:30. Immigration lines were unusually short, and the process took all of three minutes. Our bags were already on the baggage claim belt. We picked them up and proceeded through customs, which took only five minutes. Because of our delays in arriving (from the day before), my husband had booked us on a small charter airplane, TimAir, to take us to Ocho Rios. We had been told that it is a two-hour drive via bus or taxi to GLSS; it takes only 30 minutes via air. Garnet, who I had recognized from previous TimAir flights, was there to greet us. He helped us with our bags and took us to the FBO, a three-minute drive. I paid for the round trip TimAir, $480 US, and we were in the air in no time. Via TimAir it took 30 minutes to get to Boscobell Aerodrome, a twelve-minute drive from GLSS. I noticed that the road that leads to Ocho Rios from MoBay is much straighter and wider than the road from MoBay to Negril. As we flew over, our pilot pointed out Dunn's River Falls and GLSS. The GLSS taxi driver, Arnold, was dispatched by TimAir and got to the airport a few minutes after we did. When he loaded our bags and began the short drive to GLSS, he thanked us for coming to Jamaica and explained that we, tourists, help the Jamaican economy. He went on to say that he hope we'd enjoy ourselves so much we would return. Prior to our arrival at GLSS, each one of the bag handlers was tipped $2, a buck a bag. Once at GLSS, tipping is not permitted. Arriving GLSS ... first impressions: As we drove through the gate and our taxi pulled under the carport, we were greeted in Euro-Jamaican-style ... "Welcome Home, my ladies!" proclaimed Mark Lee, the doorman, who helped us to the front desk. His greeting had Jamaican warmth and dialect, but the added "my lady", surely made me feel as though I was a princess. Check-in took only five minutes, perhaps less, at the front desk (which really is a large desk with chairs). Mark Lee offered us a beverage ... orange juice, champagne, mimosa. We filled out three forms: (1) a Master Card imprint for incidental charges, (2) a return- flight confirmation form, and (3) a form for our room safe key. Our room was not quite ready, so we were escorted to Ristorante Palazzina for lunch. We noticed the foliage was very lush. Initially, the buildings appeared quite continental ... stone walks and fieldstone motifs contributed to the old-world flavor. We were seated at Palazzina, which offers a luncheon buffet (more details in dining section found later in report). We were seated outside, and the air was pleasant ... the threat of rain had given way to a promise, and rain trickled lightly on-and-off all afternoon. Not ravenous, we ate lightly, but did indulge in lip- smacking desserts and Jamaican coffee, of course! During lunch, I met with Resident Manager Rajiv Bhatnagar (who I had known from his tenure at Grand Lido Negril). He introduced me to Spa Manager Maggie, to Restaurant Manager Ms. Sharlene Hamilton, and to Chef, who is British. As we previewed the terrain and beach, we agreed that we had made a good decision to come to GLSS. Our room: Mark Lee found us in Ristorante Palazzina, and then we were shown to our suite. Located in the "B Block", our one-bedroom Jacuzzi suite was on the first floor and boasted an excellent view of the main beach. It seemed to be a great location for getting to and from all the activities and venues. Our bags had already been delivered and were in the suite foyer. Also in the foyer, on a mini buffet server to the right, were a teapot, an automatic drip coffee maker, a large selection of teas and regular and decaffeinated Jamaican coffee. To the left was a full- length mirror. As one proceeded forward, down the hallway, one could either turn right, through two French-style bi-fold doors into the bedroom, or one could continue forward to the sitting room. Once in the sitting room the private patio was in view, to the right, separated from the sitting room by sliding glass doors that were finished to appear French. There was a painted, glass-topped metal café table and two cushioned metal chairs located on the tile patio. French doors, with opaque glass, separated the bedroom from the sitting room as well. The sitting room was furnished with an upholstered love seat, a coffee table, an upholstered chair, two end tables (each with a lamp), and a television set that sat atop a TV stand/ mini-bar. The television had a remote with channels listed on the back of it. The mini-bar was stocked with Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Seven up, Champagne, Jamaican Blue Mountain water, and Miller Light. I was quite shocked there was no Red Stripe in the mini-bar (although Red Stripe was available throughout the resort). In addition to the French doors, there was also a window in the sitting room. The bedroom was made up as we had requested, with two double beds instead of one king-sized bed. There were glass doors in the bedroom that led to the patio, too. Each bed had a nightstand and lamp. A large four-drawer dresser with vanity had a mini boom box on top of it, complete with AM/FM radio, and CD and cassette players. Across from the foot of the beds, there was an upholstered chair, an ottoman, and a floor lamp. Above, the air conditioner blew cool air across the beds, and a ceiling fan kept air circulating. The wall safe hung on the wall between the dresser and the bed. Also located within the bedroom, a large closet (amply enough room for two women) was located near the bathroom door. A heart-shaped towel sculpture with a fresh-cut antherium graced the center of the first bed. The bathroom was finished in marble. Immediately left of the entrance was a large Jacuzzi. Across the room, to the left, was a vanity with mirror and two sinks. Bubble bath and facial bar soap was available. The toilet was to the right of the vanities, with a window directly above it. The shower was across from the toilet. Within, a shower dispenser contained "shampoo plus" (I think that means it had conditioner in it, too), shower gel, and body lotion. The shower itself had a shelf for all of those important things we women take with us into the shower (nice touch). Immediately to the right of the entrance door (with the shower behind it) was a vanity, with a mirror and outlets. The hair dryer hung on the wall adjacent to the vanity. Does the layout sound confusing? That is because the room was an odd shape ... but it was a large, well-laid-out bathroom. The suite was finished in light-colored tile, light paint, and champagne-colored marble. Upholstery was in pretty, lightly colored percale plaids. Artwork, by a local artist, was not too bad for "hotel room art." Although our TV was working, our remote control was not. We called housekeeping and a new one was immediately brought to us, "no problem." My sister asked me if she should make a pot of coffee for us ... I suggested she call room service instead. She called, and the coffee came in about five minutes. (Why is it Jamaican coffee tastes even better in Jamaica? Is it my imagination?) We began unpacking, and a little while later room service delivered a "welcome" plate of chocolates and a bottle of champagne ... very nice touch! We decided we could definitely get used to this type of service. Not to bore trip report readers with day-to-day happenings, I will give my (our) impressions of the grounds, facilities, service, amenities, main beach, C/O beach, and restaurants. The Grounds and Facilities: Stunning. Very different than any resort I have seen before. The buildings are European-looking, and the walkways are all either stone or concrete made to give the illusion of stone. Near the main beach, the resort is somewhat flat ... formerly a croquet lawn. On the main beach there is a beach bar, beach grill, a large whirlpool, restrooms, the water sports center, and all of the water sports equipment one could imagine. A large, brand new pool had just been built. Around its perimeter there is a lot pavement for chaise lounges. And, there were plenty of chaises there, too. Towels for this pool were available at the water sports office (and available via the water sports employees who would carry stacks of freshly laundered towels to the beach). Adjacent to the main beach pool is the beach stage, which is used on Friday evenings by the gala entertainers. Although the plantings were not yet complete around the pool (and the newly constructed "A Block" behind the pool), we noticed incredible progress during our visit. The foliage should be beautiful if it lives, and our guess is it will. There is a shuffleboard near the beach grill, and there were several people playing throughout our visit. The beach's sand is very soft, nice on your feet and between your toes, and it is raked several times each day to keep it clean. It was not until the last day that we saw the water sports guys carrying foam chaise cushions/floats ... didn't ask what the scoop was, but I know that GLSS has plenty of "floats." Cocktail waiters and waitresses made sure guests had a beverage at all times. Also on the beach, there was at least one (and were sometimes two or three) vendors available to sell vacation souvenirs ... carvings of alabaster and wood, paintings, jewelry, woven goods, etc. Although they tried to sell to us as we approached, they were not pushy. Tip: haggle with them, their first price is not their best! To the Northeast, the beach breaks into rock as the terrain elevates. Here is where the stairs begin. To the right (inland) before taking any stairs, is Ristorante Palazzina with open-air seating and indoor eating. The view of this restaurant is very inviting. Ascending ... It seemed as though we would climb 25 stairs, and then take a few down ... climb a bunch, descend a few ... As we climbed stairs above the shore, we noticed the terrain around us becoming more lush and green in terraces that are separated by brick to save them from erosion. Although everything looks very natural, it is manicured to appear naturally pristine. We noticed many, many groundskeepers who were raking, clipping, and blowing leaves off of the walks. Walking above the cliff, there are rooms off to your right (directly East), these are the "C", "D', and "E" room blocks. The wedding gazebo is nestled on the cliff, as are many quiet nooks and grottos for sitting. Continuing on, one finds several levels of sitting areas overlooking the ocean. Further along the rocky shoreline is the fitness pavilion, with a complete gym on the lower level. The enclosed, air-conditioned gym has weight equipment, treadmills, bicycles, a television ... The open-air pavilion (upstairs) has many ceiling fans. Its exercise mirrors reflect the exercising class, with the Caribbean Sea as a backdrop. To the Northeast of the fitness pavilion, further along the rock shore, is the mineral pool. The mineral pool is fed from a spring that bubbles up through a decorative "water fall" on the East end of the pool. The natural mineral water is said to have positive effects on one's health. To the right, and uphill in an Easterly direction, the mineral whirlpool is nestled and reachable by stairs. Beyond the whirlpool, uphill, is the aviary. Continuing Northeast from the mineral pool, along the rocky shore, is Charlie's grotto. I don't have the whole scoop on Charlie the turtle, but I know he lives in a pool of water that somehow is fed naturally with seawater. Sometimes he disappears into his rocky, water-filled cavern. Other times, he'll be swimming. I was informed that he eats fresh lobster and fish at his daily feeding, 10:00 each morning. The clever old turtle, at least he looks old, has a bar named after him, which lies only a few steps beyond his home. The spa (just beyond the bar) is named for him as well. Charlie's Spa office is where we reported for our facial, reflexology, massage and body scrub. The "tower" above Charlie's Bar is actually a clever disguise for an elevator. Once to the top level, the view back along the beach is breathtaking. Although at the top of the elevator, one is still quite a ways downhill from the "F" and "G' block of sleeping rooms, and even further downhill from the lobby/entrance. After you exit the elevator on the top level, if you continue forward and then right, you will descend a few steps to Rally's Salon (named for GLSS's resident talking parrot). The salon is where we went to have our manicure and pedicure. All along the rocky shore, from the spa office and uphill to the East, are spa "huts", used for massages, facials, and body scrubs. Reflexolgy took place in a pavilion (next to an over-sized chess set), just beyond the spa office, high above the crashing shoreline. Uphill, to the Southeast and between the "E" and "F" blocks of rooms lies the main office/lobby. Entering from this direction one will first happen upon the Balloon Bar, and then a terrace with the fresh water pool and whirlpool, as well as a stage for evening performances. Continuing up the steps, one finds a huge patio, there only for the sake of sitting outside in the fresh air. This patio is adjacent to the lobby entrance. The front desk is to the left, open- air lounging is found under the center of the lobby roof, and to the right is Casanova, the enclosed, air-conditioned French restaurant. Backtracking down past the Balloon Bar, we found plenty of stairs going downhill. They lead to Rally and a few other parrots. Taking the back walkway down, South, one walks behind the Palazzina and the "B" block of rooms, on the right. Further down, also on the right, is the all-new "A" block of rooms (with the brand new main beach pool, that I described earlier, on the ocean side of it). While we were there, they were still finishing the landscaping around the "A" block, as well. Looking to the left, there is a beautiful pond with tropical ducks (ducks like I've never seen before ... beautiful). And behind the pond, on the resort's furthest point South, there are four tennis courts. Continuing along the road past the "A" block, we were led to a totally segregated beach and beach facilities. This is the all-new clothing optional beach (C/O beach). Its natural beauty is even more impressive than the main. It is vast and white. The pool here has a decorative water fountain and water fall, a swim-up bar, a large pool deck for chaises, a whirlpool, beach bar and beach grill. The view of Ocho Rios and the hills above the city is breathtaking from this vantage. (The beach grill was not yet operational, and the cabanas and landscaping were being completed at the time of our visit.) To say the least, GLSS has a very impressive clothing optional section. I wish my report could adequately describe the flowering foliage and the lush greenery, the quaintness of the many levels, the quiet corners nestled in-between, and the discreet hammocks that seemed to be waiting for someone to swing in them ... but it doesn't do the resort justice. Amenities Water Sports: Available is most every type imaginable. Although we are not super active (I roll over to tan the other side every half hour) here is a list of what is available: scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, kayaking, sunfish sailing, catamaran sailboat rides, speedboat rides (my sister went and had a blast), glass-bottom boat rides, tube rides, water skiing. There may be more, but this is what we recall. There are scheduled times for many of these sports, and there is a scuba resort course and check out each day, Monday through Friday. Charlie's Spa: O.K., here we indulged ... as soon as we arrived, we called the spa to sign up for spa treatments. Guests are able to sign up for one of each treatment initially. Call the spa each morning to find out whether or not there is any room in the schedule that day for any treatments. This is how we were able to fit in an extra treatment. Treatments are performed near the Spa Office in huts that are located above the crashing waves on the northern shore of the resort. Soothing sounds. I spoke with Maggie on the last day of our visit. She said that all of their spa therapists have been there for more than four years, some as many as eight years. She said there is virtually no turnover among the spa staff and that they undergo continuous training so they do not become stale. One of the staff told me that each of the spa therapists performs each of the treatments, which are described below, that way they do not get bored. Charlie's Spa reflexology: More than foot massage, in reflexology the trained masseuse uses corn starch and lotion to massage pressure points on the soles of the feet, toes, heels and tops of feet. They say that reflexology pressure points correlate to specific body parts (For example, one's big toe correlates to his head). Also, they say that reflexology helps you to "detoxify" your system. I just think it feels great. Charlie's Spa facial: I've never had a facial before, so this was an experience. First, I was instructed to take my shirt off and drape a towel over myself. I did so and then lay on my back on the cushioned table. The person administering the treatment then cleansed and massaged my face. My face was scrubbed with a light abrasive. She put a mask on my face and something cool (cucumbers, I think) on my eyes. Steam and aromatherapy was administered. After a few minutes, she applied moisturizer to finish the treatment. Charlie's Spa massage: Handled quite professionally, this massage included the legs, back, arms and hands, neck and head. Actually, I usually enjoy a softer massage, but the masseuse told me I had a few knots between my shoulder blades (perhaps from carrying heavy luggage!). I thought the massage was o.k. My sister, on the other hand, thought hers was the best. Massages must be as varied as the masseuses are. Charlie's Spa body scrub: Wearing nothing but a smile, my body was scrubbed with a mixture of cornmeal, Epsom salt and oils. The woman who did my scrub was very professional, so although the only thing between her and me was a strategically placed towel, I did not feel uncomfortable. After the scrub (about 20 minutes), I was guided to the shower in the corner. She rinsed my backside with warm water, and I was instructed to rinse my front side. More than a cup of aloevera gel was shaken out into my hand, and I was told to rub it in all over. She rubbed some into my back. Again, I was instructed to rinse off. I was given a towel, and she turned her back while I dried myself and dressed. What a feeling ... my skin was as soft as a baby's bum. I thought this might be an uncomfortable experience. But the professional nature of the person administering the scrub removed any awkwardness. Afterward, I walked up to the mineral whirlpool ... it was perfect 104 degrees F. What a life! Exercise Classes: I participated in the 9:00 aerobic workout regularly. Karen, the instructor, did a great job at keeping all (three or four) of us together, and giving us a good work out. Toning at the end was enough to keep one in shape, but no pain (then or later). There was also a 6:00 p.m. class every day (no classes on Sunday). Karen also leads an aquacise class at 11:00 each day. I did not participate, but watched and it looked more like toning exercise than aerobic. She is motivating and pleasant. Golf: We did not golf, however I know there is a bus that departs three times each day. According to the published information, transfers and green fees are included in you room rate, but caddy, clubs and cart each have a small additional fee ($8, $11 And $25 US, respectively). Tennis: Did not play. However, there was a large group that came in together and they were having a tournament. Tennis lessons are available daily, with separate times for beginners, intermediate players and advanced players. Yoga: Very cool. The instructor, Magi, is a Rasta with dreads hanging well below his butt. He has a very hypnotic voice and takes you through a one and a half-hour session that is relaxing, exhilarating and quite a workout. Yoga was scheduled for four o'clock p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the fitness pavilion. Jogging Trail: One-third mile trail winds around the pond, tennis courts, beach and "A" block. Evening Shows and Entertainment: We did not see enough shows! The first night we saw the Friday Gala Showcase. It was performed out on the beach stage. Tables were placed on the lawn and around the new pool. There was a Rasta flute player and a guitar/vocalist guy providing dinner music ... tasteful and subtle. The show that followed combined a band, a trio of outstanding vocalists (two ladies and a man) and a dance troupe that performed modern, reggae, and traditional African dances. The many costumes and lights made it really entertaining. Then everyone was invited to join in and they started to dance Soca ... encouraging everyone to participate, but not being pushy. It was fun to watch. On Saturday, we were entertained by the house band and, later, by Judy Emmanuel (a renowned Jamaican vocalist who I had seen on a previous Jamaica visit). The show, set up on the lobby terrace near the balloon bar, was good. The GLSS house band is tight, and they have a female vocalist who is extremely talented. There is a different show every night. Also, Keraoke is on Wednesday and Thursday nights. A resident pianist plays in the Balloon Bar every night except Monday and Thursday. On Tuesday there is a bonfire party at 10:30 p.m. Tour Desk: We did not go to the tour desk, although it is located in the lobby and open from 9:00 - 5:00 each day. There are several tours to select from: Ocho Rios highlight, Kingston Tour, Port Antonio Tour, Nine Miles (Bob Marley's birthplace), a plantation tour, Martha Brae Rafting Tour and more. I understand there is even horseback riding available ... and that these are all offered at an additional price. Games Room & Library: a room to the rear of the lobby houses many games available for use there, and some for use elsewhere on property ... we saw a pool table, slot machines, a dart board, back gammon tables, all kinds of boxed board games, a chess board. Playing cards are available at the front desk. There is a television in the game room. And, there is an assortment of books, in all different languages. Activities include: Nature walk; beach volleyball; bike tour; lawn games tournament, bocce ball, croquet, horse shoes and shuffleboard; Red Stripe Beer volleyball tournament; coconut hat making class; a fashion show; exotic fruit and spice tasting; beach bingo; tropical mixology class; water sports regatta; bike tour to an off-site beach, "break sweat, get wet, ride back"; Reggae dance class; Jamaican talk, history, folklore, music food and dialect; and, an evening disco tour (in Ocho Rios). The in-room directory outlines details, times and locations. Main Beach: I have described the main beach and pool area in the above section, at great length. The beach is secluded and well kept and very pretty. All of the water sports amenities are available on the main beach. The beach's facilities are either new or very well kept. It offers the opportunity to be very social. Likewise, one can remove himself from the main activity center and feel quite secluded. Clothing Optional Beach: I have described it earlier in the "tour" of the grounds and facilities. A few additional comments though ... The beach is really beautiful. There is a river that empties into the Caribbean Sea just to the South of the beach. Because of the river, a few fishermen were seen pushing their fishing boats through the mouth of it, using bamboo poles. They keep to themselves, but it does remind you that you are in Jamaica. The beach bar and beach grill on the C/O side is even nicer than the ones on the main beach. The pool is large with a lot of deck space around it. I think the whirlpool may become a bit crowded, but it was not while we were there. Once all of the plantings grow in, something that should not take too long, it will be lovely. The beach is a little walk from the "A" block of rooms, but that gives the beach a feel of a privacy or seclusion. The C/O beach offers the best view on property of the hills. Once the word gets out, this beach is sure to become popular! Bars Beach Bar, Balloon/Piano Bar, Charlie's Bar, C/O Beach Bar: All the bars seemed well used, although we did not spend a lot of time hanging at any of them. Bar service seemed expedient when we would stop to order a drink. We spent some time at the beach grill, which is right next to the beach bar, and found the bartenders were friendly and quick. At Charlie's bar, they have a menu of tropical drinks ... banana daiquiri, hummingbird (Yum!), Pina Colada, Purple Rain, Yellow Bird, Rum Punch ... plus way more. The drink menu had photos and describes a virtual rainbow of beach drinks! A very nice bartender named Angel works at Charlie's bar. Restaurants/Dining Options Ristorante Palazzina: Serving breakfast and lunch, the Palazzina is the name of the beachfront dining restaurant during the day. (At night, it is called Terazza). Reservations are not required during the day, but are recommended at night. We went for breakfast (available 7:30 - 10:30) a couple of times, and a couple of times we went to lunch. Breakfast is a buffet, although there are also menus available for a la carte dining - just ask the waiter. We never asked for a menu, because the buffet had everything we wanted. On the days we went, hot items included: an omelet station, where your omelet is made to order; hot cereal; sausage; bacon; pancakes and syrup; scrambled eggs; fried potatoes; and Jamaican breakfast food including bammie (shredded cassava, soaked in cinnamon milk, formed and fried), fried Jamaican dumplings, ackee and salt fish (Jamaica's national dish). Cold items included: many types of breakfast rolls and breads (my favorite was the banana bread); breads for toasting; bagels; cream cheese and locks; jams; fresh fruit galore; cereals; milk; yogurt; and more. Coffee, tea, juices and water is poured at the table. The lunch buffet (12:30 - 3:00) included many hot and cold items. Hot items included: Soup of the day, chicken, fish, beef carving station, rice (prepared two ways), potatoes, market vegetables. I think there was a pasta dish, too. Cold items included: many chilled green salads and pasta salads; cheese displays; European breads and rolls; varied vegetable and fruit displays; local fruit, including sweet sop, green-skinned star apples and nesberries. On to the dessert display (my favorite place): ice cream with sundae toppings, an array of gorgeous creations that included tiramisu and a death-by- chocolate, but also fruit and cheese torts, cakes and pies. Coffee, tea, juice, water and wine was poured at the table. Bar service was offered at the table, too. I'm positive I left many menu items off the above lists, but I included everything I can remember. Terazza Restaurant (6:30 - 9:30 p.m. seating): Offers indoor/outdoor dining on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings. We were told that the menu changes every night, so for the sake of the trip report, I asked for some sample menus. Terazza offers a casually elegant ambiance. French night: Appetizers include seafood pate, shrimp & scallop cocktail, pork and duck terrene ... all with special sauces and relishes. Soups include cucumber/dill bisque, French onion soup and soup of the day. Two salads are listed: vinaigrette with hearts of palm and fresh garden greens. Entrees include grilled filet mignon, chicken cordon bleu, ocean grill, seafood cassoulet, veal medallions, and a daily vegetarian array. Big dessert menu. Oriental nights: Appetizers include steamed Chinese wanton and fried spring rolls. Soups include gingered crab, and beef and egg noodle soup. Chilled stir-fried greens, and garden greens are salad options. Entrees include sesame/ginger duck, local fish, beef and shrimp stir-fry, pork tenderloin and Asian vegetarian entrée. Big dessert menu. Italian night: Appetizers include: Lamb carpaccio, goat cheese bruchetta, and calamari. Soups include minestrone, three bean, and soup of the day. Garden greens and seasonal Italian salads are offered. Entrees include: proscuitto/mozzarella chicken, pork tenderloin, peppered tuna steak, pastrami and mushroom pasta, veal picatta, and Italian vegetarian selection. Big dessert menu. Caribbean night: Appetizers include: stuffed Cho Cho, tropical fruit cocktail, and antipasto. Soups include: conch chowder, Westmoreland chicken soup, and soup of the day. Marinated vegetables and garden greens are offered as salads. Entrees include curried chicken and shrimp, stuffed crab backs, grilled pork, beef & mushroom skewers with island rice, fish and bammie, and Island vegetables. Big dessert menu. Seafood Treasure night menu includes: Offered appetizers are creamed crab toast, shrimp ceviche and fresh water fish escoveitch. Soups were pumpkin/crayfish bisque, fish tea and soup of the day. Salads included flaked shellfish with melon and garden greens. Entrees were seafood thermidor, poached local fish, grilled scallops, grilled New York strip, and a vegetarian array. Again, a big dessert menu. We dined at Terazza Restaurant on Seafood Treasure night. My sister and I ordered an Italian red table wine that was fine. We both ordered the creamed crab toast with peppered mozzarella. We both ordered the pumpkin/crayfish soup ... not like other Jamaican pumpkin soups I have had before, but very nice and my sister liked it. We both ordered the fresh garden greens salad with house dressing. The house dressing is a tasty vinaigrette. And, we ordered the same entrée as well, seafood thermidore. It was awesome. By this time, I was nearly full, but I ate the seafood anyway, just because it was so good. Each of us had three tiny octopuses in our entrée, tasty and different. We had no room left for dessert, unfortunately. Casanova Restaurant: I believe the menu in Casanova remains the same each night they are open ... Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday nights, seating from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Reservations are required and must be made before 5:00 p.m. on the same day. Dress is formal, meaning a jacket is required for men, no jeans or tennis shoes, no shorts, no polo shirts or t-shirts. Our waiter (both times we went) was Bertram. He was very friendly and we let him know that we wouldn't mind chatting with him a bit. So, he did take some extra time at our table. The Casanova menu is very large, with five appetizers, three soups, and two salads offered. As far as entrees are concerned, there are three vegetarian entrees, one "on the lighter side" entrée, and eight other entrees to select from among. The wine list, presented as you are seated, is not huge, but there are a few nice Chilean wines, an Italian table wine and a French table wine that we tried and liked. (Incidentally, there was also a white Soave that was excellent available throughout the resort.) We ordered. Rolls were presented immediately thereafter. Service here is impeccable, with a wine steward, water person, bus person, and a food waiter ... seating is staggered to allow for prestigious service. Portions are moderate, but not small. The items we tried on our two visits to Casanova were: Appetizers: Salmon and snapper, layered and baked in oregano fillo leaves and served on roasted red pepper coulis. Better than very good. And, my sister tried this the first night, we both ordered it the next visit ... a chausson of escargot, wrapped and baked in fine pastry, served on a tarragon and burgundy sauce. Out-of-this-world, even if one is not the world's greatest fan of snails. Soups: Rabbit and white bean potage, my sister said it was good. Fresh red claw lobster and calaloo (Jamaican spinach) bisque topped with a goat cheese crouton ...knock-your-socks-off. We both ordered that the second time around. Entrees: The first time around, I ordered the tournedos of beef, topped with creamed crab and bernaise and mushrooms. Sis ordered the marinated rack of lamb in Italian herbs. We both enjoyed. (Understatement!) The second time around, I ordered fresh water tilapia and, although not bad, it was not to my taste. My sister ordered the pork and veal medallions ... the pork was topped with pear and the veal was peppered and seared. She said it was great. Dessert: The first time, we ordered only coffee. The second visit we indulged in dessert. I ordered a fruit something ...I don't know what it was, but I ate it all. My sister ordered the Double chocolate gateau ... she said it was great. We both vowed to diet upon our return. Beach Grill: Open from noon until 9:00 p.m., one can wear whatever they wore to the beach. Menu includes jerk pork, jerk chicken, steamed fish, hamburgers, hot dogs, and French fries. Served either at the grill bar or out on the beach café tables and chairs. Grand Gala Buffet: Set up on the lawn in front of room block "B", around the new main beach pool, around the main beach stage, and onto the old croquet lawn on Friday night. The trees and shrubbery are lit with tiny white Christmas tree lights, and hurricane candles are lit along the pool. Very pretty. The buffet opens for photos at 7:20, and at 7:30 dinner is served. Buffet style ... rolls, salads, sushi, cheeses, fresh vegetables and fruits, scalloped potatoes, rice dishes, quail, yellow-tailed snapper, beef carving station, grilled lobster. (We were told that the lobster was caught in the Caribbean Sea that day, and that it was actually late in arriving off of the fishing boat... fresh!) Huge dessert display, including anything one's sweet tooth could crave. Many, many more menu items than listed. Barefoot Beach Party Buffet: We did not go as we met up with some friends and went off-site for dinner, so I cannot comment. Room Service Menu: There is a separate menu for breakfast and the rest of the day. The breakfast order may be hung on the door prior to 2:00 a.m. and it will arrive at the requested time. Or, order may be called in. Some of the items on the breakfast room service menu include: Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, teas, coconut water, o.j., grapefruit juice and other juices, fruits, a bakery basket, smoked seafood duo, breakfast croissanwich, and crisp French baguette. My sister ordered the croissanwich one morning and said that, although it was different than described on the menu, it was good because it was like something one might make at home. I ordered the bakery basket and thought it was fine. The standard room service menu includes: appetizers (calamari; chicken strips; antipasto), soup of the day, a choice of either fruit salad or green salad with house dressing, sandwiches (torn pita stuffed with smoked chicken; a quarter pound hamburger), and snacks (nacho chips with guacamole, sour cream, cheese; and a basket of fried banana and Irish potato). Entrees include island lamb chops, grilled local fish, jerked pork chops, and chicken breast. Desserts include Jamaican fruitcake, coconut rum cheesecake, and international cheeses with English biscuits. Of course, almost any drink imaginable will be delivered. Jana and I decided to stay in for lunch one day ... I ordered pepperpot soup (which is nicely spicy) and a salad with house dressing. My sister ordered the nachos and deep fried calamari. She said the nachos were great, and I even tried some calamari ... chewy, but tasty. Service Room Service: Coffee was consistently delivered in between 5 and 10 minutes. We ordered lunch one day. We were told it would take 45 or 50 minutes to deliver. So, we went to the beach for a while and when we returned 35 minutes later, the message light was on. I had a feeling the message was from room service, and it was. Much to our embarrassment, they had already been by with lunch. Ooops. They were very nice about it and brought it to us immediately. What a concept, we are in Jamaica and something arrived early... Restaurant Service: We found the wait staff in the restaurant to be friendly and efficient. Right away we let our waiters know that we were happy to strike up a conversation, and they read us perfectly and responded accordingly. We noticed that, at those tables where the couple obviously wanted a romantic evening with all of the embellishments a waiter could offer, the wait staff again responded accordingly. We had some favorites: Bertram in the Casanova; Julian, Ms. Hamilton, Kurt and Courtney in Ristorante Palazzina/Terazza; and, Douglas at the main beach grill. Bar Service: We did not spend a lot of time near any of the bars. However, we rarely waited more than a moment to be asked for a drink order. At times, the bartenders would get a little backed up. But, they would let you know you had not been forgotten when that happened. Laundry/Dry Cleaning Service: Dry cleaning and laundry is included. All of our clothes came back, a feat in itself for any cleaner. And, everything came back in good shape. The first batch of laundry we sent out (called laundry and was told to set laundry bag outside door before 10:00 a.m.). It came back the same day at about 5:00 p.m. The next batch we sent in came back the following morning. Front Desk: We found Front Desk Manager Del Fong and her employees to be extremely helpful. Upon our one-day delayed arrival, we decided to extend our vacation by a day. Del got on the phone, helping us to make all of the proper arrangements with United and Air Jamaica ... well beyond the call of duty. Wake up calls: Don't rely on them. There was one day our wake up call never came. So, I requested two wakeup calls on our departure day. Thank goodness we arranged for my husband to call from home to make sure we were up at 5:00 a.m., because neither of the requested wakeup calls came. Note: there was no alarm clock in our room. Final Notes: For couples only? I think this place is best suited to a couple traveling together. There were two other pairs of women traveling together, and one pair of men. Other than that, everyone seemed to be with a "significant other." So, if one were looking for the single's scene, this would not be a good place. However, if avoiding that hassle is up one's alley, this place is perfect. We met several nice couples that spent time talking with us. The water sports guys and a few assorted waiters and bartenders did their part to feed my ego for months!!! My sister's, too. Jamaican pace: The Jamaican life-style is a bit slower than we Americans are accustomed to. Don't let it frustrate you. Don't get impatient. Instead, slow down and enjoy your vacation. Service at GLSS: In my book, it was as close to impeccable as one gets in Jamaica. Upkeep of rooms and property: Most of the property was built in the 1950s ... one cannot tell by looking at the place. The bathrooms are nice, the buildings are in good repair, and things that should be level and square seem to be. I think the property is lovely. The new room block and Clothing Optional beach is beautiful. I just can't wait to see it once all of the plantings begin to grow in. Lizards: There are the cutest little lizards all about the grounds. Frightened, they hop into the plants when they see you coming. I asked several Jamaicans and found that there are no poisonous lizards in Jamaica, so don't be afraid. Be happy they are there to eat bugs ... I think the lizards keep the mosquitoes away from GLSS. A Jamaican old wives' tale is: if a lizard runs across a lady's foot, she is (or soon will be) pregnant. The great debate ... tree frog or cricket? One of the sounds I have grown to love over my past eight trips to Jamaica is heard only at night. It is the high-pitched chirp of either tree frogs or crickets. Jamaicans hardly hear them, as they are accustomed to the sound, but if you ask they will tell you it is the sound of either tree frogs or crickets. I want to know which it is, really. It lulls me to sleep at night. Social Directors: The social directors seem to maintain an extremely low profile during the day. We did see them conducting a few activities at night. We did not go to ShowTime regularly, so I can't comment on their evening presence. Anyhow, one does not have to be concerned about being sucked into any group events by over- enthusiastic social directors ... but activities are available for ones participation, as desired. Shower: The GLSS showers are neat. In our suite, the copper spout was similar to an oversized garden watering can. Although it was a trick to get the temperature setting correct, once under the water it felt almost like a waterfall ... there are no water savers in those showers! Awesome. And, there was enough water pressure that I didn't feel temperature/pressure changes. Calling out of the hotel: While I was there, it was a trick to call out. The access code was not working, so they gave us an 800-number to get to an outside operator. That operator could only place collect calls or pre-paid phone card calls. I have a standard calling card, which would not work. So, I would call my husband collect, he would refuse the charges and then return the call. No problem, but it would have been had I any business calls to make. All telephone dialing information can be found in the packet in the room. What to wear: The always important question ... what type of attire is appropriate? During the daytime, casual clothing is fine ... so cover-ups, or shorts and tank tops or t-shirts work fine, along with tennis shoes or sandals. During the evening, the dress is more varied. In Casanova, jackets are required for men. Most women wore dresses. No jeans, tennis shoes, shorts, polo shirts, t-shirts or tank tops are allowed in Casanova. In the Terazza Restaurant, no shirts or tank tops are allowed at night, but belted Bermuda shorts are acceptable. For the Grand Gala buffet (Friday night), dress seemed similar to the requirements of the Terazza. And, I understand that on the beach party night (Tuesday), dress is more casual. The Beach grill is always casual. Double chocolate gateau: This dessert is worth making the trip for. I ordered dessert from room service one night, and because there was no chocolate on the dessert menu, I asked if there were any chocolate desserts around. The room service person said he thought he could come up with something. And he delivered the double chocolate gateau. It Casanova. I highly recommend it; it is to die for. Bottom line: Would I return? In a heart beat. As a matter of fact, my husband and I have already made plans to return (and to check out the former Braco Village, as well).
We like to take a Funjet charter from Houston Intercontinental to Sangster, Montego Bay when we can. They've always run Memorial Day to Labor Day. This year, they've run all year, but we didn't anticipate that, so we booked an American flight. Our flight was scheduled to depart Wednesday at 6:40 a.m. We went to the city long- term parking and got right on the bus. We got there just under 1.5 hours before our flight. The bus took us to our airline last, and when we got to the line 65 minutes before the flight, there was a HUGE line waiting to check bags for Miami. It took 40 minutes, and they were already boarding when we got down to the gate. We have to check bags since Todd brings his golf clubs. This was plenty of time. We checked our bags and were asked for proof of citizenship. We sat on the runway half an hour. We had been asked to take a Bistro bag of "breakfast" before we got on the plane. It consisted of orange juice, yogurt, a granola bar, and a banana. We ate a little of that and chucked the rest. We were asked to move by the flight attendant to accommodate a family with a baby. We were packed three to a seat like sardines in seats that wouldn't go back and were actually rolled forward. We did arrive in Miami on time, and the flight into Sangster was much better and landed about 13 minutes early. We were fed some sort of roast beef and cheese in a tortilla, plantain chips, and an oatmeal cookie. I gave most to Todd. While not advertised, wine and beer were available at no charge, and I believe other drinks, though seconds, even of soda, were not to be expected. As we entered the arrival area, six singers in native costumes greeted us. Our bags were there when we got downstairs. Lines were short everywhere. As usual, always went to the far left. You must get in the line with the green sign that reads, "Nothing to Declare". Sandals took good care of us. They stuck Sandals tags on our bags. The (tipped) baggage guy got our stuff on the bus. We got to a bus within 5 minutes after customs. The bus was air conditioned, and the driver made the ride in less than 5 minutes and was quite charming in his tales about Jamaican customs. After arrival, we were taken, along with another couple arriving from Miami, to the suite concierge center and given champagne. It was about 1:30. We used our pre-checkin form provided by our travel agent, who is a Sandals specialist. We checked the returnee box, but no one seemed to realize at that time that we are returnees. We had asked for ground floor and got 314. It has a lovely view, but we asked to move to ground. They put us in 123 which we had on our last trip. It wasn't set up for concierge, so they took a couple of hours for the refrigerator and bar setup. The resort was less than 40 percent full, so they could have easily upgraded us to a Royal suite. In fact, at the airport, she said we'd be in one. Later that night, we found out at the returnee party that only those who asked that particular week got upgraded. Todd didn't want to move since we were unpacked. I met one couple that moved twice. We were given a small booklet about Royal, and 2 postcards. The room had a toilet that was hard to flush, and somehow, mosquitoes got in like crazy. The Room We were in room 123 in the Kensington Block. Room 123 is on the east end, just steps from the ocean to the right and the pool and jacuzzi on the left. This room was a Grande Luxe Honeymoon Beachfront. It looks very much like the brochure. There is a sitting area with two chairs and a table with a coffee maker and coffee and tea. The coffee is Jamaican High Mountain, not Blue Mountain. Tea was Tetley. The bed is 4 -poster and very high up with a nightstand on one side and a desk on the other. There was a radio/alarm. There is a full-length mirror, a refrigerator, which was stocked with white and red wine, champagne, pineapple juice, tropical punch, Red Stripe, Lite beer, and chilled glasses. On top, there were individual bottles of club soda, tonic water, ginger ale, Diet Pepsi, 7-up, bottles of local rum and gin, and Russian vodka and scotch. The fridge was stocked daily, and items varied. This time, we were given a form to ask which items we would like restocked. Wine was restocked, but the champagne was not. We really enjoyed the bottled club soda and Diet Pepsi. We were always able to get extra of that. Other than previously mentioned, sometimes they brought Pepsi, even though we didn't indicate on the card that we wanted any. Also, once we used the card, no replacement card was issued. We had no corkscrew or robes, but with a few phone calls, these items arrived, and someone even checked to see that we got them. Of course, we did not drink all items brought. The idea was to have a choice. Once we met Pete, the bar concierge, we told him when needing anything. He generally came between 10:30 a.m. and noon. The rooms were stocked more regularly than at any resort we've stayed which had this service. There was a ceiling fan above the bed. The bathroom was small but adequate. The amenity kit was like other Sandals amenity kits and not upgraded, as stated in the brochure. Includes shampoo, conditioner, aloe vera gel, hand lotion, and this time, a second shampoo, rather than liquid soap. The plug-in in the bathroom seldom worked, so Todd had to shave without a mirror elsewhere in the room. Outside the bathroom was another vanity and bench where glasses were and a hair dryer hung on the wall. The room shelves for us to put Todd's golf bag and our empty suitcases out of the way. There were quite a few hangers, not enough for over-packers like us. The safe was in this area. The bed was turned down at night and more towels were brought. The maid even straightened the room a bit each night. Tea didn't get restocked, but coffee did. I brought tea bags from the area where the afternoon tea is served. Beach towels could be traded in at the watersports hut. You must keep track of your towels. Suite Concierge Benefits and Rooms At Royal, the Grande Luxe Honeymoon Beachfront and Royal Suite rooms are in the suite concierge category. The accommodations are at the usually more quiet end of the property, so it you want to be in the main action and have oceanfront accommodations, book grand luxe beachfront. Although these rooms are in a block that is being redone, so I think they have converted some of the Royal Suites into this category. The construction was nearly complete upon our departure. Will not get the concierge program in that category. With concierge service, you get Sandals terry cloth robes to wear, daily New York Times faxes under your door, stocked bar, use of the concierge, invitation to escorted shopping, and the nicest rooms. Power kept on by generators during 6-hour outage on our previous visit. Royal Suite would be much nicer. Grand Luxe Honeymoon Beachfront is like a cheaper category with bar setups added. On our previous visit, there was a VIP party. The escorted shopping is offered one day a week. On our visit, it was Tuesday. The charge was $20 per couple. We were taken to duty free shops and the craft market in Montego Bay. We were able to go through the whole market without buying anything, but we went back in to make a deal for a carved elephant. She wanted $35. We payed $20 and got a little trinket basket with it. There is pressure to look everywhere, but a firm no works. Everyone wanted to put a couple of braids in my hair. I was able to say no there, too. We used my Bingo gift certificate as a down-payment on some earrings. They were market $630. The price was offered as $230, and we paid $180 after the gift certificate. They were diamond with 14 karat gold. The Property There are 190 rooms for couples only in 6 categories in various locations of the property. The staff to guest ratio is nearly one to one, assuming the resort is full. Since it was not at all full, there were many more staff people wandering around than guests. The resort was never more than 50% full during our visit but seemed more crowded. On previous visits, there was never more than 6-8 people around the east end area pool, jacuzzi, and beach, but this time, there were usually about 30. I think this was due to people avoiding the noise of the construction. The front entrance is very elegant whether you face the Georgian Great House or turn around and face the gates. Rooms located near the south pool and jacuzzi are in the Arundel and Caernarvon Block. These are also near the lobby, tennis courts, and basketball courts. Will be near daytime activity but probably peaceful at night. Rooms in the Windsor Block are on the beach very near the watersports and volleyball. This can be a center of activity day and night, but the view is right, and all amenities are convenient. Rooms in the St. James, Clarence, Buckingham, and Glamis Blocks are all located in the gardens. Patios open out onto the main paths. Depending on location, these can be quiet or bothered by the noise of the main pool and swim-up bar, which can often be noisy. The Edinburg Block is very near the Health Club and near the back of the property. Rooms appear to be like cottages with patio table and chairs. The Sandringham Block is located directly on the beach near the beach jacuzzi and beach bar with a good view of the private island and sunset. I am not sure when this block will reopen. Although this could be noisy now and then, I would choose this location if not staying in a suite. Rooms at the back of the Balmoral Block are Royal Suite rooms which open out onto small sections of the beach separated by piers which house gazebos or tables. This is a nice location if you want to lay on the beach a lot. I recommend room 104 if getting a Royal Suite. That room opens right onto the beach. So do rooms between 98-103. These were various room categories due to the construction. It is a short walk to the east end pool and jacuzzi and the main beach jacuzzi and bar. Kensington Block is at the east end of the property. All rooms face the pool, jacuzzi, and beach. Grande Luxe Honeymoon Beachfront Rooms at the side of the Balmoral Block face the pool, jacuzzi, and have side view of ocean. There is also a jacuzzi and swim-up bar on the island and a few paddle boats over there. Gardens have giant chess game, hammocks, croquet, and many local plants and trees. You will see an peacocks. There are two colorful parrots there. Play with them, but don't get too close. A couple of people got bitten. At the front of the path, there are large goldfish, catfish, etc. Two or three singers/instrument players walk around in the afternoon entertaining guests. They always sneak in at least one drink at the bar. Staff Everyone we met was very friendly. Staff we passed spoke. In restaurants, they were courteous. If running behind, came to say it would be a few minutes. Always asking if it was our first visit or welcoming us home when they knew we were returnees. After discovering we were returnees, they always wanted to hear our story. Staff was as nice as you could hope, and that made a true difference. Sandals is doing a good job with this one. Omar, the concierge on our last visit, is now a playmaker. He remembered us and ran to hug me when I met them. Lots of staff remembered us. Several we knew have moved on, but most of them moved to other Sandals. Most of the playmakers are in their 20s. Most were here when we were there before. They have quite a job. Eat, drink, and play with the guests. They live on property. They will all tell you how hard they work. They do have long hours. Omar was telling us how hard he had to work to put up a Christmas tree. Theresa, the former assistant manager, is about to have a baby and now works at Sandals Inn. The General Manager was on-site, which has not been the case in our previous visits. Of course Carl is the replacement for the GM that was let go a while back. Once you meet staff a time or two, they will remember your likes and, sometimes, facts about you, such as your room number or where you are from. Sandals is clearly working on the service and personal touches to make it high quality, and it shows. The staff made a lasting impression. Service Housekeeping came anytime between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. The beds were always turned down in the evening, but no mints this trip. We never ran out of towels in the room since the maid came at least twice a day. At breakfast, water was always brought. We were offered coffee or tea. Juices were served by a staff member at Courtyard and by the guest at the buffet. Previously, staff got upset if you carried your own plate from buffet or selected your own table. Now, they take your plate and seat you if they are around. Otherwise, you seat yourself or when you almost get to a table, they pick one for you. At night, Regency offers a smoking preference. Sometimes, waiters placed napkin in your lap. Bar staff was quick at Royal. We didn't find that to be true at MoBay, but it is more crowded. Never was service at a meal impeccable at either Royal or MoBay, but it was fairly prompt and efficient. It was better than ever at Royal, though, just because it was not full. Service was very good at the returnee dinner and the general manager party. Breakfast Regency Buffet There were waffles, pastries, toast, bagels, roasted potatoes (very good), scrambled eggs, grilled patties (sausage), and watermelon, papaya, and apples everyday. Often pineapple and grapefruit were served. One day, they served plums. Available one day on another visit was unique choices such as leeches and star fruit and often, mango. Available juices were orange or cranberry juices and sometimes, pineapple. Omelets and eggs to order were available. Stay and watch it if you want it just so. There were cheeses and a few meats, lots of pastries, always cereal and canned fruit with yogurt. There was usually a hot cereal and some cheese and deli meat. Every day, either waffles or pancakes were available. We usually had things like fruit, potatoes, eggs, bacon, and toast- American type stuff. Room Service Breakfast We did not order it, but it is available starting at 7:30 a.m. and appeared to be very prompt. Courtyard A la Carte breakfast is available from a two-page menu. This was my favorite--no line. They had omelets and an egg to order breakfast of eggs, potatoes, bacon, sausage, and toast. They offered hash, fruits, and many other items. It is mentioned in the OFFICIAL PASSPORT booklet given out during check-in, and a sign is posted in the lobby. Service is from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Lunch No longer served at Courtyard-a big loss. Choices are Regency, beach grill, or shuttle to another Sandals. Regency--Buffet was different each day and was served from 12:30 until 2 p.m. On Wednesday, we got there at 1:55, and they let us eat. Items varied each day, and generally, this was not the best meal of the day. The soup was always wonderful, however. Some days there were two soups. Some served were pumpkin, pepperpot, cucumber, carrot, bouillabaisse, and chicken broth. Most were of a creamy consistency but not rich. Each day, a pasta dish was made fresh, and sometimes, a cold pasta salad was served. There was always carved meat. Some samples were London broil, roast beef, turkey breast, lamb, and steak. There were always one or two types of grilled fish. Typically, there were one or two entrees, such as Chinese beef, chicken soft tacos, lasagna, etc. There were usually stir- fried vegetables, potatoes, rice, salads, and sandwiches to order, many deserts, and fresh bread. Fruit was usually papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and pineapple. One day, strawberries were served. You tell the attendant what drinks you want, and someone brings it to the table. We ate outside most days. One of the chefs, Rupert, was in charge of the grill, and he was excited when we told him that we remembered him. He is the "maximum respect" man. One dish of note was a creamy seafood dish. It featured conch, shrimp, and giant mussels, among other seafood. It was not rich. Fried chicken was excellent. Pizza was good. Beach grill-opened at 11 a.m. or usually 11:15. Items featured were hot dogs, hamburgers (or cheeseburgers), sometimes meat pies, pizza, jerk chicken (VERY GOOD), fries, self-serve sandwiches, and fruit. Lunch was served until 5 p.m. Often, Todd ate a cheeseburger and fries and I ate two chicken wings, then we would go to the buffet for one or two items, usually 1/2 a cup of soup, salad, and fruit for me. Dinners Regency-menu was mostly the same every night except for the chef special, but I counted 16 entrees on the menu, including a vegetarian special and a fit shape healthy entrée. Dinner 6:30-9:30. This is the main dining room. There is a smoking preference available at dinner, and you can dine inside or next to the water. Outside is always my preference. You can see several types of fish in the water, but there are mosquitoes. Wednesday was the returnee dinner, an all-evening experience. See a later section for that. Thursday was lobster night. Lobster isn't on the menu, but if you ask when you book your dinner reservations if they have a lobster night, you will get booked into Regency the right night. Of course, Regency doesn't require a reservation. In addition to the lobster, a chicken, pork, beef, fish, and seafood mixture were other choices. Todd had the steak and ordered a lobster tail for me. I ordered lobster. I took his lobster in a napkin and ate it for breakfast the next day. Stir-fry vegetables and potatoes were served. We were given a wine choice (about 6 choices) and brought a bottle. Bread was house rolls. Those rolls were served at dinner all over the property and seemed to be the only bread choice at night. Appetizers were a chicken mousse that Todd had and a fish thing I had which was like tuna salad on toast. Soup was shrimp and pumpkin. Salad was Caesar. We did not eat dessert. We were given a bottle of wine. It was a pretty good French wine. Sunday-after Bali Hi, we stopped by for soup and entrée. Shrimp and pumpkin soup was very good. Entrée for me was fruits de mar. It was mostly squid, which I don't eat, but had a few pieces of other very good seafood. Todd had blackened mahi mahi. It was tasty. We were given a bottle of wine again. This time, it was a Chilean Savignon Blanc. Not great, but not bad either. If wine was not desired, bar service was available during the meal at Regency and all other restaurants and buffets. This was true at lunch also. Pavilion-set menu with Jamaican cuisine. Three appetizer choices, soup is pumpkin, salad course, dinner is choice of Jerk chicken, Jerk pork, or shrimp middle quarters or a fresh fish. Dessert is available. This is the white-glove restaurant. We didn't go there because there is a lot of these same items elsewhere, and we, unlike some, do not come to Jamaica for the local cuisine. This is a candlelight meal. Wines are on display. They were closed from Wednesday to Sunday during our stay. They start serving around 6 p.m. Bali Hi-At 5:45 or 7:45, guests with reservations line up at the pier by the watersports area to be boated over to the island. You will be left if late. Men and women are separated into two lines, and a sash is tied about the clothing for good luck. Of course, a photo is taken of each couple. The meal is Indonesian with around 16 courses. Seating was in groups of usually 6 people, and the dishes were served family-style. A welcome drink is served, and wine during the meal or other bar drinks, with jasmine tea served near the end. Guests pass these around the table and use a Sterno-type stove to keep things warm. The dishes I remember include spring roll, green beans, stir- fried vegetables, spicy fish, garlic shrimp, some type of pork chunks, beef slices, ginger chicken, crispy potatoes, shrimp, chicken with vegetables, and rice. A gong is sounded at the beginning of the meal. For dessert, a flaming banana dessert with a light puff pastry was served. The menu may vary, but it was the same during our entire stay. Once dark we had a beautiful lit view of Royal across the water and the beach. Service was OK, but jasmine tea refills were not offered. The bar attendant did come back around, however. A wish doll was passed around for guests to wish upon. We ate there on Sunday. Courtyard Friday night. Todd steak-grilled, best at Sandals. Me-east meets west seafood of grilled tuna, mussels, and shrimp. Our reservation was at 6 p.m. They were not ready. Todd wanted to play pool, so he did that while I watched a lady play a slot machine nearby (they have 6). We went back at 6:15, and there was already another couple ordering. Appetizer-choice of chicken mouse or smoked mackerel. We had the chicken. Soup was pumpkin or broth. We had the pumpkin. Salad was greens with vinaigrette. In addition to the entrees we ate, which were served with grilled vegetables (and Todd's also came with home potatoes), they had a chicken, pork, and a couple of other dishes. Todd had Kahlua pie for dessert. I skipped it. Monday night--our appetizer was chilled mussels with cocktail sauce. We received 3 each, and I ate Todd's. He tried to order two soups, one when I got my appetizer and one when I got my soup, but they misunderstood and brought him the appetizer. He didn't say anything. Soup was lobster bisque. Salad was "exotic greens" and was served with the house dressing which is a sort of Italian dressing. We both had steak. It was served in a sauce with a few cashews. I asked to have some shrimp with mine, and they brought 4. I could not eat everything because I was too full. We skipped dessert. Tuesday night--I ordered salmon, I believe Todd had the steak again. Soup was a creamy chicken. Salad and appetizer were the same. Todd skipped the appetizer. This time, I received two mussels. The restaurant seemed to rotate between two menus, but they did not necessarily have the same menu displayed in the lobby as you received upon being seated. Seatings were available at 6, 7:30, and 9 p.m. The meal usually took about an hour. A wine menu was available. Choices on the left side were included. Choices on the right were available at an additional charge. We always ordered the French white. The first night, they filled our glass each time. The other two nights, we were given a bottle. Pirate Buffet-this was to be on Kokomo Island on Friday but was held in the Regency Room due to the possibility of bad weather, although the weather was fine. We stopped by after the courtyard because I wanted fruit for dessert. Entrees were ribs, fish, and roast beef. No jerk chicken. Perhaps this is because fixings for jerk seasoning are up 600% over last year. They had fabulous jerk chicken at the beach bar, though. Caribbean Buffet--held on Tuesday. There was a beautiful blue ice sculpture. I only glanced at the buffet when we sat down to hear the singer. There were various salads available in a long kayak thing. There was grilled shrimp, carved meat, many other dishes, and more desserts than I saw at any other meal. A bar waiter went around, but the piano bar was close by. Sandals Montego Bay Tokyo Joe's-we visited on Saturday. We thoroughly enjoyed this. It has changed on each of our stayhs at Sandals. We were served one each of a little crispy turnover, lumpia wrapper spring roll, and shrimp with the same batter. Each appetizer was the size of a thumb and very good. Next, we were brought miso soup. Next, we went to the salad bar. Some items included lettuce, onions, grilled onions, beets, almonds, sesame seeds, alfalfa sprouts, cucumbers, crispy pieces of wonton wrapper, and carrots. One dressing, the type served at places such as Bennihana and Mikayo, was served. The main course was Mongolian barbecue. About a dozen or more vegetables and noodles were available. Chicken, shrimp, beef, pork, and fish were available. All of this was piled on a plate anyway you desired. Next, the cooks grilled in woks 4 at a time using a variety of sauces at their discretion. I asked for mine spicy and a sauces not generally put on. Rice and a Chinese pancake were placed on the plate along with the cooked food. Orders for bar drinks were taken at the beginning of the meal. Later, hot tea was served. Ice cream was served, but we skipped that. Fortune cookies were available at the end. This was one of the very best meals during our stay. Mosquitoes abounded. Guests without reservations were allowed to wait for a seat. People were not seated in groups as in the past, unless they booked their reservation in a group. Returnee Dinner at Royal-held on Wednesday. Returnees received an invitation. Earlier in the day, we received T-shirts and a bottle of Tia Maria coffee liqueur. The returnee private cocktail party was at 6:30 p.m. at the South pool terrace. Guests were asked to sign in. Some special awards were given. One couple had stayed a total of 256 nights, and I remember them from a previous visit. An open bar was available with a wide selection, including champagne, and Carl, the general manager greeted everyone and introduced a few more managers. Appetizers consisted of things such as boiled spiced shrimp, fried shrimp, smoked salmon, chicken wings, battered fish, fruit, cheese, and finger things on crackers. We had a good time chatting to various people, and they took us down to dinner at Regency at 7:30. The dinner lasted two hours. Roses and two pairs of sandals for ladies (and a kiss) and one pair of sandals for the guys were given out during the dinner. Menu: appetizer was shrimps and scallops lightly marinated in jerk seasoning, baked in Filo dough. Soup was tomato and gin, but it was easy to get pumpkin instead. Salad was mixed field greens with vegetable salsa, lemon and garlic vinaigrette. The entree was roasted tenderloin dusted with fine herbs, mushroom ragout, and Cognac sauce. The grand finale was a baked ice cream. Champagne flowed the entire meal, and during dessert, coffee and tea were served. The meal ended at nearly 9:30, and we went out to watch the entertainment. Watersports Kayaks, paddle boats, aqua trikes, hobie cats, and sunfish were available. Water skiing was available beginning at 9 a.m. Glass- bottom boat tours went out every day at 9 a.m., 9:30 a.m., and noon. On Saturday, I went at 9:30 a.m. while Todd was at golf. We saw many fish and a stingray. Todd and I went back at noon. It was still clear, and we saw some fish. See activities section for information on scuba and snorkeling. Snorkeling was available at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., but sometimes the afternoon sessions were canceled due to wind. This activity requires sign-up. A resort scuba course is offered. Snorkeling on Sunday-we asked for something to feed the fish, so they threw large rolls out to everyone. Fish of many types swarmed us, and they ate from our hands, we could even touch them. They let us stay out about 30 minutes. Ten people went. Snorkeling on Monday-We went to a different spot. They said the fish wouldn't eat over there, which meant they had nothing to feed them and didn't want bothered. The fish were similar. We saw more interesting coral, and one guy saw a snake. Todd saw a nice shell. He dove down for it for me. He kept dropping it because there was something in it, but he got it on the fourth or fifth try. It was fun to watch. About a dozen people went on that trip. Theme nights Olympics day-Wednesday. Lots of games day and night for Sandals points. We saw a show with dancers in the water. They were from Cuba and put on a very interesting show in and out of the pool. Kept getting chewed about my digital camera because they thought it was a camcorder. Anyway, mosquitoes were bad everywhere. Todd went to bed. I had a very bad sore throat. I listened to the band and then the comedian but left at 11 because the mosquitoes were so bad. Turns out, they were worse in the room. Between them and our sore throats, we were up half the night. Casino Night Held on Thursday. After dancing with the band at 7:30, a singer performed. The casino games began in the Warp Zone disco at 10:30. On our last visit, this was at 8:30 and held on Saturday. This is a charity event, so it cost money. For $10 U.S. or $38 Jamaican, you get $1000 in funny money chips (10 chips). They had black jack and horse racing (controlled by dice rolling to advance the horses). The games were run by playmakers. Some of the dealers were scammed a bit by a few, so only a handful had enough money for the high-stake amounts the prizes went for. They auctioned Jamaican souvenirs and Sandals merchandise. They grouped prizes, so only a few people got anything. It was fun, though. Island/Pirate Night-Friday night. A scavenger hunt was held at 8 p.m. At 9 p.m., dance lessons were held. This was followed by the fire-breather, Prince Akeem. He toured around to each group of guests and did little private shows for all. Limbo and other games were held. I did not see anyone in a costume except the staff. Razmatazz Night Held on Saturday. They call it "a little bit of dis and a little bit of dat". There was a game called Taboo, and a magician performed. He was quite entertaining and involved the audience. A jazz combo played in the piano bar at 7:30 p.m. About 20 people attended that. Formal Night Held on Sunday. People wore anything from regular slacks and dresses to formal evening wear. No shorts. There was a contest held for the best-dressed couple, but were not around for that. After the evening entertainment, slow dancing was held in the disco at 11 p.m a fashion show was held featuring the playmakers. Oldies Night/Karoake-Monday Bingo at 8:30 was $5 a card, for charity, prizes given. This time, no Elvis impersonator. The band played/sang after bingo. They had a 70s and 80s dance in the disco at 10 p.m., but it must have started late, if at all. We went in a few minutes after 10, and they were showing football. A marching band played around the property at 6:30 p.m. during our dinner. At bingo, I tied one bingo and didn't win the tie-breaker. I got extra points for that. We ended up with 50 points from bingo. I won a prize bundle which included a tiny bottle of rum cream, a Red Stripe cookbook, and a $50 gift certificate to a duty free shop in town. Caribbean Night-Gone from our previous visit was carving up coconuts and giving to guests with a straw for the milk, offering flavored ice, cutting up sugar cane, passing out Red Stripe in a cart, and selling Jamaican crafts. I hope they do this again in the future. We heard a singer than night. He was not our favorite. We did not stay up for the island dancers. We heard an excellent singer at Sandals Montego Bay, Gene Stevens. He was a former playmaker, and Todd and I danced to one song. We attended that show because we had over an hour wait after dinner to get our bus to go back to Royal. Activities Lots of activities held daily and activity board near main pool showed the day's schedule. For watersports schedule, check the watersports hut. There were pool games, basketball and tennis tournaments, volleyball, and various other unique games invented by the playmakers. Some activities are canceled, but there was a weekly schedule provided in our room which was marked "week 2", so I assume they rotate a somewhat set schedule. Most events gained a person 10 points. Games There was shuffleboard, croquet, table tennis, pool, backgammon, checkers, slot machines (didn't win anything on my $20), and board games. Aerobics Led by Jude. Workouts held at 8:30 and 5 at fitness center and 10:30 in main pool. Canceled if only one person, but still awarded 10 points. A power walk is held at 8 a.m. On Saturday, I showed up for the power walk, but the instructor didn't show up until 8:12. I had already rode the bike 15 minutes, so I rode another 15 while he sat there. Then he did abdominals with me for 20 minutes. Monday, I did the power walk (30 minutes) and more abs. Got 20 points. Tuesday, I attended the workout and got 10 points. They no longer give Fit Shape t-shirts due to the cost, but they are still mentioned in the brochure. Jude is trying to get them to start giving the shirts again. Jude is a great guy. His wife lives in Germany, so they see each other when they can. He may not be there by the time we get back to the resort. Golf-bus leaves every half hour for Ironshore. You get a voucher from the tour desk or front desk if tour desk isn't open.. Pay $13 for a caddie for 18 holes, tip when you're done. Todd gave them $15 and once tipped a bus driver. Todd played each time in 3 hours walking the course. The course is practically outside the gates of the resort, near McDonald's. Todd went Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday. He really liked the frequency of the bus and that he could go as early as 7 a.m. and get back at about 10:15. Todd got the same caddie every day, and he really enjoyed that. Snorkeling-Boat goes out 4 times per day. Times were 10, 11, 2, and 3. It leaves on time, if not early. Tours-tours can be arranged at a desk in the lobby. Possibilities include tours such as Rose Hall, Sunsplash, horseback riding on the beach, mountain rafting or rafting on the Marthae Brae, and Dunn's River Falls. The prices vary. Concierge guests are asked to book through the concierge. Books and Board Games Both are available for loan from the playmakers, as are books. Points Points are awarded for activities such as volleyball, aerobics, aquacize, contests and games, tennis, basketball, talent night (instant Sandals), Olympics, Casino night, buying bingo cards.. You can go to the playmakers and find out how many points you have at any time. Sixty points gets you Sandals. Points are per couple. We ended up with 135 but would have had many more if we hadn't been sick our first two days of the trip. After getting enough points for both people to get Sandals, you can get more things such as key chains and t-shirts. Check with playmakers before you leave about your points. On all of our stays, they didn't have them right. I kept track of them during the stay. It took me 20 minutes with them before our departure for them to find all the slips. They had some points down under the wrong room or name. Manager's Cocktail Party It was held Monday at 5 p.m. Appetizers and an open bar was available. A few managers were there. This was held by the main pool and open to all guests. Most appetizers were something on a cracker. Shrimp, chicken wings, battered fish strips, and other hot appetizers were also served. This was much more casual than before. Last time, there were fancier appetizers and an ice sculpture. Church The Reverend Gordon, who performs the non-denominational weddings at Royal (we were his 3100th, and he is now over 5200, averaging 2 per day) holds a non-denominational prayer service on Sunday morning at 9 a.m. in the Hampton Court convention center. The front desk or concierge can help find other services on the island. We were the only ones there, so he chatted an hour with us about events, his career and religious philosophy, and prayed with us. VIP Concierge Cocktail Party Didn't have it, but they still invite returnees to a shopping trip, escorted. Dancing The resort band plays for dancing around 7:30 p.m. every night. Dancing at Royal and MoBay was somewhat facilitated by playmakers dancing together as a way for no one to be the first couple out there. Photos A photographer takes your picture all over the property at various times. They are everywhere from restaurants to pools and jacuzzis. The pictures are available the next day for $7. No pressure to buy. You don't even have to go look at them. Scandals Gift Shop Lots of Jamaica and Sandals items. They had various sales. A sign advertising sales was just outside the area where afternoon tea was served. Only t-shirts were a bargain and the 50 percent off table. Fish and Birds There are large fish and a turtle to feed and view just off the lobby. There were two parrots just down the path from there. We were able to get them to say, "hi" and "hello". There were birds at the main entrance of Sandals Montego Bay. Fitness Center and Fit Shape Program The fitness center is always open. There are free weights in various sizes. There are more machines and a new exercise floor added since our visit in 1993. There are four bikes, three treadmills, a Nordic Trak ski machine, a stair stepper, and machines for various parts of the body. Classes for points included power walk at 8 a.m. aerobics (usually he only did floor or standing exercises, not aerobics or step), aquacize at the main pool at 10:30 and stretch and tone at 5 p.m. He never mentioned 5 p.m., so I assumed he didn't have it because the resort was on an off week. The instructor lived on- site. Fit shape food items were noted at the Courtyard Grill and at the Regency. Ten points were given for attending class. A sauna was located between the men's and women's bathrooms. Jo Jo's Beauty Salon The beauty salon is adjacent to the Fitness Center at the back of the property. Massages were 30 min for $28, 45 minutes for $40 (in brochure but not mentioned), and 60 minutes for $55. I was 5 minutes late, and she cut the time off my massage. She was very aggressive. Facial was $35 and lasted 45 minutes. She started late, but it was very good. Manicure was $12. Pedicure was $18. Eyebrow, arm, bikini, and leg waxing were available, braids, too. I had a one- hour massage, which was full-body and a facial. Both were wonderful. You can generally get an appointment on the same day you call. Slot Machines Six by the pool tables. Attended regularly, used now and then. I went through $20 in 11 minutes. Beach Bar and Grill The bar opens from 11 a.m. until 3a.m. The grill opens from around 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. and again around 11 p.m. Alcoholic and Non- alcoholic drink specials are posted at the main swim-up pool bar The grill served hamburgers. Cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, jerk chicken hot dogs, fries, pizzas, meat turnovers, sandwiches, and fruit. Popcorn was available at the bar. Service was prompt at all times. Afternoon Tea Tea and coffee were always available in the Jamaican tea room. Between 4 and 5 p.m., service included pastries, fruit, or sandwiches served from a cart by a strolling waiter. Coffee and tea were self- serve and available 24 hours a day. Piano Bar The bar, itself, is open from sometime in the afternoon until as late as you want. The piano player played every night, but we never saw anyone sing. They had two scheduled sing-a-longs a night. Other Sandals The shuttle runs every 1-2 hours to the other two Sandals. A schedule is posted. The shuttle bus was painted the day before we left and has Sandals and Beaches logos all over it. The trip between Royal and MoBay was about 3 minutes each time. The atmosphere at MoBay was much different. The property is large and more spread out than Royal. We enjoyed Tokyo Joe's, but found the service at the lobby bar, and restaurants to be somewhat slow and impersonal. We also hated the plane noise. They still do a wonderful job of weddings If you want to go to Sandals in Ocho Rios or Negril, transportation is available but not free. Departure and Return Home Check-out was at 11 a.m., and at 10:55, someone came for our bags. The night before our departure, we had received a copy of our bill, our immigration cards, and a note from the concierge to check out with him. I didn't read that part and checked out at the front desk. Pernell, the concierge, was a little upset, but he bid us goodbye and put us in a Toyota Crown at 11:36 a.m. We got a cold chicken breast on our first flight and only pretzels on the second. Both gave complimentary wine, I assume because it was Christmas Eve. We had to do customs in Miami. It took 45 minutes to get our bags, but we had 4.5 hours between flights. We arrived back in Houston at 9:10 p.m. and got home at 10 p.m. to a house full of my relatives waiting to celebrate Christmas. Comments Two ladies came on the property out of nowhere and pressured me to buy three bracelets. I paid $5 each, but they shouldn't have been there. Staff is generally friendly at Sandals. Go with the right frame of mind and expectations and you will have an outstanding vacation. There was a wide age mix from 20-something to 70-something--not that many 20-somethings. Much more visit in the summer.
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