Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Trip 2/2002 Ann Arbor, MI We departed from Detroit with another couple on American Airlines to MB via Miami. No problems other than having to get to the airport at 4:45 AM for a 6:46 AM takeoff. Arrived in Montego Bay on time at about 1:00 by the time we cleared customs we missed the plane to the resort. We drove in a van with another couple (6 persons total). First ride to Ocho Rios and last! Timm Air again next time (we chartered Timm Air when we were at Sans Souci a couple of years ago.). Nothing on the drive out makes up for the discomfort of the drive and the roads. Only good news is was better than our ride to Negril last September. We arrived at the resort about 3PM met with a glass of champagne and damp washcloth. Our room was ready, BUT the other coupleís was not. They did not have either the room category they had reserved, or a better one available until the following day. This was not a good start. We had made our reservations over 6 months ago and had asked for two adjacent Junior Honeymoon Suites. Only after considerable complaining did they offer to upgrade our companions to the other side of the resort THE FOLLOWING DAY. The room they finally got did not make up for the inconvenience of having to move. We got to our rooms on the second try, because the keys did not work the first attempt. The rooms are exquisite. The furnishings are very nice and far above most resorts. The workmanship on the tile, trim etc. far exceeded Caribbean Standards. The in room safe is located in the closet and easy to use. The mini bar was well stocked, including juice and water. There were four new bottles of premium liquor on the bar. The Jacuzzi was in our room (259) was large enough for two. Strangely, the Jacuzzi in our friend's upgraded room was smaller than ours. Another couple we talked to also stated ours was larger then theirs. We took a walk around the grounds before dinner. They are gorgeous. We went over to look at the Gym, because both my wife and I intended to use it and the aerobics classes extensively. You have to with the food and drinks they serve all the time. We noticed that there was a body sculpture class at 8 AM the following morning. Sounded great, but we were not sure where class was to be held, the gym was too small. We asked at the desk. They didnít know, and didnít really offer to find out. The next morning, we woke up and again asked at the desk. They said ask at the gym. To the gym we went, BUT the gal in the spa told us the class was at Sandals Ocho Rios and we would have to walk over there to attend. Reading the sign again, we did notice the color code at the bottom. THERE ARE NO AEROBIC CLASSES AT ROYAL PLANTATION...forget what their web page says. Any classes you want to attend are at either Beaches Grande Sport or Sandals Ocho Rios. The shuttle will take you once an hour to the other resorts, but the shuttle did not start until 9 AM, not much use for an 8 AM Class. This was just the first example of the some of the small problems that have yet to be addressed at this resort. Managementís reaction to this was to offer to drop up off using the 7 AM golf shuttle. Who wants to be at an exercise class 55 minutes before it starts? This is supposed to be a five star resort. Neither my wife nor I went to one class during our 8 days. We did use the gym. I was there 7 days, my wife 6. The facility was small but new and nice. All the equipment worked well. There were mats and Swiss Balls available. The only free weights were dumbbells. There was a lack of smaller dumbbells for ladies. There were no Cybex weight machines or cable stations, so a full workout was not possible. I could use the heavier free weights to adapt easier than my wife who remained frustrated at her inability to complete her normal workout. The gym was busy. When I was there between 7:30 and 8:30 AM, a few people were unable to get a machine and left without working. The same thing happened in the late afternoon a couple of times. Many couples work out together on vacation and Iím a not sure Sandals get that yet. This is certainly true at the resorts we have been to the last couple of years. The range of ages in the gym started at 20 something honeymooners and extended to couples in their mid 50ís like us. The other couple we traveled with are both runners. There is really no place to run on the resort. The beaches are too short. The grounds are compact. That is probably another reason the gym is so busy. They both ran on the treadmills most days. The beaches were small, but nice. We were concerned about the lack of sun on the beaches. It was never a problem. We spent most morning and early afternoon on the East beach, the one with the beach bar. Most of the day there is plenty of sun by the pool too. We sometimes moved up there after lunch. Plenty of chaises and you could move around to the shade or the sun. There was drink service on the beach after about 10 AM. They gave you a flag to stick in the sand if you wanted a drink. I never used it. They were always around and sometimes I had to get up and stretch. It was a long 50 feet to the beach bar, but I made it all be myself sometimes. The small swimming area at each beach was roped off and you were not allowed to swim outside the ropes. Hobie Cats, Sunfish boats kayaks were available at the West beach. They all were in good shape and used. There were no floats for either the pool or the ocean. I am still in shock that at this expensive five star resort, I could not lay on a float in the water. Again, although nice, the beaches, and pools pale in comparison with Sans Souci and Swept Away. The Hot tub was the best feature. The two level tubs were comfortable and neither too hot nor too cold except for one morning. The chairs around the pool and hot tubs were even more comfortable than the ones at the beach. Food Service was generally great. The food was well prepared, varied and well presented. We had some food service problems, but none with the food. The menu at the Bayside for Dinner contained a large variety of entrees. My wife is picky and does not eat seafood, but had no problem selecting something every night at the bayside. The menu has a section that is always the same, and a page that is changed twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays. Everything we had was properly prepared and artistically served. We ate at the Bayside 6 or the 8 evenings we were there. Culinary highlight of the week was the flambť served one evening at the Bayside. Be sure to make reservations to have that one evening. If the weather is good, you will eat outside. The inside room is beautiful, but is only set up when the weather is threatening. The beach bar was very good. The menu remains the same every day, with a daily special. The soups were fantastic. The lunch soup at the beach is also available at the Bayside for dinner. The seafood salad (all seafood, not fillers or a lot of greens) and the seafood club sandwich were uniformly good every day. The service was good and after the second day we had our drinks ready for use B4 we ordered them. The band that played during lunch was a nice diversion too. Sophia at the beach bar was a delight. We only used room service for breakfast a couple of days. No problems, relatively quick and food was good. Canít comment on other meals. Most days we ate Breakfast at the Bayside. Simply put, just about anything you could want for breakfast was available. The orange juiced was freshly squeezed and tasted that way. The other juices were good too, but one would kill for the orange juice. As the resort got more crowded, the breakfast time stretched out. This is discussed below. La Papillion French Restaurant was a major disappointment. First, we made reservations for four and they were not ready when we arrived. We asked how long for an outside table since we had to wait anyhow. Told twenty minutes, we had to retire to the lower floor, because the bar was not open in the restaurant. The only reason we could see it was not open, was because they had deserts on the bar. One hour later after two trips upstairs to inquire what was the problem, we were seated. That was just the start. The two entrees of the evening were Dover Sole and Beef Wellington (yes, beef Wellington at a French Bistro). In addition, there were two appetizers available, but no soup or salad course. Then the waiter promptly told us we could have the beef only one-way -- medium. Things went downhill from there. My wife finally got her beef well done, as she desired, but what an experience. Louis, the food manager suddenly disappeared. The poor waiters were left hanging with 4 unhappy customers. Strangely, Louis managed to stop at every table but ours. The food when it was served was very good, but the evening (Valentineís Day by the way) was ruined. We were not the only oneís not impressed with the ďFrench gourmet restaurantĒ. In general, the guests who were from areas with many nice restaurants, were not happy with La Papillon, while those who were not, thought it was great. One couple called the French restaurant at Beaches Negril 10 times better than La Papillon. Entertainment was sparse. We really were ready to bust out after a few days. The Monday night beach party was ok, but probably would be better as a buffet served upstairs on the plaza. The Fire Dancer performed in one corner on the sand and was not easily seen by most of the tables. The band played up by the food and not that close to the tables. We thought they felt they had to have a beach party because everyone does. Their heart does not seem to be in it. Also, the band only played to 9PM, not much of a party. The house band was ok, the singer was very good, but did not sing a lot. One evening she did one set, took a 45-minute break, came back and sang 3 songs and was done. Wednesday they have a cultural dance and singing group that was enjoyable the first evening we were there. The following Wednesday, they tried to have them perform in the main dining room of the Bayside during dinner. It was a disaster. An eight-member dance group trying to perform in a small corner of a room not set up for entertaining. Way too loud, way too cramped. I could not enjoy my dinner inside because of the noise and commotion. Another night ruined. Overall, the staff was friendly and attentive. I have never had better housekeeping service in the Caribbean. Or room remained spotless during our stay. As the hotel began to fill up, the service deteriorated. This was a result of not enough staff, not because of bad staff attitude. Breakfast times got longer especially after 8 AM. Our second last day, it took two hours to eat lunch at the Bayside. A couple of different days, there were no napkins or wash clothes. Some days we got the Times digest under our door some days we did not. The housekeeping in the commons area left a lot to be desired. Peacock feces remained on the Bayside Deck for over two days. Spilt tomatoes also were not cleaned up. One morning (9:30 AM, not dawn) the pool area was full of cigar butts, cigarette butts and empty glasses. One afternoon an empty glass sat on a table in the main hallway for hours. The crowed was an eclectic mixture. Sandals overbooking other resorts and bumping them up to BRP aggravated this. This resulted in a small group of people who were not happy to be there, and did not have the proper clothes to follow the dress codes. We were told that this was even more disturbing the week before we arrived. The manager told us late in our stay that BRP could now pick who was bumped, as opposed to them sending anyone. He stated that should help with the problems they had. My wife was so frustrated after the Valentineís Day experience; she wrote a note to the manager requesting a meeting. Later she found out that she was the 6th person that day that had taken the time to personally express their displeasure to the manager in a private meeting. After the meeting, she did not feel much would be done. The next day (Sunday no less) the deck was power washed and the feces and tomatoes were removed. Housekeeping in the common area was much better from then on too, but they lost this group of four. We will not be returning. One reason is that the resort is a little too quiet for us. Another reason is we think it is overpriced for the experience provided. The best description of the resort was given to me in the pool one day by a 76 year old retired add executive: This place has a lot of kinks to work out for a five star property. After being in operation for a year, they should have been worked out. We wonder if Sandals has really bought the concept they market for this resort. Maybe this is too much an upgraded Sandals and too little an exclusive five star luxury full service resort. The inconsistencies piled up as the week went on. Little things added up. The fact that they were at 85% capacity as opposed to 35-40% they had been running may account for the cracks appearing now as opposed to earlier glowing reports. We canít answer that, we can just wonder.
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