Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
| CTR Homepage | Island Index | Search |
Trip 3/99 My wife and I returned from Ocho Rios three weeks ago and I'd like to report on what my impressions were. I found this message board useful, so I thought I'd try to return the favor. This was our second trip to Jamaica. 1st time was in '97 and we stayed at Jamaica Grande in Ocho Rios and the Poinciana in Negril. This time we stayed at the Plantation Inn in Ocho Rios. Travel To: We flew Air Canada from Portland, OR to Kingston (via Vancouver and Toronto: Frequent flier mileage awards make you do strange things). Our arrival and processing through customs was easy and quick (especially when I compared it to the lines we encountered in MoBay the last trip). We caught up with our taxi, who was arranged through the hotel. The trip through Kingston during rush hour was slow and made us realize we weren't in Kansas anymore. We passed through Trenchtown and Spanish Town. We saw an accident near the Flat bridge, which made me glad that I had taken the advice of several responders on this board when I asked if we should rent a car or hire a taxi. We got into Ocho Rios after dark (the trip took about 3 hours.) Accommodations: The Plantation Inn is a beautiful older building with a nice dark wood lobby. We had a room on the West Wing. All rooms overlook the sea and have a nice balcony. There are three floors, we were on the top floor (which I would recommend). If you would like more seclusion, stay on the East wing. We liked being closer to the central area because there were some nights where we would hang out in our room listening to the bands that were playing outdoors at the Restaurant. The rooms are clean, but not new. The sliding doors to the balconies were wood with glass windows. The "windows" in the closet (nice big closet) and the back wall were wooden louvers that could be opened to let the breeze flow through. A ceiling fan helped to cool the room off, as well. The AC was OK, but we only used it on the first night. The TV didn't work (thank you, God). The staff was friendly and very helpful. Beach and Grounds: The land surrounding the Inn was a beautifully manicured garden that included several roaming peacocks. They have several tennis courts that appeared to be in great condition (they had a visiting pro that gave free lessons). There was a weight and exercise room which we saw but didn't use. The equipment looked to be past its prime. The best part about the PI was the beach(es). There are actually two sections (east and west). The west was closer to most of the rooms and had a beach bar (hence more people) and all of the water toys. The east side was more secluded and was very private. There were several days where we would be one of two or three couples on the beach. We were never hassled with people offering jetski rentals or parasailing trips. The beaches are both sides were daily raked and spotless; the sand was soft and clean. Water Sports: I think the PI is in a perfect location. We love to snorkel and there is a great reef about 100 yards off shore. We brought our own masks and snorkles and used the hotel's flippers. The first day we took a glass bottom boat ride out to the reef west of the hotel and joined divers from Sandals, Ciboney etc. in an area that was fairly murky and uninteresting fishwise. The water was very clear and the reef more interesting directly out from the East beach. We swam out there and had no problems. My wife is a good swimmer, but we took along a life preserver for her to float on which made her more confident of the swim out to the reef. The water is 10 feet deep at most and there are enough sandy, shallow places to stand near the reef if you get tired. We spent hours exploring the reef and felt like it was our own private aquarium. Saw many multicolored fishes and several small stingrays. The north side of the reef was considerably deeper and there were several scuba dive boats that visited during the week. I didn't sail, but they have sunfish and sailboards available. The winds were steady, but not overpowering. If I had more time I would have accepted the offer of Donovan (one of the several beach attendants) to teach me how to sail the sunfish. Next time. I did take out one of the plastic sea kayaks and paddled down to the Shaw Park hotel beach, about a mile or so east. Food: We did not sign up for the all-inclusive package at the hotel, preferring to explore the restaurants available in Ocho Rios. We bought fruit (excellent pineapples, papayas, watermelons, and bananas) at the Friday farmer's market and sweet rolls at the Ocho Rios Bakery in town and carried those back to the hotel for breakfasts. Unfortunately the hotel room didn't have a refrigerator, but they did have plenty of ice. We used a plastic bucket as there were no coolers for sale in town (my guess is they are too light and bulky to be profitably imported into the island). I also bought a supply of Heinekens (brewed in Kingston and very tasty) and Dragon Stouts to enjoy at the hotel. Prices were about J$50 for each beer (J$35 per US$1). For lunches we either had home made sandwiches when we were at the hotel, or ate at a jerk place in town. We had dinner at the Ocho Rios Jerk Centre twice and loved it. They have little sweet dumplings called "festivals" that tasted good with the spicy meats (we enjoyed the chicken and ribs, the pork was too fatty and the fish was nothing special). We ate a lunch or two at another small sidewalk jerk center in town (right next to the KFC) and enjoyed that as well. Do you get the idea that we loved jerk food? The only place we went that we didn't like was the place called "BiBiBips" on the old road outside of Ocho Rios. The view was great and I enjoyed the music that they were playing, but the food was mediocre and the worst part was the surprise when the bill arrived. On top of the food bill, we were hit with a "service Tax" of 15% and hospitality charge of 10%. I am sure that the local Jamaicans, of whom there were few dining at the restaurant, were not hit with such a tax. We were prepared to argue with the manager, but chalked it up to experience. My new name for the place is "RiRiRips". We also had a dinner at the Plantation Inn on a night we didn't feel like going out to town. The food was outstanding, plentiful, and the service was quick. They serve continental cuisine with fresh Jamaican ingredients. The prices aren't cheap, but you get what you pay for. The bottom line is that we really enjoyed the flexibility of not being on an all- inclusive plan. Next time we go to Jamaica, we will look for a place that has a small refrigerator included with the room, and possibly a kitchette. Things to do besides the beach: We enjoyed being able to walk into town from the hotel. I found the town to be cleaner and much more prosperous than the last time we were there. I think the influx of money from the cruise ships that dock several times a week have helped the town. My wife enjoyed the shops, particularly the fabric stores that had reasonable prices and interesting prints. The Friday market was a hoot: quite a selection of locally grown produce and some interesting characters. The music that was for sale was all bootleg tapes and I didn't indulge. We also spent a day at Dunn's River Falls. The owners have really cleaned the place up. It was a spotless tropical park. I didn't hire a guide and I climbed the Falls twice. That is probably one of the most refreshing and fun places that I can imagine. We went to the Falls (via taxi: J$400 roundtrip from hotel) on a Sunday morning that did not have any ships in port and we were able to miss most of the crowds. Many locals spend the day at the beach which is at the bottom of the falls. We went to an art gallery several miles to the east of our hotel called Harmony House. The paintings on display were beautiful, all done by professional artists of Jamaican themes. Unfortunately, the prices were too steep for us. My wife shopped for a while in their gift shop and I had a couple of Red Stripes at the bar. I met the owner (a transplant from Parma, Italy) of a restaurant that was located next to the gallery. I also talked to the bartender about cricket. He told me of a cricket oval, Content Garden, which was near my hotel. I went out the next day to see if there was a match, but no luck. I have only seen cricket on TV during our last trip and wanted to learn more about the game. The hotels sponsor employee cricket teams that vie for the league honors. The Jamaicans love football (soccer), as well. I did enjoy the walk through the Jamaican neighborhood that most tourists probably don't see. Getting Around: We walked a lot. Our hotel was almost 2 miles from town (to the east). We would typically walk into town on the new highway, which had a concrete sidewalk. We did go into town on the old road, which has more shops and activities, but smaller spaces for walking. Taking taxis was never a problem. There was an area near the clocktower in town where we could always find a ride back to our hotel. There aren't many formal taxis, most guys just have a small car and give rides for a fee. When asked how much, they would always ask how much we would be willing to spend. For the two of us and all the groceries and stuff that we would carry, we usually could get a ride for J$100. After getting to know the scene, we found out that we could pile into a car headed the same direction we were going with other Jamaicans and pay J$50 for the two of us. I noticed the locals were paying about J$15 each. Those rides were quite an adventure. Even though we were squeezed in the back of a little Japanese sedan, people were respectful about maintaining personal space. Thankfully the other passengers used their deodorants. The people in general are friendly, but businesslike. There is a great family atmosphere in town. We were downtown on Saturday night and had a great time in the midst of the bustle. We were the only non-Jamaicans around, it seemed. Everyone was dressed in their good clothes and were out to have a fun time. My wife and I felt very safe. My wife walked to town by herself on another occasion and had no difficulties. Travel Home: We left Ocho Rios with the driver that had picked us up at the airport a week before. We had arranged to spend the day checking out some of the sights along the way prior to our 4:00 flight home. We stopped in Spanish Town and I checked out the museum in the old town square while my wife did some more fabric shopping. We went to the Bob Marley museum in Kingston and got the tour. We thought it to be overpriced for what you get. The woman who gave the tour gave the impression that she'd rather be doing anything but guiding the tour through the old home. The best part of the "museum" was the film that they show at the end in their little theater. We made it to the airport with no problems, had a late lunch and flew back home via Toronto/Calgary/Vancouver. Air Canada deserves praise because they didn't lose any of our 5 bags, they had reasonably good food, and their in- flight personnel had good attitudes. I wish I could say the same about United. We're now planning our next trip back for Spring Break 2000.
We just returned from our first Jamaica trip, a week at Grand Lido Sans Souci, and it was the best vacation of our lives. If you’re looking for a romantic spot where you can relax, be pampered and forget about time, this is the place. About six months ago John and I started talking about going to Jamaica. We had heard about Sandals, so we got some brochures and read up on all the Sandals resorts. We knew we wanted to stay at an all-inclusive resort, but we still had some questions, so we got on the Internet and discovered SuperClubs. So many choices! We called SuperClubs, and they sent us brochures and a video, but it was the Internet trip reports that convinced us that Grand Lido Sans Souci was the place for us. Planning this trip was fun, but whoever said “getting there is half the fun” didn’t have to fly from Tucson to Jamaica. We left Tucson Friday afternoon, April 16, spent the night at a Dallas Airport hotel, caught a 6:00 a.m. flight to Miami on Saturday and arrived in Montego Bay around noon. We were among the first in line and got through Immigration, Baggage and Customs quickly. A porter loaded our bags onto his cart and led us to the Air Jamaica Express counter in a different part of the airport. The bags were heavy, and we didn’t know where we were going, so it was well worth the tip. We had booked the flight to Ocho Rios (actually Boscobel Aerodrome) in order to get to the resort sooner than we would by taking the shuttle. The flight was supposed to leave at 1:00 and arrive at 1:30. Due to a maintenance problem, we didn’t leave till 2:00. When we arrived in Ocho Rios, we were told the driver from Sans Souci had already come and gone, but they called him and he came back. We got to Sans Souci around 3:00 right after the guests who took the shuttle. Still, we have no regrets. It was a scenic flight along the coast, and we saw several resorts, including Sans Souci, from the air. We tipped our taxi driver (the last tip till the day we left) and were greeted by Mark Lee with “Welcome home.” He took us to the Front Desk where Nicole met us and asked if we’d like something to drink. She brought a Mimosa for me and a Red Stripe for John and gave us some forms to fill out and took our hotel voucher. Our room wasn’t ready so Nicole took us to the Spa and left us with Maggie to schedule our spa appointments for the week. On the way back to the Front Desk we stopped by Charlie’s Grotto and were lucky to see Charlie, the sea turtle. She is one big turtle! By the time we returned to the Front Desk our room was ready. Karoline (I think she is one of the Assistant Managers) showed us to our room. We were happy to learn we had an upgrade to a Jacuzzi Suite on the second floor in B- Block. We had a balcony that looked down on the lawn where the Grand Gala would be held on Friday night and beyond that, a view of the ocean. All week we enjoyed having our morning coffee on the balcony and watching people stroll by on their way to breakfast at Palazinna nearby. After Karoline left, I called Room Service and ordered a Tropical Fruit Plate and Fiesta El Macho—nacho chips with onion, tomato, jalapeno peppers, cheese, sour cream, guacamole & salsa (really good) and Margaritas. We also asked for a couple of champagne glasses for later to go with the champagne that was in our mini-bar. Our bags arrived and we changed into shorts and T-shirts and unpacked. We put our tickets, passports and John’s wallet in the wall safe. John enjoyed not having to carry his wallet all week. The only time we took money out was to buy stamps for a postcard and to pay for pictures of us taken both at Casanova (the formal restaurant) and at the Grand Gala. Karoline called to ask if our bags had arrived and if we received the extra towels I had requested. Yes on both. We were impressed with her follow-up. Sans Souci must have an excellent training program and a knack for hiring bright people who are suited to the hospitality industry. Before going out to explore, we took the advice from some of the trip reports we’d read and called to make dinner reservations for the week. We were able to get into Casanova Sunday at 9:00 and Wednesday at 7:30. We wanted to go to Seafood Night at La Terrazza and had to settle for 9:30. We were told a large group (70+ people) was staying at the hotel, and they were having a reception and dinner at La Terrazza that night. We felt like the Beach Bar was calling us, so we went on down and ordered a Yellow Bird and a Jamaican Delight and congratulated ourselves on arriving in Paradise. This place is beautiful—the clean sandy beach, the clear water, huge trees with blossoms, lush foliage and tropical flowers everywhere. We took a walk and climbed some of the many steps we kept reading about in other trip reports. We actually liked the steps. With all the eating and drinking we’d be doing all week, we welcomed the exercise. We found a hammock near the Hummingbird Garden and were swinging and debating whether we were going to be hungry enough for any dinner that night after the late Room Service lunch, when Lorna walked by and stopped to say hello. (We later learned Lorna worked at the Balloon Bar and the Beach Bar.) She told us about Bella Vista and Café Lido, two restaurants where we didn’t need reservations and could get something light. Lorna asked our names, and for the rest of the week she called us J & J. We went back to our room to freshen up and then went to Bella Vista where we had salad, bread, wine and dessert. We skipped the entrée. Then we checked out the Balloon Bar and met George, a popular and talented bartender. He and Ralston were outstanding. On Sunday, our first full day, we had coffee on the balcony and then breakfast on the terrace at Palazzina. The buffet had both hot and cold selections. That first day, we just had fruit, smoked fish, cheese, croissants and coffee and juice and then headed for the beach. This is a small private beach, not like the one at Grand Lido Negril. We talked to some people who had just spent a week at Negril and they preferred the bigger beach there. We liked the seclusion of this beach. The only people on it were the Sans Souci guests and staff. We’re not sun worshipers; living in Arizona gives one respect for the power of the sun and the damage it can do. That said, I just loved this beach. We both wore hats and sunscreen and found lounge chairs in the shade. We got towels from the guys at the Watersports Hut. They were always helpful and friendly. The lounge chairs had yellow rubber pads that you could remove and use to float on in the ocean. I’m not a swimmer, but the water isn’t deep, and I enjoyed paddling around. The water was clear and you could see some fish without snorkeling equipment. If you want to try out snorkeling before going out on the boat with a group, you can check out equipment and swim out to the ropes and a flag that marks where the coral is. John did this and saw some small colorful fish. You’ll see a lot more fish and coral, as well as a shipwreck, if you go out on the boat. At other times the same boat is used for glass-bottom boat rides. We did the latter. We also went kayaking one day, and John went sailing on a Sunfish. He had windsurfed in the Bahamas a few years ago and was going to try that, but never got around to it. I guess we’ll have to go back. Most of the time we just relaxed on the beach and read our books and watched people. A Jacuzzi was close-by, as well as the swim-up bar at the new pool. Sometimes a waiter would come around and take drink orders or we’d go to the Beach Bar and get them ourselves. You can consume lots of those drinks. There’s not much alcohol in them. They just taste good. The Beach Grill was always packed at lunchtime. We learned the best time to order was when Gilbert was working. He was fast and always had a smile and a song and worked great under pressure. While we were lying on the beach, we saw Karoline with some new guests near the Pool Bar. I called hello to her and she came over. She said, “Judith and John, how is everything?” I was surprised that she remembered our names. She asked if were able to get all of our dinner reservations made. I told her we were only able to get 9:30 reservations for seafood night at La Terrazza and would have to miss the entertainment on the Balloon Bar Terrace that was scheduled at the same time. She said she’d try to get something earlier for us and would leave us a voice-mail message. When we went back to our room later, there was a message from Karoline saying our reservations were changed to 8:30. We were pleased and impressed. At so many places, the answer to any request or complaint would be “Sorry.” At Sans Souci it’s “No problem.” The staff here goes out of their way to please you. Sunday night we got dressed up and went to Casanova. We liked the formal atmosphere, and the service was good. When we mentioned to our waiter, Frank, that we would be coming back Wednesday night, he told us to ask for him. The dinner was very good, but the Pumpkin Orange Soup was exceptional, and the desserts were to die for. I had something called Earl Grey, a rich chocolate tart with slices of bananas on top and surrounded with a praline wafer. We both had coffee and then went down to the Balloon Bar. Outside the Balloon Bar is a stage where the band plays and a terrace with small tables all around and where you can dance. We didn’t sit at the tables. We sat or stood at the bar, which opened out to the terrace. We did go outside to dance. Did I say this place is romantic? Imagine dancing under the stars and looking up at tall trees filled with big bright red flowers. Before we went to bed on Sunday night, we put out the Room Service breakfast tag, so we could start Monday with the Ocho Rios Eye Opener--Blue Mountain coffee, juice and a pastry basket. We ate breakfast on the balcony and then spent the day at the beach. We went back to our room in time to shower and change and make our 6:00 p.m. appointment for reflexology. While we were changing, Room Service called and asked if they could bring up a fruit and cheese plate and a bottle of champagne from the manager. Of course. The champagne was in a bucket of ice, and we managed to fit the plate into the mini-bar so we could have it after our reflexology. This was the perfect time for our reflexology treatments, which were done on the terrace near the giant chess set. We hadn’t scheduled them at this time on purpose, but we will on our next trip. It’s cooler at that time of day, and the view of the sunset was beautiful. We faced the water, and as we watched the sun set, the pressure points on our feet were massaged. The written description they give you on reflexology ends with “leaving the client with a total feeling of well being.” Boy, they got that right. We went back to our room and opened the champagne and had a little bit of the cheese and fruit. Couldn’t eat too much ‘cause we knew we’d be having seafood at La Terrazza in a couple of hours. I had brought along some corks that we could put in champagne bottles, since there’s no way you can fit a champagne cork back in. We put the leftover champagne in the mini-bar. The next day we asked one of the waitresses at Palazzina if we could have some orange juice to go. She brought us a covered pitcher of juice that fit nicely in the mini-bar, and we were able to make our own Mimosas. Seafood Night at La Terrazza didn’t include lobster, since it wasn’t in season. The highlights of our dinner were the crabcake appetizer for me and the ceviche for John. We finished dinner in time to make the 9:30 entertainment outside the Balloon Bar—the Fashion Show. This was fun. Some of the models were guests we had seen at the beach and around the resort, and the fashions were from the resort shops. There was music with the Fashion Show, and the band played afterwards. Every night at the Balloon Bar when the entertainment outside ended, the piano player started inside. On Tuesday we had our massage appointments. We had requested the massage huts. I had mine in the Hideaway and John had his in the Restaway. We both thought our massages were wonderful, but agreed the Hideaway is probably the best hut. You can hear the ocean from both, but you can feel the breezes better in the Hideaway, which has windows open facing the ocean. Tuesday night was the torch-lit beach party. That afternoon I called the Front Desk and asked what the dress was for the beach party. The young woman I talked to said, “Oh, very casual. You can wear shorts or bathing suits.” Then she laughed and said, “You can come naked if you want.” When we got there almost everyone I saw wore shorts. There was a huge buffet—hot and cold food, seafood, meats, chicken, Jamaican specialties and loads of desserts. We filled our plates and found a table. A newlywed couple from Germany, Christian and Kerstin joined us. We enjoyed their company and sat with them again at the Grand Gala on Friday night. The entertainment at the beach party included Reggae music and dancers. The dancers were staff members and guests, including many of the newlywed couples. They all wore colorful costumes and makeup and put on a wild show. On Wednesday we had an early Room Service breakfast and then went to the beach for awhile before our manicures and pedicures, which we both enjoyed. We went back to our room and ordered a Four-Cheese Pizza and a bottle of Chilean cabernet sauvignon. Later in the afternoon John had his body scrub appointment. I chickened out and canceled mine. We had dinner at 7:30 at Casanova. John had the Rack of Lamb and raved about it. I tasted it and wished I had ordered the same. I had the special, beef stir-fry, which was just okay. Our waiter, Frank again, recommended the berry ice cream sundae for dessert. John had it and said it was great, more like an elaborate banana split. Being a chocoholic, I ordered the same dessert I’d had on Sunday night, the Earl Grey. After coffee, we went to the Balloon Bar and danced under the stars some more and sampled more Jamaican drinks and visited with other guests. We spent most of Thursday at the beach and later had dinner at Café Lido, the restaurant that is on the terrace right outside the lobby. We had a candlelight dinner under the stars at a table that looked down on the entertainment outside the Balloon Bar. It was a beautiful night. Did I mention that this place is romantic? We finished the evening at the Balloon Bar. Like on the TV show, Cheers, it’s a place where everybody knows your name. We met so many nice people from all over the U.S. and from Canada, Japan and Germany. We even exchanged e-mail addresses with some of them. On Friday, our last full day, we had breakfast at Pallazina. This time I had French toast along with my fruit and cheese, and John had a made-to- order omelet. We went to the lobby to buy some stamps and then had our facials—so relaxing. We spent the afternoon at the beach, where after trying some more Pina Coladas, voted them our favorite drink of the week. Friday night at 7:30 was the Grand Gala. Tables were set up all over the lawn in front of our building. There was an elaborate buffet. The food was wonderful. The setting was elegant. Waiters came around and filled our water and wine glasses, and a band played on the stage. We sat with our new friends from Germany and Bill and Carmen, a nice couple from Canada. After dinner I went back to the room and got the camera and took some pictures at our table and at the Beach Bar where we said good-bye to Rob and Erin from Ohio and Tim and Audrey from South Carolina and then went to our room to pack. A few things I failed to mention in my daily commentary: -The Weather. The temperature was about 85 degrees all week. Walking around in the sun, that felt hot, but on the beach there was always a breeze, and we were comfortable. Sometimes the sky turned cloudy, but the only rain we had was once during the night. It was humid, a nice change from Tucson’s dry heat. -Frogs, Bugs & Lizards. Our first night we were standing under a tree, looking up, trying to see what kind of bird was making the loud chirping sound. An employee came by, and we asked him. He said, “Not a bird. It’s a bug.” Later we saw two tiny frogs on the side of a building and suspected they might be part of the night music. We never saw a mosquito. We saw lots of cute lizards. -Weddings. We saw several wedding parties walking across the lawn on their way to the Wedding Gazebo. Most of the brides wore beautiful white gowns. One day we saw a wedding on the beach. The bride and groom wore swimsuits and coverups. -Hair Braiding. Many of the female guests had their hair braided and beaded either on the beach or in the salon. Some had all of their hair braided. Others had only one or two braids. I don’t know how much this service cost, but it seemed to be popular. -Candles. I heard one guest complain that there were no candles in the room, that there were always candles on previous visits. Our room didn’t have candles, but we brought our own. -TV/CD. When we were in the room, changing, getting ready to go out, we would sometimes watch CNN. Even in Paradise, it’s nice to know what’s going on in the world. Besides, satellite TV, all the rooms have radios with tape and CD players. We brought along some of our favorite CD’s. -Laundry. We used the laundry service once, and it came back in 24 hours as promised. Didn’t try the dry cleaning, which takes 48 hours. Both are included at Sans Souci. We liked having the clothesline in the bathroom for hanging our swimsuits. -Tours. There is a tour desk in the lobby where you can arrange trips. We talked to people who enjoyed trips to Dunn’s River Falls and shopping in Ocho Rios. We never left the resort. -The Mineral Pool. It was closed for renovation. We didn’t miss it, but will check it out on our next visit. -Fitness Center. Occasionally we stopped in the well-equipped fitness center on our way to or from our spa appointments. We used weights and treadmills a couple of times, but got most of our exercise walking and climbing steps around the property. -Negative Comments. Not many. One was that we had to keep calling for in- room coffee supplies and washcloths. And when we used the tag for Room Service breakfast, it was never replaced. We started out with two, and when they were gone, we had to call for more. On the other hand, the room was always spotless, and the turndown service was good. One night the maid even left bougainvillea petals on the sheets. Nice touch. The only other complaint is that you can’t see the food you’re eating at the Grand Gala. Each table for six had only one votive candle in a glass holder in the center of the table. In the brochures there’s a picture of the Grand Gala that shows every table with several tall candles. I’ll bet those folks could see their food. After I whined about this, one of the staff brought three more candles for our table. -The Staff. I can’t emphasize enough how good the staff is at Sans Souci. One night at the Balloon Bar, Xavian, one of the Activities Directors, came in and asked us why we weren’t dancing. I told him we were waiting for a slow song. He said, “I can take care of that.” He soon had one of the guests up and singing slow songs with the band. Someone had gotten her to sing the night before and she was good. John and I went outside and danced. Thank you, Xavian. And then there was Nando, another Activities Director. We ran into Nando on the walkway coming back from the beach one day. He introduced himself and said, “If I forget your name, I will have to drink three shots of tequila.” I doubt if he drank much tequila. He was great with names. Two days later, I was having coffee on our balcony and saw him on the lawn. I called, “Hi, Nando.” He looked up and said, “Hi, Judith.” Other guests I talked to shared similar experiences. One of them told me Nando speaks five languages. Thank you, Sans Souci, for people like Nando. Saturday, time to go home. We had 6:30 Room Service breakfast and finished packing. The night before, a note was left in our room telling us that our flight was confirmed and that we needed to have our bags outside the room by 8:00 and be in the lobby by 8:45 to check out and leave on a 9:00 shuttle. All of this went smoothly. There were sixteen of us leaving. We identified our bags, they were loaded on the bus, and we took our seats. As we drove out of Sans Souci, the security guard at the entrance waved goodbye. The bus was air-conditioned and had seat belts. I’ve been told all buses are not equal. One couple said the bus they arrived on was small and the air conditioning didn’t work well. This bus was comfortable, and for much of the l hour 45 minute ride to Montego Bay I dozed while listening to the Reggae music that was playing. When we arrived at the airport, the driver unloaded our bags, and a porter began loading them on a cart. I never saw so many bags on one cart. John tipped the driver, and then we and several other passengers followed the porter inside. He put all of the bags down at the end of a long line for American Airlines and told us to get in line. I found the Business-Class line and told the porter that’s where we needed to go. He sorted out our bags and carried them over, and John tipped him. We flew home via Miami and Dallas and arrived in Tucson just after midnight Jamaica-time--a long day. We definitely want to go back to Sans Souci and add more memories to the ones we have of a perfect vacation.
April 25 – May 2 1999 Overall: My husband and I had a wonderful trip. We loved Sans Souci’s lush gardens and we loved the bar staff and water sports staff. We made new friends and laughed for a whole week straight. I would definitely recommend this resort to anyone. My husband and I had booked the Lido Lottery through Signature Tours/Royal Airlines. The Lido Lottery is available only in Canada and is between Grand Lido Negril, Braco and Sans Souci. You find out one week prior to your vacation where you will be going. This is very exciting. All three properties looked good and it didn’t matter where we ended up. Our trip started a little rough though. Our TA called and informed us that we will be going to Sans Souci but there was a problem in Jamaica due to government imposed taxes on gas. Several riots have been reported. We decided that since the trip was a week away, we’ll wait and see. Sure enough everything settled down and we were on our way to Jamaica. We arrived into Sangster Airport, Montego Bay at about 7:30 pm. By the time we went through customs, fished out our luggage, waited for the SuperClubs bus and did the two hour drive to Ocho Rios it was 10:45. Everyone was tired. No champagne, no towels, and nowhere to eat dinner. Everyone was thrown their registration forms. It took another 30 minutes to check in and find someone to take us to our room. Our ‘first’ room was in G block – one of the oldest blocks. It is located right outside the lobby and close to the Salon and Spa. We loved the location although if you are at the beach and forget something – you will probably opt to do without it because the walk is way to far to return to your room! We had been given a one bedroom suite which included a living room, bathroom and bed room. There were two air conditioning units (which were the best I have ever seen in the Carribean), two fans, one TV (in living room), CD player, mini-bar, dining room set and a large private balcony. We were overlooking the nightly entertainment at the Balloon Bar. We were disappointed in our room. It was old, the floor mats were dirty, the room needed to be swept, the bathroom was ancient and had no electrical outlets, the tub had a window (?), the furniture looked like it had been salvaged from a garage sale and there was a real musty smell about the room. Not like the brochure at all. We immediately headed back to the lobby and asked for another room. They looked at us strangely and said – ‘Tonight?’ We said ‘Yes’. They told us it was impossible and we were to come back tomorrow morning at 9:30 when reservations was open. We proceeded to check out the grounds. They were breathtaking! I can’t describe how beautiful this resort is. We found our way down to the Spa area. Everything was beautiful. We loved the life size chess pieces. All the Spa treatments are done in little huts overlooking the ocean and with the windows open to take advantage of the breeze. This is known as the ‘Quiet Area’. Here you will find a small Spa Bar, Charlie’s Grotto and the Mineral Pool. To much dismay, the Mineral Pool was under construction. Apparently it had developed a leak and they had to re-cement the entire pool. All we saw was big construction boards all over the place. We decided to check out the beach area. On the way, hubby found two hammocks. There are hammocks and hot tubs hidden all over the resort! He climbed in the first one and it ripped to pieces – Hubby is only 160 pounds! He climbed into the second one and it started to rip as well. We were beginning to wonder if everything in this resort was falling apart. After a brief walk around the grounds, we decided we were too tired to do anything else and headed back to the room. The entertainment was still wailing away. Sleep was not a problem though! The next morning, we trekked over to the lobby and requested a room change, again. We asked if we could be moved to a new block. This was going to cost $160/night American which was equal to about $1500 Canadian for the week. That was not going to happen! They offered to show us rooms that were of equivalent value. All rooms were still in the G block. The next room was exactly the same except that it had two bathrooms, smelled better and was cleaner. We still weren’t satisfied. It is not that we are picky. We paid a lot of money for this vacation, we only get one vacation like this a year and we wanted it to be comfortable. We feel the room makes or breaks your vacation. We asked if there was anything else available. They told us we could downgrade and move to a Verandah Suite. We asked to take a look at it. We loved it immediately. It was one big room with the bed and sitting area altogether. We could then watch TV from bed (which is a vacation luxury – believe it or not!), the furniture was in good shape, we had a huge walk in closet with tons of shelf space so we could put all our suitcases and clothes away easily, the bathroom had no window, the bathroom had electrical outlets and the Verandah was HUGE! It had a full wrought iron dining room set and a love seat. The view was breathtaking – we were overlooking the wedding gazebo and spa area. Nice and quiet. When we told the frontdesk that we loved it and wanted that room, they looked at us like we were crazy for downgrading but ‘No problem, mon!’ Now that that was settled, it was on with our vacation. Clientele: We were shocked. Most of the guests were between 25 and 40. It was perfect for our age group. Tons of Canadians and Americans. A few English, German and Asian. Most people we had talked to had done the Super Surprise or Lido Lottery. That probably accounts for the young age group. Those who had booked the resort did so because they were planning a wedding there. We must have seen 20 weddings take place that week. Because everyone was so young and everyone was in couples not groups, it was very easy to meet people and become friends. We hope we can keep in touch with some of the people we had met. We had a good time with everyone. The crowd that had moved in the next week was considerably older. Everyone noticed the swing in the age brackets. Grounds: Awesome. Grounds crew was constantly raking, painting, clipping or sweeping. The area was very lush and tropical. Hubby spotted wild parrots in one of the trees. Tons of geckos everywhere. The whole resort is set on the side of a hill/cliff so there are a lot of stairs – don’t underestimate the amount of leg work required here! But this adds to the beauty and charm of the resort. Hammocks, mineral pools and hot tubs are hidden around the resort. Down by the beach, there is a croquet lawn. The newer rooms face onto this. It is absolutely gorgeous. Beaches: The main beach is in a protected cove. It is golden sand and is well maintained by the staff. It is raked daily. There are plenty of lounges and water floats for everyone. If you were stuck without a chair, the staff would go grab one from it’s reserve for you. No worry! There is a lot of shade for those of us who burn like crazy. The water is crystal clear. The waterfront has a little bit of seaweed here and there but for the most part is clean. No watersocks required. Several times we saw a roaming beach waiter. He would serve drinks and collect empties. Ahh, the luxury! Vendors setup on the beach in a designated spot and do not hassle the guests. This was nice as I liked looking at their goods without the pressure to buy. Hubby did buy a hat for a friend back home and did manage to haggle successfully. The clothing optional beach is still very much a work in progress. We found it very rocky with a lot of shells. Fishermen pass right by on their way to and from work. The resort uses this bay to waterski so boats are frequent. The shoreline was rocky and because a river empties into the ocean here, the water is a lot cooler than the main beach. This beach does have a better view of Ocho Rios, is very quiet and soothing and is a good spot to catch sunsets. Pools: The main pool is a large freeform pool and is home to many games of water volleyball. It has a large swim up bar and the bartenders are always willing to try a new drink on you. Lots of floats and pool chairs were available. The best part was the pool was located close to the beach. That way you didn’t have to relocate yourself if you decided to move from the ocean to the pool. The mineral pool was under construction. The freshwater quiet pool was too quiet. It was closed the first two days for water treatment. After that, I only say one person in it. It is up by the lobby and far away from most of the day activities. At night it served as a mood setter for entertainment outside the Balloon Bar. The waterfall section wasn’t working. The clothing optional pool was pretty cool. It had a waterfall built right into it and was a perfect size for the guests that attended that side of the resort. It, too, had a swim up bar, although on a smaller scale than the main pool. Hot tubs: I was disappointed with the hot tubs. We found three tubs. All three were very small. They were all made of acrylic and looked worn. The temperature varied in them incredibly. One day it would be scalding hot, the next day luke warm. The tub at the clothing optional pool was actually cold. Because two of the tubs were secluded amongst the trees, they often had debris floating around them. During the whole trip, we didn’t see any real usage of the tubs. Water Sports: We had a lot of fun with the crew here. They would take us out on the speed boats pretty much whenever we wanted. We saw both sides of Ocho Rios thanks to these guys. They were pretty good guides. They showed us Brian Adams house, Ian Flemming’s beach, Prospect beach, Ocho Rios port (two ships were in town!), Sandals, Couples, Jamaica Grande and tons of other resorts and local watering holes. Awesome! Take advantage of these services. We did the glass bottom boat ride to the shipwreck. That was kind of neat. We did snorkeling at the fishery. It was very clear and the fish were in abundance. The reef wasn’t spectacular but we enjoyed ourselves immensely. One note: Bring your own mask and snorkel. We didn’t see them make any attempt to clean the snorkels. The masks and snorkels were a bit worn and had become soft. We took a little water in our mouthpieces occasionally. We took sea kayaks out for a bit. I used this as an opportunity to work on my tan as hubby paddled. We paddled around the bay a bit and then headed over to the other bay. Much fun! The hobie cat was getting a new sail while we were there and we didn’t get a chance to go out on it. We saw several people attempt sunfish sailing and windsurfing. They provided the beach entertainment. The deep sea fishing boat was well equipped but expensive - $300 per trip. You could divide that out amongst friends if you like. We saw several dive classes and dive boats go out – everyone really enjoyed themselves. No jet skis. Sans Souci has developed this policy for the environment and peace and quiet (and I am sure insurance reasons!) Gym Facilities: There was always an aerobic class or yoga going on. The instructors were on time and well prepared. The gym was well equipped for an island resort and overlooked a quiet bay area. There was a small sun bathing area out front of the gym as well. Spa Facilities: Hubby and I both took advantage of the spa treatments. We both did the reflexology (lower leg massage), back massage, facials and body scrubs. Hubby didn’t enjoy the body scrub because you are buck naked without a towel and scrubbed all over. He lived through it. I also took advantage of the manicure but not the pedicure. The staff was warm and friendly. I didn’t seem like any of them really enjoyed their jobs though. When asked, everyone said that it was OK working there. No one said they loved it but wouldn’t say why. Food: Restaurants were slow and the food was only warm. No problem mon! We had nowhere to go anyhow. The dinner portions were small but you had several courses so it turned out just right. Order all the courses and enjoy yourself. Try something new. The food was better than most of the resorts we had been to in the past. We did find that the latter dinner seating was more popular. Even when reservations were made, tables sat empty and under no circumstances would they make exceptions and allow someone in without reservations. Bizarre. I guess they want to keep the level of service up. We did find some of the waiters/waitresses had no idea what they were serving and if you asked a question about something they would stare at you blankly and give you an answer that was totally incorrect. On the other had, we also had some exceptional service. I would take a sip of my water and it would be topped up before I knew it. This was dangerous when it happened with the wine. You think you only consumed a glass or two but you forget that after every sip it was filled up again…. There were a few restaurants on site: Cassanova’s (Formal/French) – reservations and jackets required. If you don’t bring a jacket, they will provide you with one. The food here was very good although they were out of some of the food items. Service is formal and slow. Relax and enjoy it. Risterante Palazzina/La Terrazza (Casual Buffet lunch and dinner, business casual restaurant table service in the evening.) The menu changed every evening. We enjoyed seafood night and Texamerican night. Food was good. The buffets during breakfast and lunch were pretty good and had plenty of items to choose from. Breakfast was usually the same everyday but lunch always had new dishes to try. Café Lido (Casual/Italian) No reservations were required. This was served under the stars by the lobby and Balloon Bar. It was our favourite because of the ambiance. Service was poor – didn’t get a drink or wine until the third course. Received cream and sugar – no coffee. We survived and enjoyed our dinner immensely. It was delicious. Bella Vista (Casual/Jamaican?) No reservations required. We didn’t have a chance to venture down there – not enough time. This is apparently al fresco dining. Beach Grills (Main Beach and Clothing Optional Beach) We did a lot of lunches and snacks here. The burgers were good. The gyros were excellent. The Jamaican pattys were good and spicy. The fries were greasy but good. The jerk special was always really good and the service was always entertaining. Room Service: We found the service to be prompt and accurate. We ordered club sandwiches and pizza one afternoon and found everything tasty. Two mornings we ordered breakfast on the verandah. We selected the Executive breakfast and were shocked at how much food actually arrived. Coffee, Juice, Milk, Cereal, Yogurt, Muffins, Danishes, Toast, Bagel with Cream Cheese and Smoked Salmon and two large fruit plates. We felt really bad for wasting most of it. The fruit in Jamaica is an experience all on it’s own. It is sweet, firm and addicting! Make sure you try the pineapple. We would have ordered breakfast everyday but we couldn’t get the breakfast menu from the housekeeping staff. They said they would be delivered but they never came. I cornered one of the staff members and they stole one out of another room. They apologized and told me they were short on them. Whatever! Theme Nights: There are two theme nights – Carnival and Gala Night. Carnival: What a good time. Dinner is served right on the beach. They setup chairs and tables right in the sand and all the tables have candles and full table settings. Dinner is buffet style and the jerk pork/chicken is cooked right on the beach. Fresh roasted peanuts were in abundance and lots of seafood salads were on hand. After dinner there is a contest with the guests to see which group will win the coveted Carnival title. It was a bit racy but funny. There is then a King and Queen of the Carnival contest. Following that there is a fire dance and limbo contest. All fun. Gala Night didn’t go off quite as well. It had rained during the day and the crew decided they didn’t have enough time to setup dinner. Three hours would have been ample to setup tables and chairs but remember we are in Jamaica and nobody rushes for anything. They decided to move the program indoors into La Terrazza. It was crowded, hot and the line for food was so long that people were going without dinner. We fortunately met up with friends who already had a table outside in the tea garden. The food was OK and seemed to be the same stuff that was served at lunchtime. They did have a pasta bar, stir fry stand and a meat carving station. The lines were insane. Entertainment: We are a late 20’s, early 30’s couple who likes to dance and party mildly. We found the entertainment horrible and rarely sat through a performance. Lionel Ritchie must be a Jamaican icon because we heard three of four of his songs every night – reggae style. One night there was a fashion show from the gift shop. That was tolerable but the music afterwards was awful. Everything is done with a reggae twist so it makes dancing hard. We weren’t too into the entertainment though. We would take romantic walks, sit quietly at the beach bar or just meet up with friends and dip our feet in the pool. Everyone in our ‘gang’ felt the same way about the entertainment so we knew we weren’t out of line for thinking this way. Bars: Balloon Bar: A great meeting place before and after dinner. This bar is quite pretty to look at and service is wonderful. Beach Bars: These guys make the trip memorable. They will always get you to try a new drink. They will service you as quickly as possible (Remember, we are in Jamaica.) Anything you want, they will try and please you. On one occasion, I was sitting at the pool bar and asked to try one of the famous Jamaican Rum Creams. The bartender explained that I was trying the banana flavour. It was delicious. I went for a swim and came back to the bar. The bartender had gone to another bar and brought me back a different flavour to try. Excellent service Omar! On another occasion, after the Carnival a bunch of us were enjoying wine (and tequila) on the beach. We decided we would like champagne. We went to the bar and got a bottle without a hassle. We went back for another. We were told the bar was closed and we would have to go to the bar at the top of the resort. We didn’t want it that bad and settled down to finish the open wine. Three minutes later, the bartender comes up with three bottles of champagne. He had ran all the way up to the top of the resort for us and he wasn’t even on shift anymore. Excellent service, again! Spa Bar: Here you can find fruit juices, beer and limited selection of alcohol. It was a favorite spot of ours. Especially when waiting for our spa treatments. Hubby had befriended the bartender here and spent a lot of time talking to him. Land Activities: Volleyball was very popular. Lots of participation. The tennis courts were always busy. Free golf cost our friend $70 US by the time he had rented a caddy and paid for him to drink and eat all day. He said the course wasn’t anything spectacular but it was good for the Caribbean. He did claim that is was disgustingly hot with no breeze but he would go again. The game room was in terrible shape. A lamp fell from the ceiling during the one night we were there. All of the games were missing pieces or broken. We did have a game of Pictionary after being creative and locating dice, tokens, pens and paper. It was a hoot. There is a video game with free credits. One day we all met at the bar for a game of bingo. We all sat and waited but no one could find the playing cards. We settled on a dirty drinking game, instead. There were several races and contests throughout the week. The tour desk was very good and those who ventured out on the tours had excellent trips. There was a photographer taking everyone’s picture all week – it was fun to look at the carousal of pictures at the end of the week. We, of course, bought two pictures of ourselves. Staff: Here we found hot and cold staff members: Bar staff – Awesome, friendly, fun and would go out of their way to do anything for you. Social Directors – Incredible – One gentleman (Nando) made it a point to know everyone’s name. He would always greet you with your name. It made you feel really good. The SD’s had endless energy and were always very visible amongst the guests. Especially the single, young, good looking guests! (LOL) Housekeeping – Very friendly and hard working – room was always well maintained. Water sports staff – Very fun group – not too motivated to keep everyone happy but still did their jobs well. Waiters/Waitresses – Need a little work here. Everyone needs to be trained on the menu and learn how to become a little more flexible. I got the impression that this is where the employees start off and work their way into other positions. Spa staff – were very friendly and talkative but no one seemed happy about their job. Reservations/Front desk staff – Very unaccommodating, almost to the point of being rude. Their favourite answer is ‘Come back tomorrow’. We were there often – to change our room, we lost our key and we wanted a late check out since our plane didn’t leave until 7:40 pm. None of our requests were accommodated with a smile. They made us feel like a burden. The late check out was ‘Out of the question’ and a hospitality suite was provided for all the late leaving guests. Departing: We didn’t have a flight until 7:40 (which was delayed until 8:30) and had to leave the resort at 2:30 because ONE couple had a 5:30 flight. We found this incredibly inconvenient and the whole bus (20 plus people) kicked up a stink about it. We were told there would be no changes and this was the only bus going back to the airport. We spent several hours at the airport – luckily we had some new friends to kill the time with. Tipping: We were under the impression that tipping was forbidden. As soon as we got there, it was made very clear that tips are appreciated. In fact, we got a little tired of the solicitation. It was very subtle. They asked what day we left on an and then asked us to remember them before we leave. We did tip our housekeeper and two water sports guys who went out of their way to make the speedboat ride exciting. Note that the guys at the airport do not work for SuperClubs and intimidate you into tips. Hubby went to give a porter a one-dollar bill for carrying our luggage (two bags) thirty feet. When he saw another one-dollar bill tucked away in his hand, he grabbed that too without hesitation. Hubby was not going to start an incident because we had just seen one guy basically bullied for more money before he could get his luggage. They were not as bad upon our return trip to the airport. Overall: Except for the first day – everything was wonderful. Great location, great food, great drinks and great friends. Would we return – yes! Do not hesitate to go to any of the Lido resorts. Just remember that you are going to Jamaica – you have to ease right back and appreciate that time does slow down and nobody worries about the clock. No problem, mon!
| CTR Home | << Back | ToC | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Next >> | Search |