Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
| CTR Homepage | Island Index | Search |
I researched the Caribbean for almost a month before deciding on Jamaica. Then the search continued finding the perfect area and resort. It was a tough choice as I narrowed it down to Couples and Ciboney, in Ocho Rios. I finally decided on Ciboney. I was looking for an all-inclusive resort, and the goal was to be in a garden environment, scattered villas in the bush...tropical and romantic. I wanted rolling acreage removed from the rest of the world so I could feel like I was in my own paradise. Ciboney was all that. Couples seemed to be a good choice, but at the time I chose Cibony I thought Couples was a bit more pricey and quite a bit more active in their programs. I initially wanted a more laid back resort, now that I've been there, I've changed my perspective. It was just too laid back for me. Ciboney is beautiful, the service is good, but I have to admit now that if I were to choose again, I would pick Couples. Ciboney was just too quiet. They have a night club but not much else going on at night. The beach parties they had at night closed down early...just when I was ready to start partying. And I believe there was only one night party on the beach in the week I was there. Another factor, the beach at Ciboney is almost non-existent, a roped off area almost too small to swim in at all. The lack of activities, and the small beach were the only draw-backs, but if you're into a lively trip with beach play, this isn't the place for you. I think it's hard to find a resort that has everything you want. This is a luxurious and elegant resort, lots of acreage, lush trees and gardens, and villas set in the foliage with plunge pools. Swim up bars...dining on the beach. Truly picturesque. Next trip to the Caribbean, I'm going to try to find a quality resort like Ciboney, but with a better beach, and more activity and night life. Then I will have found the ideal resort. Another note, If you're into water sports like scuba diving, the waters weren't good for that. Too rough, not clear, rough bottoms. But if you want privacy and quiet...Ciboney will be perfect for you.
After months of reading trip reports, studying brochures and talking to travel agents we finally chose Couples newest resort in Negril Jamaica. We found many travel agents on the internet but none came as highly recommended as Lance at Goclassy Tours (www.goclassy.com), we quickly discovered that their reputation was well deserved. We gave Lance a call and he promptly gave us the lowest rate we had received as well as excellent advice about Jamaica in general. We booked and through some strange combination of luck and fate ended up with the perfect travel agent and resort. We flew from Atlanta Georgia via Air Jamaica (first class -- well worth the extra cost). Our flight left promptly at 8:45 AM and we arrived at Sangster International at about 10:30 island time. The line through immigration looked bad, but they opened several more lines and it only lasted about 20 minutes. Then it was off to the Couples Desk , where we were whisked over to the Jamaica Airlink offices for our 15 minute flight over to Negril. Our wait for the flight to leave was about 30 minutes. We would definitely recommend the flight, as you get to the resort faster than by bus, and have a beautiful flight right down the coast line. We arrived at the resort at about 12:00 Jamaica time and received champagne in the beautiful open-air lobby while waiting to check-in. Our room was ready immediately and we quickly unpacked and began our adventure in paradise. We will not bore you with the day to day activities, but here is a brief synopsis of the average day: We would get up about 7:00 and have room service about 7:30, after which it was time for a quick shower, and we would typically head on down to the beach. Then we would grab a chair, and a float- cushion(there were not enough of these, so they were a good item to grab early.) We would then either go on the snorkel trip, or go kayak around Bloody Bay. After we finished our daily activity, we would grab the floats and go float in the ocean together till about noon.( This activity is utterly relaxing and should only be undertaken by those of strong will, other wise you will stay in Jamaica forever). At lunch time it was off to the beach grill for a quick bite, and then back to the ocean for a continuation of the float, smile, laugh, drink island drinks in the crystal clear Caribbean sea time. We would typically stay in the water till about 4:30 or 5:00, then it was time to find one of the many hammocks stretched between the trees on the beach. Here we would take a little mini nap, and watch the sunset every day. Then it was up to the room for a shower. Then off to dinner and a couple of nice drinks, followed by a moonlit walk on the beach at night. After all this it was back to the room at about 11:00 for some champagne on the balcony, and off to bed before midnight every night. While others might find the need to see more of the real Jamaica, and check out more side trips, we were more intent on just relaxing and having a fantastic romantic week in paradise. The only major break from this plan was on Monday the 26th, when we were married in the natural area over by the ponds, and spa. Now we will break it down into different sections. The rooms: The rooms are all amply sized, furnished in local Jamaican art deco. They included all the standard amenities: hair dryer, toiletries, TV, CD-Player, remote controlled air conditioner, large balcony(excellent for that romantic room service breakfast) . We were assigned a room on the 3rd floor of building 8, and had a great view of the wedding gazebo, natural pool, and ocean through the palm trees. The Beach: The beach was long with white sand and crystal clear water. The sand was soft and no water shoes were needed. The water was completely free of rocks and grass and from what we could tell was a lot better for floating than that at Grand Lido Negril to the South of Couples. On the north end of the beach there is no resort just deserted beach with jungle next to it. I think it would be safe to say we spent most of every day floating in that clear sea. The swimming area is roped off and you need to stay inside it for safety reasons. Mostly because the banana boat, ski boat, and Para-Sail boats ride up and down the edge several times a day, although they were never annoying. Usually just a simple would you like to was all they would ask. Once we said no, they left us alone, and seemed to remember we were not interested after the first couple of days. The Restaurants: Room-Service: Breakfast was available from room-service with a continental type breakfast. You had your choice of coffee, tea, fruits and bread. It was available in 30 minute intervals. You ordered with the standard card on the door knob the night before. The service was on time, courteous, and they would even try to fill requests not on the menu. This was our preferred breakfast as it was romantic to sit on the balcony and eat breakfast looking out at the ocean. A word of warning: Do not leave your breakfast unattended as there are blackbirds there who might mistake it for a gift. All you have to do is leave it outside the door after you finish. Cassava Terrace: This is the main restaurant where breakfast, lunch and dinner were all served in an open-air setting. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style while the dinner was a seated menu type dinner. Service was great as was the food. The only slow point was getting the first bar drink and sometimes it was faster to get it yourself.(There is a separate drink wait person who is very busy). All the staff were extremely friendly, and would remember you and your significant other's name. Dinner was very good and the service was still consistently excellent, with the servers constantly checking on you, but again it is a good idea to go to dinner with a bar drink in hand. If you have one to start then you are fine, it is the first one that was a bit slow. The temperature in here was always extremely comfortable and the view of the pool was spectacular. For breakfast/lunch beach attire was fine, need to wear a shirt though. And for dinner nice shorts, and casual attire. Beach Grill: The beach grill was open from about 11:00Am till late afternoon, serving the typical grill food, (hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, jerk chicken, and Jamaican beef patties). We ate lunch here every day and I would say the food was excellent, the service- excellent, and the atmosphere was great. You could sit under a roof for cover from the sun, or you could sit a any number of tables on the beach bar deck in front and look at the beach. At night this becomes the pasta/ steak restaurant. We had great service for dinner as well and think this was the most romantic place to eat as it was all under the stars dining to candlelight. We ate here the last couple of nights, but ate at cassava mostly for dinner as we liked the menu better as it was usually different than American food. One of my only complaints about the resort has to do primarily with the grill for dinner, and it was simply this: The ribeye steak they had every night was a horribly tough cut of meat, I spoke with several other guests who had it and we all agreed. It tasted fine, it was just very hard to chew. Very minor, I eat enough steak in the states to last me a lifetime. Beach attire is fine by day, and at night nice shorts and a golf shirt, and casual woman's attire. Otaheite: This is the fine dining restaurant and the only one on property where reservations were required. This is also the only air conditioned restaurant on the resort. It is richly furnished and very pretty. The cuisine was Jamaican. Seating for couples is on small 2 person wide sofas, there is also seating for larger parties in the center. The food was fabulous, I had the Medallions of beef and it was the most tender piece of meat I have ever put in my mouth. The presentation and service was absolutely out of this world, and I would definitely recommend you go here one night for dinner. Long Pants required for men, and no shorts for women. They said no open toed shoes for women, but I never saw a woman wear anything else here. Water Sports: The water sports area is located right next to the nude beach, and makes for some interesting viewing on equipment returns. The staff were all very very nice and all went out of their way to make sure you were comfortable. They had the standard items including: Scuba trips, Snorkel trips, Glass bottom boat rides, Snorkel equipment check out, Kayaks, Sunfish sailboats, Hobiecat sailboats, and water bikes. There never seemed to be a wait to get any equipment and you could keep it for as long as you want to. One of our acquaintances we met there got snorkel equipment that fit perfect and he kept it for several days. You will need to sign up early for scuba and snorkel trips as they seemed to be very popular. The equipment seemed to be in good shape and you returned everything into a big barrel filled with some cleaning agent. Wedding: The wedding coordinators were fabulous. This was a very stress free wedding and was absolutely perfect. We had colours Negril do the photography and video, and they are as good as any you could get in the US. I think our total cost for video and pictures(36 photos) was under $500. The only thing you have to decide is what area you want to get married in. The most popular were: 1) Wedding Gazebo, 2) Beach, 3) Natural pond areas on North end of property. You make the choice the day after you arrive as well as what kind of cake, what flowers you like and music. If you want any special music in the video bring the Cds and Colours will put it on for you. We cannot tell you how romantic or wonderful the ceremony was for us. They are professionals and the ceremony was flawless. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. They thought of everything and even some things we never did. It was truly an experience for a lifetime. Shops: There were several on site shops of which I can remember the names. They had a news stand which sold, sun tan lotion, film, batteries, papers, magazines, postcards, etc. I would recommend brining a waterproof camera from home as they were out all week we were there. They also have a general shop which has spices, sauces, shirts, and most touristy type keepsakes. The third shop is a more generalized clothing store, a good place to buy long pants if you forget them guys. The styles appeared to be Jamaican, but I never went in and looked at them. The staff at the shops were all very nice, except the news stand had one lady who seemed, well, indifferent. A good thing to go check out if you have an afternoon shower. Main Building: This is where the second floor open air lobby is that you enter the resort at. The view is breathtaking and the cool breeze a welcome break. All the shops are located in this building as well as Cassava Terrace. Directly over Cassava Terrace is a Sunset swing porch which is also the area where you sign up for the many activities Couples includes. Gym: The only time we went in the gym was for the couples massage class, which we wished we hadn't missed any of. The equipment is all virtually brand new and the room was spotless. But give us a break, we were on vacation. Spa: As honeymooners we got a free half hour massage. The massage was great and relaxing, and I was rubber man when we came out, again the staff was fantastic. Susan got a manicure/pedicure and loved it, she also thought that all the many, many services they offered were priced very low compared to here in Atlanta, Georgia. Bars: There were 3 bars that I was aware of, and we used them all of course as they were not open all at the same time. The pool bar opened earliest and adjacent to the lower part of the pool where the swim up bar was. The bartenders were all very nice, and this was a very busy bar. The quality of the drinks was great, and there was a pina colada, and a strawberry daiquiri machine with a conveniently located bottle of rum for those frozen drink do it yourselfers. The Beach grill bar opened at some point mid morning and was a lot less busy. The bar was a lot bigger and they had a lot more staff. The bar staff here was incredible and included the soon to be famous Craig, who was one of our friends there. He was one of those people that somehow manage to stand out in a group of awesome people as somehow going a little further. He was always CAN DO, and friendly. This bar was open all afternoon, even after the pool bar closed during early evening. Cassava Terrace also had a bar that was open during lunch times and then for dinner and on through the night. There was also a great bartender, whose name was Not to be missed: Sunset Catamaran Cruise, Snorkeling, Kayaking around Bloody Bay, We did not go to Rick's Café, or the shopping trip as we were lazy. The best dinners in my opinion were Saturday night farewell buffet, and Monday night Caribbean Buffet. Staff: The entire staff had an attitude of will do. I am sure it will only get better as the resort is open longer too. I believe I only saw 2 people the whole week were there that didn't have a great attitude, and they were just kind of indifferent, but this was definitely the exception and not the rule. We met so many great people that I hope to see again next year when we go back for our anniversary. We are going to name some names and I assure you that I forgot far more than I remembered and apologize to anyone who we forget to mention. Craig, Nikki, Donovan - Bartenders Shane -Room Service Nickola, David, Dexter, Charlene? - Entertainment Coordinators Wayne - Water sports Naomi - Wedding coordinator Caroline Cousins - Sales Wando, Doreen - Spa Jamaica: We can't stress enough that you are on Island time in Jamaica and you need to relax. Please remember that you are on vacation and it will get done. I didn't wear my watch the whole trip. Jamaicans are really very very nice people, if you take a second and make conversation or recognize them, they will really open up and give you a chance to see what beautiful people they are, and they WILL remember your name, and your spouses name. You can make your vacation as good or as bad as you want. Go to have a great time and don't sweat anything. You will enjoy it more. And please take my word and the words of a lot of internet shoppers and go to www.goclassy.com, Lance and Kay will really take care of you and help you with anything you may need to know. We will now be customers for life. We hope to see you next year in late April. Until Then, IRIE!
Trip May 1999. First, a Word about All-Inclusive Resorts: My husband and I have enjoyed many trips to these "everything is included" resorts in the past. Without a doubt, we find these resort vacations to be the most relaxing of any type of trip. And. we know that there are no free lunches ... we know we've paid for these amenities up front. But, once we land, we don't worry about travel, be it taxi or rental car. Everything is in walking distance in the resort - - the pool, the ocean, entertainment, activities, the spa and gym, bars, disco and restaurants, too. My husband says it is nice to not have to dig in his pocket for his wallet every time we want a drink or a meal, this benefit that really enables him to relax--and when he is happy, I am happy. I find the pre-paid aspect of vacation quite nice because we tend to dine rather than simply eat ... when in doubt of our appetite we simply walk to the restaurants and check out menus, instead of driving around looking for a place that looks O.K. to both of us, then finally deciding on Arby's or McDonalds because at least those are reliable names. And price is never an issue, no need to wonder if one should risk the $75 per plate charge at a restaurant that one knows nothing about. Also, I find that room service coffee in most hotels is outrageously priced. Being a coffee addict, I'm appreciative of inclusive room service, where all one has to do in order to wake in the morning is to place a call and in 10 minutes or so a piping hot carafe of the hot stuff arrives. An instant eye- opener included in the deal! My husband doesn't even have to walk to the lobby to seek out the complementary pot of coffee for me. One of the features of most all-inclusive resorts is that they are enclosed ... So, if one does not take the effort to get off-site, they may not experience the authentic feel of the country they are visiting. If this is a concern, Grand Lido Braco is an excellent choice. Modeled after a Jamaican settlement and loosely emulating Falmouth, an ocean-side city to the west, Grand Lido Braco is designed to give the feel of Jamaica within the spacious resort. The village set-up is so convincing, we found ourselves saying, "let's walk 'downtown' to see what is going on." With street vendors, an authentic Jamaican restaurant, a typical Jamaican dance hall, the beautiful water fountain in the 'town square,' Jamaican musicians and even a fruit lady who offers Caribbean fruits, the downtown feels Jamaican-ly charming. A Jamaican entree is even available at most every restaurant each day. Of course, the bars offer uniquely Jamaican beverages, as well as Caribbean and 'standard' beverages. My Trip Report is a Facility Report: I have decided to give an updated version of the resort itself, not a play by play of our daily activities ... although I will share some of the unique amenities which we enjoyed. So You Know What to Expect, From the Plane to the Resort: After arriving at of Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, immigrating and clearing customs, we were directed to the SuperClubs desk in the arrivals lobby. We were pleasantly greeted and our reservation confirmed. Baggage handlers watched our luggage while we waited outside for 15 minutes for our minibus to depart. Comfortably traveling east along the north coast of Jamaica, we rode an hour to arrive at Grand Lido Braco. The road going east is not nearly as pothole-infested as the one going west, toward Negril, and it is straighter, too! There were two other couples in the minibus headed for Grand Lido Braco. The resort is nestled on the ocean in the Rio Bueno district in Trelawny Parish, just West of the Rio Bueno, where it is said Columbus found his first drink of fresh water in 1492. Grand Lido's front gate is just off of the major road between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. After passing through the security gate, we rode through the 9-hole golf course, between the water reservoirs and small "lakes" that are a part of the property. On the east side of the main entrance road is the soccer field, which has served as training grounds for the Jamaican national team, the Reggae Boyz. Our minibus stopped in front of the Town Hall where a friendly bellman, Mike, helped us off the bus and gathered our bags. He walked us to the Town Hall desk for registration and check-in. We were greeted with what we have come to call "the Lido Welcome Home" which includes the traditional three forms (the credit card imprint form for incidental charges, the in-room safe information card, and the return flight confirmation form). We were offered a beverage and a cool cloth for wiping remnants of travel off our faces and hands. The Town Hall is home to the concierge, bellmen, and check-in/out and other administration functions for the resort. FYI, a Bit about the Resort: My husband and I have enjoyed this property ... this was our third trip to Grand Lido Braco in a little over a year. While most observations are new, I am sure that this report will reflect some of the information gathered on the two previous trips. One thing is for sure, we enjoy the many personalities of Braco: lovely tropical paradise, light-hearted and playful, grand, erotic, gala, and even secluded or peaceful ... one can just pass from place to place and let the ambiance of the surroundings and one's desires guide the spirit. The resort itself opened originally in May 1995 as "Braco Village" with 180 gardenview, oceanview and beachfront rooms. Additionally, Grand Lido Braco property includes the buildings of a never-opened family resort (which would have been known as Braco- Pebbles). The family resort has been converted to an Au Natural section of the current Grand Lido Braco. SuperClubs took over the management of the entire property on June 15, 1997, and its official grand opening as Grand Lido Braco was on December 1, 1997. The Au Natural section has 52 rooms, each of which needed renovation from family- style to luxury suite. The resort rests on 86 acres and has over 2000 feet of beach. The architectural style is 18th Century Jamaican, called Georgian and Gingerbread. The Suite: We were escorted to our suite, room 3027, a lower level deluxe suite on the Au Natural side of the resort. The suite was roomy with a decor of pastel yellows and purples and sandy-colored tile throughout. We entered into a large 'living room' with a lovely view of the beach, through the glass French doors is a patio with wooden beach chairs and a table. Amenities within the living room include a fold-out couch, a wet bar and refrigerator completely stocked with Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Ting, 7 Up, and Red Stripe, a coffee/tea maker with all the makings, a kitchenette table with chairs, a decorative corner desk, and a four-drawer television stand, TV, remote control, lamps, and a telephone. This portion of the accommodations has a small closet with iron and ironing board and a full bathroom. The bedroom portion of the suite offers a large closet, a king-size bed with two nightstands, three lamps, a telephone, and a four- drawer dresser, a TV stand, and television (CNN, ESPN, TNT, USA, TBS, NBC, CBS, HBO, Cinemax and Jamaican TV) with remote. Another full bathroom is adjacent to the master bedroom. Both bathrooms are plain, but immaculate and new with one sink, a large vanity and mirror, tile floors and walls, and a toilet, a shower/tub unit which includes in-shower dispensers of shampoo, shower gel and lotion. There are plenty of towels, an on-wall hair dryer, and soaps available in each bathroom. Both rooms are extremely spacious and very clean with plenty of windows adorned with light concealing curtains. Other features worth mentioning are the tile floors, plenty of lights, two independently controlled air conditioning units and two ceiling fans, one of each in the living room side and for the bedroom portion of the suite. The flowering foliage outside of each window is lush and full of tropical color ... a colorful Caribbean view from every window. Overall, the room is cheerful, spacious and comfortable. In-Room Information: Upon arrival, each couple is given a copy of the daily activity sheet, which includes a resort map, and the list of dining options. The in-room literature is a folder that has room service menus, breakfast "door hanger" room service menus, a fact sheet describing most of the amenities offered at Grand Lido Braco, plus the complementary dry cleaning/laundry information and forms. A TV channel guide is located by each TV remote control. Inter-resort phone directory and outgoing call directions are located on a card by each phone. When additional information or assistance was required, we found the operator and front desk associates to be very helpful. The Center of Town, Where the Action is: As previously mentioned, Grand Lido Braco mirrors a Jamaican seaside village. The center of 'town' is a beautifully landscaped water fountain circle, with the architecturally authentic Jamaican restaurants, bars and shops all in a close proximity to each other. Guests and workers use the "streets" around the fountain and throughout the downtown as oversized hallways, which are paved in a pseudo cobblestone. Streets approach the fountain from four directions … one from the north, south, east and west. Let's take a Tour: If we were to guide someone through the town that is Grand Lido Braco, we would start with LaPasta, an Italian restaurant at the west side of the circle. LaPasta is an Italian open-air restaurant with a full pasta and pizza menu and an antipasto bar inside. While dining, the view of the fountain is warm and friendly. The ambience is casual and guests are seated and served on a first-come, first-served basis. Next door, a bit north of due west, is the Bakery. All day long sweet treats, small sandwiches, beverages and coffee are available here. If one chooses to enjoy their sweet treat al fresco, they may do so on the open-air patio shared with LaPasta. Or, one may grab a snack and go. The tour would continue in a clockwise fashion, headed further toward north, a staircase leads up to the entrance of Piacere, Grand Lido Braco's French restaurant. If one were to take the 'road' north, they will almost always encounter an authentic Jamaican pastime right on the 'street': by day, street vendors show their carvings, bamboo instruments, jewelry; in the evening there may be musical entertainment or guys playing dominoes (a favorite Jamaican game). Below the Piacere, but entering through a door in the street that runs due north of the fountain, is a small collection of slot machines. Just to the right of the casino (north) is the Entertainment Office. The Entertainment manager and her troupe of Activity Directors are based here. So, guests should either call or stop by this office with questions or concerns. Passing further, through the casino, a door leads to an authentic Jamaican dance hall, creatively named 'the Disco.' It is dimly lit, dark, painted with Jamaican colors, the bar has a thatched roof over the top of it, and the music is loud. Backing up to the street and further north, one can either walk directly into the main pool (straight ahead), or turn left to find the Victorian Market. Let's go left. An open-air walkway brings guest to the Victorian Market, the central dining room for breakfast and lunch buffets as well as fine a la carte dining in the evening. No reservations are ever required to eat here, and there is a smoking and a non-smoking seating section. For the most part, seats are configured in groups of two or four, although there were a few tables with seating for eight. The staff seemed happy to help with special group seating arrangements. The feel is that of a pavilion, with high wooden vaulted ceilings, ceiling fans, crashing waves in full view and a stage and dance floor in the center, the Victorian Market is a pretty place to dine. Passing through the Victorian Market, walking directly west and taking a few steps outside, one approaches the entrance to MunaHana, the resort's new Japanese restaurant. MunaHana offers a variety of sushi and Japanese menu items. Just beyond the MunaHana entrance is the open-air gym overlooking the ocean shore. Fully equipped with free weights, professional Cybex training equipment, steps, treadmills, bikes, and more, the equipment in this gym makes my health club's look like toys. Ceiling fans, a grand view of the Caribbean and piped-in tunes give the gym the required surroundings for sweat. A steam and sauna room is available. We had heard that the gym might soon be enclosed and air- conditioned. Passing through the gym, guests find the Spa Office, which is also accessible via the road running due west of the fountain at city center. The Spa offers a host of services, here is a summary: Swedish massage, aromatherapy massage, back and neck massage and reflexology--Seaweed, essential oil, pure aloe and paraffin body wraps-- Aroma salt, seaweed, louffa and tropical body polishes--Many types of facials, body waxing, manicures and pedicures, paraffin treatments for the feet and hands--A full range of hair care services is offered, including: Trim, Styling, Cut, Shampoo & Set, Shampoo & Blow Style, Deep Conditioning, Hair Relaxing, and Braiding-- Packages are available, too. For a complete menu of spa items, please visit our web site at: http://members.aol.com/scharpfy/private/travel/homepage.html Back to the Tour! Backing up to the main pool (just before the entrance of Victoria Market) again ... No other word but "Wow" comes to mind. Facing north, with the Victoria Market to the left and the fountain directly behind, one sees the immense main pool facility. With an oversized, covered swim-up bar in the center, an oversized deck with plenty of seating, a nearly full-size water volleyball court, a bridge from the beach-most section of the Victoria Market, the pool rivals any seen at water parks domestically. Beyond the main pool lies the sandy beach. In addition to seating, there are plenty of towels available poolside. This is the center of activity during the day with music, vendors, fun and games; it certainly is where the action is. Now, looking to the right (east), one will see a cobblestone walkway that runs adjacent to the pool deck, perpendicular to the north/south road. This road leads first to the White Gaulin, the main bar, on the corner the walkway and the (north/south) 'road.' The White Gaulin is named for the white 'cow birds' seen throughout the countryside of Jamaica. A large bar inside services the inside and outside tables, as well as the piano bar and lounge (adjacent to the bar on the side closest to the fountain in the center of town). The piano keys are usually being tickled around 11:00 each evening for a sing-along ... an extremely popular place to be at that time of night. Continuing down the cobblestone walkway, just beyond the large main bar is a lounge, featuring Karaoke on some nights. During the day the cobblestone walkway has Jamaican vendors selling woodcarvings, Jamaican dolls, paintings and jewelry. Finally, just before the walkway veers down to the sand beach around the eastern side of the pool deck, and off to the guest suites, one finds Nanny's Jerk Pit -- boasting some of the best Jamaican cuisine on the island. The restaurant is covered, but open air and the decor is authentically Jamaican, right down to the chalk board menu hanging on a bamboo post. Nanny's is open from 11 AM to 6 PM. To continue the tour, let's go back to the city center, the fountain. We've already gone nearly half way around (clockwise), starting in the west with LaPasta ... around to the northeast to the piano bar. Now, directly east of the fountain stands the Courthouse. This building serves as special meeting and function space. The steps of the Courthouse serve as the stage for the Friday night street dance. A road leads off to the east on the south side of the Courthouse separating it from the Town Hall. That road leads to the "residential part of town," the blocks of guest suites ... More on that later. Again, the Town Hall, southeast of the fountain, is where all guest services and transactions take place. The concierge and front desk manager, along with the bellmen, handle requests and questions with ease. Chelsea Galleries, a Kingston-based art gallery has a very limited collection of artwork for sale here and at the Courthouse. The main entrance to the village called Grand Lido Braco is on the Southernmost end of the 'street'. Here, there are bellman waiting to assist guests, and there is a second entrance to the Town Hall for arriving guests. Leaving the Town Hall and crossing the 'street' that runs to the south of the fountain, a two-level string of shops offer duty-free shopping, souvenirs and toiletries. Here is what you'll find: toiletries and health & beauty aides; souvenirs of all kinds, cigars, coffee, Jamaican cassettes and CDs, duty free shopping, logo embellished items, lots of "Bob Marley" “Irie” and “No Problem” gizmos; emergency clothing and swimsuits for the 'lost suitcase'; lots of jewelry and fine collectibles in the duty-free shop. Before finishing the walk around the fountain and returning to LaPasta, there is one more street running to the west of the city center. Taking a left down that road, to the west, one will find a dive shop with swimsuits and water/diving paraphernalia. Further to the west is the Nurse's Station and medical center available to guests at no charge. The resident nurse is very helpful. We had a friend who was having a bit of trouble with his ear. The nurse came at all hours to administer required medications for him over a period of three days. The Nurse's Station is not excessively stocked with medications, so if one has a medical condition or a recurring problem, plan for it and pack appropriate pharmaceuticals. I have heard that, when required, a doctor will be called to assist guests, although there is a charge for this service. Above the Dive Shop and Nurse's Station, is the Spa Salon. Accessible by an outside stairway, it is at the Salon that complementary pedicures and manicures are performed, although appointments are to be made at the Spa Office. Also available for a fee are special paraffin and seaweed treatments for the hands and feet, and hair braiding and styling. I took the time to have the complementary pedicure and manicure. The Spa Salon is one of many areas that has dramatically improved over the course of the last year. The staff here is very friendly, outgoing and well trained. One should book their complementary appointments a few days ahead of time because many men and women opt to take advantage of these services so, at times, the schedule books up. My toes and fingers never looked so lovely. If one continues on the 'road' west, they will pass the Spa and Gym Offices, to the right. Further down is the Au Natural beach/pool/sleeping unit complex. The Au Natural Section: Two large buildings housing the guest suites separate the pool area, to the south, from the beach to the north. Said to be Jamaica's largest swimming pool, this is a virtual water playground. Its unique layout features a covered swim-up bar, a beach-sloped entry, stepped entries, a bridge, a covered 'island pavilion,' and a vast pool deck. There are two whirlpools, one seems to be enough to seat 30 – 40 people comfortably, and the other is about a six-person hot tub removed from the main pool area and separated by plantings. There are many, many chairs, tables and chaises all around the pool and there are more than enough floats/cushions and towels to go around. It seemed as though there was water volleyball being played all afternoon long here. The unique pool and pool deck setup offers shade as well as direct sunlight while in the water or sitting poolside. Around 1:30 each day there is a planned activity on near the pool. Information regarding Au Natural and general daily activities is posted on a chalkboard near the pool bar each morning. In addition to the swim-up section of the Au Natural pool bar, guests may enjoy beverages and short order lunches at the covered pool bar pavilion. This, of course, is a gathering point on this side of the resort. The bartenders and cooks are outgoing, friendly and helpful - - even entertaining. The sleeping unit complex runs parallel to the beach and separates the beach from the pool area. On the ocean or north side there are spacious private balconies. Open-air hallways connect rooms for entry on the pool side (south) of the building. Many available chaises and chairs speckle the Au Natural beach. A man- made breakwater of boulders keeps the surf breaking at a distance off shore. While beautiful, it creates a natural barrier for safe swimming and floating. The crashing waves are a site to behold. I found it difficult to walk on the beach, the sand is so soft one's feet dig in; So, walking the beach made for a great workout. Regarding behavior on the Au Natural side of the resort: No photography is allowed here. In addition, we were told by many managers that inappropriate/explicit behavior is not tolerated. Guests who partake inappropriate/explicit behaviors will be asked to 'take it to their room.' If behavior happens again, guests will be driven to the airport or relocated to a different resort -- no refunds. To quote one top manager, "What happens in the public areas of the resort affects other guests so it is my business, what happens in the guest suites is the guests' business." Also available on the Au Natural side of the resort is a lit tennis court. On the western most point of the Au Natural side is a pleasant, open Clubhouse offering the room service menu, a bar, ping pong, pool and open-air dining. The Main Suites Room Block: Backing up to the downtown area again ... The road between the Town Hall and the Courthouse, as well as one continuing east from Nanny's, paves the way to the Main Suites Room Block. Here there are 180 units that comprise the sleeping rooms for the original Braco Village resort. Cleverly painted in pale colors and carrying an architectural theme called Georgian & Gingerbread, these twelve to twenty-four unit blocks are nearly as beautiful as the lavish foliage that surrounds them. With their unpredictable architectural elevations, the units are situated in two rows, one adjacent to the length of beach, and the other row of units running parallel tot he beach but on the south side of the oceanfront buildings. Garden view rooms have a spectacular view -- the gardener's handiwork and Mother Nature's glory. Beachfront and ocean view rooms have a superior view of the ocean, with beachfront rooms being accessible to the beach by a set of patio doors and a pair of sandals. Available on this side of the resort are two tennis courses; one is lit. The Main Beach: The Main Beach lies directly north of the Main Pool area and is spacious and clean. It spans (about) a quarter mile east until it hits the Clubhouse at the property line. Waves crash against the manmade breakwater about a hundred yards from the sandy shore. This breakwater creates more than a safe place to swim, but also a harbor for the safety of the watersports equipment. The sand is coarse and colored pale rosy white. Plenty of cozy beach chaises, floating cushions and shade umbrellas are situated neatly on the clean sand. A volleyball court seemed to be in use all the time with random games going on, and a few scheduled ones with activity directors leading the teams in fun. A Clubhouse, with full bar and full room service menu is on the eastern most end of the property. Situated on the beach, east of any building including the furthest of the guest suite complexes, the Clubhouse offers a hot tub. It is airy, tidy and the service was great -- a nice place to drink in the Caribbean sunlight, and a beverage of course. Water Sports: Complementary SCUBA diving, wind surfing, sailing, snorkeling and water-skiing. Free lessons are provided for beginner SCUBA diving. PADI Certification is provided at additional cost. The water sports headquarters is a thatch-roofed pavilion on the main beach. The watersports guys are friendly, laid back and helpful. Activities: If guests want to be busy, they sure may ... A partial list of activities follows: Morning Power Walk, Tennis and Golf Lessons, Aquacise, Pool Volleyball, Scavenger Hunt, Beach Volleyball, Pool Tournament, Reggae Aerobics and Abs Gym, Fortune Reading - US $10 & US $20, Sing-a-long, Music Trivia, Reggae Dance Class, Soccer, Aerobics, Pianist entertains, Crab Racing - US $3 per bet, Botanical Tour, Pool Olympics, Exotic Fruit Tasting, International Trivia Pool Side, Jamaican Cooking, Fishing, Karaoke Drink Mixology, Soca Aerobics, "Dare T Be Bare" Pajama Party, Jamaican History Class, Jamaican Trivia Quiz, Table Tennis Tournament, Weight Training, Domino Tournament, Nature Hike Lobby, Craft Class, Pool Tournament, Chat Jamaican Class .... and more Dining Options: The Victorian Market. Dress for this restaurant is very casual by day, as many come in from the beach or pool deck to have a light meal. Shorts and/or appropriate cover-ups are required; shoes and tops are required of all. The buffet lines have cold tables and hot tables, keeping food at appropriate food temperatures for safe eating. The buffet lines are cheerfully colored in ceramic tile. 7:30 - 10:30 AM Victoria Market Breakfast Buffet: No reservations. Hot buffet line offers: waffles, pancakes, French toast, scrambled eggs or eggs Benedict, omelets made to order, sausages and bacon, breakfast potatoes, and Jamaican breakfast foods. The bread display includes: sweet breads, breakfast rolls, muffins, and toast-able breads and bagels. Also available: fresh fruits, yogurt, breakfast cereals and milk, hot breakfast cereal. Coffee, tea, and juice are served at the table. Appropriate condiments are available for everything. 12:30 - 3:00 PM Victoria Market Lunch Buffet: No reservations. Buffet menu is different every day, but always includes an extensive hot food line (Chinese, Jamaican, German, Mexican, etc.) The buffet includes: many types of salads: green, pasta, seafood and vegetable; sandwich ingredients like cold cuts, cheeses, vegetables with condiments; fruit and vegetable display; soup du jour; a Jamaican food item or two; a huge bread display; and the most awesome dessert display ever. Coffee, tea, wine, juices and full bar service offered at the table. Appropriate condiments are available for everything available. Musical Note: Two out of three trips, we got lucky! An extremely gifted traveling quintet of Cuban string players performed each day at lunch every day and Saturday at dinner. The ensemble, called "Fantasia," consists of three violins, a cello and a bass, with one of the violinists trading in his strings for a clarinet occasionally -- breathtaking performances. Evening dining, a la carte in the Victorian Market: In the evening, Victorian Market is a little dressier, perhaps considered sporty casual. Men seemed to wear dressy shorts or casual pants and collared shirts. Women were wearing casual dresses, skirts or dressy shorts with dress tops or casual blouses. The food is beautifully presented and there is a great variety of appetizers, soups, salads, entrees and desserts. For a complete menu listing, readers may visit our travel web site at: http://members.aol.com/scharpfy/private/travel/homepage.html Piacere: Dinner seating is from 6:30 - 9:30 nightly, except Friday. Reservations are required, reserve with the concierge. Required attire is a semi-formal jacket, long pants and leather non-sneaker shoes for men … dresses are appropriate for the ladies. The décor is an elegant, dim Caribbean floral. Separate waiters carry out separate service functions: water, wine, cocktail, and food. White-gloved service is elegant and impeccable. We heard nothing but raving reviews by the guests we spoke to about the food quality and the level of service provided in the French restaurant. Menu includes a selection of appetizers, soups, salads, sorbet palate cleanser, entrée and dessert. There is no smoking allowed in the Piacere, although guests may have a between-course smoke on the terrace overlooking the city center. The diverse menu includes, appetizers, soups, salads, homemade sorbet or granite, entree, and last but not least dessert. For a complete menu listing, readers may visit our travel web site at: http://members.aol.com/scharpfy/private/travel/homepage.html MunaHana: The Japanese cuisine restaurant is open nightly, except Friday and Wednesday. As far as attire, upscale casual is appropriate, meaning neither ties nor jackets are required. Required reservations may be made with the concierge. Dining guests are entertained as they watch their table's chef preparing and cooking selected menu items at the table. Portions are small, quality is excellent. The menu includes an assortment of nigiri and rolled sushi, salad, soup, and an entree followed by dessert. For a complete menu listing, readers may visit our travel web site at: http://members.aol.com/scharpfy/private/travel/homepage.html Nanny's Jerk Pit offers authentic Jamaican cuisine from 11 AM to 6 PM daily: No reservations. Authentic Jamaican atmosphere. Attire is very casual (cover ups and shoes required). I walked by during the day at several different times and it seemed as though this was, with exception of the clubhouses, the most casual dining atmosphere among the resort restaurants. The jerk is great! The jerk burger may require a fire extinguisher! A typical day at Nanny's features pumpkin soup; many specials like stew beef with rice, jerk chicken & pork, jerk burger, cocoabread, vegetable loaf; and grilled beef, chicken and vegetable. Also regularly on the menu are roast yam, breadfruit, sweet potatoes. For a complete menu listing, readers may visit our travel web site at: http://members.aol.com/scharpfy/private/travel/homepage.html LaPasta, noon until 2:00 AM: No reservations. During the day casual attire is the norm with a switch to dressy casual in the evening. A wide selection of antipasti and salads is displayed inside the restaurant. Diners receive freshly roasted garlic bread and their choice of soup, pasta, and pizza. Dessert is offered at the Bakery, next door, and diners may personally select the most appealing from among a display of goodies in the showcase. Ice cream, coffee, tea and espresso is also available. For a complete menu listing, readers may visit our travel web site at: http://members.aol.com/scharpfy/private/travel/homepage.html Room service: We found room service to be consistent and quick, taking only 10 minutes for a pot of coffee and a half hour for a meal. Room Service Continental "Door Hanger" selections include basket of oven-fresh croissants to full breakfasts and plenty of a la carte items from which guests may select. Clubhouses and main room service menu includes things like snacks: BBQ buffalo chicken wings; nacho chips; stuffed potato skins. Also on the menu are soup of the day, salads, several hot and cold sandwiches, entrees like Grand Lido-famous lamb chops, and quite a few lovely looking (and tasting) desserts. For a complete menu listing, readers may visit our travel web site at: http://members.aol.com/scharpfy/private/travel/homepage.html Friday Night Jamaica Street Dance Dinner (7 PM) / Jamaica Street Dance (9 PM): This is the biggest event of the week at Grand Lido Braco. Cross your fingers to keep the rain away, and be prepared for an all-out party. The street is decked out with bistro tables covered in linen. Trees are lit. Food is served from everywhere around the fountain in the city center. After one has dined and dined and dessert-ed, the partying of a Jamaican street dance begins. Try not to miss this event because it is beautiful, charming and a great time, too! Wednesday Night Beach Party (7 PM): This is another excellent evening event and offers the most outstanding entertainment of the week right on the main beach. An island buffet is set up along the rosy sand, tables seem to outnumber shells on the beach, and then there is the show ... contortionists, fire eater, singers, folk dancers, and more. The ceiling of stars is one you'll never see at home. Bars: There are eight bars to choose from ... Two clubhouses; the main "White Gaulin" bar; two pool bars; the Disco bar; Victoria Market; and MunaHana. Each bar serves top- shelf alcohol, however the guest must specify top-shelf brand names, or call brand liquor will be served. Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Ting, 7 Up and Diet 7 Up are available in the bars, too. Although Red Stripe is the authentic Jamaican beer that is normally served at the resort, domestic beer is available at times -- we saw Miller Lite. Golf: Grand Lido Braco offers a nine-hole executive golf course, par three. Green fees are complimentary, but there is a rental fee for clubs. To golf, simply walk out to the clubhouse. Also, Grand Lido Braco provides complimentary transportation and green fees at Breezes Runaway Golf & Beach Hotel. It is an eighteen-hole world- class course about twenty minutes east of Grand Lido Braco. Guests pay for caddy and equipment rental. Reservations are made through the concierge’s desk. Fishing: Grand Lido Braco has two ponds on property for fishing, one named ”Fun Fishing,” and the other “Fishing at Sea.” Sticks and baits are available by contacting the entertainment office. Fish that are caught will be prepared for guests at Nanny’s Jerk Pit, unless fishers wish to practice catch-and-release or give the fish to a favorite employee. Cynthia, the Fruit Lady: Singin' and sharing fruit, that is this woman's job description. A kind Jamaican woman menders the grounds in her peasant costume (and 20th Century Nikes) with a basket of fruit for the sampling. I enjoyed Jamaican Jackfruit for the first time ever, what a great, unique flavor. I also I indulged in lots of fresh coconut. She sings folk music in a smooth, robust voice at your request. The Strolling Trio: Three elderly gentlemen, calling themselves the "Golden Airs Mento Band," stroll and play Jamaican folk tunes on a guitar, a banjo and a very unique instrument that provides the bass for the ensemble. We enjoyed renditions of "Yellow Bird" "Shame and Scandal" "Big Bamboo" as well as others. Their costumes are bright, their music has a great beat, and their dispositions are heartwarming. They have a tape for sale for $US 10.00, fun keepsake. Weddings: There are a couple of weddings each day at Grand Lido Braco. Most couples are married either among the gardens or in the wedding gazebo that is gracefully positioned on a rocky walkway to the beach breakwater. Grand Lido Braco, as with all SuperClubs, offers complementary wedding arrangements. The weddings include the presiding minister, flowers for the bride and groom, a cake and champagne. Photos are available at an extra charge. For further information, because my information is truly limited, contact the Wedding Coordinator at the resort. My random thoughts about the resort: Wines: If one is a connoisseur of fine wines, don't be disappointed when $US 80 or $US 100 bottles are not being served (do the math; the economics just is not there). The wines that are served are acceptable, not raving. So, if that aspect of vacation is critical to your happiness, pack a bottle of the stuff in your luggage. Otherwise, try a few different wines until you find one you like, and then remember the name of your favorite. I could always find a wine that was more than suitable and had no complaints. Remember, top shelf cognacs are available, too. Healthy Menu Items: Grand Lido Braco has gone through the rigors of noting healthier food choices on its menus, items lower in fat and calories. There are usually a few menu items from which to select. I was happy to choose from those items, occasionally, so I did not feel quite as guilty about having dessert with every single meal while on vacations. Spa: The spa is simply an excellent addition the list of guest services. I am happy to pay a little additional money to assure a superior treatment. If a massage is what is needed to relax your body, indulge! I enjoyed the indulgence package and my husband enjoyed four 1 1/2 hour-long massages. The women who work in the spa are very professional and respect your modesty. I recommend a treatment or two. Restaurants: Honestly, the day we departed I couldn't eat another bite of anything if I tried. The food quality is great. The selection is excellent. I enjoyed the meals at Grand Lido Braco immensely. Foliage: The grounds are beautifully kept. Lavish greenery and perfumed bursts of floral brights dazzle the senses. The view of the ocean from one's room has stiff competition in the beauty of the manicured island vegetation. Can't congratulate the grounds keeping staff enough ... what an amazing difference a year makes when it comes to growth of tropical plantings. From May of 98 when the greenery, especially on the west side of the resort, was short and sparse, to now, as the vegetation has flourished and is hardy, lavish and dense. Beautiful! I watched grounds workers raking leaves out of the shrubbery surrounding the building we stayed in, each and every day. In addition, the grounds are kept clean. One can tell the workers are proud of their resort because there is virtually no litter anywhere, not even brown leaves lying on the ground. Salute! Wonderful Weather: We were really fortunate with regard to weather. Every day the sun shone brightly all morning. In the early afternoon random clouds would roll in, progressively thickening throughout the afternoon. One two occasions we had showers late in the afternoon, and then a quick switch to clear skies for evening. Floating Fun: My favorite aspect of this most recent trip to Grand Lido Braco was simply floating on a chaise cushion ... the pool water temperature was perfect for spending hour after hour floating, chatting and sipping blended fruit punch. Heaven on Earth! Housekeeping: Or experience is that maid service and turndown is timely, complete, and the gals seem pleasant. We had hibiscus scattered throughout the room and beautiful towel sculptures on our beds after turndown service. Pack Lightly: I am finally getting smart and packing more lightly, I have learned to use laundry and dry cleaning services we have paid for with our room. Seating and Towels: There seemed to be an abundance of beach towels and beach chairs/chaises everywhere. No need to get up early to mark a chair with a towel or book at this resort. Return Flight Confirmation: The day before guests are scheduled to depart, the resort confirms the flight numbers you wrote down on the day you arrived and a front office person slips a return flight confirmation under your door. This note lets guests know when to have bags packed and outside of the suite door for bellmen to pick up (usually three hours prior to flight departure time). Plus, it informs guests of the time their taxi/minibus is scheduled to leave the resort (usually two hours prior to flight departure time). Reality hits, you must return to work to earn the cash pay for your next trip ... Bummer! Don't Forget to Relax: While the pace of the island's music is upbeat, the pace of its people is sometimes slow. One of the beautiful aspects of the island is its pace, however any strength carried to an extreme becomes a weakness. Jamaicans, at times, push that limit. However, by deciding to enjoy the slower pace of the island, and by making 'slowing down' an integral part of the vacation psyche, the speed of anything should not phase you. Relax, slow down, and enjoy. One Final Note: What great strides this resort has made in just a year's time! Last year, I had a few issues with the level of service provided, and I felt there was work that needed to be done to bring Grand Lido Braco up to, what I call, "Lido Standards." Now, Grand Lido Braco has raised the bar for all-inclusive resort service and amenities, in addition to offering far superior accommodations and activity options. I can't wait to get back there; our ten days just flew by. Maybe we'll go for two weeks next time!
Trip 5/99 We left Atlanta on May 27 at 9:00 a.m. It was an Air Jamaica direct flight. The trip through immigration and customs was pure and total hell. It took us an hour and a half. Our trip to Couples Negril started with the bus ride. Air Jamaica tours directed us to the Couples tour desk which was actually a tour bus desk operated by a third party. Once on the bus we experienced what we had read about. The ride from hell. To say the roads are bad to Negril is an understatement. They are actually dirt for several miles as you dodge the construction of new roads in during sections of the drive. The bus was new and sat about twenty, it was about half full of Couples going to Couples Negril and Swept Away. With the stop half way to Negril for drinks and a restroom at a little road side bar, it took us one hour and fifty minutes. We arrived at Montego Bay at 10:40 a.m. and walked into the hotel lobby at 3:00 p.m. The hotel lobby was very nice. It is open air and very bright. They gave us a glass of bubbly when we arrived. We waited in the piano bar for a few minutes with another couple that was on the bus while our immigration papers were taken by the hotel, then we were off to our room. The room had a king size bed, nice bright yellow and red designs and the gardens were something off a post card. After changing to our suits we went to the pool grill to eat lunch, then to the beach. There are three restaurants. The fancy restaurant requires reservations a day in advance. The tables for two go quickly so register early (9:00 a.m. just off the lobby). The breakfast bar is OK at the main restaurant just off the pool, this doubles as the nightly entertainment area. The pool grill serves hamburgers etc., and then is a pasta type restaurant at night. The food was OK, but a couple of nights it simply stunk. We were probably most disappointed by the food. The beach was very nice, the pool was great, and the bars and bar tenders were very good. The watersports guys were very good. Be sure to Hobie Cat. I had never done it and had a good time. I thought they were very good instructors. There is a nude beach that is used very little next to the water sports area. The excursions include the Catamaran Cruise, Bus to Ricks Cafe, Snorkling Trip, and Glass Bottom Boat Ride (which is the same boat they take you snorkling on). Diving (both beginning and advanced for Class C licensed divers) is also available as well as a shopping trip, but we did not do those. The Catamaran Cruise fills up fast so register just a soon as you get to the hotel. The excursions were good, especially the catamaran cruise. Nightlife is pretty dead. The best night was the talent show. We had a lot of talented people as guests. The main entertainment ends at 11:00 p.m., and then moves up to the Piano Bar. The mix was half newlyweds on their honeymoons, one quarter persons dating and on vacations, and one quarter married couples on anniversary trips or on vacation. On the way back we got a private charter through the front desk. The airstrip is across the street. We were picked up at 7:10 a.m. and were air borne ten minutes later. The cost was $45 per person. Next time we will take the charter instead of enduring the bus ride. Overall I must say we were pleased with Couples Negril. We got what we thought we were going to get. The beaches and snorkeling were not as nice as St. Thomas, nor was the food. Our trip to Couples Negril was enjoyable. We had a good time, but we probably will not go back. Not because of Couples, but because of Jamaica. They market it big. But they don't deliver. Your first and last impression of Jamaica is customs and immigration. By the time you go through that process and transfer to Negril, you have burned the good part of your first and last day. The area was poor and the people were pushy. Having been to other Caribbean destinations, I won't go back to Jamaica.
Trip 5/99 My wife and I just returned from a week-long stay at Sandals-Negril (May 23-30). It was our first visit to Jamaica, our first experience at a Sandals Resort and our first "all-inclusive" experience. First, I should mention that we put ourselves in our travel agent's hands. We went to him and said we were looking for a nice, romantic and laid-back place to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. He immediately said "Sandals Negril." Based on his recommendation we booked a Grande Luxe Beachfront room (roughly in the middle of the Sandals price range) for the week of May 23-30. We also started gleaning the internet and bookstores for information about Jamaica, Negril and Sandals. The following are some of our observations:- Getting there: From St. Louis we were booked on a Sun Country 727 charter direct to Montego Bay arriving shortly after 10 am Jamaican time. Based on what friends and people on the internet told us, we decided to avoid the bus to Negril in favor of an Air Jamaica Express connection (12 minutes in the air vs. nearly two hours of harrowing Jamaican highways). The price for the AJE connection ranges from around $44 to $60 per person one way, but on a warm, humid Jamaican afternoon it seemed well worth it (note: if you're scheduled to return to Mo Bay early in the morning after your stay in Negril, friends tell us the bus trip isn't nearly as bad in the cooler morning hours). Our flight to Negril took us directly over the Sandals property (the airstrip is only a few hundred yards away). We touched down shortly after 11 am and took a taxi from the airstrip to Sandals for $6 US, but discovered when we checked in that Sandals would have picked us up for free.- First Impressions: Sandals is located directly on Norman Manley Boulevard, so don't expect a picturesque drive up to a resort that sits well back from the main drag. Although nicely manicured, the property looked a bit weathered compared to the wonderfully-polished appearance in the Sandals brochures (but then, you've got to expect that the pictures in the brochures have been touched up a bit). We were met at the entryway by one of the "Playmakers" who served us champagne and walked us through the registration process. After a few minutes, another employee escorted us to room 5316 on the third floor of the Paradise Block, just south of the main complex and overlooking the beach. We had hoped for an upgrade, but learned later the resort was virtually 100 percent occupied, making any upgrades next to impossible. The beach itself is long and somewhat narrow compared to the beaches at some of the other well-known resorts there (i.e., Beaches, Swept Away, Hedonism II, Grand Lido, etc.). Our room was fairly centrally located with facilities such as the spa, gym, water sports hut, piano bar, Sundowner Restaurant and Kimono's Restaurant to the south and Coconut Cove Restaurant, Four C's Restaurant, main pool/whirlpool, gift shop, grill and dive shop to the north. The room itself was adequate, but not spectacular. It was air conditioned, had a ceiling fan, TV, desk, king-size bed, safe, adequate drawer space, small sitting area and a balcony with a table and two chairs. - The "Neighborhood": Once our bags were delivered, we put our swimsuits on and decided to explore the beach. Sandals is located near the north end of Negril's seven- mile beach. Among some of the major points of interest to the south are Beaches Resort (a more family-oriented resort operated by Sandals) and Swept Away Resort as well as points of interest such as Rick’s American Café and the Pickled Parrot. Immediately to the north of Sandals is Hedonism II (but that’s another story in and of itself!). One thing we encountered almost immediately after we walked off the Sandals property along the beach to the south was locals offering us drugs (marijuana). Most of the time, a polite, but firm, "no" was enough to keep them from bothering us. Sandals has security personnel on both ends of the property to keep the unsavory folks off. - Orientation: It’s not a bad idea for anyone visiting the resort for the first time to take an orientation tour shortly after you arrive. It not only can help give you the "lay of the land" (or "beach" if you will), but it also gives you a chance to meet some of the folks you’ll be seeing throughout the week. (I don’t know if any of our new friends will happen to read this, but if they do, we’d like to say hello to Bobby, Chris, James, Karen Ann, Mike, Sharon, Andy, Tom, Laura, Steve, Susan, Ron, Marcie, Scott, Jillian, Anna, Will, and on and on and on). - Activities: There’s lots to do during the day, but the nightlife is a bit lacking (we think the staff tries to wear you out during the day so everyone hits the hay early). For instance, you can sun, swim, float, snorkel, scuba (regardless of whether you’re certified), canoe, surf, ski, ride a banana, ride a water bike/trike, play pool games, soak in a whirlpool, go to the gym, participate in water aerobics, play tennis, squash or volleyball, learn to dance "island style," take the Jolly Mermaid to the Pickled Parrot, enroll in a "mixology" class (which is a fancy name for a drinking game) or just sleep late and vegetate. Sandals has a nice spa, but it comes with an extra charge. You can also parasail or ride a jet ski, but those are provided by off-resort vendors at an additional charge (parasailing, for instance, runs about $50 for a 10-15 minute ride). Nighttime activities are supposed to include things like a Roman theme party, a 60’s party and a pirate/wench theme night, but none of theme are promoted very well and sometimes don’t happen at all (I must say, though, that the pirate/wench event did take place and my wife and I won the costume competition). You can earn points for participating in various events. The points are exchanged for Sandals necklaces, keychains and t-shirts. We also had "beach games" one evening and I discovered I’m not as young as I used to be. - Speaking of Age: Of the more than 200 couples at the resort, it seemed as if most of them were in their mid-20s and on their honeymoon. Many of them were married there at Sandals (there were at least three or four weddings a day). We’re in our early 40s and there were probably only two or three dozen couples our age or older. - Weather: Temperature-wise it was very comfortable during the week with the mercury ranging between the mid 70s and mid 80s. At night it probably dipped to the low 70s. We had great weather every morning, but by each afternoon the clouds would begin building up and on at least a couple of days we had some significant afternoon rain (in fact, I’d call one afternoon storm the next closest thing to a tropical monsoon). By most evenings, though, the rain subsided and we enjoyed several spectacular sunsets, both from at the resort and from other locations in and around Negril such as Rick’s, the Pickled Parrot and Beaches Resort. - The Staff: Without exception, the staff at Sandals was very accommodating and friendly. If you go, be sure to say hello to several folks in the water sports area and dive shop including Boxer, Tiny, Prince and Rat. The dive shop staff will probably also be glad to explain the rules of cricket to you, if you’re interested. Also, when they say "no tipping allowed" they mean it…at least officially. We have heard that employees will accept a gratuity if they’re sure they won’t be caught. They work long hours and aren’t paid well by US standards, but apparently they’re very well compensated by Jamaican standards. - Miscellaneous Notes: a.. Spend an afternoon at Beaches, a nearby, family-friendly all- inclusive down the beach which is also owned by Sandals. There’s a free shuttle that runs hourly between the two resorts and you have full exchange priveleges there. a.. Don’t overpack, but be sure to take sunscreen (at least SPF 15) and bug spray. If you go to Seville’s at Beaches (which we highly recommend) you’ll need nice pants and a collared shirt for the guys (no jeans) and a dress or at least tailored shorts for gals. Otherwise, you can spend the whole week in swimsuits, shorts and t- shirts. a.. We tried all the restaurants at Sandals with the exception of the Four C’s on the beach which is stir fry. Kimono’s (the Japanese restaurant) is a lot of fun. When going there make sure you know a lot of "sing-along" songs. Although the beach grill is supposed to be open most of the day and night, it seemed as if it was closed most of the time. a.. If you’re so inclined, you can buy a day or night pass to Hedonism II next door. The most popular nights appeared to be PJ night on Tuesdays, Toga night (no sheet, no eat) on Thursdays and the beach party on Friday nights. They also have a "nude cruise" which is pretty eye-opening (my wife and I were on the Hobie Cat when it sailed past us. If you’d rather just have a "little taste" of Hedo, you can simply walk the beach. At least once a week there’s a Sandals vs. Hedonism volleyball match (shirts vs. skins?) which can become pretty competitive. Of course, there are plenty of things we didn’t get around to doing. For instance, there are day trips to various attractions in and around Negril as well as shopping excursions in the area. The party boat cruise aboard the Jolly Mermaid is fun (it goes to the Pickled Parrot and includes a snorkeling stop and all the rum punch and Red Stripe you care to consume). There’s a staff/guest talent show on Friday nights and an excellent singer named Gem Myers on Saturdays (at least that’s who sings there on Saturdays now). That’s my rather long-winded report. There’s a good chance we’ll go back to Sandals-Negril someday (or at least to another Sandals property such as Beaches with the kids).
| CTR Home | << Back | ToC | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Next >> | Search |