Few months ago, I wrote about our amazing deal on an all-inclusive Holiday Inn vacation in Montego Bay, Jamaica. This post received a fair amount of traffic and I got some email questions on it as well.
Well, we just got back from this trip, and I wanted to write a report right away. The reason? Some of you might be debating on whether to sign up for IHG co-branded credit card with this resort in mind. BTW, you can also book this hotel with your annual renewal certificates from Chase IHG MasterCard. And 35,000 points for a room at an all-inclusive property that fits and feeds 4 (kids have to be 12 and under) during high season is quite a bargain. Or is it?
As always, the post will consist of my own opinions. I don’t aim to be politically correct, but rather help you decide on whether this place is worth all the trouble and expense. After all, even on points, it won’t be free. For one thing, you have to fly to Jamaica and taxes alone will run you $110 per person.
Overall impressions: This resort is a “mixed bag” in a way Jamaica is a “mixed bag.” I tried to do as detailed review as possible (the post took at least 6 hours) to help you decide if this hotel is worth it. So bear with me! I don’t like to read hotel reviews that are 100% negative in nature, so I did my best to point out the good and the bad, yet stay fair.
The flight and Montego Bay airport insanity
We flew Southwest, which was excellent, as always. The crew was hilarious. They were making jokes the entire flight. When we landed, our flight attendant made an announcement: “We are here. Get out.” My son requested to see the “remote control” in the cockpit and the captain let him look around. Southwest folks are just a friendly bunch.
We took an official taxi and paid $30 for one-way trip to resort, plus $5 tip. The guy was extremely nice and we talked about kids, his happened to be the same age as ours’. He said that on days he doesn’t have any work, they just beg him to go to the beach. All kids are the same, whether it’s in Jamaica or Florida.
Montego Bay airport is a nightmare. I honestly don’t know how else to describe it. Arrivals aren’t that bad, but departures are a different story. It takes forever to check in since the airport is severely understaffed. Then, you get in a long (I mean looong) line for immigration and passport control.
What we didn’t realize (and what folks at check-in didn’t tell me when I asked) was that you get to skip it if you have small kids. I don’t know what the age cutoff is, but I imagine 10 and under should be fine.
There is an option to purchase a Club Mobay membership for departure. It gives you fast track and you get to sit in a lounge with food and snacks. The pre-booked cost is $30 per adult, $15 per child, not cheap. Personally, I recommend you arrive 2.5 hours before your flight, especially on a weekend, and save the cash. If you have small kids, check in the bags and just head on over to a sign “Club Mobay” and ask airport staff to show you where to go through a designated passport control line.
Check-in and Platinum status bonanza
Platinum status in this resort is a big deal. I mean it. For starters, you go to a special air-conditioned VIP lounge where you wait in a nice area with a couch and TV, while the rest of commoners stand in a regular check-in line. Be aware, their record stated that I had a paid reservation, so bring your confirmation, just in case.
You get a special Platinum agent taking care of your needs. They bring you a drink and a scented wet towel while you wait, which are nice touches. We also got a fruit bowl and a complimentary couple’s massage at resort’s spa.
On top of it, every Wednesday, the resort organizes a special dinner for Platinum members only. We just happened to arrive on Wednesday. The food was pretty good, especially the grilled lobster. Once again, a very nice touch.
The room and the broom
I was able to secure a suite on points. Unfortunately, it’s no longer possible to do it. You can only reserve a regular room that comes with two double beds and fits four. As I mentioned earlier, two kids stay and eat free.
I asked the front desk if you can add a third child for an additional surcharge, and she said No. So this resort is mostly best for family of four who doesn’t mind having room with two double beds. There is always a possibility of an upgrade, but I wouldn’t count on it, especially in high season.
The suite was pretty basic and has seen better days. Here is a photo of the living room. The a/c didn’t work very well in that area, but bedroom unit was fine. We called and asked someone to come fix it. They said no problem. I’m still waiting. Actually, I’m waiting for many of my requests to be taken care of.
We had a balcony with an ocean view, which was somewhat obstructed by palm trees. The unit’s location was its plus and minus. We were very close to the main lobby and pool area, so the music would start blasting early in the morning and would go on till 10:30 PM at night. Bring noise machine with you.
My kids were able to sleep through it, but if yours are sensitive to noise, request a location away from the pool. Trust me, it’s very loud. On the plus side, we were close to everything, so it only took a minute to go get a drink, grab a snack or take children to the pool area or kids’ club. Overall, for me, the pros outweighed the cons.
The bathroom had a jacuzzi tub which didn’t drain on its own. You had to manually hold the plug. The toilet made a loud and scary sound, but at least it did flush. It took 10 minutes to get hot water to come out in the shower, and it progressively got hotter and hotter to the point that no normal person would be able to stand it. There is no shelf to put your toiletries, so you may want to bring your own.
The original lock on the shower was broken, so the hotel came up with an ingenious (insert sarcasm) solution. They added a special contraption to it. You could close it from inside of the shower, but only while holding the door with your hand over the top of the glass. So basically, if you are short, the rest of the bathroom will be bathing with you.
Hopefully, this is a problem unique to that particular unit. But make no mistake about it, based on conversations with other guests, your room will have its own unique set of problems. Ya, mon!
The king-size bed was pretty comfortable and had fresh (if somewhat basic) linens. There is a curtain separating the bathroom area from the rest of the unit. Classy! We requested that they bring a rollaway for my son, and it was provided free of charge. Many IHG hotels do charge extra $15 per day for a cot, so it was nice not to be nickeled and dimed in this respect.
On the photo you’ll see the area rug. That thing was disgusting. I honestly don’t know why an oceanfront resort would put this mold collector piece in the rooms. To add a touch of class? Well, it ain’t working.
The rug was full of dirt and debris, so I requested our assigned maid to vacuum it. I didn’t think it was too much to ask, but she was totally annoyed by it. So, she brought a broom and swept it. Huh? That’s right. Vacuum cleaners? We don’t need no stinking vacuum cleaners. I didn’t say anything to her, since obviously, it wasn’t her fault.
The lady wasn’t very friendly and had a bad attitude. I was polite and gave a good tip each time she came by. You could tell, she had to force herself to say thank you. No smile, nothing. I honestly don’t know if the rug thing ticked her off or she is just that way, period.
I would give it 4 out of 5 stars. But once again, it does depend on your taste, so it’s hard to make a definitive statement. Keep in mind, I’m not a foodie. I meant to take some photos, but this vacation took an unexpected turn (more on that later).
So, here is the building where you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet-style.
Are you a coffee snob like me? Bad news, it’s terrible here. Fortunately, breakfast overall is quite decent. My favorite part was an omelet station where a guy cooks it over an open flame. Very good! They also have bacon, scrambled eggs, french toast, the usual stuff you’d find in USA. I absolutely loved the smoothie station as well as all the fresh fruit available.
Lunch and dinner are pretty decent, but only if you like Jamaican-style cuisine. I do, so for me, it was treat. You’ll see a lot of different salads made with local ingredients, jerk chicken etc. The fish wasn’t very good and tasted kind of bland. If you are a vegetarian, I believe this place will be your cup of tea. The food was kept hot, and I don’t think you need to worry about food poisoning any more than you would in America.
They have several sit-down dinner restaurants where you have to make reservations 24 hours in advance. Here is where your Platinum status will come in handy. Unlike most people, you can actually get your dinner reservations for the entire stay when you check in. I suggest you do that since they book up fast.
Asian cuisine place requires a $20 upcharge per person, kids are free. I’ve heard good things about it, but we didn’t have a chance to try it. My husband and my daughter had dinner at Italian restaurant and liked it quite a bit.
The property has several shacks where they cook hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and jerk chicken throughout the day. So chances are, you’ll find something to keep you satisfied.
Now on to the best part: Unlimited alcoholic drinks! They are a bit weak, but I actually prefer it that way. You can always request your bartender to add an extra kick. One of my favorites was a drink called “Jamaican delight.”
Beach, pools and spa
Let’s face it, this is why you’d come to Jamaica in the middle of winter, right? Overall, I have to give it 5 out of 5 stars. There is one big pool area in the middle of the property, but they also have an adults-only pool further away.
My kids absolutely loved the resort pool. It has an interesting design, and has zero-entry. This is perfect for tiny babies.
The beach is absolutely perfect for small children. For adults, it’s kind of meh, though. They have a man-made island where you can lounge in a beach chair (with a mixed drink), while your kids are playing in the ocean. Some people were snorkeling on the other side of the island.
The water is so shallow, there is no need to worry if your kids are 3 or older. Of course, you wouldn’t want to nap or anything like that! The water is pretty clear, and the staff works hard to keep the beach area in good shape. My daughter instantly made friends with other kids and they had a blast looking for tiny crabs and just running around.
To me, this is the biggest selling point of the resort when it comes to families with small children.
Here is a photo of me trying to lure one of my kids into the water… I think. I had a couple of mixed drinks beforehand, so can’t be 100% sure. Oh, I was calling one of my kids. Phew!
We also got to try the Spa since it was free. Normally, the 30 minute couple’s massage would run $110, but was complimentary due to Platinum status. The ladies were very nice and did an excellent job. Once again, 5 out of 5 stars. But who watched the kids, you may ask? That brings me to my next section.
Kids’ club and activities
The kids’ club is included in your room rate. I think it’s a wonderful perk, though, I encourage you to stay on-property, just in case. That goes for any hotel in any country. The staff is very friendly and all the ladies seem to like kids. The club is open from 9 AM to 12 PM, and once again from 1 PM to 6 PM.
Things, not surprisingly, happen on Jamaican schedule. When I brought my kids at 9:05 AM, the lady said to come back in 20 minutes since she wanted to go get some breakfast.
They had a few activities like t-shirt painting which my daughter absolutely loved. For the most part, it’s like any daycare facility you would find in US. There is also a playground in front of the kids’ club, which is open at all times. The property also had a miniature golf area, but we didn’t get a chance to try it.
There are many activities, and the schedule is posted on the board right by the pool area. As I’ve mentioned earlier, there is nightly entertainment with music blasting till 10:30 PM. One evening they even had a violinist who did a fantastic job.
They have dance competitions for adults as well as kids. I took my daughter one evening and she got to show off her dancing skills. I couldn’t get her to leave the stage, literally. It’s a fun, relaxed atmosphere similar to something you would find on a Carnival ship.
Tipping, safety and medical concerns
Tipping is not required, but very much appreciated. Before I left for the trip, I got a stack of 1 dollar bills, and used it all up at the resort. Jamaicans are very poor, so I have no problem with helping out just a little bit. I’m cheap, but not when it comes to service staff.
I didn’t see anyone tipping at the restaurants or bars. However, they have a big box right by the check-in that says TIPS, you won’t miss it. I assume that whatever is put in gets split at the end of the day, but I can’t say for a certainty that it ends up in the right hands. If someone goes above and beyond, I would just hand it to them directly.
I will say that I never felt pressured to tip. Overall, most of the people we encountered seemed very happy to work there. Love or hate all-inclusives, but they create much needed jobs in poor countries that lack employment opportunities.
Jamaicans are proud of their island and everyone I’ve talked to has no desire to ever leave. Hotels and tourism in general allow them to stay in the place of their birth, close to their family. That’s a good thing.
The resort felt extremely safe, so I wouldn’t worry about that part. Montego Bay is a tourist area and most warnings you hear about Jamaica don’t really apply. Kingston, the murder capital of Caribbean is located on the opposite side of the island. Of course, you have to be aware of your surroundings, just like you would everywhere else.
This is the part that almost ruined the entire trip. During our second night there, my son started throwing up at 3 AM. By morning, he was severely dehydrated and barely moving or talking. This is what he looked like:
It’s still hard for me to look at that photo. He is such an active kid, always moving and breaking stuff. I so wanted that child back! Instead, here he was: lethargic, sick and miserable. To say that the whole thing was a nightmare would be an understatement.
There is a registered nurse on duty from 9 AM to 6 PM, and it doesn’t cost anything to see her. If you need a doctor, one can come to your room for $180 and credit cards are accepted. The charge should be reimbursed by your travel insurance if you purchased one. Read my post tomorrow for more on this subject.
The nurse told me if my son didn’t get better in a few hours, I would have to take him to the hospital. She was extremely professional and kind. I gave her $5 as a small “thank you” and she was thrilled. I should have given her more.
They do sell bottles of Pedialyte for $18 right at the nurse’s office, but she gave me a pack of rehydration salts for free. Basically, you mix it with water and apple juice, and you get the same thing.
That’s what I did, and my son finally stopped throwing up. I also gave him some Pepto Bismol which also seemed to help. He got progressively better as the day went on, but I was still worried. We were flying out the next day, and he did throw up in the morning of our departure. I didn’t know what kind of a nightmare I should expect at the airport, but he was fine, just a bit tired.
I made a huge mistake of not packing a bottle of Gatorade, like I usually do. I figured by this age my kids should be fine, but clearly, I was wrong. I don’t believe my son had food poisoning because he didn’t have any fever. More than likely, it was a combination of pool and sea water mixed with ice cream, and perhaps, that filthy rug. It’s just hard to say.
My daughter never had any issues, but she is almost 7, and her immune system is much stronger. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take small kids to Jamaica, just be aware of potential issues and learn from my mistakes.
So, would I go back to this resort? Honestly, no. Not because of what happened to my son, I don’t believe it was the resort’s fault. There are just too many issues: Lack of hot water, weird shower, filthy rug, spotty service etc.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many positives, and I hope that my trip report reflected that. There were quite a few repeat guests, so clearly, the resort is doing something right. For what it’s worth, my daughter absolutely loved this trip. Kids aren’t that picky.
However, we have a limited budget, and I think we would get better value for our money and points elsewhere. I’m a fairly simple traveler, but I require cleanliness and a room where things work. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
I believe that resort’s management is aware of these issues, and that’s why they try to cover them up with perks such as lobster dinner and free massages. Don’t get me wrong, those are very nice, but they should use their limited funds to fix the basics first. If you can afford a boatload of lobsters, you can surely buy some vacuum cleaners and fix water, a/c issues etc.
The resort has tremendous potential and nice amenities for families. However, travel with small kids is stressful enough, and the last thing you want is getting a room with myriad of issues. My husband was extremely annoyed by all the quirks, which was not very conducive to relaxation. Dealing with Montego Bay airport insanity was also a huge turn-off, and I don’t ever want to repeat it again.
That said, it was a good deal for high season, and the fact that we got a suite was a huge plus. Additionally, our tickets on Southwest only cost us 9,800 points roundtrip per person, and the flights were relatively short. It was a nice way to try out an all-inclusive option, but we are going to stick to cruises from now on. Since we live in Florida, no airfare is required, so the value is unbeatable.
Let me summarize the type of family that IMO would be a good fit for this resort:
1) You are relaxed beach lovers, go-with-the-flow type of family who doesn’t mind bathing in lukewarm water or having a shoddy a/c unit.
2) You are OK with sleeping in a room with 2 double beds.
3) Your kids are between 5 and 12 years of age. They can handle stress better and aren’t quite so dumb anymore. They also have better immune system.
4) You plan to come during Spring Break or major holidays. During summer, you can get a much better deal on all-inclusives in Dominican Republic.
5) You’ve always wanted to explore Jamaica and don’t like the idea of doing it during a short stop on a cruise.
6) You are not too picky when it comes to food and like the idea of unlimited alcoholic drinks.
7) You have a huge stash of IHG and Rapid Rewards points.
If you insist on decent quality, I really think you should get Chase Hyatt Visa. It comes with 2 free nights (plus $50 credit when you apply on Hyatt site while making a reservation). According to several sources, including Summer from Mommypoints blog, 2 kids can stay and eat free when using the certificates. There is a surcharge when redeeming points.
The certs are valid at Hyatt Ziva in Montego Bay, and Summer did a sneak preview post on the property. There is also a link to Flyertalk discussion, in case you are interested. I have no doubt that the property has issues too, but it’s fairly new, so things are in better shape compared to Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort.
Readers, if you’ve been to IHG or Hyatt resorts, please, chime in!
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.