Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: Beaches Negril

Pictured: The beach in front of Beaches Negril.

As promised, here is a review of the resort we stayed at while in Jamaica. I thought it would be helpful to others who may be like me and never considered going to an all-inclusive resort before. Plus, it makes me feel all important to be "reviewing" something. I'll try to break it down between pro's and con's and then "things to know." Onward!

1. It's all-inclusive, bitches. When my family and I normally take trips, we try to pay for things as much as we can beforehand so we can keep our budget from skyrocketing. It takes a lot of planning. Plus, you can never prepay meals or anything like that when traveling to other locales. Even if it is not a budget you are worried about, it can be cumbersome and annoying to travel with money/cash. My husband has developed several amazingly intricate ways to keep money on hand and convenient in places like amusement parks, water parks, and beaches over the years. And even with his systems in place, it is always something he is thinking about during the trip. Not at Beaches. As at any all-inclusive resort, the place is totally cashless. We put our wallets and cell phones in the in-room safe when we got there and didn't pull them out until we left. Even if you buy something at the resort, like a scuba class or a bottle of sunblock at the resort store, you just charge it to your room and settle up when you leave. Easy peasy. And we had a zero balance when we left, and not due to penny-pinching. Before arriving at Beaches, the kids had wanted to take some of the classes offered (DJ Academy in particular), but once they saw all of the other things going on, decided not to.

2. It is freaking gorgeous. The resort itself was amazing to behold, with great looking pools, a nice, wide beach, and comfy and nice common areas. I thought our room was very well appointed and comfortable. This was the view from outside the room:
Everything was also amazingly clean and smelled nice. I point this out even though it is kind of a "Nah duh" moment (What? You mean a beach in Jamaica is pretty? YOU DON'T SAY.) because I have heard about other resorts not being super clean. And I have to say, from the time I spent up the beach at Sandals, I found the rooms at Beaches Negril to be much, much nicer and the beach to be wider.

3. There is truly something for everyone. I am the mother to three very different kids who are at very different ages. It takes something pretty special to appeal to all of them, as well as appeal to my husband and myself. Beaches did that. My oldest daughter liked the independence of being able to walk around the resort safely and be able to experience things in a more "grown up" fashion. My son loved the Xbox Game Garage, the floats in the pool, and the fact that Matt would/could go out and get him some chicken tenders at midnight. And Alice of course loved the Sesame Street characters walking about in costume, the various Sesame Street shows and ohmylordinheaven she loved the water park. From the time her little eyes popped up in the morning to the time when she collapsed in an exhausted heap, she was saying "I GO WATER PARK????" And because everything is a walkable distance apart and there are lots of friendly faces along the way, you can feasibly do everyone's favorite thing at one time.

4. Everyone is really friendly. Every person we met at Beaches was super friendly. I mentioned yesterday that at first I was squicked about the whole thing, but made my peace with it by talking to everyone and enjoying their company and help. And if you get started talking to anyone at the resort, you might find yourself in a 15 minute conversation. I learned about my brother in law's butler's twin 2 year old girls, a waitress's 12 year old daughter named Abby, and several other fun kids going through a lot of the same stuff my own are. Although there does seem to be a little script of stuff that the resort wants them to say to guests that might feel a little disingenuous, we didn't meet one person who wasn't really, super friendly despite it.

1. All-inclusive doesn't include everything. Yeah, we knew we'd have to pay extra for things like classes, and we imagined there would be small fees for other things. There are large fees, my friend. Wi-fi is $14.99 per day. We were planning on using our phones to email my father in law at the other resort to set up times for meeting and stuff like that, but decided not to, once we found out the price. Texting was just $.50 per sent message through Verizon, which I didn't think was bad at all, but my father in law absolutely refused to try it, afraid he would get slapped with additional fees. So we did it up 1985 style by calling the landlines in each other's rooms and leaving messages. More disgusting is the laundry situation. There was a guest laundry across from our room. Now, I totally didn't want to do laundry on my trip, but after finding out that the rehearsal dinner was in fact a snorkeling adventure, I had to find a way to dry some bathing suits and cover ups. I figured I would pay a small price to use the dryer. Turns out is $6 a load to wash, $6 to dry, and if you are require detergent, you're out another $6 per load for that. Um, no thanks. And, I should note that if you find that to be reasonable, let me know and I'll send you my address where you can send all the money that you plan to ritualistically set on fire this month. We ended up doing our drying with the room's blow dryer. Also note that any time you step off the property, you are incurring fees which vary from reasonable to just plain strange. We had to use a taxi to get back and forth from Beaches to Sandals and it was a different charge every time, going from $5 to $15 one way depending on who the cab driver was (it should be noted that this was about a 2 mile drive). Also, the guy who loads your bags into the bus at the airport does not work for the resort, even though he kind of acts like he does. He expects $1 per bag plus tip. The more you know!!! Finally, make sure you are loaded up on things like sunscreen and cover ups before you get there. One bottle of spray sunscreen at the resort store was $26. We were glad we came prepared.

2. The food. Now, I'm not going to say that I didn't like the food, because I had things that I definitely enjoyed. However, I don't think I could go a week on just the resort's offerings, and really, the quality varied A LOT from place to place and meal to meal. Our first meal at the resort, for instance, was just odd. My husband and son got jerk chicken and pork which was actually pretty good and came in a huge serving. I got a buffalo chicken burger, which I thought sounded great on the menu. It was in fact a frozen chicken patty like you used to get in elementary school bathed in some buffalo sauce and topped with a very sad looking nickel sized dollop of blue cheese dressing. Moreover, the bun was stale and the fries had probably been there a while. It got a little tastier when I had another rum punch. If you are someone who knows even a tiny bit about food, you'll be able to see a lot of convenience products being used. Tiramisu, for instance, was tasty after a LOT of wine, but was made with Dream Whip and absolutely no mascarpone whatsoever. Even the mashed potatoes at the wedding reception were instant, and I shudder to think what the parents of the bride paid for that spread. ME NO LIKEY INSTANT POTATOES. Even looking past all that, if you are used to just cooking/buying what you want at any time, you might just get tired of the food offerings. Like I said, 3-4 days on the food front were fine with me, but I don't think I could do a whole week. If I were staying that length of time, I'd make sure to go off the resort and try some local restaurants at least once or twice. And it is good to know that you can go to the other resorts owned by Beaches/Sandals for food if you want and not have to pay anything extra--just make sure you catch the resort shuttle or be ready to pay cab fare. And I should note in conclusion, that this is not just me being a food snob--this was absolutely the only complaint I heard anyone have while at the resort, and I sat in the hot tub and listened to people A LOT.

Things to know and other minutiae:
1. For some reason, the beach/pool towels run out by 10:00 in the morning. Either someone is a huge towel hoarder or they just don't have enough to meet demand. If you haven't gotten one by that time, good luck. We looked for towels in vain for a good while the first afternoon we were there. If you haven't gotten one by that time, just use the ones in your room and request more later.
2. There are a lot of vendors walking up and down the beach trying to sell you stuff. Mostly it is guys pressing jet ski rides, but you also see people selling jewelry and conch shells. They are not that pushy, really, if you are friendly and they can see that you have no cash on you. After the first couple of days, they remembered us and didn't really ask anymore. Any that seem pushy or especially inebriated are escorted off by security.
3. You can check your kids into day care if you so desire. Just putting that out there. We didn't, but the facilities where they hold the day care things look nice and well tended.
4. Ladies need not bring anything other than comfortable cotton jersey dresses. These were appropriate for everything on the trip, and in fact, anything other than that felt oppressive and thick on the skin (namely, the white jeans I thought would be so nice to wear at night at the resort). If you intend on going to the fine dining restaurant, these kind of dresses are totally fine--I wore a black matte jersey maxi dress from Gap and gold gladiator sandals. Men will need to bring a shirt with a collar--I think Matt wore a linen button down and a pair of linen Armani pants he found on ebay for a song. Other than that, there are no dress code requirements, and really, I'm telling you, don't take anything but dresses. You'll be happy with that information.
5. On that same token, I found Beaches to be a great place, body image wise. I know that I have been some places over the years where I've felt uncomfortable wearing a swimsuit since I am short, pasty, and not a size 2. I didn't get that vibe there. It is probably due to the family feel of the resort, but the groups of singles we met and saw were friendly and also very "come what may." If you are in the market for a swimsuit for the trip, I would recommend a tankini with a skirted bottom like you can get from Land's End if for no other reason than the fact that you can wear that around the resort sans cover up without feeling weird. I brought two one piece 50's inspired suits I got from Lands End and Land's End Canvas, and got a lot of compliments on them, even one from my own 12 year old (GASP).
6. If you can swing it, get a junior suite or higher. Not only do you get a bigger room, but you get the suite concierge service which means that you get a faster check-in, a quick tour from the concierge, and you have the concierge service which will bring you anything you want to the room to replenish your mini bar at any time before 10:00 p.m. And you get spa robes! That is great. I will point out, though, that they usually have only person staffing the concierge center in the later hours, so you might call a few times without a response. However, if you can speak to them, they'll have you a bottle of champagne down there PDQ, and one guy just came by with his cart one morning, and let Matt just take off all the Cokes, Diet Cokes, waters and beers he would carry. Also of note is the dressing area in the junior suite. I don't think I have a picture of it, which was weird since that was my favorite thing. It was huge, with a curved double sink and built in closet stuff to hold all your luggage and things. Really, really cool, and very convenient when you have to get a whole basketball starting lineup ready to go to a wedding. And really, it is much, MUCH cheaper than getting two rooms, which is what we would have had to have done with our size family.

I think that is about all I can remember/need to tell. If you are planning a trip to this resort, and would like more info, feel free to comment or email me and I'll do my best to answer questions.

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