A couple of months after we returned from our round the world trip, I started to really feel like traveling again. I wanted to go anywhere. Jamaica had been on our original list to travel to after Christmas following our round the world trip, but then we ended up staying at home after Christmas.
One day WestJet and Air Canada both had seat sales to the Caribbean. We found an all-inclusive hotel nearby Montego Bay and booked the trip before we could talk ourselves out of it. We have always been critical of all-inclusive resorts, but we had never been to one before so we thought this would be our chance to give it a try.
Tuesday morning, we were up early to fly four hours to Toronto with a quick hour layover followed by another four hour flight to Montego Bay. We took a cab to our resort. The cabs had set prices, but they were expensive ($30 USD for a 15 minute ride).
We arrived at the Holiday Inn Montego Bay. The main building had a bar, some shops, a spa/salon, slot machines and table tennis. For food, there was a main buffet area, a Japanese restaurant, a Jamiacan and an Italian restaurant, as well as a pub on the second floor. The resort also had a seafood restaurant near the water, a “Jerk Hut”, a stand with ice cream, nachos and hot dogs, a grill with hamburgers and fries and then numerous bars scattered about. There was also live entertainment throughout the day and evening at the main stage.
There was a fitness centre, a basketball court, a beach volleyball net, mini golf and four tennis courts. They also had kayaks, catamarans and paddle boats. You could pay extra for motor sports. There was a regular pool near the main building and then an adults only pool on the other side of the resort. They had a bit of trouble finding us a room, so we ended up getting a VIP wristband which from what we understood just meant we were in an adults only building right beside the adults only pool.
One of the things that made the resort so beautiful was an island just out from the main beach that you could walk to very easily. The water in between got up to just above my knees.
We started off our resort life with supper at the buffet. I was already judging the place. I love buffets, but I really didn’t need to fill my plate twice or have four desserts. There was so much unnecessary eating and wasted food. When I think about it, it makes me feel sick. Here we are wasting tons of food when there are people that don’t know where their next meal will come from.
We spent our days at the resort swimming and snorkeling. There were some fishies and even a sting ray around the pier and behind the island.
One morning after breakfast we took in a free tennis lesson. Neither of us have played before so it was really interesting to learn the grip, swing and follow through.
During one of our lounging days, we also took a short catamaran ride. We also ate at some of the restaurants and had lots of drinks.
One of the nights we went to the Seabreeze restaurant on the resort for a seafood dinner. You had to make a reservation, but the cost was included. It was a good excuse to dress up and the food was pretty good.
We had planned to book our excursions when we got there, but dealing with the hotel seemed too complicated and talking to the cab drivers we felt like we were going to get ripped off. Instead we went online to our trusty Viator and booked some excursions their website.
Our first excursion was to Appleton Estates to discover how rum is made. The drive took us about 2.5 hours from Montego Bay and was on a winding road over the hills. Our tour started with a welcome drink then we were shown how they used a donkey powered press extract juice from the sugar cane.
We got to sample the raw sugar cane as well as the juice. The juice was then boiled to make molasses and sugar crystals which are then distilled into rum. It was cool to see the unaged rum all the way to the 30-year rum and how the colour changes. We were given samples at the end and then our driver took us to YS Falls.
YS Falls is a more local version of the popular Dunn’s River Falls. We arrived and changed into our swimsuits in the changerooms. I only had my waterproof running shoes and really should have had some water shoes. We walked up to the base of the falls and there were guides there to help you climb up the falls themselves. We linked hands in a chain with the guide going first and telling us where to place our feet. It was very exhilarating and a bit terrifying not knowing if your next step would be a slippery one.
At the top there was a rope swing into the falls that I chose to do. I don’t have much practice with rope swings, so I basically just stepped off the side and dropped. The depth was a bit of a surprise which is probably an indication of how much cliff diving I have done.
The night before there had been a big rainstorm so there was more water at the falls than usual and the water was more brown than teal. The large amount of rain meant we couldn’t climb higher than where the rope swing was located as it was dangerous.
We tipped our guide and changed back into our clothes. On the drive back I felt like my ears weren’t popping properly. I started to feel a build up of pressure. By the time we got back to the resort I was in a lot of pain. We ate a late lunch and then went to the nurse’s station. She said it was likely just water stuck in my ear and gave me Cetamol (acetaminophen) to relieve the pain. The pain did disappear right away, but my ears still felt very muffled.
We were picked up from our hotel on the Sunday evening to see the Luminous Lagoon. The drive took about 45 minutes. We were taken to a lagoon side bar, given a welcome drink and then we waited for the sun to go down. There were about 14 of us in the boat. Up the shore there was a much more commercial operation. It seemed like they were herding people onto boats.
Swimming in the lagoon was pretty incredible. As you moved your hands, the microorganisms were stirred up causing a photochemical reaction making the water streak with a green/blue light. I felt like I was magical moving my hands through the water.
Our driver returned us to the resort and we had a nice chat. We asked him how he felt about the resorts as a local. He said we can build more as they bring money to the Jamaican economy and employ many people. This made me feel a little less bad about staying at the resort.
On Monday morning, we packed up then I decided to return to the nurse’s station to confirm I was okay to fly as my ear was still muffled. It was a different nurse this time and she said they never recommend flying with an ear infection. She said I might be able to take some sinus medication and be all right, but there was a risk of rupturing my ear drum. This did not sound good. I asked to see a doctor so they could confirm if my ear was in fact infected. The nurse called and was able to get a doctor to drop by the hotel (for only $180 USD). The doctor looked in my ears and confirmed they were both infected. He advised me not to travel.
We returned to our room and I called our insurance company to start a claim. I was told to wait to cancel our flight until I heard back from them. I was also advised they likely would not cover Danny staying with me.
We checked to see if there were rooms available where we were staying, but they said they were fully booked. We looked online and found a place that looked similar but was on the “Hip Strip” in Montego Bay. We took a cab there but weren’t able to check in until 3:00 pm.
While we waited to be able to check in we decided to walk to downtown Montego Bay. To get there, we walked along the Hip Strip. The Hip Strip is located within Montego Bay and consists of a bunch of shops and clubs. It seemed to be where most tourists hung out. Margaritaville, a water slide and giant trampoline, is also located on the Hip Strip. There were lots of souvenirs to purchase and lots of women asking if I wanted my hair braided. Now looking back I wish I had gone full Monica 🙂
Harbour Street Craft Market
On the way, we also walked through a local flea market, Habour Street Craft Market, on the way. There were lots of different touristy items to buy there: Rastafari hats, shirts, masks, baskets, local paintings and lots more. It wasn’t too busy there and there were lots of vendors.
Sam Sharpe Square
We continued on to the middle of downtown to Sam Sharpe Square. Sam Sharpe was born into slavery in the early 1800s. He organized a peaceful general strike to protest working conditions which became the 1832 slave rebellion. He was singled out as starting the rebellion and hanged in the area now known as Sam Sharpe Square. Slavery was finally abolished across the British Empire in 1838.
At the Sam Sharpe statue a man came up to talk to us. We are always suspicious because it seems friendly people are always looking for something. The man started with just talking to us about the statue and then wanted to take us around the square. I ended up getting a call from the insurance company who advised that they would cover Danny staying with me. We told the man that we had to go and he insisted on getting us a cab. We then said we were just going to go to a restaurant. He put out his hand asking for a tip which we disagreed in paying and walked away.
We walked to a nearby restaurant to discuss what we should do. Danny had prepared himself to leave in a couple of hours, so this changed it all. He decided to stay with me <3. We returned to the hotel and were able to add him to the room I was in. We checked in and the hotel was not near as nice as the Holiday Inn. Luckily, the food was really good. There was a small pool, a small gym, a BBQ place and table tennis. Across the street we had free access to a very nice beach called Doctor’s Cave.
The next day we took a cab down to the doctor’s office to get him to fill out a form for the insurance company. He checked my ears again and they were still infected.
The next day we booked a tour around Montego Bay. Our driver took us through the downtown then around the “old money” houses. These houses were almost like mini acreages. Then we drove up to where people had seized land to build homes forming a ghetto. Apparently, crime is bad in that section. Our driver said its not somewhere he would drive at night. Then we drove to the “new money” houses. There was less space between the houses there. Next were the middle-income houses where our driver lived. He said most people start with a small house then build additions onto their houses. They rent out the additional rooms to supplement their income. Our driver said he makes $80 USD/week. In Montego Bay there were a bunch of call centres where people make $2-3 USD/hour.
Next we drove up through the hills to see some rural communities. There were mango, orange, breadfruit, ackee and banana trees. Our driver was telling us that the Chinese have done some investing in road construction in Jamaica. We drove on part of a newer road that was paid for by the Chinese. It seems like they have their fingers in everything. It’s worrying what kind of deal Jamaica signed based on what we have heard about it other countries regarding Chinese investment.
We drove back to Montego bay and up to Richmond Hill. In the 1700s there was a sugar cane plantation located there. From the balcony there was a wonderful view of Montego Bay.
We were returned to our hotel by lunch and played quite a few games of pool and did a lot of scrolling through Facebook. We may have also spent quite a bit of time in the bar.
The beach included in our hotel stay is a very famous one. Doctor’s Cave is a private beach located in the middle of Montego Bay’s Hip Strip. It is rated as one of the best beaches in Jamaica due to the clear turquoise waters, white sand and calm waters. There were changing rooms and showers right there and beach chairs and umbrellas could be rented. It also had a restaurant and bar right there. We spent one morning here enjoying the sun and Danny did some snorkeling. It got very busy in the afternoon and we were glad we had gone early.
On the Thursday we decided to head back to the doctor’s office to get my ears checked out. The same doctor wasn’t in, so another doctor had a look. She said there was no infection and that I was good to fly.
There was a flight leaving in a couple hours so we decided to just go to the airport to see if we could get on the flight. I called the insurance company to let them know and asked if they would cover the additional cost of the flight.
When we got to the airport, we looked online, but were unable to book as it was so close to the flight time. We went up to the WestJet desk and they were checking in people. We asked about getting on the flight and they were able to get us on. However, they were unable to use the money from our account that had been transferred from us cancelling our original flights. I was nervous about doing this because I didn’t know when we would use the money on the account otherwise as it expires in a year. Danny just really wanted to get home and back to work so we booked it.
Our trip ended up being more than we expected. I was happy for the extra stay, but Danny felt anxious about not being home. We are glad that we were able to experience resort life, but I don’t think we will choose to do it again. The excessiveness of the food and drinks bothered me a lot and it felt like we had little access to actual Jamaica. I was glad we had the extra days to get more of an experience within Montego Bay even though it was in the touristy section.
I’ve lived in Jamaica all my life and the first and only all-inclusive I’ve been to was actually this same resort Holiday Inn. Like you say, it is unsettling to stay at an all-inclusive when you think about how many people are hungry yet here’s all this food being wasted. Perhaps you’d enjoy a rural rustic sort of AirBnB or BnB on your next visit to Jamaica. That way you can get to see and explore more authentically. I promise we’re safer than the media makes it out to seem. You should try the Treasure Beach or Port Antonio or Blue Mountains areas.
Most definitely! If we were to return to Jamaica we would definitely look into an Airbnb. I think it gives you a more authentic experience. Thank you for the suggestions!
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