Sunday, October 19, 2008
Splash, Dash, and a Wedding, at the Sandals Resort in Jamaica
This year, we decided to skip the usual July 4th celebrations and instead head down to Jamaica for a long weekend and to get my good friend, fellow speaker, and partner of many late night crimes in Las Vegas and Orlando, Nick Landry (a.k.a. “ActiveNick”) married off. We were joined by Alan Griver and Beth Massi, who had a layover in Houston on their way from Seattle/San Francisco, so they decided to hang out with us for a night and celebrate the occasion with a fabulous dinner at Guri do Sul, the new Brazilian steakhouse we have nearby.
Going to Jamaica from Houston is pretty straightforward. It’s a 3 hour direct flight into Montego Bay at a somewhat reasonable (although not cheap) price. The one thing you need to be aware of is that you need a passport that is valid for at least 6 more months. I got lucky, because I made it in with about 5 days to spare (and getting another passport from the Austrian embassy would have taken forever… I since had mine renewed back home with took only 10 days… although in the past you could do it on the spot). Anyway: Entry is fairly painless although somewhat time consuming.
We stayed at the Sandals Resort in Dunn’s River, which is one of Jamaica’s nicest resorts. It is a beautiful resort and I would recommend it to anyone willing to spend the money. The resort itself is nice and offers all sorts of entertainment. It is an all-inclusive resort, meaning that you do not need any cash at all while you are at the resort, and in fact, you are not even allowed to tip. No matter what you want, you just walk up to a bar or restaurant and get it. And contrary to what you may often hear about all inclusive resorts, the service was good and reasonably fast for Caribbean standards. In other words: I don’t think it would have been any faster if it was a cash-bar system.
The beach at the Sandals Resort is quite nice, and generally not all too busy…
…because most people like to stay at the pool, which is sometimes so packed, you can hardly see the water.
The resort can get pretty busy, but most people seem to stay at the pool (or, more accurately: in the pool chairs). This is great if you like the sandy beach better than the concrete slab around the pool, since you will always be able to find a few empty chairs.
The only real downside with this resort (besides the hefty price tag) is that it is pretty far from the Montego Bay airport (about a 90 minute ride in a hot and smelly bus). Add up the ride to the airport, flight, immigration procedures, wait for the bus, and bus ride to the hotel, and you end up with a wasted day. The same goes for the way back, especially since you have entry in the US as well as a lengthy border procedure when you leave Jamaica (which is pretty unusual and the only other time leaving a country has taken me that long was on a trip to Israel). That is a bummer, because it means if you have 4 days for a short trip, then half that time is wasted with travel, which means there are many better destinations than the Dunn’s River Sandals.
What makes this even more of a bummer is that this destination would otherwise be perfect for a 4-day getaway. You can be pampered and relax and be entertained, and simply forget everything that is going on outside the resort. And I mean that quite literal! Because right outside the resort, the world’s a different place. Everything I saw of Jamaica (which admittedly was limited to the 90 minute stretch on the north side) seems to be relatively barren and not a tropical jungle by any stretch of the imagination. The resort itself is fenced in, and if you venture outside, you immediately end up amongst shacks that are built up right to the resort walls. People will try to sell you drugs and all kinds of other things you have little interest in buying, and they do it in a way that scares you away, even if you might have been interested. It is quite puzzling actually, how pushy they are, to a point where it just has to hurt their business.
In general, I found that staying inside the resort was the better choice, which is odd for me, because normally, I hat that sort of thing and want to see the native stuff/people over the fakery. But here, that just wasn’t that appealing. Locals for instance are nice in a “Ya mon! No problem in Jamaica, mon” sort of way, but it always also seems to be a “you and I, we have a good time… but my good time is different from yours, you rich bastard” deal. (Note that this was different inside the resort, where the locals seemed to genuinely like the guests). So at no point did I feel that Jamaica was a cool place where I could settle down and be comfortable and free of worries. Maybe I am just spoiled, but compared to Costa Rica or even Egypt, I didn’t feel comfortable or welcome. Or maybe it is because I don’t smoke dope. Who knows?
But don’t get me wrong: We liked this experience very much for what it was. We leaned back and relaxed, ate, and we were probably were more active than most people at the resort. We went out to the reef to go snorkeling (which was OK, but not truly awe inspiring… but if you have never been to a good diving/snorkeling destination, you should do it, especially since it is free), we swam a lot, we kayaked all about, we sailed on a hobby cat, and I even rented a jet ski on several occasions (which is not provided by the resort, but tolerated… I paid 30 or 35 U$ for half an hour, which is less than half of what they asked for, and I am sure I could have gotten it down further if I wanted, but what the heck, let them make a living too…), and we even played some par-3 golf.
The resort also has a number of different restaurants, which are decent. (You have to try the “Jerk Chicken” or “Jerk Pork” while you are there, since it is the local specialty… you will like it if you like BBQ). There is something there for every taste and almost every dress-code. (Although I have to say that “do me a favor and hand that plate down to the other end of the table, mon” and “here is your expensive bottle of wine… I will bring you the opener in a moment, mon” is not the kind of service that goes at all with an upscale restaurant. They need to do a lot better than that, especially if they hassle you about wearing a collar-less designer shirt).
So how would I rate this experience overall? Well, it was a fun thing to do, in an “I am on vacation with non-vacationers” sort of way. The people at the resort were almost exclusively American, and the resort clearly caters to them. Most people like to hang out at the pool so they do not have to face the “dangers of the oceans” and they float around on air mattresses so they do not have to face the “exhaustion of swimming”. I got the impression that most people could have a similar experience if the hotel and pool where somewhere in Wyoming (no offense to… um… “wyommingers?”… “wyommingnites”… ah… “people from Wyoming” :-)…). The resort allows no children, but for some reason, most of the adults there are not into staying out late and partying at the bar very much, which I would have expected from people who are without their kids for a few days. (The resort also organizes an evening trip to “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, which they try to sell you as a local Reggae Club… we didn’t go but it seemed odd…). People eat a lot, and they add a little activity here and there. The resort has sailboats and kayaks you can borrow for free, but on a schedule that is a little odd (“it’s a quarter to 4pm now… come back tomorrow…”).
I was a great place for Nick and Ishani to have their wedding. (But that is the topic of a separate post).
All of it adds up to a lot of mindless fun and a few fun days if you take it for what it is, but don’t expect to have any adventures or experience the native culture. I would do it again, but it probably ranks at the bottom of my list of trips this year (with only the Mexican Cruise rivaling it for bottom spot). But that probably tells you more about what an awesome traveling year this was for us…
Posted @ 4:53 PM by Egger, Markus (firstname.lastname@example.org)