Sunquest Vacations Skyservice
About us: We are a professional couple in our mid 30’s with two children ages 12 and 7 yrs old! Our previous travel experience includes multiple trips to the UK., Island hoping in Greece, many visits to the USA (mostly work related) and a yearly “Caribbean relaxation” trip to an “AI” resort. Some of the “All Inclusive” resorts that we have had the opportunity to visit over the years are: Iberostar in Cozumel, Spanish Bay Reef in Grand Cayman, Sandals Dunn River in Jamaica, Paradisus Rio de Oro in Cuba, and finally the FDR Pebbles in Jamaica.
We have stayed in accommodations rated from a 2* resort through to a 5* resort. When choosing our vacations, we typically try to decide on “exactly “ the type of vacation we want first and then we go from there.
For example, our trips to Cozumel and Grand Cayman were based purely on the quality of the “aquatic programs” the resort offered, likewise for our trip to Cuba, we were interested in a “low key” romantic vacation and we were not disappointed. On this vacation we were looking for a resort that was extensively geared towards family and kids, we really didn’t care which Island we were visiting or the * factor. We knew exactly what we were looking for in a resort and for the most part the FDR Pebbles met our expectations
Prefix: I always start my reviews with a warning! Reviews are just individual travelers experiences. I think reviews can give you great tips, advice and a general feel for the resort; however, you have to remember that your vacation is going to be what YOU make it! What one family may find exciting and extraordinary, another family may find uninspiring and unpleasant. Planning a family vacation can be a daunting task, especially when you have many personalities to consider. My best advice would be to read as many reviews as possible, take the time to figure out what everybody in your group wants from their vacation, and try to find a resort that best matches their needs. Never discount a resort due to a few bad reviews, and don’t book a resort based on overly exuberant reviews. Stay focused more on “factual”, “middle of the road” reviews as they tend to be the most “honest” and probably the closest to “actual” you will get! I hope you find this review enjoyable and informative. If by any chance at the end of this review you still have questions regarding the FDR Pebbles, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you,!
As “Sunquest tours” is the only “tour company” that carries the “FDR Pebbles” we had no choice but to fly with “Skyservice” (Sunquest uses Skyservice as its Aircraft carrier. With the seat configuration of 3 seats isle 3 seats), we prepared ourselves for what we figured was going to be a long, miserable, cramped flight to Jamaica. However, I have to say that my husband and I were pleasantly surprised. Although the seating was cramped, we were able to “prebook” our seats and as we are a family of four, we were able to book seats A, B, C and D of the same row… This allowed me to sit with our children and in return this did afford us a little extra room (our kids are pretty small for their age).
The “in-flight” crew were completely professional and attentive, the meal service on the flight to Jamaica was actually quite good (Chicken Teriyaki in a potato boat), however, a little less desirable on the way home (Penne Pasta). One complementary non-alcohol drink is served prior to the meal service and coffee and tea is served after the meal. Those wishing soft drinks, bottled water or alcohol on board will find these items are subject to charge- between $1.00 to $5.00- depending on your request”. The flight to Jamaica went off without a hitch, a nice smooth ride on the way down with very little turbulence. I believe the total flight time was just over 4 hrs. The flight back was quite rough, actually, probably the most turbulence we have ever flown in, however the pilot and staff handled the situation calmly and professionally and I never felt as though our safety was in jeopardy. The flight home was closer to 4.5 hours with approximately 3 hours of turbulence! Both flights left exactly on time with no delays! One other note of interest, Skyservice is very strict about the weight of your checked-in luggage. The allowable weight limit is 20 kilo or about 44 pounds per person, which may be spread between two suitcases per person. When two or more people check in together they usually take a combined weight, but they don’t have to. I spoke to several people who had to pay the “excess” weight penalty (and that was on the way down, I would hate to see what they would have been “nicked” on the way back once they bought all of the souvenirs). Excess weight baggage is penalized at a cost of $7.00CDN or $5.00US per kilo.
With everything taken into consideration, we would not hesitate to use Skyservice again! Yes, the seating is still very cramped, however for a short flight (3 to 4 hours) I can survive, I am just thankful that we have the “charter” option in Canada as it really does help keep the costs of traveling down a bit!
at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay was right on schedule. The airport does seem a little “run-down” and could use a real good “make-over”. Finding our luggage was not really an issue as it arrived quickly on the carousel, we headed to the “nothing to declare” line (and declared that I was happy to be in Jamaica) and then tried to find the Sunquest rep. Now the fun begins…Being that this week was March Break for many people and a Saturday night, I guess I should not have been surprised with the amount of people pushing and shoving their way around. Once we finally found the person who we thought was our rep, we were directed to go to another counter to speak to somebody by the name of “Marlin”(?). After wandering around aimlessly we managed to find and speak to Marlin, whom, handed us our information packet and told us to make our way to the exit and speak to “Bethany” “she will set you up with your hotel transfer”! Okay, frustration was really beginning to settle in now. Finding Bethany became almost as daunting as finding Marlin. Once again through perseverance, we eventually found her and she instructed us to “go out” into the parking lot to find Omar (?), “he will be your driver”, she said… So, now we had to find Omar!
Finding Omar, took another 10 minutes of us wandering around the parking lot aimlessly with our entire luggage collection and two very tired kids… FINALLY another driver helped us find Omar (for a tip of course) and we settled in for the 40-minute drive to the resort. We were traveling with three other families from our flight and one American family.
The whole process described above was totally chaotic and un-called for. From the time we left the “nothing to declare line” till we reached our driver, took over an hour and we were “sent off” to speak with four (4) different people! This is a process that I think Sunquest needs to spend some time ironing out! The vacationers who were staying at the “Superclubs” resort were just ushered to their own waiting area and offered refreshments while they waited to be escorted to their buses… Urrrhhhh!
Resort check-in and first impressions:
I had read somewhere that “what the FDR Pebbles lacks in curb appeal she makes up for with charm”; well I was certainly counting on it as we pulled into the driveway. I have to admit, even with all the research I had done on this place before we arrived, I don’t think I was expecting how “low key” this resort actually was.
The “check-in” process was smooth and painless. There were two efficient staff at the reception counter and we were not asked to leave our passports however we were asked to leave our “departure pass/tourist card”. This resort does not have “in-room safes” only “safety deposit boxes“ that are kept in the “office” behind the reception desk. Just a word of warning, do not lose your safety deposit box key, they will charge you $100 USD to have the “locksmith” come and “re-key” the box (This happened to a family while we were there). Across from the reception desk is a little waiting room with a few wicker coutches and chairs, a tour desk and the manager’s office. In total I don’t think the lobby could have been larger then 40’ by 40’ in size. Please keep in mind that this resort is actually quite small with only 96 suites so I guess they did not feel the need for a “grandiose lobby”.
Total check-in time took no longer then 20 minutes! To our great delight, the resort does not require you to wear those dreaded plastic ID bracelets, nothing worse then being “banded” like a “Canadian Goose”, so, with our room assignment, basic resort information and key in hand, our suitcases were loaded onto a pulley and we were whisked away to our room. Now, I had contacted the resort prior to our vacation and did request a specific room, however realizing that no request is guaranteed, I had at least asked for a second story room. Although I did not get the room I had initially asked for, I was rewarded a very lovely, corner, second story suite! The only problem with the location of our room was that we were located right beside the resorts “petting zoo” which, with such humidity, the wretched smell of the animal pen could be enough to make you physically ill, especially in the late afternoon/early evening, as you were making your way back to your room to prepare for dinner. Yuck! Thankfully the smell never permeated through our room or was it noticeable off the balcony. The bellboy brought our luggage up to a second floor room and took great care and time to explain the air conditioning controls and to show us the “care package” our “soon to be” Nanny had left us! This care package included: cheese, crackers, cereal, sliced melon, 2 pop, 2 Red Strip beers and a jug of water. Each evening prior to the Nannies departure she would restock your “mini fridge” with the items that you request from the “order form”. You can find this “order form” on your fridge the first night you arrive. The list of choices are not extensive, mostly, Pops, Juice, Beer, Cheese, Cracker fruit and Cereal. As it was quite late when we arrived (10:30pm), the meal service was over, however the “main bar” was still open. The bellboy graciously offered to “show” Steve where the bar was, so that he could get us a couple of Daiquiris while I unpacked and got the children settled.
My first impression of the room was quite favorable, actually I would say, that this was the best room/suit that we had ever stayed in (even nicer then the Paradisus). However as the consciousness traveler that I am, I made sure prior to unpacking that everything was in good working order.
I knew ahead of time, that “water pressure” and temperature of the water would probably be an issue, so, this was the first thing I checked, however in all honesty, with the exception of one (1) evening (where we had virtually no pressure) we were never bothered by the lack of pressure nor did we find a problem with the temperature of water being too cool, actually we found that for the most part the water never really got cold, we ended up brushing our teeth with warm water most mornings. These suites actually reminded of my childhood cottage, beautifully constructed with cedar wood paneling, warm lighting and cathedral ceilings, quite spacious with two rooms separated by a ¾. wall. Our room was slightly different in design to the other suites, as our “living room” area actually had the “two” single beds as oppose to the one “pull out” couch and “rollaway” bed. We also had the television in our room as opposed to the children’s room, which worked out fine for us, as the only time the children were allowed to watch TV was when we were all getting ready in the evening for dinner. We had a huge private balcony just off of our room, with a nice view of the mountains from one side and a view of the pool and further out the ocean on the other side. The balcony was our favorite place to hang out first thing in the morning, where we would sit outside to enjoy our morning cup of coffee…
In total I believe the suite was approximately 430 Sq Ft. Just a note, we brought our own coffee machine and filters with us as they don’t supply coffee machines in the room, they don’t have hair dryers or irons either, however you can borrow one from the front desk. My daughter and I had our hair braided by our third day so the hair dryer thing did not bother us, and who the heck “irons” their clothes on holidays, especially at such a casual, family friendly resort!
The Resort: FDR Pebbles an Overview: Two resorts, the Franklin D. Resort and the FDR Pebbles resort are the creation of – and named for – Frank Rance, an enterprising Jamaican hotelier. Mr. Rance was an innovator back in the 1970’s when he was the first General Manager at the original Negril Beach Village. That was the first resort to incorporate what was to become known as “the Caribbean all inclusive concept.” And, it was Frank Rance who subsequently came up with the idea of a resort for “couples only.” Mr. Rance managed the conversion of Tower Isle Hotel Ocho Rios into Couples – the world’s first couples only resort – as well as becoming its first General Manager. He also spearheaded the creation of Boscobel Beach Resort. Eventually Mr. Rance wanted to “break out” on his own and open his own resort, a resort geared exclusively for families, this resort however was to be designed slightly different then the other family resort his helped create (Boscobel Beach). At the FDR resort not only will your entire vacation experience be geared towards entertaining you and your family, each family vacationing at the FDR resort is supplied a “Vacation Nanny” to ensure that it does happen. With the success of the Franklin D. Rance Resort, the opportunity to open a second resort presented itself and Mr. Rance took the “plunge” The FDR Pebbles is the “sister resort to the original FDR resort. FDR Pebbles was a dream of Frank Rance for a long time – FDR Pebbles is an all suite, all-inclusive family resort with 98 deluxe air-conditioned cedar wood suites. FDR Pebbles is closer to the international arrival gateway of Montego Bay and offers most of all of the same amenities and services as FDR. However, as the FDR tends to cater to families with small children, Pebbles is geared more toward the youngsters, as they get too old for FDR. In other words, the families start at FDR and go to Pebbles after the children get older.
The FDR Pebbles, s advertised as a “soft adventure” resort, where the emphasis is on learning as well as fun for the children. There they can learn first hand about the history of the island of Jamaica, as well as experiencing the ecology of the nearby coral reefs and the area surrounding the resort, including a luminous lagoon. Children learn where bananas come from and what causes the Caribbean to be so blue. They tour a working sugar plantation and historical sites and go on ecological trips in the parish of Trelawny.
The FDR Pebbles has an awesome “Teen Program”. I don’t believe you can find a resort anywhere that offers as many activities and programs for the “Teen/Preteen” then the FDR Pebbles. The resort has set aside its own supervised tropical "campsite" for outdoor camping (Which sometimes takes place in the disco as the weather does not always cooperate) The preteens are taken hiking, the had beach party outings, pool parties, cycling trips, field trips up the nearby Martha Brae River. tubing on the “White River”, day trips to Montego Bay (waterpark/go-cartes). They receive instruction on how to Sail, Kayak or Wind surf. They’ll learn about the flora and the fauna indigenous to Jamaica.” And then they come back with stories about how fascinating the island of Jamaica really is. Located on the oceanfront, the 12 cedar wood buildings each house 8 junior suites and are nestled among palm trees and beautiful, lush gardens. Most suites have ocean views, while others are situated directly on the 600 ft white sand beach. The resort also boasts an expansive pool, complete with “swim-up” bar. The FDR Pebbles has three (3) restaurants to choose from, The Oceanside, which is the “open air” main dining room that offers buffet meals three times daily. The Sabbia is the “adults” only restaurant, which offers an Italian (loose translation) a la carte menu. Finally the “Pool grill” which makes the BEST jerk chicken I have ever had! There is also a “kids” buffet offered in the evenings from 5:30 to 7:00 pm situated above the pool grill. I don’t recommend the kids buffet! The one night I took our daughter upstairs to check it out, I found “Mac and cheese”, plain spaghetti noodles, hotdogs, French fries, cheese and peanut butter sandwiches. They also had cookies and melon for dessert. It appears the only people who actually eat in the kids buffet are the children that were left with the Nanny for the evening. Actually I saw more Nannies eating up in the kid buffet then children!
Other Interesting Resort Features:
This resort also has a ‘’petting zoo”, a turtle farm, a “catch and release” stocked pond, excellent condition tennis courts, basketball courts, whirlpool and sundeck, volleyball court, PADI scuba diving clinic’s with programs starting for children 8yrs old and up (1 dive per day for certified divers is included in the cost of your AI package). There is also a gift shop and beauty salon, Steve and I each had two massages outdoors in the massage hut for $60 USD 1/hr session. On the premises you will also find a nurses station, tour desk, games room (pool table, foose ball table, air hockey, and X-Box), cyber café (really only two very slow computers, but at least its something), disco, gym and fitness center (which I only visited during my orientation).
The water Sports center included: Snorkeling, Windsurfing, Kayaking, Sailing and Glass bottom boat rides (which I only did once as I was waaay too seasick to try it a second time) If that is not enough and you really want to get off the resort… There is golfing nearby in both Montego Bay and Runaway Bay, the hotel will arrange a shuttle for you. Directly to the left of the FDR Pebbles is a great “Gilligan Island” type beach bar and grill called “Time n Place”! This “beach grill” had excellent food, and even better atmosphere, a great place to “escape” the loud sometimes over bearing noise at the FDR Pebbles… Conde Naste traveller listed this place as one of the top 30 Caribbean hangouts. Many a movie and photo shoots have happened in this location, including the famous beach bar scene in the move “How Stella got her groove back”. Not sure if I got my “groove back” here, however it was a great place to come and get recharged! Directly towards the right of the FDR Pebbles along the beach heading towards the “Starfish” is a local group of entrepreneurs know locally as the “Bamboo Village”, The people at the Bamboo Village try to pass themselves off as artists living in an “artist” community, however this place is really very far from that. I was lucky enough to be turned onto a local craftsman by the name of “Puttymon” who owns a “hut” in the Bamboo Village, and gave me the “real score” about what the Bamboo Village is really all about.
Although you will find some “true artists” at the Bamboo Village, most of the people actually get their wares in the “big city” and mark them up in order to sell to you the tourist. I suppose there is nothing really wrong with that, as most tourists would rather not go into Montego Bay to buy their souvenirs anyway, as long as you understand that you are most likely not buying an original piece of art. You are still supporting the local Jamaican economy and bringing home a gift for somebody so why not?
I was not offered drugs at the Bamboo village, however my husband was offered several times, as he had to go over to the Bamboo side of the resort fence on a daily basis for his diving. As “drugs” are not our scene, he kindly said “no thank you”, and he was left alone (at least until the next day). The only time “marijuana” was even mentioned to me was by our Nanny. When she asked me if “I smoked”, being the naive person that I am, I went into the whole story of how I “smoked” for years and finally gave up the horrible habit using the “nicoderm patch”. It wasn’t until she told me that her father “grew the stuff” and if I ever needed “anything” she could arrange something for me, did I realize that we were talking about two different things. After I quickly explained that I was talking about cigarettes not marijuana, she quickly apologized for bringing up the topic. I never reported the incident, as I am sure that as wrong as it is, many families probably do go looking for marijuana while in Jamaica, This was probably just our Nannies way of trying to be helpful. I blame the tourist for that one not the Nanny!) The resort also provides a free excursion into the town of Falmouth. The adult entertainment coordinators host this trip, which leaves the resort Tuesday and Saturday around 2:00pm and returns around 4:30 pm. I would not really recommend the tour (Falmouth is far from Kansas), except that we did get a chance to visit the “Juicy Patty” shop (The best beef patties in all of Jamaica) and I was also able to finally buy Mangos at the local vegetable market. The resort couldn’t make my favorite milkshake (mango) because apparently Mango was out of season. So during our trip to Falmouth, I bought some mangoes and had the bartender whip me up a Mango and rum milkshake. Yummmm!
At FDR Pebbles, families are provided with the services of a “Vacation Nanny”. At the very least these ladies are charged with cleaning the suite and stocking the refrigerator daily. However, her real responsibility is to help plan, coordinate and participate in the fun filled activities for the children throughout the day. Unfortunately, we did not have much luck with our particular Nanny, however we met many people who were absolutely pleased with this service and mentioned that by the end of their stay the Nanny almost feels as though she was part of their family. The Nanny normally arrives at 9:00 am in the morning, she takes a lunch break from 12:30 to 1:30 pm and then she is with you again until 4:40 pm. The Nanny is also available to stay with your family in the evenings for the cost of $4.00 USD/hr (+tip), the Nannies really do try and solicit the overtime, as whatever they make from you during the “after hours” care, they can take home. Contrary to what I have read in other reviews of the FDR Pebbles, the nanny IS allowed to eat with your family in the dining room, you just need to go to the “front desk” and ask for a permission slip for her. This slip shows that you have made to personal request to have your Nanny dine with you and your family. The manager will also need to sign the slip, however the whole ordeal is really quite painless, and probably took no longer then 10 minutes to do. The resort does provide meals and accommodations to ALL of the staff in the “staff” housing units”, which were located directly behind our block of suites… The Nannies/Teen coordinators and entertainment staff are allowed to spend the night in the “staff quarters” if they have worked late into the evening.
However, the one (1) night we had our Nanny stay late, we offered her the option of having us pay for her cab home or stay in the “staff house” she quickly replied that she wanted to go home. Apparently, things can get a little wild and outrageous in the “staff quarters” and the Nannies prefer to just go home in the evening!
The Activity Programs: As I mentioned earlier in the review, we chose the FDR Pebbles based on its “advertised” children programming. We realized that the resort as a whole was only rated as a 3.5* and for the most part we would agree, however, the children program was rated as 5* and we expected to see a 5* program in place” again, for the most part that is exactly what we got!
The activities center around three distinct age groups:
Children Center (Children 2 thru 8) For children ages eight and under they have there own children center called the “Yellow Bird” club. The center is open from 7:30 am until 10:00 pm daily with organized activities every half hour around the clock. The daily activities are listed on a black board in the children center, so every morning on our way to breakfast, Natasha (7yr old daughter) and I would check the board for the daily activities, and then we would “mark-down” the activities that she was interested in doing for the day. If Natasha was with us, we would drop her off at the activity, if she were with the Nanny, our Nanny would stay with her until the activity was completed. Typically we would have the Nanny clean the room first thing in the morning, while we tried to have some “quality” family time together. The Nanny would normally join us around 11:00 am and then she would watch the kids for the rest of the afternoon! Here is a sample list of activities offered for children 8yrs and younger: Arts and Crafts, Fishing, Shell collecting, Crab hunting, Crab racing, Beach Games, Beach Picnic (field trip), Talent shows, Fashion shows, Tie and Dye, Kayaking, Soccer, Snorkeling, Dance Lessons, Nightly Disco, Evening movie, Playground time, Glass Bottom boat rides, Tennis Lessons, Video Games, Treasure Hunts, daily Scavenger Hunts. While we were there the resort had a “magic show” one-week and a “snake and alligator” charmer the following week. The Yellow Bird coordinators also arrange great birthday parties for anybody having a birthday while away! Preteen Activities (9 thru 12yrs) We also have a child who is considered a “preteen” (ages 9 thru 12). The Preteen coordinator was awesome, probably one of the “shining lights” at this resort, between the Preteen and Teen coordinators our son Erich always had something planned (whether or not he would join the activity was another story). Currently the “preteen” center is under renovation, so, the teens and preteens are sharing the “games room and “ballroom” as the meeting center. However most of the day, if they are not on a field trip somewhere, you will find them at one of the many sports areas. During our first week, their really was not a lot of “preteens” so Francis the “teen coordinator” really tried to include Erich in many of the “teen activities” ensuring that he kept a special “eye” on him. By the end of our first week going right through to the end of our second week, there were at least 25 to 30 preteens on the resort. Rick the “preteen coordinator” was really able to “kick-up” the activities then, although Erich found it harder to make friends with so many preteens around!
Here is a list of some of the “Preteen activities”:
Pool and Beach volleyball, Soccer, Cricket, Hikes, Dance class, Disco, talent show, Camp-outs (both weeks in the disco as the beach was too windy to set up tents), Beach party, Kayaking, Sailing, Windsurfing, Scuba lesson, Tie and Die, Tattoos, Pool (Billiards), Air hockey, Table Tennis, Video Game tournament, Pool Party. The teen and preteen coordinators also took the kids on field trips off the resort to places such as “Bamboo Village”, Tubing down the White River, Trip to Ocho Rios and FDR (the sister resort, for a day of friendly competition), Montego Bay trip, Water Park and Go-cart racing.
Here is a list of some of the “Preteen activities”: Pool and Beach volleyball, Soccer, Cricket, Hikes, Dance class, Disco, talent show, Camp-outs (both weeks in the disco as the beach was too windy to set up tents), Beach party, Kayaking, Sailing, Windsurfing, Scuba lesson, Tie and Die, Tattoos, Pool (Billiards), Air hockey, Table Tennis, Video Game tournament, Pool Party. The teen and preteen coordinators also took the kids on field trips off the resort to places such as “Bamboo Village”, Tubing down the White River, Trip to Ocho Rios and FDR (the sister resort, for a day of friendly competition), Montego Bay trip, Water Park and Go-cart racing.
For the adults they also had activities scheduled from around 8:00am till 11:00pm. Although I never really participated in many of them… They had poolside games, power walks, trips (already mentioned above), water sport activities (including Scuba), fitness classes, aerobics (water or land), dance classes (really lame), trivia contests, “not so newlywed game”, and evening entertainment. They have a resident band, which played most nights, however I found the band quite disappointing, as I did with most of the evening shows. I certainly was not expecting a “Las Vegas review”, however I was hoping for something better then a third rate garage band or high school drama production. Most evenings the “main bar/restaurant” cleared out pretty quick. This is the first resort that I have been to where the evening entertainment “chased” its customers away! Oh well, this is a family resort and for the most part I was really ready to “crash” by 10:00 pm anyway! The adult coordinators Leon and Paulette really did try their best to get people up and motivated, unfortunately I think most people come to this resort looking for relaxation. I really did not see a “huge” turnout to any of the “adult” activities!
As this is a review about the FDR Pebbles, and not of Jamaica, I wont really go into great detail about the “excursions” we took away from the resort, except to say, even though we “went” to our “Sunquest meet and greet”, we found her information to be basic and her tours of little interest. She had the “obligatory” Martha Brae rafting tour, Swim with the Dolphin tour, “Dunn’s river” falls, Shopping excursions and several “combination” packages for astronomical costs… The resort has its own tour desk with more reasonable costs and is willing to “mix and match” specific tours for you. The other alternative here was to “hire” a taxi driver for the day! The resort has its own drivers that you can hire from $75 to $125 USD per day (you need to negotiate a price, depending on where you want to go), the driver will not only take you to your places of interest, but he will act as a tour guide along the way, pointing out several points of interest, and will stop for photo opportunities if you choose! The resort also organizes several “field trips” throughout the week! You can find out about these tours from either the “adult coordinators” or the tour desk personnel, the costs are reasonable, and it’s a nice way to meet people from your resort! The excursions we took, were the “Luminous Lagoon”, Shopping trip to Ocho Rios, Tubing down the White River, Falmouth Historical tour (free), Bamboo village walking tour (free), an evening in Montego Bay (which included dinner and music at Margaritaville) and a “Day trip” to Hedonism III for my husbands birthday!
All in all, I was disappointed with the tours offered through Sunquest, however we did like the “flat rate”, “make your own tour” option that was available through our resort!
Food: Despite all of the negative reviews that I had read about the food at this resort, I was really quite impressed, and I do consider myself a “foodie”! The only true disappointment was the Curry dishes; they were way too bland for our taste, with only a hint of “curry” in the flavor! The food served at the FDR Pebbles was by no means “haute cuisine”, however very wholesome, fresh and certainly had a “home cooked” feel about it! The meals were very similar to the type of meal my “mother-in-law” would create, as my husband is from Newfoundland, I found it quite surprising that they shared some “similar” dishes… For the “less adventurous’ they had the North American staples… Breakfast consisted of: Omelet Station, toast machine, fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal (cold and hot), fresh juice (apple, orange, pineapple, papaya), milk, “home fries (or some other potato variation), bacon (yuck) or sausage. More traditional Jamaican dishes were “dumplings”, “braised kidney’s” callaloo (steamed and put into quiche), creamed cabbage, esckovitch fish, and of course Akee and callaloo, Akee and rice, Akee and fish. I somehow think the chef managed to somehow “incorporate “ Akee into every breakfast. Lunch: Word of advice, if you don’t want to get “sick” of the buffet, I would avoid lunch at the Oceanside. If we even had lunch (as we were usually too full from breakfast) we would try and hit the “Pool grill”! These guys really do make the “BEST” Jerk chicken that I have ever had… Tried the pork 3 times and all 3 times, all I got was a plate of “jerked fat” (Yuck)! The “Grill” also served burgers, hotdogs, French fries, sandwiches, a daily special (patties, curries), Ice cream, fruit and cookies… The kids really loved “saddling up” to the old “pool bar and grill” to order their daily fix of hotdog and fries (Erich liked a side order of jerk sauce to “dunk” his fries into). Dinner: Dinner was buffet style, and again had plenty of North American dishes! Each night the buffet had plenty of salads and “salad fixings”, three or four types of vegetables, and one or two types of carbs. (Usually potato and rice), two fish and one chicken dish, and a “roast of something” at the “carving” station. Of course the kids were thankful for the “pasta” person as well. Pretty much every night at least one of the kids would find themselves at the “make to order” pasta station! The resort also had three theme nights, Monday was Asian night at the buffet, Wednesday was “beach BBQ” night and Saturday was Caribbean night (this is the night you will get a chance to try curried goat). Now, the resort also has one (1) “adult’s only” restaurant called the Sabbia, the food and atmosphere was supposed to be really nice, however we dined here twice and were really disappointed. The meal itself was good, one night I had the pork, the second night the lamb, however, dining here was anything but relaxing. The service has haphazard at best, and downright non-existent at its worse. Not only was the service horrible, the fact that this restaurant was on the edge of the resorts property, with the “public” beach just on the other side of the fence, made for some very interesting fumes coming from the “sellers” next door. I actually witnessed a “mother” from our resort purchasing some of the local herb, while we tried to look inconspicuous eating our appetizer.
The “soft” dinner music they were playing was actually just the local radio station, playing top 40 hits from a “ghetto blaster”. Now the kitchen was another problem, the kitchen window was so large that you could “plainly” see what was going on in the kitchen while you were trying to eat. I am not trying to nit-pick, however between the condition of the kitchen and the less then sanitary practices that I witnessed on our second trip, left us with no desire to return!
To be honest the buffet offered more choice anyway, and we enjoy eating with our children. Everybody is so busy doing their own thing during the day that we enjoy getting together over dinner to discuss our day’s events!
Okay, normally I would not comment on the staff at a resort, however, as this resort is so small and you really do get to know the staff, I thought I would make an exception. For the most part (with the exception of the nannies), the staff does work really hard to try and please you. Especially the front desk personal, I really would not want their job, I mean having to deal with people complaints all day long really must wear on you! The staff at the “swim-up” bar ALWAYS worked hard especially the “Chef” and a special bartender by the name of Natalie, who always remembered our food and drink preferences, made my special Mango and Rum milkshakes, however, MOST importantly, remembered my daughter’s allergy to “strawberries”! As most of the children “drink special of the day” had strawberry syrup, Natalie always made sure (and instructed others to do the same) that she would have a “Natasha Special” conjured up daily! Not only did this make me feel comfortable knowing that Natasha would not inadvertently drink something she shouldn’t, it made Natasha feel special as well. As I mentioned earlier, the coordinators worked long and hard hours as well. Francis the “Teen coordinator and Rick the Preteen coordinator worked tirelessly trying to create and organize activities “geared” to the particular group of kids they had each week. Even though my son is a bit of an “introvert” and chooses to spend a lot of time on his own, the program was there if he wanted to join, and after explaining to Rick some of Erich’s challenges (extremely shy), Rick made a point of sincerely trying to encourage Erich to participate. Rick really went out of his way to ensure Erich always felt included, which as parents we really, really appreciated! The restaurant staff was a “curious” sort…. They were very obviously understaffed (especially the second week when the resort was over-booked), however the staff for the most part had one speed… DAWDLE (as my mother would call it)!
The busier the resort became, the more frustrated the staff would be, however they never, never seemed to “pick up the pace” instead they became more “surly”. Again there were exceptions to this… We had two eggcellent (joke!) omelets makers in the morning, no matter how large of a line-up they were always pleasant and ready to “crack” a joke.
I would also like to mention the woman who kept my children well fed with the “make to order” pasta at lunch, she was also a hero to my family, very sweet, and worked extremely hard and always with a smile! By the end of the second week, we also had our favorite waitress and waiters, and really did try and make sure that we sat in there section each night… One of our waitresses even dedicated a song to us on the “staff and guest” talent show night! This was a very enduring waitress and such a beautiful gesture will never be forgotten!
Now the negative:
Three (3) areas for improvement stood out loud and clear while we were visiting the FDR Pebbles! Keep in mind that we had the opportunity to stay for two (2) weeks and had a chance to observe many things that either really bothered us, or we could see some real room for improvement! 1) Better “hands on” supervisors! The second week we were at the FDR Pebbles, we were totally “flabbergasted” at the difference in service; it was almost as though the staff was on a “work to rule” schedule. A total lack of organization. During the second week found ourselves “bussing” our own table, getting our own coffee/wine! The second “beach BBQ night” we were seated at a table that when the “surf” came in, we got completely washed out, my husband was “drenched” from the knees down… Three waitress stood by and watched, completely perplexed as to how to remedy the situation. I finally got mad and grabbed our linens and plates from our table and started to reset a “dirty table” further up the beach, as I went back to our “washed out” table to get our water glasses, a different waitress proceed, to give our second table away. Now I was fuming, I approached the second waitress whom at this point didn’t want to have to remove the other family, as there were no more tables, “sorry”, “I guess you are just going to have to wait” she said!
“No problem” I said “I will speak to the “General Manager” (who happened to just enter the beach area)… This did not help remedy the situation, as I had mentioned earlier “one speed” (dawdle). The GM himself helped to clean off a third (3) table for us, and as it turned out we very nearly lost that table as well. By the time I made it to the buffet, the “curried conch” and “suckling pig” were all finished! I could go on and on about the little things that went wrong the second week we were there, like “saved” sunbeds, “lack of towel’s, constant “power failures”, over booked field trips, however I believe it was just that the resort staff just could not handle so many guests, and I did not see any supervisors giving guidance or assisting in any way, I did see a lot of staff standing around aimlessly or dawdling, which aggravated me further!
2) Better Security! Okay, the beach at this resort was not really all that bad, I mean, Steve and I had a chance to visit Hedo III while we were in Jamaica, now that was a truly horrible beach! The beach at FDR Pebbles was quite narrow, however there was some length and never busy, always lots of room! If you like to take long walks along the beach, you can do this here, however you will need to go past the fences and the security of the resort. Security, what security, oh yeah, I think I saw somebody once and awhile, wandering the beachfront in a uniform! As the beach was public, anybody can walk along, and they do, all day long! Locals, mostly from the “bamboo village” calling out to you “Hey mon, do you want me to braid your hair? Hey Mon, don’t be rude, come see my wares! All day this would occur, I would even see them coming up past the beach. I don’t mind sharing a beach with the locals, after all this is their Country; however we were constantly harassed! It got to the point where we would not sit at the beach anymore! I would not have wanted a “beach front” room that’s for sure, It would have been very, very easy for somebody to walk along the beach and hop with onto the bottom balcony and break right into your room. There would have been NO security to stop them! Needless to say, we made sure the “chain” was across the door every night!
3) The Nanny program!
Okay this was our single biggest disappointment, which is why I left it for last! The concept is a GREAT idea, however in practice, I think the service needs a major overhaul! Part of me feels horrible complaining about this, as maybe our expectations were too high, we did see plenty of families who were completely satisfied with the nanny service! In fact some people went as far as to say, that the “nanny” would be the only reason that they would return to FDR Pebbles, however, we were truly disappointed with the program!
This excerpt is taken directly from the “FDR Pebbles” website! Our Exclusive Vacation Nanny Program Our Nannies are special. They are not just based in a Kids Centre. They are assigned to your family exclusively, full time, for your entire holiday. Your Nanny will welcome you, and say goodbye to you. You will love her. Your kids will adore her. From rinsing swimsuits to combing their hair, from getting them dressed to taking them to dine, the same trained Vacation Nanny will care for and entertain your children. She is also available for babysitting after hours. So you will complete your holiday feeling relaxed, pampered and totally revitalized and your kids will want to return year after year. This could not be further from the truth. First I will begin with the positives! Our room was always spotless, our nanny did a great job cleaning our suite and our fridge was always stocked. Our nanny was personable with a great wealth of knowledge which she enjoyed sharing. Our Nanny was quick to explain the “do’s and don’t” in Jamaica and would always have the “inside scoop” (including gossip) of what was going on at the resort! Now, when it comes to the most important part of her job (watching our children), she was really not interested! As we wanted to spend time together as a family, we would have our Nanny clean the room in the morning and then meet us around 11:00 am. Most days she would not show up until 12:00 and then want to leave for break at 12:30! Okay, so we figured that would be fine. Steve had his Scuba diving each afternoon, so as soon as the Nanny would have her “lunch break” we would have her watch the children so that I could have some “time” to myself (I wanted to finally get around to reading the DaVinci Code), however this too never seemed to work out! You see, once the Nanny would get off her break and “find” us (like that should be too hard at a resort this small), it would be 2:00 pm, she would then proceed to take Natasha to the pool and then sit with the other Nannies chatting around the pool, Our Nanny was not watching Natasha at all!
Thank god Natasha is a good swimmer, as I am sure she could have drowned and the Nanny would not have taken notice! I had asked the Nanny on several occasions to take Natasha to the organized activities at the “Yellow Bird” club, however, the next time I would walk by the pool, I would find our Nanny once again chatting it up with the other Nannies around the pool, When I would ask why Natasha was not participating in her programs the Nanny would tell me that Natasha was not interested!
Finally Steve and I asked our Nanny to NOT allow Natasha into the pool after 2:00 pm and we spoke to Natasha to ensure that she understood that she was not allowed in the pool. Natasha assured us that she did not ask to go the pool; it was the Nanny who asked Tasha… Anyway, the following day, I found Natasha down by the sports beach playing with a few girls that I had yet to meet and there was no Nanny around anywhere. I asked Natasha where the Nanny was, and she didn’t have a clue! I did find our Nanny waaaaay down by the other end of the beach, yes that’s right, chatting it up with 4 other Nannies. I will add here that not one of those Nannies had children with them either! Another thing I wanted to mention was, even though our Nanny was supposed to be responsible for both our children, she never once knew where Erich was. Whenever I would ask where Erich had disappeared? She would always reply the “games room”! I would check and surprise, surprise, no Erich! By day six 6 I had enough, I ended up writing out an afternoon agenda, clearly outlining what I wanted Natasha and Erich to do for the day, that evening, Erich told us that the Nanny was mad at Natasha, because she figured Natasha had complained about her! Pretty much from that day forward, I kept the children with me! The Nanny would hang around the pool all afternoon chatting with her friends while I made sure the children got to their activities, had somebody to play with and I really enjoyed the water activities with them! Steve would always dismiss the Nanny as soon as he got back from diving, which would be around 4:00 pm. A couple other things that bothered me was that she would alternate between Steve and I, asking us to get her a “drink” from the bar. We would always oblige, however we would ask the bartender for something without alcohol. I think she caught on, so the Nanny started to ask us to get her and her friend a couple of “rum creams”. Yeah, that’s right, the Nanny thought we would supply her and her friends with alcohol while she was supposed to be watching our children, I told her under NO circumstances would we supply her with alcohol, and with that she stopped asking. You might be wondering why Steve and I didn’t ask for a new Nanny? Well, this brings me to my final complaint… The Nannies here are a very close nit, gossipy group! Not only would they gossip amongst themselves, our Nanny had a tendency to want to tell me about all the stories she would hear. In some cases, the stories repeated were completely inappropriate.
However with that being said, we pretty much knew instantly if we tried to “swap” or dismiss our Nanny, the children would have been ostracized by the other Nannies and I could only imagine some of the stories that would have “floated” around about us! We did unfortunately happen to see this is action by the way!
A family, had complained about their Nanny, the Nanny was “let-go” and for the rest of the week, the other Nannies made sure, the children they were looking after did not play with the kids of the family who complained. To make matters worse, I had heard from another family a nasty rumor about the family that had let their Nanny go, of course they were told this “nasty rumor” by their Nanny! So, Steve and I just kept our mouths shut, and took it upon ourselves to make sure the kids were having a great time, after all they are our children and this was supposed to be a family vacation. The Davinci Code isn’t going anywhere! Just so people don’t think we got the “rotten apple” in the bunch…. Who do you think our Nanny was taking to all of the times she should have watching the kids? That’s right, other Nannies who were also supposed to be looking after kids. One of more comical things I would see is, the Nannies would “fawn” all over the children when the parents were near by, however as soon as the parents were out of sight, the children would be neglected. As soon as the parent would begin their approach, one of the Nannies would signal the other Nannies and the “fawning” would begin again! So the parents naively believed the Nanny was there the whole time paying lots of love and attention to there children. Sorry to say, the majoirity of the time this was not case! Now with that being said, I really did see some GREAT Nannies, the funny thing is, the Nannies that seemed to be really into their jobs, were not part of the “clique”. They pretty much “stayed to themselves” and spent time with their charges… I really wished we could have had somebody like that… Oh well, maybe you will be luckier! One more thing… I asked our Nanny how much training she received and she laughed! “Training, what training”? Our Nanny told us that she came for the interview and they had her with a family the very next day! The “kicker” here is that she was actually applying for a wait staff position! Apparently there is a “Nanny Pool” for the FDR Pebbles, and they do have a hard time finding and keeping Nannies, many of them don’t like being “casual labour, which is what these girls are. In a pinch they have assigned wait staff and bartenders to act as “Nannies” (according to our Nanny anyway).
So, I would not recommend this resort to somebody who is basing their vacation on this service, because you could be very, very disappointed, and I would never recommend the Nanny Service to families that have children who are too young to tell you when something is not right!
In Summary: I have tried to keep this review as factual as possible, without “injecting” my own biases! However I do want to take this opportunity to share MY rating of this resort and a brief explanation as to why! Please keep in mind that I always take in account the “value per dollar” scale when assessing a resort or vacation destination. For example, if I paid $20, 000 to visit Atlantis Paradise Island in the Nassau for two weeks, vs. the 10,000 I spent on my trip to Jamaica and experienced the exact same service and facilities, I can assure you the Paradise Island experience would see a much lower * rating. Overall I would give my vacation experience a 2.5 star while I would give the resort itself a 3.5 star, I probably would have given the resort a 4 star rating if they did not disappoint me so badly with their inability to “pull it together” when the resort was at its maximum. The resort was beautiful and a lot of care really is taken considering the “age” of the majority of its guests. You have to imagine that a resort geared specifically towards children must see a lot of abuse. The pool was quite large and the resort quite small, so there was always plenty of room in and around the pool (They could use more sun-beds when the resort is at its capacity). The food was a pleasant surprise, again I found a delightful mix of Jamaican and North American cuisine being served, and as long as you didn’t eat all three meals in the buffet, the meals were not too repetitive. The mix of guests for the most part was different then what I am used to while traveling. I would guess 75% American, 20% Canadian and 5% other (for the weeks we were there anyway). Normally we AVOID resorts that are geared to the American population and tend to enjoy our vacations with a more “European” cliental, however for the most part we were quite delighted with the people we met, the resort seemed to “draw” an unusual amount of people from the “Midwest”! W e did have the opportunity to meet several wonderful families for Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, even Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. We met a “single mother” and daughter from California who were a delight to get to know, and of course we did “bond” with other Canadians while there. I would like to send a very special “shout out” to the Harmons, whom we did have an opportunity to get to know quite well through the help of our daughters (who were practically inseparable the first week). The entertainment coordinators for both children and adults truly worked hard and tried their best to get people involved. Again, the scheduled activities for “all” age groups, kept everybody “hopping” all day long. The staff in general from the gardeners to the waitstaff, really tried their best and was always smiling, even when you knew they had to be exhausted. Mr. Rance himself showed up several times throughout the two weeks and during the second week, I was able to discuss with him some of our enjoyment and concerns (That is a first for us while on vacation). The beach, although not the best beach we have been to, certainly was not the disappointment I had expected. The only real problem I had was the constant barrage of locals, that would try and “sell” you their wares, although they were never aggressive, they were persistent, several people all day long walking the beach.
Word of warning… DO NOT lead these people on; they consider this extremely disrespectful (as do I). They will not forget your promise and will come looking for you. I saw this several times on the beach!
We also enjoyed the “Body shop/Beauty Salon! We had the opportunity to use their services for both “hair braiding” and massages, and in both cases, the attendants were truly professional, friendly and certainly knew what they were doing. When we arrived at FDR Pebbles, both my husband and I had a year worth of stress on our shoulders, by the time these ladies were done with us, the stress had melted away into nothing more then a memory! As for the hair braiding… Our daughter managed to keep her braids for almost 3.5 weeks and they still looked as good as the day they were created! As mentioned before, our single biggest disappointment was our “Nanny” experience, although our room was always spotless, at best, our Nanny was an adequate “babysitter” and I certainly would not trust her with a young child. For a resort that “sells” itself on the “Nanny Program”, I think Mr. Rance and the management team really need to evaluate its current program! I was also disappointed with the disorganization and chaos that took place from ALL levels of service during our second week, when the resort was at its capacity. Again, I believe this may be a training and/or lack of supervision issue that “management” should seriously look at. If we had only visited the FDR Pebbles on the second week of this vacation, I can assure you my review would have been extremely different. It truly appeared as though the resort “fell apart” under the pressure of capacity. The only area the benefited by the “capacity” issue was the activities! More people at the resort the more people to join the activities! Finally, you may have noticed that I gave my “vacation experience” only a 2.5 rating, while my resort rated at a 3.5… Please keep in mind that this is only my opinion and based on our travel experiences, however we really did walk away from Jamaica feeling quite sad and disappointed.
I have never in my travel experience seen such poverty, sadness or felt such an undercurrent of anger or animosity towards the vacationer.
If you are the type of traveler that chooses to stay on the resort or in organized tours, I can see how you can walk away with a positive opinion of Jamaica, however, we are more “independent travelers” who prefers to “blend-in” with the local culture, and really get to know the Country we are visiting. In the case of Jamaica, the more I got to know about the “Culture”, the Country, the Politics, the more I just wanted to leave. For the most part, I truly felt the people we had met, had an “angle” or a “hidden agenda” and were not interested in a genuine friendship. I really did begin to feel like all I was to these people was a “walking” sack of cash. I did not feel safe leaving the resort (unless accompanied by a local). The “rampant” drug use, and the “laid back” attitude really did start to anger me, especially after I had met so many hard working people on the resort, who were trying their “damdest”, to “sell” Jamaica as the “perfect” vacation destination. As of right now, I can’t say that we would return to Jamaica. If we do, it would be to “experience” the resort not the Island (Hedonism III was a great resort). I still recommend people visit Jamaica at least once in their travels, as the Island is beautiful, the “theme resorts” are great and you will make some “interesting” acquaintances. I will chalk up my own experience by saying that “I” really did not feel a “kin-ship” with the Jamaican culture, which is not saying that you wont! As for FDR Pebbles…I read a description once that described our experience at FDR Pebbles, to a tee… “Jamaica all inclusive meets Northern Ontario summer camp”. If you keep your expectations in check, you really will have a great time! I would recommend the resort for families with children that do NOT need the “Nanny service” (ages 7 thru 16), who are adventurous, who want more a more Jamaican experience then what you find at a typical “AI” resort and do not need all the bells and whistles of a more lustrous resort. I hope you found this review insightful or at the very lest enjoyable to read. We have attached two links of our vacation photos for your viewing! Thank you, very much for giving us the opportunity to share our trip! Stevenbev, (The Bev half)