RENAISSANCE JAMAICA GRANDE OCHO RIOS, JAMAICA JUNE 23RD – 30TH, 2002
*** This is my third trip to Jamaica, but my first time staying in Ocho Rios. My two previous trips I stayed in Mon-tego Bay, quite a few years ago…
AIR & HOTEL PACKAGE: Our all-inclusive package was through Go Go Tours. This included the following: Roundtrip air transportation, transfers to and from the hotel and airport, 7 nights – 8-day room accommodations, all meals, drinks, and tips. (Tips for outstanding service to maids, bartenders, taxis, etc… not included.)
ARRIVAL: Our flight was on Air Jamaica. The plane was an airbus (three seats to the left, and three seats to the right.) It was approximately a 3-½ hour non-stop flight from Philadelphia, PA to the Montego Bay, Jamaica airport. Once we proceeded through a surprisingly “hassle-free” immigration line, luggage claim, and customs declaration, this was the beginning of the “Jamaica no problem mon’ “ way of life…
TRANSFER TO RENAISSANCE JAMAICA GRAND: We were transferred to the Renaissance Jamaica Grande via a 16 passenger mini van. The transfer was roughly a 2-hour drive through the parishes leading into St. Ann’s Bay, inside Ocho Rios. Traveling East (the water on your left) you will see all the beautiful, lavish resorts landscap-ing the shoreline. Glance to the right, and you will see all the homes ranging in category, from concrete shacks to villas in the mountains. As a tourist, I find it depressing viewing run down, half wood – half concrete shacks across the street from $$$ luxury resorts.
Jamaica is one of the most distinctive islands, which obviously exhibits the country’s poverty level. (No in all areas, specifically traveling through Montego Bay.) Once you meet and talk with a few of the locals, they are very proud to simply own a home. Some people I talked to did not have running water, but were proud to have earned enough money to buy a home, and provide for their families. It just goes to show…there is a place is this ever-so-crazy world where happiness does not revolve around money, and how may 2 car garages are attached to your house.
RECEPTION AREA / CHECK IN: The reception/lobby is a HUGE open area with a pavilion style ceiling and skylight, giant rock formations around a mini-waterfall, palm trees and lush tropical foliage strategically placed in every open space possible. The Cascade Bar is located here There are many big comfortable bamboo lounge chairs and wooden tables everywhere. Beautiful colored marble floors, and mosaic designs on the walls. You are immedi-ately awestruck once you enter the lobby. This will give you a good perception on how large this resort really is.
We were greeted in the reception area, waited in the long check in line, and then preceded to the guest check in counter. We requested an ocean view room with a balcony. There is a $1.50 charge per day for the use of a safety deposit box lock. We were then escorted to our room (our luggage was transferred with us.) The 7 minute walk to our room, passing through the main lobby, elevator down to the North tower lobby, passing by the Lobby Bar, Ca-sino, and Café Jamaique, up the elevator to the 10th floor, was enough to validate that what I needed, at that very moment, was a big, cold Strawberry Daiquiri. Upon entering the room, the view from the balcony was just what I needed to relax me and make me forget about all the fast paced, crazy lifestyles we are all accustomed to back home.
CHECK OUT: Checking out was time consuming and a bit illogical. If you are flying Air Jamaica, you must have your luggage down in the South Tower – Air Jamaica office between 8– 10 am. Here you will check-in, receive boarding passes with seat assignments (our seats were changed twice even though I already confirmed returning seat assignments 24 hours prior to departure), and have your luggage checked and transferred to the airport. Check out time for the hotel is 11:00am, and the transfer back to the airport is 12:00pm. Therefore, if you plan to shower any time after 8-10am, you must carry on your toiletry items etc… After this whole ordeal, we were finally on our way back to Mo-Bay airport.
DEPARTURE / AIR JAMAICA: We were picked up in the main lobby at approximately 12:30 pm. The two-hour drive was long and hot. The air conditioning does not work to well in the mini-bus. The ride is very bumpy and windy. After approx. 1 hour, the driver stops for a restroom, leg stretch stop. I immediately walked straight to the bar for a nice cold Red Stripe. Suddenly the long drive was not so bad.
The lines at the airport were LONG, and thank goodness, we already were issued boarding passes at the hotel. We just proceeded to the security check and breezed right through. We had 2 ½ hours of free time before boarding. After purchasing a few bottles of rum in the duty free shop (they pack it up for you very well), we headed to Margarita-ville for some great munchies and cold Red Stripe. After lunch, we headed to our Air Jamaica gate, and this is where we began to experience the craziness, insanity, and “airport rage” from unorganized, inexperienced, clueless airport agents. Actually, the sweaty travelers were more understanding and patient.
We went through the security check for carry on baggage (they opened everything), and then proceeded to the gate. We waited in line until the terminal doors were opened, and while the gate was collecting our ticket stubs, she stated the plane was open seating due to an aircraft change, and overbooking. Seating is on a first come – first serve basis. I explained that I was flying with two teenage first time travelers, and if possible, I prefer they do not sit alone. She stated again “open seating, first come – first served.” Other families were also expressing their seating concerns due to small children traveling with them.
Once we boarded the plane, luckily, there were only 20 people in front of us, so we picked seats where our whole family (3 adults, two teens) could sit together. After approx 50 people were seated, the flight crew started yelling, “take your assigned seats!” Several passengers tried to explain to the attendant that the gate agent stated it was “open seating.” The attendant said, “the gate agents are wrong, they don’t know what they are talking about.” Passengers are scurrying around again to take their assigned seats; All of the passengers on the plane at this time cooperated fully.
After half of the passengers were re-seated, another agent yelled from the back of the plane “sit wherever you want, it is open seating!” At this time, two of us moved to seats behind our remaining family members. The flight was almost full.
One attendant came over to us and noted we were seated in an exit row, and if called upon, must be able to assist in an emergency. We all agreed we understood. A few minutes later, she came over again and asked the ages of the two teens. I stated the boy was 17, and the girl 15. She stated the 15 year old has to move out of her seat immedi-ately due to airline regulations pertaining to a child in an exit row. She said the age limit was 16 and over. At this time, there were no visible open seats. I asked the attendant if she would ask someone to switch seats with us. She said, “the child must move immediately.” I asked a few passengers in the surrounding rows if they would like to change seats, and during this process the agent came over and stated again, “the child must get out of that seat im-mediately.” She found a seat for her a few rows back. I asked again if she could find two seats together, and I would give up my seat in the exit row. She said, “no, there are no seats, and the plane has been overbooked.”
After the remaining passengers were seated, an announcement was broadcast stating there would be a slight delay due to overbooking, and that they are just waiting for the passengers luggage removed from the cargo area, and once this has been completed we would be on our way. Just minutes prior to takeoff, the agent came over to me and stated the “child” could return to her original seat, and that the age compliance for an exit row is 15 and above. She apolo-gized and walked away.
All of this turmoil could have been avoided in several ways. First, there was no communication between the gate agents and flight attendants pertaining to the “open seating” situation. The flight attendants were not acting in a professional manor while trying to resolve this issue. Their rude and condescending demeanor was absolutely un-necessary. I understand how hectic traveling can be on passengers and crew, and there are situations that arise that are out of anyone’s direct control. Nevertheless, I do believe the issues mentioned above could have been handled in a diligent, professional manor.
The flight to Philadelphia was calm and much better than the boarding. Upon arrival in Phila., we disembarked off the plane, reclaimed our luggage for customs, and home sweet home here we come.
*** The remaining topics are miscellaneous subjects pertaining to the Renaissance Jamaica Grande. They are in no particular order except for alphabetical.
ACTIVITIES/AMENITIES: Below are some of the activities that are offered: Health Club Facilities: Steam Room, Sauna, Aerobics, and Exercise/Weight Room
Other: Table Tennis, Beauty Shop*, Massages* Live Entertainment, Night Club, Casino Slot Machines, Game Room, off-premises golf*, horseback riding*, and river rafting. * *Available for additional fee.
Daily: Approx. 10:30am water aerobics in the pool for approximately 45 minutes. This was a lot of fun. Other ac-tivities offered are ping-pong, beach volleyball, pool volleyball, beach soccer, daily games with prizes, beer drinking contests at the pool, and dance lessons.
Nightly: There was a variety of entertainment in Mallards Court, or the beach, starting at 9:00pm. Some examples of the entertainment are: Fire eater, native island dancers, Calypso/Reggae band with steel drums, Ms Renaissance Jamaica Grande & Mr. Hunk pageant, dance contests, beer drinking contests, all with lots of audience participation.
AIR CONDITIONING: The air-conditioning in the rooms, well how can I say it nicely, was crappy. Even if you could use some type of instrument (tweezers, nail file, ball point pen) to turn the dial, to lower the thermostat (dial stating 55 degrees), our room was never cooler than 72-73. We continuously kept the bathroom and balcony doors closed, and the balcony curtains stayed closed also. These handy tips still only kept the temperature.of the room 72 degrees at best. This was not very comfortable coming in from the sweltering heat, or after a shower. Thank good-ness I only sleep and shower in the room. (We had 2 rooms, and air situation was the same in each.)
BARS: Service at all the bars was very good. I never had to wait more than a minute or two for a drink.
BooNooNooNoo’s – Beach Bar – This bar was adjacent to the beach grill, and Cool Runnings restaurant.
Cascade Bar-Located in the main, center lobby (reception area) near the waterfalls. Lots of large bamboo chairs and tables.
Dragon’s Lounge– Adjacent to the Dragons “Chinese” restaurant. Away from the maddening crowds, relax and have a quiet chat over cocktails.
Fantasy Pool Bar: This is the main pool bar, and swim up bar. They make great frozen drinks here. They will even make virgin daiquiris for the kids.
Jamaica’ N Me Crazy – Nightclub/Disco: This disco is huge, and the air conditioning works splendidly. Cold beer, strong drinks, and good quality service There is plenty of room to sit at the bar, and more than enough seating with tables and chairs in the lounge area. Electrifying sound system and light show. The music consists of old dance mu-sic, very little reggae, and some rock-n roll. You can be guaranteed to hear the nightly repeated sounds of the Elec-tric Slide, Macarena, and Red Red Wine. Keep drinking….the music will miraculously get better. (I am not being fussy; I just expected SOME music displaying the local flavor.)
Lobby Bar: In the North tower, near the casino. There is very little seating at the bar itself, but quite a few couches and tables in the lobby area.
Mallard’s Lounge: This is the main bar adjacent to Mallards Court buffet area.
Sand Bar- This is the other beach bar in front or the North towers. Cold beer and generous mixed-drinks. Person-able bartenders.
BEACH IN FRONT OF NORTH TOWER:
Thank the heavens above I found this beach area. It is magnificent! White sand beach, crystal clear water, no water sports, hardly any people, nice and quiet. All was perfect until – – – the cruise ship docked and the “cruisers” came to disturb this beach. They consumed all of the lounge chairs, even if you were utilizing one while swimming in the water. You physically had to have a body on your chair or Presto! Gone! After a few hours, the elating sound of the ship foghorn announcing its departure from port was a welcoming sound. Alas, I was deserted on my Gilligan’s Island again. (There is a long, white sand, public beach next to the re-sort also…)
BEACH IN FRONT OF SOUTH TOWER: This beach area is heavily eroded, and it shows. It is also very rocky. I could not walk barefoot, and I usually refrain from shoes most of my vacation if possible (except for dinner). This is where the majority of the water sports are hosted.
BUGS: This subject was a big concern because I am severely allergic to just about every flying pest on this earth. I did get quite a few mosquito bites, mainly in the beach are where the Beach Grill is, and at night, while dining out-doors. (E.g. Beach BBQ, Mallards Court) I did bring some OFF lotion, and it did work well.
CAR RENTAL: I know this service is available, but I did not utilize it.
CASINO: The casino is located in the main lobby of the North tower. There are quite a few slot machines, and a few joker-poker machines. No blackjack or roulette tables. This kept me occupied for a few hours during the week. The air conditioning worked very well in here. (The casino is only a few feet from the bar…very strategically placed! Go figure!)
CURRENCY: US currency is accepted everywhere. No need to exchange to Jamaican “J”. There is a monies ex-change center located in the South tower if needed.
CHILDREN: My major gripe about this resort is the UNSUPERVISED children running everywhere. Half of the guests at the resort were under 10 yrs of age. I like kids just as much as the next person, but the lack of supervision was a problem. I blame this on the parents. I became concerned when small children were wandering on the beach alone looking for mommy and daddy…. In addition, late night, while returning from the disco, there were groups of young children swimming in the pool, unsupervised. I never saw a security guard around this area at night. I hope that there was, and I just kept missing him on his rounds.
DRINKING AGE: I am not exactly sure if the drinking age is officially 16 or 18, but while checking in at the resort my niece (15 yrs) received a child id bracelet, and my nephew (17) received an adult bracelet. Lets just say anyone can get a drink at just about any bar, except for the disco. The bartenders will keep serving you as long as you have the “adult” bracelet on your wrist. This is where the parents or guardians should supervise their offspring. Teenagers will be teenagers!
DRESS CODE: The dress code is casual just about everywhere. Shorts and any type of shirt are acceptable during the day. It is suggested that men wear pants with polo shirt for dinner at nigh, but 90% of guests did not adhere. . Most of the women’s attire can be described as “anything goes!” This consisted of skirts, casual sundresses, beaded dresses, island wear, and spandex dresses. I did not see many “formal attired” people. My attire was mostly casual the whole week. This consisted of a few cotton sundresses and skirts.
***The only time the dress code was enforced was during breakfast and lunch hours in Mallards Court buffet. You must wear a shirt, shorts, and shoes in the dining room. You cannot wear shorts over a bathing suit and have your bare chest or bathing suit top exposed.
***You can eat at the Sand Bar or Beach Grill wearing only a bathing suit!
GROUNDS: The grounds are picturesque with palm trees, waterfalls, and tropical foliage everywhere. The fantasy pool backdrop is a replica of Dunns River Falls with giant rock formations and waterfalls. I was disappointed with the condition of the grounds, mainly around the pool and beach area. There are plastic cups, straws, and paper plates blowing around everywhere: in the pool, under the lounge chairs, on the beach, in the water, etc…I am not being judgmental over a few cups and straws. My observation is that there are not enough garbage cans around. I was al-ways searching for one. When I did find one it did not seem to be in an “appropriate” spot. I (like the bar area, en-trance to pool, etc…)
HOUSEKEEPING: Every afternoon the housekeeping staff cleaned our room, replaced towels, and mopped the floor. The rooms were very clean, despite their somewhat run down appearance. They do not stock the bathrooms with Bath & Bodyworks shampoos, conditioner, or body wash anymore. I believe the brand is called “Bath Time” or something close to it. You do get a small bar of Vanilla/Almond Bath & Bodyworks soap.
KEY’S: We were issued two credit card style keys per room.
LANGUAGE BARRIER: In Jamaica there was no language barrier for Americans. They speak English with a typical Caribbean accent and a smile.
OCEAN: The watercolor was a kaleidoscope of blue and turquoise. Breathtaking…The water temperature was close to a warm bath, but at the same time refreshing. The clarity of the water was clear with little plankton. There was A LOT of crabgrass and seaweed.
POOL: There are three pools at this resort. The main Fantasy Pool, the pool in front of the South tower, and the pool in front of the North tower.
Main Fantasy Pool – This pool is located in the center of the resort, between both towers. The pool is large ranging in depths from 2 feet to 6 feet. This is where you will find the swim up bar. The backdrop of the pool area resembles Dunn’s River Falls, displaying large rocks and waterfalls. It is very picturesque, definitely a Kodak moment. This pool was always crowded with many kids. There is a separate section with plenty of room for pool volleyball. There are many lounge chairs all over this area to choose from.
South tower pool – This was my favorite pool area. A large rectangular pool near the Beach grill and bar. Not many guests frequented this pool area. It is very quiet, and mostly adults were napping here or reading books.
North tower pool – This was another rectangular shaped pool near the pier and pool area gift shop. Plenty of lounge chairs also.
Dragons – Chinese Cantonese and Szechwan: Reservations are needed to dine here. This restaurant was superb. Excellent Chinese food, and plenty of it! Our family would order five different entrees, and sample a little (a lot) of each. There was still food left over when we were completely stuffed. The service was exceptionally fine here.
L’Allegro – Italian – This was my favorite restaurant. We dined here quite a few times during the week. I cannot find anything bad to say about this restaurant. The pasta was out of this world (all varieties with red sauce, cream sauce, chicken, veggies, etc…). The oven-baked pizza was scrumptious. There are many different pizzas’s to choose from. Order a few of them; they are the size of a personal pizza. First-rate food. Excellent service. The greatest amenity to this resort.
Café Jamaique – Causual Bistro: This was my second favorite restaurant. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner food selections all day long (until 1:00am). Great omelets, fantastic club sandwiches (tuna was my favorite), tasty salads, and yummy munchy food: burgers, fries, wings, fish and chips, patties, etc…The food is OUTSTANDING. They also have an assortment of desserts, ice cream, soda and juices, and perfect coffee!
Mallard’s Court – Buffet: I am probably going to regret saying this, but this buffet is tied for the most awful I have ever experienced on my travels (Melia Bavaro in the Dominican Republic is equal). This is the main open-air dining area for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This area consists of probably 100 tables.
Around 8:30am each day, we were ready for breakfast. Upon arriving to this area, mass chaos begins. There was not one table open for seating. Dazed and confused tourists are wandering all around searching for a table. It is hard to tell if one is available due to buffet style. People are up and down filling and refilling their plates, making it difficult to determine if they have completed their cattle call. Wait staff are marching around in circles just listening to the birds chirping, oblivious to what is going on. When you do find a table, you have to flag down a waiter to have it cleaned. Good luck trying to get utensils. You are better off bringing your own. The breakfast foods were not very good. No foods were served hot, or even warm. Most were at room temperature. Bacon was very runny and greasy. Pancakes were dry. Toast was stale and hard. Not much fruit in the fruit / cereal section (just some cantaloupe, wa-termelon, and pineapple). There were long lines waiting for food choices at all stations. The buffet seemed to be out of everything, all the time. I did not see anyone refilling. Now understand, this was only 8:30 in the morning. I felt sorry for those who decided to dine for breakfast at 10:00am. The only good thing I will comment on is the ome-lets/egg station. The poor soul of a chef here made delicious omelets. What a professional; beads of sweat dripping down his face cooking over a hot oven, always with a smile on his face, and laughing and joking with the guests. God love him! He deserves a raise!
I never dined here, at the cattle buffet for lunch. I did not want to experience the repeat performance from breakfast.
Dinner was even more crowded, and worse than breakfast. Same long lines, empty food stations, and no empty ta-bles. There was a “reservations” line, where some guests were waiting for a table, but if you entered the buffet area from one of the many other entrances, it was “open seating.” I felt bad for those waiting in the long line.
My opinion is that the resort was near 80% full, and there is not enough staff to handle the amount of guests. I be-lieve that if the wait staff was better trained, and if a mandatory “seating/reservation” line were enforced, this would alleviate most of the problems. Something as simple as a flag up or down, on the tables to notify if the table is in use, or ready for clearing and setting. Currently, there did not appear to be any sort of procedure or system in place. Needless to say, I stayed away from the buffet for the rest of the week.
* During the week, after conversing with many of the guests, this was the most common, major complaint pertaining to the resort.
* FYI…If you were not seated in the buffet during dinner, it is a good probability you will not find a seat to view the nightly entertainment. We missed most of the nightly shows due to this factor.
BooNooNooNoo’s – Beachside Grill: This grill is located on the beach, and lunch is served here. You can choose from burgers, bbq chicken, hot dogs, or fries (served with everything). The food was good for an oversized grill. Nevertheless, day after day, the menu wears on you. There are only so many hotdogs or burgers you can eat without getting a bit monotonous. I little more food variety would have been nice.
Cool Runnings: This was open for dinner nightly. Unfortunately, we never had a chance to dine here. I am sorry we missed it. After talking to many of the guests, the food, service, and entertainment were relayed as fantastic.
ROOMS: All the 720 rooms are either ocean view or oceanfront. Our rooms were in the North tower, ocean view on the 10th floor, with a balcony. The room was tropically decorated with white wash walls, while tile floors, multi-colored tropical bedspread, wicker table and two chairs, nightstand, dresser, TV, and air conditioning. There is a sliding glass door leading onto the balcony with an amazing view of the Caribbean sea. There is a plastic table and two chairs on the small balcony.
ROOM SERVICE: I know this feature is available, but I never had the opportunity or desire to utilize it. I was never in the room long enough.
SCUBA / SNORKELING: I’m extremely disappointed that I did not get to go diving this week due to a severe sinus infection. I did go snorkeling right off the beach. There is a reef not too far from the shore.
SERVICE / STAFF: On a scale from 1 to 10, I rate the staff and service around 6.5 I am sorry everyone, but I have stayed in bigger, smaller, more exclusive, and bottom of the line resorts throughout the Caribbean and Mexico, therefore, through experience and comparison, I can honestly rate this hotel fairly.
SHOPPING – AT THE RESORT:
There are many little shops situated throughout the resort. Some are inside, outside, stands near the pool, lobbies, hallways, etc…You really do not need to venture outside the resort to shop. The deals are not much better in the market or plaza. At the resort, in the shops and stands, I found several unique pieces of jewelry, woodcarvings, t-shirts, wicker baskets, and island wear. You should barter with the people at the stands. They are more flexible than those in the market.
OCHO RIOS TOWN: Right outside the resort (literally across the street) is the Plaza, or if you turn right and there is the craft market. This is where just about everyone shops for souvenirs. Crafts consist mostly of wooden masks, wicker baskets, paintings on canvas, wood sculptures, gold and silver jewelry, gemstones (very expensive), clothing, hematite beads everywhere, and local handicrafts.
TOURS/EXCURSIONS/OFF RESORT: Cool Runnings – Dunn’s River Falls – Snorkeling / Catamaran Tour: This was a great way to see the falls. The catamaran picked you up next to the hotel, on the public beach. You are then loaded on the cat with about 80 people. The short boat ride to the falls takes approximately 15 minutes. (For those “boat” people reading…the sail never goes up. You are only cruising with the motors humming away. You do not sail on this tour…” ?
Climbing the falls was a great, fun experience, and in the hot, hot weather….very refreshing. Before you climb the falls, go to your local K-Mart or Wal-Mart and buy a pair of Aqua-Socks water shoes for $4.99. Regular sneakers are slippery on the bottoms, and do not conform to the natural steps in the rocks. Be careful while climbing…stay off the black rocks. They are covered with algae and are very slippery.
After the falls, there is open bar on the cat. Local dance music is played and the crew really gets everyone into the party mood by dancing and singing. Mostly everyone participated. Brush up on dancing on a rocking ship…see how steady your sea legs are.. Ha Ha
TOWELS: There is a beach towel desk right next to the fitness center, near the pool area. All you have to do hand in your towel card and you will be given a fresh towel. At the end of your pool and beach day, return the towel and in return you will get a towel card back .
WATER: The water was safe to drink here. I was drinking it straight from the faucet, and never became ill. I did bring a bottle of plain Listerine to rinse my mouth after brushing just in case.
MY TOP 10 TIPS AND TRICKS: 1) There is a coffee pot in the room with a day’s supply of coffee and / or tea. 2) This is not a resort for wild and crazy singles over 25… 3) This is not a resort for couples and adults only 4) This resort is perfect for families, kids, and first time Caribbean travelers. 5) Bring an inflatable raft you can purchase at your local Dollar store. They are selling them for $15.00 at the pool….A beach ball will cost you $10.00. 6) Bring a hairdryer. There is one mounted to the wall in the bathroom, but it is only 650 watts! 7) Do not pack a beach towel; the towel office next to the fitness center supplies fresh ones daily. 8) US currency is accepted everywhere. No need to exchange money to Jamaican 9) Spend the money and get a massage at the hotel, it is definitely worth it!!! 10) Buy your own snorkel & mask (they are cheap). You never know who’s mouth was on it before you!
10 ½) RELAX; SLOW DOWN, AND ENJOY…You are in a tropical Caribbean paradise…