We consider ourselves experienced travelers to tropical locations, but there was one vacation destination we hadn't visited…until now. Jamaica!
This was a last-minute trip so we settled for a long 4-day weekend. The resort's close proximity to the Montego Bay Airport made it very convenient but also produced another unexpected surprise…more on that later.
Since this was our first visit to Jamaica, we decided to take advantage of Club Mobay (extra cost) to have someone guide us through the airport and customs. We were greeted by a Club Mobay rep who was super friendly and very helpful. She escorted us directly to a special customs area for Club Mobay visitors.
Welcome to Jamaica!
It's starting to feel like vacation!
Another advantage of Club Mobay is access to their lounge (circled below) when arriving or departing the airport. But since we were vacationing with Sandals on this trip, we also had access to the Sandals Lounge.
Club Mobay circled in the background
We checked into the Sandals lounge and was told the wait would be 15 minutes for the shuttle, but it turned out to be a 45-minute wait. Not a big deal – we're on vacation!
The lounge was very nice, well furnished, and provided a refreshment area with fountain drinks and assorted snacks. No liquor though (Mental note: Club Mobay has liquor!)
Sandals Airport Lounge
The drive to the airport was a quick 20 minute commute. Darkness made it difficult to enjoy the entrance “arrival" but based on the bus needing to do a 3-point turn to get into the resort, it was easy to recognize there wasn't a grand entrance worth seeing anyway.
Once the bus departed the property, it was easier to see the up-lighting and landscaped entrance.
Now here's where I'm going to get real with you for a minute. As I walked through the open-air lobby area, I commented to Tammy, “This must be their flagship property". Not because it impressed, but more because it under-whelmed, especially compared to newer resorts. The property is also wedged along a very narrow strip of land between the airport and Caribbean – definitely not a location any developer today would say is a great location for a resort.
I later learned Montego Bay is indeed Sandal's flagship property, originally constructed in the late 1980's but had recently completed renovations in 2019. The renovations must have all been concentrated in the suites and to adding the restaurants Tokyo Joe's and Butch because the lobby still felt dated – maybe it was the paint, the low ceiling, or maybe the furniture, either way it felt nostalgic.
Now, don't get me wrong, once you walked through the lobby, you could venture onto a great outdoor patio area with fabulous views of the Caribbean.
We would later learn that our room would be adjacent to this beautiful patio area with views from our balcony.
I caught Tammy hanging out on the balcony one morning!
The convenient location of this room was it's best asset. This had to be the only set of rooms that weren't renovated in 2019. I took some pics but the rooms were so small and dark, I didn't like the finished product. Imagine a four-post wooden bed with antique furnishings. I thought at any moment Ricardo Montalban from the 1980's Fantasy Island TV show was going to walk around the corner.
This was the hallway leading to our room. Once again, a little unassuming, narrow, and plain. I imagine this is what a 1950's medical ward felt like. Thankfully the room was conveniently located to almost everything on the property, so we were able to overlook the nostalgic feel of this particular building.
Let's talk pools! There aren't many pools on this property. Below is the “main" pool for the property. Even if you haven't visited other all-inclusive resorts, you can tell this pool doesn't accommodate a lot of people – very small for a “main" pool. There also aren't a lot of options for lounging around the pool. But it was quiet! Most people opted for the beach or hanging out in the “activity" pool located elsewhere on the property (but it too was tiny). If we had stayed in a “swim up" room, we may not have ever visited this main pool.
In the picture below you can see the main pool is surrounded by cabanas that were first-come, first-served. I'm an early riser so I noticed most of the cabanas had been “reserved" with towels, books, hats, or floats by 6:00AM. It was disappointing to see several of the cabanas that had been “reserved" so early in the morning sit empty until noon or later.
There's an open area next to the main pool for basketball and corn hole.
The beach offered plenty of lounge chairs but limited palapas.
Here's the obligatory picture everyone posts while on vacation. My view (and yours) from the beach chaise lounge.
Now, here is an area where Sandals (at least at this resort) needs to get a handle on things. I mentioned earlier that I'm an early riser, meaning I'm usually up by 5:00AM. I usually like to walk the property and then grab a chair to enjoy the sunrise, read a book, or just wait for Tammy to rise and join me. Each morning, ALL the palapas chair were reserved with floats or towels by 5:30AM, and I thought this was odd because most people on vacation aren't early risers. So, these chairs were either being saved the night before or by Sandal's Butler Service (extra cost). I don't have anything against reserving chairs, or Butler Service (I liked to be pampered sometimes too), but most of the “reserved" spaces didn't have anyone sitting in them until 10:00AM. The number of “reserved" chairs was aggravating for other beach goers who were trying to find a spot earlier in the morning. Here's what most of the reserved spaces looked like early in the mornings.
Once the sun comes up, and you can't find a beach chair, you can always wade out to this cabana to enjoy the vibe.
If privacy is what you're searching for, you can rent one of the over-the-water cabanas.
One of the coolest places to hangout is Latitudes Bar. You feel connected to the resort and it's location over the water provides a VIP feel.
Check out these cool hammocks suspended over the water at Latitudes.
Guess what? Cancun isn't the only tropical location with swings!
Oh! Remember how convenient I said the resort was to the airport? And remember the “unexpected surprise" I mentioned? Well, here it it. A couple of times in the morning, and again between the hours of 2-4PM, you'll be jolted awake from your nap as planes take-off from the adjoining runway. Here's a view of how close the runway is to the resort.
Busiest Time for Take-Offs: 1PM-4PM
Let's talk restaurants. Cucina is the Italian restaurant with awesome 2nd floor views of the beach, water, and sunset! Caution: Being an open-air, elevated restaurant, the temperature was a tad warm with very little breeze during our visit.
Our favorite menu item was the lasagna.
Cucina is also a good breakfast spot too.
Tokyo Joe's, added during the 2019 renovations, was a favorite spot for us. Think Hibachi-style grill.
The restaurant is snuggled up against the resort, sitting atop pylons, hovering over the water.
The food at Tokyo Joe's was fresh and delicious. Better than anything we've eaten at a Unico, Secrets, or Excellence resorts. The spicy tuna sushi and spring rolls were perfect appetizers. I didn't get a picture of the food (I was too busy shoveling it in my mouth), but I did get a picture of my date! Check out this hottie.
One of favorite after-dinner spots each evening were these fire pits adjacent to Tokyo Joes.
Another favorite restaurant of ours was Butch's Steakhouse. The addition of this restaurant was also part of the 2019 renovations.
There is a really cool outdoor bar area for your pre-dinner drinks.
The interior design at Butch's provides a much better high-end feel than other areas on the resort.
And the food didn't disappoint. It was delicious.
The Grilled Black Pepper Bacon and Crab Scallop Balls were some of the best appetizers we've ever eaten.
Well, our time has come to an end. In all, we enjoyed our first trip to Jamaica. “Island time" is a real thing here, but once you come to terms with the fact that the service and pace is slightly slower than other all-inclusive resorts, you'll enjoy the stay even more. We will definitely visit Jamaica again but more than likely will try another resort brand or other Sandals property. Stay tuned!
Until next time! And always remember, Never Regret Fun!