Months after visiting Ochos Rios, Jamaica over Memorial Day Weekend (May 29 – Jun 3, 2017), I’m finally getting around to writing about a travels and escapades around the island. After debating about whether to travel to Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, or Jamaica, we decided on Jamaica because of the combo of convenient flights options and affordable all-inclusive adult-only resorts. All in we were able to do this for about $1500 total, for two people, for 5 days.
We decided to use Brendan’s miles on Southwest, which had service to Montego Bay with one stop from Denver. Despite the horribly early morning departure time, it was a great itinerary and allowed us to maximize our time on the island.
Everyone was on time and we landed in Montego Bay with no trouble on the flights – in fact, I forgot how fun flying with Southwest actually is. They definitely cater to the novice leisure traveler, have one hard product (all seats are the same), and make it easy to buy, board, and fly. The flight attendants were all in good spirits and even played games with the passengers. We witnessed a competition where each side of the aisle passed rolls of toilet paper from the front, to the back, and to the front again – and the side that did it first won the game (there was no prize).
Here was a view from the descent:
Upon landing, we headed to the information desk to ask about transfers to our hotel, the Hilton Curio – Jewel Dunn’s River Resort, which was included in our rate. There was a common bus that serviced all the hotels, and we simply had to find the representative outside to register, and then waited about 45 minutes to depart. While we waited, we had some free, cold drink samples at the Margaritaville, which was apparently the place to wait for the buses for both staff and tourists alike.
The bus situation seemed disorganized, but it actually worked out perfectly. Depending on which end of the island you were going to, you were routed on to the correct bus. We were headed east to Ocho Rios, and were ushered onto the correct bus.
There were many stops along the way, but we eventually reached the Jewel Dunn’s River Report in about 2 hours – by 530PM. There were a few other couples from our bus who also were staying there, and we shared some welcome drinks with them in the lobby as we waited for check-in to complete. Although check-in took about 30 minutes and longer than we would have liked, the ambiance was pleasant and we were already getting on to island time.
The resort was phenomenal. Service was great, there were many restaurants for us to choose from, and, the food was delicious – we found out later that we picked one of the best all-inclusive resorts for food as we talked to other travelers who had horror story experiences at their hotels. Our room was also very comfortable, even though we opted for the cheapest, ground level lanai room facing the interior of the property (we spend most of our time outside so this is not an important factor for us).
After walking around the property, settling in/unpacking, and grabbing a drink, we decided to eat our first all-inclusive dinner at the Italian restaurant on the resort – Moonstone by Dominic. We dined Al Fresco overlooking the water. The food was fabulous and so was the service and the scenery! We felt very happy in our choice of resort, and even better – no kids!
The next few days blended together as we fell in to the rhythm of island time. We booked a few outings through the resort and enjoyed them all. The only thing we wanted to do but didn’t get to was golf – and that’s because, all in, it would have been $150/pp. The nearby course had exorbitant green fees, mandated a caddy per person, and charged an arm and a leg for a cart and club rental. So we decided to opt out, which actually freed up a day for us to just hang out at the beach.
The first full (30 May) day we didn’t do much – we booked some tours with the concierge, we hung out on the beach and read, we worked out (at the outdoor gym sans air conditioning), we sampled the grill for lunch, and made sure we had a steady supply of island drinks. We checked out the small golf course on the grounds as well.
For dinner, the resort had a beach bbq with Jamaica-style cuisine including roast pig, plantains, and jerk chicken. There was also a nice selection of local desert, including a chocolate bread pudding. There was also entertainment including music and performances such as limbo, fire throwers, and more, all to the tunes of Reggae-ton and some pop as well (we could not escape Ed Sheeran’s “The Shape of You”). The joke of the night came when some dancers danced a local market dance, with motions from the daily lives of the typical Jamaica woman – and the Emcee, in a very distinct, accent-free, elongated, and enunciated voice, kept repeating the words “Market Time”.
The following day, 31 May, we went out for our first Ocho Rios, Jamaica adventure and went tubing on the White River. The tour operator, Chukka, picked us up for our tubing adventure after breakfast, and we were gone until 3PM. We headed by bus with some other travelers through Ocho Rios and towards the edge of the county (St. Ann Parish) to the Chukka operations HQ to grab life-jackets, tubes, and to sign waivers. It took about an hour to reach it, and then another hour to get to the launching point of the tubes. We went by some gnarly ganja-dudes and Bob Marley acolytes on the way.
The tubing itself lasted about an hour, and we basically gently floated down the White River. The guide was very good about keeping us all together, but people did drift off at certain points for the guide to retrieve. It was marketed as “rapids” but it was no more than a gentle stream – still very relaxing and enjoyable though. This cost us around $75/each and we also tipped the guide generously. That night, we ate at the fancy restaurant at the resort, Platinum, which was also excellent. We enjoyed billiards and drinks at a pool-side bar afterwards.
We managed to run in to a cat-pile on multiple occasions throughout our stay at the resort, which made us smile.
The next day, 1 Jun, we did another excursion – Dunn River’s Falls – which was located right next to our resort. Another van picked us up after breakfast, and drove us to the entrance to the park. We bought a locker to stash our clothes, changed in to our swimsuits, and headed to the base of the falls to begin our climb. A guide led our group, which included around 40 people, up the falls. We again formed a human chain and helped each other up the slippery rocks. The climb was a little slow, but this gave us time to take in the scenery and grab some pictures. By the end of the climb, our water shoes were totally filled with sand and pebbles, and we were glad to change back in to our dry clothes. It was pretty and nice to be in the water and get some exercise (barely), but this one wasn’t anything to write home about.
After the falls, we had the van drop us in Ocho Rios and we had a lunch at a diamond in the rough place called Miss T’s Kitchen. Since it was 2PM or so, we were some of the few diners in the restaurant, and had our pick at seating. The ambiance was amazing – like a nice island lounge outdoors with nice overhead coverage in case it rained.
It was a super-relaxed atmosphere and the food was phenomenal – I ordered the goat curry and Brendan had the oxtail, and we shared an Ackee flatbread. Ackee is one of the local fruits, which is really quite hard to describe – kind of like a mango but without the sweetness.
After lunch, we walked the 0.5 miles back to the central area where the vans were, and bargained a bit in the shops prior to heading back to the resort. I was hoping to buy some Jamaican coffee, but it seemed too expensive for the perceived quality. Instead, we bought a few bottles of Jamaican Appleton rum at a discount! Upon returning to the hotel, we got in to our swimsuits and played a giant game of chess outside before heading to dinner, which was candlelight dining on the pier. The resort organized this for the guests as a special treat this night and there were two dinner seatings – we of course picked the later one. We were sat at a table with two very sweet families who were well-traveled and had ample stories to tell, and were also very friendly. The first family was a mother-daughter duo from the Kansas celebrating the daughter going to college. The second family was from Richmond, VA and was just enjoying some time together before the daughter went abroad for grad school, and the son went back to college. The father was a muckity muck at a telecom company and we geeked out on that for a bit too 🙂
Our final day at the Jewel (2 Jun) featured us getting totally baked (by the sun) in various places throughout the resort (the pool, the second pool, a floating pier in the ocean, and several lounge chairs in between). This was also when we had the legendary peacock encounter while relaxing on a hammock (they are nasty animals!).
Despite continuously slathering on sunscreen, we didn’t realize we were burnt though until later in the day when we got back to the hotel to shower up for our dinner at the Japanese hibachi restaurant (the final restaurant that we hadn’t yet tried). I still have a burnt area around my bathing suit top to this day (4 months later). The hibachi place was mediocre, but it was unique to see the Jamaican take on Japanese food. We ran in to some of the other couples we saw on day 1 on the bus from the airport, and tried not to offend them with our non-religious perspectives. I also discovered right before dinner that I lost my credit card I was unable to remain calm, and after dinner actually found that a staff member had found it and turned it in to the front desk. I rewarded him with some cash in an envelope and was just so happy to know that the staff were so honest.
After dinner, we walked around and enjoyed the outdoor market and street fair that had been set up for a local dance show earlier (which unfortunately we missed). It tried to recreate the streets of Jamaica inside the resort for the guests, and it was very nice. We also bought two paintings during this event and were able to bargain a bit. We really enjoyed our last night, and were sad to get back in to reality. We were certainly going to miss the way the locals actually said “yah mon” to each other, not just for the benefit of the tourists but even when the tourists weren’t paying attention.
The next day, Saturday morning, 3 Jun, we caught a shuttle with plenty of time to spare to the airport after breakfast, and had an easy, breezy flight, connection, and another flight, back to Denver. Our first attempt at an all-inclusive Caribbean vacation was a complete success at the Jewel Dunn’s River in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Part of the reason it was successful is that we went in knowing that we were really not experiencing much of Jamaica (the resort experience was fairly interchangeable with the same experience at another island), and that this was totally OK with us for what we needed out of this vacation – complete rest and relaxation!