Beaches, Negril, Jamaica – Ya Mon!

     Whenever we travel, we come back to Maryland’s ridiculous weather, and I think, “Why do we live here?” We went to Jamaica for Spring break, and I came home feeling the same way. Why do we live here, when we could live somewhere with beautiful, clear, turquoise waters, gorgeous beaches, and bright sunshine? Not to mention lots of incredible water sports, and plenty of interesting foods and beverages to choose from. Ya mon! Beaches Negril was awesome. And everybody actually says “ya mon,” so we did too. When in Rome. Probably you shouldn’t say “ya mon” in Rome. But you could try it and see how the Italians feel about it. Get back to me. Maybe they’ll laugh. Maybe you’ll get a pizza in the face.
     We knew we wanted Beaches, because we’d been to Beaches Turks & Caicos, and they know how to do a family all-inclusive vacation. And after the $100 we spent every day on breakfast in Hawaii for the four of us, when my children only ate a half of a bagel and a small carton of milk, we wanted to forget about the stress of “how much is this meal/snack/coffee/drink gonna cost?” Really, we just wanted to pay up front and then never get out our wallets again. So that’s what we did.
     The first choice to make was Beaches Negril or Beaches Ocho Rios. Here are the boys, pointing to Negril on a map:
     We chose Negril, despite the fact that it’s a 90-minute drive from the airport, because the amount of actual beach at the resort appeared to be much larger, and the ratio of restaurants to rooms was better. To get there, we purchased the MoBay Club Fast Track in/out of the country for about $300 for the 4 of us. Think Disney Fast Pass. It was worth every penny. When we landed, we were met by our own reggae-singing friendly Jamaican man, and he swept us through the airport past the massive lines of people and through the confusion (it was mobbed and I would have been totally lost); he had us checked in and at the Sandal’s lounge in under 20 minutes. (Sandal’s owns Beaches.) It would have taken us several hours otherwise. The Sandal’s lounge sported lovely bathrooms, snacks, and serve-yourself beer, soda, and a bar with complimentary drinks as well. We had enough time for about a half a beer and a pit stop before we were called to our bus. The bus was itself was decent – comfortable with big windows. The ride was a slow 90 minutes, but I took the opportunity to try and see as much as I could off the resort. The countryside is poor, with many houses that appeared to have been started, but then construction abruptly ended, resulting in half-built properties. To the left I could see the land and the different houses, and to the right the ocean.
     When we arrived at the resort, Mason announced that it looked better than the pictures. The kids couldn’t get off the bus fast enough – they were so eager to explore. Mason was right – the resort was gorgeous! The landscaping was magnificent, and the indoor/outdoor feel of the walkways at the entrance was enchanting. The staff were friendly and really bent over backwards to make us comfortable and welcome. We sat down with a bunch of other families, signed in, and were offered drinks as we waited. The signature cocktail was The Mesmerizer, featuring rum and coconut. From there Krystal escorted us to our room. Located on the 2nd floor (of a 3-floor building), we had one room with a king-sized bed, bath, and private balcony, and the kids had an adjoining room with trundle beds and their own bath/balcony as well. And the view incredible. You could see the ocean and the lovely green and floral grounds from both balconies. We chose the beachfront concierge option, which meant our room was stocked with beer, wine, water, soda, juice, and any liquor we wanted. We skipped the liquor, but it was nice to have beer and wine in the fridge. The Montpelier buildings in Calypso Cove had recently been renovated, and they were gorgeous. Here are some views of the landscape, and from the balcony off of our room:
2018-03-25 09.13.10
2018-03-26 17.51.00
     The beach access was really from anywhere in the resort – the beach was long and the resort lined up well with it. The water was mostly calm and incredibly clear. There’s an enormous main pool that sits beside the main buffet restaurant called The Mill. Then there’s a smaller pool with a swim-up bar right next to the water park. Also, the water park was directly beside the beach. So Damian and I could sit at the pool bar or sit on the beach, and the kids could easily run around the water park and still be in sight all the time.  This is Corey in front of the water park:
     The food overall was very good.  It’s just that the breakfast and lunch options were limited. There’s The Mill buffet, which is good if you want fast, and Stewfish right on the beach. Stewfish sports picnic tables dressed up with fancy table clothes, glassware, and sea shells, and you order from a menu. I tried just about everything they had, since we ate there every morning.  Eggs Benedict (classic or smoked salmon), breakfast burrito, pancake stacks with a sugar cane in the middle and blueberry, maple syrup, and/or caramel sauce on the side, waffles with chocolate sauce, etc. My favorite was the local breakfast platter – spicy fish, sauteed kale, johnny cake, and fried plantains. Such a great combination of sweet and salty – we ordered a pastry basket, fruit plate, coffee and juice every day as well. They also had mimosas. And as it’s right at the edge of the ocean, we watched the water sports set up each morning. The boats came in for the daily activities while we were there. The staff there are wonderful – they made us feel so at home and welcome. One woman was in love with Corey – she rubbed his head and offered to take him home with her.  This is a shot of Stewfish (under the latched hut), the edge of the beach bar, and the boats for the water sports:
     And of course there was Stewy, the kitten, named for being a regular at the Stewfish breakfast. He’s a brave little soul – he looked like he’s maybe 12 weeks old (I say that because Shadow was about his size when we got him), and he came for his bacon at breakfast, but he wasn’t annoying. He hung back until we’re ready to feed him. I hope that people don’t complain about him, because he was really adorable, and the kids fell in love with him.
     For lunch the Mill buffet spot was the main choice. There was only one sit-down option at lunch – Mariachi, the Mexican place. It was good, but if you wanted to order from a menu, that was it. There is a bbq place that you could go and order food from and then take it wherever you liked. They sport things like jerk chicken, pulled pork sandwiches, burgers, etc. There is also Dino’s, where you can get wood-fired pizza from 11 am – 6 pm right on the beach. One day, we grabbed food from both the bbq place and Dino’s and took it to Soy, which is the sushi place (closed for lunch), and at their gorgeous (empty), Asian-themed outdoor tables and looked at the grounds/fountains while we ate.  Here’s a shot of the tables at Soy:
     Dinner options were the best. Lots of different choices. The Venetian offered fancy Italian fare, and we dressed up for that. The boys were so cute in their collared shirts, exclaiming about the fancy decor in this round restaurant that sits atop the Mill up a narrow staircase. From the Venetian:
     There was a hibachi place where we were entertained by our own chef. We also had sushi for dinner at Soy, and it was wonderful as well. From hibachi:
2018-03-25 17.37.02
     We ate at Stewfish twice at night as well, for their seafood. Lobster, snapper, lots of interesting desserts, and a chance to watch the sunset over the water while dining. There was a Jamaican beach party one night with steel drums, and it was like having a giant wedding reception right on the beach. Super fun!
     Damian and I also chose to pay extra for a dinner for two on the beach to celebrate our anniversary. The table was steps from the water, we had our own butler/server for the meal, and the food was amazing. Several courses, with a glass of champagne to start, lobster, scallops, filet, wine, and a white chocolate & raspberry dessert to finish. The sun on the water was beautiful. It’s an experience I’ll probably never have again; I’m so glad we chose to wish each other well after so many years of marriage in such a spectacular and memorable way.
     The Cafe de Paris, which they also had in Turks, offers all-day fun coffees and crepes or little pastries. There’s a case of small treats, like carrot cake cupcakes, mini chocolate cakes, mini cheesecakes, mini lemon bars, mini blueberry cakes, mini orange cakes, little red velvet cakes – you name it. I went and tried all the fun coffees after lunch with one of the small treats. I had a Cafe Italien one day (coffee with Amaretto), and Francais another (coffee with coffee liqueur, gran marnier, and whipped cream), and Irish Coffee with Baileys. The boys went before breakfast pretty much daily and got pre-breakfast chocolate chip cookies. Corey usually got two, he admitted – one for each hand. Can’t beat that teen logic.
2018-04-01 10.46.51
     There’s even an herb garden!
     The included water sports were pretty spectacular. There’s a glass-bottom boat ride that you signed up for the day before – or sometimes you can get in the morning of – they usually ran at 9 and 10 am when the water is nice and calm. We did that at 10 am early in the trip, and it was wonderful. I’m not a boat fan, but the water was calm, and the boys particularly loved being able to look through the glass at their feet and see all the huge starfish and interesting fish under the boat. “Big Bear” was our guide, and he was friendly and funny. I also loved not having to don a snorkel for this activity, because no thanks. I don’t snorkel. From the glass-bottom boat ride:
     Damian and Mason do, however, snorkel. And they did. While Corey and I hit the water slides. The snorkeling boat went out several times a day, too, and you just sign up and then show up at your time. It’s about an hour for that. If you want more adventure, you can SCUBA. If you’re already certified, you just sign up and go. If you’re not certified, you can pay $100 per person to have an instructor get in the pool with you and teach you, then you do a short, shallow (15-20 feet), instructor-led dive. If you want to get fully certified, you can do that too for $500 a person. Which is pretty amazing, if it’s something you want to do. Me, not so much. Damian and Mason tried the SCUBA, but Mason couldn’t handle it, so they never made it past the pool. Which was fine – I was proud of him for trying.
     There’s also water bike paddle boats, kayaks, banana boats, sail boats, and water skiing. We did the banana boat and got tossed way out in the ocean, which terrified poor Mason, so we swam to the boat and I asked if we could ride back on the boat, while Damian and Corey climbed back on that banana boat. Damian attempted the water skiing, which was a pretty hilarious failure. He even signed up for a lesson, but he still couldn’t get it. Not that I tried it. But the boys were howling with laughter and made fun of him mercilessly, especially when we saw a lady who was at least 70 years old do it successfully. They were like, “Oh my God – Mom! There’s a grandma doing it! Look!” Damian was a good sport about the whole thing, laughing right along with us.
     The water park was very nice, too. There were two huge water slides, which was great for many reasons. One is that I could pound those slides with the boys and burn off some of the massive amount of food I was eating. There were a ton of stairs, so I did that for about an hour a day several times. The slides overlooked the ocean, too, so the view from the top was worth the climb. Plus it was fun!  There’s a splash zone type area too with smaller slides, dumping buckets, and water spouts that the boys loved. They met a bunch of other kids while playing, so that was nice for all of us.
     We spent a lot of time in the ocean as well. Unlike other beaches we’ve been to, like Ocean City and Cape Hatteras, where the waves move you down the beach, you could just stand in the water and relax. You could rent fancy cabanas for the day for $150, but we didn’t do that. I didn’t want to feel like we had to stay in one place. If you walked up and down the beach for a few minutes, there’s always a couple of chairs in the sun or the shade. The fancy cabanas:
     (Above Mason and I lounge at the beach bar.) The drinks and the bars were all fantastic as well. Plenty of options for both the kids and the adults. The kids drank chocolate monkeys, virgin pina coladas, icee lemons, you name it. The featured liquor was rum, which was nice for me, since that’s really the only liquor I like, but they had lots of other options as well. I met a friendly couple at the beach bar who told me that their bartender, Shaunoozie, made them one too many Shaunoozie boozies the day before, and they were paying for it with some hair of the dog. There were two swim-up bars in the pools, a main bar off The Mill/lobby area (where there was entertainment nightly) also. Since we had the concierge service, I brought a bottle of champagne from our room to the beach one day in an ice bucket and just lounged. Ahhhh! That was luxury.
     We didn’t do any excursions, because there was so much to do right on the resort. But there’s a dolphin swim, a trip to Rick’s cafe, and a few other options that you could book easily at the excursion desk for an extra fee.
     As for shopping, you could buy gifts/necessities from the gift shops, and there were some interesting locals who walked the beach daily selling hand-made jewelry and other trinkets. There’s a guy with brightly colored socks piled on his head we saw every day. I bought a beaded ankle bracelet from a lady in a beautiful turquoise dress named JaNice (Jah- NIECE), and she fitted it to my ankle right on the beach. I wore it the rest of the trip and it never came off. Looking forward to wearing it this summer as a conversation piece.
     One other thing the boys loved was having an evening swim. We’d let them swim in the main pool after the sun set, and we sat on the comfy chairs beside the pool to watch them while we sipped our after-dinner drinks and enjoyed treats from Cafe de Paris. Here’s a shot of the pool at night, and a day time shot of some of the chairs we sat in:
2018-03-25 19.40.33
     Overall we had an amazing time as a family. The boys are older now, and this resort was on the smaller side, and so we were able to afford them a little more freedom, which in turn allowed us a little more freedom.  There are moments that I’ll never forget, including one early evening when I found myself with a rare bit of time alone. I walked over to the beach bar, got myself a glass of crisp white wine in a plastic wine glass, and waded out, about waist deep, in the water. The ocean that day was the picture of perfect calm, and I could see my feet below me. Not many people were in the water just then, and the sun was moving across the ocean, creating a riot of spectacular colors. I sipped my wine, breathed in the soft air, and just enjoyed the peace.
     And I’ll leave you with a couple of shots of us. Go to Negril. Tell me what you think. Ya mon!