Negril and Montego Bay, Jamaica
- When: 9 June – 14 June, 2021
- Where (accommodations): Royalton Negril Resort & Spa, Zoëtry Montego Bay
- Transportation: American Airlines from Boston to Montego Bay, Jamaica (layover in Philadelphia, PA) . JetBlue from Montego Bay to Boston (layover in Orlando, FL)
- Sights/attractions: Negril: Seven Mile Beach, Times Square Mall. Montego Bay: Doctor’s Cave Beach, Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records
- Food/drinks: Negril: Grazie Trattoria (Royalton Negril), Hunter Steakhouse (Royalton Negril), C/X Culinary Experience (Royalton Negril), Margaritaville (Seven Mile Beach), Beach Bunny Cafe (Seven Mile Beach), Rasta Ade Refreshments (Seven Mile Beach)
One more stamp in the passport- this time it’s a special occasion – my 40th birthday! Neither Sean nor myself have been to this tropical country, so this was a perfect timing to add it to our list. It was not our usual trip where we drive around and explore as much as possible. Instead, we chose two all inclusive resorts on two different sides of the island, but did not see a lot more beyond what’s around them. There are several reasons for that. First and foremost- COVID-19 restrictions are pretty strict and enforced in Jamaica. Besides having to provide a negative test prior to boarding the plane (antigen test is fine, we got it done at CVS), we had to fill out a travel authorization form and show a QR code. Once this is complete, you are allowed to stay in the certain areas of the island- approved resorts in a resilient corridor, which is essentially the areas along the coast. We only visited for five nights and the distances are quite big, so we figured we’ll see Negril on the west coast and Montego Bay on the north and leave the east and the south for another time. Driving is on the ‘opposite’ side of the road (just like in UK), so even though Sean had done this in South Africa, we did not want to add any extra stress to this short trip by renting a car.
Negril is a a town on the western side of Jamaica, famous for it’s white sand Seven Mile beach, so we were exited to spend three nights here.
Our flight landed in Montego Bay (there was a slight delay from the connecting Philly due to weather over the Atlantic) and we entered into the hot and humid island just as torrential downpour started. The airport might be small, but it was VERY busy.
We arranged our ground transportation to Negril through the company recommended by the hotel- Nexus Tours. They have a desk right at the arrivals hall and wearing orange shirts, so it was not hard to find. Since we booked a shared van, we had to wait a bit for everyone to get there (and for the rain to subside), before we got seated into a bus and headed to our first resort, around 1.5hrs away from the airport.
Knowing what the taxis charge, I am extremely grateful we booked this transfer- it was only $28 for both of us one way. You can do it online and it’s a cash free, easy transaction. The bus had AC and it was a comfortable ride with only a few stops along the way to drop off the other passengers. The driver was cracking jokes (and offering weed), he told us about the landmarks as we were passing them, so the drive to the hotel did not feel too long or uncomfortable. The only downside was that we were starving from not having any food all day. American Airlines does not even sell food for travelers in economy class!
ROYALTON NEGRIL RESORT & SPA
It’s been a very long day. We got up at 3.30am to make the 6am flight out of Boston, then with delay in Philly and the drive from Montego Bay, it felt like we traveled to Europe by the time we reached the resort. Luckily our room was ready and we were finally on vacation!
There are numerous hotels in Negril- from super expensive to very budget friendly ones. I think Royalton Negril is somewhere right in the middle. Next door to adults only Hedonism II and Sandals, location is very pretty. Calm bay, super warm and clear water, plenty of chairs and umbrellas by the beach and the swim up bar pool.
I don’t think there is a better spot for sunset on this coast. It was simply magical. We could not resist a mini photo shoot.
There are several restaurants on site, some were not open, but the ones we tried we had no complaints about. Well, don’t bother with the Sports Bar food- it was total crap. Unfortunately that was the only place open at 4pm, so we had to start with a very average salad, grilled cheese and inedible steak and cheese sandwich. I am glad things improved from there on, because for the first meal we were quite disappointed.
We tried their Italian Trattoria Grazie for the first dinner- it was OK. I can’t say it’s gourmet, but it was pretty good meal. Next evening we tried the Hunter Steakhouse and it was great!
For lunch, if you are staying in the resort, try their food truck and the jerky chicken/pork hut. It was delicious! I think those are only open 12-4, so don’t miss the window.
My favorite though was the seven course feast at C/X Culinary Experience that Sean organized for my birthday dinner. It is not part of the all inclusive deal, it costs extra, but was well worth it. It was only us and one more couple and the meals tasted as amazing as they looked. They were not as small as we’re used to with the multiple courses, so by the end of the night I was ready to be rolled out of there : ) . Cheers to a full forty!
Time to unwind
What else is there to do at the all inclusive resort besides eating? How about some pool time? Or a spa? Well, no need to choose when you can do both 🙂 .
There are actually several pools, but we spent most of our time by the main one with the swim up bar. There was fun music playing, it was close to our building and was just a good laid back Jamaican atmosphere all around.
We also took advantage of Royalton’s spa. We got couples massages one day (it was pure bliss) and to start my birthday day Sean booked me a facial- another very relaxing experience that left my skin glowing. I have to mention- the treatments are not cheap, we were a bit surprised it was nearly Boston prices. For a special occasion it was money well spent.
In addition to the treatments we were allowed to use these thermal jets- they just recently reopened, so it was a nice pre-massage water massage 🙂 .
Explore a bit
The main reason why we chose to stay in Negril was to be able to visit their famous Seven Mile Beach. Royalton Negril is not right on this beach, but very close to it. We could have walked, but some rain clouds were gathering, so we jumped in a cab not to waste the time. We also needed to take out some cash from the ATM (bring USD, it’s accepted everywhere), so we asked to be dropped off at the little mall with a big name – Times Square Mall (do not expect New York’s Times square here : ) ) . It’s a cute little plaza with the shops- perfect for souvenir shopping and a lot better deals than the resort.
Just cross the street and you are on the Seven Miles beach- white sand, long stretch and lined with little restaurants and cafes.
We were hungry, so stopped at the Beach Bunny Cafe– colorful setting, good playlist, great jerky chicken and a cold beer hit the spot.
As we walked the beach we met a local boy who ran/walked, swam with us for a bit, I don’t know if he expected anything, but when we bought a fresh coconut, he happily took one as well. It’s definitely a nice beach to visit, especially when it was not crowded.
After all this walking we needed more food/drinks, so stopped at two other places- cute Rasta Ade Refreshments for delicious fresh smoothies and Margaritaville for some tacos. Both were great!
Don’t worry about a thing…
You are in Jamaica, the birth place of reggae music, so don’t miss an opportunity to listen to some Bob Marley. We were pleasantly surprised with our hotel nightly entertainment- each of the three nights we had music playing at a different part of the hotel grounds. The first night (a bit unfortunate) it was right outside the window, loud beach party with a DJ. We probably would’ve enjoyed it a lot more if we didn’t travel all day since 3 o’clock in the morning.
Second night was a lot better- the live band was playing at the Martini Bar, so I could enjoy a drink, move the hips and not have to listen to the noise when we were ready to sleep.
Our favorite though was on the third evening- Bob Marley show at their main stage. The band was great, lots of people danced- it was a perfect way to end our stay in Negril and finish my birthday celebration!
Located on the northern coast of the island Montego Bay was a major cruise ship port (pre-Covid-19), and has the airport that most of the international flights arrive to. We wanted to stay closer to the airport toward the end of the trip and Zoëtry Montego Bay was a perfect option. Nexus Tours brought us from Royalton Negril back to Montego Bay airport (they do not do between resort transfers), so all we needed was a quick seven minute cab ride to the hotel. Initially taxi driver wanted $30, we negotiated to $15! He won at the end- we kept the driver’s number and used his services next day to go to the Doctor’s Cave beach (was HUGE savings compared to what hotel offered). We loved Zoëtry resort, but do not recommend making transportation arrangements through them (they wanted $80 round trip from and to the airport). Get the taxi and always bargain!
ZOËTRY MONTEGO BAY
49 suites boutique resort was a completely different experience from the much bigger Royalton Negril. This was exactly what we wanted- to explore two different parts of the island and to enjoy different resorts. Both are all inclusive, but with a completely different vibe. While Royalton Negril is big, busy, family friendly place with a lot of restaurants and more activities, Zoëtry is quiet, adults oriented resort (though we saw a couple of kids).
I would say the first one is for those that are looking to have a bit more of a party, while the second one is to relax, disconnect and unwind. Since it was raining upon arrival (just like when we landed in Montego Bay a few days earlier), we booked massages. The spa is a lot smaller than Royalton, so we had our treatments back to back rather than at the same time, but they were exceptional! Masseuse got out some knots we didn’t know existed. I could not think of a better way to spend a rainy afternoon!
Since we only stayed for two nights, we did not get to experience much of their culinary skills, but we liked what we had during this short stay. Breakfast was light and fresh (we had smoothies, fresh juices and omelets, lunch was very tasty at the restaurant by the pool (tuna tartar and grilled salmon were my favorites).
The two dinners were lovely as well-Jamaican night one evening and Italian the next. Both nights there was live music- a band and a singer each time was a nice touch.
There is not too much to do at the resort, but we only had a short time too, so it never got boring. Whatever you do, make sure to get on their organized free snorkeling tour! We did it on our last morning there and we were shocked how healthy the coral looked and the amount of fish we could see. The best part was huge stingrays laying on the bottom, slightly covered in sand. I wish we had our underwater camera for that…
Doctor’s Cave Beach
Since the beach at the hotel is not the best for swimming and we heard that Doctor’s Cave Beach is incredible, we were not going to leave Montego Bay without taking a look. Only 13 minutes by taxi (we used our driver, who charged $30 round trip, while hotel’s initial price was $80, then was lowered to $50) this beach is absolutely a must visit!
You have to pay an entrance fee ($7.50pp) and we rented chairs/umbrella, but it’s a perfect place for a swim if you want to trade the pool to a clear blue Caribbean water. It was not crowded, weather was amazing, the only downside was a 2pm Sunday curfew, so we had to leave the beach after a few hours there. Still very happy we got to spend time at this amazing spot.
After the beach Sean wanted to see Usain Bolt’s statue- the fastest man alive still lives in Jamaica and has a restaurant in town- Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records. Restaurant was closed due to curfew, but we got our pics near the statue at least.
Short and sweet, fun and relaxing this was a perfect getaway for my big 4-0. I cannot claim that we got to see much of this beautiful island, but we really enjoyed what we were able to experience. The food, warm (even with some rain) weather and the wonderful people are the memories that we are going to cherish forever. I have a feeling we’ll be back to explore more once Covid is over and it’s easier to move around. Yea mon!