As I'd mentioned yesterday, this was not a typical vacation for us. Usually
One of the first included activities we did was a catamaran cruise down the coast. We knew ahead of time to make our reservation at check in for the cruise, which was a good thing because it was already completely booked for the first three days of our trip.
The boat trip lasts about three hours, getting back to the resort just after sunset. Well, if we'd had a sunset that night, but as you can see, we ended up going on a cloudy day.
After boarding the boat, getting a rum punch and a beer, we settled in for the ride down the coast of Negril. It was interesting to see the town from the water, with the mix of shacks and nice hotels and beach houses.
South of the town of Negril, we passed the West End, aka the Cliffs.
Once we arrived at our destination, it was time to go for a swim. And there was a handy way to get into the water, if you so chose.
Once in the water, we could swim into some of the caves.
And look what I discovered a photo of when we got home, a bat above us! I had just thought I was taking pictures of the cave walls and ceiling with my flash on my old point and shoot camera, and didn't even notice this little guy at the time.
A view of the catamaran from the water.
After about a half hour or so of swimming, it was time to get back on the boat, get another drink and take a quick detour down past Rick's (famous for cliff jumpers, but also a really expensive tourist trap), before turning around to head back up the coast. We missed out on a sunset, but it was still a really fun little trip, that I'd definitely recommend to anyone staying at the resort.
A few days after the cat cruise, we were signed up for another activity, the One Love Bus Bar Crawl. This was really our only off-resort experience, other than being out on the water or strolling down the beach, and one of the highlights of our trip. We were picked up mid-afternoon by Lenbert, our bar guide and bus driver extraordinaire, and taken down to the West End to get to experience a little more of the culture and see more than just the expensive resorts on the beach.
On the ~4 hour bar crawl, Lenbert took us to a total of 7 bars along the cliffs. The list of bars he takes tours to changes from time to time, but I was sure to snap a shot of each place we visited. Stop #1 was Sword Fish.
First beer of the bar crawl. Looks like another night without a sunset, although in retrospect, it worked out great that we were always at the resort for nights with spectacular sunsets, so I could concentrate on taking sunset photos. :)
Stop #2, On The Rocks.
This is where we saw our first taste of "real Jamaica," with this sign behind the bar. Um, ok....just not at the bar I guess??
Another drink, another pretty cliff side view.
Right behind where I was standing in the above photo, we saw a stingray in the water. There were also lots of needle fish floating around below us.
C&D was the 3rd stop.
This was a pretty tiny spot, but I found some new friends out front. Don't worry, I always have Purell on me, for instances when I find random animals to play with. ;)
Stop #4 was another locals bar, No Limit.
Where I also found some friends.
And our driver, Lenbert enjoyed some coffee and fished this parrot out of a tree on the back patio of the bar.
There was also this guy, which I slyly snuck a photo of. He was just standing there quietly, but I think it was pretty obvious he was hoping some tourists would be interested in his goods. But hey, we wanted to see a more cultural side of "real Jamaica" by taking this tour off the resort, so it just comes with the territory, since marijuana is a big part of the Jamaican culture.
I'm really glad that stop #5 was Xtabi, since it was gorgeous, and also had nice, clean bathrooms, unlike a few of the other stops. Lenbert was sure to make an announcement on which places had the best facilities, especially for us ladies.
And look what we found above the bar, a North Carolina license plate, all the way down in Jamaica. The bartender told us that one of the owners is from NC, which was pretty cool. And speaking for North Carolina, on the bar crawl we also met new friends who just happened to live about 15 minutes away from us, who we've hung out several times since our trip. Such a small world!
After Xtabi we made a stop at the lighthouse, which we had seen from the catamaran earlier in the week.
There were two guys at the lighthouse who would jump off the cliff for pictures if you tipped them. Which I turned into GIFs for your viewing pleasure.
After the lighthouse stop, it was on to Sir D's Firewater. I don't even think this little place had a restroom, it was more of a deck perched along the top of a cliff, that happened to have a bar, but the view was gorgeous, as we'd come to expect from all of these cliffs bars.
Finally, bar #7, Negril Escape.
This place was a lot closer to the water than some of the other stops had been, and featured a couple of neat viewing platforms you could climb up.
From the top of one of the viewing platforms.
This would have been a lovely stop to see the sunset, if it hadn't been cloudy. So shortly after we all boarded the bus for the last time and Lenbert dropped us off at all of our respective resorts.
Overall, I would highly recommend this tour if you like bars, and want to get off the resort to support the local establishments in a safe environment, rather than venture out by yourself. Lenbert took great care of all of his guests, and operates his tour based on tips alone, so if you do take this trip, make sure you show him your appreciation!
Our final activity that we did on our vacation was snorkeling. Everyday, weather permitting, the resort offers three snorkel trips, where they take you out to various reefs on one of their boats. Having snorkeled quite a few times before, we knew that mornings are usually calmer, especially given the short rain showers we had each afternoon. So it took us several tries to get a reservation on a morning snorkel trip, since it was the most popular time (you can only make snorkel reservations one day in advance). Luckily we finally got to do it the day before going home, although I now wish we hadn't waited until halfway through the trip to try to make snorkel reservations, so we could have gone more than once.
As it turns out, the day we did finally get to snorkel, the water was a bit rough, even in the morning. I'm not a super strong swimmer, but was a bit annoying that we were required to wear life vests, and not just hold them under our armpits, which makes it much easier to snorkel. After being bobbed around for about 20 minutes due to the life vest, I'd had enough and got out. As you can see, not very calm conditions for snorkeling!
I'm a little bummed that this was our only experience getting to snorkel in the Caribbean, since it wasn't anything special. Hawaii, Mexico, and even Key West were all better places to snorkel, but I'm guessing that a lot of our disappointing experience had to do with the weather conditions, or just bad luck that we didn't see an abundance of fish. Next time I'd try to be more proactive about getting snorkel reservations earlier in the trip, so at least if we had rough day, there would hopefully be time for a second snorkel trip to make up for it. Oh well, at least it was free/included in the resort price!
So that's really the only activities we did on our 10 day trip, other than laying on the beach. I will say, it was a nice change of pace, to take a relaxing vacation. I do think All Inclusive resorts are more geared toward a more laid back vacation, since there's more incentive to stay on the resort considering you've already paid for all your meals and drinks. But I still prefer taking trips where the split is more like 1/3rd relaxing and 2/3rds activities.
Room service breakfast on our verandah every morning sure was nice though, which we had for one last time our final morning in Jamaica.
And of course, after several days in a row of cloudy skies, it was sunny on our last morning. We only had time for about an hour on the beach before having to go pack up, but it was enough time to soak up this view a little longer.
The long, hour and a half shuttle ride to the airport was a lot less fun than on the way to the resort, since everyone on the shuttle was sad to be leaving. I did like seeing the cute little goats along the road though!
And since Mandy asked if I'd share pros and cons and how we picked the All Inclusive resort we did, I'll touch on that here.
First, we picked Jamaica because we knew we wanted to go somewhere in the Caribbean, and the Belize trip that I already have planned was out, because of the desire for a mostly lazy, relaxing vacation. So I did a ton of research on Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet, looking for an island that was relatively easy to get to, not too expensive, and preferably one with All Inclusive resorts to help facilitate the 'stay on the resort and do nothing' kind of trip we were looking for. So we landed on Jamaica, which met all of our needs. Although we almost picked Palm Island, but it was just a little more effort to get there than we wanted this time around.
As far as why we picked Couple Swept Away over other All Inclusives in Negril, it was based on many, many positive reviews, and the fact that all Couples resorts really seem to take care of their employees. Of the four Couples resorts in Jamaica, Swept Away is generally considered the nicest, with the biggest and best beach, so that made narrowing it down a pretty easy decision. We also really liked Couples' no tipping policy. Usually on vacation we tip often and well, after all, if we can afford to take a nice trip, we can afford to show our appreciation. But as I've read, at some all inclusives in Jamaica supposedly tipping has become so skewed that oftentimes you don't get service at all unless you're waving money around, rather than it being a system of thanking someone for good service after the fact. To us, that seemed like more than we really wanted to deal with, so it was a big part of us choosing Couples. Instead of tipping, their room rates are a little higher than some of the comparable resorts, since they have an employee bonus program build into their rates. You are encouraged to write down the names of any of the staff who were exceptional on your comment card when checking out, so they get recognized by management. We had a long list of favorite employees who went out of their way to make our stay great, and we were sure to write about them all at check out.
What we liked about Jamaica and Couple Swept Away:
- The resort and beach were beautiful. No, there weren't fancy marble bathrooms or 1,000 thread count sheets, but it was always clean and comfortable, and very on par with what we would expect for a nice resort in a third world country.
- Other than the buffet, which was just ok, the food was really good. We aren't super foodies or anything, but we were always happy with the selection and quality of our meals, and if ever you didn't like something, you could always order something else, no problem, mon!
- Loved how many water sports and activities were included in the price, although if you truly were only going to lay on the beach and not do a single other thing, this might not be the resort for you, only because the rates are a little higher due to all the inclusions.
- The employees were very friendly. They really made our stay special, with remembering our names, our drinks, and just overall being really delightful to chat with.
- Again, the beach. Just beautiful.
What we didn't like, or could be improved upon:
- The hour and a half ride from the airport to the resort is a bit long and tiring. It is worth it though, since the beaches in Negril are so much better than Montego Bay. So we didn't particularly enjoy getting to the resort, but it wasn't too bad. If we do visit again though, it might be worth it to splurge for the much quicker 12 minute charter flight from Montego Bay to Negril.
- We usually only chose to get our room serviced about every other day, but on the days we did, it was really unpredictable what time they would be cleaning the room. Again, this wasn't a huge deal, just a minor annoyance when we would come back to the room to grab something or change or whatever, and find our room occupied anywhere from 10am-4pm. A bit more consistency on the room cleaning time frame by building or resort location would have been nice.
- The beach vendors were a little annoying sometimes, but so much less so than the ones we encountered in Puerto Vallarta. At least at Couples, the security guards on the beach make sure the vendors stay down by the water's edge, and you have to approach them if you want to buy something. They aren't allowed to actually walk up to you in the lounge chairs and pester you. Walking down the beach off Couples property though, we were asked every two minutes if we wanted to jet ski or parasail or whatever. Still, better than the vendors in Mexico, who were a lot more pushy. In Jamaica they quickly moved on if you told them "No Thanks".
- I'll also touch on the marijuana in Jamaica. This wasn't really a negative to us, as we were comfortable mostly just ignoring it, and the few times along the beach we were asked about buying something from the locals, a polite "No thanks, mon!" always did the trick. But if being solicited or occasionally walking by someone who smells like smoke is something that will bother you, Jamaica might not be a good destination for you.
So, that was our Jamaican experience. It was a pretty great trip, although I wouldn't say it was my favorite vacation ever (that's probably a tie between our honeymoon in Kauai and Puerto Vallarta where we got engaged). I'd definitely be open to going to Jamaica again in the future, although with my long list of destinations I still want to visit, I'm guessing it might be a while. If we were ever going to do an All Inclusive trip again though, I would like to stay at a Couples property. They recently opened a new location in Barbados that would be interesting to try. I hear they've got green monkeys there. :)
Have you ever stayed at an All Inclusive resort before? Did you like it?