|Been gone the last several days on vacation--me and the Bewitching Mrs. Best Destiny escaped from the children and went to Jamaica.|
What . . . you hadn't noticed?
Yes, Monday morning at 1 am we loaded up on Delta Airlines jet and headed to Atlanta, and then on to the airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and then on to Ocho Rios where we stayed at the Sandals Grande all-inclusive Resort.
Where we proceeded to be disappointed from the get-go.
First of all, anybody considering a Jamaican vacation, keep in mind one thing: it is still a third-world country, and "all-inclusive" or not, its ideas about service are still significantly more third-world than first-. And, not that the people aren't friendly--they're wonderful; and their reputation for being laid-back and relaxed is well-earned.
But for an American with a limited amount of time to spend, those aren't necessarily wonderful qualities.
For instance, when booking this particular flight, which touched down in Jamaica at 1130 am local, we did so with the thought that that would, effectively, give us one day down there on Monday; our return flight for Thursday was scheduled for 300, so we also assumed that would give us most of that day down there. Our plan was two full days, two partial days, and three nights--it was a wonderful plan.
Which didn't quite come true. By the time we made it through the "laid-back" customs and immigration lines, caught up with our luggage, found our "free" shuttle, made the "relaxed" trip from MoBay to Ocho Rios, and got finally set up in our room, it was almost 430, we'd been travelling for 16 hours, and the day was shot.
The trip out was just as bad--we were informed by the hotel that our "free" shuttle would be leaving the hotel at 9am Thursday morning, and, after inquiring, we were told that the 10 o'clock shuttle was full. That left us with, basically, enough time to wake up, get ready, get packed, get breakfast, and head out. Another day shot.
Now, I don't know what I was thinking--I don't normally let my expectations for things get very high. But in this case, with the money we spent and all the information we were able to gather, I actually expected that we would probably get to the hotel by 2 where the concierge would be waiting with champaigne and little sandwiches (since we missed lunch) and our bags would be magically whisked away to our room--or something really nice and impressive. No such luck.
Then, we tried to make contact with home, just to let them know we got in. We were TOLD that the rooms all had a wi-fi hookup for a small fee--WRONG; we were then informed that the lobby had a wi-fi hookup--WRONG; we were then told we could use their little computer kiosks--WRONG! By the time we had run through that series of hoops to finally settle on just making a phone call from our room (since Verizon doesn't have coverage down there), it was closer to 5:00, making the day that much further gone.
I don't know about you, by my expectations for vacation travel have been largely shaped by DisneyWorld--three kids, we've been there a few times. And every time we go Disney, we find something new to be impressed with as far as how they serve their customers, how they tend to their properties, and how they project professionalism in every aspect of what they do. I guess my picture of an "all-inclusive" vacation looked a little like Disney--and what I got was the Three Stooges on a bong hit.
Don't get me wrong. I know it seems like I'm complaining a lot (only because I am), when I just got to spend time in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. And Jamaica--the resort parts of Jamaica--is all it is advertised: white sand beaches, gorgeous weather, a tropical paradise. And the hotel is very nice, the grounds are beautiful, the amenities very pleasant. But it is better suited to people either very young with nothing to do but enjoy the beauty of their surroundings and each other, or people very old with nothing to do. Those of us trapped in the middle on budgets of time and money aren't well-suited for such places.
At any rate, the fun continued. We were told all rooms got room service--ours didn't. The "wonderful food" at eight on-site restaurants--not so much. Water sports whenever you like--not today, my friend. Sandals just kept finding ways to disappoint us, and that is troubling.
The one thing that lives up to its billing: "all-inclusive" drinks. Lots of drinks. Everywhere. Not bad.
For me, the coolest thing we did was probably the stupidest: we walked from the resort into the town of Ocho Rios. It was about a mile-and-a-half walk down one road, and we were looking for a shopping center that was in the middle of town that we had passed on the way in--the tourist spot, "duty-free". And, what an interesting walk it was! Once again, remember that Jamaica is a third-world country--surrounded by gorgeous scenery and very pricey resorts is the sort of abject poverty that we only hear about. Three times during the walk we were asked if we wanted "ganja" or "Bob Marley-weed"; the number of actual shacks that people lived in were beyond count; and the trash and human waste were in plain view. The wife, who lives a sheltered life, was stunned and terrified for most of the trip, and I have to admit it had me on alert he whole time.
But, oddly enough, I never--NEVER--felt as threatened to walk through this teeming, human tragedy as I would have felt walking through the inner cities of America. Either the people recognize that tourism is their country's only hope for a future, or the government has them so afraid of projecting crime to the outside world that they behave. Or, perhaps, the people are simply inclined in that direction--that that friendliness and laid-back attitude are incompatible with the sort of violence that is bred in America's inner cities.
At any rate, it was a very interesting trip into town, the mission was accomplished (the credit card is heavier), and both of us survived very nicely. Obviously.
So, if you really want to see Jamaica, have a vacation in a tropical paradise, here's my advice:
1. stay in Montego Bay--the less travelling you have to do, the better
2. give yourself that one extra day you don't think you can--you'll lose a day somewhere, so it's good to have an extra; and especially if your better half carries stress with them, get extra time (the shuttle ride itself is terrifying and probably cost my wife 6 hours of mental time)
3. shop around--Sandals gets all the pub, but there are some very nice looking resorts that aren't well known (some Spanish interests are developing some huge properties down there, especially Riu)
Back a regular bloggin routine tomorrow.