As mentioned in my previous post, Rest, Relaxation, and Reflection, I took a week-long vacation to Jamaica. We stayed at Secrets St. James in Montego Bay. Since it was my first all-inclusive, I didn’t know what to expect. If you’re interested in what the experience entails, continue below. I’m outlining the pros and cons of the whole trip. I’m even including things I wish other bloggers discussed when I was doing my initial research. Since this article is admittedly pretty long for anyone with a short attention span like mine, you might want to go ahead and grab a snack or a glass of wine!
Bartenders/Staff: Every single bartender we encountered was fantastic. We made it easy because we always stuck to one drink for the day so when it was time to refill they were always one step ahead of the game. We actually brought cash in case we needed anything and ended up using most of it to tip the great staff. I know they say tipping isn’t necessary on the website but they worked so hard. Americans should already be accustomed to the tipping process so don’t be an asshole. Anyway, they found out it was my birthday during the trip and gave us a complimentary mini bottle of Appleton Estate’s rum and a card. Even though alcohol was already free, it was a very sweet gesture.
Food: The authentic Jamaican food was exceptional, as to be expected. We ate at the Jamaican themed restaurant at least twice. The breakfast, lunch, and seafood buffets were to die for. There was a cart that came around with jerk chicken. It was the best chicken I’ve ever had. There were about nine different restaurants so there was always a different meal to be enjoyed. Also, the room service is 24/7. Even with a smaller portion than American dining, it is impossible to be hungry at this resort. The only place we didn’t get a chance to try was the French-themed restaurant.
Beach/Pool: The beach was fantastic. Two things that ruin a beach trip for me is if the water has too much seaweed and if the sand feels too rocky. Neither one of these were the case for us. We spent three days at the beach and three days at the pool. The pool was actually the slightest bit more fun because there was a bar in the pool area so everyone was drunk enjoying the music. However, we had more conversations with the other vacationers when we were at the beach.
Room: The room was beautiful. We had one of the more basic accommodations and it still felt so luxurious. There was a soak-in tub, overhead shower, king size bed, living area, and patio. The TV was huge for a hotel room. They also gave terry cloth robes in each room. The best part was that our room had a pool view so we often just put our beach towels on our patio furniture so we didn’t have to fight for pool chairs.
Constant pictures: The first day we got there one of the photographers did a photo shoot with us which was nice. Then every day after the photographers proceed to try to do another photo shoot. And another photo shoot. In all honesty, they do a great job and the photos turn out beautifully but it definitely has a paparazzi feel to it.
Check-in/check-out process: There are about 10 employees behind the desk at any given moment. However, there are only two or three that handle the check-in and check-out. Check-in is a little more chaotic because they tell you to leave your luggage in the front while you check-in.
Food: Overall, I thought the food was great. There were just two things I thought were a bit underwhelming. They brag on the hibachi and it’s the only restaurant where a reservation is necessary. I definitely eat hibachi more than the average person so my expectation was very high for what everyone claimed was the highlight of the dining experience. My husband and I were not impressed. It was OK, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. The other one that wasn’t as good was the Mexican restaurant. I didn’t really have any expectation for Mexican fare in Jamaica for obvious reasons. I would strongly suggest skipping this one completely. After all, there are better places to eat.
American Airlines: I’ve flown American Airlines 8 times that I can recall. Of those 8 fights, six of them have been delayed. The experience coming home was the absolute worst thus far. Our flight was initially delayed two hours which would’ve forced us to miss our connection. They switched us to a later flight. The flight ended up being delayed fours hours total. Barely making it through customs, we had to print new boarding passes and a new bag tag and were met with an OUTRAGEOUS line. Despite having about 15 employees at the kiosk, only three could assist dozens of customers in the same situation as us. Finally, upon arriving back home, we wait for our checked luggage only to find that 75% of our flight’s baggage never left the connection point! Once it was all said and done, we arrived back home at 2 am bagless and exhausted. Luckily for us, our bag was delivered the following day. However, a quick Twitter search will show that we were indeed the minority in that debacle. American Airlines charges like an elite airline but provide service that’s comparable to Spirit and Frontier. Say what you will about Spirit but at least I know what I’m getting into.
Jamaican Customs: Jamaica’s customs process was very strange. Typically when traveling abroad, you show your passport once or twice, get a stamp, give them your customs form and exit the airport. In Jamaica, you take a walk, give your customs form, show your passport, walk a little further, show passport, walk a little more, show passport, grab luggage, show passport, then finally exit the airport! There was even a kiosk which in reality is supposed to omit the need for the hand-written customs slip and they never collect it! In fact, they make you fill out the customs slip first so what is even the point of the kiosk? By the time you exit the airport, you’ll definitely be ready for the drinks to start flowing.
Overall, I highly recommend Secrets St. James. On our last day of the trip, I was already planning the next all-inclusive vacation I wanted to take. Everything about Secrets was a dream come true. The only thing I might have done differently is maybe do an excursion or two. Now, if you take nothing else away from this post, please heed this. DO NOT FLY AMERICAN AIRLINES. You will be miserable at best and missing luggage/possible vacation days at worst. When I do this again, I will absolutely buy my plane tickets separately if necessary. Even if I have to spend a few extra dollars, the peace of mind is worth it. Hopefully, this guide was enough motivation to get you to book a flight. We definitely need more Black international travelers!