To sum up my last trip to Jamaica in one word—WOW! The Playa Hotels & Resorts Jamaica FAM trip was truly a memorable one.
If you’re wondering what a FAM trip is, you’re not alone. A FAM trip – or familiarization trip – is an opportunity for travel advisors to learn more about destinations, experiences and properties, so that we can share this information with you and provide first-hand recommendations from our own experience. Plus, it’s a great way for those in the travel industry to build relationships with brands and staff on-site at resorts.
My trip by the numbers
I met 10 amazing travel advisors from across Canada
Toured five Playa all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica over the course of four days
And, got one killer tan 😉
Travel in style
First things first, the trip started out right with Club Mobay’s expedited airport arrival service, a stop at the Hyatt Lounge and private transfers to the resort courtesy of Thompson Tours & Transfers.
When it comes to my clients, I will always suggest you secure Club Mobay arrival and departure airport service upon booking your Jamaica vacation. It’s truly the best way to begin—and end—your vacation. Besides the expedited service, you have access to incredible airport lounges offering complimentary food and drink (and even showers or spa services – at a cost – if you so please!).
Getting from the airport to the resort was a breeze with my trusted driver from Thompson Tours & Transfers. Renford always welcomes me with a smile and remembers all the little details about me from my last visit—making me feel like a real VIP. Service is always punctual and professional.
SERVICE FROM THE HEART
My host hotel was Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall, a luxurious resort that’s situated 15 minutes from the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. The sister resort, Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall (adults only), sits adjacent to the resort.
There is no real divide between the two resorts, with the exception that the Ziva side allows all ages. That being said, if you’re with your family at Ziva for a vacation, you can drop your kids at the Kidz Club and head over to the Zilara side for some fun. That goes for adults heading over to the Ziva side as well. Win-win!
This stunning resort was previously a Ritz-Carlton—and it shows! It’s opulent, but with a non-pretentious feel. The resort layout is well-planned and never quite feels at capacity. Dense foliage makes the landscaping very attractive. Swim up suites on both sides of the resort make it feel very tropical.
“Service from the heart” is the motto of all Playa Hotels & Resorts, and that customer-oriented approach is felt as soon as you step foot on the property!
Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall
Great for: All ages, beach lovers, pool lovers
What can you expect at Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall? Clean, spacious rooms with great views. Incredible pools with high-end lounge chairs. A beach that’s clear and swimmable, with sand that is powder soft. Entertainment on the Ziva side included a silent disco, a Moroccan-themed rooftop bar, live music and dancing. Restaurants were also plentiful, with great options to choose from including Italian, Asian and international cuisines. Who is the perfect client for Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall? I hesitate to call this a family resort. It’s more of an all-ages resort—perfect for multigenerational families, groups and more.
Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall
Great for: Adults, beach lovers, pool lovers, gym lovers
This adults-only resort is paradise found. With one of the best gyms I’ve seen at an all-inclusive resort, an innovative spa concept with hydrotherapy and massages on the beach, and entertainment every night—Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall is a great getaway for a weekend or a week. Jamaican, French and fusion restaurants are among the culinary offerings, in addition to those restaurants available at the Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall. Stunning suites with perfect sunset-viewing vistas are abundant. There is truly not a room that isn’t clean, modern and in a good location.
Jewel Paradise Cove Beach Resort & Spa
Great for: Adults, beach lovers, those looking for a lower price point
This adults-only all-inclusive resort is located in Runaway Bay, about an hour and a half from the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. With tidy rooms, colourful buildings and a great beach, Jewel Paradise Cove exudes pure Jamaican vibes. It also boasts repeat visitors who come back for more—time and time again.
Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort & Spa
Great for: Large families, beach lovers, those looking for more space
With villa-style all-inclusive accommodations, Jewel Grande is an Insta-worthy resort with awe-inspiring views. You can book hotel-style accommodations or three-bedroom butler suites. Some suites even include in-room laundry, which is a huge bonus for families with small children. The entire property offers gorgeous ocean views and breathtaking suites.
Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa
Great for: Families, waterpark lovers
Modern and sleek, Hilton Rose Hall is a hidden gem in the Montego Bay area. It is all about simplicity. The rooms are great for families of four and are functional, but the common areas and waterpark is where this resort really shines. With a lazy river, waterslides and swim up bars, it caters to both the young and young at heart. To be honest… I could spend a whole week in that waterpark!
That’s a wrap!
With such an incredible FAM trip in the books for me, it’s probably easy to believe that I am already planning my next one. As you can tell, it’s so valuable to book with a travel advisor with on-the-ground experience as we have so much first-hand experience with various travel suppliers and can give you authentic recommendations.
Book with Pink Palm Travel
If you’re booking directly with me, you can do so with $0 down when booking your a la carte all-inclusive resort stay at Playa Hotels & Resorts. Final payment is due 30 days prior to travelling and you can cancel up to 14 days prior to your trip start date. I also can access pricing with tour operators such as Air Canada Vacations and WestJet Vacations which includes airfare.
For 40 years, Sandals Resorts has continually re-imagined the luxury Caribbean experience. And, now, there is another jewel to add to the crown of the all-inclusive resorts in the portfolio—Sandals Royal Curaçao.
The 16th and newest property in the Sandals family features eight signature restaurants, three food trucks, free PADI scuba diving, a spa, and much more.
You know I’m your Sandals girl, so connect with me if you have any questions about it!
My husband and I took a quick, four-day, jaunt to Jamaica in late April. It’s nice to be able to get away – even if for a short time – to rest and relax. When you’re in the mood for some R&R, what better way to unwind than go to Jamaica? After much research, I decided that Sandals South Coast in White House would be the perfect place to escape to.
Prepare for Takeoff
We left at 5:45 a.m. from Whitby, Ontario, Canada, and were so excited to get away that we missed our highway exit for Toronto Pearson Airport. Oops! As we drove down the 407 listening to music and chatting about our imminent trip, we ended up on the border of Oakville… and that’s how we started our vacation.
I already completed our online check in with WestJet and received our boarding passes electronically, which I saved to my Apple Wallet. That was a huge time saver along with our new packing approach – bringing a carry-on only. It truly saves so much time at the airport. When we arrived, we simply parked and headed straight to security.
Packing a carry-on only means you are limited in how much liquids you can bring with you on the plane, but there are multiple places after the security checkpoint to grab extras like mouthwash, toothpaste and even sunscreen.
After a breakfast mimosa at our gate, we were ready for our flight. After a smooth, enjoyable ride we were in Montego Bay in no more than four hours.
Arriving in Jamaica was a seamless experience. We booked a Club Mobay bundle that included arrival and departure service – and we both agreed that this was absolutely priceless.
We walked off the plane and down the ramp directly to Club Mobay where representatives were waiting for us. Our dedicated Club Mobay rep guided us through the airport’s express lanes for immigrations and customs. We also saved time since we didn’t have to pick up luggage at the baggage carousel.
Within 30 minutes, we arrived at the Sandals Resorts and Club Mobay VIP lounges. After a rum punch, we made our way out of Sangster International Airport. Sandals staff were attentive and ensured that our private transfer was ready before we even departed the airport. All in all, we made it through the airport in 40 minutes. We both agreed that we will never go to Jamaica without Club Mobay again!
Thompson Tours & Transfers
The ride to Sandals South Coast is about 90 minutes from the airport. I wanted to start the vacation as soon as possible, so I booked a private transfer to the resort. That said, Sandals Resorts always provides transportation to and from the resort, and it’s always reliable. We booked private transportation because our trip was on the shorter side, and this helped us to make the most of our time.
We used Thompson Tours & Transfers after receiving a referral online. Our driver, Renford Thompson, took us from Montego Bay to White House through some windy rural and mountainous roads. It was beautiful to see the island – and we learned a lot about it as we made our way to the resort. We even had an impromptu stop at Border Jerk (a delicious roadside diner) where we were treated to jerk chicken and some delicious Red Stripe lemon and sorrel flavoured beers – yum!
All in all, we had incredible service from TT&T and we will definitely book them again when we head back to Jamaica in the fall with our kids.
Sandals State of Mind
The staff at Sandals South Coast, formerly known as Sandals White House, welcomed us warmly with a hot towel and big smiles.
COVID-19 protocols are still being followed at the resort but are slowly being let up. Masks are no longer required to be worn in indoor areas.
We stayed in the Dutch Village, which was a quieter spot. It was lovely with a mix of entry, club and butler level rooms, including swim up suites.
Our room was Dutch Beachfront Luxury Room (DGB). With a four poster king bed, modern bathroom with walk-in shower and balcony tranquility soaking tub on the veranda, we were impressed and agreed it was one of the most beautiful rooms that we’ve stayed at in a Sandals Resort. The Dutch Village is centrally located and offers sweeping views of the ocean and Latitudes Over-the-Water Bar. The resort is very spread out and there’s a lot of walking, although it’s all very flat and easy to navigate. I definitely got in my steps – up to 10,000 per day!
The food was consistently good. Eleanor’s and Schooners were the highlights for dinner; and Giuseppe’s antipasto bar was to die for! Cafe de Paris had some of the best coffee I’ve ever had (maybe it was the half cream milk?!) and delectable crepes. The Jerk Shack was perfectly located on the beach – central within the resort – and offered jerk chicken, pork, sausage and fish options. Most restaurants were located in the main piazza, with the exception of Schooner’s which was in the French Village, located near the Over-the-Water Bungalows. If you can believe it, those rooms book up a year or two in advance!
Some of my other observations:
The resort is perfect for honeymooners and those who want a quieter getaway.
The entertainment was not to be missed! There were special themes every night at Le Cabaret (an indoor theatre space) and in the main courtyard.
The beachfront area was great for late night impromptu dance parties.
There are three great pools and various hot tubs on the property.
Sandals has added a new Rondoval Village with a swim-up pool that weaves through – it’s absolutely beautiful!
All other rooms are all beachfront and absolutely glorious.
The stretch of beach was quiet, walkable and didn’t have any unsolicited vendors.
Being in a protected nature reserve/ocean protected area, there was lots of wildlife from peacocks to starfish. This meant that the water was not always the crystal clear blue you see in the Caribbean, but was perfect for water sports such as sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling and paddle boarding.
Great drink choices! The bars were well stocked and bartenders knew how to make a variety of yummy drinks.
The martini bar was popular every night, especially when late night entertainment was lined up.
Fabulous food options – not just the buffets, but a la carte selections for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Beautiful grounds – there was always someone very busy keeping everything looking pristine.
The spa was lovely and tranquil – a touch smaller than other Sandals but very private and quiet.
A stunning on-the-water chapel with glass floors is perfect for destination weddings.
Lots of little spots in and around the resort to sit and relax.
Sunsets are divine!
It rained everyday from about 2 to 4 p.m. but that was perfect for nap time.
On that note… the mattresses were SUPER comfortable.
The staff at the resort were a real highlight. Oshane at the main bar was incredible; Marton in entertainment was a blast; Garnet at Schooner’s was so attentive; Tanesha in housekeeping was on top of everything.
Speaking of – housekeeping was excellent! Our room was tied and replenished daily before noon and we always had turn down service before returning to our room at night.
Overall, our experience was exactly what we needed and I’d highly recommend this resort to anyone who is looking for a truly relaxing beach vacation.
Departing in Style
As noted, we booked Club Mobay for our departure as well. It was the perfect way to end our trip! Not only did we get through the airport check-in and dedicated security line in no time, but we were able to wait for our flight (after a 90-minute shuttle ride to the airport) with a drink and lunch (aka rum punch and Jamaican beef patties). Leaving is never fun, but it was great to extend the vacation as long as possible.
Club Mobay also offers family-friendly areas in their lounge, and they are perfect for those travelling with children of all ages. It’s conveniently located near the gate for your departure, so you don’t have to worry about hustling your way to board when called.
66 dreamy suites will join the South Seas Village, two new wellness-inspired eateries, two new tranquil pools, and more.
Sandals Resorts International (SRI) continues its development in the Caribbean as Sandals Royal Barbados breaks ground on an exciting new expansion, just in time for the summer season. Set to premiere July 1, 2021, the South Seas Village at Sandals Royal Barbados will be home to 66 new suites, bringing the total room count to 338, which include the brand’s signature Rondoval™ suites, Skypool and Crystal Lagoon Swim-Up suites and Millionaire Butler suite concepts; two new wellness-inspired eateries, The Greenhouse Restaurant and Heart & Sol café, bringing the resort’s impressive restaurant count to nine; and two new relaxing pools.
Flanked between lush gardens and the pristine, white sand beach of Maxwell Beach, the exceedingly romantic additions will be characterized by spacious and bright rooms, high-pitched ceilings and chic furnished light-wood finishes with quartz inlay – designed for seclusion, relaxation and serenity. The South Seas Village will include hallmark offerings such as the Sandals Tranquility Blissful Bed™, with a premium king-size bed, complemented by fine linens and a pillow menu, marble baths adorned, his and her sinks, bath amenities by the Red Lane® Spa, a private outdoor Tranquility Soaking Tub™ for two and a full in-room bar complete with a selection of liquors including Robert Mondaviwine. These accommodations will also showcase blackout shades, soothing lights, and an in-room aromatherapy system with relaxing essential oils to personalize scent experiences and promote a great night’s rest. Guests staying in the new butler suites category will also enjoy a personal butler, 24-hour room service, and VIP check-in.
Two new culinary concepts will also be introduced at Sandals Royal Barbados, bringing the resort’s total restaurant count to nine. The Greenhouse, a rustic farm-to-table eatery, will offer guests elegant cuisine prepared with locally sourced meats and seafood and straight-from-the-garden fruits and vegetables. Heart and Sol, the resort’s café, combines the variety, speed and service of a New York-style deli with locally sourced culinary offerings for a fresh and clean alternative to sandwiches, soups, salads, energy-boosting smoothie bowls, and nutrient-packed fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies and juices.
Two new freshwater swimming pools will be tucked away in a tranquil section of the South Seas Village. One swimming pool will have a full-service pool bar offering newly curated low-calorie cocktails. With various flavors to choose from like the Ginger Mule, Brûléed Lemon Sour, Green Gin and Cucumber Slush, guests can enjoy the taste of the Caribbeanwithout the guilt.
When staying at Sandals Royal Barbados, guests also have full exchange privileges with the neighboring Sandals Barbados, creating a mega-vacation that includes two all-inclusive resorts for the price of one – 20 total restaurants, 14 bars, 11 pools and five whirlpools.
Sandals Royal Barbados is now accepting reservations for these accommodations for arrivals beginning July 1, 2021.
The theming is colourful and evokes the feeling of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The resort’s lush landscaping, black wrought-iron fountains and lantern-lit pathways gives this Disney resort an adult feel that’s still fun for kids.
Why, hello there Mickey.
PRICE AND VALUE
French Quarter is classified as a moderate Disney resort. You can easily book a night’s stay in the $175 to $200 per-night range, which I felt was reasonable considering you can to take advantage of Disney perks such as Disney’s Magical Express airport shuttle, transportation to and from the parks, and Extra Magic Hours at the parks.
So what makes French Quarter stand out from Disney’s other moderate resorts?
Although the parks were close to capacity during our post-Easter weekend visit, the 1,000-room French Quarter never felt like we were visiting during one of the busiest times of the year. French Quarter is definitely the smallest and easiest moderate resort to get around–walking from one end of the seven-building resort to the other took no longer than five minutes. After walking around at the parks all day, you will be thankful to reach your room in such a short time.
Building 5 provided us with a lovely view of the pool and lush gardens, and was also close to transportation and dining.
Our room in Building 5 faced the pool and had easy access to dining, the gift shop and transportation. We were nestled behind trees on the second floor, which was surprisingly private and quiet despite having exterior corridors (like other value and moderate resorts).
French Quarter’s rooms are a modest size and sleep four, with separate shower/toilet and sink areas. This division makes getting ready in the morning much easier. A curtain separates the double sinks from the main room, which provides more privacy if needed.
The beds and pillows were comfortable, and looked like they had recently been refurbished. As much as the room met our needs, I felt the resort’s theming didn’t transition as seamlessly into the room itself, but French Quarter’s beautiful exterior made up for it.
Transportation at French Quarter was much more efficient than I had anticipated. Buses transported guests to all of the parks–and, luckily, we never had to wait longer than 20 minutes for one.
Gorgeous view of Downtown Disney from our riverboat.
Our party of 12 was especially impressed with the time it took to get to Magic Kingdom–approximately 10 minutes. We never had to share a bus with sister resort Riverside to reach any of the parks. With smaller children, minimizing the amount of time spent in transit was definitely a priority for us.
In addition, French Quarter offers a boat to Downtown Disney. This was a beautiful (and fun) way to head to Disney’s dining and shopping district!
DINING AND RECREATION
With only one quick-service restaurant onsite, and no table-service options at French Quarter, I found that we often wanted to eat offsite.
Doubloon Lagoon features a sea serpent water slide–the kids loved it!
Dining aside, we loved French Quarter’s themed pool area (“Doubloon Lagoon”) which is located in the centre of the resort. The sea serpent water slide was a hit with the kids, and the pool’s quieter corners were perfect for lounging adults. Daily afternoon pool parties, hosted by Disney’s excellent recreation staff, kept our kids entertained, giving us an opportunity to relax and enjoy the Florida sun!
If you’re seeking more onsite recreation opportunities, take a 10-minute walk up the river to Port Orleans Riverside, which includes amenities such as a full-service restaurant (Boatwright’s Dining Hall), a well-themed pool and recreation area, and numerous other quiet pools. Riverside also offers surrey bike rentals, cane-pole fishing and evening carriage rides.
Heading down to the pool for an evening swim, we were greeted by the French Quarter Gator Band 🙂
I’m confident that visitors to Disney World who are looking for a quieter resort option will enjoy Port Orleans French Quarter.
Whether you are a family of four, or a couple on a quick Disney getaway, Port Orleans French Quarter offers great value for a moderate resort.
If you are heading to Orlando anytime soon, you will be faced with a few decisions to make about your accommodations.
Will you be staying at a Disney Resort, or off-site at a nearby vacation home or condo?
Now that I’ve had the experience of staying at a Disney resort, I’m not sure I could ever make the decision to stay offsite, unless the time I planned to spend is Disney was absolutely minimal.
People often ask me if staying onsite at Disney is worth the often-added expense. My answer is usually yes.
There are so many perks to staying at a Disney resort (free airport shuttle, transportation, access to dining plans), and luckily there are different accommodation levels that can help you budget the right resort for you. Don’t let the prices scare you from booking–while rack rates seem to be pretty high, you can usually get a great deal–sometimes up to 30 per cent off–during spring and fall months.
Can you find the hidden Tinkerbell?
Disney resorts fall under three categories: value, moderate and deluxe.
Value resorts are made up of the smallest rooms of any Disney resort, and have limited amenities. They do, however, have a food court/quick service restaurant and pool areas for guests. It’s a great option if you plan on hitting the parks early in the morning and staying out until closing time. These resorts are typically farthest from Magic Kingdom.
Moderate resorts include enhanced amenities. This can include more dining options, upgraded pool and lounge areas and generally more recreational opportunities. Buses and boats transport guests to and from nearby resorts, Downtown Disney and the parks.
The Polynesian Resort: Home to Ohana, a volcanic pool, and the infamous Dole Whip!
Deluxe resorts offer the best amenties–a great selection of restaurants (some that offer character dining!), elaborate pool settings, a variety of shops and usually more transportation options (especially true with the Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian resort, which are on the monorail line). Deluxe resorts provide a great getaway from the parks, and offer some recreation opportunities as well. You could spend a whole day at some of these resorts without having to leave.
My three picks to try from each category?
Value–Art of Animation Moderate–Port Orleans French Quarter Deluxe–The Polynesian Resort