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JAMAICA - NOVEMBER 1-9, 2009

BEACHES SANDY BAY (Negril)- with mention of Sandals Negril & Beaches Negril  (Beaches Sandy Bay is no longer a Beaches resort, but please feel free to read this review to get an idea of the Beaches experience & gain information on the Sandals Negril & Beaches Negril properties)

My husband and I stayed 8 nights at Beaches Sandy Bay (BSB). We were on a travel professional promotion and could not confirm our resort until 30 days prior, Beaches Sandy Bay was the only resort that could be confirmed for our stay in Jamaica for our dates.

The resort is small, quiet, on a beautiful beach. There were very few kids during our stay; however, I would imagine at typical school breaks there would be many more kids. It was the type of resort that reminded me of when I was a kid and my family would take country cabin vacations near Clear Lake, CA. You'd rent your cabin at a resort for a week and each year the same people would be there and it would feel like a family reunion. That was the feel you got at Sandy Bay.

We had a good time, but we are certain that we would have had a much better time at the nearby Beaches Negril or the Sandals Negril down the beach, but that is mainly because of who we are and what we like to do on vacation. We are big dancers- love our nightly entertainment and I felt that the entertainment at BSB was lacking- it was cheesy most nights at best and several nights it really came down to some of the entertainment staff being a bit egotistical and "showing off".  Once is fine, but every night showing off the dance twirls & ballet moves got to be a little much.  There were the few nights of trivia and one night of bingo- I did win a very nice necklace crafted by a local Jamaican artisan! 

The disco (if you can call it that) was a JOKE! First of all, the DJ's (if you can call them that) would play what they wanted to dance to and would then proceed to stand in the very small dance floor area and dance while watching themselves in the mirror. To be honest, most nights my husband and I were the only ones around to use the disco, so when that is the case I expect to be catered to in terms of music. The best night in the disco was the night they let me hook up my ipod and my husband and I just danced and danced. Seems they weren't supposed to do that as we tried subsequent nights and they would not allow us to do that.

Days were lazy- which is what we expect, relaxing on the beach or by the pool. The pool is small, I would have expected or wanted it to be larger and the shallow end was VERY shallow- I could sit on the bottom and still have my head above water and I'm only 5'3"!  However, for families with small children, I can see how this would be a good thing.  I would note though that the pool area and the pool floor itself were very slippery.  I saw countless people catch themselves as they almost fell.  I was surprised that we didn't see anyone fall down quite honestly.   There is also a volleyball net in the shallow end of the pool and that is used very often, sometimes for organized games and other times for guests just wanting to play.

Dining- we LOVED the Italian restaurant (Vista Sul Mare) , we ate there 3 nights. The Caribbean restaurant (Sundowner) was o.k.- we ate there once and weren't super impressed. The buffet (The Bayside) was always good for breakfast and adequate for lunch. Not a lot of choices, but it was feasible. The beach grill, also good- quite a few choices throughout the day and I did like that it stayed open until 2am- great for that late night snack before going to bed.  There was also a self serve ice cream (soft serve) machine, which is always one of my favorite snacks.  They had self serve nachos also- and that is really one of my favorite late night snacks!  During the day though you could get hamburgers, jerk chicken, hot dogs, etc.

We also had a beach candle light dinner one night.  Typically, they set up a table for two on the beach with torches; however, there was a decent rain storm that day and our table got blown away about an hour before our reservation.  We waited out the storm and they set up in a gazebo that was right at the edge of the beach.  No torches because they were water logged, but the gazebo did have its' own lighting on a dimmer switch!!  We had a 4 course meal, which was delicious.  You did have to go choose your menu the day before from 3 pre-set menus, my only complaint would have been that I wished you could have been a bit more selective with the choices on the menus.  There was one menu that I liked the appetizer, one that I liked the main course, etc.  Other than that, it was fine and I still had enough to eat, Bill had two servings of crab cakes, we both ate our salads, I ate my steak and Bill had his steak and two skewers of shrimp (his and mine) and then we both had the Tiramisu dessert.  Service was great and food delicious.  The dinner also came with a long stem rose for me and a bottle of champagne- but we decided to stick with the wine we had been drinking.



There are only two bars- the one in the disco/pool room and the one by the pool/beach and they are never open at the same time- so you basically have one option to get drinks and the staff was fine. I thought it was weird that neither of the bars had bar stools, so you either had to stand around the bar to be social or not be social, as a result, I felt that developing a relationship with the bartenders was difficult and we are used to making friends with our servers when we vacation.

Beach is awesome- the water sports offerings are great. There are a variety of included activities: water skiing, wind surfing, snorkeling, banana boat rides, glass bottom boat rides, etc. Water was so calm and clear.  The sand very soft, I have sensitive feet and I had no problems walking barefoot in the sand on Seven Mile Beach, it's simply amazing!!

The resort does need to be renovated. Rooms were nicely decorated and clean, but you could see areas of wear and tear that need to be addressed. (i.e. particle board on the bathroom cabinet that was flaking off on the trim, etc.) People on review sites have mentioned ants in the rooms and we did not have any problems with that at all. People also mentioned sand on the floor in the rooms- again no problem with that either- but you as a guest need to be cautious not to track that stuff into the room too! It gets cleaned up daily, but sand is one of those tricky things!  

They need to re-think the pool room/disco/bar - it's a big room with an identity crisis, it needs to be better defined and made for better function ability.

They also need to put in a real gym facility- I personally had no interest in going to work out in a gym that was an outdoor, open-air facility.  It gets hot in Jamaica and Humid- you want to work out in an air-conditioned gym- which I really don't know why they didn't do that here.  It was a gross overlooking in my opinion!

Kids did seem to enjoy the Sesame Street Characters and I did get my picture taken with Cookie Monster and Elmo- so that was fun.  There were daily activities structured for the kids and broken into age groups: 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-12.  Some of the activities that were offered: puppet making, finger painting, puppet shows, nature trail walks, nature book time, dance with Zoe, Make cookies with Cookie Monster, Tweens Dinner, Tweens Disco, etc.

BSB has a very small spa- it was closed when we took a tour of the resort, but you could tell it was small through the window.  Two treatment rooms, two hair chairs and two nail stations. You could also arrange for a massage on the beach in the gazebo.  We get massages all the time at home, so I don't usually have a massage on vacation because prices are typically much higher at the resorts.  There were some Jamaicans walking up and down the beach advertising for their massage business- but we weren't interested. (they were not with the resort)

They also have professional photographers around the resort taking candid pictures of guests, and posed pictures with characters, etc.  You can also show up at 530pm each evening at the photo shop and they will take sunset portraits.  Well we had planned to do that the night of our beach dinner, not expecting it to storm that day- so no sunset, but we still had nice pictures taken and the rain had stopped (fortunately).

Service was overall good.  We did have to call down to request a remote for our t.v., it took two calls before someone came up with one.  Another day we had to call for more shampoo and conditioner and that took about 40 minutes before it arrived.  I think both issues could have been resolved quicker.

One of my other recommendations is that each day there is a activity program that you can pick up at the desk- I really wished that those were delivered to your room each night so you could prepare for the next day, although most things were consistent from day to day.  At Beaches Sandy Bay, there is no turn-down service, so you have the once daily made service.  I would like to note too that everything runs on "Jamaican time"- so nothing, except for the shuttle, happens at the absolute scheduled time!

To see pictures of Beaches Sandy Bay Resort, click here.

We did have exchange privileges at Beaches Negril- which is the grander resort of the Beaches family and we always received great service at the restaurants (Kimono's Japanese and the Last Chance Saloon Tex-Mex were both very good)- we had friendly service at the lobby bar & excellent service at the bar near the Tex-Mex restaurant- very friendly and talkative bartenders!  They looked happy to be working there!  There are a few more dining choices at Beaches Negril- The Mill (buffet), The Seville (Jam-Asian), Cafe Carnival (pizza/pasta) & Blazing Paradise grill (burgers, sandwiches, late night snacks)

They have the water park with the water slides, lazy river and a much larger main pool with swim up bar!  We did see one of their shows in their theater- which was very entertaining and so much better than anything we had at BSB! We attended one of their beach parties and the DJ's came up to us and complimented our dancing and wanted us to come back- when we did show up later in the week, they remembered us and were happy to see us. The shuttle between resorts ends at 1030pm and the disco doesn't start until 11pm- so we ended up taking a taxi home afterwards- but that one night in their disco far exceeded any night in the disco at BSB. Gee, the DJ's for starters were using their computers to play the music- not putting in a CD like BSB!

There is shuttle service between the two Beaches resorts and it runs from 10am until 1030pm once per hour leaving on the hour from Beaches Sandy Bay and once on the 1/2 hour from Beaches Negril.  It's only a 5 minute drive, so I'm not sure why they didn't have shuttle service more frequently.  Also, they break from shuttle service on the 1pm and 6pm hour, which makes it a bit challenging if you want to dine for lunch or dinner at the other resort. 

To see pictures of Beaches Negril, click here.


We also spent the day at Sandals Negril, but did not dine or stick around for any of their entertainment.  This was a 5 minute walk down the beach and there is a security guard making sure you are not an imposter.  Only couples are allowed at Sandals resorts- so being that we don't have kids, we were fine to go down there.  I spoke to other couples who were staying at BSB and they had dined at Sandals Negril a few times and said that it was excellent!  When we were there we did walk around, check out all the public spaces that we could find and I took lots of pictures.  We then relaxed by the pool & enjoyed the lively atmosphere. 

To see pictures of Sandals Negril, click here.

We cruise often and prefer cruising to most land vacations and the big reason why is the quality of entertainment in the evenings and the dancing options that are available to us. However, we have been on cruises where we have been disappointed and my observations have been that on older ships, ships that are tired or need a renovation, the crew seems to not be as enthusiastic about working on the ship-- I had that same feeling with the staff at BSB- like most wished they were working at the resort down the beach with the bells and whistles, you just didn't feel like any of the staff genuinely wanted to be working there.

Would I go there again- yes, I did know what to expect and if I went there again, I would make sure I had enough taxi fare and would spend most evenings down the road at the other place. It is an affordable way to have the best of both worlds- you can stay at a value resort, but use the luxury facilities of another! I would not consider this a luxury resort by any stretch of the imagination, but it was clean and value oriented.

Jamaica has gotten much better from years past.  I remember feeling very unsafe in Jamaica when I made a few stops on cruise ships.  But I did not feel threatened at all this time around.  The beaches are public, so you will get approached to come see their artistry items, or to buy a massage or purchase something "else"- but a simple "no, thank you" and we found that they did not bother you again.  They are not allowed onto the resort premises and they seemed to stick to that ruling too. 

Keep in mind that this is a tropical place and if you are prone to mosquito bites, come prepared.  I did come home with approximately 50 bites, but they weren't terrible ones.  Sometimes I "welt up" like crazy when bitten, and other times not- fortunately, these didn't welt up much at all. 

I would not drive in Jamaica if you can at all help it.  They are crazy!  They drive on the opposite side of the road from what we're used to, and the driver sits on the opposite side of the car from what we are used to.  They have no real road rules from what I could tell and "playing chicken" was a common practice.  Enough to make my already gray hairs a bit grayer!  We had roundtrip shuttle service provided by Sandals/Beaches resort and all-in-all, it was fine, but they are Jamaicans and they will drive like Jamaicans drive.  "When in Jamaica..."

Flights - we had used United mileage to fly free First Class on US Air. We connected in Charlotte both ways and other than a long layover going (we had 4 hours to kill after the red-eye flight SF-Charlotte), everything was very smooth.  We had beautiful planes between Charlotte and Montego Bay which provided the first class seats that recline almost completely flat- which was very comfortable.  The flight attendants were very chipper, friendly and service was good.  We didn't get meals on any of our flights, except for the Charlotte-SF- which for First Class, I would have thought at least a snack..but our flights weren't considered "meal times"- which was disappointing, especially the Charlotte-Montego Bay because we were hungry at that point.  They had some snacks to pass out, but chips, cookies- nothing substantial!

All in all, we had a great, relaxing week ~ maybe too relaxing for us!  But we got to catch up on magazines, I read a book from cover to cover (can't remember when I last was able to do that)!  Beautiful weather, wonderful beach and fabulous husband!  We did meet some very nice people from Canada, the UK and the East Coast (mostly New Jersey).