The beautiful waters of Jamaica beckon me from time to time. It was the very first Caribbean Island I ever visited and those crystal clear blue waters sing to me. Jamaica has been off my radar for a few years because of negative feedback that I feel is being addressed by the government, the hotels, and the tourism boards. Their efforts in re-establishing a safe, beautiful, and hospitable Caribbean nation have been rewarded with new, notable hotels springing on the scene. It was time to return. Yah-mon.
The Man and I spent our annual pre-holiday getaway at the Secrets Wild Orchid in a junior suite with an ocean view. Our room was spacious and comfortable with a four-poster bed, a couch, and a coffee table. The bathroom offered a large soaking tub that could either open up to the room (and the view) or have the curtain closed for privacy. The double sinks and wide vanity allowed for the Man and I to have our own space, which is nice because I am a space hog!
The only curious thing was that we had to request (1) bathrobes (2) slippers….no slipping on wet floors and (3) shower gel, conditioner and lotion. It is my understanding this is their common practice. These items are listed as included with the rooms, but you do have to request them.
The balcony was spacious as well, although the furnishings were a bit sparse. One nice feature of the balcony was the drying rack attached to the wall. No more wet bathing suits hanging in the bathroom!
The Secrets Wild Orchid and the Secrets St. James actually combine to make one large resort. They are treated as two separate resorts, however, one may move freely between the two. The St. James has a more of a British Feel with rich woods and furnishings and the Wild Orchid is a bit more Caribbean.
I love the fact that the resorts feel a bit more remote–they sit on a peninsula in Montego Bay (I actually saw the resort from the air upon our descent). During our stay, I did not see one single beach hawker, hair braider, or ganja man. Although the resorts feel remote, they are a quick ride to Montego Bay and to the airport. Of course, you’ll pay a pretty penny to get into the town of Montego Bay (or the nearby restaurants) as the only option from the resort is a private driver. There are no taxis into town. Just save your pennies if you want to enjoy your jerk chicken outside the resort! (More on Jerk Chicken later!).
The photos of the beach are a little deceiving. The way I see the photos, it looks as if there is one long white sand beach, when actually, the beaches are made up of several coved, scalloped beaches. Although the website says there is “over a mile of private beach,” don’t be lured to thinking the actual beach is a mile long. There are sea walls and other obstacles between them, so this is not a walking or running beach. I did love the coved beach feel, though. It gave several options for views along the resort. It also gives a more private feel to some areas as you aren’t lined up with hundreds of your closest friends. It’s relatively easy to find a nice little cozy beach cubby.
The website claims to have jogging trails, which I looked and looked for and finally had to ask someone (I brought my running shoes to keep on my exercise regimen). It turns out that the jogging trails are the sidewalks in the resort. It wasn’t a giant deal, but just be aware.
The wait staff was great—even better at this resort when they are tipped. Usually, I advise people that an all-inclusive is just that—all-inclusive including gratuities (unless someone really goes over and above), but there is a definite tipping culture at this resort. The bartenders seemed to take pride in their drinks, which is something I appreciate about the Secrets brand as a whole—I can get a decent drink the way I like it and not have to take the standard, super-sweet mix. The bartenders were a lively bunch and kept their patrons entertained for hours.
I really appreciated that the bartenders listened to me to glean what I preferred in a drink. I was quite happy that after a few tries, the bartender was able to craft a pina colada that was both flavorful, used fresh ingredients, and was not too sweet.
The atmosphere around the pool bars was always lively. The entertainment staff desk was nearby and there were daily activities going on if you choose to participate.
Guests staying in the Preferred Club receive special amenities such as upgraded beach areas (with cool, comfy chairs) and a private Preferred Club pool. They also receive private check-in and check-out (the standard area typically has a line) and upgraded mini bar in the room.
The Jerk Chicken Man…..oh man…the Jerk Chicken Man…. During the day at each resort, there is a portable grill/smoker placed near the pool with jerk chicken pieces served hot—the light smoke beckoned resort guests to stand in line for just a piece. Now the chicken was pre-prepared and the Jerk Chicken Man was simply warming it on the grill (which helps with quality control)….but it was delish!
Rain – I always wonder what one did in an all-inclusive when it rained. When The Man and I were there, we had a couple of days of straight monsoons….it was crazy rain. The bar staff moved to give extra staffing to the indoor bars (there was one in our lobby). It was then that I noticed there was a selection of games in the lobby. We read our books, checked facebook, shopped in the stores, played the games, had a leisurely lunch and interacted with the staff. Really, it was a pleasant few days…
The Starbucks-style coffee counter was a delight! It was a great place to get a cup of coffee, a spot of tea, fresh fruit and even some baked goods. Of course, it’s all included (gotta love that!).
One of my favorite things about the Secrets Wild Orchid and the Secrets St. James are the evenings. I just loved the set-up of the restaurants and how they felt like an open-air entertainment venue. I kind of wanted this set-up in Indy (with the accompanying ocean view of course). The restaurants (aside from the pool grills) are all to the side with both resorts sharing the restaurants. Secrets does not take restaurant reservations, rather, the guests put their name on the list and are given a light-up pager to let them know when the table is ready. There is a bar area situated at the end with indoor and outdoor seating and entertainment on the stage nearby. It felt wonderfully decadent for my pre-dinner bubbles to be included…no bar tab….no extra cost. This outside arrangement had a cool vibe—one that V and I enjoyed immensely! I felt like this was the best dining configuration at the Secrets Resorts I have seen.
Wine at all-inclusive resorts is always somewhat of a challenge, unless of course, I want to spring for a bottle. I do have to say, however, that their wine was good and I found a wine from Mexico that I really enjoyed. Until I tried the Marques de la Cruz Tinto, I had scoffed at the mere idea of a Mexican wine. It was a lovely casual wine.
Some restaurants were quite popular, especially the French restaurant, Bordeaux. To get into Bordeaux, one has to arrive early, otherwise, the list will be closed for the evening. The Man and I weren’t there long enough to try all of the restaurants, but we dined in Portofino (Italian), Bordeaux (French), and Blue Mountain twice (Jamaican). Blue Mountain did not seem to have much of a wait, but the cuisine there was very good! We enjoyed all of the restaurants. The food was well-prepared (although a couple of the dishes at Portofino were very salty) and we treated the menu as a tasting menu having a starter, first course, second course, and dessert (hey, it’s research). I left full and happy each night.
During the day, we dined at the World Café buffet and the pool grills. I really appreciated the selection at the buffets—I’m not a big buffet girl, but the food stations were creative (especially the station with the Jamaican cuisine) with good quality food. The food is where Secrets shines. Believe me, I’ve been to other all-inclusive and traditional resorts where the food was not up to snuff…many of those with a higher price tag as these resorts.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the two stunning wedding gazebos at the resorts. Although the beaches aren’t really set up to have a large beach wedding, the gazebos jut out into the sea and are beautiful.
The Secrets Wild Orchid and the Secrets St. James continue to be one of my favorite all-inclusives on the island of Jamaica. What a way to usher in the Holiday Season! Call me to arrange your visit!
Next: The Waiting Game: Why A Private Driver Matters
Becky is a honeymoon and destination specialist at our office in Carmel, Indiana. She may be reached at 317-805-5746 or you may email her for additional information.