Travelling to Jamaica during COVID required some additional steps. Note that this was my experience on a trip from June 25, 2021, and the requirements may of changed since. Please double check before you go.
- You need to get a travel authorization. This was a relatively straight forward process.
2.You need to get a COVID test that shows negative up to 3 days prior to departure.
3.You have to stay within approved corridors (basically the main tourist spots on the north of the island); used approved hotels, attractions, transport etc
4. When we went, there was a curfew on all days, and lockdown on Sundays where you had to stay at the resort. I believe this has become even tighter now.
5. You have to get a negative test to go back to the USA. This was performed at the resort we stayed – The Royalton Negril. Note that if you are flying back to Canada you will need a PCR test, not an antigen one which is what the USA accepts.
Having to stay within the corridors did not really impede on our trip although it would of been nice to see Kingston, the capital. As for the lockdown on Sunday, I planned it so that we would have mainly snorkeling and spa that day.
We decided to stay at the Royalton Negril mainly because it was advertised as a Bonvoy property. However, apparently, it is not fully integrated into the program yet so there is some difficulty getting the credits and points for the stay. The hotel is also extremely inefficient regarding getting me a copy of the bill which Bonvoy requires.
On the first night, as others have said on Tripadvisor, the AC was horrible. Barely working. We had to request from our butler (more on the butler service later) twice to make it cooler. On the first night, a maintenance guy came to “fix” the issue but there was no significant improvement. The next day, I asked our butler again to make the room cooler (or move us) and mentioned we would take care of him at the end of the stay. When we came back from our excursion, the room was magically colder. The only downside was it was way too cold and the thermostat could not adjust it so you had to bundle up at night. In any event, I would rather the room be too cold than too hot. I don’t know if the issue is that they are restricting power usage or the thermostats don’t work. I am guessing its the later.
We opted for the “Diamond Club” Hideaway which conferred the following additional benefits according to their website:
Hideaway – adults only section of the resort
Diamond Club (DC):
Preferred room location – I don’t know if we actually got this, but our room was at the far end of the resort in a building exclusively for DC. We got a junior luxury suite which was clean and fairly well appointed (other than the AC issue above; and if I recall correctly, no chair for the desk which is weird if you have to work). Also, note that there is the option to get a swim out room which is a semi private pool. Usually, I would be all over this, but for this property, I don’t think its worth it and I am glad we got a room without this option.
Butler Service – Our butler was ok. We were able to communicate via Whatsapp and he took care of things like dinner reservations and the AC issue. One day he surprised us by running a bath and decorating the room. I think this aspect of the service could be improved but it was still nice to have a point of contact at the resort. He continued to help us get a copy of our bill long after we left (but it is still a headache and we don’t have the correct copy to this day).
Private Pool and Beach (with dedicated waiter service) – We did not use the pool because as a general rule when there is a choice between pool and beach I always choose beach. You can go pool anywhere else in the world. I’m there for the natural beauty. Anyway, there was a private beach area which we made use of and it is much smaller than the general beach area but also less crowded. The water was great and you can snorkel straight off the beach. Make sure to bring water shoes as there are rocks and coral in the area. I definitely did not see any dedicated staff for DC at the beach.
Nightly turndown – did not notice
Preferred Reservations at Restaurants – I did not notice if we got preferred seating if a restaurant was full as the butler made all the reservations. Note that this was an all inclusive resort. I never book all inclusive as I am about local food and drink and prefer eating off the resort as much as possible, but because of COVID, curfew, restrictions etc, I thought it made sense in this case. I will have more to say about the food below.
Distinctive wrist band – yes, but I did not care as I did not want to wear any wrist band in the first place. I cut it off and tied it around my wrist for the few times someone wanted to see it.
Personalized check in and check out – yes. The building we stayed had a dedicated front desk.
Diamond Club “Lounge” with Premium Drinks – There is a small table beside the DC check in area where they have some snacks and “premium” liquor which is an improvement over the labels they have at the main bars.
Upgraded Room Service Menu – You can order straight from the TV and it works well for the most part. We ordered a few snacks this way and breakfast on some mornings in this manner. For the most part, breakfast came at the requested time which was great on days we had excursions. However, the snack we ordered one afternoon took over an hour to come with at least 3 follow ups.
Pillow menu, upgraded robes and pillows – Did not use the pillow menu and do not know if our robes and slippers were any better.
Spa discount – we used this 25% off at the spa. The massage was decent.
Selection of in suite liquor – They told me this was suspended due to COVID but it looked to me more like a cost cutting measure as they still had a mini bar with drinks in the room and room service.
Upgraded mini bar – no idea if ours was upgraded
1 Hour Hydrotherapy – this is basically so you can use the pool and hot tub in the spa
Overall I think it was worth it to book the Hideaway DC over a standard room. If we had booked a standard room, I don’t think we would of been able to get the AC situation resolved as easily because of our butler’s help.
At the resort. In general, although it was all inclusive, the food was not bad and was actually good many times. Here is where we ate on property.
Dorado (exclusively for Hideaway guests) – I had squid and fish. Not bad.
International Buffet – not being a fan of buffets we only ate here once for breakfast. Note that there will be a bit of a wait to be seated. I tried to have as much local items as possible including this stew and Ackee (with salt fish). The stew was fantastic and I had seconds. The ackee is very traditional but I was not a big fan. Ackee is a fruit and looks like scrambled eggs.
Calypso – West Indies Food – This place was not bad too. You can’t go wrong when you see patties on a menu. Anytime you see curry on the menu (especially goat), its also a good choice in Jamaica. We ate here twice because it was the “most authentic” of the restaurants (and because they had patties).
Jerk Chicken BBQ cart – The resort had this really cool jerk chicken bbq with the flag on it. After a morning of snorkeling, it was the perfect lunch.
Score Sports Bar – More out of curiosity than anything else, we also went to the sports bar for an afternoon snack. I was surprised to see poutine on the menu. Apparently, pre-covid, a lot of Canadians visited. Other than the jerk chicken wings, everything else was mediocre as expected.
Scoops – Gelato and Coffee – Decent place to get ice cream and coffee.
Hunter’s Steakhouse – We ate here on our final night and surprisingly, the steak was good. It was tender and well seasoned.
Overall, I think for an all inclusive, the food was not bad and actually good sometimes. If not for COVID, I would of ventured out more into the local food scene though.
Off the resort
Off the resort, the two things which I ate which stood out were jerk chicken, and patties. The patties were OUTSTANDING. I think I had one everyday and would happily eat one everyday going forward.
Juici Patties – The first thing we did when we got off the plane was ask the driver to bring us to buy patties. He took us to a chain located everywhere called Juici Patties.
I had the chicken, beef and beef & cheese one. All delicious. My favorite was the beef and cheese. WOW. We had this multiple times throughout the trip. Highly recommended.
YS Falls – Jerk Chicken – At YS falls, which is a popular attraction (bring your water shoes if you want to go into the water), there is a jerk chicken shack at the entrance. The dish’s reputation is well deserved. The spices and balance in the sauce is incredibly delicious with a perfect amount of heat. Loved it. In fact, when I ate at the resort, I would always ask for a side of Jerk Sauce to go with whatever I was eating.
Rum tasting at Appleton Estate – This is a tour of the property with tasting at the end. You will learn a lot about how to taste rum and the process to make it. Its well worth it.
Fried Fish – Our guide took us to a bunch of street food vendors where we had fried fish and a local bread. Make sure to ask for the vinegar sauce for the fish. Great and authentic experience.
Airport Patties – At the airport, I also had patties from two separate locations. The first was Tastee:
…and the second was at the airport lounge.
Both were pretty good, but Juici would be my go to.
Things to See
For two days of our trip, I booked private tours with Kingsley’s Take Care Tours. We had a great experience. We had good conversations about various things related to Jamaica and what was happening in the world. He used to be a Rasta so it was interesting to get his perspective on things. If you like reggae music, he is also very knowledgeable in this area and will play songs and even sing a few he wrote.
On the first day he took us to see some beautiful sites including local life, historical sites and nature (in addition to the Appleton Estate, falls etc).
On the second day he took us out, I felt like he was running out of things to show us either due to COVID closures or just lack of knowledge. He also had to deal with really heavy rain. We mainly saw an old British Fort and 2 of the great houses (Greenwood – which we told him about – and the supposedly haunted one – Rose Hall).
The resort setting is beautiful both day and night.
At night they had entertainment though I was disappointed that they did not have more local dancing and singing. They had shows like Michael Jackson which I like, but I would of rather seen only Jamaican entertainment, and there was not enough of it.
Overall, I had a really good time here. Jamaica is a beautiful country with a great culture. The food is good, and the music and dancing are incredible. I would return when COVID is a thing of the past, stay at a more boutique hotel, and explore more of the local food and music scene. I would also like to see the capital on a return trip.