Monthly Archives: January 2015

Hyatt Zilara Montego Bay Review; Plus Some Other Nonsense

One of the ways to keep your marriage going strong is to take a few days, leave the kids behind, and fly somewhere warm. I’ve never really thought much about Jamaica, what with the Bob Marley and the ganja and the reggae and the no problem and the mon it seemed like perhaps something I wouldn’t be so into.

But what I AM into is not paying anything for a trip, so when I realized I was going to be stuck with 3 expiring nights at a Hyatt I found that they were opening a new resort in Jamaica with free nights available. Jamaica was now something I would be so into.

We dropped the kids off with friends on Friday morning of MLK weekend and went to grab a taxi. As the cab pulled up another woman came over and said she was hailing the cab and it was, in fact hers. But before I could even start an argument she saw me looking at my phone.

“Is this an Uber,” she asked?

No, it’s a cab.

“Yes it is – I ordered it,” said me.

“Oh, I’m sorry about that…”

And like that, one tiny tiny lie out of the way, we headed to JFK.

I haven’t flown JetBlue in years. And years. Free TV and extra legroom are most definitely in my wheelhouse, but I’m a slave to the United miles, making JetBlue an airline pariah for me. In my mind, though, JetBlue is still all about new planes, great free TV, and free snacks.

And the reality is that there is TV and there are snacks, but incredibly, just 15 or so years after they launched, their original A320s are showing a wee bit of wear and/or tear. Their seatback TVs on these older planes are notably smaller than the United 737 seatback TVs (which do cost $5.99 or $7.99, neither of which is free), and their leather seats are a little dinged up. The snacks are still great, and crew was perfectly lovely. But it really is amazing how quickly the once-cutting-edge free TVs now seem, if not exactly a relic, a 19” Sony Trinitron to the United 4K Samsungs (or whatever – you know what I’m saying). I guess my point is that I see why JetBlue has stagnated a bit over the past few years – sure, their Mint service is an innovation, but their 15 year old product is a bit long in the tooth vis a vis their competition.

As with so many arrivals in the developing world, passport control at Montego Bay was a free-for-all (international arrivals at JFK are terrible, but an orderly terrible; Montego Bay is a disorderly terrible). There are nearly 20 gates at the airport, making it much larger a) than I was expecting; and b) than the arrivals hall can handle. People are coming from every direction, converging on 2 uniformed women who were checking our immigration forms.

“What color pen did you use here?”

“Excuse me?” responded my wife.

“What color pen did you use? You can only use blue or black. This looks like purple.”

“It’s blue,” answered the Mrs., confidently.

“It looks purple to me.”

“It’s not.”

“OK, you can go ahead.”

Free and clear, we continue walking to the actual arrivals hall where we are once again scrutinized by another uniformed woman who will not listen to us about the color of the pen, and tells us we have to fill out the form again because “they won’t accept that with the purple ink.”

“It’s blue.”

We fill out the form again, except when we show it to get by the troll she tells us we didn’t fill out all of it, and tells me that I need to write down what countries I’ve been to in the past 60 days.

“I haven’t been to any.” (That’s not technically true, but after I saw people in front of me sent to a medical line after they said they had been to Argentina, I thought it best to be circumspect regarding my recent travels.”)

“You need to write that down.”

“Write what down? I wrote a line through the space indicating I have been to no countries.”

“You need to write the countries.”

“There are no countries.”

“Then you need to write that.”

“Write what?”

“No countries.”

When my daughter Scarlett was 2 ½ she would ask my wife for gum, and when she responded she had no gum, Scarlett would say, “let me see it, no gum.” And we would get into an argument about how you show that something isn’t there.

I wrote “no countries,” and continued.

Passport control all done, we get into the customs hall and there are roughly 317,000 people in the “nothing to declare” line while there are literally zero people in the “something to declare” line. With nothing to declare, I declare to my wife that we will go to the “something to declare line.”

“What do you have to declare?”

“Nothing.”

“This is the line for people who have something to declare – like alcohol or cash.”

“I don’t have anything like that.”

“Then you can’t be in this line. You can just go over to that line over there.” (points to the 317,000 people.)

“Oh, I can’t go in that line. There are too many people.”

“But that’s your line.”

“I’m going to stick with this line.”

With that, the customs agent asks me all of the questions on the back of the form regarding declarations (“I have no livestock to my knowledge, no ma’am….”) she ushers me through, and we head off to the hotel.

We stayed at the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall, which some of you may remember as the Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall. The resort had been closed for 2 years for a massive renovation, where they added 2 additional buildings on to the original structure. It reopened a few weeks back. I shall now tell you a few things about the property:

The resort is divided into 2 sections. The Zilara is adults-only, with a beautiful quiet pool, lovely cabanas (that are free, though it’s first-come-first-serve), and a couple of restaurants, one of which was so empty the entire time we were there that we became obsessed with figuring out why no one was there. The appearance of Goat on the dinner menu may have had something to do with it. I have other theories about the constant emptyness of Flavorez, but I will not share them with you here.

The other section is called Ziva, and is basically the same thing, only families are allowed. There are constant activities at the pool, a show in the evening, and a generally pleasant vibe which made life enjoyable both for the adults and the children who happened to be staying in that section of the resort.

Both are all-inclusive, which includes all your drinks and meals at a wide range of restaurants. We found the food ranging from perfectly acceptable to quite good (breakfast buffet) to excellent (pizzas at the Italian restaurant). And it was on the honor system, meaning there were no bracelets, beads, cards, or whatever — you just ate, drank and left.

If you read the reviews on Tripadvisor you will note that the hotel opened on Christimas week and was an epic disaster. You should just skip those reviews. You will also note a series of complaints about the “original building” vs the “new building.” The rooms in the original building have been renovated absolutely beautifully. 400+ square feet with large bathrooms, balconies, and a light airy feel. Neither the elevators nor hallways have been renovated yet so the original carpeting is still in place, a fact that bothered some reviewers on Tripadvisor. Those people are nuts.

We spent one evening in a room in that building with a partial ocean view on the 5th (top) floor. We were moved to a junior suite (600+ square feet) in the new building on the 2nd night, and it, too, was beautiful. Brand new, with a huge tub, an amazing shower, incredible bedding, and a balcony. It was only on the second floor and we decided that we actually preferred the smaller room a bit higher up. To each his own.

Here is the portion where I note how much it costs to stay at the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall.

Low level rooms during the season are nearly $1,000 for 2 people per night. The junior suite was more than $1,200. You read that correctly. Yes, it’s all-inclusive, but it’s a Hyatt (it’s not even a Park Hyatt). We had the rooms for free because we each had the Hyatt credit card, making it quite possibly the best use of those rooms anywhere (the rooms are more expensive than those at the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris and the Park Hyatt Tokyo, which every blogger blathers on about, though breakfast at those places is an additional $75 or so, but really you don’t deserve to go to Paris if you eat breakfast at the hotel instead of going to grab a croissant and baguette from a local place, but that’s for another day).

We spent a chunk of our time on the vacation discussing who is spending $1000+ for a room at a Hyatt resort. Mind you – this is an absolutely beautiful, beautiful property. The staff could not have been more wonderful; the pools are incredible; the grounds, when they are finished –they are not yet fully landscaped – will be gorgeous. The beach is OK – if you are a beach person, you will not love the beach.

That aside – it is probably the nicest chain hotel in the Caribbean (Four Seasons aside, since you can’t use points there), and I would argue the best use of Hyatt points anywhere (sure – the Maldives proprerty blah blah blah, but I’m not going to fly for 60 hours for a 3-day weekend). 25,000 Hyatt points gets you a night for 2 people at the hotel, all-inclusive. Additional people are another 12,500 points each. You can use the free credit card nights at the hotel, but you only get 2 people for that.

But I still wonder – who is spending that kind of money at a Hyatt-branded resort? Again, no disrespect. And once we were there, we were, on every level, blown away. It had none of the stuffiness that I find at the Four Seasons, but didn’t suffer from the slow service you find in so many other places in the region. For us the most impressive aspect was that they made what is actually quite a large resort feel like a boutique. Bravo.

If you’re considering going – I’m happy to answer any questions.

Good to see everyone again ☺