This report describes our recent trip to Negril, Jamaica, including some comparisons to an earlier trip to amaica-Jamaica, a Superclubs resort in Runaway Bay. Strictly for my own convenience, I will write this report predominantly in chronological order. Traveling from the Southwest to the Caribbean is seldom convenient, and this trip was no exception. Our routing was to take us from Phoenix to Detroit to Tampa to Montego Bay. Mechanical delays added Miami to this list as we were re-routed from Tampa. It made for a very long day, but we breezed right through customs and did not wait long for our Tropical Tours van to Negril. If you don't find the ride to Negril thrilling enough, I recommend doing it after dark - you still go more than 70 mph, but you have less warning about roadside hazards.
Nonetheless, we survived the trip and collapsed into our bed at Drumville Cove, on the cliffs in the West End, to catch up on our sleep. We were able to notice, prior to our collapse, that the room was spacious and quite a bit nicer than our dorm-like accommodations at Jam-Jam. In the morning, after breakfast there, we had a visit from Karlene of Tropical Tours (a very nice lady) who gave us an overview of Negril as well as some of the tours we might want to take (we signed up for a catamaran trip to Booby Cay for a picnic). We then got a quick tour of the grounds by the manager, Linus. We had noticed that we left our shampoo behind, and asked Jennifer, the girl at the "lobby" bar where we could get some. She offered to get it for us, and we left her some money to do so.
Once we were oriented to our surroundings, we grabbed our snorkeling gear and headed for the water. We noticed that the cliffs are actually fossilized coral and you can see fossil shapes all along the walls. The water was incredibly clear that day (over 100 feet visibility) and once we made the tricky entry into the water saw plenty of interesting sea life. While we were out there, we ran into Linus, who was also snorkeling, and he pointed out a lobster that was hiding between the rocks. After we got out and rinsed off under one of the freshwater showers on the cliffs, we started to notice how empty the place seemed.
I think we saw only about half a dozen guests there the entire trip, though there were a number of locals who were hanging out at the cliff-side bar. There was a small pool on the edge of the cliff, but it was not filled. Otherwise, things were in generally good repair, with one exception. The water pressure is normally lower in the West End than in the rest of Negril, but it was especially low at that time due to work that was being performed on the water and sewer lines.
We decided to walk over and try lunch at Rock Cliff, one of Drumville Cove1s neighbors. I was glad that we did not decide to stay there, the service was very slow (thirty minutes to cook ham cheese sandwiches for their only customers) and the girl serving us seemed to resent that we wanted her to do anything at all. We also found out that although they advertise a weekly all-you-can-eat lobster barbecue, they do not do so during the low season. We did more snorkeling in the afternoon, and I tried some cliff jumping, which was pretty fun (the water is at least thirty feet deep in many places off the cliffs).
Jennifer found us to give us our shampoo, and we were delighted to get $120 (Jamaican) back from the $5 (US) that we gave her (the exchange rate was between 33 and 35 Jamaican dollars for one US dollar). If we had bought shampoo at a typical resort gift shop, we would have paid much more. We decided to walk down and try the Pickled Parrot, a bar/restaurant that is a popular hangout spot on the cliffs. We had a nice dinner (I especially liked the Jerk chicken) with a wonderful view of the sunset.
The food prices were quite good, but drinks were a bit high. We were pretty excited about the trip to Booby Cay . We were picked up at our hotel and met some "ugly Americans" from Indianapolis, that made embarrassed to be associated with them at all. Nonetheless, we made it to the beach and got on the catamaran to head out to Booby Cay. We had complimentary drinks during the whole trip and stopped to snorkel around an offshore reef. Though there were not many fish, we were able to see sea cucumbers, wrasses, parrot fish and a sea snake.
We finally got to the island to enjoy our BBQ picnic. We were exploring the island, but had to retreat due to a gathering storm. We rode the storm out under the hut we used for lunch. The strength of this afternoon storm was incredible, even compared to the summer monsoon storms in Arizona; for the rest of the trip, my wife referred to this storm as the "hurricane." Unfortunately, this storm took up all of our time on the island and we were soon headed back. I must note that the catamaran did not use its sails at all, but operated under gasoline engine power, as seemed to be the custom there.
For dinner, we walked a short distance down the road to Mariner1s. We had an excellent meal there with great fish soup and fabulous lobster. The service there was some of the best we experienced on the island, and the sunset view was breath-taking. The next day, I met Moses! Moses is a local who fishes off the cliffs at Drumville Cove, and tried repeatedly to get me to take some tours arranged by him. We later set out on a walk to Xtabi for breakfast.
We had just left Drumville Cove when we were accosted by one of the omnipresent taxis. We were not going far and wanted to just walk, so we declined the taxi driver who proceeded to yell at us, telling us we were just cheap! Unfortunately, this and a few other incidents tainted our entire stay in Jamaica. After a nice breakfast, we got a taxi ride from a driver that always seemed to turn up when we needed him and went to Hedonism II for the day. This day pass to Hedonism is a confusing business. In a number of different calls before our visit, we got differing details on this.
My travel agent, myself and Drumville Cove got different answers as to the hours a day pass covers and the amount it cost. In the end, it cost $50 (US) each to go from 11-5 (which was shorter than any of the calls had indicated). The people at the front desk were not very pleasant (my notes refer to them as surly), but we did get in. Having heard so much, we were anxious to experience the beach. Although we had been warned, we were a bit disappointed in the quality of the "beach." The area was very crowded, mostly with couples and the use of surf shoes was very important as there are many rocks and urchins underwater.
With the aid of some snorkel equipment, we were amazed at the variety of life swimming around these congested waters. These included a small barracuda, some cute baby Sgt. Majors, a sea snake, a puffer fish and some fairy basslets (one of my favorites). The afternoon brought yet another big rainstorm, so we took the time to get lunch. I was struck by the very American menu they served compared to the area restaurants, but the food was plentiful and good.
I had more than my share of drinks that afternoon, but it was relaxing to get away from people selling things and kick back. Upon our departure, the same taxi driver appeared as if by magic and took us back to Drumville Cove. That night at our hotel, the water in our second-floor room stopped flowing; we could not flush the toilet or get water to drink. We contacted the management about this, but they said sometimes this happens for days at a time due to the water line construction.
In the morning, I was forced to shower out on the cliffs since we still had no water. We spoke to the management and decided to move down to the beach. I have to compliment Drumville Cove for the way they handled this: they covered the extra expense for us to stay at Firefly and also got us a ride down there; they were a class act, though they were clearly sad to see us go. We got to Firefly in time for lunch and got settled into the beach cottage room. This room is in a separate building from the rest of the rooms. The beach bar here was tended by a nice woman named Livia, and features one of the best prices on the beach for Red Stripe ($50 J).
We spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach. This was Sunday afternoon, and the beach-walking crowd included some locals. We took a walk later up past Swept Away, but were not impressed. The Swept Away grounds seemed a bit cramped, and the people seemed a bit uptight, though I cant say why. Following a recommendation from Karlene, we tried a restaurant on the beach named Kuyaba. We had some great bacon-wrapped shrimp as an appetizer, followed by an incredible dish of pasta covered with a lobster in garlic sauce. Though the meal was not much more expensive than many others we had, it was awesome, and we vowed to return.
After our long walk back up the beach to our room, we went to the spa for a dip, and found the water level too low. We found the night watchman, Desmond (a very friendly man), but he could not help us, so we went to bed. We started our next morning with a quiet walk on one of the world's most beautiful beaches, which was even more pleasant because few hasslers (salespeople) were out yet. I know these people are making a living this way (I don't need any lessons on their struggling economy, thank you), but I don't reward their pushy behavior with my business on vacation any more than I do at home. An obnoxious and insincere salesperson is unpleasant to me no matter where I am.
Upon our return, we had a wonderful and inexpensive breakfast of bacon and egg sandwiches at the beach bar. We then headed to Xtabi by way of the resident taxi man, Jerry. On our arrival at Xtabi, we were given an enthusiastic and warm greeting to begin one of our best afternoons on the island. George showed us around the property including the cliff-side caves. We quickly went down for some great snorkeling. When we took a rest on one of the platforms built on top of some coral, Richard brought us some lounge chairs and drinks (what service!).
We got in more snorkeling, spotting virtual clouds of small fish, a sand digger, many Tang and some fish I call Neon Dots that were too shy for my camera. We had a tasty lunch of Jamaican Chicken and headed back to Firefly. During our afternoon walk, we went North on the beach again. By the time we returned, the spa had more water in it, and I enjoyed a sunset soak watching the many tropical birds in the trees, imagining I was in paradise.
We walked down to Alfred's Ocean Palace, which is noted for its frequent Reggae shows, for dinner. Though the meal was decent, it took over 20 minutes just to get the check. Then, after this long wait, they treated me like a criminal for paying with a traveler's check without a picture ID (which had not been a problem elsewhere). We left there disappointed with our treatment.
After a short walk on the beach, we resolved to give Hedo II another try and had Jerry drive us there. We had less hassle getting in this time and quickly found a shady spot on the beach. We had a good time watching the competing teams in the "Olympics" that were going on that morning. Later, I got a sailing lesson from Devon of watersports and got some relaxation in, floating off of the beach. We then took a Sunfish out for a sail over towards Grand Lido (looked much more quiet over there) and around Booby Cay, getting in just as the daily storm was getting underway.
In the afternoon, we had a fun time watching the body painting contest which featured some very creative designs. We grabbed a couple of burgers from the beach grill and had to head back. We started walking back towards Firefly when we got a lift from the same taxi driver who took us back the last time (that guy was everywhere!). We got back in time to watch the party boats return after sunset and have a relaxed evening in our room. We spent the next morning reading on the beach and enjoying our breakfast at the beach bar. We had a such a good time at Xtabi that we returned for more snorkeling.
The water was a bit cloudier that day, but the snorkeling was still great. We met a nice newlywed couple from North Carolina and had a pleasant lunch during the daily storm. The rest of the afternoon was some relaxation back at the beach at Firefly, followed by another great dinner at Kuyaba and a free shuttle ride back to our room. We spent the rest of our evening packing for our trip back. The nest morning, we got the bus back to Montego Bay to start our long journey back home to some very happy dogs.
I doubt we would go back to Negril this way again. We went on vacation to get away from hassles, not to be constantly accosted by pushy salespeople and taxi drivers who sometimes don't understand what "no, thank you" means. The only respite we got from this was our time at Hedonism II. We also decided that though we got more variety by choosing where we went for our next meal, the process of deciding and then traveling to each meal was very time-consuming and, in the end, detracted from our vacation experience (YMMV).
If we do go back to Negril, we will probably stay at Xtabi As far as Hedo II vs. Jam-Jam is concerned, we prefer Jam-Jam, though, once again, YMMV. We are beach people and the beach and reef are much nicer at Jam-Jam. The full service bar and grill at the Hedo II beach were nice but we would give them up for the natural beauty of Jam-Jam. The grounds at Hedo II seem more lush, in part because it is less open and built upon a hill.
Though we did not sample many meals at Hedo, we thought the fare (and the clientele) at Jam-Jam was a bit more international. It was a nice vacation, and a bit less expensive than an all- inclusive, but we are not likely to vacation this way again.