Our Trip to Jamaica
Honeymoon/Anniversary???? How can they both be at the same time? COVID-19 of course! It's a question we heard a lot on our honeymoon/anniversary.
STAFF: Are you here for a special occasion like a honeymoon? anniversary?
This trip was on our 2nd wedding anniversary, but it was supposed to be 2 years ago for the honeymoon. So by delaying the honeymoon for 2 years, it was indeed both a honeymoon and an anniversary.
I booked the same trip we had originally planned... Excellence Oyster Bay in Jamaica. Also, my wife had been hinting at one of those "swim with dolphin" excursions. I was going to surprise her with it on the original trip. I was able to keep it a secret up until a couple of weeks before the trip actually happened.
So... here's my take on the trip. It was my first time flying outside of the US, and only the 3rd round trip flying lifetime. I read a lot about the resort and trip before I went, and the blogs and videos were very helpful. So, here's another take on it hoping it helps someone out there considering a similar trip.
First and foremost, the staff at Excellence Oyster Bay was FABULOUS. Everyone was very friendly and helpful. Every reasonable request was fulfilled, and most within just a few minutes. From the bellhops to the cleaning staff to the gardeners, everyone asked how our stay was going and if there was anything they could do to make it better. Some of our favorites were Ryan and Mark from guest services, Tracie from housekeeping, Zodia from the spa, and Latoya. Without fail, every single time we passed a staff member, we were greeted and shown a genuine concern for enjoying our stay. A lot of times they would tell us to have an excellent day, taking a play on the resort chain's name. It made me wonder if wishing guests an excellent day was like saying "Have a Disney Day" at Disney World. (If you don't know, don't ever say that to a cast member at WDW. It's basically an insult.) But, the responses did seem sincere at least. A few times we got some responses from staff members that their day wasn't going so well, but they were always quick to make sure ours was. Our shuttle bus driver for the dolphin trip, Virgo, was also great (but not employed by Excellence).
The ocean views were very nice. While there were 300 rooms in the resort, they were so spread out that the resort did not feel crowded at all.
We only noticed a few small places where the resort was not well maintained. For an oceanfront property, it's in very good condition.
I booked our trip through Ambassador Travel, a company operated by my credit union. By luck, I ended up getting the wife of one of my college friends as our agent. Michelle was great, and put up with our last minute fears as my wife was recovering from an infection during a trip to Mexico the week prior. She also worked with us through all the dolphin trip problems.
All the problems we had were truly "first world problems". The staff tried to make everything the best experience we could have, and there were no glaring problems that would be considered a major failure.
Off we go!
Airports are not my friend. CVG, our local airport, seems to do things pretty well, although I have pretty limited experience with airports. The lines are long, but they moved along and there's plenty of seating available at each stop along the way from baggage drop off to the gate to get a few minutes rest before moving along. The trip through TSA seemed to take forever. It was nothing in comparison with the rest of the airports, though.
We arrived at ATL to get our connecting flight. We did ok with only 2 hours for the connection, and even had a little time to hang out at the gate. The Delta staff had island music playing and was getting people to dance while we waited. It was pretty funny.
The flight to MBJ was also pretty smooth. But, oh, the MBJ airport. Wow. We didn't know where to go. Some people waved us the correct way from the other side of a window. We got to the immigration line. The line was very long. They had about 50 self service kiosks. After standing in line for a while, we were directed to a self service kiosk. We scanned our passports, and it took our picture (without any time ro try to look good for the camera). The kiosk printed out a receipt that had our picture and information on it. It said to keep that during our entire stay.
So, just when I think we're good to go, we walk down another couple of long hallways and there's another line, but this one was ridiculously long. A greeter directed people to the appropriate line, and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to all the different lines. Social distancing was impossible. The lines were set up in a way that it was not possible, despite all the signage about wearing masks and maintaining 2m distance. We finally got through the line up to the greeter. She looked at our immigration receipts, and directed us to go through a line marked "CREW". She assured us that the crew line was the correct one. So, we went. We walked to the end of the line, and then found ourselves in customs on the other side. Somehow, we just bypassed an entire step of the process. Thank you!
Then, it was off to baggage claim. Because the lines were so long, we were not there in time to get our bags off the conveyor. They had been removed and were sitting next to the other half of baggage claim #5. We were at the first half of baggage claim # 5. Why there are two baggage claim #5s around a corner from each other? Good question.
We went to another long line, which was for customs. Since we had nothing to declare, we went through an express line. The agent checked our passports, didn't stamp them, and told us we were good to go.
We met our Delta Vacations rep in a small room at the airport exit, and was directed outside to the bar. A minute or two later, we were directed to the bus to take us to the resort.
It's Not You, It's Us
I downloaded the Excellence app for the phone a couple of weeks before going. It's a must. All the menus and schedules are on the app. I discovered a couple of things on the app days before the trip that honestly made me ponder if I should have made a different choice.
1. Pool hours: The resort is full of great pools from one end of the resort to the other. I was in the main pool for an hour or so one day, and my wife was in the main pool a couple of days. I would have liked to try out some of the other pools, but the big problem was that they ALL CLOSE AT 7 PM!!! I do not deal with the heat and the sunlight. One of my favorite things to do is to be in the pool at night. I like the lights in the pool, the stars above, and the cool air. I'm not miserable at night with the lower heat and brightness. But, all the pools closed at 7 pm, which was just before dusk. So, night swims were not an option except for the plunge pool... which for us was all but unusable. There were no rails or steps, just a curved seat. You better be very young and/or very fit if you use it. Getting in and out was near impossible for me, and difficult at best for my wife. Plus, the lights on the balcony are not controlled by switches. They turn on at dusk and turn off at 10 pm. So, if you get in after 10pm, there's no light. The plunge pools also are not heated. It was a little cold at night. I got in once, and my wife twice.
2. Dress Code: Most of the restaurants require long pants and collared shirts for dinner. If I'm on vacation, the last thing I want to do is dress up just to go to dinner. Not only is it not comfortable, it's another change of clothes to pack and launder. We noticed that a lot of people didn't follow the dress code to the letter. Dressy shorts were tolerated, even though they were not allowed.
But, we had already booked the trip, and my wife had no problems with these rules. So, we went.
I'm thinking most of the problems we had were not the fault of the staff or the resort, but rather it wasn't a perfect fit for US. We thought we would feel like a "fish out of water" with all the high end service. But, that wasn't really a major adjustment to make.
This was the first all inclusive resort trip for both of us as well. Looking back, I'm not sure it was worth the extra expense. With a $6000 price tag, we did have some higher expectations than our average vacation. To get the room type I wanted, we also had to upgrade to the Excellence Club level. This level adds on access to another pool, another section of beach, a couple of restaurants, upgraded alcohol in the rooms, private check in, and a few other things. Most people highly recommend it. We really didn't use any of those extra things except the private check in. The front desk wasn't crowded, so the private check-in wasn't really necessary. So I feel like that extra cost really wasn't in our best interests.
I rarely drink alcohol, and when I do it's one sip and that's all. My wife will have a drink once in a great while, but not very often. We didn't use any of the alcohol in our wet bar in the room. The bottles were left unopened the entire week. I had 3 or 4 virgin daiquiris, as did my wife but with the rum. That's it.
We also didn't do any of the on site activities. A couple of the music shows sounded ok to me, but honestly the walk to get from the far end of the resort to the theater was more than I cared to do. We did watch the pool Zumba class from the side of the pool. It was reasonably entertaining :)
So, we really didn't get our money's worth compared to the price.
Time for Us
Speaking of privacy, the room at least was very private. We didn't have a problem with people entering when they shouldn't have. We rarely even ran into any of our neighbors on the floor level. The rooms were very sound proof, and we had our privacy inside the room.
But... each day, there was a full schedule of visitors.
10 am Housekeeping
12 pm Pool Cleaning
1 pm Stocking of fridge/snacks/bar
6 pm Petit-fours
7 pm Turn down service
While these times were not exact every day, there was a constant flow of people knocking on the door needing to be allowed in at some unknown time. Yes, the service was very nice. But, it would have been nice to consolidate the timing. They did do a good job of doing the housekeeping while we were away at breakfast.
Being a large person, I accidentally broke one of the pool loungers on my one attempt to get into the plunge pool. I called the next morning to let the front desk know, and arrange payment for the damages. Instead, they apologized that it broke, and said they would send someone up to take care of it. They also asked what restaurant we were going to for dinner that night. We hadn't even talked about that decision yet, so I told them we didn't know. They said they would call back in an hour to give us a chance to decide because they wanted to make it up to us for the problem with the lounger.
We headed out to breakfast, and we returned to a phone call. It was maintenance letting us know that our balcony floor had been repaired. (We did notice that several boards were loose, and there was a large gap between some boards under the lounger, but nothing major.) My wife explained that we didn't call about the floor, but rather the lounger. So they again sent someone up to take care of it. We got a call later in the day that our Adirondack chair had been replaced. (We noticed one was a little loose, but nothing major.) Again, we explained that the chair wasn't the issue. It was the lounger that was snapped in half. Once again, they sent someone up. This time we were there, and showed them the damage. They took a look at it, and came back a short time later with a metal version of the wooden lounger.
The phone rang yet again, this time to make sure the proper replacement had been completed, apologize yet again, and check on our dinner plans. So they said they made us reservations for that night at the time we specified, and asked what we would drink.
Each time some little thing went wrong, we were asked if they could make it up to us. We really appreciated the follow up and thoughtfulness. But, it started to get a little annoying. The same scenario happened nearly every day we were there. We hadn't made dinner plans at that time of the morning. They would call again later to find out, and said they made a reservation for us. They asked what we were going to drink, but again we aren't big drinkers. One even asked what food we were going to order. So, we'd make our plans in a hurry while one of us was on the phone.
We're not sure what they were trying to do. Each time we went to the restaurant we told them, we didn't have reservations and didn't get anything special except the first time we received a thank you card.
Swimming with Dolphins
Nice, but very overpriced. Shop at the airport or on an excursion gift shop instead.
Time To Go Home
To be honest, I was more than ready to come home. About the time I had recovered from the physical stress of the airports by Wednesday, we went on the dolphin excursion and the pain started again.
The return airport trip was substantially worse than the arrival. The MBJ airport is not equipped to handle the volume of people that fly in and out of there. We waited in line for over an hour just to drop off our bags. I was ready to fall over, and we still had security and making our way to the gate to go. I could not find a seat anywhere to rest, nor did we have time because 1 of our 2 hours was taken up at check in.
We made our way to the security line, which again was incredibly long and social distancing once again impossible with how close the lanes were put together. While this line was longer, it did move faster and we were at the security check within about 40 minutes. Finally, I saw an empty seat to use. But by that time, the damage was done. My knees and legs were done. My left knee is still hurting two weeks later, and required a trip to the doctor. So after a minute or two in the seat, we made the long trek to the gate... which was moved to near the end from our original gate location :( I have never been so glad to see an airplane in my life.
The flight was good back to ATL. Then at ATL, we had to do something I'm not used to doing because I hadn't flown internationally before. We couldn't just go to our gate. There was no time to stop for the bathroom. We had to go through security again, pick up our bags, and check the bags a second time. Again, the line was crazy long. We finally got through security, and then customs was pretty quick and easy. Finally we could race to our gate. Again, 2 hours was barely enough. We got to the gate in time, but there was no time for dinner. I did get to the bathroom though, which luckily was across the hall from the gate. The landing was pretty hard, but I didn't care. We were back at CVG. Ahhh. Time to recover. It took about a week, but finally everything except my left knee was back to normal.
There are many more stories to tell, but these are the things that I hope will be helpful to others planning a vacation in Jamaica.