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TRAVELING DURING THE PANDEMIC
Even though I have a whole blog dedicated to travel to Jamaica during these unprecedented times, it’s worth mentioning what our travel experience was like to and from Montego Bay. Just as a recap, 10 days prior to traveling we had to have a negative PCR test and 5 days prior to we applied for Travel Authorization. You can check out the links related to these two items on the previous blog!
We were required to bring all of the documentation with us. Both had to be presented along with our passports in order to properly check in and print our boarding passes before going through security. We then had to present all documents again along with our boarding passes to an agent at the gate before we were allowed to board the plane. This was one of the first flights I have been on where I could not get a mobile boarding pass which was a slight hassle, but it gave us the opportunity to check the prices for first class and end up upgrading.
Our flights, both coming and going were not very packed. I would say the plane was 2/3 full, if that which was nice because it made the availability to upgrade that much easier. When we arrived to the airport, we decided to treat ourselves to the upgrade, and we were then able to use the United Club free of charge and without using club passes (because we had first class international tickets).
Just an fyi about United: I wouldn’t necessarily say it is the safest airline currently (that would probably be Delta). They are filling the plane completely..if all of the seats are purchased so social distancing is a little difficult, especially if you travel alone. In order to comply with certain aspects of social distancing they board the plane from the back row to the front in segments of 5, then de-boarding is first row to the last.
As we first stepped on the plane we were handed a sanitizing wipe to wipe down our complete area (even though the plane had just been fully sanitized before our boarding). While in the air we were given both a snack box (only in first class) and a small snack bag with cookies, pretzels, bottled water, and another sanitizing wipe. Masks must be fully covering the mouth and nose during the duration of the flight unless you are actively drinking or eating. The flight attendants are very good about reminding people to keep their masks up.
LANDING AND CUSTOMS
When we landed, the usual lines formed. We had to queue for the visa line, per usual. There were markings on the ground to signify where people were to stand to practice social distancing, which most people didn’t pay attention to at all. That is one of the more frustrating parts of travel right now: no one else is as cautious as you are so you have to be doubly cautious to make up for it.
After our passports were stamped, we were herded along to baggage claim and customs. This was an experience entirely unlike any other I have experienced. There were two sets of lines: one for items you need to declare, and one for those who had nothing to declare. None of these lines really had any uniform to them. People were just all bunched up in one area hoping to make it in to one line. Some lines moved worlds quicker than other, we are still unsure why. The real kicker is that most of the time (literally anywhere else I’ve traveled), if you hand the officer who is stamping your passport for the visa your customs paper, they will hand it right back to you to keep for going through customs. Welp, this did not happen. Our customs sheet was taken while we were getting the visa stamp and it was not given back to us. On the other hand, there were some people who still had their sheet. They were able to walk straight through customs by just handing over that paper.
Those of us who did not have our paperwork, had to wait a little longer. When we arrived at the counter, the customs officer ripped our passports away from us, said nothing, and promptly slammed them back on the desk to give them back to us. She then rudely shooed us away, again without a word. We’re still unsure what happened there and why the lady was so rude.
As we made our way to the exit, we stopped by the Amstar kiosk (which is who we booked our shared airport shuttle with along with our excursions). From there they walked us out of the door, and we ended up in a private car to from the airport to our hotel.
THE ALL INCLUSIVE RESORT
We chose to stay at the Iberostar Grand Rose Hall. The Grand resorts are all adult only and this one was about a 20min drive (if that) from the airport which made for very easy transport to and from the airport.
When we booked our stay, the chain was having a 75% off sale for bookings through the end of December, so we ended up in the highest upgrade for our room which was the Ocean Front Suite. We had a full view of the ocean and woke up every morning to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. It was 100% worth the price.
The part you’ve been waiting for: how was our overall stay? It was exquisite, thank you for asking. We stayed 5 full nights, including Christmas Eve and Christmas. This was the first time we have ever been on a trip during Christmas, and I must say we will continue to travel for Christmas until we can no longer do so.
For starters, the resort itself had only been open for a week when we arrived which meant capacity was super low. I’m talking maybe 60-75 people in the entire resort. If you’ve ever stayed at a resort before, you know that this means you virtually see no one but the staff and the occasional passerby. The only downside to this was that each day there was only one of the 5 restaurants open so we really didn’t have a say in what we ate for the night unless we wanted to get room service.
Our room was on the second floor which also housed a couple restaurants as well as the main lobby ( you can check out a room tour on our IG in the Jamaica highlights). We had easy access to the lobby, pool, and beach. Everything was just a short trip down the hall or elevator.
The resort had three separate pools, which no one spent much time at because the beach was just amazing. Don’t get me wrong, each of the infinity pools we’re gorgeous along with the one with the swim up bar, they just weren’t receiving much attention because the water was a bit nippy and the beach was just that nice. We did spend a little time at the pool when we wanted to get away from the sand because they were empty and allowed us to jump from one cabana to the next as we pleased.
Most important, I think I may have mentioned this once or twice, the beach was amazing. Especially when you don’t get to see nice beaches very often. The water was relatively calm, and there was no seaweed in sight. By relatively, I mean that some of the days were a little windier than others which made the water slightly choppy but there were still no crashing waves.
I think this is what you’re really interested in. Most people talk about how mediocre/bad food is at all inclusive resorts because they cater to western culture in terms of Americans and even Europeans. I’ll be the first to let you know that I have indeed had some terrible food at resorts… but it is also one of the things I look for in the reviews prior to booking. Grand Rose Hall had pretty mixed reviews from Asia and I, there were restaurants that we enjoyed and restaurants that we didn’t. The French Gourmet restaurant was our absolute favorite, we enjoyed every single portion of the meal. Where as, the Italian and Japanese left a little to be desired and it could have just been our meal choice for the evening. I have a limited palette, especially at a resort like this because I don’t eat meat. We also had some pretty terrible company at the hibachi table in the Japanese restaurant (A Soviet Russian couple who were Trump supporters… bleh) and that added to the meal not being my favorite.
The Christmas gala/banquet/buffet was one of my all time favorite meals while on vacation. Between the two of us we had 5 chargrilled lobster tails, build your own pasta, small plate, and desserts. All of which were incredibly delicious.
We also dabbled in some alcoholic beverages, mostly all day long because..why not? Best drink for sure was the Sorrel with rum. I’ve never liked sorrel before, but when you add a bit of appleton rum, that’s a whole new drink honey.
Breakfast everyday was at the same restaurant; some days it was a buffet and some days there was a menu but all in all they served around the same things daily.
For lunch there were a couple options in terms of small grills on the beach and one restaurant. We barely ate lunch because we snacked all day long. While staying at the Grand, you also have access to all of the restaurants at the Suites resort but we don’t tend to want to hang around kids so we don’t know what those were like.
The absolute one thing I will say is that the room service food/menu was trash. That’s just me being honest. There weren’t many options as far as the menu goes and the food just really wasn’t very good.
If you read one of the previous blogs on all inclusive resorts, we chatted a bit about the fact that all resorts have dress codes for the restaurants. For the most part this consists of beachy casual (who really knows what that is) aka sundresses and sandals. This type of attire is pretty hard to come by in the winter time no matter where you are located. We were on the struggle bus. So if you have more time to plan in advance, get your clothes early.
Also, we didn’t know until we got there but the dress code for the Christmas gala is more semi formal – obviously they don’t fully enforce that, but had we known we would have loved to have gotten really dressed up. I guess, in hindsight, most people do dress up for Christmas… we just aren’t those people. We’re pajama kinda people.
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