So, given the history of The Keating holidays of late I am sure you are all wondering what happened. Lets begin with a positive note.
All our luggage arrived, yeah! Not an insignificant achievement after last years trip to Ireland.
I thought I would split the blog into two parts. A review of the Beaches resort and then more information on our actual holiday experiences.
Beaches Resort, Negril, Jamaica.
The Beaches resorts sell themselves as resorts where everything is included, you pay up front and there are no hidden costs. They certainly kept this promise. The only additional costs we had were our own incidentals like a Scuba refresher for Jarlath, some bug spray and such items. Everything was included and there was absolutely no tipping on the resort and, in their praise, no tips were solicited by the staff at any time.
The food is usually a big part of any holiday and one of my concerns with all inclusive places is that you have limited choices of foods only served at limited times of the day and in the same restaurant every time. The Beaches Negril resort had a good mix of eateries.
The Mill restaurant was the standard resort restaurant where you could get breakfast of some sort from 3.30a.m. to midday. They changed the selection each day and had a fresh smoothies bar and fresh omelette bar every day. The food seemed fresh and not dried out, like you expect from these types of buffet set ups. It also offered a varied lunch menu and each evening they had a different food theme with two different action stations for freshly cooked foods as well as a wide selection on the buffet.They also had a resort casual dress code which avoided various sites in bikinis and barefeet putting you off your meal!
Dinos Pizzeria was an informal pizza place just on the beach. They hand made each personal pizza as you ordered and it was very tasty and fresh but they did not seem to realise that it was supposed to be a fast food joint and did not seem to be very organised in taking the orders and getting them out to you. Perfect if you were chilling on the beach with a glass of wine awaiting your pizza but not so great for the majority of people who had hungry kids whining while waiting for their pizza.
Arizona's was a Tex Mex restaurant which served lunch sandwiches and a Mexican based dinner menu. It was very good as they had a great salad/chilli buffet if you just wanted to grab something quick. Food was quite good.
Cafe Carnivale was open from 11.00a.m. to 3.00a.m. and was the fast food joint for burgers, hotdogs, fries and jerk chicken. Perfect for the kids to run up to from the pool and order themselves.
Kimonos was the more formal tepanyaki restaurant and the only one you had to actually book into. We went once and enjoyed it but I always find this type of restaurant serves exactly the same food and the same routine as every other tepanyaki restaurant I have ever been to. Fun for a change and a childless meal one night.
The Seville was pitched as the more formal dining experience with "White gloved" service. The food was fine but we actually found the service very poor. It was usually very busy and you had to put your name on a waiting list to get in which wasn't a problem but once in, the serving staff didn't really have a clue on what they were doing. We had to chase them up for a couple of things. It was like they had been told that they had to give this "white glove" service but then had been given no direction as to what that actually meant. We didn't bother going back as we had a more relaxed experience in the other restaurants.
Stewfish was the restaurant on the beach where you could get a lovely a la carte breakfast or a traditional Jamaican dinner. When Jarlath was diving in the morning I would tend to have breakfast here with Hannah as it was easier for me to have waitress service than a buffet with a toddler. We could also sit and watch Papa get loaded on the dive boat and see him sail off for his dive before we finished breakfast and had our stroll on the beach.
Sweeties was the cookie and ice cream bar that was help yourself all day. You could get a decent cup of tea and a cookie there in the afternoon. Great for slightly older kids that could just run up for ice cream when they wanted.
The various bars were also very good and you could have drank yourself into an oblivion if that was your desire as the measures were rather large in the cocktails - and that's coming from a seasoned drinker like me. One criticism of the bars was that they were understaffed for the types of drinks especially the pool bars. They offered all these yummy looking frozen cocktails for adults and kids alike and the kids were up constantly ordering a "posh" frozen drink which needed to be blended so when only one person was serving if you just wanted a soft drink or a beer you could wait a while as they blended several drinks for various kids and adults.
For soft drinks they had a water and soda fountain that was help yourself but another criticism was that they never seemed to have glasses out for them. So, invariably you would have to wait for the bar server to get their attention and then get them to wash up some glasses to put out.
As this was their biggest selling point, it did not really surprise me that it was very professionally done and hard to criticise. One point I would make is that Hannah was just at the wrong age to get much benefit from it. From ages 3 upwards they had a full days kids camp with lots of planned activities that looked really good and had educational elements to it as well like letter of the day and science experiments. Hannah at 20 months was in the Infant room (for 0 to 24 months). She was just to big and active to be happy being left in the room. It held her attention for a while but then she would get bored and want to be out in the bigger camp enjoying all the other activities with the bigger kids. The nannies were fantastic with the kids and one evening when we had left Hannah for an hour to have dinner and she was upset, one nanny took her along to the Sesame Street stage show where she could run around and have a dance and forget to be upset. So we had a personal nanny at no extra cost. A couple of other times during the day when Hannah was upset they took her out for a walk in the stroller, so again she had one on one care. I must admit we barely used the childcare for various reasons of our own but I can see us going back in the future and making great use of it.
We had a basic Deluxe double room which was no more than a standard size hotel room. It was fine for a holiday where you plan to spend most of your time elsewhere and only sleep in the room. Although next time we will probably go for one size up on the room to the rooms with the sitting/tv area. This would be to give Hannah an area to sit and watch tv while we get ready as she couldn't sit on the bed to do that. The beds were my one criticism of the internal room as they were large Colonial style beds which were so high that even I struggled to get on and off of them. I ended up with bruises down the backs of my legs from the edge of the bed. Now given that it is a resort mainly for children I think the beds are unsafe to put any child in as they were so high that there was a great risk of injury from falling out of them either during sleep or when playing around on them.
The location of the room is also important and while we were well located for all the facilities and popping back to the room from the beach and watersports we were also located at the corner right beside the housekeeping room. This was not a problem during the night or even early morning but during afternoon nap for Hannah it was an issue with trolleys wheeling back and forward and lots of loud voice exchanges right outside our door. We had requested a ground floor room for safety but with hindsight a higher level room may have been more peaceful during the day. Although there were other areas of the complex that I would definitely not have wanted to stay in mainly due to lack of privacy on the balcony/patio or location to the noisier childrens pool during the day. It is really difficult to say where would have been best without experiencing all areas in detail.
All other facilities
Two good pools, lovely beach, great watersports, superb gym, tennis courts, xbox game room, spa and a lot more.
Beaches sponsors Sesame Street so every day there would be a number of activities with a Sesame Street character - Elmocize with Elmo, Grovers science experiments, Letter of the day with Zoe etc - and then they would have a 30 minutes concert at 7.00p.m. with all the characters where the kids could run around and dance in front of the stage. Hannah loved this and we could sit and have a drink while watching her. A great way for the kids to burn off some steam before or after dinner. It was fun to sit and watch all the little faces as their favourite character came on stage. Again, Hannah was slightly young and not completely sure of who the characters are but by the end of the holiday she was running up to Elmo (or Melmo as she calls him) for a hug. Great experience for the children.
So the holiday experience of Beaches was good. On the surface it delivered everything it promised although there were some faults when you scratched below the surface slightly.
As mentioned above they seemed slightly short staffed in the bar areas and getting a glass was hard work at times.
They were also slow in bringing fresh towels out to the pool and beach. If you didn't get your towels early on they didn't seem to have any new ones laundered until later in the evening by which time it was invariably too late.
We never had a Butler or concierge room, where you have a personal valet to look after your bookings or other needs. We spoke to two separate families that did have this service and they criticised it. They both said that it was just another barrier to actually getting things done. Both complained that bookings/messages did not get passed on by their butler/concierge and it would have been more effective to just go and make the bookings themselves. One benefit was that they would reserve an umbrella and sun lounger on the beach in a spot of your choice for you which, I imagine, would be a very useful service at the busiest times of the resort.
One strong recommendation is to take plenty of bug spray. This may seem obvious to most people but we seemed to have a mental block on this when planning and ended up with numerous bothersome bites.
We made the right choice with the size of the resort for us. Sandy Bay looked to small when we stopped at it and they were busing people in from there to our resort for activities which would not have suited us. Turks and Caicos looked to big on the internet and after speaking to a family who were there last year, it would have been too big for our needs this year but definitely one to look at for future years. The transfer for Montego Bay to Negril was 90 minutes and it was almost spot on 90 minutes but it was interesting to see some of the real Jamaica on the journey rather than just the resort. A big benefit was a direct flight on AirTran from Baltimore to Montego Bay, which with an infant is a big seller. In Turks and Caicos the transfer is only 20 minutes so if there was a direct flight there, then that will also be a big consideration for next time.
Our holiday experience
I hear you ask but what about the usual dramatic experiences The Keatings usually encounter on holiday. Surely it can't all be good if you are involved! I can even hear Fay Johnston asking what injuries I managed to get.
Well lets start with some facts from the internet:
Most stingrays have one or more barbed stings on the tail, which is used exclusively in self-defense. The stinger may reach a length of approximately 35 cm (14 in), and its underside has two grooves with venom glands. The stinger is covered with a thin layer of skin, the integumentary sheath, in which the venom is concentrated.
The flattened bodies of stingrays allow them to effectively conceal themselves in their environment. Stingrays do this by agitating the sand and hiding beneath it. Because their eyes are on top of their bodies and their mouths on the undersides, stingrays cannot see their prey; instead, they use smell and electroreceptors similar to those of sharks.
Stingray injuries are caused by the venomous tail spines or stingers of rays. When attacked by predators or stepped on, the stinger in their tail is whipped up. This is normally ineffective against sharks, their main predator.
Depending on the size of the stingray, humans are usually stung in the lower limb region. Stings usually occur when swimmers or divers accidentally step on a stingray. The stinger usually breaks off in the wound. This is not fatal to the stingray as it will be regrown at a rate of about 1.25 to 2 centimetres (0.49 to 0.79 in) per month . Contact with the stinger causes local trauma (from the cut itself), pain, swelling, and muscle cramps from the venom, and possible later infection from bacteria. Immediate injuries to humans include, but are not limited to: poisoning, punctures, severed arteries and veins, and occasionally death. Fatal stings are very rare, but can happen, famously including Steve Irwin. Though in this case, the stinger penetrated the thoracic wall, causing massive trauma.
Many victims of stingray related injuries suffer from physical effects including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, extreme pain at the wound, muscle cramps, and a laceration at the puncture sight. There have been cases of severe consequences which may include embedded spines, infection, hypotention (a slower heart rate), and even possible amputations or death. Stingray wounds have also been found to bleed profusely and for a long amount of time after the initial puncture.
So can you guess what happened yet!!?? Yep, I stepped on a Stingray and got stung. I didn't realise at first as I thought I had just been clawed by a crab. So I dragged myself and Hannah out the water and went back to our sunloungers to rest until Jarlath got back from diving. It was only after ten minutes when my toes went numb and it seemed to be moving up to my ankle with waves of nerve cramps going up my left leg that I thought I better get to the nurse. She confirmed it was a Stingray sting and called the Doctor in right away. The pain was bad and I had a horrible 20 minutes waiting for the Doctor to arrive and Jarlath to get back from diving to watch Hannah. Luckily Elmo was at the kids club which distracted her while I tried to breath through the cramps. On the positive side, after a couple of shots, painkillers and antibiotics the pain subsided and I went on my merry way. On another positive side, it was me that was stung and not Hannah who was walking in the same water bare foot beside me.
Another negative of the holiday was that 3 pairs of shoes were stolen from our front porch. Okay you could say we should not have left them lying out (we were trying to avoid trailing lots of sand into the room) but in a resort like that you truly don't expect that things would get stolen. What made it more despicable was one pair were Hannah's little converse sneakers complete with sparkly paint from painting a box with Miss Inge and Henry. I only hope that whoever stole them had a real need and that some poor child who really needed shoes can now have a pair. I also criticise the way the Beaches resort dealt with this. I phoned reception right away and was told that I had to go in person to talk to them (I would have expected them to send someone to me). I then had to wait for the Duty Manager to come so I could write my own report. Not once did I get any feedback after this from the Manager or security until we asked for a copy of the report on leaving (to make an insurance claim) and then we were told to leave our email address so they would forward it. I must admit, I am not holding my breath until I receive an email from them or any feedback. Shoddy Customer relations in this case and in a place where they must rely on repeat business or word of mouth recommendations.
Well I think that is all I have to say for now. Jarlath is going to write a blog post reviewing the Scuba diving setup and dives amd general watersports as he has a number of comments on that. Also, photos will follow once I have got them organised.
Don't get me wrong it was a good holiday (as relaxing as it could be with a 20 month old anyway) and I would go back to a Beaches resort. I think it would be a lot of fun to go with a couple of families with kids around the same age as Hannah, so if anyone wants to come next year, we are in!!