Random Review: Royalton White Sands Resort-Trelawny, Jamaica

So even though this blog has the word "classroom" in it, I will occasionally share some anecdote that has nothing to do with teaching or learning.  Welcome to the inaugural post of Random Reviews.

*I should also add that this post is in no way affiliated with any of the subsequent products.  I am not getting compensated in any way for my opinions, but I'm totally open to it.  Just sayin'.*


Teaching in Kentucky means adhering to an instructional calendar that usually runs somewhere from August to May, with kids typically beginning classes the second or third week of August and finishing the year the week of Memorial Day.  It's my understanding that school calendars of other states run from September to to mid-June.  Since they dismiss students a little later than my district, I try to get traveling planned for those few days before the other districts are out on break.  I like people and all, but I try to limit to a minimum the number of people exposed to the blinding whiteness that is my skin.


(Seriously, I'm nearly glow-in-the-dark-I'm so pale.)

As previously mentioned I have very little hesitation about doing things by myself, and every day of my life I am beginning to become less Type A and more Type Be Open To Things Not Meticulously Planned, so I booked a week long stay at the Royalton White Sands Resort in Trelawny, Jamaica.  Since I love to tell people what I think provide helpful information to others, here's a rundown of my trip.  I share this information with you solely because I've already bored everyone within a 100 mile radius it may provide you with some guidance should you ever consider a holiday in Jamaica.

Before I get started, let me share this disclaimer: I try really hard to be positive about stuff.  I always consult TripAdvisor before I book anything.  But for me, TripAdvisor is like the House Hunters of accommodations: 92.835% of the reviewers want a 5 star experience for a 1/2 star price.  I come from a blue collar family, therefore most of the reviews make me crazy because they are complaining about trivial things.  Therefore, I tend to be impressed by a resort if it's near the beach, serves Coca-Cola products (I won't touch a Pepsi), and does not have someone saying, "Ms. Foster!! He looked at me!  Make him stop!".  For me, these are the most crucial elements in enjoying a sojourn somewhere. 

I booked a vacation package that included round-trip airfare, 6 nights' accommodations, transfers to and from the airport to the resort, an all-inclusive plan that covered meals, drinks, tips, and non-motor water sports. I booked it through Vacation Express due to their prices, proximity, and services-it was a direct flight from Cincinnati, Ohio to Montego Bay, Jamaica.  More on the flight stuff later.

THE GOOD

THE VACATION COMPANY
This was my 4th experience using Vacation Express to book a vacation.  I really like them-the staff are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable and don't freak out when you call them on a Thursday afternoon trying to get a package booked to leave in 3 days.
And I'm not exaggerating when I tell you I have recommended Vacation Express to everyone, especially after this trip.  I feel like they need to put me on payroll-I've been a walking advertisement for them.

THE RESORT
I booked my accommodations at Royalton White Sands Resort in Trelawny, Jamaica.  I'd stayed at 2 other Royalton owned properties (one in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and one in Freeport, Bahamas) and knew I would be in a safe environment and well fed.  Royalton White Sands did not disappoint.  I also decided to upgrade my vacay by purchasing the Diamond Club package-more on that in a minute.
White Sands is actually part of two resorts side by side on one property-Royalton Blue Waters and Royalton White Sands.  It's basically one giant compound and the two resorts share pools, restaurants, bars, and beaches.  I chose to stay in Royalton White Sands simply because it was cheaper than Blue Waters.  I don't regret the decision.  White Sands is considerably older than Blue Waters, meaning the rooms are smaller and you're a few steps further away from the breakfast and lunch buffet restaurant, but there's still plenty of things to keep you fed and entertained on that side.  And if you're on a budget but don't feel like heading to the breakfast and lunch buffet, you can always order room service-it's 24 hours! Plus, this was the view from my balcony:

Room 735/Diamond Club room view

As previously mentioned, this is the 3rd Royalton managed property I've visited. One of the things I like about Royalton properties are what you see online is what you get.  I've stayed at other places where the photos online don't match up with your actual guest room.  (I'm talking to you, Resort-That-Will-Not-Be-Named-In-Myrtle-Beach!) The resort grounds were beautiful, immaculate, and clean.  In addition to the beach, the resort offered other activities: there is a mini-water park, a lazy river, kid's club, teen's club, fitness center, fitness classes, and nightly entertainment.  And the nightly entertainment was wonderful-the performers could sing like nobody's business and the instrumentalists were amazing.  One night I sat on my balcony in my nightgown listening to the saxophone music mixed with ocean waves.  When you hear "What A Wonderful World", "The Way You Look Tonight", and other classic songs you will refuse to go back in until it's quiet.  It was an incredible night.

The kids' area and four adult water slides. 


Wifi signal was strong and I was able to watch Netflix to my heart's content.  The resort also allows their patrons to make free phone calls to a ton of places, so I could call back home as desired. I also saw 2 weddings on the beach.  Fun.
White Sands is 40 miles away from the Montego Bay airport.  This translates into about an hour long bus ride as you drop off other visitors at the resorts along the way.  Given that I drive over 40 miles one way to work, this wasn't a problem for me, but some of the other patrons were a little put out by the distance and stops at the closer resorts.  However, this distance does mean you're far enough away that you are not seeing and hearing planes all day.  You also can see the cruise ships as they dock, but you're not inconvenienced by them.   In Freeport, Bahamas the straw market was literally right across the street from my hotel and on Paradise Island shopping was a five minute taxi ride away.  From what I saw, White Sands was not in a hugely commercial area (technically it was in the city of Falmouth), but then again where I was traveling by myself I had no desire to go into town, so it could have been near lots of shopping but I just didn't see it. And I will also add that even though I was traveling by myself, I never once felt unsafe.  I can also attest that I never once saw an over-served patron.
Plus, your room key is a bracelet you wear for the duration of your stay, which means you never have to worry about forgetting your room key.  (Unlike another trip, at the previous Resort-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, where I did just that and could not find my sister with the other key.  I wound up pleading with the cleaning lady to let me in my room because not only had I left my key card by the tv, but I had stepped on something and my foot was in excruciating pain, and I was trying to figure out if I need ibuprofen or a foot amputation so I didn't have the energy or patience to go back to the front desk and tell them my missing key woes.)
The resorts provided lots of fun in the evenings, too, but we'll get to that soon enough.

THE PEOPLE
Jamaicans are some of the best people in the world, hands down.  Everyone was always smiling, asking how my trip was going, always a pleasant word.  And it wasn't only the Jamaican people who made my stay enjoyable.  Having grown up in a small town, diversity was somewhat limited.  Therefore whenever I would interact with people in the elevator, at supper, etc., it was always fun to learn from whence they'd came.  I actually met so many different nationalities I began to keep a tally chart just because I found it so interesting.  For the most part, I had no qualms about asking, "Where y'all from?" but on the rare occasion I was shy, I simply chalked it up as "Not Sure" and moved on.  Again, this was an exercise in recognizing and embracing diversity, not getting bogged down in minutiae.

My international tally chart.  
Upon further reflection, this kind of nerd behavior may contribute to why I'm single.

THE FOOD
Y'all.  Ribeye.  Fried plantains. Fresh coconut. Self serve ice cream.  Coffee shop.  (I'm somewhat picky about my coffee but I can tell you their coffees were wonderful, even when the heat index was 102.  Plus the coffee shop was air-conditioned and had lots of newspapers so you could stay up to date on what was happening world wide.)  Disclaimer: I'm not a drinker so I have no opinion on the more adult beverages served there.  The first time they restocked the mini-fridge I asked them to remove all the beers, diet drinks, and lemon-lime drinks.  But I can tell you that the resort served Coca-Cola products which is good for me, as I consider any soft drinks not Cokes to be fruit from a poisonous tree.  I can also tell you that whatever filtered water they used to make their fountain drinks was good as well.  In Punta Cana, I couldn't even enjoy a lemonade because the drinking water was "off".  In Jamaica I did not have this issue.  In fact, on the plane trip home the lady next to me and I were discussing how the soft drinks were really good. Also, the Diamond Club members were treated to surprise goodies like this delivered one afternoon:

If you show up at my door and bring me chocolate, we will have a  LYLAS relationship. For life.


THE THEME NIGHTS
As an elementary teacher, I probably enjoy a theme a little more than your average person.  Which means I simply adored the various evening themes throughout the week.

White Party-Monday night. 
        
Thursday night: Jamaica Night-complete with fresh coconuts! Nothing makes you feel more tropical than enjoying coconut water out of a freshly hacked coconut. 


They also had a barbecue night and seafood night, though I don't have photos because my phone was dead.  But believe me when I tell you they were fun.  So.  Much. Fun.


DIAMOND CLUB
Diamond Club is an additional service you can purchase that offers guests bonus privileges such as butlers, a 24 hour lounge for snacks and drinks, upgraded rooms, a coupon book that allowed you discounts on spa services, and a members only bar and beach area. I went on ahead and added it to my package and was satisfied with it.  I was allowed to check in and check out in the Diamond Club Lounge, which meant I was provided with an air conditioned lounge with both snacks, soft drinks and alcohol to enjoy while checking in and getting my wristband.  I also enjoyed the two butlers, Karmeilla and Juniour.  Diamond Club patrons got to enjoy a members' only breakfast buffet in the Italian restaurant.  I liked it because the view was gorgeous, I didn't have to wait in line for food, and it still had the same food as the breakfast buffet but without the crowd.  Of course, I was also there around 8:00 or 8:30 each morning so I may have been there before things got occupied.  I always had my pick of beach chairs or beds, and definitely enjoyed the nightly turn down service.   


View from Diamond Club breakfast, Diamond Club beach section


LUMINOUS LAGOON
I was not feeling the excursions vibe until I heard about the Luminous Lagoon.  I know everyone said to hike Dunn's Falls, but I'm on vacation.  You want me to hold a someone's hand I DON'T KNOW and walk through water?  Unless that someone holding my hand is Chris Pratt-no, thank you kindly but Im'ma sit this one out.  I also know everyone said do the Bob Marley tour.  I'm sure it's a great tour, but I was content to lie around the beach and do nothing.  But once someone mentioned that there are only 4 SPOTS ON EARTH where the Luminous Lagoon phenomenon occurs, so my interest was piqued.  I decided to do it and I'm so glad I did.  What is the Luminous Lagoon?  Long story short: due to the brackish water and plant life, the lagoon has lots of phosphorous.  Meaning, if you go out on the lagoon at night, any type of movement in the water makes the water glow.  So you get on a boat (with 4 lifeguards) and cruise around the lagoon.  The water in front of you looks normal, but the water behind you glows from the boat's wake.  You can watch small trails of light and you know something is under the water but you're not sure what.  You're offered a drink (rum was the staple of all the beverages, but I stuck to Coke).  The lifeguards explain the science behind it all but I'm too awestruck to really understand.  Finally, they park the boat in about 3 or 4 feet of water and you're allowed to go swim in it.  I've made many a snow angel in my time, but floating on my back and making a lagoon angel was something else.  I wore my swim suit under my clothes because I knew I wanted to swim beforehand.  Be sure and take water shoes, towel, and insect repellent.  I didn't bring water shoes but after touching the silt on the bottom of the lagoon I made a conscious decision I wouldn't touch it again.  One of the guys on my boat summed up the silt: it's like walking in mashed potatoes.  I took a beach towel from the resort and they had no problems with me doing so.  And the insect repellent will come in handy. There's also a small shop set up if you want to buy souvenirs. The only bad thing was I couldn't get my camera to take any good pics, so I'm having to use someone else's photo in this post.  I was gone about 2 hours on this excursion and I enjoyed it so much I almost went again.  Again, I went solo and never felt frightened.


Not me.  Wish it were.  Photograph from:  https://www.paradisepalmsjamaicatours.com

THE BAD

LIGHT OF DAY
So Jamaica does not observe daylight savings time.  This means that you will wake up with sun streaming in your room and panic thinking it's 2:30 in the afternoon when really it's only 4:45 am.

IMMIGRATION CARDS
On the plane, they will give you a card to fill out where you state your name, business, number of people traveling with you, where you're staying, the length of your visit, your passport number, mailing address, occupation, address of where you're staying in Jamaica, etc. I kept putting my answers in the wrong boxes-instead of answering on the space below, I would answer on the space above. I'd also like to take this moment and state publicly that I totally get why the people of Broward County, Florida had issues with their 2000 presidential election ballots.  I'm sorry for all the ridicule you received.  Filling out government documents is taxing.  I filled out 3 cards on the plane before I finally got everything in the right location.  After all that painstaking work, I get to Customs to find out the plane had given us outdated forms and I needed to complete an entirely new form. 

THE BEACH VENDORS
I'm pretty sure it's a federal law in the United States that you're not allowed to call yourself a beach unless you have one of these every 1 1/2 blocks:
Credit: https://www.myrtlebeach.com/102-things-to-do/beachwear-stores/


It's been my experience that the Wings takeover does not extend to the Caribbean.  So instead of a spot where you can buy surfboards, bracelets, swimwear, and souvenirs, you have vendors who set up shop on the beaches in the Caribbean and call to you from afar.  Those places the vendors are not allowed to approach you.  Not here. You will be on the beach and will receive offers for woven bracelets, scuba diving, sarongs, Bob Marley memorabilia, anklets, and offers of hair braiding.  My fav though was the man who walked the beach with an entire aloe plant (roots and all) balanced on his head offering to ease sunburn pain.  As I never brought money to the beach, I never partook.  But you will have to tell the same people no every day you're at the beach.  After you say no once, they won't ask again.  Until the next day.

THE UV LEVELS
It's important for you to know that once I hit 35 I became increasingly paranoid responsible about my sun exposure.  Not coincidentally, this was about the same time I discovered I could detect the UV level on my phone.  Some people can quote baseball statistics or stock prices.  I can tell you the amount of ultraviolet light in your present surroundings.  We all have our superpowers.  In Kentucky, every once in a while the UV level will reach 10, but that level only lasts about 20-30 minutes around 3:30 or 4:00 p.m.  In Jamaica, the UV index was 8-at 10:00 a.m.  The index would eventually rise to 11, shattering my notion that the UV index topped out at 10.  I had brought 6 different types of sunscreen with me and used them liberally.  I also avoided the beach during peak sun hours.  I may have gone home looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost, but I also went home without worrying about melanoma.  (And since my father and his mother have had multiple melanomas removed, I don't play around when it comes to protecting my skin.)  Also, at the White Party one of the people with whom I sat (a sweet lady who is an engineer and mother of two young men in medical school) told her husband I was too young to remember a certain basketball player.  I asked her how old she thought I was and she said, "22 or 24".  I'll be 38 in a little over 2 months, so I cannot explain the elation I felt upon hearing that.  (In the interest of keeping things real, though, I will confess it was twilight when she said that.  But it's a gift horse and you better believe that mouth will not be inspected.)

THE UGLY

CVG
I'd like to point out here that I don't expect airlines to be perfect.  I'd also like to point out that I've flown in and out of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport plenty of times without incident.  However, this trip decided to compensate for all those times flying out of Cincy was not a hassle.
Let me begin by explaining I arrived at the airport 3 hours early, per the usual FAA routine.  My flight was scheduled to board at 8:30 a.m., depart at 9:00 a.m. and arrive in Montego Bay at 11:30 a.m.  It had taken me a couple of minutes to get to my gate and when I arrived there were gobs of people at A4.  I nearly freaked out until I saw there was a flight scheduled to leave at 7:20 a.m. and 80% of the people at the gate were actually waiting for that flight.  So even though they didn't leave until 9:00 a.m., I was still in a pretty jovial mood.  Until we were told that we would be delayed because they needed to clean the 737 we would be occupying for our flight.  So we waited less patiently until the plane was ready.  We finally all boarded the plane, fastened our seat belts, and awaited backing away from the gate only to hear this from the captain: "Sorry folks, looks like the luggage has not yet been added to the plane."  By this point it was 10:30 a.m. and our patience was wearing thin.  The flight that was supposed to have left at 9:00 a.m. finally taxied down the runway at 11:30 a.m.  By the time we arrived in Montego Bay, went through customs, gathered our luggage and found the bus that would take us to our respective hotels, then actually went to our hotels, the day was shot.  It was after 5:00 p.m. (and I'd like to point out that Jamaica is an hour behind Kentucky, time wise, so we actually gained an hour heading down there).  I'd anticipated a 1/2 day to enjoy the surroundings but that never happened and I can't get that time back.
Because I'm a fool, I optimistically presumed the return flight would be a piece of cake.  All the bad stuff had happened on the way down there, surely nothing could be as frustrating.  Ha!  Famous.  Last. Words.
Our return flight was scheduled to depart at 1:00 p.m. but didn't leave until 1:30 pm.  After the debacle heading down there, I felt fortunate to only have a 30 minute delay.  So the actual flight was smooth, but arrival was...rough.  And it had nothing to do with the physical act of landing to the plane-that was fine.  We landed in Cincy and head to the gate.  Upon seeing the terminal we hear the pilot again, "Well...looks like nobody's here to bring us stairs.  We're gonna have to sit here a minute."  Sit here a minute was code for sit on the runway for 30 minutes.  I found it hard to believe that they could not find stairs for us-I'm pretty sure CVG knew we were coming.  It's not like we just snuck up on 'em.  After finally getting off the plane, CVG saw no need to make up for lost time.  After arriving it took them 45 minutes to remove our luggage from the plane.  Long story short: over 2.5 hours from landing to exiting.   We had so many setbacks on the two flights I began to wonder who had done something to get Cincinnati Airport mad at them, only to have the airport take it out on us.     

Summary: Overall, this was an incredible trip I would do all over again in a heartbeat.  Everyone spoke English so there was no language barrier, the resort was beautiful, the Jamaican people were amazing, the food was good, the weather was great, the other patrons were nice.  If you can handle not being smack dab in the center of town, this is a great trip for you.  The last few vacations I've been on have been nice, but by the end of the trip I was ready to see my bed, drive myself, etc.  This was honestly the first vacation I've been on in a long time that I was upset I had to leave and come home-and it wasn't even like I was doing anything dreadful when I got home-Jamaica and the Royalton White Sands was just that awesome.

How about you?  Any place you've been that made you not want to leave?  Questions about anything I didn't cover?  Feel free to comment below or email me at akentuckyclassroom@gmail.com !

Because a picture's worth 1,000 words...



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