I was fortunate enough to be invited, along with about a dozen other agents, to spend the weekend at the adults-only Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We were there to tour the new resort and learn about how it appeals to the romance travel market (destination weddings and honeymoons), and we got to meet the wedding/event staff and experience a “mock” wedding ceremony and reception. Most of my “FAM” (familiarization) trips are filled with dozens of hotel inspections, but since this one included a little more free time to enjoy the destination, I figured I’d share it as a trip report. Enjoy!
I flew in from Orlando on Friday afternoon, and after a quick stop at Customs and Immigration, I was welcomed into the Hyatt Zilara/Ziva airport lounge. It’s a beautiful, serene oasis, where you can enjoy a cold drink, do your advance check in for the resort, and relax while you wait for your shuttle. Perfect way to arrive in Jamaica!
The shuttle ride is about 10 minutes, on a nice main road, and we were welcomed into the Zilara lobby with tropical drinks and chilled towels. My room was not yet ready, so I headed off to the beachfront Jerk Shack for some lunch. My deliciously juicy jerk chicken was accompanied by “festival”, potatoes, and an icy cold Red Stripe beer – perfection!
Afterwards, I was able to check into my room — an oceanview junior suite, with a large balcony overlooking the pool and beach. The rooms at Zilara are gorgeous! Light, airy and modern, without feeling cold or sterile. There’s a big daybed (for two) on the balcony, and another spacious seating area inside the room. The king-sized bed was one of the most comfortable hotel beds I’ve experienced in a long time, and behind the bed there’s a very unobtrusive desk for those who simply can’t get away from work. Sitting at that desk, with the views of the ocean, made answering emails a pleasure 🙂
I’m really picky about hotel bathrooms, and this one gets a “10” in my book. Large and open, but with sliding pocket doors you can pull for privacy, double sinks, lots of shelves/storage, a huge shower, and a deep soaking tub. Plus, the bathroom has a low-level motion-activated light that illuminates when you walk into the room in the middle of the night – genius! The lighting overall was really well thought-out — all the switches are labeled, there’s a subtle nightlight you can leave on in the entry hallway, and a master light switch right at the bedside.
As at most all-inclusives, there’s a stocked mini-fridge with soda, beer and water, and the Zilara also stocks the room with some snacks, and three full bottles of alcohol (rum, vodka and gin). There’s a pretty extensive room service menu available as well. I did discover that room service operates on “island time”, as my breakfast took over an hour to arrive, but as long as you plan accordingly that’s fine.
I was able to go enjoy the beach for a couple of hours before our welcome dinner that evening, and I had no problem finding a shady palapa to sit under. To me, that was a MAJOR discovery, since most resorts these days seem to have too little shade and too many people “saving” chairs/umbrellas that they’re not using. I kept an eye on this all weekend, and I have to say I did not see any chair-saving at all, and there were always plenty of available shady seats. The resort said they were at about 50% occupancy for that (off-season) weekend, but even if there were twice as many people, it would not have been a problem.
A quick note about the beach…this area of the coast is rocky, and the resorts have, for the most part, blasted out little “cove” beaches protected by jettys and breakwalls. Hyatt Zilara (and sister property Hyatt Ziva next door) are no different. The beaches are small – no seven-mile- long stretches of powder white sand here – but perfectly fine for lounging, or a dip in the water. A true beach fanatic would probably be better off in Negril, but I thought the pools more than made up for it.
On Friday evening we enjoyed cocktails in the PotionZ lobby bar, and I had my first taste of Rum Cream (yum!) After that, there was a delicious welcome dinner in the open-air beachfront restaurant HoriZonZ, where my food was significantly better than I’ve experienced at other all-inclusive resorts, but the service was a little shaky (again, I put it down to “island time” — we had a large table, and some people had not yet received appetizers while others were enjoying their entrees)
On Saturday we were treated to a fun catamaran excursion that included snorkeling at Doctors Cave Beach and a stop at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. I’ve snorkeled in the Caribbean, Mexico and Hawaii, and this was the first time that I’ve been swarmed by a school of fish! Tiny, colorful fish were all over and around me, and it made me wonder if they’re used to being fed by swimmers along this beach. Very cool! At Margaritaville, we were able to jump off the boat and have a snack/drink at the restaurant, or just play on their water slide and floating trampolines.
Back at the resort that afternoon, I had time for a shower, a nap, and a visit to the pool bar (not necessarily in that order!) before our evening reception. Our visit that weekend coincided with the annual JAPEX tourism expo, for which the Zilara/Ziva were hosting a beachfront reception that night, and we were invited. There were cocktails and appetizers near the wedding gazebo, with a bartender slicing open fresh coconuts and pouring in some coconut rum, and then they led us along a lantern-lit path to a toes-in-the-sand reception featuring international food stations from each of the resorts’ restaurants. We feasted on sushi, fresh hand-made gnocchi, French crepes, and Brazilian steak, and then the band cut loose and the dance floor opened. Walking through the rest of the resort that evening, I could see couples snuggled up around the fire pits, and families enjoying a Michael Jackson tribute show on the open-air stage on the Ziva side of the resort. We had a nightcap at Union Jacks (the British pub / sports bar) and then I called it a night.
Sunday morning I had a relaxing breakfast on the patio at FlavorZ, in the Zilara lobby, and then reported for our site inspection. We toured rooms, public spaces, restaurants and function rooms at both resorts, and then had some classroom training about Hyatt Ziva and Zilara resorts in general (they have properties in Mexico as well as Jamaica) and what they can do for destination weddings. Weddings are held on the Ziva side of the property (which is for everyone, families included, as opposed to the adults-only Zilara), and there’s a wide variety of function spaces, from the oceanfront wedding gazebo to the sexy Sky Lounge. I loved the FeZ rooftop bar, which can be used for private events during the day, and the expansive terrace outside of the main ballroom, which can be used for all sorts of private events.
Our weekend culminated in a “mock wedding” on Sunday evening, where two of the agents stood in as bride and groom. We had a sunset ceremony in the gazebo, followed by cocktails and dinner on the ballroom terrace, complete with music and a wedding cake. The surf and turf menu was fabulous (easily the equal of any wedding dinner I’ve enjoyed here in the states) and the tropical setting was just magical. It’s easy to see why so many couples are choosing to get married in the Caribbean!
Monday morning came all too soon, and it was time to check out and meet my shuttle in the lobby. I had pre-purchased “Club MoBay” VIP service at the airport, so I checked in at the Club MoBay desk and they walked me through the security line and sent me on my way to the VIP lounge. There, I was able to relax on a comfy couch, enjoy open bar and buffet snacks/lunch, and wait for my flight. If I had wanted to, I could also have ordered a full lunch from Margaritaville (at an extra charge) or booked an on-site spa treatment, but I was MORE than happy to sit and read my book with a cold Red Stripe and some Jamaican meat patties and plantain chips. The cost of the Club MoBay service is more than worth it, and it can be purchased for arrival OR departure. Having done it now, and knowing what the regular gate area is like (jam-packed and chaotic), I would never fly home without it!