Hi everybody – just returned from our first trip to Jamaica!! It was fabulous. I’ll try to make this report concise and factual for other new people like me – I don’t think the old pros like jtgogo1 need my help! We stayed at Negril Beach Club Condos and were very happy with our accommodations. We (Dave and I) traveled with his daughters aged 18 and 21. As they are still a little timid we did not even consider an AI; I wanted them in the mix so we stayed "in the mix". Very happy with this choice. I tried to get some grip on hotel locations during the week. One advantage to Beach Club Condos (and the very lovely Beach House Villas 2 doors down) was super easy walking access to the village for groceries, etc. This is not to say that places further up the road were too far – but I very much enjoyed our location. The beach at Beach Club Condos was very nice and wide and open. The pool was very clean with a nice large deck. The hotel made efforts to appear like a resort which we very much appreciated – there was a reggae dance lesson one afternoon that was very sweet (as usual Dave was the life of the party wiggling around). On a scale of 1 to 10 I give the Beach Club a 12 for cleanliness, which really made us feel comfortable. Also to my surprise we had a coffee machine, blender and toaster in our 2-bedroom/full-kitchen unit. I don’t know if all units are so well equipped – apparently each is a privately owned condo. The hotel was not what I would call fancy – although I think the report in Lonely Planet is outdated – the grounds were very well kept and landscaped very nicely – there were employees everywhere constantly cleaning. Enuf already – we recommend this place!
FOOD – our plan was to eat breakfast and lunch in and eat out EVERY night – this is a MUST. The food in Jamaica is awesome – after Mexico last year the kids were skeptical but our first dinner at 3 Dives won them over. We had lobster, kingfish, jerk chicken, callaloo and rice and peas. The callaloo was our first and was the best at 3 Dives. We did not make it to sunset. I mentioned to Lydie that we were hoping to meet up with Sienna – he was not overly impressed to meet us but I think later he seemed very pleased that we enjoyed our meal so much. I had been advised on the board that the food can generally take a long time in Jamaica as nothing is prepared ahead – so we were not surprised to wait. When we arrived a girl was cutting up the ingredients I later determined were scallion-types for the callilou. Everyone must eat at 3 Dives- in retrospect a trip to Negril would not be right without this. A fellow played a rickety guitar and sang the entire 2 1/2 hours of dinner with 2 short breaks for recorded music. He sang continuously from song to song – his repertoire including "How much is that doggie in the window." My only recommendation would be to serve Appleton – I don’t like beer (or soda!). I think I was paying around 2$US for rum and water – even 130J total for a Red Stripe and an Appleton at the little bar on the beach squeezed between Beach Club Condos and Beach House Villas (these were 2 nice and friendly guys).
We also ate very well at Sweet Spice and Pickled Parrot. A place we stumbled upon – Irie (not Irie Vibes – a few doors up from there) was fantastic – curried snapper for me. Also the Boat Bar – excellent lobster cut in cubes – very, very good. Our only disappointing meal was dinner at Bar-B-Barn. We also had breakfast there – very good. One day we walked from the lighthouse down the hill to check out and choose a dive spot and ended up eating lobster at Pickled Parrot. At 6.95US per lb. (all sizes available) it was actually about the cheapest we found and very excellent. We ended up there twice as we had a rainy evening and it does have a very large roof. Lobster is pretty much 800J everywhere and well worth it – also it was slightly different in preparation everywhere which was fun. One day – also due to the threat of rain we had snacks at Margueritaville also chosen for it’s large roof – it was nicer and less commercial than I expected – thank god. Our waitress had a broken leg so she sat behind the bar and whistled for our food! We were hoping to go to Just Natural and Selena’s but didn’t make it. We did have drinks at Easy Rock on a stormy night which was very exciting as the waves practically broke into the bar – the bartender was very nice – very nice vibe – also several computers available but I did not pay attention. Enjoyed drinks at Errol’s bar next to Beach Club – nice beach sunset spot – nice menu – wanted to try it!
We tended to eat early (sunset) and our food tended to come out quick – perhaps because we were early?
The patty man came along the beach every afternoon – 50J – no one higgled – altho the best patty I had was at the stand on the beach just at the (south?) end of Swept Away – 30J.
If you are a newbie, budget bucks for food. The 4 of us very consistently spent about $65 US per dinner. Also most everywhere the tip was included – we did not "over tip" on the 10% included – my fear is the more we are willing to pay the more the prices will go up.
MONEY – Definitely bring the 100$US one dollar bills that everyone recommends. If I had a 200J taxi ride I tipped 1$US. Our hotel had a safe so we brought a good bit of cash with traveler’s checks as backups. We exchanged about 75US$ at the airport to cover dinner for the 4 of us upon arrival to Negril. Rate at the airport was 42J, 46.5 at the cambio in Negril and 45 at the bank. We tried to pay as much in J as possible for the kids to practice but also I’m certain you get better prices in J. The craft market goods were exclusively in US. I had an assortment of US bills and ended up exchanging much of it into 5$ and more 1$’s at the bank so I could shop at the craft market. They were able to break my large US bills – bring small bills – use the cambio – the hotel office rate was 45J.
CLOTHING – bathing suit, t-shirt, sweatshirt, sneakers and sandals.
I will refrain from tiring you further at this time – I’ll do one more later about our activities, transport and shopping. Again – thanks to all for my pages of notes that made our trip so fun and easy. Part 2 – soon come!! – J
Good morning everybody! Hopefully I can provide some info today for those lucky enough to be on their way. One week in Negril is not enough – try to stay longer if you can! Today I will report on our transport, activities and shopping and will try to be brief.
We had prearranged for a driver at the airport – 70$ US for the 4 of us plus we gave him a 15$ tip. Our flight was 1/2 hour late and he was still waiting – very grateful. At our request we took the inland road – it was great once you got up and away from Mobay.
Our schedule had to accommodate the kids desire to sunbath so the hours of 10 am to 2 pm were off limits. This is okay as I remember the importance of this! Dave and I did snorkel during this sacred time. We went on one of the glass bottom boats near the Beach Club for 20$ US each for about 2 hours. Instead of going straight out to sea they took us up the beach towards the point and then out to the reef. It was very nice to enjoy this ride – just like the TV commercial! I had been advised by many people to bring my own mask and snorkel. I would strongly recommend this. As I was warned, the gear that came with the trip did not fit well at all, but worse there was no doubt it was clean – the chemical was so strong it burned my eyes. Bring your own – plus the asking price to rent mask, snorkel and fins at Parrot was 5$US per 1/2 hour. Anyway the 2 boys who took us out were very fun and nice. I would guess they might take you for a 1 hr. ride along the beach and back. Also they do sunset cruises around to the cliffs – it looked to me like maybe you could even swim from their boat to then jump from the cliffs at one of the places. These are the boats that say "Glass Bottom Boat" on the side.
Went to Mayfield – it was great. Paid 80$US to our driver who had a nice new van with air conditioning. He was to take us to the market in Sav on the way back (Sat may be the best day for the market I’m not clear) but we cancelled that at the last minute to catch some more sun time. We left the hotel late at 9:30 and were back on the beach by 2 – we didn’t eat at Mayfield. Our guides at Mayfield -Derrick and Denver – were awesome – we tipped 500J to one and 1000J to the other who tore off his toe retrieving my wallet which was racing down the river! Unbelievable! They seemed very happy with our tips and requested our company that evening at Alfred’s. We gave our driver additional $ as by now we were in love with him. On one’s first trip I believe it would be impossible to rent a car and find Mayfield on your own.
Taxied up to the lighthouse where Sofia took us up. We gave her 200J as recommended by some people up there. Then we walked down the hill scoping out places to jump. .Rick’s was fancy. Coral Seas was very charming. It would be a good place to go for breakfast outside, have a morning jump and I bet they would let you swim in the pool. The cliffs at Pickled Parrot (I think they named the restaurant after the owner) were the best/coolest (the bar opens at 10 and I don’t know if you can jump earlier) and I could see the entrance to what I think was Joseph’s Cave. Xtabi had a funny vibe – maybe it was too fancy. After all this we never got to jump as the remainder of our stay had choppy seas – jtgogo1 had warned us of the dangers of jumping during choppy seas.
We shopped for groceries at the Hi-Lo. We brought a bunch of staple type stuff with us, which was a good idea. I believe the circle in town is called the roundabout. As you are walking in to town from the beach go to the left where I found the best produce stands. I bought callalou one day but declined the offer for onions and tomatoes only to find out this is what I needed. I went back to the lady proclaiming my ignorance and she fixed me up a bag of all I needed to make awesome callilou at home – Lydie I am available if you need help!
The kids wanted CD’s – I read on the board the price should be 300J – and also to buy them at Country Side which is in the shopping center with the Hi-Lo. The man would not budge on the prices of 700J and 800J. I can higgle pretty good but got nowhere on this. The next day as we walked to the Hi-Lo from the roundabout we stopped in the Palazina Record Shop. As you go up the road there is a 2-story cinder block bldg with shops on the left. We met Wayne who runs the upstairs shop with his girl Wendy. He explained the price of 300J was for bootlegs – who knows – last year in Mexico we had the same no-higgle experience on CD’s. We very much liked him and would recommend shopping there, as Country Side seems to have more than enuf business. Appleton rum cost 7$US. Mmm!!
We attempted to buy live lobster from the fishermen under the bridge. We went down at 7:30 am to inquire before they went out to empty their traps. They told us no problem – come back at 10:30 – we did but they weren’t back yet – we waited a while but they weren’t back yet – oh well. I’m sure you could also buy fish there.
I walked up the beach road one day, which I really enjoyed – it was interesting to see everything from that side. On the way back along the ocean I had to pass inspection to be allowed to cross the beach at Beaches – what’s up with that!!
Shopped at the craft market – really the only place to shop. One board report was negative about the items available – I was impressed. You will be asked to visit each shop, which I was happy to do – maybe to some people the items look the same but I am an artist and took great joy in shopping for the exact right rooster. I thought the use of dyes to color the wood was really superior. I don’t think I should teach anyone to higgle – it’s a skill you must earn – but I would say you could start at 50% of the asking price. We bought a beautiful walking stick from some young boys on whom I did not have the heart to use my powers! On the other hand the bowl I spotted as my desire was priced at 110$ US on the first day and the next day at 150$ by the boss! I successfully scored my prize for 65$ from a guy who for all his crying had a fat wallet and a fat belly – I felt fine. All prices were in US, which was a relief as you’d be in the 1000’s of J’s. It must be strange to come from another country and do the craft market in US dollars.
Okay – my last info regards our trip home. We flew from Negril via Timair on an 8-passenger plane. It was great. Right on time altho I had a scare when the Negril office did not have record of our reservation – Mobay office did. 15 minutes plus a beautiful view. One advantage to having 4 of us was no problem reserving a plane – there was one single guy flying with us – you might have a hard time making a reservation for 1 or 2 or at least pay more. We got a better price by paying with cash. In fact if I were going again with only 2 of us I might try to meet people on my US flight down to share the plane ride/fare on the way back. We left Negril at 2:30 – were at the US airways desk by 3 for our 4:55 flight – plenty of time for us. Our flight home was straight thru – a general tip – these days watch out as they can call a flight non-stop and actually that can mean a long layover somewhere with no change of planes. Also US Airways in a very irritating fashion, tried to pressure us to get on the plane very early which I did not appreciate – if we didn’t have the kids I would have sat right there at the bar until 10 minutes before takeoff. Believe we also got ripped off at the US airways desk for departure tax that was actually included in our ticket – be careful. In Philly security was so lax my passport was not reviewed and I was not required to turn in my documentation – weird. I wish they would at least check your luggage tags.
I hope this info is helpful. I want to return so bad. I’m sorry we missed you, Sienna, at 3 Dives – we got there about 6:45. The weather was a little iffy on our trip, which affected our day trip plans. We attempted to reach Solomon once for Mayfield and ended up going with our airport guy – with the weather constantly changing we had to! We loved our driver very much. It was very nice to have someone so family-oriented, with such a nice roomy van. I liked having connections for drivers before we went down. There are several on this board – I would advise bringing telephone numbers with you. But there are plenty of drivers on the street. One lady on this board was nice enuf to email to me the exact correct info and details on how to do Black River/ YS. If anyone wants this info I can forward her email – we didn’t make it. I also wanted very badly to go to Roaring River and the Blue Hole Gardens. It would have been an easy drive of maybe 40 minutes and I thought, good for an overcast day to swim in the caves but I was voted down by the majority of my 3 companions who think they go on vacation to relax!
So we had a blast – if anyone needs more info please feel free to email me. I can’t imagine a cooler experience. We were not hassled at all by anyone and can only report many wonderful times. Our daughters were very politely asked many times to stay in Jamaica! There seems to be some pressure on the locals not to hassle the tourists. This was appreciated as our daughters are very pretty and somewhat young but hopefully the beach will retain the mixing of all who visit it. And hopefully the Jamaicans will hold onto their property! I was told it was the government that sold the land upon which Burger King sits. Buy a phone card from the desk of your hotel – a 200J card was all we needed – and we had a phone in our apt.
Thanks everybody for your help – Hope I can also be as helpful.