Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Jewel Runaway Bay Beach & Golf Resort Review: Part 1

My thoughts on Jamaica's  Jewel Runaway Bay Beach & Golf Resort, which Husband, Baby and I stayed at from January 28 until February 4, are many. So many that this review is going to be split in two. So let's start with the TL:DR version: While it's not the fanciest, the Jewel Runaway Bay Beach & Golf Resort is a great resort for families and offers a wonderful beach, tasty food and a water park. Now on to the details.
The main pool
The Resort, Its Pools & Its Service
At 266 rooms, the Jewel is just the right size. While it has a fair amount of well-landscape grounds, nothing is too far away. At the same time, by being bigger than a boutique hotel, the resort offers a number of amenities and restaurants and enough staff and guests that you don't see the same faces over and over.

Our main reason for picking this resort is that its marketed as being family-oriented and since this was our first Caribbean vacation with our then 13-month-old daughter, we wanted to go somewhere where our very active toddler would be at minimum, tolerated. Thankfully at the Jewel, kids aren't just tolerated, they're happily accepted.

Playing in the "baby fountain"
The bulk of guests at this resort have children and multi-generational families are common. While we did see some child-free twenty-somethings, there were the minority. As a result, this isn't a party resort, which usually meant that getting a drink was a breeze (I've never seen a pool bar as dead as the Jewel's). Most guests are also Canadians, though we did meet quite a few Americans and a good number of Brits.

The Jewel is home to three pools. We never visited the smallest of the pools but we were regular visitors to the kiddie pool, which also was home to the resort's swim-up bar (an interesting combination and maybe a smart one when you think about it). This area actually did get fairly busy and was the only place in the whole resort where it could be hard to find a lounger. Also, despite all the activity here, it didn't offer any towels (but it did have pool noodles).

To get towels you have to stop by the big pool. Thankfully, our room was near this pool so this trip wasn't a hassle for us. This pool, which is the resort's largest and deepest pool, was often quiet while we were there, making it a great place to read and just lounge while your spouse watched your napping child.

The kiddie structure at the water park
One of the Jewel's biggest selling features is that it includes access to the Jewel Lagoon. While fairly new, this isn't the biggest or fanciest waterpark but it is fun. It features a lazy river, two big slides and a little kid area that my daughter was terrified of. There is also a bar and a snack bar that was surprisingly good (get the jerk chicken sliders) and offers self-serve nachos and popcorn, the latter of which I wished was also offered at the resort. While we were there, it was never overly busy, even on the day a cruise ship came to town and dropped a bunch of people off.

The TripAdvisor reviews for this resort are very consistent in one area: Everyone raves about the staff and their service. I completely agree. We had no issues with any employees, all of them were kind, helpful and did their jobs. We're not big tippers but despite that, we didn't feel that we were treated differently than anyone else. The staff was also great with our daughter, even when she threw food on the ground, and would go out of of their way to make her smile.

Here's a helpful map of the resort

Our Room
The somewhat rough shape of the rooms is one of the more common complaints you see on TripAdvisor and yeah, I can see why. Our room's condition was in the 3.5 range though I can see how at one point, the bathroom was at the 4, maybe even 4.5 star level. To be clear, our room was clean and a reasonable size (the balcony was actually on the big side) but it was a bit beat up.

Our room before we trashed it
The layout and design was also a bit strange for a resort that's all about families. The door to our bathroom was a glass door that didn't have a latch and that swung both ways. This is not a great design when you have a toddler. The bathroom was also located down a small hallway that was all closet on one side and had a vanity table and mirror at the other end. All of this would have been great if there was a door to the hallway. But there wasn't and there was nothing my daughter loved more than running down that hallway and either climbing into the closet or hiding in the bathroom. On the baby-friendly plus-side, the room did only have one accessible electrical socket.

Our room came with a comfy king-size bed, a fridge stocked with non-alcoholic drinks, a TV with a descent cable package and a very powerful AC unit. The resort supplied at crib for Baby and while she wasn't a big fan of it, I can't blame that on the resort.

We requested a waterview room and that's what we got. Unfortunately, while our view was quite nice, our room was located within earshot of the main stage, which could be quite loud. Our baby didn't care but I can see how the noise could keep older kids from getting any sleep until after 10-10:30pm, when the entertainment wrapped up (and even then we could often hear music coming from somewhere else on the resort). Additionally, the sidewalk outside our block of rooms (the 2000s) seemed to be a key pathway for moving supplies around the resort and the rattling of the supply carts started early in the morning (thankfully running the AC's powerful fan drowned this noise out). If I were to return to the Jewel, I would request a different room, even if that meant no ocean view.

And to answer the question you're all wondering: Yes, we had wi-fi in our room though at times it could be slow. I wouldn't depend on it to stream Netflix but it usually worked fine for checking email or Twitter.

The Beach & Ocean
The fish on the left is having some bagel
While this might not be a universal opinion, I think that the beach is the real star of the Jewel. Its sand is powder soft and, except for too many abandoned drinking straws, very clean. There are no issues with vegetation, either on the beach or in the water, and there was very little wildlife on the beach (we saw a total of one crab).

In the water is a different story. The Jewel's designated swimming area isn't huge but at no point did it ever feel crowded. The reason for its small size is because there is a stretch of coral reef just a few meters from the shore in low tide.

While it's not the healthiest reef I've ever seen (actually, it's kind of depressing to see how dead it is), it does still support a nice variety of fish including some large schools of sergeant majors who love to eat carb-heavy items from the breakfast buffet. These fish (along with a few other species including rainbow parrotfish) will come right into the fairly shallow swimming area, making it easy for kids to see and feed them. Experienced snorkelers and divers likely won't be impressed with the Jewel's marine life but your average kid should love it. Personally, I just like that I could do a bit snorkelling and see a few things while my Husband and daughter played only meters away.

Width-wise, the beach is a reasonable size and has plenty of lounge chairs for everyone. There's no beach-side service but the bar isn't that far away.

The lovely beach
The length of the beach might be disappointing to those who want to take very long walks but I think that for most people, it's long enough. One end is another resort while the other side, beyond the resort's perimeters, is filled with local vendors who sell everything from handicrafts to uh, other island specialities. We did check these vendors out and while they are a bit more aggressive then the people who sell at the resort, they will take "no" for an answer. Their prices are also much better.

The Jewel includes a variety of free non-motorized water sports in its all-inclusive package. We didn't see a lot of people taking advantage of this, I think because most people at the resort have kids. I did want to take out a paddleboard on my kid-free day (she was with a nanny we'd hired) but of course that was the one day the water was a bit rough.

With the exception of that day, the water was always at least swimmable inside the designated area. Of course, that's highly dependent on the weather. If you get a bad stretch, well, at least you have three pools to choose from.

Up next: The resort's food, beverages, the kids' club and more.

No comments:

Post a Comment