Our Stay At Gran Bahia - 1/5-1/7/07
You are more than welcome to view all photos we took at the resort during our stay at the following link:
The ride from MoBay to the Gran Bahia, once you left the airport vicinity, took a good hour and a half...the traffic was heavy, and sometimes at a barely creeping crawl as the one lane of traffic threaded it’s way past all the construction going on along the coast. I really had no idea there were so many properties being built, and with the roadway under construction anyway, the 45 minutes spent at that slow pace had us more than ready to get to the hotel.
We arrived about 12:30...I knew check-in wasn’t until 3pm but I wanted to see what happened to people who arrived sooner than the scheduled check-in time. No one else was checking in at that time, (we drove ourselves there) so the front desk work went fairly quickly...10 minutes from start to finish.
We received our two room keys (passcards), two towel cards ($25 to replace if lost, so do hang on to them), a map of the grounds, and were told we could go have drinks or have lunch until check-in time. (There was no welcome drink as I had read someone received, but perhaps this is something they do when big busloads come in, I’m not sure.) I did ask what ‘extras’ we would have received had we been in a ‘deluxe / VIP room’ and was told a bathrobe, slippers, and free internet service...the bathrobes we didn’t need, the slippers we were certainly happy to go without, and the free internet service was a nice perk, but new we could make due..so a standard room fit us just fine.
I pulled my notebook out and started jotting down impressions and we made our way down to the pool bar. There was one bartender at that time, and twelve people waiting for service...there are no stools around the bar, so I wondered how long some people might stand before wandering off. Everyone was quite patient and that was a pleasant suprise...even when the bartender left to get more glasses. I was expecting an irate crowd from some of what I had read before. In a while, another bartender joined the first one, bringing even more glasses to stock the bar...that was a problem right there...each time someone finished a drink there was no where to wash the glasses, they had to go back to the kitchen and new ones brought down. With possibly a hundred people poolside, LOTS of glasses were gone through in a short time, with no quick way to replace them. (This changed by the third morning we were there, when the bar was stocked with disposable plastic cups.)
We then wandered over to the Orchid restaurant...the buffet restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Aside from the fact that it seemed freezing inside (the air-conditioning definitely works!), there were plenty of tables and a large assortment of food...soup, salad ingredients to put together yourself, pasta and tuna salads, fresh fruit and fruit salads, a large variety of breads, desserts, cheese and cold cuts of various types, and hot food. The hot food is either in trays on the buffet line or you can have it grilled to your style at two or three ‘grill stations’. Drinks included sodas, juice, white and red wine, tea or coffee. We had our first introduction to buffet food, as we don’t eat it here...it was a learning experience. Trying to recognize some dishes was not a problem...I don’t mind adventure. The difficulty came, as the trip went along, that our tastes and the chefs recipes just didn’t match. I do remember reading in trip reports of other properties that people complained of having others cut in front of them in line, of just rude individuals...after watching for a bit, it was nice to see that there is no ‘formal’ procedure to the buffet...find a plate, roam up and down and look at all the selections, step up to what you want, and dip it up...no ‘front’ of the line or ‘back’ of the line. This of course may change once the hotel is at full capacity and more people eat at any one given time. I did have to chuckle when I saw the ‘dress code’ posted outside the restaurant doors: WOMEN IN FORMAL ATTIRE, MEN IN SHORT PANTS.” This proved to be a language translation, simply meaning women need to wear a cover up over a swim suit, and men need a shirt....casual wear was the norm all three meals.
By now it was time to check into our room, and the bell hop at the front steps followed us to the van to get our luggage. It took a little bit of time to explain that there wasn’t any more than one bag...he kept telling us to take it all out...even telling him that we were only there for a few days took awhile to get through...no suitcases, no more carry-ons, nothing..this is it...one bag. Although my husband carried the bag, the bell hop went with us to the room, checked inside and let us know it was ready.
We had a standard room..two double beds, night stand, dresser, closet, couch, writing desk, table and two chairs, and a table and two chairs on the balcony. The room also came with a safe, cable TV, small clock-radio, mini-fridge, small coffee maker and two cups. The bathroom had a separate shower from the jacuzzi bathtub, a wall mounted mirror that flipped so you had ‘regular’ glass on one side and a magnified mirror on the other...nice for close up work. There was a regular mirror of course over the sink. Two bath towels, two smaller towels (which we put into use as floor mats), two wash cloths, and a small bottle of conditioning shampoo, lotion, and bath gel. By the time we had unpacked our belongings, and opened the balcony door to check out the view, a gentleman knocked on the door to see if we needed anything stocked in the fridge (mini bar.) It already had two bottles of beer (Real Rock?), two cans of Coke, a can of Coke Light, and a can of sprite. I asked for Guinness but was told they didn’t have any, and we couldn’t think of anything else we needed at the moment, so told him we were fine. In hindsight, I should have asked him what all COULD be requested...perhaps someone else will have found this out already, or will think to ask when they go.
From all that I had read before going to the Bahia, we apparently “lucked out” as far as the room went...no leaks, no bugs, nothing broken, the air conditioning worked well (TOO well for my tastes!)...it stayed on even with the sliding door open, not sure why as I had read somewhere that it went off if the door was not latched. The safe was easy to program by following the directions on the door...the water was hot, the water pressure was excellent. We had a room on the second floor, facing the pool/courtyard and the longer we were there, the more I liked the location. Our first sounds from the balcony were the wind in the palm tree in front of us (but not one so big it blocked a view), the occasional shouts from a volleyball game going on in the pool, and if listening carefully, the sounds of the sea...our first day there was VERY breezy.
BUILDINGS / ROOMS:
All rooms currently open form a three sided block, with room views either of the pool / courtyard, or the sea and beaches (if in the very far end of Building 18.) As you face the sea, Building 14 is next to the lobby and restaurant areas. Even numbered rooms face the sea, the odd numbered rooms would have a balcony overlooking the side of the parking lot, the pathway through two tunnels that takes you across the street to where the laundry facilities, management quarters and staff canteen are located, and the roadway (although the hotel is set back a bit off the road and hedged conceal the chain link fence and probably somewhat buffer any road noise.) However, I would also assume that noise from vehicles of any type, be it tour busses, delivery trucks, etc. would certainly reach you.
As you face the sea, Buildings 15-18 are to your left. Even numbered rooms have balconies facing the pool and courtyard, odd numbered rooms in Building 15 face the shopping plaza (called the Commercial Area Pueblo). Anyone with rooms on this side will have the sounds of the band at night as well as music from the disco to listen to...great if you like music, the sliding glass balcony door will not completely shut out the music. If you’re a light sleeper, do not like live music, or can’t tolerate high energy ‘disco’ music and you know you’re going to have one of these rooms, do bring ‘industrial strength’ ear plugs. If you’re not sure what room you’re going to have, tuck the ear plugs in your bag just as a precaution.
Building 16 and 17 have even numbered rooms facing the pool and courtyard, the odd numbered rooms face the long natural beach. Personally, I would not want one of the rooms facing that direction as the new construction of the second phase of buildings has started...you’re going to hear noise by day, there’s just no way around it. The very end of building 17 (I’m sorry I didn’t get the exact numbers for these rooms) and Building 18 would be best to have odd numbered rooms...facing the beach, as the even numbered rooms facing the pool and courtyard will be blocked on the lower two levels by the Grill Restaurant. The bottom two levels of Building 18 also would have a view of the Snack Pisces ‘restaurant’ and bar once it is fully operational...right now the structure is there, although construction is still on going and while there are plenty of tables and chairs, there is not much to be had other than some bottled water and sodas transported by cooler. The top three levels facing inward will look down on the restaurant roof, a bit of the pool, and you’ll have a view of the sea and man-made beach.
From our room (16216), on the second floor, I could still see a little bit of the ocean...I’m sure that any room on the third, fourth or fifth floor would give you clear ocean views. I actually loved our room location...while I like looking at the sea, I much preferred being able to see people walking the paths, playing in the pool and at night, I loved seeing the softly lit grounds, the lights reflected in the pool, and the back terrace of the lobby...the jazz band, or steel drum band set up in the evenings carried over to the room but was enjoyable, not obtrusive.
Although I gladly would have poked into each and every room, this was not possible. I cannot tell you what rooms still have problems with plumbing or wiring or tiles that need replacing or furniture that needs help. I did meet people who had problems with all of these areas, but it did not seem to be contained to any one building, or any particular floor.
Problem areas are to be reported to the front desk and they then contact the department that can fix this problem. I do know that the maintenance staff can not be everywhere at once, and because someone does not report to a particular room in a certain time frame, it’s because they are already busy somewhere else, and will get to you as soon as they can.
Did I see scuff marks on hallway walls? Paint splatters on tile walkways? Grout on bathroom walls that was not smoothed away completely? Handles missing on shower doors? Nicks and scratches on wooden doors? Stains on hallway carpeting? Ceiling tiles in the buffet restaurant that needed replacing? Yes, I did. I also saw painters everywhere working each day to touch areas up. The painting crew were friendly, polite and apologetic for the 'mess' they made while getting the work done, and it honestly was not a hindrance to make your way around them.
I don’t know if all shower doors were like ours, without a handle...you opened and closed it by holding onto the top of the door..this was not a problem...what I do remember is that the first day my husband showered and when done, was concerned about the water that had puddled up on the bathroom floor...it could have been slippery, which is why we put down one of the small bath towels as a mat. When I showered later, there was no water on the floor...I think what happened is that since the shower door is not sealed tight, you have to be sure you align it in a closed position...my husband took the shower head (attached to a hose) from the ‘catch’ position and hand held it...I left it where it was and stood under it. Water shooting out of there at full force could jar the door and let it stand open a bit and that could have been the cause of the water outside when he was finished.
Something I just thought of, and again forgot to ask the front desk about...why there is a phone installed on the wall right next to the commode...hardly seems like a likely spot to converse with anyone! Perhaps it’s there if someone is extremely ill and needs to reach the front desk for medical help???
We didn’t use the tub, it wasn’t that deep and even if completely full, the jacuzzi jets are set rather low...it would have been much more tempting if the tub was deep and the water would come up at least as high as chest level...although it was long enough maybe I was supposed to lie down in it?
The closet seemed quite roomy (even had we brought more with us)...there were 12 hangars that also had a bar with clips to hang skirts or pants, two small but deep shelves, one long top shelf, one long bottom shelf.
The dresser had four drawers, the writing desk had a drawer, the night stand a drawer...plenty of room I though to stash stuff. The bed linens were soft, and the bed had a blanket and a quilt, the mattress was not too hard, not too soft...was just right and we slept comfortably and woke up refreshed each morning. The pillows were again neither too hard nor too soft. The TV stations were in English, Spanish (2-3 stations) and French (2 stations)...which I enjoyed listening to, even though I couldn’t understand a word...it was just a nice change. One channel had local news coverage and commercials from the Denver area which I thought was rather interesting...
The safe needed no keys of any kind, only a six digit number of your choice to program in. The directions were quite easy to follow and we never had a problem. I remember reading somewhere that the staff all had keys to the safe and therefore, this was not a good place to store anything. I'm sure the front desk (or someone on the property) has a way to open a safe if one forgets the number they programmed in, but it seems unlikely that safes will be gone through just to see what's in them...
As I mentioned earlier, the AC in our room worked fine...actually too strong for us (and my husband loves AC!) I kept the thermostat set on 28 degrees (Celsius) rather than on the 20 it was set for when we arrived....turned it off completely at night when we went to dinner, but left our balcony door open all night...and was quite grateful that we had the blanket to snuggle under. I did have to leave the resort to buy sinus medicine...the head cold that was brewing before I left completely kicked in and took over my first day on the property...the chilled restaurants and then the room just were more than my heat loving body could handle....
We never had problems with mosquitos in our room or on the property, however, tucking a bottle of mosquito repellant in your bags doesn't take up a bit of room and you'll have it if you need it, either for mosquitos or sand fleas (in case they have them on the beach at sunset like we do in Negril.)
We never saw a rat, or a mouse, or any 'wild life' other than what Jamaicans here call a 'rat-bat' (a palm sized dark colored moth that will alight on ceilings or high up on walls.) We were told that a woman had been bitten by a rat the first week they opened. Some of the management would like to have cats on the property, as they are the best form of rodent control...poison means that the rodents not only die but crawl off to do so in areas where they're not noticed until the rather unpleasant scent makes their dead little selves known. Management has apparently been told that cats are not to be brought onto the property as they will bother guests...so am not sure what all will finally be done.
The pool is huge, those of you who have already seen pictures know that is is a ‘free form’ design that curves and twists across the courtyard...because of this shape, it can hold loads of people and still not seem crowded. The depth seemed to be 4 1/2 feet throughout, perhaps shallower in the end designated as the ‘children’s pool’...though adults were in that portion too. This area and the 3 Jacuzzi pools (small, hold maybe 4 people?) are at the far end, to the right as you face the sea (opposite end of the property from the natural beach.) The water was crystal clear, there was no smell of chlorine. There are a lot of chairs (some with umbrellas for shade, but not a lot), although if no one used the beaches, there would not be enough chairs to go around. By 8am, people are already staking out their spots by placing towels, books etc. on the chairs, so if having one is a priority, do find a way to claim yours early in the morning.
There was music played by the pool...a DJ is there to spin the tunes...music varies to suit the different people any given week...I heard reggae, soca, and Latin music. The volume did not reach the room we were in, could be heard from anywhere around the pool area, but was not loud nor annoying in any way. The DJ made announcements from time to time, both in English and Spanish. The pool has a swim up bar although now that I think about it, I don’t ever remember seeing anyone use it. The pool bar serves fruit juices ‘on tap’ - if you have a chance to have the sour sop juice, either at the bar or the restaurant, DO try it...most all the juices were tinned or made from concentrate...the sour sop juice tasted fresh squeezed and I could have drunk it by the gallon loads. The pool bar also has frozen daiquiri and pina colada mixes, for those who want virgin drinks, or for those who want a shot or two of alcohol added. Beer is Red Stripe on tap, and they also have some liqueurs and bottled alcohol available for mixed drinks. Bottled water is also available.
There is a volleyball net in the pool for games, a portable basketball pole / hoop, and a ping pong table for those that need a bit more activity.
This is what I call the beach in front of the hotel, the one I saw first. Actually, to “see” it, you have to be in a room on the third, fourth, or fifth level, as the ground is lower than the pool / courtyard area, and the only thing visible from the second floor were the tops of the palapas spread out on the sand. There were roughly 15 shade palapas and 100 chairs on this portion of the beach. The sand was ‘soft’ enough, a light brown in color..very similar to the sand color in the Treasure Beach area. Close to the waters edge the sand is quite gravely and there are rocks and more gravel on as you enter in or leave the water...if you’re tender footed you may find it comfortable to wear water shoes, as strange as that sounds. The water was quite churned up when we were there, due to rough seas each afternoon. Although the rock jetties keep this portion more like a semi - protected cove, as the water broke on shore, it was not very clear. Not too many people used this particular beach while we were there, so there were plenty of chairs available. A life guard is stationed here, there is a massage “tent” with two tables if you’d like to have a sea side massage. I forgot to bring my tape measure, had every intention of digging down in the sand to see if it stopped at six inches deep as that had been an area of concern by some...I did ask about the sand depth, and was told that the sand is one foot deep, on top of one foot of gravel, which is over one foot of marl, which is on top of a portion of the original highway that used to wind along the coast line. I was also told that the man made jetties (groynes?) were positioned in such a way that as the sea surges come in, the sand will be carried in and deposited making it ‘deeper’ than it is now. I’m not an engineer...have no idea if this is true or not..just repeating facts.
I didn’t discover this beach until the second day...and was shocked to see how long it is..easily a mile in length, maybe a bit more. This is the ‘crescent shaped’ beach I remember reading about. It’s here you have access to your water sports equipment, those who are into nude sunbathing can do so...all the way down at the far, far point. There are approximately 1000 chairs on this beach, and roughly 80 shade palapas. When we were there, you needed to be very close to the hotel to have ready access to bottled water, as there are no refreshment stands on the beach...although one lifeguard did tell me that you can ask them to go get water for you, and I have since read that there are now staff members who walk up and down with cold drinks. The bathrooms are not finished yet, and again, will be close to the hotel, until the new wing is completed....on the other hand, being close to the snack shop, bar and bathrooms means you’ll need to sit in front of the ongoing construction site. There were many, many people on this beach...far more than in the pool and small beach area combined. Sand color seemed a little lighter than on the smaller beach.
Water sports equipment available = Banana boat ($15 per ride, $10 for children), catamaran (free, with a $25 deposit against damage), windsurfer (free with $25 deposit). Catamaran and windsurfing lessons are $25. These pieces can be used for one hour at a time, though if you’re late, there was no charge..just a reminder to not hog the equipment. Also available to use is snorkeling equipment (with $25 deposit) - again, a one hour usage is the norm.
A one hour snorkeling tour of one reef is $20 per adult, or $10 per child. A two hour snorkeling tour of two reefs is $30 per adult, and $20 per child (ages 4-12.)
There were no glass bottom boats, jet skis, parasailing or fishing boats available, but is all to be in place “some day.”
There is a dive boat on the premises...Scuba Caribe is the company. For non-experienced people you can choose the “Discover” introductory package (1 dive and 1 free) for $125. If you wish to have a PADI certificate, this course will be $295.
An advanced open water course is $$310-$425.
PADI referral = $240.
Single dive = $15.
Couples Package (6 dives + 2 free) = $270.
Family Package (10 dives + 4 free) = $450.
Group Package ( 20 dives + 4 free) = $900
Equipment rental = regulator ($5)......BCD ($5)
Cash is needed for the security deposits, there is no way to process a credit card on the beach.
A bit of a mystery...even to the staff...received mostly blank looks when I inquired about it...was told that the hours are from 8am to 8:30pm, there would be games and dancing and when I asked where this children’s area was located, I was given vague references to it being in the ‘shopping area’ (Pueblo)...however, no one in the Commerical Pueblo shopping area seemed to know anything about it other than they ‘heard there was one somewhere.’
I found one little room with a pool table and electronic game machine of some sort...but no one there to answer questions or give other directions.
There is supposed to be after hours (after 8:30pm) baby sitting available, there is a charge per child, per hour (but no one I asked seemed to know what that price was to be.) Parents are to sign up ahead of time with the Public Relations ladies (currently busy making restaurant reservations) if they wish the services of a babysitter who will come to the room.
I did see children at the resort...infants to teens...none were running around being obnoxious, none were an annoyance..the ones there when we were were polite, calm, respectful of being around adults, yet all seemed to be having a good time with their families or other children...they reminded me of children I’ve met before who came from families where travel was something done often..these children could adapt themselves to any situation and appeared more mature than the average...perhaps that was the type family, for the most part, at this resort on these particular days we were there?
There are two rooms available...the VIP room is on the same floor as the lobby. It had 6 terminals available...no sign up time, just drop in and get to work, or sit and wait for a free machine...a small ‘bar’ was set up so you could have drinks while you waited...rum, gin, vodka, scotch, sodas, bottled mixers. Hours open: 7am-10pm.
The center for those in standard rooms is downstairs, in a room that is currently unfinished. Two machines are available...the price was $265J per 15 minutes, or $1065 per hour...I was quoted an exchange rate of 60J to $1US, so this would work out to be about $17.50 per hour. If fax machines or printers are needed, the work is taken to the front desk, and if not overly busy, they will take care of this for you. Hours are 7am to 10pm, but a “Closed” sign would appear on the door daily, at different times of day...it’s possible that the staff member inside was pulled to work elsewhere due to lack of business certain times of day. If you know you need to use a computer at a certain time each day, or multiple times during the day, let the staff member know ahead of time, so either they can actually be there, or return from where ever else it is they were assigned to help you...or help you set up an alternative time. The room is rather dark, there is no decor, it is not someplace you want to linger.
If for some reason you have off line work to do, or work on your own laptop (can be plugged in anywhere you find an outlet) and then you need to go online for any cutting/pasting work, you will not be charged for the off-line time, only the actual minutes hooked up.
Also a room in progress...wicker chairs for seating, unfinished wooden stage...I was told that when finished it will be the largest theatre on the island. The first night there we dropped in, was told the nightly entertainment was going to be a Couples Game Show, and opted to skip it. We never did see a show there to get a feeling for seating or acoustics as the next night we wound up taking in music. Currently, the ‘stage shows’ and live nightly music run at the same time...I’m sure someday there will be a posted sign somewhere to let you know what the theatre entertainment is, for now it’s potluck. Shows start late: 9:45pm.
Large enough room, space for plenty of equipment that is to come. For now, there are two treadmills, two stationary bikes, two ‘all over’ body machines, and sets of free weights.
A calm ‘lobby’, with pleasant staff who will take the time to chat. Massage prices range from $60 for a 30 minute neck and shoulder massage, to $120 for a Renova Combo...80 minutes of a combination of Swedish, Shiatsu, and Deep Tissue techniques. They also offer hot stone massages, stress cures, and aromatherapy. Massages can be scheduled for inside the spa, or down on the beach.
Shares a room inside the spa area...large and roomy, will I’m sure have more chairs and areas set up later. Currently there are two chairs when having your hair done, and one table for manicures and pedicures. ($25-$55 depending on what is done.)
Hair braiding can be done here, with prices ranging from $35 for half a head braided...to $77-$150 for a full head of braids.
Brides who will use any of these services need to schedule what you want 2-3 days before the wedding date...the staff will go to the bride’s or brides maids rooms for the services needed.
SMOKING / NON SMOKING AREAS;
There is no smoking allowed in the restaurants...actually, it was not stated, but there are no ashtrays, so right there is a subtle hint that it’s not welcome. There are no rooms at this time designated as ‘smoking vs nonsmoking’ rooms, and ashtrays are in the rooms and on the balconies.
No local calling cards that would access a land line (World Talk for instance) can be used. The phone charge, per minute, for both international and local calls, is $2.50US PER MINUTE...I almost fell on the floor when I heard that. Do yourselves a favor and bring your own cel phones, be sure they’re ‘unlocked’ or can have a local chip put in.
There were none on the property at the time we were there....you needed to go into Ochi if you wanted to pick up craft items.
A live band played outdoors on a stage in the Commercial Pueblo area..music starts late...9:45-midnight. The Disco opens at midnight...strangely enough, it was the one room not air-conditioned, and even with almost no one in it (other than 6 people standing at the bar and 4 single ladies dancing)...it was hot and humid....sound system is good and lighting effects bounce around all over the room..bar is adequate, and there is the wide open center courtyard to step out into for fresh air...work was still ongoing to bring this room up to standards.
TOURS / TAXIS:
As with any large hotel, you are to have an orientation meeting once you arrive...your travel rep is to go over the layout of the hotel, answer questions, and discuss/encourage tours. You then go to a separate room on the lobby level to meet with your travel agency rep to book what you want. I was told prices varied slightly from rep company to rep company, but you are not forbidden to look at all prices and book with whomever you want. The tour offerings are all the same anyways...9 Miles, Ochi (for shopping, Coyaba Gardens and Dunns River Falls), Prospect Plantation, Blue Mountain Bike Ride, Port Antonio Rafting, Negril Beach Trip, Martha Brae Rafting, Catamaran “Booze Cruise” to Dunn’s River., Black River Safari, Kingston, Luminous Lagoon, Sun Valley Plantation, Dolphin Cove, Chukka Cove Horseback Riding, and a golf excursion. These tours are through the JCAL tour company...they set the days and times. Not all tours are offered everyday, you ride on large coach buses.
Should you wish to be more independent, and travel with a driver assigned to the hotel, you need to meet with a staff member on the front lobby steps do discuss what you’d like to do and the price. There is no set list of prices posted yet, the staff member will check prices for you on a typed price sheet.
The hotel drivers are parked across the street, up a hill, behind a fence, and are virtually hidden from hotel guests until they’re radioed by phone.
Some prices that were quoted to me if using hotel drivers:
St. Ann’s Bay town.....3 hours, 1-4 people = $50 RT (shared price, not each person)
Discovery Bay Beach area.......1-4 people = $40RT
Salem/Runaway Bay/St. Ann’s....1-4 people = $70
Negril........1-4 people = $240
If one wishes to go into Ochi (or anywhere else) to party late at night, prices will most likely be doubled...this is somewhat negotiable with the taxi driver.
Taxis were to be scheduled before 6pm, no one is on duty to call for one after that.
CASH WITHIN THE HOTEL NEEDED:
Use of the internet, gift shops, tipping, deposits for water sports equipment.
At the front gate and at the ends of each hallway on each floor, as well as the perimeters of the pool/courtyard area, and on the beaches. The security guards in the halls really threw me at first, and when I asked them why they were there, they said it was to watch to see that no one from outside made it onto the property and into the hotel itself...
DAY / NIGHT PASSES:
Not currently available.
Four were open in the Commercial Pueblo ‘mall’ while we were there...one ladies resort wear shop, one shop specializing in Bob Marley/ ‘Rasta’ wear, one gift shop with coffee, spices, candles, etc. and a high end jewelry store. These shops are owned by outside entities and are not part of the hotel...rent I’m sure is excruciatingly high...some items seemed reasonable, that is, not out of line with other hotel shops...there is one shop inside the hotel itself, just newly opened, with the a limited amount of items...everything from the typical souvenir to snack items and small personal hygiene type items (shampoo, deodorant, suntan lotion, etc.)
Coffee prices blew me away...one pound of Jablum Blue Mountain Coffee (beans or ground) goes for $35...and here I was, thinking $19 per pound in Negril was getting steep!
There are more shops in the Pueblo, currently empty...I was also told that there is to be a ‘mini Jamaica’ area installed there...with a jerk chicken barrel, jerk pork, cane and coconuts...no estimated time of when this would happen.
I found the shop keepers to be sweet, willing to chat, not at all pushy, willing to help you find what you need. Just stopping in to browse, try things on, or visit is a no-pressure experience.
Could be spotted in white T-shirts and blue shorts...very low key...they seemed to float here and there, interact one on one with guests or maybe a small group...no organized games or classes or a feeling of hyperactive pressure to do much of anything at all...if anything, it seemed like guests had to approach the staff first.
Should be contacted via the Gran Bahia website...there is a coordinator on the property I was told, but could never find her to chat, even though I inquired a number of times. If any prospective brides are considering getting married there...it's a LONG walk from your room to the pathway to the gazebo...the steps are risky if you're in heels...consider flat shoes for you and your friends and bridal party...maybe even barefoot sandals? Also, if it's a breezy day, watch out if you have a long veil...it may whip around quite a bit...no worries if the breeze is quiet on your day. Also, there are no covered awnings that would protect you, should it rain, once you leave your room and need to walk to the gazebo, so you might want to ask the wedding coordinator what backup plans she has for this, in case you get married during the summer months when the rain is most likely guaranteed to fall at some point each day.
Honeymooners are to receive automatic upgrades...flowers, T-shirts, rum, fruit...perhaps not each of these but whatever is available at the moment....the travel agent is to notify the hotel of who is there on a honeymoon so that these items are in your room when you arrive.
There were three restaurants open (aside from the buffet)....The Grill Restaurant (‘fast food type items by day...chicken burgers (?), hot dogs, french fries, ‘tater tot’ type potatoes, chicken fillets grilled while you watched, sliced fruit, a limited number of salads, and dessert.) At night you needed reservations to get in and seemed to specialize in grilled meats (chicken, beef, pork).
There is a Japanese restaurant open for dinners...reservations are needed.
The Don Pablo restaurant is billed as international...also requires reservations.
When we checked in, the front desk told us that each morning one should make reservations for the restaurant of choice to be used that evening. The Public Relations ladies in the lobby told me that the reservations should be set for the whole time you’re there, rather than waiting to do it each morning. When we arrived Friday afternoon, we were told that there were no seats available for any restaurant in the evening, but we could eat in the buffet restaurant. When I tried to make reservations for the Japanese restaurant the next night, I was told there was only 1 seat still free. The Don Pablo restaurant also had only 1 seat available. Since neither my husband nor I wanted to eat separately, we made a reservation for the Grill Restaurant.
After one lunch, one dinner, and one breakfast in the buffet restaurant, and one lunch in the grill..we ditched the hotel reservation for that second evening for the sit down restaurant and wound up back in the buffet....I was unwilling to order from a menu food that I couldn’t see first. This may sound strange...but the problem came from a lack of compatibility with what our eyes saw and our taste buds encountered.
To be fair, in the buffet restaurant, there are tons of options. The food is not unappealing to look at...and that is where we bogged down. No matter whether we took something already prepared from the trays, or whether we had something freshly prepared at one of the grill stations, the food , 99% of the time, fell into the “looks nice / has no flavor” category. We were puzzled, and disappointed more often than not.
I have read other trip reports where people say they couldn’t find anything to eat all week..and thought to myself...”man, are you one picky eater...did you bother to try anything new and surprise yourself?” I did try new dishes (some unidentifiable), some recognizable. I loved the variety of cooked vegetables and almost always can quite happily make full meals of those alone. But no matter what we chose, we came to the same conclusion...there was NO taste, other than the natural taste of the food itself....and sometimes even that was lacking. I know that big hotels must cater to guests with a wide range of palates, that different countries spice foods differently...I have eaten Ital food here on the island...but this somehow was just different...it’s very hard to explain. Salt and black pepper were on the tables, and pepper sauce was available when asked for, and helped somewhat...but I was expecting the different foods to be spiced or enhanced somehow, from the kitchen.
A few foods stand out that I did find enjoyable...the homemade breads at all meals were excellent. ..one night there was a baby octopus / vegetable ‘stew’ that was tender, one night grilled shrimp prepared at the station came close to being not bad, there was some sort of pate on the salad bar one day at lunch that was good. In the grill one lunch time was a chocolate-mint cake formed into a little round ball that was to die for...just one was so rich it was almost a meal in itself, and our last night there was a sliced banana mousse (?) type of dessert that made me want to take the whole darn thing back to the room !
At lunch and dinner each night there were usually four trays of Jamaican food (close to the pasta station)...usually rice and peas, boiled pumpkin chunks or a shredded cabbage concoction, and a fish or chicken dish in sauce...and not a bit of it tasted right, simply because of no spice. I did try ackee and salt fish for breakfast one morning, and found it to be the most revolting dish I think I have ever eaten...tinned ackee must be an acquired taste..it was a metallic tasting, greasy, slushy mess. Than again, living here in Jamaica and having fresh foods daily, most prepared with plenty of scotch bonnet pepper, I admit I may be spoiled! I did ask a waitress one lunch time if guests were allowed to eat in the staff canteen, even if it meant paying cash for the food...I figured that the food would HAVE to be authentic there or the staff would all quit and walk away...she got the most puzzled look on her face, but when I explained the problem Soloman and I were having with the lack of food that was spiced more the way we customarily ate, she did actually go and inquire..it took awhile, but she did come back and say that while we couldn’t go over there on our own, we COULD go with a staff member as ‘their guest’, with clearance from the management, and that she would take us when her shift was done....it was sweet of her to go to the trouble to find out the answer, but as her shift was not over until late in the evening, and we didn’t feel like fighting the issue, we opted out of this part of the investigation.
I’m not sure if the food in the trays is kept warm over hot water or sterno, but either way, the food is somewhat warm when dipped up, yet maybe because it’s not steaming hot, by the time you get to the table and get settled in the chilled air-conditioned room, the food on your plate very quickly goes cold...fine for already chilled food, but not for food that is to be eaten warm.
I did find out the the menus are prepared by the home office in Spain and the chefs are required to follow this list. I was told too that the hotel, at some point, is planning to bring in more regional chefs, so the food is more authentic or more naturally spiced and flavored.
There is always red and white table wine available in the buffet restaurant, I’m sure in the others as well. The buffet restaurant set out champagne in buckets for breakfast and dinner, so you could help yourself, and one day I saw Bloody Mary mix with a bottle of Absolute so you could make your own drinks.
The most popular bar is the lobby bar, a large atrium type room with lots of seating. The bartenders really hustle in there, the bar is open 24 hours a day.
Absolute Vodka, Gordon’s Gin, JR Deals Scotch, Teacher’s Whiskey, Baileys, Sangsters, draft beer, house wine, Cava sparkling wine, Sangria, Rosso Martini,and assorted other odds and ends of alcohol are available, as well as sodas, bottled carbonated waters and juices to use a mixers, coffee, cappuchino, and tea. Irish coffees and other coffee/alcohol drinks are available, however, they are served in regular coffee cups and not ‘whipped cream’ toppings.
Some drinks must be paid for: (prices were posted in Jamaican dollars, the hotel currently offers an exchange rate of 60J to $1US...prices that would involve coin will be rounded up to the next highest dollar.
Red wine = $217J - $250J per glass *Crianza* and *Reserve*
Port (Tio Pepe or Port Wine Ruby) = $330J
Pernond = $165J
Campari = $155J
Courvesier = $460J
Hennessey vs = $580J
Remy Martin vsop = $645J
Bacardi Rum (8 yrs old) = $280J
Appleton Special (3 yrs old) = $160J *available free at pool bar by day*
Appleton (12 yrs old) = $280J
Drambui = $280J
Kahlua = $260J
Red Grand Marnier = $390J
Cointreau = $250J
Tia Maria = $180J
Frangelico = $280J
Limoncello = $400J
Blue Mountain Coffee Liqueuor = $165J
Gozio Amaretto = $320J
Sangster’s Rum Cream = $160J *available free at pool bar by day*
Malibu Coconut Rum = $180J
Johnnie Walker red Label = $395J
Dewar’s White Label = $220J
Johnnie Walker Black Label (12 yrs old) = $840J
Civas Regal (12 yrs old) = $710J
Jack Daniel’s = $520J
Jim Bean’s = $200J
Canadian Club Whiskey = $200J
Bombay Sapphire Gin = $180J
Smirnoff Ice = $170J
Stoichnaya Vodka = $180J
Finlandia Vodka = $180J
Grappa Alexander = $495J
Tequila Margaritaville = $190J
Tequila Sauza Gold = $280J
Tequila Cuervo Gold = $280J
Cardhu Highland Malt Whiskey (12 yrs old) = $1150J
Glenlivet Highland Malt Whiskey (12 yrs old) = $1150J