Jamaica: Hyatt Zilara/Ziva Rose Hall Review

All-Inclusive Bliss?

When my wife and I decided to get away this winter, we had a few things in mind. Our primary goal was to go to a warm place to relax. While we had already traveled a fair amount in 2018, none of our trips were of the low-key, sit-on-a-beach variety. Our secondary goal was to stay at a Hyatt for status qualification and cost purposes. I have previously written about how I get a lot of value by redeeming my Chase points for Hyatt hotel stays. In addition, we also wanted to avoid a destination that required a lot of travel.

So we narrowed down our choices and ultimately decided to go Jamaica! Hyatt has two all-inclusive hotels in Montego Bay, a city in the northwest part of the country. Here are is my review of the hotels.

Hyatt Zilara (Montego Bay, jamaica, 2018,  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Hyatt Zilara (Montego Bay, jamaica, 2018, © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Jamaica Posts:

  1. Initial Thoughts

  2. Hyatt Zilara/Ziva Rose Hall

  3. Treasure Beach, YS Falls

  4. Ethical Dilemmas

  5. Interview with Najwah, a Jamaican Podiatry Resident

Two Different Hotels, Same Location

Neither my wife nor I had ever been to an all-inclusive resort before, so this was a new experience for both of us. For the first few days, we stayed at the Hyatt Zilara before checking out and heading to Treasure Beach. We then returned to the Hyatt Ziva for the final two nights of our trip. Zilara hotels are adults-only, while Ziva hotels are family-friendly.

In Montego Bay, the two hotels are actually right next to each other, and form part of the same property. If you are an adult guest, you are free to wonder around, use any pool, and eat at any restaurant. If you have kids, however, then they will only be allowed in certain pools and restaurants on the Ziva side of the property. Both hotel also have activities throughout the day. The activities on the Zilara side are distinctively adult in nature. During our stay, for example, there was a champagne-foam pool-party, a beer-pong competition, and a bikini contest.

While we were at the hotel, most of our time was spent reading and having drinks by the ocean or pool. So for us as two adults, we did not find a distinct difference when staying at either brand. The hotel rooms we had were exact replicas of each other. The quality of the pools, drinks, and beaches were about equal on both sides, and in any case we could wander to any place on the property. Unless you are looking to totally avoid children, I would say booking either property is fine.

Strongman Competition (Montego Bay, jamaica, 2018,  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Strongman Competition (Montego Bay, jamaica, 2018, © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Things I Liked

1. Fresh Fruit

At the buffet restaurant every morning, there was an abundance of fresh fruit and juices. There was passion fruit, papaya, pomelo, soursop, starfruit, as well as your regular pineapple and melon options. I grew up with a lot of these tropical fruits, so I was very excited to eat them again. I literally would have two huge plates of fruit every day for breakfast. Amazing.

2. Rum Drinks

Most of the liquor selection on the property was low to mid range. Beefeater for gin, Smirnoff and Absolut for vodka, Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker Black for whiskey. There were not many on-the-rocks options. However, the hotel had an abundance of local Appleton Estate rum available. I never really appreciated rum drinks before since I always found them too sweet. But at the Hyatt, almost every rum drink struck a good balance. I cannot tell you how many Dirty Bananas and Piña coladas I had!

3. Gym

One of the most impressive features of the hotel was the two-level gym with lots of cardio and weight-lifting machines. There was a wide selection of free weights, and some TRX/Barre equipment. Spin and boot-camp classes were also offered every morning. While we did not make it to the classes, we did go to the gym every day. Given our increased caloric intake, having a great space to workout was appreciated.

TRX galore (Montego Bay, jamaica, 2018,  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

TRX galore (Montego Bay, jamaica, 2018, © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

4. Jerk Chicken

Jerk is the type of cooking Jamaica is probably best known for. The hotel has a jerk shack right by one of the pools, which served chicken and pork every day for lunch. I personally thought the jerk was very good, and had it multiple times during our stay. The jerk was much better than what we got from Scotchies, a famous local establishment that many rave about.

Jerk Shack (Montego Bay, jamaica, 2018,  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Jerk Shack (Montego Bay, jamaica, 2018, © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Things I Did Not Like

1. Food

While I liked the fresh fruit and jerk chicken/pork, most of the rest of the food was mediocre. I did not expect much from an all-inclusive resort, but even then I was disappointed. One thing that was especially sad was the desserts. I do not love desserts, but can appreciate a good tasting one. Not one of the desserts we tried were good.

I was also conflicted about the food options available. While I do appreciate the fact that local food was represented, it was strange that most restaurants served non-Jamaican fare. I’ll have more thoughts about that soon.

Ackee omelet (Montego Bay, jamaica, 2018,  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Ackee omelet (Montego Bay, jamaica, 2018, © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

2. Where Am I?

While at the hotel, I did not feel like I was in Jamaica at all. The people and food options gave me some sense of place, but overall that sense was lacking. I enjoyed my time off the property a lot more. It was strange to go to a foreign country and feel like I was in Florida.

3. Loud Music

By the pools, there was loud music blaring all day. Maybe this is a personal issue, but I had a hard time disconnecting with Taylor Swift, DJ Khalid and Justin Bieber all up in my ear-space. During activities, the host of the game would also be talking pretty loudly. While I was still able to relax some, I certainly did not come away with a full sense of calm. If you are looking for a peaceful beach getaway, I would not recommend this hotel.

Jamaican Sunset (Montego Bay, jamaica, 2018,  ©  JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Jamaican Sunset (Montego Bay, jamaica, 2018, © JOEL ANG PHOTOGRAPHY)

Was It Worth It?

When I was booking the hotel, rates were around $380 a night for two. While this is much more than I would normally pay for a hotel, the rate did include all food and drinks. We each probably had three drinks each a day, which is easily about $50. Based on the cost of eating at local restaurants, I would estimate our food cost $150 a day. So taking everything into account, our hotel rate was really $180 a night, which is not too bad.

Alternatively, you can book the hotel for 25,000 Hyatt points a night. Based on the average cost per night, that would mean I would have received a value of 1.52 cents per point ($380 / 25,000). I value my Hyatt points at 1.7 cents each, so this redemption would have been below the rate at which I like to use my points.

For our trip, I booked the first three nights with cash. For the last two nights, I booked the hotel with points. I could have booked all the nights on points, but I wanted to save my Chase/Hyatt points to use when I could receive more cents per point. But I also did not want to spend a lot of money, so by using some points I saved $760!

Overall, I had a relatively good time, but I am not sure I will return to an all-inclusive resort again. I understand the appeal of an all-inclusive property, but I did come away with a lot of ethical dilemmas that I will discuss in a future post.

What about you? Have you been to an all-inclusive hotel? What was your experience like?