I just got back from a one-week trip to Jamaica with Air Transat where I was given the arduous task of checking out their Luxury Collection offerings on the island *sigh*. I’ve been fortunate to visit Jamaica 3 times in my life, and each time, I’ve had a vastly different experience. I’ve done everything from the standard all-inclusive, to budget friendlier, to luxury all-inclusive resorts. You may remember that I also had the privilege of joining Air Transat in Jamaica last year (which I wrote all about here).
Being one of the most visited islands and the 4th largest in the Caribbean, you can imagine just how many options there are in Jamaica for accommodation. But with so many options, what makes one resort stand out from all the rest? We visited 3 properties in Jamaica: Excellence Oyster Bay, Iberostar Grand Rose Hall, and Meliá Braco Village – each being so completely different and beautiful in their own way. Now that I’ve visited a total of 5 resorts in Jamaica (including my past trips), I think I have a pretty good grasp on the all-inclusive scene there 😉. So, I’m going to break down each of the Transat Luxury Collection hotels in Jamaica for you in this post (you can thank me later!), based on 6 criteria:
- Appearance & Décor
- Food & Drink
- Amenities & Entertainment
How to Get to Jamaica
First things first: you need to sort out your transportation to Jamaica. For that, I obviously recommend Air Transat because it’s such a versatile carrier. Many associate Air Transat with affordable flights, but don’t realize that Air Transat also offers vacation packages to suit all budgets and travelers. For South destinations, Air Transat has 4 Sun Collections – a Family Collection, Distinction Collection, Luxury Collection, and even a Solo Collection. Within the Air Transat Luxury Collection alone, there are over 40 properties in roughly 10 countries!
When you book an Air Transat Luxury Collection package, you get exclusive benefits, like:
- free access to VIP airport lounges, where available
- free upgrade to Option Plus
- free private roundtrip transfers to and from the airport
- unlimited à la carte dining and premium alcohol drinks (this especially speaks to me!)
- 24-hr. room service (this also especially speaks to me!)
- butler service, where available
- pillow menu
To learn more about Air Transat’s all-inclusive packages in Jamaica, click here!
We flew Club Class (which is THE most comfortable way to fly) on a direct flight from Toronto to Montego Bay. The flight takes about 4 hours from Toronto, and Air Transat operates 5 direct flights per week from Pearson International Airport. There are also 3 direct flights per week from Montreal, and 1 from each of Calgary and Vancouver. So, there are tonnes of options to get you to Jamaica from within Canada!
Flying Club Class, we got several perks, including:
- an exclusive cabin on the plane with more spacious and reclinable seats (and trust me when I tell you they are sooo comfy!)
- dedicated flight attendant at your beck and call
- 2 checked pieces of luggage (each up to 25 kg)
- priority check-in, boarding, and baggage handling
- a complimentary meal from the Chef’s Menu by Daniel Vézina (normally a cost of $25 for Economy passengers)
- complimentary beverages and snacks
- complimentary seat selection, and
- a comfort kit on board (blanket, inflatable neck pillow, slippers, socks, earbuds, and eye mask)
The flights to Jamaica and back were completely seamless from start to finish and FAST. On the way back, we even arrived 45 minutes earlier than our scheduled time!
Without further ado, let me tell you about Transat’s AMAZING Luxury Collection options in Jamaica.
Excellence Oyster Bay
We stayed at Excellence Oyster Bay for 4 nights and it was completely my vibe and aesthetic! It was my first time staying in an Excellence Group hotel (they own the Excellence, Finest, and Beloved brands), and now I’m dying to check out their other properties in the Dominican Republic and Mexico! This is a newly-opened resort (just 7 months, as of January 2019), and it really checked all the boxes for me as a luxury, adults-only, and all-inclusive resort. Many all-inclusives aren’t luxury, and many luxury hotels aren’t all-inclusive, so this was a major selling feature!
- Location: this property is in the town of Falmouth, which is a 40-minute drive from the Montego Bay airport. The resort sits on a peninsula with a private white sand beach stretching around the entire property, so it is completely secluded. The water is warm and turquoise and the beach is pristine.
- Appearance & Décor: the resort is very modern, airy, chic, and clean. The buildings are all white, and I’d describe the décor as sophisticated, elegant, and minimal with lovely accents. I looooooved the colour scheme (which quite conveniently fits my Instagram theme). The main pool area is lined with palm trees and has a swim-up bar, and the beach is just a few steps away. There is also a large infinity pool that has a breathtaking view overlooking the horizon. While the resort was at a 97% occupancy rate at the time of visiting, it did not feel crowded at all!
- Rooms: there is a total of 315 suites at Excellence Oyster Bay divided amongst more than 6 buildings. My junior suite was one of the most spacious resort hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in. Cleanliness was top notch. The large bathroom had an enclosed toilet and separate stand-up shower with rainfall showerhead, as well as a double sink and lots of counter space. The bedroom was furnished with a very comfortable king-sized bed and TV on the wall. The living room had a large L-shaped couch, a desk, and another TV on the wall (you know, just in case you don’t feel like watching the one in the bedroom!). The mini bar was fully stocked with all the usual, plus THREE complimentary 750mL bottles of alcohol (rum, vodka and whiskey). Last, but not least, the ocean view balcony had a chair, bed nook with pillows (perfect for cozying up with a book), and an outdoor tub. One extra that I appreciated was having a hand-held steamer in the room, which I used every single day.
- Food & Drink: you will be spoilt for choice here between the 8 à la carte options for dinner, 2 à la carte lunch options, 1 buffet, wood fire pizza oven, beach grill serving authentic Jamaican jerk, and 10 bars & lounges! And should you get hungry after all of that, you have 24-hr. room service to fall back on! …Oh, and there is unlimited lobster here (you’re welcome!). We enjoyed our dinners at Spice (Teppanyaki), The Grill (Steakhouse), Oregano (Italian), and Magna (International), our breakfast at The Lobster House, and I went to The Kitchen Table (main buffet) several times and the café daily. Overall, I enjoyed the Jamaican food best. We also had a blast at the very interactive mixology class we had at the Excellence Club, where we learned how to mix (and drink) a number of Jamaican specialty cocktails! Reservations are required for dinner and you can make them up to a week in advance.
- Service: I found each and every staff member that I interacted with to be completely professional and friendly. I did avail myself of the 24-hr. room service on a number of occasions and never had an issue. Note that guests don’t get a private butler here, but you can easily call the concierge for anything you need.
- Amenities & Entertainment: you can have your fill of daytime activities, like snorkeling, beach volleyball, introductory scuba lessons, aerobics, yoga, dancing lessons, cooking lessons etc. There is an over 2,400 sq. ft. fitness centre, which I admittedly didn’t use! Themes for the nightly entertainment switch every day, but the production here is not very big. There is a strong WiFi connection throughout the entire resort and in the rooms.
My favourite amenity at Excellence Oyster Bay, hands down, was Miilé Spa. It is one of the most beautiful and tranquil spas I’ve ever been to and I tried my very first hydrotherapy circuit here (cold plunge included), followed by a relaxing massage!
Iberostar Grand Rose Hall
If you’re in search of a resort that’s a bit more established on the island, and if you like a mix between privacy and a lively atmosphere, this is the place to be! The Iberostar Grand Rose Hall felt more like an entertainment complex, and it really channeled the Jamaican spirit! We spent a great last 3 nights here, before heading back to the cold in Toronto.
- Location: the Iberostar is in the Rose Hall area of Montego Bay, and is only about 15 minutes from the Montego Bay airport. There are 3 main all-inclusive properties that comprise the Iberostar: the Iberostar Rose Hall Beach, Iberostar Rose Hall Suites, and the Iberostar Grand Rose Hall. The Iberostar Grand is the adults-only, luxury section of the resort where we stayed. The property sits on a beautiful stretch of Rose Hall Beach, where the sand and water are very nice.
- Appearance & Décor: as you walk into the lobby, extremely high ceilings and opulent décor greet you! I’d describe the hotel as European grandeur meets Jamaican colourful. If you’ve never stayed here, you may need a map for the first couple of days to get your bearings. On the ground level, you’ll find the main theatre, some of the à la carte restaurants, and a host of duty-free, jewelry, and souvenir shops. The atmosphere and lighting are moody in the common areas in the resort and in the rooms. My favourite part was the outdoor pool grounds, which had a gigantic swimming pool in the centre, and were lined with beach cabanas and chairs – extremely photo-worthy!
- Rooms: there are just under 300 rooms here, some with sea and garden views and some with direct beach access. The rooms are outfitted with king-sized beds (or 2 doubles), a TV, chaise for lounging, and desk. The bathrooms are very big and have a sink on either side, along with a separate toilet, and shower. The mini bars were amply stocked and we got a complimentary bottle of red wine and 1L bottle of Appleton rum. The best part? The balcony was the perfect oasis of relaxation, with a couch, 2 tables with granite tops, and a comfy egg chair that seats 2!
- Food: there are 5 à la carte restaurants for dinner, a beachfront restaurant, all-day buffet, and beach grill, and we all loved the café on the ground level. Grand guests also have access to the à la carte restaurants at the Suites and Beach properties. Each day, I had a plate full of jerk pork and jerk chicken from the beach grill, and the 24-hr. room service was my best pal! We dined at Kiniro (Teppanyaki), La Toscana (Italian), and Galleon (Surf & Turf). Much like at the Excellence, I enjoyed the Jamaican food best.
- Service: I was very impressed by the service at the Iberostar. Apart from the concierge, we had a butler (available per floor) who would frequently check in to ensure our needs were being met!
- Amenities & Entertainment: there are 2 fitness centres (again, which I didn’t use!) between the Grand and the Suites, offering state of the art equipment and a robust group fitness schedule. There is an app for all Iberostar properties that lists the group fitness schedule and has other useful hotel information, which I thought was pretty neat! The nightly entertainment is one of the things the Iberostar prides itself on, and I can see why. We were told there are 3 different production teams for the property; and every day, the theatre and stage set-up is entirely redecorated (as the theme changes nightly here as well). I happened to catch a foam party one afternoon in the main pool and it was so much fun, and my travel buddies told me the performance they watched about the history of Jamaica was phenomenal! The level of production and entertainment here is bar none, as the Iberostar has had about a decade to refine it. The SPA Sensations spa was a highlight for me! I spent one afternoon doing some hydrotherapy circuits of my own (I guess I really got into it with the cold and hot water plunging), and on our last day, we had special treatments. We each got a detoxifying coffee body wrap, which was followed by a hot stone massage. It was my first time having a hot stone massage, and I would go back to the resort just for it!
Meliá Braco Village
We spent a day checking out Meliá Braco Village, and it was just enough to give us a taste of the property and a desire to return! As its name suggests, this boutique-style, luxury, all-inclusive, family-friendly resort is laid out like a little village (they even call guests “villagers”), and it’s filled with colonial-style buildings and villas. As we didn’t stay overnight or see the rooms (since the property was fully booked), I can’t comment on the rooms or service.
- Location: of all 3 properties, the Meliá Braco is the furthest from the Montego Bay airport (about an hour drive). It’s situated along the coast in a town called Trelawny, in between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay – so a convenient location for a daytrip to Ocho Rios. The property has a private white sand beach, and there is a more exclusive area (called “The Level”) that has villas and rooms with the best views. There is even a mini adventure park and a town square on the resort.
- Appearance & Décor: I absolutely loved the décor at Meliá Braco. There is so much charm and character, and I was inspired at every turn! The beach was also lovely and was dotted with white cabanas. There were many touches of authentic Jamaican culture. We saw a steel pan performance and there was a coconut man with cart, ready to give fresh coconuts to guests.
- Food: we didn’t dine at any of the 5 à la carte restaurants, but we enjoyed a very tasty lunch at the buffet overlooking the beach. Transat customers have priority in terms of booking the à la carte restaurants.
- Amenities & Entertainment: we learned about many of the amenities, like the spa & wellness centre, kid’s club, and wedding facilities. I would have really liked to witness the Jamaican street party that takes over the resort every Friday, which sounds like a blast!
Bonus: What to Do in Jamaica
When in Jamaica, there are so many amazing activities you can do and I highly recommend that you take full advantage. It’s always best to get off the resort to be able to truly experience any destination. I covered many activities in my previous blog post on Jamaica, including Martha Brae River rafting, Seven Mile Beach in Negril and Rick’s Café (which we did on this trip as well).
This time around, I got to do a few new activities which I’m pretty excited to share with you.
- Appleton Estate: while super informative, the Appleton Estate Rum Experience was short and sweet! It was interactive, well laid out, and best of all, we got to do a tasting at the end! I especially loved learning that Appleton’s Master Blender, Joy Spence, was the first female Master Blender in the spirits industry in the world!
- YS Falls: these natural waterfalls are great for people looking to escape the crowds at Dunn’s River Falls. There is a natural pool at the bottom, and you can easily hike up to the waterfalls. If you can stomach it, you can swing and jump into the water.
- Black River Safari: did you know that Jamaican crocodiles are the friendliest in the world? The Black River is home to about 300 of them (which all have names, like “Richard”). If you go on a safari, your captain will call the crocodiles right up to the boat and shake hands with them!
The Appleton Estate, YS Falls and Black River Safari can be booked as a full-day excursion directly with Transat. If you book on the plane, you can save up to 30%. Other Transat South destination packages are available here.
- Luminous Lagoon Night Cruise: this was one of the most unique excursions I’ve ever been on. It started with a rum punch (I feel like all good stories in Jamaica do 😉), and then we were taken out on a boat after the sun went down to swim in the lagoon. When the water is disturbed, the small micro-organisms living in the lagoon emit a flash of light which glows in the dark. This is a natural phenomenon that happens elsewhere in the world, but it’s said to be the brightest in Jamaica. A must do!
The biggest thanks go to Air Transat for another wonderful trip, and to Air Transat’s partners, Excellence Oyster Bay, Iberostar Grand Rose Hall, and Melia Braco Village for hosting us! Special thanks also to our tour guides/driver at Kiuki Tours, Antoinette and Jermaine.
To see more of Transat’s offerings in Jamaica, you can check out Transat’s website.
*This post was done in partnership with Air Transat, but as always, all opinions are 100% my own.