I hadn’t been to Jamaica in 12 years. We went pre-marriage. Pre-kids.
And part of me wondered if I’d romanticized the place, the people, the food.
I’m pleased to report that after a short stay at Jewel Runaway Bay along Jamaica’s northern coastline, everything I remembered still holds true today.
Note that once you’re through customs and waiting for your shuttle, you will be approached by restaurant staff while you wait. You can sink your chops into authentic Jamaican patties and take a freshly blended pina colada on-board with you. Be warned, though, that it cost us US$38 for three patties, one beer, one cocktail and one virgin daiquiri that my kids shared.
Although you will soon learn that the wifi in Jamaica isn’t very reliable, the good news is that there is free wifi on the Jamaica Tours shuttle that will get you to and from Jewel Runaway Bay! And it’s about the best you’re going to get — so enjoy. Keep in mind that this is no fault of the resort’s — it’s the infrastructure that’s available on the island.
This is ideal because your trip — once you’ve cleared security and customs — is about an hour and 10 minutes to the resort. That shuttle ride is an easy one, though. Perfect for gazing out the window or napping if you’d rather stay off your device.
Once we arrived at Jewel Runaway Bay, we were treated to a one-bedroom suite that was HUGE. And we had a small plunge pool on the balcony. The balcony, too, was enormous. And we were right on the ocean, so you could hear the waves lapping all day and night. I’m not sure what the resort’s limit is on the number of guests in this room, but you could easily fit two additional rollaways in the same room as the king and one or two more in the kids’ bedroom — making it ideal for large families.
We were surprised when we checked in and the front desk clerk said, “One moment and I’ll call your butler.” Your what, now?! I wasn’t expecting red-carpet treatment like that and we honestly didn’t really use our butlers (yes, plural) much throughout our stay. Because we’re sorta self-sufficient that way. They asked if they could unpack for us (um, no thanks) and they gave us a cellphone to reach them directly from early in the morning until late at night. It never left our room. But we did ask our butler to make us two dinner reservations and that worked out well. They were always eager to help.
On that note, I can’t say enough about the staff. Every single person we encountered treated us and our kids like gold.
Jewel Runaway Bay has an amazing beach. Very sandy and clean. No rocks. Awesomely warm water with incredible visibility. I always felt safe with my kids in there. (A stark contrast to, say, Hard Rock Punta Cana where you have to hold on to your littles for dear life some days.)
The waterpark is outstanding. One of the very best at any resort. And there are lifeguards everywhere. I loved that there was a security person posted at entrance the entire time. My kids quickly fell in love with the snow cone hut and I’m pretty sure they tried every flavour. There’s a bar inside (although it only has hard liquor and basic mix plus two slushy mixes). There’s also popcorn and nachos near the bar in case you want a snack but don’t want to trek to the grill or restaurant.
There are guys with coconuts wandering the grounds all day. They’re chopping down coconuts before they can fall on guest’s heads. They’re free (they machete the crap out of them and add a straw for you) but tips are appreciated — a dollar is fine.
The food at Jewel Runaway Bay’s buffet is very, very good. So good that we chose to eat there, like, 85 per cent of the time. We’re talking fresh juice smoothies at breakfast and lots of local foods like jerk pork, ackee and salt fish. The French toast is awesome and if you want it without a good toss in sugar along the buffet line, wait by the grill and ask “Egg Boy” (the nicest person ever who will know more about your country’s geography and history than you) for a couple of fresh pieces there. He’ll gladly oblige.
At breakfast you can ask to have a pitcher of coffee left at your table. If you ask for a cream you’ll get a package of powdered creamer. Ask for milk and it will come in a little jug — it’s heavier than milk but still not quite cream. But it does the trick.
If you’re lucky enough to find the braised kidney and sautéed onion dish in the morning buffet, know that it’s absolutely delicious atop a fresh-made omelette. Oh, and the omelette station is fabulous. The line moves fast because the woman working the pans is an omelette hero.
The grill is handy and has good hours. Serving burgers and hot dogs and a few other basic foods, it’s the fastest way to get food if you just want to get back to the beach or waterpark.
The Italian a la carte restaurant is excellent. We ordered the chicken parmigiana (fantastic) and the risotto is done beautifully and perfectly al dente. I did, however, find the tiramisu too sweet but the husband and kids loved it.
Our beds were pretty comfortable but on the firm side. I like firm, but if you don’t, you may not love them.
There’s a great SCUBA diving shop onsite. It was only US$30 for a refresher (if you’re certified) — a stark contrast from the $120 I nearly paid at home before we left or the US$80-100 most resorts charge in the Caribbean. Plus it was only another US$60 for a one-tank dive, and it was a good, solid wall dive.
You can sign out goggles and snorkels (and fins, I imagine) from the watersports desk right beside the dive shop. Swim out to the left of the yellow raft right off the shore and you’ll find a coral reef just before the boundary ropes. There are loads of fish! Perfect for a child’s first snorkeling experience. Miss Q LOST HER EVER-LOVING MIND! Take a small bun (break it into pieces in the water) or a banana (peel it underwater) with you to feed them for even more action. (The fish will swarm near your face and hands, though, so no food if you’re not comfortable with that.)
There’s a great kids’ club that is geared toward the younger set. They don’t just stay inside, which I appreciated. They went golfing and got to see some animals, and they also had indoor time with LEGO and crafts.
The tween and teens room has three TVs with XBOXes, a pool table and foosball. But no wifi. This is perfect for your kids who are 8+ and will be bored with the kids’ club. There is a strict dress code in this room: you must be wearing a shirt and the top of your legs must be covered with shorts or a skirt. No bare feet either.
Jewel’s evening entertainment is quite good. As two examples, during our stay we got to see Children of the Drums and SilverBirds. They both got the audience involved. This is not just onsite entertainment staff — these are real entertainers brought in from outside the resort. Here’s Children of the Drums in action:
Although the lobby and grounds are beautiful, you’ll find that the rooms and décor outside the lobby are a bit dated and need a design overhaul. It’s important to note that everything is scrupulously clean and more than adequate for a comfortable stay; just don’t walk into your room expecting the Waldorf Astoria. I would go back to Jewel Runaway Bay in a heartbeat.
I found it odd that the butler service does not include a cabana for your stay. This is one of the major perks when you’re at Beaches Turks & Caicos or Beaches Negril. But at Jewel, it’s another $50 per day if you want a cabana. It’s a nice to have but not a need to have and we agreed that we wouldn’t bother upgrading but would appreciate it greatly if included with a butler stay.
The Platinum a la carte restaurant, which is the only one that requires reservations, has painfully slow service and only mediocre food. It took 25 minutes for our drinks to arrive and well over an hour for entrées to get to the table. Big B asked for wine with his entrée (about 30 minutes before they made it to the table) and it came after he was done. There were maybe six or eight other tables of guests — so the service can’t be blamed on a busy restaurant. We had the shrimp bucket nuggets and they were pretty bad. The potato tots with toasted coconut sauce was the highlight of our starters. I was beyond excited for my oxtail entrée, which was reasonably good but so very TINY. The standout dish was Big B’s jerk pork; it was excellent as were the sides that accompanied it. Strangely, the kids’ spaghetti doesn’t come with sauce — only butter and parmesan. Some kids (like mine) are actually good eaters, so it would be nice to cater not just to the picky ones. Food presentation was inventive but they need to focus on food quality and service times instead. The churros in a truck dessert was really fun but on the adult menu, so look for that. We disliked all the other desserts we tried.
In the waterpark at Jewel Runaway Bay, it’s really unfortunate that the “big slides” have a 48-inch height requirement — even if riding with an adult. This meant Miss Q couldn’t go on any of the slides she wanted to. And when we tried them, we found them to be very slow and they’re even smaller than the ones she can access at Great Wolf Lodge (with or without a parent!).
The waterpark is only open from 10:30-5:30. Nine to 6 p.m. would be so much better for families. Because most of us have eaten breakfast by 8 a.m.!
The pre-mixed strawberry and pina colada slush is very sweet and you can’t control the sugar. It made grownup pina coladas and other concoctions entirely undrinkable for me.
At night, little bugs nip at your feet and ankles causing very itchy bites. This is not a Jewel thing. This is a Jamaica thing. We experienced the same thing at Beaches Negril just days later.
Overall, the pillows are not good and should be replaced. This would also never stop me from re-booking a stay at Jewel Runaway Bay but has to be noted.