A mega-resort, the Grand Palladium feels like a shopping mall but is expansive enough for privacy, romance, and fun. It has five pools, large rooms, name-brand liquor, tasty breakfasts, mini-golf, and more--all for lower rates than lesser-equipped all-inclusives. But its remote locale comes with rocky, man-made beaches.
Like an upscale Rome-meets-Jamaica shopping mall, with splashing fountains and comfortable art.
The resort is actually two resorts, the Lady Hamilton and the Jamaica, both of which opened in June 2008. They are essentially interchangeable -- the rooms are the same, and guests share all eating options and activities -- though the Lady Hamilton also has oceanfront bungalows that I was told are popular with honeymooners. The "adult" (theoretically topless) Coral Pool and beach are also on the Lady Hamilton side, so families tend to prefer the Jamaica.
I saw a good mix of families, older couples, and 20-something groups at the resort. They all seemed to be having an equally good time. The resort is large enough to cater to a wide array of tastes, though I think its magnitude might not make it the best choice for honeymooners seeking pampering and personal attention.
Some suites are secluded, but privacy is hard to come by. All dining takes place in a massive central location.
Overall the resort felt fairly low-key and sedate, aside from the wild shots being taken at the swim-up bar and the risqué dancing at the disco.
The guest rooms are located in yellow and pistachio green villas that fan out across the property. I was fortunate to be in Villa 13 on the Jamaica side, about a five-minute walk from the main pool and dining rooms. (Villa 11 was closest on my side.) I walked out to Villas 18 and 19 at the edge of the property -- it took about eight minutes from the main building. They were backed by an ugly fence, and Villa 19 was closer to the road than the ocean. On the bright side, I was told that bellhops are on call 24 hours a day to transport any guests who wish to ride in a shuttle cart.
Our villa was decidedly more Roman than Caribbean, save for its dubious color. At each entrance was a false front and mask, with columns on either side. In the middle of each villa was an open-air pool and atrium, which was lovely and soothing to see each time I returned to my room (though I awoke to the sound of the fountain in the lobby echoing off the marble floors and incorrectly assumed it was raining outside).
The spa featured elaborate frieze patterns along its outer walls and frescoes within its Roman-style baths. I also spotted a number of replica statues. It was all very beautiful and stately, but I didn't get the connection between Rome and Jamaica, other than the open-air halls and nice balconies.
A product of all-you-can-drink bars, bathrooms seemed to be everywhere. This was nice given the resort's large size and even nicer because the bathrooms were marble and spacious. The one off the lobby was particularly grand and pleasant.
Quick and friendly, at least once guests have checked in
I arrived to check in around noon and was gently scolded for showing up early, then told that my room wasn't ready. I hung out in the lobby to take advantage of its free Wi-Fi (I saw other people being served rum punch but wasn't offered any), and by 1:15 p.m. the same receptionist found me to tell me the room was now ready. My bags were loaded onto a long golf-cart shuttle driven by a bellhop in a safari hat, and off we went.
My electricity was out one evening, so I called the front desk. A maintenance man was at my room within five minutes. He was very friendly and explained the problem to me. I was told that guests can also call the front desk to request shuttle transportation 24 hours a day.
As at many all-inclusives, the bartenders are stars here. Everywhere I went, they were friendly, attentive, and great at remembering my favorite cocktails.
On one of the island's smaller parishes, so there's not much else around
The resort is located in Lucea (pronounced "Lucy"), halfway between MoBay and Negril. It took a little under an hour to get here, and the ride was very scenic and pretty. Lucea is located in Hanover parish, one of the smallest, most rural parishes on the island. My driver informed me that parts of Cool Runnings were filmed down the beach from where the resort now stands.
Big, fancy, and condo-like, with several (maybe a few too many) futuristic features
The rooms have an energy-saving system that requires guests to insert their keycard into a slot to turn on the electricity. I thought this was fantastic until the second day, when I returned to our room and the lights never came on, even when I inserted the card. Fortunately, maintenance came within five minutes to override the system.
The bed had a tasteful king-size mahogany frame, and there were matching nightstands and a large desk/dresser.
There was also room for a separate sitting area with two chairs, a comfy and modern daybed, and a coffee table.
On top of all this I had a balcony, though I never used it since it rained most of the time and the view wasn't very exciting.
I also had a 31-inch HD flat-screen (the brand was Konka, which I'd never heard of before), an iPod dock, and a free mini-bar stocked with Coke, Sprite, Bigga Orange, water, and Real Rock Jamaican lager.
Best of all was the marble bathroom, which had both a Jacuzzi and a wonderful marble shower that I never wanted to get out of. In accordance with some of the room's other space-age fixtures, you flushed the toilet not by turning a handle but by pushing a large panel into the wall.
Both reviews of the resort and the multiple guests I talked to all thought the rooms were lovely, but various kinks occured during my stay. The electricity went out, the bathroom ceiling leaked a bit, the safe didn't work, and the chain lock on the door was broken. All were fairly minor and never impeded my stay, but I was just one room in 1,000, so I wonder what was going wrong elsewhere.
Among the most annoying points of my stay was my attempt to make a phone call. The resort charges a ludicrous $1 per minute for local calls, but says that it charges only $2 total for calls made with calling cards (which I had). However, when I couldn't use my calling card, I was told I had to buy a special one issued by the hotel at the front desk. So I schlepped over there to feed $20 into a machine located in the lobby. Not only was the card overpriced, but when I made the call, I learned that the card was only good for 20 minutes! Meaning I still ended up paying the exorbitantly high rate! The hotel offers no explanation about why it operates this way.
Pretty much everything, from a soothing spa to a boisterous disco.
The resort's most striking feature is its enormous 86,000-square-foot infinity pool, which surrounds the ground floor of the lobby and looks out to the ocean. It looked very clean, though some tiles were a bit dirty or cracked. The pool is illuminated at night and never closes. I took a swim at dusk, looking up at the stars and the twinkling lights of the lobby. A beautiful moment, ruined only by a bar crowd screaming, "Baby I got your money!" in the background.
The resort offers plenty of water sports free of charge, but for $60 guests can also take scuba diving lessons. I met a friendly instructor who told me they take out two or three boats a day, never with more than 10 guests at a time. He pointed out some of the dive sites beyond the beautiful sunset cove, and praised the area for its diving.
Annoyingly, extras like the spa and scuba prices aren't listed anywhere. The hotel claimed more information could be found on Channel 2 of the television, but when I went there it was just a blank screen. The channel guide also promised ESPN, but the designated channel had some other American cable channel showing a syndicated sitcom.
The spa is part of the lovely Renova chain. It was a large, airy building modeled after Roman baths, with tall windows and frescoes on the walls. I felt calmer just walking through the doors into the dark coolness, and was able to peek at (but not photograph) the serene private treatment rooms.
Adjacent to the spa was a large gym with lots of modern, shiny equipment, including treadmills, elipticals, free weights, and bikes. I had planned to work out but got waylaid by all the other waterfront activities.
One afternoon while sipping a cocktail at the beachside Las Brisas bar and watching a reggae dance class, I got sucked into a trivia quiz. When someone shouts out questions, it's my natural reflex to shout out the answers, especially when it's an esoteric Red Sox question. I answered the most questions right but was awarded a bottle of Appleton's Rum for my efforts. The only tradeoff was that I had to claim my prize at the evening show.
I discovered that the evening entertainment is a popular feature. I arrived a few minutes before it started and found couples curled up in armchairs and a waitress fetching cocktails. The crowd was quite enthusiastic, and rightfully so. A fantastic steel drum band and dancers made up the bulk of the show. The activities staff I'd met earlier in the day seemed a little halfhearted (though I'd be exhausted by that point, too, so it's hard to blame them), but everyone had a great time.
On my last night I visited the Boogie Woogie Disco. Its walls were covered with murals of Bob Marley, with random guitars and a Jamaican bobsled hanging from the ceiling. The club was hardly at capacity, but the bar was illuminated and modern looking. The DJ played great modern pop and dancehall music, and at times the dance floor was about 85 percent full. At others, though, only a few staff dancers would be out there, and they were so talented that other people seemed too intimidated to join them. The staff are required to dance with guests, so they'd randomly grab men and mostly women from the crowd. The whole thing reminded me a lot of "Dirty Dancing."
The nearby Johnny Walker World Championship Course is also open to guests of the resort.
Somewhat rocky but big, with a choice of natural and man-made areas.
I took a couple of swims at the man-made main beach, Las Brisas. The seawater was unbelievably warm and very clean, though the rocky patches on the floor were alarmingly sharp.
The water staff I talked to said the best beach by far is the natural "Sunset Cove," which Jamaicans swam at and referred to as "Bamboo Beach" before the Grand Palladium took it over. Too bad the beach was on the opposite end of the property, a long way from our room.
Even with the huge focus on upkeep, its massive size poses challenges.
My room was kept spotless, and the bed was made up with a decorative towel-and-flower arrangement every night. Upon arrival, I even discovered an elaborate chocolate strawberry creation, which definitely put the Grand Palladium in my good graces.
Because the resort is so huge, I did see some problems. The bathroom ceiling had a leak over the mirror, and there seemed to be a lot of mildew inside the roofs of the various walkways across the grounds, though that seems inescapable given all the heat and humidity. The hallway walls of my villa definitely had suitcase scratches.
Worst of all, I saw a rat scurry across the marble hallway on the second floor of the main building. I wondered how it got there, and then freaked out because I was close to a number of restaurant kitchens.
When a resort is as sprawling as the Grand Palladium, though, it would be both impossible and strange to not see any wildlife. I saw more staff tending to the grounds--weeding out rocks, sweeping rainwater off the pathways, scrubbing the sides of buildings--than at any other hotel I've visited. The restaurants were also impeccably clean when I visited.
Decent variety and no reservations, even with half the restaurants closed during the low season
Technically the resort has 10 restaurants, but I soon learned that only five are open each night during the low season. On the plus side, this is the rare all-inclusive that doesn't require guests to line up for morning reservations at its à la carte restaurants.
For breakfast and lunch I ate at the buffets Mo'Bay (closest to our villa) and the Blue Lagoon, which had the best view of the sea. The third big buffet, Negril, is open for breakfast and lunch. Regardless of setting, the buffets were interchangeable. They all featured a wide variety of hot and cold options of American, continental, and Jamaican flavors. I was a big fan of the Jamaican dumplings at breakfast, and found they went quite well with Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread).
The ethnic restaurants -- Italian, Creole, Asian, Mexican, BBQ, etc. -- felt like subsets of an Applebees menu. Arbitrary genres and names were slapped above their doors, but all the food seemed alike. For instance, the Italian Pastafarian and Indian Mughal were mirror images of each other in the same space sharing a kitchen, with different menus and a few key decorative differences. It wasn't exactly Mario Batali cooking at a brick oven.
But the food wasn't bad. For dinner at the Creole restaurant, Xamayca, I had a surprisingly spicy conch seafood salad, a thick and tasty pumpkin soup, and some heavily fried cracked conch. I arrived a little before 9 p.m. and was told I'd have to put my name on a list as the restaurant was full. Then I peeked in and noticed a handful of empty tables. Finally, 10 minutes later, my name was called. The whole thing was very bizarre--maybe a staffing issue -- but still better than the cutthroat reservation policies at other all-inclusives like the Iberostar or Riu resorts.
Dinner at El Mariachi was rather underwhelming, though my server, Jason, was extremely nice and attentive. I had good chips and salsa, a tasty but overdressed taco salad, and heavily cheesy chicken enchiladas that were far too salty for my taste. I was also brought the wrong entree, and dessert took 20 minutes to be delivered.
One of the most reasonably priced and well equipped all-inclusives in the area, with affordable and easy (if limited) wedding options
Wedding Size: Up to 150 guests, depending on the location; up to four weddings per day
Extra Fees: Day passes for guests not staying at the hotel allow guests on the property from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (for kids three to 12), with night passes from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. at a higher rate.
Wedding Packages: If you book at least six rooms, the most basic wedding package costs covers only eight people (extra fee for each additional person). It includes a wedding officer, a bouquet and boutonniere, a wedding coordinator, white linen decorations, a sparkling wine toast, CD music, a witnesses and/or Spanish translator (if requested). For the next highest rate, you also get a wedding cake, a dinner reception at the beach restaurant (Poseidon or Blue Lagoon), eight 5-by-7 photographs of the ceremony, and breakfast in bed for bride and groom the morning after (again, max eight people, but in this package it's another extra fee per person).
Ceremony Location: Ceremonies and/or receptions can take place in a gazebo facing the ocean, a bamboo arch on the beach, or the spa (which the hotel reserves in case of inclement weather).
Music Options: Choices range from a DJ to for an elaborate show with drumming, dancing, and fire-eating. You can also request a six-piece reggae band for around $2,500 (for three hours).
Food and Drinks: Per person rates includes dinner at one of the on-site restaurants (one appetizer, one soup, two entrees, and one dessert), plus an open bar from 6 to 10 p.m.
Cakes: A standard cake is made for eight people costs, for each additional person there's an extra fee.
Spa Treatments: The spa offers three wedding packages, ranging from about $180 to $376, which include massages, mani/pedis, hair, and makeup for the bride.
Honeymoon Suite: The Adults-Only Suites come with a sea view and an outdoor shower (a rare treat, for a mega-resort).
Freebies: The bride and groom typically get a free room upgrade, plus, for every 25 guests that book directly through the Grand Palladium, the resort offers one free room.
Airport Transportation: None available; a taxi from Montego Bay Airport will run about $60 per person (one way).
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