Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Like Old School, only with kids. And not funny. The atmosphere is crowded and boozy.
Spanning seven buildings, the 551-room aging mega-resort makes no pretense of style. Streams of guests flow throughout the property -- fierce buffet lines, kids shouting, pop-reggae blasting from concert speakers, and impromptu square-dancing lessons on the main stage (at the center of the resort, by the pool). Getting to the main building for food, the pool, and everything else meant about a 15-minute trip from the room.
Though predominantly attracting families, the Holiday Inn can still feel like one of the most booming resorts in Montego Bay (due in large part to its massive number of rooms and its concentrated eating and activity space). "I'll just stay here and get wasted" is not an entirely uncommon thing to hear at 9 a.m. in the De Lobby Bar. Even early in the morning you can find a bartender, clad in colonial plantation costume (red and green plaid bandana, full-length skirt, and white blouse with puffy shoulders), wearily watering down the rum punch for the day, a premix cocktail made of (in this order) water, fruit punch, light and dark rum, sour mix, and bitters. (Personally, I found the drinks awful, but it's possible that I just didn't drink enough of them.)
Very pleasant and dedicated staffers are willing to do anything to help--but guests have to ask first.
At check-in, the desk attendant was friendly, but unable to process my American Express. (Apparently only the manager knew how, and he was on break.) So I needed to use my MasterCard to get into my room. Bartenders from De Lobby Bar walked over to give me a rum punch (as they do for all guests) and my bellman took me to the room, showing off all the features in the hotel. He also checked to ensure that the safe, the TV remote, the balcony, the A.C., and everything else in my room was working (which, from the look of my room, seemed like a necessary measure).
Service is generally do-it-yourself. Aside from encouraging my drinking ("Are you working? Are you driving? Come on, have another ..."), the staff left me to fend for myself -- buffet-style meals, no poolside or beachside service, and if I needed anything (like an Internet cable for the room), I had to walk to the lobby to pick it up. As spoiled as this might sound, remember that a walk down to the lobby from Building 5 (of 7) took about 15 minutes and included weaving throughout the grounds, stepping in puddles, and bypassing the same tempting line of slot machines with a pocket full of quarters. Bartenders couldn't offer drink recommendations or make anything that wasn't premixed. They relied mostly on the rum punch, a rum mixture prepared in a measureless system that ensures a different cocktail each time.
However, as with virtually everywhere in Jamaica, the employees here were wonderfully dedicated, willing to stay late, sneak me onto the reservation list, pour a stronger drink, and, under any circumstance, try to make sure I was happy. But unlike at smaller resorts like Coyaba, I remained pretty anonymous.
About five minutes from the airport, and close to golfing and shopping.
Located in Rose Hall, the golf capital of Jamaica (with three courses in the immediate area), the Holiday Inn is about five minutes from the Montego Bay International Airport and 10 miles from the Hip-Strip in Montego Bay. But most Holiday Inn guests never leave the resort, even with the Sunspree Shops, a tourist-oriented craft market, just across the street.
Large and clean, with a private sand island if guests want to get away from the hubbub.
The beach had a bit of seaweed washed up to shore and some strewn, daiquiri-stained pink plastic cups, regardless of how often the staff tried to clean them up. But the sand was soft and the water was warm (due in large part to the fact that the water was only about two feet deep as far as the roped-off buoys about 20 yards out).
A sand island, equipped with lounge chairs, lies along a 10-yard walk through shin-deep water. This creates a lot more lounge space and is a great alternative to sunbathing 10 feet from the main pool and the stage, where upbeat drinking tunes like "Turn the Beat Around" play all day, even during breakfast.
Typical for a Holiday Inn -- big (except for the bathrooms), a little dingy, and generic.
Each room comes with a balcony, but on the top floor, they're positioned directly next to one another, offering no actual privacy. Even the balconies on the lower levels, facing the rooms in the next building over, don't offer much privacy. The wall of windows, however, allows plenty of light into the room.
The flat screen TVs are satellite equipped and have plenty of channels. Internet access is available for a daily fee (wired and Wi-Fi), but there's an additional charge for a wire to connect your laptop to the wall. (Bring an Ethernet cable with you.) On the bright side, the connection is strong and reliable, which is hard to come by anywhere in Jamaica (including hotels like the Iberostar Resort or Sunset Beach Resort, which boast Internet access in all rooms). It's a convenient feature, even if I needed to login about 12 times an hour.
The pool was huge. It circulates around the entertainment center like a moat and is crowded with hundreds of deck chairs. But anyone lounging beside it might feel a bit on display: It's right outside the buffet and the stage, where square dancing with the kids (or something like that) pops up every afternoon.
The tennis courts, however, don't get much use -- perhaps due to the warped, fractured green concrete.
The "casino" was just a lifeless row of slot machines off the lobby. I never spotted anyone using it, even with the hotel's offer to match the first $10 in bets.
Overpriced gift and sundry shops sit side by side, offering less adventurous guests the opportunity to get their keepsakes and cigarettes barter-free (or a bottle of rum if the 1 a.m. last call doesn't satisfy). But with plenty of cheaper shopping just across the street, I'd encourage guests to get out of the hotel fortress and see the real, tourist-driven Jamaican culture.
Because kids dominate the rest of the hotel, there's an adults-only pool and hot tub.
In the furthest reaches of the hotel (past Building 7, which might as well be Cleveland for those staying in Building 1), you'll find the rambunctious, adults-only pool. It consists of a swim-up bar, Big Smaddy Bar, blasting pop hits and, typically, some of the more hard-drinking guests.
Outside the main pool area is a small, adults-only hot tub behind a wood-planked gate, but it remained empty the entire time I was there.
The disco wasn't open while I was there, nor was the pub.
There's plenty for kids (especially teens), including a kids' club, kids' pool, kids' golf course, and teen center with Xbox 360 games.
Square dancing and games are fun for kids and drunk adults, and the hotel has a free shuttle to Margaritaville.
Like at most resorts, the entertainment was loved by young children and those with at least a half-dozen cocktails but greatly ignored by everyone else. The square dancing, games, and evening activities are mostly tragic displays, with the guests turning their lounge chairs around to avoid watching. The entertainment team tried halfheartedly to keep its dignity.
Recognizing this problem, however, the hotel offers a free shuttle to Margaritaville on the Hip-Strip, where late-night debauchery is never in short supply (gambling, prostitutes, and a big old waterslide!)
Trashy and only slightly bio-hazardous. The pool's in decent shape, though.
Here's a quick list of the three most unpleasant features of my room: 1) plenty of mold and scum in the plastic shower stall, 2) a collapsed box spring that made the mattress slant to the left, and 3) a crusted bit of feces on the side of the toilet.
Naturally, when packing a property with grade-school children and (worse) reckless drinkers, it's impossible to keep the property looking spotless, no matter how hard housekeeping might try. But I wasn't so sure housekeeping was trying all that hard. For example, at 6 p.m., in the standing ashtray outside our room, I spotted a 3-foot stack of plastic cups spilling pink daiquiri juice onto the floor. By 1 p.m. the next day, after housekeeping cleaned the rooms, I saw the same stack, now with strawberry scabs on the floor. Likewise, the mini-golf course was left flooded, cement was cracked on the tennis courts, faux-wood paneling was pried loose on the elevators, and gaping swamp-water holes about the size of wheelbarrows were left stagnant on the beach.
Quantity is emphasized over quality, with no top-shelf liquor and half-shot portions. But guests can ask for stronger drinks.
No top-shelf liquor on-site, not even second-shelf liquor. The Holiday Inn only has something akin to floor-space liquor -- the kind that comes in a clear bottle conveniently marked Rum with a big red sticker. The brands found on its "top shelf" retail in the U.S. for about $6 a bottle, like Rosita Tequila, Rumona Rum, and Newport Canadian Whiskey (no other whiskey existed).
Though drinks are typically poured in half-shot portions (which most guests complain are "watered down"), if you want anything any stronger, all you have to do is ask. Generally, bartenders don't know how to make any drinks aside from the premixed rum punch and frozen daiquiri Slurpees from a machine.
Worst in Jamaica: Breakfast buffet is terrible, and it's downhill from there. The unnamed jerk chicken shack is the best bet.
Better than a high school lunchroom, but not by much. The buffets are terrible. For breakfast, the made-to-order omelets are the best option, but the watery eggs, soggy home fries, industrial-grade ham triangles, and a handful of local breakfast options go untouched (except by the flies). Lunch and dinner are even worse.
The better daytime (or even evening) option is to get a basic burger at the Barefoot Bar and Grill just off the pool deck.
For dinner, guests need to make reservations in advance at the a la carte restaurants (as is common at all-inclusive resorts). I went to Sorrento, the hotel's Italian restaurant, billed as the best food on-site. Per the waiter's recommendation, I had the steak and calamari. The calamari was good, and in a giant portion, but the mini-steak was terrible: extremely tough meat topped with some kind of blue cheese and plantain chips, over a polenta-like corn cake that I couldn't take more than a bite of (even though I had waited 40 minutes for food and was quite hungry). The wine (only "red" or "white" available) tasted like cooking wine.
For an average-at-best all inclusive chain, the Montego Bay Holiday Inn provides the basics, but the food is much worse than at most other Jamaican resorts.
Cheap liquor, minimal service, dirty rooms, and the worst food in Jamaica--often for more money than the newer, more impressive, family-friendly mega-resorts like the nearby Iberostar and Riu. The Holiday Inn's slot machines, fitness classes, and small beach island hardly justify the inflated rates.