Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Like a country club in the Amazon, with a refined, book-reading clientele to match.
Immersed in carefully crafted flora, Round Hill is one of the few Jamaican resorts that actually feels like it's in an exotic, far-away land -- sweetened air, flirtatious birdsongs, and the all-night frog and cricket chorus that New Yorkers buy for their sleep-wave machines and yoga centers.
The colonial subtlety of Round Hill -- its simple bilevel buildings built into the hillside, the bellman's white regal uniform, the staff's insistence on calling guests "Sir" -- all work to evoke aristocratic sensibilities, yet the spirit is still incredibly calm. The restaurant might cross Vivaldi with some ska, but the music is always discreet -- a background to waves crashing against the rocks. At the bar, a remarkable jazz pianist takes over in the lounge each evening.
Populated by quiet couples and young families, the crowd comes mostly from the United States, Great Britain, and Germany. Even with all-inclusive packages available, I didn't spot any major boozing. Service is definitely attentive and welcoming, but this is communicated by simple hellos, smiles, and brief greetings from the management. No one attempts to engage guests in dancing or any of the other glitzy hoo-ha found at other resorts. All this works to attract a thoughtful community of guests, each very polite and even friendly to one another. But most guests seek time alone with a book rather than sugary cocktails and poolside make-out sessions.
Remote and blissfully quiet area that's a 40-minute cab ride ($35 each way) from the airport.
Outside Montego Bay (in an entirely different state, known locally as a different parish), Round Hill is located in Hanover. But this doesn't mean much to most guests, who typically only leave the grounds to visit the famous Tryall Golf Course, 10 minutes away. The villas are spotted along a lush stretch that sings to the remote exoticism of a bygone Jamaica, far from the prostitutes and faux-coke dealers found at the party-crazed Hip-Strip (about 20 minutes away). But this also means that there's a 30-minute cab ride (for about $40, each way) from the airport.
Along the property's edge, shallow patches of softbeach lie between gnarled tree roots and coarse rock cliffs, between spotted yellow frogs and geckos shooting up tree limbs faster than I could catch with my camera. Being in a remote area of Jamaica has clear advantages, namely more stars, quieter nights, and a welcome distance from the party buses. But with it comes red winged ants, mean-looking crabs, and, of course, cockroaches too big to fight with a steel-toed boot.
Aruguably among the best hotel rooms in the world, they're designed by Ralph Lauren and feature white décor and ocean views.
The resort consists 27 hillside villas (divided into 74 suites) and 36 rooms that were designed by Ralph Lauren (a member of Round Hill's board of directors and the owner of two homes on-site). All rooms have iPod docks. Bring more than one book: There's not much to the on-site library.
In the rooms, the back wall opens to a large wood-planked terrace built into the cliff edge, overlooking the ocean. White linens are draped over a black-coated, natural wood, four-post bed frame. A beautifully finished desk sits beside some remarkably comfy, deep-set white chairs accented by royal blue throw pillows and magenta, pineapple-embroidered blankets.
Observing the customs of the hotel, I removed my shoes at the door so as not to upset the delicate white stone floors. I have to applaud the housekeeping staff: Keeping white clean is as hard as one would expect. In many (if not most) cases, this dangerous style choice can be a hotel's undoing -- angel white can turn to spoiled milk within months. But the walls were spotless, the furnishings pristine. The only flaw was some slight mildew behind the shower door, which I had to crawl on my knees to see. The gleaming chrome showerhead more than compensated. Any slight imperfection, like loose stitching on the woven cotton comforter, appeared calculated, like frayed designer jeans.
But being open-aired (windowless) meant that the shutters needed to be drawn for the AC to function, eliminating the otherwise immaculate view. Likewise, the desk was extraordinary, but all of the nearby outlets were dominated by the fridge and the only lamp available. But I gladly forgave all this if merely because it gave me ample opportunity to procrastinate -- can't work, no outlet; can't work, too hot. All rooms, however, come with free Wi-Fi.
The only substantial flaw was the abundance of mosquitoes and inch-long flying red ants in the room. The hotel provided a slightly scented plug-in mosquito repellent that helped solve the problem, but it's obvious that my bug problem was not unique -- other guests have complained of the same.
The dense, tropical grounds are a phenomenal feature unto themselves. They create an isolated, aristocratic haven, one that evoked the breathtaking calm we thought only available to characters in a Jane Austen novel.
Built into a cliff edge, the 24-hour infinity pool (beaming red and turquoise by night) is the most popular feature. Even with so many kids at the resort, the pool saw far less splashing than pensive ocean gazing along its ledge.
In a colonial mansion on the adults-only side of the resort, the spa prides itself on being a cut above the standard, Glade-freshener massage vibe.
I took advantage of the fitness center, open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., which stuffs some high-end but slightly outdated Cybex equipment behind a 42-inch flat-screen tuned to CNN. Yoga classes are available, and I spotted a few young mothers stealing meditative moments over the courtyard while the hotel-supplied nannies took care of their kids.
The library stores a collection of books ranging from "Golf Digest's Greatest Courses" to existentialist feminist novels by Simone de Beauvoir. Though there are a few Tom Clancy thrillers and chick-lit-like beach reads, it's best to bring your own reading material.
Staff-supplied nannies, kids' menus, and a kids' club are just some of the kid-friendly features.
Round Hill goes to great lengths to accommodate families, largely through the staff-supplied nannies, women dressed in athletic white (like they're ready for Wimbledon) who act as a cross between baby sitter and backup parent. Kids' menus are available at every meal. The menus were single, readable sheets with Batman and Rugrats characters. Kids can eat chicken fingers with ketchup, spaghetti, and chocolate milkshakes every day, should their parents condone it.
The Pineapple kids' club, a small shack filled with games and toys, is more popular during school holidays.
Great food, but it's expensive
Great food, but it's necessary to add the sticker shock right at the forefront. Paying the all-inclusive fee might actually make sense, if merely to take the sting out of signing the bill after an otherwise phenomenal meal.
Round Hill is one of the most beautiful (and expensive) properties in Jamaica, meaning that a wedding here will be flawless and elegant -- but that comes with a somewhat gratuitous price tag.
An expansive spa complex immersed in nature
Round Hill's spa experience begins before guests reach the actual spa building: Guests can unwind on the spa's beachfront lawn, dotted with padded lounge chairs, cabanas, and hammocks.
A sun deck and large whirlpool are located right outside the main building. Water with sliced fruit sits on a shaded table, and there are a few padded loungers topped with rolled towels.
A large salon with hair, make-up, and nail services is located inside the spa, and treatment rooms each feature a bathroom and balcony overlooking the pool, lawn, and sea. Throughout the stone-lined, jungle-filled grounds are relaxation enclaves where cozy couches invite guests to linger in the midst of nature. And at the top of a stone staircase that winds through the thicket, an outdoor hydrotherapy treatment space surrounded by breadfruit trees, palms, and chenille plants offers seclusion.
Also at the spa is the resort’s fitness pavilion, which features daily classes such as yoga and body sculpting, as well as a small fitness center with cardio machines, free weights, and a few weight machines.
Round Hill is phenomenal. Sincere, intimate hospitality; private child care; large, beautifully designed rooms by Ralph Lauren; and breathtaking grounds (to which no photo can do justice) -- it is easily among the best resorts in Jamaica, even with a few mosquitoes and ants in the room.