Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
A adult-only megaresort on a quiet peninsula that appeals to both honeymooners and partiers
Secret St. James is not overly romantic, like Jamaica’s Couples resorts, nor is it downright raucous, like the hard-partying Iberostar Rose Hall Beach. Secrets St. James is somewhere in the middle, which allows it to have broad appeal. Romance is certainly possible here; there are soaking tubs or Jacuzzi tubs in all rooms, and the spa features hot an cold pools and a Zen garden. But active couples can keep busy, too, with the free water sports, tennis, basketball, croquet, fitness classes, game room, batting cage, and a small casino. Partiers can get free top-shelf liquor at one of the seven bars (though they may have to fight the crowds).
The resort was completed in 2010, and it looks a bit fresher than older (and similarly priced) all-inclusives such as Breeze Trelawny Resort and Spa and Riu Montego Bay. Rates here are also a bit less than at the neighboring Secrets Wild Orchid, though guests receive virtually all of the same benefits: The resorts share nearly all of their amenities, save for their pools, lobbies, and a few restaurants or bars here and there. (Most restaurants and bars are shared, and get quite crowded in the evenings as a result.)
Further complicating matters is the fact that Secrets St. James is made up of two separate hotels: the “regular” hotel and the VIP “Preferred Club” hotel. Each hotel has its own entrance, lobby, and building, as well as its own pool and beach access. Those guests staying in the Preferred Club section receive plenty of extra perks such as a separate pool and Jacuzzi, a lobby featuring a Club Lounge with round-the-clock buffet and cocktail bar, and rooms that provide free Wi-Fi and better minibars. Meanwhile, those guests staying in the regular hotel may feel second-class -- signs at the Preferred Club pool remind guests that they must prove their Preferred Club status by flashing their fancier key card.
Situated on a small peninsula away from other Montego Bay resorts
Many guests at the Secrets St. James never leave the resort, and with seven restaurants, seven bars, a casino, shops, a theater, and a spa, there's little reason to. The resort is close enough to the airport that guests can avoid expensive taxis, but those who want to explore Jamaica outside of Secrets Wild Orchid’s all-inclusive bubble might be disappointed, as very little is nearby.
Colonial-inspired style, four-poster beds, and balconies -- but they're less luxurious than the rooms at Secrets Wild Orchid
While the rooms at Secrets St. James have identical layouts to the rooms at Secrets Wild Orchid, the decor is a bit simpler and more traditional. Extras include four-poster beds, rainfall showerheads, soaking tubs, private balconies, MP3-enabled clock radios, flat-screen TVs, and DVD/CD players. Even the entry-level rooms are spacious and well designed. And a big bonus: the peek-a-boo bathrooms have shutters that can be closed for privacy.
Those guests staying in the Preferred Club section of the hotel get some additional freebies: free Wi-Fi access codes, more goodies in the minibars, and access to all of the VIP areas such as the Club Lounge and the Premiere pool, which is quieter and nicer than the main pool.
Couples may appreciate the “Secrets box" in each room, which is essentially a non-moving dumbwaiter that allows guests to order room service without actually having to open the door for delivery. Rather, the meal is placed in the box and left for guests to access via a second door in their room.
Isolated from other resorts on a peninsula
Unlike certain popular strips along the northern shore of Montego Bay and Seven Mile Beach in Negril, Secrets' beach doesn’t share its views or borders with any other properties. Instead, the resort’s peninsular spot is secluded and serene, and guests have the run of the shore.
The beach has fine white sand and clear, warm water, and numerous wicker lounge chairs are on offer, as well as palapas for shade. Activities on the beach include beach volleyball, badminton, and horse shoe. Certain sections of the beach are quite narrow.
Though part of the beach is exclusive to the Preferred Club, no one was enforcing the separation.
A main pool, a Preferred Club pool, and a pool at neighboring Secrets Wild Orchid -- all with beach views
The large main pool at Secrets St. James has an infinity edge, a palapa swim-up bar, and breathtaking views of the ocean. It is surrounded by quality woven, padded lounge chairs. Crowds, however, can be a problem. During my stay, the pool bar looked like it was being attacked by a crazy mob, with guests treading water to get to the front of the bar like their lives depended on it. No doubt adding to the rowdy atmosphere is a second bar, which is located just steps from the pool.
The posh Preferred Club pool just next door to the main pool (also with beach views) may inspire envy in the regular hotel guests. It's more serene, and a large placard warns guests that only guest with Preferred Club key cards should enter the area -- which may make regular guests feel second-class. The biggest perk of this pool is the poolside drink service; Preferred guests can get served on their cushy day beds while the regular guests have to push their way to the front of a bar.
Expansive spa with extensive treatment menu and tons of extras
The spa features more than 20 treatment rooms and palapas, as well as a menu of specialties that ranges from facials and mud baths to hydrotherapies and traditional massages. Perks include a juice bar, a relaxation room with hot and cold pools, a yoga garden, a hair salon, and a boutique. Locker rooms also include saunas, steam rooms, pressure showers, and Swiss showers.
Seven restaurants -- and yet a no-reservation policy means extra-long waits for a table
It might be hard to imagine that a resort boasting a total of seven restaurants would have a problem with crowds, but I witnessed guests hungrily waiting outside of every eatery on the restaurant promenade. The restaurants are shared with the neighboring resort, which effectively doubles the number of guests trying to get a table. The restaurants do not accept reservations, so guests wishing to avoid a wait might want to eat early; I saw one smart couple dressed to the nines and heading to dinner at six o’clock.
The food itself, however, is impressive for an all-inclusive. There are Mexican, Italian, Jamaican, Asian-fusion, and French a la carte restaurants, as well as the obligatory buffet restaurant. Unlike a lot of other all-inclusive resorts, the atmosphere doesn’t feel strip mall-esque; each restaurant is housed in its own freestanding structure and has distinct decor.
Even top-shelf drinks are free, but the bars get packed
Secrets St. James has seven bars, including the main pool’s swim-up bar, a piano bar, a music lounge, and a lobby bar. Drinks are covered in the all-inclusive rates, and that goes for the top-shelf stuff as well as the cheap rum punch and Red Stripes. Crowds jockeying for the bartenders' attention start to form in the late afternoon, and it only gets worse as the evening wears on. The Secrets St. James shares its bars with neighboring Secrets Wild Orchid, and guests often take to ordering two (or three) drinks at a time to ensure they don’t get too low while waiting for their next opportunity to order another round.
Standout services and freebies galore
A fitness center and plenty of water- and land-based sports
Secrets St. James shares its fitness center and tennis courts with Secrets Wild Orchid. While the fitness center -- which includes cardio equipment, dumbbells, free weights, and cables -- certainly doesn’t seem to be large enough for both resorts, which have a combined 700 rooms, it was actually quite empty both times I visited.
Other activities are abundant, including free tennis, non-motorized water sports, dance classes, chess, darts, board games, croquet, billiards, yoga, aerobics classes, cooking classes, ping-pong, and jogging trails. There are also activities that come at an additional cost, such as scuba diving (first pool lesson is free), horseback riding, deep sea fishing excursions, and golfing at a nearby championship course.
More than 17,000 square feet of meeting, event, and ballroom space
Secrets St. James provides on-site planners that can coordinate events and meetings both large and small. There are nearly a dozen different spaces that can be used for cocktail receptions, banquets, performances, business retreats, or classes. Packages are available, and guests can also create custom events.
Several on-site pavilions and a host of indoor venues for island nuptials.
Weddings are big business in Jamaica, and Secrets St. James is definitely in on the game, providing an exhaustive list of services ranging from on-site wedding coordinators to pressing and steaming the bride and groom’s gown and tux. Three packages are offered, and made-to-order weddings can also be arranged. Prices for packages start around $1,000 for up to 10 guests, and all packages include a wedding cake, sparking wine, a bouquet and boutonnière, an officiant, and free nights that go toward a future anniversary stay.
While ceremonies generally take place in one of several wedding pavilions along the beach, a vast array of meeting rooms and ballrooms are available for cocktail hours, receptions, and rehearsal dinners.
Secrets’ website also features a registry option in which marrying couples can request gifts be given in the form of credits toward a honeymoon at the resort.
This all-inclusive beachfront resort on a remote peninsula is one of the more luxurious adult-only options in Montego Bay, and has a laundry list of property features, including seven restaurants, seven bars, an expansive spa, nearly half a mile of beach, and tons of activities: a theater, dive center, shopping plaza, casino, and game room. Secrets St. James shares most of its amenities with its sister property next door, but rates here are often a bit cheaper.