Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
It can feel a bit like a country club -- it has the best golf course on the island -- but it's still cheerful, laid-back, and Jamaican.
The Rose Hall Ritz is styled in typically "Ritzy" neoclassical grandeur -- high polished marble, ample crown molding, potpourri, elaborate bouquets, glass-encased luxury ad space -- but it feels a little warmer than a more traditional Ritz-Carlton, like the one on Central Park in New York City. The lobby is painted sunshine yellow, and has magenta wicker loungers. The hotel is a popular choice among vacationing families, so you're likely to see children running through the grounds during school breaks, leaning atop the pool tables and doggy paddling in the whirlpool. Adding to the livelier, leisure-only Ritz, there's even an authentic Jamaican BBQ shack on the beach.
Still, the Rose Hall Ritz works hard to satisfy its loyal, international client base -- ranging from South American honeymooners wearing matching Marc Jacobs flip-flops and lemon-lime swimsuits to middle-aged New York couples feeling good about their successes on the back 9. In general, a Ritz-guest expects more from his hotel, and the Jamaican Ritz delivers -- be it a brandy and a Cuban cigar at the Cohoba Lounge or a cheerful, incredibly attentive wait staff. The same cannot be said of the Ritz in St. Thomas.
Friendly, over-the-top service from people who actually seem to like their jobs.
Given the all-around heightened quality of service in Jamaica, I expected phenomenal things from the Rose Hall Ritz. I was not disappointed. Take, for example, the three dedicated servers in the Horizon restaurant refilling my coffee and water, or just chatting with me about the weather, the Jamaican attractions, local politics -- whatever I wanted.
Without fail, there is someone to grab your bags, open the door, and walk you back to your room if you happen to get lost wandering the hallways. But there is one key distinction in Jamaica -- the employees actually seem to have fun. Alleviating the stale, business tradition of the Ritz in other cities, the Rose Hall staff is energetic, friendly, and eager to make jokes. On the whole, this spirit creates a remarkably interesting, yet still relaxed, Ritz experience.
Also, if you happen to be in the room when turndown comes knocking, don't be afraid to ask for a handful of dark chocolates.
In Jamaica's golf capital, and just 20 minutes from the airport.
Being only 20 minutes from the Montego Bay International Airport, surrounded by golf courses and next door to the luxury mega-resort Half Moon and its adjacent shops and restaurants, the Ritz is isolated (crickets made up the chorus outside my room) but still readily connected.
Some sand, rocky shores, and (if you can beat the other guests to them) hidden hideaways.
The sandy beach area is relatively small, at least compared to other Jamaican resorts. Bisected by Ming-style standing ashtrays, loungers are aligned side by side, close enough to ensure that if your book sucks, you can just read the novel lying next to you.
On par with all other Ritzs, the beach includes cocktail service (a somewhat rare thing in Jamaica, though also available at the Royal Plantation in nearby Ocho Rios). In addition, in a very un-Ritz-like move, it has constructed a remarkably authentic Reggae Jerk Center beside the kayaks and Hobiecat sailboats, with a black charred drum barbeque. (Allegedly, the black char is where you get the flavor, though some purists might argue otherwise.)
But most of the "beach" consists of a stone pathway straddling a rocky inlet, with a few lounge chair pairs deep-set in a private, shrub-shaded plateau. Though they're not for swimming, I loved these hidden romantic pockets and the sound of waves crawling over the volcanic ridges. But with only a handful of spaces available in the high season, they can get snatched early in the morning.
Clean, bright, and remarkably comfortable -- every bit up to Ritz standards.
The bright, sea-toned standard rooms are a considerable step-up from the generic floral prints and pineapple curtains found at most other hotels in Jamaica. Equipped with a powerful, hard-wired Internet connection, satellite TV on a 42-inch flat-screen, a large and relatively private balcony and the large marble bathroom synonymous with the Ritz name, the rooms are among the best in Jamaica (at least on paper).
The only thing the rooms lack is the serene sense of "escape" found at other, mellower, less golf-focused resorts like Round Hill. At least in appearance, a Ritz in Jamaica could be a Ritz anywhere else in the world. But the uniform design is the whole point -- long-tested functionality and an incredible bed (six pillows made of down, stuffed cotton and hypoallergenic foam on top of a feather duvet, on top of super-count sheets, on top of a firm, pillow-topped mattress). I didn't sleep like a baby. (Since when do babies sleep?) I slept like a house cat.
The bathroom includes two sinks, a full tub, a marble-enclosed shower stall (with superb water pressure) and a privately enclosed bathroom stall with a phone above the toilet paper (the phone is useless, sure, but it is a true mark of luxury).
Everything on-site, all beautifully maintained, and the fitness room is one of the best on the island.
Beside the pool and hidden between some shrubs lies the hot tub. Even during the off-season, the tub remained occupied about 90 percent of the time, seeing as it could only comfortably fit two or three people (or four preteens walking in a close-knit circle, intent on creating a whirlpool within a whirlpool).
The fitness room includes Cybex muscle machines and brand-new Life Fitness cardio machines equipped with satellite TV on the individual 15-inch monitors. (Earphones are free, waiting just beside the complimentary apples and chilled towels.) In addition, the hotel offers a free personal trainer and an on-site yogi.
Spa treatments (including a "Gentlemen Only" menu) are available just outside the fitness center or on the beach. However, the spa and gym both close at 8 p.m.
Two Internet-ready computers are available (for a fee) in the business center, and another two are in some phone-booth-size rooms just outside the lobby. Wi-Fi access is supposedly available in the lobby, though I was never able to pick up a signal.
The bedeviling White Witch course makes this an unmissable stop for golfers.
According to most guests at the hotel (as well as Travel + Leisure), the White Witch golf course is about the best golf course in the Caribbean (athough Teeth of the Dog at the Casa De Campo in the Dominican Republic is worthy challenger). As one guest put it, "Not playing White Witch is like going to California and not playing Pebble Beach."
Absolutely spotless, as you'd expect.
Like any Ritz, the property is beautifully maintained. The only exceptions to the full-scale resort manicure were a few bocce balls left out by the prior guests, but I felt they just added a well-needed sportiness to an elderly ambiance.
Plenty of programs lined up, even if the kids tend to create their own fun.
Supervised activities are available through the kids' club, and kids' menus are available at every restaurant (including in-room dining). Plenty of sports equipment is also available (from basketball to Ping-Pong to bocce), and the large, interior courtyard offers loads of space for kids to romp.
Pricey, tasty food, and lots of it, available 24 hours
The food is excellent -- as good as any of the other leading hotels in Jamaica, including Round Hill and Half Moon -- but it is expensive. Take, for example, the $35 per person breakfast buffet; it's really only worth it if you drink six mango mimosas or pile some smelly cheese on your bagel. But considering that the French-press Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee isn't included as part of the buffet and that even at 8:30 a.m. some of the sausage and potatoes can be cold, the fare seems to be a bit over-priced.
Unique to the Jamaican Ritz, there is a beachfront Reggae Jerk restaurant, housed in a colorful shack no different from those operated by Rastas in Negril (save the omnipresent smell of marijuana). With a long-charred halved-barrel BBQ, it creates some phenomenal jerk chicken, pork and fish.
A top-notch resort with an easy (if expensive) list of choices to help plan weddings for up to 1,000 guests (but no fewer than 25 guests)
Attached to the Caribbean's best golf course, the Rose Hall Ritz offers traditionally top-notch food, service, facilities, bathrooms, beds...well, everything. The resort's a safe bet, but the small, rocky beach crowds in the winter and its on-site restaurants (the only food within a 15-minute drive) can cost a fortune.