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.
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.
Arguably among the best hotel rooms in the world, they're designed by Ralph Lauren and feature white decor and ocean views
The resort consists of 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.
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 adult-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, 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.
In the Pineapple Room, a 62-inch flat-screen TV drew a crowd for movies during a sudden storm or "Monday Night Football" but otherwise remained empty.
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 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.
Wedding Size: Can accommodate up to 120 people; can only accommodate one wedding per day, and only 30 weddings per year; no large groups can be accommodated during peak travel times from December 22nd to January 4th, February 11th to the 29th, March 12th to April 16th, and November 26th to the 30th; can book entire hotel if you call at least six months in advance
Extra Fees: Wedding coordinators prices vary depending on wedding size; if you want to be married by someone other than a civil marriage officer, a minister or a Rabbi is available (marriage license included).
Ceremony Location: May be held in the Hanover Room (occupancy up to 100, minimum cost limit); the Spa Terrace or Seaside Terrace (occupancy up to 150, minimum cost limit); decorations may be provided at an extra cost or you can bring your own (pending hotel approval).
Photographers and Videographers: No in-house photographer or videographer -- sourced from off property by the hotel (you can choose from a list), or you can bring your own. Vendor fees applicable.
Music Options: Varied options (from acoustic guitar to a string trio to a calypso band) vary in price; cut-off time for entertainment in 10:30 p.m.
Food and Drinks: Options range from small buffets (30 people) for a per person charge, to large course dinners (80 people) for a per person charge; hot and cold appetizers by the dozen range in price; may request special-diet menu items; kids' menu available, or 50-percent off kids meals; bar options range from a la carte prices to open bars (with a minimum of 30 people) starting at an hourly rate, or for five-hour deluxe liquor rate.
Cakes: Ranges from one tier (for around 25 people) to five tiers (for over 60 people)
Spa Treatments: The Spa offers massages, hair and nail treatments, makeup, and facials; Perfect Bride package including 50-minute massage, mani/pedi, and hair and makeup.
Honeymoon Suite: Four suites available; Classic Villa Suite at 1,000 square feet, Deluxe Villa Suite at 1,400 square feet, Master Villa Suite at 1,600 square feet, and Pineapple Suite at 1,800 square feet; each has private pool, garden, or veranda
Freebies: Discounted group rates at the spa (as well as for other amenities on-site, such as rooms and site fees), must call to negotiate
Airport Transportation: Four-person shuttles can be arranged for all wedding guests, one way rate
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.
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