Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort. Contrary to popular opinion, you can travel and stay in a Jamaican all-inclusive on a budget that won’t break the bank
There is nothing quite like stepping out of a plane and being greeted by the fresh, clean scents of the Caribbean. It serves as a natural stimulant, your desperately needed pick-me-up that takes away your worries. This is what it feels like when visiting Jamaica and the islander’s warm spirited “irie” nature, further work to welcome you to their humble home.
If you’re looking for an economical place to stay in Jamaica, consider Holiday Inn SunSpree resort in Montego Bay. This is a great family- friendly, affordable beach vacation solution if you’re looking for a non-commercial, authentic getaway. All children between 2 to 12 get to stay and play for free with the accompaniment of two paying adults which is a great cost saver and by no means a universal standard for resorts. The resort, as simple as it really is, leaves you feeling happy and content.
Located less than a half hour from Montego Bay airport, it’s a treat to be able to jump off the plane, grab your things and be at your hotel (and the beach) in no time. For guests who arrive before the 3 pm check-in, you can store your bags, then cool off and change into your swim suit in the air-conditioned welcome room on the main floor (sometimes referred to as the adult building as it’s located beside the adult-only pool and is located at the end of the property).
The beach at the resort is great for families with young children, or anyone who enjoys white sand and ultra-calm, beautifully crystal-clear, shallow water. Personally I prefer some waves as I find that much more fun, but the still water made it perfect for my toddler to safely enjoy wading in the sea without fear of waves knocking him down or carrying him away (please DO NOT take this as reason not to watch your children while they are in the water). Looking around, you can see the joy the children have, being able to frolic in the water even when walking far out. You’ll witness a variety of interesting and colourful fish on the shore that will playfully swim between your feet or surround you should you wish to feed them. SunSpree also offers standard snorkeling equipment, paddle boats and kayaks for your enjoyment. An added bonus is the free mini catamaran trip that you can go on daily, right from the resort. Don’t miss this—it’s exhilarating. There is no haggling for beach chairs, ample shaded options and none of the beach front ever felt crowded. SunSpree has a tiny little island that guests can walk over to in a breeze, which is a nice option and another fun experience for the little ones.
Kids will love the children’s club, which is ripe with indoor/outdoor fun activities throughout the day. The club is suitable for toddlers through to early teens, with different itineraries for the specific age groups. Your day’s roster may include face painting (really good face painting), feeding fish at the beach, play time in the park, dance lessons or movie time. The resort offers free wi-fi throughout the property which extends over to their private beach, a bonus for those who wish to stay connected.
SunSpree has a Health and Fitness Centre conveniently located beside the beach and is typical of what you might find on this type of resort—standard equipment in working order, including universal and free weights. There is also a television, towels and water dispenser for your convenience.
Sol Mer Spa at SunSpree resort is tucked away in the Courtyard Garden and is a great place to relax and unwind. Choose from a variety of options including Swedish and aromatherapy massage, soaks in a large Jacuzzi and body scrub treatments. You can choose to enjoy these services solo or as a couple. The Spa also offers mani-pedis if you need a touch up, or didn’t have time to get it done beforehand.
You have the option of washing your clothes at the laundry with coin machines provided on site, or you can utilize the dry cleaning amenities with same-day service available if you’re in a pinch.
There is one adult pool if you need to get away from the noisy riot that is children on vacation, you’ll find it at the far end of the resort and features a swim-up bar. There is only one other pool and that is the main one conveniently located at the center of the property. Neither pool is very large, but they never looked overcrowded. With the beach being as shallow as it is, many parents seemed to opt for this natural aquatic option. Why not, right? You can round off your list of on-site amenities with a small Casino, mini golf, volleyball, basketball, ping-pong and pool tables.
Of course this is a major concern for most and the only controversial topic that I experienced during my getaway. I found that people were either impressed or only mildly impressed.
SunSpree features one main buffet, four à la cartes, three food huts, five bars and an adult-only Cocktail Lounge. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are of course complimentary. You can grab any of these meals at Portside Buffet Restaurant the main (and only) buffet, located adjacent to the main pool. You never need any reservations, there is a fairly decent number of food options consisting of a good mix between local cuisine and typical North American dishes. Here you can also enjoy a daily fresh pizza bar and a small Kids Buffet Corner. During your one week stay, there is one night where Portside is closed and dinner is served on the beach which is a really lovely treat. The food was perhaps best this evening, surprisingly, and there was musical entertainment throughout.
Sorrento Italian, Kenko Japanese and SeaBreeze Jamaican/Seafood round out your à la carte restaurant options. Sorrento and Kenko are located on the second floor just off of the main lobby. This is also where you can find the adult only Cocktail Lounge. I wasn’t blown away by the food at Sorrento, but the Teppanyaki style dining at Kenko was the best dinner we had at the resort and well worth the extra $20 USD charge.
Both upstairs restaurants require men to wear pants and a button down or other dress shirt. If your spouse is like mine, he’ll scoff at the idea of packing dressy clothes on a tropical vacation. No need to worry, the restos will lend him a button down. I suppose since my husband’s legs were going to be covered anyway, they didn’t give him a hard time about his semi-casual khaki shorts.
SeaBreeze Gazebo serves local Jamaican cuisine and seafood ($20 USD for lobster, only served in season). The food was disappointing to say the least, even if it was presented beautifully on the plate; however, what is absolutely lovely about this restaurant is its location beside the beach. You can enjoy your supper with a light warm breeze on your cheeks and the fresh scent of the Caribbean hanging delicately in the air.
De Terrace Jerk Bar serves an amazingly mouthwatering authentic jerk chicken or jerk pork lunch, with a slice of fresh hard dough bread, a Jamaican food staple. Pair it with an ice-cold beer and it is simply perfection. This spot is always packed because it really is very, very good.
The Barefoot Bar and Grill is positioned nicely, between the main beach and pool. On one side you find the grill where you can easily order delightfully simple fried fish, hamburgers and fries. On the other side of the structure is one of the five resort bars. As with the other bars on the property, they serve a variety of tropical cocktails and your standard rum and coketype offerings. Barefoot is open from noon daily and remains open well into the night, long after the main buffet is closed. During my stay, I found that the best margaritas and piña coladas were served at this bar.
Just Kiddin’ is catered to the little ones and the young at heart. Here you’ll have a choice of hot dogs, nachos and cheese, popcorn and most importantly—ice cream.
Final food thoughts and tips: When ordering drinks, ask to see the menu if you want to order something out of the ordinary or just to see what concoctions they offer. There are dozens of fancy options to choose from. My only pet peeve with regard to the drinks served is the lack of top-shelf brands.
For a unique, memorable and romantic dining experience, spend a few dollars and book a dinner on the private beach or boardwalk. Your place is absolutely beautifully set and torch- lit, while the food is cooked close by, so it’s not cold when it arrives.
Book your à la carte dinner reservations through the booking desk in the lobby. Like many all inclusives you need to make your reservations early. If they tell you everything is booked, don’t panic, walk upstairs to the restaurant row at seating times. There are always couples or families who are no-shows so talk to the staff when you see empty tables and they will almost certainly accommodate you. The kind thing to do would be to offer the host a tip if they do seat you, because really, they don’t have to.
Overall, I didn’t find the food to be spectacular, but it’s up to the budget all-inclusive standard. That said, I know good Jamaican food, so I am probably biased. For the most part, a good number of Caribbean all-inclusives tend to cater to the typical North American palate which often isn’t accustomed to richly flavoured and spiced foods.
Montego Bay is a nice place to stay because you can visit the city and surrounding areas with ease. You should definitely visit Rose Hall Great House. The lore may be largely make-believe, but the property itself and the land it sits on is absolutely breathtaking. A visit to Scotchies is something you should consider if you want to visit a world famous jerk chicken spot, and it’s conveniently located a short distance from the resort.
To witness a brilliant sunset and experience what is often referred to as one of the nicest beaches in the world, make your way to Negril’s Seven Mile Beach.
A trip into Ocho Rios to climb up the world-famous Dunn’s River Falls is another must. While in Ocho Rios, make sure to stop in at Miss T’s Kitchen. This charming restaurant is nestled away in a highly inviting, colourful, open air garden setting. Here I enjoyed some of the best Jamaican food I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.
Other good things
Entertainment was varied throughout the day and each night was enjoyable. Guests invited on stage need not worry about doing anything foolish, which to me, is always a bonus. The resort was always clean and the staff were (for the most part) pleasant and willing to help. SunSpree has undergone many renovations and is currently in the process of updating all of the hotel rooms and suites. The resort offers reasonably priced babysitting options with evening slots available.
The Holiday Inn SunSpree resort provides an economical way to visit and enjoy Jamaica. Many guests were return visitors and although it is family friendly, there were numerous singles and couples who mentioned that they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The entire trip and stay was enjoyable and the resort provided a perfect stay for unwinding and relaxing in the sun.
Disclosure: A portion of this trip was sponsored by Holiday Inn Sunspree, but the opinions expressed are honest and remain my own.