Two questions guided my recent stay at Palace Resorts’ first foothold in Jamaica, the Moon Palace Jamaica Grande:
1. How was Mexican-owned Palace Resorts adapting to the land of alright? 2. How could it stand out on an island that already has dozens of all-inclusive brands?
When Palace Resorts bought the Sunset Jamaica Grande in 2014, it invested
$80 million to create a family-friendly “Awe-Inclusive” resort on the largest beach in Ocho Rios. It officially opened in December, and with more than 700 rooms, it’s still smaller than its Cancun cousin, but like that megaresort, the Moon Palace Jamaica Grande aims to please parents and couples as well as kids.
The sleek, contemporary lobby conveys all this with a vast glass wall that faces Ocho Rios harbor. It’s a reminder that you’re in Jamaica, not Mexico. Beyond that “wall,” evening bonfires float on pools near banquettes. Like the swanky lobby bar, this area is a magnet for couples. Adults are also drawn to La Boulangerie, a 24-hour snack bar that serves cappucinos and macchiatos, and the nearby sushi and thin-crust pizza snack bars. In the evenings, people dance to DJ music at Club Noir or to a rockin’ reggae band at the Loud Bar, which also features televised sports. My own favorite haunt, the Martini Bar, has chintz couches and a man at a grand piano who can play anything.
My trip coincided with a concert by Omi, a rising Jamaican reggae-pop star (google “Cheerleader”). Regularly hosting hitmakers is one way the Moon Palace resorts separate themselves from their competitors. The newer Jamaica resort also distinguishes itself with 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Its restaurants, too, cater to adult as well as “family” needs. La Gondola offers sophisticated Italian dishes such as branzino with capers, tomatoes, and olives; I only wish the waiters served red wine in appropriate glasses. The table service at pan-Asian Momo is even more urbane, with carefully constructed small plates like beef gyu tataki. Momo’s teppanyaki stations offer a radically different experience: They’re entertainment centers where chef/MCs flip knives, joke, juggle eggs, and dole out hunks of fish, meat, and shrimp; both kids and adults enjoy it. Outdoors, Pier 8 and the Snack Bar serve family-friendly fare, too. An employee told me that the resort may open a steakhouse, and I hope that fifth restaurant does materialize. Finally, the Buccaneers Reef buffet options range from hot dogs for kids to Jamaican dishes such as jerk pork, goat, and ackee and saltfish. As sales director Guillermo Oliva told me, “We are a Mexican-owned resort with a Jamaican tone.”
To that end, when Palace Resorts bought the Sunset property, it retained Sunset’s Jamaican employees and appointed Clifton Reader, a Jamaican, as GM. The result is an enthusiastic staff with Jamaican good humor. The resort also books Jamaicans like Omi and Shaggy for concerts, and staffers offer Jamaican handicrafts and Patois lessons.
One day I got a treatment at the Awe-Spa, which isn’t just Jamaica’s largest spa, but is connected to a truly state-of-the-art fitness center. The $106 deep-tissue massage was one of the best I’ve gotten at any resort. It was also a good value, because it included an hour-long Water Journey that left me loose as a goose.
Don’t Forget the Kids
Last year, Kathy Halpern, v.p. of sales & marketing for Palace Resorts, told me children and teens who’d stayed at Cancun’s Moon Palace had submitted recommendations to the designers of the Jamaican property, and it shows: Between the game rooms, Princess Runway, and mini-bicycles in the “Playroom” (open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.); the waterpark; and the X-Box layout in the Wired Teen Lounge, kids seemed delighted to be there while their parents enjoyed couple’s time. Patient staffers taught teens how to surf at the FlowRider Double Wave Simulator, while other teens joined their parents on Hobie-Cats, kayaks, and paddleboats. I also watched families giggling and cooing during a dolphin encounter.
My room in the 15-story South Tower had a king bed with a white duvet, a desk and table, a TV, mini-bar with four bottles of liquor, bathroom with a marble tub, a balcony, and strong WiFi signal. Calls to North America were also included. In the North Tower, each Concierge Level Room has a floor-to-ceiling glass wall instead of a balcony. Concierge guests get 25-minute massages and one candlelight dinner, plus plans are underway to add a VIP lounge and restricted sections of the beach and poolside for them.
Rack rates start at $825 per couple; when I checked for Sept. 17-24, that rate was slashed to $495. For a family of four sharing a room with two queen beds, it was $1,079 discounted to $648. The Family Deluxe (two adjacent rooms) started at $1,740 rack rate cut to $1,044. Of course, these discounts are available to agents, whom Palace Resorts views as valued partners. A 4-night stay earns a $750 resort credit, but book five nights for a $1,500 credit. Transfers from Montego Bay and 24-hour room service are included. In addition, says Halpern, “Our Cash Is King incentives program for agents is unique because the bonuses go on a debit
card, so agents can use them for gas, groceries, anything.”