Full disclosure: Eight years ago, I stayed at what is now Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall, in Montego Bay, Jamaica. During my visit, and until 2013, this property was a Ritz-Carlton—boy, have things changed.
I barely recognized the expanded, re-branded, and re-imagined all-inclusive resort with a bigger beachfront and an island vibe. Not to mention 387 all-suite, all-balcony guestrooms, seven restaurants, six bars and lounges, and water therapy that includes a meandering infinity pool and lovely long lagoon pool.
There’s more. A Playa Hotels & Resorts property, family-friendly Ziva sits on the grounds of a larger complex that encompasses the adults-only 234-room Hyatt Zilara, so adult guests staying at Ziva can enjoy Zilara’s beaches and restaurants as well (and vice versa). “I think of the two resorts as a little town and I am the mayor,” says general manager Diego Concha, with a chuckle. While there’s a cohesive flow between the two resorts, which are connected by a beachfront walkway, each has its own identity. As in a real town, every restaurant and food service outlet sports a different design and a different menu.
“Both Ziva and Zilara have a relaxed luxury feel,” says Dave Cook, owner, Love to Travel. “They focus on what we like to recommend to our clients requesting an all-inclusive vacation: luxurious accommodations, multiple a la carte restaurant options with no reservations required including beachside dining, a choice of quiet or active pools, top shelf alcohol, 24-hour room service, fitness centers, hourly activities, nightly entertainment, fire pits, and more.”
Cook notes advantages to having two separate yet connected resort options. “The setup is a big plus for multigenerational families,” he says, “because there’s the option for adults to stay on one side and easily mingle with family members with young kids who stay on the other side.” Similarly, for destination weddings, “no matter which resort our clients stay in, they are close to everyone else attending. Plus, there are a number of beautiful wedding locations throughout the grounds.”
There are 14 different room categories at Hyatt Ziva and 11 at Zilara, including Butler Suites at both properties. My palatial King Room in the new wing of Hyatt Ziva was elegant and comfy, with a clean modern design. I loved the deep-soaking tub that looked like it was sculpted from a big block of stone for a European palace. However, my location directly over the nightly outdoor entertainment area meant that dance music blared into the room until nearly 11 p.m. If your clients want a quiet room at Ziva, be sure to request one far from the outdoor entertainment. For clients who have “been there, done that,” check out the swim-up accommodations—21 at Ziva and 20 at Zilara—which have direct access to semi-private pools.
Let gym nerds know that the fitness facilities will get an upgrade in November with the opening of a large, 2-story glass enclosed fitness center with all new equipment, available to guests of both resorts.
In a 3-night visit, I barely scratched the surface of dining options, but was impressed with the tasty food. I eat 80 percent vegetarian, and the chefs at Ziva’s Italian restaurant Di Roza and Zilara’s Caribbean-inspired, open-air HoriZons both prepared delicious vegan meals for me, not an easy task. Other recommendations: It’s worth waiting in line at Ziva’s Barefoot JerkZ beachfront shack for the yummy jerk chicken. On the other end of the dining spectrum, for clients who want the “wow” factor, dinner at Zilara’s Urban Heat private room is worth a $35 upsell. Presented as a live theater that unfolds with each gourmet course, the meal ends with individual chocolate “volcanoes” that erupt in a haze of smoke before diners scoop out the delectable filling. Speaking of desserts, we also sampled divine handcrafted truffles made by the resorts’ new pastry chef and “chocologist” Wouter Tjeertes, each paired with a different spirit for a unique tasting experience.
Service From the Heart
Other attributes notwithstanding, the biggest differentiator at Ziva and Zilara is Playa Resorts’ “service from the heart” sensibility. “We want our staff to be natural and authentic,” says Concha. “It is our connection to the people and soul of Jamaica which makes us different from other resorts on the island.” In high season there are nearly 1,000 staff members at the two properties, and every one of them greets guests with Playa’s signature hand-over-heart salutation and a genuine smile.
“The service from the heart focus is evident from the moment you arrive,” says Cook. “The staff conveys the emotion that they’re very happy you’re staying with them. Many resorts strive for this “welcome home” feeling but Ziva and Zilara have achieved it. It’s a credit to the management team, their hiring process, and staff training.”
Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall: playaresorts.com