A pretty beach and fun waterpark makes Jamaica's all-inclusive Hilton Rose Hall Resort a good bet for families
Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been craving a sunny getaway to the Caribbean. So, when I heard All-Inclusive Resorts Week was coming up at TPG, I jumped at the opportunity to check out three resorts in Jamaica.
My first stop on the trip was to the Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa. This is the sole Hilton on the island and one of only seven all-inclusive properties in its portfolio. Every stay includes bottomless food and drinks, nonstop entertainment, non-motorized water sports, access to the property's on-site water park, and now, thanks to the pandemic, complimentary room service.
Jamaica's been open for tourists for close to a year now. All you need to enter is a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test taken within three days of travel and a completed travel authorization form. Then, when it's time to return to the U.S., you can get tested on-site at most Jamaican resorts, including the Hilton.
I've stayed at numerous all-inclusive resorts over the years, but this was my first time at one that's part of a major hotel chain. Here's how it went.
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As an all-inclusive property, it's vital you specify the correct number of guests when making your booking or you could face extra fees. Luckily for families, children ages 5 and under stay for free at Hilton Rose Hall.
Cash rates start around $230 per night, based on double occupancy, in the fall, but can rise to $400 or more during peak times. Since this is classified as a resort, it's a great opportunity to cash in on the up to $250 annual resort statement credit provided by your Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Plus, since the card offers automatic Hilton Honors Diamond status, you'll be earning a total of 34 points per dollar on your eligible stay (14x points for paying with the Aspire card and 20x bonus points for being a Diamond member), which is a whopping 20.4% return based on TPG valuations. The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Related: How to choose the best Hilton credit card for you
Alternatively, while you can't redeem Hilton free night certificates here, you can stay at this all-inclusive property on points. Rates typically range from 60,000 to 70,000 Hilton points per night, again based on double occupancy. That's worth about $360 to $420 based on TPG valuations so it might not always provide the best value, but is a nice option to have for families that want to book a complete vacation — including meals and activities — for $0 out of pocket.
It's also important to remember that if you have Silver, Gold or Diamond Hilton status, you’ll receive your fifth night free when redeeming points. It's easy to have status with Hilton since any of its cobranded credit cards — such as the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and Hilton Honors American Express Card — will give you automatic elite status.
Aside from incidentals, such as for spa treatments or bottles of wine, there are no additional resort or amenity fees.
Related: The best credit cards to jump-start elite status
The Hilton Rose Hall was just 15 minutes from the Montego Bay airport (MBJ). For a smooth experience, I recommend pre-ordering a car or shuttle service. While you could do this through the resort, it will be cheaper if you find a company on TripAdvisor and book directly with them.
It had an ideal beachfront location with no other resorts in sight and no one walking by to try to sell sunbathers souvenirs or other knick-knacks. Attractions like the Rose Hall Great House, Montego Bay Marine Park, Greenwood Great House and the Luminous Lagoon were a relatively short drive away. The property also offered easy access to the Cinnamon Hill Golf Course.
Related: An insider’s guide to what to see and do in Jamaica with a family
Immediately upon arriving at the property, my temperature was taken and my hands, shoes and bags were sanitized. I soon learned that this was the new norm for resorts on the island.
There weren't many people ahead of me to check in, though the line moved a bit slow because guests needed to schedule their pre-departure COVID-19 tests. Luckily though, I was able to get the keys to my room right away, despite arriving at noon — four hours before the standard check-in time.
The hotel usually offers Diamond members like myself one-category upgrades, though there weren't any upgraded rooms available at that time. However, because all meals were already included, I automatically got 1,000 bonus points as a part of my My Way benefits instead of the usual complimentary continental breakfast.
Related: 6 amazing benefits that make Hilton Diamond status worthwhile
I was assigned a standard mountain view king room on the top floor of the hotel, the seventh. Had one been available, as a Diamond member, I would have been upgraded to a room with an ocean view.
As is now the norm at Hilton properties worldwide, there was a seal on my door indicating that it hasn’t been accessed since its last deep cleaning.
Related: An inside look at how Hilton is cleaning hotel rooms between guests
The room itself felt like, well, a Hilton. It was clean and simple, but nothing about it spoke specifically to the destination. Although the room had a fair amount of blue, the decor didn't feel very island-appropriate.
Luckily, there was a balcony to remind me that there's a white sand beach outside. Although I was in a mountain-view room, I pleasantly surprised to find that I still had a decent view of the main pool and ocean.
The king-size bed was comfortable. Despite the walls being thin and that I could hear a baby crying on and off, I got two great nights of sleep. Had I been traveling in a group, we would have also been able to use the sofa bed. My only pet peeve was that there weren't any bedside power outlets.
The only U.S. plugs that were available were built into the lamp and alarm clock on the table. While most people aren't coming to the Caribbean to work, the chair made for a comfortable place to use my laptop.
As a part of Hilton's enhanced cleaning procedures, the TV remote was cleaned and wrapped with a seal. There was also a pack of disinfectant wipes available for personal use.
Inside the cabinet below the TV was a mini-fridge stocked with various soft drinks — all of which were complimentary.
The most modern part of the room was the bathroom. It had a single sink and walk-in shower with good water pressure. In addition to the usual verbena-and-lavender-scented Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries was a small bottle of hand sanitizer.
Across the bathroom was a wall of closets. It had a safe, luggage rack and iron and ironing board. There was no robe or slippers.
The highlight of the resort was its amenities.
In the center of the resort was the main pool, which faced the ocean. This actually turned out to be the quietest one and was used mostly by adults.
There were sufficient — physically distanced — chaise loungers set up around the pool so guests didn't need to get up early to "reserve" them. That said there were also cabanas available to rent for a fee.
Where most guests spent their time was the water park. It featured a lagoon-style pool, a waterslide, lazy river and multiple waterfalls. There was even a swim-up bar attached to the pool. This probably goes without saying, but this area had a very energetic atmosphere and there was loud music playing throughout the day.
The waterslide was a whopping 280-feet long. According to the resort, the waterpark is Jamaica's largest.
There were also three hot tubs that were spread across the pool complex.
While I didn't have trouble finding a spot to sit solo, it would have been harder to find a pair of open loungers next to each other at this pool. Again, there were cabanas available to rent.
Meanwhile, I spent most of my time at the beach. The beach was split into two sections. One was near the waterpark while the other one was a bit further down the sand.
The section that was further away was wider but used primarily by those that rented private cabanas. Both beach areas were immaculately maintained. The sand was extremely soft, there was minimal seaweed on the shore and the water stayed shallow for a long way out. There was also staff walking around the beach to take food and drink orders.
Guests could also take advantage of free non-motorized water sports equipment, such as kayaks, catamarans, paddleboards and even water tricycles.
For those that preferred land activities, there were tennis courts, basketball courts and a playground. The tennis courts were free to use, but racquet rentals cost extra.
There were also various lawn games and a ping-pong table spread across the complex.
While I didn't partake, there was a spa housed in its own building overlooking the ocean. Massages officially started at $70 for 30 minutes, but there were various promotions offered during the time of my stay and it seemed like the prices were negotiable.
Back in the main building, there was a 24-hour fitness center on the ground floor. It offered all of the basics and there was never anyone else there during the times I went.
To keep your kids occupied, there was a supervised kids club, as well as a teen zone, which was basically an arcade. For adults, there were several pool tables in the "Cricket Club."
In addition to various activities by the pool during the day, there was nightly entertainment just outside of the buffet. Then, after the main show, there was usually karaoke or a DJ spinning to keep the party going.
Complimentary Wi-Fi was provided in guest rooms and public areas, including the beach. However, the internet speed wasn’t particularly fast, measuring 7.90 Mbps download and 7.58 Mbps upload.
Another important amenity these days: on-site COVID-19 testing. I didn't participate since I was heading to another resort afterward, but there was free testing available for U.S. travelers staying at the property for three or more nights. From what I heard, results are typically delivered the next day.
Related: The hottest hotel amenity is a nasal swab
Food and beverage
There were a total of nine restaurants and bars at the resort. The main one was the buffet restaurant, Fresh. It was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offered both indoor and outdoor seating.
The thought of a buffet in the age of the pandemic was a little scary at first, but the food was protected by glass barriers and served to guests by the staff. The food had a different theme each day, with some staples like a salad bar, burger bar and pizza station being offered every day. That said, the options would have definitely gotten repetitive if I spent more than a few days at the resort.
While I didn't go hungry, I found the food to be average at best. I mostly stuck to fresh fruit and omelets in the mornings and salads in the afternoons. There were also to-go boxes available, which I thought was a nice touch.
Luckily, there were some other, and slightly better, options. For instance, a popular lunch spot was the Jerk Hut by the main pool, which served freshly grilled jerk pork, jerk chicken and festival, which is a deep-fried bread.
I also enjoyed my meal at the outdoor restaurant Mangoes. Although the presentation left a bit to be desired, my fish sandwich hit the spot and I had a great view overlooking the beach.
Another solid lunch option was the beachfront pizza joint Moonstone. While it was nowhere near the best pizza I've had, it did the trick and offered a great view.
For dinner, there were several a la carte options in addition to the buffet. Although reservations were required, as a solo traveler, I was still able to walk in and get a spot.
For dinner my first night, I chose Luna Culinary Creations, which was located at the back of the buffet restaurant. The menu included items like shrimp cocktail, seafood stew and coffee-pimento rubbed beef tenderloin. I had the pickled Jamaican codfish served on a fried cassava bammy, a vegetable soup and jerk snapper fillet. The food was a bit slow to come out and didn't taste much fresher than the food that's been sitting out at the buffet on the other side of the room.
I had a much better dinner experience at the seafood restaurant Seaside. It also offered a nicer atmosphere, being outside and right by the ocean. I had the sesame seared tuna and ginger snapper fillet, which were both quite tasty. Other items on the menu included shrimp bisque, a Jamaican baked mahi-mahi fillet and a coconut curry with shrimp. As with the rest of the restaurants, there were also bottles of wine available for purchase.
In between meals, guests could indulge in sweets from an ice cream station located right outside the buffet.
There also was a coffee shop by the lobby, which offered various sandwiches, pastries, coffee-based drinks and teas.
Throughout the property were also several bars, including a swim-up one by the waterpark. While I'll never complain about an open bar, the liquor was mostly limited to local brands and wasn't particularly top-shelf. Most drinks were served in paper cups and all came without straws.
Finally, due to the pandemic, 24-hour room service was available free of charge to all guests. The daytime menu offered fairly basic items like pizza and burgers. I ordered a fruit salad one afternoon, which was delivered in about 50 minutes and was served in a biodegradable container with wooden utensils.
Everyone I interacted with was incredibly friendly and welcoming. And unlike some other resorts I've stayed at, there wasn't pressure to tip at every encounter. While the food was sometimes slow to come out, the servers were attentive and the restaurant hosts frequently checked in on guests to see how their meal was going. I also appreciated that I was never offered a sales pitch for a timeshare, excursion, upgraded experience or anything else of that sort.
Housekeeping was automatically provided daily unless there was a do-not-disturb sign on your door. Common areas were constantly being cleaned, there were signs to promote physical distancing and hand sanitizer dispensers were available next to elevators and other high-traffic areas.
Although I didn't get an upgrade, my Diamond status was recognized with a welcome amenity, delivered shortly after getting to my room.
Related: 13 mistakes to avoid at all-inclusive resorts
All things considered, I enjoyed my stay at the Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa. While the room and food were forgettable, the rest of the property was well-appointed. Between the beautiful private beach with water sports, the on-site waterpark, supervised kids club and more, there's plenty to keep people of all ages occupied. Couple that with reasonable cash rates and the possibility to redeem points and you've got yourself a solid family vacation spot. If you're looking for a more quiet, romantic getaway, you might want to look elsewhere.
All photos by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy