Jamaican all-inclusive resort escape; we compared 3 Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott properties
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As a part of our All-Inclusive Resort Week coverage, I went on a hotel-hopping trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica. I split my time between three different all-inclusive resorts that all participate in major points programs: the Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa, the soon-to-join Marriott Royalton Blue Waters and the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall.
Each of the three properties promised a distinctly different experience. The Hilton was billed as a family-friendly resort, the Hyatt Zilara was adults-only and the Royalton, which I booked with the Diamond Club premium add-on, promised a luxurious experience.
While I enjoyed my experiences at all of the resorts, I had a clear favorite. Was it the one that offered butler service and advertised “all-in luxury?” Keep reading to find out!
All of the resorts advertised themselves as being in Montego Bay. However, the Royalton was actually just outside of Falmouth. It’s a roughly 35-minute drive from the Montego Bay airport (MBJ) and just under an hour away from the famous Dunn’s River Falls.
Meanwhile, the Hilton and Hyatt were fairly close to each other, in a central Montego Bay location. They were just 15 minutes from the airport and a relatively short drive from attractions like the Rose Hall Great House, Montego Bay Marine Park, Greenwood Great House and the Luminous Lagoon.
All of the hotels were right on the beach. The Hilton and Hyatt’s beaches were private, while the Royalton had locals roaming around trying to sell sunbathers souvenirs and other knick-knacks.
The Royalton Blue Waters shared a property with the Royalton White Sands and the Hyatt Zilara shared a property with the Hyatt Ziva. At both resorts, guests had access to all facilities in the complex.
You don’t spend much time in your room when you’re vacationing in the Caribbean. That said, you still want a nice, clean room to come back to at the end of the day.
While nothing about it felt Jamaican, the Royalton had the most stylish room. It was bright, modern and airy. It featured an open-concept bathroom with a freestanding whirlpool tub and large balcony. The bed was comfortable and there were lots of easily accessible U.S. outlets. Now, there were some problems with the room, such as a missing chair for the desk and flickering lights, but they seemed like easy fixes. The complimentary minibar was only stocked upon request.
I was a fan of my room at the Hyatt Zilara as well. It was minimalist, but chic, featuring lots of light wood, contrasted with navy blue accents. The bed was extremely comfortable, there were power outlets built into the nightstands and the tablet, which could be used to get resort information and order room service. That added a modern touch. Of the three hotels, the complimentary minibar was also the best-stocked with various soft drinks, beer, chips and granola bars.
Meanwhile, the room at the Hilton was forgettable. It was clean and simple but had a cookie-cutter feel. Nothing about the decor spoke specifically to the destination. The bed was fine, but I was bothered by the thin walls. On the bright side, my balcony still offered a decent view of the ocean, despite being a mountain view room. The mini-fridge came stocked with various soft drinks and beer — all of which were complimentary.
All three resorts offered a wide range of terrific amenities. Predictably, each resort boasted multiple pools, direct beach access, a spa, gym, non-motorized water sports, all-day entertainment and more. All of the resorts also offered complimentary on-site COVID-19 testing for U.S. visitors.
The Royalton stood out for its array of pools spread across the property, two of which had swim-up bars. It also had a small pirate-themed water park with several waterslides and a splash pad for younger guests. The beach was nice, but it didn’t feel very private as I was often approached by locals trying to sell souvenirs. While I appreciated the on-site COVID testing, it was a very disorganized process.
As a Diamond Club guest, I had access to a dedicated check-in area, lounge in the lobby and exclusive area on the beach. While nowhere near St. Regis quality, I also had a dedicated butler who helped with things like restaurant reservations. Other perks of the Diamond Club add-on listed on the resort’s site include free daily hydrotherapy, nightly turndown service and access to a private pool, but those were never offered during my stay.
The Hilton had two main pool areas — one main pool that was on the quieter side and then a waterpark, which is where most guests spent their time. The waterpark provided fun for all ages, featuring a lagoon-style pool, a waterslide, lazy river, multiple waterfalls and a swim-up bar. According to the resort, the waterpark is Jamaica’s largest. The beach areas were private and immaculately maintained. Other on-site facilities included a playground, basketball courts and tennis courts, though racquet rentals weren’t included.
The Hyatt Zilara featured an elegant, three-tiered pool complex, which included a swim-up bar. As an adults-only resort, there was no splashing or screaming children, but it still had a lively atmosphere. While there were lots of lounge chairs around the pool, you needed to get there early if you wanted a spot in the main area on the lower level. That said, it was easy to flag down servers for poolside service regardless of where you sat. Guests also had access to a massive pool on the family-friendly Hyatt Ziva side.
The beach was pretty and private and offered many non-motorized water sports. For those that preferred land activities, there was also a tennis court, which included free racquet rentals. There was a gym on both the Zilara and Ziva sides, though I preferred the Ziva’s. It was split between two stories and offered every piece of equipment you’d need for a workout, including lots of weight and cardio machines, a boxing area and even a spinning room.
Food and beverage
Overall, the food was forgettable at the Royalton and Hilton, but terrific at the Hyatt Zilara. I enjoyed the food at the Hyatt so much that I’d go as far as considering it restaurant-quality — something you can’t say about many all-inclusive properties.
The Royalton had a total 11 restaurants on-site, including one that cost extra. The selection ranged from your typical buffet to Asian options, Italian, Tex-Mex and Jamaican, but the plentiful choices didn’t make up for the forgettable flavor. The buffet was fairly consistent day-to-day — there was always a Jamaican station, vegetarian options, pizza/pasta, some comfort food, Asian station, salad bar and dessert area. The alcoholic options at the bars were mostly limited to local brands. Room service was included but was on the slower side.
The Hilton had a total of nine restaurants and bars. Although the buffet had a different theme each day, with some staples like a salad bar, burger bar and pizza station being offered every day, it would have definitely gotten repetitive if I spent more than a few days at the resort. The a la carte options like the Jerk Hut, outdoor restaurant Mangoes and beachfront seafood restaurant were a bit better, though the food was slow to come out. While I’ll never complain about an open bar, the liquor was mostly limited to local brands and wasn’t particularly top-shelf. 24-hour room service was also available free of charge to all guests.
Between the Zilara and Ziva sides, the Hyatt offered 10 restaurants, three coffee shops and six bars, all included. I wasn’t able to try them all but the ones I did dine at thoroughly impressed me. Options ranged from an international buffet to Asian fusion restaurant, beachfront Jamaican restaurant, seafood grill, french fine dining restaurant, a Brazilian steakhouse and more. The buffet featured many different stations, including many with made-to-order items. Unlike the other resorts, the food at the a la carte restaurants came out at a reasonable pace and it was clear that it was freshly prepared. The alcohol selection was also pretty solid for an all-inclusive, including brands like Titos Vodka, Don Julio and Hennessy. 24-hour room service was available at no extra charge and could be ordered through the in-room tablet.
Higher quality comes at a price. Of the three, the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall was the most expensive resort I stayed at on this trip. Cash rates start at $385 per night, based on double occupancy, in the fall, but often hover around $500 per night during busier periods. If booking with World of Hyatt points, stays will cost 25,000 points per night for double occupancy but could range from 21,000 to 29,000 points per night once Hyatt implements peak and off-peak pricing later in 2021. Each additional person costs 12,500 points per night.
The Royalton Blue Waters was a bit cheaper, starting around $320 per night. Like I mentioned, to get the most out of my stay, I splurged on the “Diamond Club” add-on, which usually costs around $60 extra per night. At this point, we don’t know yet what category the property will be classified as under the Marriott Bonvoy award chart.
Related: The best hotel credit cards
Meanwhile, the Hilton Rose Hall was the most budget-friendly of the bunch. Cash rates start around $230 per night, based on double occupancy, in the fall, but can rise to $400 or more during peak times. Alternatively, you can typically book your stay for 60,000 to 70,000 Hilton points per night, again based on double occupancy. Plus, if you have Silver, Gold or Diamond Hilton elite status, you’ll receive your fifth night free when redeeming points.
A trip to Jamaica is a trip to Jamaica. Regardless of which of these resorts you stay at, you’ll enjoy great pools, beautiful beaches, lots of activities and plenty of vitamin D. Personally, I had the best overall experience at the Hyatt Zilara as it felt the most upscale. The rooms were well-appointed, the service was friendly, I never felt nickel and dimed, and the food and beverage options were miles better than at the other resorts. That said, the resort won’t be right for everyone. For instance, it’s adults-only so families may prefer the Hilton or Royalton instead. Although the Royalton offered stylish rooms and great amenities, of the two, I’d probably pick the Hilton since it didn’t have as many kinks to work out. Rates at the Hilton were also much easier to swallow.
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All photos by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy
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