Thursday, January 4, 2018

Our trip to Jamaica: Sun, fun, dolphins and a whole lot of pina coladas

The reason Max now wants to move to Jamaica: Our amazing stay at the Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall resort in Montego Bay. Dave and I got some time to chill; Ben and Sabrina had their fill of water fun; we ate lots of good food, drank lots of good drinks and enjoyed some adventure; and in true teen style, Max decided to avoid us as much as possible and have the time of his life.

I was a bit concerned about squeezing into one room; by the time we booked, that was all we could get. But #1220 turned out to be pretty sizable, and recently renovated to boot, so we were content.

Our room, before the kids tossed their stuff everywhere

The view from our balcony. Our backyard would look ever so much nicer with a palm tree, I've realized.

Ben enjoying an afternoon drink (that would be soy milk) in the lobby

The grounds are gorgeous

The boys liked taking walks

Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall is an all-inclusive resort, which makes it a no-brainer for families and people who really like pina coladas. It's large, with 387 rooms and suites, but not too sprawling and it's flat so it's easy to get around and accessible; I spotted several guests in wheelchairs. I could not stop taking pictures of us on or by the beach; every one looked like a postcard.

See what I mean?

Most of our days there fell into a lovely lazy pattern: Wake up, hit coffee bar, snag poolside lounge chairs, breakfast buffet, pool, swim-up bar, lunch, more pool or beach, maybe do a sport or think about doing a sport or just give up and hit the pool (and swim-up bar) again, snack, shower, dinner, show, sleep.

One of the two humongous pools

The blow-up flamingos and swans were in hot demand, but if you asked a pool attendant to find one for you, they somehow always did. Sabrina loved singing "Old McDonald had a flamingo" to Ben....

...when she wasn't posing herself for artistic selfies in front of the ocean (or "onish," in Ben lingo).

That time I actually got to lie down and chill during the day and it didn't involve dental work

Pool bar, mon! 

We'll have a virgin pina colada, please (and another and another and....). Ben started asking for them by name: "Ina ada." 

Ben's favorite spot: the rinse-off area

If you notice there's not much of Max here, it's because he abandoned us. He loves going to kids' clubs. The one at Hyatt Ziva is for children ages 3 to 12. For youth with disabilities over age 12, parents can pay an hourly rate for a sitter. And so, Max had the company of several lovely, sunny ladies. They hung at the kids club, they took walks, they ate lunch and dinner together. 

Clockwise from left: Ameika, Fiona and Sophie. Shout out to Velesha, the Kidz' Club supervisor, who regularly checked in to make sure Max was a happy camper. 

Inside the Kidz Club


Chilling again with a drink and a 'do courtesy of Ameika; after she did it once, Max insisted on wearing his hair like this every day. When in Jamaica....

Playing air hockey on the deck of the Kidz Club

There was plenty of fun to be had: a water balloon toss-off, bingo, a trivia game, dance lessons from the staff. The area for towel pickup had ping-pong tables, a bean-bag toss and a life-size version of Connect Four. 

What he's thinking: Why don't we have one of these at home?  

There are poolside spa treatments, including hair breading (Sabrina got a few) and massage (could he look any more relaxed)?! 

Guests can rent one of the giant poolside beds and lounge away. (What I was thinking: Why don't we have one of these at home?)

Seriously, everywhere you walked there was someplace good to lie down

Water sports included boogie boarding, kayaking, standup paddle boarding and snorkeling, along with pool cycling classes and aqua aerobics.

Someone in our family had to exercise! The resort had a brand new gym, but we were too occupied by the lunch buffet to get there. 

Sabrina and I both loved Catamaran sailing—the choppier the water, the better. (Don't be impressed, we didn't DIY; a staffer took us out.)

For our family, eating is a sport and this place was like the food Olympics. There were Caribbean, Italian, Asian and French restaurants, the Barefoot Jerkz beachside shack with outstanding jerk chicken, a Brazilian churrascaria, a sports bar with casual food, a deli cafe with pastries and other treats, a 24-hour coffee shop and room service—and that's just on the Ziva side. Over at the sister adults-only property next door, Zilara, there were a couple more restaurants plus a lunchtime crepe stand. 

The food was consistently delish. And if there's something special you're craving, they will gladly make it for you. On our first morning there, a chef saw Max getting upset—he wanted his usual chive cream cheese on a bagel. So he made him some, and every morning after that made sure Max had it. Sabrina, meanwhile, has a thing for corned beef hash. Once the chef knew that, he prepared it for her daily, too.

The salad bar at Choicez 

Of course there was excellent Jamaican cuisine: ackee and saltfish, beef stew, chicken and beef Jamaican patties, plantains, bammy (a traditional flatbread) and the best-tasting rice I've ever had.

Ordering his daily omelet from Chevoy

As typically happens on vacation, Max broke out and did something new, this time carrying a plate to the table on his own.

My snapper at our Calpyzo Grill dinner came with a side of gratitude 

One afternoon, we were treated to a chocolate tasting with the Wouter Tjeertes, the resort's very cool pastry chef and resident chocologist. How genius is this guy? Well, this is his handiwork:

The Chocolate Thinker

As Ben munched on white chocolate, Wouter—who's from the Netherlands—tempered the chocolate, a key technique for heating and cooling it so it doesn't congeal with lumps. You get a smooth, silky liquid that's perfect for dipping or creating bars. Chocolate with lots of cocoa butter is best. Sabrina did the stirring, working off all the corned-beef hash calories. (Not.) 

Then we plunked bits of marshmallow and fruit in and packed some into the molds with a metal spatula. (Fun fact from Wouter: Those plastic tops for tin Chinese and takeout food containers are great for chocolate molds.)

Our handiwork. On vacation, it is perfectly acceptable to eat chocolate bars for breakfast. It may even be a rule, actually.

I can't say enough about how warm and welcoming the staff at the hotel is. When they said hello, they put one hand over their heart. Within a few days of our arrival, they were greeting us by name. And by the time we left, somehow everyone knew Max. Our package included butler service, and Gary, Chiara and Latoya were just one call away for anything, whether we needed activity information, a picnic lunch or an umbrella in case of rain.

One night, we came back to our room and found this creations from Chiara. Think I can train the kids to do it for me at home?

The landscapers gladly cut down a coconut for you if you asked

Sometimes we got lifts, much to Max's delight

It was hard to tear ourselves away from the Hyatt Ziva, but one day we took a quick tour of Montego Bay, including a stop at the St. James market. 

We bought coconuts and sugar cane from the lovely Nardia. 

Montego Bay

Another day, we headed out with Island Routes Caribbean Adventures, the leading tour operator in the area. Destination: dolphins, at Dolphin Cove in Lucea, courtesy of the company. First up, they put on a bit of a show.  

Next, we hung with them. What that meant: A group of us lined up on a platform in knee-deep water in a natural lagoon as we watched the dolphins, touched them and interacted with them. Dave had to hold Max tight as the platform was a bit slippery, but Max was too mesmerized by the dolphins to notice. Along the way a trainer shared trivia, including the fact that dolphins' echolocation (they emit sounds and listen to the echoes) can detect when a woman is pregnant. They cannot, however, detect when you have too much pina colada in your belly.

Max, Ben and me did the Dolphin Encounter, which meant we got to touch and kiss them. 

Ben liked watching but was a bit unsure about the smooch.

Dave and Sabrina did the Ultimate Dolphin Swim. Separately, each swam out dozens of feet into the lagoon and then held onto two dolphins fins to be pulled back to land. I don't think I've seen Sabrina this excited since she got her own phone.

Next, Sabrina and the dolphins glided together in the water as she did a foot-push and stood up. Afterward, we headed over to the stingray pool for more mingling. All in all, it was one seriously memorable experience.

Nighttime at the hotel's entertainment area regularly brought more fun. There were games for families, kids and parents who got called on stage, along with pro dancing. 

The Michael Jackson show had outstanding dancing, but I also loved the pre-show when the MC called up 15 random guys from the audience and got them to dance. 

I loved the performance by the Silver Birds Steel Orchestra.

One night, we were invited to dinner on the beach with a memorable performance featuring traditional Jamaican music, acrobatics and feats. Yes, this is a man balancing a machete on his forehead.

One highlight of Max's stay: the kid talent show. He sang Let It Go, accompanied by a young woman with disabilities he'd met the day before. Max let her sing first, then joined in at the end. 

Although technically Max was the only one who cried when it was time to go home, we all felt the same. The Hyatt Ziva is a hard place to leave. At work a couple days later, I was still half expecting someone to walk over to my desk and hand me a pina colada. 


  1. This sounds like such an amazing vacation! My husband and I were just talking about taking our family on a trip somewhere to a resort that caters to special needs families, and this looks amazing (also saw your post about Smuggler's in Vermont this week too!) Between something like this trip to Vermont, or Smuggler's which would you think is a better fit for a 3-year-old in a wheelchair?


  2. I'm with Max, I'm moving to Jamaica :-). In all seriousness, I often think "what would it be like to live here?" after a great vacation someplace. Then I remind myself that no matter where I live, I'd still be going to work 9-5, grocery shopping, paying the bills etc. Unfortunately, for most of us, life is not a permanent vacation no matter where we live!

  3. Wow wow wow!

    It happened that I received an e-mail from TrekkSoft and a young tour operator - Lamur - was asking questions about how to increase his business.

    When I saw that he was doing tours on Montego Bay too, I was very excited.

    Someone who is good at wheeled tours is the family of Coops and Peeps, Paige.

    Lamur Gilling's company is JamaicanStyles - he does airport transfers very well. And he tells excellent stories about Jamaican history.

    So much good stuff: the food; the exercise; the music; the art; the nature.

    And when life is a permanent vacation we call that enforced leisure. And then there are permanent travellers.

    "At work a couple days later, I was still half expecting someone to walk over to my desk and hand me a pina colada."

    And I think of the palm trees in the City and I think, "No, no, no! that's an introduced species!"

    And did you lot say "lunchtime. crepe. stand."?

    "I was a bit concerned about squeezing into one room; by the time we booked, that was all we could get. But #1220 turned out to be pretty sizable, and recently renovated to boot, so we were content."

    "and in true teen style, Max decided to avoid us as much as possible and have the time of his life."

    You do only get a few holidays in your life to do that - avoid the parents and siblings. Having the time of your life is for every holiday - child; adult; teen.

  4. Jamaica looks heavenly right about now considering its near zero where I live!

  5. Sounds like such a fun and relaxing vacation! Thanks for the rundown 😊


Thanks for sharing!

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