Saturday, February 13, 2016

Holiday Inn Resort Montego Bay - Staying Like a VIP for $49/nt.

Mrs. TIL and I just got back from a weekend at the Holiday Inn Resort Montego Bay.  For $49/nt. all-in, it was seriously one of the best travel deals we've ever scored!  We loved the Jamaican hospitality, the authentic food, and the non-pretentiousness of this resort.

$49?  Really?

The Chase IHG Credit Card often offers great sign-up bonuses.  The points you earn when you sign up for the card can be redeemed for approximately two free nights at all-inclusives like the Holiday Inn Resort Montego Bay.

35,000 points, or just use your free annual night with the IHG credit card.

We didn't use points this time.  That's because each time you pay the $49 annual fee on the card, you can reserve a free night at ANY hotel or resort operated by IHG worldwide.  While the Holiday Inn Resort may not be the most expensive hotel in IHG's portfolio, I love being able to book a truly comped night each year without worrying about meals, drinks, taxes, surcharges, extra person fees, etc.

Livin' the VIP Life!

So, now that you know how to score a room, the IHG credit card offers one other awesome benefit -- Platinum Status.  At the Holiday Inn Resort, that's also the key to getting a VIP arm band.  As a VIP, you get access to their adults-only club with premium liquor, free restaurant reservations, and room upgrades.  So, not only are you getting a room for $49 each year, but you're getting an upgraded room and VIP treatment.

We loved the view from our upgraded top-floor suite.

While the base room at this resort is an oceanview room, we were upgraded to a top floor junior suite, which we loved.  We could even watch the sunset from our private balcony each evening.

Visit Like a Pro

Here are 15 tips and tricks for your visit!

1. If you like to snorkel, there's a great reef straight out from the resort.  If you take a glass bottom boat from the HI or another resort, there's a good chance they'll stop at the same reef -- but you can swim out for free.  First, walk/swim to the little island and put on your fins.  Then, from the right side (facing out) you'll see a few small buoys past the breaking waves.  Swim straight out from the right side of the island toward the buoys, past the swimming ropes, staying over the sandy/deeper sections, until you get to the breaking waves.  You'll see some shallow rocks and it will look like you can't go any further, but carefully swim across the shallow section and you'll start to see tons of fish, living coral, sea fans, and big underwater canyons.  Even if the visibility isn't good near the beach, it'll be great once you get out to the reef.  Stay safe and watch out for occasional boat traffic.

2. If you want to see fish within the roped-off swimming areas, I recommend snorkeling under the pier in front of the adult pool or near the right side of the little island.  We saw a color-changing squid, lionfish, porcupinefish (blowfish), crabs, perfectly camouflaged flounders, sea urchins, a small barracuda, and a small eel -- all without going outside of the designated swimming area.  Don't touch the lionfish or other spiny critters!

3. Join the (free) IHG Club loyalty program before your visit.  If you have elite status (which comes free with the IHG credit card in the US) you'll get VIP check-in and a VIP wristband which gives you access to the private club in Building 7 and pre-booked restaurant reservations.  As IHG Platinum members, we were treated like royalty.

4. Ask for Appleton!  The well liquor selection is mediocre, but you can request Appleton rum (by name) at any of the bars, and they'll gladly top off a rum punch or Pina Colada with extra rum.

5. Ask for stronger drinks!  Most drinks don't come very strong unless you ask, but it's simple to ask and the bartenders are happy to add extra liquor.

6. If you forget about #5, just order a shot of Appleton straight up and add it yourself.

7. Bring your own tumbler.  Your drinks will stay cold longer, and you'll take fewer trips to the bar.  The bartenders are happy to fill 'em.

8. Eat lunch at the Jerk Hut.  Always.  Just believe me on this one -- the food at the Jerk Hut is absolutely top notch and the best you'll get at the resort.  Most people don't even know about it!  If you like fries with your Jerk Chicken, be sure to get a plate of fries at the burger place on your way over.

The Jamaican Restaurant at the resort, The Terrace, had excellent authentic dinners like esccoveiched fish.

9. If you have a VIP wristband (see #3 above) be sure to visit the club on floor 2 of building 7.  It's open late and the bartenders serve better alcohol and mixed drinks than the regular bars.  Order up some freshly fried plantain chips to snack on, which aren't on the menu but taste great.

10.  Use the left side buffet line when the buffet is crowded.  While the two lines serve the same food, we noticed that Americans/Canadians were lining up on the right, while English/Jamaicans were lining up on the left.  Needless to say, when we were there the lines on the left were shorter and the food was less likely to run out.

11. For souvenirs, go out of the resort and walk across the street.  The shopping center is filled with friendly (and just a couple of not so friendly) local shop owners, and prices could be negotiated down to about half the marked price.  There's also a small Indian/Jamaican grocery store that has a good selection of essentials at reasonable prices.

12.  Save seats. Whether you approve of the practice or not (we hate it, personally), the only guaranteed way to get a good chair on the island or under a shady palm tree is to get up early and put a towel on your favorite chair.  By 9am, you'll find that almost all the chairs are claimed.  We just set an alarm for 7am, claimed our favorite chairs, then went back to sleep.

13.  Get fresh towels the night before (by 6pm).  That way you don't have to wait for the Towel Hut to open before reserving a chair (see #11).

14.  Set reasonable expectations.  This isn't a 5 star resort, and it certainly isn't luxury.  That being said, the mix of friendly, laid back, and unpretentious staff and visitors really set the Holiday Inn apart from its more upscale competitors.  If you're the type of person who prefers a local dive bar to the newest and fanciest chain restaurant, this is probably the resort for you.

15.  Be kind to the staff and tip your servers!  A little bit of formal politeness can go a long way in Jamaica.

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