Last fall we went on our first ever international vacation. Yeah, we've been to Mexico and Canada but I feel like we've never really done a truly international trip off the continent of North America. So when the opportunity to head to Beaches Resorts came up as part of the Social Media on the Sand Conference, I was ready! I'd seen commercials for Beaches Resorts on TV and online but I never really knew what it was all about. It's a hotel with fancy pools and buffets, right? Boy, did I have it all wrong! If you're thinking about planning a family vacation, here's what you need to know before planning a Beaches Resorts vacation and why it's the BEST way to visit the Caribbean. This post contains affiliate links so if you make a purchase from one of these links, we get a small commission that helps us to keep bringing you these kinds of posts for free!
How are Beaches and Sandals Resorts related?
There are only a handful of Beaches Resorts. I had no idea what the numbers were but I was surprised to learn from the staff that there are 15 Sandals Resorts locations! Beaches is the family friendly part of the Sandals Resorts group; Sandals Resorts are for adults only. As the couples who had gone to Sandals started raising families, they wanted to continue their experience but Sandals has a strict no-children policy. That's how Beaches was born! We went to the Beaches property in Negril, Jamaica. Even as a couple without our kids, it was incredibly fun, luxurious, and relaxing.
What makes a Beaches Resort stay unique?
There's a reason Sandals has a reputation as “The Luxury Included” Vacation … Beaches Resorts or Sandals, the entire experience is about luxury, convenience, and escape from daily life. I always thought that this kind of pampering and attention to detail was only available for the extremely wealthy but with Beaches resorts, we got the luxe treatment for much less than I expected. Like the name of this blog says, I am about smart DIY. I like to save money, plan my own vacations so I can get the most bang for my buck, and sometimes even cook meals in my hotel room. Not on this trip! Everything I could possibly need was included, except for my clothes. And even then, I spent most of the time in my swimsuit. The price for the all-inclusive Beaches Resort was such a great value that we went ahead and booked a return trip before leaving the island. I'll share more about why that's the best way to book later … let's talk more about this luxury experience!
True Luxury at a price that regular folks can afford
From the minute you arrive, the staff makes sure you are pampered. You're welcomed into the Resort by staff and local performers with music and dancing to let you know that the fun times have started! Then you're whisked to registration, handed a tasty fruity drink, and a lei while you check into your room.
Porters drop your bags in your room so they are waiting after check-in. And then you're free to do whatever you want. Relaxing on the amazingly comfortable beds in the Caribbean style rooms, looking out onto the grassy gardens outside your balcony …
… take a walk on the white sand 7-mile beach …
… lounge by the pool …
… or lounge in one of the many hammocks around the resort …
… or grab a drink together at one of the many restaurants or bars spread across the property.
I am a stickler for cleanliness. So if I am telling you that Beaches Resorts was VERY clean, you better believe it! Everything is fresh, scrubbed down, and beautiful, just waiting for you to enjoy it. Staff collects all the trash and attends to the bathrooms constantly throughout the day and night so no matter what time you want to enjoy the Resort, it is clean and ready for you. The rooms and other common areas are fresh with air fresheners too. I dislike smoking a ton and there was no trace of any smoking, anywhere, even though there were smokers around. I don't know how they did it but they DID IT!
The bathroom attendants also give you the luxe treatment, handing you towels and hand lotion as you exit. It's like living at the fanciest restaurant for a week!
Activities and Excursions
Beaches Resorts has loads of activities going on every day, from parties and classes, to demos and merchant nights, and excursions off and around the Resort. Find out what's going with the Beaches' own daily newspaper, Footprints, which includes the full schedule for all Resort activities.
We made this silly fruit monkey during one of the demos from the Resort chefs.
You can also book excursions on catamarans, boats, scuba, and more. My husband took advantage of most of these excursions. Some are included and others are available for an additional fee.
I was able to join him on the glass bottom boat excursion. There was so much wildlife right there in the water!
Can you see the starfish on the ocean floor? They're are bigger than your hand!! Beaches helps to make sure that these animals have a safe habitat to keep living in and the guides also help to explain how to best handle the starfish if we find one. It made me feel good to know they are being responsible with the environment and wildlife while still helping us to enjoy it.
If you want to stay on-resort, there are lots of activities to do and sights to see. There are multiple pools, a water park with a lazy river, miniature golf, giant chess board, shuffleboard, and lots of places to lounge and relax.
Restaurants and Food on Beaches Resort
All day long, the bars and restaurants are open to serve you. Some restaurants close at certain times but pretty much any time of day or night, food and drinks are available. And it's ALL included.
Want a latte? That's included.
Want a latte and a crepe and a pastry and a hot cocoa? They've got you covered!
Beaches Resorts offers a variety of dining options from a coffee shop and cafe to buffet style to a hot dog stand to sushi and teppanyaki restaurants and upscale restaurants that require reservations. The sushi at Soy was amazing! The dishes are served in smaller amounts but since it is all you can eat, you can just keep ordering until you've had your fill. Their Champagne Lobster roll was amazing and unique!
We had lunch at The Venetian one day … don't those shrimp look incredible? This was one of 5 courses served for lunch!
Breakfast at Stewfish restaurant on the beach is a hidden gem with two kinds of eggs benedict, horses walking on the beach in the distance, and birds and wildlife all around. You can order more than one entrée, appetizer, or dessert so if you want to try multiple items, try them!
You can also ask the staff to give you a smaller portion if you'd like to sample the menu rather than order multiple full size entrees. You better believe I tried BOTH types of eggs benedict at Stewfish!
Jamaican specialties at Beaches Negril
One of my concerns with staying on a resort was that we would not get to experience the culture of Jamaica but Beaches Resorts does an excellent job of sharing Jamaican culture with the guests through food, entertainment, and shopping. And in the process, this helps support the local economy.
The Mill Restaurant, which is a buffet, features traditional Jamaican foods as do the party buffets and Stewfish Restaurant.
Jamaican Foods at Beaches Resorts
The dish pictured above is a typical Jamaican breakfast. Here are some other specialties you should make sure to try!
- Calallo – a popular leaf vegetable, made similar to greens in the US South (pictured above)
- Fried plantains (pictured above)
- Ackee and Saltfish – this is what looks like eggs in the photo above but the yellow part is a fruit that is mixed with saltfish and served for breakfast
- Curry chicken in a tortilla
- Jerk chicken
- Jerk pork
- Festival – fried dumplings, like those pictured above.
Jamaican Culture at Beaches Resorts
During our trip, Beaches tried out a new market night with local artisans!
Beaches is committed to supporting the local economy and preserving Jamaican culture whenever possible and this market night was a total hit! I'll be sharing the details about this in another post, coming soon, because I love to support handmade.
The resort shops also have items from local Jamaican culture like jerk seasoning, local-made jewelry, and even cologne!
We didn't get the cologne but keep reading to see what you should bring home from Jamaica…
Souvenirs to get in Jamaica
There are a few things that are specialties in Jamaica that you should consider buying and bringing home.
Red Stripe Beer is Jamaica's national beer. You can pick it up at the airport, which is where I took this photo, but it's also available in the US. Jamaican rum is a great deal and there are so many varieties to choose from. We bought a couple of specialty rums at the market night at Beaches Resort. Check your customs forms to see how much rum you can pack in your suitcase to bring home; there are limits.
If you're a fan of cigars, you can pick them up in the airport as well. Be sure to pick up some Jamaican coffee and jerk seasoning before leaving Beaches Resorts. We went shopping in town and the resort prices were comparable to the prices in town. In fact, the taxi to town cost $40 US round trip for two people so we would have been ahead to have just stayed at the Resort to shop.
Beaches at Beaches Resorts
Beaches Negril is located on the 7 mile beach. You can walk the beach away from Beaches into neighboring resorts and other resort visitors can walk on the Beaches beach but you can't go into the other resorts and they can't go into Beaches.
The white sand beaches are steps from your door at the Resort, with fountains situated at each walkway so you can rinse the sand from your feet before returning to your room. There are towels and lounge chairs everywhere and you can reserve cabanas for an additional fee.
Locals wander through selling wares and offering horseback rides if you'd like.
The water itself is really warm and very clear. You can look down and see starfish and fish in the water, even when you are only knee deep!
And of course, there is a bar on the beach! The bar at beach has a great bartender named O’Neill who was cracking funny jokes, making great drinks, and keeping everyone entertained. My husband definitely hit it off with him and the drinks were delish!
Staff and guests build all kinds of great sand art, like this Cookie Monster, on the beach … the kids can spend hours out there building, searching for seashells, and relaxing.
Parties and Events
The nighttime Sesame Street Carnival is a fun party for the whole family with multiple bars, a great huge buffet with cotton candy hanging from the dessert bar, and loads of fresh and prepared foods.
There's music and a DJ, fire breathers, carnival dancers, and even the Sesame Street characters!
Supporting the Local Schools
One of the most amazing characteristics of Beaches Resorts and Sandals is that they give back to the local community by supporting schools. Not only does the company support the schools but they empower their guests to help support as well. Sandals fully believes in enriching the communities in which their Resorts are located.
When you book a Beaches vacation, you can get a backpack sent to you to bring 5 pounds of school supplies with you on the trip. The “Pack for a Purpose” backpack program is a launch of 500,000 backpacks that will go out to Sandals guests. Working with SchoolSpecialty, Sandals is using this campaign to get supplies and raise funds for the schools as well as bring awareness to the education situation in the Caribbean. Beaches Resorts staff collect the school supplies and distribute them to local schools. You can visit the school yourself and volunteer your time to teach and connect with the children there. You'll learn more about the culture and get to experience Jamaica first-hand while giving back at the same time.
During our trip, I brought my HP Sprocket printer with me and took photos of the little girl who I worked with at the school. She printed out lots of photos of herself, decorating her notebook and wallet with them. It was hard on me to visit her and see the struggle of the people in Jamaica but it also felt good to be a small part of helping improve things in these areas.
Travel to Beaches Negril
I'll be honest: the idea of international travel scares the crud out of me. Maybe I watch too many crime dramas and war movies … but I am kinda scared to travel to another country where I don't quite know all the rules. But guess what? Beaches will help you walk through all the steps you need to get your travel booked.
Jamaica's economy is built around the tourist industry so many of the flights are on a schedule in tandem with the shuttles to the resorts. Most of the resorts have lounges in the airport where you can wait for your shuttle after you deplane, ensuring that you get to the right place without any worry.
Flying from the West coast to Jamaica was a bit of a challenge.
We flew out of LAX in order to get from California all the way to Jamaica.
There are a couple of options when it comes to booking flights and almost all of them require an overnight layover.
- Direct flights were available from LAX to Jamaica, however the cost was nearly double what we paid with a layover
- Flights from LAX to Jamaica typically have layovers in Houston, Orlando, or Miami. We booked our flights so that our layovers put us in Orlando, where we stayed at a friend's house, saving on hotel costs and making the trip into a bonus visit as well
- You might need to book the flights as if you are taking two different trips because it seemed challenging for the airline to make the connections for us. We booked one 1 round trip ticket from LAX to Orlando per person and then one roundtrip ticket from Orlando to Jamaica per person.
- If your travel itinerary allows, structure your layovers with an extra day in between so you can visit friends or see the sites.
Going through customs
This was my very first experience going through customs. I don't have anything to hide but you know, all those crime shows I watch, I was pretty nervous about it.
Here's the skinny on going through customs entering Jamaica and returning back to the US:
- On the plane, you must fill out a customs form before getting off, even if you didn't buy anything on your trip.
- In Jamaica, you'll have to walk a long way through the basements to get to the immigration and customs areas.
- You can pay for a guide through MoBay for about $50 per person to avoid the long walk and cut to the front of the line. MoBay users get an escort through customs and a lounge to sit in rather than standing in line. They got through about 15 minutes faster than we did. I didn't think it was worth it personally.
- There are two ways to get through customs – meeting with an agent in person or using an automated kiosk. The kiosk is faster but you won't get a stamp in your passport if you go with the kiosk. Sometimes you can choose and sometimes the customs agents just tell you which line to get in and you just have to do it.
- The lines for meeting with an agent can get really long but you do get a stamp and you can process your group all together rather than individually
- After you get through immigration, you'll go to baggage claim
- You'll take your baggage to customs and use the form you filled out on the airplane to declare what you have
- Always keep your passport out
- Always keep your phone put away and silent
- Pack a black pen so you can fill out and edit forms easily
Getting from the airport to the resort
The island is pretty big! The airport is located in Montego Bay on the upper left of the map. Beaches Negril is on the western tip of the island, about 2 hours from the airport by car. You can charter a plane to the resort for around $200 but the shuttle is included with the your resort fee so we took the shuttle.
The shuttle ride will also allow you to see the real Jamaica as you ride along the coast to the Resort.
What to Pack for your Beaches Vacation
You don't have to pack it all. And this is super important if you are bringing the kids; there's no need to bring multiple changes of clothes for messes or spills. Every Beaches Resort has a laundry service and self-serve washing machines you can use on-site. You do need to bring some kind of bug spray or repellent because there are a lot of bugs in Jamaica. If you do get bitten, pick up the Sun Repair Aloe Tea Tree Oil from the on-site Red Lane Spa; it's well worth the $18 price tag as it soothes your skin and keeps the bugs away while you heal. It also smells amazing! You don't really need to bring toiletries unless you need something special. In the rooms, Beaches Resorts provides large bottles of shampoo, body wash, conditioner and lotion from Red Lane Spa. I probably could have left one of my suitcases home entirely. Next time, I know!
I also probably could have left most of my clothes at home because I spent most of the time in my swimsuit. The weather is extremely humid and it rains every day. If you are not used to the humidity, bring light airy clothes so your skin can breathe while you get acclimated to the weather. There are umbrellas in the rooms and all throughout the Resort so if it starts raining, they've got you covered. You should bring a pair of flip flops or rubber shoes for walking in the rain since it does rain often.
All-inclusive also means top shelf liquor … all the bars serve the best liquor and no off-brands … it was incredible!
Bring the DSLR and buy the GoPro before you go. We are kicking ourselves for just bringing our phones … the photos could have been so much better and you'll want the GoPro with the underwater housing for all of the amazing water activities. They don’t sell them at the gift shop and it is sketchy whether you can find one in town for a decent price – we did not.
They really do include almost everything with your resort registration at Beaches. I didn't even need to bring my cats … there are cats at the Resort!
How to get to the best deal on a Beaches Resorts Vacation
The best deal on Beaches Resorts is to book while you are there. You'll be able to lock in a great price and go over all the available discounts with staff. Except you're here and not in Jamaica right now but guess what? There are ALWAYS awesome deals online with Beaches! CLICK HERE to see the latest promotion.
Right now you can get:
Here are some key points to keep in mind when booking:
- Ask for military, police, fire, and veterans discounts. You'll need a DD-214 or other paperwork to show your eligibility.
- You can change your reservation for up to a certain number of days out from the trip. So if you have surgery or can't go for any reason, no problem!
- You can change your reservation multiple times, add rooms, and more when you've already booked.
I really loved the flexibility of booking options with Beaches Resorts and that's why I could book on the spot with confidence. Yes, we've already booked a return trip for Spring 2018 and we're bringing the kids and our whole extended family! Will we see you there too?
When are you going to Beaches Resorts?
Let us know in the comments!