If you have been keeping up, you may remember our first trip to Jamaica was aboard the Carnival Dream, when we did an impromptu river rafting excursion on the Martha Brae with Captain John. That day we fell in love with the people and the stories they share. During the pandemic our cruise was canceled, so we fell back to plan B and went back to an all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica – Secrets St. James (SSJ). There are actually three resorts tied together on this property, SSJ, Secrets Wild Orchid (SWO) and Breathless. Using our travel credits via Southwest Vacations, we booked a Preferred Club Junior Suite Ocean View. Preferred Club allows access to all three properties, includes premium drinks, private lounges, pools, and service amenities as well.
So we were off again to another foreign airport, but this time we were prepared! We used the Club MOBAY VIP service to fast track thru customs, and get us onto our transfer as quickly as possible. I wish I had known Jamaica Action Routes then, as I would have had a much better start to our trip, but now we know and will use them every trip hereafter. Eventually though, after a shared ride in a dusty and humid van, we made it to our hotel and the resort was beautiful!
Secrets VIP Check-in is done in the Preferred Club lounge. Here they serve only top shelf liquors. You can indulge in your Mimosa, or a Bloody Mary, while enjoying hot Buffet Breakfast items daily, and then finger foods, appetizers and desserts throughout the rest of the day. The lounge bartender served up to 25yr Appleton Rum ($215 per bottle) for you to sample, so it really is Top Shelf! Our baggage was taken care of and sanitized while we did our check-in, which unfortunately does include a timeshare push. I initially thought we should listen to the sales presentation as the perks sound worth it, but ultimately backed out once I had started to enjoy myself. I am glad I did as the Vacation Club is just not for us! Ultimately, Secrets has been out shined as well, but we will get to that in the next installment.
Ocean Views and a Hot Tub on the Balcony
Our accommodations were fantastic! The room was spacious, with a comfortable 4-poster king sized bed, couch and coffee table, as well as a small table where you could enjoy your room service without holding it in your lap. The bath area was enormous with a whirlpool tub, his and her sinks, a glassed-in shower with a massive rain shower head, and on the other side of the glass, the toilet. Plush robes and slippers were included, along with plenty of space to pack away your toiletries and extras.
A tablet found on the bedside table puts the resort at your fingertips. You can find a resort map and daily activities, order housekeeping items, make reservations, contact the desk, and many other tasks. Best of all, you can order your room service. We learned on our last trip to order a meal in the afternoon, to have and enjoy while you rested up for the second dinner. It also gave you instant access to a late night snack instead of waiting an hour if you place a late order. The A/C kept the room cool, but never really cold. The ceiling fan helped a lot, but wouldn’t stay on if you were not in the room. A huge flat screen TV dominated the wall, but it was framed in nicely so it looked like a piece of artwork instead of an eye sore. The channel selections included music and that was really all we needed during the brief times we were in our room during the day, but at the end of the night, there were plenty of premium channels to choose from.
Our balcony was perfectly situated overlooking the private pool and the beach beyond. Ocean views and palm trees framed the courtyard, where a coy pond and fountain highlighted the landscape. There are swim-out suites available, but we enjoyed the view from a little higher up and the hot tub that allowed private bathing in the Jamaican night air. Our balcony retreat was a great spot to have our morning coffee while watching the day begin.
So many choices…Where do we want to eat???
We believe upscale dining is crucial to the all-inclusive experience. The bulk of the dining here is offered closer to SWO side, than to the SSJ side. So for the first several days we walked across the resort for most of our meals. This is a large resort, so it is actually quite a haul, especially when you make it several times a day. We generally had our breakfast in the private lounge, but when we did visit the main buffet, we found it to be very good, with more than enough options. It’s a very nice layout as well, but we did not visit here very much as the same items were available downstairs from our room, with the exception of freshly prepared omelets and waffles.
Our first lunch on site was at the Oceana Grill, which is adjacent to one of the main pools. Imagine Ocean View Dining with seafood specialties. The Oceana is adjacent to one of the livelier pools, so you get to enjoy the fun while you scarf down some shrimp, or a fish sandwich. Out on the boardwalk you will find the Barefoot Grill. One of the bright spots in our opinion, it’s a beachfront grill where you can get tasty burgers, hot dogs, nachos, fries, and my personal favorite – Jamaican Patties. Also, in the afternoon, be sure not to miss the Jerk Chicken Dude. He pushes a grill down the boardwalk, and serves some of the best jerk chicken we have had to date.
The Seaside Grill is similarly situated to Oceana, poolside with ocean views. Here you can find grilled specialties, but take note, if you are not cooking on gas at home, you will taste it in the food. We had dinner here and the service, atmosphere and side items were fantastic. The grilled steaks however, tasted like the gas grill they were cooked on.
SWO has three specialty restaurants, and also the buffet offering Mexican, Jamaican and Caribbean favorites. Our second night we tried Bordeaux, the resort’s French Cuisine. The dining room looked bright, elegant and quiet, but we chose to dine al fresco under the stars. The perfect setting with the bay and mountains just beyond the beautifully lit palms, we dined at sunset and couldn’t have timed it better. Unfortunately, not every meal is going to be a hit, and this was another miss. Not sure if it was our choices, or just poor preparation, but it wasn’t great. Totally forgivable however, since we were traveling during a pandemic and the staff was short handed. Other than the grill and the French, every other meal was perfect. NOTE: Reviews of Bordeaux online are generally raving, and it is considered one of the best spots to dine at the resort. We would try again, but only after we have enjoyed the others first. Also, at home we grill grass fed beef purchased at a farm just down the road. We only use wood to grill, so our steak game is strong, to quite strong.
On our third night we went to Portofino – an Italian Ristorante serving Trattoria-style cuisine in a romantic open air atmosphere. Trattoria in this case means traditional family dishes. We opted to eat inside this time, and enjoyed the rustic feel of the dining room. We were next to a large party celebrating their matriarch’s birthday, and while the speeches and tributes were flowing, the setting was still quiet and enjoyable. The high ceilings absorb the sound and allow for a romantic dinner with your partner, even when the room is bustling. On this night, every plate that met our table was perfectly prepared and absolutely delicious. The red wine complimented the beef carpaccio so perfectly that I wanted to come back the next night for that alone!
Instead of returning to Portofino, Dawn talked me into giving Himitsu a try. Himitsu serves up Pan-Asian Cuisine in an open air restaurant where you can choose to sit at one of the Hibachi Grills for a show, or enjoy a romantic table for two in the beautifully appointed dining room. The sushi was perfect. The service was fantastic. The wine selection was wonderful. The pad thai amazing. Do you see where this is headed? We loved it and would highly recommend it. Again, every dish was perfectly prepared and the service was over the top.
After dinner we enjoyed the nightly entertainment on the promenade overlooking the bay and the mountains beyond. Saddle up to the Piano Bar for a cocktail, or pick a table outside and let them come to you. The entertainers were excellent and there was a lot of fun to be had! If you want a table upfront, you better get here early as they go fast, but we were always able to find a table even when arriving later.
Meanwhile, just a short stroll over to Breathless
The Preferred Club allows access to Breathless as well, and here is where we should have spent more time. It is MUCH closer to the SSJ side and the food, service, fun and entertainment were all just a little bit better than on the other side. We weren’t really here to join the big party, so instead of jumping into the foam, champagne and DJ party poolside, we spent our time at the Altitude Rooftop Bar with its amazing views. We also took advantage of the Wink Lobby Bar for predinner and after dinner cocktails. For our last dinner we walked over and tried Culinaria, which offers amazing International Cuisine in a beautifully decorated dining room. We wish we would have taken more advantage of the other options, but didn’t get to try the Bare Buns Grill, Sofrito (Latin Cuisine), nor Fish Nets, the poolside fish grill.
The lobby is open and perfect for chilling out while you wait for dinner. It is large and airy, with daybeds for those that need to stretch out. I looked at the rooms online and they are amazing. The trendy décor is very well done. The downside to Breathless, is that it is not oceanfront and doesn’t allow direct access to the beach, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a tan on. You can cross over a footbridge to the private spot I mentioned above. The main pool is very nice and large enough to stay out of the way if you prefer. There is also a party pool in front of the DJ booth where the party really gets going.
If you visit Breathless, be sure to book an Xhale Suite so that you have full access to the Altitude Rooftop Bar and the Secrets Resorts next door. If your on vacation to let loose and party then you might want to visit Wild Orchid or Secrets St James for a meal or the beach, but you definitely have a bigger all out party over at Breathless.
The Pools and the Beach
My first tour of the balcony view I met our soon to be friend, Nadine as she walked over to take special care of one of her guests. Nadine smiled and waved as I was videoing the pool area, and she remembered me the next morning, before I remembered her. She would go on to take great care of us all week! Occasionally, if they have time, the poolside servers will go to the preferred club bar for your drinks instead of the Marlin Bar. Either way you get great drinks and service while you relax poolside. Nadine would bring us fresh juice and water every morning to start our day, and then kept the frozen libations coming while we enjoyed the massive infinity pool looking out into the ocean.
There are several pools, and various bars to choose from during the day. You can stop by the VIP lounge, the Marlin Bar, or Barracuda Bar, or you can swim up to the Manatee and get a cocktail while you swim. Or, like us, you can wait and someone will be along very soon to take your order, and often times they will just show up with a Pina Colada in hand, because they anticipated your need. We stuck with Nadine and the Preferred Club pool as it was nearly empty most days, and never had more than 10 guests swimming at a time. Again, traveling during a pandemic meant we had a lot more space to ourselves. Service times were probably a little better considering there were fewer guests to take care of, but they were definitely there to take care of you. Drinks were very good and even though it was July, they seemed to stay frozen longer than other resorts we have visited.
The beach was beautiful, but not practical for enjoying the day. The chairs seemed a little slanted, and the wind beat us up pretty good. We spent a few minutes under a palapa before moving back to the calmer area around the pool. The beach is wide, but not very deep, the coast drops off quickly, and the water isn’t as clear as we have seen elsewhere. The beauty was undeniable, and the sounds of the waves are relaxing anyplace you put your butt in the sand. At the edge of the resort the Breathless VIP area had nice loungers with screens, and a private place you could grab lunch. We didn’t find out about it until too late to take advantage during the day, but at night, it is a fantastic spot to be alone and enjoy the moonlit beauty of MoBay.
Coffee, Cigars, Ice Cream and Souvenirs
On site shopping is actually quite nice, and reasonably priced considering they have you pretty much to themselves. The coffee shop serves up excellent Cappuccinos, espressos and other café favorites that are of course included in your stay. Dawn usually opted for a frozen latte, but they also offer a superior Jamaican Coffee that will start your day right! You can also find ice cream here to enjoy in the courtyard that is surrounded by the shops and offices. At night, you can enjoy a film under the stars in the courtyard, with popcorn included for your perfect movie date.
The cigar shop has a nice assortment of Cuban, Dominican and Jamaican Cigars to choose from. They are fresh and we both found a nice stogie to relax with on the beach, or our balcony. Right next door you can find your souvenirs for friends and family back home. There is plenty to look at and plenty to do. Across the main walk you will find a billboard that lists all the upcoming activities, the lunch and dinner options, the nightly entertainment schedule, and other important information including how to get your COVID test for the return trip home.
Overall this was an amazing resort. The drinks, food, entertainment and atmosphere were wonderful and we immediately fell in love. So much so in fact, we immediately booked to return in October of 2022. If you are staying in Montego Bay, we cannot imagine a better place to stay. Especially once we realized the convenience of the amazing Breathless Resort next door.
However, when we had to move another cruise in October of 2021, and we had more Southwest points to use, my search on the Southwest Vacations website kept landing on a spot in Negril. An hour and a half bus ride, or transfer, is part of the trip when you stay in Negril so it was hard to swallow when MoBay was so close, but I found myself researching Couples Negril. You should too. Our reservations have changed…
Check out our next installment for our stay at Couples Negril…
**We are not paid or compensated to promote any business, nor do we offer travel services – our reviews are intended to entertain, enlighten and inform the curious travelers out there**