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Monday, September 15, 2014

Trying to Get to Jamaica is Trying


Twenty five years ago, my beautiful wife and I traveled to the island of Jamaica. Tim, being all of two years old at the time, stayed behind with my parents.


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We went to Eden II, and all-inclusive that was eventually bought out by the Sandals chain. The particular property is today part of the Jewel family of resorts.



Back then, all-inclusive not only meant all the food and drink you could absorb but also tours, golf outings, and more. The entertainment offerings were endless (see our picture of Toga Party night, above. That's Letty and me on the right) and "no tipping" meant that the staff would actually refuse your offer of a gratuity.

It was a wonderful trip.

A quarter century later, we're returning. This time, Tim is now a Caribbean veteran but making his first landing on Jamaican soil.

While years ago, we could take a nonstop six and a half hour flight from LAX to Montego Bay, today it's a five hour layover in Miami before a hour and a half jump to the island (I was offered a 30 minute layover, which might have worked, but it's not prudent to actually plan for such a short change over) on American Airlines.

Arriving at Sangster International Airport, it's nice to see that the airport has installed jetways. It makes getting Tim off the plane and into his wheelchair easier.  A porter is assigned to take us through immigration.  Tim and Letty are allowed to bypass the line (one person can go with the wheechair) while I had to stand in the half-hour long line and face a very dour immigration examiner.  Don't really know what this achieves since we already have to wait for everybody on the plane to disembark before us...everybody else already has an advantage over us because of that.

Finally, clearing immigration we're ready to go!  Until we see the line for customs. Fortunately, this one moves faster and we're off to claim our rental car from Hertz.

There are wheelchair accessible taxis you can book ahead of time but there is a significant extra charge for an accessible taxi over a regular one.  It's also more expensive to hire one for an accessible tour over regular tour operators. In the end for us, it's about the same amount to rent a car. We do this so we can make our own tour and not be at the mercy of anyone else for transportation.

Here are two wheelchair accessible taxi and tour operators for you:

Ken's Wheelchair Service and Tours

Jamaica Exquisite Tours



It takes us just under an hour to arrive at our hotel, the Luxury Bahia Principe at Runaway Bay (LBP). The LBP is an annex to the Gran Bahia Principe that offers extra amenities such as butler service, unlimited a la carte dining, separate beach and pool facilities, private wifi lounge, and separate bar and buffet dining facilities to mention a few.

By the time we arrive, it's been about 20 hours since we left our home in California. We're tired, a bit cranky, and in need of showers and rest.  I just want a key to our room and to lay down.

That wouldn't be the LBP way, however. We paid for the Don Pablo experience (as they call it), by gosh, they're going to make sure we get it whether we want it or not. 

We're told to wait in the lobby for an escort. Twenty minutes later, the same guy says he can't find one so he escorts us to the exclusive LBP welcome center. There, we wait until there are five parties waiting to check in.

Champagne is handed out and a smartly fitted out representative shows us a package that we will get in our room. A printout of all our amenities and a map of the property will be given to us. Then she proceeds to read each one at a time, and explain each one. 

Really, I just want to go to the room. I can't even get my brain to sort out anything she's saying. Finally, she's done.  Now it's time to go to the room?

No...go into the adjacent lounge, have a cocktail, and someone will be along to escort you to your room shortly.



About ten minutes later, finally, a bell woman shows up with our luggage and takes us up to our room, only she takes us to a lesser wing with sub-par views. 

"This isn't the room we booked."

"It's all we have, we're all booked up."

"It's the nadir of the low season, it doesn't look to be that crowded. Surely, something else is available."

"You can request to be moved back downstairs."

When we get in the room, I tell her to just sit the bags down. I am not going to unpack until we get this straightened out.

Going back downstairs, I log onto the hotel's website while we're waiting to talk to somebody. I put in a request for 4 rooms (the maximum) for tonight to see what would happen. They have plenty of space available.

I bring this up to the rep, she says I'm wrong.  She shifts us to the reservations manager, who also says the same thing. My wife gets a little perturbed and says she feels like we're getting the run around. The manager assures us that she is doing her best to make us happy.

"It sure doesn't feel like it," comes the curt reply from my normally quiet spouse.

"Come back tomorrow morning at 10:30 to 11:00 and we'll see if we can find a better room for you."



Back upstairs, we find that in addition to the view, the shower drain is loose (creating an injury hazard), the shower door won't close (flooding the room when you took a shower), and the balcony door wouldn't lock, In addition, they outfitted the room for two guests instead of three (two towels, two washcloths, etc.).

...

One of the perks is unlimited dining at the themed a la carte restaurants. These are sit down, waiter served dining experiences as opposed to the buffet. You have to adhere to a dress code and many guests consider this a highlight of the trip.

"As a courtesy, we have made reservations for you for each night," we were told at check in.

They did, but not at times that were good for us so we went down at 8:00 the next morning, as instructed, to make changes that would suit us better. 

Those changes were made with no problems, then the woman said "you're the family that wants to be moved, correct?"

We affirmed that we were. "We have a room for you that is much better with the view you're looking for."  

Great! When can we move in?

"Change into your swimwear, bring your luggage down here, enjoy the day at the pool, and come back at 3:00."

Well, wasn't really planning to spend the whole day at the pool but we'll comply and see what happens.

At 3:20, we return. Damp, a bit sunburned, sweaty, and in serious need of a shower.

"The room is not ready yet."

"You said 3:00."

"Please...sit in the lounge, have a drink and we'll be with you shortly."

So three transient-looking people saunter over to the lounge among the newly arrived to wait for the next step. 

At 4:00, I wander back over and stand in front of the rep's desk. After a few minutes of pretending I'm not there, she asks if I'm waiting for her.

"I've been very patiently waiting for our new room all day. I think it's time something happened."

Without another word...not one...she picks up the phone, dials and asks "is 603 ready yet?"

When she hangs up, she says we'll be shown up to our room now.  



Finally, we're taken up to our new room, with a beautiful view of the pool and beach.  We unpack, shower, and get ready for our first dinner at the Italian a la carte restaurant.  It's been a long, trying 36-or-so hours since we left our house and gotten the room we paid for.



Stay tuned to see how the rest of the trip will shape up.

Darryl
Copyright 2014 - All Rights Reserved
Darryl Musick

Photos Copyright 2014 - All Rights Reserved
Letty Musick

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