Category Archives: Travel

Jamaica Iberostar Selection Rose Hall Suites

This was a big year for my wife and I. We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. Last year we were looking for someplace warm to go (my wife loves the beach) and we booked a week at the Jamaica Grande Rose Hall.

Then Covid-19 hit and everything this year has been crazy.

Three months ago our flights were cancelled and what was a short, direct flight became a nine hour travel day with a layover.

Three weeks before we left my wife called to make some dinner plans and we found out the resort was closed. There was an hour of panic until my wife got through to a travelocity agent and they told us they moved us from the Grande Rose Hall to the Rose Hall Suites. A few days later we got a few hundred dollars credit as the Suites are not as expensive as the Grande.

Two weeks before we left we found out we needed to get a negative Covid-19 PCR test. My wife had researched travel requirements in advance, but in the weeks between Jamaica had updated their rules to require all Americans to have a negative test.

Jamaica requires the test be taken within 10 days of arrival in Jamaica. You then need to fill out the online form, and provide the test results to get a travel visa. Four days from departure we filled out the forms. Three days later my wife got her travel visa. I had to search the internet and found several phone numbers to expediate the approval. The first one I called told me they could only find my reservation with my credit card number. Don’t give anyone your credit card number!!! I hung up. The travel visa never collected my credit card number and was totally free. Don’t fall for the scam.

I then found this number, 1-876-542-6007, and spent a few hours trying to call it. It was busy for hours. I paid $10 bucks to use an auto-dialer, and get through in less than 30 seconds. The operator wanted my passport number, pulled up my name using it, and I had my travel visa in under five minutes. This final hurdle was jumped 12 hour before our first flight took off.

Arriving in Jamaica reminded me of something out of a zombie movie. First they took our temperature, then we entered a long hall full of people in plastic gowns, masks, and face shields. Another small form, and warning about leaving the Jamaica “Covid Safe Corridor”, and we were outside and on our way to the hotel.

Check in was quick and easy, and we were drinking rum punch on the way to our room.

Rose Hall Suites, Jamaica

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The Room

We had an ocean facing room with a nice, private balcony. The bed was comfortable, and the air was set at a comfortable level. My only caution is that the tile floors get slippery if you leave the balcony door open. The warm humid air hits the cool tiles and the moisture condensates, making for a slippery walk. We left the door open a little by accident once, and learned our lesson. There was a small fridge stocked with soda and beer, and they gave us glass, refillable water bottles to fill at the water stations. There are no plastic, single use water bottles on the property.

Room Service

We only ordered room service once. We had a pizza, chips and salsa, and hummus. The pizza was doughy, and while the corn tortilla chips are chips, the hummus and salsa was not appetizing. I’d describe the pizza as “kids arcade food” quality. Fine for drunk snacking, but not something I’d enjoy if it was my meal.

The Pool

There are several pools, and a lazy river at The Rose Hall Suites. The lazy river is very, very lazy. If you didn’t paddle, you never would have made it around. The main pool has a swim up bar which was unfortunately closed due to social distancing, but you could jump out and go to a bar that is literally a few feet away. This main pool was cool and inviting, and you could relax and listen to the ocean, which is just in front of the pool.

Rose Hall Suites, Swim Up Bar Pool

Dining

There are several restaurants at the Rose Hall Suites. Aunt Ruby’s Steakhouse was served in the same common dining area as breakfast and lunch, while the Italian and Asian restaurant had separate dining areas. Remember to bring your phone with you when you go to eat. Due to Covid-19 they aren’t handing out menus, instead they hold up a little card and you can scan it to see the menu. They will try to get you to install an app to use it but my wife’s Iphone and my Android could read the QR code and direct us to the website without having to install anything else.

Breakfast & Lunch

Breakfast and lunch were mostly light meals for us. My wife started the day with a mimosa while I generally got coffee and a pastry from the 24 hour pastry/coffee bar. The breakfast was standard fair with eggs, sausage etcetera.

Sole Mio

I’m not sure how meals work when they are at full capacity. Due to the hotel being mostly empty, we didn’t really have options. We were told what restaurants were open on what days, and basically given timeslots to choose from. Due to our schedule, we ended up eating at Sole Mio twice.

The Spaguetti Alla Carbonara was the winner here. It had tons of bacon in it, and the sauce was smooth and creamy.

The Lasagna was okay. It tasted like a higher end frozen lasagna, but neither my wife or I ordered the Lasagna again.

If you like spicy the Pasta Penne A La Amatriciana is for you. My wife actually ordered this after I told her it had red chili and a pepper next to it on the menu. My wife thinks pumpkin spice is spicy, so I tried to tell her this wasn’t something she was going to enjoy. I asked the waitress to make it as minimally spicy as possible, and she said she’d have them make it so a baby could eat it. Jamaican babies must like really hot food. I’ve spent time in India and I like a moderate level of heat and spice. We ended up swapping meals after she ate one noodle. I was able to eat about ten bites before I had to call it quits. It is a heat that builds, and by ten bites in I knew I was going to be in trouble later.

Tsuki Oriental Restaurant

I was curious how the Oriental food at a Jamaican resort would be. I guess I wasn’t surprised that it wasn’t that amazing. Don’t get the Spicy Tuna Roll. The tuna was not the best quality, and the rice was not sushi rice. It was white rice and was very paste like. It was better than gas station sushi but as good as supermarket sushi.

Oddly, the best piece of steak I had was at the oriental restaurant. I ordered the Crispy Beef Tenderloin, but I’m not sure if that what they actually brought me. What I got was a sliced piece of very tender, delicious beef over rice. It was not crispy and don’ think there was oyster sauce on it, but it was a good piece of beef.

Aunt Ruby’s Steakhouse

We had steak as our last dinner before we had to leave. We thought it was perfect that our schedule had steak as our last meal on the beach.

I ordered the Rib Eye and my wife ordered the chicken. Did I mention she doesn’t like spice? The chicken was covered in Jerk Sauce and she didn’t really enjoy it. It was a little hot, but I enjoyed the bite I took of it.

My Rib Eye was fatty and tender on the edges, but was really tough and overcooked in the center. I had ordered it medium, so I’m not sure if I just got a tough cut, or if they just left it on the broiler for too long.

All Inclusive Food Summary

Overall the food was good. For an all inclusive it was about what I was expecting. Not amazing, some hits, some misses. For the price, I think we got a fair deal. If you’re a foodie, you might want to think about if food is an area your willing to compromise on.

Alcohol

The alcohol flowed freely. We did tip, which was greatly appreciated, but we also had the place almost to ourselves, so you could walk up to basically any bar and get a drink when you wanted.

If you are just after quantity and like rum, you be happy. The Rum Punch was great, but very sugary. For my wife that meant she kept drinking it because the sugar hid the alcohol, at least until her belly started to ache.

Red Stripe, and Red Stripe light flowed like water.

I’m personally a whiskey drinker, so I bought a bottle of Jameson in the duty free shop, and brought it with me. I still tipped, but I just got a glass with some ice.

Jameson in Water Bottle

Once the Jameson ran out I asked the bartender what rum was good for sipping. He offered me the premium bar menu, but honestly none of it appealed to me.

Plus, who is going to spend this kind of money for a bottle while at an all inclusive?

This is how I ended up drinking Appleton Estate Reserve Blend rum on ice for the rest of the trip.

Appleton Estate Reserve Blend

I’ll write up a full review of the rum in a future post, but it was decent rum.

Final Summary

My wife and I enjoyed our time at the Rose Hall Suites and would like to go back and stay at our original hotel, the Grande at some future date. For the price we felt like this was a good value. My wife gives it a 7 out of 10 while I was a little more critical and gave it a 6 out of 10. A lot of things were shut down due to Covid-19, and the resort was pretty empty. Who knows if it would have been significantly different without all the issues Covid has caused.

Hopefully we will get to find out soon.

NAPLES – EXCURSION DAY 2 Pompeii & Naples National Archaeological Museum

On Day 2 of our excursion to Naples we hit two sites.

The first was Pompeii. Just below the entrance to the site is a restaurant by the name of Ristorante Vesuvio. We ate here primarily because of the parking. The lot attendant is very abrupt and even though the lot was not full, was angry that I could not get within six inches of the car next to me. If you read the reviews on Trip Advisor you will others had issues with him as well. The basic deal is that if you eat there you get free parking. I didn’t have him demand extra money, but the waiter also wrote something on my receipt for lunch after I gave them a good tip – which I think is what saved me from any hassle.

So how was Ristorante Vesuvio? The food was not that expensive and the portions huge. I would say the quality of the food was good, but not great, but I would put the restaurant up against other fair at a park or amusement venue. If you want an amazing Italian food experience, don’t go to what is essentially a tourist trap to get it – so keep that in mind when grading the place.

After eating we walked up the hill and paid for tickets to enter Pompeii. I almost bought tickets online via www.getyourguide.com before realizing it was a few Euros cheaper to just do it right there. My advice if you are going there in the summer is to bring a few frozen bottles of water, a good hat with a wide brim, and maybe even an umbrulla. The ruins are on the top of a hill and are very exposed. The sun turned all the rock into a giant heat sync, and we baked while we explored the ruins.

The size of Pompeii is hard to appreciate until you are actually walking around. The city was huge, and the level of sophistication is truly impressive. I tend to think about life 2,000 years ago as the stone age, but the construction at Pompeii is amazing. I couldn’t stop thinking about the size and scale, and wonder how the inhabitants managed to build such structures with no power tools or heavy lifting equipment. My son kept reminding me that the pulley was invented close to 300 years before Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried Pompeii. Even so, it is truly impressive.

Most of the artifacts have been removed to museums, but there are still a few items left in the city.

It was honestly the little details left in Pompeii that impressed me the most thought. Here and there you would find bits of marble still in place, or amazing tile moziacs in the entry ways to buildings.

The tiles here were smaller than a centimeter in size. It must have taken a craftsman of incredible skill to create such beautiful pieces that have lasted through the ages. I highly doubt the tiles in my bathroom will be around in twenty years, much less two thousand.

After leaving Pompeii we headed to the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Be forewarned, if you are driving, parking may be hard to find. The museum reinforced how ignorant I was about how skilled the peoples of two thousand years ago were.

The detail of the pieces is hard to truly describe. An artisan took hand tools and turned blocks of marble into life sized and larger than life sized snapshots of leaders, warriors, and other nobles.

If you want to appreciate some history, you should definitely put Pompeii and the National Archaeological Museum of Naples on your travel list.

NAPLES – EXCURSION DAY 1 Dinner

My youngest son enjoys good food and one of the channels he watches mentioned a restaurant in Italy called Pepe In Grani, which has won several “Best Pizza” awards and is well known to food bloggers.

Our Spain/Italy trip was a combined graduation present (my youngest just graduated high school) as well as birthday present (he just turned 18) and he really wanted to visit Pepe in Grani and have their pizza.

Here are a couple of tips.

Tip 1: If you fly into Naples, you will need to rent a car. Pepe in Grani is roughly an hour outside of the city.

Tip 2: Make sure you have a reservation and make sure you are prepared to wait.

Tip 3: The parking lot was packed and I had to make my own spot. Luckily I did not get a ticket or towed. The parking is beneath the restaurant, and requires you to climb a few hundred steps. Be prepared to work for your meal.

Is the effort to get to Pepe in Grani worth it? Yes, yes it is. The pizza was honestly the best pizza I’ve ever had. How do I know? Because i ate the crust.

On top of whatever other fresh ingredients they use, the dough is what makes this pizza special. it was somehow light and delicious all by itself, and the cheese and olive oil and tomato were just extra bits of heaven on top of that.

My suggestion is to go with a group of three or four people like I did, and have everyone order something different. That way you can all share and try out a bit of everything.

Naples – Excursion Day 1

While in Spain we took two days and hit Naples.

View of Italy as we approached Naples.

We had three great experiences in Italy, which we will get to, but Naples itself was a sh*t hole. Sorry to be so blunt, but the city was crazy dirty. I don’t think anyone know how to pick up after their dogs. Literally, dog sh*t everywhere. The city was really a let down.

So what did we do in Italy that we did like?

In the morning after we landed we went to the Catacombs of San Gennaro. Our tour guide was amazing, and you could tell he had so much passion about his subject matter.

The catacombs lie under the Rione Sanità neighborhood of Naples, sometimes called the “Valley of the Dead”. The crypts date back to the 3rd-4th century, and eventually held two saints. The tour is just about an hour long, and it honestly is a must see site if you are going to Naples. 

Spanish Holiday – Cooking Class

If you enjoy meeting new people, drinking, and eating paella, then you should try the Interactive Cooking Experience in the heart of the Gothic Quarter. We met at the Travel Bar, and then walked to the market before heading over to the kitchen.

The class was fun, and the food was good, and it is a great way to meet new people. Our table was super interesting. The three girls at the end were from Chicago, and at least one of them was a stripper. She told a very loud story about dislocating her arm on a dance pole and how her stripper name was “Carmella” but she didn’t get to pick it.

The other two young ladies were from Sweden and were very nice. My brother ended up drinking and having a good time with them until they had to leave.

Spanish Holiday – Sagrada Familia

The Familia Sagrada is a large unfinished Roman Catholic basilica in Barcelona, Spain and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is amazing to walk around outside, the scale and beauty are truly impressive.

We paid for the tour, which I have to say was not worth it. The moved very slowly, and standing and listening to the tour guide after you’ve been in the same spot for 20 minutes gets old fast. In fact, it got so old so quickly that we decided to part ways and walk around a bit on our own. I don’t think you’re really allowed to be “self guided” but I guess security did not notice.

Which brings me to the topic of security. Apparently the Familia Sagrada was attacked a few years ago and security was tightened. So expect to go through an airport style screening.

I’m not sure if the sculptures over the main entry were damaged then, or at a different time, but our tour guide made a point of telling us the repairs were done by a Japanese sculpture, and this was the reason the eyes were narrow and “not wide open”. It was honestly very strange and I’m not sure she realized how racist that sounded.

My honest feedback would be to walk around outside the church and appreciate it for free unless you really want to see the inside. But to each their own.