Jamaica 2017

I will be posting the information and details for the upcoming trip to Negril, April 22-29. Stay tuned. If you need to contact me shoot me an email.

COUNTDOWN TO PARADISE

Sorry the countdown widget died. Network problems at home. Will get it back up soon.

Updated February 24, 2017

AIRFARE ALERT!!!

HAVE GIVEN UP ON SOUTHWEST. IT DOESN’T APPEAR THAT THEIR PRICE IS GOING TO DROP. CHECK FLIGHT PRICES BELOW.

 

 

FEBRUARY 8th – SOME GOOD NEWS

FLIGHTS FROM SAN ANTONIO
SOUTHWEST | HOTWIREKAYAK | CHEAPAIR.COM | UNITED


February 22nd Update: We are getting into the “hot spot” of ticket purchases and I am going to pull the trigger on my flights today or tomorrow. Here are a few IMPORTANT things to consider:

  • We are all trying to arrive in MBJ between 1 and 2pm
  • Look VERY CLOSELY at the TOTAL TRIP TIME. If you see a little +1 icon, it means a VERY LONG LAYOVER somewhere on the route.
  • PLEASE CALL OR EMAIL ME WHEN YOU HAVE BOOKED YOUR FLIGHT

February 17th Update: Southwest is still posting ridiculous rates and it is looking like United, Delta or American.  If anyone sees a major drop at Southwest, please let me know ASAP. We will have to pull the trigger in 8-10 days. Welcome Linn Meckey to the Krew! 

February 4th Update. Southwest Airlines must be losing their minds (or at least this loyal customer) posting their RT fare SAT-MBJ at, hope you are sitting down, $829 dollars! Guess they don’t surf their competitors sites much as CheapOair.com is posting departure and arrival times inside our target on United at $490. $340 difference. Add $25 for a bag on United and you still save over $300.

February 2nd Update. United has great prices posed today You may want to pull the trigger. Prices may not go below this. We are still a ways off from 54 days, the supposed best time to buy. Of course that time frame is posted all over the internet and there may be a uptick in people shopping for our days.

January 24th Update. We normally travel on Southwest but their prices have only been going up. The other airlines may charge $25 for baggage but even considering that the price on United for example including one bag is over $100 less than Southwest is offering today. So I’m posting other options below.

Our target arrival time, regardless of carrier is 1:00 – 2:00pm so we can hookup with East Coast arrivals. The United flight arrives 1:35pm.


WE CAN SAVE A TREE AND SOME BUCKS BY CAR POOLING TO SAT.
MANY OF US USE AIRPORT SECURITY PARKING AND YOU CAN GET A FREE DAY BY USING THIS COUPON

WHITE SANDS

  • Call 305.503.9074
  • Tell them you would like to reserve a room in the building with Greg Forest
  • Put your room deposit ($117) on a credit/debit card

All rooms at the White Sands have either two twin beds or a queen and a twin, air conditioning, a dorm size refrigerator and a small patio.  There are no phones or TV. A free safety deposit box is available at the office.

XTABI – Alternative to the Beach.  Peace and quiet on the rocks. Superior Room Price. Check out the specials.

 


A VALID U.S. PASSPORT IS REQUIRED FOR THIS TRIP.
PASSPORT EXPIRATION DATE MUST BE AFTER NOVEMBER 19, 2017


 ONCE UPON A TIME

Since 2008 we have been making 1-2 trips to Negril each year. This is a quick guide to what is going on this April. Please keep in mind that you don’t have to take these flights or stay in these hotels but they are priced within the range of most budget tourists.  If you aren’t ready to take a walk on the wild side, there are a number of all-inclusive resorts on the beach that are also at your beck and call. Regardless of where you stay, you are always welcome to come hang with us.

Why Negril? Many people boast that they have been to Jamaica but if you don’t get off
the cruise ship and scope things out, it is like saying you’ve been to Europe after a 6-hour layover in London. We strive to go as native as possible –  while remaining comfortable. Negril defines laid back. There is an old saying about Mexico being a laid back, “land of mañana” in Jamaica it is the “day after mañana” if you are lucky. If you are in a hurry for anything, this isn’t the vacation for you.

Why December/April? The high season in Jamaica runs from December 15th – April 15th. To keep the price down, we try to book as close to high season as possible without crossing the boundary. Also the weather is as good as it gets the closer to high season. Summer trips to Jamaica are hot and you take the risk of heading for the beach during hurricane season.

Upon arriving in Montego Bay, we muster the crew and baggage then our driver and friend Kingsley drives us about 90 minutes to Negril. There may be two sets of arrivals with a van for each. Where Montego Bay is a busy bustling city, Negril is very down home. No high-rise resorts inside Negril – there is a building code that prohibits any building taller than a palm tree. There are huge international resorts nearby but they really aren’t in Negril proper although they boast it. They are essentially gated communities. With the current itinerary (Southwest), we arrive in MoBay around 2:00 pm and if we don’t make any stops, can be on the beach by 4:30-5:00 pm.

Generally speaking, the closer to the departure date you buy, the more you pay and right now is a ticket-purchasing sweet spot. Prices may not fall much, if any, on the current fare. The first line of travelers threw down in January and got decent deals.

Others are welcome to join us at any time but air prices may be more and the ground logistics may be a bit more problematic. In the past we have never had to wait over an hour for people coming from other destinations or by different routes. The first wave just chills out with a few beers at Sanger Airport until the rest of the crew arrives.

AIRPORT TRANSFER

KINGSLEY JAMES | TRIP ADVISER REVIEWS
RT Montego Bay to Hotel. Negril is about an hour and a half drive down the coast to Negril. Kingsley has been our driver almost every trip. The only exceptions were when he wasn’t available and he booked other reliable driver(s) for us. He has two vans and can get more if necessary. Bottom line:  $50 each RT including tip.


All prices are subject to availability. Sooner we book, the better. I need to let the hotels know a room count ASAP. This is a 2-3 star hotels so although clean please don’t expect a chocolate on your pillow or 600-thread Egyptian cotton bath robes. You may even see a bug!

The White Sands will charge a reservation deposit at the time of booking ($117.00)with the balance ($387.00) paid upon arrival.

HOTEL SUMMARY

WHITE SANDS(TRIP ADVISOR REVIEWS)
Hotel Phone for emergencies : 305.503.9074

The Good

  • White Sands is at the 3.5 mile marker of Seven Mile Beach. You are in the center of the action. Gradual beach falloff into the water.
  • Great bar playing a great reggae mix constantly. Bar runs daily 2-for-1 drink specials. Top notch Dirty Bananas. Tony & Paul are awesome great bartenders.
  • Good beach security.
  • Pool area if seas are rough.
  • Dorm-style refrigerator in rooms.
  • Wi-Fi across whole property (spotty at times).
  • Free safe deposit boxes at office. Open until 9 pm.
  • Staff and owners are super friendly, dependable and honest.
  • The second best jerk stand in Negril, Best in the West, is 200 feet away.

The Bad (Not Really)

  • You have to cross the main highway to get to the beach if you are on the garden side. About a 2-minute walk.
  • There are a lot of buskers and hustlers on the beach. Ledon the beach guard is excellent at shooing the pesky ones on down the beach. Just let him know someone is giving you a problem and that person is history.
  • It can be noisier on the beach.Probably not an issue this trip as almost all of us are on the garden side.
  • Sometimes hard to get prime sun-bathing spot unless you deploy early. Not much shade on the actual beach.
  • No phones or TV in room.

TRIP SCENARIOS: (The below prices aren’t accurate yet – will have updated pricing up soon)

Rooms are same price single or double occupancy.

  • A Couple Sharing a Room (as of 01/15/16)
  • Airfare RT $520 each $1044 Total
  • Transfer RT (x2) $100 including tip
  • Hotel Room White sands $493
  • Total: $1,617 ($808 ea)
  • A Single Traveler
  • Airfare RT $522
  • Transfer RG $50
  • Hotel  $493
  • Total: $1055

 


 

Things to pre-pay for before you leave

Airfare $520
White Sands Deposit $117.00

Things paid for in Jamaica

Airport Transfer $50 ea
White Sands Hotel Room Balance $351

At this point its looking like $1617 per couple ($775 per person) for air, hotel and transfer. Taxes included.

These prices do not include food, drinks, taxi cabs, special activities, etc. Everything is  a la carte.


WARNING FOR iPHONE USERS: iPhones haven’t worked out well in the past as the charges for calls to the U.S. or inside Jamaica are HUGE. One of our travelers in the past arrived home to a $600 AT&T bill. There is like a $40 a day roaming fee and minutes can be up to $2 each. There is wifi on both properties so do all your Facebooking from a laptop or wifi tablet. My office phone is a Skype number that rings on the beach (as if I would answer) and I have found Skype to be the best method of communicating to the U.S but Facebook Messaging works dandy too. Some cell providers offer foreign travel add-ons to your cell package. I you absolutely can’t live without your iPhone, contact your cell provider and see if they have such programs.

I have 3 Jamaican cell phones that we can use. Similar to TracPhones, they are pay-as-you-go. Unless you are using Skype or another computer-based phone, this is the only way to go. I usually charge each phone with about $20 USD and have more than enough minutes. Digicell cards to buy additional minutes are in just about every store and kiosk. These cell phones ares also a good point of contact for anyone back home with an emergency.

I also have a pair of GFS long-range radios that will cover the whole beach area for party scouts to report back to base. :)


WHAT TO PACK

The old travel adage, “Take half the clothes and twice the money,” is appropriate for Jamaica. There are a couple tips that have made things easier  and less costly for me.

  • Be sure to take a big-ass thermos cup similar to one found in convenience stores.
  • Ball cap, sun screen, sunglasses, insect repellent, flip flops, all toiletries.
  • At least one large beach towel. A $1 inflatable raft.

Pack old gnarly clothes and leave them in Jamaica. It will open up space in your suitcase on the return trip for gifts.

Be realistic about your wardrobe, very little is needed. I take 2 pairs of shorts, 2 swimsuits, 5 t-shirts that will remain and one shirt with a collar. I take two beach towels so that I always have a dry one. The hotel towels don’t cut it for sunbathing. One dress or pair of jeans might be necessary for travel back to Texas. It could be cold.

Candy, snacks and other food favorites.

I take a small backpack for day trips.

This may be a bit over the top but I also take a small coffee pot and blender for Blue Mountain java in the morning before the restaurant opens and something to mix tropical cocktails in. See big ass cup above.

Just about everything is available in Negril but being an island, almost everything has to come from somewhere else. Natalie and Karyn, two multi-trip vets have traveled there with only a walk-on bag (including snorkeling gear).


IN NEGRIL

Please keep in mind that I am not acting as a tour director. I am also on vacation and can’t be responsible for your fun too. :)

There’s plenty to do and I can steer you towards locals that can fix you up with anything you need. I try to use the same people every trip to build relationships.

Money/Currency Exchange

You can check the current exchange rate here. The good news this year is that the Jamaican dollar ($JD) is down considerably since our last visit. Historically it fluctuates between $70-90 JD to $1 US dollar. As of January 15th the rate is $127 JD to $1 USD – the best I’ve in eight years. The best way to get the best deal is to convert about half your money to JD. Keep in mind that a $50 JD tip sounds like a lot but it is really less than fifty cents and an insult to the person providing the product/service.

Although dollars are gladly accepted, Jamaican Cash Rules. Credit cards are accepted in most of the major stores and restaurants but the smaller beach/roadside/flea market vendors won’t take them. Converting to JD is a great idea to make sure you are receiving your fair share of change. Conversion over the purchase of a $8 dollar item can be a bit of a calculative problem if you are paying in dollars and you are stuck with the conversion rate the vendor pulls from his usually less-than-generous butt. I change about $100 US at the airport where rates suck and do my serious money-changing in Negril later.

Both of the hotels will change money for you if they have enough cash on hand. Always ask the exchange rate before forking over the bucks. When exchanging money, be sure to get mostly small denomination bills ($500, $1,000, $5,000). Coins are for the most part worthless. I just throw the coins in a drawer at the hotel room and leave them for the maid when I check out.

ESTIMATED DAILY EXPENSES

  • Breakfast (w/tip) $10
  • Lunch (w/tip) $10 (on the beach, keep an eye peeled for the lobster guy. He is hard to miss wearing a top hat with a couple lobster claws poking out of it. (3 grilled lobsters for $20)
  • Dinner (w/tip) $15-20
  • A beer $2-4
  • A mixed drink $2.50-$6
  • Cab fare to town both ways $10
  • Tips:  For the maid: $2-5 a night depending on service
  • Tip for bartenders $1 a drink
  • Tip for Ledon (beach guard) a Red Stripe and/or $2 US if he is guarding your stuff while you are in the water or wandering the beach.
  • Tip for Kingsley our driver (folded into Kingsley’s rate above.
  • Tip for food service 10%. Check to see if a service charge is included in final bill first and lower your tip accordingly.

On Thursday night it is a tradition to have Thursday dinner at Charela on jazz night. This Carribean/French cuisine cafe is a bit more upscale and expensive. Figure about $25-30 a head including some decent wine. This is our dress-up night. We wear our cleanest t-shirts and finest flip flops.

Another rite-of-tourist-passage is Rick’s On The Cliffs. Rick’s is probably Negril’s most famous bar. At the far West End, the sunsets are incredible. On the other hand, it is very touristy and a great way to drop $20-100 US a head. There are pools, tubs, high-flying cliff divers, steps down to a swimming cove and a reggae band always on stage. It is on most people’s been-there-done-that list.

You can keep your food budget down by buying some snacks at the grocery store. The rooms at White Sands have a dorm-sized frig and Xtabi will bring you an ice chest on request. A loaf of bread and some sandwich meat can go a long way toward keeping the budget down. Bring what snacks you can from home to top off your suitcase.

A trip to town for supplies is the first thing we do the morning after our arrival. If Kingsley doesn’t have any other passengers or other travelers waiting on him, he will give us time to shop in Montego Bay on our way out from the airport where things are considerably cheaper. Most times we just haul ass to the beach and shop the next morning.

Taxi Fares. If you take a route cab, (red license plate) the fare is $200 JD from where you were picked up to where the route ends (driver’s call). Route cabs are great for meeting Jamaicans as the cab picks up anyone who flags it over and you share the cab with other riders. If a route cab doesn’t come by, figure $5-6 to/from the cliffs to the beach or about $4-5 from either property to town. We commonly have 3-4 passengers and just pay a flat $10-15 to whatever location. In any case, be sure to negotiate the fee before entering the cab. The Negril drivers are famously honest but will gouge you a bit if you let them. On the other hand everyone with a car that needs some gas is a “taxi.” Beware of just anyone offering you a ride. Taxis are clearly marked as such.

Water Sports

Here are ballpark prices for basic water activities.

  • Snorkeling trip to the reef $40
  • Paragliding $40 per person
  • Jet Skis are not longer permitted. Thank God.
  • P.A.D.I. Scuba available.

Although there is little aquatic life (maybe some conch & starfish) in the water at White Sands (except the daily 1 pm pass by a small ray), Xtabi has a great cove to swim and snorkel in and on some days is teeming with fish. If you have an underwater flashlight, the octopus come out at night in the cove and are quite a sight.

A golden rule of diving/snorkeling is be aware of where you are and monitor your surroundings. Keep your eyes and ears peeled. There are sometimes jellyfish in the water and if you keep your ears open, you can hear that drunk on the jet ski coming from a mile away. Regarding sea life, look but don’t touch – especially corral.


REGARDING DRUGS

Jamaica  is renowned as a drug vacation destination but it may not be what you think it is. Legislation has recently passed that has legalized personal ganja use. Mushrooms are completely legal but all other hard drugs are illegal. Something to keep in mind is that tourists are not afforded the opportunity to post bail when arrested and the courts move slowly. Behave like an adult and keep in mind that one mistake can put the whole group in jeopardy. Chill, be irie and stop to smell the roses. Jamaica is much more than just a place to get high on the beach. One Love.

You will be approached on the beach by dozens of guys trying to sell you drugs. If a wave off isn’t enough to let them know you aren’t interested, tell them they got there too late :) After you have been on the beach a couple days, word will spread and they will leave you alone. This is not an issue out on the rocks at Xtabi as there is no beach for vendors to walk. Only cliffs. My favorite opt-out is to lift my sunglasses, look the busker straight in the eye and ask, “Does it look like I need more ganja?” :)

Like everywhere else in the world, locals detest a demanding, loud-mouthed, know-it-all, racist American tourist. Especially the drunken variety. So sorry, no McDonald’s, or Fox/MSNBC News. Go native or don’t go. Don’t be an Ugly American. Jamaica is the last place in the world to be in a hurry. “Wonder what’s taking our food so long?” It takes longer because there are no processed ingredients. Some places you can point at the chicken you are having for dinner while it is still pecking around the courtyard and it takes a bit of time to gut & pluck. They are picking the spices and vegetables in the garden out back.

The bottom line, and you will hear the term a lot, is RESPECT. Give it and you are good to go.  If someone is getting in your face remind them that respect is a two-way street.


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