Is this the world’s best family-friendly resort?
Beaches Negril, Jamaica’s all-inclusive family resort, has beaten off the competition to take top slot at the World Travel Awards for years - but did it get a gold star from Muddy?
Overlooking a stretch of silky Seven Mile Beach on Jamaica’s west coast, around 75 minutes from Montego Bay where our plane touched down. It’s a ridiculously beautiful setting and was such a contrast to the grey UK we’d have been happy with a coconut and a hammock on the beach, however Beaches offered a little bit more than that…
Fun, fabulous and full of tropical treats. Children are VIPs but adults are encouraged to have a good time too, which was apparent from the start when welcome drinks magically appeared alongside two full-sized characters from Sesame Street (more of which later…). The resort felt like a super-safe international village, where we mingled with American, British, French and Jamaican families in the shops, restaurants, cafes and parks. A real bonus was how much the kids enjoyed some freedom, heading off alone to explore (ok grab another ice cream). Friendly staff wore masks, but it didn’t dampen the carefree, happy vibe – it’s hard not to grin from ear-to-ear when you’re bathed in sunshine and surrounded by dazzling blue waterparks, sky and sea.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The dining scene is worth the visit alone. The fact it’s all-inclusive but still such high quality is really impressive and even the most fussy foodie wouldn’t be disappointed here. There are NINE restaurants, so put to one side any intentions you have of shedding some pounds because the amazing food combined with on tap Pina Coladas is not conducive to weight loss. Better instead to fully embrace the experience and try EVERYTHING.
We began our culinary journey with dinner at The Venetian, Beaches Negril’s fanciest dining spot where a grand piano playing by itself provides the music, which fascinated the Mini Muddies so much they kept asking to leave the table to watch. But what of the food? Well, the menu’s Italian (clue’s in the name) and large portions of spaghetti bolognaise, salad caprese and succulent steak went down extremely well with all ages (the adult’s Merlot went down well too).
Next we tried Soy, a chic little sushi joint, where we sat beneath a cherry blossom mural and tucked into wonderfully fresh bites of nigiri rolls, wanton soup, perfectly tender sashimi octopus and edamame beans, then sipped Sake cocktails while watching the kids try to master the art of eating with chopsticks to varying degrees of success.
Kimonos was another highlight thanks to Teriyaki chef Lenroy arriving at our private cooking station and whipping up a sensational supper of noodles, rice, prawns, chicken and steak while singing, throwing bits of rice into our mouths (well, almost) and juggling utensils. The children gazed at him adoringly like he was a pop star and declared they want to be Teriyaki chefs when they grow up.
Mariachi’s an open-sided Mexican eaterie where we all got our hands messy with tacos, guacamole and sizzling platters of meat and corn and The Mill is the resort’s main restaurant where breakfast and dinner are served daily buffet-style – we sampled Italian night, piling our plates high with mussels in white wine and steaming plates of spaghetti.
There’s also Café de Paris, where we popped in for cups of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee (best beans in the world, so it would be rude not to) and freshly made crêpes. The kids dedicated a lot of time to visiting YoYos, a frozen yogurt shop with dispensers labeled things like ‘birthday cake’, plus a sprinkle station with everything from hundreds and thousands to gummy bears. To say this was a hit would be an understatement and the only thing stopping them from living in it was that they couldn’t also be in the pool. We did go for some family evening YoYo sessions too, ditching dessert in the restaurants and enjoying a scoop of ‘chocolate cake’ on the beach instead.
Stewfish, a thatched restaurant on the beach was great for a seafood supper (think crab cakes, mussels, snapper) but was even better for breakfast as it has one of the best views in the world from picnic tables right on the sand. Snow white egrets would wait each day, hoping for a morsel of our Jamaican brekkie – ackee, saltfish and callaloo.
Muddy had a peek at various room and can report they’re all pretty luxurious, with liberal use of cherry and mahogany wood furniture and tasteful interior design. We stayed in a concierge level suite, which included check-in at a posh lounge and a huge room that could sleep up to five (two adults, three kids) on a king-size bed, soft blue sofa that converts into a double plus a chair bed too. You can also book an adjoining room, with twin double beds, if you want more privacy.
It was a joy to raid the well-stocked mini bar for water, beer and soft drinks and know that they were included in the price and we loved the waffle bathrobes, two of which were kid-sized and declared “sooo cool”. Pictures of fan coral on the walls were a nice touch, as was the writing desk and sea view balcony which had a drying rack – SO useful after a day at the beach. The only thing that was a bit of a let down were the bathrooms, which came with small bath tubs and rather old-fashioned showers with curtains.
Butler Elite Suites are the most luxurious and come with lots of extras including reserved beach cabanas with waiter service, meaning if you want a glass of bubbly barefoot on the sand you don’t have to lift a finger. Or, if you’re looking to keep costs down, Grand Luxe Doubles (sleep three) are a more budget-friendly option.
OUT AND ABOUT
So. Many. Things. To. Do. The waterpark’s enough to amuse most kids all week and the Mini Muddies were crazy about the lazy river, sitting in rubber rings and letting the current pull them along while trying to dodge plastic animals spouting jets of water (doing this as an adult with a Pina Colada in hand is also fun).
Two enormous pools have swim-up bars but they’re far from adult-only – children are invited to paddle up and sit on a stool to request a ‘pink slushy please’. Water slides, one open, one covered, are great fun (though Muddy may have screamed on the first run) and there’s a pirate-themed splash park too, with slides and an enormous bucket which steadily fills with water until it releases itself on the kids below. Cue more screaming.
Initially it was hard to drag the crew away from the waterpark, but midway through the week they gravitated towards the watersports centre for more free H2O-based fun, like a trip in a glassbottom boat (we saw giant starfish and a shipwreck!) and taking some aqua bikes for a spin in the sea – enjoyable though we did have a row about how best to turn round (peddaling backwards works a treat FYI). Diving’s included in the package price, which is amazing value and includes intro lessons in the pool if you’re not qualified.
There are basketball and tennis courts and in the evening we played games of shuffleboard, giant chess and dipped our feet in the warm water and listened the to the chirruping frog chorus.
When you need a break from the fam, there’s an excellent Sesame Street Kids Camp on site complete with splash pool, play areas and regular appearances from the TV characters throughout the day (we even saw Bert and Ernie have a dance-off by the pool). No danger of little ones getting bored with loads of activities on offer, from baking with the Cookie Monster to crafts and swimming. Parents simply sign their kids up on arrival and can then book morning and afternoon sessions, or a couple of hours, leaving you free to sunbathe/read a book/whatever.
Muddy was impressed by the enthusiastic staff and some have had training to work with autistic children, so this is a great place to holiday if your little one is on the spectrum and you need a break. We loved the colourful rooms, pencil gate, shallow kiddy’s pool and general fun ambiance and, though it was hard to drag my kids away from the waterpark and Xbox gaming lounge, it was a great place to pack them off when temperatures really soared or I’d booked a spa treatment…
Yep, there’s a Red Lane spa! A peaceful pampering palace set away from the main resort area and housing a beauty salon (popular with wedding parties) and tranquil treatment rooms. Alongside Red Lane products, a new calming CBD oils brand has been introduced – ideal if you arrive suffering from stress or anxiety (ie you’re a parent). There’s also a large fitness centre with plenty of equipment and classes, such as stretching and aqua fit, though Muddy confesses breaststroke to the swim-up bar was our main cardio.
Family entertainment at big resorts can sometimes be a bit cringe, but the acts we caught at Big Top, the resort’s theatre, were great and the kids were dazzled by the enthusiastic dancers and glamorous singers belting out hits like ‘Hallelujah’.
Big shout out to the resort’s well-stocked shop which, refreshingly, sold things we actually needed at reasonable prices; think flip-flops, Sun Bum (our fave new sun cream which smells of tropical fun) and even a Jamaican volleyball so treasured it made it all the way back to the UK!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Families looking for a brilliant break in the sun with all the trimmings. The fact everything’s included means you don’t have to worry about a big bill at the end and can fully relax and indulge.
Not for: If you’re looking to escape from the kids, best book a week at Beaches’ sister brand Sandals further along Seven Mile Beach, which is for loved-up adults only (not a Sesame Street character in sight).
HOW TO GET THERE
Seven nights in a Grande Luxe King room from £2,395 per adult and from £810 per child, all-inclusive accommodation, return economy flights with Virgin Atlantic and transfers. Visit Beaches to book or call 0800 5970002.