The following Holiday Inn Montego Bay Review has been updated for 2018. Enjoy!
For the last several years, our family has visited Jamaica for Spring Break. We first came to the island with our kids in 2015 and have been there at least once per year since. In many ways, it has become a our family’s Spring Break home, and our kids look forward to the trip every year.
We recently completed our 4th Spring Break stay at the Holiday Inn Montego Bay. This all-inclusive property is located just 15 minutes from the airport and has long provided a great return per dollar spent.
As many of you know, we’ve recommended this hotel for years. With kids ages 11 and under staying and eating free (kids 18 and under stay free), the resort has been an excellent value for families seeking cheap vacation spots in the Caribbean. Booking a room using a combination of points and free nights with an IHG credit card made it an even better deal.
Unfortunately, things are changing.
Although my kids still love it and it’s still a decent value for families, IHG recently changed the annual free night policy associated with their co-branded credit cards. And, while it’s never been a “luxury” hotel, there has been a small but noticeable decline in some of the property’s amenities.
Is this a deal breaker? Maybe. Maybe not.
Here’s a look at what we thought after our most recent visit.
Getting to Jamaica for Free
Thankfully, finding cheap flights to Jamaica hasn’t changed too much. Southwest still flies to Montego Bay, so that helps with airfare. To get there on points, you and your partner should both consider getting the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card. On our first trip there, we paid around 20,000 points (plus $90 in government-mandated taxes and fees) per round-trip flight from Indianapolis to Montego Bay. Each of us also had the Southwest Companion Pass, which meant that our kid’s flights cost zero points. Nothing. Nada.
While costs have risen slightly, points are still a viable option. Unfortunately, however, earning the Companion Pass has gotten much more difficult.
The Southwest Visa still comes in multiple options, but you can no longer earn the signup bonus on both of the consumer cards at the same time. In fact, you can’t earn a second bonus on the personal card if you’ve already earned the bonus within the last 24 months. So, it’s going to take some serious work if you want to earn the Companion Pass.
Booking the Holiday Inn Resort Montego Bay
Although paying in cash is still an option, one of the biggest benefits of staying here was that you could use points and an annual free night if you carried the credit card. As of May 2018, the annual free night no longer applies to certain hotels – including the Holiday Inn Resort Montego Bay.
Now, all is not lost. You can still use a boatload of points and get some nights for free.
On one hand, you can transfer Chase points to IHG at a 1:1 ratio. This is gonna cost a ton of points, though, so think long and hard before you do it.
You should also consider the IHG Rewards Club Premier Card. Earn an 80,000 point signup bonus after spending just $2,000 within the first 3 months. If both you and a partner earn it, you’ve got 160,000 points in your pocket, minus the $89 annual fee.
The hotel recently increased its rate to about 50,000 points per night, so the signup bonuses will net you about 3 free nights. When you book a stay of 4 or more nights, you also get one night free.
Additionally, rooms here run as low as $188 per night, so tacking on an extra night or two won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Remember also that the hotel is all-inclusive, so there’s no out-of-pocket costs for food or drink.
Holiday Inn Resort, Montego Bay: First Impressions
Although this is was our 4th stay at this property, our impressions have stayed relatively the same – with a few exceptions.
Holiday Inns aren’t necessarily known for luxury, and the Holiday Inn All-Inclusive Resort, Montego Bay is about what you’d expect from the brand. It’s a three-star property, so the rooms are relatively clean and in decent (but not great) shape. For instance, the hot water in our bathtub didn’t work but the shower was fine. While not a huge deal, it’s that kind of stuff that you should go expecting or you’ll be disappointed. Temper your room expectations before you go, and you’ll probably find the accommodations to be fine.
While you’re there, you’ll see workers throughout the property tending to gardens, sweeping walkways, painting, and cleaning. The grounds are well-tended and the beaches are nice. The staff members are generally friendly, especially those in the VIP welcome lounge. (If you get the credit card, you’ll automatically earn Platinum Elite status, entitling you to VIP check-in.)
For the past 4 years, we have stayed in an oceanfront one-bedroom suite. This means that my kids had to sleep on a fold-out couch, but it also means that we have slept in separate rooms. If you have ever vacationed with small children, you know just how valuable that can be! Here is the view from our room:
One thing we really like about this resort is that it’s so kid-friendly, especially when it comes to their beach and pools.
The main beach, for example, sits across from a small, private island that completely blocks all waves from coming in. As a result, the water right off the beach seems like a warm, Caribbean bath tub with no waves of any kind. My kids love it, and the lack of waves makes it easy for them to look for shells, hunt for hermit crabs, and get around.
The water off this beach is also very shallow, making it safer for little ones. However, the adult beach on the other end of the resort has some deeper waters for those who want to swim.
When it comes to pools, this resort has plenty to offer. The main pool is right near the main beach and private island. The resort’s main entertainment stage is also here, so the area is always buzzing with activity.
The adult side of the resort also has a private, adults-only pool with a swim-up bar. Although the main pool is very clean, Holly and I visited this pool on our last trip and found it to be a bit cloudy. The hot tub near the main pool has also been cloudy over our last couple of visits, so these are definitely some areas that need work.
In my opinion, if you’re looking for adults-only, you should look somewhere else. While I appreciate that there is an adults area where I can go to get away, if only for a few minutes, Jamaica has plenty of adults-only options that would be better suited for an adults only trip. This is really more of a spot for families.
Anyway, here’s a picture from a few years ago of the main beach and private island from our balcony:
The Food and Drinks
The cool thing about all-inclusive resorts is that all of your meals and drinks, even alcohol, are included. The downside is that the food isn’t always the greatest.
We’ve visited a gajillion all-inclusive resorts on several islands across the Caribbean, and – overall – the food here is slightly above average. The buffet is hit and miss (especially for lunch), but many of the specialty restaurants are pretty good.
- The Barefoot Grill, which sits directly on the beach, serves hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fried fish, veggie burgers, and grilled cheese with fries during the day, then again after 10 PM. We eat lunch here practically every day. As vegetarian/pescatarians, it’s nice to see veggie burgers on the menu. They’re pretty dang good as well – especially after a beer or two.
- A small snack shack, called Just Kiddin’ serves ice cream cones, nachos, and popcorn during daytime hours. Of course, our kids love this place. Honestly, it is one of the most special things about this resort.
- Everyone we talk to raves about the Jerk Hut on the beach, which serves jerk chicken and homemade bread and rolls. It looks good, but we still haven’t had any.
- This resort serves Red Stripe beer and several kinds of mixed drinks you can enjoy, including some wicked-strong Rum Punch.
- The resort has several sit-down restaurants with evening hours, including a Jamaican restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, a seafood restaurant, and a big buffet. The Italian and Hibachi section at the Japanese restaurant are our favorites.
The Holiday Inn Montego Bay features a ton of activities for kids, including a kids club. The club is completely free and open from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and again from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. each day. We don’t leave our kids there all day, but instead drop them off each morning for a short time so we can hit the gym and get all of our stuff set up at the beach.
To be honest, this is nowhere near the best kids club we’ve seen. It’s more like dropping your kids off with a babysitter. However, they do have a few things planned – like painting, feeding fish, and playing tag.
Now that our kids are a bit older, they LOVE taking part in all the activities on the main stage. Throughout the day, the resort’s entertainment team runs all kinds of contests and events for both kids and adults. Everybody at the pool – including our kids – seems to have a blast. Oh, and if you’re there over Easter, the resort typically has an Easter parade and festival which is quite fun.
Additionally, the resort offers free non-motorized watersports. We usually get in at least one or two rides on the kyaks and pedal boats. We also take at least one hobie cat ride, which is super fun for the kids and provides a nice view of the mountains behind the resort.
Snorkeling around the private island is also fun. While snorkeling with our daughter, I’ve seen large crabs and plenty of tropical fish. The snorkeling area is only about waist deep, which is also nice for kids and those who need a quick break.
The Bottom Line
As I mentioned, we’ve now completed 4 stays at the Holiday Inn Resort, Montego Bay. Over the years, we’ve grown to love this place. We’ve made some very special memories here as a family, and this place will always hold a place in our hearts.
While it is still a pretty good deal for families with young kids, it has lost a little of its luster. Overall, the food is still good, the rooms are decent, and beach is great for kids – especially with the private island.
But, with IHG no longer honoring free annual nights here, the resort loses a little bit of value for points and miles fans. Additionally, some areas of the resort are starting to need a little TLC; however, if you keep your expectations relatively low, you’ll likely be happy.
Can I give the Holiday Inn Montego Bay the resounding recommendation I have in the past? No…but it’s still a pretty solid family resort, especially if you’re paying in cash and/or you have young children.
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