The Caribbean from Los Angeles
I love living near LAX since I can fly to most corners of the earth non-stop. Australia? Easy. Dubai, Hong Kong, and Istanbul? Just one flight. One of the most difficult places to fly to, though, is only five hours away – the Caribbean. There are a lot of islands I would love to travel to, and there are a lot of resorts and boutique hotels I would love to check out, but it’s a pain to get there. Historically there have been no non-stop flights, and most connecting flights require red-eyes (not the best option with kids). So every time I’ve played with itineraries in the Caribbean, I’ve eventually given up.
American Airlines, though, has recently started service direct to Montego Bay, Jamaica. There are a couple of negatives. The flight times aren’t ideal (departing LAX at 11:05pm and Montego Bay at 7:55am), and the flights are only on weekends. But it’s better than nothing. Hopefully, this route will prove that there’s demand, leading to additional days and routes and better departure times in the future.
So is Montego Bay worth traveling to? We decided to head down for spring break to find out what Jamaica with kids is really like.
Jamaica with Kids: Getting There
While the American flights were my excuse for checking out Montego Bay, our ideal dates, unfortunately, didn’t coincide with the non-stop days. I was pleasantly surprised to find decent flights nevertheless. We left LA at 9am, had an hour and a half in Miami, and then arrived Montego Bay at 7pm. The flights on American were fine, although the airline screwed up when handing out Jamaican immigration forms. The flight attendants told everyone that only one form per family was required. However, upon landing the Jamaican immigration officials said that wasn’t correct, and a lot of very annoyed people had to quickly fill out additional forms. Not the way to start a vacation! If you’re heading to Jamaica with kids, be sure to complete one immigration/customs form on the plane for each person.
Once we had four additional forms completed, it took about 15 minutes to get through immigration and customs and grab our luggage.
Where We Stayed
The top-rated family-friendly resort near Montego Bay (according to TripAdvisor) is the Round Hill Hotel and Villas. So we booked five nights. We had the option of connecting beach-front rooms or a multi-room villa. The villas looked gorgeous, but I knew that my kids would want to spend most of their time at the beach so I went for the connecting rooms.
I was unfamiliar with Round Hill, I think because of my west coast location. Once I started posting photos to Instagram I got a lot of comments from people who had stayed there and who had gotten married there. Most other guests were from Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey – a direct result of having easy non-stop flights – and the majority had stayed there many times before.
What We Did in Jamaica with Kids
We usually like to combine relaxation and resort activities with the local culture. We knew going in that there wasn’t a lot to do around Montego Bay, however, so that’s why we only booked five nights / four days. We left the resort once, to go into Montego Bay for a couple of hours, and otherwise, we spent our days at Round Hill.
We walked around the property, played in the ocean, played in the pool, tossed a Frisbee, fed the fish, went tubing, played on the water trampoline, kayaked, stand-up paddle boarded, read and relaxed. The kids went over to the kid’s club several times for t-shirt painting, rock painting and afternoon movies. We ended every day in the pool watching the sunset.
The trip into Montego Bay was initially disappointing, as we were taken to a touristy shopping area and that’s not who we are. But then our driver asked if we wanted to go to a local market. The Charles Gordon Market is definitely local and a great choice for exploring Jamaica with kids! We spent 45 minutes walking around and talking to vendors and we even purchased a few things – a butcher block, some wooden spoons and some local pots. The vendors weren’t used to doing business in US Dollars but we made it work, and it was far more interesting than any of the touristy places that cater to cruise ship visitors.
What We Liked About Round Hill
- We loved the overall feel of Round Hill – nice but understated. It’s not the kind of resort where your kids will annoy other guests by running around being kids.
- The kid’s club activity list is extensive.
- The included water activities at Round Hill were excellent. There’s no additional charge for kayaks, paddle boards or the water trampoline. So nice when resorts don’t nickel-and-dime guests.
- There are a lot of shade options available on the beach.
- The food at Round Hill is very good. The beach bbq was probably the best buffet that we’ve had anywhere.
- The connecting room setup worked perfectly for us.
- The villas are great for larger groups, although they can be easily divided so that couples or smaller families could stay in them too. It would be a great option for a large family reunion.
- We felt completely safe there, rarely locking our room doors, and we didn’t mind our kids (6, 8 and 10) walking around the property unsupervised. Not many resorts have made us feel that comfortable.
- The afternoon tea every at Round Hill at 4:00 (complimentary) was excellent – drinks and snacks to keep you going until dinner.
- It’s only a short (25 min or so) drive to/from the airport.
- The sunsets are amazing.
What We Didn’t Like
- The dinner service in the main restaurant every night wasn’t family-friendly – too late and too long. I would have loved an earlier start time and faster service.
- I couldn’t necessarily tell that we were in Jamaica, other than from the local options on adult menus. I’m not sure what elements of Jamaican culture could have been included, but I’d like to be more aware where I am in the world. It would be great for local cuisine to be included to the kids’ menus as well.
Is Montego Bay a good alternative to Hawaii and Mexico for west-coasters? Yes, if you’re looking for pure relaxation in a kid-friendly environment and don’t mind the lack of local culture. We really enjoyed four days there, and our kids were sad to leave. The positives far outweighed the negatives. And to be fair, we’ve also stayed in resorts in Hawaii that didn’t feel Hawaiian and resorts in Mexico that lacked any sort of Mexican feel.
Round Hill / Jamaica with Kids Specifics
Kid Friendly: Very kid-friendly.
Level of Difficulty: Easy. Everything that we needed was at the hotel. We arranged airport transfers through the hotel.
Airline/Routing: American from LA to Montego Bay via Miami. Montego Bay to New York JFK on Delta (we spent a couple of days in NYC after Jamaica).
Hotel: Round Hill Hotel and Villas
Trip Length: 5 days total, Sunday through Thursday
Days of School Missed: Zero. Spring break.
Cost Factors: Low season runs April 15th through December 17th, with rooms as low as $417/night. Villa pricing at Round Hill depends on occupancy. They have specials periodically with free breakfast or free nights. And as always, if you have a specific budget, or if you have a booking that doesn’t fit perfectly into the website’s booking engine, call or email the hotel.
Note: We received a small media discount on our rooms, but all opinions are mine.