My husband and I took a long weekend trip to the new Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall in Montego Bay Jamaica for President’s Day weekend. At the time of our trip, the Zilara Rose Hall resort had been open about two months. Zilara is an adults only, all inclusive resort that is paired with Hyatt Ziva, a family oriented all inclusive resort. Part of the resort consists of a remodeled Ritz Carlton property and part has brand new buildings. We booked Zilara Rose Hall on a grand opening sale, and things were still clearly under construction when we arrived, but we greatly enjoyed the property, and I think that once all of the kinks are worked out, it will probably be a fabulous facility. I’m going to break this review up into specific parts to make it easier for those who just want information about a specific part of the resort or our trip. A full photo gallery, including restaruant menus and food photos is at the end.
Traveling to Montego Bay
We flew Southwest Airlines to Jamaica, which also offers some good discounts with their vacation programs. In part we did this because we could use airline points and in part because the direct flight from Chicago Midway was very convenient. The best thing we did for the flight portion was book Club Mobay, which is a VIP fast track service and lounge at the Montego Bay airport. For $50 per person arriving and $30 departing, Club Mobay meets you and fast tracks you through immigration, customs, and security. Arriving, we bypassed lines that would take over an hour and got to our Hyatt airport lounge in about 25 minutes. Departing, the line for security went way down a long hall, but we fast tracked though in about 5 minutes. We then went to the private VIP lounge and enjoyed included snacks, drinks, and WiFi while we waited for our flight. If traveling to Jamaica, I can’t recommend Club Mobay enough!
Hyatt Zilara provides transport to the resort from their airport lounge. We were given a drink while waiting for the shuttle, and then it was a quick 10 minute drive to the resort with a friendly driver. Check in upon arrival at Zilara was quick and easy. We were given a tasty rum punch while we waited.
Our Junior Suite
I requested a room upgrade to the new buildings at Zilara, as I wanted to see what the new rooms looked like. We ended up in an ocean front junior suite. I suspect we might have been the first in our room, as most rooms around us were still under construction and the bell person checked to see if everything was working. He found that the TV was not and someone came to fix it within 10 minutes. The room was spacious and gorgeous. The feel is quite European, with a large sliding glass door between the bed and living area and the bathroom. It is an interesting concept, but there was one flaw: The bathroom had a motion detected night light that turned on under the sink when the door was opened. It was very bright and it stayed on for around 20 minutes. We could not find a way to shut it off, and it lit up the sleeping area through the large glass door, which made going back to sleep after getting up difficult. Otherwise, the bathroom is quite nice with two sinks, private water closet, a big separate deep tub, and a rainfall shower that also had a regular shower head that could be detached and hand held. However, our shower was missing the knob to turn on the overhead portion, which I’m guessing was a new construction oversight.
The bed was quite comfortable, with controls for the lights right at bedside. Air conditioning would not go lower than about 65 or so, which is fine for most, but we do like to set it very cold. There was plenty of closet space, but drawer space was on the lower side. The refrigerator was kept well stocked daily, although I asked if a bottle of champagne could be provided, was told yes, and then never saw it. The failure to follow through on that request is typical of most all inclusives I have been too, so I wan’t really surprised. I got plenty of champagne at the bars.
The balcony of the room included a very comfortable double lounge that my husband and I used quite a bit. The doors to the balcony opened fully wide as well, which was nice. We slept one night with the doors open so we could feel the breeze and hear the sounds of the ocean. Bugs and such were not a problem.
In the old Ritz Building, the rooms are smaller and more “hotel-like” but are reported to be comfortable. We walked through the halls there and thought the buildings needed more updating. We did see some painting and remodeling in progress though. Those rooms are also significantly cheaper than the rooms in the new building, yet still pricey at rack rate (more on prices at the end).
Hotel Grounds and Pools
The Zilara grounds were still in a state of landscaping construction, yet they were already beautiful, and I imagine they will be outstanding once all of the plants fully grow in. Palm trees were being supported by two by fours, which looked a bit odd, but I guess it must take some time to get those established. We saw one that fell over into the Ziva pool because a volleyball net had been tied to it. Ooops! It was righted the next day.
The beach area is small, and I would not recommend this resort if a big white sand beach is a requirement for you. You cannot walk far on it either, which disappointed me. But it is a serviceable beach with a decent breakwater wall to provide a calmer swimming area. There is a water trampoline put between the Ziva and Zilara areas, which looked like a lot of fun. There are some sharp rocks upon entering, so watch where you step. A beautiful dock with a gazebo juts out into the ocean on the Ziva side of the resort.
The pool was outstanding, although on the cold side. But cold pools are the norm in most of the Caribbean, and honestly, once you jump all the way in, they feel fine. The Zilara pool is multi-layered, with lots of nice ledges for chairs or sitting in the water. There is a nice swim up bar and lounge chairs and towels were easy to come by. At the same time, I don’t think the resort was even close to full when we were there, so I don’t know how that will be when it becomes more popular. Bali beds were also placed around the pool area, but for the most part were reserved for those in butler level rooms. It would be nice to see the resort could squeeze in a few more bali beds for general resort guests. When I stayed at Majestic Elegance in Punta Cana (club level), being able to pick a bali bed each day without too much competition was a great part of the trip. That hotel got it right in placing a lot of them near the pools.
The pools for most swim up suites connect to the main pool, which gives a nice ingress to the main pool for those rooms. I did notice that swim up rooms to the right of the lobby would be shaded all day. If getting a swim up I would recommend asking for one that gets some sun. Ocean front swim ups do not have direct access to the main pool, but do get quite a bit of privacy.
The Ziva pool is huge and includes quite a few bali beds. There also are a lot more activities at the Ziva pool. But it is the family resort pool, so children are everywhere as well. That of course is fine if you are there with children or don’t mind them. But we travel to adult only resorts for a reason.
There are guards between the Zilara and Ziva sides, and we never saw children at Zilara. I read some online reviews that complained about children on the beach trampoline, but that was clearly placed right on the line for both resorts and children would be allowed to use it.
Restaurants and Bars
The food was the best part of Hyatt Zilara. This was absolutely the best all inclusive food we have ever had. Food is important to me, and all inclusive resorts can tend to lack in that department. As a result, I tend to seek out the resorts with the best food ratings when traveling. Zilara got great reviews on that front from the minute they opened and they sure did please me! The food was well prepared, and portions were good as well – something that is unusual at many all inclusives. House wine, which normally is terrible at all inclusive resorts was serviceable. I won’t rave about it, but I could drink it, which is better than most places. The resort has a quite a variety of options with three restaurants exclusive to Zilara. No restaurants require reservations and on the Zilara side we never had a wait when eating early (6:30-7:00 or so). Photos of Zilara menus and food are in the photo gallery. Here are the choices:
- Horizons, a seafood and international restaurant on the beach: I had a wonderful surf and turf combo here with a thick steak and a nicely done Caribbean lobster tail. I ordered my steak rare and it was very rare (how I like it) The flourless chocolate cake was a nice dessert. For lunch, a lobster mac and cheese was pretty tasty.
- Flavorz, a local inspired restaurant in the lobby: We ate lunch here and enjoyed some local specialties. We also breakfast here, where they offered a nice mini buffet and a la carte selections. The French toast and bacon were perfect!
- Petite Pariz, a French restaurant tucked under the Ziva lobby (but not overly French, as is the case with most Caribbean resort French restaurants – think of it more as “fancy” than “French”): I enjoyed Caribbean lobster medallions here and a scallop appetizer that was amazing. The escargo was also quite good.
Zilara guests can also visit the Ziva restaurants:
- Brazil: A Brazillian steakhouse that was simply fabulous. We did have to wait a bit to get into this one, but they gave us a pager, and we waited in the lovely Ziva lobby bar upstairs (more on that in a bit). The restaurant has a nice salad bar, and then they bring a good selection of sides and carved meats. Selections included chicken wings, pork, ham, filet, and sirloin. I love rare meat that the filet was done that way. Those who prefer well done might want to skip that one. Grilled Pineapple for dessert was lovely.
- Di Roza: This is an Italian restaurant with a nice little antipasta buffet and a selection of Italian menu items and pizza. I was not thrilled with my lasagna, but I also was having some stomach issues from way too much champagne and rum punch, so I hate to be too judgmental of that. The antipasta area was nice, and the pizza, which we did not try, looked awesome. We wished the place was open for lunch to get pizza.
- Barefoot Jerkz: This was a Jamaican jerk shack on the beach that was a highlight of the trip. It is the real deal in terms of properly slow cooked jerk meats (chicken, sausage, and pork) with sides offered of rice and beans, plantain, or other items (it seemed to vary a bit). Several sauces were available. The food was simply fabulous. Open only for lunch and early dinner, grab a paper plate, order up, and eat at the brightly colored picnic tables, just the way jerk chicken should be enjoyed. What a pleasant surprise, given that resorts often don’t often get the local food totally right like this place does.
- Calypzo: We did not eat there, but it is a Caribbean and seafood restaurant whose menu seemed similar to (but not the same as) Horizons.
- Fuzion: We did not eat there, but it is an Asian restaurant with an interesting and varied menu.
- Choicez: This is the buffet. We also did not eat there, and I wish I gotten there, as often all inclusive resorts offer some interesting things on the buffet.
We also spotted a coffee bar and a sandwich shop (not listed on their website), I think both are on the Ziva side, and both of which looked quite good.
Aside from the restaurants, the resort offered a few food carts. There was a crepe cart by the Zilara lobby open mid-morning to mid-afternoon where you could pick your ingredients for a custom-made crepe. A hot dog cart also made the rounds during the afternoon. My husband got a coconut from the tree trimmers, who handed them out and cut them open, and he had the bar add some rum to it. Which, speaking of bars….
The bars at both Zilara and Ziva were generally outstanding. All bars did not skimp on alcohol which was rather refreshing at an all inclusive. Mixed drinks were well made. At times, the pool bars would run out of beer (or even rum when a friend of ours went a few weeks later). That was a bit odd, especially since the resort was not even close to full, but they always restocked quickly. The best bars were the Fez roof top bar and the upper lobby bar at Ziva. Fez was interesting, with a cool vibe and nice view. You could get some top shelf liquor there. The real gem was the Ziva lobby bar. This lovely piano bar and space kept the original woodwork and charm of the Ritz Carlton. The bar was the best for finding good quality liquor, which my husband liked for getting Grey Goose martinis. The piano players were talented and entertaining, and the atmosphere was lovely. We returned there multiple times.
Finally, there was a sports bar, Union Jackz, which did not seem to be listed on the website. It had a kind of neat, albeit simple decor, and was a great place to catch a hockey game on TV.
Entertainment and Activities
The beach offers watersports with kayaking and sailing, although with the breakwater and then rough seas beyond, I’m not sure how much entertainment they really are. I read that staff would take you out on a sailing hobbie cat type boat. Entertainment staff were around and doing activities. There was a lack of any schedule posted or placed in rooms, which was unfortunate. One morning I was by the pool and they announced a stretching class. I would have been interested if I had known of it ahead of time. I saw various games offered, and the Ziva pool had water volleyball, aqua exercise, and other activities. Again, I would have liked to have had a schedule. I read online that there was one posted in the lobby, but we looked and never found one. I also saw online somewhere that Ziva has an in-pool spinning class. That seems pretty cool, but I never located it or saw it.
Evening entertainment is located on the Ziva side by the restaurants. The shows are fine and provide some nice evening enjoyment, but they are not to the level that I have seen at other all inclusive resorts. We saw a couple of cover bands that were quite good and a couple of revue type of shows. The Michael Jackson show featured a decent enough lip sync artist and dancers, but did not come close to the depth, length, or talent that we saw from a similar show at the Majestic Elegance in the Dominican Republic. The circus show was also fun and had some impressive artists, but we saw better both in the Dominican Republic and at The Royale in Playa Del Carmen (operated by Playa Resorts, who also operates the Rose Hall Ziva and Zilara). The stage is centrally located, but hard to see from many angles because of palm trees blocking the view. A few chairs were set up in front, but not enough. Zilara/Ziva might want to consider relocating the stage and adding seating for this. Overall, we were entertained, mainly because we are laid back and easily entertained, but we wouldn’t rave about the shows at all. We simply have seen much better at other resorts.
Zilara also offers a spa with full services. I did not use the spa so I can’t review it. However, I walked by it and it looked like it had nice facilities.
We did one tour booked through Zilara. We went to the luminous lagoon, which is a bioluminescent area of water with micro-organisms that light up when touched. It is simply amazing! We jumped in and swam, which was interesting itself because the water is cold on top and warm at the bottom. When you move the water lights up. the trip is quick and not really expensive. Don’t pass up the opportunity to do something that is only available in a few select places in the world (5-6 or so)! Anyway, from the process we found that the tour desk was nice and easy to work with.
Prices and Problems
Now for the nitty gritty. We honestly loved our stay overall and felt that we had a decent value that was neither a bargain, nor over priced. We paid around $550/night for our room, which was billed as an opening special of 50% off. First, as far as I can tell, that is not really 50% off the rack rate for the room class we booked (we booked an old building room, not our upgrade). Maybe more like 30%. Had we ended up in the old building, I would have been annoyed, because I don’t think that rate is a real value for that space. In the new building, I think it was a very fair price for a junior suite pool view and a great price for the ocean front that we got. So I feel that we got a deal. Not a real 50% off deal, but a deal nonetheless.
BUT, what about the rack rates? Those seem to be generally in effect now, with sales or specials from various suppliers only giving the old building rooms (read on for how things get ambiguous). Rack rates for the old building don’t seem to consistently exist on the Zilara site, but you can get them at about $400ish/night or even in the $350 range on various resellers. Fair enough for that building. For the new junior suites, rates are over $1,000 per night. Honestly, as much as I loved Zilara Rose Hall, it isn’t worth that. You can get a comparable room with great food in Mexico, other places in Jamaica, or other islands for less. Now, I know that rack rate should never be paid and people should just watch for sales, but I did some watching and only old building rooms regularly showed up on sale. Or, it was ambiguous. For example, I saw several resellers promoting “preferred suites” that did not list room size or anything to make clear whether they were new building junior suites. I suspect based on price that they were old building standard rooms, and the “suite” in the name might mislead people. I despise that type of marketing. Don’t buy unless you are absolutely clear on what you are getting. That is not necessarily Hyatt’s fault since they don’t run those websites, but they do feed them the information and could do a better job of making clear what is being sold.
One site that seems to be making clear what is sold is Expedia, which lists the old building as a “room” and new as “junior suite.” So I recommend trying them first. They do often have special pricing.
Finally, we had one problem with billing with the resort. Our credit card got charged twice for the room. Obviously that is concerning. But on on the good side, it was handled rather quickly and in a way that showed good communication among various branches of the resort. I sent a message through the Facebook page asking who to contact to fix the problem. They responded promptly with an email address and said they would also contact them. I emailed and got a prompt response that copied the correct people to address the problem. A few days later it was all fixed. So, I point this all out not as a negative against the Zilara Rose Hall resort, but as a positive to show how they promptly and sufficiently handled a problem. I was perfectly happy.
As an opening to final thoughts, I want to add what fit nowhere because it fit everywhere. The staff at Zilara and Ziva, and really the Jamaican people as a whole, are wonderful! I have had friendly and nice service at many resorts, but the staff at Zilara and Ziva where by far the best. Everyone was extremely friendly and eager to please. Especially impressive was the pool lifeguard who saw me pick out seats and then rolled the towel cart over my way and then actually set up multiple towels on the chairs for me. The bell person who checked the room and noticed an issue impressed us. The person who greeted us on arrival (“Great Dane” I think) was incredibly friendly and amusing. Then we had numerous hospitable and fun bartenders and wait staff. The cook at the Jerk Chicken shack was not just an amazing cook, but also a very nice and fun guy.
Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall is definitely one of my favorite travel destinations. It did have some opening issues and it isn’t perfect, at least not yet. They claim to be 6 star. OK, they are not that and that is a lofty claim to make. BUT, maybe Zilara could get close once the bugs are out and with a few changes. I would suggest providing published activities schedules to the rooms, fixing the view for entertainment and upgrading it a bit, making sure that all menu and drink items are available, and offering more regular sales off rack rate. That would bring it close to 5 star with a great value. The weakness that probably can’t be fixed is the lack of a real walkable beach. There, I would encourage bringing in additional of white sand, dredging the bottom to be sure there are no rocks, adding bali beds, and generally just keeping it clean.
So, the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall Jamaica gets a high rating from me: B+. I imagine that if I get a chance to return once the opening kinks are worked out it could earn an A or higher since my score is based on things that mostly I think will get fixed. Hopefully I will be back at some point to see if this place lives up to its claim of a 6 star rating.
Where to Book
The gallery below includes the photos from my review and adds additional photos, including food and menu photos, click a photo to enlarge it:
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