Thursday, March 20

Family Fun - Oasis at Sunset: Montego Bay, Jamaica

Before you delve into the fun that was our March Break, please be clear that this is no freebie or sponsored post. We paid for every penny of this vacation, though even if we hadn't, I hope that by now you trust me to give honest reviews. And when I say "by now", I'm referring to regular readers who have been around for a while, not implying that two lines worth of text are enough to prove my trustworthiness to brand new readers! 

The excitement began on the first day of our journey, which was a Friday morning (an unpaid day for teachers in Ontario, just so we’re all clear).

Little Maggie –carsick at the best of times – could barely handle the anticipation of the trip combined with a drive to the airport, and she was making very good use of an extra Ziploc bag at the exact moment we were boarding our flight. Apparently WestJet takes sick passengers very seriously. I don’t want to spend a whole post outlining one of the worst parts of the week, so let’s just say that Maggie was examined, their medical team contacted, and we were ordered off the plane with the promise that they would try to get us on another one later. Because lots of March Break flights to Jamaica have four extra seats on them.

Fortunately for us, we were travelling with a doctor friend who came up to the front of the plane to get more information, and she asked to speak to their med team. She vouched for Maggie’s travel sickness, lack of fever or diarrhea, and dosage of Gravol, and thank the Lord, they let us back on, And by “us”, I mean the girls and me, rule-followers at the best and worst of times. My husband never physically left the front of the plane as these conversations were taking place, in what may have been some sort of psychological move.

We had promised the girls seatback entertainment on the plane, which didn’t happen, but the drugs knocked Maggie out for the entire flight and Frannie (mommy’s girl) was more than happy to read a complete chapter book sitting beside me, so all was well. The immigration line at the Montego Bay airport was crazy, but since Pearson had been a breeze – and we were lucky to be arriving at all – we took it in stride.

After another hour’s wait for our shuttle (which our contact at the resort agreed was much too long), we were taken to Oasis at Sunset. Since we arrived, appropriately, after sunset, everyone was very tired and hungry and not quite ready for the slow and easy pace of Jamaican time – and the rain wasn’t helping. I didn't want a cocktail as I waited for my key, and I definitely didn't want to complete the same form I had already filled in online for "advance check in".

However, after a good night’s sleep (and getting unpacked, which is super important for a Type-A like me) we woke up to a beautiful sunny day that quickly cleared up any of the yuckiness of our day of travel.

 “Oasis” is the two-story exclusive section on the absolutely gorgeous Sunset property. We had nice walk-out patios which faced into the centre court, yet seemed fairly private. (As I sit on ours, writing this post - which won’t go live until after we return because I don’t like to advertise our partly vacant home – the sweat is dripping onto the keyboard, which is actually completely refreshing after leaving Polar Vortex temperatures back home). Our room also had bunk beds for the girls (a real thrill for them), full bathroom, stocked fridge (water, pop, beer) and working cable. I know, it’s a vacation and I shouldn't care about TV, but, hello, the most dramatic Bachelor finale yet!

Random notes and observations:

Water park: I could go on and on, but I hope the photos suffice. It was absolutely perfect for kids the ages of ours (waterslides, lazy river with tubes, hot tub, pirate ship), with wading areas for younger babes, and enough to entertain older children as well. 

There were other pools too, including adults-only (so you can rest assured that there’s a place for people to go if your kids are driving them crazy) and a pool with a hot tub and swim-up bar – also a hit with the kids. (Frannie told her class that her first favourite part of the trip was the buffet, and her second favourite was using the swim-up bar to order strawberry daiquiris.)

There was a quiet beach, with a private section for “Oasis” guests (which we never used, because we were happy with the main resort beach), as well as an even more private "au naturel" beach (if you know what I mean), where of course I spent TONS of time. The water at the beach was shallow enough for the kids to walk in, and the sand was perfect for building. 

The resort is clearly a popular spot for destination weddings, to the enjoyment of our little wedding crasher:

The food was great – a full buffet available for all meals, a “fast food” grill by the beach, and several a la carte restaurants that require reservations, plus a private restaurant right at the Oasis part of the resort, The Terrace – which was painfully slow, but had a gorgeous view of the property and tasty food. Our favourite was the Italian restaurant. Service there was very quick, but our reservation was so late that by the time dinner was served, Maggie was down for the count.

We went back a few nights later, my husband I dining first while our friends watched all the kids, and then they took the second shift for the “romantic dinner” (a perk of travelling with another family).

This is an evening shot of the view from our "usual" table at the Banana Walk Buffet (there were only a few tables big enough to seat nine):

Some of our party took advantage of kayaking, snorkeling, paddle boating, etc., while I took advantage of reading: five magazines (I rationed them out, one per day), plus some fantastic books, all of which I would recommend - “The Blondes” by Emily Schultz, "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd,  "Amelia Grey’s Fireside Dream" by Abby Clemens and "NYPD Red" by James Patterson. And get this: my husband was so relaxed that he…READ A BOOK. In the first two days.And then another one! I'll be honest, though: by Wednesday night, I was really starting to crave a productivity fix (so I did some more work on this very post) but I was actually quite proud of myself for being able to just sit and do nothing but read for most of the week.

Frannie celebrated her 8th birthday while we were there, and was treated to half crown braids (at the full-service spa), thanks to our travelling companions (Maggie got hers done as well). We also brought a couple of small birthday gifts with us (Lego set and summer dress), and were very grateful that the buffet dessert fare included chocolate cake that evening!

The Montego Bay Birthday Girl:

In general, our days went something like this:

Beach or pool
Rest/get ready for dinner in room
Back to room

Employees were continually checking in to see that everything was going well, and everyone was very friendly and accommodating.

The rooms were kept clean (though the bathroom felt a bit dated to me) and the housekeeper left folded towel animals for the girls to find at the end of every day.

There’s also a kids’ club at the resort, but we really didn't have a need to drop our kids off for care, since there were always four adults sharing the supervision load. (Note that I didn't say four sober adults. There was always at least one of those, though.)

While we did stay on the resort the whole time, we ventured out for a glass-bottomed boat ride, which was really cool – they even provided bread for the kids to throw in, tempting tons of sergeant major fish to swim to the surface to grab a nibble.

We met some very nice people (most couples/families included a teacher – why else would you travel during the most expensive week of the year?) and we had a great chat with rocker Chris Brodbeck from See Spot Run (if you don’t remember their song “Weightless” right now, you will when you hear the chorus again) and his gorgeous wife Nimali.

While the girls were interested in souvenirs, their choices were quite expensive (and would have ended up hidden in a drawer somewhere) so we made them a deal: A bag of M and M's as a consolation prize, and upon our return, they would get $10 to put towards something bigger (both think they want an iPod Touch, but they’re a far cry from having enough money). They took the deal - and the minute we were in the door they were asking for their tenners!

(Sweltering in jeans, but we were ready to leave for the airport!)

All-inclusive is a great way to go with kids. If the macaroni tastes funny, go back and get something else (I’m not promoting wastefulness, but it actually does encourage them – and me – to explore a tiny bit more knowing that it’s not a huge commitment). Our girls particularly enjoyed the self-serve soft ice cream machine.

Them: "Is it really free?"
Me: "NONE of this is free. It was just paid in advance."

This was our third all-inclusive ever (Cuba for our honeymoon and Mexico as a family in 2012) and definitely my favourite, however also the most expensive. But if it’s in the budget, Jamaica is totally worth it, and this resort in particular is absolutely fantastic for kids.

On an (almost) final was very fitting that the radio in the shuttle back to the airport was preparing us for home with some Canadian crooners. Nothing says 30 degree heat in Jamaica like Anne Murray's festive version of "Away In a Manger". For real.

Final note: Please please please do not hesitate to ask questions, either in the comments or by e-mailing/tweeting me, etc. I'd love to be able to help with someone else's family trip planning!

For more information on our resort, check out their website here:


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Allison said...

Love the photo of you on the water slide! And Away in a Manger is a great way to end your trip. Who needs Bob Marley when you can have Anne Murray?

This Mom said...

My thoughts exactly!

Anonymous said...

Just stumbled upon this post as I'm doing research before booking Oasis at Sunset for my family of four, including two girls aged 5 and 2 years. Thank for the review. I have read a lot of negative comments about the condition of the bathrooms and pool area (run down/dirty). How bad was it, or it is nothing to be concerned about. I just freak out thinking of bathing kids in a gross bathtub. Appreciate any feedback you can provide.

Another mom from Ontario

This Mom said...

Hello, "another mom from Ontario"! Honestly, I don't remember any issues with cleanliness at all. Our cleaning lady was wonderful and any time we called with requests we were helped pretty promptly. The only problem I ever remember with the wading pool area was that one day the water level was so low that there wasn't much to wade into, but no hygenic concerns! Feel free to ask if you have any other questions!

Anonymous said...

Thank you!