We’ve just returned from our fabulous week (and wedding!) at the Iberostar RoseHall Suites (IRHS) near Montego Bay, Jamaica. Some of you may know that we were originally supposed to be married at Dreams Tulum in the Mayan Riviera on May 7th, but due to the worldwide swine flu epidemic (sigh), we were forced to cancel our wedding in Mexico 4 days beforehand, switch the wedding to Jamaica for June 2nd, and re-plan everything in a rather short period of time. I was very lucky that my travel agent was on the ball and managed to move most of our guests (46 of 55) over to the IRHS in 2 days. We knew that many vacationers would be in the same boat as us and were very aware that we needed to make our decision quickly. Our travel agent kept assuring us that the IRHS would be amazing, so we took a leap of faith and said book it!
To complicate matters a little more, Mike (my wonderful husband) and I had booked a non-refundable, 3 week European honeymoon that was scheduled to start 2 days after our Mexico wedding trip (so on May 11th). When we had to move our wedding to Jamaica for June 2nd, we had no choice but to go on our honeymoon first, and then get married second! This ended up working out just fine, especially because I really needed a vacation and a means to de-stress, except that it left me about a week’s time to re-plan my entire Jamaican wedding because I would be out of the country for most of the month of May.
(A quick note: I know you’re going to think I’m an easy marker, but I honestly was so blown away by our entire experience that my grades are as honest as I can be!)
Vacation Carrier – A
We booked our wedding through Air Canada Vacations using a local travel agent here in Ottawa. Overall, they were great. Mike and I got upgraded to first class (both ways) and we had no trouble bringing our wedding attire onto the plane with us. They stowed my dress and Mike’s outfit in a closet near the front of the plane. We were also allowed a large baggage allowance. Our guests travelling in “regular” class were allowed to check 2 bags each, whereas Mike and I were allowed 3 bags each due to our first class upgrade. Upon arriving at IRHS, we discovered that we were upgraded to an ocean front suite! The only hiccup I would mention is that on the way back to Ottawa, we had to overnight in Montreal because there was no late night connecting flight to Ottawa. Air Canada Vacations was nice enough to put us all up in a hotel in Montreal, so although it would have been nice to make it home that night, they did their best to make the situation tolerable.
The Resort – A+
IRHS is AMAZING! It’s a relatively new, 5-star family resort that opened in October 2008. It has 2 sister resorts next door: Iberostar Rose Hall Beach, a 4-star family resort and Iberostar Rose Hall Grand, a 5-star adults only resort. All 46 of our friends and family members did not have a single complaint about IRHS. I asked around to everyone throughout the week if there was anything they thought the resort could improve on and we came up with nothing! One of our guests went as far as to say that he almost wishes we didn’t got to IRHS because he thinks all future all-inclusive vacations he goes on will pale in comparison (and he was serious)! Our rooms were simply stunning. When Mike and I first walked into our upgraded ocean front room (3236), we were feeling a bit guilty that we got such a nice room compared with our guests, even though we hadn’t seen any of their rooms yet. Well, when we made our way over to where all of our guests were staying (spread out between the 4200, 4300 and 4400 blocks), we were so thrilled that their rooms were virtually identical! Each of our guests’ rooms overlooked the lazy river and pool area, but due to the U-shape nature of the resort, everyone also had an ocean view as well! The bathrooms are beautiful (separate shower, double-person soaker tub, dual sinks), the mini bar fridges are stocked frequently, the beds were SUPER soft and comfy and the balconies were lovely. At IRHS, everyone also gets a separate sitting area with an additional pull-put couch. Seriously, I can’t imagine anyone not loving his/her room at IRHS. They were 5-star quality all the way. This was particularly a special treat for my guests because had we gone to Dreams Tulum, all of my guests would have stayed in their “Hacienda” style rooms, which sometimes receive mixed reviews on places like Trip Advisor. I’m sure we would have been more than fine with our rooms at Dreams Tulum, but to suddenly have these gorgeous rooms provided to us was an unexpected treat.
The resort itself is immaculate. The grounds are beautifully manicured, the main pool with swim-up bar is refreshing and lots of fun to spend the day around, the ocean is unbelievably warm with a beautifully sandy beach (and lots of great fish to spy on should you decide to grab some snorkeling gear from the scuba shop). We never had trouble finding places to sit, either around the pool or on the ocean. On a windy day, we chose to spend time around the pool because the wind could sometimes kick up sand into your eyes if you weren’t careful. The serving staff was always offering to grab you a drink. We never went thirsty!
Food/Restaurants – A
No matter whether you consider yourself gastronomically savvy or whether you have simpler tastes, there is something for you at IRHS. The buffet was wonderful for breakfast; every food you can imagine is served here. I never attended the buffet for lunch or dinner, but some of our guests did and they really liked the variety and didn’t get sick of the selection. For lunch, I typically ate at Aunt Ruby’s (the Steakhouse). It’s an open-air restaurant located on the beach, similar to the Seaside Grill at Dreams Tulum. A couple of times throughout the week, Aunt Ruby’s hosted an outdoor BBQ with live steal drum music (so lovely). I ate bellyfuls of jerk chicken, beef, pork … yum! For dinner, there are 6 a-la-carte restaurants to choose from: the Mediterranean, the Mexican, the Gourmet, Aunt Ruby’s (it transforms into a fancier restaurant in the evenings), the Cajun, and the Japanese restaurant. The Cajun and the Japanese restaurants are located next door at Iberostar Rose Hall Beach, so they are more difficult to make reservations at because you are competing with Beach guests for spaces. The only reason I decided to give this section an A instead of A+ is due to their reservation system. I didn’t like having to make reservations up front, only because I’m more of a spur-of-the-moment eater. I quickly learned that you didn’t even need a reservation. We’d just show up to our favourite restaurant later in the evening (~8:30 pm) and they’d take us right away. By far my favourite restaurant was the Gourmet restaurant. Try the lamb, duck or tenderloin and you won’t be disappointed! The lobster salad is delicious, too.
Entertainment – A+
At IRHS, there is staff called “Star Friends” whose jobs it is to make your resort experience exceptional. There are too many to name – Noodle, Monkey, Marvin, Blanka – who go out of their way to make sure you’re having the time of your life. They visit with you, dance with you, joke with you, play games with you, make up funny handshakes with your husband (true story), and generally ensure you’re having a great time. They also organize the various free activities on the resort (archery, volleyball, soccer, darts, slip-and-sliding into the pool, water aerobics, yoga, etc). By the end of the week, you’re fast friends! There are nightly shows at the resort, but I can’t say I attended any of them so I can’t comment. Instead, we attended the Disco on 4 different nights (super fun, well-attended and great music) or we made our own fun. One night we travelled to Iberostar Rose Hall Beach and used their card room for a giant, 20-person euchre tournament with some of our friends and family members. Another night we spent at the Beach resort watching Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals in their sports bar (we’re Canadians and hockey nuts). All in all, there was never a shortage of things to do throughout the days and evenings
Weather - A
A quick note about the weather. We were a little worried before leaving for our trip that we were going to be experiencing a lot of rain because the long range forecast kept saying “chance of thunderstorms” every day. For the 7 days we were there, it rained for maybe 2 hours one day (from ~4:00-6:00 pm). Unfortunately for one couple, this rainy period occurred during their scheduled wedding time and their ceremony was moved indoors to the base of the grand staircase. I didn’t see the indoor set-up, but some of our guests did and told me it still looked very beautiful.
Wedding Coordinator – A+
My wedding contact at IRHS was Loreto (email@example.com). I know this may sound like too much of a blanket statement, but she was INCREDIBLE. I guess I should warn you all that I might jump back and forth here more often between my Dreams Tulum wedding planning experience and what I experienced at IRHS, but I was completely flabbergasted (in a good way) by the service I received from Loreto. I would send her an email (or 3 or 4 at a time!) and she would always write me back either immediately or within a couple of hours at most. This was very different from the service I received at Dreams Tulum. She was so eager to please and did an amazing job of offering advice on how we could incorporate what I had already planned for my Mexico wedding and replicate it at IRHS.
It never really bothered me that Dreams Tulum schedules multiple weddings in one day (there was supposed to be 3 on May 7th), but it did feel nice to know that ours was the only wedding on June 2nd (IRHS resort policy). We had 2 wedding coordinators, Loreto and Nicole, at our service on our special day.
Wedding Meeting – A+
We scheduled our meeting with Loreto for the first day we arrived (Saturday, May 30th). Mike, my sister and I sat down with her and went over everything we had emailed her ahead of time. She had everything organized in a binder and we read through things together. I felt very confident after the meeting that we were all on the same page. I gave her our wedding music (to play when we walk up and down the aisle), name cards for the reception, wedding favours, and decorations. She took them all and had them perfectly set-up for us on our wedding day. This included 26 paper lanterns that I had purchased for my reception at the Seaside Grill at Dreams Tulum. She assured me it would be no trouble setting them up, even though we were the first wedding party to use this type of decorations.
Flowers – A+
I emailed an inspiration picture to Loreto ahead of time of what I was hoping my bouquet would look like. It consisted of white roses, white lilies and small dark purple flowers as an accent. I also indicated that I was hoping all of our wedding flowers would match my bouquet in some way, shape, or form. Loreto emailed me back and said that lilies were hard for the florist to get and that there would be a surcharge if I wanted lilies. I wrote her back and said that because we needed so many flowers (my bouquet, 5 bridesmaid bouquets, 5 boutonnieres for Mike and his groomsmen, and 6 centrepieces for the reception), that we should instead opt for the basic tropical bouquets offered in IRHS’s wedding package because it was going to start getting pretty pricey to incorporate the same types of flowers in all of the various floral arrangements. Loreto wrote me back and insisted I get the bouquet of my dreams, so she said she would speak with the florist and ensure that all of the remaining flower arrangements would incorporate some aspect of my bouquet so that all of the flowers matched and looked like they went together. Sure enough, all of the flowers we received were breathtaking. I don’t think I can fully put into words how beautiful my bouquet was. All of my bridesmaids loved their bouquets and even though the flowers were of a slightly different variety, the colour pallet and the look-and-feel of all of the flowers were perfect.
Spa – A+
The thing I worried most about before my wedding was how my hair was going to turn out. I knew what I wanted – the front portion of my hair pinned back with my veil secured to this portion of my hair, with the sides and back of my hair kept down but curled into soft curls. The woman who did my hair (I can’t remember her name, but her name started with an ‘M’) did a perfect job. It was exactly what I wanted and I felt so beautiful on my wedding day largely due to her. She told me she had over 12 years of experience doing bridal hair, which was comforting. I also got a French manicure and pedicure done on my wedding day by Alicia. She did a great job and I received many compliments on my fingers and toes. I decided to do my own make-up so I can’t comment on that aspect. A few days after our wedding day, I booked Mike and I for a couple’s massage. It was FANTASTIC. The spa was running a bit behind schedule and because they were a little late, they upgraded us to the 80-minute massage for the 50-minute price. Very nice! Last but not least, I feel the need to share this little tidbit of information because we only discovered it on our last couple of days. The spa has free relaxation/rejuvenation pools that can be used at any time! This consists of a separate men’s and women’s area with steam room, sauna, Jacuzzi, 2 Roman baths, a bubble bath and a cold bath. They are spectacular! For our last few days, many of us would separate into men and women groups at around 5:00 pm to enjoy the use of the pools before going back to our rooms to get ready for dinner. There’s also one large Jacuzzi that is co-ed in a separate room in you’re inclined to chill with your significant other. One time when we were there, they changed the men’s poolroom into a co-ed one and let all of us enter it together.
(OK, I realized I got a little sidetracked in this last section... back to the wedding!)
Ceremony – A+++
My favourite part of the entire week was our wedding ceremony. From start to finish, it was perfect. We held our ceremony at the wedding arch on the beach in front of Aunt Ruby’s. We had white chair covers decorated with translucent silver bows. We used a white aisle runner held secure by large conch seashells with tiki torches lining the aisle as well. The wedding arch was decorated simply with white toile. There was a small table with 2 chairs next to the wedding arch that was used for when we signed our marriage license. It was decorated with a beautiful floral arrangement that we later used as one of our reception centerpieces.
Our wedding party, including my father and I, walked down the aisle to the “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” Hawaiian remix. It was magical! I’ve never felt so much happiness in my entire life. Mike was standing under the arch on his own, eyes brimming with tears. It was perfect.
The minister who presided over our service did an excellent job. The ceremony was Christian and he performed a few readings from the Bible. Mike and I had our own vows selected and he read them to us to repeat back to each other using a microphone. We also brought ring exchange vows that he prompted us with. There was also a moment in the ceremony that we had to say “I Will” to, which was very nice. Everything was laid out perfectly for us and although we didn’t know what to expect ahead of time, everything went completely smoothly. All in all, I’d say the ceremony lasted around 20-25 minutes.
When the ceremony was completed, Mike and I and our wedding party walked down the aisle to the Beatles song “All You Need is Love”. When Mike and I finished walking down the aisle, we were asked to walk over to the small table I mentioned earlier to sign our marriage license. Eventually the song finished and unbeknownst to us, someone had the brilliant idea to follow it up with “Across the Universe” while our witnesses were completing the signing. It was beautiful. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
We didn’t host a cocktail hour after our service. We spent the next hour getting pictures taken with a photographer we hired (we didn’t use the resort one). Because of our proximity to Aunt Ruby’s (which was our reception location), our guests just hung around and helped themselves to drinks from the bar inside. It worked out marvelously and I think they enjoyed spying on our photo session with our photographer.
Reception – A
As mentioned above, our wedding reception took place at Aunt Ruby’s. Aunt Ruby’s consists of 2 terraces, divided by a small staircase in the centre of the terraces that takes you inside. Inside you’ll find washrooms, a bar, and a large serving area for appetizers. Because of the size of our group (46), we only needed one half of the terrace. We had 6 round tables, each decorated with a floral centerpiece, name cards for each guest, and some cookies we had made at a gourmet bakery here in Ottawa before we left. Loreto had everything laid out perfectly according to the seating chard I had given her at our wedding meeting. Hanging from the rafters were our 26 paper lanterns. They looked beautiful. To one side of the room was our dance floor. A microphone was set-up centrally so that all tables could view the MC and speechmakers.
We had everyone pre-select their meals ahead of time using the menu provided to us by Loreto. The food was excellent! There was an appetizer bar where people could fill their plates as they wished, we were also served an appetizer consisting of 2 delicious onion rings and a small serving of jerk chicken, then we were served our main course (I had the tenderloin), and then dessert. I’m embarrassed to say that we never had our wedding cake! We were all so stuffed after dinner and eager to dance that we never got to it. It was beautifully decorated with white roses and small purple orchids. Loreto was very thoughtful and had the top tier sent to our room for us the next day for Mike and I to munch on. We opted for chocolate and it was delicious!
The only hiccup of our entire wedding occurred when everyone had taken their seat for dinner. We had hired the resort DJ to simply play our pre-selected music playlist from our ipod. For some reason, he didn’t set up his equipment properly and we had no music playing for a good 10 minutes during appetizers. One of our guests happens to DJ in his spare time so he went over and discovered that the DJ’s set up wasn’t right and fixed it for him. It really wasn’t a big deal, but since I can barely find anything to complain about, I thought I’d mention this. We had a playlist for dinner and a dancing playlist for after dinner. We managed to get about 45 minutes of dancing in (including my first dance with Mike and my dad) before ~10:45 pm when we had to leave. I think we were supposed to leave at 10:30 pm but they didn’t rush us out. Following the reception, we all walked over to the Disco and danced the night away. I think Mike and I were there until about 1:00 am before we sneaked off. All in all, it was so much fun and aside from the minor technical difficulties with the DJ’s set-up, it was a wonderful night.
I don’t have my professional pictures just yet, so unfortunately I don’t have anything to post right away. My friends and family members took a ton so as soon as I get them (I should be getting a bunch on CD tonight), I’ll update this thread with some of my favourite pictures. If anyone has any questions feel free to ask away! I really don’t mind at all.
Even though we had to deal with the very stressful swine flu situation, all of us couldn’t help but feel that everything worked out for the best in the end. Many of our guests are hoping to return back to IRHS next year! It was a fantastic week and I highly recommend choosing it as your wedding resort. It was also relatively affordable. I know many people don’t mention cost in their review, but our final bill was $5700 for a 46-person wedding. This includes our couple massage and many additional floral arrangements. Not too shabby in my opinion!