Iâ€™ve been incredibly busy since I had gotten back 3 days ago from Jamaica, but I wanted to set aside some time to compile this review while things were still fresh in my mind.
I just wanted to start off by saying that having a destination wedding was one of the best decisions we had ever made. I was having serious doubts about this a couple of weeks ago as we were originally set to be married at the Moon Palace resort in Mexico. The news about the swine flu circulated like wildfire a week before we were set to leave and soon after all Canadian airlines were suspending flights to Mexico. It was sheer and utter chaos for a number of days. After endless phone calls with our travel agent, we had agreed to reschedule our wedding day and change our destination to Jamaica. Our original guest list of 25 dropped to 17 primarily due to the date change.
I was initially upset and angry about the whole ordeal as a year of planning had gone down the drain and I had to start from square one. However, thank God for this forum! I do not even want to imagine what the wedding planning and execution would have been like had I not had the help from you wonderful ladies! So I thought it would only be fitting to do the same and share my experience with you and hopefully it will be able to assist some of you in your planning. So here goes â€¦
Host Resort: Iberostar Rose Hall Suites (IRHS)
Number of Guests: 17
Travel Dates: Sunday, May 31st to Sunday, June 7th, 2009
Welcome Dinner: Monday, June 1st, 2009
Wedding Date: Thursday, June 4th, 2009
We booked our trip with Air Canada Vacations and flew out from Calgary to Toronto and then Toronto to Montego Bay. We were upgraded to Executive Class for the Toronto to Montego Bay leg of our trip and the return flight home, which was great, especially when you have to haul around a poufy wedding dress. The airline graciously let me use the Executive closet for all flights to store my dress and Iâ€™m happy to report that my dress made it safely to Jamaica without a single crease.
RESORT - Iberostar Rose Hall Suites â€“ 10/10
One of the best things about the Iberostar Rose Hall Resort is that it is only 20 minutes away from the airport and after a long day of travelling, the last thing you want to do is hop on a bus for another 2 hours to Ocho Rios or Negril. The exterior of the Resort is fairly nondescript â€“ complete with standard coral colored buildings, but once you step inside the IRHS lobby, it is pure luxury. From the marble floors to the rich dÃ©cor, the resort is first rate.
Just a point of reference, Iâ€™ve been to a number of different 5 star all-inclusive resorts in Cancun, Mayan Riveria, Cozumel and Varadero and stayed with a variety of different resort chains such as Grand Bahia, Occidental and Riu and the IRHS is by far is the best resort I have ever stayed at.
Rooms: Check-in was a breeze; those waiting in line were offered a cocktail or two. We were quickly ushered to our rooms by our instant favorite bellhop, ONeil. ONeil spent a good 10 minutes showing us around the room. We had an oceanfront suite (room 3433) and as you can see below the view is gorgeous. Note that all of the rooms are identical and the only thing that differentiates each is the view. Awaiting us in the room was a plate of fresh fruit and a bottle of wine, which was a nice touch.
Beach: The beach is awesome. The ocean is warm and staff is great about keeping the area immaculate. There are quite a few trees on the beach, which Iâ€™m not really used to seeing, but it doesnâ€™t take away from the beauty of the beach in any way. In fact I think it adds character and more practically â€“ a bit of shade. There is an underwater sandbar about a mile out from the beach, which allows the waves to break before they hit the beach, so the waters remain quite calm. This is great for snorkelers as I had been told that you can see quite a bit of marine life in the shallower waters. It is a little rocky right before you step into the water, but after a about a foot or two into the ocean it becomes sandy again.
Food: Absolutely phenomenal!!! Not only do I come from a family of foodies, I had guests with special dietary needs (one was a vegan and two were allergic to shellfish). My primary criteria in choosing a resort is that it be able to accommodate everyone. During the entire week and even days after, EVERYONE raved about the food. Most all-inclusive resorts are known to have mediocre food or the same daily selections, which is typically why the a la cartes are always filled up, but the food at IRHS buffet was fantastic. My father-in-law, now retired, used to be the chef for a local country club and even he was impressed. The buffet has such a wide assortment from fresh grilled lobster, carved lamb and roast beef to an assortment of ceviches and so much more that many of our guests (and us included) opted to ditch our a la carte reservations and frequent the dinner buffet.
Donâ€™t get me wrong though, the a la cartes are wonderful too, but 3 of the 4 restaurants have an appetizer and dessert buffet with a small selection (most of those foods including the entrÃ©es you can also find at the buffet) that youâ€™re better off going to the buffet. The Gourmet Restaurant (Calabash) was the exception; it was fine dining at its best. It is purely a la carte. The portions are small but the food was heavenly, I especially enjoyed the duck entrÃ©e and the lobster salad.
Overall, the service at the resort was impeccable, the rooms were stunning and the food was exceptional. All of our guests raved about the resort and the only one minor complaint was that the marble floors in the room were a little slippery.
WELCOME DINNER â€“ Mare Nostrum Mediterranean Restaurant
We decided to host the Welcome Dinner the day after everyone arrived to give our guests an opportunity to get their bearings and some rest. We were all recovering from a long day of travelling the day prior and several people wanted to call it an early night. The extra day also gave us a bit of time to put our OOT bags together.
We had dinner at the Mediterranean Restaurant at 6:30pm. I initially wanted to have one large table, but the restaurant was too small to accommodate one table for 16, so we were split into 2 smaller tables, which wasnâ€™t too big a deal. The service was excellent and the food was great. However, I wanted to note that it would probably more accurate to describe this restaurant as a Seafood Restaurant rather than a Mediterranean restaurant as all of the dishes had a seafood element to it. As mentioned previously, I had 2 guests that were allergic to shellfish, and one that was vegan. The two were served the surf and turf dish sans the lobster and the vegan had salad from the appetizer bar and all of them were very satisfied with their meals. I just wanted to say that the reason the vegan was so satisfied throughout the week with the meals at the resort is that she was obsessed with a particular salad dressing that they have at the buffet and the a la cartes that she â€œgorged herself with salad everyday and was happy as a clam!â€
Resort Photographer (Digipix) â€“ 0/10: This was the one sour note of the evening. The resort uses an outside photographer â€“ Digipix. We had our own photographer for the wedding and since we didnâ€™t want the photo package included with the wedding package to go to waste, I had requested that the photographer(s) be in attendance at the Welcome Dinner to take pictures. Only one photographer showed up â€“ Vince.
All of guests had congregated beforehand outside of the restaurant and he managed to only take 2 photos of the group. When we were seated at the restaurant, he took a couple of random shots of people in their seats. In total perhaps about 10 pictures of our guests were taken. While everyone was getting their appetizers, we asked Vince to take a couple of pictures of my husband and me. We quickly snuck away to the bottom of the lobby stairs to take some posed shots. I am not kidding you when I say that he had us in the most awkward and cheesy poses know to man. We had the standard thinking pose (one hand on chin while the other is crossed), the one hand the hip and one on at the neck and the coup de grace was me sitting on a couch with my husband resting his head on my lap while curled in a fetal position. WTF? I was thinking to myself thank God for Photoshop and that I would just crop out our bodies.
We return to the restaurant and everyone has started with their meals. Vince had suggested it was best that he leave us alone to eat in peace and come back in hour to take more pictures. We agreed. The thing is -- HE NEVER RETURNED!!!! We were at the restaurant for 2.5 hours and there was no sign of him. We ran into him in theater hours later and he had the nerve to tell us that he was looking all over for us. We called bullsh*t and told him that we were at the same restaurant practically all night long. He offered to take more photos then and there at the theater in front of the large crowd waiting to see the evening show. We declined.
As if that wasnâ€™t enough â€¦ now for the horrifying part. We go to the Digipix shop the next day which is in the Iberostar Rose Hall Beach complex next door. The very small room had about 6 staff members just hanging out. They point us to the computer to view our pictures (note that we were given absolutely no privacy whatsoever). I was already expecting to see cheesy pics of us but what I was not expecting to see was that 20 photos of the 25 pictures taken were blurry. He might as well have taken the pictures with a camera phone and they would've turned out better. I was flabbergasted both by the very few photos taken and by the quality. The wedding package includes twelve photos on cd and twelve 5x7 prints. We were so hard pressed to even find 5 that we liked. We finally decided on twelve and left disappointed.
Three days after that fiasco, we get a call from a rep at Digipix to advise us that they lost the list of the pictures we wanted and requested us to return to reselect them. We never did return and instead had our wedding coordinator ask them to pick whatever pictures and have them sent to our room.
I was so disgusted by the whole ordeal and thank the Lord that these werenâ€™t my wedding photos that I was dealing with!
Wedding Coordinator (Loreto) â€“ 5/10
Wedding Coordinator (Nicole) â€“ 9/10
Prior to us arriving at the resort, about 90% of my correspondence was with the wedding coordinator, Loreto. She was very prompt in answering my emails so I was excited to finally meet her. Only I never did â€¦ until three days after we had arrived at the resort. She seemed very cold and inattentive. Needless to say, we had very little interaction with her. It was Nicole however that we primarily dealt with and she was fantastic! I think I had read somewhere that Loreto is the main Wedding Coordinator and Nicole was her assistant, but I couldnâ€™t tell otherwise. Nicole was on the ball with almost everything. She was the one whom we had our initial meeting with the day we arrived and every meeting following that. When we told her about the photographer, she had immediately communicated our concerns with the Digipix owner and asked us to do the same to get the point across. We never did as we just wanted to leave well enough alone.
We provided most of the wedding dÃ©cor and everything was perfectly set up for the ceremony and dinner. I quickly went through all of the elements from the table set-up, to the favors to the centerpieces and the final product was even better than I had envisioned it!
I gave her a 9 instead of a 10 only because there was some confusion concerning one element of our wedding. Our wedding package includes free intro and exit music for the ceremony. However, my husband and I (and number of our guests) fell in love with a jazz singer that had sang at the jazz bar on the night of our Welcome Dinner (Monday). The very next day, I asked Nicole how much it would be to have her sing our intro and exit song and we were quoted $150. We initially thought it was a bit steep for her to sing only 2 songs but she had such an amazing voice that we decided to book her. Unbeknownst to us, apparently there are a number of different jazz singers, because on the day of the wedding, the person I was expecting to sing was not the same person that was singing that night at the jazz bar. Also, because I had such high expectations, I was incredibly disappointed to find a young girl nervously singing acapella at the ceremony. Nicole was apologetic and as a consolation the entertainment manager refunded us $50 back.
Spa Services â€“ 10/10
I had scheduled an appointment for my mother and I to have our hair done for the wedding. My stylist was Mezienne (I believe thatâ€™s the way itâ€™s spelled, but its pronounced Missy). I never did catch the name of my motherâ€™s stylist, but in any case, both ladies did an excellent job. My hairstyle withstood the humidity and held up all night and even until the next day for the trash the dress shoot! My mom looked stunning and she too kept her hairstyle in for the next day. Both ladies were attentive and patient especially since both my mother and I were incredibly indecisive.
Ceremony: We had originally planned to have the ceremony at the gazebo at 5:30pm. However at about 4:45pm it started to pour. Wouldnâ€™t you know â€“ not once did it rain the entire week we were there and it just so happened to rain an hour before the ceremony. Go figure? The wedding team quickly moved us to the alternate location which was at the foot of the lobby steps. The location worked out perfectly. Although it wouldâ€™ve been nice to have the ceremony as I originally envisioned it, the large spiral staircase gave me a â€œgrand entrance.â€ Now if it werenâ€™t for that darned wedding singer mix-up, everything would have been perfect.
The minister was fantastic. The ceremony was very religious which worked out just fine for us as both my husband and I are Catholic. There is a microphone so that everyone can hear what is being said. I teared up while saying my vows and I my husband go a little choked up while saying his.
It was a little chaotic as we were exiting the ceremony as there was no one to direct us where to go. So my husband and I ended up walking away and then standing around in the corner in plain view of our guests until our photographer suggested we sit down in the chairs provided for us which were right next to where we said our vows.
We had about a half hour before the dinner so champagne was provided for our guests and our guests mingled a bit while we were coordinating group photos.
Wedding Dinner â€“ Calabash Gourmet Restaurant
We were situated in a semi private area of the Gourmet Restaurant, which worked out really well as it made it more comfortable for our guests to present their toasts and speeches. Some of the speeches were so beautiful and heartfelt that many of us were in tears, so the privacy was much appreciated. The long table for all 19 people was beautifully decorated thanks again to Nicole. The food as mentioned earlier was superb and the service was flawless. One of servers even entertained us with his creative napkin art (shaped as a crown for my husband and a penis for his scepter). He had our guests in stitches. We were all getting too comfortable that the dinner ran a half hour long and Nicole had to remind us that the party was continuing outside.
Cocktail Reception â€“ Outdoor Terrace
We originally planned to have our cocktail reception in the Lazy River Island but because of the rain they had to move us to a different area. Although the rain had long since stopped, the cocktail reception still ended up being outdoors but in a sheltered area on the other side of the Lazy River. This worked out perfectly, as it was well lit and the very cozy. We arranged to have appetizers from Cocktail Menu B (refer to attachment below) and the International Open Bar. We also opted to do that cake cutting at this time. Appetizers were plentiful and were great for those that were still feeling pekish after dinner.
Cake: The resort doesnâ€™t give you many options for the design of the cake, which is fine as it probably is too humid for fondant anyways. You do, however, have to option to choose from a variety of flavors - Vanilla, Fruit, Cheesecake and Chocolate. I wanted to have a 3 tiered cake with 3 different flavors - Vanilla, Fruit and Cheesecake. The extra cost was $110 which was well worth it. The cake was super tasty and I especially liked the cheesecake.
DJ: Fatboy Slim was the DJs nickname and he did a great job. I had been told that the sound system cannot connect to an Ipod so I had burned a couple of songs onto a cd for him to play for our first dance and the cake cutting and he happily obliged. He had a great selection of music to choose from so there was no trouble on him part to fill song requests. The extra cost for the DJ for 2.5 hours was $375 and was money well spent. We had a soul train line going and everyone one was on their feet dancing in no time.
Flowers â€“ Taiflora 8/10
IRHS uses an outside floral company, Taiflora. The wedding package includes one centerpiece, one bouquet and one bout. I ordered an extra 2 centerpieces ($51 each) and hair flower ($2). The flowers were gorgeous. My bouquet was a little small but so beautiful nonetheless. I specifically wanted a white cymbidium orchid for my hair flower and the groomâ€™s bout and they provided that at no extra charge. The bouquet and centerpieces were a beautiful assortment of different tropical flowers. My aunt loved the centerpiece so much that she begged me to take one back to her room. We happily obliged. The only reason that Iâ€™m not giving Taiflora a 10 is because of their outrageous pricing for customized arrangements. I had asked for a quote to rent 15 floating candle centerpieces and they priced it out at $700, which I thought was ridiculous. My best friend, who is Jamaican, went to the market in Montego Bay and purchased 36 pillar candles in varying sizes, 80 tealights and 6 glass candle holders for a total of $110. I only mention that she is Jamaican because this likely not the same price theyâ€™ll quote to tourists.
WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER â€“ TAMMS PHOTOS 10+/10
Tammara and her husband Grant were incredible. Not only for agreeing to switch up their plans from Mexico to Jamaica but for so much more. Upon first meeting them, you instantly feel comfortable with them, kind of like youâ€™ve been long time buddies. Our guests shared the same sentiments. My mom even commented that â€œThey look like real people and not at all the pretentions artsy fartsy types.â€
Tammara had suggested we do a shoot the day before the wedding with our guests so they can have an opportunity to get to know them and have our guests feel comfortable around them. We had an open invitation to our guests to accompany us to Dunnâ€™s River Falls the day before the wedding and Grant and Tammara joined us. The day was a blast and Tammara happily shot away with her underwater camera as we climbed the falls.
The day of the wedding, Tammara was my saving grace. When I forgotten the groomâ€™s ring in the room, she quickly ran back to grab it. She helped with adjusting stray hairs in my face and with carrying my bouquet, she even directed us on where to go after the ceremony when our wedding planners were no where in sight. Before the ceremony, they captured a number of posed pics of the groom and I in a beautiful and tasteful manner, which was a complete 180 with Vince, the resort photog.
One would think that as destination wedding photographers, they would be lounging on the beach or situated at the buffet on their down time, but for the short period of time that they were there (3 days), they were always on the clock -- whether it was scouting locations or researching places for the Trash the Dress. I got the distinct impression that it was business before pleasure for them. However, when it was time to let loose during the cocktail reception, Grant and Tammara were working the soul train line like pros.
We had a Trash the Dress shoot the day after the wedding and during the last part of the shoot Tammara had me swim towards her with my wedding dress while shooting with her under water camera. We took a number of out of water pics but the under water ones were super cool.
In a nutshell, I would highly recommend them to anyone. You can check out their site at Tamm's Photos - Wedding Photography Intro
I canâ€™t wait to see the final proofs!
FINAL THOUGHTS â€“ Overall the entire experience was wonderful. We encountered a few snags here and there but there was nothing that ruined our trip. Upon reflection, there were only one of two things that I would have changed but otherwise we have had a perfect wedding celebration. Even the photographer disaster with Vince will be great story to tell others about our DW experience! We have so many fond memories and we are truly blessed to be able share it with those we hold dearest to us.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I know that it is long but I wanted to be sure to include everything and hopefully it helps some of you future BDW brides.