So it's been a few weeks since my wedding and I'm just now feeling capable of writing this review :) It's a bit lengthy, but I gained so much information from BDW forums and wanted to pay it forward :) Feel free to ask me any detailed questions about anything. Enjoy planning your weddings ladies and don't forget to let it all go once you're in it....
Where do I start...
It was both my Husband (I'm assuming I'll get used to saying that) and my first time to Jamaica and it definitely did not disappoint. We loved all the things we thought we would and, without a doubt, we most loved the laid back friendly people and the lush tropical environment. With that said, we definitely didn't get to take in all that we would of liked to given our hosting of 70 people for our wedding events over several days. We did, however, get to sneak away on our very last day with a couple friends and enjoy an authentic Jamaican Jerk Hut (way better than the resort's) and amazing May River Waterfalls, which are smaller than Dunns River Falls, but completely non-touristy (as in we were the only ones there!). So, if you're looking for a way to enjoy Jamaica without having to stand in line with other tourists, my suggestion is to figure out what you want to see and maybe hire a taxi for the day (definitely negotiate).
And so it began....
Rooms & Check In:
As other reviews have included and we also experienced, the check in process is not very organized and the helpfulness of the people working the reservations desk was very hit and miss. We had a very large group with high hopes of getting people in a couple villas nearby each other. This is not possible given the above and that everything is "based on availability". Therefore, my advice is too be realistic. Pick your battles as in your family or wedding party that you want close and be happy with the fact that everyone else will be one, two, or three villas away from you. In the end, it was actually nice to not be completely surrounded by everyone, which gave us a bit of breathing room. As for the rooms, we stayed in a one bedroom suite as I wanted an actual shower (not the rain shower in the honeymoon villa) and a space in the bedroom for makeup and preparation (not the bathroom). The rooms were definitely not as nice as I would've liked but the views from the balconies were unbelievable so definitely demand a sea view. They were not bad, but just didn't have the complete luxury feel of some other places I've stayed in. However, this is very subjective and, should not deter you, if the resort meets most of your other wants as it did for me.
Resort & Food:
Let me tell you, that the resort was absolutely stunning. The pictures do reflect the beauty and there is a lot to take in so definitely go exploring with your map and check everything out. And, even though the resort is quite large, I didn't think the walking was that bad at all especially if you choose a villa closer to the main lobby area where most things are located. The only time we used carts are when we had lots of stuff to move and on the day of the wedding to not exert ourselves. I also loved that there was a lot to explore and many different venues for potential wedding events. They do offer a lot in the way of entertainment as well and seem to have stuff happening every night. I will preface my critique of the food by saying that I live in NYC and am accustomed to and seek out amazingly good food. Therefore, the resort's food did not impress and was very hit and miss. However, this is to be expected given that resort's generally provide quantity or quality. With this said, there were definitely some meals that were good and the food was better than I've had at another resort.
We had several events on the resort including: a Ladies Mehndi Tea Party (original location: Gully Beach, moved to rain location: section of Infinity Bar), a Guys Hang Out Event (Miss Lou's Bar), a Welcome Party (Atrium Spa), Ceremony (Garden Gazebo), Cocktail Hour (Infinity Bar), and Reception (Blue Lagoon Buffet Restaurant). We planned out and priced out various different options for each event and negotiated prices with the weddings department. In the end, I think we did pretty good as far as getting the most bang for our buck. Gully beach is an awesome location for a more intimate gathering as long as you can stand being outside, but unfortunately it rained so we had to move our ladies tea party to a section of the Infinity Bar, which worked out OK. Miss Lou's Bar is a great place for guys to hang, smoke cigars, play poker, etc. and is located in the middle inside location of Infinity Bar. Our Welcome Party was at the Atrium, which is a stunning location and had I known in advance that it was going to down pour on my ceremony, I would of chosen to move to this location. We had a cocktail party here with desserts and open bar and the DJ's PA System Rental, which we used for our friends and family to perform for us as in an Indian Sangeet without the dancing. Our Ceremony was at the Garden Gazebo, which is a stunning location and, even with the rain, the view is breathtaking. It's also perfect for a Mandap if you're having an Indian Ceremony as we were. Cocktail Party was a the Infinity Bar as well, which was nice but they lined up the chairs and tables in rows and I would of preferred them to be in circles so that's the only thing I'd change about that. The Indian appetizers from Bhogali Restaurant were way better then the entrees. Our Reception was at Blue Lagoon Restaurant, which they block off a side section so that you have one bar, a dance floor, and tables for your event. We had them change the dance floor location so that it was in the middle of two wings of tables, which we recommend instead of having off to the side. This way everyone can feel part of the action. The food definitely wasn't as great, but we have high standards. To be honest, we were also all so drunk and too busy dancing to pay as close attention to the food. We also didn't even cut or taste our cake as we didn't want the party to stop :) My big suggestion would be to have fans at your reception as well as daytime events, since it gets incredibly hot when you're dancing the night away without AC. Everyone was soaking wet!
We used Brian Nejedly (http://www.briandesign.com/
) as our Photographer and he worked with a Videographer named Noel. He was originally going to have his wife do the videography as he has starting to offer it as well, but she wasn't able to so I'm guessing he worked something out with this videographer and an assistant, who were both very good as well. Brian is a great guy, warm and personable. He got along with everyone and even brought a couple of our friends to the hospital for their son who had been sick for several days and needed IV fluids. His prices were also very reasonable and we have over 1,000 photos to pick and choose from when it was all said and done. The only not so great aspect is his website, which isn't the most user friendly to view pics on and he definitely could have been a bit more take charge as we had a large wedding party with a lot of drinkers and they definitely needed to be given orders to get pictures we needed. It's a good thing I have such a big mouth or we wouldn't have gotten any of the formal shots :) Brian was also very quick and provided us with a slide show for our local reception, which was just one week later. We also received the link to all of our photos in that time frame as well. We're still waiting on revisions to a short highlight video and the full video coverage, but I believe video always takes longer. Overall, working with him was a great experience and I'd highly recommend him. If anyone is interested, feel free to check out our photos at below link.
Lorraine was our Wedding Coordinator and Erica, the Weddings Manager, also helped out a lot (I think because it was a big wedding). She was pretty awesome all around. There were a couple moments that I could tell they weren't too happy about us continuing to negotiate as we were pretty persistent about saving as much money as possible seeing as how we were having several events for over 70 people. They handled it in stride, however, and were supportive throughout it all. Even asking if I wanted to change location right before walking down the aisle :)
Pandit & Mehndi Artist:
So the big reason we choose Jamaica was because there was a resort with an Indian Restaurant and an available Pandit (Pandit Lyle Nathan Sharma) and Mehndi Artist (Shakira Khan) who lived on the Island. Since we were having two receptions (one in Jamaica & one local), it was very important for us to save wherever we could. Therefore, these were huge positives seeing as how we did not want to have to pay to fly out vendors. However, we definitely wish we had spent the money and done so. I'm not really one to give bad reviews, but I was not pleased with either the Mehndi Artist or Pandit. Perhaps, my expectation is high given that I've had mehndi done in India and been a part of previous pooja's with great Pandits, but I was definitely disappointed. Shakira is a very sweet person, but her mehndi skills are unfortunately not professional level. Her work achieved the overall look I needed for my wedding, but I ended up scrubbing it off over the next few days so that my sister-in-law and family friend could redo it for my local reception. Now, the Pandit, where should I even begin :) We had several exchanges prior to the wedding- even an hour long video chat- going over the whole program, including order and what we wanted. He did not follow anything we had discussed and completely did his own thing. We were actually warned by Shakira the day before that he did things differently than what most Indians were used to as he is from Trinidad. Of course, he was the only option and the wedding was the next day, so it was what it was. The one good thing about it is that because he was so all over the place, it forced my sister-in-law, mother-in-law, and Aunties to jump in and tell him what to do next. It was pretty comical actually :)
We used the resort's DJ as my interaction with Damane was good leading up to the wedding. They did a pretty good job as they provided everything we asked for, including a PA System Rental for our Welcome Party and full DJ Services and some lighting for our Reception. We had planned on providing a list of our favorite songs for them to play but, with so much going on, it never happened. I would definitely suggest you do this in advance, however, as they are a bit behind the times and played lots of oldies but goodies. We all danced like maniacs, but had to hook up our phones for any requests of more current songs. I also recommend going with some lighting if you can as it helped to give the location a real party feel with the up lights. All depends on if that's what you're going for I guess.
I did all my decorations and bouquets myself, except for the bridal bouquet and floral arrangements that we're included in our Palladium Sapphire Package. We were originally going to go with Bliss in Bloom until I found out that none of my own decorations could be added to it since it was one of the designer packages. Since I wanted to add decorations to the gazebo to give it more of a Mandap feel, I decided to change packages to the Palladium's own Sapphire one, which was cheaper anyway. I then added freeze-dried rose petals, chair sashes, hanging fake rose balls, and hanging crystal garlands to step it up. For my reception, I had octagonal mirrors with pillar candles of different heights surrounded by rose petals. I also did my own welcome bags, which included the following: an itinerary that I created, resort map, and tropical themed items (island fruit snacks, plantain chips, coconut lip balm, Caribbean breeze antibacterial spray, banana boat sunblock, strobe light key chain, glow stick bracelets, and retro sunglasses. Preparing and bringing all of the above was no small feat as we had to pack and have family bring it all, however, we saved tons of money by doing so. Therefore, if you're on a budget, it's the way to go if you're willing to put in work. I loved the overall look and feel of everything as it was just enough to add to the absolutely gorgeous backdrop of Jamaica.
I had a vision of my wedding ceremony (and other events). This vision included me walking down the long path to the garden gazebo with the sun shining and all my loved ones sitting watching me and my family waiting for me on the gazebo with the gorgeous view of the ocean behind them. Let's just say, the universe had something else in mind :) It rained on my ceremony, it was clear and beautiful and then the thunder came followed by pouring rain and gusts of wind. It was hard for me in the moment, but I consciously chose to surrender and be present. I am so grateful for that because I was able to take in how incredibly beautiful it all was... The rain cooled it down tremendously as it was so hot, we were sweating standing still and no one would of been able to sit directly under the sun. I walked down the aisle with my brother who held an umbrella over me and everyone clapped. The rain also forced all of our closest loved ones onto and under the gazebo with us, which meant everyone was a part of our ceremony. I received the gift of being able to individually look into the eyes of my people and I will never forget those moments. I wanted an intimate wedding and I got it. So no one used the fans I took forever to decide on and children didn't blow the bubbles that were there and programs specially ordered from India laid on the chairs soaking wet, but I felt surrounded by love throughout the entire ceremony and I wouldn't change any of it if I could. I say all this to say, let it all go. Plan your wedding and make your decisions as detailed as you want them to be, but please, please, find a way once you are in it- to just surrender and let what happens, happen, while you enjoy it for what it is: your loved ones celebrating you and your love... come what may.