When I was planning my wedding I had a hard time finding information on Secrets St. James Montego Bay. Luckily I stumbled across BDW and a few other Secrets brides who proved immensely helpful to me during my planning. Since there still seems to be very little information about this amazing resort, I wanted to provide a quick review of the various amenities, services and of course the wedding itself! Here goes!
Updating this post to include info on our AMAZING TA, Babs from Wright Travel!
Travel Agent (A+++):
Thanks to this site I found Wright Travel and I'm so glad I did! Babs was awesome to work with, super good at replying to all of my many emails and questions, and it was so nice not having to field questions from all of our guests. Babs negotiated an awesome group rate for us and then got it reduced when I noticed prices had gone down a few months before the wedding. She also set up all of our transfers to/from the airport so wedding guests just had to go to the marked shuttles for a free ride to the resort. If you're on the fence about getting a TA, just do it! They can handle your guests while you do the fun part and plan the wedding!
Hotel grounds/rooms (A++):
If youâ€™ve been on the Secrets website or Googled pics of it then I donâ€™t have to tell you the resort is gorgeous. Itâ€™s only a few years old and very well-kept. During my week there I frequently saw the staff painting and touching up things that to me looked perfectly fine, but just goes to show they are constantly keeping this property in tip-top shape. We stayed in a Preferred Club room on the St. James side. The room was nice, but if I had to do it over again I might have just stayed in a regular room. The only additional perks offered by the Preferred Club room are a bathtub on the balcony (never used itâ€”a gecko was camped out in ours. Thatâ€™s not what kept us away though. He was actually kind of cute and we shooed him away. The tubs are just on the balcony for all to see so itâ€™s not super practical) and a lobby with free snacks and drinks. As itâ€™s already an all-inclusive, this seemed unnecessary. So next time Iâ€™d opt for a regular room in one of the buildings closer to the main area of the resort (St. James Preferred is all the way at the end, near the spa and tennis courts.) Note: the Wild Orchid Preferred rooms offer swim-up suites on the ground level which looked fun.
I found Secrets to be the ideal size. Our wedding party included 37 people, and I felt like the resort was large enough that you didnâ€™t have to all be on top of each other but still manageable enough that other wedding party guests were easily found. We tended to hang out near the same pool everyday so it was very easy to meet up when we wanted to. Also, during the entire week we stayed there I never had trouble finding a pool or beach chair to lounge in. I know at some resorts this can be an issue and you almost have to wake up early to stake out a seat for the day. Not so at Secrets! Well, at least not in April/May when I was there.
So you probably know by now that Secrets is actually two resorts in oneâ€”the St. James side and the Wild Orchid side. Iâ€™d read that prior to going but didnâ€™t know how that actually worked. When you arrive you see that they are literally next door (the parking turnaround where you get dropped off has Wild Orchid to the left and St. James to the right). You are welcome to use the pools and restaurants on any side you wish. Most of the restaurants are on the WO side.
I thought the overall vibe at the hotel was great. My husband and I and most of our guests are 30, so we werenâ€™t looking for a crazy party scene. Nor did we want it to be totally quiet and snoozeville. I found Secrets to be fun without being like a Vegas bachelorette weekend. I also enjoyed that it was adults only, which I realize may be a con for some.
We ran into several people who asked if it was our first time and who told us it was their second or third trip. The fact that so many people make return trips speaks very highly of the resort! Weâ€™re planning to return, too.
Overall the food was pretty good. Iâ€™m not a big fan of breakfast so I tended to get just fruit and maybe a bagel at the buffet. They had quite a spread though and Iâ€™m told that it was pretty good. For lunch, skip the buffets and restaurants and camp out near the beach/pool area to wait for the jerk chicken cart. Easily one of the highlights of the food offerings at this resort and Iâ€™m not ashamed to say I had it every day. There are also carts around the pool area that chop up fresh fruit while you wait, or fresh coconut water. Yum. For dinner, take advantage of the sit-down restaurants. I recommend Portofino, the Italian option, and Himistu, the Japanese Benihana-style place where the waiters sing and perform while grilling up your dinner.
Everywhere we went we had great service, and most requests are answered with a friendly â€œno worries, monâ€ or a â€œyah, mon!â€ Love it. Most of the staff makes an effort to learn your name and greet you personally, and after the wedding we felt like rockstars walking around since by then everyone seemed to know us. We got stopped a lot by people who worked there and had seen the wedding and wanted to comment on how beautiful it was. That was nice!
Nighttime Entertainment (:
There are a few options for nighttime entertainment: a piano bar, outdoor entertainment that ranges from live music and acrobatics to games where you might be called up on stage to participate, a theater where there are live plays and performances and a nightclub. Our group tended to hang out at the outdoor entertainment area which is adjacent to the piano barâ€”so convenient! We went to the nightclub after the wedding as our after-party, and that was fun but I couldnâ€™t tell you how it is on a regular night since I didnâ€™t really go otherwise. I feel like if my husband and I had been on vacation alone the evenings could have gotten to be a bit boring, but since we had our entire wedding party to hang out with we were sufficiently entertained just sitting outside listening to music with cocktails.
Not sure if I can truly grade the spa as I only got a mani/pedi and not a massage or other typical spa service. But I did use the sauna, steam room, hydrotherapy pool and hot tub. Thereâ€™s supposedly a circuit youâ€™re supposed to complete where you go from each area to the next with stops in a cooling shower between each round. The spa staff explains this to you but you can complete it at your leisure, or not at all, if you choose. If you want to take advantage of these other amenities just make sure to arrive with enough time before your scheduled spa service. I think they advise an hour, which was plenty. The manicure and pedicure were fine. Nothing spectacular about it, good or bad.
You have a choice of getting married on the beach, in one of the gazebos (they only hold about 10 people though), in the beachfront casita, or in the ballroom. We selected Marlin Beach for our location. Itâ€™s not totally private for anyone who is concerned about privacy. It is pretty much directly in front of the St. James Preferred Club pool, but the staff does a good job sectioning off the area on either side so no one can get too close. The hotel guests in the pool were very quiet and respectful during the ceremony and they hooped and hollered when it was over. Over the rest of the weekend/week we had a lot of people come up to say they saw from the pool and cried and thought it was beautiful. Slightly creepy but mostly nice! Haha.
For cocktail hour, guests moved over to the beachfront casita area. The steel drum band (more on them below) set up in the casita and then there were cocktail tables and a bar on the beach, with passed appetizers.
Dinner and dancing also took place on the beach. We splurged and got a dance floor, which they set up in the center of the beach area. The buffet was directly behind the dance floor, the sweetheart table was in front, and then the guest tables were clustered around on either side, forming a square. I thought this was a perfect setupâ€”we could see everything and it was intimate enough that we could easily interact with everyone.
Note: You can opt to have your cocktail hour and reception in the ballroom or on a grassy area, but we figured if we were going to have a beach wedding in Jamaica we may as well go all the way!
For food, we had a buffet that we hear was delicious. I canâ€™t really say since I didnâ€™t get to sample most of it! The wedding staff takes the the bride and groomâ€™s orders and serves you, which is very nice. All the guests are able to get up and serve themselves. The wedding cake was AMAZING. We opted for a small cake on top so we could cut something and then cupcakes for all of the guests. I love cake and desserts and was very impressed with this one, especially since the other desserts I had at the resort were not that good. We chose vanilla cake but you can also get chocolate or Jamaican fruit.
We used Tai Flora, which is the same vendor Secrets uses if you choose to upgrade your flowers beyond the standard carnations that are included. I had them create 10 pomanders for aisle markers, my bouquet, a bridesmaid bouquet for my MOH and two boutonnieres. They also provided the archway with crystals where the ceremony took place (I brought the purple fabric with me.) Overall I think they did a good job capturing what I wanted based on the inspiration pics I provided. In my crazy bride head my bouquet and the pomanders didnâ€™t look exactly like Iâ€™d pictured, but no one else would have ever realized. Warning: Tai Flora is pricey. Flowers are something I really wanted though so this was a splurge.
For music, we opted to embrace the Jamaican setting by having a single steel drummer at the ceremony. He played instrumental versions of a handful of songs I selected while guests waited, and then a steel drum version of Jason Mrazâ€™s â€œIâ€™m Yoursâ€ while I walked down the aisle. After the wedding my husband and I walked back up the aisle to Bob Marleyâ€™s â€œCould You Be Loved.â€ Good times. During cocktail hour we had a steel drum band. I honestly couldnâ€™t tell you what they sang as we were off taking pictures, but everyone told me they were great. For the party portion of the night, DJ Blu played a selection of songs that weâ€™d emailed to him prior to the wedding.
We decided to use Saab weddings to capture our special day. Since Michael and Olive were booked the day of our wedding we had to go with the associates. This turned out to be a good thingâ€”the associates are slightly cheaper, plus they were super nice and we loved working with them. Not to say Michael and Olive arenâ€™t nice, I just have never met them.
We purchased the 5 hour package and had them arrive early enough for the getting ready shots and a few first look images before the ceremony, but that meant they didnâ€™t stay through the entire reception. Though they were there for the cake cutting and first dances and some of the party, they missed the wish lanterns at the end of the night. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things.
I will say that our wedding package (Secrets Ultimate) also included a Secrets photographer and videographer. They took some great shots too and I love that we now have a 30 minute DVD of the ceremony.
Hair and Makeup (A++):
Because I am a control freak and like to know exactly what Iâ€™m getting into before doing things, I opted not to use the hotel hair and makeup. I instead researched local hair and makeup artists since I could talk with them in advance, view portfolios, see other bridesâ€™ reviews, etc. I ended up using Pretty Faces. Peter-Gaye Rose was awesome to work with . She set up a Skype meeting so we could chat â€œin personâ€ about what I wanted to look like on the wedding day. I sent her some inspiration pics and she was pretty close to what I envisioned. I also love that she does airbrushing. I felt it gave me a natural, but long-lasting look. Peter-Gaye also has a hair person who works with her. I told her I wanted loose curls, which she captured perfectly. They were very reasonably priced as well.
I couldnâ€™t have imagined better weather for the actual wedding day. Perfectly sunny and gorgeous. Slightly hot, but nothing unbearable. The weather was pretty great the whole time we were there, actually. It rained a teeny bit on two different days near the end of our stay, but they were tropical storms where the air temperature was still warm and the rainfall was short lived.
Dunn's River Falls Excursion (A):
We planned a group outing to Dunnâ€™s River Falls as a fun outing for us and our guests. While working with the Secrets WCs to plan your wedding, theyâ€™ll send you a document with all of the offered excursions and tours from their partner tour company, AmStar. We contacted AmStar to set up a private tour to Dunnâ€™s Falls which included: private van to take us to/from the waterfall, a tour guide, and entrance to the park. This was a really fun day for those of us who went. The actual climb is very easy. The hardest part is just trying not to slip in some areas, but itâ€™s not physically demanding like I imagine climbing Everest is! Warning #1: this is about a 2 hr drive each way, so that plus the time to climb means this takes up a good portion of your day. Warning #2: there is a little shopping village you have to walk through when youâ€™re done climbing the waterfall to get back to where the tour buses are parked. The vendors can be pretty aggressive trying to sell you stuff, but if you just ignore them youâ€™re fine.
Welcome Bonfire (A):
One of the options you can add on to your wedding package is a Welcome Bonfire that includes a DJ (DJ Blu who was our wedding DJ too), an open bar, and sâ€™mores. We had this the night before the wedding and it was a fun way to welcome everyone and get them excited for the next dayâ€™s festivities. This was also a way that people who didnâ€™t already know each other could meet and become acquainted before the wedding.
We loved getting married at Secrets. Everything was superb, from the venue to the actual wedding. Our friends and family say they had an amazing time too and the best part is that a lot of new friendships were formed. Weâ€™ve already started talking about planning another group trip!!
A Few Secrets Doâ€™s and Donâ€™ts:
- If you make OOT bags, DONâ€™T pay the $4/bag fee for Secrets to deliver your bags. The resort is small enough that you will see your guests out and about and can distribute them yourself.
- DO get the jerk chicken. Like every day. Seriously.
- DO go to Dunnâ€™s River Falls. Itâ€™s one of the most iconic tourist attractions in Jamaica and I highly recommend checking it out.
- DONâ€™T stress out too muchâ€”the Secrets staff knows what theyâ€™re doing and youâ€™ll have a beautiful day.
- DO eat as much food as you can at the wedding. We were too busy to eat most of it but what I had was delicious, especially the cake!!!!!
- DO get either the steel drummer or the steel drum band for that island feel.