Review – The Worst Hilton I Have Ever Stayed At – Jewel Dunn’s River – Ocho Rios, Jamaica

On the whole, I have stayed in hundreds, if not thousands, of hotels over all of my years of travel. The Hilton Curio Collection Jewel Dunn’s River in Ocho Rios, Jamaica unequivocally ranks as the absolute worst Hilton property I have ever stayed at. The stay was so bad, that I have actually considered swearing off Hilton hotels on the whole.


 

To start this off, I would like to say that I have been extremely loyal to Hilton over the years. I have held Gold status with the chain for the last several years and will usually go out of my way to stay at Hilton properties because I appreciate that their footprint is worldwide and have found that for the most part, the properties are pretty good places to stay. I have also had some truly exceptional stays at properties like the Conrad Centennial Singapore, the Tokyo Hilton and The Reach Waldorf Astoria Resort in Key West, Florida. But the quality of the room and the level of the service at the Hilton Curio Collection Jewel Dunn’s River was so bad that I had to double check to make sure I was not staying at a Motel 6.

I think it is also worth noting that I was not the only person staying at this property who commented on the same issues. So in case you might be thinking that I was just being an asshole during the stay (I am more the type that smiles and greets every staff member I encounter and says please and thank you, but everyone is entitled to their opinion), it was not just me having the issues I am going to discuss in this review.

Now, to be completely fair, I was contacted by the property manager, as well as by Harry Conrad Hilton – a Senior Board of Director at Hilton Worldwide – to discuss my stay. I will of course include their contributions and assessment of the issues, as well as the only positive outcome of this entire experience, in my review. Without further ado, on to the review!

I opted to do a paid stay at this property as the points redemptions were north of 90,000 HHonors points per night. In contrast, I paid ~$270 per night during the stay – and feel like I both overpaid and got royally ripped off at that. It is worth noting that this is an all inclusive property so your food and drinks are included in the room rate. That makes the nightly rate a little easier to stomache.

We arrived at Montego Bay Sangster International Airport around 1 PM. After clearing customs and immigration, we exited out into a big hall filled with numerous resort, rental car and tour desks. The Curio offers a complimentary shuttle service from Montego Bay Airport (MBJ) to the property, though the website provides no additional information on where to pick this shuttle up. There were no signs for the Curio, so after some poor directions from an airport staff member, we were directed to the wrong line. As it turned out, we had to go outside to a guy with a clipboard who took our names and assigned us to a tour bus. There were no signs advertising we were in the right place, but after some asking around we found the right gentleman with a clipboard (there were a lot of them).

In hindsight, this really should have been my first indication as to what we were in for during this stay. The shuttle is operated by a private company and makes stops at several other properties along the way, so you can expect about a 2 hour ride from the airport to the property.

Once the shuttle reached the property, we were dropped off at a rotunda in front of the open air lobby.

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The issues started literally right off the bus as there were no instructions on what I would later find out is the single dumbest check-in procedure I have ever encountered. Instead, there was a bellman who attempted to take my bag for me. Now, let me start by saying I travel light in general. But when you are going to Jamaica for 3 days for a wedding, my single carry-on roller bag is small enough for me to handle on my own. No big deal, I politely thanked him and stated that I could take my bag.

I am not sure if he just did not hear me or if he decided to actively ignore me (I think it was the latter) and instead started to take my bag again. Once again, I grabbed my bag from him and politely told him I could take my bag. He walked away at that point.

As we were there for a wedding, it just so happened that the groom – a good friend of mine – was waiting in the lobby with some other friends of mine. While exchanging hellos with everyone I turned around to see that same bellman rolling my bag away. Now I am starting to get a little pissed off because I have clearly told this person twice that I would take my bag with me. I walked over to where he had placed my bag and retrieved it.

After exchanging our hellos, I headed over to the desk with the Hilton HHonors sign on it to check-in.

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When I reached the desk, I was told that I do not check-in there, but instead I needed to take a seat in the lobby. Notably we were checking in after the official check-in time on the website, so I thought that was pretty strange, but I played along. So I took a seat in the open air lobby.

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After sitting there for about 5 minutes, a gentleman came by with a rum punch drink and a cold towel, which I thought was a nice touch – though I could have done without his “I hate my life” demeanor and scowl on his face. I inquired at that point as to what the deal was with check-in and was told that I should have been provided a check-in form. When I told him I never received it, he came back with a copy of the check-in form on a clipboard.

Now, the check-in form was the single dumbest thing I have seen at a hotel. It asked for the exact same information that my Hilton HHonors profile contains. I can certainly understand them needing this information for non-HHonors members, but as a Diamond, I found it odd (and useless) that this property needed the information they already had on file for me.

After filling out the form, we sat there for another 15 minutes or so. Numerous staff members passed by and saw the form on the clipboard in my hands, but said nothing about my needing to take that form up to the counter to complete check-in. So now after 20 minutes of sitting in the lobby, I finally reached the exact same HHonors desk that I tried to check-in at 20 minutes earlier.

At this point, I was admittedly pretty annoyed by the whole process and expressed my discontent over no one telling me I needed to bring the form to the desk to the associate checking me in. The associate checking me in looked me square in the eyes and blatantly lied to my face stating that she told me to bring the form to the desk when she handed it to me. Unless she magically changed her sex and her outfit, she definitely was not the person who provided me the check-in form. I opted to just let it go though as I wanted to get a drink and some food.

Interestingly, I was never welcomed to the hotel, nor was my HHonors status recognized. I find this be a very basic thing that hotel chains do when their frequent guests check in. Although when you are dealing with someone who never so much as even smiles during your interaction, what can you really expect? The associate handed me an envelope which contained the rooms keys, a map of the property and some various other information. I was informed of my room number and directed to the elevators.

When I turned around, my favorite bellman had my bag in his hands for a third time. I, once again, politely declined his services and grabbed my bag. Instead of letting it go, he decided to just hang onto my bag. Now, for a fourth time, I had to stop and tell him I would take my own bag. Instead of letting it go, he held on the top handle as I rolled it to the elevator. At that point I literally had to rip my own bag out of his hands. I have seriously never encountered anything like that in my life.

The Curio utilizes 4 digit room numbers. The first number is the building your room is in. The second number is the floor your room is on. And the third and fourth numbers are your room number on that floor. So we were assigned room 2320. Not knowing how the numbering works since no one told me at check-in, we ended up on the second floor looking for our room. Thankfully someone directed us to the third floor and we were able to find the room.

I had originally booked a garden view room, but was upgraded to an ocean view room at check-in. Not that I knew that though since I had not been told a single thing about the room (like what floor it was on) when I checked in. The room was spacious upon walking in with a king sized bed in the middle of the room.

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In one corner was a comfortable chair next to mini bar area.

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The mini bar area had world’s slowest coffee maker and some complimentary bottles of water. And no, I am not kidding when I tell you it took that coffee maker 20-25 minutes to brew a 4 cup mini pot of coffee. The cabinet above had the bottom cut out and looked like it was set up for an alcohol shot dispenser – which was odd.

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On the far side of the room was a small table and the dresser which also housed the television.

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The bathroom comprised the remainder of the room.

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There was a closet on the left which featured a safe and the iron and ironing board.

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The bathroom itself was to the right in a separate room.

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The amenities were specially bottled for the property – though I cannot say that they felt like anything more than generic soap, shampoo and conditioner.

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The balcony featured a table and two chairs overlooking the pool and the ocean.

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The view was pretty good from the balcony, though I would imagine the higher rooms have an even better view.

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Coming back into the room, I opened the envelope that the front desk had provided me when I checked in. The first thing I noticed was the letter addressed to “Adam Vasey”.

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I certainly understand that typos happen, but come on! You have all of my information in your systems and you can’t even be bothered to spell my last name right!? It is 5 letters!

The next thing I pulled out of the packet was a map with wedding locations.

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Except, none of the wedding events were taking place on the property. So they gave us a map of events for the wrong wedding. Are you seeing the sloppy pattern here?

While I was looking at the map, I started to notice there was some discoloration on the walls. Sure enough, there was mold all over the room! In a lot of places it looked like they had just painted right over it.

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Both my girlfriend and myself are both allergic to mold, so this is a pretty big deal for both of us.

I went into the bathroom to change into my bathing suit and noticed that the tub appeared to be rusting through.

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The chrome handles on the tub were also in pretty bad shape and were deteriorating to the point of almost disintegrating in certain places.

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Even the lamp shades were disgusting and had the wire underneath rusting through the shade material!

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Wouldn’t you feel like you were getting your moneys worth paying ~$270 per night for this? Unfortunately, due to the wedding, the hotel was full up so there was nothing we could do.

We headed down to search out some food after seeing how shabby the room was. The property itself looked great with a lot of open areas.

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As it was about 4 PM by the time we started our search for food, on the pizza place and the pool bar and grille was open.

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We were the only people at the pizza place and ended up ordering 2 personal pizzas. While we waited, it started raining and there were not covered tables by the pizza place, so we headed for some cover. After about 20 minutes, I walked over to inquire as to the status. To my surprise, I was told they did not have any orders, but they could make us pizzas if we wanted. Now mind you, these were the same two people who took our order the first time and no one else had been up there as it was pouring rain.

I would come to find out that this was how they operated at the property. Unless you stood and watched them while they made your food, they would conveniently “forget” to make whatever you had ordered. This happened half a dozen times during our stay and literally everyone we talked to at the property had the exact same experience. When we finally received our pizzas nearly an hour later, I thought the pizzas were decent enough (though it is pretty hard to screw up pizza).

The Food

I have to say, on the whole, the food was mediocre at best. I would describe the menus as “dumbed down American cuisine.” Even the “jerk chicken” was simply chicken with a little black pepper on it. The property boasts 6 dining options – 3 casual and 3 formal. The 3 casual options were:

  • Aquamarine Beach Bar & Grill – Offering things like hamburgers, turkey sandwiches, jerk chicken wraps, nachos and popcorn.
  • Court Jesters Pizza – Offering coal fired pizzas.
  • Coral Cafe – Offering buffet style dining with a variety of dishes.

The 3 formal options required long pants and closed toed shoes (which for a beach resort I really don’t understand) were:

  • Moonstone – Offering Italian type food.
  • Platinum – Offering Caribbean cuisine.
  • The Jade Samurai – Offering Benihana style hibachi.

The formal options all appeared to require reservations ahead of time and were (rather rudely) turned away from the Jade Samurai when we tried to go for dinner one night.

I ate at all 3 of the casual offerings and at Platinum one morning for breakfast. The only good meal I had was at Platinum where they had a fantastic pulled chicken eggs benedict. Surprisingly, despite the property being located on the ocean, I did not see a single seafood option while we were there. Not even offering a fish sandwich or some shrimp at a resort next to the ocean in a country known for fresh seafood was mind boggling.

To be honest, I am not a super picky eater and it was not that the food was actively bad. OK, well, some it was actively bad. But the quality was akin to what I would expect from a gas station – not a resort that I am paying nearly $300 per night for.

With that said, you really cannot beat the pool and the beach at this property. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

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I am also a big fan of swim up pool bars and this property had a few of them. Unfortunately, the service was in line with the rest of our experiences – horrid. Here was one of my interactions at the pool bar.

Me:  Hey, how’s it going?

Bartender:  ::blank stare::

Me:  Can I get a Red Stripe, please?

Bartender:  OK

::Bartender takes other drink orders. Makes other drinks. Comes back to me::

Bartender:  What can I get you?

Me:  I will take a Red Stripe, please.

Bartender:  OK

::Bartender takes other drink orders. Makes other drinks. Comes back to me::

Bartender:  What did you want?

Me:  (a little annoyed) Red Stripe, please.

::Bartender takes other drink orders. Makes other drinks. Comes back to me::

Bartender:  ::just points at me this time::

Me:  Red Stripe, please. Just like the 3 other times.

Bartender:  ::dirty look::

::Bartender pours beer, mixes tomato juice into it and hands it to me::

Me:  I just wanted a regular old Red Stripe please.

Bartender:  ::rolls eyes and jerks the drink away and pours a fresh one::

It took me literally 15 minutes to GET A DRAFT BEER. And I had to deal with attitude and eye rolls to boot. This was a common theme from 95% of the bartenders I encountered.

And this was really indicative of the attitudes of the majority of the staff – rude and they seemed genuinely annoyed that you were asking them to do anything (and I mean ANYTHING). The one exception came from the cook at the Aquamarine Bar & Grill who was absolutely awesome (more on her later though).

There were other random issues too. For example, they stopped handing out towels at the pool around 6 PM – even though the pool remained opened during this time. So your options were to walk to your room on the slippery tile soaking wet, or grab a used towel you found left on one of the chairs (gross!).

Then there was scheduling for the shuttle to take us back to the airport. I was told they would slip a reminder of our shuttle time under the door the night before we departed so that we would know. Except that never happened. Thankfully I remember things like this pretty well, but why tell guests you are going to do something and then not follow through? It is not like guests taking the shuttle back to the airport was a rare occurrence or anything.

Things Get Escalated

After the check-in issues, I was willing to chalk it up to just some people having a bad day and a bad process. But after numerous issues with the room, poor food quality and the attitudes of most of the staff, I fired up my iPhone intent on sending out a Tweet to Hilton letting them know how bad this property was. The only problem was the internet in the room was so atrocious that you could not even use it to send e-mail. I literally had to walk down to the lobby, which had the only usable wi-fi in the entire hotel, to send a message to Hilton letting them know how bad the property was. I received the following Tweet back.

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That was followed up by a Tweet from the property manager asking me to meet her in the lobby. Except with wi-fi that is not even usable enough to load Twitter, I did not see it until well past that time. Not to mention the stay was past salvaging in my opinion at that point.

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That day we came back to a fruit platter waiting for us in the room.

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This would have been a nice gesture, but the fruit (at least the pineapple I tried) was unripe and tasted horrible. Nice touch Hilton!

We also came back to this on the bed.

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But don’t think this was special to our room. As it turns out everyone else received a different arrangement each day. We only received the one during our stay.

As that evening was the wedding, we were out until the wee hours of the morning partying the night away and having a blast. The next morning when I checked my Twitter, I had received a Tweet from Harry Conrad Hilton.

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That started a direct message exchange between the two of us where I outlined all of my issues with the property. I will post all of his responses here so you can see them unedited. I will spare you my rehashing of the events, though all of what is in this review was sent to him, along with the same pictures of the room that are posted in this review.

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In my last message to Mr. Hilton, I told him about the female cook at the Aquamarine Bar & Grill. She was absolutely incredible – warm, engaging with all of the guests, funny, charming and just all around awesome. It was also the only time I received ordered food quickly. I have tried hard lately to go out of my way to make sure those employees who are excellent get the kudos they deserved so I let Mr. Hilton know that, although I did not get her name (she was the only one working during a specific day and time), that she should be the one that is training the staff on how they should be treating guests. To my surprise, Hilton took my advice and offered her a position doing just that!

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Although I was greatly disappointed over the stay, I thought this was extremely awesome to see someone who truly deserved recognition and praise to get not only that, but also a promotion! I gained a lot of respect for Mr. Hilton by his following through like this.

My Thoughts On How The Matter Was Handled

Overall, I was shocked that someone at Mr. Hilton’s level would get involved with something like this. I never thought voicing my dissatisfaction with the property would lead to him getting involved. And although I am grateful he did get involved and am extremely happy with the promotion, I cannot help but walk away from this experience still disappointed.

I rarely go in to things with expectations these days, and this is something I rarely talk about (especially on my blog), but I honestly expected some kind of good will gesture of HHonors points or a partial refund from my stay. I have encountered issues on a far smaller scale than I did at this property and received either a complete or partial refund of my stay, or a good will gesture of some HHonors points and I am honestly a little surprised that neither were offered after all of this. But such is life. You live and you learn and I learned that I will never step foot on this property again.

Final Thoughts

I have exceedingly low expectations for hotels these days. I have 3 expectations going in – 1) a friendly staff; 2) a clean room; and 3) that my status and loyalty with the brand are acknowledged. When the hotel fails at all 3 of these basic expectations, it is a horrible hotel in my book. Although the property is gorgeous and the pool and beach are great, it really does not make up for the abysmal service, the disgusting room and the horrible food. I would honestly not recommend that anyone stay at this property. Instead, I would recommend that you take a look at the Hyatt properties on the island as I think you will be much happier with your stay.

While I am ecstatic that the property will have the guidance of an individual that really understands what hospitality is all about, I am truly shocked and confused as to why and how Hilton could allow a property to reach this level. The experience as a whole has me seriously considering making a permanent switch to SPG (at least until the Marriott merger is completed anyways).

What would you have done in my position?

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