We recently stayed at Beaches T&C in the Italian Village. We were travelling with our 6 year old and stayed in a concierge level pool walkout suite.
i will break our review into relevant sections, but first a bit of background. We are not big all inclusive travellers. When we do go to an all inclusive we realize we are not going to be eating michelin starred gourmet food. Some people writing reviews on this resort seem to be setting their expectations a bit high. We also expect the pool and beach areas to be a bit busier in these resorts than in the more laid back locations we visit. A reasonable wait for a table in a restaurant also doesn't bother us much. Lastly when travelling in the tropics bugs are to be expected and can be dealt with calmly. A few ants in the room are certainly not cause for a major tantrum on trip advisor. We wiped them off the counter with a wet facecloth. this only had to be done two or three times the entire trip and only when crumbs or food had been left out. On to the review :)
Beaches has a fantastic location on grace bay beach. It is only a short taxi trip from the airport. The view is spectacular and the water colour is that wonderful caribbean blue you love to see on your postcards.
The airport is small and is undergoing expansion construction, so be patient. We were fortunate and there wasn't a flight in front of us so the lines moved fairly quickly and we were on our way to the resort in about 30 minutes. Try doing that in your home airport, so no complaints there. There aren't luggage carts inside the airport so your options are to use a porter or carry your bags yourself. We used a porter and tipped him $2 per bag. The Beaches meeting point is really not that far outside, so managing your own bags is an easy alternative. The beaches representative at the airport is efficient and will mark your bags with your room number and direct you to a waiting spot until your shuttle is leaving. There is cold water available as well. We only waited about 3 minutes for our van and then off to the resort. The taxi drivers are some of the friendlier people you will meet, there is even an annual award for best taxi driver! We dropped a few people off at the Key West Village lobby and then arrived at Italian Village lobby. We were met by a beaches representative that showed us to a table in the lobby and offered us fruit punch. All of our check in paperwork was brought to us at the table and the process was pretty simple and fuss free. I suspect this was a benefit of being in a concierge level room. The gentleman taking care of our check in was Romaine from the photo shop and he also booked a free family photo shoot with us for later in the week. He was fantastic, but we will get to that later. The entire check in process only took about 10 minutes and we were shown to our room. Our bags had already been delivered and we were ready start our holiday!
The italian village is lovely and the location is fantastic. Very close to the beach and just a short walk to the kids club and most restaurants and the beach activities. We stayed in a family suite which had a bunk bed with a trundle in the first part of the room and a king bed with a day bed and another trundle in the main section. The bathroom is a good size and there is lots of closet and drawer space. The kids room has a tv and xbox as well, so thats nice at night. We were in a walkout room and our sliding glass door opened onto a small patio with a lounger and chairs and a super handy drying rack. The pool was only about 75 feet away. This was incredibly convenient for coming and goings with a 6 year old. Again this is a benefit of a concierge level room. The resort was about to close for renovations, but honestly the italian village was not in need of any. It is quite modern and we thought it was great. The french village also seemed to be very up to date and modern. The caribeean village looked like it could use some tender loving care, but it also was constructed in the more classic caribbean beach resort style, fairly plain concrete buildings painted in bright colours with little embellishment. Im not sure it matters once you are in the room, but its worth noting. The others are more modern hotel looking buildings. The Key West village was a separate hotel before it was purchased by Beaches and has a completely different feel to it. Much more small resort, laid back, condo style. Rather than the mega resort feel.
we found the rooms to be clean and we never had a problem with the room not being cleaned. once or twice the cleaning was in the afternoon. there is a button inside the room to say it can be cleaned and a button to mark do not disturb. if you have pushed the do not disturb button inadvertently they will absolutely not enter your room, so make sure you pay attention to it. our room was stocked with basically a full bar, beer, wine, spirits, sparkling, pop water juice and it was restocked daily. our bathroom towels were refreshed with cleaning and then again after the evening turn down service.
The pool at the italian village is a busy active hub. The pool is large and has lots of shallow areas for kids to play, as well as a dedicated kids pool to the side. There is a hot tub in one end of the pool and a swim up bar at the other. Finding chairs can be a challenge at this pool and people definitely get up super early in the morning to save spots with towels. Shade is at a premium at this pool, so you will have to plan ahead, and have some luck on your side. The pool chairs are the standard slat style chairs, nothing luxurious but perfectly fine. The cabanas are for the butler service groups only. the butlers also set up chairs and umbrellas for their groups and once when we had gone back to the room for a few minutes, a butler took our umbrella for his group of chairs. We had personal belongings on our chairs not just towels and it was clear we were still using the spot. We weren't very happy with this but we were planning on going to the beach a little later anyway so we just left the pool early, so it didn't warrant a complaint at the time.
the french village pool is quite large but seemed quieter than the italian pool, also, the chairs are the comfy cushioned lounge chairs which is nice. It is close to the kids pools and water slides and has lots of lunch options around the area. there is a pool bar here as well.
the caribbean village has a few options. the main pool is a grotto style pool. smaller than the other two villages but active and there is a pizza joint open almost all day at one end. There is a second pool by Arizonas restaurant that seemed nice and was not quite as busy at the other.
Grace bay beach is very long and extremely picturesque. I say beaches plural because there are three roped off swimming areas in front of the resort. There is quite a bit of boat traffic coming and going, both motorized and non, so it is a good idea to stay inside the buoys. the swimming area in front of the italian village is by far the smallest of the three, due to its location directly next to the boat dock. this also leads to it being a popular area for tubing and parasailing. the beach chairs are nice but they are arranged in fairly dense rows due to the smaller nature of the area. there are a number of thatch umbrellas, folding umbrellas and clamshell shades to be found, but they are usually all taken fairly early in the morning. we found it quite easy to get a nice umbrella spot in the afternoon on the beach.
the area in front of the caribbean village is quite spacious and has a nice large swimming area. likewise the area in front of key west village. We found the beach in front of key west village to be uncrowded and quite nice. You can snorkel in the swimming areas but there is not much to be found in terms of sea life. this did not deter our six year old in the least. beaches has placed some man made reef structures in front of the resort to encourage reef growth, but we were unable to find them, and i suspect they are just on the outside of the swimming areas. the banana rides etc zipping past throughout the day didn't make the risk worth taking to find them.
towels are available at many hutches around the pools and near the dock. however, they do run out quickly. generally they are restocked fairly quickly as well, but you could find yourself in a jam if you didn't prepare. grab fresh towels when the chance presents itself and you should be fine. we never had to wait more than about 20 minutes if we needed towels, and that was only the one time. the towel shack near the scuba office is a good secret stash if you are really in a jam.
it can take a while to get service at one of the busier pool bars, but whats a few moments while you are on holiday? There are servers wandering the pool and beach area, but they are spread fairly thin and we found it much easier to just hop over to the nearest bar to grab a drink. They are sprinkled everywhere on the property around the pools so you are never very far. rather than going to the busy pool bar at the italian village we would go to the one near the lobby and it was rarely busy. it is only about 50 feet from the pool, so hardly an inconvenient distance.
there is a decent combination of buffet and ala carte restaurants around the resort. you will undoubtedly have your favourites and return to them, as we did. We enjoyed marios for breakfast, it is a buffet and is never busy. there is a omlet bar and they have a daily eggs benny special which we enjoyed. Lots of fresh fruit and cereals as well. arizonas is a solid option for lunch and is open late into the afternoon (4pm) they have some good standards and three grills outside, a jerk station, burgers etc, and chicken and steak on the third. it is buffet at lunch. for dinner arizonas is a tex/mex ala cart restaurant. it was decent but wasn't our favourite. schooners is excellent for dinner. it is ala carte and its fish specials are really very good. it can get busy at sunset, your table wait may be 30 minutes, but you couldn't ask for a lovelier vista to have a drink while you wait. grab a seat on one of the cushioned banquets and watch the sun sink into the sea. We were not overly impressed with any of the italian specialty restaurants, buffet or otherwise. i find that many hotels slap italian restaurants all over the place thinking that it is an easy food and everyone likes it. counter intuitively italian food is very hard to get right and most don't. they were acceptable meals but nothing special, and i would not return to one if it were a restaurant at home, but I'm picky about my italian. We did make a reservation one evening at kimonos (the only reservation restaurant). it is a teppanyaki style set up and so the kids love it. the cooks are very entertaining and it makes for a nice evening. Bobby Dees is a diner style restaurant open almost 24 hours and is a great stop for ice cream at the end of a day. its location next to the kids club by the watersides makes it quite convenient. we didn't eat there but it seemed to have solid burgers and snacks. barefoot on the beach is a cool little joint just like it sounds. tuck your toes in the sand and grab breakfast lunch or dinner. we went for lunch and dinner and enjoyed both meals.
we read quite a few reviews complaining that it was hard to find a place that was open during such and such time of day. you should discount these as being reviews from discontented travellers, as even the most frazzled traveller could find at least 3 options at any time of day except 4am-6am, which is the only time there is not at least one restaurant open. obviously we can not expect that all 16 of their restaurants would be open at all hours, that is just not a reasonable expectation. You will be given a list of all the dining options and their hours, with a bit of review you will quickly learn which are open when. most restaurants have an indoor and an outdoor option to suit your temperature sensitivity as well.
as i said before in this environment we are looking for solid options with a few nice surprises. we were not expecting world class gourmet cuisine. we found just what we were looking for, and would definitely recommend Schooners.
There are 4 snorkelling trips daily that take one hour total (or less). you go just off shore to the reefs in front of the resort and snorkel for 30 minutes. If you are concierge level you can prebook these when you arrive. DO THIS IMMEDIATELY. you can always cancel later. The trips book up quickly. otherwise you can go to the snorkel desk by the boat dock at 8:15 when it opens to sign up for the next days trips. get there no later than 8 to have your choice of trips. i was third in line once and the person in front of me took all 20 spots on the early boat, so something to keep in mind. the trip is a nice little jaunt and the guide is excellent. if you aren't on the list its not a waste of time to show up just before the trip and see who doesn't show up, this is pretty common.
The scuba crew is very good, we went on a few dives and they are run professionally and go to good spots. The boats aren't overcrowded but the dives do fill up quickly. again sign up as early as possible. you can always cancel. if you are on the wait list you almost always make the dive. the afternoon single tank dive is a good secret, people regularly have a drink at lunch and then don't show up for the dive, so spots open up every day. if you have not been diving in a while you will need to take a refresher, this will cost $80 because it counts as a class. it is not included in your trip. The gear is well maintained and a good amount of sizes are available, wetsuit rentals are a $10 per day charge. Computers are not available for rent even though they are listed, too many walked away, but since you are diving in a group with a guide, the computer is a good to have, but not a requirement.
lots of good marine life to be seen on both snorkel and dive trips so you shouldn't be disappointed.
the hobie cats are fun to play around with, you can take a lesson if you like, or if you just need a tune up you can do that separately in about 10 minutes whenever you like. if you don't fancy taking charge yourself they provide 20 minute rides all day long.
there are also windsurfing, kayaks, water bikes, paddle boards, etc. to fill your beach days with activity. there are also daily beach volleyball matches down by arizonas restaurant.
There are outside "suppliers" around the boat dock to go tubing or parasailing if that is your thing.
The tour desk has just about anything that would catch your eye. we went on the kitty kat cruise which was a fun 3 hour sail (motor running as well) on a large catamaran. a stop for snorkelling and then a stop on a cay to look for rock iguanas (cool dudes for sure) and have a walk on the beach. a stop on the way back to play on the water slide and jump off the boats (a good place to find sand dollars too). there are lots of drinks and snacks on board and the dj keeps it pretty lively. we heard a lot about the pirates island snorkelling trip and i think we would do that one next time. they encountered much more marrine life snorkelling and even saw a few sharks, which our six year old was in tears about not getting to see in person.
the kids programs are great and they keep them busy but always doing different things. the xbox room is clearly a fan favourite, though not my favourite thing. i didn't really like the idea of kids just playing video games all day, but to each his own. our son enjoyed himself there when we were diving but wasn't into going everyday or at night, he preferred to hang with us. The water slides are fun and there are lots of things to do for little kids or big. The surf simulator they have is for big kids in the morning and littler kids in the afternoon with boogie boards. its fun to watch the parent fall off while the little kids have no trouble :)
Everyone can book a free family photo shoot, no obligation to buy the photos. the photographers are excellent, the beach will be a bit crowded if you book at sunset time slot but the people won't be in your shots so don't worry. it is a bit surreal though. The photos are expensive to buy (i found) but come with quite a lot and hey this was not a cheap trip to begin with so the sticker shock shouldn't be too bad. $330 for 30 photos on a cd with a copyright release, this will come with photo album a frame and a framed 8x10 photo of your choice shipped after to your home. The photographers are also wandering around the villages taking candids so keep an eye out. they are also on the tours so you can get pics there too.
Culturally i think we all are led to believe that everyone in the caribbean has stepped straight out of a malibu rum commercial. do the islanders a favour and put this notion aside. We met some extremely friendly and outgoing team members and we met some that were less outgoing but still courteous and professional. We did not experience one instance of rudeness and everyone did a great job. We did witness a few people having challenges themselves but we could see from the outside that there were culture clashes happening that would have been easy to avoid with a little understanding. Staff at island resorts are trained to never say no, but that does not mean they can always say yes, and it puts them in a sticky situation from time to time. The hostess can not tell you it is okay to leave the area to go look for your family and that your table will not be given away if they call you while you are gone. when she says its best if you stay in the area, she isn't being rude, she just can't tell you no, but she can't tell you yes either. stick around until they call you, then go to your table and explain to your waiter you are just getting the rest of your group. problem solved, no conflict needed. the butler service is fantastic for the groups that have it, but creates some issues for other people especially the staff that have to deal with the complaints. the restaurants don't take reservations but a butler can come and get a table for their group so the group doesn't have to wait in line. you can do the same thing. one person can get the table while the rest of the group grabs a drink at the bar. we saw a number of conflicts regarding this and just didn't see the need. one in particular was memorable as the "gentleman" kept raving about how he could afford any room in the resort and would have got the butler level service if he knew he could skip the line. it was pretty ridiculous and we didn't see the point. they had arrived just after us and only waited about 25 minutes for a table. the rant was after only 5 minutes of wait. check that attitude with your baggage at the airport. things do run on island time you don't have anywhere to get to, so relax, everyone will enjoy themselves much more, including the staff.
yes lots. there are lots of shops and they all have different things in stock so by all means visit the different areas!
the evening before check out a copy of the bill is delivered to the room for your review. this makes it very easy to check for accuracy before you are caught up in the rush of departure. We found no errors or issues. go to the lobby the day before check out to find out what time your shuttle to the airport leaves. freak out a little, thinking, that is waaaay too early, maybe i will just pay for a cab. remember that the airport is tiny and it will take you MUCH longer than you think to get through the check in and security lines.
you will be asked to have your bags outside your door by 9:00, keep some clothes and your pool stuff and toiletries aside, you will have the opportunity to add them to your bag before departure. our shuttle was at 11 (check out is also 11), so we hung out at the pool for a bit in the morning and then showered and got ready to go. check out in the lobby was a breeze, only took a few minutes. we were then directed to the departure lounge, which is a bit of a hike from the italian village lobby but not too bad. at the departures lounge there is comfy seating and water and cookies. take a moment to sneak outside and find your bags so you know where they are and can add your morning gear to you case. when you flight is called you will be asked to point your bags out to a staff member (this is where knowing where they are comes in handy, they probably won't be together), who will take your bags to your shuttle and off to the airport you go. when you arrive get a porter to help with your bags, you will not regret it, they get through the lines a bit quicker. the lines for the different flights are very crowded and it is easy to get in the wrong line and tempers tend to flare so be prepared. there was a family in front of us that the porter could tell was in the wrong line (don't ask me how) and he kept asking them if they were with west jet, and their answer was always a dismissive waive, informing him they were united premium passengers, okaaaayyyy, they finally realized after we pointed it out to them as well that they were in the wrong line and promptly budged into the united line. honestly I'm surprised there wasn't a riot, people were NOT happy with them. also, the airport is NOT air conditioned so dress appropriately. after you have checked into your flight you will need to go through airport security. the line appears short until you realize it is actually outside in the hallway. when you make it inside if at all possible choose the right hand line. this line doesn't snake through the maze, but rather goes straight to the scanner. it is at least 20 minutes shorter than the left hand line.
the departure lounge at the airport has a small cafe a few duty free shops and a craft shop. There are large fans around to cool the air but there is room for about 3 flights of people in the area and there appear to be about 5 flights of people there. keep a keen eye out for somewhere to sit. the announcements are very difficult to hear to keep an ear open for your flight.