Having read some of the previous reviews I had to smile at some of the comments about the difficulties/deficiences people are reporting at the Altamont Court.
We are a Canadian couple in our 60s who have been spending half of the year in Montego Bay for a number of years, so we're somewhat accustomed to the quirkiness of Jamaican life. We have come to accept that Jamaica is a developing country and the services, behaviours and amenities we take for granted in Europe and North America and even other more developed Caribbean countries, cannot be taken for granted here. The power goes off, the internet goes down, the water is shut off; it just happens. But it does get fixed or restored eventually. What the heck, you'll never freeze to death.
What I like about the Altamont Court in Kingston is its friendly, happy, helpful staff and its very quaint ambience. It's a small, older hotel with some very lovely attributes, such as the inner and exterior courtyards with local plants, beautiful wrought iron gates and colorful painted murals. The owners seem to be slowly but surely investing in room and other upgrades (known as 'uplifting' here in Jamaica) and the results are quite lovely. And the staff is proud of the improvements. The rooms are clean and many have balconies. The pool is small but reasonably clean. And the whole restaurant/bar/pool area is quite charming.
I do think that there is room for further improvement though. And because the manager here seems to be sensitive and responsive to feedback, I'm putting forward the following suggestions.
1. Kingston is not an easy city to navigate or know. It's topsy turvy, badly planned, not pedestrian friendly, and can seem quite daunting and dangerous to visitors (not unlike Montego Bay, but on a larger scale). Perhaps the JTB (Jamaican Tourist Board - who, I understand, are quite richly funded by the government) could create and provide hotels with a visitors’ map that is available at the reception desk. The map can provide information about and locations for shopping, dining, entertainment and cultural landmarks. Visitors want to know where the closest grocery or liquor store is, or where the shopping centres are, or where the National Gallery is, or where the best restaurants are. Most of these locations are unwalkable from the hotel, but there are route taxis and drivers at the front gate who will take you where you want to go for a reasonable price. But you won't know where you want to go unless you have information about what is available.
2. The hotel restaurant is only average, on a good day. Jamaican food is never really 'haute cuisine' and the reason for that is that Jamaica has to import most of the food that North Americans and Europeans take for granted, and it's very costly. Also, many locally grown fruits and vegetables are only seasonably available. And Jamaicans aren't generally into 'haute cuisine' anyway, so don't expect pate de fois gras or other exotic items. Having said that, there's no reason why, for example, the 'salad' at dinner time has to be so uninspired. Shredded iceberg lettuce and tasteless salad tomatoes with carrot slivers and Thousand Island dressing - are we back in 1972? Local lettuce (dark green and full of life), plummie tomatoes (red and bursting with flavor), feta cheese, pear (Jamaican avocado - when it's in season), balsamic vinegar and olive oil are always available at Megamart. And Kingston has a Megamart or two. So yes, some foods are scarce here, but many are easily available at the local grocery stores. And how about some papaya (always available) for breakfast, with ripe banana and yoghurt. And maybe throw in an espresso! The Jamaican breakfast buffet is just ok.
Apart from Mark, our very congenial and accommodating server on the nights we ate at the hotel, the service in the restaurant is struggling too. Not sure if it's the training, but you could make a big difference immediately if you took that darn television out of there. It's located right in front of the serving/greeting station at the entrance to the restaurant and the serving staff turn it up too loud (very Jamaican) and watch it instead of attending to their work or the customers. It's distracting and annoying for the guests who might prefer either blessed silence or music played at a low volume that's suitable for a hotel restaurant. There's enough noise in Jamaica to go around for everyone. No need to drag it into a hotel restaurant. And what is a television doing in a restaurant anyway?
3. The Wifi, especially if you're using a device of some kind, is very bad. It cuts out and leaves you hanging or dead in the water. It's not so bad on a laptop but with a phone or tablet it's pretty iffy. I know that Wifi in Jamaica is undependable everywhere, so I'm not sure what can be done about this. Trying to fix internet (or any other) problems in Jamaica is a bit like trying to dig a tunnel to China. Good luck.
4. Visitors might like to be given a hotel information sheet (updated weekly) when they check in. You could provide information about driver/route taxi rates, what to do about internet/wifi problems, check out times, work that's happening in the hotel at the time, events that are planned in the hotel or in the city generally, contact information for certain problems. Just a welcome/information/about-us sheet. People like this kind of information and it will help to engage your visitors.
5. Noise. Jamaica is one of the noisiest countries I have ever visited or lived in. All the vehicles (cars, buses, cabs, trucks) are old and in need of repair and nobody can afford to fix them because either the parts are unavailable and/or they can't afford to make the repairs. And Jamaicans aren't happy unless their music is turned up to the highest possible volume. It seems as if they'll die or fall asleep if loud music isn't playing somewhere close by. And they're totally insensible to visitors’ sensitivities about noise. We once went to 'quiet, laid back' hotel on the south shore and as were walking in the front door a couple of fellows waltzed in with amplifiers the size of small cottages. When I asked the reception desk what was going on they told us there was a wedding planned for that evening. I knew right away I was in for trouble. And I was. Lesson learned. When booking a hotel in Jamaica, always ask reception if there is an event planned for the night(s) you're staying. If they say yes, ask if you can book a room where you won't be disturbed by the noise. Or find another hotel. Because they will not turn down the music, and even if they do, it will only be for 5 minutes, and then they'll start falling asleep and crank it WAY up again. It's just a fact of life here and it is relentless. Buy ear plugs. And the hotel should give them out at the front desk. The good ear plugs. Wax ear plugs. Or the hotel should be prepared to move people to other rooms. It's really one of the most annoying things about Jamaica. But because most events are held in outdoor spaces it's inevitable.
6. The hotel does provide an accessible outdoor space for smokers on site, but maybe someone could clean out the butts occasionally? Funny story – one evening I was at the dreaded smoker bench and noticed that the butt receptacle was getting pretty close to the top. So I asked the fellow at the gate how often they clean out the butts. He said “when it get full’. So. I really think it should be done twice a day. There seem to be a lot of smokers out there who are abiding by the no smoking rule in the rooms, so give them a break.
All in all, given what Kingston has to offer, and unless you're in the Pegasus bracket, I believe the Altamont Court is fair value for the money. If they can keep moving ahead with improvements to the rooms, putting some effort into the restaurant offerings and service, and catering a bit more to their patrons in terms of information, it could easily become a destination boutique hotel. They certainly have the charm. And there's also an Altamont in Montego Bay. We haven't stayed there but we did eat there a few years ago and it's also a charming and quirky hotel. Montego Bay is more of an all inclusive for tourists kind of place so fewer tourists will go to a regular hotel. Still, it's a sweet place.
Jamaicans have a keen and lovely sense of humour and irony and there is nothing quite so enjoyable as having a bit of a joke with them. I love to see them smile and hear them laugh. They seem to take the ribbing in good stride and you'll enjoy yourself more if you engage them on that level. Greet them with a smile and say ‘good morning, good afternoon, good evening and good nigh’t and you will always be welcome. And always try to remember that this is their country. Sometimes they're as frustrated with the lack of progress as you are, so chill mon.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Situated in the heart of New Kingston, Jamaica, this Conde' Nast Traveler-recommended hotel is a social, entertainment and business hub. Altamont Court's central location places it close to two airports, marinas, wharfs, several high commissions and embassies, major convention sites, local and international banks, couriers and money transfer services, cambios, Casino and Gambling lounges, art galleries, museums, nightclubs and entertainment centers. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Altamont Court Kingston
- Hotel Altamont Court
- Altamont Court Hotel Kingston Jamaica