One of the perks of working at Rental Escapes is being able to visit some of the most beautiful villas in the world. On that note, the team recently took a trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica and got to visit the Tryall Club and Round Hill, experiencing the best both have to offer in terms of food, service, and, of course, villas. Based on our experiences, as well as reports from our guests, below is a comparison of each so that you can figure out which one is best-suited to your travel style.
The Tryall Club
The Tryall Club is a great mix of classic Jamaican elegance and modern convenience. The Great House dates back to the 19th century and the afternoon tea ceremony is a tradition which dates back to the 1930s, but at the same time the club has made great efforts to remain on trend by, for example, growing their own produce in an organic garden and offering live Jazz and Bossa Nova music in the Great House in high season. The Tryall Club also has a strong focus on the natural beauty of Jamaica, with one of the most stunning grounds, and golf courses, in all of Montego Bay.
Even the food at the Tryall reflects their ideal of combining classic and modern Jamaica, as seen on their dinner menu. Staples like Jerk Chicken are elevated to Jerk-seasoned Cornish Hen, while the Plantain-Crusted Red Snapper Filet was a staff favorite. The Beach Cafe also has great ocean views and a relaxed atmosphere, while serving up light fare that won’t leave you feeling like a beached whale. Private dining in the villa is a big deal at the Tryall Club though, with most guests pre-stocking the villa with the right groceries (purchased from the nearby grocery store, not the club’s commissary) and setting up meal plans to make sure your cook makes all your favorite meals. Jamaicans have high standards when it comes to food, so you can rest assured that if your cook agrees to make it, it will be great.
One of the biggest advantages of the Tryall Club is that all their villas come fully staffed. The staff treated us all excellently, but of course we knew they’d be on their best behavior. That said, their best really means going above and beyond – no two meals were ever served in the same place, no glass was ever left empty, and one of our managers, Justin, swears the laundress must have worked some voodoo magic to get an impossibly-stubborn stain off of one of his white shirts. The staff was also extremely funny and were always putting a smile on our faces at every turn while still maintaining their professionalism. Meeting the locals is often the best part of a vacation, but that can be tough when staying in a gated resort or country club. Not so at Tryall, where everyone came back with a different story about their favorite staff member.
Golfing and lounging by the beach are the two main activities at the Tryall Club. If golf’s your game, then you’ll get to enjoy one of the Caribbean’s best courses, designed by famed course designer Ralph Plummer. The course is built along the coastline and is designed to take advantage of the club’s gorgeous landscaping, tropical setting, and even its rich history, with the seventh hole requiring players to play through the former-plantation’s old aqueduct. If you’re not an avid golfer, then you can still enjoy the beach, water sports (kayaking, paddleboarding, glass-bottom boat riding, diving, snorkeling, parasailing, wakeboarding, water skiing, tubing, banana boat riding, bottom fishing, and deep-sea fishing), tennis, croquet, volleyball, basketball, the gym, yoga, guided bird-spotting and historic tours, as well as, you know, just chilling out. Because it’s so lush, just walking around the grounds is a great activity on its own as well.
This being a Caribbean vacation, you’re probably curious about the beach. Tryall’s big beach has plenty of loungers, drinks and food can be ordered from the beachside cafe, and by all accounts the service and offerings are all great. The beach is also kept immaculately clean, and has fun trampolines for the young and the young-at-heart to jump around on. Some of the villas, like Seaclusion, also have their own private beaches (as pictured below).
The Tryall Club is a very family-friendly place. The Hummingbird Kids’ Club offers a range of scheduled daily activities for kids aged 5-12, similar to what you’d see on a cruise ship. Activities include scavenger hunts, sandcastle competitions, tie dye and various arts and crafts, beach games, face painting, nature walks, and more. Babysitting services are also available, and they also have programs for toddlers.
Tryall has some absolutely gorgeous villas, but it’s important to pay attention to their luxury ratings. Those rated Premier are their highest-end properties, and there you’ll find beautiful furnishings and modern amenities, however even the classic villas are fully staffed and kept immaculately clean. Some favorites from our trip were:
This villa’s great for large group with kids. It’s set on two levels, with the two master bedrooms upstairs allowing for extra privacy, and the games room and outdoor pool table was a big hit as well. It also has it’s own garden, and Chef Paul will use those ingredients to make amazing dishes, like Pumpkin Soup, Kaloo Soup, Jerk Chicken, Fish Cakes, and a Key Lime Pie to die for (a warning to dieters – if you even look at the pie, the waiter will bring you a piece).
This is a beautiful villa for design and art lovers. From the imposingly-beautiful glass entrance to the mahogany-finished kitchen and granite and marble bathrooms, this villa drips with style. It even has its own gallery celebrating beautiful Jamaican art, which also dot the villa throughout. Rest assured, these are not knick knacks bought at souvenir shops – they include paintings and sculptures by some of Jamaica’s most acclaimed artists, like David Begbie, who contributed the stunning wall mounted sculptures in the Great Hall. Because these works are so precious, and can be considered provocative by more conservative travelers, families with very young children may want to avoid Hanover Grange, but with a dining room that seats 30, it’s a perfect choice for a group of couples, as well as for corporate retreats and destination wedding parties.
Overall, Seaclusion by the Sea was the staff’s pick for best villa in the Tryall Club (as well as best villa overall), as it has the massive advantage of being beachfront and having it’s own strip of private beach (which is no small feat in Montego Bay, where beach land is usually designated as public space). The pool is also one of the nicest in all of Jamaica, and the villa has a ton of modern amenities, like Apple TV and a SONOS surround system throughout. It also has an authentic, Jamaican vibe thanks to the artwork and styling, while the design allows guests to experience those lovely ocean breezes. It’s also child-friendly, as the owners themselves have small children, and the staff is used to taking care of kids (they definitely had our crew giggling like 12 year-olds).
Tryall Club offers a very fun, laid-back experience. Don’t get me wrong, you can’t just waltz on to their prized golf course in your wet sneakers and expect no one to say anything, but aside from that the guests and the staff are very relaxed and provide a fun, unpretentious experience. The landscaping is also impeccable. Partly as a result of every villa having its own private gardener and partly as a result of its natural location, Tryall is very lush – everywhere is lined with palm trees and a mind-boggling level of fresh flowers, making you feel like you’re walking through a botanical garden. As mentioned, the staff is also extra fun and friendly, which must be infectious because most of the guests seemed to be joking around and having fun as well.
Membership at the Tryall Club will run you $130/week (all rates are in USD) for guests over 16, or $26/day if you stay for less than 7 days. Please note that staying in a Tryall Club villa does not necessarily ensure that you’re also granted free membership – in fact, more often than not, it doesn’t (though there are some villas outside the gates of the Tryall Club that have membership fees included in their rates – more on that later). Also, be sure to factor gratuity in your cost assessment – during high season, the norm is to offer 10% of the total rental rate in the form of gratuity to the staff, while the norm for low season is 15% (given in cash, in an envelope, to the head of the household – usually the butler – at the end of the trip).
Villas themselves will run you as much as $28,182/week for Seaclusion during peak season, and $24,545/week during low season. On the low end of the spectrum, you can rent Tradewinds (http://www.rentalescapes.com/luxury-villa-rentals/109274/) for $8,500/week in high season and $4,500/week in low season. Regardless of the price or rating, though, all villas are fully staffed, which adds a lot of value to the lower-priced ones.
Food costs depend highly on where and what you eat. If you’re going to be dining in the villa only, the cost of groceries should be about $50/day/adult (this may increase if you want lobster lunch and filet mignon for dinner, though it can also decrease if you just want to eat yams all day). If you eat at the restaurant for dinner, expect to pay about $60/person, while lunch at the beachside cafe should be around the $20-30 mark/person.
Round Hill’s all about its legacy. What originally began as one of the first sugarcane plantations to add pineapple groves (hence the club’s logo and the abundance of pineapple groves which can still be found along the property) became, in 1953, Montego Bay’s most prestigious country club. Pretty soon, stars like Adele Astaire began purchasing cottages, and over time the club attracted some of the world’s richest and most powerful people, like Ian Fleming, whose love for Jamaica is not lost on any James Bond fan, and John F. Kennedy, who honeymooned with Jackie in Villa 10 and practiced his inaugural speech in Villa 25. More recently, the Angela Bassett and Whoopi Goldberg hit How Stella Got Her Groove Back was filmed at the resort. With this rich history, it’s no surprise that Round Hill is still considered by many to be the premiere place to mingle in MoBay.
While you can still have a private chef prepare your meals for you, guests at Round Hill tend to use the chef for breakfast only, preferring instead to visit the award-winning restaurant, helmed by James Beard, for dinner, and the Seaside Terrace for lunch. Dinners especially are a big deal, with guests dressing up in elegant Caribbean fashions when dining at the restaurant (you can leave the black suite at home, but a nice linen blazer wouldn’t hurt), or dressing down and going barefoot to dine on the torch-lit beach during special events. The restaurant has a set daily menu, with reservations being mandatory, and, like the Tryall Club, every effort is made to use fresh ingredients, include those plucked from the resort’s own organic garden. You can expect very high-end fare there, such as 7-course tasting menus (http://www.roundhill.com/d/roundhill/media/Thursday_Tasting_Menu.pdf) with Lemongrass Caribbean Lobster Bisk, Pan-Seared Snapper, and Beef Wellington. The Seaside Terrace is also a hit for laid-back meals, especially on Friday nights, which are dedicated to authentic Jamaican fare.
Because of its long-standing heritage, Round Hill has managed to hang on to some absolute gems in terms of staff members, who often also act as heads of the house and teach the other members the finer points of Jamaican etiquette. That’s not to say that they’ll be overly stuffy, but they’ll definitely take their cues from you and will wait for you to grant explicit or implicit permission to break from certain elements of formality. As a result, Round Hill has plenty of standout staff members, especially the butlers and the chefs, who personify professionalism, but they aren’t as funny (at least not at first) as their Tryall Club counterparts.
Astute readers may notice that I’ve been referring to Tryall as a club and Round Hill as a resort. This is not an arbitrary semantic distinction – it’s how both resorts choose to represent themselves, and a big reason why Round Hill considers itself a resort is due to its spa. With a beautiful beachfront location and a plethora of different services, the spa was recently named as one of the best in the Caribbean by Conde Nast UK, making it a significant source of pride for the resort, and a major advantage over Tryall for spa lovers (in fact, Tryall sends its guests over to Round Hill’s Spa when they request spa services).
Aside from that, Round Hill also offers plenty of water-sports – including snorkeling, kayaks, pedal boats, windsurfing, glass bottom boats, water-skiing tubing, Hobie Cat sailing, speedboat trips, sport-fishing, and scuba diving – as well as golf, tennis, shopping, and a very large fitness center and yoga pavilion with beautiful ocean views as a backdrop.
Unlike Tryall’s focus on golf though, Round Hill primarily focuses on its nightly entertainment, with every night having a different theme night: As of now, Mondays are the Beach Party, Tuesday’s Calypso and Piano Night, Wednesday’s the Manager’s Cocktail Party, Thursday’s the Calypso Music and Sing-Along Night, Saturday’s Jazz Night, and Sunday’s Calypso and Piano Night. This jam-packed schedule highlights how the #1 activity at Round Hill really is socializing and networking with fellow guests.
The beach at Round Hill benefits from beautiful landscaping that provides it with a good deal of natural shade. For that reason, as well as due to the larger size, many of the staff here preferred the beach at Round Hill compared to the one at Tryall. There is also a large beach bar and restaurant designed by Ralph Lauren, and an adults-only beachfront area to lounge in by the Spa as well.
Round Hill has a good selection of activities for kids of all ages. The Pineapple Kids Club for children aged 3-6 offers daily activities, like arts and crafts, nature walks, water sports, talent shows, reggae lessons, and movie or story hours, all supervised by the friendly, all-female staff who have training in health and safety, child development, and activity coordination.
There’s also a 7-Up Club, which is more of a hang-out room for older kids, including teenagers. It features a game room with a pool table, Foosball table, Wii and X-Box game consoles (including Rock Band, which is a great way to break the ice), Karaoke, and a computer, as well as a TV & Reading Room with TV and books (natch), board games, another computer, and comfy bean bag chairs.
Round Hill has a slew of numbered units and cottages available for guests that are a little more generic, though in a luxurious way, compared to some of the named villas discussed earlier and below. The numbering system makes discerning between the cottages a bit confusing – for example, while the staff felt that Cottage 9 did not have much personality, they were much more impressed by Cottages 7, 11, and 21 (pictured below). If you luck out, you can rent Cottage 25, which is where JFK wrote his inaugural speech – it’s much more private than the other cottages and has a grander feel, with dark wood finishing all throughout and more flair overall.
The biggest knock-out at Knockando (I’m allowed one pun per post) is Chef Jerome – unlike some other villa cooks, Chef Jerome is a real chef. The difference was all-too-apparent, and emphasized how, in addition to stand-out amenities and features, a superstar staff member can often turn a villa rental from great to amazing. Aside from that, and the Chinese Dragon decal at the bottom of the pool, this villa also has separate pavilions, making it great for different families traveling together. It also includes access to Round Hill and Tryall, making it a great value (more on that later).
With its position atop Round Hill, Longview Manor commands grand, sweeping views, especially at sunset. It also has a huge, beautiful master bedrooms, a private tennis court, a very long pool, a large gazebo with comfy chairs, and an indoor/outdoor sound system, making it a great villa for outdoor relaxation and recreation.
Round Hill exudes old-world glamor, but not in a cheesy, cruise-ship way. Instead, its history and its clientele (both past, like JFK, and present, like Ralph Lauren) lend it a genuine air of sophistication. That’s a major part of its appeal – rather than having cooks make dinner at the villa, almost all the guests will go to the restaurant for dinner and stay afterwards to mingle. With its adult-only section, spa, and focus on destination weddings and honeymoons, Round Hill also has a decidedly romantic vibe as well.
Most Round Hill villas include the membership fee in the cost of the villa itself. However, the resort itself can still be pricey. Internet access, for example, is $22/day for up to 3 devices, and faster internet will run $33/day. Taxes and services fees tend to increase the price of items and services as well (for example, a $5 service fee is added to every item delivered by room service). Like at Tryall, it’s also customary to offer a 10% gratuity (of the villa’s rental rate) to the staff in high season and 15% in low season. All this adds up to a resort that’s quite a bit more costly than the Tryall Club.
Villas range from $24,500/week for Longview Manor ($17,500 in the off season) all the way down to $10,500/week in high season ($5,500/week in low season) for Summerland (http://www.rentalescapes.com/luxury-villa-rentals/109372/). These prices are comparable to Tryall’s, though slightly more expensive.
Food wise, dinners tend to run at least $100/person, though Lunch can be had for $20-$30 at the Seaside Terrace. Meal Plans can also be arranged – they range $250/person/day for their Platinum Plan (all 3 meals + drinks at the bar, a bottle of wine, a fruit plate, and a Great River excursion), $157/person/day for the Full American Plan (all 3 meals), $119/person/day for breakfast and dinner, and $32/person/day for just breakfast. Again, comparable to Tryall, but slightly pricier.
Why Not Both?
A little known MoBay secret is that you can rent villas that are outside the gates of both Round Hill and the Tryall Club that end up including access to both. A good example is Cliffside Cottage, which is outside the gates of both Tryall and Round Hill but is central enough to the two that access to either is easy and convenient. All you have to do is call (or have your concierge call) for a driver. Don’t expect to be able to rent a car and drive around Montego Bay, but having a reliable driver is as valuable as sun screen in Jamaica, especially since he’ll also double as a tour guide and comedian (that’s why you should always ask for recommendations – any regular visitor worth the rum in their bag will have a list of favorites).
Which is Right for You?
As our staff quickly noticed, the Tryall Club and Round Hill both have unique advantages, some of which are better suited to certain types of travelers. Time for me to put that marketing degree to work. Below is a list of customer segments – find the one that best reflects your travel preferences and see whether the Tryall Club or Round (or both) is recommended to them to find out which is your best bet for an amazing Jamaican vacation.
Travelers that will Love the Tryall Club
Greg the Golfer and Understanding Ursula
This one’s a no-brainer. Round Hill doesn’t have a golf course, whereas the Tryall Club has one of the best golf courses on the island (and possibly in the Caribbean). The only downside is that Greg’s family may not see him as much as they’d want to, but Tryall’s pretty flexible with their tee times, so hopefully he’ll golf early in the morning and still have time to take the kids to the beach before the afternoon sun becomes too strong. Even without her understanding nature, Ursula also won’t get bored with all the difference activities at Tryall, even if that means just walking around the lush grounds. Plus, if Ursula golfs too, the Hummingbird Kids’ Club will be more than happy to look after their children while they argue about one-stroke penalties. In case Greg taking a golf trip with their buddies, then Tryall’s course offers enough challenge, variety, and natural beauty to ensure that they won’t get bored, too. Hole-in-one (or at least an eagle) for Greg.
Frugal Frank and Value-Conscious Valerie
Though the Tryall Club usually requires paying for membership in addition to the membership fee, the overall stay will be less expensive compared to Round Hill, and you’ll probably also feel like you’re getting more value. Everything from the villas to the food is less expensive, there’s much fewer service fees (especially on room service), and most guests use their cook for all three meals, meaning they’re only paying for the cost of groceries (as opposed to Round Hill, where the norm is to go to the restaurant every night). Plus, because it’s so lush, there’s lots of free or cheap activities to enjoy, like nature walks and bird watching.
Nature-loving Nancy and Bob the Amateur Botanist
On that note, nature lovers would also be well-advised to choose Tryall, since its lush environment is so much more conducive to stopping and smelling (and, if you’re Bob, categorizing and documenting) the flowers.
Relaxed Rebecca and Chill-out Charlie
Unlike Round Hill, Tryall has many villas that are close to the beach, and, as mentioned, many guests choose to simply eat at the villa for all three meals. For those looking for a private, relaxing vacation experience, this makes Tryall an excellent choice, especially considering it also has villas that are closer to the beach when compared to Round Hill (such as Seaclusion by the Sea, which, as mentioned, has its own private beach, allowing guests to literally act like hermits, with the villa itself being their shells).
Travelers that will Love Round Hill
Sandy and Simon the Spa Lovers
Just like Round Hill will often send their guests to the Tryall Club to golf, so too will the Tryall Club sed their guests to Round Hill for the spa. In fact, the spa is the reason why Round Hill designates itself as a resort, whereas Tryall calls itself a country club. On that note, the spa is absolutely amazing, with a very wide range of services, most of which are done in front of the pristine Caribbean Sea, making it a no-brainer for spa-lovers.
Chatty Charlie and Nancy the Networker
Since its inception, Round Hill has been known as the place to see and be seen in Jamaica, and it remains a favorite of socialites and jetsetters to this day. Round Hill knows this and places a special emphasis on ensuring that guests interact as much as possible, with different theme nights every night and an atmosphere that encourages guests to stick around after dinner and schmooze by the bar, rather than retiring to the villa after their Wellingtons.
Romantic Robin and Walter the Newlywed
Round Hill goes above and beyond when it comes to destination weddings, and also goes the extra mile to ensure that honeymooners get special treatment as well. Tryall also offers destination weddings and honeymoon packages, but Round Hill’s experience, spa, amazing food, beautiful venues, adult-only areas, and greater variety of accommodation packages gives it the edge, romance-wise.
Travelers that will Love Both
Snorkeling Sandy and Bob the Beach Bum
The biggest point of contention among the staff here was regarding which beach was nicer. While some loved the natural shade and bigger beach offered at Round Hill, others preferred the trampolines and cute beach bar at Tryall. Bob would probably love experiencing both and spicing things up with a little variety, while the variety of watersports and corals offered at both is sure to keep Sandy happy.
Curious George and Dora the Explorer
Speaking of variety, some people (like me) just love to wander around and experience everything a resort and club has to offer. The obvious move for them is to rent a villa that allows them to dine at the restaurants at both, experience the spa at Round Hill, golf at the Tryall Club, etc. (though if this isn’t an option, it should be noted that Tryall has more space to explore than Round Hill).
Maggie the Mom and Danny the Dad
If your group has lots of kids, then a villa with access to both Round Hill and Tryall Club will allow them them to experience the best that each kids’ club has to offer. That said, if you have teens, Round Hill might be a better choice because of its lounge and 7up Club, whereas the Hummingbird Club at Tryall is great for kids 5-12. Since most family groups have a mix of both, though, being able to access both might be your best bet.
Overall our staff had a great time at both Tryall and Round Hill, and you really can’t go wrong with either. That said, the overall consensus was that while Round Hill relies on its well-earned reputation to attract guests, Tryall goes above and beyond to make its mark, with that hunger resulting in amazing service and value. If you’ve been fortunate to visit either (or both), we’d love to hear your thoughts as well – please feel free to comment below and let us know what you think!