The Hyatt Zilara and Ziva Rose Hall are two connected all-inclusive hotels in the Montego Bay area of Jamaica. So is this combination resort a gem, a disappointment or somewhere in between?
With this post I’ll answer that question and provide a lot of fresh, detailed insight on the property, including guidance on how to stay at the resort for free.
This review is broken into 12 sections. Read on, or use these links to jump to different sections of the post.
Whereas the allure of some honeymoon and vacation destinations is their remoteness, Montego Bay, Jamaica appeals in the opposite way – it is relatively easy to reach. Sometimes you just want to be at the hotel without dealing with flight connections and long transfers. This property is a winner in that regard.
Montego Bay is located on the Northwest part of Jamaica, fronting the Caribbean Sea. The Hyatt Zilara/Ziva are located in Rose Hall, about 10 miles east of the Montego Bay airport (Sangster International [MBJ]).
With an extensive level of international service, finding flights to and from Sangster International airport is rather easy. Patty and I flew on Southwest, using 18,690 Rapid Rewards points total for my roundtrip flight, with Patty accompanying me for free using our Southwest Companion Pass. Legacy US airlines also offer extensive service to Montego Bay. I recommend using Google Flights to search for legacy airline options.
The airport taxes and fees for this roundtrip flight were very high, coming in at $121 per person! Almost $100 of that total was from the Jamaican side, with $23 attributed to US taxes/fees.
After arriving at the airport and clearing customs, you exit into a section of the airport with various lounges. Hyatt guests head to the corresponding lounge where initial hotel check-in occurs. You can have a free welcome beverage and snack and use the free WiFi as you relax on the couches. Once the initial check-in is completed and a shuttle is available, you are summoned to board it, and taken for the 15-minute ride to the resort. This free transfer service is great. In addition to being the right price, it eliminates the sometimes-stressful process of taking public transportation from an airport to a hotel.
Overview of the Property
Aesthetically, the Hyatt Zilara and Ziva Rose Hall is a moderately impressive resort. It’s nice overall but there aren’t any specific features that will make your jaw drop.
The lobby of the Zilara that you enter as you arrive at the property is open-air, with a view through to the pool area and the Caribbean off in the distance. The lobby of the Ziva is a nice, but not unusual, indoor lobby.
The resort is situated on a stretch of beach that runs east/west with the Zilara grounds west of the Ziva grounds. The hotel structures are within feet of the beach so it’s a simple short walk from the rooms to the sand. With one side of the resort flanked by beach, the other side is flanked by verdant, tree-covered mountains. Jamaica is aptly known as the land of wood and water.
Though many all-inclusive resorts require you to wear a (sometimes annoying) bracelet, that is not the case at the Hyatt Zilara Ziva Rose Hall. Access to the restaurants is controlled by room number. That allows the staff to minimize the instances of Ziva guests using Zilara-only restaurants.
The signature architectural feature of the resort is the gazebo that sits upon a rock pier a short distance offshore. It is used for candlelit dinners (for an extra fee) but in general is open to all guests for sea watching.
Because of the resort’s location, it doesn’t offer storybook sunset or sunrise views. We were able to catch some mild sunset effects during our stay though.
The primary spa – Zen Spa – is located in the Ziva property. It is very impressive! It is expansive, luxurious and well-designed. It is not cheap though. Salon services are offered and the spa has a bridal suite, adding to the resort’s allure as a wedding site.
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Check-in for our stay was the low point of our visit. Knowing that hotel occupancy would be low, before we arrived we requested an upgrade to a room in building four. When we met with the check-in agent at the lounge in the MBJ airport I was told that as a Platinum Gold Passport member we would be upgraded to a junior suite but that there were no junior suites available and for that reason we would not be upgraded.
As we waited in the lounge for the shuttle bus to arrive I used the WiFi in the lounge to check availability of junior suites for our stay dates. There was availability for the entirety of our stay. I could have booked that type of room right then and there through the Hyatt website. I returned to the desk and shared that info with the agent. She fell back on a “my manager told me there’s no availability” line and did nothing to address the situation.
Upon arrival at the hotel I explained the situation to the agent there. I got more of the same – I was told that there was no availability despite the fact that the Hyatt website showed availability. Eventually the agent said that there was a large group arriving in two days, implying that they’d be occupying the junior suites. The agent informed us our room wasn’t ready yet so we could check out the property while we waited.
We grabbed some lunch (and then witnessed sea turtles hatch…more on that later!) and then returned to the front desk to get our room keys. I indicated we would be happy if we were put in a junior suite for the first two days even if we had to move rooms when the large group arrived. Again I was rebuffed with a “there are no upgrades available” line despite there being such rooms available for booking through the Hyatt website. I finally conceded and we headed to our room.
We were assigned a room on the fifth floor of Building 1. Certain elements of the building are definitely outdated. The elevators seem to have not been updated for a decade or two. The hallways are a bit dated as well.
The room was functional but not exciting in any way. It was a decent size room – we didn’t have any issues with space for luggage. In the main area of the room, you’ll find the bed, TV, a small table with chairs and another upholstered chair.
Unfortunately, there were some other signs of age in the room. The door in front of the fridge was askew on hinges and the front of the safe gave off a 1980’s vibe. The air conditioning system was intense enough to keep the room cool but unfortunately the vent directed the cold air directly onto the bed, making for an uncomfortable draft while in bed.
The bathroom seemed fresher than the rest of the room as if it was renovated more recently than the rest of the room. There was a nice two-sink setup and a separate shower and tub.
Just inside the door to the room is the drink cabinet with a stocked refrigerator, a selection of liquors and a few snacks. The drinks are included for no additional charge and the supply is restocked daily.
The balcony of our room was decent. Looking out from the room we could see the Zilara pool area but when we were actually on the balcony we were able to see the Caribbean.
The WiFi signal strength in the room was great though the speed was mediocre. Unfortunately the WiFi went out for about 8-10 hours one day as there was a major issue in the area. The workers at the golf course clubhouse confirmed the outage was regional but it was a bit annoying nonetheless.
The swim-up suites at this resort open to the north and east so the water may not be very warm and they don’t necessarily get a lot of the day’s sunlight in the winter.
Guests at the Zilara have access to 11 restaurants, though some are of course more substantial than others (guests staying in the Ziva have access to a subset of the restaurants). We tried many of these during our stay. The food ranged from bad to excellent, as seems to be the case for many all-inclusive resorts.
The service in general was decent. There were some servers who were excellent and others that made it clear through their demeanor that they weren’t in love with their jobs.
The best food we had was served up at three restaurants – Di RoZa, FuZion and CalypZo.
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Di RoZa is a semi-formal, sit-down Italian restaurant. We visited the restaurant for two dinners, each of which required a wait of about 30-45 minutes prior to seating. The caprese salad and the bruschetta were delectable. For the caprese salad, the melt-in-your-mouth mozzarella was the highlight. Though most tomatoes on property were unimpressive, the bruschetta at Di RoZa was excellent, especially the first night we got it.
We tried a few different pizzas between the two of us, over two meals. They were all good. The four cheese pizza had blue cheese, an unusual inclusion. The strong taste of the blue cheese overpowered everything else a bit but that probably should have been expected. The pepperoni pizza and the spinach pizza were great.
For our visit to FuZion, we opted for the wok cooking arrangement, for which guests are invited to choose from about six different main courses, mostly meat. The chef cooks the items in front of a group table and the waitress then dishes out each guest’s orders. I had the pork, chicken and beef and some of Patty’s rice and eggs dish. Those offerings ranged from very good to excellent. The pre-entree soup, a vegetable broth-based concoction, was also very tasty.
We found the group seating arrangement fun as it allowed us to chat with some other guests.
We ate breakfast at Calypzo one morning, and we were glad we did. The Seriously Hot Omelette, the scrambled eggs, the Judas Toast and the bacon were all great.
Our meal at Brazil – the churrasqueria – was disappointing. I really like churrasquerias in general so I was expecting to enjoy this restaurant. However, not one meat was great. A few were decent and one or two were unappealing. On a positive note, the ambiance of the restaurant was nice.
One really cool feature of the resort is the jerk chicken shack named Barefoot Jerkz. The name is a reference to the fact that the shack is literally on the beach. It’s really fun to lounge at the beach (or the pool) and then take a break to fill up on local, fresh-cooked jerk chicken or pork. We liked the jerk meat so much that we hit this joint up multiple times, though once or twice we were not exactly impressed by the attitude of the chef.
Prior to our trip I had read that a hot dog cart is usually set up at the beach. It was nowhere to be found during our stay. I asked two employees whether it was around. I got an ambiguous answer from one and the other said it was not operational at that time.
There was a crepe cart set up by the pool but we didn’t get a chance to try it.
Union Jack’z is a sports bar/restaurant next to Di Roza and some of the other eateries. The atmosphere is great but the food left a lot to be desired. We got burgers and fries. We were surprised such simple, standard bar fare could be botched. There are many TVs here so this is your go-to spot if you want to watch sports.
In addition to the restaurant offerings, guests can purchase a private dinner on the previously mentioned gazebo.
We ordered breakfast through room service our last morning. We got scrambled eggs, bacon, a grilled tomato and potatoes. It was all very tasty and of course it was nice to use the time during which it was being prepared – about 45 minutes – to take care of some packing.
There are two separate pool arrangements at the resort. There is one (adults-only) pool on the Zilara side and two adjacent, but unconnected, pools on the Ziva side.
The Ziva pools are more bustling than the Zilara pool. The latter is great for relaxation. All the pools were a reasonable temperature during our visit and enjoyable in general. The food and drink service around the pools was good.
The pools are surrounded by palm trees with coconuts galore. We were thrilled to one day find employees cutting down coconuts for fresh coconut drinks for guests.
One of the two pools on the Ziva side, and the pool on the Zilara side have a swim-up bar. Service at them was good and there’s not much that beats sipping a local cocktail while lounging in the pool soaking up Caribbean rays.
There is also another bar just outside the pools on the Ziva side. We got a colorful Bob Marley cocktail and a banana-centric frozen drink at that bar. The Marley cocktail was more colorful and the banana drink was tastier.
One unappealing element of the pool setup is the charging for cabanas. There is a $25 fee to rent a cabana for a day. Many other all-inclusive resorts include the use of cabanas for no additional fee (as the term all-inclusive implies). That can lead to some challenges in actually securing a cabana as there are rarely enough for every guest to get one. However, that doesn’t in my mind, justify charging for them. If the small number of cabanas is problematic, the resort management should install more or develop some sort of signup or lottery process for the use of cabanas.
The primary spa, Zen Spa, is located in the Ziva property is a very nice one. Though we didn’t try the services we took a tour of the spa. The agent that provided the tour was incredibly nice.
The spa has every service you could imagine. Massages, aromatherapy, beauty treatments, etc. It’s actually set up to cater to bridal parties also, making the resort a decent choice for a destination wedding.
This slideshow highlights some of the rooms in the Zen Spa.
Here are photos of the brochure detailing offerings and the standard prices (click on them for high-res versions).
Our first experience at the beach at this resort was one we’ll never forget!
Because our room wasn’t ready when we arrived on property, our first stop was at the HoriZons restaurant. As we finished up our lunch there we saw a crowd of people forming at the beach in front of the Zilara.
We headed over to check out the scene and found a most incredible event occurring: sea turtles were hatching, emerging from the sand and scurrying toward the ocean for a life in the water.
A couple resort employees decided it was best to round up the little hatchlings and then take them out past the small waves. So they collected the baby sea turtles in a towel and then took a catamaran out a couple hundred feet from shore and deposited the turtles into the Caribbean.
It was incredible to see this but we had really only witnessed the tail end of the hatching process. We were mostly thrilled but a tiny bit bummed that we hadn’t caught more of it.
Then round two occurred! Another sea turtle emerged from the sand. The resort employees started clearing away sand, revealing many more hatchlings that hadn’t made their way to the surface. We got to see them up close and personal.
This time the employees collected them into a cooler and once they were confident they had unveiled them all from the egg burial location, an employee walked the cooler out past the Caribbean waves and ushered the hatchlings into the sea.
Some nature lovers will camp out overnight in the hopes of seeing sea turtles hatching and journeying into the sea. To stumble upon it at an all-inclusive resort was shocking and incredible. We felt really fortunate to have witnessed the incredible display of nature.
Check out more photos of the hatching event in this slideshow!
Our subsequent beach experiences were less eventful, though generally enjoyable. Having covered the topic of higher-than-normal seaweed levels in previous posts, I was very interested in seeing the situation at the Hyatt Ziva Zilara Rose Hall. In general, there wasn’t much of a seaweed issue at this resort during our stay. At most times and in most areas of the beach and water the seaweed level ranged from nonexistent to minor. The worst levels I saw, at one or two times in specific areas, would best be described as moderate. We didn’t see anything along the lines of the horror stories at other Caribbean locations, as covered by some news outlets. My recent post covers the seaweed situation at this resort in more detail.
The sand on the Zilara side was a bit rockier than the beach on the Ziva side. It was more noticeable in the water than on land. Both the Ziva and Zilara sides are protected by rock jetties. On the Ziva side this is very much the case – the rock jetties form a lagoon of sorts with direct water exchange with the sea occcuring through openings in the jetties that are only 10-15 feet wide. This makes for very calm waters which are of course appropriate for the Ziva clientele that includes children.
With thatch umbrellas and lounge chairs plentiful, the seating at the beaches is good. There are also several chairs hanging from trees, and beach cabanas.
The Hyatt Ziva Zilara Rose Hall really shines on the activity front. Each night a printed sheet was delivered to the room with a list of the scheduled activities for the next day.
In addition to the scheduled activities, many other activities were available on a non-scheduled basis. The activities include water sports (e.g. catamaran rides, stand-up paddleboarding, sea kayaking), boot camp classes, in-water cycling, cornhole, darts, table tennis, bingo and more. We were most excited about the prospect of stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) but the activity desk employees told us each of the four mornings that the water was too rough to SUP. So we settled for sea kayaking, which was fun in its own right.
On top of all of that, free tennis lessons were offered! Booking a lesson was a bit of a mess though. We saw the tennis lessons listed with an 8:00 start time in The Daily Z News. We awoke early and headed to the activity desk thinking we may have to check in there or pick up rackets. The employee working the desk was shocked to see Tennis Lesson listed on the paper. He said there is no group lesson at 8:00 but rather you must sign up for a specific slot and that the morning slots were already claimed for that day. We were perplexed and a bit annoyed by the confusing communications from the hotel. We signed up for a morning slot the next day.
Our tennis lesson started off well and ended well but included a hiccup in the middle. Partway through our lesson another couple showed up and effectively just joined in. During a break we explained as politely as possible that we were not allowed to join in on another party’s lesson the previous day and that we had specifically booked this slot. They weren’t too thrilled but they left and then showed up again at the top of the hour for the next slot. The management team needs to do a better job communicating a concrete, consistent approach to booking tennis lessons among the resort staff.
The lesson itself was fun. Patty and I both got some advice on how to improve our (novice) games. It was one pro teaching the two of us. For each specific element of the lesson we would alternate and the instructor would chime in with tips throughout the session.
On top of all of those activities, during our visit the management was running a “free round of golf promotion” at a nearby, high-end course.
The golf promo in effect during our stay was for one free greens fee per person at either the Cinnamon Hill course or the White Witch course. After doing some research, we opted for the latter. The White Witch course was very nice. It was the hilliest course Patty and I have ever played and the views from most holes were stunning. We don’t exactly yearn for a caddy as we prefer to hack away without someone looking over our shoulders. However, the caddy’s knowledge was definitely helpful and a major factor in our round at White Witch being the fastest 18-hole round we’ve every played. We loved that – playing an incredible course but not eating up the entire day.
This slideshow covers our round of golf at the White Witch course.
The Nightly Shows
There were entertaining shows each night on the outdoor stage on the Ziva side of the resort.
One of the nights we attended it was an impressive Michael Jackson impersonation event. The other night we checked it out it was a “circus act” show which included jugglers and acrobats. The shows were a great after-dinner option. The only negative was that we did seem to get hit with mosquito bites when were outdoors at night.
During our stay, at least one wedding took place at the Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall. The ceremony appeared (we caught what appeared to be the tail end of it) to be held at the gazebo on the eastern side of the resort, near the nightly show stage. There was a cocktail hour held on the deck near the main gazebo. An employee told us that the reception was being held on a rooftop deck/lounge of the Ziva.
The setup looked nice though the cocktail hour’s location on the primary seafront deck means no real privacy for the cocktail hour guests from general resort guests. It is also less than optimal for resort guests that after shelling out to stay at the resort, prime evening lounging real estate is essentially unavailable for use.
Overall it seems like the Hyatt Ziva Zilara Rose Hall could be a solid choice if you’re looking for a Caribbean destination wedding. The offerings at the resort would keep most guests busy and the gazebo wedding and rooftop deck reception would be fun elements.
Staying for Free
Because this property is part of the Hyatt chain it is part of Hyatt’s Gold Passport (HGP) program. You can reserve a room for double occupancy for 25,000 HGP points per night. This is a decent redemption value as the type of room that award stays are booked into often go for about $400 per night, yielding about 1.6 cents per HGP point. You can sometimes get even more value out of HGP points but this is really a great choice if you’re dead set on minimizing out-of-pocket spending. That’s because with most hotel award stays you’ll still have to pay for food and drinks out of pocket. At vacation and honeymoon destinations this can often cost more than $200 a day for a couple!
An alternative to using Hyatt Gold Passport points is to use the Free Night Award certificates (and $50 statement credit) that you get as a signup bonus for the Chase Hyatt credit card. I covered this topic in more detail in my previous post: Hey, Mon! How to Get Flights & 4-Night Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall (Jamaica) Stay for $116pp!
On our trip we spent about $15 per night in tips. Other than that we didn’t pay for anything at the hotel. It was incredible to use points and get both the lodging and food and drinks covered.
The only other expense we incurred was off-property, for our round of golf. Though the greens fee was free, we had to pay for the cart ($70 total for the two of us) and we tipped $50 total to the caddy and another staff member. That $120 is more than we would usually spend on a round of golf but it was an incredible course in an idyllic setting and included the help of a caddy.
The Summary and THG’s Rating
After a disappointing check-in experience, our stay at the Hyatt Ziva Zilara Rose Hall improved greatly. By the time we were leaving we didn’t want to depart. Of course it’s easier to enjoy it when you know you’ve used points for a nearly-free stay.
Objectively, we were underwhelmed by the room but absolutely loved the wide array of activity offerings. We enjoyed the pool scene and considered the beach decent, though not stellar. We found some great restaurants we were happy to visit repeatedly and found the service decent (though not great).
If you like doing activities while on vacation this is a great Caribbean destination for you. If you’re looking to lounge all day at the pool or beach this resort will fit the bill but it’s not the best resort out there in that regard.
Taking all aspects of the property into account, I award the Hyatt Zilara Ziva Rose Hall a rating of 14 out of 17.
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Have you stayed at the Hyatt Ziva or Zilara Rose Hall? Share your thoughts and rating of the property in the comments section!