Following is our assessment of the differences between Hedonism II in Negril, Jamaica (commonly referred to on the Caribbean BB as "Hedo") and cruises, which have been our preferred method of vacations over the past several years. I recognize that this endeavor manifests a rather large measure of conceit on my part, as it appears that I think that people would care about what my opinions are regarding the differences between the two types of vacations. Also, I am fairly certain that many people will consider me quite conceited in making a judgment regarding Hedonism, based on one visit. However, as a lawyer, I often expound unpopular positions based upon not much evidence, so here goes!
I intend to post a note on the Afloat BB telling people that this review is here. I would anticipate that at least some of them will come on over here to read this. Therefore, I will attempt not to presume a level of knowledge by all regarding both types of vacation. That means, I suppose, that most people will see items regarding their preferred method of vacation which seem "elementary, my dear Watson". Since cruises involve many, many different ships, statements made regarding cruises are intended to cover the "average" cruise, whatever that is, and, for the most part, are not intended to cover special sailings, sailings on premium ships like Sea Goddess and sailings on sailing ships like Windjammers, on which I have no experience.
For comparison, we have taken 10 cruises over the past 4 years, plus stayed in Aruba, and were at the Negril Beach Club about a year and a half ago, before this, our first trip to Hedo on January 16 through 24. Therefore, we have a prejudice in favor of cruises, and while I will try not to let the prejudice show too much, it will probably show itself herein. Overall, if we were going to make a blatant generalization which is probably not fair to either type of vacation, it would probably be that we feel that the quality of the dining experience that a person receives on a cruise is much higher than at Hedo, and the entertainment is better on a ship, However one gets a much more relaxing vacation from Hedo and Hedo really is a totally all-inclusive vacation.
This comparison is intended to be a candid comparison, which includes some things which are not perfectly complementary to Hedo. Let me further state up front that we have not found the perfect vacation yet, although we can understand why many others consider Hedo to be "Heavenism". However, the fact that I do not find an experience totally PERFECT does not mean that I do not enjoy myself. Despite whatever criticisms we level herein at Hedo, (and they are, for the most part, minor) we had an absolutely WONDERFUL time at Hedo and would not hesitate to recommend the trip to friends or relatives. We will no doubt return in the future, although, for the reasons contained herein, cruising will probably remain our favorite type of vacation.
One of the major advantages in terms of "stress factor" that Hedo has over cruises is that the vacation is truly "all-inclusive". Cruises bill themselves as "all-inclusive" but are not. On a typical cruise, one can expect to pay, once onboard ship, for alcoholic drinks, plus cokes, plus tips, plus if you want to go snorkeling, scuba diving, etc., you can expect to pay extra. On almost all cruises, there are stops at various islands, at which the ship will try to sell you shore excursions at an extra cost. Whether you purchase any of those or not is up to you. You do not have to pay for tender service or to leave the ship while in port, but whether you can actually SEE or DO anything much without expending any additional money is very much dependent on the port involved. I consider the vast variety of destinations to be a major advantage of cruises over Hedo, in that I enjoy experiencing different places while on vacation.
All drinks, watersports, etc., are included at Hedo. Once you have paid for your lodging (and air) at Hedo, you truly do not HAVE to spend anything more than $10 PP Jamaican departure tax, and maybe a couple of bucks for porters at the airports. At Hedo, we went snorkeling twice, went on a glass-bottom boat ride, sailing, and horseback riding. We did not pay anything for any of those items, and COULD have done each of them every day, plus go scuba diving, sailboarding, play tennis (including having lessons), play squash, go kayaking, etc., etc., all without paying anything extra. There are no tips expected or ACCEPTED at Hedo. There is a tour desk right by the front desk at Hedo which sells trips to other parts of Jamaica. Taking additional tours from Hedo is not either encouraged or discouraged and my guess is that most people who travel to Hedo do not venture outside the resort, except possibly to stroll down the beach or head to Rick's Cafe.
When it comes to price, we paid around $3200 altogether, including air, for Hedo. There do not (except for the fly-by-night guys who want full payment by certified funds six months in advance--NOT!!!!), appear to be any significant discounts that you can get on the price for Hedo. Not true at all for cruises. Pricing on cruises these days is so crazy, since there is so much competition, that you can often get up to 50% discount on the brochure price of cruises. And, for the most part, depending on what cruise line you book and what category of cabin, you should be able to get a cruise (WITHOUT the extra's that are free at Hedo) for less money than the trip to Hedo. Overall, and depending to some extent on what ship you sail and what category of cabin you book and how much you drink and how many extra optional excursions you book, and how much you tip, the overall price for the cruise MAY be less. Cruises are sold, for the most part, including air, although you can book cruise-only. We booked our own air to Hedo, although there are packages available through Apple and others that include air to Hedo. Transportation from the airport at MoBay is provided by Hedo, by means of the "bus ride from Hell", which is about 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours worth of twisting, bumpy roads, usually with a potty break half way or so.
Accommodations are one major difference between Hedo and cruises. Rooms at Hedo are not what one would call "deluxe", compared to some other hotels. Ours had a king sized bed and was kept neat and clean and fresh towels supplied by the maid, but some things provided at most "deluxe" hotels or on ships don't appear--for example, complimentary toiletries, etc. There are no balconies with any of the rooms at Hedo. All rooms are exactly the same, except for king-sized beds or twin beds, and the location. The price is the same for all rooms.
On all new ships and many older ships, there are TV's, radios and phones in all rooms. On most ships, you get only a private shower, toilet and sink, but no bathtub. Many new ships provide built in hairdryers in the rooms. However, a few older ships have 220 current, so that you need to buy an adapter to plug in your razor and some older ships don't have sufficient voltage in the rooms to run your hairdryer. The array of different kinds of rooms on ships is large, with some providing sitting rooms, refrigerators, balconies, etc., in the rooms. You, of course, pay a whole lot more on a ship for that larger room than the smaller room, even though once you get outside the room, all amenities are exactly the same. However, unless you book a suite (and possibly not even then!) the room that you have on a ship will be much smaller than the rooms at Hedo.
My personal opinion regarding the "amenities" in the rooms at Hedo is that the management purposefully doesn't want people to spend time in the rooms. Therefore, there aren't TV's or phones or radios provided in the rooms, to make sure that people don't stay in the rooms. We are not generally in our rooms much on a ship, but we were never in the room at Hedo, except to sleep and change clothes. There is a couch and a safe in all rooms at Hedo, but no refrigerators in any rooms.
The rooms at Hedo have four VERY small drawers for clothes, plus about a four foot hanging rack (with about 15-20 hangers), with a shelf below the rack and one above it, and that was it for storage! All rooms at Hedo have a shower and tub combination, but no hairdryers provided, and no plug-ins for hairdryers or shavers in the bathroom at all, although there are plug-ins in the room, which do not require adapters.. There was a retractable clothesline in the shower, which we used several times.
The main reason why there is so little storage space at Hedo is that there is really no reason to bring any clothes other than shorts and bathing suits. At the resort, there is never any meal in which you are required to wear long pants for the men, or to even CONSIDER wearing a jacket. It just isn't done, at either Hedo or anywhere in Negril, actually. We went to several restaurants in Negril when we went there before, and to a restaurant this time, and no one is expected to wear anything other than shorts and t-shirts anywhere and it's rare to see anything other than shorts and t-shirts. Technically I think at the sit-down restaurant at Hedo, men were supposed to wear a shirt with a collar, but they did not enforce that rule.
There are no "formal" nights at Hedo. The closest they get to that is toga night, in which you are expected to wear a sheet (and nothing else!) to dinner. I kind of like getting dressed up, and enjoy the experience of wearing my finest shiny dress and Eric looking handsome in his tux. However, if you have no desire to get dressed up, depending on which ship you sail, there will be at least two nights on a seven day cruise, in which you are EXPECTED to wear a suit, for the men, plus two other nights when they request that you wear a coat, although you can probably get away with no coat on those nights, depending on the ship. The remaining three nights, dress is resort-wear casual, although shorts are not allowed in the dining room for dinner on most ships.
All drinks are included at Hedo, including premium bar brands like Tangueray and Bacardi (although as a drinker of Bacardi black, I would have preferred that, but had to make do with Bacardi white). For comparison, Rick's Cafe in Negril and the hotel that Air Jamaica took us to for a few hours had only Jamaican rums. Hedo only has Red Stripe beer on tap, plus a couple of other bottled beers. Hedo has self-service soda machines at all the bars, including Delroy's, which are open 24 hours.
Wine is provided with lunch and dinner at Hedo. Some of the bars seemed not to have wine available sometimes, as I asked for red wine one time at Delroy's and he said he had none. There is a red and a white wine available for lunch and dinner, but no blush, which just happens to be my favorite wine! I liked the house red there, but thought the white was much too tart for my tastes. In the sit-down restaurant, there were a couple of additional wines available, which were better wines than the regular ones served in the main restaurant, but not what one would call "premium wines". Champagne is available at Hedo, for an extra charge, apparently. I do not know whether there were additional, premium brands of wine available, for an extra charge, at Hedo or not.
Except for the very expensive ships, all ships charge for all alcohol served on board, with the exception usually of a couple of free glasses of champagne at the captain's welcome aboard dinner and a selection (usually fairly limited) of free cocktails at the captain's cocktail party. Most ships provide premium brands of alcohol, although they generally charge more for them. There are generally only about 3 choices of beers onboard. Almost all cruise lines charge for sodas, even with meals. The only drinks that are provided free on most ships are iced tea, coffee, water and milk.
There were a couple of negative things regarding bar service at Hedo, which are understandable but still kind of irritating. There are no bar waitresses. Not a major deal, but an observation from a lazy person, who generally likes being waited on. And, while I'm on a roll with respect to the bar service, bar service is slow, primarily because there are not nearly as many bartenders as in a place where they are SELLING you the drinks. Actually, I kind of understand a logic that it shouldn't be THAT easy to get a drink real quick, and I do not consider the bar service a major problem. You always have to go up to the bar yourself to get your drinks. Also, you generally had to wait in line, particularly at the disco and at Delroy's, during the afternoon. We would hear Delroy call, "I'm making vodka slushes, who wants one?" and then he would fill up his blender and make five at a time. Delroy is a great bartender and we often had a few minutes to sit and talk with him during the day, when he wasn't busy. Other bartenders were usually just too busy, period. We kind of missed that, as we often sit and talk to bartenders on ships. Also, it was a LONG way, especially at night, from the hot tub to get a drink, which is one of the main reasons that we purchased an insulated drink cup, for such evening excursions. The non-availability of alcohol in the evening by the hot tub was probably a little on purpose, to keep people from getting so totally smashed and maybe drowning in the hot tub. There was a (24 hour) soda fountain right by the hot tub, with plenty of ice.
Another thing we noted regarding bar service was during the Cowboys/49er's game. Since it was during the day, the bar (in the disco) wasn't serving drinks, so we had to go all the way to the dining room or the beach bar to get drinks. Since there were maybe 75 people in there, obviously if they had been CHARGING for drinks, the bar would have been open. My opinion is that this was probably intentional, to keep it from being SO easy to get drinks while the game was on.
The only snacks available at Veronica's were peanuts (in the shell). ( I didn't see any snacks available at the disco, although we were only there for the PJ party, so I can't really say about that.) The peanuts were OK, but it wouldn't break Hedonism to provide a few pretzels or other snacks on the bar there. Again, my OPINION, in places where they are selling you drinks, they can't wait to provide you with salty type snacks to encourage more drinking. Where the drinks are all provided, there is no such incentive.
By comparison, bar service on a ship is usually mostly bar waitresses, and will generally bring you a drink wherever you are. However, except for VERY expensive ships, anytime you order a drink, you are spending more money ordering that particular drink. You are also paying an extra 15% tip on every drink ordered--usually by an automatic service charge added to the bill. On almost all ships you are issued a drink card, which you means you can sign a slip and charge the drinks to your room, which you settle at the end of the week, usually by charging it to a charge card. However, you do have to carry that card with you all the time, in order to do that. As far as the time factor goes, it's really impossible to make a generalization about how fast you are served a drink on a ship. However, to the extent such a generalization is possible, you probably actually GET your drink on a ship in about the same amount of time as at Hedo or maybe even longer, but it seems shorter to me, I guess, because you're not standing waiting for it. You're laying down in the sun, waiting for it to magically appear. On most ships, they are happy to provide you with pretzels, potato chips, something, to encourage you to drink more.
One major difference in the quality of the experience for us, and the main reason why cruising will probably continue to be our favorite type of vacation, is the food. All meals at Hedo are buffet, even dinner, with the exception of the sit-down restaurant, which does not cost extra, but does require reservations. On a ship, you can (although we generally do not), have EVERY meal of every day in the dining room. On almost all ships, you can eat breakfast and lunch either in the dining room or at the buffet, but you are required to eat dinner in the dining room, at an assigned time. Most ships have two seatings--early and late. Early seating usually has breakfast at about 7:30, lunch at 12:00, dinner at 6:00. Late seating has breakfast around 9:00, lunch at 1:30, dinner at 8:30. You request your dinner seating at the time of booking of the cruise. Usually your request is honored, although not always. Most ships provide hot breakfast up on deck from around 7 A.M. on, with croissants up on deck from around 6 A.M. Room service is available on almost all ships. The menus and hours available for room service are not really capable of a generalization across different ships, so I will not even make an attempt. There is no room service available at Hedo at any time.
Breakfast was, we thought, probably the best meal of the day, and the only meal that we considered better than you could get on a cruise ship. There were about 5 juices available every day, omelettes cooked to order (which were WONDERFUL) and eggs cooked to order every day, and either pancakes or french toast. I don't know whether there were waffles every day or not, but they were available several mornings, and I enjoyed those a lot. There was bacon or sausage available every day, plus carved ham every day. There was generally some type of potatoes available. There were always oranges, bananas, and tangerines available, along with pineapple and watermelon. Croissants, muffins, bagels, etc. were available every day. Depending very much on the ship, you can usually get almost all of the above menu (EXCEPT for the larger variety of fruits and juices) on most ships in the dining room, and, to a lesser extent, at the buffet on deck. The buffet breakfasts on many ships are limited to (usually watery) scrambled eggs, some fruit, one or two types of meats, usually some kind of potatoes, cereal, muffins and croissants.
Lunch was kind of a draw between Hedo and cruises, primarily because we generally eat at the buffet for lunch on most ships, probably half the time opting for a burger on board. Lunch at Hedo generally consisted, for us, of a something on the beach. McNude's Bar and Grill serves a good burger, hot dog, fries, nachoes and cheese, popcorn, and several other sandwiches. A couple of days we headed over to the main restaurant for lunch. One day we had Philly cheese steak sandwiches, which were really good. There were always sandwich fixings available for lunch in the main dining room, along with a couple of hot selections. There was a chalkboard at McNude's that told you what they had at the main dining room, so you could figure out if you were missing something by eating at the beach.
Buffet lunch on board a ship depends very much on which line you choose. Some ships provide only hamburgers and hotdogs, plus one or two other hot items. Some provide carved meats and several other choices, plus wonderful desserts, every day. Most ships have indoor\outdoor buffet restaurants, which provide the ability to sit inside in the A/C or to sit outside on deck in the sunshine and, usually, get a good view of the ocean. On ships, however, you do have the option of having lunch in the dining room, which would usually consist of soup, salad, entree, desserts, cheeses, coffee, etc, if you want all of that. However, if one wanted the ability to have a sit-down meal for lunch, with service, at Hedo, it just isn't available. We never really considered it to be a problem, as the weather was never really hot while we were there, but the main restaurant at Hedo is open air. Therefore, if you wanted to sit down in some A/C and have a nice meal, forget it, except at dinner. The sit-down restaurant was the only
place you could get food and sit and eat it in the A/C.
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