From beginning to end, and everything in between, our first private Villa vacation at the Dreamin’ villa at Silver Sands resort in Jamaica was most excellent. Our dealings with the owner Richard Thompson could not have been easier and was stress-free (“Ire mon”) and every aspect of the vacation, and the great little Silver Sands “village” were perfect.
After some 28 years of vacationing and travelling, this was our first private villa vacation in the Caribbean. As background, we’ve experienced a variety of all-inclusive resorts, cruises and hotel accommodation but this was our first time at a private villa. Although the large all-inclusive resorts are certainly great value, we’ve moved beyond that and are looking for something more laid back, quiet, and relaxing. A pile of good books, good food, some beer and wine, and a nice beach to sit on, and swim in, is all we’re looking for in a sun vacation. I and my wife Kathy are in our early 50’s, in good shape, love good food, and have travelled fairly extensively in the Caribbean (both A.I. and private resorts) and Europe. What follows is a somewhat lengthy review – read on, or just skim – your choice. Parts of this review relate to our villa of course, and other sections relate to the resort as a whole.
Silver Sands is a very nice collection of private villas in a private gated development located on the coast about 35 minutes east of Montego Bay, near the small town of Duncans, east of Falmouth. Like a small village, the villas spread outwards and upwards from an awesome private beach which extends between the man-made pier (with the Gazebo you see in the pictures) on the western side, to the small cliff that suddenly rises on the eastern edge. Despite looking at the map and the pictures, I was surprised at the size of the resort and how extensively the villas rise up the hillside (which makes for a lot of great views from the different villas). The villas are indeed very close together, but most villas (including Dreamin’ Cottage) have been cleverly designed and situated to take full advantage of the views, the breezes, and convenience. Accessed off a small winding road from the coastal highway, the area is very safe, secure and quiet.
Dreamin’, the villa we rented directly from Mr. Thompson, has a first rate and choice location directly across from the entrance to the communal beach, bar and front office area (including the store) which meant our daily relaxation position on the beach chairs was only steps away from our villa. There is a new villa being constructed immediately beside Dreamin’ but it had no impact at all on us and we found Dreamin’ to be very private, cozy and comfortable. (We were a little worried at first that the construction adjacent, and also behind, us might have been a bit noisy, but there were no worries. This may have something to do with the very, very relaxed pace of Jamaican construction.) The pictures of the Villa on the My Silver Sands website are very accurate and representative of the villa. You enter into a small cozy tiled entrance lounge and then move into the combined living and dining area. The décor, furniture, paintings and art work are top-notch and the villa has been beautifully and tastefully decorated by Mr. Thompson. The master bedroom was a nice size, the bed was very comfortable, and had air conditioning available should you choose. Alternatively there are a lot of shuttered and screened windows if you prefer the natural night air, breezes and a symphony of a thousand Jamaican frogs, critters and insects to put you to sleep. The bathroom was modern and in great shape with superior fixtures and good lighting. The second bedroom (which was closed off because there was only the two of us) is also very nice with two twin beds and an identical private bathroom. There is a very cute bench seat in an alcove bay window in that bedroom – perfect for kids. The small kitchen was quite nice, containing everything you could possibly need, a good gas stove, large fridge, microwave, toaster and coffee maker and everything else you might need – but Miss Ivy ensures you need not concern yourself with much in the way of kitchen duty during your vacation!
Our favourite part of the villa was the collection of exterior sitting areas. The north patio area, facing the water, has been perfectly designed to afford guests privacy if they want, good breezes, an excellent view from the rooftop, prime sun tanning exposure and easy access to the interior of the villa. This large area is sort of broken up into five different sections. Immediately outside the kitchen door and dining door (there are lots of doors in the villa) is a small sitting area completely covered and private. Adjacent to that is a dining area with a large dining table where we ate almost all of our afternoon and evening meals through the week. From here there is a cool circular staircase that leads up to the rooftop patio area with yet more lounge chairs and another circular glass table. We had breakfast here every morning as the sun came up and Silver Sands came to life around us (we are early risers). A step down from the dining and sitting area outside the kitchen is the very expansive patio area with lots of chairs, loungers, all with bright new cushions, for reclining, reading, sunning, relaxing, snoozing, enjoying a glass of wine – and even dancing with your spouse under the stars with music playing (a nice touch one night initiated by my romantic wife!).
Insofar as the villa is concerned, we would not have a single reservation in highly recommending Dreamin’ Cottage as a villa of choice if you are looking for a relaxing, laid back absolutely private accommodation. It was clean, bright, comfortable, intimate and yet spacious and very well appointed. It was large enough for four (had we brought our daughters as originally planned) and still perfect for two. Our only suggestion, and a minor one at that, was that a ceiling fan over the bed would have been great to avoid the necessity of air conditioning on some evenings (and to keep the little biting critters away).
But the attributes of Dreamin’ are not limited to the villa itself. Booking and dealing with Richard was a refreshing change from the usual online, impersonal and business-like booking processes we often now encounter in planning vacations. We dealt directly with Richard through his web site, instead of through Silver Sands (which you can do I believe) by email and phone and he was awesome. We originally had booked the villa for a special Christmas getaway for our family, including our two daughters in 2010 but with a new job that materialized for Kathy that fall, we had to cancel. Richard said there would be no problem applying our deposit to a later vacation. Over a year later, we thought we might have left it too late, but Richard was fully accommodating and we rebooked for 8 days in February. There was no contract, nothing to sign and no red tape – everything was accomplished with a few emails. Payment was made by PayPal easy-peasy. A man of his word, a few weeks before our arrival Richard called to chat, and we confirmed a few food preferences (nothing too spicy for my wimpy stomach and taste buds), drinks and airport transportation. Richard looked after the airport transportation booking with Ken and Donette Smythe (Juta Tours), as well as a fast-track arrival process, and even beverages upon our arrival. The return to the airport was equally as efficient and pleasant.
A note about arriving at Dreamin’. Vacations are great but we’ve learned through the years that the arrival and departure processes, especially for all-inclusive vacations, can be downright awful, and eat away precious hours of your hard-earned vacation time. Being herded through airports, onto buses with dozens of other guests (some going to other resorts) dealing with luggage, room assignments, more luggage transfers, checking in and piles of other “welcome” processes are unfortunate necessities in starting your vacation. At the beginning you overlook it all because you are so excited to be there – at the end, and returning home – it’s just not fun. If you asked me to tell you one of the biggest selling points of a Villa Vacation at Dreamin’ Cottage at Silver Sands, especially with Richard, I’d say that the first-rate personalized, just-for-us treatment we received was top of the list. Richard had arranged for a fast-track process through the Jamaican Tourist Board and it was awesome. We were whisked through customs into the arms of our driver who handed over a cooler with two iced Red Stripe beers and bottled water and within minutes we were on our way to the resort. The ride was great (with many an errant goat pedestrian weaving into the road here and there) and we arrived to find Miss Ivy standing at the gate to welcome us. I swear that less than 90 minutes after touching down at Mo Bay Airport I was in my bathing suit on the Jamaica Dreamin’ patio, in bare feet, with (another) cold Red Stripe in my hand. How great is that!
But let’s get to the heart and soul of our Dreamin’ villa vacation. The one. The only. Too-Good-To-Be-True Miss Ivy! Miss Ivy is the engine that makes Dreamin’ run like a well-oiled machine. She’s a lean, mean, Jamaican cooking machine that makes the best roast chicken this side of the Blue Mountains. She’s a non-stop, bundle of energy that looks after the villa and cooks the meals with a no-nonsense, dedicated attention to each week’s guests. The thought of being looked after by our own cook and housekeeper struck me as rather decadent and extravagant, but Miss Ivy’s efficient and reserved demeanor and approachable and pleasant nature made the week very relaxing with a homey feel. She was assisted by Miss Claudet, a lovely shy young lady who cleaned, did laundry and assisted Miss Ivy. On our arrival there were fresh flowers arranged around the villa, with a lovely towel and flower arrangement on our bed and everything was spotless. It remained that way each day of the vacation.
Let me tell you about dining Miss Ivy style, at Dreamin’ cottage. We love good food. We’ve dined a great restaurants and enjoyed fabulous meals on our travels in North America, Europe and the Caribbean and we enjoy good food. Our expectations are different depending where we are and in this case we weren’t expecting fancy, we were anticipating good tasty island cooking. We weren’t disappointed. We loved Miss Ivy’s cooking. You won’t be enjoying five-star gourmet restaurant dining with Miss Ivy – instead you’ll get five-star Jamaican home cooking of the very best kind. Having Miss Ivy as our own private Jamaican cook, looking after our menu for the week was great fun! Beforehand I had told Richard that we wanted to try some classic Jamaican dishes such as Ackee and Salt Fish, Callaloo, Rice and Peas and the infamous lobster what everyone talks about. We also were looking forward to good fresh fish, but unfortunately the waters were a little choppy and the local fishermen weren’t coming up with fresh fish for us.
So what did we eat? The most fabulous home-cooked island food we could have imagined. The first night we were treated to Miss Ivy’s amazing roast chicken with spices. Caramelized roasted buttery spiced skin surrounded perfectly moist chicken smothered in a dark onion gravy and we gobbled it down. We asked for a repeat on the chicken later in the week – it was SO good! There was Miss Ivy’s awesome fried plantain (requested every night) her hand chopped steamed vegetables (also requested most every night) and rice. The next day the other half of the roast chicken was resurrected in a fresh tasty chicken salad for lunch. Miss Ivy prepares an incredible Ackee and Salt Fish – one of Jamaica’s most well-known traditional dishes. She uses only fresh ackee (some cooks use canned ackee) – which is an interesting pod/seed from the ackee tree that, when cooked with her magic touch, was reduced to a velvety, melt-in-your mouth veggie like no other. These fleshy soft nuggets were mixed with peppers, onions, spices and the salt fish. Served with a chilled white wine, Miss Ivy’s Ackee and Saltfish was my favourite - we had it once for lunch and again for breakfast with scrambled eggs on the last day. Miss Ivy also makes a mean Callalloo, a simple sautéed vegetable dish with greens and chopped beans and onions which is an excellent side dish. We had her pork dish another night which had a bit of heat and was great. We asked Miss Ivy for mutton mid-week, and when we sat down at the table we discovered an amazing aromatic mutton curry dish, with tasty morsels of mutton, in saffron and spiced sauce, with just a touch of heat (to again accommodate the wimpy Canadian palate that is mine) served with basmati rice. Kathy found it a bit rich, but I loved it. Another specialty is Miss Ivy’s perfectly cooked shrimp in another of her tasty cream sauces.
Miss Ivy’s lobster was spectacular. Although I love good lobster, I hate fighting with lobster and loathe “lobster nights” on vacation where you get a large tail, soggy from sitting in the steam table, doused in too-much-garlic butter and cold by the time it gets to your mouth. I’m always hesitant to order lobster for this reason. In contrast, Miss Ivy’s lobster was a universe away from the mundane. The large fleshy chunks of lobster tail were shelled, perfectly moist and tender, and doing the backstroke in a thick buttery, creamy sauce that was oh-so-heavenly. Rice and Peas (which are like kidney beans and not green peas) was a simple but great side dish wolfed down with gusto. In addition to the chicken salad makeover, and the Ackee and Saltfish, lunches each day were simple -- sandwiches, salads, leftover roast chicken and rice and peas. The only not-so-great exception (in my humble view) was something Miss Ivy called Coco Bread and patties. The coco bread was great – warm and freshly baked local buns, but the “patties” – which were seasoned pastry crusts stuffed with a thin smear of dark meat paste – didn’t turn my crank. The taste reminded me of French Canadian meat pies – which I’m not a fan of. Kathy liked them. For me, the patties lunch was the one and only blip in a week of awesome, tasty, satisfying Jamaican home cooking prepared and served by an amazing lady who clearly enjoys what she does and takes immense pride in what she does. Hats off to Miss Ivy.
A note about meal and money arrangements. We specifically asked that breakfast be simple fruit salad with toast and coffee. We got up each morning and Miss Ivy had the salad cut and ready. We made our own coffee (good hearty Blue Mountain coffee) and toast (with terrific Guava Jam) and brought it up to the roof to enjoy with the fresh fruit plate in the sunshine. Miss Ivy then made lunch each day – we came up from the beach around 12:30 always to find lunch ready and on the table. Dinners were prepared and in covered dishes when we arrived back at the Villa around 4:30 or 5:00. If we weren’t ready to eat, we popped the still-warm dishes in the Microwave to reheat just before eating. Miss Ivy looked after buying all the food, (even purchased our beer order and our first bottle of wine) bottled water and what was needed for the dishes, based on what we discussed for each meal. Groceries were either purchased at Chen’s in Falmouth, or from the local suppliers or the store across the street. I then paid the bills at the store as they were charged, and gave Miss Ivy the cash she asked for at intervals. (My tip to anyone would be to bring sufficient cash for the week unless you are planning to go into town to access an ATM. We had enough cash, and didn’t have to waste a minute of our vacation time getting cash from a machine). I meant’ to keep track of the how much was spent but lost track and frankly couldn’t be bothered. Mixed into the purchases for Miss Ivy, we also bought beer, Ting, ice cream and a few bottles of wine, so how much was spent on actual food and how much on beer, wine and beverages. I can say the total budget was a little more than I expected, but not a lot, considering the sheer volume of food we enjoyed and the variety of dishes through the week. We absolutely loved the experience of having our own private cook making meals and this aspect of the villa vacation was another of the top ten on the list.
As for beverages, we are not hard liquor drinkers, and drank mostly wine with meals and beer during the day (with the occasional Dirty Banana from the beach bar). The wine selection at the store is not bad, but limited. Whites were mostly chardonnays and a few sauvignon blancs. There was a rather basic selection of reds. At Richard’s suggestion we brought three bottles of our favourite whites from home as well as a Greek Vin Santo for sipping in the evening. If you’re fussy about your wine, bringing a few bottles is a good idea (you are allowed about two bottles per person). Red Stripe beer was $3 a bottle at the convenience store but less, when purchased in a case from the store in town. In addition to what we brought and stocked in the Villa fridge, we set up a tab account at the beach bar at the beginning of the week. You just give them your credit card and they keep track of what you buy and I just paid the bill at week’s end and tipped the bar staff as we bought. Very convenient. We spent $75 during the week for a beer here and there and some slush drinks, - when we were too lazy to go “all the way” back to the villa.
Silver Sands amenities are not extensive (compared to an All Inclusive) but what is there is well maintained and done well and it was more than enough for us. As I said, the beach is excellent; on par with the nicest beaches we’ve encountered elsewhere – lovely soft white sand. There is more than enough area for guests to swim without feeling crowded. The water in February was warm and aquamarine clear. Since we were pretty-much the only guests at the beach by about 8:30 each morning we can attest that the fellows who look after cleaning the beach area are attentive and thorough, scooping up the prior day’s accumulations of seaweed and litter. The beach is supervised by two gentlemen during the day, the oldest being Roy, and with him is a younger fellow, both of them laid back and helpful. There are white plastic waffle-butt chairs scattered around the beach but just ask and the guys will haul new canvas recliners to wherever you want on the beach. They pile them neatly back at the lifeguard area each night. Kayaks, small skiffs and boards are available for rent – I took a single kayak out for an hour ($10.00) one afternoon and paddled around the bay. That was the extent of my physical activity and I retreated quickly to my chair for a well-deserved red stripe thereafter. Another great plus for Silver Sands – not one single beach vendor, or solicitor bothering guests on the beach trying to hawk everything from beads to parasailing to massages. This can be extremely annoying and intrusive while trying to relax on a beach, but due to its private status, we were left in absolute peace the entire week, save and except for the friendly bar staff dropping by to remind us of the evening events.
The beach bar on the patio area is nice and was fairly busy place most days. The bartenders were friendly, efficient and great to deal with. There is a small snack bar on the other side of the patio area – didn’t buy anything through the week, since Miss Ivy was taking such good care of our bellies. Silver Sands will help you with excursions of most every kind. On Friday night, there are the infamous weekly crab races, and they had a karaoke night and a Bob Marley celebration. We could hear most of the goings on from our villa, and everyone seemed to have fun.
Silver Sands seems to draw a broad range of a crowd. Families, a few college kids, couples such as us and a sizeable number of vacationers age 50 and over. Since we elected not to leave the resort, (having done some of the Jamaican excursions years before) we can say that Dreamin’ Cottage at Silver Sands is an awesome alternative for a laid back, low key sun vacation where you can relax in the privacy of both your own villa and a secluded first-rate beach, eat great Jamaican Home cooking, and enjoy the sun.
The one other tip I would leave for visitors to Silver Sands would be to be mindful of the home-grown “skitters” that can make an appearance. I’ve never been bothered by mosquitos or bugs when travelling in the Caribbean – I had theorized that the massive muskeg mosquitos that I grew up with up here in northern Canada had perhaps immunized me against the tiny little mozzies in the Islands. My bug bravado came to an end on this vacation. There was a good steady breeze for the first 4 days or so but the wind shifted one evening and they descended on me in a swarm. (They seemed to leave my lovely wife alone!) This was partly my own fault, as I like sitting outside in the evenings, reading. For the next few days I was covered in nasty, itchy bug-bites. So if you’re heading to Silver Sands, bring a good Deet insect repellant and if the breeze drops, beware the silent, tiny little buggers that especially love the ankles and elbows of bald middle-aged men such as the likes of me, apply bug spray in liberal doses and enjoy the rest of your vacation!
A quick note about our equally efficient and effort-free departure day. Richard had pre-arranged our return to the airport. Even though we were on a late 6:30 p.m. flight we coordinated with Miss Ivy to vacate our bedroom and move our bags into the entrance room, had a late breakfast and enjoyed the better part of our last day back on the beach (instead of being tied up with the usual departure formalities and sit-and-wait processes that happens on your last day of vacation at an all-inclusive). An hour before our driver arrived we went back to the Villa, grabbed a quick shower in the second bathroom, and dressed for the return home. Once again, the driver had us at the airport in short order. We tried out the new “Club MoBay” lounge at the Montego Bay Airport. For $30 each, after you have checked in, you have use of the fairly large private lounge while you wait for your flight. This was a great way to spend the last few hours in Jamaica. The area seems to be brand-spanking new. A complete open bar is included in the price, with numerous seating areas. There are also free sandwiches and snacks. You can purchase hot food (looked like not bad pizza!) and there are washroom facilities, computer terminals with internet access and a play area for kids. If you have more than an hour to wait for your flight, this seemed like a terrific alternative to sitting in the terminal gate areas and for us, it was worth the price.
As you can see from the review, we’d highly recommend the Dreamin’ Cottage at Silver Sands. Richard Thompson, Miss Ivy and Miss Claudet, together with the staff of Silver Sands, will treat you to a personalized, friendly and home-style Jamaican vacation that will leave you feeling relaxed, pampered and well-fed. We’re already recommending the place it to family members and friends. Cheers!
|How easy was it to book the property?||How easy was key pickup/access to the property?|
|Overall condition of the property||Bedding & mattresses|
|Kitchen & utensils||Bathroom cleanliness|
|Other facilities & amenities||Service|
|Friends getaway||Older travelers|
|Families with young children|
|Check-in / front desk||Service|
|A romantic getaway|
highly recommend Dreamin. staff friendly, accommodations clean, comfortable and the beach inviting. spent many hours relaxing, on a beach chair, on the large outdoor patio and on the roof top deck. All the staff at Silver Sands greet you with a smile.
the food was delicious and we were well taken care of by Miss Ivy and Miss Ingrid.
If you are looking for a place to unwind, relax and want to leave the busy world behind you, then Dreamin is for you.
|Check-in / front desk||Service|
|Friends getaway||A romantic getaway|
|Older travelers||Families with teenagers|
|Check-in / front desk||Service|
|Friends getaway||A romantic getaway|
|Older travelers||Families with young children|