Whatever their packet, clients will enjoy this rambunctious isle, writes Jo Cooke
Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, Grace Jones, Shaggy…the lengthy list of world-famous Jamaicans immediately gives you an idea of what their homeland is like: brimming with personality and individuality.
There’s a sense you can live the life you please here, even as a visitor. Want to stay permanently in your beachwear? No problem, if you book one of the humble, seaside abodes. Prefer to dress up and rub shoulders with the jet set? Jamaica does swanky beautifully.
Then there are all-inclusives brimming with style and one-of-a kind hideaways. You don’t even have to head off the beaten track to find them: just make for one of the big three, as the north coast tourist hubs of Negril, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay are known.
Negril’s ideal for a laid-back, low-key beach holiday. For clients who want to explore, there’s Ocho Rios. Dunn’s River Falls is here, while Kingston, with its Blue Mountains and Bob Marley Museum, is a 90-minute drive away. Montego Bay is great for those who want to maximise their holiday time. Properties are less than 20 minutes from the airport, plus there are top notch golf courses and shopping opportunities.
All packages below are for seven nights including flights and transfers, for departures in May.
Splurge: A Night with the Stars
Jamaica was quick off the starting blocks when it came to tourism. From the late 1940s, the island’s turquoise ocean, verdant hills and cascading waterfalls captured the hearts of tourists including Ian Fleming, Noel Coward, Errol Flynn and Marilyn Monroe, not to mention Winston Churchill.
Monroe and Churchill kicked back at Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios, a characterful five-star with more old-world charm than Antiques Roadshow and one of the most divine beaches in Jamaica. Vying with Jamaica Inn for pole position in this category are Round Hill and Half Moon, both in Montego Bay.
Half Moon has 197 rooms and 31 villas across its 400-acre site, fronted by a crescent of white sand from which the hotel takes its name. There’s also an equestrian centre, dolphin facility and golf course. Round Hill, meanwhile, has 27 villas and 36 rooms in a colonial-meets-contemporary design, etched into a peninsula reached through an avenue of palms. ITC Classics offers Half Moon from £1,735 and Round Hill from £1,799, both room-only.
Switching formal for funky at The Caves in Negril gives clients a similarly privileged location on the town’s West End cliff tops.
Its 11 rooms are in thatched seaside cottages, shrouded by seagrape trees and creatively crafted from stone and clapboard. Interiors are hippy-chic, with brightly painted walls and ceilings, and ethnic designs on the sumptuous bedding. Prices start at £2,250 all-inclusive through Western & Oriental.
Spend: We’re all-in Paradise
Couples Tower Isle in Ocho Rios is an absolute steal at £1,388 all inclusive with Thomson.
With 226 rooms, this immaculately presented, art-deco hotel has a retro-chic pool and decor. From the buffet to fine-dining restaurants, the food here is exceptional. The property’s piano bar brims with history, with photos revealing that Eva Gabor, Debbie Reynolds, Louis Armstrong and Walt Disney all hung out here.
More-daring clients can enjoy leaving their bathing suits behind on the ‘au natural’ beach located on an offshore island. Jamaica is Sandals’ home ground and the resort operator has pulled out all the stops when it comes to amenities at Sandals Grande Riviera Beach & Villa Golf Resort, also in Ocho Rios. From £1,811 all-inclusive with Virgin Holidays, this 529-room establishment has a climbing wall, golf course in a breathtaking hilltop setting, and a plethora of water and land sports and organised activities.
A further highlight is the waterfront marina, complete with boardwalk and fire pits for couples to cuddle up beside at sunset.
Clients who want to dip into this catalogue of facilities and then retreat to blissful seclusion need only book in next door at the charming, 77-unit Sandals Royal Plantation. A formal garden with fountain and clifftop piazza give this hotel an Italianate feel.
Back in Montego Bay the 489 room Hilton is a slick operation. Staff are as friendly as they are efficient, and an upbeat, holiday vibe pervades. There’s an attractive waterpark with sugar-plantation theme, golf course and swish palm lined pool on the property, all backed by rolling hills and meeting a pretty stretch of beach. Prices start from £1,369 all-inclusive with Caribtours.
At the other side of town, on an alluring peninsula edged by an arc of white sand, you’ll find Secrets Wild Orchid and Secrets St James, twin properties that have 350 rooms apiece.
Contemporary pools, lively entertainment and accommodation with luxury furnishings are the stand-out features. Staying all-inclusive in a Junior Suite at Secrets St James in May starts from £1,658 with Cosmos.
The cream of Negril’s all-inclusive crop is Couples Swept Away. Low-rise wood and white washed room blocks are shrouded by a maze of lush, exotic planting, with hidden ponds, hot tubs and hammocks to discover on a romantic stroll.
Beyond them is a prime chunk of Long Bay’s white-sand beach, backed by a grove of palm trees. Across the coast road, a sports complex is also framed by exquisite planting and includes 10 tennis courts, a jogging trail, yoga pavilion and Olympic-sized swimming pool. Western & Oriental’s lead-in is £1,799.
Save: Independence days
It’s not just clients watching the pennies who might find Jamaica’s budget options appealing, but independent types too.
The 143 rooms at Royal Decameron, Montego Bay, may be a little old-fashioned, but the hotel is right on the Hip Strip, lined with shops, bars, restaurants, a casino and jazz club. The property has steps down into the ocean, and if clients want a quintessentially Caribbean beach, Doctor’s Cave is a five-minute walk away. Airtours offers the property all-inclusive from £835.
In Negril, the beachfront Legends (pictured below) offers bed and breakfast, giving clients the option to check out the rainbow of restaurants and bars on Long Bay. Rooms are neat and basic and on both sides of the coast road. Cosmos leads in at £955.
In Ocho Rios, the lively Sunset Jamaica Grande is on a beach and in the heart of the frenetic town centre. Duty-free shops and craft markets galore are just footsteps away, while the property features a water slide, nightclub and gaming lounge. All-inclusive costs from £835 with Airtours.
PLAY THREE WAYS
Save: Watch the sunset from Long Bay beach, Negril.
Spend: Take a trip around the Luminous Lagoon, Falmouth, at dusk. The water glitters in the boat’s wake as it disturbs microorganisms.
Price: £34.99 per adult and £26.50 per child for Thomson’s Glistening Waters excursion
Splurge: Rise above the rainforest treetops and see incredible coastal views on Mystic Mountain’s chairlift. The hill-top station has an infinity pool with slide, hummingbird garden and bobsleigh ride.
Price: £87 per adult and £84 per child for a three-in-one Mystic Mountain experience including bobsled, skyride and zipline, plus pick-up from Ocho Rios hotels, with Do Something Different
EAT THREE WAYS
Save: The Out of Town Bakery on Negril’s West End has fresh-baked loaves stuffed with ackee and saltfish, the national dish.
Spend: For authentic jerk chicken, roasted yam, and festival (fried dumplings) head to Scotchies, Ocho Rios.
Price: Add a Red Stripe and it’s still less than a tenner
Splurge: Floating on a lagoon, The HouseBoat Grill (below) in Montego Bay has excellent steak and fish dishes with a Caribbean twist.
Price: £50 for three courses
THREE NEW HOTELS
December saw three new properties open in Jamaica.
The adult-only all-inclusive Hotel Riu Palace Jamaica near Montego Bay is an all-suite hotel with 238 rooms, all with hydro-massage baths, free Wi Fi and 24-hour room service.
Also in Montego Bay, the Royalton White Sands has an array of facilities including a waterpark, beauty and fitness centre, kids’ club and teen lounge.
In St Ann’s, the Jewel Paradise Cove Beach Resort & Spa is another adult-only all-inclusive, and has a health, spa and fitness theme. Fitness classes, green fees, watersports and a range of excursions are included in the package at this 225-room hotel.
TRIED & TESTED: Jamaica Inn, Ocho Rios
Enhancements to the rooms and grounds, a warm and debonair new general manager, and a remodelled spa have given this grande dame of the Caribbean a spring in her step.
The property is set on an idyllic cove and has 52 suites and cottages. Suites have ocean views, with balconies and terraces furnished as living rooms, while cottages, some with plunge pools, offer direct ocean access.
A restaurant and cocktail terrace overlook the gardens. Service is white-glove meets West Indian charm. Staff remember your name and favourite cocktail.
Room-only prices start from £1,599 with Caribtours.
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