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Blog: Luxury Jamaica - A Long Weekend

October 26, 2016

 

"Yes Julian, I will."

 

That's the correct answer when invited to visit Jamaica as I was, by the Jamaican Tourist Board and British Airways.

 

Mission one: pick the right airport, be punctual and seek out my contact. I pick the man with a wide-brimmed hat, weighed down with lime green bags emblazoned with "Jamaica".

 

Bingo. This was Donovan, our host and – as he would prove – an ambassador for the home of 'Irie'. His first gift was an upgrade to Club World for the 9-hour flight.

 

His second was an introduction to Sally (one of our group), who told me that the seats reclined. Only took me 3 hours to find that out.

 

Oh, and who's that sitting across the aisle? Harry Styles.

 

Touchdown in Kingston, Jamaica. A smooth luggage pick-up and customs clearance followed, before being met by the equally smooth Mikey and our bus.

 

Destination one was Oracabessa, 10 miles east of Ocho Rios on the northern coast.

 

Donovan had informed us that with the new highway the transfer time should take no more than three hours, a major improvement on times gone by.

 

Virgin fly into Montego Bay which gives shorter transfer options and there are helipad options in the North for those that want to reduce that transfer time to a mere 20 minutes for an additional cost.

 

Our route gave a chance to experience real Jamaican life as we made our way up the island and we were subsequently held up for a considerable time as some local workers blocked the road trying to reverse a large truck. It was amusing. At first.

 

Back on our way, momentum was next interrupted when the police decided to pull us over for speeding, fortunately common sense prevailed and Mikey was reprieved.

 

 

Darkness sets in quickly in the Caribbean, so we weren't therefore able to get a full sense of the surroundings and excitement on entering the awesome GoldenEye Resort (pictured above).

 

Once the home of James Bond author Ian Fleming, it was developed by Island Records' founder, Chris Blackwell, opening as a resort in 2011.

 

We were staying in the magnificent new colourful Beach Huts (below), designed to promote indoor/outdoor living and an authentic tropical experience.

 

 

The interior design is well thought out with several little touches that add to the ambience. My personal room highlights were the brilliant David Bowie book and one of the most comfortable beds I have ever known.

 

As a group we were pretty exhausted from the long day's travel, which was a pity because the hospitality afforded us for the evening was something else. After cocktails in the peaceful surrounds, Mr Blackwell and his team joined us for a BBQ on the cutest of private beaches to the soundtrack of a live reggae band.

 

It was a spectacular introduction to the island and a real privilege for me particularly, with my background in the music industry and familiarity with the Island Records' story. 

 

The full beauty of the resort was evident next morning. Breakfast at the colourful and vibrant Bizot Bar afforded spectacular views of the ocean and was followed by a site inspection tour hosted by the superb Clayton and conducted on a glass-bottomed boat.

 

Our Destination Of The Month will provide further details of accommodation and facilities not just for GoldenEye but each of the wonderful resorts.

 

The lagoon around which the resort is built offers adventures for couples and families alike. From stand-up paddle boarding and gorgeous accommodation options right on the water, to a range of “wata sports” and the delightful spa run by the bubbly and brilliant Fiona.

 

In fact I could not have been more impressed by the staff throughout the resort. Every one of them we met was cheerful, laid-back, proud and as vibrant as the resort itself.

 

Our all-too-brief stay at GoldenEye concluded with a delightful traditional Jamaican “family lunch” of saltfish, jerk-chicken, ackee, callaloo, rice, coleslaws and salads all grown and prepared either on site or at Chris Blackwell's own farm.

 

 

Back aboard Mikey's bus, we headed the relatively short distance West to Ocho Rios and our next stop, the famous Jamaica Inn Hotel. It's steeped in history and stories of famous guests from Churchill to Coward, Hepburn and Monroe.

 

The hotel, one of the most loved in the Caribbean since the 1950s has maintained its elegance and style and we met several characters that have been on the staff for many years.

 

Distinguished by its vibrant blue exterior, the hotel rests on a stunning private beach and has a range of all-suite and cottage accommodation with spectacular ocean views (as shown above).

 

Myself and Catherine (another fellow traveller) were the lucky recipients of random room allocation. My room, 18, came with the most serene outdoor terrace backing directly onto the water and her room 21, was the “White Suite” where Churchill and many other dignitaries have stayed.

 

Over lunch our group really chimed, then it was on to Montego Bay, a couple of hours drive westwards, hugging the coast all the way.

 

 

Donovan made for a great tour guide on the way to Half Moon Resort where we checked into splendid accommodation in the Hibiscus Suites backing on to the beach (see the view pictured above).

 

We were soon off again to visit Rose Hall Great House, a place of ghosts. Now, working with the Abbotts' girls, I am well used to seeing the faces of the deeply haunted, but this time we were looking for "The White Witch", Annie Palmer.

 

This is a highly recommended attraction enhanced by the quite brilliant guide, Theisha Nelson, who had us absorbed in the history and the story.

 

The history lessons continued with a hosted dinner at Half Moon's iconic and award-winning Sugar Mill restaurant established in 1837 on the site of the former Running Gut Estate of the enormous plantation.

 

Time for Jane to play games master superbly, then some pleasant chill time back at the divine outdoor bar overlooking the crescent shaped bay that gives the resort its name.

 

A beautiful warm sunny Sunday morning began with a site inspection hosted by the excellent Jamie as we explored in golf-type buggies.

 

This fantastic place has something for everyone and I can see its appeal for families and larger groups looking to celebrate a special occasion.

 

Groups of impressive villas and cottage accommodation can be found in spacious areas of the 400-acre site. Bikes and carts can be hired and the magnificent facilities include a full equestrian centre, Olympic swimming pools, 13 tennis courts, the Fern Tree Spa and the popular natural dolphin lagoon, where our next surprise was in store: a memorable session with the dolphins ( a superb birthday present for the lovely Sue).

 

 

 

Our final destination took us west to Round Hill, a stylish resort comprising of privately-owned villas and the 36-room Pineapple House, recently renovated and designed by Ralph Lauren and set in lush tropical surroundings overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

 

Our rooms were sleek, bright and breezy with splendid ocean views and a great place to observe and experience a heavy rainfall and storm. We were told Round Hill is the only resort on the northern coast with a westerly outlook. This means its spectacular canopies keep things protected from the rain.

 

Our final morning saw a site inspection and meeting the charismatic Managing Director, Jozef Forstmayr. Highlights for me were the sensational villa accommodation; Billy the head gardener responsible for overseeing the growing of onsite produce; and a highly impressive spa.

 

After a final drink at the infinity pool bar, it was time to pack. Donovan had saved one final surprise: lunch at Scotchies, an authentic restaurant specialising in jerk chicken and pork. We also got some delicious festivals (fried dumplings) and a bottle of Red Stripe each and we were like school kids tucking in to packed lunches provided by teacher.

 

It was a fabulous way to end what had been a truly special experience.

 

I had hoped for an education about a place new to me, but I certainly hadn't expected to share it with such a brilliant group of people that enriched everything.

 

They were from different agencies, backgrounds and ages, yet there was a shared connection not often found when bringing people together in close proximity over a short period of time.  Every member had something unique to offer and I enjoyed huge amounts of laughs and great memories.

 

Thank you for that to Sally, Bert, Sue, Catherine, Jane, Tara, Rachel, Sheila and Abigail.

 

Huge thanks to Donovan, the JTB and British Airways for bringing us together; to the host resorts and their staff who provided such warmth and great hospitality to us throughout; and to Julian and Sharron.

 

More can be found on each of the resorts in our forthcoming Destination Of The Month, while myself and the Abbotts team are eager to discuss information about Jamaica as a potential holiday destination.

 

I will certainly be back.

 

Danny

 

 

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