On 20 October 2016, I was lucky enough to begin my journey to the beautiful Caribbean Island of Jamaica. The trip was hosted by the Jamaican Tourist Board and British Airways. My adventure began at Gatwick North Terminal where I was met by my fellow travellers and the JTB representative, Donovan Donaldson.
Donovan guided us through the Club World check-in and onto our Boeing 777 for our direct flight to Kingston. Approximately 10 hours and several glasses of champagne later, we touched down at Norman Manley Airport (Kingston) where we were ushered through customs to collect our luggage and meet with Michael who would be a driver for the next few days.
Our first hotel and our host for that night’s dinner was Goldeneye, located in the small coastal resort of Oracabessa on the north of the island.
Goldeneye is a luxury 5-star property consisting of:
Beach huts – These brightly coloured free-standing units are designed to promote indoor/outdoor living. With high ceilings and oversized windows maximising ventilation, they truly give a back-to-nature feeling and encapsulate the Jamaican vibe beautifully.
Lagoon Cottages – Each cottage has its own private deck extending 4 feet over the lagoon, which has direct access to the water. The rooms are also equipped with a kayak, which can be used as a fun way to get around the resort.
Beach/Lagoon Villas – Opening directly onto the beach and set directly on the resort’s 4 acre lagoon. Each have a large porch area, so these room types lend themselves perfectly to the indoor/outdoor living that Goldeneye is famous for.
Original Villas – These three bedroom ocean view villas are nestled among tropical forests and lush gardens on a seaside bluff between the lagoon and the crystal Caribbean Sea. The Original Villas are also only a short walk from the beach.
The Fleming Villa – These villas are all about privacy, with its own beach, pool, gardens and staff. These are the highest level room category at this resort. The name comes from the author of the James Bond novels, Ian Fleming, who originally built Goldeneye and over the years wrote every one of the bond novels at the hotel.
On arrival at Goldeneye we were greeted in true Jamaican style by smiling faces and a refreshing rum cocktail. We were then shown to our individual beach huts, which are the newest addition to the resort. Whilst these room categories do not have air conditioning this really wasn’t a problem as the rooms are very well ventilated adding to their charm and giving them a sense of being one with their tropical surroundings.
Our evening meal was hosted by the General Manager Ricardo Bowleg and was set in a stunning location, beachside, lit by lanterns and floating fire pits. Our entertainment was a 3 piece reggae band whose renditions of Bob Marleys classics fitted perfectly with the setting. Jet lag finally kicked in a few hours later and so it was off to my oversized bed, for possibly the best nights sleep I have ever had. In the morning breakfast was taken at the Bizot bar which has stunning sea views.
By glass bottom boat we explored the reefs and then headed off further into the lagoon, stopping briefly at the spa before heading off for a “family style lunch”. The tasty local specialities included saltfish, jerk-chicken, ackee, callaloo, rice, coleslaws and salads all grown and prepared either on site or at Chris Blackwell’s (founder of Island Records) own farm on the island.
Our stay at Goldeneye was made all the more enjoyable by the staff themselves. Everyone I came into contact with from the General Manager down to the gardening staff were friendly and helpful. After lunch, it was time to pack our bags and board the coach for the relatively short journey west, to the prestigious Jamaica Inn at Ocho Rios.
The Jamaica Inn is steeped in history and boasts a guest list including Sir Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and most recently Richard Branson who hired the whole hotel for a family wedding.
On arrival the feeling of being in a very “British Colonial” hotel is apparent, even to the point of being greeted by the hotels resident black Labrador, Shadow. Shadow was keen to escort us to our rooms and I was shown to a beautiful Deluxe Verandah Suite overlooking the Croquet lawn – just another lovely feature of this hotel. After checking in, we had time to relax and soak up the atmosphere with a few cocktails from the very bar where Winston Churchill apparently invented the “shaken not stirred” Martini.
Our evening meal took place on the dining terrace followed again by the obligatory rum punches. One of our group was lucky enough to have been allocated the famous “white suite” for her bed that night, so with rum punch in hand I headed off with some of my fellow travellers to sip my alcoholic beverage in the suite where Monroe and Miller honeymooned back in 1956.
In the morning, the site tour was followed by more free time, to enjoy this unique hotel’s facilities. Jamaica Inn is situated on one of the best beaches on North Coast, so I went for a swim in the beautiful Caribbean Sea. After lunch with the hotels General Manager, Kyle Mais, it was back on the coach where our group headed west on a 2 hour drive to the next hotel, Half Moon, situated at Montego Bay.
Dignitaries and royals alike have chosen Half Moon as their retreat over the years. Amongst the elite guest list includes our very own Royal Family who choose the Royal Villas at Half Moon as their home away from home when visiting Jamaica.
On arrival at Half Moon, I was quickly whisked off to my splendid accommodation in the Hibiscus Suites backing onto the beach. There wasn’t much time to take in the breathtaking views; instead it was back on the coach for a pre dinner ghost hunt at the Rose Hall Great House. We were met by our guide, Theisha Nelson, who proceeded to tell us the history of Rose Hall and the story of Annie Palmer (The White Witch) who ruled her slaves with an iron fist and lost 3 husbands in very mysterious circumstances. Rose Hall is only a 10 minute coach journey from Half Moon so for anyone staying at the hotel I would say it is a must.
We returned to Half Moon in time for our evening meal which was to be taken in the historic Sugar Mill restaurant. The existing walls of the restaurant once served as the foundation of a sugar cane plantation dating back to 1676. Relaxed conversation over dinner soon turned to excitement when Donovan explained that he had surprise in store for us all in the morning. There is so much to see and do at this hotel for couples and families, so our guesses were endless.
Morning came and brought with it my birthday and a very early start for our site tour. Donovan explained that in order for our surprise to happen we were on a very tight schedule. Our group assembled in reception and were met by Jamie who showed us to our golf carts to begin a tour of the hotel.
Half Moon sits amidst a private estate of 400 acres and consists of 197 beautifully appointed rooms and suites and 31 private villas. Most Suites have stunning sea views and the villas are ideal for groups. The largest sleeps up to 14 people and has their own staff at the guests’ disposal. The resort boasts 2 miles of private beach, an 18-hole championship golf course, 13 tennis courts, an Olympic size swimming pool, an Equestrian centre and a private Dolphin Lagoon.
Jamie whisked us around the resort on our golf carts and dropped us off at our final destination for our surprise from Donovan – the Dolphin Lagoon. What a treat and on my birthday too!! For the next hour, my fellow travellers and I enjoyed a private session with these special creatures made even more memorable by my new friends joining the dolphins in singing happy birthday to me.
Our time at Half Moon had come to an end and it was time for the final leg of our Jamaican adventure. A short drive west took us to Round Hill Hotel and Villas located in downtown Montego Bay. This beautiful boutique hotel has 36 oceanfront guestrooms, designed by Ralph Lauren and overlooking Round Hill Bay and snorkelling reef. The resort also boasts 27 private Villas ranging in size from 2 to 6 bedrooms.
After checking into my Oceanfront guestroom with 2 hours free time, I headed to the beach for a spot of sunbathing on the floating platform just off the hotel’s reef. At 5pm, it was time for my scheduled appointment at Round Hills luxury Spa where I was treated to a 30-minute massage. After that, there was just time for a quick mojito before dressing for dinner which was at the rooftop restaurant and grill.
Our dinner was a special “Farm to Table” dining experience. Farm-to-table refers to a movement concerned with producing food locally and delivering that food to local consumers. The delicious meal was finished off with a lovely birthday cake and a handmade card that my group had secretly organised amongst themselves to make my birthday even more special than it had already been.
All good things must come to an end and at midday we checked out of Round Hill, and boarded our coach for the 3 hour journey back to Kingston Airport. In true Donovan style, our host had arranged a special treat for lunch, with a stop at Scotchies, an authentic outdoor restaurant specialising in jerk chicken/pork and festivals (fried dumplings). Even the torrential tropical storm didn’t dampen our spirits as we washed our Jamaican street food down with a can of Red Stripe.
It was a wonderful way to end our trip to Jamaica. The excellent hospitality and warmth of the Jamaican people will stay with me for a very long time.