Joyful Jamaica

Ian Hughes on 08 May 2018

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The Jamaican Tourist Board invited me to visit their fascinating island at the heart of the Caribbean recently and boy was I glad about it. This is a place I had been planning on visiting for quite some time and with a packed itinerary we managed to see plenty to make me want to go back again someday.

Flying Club World with British Airways into Kingston was the perfect start to the trip, with spacious bays, fabulous on-board entertainment and top-quality service we arrived fresh despite the nine-hour journey. Bags collected in no time at all, there was a short trip through immigration and before we knew it we were on our way to our first host hotel in Ocho Rios, on the north coast of the island. This was a trip that in previous years may have taken far longer, but with the new North-South highway having been completed, those flying in to Kingston rather than Montego Bay can easily get to resorts such as Ocho Rios without too much hassle whatsoever.

Our welcome at this all-inclusive hotel was as warm as I have ever experienced, and we were checked in without fuss, something that was very welcome after a day of travelling. Equally welcome were the spacious and beautifully appointed rooms, with fantastic views and a fully stocked mini-bar to enjoy at leisure, including an array of spirits with their own optics!

The hotel had everything you could wish for, whether staying as a couple or a family, with a huge array of culinary options and entertainment throughout the complex, we were looked after from start to finish. I even tried my hand at the onsite Flow-Rider (surfing simulator) and jetpack out on the Caribbean Sea. There were some mixed results to say the least due to my lack of balance, but it was great fun and the staff made the whole experience as simple and fun as possible.

We also visited some other hotels in the area such as Couples San Souci - a perfect destination for wellness enthusiasts, Jamaica Inn - ideal for those who prefer a more boutique style of property and Sandals Ochi Beach - a fantastic Sandals example of ultra-all-inclusive luxury with everything included for your indulgence.

Of course, despite needing to see as many hotels as possible to advise my customers on the right places for them to stay I also needed to try my hand at some of the local attractions and activities, all in the interests of research of course.

In Ocho Rios there are plenty of options and they are all located conveniently close together so it’s possible to do them all in one day if you wished to, and we did just that. Starting our day in the best possible way by swimming with some amazing sea creatures at Dolphin Cove. I loved this place and the fact that the dolphins are not captive there, they come and go as they please out to sea and back, but return most mornings too be fed and play with their human friends, makes it all the more enjoyable. There was even an opportunity to have a shark experience with a nurse shark, but despite this being very safe, I let other people enjoy this on my behalf. I'm kind like that you see!

This was followed by a trip up to Mystic Mountain. Named after some famous Bob Marley lyrics this amazing attraction has so much to offer. The main attraction is the sky explorer, a chair lift taking you 700 feet up to the top of the mountain with amazing views over the jungle below and the ocean to one side. Once up there they have some wonderful things to do, including their hummingbird garden where you can see the Jamaican national bird - the doctor bird, in its natural habitat, or swim in the infinity pool with stunning views. We opted for the slightly more adventurous bobsled down the mountain - honouring the iconic Jamaican bobsleigh team. It was great fun and perfectly safe as you control your own speed throughout. I would recommend it to anyone who visits.

After taking the chair lift back down the mountain we paid a visit to the legendary Dunns River Falls, an incredible tiered waterfall which you can climb, ably and helpfully assisted by your effervescent guides who keep your energy levels up with their unique and lively entertainment as you go. Definitely one to do if you are in the area with such natural beauty coupled with local charm. Although it can look quite challenging at times they cater for all ages and abilities so please do not be put off. Let them know and they will look after you throughout, whatever your requirements.

After those packed few days we moved on towards our second host hotel, the Melia Braco Village in Rio Bueno, halfway between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. This was a truly gorgeous hotel that I loved for its relaxed vibe and beautiful feel. Laid out like a village with stunning colonial buildings you could easily feel like you are in the deep south with the architecture. The large rooms boasting huge balconies with rocking chairs overlooking the ocean only add to the ambience, as you can easily drift away and lose hours just lounging around listening to the waves lap up against the shore.

Another all-inclusive hotel that leaves you wanting for nothing the food here was equally resplendent, with the famous steakhouse a particular highlight for a meat lover such as myself, but the Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant running a close second. The hotel also has huge grounds where a stroll can take you into anything from a death defying trampoline section or climbing wall to a stunning wedding area, where brides and grooms to be can prepare to tie the knot in style. In fact, the bridal room is so fantastic I would not be surprised if a few grooms were left standing nervously while their brides spent a little too long enjoying its surroundings!

Around this resort area we also managed to check out the amazing Hyatt Ziva and Zilara resorts - excellent high-end hotels for families or adults only for that extra slice of luxury, as well as the Royal White Sands and Royalton Blue Waters resorts - gorgeous hotels with amazing facilities and impeccable rooms. I would especially recommend the swim up suites at the Royalton Blue Waters - one of the most beautiful rooms I have been a privileged to witness and one they needed to drag me out of.

We also managed to squeeze in a look around Rose Hall - an old plantation great house that has gone down in folklore due to its former inhabitants. Most notable, was former overseer philandering murderer Annie Palmer, immortalized in the song "the ballad of Annie Palmer" by Jonny Cash. It is an interesting tour that provides an insight into the unbelievable and often a little chilling history of the building. The building itself looks incredible too, with wonderful views across to the bay, so something for everyone, even if you don't fancy the ghostly happenings too much.

Finally, what visit to Jamaica is complete without a little Reggae? And what is Reggae without Bob Marley? We visited the Bob Marley Museum and the great man's former home in the heart of Kingston just before we departed. No pictures are allowed here on the orders of his family and that only adds to the feeling of genuine privilege you get from being so close to a true legend and icon. The tours are hugely informative and very entertaining but be prepared to bring your best singing voice to the party as there will be plenty of beats for you to get warbling too.

Overall, I can honestly say that Jamaica has something for everyone, and we only saw a small section of what this Caribbean behemoth has to offer. Whether you want to kick back, relax and over indulge or you want to explore, discover and soak in the culture you can do as little or as much as you please. For those of you thinking of paying Jamaica a visit I have some fantastic insight into some of the island's top hotels and so much more, so please do not hesitate to give me a call to discuss your needs should you be looking to spend some time in "the home of alright"

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