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Photos courtesy of Jamaica Tourist Board
A large island, south of Cuba in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica’s north shore features four different resort communities, each with its own style and appeal.
Montego Bay is not only the largest town and the most interesting culture, but it also boasts the international airport for this side of the island. For those on a short timeline, a wealth of interesting resort options lies within 20 to 30 minutes from the airport. For golfers who have heard about Jamaica’s tournament quality course, two of these, Half Moon and Tryall, are in the immediate vicinity. And Montego Bay offers nightclubs and restaurants for those who enjoy reggae music and dancing.
Ocho Rios lies east of Montego Bay, about an hour and a half by road. It sits in a large cove, where the mountains come down close to the seashore, and several large waterfalls descend from the mountains to the sea. Ocho Rios has become the port of choice for many of the major cruise lines, making it more bustling than before, but it still is smaller and more relaxed than Montego Bay.
Negril is all the way at the western end of the island. Originally a quiet village, it now hosts some of the most diverse and appealing resorts in the Caribbean on its miles of spectacular beachfront. It retains its ultra-casual personality, and lots of people find it to be just the thing.
Port Antonio is at the east end of Jamaica, and it’s a jewel of old-fashioned West Indian hospitality. Unlike the rest of the north coast, which has seen ongoing development for over 30 years, Port Antonio enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the 1950’s, when the Hollywood movie crowd “discovered” it. But it never really changed, and today it’s still a traditional Jamaican town, with small hotels, villas, beaches, and lovely coastline and reefs. It also has some of the most unusual sights to see anywhere, like the Blue Hole, and rafting on the Rio Grande is where this now much copied activity all started.
Jamaica is often perceived as the “home” of the all-inclusive resort. While Jamaica isn’t where it was first introduced, this is surely where it was refined, and where it has taken root more widely than anywhere else in the region. As a result, major Jamaican chains such as Sandals and Beaches, Super Clubs and Breezes, and Couples, all compete with international companies like RIU resorts from Spain; Holiday Inn; Ritz-Carlton; and several Jamaican companies. From large to small, deluxe to basic, almost every variation on the theme can be found here.
Jamaica’s golf courses have hosted international championships for many years, and several of Jamaica’s oldest and most famous resorts offer their own courses, including Half Moon Club and Tryall Club, both near Montego Bay.
New on the map is the beginning of development of Jamaica’s south coast, with the opening of Sandals’ Whitehouse European Village and Spa.
Not To Be Missed – At Ocho Rios, ride horses on land and sea at Chukka Cove, a climb up Dunns River Falls and visit Island Village; at the village of St. Marys, visit Prospect Plantation.
Read an extended report about Jamaica…
I had the opportunity to visit Jamaica in March, 1999, to do some diving and get in some site inspections. Jamaica offers a full range of activities and accommodations to suit almost any budget. I was there during spring break and those wild and wacky college kids were out in full force — especially in Montego Bay. During walks on the beach and in the towns, I found the people to be very warm and friendly.
The diving in Jamaica is only fair due to a lack of aquatic life. Certainly there are no large fish which were seen over our 6 dives (other than a few barracuda) and the medium and small fish were not very plentiful. There were few schools of fish witnessed. However, we did see a good variety of aquatic life including a seahorse, barracuda, scorpion fish, black sturgeon, sea cucumbers, porcupine fish, brittle starfish, stingray, banded shrimp and flounder. Our first days diving was in the Runaway Bay area at Breezes and Club Caribbean. I found the diving here to be the most lacking in sea life and the reefs had the least to offer as far as coral and sponges were concerned. As we moved further south and dove at Lido Braco and the Montego Bay area, both quality of the aquatic life and reefs improved. The Jamaican government is making what I would characterize as a half-hearted attempt to establish a marine park in the Montego Bay area. However, they do not patrol in the evenings and the torches from fisherman’s boat could clearly be seen at night as they fished unimpeded. In short, I would suggest not diving in Jamaica, but at this time it is probably best suited for the newer diver or the diver who just wants to get in a few dives while on vacation rather than taking a real “dive vacation” where he/she would blow two or more tanks a day.
Club Caribbean: is a all-inclusive property. It is not quite the dump I thought it was when I first checked in. The positives here are that it is a moderately priced property, on the beach with a good range of activities and water sports. Wayne at the Jamaqua dive shop was very helpful and took us on a dive to “Ganga Wreck” which is a site where two small Cesna airplanes were sunk. Near that is a 1971 Mercedes Benz. Some of the double rooms are quite nice and are bi-leveled. The negatives are that many of the rooms (including mine) were very small and musty. Not the place to be if you have mold or mildew allergies. There are no telephones in the rooms and the staff is not very helpful or friendly. Also, if you are there on a Thursday night, don’t bother setting your alarm for the 1:00 a.m .dumpster pick up. You’ll hear it if you are near the front of the property.
Breezes: is an adult only all-inclusive property which is part of the Superclub chain. No children under 16 are allowed as guests here. The grounds are very well maintained and the rooms are clean and adequately furnished although nothing special. All the rooms are the same size and pricing varies according to location. The food here is good to very good, especially if you get tired of the daily buffet (which varies daily according to theme of the day) and go to Martino’s, the Italian restaurant. All the liquor is top shelf material, so there certainly is no skimping in this area. There is a nightclub and a disco on property for nightlife along with slot machines, a game room and pool tables and ping pong. Breezes has a golf course nearby, a full slate of daily activities and all watersports — including scuba — are included. However the I didn’t care for the diving here. Also, count on big crowds at the dive shop. And don’t count on renting a wetsuit. I was very surprised that a resort of this caliber didn’t have those available. There are three hot tubs here, including one in the “au naturel” area of the property. The clientele here is on the younger side, mainly in there late 20’s and 30’s and is a fun party crowd but not too too wild or “out of control”.
FDR: is the place to be for families with small kids. I had spent my vacation here about 7 years ago and it was great to be back. The feature of this property which really sets it apart from any other “family” property is its “Girl Friday” feature. When you check in you are assigned a Girl Friday who is essentially your nanny from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. She’ll cook for you or babysit when needed. Although they also have a kid’s club, the Girl Friday assigned to you is for your exclusive use. The rooms are all one or two bedroom suites, affording Mom and Dad some privacy. The two bedroom suites are absolutely huge and are more like apartments that hotel rooms. This is an all inclusive property, but the food is surprisingly good. The only down side here is that the beach area is small, but that really doesn’t matter to the young ones. FDR is constructing a club called FDR Pebbles which will market to families with pre-teen or teenage children and will hopefully be open in 1999.
Grand Lido Braco: is an all-inclusive property which is also part of the Superclub chain. Even dry cleaning and laundry are included as well as manicures and pedicures (other spa treatments are available at an additional cost). It is an adult only property like Breezes. I loved this place and hope to vacation here myself. I is laid out like the town of Falmouth nearby — but with a Disney type of touch. After you enter the property, there is a circle in the center with a fountain and cobblestone streets go out from there. All the buildings resemble shops and are done in a traditional Caribbean pastel motif. It is really very very lovely. The clientele here is a bit older than Breezes, but is not at all stodgy. The staff is very friendly and one busboy even thought I was “silky” as I was jamming along to the reggae they had playing. There is a 9 hole, par 28 golf course on property, a nightclub done up like a Jamaican local club, two restaurants beside the main buffet restaurant (jackets required for men at the French restaurant). There is a “au naturel” section in Braco as well which is segregated from the rest of the property. This mode of “dress” extends to the grill and bar as well as the beach. They have a beautiful work out area which is open air and looks out over the ocean. Street merchants are on site selling crafts and such. We only got one dive in here. I thought the reef was okay and I really like Tony, our divemaster. However, I was surprised that the men had to carry their own tanks through the surf to what was a rather “dinky” dive boat which necessitated a backward roll entry. Again, diving is something to do while you are here, but not the reason you came.
Trelawny: is a moderately priced, all inclusive, mid rise property. In fact, the views from some of the higher floors are very nice. There is a nice open air lobby here to greet you upon arrival. They have a pool, a workout room and a kid’s club. By the pool area are some rooms which are referred to as cottages although they are just rooms. Some of these are adjoining for families, but while the staff would try to arrange this prior to check-in, it could not be guaranteed ahead of time. There is a night club for evening entertainment. The facilities were all adequate and reflected the price range.
Cariblue: This is a 24 room hotel which is lacking in most of the extras some travelers wants. There is a pool and a restaurant here. Of all the places I dove, this was the only one to have a pier for boarding rather than wading through the surf. There is a dive shop on property and fishing charters can be arranged. Despite the fact that I had to arrange shower time with my next door neighbor to assure at least some water pressure and some standard features (such as a door knob on the inside of the bathroom door) are lacking, I loved this place. My room, 206 was very large and there was a party sized veranda outside which provided great views. The staff here (especially Molly) is very friendly and really make you feel at home. This is a small low budget property, but nice.
Sunset Beach: This was recently renovated and the owners did a very good job. You are greeted at this moderately priced, all inclusive property by an extremely large open air lobby which is attractively furnished. The beach here is very long and pretty. There are two a la carte restaurants (Japanese and Italian) on site to break up the monotony of the main buffet. There must have been a half a dozen bars here and a couple of pools. A disco and a game room are scheduled to open in the near future. The room sizes are adequate and some in the main building can be joined by parlor room in between. The clientele here was mostly younger — in their 20’s and 30’s. For the money, I liked this more than Trelawny.
Half Moon Bay: One of the most beautiful hotels I’ve seen. This is high end property which may not be for everyone even if you can afford to stay here. That is, there is a conservative feel here which may or may not be what you are looking for. This is an older property but has been wonderfully maintained. In fact, I just hated it when I inspected one of the Imperial suites and immediately thought that it was much nicer than my own home. The tennis and spa facilities and restaurant are beautiful. This is not an all inclusive so meals, golf and facilities are available at an additional cost. However, meal and other packages are available. The beach here is small, but long. In fact, this is a sprawling property and guests are given a golf cart at check in. While we were inspected a 6 bedroom villa, we heard a helicopter outside. Of course, all the men ran outside to see it — followed by the women. It had landed on the lawn in order to pick up the Jamaican Prime Minister. Apparently he is a frequent guest here. That kind of gives an idea as to the type of clientele they market to.
Jack Tar: This is one of the new Allegro properties and is all inclusive. This is right on Montego Bay and supposedly has some of the best diving in Jamaica. There is a site here called “Widow Maker” which is a chute which one descends and is supposed to be very nice. The rooms are adequate although some are immediately adjacent to the lobby/restaurant are. The restaurant is just off the lobby and is buffet. The beach is nice and there is an open air area for the evening entertainment which is supplied by the hotel staff. This is an inexpensive property located on the beach and is a good way to get to Jamaica. Also, it is a short stroll to some of the nightclubs in Montego Bay.