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Jamaica - The Family Experience, The Sights, Sounds And Smells Of The Island Paradise
by Mike Cohen
TheSyndicatedNews columnist


Pack your bags and come to the sunny island of Jamaica, mon. Home to Reggae music, Bob Marley and the peaceful, spiritual Rastafarians, your vacation dreams await fulfillment on the beautiful shores of one of the Caribbean’s most gorgeous destinations.

Luxury hotels at bargain prices, food not to be believed, ocean recreation and pleasures, royal treatment in a selection of wonderful spas and health clubs, jazz clubs and martini bars where you can dance until dawn, all of this and much more awaits you from the moment you arrive. Sunsets that are impossibly picturesque, unequaled anywhere else; clean, sandy beaches that can make the most world weary traveler forget the hustle and bustle of the cities they left behind.

And if the world’s most beautiful beaches aren’t enough to entice you, then consider how Jamaica is blessed with picturesque mountain ranges, winding rivers, lush green forests and fertile valleys. And, no matter what you’d like to eat, any kind of food, in a variety of settings from the casual local eateries that dot the towns and cities around the islands to the most sumptuous, elegant restaurants, can be found. But it’s the people that truly make this island shine. Friendly doesn’t even begin to describe them. They’re, well, they’re happy. Happy to be living in this island paradise, happy to see the tourists who come flocking in for a brief visit, a small sample of Jamaican splendor and even happier to make sure your time spent on their island, their home, is enjoyed completely. For many travelers, Jamaica has become the premier destination in the Caribbean.

Sightseeing, scuba diving, snorkeling, horseback riding, sailing, sport fishing, river rafting…there's always something to do in Jamaica. Or if you prefer, there’s no better place to do nothing than Jamaica. History is as much a part of Jamaica as reggae music and rum. Visit one of the many Great House plantations dotted throughout Montego Bay, filled with coffee, banana and citrus tree gardens. Tour the cool, forested Blue Mountains, home to perhaps the finest coffee in the world. For a day of fun, drift slowly down a river on a bamboo raft or climb the rocks near the tumbling waters of Dunn's River Falls. For sport fishing enthusiasts, Jamaica offers blue marlin, dolphin fish, tuna kingfish and wahoo in the deep blue waters just off the coast. Famous for it's laid back "no problem" attitude, Jamaica is the perfect getaway to relax on one of the many beaches, sip a cool drink and do absolutely nothing at all.

To begin with, on Jamaica, any kind of holiday can be found from secluded, luxury accommodations that favor the rich and famous, right down to a campsite on the beach where the local bands play their music in the sand, the neighborhood children come to frolic in the waves and entrepreneurial locals will provide you with food, crafts, information and entertainment. Whatever your style, family oriented fun, truly Bohemian adventures or sophisticated pampering; it can be found on the lovely island of Jamaica.

Did you know that Jamaica is the originator of the “all inclusive resort”? It’s true. On any kind of budget and with a dazzling array of accessories to choose from, Jamaica started it all with the first completely planned and prepaid vacation, all scheduled and reserved for you before you arrive. Or, for the more adventurous, simply pick your hotel and plan things after you’ve arrived, unpacked your bags and walked barefoot in the sand for a bit. First, you’ll have to decide which beach you’d like to wake up on. I have to tell you that frequent visitors to the island have tried all of the famous beaches at one time or another and the interesting thing is that even after trying them all, they still can’t decide on a favorite.

First and foremost, there is Montego Bay whose original claim to fame was the fabulous Doctor’s Cave beach which attracted celebrities and socialites from all over the world. Many movies, seeking lush, tropical locales with island flavor have been shot here over the years including James Bond. Today, MoBay, as it is affectionately called, still features this famous beach with its legendary mineral springs and the newly constructed Hip Strip – a fabulous small section of town filled with restaurants, quaint boutique duty free shopping and seemingly unlimited jazz clubs, dance bars and martini bars that make a stroll around town a total joy.

Next there is Negril famous for a seven mile stretch of the most unbelievably beautiful, pink sand beaches you’ll ever see. Negril is called the Capital of Casual featuring bars, clubs, a network of sea caves to be explored and the best snorkeling and scuba diving in Jamaica. Rick Hershman, the original owner of the world famous Rick’s Café on Negril Beach has been quoted as saying about the area – “Your body has suddenly arrived…where your mind has always been.”

And then there is Runaway Bay, the birthplace of Bob Marley, renowned for golf, bays and coves and located near the spot where Christopher Columbus first discovered the island, 20 miles west of Ocho Rios and a little over an hour's drive from Montego Bay. From here, you can take a day trip to Dunn's River Falls or enjoy any of the island’s finest features just steps from your front door.

After you’ve selected your location your next task is to choose from a wide variety of hotels that are available. Even a small sampling of some of the luxury hotels and their wonderful services is bound to impress even the most experienced travelers. As usual, you have to narrow the choices by deciding what type of ambiance you’d like to encounter on your vacation. Secluded privacy, proximity to nightlife and entertainment, natural wonders, tropical seclusion, family services or bustling hotels and resorts that are more like small cities on the beach. Once you’ve decided the best setting, the fun begins.

For privacy and seclusion you can’t beat the Beach House Villas. The Jamaica villa experience at Beach House Villas is one that you don’t have to share with everyone- or anyone - else. Each of the Negril Villas, while being perfectly located right on the beach, is secluded enough that you really can feel like you are absolutely alone in paradise.

For a sumptuous family oriented setting you can’t beat the Beaches Boscobel Resort & Golf Club, Jamaica's only all-inclusive family resort that lets your kids play in the sand and the clear blue seas as you play a round of golf on the greens. Beaches resorts have been voted the World's Best Family All-inclusive resorts year after year, providing amenities for kids ranging from a games centre and a pool with a water slide, to a disco and even a petting zoo.

Overlooking a serene beach in the heart of Montego Bay, you'll find the "In" spot for fun in the sun - Sandals Inn. This intimate hideaway of just 52 rooms may be small in size but it's big on warmth and charm and near enough to the Hip Strip to walk to, barefoot in the sand, of course.

And there’s more, much, much more. Not to be missed is the ridiculously beautiful The Caves at Negril Beach. Yes, it’s expensive but well worth the price and if it’s beyond your budget to spend a few nights, at least get there for a tour of the premises and lunch in the cave/restaurant. The Caves in Negril is an organic interpretation of romance as each of its 10 handcrafted cottages is planted in a garden on the edge of the sea. It's the perfect choice for guests who value spirituality, privacy, romance and verdant beauty. Its two seafront acres hide many secrets - sundecks and nooks, even grottos in the cliff itself. One of these grottos is designed for dining - lit with candles and strewn with flowers. The Aveda Mini-Spa, set into the cliffs, looks out on deep blue water – imagine yourself being lovingly massaged in this tranquil setting.

For James Bond aficionados, there’s Goldeneye. Nestled among tropical forests and lush gardens on a seaside bluff overlooking the Caribbean where you can put a little distance between yourself and the rest of the world, Goldeneye is also historic. This is where Ian Fleming crafted all his James Bond novels. What Fleming loved most about Goldeneye was the out of doors, the unparalleled beauty of the surrounding environment, the sounds and colors, the peace and drama of living by the sea.

For honeymooners or just plain lovers, there’s a place on Jamaica that is spoken about in hushed tones, by couples whose smiles reveal more than their stories. They’re talking, quietly, about Jakes. Jake's is a very sensual place. The secluded cottages are one with the environment and some have decks high above the waves. Privacy is paramount, but mixing in is easy. Two restaurants serve fresh seafood and authentic Jamaican cuisine. Jake's is the perfect choice for a romantic getaway, a spiritual retreat or an adventure for a couple that could use some adventure in their relationship.

Here’s a small sample of some of the more popular restaurants in Jamaica. Some are popular because of the ambiance and the lively crowds of happy people who frequent them and some are popular due to other reasons. As we mentioned earlier, Rick’s Café on Negril Beach is one of the most popular ones on the island. Beware though, its popularity is not due to its food as it offers mainly overpriced bar fare. It is, however, popular because of its setting which makes it one of the best places on the island to appreciate the beautiful sunsets. In fact, one of the biggest draws for Rick’s is the almost nightly sunset party featuring live music and a discount on the many drinks he serves.

If you’re in the mood for some barbecue flavored by the local spicy (read “hot”) sauces the island has become famous for head on over to Ochos Rios Village Jerk Centre. No, it’s not the hangout for local village idiots. Jerk is a method of cooking pork and chicken that dates back to the Carib-Arawak Indians who inhabited Jamaica. Captured animals were cleaned and then "jerked" with sharp objects that created holes to stuff with local exotic spices. The Meats were then placed in stone lined deep pits and covered with pimento wood which smoked heavily, imparting a unique flavor to the meat. The holes on the meat allowed heat to escape without the loss of moisture leaving the meat spicy, moist and tender - simply delicious.

The Jerk Centre on Ochos Rios beach is an open air eatery and a good place to sit and enjoy the frosty Red Stripe beer and fiery jerk pork, chicken, or seafood. Milder barbecued meats, also sold by weight (typically, ¼ or ½ pound makes a good serving), turn up on the fresh daily chalkboard menu posted on the wall.

For more sophisticated fare make a reservation at The Town House Restaurant at Montego Bay. Most of the rich and famous who have visited Jamaica over the decades have eaten here. You'll find daily specials, delicious variations of standard dishes (red snapper papillote, with lobster, cheese, and wine sauce, is a specialty), and many Jamaican favorites.

Or go native at The Native. Shaded by a large poinciana tree and overlooking Gloucester Avenue, this open-air stone terrace serves Jamaican and international dishes. Start with smoked marlin, move on to the boonoonoonoos platter (a sampler of local dishes), and round out with coconut pie or duckanoo (a sweet dumpling of cornmeal, coconut, and banana wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed). Live entertainment and candlelit tables make this a romantic choice for dinner on weekends.

How about eating at one of the best restaurants on the island while overlooking a beautiful golf course? The Sugar Mill, located on the golf course of the Half Moon Golf, Tennis, and Beach Club offers Caribbean specialties, steak, and lobster served in a pungent sauce that blends Dijon mustard with Jamaica's own Pickapeppa sauce. Otherwise, choices are the daily à la carte specials and anything flame-grilled. Most evenings, live music and a well-stocked wine cellar round out the experience.

After dinner you’ll want some evening entertainment to round out your day and end on an upbeat note. For many tourists the choice is between the local pubs and martini bars that abound around the island. Many offer discount drinks, live music by local bands and crowded, party style dance floors. There are the Jamaican types of places, frequented by locals and adventuresome tourists and there are the Americanized versions usually found in hotels or near popular tourist attractions.

The best of the Jamaican dance bars is found in Ocho Rios and is properly named Amnesia. It exists for those who fancy reckless abandon, drinking and dancing their hearts out until the sun comes up across the beach in the morning. It’s made for memories and it’s made for those who just want to party and then forget about how they behaved. The music is mostly Jamaican but drifts towards a more international flavor throughout the evening mostly to calm things down a bit.

Another aptly named dance spot, Asylum is known as the hottest nightclub in the city of Kingston. It is so popular that traffic wardens are needed to direct patrons to parking areas. Inside, the lighting, sound and decor are very impressive. The capacity crowd roars its approval at every selection from the DJ, and there is occasionally live entertainment. Located at either side of the dance floor, the bars are stocked with every drink imaginable. Whether it is Ladies Night, Dancehall Night, Oldies Session or any of the other theme nights, you can go crazy at the Asylum.

When you want to hang with the locals in their own exclusive hot-spot, Pearl’s is the place. While you won't find any spectacular ambiance or decor, you will groove to dim lighting, loud pulsating music and lots of people. Listen to reggae and hip-hop till the wee hours, if you can survive the throbbing pulse of the dance floor. Another bar, outside on the patio, is the place to escape when inside gets too crowded. By the time the night is over you’ll swear you were Jamaican in an earlier lifetime.

For others, who may desire dancing under the stars and some casual appetizers in a more upscale atmosphere, there are ample choices. The Jungle Club, Negril's newest nightspot is creating waves. The jungle motif on the walls helps to create the mood, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The jungle theme is followed to the extreme with a waterfall, hanging plants and palms. After working up a sweat on the dance floor, go grab a drink at any of the three bars. Like most large nightclubs there are theme nights such as Latin Lovers on Tuesdays.

Another upscale relatively new place is The Polo Lounge You'll delight when you discover this "happening club" located within the walls of Le Meridien Jamaica Pegasus, one of the city's snazziest hotels. Polo has successfully managed to create a setting that caters to hotel guests and visitors alike. The sleek, sophisticated atmosphere offers both indoor and outdoor seating, with tables arranged in cozy corners offering intimacy. If you find the pulsating rhythms too much, you can hang out at the poolside bar, where there is live entertainment every evening. A full bar and light fare is available. At The Polo Lounge you can’t go wrong – there’s a cozy section for those relaxing moments, a pulsating dance floor and enough food to satisfy any cravings.

And then there are those people who, after a full day in the hot Jamaican sun, would enjoy sitting quietly in a lovely air conditioned room while being entertained. Diamond’s Nightclubs are an important and exciting aspect of the Montego Bay nightlife. This latest addition opened amid much fanfare. The club offers an upscale entertainment package, including live stage and comedy shows and a "Saturday at the Improv" feature. The atmosphere is congenial, and it offers something for everyone. For live theater lovers don’t miss The Little Theater. This theatre is home to a company that stages family-oriented comedy shows. As the name "little" suggests, it has a seating capacity of approximately 200, with one stage usually featuring a cast of five members or less. Admission varies depending on show. Then there’s the Pantomime. Living up to its name, this fun-filled attraction is an entertaining social commentary on current affairs. A fixture on the local entertainment calendar, Pantomime is a mix of lively music, brightly coloured costumes, and song and dance. It is an ideal package for family outings as it appeals to all age groups and social classes. Be prepared though as you might just get pulled into the act.

As long as you like to eat great food on your vacation, drink and dance, stay in luxurious natural surroundings then you’ll be very satisfied by a Jamaican holiday. No matter what your budget, you’ll always find fun, good food and nice, friendly people on the island of Jamaica ready to make sure your vacation is everything you want it to be. There’s a reason the island is known for having “no problem” with much of anything, but you’ll have to come for yourself to really get the full meaning.

Published: Jul 19,2008 12:19
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