This was our second trip to the beautiful island of Jamaica. Our first was full 32+ years ago, in October 1985, on our honeymoon. For that memorable experience we luxuriated at a resort then known as EDEN II in Ocho Rios on the north shore of the island. Unconfirmed rumor had EDEN II (which we honeymooners were told stood for Every Day Every Night Twice) destroyed during Hurricane Gilbert. Further research – however – showed it had been a Sandals resort (Dunns River), then was renovated and reopened as Jewel Dunns River Resort & Spa (Hilton Hotels and Resorts).
A return trip to Ocho Rios would have been nice, and maybe someday we will. But for this trip, a birthday excursion for two women who are very close friends, the group decided on a Sandals resort in Whitehouse (Sandals South Coast). It couldn’t have been a better choice … with the exception of a little weather.
The Jamaicans were all too willing to admit that their wet, rainy season runs roughly from mid-April to mid-June. It was apparent that we skirted a potential washout of a vacation (Dates of stay: May 1- 8, 2018), but we lucked out. We experienced only one washout day during our 7-night stay and one very wet evening. Not bad really since the rest of our time there was sunny and humid with occasional dark clouds that did not always produce rain. Truly minor inconveniences that gave us the opportunity to work on our bar tans!
We did everything we wanted to (or not), and received all the sun we could handle.
The Sandals South Coast resort is phenomenal, although I imagine during the height of tourism season it could feel a bit crowded. Our stay was considered “off-season”.
The Sandals property is not big enough to require motor transit (as we experienced at Barceló’s Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic). Small enough to walk comfortably anywhere, the South Coast was an exceptional experience. Nine restaurants, seven full-service bars (one out over the ocean), two swim-up bars (always a Big Plus!), four pools, unlimited water sports, top-shelf liquor, on-site spa, and shopping plaza.
For me, a man of modest needs and even modest-er desires to spend a vacation being active and adventuresome, Sandals was a perfect environment! Extremely relaxing, plenty of space (at least during off-season) to enjoy the sun (Recommend early as possible poolside lounge chair claims!), adequate bar capacity and locations, excellent food (only one meal of questionable quality … Make sure you hit The Jerk Shack for lunch!), wonderful and friendly hosts, excellent spa (Red Lane), and well-appointed rooms.
Downers: One disappointment was that our “beachfront room” was a beach/pool view, which did not front on any beach. Quality of evening entertainment (We were told new acts were being broken in.), although the Silver Birds steel drum band is an act you absolutely MUST SEE! Room service is reserved for only the top-shelf (i.e. $$$$$) accommodations. The quality of meal with the special beach-side romantic dinner was not worth the price, though the service was excellent. Make sure that “beach front” room you reserve is an actual beach-front room.
We left Jamaica with varying impressions on our second trip to the island.
People: Definitely my most favorite part of vacationing in Jamaica (besides the beauty and wealth of adult libations) were the Jamaicans themselves. It’s practically impossible to walk past a Jamaican without expecting some sort of genuine “I love Life” encounter or leaving their presence without a smile or a laugh. Almost everyone seems happy, content, and more than willing to spread the cheer around! Given that Tourism is a crucial column in the Jamaican economy and in the quality-of-life, so the people you encounter tend to grasp the importance of being welcoming and accommodating. Yet the genuine reactions and positive attitudes gives one the impression that tropical living promotes a most agreeable mindset in those who live there.
Beauty: I imagine somewhere I have yet to visit rivals Jamaica for its verdant scenery and peaceful beaches. I found that I can stare endlessly at the Jamaican countryside … the mountains, blue-green water, vegetation, people, beaches, etc. … in complete bliss. The mountains in particular provide a rich colorful background to everything on the island.
Roads: Our trip over the mountains from Montego Bay to Whitehouse made the Spring roads in my little slice of eastern Montgomery County, Pennsylvania appear merely “blemished” in comparison. Hard to believe that such a warm, welcoming climate can create so many potholes and road canyons! However, it was an eye-opener to learn that the Chinese are making HUGE infrastructure investment in Jamaica. The one major highway project we saw was being financed completely by China who apparently employed contractors from neighboring Korea to manage construction!
Economics: Cursory observation indicates that Jamaicans are probably better off economically that say those in the Dominican Republic, which we visited in October 2016. The DR seemed much more impoverished in larger swaths than those in the part of Jamaica we saw. Certainly, you do see some blight and destitute conditions, but it doesn’t seem nearly as prevalent as I observed in the Punta Cana area of the DR.
Drug Wars: On our first trip to Jamaica in 1985, one of the first things we noticed on our two-hour trip from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios were the presence of telephone poles planted at angles to the ground on any field of reasonable size. We were told those poles were intended to prevent the landing of drug-smuggling planes, looking to load up before heading to destinations to the north. Thirty years later, and I saw none anywhere. In 2015 Jamaica legalized medical marijuana with a bill so vague it has resulted in de facto legalization. Naturally, it also eliminated much of the criminal element – and the crime – from marijuana cultivation and distribution.
In the end, I enjoyed my second trip to Jamaica almost as much as the first. Remember though, we were honeymooning the first time (*wink wink*)! I would not hesitate to take another Jamaican vacation, and Sandals would certainly be a short-list option. Between north coast Jamaica and south coast, I would have a very difficult time picking one over the other.
If you get the chance, enjoy Jamaica wherever you decide to go!