USA Road Trip: Chapter V – Jamaica
Following a short flight from Miami, we landed in Jamaica, the third largest island in the Greater Antilles and the fourth largest in the whole Caribbean. We cleared customs quickly and, for the first time ever, our bags were not only in the baggage hall, they had been lifted off the carousel for us to collect. The second surprise quickly followed. As we left the baggage hall, we were met by a Sandles representative and ushered into a private waiting lounge and provided with two glasses of Red Stripe, the local beer. We hardly had time to take a sip before we were told that our transfer coach was ready to take us the short distance to our hotel.
We had booked five nights at the Sandles Royal Caribbean Beach Resort. We had never stayed at a Sandles resort before, but it certainly fitted the bill as we had wanted a luxury venue for a relaxing conclusion to our three week trip.
The room we had been allocated was the most basic on the resort and, although quite small, it was fitted out in a traditional colonial style and included a four-poster bed. As is now usual, we dropped everything, changed and hit the pool area to check out the resort.
This is one of the smaller Sandles resorts, but it has multiple areas to use, so it never feels overcrowded. Our favourite of these areas was Sandles Cay, which is a small private island that can be accessed via boat transfer or by using one of the hotels kayak’s.
In the centre of the island is the Royal Thai restaurant and next to it is a small pool and bar. There is also The Bamboo Shack that serves barbecued chicken and pork with a jerk sauce each lunchtime. The island has beaches on both sides; the main one facing the hotel and a ‘clothing optional’ beach facing out to sea. We spent most days on the island as the sea breeze took the edge off the heat from the sun, plus relaxing on a sun lounger positioned just in the sea was great. It was quieter than the main pool or hotel beach, but that’s what we preferred. There were some periods during the day that you genuinely felt like the only two people on the island. That was definitely the case when we ventured onto the ‘clothing optional’ beach!
The beach on the mainland had plenty of sun loungers and shade provided by both parasols and massive trees. It also had a cordoned off area of the sea, with a number of floating rings that had a mesh base within the hard plastic perimeter. They were big enough for two people to lay on and sunbathe. The main pool, although not as large as most hotel pools, was the focal point of the resort during the day. As well as being surrounded by sun loungers, it had a ridiculously hot jacuzzi pool and a swim up bar. The pool was okay, but the water quickly developed a film of sun cream on it, along with suicidal bugs and debris blown from the surrounding trees and bushes. The temperature in the jacuzzi pool was so high I thought the staff were using it to boil lobsters for the evening meals!
Sandwiched between the beach and pool was one of the key places to get food, cocktails and Red Stripe during the day. They made the most amazing Jamaican beef patties, which is a spicy beef burger patty enclosed in a flaky pastry shell. We had ours pimped up with cheese and jalapeño peppers. As well as this place (The Mariner Seaside Bar & Grill), you could also get freshly made pizzas at Bella Napoli just next door.
The other restaurants were dotted around the resort. The Regency provided a buffet breakfast and table service meals in the evening. The Cricketters Pub offered up traditional UK food, which was okay but probably the worst choice on the resort. Le Jardinier served up table service breakfast, including fantastic Eggs Benedict, plus fine dining seafood creations in the evening…this was our favourite place. Finally, Eleanor’s served Caribbean cuisine and was named after an 18th century Scottish noblewoman, Eleanor MacDougal. She was a cook who traveled from island to island in the Caribbean in search of a new life after a dramatic fall from grace in Scotland.
The resort also offered free watersports, including hobie cats, kayaks, windsurfing, scuba diving and paddleboards. I tried the latter for the first time and although easier to stay upright than I expected, it was a tough workout for the core muscles and therefore I didn’t stay out too long!
The evening entertainment was varied and decent, but not really our cup of tea. We preferred to stay on the island or by the pool until around 6pm, then chill in the room, before getting cleaned up and dressed for our evening meal, a few more drinks and then bed.
There are actually three Sandles resorts around Montego Bay and we could get a free shuttle bus to each of the others; Sandles Montego Bay and Sandles Carlyle. We ate at the Stew Fish restaurant at Sandles Montego Bay, but never got to the other resort.
We had a great time in Jamaica and met some lovely people. In addition to some amazing staff members, we met a couple from the UK, Rob and Catherine, who were on their honeymoon, plus two couples from Canada (Paul, Laurie, Mark and Janet). We had some great conversations and a lot of laughs with these guys.
As well as drinking too much, eating some great food and sunbathing, we spent most of our time simply chilling and reading. It was so great to get time to do this after the hectic nature of the previous two weeks…we even got to unpack our suitcases! There was so much more we wanted to do in Jamaica, but most things were located around Ocho Rios, so rather than take up too much time travelling backwards and forwards, we agreed we’d come back soon. We would plan to stay closer to these tourist attractions, such as Dunn’s River Falls, and nail them next time…maybe at another Sandals resort.
We left the resort on Friday, late afternoon, for the overnight flight back to the UK. A nice surprise was finding a Hard Rock Cafe store in the airport, so we bought our fifth Hurricane glass of the trip. As we had used our Virgin Flying Club miles to upgrade to Upper Class, we got access to the VIP lounge and finished our time in Jamaica snacking on more patties and washing them down with more Red Stripe. The Upper Class section of the plane is an awesome way to travel, although the food this time around was awful. On arrival back at Gatwick, we cleared customs and baggage reclaim with ease, then headed to the train station. Normally we’d drive, but the train journey back to Scunthorpe was extremely easy and pretty fast. We arrived home at 2pm and although knackered it was great to see the kids after 3 weeks.
What an amazing leg of the best trip we’ve ever done together…bring on the next one!