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In January 2014, I bid on several Caribbean resorts at the NY Times Travel Show. All monies raised benefited the varied culinary students on the islands of the Caribbean. My winning bid of $425 entitled me to a 4-night stay at the 3-Star all-inclusive Club Ambiance adult resort (no one under 18, clothing optional at the pool and 1 beach) in Runaway Bay (north shore) of Jamaica. I gave the certificate to my nephew John and his lady Dasha. Forward to February 2015 when I reminded John that the certificate expired April 2015. He & Dasha passed and I booked it for myself for mid-March, during my university spring break. I had lots of mileage with Delta and booked its non-stop flight from JFK, and off I went.
I met Lyndon Taylor at the 2015 NY Times Travel Show at the Jamaican booth. He works for Finn Partners and represents the Jamaica Tourist Board. I booked a trip to Hampden Estates Rum Distillery as well as to Appleton Estates (Wray & Nephew) and asked Lyndon for assistance in filling in the blanks. That he did by arranging for a VIP meet & greet at Sanger International Airport (Montego Bay) and a quick walk through passport control & customs. That led me to Jermaine Smith, a partner in the privately owned Paradise Tours (www.paradisetravelsinja.com) who made my Jamaican trip a joy. Forget the large corporate tour companies. Tell Jermaine you read about him in http://www.ronkapon.com. Lyndon also arranged my last night’s stay at the brand new (official opening 3/20) Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall all-inclusive luxury adult only resort in Montego Bay as well as transportation back to the airport and use of the VIP lounge there.
Club Ambiance is a 90 room all-inclusive resort located 1 hour from the Montego Bay airport and ½ hour from Ocho Rios (www.clubambianceresort.com). Meals, all drinks, entertainment and taxes are all included. There is a Jacuzzi, exercise room, shuffleboard court, giant chessboard, snorkeling equipment, paddle tennis, beach volleyball, etc. There is also a guided daily bicycle tour and the resident band performs during the evening. The disco-club stays open quite late. Deluxe it is not, but the staff is very friendly and the AC works. My king bed was fine; the shower less so (it leaked). There were large towels which I always appreciate since I am not a 34 waist. The meals were all buffet with some theme nights (Saturday was BBQ outside). I stuck to fruit punch and water. The price per night booked in advance was about $270 per room (2 people).
Because of my lack of mobility due to a new knee, neuropathy and the use of a cane I skipped Dunn Falls and the Green Grotto Caves (too much climbing on slippery rocks). Jermaine took me to Mystic Mountain Rain Forest in Ocho Rios. This 100-acre property sits 700 feet atop the mountain possible via a chairlift similar to that used at ski resorts. I skipped the Zip Line Canopy Tour (done that) and the water slide and picked the bobsled ride. Remember the Jamaican bobsled team from the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics and the 1993 motion picture Cool Runnings about the team? It was one of the best experiences I have ever had and is highly recommended. The normal price for the sky explorer and bobsled ride is $69 (children-$45). Add the zip line and the total is $137 ($115 children). http://www.rainforestbobsledjamaica.com.
Our other stop was at Dolphin Cove Ocho Rios. One can swim with dolphins, sharks, stingrays or go glass-bottom kayaking in the Caribbean. The $45 admission price allows you to enjoy all the shows (my choice) including interacting with exotic birds, snakes and iguanas on the Jungle Trail Walk (not my cup of tea). The 15-minute shark show was amateur hour and boring. The interaction with dolphins was fun to watch. It was $195 total if you want to swim with them- mucho dinero. http://www.dolphincovejamaica.com.
Brief History of Jamaica – Christopher Columbus landed in Jamaica on May 4, 1494. In 1504 Spain established the capital of New Seville, near Ocho Rios. The British captured Jamaica in 1655 and developed it as a vast sugar plantation. Slavery was abolished in 1834. The motto in Jamaica is “Out of Many, One People.” August 6, 1962 the island received its independence from Great Britain. The cornerstone of the island is tourism and bauxite. Some famous Jamaicans: Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Lennox Lewis, Patrick Ewing, Harry Belafonte and Usain Bolt. The creator of the character James Bond, Ian Fleming retired in Jamaica at his home Goldeneye, where he penned many of his novels. His first film Dr. No was filmed there.
The new manager of Club Ambiance had been the head chef for the Heart College of Hospitality Services that was located a few miles away in Runaway Bay. The approximately 300 students currently enrolled have their tuition and living expenses subsidized by the Jamaican government. The school and dorms are located directly behind the 55 room Cardiff Hotel & Spa, where the students receive hands-on training. A graduate of the program (and lecturer) Jerome Murdock was my guide. The guest rooms are situated on four two-tiered blocks throughout the Green Globe certified eco-friendly resort. The on-site restaurant Isabella’s has culinary students working under the supervision of professionals. The guests have access to the nearby Runaway Bay Golf Club, however, at a cost. http://www.heart-nta.org http://www.thecardiffhotel.com
Some typical foods native to Jamaica include: roast corn & breadfruit (root vegetables), callaloo (collard greens), ackee & salt fish (national dish), fresh cane & mango. Jerk chicken, pork sausage & fish dry rubbed & marinated in allspice, cinnamon, cloves & nutmeg. Grilling on pimento logs gives the dish a hickory flavor. Other favorites include curried goat and oxtail.
Appleton Rum in Jamaica: 1749 – Earliest reference to Appleton Estates; 1845- William Hill buys Appleton with its 17 acres of sugar cane; 1900 – A.MC Dowell Watson buys Appleton & its 56 acres of sugar cane; 1916 – Wray & Nephew buys the estate; 2001- Appleton Reserve is launched and the one millionth case is sold; 2012 – 50 year Independence Reserve launched.
The tour costs $25 and takes place at the distillery located in the island southwest Nassau Valley. It was a long, bumpy 3-hour plus drive from Montego Bay over narrow pothole marked roads. I would not have attempted the drive without the expert driver sent for me by the estate. There are artifacts from the distilleries past history, pot and column stills, the resident donkey “Pax” and the barrelhouse storage area. A few sips of rum and a buffet lunch (extra $15) followed the tour. Unfortunately, it was another 3-hour drive back to Montego Bay. I wonder if the cruise passengers realize how tiring the drive will be.
It is a shorter drive (1/2 hour) to Hampden Estate Distillery (1753) from Montego Bay. This tour operates Mondays to Thursdays at 10AM & 11AM. The estate is building a dining area & expanding their gift shop and has been training guides. The cost of the 2-hour tour is $50. It was formerly a sugar plantation. In 1779 Archibald Sterling of Scotland built Hampden Great House with the 1st floor serving as a rum store until the early 1900s. During WW1 the Hampden Wharf in Falmouth shipped sugar & rum. I noted that the world’s largest cruise ship, The Oasis of the Seas, docks in Falmouth. In 2013 3,500 acres were purchased by the Jamaica Sugar Co. In 2009 Everglades Farms Ltd. & the Hussey family purchased the estate. As of now they only bottle two rums, Rum Fire which is White Overproof (63 percent alcohol) & the Hampden Estate Gold (40 percent alcohol). All other rums are distributed in bulk. http://www.hampdenrumcompany.com.
My last night in Jamaica was spent at the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall Hotel. This 234-room new luxury adult all-inclusive had its grand opening 2 days after I returned to the US. There are two hotels on the property with 14 pools, 1,200 feet of beach on the Caribbean, complimentary airport transfers (15 minutes and use of a lounge) and two golf courses. The Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall (386 rooms) welcomes children & is also all-inclusive. It was formerly a Ritz Carlton that had an $85 million renovation. They share 8 restaurants and 4 bars. I had dinner at the French inspired Petit Pariz, one of three exclusive Zilara restaurants with the executive chef, food & beverage director and members of the PR staff. The Zilara also has 4 private pools for their guests to use. The property is owned by Playa Hotels & Resorts with 14 all-inclusive hotels in Mexico, Dominican Republic & Jamaica. My room was quite large and luxurious. I would love one of the rainfall showers in my apartment. The separate tub was great to soak in before dinner. I did need a lesson on how the TV worked. I should have found a 10 year old to program it. There were all sorts of pricing listed for the two hotels. Figure $400-$500 a night per room with current promotional offer. http://www.playaresorts.com, http://www.allinclusivehyatt.com, http://www.rosehallzilara.hyatt.com.
This was my third trip to Jamaica…the Home of All Right. I was impressed with the friendliness of the people and the feeling that there were plenty of jobs available if one wanted to work. I will be back.