SuperClubs’ Issa Likes Breezes.

All-inclusive pioneer focuses on growing his upscale brand.

Kingston, Jamaica–The hotel industry faces some harsh head winds today, but Breezes is just fine with John Issa. One of the pioneers of the all-inclusive resort concept and the founder and chairman of SuperClubs Resorts , Kingston, Jamaica, is in the process of realigning, elevating and expanding his Breezes brand across the Caribbean and deeper into Latin America, with developments in Panama and further into Brazil.

Issa says early 2009 performance has been solid, which has provided the impetus to rebrand several properties in the portfolio. On November 1, the super-inclusive resort group will rename its Grand Lido Negril and Grand Lido Braco hotels Breezes Grand Negril and Breezes Rio Bueno, respectively. In addition, this year SuperClubs is bringing its family-focused Starfish Trelawny under its Breezes umbrella. When the rebranding exercise is complete, there will be 11 Breezes Resorts in six countries. Issa says he is looking for further opportunities for the brand in the Caribbean, as well as in Central and South America.

“Breezes is our best-known brand with the widest appeal, and as such, we are hoping to better capitalize on its name recognition in today’s crowded marketplace,” Issa says. “Our aim is to create brand consistency, and this restructuring process is the first step in achieving our goal.”

Breezes Panama will be located along the southern Pacific coast of the Cocle province in the beach resort community of Santa Clara and will feature 300 rooms and a spa. Breezes Buzios near Rio de Janeiro will feature 110 villas, along with 330 rooms and suites.

Across the Caribbean, established Breezes hotels have undergone major refurbishments. Breezes Bahamas, for example, recently completed a US$10 million upgrade. Concurrent with those developments and upgrades, two Breezes that do not meet standards will be rebranded or marketed by the owners on their own.

SuperClubs also is trying to roll out its Rooms brand, which has the traits of a bed-and-breakfast concept. There are Rooms in Ocho Rios and Negril, Jamaica, with discussions ongoing in a number of Caribbean locations, according to Issa.

Working Harder

Issa says the 32-year-old group is dealing relatively well with business conditions. “People will travel if you offer something special,” he says. “We have had to advertise aggressively and always have some special promotion. People get used to not buying at list price. In these conditions, you have to work harder, as nothing comes easy.”

Jamaica is relatively well positioned due to solid air service, says Issa, who calls the Bahamas “pricey”–even with decent air service. “We do well there, and compared to Atlantis, we look like a bargain. However, the east and south Caribbean are suffering due to airlift cutbacks.”

Issa says the company recently completed a “free night” promotion, which led to occupancies above 90% in the Bahamas and at Runaway Bay in Jamaica. In early March, he started offering a US$600 savings program (an average calculation on a five-night package). “Guests appreciate value, and by simplifying all of our brands, it allows us to do more advertising,” Issa says.

Looking ahead, Issa says it is hard to predict bookings, as the window is getting shorter. “At the end of the day, the business environment is forcing us to get more efficient,” he says. “We are having good success with scheduling, central buying, and we have established a central laundry in Jamaica.”

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Away from the all-inclusives, adverturesome visitors enjoy Treasure Beach

TREASURE BEACH, Jamaica Old-roots reggae and a hard-driving mix of rap and reggae blast from a tower of speakers. Around a ragged pool table, tourists are getting the better of the local competition. A crowd gathers-young local men, hooting and hollering, swilling Red Stripe beer.

It’s a new take on tourism in Jamaica, a place as crime-ridden and impoverished as it is alluringly beautiful. While many tourists tend to stay at all-inclusive resorts or take guided tours, there’s another side to the country, evident in the grittier scene at Treasure Beach.

A ramshackle fishing area on Jamaica’s southeast coast, Treasure Beach attracts an array of visitors-from fashion models to penniless backpackers-who, out of preference or poverty, avoid more upscale alternatives that have made Jamaica a major tourist destination.

“Treasure Beach is very raw,” says Jason Henzel, owner of Jake’s Place, a seaside collection of colorful adobelike villas. “In the bars you see fisherman with big knives in their belts. Hey-we’re in a fishing village.”

A beat-up roadside sign welcomes visitors to Treasure Beach, which is actually a collection of villages, home to several hundred people, located on Much of the lodging is owned by residents or people with connections to the area. Nearly every hotel, villa and guest house donates a small percentage of revenues to the Treasure Beach Foundation, which funds local school improvements and other projects.

Farmers sell their produce to guest houses and many a fisherman’s catch ends up on the plates of tourists.

Local taxi drivers ferry visitors from the airport in Montego Bay to town-a three-hour, hair-raising dash down narrow, pockmarked country roads that Rebecca Gianopolous, a 29-year-old book editor from New York City, compared to a “video game.”

“You just pretend that if the car crashes, you get another life,” she jokes.

Rooms without air conditioning go for as little as $30 a night- tough to match in Jamaica, and cheap enough to attract locals as well.

Official figures aren’t available, but hoteliers say tourism has doubled in recent years, raising fears that the big resorts that abound in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril may soon be headed this way.

To prevent that, Henzel and other local business people are lobbying the government to restrict the number of rooms per acre from the current 30 to 10.

Tourism Ministry Director General Carol Brady seems sympathetic.

“We don’t intend to overbuild,” he says. “For the south coast we are looking at low-impact, community-based tourism.”

Jamaica’s tourism industry transformed other once-quiet hamlets like Negril and Ocho Rios for masses of tourists. Sprawling resorts help draw more than 1 million visitors a year to the island, but in the process many smaller businesses were pushed out.

The bigger resort towns have also become magnets for Jamaica’s notorious “higgler” vendors who aggressively hawk everything from wood carvings to marijuana and cocaine.

Cocaine and marijuana can also be had in Treasure Beach. But the dealers respect the laid-back, unobtrusive ambience, delicately inquiring whether visitors “need anything.”

“Sometimes a hustler come in from Negril or Montego Bay, but word gets around,” says local fisherman Tim Anderson, engrossed with the female tourists at the bar. “After we finish with him, he don’t want to come back.”

 

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The irie way to be

THERE’S a word in Jamaica, which has seeped into Britain in the last 30 years, which aptly sums up the feeling of relaxation and the tingly sensation of utter bliss you can find in this often wonderful island.

“Irie,” is a peculiar piece of patois which means everything and nothing, from “hello” to “OK, don’t mention it” to “I feel so wonderful my lips can barely move”. But it does evoke the lazy, hazy dazed feeling you get when lying on an endless silver beach, sipping rum punch as the sun slips over the yard arm.

Jamaica is a place to feel “irie”. Having never been to the Caribbean before, the sheer lushness of the countryside and the burning heat of the midday sun were a shock when I arrived at the small airport in Montego Bay. But once I left the confines of my hermetically sealed hotel I was struck by the shabby state of much of the housing, the badly maintained roads – almost non-existent in places – and scenery dominated by low-lying hills and acres of green.

I was also struck by the picturesque beaches, the shallow, warm bays and the beauty of the highlands. No wonder Noel Coward came here to live – and die, and Ian Fleming to wrote his Bond novels, hidden away in his Goldeneye retreat. For much of the time, indeed, the Jamaica I encountered was almost perfect, experienced as it was through a rather restricting prism.

Not a prison, I hasten to add, but a fairly tightly controlled tour of a series of luxurious all-inclusive resorts, subtly called Superclubs.

All-inclusive resorts are not rare, but Superclubs invented the idea and have honed this comfortable holiday concept down to a fine art. There are other inclusive resorts in Jamaica, most notably Sandals. But I found if you mentioned the opposing chain of resorts while at Superclubs, barmen’s eyes glazed over, public relations people flashed violent looks, the sun went dark and the sea turned black and boiling. Still, there wasn’t much need to even think about other places while immersed in Superclubs luxury.

My first port of call, on a trip where I was fair whisked around the Caribbean island, was the lovely resort called Grand Lido Negril, my favourite of the five resorts I visited. If you like tearing about in a boat or scuba gear, you can. If, like me, you prefer to sit about doing precisely nothing, it’s perfect. A collection of white, “traditional modern” buildings hugging a perfect shore, Grand Lido Negril oozes relaxation.

My double room opened straight out onto a silvery beach. I opened the French windows on my first day to a view of an endless, turquoise sea, a palm tree and a clutch of naked Germans. The service, food and drink at Negril went for all the Superclubs I stayed: virtually flawless. Rooms were beautiful, spacious and clean, the food fantastic and service almost servile in its efficiency.

The food is generally in buffet form, although there are specific restaurants at each resort. It’s of a high standard and the ingredients are simple – fish, fruit, tubers and vegetables.

Acki, a local Jamaican fruit which looks a bit like egg, is delicious when cooked with fish and the various chicken dishes – including the local jerk chicken – are succulent. Indeed, once you have worked out you can afford an all-inclusive holiday, and resigned yourself to staying most of the time in one place, the only drawback is that without the restrictions of a wallet, the drink and food is constantly tempting.

It’s a good job there are spas, saunas, gyms and the sea available to work off the extra pounds and toxins I ingested, although a mild paddle was usually all I managed, bar some clumsy attempts at snorkelling. And while we’re on the subject, watch out for strong currents in the deceptively shallow bays. Paddling out one day, a huge sub-surface wave ripped me onto a coral reef, leaving me with some interesting cuts and scratches.

Most beaches in Jamaica have a convenient coral reef not far from the beach. At some you can walk out to them, the bays are so shallow. Once submerged in the water, a whole new world opens up before you – countless blue, orange, red and purple fish zoom past, huge white crabs and strange, basketball-sized and shaped fish that sit at the bottom of the sea looking grumpy.

At all the Superclub resorts you can be trained to scuba dive, although if you have a history of heart problems or even asthma, you may be discouraged for medical reasons. You can always snorkel though, and experience that special, intimate joy of watching your leaky mask slowly filling up with sea water.

I had a body scrub as well at the excellent spa at another Grand Lido, the Sans Souci, a rather fantastic, castle-like resort that is poised like a temple from a Japanese parchment, on a jagged cliff crowned with wispy trees. The body-scrub procedure involved being covered in a substance a little like a mixture of biscuits and shower gel, and leaves you feeling like you have scrubbed off a month’s worth of skin, grease, smog, dust and general urban muck.

Grand Lido Negril has its own boat, the M/Y Zein, which was formerly the property of Princess Grace of Monaco. It was abandoned and left to rot before the Issa family – who set up and still run the Superclubs chain – bought it and gave it a thorough overhaul, modern technology and its own eccentric captain. This peculiar fellow comes across as a hybrid of Captain Pugwash and Captain Birdseye, with a bit of Carry On thrown in. He will even let you get married aboard the M/Y Zein.

I found the north-west of Jamaica – which is where I spent the majority of my time – to be a lush, tropical, somewhat haphazard place. Fleshy palms, ferns and grass coat the countryside in a verdant carpet, punctured only by the odd rickety shack, propped up on bricks and surrounded by goats.

The heat of the sun is absorbed by the flora and when you leave your car to buy a peppered shrimp and a Coke from a roadside stop, it hits you in waves.

The Dunn’s River Falls are worth a visit. Tumbling down from the foothills, this cascade drops into a gorgeous stretch of beach on the north coast, like something out of an Athena poster or a Bounty advert. You can walk, slither, hop and climb up the 900ft falls. It’s great fun sploshing in the deep rock pools before clambering up a slippery series of waterfall levels, hand-in-hand with your friends. You also get absolutely drenched but it’s not dangerous, and at the top you are pleasantly exhausted, and able to plop yourself in one of the natural bubbling pools at the top.

At the top of the falls are also dozens of stalls selling a mix of Jamaican tourist tat – beads, wooden masks, icons of Bob Marley, etc – and genuinely interesting items made nearby, as well as food and drink.

It is here that you will also encounter one of the most common experiences of visiting Jamaica: aggressive selling techniques. Locals will thrust things into your palms or constantly pester you – in a disarmingly friendly manner – if you enter a shop. On beaches, the products may be more in the line of “ganja” (marijuana) or other drugs.

But why bother when you are booked in for two nights at Hedonism II? Hedonism II is another rum place, part of the Superclubs chain but as different from the gentile plazas and apartments of Negri las could be. During the day it seems like any other of the luxurious Superclubs: all-inclusive, great beach, great pools, squash courts, the lot. At night it becomes inhabited by forty something Americans and Germans in red leather thongs and steel nipple clamps, stroking each other and then nipping off sharply through the undergrowth, smooching in the disco or running around the various bars jiggling to reggae. The jiggling often carries on long after the music has stopped. Sitting in the “clothings optional” (which means nude) hot open-air jacuzzi at two in the morning, sipping a banana rum punch, staring at the millions of stars in the basalt sky, is quite something, even if you do have to overlook the behaviour of some of your fellow bathers.

Jamaica is irie-tastic from start to finish. Perhaps it was the perfect beaches, the limpid sea, the gorgeous food, the lovely hotels or the constant heat and clear light. Or perhaps it was the gallons of rum.

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Vacation spot where ‘Someone on a budget could live like a king’

John Issa’s idea for his Jamaica hotel, the Negril Beach Resort (now Hedonism), was radical in 1976. The “all-inclusive” resort would include all premium brand liquor, wine and beer, even the mini-bar.

“People told me this formula would never work. Only the French had been able to do it, and Club Med charged for drinks,” recalls Issa. “They said the guests would over-drink. I didn’t know how much it would cost until we did it.”

The guests must not have imbibed too much, because the resort was an immediate success.

Issa was confident because he had noticed something peculiar in the travel industry: In the soft economy, only two areas of travel were doing well – cruise ships and Club Med. The cruise ships attracted older travelers and Club Med was full of young backpackers. The only common denominator was they were inclusive except for alcoholic drinks, tipping and some activities. His instincts told him to go further and be “Super-Inclusive,” and include all alcohol, tipping and activities.

He opened the all-inclusive Couples resort in 1978, and that resort, too, was thriving at a time when other Jamaican hotels were suffering. His friends were amazed. He didn’t go broke with open bars and had managed to keep the resorts at a reasonable price.

Issa, 62, a charming Jamaican millionaire, whose family has been in Jamaica since 1893, now owns 20 all-inclusive SuperClubs, which include Breezes, the Grand Lido resorts and Hedonism. (He sold Couples.)

Another observation in the 1970s contributed to his success: He had noticed that travelers to the Caribbean were changing.

“In the early days, only professionals, senior executives and the rich came to the Caribbean in winter. Then we started seeing young honeymoon couples,” he says.

Being a proper gentleman of the old school, it bothered him to see the couples scrambling for money. “The check came and I would see the wife taking out her purse, too, to pay the bill. I wanted a hotel where someone on a budget could live like a king.”

His first resorts were affordable for the nonwealthy, and were totally “cashless,” meaning absolutely everything was included in the room rate. Then he noticed something else that prompted SuperClubs to take yet another direction.

“A lot of wealthy friends would join me at the hotels, and loved the all-inclusive idea, a place where they didn’t have to chase the waiter for the check. Nobody likes to be constantly nickeled and dimed. These were people who could afford anything and they loved the hotels.”

So SuperClubs’ Grand Lido hotels were born – luxury hotels with spas and golf courses for people with money who wanted the ease of the all-inclusive. The all-suite Grand Lido Negril, which included 24- hour room service, valet service, laundry and dry-cleaning, manicures and pedicures, opened in 1991. The food and wine collections are frequently praised in newspapers and magazines. Food and Wine magazine has a festival at the Grand Lido Negril each year.

Issa surprised his friends once again by opening Hedonism resorts for nudists. Guests swim and play in the nude.

When asked if he, too, takes off his clothes, at those hotels, he laughs. “No, no, no. I’m too conservative.”

The SuperClubs resorts took another radical direction that even Issa didn’t anticipate. He found himself in the wedding business.

“Someone asked if they could get married, and we arranged it, and that was the beginning. Weddings are now included, and some of the resorts do more than 100 weddings a month. We have hundreds of couples getting married at Hedonism resorts in the nude on Valentine’s Day. It’s now a huge industry.”

Issa’s wife, twin daughters and son also work at SuperClubs, which he is confident will keep growing. A large percentage of his customers are repeat guests. That’s because once you stay at an all- inclusive, he says, it’s a hassle to go anywhere else.

Issa, himself, gets annoyed when he stays at a Miami hotel and the bill keeps growing. The thing that irks him the most is paying for parking. “Why don’t they just add $2 a night to every room and say the parking is free?”

 

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American gambles all on local music and talent

IT has been said that reggae music is powerful, but no one proves this more than American businessman and producer Steve Weinstein.

From his introduction to reggae in the ’70s, the now 43-year-old increasingly grew attached to the music, to the point where although armed with a Business and Finance degree, he has moved from his Philadelphia home and now has set up a state of the art recording studio in Negril, Westmoreland.

Since June of this year, Weinstein has been operating the Jah Freedom Recording Company Ltd., a dubplate cutting, track building and recording studio in Negril, Westmoreland, a real rarity in those parts.

He told The Weekly Gleaner that the studio boasts a dubplate studio with its own voice room, a production studio with its voice room and live band instruments, and a business office as well. The studio is able to do conversions from CD to vinyl or vice-versa, and any other conversion people may require. He even created the website jahfreedom.com through which local or international artistes can contact him.

The journey to this he said, began back in the ’80s, during his first visit to Jamaica. Reggae music enchanted Weinstein, and after the Reggae Sunsplash show in 1988 he became sure that he wanted to belong somewhere in the music business.

“My current engineer Sly however, told me that if I really wanted to get involved in reggae, I should buy a dubplate machine, and reggae would come to me,” he recalled. “I went and researched the recording business and found out which machines were best suited to work out here, in comparison to those in the US. I learnt how to set up the machines, how to cut dub plates, how to mix, and other things relating to the business.”

From there on Weinstein set up a dub cutting studio in his Philadelphia home, and began Internet advertising for clients. “That took off for a while. After a time I had several top Jamaican artistes inside by home cutting dubplates for international sound systems.”

Why then did he pack everything up and move to Jamaica?

“The first answer is this. The grass always looks greener on the other side,” admitted Weinstein. “There are certain things about Jamaica that are simple, like the simple food and simple sunshine. I could have got this in Florida or LA, but here there is a constant supply of talent. The vibes have just taken me.”

So far he added, the studio has a small crop of artistes based in Western Jamaica with whom they are working to put out a few singles. He admitted however that the business has been slow.

“There is a lot of talent here but many of them can not afford to use it, plus many Kingston-based artistes do not want to come out here. They don’t realize that we have everything they need in Negril; great hotels to stay and a great studio to work in.”

Despite this slow season however, Weinstein said he is sticking it out and holding on to his vision. “My vision is to have a world class reggae studio where international reggae musicians, singers, and deejays will want to come as an alternative to the hustle and bustle of Kingston, and get quality music out.”

 

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Caribbean Island Paradise Offers Something for Everyone

Whether it’s a lush valley of ferns, a working plantation with banana, coffee and sugar cane or the sounds of home-grown reggae, Jamaica is a vacation destination with the look and feel of an exotic paradise.

“Jamaica, of course, is also known for its beaches and there is a beach for everyone — surfers, families, couples,” says Margie Christie, cruise/vacation manager for All World Travel in Dayton. “A good travel agent should be able to direct you to a beach just right for you.”

Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1494, this island nation roughly the size of Connecticut lies in the Caribbean Sea about 550 miles south of Miami. A popular destination for cruise ships and air travelers alike, Jamaica is valued for its tropical temperatures, range of vacation activities, stable democratic government and English-speaking residents.

Jamaica has four primary tourist areas: Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios and Runaway Bay.

Montego Bay to the northwest is Jamaica’s second largest city; Kingston, the capital, is the biggest. There are more accommodations and hotels here than any other place in Jamaica. Often referred to as MoBay, visitors can enjoy a variety of water sports, listen to stories about Annie Palmer (known as the White Witch at Rose Hall) or take a short excursion to nearby Falmouth to visit the Parish Church built in 1795.

Negril‘s white sand beach stretches seven miles from Bloody Bay in Hanover to the Negrillighthouse in Westmoreland. Negril was once known for its pirates and more recently for the filming of the Walt Disney movie “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”

Ocho Rios on the island’s north coast is famous for waterfalls, beaches and fern gardens; the most well-known is a three-mile winding roadway named Fern Gully. Ten miles to the west is the less crowded Runaway Bay. Here vacationers spend their time enjoying the benefits of their resort destinations. At Hedonism III these benefits can include a nude nuptial. Where else than a tropical destination can a bride and groom get married on the beach in their birthday suits? A liberal amount of suntan lotion is highly suggested.

It was the varied beach activities and the economy of an all- inclusive vacation that sent Jack and Myra Justice of Washington Twp. to Jamaica last summer.

“They had the things we liked to do like play on the beach and swim in the ocean. The water was very calm, and Jack could scuba dive at no extra charge,” Myra Justice said. The couple and their teenage daughter also enjoyed snorkeling, horseback riding and a trip to Dunns River Falls. So shop the street markets for local merchandise, visit a rum factory, climb a waterfall or just lay back and enjoy a day at the beach; you’ll find that Jamaica has a lot of ways to create a memorable vacation.

 

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Resorts Tailor To Travelers

While some Jamaican resorts are still designed for couples only, most now mix singles and couples, and more are setting up for families. Here’s a mini-guide to the most romantic with some of the extras each includes. COUPLES ONLY

Couples, Ocho Rios. Luxurious rooms with four-poster beds, breakfast in bed. Unlimited waterskiing, golf, horseback riding. Nude beach on private island.

Sandals (six resorts): Royal Caribbean at Montego Bay and Sandals Dunn’s River Falls are top of the line. Ocho Rios has a Riviera setting. Sandals Inn, Montego Bay, is small and intimate. SandalsNegril is a casual lowrise. Sandals Montego Bay is near the airport and has the longest beach. All have spacious rooms, white-glove dining service and unlimited scuba. Guests at one can play and dine at the others.

Swept Away, Negril. Oversized rooms with private lanais in tropical gardens. Popular for honeymoons, anniversaries. Room service, unlimited golf and scuba. Ten-acre sports complex. COUPLES AND SINGLES

Breezes, Runaway Bay. Beautiful rooms. Unlimited play at 18-hole golf course. Video-assisted golf and tennis clinics by top pros. Cricket and soccer lessons. Optional nude beach.

Ciboney, Ocho Rios. Luxurious hillside suites with kitchenettes stocked with snacks. Four suites share private pool. Dining and entertainment in mahogany-paneled rooms of beautiful plantation-style Great House. European spa. Unlimited golf.

Grand Lido, Negril. Marble lobby and elegant dining rooms. Guest rooms scattered on grassy grounds. Long crescent beach (nude section has giant Jacuzzi). Cocktail sailings aboard Princess Grace’s honeymoon yacht. Unlimited golf.

Hedonism II, Negril. Undistinguished decor but non-stop fun. Wet T-shirt contests and all-night toga parties with togas “creatively arranged.” Nude beach has big Jacuzzi. Circus workshop. Unlimited scuba.

Sans Souci Lido, Ocho Rios. Sumptuous rooms. Pampering massage, body scrub, mineral baths and pedicure in luxury spa. Valet and laundry service and 24-hour room service. Unlimited scuba and golf. ALL AGES

Holiday Inn SunSpree, Montego Bay. Budget all-inclusive has honeymoon suites with private Jacuzzis. Also a family resort with baby-sitting and brand new children’s center.

Round Hill Hotel and Villas, Montego Bay. Secluded elegance. Room service. Coat and tie required on Saturday night. Some rooms with private pools. Golf, scuba.

 

 

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Jamaica takes steps to protect tourists.

For the Caribbean-bound vacationer, Jamaica means sparkling white beaches, Red Stripe beer and – in the wake of a recent announcement from the Jamaican government – military forces on deployment in an attempt to control crime and harassment on the island.

But don’t give up on this tropical paradise just yet. You’re more likely to have your security enhanced by bicycle-riding undercover police in Hawaiian shirts than by rifle-toting soldiers in uniform.

On Jan. 16, the Jamaican government declared it would send troops to resort areas. The announcement appeared to be a response to several high-profile crimes against tourists. In the most publicized incident, a tour bus making its way from Negril to an attraction in Hanover Parish on Dec. 17 was hijacked at gunpoint and 14 German tourists were robbed. No one was hurt in any of the attacks.

Fears stateside were heightened when the Jamaican government announced it was sending in “troops” to guard tourists. A Jamaican Tourism Board spokeswoman maintains that “troops” was an unfortunate choice of words and that it would be more appropriate to say there was an increased police presence.

“The government announcement meant increased security – that’s it,” said Jennifer Kelly.

According to the tourist board, the government announcement was part of a long-term plan by the board to increase security on the island. This year, Kelly said, the government has simply implemented an existing plan to make the level of security more appropriate to the number of visitors.

“You probably wouldn’t even realize there were more police,” she said. “They’d be mostly plainclothes – in shorts and T-shirts, and on bicycles and horseback.”

A recent visit to Jamacia confirmed that there are no tanks on the beaches just yet.

However, the low-profile but increased presence of law enforcement, including regular police visits to hotels, villas and guest houses, does appear to be making a difference in how safe tourists feel.

In Negril, the police are about as visible as they probably are in your own neighborhood: a cruising patrol car here, a very polite – and snazzily dressed, in the traditional Red Stripe uniform that gives the ubiquitous local beer its name – beat cop strolling on the beach road there.

The tourist board says the recent incidents, though unfortunate, were isolated and not a part of an overall increase in crime. Statistics suggest the biggest threat to most tourists in Jamaica remains the danger of a nasty sunburn.

Although 1.9 million tourists visited Jamaica last year, there were only 185 reported incidents of visitor-related crime, including petty theft, according to the tourist board and the Associated Press. This was down sharply from 600 in 1996. These numbers included one homicide in 1996 and another in 1998, according to the Gleaner, an island newspaper.

The U.S. Department of State does warn Americans to be cautious when traveling to Jamaica, but its warnings about violent crime emphasize certain districts of Kingston, the biggest city on the island, and not the resort areas.

Many of the recent criminal complaints in resort areas involved harrassment charges. Harassment can be roughly defined as an overly insistent sales pitch by a local, or valuables being stolen after they were left unattended by overly relaxed vacationers.

Locals are aggressive in their pursuit of the tourist dollar, but savvy travelers will quickly learn to handle the onslaught. A shake of the head, a smile and “no, thanks,” will usually get the message across.

As part of its security plan, the tourist board has taken steps to address this issue, increasing fines for harassment one-hundredfold. A second conviction for harassment carries a fine of $4,100. In addition to the plainclothes officers, the board’s security plan includes more uniformed police visits to villas, guest houses and hotels.

Travelers returning to the United States via the Montego Bay gateway generally supported the tourist board’s assertion that Jamaica poses no serious risks for tourists.

Joseph Roepcke, a New Yorker returning from a week in Negril, said, “This is a poor country. To them we are rich. We should try to understand what’s going on in this country and not be afraid, although it can be irritating. It helps to have a sense of humor.”

Andrea Noriega of Omaha, Neb., on her first trip out of the United States, was filled with praise for the Ocho Rios resort where she stayed. She said she had felt safe there. “There are parts of our own cities where I wouldn’t wander around at night if I didn’t know where I was going,” she said. “Why should it be different here?”

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Bob Marley and Montego Bay

When you arrive at the picturesque Caribbean island, let your hair down, discover spooky hotels, dig into the local cuisine and go on the Reggae king’s trail

THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT had just set in on the American East Coast and we were ready to pack our bags for the Caribbean.

But getting out of Boston wasn’t that easy as snow played havoc with all flights being cancelled. Unfazed by the snow storm, we took the road to New York to fly to Jamaica. As I played co- pilot to my husband on this unusually long morning drive to New York, I silently assured myself that Jamaica would be worth the trouble.

Stepping out into Montego Bay on a sun- scorched afternoon not only made us strip our heavy woollens but also inspired us to shed our reservations about the Caribbean’s third largest island. Jamaica is known for its all- inclusive resorts — the concept was invented here. An all- inclusive resorts comes with an unlimited supply of food, drinks and entertainment. The flip side to it is that one misses out on a chance to meet and eat with the locals.

My research on Jamaican cuisine beckoned me to give the all- inclusive resort a miss in Mo Bay and take up the offer later in Ocho Rios. And I’m glad I followed my heart.

The taste of spicy smoky ‘ jerk’ and curried goat are enough to get me back to the island.

Jerk is a popular Jamaican barbeque cooking style.

Street- side jerk shacks around the city grill up a fiery offering originally of pork but now chicken and fish too have found their way into the grill. The practice of jerkin’ meat can be traced back to 1698 when the practice of rubbing a whole pig with salt and spices and smoking it on grills made of pimento sticks over pits was perfected. This was primarily done for two reasons. One, the flavour of the meat lasted for a longer time; two, the smoke drove insects away from the meat during the cooking process.

WHAT’S THAT JERK?

Fancier half- cut steel drums have replaced the traditional pits. This ultimate island barbeque is enjoyed with a side dish of rice and peas served with breadfruit or ‘ bammy’. Take home a pack of the commercial jerk sauces to try your hand at barbequing.

The two restaurants that are must- tries in the busy local strip of casinos and restaurants are Pork Pit and Native. The first is a no- frills eatery packed with locals. Expect a fiery fare on offer, for the spices aren’t watered down for tourists. The second is the place to check out curried goat. The significant population of Indian immigrants who usually trade in arts and crafts have managed to add a distinctive Indian taste to the local curry. Much to the pleasure of my companions, this curried goat reminded us of back home.

The usually safe Mo Bay is full of locals trying to make a quick buck by braiding hair or selling crafts. Be wary off peddlers trying to sell off marijuana by almost throwing it in your hands. Nevertheless, the Jamaicans are extremely friendly and upon learning that you are from India, they will be more than happy to strike a conversation about cricket. The bartender will liberally pour drinks while chatting about the two gods of Jamaican cricket lovers — Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar.

As one drives past the strip back to the resorts one can’t miss the enormous plantation spanning 6,600 acres that houses the popular Caribbean folklore of Annie Palmer. Legend has it that the French- born Annie, better known as white witch, murdered several of her husbands and slave lovers. Regular tours are conducted into Rose Hall, where many locals believe the ghost of Palmer still lives.

Our hotel across the road from the Palmer mansion also was called Rose Hall Resort & Spa, though I would like to believe it shared just the name and not the spookiness of that haunted residence.

CLIFF- TOP ROMANCE

Don’t miss out on making short trips to the nearby cities — each one has a distinctive feel to it. An hour’s drive from the Mo Bay airport is Negril, a popular weekend getaway.

This otherwise sleepy town during the day houses some of the prettiest resorts in Jamaica. Our day trip to Negril was planned around lunchtime at the Rock House Hotel. Interestingly, this hotel was the first on Negril‘s cliff in 1972 and has entertained legends such as Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. This property, now owned by the Australians, has the most spectacular uninterrupted views of the blue ocean.

If you’re tempted to take a dip, go right ahead, for a 30- foot dive will be an experience you won’t forget. Little kids around the cliff show you how it’s a child’s play to dive in. Take their help in case you have had one too many to avoid a really rocky experience.

With reggae in the background, great food and views you can just sit and watch all day, this cliff- top experience is one that is difficult to capture on camera. That is the beauty of this Caribbean island — it offers travellers a smorgasbord of experiences.

Our next stop was Ocho Rios, the complete opposite of Negril.

This is one busy town bustling with people and energy. Again an hour’s drive from Mo Bay, Ocho Rios owes much of its fame to Dunn’s river fall, one of Jamaica’s top tourist attractions.

A DR NO EXPERIENCE

The best way to enjoy this 600- foot fall is to start from the beach and find your way up without a guide. Unlike what you’d do at other falls, you’d have to climb this one. Streams of cold water flowing down the rocky terrain will leave you drenched yet exhilarated.

Leave aside your flipflops and rent out the special rubber footwear from the local stalls perched outside the falls to avoid a nasty fall. You’ll find enough photo- ops at these picturesque falls, which appear prominently in the very first James Bond film, Dr No.

After the much- needed exercise we headed to the downtown area to savour the beef patties. The long line of locals was a reassurance that the patties were worth the wait. The verdict of course is that this is another Jamaican delicacy you must get your teeth into. Close to the restaurants is the crafts market that is a good place to pick up knick- knacks and souvenirs. Make good use of your bargaining skills to haggle with the shopkeepers. I picked up a nicely carved Bob Marley.

Now, everyone has an interesting tale to tell about Uncle Marley. My favourite reference to Marley is used to scare my 14- month- old daughter. Petrified by his statue ever since it accidentally fell on her, she makes sure she runs in the opposite direction every time I scream, ” Marley’s here.” I’m quite sure this wouldn’t please the singer even in his grave.

Jamaica is the place for Marley lovers and when you’re there, you must complete the 9- mile Marley tour. An hour and 15 minutes from Ocho Rios, this 45- minute tour takes you to the reggae king’s birthplace, home and final resting place. And you can’t return without a Marley T- shirt.

As I sat on the flight I remembered my drive to New York and the trouble we took to get here.

In the end with a smile on my face and very content taste buds, all I can say is, ” Yaah maaan! Jamaica is totally worth it!” Pork Pit is a no- frills eatery that is packed with locals Pork Pit is a no- frills eatery that is packed with locals

 

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Treasure island

ARRIVING at the airport in Montego Bay after a 10-hour flight from Heathrow was a test of nerve for my companion and me, otherwise known as the Fab Holiday and Honeymoon Research team. However, we knew it had all been worth it when, out of the throng of hustlers and rude boys assembled to take tourists for a ride (literally and metaphorically), there were Vinton and Trevor, the Cousins Cove posse.

The north coast of Jamaica has long been a Mecca for pleasure seekers. Driving the coast road between Montego Bay and Negril, where lush, jungly hillside sweeps down to meet a sea that is translucent blue and warm all year round, past beaches art-directed by God for the award-winning Paradise campaign, through placid villages, it is easy to see why. Jamaica has every ingredient necessary for the perfect holiday. It is impossible not to have a good time in Jamaica, but you will not necessarily have been to the real island, just the places where the US dollar and the tour operator dominate. However, with a little imagination, it is possible to escape the compounds and experience one of the most vibrant cultures on the planet.

Jamaica is like Scotland – a tiny country with a small population which, because of the size of its diaspora and the strength of its culture, plays a disproportionate role on the global stage. Every aspect of that culture, whether it is the beat of a reggae base, the haunting power of Bob Marley’s voice or the richness and humour of Jamaican patois, sums up the essential message that life is too short not to have a good time.

Cousins Cove is a fishing village about 30 miles from Montego Bay, but sufficiently close to Jamaica’s fastest growing resort, Negril (15 miles down the road). During the 17th century Negril was a favourite port of call for buccaneers and slave traders, but now offers just water sports, restaurants, bars and night life. That is if you can bring yourself to stir from the tranquillity of no hassle Jamaican village life where the day begins by watching the fishermen paddle out in their cottonwood canoes, followed by hours snorkelling on an unspoilt coral reef and general relaxation, ending with a magnificent dinner of fish or lobster and strenuous efforts to stay awake.

We rented Cove House, a funky, wooden house built on stilts in traditional Jamaican style. As a design for living it could show Le Corbusier a thing or two – four bedrooms lead onto a large verandah and sitting area in the front overlooking the garden and the cove. At the back is another verandah. A pergola shades the dining area and there are two bathrooms and two showers, one in the garden under a banana tree. There is also a 10x6m freshwater swimming pool.

Cove House is not only extremely comfortable, but at around pounds 600 per week to rent, it is also good value. This tariff includes accommodation for up to eight people, the services of a staff of three, and breakfast. Should you wish to cook for yourself, there is a well-equipped kitchen, but Trevor, the excellent Cove House chef, will make any meals you require. All you have to do is choose from the Cove House pay-per-head menu which includes Jamaican dishes, standard international fare and a special kids’ menu. Prices work out at about pounds 3 for one course or pounds 4 for two.

The beauty of staying at a property like Cove House is that you are off the beaten track yet not so far away that you end up as a crime statistic. In Jamaica, tourists are fair game and, the closer you are to Tourist Central, the more likely you are to be ripped off, taken advantage of or just plain harassed. Many tour operators advise their customers never to leave the safety of their hotels, which is absurd, but in Kingston, downtown Montego Bay and Negril, it pays to be careful.

The Cove House gang would take it as a personal insult if anything bad happened, and unobtrusively keep an eye on you. In addition to Trevor, there is Vinton who swoops by on directorial tours of inspection. Nerissa, the housekeeper, comes in every day to clean. Russian, the security guard, patrols the yard vigilantly at night, deterring any potential troublemakers.

Fortunately, Cousins Cove has few troublemakers. Not unrelated, it also boasts almost no tourist attractions, much to the chagrin of Coveites who watch the tourist buses hurtling by on their way to somewhere else. There is plenty to do, however, such as Ran’s Arawak Cave, where Ran himself gives you the lowdown on Jamaican pre- history – a heritage experience unlike any other. Conroy will take you on a guided tour of the reef or up into the hills. Across the cove there is Jamzen on the Cliffs which, despite its Apocalypse Now vibe, is the place for a sunset swim and a beer.

Cousins Cove may feel a million miles from anywhere, but it is a great base from which to explore other parts of Jamaica. Most visitors rent a car for at least part of their stay and a typical day out might be the three-hour trip to Dunns River Falls to climb the 80-foot waterfall, followed by a visit to nearby Ocho Rios and then on to Firefly, No’l Coward’s former home. If you are a golfer, there is a choice of superb golf courses nearby.

You could hop on one of the public minibuses, an experience in itself, and head up into the hills where old men still travel on donkeys and the pace of life is so slow it is at a standstill. It is a world away from the tourist resorts on the coast.

Negril has what must be one of the best beaches in the world – seven miles of talcum powder sand shelving gently into a Hockneyesque swimming-pool sea – as well as some of the most popular tourist resorts. We spent the day at Beaches, one of Negril’s most popular all-inclusives and a paradise for families with children. In addition to sports and water activities, there are endless things for kids, from a nursery where babies are looked after to organised events for teenagers. Beaches is open to non-residents who can buy a day pass for around pounds 40, entitling them to full use of the resort with meals, drinks and all sports and water activities from 9am to 5pm. Although it often feels like an upmarket Butlins, anyone who has ever had small children on holiday whining that they are bored knows that that is exactly what they want.

The chic and discriminating go to the other end of Negril, to Chris Blackwell’s The Caves – one of the most relaxing places on earth.

Perched on top of volcanic rocks at the furthermost point of Negril’s West End, The Caves has 10 wood and thatch-roofed cottages decorated in fashionable neo-hippie style spread out in a carefully landscaped tropical garden. A maze of coral paths and walkways lead to shady little nooks, sun decks, ladders down into the sea and a reef that begins almost as soon as you hit the water.

Equally luxurious but in a totally different style is Round Hill, the Gleneagles of Jamaica. With 29 privately owned villas, a central great house with bar and restaurant, the 36-room Pineapple House, a private beach, excellent sports facilities and new Wellness Centre, Round Hill is like an exclusive club.

It is the brainchild of flamboyant Jamaican, John Pringle, who acquired the 100-acre former pineapple plantation on a peninsula close to Montego Bay in the Fifties. Right from the start he was tremendously successful at attracting the international glamour set and famous villa owners have included No’l Coward, CBS mogul Bill Paley, Viscount and Viscountess Rothermere and scores of others. JFK and Jackie spent their honeymoon here and the visitors’ book still reads like international Who’s Who.

As you would expect Round Hill is not for the budget traveller. However, it is not as expensive as you might think and, because there is no minimum stay period, most of us mortals could well afford a night or two seeing how the other half lives.

And the conclusions of the Fab Holiday and Honeymoon Research team? Easy. Mix it up. Have a taste of the real Jamaica. Combine that with unashamed luxury, explore the rainforest, go into the Blue Mountains. Eat jerk chicken at a roadside cafe, rub shoulders with film stars. Wherever you go, you will soon realise the biggest attractions in Jamaica are Jamaicans. They are a genuinely warm and friendly people who love nothing better than a good chat, with some low-density flirtation thrown in. As the guy who insisted on wheeling our luggage all round the airport, despite our qualms about not having the right money to pay him, said proudly: “In Jamaica people are more important than money.”

* Jamaica fact file

When to go

Jamaica’s dry season lasts from November to April when the weather is at its most balmy. During September and October you are most likely to encounter hurricane weather.

Getting there

We flew Air Jamaica from Heathrow to Montego Bay. Fares from pounds 444 plus tax (high season December to April) to pounds 367 plus tax (low season April to December). Contact the airline on 020- 8570 7999 for details and reservations.

Car hire

Prices for car hire vary wildly between pounds 150 and pounds 350 per week. Some companies do a fly-drive option with your air ticket. Information is available from the Jamaica Tourist Office (020-7224 0505)

Cove House

Cove House is available to rent for pounds 600 for a minimum stay of one week, Saturday to Saturday. Rental includes accommodation for up to eight people with breakfast. Meals and laundry are charged separately.

For more details: telephone Sue Morris (01978-861 367) or visit www.world-end.co.uk; e-mail: contact@worlds-end.co.uk

 

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Rick’s Café is back!

IT’S OFFICIAL! The world famous Rick’s Café, on Negril’s West End, is not just a sunset destination anymore.

The property which is nestled on one and a half acres on the cliffs in the ‘capital of casual’, now houses a two storey complex, the upper section of which consists of a 35-table restaurant, and a lower storey which houses a large lounge area and bar. It also offers a 180-degree view, of not only the ocean, but sections of the cliffs of the West End, including the western-most tip of Jamaica, the Negril Point, and the Negril Lighthouse.

In addition, there are a myriad of new activities including a live musical band every night on a ‘sand dance floor’, a fresh water swimming pool, three private cabanas for rent, a shallow ‘dining pool’, snorkelling or swimming in the coves below the cliffs.

Brandon Juniper, general manager of Rick’s Café, told The Weekly Gleaner that the property re-opened on August 5, following extensive redesigning and reconstruction.

The property which was devastated by Hurricane Ivan, was closed for eleven months. Since its reopening, he said, an average of 300 and 400 people flock to the property throughout the day.

“Hurricane Ivan was devastating for everybody, but it also gave us a clean slate to start with,” Mr. Juniper said. “One other new experience at Rick’s, is the ‘Rick’s After Dark’, when the property is transformed into an extremely romantic setting after sun goes down.

Tropical martinis under really soft lighting with candles, and a live band takes over. “It is really nothing too soft or too romantic by any means, but is just a different feel for people who want to do something different in Negril,” said Mr. Juniper.

He said the new design increases the view tremendously, so no matter where guests are seated. “In the past, you could be tucked away and not be able to see everything, and would have to go all the way to the cliff end to see the sunset. Now, no matter where you are, you can enjoy the view.”

The new restaurant caters to individual tastes and offers seafood, chicken, vegetarian dishes and pasta, while the new lounge offers speciality drinks including ‘Tropitinis’, ‘Jamaican me Crazy’ and the ‘Rick’s Famous Planters Punch.

Opened 31 years ago by American Richard ‘Rick’ Horseman and gained fame over the years for its breathtaking view of the sunset. Rick’s Café received international recognition and a myriad of accolades during its time of operation including being voted among the top 10 bars in the world by Caribbean Travel and Life magazine, and featured in the book 1000 Things to do Before you Die, a New York Times Best-seller.

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Passover in Paradise; In Search of a Seder on Jamaica

The long dinner table was on an open-air porch, about a hundred yards uphill from a sea gleaming with the light of the full moon. The 18 people seated with my family at that table in Jamaica – new immigrants from Philadelphia, schoolboys from England, Jamaicans whose families had first come to the island more than two centuries ago and more recent arrivals from the United Kingdom to Britain’s former Caribbean colony – were all strangers to us. What had brought us together that night last April was a special service, one that began with these words: “Blessed art thou, O Eternal our God, king of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.”

The familiar words of the kiddush, the ceremonial blessing said at the beginning of the Passover Seder, reassured us that though we were hundreds of miles from home, we were not among strangers. We had come together to celebrate the anniversary of the exodus of Jews from Egypt, and while we had different pasts and presents, we shared the ritual of the Seder.

When my wife, Barbara, and I planned our spring getaway to Jamaica, however, the Seder had not been on the itinerary. We selected a resort that had enough diversions to entertain our two teenage sons, Jonathan and Clayton, yet one with a measure of comfort and style that would allow us to relax and enjoy ourselves. We had arranged bus transfers between the Montego Bay airport and Negril, thus adhering to an oath I had made to “Never, ever drive a car again in Jamaica” (after a previous experience with bad roads and various cows, goats and parked cars). We were set, we thought, until we looked at the calendar and discovered that we would be away during Passover.

We were staying at Grand Lido, a luxurious all-inclusive resort in Negril that lived up to its name. The 200-room SuperClub resort has a beach, scuba diving and snorkeling, tennis, beaches, numerous restaurants, water sports, nightly entertainment, movies and more – everything we could want, except a Seder. But the management was sympathetic and suggested calling the Jamaica Tourist Board.

Our first talk with them, several weeks before our departure, was encouraging. “We have a `Meet the People’ program for just such occasions. We will contact some people on the island and see what they can tell us,” a tourist board official said. As our trip neared, the contacts became more frequent and encouraging. “We have heard of a bus that picks up Jews in Negril and takes them to a communal Seder,” was one message. Finally, two days before we were scheduled to leave, came the word: “There is no bus or communal Seder. However, there is one family that is having a Seder and they will be happy to have you join them. They will give you all the details when you call them after you arrive.”

The day before Passover, two days after we arrived in Jamaica, I called Geoffrey deSola Pinto, who with his wife, Pat, runs a shop at a beachfront hotel in West Montego Bay. We arranged to meet them for the Seder at their daughter’s house in Reading, a bit farther west of Montego Bay.

We rented a car and set out on our 50-mile journey. The road between Negril and Montego Bay is lined with hazards. The pavement varies from two lanes to less than one; as we slowed to make one tight turn, ganja (marijuana) hustlers hurried over and called out, “Good smoke, good smoke.” More legal but no less forceful were the fruit and sugar-cane vendors who approached our car when we slowed to pass over a one-lane bridge.

Despite these minor obstacles, we made it to the Pintos’ waterfront apartment, where we met Geoffrey, who came to the island in 1957, and Pat, who was born on the island to a family that immigrated in 1789. After another short drive we arrived at the home of their daughter, Katmyn deSola May; her American husband, Frank; and their 2-year-old son, Spencer. Among the other guests were a U.S. interior designer, her Jamaican husband and their two children; a Jamaican whose family first came to the island around 1750; a London-born merchant banker and her two sons; the Pintos’ son David and his school friend from New York City; and a family of three from Philadelphia, who had just moved to the island.

Jamaica seemed an unlikely place for a Seder, we mused, but Geoffrey Pinto assured us that the history of Jews on the island was long. “Jews have played a major part in Jamaica in politics and the social life. One family brought sugar {cane} from Brazil in the 1600s. In Jamaica, the Jews were the first to free the slaves in 1838 and the first to provide land settlement for the freed slaves. The daily newspaper the Gleaner was started over 150 years ago by the de Cordova family and still has family representatives {on it} up to today.”

Once there were four synagogues on the island, but now there is only one, in Kingston, the capital. “We have gatherings on holy days,” Pinto said. “We keep Friday evening prayers, kiddush – and go to the Kingston synagogue when possible.”

This wasn’t the first Seder nor the last to which the Pintos have welcomed strangers. “We have always had new acquaintances,” he said. “It’s the custom; we hope for Elijah {the prophet whose arrival heralds the coming of the Messiah, according to Jewish belief}. Last year we had more than two dozen guests from an Israeli film crew making a movie on the island. They couldn’t speak English and we couldn’t speak Hebrew, but we got along and had a great Seder.”

Geoffrey Pinto began the service by retelling the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. Seder leaders seem to fall into two categories: those who follow strictly the Passover Haggadah and those who jump around and read the parts they enjoy best. Pinto was of the latter camp, but his spirit and sense of humor made it an excellent evening.

The Passover meal was a familiar Seder dinner: roast chicken, fresh and roasted vegetables, rice and salad, but with a Jamaican and Sephardic influence. There was a tomato and mozzarella salad, an eggplant dish, roasted red peppers and charoses, a mixture of nuts, wine and cinnamon that this time was made with figs instead of apples, which are almost nonexistent on the island because of their cost.

The Seder was perhaps the most memorable my family has ever experienced, in part because of the unique location but also because it brought home to us the sense of community shared by Jews around the world.

You can learn more about Jamaica’s free “Meet the People Program” by stopping at the Welcome Desks in the airports in either Montego Bay or Kingston. For more information about Jamaica, contact the Jamaica Tourist Board, 801 Second Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017, 212-856-9727 or 800-233-4582 (in the Northeast).

Larry Fox and Barbara Radin-Fox are coauthors of “Romantic Island Getaways: The Caribbean, Bermuda and the Bahamas” and “Romantic Weekend Getaways: The Mid-Atlantic States.”

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Come back to Jamaica

Remember the commercials that ended with the phrase “Come back to Jamaica?” Hurricane Ivan hit parts of Jamaica hard and this beautiful part of the world will need your help to rebuild.

You’ll find a little bit of Pittsburgh in Negril, Jamaica at the Negril Tree House Resort owned by native Pittsburgher and Schenley High School graduate Gail Biggs Jackson and her husband, James. On the weekend of our visit a small group from the ‘Burgh made their way to the island to celebrate part two of Victoria Harris’ milestone birthday.

Biggs-Jackson has called Negril her home for 21 years and has watched the Tree House grow from a 12-room getaway to a 70-room resort complete with banquet facilities and water sports. The Tree House has become a popular spot for island weddings.

The tourists are slowly making their way back to Jamaica after the devastation of Hurricane Ivan. Some of the more popular spots like Jackie’s on the Reef and Rick’s Cafe didn’t quite make it and are in the process of being rebuilt.

Artisans and vendors along the beach are rebuilding their stands and dusting off their wares, which included beautiful woodcarvings and handmade jewelry.

While some were next door wasting away at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and others attended the National Miss Black Nude Contest at Hedonism II, the guests at the Tree House enjoyed swimming in the private pool or the view of the sun as it set behind the Caribbean Sea. The Tree House also offers expert service and samplings of the Jamaican food.

An all- you-can-eat breakfast by the sea is part of the room package and a different menu was served each morning. Guests sampled the national dish of Jamaica, ackee and saltfish. Other Jamaican specialties include calaloo, which is spinach-like and usually steamed with onions, sweet peppers and seasoned to taste. This dish reminded Americans of collard greens.

For many years Negril has been a preferred destination and was “discovered” by the rich and famous, such as former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

There are recollections of musicians–Bob Dylan and the Carpenters–and authors Alex Haley (“Roots”) and Alice Walker (“The Color Purple”) and of course we know this is where “Stella Got Her Groove Back” (Terry McMillan).

Negril has captivated its many visitors with its own particular ambience–the rugged “West End” and the magnificent beach–highlighted by the laws restricting the height of buildings and density of development.

Visitors are coming back to Jamaica again.

 

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Out Islands offer unique vacation

From pristine beaches to charming New England-style towns, the Out Islands or the Bahamas offer an unparalleled vacation, one that is gaining popularity daily.

Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort, located on Long Island, is one property that is being heralded as a unique resort and is preparing for a record number of visitors this year.

It recently celebrated the grand opening of its 7,600 square foot beach house, owned and operated by Canada’s Victoria-based Oak Bay Marine Group.

Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort houses the island’s largest restaurant, bar and activities center as well as fitness facilities.

Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson noted that the opening of the complex “symbolizes the tremendous opportunities that exist in the Out Islands and exemplifies the renaissance throughout the islands of the Bahamas.”

Located on four miles of secluded beach on Long Island in the Bahamas Out Islands, the property accommodates 60 guests in enchanting colonial-style beach- front villas with seaside gazebos.

The Bahamas islands are a natural treasure trove spread over 100,000 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean encompassing 700 islands, 2,000 cays and countless inlets.

The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism is the proud recipient of the 1997 Green Globe Achievement Award from the World Tourism and Travel Council. Negril Fat Tire Festival

The Jamaica Mountain Bike Association will hold the first Caribbean single-track racing event, theNegril Fat Tire Festival, Feb. 9 to 13.

The event will conclude on Saturday, Feb. 13, with the signature cross country Jamaica National Championship series race. The event takes place on a three mile course in the Negril Hills overlooking Negril Bay, and the layout is 99 percent single track.

The race will determine Jamaica’s first national mountain bike champion, who will travel abroad as part of the Jamaican mountain team to qualify for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

And while these arrangements are being finalized, Air Jamaica has announced a convenient way to fly to the most popular destinations in Jamaica. Air Jamaica Express, it said, is the fastest and most affordable way to maximize vacation time in Jamaica.

Air Jamaica can schedule daily service to and from Negril, Montego Bay, Port Antonio, Kingston and Ocho Rios.

Still in Jamaica, El Greco Resort, celebrating its first anniversary and a very successful year, is nestled on a secluded hillside plateau, overlooking panoramic mountain vistas and dazzling Montego Bay.

Located just minutes from the airport, El Greco is a private paradise. Each of the 96 delightfully appointed, four star rated self catering suites, features a fully equipped kitchen with breakfast bar and great room. The resort offers true flexibility and freedom in a Caribbean vacation, noted General Manager, Jeanette Lynch. Romance in St. Lucia

Rendezvous, regarded as one of the most intimate and romantic resorts in St. Lucia exclusively for couples, will have an added appeal this Valentine’s Day. Special activities and features for guests at the all inclusive resort will make the day even more memorable.

February 14 begins with a glass of champagne and orange juice at breakfast presented by a resort coordinator. Gift wrapped Valentine t-shirts will be placed in the rooms, a large heart-shaped specially decorated cake will be a dinner highlight and the resorts’s Piano Bar and Terrace will be festively decorated in red and white. Couples getting married that day will come in for special gifts. Turks & Caicos Gecko Grille

The new culinary team at Gecko Grille has come in for high praises from General Manager Tom Lewis. From creative dishes such as Babalou Grouper and Chocolate Success, the Gecko’s new talented chefs have brought their experiences and mouth watering gourmet delights from around the world to Ocean Club.

Located on Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Island, Ocean Club is ideally situated on a sweep of Grace Bay Beach, one of the highest rated beaches in the world. Ocean Club offers several deluxe categories that include beach front, ocean view and garden view, all of which are air conditioned and have private balconies.

The culinary team is made up of talented and experienced chefs, made up of French, West Indian, or French Canadian.

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Adventure in Reggae Hotspot thrills and spills in Laid-back Jamaica

Jamaica is famous as the Caribbean island where ‘no problem’ is the motto of laidback life. ANDY WALKER discovers another side to the reggae hotspot, where adventure is giving relaxation a run for its money.

HURTLING along a zip wire from canopy to canopy, riding a horse through the Caribbean Sea, being dragged by a speedboat while on water skis – it was as if I was a British secret agent.

Well, it’s certainly not difficult to get into character in the north-west of Jamaica. After all, this is a part of the world that was once graced by 007 himself.

But while Roger Moore pulled off his role with all the typical suave and sophistication of James Bond during the filming of Live And Let Die, my attempts were more like Johnny English.

I’m sure Moore wouldn’t have had the same terrified facial expressions as I had while taking in the tremendous views on the Original Canopy Tours with Chukka Caribbean Adventures in Montego Bay.

Nor would the English gent have been nervously clinging to an excitable horse called Fancy Pants like I was during a ride through Rhodes Hall Plantation near Negril.

As for the water-skiing, I managed to stay upright for a grand total of five seconds while sampling the impressive array of facilities at the Couples Negril resort.

Reminders of Jamaica’s Hollywood star qualities were all around me during my week-long stay atNegril and Montego Bay, none more so than at the Rose Hall Resort and Country Club in the latter destination.

Rose Hall proudly boasts its own golf course, Cinnamon Hill. Not just any golf course, you understand.

The natural waterfall made famous in the 1973 Bond movie Live And Let Die sits right next to hole 15. Johnny Cash’s holiday home, which the legendary musician visited six months a year for the last 20 years of his life, overlooks the same golf course.

It’s easy to wine and dine yourself like an A-lister in this part of the island, too, because anyone who knows Jamaicans will know that they are proud of their food.

Tucking into a portion of jerk pork or chicken alongside the natives at the famous Scotchies – an authentic Jamaican restaurant that doesn’t need to sell itself with ashy surroundings – was a memorable experience.

From chatting to locals in Montego Bay, I learned the eaterie virtually has legendary status. No surprise, then, that upon my visit the place was packed with tourists and Jamaicans tucking into their tin foil-wrapped tucker.

If you want glitz with your grub then you can have that as well.

The romantic Caves Resort near Negril is a beautiful destination full of nooks and crannies which are built into the cliff face. Rumour has it that a few weeks before I dined there, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones had hired the entire place.

The duo wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Ritz-Carlton’s restaurant Jasmine either, where ‘jasian’ – a combination of Jamaican and Asian food – is the cuisine of choice.

Myeyes lit upwhen I glanced at the curried lobster samosas for starters. I just had to have them. But if you think that I turned posh during my visit, think again – it was all washed down with a few bottles of Red Stripe.

Nothing wrong with that though, it was Prince Phillip’s chosen drink during the Queen’s last visit to Jamaica.

The only thing that I was disappointed about missing out on during the trip was curried goat. When I return to Jamaica I will certainly seek out the popular dish.

Food may be the No 1 passion in Jamaica but it has to compete with music and sport, as epitomised by our driver Mr Pusey.

Here was a man who could give you chapter and verse on the fortunes of the West Indian cricket team or the Jamaican ‘Reggae Boyz’ football team while Bob Marley played on the stereo in his minibus.

In fact, Mr Pusey’s minibus wasn’t the only place I regularly heard hits such as No Woman, No Cry or I Shot The Sheriff. Whether you’re in a bar, restaurant or even swimming in the sea, you just can’t escape the songs of reggae music’s favourite son.

I asked Mr Pusey: “Do you ever get bored of hearing Bob Marley?”

He snapped back: “Nah mon.”

I knew all about Marley before going to Jamaica but I had never been introduced to mento, a style of Jamaican folkmusic, until a resident band played at breakfast during my stay at Couples Negril.

I often switch off when bands play in the background at restaurants but these mento musicians had me gripped, so much so that I went on a fruitless hunt around the resort to find a CD.

During my stay I was also lucky enough to take in the annual Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival on what I was told was a quiet Friday night at the Rose Hallbased event.

Hugh Masekela and Jill Scott were the headline acts and while the music acts weren’t my cup of tea, simply being at the festival was a fantastic experience in itself. Just seeing the Jamaican people engrossed in the music was a spectacle I’m glad I didn’t miss.

At first, I was disappointed to be missing out on the following night’s entertainment as Diana Ross and Billy Ocean were playing – but the following morning’s newspaper reports confirmed that I was lucky to have had other things planned.

‘Diva Disappoints’ was how the Daily Observer’s front page headline greeted me over my traditional Jamaican breakfast of saltfish and ackee (the national dish which can be eaten at any time of the day).

Apparently Diana Ross’ diva demands had resulted in her being booed by the majority of the sell-out crowd and had Billy Ocean not managed to lift spirits slightly then a mass walkout would have followed.

It felt unusual to hear a tale about Jamaicans losing their temper.

The former British colony promotes itself on its relaxing ‘no problem’ attitude to life.

Just a quick scan around the usual tacky tourist stores will confirm that with numerous amounts of keyrings, fridge magnets and t-shirts adorned with the image of a Rastafarian telling you to ‘take it easy’.

The laidback approach is a nice change to the hustle and bustle of Britain but at times can become a little frustrating when you’re left waiting around unnecessarily.

Don’t get me wrong. Relaxing is good, very good.

None more so than when you’re enjoying a spot of Mountain Valley Rafting along the Great River in Lethe. It’s the ideal place to sit back, take in the sights and listen to stories fromyour ‘captain’ while you sail along on a bamboo raft at a leisurely pace.

I was quite disturbed, however, when our feet of rafts pulled up on the riverbank and one of the captains started washing our PR representative’s feet.

Until, that is, I got the same treatment and realised it was just part of the experience. Our feet and halfway up our shins were coated in limestone, a cleansing treatment known as ‘jungle socks’.

The tranquillity of the Great River was a far cry from the lively Montego Bay, Mo Bay or the ‘Complete Resort’ as it’s known by some, where a trip down the Hip Strip shows you how Jamaicans like to party.

Unfortunately we missed out on experiencing the Hip Strip in full swing but I still managed to catch a glimpse of some of the destinations that make the heart of Mo Bay tick.

Margaritaville may just look like a bar on the outside but a peak around the back unveils an aspect that you’d never find back in Blighty – a waterslide that launches you from the roof and into the sea. There were also trampolines floating in the sea to unleash the big kid in all of us.

Big or little, kids are sure to have watched the film Cool Runnings at some point in their lives and that classic 1993 hit isn’t overlooked along Mo Bay’s Hip Strip with the Jamaican Bobsled Bar.

With Cool Runnings on loop, themed cocktails and items from the real Jamaican bobsled teams, it was a superb destination and a memorabillia t-shirt was a must for all of us.

At the end of the day, don’t worry if you miss out on the Hip Strip’s version because Montego Bay Airport has its own bobsled bar, although a much more expensive version.

However, without doubt, my highlight was a catamaran cruise out the greatest bar in the world – Rick’s Cafe.

This place was virtual paradise: a pool to watch the sunset from, a stage with a reggae band, efficient waitress service from the bar and daredevil cliff divers.

These weren’t just any cliff divers, these were fearless individuals who would clamber to the top of a wobbly, dead-looking tree and somersault into the sea below before embarking on a round of tip collecting.

Things couldn’t have got any better on that evening at Rick’s Cafe. As I was taking a sip from another Red Stripe, I thought James Bond could keep his stunts. Hey I’m taking things easy.

No problem.

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No Worries, Mon, with jamaican slice of midwest.

A couple of thousand miles away, along the notable 7-Mile Beach of Negril in Jamaica, is a nice slice of the Midwest.

When The Guy and I decided to visit recently, we booked the CocoLaPalm resort for a week because it was in the middle of that great beach and it wasn’t an all-inclusive operation. We wanted to feel free to roam from one part of the beach to another, and not guilt trip ourselves about going back to home base to eat every meal and drink every rum punch or Red Stripe that we craved.

In more isolated locations — like Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic — we have opted for all-inclusive packages and had few regrets. The Negril beach area, though, is awash with great restaurants and live music. There is a patch of high-end all-inclusives, but otherwise it’s an area to be explored at a laid-back pace, with no deadlines or worries, mon.

Little did we know, until after our arrival, that our seaside resort was owned and operated by a Minnesota family who used to work as builders near the Twin Cities.

Vice President Michael S. Mark, “38 and happily single,” says the bulk of his Negril resort’s winter and spring business comes from Wisconsin and other Midwestern states. Come summer, it’ll be the Dallas, Atlanta and New Orleans residents who come here to seek relief from the sweltering heat.

It’s hard to relate to that.

Mike oversees management of the 70-room CocoLaPalm until May, when he’ll return to the Midwest for a few months to market the beachfront property and Jamaica. His stepfather and mother, John and Judy Vosika, bought the resort in 1991. Ten years later, they bought the adjacent Silver Sands Hotel, gutted it and built family suites.

“He still gets the shakes if he doesn’t have a power tool in his hands by 7 a.m.,” Mike says of his stepfather, who is 60 and newly retired.

No building is higher than the tallest palm tree in Negril. We were grateful that CocoLaPalm was a respite from the spring break guzzling and gawking that were being pursued elsewhere along the beach.

There is zero tolerance for marijuana at the resort, which features an adults-only freshwater pool and a weekly manager’s reception with free drinks and appetizers. Our room fee included a daily continental breakfast of breads and rolls, coffee or tea, fresh fruit or juice.

Our only complaint was the nightly symphony of the patoo — owl-like birds that sound like squeaky hinges. Our oddest entertainment was watching an elderly man eat and breathe fire, then lie on broken liquor bottles and eat a half-cup of glass slivers. He had a cup of water as a chaser.

Mike says he pays the guy — also a contortionist — $110 per performance, plus tips. This is a country in which 38 percent of adults are unemployed; one of four who work have tourism jobs. It is possible to live off the land and work seasonally, cutting sugar cane or whatever else grows profitably.

Before visiting Jamaica, I had visions of a high-crime, ganja-smoking population that lived in paradise but couldn’t be trusted. I have since seen plenty of maids blasting gospel music on TVs as they cleaned, 24-hour beach security, and tank-topped guys offering sunset cruises or “anything you need to smoke.”

The Guy perceptively concluded that it seems to be a city of hustlers but not con artists. Everybody wants to bring you a beach chair, fetch you a cold drink, tote your luggage, make you a wood carving — and make a buck in the process. (Take a lot of small bills; ATMs are rare, and change given in U.S. dollars is rarer.)

At CocoLaPalm, the mood is less anxious. Mike contends that’s partly because employees are treated well. The 38 full-timers, he says, split a $6,000 reward whenever the resort gets a “Golden Apple,” awarded by Apple Vacations for exceptional service and facilities. CocoLaPalm has six so far. Apple is one of about 30 tour operators with which the property is affiliated.

“About 70 percent of our guests are repeat visitors,” Mike says. “Some have their own drivers here, people they’ve known for years. A few have their kids go to school, for a day, with the kids of our employees. Both sides learn something.”

He also counts Rita Marley, reggae musician Bob’s widow, as one of the regulars.

For more information about the resort, go to www.cocolapalm.com or call 800-896-0987.

*

Our original plan was to visit a resort run for about 15 years by a Wisconsin couple, John and Kathleen Eugster, but that fell apart when he was shot to death in January.

The 49-year-old real estate developer in Little Bay, a fishing village near Negril, had bought oceanfront property that he planned to turn into residential lots. Squatters objected, and they were blamed for the death of the Dane County native, whose residence was in Presque Isle (Vilas County).

“Coconuts was closed the day after the shooting,” writes Carol Sykes, the reservation manager. “I canceled all the guests, and we locked the gates.”

The small resort’s once-vibrant Internet site also has vanished. Ask about the place when in Negril, and you’ll likely get shrugs of indifference or detachment. One person says the place has a new owner. Another says it’s still closed.

Yet another says it didn’t matter who owned the Little Bay property. You still have to respect the Jamaican way of life, particularly when someone calls a piece of land their home for 20 or 30 years.

“Any bad publicity haunts all of us,” Michael Mark says. “You could have a four-block area of trouble in Kingston (a city that’s five hours away), and pretty soon people are thinking that all of Jamaica is rioting.”

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Newlyweds find perfect honeymoon resorts on Jamaica.

Planning a wedding can be stressful, so my wife tells me. She arranged everything from flowers to photographers for our big day. Me? I had the honeymoon to sort.

Mrs Carroll’s only request after months of military-style planning was straightforward – it had to be tropical, relaxing and unforgettable.

The missus got exactly what she was looking for with two weeks at Couples Resorts in the Caribbean island of Jamaica, the home of Bob Marley, Usain Bolt and Blue Mountain coffee.

After a 10-hour flight from Gatwick we landed at Montego Bay airport before heading to Couples Resorts’ San Souci haven in Ocho Rios on the north of the island for seven nights. Our second week was spent in its picture-perfect sister resort of Negril on the west coast.

Couples Resorts – which has four destinations on the island – was founded in 1943 by Abe Issa, aka the father of modern Jamaican tourism.

The boutique-style venues are, as the name suggests, for couples only and specialise in “pampered luxury in an environment conducive to romance”. Another plus point is when you say all-inclusive, Couples does exactly that.

Food and branded drinks are a given, as are some watersports and activities. But at Couples you get plenty of premium excursions as well as superior activities such as waterskiing and Scuba diving included in the cost. Honeymooners also get complimentary 30-minute couples’ massages, perfect after a long-haul flight.

The 1000ft Dunns River Waterfalls – featured in Tom Cruise movie Cocktail – is a must for any visitor to the Souci and Tower Isle resorts and it’s free. Other excursions include shopping trips and sunset catamaran cruises. Both resorts have great gyms, several bars, games rooms and shops.

Another selling point is Couples’ no-tipping policy. On a previous Caribbean trip, tips added $300 to the cost of our holiday.

And at Couples you don’t lose out in terms of quality of service. The resort staff were friendly, professional and attentive.

Each resort has its own personality. The 150-suite San Souci is laid-back, based around a private beach cove of white sands and turquoise, warm waters. We had a one-bedroom ocean suite with a double balcony overlooking the Caribbean Sea. To say the view was fit for a postcard is an understatement. Couple Negril, which included 234 rooms and suites, was more lively, located on a long stretch of stunning sand.

Our Negril room was more like a studio apartment with the biggest bathroom and jacuzzi we’ve seen as well as a hammock for two on the veranda overlooking the beach. Dining-wise, both resorts served the best of everything from succulent, saucer-sized prime fillet steaks to freshly-caught lobster. Every meal looked like something Jamie Oliver had just prepared.

Both resorts have several eateries you could visit as many times as you wanted as well as grand buffet/party nights on the beaches or gardens. Even the in-room dining service was five-star.

Being our honeymoon, we treated ourselves to private dining on the beach ($120) at Negril.

As there was a thunderstorm that day – they were frequent in the afternoon during that time of year, but over with in a flash – we ended up dining at a gorgeous treehouse on the beach. We even had our own waitress who came to our room with champagne to escort us to our table.

One of our favourite activities was Scuba diving. We were both apprehensive at first but ended up diving 30ft down in the crystal-clear waters. We even fed the tropical fish.

They say time flies when you’re having fun and I hated leaving but at least there are another two Couples Resorts – Tower Isle and Swept Away – to visit next year.

 

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Getting to know…Jamaica: here is pertinent information about this island for you and your clients.

As the third-largest island in the Caribbean, Jamaica is a perennial favorite for travelers to the region. Its mountainous and lush terrain, warm breezes, myriad resorts and hotels, friendly people, plentiful airlift and rich culture all come together in a wonderful Caribbean mix. Following is a rundown of some of the most basic information you and your clients will need to determine whether this island is a good match. This is by no means a complete guide to Jamaica. [Editor's Note: This is the first of an ongoing series in which we will provide island orientations. E-mail us what you think of it, and tell us if there is some other information you would like to see included.]

Entry Requirements: All visitors over 16 must have a valid passport; those younger must present an original birth certificate and a valid photo ID.

Getting There: Most visitors fly into Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay on the north coast. From there, smaller aircraft fly to resort destinations around the island. The other major airport, Norman Manley International, is in the capital city of Kingston, to the south. The island also is a popular cruise port of call.

Getting Around: The roads in Jamaica are improving, albeit slowly. The road from Montego Bay toNegril has been completed, but the road in the other direction, toward Ocho Rios, is undergoing heavy construction currently and requires skillful driving. Jamaicans drive on the left side of the road, and passing is a frequent occurrence. Car rentals are available at or near the MoBay airport from such companies as Hertz, Budget, Thrifty and Dollar. As an alternative, many resorts provide shuttles for visitor transfers.

Taxis have predetermined rates between locations, but visitors should make sure that the rate is determined before they enter the cab. All official cabs have red Public Passenger Vehicle license plates.

Marriage Requirements: Couples must wait one day upon arrival before getting married, and they must apply for and receive a marriage form from the Minister of National Security beforehand. They also need a certified copy of their birth certificate and proof of divorce or copy of death certificate, if applicable. Marriages cost $100 to $250. If either the prospective bride or groom is under 18, he or she must bring notarized parental consent.

Time Zone: Jamaica is in the Eastern Standard Time zone and does not observe daylight savings (i.e., it is one hour earlier there than the E.S.T in the U.S. during the summer).

Drinking Age: 18

Casinos: There are no casinos on the island.

MONTEGO BAY

Top Attractions: There is a lot going on in Montego Bay. Between the guests staying here and the cruise ship passengers invading the town, Montego Bay can be very hectic. Most of the restaurants, bars, clubs and shops can he found on Gloucester Avenue, also known as the Hip Strip. Also here is a popular craft market featuring souvenirs and local products. Montego Bay is also known for its beautiful beaches. Just outside MoBay proper are such popular attractions as the Rose Hall Great House (and its legendary ghosts) and the bamboo rafting experience on the Martha Brae. Golfers are partial to staying here because of the great courses available at the Ritz-Canton, Half Moon, Tryall, Grand Lido and Wyndham properties.

Things to Knew: This central area makes for a great weekend trip, as there is no need to travel long distances. This area has more guest rooms than any other part of the island. Here and elsewhere on the island, visitors should be aware that vendors selling their wares can be very aggressive. While they maybe a bit overbearing, these people generally are genuinely friendly and are just trying to make a living. Tell your clients to be prepared for the vendors and to nicely but firmly say no if they are not interested, and keep walking.

NEGRIL

Top Attractions: Arguably the site of the best beaches on the island, Negril‘s seven-mile stretch is a delight for beachgoers and watersports aficionados. The area has its own craft markets and other types of shopping as well as an exciting nightilfe (sunset is a popular time for drinks or a party here). People seem to flock to Rick’s Cafe thanks to its drink specials, cliff diving and general revelry.

Things to Know: The notorious drive here from Montego Bay has improved greatly and now only takes about 45 minutes. As in other areas of Jamaica, visitors to Negril can enjoy a wide variety of activities–on, below and just off the water. The resorts here vary greatly and cater to diverse clientele, but the actual town is very much a party zone. Clients should be made aware that from mid-February to Easter, Negril is a spring break haven, and the town floods with rowdy college kids. If visitors plan on staying at their own couples/adult properties, they might not even notice, but if they step off the grounds, they should be ready for some late, loud nights.

OCHO RIOS

Top Attractions: As another major cruise port, shopping is one of the biggest attractions here. Beyond the myriad souvenir shops, Chris Blackwell’s Island Village shopping center and the ReggaeXplosion museum located there are particularly noteworthy venues. Ocho Rios is also home to one of the island’s most popular attractions, Dunn’s River Falls. Just across the street is the relatively new Dolphin Cove experience. Outside town, adventures await at Chukka Cove (including swimming with the horses). Inland, the tiny village of Nine Miles is the birthplace and gravesite of reggae legend Bob Marley.

Things to Know: The road here is under construction and quite treacherous; it is not an easy drive from the airport, but that will improve as the project is completed

PORT ANTONIO

Top Attractions: While Port Antonio has its share of attractions, the destination’s real charms are the slower pace and the natural beauty of the area. The Rio Grande River, Somerset Falls and the nearby Blue Mountains make this region a haven for outdoor activity and relaxation.

KINGSTON

Top Attractions: Kingston is very much a thriving business city with its share of advantages and disadvantages. There are plenty of museums (such as the National Gallery and the Bob Marley Museum), galleries and theaters for entertainment and education, as well as Spanish Town and its Georgian monuments, Port Royal’s English forts, the Taino caves, Blue Mountain coffee plantations and other attractions. However, overall, Kingston is more of a working city than a tourist destination.

Things to Know: Whenever you hear bad news coming out of Jamaica, chances are good that it is centered on Kingston. That said, Kingston is still a fascinating city that is thriving with culture, and Jamaica aficionados should not miss it. Like any other city, Kingston has its share of problems, and visitors should simply use the same common sense that they would use in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Visitors should take extra care in West Kingston, which includes Marley’s famous Trench Town, and avoid wandering around this area without the aid of a trusted guide.

SOUTH COAST

Top Attractions: This part of the island is a very popular choice for locals looking to get away and for visitors who are avoiding the very intense tourist scene in the main areas. Ripe with lush, natural reserves and areas that are perfect for outdoor adventures, the South Coast is also home to the famous Appleton Rum Estate as well as to YS Falls and the Black River cruises.

 

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Jamaica One Love, Many Options

I walked toward the dancing tiki torches, where a young waitress stood guard beside a single table covered with a colorful array of hibiscus flowers and Jamaican food. The ocean crashed against the rocky beach with the clarity of a Bose sound system.
It was an island scene lifted straight out of an episode of “The Bachelorette” (minus, sadly, the bachelors).
I was at Goldeneye, the 18-acre former estate of author Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. Fleming lived on the island while penning 14 of his 007 novels.
Located in Oracabessa, about 20 minutes from Ocho Rios, it was this view that prompted Fleming, when visiting Jamaica as a British intelligence officer, to buy land and one day retire here. And from this vantage point, it was easy to see why.
The third largest patch of land in the Caribbean, Jamaica has enough geographic and cultural diversity to rival most island chains. Whether you’re looking for thrilling cliff dives or laid-back island life, it’s all here. You just need to know which part of the island to visit.
Halfway between Port Antonio and Montego Bay and back-dropped by the St. Ann Mountains, Ocho Rios is a hilly northeastern oasis teeming with botanical gardens and enough waterfalls and rivers to sate a mermaid.
Time in Ocho Rios is best spent outdoors, whether it’s climbing up Dunn’s River Falls, checking out 500 species of ferns at Fern Gully or smooching dolphins at Dolphin’s Cove.
“Ocho Rios is our favorite spot in all of Jamaica,” said Robert Whorrall, who operates Beach Bum Vacation. “This is the garden area of Jamaica, with the largest collection of outdoor attractions. It’s a bit of a drive, but it’s worth it.”
The good news for Ocho Rios fans is that the main highway has been widened and repaved — and that means a former 2 1/2-hour drive from MoBay is now just more than an hour.
Caves and cliffs aplenty
Over on the island’s west coast, 50 miles from Kingston, Negril’s beautiful Seven Mile beach and hippie escapist vibe once lured the bohemian set.
Today, there are two main areas, the East End’s Seven Mile beach, the island’s longest continuous stretch of fluffy sand, and the West End, where resorts are precariously perched beside a 35-foot drop.
Both areas are jam-packed with lodging options. All-inclusive resorts reign on the beach, among them Sandals Negril, Grand Lido and Swept Away. Boutique-style hotels dominate the West End. Despite the buildup, Negril still feels artsy and freewheeling. It lays claim to the only officially sanctioned nude beach in all of Jamaica, not to mention Hedonsim resorts, where being naked is practically required.
And with a pumping nightlife scene, from hotel clubs to random bonfire gatherings on the beach, there’s enough late-night action to occupy the most inexhaustible party animal.
My idea of fun tends not to involve rum-filled water gun “shots,” so I opted for the West End. (FYI, when a Jamaican holding a plastic pistol tells you to “just close yor eyes mahn and ohpen yor mouth,” you’d better not be in AA.)
With sheer cliffs plunging toward the turquoise sea, these West End resorts are not accessible the way others are on the beach. In other words, no one is scaling the 35-foot cliffs to wander past your secret sunbathing spot.
Given the sheer vertical drop, a favorite pastime in Negril is cliff jumping — not just at the famed bar Rick’s but at hotels, too. (For a more down-to-earth feel and higher leap than you’ll find at Rick’s, continue down the road to Pirate’s Bar.)
I checked into the Caves, a boutique hotel that is, along with Goldeneye, part of the Island Outpost resort collection. It boasts countless plunge-points along its winding property, with one hovering right over a small cave pool. It’s like a thrilling consolation prize for being away from the sand.
As its name would suggest, the resort has several Batmanesque caves. I rose early one morning to take advantage of the calm seas and descended one of the nearly vertical staircases to the sea. Snorkeling toward one of the caves, I sliced right through a massive school of silvery guard fish. When I arrived at the cave and lifted my head out of the water, red bats screeched above me.
That night I returned to cave dwelling — only this time I was in a cavern reserved for private dinners. Instead of bats, there were hundreds of candles and bougainvillaea lay scattered about like grains of sand.
Hidden treasure
Driving about three hours south from Negril through twisting and often unmarked roads, I landed at Treasure Beach, a gorgeous stretch of fishing villages along Jamaica’s southern coast. Considered Jamaica’s “bread basket” because of the bounty of fruits and vegetables generated here, this is old Jamaica, where you wake up to the sound of fishermen singing.
The closest shopping and restaurant area is Black River some 30 minutes away. You don’t come here for evening action — other than fish leaping in the early moonlight. You come here to chill in a hammock and experience what the rest of Jamaica felt like once upon a time.
I arrived at Jake’s resort, a meandering collection of private suites and rooms with a funky, artsy vibe. Three oceanfront Octopussy suites each have outdoor bathroom walls made of an amalgam of seashells and glass bottles and roof decks with daybeds that look custom made for romantic interludes.
With its proximity to Black River, Jamaica’s largest wetland, Treasure Beach is geared to the more eco-inspired. An absolute must is taking a boat up the 44-mile Black River. (Ask for Di Evil Tings run by Ted, a dreadlocked, lovable guy, and bring a towel, swimsuit and sensible shoes. It’s a scramble to get to the neighboring Frenchman’s beach, where the boats are located.)
As we glided along the Black River, snowy egrets darted between red mangroves and crocs sunned themselves.
After a peaceful half hour, Ted asked if I liked crab. Before long we pulled up to a ramshackle hut called Sister Lou’s. A trail of crabs was literally crawling from the water onto her front yard, marching to their death. I’m glad they did, because this was some of the tastiest garlic- and butter-drenched shellfish I’ve ever eaten.
On the way back we stopped at the Pelican Bar, a wooden hut surrounded by ocean — the perfect spot to sip a Red Stripe and feast on more fresh seafood. But you have to plan ahead, ordering your meal in advance through the hotel front desk or your boat captain.
Even though Treasure Beach has the pace of a long, satisfying yawn, there are signs of development: not too long ago Jake’s opened Calabash Bay, a pair of villas five minutes away from the main resort. Even the intimate Goldeneye is about to morph into a full-fledged resort with 40 villas, 32 beachfront suites and a new spa.
As I watched the sunset from the rooftop of my Octopussy suite, I thought about how my adventure began in Fleming’s home. Now, it was ending in a suite not only named after one of his novels, but situated on a part of the island that seemed to capture the essence of the Jamaica that once inspired Fleming to park his pen.
Who knows? Maybe one day I will too.
Nicole Alper is a Philadelphia-based free-lance writer.
IF YOU GO
WHEN TO GO: The Caribbean’s hurricane season typically lasts from June through November. Hotel rates usually drop in late April and are at their lowest through hurricane season.
GETTING THERE: There are two airports in Jamaica: the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay and the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston. Air Jamaica makes the three-hour flight from Chicago to both airports; United Airlines flies to Montego Bay.
STAYING THERE: Island Outpost has several Jamaican properties. The most affordable is Jake’s, with rates starting at $115 a night until April 20, when they fall to $95 a night. The all-inclusive Caves is the next step up with rooms starting at $425 in the low season. For a real splurge, head for the intimate, all-inclusive Goldeneye, where villas start at $660 in late April. Islandoutpost.com or (800) 688-7678.
FOR MORE INFO: Visit the Jamaica Tourist Board’s Web site at www.visitjamaica.com
JAMAICA, THREE WAYS
Ocho Rios
Located on a cove on Jamaica’s northern coastline, Ocho Rios has lots of large resorts close to outdoor adventure.
Best beach: It doesn’t get more private than the slice of sand at Goldeneye with its own sound system built into the rock and a tub carved into the cliff where Fleming taught his son to swim.
Get wild: Don’t let Steve Irwin’s freak accident keep you from visiting one of the island’s great new attractions, Stingray City on James Bond Beach, where you can swim with these usually harmless and cuddly creatures.
Memorable meal: Head to Harmony House’s Toscanini for delicious Italian Jamaican fusion set on a garden veranda.
Negril
Known as the most laid back city in Jamaica. Come here if you prefer resort casual to buttoned up.
Best beach: Any section of the famed Seven Mile Beach.
Get wild: At Mayfield Falls, a relatively undiscovered version of Dunn’s River, you’ll pass underwater caves before returning along a cow-filled pasture.
Memorable meal: A five-course dinner in one of the Caves’ two caverns costs $300 a couple.
Treasure Beach
Jamaica’s “bread basket” is chock full of nature’s bounty and has an easygoing feel. Come here to hang with locals.
Best beach: Not known for its beaches, Frenchman’s is a nice slice of sand next to Jake’s resort.
Get wild: Take a bird-watching trip in the Rio Grande with Grand Valley Tours or ride a tractor-drawn jitney to the YS Falls, where you can play Tarzan on a rope swing.
Memorable meal: If it’s a full moon, have someone at Jake’s arrange for a fresh-caught seafood dinner at Pelican Bar.

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Where to stay when traveling to Jamaica.

Deciding to visit the Caribbean was easy enough. Two girlfriends and I agreed we wanted a beach and lots of sun. Soon enough, we settled on Jamaica.

But where to stay?

Should we go the all-inclusive route? Easier, maybe, but we’re not take-it-easy girls.

So began our search for funky, cool, eclectic boutique hotels near Negril on the island’s western shore. We wanted spots that wouldn’t be overrun with families or spring-breakers. Hotels that would be boho-chic, laid-back and hip. Here’s what we found.

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TENSING PEN RESORT

WORTH BRAGGING ABOUT: Hearing and seeing the Caribbean Sea smashing against the cliffs from your bed. Friendly and accommodating staff. A peaceful atmosphere defying expectations.

WHO SHOULD GO: This is for grown-ups. The quiet, laid-back scene doesn’t offer entertainment for children. Solo visitors can enjoy solitude here. For couples, it’s a romantic getaway. We met a pregnant woman and her mate on a before-the-baby vacation.

The Tensing Pen Resort has a secluded vibe that made us think we were on a private island and not in the tourist-filled Negril area.

The 15 houses, cottages and huts stand alone, separated by lush gardens and winding paths. Welcome sights: hammocks, a yoga area and an outdoor massage station. Sunbathing seats, stone-cut decks and umbrellas along the cliffs provide a sense of privacy even in the wide-open space. Chairs outside each thatched-roof room invite you to sit outside to read, chat and wave at the occasional passers-by.

The tranquil location doesn’t offer a pool or Jacuzzi. Instead, guests can take a dip in the blue water a short distance from their doors, borrow snorkeling equipment or make the short trip to Negril‘s beaches. Steps and paths are carved into the cliffs to allow easy access to the sea.

On-site, low-key diversions include chatting with guests, playing one of the well-used board games or watching the sunset from the resort’s open lounge and dining area.

Guests are treated to a continental breakfast without extra charge. There isn’t a standing lunch or dinner menu. Instead, each morning, the chef jots down on a blackboard what will be served for dinner, and guests inform the staff if they want to dine in. The bar has established hours but is open as long as guests want.

Each room has a distinct look: simple, artsy and elegant. Some rooms have outdoor showers; some sit atop pillars providing a spectacular sea view. Some rooms have CD players, but no phones or televisions. Ceiling fans in some rooms ease the heat, but don’t expect an air-conditioned, cool room after a day in the sun.

Low-season rates (April 15 to Dec. 14) $103 to $396; high-season (Dec. 15 to April 14), $175 to $554. Contact: tensingpen.com.

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ROCKHOUSE HOTEL

WORTH BRAGGING ABOUT: Outdoor spa services in tents on the edge of the cliffs are heavenly. Daily yoga classes overlooking the sea add to the cool factor.

WHO SHOULD GO: Families with older children, friends looking for a laid-back stay. A great romantic getaway for couples. Solo travelers who want serenity, not seclusion.

With 34 rooms, a full-service restaurant, spa and a swimming pool, the Rockhouse has more of a hotel atmosphere. But it still ranked high with us.

As we entered the gates, friendly staff at an outdoor reception area greeted us. We checked in and were immediately shown to our room. Soon we found the gorgeous 60-foot cliff-top pool. Rock ladders throughout the property allowed for easy access into the cool water. The more adventurous just jumped off a bridge that connected the cliffs.

The first night we stayed in a premium villa, one of the pricier and more modern rooms. It was a round rock room with an outdoor shower behind one door and the bathroom behind another. A spectacular view of the water from the bed and from our private patio allowed us to sip drinks and watch the glorious sunsets.

The second night, we moved to a more cabinlike, regular villa. Still, we had a direct view of the sea through the sliding glass doors that led to our wraparound private terrace.

Rooms are air-conditioned and include a CD player and telephone. A communal television and games were in the lounge and bar area. Guests who want to stay connected can use computers in the outdoor business center.

Because nonguests dine there, too, reservations are required at the popular and bustling restaurant.

More guests meant more jockeying for prime sunbathing spots along the cliffs. Still, there were plenty of chairs, and no matter where we were, the views were breathtaking.

The grounds were immaculate, well-manicured and filled with the beauty of lush Jamaican vegetation. A great gift shop at the front of the hotel makes you want to spend money.

We liked that the hotel e-mailed us a list of tips ahead of our visit: information about Negril and its history, how to deal with vendors, the tax rate and service charges, and directions for getting to the hotel.

Location: Cliffs of Pristine Cove in Negril, 2.5 miles west from Negril town. Summer rates (April 15 to Dec. 14) are $95 to $275 for a premium villa; winter, $125 to $375. Contact: 876-957-4373; www.rockhousehotel.com.

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JAKE’S

WORTH BRAGGING ABOUT: A free welcome drink is delightful after a long, bumpy, but-oh-so-worth-it-ride to Jake’s, two hours from Negril. Seasonal art classes on-site add to the bohemian vibe.

WHO SHOULD GO: Jake’s is family-friendly, with a nearby beach; a small, saltwater pool; and seating that overlooks the sea. Creative types _ artists, writers, musicians _ will be inspired by the scene. Couples will relish the romantic surroundings. Singles can easily find guests, staff and locals to spend time with.

Walking into the cottage reception area at Jake’s is like walking into a friend’s house: comfortable, quaint and jazzy all at once.

We immediately felt relaxed after the long ride from Negril on hurricane-damaged and bumpy roads. Our deluxe one-bedroom, named Cockles Up, overlooked the sea and had an incredible patio. We just had to sleep outside under the stars. Cool blue and white decor, fresh flowers in the bedroom and colored glass-bottles-as-art decorated our room. Other rooms, each with individual decor, are eclectic and funky.

Jack Sprat Seafood Restaurant shares the property and is another splendid dining option, including, believe it or not, its pizza.

Location: Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. Rates from April 20 to Dec. 14 are $95 to $800; winter, from $115. Contact: 1-800-688-7678; islandoutpost.com.

 

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Jimmy Jackson: Entrepreneur twins tourism and farming

FOR THE past 20 years, small hotelier/farmer Jimmy Jackson has operated his five resorts self-sufficiently, saving millions of dollars and at the same time serving larger portions of his farm produce to his guests.

Mr. Jackson owns the Negril Tree House, Golden Nugget, Coral Seas 1 and 11 and Catch a Falling Star. The five resorts are located in the ‘Capital of Casual’, Negril and combine to make up over 200 rooms.

Mr. Jackson owns two farms, the 1,700-acre Negril Spot and the 3,000-acre Mooreland, where more than 70 per cent of the food served in his hotels comes from.

He buys no meat because he raises pigs, chickens, goats and cows and had it riot been for the unwelcome guest, Hurricane Ivan, he would still have his own fishermen supplying his properties with fish.

“If more small hotels could grow their own stuff they would cut down on cost considerably,” said Mr. Jackson.

CUTTING COSTS

He said that there were enough idle lands available for small operators to start practising sustainable development. According to Mr. Jackson, one other hotelier in Negril is in the business of farming the food served at his hotel, “Daniel Grizzle of Charela Inn is doing the same thing I am doing.”

Not only does Mr. Jackson save on purchases, but he also minimises on how much he spends on pig feed, as the animals, too, are fed from the farm produce.

Mr. Jackson and his team have mastered the art of conservation, as he now knows exactly what portions are necessary to run his hotels.

On any given day, Negril Tree House uses 15 flats of eggs (each flat carries 30 eggs), 10 lbs of callaloo, 30 to 40 dozen ackees, 40 lb of tomatoes, 20 lb of carrots, 5 lb of broccoli, 50 lb of potatoes, 40 lb of melon, 70 lb of pineapple, 50 lb of papaya, 20 lb of ripe bananas, cabbage, pumpkin, onions, sweet peppers, string beans, cantaloupes, coconuts and pears (during season) – from both farms.

“Our guests get fresh produce every day,” Annie Watson, purchaser at Negril Tree House, told the Weekly Gleaner. “And because our food is fresh, we can be creative and present a different salad each day.”

The enterprising entrepreneur is now trying his hands at turnips, radish and sweet potatoes.

Growing his own food was not satisfying for the environmentalist. In the past five years he has been planting over 20,000 trees annually. “Most of the wood used in the property to make beds, counters, railing and tables comes from our land,” he boasted.

Cedar, shadbark, guango, mahogany and mahoe are all grown on the farm.

CHALLENGES

Last September, the hotelier lost 10,000 chickens, goats and pigs, an entire field of bananas and one of his properties to Hurricane Ivan. He has had problems with praedial larceny, but rectified that challenge with security dogs that roam the farms at nights.

“I am not allowed to come here at nights,” he quipped.

He is also suffering from the drought that is currently affecting the island. “I have to be taking the cattle to higher ground, semi-forested area, where they are fed wild trees,” he stated.

And, as if mastering the art of self sufficiency was not enough, Mr. Jackson, a few years ago, started bottling his own water and manufacturing his own ice.

Not only does he supply his hotels with water and ice, but his brand Caribbean Drinking Water can be found in a number of hotels, restaurants and supermarkets in the resort town.

An average of 40 persons are employed to the farms.

 

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Jamaican resort’s mix keeps the brood happy.

NEGRIL, Jamaica – Tropical haven using overgrown cartoon characters and video games as a draw to its seaside paradise?

Yes, and I had to see for myself when I heard that Beaches Negril Resort & Spa was using them to lure guests to Jamaica’s sandy shores.

Beaches has resorts in Ocho Rios and Negril, but Beaches Negril enjoys the island’s prime real estate along the northwestern tip. It is this bit of heaven that Beaches has dedicated to the perfect Caribbean family vacation.

As island and sea meet, the land changes into another experience for the traveler to the tropics. During a sometimes harrowing journey from the airport past changing coastlines and mountains, through towns and shanty villages, one realizes that the beach’s inland backdrop is not more sand with a few scattered trees, but a forested paradise offering trips on horseback or all-terrain vehicle.

Actually, guests at Beaches Negril have no need to leave the property.

Smiling and gracious staff members give arriving guests immediate comfort with a chilled citrus-scented cloth and a tropical fruit juice to sip as they are escorted to their rooms.

Guests are enrolled quickly in activities and then get comfortable, which means changing into bathing suits to frolick in one of four large pools or the swirling waters of the Lazy River, race through the misting pool or plunge down the 200-foot tube slides at Pirates Cove.

An immediate goal might be to find the resort’s private seven-mile stretch of white-sand beach.

The resort is a perfect location for leisurely breakfasts and late-morning naps. With 20 lush, jasmine-scented acres on which to play, guests can find almost anything that combines the sun, surf, sand and pleasure.

With comfort in mind in the island-inspired architecture and decor, down to the terra-cotta floors and vibrant in-room color schemes, everything is “No-problem, mon.”

This island idiom becomes part of a visitor’s language, offering an immediate connection with the largely native staff.

Beaches Negril is an all-inclusive resort, and that means just about everything is there for the taking – all the beach-side amenities, water-sports equipment, snorkeling and scuba diving.

The resort has a variety of restaurants open and waiting and full-service bars ready for walk-up or swim-up requests ranging from a soda to the drink of the day, usually a creation of tropical juice and Jamaican rum.

Call room service for wine, and a chilled bottle is delivered cheerfully to the room.

Amenities are offered graciously before guests realize they are wanted. When asked about this service, one staff member simply responded, “We are always ready in case you might want them.”

Aside from entertainment such as Elmo sightings and games in Xbox Oasis rooms, what makes this resort a perfect family destination is that the comfort of guests is foremost, including making sure mom gets a chance to relax and enjoy her vacation.

A few in-room perks rate attention, such as a refrigerator filled with Red Stripe beer, soda and water. Guests are welcome to take advantage of the entertainment, water, sports and exercise equipment and programs.

All this means that dad never has to say no to a teen who wants to take out a Hobie Cat or a young child who wants to test golfing skills at the nine-hole minigolf course.

There is, without doubt, something for everyone – plenty of relaxation for dad, fun games and activities for every family member, steaks and hamburgers to eat and, for mom, the world-class Red Lane Spa and fine-dining choices.

All this and an extraordinary dedication to children – ensuring that the smallest ones have a vacation as memorable and fun as their older siblings and parents.

For infants and toddlers, the red-shirted Nanny Brigade is constantly prepared to offer its young charges plenty of fun, often with the accompaniment of beloved Sesame Street characters. The beach is kept free of peddlers and beggars.

The Beaches Resorts’ Caribbean Adventure With Sesame Street leads to merriment as parents exclaim, with youthful enthusiasm, “Look, honey, there’s Cookie Monster,” and speed away with video camera in one hand and child in the other.

Those furred and feathered friends are visible leading parades and dining with the children. Special activities include baking cookies with, of course, Cookie Monster, dancing with Zoe, taking a tropical nature hike, or sitting in on late-afternoon storytelling with Elmo.

Sitting in on the resort’s own Professor Teddy’s science class, children and adults alike laugh as baking-soda volcanoes erupt and air-propelled bottle rockets head into the sky.

All the staff seems to take time to know the children – and know which adults brought them. Every staff member is right there to help a lost child become reoriented, soothe one who has tired from too much fun or is missing parents who have taken the opportunity to venture off property for an island tour.

For older children and teens, the X-Box Oasis rooms are destinations in the evening when the beach is quiet and they don’t want to sit in the room.

Each of two cool, darkened rooms holds about 20 games, with plenty of variety, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and SpongeBob games to recent Harry Potter, racing and X-Treme sports titles. These games are available to children for free unlimited play.

It’s not unusual to find dad and children sitting together to get relief from the sun – or the rest of the family – as they enjoy a bit of friendly competition.

Conversations with young gamers indicate that this diversion, particularly at night when the sun, sea and surf activities are closed, puts Beaches Negril a notch or two higher on their vacation list.

Finding something to do during the day, on the other hand, is hardly a problem, and during our visit, the need to go off-resort never arose.

A typical day at Beaches Negril includes tennis clinics for all levels and lessons for children; family beach games; pool exercise programs; fitness classes; plenty of games – ballgames, horseshoes, billiards and water polo – and lessons in making hats.

All of this is available without even venturing to the beach, where water sports are offered. At surf’s edge, guests find a variety of watercraft such as canoes, kayaks, wind surfers, banana boats, Hobie Cats and sailboats waiting to be taken out with, or without, a staff member.

In Jamaica, the undersea mountaintops, or seamounts, create world-class reefs that give the water its deep green color under the bright sun that warms the beaches in the afternoon.

Make a reservation, preferably a day or days before, as space is limited on the boats, and take off for an underwater excursion snorkeling or scuba diving under the guidance of certified staff who know the ocean floor as well as they know the land.

There is joy in watching a young child or water-phobic parent doing ocean-reef snorkeling.

By using life jackets and taking instruction, all ages over 6 can be found marveling at the undersea world, barely able to contain their excitement as manta rays and sea turtles glide by at what seems to be just feet away. Or giggling with delight as a Nemo look-alike is seen darting into the colorful coral reef.

The mysterious underwater environs are elegantly balanced by the island’s lush interior. This island is not all sand, and the Negril coastal front is protected by interior elevations that cumulate in the famous Blue Mountains of gourmet coffee fame.

At more than 7,000 feet, the Blue Mountains dominate the island, creating an environment that is diverse, ranging from dense habitats to grazing land for wandering goats.

Negril‘s position at the western end of the mountain range benefits from particularly mild days that are filled with gentle breezes, even when temperatures are high.

The mountains also create a net for clouds that stay into the cooler evenings, when they often drop their bounty into lush pools, rivers and waterfalls.

Known for its relaxed, kicked-back attitude, Negril once was inhabited by 1960s-era hippies whose calm “no problem” outlook still influences the culture.

Keeping things that way at an all-inclusive resort means that guests don’t have to take cash, credit cards or checkbooks out of their rooms. The staff is not allowed to accept tips; however, a kind word, a smile and a thank-you will always result in a broad smile and “No problem.”

Dining at Beaches means never being bored. The Mill is an open-air restaurant with a buffet of international cuisines alongside the resort’s main pool. It is a perfect place for families: resort-casual and with a variety of food stations and a children’s buffet, which serves tot-arousing treats such as macaroni and cheese, chicken, and spaghetti noodles with or without sauce.

Though the food here is buffet style, it far exceeded expectations on many levels. However the favorite food hangout for my group was the Last Chance Saloon. During the day, grilled burgers, tuna and swordfish, hot dogs, salads, soup, deserts and just about anything else one could want is available fresh and made to order.

In the evenings, hearty appetites will devour tender Kansas City strip steak, ribs, fish and other excellent dining options in an environment perfect for mom, dad and the children, who have a bit of freedom to venture around the open-air restaurant.

Cafe Carnival is a spot for a slice of pizza or a made-to-order sandwich or to create your own pasta dish with a variety of sauces.

The pizza was a surprise. Freshly baked in a brick oven, it was loaded with cheese and toppings and generously available.

Another surprise was the excellent selection of Japanese foods. Younger guests are treated like royalty with the Junior Emperor’s Platter with breaded shrimp, chicken and sushi.

The Japanese feast continues with either shrimp or leek-and-miso soup and then follows with a main course that has everyone trying scallops and a fisherman’s catch seasoned with ginger and sake; chicken; beef tenderloin; pork; vegetable stir-fry; and fried rice, all served by a Jamaican chef eager not only to cook, but to entertain his table-side guests.

For adults only, the Seville provides an evening of white-glove service in a Georgian-style restaurant serving Jamaican cuisine.

The Seville’s chefs have created a menu that delights with appetizers such as Jamaica MiCrazy, grilled fritters with yam puree or the West Indies’ lobster-and-pumpkin bisque.

After salads such as the Limbo Dancer – enhanced with pineapple, pecans and cinnamon croutons – or the St. Elizabeth – mixed field greens crowned regally with fried plantains – diners can choose a remarkable crouton-crusted snapper; Appleton Estate Jamaican rum-flamed beef tournedos; jerk-seasoned pork loin with fried plantains and rice with peas; or honey-and-herb roasted rack of lamb.

This restaurant serves a delightful and unexpected menu that has been designed to surprise and amuse with its selection and presentation.

The Beaches Negril restaurants offer something special.

From a well-trained and amenable staff to a never-ending buffet of activities and food choices, this is one family travel destination worth saving to visit.

This was certified by something I had not seen before in many years of travel: children and adults walking solemnly from their rooms, bags in hand and tears in their eyes, as Daddy promised, “We can come back next year, we really can.”

This reaction probably can be credited to a combination of the resort’s wish to provide what the parents think are a child’s entertainment needs – and the fact that seeing 7-foot-tall Zoe dancing in a pink tutu along the breezeway at 8 a.m. promises a smile, regardless of one’s age, that will last all day.

 

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Jamaica: Proponents of eco-eco-tourism

Proponents of eco-tourism in the sleepy tourist resort of Negril are locked in a battle with the state’s developer, keen on continuing the traditional type of tourism Jamaica has known — that of high rise hotels. Caught in the middle of the fight are residents of Negril, who have been anxiously awaiting the construction of the hotel, to provide jobs for hundreds of unemployed and casually employed. The problem started earlier this year, when the state developer, the Urban Development Corp. (UDC), sold the 10-acre beachfront property to local businessmen Cliff Cameron and O.K. Melhado. The plan is to build a 240-room hotel costing $22 million. The project is to be backed by a large European banking conglomerate. But the Negril Chamber of Commerce’s environment committee objected, insisting that the land was more valuable to the community as an eco-tourist attraction. The land, according to the chamber, is the only remaining stand of large Bucida Buceras forest trees, endemic to the area. It shelters six different kinds of nesting birds, several species of spiders and lizards and is a nursery for crabs, fast dying out in the area. But the UDC has scoffed at the chamber’s position.

 

The environment and development are not mutually exclusive, says its executive chairman, Vincent Lawrence. In fact, the troublesome beachfront property, in the midst of many well-known hotel complexes, is only one of several pieces of natural woodlands in Negril. Lawrence said the developer had been asked to ensure that special care is taken to preserve the rich growth of trees on the land and that a 7.5-acre stretch was to be reserved for a public beach park. Many unemployed looking for work, migrate to Negril from the adjoining districts of little London and Grange Hill. On the fringes of the resort, which saw a record 612,000 visitors in 1990, there is now a large squatting community. In the last survey done in October last year there were about 10,000 unemployed in the parish of Westmoreland, with the majority being in Negril.

 

 

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Get into the swing of laid-back living as we enjoy an all-in trip to Jamaica.

THERE was a time when Negril‘s seven mile white beach was Jamaica’s hippy capital.

Now all that remains is the hippy philosophy, a first class way of life that is so laid-back it is horizontal.

Time stands still in Jamaica. It is one of the West Indies’ largest islands and the trip to Negril in the far west takes well over an hour from Kingston airport.

The journey to Negril starts on a nearly-mettled road through shanty towns and past roadside barbecues, punctuated with the occasional thuds of a super-get-out-of-here woofer blasting reggae. It is a fun way to come down from the transatlantic crossing with a pleasant bumpity bump.

Marley — St Bob of Jamaica — is ever present. The sounds of Marley, posters, T-shirts, the Rasta colours of red, gold and green permeate your consciousness.

At Sandals, Negril, where we stayed, the resort is more subtle with the music than the roadside Rastas, but it is Marley all the way.

Sandals is an all-in package for couples only, which means there are noooo praaablems. No need for money on site, with free drinks and cocktails and as much as you can eat.

The bountiful food is served American-buffet style and includes a good range of local specialities — such as jerk pork, plantains, sweet potatoes and an endless supply of crispy bacon for breakfast. But if you want to eat boring or badly, you can do that too.

The enormous range of culinary choices is greatly extended by three other restaurants to choose from.

You might be eating Teppanyaki-style Japanese one night at the Kimono, go ethnic the next night at the Sundowner and sample international (seafood a speciality) at the Bayside. It is all fresh and expertly cooked to your order.

The real problem for us was that after a couple of days of indulgence we were gagging for a light salad — fortunately there are a thousand variations to suit every taste.

Having taken all those calories on board you will, of course, want to spring from your luxurious king-size, four poster bed and leave the bosom of your two-storey air conditioned loft suite for some kind of activity. Unless you are like my wife, who simply swapped her bed for the sunlounger, leaving it occasionally to partake of the spa’s many attractions.

I would sail majestically in Hobbycat catamarans which are great fun when the breeze is stiff, but not much fun when it is gentle. There are snorkels and flippers and a myriad of tropical fish (including rays) swimming off the rocks close by — and if you are really serious you can take scuba lessons.

If you are really energetic or completely mad there is tennis and squash too, as well as a small gymnasium.

Everything is included, bar the spa treatments (Swedish massages, mud packs etc) and trips.

We chose the intriguingly titled `river walk’ which took us on an illuminating journey inland into the hills. When you leave the closeted luxury of your resort you realise the shallowness of the tourist impact upon Jamaica’s landscape. This former colony was founded on sugar cane, rum, bananas and slave labour — a century later the physical infrastructure appears to have changed very little: acre upon acre of sugar cane surrounds refineries, dotted with tin shacks.

Back in Negril, the wonderful sunsets sink into the Caribbean accompanied by a ridiculous array of sundowners — with names like Sex on the Beach.

Sandals specialise in the friendly, efficient servicing of your every need. Whether you are planning a honeymoon or the holiday of a lifetime — don’t let the Caribbean experience pass you by.

Fact File

Flights with Air Jamaica from Manchester to Montego Bay (via Kingston) start at around pounds 660 return per person. BA and American Airlines also make connections via Heathrow.

Prices at Sandals, Negril, start from pounds 1, 209 per person per week (deluxe room with garden view) to pounds 2, 593 for the honeymoon loft suite (with beach and sea view). All food and drink and sporting activities are included.

 

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The other Jamaica

NEGRIL, Jamaica — There are three basic lifestyle choices for vacationers in this island nation: highlife, lowlife and counter chic. It is the latter that we shall consider primarily here, but first the alternatives.

Jamaica’s highlife is notorious for its luxury, decadence and danger. The hills along the north coast heaving up from the cerulean

sea between Port Antonio and Montego Bay are dotted with sumptuous villas for the international glamoratti, who, once safely out of Sangster Airport, seldom inflict themselves on the general life of Jamaica. 

Their estates, often in enclaves such as Round Hill and Tryall, are self-contained and hermetically sealed with guard posts, security crews and buffer zones. Shopping is done by the cook, chores are done by the maid, transportation is the province of the driver. The only exertions expected of vacationers is to call for service. Otherwise, except for the occasional athletic enterprise or sexual escapade, life in the villas is a dreamy confection of indolence and self-indulgence.

While the highlife in the villas beats on its langorous way, the lowlife at seaside blazes like a youthful passion. The hotels and older resorts in Montego Bay, Falmouth and Ocho Rios that once catered to a North American middle-class market now tend to attract college students, package tourists and hourly workers looking to spend their week’s vacation in a conspicuously unbridled way.

As a result, Montego Bay has grown reminiscent of Daytona Beach, and Ocho Rios is crawling with people who like to tell anyone who they think to be an American, “Hey, ain’t these people great? Look at these beads I just got for ten dollars. Ain’t they great?”

There are notable exceptions. The Jamaica Jamaica resort in Runaway Bay midway between Falmouth and Ocho Rios is developing an offbeat and diverse clientele for its secluded large private beach and golf course. Boscobel, the former Playboy Resort just outside of Ocho, caters to families.

But Negril is the other Jamaica, the counter-chic resort where self-importance and fashion have no value. Although it attracts its share of college-aged youth, they are strictly confined along with like-minded postgraduates in compounds such as Hedonism, the seaside pleasure dome on the far end of the beach where clothes are an afterthought and anonymity is no bar to intimacy.

Negril also attracts its share of the glamoratti, but in mufti, not caftans and jewels. Oh, sure, the Grimaldis of Monaco were cruising off the 7-mile crescent beach in a yacht. Who knows what costumes were appropriate aboard ship. The Grimaldis did not land, or at least they didn’t over the Christmas and New Year holidays when I visited Jamaica, and vacationing commoners did not seem to miss their absence. Instead, life was taken up in beachcombing by day and dancing by night, none of it requiring much more than a friendly attitude and a willingness to meet Jamaica on its own terms.

Negril is more like a camp than a resort, and while several posh hotels have gone up on the beach during the last 5 years — the most pretentious being Sandals (male-female couples only, please) with its open-air gymnasium, clay- and hard-surface tennis courts, and air-conditioned raquetball and squash courts – Negril is for the vagrant spirit, the beach bum, the dropout from life’s usual cares.

The prevailing attitude here is the laid-back one of old Jamaica before the crush of tourists and corruptions of a still booming commerce in narcotics turned things sour and dicey elsewhere on the island. “Jamaicans are curteous and loving,” one young native told me without the slightest hint of irony or self-consciousness. And those are the qualities Negril cultivates.

There have been anecdotal reports of thefts in Negril, mostly from dizzy tourists who flashed their expensive cameras and wristwatches on the beaches. And the town’s famous drug culture has grown inflated, with some hawkers proffering not only the usual marijuana and cocaine, but heroin as well. (One retailer announced a long list of substances in his inventory, but assured his listener he had no crack cocaine. “No, man,” said he. “Crack is bad for Jamaicans.”)

During the holidays, there was a movable feast of revelry at various locations around the bay. Tree House, one of the better known veteran resorts with its thatched cottages on the beach, presented a reggae extravaganza one night. Pee Wee’s in the cliffs along the water threw a disco party another night with music and atmosphere that echoed the heyday of New York discos. Some free-lancers gave an outdoor dance another night that mixed live and recorded music. None of it was expensive, all of it was friendly, and people with the requisite energy could dance all night long if they wanted to or turn in at midnight and not feel at all strange.

Unlike most of the resort regions, the best dining in Negril is informal, cheap and plebeian. Breakfast is the only meal a beachcomber is likely to take at his hotel. Otherwise, lunch and snacks are best taken from the scores of beach stalls, with everthing from fruit salad to grilled shrimp available, if not in one place then in another nearby.

At night, barbecue teams take to the streets with their grills made of old oil drums on wheels. They serve up the juiciest barbecued chicken imaginable for only a few dollars. It’s a far cry from the curried goat that used to be the standard fare at similar stalls a few years ago, but for those who retain a taste for goat, many of the hotel restaurants still serve it, and some even still serve the national dish of akee and salt fish.

Still, as is the case almost everywhere tourists are attracted to, the glory of Jamaica is beyond the resort areas. All that is needed is a car, which is expensive here — mine cost $400 a week — and a guide, which you can find on any street corner.

Beyond Negril are the seacoast towns of Savanna-la-Mar and Black River. There is plenty of scenery along the way, and numerous grottoes for a swim and lunch from roadside stalls. (Try the grilled fish and fried cassava, a specialty of the north coast villages).

Mountainous Mandeville is worth a day trip, but start early in the morning and take the road from Black River for at least one leg of the journey. The road from Black River includes the Bamboo Highway, where huge bamboo trees form a vaulted arch along a mile of road in one of Jamaica’s unique scenes.

But if one of the amateur guides tries to take you to Lover’s Leap at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains south of Black River, it might be wise to decline. It’s a haul to get there, no one has leaped in years, and there’s nothing else for miles around but savanna and the deep blue sea.

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On Jamaica, `Every little thing’s gonna be all right’

NEGRIL, Jamaica A sturdy Jamaican tucked my hand into his tight fist. “You first,” the guide said, motioning to our group to form a chain behind us. Had I known the Dunn’s River Falls went skyward for nearly half a mile, I might have turned back.

“No problem,” pledged the sure-footed escort. We snaked through flowering jungles and cascading falls, dipping occasionally into chilly mountain pools.

Secure with my muscle-bound thread to life and inspired by an occasional “no problem,” I plied slippery rocks and soon became as sure-footed as Jane holding onto Tarzan.

I marveled at how smoothly the hike went; no one suffered so much as a sprained ankle, and our hosts weren’t worried about lawsuits. No problem.

Workaday stress began to lift as we realized that on this lush island, nobody seems to worry about anything. Bob Marley, the late reggae star pictured on many Jamaican T-shirts, said it best when he sang, “Don’t worry. Every little thing’s gonna be all right.

The message here is that if you are looking for relaxation and relief from stress, Jamaica’s the place. And even if you are a little uptight about pushy street peddlers and occasional pandering, everything does seem to turn out all right.

Our trip covered the northern crystal coast from Ocho Rios, home of the famous Dunn’s River Falls, over to the western extreme of Negril, where beach meets towering rock and sunsets are legend.

In between is busy Montego Bay, the point of entry for the northern shore of this tropical paradise and still the tourist mecca with miles of sugar beach.

Two ways to go in Mo-Bay, as the town is called familiarly, are basing yourself in a hotel downtown with beaches across the street and poking around on your own, or nestling into one of the all-encompassing beach resorts and letting nature take its course.

Either way, all of English-speaking Jamaica is within easy reach by tour bus or train. It is 146 miles wide with length ranging to a maximum of 58 miles.

Day trips originating in Montego Bay take you to Ocho Rios in 2 1/2 hours, and to Negril in three hours.

A day on the Appleton Express chugs you into the mountains with stops at a spectacular cave and a village where colorful fabrics are cut to order and sewn into shirts or shorts for pick-up on your return trip.

After anchoring ourselves in Montego Bay for several days, veering off on a couple of trips and enjoying the beaches, restaurants and reggae, it was on to Negril and the serene western coast.

Popularized by flower children in the ’60s, Negril offers a closer look at Jamaicans, on winding roads, in folksy roadside stands, in markets and in tiny towns. Fresh mangoes, papayas, pineapples and orange juice are abundant, and you can shop for local crafts or stop for a cool drink or reasonable lunch in many spots along the way.

Seven miles of beach in Negril now contain some major resorts, among them a branch of Sandals (honeymoon headquarters), as well as Hedonism II, a singles’ domain with full complement of activities.

Whether you choose resorting or nestling into a small cliff-top hotel, you can enjoy the flavor of Negril by walking the seven miles of beaches that are lined with shacks serving jerk (barbecued) chicken and pork, Red Stripe beer and rum punch. Whole boiled lobsters are served at your beach towel, and a casual beach-bum spirit prevails, including occasional nude bathing – all to constant strains of reggae.

Once in the cliffs, we settled into the secluded Negril‘s Rock Cliff Hotel where we found a good restaurant, a selection of private spots overlooking the sea and nightly live reggae.

A short taxi ride away is the favorite sunset haunt, Rick’s Cafe. There you can watch the giant fireball sink into the ocean while dining al fresco or sitting at the busy bar. One cove of outdoor tables gives you the sunset on one side and cliff diving on the other. And, if you’ve ever wanted to try cliff diving yourself, this is the place – at your own risk and at great hazard, all the signs say.

But the nice thing about Negril is that you can hit the discos or not, horseback ride in the waves or not; the “not” is well in the running for best things to do. After all, the big show is the scenery. It’s a great place for solitude.

Where ever you stay, don’t miss jerk, the local barbecue. In Montego Bay, a must is the Pork Pitt, an outdoor picnic-table restaurant that serves some of the best jerk chicken, ribs and pork.

You can feast on jerk all over Jamaica for about $5 a meal including a cabbage salad and bread. It is sold mainly in roadside or beach stands. Many restaurants feature local lobster and other seafood at good prices. For an elegant (and more expensive) evening, try the Georgian House in Montego Bay.

Some money advice: When leaving Jamaica, many first-time visitors make the mistake of throwing their receipts into a suitcase, checking the luggage and then trying to exchange the rest of their Jamaican money at the airport. (By law, Jamaican money is not to leave the country.)

No dice.

You must have a receipt for exchanging American money for Jamaican. I finally came up with a receipt, but another traveler was in tears over losing some $500 at the airport. Specifically

Sandals (couples only) has six resorts; an average cost for two people for one week is $2,500 including all food, activities and transfers (not airfare). Call (800) 726-3257 or a travel agent. Popular resorts in Montego Bay include Half Moon Golf, Tennis and Beach Hotel (809-953-2211) and Wyndham Rose Hall Beach and Country Club (809-953-2650).

Comfortable rooms in smaller hotels are available for less than $100 a day. The Gloucestershire Hotel (800-526-2422) and Doctors Cave Beach Hotel (800-223-6510) in Montego Bay are examples. For a restful, secluded stay in Negril, a good choice is the Rock Cliff Hotel (800-526-2422).

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Groovin’ on jamaica After some troubles a look at the island’s lures

Scoobys job is to make sure the tourists who leap off the cliff into the azure cove at Ricks Cafe come back up for air.

He stands at the handrail leading to the small concrete launching pad and advises, Take two steps, jump off and go in straight like a pencil.

Most of the daredevils return up the stairway for more. A few crash land in the water five stories below, and they pay the price.

Yah, mon, Scooby said with a frown. Knocked unconscious–many times.

The happy-hour crowd that lines the rock walls to applaud the sunset also gives a hand to the noteworthy flops, while snorkelers in the water lead the shell-shocked to shore and sometimes retrieve a wayward bikini top.

Ricks Cafe is a legendary hangout in Negril, which itself came to be known as the party capital of the Caribbean.

After Castro closed Cuba decades ago, Americans seeking an island getaway flocked to Jamaica and the Bahamas. In Jamaica, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios first built the big resorts. On a deserted strip of beach at Negril, hippies and flower children extolled the islands illegal crop by setting up Ganjaland. Stylish resorts such as Swept Away, Grand Lido, Sandals and Hedonism II followed.

But two things happened to dull Jamaicas glow as a top sun-and- surf destination for Americans.

First, competition grew as fancy resorts popped up on the Mexican coastline and on tinier islands. The guy next door was heading to exotic places like Anguilla, Antigua, Barbados, St. Lucia and Turks & Caicos.

Second, Jamaicas reputation, always a bit risque with beaches for the nude and the prude, was tarnished by bad manners and bad publicity. Theres poverty in Mexico and on other Caribbean islands, too, but Jamaicas army of pesky peddlers, called higglers, turned off visitors.

Then, with tourism from America already flat and the islands economy floundering, the Claudia incident hit last May like a punch to the gut. An American travel writer, Claudia Kirschhoch, 29, visited Negril. She sunbathed on the spectacular beach, attended a reggae concert, bought a swimsuit–and disappeared, leaving behind her passport and clothes.

She is still missing, but the islands billion-dollar tourist industry is eager to point out that the other 1.2 million visitors who come each year to enjoy the islands mountains, beaches, waterfalls and perfect climate make it back home tanned and happy.

While Americans may be slow to return to Jamaica, others have discovered the bargains waiting there, said David Wallace, owner of a dive shop in Negril. We have a lot of Europeans because the travel agents barter down the prices to almost nothing, he said, and Europeans love to get something cheap.

For a recent six-day tour, the tourist board provided me with a guide, an amiable fellow named Barry Esmie. He knew everybody and every back road on the island, and at 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds was an imposing bodyguard and baby-sitter.

He is bald and black and loves to laugh. God only made a few perfect heads, he said. The rest he covered with hair.

A Seventh Day Adventist, Esmie neither drinks nor smokes, the perfect designated driver. He expertly piloted his white 1981 Toyota, with 162,000 miles on it, around the goats, potholes and donkey riders who lurked beyond the blind curves on twisting one-lane roads that barely accommodated two-way traffic.

Our adventure stretched from Montego Bay to Negril, from Negril to secluded Treasure Beach on the south coast and back across the island through its mountainous spine. We spotted the posters printed for Claudia Kirschhochs parents, offering $50,000 for information leading to her return.

I drove them for over a month–to the mountains, to the rivers, to the plains, searching for their daughter, Esmie said. We put up posters, talked to the Rastas in the hills. Very dismal.

Esmie, for one, believes Kirschhoch may be in Cuba, or met with misfortune heading there. She had applied unsuccessfully for a visa to visit Cuba, he said, and rumors are that a white woman left a Negril beach by boat at night.

At dinner one night at Ricks, several Negril business owners discussed how their fate was intermingled with that of the missing American. All agreed it would be impossible for a white woman to be living in the hills without someone spotting her.

Shes alive, I think she will be found alive, said Lisa Richards, head of the Negril Hotel Owners Association.

If she is dead, said Volney Williams, regional tourism manager, we are all dead.

A new highway is being built that will cut in half what is now a 90-minute, bone-jarring ride from Montego Bay to Negril. But the construction has become a symbol of the islands economic frustration. The on-again, off-again proj-ect appears on again–crews were cutting a swath through the forest. But who knows when it will be completed.

Everything is political, who gets jobs, who gets contracts, said David Wallace, the dive shop owner. Companies dont want the headache and the hassle caused by the government.

Despite its problems, there is new investment. We stayed at the Negril Cabins, where an open-air lobby of splashing fountains led to cottages on stilts surrounded by a planted rain forest. You could bird-watch from the balconies in the morning–except for the noise across the street, where the block-long Hotel Riu Tropical Bay is under construction.

Negril used to be a hippie village, Esmie said. People wanted to come and relax and smoke the weed. Then the big hotels came. But you can still get a place for 10 bucks a night. They have different accommodations here. Very down to earth.

I learned just how earthy on my first stroll up Negrils Seven Mile Beach. I was admiring the handsome Spanish architecture of the Grand Lido when I nearly walked into a fat, naked man. I was on the beach at Hedonism II, where swimsuits are optional.

None of the men and women sunning on the lounges or walking along, drinks in hand, looked like the pictures in a recent Playboy feature on the resort.

Negril is a lively place, by day and by night.

Jamaica was a bit late in adopting the environmental policies that protected the reefs around other islands. But a new central sewage system is in place, and a dive master with the nickname Monster at the Negril Scuba Centre promised plenty of underwater action. Two dives for $45, plus $20 for equipment.

Monster was right. We saw a sea turtle, moray eel, spotted eel and barracuda among the residents of two coral reefs. He pointed to a sandy blob on the ocean floor and prodded it with his knife–a scorpion fish spread its winglike fins and revealed itself. Inside a cave, the bubbles from our exhaled air gathered on the roof like shimmering pools of mercury.

From the bottom of the world, we went to the top. Esmie skipped the scuba but with some hesitation took up my offer to pay his $25 tab for a parasail ride.

Fifteen minutes in the sky is a long time, he said. We ignored a beachside hemp dealers offer of $10 brownies. Make you fly higher, mon, he promised.

We were both rookies at sky sailing and laughed nervously when a Bob Marley hit played on the boat trip out: Dont worry bout a thing. Every little thing is gonna be all right.

Launched from the boats back deck on a 600-foot tether, we didnt even get wet. Aloft, the ride was smooth and peaceful, even blissful, like a turkey vulture floating on a thermal.

Parasailing is wicked, mon, Esmie concluded.

From 300 feet up, we saw dark splotches of reef in the turquoise waters and a clear picture of Negrils linear layout. The fine resorts- -Beaches, Sandals, Couples, Swept Away, Grand Lido and Hedonism II– front the beach. Many are all-inclusive–the price of a stay includes rooms, meals and entertainment. Alcohol, too.

These are first-class operations on manicured grounds dramatically lit at night. Guests may be in sandals and shorts, but the waiters wear red bow ties and cummerbunds.

Farther east, the sand beach gives way to rocky shore and the Rockhouse perched on a cliff. A favorite in the 1960s of Marley, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, the Rockhouse has been renovated by a group of Australians into a hip hotel and restaurant, with a cliff- top swimming pool and ladders leading into the waters of Pristine Cove.

Then there are the older, funkier favorites like the Negril Yacht Club, which advertises rooms from $40 up, and the Negril Tree House Hotel, where a computer salesman from Minnesota was soaking up the sun.

Ive been here four times, he said. Give me this beach and a cup of coffee in the morning, thats all I need.

While some Caribbean islands close down at sunset, Negril cranks up.

The beachside reggae bands at Alfreds Ocean Palace, De-Buss and Risky Business sometimes play until dawn. Close Encounters and Compulsion are what Jamaicans call go-go clubs and Americans call strip joints.

A visit to the Negril Crafts Market was surprising. Each vendor invited prospective customers into his hut to look at the carvings, colorful shawls and other merchandise, and merchants did little badgering.

Esmie explained that vendors now are required to get licenses from the government-run Tourism Product Development Co. They pay $50 to attend a two-week course that teaches them how to deal politely with foreigners.

Not only higglers, but taxi drivers, hotel bartenders, anybody who works in the tourist industry, he said. If youre not certified, youre out.

He said the pressure is on the marijuana dealers who roam the beaches. Most of the resorts have security guards at either end of their strips to quietly ward off strolling hemp salesmen. But we could sweep the beach by the trailerload, Esmie added.

Part of the problem, he said, is with the visitors, who act as if marijuana is legal in Jamaica. Its not. On the day before I left, three people were busted at the Montego Bay airport, including a young Canadian man boarding a plane with two kilos of ganja strapped to his chest. Jail is a lousy spot to spend Christmas.

From Negril, we headed to the south coast. The route was dotted with brightly painted roadside stands where women sold freshwater shrimp and fried fish. Schoolyards were full of boys in khaki shirts and pants and girls in starched white blouses and blue jumpers. Junked cars lined a mountain road that led to YS Falls, where I swung from a rope into a waterfall pool that glowed as if it were illuminated from below.

Ginger lilies, blood red, bloomed along the road. The large tree with orange blossoms brightening the mountainsides was aptly named Flame of the Forest.

As we entered the Southfield area, the forests gave way to fields. Impressive stucco houses, most painted white or pink, stand on the hillsides behind wrought-iron gates. This area here is the breadbasket of Jamaica, Esmie said. They grow tomatoes, onions, scallions, watermelons, cantaloupe, thyme.

These are farmers, mon. Every year, they add a little more to their house. Everybody in Jamaica respects these people.

At the end of the road was Jakes, a resort in the tiny fishing village of Treasure Beach. Jakes, which is named for a long-gone parrot, is the creation of the Henzell family. Perry Henzell produced and directed the 1972 reggae cult movie The Harder They Come. His wife, Sally, was art director of the movie and the architect for Jakes. Their son, Jason, runs the resort.

Jakes is a quirky compound of cottages painted red, blue, green and pink. There are niches in the stucco walls for art, and an arbor of branches shades the small dining patio. The pool recycles seawater, which trickles back out to the beach, and the three-stool outdoor bar serves champagne by the glass. The bedrooms are open to the sea air. The Abalone suite looks like a Moroccan castle with a domed ceiling embedded with colored bottles. In the morning, sunlight flashes rainbow colors on the bed.

There is no hassle, no hustle, no pampering, no room service. The clients love it. Its a mix of Mexico and Europe, said a tourist from London. Fantastic.

On our last evening, my burly companion and I pulled two wooden chairs to the rock wall overlooking the small beach at Jakes. He sipped a root beer, I had a Red Stripe. We stared as the setting sun painted the sand, surf and sky rosy red before dipping below the horizon.

Its like a big ball of fire dropping into the sea, Esmie said. Theyll be clapping and cheering at Ricks right now.

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Jamaica: sun and fun with a reggae rhythm.

Jamaica, the Caribbean’s third largest destination, provides incredible diversity Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios and Runaway Bay are Jamaica’s major resort areas that can meet the vacation needs of a wide range of clients. Duty-free shopping can be found island wide The boutiques and open-air markets carry wood sculptures, pottery; beads, jewelry, embroidery and other crafts. Jamaican cuisine is a spicy, colorful mix–local favorites being jerk chicken and jerk pork. Jamaica’s intriguing past is a mix of Indians, pirates, slaves, European colonists and, more recently, world-famous music legends. Who hasn’t heard of Bob Marley, the reggae artist that broke the national music of Jamaica worldwide?

The island’s physical attractions are a major part of its charm, and include cascading rivers, jungle mountaintops, picturesque rivers and of course, beaches. Jamaica’s 200 miles of beaches provide swimming, diving, snorkeling, boating, fishing, wind surfing and para-sailing. Land sports include: tennis, cycling and horseback riding. The island’s championship-caliber golf courses are convenient to resort areas and offer excellent facilities. Jamaica’s natural beauty, climate and great resorts offer great value and amenities for honeymooners and romance clients.

Montego Bay

Jamaica’s second largest city is a prime tourist destination and cruise port. MoBay, as it is affectionately called, is rich in restaurants, historical attractions, nightlife, shopping and sports. In addition to all of the water-sports associated with a Caribbean destination, MoBay has four 18-hole golf courses-more than any other Jamaican resort area. Most tourists arrive via a direct flight into MoBay’s Sangster International Airport.

PLEASANT HOLIDAYS MONTEGO BAY RESORT OFFERINGS: HALF MOON BAY GOLF TENNIS & BEACH CLUB * HOLIDAY INN SUNSPREE RESORT MONTEGO BAY * SANDALS INN * SANDALS MONTEGO BAY * SANDALS ROYAL GARIBBEAN * STARFISH TRELAWAY BEACH * SUNSET BEACH RESORT & SPA * SUPER CLUBS BREEZES MONTEGO BAY * THE RITZ-CARLTON GOLF & SPA RESORT, ROSE HALL, JAMAICA * WYNDHAM ROSE HALL GOLF & BEACH RESORT

Negril

Located on the western tip of the island, Negril boasts seven miles of white-sand beach. Negril‘s ambience is carefree and easy-going. Beach activities include swimming, diving, boating, sunbathing, deep-sea fishing and snorkeling. Horseback riding is popular; and there are trails for jogging, walking or biking. Golf is now available at the new 18-hole Negril Hills Golf Course. Negril is a 52-mile drive west from Montego Bay’s airport.

PLEASANT HOLIDAYS NEGRIL RESORT OFFERINGS: BEACHES NEGRIL * BEACHES SANDY BAY * COCOLAPALM * COUPLES NEGRIL * HEDONISM II * NEGRIL CABINS RESORT * RIU TROPICAL * SANDALS NEGRIL BEACH RESORT & SPA * SEA SPLASH RESORT * SUPERCLUBS GRAND LIDO NEGRIL

Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios is Jamaica’s second-busiest resort area and a popular cruise port. It is home to Jamaica’s natural wonders: Dunn’s River Falls, Fern Gully and the White River. Sports, day trips, shopping and nightlife keep visitors hopping around-the-clock. Lodging choices range from cliffside to beachfront locations and accommodate a broad range of budgets. Many of these properties have their own private beaches. Located in the middle of Jamaica’s north coast, Ocho Rios is a two-hour ride from the airport at Montego Bay.

PLEASANT HOLIDAYS OCHO RIOS RESORT OFFERINGS: BEACHES BOSCOBEL RESORT & GOLF CLUB * GRANDE SPORT VILIA GOLF RESORT & SPA BY BEACHES * COUPIES OCHO RIOS * RENAISSANCE JAMAICA GRANDE RESORT * ROYAL PLANTATION GOLF RESORT & SPA BY BEACHES * SANDALS DUNN’S RIVER GOLF RESORT & SPA * SANDALS OCHO RIOS RESORT & GOLF CLUB * SUPERCLUBS GRAND LIDO SANS SOUCI

Runaway Bay

Runaway Bay is located on the north coast between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. Smaller than the resorts flanking it, Runaway Bay has the atmosphere of a small Jamaican village. Clients who would find Runaway Bay to their liking include singles, families, couples, golfers, nature and dive enthusiasts. Runaway Bay is the equestrian center of the island and also presents outstanding opportunities for diving among its offshore coral reefs. Runaway Bay is an hour’s ride west to Montego Bay’s airport and a 30-minute drive east to Ocho Rios.

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Honeymooners, Singles Discover Jamaica Where Jamaicans Vacation

Was the honeymoon over? Evidently a quarrel was in progress on a colorful sailboat zigzagging close to shore at Negril‘s Grand Lido resort in Jamaica. A small float, occupied by a comely refugee from a nearby clothing-optional beach, had just crossed its path and, judging from body language, had provoked animated discussion between the man and woman on the sailboat.

Soon the woman on the boat dove into the water, swam ashore and stomped to a lounge chair, where she glared out to sea while her male companion continued to troll languid waters near the adjacent nude beach. The incident stood out because it was the only sign of discord at a resort that seemed almost entirely occupied by self-absorbed lovers.

Compared to Montego Bay, with its international airport, and Ocho Rios, with its cruise port, Negril seems almost undiscovered. From Montego Bay – Mo Bay in local parlance – it’s a 90-minute drive past winding hedges of hibiscus and old sugar cane mills to Negril.

Negril first became popular among American flower children of the 1960s, who lodged with local residents. Hotels now line the beach but the former fishing village is determined to retain the charm that attracted visitors in the first place. Building codes require that new hotels be no taller than the average palm tree, and local laws protect sea turtles, coral and other flora and fauna.

This is where Jamaicans come to vacation. Negril, on Jamaica’s west coast, may be the prettiest spot on arguably the most beautiful island in the Caribbean. Yet visitors who drop their guard may be making a mistake.

A spate of violent crimes against foreign visitors this year in Jamaica has resulted in a dip in tourism. But it’s the bad news that gets all the attention, contends Negril hotelier Daniel Grizzle. He says good news goes unnoticed in the international media – like the fact that no petty crime at all was reported to Negril police for an entire month last summer.

In an effort to address tourists’ concerns, Negril‘s police and Chamber of Commerce support programs that reach to the roots of the island’s problems, says Grizzle. One such program retrains abrasive street vendors and teaches them more effective business and marketing techniques. The city also provides a subsidized craft market where vendors can better display their wares.

Visitors worried about crime can choose accommodations at all-inclusive resorts, where grounds generally are gated and patrolled by security guards, suggests Sam Jones, general manager of Negril‘s upscale Grand Lido. Amenities at such resorts as Grand Lido are so alluring that 90 percent of the guests never leave the grounds during their stay, Jones says.

But many smaller hotels also provide gates and guards, notes William Petrella, general manager of the 65-room Negril Gardens. An American who followed his fiancee to the Caribbean, he thinks crime is no worse in Jamaica than in the United States.

“All-inclusives surely serve a purpose, but small hotels appeal to independent tourists who want to feel the local culture,” says Petrella.

Visitors who frequent the town’s smaller, less expensive hotels often spend their days strolling beaches lined with small restaurants, water sports shacks and souvenir shops. Water sports can run up quite a tab – $25 to $30 for just 10 minutes of parasailing or a half-hour of jet-skiing – but many visitors bring their own snorkeling gear and find a patch of beach on which to spread their towels.

Bike rentals, excursions to crafts markets, horseback riding, golf, boating and diving trips often can be arranged at hotels or nearby tour agencies. Eventually most visitors make their way to Rick’s Cafe to catch a spectacular sunset and watch daring cliff-divers – some of whom are foolish tourists emboldened by a drink or two.

At the budget end (about $65 a night in winter) is the high-kitsch Blue Cave Castle, whose 13 rooms come complete with turrets, not a common sight in Jamaica. Decor at this tidy modern-day pirate’s den leans toward crushed velvet. Rates at Negril‘s small hotels are even cheaper – 20 percent to 40 percent – in the summer low season.

Moderate options include the venerable Rock House Hotel (starting at $100 in winter), where recently remodeled thatched-roof studios and cliffside villas are scattered along secluded trails through lush vegetation. At the pink-plaster Negril Gardens ($125) ask for a seaside room or you’ll have to walk across a busy road to reach the hotel’s slice of beach. At Grizzle’s 39-room Charela Inn ($140) family-style charm attracts Europeans in summer, Americans in winter.

But Jamaica is best-known for its all-inclusive resorts, a concept the island borrowed from Club Med and pioneered in the Caribbean. One price usually covers lodging, meals (hamburgers to gourmet cuisine), drinks, tips, entertainment, water sports (diving, snorkeling, sailing, skiing and wind surfing), tennis (including instruction) and sometimes golf and horseback riding. Some resorts even do laundry so you can go home with clean clothes.

Several all-inclusive resorts can be found in Negril, including the upscale Grand Lido, navel-gazing Hedonism II and couples-only Sandal’s Negril. The ambiance even at Negril‘s most expensive hotels is casual and geared for comfort; air conditioning usually is limited to guest rooms, with lobbies, restaurants and other public areas often cooled by ceiling fans and breezes.

The first all-inclusive resort on the island was Negril Beach Village, which opened in 1976 and became Hedonism II in 1981. Guest rooms have no phones or television, and if you can’t figure out what you’re supposed to be doing in there, take a clue from the mirror on the ceiling above the bed.

The resort attracts more singles than couples and urges its guests to “be wicked for a week.” However, we’re guessing there are a lot of cold showers some nights. Single men sometimes outnumber women by as much as four to one.

Across the street is the more affluent Grand Lido, a 22-acre resort with decor an eclectic blend of Moorish, Mediterranean and Southwestern influences. A large water wheel in the lobby is decorative rather than functional and reminiscent of colonial Jamaica’s sugar cane plantations. A fine French restaurant here provides one of the few reasons to dress for dinner in Negril.

But the 22-acre resort is not staid. Grounds include a secluded clothing-optional beach as well as the more traditional main beach, where guests can check out small sailboats, sea kayaks and the like. The Grand Lido sits on an idyllic stretch of Bloody Bay, an 18th-century haven for such pirates as Calico Jack, known for his penchant for calico underwear.

Guest take sunset cruises on a yacht once presented to Princess Grace as a wedding gift from Aristotle Onassis, but the boat had a seedy interlude en route to the Grand Lido. It was impounded during a drug investigation, auctioned and refurbished for the resort.

Still, its early history makes the yacht a favorite venue for nuptials. As many as 60 couples a month marry at Grand Lido, where even the cost of a wedding is absorbed in the all-inclusive rates. Another 120 couples a month arrive as honeymooners.

“Some brides go scuba diving in the morning and get married in the afternoon,” says sales manager Evelyn Smith.

Like the Grand Lido, nearby Sandals Negril also is popular among couples choosing an intimate island ceremony over the rigors of a church wedding at home – especially the second time around. Of the resort’s 35 to 50 weddings each month, half are second marriages. The wedding package is $500 plus accommodations.

The 21-acre resort sits on the grounds of two older hotels, Coconut Cove and the Sundowner, which Sandals connected and renovated six years ago. Guests have their choice of four restaurants on the grounds.

Winter rates per person, based on double occupancy for a minimum stay of three nights, start at $1,000 at Grand Lido, $790 at Sandals Negril and $675 at Hedonism. Rates go down 10 percent to 20 percent in summer.

Travel agents may be able to negotiate discounts, especially this year. Tourism is a bit sluggish on many Caribbean islands.

And what about that angry couple on the beach? Later we saw them exchanging smiles in a hot tub. Negril seems to be a place of happy endings. Specifically

Information and brochures can be obtained from the Jamaica Tourist Board, (800) 233-4582.

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Silver lining for Negril hotels

AS NEGRIL’S West End rebounds for the upcoming winter tourist season, the gates of the world famous Rick’s Cafe remain closed and its neighbour, Catch A Falling Star, is yet to start rebuilding after the devastation caused by Hurricane Ivan.

However, the 52-room Mariner’s Inn, which sustained damage amounting to $21 million, reopened one week after the storm, with 17 rooms absent from its inventory. Ten-Sing Pen, which lost six rooms, reopened on November 11 after suffering damage amounting to US$300,000.

The entrance to Rick’s is still battened down with zinc and reports are that the Christmas season will see them protecting the property from onlookers. In fact, early 2005 is more like it. But the new Rick’s will have a totally different face. “It won’t be a place to just come in and watch the sunset anymore, a whole new theme will be reflected,” a tight-lipped worker said.

At Catch A Falling Star, a female employee said she was unaware of when rebuilding would commence.

Construction workers were working feverishly to get neighbours Mariner’s and Ten-Sing Pen up and ready for the upcoming season, predicted to be a bumper one.

When work is completed at Mariner’s Inn, the hotel plans to reposition itself in the marketplace with a new name: Mariner’s Cliff Resort and Spa.

It will also implement new marketing strategies geared towards attracting more upscale client base. “We are moving from a current low-budget, all-inclusive market to the more upscale leisure traveller that can afford to spend more and wants spa treatment in the process,” Donald Wallace, general manager, told Hospitality Jamaica.

He said that work is being done to make some of the smaller rooms bigger. Already the dining room and bar have been extended, the lighthouse is back up and the gazebo is almost completed.

In the case of Ten-Sing Pen, new General Manager Courtney Miller said that all of its 17 cottages ware refurbished.

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Grand Lido Negril is number one

CONDE Nast Traveller magazine has named SuperClubs’ flagship resort Grand Lido Negril the top hotel in Jamaica on its 2004 `Gold List: The World’s Best Places to Stay.’

The list that boasts only the `best of the best’ hotels, resorts and cruise lines worldwide, was published in its January 2004 issue.

Our resorts have started out the year with well deserved industry awards and recognition,’ boasted a very happy, John Issa, executive chairman of SuperClubs, as he made the announcement to journalists during a press luncheon in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Monday, January 12.

RATE

He said Grand Lido was also rated number 14 in the entire Caribbean. The Grand Lido is not the only property within the SuperClubs chain to receive accolades at the start of the year. The three years old, Breezes Brazil won two awards – `Best Resort for Children’ and `Best Kids Club.’

The AAA Four Diamond Grand Lido Negril was one of only 28 hotels and resorts named to the list for the `Atlantic and Caribbean Islands’ region and was the highest scoring Jamaican resort posting an 83.9 overall score based on the quality of its rooms, service, food, location, design and activities.

Conde Nast Traveller’s Gold List is picked by the publication’s editors from a survey of its 32,000 subscribers. The annual roundup, which is now in its 10th year, highlights reader’s comments regarding what they found most compelling about their top picks. `Besides receiving awards for the continuous hard work it has been doing, Mr. Issa said the chain had spent between US$10-20 million in 2003 refurbishing four of its properties.

He said that within a few months, high speed Internet access would be available in each room, wireless access in the lobby and by pool. `And by Spring I have been told, there will be internet access on the beach.’

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SUNSET AT THE PALMS; Negril’s best kept secret

ALL THE rooms embrace large stilts at tree top level. Gone are the days of cabins.

Six months after its closure, as a result of damage sustained from Hurricane Ivan, Sunset at the Palms (formerly Negril Cabins) wakes from its slumber, emerging magnificently along the lines of cross-cultural influences in new and exciting ways.

With a fabulous touch of Bali, a large portion of Jamaica says, ‘This is what Negril was meant to be.’

The hotel staff has withstood the six-month closure, their familiar faces roam the 10-acre rustic setting, while spanking newly-refurbished rooms, shower units with body jets and ceramic white above-counter oyster granite top vessels say: ‘I am your wash basin, ready to take you to another dimension’.

King-size and double-bed bedrooms, all uniquely furnished, have transformed the property into a fabulous boutique resort.

Sunset at the Palms and Spa has been completely redone. The entrance to the 65-room hotel now houses rock gardens. A section of the garden boasts a large Balinese day bed. On arrival into the lobby, an eclectic mix of Indonesian architecture and decor blends beautifully with Jamaica’s tropical oasis, like nourishment for one’s sight.

Teak, cedar, mahogany, purple and greenheart wooden flooring, embellished with lots of stones and grey, green and bluish-purple slate, caress the feet of arriving guests.

It doesn’t take long to hit home that this is one of the most charmingly intimate resorts in the Caribbean. Sunset at the Palms is casual, elegant and very sophisticated. The ambience of the property sets the mood for what Negril represents – romance.

Walking the acreage forces one to pause and feel its intimacy.

Of the 65 rooms, none looks the same. Room 503 houses a king-size mahogany bed woven with a rope headboard, coco shell end tables, chairs woven from banana leaves, a teak bench near a sisal rug on satinwood floor and an armoire completes the decor. Subtle window treatments soften this room. Some rooms will have monkeys-on-a-vine-inspired lamps. But back to Room 503.

The balcony carries an oversized day bed, patio table and chair, while the first thing that catches the eye in the bathroom is the welcoming wooden towel ladder. All-glass splash guards protect the luxurious grey slated Vichy shower, which is coordinated with a band of accent mosaic.

There are three restaurants, a Jacuzzi, one large swimming pool, the luxury of the Caribbean Sea at the resort’s own Bloody Bay beach, four bars, a fitness centre and a state-of-the-art spa to choose from which.

Sunset at the Palms boasts over 100 varied and rare plant species, dotted throughout a series of wonderful gardens. Its landscaping is a tropical delight – of well-thought-out eco-supportive, eco-friendly, flora and fauna indigenous to the area.

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Couples Negril the perfect getaway

AFTER FIGHTING the mid-December traffic from Kingston and Spur Tree, we finally reach Couples Negril. Even though we arrive at night, we are immediately enveloped by the luxury of the lobby. But it was not until the next day that the intricate beauty of the interior design by Jane Issa, wife of the Couples resort chain, Lee Issa, is revealed.

Truly, it is a fantasy: An aquamarine fantasy with bold reds to shock you into knowing it is not a dream. You are really at a property that encapsulates a Caribbean interpretation of the Far East.

Throughout the property, in the lobby, dining rooms and relaxation areas, shades of Bali immediately spring to mind as you survey the vaulted ceilings above and the rattan and bamboo furniture surrounding you. And the upholstery is in a shocking red that is both luxurious and exciting.

The floors are an exquisite shade of aquamarine that pulls in the ocean view that commands centre stage of the lobby and most parts of the property.

To further enhance the pull of the ocean, darker brown and green tiles in a wave design are interspersed with the aquamarine tiles.

And local art abounds. Works of lighting splendour by Jean Pearson dot the lobby’s aquamarine-stained walls in the form of wall sconces and hanging lamps.

STUNNING BEDROOMS

In the bedrooms, Jean Pearson hanging lamps in reds, blues and yellows create an interesting balance of excitement and relaxation.

Each bedroom also features a beautiful wall hanging by local silk painter, Ireko. And shimmery green floor length curtains highlight this colourful wall hanging, which features a woman riding a horse into the night.

In the main dining room, the visual feast continues. Local artwork competes for your attention with the soaring ceiling of local pine. To enhance the vaulted ceiling, gigantic red Chinese lanterns tease diners from above.

Truly a delight.

And this look can be achieved at home.

Think shades such as chartreuse, olive green, bright red, aquamarine and a crisp white to give balance to the swirl of colour sensation.

But should your tastes run to the more sedate, Couples Swept Away, also in Negril, might be worth your attention.

The very first sampling of eye candy is the palm frond design of the spiral staircase grillwork. In the lobby of this property, you look out to a massive collection of 37 varieties of palm trees. The staircase grillwork neatly echoes the views.

While Couples Negril has an exciting Far East flair, Couples Swept Away has a darker, moodier East Indian flavour.

The idea is to suggest romance in a dreamy, seductive interior design. The ambience is soft, with no harsh lights – very soothing.

Tranquility is a word that easily springs to mind. Interestingly, though, the same aquamarine and red tones are carried forward in this property, but are more muted and deeper in tone.

And the bedrooms are a fantasy. A fantasy that you can easily take home through interior design.

Start with fresh white walls. Add dark brown clay tiles. Mix in a dash of dark wood-stained louvre windows and doors. Then stir in soft white bed linens in a variety of texture. Place candles on the cement bedside table, wait until the evening and relax.

Taking design inspiration from public spaces is an easy way to take your home to the next level.

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Sandals Negril Resort and Spa back in business

THE TOURISM community in Negril recently welcomed the reopening of Sandals Negril Beach Resort and Spa, which was closed in September for renovations following the passage of Hurricane Ivan.

While he declined to give an expenditure of the repairs and general upgrading of the 223-room property, General Manager Carl Hendriks said the opportunity was also used to engage in projects that were necessary at the resort.

CRITICAL

“Our above-average yearly occupancies restricted us in carrying out critical refurbishing work, which became necessary, but would have been a nuisance to our treasured guests,” Mr. Hendriks explained.

“While the options of closing sections of the resort might have been considered, the multiplicity of damage sustained from Hurricane Ivan, forced us to close and in addition to the repairs we accelerated some of these special projects.”

The resort is located on the longest stretch of Negril‘s famed seven-mile white sand beach and has long been regarded as one of the finest hotels in the Caribbean.

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Take the plunge – Steal away to Negril’s West End for a first-class Jamaican escape.

NEGRIL, Jamaica – One autumn Saturday on the western edge of Jamaica, Paul Zimmerman was taking plunges.

From the terrace of a thatched cottage at Rockhouse, a boutique resort on the West End of Negril, Zimmerman was arching into graceful swan dives and landing about 15 feet below in the crystal blue Caribbean. Then, in the early evening, surrounded by family and friends, he took the big one, the deep one – he married his fiance, Jill Goldstein, owner of a New York public relations firm.

For those intent on taking plunges – either high dives into the Caribbean or the big step into wedded bliss – the limestone cliffs of Negril‘s West End provide the perfect platform.

It was a short walk along the stone paths from Zimmerman’s guest cottage to the ceremony on the cliffs at Rockhouse. The wedding was part of an 11-day stay at the resort for him and his new wife. Rockhouse is one of several intimate retreats on the cliffs of the West End. Their small size and privacy stand them in sharp contrast to the all-inclusive resorts that have sprouted in the last decade along Negril‘s seductive seven-mile beach.

Negril has become a popular destination for travelers wishing to avoid Jamaica’s mass meccas. It’s a long drive to Negril from the airport at Montego Bay (55 miles, 2 1/2 hours), but a quick 20-minute flight to Negril‘s Aerodome. From this landing strip, it’s another 15 minutes by car to the West End.

Some people just love to feel the sand under their feet and to wade slowly into the Caribbean. For them, the Negril beach strip may be heaven. Those seeking a more private vacation trade those advantages for a thatched-roof cottage and umbrellas and chaise lounges on the terraces of the West End.

Rockhouse, Tensing Pen and The Caves are the nicest lodgings along Negril‘s cliffs. They share certain qualities: a small scale, fewer guests than the large beach resorts and a handmade character, a rustic feel in keeping with the nature of the cliffs.

The accommodations are tucked discreetly among the trees and rock. The cottages at each resort are built of native woods and stone. Those closest to the cliffs have small terraces on which to while away Jamaica time. Often, guests wash off the Caribbean salt in an al fresco shower.

Walking paths, stairways and terraces are carved into the rock, as are steps and ladders that lead to the water.

The big, all-inclusive resorts on Negril‘s beach were developed and opened during the ’90s in the blink of an eye. The boutique resorts on the West End of Negril could not be more different.

They have evolved more slowly from property owned by young wanderers who discovered Jamaica in the ’60s and ’70s and wanted just a small piece of it for a personal hideaway. Land in Negril, at the time a remote fishing village, was affordable for them.

After the rugged path along the cliffs was improved to where it could be called a road and electricity came to the West End in the ’80s, these landowners decided to operate guest houses on their properties. Every few years, they added a cottage here, a bungalow there. The result is these boutique lodgings, good for a peaceful getaway, an independent adventure or an intimate wedding. Guests can begin a snorkeling or kayaking day-trip just a few steps from their cottage door.

The Caves represents the high end of the West End. It is a favorite retreat of rock stars and international celebrities, and they pay handsomely for its amenities. No two of its 10 cottages are alike. They are all built by hand of indigenous materials, painted in bright Caribbean colors and appointed with native folk art. Each is equipped with a stereo and CDs.

The centerpiece of The Caves is a highly romantic cavern with a table covered in linen, candlelit and set for a private dinner. While you dine, the lap or crash of waves resonates on the cavern walls.

Along the winding paths and stairways at The Caves are a tropical garden, a saltwater pool, whirlpool, sauna, hot tubs and a spa. Rates for two adults range from $425 a night for an A-frame cottage to $800 a night for a deluxe two-bedroom cottage including a kitchenette and front and back porches. These rates include meals, beverages, tax and service charge.

For reservations, call 800-688-7678. The Caves has a Web site at islandoutpost.com.

The rates at Rockhouse are considerably lower. A villa that fits four costs $210 a night from mid-December to mid-April, $140 during low season. Standard accommodations cost $130 a night in high season, $95 in low. For information, call 876-957-4273. No international calling code is necessary to dial Jamaica. Visit rockhousehotel.com to get a look at the property.

As Paul Zimmerman at Rockhouse prepared for his walk to the precipice separating bachelorhood from married life, a crew of laid-back North Carolinians drank Red Stripe, Jamaica’s renowned beer, and took plunges, perhaps less significant than Zimmerman’s but no less thrilling, from the terraces at Tensing Pen.

Rebecca Cooper had come with her husband, Tommy, brother Billy Jones and their friend Charles Ashing. It was Ashing’s second trip. The Coopers and Joneses were there for the fourth time. The group was sharing Tensing Pen’s Great House, a 2 1/2-bedroom structure with a kitchen, porch and – a rare amenity in the Caribbean – a fenced and shaded back yard with grass and a hammock.

The house rents for $420 a day from Dec. 14 through April 14, and $285 a day the rest of the year. You can rent it by the week: $2,650 in high season, $1,795 in low. The low end of the rate card at Tensing Pen features a stay in the Bungalow for $120 night in the high season, $75 in low. A 10 percent service charge and 6.25 percent tax are added to rates at Tensing Pen and Rockhouse. For more details on Tensing Pen, call 876-957-0387 or visit tensingpen.com.

Earlier that day, Rebecca Cooper displayed Olympian grace in a bikini as she executed perfect dives, back flips and other acrobatics from a 15-foot terrace and a footbridge that spanned a small inlet. This isn’t Acapulco cliff diving, but it satisfies the average thirst for adventure, just as the Red Stripe quenches the thirst brought on by the hot afternoon sun.

The North Carolinians dined that evening at Sweet Spice, an authentic Jamaican restaurant in Negril, on the road to Savannah la Mar. Ashing summed up Tensing Pen and the Negril experience.

“I like to travel first-class,” he said. “This is first-class.”

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Negril’s Royal Palm Reserve an environmental treasure trove

In its effort to create awareness leading up to its official opening this October and to coincide with the winter tourist season, the Negril Royal Palm Reserve was introduced to hoteliers and tour operators at a “soft opening” June 9 at its Sheffield, Negril location.

“The facilities will be renovated and expanded to include a sustainable craft center, a nature museum and a cafe,” said Susan Otuokon, executive director of the Negril Area Environmental Trust, which, since January 2001, has acquired the lease for the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica property.

The site is the home of Negril‘s Royal Palm, called “Swamp Cabbage” palm because it grows within and on the edges of the Great Morass and the tender young leaves are edible.

The reserve is at least a mile from any inhabited area. Visitors gain access to the attraction by a boardwalk that runs the length and width of the property, allowing viewing of several species of plants and birds.

In reference to the expanse of the reserve’s towering endemic Swamp Royal or Cabbage Palm, its glistening ponds and rain forest-like flora, Mrs. Otuokon said that this “hidden treasures of the island” has been there for “so long, yet people hardly know about it. “She also noted that the palm is endemic to the western part to Jamaica, as it is entirely different species from those found in the central and eastern parts of the island.

Although the attraction has been around since 1980 and not made popular, the environmentalist believes that there is every opportunity, given its close proximity to the resort town of Negril and the diversity it adds to the existing attractions available in the area, to be viable. “There are few existing attractions in Negril barring the beach, the night life, the sunset and the water sports. This will add something different,” she said.

NEPT is a non-profit organization that works with communities in the area to protect the environment and promote sustainable development. The Royal Palm Reserve is intended as an eco-tourism attraction that will provide an income to supplement NEPT’s funding.

In early 1994, 16 organizations and agencies joined forces to form the Negril area Environmental Protection Trust (NEPT). Through NEPT, local efforts towards environmental conservation and sustainable development within the Negril watershed and coastal zone are coordinated. Its office, staff, and facilities support both its own work, as well as that of other area organizations.

Activities focus on community education, establishment and management of Parks and Protected Areas, environmental monitoring, fund-raising, and a whole range of environmental improvement projects.

Examples of NEPT and its member organization’s projects and activities include:

* Establishment of the Negril

* Environmental Protection

* Area for the watershed and adjacent marine waters, including the Negril Marine Park.

* Environmental awareness in schools, including Junior

* Ranger and recycling programs.

* Regular coastal and community clean-up campaigns.

* Promotion of water conservation and environmentally appropriate bathrooms.

* Promotion of products emphasizing local and recycled materials and environmental themes.

* Promotion of hotel environmental codes of conduct incorporating ISO 14000
standards.

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Beyond Negril’s luxury resorts lies a little bit of paradise.

Past Negril‘s seven-mile beach, beyond Hedonism, Sandals and a host of other crowded “all-inclusive” resorts, the road begins to narrow and wind upward, hugging the coral cliffs as they rise dramatically 100 feet above the azure waters of the Caribbean.

One after another, the cottages appear, a new one around every bend. With magical names such as Catch a Falling Star, Banana Shout, Tensing Pen, Mirage and Home Sweet Home, each one is more intriguing than the last.

Jamaica can be an island of beet-faced tourists and pre-packaged tourist traps. It also can be a destination of unspoiled beauty and rustic island charm. If you are willing to be a little adventurous and pass on the packaged vacations offered by the sprawling beach resorts, you can find a little of the original Negril, the once-sleepy fishing village discovered in the early 1970s by Jamaicans looking to get away from the island’s crowded cities and by American hippies fleeing the rat race back home.

Sure, there’s electricity now, and the telephones actually work. And while the area is no longer a low-budget paradise, much of the laid-back feel still remains, particularly in Negril‘s West End or “cliffs” area. And bargain accommodations can still be found, even as the destination becomes increasingly upscale.

Many of the founders of Negril‘s now burgeoning tourist industry are still here, both Jamaicans and Americans, operating guest houses, small hotels and restaurants.

Virginia Yorke has been living on the Negril cliffs off and on for the past 18 years. A Wayland, Mass., native, Yorke, 48, stumbled upon Negril while on a vacation trip in 1979.

“I was planning to stay three weeks,” she said. “But I fell in love with the place.”

A longtime resident of Martha’s Vineyard, Yorke said she found much of what she loves about that Massachusetts island along the Negril cliffs, but here the “season” runs nearly year-round.

“It’s the weather, the water and the lifestyle,” she said. “The livin’ is easy.”

Yorke supports herself by operating sailboat cruises from a dock behind the Pickled Parrot bar, owned by another American expatriate, Michael Dols, who moved here four years ago after many years of running bars and restaurants in Minneapolis.

“I figured if I was going to have to look at four walls all day, I might as well be looking at this,” he said, pointing out at the sparkling blue waters over which his open-air bar-restaurant is perched. “It doesn’t get any prettier.”

The Parrot is a great place to use as a base of operations. It serves up terrific Jamaican food such as jerk chicken ($10.95) or red snapper ($15.95), but if you tire of native cuisine, it is also one of the few spots where you can get a cheeseburger, and a pretty decent one at that ($6.25).

Years back, it was pretty much impossible to get supplies from the United States, but all that has changed. Negril now is not lacking for most creature comforts. “We can get almost anything these days,” Dols said.

Besides serving up tasty food and delicious frozen rum and fruit daiquiries, the Parrot, located on a quiet cove, provides a perfect place to do some snorkeling or swimming. The water is clear and calm and the caves under the cliffs add to the mystique.

If you are daring, you might want to jump or dive off one of the cliffs. The more timid can jump off a rope swing or take the water slide. Boats from many of the beachside resorts often pull up around sunset, so be prepared for a crowd at that time of day. And don’t be surprised if the revelers from the Hedonism boat disembark and charge into the bar stark naked. It happens more often than not.

Rick’s Cafe, about a mile up the West End Road, is still place to see and be seen at sunset, and the scene is a fun one. Rastafarians mingle with schoolteachers from Poughkeepsie as reggae music blares from the massive speakers. The frozen drinks are to die for, but the prices aren’t. Enjoy a drink or two as the sun goes down, but head elsewhere for dinner. A $25 lobster at Rick’s will cost you about $15 most other places. A good bet is the Cheap Bite, down on the beach.

For accommodations, you can’t do better than Catch A Falling Star, located next to Rick’s. The property features a half-dozen simple, clean one- and two-bedroom cottages perched on the cliffs and set on lush tropical grounds neatly landscaped with a variety of fruit and flowering trees. Breakfast is served on your veranda, which also offers two comfortable hammocks – perfect for reading, snoozing or just watching the fishing boats out on the bay. A huge hot tub on the grounds is a perfect place to unwind at the end of each day. A little store on the premises allows you to stock your refrigerator with juice, Red Stripe beer and other necessities without having to make a trip to the supermarket downtown.

There’s not a lot to do in Negril, yet visitors never seem to get bored. Swimming, snorkeling and boating or just catching some rays are the favorite daytime activities and nights are filled with dancing to live reggae music. Kaiser’s Cafe, long the most popular concert venue, is now closed. But Hotel Samsara, nearby on the cliffs, and Club Palm, on the beach, are now dueling for that honor. A show featuring reggae legends such as Gregory Isaacs or King Yellowman costs about $12. The music starts around 10 p.m. and goes until 2 or 3 in the morning.

Golf addicts now have a place to indulge their passion in Negril. The Negril Hills Golf Club, about 10 minutes from the cliffs on the road to Savanna La Mar, opened in 1994. A challenging, 18-hole, par-72 course measuring 6,333 yards from the blue tees, Negril Hills offers spectacular mountain views, slick greens and many steep uphill shots. A cart is recommended and a caddy (required) is a godsend – at just a few extra dollars, plus tip. Greens fees are $81, including cart and caddy.

Scratch golfers may want to play the championship course at the Tryall Resort, about an hour back toward Montego Bay. The site of the Johnnie Walker Championship in recent years, the seaside course is one of the prettiest anywhere. Cost is $150, including cart and caddy.

In past years, some tourists to Negril have been turned off by the persistent hustlers who try to sell you everything from ganja (marijuana) to bracelets to guided tours of the area. Of late, the government has clamped down on them, and it is even possible to walk down the beach without being hassled. The cliffs, however, are still the best place to escape the hard-sell.

Yorke, the expatriate from Massachusetts, said the hustlers aren’t likely to bother you if you just say no. A suggested line to fend off a dogged ganja peddler: “My religion doesn’t permit it.” Another one: “I’m a police officer.”

Yorke, who calls herself “the concierge of the West End” because of her relentless efforts to find visitors whatever they need, said her goal is to convince more people to experience her Jamaica, not the Jamaica of the Sandals, Couples, Hedonism and Swept Away resorts.

At those luxury complexes, it is possible to surround yourself with Americans, to eat mostly American food and spend evenings watching satellite TV. Heck, you could even spend a week and barely talk to a Jamaican.

That would be a mistake, according to Yorke.

“Jamaicans are kind, easygoing people,” she said. “And Jamaica is a wonderful place. The music is alive, the food is delicious. You can live easy here. You can really enjoy yourself.”

If you go

* Getting There: The easiest way to get to Montego Bay from Boston is to fly US Airways (change planes in Philadelphia) or American Airlines (change planes in Miami). A weekly charter operated by Vacation Outlet, (617) 267-8100. Once in Montego Bay, it is a two-hour drive to Negril. Minibuses cost about $25. Most of the major car rental companies have desks at Sangster International Airport, but rates are high (about $65 a day) and you must drive on the left.

* Staying There: Catch A Falling Star, (809) 957-0390, offers one- and two-bedroom cottages for from $175 to $190 per night. Other recommended properties include Banana Shout, (809) 957-0384, and Tensing Pen, (809) 957-0387. Cottages at both range from $60 to $120 per night in season. Most Negril properties can also be booked through Caribbean Vacation Network at (800) 423-4095.

* Information: Jamaica Tourist Board, call (212) 856-9727. On the Internet, try fantasyisle.com

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Reggae rhythm good in Negril

Ian, All is good to go for the Reggae Marathon in Negril, Jamaica. I have spoken with them and they will look after everything on the ground. If Jamaica for a couple of days in December is okay with you.Regards, Peter Conway, Caribbean Collection, Midleton, Co Cork.

Sometimes that sort of well-intentioned email is better left unanswered. The problem wasn’t that my flight landed in Kingston instead of Montego Bay. (Long story, something to do with the plane running out of fuel). It could have been worse.

Guantanamo Bay was the next stop.

Nor that my cab driver made the 50-mile trip to Negril in an old Toyota Hiace with a beer in one hand and a reefer in the other, never once staying the right side of the white line. But he got me there. No problem, man! Nor that I spent the first two days in Negril turning away drug pushers and prostitutes, some of whom were desperate for business. At least they were friendly (Respect!) and that really wasn’t a problem at all.

Nor that Negril wasn’t beautiful. There’s a seven-mile stretch of bright white sand and warm ocean with a soft Caribbean breeze that of all the places I’ve been comes closest to paradise, with the possible exception of Hawaii. Watching the sunset from the Irie Beach Bar with a cool bottle of Red Stripe felt like the end of the earth, even though the only thing between here and Cuba was 90 miles of deep water and three million sharks.

Some parts of Negril were a little edgy. There’s only one ATM machine and that wasn’t a place to withdraw money after dark. Some people go there for business, but not many, and only later did I find a map of the place where some parts of town appeared simply as a blank space, which is hardly a good sign.

The only problem with Jamaica was how it destroyed almost all my respect for the marathon. Someone once told me that to fully appreciate 26.2 miles of running you needed to run it at least once a year. I reckoned once every two years was enough, which meant I needed to run it before the end of this year. When a marathon in Jamaica presented itself it was useless to resist.

I would never recommend a crash course in marathon training, but it always worked for me – three weeks usually being enough. But after week one I suffered my first ever groin strain. I was always highly suspicious of groin strains, which only seemed to strike overpaid footballers with a tendency for laziness. I now know groin strains do in fact reduce you to watching television all day.

That still wasn’t the problem when it came to running 26.2 miles in Jamaica. Adopting the Dr Romanov technique of pose running, I finished in three hours, 25 minutes and 54 seconds – a time I have absolutely no respect for. Yet I finished 21st. The average finishing time was four hours, 39 minutes and 32 seconds. The winner ran two hours, 31 minutes and 43 minutes – a time I also have no respect for because I once ran quicker.

That’s what is wrong with the Negril marathon in Jamaica and most other town and city marathons around the world. This once great distance, made sacred by Philippides and Spiridon Louis and made famous by Emil Zatopek and Abebe Bikila, is now a phoney test of endurance, an achievement fraud. It doesn’t matter anymore if you run under three hours or over six hours, but it’s nice to say you ran quicker than Katie Holmes.

The people of Negril aren’t to blame for this. December is low tourism season and so seven years ago they figured they’d boost things up a little by staging a marathon. Of course it wouldn’t be competitive. This would be the Reggae Marathon, with reggae bands along the route and a trophy of Bob Marley for the winner. There would be a Rasta Party instead of a Pasta Party and if the marathon was too far you could always cut off early and do the half marathon, which most people did.

Clearly the marathon is now the fast food of the so-called fitness generation, and there’s no going back. There was a time I would laugh at any man who told me he’d run the marathon in over three hours, and yet there I was among them, happy to take a couple of breathers along the way and listen to some reggae.

The marathon was never intended as a fun run, but that’s what places like Negril have turned it into. Maybe there’s no harm in that and who cares how long it takes when we can all share fresh coconut milk at the finish before moving on to the rum and Cokes.

But there’s a big difference between finishing a marathon and running it, and Negril really proved that. The line between the two has somehow been blurred.

The only marathon runners I respect anymore are the ones like Martin Fagan, who is currently trying to get back into the US, where he’s been training for the past five months with the intention of running the two hours and 15 minutes qualifying time for the Beijing Olympics.

Fagan was turned away at immigration in Philadelphia last Tuesday, having just represented Ireland at the European Cross Country in Spain. He told the immigration officers that he was a marathon runner, but they didn’t seem to respect that a whole lot – and who could blame them?

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Negril, Jamaica: More Like Camp for Vagrant Spirits than a Resort

There are three basic lifestyle choices for vacationers in this island nation: highlife, lowlife and counter chic. It is the latter that we shall consider primarily here, but first the alternatives.

Jamaica’s highlife is notorious for its luxury, decadence and danger. The hills along the north coast heaving up from the cerulean sea between Port Antonio and Montego Bay are dotted with sumptuous villas for the international glamoratti, who, once safely out of Sangster Airport, seldom inflict themselves on the general life of Jamaica.

Their estates, often in enclaves such as Round Hill and Tryall, are self-contained and hermetically sealed with guard posts, security crews and buffer zones. Shopping is done by the cook, chores are done by the maid, transportation is the province of the driver. The only exertions expected of vacationers is to call for service. Otherwise, except for the occasional athletic enterprise or sexual escapade, life in the villas is a dreamy confection of indolence and self-indulgence.

While the highlife in the villas beats on its langorous way, the lowlife at seaside blazes like a youthful passion. The hotels and older resorts in Montego Bay, Falmouth and Ocho Rios that once catered to a North American middle-class market now tend to attract college students, package tourists and hourly workers looking to spend their week’s vacation in a conspicuously unbridled way.

As a result, Montego Bay has grown reminiscent of Daytona Beach, and Ocho Rios is crawling with people who like to tell anyone who they think to be an American, “Hey, ain’t these people great? Look at these beads I just got for 10 dollars. Ain’t they great?”

There are notable exceptions. The Jamaica Jamaica resort in Runaway Bay midway between Falmouth and Ocho Rios is developing an offbeat and diverse clientele for its secluded large private beach and golf course. Boscobel, the former Playboy Resort just outside of Ocho, caters to families.

But Negril is the other Jamaica, the counter-chic resort where self-importance and fashion have no value. Although it attracts its share of college-aged youth, they are strictly confined along with like- minded postgraduates in compounds such as Hedonism, the seaside pleasure dome on the far end of the beach where clothes are an afterthought and anonymity is no bar to intimacy.

Negril also attracts its share of the glamoratti, but in mufti, not caftans and jewels. Oh, sure, the Grimaldis of Monaco were cruising off the 7-mile crescent beach in a yacht. Who knows what costumes were appropriate aboard ship. The Grimaldis did not land, or at least they didn’t over the Christmas and New Year holidays when I visited Jamaica, and vacationing commoners did not seem to miss their absence. Instead, life was taken up in beachcombing by day and dancing by night, none of it requiring much more than a friendly attitude and a willingness to meet Jamaica on its own terms.

Negril is more like a camp than a resort, and while several posh hotels have gone up on the beach during the last 5 years – the most pretentious being Sandals (male-female couples only, please) with its open-air gymnasium, clay-and hard-surface tennis courts, and air-conditioned raquetball and squash courts – Negril is for the vagrant spirit, the beach bum, the dropout from life’s usual cares.

The prevailing attitude here is the laid-back one of old Jamaica before the crush of tourists and corruptions of a still-booming commerce in narcotics turned things sour and dicey elsewhere on the island. “Jamaicans are curteous and loving,” one young native told me without the slightest hint of irony or self- consciousness. And those are the qualities Negril cultivates.

There have been anecdotal reports of thefts in Negril, mostly from dizzy tourists who flashed their expensive cameras and wristwatches on the beaches. And the town’s famous drug culture has grown inflated, with some hawkers proffering not only the usual marijuana and cocaine, but heroin as well. (One retailer announced a long list of substances in his inventory, but assured his listener he had no crack cocaine. “No, man,” said he. “Crack is bad for Jamaicans.”)

During the holidays, there was a movable feast of revelry at various locations around the bay. Tree House, one of the better known veteran resorts with its thatched cottages on the beach, presented a reggae extravaganza one night. Pee Wee’s in the cliffs along the water threw a disco party another night with music and atmosphere that echoed the heyday of New York discos. Some free-lancers gave an outdoor dance another night that mixed live and recorded music. None of it was expensive, all of it was friendly, and people with the requisite energy could dance all night long if they wanted to or turn in at midnight and not feel at all strange.

Unlike most of the resort regions, the best dining in Negril is informal, cheap and plebeian. Breakfast is the only meal a beachcomber is likely to take at his hotel. Otherwise, lunch and snacks are best taken from the scores of beach stalls, with everthing from fruit salad to grilled shrimp available, if not in one place then in another nearby.

At night, barbecue teams take to the streets with their grills made of old oil drums on wheels. They serve up the juiciest barbecued chicken imaginable for only a few dollars. It’s a far cry from the curried goat that used to be the standard fare at similar stalls a few years ago, but for those who retain a taste for goat, many of the hotel restaurants still serve it, and some even still serve the national dish of akee and salt fish.

Still, as is the case almost everywhere tourists are attracted to, the glory of Jamaica is beyond the resort areas. All that is needed is a car, which is expensive here – mine cost $400 a week – and a guide, which you can find on any street corner.

Beyond Negril are the seacoast towns of Savanna-la-Mar and Black River. There is plenty of scenery along the way, and numerous grottoes for a swim and lunch from roadside stalls. (Try the grilled fish and fried cassava, a specialty of the north coast villages.)

Mountainous Mandeville is worth a day trip, but start early in the morning and take the road from Black River for at least one leg of the journey. The road from Black River includes the Bamboo Highway, where huge bamboo trees form a vaulted arch along a mile of road in one of Jamaica’s unique scenes.

But if one of the amateur guides tries to take you to Lover’s Leap at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains south of Black River, it might be wise to decline. It’s a haul to get there, no one has leaped in years, and there’s nothing else for miles around but savanna and the deep blue sea.

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Excitement Beyond the Beaches of Touristy Negril

NEGRIL, Jamaica Besides the usual sun and water sports highlighted in brochures, Jamaica offers many sights and tours that lend real insight into the island nation and its people. My stay in Negril near Jamaica’s western tip was enriched by stops at markets and restaurants frequented by locals, and jaunts to nearby communities.At Negril Craft Market, reached by descending a rocky path path to the cluster of stalls, you immediately feel the aggressive energy of salesmanship. Vendors display their goods and their urgency to sell them with full-throttle pushiness. Hand-carved sculptures, baskets, jewelry, hammocks and T-shirts are among the items available. Bargaining for a fair price is part of the adventure.

Homey restaurants and jerk stands line the roads of Negril, providing laid-back opportunities to talk to Jamaicans and learn more about their country.

If you want well-prepared Jamaican food, one standout is Sweet Spice, on the road to Savanna-la-Mar. Decorated with breezy turquoise and pink hangings, this diner serves dishes that will haunt you on your trip back home. Try the sweetly spicy curried chicken or the tangy Escoveitch fish, both served with soup and salad. Prices average $8 U.S. for a full meal.

Errol’s, next to the Negril Beach Club Hotel, prepares excellent ackee and codfish, the national dish of Jamaica. A bland yellowish fruit, ackee is fried with codfish to produce a smooth and slightly salty taste. Thick hard-dough bread accompanies this dish, along with Errol’s soft reggae music and a soothing beach view. The price is about $6 U.S.

For snacks and Jamaican desserts, 3Cs Pastries & Food, on the West End, offers an excellent variety. The Jamaican fruitcake, used for weddings and at Christmas, differs from the heavy American variety by blending fruits and rum into a moist, rich cake.

Horseback riding through the hills of Negril gives a striking view of the seven-mile beach and the lush countryside. You can sign up at most hotels for a two-hour ride for about $20 U.S. A guide will lead you on horseback among farms, gardens and plant-covered hills. Goats, cows, geese and donkeys roam the roads, along with friendly Jamaicans.

For nocturnal entertainment, reggae tops the list in Negril. Kaiser’s Cafe, on the West End, specializes in reggae shows. On Wednesdays and Fridays, catch national acts such as Freddie MacGregor, Yellowman and Third World. Alfred’s, a beachside club, features up-and-coming local acts, including pre-teen disc jockeys and dub artists. Close Encounters, near the Sunshine Plaza, plays popular dancehall tunes and features go-go dancers of both sexes.

For a tour outside the realm of resorts and beaches, a trip to the Bob Marley Mausoleum in Nine Miles, St. Ann, supplies a fascinating alternative. Located on the island’s North Coast, Marley’s birthplace of Nine Miles is a tiny, hilly farming village. The house where Marley was born perches on a hill along with its original garden. Signs painted with Marley’s likeness and the words “respect” and “exodus” hang from the gate that leads to the mausoleum.

Painted the Ethiopian-flag colors of red, yellow and green, the limestone-and-earth home where Marley grew up contains his bed along with photos of him throughout his career. My guide, David, enriched the tour by reciting appropriate Marley songs to explain the singer’s peace-oriented beliefs.

Marley’s body is buried six feet above ground, within a mausoleum with stained glass windows imported from Ethiopia. Inside, a bible lies open to highlighted proverbs such as, “Those who mock the poor will suffer.”

Pristinely peaceful Nine Miles also has a souvenir shop and restaurant. Tours cost about $6 U.S.

A tour of the Maroon village of Accompong provides a rich history lesson. In the hills of St. Elizabeth, Accompong is home to descendents of the original Maroons or runaway slaves who were led by the legendary Cudjoe. The Maroons, named from the Spanish Cimarron, meaning wild and untamed, were groups of free Africans who formed communities up in the Jamaican hills, away from the plantations and slave hunters.

The drive to Accompong entails a treacherous journey across yard-wide roads and tough crags and valleys. Established in 1739, the town of 2,000 is named for Cudjoe’s brother and lieutenant. It is self-governed and headed by a colonel who is notified of all visitors.

A tour begins with signing the visitors’ book and getting the official Maroon seal stamped onto a page of your passport. Guides will show you the hero’s monument erected for Cudjoe and regale you with Maroon tales of warfare against the British. The designated keeper of the abeng, the 300-year-old horn used to alert the village of impending British attacks, will demonstrate its blaring sound.

Songs in the Ashanti language, enhanced by the four-cornered akete drum, wind up the tour after a visit to a Samil craft market with belts and drums. Donations to the village fund are requested and advance arrangements with the colonel are encouraged. Specifically

For more information contact the Jamaica Tourist Board, 500 N. Michigan, SSuite 1030, Chicago 60611; call (312) 527-1296.

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TOURISM INDUSTRY DISCOVERS NEGRIL, A ONCE-QUIET CORNER OF JAMAICA.

At daybreak the beach is silent and empty, the tops of the coconut trees dappled with gold. No hustlers appear to hawk their wares; it will be a good hour or two before the hard sell begins in earnest, turning seven miles of shoreline into a kind of moving Rasta-mall. For now there’s just a long stretch of white sand, already warming underfoot, and the pale green waters of the Caribbean lapping a few yards off the hotel patio.

This is my favorite part of the day: the quiet, uncluttered, reflective part, when my teenage son remains asleep and the rest of Negril slumbers with him. I slip out of the room without disturbing him, take a brisk swim in water the color of fresh-squeezed limeade, grab a mug of thick Jamaican coffee off the inn’s veranda, plop down in a lounge chair and open my bookbag.

A gentle breeze stirs around my shoulders. A parrot begins chattering overhead. I dive again, this time into a long piece of fiction. There are no interruptions, no demands – not a care visible between the book in my lap and the far western horizon. For me, these are the hours to gift-wrap and keep. This is why I came back to Jamaica.

It is axiomatic among Negrilophiles that, in the parlance of surfers and real estate agents everywhere, you should have been here (choose one) an hour/a week/10 years ago. Meaning in this case, I suppose, that a decade past, Negril truly was the sleepy little corner of Jamaica that the cruise-ship crowd never found. This cannot be true any longer – or certainly not as true as it once was.

While the high-fliers still flock to Montego Bay and Ochos Rios, Negril is well-established on the tourist map. New hotels are under construction up and down its beachfront, and a handful of full-service resorts, patterned on the Club Med model, dot its perimeter. The college-age crowd floods the beaches, easily outnumbering the aging hippies and arthritic rock stars who’ve come south to claim their little piece of paradise.

At Rick’s Cafe, a semi-legendary bar perched high on a clifftop on the west end of town, the sunset worshipers often stand six-deep at the bar, hoping to snag a bartender’s attention – and a rum-and-coke – before old Sol takes his evening plunge. Some patrons are so new they’re not aware that the Rick’s they’re standing in is actually Rick’s Cafe II – the original having been blown into the sea by Hurricane Gilbert that hit in September 1988 and ravaged the island with history-making fury.

Whatever Negril was like 10 years ago, I cannot say. But the conventional wisdom is right, of course: I should have been here a decade gone – eating serious jerk chicken (barbecued on an old oil drum and highly spiced) at Roy & Felix’s Serious Chicken roadside stand; taking home a bag of Jenny’s Favorite Cakes to snack on during the day; stopping off at Jahbah’s Ital High-Powered Ethiopian Health Food Centre for a daily dose of rasta-funk; zipping through town on a rented Honda motorbike, checking out the local soccer stars at Mr. Biggs’ Central Park; watching my kid go cliff-diving up at Drumville Cove while a bunch of old Jamaican wise men grunt and smoke over their game of dominoes, ordering akee pies and a cold beer at Edna’s greasy spoon; sampling the curried goat at Lincoln’s No Problem Cafe.

In short, letting the vestiges of Real Life slip away entirely, to be replaced by a very different sort of rhythm.

As it is, the sights and smells of Negril already mingle with earlier memories of Jamaica. I was all of 13 when I first came to the island, on a Christmas holiday with my family. We spent a week at Round Hill, just west of Montego Bay and a good hour from Negril‘s tin-roof shacks. Round Hill was (and, I’m told, still is), among Jamaica’s poshest resorts: private villas with private swimming pools, a grass tennis court built to Wimbledon specifications, a four-star kitchen (lunch was served on a buffet table long enough to launch a 747) and a five- star guest list.

At 13, I was as ignorant of island culture as any white middle-class American schoolboy could be. To me, Jamaica was a travel brochure – a glorious, sun-drenched playground – but it was not the Third World. I didn’t even know there was a Third World. And in that regard, anyway, my own world was sadly limited.

Not so for my son. At 18, he brings with him an already-developed sense of connection. This is no alien nation to Jaime. It is, instead, a vital center of sound and speech and spirit – alive for him as no record or movie could make it.

Twenty-five years ago, would my father have understood such an attitude in me? Probably not. But he brought me here. Maybe it was instinct, maybe fate. Now his grandson and I have closed a loop here. I think about that in the early morning hours, when the kid is sleeping and the air still cool. It may be his first trip, but it won’t be his last.

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Jet to Jamaica’s leading Couples resort for a romantic trip of a lifetime.

IT’S a decision that could define a fledgling relationship or inject new life into one that’s been feeling flat – where to take your significant other on a romantic breakaway.

If the world’s your oyster, we’ll be your guide to those special spots you only see in glossy magazines.

And what better way to sweep your partner off their feet than by booking a trip to the big easy of Jamaica and the Couples Resort.

Defined by imaginative, artistic features and possessing a beautiful balance of elegant and eclectic, Couples Negril is 18 acres of all-inclusive luxury expertly carved into the captivating landscape of Negril, Jamaica.

Couples Negril‘s stunning location and attention to detail has enabled it to be recognised as the premier all-inclusive resort not only in Jamaica, but the entire Caribbean.

It’s located on 18-acres of lush tropical greenery with a breathtaking white-sand beach.

The resort is five miles from downtown Negril and 50 miles from Montego Bay Airport.

For some reason the designers must have thought the guests would be spending a lot of time indoors – can’t think why.

Perhaps that’s why all 312 rooms reflect the resort’s elegant nature.

They have a king-size bed, air-conditioning and a ceiling fan, satellite TV, telephone, CD player/radio, shower, bath, hairdryer, coffee-maker, iron and ironing board, in-room safe and a balcony or patio overlooking the Caribbean Sea or lush tropical gardens.

The 18 spacious suites also include a jacuzzi-style bath tub, oversized bathroom, fully-stocked mini-bar and hammocks.

On such a break you’ll need to keep your strength up so the resort offers a choice of dining experiences ranging from chic to casual.

The Cassava Terrace Restaurant’s open air dining offering international cuisine, the Beach Grill has casual fare and grilled specialities while the Otaheite Restaurant is a reservation-only establishment offering fine Jamaican and Caribbean cooking.

There is a choice of four bars includes The Beach bar, a swim-up bar, The Terrace and the Piano bar – each serving cocktails and hot hors d’oeuvres. All have premium-brand drinks.

The resort features a fully-equipped fitness centre and a variety of classes including aerobics and yoga.

Other activities include four tennis courts (complimentary lessons from pros offered), volleyball, dance classes and golf. The wide-range of watersports, with complimentary instruction, include windsurfing, Hobie Cats, sunfish sailing, snorkelling, scuba diving, water skiing, kayaking, catamaran and glass-bottom boat rides.

Recognised as one of Negril‘s premier spas, Couples Negril offers an array of enticing and indulgent spa services at reasonable rates including manicures, pedicures, hair styling, conditioning and repair and hot-towel shaves for men. The luxurious treatments include: Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage, aromatherapy, reflexology and body wraps.

Negril also offers tailored wedding packages which are committed to making your wedding perfect.

Couples resorts have a complimentary package which includes your choice of scenic location, a non-denominational ceremony, sparkling wine, two-tier cake, bridal bouquet and boutonniere, his and hers half-hour massages and matching commemorative T-shirts.

Visit salescouplesresorts.co.uk, phone 0044 1582 794 420 or fax 0044 1582 792 112. And check out Airtours at www.airtours.co.uk for flights and transfers.

Say I love you..

HERE the Couples Resorts and its Chief Romance Officer Randy Russell list Top 10 Ways To Say I Love You

10. Give a “Get out of in-law visit” coupon.

9. Give up the football and go shopping.

8. Admit he’s right and you don’t need another handbag…then hide it when you buy it anyway

7. Two words – foot massage

6. Send her flowers and bring him beer “Just because”.

5. Draw him/her a hot bath.

4. Make it a point to kiss “Good Morning” every day.

3. Take her on a date.

2. Volunteer to paint your face in his favourite team’s colours or volunteer to iron her blouse.

1. Take a romantic holiday for two. Couples Resorts in Jamaica is highly recommended!

For reservations phone 0044 1582 794 420, fax-0044 1582 792 112 or visit sales@couplesresorts.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

SENSUAL: Get massaged at a beach-side spa; RELAXING: Each suite comes with its own hammock and beach access; COOL OFF: Palm-lined pool and jacuzzi are just perfect; LUST FOR LIFE: Activities like Kayaking are also on offer; LUSH: Caribbean coastline

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A Connoisseur of the Caribbean Sings the Praises of Jamaica’s Negril

How many shades of blue did God make? I wonder, stilled, and to my surprise awed, by the majestic simplicity unfolding before me. Sky and sea appear to have been molded from a single swath of pastel, perfect blue. Clouds blossom from the horizon, which fuses without break into the sky. The Caribbean Sea, simultaneously aqua and emerald, nestles against the skyscape. The light, almost white sand is a counterpoint to the symphony of blue.

I have been a connoisseur, when I could afford it, of Caribbean beaches all my adult life. But the symmetry, shapes and colors of Negril Beach in Jamaica momentarily stifle memory of anything I have seen before. The special beauty, the wonderful charms of Negril result from a profoundly syncopatic melding of natural elements. I have seen whiter sand, bluer skies, greener seas. But never have I seen an orchestration of natural elements as musical and delightful as those that play themselves out here.

It’s 8 a.m. and a large ship claims the space near the horizon, becoming against this particular sky a still life. Finally, I forsake the view and enter the water, which ripples like silk against my skin. Swimming feels as effortless as watching the sky, resident and hovering overhead. Before I head toward shore, I stand in the tugging sea and watch the sun shimmer over the surface of the water. Gazing at the floor of the sea, I witness the illusion of rectangular tiles, fluid yet sturdy, floating in the water.

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, ON A BEACH IN SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO, when I was a divorced single parent, I watched my 5-year-old son playing in the sand and realized in an instant, astonishing moment of revelation that the life I was giving my child was quite special. As he made sand castles and turned browner in the sun, and I listened to the voice of a powerful, insistent surf, I realized that not only could I give my son food and shelter but vacations on Puerto Rican beaches too. Despite the doubts and difficulties of single parenthood, I came to believe and know on a beach in San Juan that I was doing the right thing with the life I was chiseling for myself and my child. Give me the right Caribbean beach and I am guaranteed to find treasure in the world around me – and some small nugget buried inside me as well.

On a different beach of pure white sand and clear emerald waters in Guadeloupe, I learned how to relax, how to sit still, how to look at the sky and see more than clouds, how to hear the sea and halt the relentless human race to either subdue or totally ignore nature. In Guadeloupe, I forsook museums and sightseeing trips for seven days, all to discover that I could sit as still as sand appears to be, that I could rest as calm as seas sometimes are. The beach in Guadeloupe taught me that a vacation need not be a test of endurance or a spending spree. For the first time ever, I didn’t need a vacation to recover from the vacation I’d left behind.

In Negril, I have seen even more convincing proof that the best beaches are vivid, visceral, sensory experiences. Negril has made me believe, while in its embrace, that hermetically sealed skyscrapers don’t exist. In the face of its beauty, I have experienced a glorious amnesia. I have felt the way the Arawaks, the native people of Jamaica, must have felt, calling this place home before Columbus stumbled onto their very old world and called it new.

A BEACH IS NEVER STATIC OR STAGNANT. IT POSSESSES A heartbeat, its own internal rhythm. And it is this microscopic, relentless shifting of temperature, placement of sun, rise and fall of horizon lines that I try to pick up with the radar of all my senses. I don’t go there to get a tan. I go to see things I can’t see anywhere else, to feel the presence of nature untamed by progress. A beach is more than the sea: It is an intricately designed fusion of the elements that create and sustain life. The seven-mile stretch of sand in Negril is a sumptuous meditation on all that.

This morning, the clouds were full-blown, impressive; they looked like ships heading for uncharted lands. By 11 a.m., they had spread like soft butter across the face of the sky. Now it is almost noon and those cloud ships have found port.

NEGRIL IS A LAID-BACK YET BUSTLING RESORT TOWN ON THE western coast of Jamaica. Discovered by hippies in the ’60s as a remote haven, the resort has evolved into a town that, despite the hotels and restaurants that seem to occupy every inch of land, retains a rustic, “real people” atmosphere.

Negril stretches along the coastline between two bays that mark Jamaica’s progression from one kind of exploitation to another. At one end is horseshoe-shaped Bloody Bay, a genuine pirate cove that takes its name from later days when slaughtered whales were dragged there, bleeding, to be processed into oil needed for lamps. At the other end are the calm waters of Long Bay, with its lighthouse and remarkable cliffs. These cliffs and coves were used as settings for modern-day “necessities” – movies such as “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “Dr. No” and “Papillon.”

Along the winding dirt roads near the town’s rock cliffs, a profusion of tiny stores and shops sell T-shirts with pictures of Bob Marley emblazoned across them. The narrow roads are navigated with surprising skill and heart-stopping speed by tourists and residents alike on bicycles and motorbikes, in taxis and compact cars.

One afternoon, I stop at one of the tiny shops (some are no larger than a good-size closet) to buy a T-shirt. A toothless elderly man, his small, slender body a mass of sinew and muscles, bounds from the shop as I approach. I can tell by the gleam in his eye, the sprightliness of his gait as he approaches me, that he knows I am an American.

My first words confirm his assessment, and, as expertly as a Madison Avenue boutique owner spotting a gold card, he urges me to come closer to the row of T-shirts for better inspection. The shirts are studies in bold, brazen colors – art-deco, African-inspired images of people and scenes. I can’t resist. And soon he knows this. I point to a shirt with two black Marc Chagall-like figures frozen in a jazz/ballet stance; the man retrieves the shirt from the rope on which it hangs, wrapped in plastic.

Having decided to make the purchase, I ask, “How much?”

“For you, my sister, 110 Jamaican dollars.” That’s $8.50 in U.S. currency. The man beams, giving me the smile of every successful salesperson from New York to Lagos to Bangkok.

“This is a good price?” I ask with mock innocence, aware that on this road, with this man, in this place, a sale is as much ritual as transaction.

“Very, very good price,” he assures me, feigning indignation at the question. “For the whites I charge more,” he confides with a wink. “But for you, my sister, special price.”

Momentarily I almost believe him as he stands before me, impish and persuasive. But while our color joins us, I earn more in a month than this man will probably see in two years of selling T-shirts, meat pies and warm sodas from his tiny shop. And he can calculate my monetary worth by the shape of my sandals, the well-fed, healthy look on my face. And so I know the special price he has given me is no bargain. Why should it be?

My husband and I have learned during our stay in Negril that the average Jamaican earns 14 American dollars a week. As African-Americans we turn tips into political statements, leaving generous sums for waiters and housekeepers, and even for the man who each evening advises us on the best place to get a good Jamaican meal. The gratuities are inconsequential to us but here are small fortunes.

Still, I thank the man for giving me a “good price,” and at that moment a tall, strapping teen comes out of the shop. By now the salesman knows I am from Washington, and he teases the young man as he joins us, saying, “Your mom is there. Ask. Maybe she knows her.”

I tell the two men there are as many Jamaicans in Washington as in Negril and laugh heartily with them. As I head away, the man calls after me, “You will come again before you go?”

NEGRIL OFFERS ITS SPLENDID REsources to Americans and Europeans, middle-aged couples and families with children alike. Small hotels line much of the beach, and there is often a raucous atmosphere as Jamaicans hawk everything from food to boat rides. Tourists and Jamaicans barter and sell, all to satisfy a host of mutual appetites. And yet turn away from the hotels, the topless Italian women slinking along the sand and the stalls that offer cornrowing of hair and aloe massages, and you are left with a beach that, despite the cacophony that surrounds it, was made to be sat upon and pondered. There is a moment in the afternoon when the skyline achieves a perfect, absolutely seamless eggshell blue. The fusion of sky, sea and sand withstands any assault, every diversion. It simply exists: self-confident, assured in its loveliness and diminishing the commercial clatter beneath its stare.

Despite the pace of development, we find privacy and seclusion along its shores, even in Bloody Bay. Not a hint of its colorful past fills the air. Only a handful of tourists stroll along the sands, and the interplay of sun and water makes the sea seem even bluer than at the main beach. Beneath an afternoon shower, the Caribbean appears to migrate both away from and toward the shore. The various meditations on blue-green break up, decompose and recompose beneath the moody sky. The rainstorm shatters the calm sea like glass.

In Negril, we are staying at the Rock Cliff Hotel, about a mile from the beach. The hotel is owned by a Jamaican couple, Twidline and Gloria Allen. When they bought the two-acre plot on which the hotel stands, the spot was a dense tangle of trees and brush. Clearing the land and building the 32-unit hotel took almost a decade, but the hotel opened for business in 1982 and the investment of time and money has paid off with filled rooms year round. The spacious air-conditioned rooms, with balconies, all look out on a courtyard and indoor-outdoor restaurant.

Gloria Allen is a relaxed, easygoing proprietor who caters to her guests like a doting mother. One afternoon I sit with her a few feet from the cliffs that give the hotel its name. I had wondered if Jamaicans become inured to the beauty of their island. But my conversation with her confirms that Jamaicans see the beauty of their surroundings and appreciate it every day.

When I ask what the American and European tourists who pass through the Rock Cliff Hotel say about Negril, Gloria asks me, “What do you say?”

“Well,” I say, “Negril is lovely in a way that is completely satisfying because its beauty is so natural. There are more spectacular beaches, surely, but none I can imagine are more pure and somehow perfect.” Gloria unfurls a knowing, Cheshire-cat smile and says simply, “That’s what they say too.”

At the Rock Cliff Hotel, the winter rate (mid-December through the end of April) for a standard double room is $115 per day. Write to the hotel at West End Road, Negril, Jamaica, or telephone 809-957-4331 or 1-800-JAMAICA. Marita Golden teaches creative writing at George Mason University. She is most recently the author of the novel Long-Distance Life.

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RIU develops hotel in Negril.(ClubHotel RIU)(Hotel Review)

NEGRIL, JAMAICA The 420-room (including 18 junior suites) ClubHotel RIU Negril is an all-inclusive 5-star property scheduled to open in mid-2004. ClubHotel Negril will be located on Bloody Bay, near RIU Tropical Bay, the company’s first resort in Jamaica, which opened in 2001.

As an all-inclusive resort, guests will receive all meals and snacks, theme dinners served twice a week, access to an Italian theme restaurant, a la carte restaurant for dinner, pool restaurant, snack bar and grill steakhouse, as well as unlimited domestic and imported alcoholic beverages, tropical juice cocktails and soft drinks.

Other facilities and services offered are outdoor swimming pools with an Integrated whirlpool, conference room, fitness center, spa, sauna and Jacuzzi. ClubHotel RIU also offers an entertainment program for children ages 4 to 12, a children’s mini club and playground and a children’s swimming pool. For adults interested in sports, the hotel will offer a variety of activities that include two lighted tennis courts, shuffleboard, snorkeling, kayaking, aerobics, windsurfing and body boarding.

The architect of ClubHotel RIU Negril is Luis Andino, and the interior designer is Jose Martin Fernandez. The owner/developer and management company is RIU Hotels & Resorts, Playa de Palma, Mallorca, Spain.

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Up and down the isles: Negril gets a new highway; Jamaica offers a new high-end product.

* Highway to Heaven

On a recent trip to Jamaica, I finally had the opportunity to make the journey from Montego Bay to Negril on the recently completed and long-awaited highway linking the two. Now, I have always been a roller-coaster fanatic with a strong stomach, but the last time I had taken this route, even my love of twists, turns, ups and downs was put to a test. Thankfully, those days are gone, and it’s smooth sailing the entire way.

The $74 million project now allows the trip to be made in about an hour, depending on how daring the driver is. In addition to the obvious conveniences that the new road brings, Jamaica intends to use the highway as a catalyst for further growing tourism to the region. Says Kenric Davis, president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce: “We are delighted that the new highway has been completed. We expect that the shorter drive will lead to a significant increase in stopover arrivals in Negril.”

In addition, starting this month, day trips to Negril are being offered to cruise passengers who call on Montego Bay.

Elsewhere on the island, work continues on the other highway projects that will eventually connect Kingston with MoBay and Ocho Rios.

* Exquisite Impressions

Another new addition to the Jamaica scene is designed to clear the road for more high-end visitors. American Express Vacations and its subsidiary Travel Impressions launched Exquisite Jamaica. Teaming up with Air Jamaica, the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) and five luxury resort partners, Travel Impressions is selling air-and-land luxury packages to the island.

Included in the packages are first-class air fare on Air Jamaica, complimentary Air Jamaica Express intra-island shuttle service (where scheduled), use of the carrier’s first-class lounge, courtesy assistance through Jamaican immigration, flexible meal plans and exclusive use of the toll-free American Express Vacations pre-travel Concierge Service desk. Participating properties include Sandals Royal Plantation, SuperClubs’ Grand Lido Braco, Island Outposts’ Strawberry Hill, Couples Swept Away and Half Moon Golf, Tennis and Beach Club.

* More Changes to Come

Of course, not everything is coming up roses in Jamaica. In recent weeks, several announcements, dismissals and departures of leading tourism executives have left some large holes in the island’s team of key players.

To begin with, trouble was brewing in the JTB’s New York office when allegations of professional and financial misconduct began to surface. Minister of Tourism and Sport Portia Simpson Miller ordered an audit of the office, and an emergency board meeting was called, resulting in the dismissal of Marie Deeble Walker, advertising relations manager for the office. Just prior to the meeting, Noel Mignott, deputy director of tourism, and Yvonne Sawyers, accountant and administrator, both resigned from their posts.

There’s been a wide range of possible explanations for the controversy, including the allegation that JTB funds were being used to aid a U.S. politician’s campaign. But the real details have not been made public…and probably will never be.

In an unrelated move, Jamaica suffered another loss when Director of Tourism Fay Pickersgill announced she would not seek a renewal of her contract. The amiable Pickersgill went on vacation leave on Nov. 1 and will not return to her position.

And most recently, the island got a new minister of tourism. Aloun N’Dombet Assamba has been named as minister of tourism and industry, replacing Simpson Miller. This change comes as a result of government regulations, following the re-election of Prime Minister P.J. Patterson.

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Negril: Imagine paradise

If you need a genuine retreat from everyday life to rejuvenate your body and soul, then a visit to Negril, Jamaica will offer the experience of Utopia with little restrictions while you relax on this piece of heaven on earth.

For years, Negril has been rated as one of the top 10 beaches in the world by many travel magazines, so I had to see for myself what all the excitement was about. What I discovered was sheer paradise.

Located in Western Jamaica, Negril extends from the 19th century Negril Lighthouse at Negril Point in the parish of Westmoreland, to Bloody Bay in the Parish of Hanover. Once you arrive in Jamaica at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, it will take approximately an hour-and-a-half to two hours to get to Negril, depending on. traffic. Just sit back and relax because it is a beautiful ride, complete with great scenery. Their newly developed roads make for a smooth journey.

From the moment you enter into the parish, you are taken aback by miles of a pristine white sand beach with crystal clear water that stretches for more than six kilometers along a sandbar of Negril, known as the “7-Mile Beach.” Negril has been dubbed the “Capital of Casual” as residents carry out business and pleasure efficiently with the least amount of formality.

It is rumored that the first visitors to Negril in large numbers were hippies who helped in creating its carefree atmosphere, and now it is still the ideal place to meet and make friends with Jamaicans and has become a number one vacations spot.

Endless possibilities for dinning and entertainment

There are many great restaurants complete with an active nightlife, but my all-time favorite was Rick’s Café. For 30 years, the world famous restaurant and tourist attraction has proven to be an enduring icon on the landscape of Negril because the cliffs boast a magnificently unrivaled view of the Caribbean’s most spectacular sunset.

People from all over the world mix and mingle over food, drinks and water activities, but its real claim to fame is a place to watch the cliff jumpers; a vast mix of tourists and locals alike who literally jump at the chance of diving off the 40-foot cliff. Rick’s is considered one of the 1,000 places to go before you die.

Another delight is the West End Trio, a combination of three Jamaican specialties that gives you a true pallet pleasing taste of grilled steak, jerk chicken breast and sautéed Escoveitch Snapper.

Resting in comfort…

Negril offers a wide variety of places to stay to mateh any budget, from high end all-inclusive resorts such as Riu, Sandals, Grand Lido and Beaches, to nip boutique hotels to small affordable rooms and cottages. hotel after hotel, none more than two stones high, grace the shoreline. All-inclusive is very big in Negril and most of those resorts welcome the day visitors who can purchase a day pass which will allows them the use of their beach facilities, buffets and access to drinks at their beach bars. A fee of $50-$100 per person is very well worth it for food and drink if you had to pay for everything you consumed ala cart.

I stayed at the Riu Negril, which features 420 deluxe guestrooms, and the resort offers unique in-room amenities, such as Riu’s renowned mini-bar and liquor dispenser, along with a complete program of daytime activities and nightly entertainment that is perfect for the entire family. Indulging in a spa treatment is necessary and your treatment can be done on the beach with the water and gentle Caribbean breeze as your backdrop. Riu Negril is the ideal vacation choice for couples, singles and families.

Take a wlk on the wild side…

For those over 21 who are looking for a place to be as free as you do want to be, may I suggest Hedonism II. It’s a place where you can truly set your inhibitions aside. There is never a dull moment because Hedonism resorts are known for “whatever makes you happy” service and attitudes for the people who visit them. Remember what happens there, stays there.

Sailing on the high seas…

No trip to Jamaica is complete unless you check out The Negril Yacht Club, located on the Lighthouse Road. It is the singlestop location for water sports and offers kayak and snorkel rentals with some of the best snorkeling in town. Daily sunset and nude cruises are available as well as water taxis to the beach and glass bottom boat tours. Deep-sea fishing charters also run from the Yacht Club.

Enjoy!

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Best Beaches in Jamaica

  1. Doctor’s Cave Beach (Montego Bay) - One of the oldest and most renowned beaches in Jamaica, Doctor’s Cave Beach is not only the best beach in Montego Bay, but probably one of the best beaches in all the island. This 5-mile stretch of luscious white sand made Montego Bay a must see tourist destination. It has lovely white sand and azure blue sea but can get a bit crowded when cruise ships are in town. On quiet days however it is very pretty. The beach features changing rooms and a beach bar but watch out for the vendors as they can be aggressive when peddling their wares.
  2. Seven Mile Beach (Negril) - This beach is stunning. The water is clear and the sand (for the most part) is clean. You will encounter many beach vendors – each with their own hustle. Just tell them no, and move on. You can walk end to end (7 miles) on nice firm sand while enjoying the scenery and people watching. The beach is public so you can even walk past the expensive all – inclusive resorts. Clean aquamarine waters, coral reefs, and a backdrop of palm trees add to the appeal. When you tire of the beach, you’ll find all sorts of resorts, clubs, beach bars, open-air restaurants, and the like. Vendors hawk everything from Red Stripe beer to ganja.
  3. Treasure Beach (South Coast) – Treasure Beach is a wonderful honeymoon location. It’s about a 2 hour ride from the airport, and some may enjoy the ride, seeing the way different people live, but it is a zigzag road through the mountains which might not appeal to some people. If you want a beach all to yourself…GO HERE! The water on the beach is warm and the view is out of this world. There are many incredible things to in this region, beautiful snorkeling, boat rides up the Black River, bike rides through the gorgeous rural Jamaica, eating the best and freshest lobster on earth at the Pelican Bar in the middle of the sea, amazing people, and you must go to the tiny little entertainment centre where you will find a gem on earth.
  4. Boston Bay Beach (Port Antonio) –
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