Jamaica has many preconceptions about being an unsafe destination, yet an intrepid group of travel agents discovered the contrary as they explored the real Jamaica on a recent fam trip with Paradise Promotions Private Collection.
The agents from 52 Degrees North, Spirit Away Travel, Maria’s Global Getaways, Go Scoble, Travel Professionals and Box River Travel Boutique stayed in the exclusive adults-only S Hotel and Spanish Court properties in Montego Bay and Kingston, earlier this year.
The group flew from London into Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport with TUI and were whisked off to S Hotel, their home for the next seven days.
This 120-room boutique all-inclusive hotel is situated on Jimmy Cliff Boulevard, close to the heart of the isle’s tourism capital and authentic Caribbean experiences. There is a plethora of tourist attractions on the doorstep including the famous Montego Bay hip strip.
The agents were treated to an exhilarating rafting experience on the Martha Brae River and soaked up the laid-back Jamaican vibes as the current swept them past lush, green forests and exotic wildlife.
A fascinating tour of Rose Hall, a Georgian mansion in Montego Bay thought to be one of the country’s most impressive plantation houses ,showcased the slave history of the estate. After learning about the White Witch of the hall, it was back to the hotel for a Champagne sunset and Paint & Sip experience on The Sky Deck so agents could release their inner artist and channel the creativity they had experienced so far on the trip.
Another highlight of the trip was a visit to the hotel’s Irie Spa & Baths featuring subterranean plunge pools with varying temperatures reminiscent of ancient baths, offering kinetic energy therapy. There are four treatment rooms including two double rooms and two singles offering a range of services. Irie is a Jamaican saying for good vibes.
Yoga on the beach and Aquarobics in the pool are great ways to keep up with your fitness routine while on the property at S Hotel. And after drinks at 27/27 Lounge & Pier One, agents enjoyed a special dinner at Rock Steady – S Hotel’s Fine Dining restaurant. Afterwards, they strolled out onto the Hip Strip for a bit of retail therapy and drinks.
Then the time came to depart S Hotel for Spanish Court Hotel in Kingston. Dinner at The Sky Terraces on the rooftop unveiled panoramic views of Kingston in all its glory.
Next on the agenda was a trip to the Blue Mountains where agents could choose from a coffee tour or a Blue Mountain Hike. The mist-covered Blue Mountains produce the world’s finest coffee and the peak rises to 2256 m, The group then met for lunch at Strawberry Hill, a luxury mountaintop retreat and dinner back at Spanish Court with the founder of the hotel group Mr Issa.
Of course, you can’t come to Jamaica without a visit to the Bob Marley Museum. Located at 56 Hope Road, Kingston, it is dedicated to the reggae musician Bob Marley who once lived here. The agents enjoyed discovering all about this island legend and then hot on the heels of this experience, they experienced more social history on a tour of Devon House, the former residence of George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire. The plush surroundings were the perfect place for a spot of lunch before returning to S Hotel in Montego Bay.
Melanie Kelly from Spirit Away Travel, said that Jamaica generally exceeded her expectations and was “keen to share that with my clients so that they can experience the ‘vibe’ of Jamaica.”
And Kelly’s highlight? “Whether it was the music, dancing, cuisine, history, people, beaches, weather, or sunsets, Jamaica certainly made me feel very welcome. I was impressed with the rafting, horse riding on the beach, Bob Marley’s house and hiking the Blue Mountains. Imprinted in my mind was the authenticity, I really felt that I experienced Jamaica rather than a hotel where you could be anywhere in the world. The food, music and people in both hotels represented the real Jamaica. I was also impressed by the many activities that you can book on the island.”
Donna Dixon from 52 Degrees North Travel admitted to having a negative preconception of safety before her visit. She said: “I needn’t have feared because throughout the trip personally I always felt very safe. Everyone made us feel very welcome. I loved how passionate all the staff were about the hotel and their country. Safety issues in Kingston could be off-putting but we felt safe at all times due to the transport and drivers we had. We, as tourists, need to be able to support the local communities – so to be able to get out of the hotel and buy things locally is important.”
Maria Hedley from Marias Global Getaways was not confident about promoting Jamaica as a destination due to ‘mixed reviews’. She said: “I had heard that it’s not safe to leave your hotels in Jamaica. I did not feel that at all in Montego Bay when we went shopping along the strip. I wouldn’t wander around in the dark alone, but then I wouldn’t do that in any major city or strange place. I got the impression it is not that safe in Kingston, but I would not hesitate in recommending clients to visit, as there is really no need to venture out alone, as all of the tours and excursions are escorted.
“It was good to see what the trip from Montego Bay to Kingston is like by road and it didn’t seem far. Staying at S Hotel for a total of five nights allowed us to immerse dine in the different restaurants and take part in various activities. The two destinations make for a lovely twin centre holiday. The blue mountains are stunning and a real contrast to the coast. For someone who wants a little bit more than a fly and flop and would like to experience Jamaica’s diversity, I think a couple of days at Spanish Court would be a great option. The hotels are beautiful, and I love the quirkiness of the artwork and the statues of national heroes and of course the cars.”
Emma Butterworth from GoScoble, was impressed by the variety of activities on the island. She said: “I didn’t really know the scale of the island, the extent of the activities available or that mountains are as big as they are.
“Montego Bay exceeded my expectations, especially the beach, sea and S hotel accommodation. The people were friendly, and I felt very safe in the resort and hotel. In Kingston, there is so much to do, and I can see how a twin-centre trip could work well for experiencing the whole island. Kingston has a reputation for being ‘unsafe’ so it was good to be given advice by the hotel.
“S hotel is a find – something different from your ‘typical’ large all-inclusive. It is ideal for a romantic trip or a small group celebration trip. I loved the general vibe and warmth of the people in Jamaica. S hotel is very marketable to a wide variety of customers (excluding families.) Kingston will be for those looking for a base to explore the Blue Mountains and experience Jamaican history. I would recommend Spanish Court as a base for this. I really liked the outside dining at Marketplace to enjoy the music.”
Meanwhile Tracey Parr at Box River Travel Boutique was so taken with Jamaica that she’s already planning a return trip: “Having been told horror stories about Jamaica I was slightly apprehensive – but those preconceptions were blown away. Jamaica has left a very good lasting impression on me, so much so that I will be going back hopefully taking my parents to the S Hotel. The laughs, meeting and making new friends and the interesting excursions we went on. Both hotels were amazing and the staff were fabulous.”