Extraordinarily-friendly people, dolphins, white sand beaches, and luxurious resorts await in Jamaica, which really isn’t that far from San Diego. The food is an entirely different story–so good that I don’t begrudge the extra hours on the treadmill upon returning home. I’d never been, so I jumped on the opportunity to visit when invited by the Jamaica Tourism Board (JTB).
An action-packed itinerary and making new friends was on tap. Looking back, it was an absolutely amazing trip on a number of levels. First, I’ll recap my trip with emphasis on activities and restaurants outside of the resorts. I’ll dive into more detail about Beaches Negril and Half Moon, A RockResort (where I stayed) separately, because there is so much to say!
Day 1: Getting To Jamaica
There isn’t a direct flight from San Diego that I know of. On American Airlines, the most direct route is San Diego – Dallas – Montego Bay. Air time is roughly 5.5 hours with a layover in Dallas, where there is plenty to do. The Montego Bay arrivals hall is relatively small, and certainly wasn’t busy when I arrived about 8:00pm. Regardless of where you’re staying in Jamaica, I highly recommend that you coordinate transportation with your hotel in advance to avoid confusion and because, truthfully, the roads aren’t great in some spots.
A JTB bus with the most delightful driver ever, Troy, picked me up at Montego Bay (MBJ) airport and took me on the slightly over an hour drive to Beaches Negril. It was dark and I was beyond exhausted from a busy week and an early wake-up, but we drove mostly along the coast. I saw plenty of locals out casually walking or socializing with friends–enjoying a break from the daytime heat and humidity, which I had yet to experience. I eagerly sipped my welcome champagne after checking into Beaches Negril, had a look around my spacious room and slept like a baby.
The time change is two hours ahead of San Diego at this time of year. With flights, layover, time change, and travel to Negril, the journey took more or less a full day.
Day 2: Swimming With Dolphins, Catamarans And Cliff Diving
Beaches Negril is a paradise with tons of activities for all ages. The all-inclusive aspect was new to me as, believe it or not, I’ve never stayed at an all-inclusive. As a parent, especially, I enjoyed the freedom of ordering whatever and not having to sign a check or worry about separate tabs with friends. Beaches Negril has everything from a Sesame Street parade, Xbox zone, pool for toddlers, a playground, water slides, pools and more. It’s located right on gorgeous Seven Mile Beach (seen in the top photo).
Our first stop as a group (there were 12 of us) was Dolphin Cove, Negril. I’m guessing it’s about a 30-minute drive from Beaches Negril. I knew we were going to swim with dolphins, but not exactly what to expect. The Dolphin Cove staff is genuinely nice, witty and loving toward the resident dolphins. Those of us in the water laughed our heads off. Talk about a fun get-to-know-you ice breaker.
Long story short, I have mixed feelings about animals in captivity. Jamaica is a country whose citizens rely on tourism and dolphin encounters are popular attractions. It’s hard not to smile when a big dolphin has his nose pressed on your cheek! If you’d like to interact with dolphins, I would certainly recommend Dolphin Cove for a professional and fun swim with magnificent creatures.
Next up, a quick jerk chicken wrap and off to an Island Routes Survivor Catamaran Cruise departing from Sandals Negril, Beaches Negril’s sister resort, just a few minutes down the road. It was threatening rain, but we braved it anyway and man did the driver gun it to beat the storm, which made drinking a red rum punch tricky and hilarious at times.
The catamaran stopped at the clearly-famous Rick’s Cafe (where there was free WiFi!), but we had a somewhat laughable swim to shore where we had to
fall down climb up a ladder to reach the walkway to Rick’s for prime cliff diving viewing. The guy in the picture below is flipping off a tree and down into the deep cove from a height of who-knows-what. Though it’s slightly touristy, I enjoyed Rick’s and if it wasn’t for the fact we needed to be back at Beaches, I could have stayed here for several rum punches.
It’s amazing how when you’re really motivated and find partners in crime, you can cram in a few drinks at a pool bar, multiple rides down a water slide and a shower into about 40 minutes which is exactly what happened between Rick’s and the Sesame Street parade. On Thursdays, Beaches Negril has a Sesame Street parade, buffet dinner and show on the beach. Talk about a full day!
Day 3: Birds, Jerk Chicken, And A Luxury Resort
We packed, enjoyed a glorious spa treatment and left the fabulous Beaches Negril for Montego Bay. Our first stop was the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary, which is more or less a little house in the middle of nowhere surrounded by gorgeous lush landscaping. You may hold sugar water and wait for the national bird, the Jamaica Hummingbird or Doctor Bird, to drink from it. The drive was a bit hairy, up a hill and back down, but we survived and didn’t stay too long because it was threatening rain.
Famished, Scotchie’s was up next and deserves it’s reputation as a go-to for jerk chicken and other Jamaican favorites like festival and bammy. Picture meat rubbed with jerk seasoning and slow roasted on top of pimento wood, but underneath a metal sheet. The casual, outdoor eatery has several locations around the island and I’d highly recommend you seek it out.
We spent the remainder of the day checking in to, touring and dining at the luxurious Half Moon, a RockResort. It is peaceful, beachfront, gorgeous and I get why it’s popular with the British royals. Beaches has a go, go, go feel to it where the energy is high and there’s just so much to do. Half Moon offers guests plenty to take advantage of, but I felt myself moving at a slightly slower pace.
Day 4: Dining Like Prince Harry, More Spa, Funky Shopping And Farewell Dinner
Sometimes, when you’re on a press tour you get to do things you may not otherwise, even if you were to book the trip on your own. Enjoying a private breakfast in a beachfront villa, is one of those things. Villas come with staff to meet your needs, pools to swim in, more bedrooms than necessary and the option to bring the spa to you. It’s actually the ideal girls trip, but since Half Moon is a favorite of British royals, Prince Harry had recently stayed in the villa a few doors down.
Ackee and saltfish, Jamaica’s national dish, is actually pretty tasty. Because we were having such a great time in the villa, they brought our spa treatment to us. However, I felt a slight tinge of regret about that decision after we toured the Half Moon spa, the largest in Jamaica. I’ve been to a lot of luxury spas, but this one is truly special.
Next, back on the bus for a leisurely lunch at Pier One restaurant in Montego Bay, located in a beautiful spot overlooking the ocean, planes landing at the airport and the coastline. I ate a delicious jerk chicken salad paired expertly with a banana margarita.
If you’d like to bring home a jar of jerk seasoning or a souvenir for the kids, no problem. Just be mindful that if you’re stopping at a place geared toward tourists that is outside a resort, pay attention to the pricing. The store owner might offer a better one without you even asking and if you have the desire to bargain, well, have at it. My biggest regret is not bringing home enough sauces and seasoning, so I guess I’ll have to go back. Don’t make the same mistake!
Our final dinner took place at an restaurant appropriately named Chill Out, where we enjoyed live music and more Jamaican food. I had the pleasure of sitting with a long-standing member of the Jamaica Tourism Board who answered questions about the island and taught us about the famed Scotch bonnet pepper.
Day 5: Floating And Heading Home
This is the beach at Half Moon. After breakfast, several of us just floated in the water on rafts in a protected area. The weather was perfect, just like the conversation.
Like Hong Kong, summer is hurricane season in the Caribbean so the airport wasn’t crowded. As an airport lounge devotee, I bought a pass for Club MoBay which sped me through security as well. Several of us wound up here, but the conversation trumped the free drinks and WiFi. Except, they had really fabulous freshly-made Jamaican patties on tap. Wow.
Things I Didn’t Realize About Jamaica
The island is much larger than I had anticipated. Turns out Jamaica is on my husband’s bucket list but what he’d like to do is on the other side of the island and completely different from our itinerary. There is so much to do and see–we didn’t even scratch the surface. I’ll say it again, but the hospitality left an impression as everyone was helpful, courteous and nice. I also didn’t realize that I would come home with good friends that I miss. And, I returned home in a zen state.
Candace: Life in Pleasantville
Michelle: Finn Partners
Stacy: Mom Central
Jeana: Surf and Sunshine
Karen: Yummy Mummy Club
Janice: 5 Minutes For Mom
Anne-Marie: Momstown Canada
Gayle: Wee Welcome
Michaela: Finn Partners
Special thanks also to Lucretia with the JTB and Troy, our very patient bus driver, who were both with us throughout the entire journey!
*Top Photo Credit: Beaches Negril
**Blogger photo credit: Candace at Life in Pleasantville
***Thanks to the Jamaica Tourism Board for hosting me on this trip.