Monday, February 11, 2019

Jamaica - No worries

As my wife and I decided before we left to disconnect as much as possible from the Internet while we were away (it's harder to do than you might think), I didn't produce daily posts while we were there, so this is mostly my scattered impressions of Jamaica and the Couples Tower Isle all-inclusive resort.

Staying at an all-inclusive resort, it was difficult to get a firm picture of the "real" Jamaica, as we didn't have to get out and mingle with folks on the street in the towns and cities, never shopped at a grocery store or "native" shopping center, and only interacted with Jamaicans whose main job was to make the tourists happy - tourism is the country's #1 income producer, ahead of bauxite mining and agriculture. And a very finely tuned money machine the tourism industry is, with no effort spared to part the hapless visitor from their cash. In an utter about face from what I've seen in other places, the resort gift shop was actually the most economical place to buy souvenirs of all sorts - even prices at the duty-free shops in the airport were up to triple the prices we saw there. I was simply amazed, as well, at the number of shops and restaurants in the Montego Bay airport - attempting to get every last penny out of those soon departing the country.

Despite the crass commercialism of it all, our interactions with Jamaicans were unfailingly positive and polite. Everyone offers a cheerful greeting and parting, a friendly smile, and mostly exhibit an attitude of "No problem, mon".

A small island with over 3 million inhabitants, Jamaica is a country of stark contrast - amazing ocean view villas stand side by side with tin shanties, sleek luxury cars roll down the coastal highway, while schoolchildren in uniforms walk on the road's shoulders, and five star restaurants vie with jerk shacks for trade. A tropical paradise for visitors, it may seem a prison to those who will never get an opportunity to rise above manual labor or a place in the tourist service industry.

This was our first stay in an all-inclusive resort, and it may very well have spoiled me for any other type of vacation. From the moment we got past customs, the Couples organization saw to our every need. Red Stripe beer flowed freely in the Couples airport lounge, as we waited about a half hour for the rest of the afternoon's guests to arrive, and then we and our luggage were whisked away to a bus for the two hour ride to Tower Isle, where we were greeted with rum punches and welcoming smiles, and our luggage was whisked away to our ocean view room.

From that point forward, the only thing we had to pay for was a pedicure and full body massage at the resort spa (and there are packages available where those services are also included). Full body massage - drooling incoherent relaxation! Worth every penny. Every meal at all every one of the six restaurants on property was included - from snacks and smoothies to burgers and jerk, to five start dining experiences and boundless buffets. I won't describe all of the food available, but will note a few new experiences.

Jerk chicken, pork and sausage, of course, were tasty, smoky, spicy and truly delicious. The smoked marlin, akin to smoked salmon, which I discovered on the lunch buffet the first day, became a daily staple for me - just wow! Curried goat - surprisingly good, but watch out for the bones - they roast the WHOLE goat. Sorrel fruit juice, tangy and very refreshing - probably filled with antioxidants. Desserts were daintily portioned, which made it far to easy to succumb to multiple temptations. Creme Brulee was available daily - killing me slowly.

Room service menu available 24/7 for no extra charge. We only indulged the first morning, since I wasn't sure I was going to endure until the restaurants opened, given my tendency to wake early, even on vacation. Other than that it was the Patio buffet every morning, and most lunches, unless we wanted a particular item such as the marvelous gazpacho soup at the Veggie Bar, or to grab a quick bite at the Pool Grill, where you can make yourself a frozen yogurt cone or a plate of nachos, and grab a quick soda or (great grapefruit flavor) Ting soft drink while dripping from a swim or a round of pool volleyball. 

The ambiance of the Bayside restaurant was like nothing we'd ever had, and both the Verandah and Eight Rivers restaurants provided a five star multi-course elegant experience. Here's an area where you could get tempted into paying a little extra if you want something off of the "imported" wine list. The Dom Perignon champagne I can understand, but I had a good laugh at the Kendall Jackson California vintage for $50 a bottle and the Kim Crawford New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for $45 (I have a bottle in my wine cooler at home that was $9.99 at Costco). The party at the table next to us at Eight Rivers bought two! The house reds and whites from Frontera winery in Chile were perfectly acceptable as the all-inclusive options.

Customize your mini bar in the room. Whatever you need would be stocked daily in your fridge. This was really a waste of time for us, as there was so much free booze flowing at the bars, from Red Stripe beer to blended drinks to tropical concoctions like the Bob Marley and the Deep Blue Sea - all FREE! Top shelf liquor? No problem, Mon! No extra charge for the good stuff. Love a shot of Rum Cream in your coffee? The bartender will hook you up with a generous glass to take back to the room and keep in your fridge for a delicious addition to your morning pick-me-up.

My wife and I are pretty moderate drinkers, but I'm afraid too long a stay here might turn us into serious lushes. From mimosas and Bloody Marys on the breakfast buffet to late night brandies around the pool, the alcohol flows freely and abundantly.

Tons of activities included, from golf to tennis to waterskiing, paddle boarding, sailing Hobie Cats, playing bocci, volleyball on the beach (standing joke was "losers buy the drinks") or in the pool, ring toss, trivia games. Take a tour on a glass bottom boat, hop a ride out to the au naturel Tower Isle, party for the afternoon on a catamaran, climb Jamaica's famous Dunn's River Falls. There's a game room with board games, pool table, ping pong and a library, a nicely equipped gym, a piano bar singalong, martini parties on the rooftop.

It's really hard to remember (might have something to do with the free booze) all of the things going on, and we didn't even hang out for the late night festivities. We did hear a fantastic steel drum band one night, and the beach party on Monday had some amazing island drummers, dancers, jugglers and acrobats.

We got a couple of hour long painstaking and patient tennis lessons from Collin, the pro. Enjoyed private water ski shots in a calm cove one morning before the late night revelers awoke with Captain Marvin. Had a wonderful guided nature walk around the grounds with Robby. Enjoyed a cooking class, preparing fish with coconut sauce with Chef Bibbibbib (don't ask me). Entertainment director Alex was a charmer.

Bottom line, Couples all-inclusive resorts are money well spent if you really want to relax and enjoy yourself, headache free - aside from the hangovers.

1 comment:

ProudHillbilly said...

Sounds like you had a great time!