Overwhelming all-inclusive resorts? Why bother? When old-world elegance is right down the beach. Writer Anne Roderique-Jones found local cuisine, organic spa treatments, and cocktails served by well-suited gentlemen at historic Jamaica Inn.
OCHO RIOS, Jamaica – When I want rest and relaxation, I steer clear of all-inclusive resorts and sprawling golf courses. I want small and elegant. And I'm a huge fan of old colonial hotels. Jamaica Inn, a zippy four-hour plane ride from my home in New York City, fits the bill nicely. It's a resort where guests laze around in swimsuits and flip-flops during impossibly sunny days and spruce up with fancy sundresses and jackets at cocktail hour for rounds of gin martinis served by gentlemen wearing tony tuxedos.
Jamaica Inn is one of those marvelous old-school Caribbean resorts that celebrities have been flocking to since it opened in 1950. Scattered about the bar are tattered black and white photos of Marilyn Monroe, Ian Fleming, and Katharine Hepburn, who once sipped cocktails in their finest resort wear at the old mahogany bar. The resort still attracts its share of high profile guests, but the staff keeps their lips sealed about who's staying.
Claim to Fame
The real claim to fame is the resort's resident dog: always a black Labrador, always named Shadow. Currently, the fourth iteration of the pup is staking claim on-site, prancing about the white sand, frolicking in the ocean, and occasionally jumping in the pool. Technically, she's not supposed to be in the latter, but you'll seldom find guests swimming there anyway. The ocean is far superior.
What's on Site
Jamaica Inn has 47 suites and a handful of cottages. The suites are all about outdoor space with sprawling living room-like verandas with sofas, chairs, a writing desk, and breakfast table. Guests spend most of their time in the suites, so a visit in the extremely hot months is not advised. Rooms don't have televisions, but WiFi is fantastic should urge strike for a Netflix binge.
The Ocean Spa offers local, organic treatments under thatch-roof huts in treatment rooms overlooking the water. There's no cheesy spa music; just the soundtrack of waves crashing in the background. Paddle boarding, kayaking, yoga, and playing croquet with a staff member is as active as it gets here. And that's perfectly fine.
Room with a View
I stayed in Cottage 7: a 2,000-plus square-foot splurg-y stunner that's worth every penny. (Rates start at $1,138 per night.) The two-level cottage has a bedroom on the top floor with an oversized bathroom, soaking tub, outdoor shower, and deck. The bottom level living space opens onto an expansive outdoor retreat with sun loungers and a sixteen-foot infinity plunge pool. The best part: a staircase that leads to a private cove in the warm blue-green Caribbean Sea. No need for swimwear.
One of the best things about traveling is experiencing the local cuisine, and the resort menu is packed with excellent Jamaican favorites. Chef Maurice Henry cooks incredible callaloo, jerk pork, ackee with saltfish, brown chicken stew, and escoviche — all smothered, to your liking, with tongue-numbing Scotch bonnet peppers. And the wine is fantastic. How refreshing for the Caribbean.
This Place Is Perfect for
Beach bums, honeymooners, and relaxation. It's perfect for the neurotic city slicker in need of decompression (guilty). I quickly developed a routine of doing nothing: sleeping in, eating a fresh Jamaican breakfast, swimming in the warm Caribbean, practicing yoga, and pressing repeat.
But Not So Perfect For
The partier, because, while there's a band each night, the place shuts down around 10:30 p.m. Or those toting a toddler, since children under ten are not allowed.
Neighborhood Vibe / Natural Surroundings
Plenty of local stands offer fruit, beer, and beef patties. If you're all about doing it yourself, the resort's chef Henry offers weekly trips to the nearby farmer's market where you can buy fresh fish and veggies to cook for a simple lunch.
What to Do Nearby
The must-visit site is Coyaba Waterfall and Gardens. Everyone else schlepps to the tourist-laden Dunn's River Falls and misses the area's best-kept secret: gorgeous gardens surrounding a waterfall fit for climbing. We were the only souls in sight.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
FLY: Ocho Rios is in the middle of the north coast of Jamaica. Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay (MBJ) is about an hour and a half by car; Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston is a little less than two hours away. If you're flying private, Ian Fleming International Airport (OCJ) is right in Ocho Rios.
Rates start at $329. Click here for reservations.