Along the way to MoBay Pt 4
It is a postcard-perfect Saturday afternoon with cloudless blue skies, and the drive from Ocho Rios to Jewel Runaway Bay Beach & Golf Resort is quick and uneventful. I'm making a stop there for lunch. Jewel is beautiful, for sure, and on driving in, the landscaping looks manicured, like a botanic garden. Walking through the lobby, I see a few dozen well-dressed African-Americans in black tie, cocktail dresses, and gowns adorned with trademark treasures from Tiffany & Co. This is an odd sighting for a beach hotel, but when a bride appears in a shimmering gown, I quickly realise that a wedding has either just happened or is about to happen. Later, I learn that weddings happen at Jewel regularly at a chapel on the beach.
We take our ocean-view seats by the main dining area and we are joined by the bright and cordial Jamaican sales specialist Ms. Alluwanna Vernon, who provides vast and detailed information on this charming and attractive property.
The delicious buffet lunch has more than enough variety to satisfy even the most outlandish taste buds, and after the meal, we take a look at the stylish rooms and suites, the specialty restaurants, the impressive water park, as well as the razzle-dazzle amenities designed to keep mom, dad, the kids, cousins, neighbours, and friends all deliriously happy.
FALMOUTH NOW A POPULAR STOP
For the first time in a week. we almost get lost trying to get to our next stop, Greenwood Great House, near Falmouth. We accidentally ended up in the historic town of Falmouth along Market and Duke streets, and this turned out to be a huge blessing as we got to see parts of this once very wealthy seaport town with its very impressive Georgian architecture. In recent years, Falmouth has become a popular spot again, this time not for sugar, but thanks to a new cruise ship pier. We sorted out our directions and headed to Greenwood, the plantation house located on top of a hill that was once owned by the family of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, one of the most prominent English poets of the Victorian era.
CURATORIAL INTEGRITY... AND A FEW DUPPY STORIES
The estate that was owned by the Barrett family in the 1800s stretched for 12 miles on the coast, from Little River (Lilliput) to Falmouth, where they presided over 84,000 acres and owned 2,000 slaves. The Greenwood Great House was mainly used for entertainment, and this is evidenced by the vast collection of late 19th-century musical instruments there, some of which were fascinating early templates for the vinyl turntable and the CD player, which were to come many years later. Huge 20-inch metal discs provided the music back then for social gatherings and they were adorned with ghastly perforations that contained the music data. The polyphon, the musical apparatus that led to the founding of the Polydor and the Polygram record companies, can be seen and heard at Greenwood.
One can also see oil paintings of the family, antique furniture, a library with rare books dating back to 1697, custom-made family china, and an array of artefacts that represent various stages of slavery, emancipation, and apprenticeship.
It is interesting to note that Elizabeth Barret Browning, whose name helped to put Greenwood on the map, never once visited Jamaica. However, the great house is a fascinating stop, easily one of the best attractions in Jamaica and a fine example of curatorial integrity not just in Jamaica, but across the Caribbean.
And who said there are no spooky legends and duppy stories connected to Greenwood? Older locals from the community will advise visitors to get out the great house before 6 p.m. While we were there, one member of my party claimed to have heard ominous rumblings inside as if ghosts were dancing a choreographed quadrille upstairs just before our 5:55 p.m. exit. I brushed the suggestion aside, saying that if it couldn't be photographed, it didn't exist, but at the same time, I found myself scurrying out of the house with great haste before the clock struck six.
A SPECTACULAR LIGHT SHOW
Next up, a stop at Glistening Waters lagoon, restaurant and marina. This luminous lagoon attraction is also located in the Falmouth area and the action begins there after sunset. It is now a very popular stop, and hundreds of tourists pour in to dine and see a local show with bandanna-clad dancers gyrating to dancehall and soca, with a mento band on the side. But the highlight of the stop is a night ride on this rare luminous lagoon where after dark, anything moving in the water appears to light up like a fluorescent bulb. "Oh my God! This is a crazy magic show!" an older lady on the boat screams when her partner jumps into the water, and he lights up like a stadium bulb. Others jump in and the same thing happens. At this point, the cameras are in overdrive and everyone is marvelling at this strange occurrence. This phenomenon happens in very few places in the world where, due to unique conditions, the lagoon is loaded with microorganisms that emit light when disturbed. This peculiarity is called bioluminescence, and everyone on the boat was impressed by this spectacular light show.
PAMPERED IN PARADISE
My final hotel stop on this trip is a place I love dearly: the Half Moon in Montego Bay. I have stayed there many times before.
I had not been back to Half Moon for a while. Many changes had taken place during my long absence and I was curious to know if the resort was still a magical fantasy land.
It turns out that the Half Moon is not only absolutely world-class, but the best I've seen it in more than 30 years. Half Moon is the only Caribbean resort I know that is located on two miles of beachfront, that has its own grand piano in the presidential suite, that has 54 swimming pools, a 17th-century water wheel that still turns and that has had 12 royal visits to date.
But what really blew me away on this trip was the kingly welcome I received upon arrival. After a flawless check-in, I was directed to a spacious luxury suite located on a private cove with its own swimming pool, sea view terrace, fully stocked minibar, a welcome gift basket, and the seductive whiff of lemongrass everywhere, the new signature fragrance for in-room amenities throughout the resort.
After settling in, the director of restaurants, Basil Samuels Jr, wanted to find out if my party and I would join Sandro Fabris, the resort's general manager, for dinner at the newly renovated Sugar Mill Restaurant. I agreed, and we had a lovely chat with Mr Fabris, who comes to Half Moon with many years of solid experience running five-star properties in Venice, Madeira, Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Botswana.
The meal was amazing, and the Sugar Mill remains one of the finest dining experiences on the island, directed by award-winning chef Christopher Golding. I'd go back again and again for the smoked marlin rolls filled with crab meat and conch. Vegetarians will adore the Irie Vitality stew with cho cho, ackee, island veggies, and mixed beans with a cumin-coriander sauce. Nearly the entire menu at Sugar Mill is gluten free. And for the first time in Jamaica, I saw the Barbancourt estate reserve 15-year-old rum - some say the best in the world - being offered as an option. And by the way, one of the rums, a 50-year- old Appleton Estate limited edition, is offered for US$500 per shot!
A CELESTIAL MASSAGE
Despite the unrelenting efforts of marketing executive Laura Redpath, I couldn't do everything the resort had to offer as I was only there for three days. So I passed on a swim with the dolphins, horseback riding, tennis, basketball, squash, and golf. But I was thrilled that I had accepted an invitation to the Fern Tree Spa located in a lush garden with a profusion of plants, shrubs, and trees, many of which are used in the therapies and traditional Jamaican healing remedies offered at the spa.
My treatment started with a rejuvenating hot cerasse foot bath. Then I was served freshly pressed cucumber juice, followed by a celestial massage with a blend of pimento, crushed ginger, and burnt orange body oils. I was out like lightning. I was transported to another planet. An hour or so later, I vaguely recall the spa lady waking me up, saying something about the treatment being brought to completion. What I clearly remember is that this spa experience at Half Moon was a resurrection, a sure way to enter the gates of Heaven without having to die first to get there.