Chester Francis-Jackson, Gleaner Writer
My darlings, there are hotels and then there are resorts!
At hotels, they brag about their rooms and other such basic and expected amenities, while at resorts, rooms and the other basic amenities, such as television and water sports, are part of the package but not the primary attraction. For the discerning vacationer, the basics are accepted as a given, but it's more about the intangibles, such as the atmosphere created by staff, camaraderie, a familial atmosphere that bond holidaymakers, and the home-away-from-home sense of belonging.
To be sure, there are many hotels here in Jamaica, but resorts are few and the more our political-policy wonks rush to fill our beaches with hotels, the greater the disservice they do to the tourism industry and product. Now, my darlings, there was one Jamaican who understood the difference in the making of a resort, and he was the late Abe Issa, who founded the Myrtle Bank Hotel in downtown Kingston before moving to the north coast and creating Jamaica's first all-inclusive Couples Resort, out in the middle of nowhere, in the then boondocks of St Mary, which left many thinking him mad! Today, in the grand tradition of its founder, Couples Resorts, run by his son Lee Issa and his board, the Couples brand has not only been asserting itself in the tourism and hospitality industry, it is easily one of the most recognised brands internationally, as Abe Issa's
Well, Swept Away and Negril were officially opened 13 years ago, and we are talking two fabulous resorts here, celebrated for their naturist environment, that saw the designers marry the buildings to the environment, as against creating stark environmentally bucking, architectural vexatious and wholesomely unpleasant buildings, that morph into more unfriendly eyesores, with each passing season.
These are two fine resorts, boasting fabulous eco-friendly grounds and gardens, along with all the fab conveniences and modern amenities that add to the vacation experience. And add to that a cadre of knowledgeable staff, from the first point of contact and we are talking hospitality at its best here! It is this rich culture of service and interaction 'coupled' with a unfailing superb culinary tradition that has made the Couples brand what it is, and has made loyal multi-repeat visitors of hundreds of guests who flock to our shores annually.
Well, two weekends ago, both hotels celebrated their anniversaries and so it was a double weekend-long celebration over two days, and as celebrations go, this was a modern classic of the most fabulous order. Dears, the celebrations got under way on the Friday evening, with a fabulous beach cocktail reception on the beautiful white sand beach of Couples Swept Away, where GM Ricardo Bowleg and the charming Donna Grant were the hosts, and with casual elegance being the order of the evening, it made for an absolutely marvellously laid-back do. The reception gave way to one fabulous dinner and party, as guests were taken on a fantasy evening on an early 20th century luxury cruise liner, complete with period costume by staff adding to the 'authentic' feel of time travel! And with an Irish-themed band playing music from that era, y'all know we are talking sailing the high-seas here!
And luvs, just in case some did not get the memo, executive chef Anthony Miller and his team, marshalled by corporate executive chef, Stefan Spath, emphasised the luxury aspect of the 'cruise' by putting on a fare that was fit for the haute society on the 'luxury liner'.
Think tantalisingly delicious hot and cold canapés; oysters; brandy-flamed steak Diane, and other exciting morsels to whet the appetite. As dinner followed, the already high culinary bar went into overdrive with a regally sumptuous fare with a classic twist on international dishes, like beef fillet Wellington; duck a la orange; whole roast lamb; roast suckling piglets; Asiatic station, boasting seafood-dim sum, shrimp and chicken pad; Thai as well as a nice seafood station with shrimp cocktail and crab meat; smoked marlin; and salmon. But the pièce de resistancé was the Dessert Marquee, created by Cleona Richards and her team. It was the preferred hideout, as with trendy assorted cupcakes, handmade chocolates and pralines and an array of créme brulees, classic cakes, gateaux, pies and a cookie station, we are talking pastry heaven! All of these were framed by stunning edible showpieces made of sugar patellae and chocolate.
And naturally, to complement such a fab 'cruise', nothing short of fabulous entertainment would do, and so the fab Charmaine Lemonius serenaded during dinner; and then it was left to Freddie McGregor to carry the ship in, and luvs, the polished entertainer not only rocked the boat, he saw it safely into the harbour, with much dancing and merrymaking that earned him a rousing round of applause at the end of his performance.
The following night, the party moved to the fabulous Couples Negril. For their celebration, the theme was 'Natural Mystic', and in keeping with the island nature of the theme, the resort was done up to enhance and reflect the theme, and this led to a property transformed to a bounty of red, gold and green, with bamboo accents, and dears, thus setting the stage and mood for an evening of fun and partying.
The celebrations got under way with a fab cocktail reception in the resort's lobby, and dears, Couples Negril was not about to be outdone so they turned up the fabulous volume way up, the end result being one cantata of the grand order! Dears, from the opening salvo of the reception to the gala dinner, it was haute fabulissimo and nothing but, with a fare of edible art and nothing but master pieces!
Luvs, we are talking Asiatic, continental, Caribbean, Mediterranean and Jamaican. A dessert station that was a dieter's nightmare and salads that were pretty close to being their very own entrees. And the evening's entertainment was another hot number. From the Silver Birds which took performance honours at the opening cocktails and during the buffet-styled dinner, it was the majestic voice of the illustrious Ernie Smith - who brought the curtains down on the entertainment offering. But the night did not end there, as guests danced to the music of Dwight Richards afterwards and it was then on to the resort's Piano Bar, where the music of choice was disco, and guests danced right into Sunday morning.
Among the notables out sharing the weekend celebrations were: Dr Wykeham McNeill and his stunning wife, Sheila Benjamin-McNeill; chairman of Couples Resorts Lee Issa and his fabulous wife Jane Issa; Francis Issa, in from Florida for the celebrations, and Adell Vasquez; the fabulous Jackie Issa; Carole Issa-Cartade and husband, real estate developer Robert Cartade; Paul Issa and his fabulous Spanish wife Oriente Issa; Francis and Cindi Issa, also in from Florida; CEO of Couples Resorts Glenn Lawrence; VP Gary Stephens; the charmingly lovely Alexandra Ghisays; Maurice and Valerie Facey; Christopher Bovell and his stunning wife, fashion bellissima Michelle Bovell; Charles Hanna; Anthony and Jeanne Watson; Richard and Carol Bourke and their daughter Samantha; glamour-puss Cecile Levee; the fabulous Jackie Bird; Niall and Sasha Sheehy; the fab Rosa Young; Martine Fontaine; Yvonne Wilks; Stanley Dillion; the charming Maryann Parish; Neil Tulloch; the stunning Caron Chung; Errol Bennett; Mena Sun-Rimstead; Francis and Jennifer Cooke; Chris and Jeanine Tribley; Rob and Lucy Linda; John Babcock; Bernie and Winsome Chin; Damian Salmon; Julie Devereux; Keith and Maureen Bailey; Lisa Sneph; Richard and Karen Murray; Nicholas and Elena Lynch; Randy and Deborah Russell; John Paul Morrison; Skip and Marlene Gooch; James Wettengl and his stunning new bride; plus several scores more.
Librans and Scorpians celebrate
Then my dears, the sign of Libra comes to an end on the 22nd, so we salute Librans: in Beijing, China, Ambassador Courtenay Rattary; former Life of Jamaica vice-president Anil Kalra, who is 60 today, with the party to follow on Sunday, in India; acclaimed actor Paul Campbell; celebrated promoter PJ Wright; Klaus Heitmann; Conroy Jackson, in the Turks and Caicos Islands; and Leighton Brown, formerly of Ewarton, St Catherine, now in Norwalk, Connecticut, who all celebrate their birthday today.
Tomorrow, those celebrating will include: Cleto Parkinson, who will celebrate his 80th; the fabulously lovely Allison Shaw; Blake Magnus; the lovely Michelle Smith; international stylist Anatoli Smith, visiting from New York.
Come Sunday, it's the dawning of the sign of Scorpio and among those celebrating: socialite Jennifer Lim; entrepreneur and philanthropist Gloria Palomino; Charles Campbell; Councillor Denise Daley of Linstead, St Catherine; Davia Brooks, in Linstead, St Catherine; George Beckford;
Tuesday will see the legendary Flip Fraser of Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame; the charming Lahra Moyston; the fabulous Jessica Lee; Victor Harralson, in Brooklyn, New York; and Lauren Drummond in Poughkeepsie, New York, will all share the same birthday. Come Wednesday: the eminent Paul Bourke; socialite Felicity Brandt; the amiable Dr Robert 'Bobby' Chen in Mandeville; musician Ludlow McKenzie, from High Symbol Band; the charming Dawn Campbell-Douglas; the lovely Donna-May Barrett in May Pen, Clarendon; the fabulous Carroline Perrier in Montego Bay; the fab Stephanie Gyles Elliott; Johnny Abbot; and the lovely Sherie Moore, in Atlanta, Georgia will make it a special day. And on Thursday: the elegant Maxine Brown; the affable Gilbert Nicely; and the debonair David Anderson, formerly of the Hilton Kingston, now back in Burlington, Ontario, Canada, will be the toasts of family and friends as they celebrate their special day.