Jamaica: Once You Go--You Know
Mobay, Your Gateway to the “Home of All Right”
By Staff Writer: Andrea Chase
Jamaica’s capital city may be Kingston but Montego Bay is indisputably its tourist capital. This year marks 36 years since Montego Bay, which has been steadily growing in popularity and stature, regained its city status which was revoked some 135 years ago under colonial rule.
This gateway city to your vacation dreams has been voted the 9th most popular destination for American tourists over the last three years. It remains the island’s most popular resort area, attracting 34 per cent of all stopover tourists. Not bad for a relatively tiny dot on the global map, huh?
There are two major ways for visitors to enter Montego Bay; by cruise ship or by air. And while, in my opinion, it is much better to fly in and spend a few days, if you opt for cruising, you are just as welcome and will still have many options of becoming briefly acquainted with this bustling resort area in the few hours before your ship sails. Think of it as a test run for when you are ready to return for the full Jamaica experience.
Jamaica has a well-earned reputation for being the most versatile vacation destination in the Caribbean. Whatever your interest – history, culture, cuisine, shopping, adventure, wellness, golf, wedding, honeymoon, there is something to suit every taste, every style, every desire. The genius of it is that you don’t even have to venture outside of Montego Bay to satisfy any of these.
Yes, Montego Bay is definitely on the beaten path and the epicenter of tourism action with just about every amenity you wish for in a well-earned vacation. It is for this very reason it is widely known as “The Complete Resort”.
Allow me to take you on a virtual journey through this resort area we affectionately call Mobay for a small sampling of its vacation offerings. I say small because trying to list everything would require at the very least, a few sunny afternoons at the beach bar, sipping on some amazing concoctions our local bar tenders are so fond of inventing.
Let’s go with my preferred option and fly into Sangster International Airport, a first class port of entry, equal in rank to just about any airport of its size. Expanded and upgraded with world class eateries, shops and other amenities a few years back, this airport may be essentially considered an attraction in itself.
Once your flight lands, if you (or your travel professional) did your homework, you will definitely have elected to add the services of Club Mobay to your vacation package. Winner of the coveted “Best Loved Lounge” Award by Virgin Atlantic in 2015, Club Mobay bested 20 other lounges in 30 destinations worldwide. Be sure to select the bundled arrival/departure service. You’ll see why later.
I like to refer to the very professional ladies and gentlemen who staff this service as our “Ambassadors of First Impressions”. Their warm smiles and friendly greetings, not to mention the ease with which they aid you in bypassing those long lines for expedited service through immigration and customs, are enough to ensure that the tone is now set for a marvelous Jamaica vacation.
Once outside, if you have a few minutes to spare before boarding your transfer, I highly recommend a short stop at the Groovy Grouper Restaurant for a piping hot beef patty and a cold bottle of Red Stripe Beer or, for teetotalers like me, a bottle of Ting or coconut water.
Selecting Mobay for your stay is the surest way of ensuring the shortest transfer to your accommodations and quickly finding your way to the swim-up bar or a lounge chair on the beach. But, as we like to make known far and wide, we are much more than sun, sea and sand, significant and delightful as those are.
Let’s talk cuisine. Yes, I have repeatedly confessed to being an unrepentant Foodie. I have absolutely no objections to dining on ackee or callaloo with fried dumplings and plantains, accompanied by fresh brewed Blue Mountain coffee for breakfast every morning. So if it happens not be on my hotel’s offerings on a particular morning, I would have no problem heading to the Pelican Grill, where they show up on the daily menu.
After a morning of exploring, it’s lunch time. Did I hear someone say “Jerk”? Follow me to Scotchie’s, a really ‘chill’ setting with rustic ambience and great jerk fare, which you can watch being cooked to perfection behind the counter.
Fine dining at its best can be found at the charming Sugar Millrestaurant located at the famed Half Moon Hotel. Opened only for dinner, you get to choose from a selection of signature dishes and sample from their award winning wine cellar which boasts nearly 150 super varieties from across the world.
For lovers of culture, I recommend the Rastafari Indigenous Village half-day tour to learn about the history of Jamaica’s Rastafari movement and belief system. See craft and cooking demonstrations and join the local community in daily activities which include healthy living and harmony with other species.
Another option is Ahhh…Ras Natango Gallery and Garden, an authentic Jamaican gallery with original fine art paintings by world renowned artist, Ras Natango and other local artists. It features a restaurant, gift shop, a very scenic garden tour, bird watching boasting 18 of Jamaica’s 28 endemic birds on property and optional art classes.
Your inner shopaholic will delight in the wide array of offerings, from the elegant Shoppes of Rose Hall, located on the “Elegant Corridor” to the craft and gift shops found on Mobay’s famous “Hip Strip”. Always on my shopping list are packs of our world famous Blue Mountain coffee, specialty soaps, candles, oils and traditional Jamaican sweet treats.
Many resorts in Montego Bay offer Spa and Wellness and naturally, Wedding and Honeymoon packages. Jamaica is, of course, renowned for Destination Weddings.
If you have a keen sense of adventure and the nerves for it, try the Flight of the White Witch, a zipline canopy tour crisscrossing through a densely forested area about 1,200 feet above sea level while providing an amazing view of the Caribbean coastline. As for me, my fear of heights will lead me towards the calmness of river rafting or a catamaran cruise ending at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.
Other attractions include a tour of the famous Rose Hall Great House, former plantation and home of the infamous White Witch, Annie Palmer. Nature lovers will enjoy a visit to the Rockland Bird Sanctuary or the Animal Farm & Nature Reserve.
Avid golfers will be absolutely thrilled with our top 10 picturesque championship courses featuring undulating greens and well-trapped fairways, providing a true test of the game. And five of the best are located in Montego Bay!
There are enough events taking place year round to plan your trip to include one or two. Here are a few:
May 1. Mobay City Run, now in its third year is another addition to the increasingly popular charity runs on island. I guess this is only natural for a country that has gained international recognition for having the fastest people on earth. Join the fun, contribute to a worthy cause and get firsthand experience of the amazing sights and sceneries along the race course.
July 17-23. Reggae Sumfest, touted as “The Greatest Reggae Show on Earth”, features a lineup of local and international artistes, an all-white affair, dancehall explosion and beachfest
August 1. Mobay Jerkfest features highlights of authentic, traditional Jamaica food, jerk style, children activities and stage show.
So, how was your journey? Not ready to leave? Neither am I. There really is a whole lot more to see and do, but alas, go we must.
Now, as your departure approaches, you will be very happy that you took my advice and selected the bundled service from VIP Attractions. It will help to mitigate the real pang you are now feeling about leaving this gem of an island.
Once you check in with your airline, make your way to the Club Mobay desk, hand over your voucher and allow yourself to be escorted through airport security to the lounge where you can relax before your flight is ready for boarding. The lounge comes complete with Wi-Fi, tasty refreshments, liquor, business center and even a spa! Take some time to browse the gallery of framed pictures depicting highlights in Jamaica’s history or persons who have made significant contributions to the culture and development of Jamaica. Don’t worry, your Club Mobay agent will make an announcement when your flight is boarding.
Did you know that Jamaica has a very high percentage of repeat visitors? Walk good and come back soon, for real this time so you too can plan to join this special group of happy repeaters in the near future.
Are you heading to Cancun this year? We are making plans to hit the beaches once again in one of our favorite vacation spots. This prototypical paradise is awesome for a combination of relaxation and adventure, but if you want to make the most of your trip, we've got some tips and tricks to help you out.
1) Book offseason at the resorts. Cancun's Hotel Zone sits on a wonderful stretch of beach at the edge of the bluest waters you'll ever see on the Caribbean Sea. The weather is warm year-round and the busy tourist season is from December to April. So the best time to go for frugal travelers is September to November when prices drop. You might see a few more periods of afternoon rain, but that makes a good time for naps, bar hopping or shopping. The hotel district is packed with dozens of top-notch resorts with amazing restaurants and pools, so shop around to find the best deal on a place with all the amenities you want.
READ MORE: Mexico's Gift to the Travel Industry
2) Learn some basic Spanish. You'll always get a friendly response from the residents in and around Cancun if you can say “hello” and order your meal in Spanish. We've always had a good time seeking guidance on learning new words and phrases, too.
3) Don't shy away from restaurant hawkers. When you head out for a meal, you'll be eagerly greeted by staffers enticing you to take a table at their restaurant. If you are undecided on where you will sit down to eat, take a moment to look at the menu, ask about specials and don't be shy about seeking an extra in exchange for your business. We've often scored a free drink or a two-for-one appetizer coupon just by asking.
4) Ride the local bus. The bus system is super easy to use, especially in the Hotel Zone. Plus, it's cheap. For about $1 (8.5 pesos to be precise, and you can ask for change if you want, but tourists typically just fork over 10 pesos — the equivalent of a buck) you can travel all the way from one end of the zone to the other. Just look for the buses with a big "R" in the window.
5) Try the tequila. Mexico produces fantastic tequila with nuanced flavors and an interesting production process. It's not simply a liquor you slam in an effort to get wasted (who knew, right?). Look for special tequila tasting sessions to learn about the history and process, or ask a bartender to recommend a unique flavor.
6) Bring plenty of sunscreen. The sun gets hot, and you want to be in the ocean or at the pool as much as possible. Don't let a wicked sunburn ruin your trip. Apply early and often. Also, if you're bald like me, you'll need a good hat.
7) Attend a turtle release. If you arrive during the right time of year, you might notice a roped-off area on the beach, indicating turtle hatchlings. Hotels have turtle-release parties several times a week — most often in August and September. Head out at dusk to watch the little green sea turtles and loggerheads fight their way out to sea. Conservation programs are important in a bid to replenish struggling sea turtle species
8) Bring pesos. Exchange some greenbacks for pesos so you get the best exchange rate and have better bargaining power at places that don't typically deal in U.S. dollars.
9) Try real Mexican meals. Careful of those salsas. We have a love-hate relationship with them. Deliciously spicy but will come back to haunt you the next morning. You'll find fantastic tacos, tamales and other recipes that include beef, pork and fish that go down so nicely with a few cold beers.
10) Ferry to La Isla Mujeres. Hop a ferry at Playa Tortugas (you can get there from your resort on a bus) and spend the day at Isla Mujeres, which is like stepping back in time. The ferry ride takes around 15 minutes and costs about $15 for a round-trip ticket. Rent a golf cart and spend the day exploring (it has one main road that circles the island) beaches, restaurants, shops and parks. We love to head over to go snorkeling and swimming at the small Garrafon de Castilla Hotel and Beach Club.
11) Explore ruins and cenotes. The Yucatan Peninsula is filled with ancient ruins of the Mayan people. Take a day trip to wander through sites still filled with stone structures and artwork that depicts the daily lives, religious rituals and sporting activities from centuries ago. Include a stop to be blessed by a shaman and descend into a cenote (underground sinkhole cave) for a swim
12) Go shopping. Vendors and shops are located all over Cancun, from formal storefronts to streetside kiosks and tables. Try the busy Plaza la Fiesta in the heart of the Hotel Zone for upscale boutiques, or venture to Yaxchilan Avenue in downtown Cancun to seek out local crafts for your souvenir shopping. Be ready to bargain for your best prices. The shop owners expect to make deals to earn your business.
Audrey Hyman is the owner and CEO of the Hyman Travel Network, a full service travel agency located in the suburbs of Washington, that specializes in cruises and all inclusive vacations