Our 20-minute mid morning Jamaica Ecstasy flight over Ocho Rios was great fun. After a short drive in our hotel van, we arrived at Island Hoppers and met the captain. He shared some quick pre-flight information and offered us champagne, beer or water. When we were ready, one by one we followed a staff member to the helicopter. Another staff member made sure we were strapped safely in place; had our headset on (so we could hear our captain during the flight) and were comfortable. During the slightly bumpy flight (due to summer pockets of air, our pilot said), which went by all too quickly, we had a bird’s eye view of Ocho Rios. The only helicopter company on the island, Island Hoppers was owned and operated by our colorful and experienced New Zealand pilot and his wife.
When we arrived at the Jamaica Inn by boat, the most notable feature was its bright blue color and white trim. After braving the gentle waves that lapped against the shore and climbing a few short steps toward the entrance, we were greeted by Nicole and Terri, two of the hotel staff members. Slowly, as we walked from the jetty through the dining terrace past the bar and library common room, we delighted in its understated grace and quiet. The staff exuded friendly warmth and a welcoming attitude making us feel like we had been there before and were returning after a long absence instead of visiting for the first time.
Our spacious villa at Round Hill, a 110-acre haven constructed for wealthy foreigners in the 1950s on the grounds of a former pineapple and allspice plantation, felt like a home away from home. Built on an encircling hill overlooking a small cove and beach, Round Hill is home to a small two-story hotel, Pineapple House Hotel, and 27 privately owned rental villas. The practical and appealing architectural design ensured maximum exposure to the view of the bay and the hill while providing privacy from passersby and neighbors.
I arrived at the Royal Plantation after a pleasant two-hour drive from the Montego Bay airport tired and hungry. A short while later I was at the hotel’s beachside restaurant a step from the sand, facing a beautiful inviting beach and munching on a burger while I waited for my room to be ready. All the morning’s frustrations including my long flight routed through Kingston, cancelled airport meeting with fellow travelers whose flights were delayed, and my “international” cell phone not working were slowly forgotten thanks to the hotel’s ambiance and the staff’s friendly can-do attitude.
The serene, quiet and cozy ambiance of the Royal Spa was a good match for the Royal Plantation where the spa was housed. Although we noticed by the number of guests calling and having treatments that the spa was popular, once inside it was tranquil. The staff were friendly and helpful, never chatty. The treatments we tried were good, the facilities were spotless, and the ambiance was elegant and welcoming.
On the eve of our departure from St. Barth, we discovered this lovely Caribbean gem on a hill overlooking Anse Toiny. The romantic and elegant Le Gaiac was named after the guaiacum tree which has the heaviest tropical wood with many medicinal purposes and is found in the area where the restaurant is located. Part of Le Gaiac’s appeal was due to its blue and white décor and setting next to the Hotel Le Toiny’s night lit swimming pool. The open air dining room facing Toiny cove was inviting, comfortable, breezy and mosquito free. We greatly enjoyed the relaxed ambiance, live music (performed by Alan Landry) excellent service and innovative cuisine.