Those of us who haven't visited Jamaica in at least 8 or 10 years will see a
remarkable difference on the island! My last visit to the land of "wood and water" over 15 years ago was not the most pleasant experience, to say the
least. For a variety of reasons, many travelers perceive Jamaica to be one of the least desirable Caribbean islands when compared to other, more popular destinations.
But, they (and I) are mistaken! Over the past 10 years, there have been
numerous new all-inclusive resorts added to a now extensive list of possibilities, especially in the Montego Bay area. A Ritz Carlton opened in 2007, attracting for the first time the
upper-crust of guests that a Ritz usually attracts. Next door to the Ritz Carlton, an upscale golf course – The White
Witch – is considered the top course on the island in terms of quality of maintenance and design.
In addition to the Ritz, other new and exciting all-inclusive properties are primarily from Spanish companies such as
Iberostar and Gran Bahia Principe.
My recent stay at the beautiful Bahia Principe Montego Bay was enjoyable and a pleasant surprise from what I had expected to find in Jamaica. The 600-room
resort has a beautiful open-air lobby with a daiquiri bar, coffee bar and terrace bar. A large pool meanders between the two towers and towards the ocean,
providing everyone with ample deck space for chairs. The pool has two swim-up bars, one is in the middle of all the pool-side activities and the other one at the
end of the pool offers more privacy and solitude.
Guest rooms are spacious suites, all offering balconies either overlooking the
pool or providing an ocean view. All the rooms have a sitting area with couch and table, which makes the accommodations comfortable enough to spread out. A mini bar is stocked with bottled
water, soft drinks and beer, all included, and they are replenished every day. The well-appointed bathroom includes
a shower and a separate tub. Throughout the facility, the tiled floors and stucco walls are typical of the Spanish design.
The Gran Bahia Principe offers four a la carte restaurants and a buffet restaurant for dining options. The buffet is
open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and it is a large variety of Caribbean, European, American and Jamaican dishes
. One of my favorite "finds" was chunks of fresh coconut, something you don't see every day! Champagne is served
with your orange juice at breakfast and wine is served at lunch and dinner, all included.
The a la carte restaurants require reservations and are very popular. Don Pablo, the gourmet restaurant, was truly a gastronomic experience that I
did not expect at an all inclusive resort. The Seafood Grill was my next favorite restaurant. The food was fresh and creatively served. Appetizers
were available on the buffet and included Spanish dishes such as tapas, clams, ceviche and other delicious choices.
I didn't try the steakhouse restaurant, but I received very good reviews
from friends about the food there. I probably should have chosen it over the Japanese tepanyaki restaurant, which was a bit disappointing in the
food quality and service, compared to similar restaurants in the U.S.
What about the beaches? The Gran Bahia has two – immediately in front of the hotel is a small protected beachfront, but it has numerous small pebbles
and rocks that make it difficult for guests to walk barefoot from their beach chair into the water. At the edge of the property is the larger beach,
approximately ¼ of a mile with numerous beach chairs and "palapas" to provide shade. Here, non-motorized sports are available to enjoy in the
calm, shallow cove. Another bar adjacent to the beach is handy, just in case you don't have enough choices to order drinks.
In case you are still awake and sober at night, the entertainment starts around 10pm. A large indoor theater
schedules elaborate nightly shows with dancers, singers and musicians. Afterwards, you can head to the disco or
the karaoke bar where you can party until 3am. All of these facilities are within the Gran Bahia property and an easy stroll at any time of day or night.
So, perhaps you should give Jamaica another thought for future plans. And, as the famous slogan goes, "make it