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Jamaica Relaxes With a Laid-Back Style

Posted April 9, 2007

Valentine’s Day is over but if you still yearn for romance and a chance to get away from the stressful 24/7 demands of today’s hectic lifestyles, there is always Jamaica, only a three-hour flight from Charlotte.

Imagine: bumper-to-bumper traffic in the morning; sipping a drink at lunch on the beach.

For those who crave the resort atmosphere with plenty of entertainment and excursions to choose from, Sandals resorts are one good bet. Others might choose more intimate resorts where the most stressful part of the day is which book to read after finishing the first one.

Wilmington residents Sarah and Tommy Norris have stayed at a number of Sandals resorts in their more than five trips to the island country. Even though they can sink their toes in Carolina beach sand 365 days a year, they still prefer the clear ocean waters and relaxing style of Jamaica for vacation.

“I think one of the things we love is the laidback lifestyle,” Sarah Norris said. “The resorts we’ve stayed in have been great.”

From the Sandals resort in Negril, with its seven-mile beach, to one of the company’s newer resorts called Whitehouse, entertainment is aplenty.

“There’s always something going on,” she said. “Snorkeling is very convenient with Sandals. They have a couple of trips a day and they are included in the stay.”

But there are always people who prefer vacations that are a little more reclusive.

If the service staff are the only people you meet on vacation and you actually prefer it that way, try a group of boutique resorts called Island Outpost. Two of the company’s best Jamaican options are Strawberry Hill and Jakes, not AAA rated but part of AAA’s Private Collection – retreats selected by AAA Carolinas for their exclusive and reclusive features.

Strawberry Hill

Once frequented by Bob Marley, Strawberry Hill is a mountain retreat that prides itself in being a natural haven.

The boutique resort includes just 12 Georgian-style cottages decorated with intricate hand-carved fretwork details and stunning interiors.

Strawberry Hill boats the Caribbean’s only full-service Aveda Concept Spa, and the property is definitely geared for spa junkies. A bathing ritual card and scented candle is prepared and lit at turndown every evening.

As for the rooms, cottages embody traditional 19th-century Georgian architecture with dark mahogany four-poster beds draped with muslin netting. French doors, thick louvered windows and spacious private verandas add to the look.

Deluxe Villas are definitely deluxe – 3,200 square feet, 2 bedrooms and wrap-around balconies.

Jakes

This intimate cottage resort prides itself in capturing authentic Jamaica. Rooms are hand painted. Showers are outside (but private). And cottages – less than two dozen - are spaced thoughtfully to offer maximum privacy.

The boutique resort is situated on Treasure Beach, a secluded fishing village on the island’s south coast. In fact, the resort is so secluded that it’s a two-hour car ride from Montego Bay’s airport.

But the long drive is worth it.

You’ll quickly relax in a place that boasts no in-room telephones or televisions. But truth be told, such modern-day amenities would seem out of place. Most rooms include a rooftop patio complete with giant pillows for lounging within earshot of lulling ocean waves.

“Jakes really was such a neat place,” said Martin Fentin, who vacationed their recently. “Taking a shower outside was definitely unique, but the way they designed it, the dolphins would be the only ones that spotted you – and that would be from waist up only!”

Rooms are decorated with sea-smoothed wine bottles plastered into the walls, and most rooms are naturally ventilated – as in no airconditioning. The ocean breeze wafts through open doors, open windows and walls made of thick blinds. However, if going without an air conditioner is too much to ask, a few rooms do include the luxury.

Jack Spratt

For your stay, think funky and laid back, and you’ll get the feel of Jamaica. If you haven’t gotten into the spirit of the island just by your room’s atmosphere, you’ll surely experience it at Jack Sprat, a resort restaurant that locals love. It offers the chance to mingle and get to know villagers.

Recently introduced are local epicurean adventures with Unique Jamaica’s Village Hopping Country Cuisine tour. On the tour, guests learn to cook rural Jamaican favorites as taught by local experts.

National dishes include ackee and saltfish with spicy calalloo, dumplings, bammy and fried plantain. Participants discover the classic methods of making Bammy bread from cassava (a root vegetable) and creating coffee from scratch.

Jamaica Inn

Slightly in between active and relaxing is Jamaica Inn, a resort where every room has a view of the Caribbean Sea. Situated in Ocho Rios, the AAA Four Diamond-rated resort was renovated in 2006 and includes 47 rooms and two villas.

Guests can take a leisurely stroll through gardens filled with jacaranda trees, bougainvillea and palms, or play a game of croquet. (Even if you don’t play croquet, you will certainly feel like the upper crust of society in this luxurious resort that houses the Jamaica Fine Arts Gallery.)

Golf clubs will come in handy, since there’s an 18-hole golf course nearby.

But for those on the leisure track, there aren’t any TVs, radios or clocks here either.

Jamaica may be laid back, but it can accommodate both adventurous vacationers and those addicted to relaxing.

Sarah Norris summed it up best: “I can’t imagine anyone going and not loving it.”

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