As someone who spent the first twenty years of his life on a small island in the Indian Ocean, I was super excited the day when I decided to move to Toronto. I never understood the fascination that everyone had about travelling to warm and exotic locations but after ten years in this icy tundra, I can totally understand the desire to travel somewhere warm during the colder months of the year. When Air Transat invited me to spend a week in Jamaica, I immediately started packing up my bags and a few weeks later I undertook the four hour flight to the sunny island.
This trip was one of many firsts: my first time in the Caribbean, first time travelling on Air Transat and my first time experiencing Air Transat’s Club Class which was the equivalent of travelling first class. We were lucky enough to enjoy one of the gourmet meals created by chef Daniel Vézina, drink unlimited sparkling wine and I had more leg room than I’ve ever had. Needless to say that it is going to be hard for me to travel Economy again after this! During our seven days in the Caribbean, we stayed at two of the three resorts that are included in Air Transat’s Jamaican Luxury collection: the Excellence Oyster Bay and The Iberostar Grand Rose Hall. While both of the resorts are adult-only, the third option is the family-friendly Melia Branco Village which we were able to visit briefly during the day.
I think that I am speaking for our whole group when I say that we embraced the hot Jamaican climate wholeheartedly. We landed a tad over dressed and unused to the humidity but it was such a lovely feeling to experience the heat once again. After quickly passing through security at the airport, we made our way to the Excellence Oyster Bay. The all-inclusive adults-only resort has a very distinctive feature: it is it’s own peninsula. Which means that no matter which direction you look at on the resort, you will most likely be able to admire the sea. The seven month-old resort was absolutely stunning visually with its gorgeous rooms (inclusive of a hot tub on the balcony) and its ten restaurants which offered a wide variety of cuisines to the patrons. Due to its newness, the resort was also the most technological friendly out of the three that we visited and it also offered one of the best overall service experiences that I have ever had. The Excellence is the perfect location for honeymooners and couples wishing to celebrate a milestone with its offers including romantic dinners on the beach at sunset and the fantastic Miilé spa, both at an additional charge. While I didn’t have the chance to witness the romantic dinner, I booked two appointments at the spa for the hydrotherapy circuit and a back massage and they were both divine.
The second part of our stay in Jamaica was spent at the Iberostar Grand Rose Hall, the all- inclusive adults-only section of the Iberostar complex consisting of the Iberostar Rose Hall Beach, Iberostar Rose Hall suites and Iberostar Grand Rose Hall. The Grand Rose Hall is the only one included in the Air Transat luxury collection and patrons of the hotel are able to cross over to Suites and Beach if they desire. However, patrons staying at Suites and Beach do not have access to Grand’s amenities rendering it the most exclusive section of the resort complex. While the hotel itself might be more dated in terms of infrastructure and style, it makes up for it with one of the most beautiful beaches on the island (with the exception of Negril’s seven mile beach), one of the most elaborate evening entertainment programs that I’ve ever witnessed and amazing food being served at the seven restaurants on this portion of the complex. This is also the place where Krystle and I discovered the Jamaican Smile, a cocktail of strawberry daiquiri mix, Pina colada mix, coconut rum and banana which became the signature drink of this whole trip. We also took part in the two hour long Jamaican Ritual at the spa which consisted of a coffee scrub, mud cocooning and a hot stone massage. The whole experience was fantastic but be careful as you might learn that you have a sunburn the hard way.
Of course, we didn’t spend the whole week on the resorts! The island is abound with a multitude of fun activities to partake into, whether you like the thrills of zip lining or the calmness of rafting through the Martha Brae river. On our first excursion day, we took a three and a half hour drive up the mountain and down to the opposite side of the island to visit the Appleton Estate. While I have visited my fair share of distilleries in the past, few have created an itinerary as concise and fun as the one at Appleton. We learned about the history of the brand along with the makings of a good rum, culminating in a tasting of some of their best sellers. We then proceeded to the YS falls where we had a simple meal of rice and peas with jerk chicken and it was easily one of my favourite meals of the trip. The falls consisted of seven waterfalls which cascade into natural spring pools where swimming was highly recommended. Visitors also had the option of jumping into the water via the use of swinging ropes although they served more as a photo prop than anything. We finished the day by partaking in a water safari on the Black River where the Jamaican crocodiles are so friendly that they will shake your hand (true story but the hand shaking is reserved solely to the captain of the boat. No not start sticking your limps in the water, people!).
Our second day of excursions required a far shorter drive. We made our way to the Martha Brae River to partake in an hour and a half long rafting session and it was one of my favourite experiences in Jamaica. The ride was calming and you felt completely immersed into the nature surrounding you. The raft captains do not always get to work daily and during their spare time, they will create souvenirs out of calabash. I hope that you will all find it in your heart to purchase a souvenir or to tip generously. That night, we went on a different boat trip to the luminous lagoon, one of four of its kind worldwide. The water in the lagoon is home to millions of dinoflagellates, a micro organism that casts a bright glow when disturbed. During the 45 minute tour, you get to jump into the water and cast a trail of light in your wake which was quite a surreal experience.
On our last excursion day, we visited Negril and its beautiful seven mile beach of white sand. We relaxed on the beach which sipping on fresh coconut water and alternatively took dips in the refreshing sea whenever we felt somewhat overheated by the hot Jamaican sun. The day was concluded at Rick’s Café, one of Jamaica’s most famous hot spots. The café is set at the edge of a cliff and while I was gorging myself on delicious rum cake while taking in the gorgeous Caribbean sunset, the girls were busy partaking in the café’s famous cliff diving activity. It was definitely the perfect way to end the last evening that we spent in Jamaica.
I am now back in cold Toronto and while I am happy to be home, I am definitely wondering why I ever boarded the plane back here. Our Jamaican trip already feels like a dream of delicious jerk pork and beef patties, friendly Jamaican smiles and also tasty Jamaican smiles. You’re probably wondering if I would ever consider going back to Jamaica and the answer is quite simple: yes man.
If you want to learn more about the Jamaican Luxury collection and any other packages provided by Transat, please head over to transat.com