This trip, we set our sights on the Ritz Carlton Golf & Spa, Rose Hall, Montego Bay, Jamaica for several reasons, not the least of which was that it was one of the better rates for a luxury hotel in the Caribbean during high season. We also wanted something that included golf and spa. Although we had been to Jamaica several times in the distant past, our travels then took us to Ocho Rios and Kingston. We have wanted to visit other parts of Jamaica like Montego Bay and Negril, and this was our opportunity to do so. The Ritz Carlton met and exceeded our qualifications for the test.
When we started looking for flights, I was reminded of a pet peeve. Wouldn’t you think that flights to warm sunny destinations would arrive early and leave late, giving you a day more to enjoy the escape? It was disappointing to find too many flights arriving late and leaving early, thus “robbing you” of a day, just for travel.
So we were delighted to find a non-stop Air Jamaica flight from New York’s JFK that left at 6:00 am, arrived at by 9:45 am and returned at 7:00 pm. Perfect! But, it’s Air Jamaica, not Jet Blue and we’re fussy about airlines. The first time we flew Air Jamaica, many years ago, we weren’t impressed. Our afternoon flight out of Kennedy had been so delayed that we didn’t get there until after 10:00 pm! But who knows, maybe they’ve changed? Time to check the website, http://airjamaica.com. Ooo, pretty funky looking. Not the sophistication we were hoping for, but not to “judge a book by its cover,” we investigate further. We check out the fleet first. Nice. Seven new Airbus A-320s, one A-321, and one A-319. What about the on time record? A Google search for “Air Jamaica on time record” revealed an article entitled “Air J boasts 89% on-time record.” This is looking good! Here’s a short bit of the article:
AIR JAMAICA is now boasting a new on time record that has put it ahead of its major competitors. The airline says attention to detail, phenomenal teamwork, daily briefings, re-organisation of a number of departments and effective planning and process have brought the turnaround for the national carrier, infamous for delayed flights. The new 89.43 per cent on time performance sees the carrier outclassing major competitors such as American, United and Continental airlines. It is outranked, however, by Jet Blue at 92 per cent. Air Jamaica has made a 360-degree turn from the years when it held the reputation of being one of the worst carriers, because of its tardiness …
But a funny thing happened on the way to Air Jamaica . . . Caribbean Airlines. Evidentially, they are merging. When we made our flight reservations on the 6:00 am flight, we noticed that the ticket said “Operated by Caribbean Airlines.” We figured that Caribbean Airlines was handling the tickets but Air Jamaica was flying. When we called to inquire, and subsequently triple-checked, we were given three different answers: 1) it was an Air Jamaica flight, ticketed by Caribbean Airlines 2) it was a Caribbean Airlines flight ticketed by Air Jamaica, and 3) it was an Air Jamaica flight crew including pilots flying a Caribbean Airline plane. The later answer turned out to be correct and we would be flying an old Boeing 737 instead of a new Airbus. We didn’t mind the Boeing, it was that we didn’t know anything about Caribbean Airlines and we were not happy that Air Jamaica was not upfront about this “sleight of hand.” However, we still liked the schedule and as travel writers, we felt an obligation to report with a first-hand experience on this new development.
As it turns out, we had a good experience with Caribbean Airlines. When we entered the aircraft, there was a cozy feeling about it. The lighting was a more subdued yellowish white, instead of the stark white florescent quality of the newer planes. The staff was friendly and crisply dressed, the free sandwich snack was tasty and the flight, which was smooth left on time and arrived only five minutes behind schedule. We had left the worn-torn blizzard-hit New York at 6:00 am and were on the ground in sunny Montego Bay Jamaica at 9:50 am.
The trip from the airport to the Ritz is only a ten to fifteen-minute drive, another advantage to staying at the Ritz.
Because of our flight times, we had requested an early check-in and late check-out in advance. By the time you we actually arrived at the hotel, it was around 11:00. (Don’t forget time spent at the airport to go through immigration, get your luggage, and then go through customs).
The entrance to the Ritz was impressive, especially since they were still decorated for Christmas.
So, the intimacy test has begun. Private balcony – a no-brainer. The thing about a large hotel is that you can sometimes find more space for yourself. Of course you have to be reasonable – you are going to have more privacy during low-occupancy vs. high- occupancy periods. But with the Ritz, not only is the hotel large, but the property is huge - a 5000 acre plantation!
Poolside is the least private area, but, you can get a cabana for two with privacy curtains. The only problem is that there is only one and it’s elevated like a throne -- a bit too pretentious to be private. Also, there are loud speakers all around the pool and Reggie music plays constantly – and the same music every day like clockwork. For those who would like to relax and perhaps catch a snooze to the sound of the ocean and accompanying breezes, this was impossible. We can’t understand why you would want to drowned out the sound of the ocean, especially when individuals who would like to hear music are equipped with iPods and ear buds and can listen to any music they wish without imposing it on others.
The beach area for swimming is only for Ritz guests, so in that respect it is private, but you won’t be able to get “lost” there as a couple. Again, if occupancy is low, you can find a spot that is off to the side, but the beach area relative to the size of the property is small.
There is, however, a non-swimming beach area set on the other side of the property that it quite private. You can set up two chaise lounges there and be quite alone. You just can’t swim
Near that same area, the Ritz offers “Dinner Under the Stars,” a very special and romantic private dinner for two by the ocean.
Although we weren’t able to experience this first-hand, we did inspect the area during off-hours and it was a fabulous setting for an intimate and memorable evening. The brochure below explains all the details and the price:
After your late dinner, you may want to digest your meal with a cozy walk through the dimly light pathways of the property, then grab a couple of tropical drinks at the elegant Cohoba Lounge.
You can take some drinks to the lovely billiards room which is open 24 hours. If you go late enough, you will have the room all to yourselves for an intimate game of pool.
The Ritz has a beautiful Spa, and of course couples can get his & hers massages or other spa treatments. You can find a complete menu at:
http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/RoseHallJamaica/Spa/Default.htm If you are going to book a massage, make sure to book one with Suzette, who is the best masseuse we have ever experienced.
Puttin’ on the Ritz . . .Golf Course
If you are into golf, we believe you will be amazed by the White Witch Golf Course. http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/RoseHallJamaica/Golf/Default.htm and http://www.whitewitchgolf.com. White Witch, which is just a 10-minute free shuttle ride from the Ritz, boasts being the “best golf course in the Caribbean.” Not having played every golf course in the Caribbean, we can’t vouch for that, but we can tell you that it is the best golf course we have played so far in the Caribbean. This course is total eye-candy. The pictures on the internet don’t even begin to do it justice. It is a challenging course, but a complimentary caddy for two comes with the green fee (although a $20 tip per person is expected) and far from expecting to be intimidated by having a caddy, we are now going to be spoiled by not having one all the time. These caddies really know their stuff and help you navigate every hole with expertise. The phrase, “listen to your caddy” cannot be overstated. Guests at the Ritz get a reduced green free, but we would advise taking the even more reduced $109 twilight fee that starts at 1:30 pm. It’s a wonderful time to play – cooler and less crowded.
Don’t forget to head back to the White Witch for dinner, the best of the Ritz restaurants, in our opinion. If you are on the all-inclusive plan, there is an additional charge of $25 per person and it is well-worth it. Get a table for two on the outer side, overlooking the golf course.
There are two other golf courses, also within a short distance of the Ritz – the Cinnamon Hill Golf Course http://www.rosehall.com/golf_cinnamonhill.html
and the Half Moon Golf Course http://www.halfmoonbaygolf.com/ . We played the Cinnamon course, which we found a lot flatter and less challenging, but pleasant, with some beautiful and famous holes (the James Bond movie, Live and Let Die filmed on the 15th hole). It is definitely worth a round of play. The green fees were the same as White Witch.
We didn’t get to play the Half Moon golf course, which is the flattest of the three, but we will do so on our next trip and report on it.
We mentioned earlier that we chose Air Jamaica because of its early arrival and late departure, but due to snow in New York, or so we thought, our 7:10 pm flight didn’t leave until 11:55. You should always check your flight before leaving your hotel, which we did, so we were able to stay at the hotel, keep track of what was an ever-increasing delay and leave for the airport at the appropriate time. We found out in the afternoon that our flight wouldn’t leave until after 11:00 pm, so we headed to the White Witch for another round of golf. The delay gave us another day to play and the hotel was able to give us an extension of our check-out time. Upon arrival in New York at 3:30 in the morning the next day, the immigration officer volunteered that the couple of inches of snow had nothing to do with the delay and that Air Jamaica has a 100% late arrival time in New York. Again, this could be an advantage, but do consider it when booking. If you want to insure a better chance of arriving home on time, consider JetBlue out of Montego Bay. Come to think of it, we were never told the reason for the delay, nor was an apology offered.
Be aware that Jamaican’s have a whole different mind-set when it comes to time. Everything there is more laid back and nothing is rushed. It is just their way – probably a healthier way to live, and you will enjoy yourself more if you are prepared for this ahead of time. “Yah Mon,” “No problem, Mon” and Irie Mon” (meaning “everything is good,” “good morning,” “how are you today,” “I love you,” “take it easy,” “see you later,” “yes,” “may be,” “ok,” and so many things you would not believe) are the building block phrases of the Jamaican way of life. Just saying them is like biofeedback. Embracing them will enhance the pleasure of your trip.
Good times as the Ritz-Carlton? Yah, Mon!
Gary de Sesa & Kita de Sesa are travel agents and owners of Gary D Travel. Contact us at 516-300-9924 or
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