TRAVEL: Feeling jammy in Jamaica
Rachel Williams samples the famous hospitality at Sandals’ resort in sunny Jamaica.
Bobbing up and down on the stern of an anchored luxury catamaran, the sun beating down, I glance slowly around the wide blue bay and golden sandy beach.
Celebrity houses dot the horizon and, nearby, the famous Dunn’s River Falls rush through lush, green vegetation into the crystal-clear sea.
The waterfalls are one of Jamaica’s main tourist attractions, and one of just a handful in the world which flow straight into the ocean. They’re a beautiful sight, enticing thousands of visitors, who climb the falls in long lines, holding hands.
I’m in the bay for a spot of snorkelling. Curling round the slide at the back of the boat and splashing into the bath-warm water, I realise I don’t even know the time - and that’s not just because I’ve forgotten my watch!
It’s because I’m well and truly on what the locals cheerfully call ‘Jamaican time’. The Caribbean is seriously laid-back. There’s no such thing as checking your watch, and I don’t think the phrase ‘I’m in a rush’ even exists.
I’ve not even been in Ocho Rios, on the north coast of Jamaica, for two days and already it seems I’m light years away from the bustle of busy London - not the nine-and-a-half hours it actually took.
I’m staying at the Beaches Boscobel Resort and Golf Club. The Beaches chain is the family-friendly arm of the famous adults-only Sandals hotels. Beaches offers the same beach-front luxury, but children are welcome - and very well catered for, with clubs for tots and teens and a long list of activities to choose from.
Dunns River Falls is about a 20-minute drive from the hotel, but you can, of course, reach the area by boat, like me. After snorkelling, I clamber back onto the deck and tuck into the juicy, fresh fruit which the bar staff have laid out.
The on-board DJ pumps up the volume and the rest of the group and I dance along to reggae tunes all the way back to shore, sipping colourful cocktails for refreshment.
I wonder if this is how Simon Cowell feels on his days off!
I may not be an A-lister, but since arriving, the resort’s friendly staff have gone out of their way to make me feel like a star.
In fact, the celeb-style pampering actually began before I’d even left Gatwick. Ever wondered how the stars manage to look glowing when they step off of a plane, while the rest of us have skin like an old Mulberry handbag?
Well, I feel like someone’s finally let me in on one of their secrets - the Dermologica Spa at the airport!
The spa’s hidden at the back of the World Duty Free store, and I decided to treat myself to a pre-flight facial.
By the time I landed at Montego Bay, I felt ready to face the paps. Sadly, the only attention I received was from the men on the customs desk.
But that didn’t matter - two hours later I was at the resort, already ordering my first cocktail and eyeing up the pools (there are three, plus a pool for scuba diving training and a gorgeous private beach).
Dinner on the first night is blackened tuna steak, succulent barbecue ribs and tequila shrimp in tex-mex themed Arizona’s, one of five on-site restaurants.
The next morning I head to Sandals Golf and Country Club nearby.
Nestled in the hills, the picturesque 18-hole course is dotted with mango, Chinese cherry, orange and grapefruit trees and offers free clinics for kids looking to improve their swing.
And it’s not just better golf skills they could go home with - the resort also has its very own Scratch DJ Academy. Big kids can join in too, of course (though I’m embarrassed to say the youngsters really stood me up).
The really good ones are put forward to play in the on-site teenage nightclub.
From 10pm, it’s strictly adults only. For those of you unsure about all-inclusive resorts, there’s nothing quite like ordering champagne cocktails and not handing over any money to make you feel like a pampered VIP.
Careful though - with cocktails on tap, it’s easy to get carried away. The next morning, feeling a little delicate, I head to the the resort spa, Red Lane. Well, if it’s good enough for the celebs...
Stepping into the steam room, my hangover soon starts to ease, and the full-body massage that follows really does the trick.
Afterwards, I feel completely rejuvenated and ready for the part of Jamaica I was most looking forward to - bobsled time!
Inspired by the famous Jamaica Olympic team, the bobsled ride at Mystic Mountain, part of the Rainforest Adventures park, is another huge tourist draw.
There’s a restaurant at the top of the mountain, and a number of activities on offer. Even getting up there is fun - a chairlift that swiftly sweeps you up 700ft.
My legs are shaky when I get on, but the fantastic views across the rainforest and turquoise coastline make it worthwhile.
After a quick dip in the infinity pool at the peak, I rocketed around the mountain in the bobsled, which zooms down a 1,000-metre track, powered entirely by gravity.
The ride finishes back at the top, and getting down again is another adventure - this time by whizzing down six 100-metre zip lines.
The park is a great day out for kids and adults alike.
To finish off the trip, back at the resort I don my best dress for Caribbean cuisine at Eleanor’s, the fine-dining restaurant.
Following a feast of jerk chicken wings, escoveitched red snapper and lamb braised in coconut curry broth, I head to the piano bar overlooking the beach for a cocktail, then move on to the rum bar on the terrace afterwards, where a local steel drum band are playing Bob Marley tunes.
Dancing along, as the sea nearby glimmers in the moonlight, I can’t help thinking I’d fit in well in the A-list set...
Key facts - Ocho Rios, Jamaica
:: Best for: The friendly, relaxed atmosphere and being made to feel like a celeb.
:: Time to go: Summer months to get a good deal, or swap British frost for Jamaican sun in January.
:: Don’t miss: Bobsleding at Mystic Mountain and the famous jerk chicken!
:: Need to know: You can still burn through the clouds, so remember a high-factor sun cream.
:: Don’t forget: Pack plain white t-shirts so the kids can create a tie-dye masterpiece in the children’s club at the hotel.
Rachel Williams was a guest of The Beaches Boscobel Resort & Golf Club and flew to Jamaica with Virgin Atlantic ex-Gatwick.
Virgin Holidays offers seven nights all-inclusive at the Beaches Boscobel Resort & Golf Club from £1,595, with transfers, based on two sharing St Mary’s deluxe family room, and departures on November 28. Family of four, with two under-12s, pays from £5,499 for seven nights all-inclusive.
Start your holiday before you’ve even taken off in the v-room at Gatwick, which costs adults £20 and children £12.
Virgin reservations: 0844 557 3859 and www.virginholidays.co.uk
Reg deps incl Manchester (£119) and Glasgow (£129).