P E R S O N A L J O U R N E Y S / G L O B A L D E S T I N A T I O N S
Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall, Montego Bay, Jamaica
The Hotel Lobby
The Hotel Grounds
The White Witch
Charmaine at the golf course
The Great House
T O T A L R E L A X A T I O N. . . N O P R O B L E M M O N
Susan and I needed a break. A few days of total relaxation. We weren't looking for adventure travel and we weren't about to dress for dinner. No schedules. No tours. Just sun, sand, ocean breezes, a big pool, rum punch, pina coladas, a spa, golf... you get the picture. The only question was where. We really didn't have a strong feeling one way or the other. We'd been to several island over the years; Nassau, Freeport, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, Bermuda, Jamaica, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, but we just couldn't make a decision.
We saw an ad for the Ritz-Carlton in Jamaica and it looked like what we were looking for. We hadn't been to Jamaica since the late 1970s when our cruise stopped at Port Antonio and Ocho Rios. We remembered walking up Dunn's Falls, tropical gardens, kids swimming, going up to the mountains and several people approaching us offering their finest Jamaican "herb". That was 25 years ago.
We went to our local Liberty Travel office and booked an all-inclusive, four night, five day package at the Ritz-Carlton at Rose Hall at Montego Bay. We had stayed at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida when it first opened and loved it even though it was a bit too formal. We were assured that Rose Hall was relaxed. No dressing for dinner, no socks required, no ties and no stuffiness. We decided to leave right after Labor Day, during
the "hurricane season", to take advantage of the lower September rates.
Our "Inclusive Experience" package included an ocean view room with feather bed and balcony and all the food and drink we could handle at any of the hotels restaurants and bars and room service. Barb, our agent at Liberty Travel, also pointed out that we got two free hour massages at the hotels spa and $100 coupons everyday that were good for either spa services or golf at the hotel's championship White Witch course. For me, that meant playing a world-class course featured on Shell's Wonderful World of Golf (Vijay Singh vs. Hal Sutton) for less than a round at my local public course. I was juiced to say the least. With roundtrip airfare and hotel transfers from the airport our stay averaged out to $520 a day for the two of us, not bad for 5-star hospitality.
We left on a 7:25am direct Air Jamaica flight from Philadelphia. The plane departed on time and was only about 25% full. We had lots of room and the flight was smooth for the most part. We arrived in Jamaica at about 10:00 local time. It took us only a few minutes to collect our luggage, get our passports stamped and find the Ritz-Carlton arrival desk. It stood out from all the others with its mahoghany facade and rich red carpeting. We were greeted with smiles, ice cold towels from a silver tray served with silver tongs, and whisked off to the waiting shuttle bus. About 10 minutes later we were on our way to Rose Hall, about a 10 minute drive from the airport.
The hotel was elegant, beautifully furnished with mahoghany and painted in island colors. It is a real delight and scaled to make you feel right at home. The reception and conceirge desks were to the right of the lobby (above left) and to the left are the tea room and the Cohoba's lounge where you can buy and enjoy a Cuban cigar along with drinks or tea and appetizers. The atmosphere was welcoming and we felt comfortable instantly.
Our room was as promised. From our 4th floor balcony we had a view of the ocean and the central green that leads to the pool and the beach which is embraced by the two guest wings of the hotel. The room was comfortable with a featherbed, desk, chair and ottoman. The bathroom...marble, with bath and shower and an ample supply of towels which were replenished, if need be, twice a day.
The weather was great, not a hurricane in sight. The water was warm and the people at Rose Hall were friendly and helpful in every way possible. We dined around at every restaurant starting at the White Witch with its spectacular panoramic views of the golf course and the ocean and the food was superb. I had penne pasta with lobster in a marinara sauce and Susan had a salmon wrap. Both were superb. At Mango's by the pool we had pasta, sandwiches and salads. At Horizons in the hotel we had filet mignon, foie gras and other gourmet delights, and at Jasmines, a tapas restaurant next to Horizons, we had sushi, jerk chicken, duck, crab sticks, dumpling and... all were superb. We thought Jasmines was the absolute best and were sorry that we waited until our last night to try it. We told the chef when he stopped by our table and said, "It's always best to save the best for last". We weren't about to argue. We felt like applauding. Don't wait till your last night if you go.
Enough about the food. The golf course was incredible. I waited until Wednesday, our first full day at Rose Hall, to play the White Witch even though the clubhouse was our first stop after checking in. We took the shuttle to the clubhouse and had a wonderful lunch enjoying the view from the veranda. Then I reserved an early tee time for Wednesday morning at 7:30 am.
The elevation changes and vistas on the White Witch are dramatic to say the least. On the first hole, a par 5 and the number one handicap hole, there was over a 100 foot drop to the fairway. The hang time on my drive was amazing as was the fact that I made par on my first round. My concierge, Charmaine (right on No. 7 tee), thought I was a player so when I started to let her down around the middle of the round she started to feel badly that I wasn't scoring better. Actually, the heat was getting to me a bit and the scenery was incredibly distracting as I was taking pictures along the way. Virtually every hole is photo worthy with 16 holes offering a view of the ocean. No two ways about it, the course is intimidatingly gorgeous.
Five sets of tees allow you to choose your level of difficulty (Par 71, slope 128 - 139), but distance isn't the issue. It's ball flight and distance control. Scoring on the course is a matter of staying out of trouble because it's difficult to recover from the rough. It's deep, tangled and wirey. The fairways are bermuda and the greens bent grass, but they were top dressed when I was there and it was tough to judge the speed. Reading the greens were no problem at all though. That's where Charmaine came in. She showed me the line on each green and she was right all the time. I actually felt like I was letting her down when I missed a par putt. My advice is don't play alone unless you can pace yourself. I found my second round with two other players was more enjoyable even though it was the normal 4.5 hours. My Wednesday morning green fees were $130, $30 with my coupon and my Thursday afternoon round was $85, free with coupons. I tipped Charmaine, my concierge $20.
After golf, I enjoyed relaxingat the pool with Susan who had a massage each day. We lay about on rafts, talked with other guests, drank rum punch or whatever we felt like at the moment and snacked at Mangos. Having everything paid for ahead of time made is easy to relax completely, not having to have cash at the ready all the time. I'm telling you, all inclusive is the only way to go. One thing though. On all of the bills you sign they print gratuity not included which is not actually the case. A 10% gratuity is included, so if you tip for exceptional service keep that in mind.
There are tennis courts at Rose Hall and activities scheduled every day like scuba instruction, kayaking on the beach, sailing and wind surfing. We weren't that motivated, but its there. We did take the shuttle to the Half Moon Shopping Village right next door to look at the watches and jewelry and found the prices to be very reasonable. There are more shops in City Centre in Montego Bay, but the overly agressive sales people make the experience less than relaxing. However, if you like haggling over price it's an adventure. Just keep your wits about you. They sell everything from Cuban cigars and brand name watches and jewelry to fake Japanese Rolexes for $30.
Our last morning on the the island, we visited the Rose Hall Great House (left) near the White Witch for the guided tour. Rose Hall they say, is haunted by the ghost of Annie Palmer, second mistress of the plantation who killed her three husbands on the third floor, each in their own bedroom. She strangled her first, stabbed her second and poisoned her third. All three, she claimed, died of yellow fever and she got away with it only to be killed herself by a jealous lover. The great house was restored by John Rollins of Wilmington, Delaware who developed the property back in the 1966. It took 5 years to complete and it's worth a visit to see and hear what life was like on a sugar cane plantation. The stories our tour guide (right) told us about Annie Palmer and the goings on at the great house were incredible. She ended our tour at Annie's tomb next to the house by singing a song about Annie written by Johnny Cash who has a house at Cinnamon Hill right next to the White Witch and adjacent to the Cinnamon Hill golf course.
Did we enjoy our stay? Are you kidding! If you are looking for a great long weekend or four-day getaway to recharge your batteries, Rose Hall is one destination we would highly recommend. It is a gated retreat that is highly civilized and refined, but relaxed at the same time. Everyone there is concerned about one thing, making sure you have a great time. We did!
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