Much has been written about the ideal vacation, and sometimes it’s within grasp. But always there is the fly in the ointment, the worm in the mescal: tipping. Wouldn’t it be fine if that were all in the past?
Fear not, the future is here. Has been for some time. In Jamaica in 1979 Abe Issas owned a property near Ocho Rios called the Tower Isle Hotel that wasn’t doing too well. In fact, Jamaican tourism as a whole wasn’t thriving at that time.
Abe pondered and had an inspiration. Instead of giving up, selling out and investing in Blue Mountain coffee, he renamed the hotel, retrained and upgraded its staff and created the first “couples” idea.
The basic idea is an all-inclusive cost resort: room, meals, booze, cigarettes, all sports and equipment (including horseback riding and sailing), nightclub entertainment . . . and tips.
But if the staff couldn’t expect that extra “consideration” for extra ministrations, wouldn’t they tend to let things slide? Wouldn’t service become downright sloppy?
Perish the thought. In the morning on the way to breakfast a guest is greeted by the gardener sweeping the paths or the beachboy raking the sand, like a long-lost friend saying, “Did you sleep well? It’s a beautiful day.”
And sure enough, it already is a gorgeous day. And bartenders, surely the bellwethers of pervasive moods, shouldn’t they be surly at having to serve all those free drinks? Never. Ask for a complicated rum drink and you’ll find yourself being recommended an even more complicated Jamaican delight. A simple martini is quickly made to order with name-brand gins or vodkas.
Food is excellent and more than plentiful. Chefs at the buffet breakfasts will cheerfully strike action poses, even as they await someone’s idea for a new kind of omelet.
In short, Couples took off like a shot as couples who went there began spreading the word. The former Tower Isle took only couples, one man and one woman to a room (although marital status was not nosied into), and it quickly became a honeymoon or second honeymoon spot. So it soon became obvious that expansion was in order, but with a different point of view.
Hedonism II was born on Negril’s powdery white-sanded Seven Mile Beach at the west end of Jamaica. The resort takes its cue from a quote they attribute to Woody Allen: “The mind does all the thinking, but the body has all the fun.”
Shared Twin Basis
Operating on a “club” concept, Hedonism II rooms are rented on a shared twin basis and one is told that people who arrive as couples rekindle their relationship and mingle with singles. Marjorie Cunningham, in charge of sales, says that on the average there are four men to every woman. Thus a sense of adventure pervades the air.
There is also a nude beach. Not topless, which is becoming quite common almost everywhere (except in the United States), but nude. Healthy bodies sun, swim and take from Captain Bob’s Bare Bum Bar (do-it-yourself, stocked with liquors, juices and ice) with no sense of embarrassment. The occasional Puritan who wanders in fully clothed in a bikini is not made to feel out of it, either. The secret to all this, we were told by a believer, is to use lots of sunblock, “otherwise it’s murder.”
Farther up toward the official beach bar on the sand below the lobby and dining room is a regular, laid-back beach with glass-bottom boat, Sunfish sailing, snorkeling and scuba diving equipment along with all the volleyballs and nets anyone could ask. A big pool is right next to (of course) another bar that serves the dining and nightclub area.
All meals at Hedonism II are buffet-style. Salad and cold tables are set around three sides of a beautifully planted atrium, and to one side are tiled hot counters with five or six choices at all meals, including breakfast (try corned beef hash Jamaican style).
The fourth side of the atrium has a table with so many pastries, tarts and cakes that it’s ridiculous. Plus fresh fruits and cheeses, in case you’re thinking of a diet.
The restaurant and nightclub are one and the same area, so that after dinner it is relaxing to sit back with coffee, finish up the wine (although there is always more for the asking) and watch entertainers such as A. J. Brown, a terrific reggae crowd pleaser, or Bunny O’Niel who does a very good and funny magic and hypnosis act.
On Friday nights the staff puts on a show. Keith Trusty, the assistant manager, asserts, “We have a very talented staff . . . one of the maintenance men eats a light bulb.” Trusty also tells of one guest who came to stay the obligatory week and ended up lolling around for eight weeks in nothing but swim trunks . . . and nobody blinked.
Jamaica, Jamaica, newest of Jamaica’s super clubs, opened on Runaway Bay in December, 1984. It features authentic Jamaican food such as ackee and saltfish or bammies for breakfast, and Jamaican entertainment in the nightclub after dinner. It charts a middle road between Couples and Hedonism II.
A French Feeling
Although none of the three clubs can be claimed to be at all formal, Couples’ dining room has a distinctively French feeling with tall, draped windows and tables on various levels. Hedonism II is all open-air, but Jamaica, Jamaica starts inside with murals depicting lush Jamaican landscapes, then segues out onto a large terrace overlooking the gardens going down to the pool and sea.
Its gardens have proved a great place for weddings. In its short life, J,J has done 10 of them, providing everything including wine and cake for the whole guest list (that is, everyone from the hotel who comes by). On Wednesdays, instead of happy hour hors d’oeuvres there is a tea party with pastries and cakes. And, on registering for your week or more, you are given a Kit ‘n’ Kaboodle: jacket, shorts and tote bag, all of Jamaican calico and very useful.
All three resorts have piano bars. At Hedonism II it opens after dinner until whenever, and it doesn’t seem to matter who plays or sings. Couples provides an exceedingly dark room starting about 7 p.m. “for romance,” and J,J’s is part of the lobby, advertised “for swinging” . . . comfortable cushioned rattan lounges are suspended from sturdy roof beams and, naturally, swing to and fro.
Part of J,J’s lobby, too, is a Nautilus gym and L-shaped indoor swimming pool, for laps. The building is a huge two-story U encompassing the gardens that end in a pool big enough to have a bridge across its middle, with tables and kitchen area for buffet breakfasts and lunches.
Spacious Spread of Sand
Couples, Hedonism II and Jamaica, Jamaica are different in structure and perhaps philosophically. J,J’s “clothing optional” beach, for example, is a small end of its spacious spread of sand, but makes it a bit difficult and “special” to get to and relax with the cooler of Pepsi-Cola provided.
Couples’ nude beach is on the isle that gave the small cove its name, containing a Gothic-looking structure that “maybe was a lighthouse once,” and open-air palapas with game tables and hammocks.
All three can be thought of as cruise ships on shore. Food, including midnight snacks and bars, go almost around the clock. All three, including the new Couples on St. Lucia, are devoted to the ideas of comfort and enjoyment, which any resort should be.
The no-tipping concept has been copied on Jamaica in Eden II on Discovery Bay, and Sandals, awfully close to Montego Bay’s Donald Sangster International Airport, which serves the jumbo jets of Air Jamaica, Eastern and American Airlines, along with Aeroflot and British Airways.
Attractive Low Season Rates
Rates at Hedonism II are $940 a week until April, at Jamaica, Jamaica $875 and at Couples $1,980 for two. Rates at all three are less from Jan. 3 to 16 and all are substantially less after April in the low season.
These rates include everything, and after a stay there, you may feel as we do: Is it too much to hope that an exceedingly pleasant and efficient staff not scrounging for tips could be the wave of the future?
For now, in Jamaica’s super clubs, just settle back and enjoy what comes; that outstretched palm is to shake your hand or give you a spray of brilliantly red exonia to carry on your way.