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North Hills Monthly

Escape to Jamaica in January (or Any Winter Month)

Jan 31, 2018 01:59PM ● By Vanessa Orr

Doctor's Cave Beach

Let’s face it; it doesn’t matter how much you love Pittsburgh, getting to escape for a week to a beach in Jamaica in the middle of January is still a wondrous thing. I have to admit that I was thanking my lucky stars as I sat on my American Airlines flight in the early morning hours, watching the crew de-ice the wings as we tried to get out of town as a massive storm was moving in.

Depending on the type of budget you have, there are accommodations and activities for just about every traveler. Many of the offerings are all-inclusive, but as I learned during my stay, that term means different things to different resorts. Make sure you ask if everything is included—sometimes certain menu items, such as seafood, carry a surcharge, and not all places consider tips to be included as part of the package.

There are also a number of things that you should check out while creating your itinerary—including the distance to and from airport. While Jamaica has an airport in each of its two major cities, Kingston and Montego Bay, you may still need to find transportation back and forth, and rides to some of the resorts can take two hours or more and carry a hefty price. I personally don’t mind a road trip because I figure it’s a good way to get to see more of the country, but if you want to get off the plane and right onto a beach, you may want to choose accommodations closer to the metropolitan areas.

I started my visit by flying into Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, and then took transportation provided by my resort, the Moon Palace Jamaica, out to Ocho Rios, which is about an hour and 40 minutes away. Our driver shared interesting facts along the route, talking about everything from the company’s economy and its mining of bauxite to pointing out the school attended by Olympic champion Usain Bolt. The resort itself was spectacular, and the staff could not have been more welcoming; I’m always a big fan of a check-in process that includes damp towels to get the travel dust off and a cocktail to quench your thirst while you wait.

At an all-inclusive like this, all of your food and drink is included, as well as tips, and you never really have to leave the resort for anything unless you want to visit the surrounding area. In addition to the town of Ocho Rios, which is within walking distance, one close-by attraction is Dunn’s River Falls, a series of cascading waterfalls that you can climb, or if you prefer to stay dry, walk along a path that runs alongside it. There are numerous tours that will take you to this destination, including catamaran trips that include snorkeling on the beach. Mystic Mountain is also close by, and includes all sorts of family-friendly activities, including zip-lining, chair lift rides, and even bobsledding (Cool Runnings, anyone?)

Unfortunately, because I brought a head cold to Jamaica along with my suitcase, I didn’t feel as adventurous as usual, so I spent most of my time soaking up the sun and enjoying the many restaurants at the resort. Let me just say something about the wonders of jerk seasoning—it might be better than medicine for clearing up one’s sinuses. 

I am sad that I didn’t get to try one activity at the resort that looked ridiculously fun—the Flow Rider® Double Wave Simulator, which creates two lanes of perfect, endless waves where you can learn how to surf. Watching the instructor work with people of all ages was a hoot, and I imagine it would be an even better time trying to ride the waves myself. Other aquatic activities included kayaking and stand-up paddling, and of course lounging around the resort’s many pools.

I always like to stay at a couple of places when I travel just to get an idea of the different things that an area offers, so I spent the last two days at the Deja Resort, located right within the city of Montego Bay. And I do mean right in the city; Gloucester Avenue, otherwise known as the “hip strip,” runs directly in front of it, and Jamaica’s most famous beach, Doctor’s Cave Beach, is located across the street. 

The beach got its name because the property used to be owned by a doctor, and you would access it through a cave. In 1932, the cave was destroyed by a hurricane, and now you enter through the Doctor’s Cave Beach Club, where you pay an entry fee of $6 per person, or $3 for children. Depending on where you stay, you may also get free day passes to the beach, which were included with our accommodations.

I think one of the most fabulous things about this beach—other than the fact that the water is crystal clear and the temperature remains between 78-84 degrees year-round—is that it’s frequented by both tourists and locals, so you get a more authentic Jamaican experience. I greatly enjoyed chatting with people from the area, and while I missed someone bringing me cocktails on the beach every hour, it was worth it to meet so many friendly folks.

In the 1920s, a British osteopath published an article claiming that the beach had curative powers, which attracted people from all over, establishing the tourist trade. And while I’m not completely healthy yet, I do have to say that I certainly felt better lying on that beach than I did returning to the 'burgh…right before the temperatures dipped below zero again.

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