I just returned from
a week of paradise on the Isle of Jamaica. In case any of you are contemplating
vacationing there, I kept copious notes.
Because of the length of this report, I will be sending it out in two
parts; part 1 today, Wednesday February 5th and part 2 on Saturday February
28 January I caught the early morning Delta shuttle from Idaho
Falls to Salt Lake City
where I transferred to a Jet Blue direct flight to JFK and was met by my
longtime friend, Nicole. It was approximately
5 degrees when the plane lifted off from Idaho
Falls and a balmy 19 degrees upon my arrival in
first thing I did before leaving home is notify my credit card company
(Barclay’s Bank) where I would be traveling and on what dates. Barclays has a very good security system and
will suspend your card until they get hold of you to confirm unusual
is our tradition whenever Nicole picks me up from JFK, we have dinner at Le
Bernardin, Chef Eric Ripert’s Michelin three-star French / seafood mecca in
first, we drove to Nicole’s Upper Westside (Riverside Park)
townhouse (in the vicinity where “You’ve Got Mail was filmed) to have some
champagne and change for an intimate evening with an outstanding meal. While Nicole poured a bottle of Veuve
Clicquot rose champagne, I changed into my black, pinstripe suit, Jeffrey Beene
wrinkle proof yellow shirt, and red & black power tie. She, of course, decked herself out in a
designer outfit that I’m glad I didn’t have to pay for.
we wouldn’t be back in time to watch it live, Nicole set the digital device to
record the president’s State of the Union address and the GOP response by Rep.
Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-Wash.) on the Fox News Channel, so that we could watch
it later and fast forward through the bullshit.
Even a liberal Democrat like Nicole realizes that while Obama
talks-the-talk he seldom, if ever, walks-the-walk.
had made the reservation at Le Bernardin weeks before and we were immediately
seated at what had become known as our
table, a center restaurant booth against the wall, where you cannot help
but be noticed, and indeed the former playboy model was. Approaching 45 years of age, I swear she doesn’t
look any different than when I photographed her for Playboy, when she was in
her late teens and early twenties. Aside
from the celebrity centerfolds, she was one of Playboy’s highest paid models;
albeit she was never selected for centerfold status.
Ripert was not on duty, attending some wine pairing out on the West Coast. Nicole was particularly disappointed.
start with, I had the pan fried, charred squid (calamari) a la plancha, with
green olive and black garlic emulsion, sundried tomato sauce vierge.
started off with slivers of Scottish salmon and baby radish salad with
tomatillo-mezcal nage and lemon vinaigrette.
She said it was to die for.
the main entrée I naturally went for the crispy duck breast; snow peas, and
sour cherry sauce.
had difficulty choosing between the pan roasted filet mignon with wild
mushrooms together with a mole sauce, and the duo of lamb, a roasted rack and
braised shank, served with goat cheese, potato purée and red wine sauce. She finally chose the latter.
were lucky the head sommelier, Aldo Sohm, was on duty. We let him pick the wines, one bottle of 2010
Cakebread Reserve Napa Chardonnay and the rest by the glass. Aldo
confided that he had been saving the Cakebread Reserve for someone whom he felt
could appreciate it. I found it pleasantly
buttery and yeasty with tastes of butterscotch and aromas of ripe peach and
yellow apple fruit.
desert, I tried the Chocolate mille-feuille with caramelized phyllo, thyme
gelee, salted milk and chocolate ice cream.
chose the pistachio passion fruit gelee, with Meyer lemon and pistachio ice
Aldo apologized for not having Pastis or the Greek Ouzo, but had a terrific Kir
for me and a nice peach Bellini for Nicole.
morning we caught the 11:12 a.m. non stop Jet Blue 3 hour 56 minute flight to Montego
Bay’s Sangster International Airport. Nicole booked us first class and
accommodations were excellent; including the champagne and lunch service. On this flight, first class was only $500
more than coach; with taxes, the entire airfare amounted to less than $950
was below freezing when we departed Manhattan
and 82 degrees when we landed in Jamaica. It would get up to 84 degrees later in the
afternoon. Nighttime temperatures would
drop by an average of 10 degrees. As an
aside, I later learned that as we departed JFK, Rexburg Idaho was working on a second foot of snow;
the first foot having been dropped several weeks earlier but due to the low
temperatures had not melted.
the Jamaican airport, there was an air conditioned shuttle ready to transport
us to our resort, The Caves, an hour-an-a-half drive, basically south by
southwest of the airport. The town of Negril, where The Caves is located, is on Jamaica’s west
coast. Since neither Nicole nor I like
to be tied down without our own transportation, we rented a Ford Mustang 5.0 GT
at the airport, taking out full insurance.
I had recently renewed my international drivers’ license, since Jamaicans drive
on the left, which can be confusing to Americans, and most of the roads are
unpaved and further taking into consideration the fact that Jamaicans have a
need for speed, I suggested Nicole do the driving. Her reflexes were far better than mine.
arrived at The Caves, on Lighthouse
Road, Nigril, at a little before 5 p.m.; beating
the bus by only 12 minutes. Incidentally,
is on Eastern Standard Time, so Nicole didn’t have to reset her watch and I
mentally added two hours to my own time piece.
resort staffs have a reputation of being absolutely wonderful and ours was no
all-inclusive resort sits atop the scenic cliffs in Negril overlooking the
ocean and a more peaceful site I cannot recall.
In contrast to some of the larger “mega-resorts” the Caves is a small
boutique-style place with less than 20 rooms on the entire property, giving it
an intimate, secluded vibe. Each room
(designated by names, not numbers) has a unique architecture and décor and is
equipped with a bottle of Blackwell rum, white and red wine, fresh-ground Blue
Mountain coffee, an obscenely comfortable bed, a large flat screen satellite HD
TV; and a collection of reggae CDs which a note explains the staff will be
happy to copy for you, if you like.
had previously requested the Moon Shadow, a two level cottage with a sitting
room and fully stocked bar which she managed to get for the price of an
upstairs room. It had a great view of
the ocean and was very spacious.
Caves is not a place of pretention, rather, it’s the kind of place where you
can walk around barefoot, eat breakfast (oh, those banana pancakes!) in your
bathing suit, enjoy a soothing sunset and laugh with like-minded people. And, as I mentioned before, the staff is the
most helpful and accommodating I have ever encountered.
you want vegetarian fare or nostalgic cuisine from your island childhood (as
was the case for one guest who had grown up in Martinique),
the answer is “no problem.” I was even
scolded for getting out of the hot tub to order drinks from the bar. But the other guests at the hotel were half of
what made our stay so memorable. In the case of Nicole, jumping off a 30-foot
cliff into the Caribbean is so much less
intimidating when you have a crowd cheering you on.
Caves also includes several experiences that would be considered “extras” at
your standard all-inclusive resort. How
does an hour in the private hot tub at sunset with champagne, fruit &
cheese sound? Or dinner for two in one
of the caves for which the resort is named? Personalized snorkeling and diving tours?
of my newsletter emails ask me, that at 74 years of age, what it is that seems
to draw me to scuba diving. I hadn’t
really thought about it, but the answer is probably that I find maneuvering in
the water much easier than on land. I
guess it just boils down to the freedom of movement. On land, I’m at the mercy of my legs; the
reason that for the second year in a row I have not gone skiing at my
world-class Targhee Resort.
all The Caves has to offer, it’s easy to see why everyone there walked around
with a huge smile on their face, until it was time to leave, that is. On those days, you could tell who was checking
out because they looked as though they might burst into tears at any moment. In a word, the whole experience was rather
Caves has no beach (the 7 mile white sand beach is a couple miles further
south). But the natural beauty of
limestone cliffs and caves masterfully carved by the relentless ocean tides is
a marvel in itself. Sunsets that are
breath taking, an ocean so turquoise it looks artificial, and the erotic breezes
that blow nonstop are just more natural beauties. I can think of no other place where you can
have an ocean cave grotto all to yourself...without standing in some kind of
line or making some kind of reservation.
Just descend the stone staircase to your private respite.
first night, Nicole and I took our dinner in one of the romantic grotto
caves. It was definitely memorable. We both enjoyed a fresh seafood sampler dinner
washed down by an indigenous white Caribbean
wine and a bottle of Roderer Cristal champagne.
I should mention that at most Caribbean
resorts premium drinks are extra. They
want to stuff you with inexpensive rum and exotic juices.
French champagnes come with the dinner but for a mere extra US$75 (charged to
your room) you can order a Dom Perignon or Roderer Cristal. And for an extra $45 you can order a RD
(recently disgorged) Bollinger. For an
extra US$35 you can have a Taittinger Comtes de Champagne (including the Rosé),
instead of the all-inclusive included champagnes such as: Krug, GH Mumm, Moet & Chandon Imperial, Perrier-Jouet,
Nicolas Feuillatte, Laurent-Perrier, Piper Heidsieck, Pommery, and Veuve
Clicquot (although I think we might have paid a slight premium on the
Clicquot). My Jack Daniels didn’t cost
extra, although a Hennessy XO and Paradis Nicole and I ordered later in the
week did appear on our room charges, albeit heavily discounted.
seafood samplers included a number of Caribbean Sea
foods, seasoned to perfection with sauces to match.
breakfast the following morning, we decided to make the three and-a-half hour
drive to Sandals Grande Riviera at Ocho Rios,
a two hour drive on the north coast Highway A-1, such as it is, from Montego Bay; thanks to the tourist trade, most of which is
we drove up the west coast to Montego Bay (which is located in the northwest
corner of Jamaica)
then headed east along highway A-1 to Ocho Rios. About 45 miles east of Montego Bay we arrived
at Falmouth, the harbor where the giant Carnival, Disney and Royal Caribbean
cruise ships dock and unload their passengers for sight seeing. We spotted a huge cruise ship docked at the
port but were too far away to see which cruise liner it was.
there isn’t much between Montego Bay and Falmouth, east of the ancient port
there is Coral Spring, Rio Buero, Discovery Bay, Runaway Bay, St. Ann’s Bay,
and finally Ocho Rios, home of the Sandals Grande Riviera and Royal Plantation
the map provided by Avis, as we approached Sandals Grande Riviera,
I noticed that Oracabessa
Bay and Goldeneye, the
Jamaican home of Ian Fleming, and where he wrote the James Bond novels, was
only about a 15 to 20 minute drive ahead.
I suggested we visit the Goldeneye resort first and then double back to
the Grande Riviera.
readily agreed and so we transitioned onto highway A-3 and continued eastward
on an unpaved (gravel) road, passing small resort after resort. We soon spotted Golden Head on our right and
a minute or two later Goldeneye on our left.
Many of the locations for the Bond films “Dr. No” and “Live and Let Die”
were filmed nearby.
Goldeneye is now part of the Chris Blackwell’s Island Outpost hotel chain we
figured it might not be an all-inclusive resort and thus decided to take a
chance on being able to stop by for lunch, even though we weren’t registered
approached the private entrance to the resort and were greeted by the friendly
guard who, because we weren’t part of the usual shuttle from the airport, proceed
to check us out thoroughly.
speed things along Nicole handed the guard one of her publishing house business
cards and asked me to show him my academy card.
By that she meant my Academy Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) membership
card; which I readily produced and handed to the guard. Just as Nicole was coming up with a logical
explanation for the purpose of our visit, the guard took one look at the recognizable
golden image of “Oscar” emblazoned on the plastic and fell all over himself to
was giving the guard some nonsense about looking into the possibility of publishing
a book on the fabulous resorts of northern Jamaica and their highly
professional staffs and great chefs. She
explained that we just wanted to have lunch and take some notes on the
food. We would pay for our meal and
drinks, of course.
my Academy card, the guard and told us to pull over to the side of the road and
park while he made a phone call.
waited about four or five minutes before the guard came across the road from
his station, a big smile on his face. Returning
my Academy card, he gave us directions on where to go and where to park. Nicole put the Mustang in gear and was just
about to pullout when the guard called out that Jenny, the resort manager, and Clayton,
the concierge, would meet us in the parking lot.
we headed for the designated parking area, Nicole and I looked at one another,
wondering what can-of-worms we might have unleashed.
the parking lot, we were indeed greeted by the manager, Jenny, and the
concierge, Clayton who greeted us warmly and led us to Jenny’s office. It was then that we surmised that it was
indeed an all-inclusive resort and that we were probably in well over our heads. But at this point there was no alternative
but to go along with what we had started.
the manager’s office, Jenny informed us that she was taking us to lunch and
that since the main restaurant was only open for dinner, we had two choices as
to where to have brunch; the Bizot Bar or the Gazebo; which were both open for
breakfast, lunch and dinner. Jenny
handed us a menu for both venues.
Located on the western arm of Low Cay Beach, just steps away from the sea, Bizot
Bar is the spot for stylish low key dining.
It serves breakfast and lunch that includes fresh salads, yummy burgers
and tasty pastas, as well as famously authentic and delicious Jamaican
The Bizot Bar is named for French counter-culture
connoisseur, Jean-Francois Bizot (1944 - 2007) and good friend of Ian Fleming,
in Fleming’s later life. A journalist
and music tastemaker, Bizot founded Radio Nova in Paris and introduced World Music to French
Built in an aerie, tree house-style, the newly designed
Gazebo (with lounge and restaurant) serves up dishes with an international
flavor. Overlooking Low Cay Beach and The Lagoon, the Gazebo is the sexy,
open-air spot to enjoy cocktails while watching fiery Caribbean
sunsets. Dishes range from grilled
lobster tail to seasoned rack of lamb, complemented with an outstanding international
was a no-brainer. Both Nicole and I were
anxious to begin enjoying some of the authentic Jamaican specialties washed
down by inexpensive local and international wines.
two main wineries in Jamaica
are Appleton Estates and Journey’s End, both located in Kingston, where most of the indigenous grapes
are grown. These grapes include Verdejo
(a white grape from Spain),
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Durif (Petite Sarah) and Sauvignon Blanc.
the Bizot Bar and Grill, Jenny suggested a wine pairing of Petite Sarah with
Jerk Chicken or Jerk-Spiced Shrimp with the Verdejo. I chose the chicken and Nicole the shrimp;
sharing, of course. Both dishes were
incredible and the wines were indeed a perfect pairing.
lunch, Jenny suggested we might want to take one of the resort’s canoes and
paddle ourselves out to the Ian Fleming Villa, which Clayton (the concierge)
arranged, and we did.
the canoe, we climbed the steep steps to the top of the lagoon. It is easy to see where Fleming got his
inspiration. The view from his villa is
breathtaking. It is said that when
writing Fleming had to draw the curtains otherwise the view was too much of a
we departed Goldeneye, Clayton insisted that he buy us a farewell drink at the
Gazebo, in case we should want to include it in our writings. Since Nicole was the designated driver, she
opted for the Blue
Mountain coffee and
entertained Clayton while I proceeded to get acquainted with the bartender and
the islands indigenous rum drinks; the popular ones which included, but were
not limited to: the Dark and Stormy,
Mango Sling, Black and Blue, Golden Ginger Mojitos, Sailaway,
and Pink Flamingo.
later told me that Clayton asked questions about my career that indicated he
had looked up my film and TV credits on the Internet Movie Database
(IMDb). My only comment was that at
least he and Jenny had done their homework.
She added that she had told the concierge of our plans to visit Sandals
next. “He said that he would phone
Rocco, the hotel manager, and tell him to be on the lookout for us.” My comment to Nicole was that I wasn’t sure
how to interrupt his statement, “be on the lookout.” She assured me that it would be alright.
was a little after 2 p.m. when we headed back to Ocho Rios and Sandals’ Grande Riviera. Twenty minutes later we arrived at our
destination. Compared to the boutique
resorts of The Caves and Goldeneye, Grand Riviera is huge…or maybe it just
looks that way because another Sandals resort, The Royal Plantation, sits next
door. Nevertheless, it is
fact it’s so large that it has expanded on the other side of a fenced (freeway
style) road the cuts through the property. Jitneys running every five minutes transport
guests staying on the other side to the restaurants and beach area. The cottages on that side of the “freeway”
have private pools and butler service at no additional cost. Since the ocean-side has no butlers, many
consider this a distinct advantage.
the Mustang in the lot closest to the administration building, Nicole and I
decided to go for it. What the hell
could they do but kick us out.
presented ourselves to Lydia,
the concierge and, handing over one of her cards from a major publishing house,
Nicole asked to see the manager, Rocco.
One of the lines on Nicole’s card reads, Executive Assistant to the VP
& Executive Editor; except the line actually mentioned the well known VP & Executive Editors name. Glancing at the card, Lydia breaks into a big smile and
turns to me, “You must be Mr. Stevens,” she surmises, then addressing us both: “the
manager is expecting you.”
whole scam we were perpetrating had gotten totally out of control. Awaiting our arrival in the manager’s office
was not only the Grande Riviera manager, Rocco but, as he was introduced, Mark
Starkey, the general manager of the neighboring Royal Plantation. I couldn’t help feeling that our luck had finally
run out and that we were in for it.
high profile publishing house, in which Nicole was the executive assistant to its
executive editor, previously published a non fiction account of my coverage for
Reuters of the final months of the Zimbabwe War of Independence and its
aftermath. This made me no stranger to
my introduction by Rocco, Mark stuck his hand out for me to shake. A little taken aback, I hesitantly
complied. But the shake was sincere and
no cuffs were slapped on my wrists.
appeared that Rocco had definitely been briefed as to the purpose of our visit
and that he had bought into the scam, such as it was.
Rocco was no dummy. My mouth dropped as
he informed Nicole that he had talked to Nicole’s boss at the New York based publishing house and that the
VP and Executive Editor had requested that the Grande Riviera give us its full
support and cooperation.
All I could think of was that Nicole had a lot of
explaining to do once she returned to work.
But that was then, and this was now.
Despite the fact I initially wished I were somewhere else, I found
myself finally getting with the program