By Eileen Ogintz
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica — DAY TWO: We are eating dinner on the terrace listening to the ocean, feasting on Caribbean lobster.
No we aren’t at a tony restaurant in Jamaica. We are at Serenity on the Beach, one of the 100 private villas in Jamaica managed by Villas by Linda Smith. Mostly, they are owned by others but this happens to be Smith’s own, “her baby,” says her chief concierge Nicky Farquharson. She found the spot, built and decorated it. The three villas here are ideal for a small wedding or reunion and can sleep 30-34 people. Farquharson adds that Smith, an American who started this business in 1985, has slept in every villa and trained every staff member and advised the owners on decorating. Many guests are three generation families. “The idea is that for this one week, this is your house, your vacation home.”
“The best vacation ever,” said Myrna Schneiderman, here at an adjacent villa with her children and grandchildren to celebrate her 75th birthday.
The best part, besides being together—breakfast in their pj’s, being together under one roof rather than separate hotel rooms.
“We left one night for dinner and then we wondered why we did,” said Alyssa Ramos, one of the daughters.
Next door, the Cowans, who are from New Jersey and own the seven bedroom villa, say they gather with their children and grandchildren –20 of them—every spring break. The babies can nap and we can still enjoy,” says Peggy Cowan. “It’ s not like being stuck in a hotel room.”
The kids are happy as clams going from the beach to the pool back again, playing wiffle ball on the grass.
One of their young guests—the villa is rented most weeks of the year—left Chef Danny a note in the kitchen. “Thank you so much for so many good meals, Love Juliet.”
I’m here with my oldest girlfriends. Just having all this space—four bedrooms! — is great. But there is a four-person staff to take care of us. We just tell Maud, Longman the cook, what we’d like to eat, and she takes care of shopping, the cooking, and the cleanup. There is a housekeeper, a laundress, and Gladstone Beckford, our butler, who manages everything with a smile on his face. He and Maud have been here more than two decades. “We have a lot of people who come back every year and they say it’s because of us,” he says.
Some people just want to “chill,” he continues, while others zip around playing golf, going to a farmer’s market one day, the famous YS falls another, to Negril for the famous seven mile beach about an hour from here. Beckford can arrange anything—spa at a neighboring resort, a nanny, golf, snorkeling or deep sea fishing, a beach BBQ at a neighboring resort or a beach BBQ right here complete with steel pan band.
I feel like this is the way the 1 per cent vacation. But the price isn’t too much higher than for a family of four or five at an all-inclusive resort, and we have our own pool, our own kayaks, snorkel gear, and don’t have to wait on line at a bar or buffet. The one drawback—though we have privileges at the two neighboring resorts, Round Hill and Tryall, it takes a cab ride to get there. Most families hire a driver for the week—roughly $1000 –who wants the stress of driving on the “wrong” side of the road on vacation.
The white, airy bedrooms have domed ceilings; the furniture is cheery blue and white. Should you want to have a small wedding or reunion, the two neighboring villas are available. But if you want to come over the holidays or spring break, book early. “After March, we’re full for Christmas and New Years, Farquharson says, but come after mid April and you can get a bargain—perhaps $3500 for a four bedroom villa for a week. Who is the villa customer?
“Most have been to Jamaica before and are looking for a different experience,” she explains. “And once they do this, they never go back.”
But it’s important to ask a lot of questions first, she agrees. If you are someone who wants to work out every morning for example, you might prefer one of the villas within a resort. If you want some organized activities for the kids, you might want to be at Tryall where the kids club is complimentary. If you especially love the beach, you might want to be on Discovery Bay. Be prepared that food can be expensive. “We encourage people to eat local,” Farquharson says –fish, chicken, pork, local yams and sweet potato, all of the varieties of fruit. And remember this is a foreign country. That means there may be unfamiliar noises or insects. (I love that there are containers of sunscreen and insect repellent all over the place.)
When we wake up this morning, coffee is waiting, and Maud and Gladstone serve us breakfast—yummy pancakes and eggs, local fruits We’ve had jerk chicken one night, the Caribbean lobster another, snapper a third. We didn’t have to lift a finger. I could get used to this!
There are umpteen excursions—sailing trips and fishing excursions we could book, visit to the Appleton Rum Distillery or to Falmouth, the oldest and historic seaport town in Jamaica, rafting, or scuba diving. Tonight we are going over to Round Hill for dinner where Smith’s villa guests can use their beach, fitness club, or the Pineapple Kids Club ($20 per child per day). The Tryall Club, also nearby, is famous for its golf course, tea on the historic Great House terrace, and more.
That’s if any of us can force ourselves to move from “our” terrace looking out at the ocean.