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Romancing Jamaica: Feeling the Vibe

By Melanie Reffes

Montego Bay sunset. Photo Credit CSpizz

Morphing big dreams into romantic realities is what a destination wedding is all about. The recipient of umpteen awards like TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice as ‘Best Destination in the Caribbean’, Jamaica is the hands-down favorite for couples from around the world who come to tie the knot, enjoy a honeymoon, renew wedding vows and celebrate an anniversary. “Jamaica’s allure is unparalleled,” said Donnie Dawson, acting director tourism, “we love sharing our charm and natural beauty and continue our tireless efforts to grow our tourism product to enable our visitors to have memorable experiences in the home of all right.”

With destination weddings a big part of tourism to the island, 15,000 additional hotel rooms are projected to open by 2021. “A record 4.3 million tourists visited Jamaica in 2017,” said Hon. Edmund Bartlett, minister tourism, “and we are looking forward to welcoming five million by 2019”. www.visitjamaica.com

One Love

Myrtle Dwyer is a destination wedding trailblazer. Photo Credit Melanie Reffes

With a smile as wide as the sea, Myrtle Dwyer knows Jamaican hospitality like nobody’s business. A tourism trailblazer and pioneer in destination wedding planning, she is now the director of sales and marketing at the Montego Bay-based Glamour Destination Management Company after many honoured decades at Half Moon Rock Resort where she is credited with the development of key niche markets including meetings and incentives, social media marketing, pre-arrival concierge services and organizing the island’s first resort destination wedding in 1989. Always dancing to the beat of her own drum, no request is too big or too small for Glamour DMC; a family business she started with her daughter Rachel Anderson who today is the company’s CEO.

“One of my clients wanted to meet Usain Bolt,” says Ms. Dwyer referring to just another day in the destination management company business, “through my gold rolodex of contacts, I arranged a meet-and-greet with Jamaica’s most famous athlete which included photos on the track where Usain trains.” Although such meet-and-greets with famous folks is not on everyone’s bucket list, the glam team at Glamour DMC is aces at coordinating unique experiences for tourists looking for an authentic island vacation and couples celebrating a wedding and honeymoon. “Perfect for coffee lovers,” she adds, “I suggest a day trip to the Blue Mountains where the best coffee in the world is grown and the air is fresher than anywhere else on Earth.” With a limitless well of ideas and infectious enthusiasm, Myrtle Dwyer and her team at Glamour DMC also arrange excursions to Treasure Beach and Bluefields on the south coast, Port Antonio with its storied past and cozy guesthouses, Black River with a stop at the floating Pelican Bar and to Kingston always abuzz with good vibes at Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records Sports Bar.

Mountain views from the balcony. Photo Credit Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort & Spa

Full-service for discriminating travelers, details are personalized for each client with top-notch arrangements including VIP airport transfers and dinner reservations at the island’s top spots to spa appointments and day trips. Always on top of trends, Glamour DMC works with Jamaica Culinary Tours offering foodies tasty experiences like a farm-to-table dinner at the iconic Jake’s hotel and for music lovers, tours to Bob Marley’s house and recording studio come with a boatload of bragging rights. “Our vision is to be the most successful DMC in the Caribbean region,” smiles Myrtle Dwyer, “our work is centered around our continuous efforts to create a superior service with a unique personalized touch.” http://glamourdmc.com

Crown Jewel

Jewel Grande Montego Bay is the newest all-inclusive on the northwest coast. Photo Credit Jewel Grande Montego Bay

New on the northwest coast, Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort & Spa is making a splash with couples looking for beachfront fun in the sun. Fifteen minutes from the Sangster International Airport, the all-inclusive all-suite all-butler resort sits pretty on a scenic cove between the hills and Caribbean Sea. A boatload of resort perks includes airport transfers, expansive spa, 12 restaurants and bars for round-the-clock sipping and snacking, 217 suites in three beachfront towers and a kaleidoscope of scenic wedding locales from seaside on the beach to the elegant ballroom. “We pride ourselves on our elevated service and easy vacation experience,” said Barbara Burton, general manager, “we’ve been open just a few months and we already have repeat guests and weddings booked.” www.jewelgrande.com 1-888-797-2735

Foodies have plenty to choose from like the Orchids buffets (we recommend the banana bread for breakfast), Waves for a Mediterranean-inspired menu and Le Bouchon for a white-tablecloth steak dinner. Bars are poolside, coffee bars open early and crafty cocktails are poured at The Lobby Bar and Morgan’s Bar. For big wedding parties and couples traveling with families, there’s a Kids Club & Teen Lounge, gratis high-speed Wi-Fi, beach and pool concierge service and non-motorized water sports.

Feeling the vibe in the Lobby Bar. Photo Credit Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort & Spa

Wooing the wedding market, packages are plenty like the ‘Intimately Yours’ with early check-in and late check-out, wedding cake pour deux, sparkling wine, keepsake gift and spa discounts. Upping the ante, the regal package called ‘Crown ‘comes with a photographer, wedding cake, toast for 20 guests, five-course beachside dinner, wedding night turndown, VIP Club MoBay arrival and departure service at the airport and spa discounts.

Plenty of space in the Two-Bedroom Ocean Front Suite. Photo Credit Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort & Spa

Butlers organize a myriad of activities like play at White Witch & Cinnamon Hill Golf Courses considered among the finest in the Caribbean, zip lining, fishing, boating, swimming with the dolphins and rafting. And for history buffs, Great House at Rose Hall is the island’s most haunted attraction. Spooky tours are offered during the day and after the sun sets.

Grand Grande Spa

Jamaica’s only salt room at Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort & Spa. Photo Credit Jewel Grande

Inspired by island remedies and sourcing Jamaican products, Grande Spa at the Jewel Grande Montego Bay is a stately stand-alone coming in at 30,000 square feet of pure serenity. “Our spa is truly a one-of-a-kind”, said Sienna Creasy, spa director, “we have the only quartz sand table in Jamaica which is popular with our guests who come to experience the ultimate in relaxation as the sand perfectly takes on the shape of the body providing a cocoon of warmth.” Another first in Jamaica, Himalayan Salt Therapy Lounge is illuminated with hard-carved salt blocks that act as a natural ionizer. For couples chasing away wedding jitters, the spa menu invites with a cornucopia of treatments. “One of our most popular is the lemongrass massage,” adds Sienna Creasy, spa director, “it’s a soothing experience with a calming fragrance that couples enjoy.” Stay awhile at the Ortanique Café & Juice Bar for a Beet of the Heart smoothie made healthy with ginger, apples and beet root or a soothing cuppa herbal tea and make it a day in the fitness center, oceanfront yoga room, sauna and Pilates classes.

Mineral pool and Jacuzzi at Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort & Spa. Photo Credit Jewel Grande

Worth the splurge, Couples Indulgence is, indeed, that, in a VIP Spa Suite with comfy massage tables, rainfall shower and soaking tub. An authentic Bush Bath soothes the soul while a Himalayan Sea Salt Hot Stone Massage is the real-deal for an island chill-out. To take home, couples are given a heart-shaped stone as a romantic keepsake.

Salt bed at the Grande Spa at Jewel Grande Montego Bay. Photo Credit Melanie Reffes

For brides, ‘Blissful Bride Ritual ‘is a four-hour package that invites with a Jamaican Coffee Scrub, Espresso Detox Slimming treatment, calming skin mask, body massage, manicure, reflexology pedicure and hair blow-out to beat the band (and the heat!). For brides with VIP’s in tow, ‘Bridal Party En Suite “includes a mani and pedi for every gal in the wedding party and a wine and cheese plate to keep things lively. For the men, ‘007 Groom Experience ‘is inspired by Ian Fleming who wrote the James Bond spy thrillers in Jamaica. Kicking off with a rum scrub, the afternoon for guys-only goes the distance with a heated gold quartz treatment on the sand bed and body and scalp massage.

Jewish Jamaica

Jamaica’s only Kosher restaurant is open in Montego Bay. Photo Credit Chabad of Jamaica

Adding ‘holiness’ to a holiday, Rabbi Yaakov Raskin is one-stop-shopping for a Jewish wedding and just about every other Jewish tradition. “We are here for every stage in life from bar mitzvahs to destination weddings”, smiles Rabbi Raskin who with his wife Mushkee moved to the island in 2014 and is the only Rabbi in Jamaica. With 200,000 Jewish tourists visiting annually, the Rabbi is catering to a growing market that come for Friday night services, Jewish wedding ceremonies and holiday celebrations.

New on the Hip Strip in Montego Bay, he’s also busy with the Kosher Hot Spot; the only Kosher restaurant in Jamaica and where the Monday night barbecues are irie, mon. “Everyone is welcome to our party by the beach, “he smiles noshing on a jerk falafel “it’s a lively combination of grub for your tummy, food for your thoughts and authentic Jewish -Jamaican schmoozing .” With the national motto ‘Out of Many One People’, the island is a true melting pot of cultures from around the world. “Jamaica is an extraordinarily diverse island,” says Lisa Adelle-Jondeau, destination marketing officer, Jamaica Tourist Board, “we appreciate the Rabbi’s warm welcome to those of the Jewish faith and to everyone else who may be vacationing on the island.”

Kosher Hot Spot is open in Montego Bay. Photo Credit Chabad of Jamaica

For couples marrying in the Jewish tradition, Rabbi Raskin not only officiates at weddings but also arranges Kosher food to be served at the reception and a fully-stocked Kosher kitchen in any one of the many honeymoon villas on the island. “The warmth of the Jamaicans is undeniable and the beauty of the island unmistakable,” adds Rabbi Raskin, “we are honoured to call the island home.” www.jewishjamaica.com/welcomehome/

Love Birds

Feeding the tiny birds at Rockland Bird Sancuary. Photo credit ww.thingstodoinJamaica

In the Parish of St. James, Rocklands Bird Sanctuary in Montego Bay is home to thousands of birds like hummingbirds, Black-throated Blue Warblers and Caribbean Doves. With a storied past, the country home and gorgeous gardens were once home to Lisa Salmon who lived it in until her passing in 2000. Local historians call her the original ‘bird trainer’ who moved to this remote area in the early 1900’s. Fond of strolling through the hills and feeding the birds along the way, she noticed the birds started to follow her home to the rustic cottage where they still flutter about today. As the story goes, on the day she died, all the birds flew away from her home and on the day, she was buried, the birds returned.

Views of Montego Bay from the Rockland Bird Sanctuary. Photo Credit Melanie Reffes

Today, the gardens are as peaceful as they were at the turn–of-the-century and open for tours under the watchful eye of Fritz; Lisa’s nephew. Popular with those looking for a few hours away from the sun lounger, visitors are given a tiny vial of sugar water in order to attract the petite hummingbirds tame enough to land on your finger to sip from the sugared water. Nirvana for bird-watchers and nature lovers, feeding the birds is remarkably serene and an experience you’ll find nowhere else on the island. Views of the city below are breathtaking and the birds seemingly delighted to pose for photos. The tour is priced at $20.00 per person with travel time from the resorts in Montego Bay about 20 minutes.

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Romancing Jamaica: Feeling the Vibe