It’s a Caribbean paradise that has it all, from palm-fringed beaches, fine food and wine, luxurious accommodation plus plenty to keep the children occupied, no wonder it’s so darn hard to leave...
Beaches Negril: What's not to like!
Kelly Montague from London, her husband Sam and their twins Kit and Natasha enjoyed a half-term break at family-friendly Beaches, part of the Sandals group, on one of the world’s most spectacular shorelines, the gloriously white-sanded Negril Beach on the western tip of Jamaica.
Mention that you’re going to the Caribbean for half-term, more specifically Jamaica, and people look at you slightly aghast. Surely it’s too great a distance to travel for just a week, especially with children in tow, and then what about the exorbitant cost? Well, thee of little faith, let me inform you that you’re wrong on both counts. Okay so the nine-hour flight to Montego Bay isn’t exactly what you’d call short haul, but thanks to Virgin Atlantic’s excellent in-flight service and entertainment system, it really does pass surprisingly quickly, and what’s more, there was not a single mumble or grumble from Kit and Natasha, who remained glued to their screens until sleep finally beckoned. Once landed and the cabin doors open, the sudden blast of intense tropical heat further enforces that the 4,700 odd miles travelled is so worth it, especially as temperatures had plummeted and rain was falling heavily back home. Now, as for how much this weeklong foray was costing? To be perfectly honest a lot less than you’d think (see below for full pricing details), and when you bear in mind that at a Beaches Resort everything, and I really do mean everything, is included (more about which later), then all I can say folks is what’s stopping you!
A smooth and surprisingly quick flight thanks to Virgin Atlantic
Having been fortunate enough to visit several Caribbean islands in the past, what strikes me while being driven (thanks to the free private transfer) through the bustling towns and villages on the hour and a half journey to the resort, is how each has such a distinct and unique character. Jamaica immediately feels so vibrant and alive. From the gorgeous schoolchildren, looking immaculate in their white uniforms, congregating at the bus stops to the dreadlocked men propping up the roadside bars while booming reggae emanates from makeshift sound systems, the place is a riot of colour, noise and all manner of sensations, and that’s just the people! Drag your vision further afield and the landscape is truly awe-inspiring too, with swaying palm trees and lapping blue waters one side, while lush green forests lead to more mountainous terrain the other. First impressions of the island, which is the third largest in the Caribbean at 4,411 square miles, are further reinforced throughout our stay, with everyone we encounter having such a laid-back, friendly demeanor we are utterly charmed, while the views, whether from land or sea, are so unbelievably stunning I almost feel guilty regularly posting paradisiacal pictures to friends and family back home in chilly Blighty, but only almost…
Plenty of room...
And just look at that view!
We arrived just after sunset, so it was difficult to get the full measure of Beaches Negril until the following day. That said, however, the effusive greeting from the concierge along with a cooling glass of rum punch for us and fruit punch for the children boded well, as did a delicious dinner at one of the resort’s nine eateries. Our room could not be faulted either, decorated in traditional Jamaican style and with every conceivable mod con. Tired from the travelling, we soon settled onto our huge mahogany four-poster bed (Natasha occupied the adjacent double, while Kit opted for the single pull out) and fell asleep to the whir of the ceiling fan and the sound of the cicadas outside – bliss!
Up bright and early the following morning, we pulled back the curtains to discover not only clear blue sky and the sun already beating down hard, but also a spacious wooden balcony, complete with table and chairs, overlooking the most glorious flower-festooned gardens leading to the sea. Have I mentioned how fabulous Negril Beach is? To be honest, no amount of superlatives can really do it justice. Suffice to say, the fact that it ranks among the world’s ten finest beaches should not come as a surprise!
A pit stop buffet breakfast and we were off, eager to discover all that Beaches Negril had to offer. Being children tipping over into teenagedom (some might say they’ve already tipped), Kit and Natasha had little interest in The Kids Camp, which caters for babies through to tweens, but for the purposes of this article I did pop my head in, and jolly fun and lovely it looked too (all staff are fully trained and accredited, which should put even the most anxious parent at ease). Similarly with the Sesame Street characters that roam the resort, and who Kit and Natasha studiously ignored, although me and Sam weren’t too proud to shake Elmo’s hand and do a high five with Big Bird! No, what really did it for our two was the Xbox Play Lounge, the Trench Town Teen Centre and the next door Liquid nightclub that’s teen only until 11pm. Add to this two huge pools with swim up bars, a pirate-themed water park with scary slides, bucket drop and lazy river, and that unbelievable beach where a fantastic array of water sports is offered at no extra cost, then you can see why Natasha and Kit were quickly in their element, and to be fair, us adults didn’t take long to find our footing either.
One of the world's finest beaches
Fancy a dip?
Lounging along the lazy river
What we did
Aside from laying on the beach in the 31 degree Celsius heat, interspersed with immersing ourselves in the bath-like crystal clear water that is the Caribbean, we managed to cram in quite a lot actually. One of the highlights of the trip was the scuba diving, which unbelievably is part of the all-inclusive package providing that you’re certified. Kit and Natasha were not but after a chat with the lovely Rosemarie at the water sports hut we signed them up for a nominal fee and thanks to the fantastic coaching of Samuel they had their PADI certificates in just three days, thus enabling us to enjoy the spectacular life aquatic as a family. Another brilliant sea-bound adventure was a Reggae Family Catamaran Cruise organized by Beaches’ excursion partner, Island Route Caribbean Adventures. An action-packed three-hour extravaganza on board a pristine white vessel manned by the friendliest of crews (who were also fantastic dancers as we were to later witness) with free-flowing drinks and snacks complete with music deck and DJ down below, it pretty much had all bases covered. However, thanks to the local knowledge of the captain we were in for an extra special treat with the boat was expertly navigated to a pod of dolphins that proceeded to swim beside us, leaping above the water’s surface in a display that had everyone in raptures. It was the first time Kit and Natasha had ever encountered these noble mammals – an experience never to be forgotten.
A stay at Beaches would not be complete without a visit to the Red Lane Spa for an indulgent pampering session, so halfway through our stay, when the sun had become too much, we retreated to this cool, Zen-like sanctuary where me and Natasha had a wonderful Mum and Me massage, while Kit and Sam enjoyed a Dads and Dudes one. When we reconvened after our treatments we all agreed it had been so wonderfully relaxing that what we needed now was a siesta, so back to the room we went for a very uncharacteristic nap.
Natasha takes to the water
Dolphin watching from the catamaran
What we ate
My goodness, what didn’t we eat – Tex-Mex, Japanese, Jamaican, Italian – whatever takes your fancy, rest assured one of the resort’s nine eateries will cater for it, and wherever you choose to dine there’s absolutely no extra charge, with all drinks, including fine wines and premium brand spirits, also included. What’s more, the quality of the food and service is superb. Of course, for the purposes of this article, we had to try all of them, with the Café De Paris becoming our regular early morning haunt for an aromatic Blue Mountain coffee (we liked this local blend so much, we ended up bulk buying and bringing it back). Then we’d take a leisurely stroll to Stewfish for a delicious beach breakfast and where the sugar cane pancakes became a firm favourite with Sam and the children while the freshly prepared fruit salad made me feel briefly virtuous before the afternoon and evening’s onslaught. Lunch was most often poolside either at Arizona, with all of us usually opting for the loaded nachos, or at the Bar B Q Park, where the fiery jerk chicken certainly got my vote. For nighttime dining Soy’s just out of the sea sushi and sashimi was utterly delicious and had us ordering seconds, while at Kimonos the teppanyaki was prepared with such gusto and vocal accompaniment from the chefs that it was like watching a performance. The Venetian, where a pianola tinkles away in the corner, offers a more sedate dining experience of classic antipasti, pasta and entree dishes, all beautifully presented and eaten indecently quickly! Let’s just say we didn’t come back any thinner.
Stewfish for breakfast
Sunset at the bar
Seven nights’ accommodation at Beaches Negril Resort & Spa costs from £6,105 for a family of four (2 adults and 2 children). Price is subject to availability and includes Luxury Included® (all-inclusive) accommodation in a Negril Deluxe Double, return economy flights from London Gatwick with Virgin Atlantic and return resort transfers. For more information call 0800 597 0002, visit www.beachesresorts.co.uk
Island Routes Reggae Family Catamaran Cruise costs from $95 per person. For more information visit www.islandroutes.co.uk
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Kit's artwork say it all