Columbus described it as “the fairest island that eyes have beheld.” The home of soaring Blue Mountains and throbbing reggae music, Jamaica is currently celebrating its 50th Anniversary of Independence.
“The big day, August 6th, will be honored with parties and parades but the festivities will last all year,” says Marcia Bullock-Jobson, regional director of meetings, conferences & incentives at the Jamaica Tourist Board. This celebration is good for groups, as hotels are upgrading infrastructure with new and refurbished rooms and public spaces. Among the luxed-up properties are the 489-room Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa, nestled on an 18th century sugar plantation, and 273-suite Iberostar Rose Hall. Both of these are ideally set near the new 132,000-sf Montego Bay Convention Centre, the largest in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Also in the area, the 427-room Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort is Jamaica’s only 5-diamond resort, with 25,000 sf of group space and what we think is one of the most underrated golf courses in the Caribbean. “We have more attractions—over 160—than any other Caribbean island,” says Bullock. “Following a day of meetings, visitors can enjoy river rafting, world class golf, duty-free shopping, ziplining, horseback riding, bobsledding, deep sea fishing, bicycle tours, dolphin and shark encounters, and more.”
As for the mythical reggae jamming, Bullock points out the Reggae Sumfest in July and Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival in January. She says to think of those as value added backdrops for your next incentive program because nothing gets people bonding and relaxing like reggae music on the beach. Get a group singing Three Little Birds and you’re good to go.
Imagine cruising the rainforest rivers outside of Montego Bay on a bamboo raft built by you and your colleagues. How about racing that raft against other teams within your company or client, followed by stories and beers at the water’s edge when the race is over? This spring, Bert Wright of Jamaica Tours Limited made it happen for a group of 50 at the 350-suite Secrets Wild Orchid Resort, located on the harbor in Montego Bay.
“The MC began with icebreakers getting everyone in tune with each other,” says Wright, for whom being “in tune” is job one. Blame it on the incomparable Bob Marley who is on a permanent DJ loop about everywhere in Jamaica. Wright then created 10 teams, each aided by professional raftsmen and “fun coordinators” to assist with technical needs and Jamaican patois instruction. After team leaders were elected and team cheers composed, the bamboo, wire, nails and saws were handed out and the building began.
“The race left everyone in high spirits,” he says. “We saw a satisfied client and a host of truly happy participants.” As the island’s largest ground tour operator and DMC, Wright also offers catamaran cruises, coast-to-coast drives to the brilliant south coast, horseback rides on an old sugar plantation, swimming with dolphins and bobsledding.
Yes, bobsledding. For thrill-seekers and Cool Runnings fans, Wright says the Rainforest Bobsled at Mystic Mountain is a must. A chairlift flies you through the Ocho Rios rainforest treetops to the mountaintop, and then, “The Bobsled sends you on this zooming ride through the tropical landscape,” says Wright. “You can control the speed up to 40 mph, but if you want to go faster you can take the zipline down.”
HALF MOON, JAMAICA
Jamaica’s culinary scene is as fun and unique as the people and soul of this country. Steve Sowa, executive chef at the 197-room Half Moon, a RockResort, enjoys not only redefining the old classics, but he gets a kick out of making food tales part of the Jamaican adventure for groups of all sizes.
“We use as much local produce and products in our restaurants as possible and we are always looking to develop traditional Jamaican dishes in a more modern, creative way,” he says. “As in, say, jerk chicken springs with sorrel chutney, which we serve at our signature restaurant Sugar Mill.”
This is inspired by native dishes and the locavore movement, while employing classic culinary technique.
“The biggest culinary trend in Jamaica at the present time is, ‘Eat what we grow and grow what we eat,’ so we use as much local ingredients as possible in creative ways,” adds Sowa.
For larger events, Sowa says a beach BBQ of jerk suckling pig and chicken prepared in a traditional bamboo village setting directly on the beach is always a group favorite. Likewise, the ‘Cook off Challenge’ brings out the inner Iron Chefs in participants creating a healthy competition in the process.
The award-wining wine cellar at the Sugar Mill is one of the finest in Jamaica. It hugs the entrance of the restaurant and boasts over 150 varieties from around the globe. Guests can enjoy a tour with the sommelier, choose a bottle and savor the unique atmosphere of local cedar wood blended with the alluring aroma of perfectly aged wine. Handcrafted rum is beginning to receive similarly sophisticated treatment. The gorgeous 144-pax Sugar Mill has introduced rum/dinner pairing events for a variety of budgets.