I visited Jamaica in early June with a group of writers, hosted by the elegant Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort, Rose Hall, Jamaica. A short ride from Montego Bay’s international airport, the resort opened in August 2000.
On our first evening, we were treated to dinner at The Rose Hall Great House, a historic hillside mansion with sweeping views across lush lawns and gardens to the Caribbean. Our dinner included such specialties as cream of roasted pumpkin soup with run crème fraîche, and rose-petal–dusted sea bass. But first we were educated about the more than 175 rums of the Caribbean with a rum tasting hosted by the resort’s "rummier" (and no, we didn’t sample all 175). A Great Hall docent then led us on a tour of the mansion, built around 1770. It was once home to the notorious Annee Palmer, the so-called "White Witch of Rose Hall," who purportedly murdered all three of her husbands on site. Groups can taste the cuisine—and the history—of the Great House, which is available for sit-down dinners as well as catered receptions.
The next day we headed for a North Coast adventure: river rafting on the Martha Brae River. Local oarsmen punted our two-passenger bamboo rafts (and charmed us by calling to each other, and to friends on the shore, in the local patois). We floated down the cool, spring-fed river through an oasis of shade on this hot day, sheltered from the sun by a canopy of overhanging trees such as the local allspice, with its fragrant leaves. Herons fished from the river banks, and we kicked back and chilled in true Jamaican style.
Our next day's recreation was also on the water, this time on a catamaran cruise in Montego Bay, where, to the delight of all aboard, a school of about seven dolphins leapt and frolicked in front of the boat fast-moving boat, gently rubbing up against the pontoons as they led us—or so it seemed—out to the reef. Once we lowered the sails and anchored, the dolphins seemed to loose interest in our pokey pursuits, and swam off, but we found snorkeling the reef a delightful mélange of multicolored fishes, corals, and sea urchins.
Back at the hotel, we had choices to make: a round of golf at the spectacular White Witch golf course? A massage treatment at the spa? Or perhaps just a relaxing lounge by the pool or the hotel's sandy beach, where all one need do to summon the Ritz's signature service is raise the flag on the arm of one's beach chair. Piña colada, anyone?
I chose to while away a few blissful hours in the spa, where I was pampered with the hotel's signature sugar-cane body scrub and massage treatment. First a blend of white beach sand and sugar, combined with a foaming cream, were slathered on my body for the exfoliation process. After a hot bath, the therapist used a moisturizing cream made from papaya, mango, yams, and oils to massage me into oblivion.
Others chose to play golf at The White Witch golf course. Winding through 600 acres of lush mountain terrain, the course offers 6,718 yards of par-71 play. Fifty-five concierges are on call to serve as a sort of luxury caddie, performing all the traditional functions of a caddie in addition to booking restaurant reservations, making spa appointments for treatments such as the signature White Witch Foot Soak, and bringing important messages to players while they are on the course.
Dinner on our final night was at the Reggae Jerk Center, on the beach. You can check your sandals at the entrance and feel the sand between your toes at this most casual of eateries. A limbo dance troupe entertained us, and after downing a few rum-filled coconuts, most of us joined in. Then we feasted on seasoned jerk pork, chicken, and fish served up with traditional Jamaican dishes such as bammy, roasted breadfuit, yams, and sweet potatoes, all washed down with cold Red Stripe beer.
The Ritz's other dining venues include Jasmines (Jamaican ingredients with an Asian twist. Think teriyaki glazed salmon with Jamaican conch risotto, with wasabi cream); Horizon's, for breakfast and dinner, indoors or out; and Mango's by the pool. The White Witch Clubhouse offers breezy al fresco dining with a sweeping view to the sea.
The Ritz-Carlton's meeting and conference area is in a separate wing of the hotel, giving it a very dedicated feel. It has a 10,800-square-foot divisible ballroom, with an elegant terrace overlooking an expansive lawn and the Caribbean beyond, suitable for receptions. There are four additional meeting rooms, and a dedicated conference concierge. Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort, Rose Hall