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Ocho Rios, Jamaica: The Royal Treatment

Forget all you thought you knew about Jamaica: Bob Marley tunes, out of control college Spring Breakers and being one of the highest drug usage capitals of the world. That’s old news. Instead, think caviar, Cole Porter and the world where a private butler can still be yours in this re-created Brit bliss of Royal Plantation in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Royal Plantation might just be the best celebrity hide-out in Caribbean. Jessica and Nick loved it in their better days. TV star Fran Drescher revealed she had a had a torrid love affair there. Even country singer Johnny Cash had a villa nearby. A little bit of Merry Old England surrounds the luxe grounds of this former sugar plantation-turned-sexy resort in Montego Bay and beckons you to a world of non-stop beachside glamour.

Why the attraction to coming here? Jamaica is an island surrounded in magic. Literally. There’s a consistent intrigue to the vibe of the island and the entire area is surrounded in lore that permeates just about everything here. There’s even a local legend that has made it famous for centuries: that of Annee Palmer who killed her three husbands, and countless slaves after she had bedded them) over two hundred years ago at her Rose Hall estate nearby. Things like that make the island seem a bit extraordinary, if not a little more interesting than the Disney-fied resorts on other islands.

A quick, non-stop flight out of Houston sets you on the path to a weeklong getaway that might just be your favorite journey yet. Fly directly into Negril, catch a private Royal Plantation liveried car to the resort about an hour and a half away, and let the fun begin. When you drive up the winding road to the property, you immediately feel you are in the English countryside of York. The Brits who possessed the island have left their impenetrable mark on just about everything nearby. This bastion of Jamaican hospitality is set on eight acres of immaculately manicured tropical gardens. The hotel is an adults-only getaway that is rich in traditional British Colonial character reminiscent of aristocratic plantation manors.

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Grand and just a little imposing, the Georgian architecture of the resort’s finely tuned English appointed furniture and accessories evoke a sense of calm from the first step into the door. The grand and sweeping staircases lend to the distinctive air of a manor house. The peacocks that roam the grounds add a touch of exotic island element They’re just one of the many finer points to enhance your stay. The five-star service at this Leading Hotels of the World venue proves that no small detail is overlooked. My suite of several rooms that overlooked the beach made me feel like I was in a bygone era long ago. The kind of place where one might have sailed on a large luxury ship with the intent of spending time with family or dear friends for months at a time.

To continue that extraordinary service, in your suite you’ll find amenities not often seen. A fully stocked bar of top shelf spirits, a large mahogany bed with linens from Florence await you. And yes, there’s the infamous ���pillow menu,” so when you do finally lay your head to rest, it will be on a pillow that is custom-tailored to your needs. Choose from one that is water-filled, buckwheat, memory foam, or a body cushion. I tried all of them and each makes for a perfect slumber. But who has time to sleep with all the fun that awaits you here in paradise?

Baggage neatly tucked into your rooms, it’s off to afternoon tea on the terrace at 4 pm. On very good china. Life can quickly feels civilized again after the roadside views of the locals’ everyday life. And, oh, the people you encounter at Royal. Look…there’s an American actress trying to hide out under a large brimmed picture hat with a Pucci scarf hat band blowing in the breeze. Seated nearby are a couple of royals in for the weekend – their family’s been coming to the island for generations, of course. After you bid adieu to your new famous pals that you love reading about on Page Six, or in this magazine’s Reveal column, hop into your swimsuit for a reinvigorating, late afternoon swim before dinner.

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You have a choice of where to go for a dip. Both exceptional. Laze around the pool that overlooks the ocean (the only heated one on Jamaica, incidentally) or frolic in the ocean just beyond your well tended to chaise lounge area. The resort has two halves… the drinking, may-I-get-you-another-Mango-margarita, sir-kind, and then the adventuresome side where you can get your sport on with windsurfing, snorkeling and sailing. All of which are recommended to drop a few ounces before your next meal. Or you can kayak to really feel like you own the remote sea area. Should you feel like nurturing your Inner Tarzan, you’ll want to go canopy zipper lining throughout the pristine rainforest nearby. Sort of like skydiving, you’re step into a harness that connects above to a zipper line that goes from thousand year old tree to thousand year old tree. Sound simple? You bet, yet remember you are doing in down a mountain, thousands of feet above a river and surrounded by amazing wildlife. Not for the weak of heart, but it will get yours beating faster should you embark on this adventure like I did.

Then come back to the Plantation to work out all the pressures of the world at the Royal Spa. Nine body treatments, eight massage therapies (including oudoor moonlight couple massages, four handed massages, aromatherapy, reflexology, eight facial treatment choices and more. Then after your deluxe set of treatments, you can take a steam to relax the muscles.

When you then hop out of that wet bathing suit and into a dry martini, life gets even better. Instead of a dry martini, though, wander into the C Bar, where the caviar selection seems endless, and the champagne is always perfect chilled. The sommelier, trained in such tings, grabs the nearest knife off the wall to de-cork the bottle of bubbly. Yes, it’s both theatrical and effective. And the champagne somehow tastes better. Or you can go back to your private villa. Where a butler is on staff 24/7. Now that’s luxury. Phyllis Erhlich, a media tycoon visiting the resort with her husband Joel from New York told me about their stay at the villa, “We love the intimacy of this resort--you can spend time alone, or mingle with other guests and staff when you want to. Staying at the villa was magical. What a treat to have your own personal butler and to be pampered so beautifully. Joel's favorite part was being able to walk about in a towel. Mine was having someone else do what I usually do at home.” Pampering is right. The villa includes a spacious living room, three bedrooms, a large private pool, a million dollar view of the ocean, and of course, the ‘round the clock butler.

Jamie Stewart, heiress to the Sandals Resort fortune, oversees the style and civility of the hotel. She knows all about The Royal Treatment since her family started the Sandals resorts back in the 1970s and now owns Royal Plantation, too. She hosted a cocktail party for us at Rios Bravos, her family place where she will soon be married. She sums up the entire Royal visit best by saying, “For me, luxurious plantation living is enough for guests to return year after year, from all corners of the world.”