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Expedia Brings Concierge Service to Montego Bay

Expedia Concierge Service

I don’t remember using Expedia, the online booking agency, to buy airline tickets though I’ve used it to compare prices. This time they had the best price on a nonstop ticket to Montego Bay. That clinched it.

A few days after I’d completed my purchase, I received an email from Expedia introducing my personal Jamaica concierge. Although I didn’t need the complimentary concierge service, which is provided by an Expedia Local Expert®, I was intrigued.

Expedia Concierge ServiceWhen I called the toll-free number in the email, Dania, Expedia’s Concierge’s distinctive Jamaican voice greeted me. Dania explained that she could assist me to book a transfer to my hotel and pre-book any activities I was interested in but since I didn’t need her expertise, I chatted with her instead.

Expedia, she explained, had partnered with Jamaica Tours, a local company, to launch the service, which started last August. According to its website, Expedia Concierge Service is provided by “knowledgeable” local experts in several locations including Hawaii, Mexico, and Las Vegas, Orlando and New York.

Jamaica Tours Limited, a 50 year old company, is the island’s largest ground tour operator and destination management company.

Although I didn’t need Expedia’s Concierge Service this time, I’m happy to learn that they offers it. There’s a lot of information about local attractions online, for example, but when you’re traveling to an unfamiliar destination, it’s helpful and reassuring to have someone who knows the scene help you find what you need so you can hit the ground running when you arrive.

Have you used a concierge service during your travels?

5 Reasons to Leave the Beach and Explore St. James Jamaica

Tall ship, St. James

Most visitors to Jamaica arrive in Montego Bay, but I doubt many know that it’s the capital of St. James, the island’s fourth largest parish. Located on Jamaica’s northwest coast, St. James shares borders with the parishes of Trelawny (east), St. Elizabeth (south), Westmoreland (southwest), and Hanover (west). It got its name, in 1655, from James II, who was formerly the Duke of York.

Like the rest of Jamaica, the original residents of St. James were Taino Indians. Sadly, they didn’t survive Christopher Columbus’ landing on the island in 1494. Some succumbed to European diseases, others committed suicide instead of accepting subjugation to Spanish authority, while some died fighting against the Spanish. Remnants of their presence have been discovered in settlements along the coast of the parish.

Mobay Beach, St. James

Mobay Beach

Montego Bay is derived from Bahia de Manteca (Lard Bay), the name the Spanish called it because of the large population of wild hogs that they found there and which slaughtered for lard that was exported to Spain.

During sugar’s heyday, several plantations dotted the parish making sugar and rum the main exports.  Many of these plantations and great houses were burnt to the ground in the 1831 Christmas Rebellion, one of the largest slave uprisings in the island’s history. The revolt was lead by Sam Sharpe, who was born on Croydon Plantation. Sharpe was hanged and now one of Jamaica’s National Heroes.

Monument to Sam Sharpe at Croydon Plantation, St. James

Monument to Sam Sharpe at Croydon Plantation

St. James has developed much in the last several years, due in part to its location and its legendary white sand beaches, which began attracting visitors to Montego Bay and the north coast since the 1940s. Commonly referred to as the Second City, and the tourist capital of the island, Montego Bay welcomes nearly half of the approximately 3 million visitors the island sees each year, making tourism the parish’s main industry and largest employer.

Most visitors who travel to Montego Bay never leave their all-inclusive hotels. If you’re one of them, here are five reasons to get out and discover the diversity of activities that St. James has to offer.

Ahhh...Ras Natango Garden & Gallery, St. James

Ahhh…Ras Natango Garden & Gallery

Ahhh….Ras Natango Gallery & Gardens – A rock garden, art gallery and the best ecotourism spot in St. James. Ahhh…Ras Natango is located about 20 minutes from Mobay, in the small community of Camrose. Entrance $30, includes shuttle pickup. Lunch is available on order for an additional fee.

Greenwood Great House Pub, St. James

Converted Pub, Greenwood

Greenwood Great HouseNear the border of Trelawny in a community named Greenwood is Greenwood Great House, which was once owned by the family of the English poet, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. Greenwood has the Caribbean’s finest collection of musical instruments, antique furniture, china and rare books, which all belonged to the Barrett family. Guided tours are available 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. US$20. 876-953-1077

Rocklands Bird Sanctuary – With more than two-dozen endemic birds, Jamaica is a bird lover’s paradise. If you love birds and are in the Montego Bay area, head over to Rocklands Bird Sanctuary where you can spot up to 17 species, including the humming bird, Jamaica’s national bird, and feed them too!

Rows of pineapples at Croydon Plantation, St. James

Fields of pineapple

Croydon Plantation – Croydon Plantation owes its reputation to pineapples and coffee, as well as its connection to national hero, Samuel Sharpe. Sharpe was born a slave at Croydon. He became a Baptist preacher who organized a peaceful protest in December 1831 that turned into the largest rebellion on the island. Plantation tours with pineapple tastings are conducted on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Cost $70 includes round trip transportation and lunch.

Drummers at the Rastafari Indigenous Village, St. James

Rastafari Drummers

Rastafari Indigenous Village – If you’re interested in learning about the Rastafarians, how they live, what they eat, their philosophy, head to the Rastafari Indigenous Village, a small community of Rasta bretheren, and some sistren too, who’ll give you the 411 on Rastafari beliefs, show you some drum moves and give you a tour of their village. An ital (purely vegetarian) lunch is also offered.

Bonus Option:

Rafting on the Great River – Nothing relaxes more than river rafting. This one-hour excursion down the Great River includes buffet lunch and drinks.

I’m sharing this post with Wanderlust Wednesday, which Dana at Time Travel Plans organizes.

5 Things to do in Montego Bay

5 Things to do in Montego Bay - Tryall Golf Course, photo from the internet

Known as the “Second City,” Montego Bay, or Mobay as it’s called locally, is the tourism capital of Jamaica, welcoming a million visitors annually at the Donald Sangster International Airport and by ship at the Montego Freeport.

The city offers an array of activities and attractions to suit every taste. Here are 5 of the best things to do in Montego Bay.

Golfing

Mobay has, without doubt, the best golf courses in Jamaica and possibly the Caribbean. There are five to choose from, Half Moon

5 Things to do in Montego Bay - Tryall Golf Course, photo from the internet

Tryall Golf Course

Golf, White Witch, Cinnamon Hill, Tryall, and Superclubs Ironshore. Check each site for fees.

Cinnamon Hill  – This 6,637 yard, 71 par course is located near the Cinnamon Hill and Rose Hall Great Houses and provides a delightful view of the Caribbean Sea. Fees are listed on their website. 876-953-2984

Half Moon Golf Course – Half Moon’s award-winning par-72 championship course offers breathtaking views and challenging holes. 876-953-2211

Tryall Club – 18 holes, 6221 yards, par 72 course overlooking the Caribbean Sea has been described as one of the most beautiful in the world. Tryall is located about 15 miles from Montego Bay and is part of Tryall Villas.

SuperClubs Ironshore Golf & Country Club – This 18-hole championship course is known to be quite challenging.

White Witch – Set over 200 acres, 16 of White Witch’s 18 holes overlook the Caribbean Sea. 876-518-0174

Bird Watching

Jamaica has more than 2 dozen birds that are found nowhere else in the world. If you love birds and are in the Montego Bay area, head over to the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary where you can spot up to 17 species, including the humming bird, Jamaica’s national bird, and feed them too!

Historic Sites

Step back in time at three of Jamaica’s great houses in the Mobay area: Bellefield, Greenwood and Rose Hall.

Bellefield Great House – Owned by the Kerr-Jarrett family, which traces its roots to 1655 when the first member of the Kerr clan from Scotland arrived in Jamaica after the British captured the island from the Spanish. A Kerr family member married a Jarrett and created one of the most powerful families on the island. Descendants of the Kerr-Jarretts are well-known and influential in Jamaican business and politics. Bellefield Great House was built in 1794 and is part of Barnett Estate, one of the oldest sugar estates on the island. To arrange a tour of the great house, call 952-2382 or email info@bellefieldgreathouse.com

5 Things to do in Montego Bay - Greenwood Great House, Maynefoto

Greenwood Great House

Greenwood Great House – Located about 25 minutes’ drive from Montego Bay, Greenwood was once owned by the family of the English poet, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. It has the finest collection of musical instruments, antique furniture, china and books belonging to the family. Guided tours are available 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Rose Hall – Built as a calendar house in 1770, Rose Hall has 365 windows, 52 doors and 12 rooms. It was made famous by the former owner, Annie Palmer, aka the White Witch, who dispatched three husbands and several slave lovers before she was also killed by Takoo, a slave lover. Rose Hall offers day tours, and candlelight tours on some Friday and Saturday nights. 876-953-2323

Horseback Riding

For horseback riding, head over to the Half Moon Equestrian Centre. 876-953-9489

Scuba Diving/Snorkeling/Deep Sea Fishing

Love to scuba? Check out Seaworld Resorts at the Cariblue Beach Hotel for excursions to offshore coral reefs with PADI-certified dive guides and equipment. 876-953-2180

Doctors Cave Bathing Club - Doctors Cave has been around since 1906 when Dr. Alexander McCatty donated the property for the

5 Things to do in Montego Bay, Doctors Cave

Doctors Cave Bathing Club

establishment of a bathing club. It became known as Doctors Cave because Dr. McCatty and his friends, medical doctors, used to get to the small beach through a cave. One of the best beaches in Montego Bay.

Almost next door to Doctors Cave is Cornwall Beach, a great place for snorkeling, as well as beach parties and events. Cornwall Beach is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. 876-979-0102 info@cornwallbeachja.com

If you’re interested in sport fishing, check your hotel. They can arrange it with one of the companies that specialize in Deep Sea Fishing. Catches can range from marlin, mahi mahi, tuna, sail fish, wahoo.

Tennis

Fancy a game of tennis? Try the Tryall Club or the Half Moon Hotel (953-2211)

This is just a handful of activities that Montego Bay to offer. The best part is that all are convenient to the airport, the Montego Freeport and the hotels.

Any of these strike your fancy?

What to Do When Rain Threatens Your Vacation

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A Carnival cruise ship pulled into port this morning for its daylong stop in Montego Bay and within two hours of docking, clouds covered an anemic sun and the rain began. Immediately, I thought of the passengers who undoubtedly would be looking forward to a day of sun and fun. How would they spend their day, if the rain continued? 

Carnival Cruise Ship, Montego Bay

Carnival Cruise Ship, Montego Bay

Call me pollyanna but I always thought the vacation gods would smile on all my trips but I know differently now. Here’s what I recommend:

* Pack Rain Gear: Since weather is unpredictable, it’s always advisable to put a small umbrella, rain slick or hat in your luggage, especially when traveling to tropical destinations.

* Check the Weather: Outside of the hurricane season (June to November), except for the occasional rainy day, the weather is usually the same from day to day. But if you happen to be traveling between June and November, there’s a chance (even though years can pass before a hurricane actually hits), a hurricane can form. If you’re concerned, plan cruise vacations outside this period. If a hurricane does form and threatens to interrupt or prolong your vacation, follow the advice of the cruise lines and stay safe.

* Indulge in Indoor Activities: Take a book or magazine to read if the weather turns nasty. If you have internet connection, catch up on email. Visit a museum or go see a play. Spend a day at the spa. Do some shopping or catch up on sleep.

* Keep a Positive Attitude: The most important thing is to keep a positive attitude. Don’t let bad weather ruin your mood or spoil your vacation.

5 Things to do in Montego Bay if it rains:

* Take a taxi to one of the Great Houses – Both Rose Hall and Greenwood Great House offer guided tours of their properties. Rose Hall was the home of Annie Palmer, also known as the White Witch of Rose Hall. Greenwood Great house belonged to the family of the English poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Both charge admission fees.

* Visit the Rastafari Indigenous Village – Catch the vibe at this indigenous village located about a 15 minute drive from the port. Listen to drumming, get a lesson in plants and herbs that are native to the island and enjoy an ital meal.

* Pamper Yourself – Book a Jamaican Coffee or Sugarcane Body Scrub at the Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort.

* Have a meal – Montego Bay’s “Hip Strip” a section of Gloucester Avenue populated by hotels, restaurants (Margarittaville, the Bobsled Cafe, etc.) and shops, is a great place to eat or spend a rainy day.

* Explore Jamaica’s rich ethnic and cultural heritage with a trip back in time at the Outameni Experience.

When planning a vacation, be prepared for bad weather and plan accordingly. Most importantly, enjoy yourself!