Jane Anderson and family discover why Jamaica’s north shore is a rich playground with everything from bobsleds to turtle releases
Heading to the homeland of Bob Marley and Usain Bolt, the kids are beyond excited. On the two-hour drive along the north coast from Montego Bay airport to Beaches Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica feels like a vast country not an island. Lush forests disappear up in to the misty mountains. Jamaica’s black, gold and green is evocative. It’s no coincidence in my mind that jammin’ was created here. Everyone rubbing along together somehow. And when you visit, the more you get out and discover the island, the more you’re going to enjoy it.
Heading to an all-inclusive resort might seem counter-active, but times have changed and Beaches Resort in Boscobel, is as much about the local experience as the hotel. The building started life in the1950s as a Hugh Hefner Playboy Mansion. These days, instead of Bunny Girls, you’re more likely to be accosted by life-size Sesame Street characters Elmo and Big Bird, since its reincarnation as a full-on family resort.
Each morning ‘Footprints’ newspaper is delivered to spell out what’s happening that day from aqua tabata in the main pool to snorkeling trips during the day to the disco at Club Liquid into the early hours. There’s also a sizeable water park with swirling water slides and splash pools.
My kids aged 12 and 9 make a beeline for the DJ Scratch Academy with DJ Pablo, a man with old-school cool aplenty. In an atmospheric bunker room next to Club Liquid full of turntables, DJ Pablo takes a good crack at teaching the kids how to mix vinyl and ‘drop the song on the one’.
As a family of four we’re sharing a ‘Concierge Terrace Suite’ in the ‘Beachfront Greek Village’, a semi circle of terraced rooms painted in blue and white with a very pretty view over the bay. There are big sandy coloured cabanas and loungers on the beach with drinks on tap.
Here the choice of included watersports is impressive. We go kayaking up the coast, try out the SUPs and there are also catamarans for sailing lessons, as well as glass bottom boat rides and snorkeling excursions. Most impressive of all is that scuba diving is included, up to two dives per day for qualified divers. This is a great holiday to come on if you want your kids to learn to dive with three different scuba programmes for kids aged 8+.
Parents wanting to head to the spa or just have some chill time, can climb the piano steps between the crayon pillars and deposit their little ones at Club Sesame Kids Clubs.
Beaches spreads the tourist dollar with its Island Routes excursions and also by its Sandals Foundation, set up to aid the local community. A highlight of our visit was a ‘Reading Road Trip’ to the local Boscobel Primary School. On arrival, the school kids were massively excited. All smart in their brown and yellow uniforms they greeted us warmly as we invaded their classrooms to do some colouring in and comprehensions. It was great to see the warm interaction between local kids, and it was also a big eye opener for my kids to see what its like in a Jamaican school with much more basic facilities than they enjoy back home.
Next day we joined a Turtle Release on neighbouring Gibraltar Beach where we meet a rather eccentric Englishman called Mel Tennant, who now devotes much of his life to boosting the endangered turtle population of Jamaica. He produces a bucket full of 103 two-day old turtles. Our job is to take one carefully between finger and thumb, take it down to the shore and wash it with two swipes in the water, and return it to the bucket. Scarlett is in raptures as they are so cute, but surprisingly strong with tiny forceful fins and hard beaks. We all form a large human V-shape as Mel tips the bucket gently up and the baby turtles make their way to the water. They mustn’t be disturbed en route as this journey sets their awesome GPS systems which brings them back to this exact beach to lay their eggs after travelling thousands of miles.
We spend the rest of the holiday exploring the north shore around Ocho Rios. At Mystic Mountain we head up on the ‘Sky Explorer’, like a ski lift over the rain forest with panoramic views over Ocho Rios bay and its docked cruise ship. Once at the top, we queue up for the Bob Sled. Yes you heard right! Following the debut of the Jamaican bobsled team in one Winter Olympics and the hit film Cool Runnings, this unusual attraction was created. We climb in little bobsleds and hurtle down a track – it’s actually a mini roller coaster – of which you’re in charge of the breaks.
Unfortunately Scarlett is told that it’s safer not to break and hurtles down at Olympic speed, much to her horror. She much prefers the zip lining with fun guides who encourage us to flip upside down and whoop through the trees over the foliage.
Another day we visit Prospect Plantation. We’re taken round on a great big bumpy tractor-trailer and shown the amazing variety of plants here including pimentos, limes, all spice and yam.
We head to the old Planation House for a cookery course on the beautiful terrace with sea views. Chef Janelle guides adults and kids alike through creating local shrimp and callaloo in coconut sauce and jerk chicken. She describes Scarlett and Fin as, ‘Lovely young chefs, just poppin’!’
After devouring our creations, we are taken to a clearing with the surreal site of three camels. We’re invited to climb on the back of these one-humped creatures from Texas and taken on a tour of the gardens beneath straggly banyan trees and prehistoric bromeliads.
Our final highlight is an exhilarating trip to Dunn’s River Falls. This incredible natural phenomenon – a 960ft cascade over limestone rock to a beautiful Caribbean beach has been made into a visitor attraction. For a small fee, you don waterproof shoes and climb up these incredible falls, whooping down natural slides and lolling in deep green pools, with the added thrill of making it to the top!