“Welcome to Jamaica, mon!” Owen said, offering me his friendly smile as he vigorously shook my hand.
After stowing my wife’s and my luggage in the back of the shuttle bus, Owen departed the Montego Bay airport, drove on the wrong side of the road in this former UK colony, and began to weave his way through the crowded streets of the city.
“No Problem, Mon!”
“Owen, the roads are so narrow and busy. How do you cope with the traffic day after day?” I asked.
“No problem, mon,” Owen said. “Driving around the city is just a combination of using my patience or the accelerator.”
No problem, mon.
How often Vicky and I were going to hear that mantra during our first trip to Jamaica. Whatever our question or concern, from the trivial to the troublesome, the islander’s response would always be, “No problem, mon!” And then steps would be taken to prove the phrase’s veracity.
Without further ado and without incident in our 20-minute ride, Owen dropped us off at our resort, Secret’s Wild Orchid, an adults-only,all-inclusive facility with a written promise of “Unlimited Luxury.” We had decided upon this venue through CheapCaribbean.com, a reasonable and reliable internet company that specializes in island vacations. Hopeton, our concierge nonpareil, greeted us warmly and introduced us to the Jamaican hospitality that is at the heart of Secrets’ promise. He also made sure that we were happily settled in our room. As we soon discovered, the entire staff would charm Vicky and me with its singular level of solicitude and its attention to detail. No need or whim went unresolved, wherever we went on the campus.
Our large suite with its plush furnishings included a king bed, Whirlpool tub, walk-in shower, large-screen cable TV, and 24 hours-a-day room service. A totally private, furnished balcony completed the creature comforts and gave us a commanding view of both the private beach and the sparkling Caribbean Sea. However, we did not spend much time in the room during the day and early evening as we had too much to do elsewhere. Outside the suite was a world of almost infinite pleasure: seven gourmet restaurants—reservations never needed—with accompanying or waterfront bars and lounges, a wide expanse of beach for sunbathing and/or swimming, huge pools with swim-up bars, poolside Jacuzzis, a theater with in-house entertainment, a world-class spa with fitness center, and a myriad of beach, water and other outdoor sports. Surf the website, www.secretsresorts.com/wildorchid, to read descriptions of the amenities and to see pictures of the resort, thus, saving me thousands of words. Two more words, however, “all inclusive,” articulate the ultimate satisfaction of staying at Secrets Wild Orchid. Everything is included in the one price of the vacation: all meals and snacks and coffee and soft drinks, all international and domestic beer and premium house wines and top-shelf spirits, in-room mini-bar and room service, all daytime activities save for motorized water sports, nightly theme parties, live entertainment, and all taxes and gratuities. What a package and what convenience!
Two Local Sorties
Vicky and I did leave the grounds three times to observe other aspects of Jamaica. Amstar, a guest service in the lobby, helped to arrange two adventures. We asked the rep, Gullicon, “We don’t know what tours are available. Can you help us?” After the proverbial, “No problem, mon!” Gullicon organized two superior morning events for us: (1) river rafting down the Great River, followed by lunch, pina colada lessons with samples, and a lecture on the banana tree; (2) horseback riding from a fishing village through a local farming community and its former sugar plantation that ended in a refreshing romp through the surf. Vicky and I were glad to have experienced these parts of Jamaica at the local level.
A Trip to The Tryall Club
Our third excursion was to The Tryall Club, a fantasy destination of mine ever since Freddie Couples won the bookends of the five Johnnie Walker World Championships from 1991 through 1995 and Ralph Plummer’s picturesque par-72 became one of the
Caribbean’s premier courses. I called Richard Ferdinand, director of guest services, who said he would be pleased to have us visit and play golf. Another great day in paradise unfolded. The Tryall Club, approximately 12 miles from Montego Bay and about 25 minutes from Secrets Wild Orchid, was the site of an 18th Century English coastal fort to protect against pirates and then of an important and successful 19th Century sugar and coconut plantation. It is situated on 2,200 acres, fronts one and a half miles of the Caribbean shore, and extends far back into the lush mountain terrain. As Vicky and I approached the entrance, we were impressed by the golf course and beach facilities to our right and the imposing facades of the Great House and the estate homes on the hillside to our left. Once inside the gate, we began to appreciate The Tryall Club’s reputation for lavishness and privacy in a unique setting.
Plantation Elegance and Tradition
Richard assembled a grand tour for us, and it started in the Great House, an historic 18th Century Georgian structure with stunning sea and golf course views. The Great House is the center of the community and functions as the club house, dining room, bar, gift shop (with Cuban cigars, including Habanos), commissary, front office for lodging, and internet room. The timeless tradition of high tea is served daily from 4-5 pm.
Located adjacent to the Great House with equally dramatic views are five two-bedroom and eight one-bedroom villas. Air conditioned and beautifully appointed, all 13 villas are spacious and fully equipped. Each Great House villa includes the services of a housekeeper at no additional cost. The tennis courts, the fitness facility, and the medical station are located within easy walking distance.
Strategically positioned around the hillside to look down upon the Great House, the golf course, and the sea, the 72 estate villas range in size from three to eight bedrooms and come fully staffed with cook, maid, laundress, and gardener. Each villa has a Head of House who oversees the guests’ wishes and leisure plans. All villas are privately owned and individually furnished, and all have spacious gardens with private swimming pools. A golf membership is included with the rental of any on-property villa. Access www.tryallclub.com for all the specifics.
The Beach and Plummer’s Gem
After our tour of the Great House and several villas, Vicky and I enjoyed our lunch at the seaside Beach Café. With the lively trade winds to keep us company, we watched the guests at play on the private beach and in the water. When we had finished dining, we met our host for the round, Biah Maragh, a legend among Jamaican professional golfers and a walking encyclopedia about island golf in general and about Tryall in particular. Having set the course record at Tryall—which is still intact—with a 9-under 62, Biah still has a magnificent game for the super senior he is. When I told him that we didn’t have our own clubs with us, he said, naturally, “No problem, mon!” and put together a rental set of TaylorMade metal woods, Callaway Fusion irons, and Odyssey putter. With Biah providing the course commentary and Whitney, our expert caddie, giving distances and reading putts on the fast and undulating greens, we had a lively and rewarding afternoon. Designed by Ralph Plummer in 1958 and then restored in 2005 by Steve Forrest, the course is 6920 yards from the tips but has four other sets of tees as well. I played the white tees at 6238 yards; Vicky played the reds at 5193. The first six holes are flat but routed near the coastline, with the par-5 third green on the water, and the par-3 fourth hole parallel to the sea itself. Starting with the par-4 seventh, the holes begin to wind upward into the rolling foothills and toward the edges of jungle ravines and then begin the downhill trek until holes 16-18 parallel the beach. The elevations make for both spectacular views of the sea and challenging uphill, downhill, and sidehill lies. All in all, a great test and a delight to play.
After the round, Biah, Vicky, and I met with Nelson Long, Jr., the director of golf since 1983, in his well-stocked pro shop. We thanked him for his kindness in letting us play one of the Caribbean’s most exclusive private clubs. With the purchase of a shirt for me and a visor for Vicky, we had the souvenirs to remember our day at The Tryall Club.
“Once You Go, You Know”
The next morning completed our five days and four night package at Secrets Wild Orchid, and we had to return to mainland reality. Hopeton was there to stow our bags in the shuttle and say goodbye. He shook my hand and said, “When you return to visit us again, the Jamaicans will say to you, ‘Welcome home, mon,’ because we know that our island is now in your blood, too. You will be coming back, won’t you?”
No problem, mon!WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?