Jamaica Vacation with a Dash of Carnival

This post is long overdue.  A little over a month ago I visited one of my favourite places on earth, Jamaica, to spend some much needed chill out time and to slip in a few carnival events.  Jamaica is an absolutely gorgeous country, the food is addictive and the vibe is just, well, a vibe.  There’s just an energy about the place that will always hold a piece of my heart.

Now if only it weren’t so expensive to fly there from Barbados!  Again, something needs to change if we want to encourage travel within the Caribbean region.  It is cheaper to travel from Barbados to Fort Lauderdale than from Barbados to Jamaica.  Then there is the ZR (maxi taxi for those of us who live outside of Barbados and for those of us outside of the Caribbean, any mode of transportation that makes multiple stops in order to reach its destination) flight if you are traveling on Caribbean Airlines on any day other than Monday or Friday, when there are non-stop flights.  Crazy.

I spent five days there, right at the final weekend of carnival.  I was really curious about Jamaica carnival and while I know it’s been around for a while, the last 3 years or so its popularity exploded and it became one of the regional carnivals that you should go to “at least once in your life”.  So I told my friend who lives there that I wanted to have an actual vacation, neither did I want to fete every day.  So the decision was made that we would only watch the bands on Road March day (i.e. Carnival Sunday) and that any events we attended would be Jamaican only, so no parties thrown by anyone else, no Trinis, no Bajans.

The Vacation

As soon as I landed we went to Gloria’s in Port Royal, where I had the most amaaaaziiiinggg curried fish and breadfruit of my life (I want some now).  The service could have been more efficient but our waiter seemed to be doing the work of three and apologised for the long wait.

 

We then took a trip Bridget Sandals.  I have to thank Jonathan, Ms. Patsy and their staff for being patient with me over the two days I visited to make purchases.  They were completely mobbed by customers who had come in for carnival and didn’t want to leave Jamaica without a pair of “Bridgets” and even though they were extremely busy, they never wavered on providing awesome service.

I also have to mention @bags.by.bri, which was founded and is managed by Brianne Fearon, located in Spanish Town in St. Catherine.  After being referred to her on Instagram, I fell in love with the bag pictured below.  Her professionalism deserves a huge mention here.  I contacted her and told her when I was visiting and that I wanted two bags.  We made arrangements for the bags to be delivered when I arrived and that was exactly what happened.  Thank you Bri!

bags by bri

The next day we drove to Ocho Rios via Highway 2000 and I was blown away by the views at certain points.  Beautiful misty mountains, lush green fields and later, views of the Caribbean sea made me remember why our islands are some of my favourite places to be.

Dunns River falls was so much fun.  I had never been and had no idea what to expect but we ended up being attached to a group of tourists and we had a blast.  Our guides were full of jokes and made sure we climbed the falls safely.  I suggest taking a guided tour instead of trying to ascend the falls on your own.  Some of the rocks can be slippery and falling down is not an option.

dunns river

The one downside about our trip to the falls was the almost 30 minute wait to purchase tickets at the entrance.  I mean, whyyyy?  Of course, it was sweltering, so that made it even more uncomfortable.  Apart from that, the staff at the Falls were gems.  They really made us feel welcomed.

The night before our Ochi trip we went to Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records because I saw it on Instagram and wanted the oxtail, lol.  Post oxtails, I was happy.  The service was good and we even took an obligatory cheesy photo.

The morning I left we went to Devon House and had lunch at Pimentos, a restaurant I would definitely visit again.  I love the decor and the service was on point.  The gardens at Devon House are so tranquil and just pretty.  I really enjoyed the short time spent there.  I will be back.

Carnival

So, Jamaica carnival is different from Crop Over in Barbados and Trinidad Carnival.  I would not attempt to compare them.  It’s newer than both of the latter festivals and smaller.  What I love about it is the fusion of Jamaica’s dancehall and reggae culture into the carnival.  The soca music is pretty much 100% imported as they don’t have their own soca artistes like most of the other islands.  However, the influence of their own well known musical culture is definitely there and will continue to distinguish their carnival.

Frenchmen Blocko on the Thursday before Road March was the first party we went to and it was just as the name suggested.  A party in the middle of the road.  Drinks were included in the price of US$66.73 which was the “early bird” cost of tickets bought online through Eventbrite.  The party was ok.  The general atmosphere was more of a social outing with people dancing than a full blown fete, except at moments when songs like “Savannah Grass” by Kes the Band (my fave!) played.

Blocko

On Saturday morning we went to the all-inclusive Sunrise Breakfast Party.  Female standard tickets purchased via Eventbrite were US$144.85.  I  had heard so many great reviews of these parties from both Jamaica and Trinidad carnival that it was a “must attend” fete.  After waking up with the birds to have our makeup done by @lejounb.artistry (check her out on Instagram), we got there early, probably around 8:00am (ticket said it was to begin at 5:00am) to ensure that we could take the obligatory photos and eat as much as we could before heading to the dance area.

Sunnation background

The decor was a 12 out of 10, food and drink and the accessibility to said food and drink was 10 out of 10 and merchandise, 10 out of 10.  Female bathroom, deep breath….actually, no, hold your breath.  We went to check out the bathroom area after we ate.  The freshen up area was set up well, there were couches, a large fan, mirrors and feminine hygiene products.  I was disappointed to see that the toilets were stand alone chemical toilets but I figured that I would deploy the bladder shutdown mechanism so as not to have to go to the bathroom until we got home, no biggie.

Let me tell you.  The sun was B-L-A-Z-I-N-G.  It felt as though we were cooking in an oven.  I couldn’t comprehend the heat, I just couldn’t.  Luckily, we staked out a giant fan near to the front left-hand side of the stage and that, along with constant guzzling of water, juice and rum and coke, kept me somewhat hydrated.  Then the fan said, “mi done.”  It konked out and a man came around, shook some wires and left, never to return.  So we stayed hot.  Good thing I sprayed on copious amounts of sunscreen before we left home.  I tried standing underneath the mist spray that was set up at the front of the crowd but that didn’t help much, big sigh.

At one point we HAD to go to the bathroom and it was awful.  The toilets stank and we had to use some level of acrobatics to open and close the doors and wash our hands in less than savoury conditions.  The freshen up area looked like a hurricane hit it but to be honest, I wasn’t surprised.  People needed a place to cool off and take a break from the furnace outside.  I was just disappointed that for the money paid, the bathroom situation was so poorly maintained.  I am sure the organisers can do better.

The party was packed but didn’t really pick up until around 11:00am.  Thanks to a DJ whose name I don’t remember, people actually really started dancing.  Things got even better when the live performers began, including Peter Ram from Barbados, Teddyson John from St. Lucia, Munga Honorable and Hoodcelebrityy from Jamaica and my fav-our-ite, Machel Montano from Trinidad and Tobago.  We found some shade and had a ball.

machel

Of the three bands that passed us on Road March day, Xaymaca International had the most vibes.  I was also told by a reliable source that the road experience with that band, which is affiliated with Tribe Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, was great.  My only complaint about the day was the long wait for the bands but I think it’s just a matter of having an idea of what time they will pass the vantage point.  We were invited to spend the day in a covered spectator area which included food and drink and arrived around 10:00am.  The bands didn’t pass until around 4:30pm.  So a long day.

I thought the costumes were gorgeous and these are my favourites for the season.  From left, “Aztec” designed by Solange Govia for Xodus Carnival, “Asella” by Jin Forde for Xodus Carnival and “Queen of the Nile” by Keisha Als for Xaymaca International.

I want to publicly thank my amazing friend and hostess Janine for taking care of me, including when I caught a cold during the trip and took a tumble in the road after Sunrise Breakfast Party (the shame!).  I am already planning my next trip to Jamaica in my head, there are so many more things to see and do.

If Jamaica nice one more time?  It definitely is.

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