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Tourism boom in Bond's spiritual home of Jamaica

23-Dec-2010 • Bond Style

The Jamaica tourist board’s slogan slyly suggests a reason to visit: “Once you go, you know.”, writes Baz Dreisinger for NY Daily News

But with all the new hotel developments on the Caribbean island this season, even those who regularly go may not be in the know anymore. The offerings run the gamut: from boutique properties to colossal chain hotels, noteworthy upgrades to grand-scale developments poised to change the face of the island.

In Kingston, the opening of the 107-room Spanish Court Hotel marked the capital city’s first new resort in 30 years. Constructed wholly by Jamaican artisans, it’s an ultramodern, boutique-style property that owner Christopher Issa says will “put Kingston on the map as a tourist destination.”

The Spanish Court’s SoHo-style lobby, by local designer Alison Antrobus, eschews Caribbean-style wicker and florals in favor of bean-shaped white leather sofas, Martin Fluss chandeliers, animal-print accents and jatobá wood floors. Chic, minimalist rooms feature flat-screen TVs and iPod docks.

On the roof deck, guests can sunbathe or do laps in a 50-foot-long infinity-edge lap pool, mosaic-tiled with iridescent glass and backed by a striking vista of the Blue Mountains. By night, the deck becomes the Sky Bar, a sleek red-and-white lounge area boasting live performances and deejay sets.

Some two hours away in Oracabessa, on Jamaica’s north coast, another boutique property opens its doors after a two-year renovation. The legendary GoldenEye — onetime home of Ian Fleming, who penned his James Bond novels there — unveils 11 rustic-yet-luxe beach cottages and six lagoon suites, bringing the total room count to 34 cottage-style units, nestled seamlessly into a lush, rugged landscape.

The funky property added two new restaurants as well as sports and fitness activities, and replaced all-inclusive options with a more community-friendly approach.

“We want our guests to go off-property and sample the restaurants, fishing markets and rum shops in the town," explained Jason Henzell of Island Outpost, the collection of boutique Jamaica resorts to which GoldenEye belongs.

Al-inclusive options, of course, still abound.

In Montego Bay, the newly opened Secrets St. James and Secrets Wild Orchid boast 700 rooms and enough options to render leaving the side-by-side resorts unnecessary: eight international dining options, nine bars and lounges, free-form swimming pools, a 15,000-square-foot spa, a state-of-the-art open-air theater and a full array of activities, from yoga to scuba.

Down the road, another new development capitalizes on size. The gleaming Palmyra Resort & Spa, Jamaica’s first luxury residential community and North America’s first Solis brand hotel, is a glitzy slice of Miami in the Caribbean — a gated community sprawled across 16 oceanfront acres and featuring some 300 Mediterranean-style guestrooms, along with 11 villas and eight beachfront cabanas.

The icing on Palmyra’s cake is its buzzed-about ESPA-branded spa: 30,000 square-feet, two stories and accented by water gardens, terraces and spacious courtyards, it’s a mini-vacation unto itself.

Jamaica’s brand-name, big-boy hotels also got an upgrade in time for the season. Couples San Souci and Bahia Principe have been refurbished, while Sandals Dunn's River has been re-branded as Jewels Resort & Spa. The newly expanded five-star Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort & Spa, meanwhile, is one of a growing number of Spanish-owned resort chains —including RIU Hotels & Resorts and Iberostar — to have opened doors in Jamaica in the past several years.

These colossal developments have changed the face of the island, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. The Negril Peninsula Resort — a 361-acre mixed-use development, complete with marina and five new beaches — is slated to be completed in four phases over the next five years, and development company Amaterra Jamaica Ltd. will spend the next 10 years transforming 900 acres of oceanfront property in the rural Trelawny parish into a 2,000-room resort and 18-hole championship golf course.

The island’s most buzzed-about future developments are money-centered — literally. In 2008, the Jamaican government voted to introduce casino gaming to the island via an investment of nearly $7 billion in two gaming hotels, Harmony Cove and Celebration Jamaica.

Harmony Cove in Trelawney, 30 minutes east of Montego Bay, will be its own mini-village: single-family houses, hotels, shops, golf, spas, gaming venues, conference facilities, a water park, a yacht harbor, music venues, even recording studios.

In Montego Bay, Celebration Jamaica will be a multilayered resort and casino development adjacent to the Palmyra and opposite a 6,500-capacity convention center, currently in construction. Its master plan includes a 1,500-room, 16-story casino hotel along with luxury real estate components, a water and entertainment complex, nightclubs, restaurants and shopping space.

For Jamaica fans, all the new options add up to one simple thing: more reasons to go.

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