Sunshine? No problem

Few things are as magical to a traveller as a quick and clean exit from the airport after landing. But when my partner and I breeze through customs and immigration at the Montego Bay airport in Jamaica only minutes after our baggage pops out first on the carousel, we’re feeling far more apprehensive than spellbound by our progress. Experienced travellers to Jamaica know that nothing ever moves that fast. So as we make our way to the airport Couples Resorts desk, our last stop before boarding a bus to the hotel, we do so cautiously, with an acute sense of impending delay. Sure enough, immediately after checking us in, our hotel representative ushers us to a sofa and instructs us to wait. And wait. We wait almost an hour until – two by two – every other couple travelling to our Couples Ocho Rios Resort has checked in as well. It is an appropriate welcome to Jamaica, which is, after all, an island that has always moved at its own speed. But as Jamaicans will assure you – in a rhythmic and colourful patois – if you learn to move with the island’s pace, “everyting gonna be irie, mon” (loosely translated, means: everything will be all right, my friend).

<srog>First, slow down
This lesson in pace is reinforced shortly after we board our bus when our driver informs one of the passengers that it will be an hour-and-a-half journey to the hotel. The road from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios has been under construction for some time, we are told, an upgrade to a rapid four-lane highway, which – until completion – makes for a much longer journey than usual. The result, however, seems fitting to our new philosophy: without the hurry of express lanes, the drive feels pleasantly more like a scenic tour with more time to appreciate the haunting beauty of the island’s tropical landscape, which rolls along beside us. Christopher Columbus called it “the most beautiful island the eye ever beheld.”

And while it has long been famed for its Blue Mountains, Red Stripe beer and Bob Marley, Jamaica is quickly gaining reputation as one of the world’s premier romantic hot spots.

Honeymoons – first or second – are de rigueur. Anniversaries too. The most notable reason: the most luxurious of resort holidays – the all-inclusive.

No money, no problem
Jamaica gave birth to the all-inclusive resort more than 30 years ago, a simple concept, which has gained tremendous popularity ever since. “Who wouldn’t love it?” explains Nancy Bevilaqua, 41, from New Jersey, “I don’t have to bring that ugly money belt!” With everything paid for up front, the all-inclusive concept provides peace of mind and a relaxing atmosphere in which guests can focus solely on their vacation. The Couples concept is no different – with one exception: you have to come in a pair. Children are strictly prohibited.

At Couples, the focus is entirely on each other. And though it attracts plenty of young newlyweds and soon-to-bes (the resort even has a resident minister), couples range well into their late 60s. In fact, 20 per cent of the resort’s business comes from older repeat customers who return year after year, often to celebrate anniversaries or to renew their vows. With an overwhelming emphasis on romance, the concept of Couples has worked like a charm. And with no other distractions, the setting is idyllic. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the resort itself is set within a wildly romantic tropical oasis.

Next page: A historic resort with a ’50s theme

A historic resort with a ’50s theme
Built as the Tower Isle Hotel in 1949, the property became the Couples flagship resort 25 years ago and holds the distinction of being the first all-inclusive for couples only in the Caribbean. Jungle-like hills rise above 19 acres of property, surrounding a slice of beach dotted with white birds and palm trees. Hot tubs are nestled in the well-manicured gardens and by the pool, while some of the villa suites have their own private plunge pool and hammock. The result is a truly serene atmosphere with many private areas, in which we frequently and comfortably seclude ourselves. The hotel still retains its original ’50s style, popularized as a Hollywood hangout by the likes of Errol Flynn. And if you feel like sharing the company of other couples, you’ll quickly strike up a conversation in the hotel’s Piano Bar, which embraces its ’50s roots and is lined with old photographs of Hollywood stars who once were guests. But before you mingle in the Piano Bar, before you laze about in the gardens, before you do anything – you’ll have to wait. And wait.

“May I offer you both some champagne?” asks the guest services agent, who has finally come to check us in nearly 30 minutes after our arrival. “Yes. Thank you,” I reply, accepting that which comes to those who wait and wait, including chocolate-covered strawberries.

“No problem,” she grins, offering the nonchalant Jamaican answer for everything. “Enjoy your stay.”

I smile appreciatively. Having finally checked in and now fully acclimatized to the phlegmatic pace of island life, we are officially free of worry. Never again would we reach for our wallets. Never again would we slowly calculate the tip. Never again. Tips, transfers, horseback riding, weddings and vow renewals, golf, diving, off-site excursions such as sunset catamaran sails, glass-bottom boat rides and day tours to nearby Dunn’s River Falls – everything is covered.

“The other [resorts] have a tendency to cut back on offerings and fight it out in price,” explains Gary Stephens, director of operations for Couples Resorts. “We think there’s a better way to do it. We decided not to cut quality, but to offer better service. It’s hassle-free and good for couples who want an active holiday.”

An adventurous climb up Dunn’s River Falls
The next morning, we congregate in the hotel lobby where dozens of guests mill around sporting little more than bathing suits and towels before heading off to Dunn’s River Falls. We had fought the urge to spend our first day on the beach, indulging in bottomless cups of punch and never-ending plates of food in favour of something a little more adventurous. Dunn’s River Falls is Jamaica’s most popular tourist attraction: 600 feet of cold, clear mountain water splashing over a series of stone steps to the warm Caribbean. We begin at the bottom, where the falls meet the ocean, linking our hands to form a human chain of bodies. Then we climb – stone step by stone step, hand in hand – all the way to the top of the falls.

At first, the climb doesn’t seem all that daunting. But as you begin to scale the rocks with water rushing past you and nothing more than a hand to guide you, you suddenly feel a little older than when you started. Apparently, the falls don’t think much of Jamaica’s slower paced philosophy. Determined not to weaken the link, we climb on, trusting that the chain of hands and bodies in front of us lead to an experienced guide. Our particular guide is very active, often leaving the front of the chain and climbing back down to make sure those at the rear are okay, reeling off bits of local lore in the process while telling you where to step. And just to make you feel a little smaller, he skips along barefoot.

Once we reach the top, we pose in couples underneath the cascading falls while the guide juggles with cameras to capture our triumphant moment. After negotiating our way through a crowded market, where everyone is selling something you need, we eventually find our way back to the hotel to reacquaint ourselves with the Jamaican philosophy and do what we should have done from the very beginning: absolutely nothing – with a plate of food.

Air Canada flies to Montego Bay daily from major cities in Canada through Toronto.

Contact Couples Resorts at 1-800-268-7537 or e-mail: [email protected] or