Drake, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Queen Latifah, Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph and Ricky Lauren, Kate Moss, Jude Law, Paul McCartney, Gwen Stefani—the list of celebrities who love Jamaica goes on forever. This isn’t really anything new for the Caribbean’s third largest island. However, its connection to the glitterati and Hollywood royalty goes back to the early ‘40s and the fortuitous arrival of matinée idol Errol Flynn. Caught in a storm as he was passing the island in 1942, he was forced to dock in Kingston before hitching a ride on a motorcycle to Port Antonio, which he declared to be ”more beautiful than any woman I have ever known".
Soon Flynn’s famous friends like Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe started arriving, their glamour attracting even more visitors. English actor and playwright Noel Coward and Ian Fleming were other early adopters. Fleming, a naval intelligence officer and author of the James Bond books, vowed to build a house in Jamaica after World War II where he could focus on writing, and did so in 1946. Called Goldeneye, it is now a hotel. In 1961, Dr. No, the first James Bond film, was captured in Jamaica, the beginning of many Hollywood classics to take advantage of its pristine natural setting. On a recent tour of the island we visited some of these key locations:
Photo Credit: The Trident Hotel
The Trident Hotel
Port Antonio, which Flynn found so fetching, is still a huge hit with travelers who want to immerse themselves in Jamaica’s abundant natural beauty. The Trident Hotel, which originally opened in Flynn’s lifetime, was totally revamped and updated in 2013, and has since hosted the likes of Drake, Beyoncé and Solange. Now led by record producer and CEO Jon Baker, partner Steve Beaver and billionaire, businessman and Port Antonio native Michael Lee Chin, it’s nestled on 14-acres between tall, blue mountains and a plain-fringed sapphire sea. The Trident’s 13 exclusive oceanfront villas are seductive, secluded retreats that blend modernist design with an inspired take on 1950’s style, with touches like white leather Eames chairs. They also feature private terraces with soaking pools overlooking the ocean and a coral reef.
Photo Credit: Green Grotto Caves
Must-see movie locations include Reach Falls in Portland Parish, featured in films such as Tom Cruise's Cocktail and the remake of Lord of the Flies. The iconic Blue Lagoon in Port Antonio, made famous by the movie of the same name starring Brooke Shields, is set for a renaissance as well. The Geejam Collection, of which the Trident is a part, is renovating the legendary Blue Lagoon Restaurant, to open in spring of 2016. Dunn’s River Falls and beach was also featured in Cocktail as well as the first James Bond film, Dr. No, in the famous scene where 007 meets Bond girl Honey Ryder emerging from the waves. And the amazing Green Grotto Caves were featured in the Bond film Live and Let Die, serving as an underground base for the evil villain Doctor Kananga. At one point the caverns housed a nightclub.
Photo Credit: The Geejam Hotel
Geejam Hotel and Recording Studio
The Geejam Hotel is a favorite with A-list musicians for many reasons, including it being home to GeeJam Studios, founded by record producer and hotelier Jon Baker. Katy Perry, John Legend, Florence and the Machine, Diplo, Alicia Keys, Drake, The Gorillaz, Snopp Dogg and Gwen Stefani have all recorded albums using its state-of-the-art facilities, the very best in the Caribbean. In addition to the hotel, Baker is designing and opening a number of private villas managed by the company, for celebs who want a private getaway. Cocosan, the newest villa, has six bedrooms, an infinity pool, fitness center and rents for $5,000 a night in peak season. GeeJam is also home to the Bushbar, with savory Jamaican and Asian-influenced dishes and live music by the Jolly Boys, a longstanding band named by Errol Flynn.
Photo Credit: GoldenEye Hotel
Firefly and GoldenEye
Ocho Rios is where Noel Coward, the famed playwright, author and actor, built his villa Firefly. Now a museum, it’s where the famously witty Coward entertained luminaries from both the political and entertainment worlds, including Queen Elizabeth II, Laurence Olivier, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Alec Guiness, Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton. A bronze statue of Coward on the lawn looks out to sea. On nearby Oracabessa Bay, Ian Fleming built his dream house and wrote the Bond books. In 1976 Island Records founder Chris Blackwell purchased GoldenEye from the Fleming estate, and has since grown the original 19 acre property, with just Fleming’s villa on it, into a 52-acre world-class property with several villa accommodations.
Photo Credit: Sandals Royal Plantation
Sandals Royal Plantation
Sandals Royal Plantation in Ocho Rios, a historic property once frequented by Coward and Fleming, and renovated by the famed hospitality group, is Sandals’ only all-butler boutique resort, and as such provides a different perspective on the brand. “Understated elegance” is the watchword of the resort, which has just 74 ocean view suites perched on a magnificent coral bluff. Peacocks in full feathered regalia roam the manicured lawns and lush gardens, and guests in stylish beach wear flock to its bars and restaurants, including Jamaica's only champagne and caviar bar. You can tee off at nearby Sandals Golf & Country Club, indulge in amazing spa treatments, and also visit the chic eateries and new speakeasy-style lounge at the adjacent Sandals Ochi Beach Resort.
Photo Credit: Miss T's Kitchen
Outside of the resort properties there are a couple of dining spots you won’t want to miss. The newly-opened Cliffhanger in Port Antonio is perched on the ocean in such a way that every seat boasts a beautiful view. Causal dining on the beach doesn't get any better than at Frenchman’s Cove, with some of the freshest seafood we’ve ever tasted including delectable spiny Caribbean lobster, and of course, plenty of rum punch. You will probably want to book one of their villas for a return trip. In Ocho Rios, lunch at Miss T’s Kitchen is a must, with jerk chicken a particular specialty of the house. The lush garden setting, designed in tribute to Jamaica’s colorful music scene and the legendary Bob Marley, is the perfect place to while away the afternoon.
Photo Credit: Jared Paul Stern
Jamaica has two international airports, Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport (KIN) and the Donald Sangster International Airport (MBJ) in Montego Bay. Many airlines offer service from the US including American Airlines which just announced that it will add nonstop flights from Los Angeles International Airport to MBJ starting December 18, 2015. In response to high demand, the carrier’s new route, currently open for sale, will give the West Coast market direct access to Jamaica twice a week, on Fridays and Saturdays. Air Jamaica is the largest carrier with flights to over 25 destinations around the world. Or if you’d rather not deal with an overcrowded flight all together, private charters are also available.