Taking the Kids: A different kind of Jamaican vacation
I don’t know which is better — the food, the view, or bragging rights to the Jamaica experience very few have.
We’re sitting on the Star San Villa balcony overlooking the famous Blue Lagoon in Port Antonio, Jamaica, being served a veritable feast by award-winning Chef Brian Lumley, head chef at the R Hotel in Kingston, a popular Instagram presence here, who starts us off with cream of pumpkin soup, crab cakes with mango chutney, red wine marinated jerk lamb chops with sweet potato puree and for dessert, jackfruit cheesecake and purple sweet potato pudding with Jamaican rum cream sauce. It’s a meal — and a setting — I’ll think about for a long time.
The newly renovated villa, which sleeps 10 (a bargain at $800 a night with cook, housekeeper and security guard-handyman, which you can book on Air B&B), has long been owned by the McDonald family and Bronson McDonald and his fiancé, Nicole Chin Shue, have joined us for our overnight stay, along with another friend. That afternoon, they had led us out on the Blue Lagoon, kayaking past a sea turtle preserve and to a natural spring.
“Port Antonio is super tranquil, for the nature lover, the family who likes to explore — less manicured than a traditional Jamaican experience,” said Bronson McDonald, who has been coming here for more than two decades, since he was a young teen, adding that Jamaica’s North Coast boasts some of Jamaica’s best beaches and adventures — had we more time we could have gone rafting on bamboo rafts on the Rio Grande River, Jamaica’s longest.
For lunch, Chef Lumley had given us a lesson in cooking the popular Jamaican coconut curried shrimp and fish and then served it up with other traditional dishes, including rice and peas, brown stew oxtail, and fried chicken, which Jamaicans eat all the time.
But as much as he wants visitors to sample Jamaican cuisine, Chef Lumley said, “There is a lot more than jerk chicken and curried goat.” That’s why he prepared what he called a contemporary Jamaican dinner.
The view was as superb as the food. Picture the rain forest with its lush foliage meeting the ocean, think about listening to the ocean’s waves and cicadas and crickets chirping. The conversation was all about Jamaica — from the perspective of the locals. Artist and photographer Richard Nattoo joined our group, which included my husband, Andy Yemma, son, Matt Yemma, and his fiancé, Elodie Kremer. It was the first time we had seen them since before the pandemic.
The experience was courtesy of Aeon Cummings, who is the founder of Otaheti Travel, a new company designed to help tourists find experiences like these. Cummings, raised in Jamaica until he was 13 before moving to the U.S. where he attended college and business school, now lives here with his family. He hopes to encourage visitors — including those with Jamaican heritage — to leave the all-inclusive resorts, as wonderful as they may be. “We want to put the ‘all’ in ‘all-inclusive,’” he said.
“The perception of Jamaica is not a reality,” Cummings said. “We want to show visitors the beauty of Jamaican food, culture, music and art.”
That means individually curated trips, whether for families, couples, or friends with stays at laid-back inns or villas with knowledgeable guides whether you want to focus on food, learn more about coffee-making in the Blue Mountains, the art scene in Kingston, reggae music, try a new adventure sport while meeting locals along the way.