As soon as you arrive at Jackie’s, you are immersed in another world. The rhythm of the sea, the slow pace with which everyone moves, the soft music, the gentle fragrance of incense, and the simple but mystical design of the buildings combine to envelope you in an atmosphere of calm and relaxation. Your blood pressure instantly plummets.
We spent six days at Jackie’s. We originally sought a more traditional Jamaican beach vacation rather than a spa retreat, but when we saw the Groupon for Jackie’s, it looked like the right choice. Healthy delicious food, no booze, beautiful ocean view, and morning yoga all appealed to us. What clinched the deal were the seawater pool and snorkeling on the reef that were highlighted on the Groupon, which would provide enough water sports for us. It turned out that the pool is too small to swim in and not terribly cooling, and snorkeling is possible only when the sea is very calm, which never happened while we were there. We might not have chosen to stay here had we known that no aerobic activity was available. Was this misleading advertising? Not on the website, which makes no mention of a pool and barely mentions snorkeling. And probably not intentionally. But we do think any future promotions on Groupon and Living Social should be revised to guard against false expectations.
You might get the impression from photos or reviews that this is a luxury resort, but it’s actually quite ascetic. The rooms lack air-conditioning and are sparsely furnished, without even a good place to lay out your clothes. We wanted to stay in the Dome, but it was reserved for part of our stay, so we spent four nights there and two nights in the Cottage. The Dome is magical: waking up with that view of the ocean is breathtaking. Modesty is not a priority; you can’t “close the curtains.” Both rooms have outdoor bathrooms that are discreetly sheltered, though the Dome’s bathroom appears to be visible to some rooms at the Westender next door. If you are not comfortable using the toilet outdoors and in view of your roommate, you may have an issue. The Cottage bathroom is covered, but the Dome bathroom is not, so when it rains, showering is glorious but peeing is not.
Breakfast and dinner are included in the daily rate. Every breakfast comes with a cold glass of fresh orange juice (additional costs extra) and a deconstructed fruit salad consisting of at least six different fruits. The pineapple was a bit disappointing, but the banana and mango were divine, so much better than anything you can find at your grocery store back home. Sweetsop was new to us and very tasty. We also had papaya, starfruit, watermelon, and tangerine. Breakfast also included either waffles, pancakes, hot cereal, or ackee (a popular Jamaican breakfast consisting of a fruit that resembles scrambled eggs). These were generally good, though one of us found the ackee too salty to eat and the cereals too pasty and bland. Also included is one cup of coffee, served as a spiced cappuccino, or herbal tea. Since the climate is so hot, even in winter, we would have preferred more cold foods and drinks and fewer hot ones. The herbs, greens, and many of the fruits are grown on the premises. If you ask, Jackie will give you a tour of her garden.
Dinner is always grilled seafood or chicken (or vegetarian, should you choose), accompanied by a starch, two vegetables, the juice of a fruit plus ginger, and a cup of herbal tea. The juices are incredible. The dinners are very good, but the meats are overcooked and dry, and the flavor profile gets monotonous. The website says, “We serve an eclectic offering of fresh healthy foods derived from classical Jamaican, Indian, Chinese and Creole cuisines,” but we experienced only two seasonings total in the week we spent there, the normal spice blend and the curry spices.
We received a rare treat one day when Jackie discovered that all of her guests were celebrating birthdays or honeymoons. She threw budgetary caution to the wind and changed the dinner menu to lobster, champagne, and homemade cake.
The breakfast and dinner servings are ample, but not so much that you can skip lunch. We had lunch at Jackie’s once -- the shrimp salad -- and it was excellent, but as we tired of the same flavors, we went elsewhere for our lunches. All the other food in Jamaica tasted fat and greasy compared to Jackie’s. Jackie puts out a cooler of herb-flavored rainwater which grows lukewarm later in the day, but there is no other food or drink available on the premises off-hours, so bring granola bars in case you get the munchies before dinner or late at night
Upon arrival, you receive a schedule -- breakfast at 9:30-10:00, dinner at 5:30 or 6:00. In fact, it’s 10:30 and 7:00. Similary, an 11:00 appointment for a spa treatment might not happen until 11:45, which can disrupt any excursion plans. The website says that, among other things, morning walks, snorkeling, fireside talks and story telling are included in the daily rate. But once you get there, a handout informs you that “We do not have a structured day program.” Indeed, none of these should be construed as organized activities, and none happened during our visit, though the treatments that everyone raves about were wonderful. The facial was especially heavenly.
We both participated in yoga each morning. Lizzie is a veteran, but I had never done yoga before. It is very peaceful and gives your muscles a wonderful stretch. We had four different instructors in six days, so we got to sample the variety of approaches that are out there. Grace was our favorite, very enthusiastic and supportive. Jackie led yoga one day, and we are guessing she is not licensed to do so, because (among other things) she had us do tiger pose with face pointed to the sky, which all yoga professionals warn against due to the risk of neck injury if you lose your balance.
Google Maps pinpoints Jackie’s location at a spot that’s a three-minute drive south from the traffic circle in Negril, but that’s wrong. It’s 15 minutes south, in a remote location, so don’t consider walking anywhere except to the Westender Inn next door. If you want to go to Seven Mile Beach, a restaurant, or souvenir shopping, Jackie will call you a taxi that charges $30 for the round-trip to Negril. Use the Westender’s van instead. In contrast to the dilapidated taxis, it is modern and air-conditioned, and the charge is $3.50 per person each way.
Jackie let us use her computer once to make sure things were fine back home. If you feel the need to be more connected, the Westender restaurant across the street has free wifi. Your cell phone won’t work in Jamaica, but another couple combined wifi, a smart phone, and Skype to phone home.
The entire business is run by Jackie. Her influence pervades every aspect of your stay. On the plus side, this reinforces the atmosphere of relaxation and calm. But her desire to evalgelize her guests with a philosophy of peace can strain the atmosphere if she senses that anyone disagrees with her strong opinions. This perspective can also be a detriment to customer service. Didn’t sleep well? Rather than investigating (which would have led her to discover that our problem was a malfunctioning fan) she suggests you learn how to relax. Disappointed that you can’t snorkel? Rather than arrange for an alternative she says, “That’s nature, not me.”
We had an unfortunate incident at checkout. Jackie’s business does not accept credit cards, and the nearest ATM is 15 minutes away by car, so don’t make the mistake I made. I ran short of enough cash for an adequate tip. How did Jackie apply creative problem-solving to this situation? “You don’t like me, do you?” Such an inappropriate response from a hospitality services professional! But Jackie would never conceive of herself in such terms. She is an evangelist, and this can compromise the quality of your experience.