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A Golden Trip

In Jamaica they say “Full Joy” instead of “Enjoy” which they believe refers to joy ending as opposed to one experiencing full joy. On a recent trip there my experience was absolutely one of Full Joy!


At a dinner party several years ago one of my friends talked about her recent trip to Bali. When I asked how her husband liked the trip she informed me with a laugh that her husband hadn’t been invited! She went on to explain that although they had taken many great family trips, she and her two adult daughters had never taken a “girls trip” together and how special their trip turned out to be.


Ping went the strings of my heart, on went the light bulb in my head, and shine it did! That was it: my next big birthday celebration. With a few years to go before hitting a rather large and scary number, I took the ouch out of thinking about it by deciding that a mother/daughter trip to someplace utterly fabulous and luxurious would be the way to greet the number joyously.


I invited my daughters well in advance. When I broke the news to my husband, he took it rather well with his only request being that I not go to Bali as he wanted me to save that trip for him. I agreed with pleasure!


My own guidelines were pretty simple. I wanted to go somewhere none of us had ever been before. I am a hot weather gal so anywhere cold wasn’t an option. Stand up paddle boarding is my favorite (and only) sport so I wanted someplace where I could paddle to my hearts content. As much as I wanted luxury, the world was not my oyster nor did I have a blank check even though I did have a rather healthy budget. The planning began.


As my birthday is in mid-December, with spiked high seasonal pricing for most tropical resorts, I thought that to get what I wanted in the luxe department I would have to forgo the St. Barths/St. Martins route. With the help of a very patient travel agent, I narrowed my choices down to Belize and Costa Rica the “up and coming places to go”.  


Though I looked at websites of some very beautiful resorts that offered much in the way of amenities and adventure activities, something was just not clicking for me. Truth be told, none of us are the zip lining, rain forest trekking, scuba diving types. These apples haven’t fallen far from the tree so they both, like their mama, would be looking for a gorgeous beach, a blue/green bath temperature sea, a fabulous spa, delicious food and service that makes us feel truly spoiled.


By last August when resorts were starting to book for the holiday season it was time to choose but I still hadn’t heard the inner “Book It!” for either Belize or Costa Rica. So I did what I usually do when stuck, I turned to my girlfriends! I sent an email out to several of my well-traveled pals explaining what I was looking for and asking for suggestions.


The first response came in. Have you thought about Golden Eye in Jamaica? Jamaica! The PING again! I love the music, that gorgeous Island accent, those beautiful people. Bob Marley was my hero! Golden Eye, huh. Got that website up in a nano second!  And once I had it up…well, it wasn’t going down! Ba Bye Costa Rica, Ba bye Belize!


At first glance Golden Eye looked amazing and over budget. At second and third glance it still looked amazing and over budget. But looking at the pictures on the website, I reminded myself that budgets are made to be stretched. So like the woman on a mission I was, I got hold of the go-to gal at Golden Eye, Jenny Woods. I explained what my dream was and without skipping a beat she assured me that she was going to make my birthday wish come true. Ms. Wood was indeed true to her word.


Golden Eye, located in Oracabessa Bay, on the north coast of Jamaica 20 miles north of Ocho Rios, is the brain child of Island Records creator Chris Blackwell, the man responsible for bringing reggae music to the world. In addition to producing Bob Marley, Island broke such British acts as Traffic, Bad Company, ELP, King Crimson, and introduced us to such independent spirits as Roxy Music, Brian Eno, Marianne Faithfull, Tom Waits, and that “little” Irish band, U2.


The original Golden Eye estate was purchased by Ian Fleming after WWII and was where Fleming wrote all of his James Bond novels. After his death, Blackwell purchased the property from the Fleming estate and has grown it into the world-class resort it is today.


The reality of Golden Eye turned out to be just as fabulous as the dream, if not better. There are no billboards or signs on the road advertising it. The front gate is almost totally obscured by trees. There is a simple guardhouse hidden behind the gate with a guard who greeted us with the first of many wide smiles we encountered during our stay. The tone had been set.


The resort consists of 52 acres of lush tropical vegetation.  Instead of rooms or suites, guests stay in one or two bedroom villas or “cottages“ which are really extremely upscale wooden beach shacks either on the ocean or facing a beautiful lagoon. At present there are 21 villas, with more being added by this spring.

We had a one-bedroom villa steps from the ocean, which was perfect for us. It came with a front porch, a back yard with a hot shower and a hammock that was easy to get into but very hard to get out of!


 The décor was in keeping with everything about Golden Eye, exquisite high quality and a reflection of the beauty and simplicity of the island itself with not a single thing being over done or ostentatious.


From the moment one arrives the message is clear. You are here to relax and de-stress, not to show off and impress, even though the names of the guests who have stayed there makes an impressive list.  Johnny Depp, Kate Moss and Grace Jones are among the list of who’s who visitors.


Trust me, though, no one cares if your flip flops have double C’s on the bottom or if your sarong is Hermes. (Mine was. With a gorgeous zebra on it. A birthday gift from generous close friends.)


What makes a truly gifted producer is the ability to think of everything and then some. Mr. Blackwell’s genius has totally extended to his hotel business. The food at Golden Eye isn’t just good, it is wonderful “farm to table” fare that they’ve been doing for years despite its recent popularity elsewhere.


Breakfast and lunch are served in the Bizot Bar by one of the two swimming pools.  Unfair as it is, I am a person who judges a restaurant by the way they fry eggs and mine were “perfection.”   Coupled with warm muffins and a fresh fruit plate consisting of mango, pineapple and papaya, it is a glorious way to start the day.


Lunch by the pool was usually their signature chicken club sandwich followed by a dessert that my girls and I had never heard of before and couldn’t get enough of; Banana Crumble. Seriously this dish is what you’d be served if you died and went straight to heaven. An angel would hand you a bowl of it with a silver spoon and say “Welcome!”


Dinner is served in the Gazabo lounge and restaurant, which can be described in many ways but sexy really says it best. It ranks among world-class restaurants offering a wonderful menu ranging from lobster to rack of lamb with local fish dishes and lovely pastas in between all accompanied by an international list of fine wines.

After the food there is …The Field Spa. One needs to get all of those kinks and knots out to be fully seated in the lap of luxury and that is exactly what they do at Golden Eye’s spa.  Housed In a villa on the lagoon, the spa is private, unobtrusive, elegant and an oasis unto itself. We took full advantage of it. Several times!!  My daughter’s and I started out with the warm Ginger and Pimento Leaf massage. Upon arrival we were escorted out to the porch overlooking the lagoon, invited to sit and soak our feet in wooden buckets of warm water and had them scrubbed with a rather large, fragrant and gorgeous green pimento leaf before being taken to individual open air massage rooms. For the next hour, between the deep tissue massaging and the warm ginger compresses, we had no choice but to melt away.

  On our next trip to the spa, the girls tried the Revitalizing Facials but I couldn’t get enough of those warm ginger compresses or Kay, who according to my back, has magic hands.

Once one is totally relaxed there are kayaks, paddle boards, snorkeling gear and a glass bottom boat on site and available to guests all day. One afternoon we went to a nearby beach and participated in a “turtle release.” Helping a volunteer marine biologist escort the newly hatched turtles into the sea to start their lives, was beyond educational. It was thrilling!


Another day we took a drive to the late and legendary Noel Coward ‘s estate, Firefly. The house is a cultural treasure with a view to die for and memorabilia of Mr. Coward’s life still in tact. Faded photo’s of Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and the Queen of England all taken in the rooms we were walking through allowed us to visit that long gone world.


Though both of these excursions are on the “not to be missed” category, the true highlight of the trip was just being with my girls. What else did we do for a week besides eat, spa out, direct baby turtles towards the see and step back into Mr. Cowards celebrated world? We swam, paddle boarded, read, laid by the pool with rum infused fruit smoothies in hand, played backgammon, napped and talked. And did nothing.


Ah Ha…but here in lies the true gift of this trip; the doing nothing part. Being with my daughters, having no agenda, no schedule, nowhere to be and no one to see, gave the three of us the ultimate luxury; time to be together.


Conversations began organically. Over dinners we walked down memory lane. “Do you remember when you were 10 and so obsessed with Norway you learned a sentence and had us all believing you learned the language”, said the older to the younger.   “Oh my God! And you came upstairs singing all the words to “99 Luftballons!” Reminded the younger to the older.


We laughed anew. Then there were other memories that gave us a chance to understand childhood hurts and express our grown up mea culpas. Laughter and tears, blanketed with love, under the moonlit sky, all authentic, spontaneous and safe. Yes, it was the doing nothing with my children who are no longer children but young women building lives of their own, that was the biggest and best gift I’ve ever received.


The day before we left it poured! Instead of being sad that we were missing our last day of fun in the sun, we had the coziest day inside listening to the wind, the rain and the roar of the waves crashing to shore! We ordered room service and in between showers, we were brought “jerk” chicken sandwiches and multiple orders of banana crumble. We watched “Thelma and Louise”, which the girls had never seen. We watched “Pitch Perfect” (1 and 2) which big surprise, I’d never seen.  We played backgammon and I lost every game! The end of the day had me praying another rain storm was on it’s way!


It’s very rare to like everyone so much that you personally want to say goodbye and hug every person you’ve met. But that is how we felt about the staff upon leaving Golden Eye. From Samson, the driver who picked us up at the airport, to each of the bartenders, waitresses, and housekeepers, all were a part of making our dream vacation so special.

“Full Joy”, indeed!  Me…I’m not so scared by those big fat birthday numbers anymore.  Bring em on…as long as there’s Golden Eye, I say, the bigger the better!!

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