At the Jamaica Inn, the Art of Being Timeless

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A landmark hotel 

By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon

It’s called Ultramarine Blue. And it’s been the color of Jamaica Inn since the Ocho Rios resort opened back in 1950.

It’s a color so synonymous with the hotel that once you’ve been a guest, if you happen spot it elsewhere, it elicits a pleasant Pavlovian response: an instant feeling of calm and serenity that only the Caribbean can bring. Which is only fitting since the color was originally chosen to echo one of the many striations in the water that laps this quietly elegant resort.

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And the iconic hue isn’t the only thing that’s remained the same since Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, Noel Coward and Ian Fleming sought sanctuary here in the days when a Jamaican vacation was a privilege few could afford. Afternoon tea is still served on the ocean-view terrace promptly at 4pm. Waiters still sport crisply starched Nehru collared jackets. Trousers and collared shirts are required for gentlemen after 7pm. There are no alarm clocks, radios or flat-screen TVs in the 48 British Colonial-style suites and cottages. And room keys are still … well … keys.

“If you came here in the ‘50s and you returned today, you could still find your room,” says managing director Eric Morrow, whose family has owned and managed the hotel since 1958. “You might be aghast at the fashion,” he says with a twinkle in his eye, “but the hotel and grounds would still be very familiar.”

croquet

Familiar, yes, but not exactly the same. Because while time here appears to have been paused in the middle of Dr. No, things have indeed changed. They’ve added the Ocean Spa, where Sabeina’s deep-tissue massage in a cabin overlooking the sea is a truly transcendent experience. There’s strong and speedy WI-FI throughout. Paddleboards complement the traditional sailboats and kayaks.

And the clientele now skews younger, to include millenials, who consider Jamaica Inn’s Old Caribbean aesthetic and quiet gentility to be the height of retro-cool.

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“Luxury, for us, isn’t about having 50-inch TVs in the rooms,” says general manager Kyle Mais. “It’s about delivering the experience of space; of having room to relax; of being able just to chill on your own verandah. And that something that’s always in style.”

So while other resorts claim giant swim-up pool bars, Teddy, the oldest member of staff with 55 years of service, still tends a simple beach watering hole with just a dozen stools planted in the sand.

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Let other hotels tout their water parks and circus schools; bartender Rupert will instruct you on the finer points of croquet on the main lawn.

Costumed characters and video arcades might be the in thing at other resorts but the Inn won’t accept children under 10.

And while other hotels’ strands are lined with plastic chaises chairs mere inches from each other, the Inn’s petite, smile-like curve of sand is still as intimate as ever, studded with a only a handful of palapas sheltering the most discerning travelers.

It’s this seamless combination of classic traditions and contemporary conveniences that beguiles within the first 24 hours. It’s living proof that what’s old is, indeed, new again.

And it’s the reason why a vacation at Jamaica Inn is always a good idea.

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