Exploring Hedonism II
By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many naked people in one place.
Thirty years, to be exact. That’s how long ago, as a fresh-faced student, I lived at Hedonism II during an 11-month-long college internship at the legendary adults-only all-inclusive resort in Negril, Jamaica.
Back then you had to venture to the eastern or “nude” side of the decades-old hotel to see stripped-down guests strolling through the gardens to their rooms, basking without a care on the beach, or “socializing” in the giant Jacuzzi. Today, all the bodies reclined on chaises around the elevated main pool (which still has a “mermaid” window into the nightclub’s bar through which you can view any underwater shenanigans) are proudly naked, roasting under the midday sun like hot dogs on a movie theater broiler.
Even on the “prude” side of the beach – where younger, more self-conscious guests used to hang out back in the day – I’m now the only one wearing a swimsuit, feeling awkward and conspicuous in my one-piece and wide-brimmed hat. As a couple who must be in their 70s walk by, both naked save for a cluster of brightly colored beads braided into their pubic hair, I think that things certainly seemed to have changed since I worked here, all those years ago.
But have they?
The resort is marking its 35th anniversary this year with a raft of improvements. Its 280 rooms, once basic, have been upgraded with walk-in showers and flat-screen TVs, and some have balconies and whirlpool tubs on private terraces. But the mirrors famously mounted on the ceiling (for bedtime selfies, perhaps?!) remain, now surrounded with neon lighting. And I still spot Post-Its and dry-erase boards mounted on room doors, inviting other guests to “Come in and play.”
Today, instead of just the buffet and a single a la carte restaurant, guests can dine at a beachfront steak house, Italian restaurant, Teppanyaki grill, or sushi lounge. But on the buffet line you’re still just as likely to be standing behind a scantily clad diner or, as I was, a woman wearing nothing but a feathered bikini bottom, patent leather thigh-high boots and jeweled pasties.
In fact, after three days on property, the biggest change I note isn’t one of hardware or amenities. It’s the fact that there are “Strictly No Photography” signs everywhere, no doubt a reaction to the rise of social media since my internship days. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, you could be sure that what happened at Hedo stayed at Hedo; no one needed to know that their mild-mannered dentist by day was a swinger once she hit Negril’s sands. But now there’s a real chance your sunburned backside, rum-fueled antics in the disco or even worse just might go viral.
As I sit in the lobby and watch buses arriving from the airport disgorge frazzled fully-clothed travelers, most of whom, in less than 24 hours will be relaxed, happy and naked as they day they were born, I come to a crucial realization. While the exterior and amenities have changed to meet the expectations of today’s travelers, at its core, Hedonism II remains the same. Its success lies not in trying to be everything to everyone but precisely the opposite. Hedo “is what it is” and what it has always been: A playground for people who want to abandon their inhibitions – and their clothing – in an accepting, judgment-free environment. For the wrong guest, it’s a nightmare. But for the right guest, Hedonism II is a dream come true.