Over Thanksgiving holidays in 2020 I made the decision to fly down to Jamaica. This was after extensive research with regards to COVID, from entry requirements to what hotels were doing. I also took all necessary precautions, testing 72 hours before departure (despite the official Jamaican policy that allows for tests within 10 days, which is honestly dumb), isolating, then testing on day 5 and 7 on my return after isolating. I was negative all the way.
Jamaica has been on my list for a long time. I took 2 class on college that connected to Jamaica. “Music of the African Diaspora” exploring the roots of many genres of music that lay in Africa, its global population and the history tied to slavery and the migration of cultures to the Americas and how that all influenced jazz, reggae, hip hop and much more. I also took a class on 007: James Bond and learned that Ian Fleming wrote all novels at his private home called Goldeneye in Jamaica. Further, who doesnt like some Jerk chicken and rum? Speaking of Jerk, I learned the origins of it: wild boar, the spice mix came from runaway slaves, who seasoned the boar, cooked it in a hole in the ground, using pimento wood (a spice), that’s how jerk came about. They were known as maroons, they were the ones who defeated the English and forced them to surrender. Although, in regards to food, I did discover many more tasty Jamaican delicacies that arent often found in the U.S. or elsewhere, like Ackee and Saltfish, the Jamaican national dish.
Of course, the place I chose to stay for the first half of my week in Jamaica was Goldeneye Resort, now run by Island Outpost, the local hotel/charity group owned by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell (he signed Bob Marley). But yes, part of Ian Fleming’s private lands. If you have anywhere between USD$4500-$8000 laying around, you can book the Ian Fleming villa for anywhere between 1 to 12 people. It comes with its own dedicated team of concierge, chef, housekeeping, and the privacy of the entire villa, it is not, however, all-inclusive but those rates are available to add. If its unoccupied, you can tour it for free as a hotel guest on Saturdays and Thursdays. This is highly recommended for any 007, music or history buff, especially the chance to sit in Ian Fleming’s original table (typewriter not included) where he wrote the novels. Not to worry, the average nightly rate for the smallest room category is far lower than the Fleming villa (more on that below).
Over all Goldeneye is a special gem. Unique in the Caribbean and in many ways also the world. But to date it is my favorite resort I have stayed at in the Caribbean and is one of the few that I found to actually be worth the money you pay for. Just full of history and culture and is a truly unique slice of Jamaica and the Caribbean you wont find anywhere else. Is it perfectly flawless? No. This place is not for those who are seeking an ultra-luxe bend over backwards service type of vacation. It is rustic luxury at its best, it is true Jamaican hospitality and it is a property exuding in history and family fun. It is ultimately a place suited for all types of travelers. Families (the main crowd during my stay), couples, solo travelers in need of me time, or friends.
Finally, if considering a trip to Goldeneye, not only would it be fun to watch or read any of the Bond films and novels but most definitely get yourself a copy of Matthew Parker’s “Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica.” This is an essential read before or during your stay at the resort. Really gives a great context and history of Jamaica, Ian Fleming, the property and what influenced the James Bond story. The book will help in understanding and appreciating not only the resort and Bond but also Jamaica.
Booking and Arrival
Unfortunately Goldeneye is not part of AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts not is it part of any major credit card booking system to earn bonus points. However, it is part of bespoke hotel booking tools like Kiwicollection or MrandMrsSmith. Nonetheless I chose to just book direct on their website as they were running a few promotions.
Given the circumstances of COVID as well as my usual uncertainty and last minute travel I had many questions and concerns that I hoped could be answered/ addressed. The hotel was not as efficient in answering emails/ understanding some of these but nonetheless they delivered on my requests when I made my booking and were nonetheless very accommodating to the spontaneous nature of my trip.
All rates come with breakfast. That is it. Coffee/tea and water all included as well as a flask of Blackwell rum (packages will tout this as an added perk, I believe this is very much standard). Normally your mini-bar is stocked (not free) and there is in-room guides and directories…etc. but with COVID all that is removed, including laundry service. Turn down service is also upon request.
Originally I had wanted to book the “Ultimate James Bond Experience Package” at $2630 for 4 nights in a beach hut, including a Fleming Villa tour, a bottle of Bollinger La Grande Annee, a Chris Blackwell signed copy of Matthew Parker’s book, a guided snorkeling activity and a tour with sunset cocktail at Noel Coward’s clifftop home, Firefly. However upon inquiry I found out that if the Fleming villa was occupied you couldnt even tour it plus it is a free tour and it doesnt sound like you get a refund of any sort in your rate if you book this package and cant tour the villa, which is just silly. Further, the Firefly house was not touring due to COVID and the other items did not add up to cover the cost differential of the package with another similar 4 night package on offer but ended up getting or doing all of the Bond package minus the Firefly tour and snorkeling (due to an injury). As such I booked the “Hut Life” which was book 3 get 4 (route I went with) or book 5 get 7 nights. This brought my average nightly rate down to USD$435 (exclusive of taxes and fees), which for Goldeneye is already quite a good deal as they dont often have heavy discounts even in low season. The rate was for any of their beach hut categories, but I recommend sticking to the basic beach hut as many of these are the only huts truly on the waterfront. My reservation was a full upfront payment, with only airport transfer/ food and beverage/ non-complimentary activities such as spa to be added.
NOTE: if booking a beach hut (not the elevated beach hut and not the beach hut with a lower level living area), request for beach hut #42, the one I was very fortunate to be assigned upon request. If not ask for #41/43/44/45. These are the ones with true, unobstructed and near private ocean views and indoor showers, if you dont mind outdoor showers then I believe 46 also has the sea views. If not, I would reach deep into the wallet and splurge for a lagoon cottage/vila which is near USD$1000/night but from my observations, so worth it. Unless views/ privacy arent that huge of a factor, hugely depends on what is important to you. The other beach huts have verandas that sit right on the pathways and you basically see others as they see you, despite the resort largely feeling very private and you barely see other people. If more jungle/nature is the vibe you are after, then a elevate beach hut could do nicely as many have veranda views of the trees.
I booked online on the way to the airport. Called the hotel to confirm they received the details and booked for a one-way airport transfer at USD$165 for up to 4 people (roundtrip is simply double that). They were responsive and sent in the COVID Disclosure form to sign, which was for yourself to declare you are healthy and have followed protocols but also that the hotel aint going to be liable or pay or anything should you contract the virus.
To get to the hotel, you have some options. Arrive at Montego Bay Airport or Kingston Airport on a commercial flight. Montego transfer is quoted as 1.5 hours but its really 2-2.5 due to traffic and road conditions and from Kingston its quoted as 2.5 but its really 3 or more. If you have deeper pockets you can either book a helicopter transfer directly to the resort from these airports, or a private charter to the Ian Fleming airport in Oracabessa just 10 minutes away or fly your private jet directly to Ian Fleming Airport. You could possibly arrange an airport transfer to the resort through a independent service for anywhere from $50-$100 less, but with COVID and me wanting to spend as little time at the airport and not deal with confusion as I normally would, I opted for hotel arrangements.
I arrived in Montego Bay Airport. After a near 1.5 hour arrival process with health screening and lines I made it out. My trip was off to a banging start with airport pick up from Micheal aka Pops, an super energetic and welcoming Goldeneye team member. Upon knowing my interest in Bond, history and Jamaican culture, Pops basically spent the entire 2.5 hour drive throwing trivia at me, pointing important places out and explaining Jamaican history and culture to me. We even stopped by to grab a Red Stripe. He even offered to get me verified and good quality Ganja (aka weed) if I wanted. What a way to arrive. After a long but scenic and informative drive we arrived. There is no sign or grand gate. It is literally a steel gate that has a “private” sign on it off the road. You enter, get temperature checked, sanitize and checked off the manifest. You then drive into the property and arrive at the open-air “lobby” area. The sun had already set by my arrival. Check-in was easy and quick as they have minimized touch points with COVID, my luggage had already been taken and I was walked to my beach hut. The resort is very dimly lit in many parts, so a flashlight or headlamp is useful to have with.
The Resort Experience
My daily routine for my 4 days was essentially the same and was largely determined by the weather pattern of beautiful morning sunshine and afternoon tropical showers. I spent the mornings by the main pools/ beaches and some kayaking in the lagoon. Then afternoons were usually spend lounging in my covered, ocean-view open-air veranda as the rain showers passed here and there. Then at night I’d have dinner at the rotating dinner venues (COVID protocol, only one restaurant is open each night). Of course cocktails/ beers were had throughout the day as well. I skipped lunch as I stuffed myself silly with the included breakfast that was so good but also because the food is expensive, as expected though not ridiculous for a Caribbean resort of this caliber. Basic water sports are included: kayak, paddle board, full snorkel and fin gear, mini wind sail catamarans. Spa, excursions…etc. are all added fees. Lifeguards are present but not in a obvious way.
While the service here isnt any Aman proactive style, it is super friendly and professional and any and all requests will be met with a “yeah, man.” Everyone says hello or will reply if you greet them, everyone checks in on you, even the management team like Stuart. There are thoughtful moments like housekeeping coming in the evening to check if I needed new towels. Yet there are moments where like at the pools/beach you have to find someone to get a beach towel, or they do come but just very much after you’ve begun to relax, though apologetic for not noticing and being late in offering you a towel/ to make your lounger. Remember this place is not striving to be an ultra luxe Aman or Four Seasons. And by the end of my stay, many of the team knew me by name or beach hut number and knew what I liked, essentially becoming part of the Goldeneye family, because as they say, “One Love.” Which is a national saying “Out of Many, One Love, ” celebrating the diversity and roots of the Jamaican identity, peoples and culture.
The mosquito situation is not as bad as I had expected but still bring repellent or switch to light long sleeves/pants at sunset and into the night as that is when the mosquitoes come out to feast and definitely use that net when sleeping.
The beach hut was larger and more comfortable than expected. I had read there were no A/Cs but it appears they since installed them. Supposedly the TVs have apple TV with all Bond films loaded, but this was not the case in my room, likely due to COVID. The bed and pillows are super comfy, though the bed is actually quite high even for me at 5’10 I had to slightly jump on to it. A great feature is the reading lights, outlets and USB outlets built into the bed frame so that you can charge/ read under the mosquito net, very thoughtful. My first night both my TV and Sonos speakers were broken, but this was quickly fixed by the mechanic, who was masked and friendly. I would have also appreciated a slightly more thorough room walkthrough or an electronic resort/room guide and directory since they no longer provide this due to COVID, which I appreciate but I had no idea the Sonos system needed the Sonos app to work. Even after downloading the app, it was wonky as there is no label telling you the Sonos’ bluetooth name so you may accidentally play music in another hut or vice versa, which did happen. I had also read here was a Chris Blackwell playlist on the Sonos you could play, but I didnt find it, though his playlists exist on Spotify and they are fantastic, of course. Thankfully my hut had an indoor shower. The bathroom is nice and clean but basic, two person shower, a toilet and a small sink/vanity area, all open. Towels and bathrobes were soft and comfy though.
On my first day, I walked around the resort. It is a larger property than I had expected. The beach huts are located in a far end of the resort and it feels like its own mini-resort within a resort. Then you have the lagoon cottages/villas and beach cottages/villas which almost feel like a different resort given the different architecture of the villas/ cottages compared to the more rustic looking huts. There are 3 beaches, one is less a beach and more a stone lined bay inlet known as Snorkeler’s cove, where you can go…well snorkeling. Then there is Button Beach that faces the James Bond beach across the bay, which you can kayak to. This is also where the Bamboo bar is and normally where they would host BBQs.
Then there is the main beach and pool area by the Bizot Bar and in front of the beach villas, which the beach here is public and accessible, it is awkward to walk in front of the beach villas and the loungers in front of each villa is private use for villa occupants. At the far end of the barrier wall along Bizot is the beautiful saltwater pool called “The Eye,” yes it is shaped like an eye.
There is a smaller pool next to Shabeen bar (closed due to COVID), which normally is a sunset spot. Then there is the massive lagoon, which is ideal for paddleboarding, kayaking or swimming. There is a spa on the lagoon and is probably one of the only Spas in the world you can choose to swim, kayak, paddleboard or walk to. There is a small island on the lagoon that now has very creepy vibes as it is clearly abandoned but I assume once served a purpose on the resort, but its now overgrown and full of flora and fauna.
By the entrance is a tennis court and outdoor workout facilities, there is no gym here, but you dont need it. A loop around the property is probably around 2 or so miles. All along the grounds are trees planted by guests and famous VIPs, to plant one is USD$1000 but the proceeds go to support Island Outpost’s efforts to support local communities and education. But its fun to spot the trees, planted by figures such as Yoko Ono, Sean Connery (couldnt find his), Pierce Brosnan, Jimmy Fallon, Paris Hilton and many more. Its a great property to just meander, many nice quiet corners to relax in, read a book in, or just nap at.
After my walk around, at 11AM I arrived at the reception area, it was Saturday, as such it was time for my Fleming Villa Tour. I ended up being the only one, which was great but also saddened me to see complete lack of interest in this history. The Fleming Villa is most absolutely worth a tour. And having toured it, I dream of one day booking it with family and friends. Not only is it where Ian Fleming lived and wrote the Bond novels, it is also where many other artists created famous works, like Sting wrote “Every Breath You Take” at Goldeneye and the original signed record is framed at the entertainment room in the villa. There are 3 bedrooms in the main and original home, there are then two independent poolside villas and an entertainment pavilion that was once the garage. There is a pool, a private bay and beach down some steps, outdoor and indoor dining areas, kitchen, bars, outdoor BBQ and lots of land to run around/ play games/ hangout. And unobstructed private ocean views. As a Bond fan and having studied the series and its larger cultural and historical context, I geeked out at the chance to sit in Ian Fleming’s original chair and at his desk where the character was born. Simply glorious.
Food over all is mediocre and overpriced, but that is expected though not terrible when compared to other Caribbean places. Breakfast, though, is incredible, especially their Jamaican Ackee and Saltfish breakfast. Eating breakfast and sipping incredible Blue Mountain coffee on the veranda in my hut facing Snorkeler’s cove in the morning was pure bliss. At evenings I’d switch to a few drams of the delicious Blackwell Rum, so good I bought 2 handles at the airport. Another win are the cocktails, those are worth the price. Gazebo food is really something you can skip unfortunately, just not good, though it is here that I spotted Chris Blackwell himself! Bizot bar is where its at, especially because they serve the Jamaican food and it is so good. During COVID those are you alternate options each night. Usually Saturday nights is the Goldeneye all you can eat BBQ buffet on Button beach, but with COVID it is all you can eat service BBQ, but worth it at $65 inclusive of tax and 6 cocktails (from a select menu). On Sunday at Bizot was the fish fry, which again was supposed to be at Button but rain brought it indoors, this was not as good as the BBQ, but still much better than Gazebo food.
NOTE: One slightly confusing and annoying thing is that at resorts and touristy spots, a 10% service charge is already added to your bill but I read that it is still expected that you tip, so I usually added a 5-10% tip depending on service, my first time I went with an additional 20% without realizing I had already paid a 10% tip.
COVID Protocols: While over all, very good protocols and measures being taken for COVID and the resort felt clean, there were times when things could have been better. Masks are meant to cover BOTH nose and mouth, a lot of times the staff were not covering their nose, and most guests, except I think me, did not wear masks during their stay. One time housekeeping knocked to check on me but without a mask. There was inconsistent practice on sanitizing pens before guests sign bills, some staff did this, others did not. But on a whole, I was impressed. As mentioned all in-room amenities such as stocked mini-bar, directories, maps, TV guide, laundry service have all been removed. Turn-down is upon request. However, coffee, tea, water, bathrobes, insect repellent, and even hand sanitizer all provided. Hand sanitizers have been installed everywhere across the property and signed to remind to sanitize, and keep social distance and wear mask where needed are also up everywhere. Airport transfer drivers masked the whole time, except a few times when Pops was eating, this part was not as well done as my next resort where we rolled windows since the car A/C is recycled air and mask was truly worn the entire journey. But in both cases I was asked to sanitize my hand with their provided alcohol spray before entering the vehicle.
Over all you just begin to relax the moment you arrive. Surrounded by nature, amazing Jamaican people, great cocktails, delicious Jamaican food at Bizot and wonderful secluded areas to relax. At many points during my stay I really did feel like the only person there.
You realize why Ian Fleming fell in love with this plot of land as well as the country. You not only at times feel like Bond, but you also get a sense of what it might have been like to visit Jamaica before the giant white concrete all-inclusives took over Montego Bay. What’s more is that this place is suitable for all types of travelers, family, solo, friends or couples.
I cant wait to return, hopefully post-COVID to fully experience it and hopefully return with a group of family and friends to stay at the Fleming Villa.