Travel

Jamaica’s sweet lodgings over the water, atop the sea

Sandals Montego Bay, Jamaica, is the original all-inclusive resort for Sandals and one of the first all-inclusives in the Caribbean. It opened 35 years ago.
Sandals Montego Bay, Jamaica, is the original all-inclusive resort for Sandals and one of the first all-inclusives in the Caribbean. It opened 35 years ago. TNS

A big deal is happening: the first overwater bungalows in the Caribbean. Similar to overwater bungalows in French Polynesia, Jamaica’s Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay has figured out how to put the romantic lodgings safely in Caribbean waters. Writer Ellen Creager got a sneak peek, one of the first test guests to stay overnight.

For the life of me I can’t remember what my private butler said about how to turn on the underwater lights so I can see through the window on my bedroom floor.

The headaches! The difficulty of being the first guest in this entrancing villa! I think I need a soak in my private infinity pool or a rest on the overwater hammock to calm down.

Suddenly, a breakthrough. I push a small button labeled “ripples” on the wall. And although it is night, I now see the clear Caribbean sea beneath my feet and tiny fish swimming by.

For decades, tourists have flown all the way to the South Pacific to find them: small thatched-roof bungalows on stilts string out like a pearl necklace through quiet, shimmering turquoise lagoons and atolls, creating romance just by their existence.

Meanwhile, it has been nearly impossible to build similar bungalows in the Caribbean. Why? Tides, hurricanes, rough water and environmental regulations are impediments. You need a quiet location to make it work. Which is why the Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay, Jamaica, is the perfect test case.

It has a natural breakwater some way out from shore, so the water near the resort is a big lagoon. The brilliant aqua water is only 2 to 5 feet deep under the bungalows here. Tides still pull and push, but they are not strong.

So now, Sandals was putting the finishing touches on five spacious overwater villa bungalows, which link by walkway to its private island. You get there by a five-minute private water taxi ride from the main resort. You are served snacks and meals by your private butler on your private deck, after which you have many opportunities for private snuggling and private romance. (I’m extrapolating here; I was sadly a party of one at this ultra-romantic spot.) The bungalows were to open this month.

Also going up are 12 smaller overwater bungalows that will open in February.

Does it sound intriguing? Get in line. Most of the bungalows are sold out through mid-2018. The five biggest start at $1,435 per person, per night (based on double occupancy.) The 12 smaller bungalows are $1,263 per person.

The high-end cost does not seem to be hurting bookings, says Sandals spokeswoman Sarah Royal.

And if the bungalows work here, “This is definitely a direction we are looking to take in other places.”

One of the first to test out the new villas was Gerard Christ, the resort’s general manager. He knows all about the sturdy steel and concrete pilings that were required in Jamaica (no wooden stilts here). He knows the environmental hoops that Sandals had to clear, the ups and downs of construction, the costs, the pros and cons. But the night he stayed, the super moon was out, illuminating the skies. He felt as awed as any guest: “I hardly slept,” he says. He was so excited that he rose before dawn to watch the herons and cranes grazing just beyond his deck.

The night I stayed I, too, found it hard to sleep. It was not because the king-sized bed was uncomfortable, but because I was afraid I was going to miss something. Why sleep through your time at one of the most beautiful hotel rooms in the world? I got up at dawn, too.

When all 17 bungalows are complete at Sandals, they will be lined up in the shape of a heart, if you were able to see them from the air, Royal says. It’s an unnecessary – but romantic – Sandals touch, a tribute to lovers.

While the overwater bungalows are beyond the reach of some travelers’ pocketbooks, Montego Bay beckons to visitors of all economic levels, says Janice Allen, who represents the Jamaican Tourist Board.

Still, this is a moment of glory for Jamaica – first in the Caribbean to make the dream of overwater bungalows come true.

Overwater Bungalows

The Sandals Royal Caribbean resort is 10 minutes from the airport. To find out more about the resort’s new overwater bungalows see www.sandals.com/main/royal/rj-over-the-water-suites or call 888-726-3257.

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