Direct flights to Jamaica: The Caribbean just got closer
Laidback people, tropical sunshine and reggae music. Three things that spring to mind whenever somebody mentions Jamaica.
Maybe bobsledding too, if you've seen the film Cool Runnings. But as I found out last month, there is far more to this Caribbean island than just these clichés.
Of course, an unfortunate side-effect of travelling to the West Indies has always been the lack of direct flights from Ireland - with a stopover in the UK, the United States or the Netherlands the only way to get there.
That is all set to change however, with Falcon and Thomson introducing direct flights to Jamaica from Dublin from next June.
This cuts down dramatically on the travel time (only nine or so hours from Dublin - little more than a trip to Orlando) and should hopefully lead to more people experiencing the joys of island life.
My wife and I recently went with her parents to the island for my mother-in-law's birthday. We spent five nights on the north coast at Couples Tower Isle in the resort of Ocho Rios, and four nights in the north west, at Couples Swept Away in the famous resort of Negril. While only three hours apart, they offered totally different slices of island heaven.
Our holiday started in Couples Tower Isle in the northern resort of Ocho Rios. Named after an island in the bay about 500m from the hotel, the views from our balcony were simply stunning.
The island is part of the hotel property, and is used as an au naturel bathing spot. A small ferry brings guests on the two-minute journey back and forth.
An all-inclusive resort, there was unlimited food and drinks available. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet-style, and we had a choice of four restaurants at night, ranging from casual to Asian to fine dining.
On the third day of our trip, we went on the complimentary trip to Dunn's River Falls, about 15 minutes from the hotel. Known as one of the must-do activities for any tourist to Jamaica, the Falls didn't disappoint.
Along with our guide we climbed from the beach for about an hour, up the gently cascading river falls (not waterfalls). Suitable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness (my parents-in-law did it with no trouble) this was a real highlight of our trip, and a truly unique experience.
On our last night in Tower Isle we opted for the private dining option. A hefty extra charge of $170 applied, but it was worth every cent.
The table was set up on the beach and we were able to have a beautiful dinner of steak and lobster with a soundtrack of the waves lapping the shore.
Lying just over 7,000km from Ireland, Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean, with a population of 2.8 million.
Having gained its independence from the UK back in 1962, the Jamaican economy is heavily reliant on tourism for revenues. So it's just as well they do such a great job of it!
After five wonderful nights in Ocho Rios, we packed up and headed for Couples Swept Away in Negril, probably the most well-known resort in Jamaica.
Famed for its vast seven-mile beach, this was a total change from the secluded cove at Tower Isle. With its pockets of rooms dotted around the complex, Swept Away had a very different feel to Tower Isle.
What they have in common however is the quality of the food and nightly entertainment.
We were treated to a night of traditional steel drum music, while on another night a local group played African tribal music. Another highlight was the casino night, where guests could play a range of table games for free.
It was at Swept Away that we got to experience the spectacular thunder and lightning of a true Caribbean rain storm. On our last night the heavens opened, and for about two hours we were treated to an incredible show of sheet and fork lightning. A truly unforgettable experience.
Before leaving the island we got to see some of the good work being done by the Issa Foundation, run by the owners of Couples resorts. All guests are encouraged to give a small donation when checking out, and we visited a local pre-school in Negril, which receives funding from the hotels. Seeing the smiles on the youngsters' faces, and meeting the teachers who are helping to educate them in which was a very disadvantaged area, was genuinely heart-warming.
This was our third trip to the Caribbean in the past few years, and yet again the region charmed us with its lovely people, beautiful sunshine and warm tropical seas. This was the first time we brought my in-laws, but they enjoyed it immensely, and it is truly a destination for all ages.
Jamaica is one of the largest of the West Indies.
Its closest neighbour is Cuba, which lies 145km to the north.
The local currency is the Jamaican Dollar, but the US Dollar is accepted everywhere. Good buys include local handcrafts and coffee, which is rated among the best in the world.
Direct flights from Dublin to Montego Bay start next summer and the price for 14 nights at Couples Tower Isle including flights from June 19 next year is €2614 per person. For more details see falconholidays.ie
For more information on the dos and don'ts of Jamaica, check out visitjamaica.com