Here is what Mr Smith and I knew at the outset of our romantic weekend: we were sneaking off to one of Jamaica’s most exclusive resorts. That was the extent of our planning and research. As the parents of two young boys, such escapes are rare, so why bother with too many questions? They had us at ‘no kids’.
Motoring along the north coast of Jamaica from the Montego Bay airport in a van driven by a chatty reggae fan, however, we wondered if our retreat might resemble one of the countless Cancun-style pleasure palaces we passed along the winding road. Would it be one a giant stucco monolith towering above the glittering blue sea? Perhaps we’d find ourselves competing for cocktails at a swim-up pool bar serving 100?
Pulling up to entrance of the Goldeneye Hotel and Resort on Oracabessa Bay, however, it was clear how wrong we were – not a speck of stucco in sight. Instead, we spied a gate overgrown with tropical flora bearing a sign that whispered ‘Private Property’. It appeared more akin to a reclusive mogul’s private hideaway.
Turns out, that’s not far from the truth. The former estate of Ian Fleming (where the spy scribe wrote the James Bond thrillers), this little jungle-clad cove now functions as the de facto playground for local legend Chris Blackwell (the founder of Island Records who brought Bob Marley to the masses) and his globetrotting friends.
You won’t find a climbing block of hotel rooms here, but rather, a clutch of oceanfront villas, lagoon cottages and, for high rollers: the former Fleming Villa itself. Exclusive? Yes, but not a snobby way. Goldeneye is one of Jamaica’s coolest running parties and, better yet, we’re all invited.
The welcoming vibe was evident from the moment we were met by Clayton, a manager with an easy, deadpan air and a glorious mane of dreadlocks. We were tired from an early flight and a bit carsick, so Clayton, tapping his inner doctor, quickly diagnosed us as being rum deficient.
Wise Clayton escorted us to the open-air Bizot bar so we might alleviate our travel-induced symptoms (read: dive headlong into lazy debauchery).
Traversing the palm-studded property, we stopped to chat with another manager, Naudia, who handed us the sweet fruit she’d just plucked off the sea grape trees found sprouting in abundance here, for a taste of local flavor. We quickly learned that this a friendly, first-name-basis kind of place.
Wandering the grounds, we were struck by the charmed air of make-believe hovering over everything. With its thatched palm roofs, colorful Adirondack chairs, infinity pools and wooden suspension bridge spanning a lagoon—it’s something like a hipster’s reinterpretation of Pirates of the Caribbean.
In a sense, this is a kiddie park for grown-ups, with the signature feature being a treehouse. Perched in the treetops, the open-air Gazebo restaurant overlooks the main grounds and is surrounded by a four-acre teal lagoon. The mod interiors are styled with sleek white decor and walls adorned with framed stills from the first Bond film Dr No.
Heeding the words of the good Dr Clayton, we let the gentle ocean breezes kiss our cheeks as we settled in for a spell at the Bizot bar, its columns wallpapered in classic reggae and jazz album covers.
We paired a late breakfast of ackee fruit and salt fish, with the mellow Bond-themed Golden Gun house concoction of dark and white rum (from Mr Balckwell’s private distillery, of course), guava and lime juice. With drinks in hand and the pristine private beach in our sights, we slipped into a profoundly Jamaican state of mind. ‘It’s always five o’clock at Goldeneye,’ Mr. Smith mused, tipping back his glass.
Underscoring the private-party atmosphere, Mr Blackwell himself was seated next to us, dining with a friend, who just so happened to be a top New York chef. There we were: the music-industry legend, the celebrity chef and us. Here, even the famous and fabulous feel like old friends.
The sunshine, mixed with the celebrity wattage and topped off with the Golden Gun cocktails, proved an intoxicating brew. Padding off in a happy haze, we fantasized that we were trapped on this island. Mr. Blackwell, bring down that bridge! Never let us cross back into reality!
Making our way to the Lagoon Cottage – a breezy bungalow with plantation shutters, custom batik throw pillows and dark hardwood floors – it was an easy enough daydream to maintain. As the name would indicate, there were wooden steps that led directly to the crystal-clear lagoon below. Jumping right into the water, Mr Smith and I hopped on board the kayak moored at our private dock and set off for an exploratory paddle.
Back in the room, I left Mr Smith to thumb through a coffee table book on James Bond, and I kayaked over to lagoon-side FieldSpa. There, I settled in for an hour-long warming ginger and spicy pimenta massage. Before I departed, the massage therapist wrapped me in a big embrace, as if we were longtime friends.
Lounging on our private porch later that day we watched the sun sink on the golden horizon before hesitantly pulling ourselves away from our little lagoon-locked haven. Thankfully, it was for no reason other than dinner at the Gazebo.
Crossing over the bridge to the restaurant, we paused to peer down into the shimmering lagoon. Below us, a school of fish crowded together, lazily flapping their fins, without any apparent need to progress elsewhere. Content to chill right where they were, they clearly had the Goldeneye spirit just right... and so did we.