In Montego Bay, Jamaica, the S Hotel Encourages Guests to Meet the Locals
By Ann Braly
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
With dozens of all-inclusive resorts throughout the Caribbean, how does one set itself apart from an ocean of others? They all include more food than one could ever eat, more alcohol than anyone should consume; breathtaking beaches, and jaw-dropping sunsets within their perimeters.
But how many resorts encourage guests to get out of the comfort zone of an all-inclusive? S Hotel Jamaica does just that, allowing its guests to experience the island’s culture — its people, food, sights, and sounds.
“It’s all part of the experience of being on this side of the island so guests can explore and do different things,” says hotel manager Andres Cope.
“It’s a way to embrace the local culture and have a real Jamaica – an authentic experience.”
But let’s start with the resort itself.
What’s In A Name?
What does S stand for? My first thought was surf, sand, and sun because there are boatloads of all three at this piece of paradise in the heart of Montego Bay just minutes from Sangster International Airport.
Actually, though, S stands for everything. It’s where Jamaica’s soul, style and culture swirl together like a whirling Durvish to create the island’s multi-experiential boutique hotel.
Here’s How It Happened
Owner and Jamaican native Christopher Issa’s family is a veteran of the hospitality business in Jamaica, having owned the first all-inclusives on the island, Couples and Super Clubs.
When Issa purchased the former Breezes resort in Montego Bay – his second after opening Spanish Court Hotel in Kingston, the country’s capital, he added two stories to the oceanfront property, enlarged the pool, and added another one on the fifth floor. S Hotel opened in 2019 as a hotel for all ages.
At guests’ requests, the business model was recently converted to an adults-only all-inclusive, three more dining venues and a passa-passa (Jamaican street party) themed club next door for live bands were added.
The S Hotel has been ranked among the top hotels voted in the Caribbean and Central America by Condé Nast Traveler readers since its debut in 2019.
Dining at S
With four restaurants plus a poolside grill and bar and a 24-hour cafe, there’s certainly not a lack of food choices. And since this is a small hotel, you won’t have to go far to get your fill, unlike many mega resorts dotted around the Caribbean.
Jamaican cuisine is one spread across the world’s culinary quilt. Of course, there’s true Jamaican fare — callaloo, oxtail, saltfish and ackee, and jerk chicken.
But thanks to a wealth of immigrants, Irie Nation natives include Chinese, Jamaicans, Italian Jamaicans, German Jamaicans… You get the picture.
So you might find oxtail on a menu next to schnitzel – with a Jamaican twist.
“Jamaican food is fusion food,” says executive chef Maurice Mullings. “Our food is our culture.”
It’s that beauty of fusion that you will find at S Hotel’s upscale restaurant Roots Rock, with a menu featuring traditional Jamaican dishes, plus fusion ones such as egg rolls stuffed with jerk chicken. And with a sweeping view of the Caribbean Sea, it’s a go-to favorite for S guests.
Rocksteady is the hotel’s Italian restaurant featuring the expected bruschetta, carbonara and caprese.
But you’ll also find the unexpected. Its bouillabaisse is made with snapper plucked from the Caribbean waters, and local shrimp is added to the couscous.
There’s beef in all full-service restaurants, but it’s the star on the menu at Jamrock with local beef such as the 12-ounce rib-eye served on a hot stone so it’s still smoking when it comes to the table.
Lobster is another house favorite – and not just the tail. It’s a whole lobster perfectly steamed.
Reservations are needed at the three full-service eateries. You can make these before your arrival or at check-in.
Menus are changed several times a year to reflect the change in seasons and what fresh produce can be collected from Jamaican farms.
There’s also the all-day eatery, The Marketplace, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner much like those found in every all-inclusive around the islands.
And there’s the S Cafe with ice cream, cakes, cookies and savory sandwiches, too. It’s open 24 hours in case you get the midnight munchies. Doubtful, though it could happen.
If hunger hits when you’re at the pool, the hotel features a poolside grill and bar, or if you’re sunning on Doctor’s Cave Beach, you have access to a public bar that’s partnered with S Hotel to offer free drinks to hotel guests.
Outside of the all-inclusive hotel, there are several public cafes on the beach if you want a change of pace.
Nearby Dining in Town
Off campus, you’ll find a nice selection of choices close by offering pure Jamaican fare and lots of friendly energy. There are those on the beach, but also more within walking distance or a short drive.
My driver and I stopped in at Smokeez for a beside-the-sea lunch of whole fried snapper and octopus.
Other favorites are Scotchies with good jerk chicken and pork, and Uncorked West with a nice wine list, gourmet burgers, and steak.
Rooms With a View
There are 120 ultra-chic rooms, 100 of which have ocean views, with different room levels – 20 with two double beds and no view, and the remaining 100 with incredible sea views, including junior suites with king beds – several with a private poolside cabana which were recently added.
There are also King Sky Suites with a separate sitting area. All rooms have balconies and large bathrooms with oversized showers big enough for two.
The black-and-white decor makes for a stunning backdrop to Mother Nature’s blues outside your window, and nothing has been forgotten when it comes to luxury amenities.
Art History in Jamaica
Art is an important aspect of the decor at S. On each of the six floors, plus in the basement area where you’ll find the fitness center and the spa with its baths and wonderful massages, lifesize statues of National Heroes and other men and women important to Jamaica are there to greet you.
Some of the characters include Usain Bolt, Bob Marley, the Jamaican bobsled team and others who have made their mark on Jamaican history.
The statues are made from recycled materials and are so realistic, you may do a double-take.
A Historic Beach
It was back in the early 1900s that a doctor from England found the climate and waters of the ocean at Montego Bay to be a perfect tonic for improving his health.
He told his friends, one thing led to another, and the stretch of beach, now known as Doctor’s Cave, became a popular destination and from there tourism grew.
There was once a cave that beach goers would travel through to get to the beach, though it has since been destroyed by a hurricane.
Doctors Cave Beach is open to the public for $6 for adults and $3 for children, though it’s free for S guests.
On days when cruise ships come into port, the beach gets quite busy, but there is a private, roped-off section for S Hotel guests with beach access from the pool level.
In the Jamaican Jungle
Good Hope Estate was a sugar plantation in the 1700s, and there’s still evidence of its days as a major player in Jamaica’s sugar trade, including the plantation’s massive water wheel that once crushed sugar cane grown on the plantation.
But today, it’s home to CHUKKA Adventures, an outfitter that takes advantage of the Martha Brae River that carves a path through the bamboo canopy.
It’s a 45-minute ride from Montego Bay along well-paved roads until you get deep within the jungle, then it’s a road with broken asphalt and its share of potholes and mud puddles.
Upon arrival at the check-in building – made by slaves in the 1700s – you have your pick of river rafting on bamboo rafts or tubing down the lazy Martha Brae, zip lining, e-biking, rum tasting, or lazing by the pool or racing down the water slide.
There’s also a bar and restaurant and places to relax in the shade of palms.
Reservations for the CHUKKA experience can be made at the front desk or in advance of your trip at chukka.com. Reservations are mandatory and, once done, you won’t have to worry about a thing – just be happy. Every little thing will be all right.
For reservations and information, visit shoteljamaica.com.