BY LORI CAPULLO
“When the US sneezes, Jamaica gets a cold,” is how Diandra Shand put it during dinner one night at The Cliff Hotel in Negril, explaining the close relationship between the two countries. Perhaps that had something to do with Mary Phillips’ decision to realize her resort dream with her transformation of the former Moon Dance Resort into The Cliff with co-investors Avra Jain, Dalia Lagoa and Joseph Del Vacchio, all real estate developers based in Miami.
“Our vision for this resort is to deliver an exceptional kind of luxury paradise that is second to none,” explains Phillips, who co-owns the hotel with the investors and is also its managing director. “The Cliff is an exclusive hideaway offering high-quality experiences for those who want to escape the outside world and indulge in great culinary offerings enveloped in a relaxed atmosphere. We will work hard to ensure that The Cliff is among the best hotels in Jamaica and the Caribbean.”
That was in December 2015, when The Cliff’s doors opened, and Phillips is right on track.
Situated at the end of West End Road’s strip of luxury cliff resorts approximately a 90-minute drive from Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, the hotel sits on five acres of flat, almost volcanic-looking rocks at sea level, as opposed to being built into the face like most of its neighbors. When the hotel was taken over from its previous owners, the lobby of the main building was opened so that guests can see straight through from the lobby as they enter to the pool at the center of the verdant, immaculately tended-to grounds, and beyond that, the ocean. The palette is muted and the lines clean, though paintings of famous Jamaicans—including a few legendary locals—liven up the walls in the reception area. Materials such as wood, straw and bamboo add elegant touches of nature. The vibe is relaxed. The first impression: everything irie, indeed.
And lest you think those Jamaican tourist board commercials where grinning natives beckon you to “come to Jamaica and feel all right” are nothing more than a winsome ad campaign, well, think again. At The Cliff, the staff is not only genuinely happy to assist you with anything and everything, from bags to cocktails, beachside towels or anything you want or need in your villa; they are happy, period. Don’t be surprised when you emerge for the day into the sunshine to the bartender belting out heartfelt reggae as he blends up a batch of tasty concoctions at the swim-up bar, or if you witness the staffer skimming the already immaculate pool dancing as he does so. If you’re up for cliff jumping but even slightly apprehensive, they’ll join you for that, too— mentoring and even playing along in a contest rating your dives against theirs (they’re always superior at it, but in the spirit of “the customer is always right” will happily concede the better score to you, as my husband discovered).
If you’re not quite that adventurous and prefer a “booze-and-snooze” vacation (or just snooze), you can always just take a dip in the natural saltwater pool that’s actually right inside the cliffs, or park yourself in one of the lounge chairs or hammocks around the property, either under the West Indian sun or beneath a pergola, read a book, listen to music or, better yet, take in the sounds of the palm fronds rustling and the merry bantering back and forth between staffers as they hustle about.
The bartenders here are skilled mixologists—one of the most impressive experiences was having one of them excuse himself from the beach bar to cut a fresh cucumber from the herb-and-vegetable garden, then return to muddle it into the shaker he was using to craft my martini—and their concoctions taste particularly good when enjoyed with snacks like the extraordinary breadfruit tacos, which utilize thin slices of breadfruit as taco shells, or black bean hummus and plantain chips.
And speaking of food, there’s another Miami connection here: Our own Chef Cindy Hutson and her partner, Delius Shirley—whose late mother, Norma, was a legendary Jamaican cook—are not only the owners of Zest Miami, they have opened Zest here at The Cliff, as well, where guests and off-property diners like to come in the morning for everything from fresh fruit plates with fresh-squeezed juices to a full Jamaican breakfast and in the evening for the likes of salt fish fritters with Scotch bonnet aioli, hearth-roasted whole catch with rice ‘n gungo peas, sautéed callaloo and cornflake-crusted plantains; West Indian Bouillabaisse, and Blue Mountain Coffee & Cocoa Crusted Lamb Rack with breadfruit gratin and chipotle agave glaze.
At some point, an appointment (or two) at the on-site Ki’Yara Spa is a must. Take your massage outdoors in the beachside treatment room with the masterly spa director Carolyn Jobson, who will explain every move to you as she performs it and what makes it important to your health and well-being, as well as all about the indigenous Jamaican botanicals and herbs used in the salts, scrubs and oils. She also teaches a morning yoga class at the yoga pavilion that was built beside the spa just last year as part of the resort’s multimillion-dollar renovation, where you can stretch and prep for the day while savoring the sunrise and the billowing breeze, a class that even the most yoga-averse should at least try. A salon is also on the premises should you feel like indulging in a mani/pedi or a blow-dry after all the sun and saltwater. If not, that’s OK, too. Let yourself go with the vibe. Yes, this resort is chic, but it’s also chill. You get the best of both worlds at The Cliff.
The Cliff, West End Road, Negril, Jamaica 855.246.5173; thecliffjamaica.com
There are 22 suites, cottages and villas housed either in the main building, or across the four villas (two one-bedroom; one four-bedroom and one five-bedroom) that flank it. The four- and five-bedroom cottages are huge and perfect for vacationing with a group, several couples or a wedding party, as the resort is an ideal and popular wedding destination. Airy, spacious, comfy villas have their own private plunge pools and lounge chairs, along with indoor and outdoor seating areas perfect for enjoying room service breakfast.
Refrigerators come with the rooms, and you can ask the staff to stock them with items of your choice (for a price, of course), coffee machines, tea bags and condiments for both are also standard in-room. Cozy robes await in the closets. If hotel bathrooms matter to you, you’ll love the ones here; ours had an open shower with a pebbled floor, an enormous free-standing tub, and two sinks on opposite sides of the room rather than side-by-side on a vanity, which, it turns out, is a really handy touch.
And of course, there’s the all-important complimentary high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi.
Rates start at $350 for two persons in a Junior Suite (excluding tax and service charge); visit the website to find specific rates for the various accommodations and any special offers the hotel might be offering.