Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Montego Bay, Jamaica - Once a HugeParty

Is Montego Bay, Jamaica a HugeParty? Maybe. It Certainly Used to Be!

First, let me ask you a question... What do you really know about Jamaica without actually using Google? 

My guess is the following: Bob Marley, Cool Runnings, Usain Bolt, Ganja, Reggae... maybe a couple other famous people as well.

The view from our condo. Amazing!

In February 2015 my girlfriend Michelle and I took a much needed vacation to Jamaica. The weather in Chicago was frigid so we got online and started our search for warmth.

Admittedly, we booked the trip to MoBay for two simple reasons... the weather forecast was perfect and the flights and hotel were extremely affordable. That left me asking myself a couple key questions:
  • What did I really know about Jamaica? Not much. 
  • What did I know about Montego Bay? Even less. 
  • Did I blindly book a trip because of the promise of sun? Yes. 

Aside from what a standard "Top 10 Things About Jamaica" Google search, our trip was filled with new discoveries every day. After our 5-day excursion we left with a little more knowledge and appreciation for MoBay, some sun burn, and a revised plan should we ever return. In short, MoBay used to be a HugeParty, but it's still worth the trip.

Read more after the jump!!!

Downtown Montego Bay. Built in 1866, Now Selling Phone Cards!

Adult Beverages

My Perception of MoBay's Evolution

After the trip I tried to summarize what I thought about MoBay, and could only come up with a chronological description. 

1960s & 70s - Famous musicians regaled America with great stories of an amazing island. Tourists followed those reggae lyrics south. 

1980s - Businesses, Hotels, Nightclubs and infrastructure was built to accommodate the spike in tourism. The HugeParty legend was born.

1990s - Big resorts took over, creating amazing destination resorts. Tourists began staying exclusively on resorts, local businesses started to suffer. The HugeParty started to fade.

2000-2015 - Nothing has changed in Montego Bay for decades, businesses are closing, the city looks stuck in the 1980s, infrastructure has crumbled. Resorts compete for our business, small hotels and bars have died. The hustling local is a constant pest. The HugeParty is merely a shadow of its' former self.

The "Hip Strip"

Without a doubt, you will find yourself on the "Hip Strip". This is a line of shops, restaurants, bars, beaches and hotels along Gloucester Ave.

By all accounts, this is the road where the MoBay HugeParty legend was born. I can only assume that many years ago there were a flurry of awesome bars, thriving hotels, a casino and great restaurants. 

In 2015, the hip strip is much rougher and quite depressing. Although it is anchored on one end by a fantastic Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, the rest of the road is tattered with aggressive souvenir shop owners, closed hotels, and every taxi cab driver/drug dealer in Montego Bay.

Margaritaville, view from the top of the slide!

Make your way to the Hip Strip during the day for a decent beach experience at Doctor's Cave Beach, boozy drinks and a haggle-required shopping experience. At night, take a taxi directly to Margaritaville and avoid everything else.

This was a public beach, we were told to avoid because homeless people lived there. Still beautiful though.

What to Expect?

  • GREAT Food - Jerk spices are the main attraction in Jamaica. Chicken, Pork, Shrimp... it's all fantastic. The problem is that you'll need to do some searching to find something affordable, authentic and sanitary.
  • Overpriced Souvenirs - Buying souvenirs is a stressful, taxing process in MoBay. On the Hip Strip there are 15 shops, all with the same... exact... items. Each store has posse of in-your-face employees trying to make a deal with you. Don't even bother trying to find authentic Jamaican shops, just put your money towards the shot glass and neon t-shirt.
  • Favorite Bars - In the three nights we partied in MoBay, Margaritaville was the most consistent. A bit pricey, but still very awesome, and perfect for day drinks. Plus, they have a thrilling water slide, not for the faint of heart (or drunk). For my money, Pier One was the best option. Great music and lively local crowd on a Friday night.
  • Cost - Extremely affordable. If you're on an all-inclusive resort, you shouldn't be worrying about cost. If you're paying as you go (like us) I suggest buying your beers and snacks at a grocery store. Plus, the food is dirt cheap and a great value.
  • Avoid!!! - Downtown MoBay and The Pelican Restaurant. Downtown is rough, bustling, and certainly a crazy experience if you're willing to be heckled at every 30 seconds. The Pelican Restaurant, for unexplained reasons, gets great reviews online. It is not worth the price. Plain and simple, do not go to this run-down restaurant that reminded us of a foreclosed Denny's.
Pier One Friday Night, Great Mix of Locals and Tourists


There are two types of locals you will meet in Montego Bay... let me quickly explain.

Friendly Locals - We met some great people in Montego Bay. They work hard, have honest jobs, appreciate the value of the tourist dollar, and generally get on quite nicely with everyone. Many are fantastic guides and give you a real perspective on where to go and what to do. 

Scavengers - Aggressive, tricky, refusing to take "no thank you" for an answer. They are taxi cab drivers, drug dealers, local guides... all at the same time. Whatever you need, they can get you, for a price. Literally, we were asked if we needed "Smoke?" or "Taxi?" 100+ times. These guys have nearly perfected their sales pitch, approach with caution and be ready to haggle. Also, you're not aloud to be rude to them, because word travels fast and they remember you.


As previously mentioned, the island of Jamaica boasts some quality food, you just need to go searching for it. Jamaican jerk boasts a parade of spices unlike any other, and the following two restaurants are absolutely amazing!

The Pork Pit
Just off of the Hip Strip, The Pork Pit is probably your most convenient option for authentic Jamaican food at an extremely affordable price. 

About as Authentic as it Gets!

We ate here three separate times. Plenty of outdoor seating, tasty pork and shrimp, and beers too. Plus, on our first night there a street vendor was selling fresh cut pineapples and starfruit!

Mmmmm.... Pineapple.

Scotchie's (Named after the Scotch Bonnet Pepper) is by far the number one rated restaurant in Montego Bay, and appears very high on nearly every list. For good reason, the food is fantastic! 

The only issue here is the lengthy taxi ride you will need to take for the experience. We negotiated a $30 ride there and back, and our taxi waited in the car. This was the lowest offer we could find, most others said $40-$50. If you have a group of people, it's definitely worth the hassle.

Jerk Chicken and Pork, Amazing.

Resorts for the Win!

As previously mentioned, Montego Bay has fallen victim to the presence of luxury resorts. We spent a couple days acting like royalty on these private resorts (payment required), but they were worth it.

Beach View from The Royalton
We already decided that if we were to return, we would be staying on a resort. Less hassle, more relaxation, free private beach, unlimited drinks.

A Jamaican Band and Clown Performed While we Were There!
We spent the day at The Royalton White Sands Resort, and would highly recommend you do the same. Great drinks, fantastic pool area, plenty of tourists to rub elbows with if you'd like. They also have a cool private island area just off the shore where you can relax for the day.

Cold and Boozy Drinks..... HugeParty

The only issue is that it is very far away from the city proper, so you're in effect booking to stay on their resort, which isn't a bad thing.

And Finally.... Magnum
Magnum is a very popular local alcoholic/energy drink in Jamaica. It is a Tonic Wine, and plenty of locals swear by it's powerful effects in the bedroom.

We tasted it, and it pretty much tastes like watered down cough syrup. No thank you.

Travel Quote

"Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don't complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don't bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!" ~ Bob Marley

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  1. I could use a trip to Jamaica right now. It is June, but the sun sure has been elusive around here especially on the weekends. I would definitely enjoy some red stripe and reggae music.

  2. Great photos. I have say, I did not have a good experience my first visit to Jamaica, but this made me reconsider a trip back.


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