There’s a lot to love about Jamaica — the food, the water, the music, the people. The newly opened Excellence Oyster Bay resort doesn’t try to reinvent any of these things; it simply reunites you with these things you already love about the island in an elevated fashion. And in this day and time, Excellence’s approach is as refreshing as an evening breeze off Mahee Bay.
Forbes Travel Guide visited this all-inclusive, adults-only property, the newest gem in the Excellence Group’s impressive Caribbean roster, to get a taste of the familiar that’s done in remarkably chic fashion.
Excellence Oyster Bay was built on a private peninsula near the town of Falmouth, which sits just 30 minutes from Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport. Every blade of grass and speck of sand on the breathtaking property feel as if they’ve been placed in their spot by hand. Some of that is because of the hard-working landscaping team — in fact, when we visited, palms were still being planted at the entryway — but much of it is simply a byproduct of what you think when you see a row of bleach white buildings in front of a canvas of azure waters.
Because of the Instagram-approved resort’s prime positioning, 60 percent of the rooms have oceanfront views. Junior suites have every modern island amenity (rocking chairs, pillow menus, two flat-screen TVs) and they’re close to the main pools and most of the restaurants.
The Excellence Club suites are a slightly farther stroll from these public spaces, but they come with access to an exclusive area of the resort that offers all-day dining, early check-in/late check-out, ungraded mini bars, a private pool and much more.
Six junior suites with garden views on the ground level don’t provide Excellence Club access or deliver terraces overlooking the ocean, but they make up for it with personal plunge pools that rival some properties’ main swimming areas.
The High-End Touches
“Welcome to your house now,” said property general manager Lorenzo Rubió Planellas, when our editors met him. “We want guests to feel the luxury without the borders of luxury.” And you do, almost the moment you step through your suite’s threshold
What you’ll specifically notice in each room category is that an attention to detail has been made at every turn. When in-room alcohol bars could have been stocked with middling labels, you’ll find Absolut vodka and Appleton Estates rum. Where bathroom toiletries could have easily come from some off-brand, mass-produced label, you’ll see Bulgari. And when housekeepers do turndown, your chocolates will be replaced with intricate towel arrangements done in the shapes of hearts and birds.
But the lofty options don’t stop in your private quarters. When you take a ride from one part of the campus to another, you’ll notice how your cart looks more like a vintage London taxi than something you’d drive around in on the golf course — that’s done on purpose. Decorations in the Brazilian-flavored Grill could have gone kitschy but, instead, mounted baskets weaved in the shapes of cows are sophisticated and eye-catching. And, of course, the basil oils and rosemary applied during your afternoon Sacred Earth Massage at Miilé Spa are of the highest quality.
You can taste the difference at Excellence Oyster Bay, too. With 18 dining and drinking options, it makes sense that restaurants would have a global flair to them. Flavor Market specializes in tapas and, yes, the patatas bravas (fried potatoes drizzled in sauce) taste like they could have been shipped from Barcelona that morning. Spice is a romantic, Pan-Asian spot that dazzles with black marble floors and red tuna tataki. Stop by Chez Isabelle for a meli melo de poisson du jour (a delightful fish stew) you wouldn’t find any better off the coast of France.
But this is Jamaica, after all. It would be sacrilegious to come this far and not sample the local cuisine. And while the resort regretfully doesn’t have a Caribbean restaurant, per say, you can find a host of native delicacies on The Kitchen Table’s buffet and at our personal favorite spot, the informal poolside grill, around lunchtime. The jerk chicken and peas and rice are a nice, neighborly touch that let you know that, no matter how elevated the experience is, the resort hasn’t forgotten its essence.
That sense of place also translates in the ways you can spend your time around the resort. When you think of Jamaica, sand and sun are two of the first things that come to mind. The waters near Excellence Oyster Bay cover the spectrum of blues, so bask in it all with complimentary access to snorkeling gear, water aerobics classes and introductory scuba lessons.
If you want to keep things closer to land, you can pop into the state-of-the-arts, 2,433-square-foot fitness center to challenge yourself on the intimidating, multi-component Outrace training system or try your luck with a private session with Robert, the in-house personal trainer.
The aforementioned Miilé Spa has a wondrous service menu that addresses jetlag (Jamaican Cocoon Ritual), skin that sags (Cocoa Body Wrap) and aches that nag (Stress Cure Massage). But where this seven-room oasis of calm truly becomes special is with its Aqua Wellness Hydrotherapy Circuit. While you may have done the rejuvenating routine elsewhere before, there’s something about the high-pressure hoses, cold-plunge pools and sensation showers here that just feels different.
Once you’re all relaxed, you’ll be more than ready for a little singing and dancing at the theater. Nightly performances range from a theatrical production and circus to a Michael Jackson tribute. Not the sounds you’d typically associate with Jamaica but a rhythmic riot, nonetheless. Should you feel inspired (or have the right amount of Bombay Sapphire gin in your cocktail) to grab the microphone when the show ends, you can do so right next door of the main stage at the Sports Bar for karaoke.
One other must-try activity in Falmouth is swimming the world-famous Luminous Lagoon, a sparkling natural attraction just minutes from the resort. You’ll board a boat from a dock just beyond Excellence Club for a short ride with Captain Jerry, a local legend who sings a mean rendition of Bob Marley & The Wailers’ “Three Little Birds” and does a great job of explaining how the water “glows” when agitated because of microscopic organisms creating a bio-luminescence where the freshwater Martha Brae River and saltwater ocean meet.
Jerry suggests taking a dip because of its supposed bodily benefits. Since nothing else will have gone awry on your trip, a few splashes won’t hurt anything. But even if you’re a non-swimmer, just being in the calm waters and looking up to the stars can clear your mind.
Once daylight hits, you’ll find that other pursuits (zip-lining, cultural tours, shopping) are all within a short cab ride from your suite, further validating your earlier thought about this piece of paradise incapable of being in a better spot. You may have said that very thing about other Jamaica destinations on prior trips, but this time you’ll actually mean it.