Joy on the Caribbean seas, but all-in clubs fail the single girl
Despite all that pampering, Lucy Gillmore discovers that all-inclusive clubs are not a cure for a damaged love life
Sunday 14 November 1999
And that was just for starters. My boyfriend had gone Awol and I was off for a week of recovery-through-pampering. But here we were, about to land at Montego Bay and Air Aerobics was kicking in. Before we had time to say "Jane Fonda", the whole plane had their hands in the air in a demented Mexican wave.
The exact prescription for a lost boyfriend was a week at an "all-inclusive" resort in Jamaica - sun, sea, sand and gourmet meals, 24-hour room service and as much champagne as you like - all courtesy of SuperClubs' Grand Lido Sampler.
With the Sampler option, you can stay at not just one but two of SuperClubs' most luxurious resorts, choosing between Grand Lido Sans Souci in Ocho Rios, Grand Lido Negril, and Grand Lido Braco, a Jamaican fairyland with gingerbread houses and a cobbled town square.
SuperClubs is the daddy of the all-inclusive resort, founded in Jamaica by John Issa 23 years ago. Now with 14 hotels in the Caribbean and expansion into Brazil, St Kitts and St Lucia underway, the super-inclusives seem to be taking over the world.
Arriving at Sans Souci, an elegant hotel straight out of the Italian Riviera in a sugary shade of pink, with lush green mountains rising out of a turquoise sea, I was shown to the Roger Moore Suite, complete with marble bathroom, Jacuzzi, and roof terrace. A framed picture of the man himself gazed down at me, eyebrow raised.
Rolling around (alone) on the enormous king-size bed, I flicked through all the satellite channels before emptying a bottle of bubble- bath into the Jacuzzi, and totally submerging myself in the fragrant cauldron with a glass of champagne until seasickness set in.
Later, bored of solitary decadence, I wandered down to the beach bar where the drinks were flowing, and couples smooched as the Caribbean lapped gently against the sand. Perching on a barstool I ordered a margarita. "Where's your husband?" the bartender asked confused.
Friday night was gala night and from my balcony I'd watched the lawn being set up to mimic an elaborate wedding reception - which is what it was for those married at the resort that day. If you book a holiday with SuperClubs they throw in a wedding for free.
With tables under the stars and a buffet under open-sided marquees, I took a deep breath and joined Brett and Tiffany, honeymooners from Michigan, and Len and Milena, an old Russian couple living in Wisconsin. "Are you here on your own?" they asked, horrified. Trying to make conversation in between mouthfuls of smoked salmon and Mississippi mud pie, I asked if they'd seen anything of Jamaica yet. "We went to the Taj Mahal shopping centre the other day - you must go," said Tiffany as Brett tenderly stroked her cheek and I grabbed the wine waiter.
Stuffed and unable to move after the mammoth binge, I watched the "social directors" line up like Red Coats in front of a captive audience to get us in the mood for SuperClubs' very own Lionel Richie. In a red suit and black shirt, he warmed up with a couple of Bob Marley numbers and finished with the leery "My Big Bamboo". Butlins in the Caribbean.
The next morning I took my hangover to Charlie's Spa for my complimentary treatments. As part of the package you are entitled to a free massage, facial, reflexology treatment and body scrub. Lying in a wooden gazebo, the cliffs dropping sharply into the sea, I was pummelled and pulled and rubbed down with scented oils. Feeling vaguely human again after a dip in the mineral pool, I lazed the day away - in a hammock made for two.
Across the island at Grand Lido Negril, voted Best Caribbean Hotel by readers of Conde Nast Traveler in the States in 1997 and 1998, the atmosphere is less classical European and more contemporary American. My welcome mimosa in hand, I strolled around the resort, doing a double-take as a blond-braided Mr T in a stars-and-stripes outfit, one leg blue and white stripes, the other red and white stars with a cut-out vest attachment, strutted past.
Around the pool, Michael Jackson was pumping out as water-aerobics for the terminally obese got underway, while on the beach, ageing fraternity boys were playing volleyball, egged on by their cheerleader brides. Taking my book I walked to the furthest end of the shore where the Eighties hits faded to a dull throb.
Starting to feel like a social pariah, I booked myself onto the sunset cruise on Princess Grace's honeymoon yacht. Lining up self-consciously with the happy couples on the dock, we motored out to join the launch where we were greeted by the captain, slim and grey-bearded, as threatening clouds rolled overhead. "Come and sit with us honey." Sherry from San Diego patted the seat next to her and gave me an encouraging smile.
The first spots of rain fell after only a few minutes, quickly turning into a tropical deluge as the boat pitched and rolled across Bloody Bay. The band ran for cover and champagne glasses went flying, crashing onto the deck as the not-so-happy couples clung to each other, a delicate shade of green. Abandoning the mission, the captain turned the boat around and headed back to shore.
Secretly delighted and increasingly jaded with honeymoon hell, that evening I decided to sneak over to Hedonism II next door. The first SuperClubs resort to be opened, Hedonism II is not for the squeamish. The brochure says "Be wicked for a week" and guests take it at its word. An American, and occasionally Scandinavian clientele, SuperClubs believe there's no market for Hedonism in the UK. They obviously haven't heard of Club 18- 30.
Walking in on a fake orgasm competition, five girls and five guys were lined up on stage waiting for their turn to outmoan Meg Ryan. Heckling and a clapometer got it down to one girl and one guy who had to give it their best shot one more time. Over in the swimming-pool, things were hotting up and there was absolutely no faking involved.
Escaping back to Grand Lido Negril, an ageing Elvis impersonator was crooning Frank Sinatra's "My Way" on stage. Was this really what I needed to recover from a damaged love life?
I couldn't remember who had actually prescribed me this particular medicine, but sitting on the balcony later, looking up at the stars, alone apart from another bottle of bubbly, I made a mental note to get the doctor in question struck off.
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