Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
November 2022, Virtual
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
Sure, there are hotspots in Jamaica and it's probably not a good idea to wander around the docks in Kingston at night, but there are far, far more reasons to be cheerful about visiting one of the Caribbean's prime destinations.
The links with the UK are obvious of course and firm echoes of these can be found in everyday Jamaican details, such as children in school uniform, language and naturally, cricket.
Much has been written about the premature death of Caribbean cricket as Uncle Sam's influence from across the water turns minds to the lure of the big buck in basketball and baseball, but it may be that Jamaican - and West Indian cricket is on the up.
And it just so happens that last week saw the opening salvoes of the 2007 ICC World Cup that pitted the home side against Pakistan in Kingston's Sabina Park, a match that saw the Windies victorious and which showcased the new ground improvements.
Time was when Sabina Park was a windswept, run-down cricket arena, but the ground received a wash and brush up to host the opening game as well as a group stage and semi-final match. Tens of thousands of tourists are expected and if the 5,000 hardy Scots who turned up in St Kitts to watch their side beaten by er, 203 runs as Australia steam-rollered into town, were anything to go by, the islands are in for a bonanza.
Not that the English were taking any chances though. The team arrived in the Caribbean by chartered jet after apparent previous mishaps saw the ICC blazers' baggage go walkabout.
Away from the cricket, arrival into Norman Manley or Sangster International Airports in Kingston and Montego Bay is reasonably efficient, while the hordes of would-be taxi drivers are friendly and certainly enthusiastic.
A word about connecting if via the US however. Miami boasts many services to the island from Air Jamaica and American Airlines for example, but if connecting via Florida from the UK, be very sure there is enough time to endure the painful process of inching through US immigration (no phones, no jokes please) in order to re-check your bags, or you will be spending a night in an airport hotel. Surely it's about time that Miami Airport - the very epi-centre and crossroads of South and North American traffic, could get together over a pina colada with the airlines and sort this out. It's a nightmare.
Traversing the enormous sweep of the working harbour on the drive into Kingston, it's easy to imagine the city as a Pirates of the Caribbean setting, which certainly has some credence, but a violent earthquake in 1692 sobered the place up somewhat. Initial impressions are of a chaotic, steamy, pot-holed and frantic city whose alternating tempos of high-speed and ”soon come” (manana), can be at once exhilarating and overwhelming, as can the pervasive smell of some rather exotic substances.
If you don't get vertigo or car-sickness, one of the must-sees in Kingston lies around 45 minutes from the 100mph frenzy of the city, some 3,100ft (1,000m) above sea level in the Blue Mountains.
Careering crazily up impossibly tight hair-pin bends, dodging goats, bikes and enormous trucks intent on thundering down the mountain at Warp 9, the visitor finally comes across what must rank as one of the most gloriously-located hotels in the world, Strawberry Hills.
Unfeasibly large plants and trees - everything in Jamaica grows to vast proportions given its healthy dose of sun and rain - dot the 40-acre site that hosts several small ”huts” - in reality, the last word in luxury. Take a sundowner by the pool on the terrace overlooking the panorama of Kingston below, dine at the sumptuous outdoor restaurant and listen to a chorus of crickets; really this place has to be seen at least, if not stayed in - £300 ($584) and upwards a night is a tad on the pricey side.
And the resort has an even more unique aspect. Owned by Island Records founder, Chris Blackwell, there is a room festooned with Gold this and Platinum that from such luminaries as, of course, Bob Marley, U2, The Cranberries, Robert Palmer and Jethro Tull, to name but a few. This is not just five star luxury, it has genuine musical heritage too.
Apart from the reggae, Jamaica is world-famous for its rum and nowhere is this more visible than in the ubiquitous Appleton brand that is drunk so widely. A trip to the distillery in the heart of the island is well worth it for the drive alone and once there the visitor can take a tour explaining the production process and of course, enjoy a tincture or two. The brand has significant export plans too and is becoming increasingly known abroad, both from a domestic and duty free perspective.
The island has its problems, as do many in the Caribbean, but basic safety precautions plus a willingness to engage with the incredibly friendly locals will go a long way to maximising any visit. And if you engage over a glass of rum watching the cricket, all set to a relentless reggae backbeat, Jamaica will certainly not disappoint.