Welcome to my Jamaican fantasy Montego Bay, Jamaica By Cindy Richards

Taking a bamboo raft ride up the river.

Walking onto the patio of our temporary home in Jamaica, I kept expecting Ricardo Montalban to stand up and welcome me to Fantasy Island. He never did. But our butler, Gladstone, welcomed my husband and I to the villa as he poured us each a rum punch.

Butler? Villa? This must be a fantasy.

And, in a way, it is my mom fantasy: A week of peace and relaxation where someone else cooks the dinner, washes the clothes and makes the beds while I watch the waves and remember why I fell in love with my husband.

When I first got a call from a representative for Villas by Linda Smith asking whether I would like to be her guest for a week on the beach in Jamaica being waited on by a staff of five (cook, butler, laundress, maid and night watchman), I jumped at the chance. Then I looked at the Web site ( and realized these places rent for $10,000 or more a week, not including the cost of food and tips for the staff.

I can't go, I told her. This is not the sort of trip normal people take.

Oh, but it is, she insisted. Those who choose the $10,000 villas simply bring two or three other families along to split the costs. Our villa, the aptly-named Serenity, rents for $3,100-$6,000 depending on the time of year and number of people who stay. That is comparable to an all-inclusive resort, she says, with the added benefit of, well, serenity.

So travel we did. And I am glad. A week of nothing was just what the doctor ordered for an exhausted mom and dad and two kids in need of a wind-down before starting a new school year.

For the most part, we spent our days lounging in chaises at the side of the pool, looking out at the aqua sea while the kids swam. We did take a few day trips, although I don't recommend them. Only the jaunt to climb Dunn's River Falls was worth the lengthy traffic backups and bone-charring potholes.

At Smith's behest, we took several other trips to see other villas. Each was more fabulous than the next. Although we didn't peek into all of the more than 50 villas she manages in the area around Montego Bay, we saw enough to know that there is something for every taste-from the white sand beaches of the villas on Discovery Bay to the golf course views at Tryall to the historic mountain top Good Hope Plantation.

Every villa has the two things my kids need for a great vacation: a swimming pool and satellite TV. My kids spent their days alternating between the two-swimming until they were exhausted and then recharging in front of the TV. Three times we dragged them into the sea-once to fish and snorkel, once for a raft ride up the nearby river and a third time for a cruise on a kayak. As long as they were in the boat and out of the saltwater my Lake Michigan-reared children were happy. Too bad for them. They missed a look at the coral reef just off our beach, not to mention the Nemo-bright schools of fish that live there.

Two local men we hired for our boating adventures-Henry and Apache-took great care of us. They took us on a bamboo rafting adventure up the river. There, we paid homage to Bob Marley, discovered a plant that grows tiny, hard beads used to make jewelry and learned to play a game with flowers. Along the way, they harvested huge green and yellow coconuts so we could drink the milk and taste the meat. Later, on a sea adventure, they rowed us in a homemade plywood boat and taught the kids to fish by holding the line, not a rod and reel. Apollo even dived under to harvest conch shells, one of which he cleaned and presented to the kids as a gift.

Although Jamaica is not the most picturesque of the Caribbean Islands I have visited (that honor goes to the British Virgin Islands), staying at a villa is certainly a way to make a normal person feel like a queen.

Our staff-Tiny the cook, Maude the maid, Erlymph the laundress (yes, she did all of our laundry so we returned home with a suitcase of clean clothes!), Clive the nightwatchman (we never felt threatened, but most of the villas come with overnight security) and Gladstone, the butler and gardener-were unfailingly pleasant and helpful.

Just like my staff would be on Fantasy Island.

Cindy Richards is the associate editor of Chicago Parent and mom of two children.


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