Dolphin Cove

Friendly warning (c) Iain Purdie

Billing itself as “Jamaica’s #1 Attraction”, Dolphin Cove offers more than just the chance to meet one of nature’s coolest mammals. As we visited two days after the hurricane, a few of the attractions were unavailable but it was still a very enjoyable day out.

Whenever there’s a tourist attraction involving animals, there are always some negative comments or concerns for the animals’ welfare – we heard none at all regarding this place and every single person on the resort who’d been came back gushing with praise. So I’ll start by giving you one downside (and really the only major one) – it’s not at all pushchair/pram friendly.

The entrance itself is at the top of a hill with about 40 steps to get down to the check-in. You continue down several more flights before getting to beach level, and even there the trail is rock-strewn with the occasional step. As long as you can lift your pram around a bit, it’s not the end of the world but it’s something worth being aware of.

2012 is the Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence, and many hotels and companies are offering deals as a way of celebrating this. For instance, our resort has wiped the charge for internet access and the Ocho Rios shopping shuttle (usually $7) amongst other things. Dolphin Cove were upgrading every entry ticket to the next highest. Usually there’s an entry fee, then another charge to do a Dolphin Touch. An upgrade takes you to a Swim and more money gived you an Encounter.

Each offers you more time and activities with the creatures, and their deal for this year is to offer the Touch with the entry fee, Swim for Touch price and Encounter for Swim price. Given the prices, this is a damn good saving. Most of our party went for the middle ground one, but as Little Mister was too young for anything else I volunteered to hold back and just do the Touch with him.

The resort itself is nicely haggard, with a light-hearted pirate theme. The decor is just right and very weather-worn, and there are even a few “pirates” wandering around scaring the clientelle with surprise “YARR”s. Little Mister wasn’t phased, just staring at them and blowing raspberries in rebuke.

We got to feed lovebirds, hold makaws and a huge iguana then watch the staff feed the sharks (I didn’t find out what kind of shark, but definitely not Great Whites!) before we had some very expensive drinks and ice cream. Just after midday, those on the Encounter were packed off for their briefing and we watched the start of their activities before heading to the other side of the resort for our own.

Fortunately, before we actually met the dolphins, Gillian made her way over to take charge of Little Miss – and also brought Little Miss with her. The winds had picked up and the choppy waters had made it difficult for her to complete everything, so the staff had said she could do the Touch as well.

As myself and the two kids made our way down to meet Mitch, the bottle-nose, a member of staff walked past asking if a very nice Palladium ring belonged to any of us. Erm, yes, actually. It was my wedding ring!

I’d put it into the baby bag to keep it safe as you’re not supposed to wear jewellery while interacting with the dolphins in case it scratches them. Thing is, Gillian had managed to drop it out of the bag while recovering her own rings! Full marks for honest staff!

AAAAARRRR (c) Iain Purdie

The Touch itself was wonderful. Despite the number of things I have done in my travels, being this close to dolphins wasn’t one of them and the 10 minutes or so we got was fantastic.

Cupping our hands had Mitch swim up and place his beak in our palms, pose for a photo them accept a kiss on the nose. Little Mister was faultless. I honestly thought he’d be too nervous, but with just a hand to steady him in case he fell he did everything perfectly with the biggest grin on his face.

We next got a quick guide to the dolphin’s body with demonstrations of many of the “pieces” (fins and echo-location, mainly), followed by a quick swim-past by Mitch to allow us another chance to stroke him.

I enjoyed it – the kids absolutely loved it. We’ve already decided we want to come back and do the top package where you get lifted up in the air by two dolphins pushing your feet.

Even the burgers and chips we paid a small fortune for were good, and the souvenirs are the right kind of cheesy. We haggled over a photo/DVD package as we had a split group over two activites and got all the photos from both plus a DVD of the main group for $120. Not cheap, but still less than the $160+tax it should have cost.

Yes, while the initial entry fee isn’t bad they really do hammer you for the paid activities. They are good, though. Gillian wanted to do the shark feed and there’s also a chance to snorkel with sting rays but they weren’t on due to the repair work. If you’re only going to get one chance in your life to do this kind of thing, then this must be as good a place as you can to do it.

Expensive, yes? But can you put a price on a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience?

A really good day out made all the better by it being the day we returned to the Club resort after our brief re-housing at the Fun.

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Tropical Storm ^H^H^H^ Hurricane Sandy

This poor sod fared worse than us (c) Iain Purdie

We had to shift resorts for a couple of days due to an incoming storm which was upgraded to a hurricane (winds in excess of 74mph). The Decameron Club we’re staying at is a collection of wooden-roofed shacks right on the sea front, so was deemed a little unsafe with wind speeds expected. We were shuttled over to the nearby Decameron Fun which, as it transpires, used to be the Hedonism III resort before they moved further down the coast. Which would explain the mirrors over the beds and jacuzzis, then.

The Fun gave a good first impression with a huge restaurant and slightly higher standards (it’s a 4* compared to the Club’s three), but after an initial tirade from Gillian of “you’re paying to upgrade us to stay here for the rest of the trip”, we rapidly ended up gagging to be back at the Club.

Mainly, it was due to the noise and inconsideration of our co-refugees who insisted on yelling up and down the staircase at each other at all hours, waking up the kids and ourselves. Tossers.

The food wasn’t bad – in fact I thought the desserts just topped those from our “home” resort – and the pool was huge with a water slide and everything… but the rooms weren’t as great as first impressions had us believe and we couldn’t wait to be moved back to the Club.

Actually, one of the first things that happened at the Fun was when I spotted that our window leaked. Badly. I managed to get it shut tight and put towels all over the floor to soak it up. I then went into the ajoining room to check on Little Miss and Grandma who informed me that their window didn’t shut properly either. Armed with my new experience in pulling windows closed and bolting them I opened the curtains to find that the right half had blown backwards in the wind and was in danger of banging closed to hard it would shatter all the glass.

I grabbed it and pulled it shut… and then discovered that it was at a 10 degree angle due to the top hinge coming loose. While attempting to right it, the bottom hinge gave way completely, three panes of glass slid out, crashed to the poolside two floor below and left me holding onto the entire window assembly while leaning outside in the pouring rain.

Thankfully, maintenance came up quite quickly with a hefty chunk of wood and covered it all up before we got the “do not leave your room for any reason after 10:30″ notice that everyone roundly ignored.

Food and drink was supplied in polystyrene containers to most people (my parents didn’t get a dinner and I know other people seemed to miss out on one meal or another), but in fairness I think the staff did a decent job given the situation and that they were short on numbers due to many of them being stranded at home.

The storm itself wasn’t that impressive, especially to a survivor of Hurricane Bawbag which had faster winds. It was just a bit of wind and some occasional rain, although far warmer than we’d have had back home. The south of the island definitely fared worse than us according to the reports we heard.

We had to cancel the Dunns River Falls trip as we’d booked to do it during the storm and the reschduled dates didn’t work for child care reasons. We also had to seek a refund on our diving as we never made it out! A shame, as the plane wreck nearby is from one of the early Bond films.

Overall, we treated it as a holiday from our holiday and Hans made it onto his delayed flight from there despite a complete lack of information about departures. Nobody’s fault with the phone lines being down and everyone just doing as best they could. Thankfully, due to the hard work of the staff and the comparitive lack of damage, we were able to move back to the Club after 2 nights away.

It was good to be home.

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Blue Mountain Bicycle Trip

Gorgeous scenery in coffee country (c) Iain Purdie

Our only full-day trip of the holiday set off around 9am with a very friendly driver, Cleve. It’s around 2.5 to 3 hours to get to the cycle route, and he took the time to point out many interesting sites on the way there. These included one of the oldest churches on the island, a house built in the shape of a cruise ship and the areas where several of the island’s “heroes” were born.

Jamaica has many of these heroes, and they range from early politicians to freedom fighters and athletes. Their coins have some of these on the “heads” side and I love the way they’ve been gifted the title of “Excellent” or “Right Excellent”. It makes our political “Right Honourable” sound distinctly dry and boring in comparison. I know I’d rather be excellent than honourable any day.

Little Mister rode up front for a large part of the journey with Cleve keeping him entertained and, indeed, for the whole day. He was very well behaved given that he wasn’t taking part in the cycling. Come on, a 4 1/2 year old stuck on a bus for roughly 7 hours out of a 9-hour day? Most adults I know would have gone stir crazy.

As with all the staff we’ve met pretty much everywhere, the guides and assistants on the ride were cheery, fun, outgoing and just plain brilliant. We began up in the hills with a brunch and a quick demonstration of coffee manufacture – only a short show detailing how coffee is made in the plantations around the Blue Mountains, using manual techniques rather than mass mechanical means.

We were driven further uphill to the start point and to collect our cycles. The climate (and more specifically the change from where we’d begun the morning) reminded me very much of the trip from Kuala Lumpur to the Cameron Highlands I did a few years ago. Scale it down in size a bit and swap tea for coffee and there is a host of similarities. There are even similar examples of plant life with the ferns that fold up when touched. Views from the top down valleys are just gorgeous, even with the low cloud cover we had to accompany us.

Yes, because I need to know that on a bike with one brake (c) Iain Purdie

The bikes were a little scary, being “beach bikes” which only had a front brake lever. The rear brake was activated by pushing the pedals backwards which takes a lot of getting used to! My bike was very sensitive – one wrong push and the back wheel would lock up. I ended up swapping with the guide later on as he reckoned it didn’t “sound” right. His was a little easier to control!

My mum can’t ride a bike and they supplied her with a tandem and “pilot” for the trip. All she had to do was keep her feet away from the pedals – chueffeur-driven, basically.

Lunch was supplied at the same place we had brunch, and there were a handful of stop-offs on the way down for our guide to point out little items of interest. There was very little pedalling with the downhill route, and the final section was done through some moderate rain. Our guide was wondering why we weren’t bothering to use the (free) plastic ponchos – he didn’t appreciate that a bit of rain is nothing new to the British, and that we’re more used to it coming down in temperatures a quarter of the ones we were experiencing!

Little Miss was near the front of the pack for the majority of the ride, only stopping briefly when she hit a pothole and rammed the handlebars into her midriff when she fell off. Ouch. It didn’t stop her though – straight back in the saddle.

I passed a little pub towards the end with a great licensing sign which looked very genuine but was along the lines of “I promise, during the next session of court, that I will trail into town and apply for a liquor license so that I can serve alcohol to be consumed on and off the premises legally. Honest.”

We rounded things off with a dip in a pool beneath a gorgeous waterfall and a beer-drinking contest. Out of all the nations present, the only three people who volunteered to take part were British. Tut. I came a close second and narrowly missed out on the prize of… another beer!

The trip back was quiet, Little Mister up front again for most of it. We got back to the resort in time to chow down some more lovely food and back up the photos.

Definitely a trip I’d recommend. The change in climate will suit some people, the scenery is excellent and there’s very little exercise involved so as long as you can ride a bike (or share a tandem), there’s no reason not to do it.

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