On my last trip to Jamaica, I had a free day between conference events and interviews in Montego Bay, so I headed to Negril, Jamaica's so-called capital of casual. It's on the island's southwest tip, a two-hour drive from Montego Bay along the coast.
My destination that day was an addition to Jamaica's burgeoning hotel product. The Skylark Negril Beach Resort is the sister property of the well-known cliffside Rockhouse Hotel 10 minutes down the road on Negril's far west end.
"Welcome, welcome," said Paul Salmon, the general manager and chairman of both the Skylark and the Rockhouse. "This is the new baby. We opened at Christmas, we're working out a few kinks, and we're doing great."
The 28-room resort smack in the middle of Seven Mile Beach plans to add 17 rooms and a pool this year, according to Salmon.
It's a total renovation of a property first known as the Sea Wind Resort Hotel, then as the Zanzi Beach Resort. The units are bright and airy, and each includes a four-poster king bed, desk, stocked minibar, Bluetooth speakers, USB outlets and complimentary WiFi.
In contrast to its larger, all-inclusive neighbors, "We're one of the very few [European Plan] hotels in Negril, and we believe there is still a market for independent, boutique properties that are moderately priced," Salmon said.
The whitewashed buildings at the Skylark Negril Beach Resort are surrounded by gardens. The Skylark plans to add 17 rooms and a pool this year. Photo Credit: Michael Condran
Calling all Jamaicaphiles
The resort is home to the first Jamaican outpost of Miss Lily's restaurant, which has two locations in New York and one in Dubai. The sunny decor incorporates bold colors, and the walls are decked out with album covers spanning 50 years of Jamaican music.
The target market for the Skylark, whose name is Jamaican slang for dillydallying or goofing off, is the adventurous traveler age 25 to 40 who wants the local experience.
"We also have seasoned Jamaicaphiles and cultural nomads who are looking for what we're offering here: a fun, relaxed atmosphere with opportunities to explore this part of Jamaica," Salmon said.
The U.S. is the main market; commission is 10%, although most bookings right now are direct.
"We want to work more with agents and add packages, as well," Salmon said. "We've already done a couple of weddings and have several more on the books."
Guests can walk from the hotel onto the beach and catch live bands, hit the bars and nightlife hot spots, shop at the vendor stalls or pull up a stool at a beach shack for a Red Stripe and conch fritters.
Jamaica's west coast is known for spectacular sunsets, and Salmon said the lounge chairs on the beach are a favorite spot for taking in the spectacle, especially with a beverage in hand from the Rum Bar at Miss Lily's.
The Skylark runs a daily shuttle to the Rockhouse, where guests can spend the day in the water, on the yoga patio, at the spa and at the resort's restaurants sampling local dishes.
Rates at the Skylark range from $95 in low season and from $175 to $220 per night in high season. Visit www.skylarknegril.com.