One of the best things about traveling to the islands is the many options available to you for quenching your thirst and satisfying your hunger with some great Caribbean Food after a long day on the beach. Most of us know however, that food and drinks can add up quickly when we are on vacation. This is the sweet spot to which the all-inclusive resorts cater for their guests. It is also a really good choice if you are headed on an adventure to a new location for the first time. Many of the big chain hotels are a sure bet when you don’t know what your choices are going to be upon arrival. Here is where I think I can help add some value. I have patronized plenty of great local places that are usually within a few miles of almost every resort I have ever visited. Unfortunately, some have not survived the test of time or weather whereas others have managed to become my favorites over the years.
Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly nothing wrong with eating and drinking all you want for a fixed, prepaid fee. I just like to mix it up every now and again. It is what I like to call the hybrid approach to the all-inclusive stay. These big resorts typically have fantastic breakfast buffets complete with a made to order cook at the hot grill. This is a slam dunk to easily cross the morning meal off your to-do list at 95% of the resorts in the Caribbean. I can only remember a couple of smaller hotels that may have fallen a bit short of the mark on breakfast over the past decade. Don’t be afraid to try a dish with some fish. A lot of the resorts serve dishes that source from the local food supply. Oh, and be sure to hit the mimosa bar on your way out after you scarf a fresh breakfast danish or pastry.
It’s almost hard to take lunch seriously after indulging in these awesome breakfast buffets. Depending on what is on the agenda for the day, lunch might be a good opportunity to check out some local joints. There are some really great jerk chicken spots that I highly recommend trying if you happen to be walking down seven mile beach in Negril. Look for a local Rasta guy standing over a smoking 55 gallon drum sawed in half. A Red Stripe usually comes with the meal and reacts chemically with the jerk sauce to stimulate human endorphins. Of course you can always opt in for the salad bar at the resort if you are planning on a hard day of laying around in a sun lounger. Another option to keep in mind at those bigger resorts is the snack bar at or near the pool if you get busy and miss any of the main meal services. I will admit sometimes at 2:00 am this may not be a place to make the best choices.
Dinner is typically the main event for most vacationers and most of the big resorts bring their game with a few different options. The catch to utilizing the all-inclusive restaurants for dinner is that they typically require some sort of reservations. For some of popular venues, it can be a challenge to get the time slot you want since they are usually pretty petite. My personal preference is to venture completely off the reservation for dinner and drinks. There are usually some great local places that serve some amazing dishes right under the stars. Depending on the economy of the island, you can usually get a meal with drinks for a bargain so don’t worry if you already paid for that buffet line at the all-inclusive. You can always attend the entertainment show at the resort some other night and have as many free drinks as you want.
The other main consideration for dinner is location, location, location. Look for al fresco restaurants that allow a nice sea breeze to flow through. A great water front location serving Caribbean Food is always worth paying up for. Try to avoid the tourist traps along any main water front of a downtown area. Usually there is at least one restaurant at every hotel whether it is all-inclusive or not. I find the smaller hotels that have a chef on staff typically to have outstanding dishes. These are usually not far from the water since the facility is already on prime property. Often there are several resorts next to each other on a particular stretch of beach that can be worth a moonlight stroll to explore a new menu. I once walked up to resort that I had scouted out earlier that day on a beach in Mexico that set up rows of burning tiki torches next to tables for dinner. Needless to say, we stayed there for drinks too afterward.
If all this food is making you thirsty then you are in luck in the Caribbean. The Caribbean Islands were among the first to distil rum from the sugarcane crops grown on most of these. Top shelf rum from local distilleries is readily available at discount prices on nearly every major Caribbean Island. Montego Bay recently added a duty free shopping area in the airport for arriving passengers. There are great deals to be had at these airport shops if you have time for a pit stop. Unfortunately, the good ole’ days of carrying a four pack box of bottles on the return flight are over. You can still check a few fifths if you are willing to negotiate your way through customs to pick them up at baggage claim. There is also plenty of brews on many Caribbean Islands for you beer loving travelers out there. A lot of these “Island Beers” are even giving Corona a good run for the money in my opinion.
So forget about that diet for a week or so while you are in the Caribbean. Eat some fresh fish and try some local rum distilled on the island. Just remember these islands have their own pace. Most of the local people support their whole family working in the tourism industry. Treat them with the same respect you would expect in your home country and you will be welcomed back time and again with a warm embrace.