The Jamaican town of Negril bills itself as “the capital of casual.” When, in early June, I found myself sorely in need of a break from the everyday grind, Canadian Geographic Travel fortunately sentenced — er, sent — me to the year-old, all-inclusive Azul Beach Resort Negril for a couple of days. My self-imposed mission: uncover the keys to casual (and sneak them back with me.)
Given Negril’s slogan, I figured there were few better places to start. The community of about 6,000 people on the island’s west end is centrally located on the white sands of world-renowned Seven Mile Beach, which has made it one of Jamaica’s resort hot spots. Azul — managed by Karisma Hotels & Resorts, which operates high-end properties around the world — aims to be one of the area’s finest, boasting 285 handsomely appointed ocean-view luxury suites, a spa, a fitness centre, seven restaurants and seven bars, eight pools and a range of activities from boogie boarding to yoga.
There’s also nightly live music at a variety of venues. I quickly realize that music is quite possibly the first key to casual. But not just any tunes will do. In Jamaica, reggae’s the thing. Hours after being serenaded by my driver singing along to Bob Marley on the radio during the trip from Montego Bay, I’m kicking back poolside as a cover band knocks out one fun-loving Marley hit after another. Stressing out is impossible in a world of Rastaman Vibration.
“Stressing out is impossible in a world of Rastaman Vibration.”
Sleep, however, is not. (And if casual means anything, it has to include plenty of rest and relaxation — key number two, if you’re counting.) If the tunes don’t sufficiently chill you out, Azul goes to even greater lengths to ensure you sleep easy … with a pillow menu. There are five options to choose from so finding the perfect pillow for your ultimate rest is as simple as visiting a personal concierge, found in numerous locations around the resort.
Your personal concierge takes care of all nature of details — from pillows and in-room scents to restaurant reservations, booking activities and more — so everything’s to your liking. And if you don’t find them, they’ll find you (they tracked me down early my first morning). Call casual key number three not sweating the details.
Of course, literally not sweating (number four), even in the hot Caribbean sun, is essential to casual, too. So the day-time dress code at Azul is simple: swimsuit. Thusly attired, you’re good to go from cool pool(s) to poolside café to warm ocean dip to lounging on the sand in a private cabana or comfy beach chair — the latter complete with drink service.
Being able to just go with the flow is also a breeze at Azul (key number five). With a wide range of daily activities (such as aqua aerobics, dance and cooking classes), a variety of non-motorized watersports (kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and canoes, etc.) and sports (beach volleyball, basketball, tennis, ping pong and more) there’s plenty to keep you occupied if you tire of lounging. And you don’t have have your day planned out ahead of time. Got a sudden urge to hit the water or work off last night’s decadent dinner? Simple see your personal concierge or try the resort’s handy activity app to find out what’s going on where and when.
With everything on offer here, you’d think keeping it casual would be a snap, But it took me until checkout to master Jamaica’s last key to casual. As I was told repeatedly upon every introduction, “Shaking hands is for business, fist bumps are for friends.” And when I meet my driver as I depart Azul, I finally offer a closed hand instead of an open one. “Ah” he says, “you’ve caught on, I see.” Mission accomplished.