“Oh, I get it now,” I said to my travel-partner-in-crime, Nikta. “This is really working for me.”
I was at Azul Beach Resort Negril, eating my second Jamaican beef patty of the afternoon, sitting on a white-sand beach as the waves lapped up over my ankles. What I’d suddenly “gotten” was the all-inclusive resort model that Azul and many of Jamaica’s hotel properties use to varying degrees of success. A model in which you pay one price for your entire stay. No charging $5.00 Cokes back to your room. Or $15 rum and Cokes. Do what you want, drink what you want, eat what you want.
Which for me, at that moment, was a picnic of beef patties and jerk chicken on the sand. Did I also have a cocktail in hand? You’d better believe it.
Why did eating a beef patty, one of Jamaica’s most beloved snacks, have such a profound effect on me? Because over the previous few days, I’d become something of a beef patty aficionado — ordering the dish at roadside huts, bars, chains, and every single place I could find recommended on the internet. I’d also tasted the best iterations of the very-empanada-ish snack back home in Los Angeles under the guise of research and even tried to make my own (very bastardized) version for a cooking contest.
So I knew what a good beef patty needed: flaky pastry and a filling so deeply savory — thanks to allspice, tomato paste, and curry powder — that it creates an immediate salivary response. And when I tasted the beef patty at Azul, I knew: This one was legit. I instantly stepped back into line to order two more. And a plate of jerk chicken. And a Coke, which I upgraded with a shot of top-shelf rum at a nearby bar. Besides a few dollars in tips, I paid nothing.
“This chicken is better than the spot we went yesterday,” Nikta said between bites, referring to Scotchie’s — the world-famous jerk hut in Montego Bay. I cringed at the thought of a five-star resort besting a local favorite but it was tough to argue. Though Azul’s poolside shack didn’t have space for the full wood-grill-covered-with-corrugated-siding set-up that authentic jerk joints use around the island, the chicken was made to order, cooked perfectly, and sauced generously. The bird we’d had at Scotchie’s was far more traditional, but it was dry.
“Want another drink?” I asked Nikta between bites. She nodded with a full mouth and I hopped to my feet to grab her one. There was a bar a few feet from us, a phenomenon which always seemed to be the case — as if we were inside an Alcohol Vortex.
The fact that the all-inclusive model, which I’d shunned across 40-odd countries, finally won me over with a snack that usually costs less than a dollar at any bar from Kingston to Montego Bay is significant. Or at least it felt that way to me. I read it as a promise, “We’re committed to doing things right.” And if I was going to fully buy into the experience, that’s exactly what I needed to hear.
Of course, this realization could have come during any number of moments from the previous three days. The afternoon prior, I’d gotten very buzzed while drinking unlimited mudslides in the pool during a downpour. That “if you like piña coladas” song wasn’t playing at the time, but it might as well have been. The night before that, Nikta and I had eaten sushi and then stayed up until 3am dancing before shuffling off to our room, just a few steps away — the dream of every nightclub attendee in history. The Azul culinary program, in general, was conceived with incredible attention to detail, most notably at Akee, the property’s Carribean restaurant. But it was the jerk patty that helped me get over a hurdle I was stuck on: Bold travelers aren’t supposed to like all-inclusive resorts.
They’re supposed to be off swinging on rope swings and swimming in bioluminescent bays in the middle of the night. They’re supposed to be experiencing everything and returning home in a state of utter exhaustion. They’re definitely not supposed to relax. They have to race between museums and national parks and restaurants with the same frenetic madness that their lives back home demand.
I didn’t want that for this trip. I didn’t want to constantly motor around the island in the same state of frantic “doing stuff” I’d come to embody in Southern California, where “Good! Busy!” is, by far, the most common response to someone asking, “How are you?” My goal was the opposite. Which meant pairing the bioluminescent midnight swims with days spent lounging on the beach and meandering drives into the hills to try local Jamaican fare with testing out the various restaurants at the resort. It meant wandering the beach for a few hundred feet in any direction, diving in the water when the first beads of sweat appeared on my forehead, and then walking back to my beach chair to rest from the exertion.
In short, I’d gone to Jamaica with a straightforward mission: Be a tourist rather than an adventure traveler. Slow to a crawl. And I’m not the only one — a quick look at Instagram shows that the travel influencer set is very down for chilling the hell out. Plus, Jamaica absolutely cleaned up at the World Tourism Awards last year, their Minister of Tourism obviously knows a few things about travel.
In an effort to follow this assignment I even put off the most beloved traveler’s question — “What do you want to do today?” — until well past 10 am every morning. It had to hold until I’d had a swim in the crystalline Carribean and spent a few hours with a book inside a massive, shaded, egg-shaped wicker lounge. One day, literally all that Nikta and I had scheduled was an afternoon sail to the famous Rick’s Cafe — a terraced bar built into a cliffside in Negril — where we would cliff dive, watch the sunset, and dance before heading back to the resort. The boat was slated to leave at 4 pm and we ended up having to sprint a quarter mile down the beach to keep from missing it.
We’d been so absorbed with doing nothing that we’d actually almost missed something. And you know what? I would have been fine with that. I had so much nothing to do that the few somethings on the schedule actually got in my way a little. I’d gone full Michael Scott. All I needed was my own steel drum.
Because I’m a travel writer and we’re a self-punishing bunch (because of guilt from the sweet gig, most likely), I couldn’t just enjoy my Jamaican idyll like any regular blissed-out fool. I had to intellectually interrogate the idea of a full-service, all-inclusive experience to understand why I suddenly found it so appealing after years of resistance. As if it’s so shocking that not having to do anything or pay for anything for a few days might hold allure for human beings in an era in which we rarely escape technology or financial transactions for more than a few hours at a time.
While floating with Nikta in the water, which really can’t be overstated in its pale blue-ness, I dove down a whole intellectual rabbit hole about how one of the ways humans give meaning to their lives is through feeling busy. If we have stuff to do it means we have a purpose and if we have a purpose then our lives matter. To sit on a stretch of white sand for a few hours at a time, or even a whole day, makes us face the idea of not being crucial to the construction of the universe.
As I unpacked this all for Nikta, she waved me off. “You spinning out about the cosmic significance of relaxation is kind of killing my state of relaxation. So… I’m going to get another dark and stormy. Want one?”
This was the right answer, of course, and I actually found it cosmically significant. Part of why Jamaica is famous as a place where people go to slow down is because the people on the island are willing to actually slow down. Cliché-as-shit? Absolutely. But also a cliché rooted in a materially different lifestyle. This is clearly due to a complex web of factors — culture, religion, history, weather — but there’s no denying that it’s easier to chat with a stranger over a beer in the bars of Negril than in New York.
A few days after our stay at Azul, Nikta and I stopped a roadside bar for a Red Stripe in the hills outside of Ocho Rios, near the famous Blue Hole. There, we sat and chatted with locals for hours. The conversation slid along with no agenda, no endgame. Time literally dripped past. We ate and drank and played pool while arguing over the best Carribean-born rappers. I realized at some point that I felt absolutely blissed out. I’d had three beers and eaten the spiciest jerk pork the neighboring restaurant made. What else did I need?
The next morning, I drove solo back into those same hills to rope swing at the Old Spanish Bridge, a semi-secret oasis in the hills of Ocho Rios. I dove off the bridge and shared a joint with a man named Shango, who makes his living showing people how to use the rope swing without smashing into the 300-year-old landmark that gives the site its name.
Shango is somewhat famous for being a deep thinker, but even still, his response to my whole “people stay busy to feel meaningful” hypothesis blew me away.
“Meaning never comes from the things we do,” he said in a silken patois that I won’t try writing phonetically. “It’s the way we do them. The energy we put into them; the spirit we give to little actions, like me keeping this river clean.”
Sitting with Shango on the bridge, trading turns on the rope swing, I felt like the energy I’d put into slowing down during my time in Jamaica had been the right sort. It wasn’t slovenly. It was simply slow. It was a rejection (or, at the very least, a respite) from the fast-paced life I’d been living in LA. A chance to give Nikta my full attention. A chance to read something other than Twitter.
On our last morning at Azul, I got a massage at Vassa, the property’s spa. I couldn’t have been carrying much stress by this point, but I still lingered in the hydrotherapy pool until a staffer came to get me, informing me that my taxi was idling. It would take us to a local car rental and from there we’d drive to Ocho Rios for some canyoning. I’d need at least a few adventures to write about this trip. We were slated to swim that night at Glistening Waters — a bioluminescent lagoon. The next morning we’d go on a hike up to Blue Hole, a spot growing increasingly popular with Instagrammers.
I hustled outside, loaded our bags in an idling van, and slid the door open to dive in. Then I hesitated.
“Just one second,” I said, before racing off toward the pool.
I came back a few minutes later with beef patties for Nikta, me, and our driver. We only had a few days left of our trip. Soon, the busy-ness would be full-on again. But for one last moment, I was still basking in the easy joys of an all-inclusive — fully chilled out and soon to be full. I didn’t even worry about the greater meaning of my relaxation. I was too calm to care.
And you know the greatest thing about relaxing? It recharges you, leaving you ready to rush off and have an adventure.
Getting there and away: Cheap flights to Jamaica can usually be found between October and December and February and May on flight aggregators. Keep an eye on Uproxx’s Cheap Flights page for deals.
Azul Beach Resort’s discounted rates for shoulder season (October and November) run around $600 per night per couple, all-inclusive.
Uproxx was hosted for this story by Visit Jamaica and Azul Beach Resort Negril. However, they did not review this story. You can learn more about the Uproxx Press Trip policy here.