Leaving Jamaica to go home is, well, depressing. Ask any repeat visitor and they’ll tell you the same. It’s not the beach thing, either. Like their Tourism Board so well coined – once you go, you know.
Add the usual travel woes of long airport check-in lines, immigration and security, and I go on autopilot. The gloom and doom of a long journey home comes over me. Lord, please get me through this dreary process quickly. I may as well not be in Jamaica for the last couple of hours at the airport because already, my mind has left.
Just last week, I was preparing to return home again from Jamaica. I expected the “last morning” feeling to be worse this time – see, I had spent five days at one of the most luxurious resorts I’ve experienced in my travels (and I’ve stayed at quite a few amazing places in my lawyer days). For the first in a long time, I felt completely pampered, despite the fact that I was also there reviewing and shooting the property, working hard every day. The last three years of budget travel had worn me down and I was eating up my resort’s stunning surroundings. Indulging like an all-inclusive tourist, and at a five-star. From sampling beach time, to daily gourmet meals, spa treatment and dolphin swims, I was in heaven (stay tuned for my upcoming review of the amazing Half Moon resort in Montego Bay, under new management since January).
So this time, leaving was double the misery – vacating my pretty beachfront villa with private pool and departing my favorite island!?
The morning of, I received a call informing me that I was invited to experience and review Montego Bay’s new airport lounge- “Club Mobay.” I hadn’t even heard of it prior to this trip. I thought it would be just a regular air-conditioned lounge, probably with Wi-Fi at most. But like all my travel experiences, I told myself I would gladly try it and be honest in giving feedback to my readers.
Well, I’ll say this: first, I was wrong to assume the five-star experience I received at Half Moon would end the minute I reached the airport. Second, the new Club Mobay lounge was a breath of fresh air – a last-minute reminder of all the cultural things I love about Jamaica that keep me returning. And third, it was just what I needed to soothe the pain of leaving behind my beloved island.
The Lounge: Club Mobay (and Club Kingston)
Just three weeks old, Club Mobay is a new state of the art, 10,000 sq. ft. departure lounge at Montego Bay’s Sangster International Aiport (or “MBJ”). The lounge offers travelers the option to relax in style before leaving the island. But it’s so much more than that.
The lounge is available to any departing passenger for a fee of US $30 a ticket, unless the passenger holds a Diner’s Card, a Priority Pass Card or an Airport Angels card, in which case it is complimentary. Aside from drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and snacks, there are showers available, and even “express” massage services. There’s also a business center set up with laptops stations if you don’t carry one, and fax and copy machines. Annual membership to the Mobay Club is also an option.
In parallel, a “Club Kingston” lounge is now open at Kingston’s Normal Manley International Airport.
Other bonuses from buying a lounge ticket: it’s valid for a year, so if you don’t get to use it for some reason, it’s not all lost. You even have the option of entering quarterly draws every time you buy a ticket – which gets you a chance to enter to win prizes like hotel stays or flight tickets.
Fast-Tracking Like A VIP: Zipping Through MBJ
I probably wouldn’t have noticed or paid close attention to the Club Mobay sign or booth by myself. Yet it’s located right before the security entrance and just past the Burger King. This is where you get your ticket (if paying) or pass.
One of the greatest perks of a Club Mobay pass is that you get to fast-track through the tedious airport immigration and security lines. As soon as I had mine issued, one of the nice MoBay Club reps escorted me – yes, escorted – through to immigration and security. As we walked and I told her how awesome this was – she gave me a quick tip: the best use of a lounge pass is on a Saturday or Sunday, when the lines are particularly painful.
In less than 5 seconds, I stood in front of an immigration officer, while the masses waited their turn in that other big line I know so well.
Security was fast too, I was in the far left and still had to get my things scanned including my shoes. But I’ll admit, it would’ve been faster had I remembered to take my laptop out! The process was so smooth I forgot I still had to do that.
The lounge rep waited on me up to this point, and then indicated she’d catch up with me at the lounge. I was to go upstairs to the departure area, and find the entrance by Gate 9.
Once upstairs, the elevator to the lounge was easy to locate, between the Red Stripe bar and Gate 9, or directly across from Gate 12. You can’t miss the big “Club Mobay” sign. I took the exclusive one-person elevator down one level.
A Mecca of All Things Jamaica
The elevator doors opened and a host of Jamaican figures welcomed me: Nanny of the Maroons, Marcus Garvey… it was a hallway of portraits and bios of some of Jamaica’s most influential figures. I knew I’d come back to read each one. I looked left and saw the reception desk, where the staff welcomed me and led me to the lounge.
I was struck by the decor – from the lighting to the cozy couches and the paintings, not to mention… a swanky white bar in the back. For a moment, I forgot I was at the airport.
The bartender, Demetry, asked me what I’d like to have.“I can have anything I want?” Yes, anything. Hello! Open bar. I almost kick myself – why did I not show up earlier again? There are no blended drinks yet – but that’s coming soon, he assured me.
Demetry smiles at my indecision and suggests white wine. I accept and proceed to leave my camera gear on one of the seating areas. I normally never, ever leave my gear unattended – but Demetry was there and assured me it was fine. The environment felt very safe.
“Please, feel free to drop your things. You can even go back out and shop for souvenirs. Or, you can go check out the other lounges.”
Other lounges? I thought it was “a” lounge? “Oh! Well, there are actually three. You should go look at them.”
Three lounges. Altogether, the space holds up to 270 people (including the business centre). And indeed, the second and third lounges are even more spectacular than the first.
The entire space is a mecca of all things Jamaican. A cultural center.
After gazing at the Jamaican paintings in lounge one, I walked through to the second lounge, where three things grabbed my attention (aside even more beautiful furnishings).
First, a cappuccino machine behind the bar. Coffee lovers, rejoice! I’m told later that even if that second lounge isn’t staffed, I can still order my espresso or latte.
The second thing that caught my eye: a Top 5 wall. Framed photo essays of top “five” Jamaican facts: Top 5 heritage sites, Top 5 dishes, Top 5 vegetables, Top 5 fruits, Top 5 seasonings. Wait, do I know this by the way, after four years of traveling to Jamaica and living here? I’m fascinated and lower my camera to read and absorb the images.
I then walked on and noticed the third detail: just past the flight update screen is a colorful play room for the kids: “Pickney Place.” Pickney is Jamaican patois for children. A wall-mounted flat screen TV, games, and seating for the “likkle” ones. What a fantastic idea. While you sip on your drink, your child can play with other kids or watch a cartoon. Ever since I have nieces and nephews, I notice these things.
I left the Pickney Place, and came upon another fascinating wall: a framed display of newspaper clippings. The front pages going as far back as the Jamaican independence. Even the front page of the Gleaner on the day of Bob Marley’s funeral.
And finally, on the next wall: favorite Jamaican proverbs. Now those were fun to read.
I push through the next set of doors and I’m led to the third, quieter, more intimate lounge. There is a lady there, conducting business and making calls with same privacy as in her office. No one else is here. And again, the walls are full of interesting photos and facts on Jamaica and Jamaican athletes. In the very back of the lounge, is an intimate, dim-lit section with couches and armchairs, just like in a lounge in the city. I want to stay and absorb it all.
Last Taste of Jamrock
I headed back to the first lounge, where my white wine was waiting. No I didn’t pick a Jamaican drink but it doesn’t matter, because in this space all my senses tell me I’m still in Jamaica. I grabbed a piece of banana bread from the snack and pastry spread, and went to relax on my cozy couch. Some passengers were watching CNN, others reading, and still others were having a drink and catching up with their travel companions.
I got online to tell a friend of this amazing new space and sure enough, the Digicel broadband was kicking. I began wishing they would delay my flight! But it was almost noon – time to head to my gate.
Next time? I may just stretch that two-hour pre-flight arrival requirement just a “likkle” bit. Because finally, that last morning in Jamaica doesn’t have to be so gloomy anymore.
For more information on the new Club Mobay and Club Kingston Departure Lounges, please visit the official website here.