Hedonism ll and Hedonism lll A review
By Sue McGarvie, and Blaik Spratt
Clinical Relationship Therapists, Syndicated Talk Show Host, and Authors of The Ethical Hedonist
When I was 16, I spent arguably the best summer of my young life as a counselor at a large family camp in Ontario. I was one of 60 co-ed staff. It was an amazingly fun place, and I made lifelong friends. Camp was singing by the campfire, raiding the boy’s cabin, skinny dipping, dancing at costume parties, and summer romance.
Going to Hedonism was the closest thing I’ve experienced as an adult to re-creating that community feel of laugh-out-loud fun of camp. Only instead of mystery meat in the dining hall, and outhouses with flashlights, Hedonism offers spectacular sunsets, unlimited perfect banana daiquiri’s, hot tubs, cabaret shows, and sensuous spa massages. And it’s the scurrying crabs, not mosquitoes that abound.
Forget what you’ve read about Hedo in Playboy, or the myth of it being a sexually aggressive place. The words we would use to describe the two Hedonism resorts are silly, zany, relaxing, casual, outrageous, sensual, saucy and friendly. Clearly, some of the legends are no more than wishful thinking. Nobody jumps you, and it isn’t a place to go trolling for sex. You would probably have more luck at a nightclub like Rick’s Cafe down the beach atop Negril’s cliffs (one of the 10 most famous bars in the world, and home to the fearless cliff divers). However if you want to make real friends who may want to play with you, then Hedonism does offer the best opportunity we’ve ever found to meet the group we call “Ethical Hedonists.” This is an open-minded and adventurous crowd.
People who “get” Hedo are almost cult-like in their love of the place. There are books written about it, Hedonism cocktail parties that organize themselves in large cities, and groups of travel friends that make an annual pilgrimage with names like “the Wild Bunch”, the Bubbly Bares”, and the BareAss Buccaneers”. It’s really about community and the need for like and open-minded people to congregate. Hedonism is not about orgies on every flat surface of the place. We did see some relaxed, but loving, open sexual play going on a few times between partners. It wasn’t offensive, and was limited exclusively to the nude hot tub. You had to look for it, and if you think it’s about getting all the sex you want there then you are likely mistaken.
We think the magic of Hedonism can best be defined by Serena, the nude pool bartender at Hedo lll, who said “It’s not craziness. Hedo is just about people being who they really are.” And having grown-up fun (which includes, but isn’t limited to a flirty sexuality) and relaxing in a place where nobody judges you- provided you offer the same in return. This means you can use your ball cap to comb your hair, dance naked, play the game that shows off the tattoo closest to your pubic region, pretend you are a Roman Emperor on toga night, or just honeymoon away from it all floating in the warm Caribbean Sea on a raft. It’s different from the elegant but over-dressed crowd at other resorts (fashonista’s at breakfast) Hedonism overall is much more down to earth and friendly.
There are two large resorts, the 27 year old Hedo ll in Negril (we were there during their anniversary week the end of October), and the newer, nine year old Hedo lll in Runaway Bay about three hours apart from each other on the coast of Jamaica. They have almost the same amenities, and similar clientele. They both have a 40% return of guests (unheard of loyalty for a resort, so those who love it, love it again and again), but if you have guests returning for over 27 years, they tend to now be in the 45 to 65 age group on average. Don’t get the idea that it’s a place for the over 50 crowd, there were a range of ages (we met five large “girls gone wild” groups of girlfriends in their 20’s having an adventure week together a la Sex in the City), and newly-weds wouldn’t be out of place. A majority (80%) of the guests are couples, unless they are in organized travel of girl groups, and the wandering single guy syndrome was something we simply didn’t see. And despite the perfect people shown in the brochure, (don’t go expecting to see nothing but gorgeous supermodels rubbing suntan lotion all over each other) the majority were ordinary looking people dressed in 45 sunblock and a smile. Hedo lll as a rule skews younger, but there was a couple in their 70’s who we met there as well. You can go online to www.hedonism.com and see what groups or activities are happening the week you’re thinking of attending, and register to start talking to other guests in advance of your arrival. We met people that greeted each other like long lost friends when they met after chatting a few times online. It allows you to recognize people, and gives you an opening to start conversations and have friends to have dinner with from the get go.
Kevin Levee, the General Manager of Hedonism lll calls Hedo a “facilitator”. “The Hedonism resorts open a door to play if you want it. Or simply lets you have an outgoing and interesting all inclusive vacation, on one of Jamaica’s great beaches if you just want to hang” he says.
Don’t let the stories scare you off. Both Hedo ll, and lll (there never was a Hedo l) are clothing optional – not nude. There is a place for all stages of undress at Hedonism. There are two definite areas at Hedo ll, one for the clothed (which is far, far larger than the nude section), and there is an invisible line in front of the dive shack that will have the smiling security guard handing you a towel if you cross naked. The nude pool and hot tub are discreetly tucked away at the far back corner of the resort. At Hedo lll there is the clothed and naked side, and there has also evolved a “confused” (not nude or prude) area they call the quad with its own gorgeous swimming pool. It’s open to clothed, topless, or nude, (wear or don’t wear whatever you want), and the two groups mingle easily. It offers a safe alternative for nudists who don’t want to see any open sex. The one thing I know about people who like to get naked in public is that they are a friendly bunch. They tend to be a more tolerant and open minded, with a philosophy of “we are all the same under our clothes”.
Kevin goes onto say (in his sexy Jamaican accent), “when you lose your clothes you lose your “isms”, and it’s just about people talking together.”
Jamaica has stereotypical tropical weather. Cloudless sunshine all morning, and heavy showers for an hour during nap time mid afternoon. And you need your nap. Unlike most comparable resorts, Hedo offers terrific nighttime entertainment right on the property. A large entertainment staff and the available nightlife were two of the things that brought most of the first timers we met to try out Hedonism. The music was well worth taking in. The Jamaican culture of music and dance was prevalent from the singing “eggman” at breakfast to a couple of the best dance bands we’ve ever heard play anywhere. We would have gladly paid separately to see the rockin’ Commitments-type band, or the exceptional reggae group whose style was tight, infectious and great to dance to. Hedonism also provided a strong house band during dinner and before the 70’s style disco (complete with age-appropriate music) got going. Or guests had the option to make their way to the notorious Hedo piano bars. The piano bar is half sing-a-long, half variety act, and all with mandatory audience participation, where the host changes the words of songs to be hysterically naughty. Late night has everyone congregating in the hot tubs, or doing a kamikaze waterslide that shoots you like a bullet through the disco. The hot tub bars stay open until the last patron stumbles their way to bed, often at 6 am. Each night is theme night where a good portion of the patrons dressed up in costumes that included a “pimp and ho night”, a pj’s and lingerie evening, a swashbuckling pirate themed night, and the infamous toga party where the staff leaves you a extra sheet on your bed so that the whole resort is wrapped up in billowing while cloth.
Beyond a raucous nightlife, consistently hot weather, and an all-inclusive price (tipping is disallowed, so we spent less than $40 extra for airport gratuities only), Hedonism is set on a spectacular coastline. Turquoise water that stays shallow for a good distance, offers world-class snorkeling right off the beach. We saw hundreds of multi-colored fish, rays, beautiful fan coral, and even an octopus within sight of the resort. Sailing, sea kayaking, separate reef snorkeling and scuba boat trips are offered daily. We walked thigh-high through the water as the sun was going down, and had to watch out not to step on the fish floating above the sandy bottom.
It should be noted that Hedonism isn’t five star rooms and impeccable venue. As one house inspector from Calgary said, “they have 100% humidity, salt water, and off-the-scale UV rays. The only way they could keep up with the peeling paint would be to close the resort down and paint for a month every year.” The resorts were clean, the rooms pleasant with the usual accessories, but abject luxury isn’t how we would describe it. This is a place you go to watch the picture perfect sunsets, hang on the beach, dance the night away, chat with exceptional people, and roar with laughter at the friendly stories. Most people just use their rooms to sleep in. The two complaints we heard expressed were about a shortage of beach towels, and the occasional presence of “working girls” (although we didn’t see any) who snuck in on a purchased night pass with other locals or guests at different resorts to see the nightly entertainment. They are escorted off property, and banned if caught “selling their wares”, but are a fact of life in a country with disparaging incomes.
There are a few package-included on-site restaurants which take reservations in the morning, and three beach grills that offer typical beach fare (most notably amazing jerk chicken and pork, a Jamaican specialty). We ate everyday at the beach for lunch as it was that good, especially at Hedo lll, where the jerk festival was just finishing as we arrived, and their reggae restaurant had spectacular (but hot!) jerk meats. Otherwise, a large buffet was provided for guests that did offer a decent variety of food. Having made changes in the kitchen over the last year, guests commented that the food was much improved from the previous year.
One of the things we heard again and again when we asked why people returned to Hedonism (the place is littered with colored rocks with the names of couples and their dates visited) was the quality of the people – both staff and guests. We can’t say enough about the great staff, who went out of their way to say “ya mon” the Jamaican hello, every time you walked by. Everyone from Robert, the 25 year old maintenance guy to the General Managers were approachable and smiling. It was infectious to the guests, and without fail the people we spoke to stated the thing they liked best about Hedonism was the interesting and kind people that frequent the resort. Think of an amazingly friendly staff, with big hearts and a great spirit about them, and the kind of like-minded guests that morph into friends you stay in touch with long after the holiday is over. It really is that kind of place and we loved it and can’t wait to add our own painted rock as soon as possible.
Hedonism offers “booze cruise” boat rides a few times a week that you pay separately for, and go out for a three hour cruise. Their Saturday trip is a nude excursion that takes you to the snorkeling spots, let’s you splash down the attached slide, and shows you the magnificent Jamaican coastline. We heard a story about a recent nude trip that set sail out of the Hedo ll dock’s on the afternoon before the swashbuckling theme party. The participants brought along their pirate hats and plastic cutlasses on board as part of the festive theme during the cruise, and pirate lingo flowed. When a boat from a neighboring resort anchored close by to gawk at the naked revelers, and as the rum punch took hold, a group of naked Hedo men got into the spirit of things. They swam over and boarded the other boat (fake sword clutched in their teeth and pirate hats askew), and demanded “their beer or their women”. Stealing a few cans of Miller beer, they swam triumphantly back to the nude boat with their bounty to roaring laughter and leaving behind a stunned plundered vessel. That in essence, is a classic Hedonism experience. Being outrageous but fun, hanging with other silly new friends, and playing the part of a naked pirate on the Caribbean Sea. And where else can a group of middle aged people dress up and behave like pirates in the safest and most accepting of ways?