You'll find a silly slogan printed upon many T-shirts in Jamaica that reads: "Jamaica me crazy." And it does. The island nation is impossibly beautiful, its culture, cuisine and music rich and its people friendly, but it retains a bit of a bad reputation as a hassle for tourists - from its cacophonous streets to locals continuously asking to braid your hair, buy a carving or take you on a private tour. Even though Jamaica perfected the all-inclusive resort vacation, a boon to families who want to cocoon in one place, there's another magnificent way to experience the third-largest island in the Caribbean: your own villa with a staff to mind your family's needs so you don't have to. When it happened that our family's spring break would be splintered by my husband's business trip and our teen's school excursion, I was left with my boys who ached for sun and fun. I admit skittishness when opting for a villa vacation in Jamaica. Would we feel safe? Will the boys have enough to do without the constant activities offered by an all-inclusive resort? Will this really be another vacation for them, but a chore for me? Yes, yes and absolutely not. The sweeping views of the sapphire Caribbean from the verandah of Blue Heaven, one of 52 Villas by Linda Smith, is absurdly gorgeous. The staff (yep, pinch yourself now, you have a staff) greets you with the genuine friendliness that characterizes Jamaicans. Margaret, your cook, might have lunch or dinner ready for your arrival while Paulette will unpack the kids' bags and tend to the family's laundry for the week. Imagine clean sheets and fresh flowers every day and a suitcase full of clean clothes to take back home. Everton does double duty as landscaper and butler, keeping the pool clean and serving a cooling rum punch at the end of the day. Blue Heaven boasts three bedrooms with a daybed in the den, 2 1/2 bathrooms, bedroom air conditioning, a digital satellite TV system, Playstation and, of primary importance to anyone with kidlets, your own private pool. A security guard surveys the grounds all night ensuring complete safety. There is a team of warm, knowledgeable drivers to take you anywhere you wish to go.
A stay at Blue Heaven includes membership in the tony Round Hill Beach Club, about a five-minute drive from the villa. My boys and I enjoyed a day at Round Hill's beach with water sports, a brand new spa and a lively evening barbecue on the beach. Most of the Villas by Linda Smith (www.jamaicavillas.com) are on the island's north coast, just 12 miles from the Montego Bay airport. A few others are sprinkled throughout the shores of Ocho Rios, Runaway Bay and Discovery Bay.