At One Jamaican Resort, Even Gray-Haired Hedonists Can Dance in Pajamas, Sunbathe in the Buff, and Come to Dinner Dressed in a Bed Sheet
"Don't worry. You'll survive," Liz, the topside assistant, assures me.
We stand on a foot-wide perch suspended two stories above the sand. A waist belt connects me to safety lines, and a net below promises even more security. Still, as I prepare for my first-ever trapeze act, one thought creaks through my mind -- I AM TOO OLD FOR THIS!
Playing dope on a rope is not what I envisioned doing at Hedonism II, perhaps the most infamous of Jamaica's all-inclusive resorts. With its motto, "Be Wicked for a Week," the place maintains a lusty reputation as a year-round version of Spring Break for adults.
For years, I have fantasized about visiting this enclave of Dionysian delight. Now, on the cusp of AARP-hood and in the midst of a splendid midlife crisis, I am about to discover what a swinging good time at "Hedo" is all about.
Liz, who weighs less than my luggage, promises to counterbalance me as I lean out. Nervously, I tilt forward, clenching the trapeze bar tighter than a wino strangling a flask.
"Ready?" Martin, the instructor, yells from below. "HUP!"
I step from the platform and arc through the air, feeling like Disney's Dumbo. Following Martin's commands, I tuck my legs over the bar, lock knees and swing back, inverted. On the next oscillation, I regrasp the bar and backflip off.
"You should join the circus," my wife giggles. "We'll call you the Flying Geezer. Come on, I'll 'buy' you a beer."
Her generosity is underwhelming since at Hedo all beer, bar drinks, food, sports and diving are included with the price of accommodations. Even tipping is forbidden.
The 280-room resort borders a stretch of sandy beach near Negril on the sunset tip of Jamaica, 55 miles west of Montego Bay. The grassy, 22-acre compound is divided into twin sections with adjacent beaches. An open-sided dining hall, pool, disco and boat dock separate the two.
On one side, swimsuits, at least the bottom halves, are required of all. Known as the "Prude Beach," it features a volleyball court, snack shack and a funky bar built around a draping tree. We discover more of the younger singles prefer this side. They swizzle rum, soak up the sun, and practice their pickup lines on mister or mizz right.
Folks who don't want to accidentally slop sunscreen on fabric choose the opposite side. The "Nude Beach" features a bar, grill, pool and perhaps Jamaica's largest hot tub. It tends to draw a more mature crowd of predominantly couples. Most have their share of sags, cellulite, scars, wrinkles, folds, stretch marks, love handles and beer bellies, but nobody seems to care.
Every evening Hedo offers activities and entertainment. Our first night there, we attend a beach party.
Two teams compete in a series of games that allow us to embarrass ourselves in front of chortling spectators. We race paired in hula-hoops, pass ping-pong balls along in mouth-held cups and dash dizzily around obstacles. Surprisingly, I am not the oldest one participating.
Brochures for Hedo depict only buns-of-steel models who look as if they burst from Soloflex advertorials. I feared that here, my wife and I might stand out like chaperones at a frat party. In reality, we discover that almost one-third of our fellow hedonists are 45 and over.
Some of us older folks want to sleep late, but not my wife. She rises early, eager to go sunbathing.
"Which beach are we going to?" I ask.
We grab belongings and walk through the grounds to the stretch of white sand that borders the cerulean sea. There, we smear on Coppertone and lie back, stark-raving naked beneath the Caribbean sun. It feels wickedly sensual.
After dinner that night, we stroll through the property. Music and laughter lures us into the piano bar.
People crowd the edge of a recessed baby grand, and scores more line the platform level above. Everyone holds a songbook. A raucous piano man pounds out melodies and the group sings along with gusto. Even I finally join in, warbling the words to "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," certain that in the hullabaloo, no one can discern my tuneless croaking.
Every Spring Break has a wet T-shirt contest, and I get collared into judging Hedo's. About 60 of us males sit on the edge of the sunken dance floor. One by one, the female contestants flaunt out in drenched attire and try to impress us with up-close imitations of Demi Moore. I play along, carefully assaying each competitor's attributes. Then I catch my wife glaring at me from a distant table. Her look suggests this must be part of the midlife crisis I'd best not enjoy too much.
Tuesday night features a pajama party in the disco. I don silk boxers and T-shirt. My partner wears a modest, two-piece something. Inside, we find women clad in teddies and men wearing briefs or less. It's Frederick's of Hollywood meets Fruit of the Loom.
When I think of discos, I see images of a leisure-suited John Travolta "Stayin' Alive" to the Bee Gees. Here we watch a column dressed in skivvies succumbing to the Macarena. In a room smokier than a four-alarm campfire, the colored spotlights, primal drums and floor gyrating with nearly naked bodies gives the gathering the appearance of heathens ritualizing before a sacrifice. We soon flee to the starlit safety of the hot tub.
One afternoon, we leave Hedo for the 15-minute van ride to the center of Negril. It is the first time we pull wallets from the room's minisafe.
Negril in the '60s and '70s was a place to drop out. Those escaping responsibility or dodging tours in Vietnam could live cheaply and stay high on gonja, the local cannabis. The hippies became yuppies, but the village of Negril still has a hemp-crazed aura about it. One shack along shoreline openly advertises, "Chill Out. Beer. Joints."
We return to the resort early because tonight we must dress up for dinner. At most places, that would require donning coat and tie. At Hedo, it means dining in a toga. No sheet, no eat.
Extra linen lies atop our bed. Taking the John Belushi approach, I tie a conservative, Animal House style garment. My once-demure wife, however, fashions hers into a body-clinging thong that resembles something from the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
I feel silly walking to dinner clad in bedding, but once we reach the dining hall, embarrassment fades. There, we find an entire legion of guests that look like they were clothed at a JC Penney's white sale. If plebeians dressed like that in antiquity, it's no wonder Rome fell.
After dinner, we all crowd onto the dance floor and form a nearly endless conga line. To a driving beat, we march around the perimeter of the restaurant, then zigzag back. Pumped, I feel like Ben-Hur on Geritol.
On our final day, I hang out in the sun while my wife takes a catamaran cruise to Rick's Cafe south of Negril. There, she snorkels and jumps from the same cliffs producers used to film Steve McQueen's escape in Papillon.
Returning, my upstanding, straight-laced, churchgoing wife does something I never would have expected. As the boat leaves the bluffs, she turns her back, bends over, and with one quick jerk, joins in the traditional mooning of Rick's.
"It was the rum," she insists.
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Check out Hedonsim on line for more information about visiting this famous Jamaican resort.