I’m writing a review of Sandals Grande Ocho Rios because I’ve ultimately found the TripAdvisor reviews helpful in planning our vacations. My husband and I just returned from Sandals Grande Ocho Rios (2/25-3/4) where we had booked a Luxury Riviera room. We have been to Jamaica 4 other times (2 visits to Couples Negril and one to Couples Ocho Rios.) Unfortunately, we were dissatisfied with Sandals Grande, and liked it less than both Couples resorts. We must have higher expectations than some people now because we met people at Sandals Grande who were very satisfied with the resort – we were anything BUT satisfied.
Never having stayed at a Sandals resort before, we had high expectations – they weren’t met. Here are a litany of problems:
1. Check in was unsatisfactory. They forgot I was patiently waiting on the couch where I was directed, lost my booking sheet, had to repeat the instructions the concierge had given me about where to sit and wait and someone would be right with me to THREE people... someone finally discovered that my paperwork had been brought to another room where another group who we had NOT arrived with were waiting...simply ridiculous!
2. We were given a Riviera room without a balcony, my husband smokes and I don't, so we needed a balcony. We asked to be moved, and that was a painful experience service-wise, but they finally agree to move us to a room with a balcony. We got there and found it overlooked two huge exhaust fans and overtop the kitchen and delivery entrance, it was SO noisy that I barely got 4 hours of sleep that night! I don't believe that ANYONE is EVER satisfied with that room and I certainly PAID for better! It felt as though we were punished for requesting a room change! SO, we asked to be moved AGAIN. Initially told we couldn't, I asked to speak with a manager, was told they'd call me back, was never given the opportunity to speak with a manager, but told we could move to a quieter room, but still no balcony. Fed up, we finally accepted that room.
3. New room smelled of mold and mildew, and I have allergies! For a resort with the Sandals reputation, I expect a clean room that doesn't reek of mold and cause me breathing problems! Other than the bed, the furniture in the room (dresser and chair) had to have been 30 years old - old and shabby! And we learned that MANY, if not MOST of the Riviera "Luxury" rooms had refrigerators - why did someone ELSE get a balcony and refrigerator, while I did NOT? I paid the same amount of money! We were told that the rooms in the Manor House have all been renovated, and are lovely (FYI, if you’re choosing rooms.)
4. Food was mediocre AT BEST! Food at both Couples resorts was FAR better than what we had at the "not so Grande". Orchids' Asian food was MUCH worse than our local take out place - if you can't cook Asian food, why offer it? At one meal, I was served overcooked fish - I mean, it was leathery... at another at San Genaro, my pork was BURNED, covered with red sauce, and served to me! I've worked in restaurants - how does any chef serve BURNT food? Valentino’s gourmet Italian restaurant was a BIT better, but NOT gourmet for people who actually KNOW what that is. It's sad, but the best food was at the snack bar - burgers and jerk chicken were great! But we paid for, and based on their advertising, expected gourmet food at Sandals, and didn't GET it. We ate two nights at the Dunns River resort (there was a free shuttle), and the food was FAR better – if you’re choosing between Sandals, and have high culinary expectations, I recommend that resort over Grande, by Far. (We had originally tried to book Dunn's River and it was unavailable...now I know why!)
5. Service at restaurants and bars was the WORST we've experienced in the Caribbean. Just to get someone to serve you coffee at breakfast was like pulling teeth. Staff wouldn't LOOK at you to avoid being signalled for help. They were more concerned with clearing and re-setting tables than serving those of us who were THERE! And the attitudes were unpleasant - and again, the service we got at Couples, both Negril and Ocho, was FAR superior, so I know it's not every resort and every staff person on the island! Bar tenders also seemed annoyed if you wanted a drink, and were not the jovial, welcoming people that had us return to Jamaica again this year.
6. Upon checking out at 9:30, I told both the person at the desk AND the bell desk that our bags were NOW outside the room and to please have them transferred to the gate. We had a shuttle to the Aerodrome at 12:15, and when we got down there at 11:45, our bags had not been picked up! A bellman was sent, and had not come back by 12:05, so my husband ran to the room to see what was going on. By that time, the bellman now had two carts and was returning slowly… the point is that the bags should have been picked up and brought to the bell desk when requested, and NOT allowed to sit in the hall for almost three hours where anyone could have opened them – AND if we’d arrived at the bell desk later than 11:45, our bags would NOT have been there for our pick up.
7. The beach is small front to back, and the area directly in front of the Riviera building is obstructed by a large pier, so no wonderful view unless you move to the right or left… if you DON’T stay at the Riviera area, you have to take a shuttle to the beach – people we met who were up the hill found this really inconvenient and annoying. The fact that the resort combined two older resorts did not result in a net gain really…it’s too spread out and a pain in the neck getting around.
8. Two of the three pools at the beach are old (not that nice looking) and they don’t play music at them – very few people hang out at these (which might be nice for those who want peace and quiet), so it’s not a very social area. Two of the pools have no view of the beach, they’re in the jungle – you can’t take in the view, so what’s the point of being by the beach?
Really, the only good thing for us was the pool at the Manor House. It’s fabulous, huge and there are gorgeous fountains. The drawback is that it’s not by the beach…however it’s the most popular pool, and a lovely environment to hang out in. The best bartenders are at the Manor pool bar.
The other good thing is that you CAN get out of there and take a shuttle to Dunn’s River sister property – newer hotel, gorgeous pool right by the beach, the beach is nicer, the food was MUCH better (we ate at both the Japanese restaurant and the Italian one on the waterfront) and the service was heads above at the restaurants AND the bars. If you are staying at Grande, I suggest you take the shuttle there the first or second day and spend as much time as possible there – it was a superior experience, more like the one they spend so much money advertising.
Finally, let me again recommend the Couples Resorts – we have had EXCELLENT experiences at both Negril and Ocho Rios properties. If we return to Jamaica, it’ll be to a Couples resort.