Something for Everyone
I recently returned from a six-night stay at this resort. I think the experience really offered something for everyone. Want to party and dance? You can do that. Prefer quite nights? You can have those, too. Like water sports? Check. Want to lay out? Better get up early to get a chair.
My husband and I had a room in one of the garden villas on the beach side, without butler service. We enjoyed staying in a smaller structure, as opposed to a hotel tower. We always want a balcony on vacation, and we had a semiprivate one here on the ground level surrounded by plants, which suited us nicely. The mini-fridge was stocked with all complimentary beverages, including the house wines, which we found very good and drinkable. A tray of paid snacks was on the dresser, with price list. We enjoyed very prompt room service several times for no extra charge.
The resort property is divided into two sides by a local road. Your room will be either on the beach side of the road, or the hill side of the road. A shuttle transports guests between the reception lobbies on either side, on a regular basis. Hill side rooms seemed to have the butler service, and generally the hill side amenities seemed to be the somewhat newer, definitely larger part of the property. We did not have butler service, and never felt we needed it. Furthermore, since I was diving once or twice a day, it was great to be on the beach side closer to the dive shop.
The property is lovely and maintained well. It somehow did not feel as big as the maps made it seem. When we wanted a change of scenery, we could take the shuttle up to the hill side.
We were glad to see no golf carts carts driving guests around the property. It was all quiet, pedestrian paths. It was nice to be able to walk the resort. Everything was typically a short walk away.
Dining options seemed ample, with a variety of restaurants serving different cuisines. Sometimes we had to wait for a table, which did not bother us; we just relaxed at the closest bar. By all accounts the food here is amazing for a resort. Although I could never entirely shake the hotel restaurant vibe, I always enjoyed the food. We especially enjoyed The Reef (great outdoor terrace and Jamaican cuisine), Valentino’s (indoor, serving very good Italian), and our man Leon made our favorite pizza for an afternoon snack everyday at the pizza oven. Several couples reported iffy, slow dinner service at Bayside.
If you are into healthy eating, Sabrina’s and Bayside offer a nice selection of fresh fruits and vegetables at breakfast and lunch, served buffet style. For dinner, I think it is best to plan to relax your diet restrictions and enjoy yourself. There are few vegetarian options. Some menu items are designated “Healthy” (you can decide if you agree with the designation).
The service is good, though not infallible. I think it is what I expected at a place that aims to provide a luxury experience to a large number of people, in a setting where the standard of living is relatively low. There were multiple times where I felt frustrated, unsure whether I was on Jamaican time or if my request had simply been forgotten. I guess it takes more than five nights for this American to get the Jamaica vibe. Nonetheless, the good outweighed the frustrating moments, with the majority of the staff seeming genuinely concerned for our enjoyment.
I went scuba diving every day and, as a relatively new diver, really enjoyed the opportunity to practice diving. The reef seems to be recovering from a period of mismanagement and abuse. The dive staff was quite friendly and jovial and always instructed us to look but not touch, in addition to the standard safety briefing before each dive. Of all the dives I went on, I most enjoyed the trip to the Kathrine wreck and swim through the caverns there.
The scuba was completely free, except for the cost to rent a wet suit, which was $10 per dive. All other equipment was provided, if needed, though it was not uncommon for divers to have their own. I wore a shirt over my swimsuit on all but one dive. I did get chilly on occasion, especially exiting the water, so I suggest bringing a towel onto the boat if possible. Otherwise, I found the water temp quite manageable without a wetsuit. Paid dives are also offered, though I’m unsure how often; I was never informed of them, or the timing didn’t work for me.
My husband golfed and found there were fees in order to actually get on the course. For 9 holes w/tip figure about $50; 18 holes w/tip about $80. He was required to pay for a cart and caddie. He found the course to be wide open, with few places to get into trouble. A small basket of balls at the driving range was $5, plus tip for the guy who drove him out there. You can store your clubs at the course if you like.
We were surprised there were almost no bugs! Leave the bug spray at home.
Beach towels could be hard to get. I usually ended up hoarding one anytime I saw them stocked, as I was diving regularly but they were never stocked when I actually needed one. It would be nice if the beach goers would be more considerate with the number of towels used, and if they would put their towels in the bin when finished so someone else can use the chair, but there’s not much anyone can do about that.
There is no natural beach. Despite the size of the resort property, the actual beach front is somewhat limited, and every foot of it is claimed for water sports or swimming. If you enjoy walks on the beach on your vacation, try Negril instead of Ocho Rios.
There are a lot of steps on the property. It is definitely not handicap accessible. Watch your step, as you go up/down at least a few steps to get pretty much anywhere. Consider aqua socks at the beach if you are unsteady, as the beachfront can be a bit pebbly at the shoreline. It would be easy to stub a toe or trip if not careful. I saw one gentleman fall while walking out of the water, I assume because he was walking over the rocks and was already a little unsteady on his feet.
The entertainment was great. We enjoyed every show we could. They really encourage people to participate. The beach party and chocolate buffet were especially impressive to me. The hosts could be hilarious once things started to go a little off script.
On our last day, our airport transfer departed first thing in the morning. We didn’t have time for anything but to quickly pack and grab breakfast. That was our last day at the resort. This left us with ample time at the airport before our afternoon flight, and I wish we had asked to be on a later bus. I’m unsure why we were scheduled to depart so early.
Do not purchase tickets to Club Mobay, unless you are a big drinker or really want the expedited service through airport security. We found the lounge to be cave-like and too isolated from what was going on with the departing flights, and the food is not very substantial or fresh. (My husband also somehow lost all the contacts on his phone after using their WiFi.) There are plenty of dining options and shops in the departure terminal, where we wish we had spent our time.
We had a wonderful time at Sandals in Ocho Rios, and we were really bummed to leave. I definitely recommend a visit here for a relaxing beach resort vaca, and we met lots of people who come back every year. Thank you to the staff who made sure we could enjoy this idyllic place and escape the Chicago winter for a brief time.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- •Situated on over 100 acres of lush hillside gardens overlooking the Caribbean Sea•529 villas, luxury rooms and suites with fantastic mountain and ocean views•94 pools (7 large public pools), 22 whirlpools•16 dining options including room service for butler serviced suites•2 luxurious Red Lane Spas•Complimentary golf at Jamaica’s most elite and popular golf course, the Sandals Golf & Country Club (Transfers to the golf course are included)•Over 5,000 sq. feet of first class meeting and conference facilities•Recently completed US$60 million renovation/refurbishing exercise•Voted Sandals Resorts “World’s Leading All-Inclusive Company” 16 years in a row•Voted Sandals Resorts “Caribbean’s Leading Hotel Brand”, 18 years in a row•Voted Sandals Grande Riviera ‘Jamaica’s Leading Resort’ ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Sandals Grande Riviera Beach And Villa Golf Resort
- Sandals Grande Riviera Beach & Villa Golf Hotel Ocho Rios
- Sandals Ocho Rios
- Ciboney Ocho Rios
- Sandals Ochi Beach Resort Jamaica/Ocho Rios