Sometimes we get the opportunity to travel to destinations to 'try them for ourselves' so when I was offered a trip to Jamaica courtesy of he leading all-inclusive hotel group of Sandals I jumped at the chance.
I visited 4 hotels on the island, here are my reviews:
Sandals Royal Caribbean:
I visited this hotel for lunch. It remains one of my favourites of the trip.
Beautiful rooms and suites, particularly the swim up lagoon suites. the gardens are well kept and beautiful.
I loved the private island at Sandals Cay that you get a boat across to. There is a fabulous Thai restaurant on the island and a nudist section of the beach that is very private and not in sight of the bar or pool there. There are cabanas and hammocks over the sea here, all very romantic.
The beach is stunning, soft white sand and the property has quite stretch.
There are some lovely wedding venues in a few different locations from garden pergolas to small docks/piers into the sea that are dressed in floaty materials and can easily accommodate rows of chairs for guests. All looked stunning.
I liked the choice of restaurants and bars, all a bit different to the next with even an afternoon tea area like old England.
The watersports facilities are excellent and the sea is very shallow and warm for quite a distance out to sea, perfect for lounging in!
The hotel staff were really welcoming and couldn't do enough for us.
I want to return for definite !
Sandals Royal Plantation:
It was by far my favourite of the 4 hotels I visited.
It is the smallest and most intimate property with all rooms having stunning sea views. The hotel has an old-plantation home feel to it, very well decorated and furnished. Quiet and romantic. The clientele I saw around the hotel tended to be older couples, and honeymooners, wanting a more discreet service level. The hotel has two small coved beaches with watersports available at one. This isn't the normal brash, full-of-Americans Sandals hotel, far from it. There is a champagne and caviar bar in one of the intimate restaurants (at additional fee) and a beautiful drawing room that is often used for weddings. If clients stay here but want a livelier day or night they can pop next door to the Grande Riviera but guests staying there cannot go to Royal Plantation. Beautiful grounds and driveway really make for a stunning welcome on arrival.
The rooms are luxurious with dark wood furnishings to fit in with the old plantation house theme. The Prime Ministers Suite being totally gorgeous with amazing balconies and bathroom.
There is also a private villa in the grounds that can be hired with Cook and butler.
I would definitely stay here!
Sandals Grande Riviera and Butler Village. (now called Ochi Beach Club):
The Butler Village is on the hillside so you have to get a little golf cart or mini bus to the main hotel, pools and beach front. If you get an ocean view villa then you are right at the top. Each villa shares the pool with either 2 or 4 other villas. There wasn't many people around the pool areas in this part of the hotel so I got the impression the private villas are only used as a base and most time is spent at the beach club or pools lower in the resort. Although if you wanted a quieter stay you would be fine up here.
There are lots of facilities here you would expect from Sandals properties, the spa, tonnes of restaurants, bar areas, etc and some you wouldn't expect, like a climbing wall!!
I found the resort to be quite lively with lots of people around the pool and beach, but as the resort is so spread out there are plenty of quiet areas too.
The resort is incredibly lush and the gardens are like a jungle in places so even though it was a big property it is really pretty with flowers, ponds, walkways and palms everywhere.
I would stay here, but not in the Butler villas as I think they are too far away from all the action and I would get annoyed at having to get a golf cart anywhere.
Beaches Ocho Rios:
I stayed in a gorgeous concierge suite on the beachfront in the Greek Village area. It was huge and would quite adequately fit a family of four with amazing views over the sandy beach onto the Caribbean Sea which was literally 6 steps away from my suite door.
It is a large property made up of various areas, The French Village is being completely renovated at the moment with all new bathrooms and tiled floor areas being revamped.
We ate at Neptune's seafood restaurant a couple of times which was nice food, but not massive portions. Service was very friendly and chatty.
The main buffet restaurant was the main area for breakfast there was always a huge selection even though the hotel was not busy what so ever, in fact this made the hotel feel a bit soulless and not much in terms of atmosphere. Also the disco and the A la Carte restaurants weren't open as not enough customers warranted it. I would therefore be careful about recommending this property out of season as it may be too quiet for some. When I discussed this with a watersports instructor he said it is really busy in peak time and the beach can be crowded!
The waterpark in the hotel is the largest in Jamaica so this is a real attraction. It opens from 10am every day.
The kids club area had loads of activities planned and the Sesame Street characters are at home here for character breakfasts and parades. Great fun! The rooms in the kids club area are a bit dated in my opinion. they could do with a refresh.
The location of the hotel on the outskirts of Ocho Rios means you are too far out to walk into town so a taxi would be needed. However, Ocho Rios is central for all the main attractions of the island; Dunn's River Falls, Mystic Mountain, Dolphin Encounter etc.
I would stay here with my family, but only when it is busier.