My husband and I are a young couple that really enjoys traveling the Caribbean/West Indies, we have been to several islands in the W.I. and chose Jamaica for our second anniversary because we were dead set on Sandals and had already been to Sandals in St. Lucia and Antigua, it was a toss up between Jamaica and the Bahamas, we decided Jamaica ultimately thinking we would have more exposure to different dive sites. We have been to one other all inclusive resort unaffiliated with Sandals, and having been to Sandals first, the other all inclusive did not compare on any level! I will break down some travel tips from what we learned while in Jamaica and at this particular resort, however there are 3 to choose from on Jamaica and I can only speak for this one.
PRIVATE AIRPORT TRANSFER: Since going to Sandals St. Lucia and staying at The Grande and enduring an included 2-3 hour transfer from the airport, we decided from then on that we were willing to pay extra for a private transfer and just chock it up as a travel expense rather than a luxury. This go round, our resort was about 90 minutes away, Sandals offers a private shuttle for nearly $400 round trip stocked with wine and beer, we thought that was outrageous and booked a private taxi through JUJU Tours (It's on tripadvisor for Jamaica) and we paid $100 each way with beer and rum punch. It was a taxi, not an impressive limousine, but it was comfortable and private and drinks were provided upon request. If you are looking at staying at Sandals Montego Bay, the complimentary shuttle is perfectly acceptable, the resort is less than 15 minutes from the airport.
BUTLER SUITE: When we were booking our accommodations, we compared many rooms, our goal was to get there and stay for as inexpensively as possible, we decided we wouldn't spend that much time in the room anyways, so let's just get there for the best price possible, after spending days doing different room combinations and dates we ultimately found a special on the honeymoon orchid poolside butler suite, after all of the discounts it was cheaper than a low or mid grade room. We got lucky, but I would encourage anyone on a budget to do the same. Once we arrived, the butler greeted us immediately, gave us a run down on what to expect and what they could do for us... it was a very nice touch, however, we weren't very comfortable making a ton of requests, if you will utilize your butler, its an amazing feature, but on this particular resort, which is divided by a highway in Ocho Rios, if you stay on the manor side (which we did) they are limited by not being able to cross the street often if you prefer to spend your time on the beach side, which we did. So if you want to spend the money just to be waited on, I'd say try another resort, as I said, for the price, we couldn't beat it, and we enjoyed getting to know the butler's personally and we did enjoy what we requested of them when we did.
RESORT: We enjoyed the seaside of the resort the most, you can take the bus, which is under 2 minutes away, (it's just a safety precaution to cross the street) and get off either at "Ochi beach club" or at the main lobby for the seaside of the resort. We mainly enjoyed club ochi, the western most beach was more private and secluded, there was a crowd that enjoyed more of the social scene and they hung out more around the main pools with swim up bars and DJ's or at Jamie's sports bar which was beach front and also hosted a DJ and games and competitions. It was entertaining at times, but we enjoyed the seclusion of the other beach. The amphitheatre is fun and has nightly entertainment... you should receive a schedule of events for every day.... one of the best things we did was a friday night chinese flying lantern release for the sandals foundation which benefits the less fortunate in the caribbean.
FOOD: All of the food was tasty and pretty much as described on the menus. The made to order omelets at breakfast every morning were an indulgence as well as all of the pastries! The breakfast buffet on the Seaside is better than the one at Market side, you will have access to both, since our room was located on the Manor/Market side, we would just catch the little bus over and grab breakfast on the seaside before spending the day either paddle boarding, diving, sailing, snorkeling or lounging on the beach which is nearby. We also loved the jerk chicken and rice and peas available at the "snack" spots.
BEVERAGES: The drinks are great, there will be a drink of the day, and we sampled it everyday! I loved the planters punch, it is really strong, 1-2 and you're good. The main reason I put this subject in here is because we saw someone who had a genius idea!! Bring your own "tervis" style insulated cup with a lid and straw for bar refills so you have to get up less often, the staff will be there to wait on you and refill your drink, but depending on when and where you are, you will likely just get up and get one yourself before they make it back around. If you forget to pack one, the resort gift shop even sells some, the bar tenders shouldn't have a problem filling it for you. This mainly came in handy when enjoying shows in the amphitheatre, the nearest bar is a small walk away, but you'll make multiple trips during the show if you don't bring your own large sippy cup!! Genius!!
SHOPPING: This is where we went wrong... we hired a cab driver and asked for shopping in the Ocho Rios area, we also used him for an airport transfer (details above) so we trusted he would hook us up.... however, I think he wanted to hook up his fellow locals.... which is understandable... we don't mind helping support those who rely on tourism, we really enjoyed their country, but we also don't like being made fools of. We were taking to a place called "Rainbow" market or store or something.... it is so outrageously priced!! We were shocked and felt pressured to buy things... we spent over $300 in this one "souvenir" store.... RIDICULOUS!! Now I know we could have said "no", but we didn't. We also went to a really run down looking outdoor market when we asked for a "craft" market.... we weren't given a name of this place, but it is just a block or so from the "rainbow" place... also a huge rip off... we later realized that everything we bought (most available was junk) was available in our Sandals gift shop for a fraction of the price, in my experience, I am used to resorts marking up their prices, however, this was not the case, even the alcohol for sale in the Sandals gift shop was $5-10 cheaper per bottle on the resort. LATER at the airport, the duty free was more than 50% less than what it was at the resort... we felt so ripped off!!!! And we are usually pretty savvy travelers, I think the poverty and pressure we felt in the markets really influenced us, so I'd say if you want that off resort shopping experience, unless you are willing to pay for it tenfold, skip it.... maybe just take a cab ride around rather than shop or speak to any of the locals. UTILIZE THE DUTY FREE!!
SIGHT SEEING: We went against the advice of only booking tours through the resort and took a local fishing boat out for some fishing and Dunn's River Falls. Probably one of our best decisions!! We have known from our first vacation together that we are not crowd or tour people, we usually will only book a tour if it is private rather than getting shuffled along with 30 other tourists, so we tend to find things to do off the beaten path, in this case, on vacation day 1, we were yelled at by some locals docked at the sandals boat dock, they will also be selling shells, etc. The resort will tell you to ignore them, we aren't very rude people so we chatted a bit and decided to try an early morning fishing trip on a small local boat followed by a boat ride to Dunn's River Falls. We spent a fraction with these 2 guys "Gary & Capt. Bob" we caught 2 black fin tuna and something else that was huge and ultimately got off our line. Later at the resort, our butler said we did good because people will go on fishing charters and not even get a nibble @ about $200p/p. The falls were amazing... I would recommend that everyone do them!! You can do the walking trail or you can get in the water and climb them, which is what we did!! Totally worth it and only $20 per person!! See the pics attached!! We also really enjoyed the Cayoba Gardens, it's only $10 p/p to get in, we took a cab and had the place to ourselves, a gentle very old man was our tour guide, he was knowledgeable and friendly. We garden and were fascinated by the flora and fauna, if that's not for you, might not be fun, but the views of Ocho Rios are stunning and there is access to a piece of the falls.
DIVING: VERY IMPORTANT!!! If you want to dive without any hassle, do NOT check any of the listed conditions on the waiver!! My husband and I were completely honest on the form and had to forego the first few days of diving due to trying to obtain a doctor's release via fax back from the states saying we were fit to dive. Simply just put "no" in all of the blanks and sign and move on. Once we were cleared to dive, it wasn't very impressive if you are an avid diver, if you only get to go occasionally, you will likely enjoy the clear water, pretty reef and good conditions. We were only slightly disappointed in the lack of wildlife that we saw.... there were several tiny reef fish, including the smallest lion fish I have ever seen, 1 flounder, 2 huge spiny lobster and about 1 dozen king crab in 1 location. Not a bad dive, just not the best if you have ever been to a premo diving spot.
MOBAY DEPARTURE LOUNGE: $30 per person, includes wifi, a full bar and some snacks, a speed pass through security and check in. Worth it? Eh... if you need the wifi and will indulge in the drinks... the snacks are ok, but not worth the price, the lounge could have been more comfortable than regular airport seating, but was so crowded that it wasn't any better than sitting at your gate. We were too exhausted to indulge in drinks, much less to make up for our $30 entry fee. The fast pass was a nice touch, especially if you're traveling on Saturday (busiest day for caribbean flights) and during peak hours, but still not sure if it was $30 worth. You decide.
Anyway, we had a dreamy vacation!! We were in love with the island and pleasantly surprised by how beautiful it was and how friendly the resort staff was. Sandals never disappoints!!
- 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