As long time Club Med fans (over 30 visits), we were blown away by theSandals_Club, the accommodations, the restaurants, the sports facilities, the entertainment and the hospitality of the staff on our first visit to Sandals all-inclusive resort in Ocho Rios. Price for this vastly better all inclusive club (using Apple_Vacations and Air_Jamaica) was less than a Club Med week in Nassau this September! Using Club Med Columbus Isle and Bora Bora (their "best" resorts) as reference, this article highlights the differences between Club Med and Sandals in Ocho Rios.
Sandals Club -- Sandals operates six, couples only, all inclusive resorts in Jamaica. They also have clubs in Antigua, St Lucia, and Nassau. Clientele is mainly couples in their 20's and 30's with a focus on newlyweds. A special feature of the clubs are the honeymoon packages for both newlyweds and those renewing vows. Every day there were 5 to 10 wedding ceremonies held on the very scenic grounds. Room price for honeymoon rooms includes the ceremony and basic reception. Sandals also runs resorts called Breezes which are similar in facilities but cater to families. All resorts have a no tipping policy which is enforced - almost makes you feel guilty when you can't tip the excellent service that is found throughout the resort.
Sandals allows you to stay at one club and use its facilities as well as those of any other Sandals clubs you visit during your stay. For Ocho Rios this meant that all the facilities of the nearby Dunn's River Sandals were available. Dunn's River used to be a very fancy exclusive resort in the 70's and has been restored to the opulence of a top class "rich and famous" resort. In all cases the grounds, beaches, swimming pools and hot tubs are kept immaculately clean.
Be prepared for a slightly hair-raising 1-3/4 hour shuttle bus ride from Montego Bay Airport to Sandals at Ocho Rios. The Jamaicans drive fast on their bumpy 2 lane highways overtaking (or being overtaken) sometimes with inches to spare.
Accommodations --There are seven classes of rooms ranging from deluxe to one bedroom suite. Main differentiation is the location which goes from various gardenview locations to oceanviews. With immaculate lush gardens and ponds spread out over about 1/3 of a mile, there are no bad gardenviews and with all rooms larger than found at Club Med, we recommend the lowest cost deluxe rooms. By the way, if you have time go on the 2 hour guided tour of the gardens. The guide is the head gardener and it's a really interesting learning experience. With all the gardens, there are surprisingly few bugs and we only had 2 or 3 insect bites the whole week.Return to Top
Restaurants --There are 4 restaurants at Sandals Ocho Rios. All are run by very professional trained staff. At breakfast and lunch the main restaurant serves buffet style a' la Club Med with waiters providing beverage service. Food is same standard as Club Med except for a very limited choice of breads and fewer entree selections. In the evening, all 4 restaurants are full service style with prior reservations only required for the (non- smoking) Italian restaurant. The ambiance is excellent at all restaurants. All are located by the beach. The Italian is indoors dining; the others are outdoors/terrace dining. Food selection and quality is far better than Club Med's and the service is outstanding - as good as you get at fine restaurants in Europe. For romantic types, the Reef Terrace restaurant with adjacent piano bar is hard to beat.
If the restaurants at Ocho Rios are not enough, a free 15 minute shuttle to Sandals Dunn's River gives you access to 4 more restaurants. The reservations required restaurant here is Kimono's, a Benihana style restaurant. However it's very kitchy with and seems geared toward people who have not seen this style of cooking. If you go, consider it a "Jamaican experience" rather than a real Japanese meal. Other restaurants at Dunn's River are an indoor Italian near the beach, an open air main restaurant (buffet breakfast and lunch) and an indoor continental cuisine restaurant that is large and dark. All restaurants at both resorts have non-smoking sections.
All drinks are included in the base price. So if you want champagne, or beer, or still wines, or cocktails, or very good virgin drinks they quickly arrive at your table. In spite of all the "free" booze we saw virtually no drunkenness. Return to Top
Entertainment --A big difference from Club Med is that the entertainment at Sandals is provided by paid professional entertainers. Every evening there are one or more small music groups providing Jazz and light music. In addition several shows with a focus on Jamaican culture are held nightly in the amphitheater. There is the usual night club and something is going on all the time in the evenings/night. Return to Top
Apple Vacations --Their prices were far below the rack rates of the room and airlines. Only difficulty with them is that they sometimes advertise prices that they will not honor. However, a good travel agent should get you their best rates. Apple provides optional insurance that claims to allow you to get the lowest price if they cut prices before you leave.
Air Jamaica Run by the owners of Sandals, the service is good and our flights were on time. As for any US airline, coach seating is cramped except at emergency exits. First Class is same as found on US domestic which falls far short of transatlantic first class.
Naoma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org