One of the larger resort properties on Jamaica, Sandals Grande Ocho Rios has a wonderful variety of rooms to offer as well as two somewhat distinct ‘villages’ to enjoy them in. Of course you must first experience the 1 1/2 hour ride from the airport to the resort, which, if you have never experienced Jamaican drivers, or CJs as the locals call them, (crazy Jamaicans) is quite an experience indeed. The faint of heart might want to close their eyes :)
If you don’t want to sit around at the airport after clearing customs for an hour or so, while the bus fills up, you might want to consider a private transfer (although keep in mind it is costly), particularly if you are arriving in the late afternoon or early evening and want to get to the resort quicker and start experiencing your vacation.
For the brave, who choose to ride with their eyes open, you will be treated to a wonderful scenic drive showing off the beautiful coast of Jamaica and an interesting sampling of both run down shacks and million dollar property. With any luck, you might also catch a glimpse of the local reindeer (goats; or tomorrow’s dinner depending on your perspective. Curried goat is quite a staple in the Jamaican diet)
The Manor side of the property, which is in the hills above the main highway will treat you to some fabulous rooms, particularly in the upper categories, and breathtaking views of the ocean, which is a short shuttle ride away.
Some rooms will come with private plunge pools, while others will come with semi private pools, that are shared by 4 rooms. All together there are over 80 pools of one type or another on the property. As the grounds are immaculately scripted with wonderful varieties of native plants, fish ponds, and walkways, the rooms with garden views are not to be sneezed at either.
There are several ‘public’ pools to choose from, including one of the largest in the Caribbean just outside the main building. Overlooking this pool is the Polo Lounge where many a night is spent with the piano man at sing-a- long time.
There are a few wonderful garden settings for weddings on the manor side, but one should be cautious about which side you stay on, as compared to your wedding site. Both sides are easily accessible by the complimentary shuttle which runs every 10 minutes or less (we never waited for more than 2 or 3 minutes), however the shuttle can be crowded and not very comfortable or inviting if you are staying on the Manor side and are riding, in your wedding gown because you wanted a beach wedding.
With regards to weddings, Sandals will churn out a number of them on any given day, so it would be wise to consider carefully the location of the nuptials, as some of the locations are easily accessible to the general crowd. So, if the bride doesn’t want a bunch of nameless onlookers at her ceremony, then a more secluded gazebo setting where she is less likely to be gawked at, and she is less likely to see another entourage, would be preferable.
The beachside village, ‘the Riviera’ is not as large and spread out as her sister up the hill, but has many rooms with lovely ocean views, and this is the place to be if you prefer the sand and sea, to the pool. Not there isn’t any pool on this side, to be sure there are several, but here you can also opt for a chaise lounge in the sun, or in the shade by the ocean. You can also pull up a chair on the pier and gaze out at the amazing blues and greens of the Caribbean.
As for weddings on the Riviera, there are some nice locations in gazebos overlooking the ocean, on the pier, 2 different beach locations, and some garden locations as well. Here again, one must consider well the exact spot. The weddings on the beach will be witnessed by any number of non invited guests, not to mention walking with your entourage past many a lounge or restaurant in the wedding gown. The beach by the water sports shack, after 4 PM closing is a bit more secluded than the Beach Club, and there is also a nice gazebo overlooking the ocean on that side as well, where you will draw much less attention.
There is also the Beach Club where you will find the area for the festivals, a nice beach volleyball pit, as well as the scuba diving pool where you can take your scuba lessons and get your Sandals certification, a nice inclusion in the “Luxury included” vacation. You will also find 1 of 2 grills (the Manor side has the third grill) which is open when other restaurants are not, where you can get a burger and fries, or a delicious meal of jerk pork or chicken, which is an absolute must if you care to sample Jamaican faire at all.
The second grill is somewhat around the corner from the first, facing the beach and underneath the Bayside restaurant.
On the opposite side of the beach, is the water sports shack, where hobie cats, windsurfing, kayaks, water bikes etc are to be experienced. Don’t wait too long to get over there, as they close at 4:00 PM. The staff is more than happy to take you on a brief hobie cat ride, which is well worth the time as going out on the waves in those little sail boats is quite a blast. The waves are generally quite calm, so no thrill from riding the perfect wave, but there is something about the feeling of wind in your face and the sound of flapping sail.
Other activities around the resort include shuffleboard at various places, pool tables, also at various places, beach volleyball, board games and a book exchange. There is also a very nice rock climbing wall on the manor side.
For other entertainment, the amphitheatre is on the Riviera side, and there you will experience a variety of fun endeavors produced by the Playmakers (the entertainment staff) as well as experience some fabulous Caribbean talent of various disciplines.
Each side has 4 restaurants of different faire, with food generally of a very good quality. On the Riviera side, you have “The Bayside, breakfast buffet and lunch, and a la carte for dinner, serving an international cuisine; Valentino’s, Italian and open only for dinner, and the only restaurant at the Riviera with a dress code. Ladies can pretty much get away with anything, but gents must not wear open toed shoes or shirts without collars or shorts.
Arizona’s with a very nice setting, out on the pier, serves tex mex style food with a tenderloin steak that absolutely melts in your mouth, as well as a wonderful Chilli. No corn bread to go with it unfortunately, but a nice variety of other bread is readily available. It’s about the only spot you’ll find country music in Jamaica.
The Reef Terrace Cafe; Caribbean cuisine, and San Genarros with a somewhat Italian faire round out the offerings overlooking the beach.
On the Manor side of things, you’ll find Orchids, a very fine asian restaurant, and the only restaurant with a dress code. Ladies can get away with just about anything, but for the gents, no open toed shoes, no shorts, and shirts with collars only.
The Marketplace, buffet and international restaurant, and the grill round the offerings for the Manor side.
On the whole, there is something for everyone at this resort, and from what we could see this was Sandals at it’s best. We saw no one who wasn’t having a great time, and with all the food and drink you can take in, accompanied by perfect Jamaican flair, who could complain. Some rooms were being renovated, but that is a good thing as no one wants to stay in a resort where continual maintenance is not done.
As the resort does have a lot of climbing to get around, you may want to consider that when a wheelchair is necessary, however we did see some wheelchairs making their way around. I would suggest you stay on the Riviera side, as there are a lot of hills to be navigated on the manor side. There are still some stairs to be navigated, but these can be circumnavigated with the shuttle, or ignored entirely if you don’t have to get down to the beach area.
The staff and service at this resort get very high marks, but one should remember that things are done differently in the Caribbean. People are generally not in a hurry, and if you lived there, you probably wouldn’t be either. So, you should expect to wait a while longer for dinner, relax, you are on vacation. Talk with the nice people around you, drink in the beautiful day and do things the island way, on island time; Mon.
For the most part, you will find the staff members eager to please and very helpful, and it will not be easy saying goodbye to the friends you will have made. But it’s not really goodbye. Just see you later, because you will go back.