By Diane C.Short, Bains Travel, Vancouver, BC
I recently spent the week at the luxury included formerly Sandals Grande Riviera location in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Though travelling from Vancouver, BC, Canada proved to be a bit of an ordeal (3 hour flight delay, then a 90 minute drive from the Montego Bay airport to our final destination), the travails of a long travelling day proved to more than worth it. I have been to several Sandals resorts in the past, and both for me and my companion, this one excelled in every area. It’s a couples destination, and I strongly recommend it, both as a honeymoon trip and a romantic rekindling of one’s spirit. High praise, but in this case truly deserved.
First, the beauty of Jamaica is boundless, and even in January the weather is perfect:
Sunshine, temperatures in the high 20’s (Celsius) and the countless shades of ocean blue and green waters that roll gently onto the long sand beaches and wonderful pier of the Ochi Beach resort. This beach and golf villa is extensive- it’s a large property of astounding foliage with more than 14 restaurants, only two of which require reservations.
It’s also extremely well kept up; I could easily live there for the rest of my life (don’t tell my boss that I may be moving permanently to the Ochi Beach as soon as I can afford it).
Secondly, the staff is amazing for their courtesy, their attention to detail, and their seemingly boundless willingness to go above and beyond to ensure their guests are happy. As a frequent traveler to the Caribbean and dozens of other countries, I have never met with better service than at Ochi Beach. Credit is due to the Hotel Manager, Mark Starkey, a recently transplanted Brit whose ubiquitous presence and lively spirit ensures faultless execution on all fronts. Special mention must also be made of Bryan Miller on the Reception Desk who welcomed us and even arranged for a surprise birthday cake to be delivered to our villa the next morning. (Yes it was my birthday, something Bryan noticed upon checking our IDs upon arrival).
Then there was Erron at the Sundowner Bar, a singer so talented he should be recording! And Natalia, our Playmaker, who conducted an entertaining tour of the expansive premises. And the spa staff too! (my advice-definitely go for the couples massage in the Red Lane Caribbean spa). Courtesy, elegance and genuine friendliness are hallmarks of the more than 850 staff members at Ochi Beach!
Highlights of our stay included the meals (loved Valentino’s Italian restaurant), the incredible free show at the outdoor Amphitheatre that starred Peter Lloyd delivering a great performance that featured a history of reggae music and the chocolate Buffet night. Tables upon tables were ladled up with all varieties of chocolate desserts, Appleton rum, liqueurs, and other treats as the hotel guests all dressed in white danced to a great reggae band cutting a deep groove into the warm Caribbean night.
There are dozens of other activities to be had as well, including the swim-up bar, the ocean-going pedal cycles and trips in the glass bottom boats. While our villa neighbors next door were delighted with the diving instruction and snorkeling opportunities, my companion and I played several rounds of golf at the nearby 18-hole course. The green fees were included in the all-inclusive package and no reservations were required- just hop on one of the frequent shuttles that take you directly to the course, which is only about ten minutes away. The course is scenic and open to all playing abilities. Caddies and carts are required, but this turned out to be a bonus, since our caddy Alfred was marvelous, giving instructions, encouragement and advice. I even hit a great drive more than 200 yards straight down the fairway!
Best of all?- drinking that famous Blue Mountain coffee while sunning at our private pool that came with the villa package we had ordered.
Would I go back again?- it’s Jamaica, mon. Jamaica, you’re making me crazy! I heard they now even feature a Speak Easy Bar, called the Rabbit Hole where you are transported back to Fun & Excitement of 1920s, another reason for me to head back for a vacation. Thank you Sandals, Ochi Beach, for the best vacation of my life!
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