Sandals Ochi Beach Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica has officially opened after a massive $60 million renovation. The resort sits on more than 100 acres with panoramic ocean views, beautiful gardens and rolling hills on the north coast of Jamaica, about an hour-and-a-half car ride from the airport. It’s trendy, but also private for when you want time alone.
Previously known as Sandals Grande Riviera Beach & Villa Golf Resort, the resort is the largest Sandals property in the world with 529 rooms and 105 pools. Yep, you read that right: more than 100 pools!
The opening celebration
Representing JohnnyJet.com, my Dad and I were there at Sandals Ochi at the beginning of June to witness a pretty amazing grand opening party, with tons of food, cocktails and performances. Yes, I wanted to take my Dad because he works too hard, too much and never takes a break; so we had a nice father/daughter trip! We saw Shaggy, Jamaican-born American reggae fusion singer, and DJ Tracy Young, electronic dance music DJ known for her work with Janet Jackson, Madonna, Toni Braxton, Pink, and Cher. The resort celebrated the renovations with remarks from Jamaican Prime Minster Portia Simpson Miller and also from key company executives including Gordon “Butch” Stewart, Chairman of Sandals Resorts International, and Adam Stewart, CEO of Sandals Resorts International.
Sandals Ochi Beach Resort sure put on a heck of a party around the Great House Main Pool with awesome lighting and fireworks. But what’s more, this resort is a great place to stay, especially on the other side of the $60 million remodeling. Here’s a look inside:
Dining & entertainment
The refreshed resort offers 16 dining options, a new Ochi Beach Club (beach party by day, the hot outdoor lounge at night), two Red Lane Spas, the Caribbean’s largest rock climbing wall (30’ x 30’), 5,000 square feet of meeting space, and complimentary green fees at Sandals Golf & Country Club.
Enhancements include upgraded accommodations, a tapas restaurant, a French restaurant, a seafood eatery just steps from the beach, a great Jerk Shack, and a new speakeasy-style bar called the Rabbit Hole.
The Rabbit Hole was so cool. It’s a little hidden speakeasy on the resort with excellent entertainment, retro chic ambience and great old-fashioned cocktails. You must have a password to enter (which your butler can get for you each day). The crowd got younger as it got later, but I also saw people of all ages even late at night. The Rabbit Hole is a must when visiting the resort as a unique place for everyone young and old to get together and have a good time.
You can’t really go wrong at any of the restaurants, but we had our favorites. Valentino’s was top-notch for dinner, serving southern a la carte Italian and great wine. We looked out over the ocean (perfect view) at a hard-to-get table that our butler scored for us.
We also had an amazing server named Lauren, who went above and beyond to make sure we were having a good time and had everything we needed.
Our favorite restaurant for breakfast was Le Gourmand, serving classic French cuisine. We had some amazing ham-and-cheese waffles and ackee and saltfish (a Jamaican dish) as well as pastries and fresh fruit.
Our go-to lunch spot was right on the beach at Vista Gourmet/Sky Terrace. We loved the buffet there because everything was fresh and hot and there was lots of variety.
We were also greeted by our favorite server from dinner, Lauren. He was so excited to see us, which made us feel awesome. It was no coincidence that our two favorite dining spots were the two where Lauren worked. Beyond just taking our orders, he seemed genuinely interested in talking to us and also answering our random questions. It’s Sandals staff like him that will keep the regulars coming back.
We loved having a personal butler at the All-Butler Village, a short walk from the main lobby. We had a beautiful suite with a king bed, pull-out single bed, balcony and shared pool.
When you stay in the village, one of your two assigned butlers will meet you on arrival, take you to your room and unpack your clothes, if you like. He or she gives you a cell phone and if you need anything at all, at any point, you just have to press a button to call. You can ask the butler any questions you can come up with—like where you should go to eat, or to please pick you up and take you to your stand-up paddle boarding lesson. Apparently, there are no stupid questions!
Since there are so many restaurants and the hours are all different, it was really helpful to just have our butler give us our food options at a particular time earlier in the day.
And if you need a reservation for dinner (some of the nicer places require one), the butler can help you find a time by calling several restaurants and later picking you up to take you to dinner. Our butler would walk us in right to our table and get our drinks ready for us before leaving. It was pretty awesome.
Tip: A Butler Village Oceanview One Bedroom Poolside Villa Suite is a great choice if you want one of the best views from the resort out of your room. It sits on the appropriately named Cannon Hill overlooking the Caribbean Sea, St. Ann Mountains and the gorgeous resort. The room includes the private butler service, a patio and a shared pool deck to take in those pretty views.
Beaches & watersports
Whether you want to relax at one of the beaches or get active, the resort sets you up with everything you need.
Everything is included at the Sandals Aqua Center—even unlimited scuba diving in some beautiful and spectacular waters. Go stand-up paddleboarding, swim, sail, snorkel, or just relax by the pool and sip a beverage. You can even do yoga or get your workout in at the gym or tennis courts. The catamaran boat ride and stand-up paddleboarding were our favorite activities!
The Sandals Foundation
The Sandals Foundation has put together some great volunteer programs that allow guests to help schools in need around the local area. It was an easy decision for me to give some of my time to the kids at Boscobel Primary School. Resort guests can come to a local school like Boscobel and read to the kids through a program called the Reading Road Trip every Thursday from 9 am to 11 am, while the kids are in school.
You may think it’s disruptive to the kids, but the experience meeting guests actually helps them learn about different cultures. And the schools in the program rotate so guests aren’t always visiting the same school. Mrs. Heidi Clarke, Director of Programs, Sandals Foundation, said, “Education underpins all we do and allows people to stand on their own two feet.” I was impressed to see Sandals making such a difference in this country.
I took a bookbag filled with school supplies to the students as part of another Sandals program called Pack for a Purpose. The program encourages guests to bring school supplies to be donated to the schools, and has already collected 3,500 pounds of supplies.
The kids at Boscobel got to celebrate the reveal of a new computer room with little skits, a dance group performance and ice cream!
After the celebration, I was able to chat with the children. I asked a bunch of questions but the most answered question was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” They all had beautiful visions of what they wanted to be when they grow up.
The first little girl said “a cardiologist.” Then a little boy said “a solider.” Then I heard, “teacher,” “bank teller” and “scientist.” I asked the future scientist what her favorite subject was and appropriately, she told me it was math. It was really special to have time to just talk to the kids. They were real sweethearts. The 12 new computers in the computer room will no doubt come in handy for these kids with big dreams.
With Sandals Ochi Beach Resort’s new renovations, trendy and chic atmosphere and volunteer opportunities, it really delivers many of the most important things one could want in a vacation.
Photos: Caitlin Martin