Sandals Grande Ocho Rios – or Sandals “Ochi”
The Sandals Grande Ocho Rios is truly a grand hotel. It’s also massive being spread out over 100 acres. The main resort is located up on the hillside with an impressive 16 restaurants, 8 bars and 105 pools. This particular resort is best known for large suites most of which come with butlers and many that have private or shared pools. These standard rooms and 1 bedroom suites are terraced into the hillside and are ideal for a romantic honeymoon or even two couples traveling together when you combine the 1bdrm with a standard (makes it a 2 bedroom with shared pool and garden!). Most accommodations offer garden views but many of the higher categories offer views of the ocean in the distance. The property is so big that you do have to get around by way of the HOP. A network of golf carts that will zip you from one end of the resort to the other. If you like to be in the center of the action where the bulk of the restaurants and bars are, the main resort area would be the best option. To access the OCHI Beach Club, it’s just a short 5 minute HOP from the main lobby. Here you’ll find Neptune’s and Kimono’s – two well known Sandals specialty restaurants and two pools (one is the scuba pool). In addition to the PADI certificated scuba center you’ll find local handicraft vendors and the outside entertainment amphitheater for nightly entertainment and live music at night. There is a dock as well so you can enjoy those glass bottom boat rides or an excursion to nearby Dunn’s River Falls. Next to the OCHI Beach Club is the Caribbean Riviera section of the resort. There are standard garden view rooms as well as ocean view rooms that directly face the sea. If being directly on the beach is more important to you, then staying in the Caribbean Riviera section would be the best option!
Next door is the smaller Sandals Royal Plantation. Guests at Royal Plantation have exchange privileges at the Sandals Grande Ocho Rios (but not the other way around). I didn’t get to see the rooms at Royal Plantation sadly as the property was fully booked but this is a much smaller boutique resort atmosphere. ALL of the suites here come with butler service. Onsite there are 5 restaurants in addition to all of the restaurants and activities you’ll have access to next door. Personally, I like the quieter resorts for romantic getaways especially when you still have access to all the action and excitement of the larger resorts when you want it.
There are soooo many different room types to choose from at Sandals. If you’re considering a Sandals resort stay, let’s talk! I’ll be happy to help you narrow down the selection to make sure we pick the right room with the right amenities for your special stay.
Couples San Souci
The Couples brand is well known on the island of Jamaica. Started by the Issa family, it’s one of the few Jamaican owned resort chains on the island. While considered a “competitor” to Sandals in the battle to capture the honeymoon market, the type of client that each resort appeals to is actually very different.
Couples San Souci in Ocho Rios is a historic hotel built back in the 1950’s. The main lobby in fact still features the original pink tiles on the floor and maintains that traditional Caribbean plantation decor. It used to be known just as the Hotel San Souci before it became a Couples resort. It’s a small property with just 150 rooms shaped into a U with the pool, restaurants and activities in the middle. The buildings are all built into the hillside so there are many many steps throughout this resort to get from the lobby, to the spa and down to the beach. There is only the one main elevator which will take you to the lobby and beach. The rooms have all been renovated with upgraded bedding and the bathrooms are in the process of being redone. The one bedroom beachfront suites have all been completed and by far would be my recommendation for those looking for nicer room accommodations. The resort is on a narrow cove beach and there are non motorized water sports available. It felt a bit crowded at the beach with all the sports equipment, loungers and restaurants all in the same zone. There are 3 dining options from casual beachside dining in the grill, fine dining at Casanova’s which specializes in Caribbean inspired cuisine and then the main buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In addition to the main beach right in front of the resort, there is also a second beach area for au naturale sunbathing.
For those looking for a casual, all-inclusive, adult only experience – Couples has an attractive price point and offers a solid 4* resort experience. With all meals, beverages, gratuities and several complimentary excursions, Couples is an incredible value for your money. I like the rooms and overall size of this resort. The close proximity to the town of Ocho Rios is also a plus for those that want to venture off-resort to explore.
It’s important to note that even though Couples San Souci is just a few minutes from sister resort Couples Tower Isle – the two do not have exchange privileges.
Couples Tower Isle
Like Couples San Souci, Couples Tower Isle is a historic hotel from the 50’s that used to be THE place for the rich and famous to hang out. Ian Fleming taught his son to swim in this pool. Noel Coward and similar contemporaries would meet for drinks at the bar. Now, Couples Tower Isle is a vintage hotel with a modern twist. Slightly larger at just over 200 rooms, it’s not too big nor too small. The pools and room buildings are the same but now with a fresh new look. Offering both garden and ocean view rooms, the accommodations are on the basic side (just a typical hotel room) but the lay out of this resort is smart. Everything flows from the main lobby to the restaurants, out to the pools and beach area. You’ll also find a full service spa onsite ideal for a relaxing spa day, tennis courts and of course the actual Tower Isle for au naturale sunbathing. Onsite weddings are very popular at this resort with a simple gazebo and lawn area for small groups. The main buffet restaurant is large and open air with a variety of fresh options. There is also a 24hr pool grill available for quick snacks and drinks anytime of day.
Between the two Couples resorts in Ocho Rios, I really liked the layout of Tower Isle better. It didn’t feel nearly as cramped and just had a very cool, updated vintage vibe. The rooms however were a bit more standard and not all of them have been updated to the same scheme as shown on the resort website (see my sample below). For an updated room, you’ll want to do one of the Premier rooms or Junior Suites.
Palace Resorts has long been well known in Mexico for offering a casually elegant all inclusive resort experience. The newly opened Moon Palace Jamaica (formerly Sunset Jamaica Grande) is located right in Ocho Rios and offers many of the same amenities that Palace Resorts is known for. Specifically, updated, modern contemporary decor, a wide range of dining options, kid-friendly pools and activities. When you first walk into the Moon Palace, you definitely get a grand feeling with the massively high ceilings, marble floors and a smiling face waiting with a cool towel and fruity beverage. When Moon Palace took over this resort, they completely renovated the rooms and added two towers of rooms to expand the property to over 700 rooms. If you like an all inclusive resort with a TON of dining options, the Moon Palace is hard to beat. I love the fact that the majority of restaurants are all in the heart of the resort and have a Food Court vibe. From french, italian, asian, a quick sandwich or slice of pizza – everything is right at your finger tips. This is especially ideal when traveling with children or teenagers.
The rooms are comfortable but not over the top luxurious. The majority of rooms have a combined view of the town/dock, pool or ocean. The mini bar is equipped with a liquor dispenser and restocked daily. For families traveling together, connecting rooms are also available (king to a room with 2 double beds).
The outside space is a bit cramped with emphasis on the pools and then you have a narrow stretch of beach. It’s sufficient but you’ll find most people hanging out at the pools. The main buffet is available for breakfast, lunch and dinner and there is also a large entertainment zone for games, live music at night and even popular events from well known artists (ticket prices are additional).
Palace Resorts as a brand, is big on trying to sell memberships to their vacation program. Use of their resort credits usually require sitting through one of their “orientations”. However you can politely decline and still have your credits activated. Your vacation time is precious and sitting through 2 hours of a hard-sell into a vacation club is likely not the best use of your well earned holiday.
Overall I liked Moon Palace for a family friendly resort option in Ocho Rios. Casual, lively, easy and fun.