Many many years ago I worked as a travel agent for First Choice. I remember a couple coming in to book their honeymoon not long after I started working there and that was when I first discovered Sandals Resorts. I opened up the brochure and was just as stunned by the beautiful imagery and dreamlike beaches as my clients were. They went on to book two weeks in the Bahamas and I was so jealous. Sandals is a couple only resort, and at the time I was only 18, and years off having a honeymoon! So I consoled myself that one day, I would be able to go on a Sandals holiday, and 10 years later, my dream came true when I booked our honeymoon to Jamaica staying at 2 Sandals Resorts, 7 nights at Sandals Ochi Beach in Ocho Rios and 7 nights at Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay.
Most of our past trips as a couple have been adventure driven and multicenter, so an opportunity to spend two weeks in luxury all-inclusive would be a rare treat for us, and we were both excited and a little apprehensive about whether a resort style holiday would suit us. We are relatively active travelers, who prefer to explore and do activities than sit around lounging by the pool. But, news flash, we actually grew to like the laid back style holiday and we were never bored at Sandals! So if you are considering booking a Sandals holiday or honeymoon, here are our thoughts, opinions, and tips on Sandals Ochi Beach Resort in Ocho Rios, where we spent our first week!
Arrival in Kingston
Most people who visit Jamaica tend to fly into Montego Bay airport in the north of the island. We, however, had booked Business class with British Airways which only fly in and out of Kingston in the south. This meant we had a 2-hour transfer from Kingston to Ocho Rios ahead of us after a 10-hour flight from London Gatwick.
Kingston airport is relatively small, so passport control and baggage claims were pretty quick. As soon as we entered the arrivals hall there was a Sandals representative waiting, directing us all further up the hall to the Sandals dedicated desk.
The two lovely ladies at the Sandals desk were super friendly and helpful. They had us checked in for our transfer in minutes, offered us refreshments and before we knew it, our driver was escorting us to our own private transfer (available if you book a Butler Suite which we did). The car was pretty high standard and comfortable, which was a good thing since we ended up spending over 1-hour driving through Kingston in rush hour. We didn’t mind too much as it gave us an opportunity to see what local life was like in Kingston (and it is crazzzy!).
Sandals Ochi Beach Check-In
There was a little confusion with our driver as to what resort we were staying at (there are 2 in Ocho Rios but 3 entrances), so after a quick whizz around one other property, we finally arrived at Sandals Ochi Beach Butler Village. We had booked a Butler Suite, so we were taken directly into the Club Lounge where we quickly signed some paperwork and given refreshments. It wasn’t long before our Butler (KayAnn) arrived. We arrived at Ochi Beach pretty late (8pm) and Butler’s shifts end at 8pm, so we were thankful she waited. Arriving late also meant our room was prepared, so we jumped on the back of a golf cart and was whisked up the hill to our Butler One Bedroom Poolside Villa Suite (HV1).
When you book Butler Suites, you benefit from in-room check in which was great, especially after a long journey. We entered our room weary and tired to find it beautifully decorated with rose petals and a cold bottle of champagne waiting for us too. KayAnn is great at reading people, and she immediately insisted she order room service for us so we could unwind in our room for the rest of the evening without having to worry about getting dressed and eating back down at the resort. She explained all the amenities in our room, our dining schedule and handed us our personal mobile which we could use to reach her or our second Butler Fernando at any time between 8am-8pm.
Everything was stress-free and seamless. Our food arrived within minutes, as did our bags, and while you can ask for your Butler to unpack for you, we decided to do it ourselves and enjoy the rest of the evening in our gigantic suite with our champagne!
Note: Normally orientation of the resort is given after check-in but we had it the next day with our second Butler, Fernando. Resort Orientation is optional but super useful!
Our Room – Butler Village Honeymoon Poolside One Bedroom Villa Suite HV1
One thing you’ll notice when you book Sandals is the overwhelming number of room categories available in each resort. Before you even begin looking, we suggest deciding on your budget first and deciding what is really important to you. Our room was amazing and huge, and when we booked our trip we were blown away at the idea of having a shared “private villa” pool, but in reality, we didn’t use it, not even once! Also, don’t be fooled by the “honeymoon” name in the rooms. For example, Butler Village Honeymoon Poolside One Bedroom Villa Suite HV1 is the exact same as Butler Village Poolside One Bedroom Villa Suite V1.
Also note that when you book Butler Suites, they tend to be the best rooms in the resort and come with additional benefits. Our room did feel a little dated and was in need of some touching up (especially in the bathroom) but since we didn’t spend a great deal of time in our room, we didn’t care too much. Other people we spoke to in the resort had similar opinions and felt the rooms and pool areas were in need of some TLC.
We also requested numerous times for the air conditioning to be switched off completely (we come to the Caribbean for heat not -10 degrees), and only after several failed attempts, technical call outs and cold restless nights were we offered to switch rooms 2 days before our departure. We realize that switching off the air conditioning was an unusual request considering most travelers can’t survive without it, but we asked for the same request at Royal Caribbean and it was switched off from the main board immediately without a problem. This was our only major problem at Ochi Beach.
Pools at Sandals Ochi Beach
Sandals Ochi Beach is probably the largest resort I (we) have ever been to. The resort is split into two areas, Butler Village with The Great House and Ochi Beach Club down by the sea. Most of the Butler Villas have pools, and you’ll find the largest main pool at The Great House, with a smaller (supposedly quieter) pool up on a higher level. I say “supposedly” because I am pretty sure the music, random bursts of laughter, playful screams and playmakers can be heard from anywhere around The Great House (something to consider if you book a room in the great house).
There are a further five pools at the Beach area, one large one with pool bar, a baking hot whirlpool, a smaller pool behind the theatre and a quiet pool amongst the shade of the gardens. The fifth pool is a small tranquil pool which didn’t look like it was used very much.
The swim up pool bar is useful but we didn’t use it much as there were bar waiters walking around the pools all day serving drinks. There are also private cabanas available for rent each day around the pools (and on the beach) starting at around $90 for the day around the pool and approx. $120 for the beach.
Beach Areas at Sandals Ochi Beach
One of the most important aspects of a Caribbean holiday is the beach, and we were not disappointed! There are 3 beach areas at Sandals Ochi Beach, the main beach area next to the main beach front pool, a Riviera area which is blocked off by the pier and is somewhat shallow with round floaties and a quieter but small beach where the water sports are located. We spent most of our time poolside at Ochi, but we did spend 2 or 3 afternoons in the main beach area because it was convenient for getting drinks from the bar and rinsing off at the shower. It was also nice to switch from beach to pool and V.S. Note, however, that this area is pretty loud all day with music and playmakers.
The Riviera area in front of the main building was our least favorite. It was often in the shade, sunbeds full and with two restaurants and a bar located close by, far too noisy for us. The dock where the catamaran departs from is also located there so there was additional noise. We also didn’t like the cornered off swim area.
The small watersports beach is far more peaceful although we didn’t spend anytime there other than participating in the watersports. Time there can also be limited to early/mid-afternoon as this is the area where weddings and private dining takes place.
Getting around Ochi Beach Resort
As I mentioned, Ochi Beach Resort is one of Sandals larger resorts, which means getting around requires the use of their free hop on hop off bus. We found it very easy and convenient to use, and never had to wait more than 5 minutes or so for the bus to collect us from either the beach or the Great House. It runs from early in the morning until late at night, connecting the beachfront resort to the Butler Village. Walking is an option, but a main public road does run between the two halves of the resort and can be dangerous if you are not careful.
For those (like us) who had a villa on the top of the hill in the Butler Village, a smaller hop runs at night to take you to your room. During the day we called our Butler who then would pick us up and drive us to our room in their golf carts.
Restaurants & Food
Dining and food options are our biggest concern with all-inclusive large resorts. Cooking for huge amounts of people often means the quality of food is lower, but we were pleasantly surprised by the food at Ochi Beach Resort. As we were booked into a Butler Suite, our dinner reservations were taken care for us in advance by our Butler, and when we arrived at the resort, all our reservations were already made, with very little flexibility in changes. We dined at every restaurant during our 1-week stay. Here are a few comments on each:
Located on the beach, with sand under your toes, its a relaxed restaurant, great for beach lunches. Food was good (Burger and fresh seafood was great!). Not a reservations-only restaurant, although it is a very small restaurant so arrive early or try and make a reservation if you want to go for dinner.
Kimonos Japanese Asian Restaurant
Our least favorite restaurant and one that was so hyped about by reviews and by our Butler (we wanted to cancel but he recommended not to!). Dinner is timed and you are sat around a large table with strangers (great if you want to meet people, not so great when you want to relax with your husband in peace). Food options were limited and it was an incredibly noisy, rushed and tasteless experience.
We lied, we didn’t actually eat here (I don’t eat Sushi) but it was always full at lunchtime and people were saying nothing but good things about it!
Kelly’s Dockside Bar
One of the most romantic dining options, we had a waterside table at sunset and had a wonderful meal here. Reservations are hard to get (which we can understand) especially around sunset. Food was great as was the atmosphere and service.
Tapas on the Riviera
Ate here once for lunch. Was ok, but not one we wanted to return to. Service was quick and friendly and the food was decent, we just didn’t like it. However, it is great for beachside snacks and ice cream (which we discovered oh too late in our stay! 🙁 ).
We had a wonderful dining experience here. It is Italian cuisine restaurant (Leo being Italian had high expectations) and the food was actually very good (although nothing like Italian food!). The waiters were very entertaining, our Butler Fernando prepared a lovely table for us at sunset and the wine we had was great too. This restaurant is reservation-only and does require a shirt and closed shoes as a clothing requirement.
Vista Gourmet/Sky Terrace Restaurant
We had dinner here on our first night and enjoyed the friendly service and atmosphere. At sunset the terrace is beautiful. This is a large restaurant that also serves a breakfast buffet in the morning.
Jerk Shack & Dino’s Pizzeria Restaurant
Leo’s favorite restaurant! He would have happily eaten Jerk chicken all week from here. Great spot for lunch up at The Great House and you can even take away food and eat by the pool if you want. It is located next to the Dino’s Pizzeria & Bar which means you can dine at either of them together (I often had pizza while Leo had Jerk Chicken). They also have snacks and ice-cream there during the day too!
The Southern Table Restaurant
Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a buffet style. We ate breakfast here most of the time although we always requested to sit outside since inside was incredibly noisy, hot and stuffy. Food is like a Tex-Mex, southern style which we enjoyed. Breakfast is very good with a lot of variety as is their lunch.
Le Gourmand Restaurant
Another overly-rated restaurant in our opinion. We first had a la carte breakfast here which took over an hour to receive the food. The air-conditioning was also on full blast which made eating breakfast an icy, let’s eat and go kinda experience. Dinner was ok (again shirt, pants and closed clothing requirement) and the food was good but the atmosphere wasn’t great. It is french style cuisine restaurant, and yes, they do serve snails!
Bars and Evening Entertainment
There is always something going on in the evenings at Sandals. Every night is a themed night, which are fun to attend if you are into that kind of thing. There are shows at the theatre as well as themed cocktail evenings, chocolate nights, white night (make sure to bring a white outfit!) and Butler only evening events. We quite enjoyed the beach party, an evening with buffet style food on the beach and circus acrobatics and couple game show type of activities. We also attended the white chocolate night and the Broadway show at the theatre which was fantastic. The playmakers are super talented here and the show is worth seeing.
In terms of bars, the Rabbit Hole tends to be the favorite, with Big Mama belting out some great tunes. This prohibition themed bar has a nice feel to it and entrance is only permitted with a secret password. Our favorite spot was actually up on the oceanfront sundeck and spa gazebo that looks out over the resort and sitting out by the firepits and daybeds on the pier. Alternatively, if you have Club or Butler Rooms, you also have an in-room bar to enjoy as well.
Drinks at Sandals Ochi Beach
One of the unique selling points of Sandals is their included premium spirits as part of their all-inclusive program. The beer of choice is often their own Jamaica Red Stripe, and the resort has their own wine options, although there are other premium wines available at an additional cost. We drunk mostly from the Sandals House Wines, although we did purchase a bottle on one occasion (you get approached numerous times throughout the day to buy wine for your dinner, the staff do have sales targets), and we greatly regretted the wine later – it was disgusting!
Cocktails are free flowing all day, although the bartenders tend to make up signature cocktails as their knowledge of well-known cocktails is limited. Also, watch out that they use the spirit you actually want. If you want Gordon’s or London Beefeater gin, ask for it specifically and watch as they make your drinks. Too often we asked for a gin and tonic and were given standard non-labeled cheaper gin.
Watersports and Daily Activities
If you’re not a beach bum kinda person, you’ll be overjoyed to know that you’ll never get bored at Sandals. Every night a newspaper with the next days’ activities is placed in your room so you can plan out your next day. From dance lessons, yoga, pool games, beach volleyball, scuba diving lessons and watersports, there is plenty to choose from.
Scuba diving is included at Sandals, only if you are certified with proof of your PADI license. Lessons are available at the resort too at additional cost. Otherwise, there are plenty of other watersports available to keep you busy, including our favorite, wind sailing. We had never done it prior to this trip, but it was no problem as one of the instructors will take you out and teach you how. Only when he is certain you are capable of sailing alone will he let you out solo.
There are also daily included snorkeling trips available which have to booked slightly in advance during peak seasons. We were really hoping to go out and do some snorkeling, but high winds meant the sea was too rough during most of our stay at Ochi Beach which meant the snorkeling trips weren’t operating.
Excursions with their partner operator Island Routes are available to book in the lobby although we found the same excursions for cheaper online. We took a day trip to Bob Marley’s Nine Mile Town and Museum which we booked last minute through Viator (was roughly $50 cheaper than Island Routes).
Final thoughts and opinions on Sandals Ochi Beach
We truly had a blast at Sandals Ochi Beach. The resort is very well kept (albeit needing some small renovations), clean and the staff are so friendly and helpful. It is one of the reasons we enjoyed Sandals so much. The playmakers are great fun while also respecting your privacy and wishes if you don’t want to participate. In our opinion, the resort is more suited to younger, more lively couples who do enjoy music being played all day, social activities and parties. At the end of our week we sad to be leaving such a fun and joyful place but after a week of non-stop music and a ton of people, we were looking forward to the second week at Royal Caribbean, which promised to be much more relaxing and slower paced.