Having recently returned from two weeks (November 2 to 16, 2010) at the Sandals Grande Ocho Rios Beach and Villa resort, it is with great reluctance that I have to write this e-mail on our experience at this resort and in doing so, hopefully prevent others from a similar misunderstanding or experience. Having traveled extensively the past 43 years, both for pleasure and business throughout a good part of the world including USA, Canada, Europe, Caribbean, Asia and North Africa, I am able to objectively look at resorts and places based on local conditions, people and the environment. Also, taking into account our previous two stays at Beaches Resorts, including the one at Negril Jamaica, and the recommendation of travel agent, the extensive marketing material, brochures and TV advertisements, we were surely assured of an all inclusive luxury vacation at the five star Sandals Grande Ocho Rios. Our expectations were at this high level only to be dashed shortly after arrival to a much lower level at best a 3 star rating. Even though the vacation package cost was less than the brochure rate, one must remember that this is low season and ALL resorts reduce their prices to attract customers BUT the standards are never compromised. With the cost of this vacation, even at the discounted price, it was twice as expensive for half of the services that could have been at a luxury 5+ star Mexican beach resort or at similar cost for a resort in Aruba or St. Lucia. Never at any time or on any other trip to anywhere in the world did I empathically state that I wanted to go home on the second day, this indicates the level of frustration and disappointment about this resort, it was the accumulative little things AND first impression.
On the positive side, the people, country and the mature landscaping of the resort was impressive and the strolls amongst the various villa pathways and overall grounds was a pleasure, but that is where it about stops. We must give full credit to Sandals with their foundation to improve the lives and environment of Jamaica and we full heartily gave our support to their “Golden” preschool building efforts.
Arrival: Upon arriving at Montego Bay airport, clearing customs and heading directly to the Sandals lounge, we were greeted by Sandals staff, placed our luggage in theirs hands and we were told to wait for the transfer bus. Transfer to/from Resort – Advised transfer bus here, exit Sandals lounge have to identify baggage to “Redcap”, “Redcap” place on cart, wheeled to minibus. – Baggage placed on bus, MUST pay “Redcap”, trip to resort, independent driver and bus, again payment required to unload baggage. – Return trip the reverse procedure. – Last time at Beaches in Negril, luggage was tagged and room marked at airport lounge, all check-in info given on bus to resort. All was taken care of by Sandals. Check-in – Upon check-in fill out form with information that was provided by travel agent, online pre-registration and on-line Sandals chat – All three were provided with my Sandals number; however, it was not in their system – No time for hot towel or drink, form to fill out, cramped area to write, etc. and go to reception for credit card imprint.
Rooms: Room Issues – Room number mix-up we were sent to wrong room, key did not work, new keys brought out. Why not redirect to correct room??? – Booking was for Manor building but sent to villa, as an upgrade? Even though they did not have Sandals number? – Villa room was supposedly concierge but with old décor and furnishings. – Next day, after dinner, during a major downpour, dropped off at villa, got to room, BOTH keys did not work. Cannot get into room, had to walk 5 minutes through pouring rain to front desk, told I must have put card next to cell phone or camera for it not to work. My wife had hers in a purse, it did not work either. New keys issued. – Four days later, same thing happened, four new cards programmed but this time two given without end date. (These worked for the remaining time) – Concierge features in room three bottles of alcohol, all had their seals broken and not usable – No telephone directory to any resort items by the phone or anywhere in the room. Limited to what was printed on daily activity sheet. – Inconsistent room services, not all towels replaced when needed, pool towels taken and not replaced, dust bunnies by our baggage.
Restaurants and Bars: Food – Overall the food was good and acceptable with no major gastronomical problems but the variety for a tropical country and from previous stays in Jamaica was considerably reduced and inconsistent between days. The size and selection was about half of that in our last Mexican and Beaches stay. – Also, although they advertise multiple a la carte restaurants, there are only two distinct ones, Orchids and Valentio’s, the rest are reshuffled from snack bar, breakfast and lunch buffets rooms. These two distinct ones, in my opinion were close to a 5 star, the others on the pier, patio, terrace or in buffet rooms, a novelty but not 5 star, maybe a 3+ – The snack bars were avoided, after two attempts. Either overcooked or raw burgers, inedible hotdog, associated buns or questionable fries. – As a returning Sandals/Beaches guest, we had the pleasure of the manager’s dinner, since a 2 week stay we attended both dinners, first was nicely prepared chicken but the second was Italian lasagna. (Last Beaches manager dinner was lobster) – In all the restaurants, even though coffee or tea is part of the meal, none was ever offered or available.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: Activities – The sports center was difficult to figure out, due to poor weather and rough seas, requested snorkel fins only ( have own mask & snorkel) from water sport center to practice within the calm area within break wall. They stated, they do not give these to guests unless they are on the boat snorkeling tour. Talked to guests that went diving and found out how rough seas where, 2 to 6 foot waves. This I could not snorkel in. – Without asking could not find out about tennis, rackets, tennis balls and or court usage. – They did provide their normal pool activities, rock climbing and games as weather permitted. – The best evening entertainment was the Sandals “Encore” where the best talent from their other resorts where in competition. Managed to see the show by hearing it was on, not really open to the guests.
Other Comments: The Resort – In general the resort is showing its age and they are renovating as time goes by, however, first impressions are important and long lasting, cannot understand why two long peeling strips of yellow paint are hanging from ceiling in Market Place Restaurant, very visible, the side of the waterfall from the upper pool to the lower has a large flaked area of paint, and multiple steps need edge painting for safety. Yet they find the money to repaint the curbs green, ceiling at entrance and replace fully functional TV with flat panels. Overall, if an issue was identified, all verbal efforts were made to resolve the problem, however, mostly talk and hoping guests do not follow-up. The resort setup, three tier guest consisting of “normal”, “concierge” and “butler” made for a class guest society, this should not be in an all inclusive, all guests equal except for room locations or view. Only “butler guests” had 24 hour room service and other perks. Most of the employees were trying to please, service improves with “tips”, and some went far beyond what could be expected. These were few and selective. Sad to say, based on this experience and our opinion, this is NOT a 5 star resort and we therefore cannot trust the literature or any other advertisement of any Sandals resort or property for another vacation. This was our last Sandals experience.