|Island Routes Catamaran|
As a family we have had several beach holidays but usually in the Mediterranean or the Canaries. We never thought it would be worth travelling further than Tenerife in order to experience the fun of a beach resort. Why would you fly nine hours or more just to do the same activities as you would closer to home?
Five days in Jamaica at the Beaches Ocho Rios and Negril resorts has changed my mind completely. A holiday in the Caribbean is worth every one of those hours on the plane and even that wasn’t a chore when you can start the adventure by relaxing in the No1 Lounge at Gatwick airport before a mega movie session on the Virgin Atlantic flight. A vacation with Beaches, the family division of the Sandals ‘adults only’ hotel group, is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
I thought I knew what all-inclusive meant until Beaches revealed their ‘hidden inclusives’. No limits on crèche times, no extra fees for sports and a choice of several high quality restaurants. Granted these are luxury resorts and the upfront cost, including transatlantic flights, is not cheap, but the value for money, if you have a family who will make the most of all that’s on offer, is exceptional. To sit in a smart restaurant, being served premium brand drinks, knowing you don’t have to tot up the bill at the end or think about how much to tip, creates a stress-free environment.
Let me tell you a little more about the resorts.
BEACHES OCHO RIOS
Dougie and I spent three nights at Beaches Ocho Rios on the north coast of Jamaica, about 90 minutes or so drive away from the airport at Montego Bay. There’s an overwhelming feeling of space, its buildings having the look of a Mediterranean resort, not surprising when you note that some of the accommodation is housed in the French and Greek Villages.
There are 223 rooms in 12 categories, providing several options for families. How refreshing to see ample-sized suites and, joy of joys, interconnecting rooms. Whilst the decor is quite traditional, with dark wooden furniture, the space and storage facilities are second to none. Our huge bed was supremely comfortable, we had both a shower and a bath and there was a big balcony with superb views of the ocean. Decent sized toiletries from the on-site Red Lane Spa and enough fluffy white towels to create a whole ark full of towel animals. A fridge stocked with complimentary drinks, a microwave and a coffee-maker: those extra touches to make travelling as a family that bit easier.
There are six restaurants to choose from, mostly a la carte, including Italian fare in the Venetian, seafood down at the beach at Neptunes and my favourite, authentic Pan Caribbean cuisine in the elegant surroundings of Eleanor’s. The dress code is casual so no need to dress up for the occasion if that’s not your style.
Lounging by the pool is sublime; plenty of space, lots of loungers and a swim-up bar when you just can’t wait a moment longer for that hummingbird cocktail. Meander down to the beach, or take the lift, and you’ll find a private cove to relax or try your hand at a selection of watersports such as scuba diving, sailing and banana boat rides.
|Pools, waterpark and exterior of Beaches Ocho Rios|
The kids clubs are age-defined with a high staff to child ratio. The link with Sesame Street is a big draw for children. Many of the activities involve the characters – science experiments with Grover and baking with the Cookie Monster. Teens have their own den and exclusive time in Liquid nightclub plus there’s a large Xbox Play Lounge for all ages.
|Kids club facilities in Beaches Ocho Rios|
About 80 minutes drive from the airport, on the west coast of Jamaica, the resort sits on a seven mile stretch of gorgeous public beach. A more tropical vibe here, the accommodation reminiscent of former sugar plantation buildings.
|Beaches Negril pool, beach and communal areas|
220 rooms and suites in 11 categories, similar to those in Ocho Rios, again with excellent storage facilities, bath tubs and all the amenities mentioned above. I did like the idea of the hand basins being located in a separate area from the bathroom; a clever use of space.
Beaches Negril wins on the number of restaurants with nine on the complex, including the relaxed beachside ambience of Stewfish and the sensational Kimonos where we were entertained by our Teppanyaki chef. On our final night we dined directly on the sand at the resort’s beach party, following on from the hotly anticipated Sesame Street parade.
If Ocho Rios triumphs with its waterslides, Negril scores highly with a fantastic lazy river to complement its extensive waterpark. Adults are also allowed to join the fun which includes being drenched by a massive bucket of water at regular intervals.
|Getting into the groove at Scratch DJ Academy|
The beach is really is quite breathtaking, the perfect place for a stroll or to just sit and watch the sunset. We tried kayaking here and it was perfect: a fun and safe activity, no time limits and no hassle.
Whilst Dougie was shooting hoops on the basketball court and hunting for some mates to play beach volleyball, I joined the Scratch DJ Academy and was surprised to find I had a flair for it. Having taster activities such as this is what makes the Beaches model work so well.
|Mastering snorkelling with Island Routes|
On our final morning we waited on the white sand for our fabulously sleek catamaran to take us on the Reggae Catamaran Cruise, organised by Island Routes, a sister company of Beaches/Sandals. After wading out to meet the boat, the crew from the Kool Katt Kelly took us away from the shore for a spot of snorkelling and some inflatable fun at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. We would have had to pay extra for this excursion, likewise any of the other tours off the resort or treatments in the spa, but it was definitely a highlight of the week so I highly recommend it.
OCHO RIOS V NEGRIL
During our stay in both resorts we were often heard to exclaim how much Rory would have loved being on holiday at Beaches whether as a toddler, young boy or teenager. He would have spent hours with his dad at both waterparks and doubtless would have tried many of the sports on offer at either resort. I don’t think one would have outshone the other for entertainment and facilities. The Beaches experience is something very special, a testament to the hospitality provided by the staff: friendly yet always attentive with big smiles and a willingness to make your stay as perfect as possible.
It’s a pity we didn’t discover Beaches when Rory was younger but I’m thinking a multi-generational holiday here in the future would be ideal. The appeal of the Caribbean and the Cookie Monster is timeless.
|You’re never too old for a Cookie Monster cuddle.|
Our trip was courtesy of Unique Vacations (UK) Ltd, representing the Beaches resorts. Here’s more information about the holiday: