There’s a reason why Sandals Resorts are recognized as offering the best in Caribbean service. We recently visited Sandals Dunn’s River Villagio in Jamaica and experienced first-hand their exceptional service and hospitality. Thirteen Sandals properties are located in Jamaica, St. Lucia, Antigua, the Bahamas and Cuba. Each offers stunning beachfront locations: a choice of à la carte restaurants, from white-glove dining to barefoot elegance; all premium-brand wine and spirits, luxurious accommodations in a range of categories, water sports, wedding services and spas by Red Lane Spas with services and treatments inspired by the region. For truly indulgent pampering, there is also a Butler service. We decided to go all out and chose the indulgent pampering route, Butler and all. I must say it was exceptional from the moment we stepped off the plane in Montego Bay. We were whisked into the Sandals Welcome Lounge at the airport for refreshments. Moments later, a driver picked us up in a Mercedes town car and drove us the 90 minutes from Montego Bay to our destination.
The drive is beautiful as you weave through exotic villages and pick up the first inklings of the vibrant spirit of the Jamaican people, fiercely independent culture and storied history. Jamaica is an island in the West Indies, 90 miles (145 km) south of Cuba and 100 miles (161 km) west of Haiti. Jamaica is made up of coastal lowlands, a limestone plateau and the Blue Mountains, a group of volcanic hills, in the east. In the early 1980s, a visionary hotelier realized that Jamaica’s best asset was its beauty, beaches and people. It was from this premise that Gordon “Butch” Stewart created Sandals.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1941, Stewart grew up along the north coast, a tropical paradise boasting some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and an area that is now home to four Sandals resorts, including Sandals Dunn’s River Villagio. Stewart started out by opening his own air-conditioning business in Jamaica in the late 1960s and got into the tourism and hospitality trade almost by accident… buying a dilapidated hotel in Montego Bay in 1980 at a time when the tourism industry in Jamaica was recovering from a collapse in the 1970’s due to the misguided policies of a socialist government. With no hotel experience, Stewart decided to approach the business with a simple philosophy. “Find out what people want, give it to them and in doing so, exceed their expectations.” Twenty-seven years later, Sandals has grown into a billion-dollar, privately-owned, Jamaica-based empire that includes 18 Caribbean resorts, Appliance Traders Ltd (his air conditioning and manufacturing company), The Observer newspaper and 24 other diversified companies that collectively form the country’s largest private-sector group, biggest foreign exchange earner and largest non-governmental employer. To this day, Stewart owes his success to salesmanship. He is known as the “Cupid of the Caribbean” and “The King of All-Inclusive Resorts.”
Sandals Dunn’s River Villagio is bordered on one side by a stunning sweep of gorgeous green mountains and on the other by the best stretch of white-sand beach in Ocho Rios. It represents an amazing melding of Caribbean charm and opulence with an Italian Renaissance-style lobby displaying vaulted ceilings, marble columns and an ornate staircase. Sandals carried through the Italian theme to its staff, bringing 24 performers, musicians and chefs directly from Italy. The staff is friendly, professional and courteous. Restaurants, activities and accommodations are exceptional. Our room had a phenomenal beachfront view with 24-hour room service, and every modern amenity you could think of. We decided to go catamaran sailing, snorkeling and ocean kayaking during our stay. The great thing about the staff is that they don’t just hand you the snorkeling gear and say, “see yuh.” They actually go out and swim with you… which if you are a little nervous does much to allay your fears. Our diver would surface with us and describe the coral and fish we were seeing close-up. When we sailed the catamaran, we tagged along with an American couple and a Sandals scuba-diving team member who handled the boat. He grew up in the area and told us much local lore. We stopped and took a dip in the aquamarine waters off a white-sand beach where a waterfall met with the ocean. Simply fabulous.
We returned from that activity and headed to a two-hour rest and relaxation session at the Red Lane Spa… a sanctuary for mind, body and soul that reinterprets classic European spa rituals with a distinctive Caribbean flair. After the spa, we decided to have dinner at the 5 Star Diamond Internationale Room, where international gourmet cuisine is served in a very elegant atmosphere with white-gloved service in air-conditioned comfort. I tried the surf-and-turf combo of fresh lobster and local beef sirloin. The food was spectacular, and the service was also personable and friendly. Over our five days at Sandals, we dined at several of the resort’s sensational gourmet restaurants: Windies featured the exotic spices favored in West Indian dishes; Ristorante Colombo offered a diverse selection of cuisines. Minutes away, the stage is set each night for the knife-flashing drama of Teppanyaki at Kimonos. My personal favorite was the Marco Polo Restaurant whose specialty gourmet serving is West Indian cuisine in an al-fresco setting overlooking the waterfall pool. A lunch favorite was Ristorante d’Amore, which offered pizzas and other Italian and Jamaican delights. The Il Capitano Romantic specialty gourmet restaurant serves regional Italian dishes. By the beach is the relaxing Pizzeria del Campo, a wonderful outdoor trattoria that serves fine Italian pastries, flavored coffees at Bar del Campo, ice cream at Gelateria Luigi and praline/cotton candy at Mondorle e Zucchero Filato.
Each night we looked forward to the theatrical show that the resort hosts for its guests… everything from opera singers to dancers to reggae nights. Each night is a different act and a different show. So much to enjoy – so little time! The Butler service is non-intrusive and works very well. You are provided a cell phone and if you want anything you just hit a button on the cell and the Butler’s Tamon and Omar answer. They will arrange local trips, restaurant reservations, car service meals, towels for the beach, chairs and breakfast service to your room or on the beach and pool deck. Sandals Dunn’s River Villagio is a true haven for golfers. Golf to your heart’s content without paying any greens fees and revel in the breathtaking beauty of one of Jamaica’s most scenic golf courses… even as you thrill to the challenge of some of the most exciting 18 holes in the Caribbean, if not the world. And, just to ensure that your mind is on nothing but golf, golf and more golf—even the transfers are included.