A Taste of Spain

The Spaniards have returned to Jamaica with bulldozers and blueprints

By: By Eleanor M. Wilson



Spanish hoteliers flourish in Jamaica The Spaniards have returned to Jamaican shores once again, but this time, it’s with bulldozers and blueprints instead of muskets and mayhem. The three major players behind these new all-inclusive additions — Gran Bahia Principe, Iberostar and Riu — have each had success with properties in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, but will that translate to Jamaica? I set out to find the answer on a recent trip.

Gran Bahia Principe Jamaica

The eight buildings in this sprawling, castle-like edifice at the outskirts of Runaway Bay house 680 oceanview junior suites. Space for Phase II and Phase III is available, but no expansions are currently planned.

Suites are adequate in size, with columns dividing a sitting area from the bedroom. All have balconies or terraces, a full list of room amenities, satellite television and hydromassage tubs. Use of the room safe, however, is extra.

Although Canadian visitors are its main year-round market, Gran Bahia appears to have retained more of its Spanish ties than the other two brands. Instructions, brochures and various pamphlets are printed first in Spanish, followed by English and other languages. Orquidea, the main buffet restaurant, is indoors and quite large. Guests on weekly stays are allowed three nights at any of the four a la carte restaurants, all of which require advance reservations at check-in.

At Renova Spa, the most sophisticated spa among the three, candlelight adds to the atmosphere. Treatments are extra unless you are on a spa package.

The same system applies to dive packages. One package of note is the Golden Club Package, which offers such perks as daily newspapers, a club lounge with half-hour Internet access daily, a separate check-in, four guaranteed reservations at specialty restaurants and 24-hour room service.

Iberostar Rose Hall Beach

The latest to open and just 20 minutes from Montego Bay airport, Iberostar Rose Hall Beach has 366 rooms, including 32 oceanfront junior suites and four oceanview presidential suites.

Managing director Philipp Hofer is proud of the Jamaican touches at Iberostar.

“We have a strong representation of Caribbean artists in our rooms and public areas. Our weekly entertainment includes mento and steel bands. A section of the main buffet is dedicated to Jamaican dishes, and we have Caribbean Night on the beach once a week,” he said. “Eventually, we’ll have a local crafts market when I identify the right person to take charge.”

Next door, Phase II is well under way and includes a spa, expected to open in October. Phase III, slated for December, will include top-of-the-line, adults-only suites and guests will be able to use any of the facilities in the complex. Phase II guests are welcome also in Phase I, while Phase I guests are limited to Phase I building amenities. When all phases are complete, Iberostar Rose Hall Beach hotel will have 980 rooms.

ClubHotel Riu Ocho Rios

The Ocho Rios property is the third Riu in Jamaica. Two are in Negril, and a fourth will soon open in Montego Bay. Here, as at all Jamaican Riu hotels, the emphasis is on an authentic Jamaican look and feel.

“Riu Ocho Rios was built by a Spanish company, but the ethnic influence ends there,” director of marketing Angela Bennett explained. “We have Jamaican decor, a Jamaican food station in our main dining room, a reggae night and weekly beach bonfires, plus our staff is almost completely local. Even Spanish guests are seasonal, traveling in summer. The remaining months are a mix of North Americans and other Europeans.”

In a setup unique to the new Riu, the 850 rooms are divided between the Club Wing (spacious standards) and Deluxe Wing (junior suites and suites). Suites run about $40 more per person, per night, than the Club rooms, adding more space, more amenities, sea views and Jacuzzi tubs en suite or on the balcony.

All rooms have wet bars with four liquor dispensers. Guests have unlimited dining privileges at specialty restaurants, with advance reservations preferably made two days ahead. Of the two main buffet restaurants, one is outdoors serving breakfast and lunch, while the huge indoor restaurant serves all three meals. Overall, more perks — such as a 24-hour tapas bar — appear to be included here at comparable prices.

So, there you have it — three great hotels with Spanish roots but plenty of Jamaican flair.



Gran Bahia Principe Jamaica 

Iberostar Rose Hall Beach

ClubHotel Riu Ocho Rios

Rates for Summer 2008:
Rates are wholesaler driven, but monthly specials are offered. Summer Internet rate ranges for one week, all-inclusive with round trip transfers are as follows:

Gran Bahia Principe Jamaica: $1,850 for a junior suite to $2,200 for a Golden Club room

Iberostar Rose Hall Beach: $1,638 for a garden view to $2,282 for an oceanfront view

ClubHotel Riu Ocho Rios: $1,680 for a standard room to $1,980 for a junior suite