Sign Up for Our Monthly Caribbean Newsletter
Sixty million is not easy to spend on hotel renovations. According to Brian Roper, general manager of Sandals Grande Riviera Beach & Villa Golf Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, many companies build hotels for that sort of money. At Sandals, though, this capital is seen as an investment. By always modernizing and enhancing its product, Sandals ensures that the resort’s most important shareholders — its guests — will enjoy a stay that exceeds their expectations and motivates return stays. This theory has proven to work — since opening its first resort 30 years ago in Montego Bay, Sandals Resorts International now owns and operates 14 Sandals resorts, four Beaches resorts and two Grand Pineapple resorts.
At the reworked Sandals Grande Riviera, the company’s committment to investment shines in nearly every aspect of the resort.
The most striking enhancement is concentrated in its northeastern area, which received the bulk of renovation funds. What once used to be a simple spot with a pool, grill and an Italian restaurant is now a full-blown beach club.
The Ochi Beach Club still offers the grill as well as three brand-new restaurants. Soy, a sushi bar, and Kimono’s, a teppanyaki grill that can seat seven groups of 12, reflect the market research Sandals conducts in order to keep in step with what today’s guests want. In addition to the Asian restaurants, the Ochi Beach Club features Neptune’s. By day, it is a casual extension to the grill but, at night, the area offers an intimate experience. Guests must walk beyond the end of the new deck, past the point where it appears that the ledge ends, turn the corner and, then, they will see a dimly lit grouping of wooden tables, underneath a thatched roof. The best part of the intimate spot is its location on the sand, where done-up guests are encouraged to take off their shoes (or sandals). Olive tapenade, hummus and pesto accompany fresh bread; salads incorporate Mediterranean ingredients such as grapes and feta cheese; and the entrees range from Moroccan chicken tagine to tofu steak.
Joining the new restaurants at the Ochi Beach Club is a newly laid-out and renovated grotto pool, featuring a swim-up bar and an expanded private cabana service. The service began on the manor side of the resort and has, since last December, extended to several cabanas around the Ochi pool. An attentive butler provides dedicated service, bringing food and drinks; setting up massage and excursion appointments; and purchasing items from the gift shop.
Guests will also find an upgraded multilevel observation deck, several fire pits with sofa seating, a new beach volleyball court, a new scuba information center and new walkways in this area.
All 529 guestrooms have been enhanced and some rooms were completely gutted, even receiving new roofs. Riviera villas received new landscaping as well as refreshed pools and new teak patio furniture. All rooms are outfitted with panoramic televisions, eco-friendly and efficient air conditioners and iPod alarm clocks.
While most of the resort’s restaurants offer oceanfront views, Kelly’s Dockside Seaside Bar takes it to the next level. Located on the pier, the new eatery surrounds dinner guests with expansive views of the Caribbean Sea and the star-studded night sky.
On the northwestern portion of the resort is another concentrated area of new features. The new outdoor amphitheater features top-quality sound and lights for the resort’s live performances. Adjacent to the theater is another large pool, which features a swim-up bar, a gazebo, Italian statues and Bella Napoli, a brick-oven pizza service, with a varied menu and take-out service.
When I visited in early December, the renovation was nearly done. Days away from completion was a new deck on the Riviera Seaside area of the resort, located above Jamie’s Sports Bar and overlooking the pool and beach. I also just missed the unveiling of the refurbished Red Lane Spa in the Riviera Great House area of the resort, which features redesigned plunge pools, decorated with Indonesian paneling and coral stone coping. The spa will surely complement what I experienced during my visit — grand treatment that aims to spoil guests.