Jamaica is known for its mega, all-inclusive resorts. Each has its own vibe, personality, and perks. You’ll benefit from the stiff competition. There is no shortage of deals, especially now as the island is working overtime to lure travelers back. Take advantage of the generosity.
As a frequent visitor to the island over the years, and having enjoyed working remotely there during the pandemic, I’ve had the good fortune to sample some of the best — though I’m a bigger fan of boutique hotels — and others I’ve heard great things about that are on the must-go list for 2022. Here are my favorites.
1. Azul Beach Resort, Negril
Situated on Negril’s legendary Seven Mile Beach, you can’t go wrong with the five-star Azul Beach Resort. If you’re looking for a family getaway, there are ocean view family suites that can accommodate two adults, two children, and a teenager, with a separate living room, balcony, or terrace, and is convenient to the family pool and Azulitos Kids Club. Or go for a family loft suite that can accommodate two adults and six children or three other adults. There’s a teen and kids’ club for when they want to do their own thing and an array of watersports to experience together.
Azul works for a grownups-only escape too. While away the day at the four pools or Vassa Spa, take cooking, hat-making, or basket weaving classes, play beach cricket, and basketball. Come mealtime, there are six restaurants from ackee, which serves up Caribbean cuisine to international fare at Mahogany. My lasting memories are of the beach. The Seven Mile Beach lives up to the hype. The sand is powdery, no worries about stepping on broken shells in the sea.
Pro Tip: Go into town and hit hot spots like Rick’s Café to watch the cliff jumpers dive into the sea. Enjoy cocktails and the DJ. Nobody can stay seated for long while he’s doing his thing with that booming dancehall reggae.
2. Couples Tower Isle, Ocho Rios
The name says it all. It sets the intention that you’re going to fall in love, renew your love, take your relationship to a new level, or perhaps honeymoon there. This place is for lovers. All the goo-goo ga-ga stuff is infectious. One couple after the next is full of smiles and laughs. Feeling adventurous? Make your way to the resort’s private island for au naturel sunbathing. If you’re too shy, think for your eyes only — get naked for a couple’s massage at the spa. Top it off with a dip in the sea, one of four pools or a little quiet time in one of the Jacuzzis. Enjoy golf, tennis, unlimited scuba diving, and watersports like waterskiing and windsurfing. Test your love. Do kayaking challenges dissolve into an argument? Make up and cuddle during a catamaran cruise.
Dinner is something special at Couples Tower Isle. Ask the concierge to arrange a private dinner on the beach. Or there’s Bayside. Dine by candlelight overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Eight Rivers, though, is where you might just have one of your best meals of the year, in a candlelit, intimate setting, seated next to each other, instead of across from your honey. The food is fantastic. Imagine appetizers like ackee and ricotta ravioli, broad bean and callaloo ragout, herb chimichurri, crumbled feta, entrees like ginger papaya glazed duck breast, pan seared red snapper fillet, shrimp, and scallop skewer, to be enjoyed with a fine wine from an impressive list. The ambiance is sweeter still with a serenade on the soprano saxophone from the musician roaming the room. Treat yourself. Go for the new Oasis Spa Villas that include unlimited spa treatments. It’s a special place that inspires giggles even after 30 years of marriage.
Pro Tip: Come up for air from all that coupling and raft on the Martha Brae River or go horseback riding nearby.
3. Beaches, Ocho Rios
If you love lush greenery, there are 22 acres of it at Beaches Ocho Rios. Along with that gorgeous, private beach, there’s every kind of watersport you might desire, be it PADI-certified diving, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, and windsurfing. Have you tried aqua trikes? What are you waiting for? There are clubs for kids and teens and for all, the Pirates Island Waterpark with its waterslides, lazy river, and more. If you can’t find your kids, check the Xbox Play Lounge or they may be in one of the five swimming pools. Forget your diet, there is 5-star global gourmet dining at seven restaurants. Take advantage of Sandals Golf & Country Club, it’s close and greens fees are complimentary. Refresh yourself at the Red Lane Spa. Consider Raindrop Dreams, 90 minutes to forget your troubles, and hit the reset button thanks to the healing power of aromatherapy, essential oils, and a full body and foot massage.
Pro Tip: The much-beloved Dunn’s Rivers Fall & Park with its falls, kid’s splash pad, and zipline is nearby.
4. Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort & Spa, Lucea
This one is family-friendly for sure. The Grand Palladium gets kudos for being home to one of the largest Kids Clubs in the Caribbean. Then there are more than 10 restaurants and bars, and plenty of places for a late-night slip away for the grownups. Do take advantage of babysitting and childcare. You’ll love that you stay at one but can enjoy the facilities at all three of the resort’s properties. How’s that for getting the most for your money? Your big decision will be making up your mind about which of the five pools to take a dip in. Hit the basketball or tennis courts, snorkel, sail, kayak, play mini-golf, or simply exhale and wind down at the full-service spa.
5. The Caves, Negril
There’s nothing ordinary here. At this luxurious resort, you’ll feel like you’re in a movie because this can’t be real life. But lucky for you, it is, and you have the pleasure of being there. Enjoy. There are only 12 cliffside cottages and they have to-die-for views. No two are alike. The vibe here is artsy, bohemian. Let your hair down. Watersports are plentiful. When you’re ready for pampering, arrange for a spa treatment in a cabana, candlelit cave, or outdoors in the sunshine. If you want to impress your significant other, a five-course meal in a private cave decked out with candles and petals from pink bougainvillea will do just that. Keep the magic going and make your way to The Caves’ Blackwell Rum Bar. Take the coral staircase down to the water’s edge, cross the wooden footbridge and voila, you’ve arrived. The walls are volcanic cliffs with candles tucked in the nooks and crannies of limestone. This is an extraordinary place for a cocktail, swoon-worthy, and mood enhancing. The Caves is among the top spots on my to-go list.
6. Sandals South Coast, Whitehouse
Here it’s all about over-the-water. The adults-only resort has over-the-water bungalows, an overwater bar, and an over-the-water wedding chapel. In this scenic setting, anything might happen. Will you be announcing your sudden marriage on Instagram? You’re on a 2-mile beach and within a 500-acre nature preserve. There’s no good reason to stay dry. Kayaking, waterskiing, snorkeling, sailboats, tubing, glass-bottom boats, and more are included in your stay. Come nightfall, bonfires and fire pits light the skies. Because variety is the spice of life, there are nine restaurants. All rooms are oceanfront. But the buzz is about the newest addition — the swim-up Rondoval suites. These suites are the first of their kind in the world. Take for example the South Seas Swim-Up Rondoval Butler Suite with a private pool sanctuary and direct access to the bedroom, a huge living room, a large, stone soaking tub, and of course your butler to take care of your every need.
7. Jewel Paradise Cove Beach Resort & Spa, Runaway Bay
Runaway Bay is a bit under the radar, a quiet spot between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. This adults-only retreat is a good time waiting to be had. Runaway Bay is relaxed without hordes of tourists. Spend your time worshipping the sun at the beach or one of the pools. Kayak, go for a Hobie cat ride, or sailing. If you’re more of a land lover, there’s basketball, hiking, the fitness center, tennis, a fit-trail, and parcourse all over the resort, or just sit back and enjoy a movie poolside.
If your bucket list includes learning to scuba dive, look no further. Discover Scuba, a three-part course, allows beginner, amateur, and non-certified divers to experience the sport. Wind down after all that exhilaration at Radiant Spa. Go for island treatments like the Jamaican body scrub. Choices include Blue Mountain coffee, golden brown sugar, and cane sugar, among others. Take your pick of seven restaurants, like Golden Saber Sushi and Jade Samurai for teppanyaki-style dining and entertainment at your table. In the mood to party? Hang out at the Sunset Bar by the sea or prove you’ve still got the moves at Bling! The live music plus hand-crafted cocktails equal a good time.
Check out these other Caribbean opportunities for fun and sun: