Author: Allison Hyman-Tibaldi
Tags : Winter Getaway
I recently visited Beaches Ocho Rios Resort & Golf Club with my teenage son, Alec. Beaches is the family-friendly division of Sandals, a group of Caribbean resorts for guests 18 and older. They pioneered Jamaica’s all-inclusive concept and have come to perfect the formula.
At all-inclusives, accommodations, meals, sports, kids’ club, drinks and tips are all included. Even the airport transfer is seamless, so it feels like a vacation from the moment you clear customs. The pay-one-price option offers families the chance to engage in a variety of activities, without experiencing sticker shock when it comes time to pay the bill.
The Resort Layout and Rooms at Beaches Ocho Rios
Alec was delighted to learn that the recently reopened Beaches Ocho Rios had once been a Playboy Club. He quickly got over his disappointment that there are no reminders of its X-rated past.
The oceanfront landscaping is lovely, with fresh flowers perfuming the air and acres of lush tropical gardens surrounding four swimming pools.
The resort’s 223 rooms are located in one of four villages, Caribbean, French, Greek or Italian. Each village has its own distinct architectural style. All rooms are spacious and loaded with creature comforts, with a dozen different configurations designed with families in mind. We appreciated the handy in-room fridge stocked with soft drinks and our Concierge level suite even included premium brand spirits.
Water Play & Activities for All Ages, One Price
Parents of teenagers know that this age group can be demanding. At Beaches Ocho Rios, there were loads of activities to keep my son smiling. Together we snorkeled, kayaked and rode an aqua bike. I tried my luck at stand up paddle boarding, Alec at scuba diving. The array of water sports incurs no extra charge.
Alec couldn’t get enough of Pirates Island, an exhilarating 27,000-square-foot waterpark overlooking the Caribbean Sea that provided plenty of thrills. I awoke early each morning and enjoyed a peaceful swim in the giant main pool, before the crowds, music and merriment that takes place during the day dominated. Alec spent lots of time in this action-packed pool, where he felt like a celebrity ordering drinks at the swim-up bar. Just take a look at this video.
The resort is located on a protected stretch of beach, so parents can see their kids at all times while they are enjoying the sand and sea. The shallow turquoise waters are usually calm enough for even the tiniest swimmer to plunge right in.
Sporty families can enjoy unlimited golf with complimentary green fees, as well as golf clinics. There is tennis and basketball too, with loaner equipment if you forget to bring your own.
At Beaches, You can Learn to be a DJ
Alec’s favorite activity wasn’t outdoors. It was his lesson at the Scratch DJ Academy. In this one-hour class, Alec learned to DJ from a professional, who he deemed extremely cool.
Parents, if you want to feel like a relic, witness your kids in this workshop. None of the kids in Alec’s group had ever seen, no less handled, vinyl. Watching them explore the world of records made me feel ancient.
Alec selected his special DJ name (Tibz A) before learning to mix, blend and scratch. The workshop culminated in a DJ battle with the other kids. It costs extra, but Alec highly recommends it for your teens and tweens.
How to get to Sesame Street
Beaches Resorts have a unique partnership with Sesame Street. Though it’s obviously geared towards much younger kids, Alec was a good sport and attended the Sesame Street Character Breakfast with me. The pre-school teacher in me lets loose when I have the opportunity to pal around with my very favorite furry life-sized characters, but Alec was none too thrilled to romp with Ernie, Burt and Elmo in the a.m.
Still, he got into the swing of things after a cup of iced Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee gave him a boost. He eventually joined the conga line and even gave in to my request for a photo opportunity.
Kids’ Club Options at all Beaches Resorts
Teens have several spaces they can call their own. At Trench Town, they can play arcade games, watch television and listen to music on a state-of-the-art sound system. There is also an Xbox Play Lounge that welcomes guests of all ages. The well-equipped Craft Studio looked like a good place for creative kids to cool down, and perfect for the entire family if rain dampens outside plans.
Teens are not the only ones catered to. Beaches provides age-specific kids’ programs for infants on up. Your child will be in a small group with other children his or her age. He or she will be cared for by trained and accredited nannies with a specialization in the age group that they are assigned to. This assures that your child’s time will be spent engaging in developmentally appropriate activities.
The comprehensive programs offer flexible hours, tailored to suit your needs. I toured the baby and toddler rooms and can’t say enough about the cleanliness, attention to safety and caring nature of the staff I met. The staff-to-baby ratio was very low and all the parents I chatted with praised these childcare options.
Off-Site Options for Exploring Jamaica
The resort’s location is a big plus for families with tweens and teens who want to venture away from the resort and discover the island. It is conveniently situated in close proximity to several of Jamaica’s best adventures. The partnership with Island Routes makes active explorations easy. They organize everything, leaving you as carefree as your kids. You can book your activity right at the Island Routes desk in the hotel lobby. We participated in two off-property excursions.
First up was the Jamaican Bobsled, Skyride and Zip-line excursion at Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios. The five zip-lines were hair-raising for me, but my son was delighted by the whole adventure, including his Mother’s loud screams. It is recommended for those eight and older.
Our next excursion was to Dunn’s River Falls, also only a few minutes drive from the hotel. I had never had the opportunity to climb these majestic falls. It was worth the wait, as these cascading falls are gorgeous and the experience was once-in-a-lifetime. I mean that literally, because I was terrified... My vertigo kicked in as we made a human chain with dozens of strangers and climbed the slippery rocks up to the slope of this 600-foot waterfall.
Thankfully, our Island Routes driver, Otis, had warned us that there would be many vendors vying for our attention (and money) as we headed back towards our bus. He told us not to tell any of the vendors our name. Once they have this information, the more aggressive vendors quickly paint your name on their trinkets and tourists often feel compelled to purchase these personalized items. My favorite vendor told Alec he was “looking better than Bieber” in a vain attempt to get him to buy something that he didn’t want.
You need to imagine the Jamaican accent for the full comedic effect.
Culinary Team at Beaches Shows Off Jamaican Cuisine
If you think food at all-inclusive resorts is synonymous with bland and boring, prepare to have your mind changed. Beaches offers a good mix of buffet dining and sit-down restaurants, giving guests six diverse options. Adventurous eaters will have the opportunity to sample some classic Jamaican specialties.
At the breakfast buffet, our palates were treated to Jamaica’s national dish, ackee and codfish. It tastes like scrambled eggs infused with bits of fish. There was an entire table of tropical fruits, including sliced mango, papaya and pineapple. These locavore treats were in addition to the more standard morning fare such as bacon, omelets cooked-to-order and house-made pastries.
At the weekly beach party, Chef had prepared authentic jerk chicken and pork. For the uninitiated, jerk is the grilled meat that Jamaica is famed for. The meat is marinated in a pungent mix of allspice, clove, Scotch bonnet pepper and other spices. It is slow-cooked over branches of green pimento wood that are placed over hot coals. This imparts extraordinary flavor and compliments and tames the spices. It was served with festival, the flaky fried rolls that are an island specialty.
Several of the hotel’s eateries served beef and chicken patties. This is the island’s quintessential grab-and-go snack food, well-seasoned meat wrapped in a flaky crust. We couldn’t resist them.
Of course, there are milder, more familiar choices available at all meals. All are freshly prepared and plentiful. Alec enjoyed the hand-tossed individual pizzas cooked in a wood-fired brick oven at the Pizzeria as well as the burgers at BBQ Park. We both loved the decadent Willy Wonka-esque Chocolate Buffet served poolside one evening.
On our last night, we had an elegant meal at Eleanor’s. I Highly recommend it if you want to explore authentic Jamaican and Caribbean food.
Trip Planning Tips for an All Inclusive Family Beach Vacation
There are two Beaches resorts in Jamaica (this one and Negril) and one in Turks and Caicos. Beaches Ocho Rios was formerly the Beaches Boscobel Resort but a $30 million renovation has added many enhancements and amenities to the property.
I’m happy to report that the value, service and ease that families expect from a Beaches vacation remains 100% intact.
Visit the Beaches website for rates and helpful information on planning your next Jamaican getaway.