“Welcome home!” said a smiling man, as he motioned me to take a seat on a chunky leather sofa, where I was offered a choice of Champagne or Signature cocktail.
Elmo (yes, THE Elmo) arrived just after my cocktail. Someone handed me an iPad to tick some boxes, while another member of staff chided me for picking up my own bag. “Put that down!” she scolded, taking my bag from me. “And welcome home!”
Arriving at a Beaches Resort has very little in common with your usual hotel check-in.
Beaches – the family resort owned by the people behind Sandals – doesn’t describe its holidays as “all-inclusive” preferring the term “luxury included”. And they’ve got a point.
We checked in using the resort’s Concierge service, which means you have a central staff contact who is on hand to help with everything from checking in to booking spa appointments, arranging activities and providing advice on local excursions. Your concierge is available on a dedicated number 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The first half of our trip was spent at the Beaches resort in Ocho Rios, on the Northern coast of Jamaica, a 90-minute drive from Montego Bay airport (where Beaches customers have access to a dedicated lounge so you can freshen up and enjoy a drink while you wait for your transfer).
Ocho Rios is perched on a hillside overlooking a quiet, private cove where pretty white sand and palm trees meet the sparkling blue Caribbean Sea. It’s glorious. And since this is luxury included, there’s even an elevator to take you down to the beach.
The buildings are white and Mediterranean in style – creating a lovely, light, open feeling. The various accommodation wings and restaurants are set out around a large, central piazza – although the resort is quite large, it’s easily navigated.
While we visited, the Greek themed rooms (which look amazing – they open onto a private deck, which leads directly onto the beach) were being renovated, and these promise to be spectacular for 2016. We also noticed that staff around the resort were busily installing ramps alongside stairs, making the resort more accessible for wheelchair and pushchair users.
The accommodation feels similarly spacious – rooms are large with living areas and seating separate from the sleeping area, with balconies big enough for everyone in a room to sit out and enjoy the glorious views over the ocean. Everything was immaculately clean, comfortable and had a feeling of quality about it. Closet space was decent enough, although there’s not LOADS of space for clothes if you’re a big packer…
We stayed in a Concierge suite with 2 double beds, large living area and a balcony with ocean views. Our beds were gorgeously comfortable, and there are a lot of added extras that make these rooms a bit special for families, including:
- A mini bar stocked with all-inclusive Coke, Sprite, Red Stripe beer and a selection of juices (spirits are only added to your fridge on request, in case you want to avoid tempting any teens!) – this is re-stocked daily.
- A microwave, kettle and coffee maker, together with a supply of tea/coffee in every room – great for late-night and early morning drinks.
- Every room comes with a plasma TV and X-Box 360 as standard – you can request additional games from the Concierge, along with extra controls. There are plenty of US channels to keep you occupied.
- Rooms with multiple beds and sofa beds, and 1-bedroom suites with a separate bedroom sleeping up to 5 people, plus adjoining rooms for larger groups – great if you’re travelling with family.
- Complimentary robes for adults (kids’ versions will also be supplied in the near future but for now, Flea simply allowed an adult robe to trail after her and insisted on being called Your Highness while wearing it)
- Complimentary full-size toiletries from the on-site spa – perfect when you realise you’ve forgotten any moisturiser. D’oh.
We arrived tired after the 9-hour flight from London, and Flea just wanted to hit the hay – so I opted to skip dinner and head for our room, while our fellow bloggers checked out the restaurants and entertainment.
We didn’t miss too much though, as our room balcony looked out over the resort towards the sea, giving us a great view of the resort stage and the live Sesame Street show that running. Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Big Bird dancing to reggae.
Within a few minutes, there was a knock on our door.
Beaches Ocho Rios doesn’t offer in-room dining, but our friendly concierge had sent along some still-warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies and a bottle of milk for Flea.
Two minutes later, another knock at the door.
This time, it was a concerned looking man with a restaurant menu for me to choose some dinner to eat in the room – “You must have some dinner, we’re worried about you!” (I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d eaten half the cookies).
The morning after arrival, we were invited to an orientation – a small group guided tour of the entire resort, allowing you to find your feet quickly and ask any questions you might have (like, “Where can I buy some more bug repellant?”)
Wandering around the resort, we saw a number of Sesame Street characters posing for photos with children (and the odd 41-year-old) and it definitely adds something to the experience. I’m of an age that it’s still quite a thrill to meet Grover.
You can attend a character breakfast during your stay, and there’s also the option to have Elmo read you a bedtime story and tuck you in. Tragically, I couldn’t persuade Flea that we should do this. Next time, Beaches, next time.
At every stage during our stay, it felt as though the staff genuinely wanted to make sure we were having the most perfect time possible. I suspect that’s something to do with the company’s primarily American customer base – but as a guest at a Beaches Resort, you’ll feel as though nothing is too much trouble for the staff you meet – although this is Jamaica, so don’t necessarily expect everything to do be done particularly quickly!
There’s even a food service manager who knew upon arrival that I had a seafood allergy, and offered to run through every restaurant menu with me to ensure I could find something to eat without any problems. Fortunately my allergy is just of the, “I think I’ll have the fish instead of the squid, thanks” variety, but it is nice to know that allergies are taken seriously. Fellow blogger Helen was at Beaches the same week, travelling with her diabetic daughter, and I know she was similarly impressed with the care that was taken in providing her with special dietary information.
It’s this level of service that I think really makes Beaches feel like somewhere special.
We visited Jamaica as guests of Beaches. I’ll be writing in more detail in a future post about the resort and activities, but if you want to check out Beaches Ocho Rios, then seven nights staying at Beaches Ocho Rios – A Spa, Golf & Waterpark Resort costs from £1,775 per adult and £899 per child. Price includes Luxury Included® (all-inclusive) accommodation in a Caribbean Deluxe Family Sized Room, return economy flights from London and resort transfers. Valid for travel dates 2nd May – 24th June 2016.