Mike and I grew up in Florida, and we knew without even discussing it that our dream honeymoon would be somewhere sunny, sandy and surrounded by saltwater. Because of our modest budget and the fact that we couldn’t be gone for too long—we had family watching our dog and Mike had to get back to work—most exotic locations were quickly ruled out. If we had no restrictions, we would have been on a first-class flight to Bora Bora in a heartbeat. (Bora Bora is still our dream destination, and Mike promises to take me there someday).
Instead, we decided to focus on places closer to our home state—specifically the Caribbean. Two other couples that we know had gotten married the year before us and had both honeymooned at Sandals resorts. They each had a wonderful time and highly recommended the all-inclusive vacations. This seemed perfect for us. Our wedding budget was on the economical side and after months of being frugal and thrifty in our planning, the last thing we wanted to worry about on our honeymoon was money.
Now we just had to pick from the 12 Sandals locations in the Caribbean. We sent away for the Sandals catalog and began scrutinizing the rooms, restaurants, activities, beaches, costs, flight times, and overall value of each of the various properties. Some of the resorts offered fewer restaurant options—something we were turned off by. Mike and I are big fans of food and cooking and we didn’t want to be stuck eating the same thing day in and day out. Other resorts were simply more expensive based on room size, location popularity, and flight costs to get there.
The decision-making process was a bit overwhelming at times. With 12 resort locations and dozens more room options at each site, the possibilities seemed infinite. We were finally forced to look at our honeymoon budget. Mike’s grandparents were giving us a large amount of cash for a wedding present and we decided to put a portion of that towards this once-in-a-lifetime trip. About this time, we also decided on Jamaica as the island we would honeymoon on, which eliminated 5 Sandals resorts. We chose Jamaica because of the cost and the amenities offered at the resorts there.
On the island of Jamaica, we began the tedious task of eliminating properties based on friends’ recommendations and our own personal preferences. After much discussion and value-weighing, we felt confident in our selection of Ocho Rios. At Ocho Rios, Mike and I opted to stay in a Villa Suite with Shared Pool. It was a much more lavish and luxurious room than either of us had ever stayed in and we wanted to splurge a little bit since this might be our only opportunity to take such a trip together. The room was one of four in a cluster that shared a small pool. The building was located up a ways from the beach, tucked into the gardens on the hillside. We chose this room because of the semi-privacy of the pool, the fact that it was not a typical hotel room, and because of the cost/size of the room compared to other options on the site.
Our wedding was on a Friday, and we chose to leave for our honeymoon on Tuesday. We had lots of friends and family in town for the weekend and we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to visit with everyone. This also gave us the chance to really enjoy our wedding without being stressed out about catching a flight the next day, as well as allowing us to truly enjoy the entire honeymoon experience. So on the Monday after our wedding, we headed to South Florida to stay with Mike’s sister the night before flying to Jamaica. In total, we were in Jamaica for 6 days, 5 nights, from May 8-13, 2007.
Sandals Ocho Rios was amazing. Upon our arrival in the Montego Bay airport, we were treated wonderfully. There was a private lounge for Sandals’ guests to use the restroom, relax, munch on snacks and have a glass or two of Red Stripe, the local beer of Jamaica. From there we loaded on to a chartered van (very comfortable for mass transit), and we were whisked off towards our resort. The ride had to be the worst part of our trip. Our resort was about 90 minutes from the airport, and we were stuck in traffic on bumpy roads at times. The journey was worth it, however.
The Sandals Ocho Rios resort was amazing. It far exceeded my expectations. I imagined a beautifully landscaped property, but I was not prepared for the lush, rainforest like foliage that covered the grounds. Everywhere we looked there were brilliantly colored flowers and festively painted buildings. It was truly a paradise. The landscaping provided a feeling of being somewhere exotic and private without having to lose the amenities of a top-rate resort. (NOTE: there were no screens on our windows and occasionally a bug got into the room. Also, while there were fans in every room, only the bedroom had AC. The temperatures were mild, but for those who are not outdoorsy or who are particularly “high maintenance,” you might want to stay somewhere else. For us, it was perfect.)
Other than just getting to relax and wallow in the love and joy of being newlyweds, two activities really made our honeymoon experience amazing. A family friend of ours had a grandfather who lived in the Ocho Rios area and we had the opportunity to leave the resort and get a locals-only tour of Jamaica. This was a wonderful experience. He took us on a drive through Fern Gully (the rainforest that inspired the cartoon movie) and to the Jamaican countryside. The highlight of the outing has to be our lunch. We ate at a place called The Ruins. Our table was maybe 30 feet from the base of a waterfall, and we got to sample delicious, genuine Jamaican Jerk chicken and pork off the generous buffet. (Caution: the wings are super spicy!) After lunch we hiked up the side of the waterfall to get a birds-eye view of the majestic restaurant.
The other activity that made our trip more memorable was the Party Cruise. Another couple we met had signed up for this excursion (one of the few activities that cost extra at Sandals, but well worth the cost) and convinced us to join them. On our last full day in Jamaica we boarded the boat and headed for a reef at the marina park down the coast to go snorkeling. The sea life that we got to witness was breath-taking. Just an arm’s reach away was a whole world of brightly colored fish and coral and plant-life. We saw countless creatures including an eel, brain coral, clown fish and sea anemones.
Back on board, the DJ began playing a mix of reggae party music and the bar opened (all drinks were included in the price of the excursion). We danced and drank and enjoyed the ride to Dunn’s River Falls, where we had the unique opportunity to climb a waterfall right up through the water. It was a slow and steady climb, and we got a chance to talk to the other couples in our climbing group.
On the boat-ride back to the resort, the seas were very choppy. The boat bobbed up and down in huge swells, but that didn’t stop the bartenders from dancing their way from one end of the boat to the other with mugs of beer balanced on their heads! This was truly a sight to see. The staff on the boat was so much fun. They really set the mood for a party cruise. I was sad to disembark when we docked back at the resort.
Our entire stay in Jamaica was amazing. We absolutely would recommend Sandals. Not having to worry about money the whole time made it so much easier to relax. It was nice to not have to budget our activities and meals. Another nice part about Sandals is that it is almost completely all couples (most on their honeymoons). There are no children allowed and there were only a few random relatives of people there for destination weddings. This enhanced the atmosphere making it more relaxing and easier to make friends with the other couples who were there for the same reason. The food was delicious and the staff was amazingly friendly and helpful. I can’t wait for the opportunity to go back!
Overall, our trip cost us around $3200 for a five night stay at the resort in a villa suite with shared pool. This price includes airfare from Ft. Lauderdale to Montego Bay. Additionally, we spent $140 ($70 each) on the party cruise, which was well worth the cost and a great way to end our vacation. Other than that, the only expenses we incurred were buying souvenirs. We were even given a credit of $250 to be used in the gift shop because of the level of room that we booked.