Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Kids giggle as they float down the water park's lazy river and saunter up to the pool bar for unlimited mocktails. This place is made for families: Elmo and Cookie Monster lead the day's entertainment schedule, the buffet's Kids Corner is stocked with quartered grilled cheese and mini-pizzas, and popcorn is served next to the bar during the nightly show ("Family Mardi Gras" and "Sesame Street Stage Show" are among the options).
Beaches is a resort chain owned by lobby has high ceilings and a classy décor. The property is massive and set along a mind-bogglingly large strip of Negril's Seven Mile Beach. There are multiple on-site pools, restaurants, bars, and activity centers. A large army of staff members is on hand to clean, cook, guard, guide, serve, dance, drive, and assist guests at all hours. In addition, the property underwent renovations in 2011 that included updates to soft furnishings in the rooms., a very popular couples-oriented mega-resort that does resorts big and bold (if a little cheesy). The regal
Stellar service from a friendly, knowledgeable staff makes this huge resort somehow feel intimate.
Warm smiles and greetings emanate from the staff. A bellman greets guests at the entrance, takes their bags, and offers them a cold wet washcloth to freshen up with while he gets them a of choice. Like at all Sandals resorts (Beaches' adults-only sister properties), guests are given an information packet to fill out in the lobby, after which they're brought to the front desk for credit card imprints. Though the process is somewhat lengthy -- it took me about 15 minutes before I was on my way to the room -- it's far more comfortable than waiting in long lines with my luggage, like I do at many mega-resorts.
Restaurant service is also impressive. Drinks are refilled at an astounding rate, and tables are cleared at just the right moment. In the a la carte restaurants, servers and hostesses know the menus by heart (a rarity at most mega-resorts), and the food comes without glitches.
The large, circular driveway is close to the , but a security station at the front monitors guests and visitors as they come and go.
Jamaica's "capital of casual," Negril can be an intimate -- or illicit -- haven. Locals and tourists interact more here than elsewhere in Jamaica, and with nightly live reggae on Seven Mile Beach and a plethora of delicious -- and super-cheap -- beachside lobster shacks, Negril is the ideal place for travelers looking to get outside the resorts and experience some real Jamaican culture.
The beach is gigantic -- well, seven miles long, to be more precise. There's room to spare for the walkers, sunbathers, and watersports enthusiasts without feeling crowded. With no guest houses bordering the beach (Negril's building codes restricted this starting in the 1990s), none of the rooms opens straight onto the sand. However, this does mean there's a lot more room on the beach.
It's great for swimming and water sports -- kayaks, windsurfing, and glass-bottom boats are among the vast supply of craft provided by the resort. Bright plastic canoes and neon sails zigzag through the water while guests stroll and sunbathe along the beach.
Rooms vary in size and location but have the same basic amenities and furnishings. The look is fresh and simple, with clean white walls, dark wood furnishings, and white bedding; soft renovations were completed in 2011.
With no guest houses bordering the beach (Negril's building codes restricted this starting in the 1990s), none of the rooms opens straight onto the sand.
The front desk upgraded me from a Deluxe room to a Grandeluxe Beachfront room for free. (And no, they didn't know I was reviewing the hotel.) The Grandeluxe rooms are among the largest you'll find in a resort without paying for a full suite, and well furnished with a king-size bed, small couch, desk, and entertainment console. There's plenty of space for cribs and all the kids' gear, plus for parents.
Four-post bed frames and king-size mattresses are reasonably comfortable (meaning not hard and springy), but they're not pillow-topped or impressively thick. The sheets don't boast impressive thread counts, but I slept perfectly soundly.
The room's mini-bar is stocked with free sodas, juice, and water. A small coffee machine is provided with small packets of Jamaican coffee, tea, cream, and sugar. But unlike at many all-inclusives, no beer or liquor is provided.
The air conditioning unit comes with its own remote control, and every room also has a ceiling fan. This noticeably keeps the room from getting musty or damp.
My bathroom was huge but lacked a vanity counter -- you've got to use the tiny sink's ledge to store makeup and other gear. Still, the space is perfect for families. Parents can supervise bath time comfortably and safely. The bathtub's yellow-stained basin was starting to look aged and dingy, but the bathroom was otherwise clean. Unlike most resorts, Beaches also has comfortable bathrobes, stored in the closet.
Beaches has two large pools: The largest has an adult swim-up bar and lots of lounge chairs for tanning and chilling out away from the kids. But even with the swim-up bar, it doesn't have nearly the party scene of nearby Riu Negril. The other pool is a kids' pool of the giant variety -- it blows most other resorts' kiddie pools out of the water -- with its own kids' swim-up bar that serves mocktails to spring breakers in training.
Red Lane Spa, Sandals' spa chain, has a full-service facility here, with extensive facilities and several massage and treatment rooms. A full menu of services is available at typical resort prices -- expect a one-hour massage to cost between $70 and $90.
A large fitness center has a good-size collection of cardio equipment and weight machines (Life Fitness aerobic equipment was replaced in 2011) but it's entirely open-air. Ceiling fans do little beyond pushing the hot, humid air -- it's pretty uncomfortable, and the facility stays nearly empty because of it. The whirlpool next to the fitness center was also hardly every used during our stay, but since our visit it was replaced and new locker rooms were added.
Several shops provide vacation essentials (bug spray, sunscreen, and flip-flops are in plentiful supply) as well as basic snacks and souvenirs.
In addition, a free shuttle moves guests between here and Beaches Sandy Bay on the half hour all day. Guests are free to eat and take part in activities on both properties.
A large water park in the center of the resort has high water slides, a "lazy river" that slowly moves inner-tube-accompanied kids in circles around the complex. The family pool here also features a swim-up soda fountain, serving drinks like "Sweet Sixteen" and "Nursery Fizz."
An extensive Kids Club has its own small stage, classrooms, outdoor play area, and a 14-inch-deep kiddie pool. It also features a supervised Xbox 360 video arcade (though the supervisor doesn't really act like a baby sitter, and is mostly there to make sure the games are working). A large mini-golf course is also right next to the Kids Club for guests of all ages.
I met a mother of two from Colorado, who was staying at Beaches Sandy Bay with her kids and husband. Her kids were so happy with the activities and amenities at Beaches Negril (the two properties share access to the amenities) that she decided to switch to a room on the Negril property, even though it was slightly more expensive. "It's amazing," she told me. "They're so occupied I hardly see them!"
The buffet's Kids Corner has a collection of kid-friendly foods like quartered grilled cheese, pizza, waffles, and French fries at all three meals. The a la carte restaurants also have great kids' options, unlike at almost any other resort. (The Seville Restaurant is normally adults only, but opens to families once a week. It serves excellent Jamaican-Asian cuisine but does not have a kids' menu.)
Rooms are spacious and quiet, so kids should have no trouble sleeping (unlike at some of the more party-focused mega-resorts). Large bathrooms are big enough to fit parents and kids, and a good cable package includes kids' channels.
The Mill buffet serves decent breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but for the price of the resort the food should be better. And the food selection here isn't too different from most all-inclusives. Jamaican dishes like and jerk chicken pepper the otherwise standard international fare (eggs, pancakes, and cereal at breakfast; salad bar, sandwiches, burgers, and hot entrees for lunch and dinner). The selection varies a little from day to day, so at least the food doesn't get too boring. Service is very good -- plates are cleared and drinks are refilled routinely. Flies at the buffet aren't a significant problem, but there are no coverings placed over the large dessert table or bread table to keep them away.
A la carte options include Kimonos (Japanese food).(quality Tex-Mex in an open-air dining room), Cafe de Paris (a patisserie with pastries and crepes), Stewfish (Caribbean seafood on the beach), and Dino's Pizzeria (pizza and pasta on an outdoor patio). Two restaurants require reservations: The Venetian (Italian) and
Beaches is very clean, but with packs of kids playing, eating, and drinking all day, the occasional mess is par for the course.
The resort's family-friendly entertainment program is printed out on aand delivered to rooms each day. Activities throughout the day are almost exclusively for children -- including lessons and shows at the Kids Center and even Elmo-led mealtimes at the buffet.
Evening entertainment starts in the early evening and is also family-friendly. Themed shows like "Tropical Fiesta" often feature live music -- in this case, a steel drum band playing renditions of Bob Marley and other popular reggae hits -- while members of the band and additional staff took turns dancing choreographed moves to each song. Kids in the audience are encouraged to join in and create a dancing chain through the theater.
Cocktails made with top-shelf liquor, plus a virgin cocktail list for the kids.
A hallmark of the Sandals/Beaches brand is top-shelf liquor. Unlike the generic well liquor served at many, Beaches has brands like Jack Daniels, Johnny Walker, Beefeater, Smirnoff, and Southern Comfort.
No-hassle weddings, but the family-friendly focus of the resort means you may have Elmo crashing your beach ceremony
Weddings at Beaches are a bit cookie cutter -- you have six stock options, all styled by Martha Stewart, and it's hard to add a personal touch -- but this makes planning the big day easy, and this Sesame-Street-focused resort can be a great option for families. Just note that if any of your guests choose not to stay at the hotel -- or at the nearby Sandals Negril, an adult-only couples resort -- you'll have to pay an extra $150 just so that they can access the property.
Kids' activities galore, including a water park and "Sesame Street"-themed activities, makes this one of the best family resorts in Jamaica. (Guests seem to prefer it even to the cheaper Beaches Sandy Bay.) Adults have water sports and five restaurants to choose from, but parents looking to party after the toddlers are tuckered out will be doing so alone.