Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Despite the nude beach, the grand appearance draws a fairly laid-back, family-oriented crowd.
From afar, the Grand Bahia Principe looks like a whitewashed castle with clay-roofed gables. The gargantuan, U-shaped complex looks out over the serpentine pool and the beach. Well-manicured paths crisscross in every direction to the various restaurants and the waterfront, though the hub of social activity centers on the ocean-view terrace outside the second-floor lobby.
Even in mid-March, when most of Jamaica is bouncing with spring breakers, the vibe is pretty mellow. The resort draws mostly families, but there are a good number of mature couples as well. And yet this is one of the few hotels in Jamaica with a nude beach!
The majority of the resort's guests are Canadian, though it gets many European guests in the summer. Management explained that the hotel doesn't get many American guests, particularly since the recession began in 2008.
Even with a late-night disco and an all-night karaoke bar on the premises, many guests seem to go back to their rooms once the band stops playing around 11 p.m. The closest nightlife is half an hour away in Ocho Rios, but there is a shuttle, which is free for groups of 10 or more, that runs from the resort to there a few nights a week.
Because it's along a busy one-lane highway, Grand Bahia Principe isn't really within walking distance of anything. The shops and banks in the town center are only a few minutes' drive away. Most guests who choose to go to outside clubs make the 30-minute trip to Ocho Rios.
All three of its beaches seem to stretch for miles. The water's nice, but the sand's less impressive.
The water is clear and warm, but the beach is filled with pebbles and the sand seems be built on top of a cement block. Ocho Rios generally has better beaches, and none of these compare to the seven-mile beach in Negril.
The resort actually has three beaches. The snorkeling beach is directly in front of the resort beyond the pool. It's surrounded by rock jetties, and beach chairs and thatched umbrellas dot the wide swath of sand.
On the far western edge of the property -- and blocked off by a tall fence -- is the nude beach. This beach is apparently most popular with the resort's European clientele.
All rooms include a sitting area, a wide balcony (overlooking either the pool or the ocean), and an enormous marble bathroom with separate Jacuzzi tub, a shower, and a private toilet area. The four-poster king bed had a partial canopy and dark wood headboard.
The room's worst feature is the old 20-inch Toshiba television. The TV receives a decent amount of American channels -- including the Denver affiliates of all the major networks -- but it only sporadically gets channels like HBO, Showtime, or ESPN.
The mini-bar comes with free cans of soda, two small bottles of water, and two cans of beer. There was also an extensive coffee and tea station that included instant packets of Jamaica's famous Blue Mountain coffee.
The resort's large pool snakes around the entire beachfront of the resort. It has two kiddie pools, a number of bridges, in-water loungers, gradual-entry spots, two swim-up bars, and built-in Jacuzzis. It was extremely clean and so large that it never gets crowded, but it seems to be quite popular compared with the beach.
The gym is large enough and has pairs of bikes, treadmills, and ellipticals as well as free weights and a few other weight machines. An adjacent room has spinning bikes, exercise mats, and Reebok steps. But the rooms are brutally hot -- there's no A.C., no windows, and no fans.
The Renova Spa is clean, modern, and bright. It offers a standard assortment of treatments, ranging from facials and waxes to hair braiding and massages. Prices aren't bad for a resort
Typical all-inclusive evening fare--"Jamaica Night," "Mr. and Miss Bahia Principe"--but not much during the day.
A unicylist rode around on stage to a Kenny G-style saxophone rendition of "I Will Always Love You" as part of Tuesday evening's "Bahia Pirates Beach Party." Nuff said. Every evening, the beach theater area gets packed to standing-room-only capacity; the shows typically close with two brief dances from the activities staff, and then guests are invited to fill up the dance floor. The house band was pretty good but mostly played standard wedding fare, not reggae.
Performers in these shows are members of the activities staff, who are also meant to lead games and sports during the day. The schedule of events doesn't always happen though, save for some volleyball in the pool.
Judging by the kids seen squealing with delight by the pool and enjoying the mini-disco, this seems to be a great place for families. The entertainment gravitated toward the tame -- 15 minutes of unicycling?! The hotel also features a large kids club which is open throughout the day and is free for kids 4 to 12 (you'll have to pay a babysitting fee for children three and under). Between the large kids club, the ginormous pool, and the sprawling beachfront, this definitely is a place for families first and foremost.
The resort is generally very clean, though the room showed some wear and tear.
The resort's public areas are stunning, particularly the enormous pool and the sprawling beachfront. Every restaurant was also quite clean. But in the rooms, there might be some faint stains on the sheets or a collection of scuff marks on the walls.
The resort has one main buffet restaurant, Orchid, and four a la cartes: Mikado (Japanese), Garden Grill (steak and seafood), Don Pablo ("gourmet"), and Dolce Vita (Italian). All are centrally located around the main courtyard near the lobby and pool, and are all an easy walk from the rooms. Mikado is the most popular, and it features both sushi and a hibachi grill. But the alleged "gourmet" at Don Pablo is more about presentation than the food -- mushroom cappuccino, how cute!
The hotel has a policy that guests may only eat at three à la cartes per week, and Gold Club members always get their first pick of restaurants, so guests are bound to spend a lot of time at the buffet. Fortunately, it has a fairly wide variety of foods and great ocean views. The fruit selection is a bit smaller than most resorts, but the breakfast buffet is superb. In addition to the usual omelet stations, the Grand Bahia also has a waffle station, a crepe station, and fresh smoothies.
Perhaps the resort's most popular restaurant is its lunchtime jerk shack at the beach, within Piscis Snack Bar. It's only open from noon to 3 p.m., and the line fills up quickly. The chicken is quite moist and tasty, and some guests claim it rivals the popular MoBay spot Scotchies (though it was considerably less spicy). The pork is also quite tasty and tender, but very fatty.
There are far better places to go if alcohol is a priority; brand-name stuff costs extra.
Most of the alcohol is of the generic variety, save of course for Red Stripe beer on tap and Jamaica's famous Appleton rum. There is also Stoli vodka available free of charge, though guests have to cough up a few dollars to "upgrade" to Absolut. Other name-brand liquors like Bailey's, Kahlua, and Cointreau are also available from the lobby bar for an extra charge.
A massive, beautifully landscaped 850-room Spanish mega-resort, the Grand Bahia is great for families or couples, but it's a pretty tame crowd--even with all-night karaoke and access to a nude beach. The huge, slightly dated rooms come with Jacuzzis, the streaming pool is superb, and the restaurants are better than at most all-inclusives.