Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
An old Sandals resort gets new life at this all-inclusive property with plenty of features and included extras.
Travelers may not see The Jewel Dunn on Jamaican road maps. It’s not because the resort is tiny (it has 250 rooms) or off the beaten path (it’s located on the main beachfront along with all of Ocho Rios’ megaresorts). Rather, it’s because many maps still label the property with its previous name, the Sandals Dunn’s River Resort. When the big chain dumped its old Dunn’s River-adjacent property in favor of the more expansive Sandals Grande Ocho Rios Beach & Villa Resort down the road, The Jewel swooped on in, renovating some areas and keeping others the same as they were before reopening in September 2010. A certain Sandals quality remains, from an ornate marble staircase in the lobby to fresco-painted ceilings in the public areas to mosaic-laden pools that are unmistakably “Sandals-esque.”
This is actually great news for Sandals fans, because the Jewel’s rates are bit cheaper than those at Sandals Grand Ocho Rios, and around half as much as at Sandals Royal Plantation. Still, there is a slight tackiness here, whether it’s the gourmet restaurant garishly named “Platinum,” the nightclub dubbed “Bling!,” or the faux-Renaissance marble explosion in the lobby -- everything feels a little closer to gaudy than upscale.
The Jewel's all-inclusive offering covers a lot -- all meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, non-motorized water sports, Wi-Fi, weekly pool movies, and land-based activities such as a nine-hole putting green, tennis clinics, basketball, and beach volleyball. The 250-room resort has plenty of space for everyone to spread out, with six restaurants, six bars, two pools, and a spacious and deep beach. Additional amenities include a spa with an indoor whirlpool and hot and cold plunge pools; a fitness center that, though well-equipped, is outside and thus miserable to work out in; and a wing off the lobby with tons of extras such as a wedding planner’s office, a photo desk, a salon, a tour desk, and shops.
But the all-inclusive rates do not cover a few basic amenities, which may make guests feel nickel-and-dimed. Only guests paying top dollar for concierge and butler suites will have access to free use of in-room liquor cabinets and room service -- everyone else will have to pay extra fees. Still, the resort does include a number of uncommon extra freebies such as pool concierges that serve fresh fruit and cold face towels throughout the day, and weekly candlelit dinners on the pier. And, of course, top-shelf liquor is included, and unlike a lot of all-inclusive resorts, it's not hard to get a drink from the bar.
Close to Dunn’s River Falls, near Ocho Rios’ main strip of megaresorts
As the name indicates, The Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort & Spa is right next to Ocho Rios’ major attraction, Dunn’s River Falls. It’s a bit surprising that the resort does not include shuttles or tours of the famous waterfall as part of its all-inclusive rates (after all, Couples Tower Isle and Couples Sans Souci do, and they don’t even have the word “Dunn’s” in their name). Still, The Jewel’s tour desk and concierge can help arrange excursions, which take place several times daily, to the site, as well as several other nearby attractions. Nothing off-site is within walking distance, which is typical for Ocho Rios resorts.
Three buildings offering rooms of drastically different quality
The Jewel is divided into three different buildings, each named after a different jewel, and each with its own room types and in-room amenities. The Diamond Building is the best, featuring all ocean-view rooms, special concierge services, and free 24-hour room service. The second tier is the Sapphire Building, which features both mountain-view rooms (the views are really of the front of the hotel, which has a small putting green, an ugly parking lot, and a mountain in the distance) and ocean-view rooms. These rooms have fresh, sophisticated British-Colonial-style decor (four-poster beds, white linens, dark wood furniture). The least impressive rooms are in the Emerald Building; the Garden Double rooms feature second-rate furnishings (beds don’t even have headboards), inferior technology (some units still have tube TVs instead of flat-screens), small bathrooms with shower/tub combos (the one I stayed in had a filthy tub), and poor views (terraces feature plastic chairs instead of the nicer patio furniture in the other units).
Such extreme variation is a bit disheartening at a resort that calls itself a luxury property, and some guests booking a room in the Emerald Building may feel tricked. Guests expecting luxury should absolutely book the Diamond Building in advance -- upgrading on-site is usually costlier.
Big and well-maintained, but it runs right into the beach of the neighboring Club Rio Ocho Rios
The Jewel’s beach runs right up to the border of the neighboring Riu Ocho Rios beach; a lovely pier is located right near the divide.
Overall the sand is as soft and the water as clear as anywhere else in Ocho Rios -- which is to say pretty soft and very clear. Specific to The Jewel are padded lounge chairs, which are for the most part comfortable, and plenty of water sports included in the rates. And unlike at a lot of other resorts, guests need not worry about locals hawking their wares. The property allows a select number of vendors on the beach during designated times for those guests wishing to purchase local crafts; however, these vendors are not aggressive or loud.
The Jewel also offers a cabana package for guests willing to shell out extra money. The cabanas are certainly luxurious, filled with plush pillows and flower petals, and on the day I visited, a number of guests had taken advantage of the service, which includes a personal butler who delivers snacks, meals, drinks, and cold spritzes of refreshing water throughout the day.
Two pools, each with a swim-up bar
The main pool at The Jewel is clearly a leftover from the property’s days as a Sandals resort. Featuring a massive swim-up bar, volleyball net, checkered deck, and a strange blob-shape that is unmistakably Sandals-esque, all that’s missing is the Sandals’ logo emblazoned on the colorful mosaics that line the pool floor. The vibe is mellow and relaxing in the morning and early afternoon, and rowdy in the late afternoon and early evening, once guests get a good buzz going.
Just steps away, a second smaller pool known as Jasper’s Chillin’ Pool has a big swim-up bar, a large Jacuzzi, and plenty of padded blue lounge chairs. It surrounds Jasper’s Chillin’ Piano Bar, which features a large bar, plenty of tables, billiards, and an evening pianist who tickles the ivories for happy hour guests.
Neither pool is stunning, but both are adequately staffed and well-maintained. One extra, however, was superb: The pools’ concierges make the rounds throughout the day giving out fresh fruit skewers, eucalyptus-infused water, and cold face towels, as well as spritzing overheated loungers with a refreshing mist -- a service usually only found at uber-luxurious resorts.
A large and well-equipped fitness center but only the strong will survive in this hot open-air space
The CUT fitness center at The Jewel wouldn’t be too bad if it weren’t for the fact that it is open to the elements and pretty darn hot. The place was pretty much empty when I visited. Those guests willing to brave the heat will find plenty of treadmills, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines, as well as a wealth of free weights, weight machines, dumbbells, yoga balls, and stretching mats. Several fitness classes such as yoga, boot camp, and kickboxing take place throughout the day as well.
An intimate spa with six treatment rooms, a whirlpool, and hot and cold plunge pools
The Radiant Spa at The Jewel is modest but mellow, featuring a whirlpool, hot and cold plunge pools, beautiful bathhouse-style locker rooms on the first floor, and a square-shaped second-floor balcony with treatment rooms all around. The treatment rooms themselves are small and relatively unadorned, though two rooms are for couples, one of which has a two-person bathtub. Therapies are extensive, including several massage styles, body wraps and scrubs, hydrotherapy, and facials. The spa also has a separate salon, which is located near the lobby and provides hair, nail, and make-up services.
The Jewel is an adults-only property.
The Jewel is an 18-and-older property. The Jewel welcomes friends, groups, and same-sex partners as well. Families should consider Beaches Boscobel Resort & Golf Club or Riu Ocho Rios for similar amenities and location in a kid-friendly atmosphere.
Six all-inclusive restaurants as well as a weekly candle-lit option
The six restaurants at The Jewel include the typical beach grill and buffet options, as well as several specialty venues: Platinum, the resort’s “white-glove” dinner-only restaurant; Moonstone by Dominic, an Italian eatery with indoor and outdoor seating; Court Jesters, serving fire oven pizza on a terrace near the pool; and The Jade Samurai, a Japanese teppanyaki-style venue. It would be enough options for a resort of this size -- if all of these restaurants are open every night of the week. Rather, most of them have staggered service days, meaning guests have fewer options on a daily basis.
Across the board, the food is adequate, if not exceptional. The majority of guests cited The Jade Samurai as the best option.
Something unique to The Jewel are the weekly candle-lit dinners on the pier. Similar to other resorts’ beach party dinners, this concept is a bit more refined and romantic, with six-course meals served in a quiet beachfront setting (rather than a loud buffet with a pan steel band). Best of all, the experience is included in the all-inclusive rate.
The resort also features 24-hour room service, but unlike at many all-inclusive resorts, guests will have to pay extra for this service, unless they are staying in either the concierge-level or butler rooms.
All drinks -- including top-shelf liquor -- are part of the all-inclusive package
Unlike many all-inclusive resorts, which make their drinks about as strong as at a cheap Las Vegas casino, The Jewel serves stiff cocktails, and top-shelf liquor is included in the rates. There are six bars, including two pool bars and the inventive Emerald Tree Bar, which features a massive tree growing from behind the bar.
Some guests go nuts over The Jewel’s Gem of the Day, which is a collection of seven rum-based cocktails blended with different mixers; the result is essentially a different fancy rum punch each day. Demonstrating the resort’s liberal policy with premium liquors, the Friday Gem is alleged to include double-proof rum.
In-room drinking is another option, but only for those guests staying in the concierge-level and butler rooms in the Diamond Building. Here, minibars feature beer and mixers, and a separate liquor cabinet includes full-size bottles of whiskey, vodka, gin, and, of course, Appleton Jamaican Rum.
Rates include all food, drinks, and non-motorized water sports, but room service and liquor cabinet access is extra for most guests.
The Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort & Spa is an all-inclusive resort, with rates covering all food, drinks (including top-shelf liquor), non-motorized water sports, and Wi-Fi throughout the property. Some perks, however, depend on room type. Guests in the expensive concierge and butler suites will also receive rooms service and a liquor cabinet. Guests staying in lower room categories, however, will have to pay extra for these services. Other amenities that come at an extra cost are scuba diving, off-site excursions, private dinners, and spa services. Airport shuttles are provided for free, but these buses make stops at several resorts along the way.
A number of unique freebies, as well as a handful of amenities that require extra fees
A nightclub and nightly live music
Local reggae bands and musicians offer musical entertainment on a nightly basis, and an on-site nightclub called Bling! (no, really, it’s called Bling! with an exclamation point) offers more of a nightlife vibe than the resort’s bars. Weekly events also entertain, including movies at the pool (50 First Dates was playing during my 2012 stay -- the movie was released in 2004), and six-course meals on the beach.
A nine-hole pitch-and-putt course near the resort's entrance
While not exactly a proper golf course, The Jewel has an on-site nine-hole putting green. Putting clubs and balls are included in the rates.
Plenty of daily activities, most of which are part of the all-inclusive package
Most guests will understandably pass on the open-air (in other words, hot!) fitness center in favor of activities. At the beach, the resort offers free non-motorized water sports such as snorkeling, kayaking, and windsurfing, as well as a dive center at which guests can opt to pay for scuba excursions. Land activities include tennis, beach volleyball, basketball, and a host of daily activities such as yoga, kickboxing, boot camp, and aerobics classes, as well as guided nature walks. Be warned, though, that even the intense classes like boot camp are located outdoors -- hydration is a must!
Two conference rooms and on-site planners
The Jewel has two meeting and conference rooms, as well as an on-site event planner. The resort offers a variety of group packages and discounts -- guests get a free room for every 20 rooms paid -- as well as a welcome sign at the resort’s entry and a number of dining and discount options.
An adult-only resort built for romance
At this adults-only resort, romance is definitely a focus: There are weekly romantic six-course dinners on the beach (included in the rates), and Honeymoon Haven suites in the Diamond Building include butler service, expansive bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs, four-poster king beds, and liquor cabinets.
A vow renewal package includes a personal consultant, and officiant, a bouquet and boutonnière, ceremony music, a cake, hors d’oeuvres, a 5x7 photo, a gift from the jewelry store, a commemorative certificate, and a private five-course dinner for two.
Plenty of wedding packages, as well as on-site planner for a completely customized event
The Jewel has an extensive list of packages for destination weddings, each with a clever jewel-themed name. The best deal is the Precious Gem package, which, comes free with any seven-night stay. This package includes a personal wedding consultant, an officiant, witnesses, ceremony music, a bouquet and boutonniere, hors d’oeuvres and sparkling wine (for the bride, groom, and up to four more guests), a single-tier wedding cake, a 5x7 photo, a wedding gift from the gift shop, a private dinner for the bride and groom, and a rose petal turndown service.
Other packages range from the Iridescent Pearl Package, which adds just a few affordable touches; to the mother-of-all packages, the Crown Jewel Package, which includes spa treatments for the bride and groom, a three-tier wedding cake, and live ceremony music.
Personalized weddings can also be created from scratch with the on-site wedding planners at The Jewel.
Originally the Sandals Dunn’s River Resort
After the couples-only Sandals chain decided to cut the property from its collection of Jamaican resorts, it was sold, renovated (though not comprehensively), and reopened in September 2010 as The Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort & Spa.
Renovated in 2010 after being purchased from Sandals Resorts
The Jewel underwent a $7 million makeover after its acquisition from Sandals, and reopened in 2010. Most elements were simply upgraded rather than redone, such as the bath products and technology in the rooms, and the lounge chairs and deck furniture at the pools. Rooms in the Emerald Lanai buildings are still dated; however, rooms in the Diamond and Sapphire buildings are fresher and more luxurious. Those guests who stayed here during its Sandals days will see a number of familiar elements, including the same pools, lobby, and many of the same public spaces.
Accessible grounds, but no ADA-compliant rooms
While elevators and ramps ensure that all public areas are wheelchair accessible, the rooms themselves are not ADA-compliant. Small bathrooms in the Emerald and Sapphire buildings are definitely not large enough to accommodate a wheelchair, though some of the top suites in the Diamond Building might be suitable.
The Jewel is located in an extremely secure area with a manned front gate and around-the-clock security.
The Jewel has a front gate manned by very thorough security guards. The gate guard questioned me in detail every time I approached the property in my car, and while photographing the property I was quickly approached with several questions from yet another security guard.
The resort also has a 24-hour front desk staff, key card room access, and digital safes in the rooms.
The 250-room Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort & Spa (formerly a Sandals resort), underwent a $7 million renovation in 2010 and features six restaurants, six bars, two pools, a full-service spa, and plenty of activities. Still, some parts of the property were clearly skipped over during the makeover, namely the least expensive rooms, which are far inferior to the rest of the resort’s accommodations. And room service and alchohol are not covered in most all-inclusive rates, which may make some guests feel nickel-and-dimed. Nonetheless, the rates are cheaper than at the local Sandals, making The Jewel a good value overall.