Why golfers will love the new Sandals Dunn’s River in Jamaica

Why golfers will love the new Sandals Dunn’s River in Jamaica

OCHO RIOS, Jamaica – My first reaction upon seeing the SkyPool Butler Suite at the new Sandals Dunn’s River was simply, ‘Why would I ever leave my room?’

I had my own pool and outside tub on the balcony overlooking the resort pools and beach out to the shimmering Caribbean Sea. I had a butler who could deliver food at a moment’s notice. The well-stocked mini-bar and fridge could have kept me gleefully sauced for at least a week. In the bathroom, a hot bath had already been drawn and decorated with a bouquet of roses and petals on the floor.

Wisely, my wife and I did eventually leave the room to explore the Caribbean’s newest golf resort and its all-inclusive restaurants, bars, water sports, recreational programming and nearby golf course.

Sandals Dunn’s River is actually not brand new at all. It just looks and feels that way. Sandals used to own the property from 1991 until 2006 and then bought back the Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort & Spa in 2020. The past three years have been spent renovating everything. The result is a modern 260-room resort that celebrated its grand opening in May 2023.

While most golfers come to Jamaica to play the incredible foursome of courses near Montego Bay – Half Moon, Tryall, Cinnamon Hill and The White Witch – it’s time to consider an all-inclusive golf adventure in Ocho Rios, too.

Staying at Sandals Dunn’s River

My first Sandals couples trip was an eye-opening experience. It was easy to see why legions of travelers are brand loyalists. Sandals offers 17 beachfront settings in Jamaica, Antigua, Saint Lucia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada and Curaçao. Only a handful cater to golfers like Sandals Dunn’s River.

The best part is how easy Sandals makes a Jamaican vacation from start to finish. There’s a Sandals lounge at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, so resort guests can relax with a drink and snack before a luxury shuttle bus (or private transfer) begins the less-than-two-hour ride. American Airlines recently announced that new direct flights will begin operating in February twice a week from Miami to the Ian Fleming International Airport in Ocho Rios, so that’s a nice new alternative.

Guests staying in a premium room receive a cell phone at check-in to keep in close contact with a butler just in case they’re craving lunch at the pool or another pina colada on the beach. We may, or may not, have been guilty of such pampering.

Even more luxurious than the SkyPool Suite is a new concept called the Coyaba Sky Swim-up Rondoval Butler Suites. These standalone circular villas featuring private pools have been thoughtfully redesigned with vast open-air rooftops where guests can soak in an outdoor tub by day and go stargazing by night with a high-powered telescope.

As with any all-inclusive, the dining options make or break the stay. Not a single meal at Sandals Dunn’s River disappointed. We sampled as many of the 12 restaurants as possible – the Jerk Shack, Pizzeria Isola and Galene Seaside Grill on the beach, breakfast buffet at Saltaire, small plates of Asian fusion at Banyu, oxtail sliders at Dunn’s Rum Club, Latin fusion at Zuka and Greek delicacies at Edessa. Warning: the photo gallery below may cause you to gain a few pounds.

Since all water sports – including Hobie Cat sailing lessons, water skiing, kayaking, tubing and more – are complimentary, Sandals visitors can be as lazy or as active as they want to be. We did our best to work off some calories by using stand up paddle boards (a great core workout), snorkeling and participating in water aerobics. The snorkeling was the best I’ve seen in the Caribbean. We took a glass-bottom boat to a nearby coral reef with plenty of colorful fish. Although we never went to the gym, at least we did take a peek inside to enjoy the view.

The source of the water that flows through Sandals Dunn’s River is from the natural reserves of the Dunn’s River Falls, from the lobby waterfalls to the cascading pools of the Red Lane® Spa. Speaking of Dunn’s River Falls and Park …

Climbing Dunn’s River Falls with Island Routes

It is the secret weapon the three Sandals properties near Ocho Rios have over Montego Bay’s resorts. The best way to arrive at the falls is a catamaran cruise with Island Routes. The catamaran ($107+ per person) launches from Sandals Ochi, which is a short bus ride from Sandals Dunn’s River. Our first stop on the water was a guided snorkel excursion where “Rambo” provided the thrills. Our Jamaican host plucked several sea urchins, sand dollars and even a pair of man-o-war jellyfish off the sea floor to show them off to the group.

Arriving at a beach introduced the rushing water of the falls, where more local guides help tourists “climb” up 600 feet of raging water coming from the hills. At various points, people form human chains to avoid slipping. It’s a wildly entertaining hour-long adventure with stops in swimming holes for photo ops. Be sure to bring water shoes (rentals are available for $5) and a waterproof camera. Back on the catamaran, sailors are served lunch and potent rum punch. The good vibes of a deejay, reggae music and drinks inspire a chaotic dance party that brings the fun like only Jamaica can.

Playing Sandals Upton Estate Golf & Country Club

One afternoon, I watched curiously as a golfer walked by the pool carrying his clubs. The sunbathers acted like they had just seen an alien. They couldn’t image why anyone would want to leave paradise to play a game so many believe is pure torture. Free golf, that’s why.

All three Sandals properties near Ocho Rios – I’ll write more about Sandals Royal Plantation and Sandals Ochi later – offer complimentary green fees and transportation to the Sandals Upton Estate Golf and Country Club, which is less than 30 minutes away. Golfers still have to pay the $25 cart fee and $35 caddie fee (plus a recommended tip of $20 or more), but any Caribbean round costing less than $100 should be considered a bargain.

Sandals Upton Estate Golf & Country Club doesn’t boast any stunning ocean views like those near Montego Bay, but it’s really fun to play. Collectively, the greens might be the smallest I’ve ever attempted to hit. Between the hills and the doglegs, there’s enough personality in the 6,404-yard routing to be engaging. All five par 3s wouldn’t be out of place on more heralded championship tracks.

The most recent GolfPass review from Nov. 11, 2023, awards Sandals four stars. “Course is great,” wrote golfer ‘randrew0221’. “Sure, the greens are a little slow, but everything else is in phenomenal conditions. You get a caddy to enhance the experience, and I’d strongly recommend requesting Dianna. She made the day way better and knew the course in and out. Even some putts I would have never believed her reads to be right, turns out they were.”

The clubhouse, which suffered a fire in 2021, has been completely rebuilt with a nice bar up top and a pro shop full of merchandise. The food and drinks aren’t free, but don’t worry – all you can handle are ready and waiting back at Sandals Dunn’s River.

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