We went to the all-inclusive Sans Souci Resort & Spa in Ocho Rios, Jamaica in mid-April. We had not planned on taking a trip due to a relocation, but Sans Souci was offering a phenomenal deal that could NOT be passed up. This was my first taste of the all-inclusive resort phenomena and I definitely felt there were positives and negatives to this. Sans Souci is a more low-key, more intimate, all-inclusive, but I could still feel the stereotypical all-inclusive vibe in some aspects. While I sum up my overall feeling of this trip as “indifferent”, I think the nasty, rainy weather had a lot to do with my personal feelings. However, some of the best parts of this trip occurred because it was raining the entire time!
Flights: We flew American Airlines from Washington Dulles International to Montego Bay via Miami International. Since I am a gold Aadvantage member (their frequent flier program), I was able to upgrade to first class 24 hours prior to departure for $75/person. We gladly paid for the upgrade since the flights no longer offer food service and our flight left at 6:20am! When we arrived at Montego Bay, it was PACKED and it was hot and the immigration lines were LONG. Apparently several international flights arrived at the same time, so there were just people everywhere! We just wanted to get to the resort and we knew the sooner we got to the shuttle, the sooner our long journey to Ocho Rios would begin. Luckily for us, we did not have any checked baggage and that would have prolonged our time in the airport.
Our return flights began with a puddle jumper from Ocho Rios to Montego Bay on International Air Link. It was a cute (IMO) 6 seater plane with a friendly staff (read: 2 pilots) and we had the plane to ourselves since it was a charter flight, which we booked through guest services at the hotel. The flight was $87/person, but when you pay with a credit card, there is a 5% service charge. So, we ended up spending around $250 for both of our tickets. The flight was around 30 minutes long and very scenic. Jamaica looked gorgeous from the air and instead of seeing just the poverty, we saw gorgeous homes along the beach, lush landscapes and a wonderful mountainous backdrop. We are SO glad we ended up doing the flight transfer back and would recommend it to anyone. When we got to MBJ, we checked in with American, my upgrades from Miami to Washington Dulles went through and we purchased the upgrades for MBJ to Miami for $30/person. We felt we owed ourselves the upgrade since the weather had been so crappy! The flights home were all on time, although the passport control lines in Miami were out of control and we could have easily missed our connecting flight home. Luckily, we flew first class and had the opportunity to deplane first.
Shuttle Bus Transfer: After we went through the long, excrutiating immigration and customs lines, we were led to the Sans Souci Resort booth. We checked in and got a brief overview of the layout of the resort and a porter came and took our bags out back to the bus area. Never before had I actually had someone outright ask for a tip for carrying my bags (which was all of one rollerboard suitcase for the two of us), but I knew this was the only way to make their money, so we tipped (the same thing actually happened with the shuttle bus driver, but after a 2 hour drive, we didn’t mind). We waited out behind the airport for at least 15 minutes for a bus, which was a little frustrating because it was hot, humid, and we were on our way to a 5 diamond resort and this was not 5 diamond service. Apparently the resort contracts out their shuttle service, though, so the driver wasn’t an employee of the hotel. There were 3 couples, including ourselves, that were waiting for the shuttle and when it finally arrived, we were all a little bummed. It was probably the smallest shuttle bus there and we all jammed into three rows with no leg room.The actual shuttle ride, once underway, was fun in the beginning. I was curious to see the “other side” of Jamaica and I was glad for the experience. However, after fearing for my life several times peering into the eyes of oncoming traffic, and dealing with the worst potholes ever, I just wanted out. We finally stopped at Yow’s Rest Stop, which was clean, friendly, and colorful. The drive after the rest stop didn’t seem so bad, although I saw several people on the side of the road bathing in rivers, and that was something I did not need to see. I understand poverty, and I expected to see rundown homes, stray animals, and broken down cars, but naked people bathing?? I did not let that experience sway my opinion of Jamaica, but I knew the shuttle ride was not for us on the way back. It was too long, hot, and bumpy, so we took the charter flight back to MBJ on the way home.
Sans Souci Resort & Spa: We arrived at the resort an hour prior to check in time, but we were led right into the lobby to the front desk and were given a cold towel and champagne. We were told that our room was not ready (unless we wanted to take a ground floor room, which we did not), and we were driven to lunch after everyone else was led to their rooms. We didn’t mind this so much because we were starving and it was slighlty overcast outside. We decided to eat our first lunch at the beach grille and we ate all of our subsuquent lunches there as well. The staff at the grille was so friendly and the food was great. We were big fans of the jerk special, which was either chicken or pork, and a plate of fries. The beach bar was right next to the grille and was hit or miss with service. The drinks were usually pretty good, but sometimes they took 10 minutes to get it to you and sometimes they were less than friendly. For the most part, though, the staff was attentive and friendly and always welcoming.
Following our lunch, we made our way back up to the lobby, which was a confusingly long walk even with the resort map in our hands. We finally made it, though, and just wanted to be checked into our room since we had been awake since 3am and it was now 3pm (4pm EDT). After waiting for 10 minutes to talk to someone, they said that our room was still not ready and that they had to make a phone call to see when it would be finished. This frustratedme to no end, but after another 5 minutes, we were ready to head down to the room. We were given a one bedroom jacuzzi suite in the “A” block (which means the Azalea building) on the second floor. This was an upgrade from the one bedroom verandah suite we had originally booked. The A block building overlooks the pool and pool bar and the beach area near the activities hut. Our room was fairly spacious and had appeared to be in good condition overall. The decor was “elegant tropical”- rose colored tile floors, a cream matalaisse bedspread, a brightly colored couch and chair and a tan marble bathroom and jacuzzi. The bedroom could be closed off by sliding white doors with opaque glass windows and there were also ceiling fans in the sitting room and the bedroom. Some things tended to not mesh well, though. The couch was brightly colored, but had a plaid pattern, the shower curtain was a cheap, plastic curtain, and the lights in the bathroom were very out dated and did not match the decor at all. The room was well mainted by housekeeping, although the tile floors never quite dried from when they would wash them and the bathroom had a odd smell from time to time. The suite also had a balcony with a small table and chair set that overlooked the pool area. Every room supposedly has an oceanview, but ours only had a slight oceanview. So, we rarely sat outside. The B block, or Begonia block, had a more direct oceanview and overlooked the croquet field. Both the A and B blocks were very similar and had similar sized rooms, but since they have the location that they do, it was very noisy during the day and at night, especially when they have their Friday night gala (outdoor buffet dinner with live entertainment) on the croquet lawn, followed by a disco party at the beach bar. If I had to do it all over again, I would prefer the D or E blocks, but I think they had the more spacious and pricey rooms. Also, as I found out after exploring the resort, the A and B block areas are put to shame by the rest of the resort. The areas by the D and E blocks, the spa, and the mineral pools are amazing and quite beauitiful. However, reaching these areas require a lot of stair climbing and walking.
After we settled into our room, we headed down to the beach for a brief lived moment of relaxation. The beach area is fairly small, well kept, but relatively rough on the feet. The sand was among some of the grittiest I’ve ever felt on a beach, but once you walk into the water, it’s softer and more walkable. It began to get chilly and rainy and we decided to pack it in for the evening and order room service. We never did get to the room service, though- we went to bed for the evening. We awoke a few times to the loud music at the bar and some drunk rowdy people outside. We also found that anyone walking by the rooms, regardless of their state, seemed to cause a lot of noise. I am one for peace and quiet and I was disappointed that things got so loud. I also seemed to be annoyed by the rattling of the mini bar and the ceiling fans, but I’m a very light sleeper and it probably wasn’t as bad as I am making it sound!
The next day, we headed to breakfast at Ristorante Palazzina for a buffet continental breakfast along with a pancake and omlette station. We absolutely loved having breakfast here every morning because there was tons of foods to choose from, the setting was outdoors, and although some wouldn’t like this, there were two cats that came to greet everyone at meal time and they were so adorable! I’m a huge cat person, so I enjoyed petting them, feeding them (I’m not the only one!), and watching them interact with other people and each other. The one cat would even meow at the birds nearby as if they were invading his space! We also ate dinner at Palazzina for the remaining two nights of our stay and enjoyed our meals both times, although it was not the best meals we had ever had. I ordered the beef entree twice and my travel partner went with the shrimp entree one night and the red snapper entree the next.
Following our breakfast, we headed down to the beach for what happened to be the only 4 hours of sunshine we had our entire stay. Before we sat down, we ran into another couple (Easy Escapes agent Caroline!) and ended up spending almost our entire stay with them. What a great couple they are! 🙂 (She’ll probably go into more detail about the resort and her stay there since she had an entire week to explore the area, so be sure to look for her review) After meeting up and chatting with them for some time, weI went out into the ocean on these foam blue rafts the resort provided. Lounging in the ocean, soaking up the sun, was one of the best parts of our trip. It was so relaxing and the water was relatively warm, but cool enough to give me a much needed chill when the sun got too hot. Before we knew it, the sun had disappeared and the rain began! We ate one of our many meals at the beach grille and then went up to our room to escape the rain. After dinner at Palazzina, we just went back to our room, watched a movie, and went to bed.
What seemed to be another repeat of the day before, we got up and ate breakfast and it was raining. The rain broke briefly enough for us to sit all of five minutes at the pool, but then we gave up and went to the pool bar to have drinks with Caroline and her husband. We ended up sitting there for quite sometime and we managed to get pretty drunk! The drinks were strong and they just kept coming! After heading to the beach grille and eating lunch, we decided to take a walk to to the mineral pool on the opposite side of the D block building. We had an idea that the mineral pool would be warm, but after a brief ten minute swim, we realized it wasn’t so warm after all! The mineral pool is very relaxing, though, and great for a quick rejuvenating swim. It’s also much quieter than the main pool, which is home to the swim up bar and a volley ball net. There is also another pool just behind the lobby building, and it seemed to be rarely used. Since the mineral pool couldn’t provide what we were looking for, we tried the public jacuzzis, but all of them were broken. At that point, it had started to pour and we just went back to our perspective rooms, relaxed for a bit, and met up for dinner later that evening. We had talked about going to the beach bar after dinner, but after two bottles of cheap French wine (the ONLY wine they had!), we were a little drunk again.
After waking up to yet another day of rain, we decided that we made the best of our short vacation and that was all we were going to get from it! While we did end up having a good time, we couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed at our overall experience and decided we won’t be going back to the Caribbean in April ever again! As for the resort itself, we liked our experience, but we definitely missed out on some of the highlights because of our length of stay and the rain. Some of the things we missed were the water sports, which include windsurfing, aqua bikes, kayaking, a glass bottom boat, and a snorkeling expedition. My travel partner tried at one point to go windsurfing, but all of the equipment was booked. He instead briefly took out a kayak and enjoyed paddling around to other areas of the resort that we didn’t always get to see. Also, Charlie’s Spa looked amazing, with some breathtaking views of the ocean. We had the option of getting two 25 minute treatments or one 50 minute treatment as part of our package, but we never made an appointment for fear that the sun would come out and we’d end up missing it. It would have been nice to get a facial, but the closest I got to the spa was visiting the spa’s namesake, Charlie the turtle! Also, we did not venture over to the clothing-optional beach. I heard that the beach area over there is better, but I’m admittedly a bit wary of walking around naked on a beach. Maybe one day I’ll give in and try it out! We also chose not to dine at Casanova, the Italian Restaurant at the resort. The attire is formal (jacket required for men) and since my travel partner did not want to bring a suit jacket or long pants for only 3 nights, we decided not to dine there. It looked nice, though!
So, all in all, I doubt I’ll ever go back to Sans Souci, but for my first all-inclusive trip, I couldn’t have chosen a better place for myself. It’s small, relatively low-key, with a friendly staff (for the most part- some just didn’t care), and the grounds were pretty. I grew fond of not having to reach for my wallet after every drink or every meal and I wish that there were more small-scale, intimate AIs out there for people who just want to relax and chill out without having to deal with hoards of people. I can’t say I’d recommend this resort for a honeymoon, but I would recommend it for a quick getaway- just don’t go in April or May during their rainy season!
****Sans Souci is now part of the Couples chain!!****