Sandals Dunn’s River Reunion Week

For the past 16 years, Sandals resorts have celebrated Reunion Week at each of their Sandals properties during Easter week.  All the stops are pulled out for this special week for returning guests.  While Sandals is famous for its gourmet food and “Luxury Included” ambience, they go far beyond the expectations for the average guest.  Two of the main features are an off property excursion and a specially prepared meal fit for a king.  Most of the trips have been to tourist attractions near the resorts.  Besides the abundance of food and drinks, special activities and entertainment are the order of the day.

Ann and I decided this year we would celebrate at Sandals Dunn’s River Villagio Golf Resort and Spa located within site of the Ocho Rios cruise ship pier.  This property boasts 250 rooms and 8 categories, including two butler service levels.  There are six restaurants and six bars scattered throughout this compact resort.  You will also find a pitch and putt golf course, two pools, and a white sand beach dotted with three cabanas.

Reunion week is officially from Monday to Friday but many guests stay a week or more.  An early offering on Sunday evening came from the Montego Bay Girls and Boys Marching Band.  The band is a precision marching and dancing group comprised of high school students from Montego Bay.  We have seen them perform at other Sandals resorts in Jamaica over the years where they are always warmly received.

Easter Monday, a Jamaican national holiday, started with an Easter egg painting competition followed by an Easter egg hunt which included many special prizes and surprises.  Every Monday afternoon there is the traditional Manager’s Cocktail Party.  This is the opportunity for new arrivals to meet the management team.  Normally the finger foods consist of chicken wings, fried fish, and the like along with an assortment of fruits, cheeses, and canapés.  For this occasion the Executive Chef, Junior Francis, was on hand to prepare fish fritters and pan fried shrimp.  No cocktail hour would be complete without a bar comprised of premium brand beverages to put the guests in a festive mood.  Once the large gathering had partaken of the sumptuous goodies the manager from each department was introduced followed by a welcome from Mr. Louis Grant, the General Manager of Sandals Dunn’s River.  The entertainment department provided dancing, juggling, and mime which were a delight to watch.  While this was going on, Mr. Grant went through the audience and personally greeted each guest.  The final event of the cocktail hour was the drawing for prizes ranging from a Jamaican painting to spa treatments.  Music was provided by a small steel pan drum band.

The last event of the day was a beach party.  With most of the restaurants closed for the night, there were many more people at the beach party than at the cocktail party.  The food at the buffet was outstanding.  There were steaks cooked to order, barbecued chicken, curried mutton, and jerk pork to accompany the red pea soup, salads, and a variety of vegetables.  The party wouldn’t be complete without an array of sweet and delicate pastries.  Entertainment was provided by the full steel pan drum band, a fire eater, limbo dancer, and other typical beach party entertainment.

Tuesday’s field trip was to a property in Ocho Rios owned by Sandals Chairman and Founder, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, called Laughing Waters, which is at the head of Roaring River where 82 couples gathered for the day’s activities.  This ocean front property was the perfect spot for the fun and games we all looked forward to.  We were bused to the nearby property shortly after ten in the morning.  Upon arrival, we were greeted by many of the staff who had been preparing for this party since before dawn.  After the initial food and drinks, the Loyalty Manager, Derise Forbes, along with the entertainment department began the activities for the day.  The first event was a kite making and flying contest which I won!  Other activities included another Easter egg hunt, bocce ball, cricket, and sand volleyball.  Also on hand were members of the Red Lane Spa who offered special discounts for massages there on the beach.  Entertainment was once again provided by the steel pan drum band who come from Kingston.

One thing I have failed to mention was the always present gourmet food and premium drinks.  The food was similar to the presentation at the previous night’s beach party.  It was amazing how the quality of the food remained at the same level as at the resort.  The executive chef is an expert at assuring the highest possible quality and presentation of food.  He has been our favorite for many years.

The festivities started to unwind mid afternoon when some of the guests chose to take advantage of an early bus ride back to the resort, while the remainder of the guests continued to enjoy the games and other activities until late in the afternoon. 

Wednesday was the day Ann and I had looked forward to for the past year.  The Returning Guest Dinner has been our favorite part of the reunion week activities.  Of all the years we have been attending returning guest dinners, this one was the best of all.  The appetizer was three separate items consisting of Timbale of smoked salmon, home flavored jerk chicken breast roti with papaya relish, and cucumber and tomato with chive flavored cream and citrus dressing.  Next was shrimp Caesar salad served in a crisp parmesan basket shell.  To clear the tongue of the seasonings of the first two items, a Jamaican Ohtahiti Apple Sorbet was served.  The main entrée was Beef Wellington wrapped in a flaky pastry topped with Lobster tail marinated with garlic and lime butter.  Dessert consisted of a mango, ohtahiti apple, and papaya mousse presented on a pool of garden cherry cinnamon sauce.  If ever a meal was fit for royalty this one truly was.

What makes this meal even more impressive is it was served to more than 200 guests and staff on a lawn located in the furthest most part of the property.  Amazingly, all the hot items were hot and the cold items were cold including the sorbet.  Entertainment was provided by a Jamaican singing cowboy whose voice and selections kept the crowd in a festive mood.  Also on the lawn was a continuous slide presentation from the previous day’s field trip.

As the evening drew to a close, each couple was recognized for their number of returning visits.  Those who had earned their silver or gold Sandals and/or free week were presented with their reward.  Ann and I were one of the several couples who had earned their free week during this stay.  Silver sandals signify 35 nights, gold sandals are 56 nights, and a free week is 70 nights.

Thursday was pretty much regular activities throughout the resort.  Friday was limited to a “Farewell Champagne Breakfast” overlooking the beach.  Each person received a leather luggage tag and a Sandals Select magnetic lapel pin similar to what the staff wears.  Earlier in the week, each person was the recipient of a reunion week t-shirt and a pair of Sandals flip flops.  At the end of the returning guest dinner, the men received a bottle of Appleton Special Jamaican rum and the women took away a Jamaican orchid. One lucky couple received a free week in a special drawing from all the returning guests.

It was very hard to say goodbye to the staff who did such an outstanding job of pampering each and every one of the Sandals Select returning guests as though they were the only guests on the property.  We were so impressed with this week’s reunion, that we have booked next year’s 17th annual reunion week at this resort from the “Soon Come Back” desk at the resort which offers incentives not available through the Sandals website or from travel agents.  Two of the perks are resort, spa, and/or gift shop credit and double or triple reward points.

Sandals’ slogan is “Love is all you need”, and it is so true because once you step foot on any Sandals resort, you are pampered from early morning to late night each and every day.  It doesn’t matter if all you want to do is relax and soak up the sun or participate in the many activities available, you are sure to have a very enjoyable vacation.  That is why Ann and I have over 300 nights at Sandals and have been to all the properties in the past 15 years.  There is nothing to compare to a Sandals resort as far as we are concerned.  Come to Sandals and see what you are missing. 

This article is dedicated to the loving memory of our friend Franklin Jones who left this world for a better place on April 14th, 2009, during Reunion Week at Dunn’s River Villagio Golf Resort and Spa.  Later….