Ottawa Citizen


Luxurious overwater suites in Jamaica offer magical Caribbean getaway

- Jamaica informatio­n: www.visitjamai­ jim@jimbyerstr­ JIM BYERS

Jamaica’s first over-water villas

It wasn’t the chilled Champagne. It wasn’t the hammock suspended over the lagoon. And it wasn’t the see-through glass floor in my room that allowed me to peer down into the warm Caribbean.

Those were all great. But the biggest thrill of staying at Sandals Royal Caribbean overwater villas or bungalows (sandals. com), the first in Jamaica — and in the Caribbean — was the joy of silence and space; of soaking in my private pool and sipping an adult beverage as the sun dipped into the inky Caribbean while the sky lit up in dreamy shades of orange, purple and mauve and small waves slipped over the nearby reef with a gentle whoosh. And not seeing another soul.

Overwater bungalows began some 50 years ago in Tahiti, with small units that jutted a few feet out into a gorgeous bay. Now there are hotel rooms on stilts in lagoons across the South Pacific, as well as islands such as the Maldives and a few other places. Now you can add Jamaica to that list, specifical­ly the Sandals Royal Caribbean resort in Montego Bay, with more to come this year in Jamaica and St. Lucia.

Built in a shallow bay or lagoon off the edge of an island you reach via a one-minute boat ride from the main Sandals Resort, the Royal Caribbean complex features five overwater villas, plus a dozen bungalows spread around a heart-shaped, wooden walkway.

The units are luxurious but not so in your face that you don’t feel comfortabl­e in your shorts and flip flops. My villa had a fabulous king-sized bed fashioned out of gleaming teak, with Egyptian cotton linens and polished-toa-shine hardwood floors. There was a nice work station, a large screen TV, premium Wi-Fi, and an iPad. My room had a gorgeous array of tropical flowers, lovely chairs with deep blue cushions and the aforementi­oned glass opening that allowed me to see the water below my room.

The bathroom is the size of some downtown Toronto or Vancouver condos; with two large sinks, a shower big enough for four people, a standalone tub and Molton Brown bath products. There was also a large walk-in closet and a small kitchen area with a mini-fridge and a sink and a fully-stocked bar with high-quality spirits (remember, Sandals is an all-inclusive resort). The roofs are thatched, so that when you gaze out from your unit to the water the view is partly framed by palm fronds for that maximum tropical effect.

The indoor space is divine, but the whole point of an overwater villa or bungalow is to get out and enjoy the experience. The deck on my villa was a two-tiered affair. On the lower level were two gleaming white recliners and a ladder leading a few feet down into the water. A few steps above that was the main deck, which was truly massive. There was a round day bed suspended from ropes in a shady corner, right alongside a series of crisscross­ed ropes folks can lie on to create a kind of hammock effect, with views down to the water a metre or two below. They provide snorkel gear, too.

The middle section of the deck featured a full-sized sofa with lovely blue and white cushions and two chairs. Past that was a good-sized plunge pool perched on the edge for maximum ocean views, plus another couple of chairs and a pair of outdoor showers. Because of the way they’re angled, you can use the outdoor shower without fear of being spotted by anyone except a stray fisherman. (I haven’t seen any Instagram posts to the contrary, so I’m assuming my outdoor experience wasn’t caught on camera.)

I didn’t see much sea life in the water below my unit during my brief stay. But on the boat ride from my villa to the mainland I saw a large, grey and white manta ray leap from the water.

The luxe treatment doesn’t stop at the rooms and surroundin­gs. Guests at Sandals Royal Caribbean overwater villas and bungalows (the villas opened in December of last year, the bungalows in March), get luxury transfers from the airport to the resort and expedited immigratio­n. Bungalow and villa guests also are given butlers to keep at their disposal 24/7 and a cellphone to contact them with. Charles helped me snag a great table at the Thai restaurant for dinner, where I had lovely soup and curried chicken with coconut milk.

Sated by a great meal and a cold Thai beer, I took a short walk back on the wooden boardwalk suspended over the lagoon and reached my unit. It was a perfect night for a dip in the ocean. I turned off the lights suspended under my unit and made a brief foray into the Caribbean, gazing up at a brilliant half moon and the shining outline of Orion.


A Sandals spokespers­on told me villas and bungalows are already booked up for most of this year, but check online to confirm. Bungalow rates start at US$1,078 per person per night, while the villas start at US$1,435 per person per night. The Sandals Royal Caribbean also has 227 units on the mainland, surrounded by lovely, landscaped gardens and serene, lagoon-like swimming pools. There’s a nice beach, too. You’re only a few minutes from Montego Bay Airport, which means more time to relax but you can also hear the occasional jet taking off. I had a marvellous hot stone massage at the Red Lane Spa; one of the top treatments I’ve had anywhere. Deluxe rooms in the mainland portion of the resort are listed from US$219 per person per night.

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 ?? SANDALS RESORTS ?? The overwater villas and bungalows at Sandals Royal Caribbean are perched over a quiet bay, with views that go on for miles.
SANDALS RESORTS The overwater villas and bungalows at Sandals Royal Caribbean are perched over a quiet bay, with views that go on for miles.
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