A spirited makeover at Sandals Ochi Beach Resort in Jamaica

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OCHO RIOS, Jamaica — Two intimidating-looking bouncers blocked the entrance to the Rabbit Hole.

"What is the password?" I was asked.

"I am sober," I responded.

"You may enter," one of them said.

In the dimly lit interior of this latter-day speakeasy, bartenders worked a long bar, backlit by an etched-glass mirror in front of which were several rows of premium booze, including Maker's Mark bourbon, Absolut vodka, Tanqueray gin and, this being Jamaica, Appleton reserve rum.

Phyllia, the lady in red, took to the center of the small dance floor and, mic in hand, belted out songs from the 1920s.

As for the password, the word "sober" in Sandals' parlance was spelled S-O-B-R, an acronym for Sandals Ochi Beach Resort.

The interior of the Rabbit Hole speakeasy reflects the 1920s Prohibition era.
The interior of the Rabbit Hole speakeasy reflects the 1920s Prohibition era. Photo Credit: Gay Nagle Myers

The Rabbit Hole is one of several entertainment innovations at the renovated and rebranded Sandals Ochi Beach Resort, formerly known as Sandals Grande Riviera Beach & Villa Golf Resort.

The $60 million redo includes seven new dining concepts (the resort now offers 16 restaurants and 11 bars), a trendy beach club and the open-air Popcorn & Palms Cinema, which features classic movies two evenings a week.

All 529 villa rooms have been upgraded with new soft goods, rainfall showers and lighting.

Maria and Narida, my two butlers in the All-Butler Village on the hillside, provided me with a phone to call them when I needed a ride to the beach club or restaurants. If a butler was not available, I hopped aboard a jitney that is part of a new transportation hub called the Hop, which moves guests all around the resort.

The propertywide, complimentary WiFi worked in my hillside room, by the signature pool at the Great House, over a platter of chicken at the Jerk Shack and at a pancake-and-rum-syrup breakfast at the Southern Table restaurant.

"This is a game changer for the all-inclusive resort experience in Jamaica," said Butch Stewart, founder and chairman.

Agents who attended the opening celebrations liked what they saw.

"I get support, training, collateral and updates all the time from Sandals," said Jeanette Hein of Avoya Travel in Clarence, Iowa. "I do a lot of wedding bookings and find that many of the guests in the wedding parties come back to me to book their own Sandals vacations."

Weddings represent a sizable chunk of revenue at Sandals Ochi, according to Ramel Sobrino, general manager. "We're doing 60 weddings in May and 123 in June," he said.

The upgrades included the resort's Love Nest Dream suites, set on the hillside, each featuring a plunge pool and a lot of privacy.

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