Blue Diamond Resorts, a hotel company in its sixth year of operation, has quickly established its all-inclusive footprint in the Caribbean.
It has more than 15,000 rooms under six brands in 30 resorts in five countries in the Caribbean as well as Cancun.
Blue Diamond owns and manages its resorts, except for the nine properties in Cuba that fall under its Memories and Starfish brands. These are owned by the Cuban government, and Blue Diamond serves as the management company.
Four additional all-suite properties are slated to open early this year, two of which feature the resort-within-a-resort experience: the 407-suite, all-ages Royalton Negril and the adjacent 166-suite, adults-only Hideaway at Royalton Negril in Jamaica, plus the 352-suite Royalton St. Lucia and the 104-suite Hideaway at Royalton St. Lucia.
In 2016, I sampled two resorts under two brands in Blue Diamond's extensive portfolio. The year-old, 320-room Chic Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, described by Blue Diamond's managing director, Jordi Pelfort, as "a hot spot for discerning adults looking for an all-inclusive social experience," hummed with a South Beach vibe and included daily pool parties with frothy foam bubbles, lively entertainment, an on-site oxygen bar, Middle Eastern menus paired with belly dancing and the Mermaid Pool with a glass viewing wall.
Late last year, I visited the 228-suite Royalton Blue Waters, which opened on Nov. 7 on the shores of White Bay near Montego Bay in Jamaica, adjacent to sister property Royalton White Sands, which opened in November 2013.
Guests can stay at one and play at both, although White Sands' guests are restricted to certain facilities and areas at Blue Waters.
They can, however, splash through Blue Waters' lazy river, a first for Blue Diamond, and dine at most of Blue Waters' five restaurants.
Between Blue Waters and White Sands, the resorts offer 12 restaurants, 18 bars and lounges, four pools, a waterpark and a Kids Adventure program, kids' clubhouse and a teen hangout with video games.
The architecture and design of Blue Waters are contemporary and sleek with modern sculptures in the expansive lobby and wide walkways to the beach plus lap pools, numerous outdoor seating areas with cushioned sun beds, thatched-roof palapas for shade, 16 lifeguards and an army of helpful employees throughout.
The lazy river at the Royalton Blue Waters in Montego Bay, Jamaica, is the first for Blue Diamond.
Accommodations among the 228 suites, all of which are oceanview, include 24 swim-out suites, 145 junior suites, 51 Diamond Club units, seven Presidential suites and a Chairman's suite.
The Diamond Club suites carry a pricier rate and grant guests access to an exclusive lounge and an a la carte restaurant and bar, butler service, a selection of top-shelf, in-suite liquors, a pillow menu and a private beach area with waiter service.
Diamond Club rooms are a bit more spacious than the rest, but all the rooms that I inspected were large by most resort standards with a super-size shower and rainfall showerhead, a soaking tub, fast WiFi, complimentary long-distance calls and Royalton's handcrafted DreamBeds.
I found that I did not often require the services of my butlers, Odane and Bernadine. They supplied me with a cellphone so I could call them if I needed anything.
They offered to unpack and repack for me, which I politely declined, but they were at my beck and call from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. if I required assistance, which I did not.
The 16 butlers work in teams of two, each servicing several rooms at a time.
The resort had been open less than a month when I was there, and occupancy was understandably light, although Luis Elizondo, general manager, told me that the resort had "heavy bookings" for the holiday period.
Amenities at Royalton Blue Waters, in addition to the lazy river, included 10 private poolside cabanas that, although not in the all-inclusive plan, can be rented for a day for rates starting at $75 per cabana.
Each unit features waiter service, WiFi, TV, a partially covered roof for shade and a plunge pool.
"We've already had high demand for them," Elizondo said.
The two on-the-beach massage cabanas also did a steady business as did the six treatment rooms within the Royal Spa.
A culinary focus is important for all of Blue Diamond's properties according to Pelfort, and this resort was no exception.
"Cuisine is a major element in all-inclusive resort improvement," he said. "We use only fresh, not processed, food items as well as local fresh produce and fruits."
With the exception of the C/X Culinary Experience chef's table restaurant — which seats up to 20, carries an extra charge and requires advance reservations — there are no reservations needed for the other restaurants at both resorts.
These included the Jamaican Jerk Hut, Hunter's Steakhouse, Opa (Mediterranean) and Zen Teppanaki.
I dined at most of them, including C/X, where the menu featured a salad of jerk-smoked duck breast; conch fritters and ceviche; Caribbean spiny lobster and beef tenderloin; dasheen (a tuber vegetable); and field greens. The finale was orange rumbaba: an orange vanilla cake laced with local rums and served with orange rum sauce.
I waddled back to my room, giving a thumbs-up to that culinary experience.
Staying on top of brand developments and new property openings can be challenging for the travel trade, Pelfort said.
With that in mind, Blue Diamond launched its BDAgentRewards.com program in mid-December to enable agents to stay informed and earn points that can be converted into cash on every booking.
"The launch of this loyalty program comes at an important time for us with several openings within a six-month period and numerous large-scale projects coming soon," he said.