In the past, all-inclusive resorts weren’t considered a luxury vacation. The one-price-pays-all concept would consist of mediocre accommodations, watered down cocktails in plastic cups, and uninspired cuisine in buffet-style restaurants. Well, times have changed, and the proof is in the pudding at the new Azul Sensatori Jamaica, which officially welcomed guests in April 2014 after a super-quiet soft opening in December 2013.
Part of the Karisma brand of deluxe all-inclusive resorts, this is the company’s first venture outside of its 12 properties throughout Mexico. They chose the town of Negril, just 90 minutes from the Montego Bay airport. It’s an area that hasn’t seen a new all-inclusive hotel in many years, so it’s a welcome addition for those looking to explore a different part of Jamaica. Azul’s location on the famous Seven Mile Beach is a bonus, as this is a coveted spot for many vacationers looking to be in the heart of this free spirit town.
Azul Sensatori was previously Beaches Sandy Bay resort and the 136 rooms, housed in two-story buildings have been renovated to meet Karisma’s five-star standards. By the end of 2014, new construction will bump accommodations to 300 rooms. Still, the goal is to keep the atmosphere low-key and intimate, so the property is divided in two parts: the family-friendly “multi-generational” section and the separate, 58-room, adults-only wing complete with its own swim-up bar.
Though most rooms have king-sized beds, there are 10 categories of layouts in order to accommodate a variety of guests. Families and larger groups staying for destination weddings or reunions can take advantage of the Family Suites with either two double beds and one king-size bed, the duplex Family Loft Suites with an additional Murphy bed that can host a party of eight, or the one- and two-bedroom guestrooms. Couples can go from room to lazy river in the swank swim-up suites with their outdoor lounge beds or opt for the Jacuzzi or honeymoon suites. However, every room, no matter the category, has a balcony or a patio to take in the island sun and sea, which is easily visible no matter where you’re located. Amenities and furnishings like the plasma TV and iPod docking station have been updated along with a fresh coat of paint to color the rooms in Caribbean-chic. Plus, minibars are stocked daily with free soft drinks and beer (premium rooms also get bottles of top-shelf rum and vodka).
Keeping with Karisma’s “Gourmet Inclusive” concept, the resort has only one buffet restaurant, The Palms, which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and features both island and American specialties. The other three full-service options range from the Italian Di Romagna Restaurant, which has an extensive wine list to Ackee, the gourmet Caribbean eatery, where your meal starts with an appetizer of ackee and salt fish on crunchy bammy bread followed by jerk pork served with roasted sweet potatoes, plantains, and fruit chutney. Casual fare is provided by the Oceans Gourmet Corner for savory beef patties, burgers, and other quick snacks. And if you can’t live without your morning cup of Joe, the Beans Gourmet Coffee Shop will whip you up a latte with no extra charge.
Like all island resorts, the choice is to do as much or as little as you please. Azul is no exception. With their five bars, you can spend the day sipping rum punches, lounging on a floatie in the pool or sunbathing on a Bali bed facing the turquoise sea. If you’re amped to get active, join the roster of activities available each day, from sea kayak racing to beach Olympics. But no pressure, this isn’t a forced-fun operation.
Perhaps you just want a skin-hydrating massage at the Vassa Spa. If you care to take your rub-down outside, the open-air massage pavilion on the beach will sooth your sun-scorched skin if you didn’t reapply your SPF—tsk tsk.
Adults aren’t the only ones with tons of fun to choose from, either. The free Azulitos by Fisher Price kids club and the Playhouse are designed for children from ages six months to 12 years old. In addition to indoor activities from arts and crafts to computer games in the colorful cottage, there’s a secure outdoor playground complete with mini-water park. There hasn’t been an adult yet, who hasn’t wanted a turn on the waterside, trust.
Each night there’s live entertainment, whether a drum and fire show or reggae band jamming on the stage. From 10 p.m. on, night owls head to the adults-only Nesta Rasta Lounge, which was named after, you guessed it, Bob Marley. There they order cocktails like the Tropical Pact made with mango, coconut rum, and orange juice, or sip on premium rums like Blackwell, a hard-to-find liquor produced by Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, and the man who put Marley on the map.
Expect to see a good mix of international guests at the Azul Sensatori. The Karisma brand has a large Mexican and Spanish following, as well as interest from the British market, because of the increased air support into the Montego Bay airport. So, what’s still a relatively under-the-radar resort won’t remain that way for too long. Rates begin at $293 per person, per night during low season.