The Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort & Spa – Our Home Away From Home! Part 1
Updated: Mar 17
We just returned from another amazing trip to Jamaica and our 15th visit to the Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort & Spa (or JDR as many of us know it)!
The Jewel Dunn’s River is located in Mammee Bay, Jamaica – just outside of Ocho Rios.
This was our 15th straight visit to this particular property, so I know the resort like the back of my hand. I also have a TON of tips to share to help make your stay as enjoyable as mine always is. In fact, I have so much to share that I’m splitting the summary of my latest visit into two separate posts.
The goal of Part 1 is to get you familiar with the property. I’ll share the history of the property, tell you all about the different rooms, as well as some of the features of the property like the pools and the beach.
Part 2 will be all about what to do! I’ll tell you about the different restaurants and bars, as well as all of the activities. I’ll even share my favorite places to venture off-property.
So, keep reading to find out how to become a pro like me before you visit the Jewel Dunn’s River!
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So Who Owns the Resort?
That’s actually a harder questions than you would think! The resort completed a “business combination” between Sagicor and Playa Hotels & Resorts a little over a year ago. You can read the press release about the sale here.
Over the 15 years I’ve been visiting the property, ownership has changed several times.
History of the Property
The property first opened in 1958 as the Arawak Hotel. The hotel was purchased by Hilton Hotels in the early 1960s. It quickly transferred to the Americana.
In the early 1970’s, the property was transformed into Eden II, and was the first and only hotel that famed architect Morris Lapidus designed in Jamaica. The inspiration for Lapidus’ design was Lake Como in Italy.
In 1990, Sandals purchased the resort and began a massive refurbishment of the property, including constructing a replica of Dunn’s River Falls in the main pool.
The waterfall in the main pool was built to replicate Dunn’s River Falls, which is located just down the road from the resort. You can book a private dinner in the gazebo on top of the waterfall during your stay.
With the opening of Sandals Dunn’s River, Sandals became the largest operator of fully all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Jamaica’s second-largest employer (the Jamaican government was the largest).
After 20 years of operating the property, Sandals decided it no longer wanted the resort in its portfolio. So, the property was temporarily shut down.
The Jewel Takes Over
Shortly after the resort was shut down, the Jewel took over the property. The Jewel was a hotel/resort management company based in the U.S., and they were looking to expand their footprint into Jamaica. After a few months of doing some upgrades, hiring and training staff, and getting everything set, the resort re-opened as The Jewel Dunn’s River.
Shortly after taking over Dunn’s River, the Jewel acquired two additional locations in Jamaica – Runaway Bay and Paradise Cove. The Jewel Paradise Cove and Jewel Dunn’s River are adult-only resorts, while Jewel Runaway Bay is family friendly.
The latest addition to the Jewel family in Jamaica is the Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort & Spa. The resort is located on the property that was formerly the Palmyra. It’s much larger than the other Jewel properties, but it is also all-inclusive and only a few years old.
Playa Resorts Take Over
For those of us that have been going to the Jewel properties for many years, it came as a big surprise to hear that Playa Resorts was taking over a little over a year ago. At the time, it also raised a lot of concern. Rumors quickly swirled about re-branding the resorts to Panama Jack, as well as shutting down the resort for major construction.
As of my last visit in January of 2020, not much has changed. There is no Panama Jack branding. There are a few things that have been cut back, like no more free airport shuttle if you booked after January 1, 2019. Management told us in 2019 that there are plans to tear down the Emerald Lanai building and build a new tower in its place in 2021, but we didn’t hear anything about those rumors during our most recent visit.
About the Resort
Before you arrive, if you have never been to Jamaica, be sure to check out my previous post about Jamaica. I give you my 15 tips and tricks to help you with planning your trip and arriving on the island. You can check it out here.
The Jewel Dunn’s River has 250 rooms, which makes it the perfect size in my opinion. Even when the resort is at full capacity, it never feels crowded.
There are different levels of rooms on the resort. Here is some information on each, to help you decide which room is best for you.
Emerald Lanai: These are the smallest and lowest cost rooms. They are housed in two buildings on the east end of the property. The buildings are two floors, and there is no view of the ocean from the rooms. The first floor rooms have a small patio area outside the room. The second floor rooms have a shared balcony and no patio area. The rooms are 327 square feet and contain a king bed, two chairs, a desk and dresser in the main bedroom. The bathrooms are configured one of two ways. Some have a small tub/toilet area, single sink and large closet. Others have a large jacuzzi tub, separate toilet and double sinks, but there is an armoire rather than a closet.
Tip #1: If you don’t plan on spending much time in your room and don’t care about an ocean view, this is the room for you. The rooms are quite comfortable (although the bathroom is a bit small).
The small bathroom contains a tub and toilet. Plus, the door opens in, which makes it pretty hard to maneuver inside.
Tip #2: If you have two adults traveling together that want to split a room but not share a bed, there are a limited number of rooms in this building with two double beds. Be sure when you book that you specifically request one of these rooms, and confirm directly with the resort before you arrive.
Tip #3: These buildings do not have elevators. So, if you have a hard time going up and down steps, be sure to request a room on the first floor. Same as above, specify this request on your reservation and confirm directly with the resort before you arrive.
The Emerald Lanai has two buildings, with a walkway in between. The walkway leads straight to the piano bar.
Sapphire Building: The Sapphire Building is located in the center of the resort (above the lobby area). All the rooms are 347 square feet and have private balconies, so you have a bit more space than in the Emerald Lanai building. There are three different room levels in this building. While the size and configuration of all of the rooms is the same, the difference in room level is the view – limited ocean view (Premier Level), full ocean view (Sapphire Ocean View), and mountain view (Sapphire Mountain View).
Tip #4: If you are in this building, request a higher floor room. The views are much nicer above the trees for the ocean view rooms. For the mountain view rooms, the higher up you are, the quieter it will be. The driveway/entrance to the resort will be below you and the buses can be noisy when pulling up.
The Sapphire Building sits right in the middle of the property. A higher floor gives you a better view.
Diamond Building: All the rooms in the Diamond Building include concierge service. The rooms in this building used to be stocked with alcohol, but that was something that was cut back with the new ownership. They do have a mini-fridge stocked with water, soda and juice. Butler suites only are stocked with liquor.
This was the bar in our butler suite room. The mini fridge is behind the cupboard in the middle section.
Tip #5: Re-stocking the mini-fridge is done separately from housekeeping. If your mini-fridge isn’t being re-stocked, just leave a note for them and they will bring whatever you need. We tend to go through a lot of bottled water, so we leave a note at the beginning of our stay asking that they leave four new bottles every day.
Every room in this building also has ocean views and private balconies.
The view from the front balcony of our room. Only Diamond Honeymoon Haven and Butler suites have a front balcony as well as a side balcony.
Tip #6: The Diamond Building is located on the western edge of the resort. If you are staying in this building, request a higher floor for a better view. Also, request a room on the east side (even numbered rooms) of the building facing the resort. There is a Riu resort right next door, and if you are on the west side of the building your room will be facing that resort, which is not as nice of a view and can be noisy.
The view from our room in the Diamond Building. We were in room 3318, which faced straight front to the ocean.
View of the Diamond building from out on the pier. The Riu resort is on the right side of the picture.
There are three different room levels here as well. Diamond Concierge rooms are the smallest at 455 square feet, with a separate sitting room and bedroom. The bathrooms contain a large jacuzzi tub, separate toilet area, double sink, and closet area.
Our bed in our Diamond Concierge room. The bed was quite high. I’m pretty tall and had a hard time climbing into it!
The two highest levels of rooms also include butler service. This gives you access to the butler staff for any special needs 24/7. They will reserve seats by the pool for you, arrange a table for you at dinner, and make sure that everything with your stay is perfect. The Butler Suite is 822 square feet and the Honeymoon Haven Suite is 855 square feet. Both of these rooms have a separate large sitting room and bedroom. They also both have a large jacuzzi tub and separate walk-in showers. The Honeymoon Haven also has a second bathroom with a toilet.
The Butler Suites feature a large shower stall along with the jacuzzi tubs.
Part of our living room in our Butler suite.
The other part of our living room in our Diamond Butler suite.
In a Diamond Butler suite, your bedroom contains a second balcony that is on the side of the building. Even number rooms face the rest of the resort. Odd number rooms face the Riu next door.
The Jewel Dunn’s River is small compared to many other resorts, which is one of the reasons we like it so much.
There are two pools, both of which have swim-up bars. The main pool is the larger of the two pools, and its where all of the daytime activities take place. If you are looking for quiet, this is not the place to hang out during the day. The entertainment staff hold various activities every day – everything from playing Bingo to Name That Tune. When there aren’t activities happening, there is music playing.
The main pool is quite large and features a large swim up bar area.
Tip #7: If you aren’t the type to sit around in your chair all day, get to know they entertainment staff and participate in the activities. The entertainment staff is not pushy, so they won’t force you to do anything. However, if you like to be active, it is a lot of fun if you get to know them and participate.
This year during our visit, they had a foam party on Saturday afternoon in the main pool. My understanding is that it does not happen every week, but it’s a lot of fun if you get lucky and are there when it happens.
The other pool is around the piano bar and is the smaller of the two pools. This is where you want to hang out if you are looking for a little more quiet.
The piano bar pool is typically much quieter during the day.
Tip #8: If you don’t like to be in the hot sun all day, there is a lot more shade at this pool area than the main pool.
Tip #9: Another recent cut back at the resort is that they are not opening the bar at the piano bar pool until 6:00 p.m. So, grab a drink from the beach grill bar during the day. It’s only a few steps away.
Tip #10: The resort did away with pool floaties a couple of years ago, so if you want to have one, bring your own. Click here to purchase the one I used this past year. The water sports staff will help inflate it for you. You have to go over to the scuba desk (far west end of the property) and they will inflate them for you. They also have some available for sale in the gift shop.
There are two large hot tubs located near each of the two pools. They have both been recently renovated. The entire pool deck has also been renovated.
If you prefer the beach, there is a small beach area. In addition to the seating area, there is a beach volleyball court at the top of the beach.
View of the beach area from the pier. It isn’t very long or deep, so don’t plan on long walks on the beach while you are there.
Tip #11: The beach is not big, so “walking the beach” takes about 1 minute from end to end. During our visit, we noticed the sand also needs to be replenished. Beware when playing beach volleyball, as there is cement underneath the sand and the sand is not very thick.
The beach volleyball court on the property.
Other Areas of the Property
Be sure to explore around the property. While the property isn’t very wide, it’s fairly deep. There are lots of little areas to explore behind the Emerald Lanai and Sapphire Buildings. You’ll find little hammocks to lounge in, fountains, and beautiful foliage.
One of the many hidden fountains and little seating areas located throughout the property. Be sure to walk around the resort and explore!
Tip #12: If you want to learn more about the grounds, attend the orientation session they hold every morning. A member of the entertainment staff will walk you around and show you where everything is located.
Find one of the hidden hammocks for a nice and quiet afternoon nap!
In the “back” of the property you will find the gym. The equipment has been recently upgraded. There are two treadmills, two elliptical machines, and several stationary bikes. There are also free weights and weight machines.
The equipment at the gym was recently upgraded. It’s much bigger than most hotel gyms.
The gym has free weights for you to use.
Some additional equipment at the gym.
Tip #13: The gym used to be open air, but they recently enclosed it and it’s now air conditioned. Despite the air conditioning, be prepared to sweat in the hot and humid climate. There are towels available at the gym, as well as water. I bring a water bottle from my room, and end up refilling it a couple of times during my workout.
If you like tennis, there are tennis courts located behind the gym. There is also a small pitch and putt golf course.
The tennis courts are kind of hidden away at the back of the property near the gym and the spa.
Throughout the property you will find other activities such as large chess boards, darts, and shuffle board.
Chess anyone? This giant chess board is located in between the beach grill and the piano bar.
If you are looking to relax, you should check out the spa. In addition to the massage rooms, there is a sauna and hot and cold tubs available for you to use.
On the first floor of the main (Sapphire) building, you will find a couple of things in addition to the reception desk. If you follow the hall beyond the concierge desk area, you will find the gift shop. Keep going down the hall and you will find the tour desk, the hair/nail salon, and the nurse’s office. If you head back towards the gym and spa, you will find the photo shop and the wedding office.
Tip #14: The gift shop is the place to go if you forgot any toiletries or ran out of suntan lotion. In addition to clothing and little knick knacks, you can buy everything from rum to cigars to wine. As with most gift shops, the prices are a little high, but it’s very convenient if you need something.
Tip #15: If you are looking to buy a souvenir, check out the vendors set up on the beach. They bring a different vendor on property each day. Note that the prices from the vendors is negotiable. They also bring several vendors on property on “beach party” night.
So, that gives you a good overview of the property. You should feel right at home when you arrive.
Next up: Part 2, where I tell you everything you need to know about what to do, eat and drink on and off the resort. Click here for Part 2.
Have questions about the Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort & Spa? Want to learn more insider tips? Comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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