Colonial architecture and local touches lend this all-inclusive resort a true Jamaican vibe.
Located forty-five minutes east of the Montego Bay airport in the parish of Trelawny, the Melia Braco Village is a little slice of heaven on Jamaica’s north coast. With an intimate feel and Colonial design (its Georgian architecture, balconies with lattice work and a “town square” complete with fountain are designed to be reminiscent of the nearby town of Falmouth), this resort is the perfect getaway for a few days or longer.
The resort’s 232 rooms and suites are divided into two sections. On one side, Colonial-style villas offer either garden views (if you stay in one of the buildings set back a bit from the beach), beachfront views (the first floor rooms in the villas by the water) and oceanfront views (second or third floor rooms in the villas by the water), some with patios or balconies. Rooms and suites on the Level section of the resort offer seclusion and more exclusive accommodations and amenities. All Level rooms and suites have ocean views and private balconies or patios; the Romance or Royal suites offer more living space and space for two additional guests. Rooms on either side include room service twenty-four hours a day, a complimentary minibar that’s replenished daily with beer, soft drinks, juices and water, and local snacks like plantain chips; Level rooms also have small bottles of wine and chocolate bars. The Level side also features a separate check-in area, a lounge that overlooks the water with a full bar and light meals refreshed three times a daily, and a pool, beach and jacuzzi reserved for its guests, who are assigned a concierge at check-in to field questions and requests and book experiences. I stayed on a second floor oceanfront room in one of the villas, and I found the room to be well-appointed, with a walk-in rain shower and a large balcony that was the perfect spot to take breakfast each morning while watching the waves. It was also mere steps from the beach.
The Melia Braco Village is blessedly not one of those beach resorts that require you to play the lounge chair game, waking up early enough to secure a spot by the beach or pool. Staff adds or removes chairs as needed, depending on the occupancy of the resort. The water in the large pool on the “regular” side of the resort was warm, albeit a little murky from everyone’s sunscreen. The pool has a volleyball net for pick-up games, a swim-up bar that overlooks the ocean–with a few stools on the opposite side for those who want a drink but not a dip–and a jacuzzi with space to comfortably fit six or eight guests (depending on if you already know each other.) The Level’s pool is decidedly quieter, but the jacuzzi is much bigger. There is ample room on the beach for everyone–what’s especially great about this resort is the proximity of every room to the beach. Even if you are staying in one of the garden view villas, the beach is only a few steps away. The sand is fine and groomed daily (treasure hunters: you are more apt to find rocks or coral than shells), and while the water is a bit rocky in some areas, in general it’s easy to navigate (with those glorious shades of turquoise, blue and green that Jamaica’s beaches are known for.) Beach chairs are joined by palm trees and palapas for shade lovers (especially on the Level side). And if you like to spread out on the cabana beach beds that generally rent for $100 a day at many resorts, you’ll find a handful of them dotting the beach, and they are included no matter on which side you are staying. (I grabbed one before breakfast, and there were still several available.) If you want to do more than just lay around, you can take out a single or double ocean kayak, try your hand at sailing with a Hobie Cat, borrow snorkeling gear and check out the marine life (a fellow guest told me he saw lots of fish beyond the lagoon, though mostly black and grey ones instead of brightly colored ones), or take out an oversized inflatable beach pillow with a few of your friends, a waterproof speaker and some drinks.
You can’t go to a beach resort without craving a (tropical) drink in your hand, right? In addition to the aforementioned swim-up bar, Jigger is the spot for great drinks day or night. Adjacent to the pool, it has an airy feel during the day, with wicker chairs and tables outside and inside, and morphs to more of a cocktail bar vibe during the evenings, with music and neon lights. Some of the more popular colorful options for libations include the Bob Marley (a layered red-yellow-green drink with Strawberry Daiquiri, Mango Daiquiri and Curaçao mixed with mango), the Purple Rain and a great Piña Colada–ask staff to make it with Appleton 12 Year Aged Rum instead of white rum for more flavor. If you want to concoct own creation, the bartenders are more than willing to oblige–I was partial to the Lime in Da Coconut, with aged rum and Margarita Piña Colada mixes.) Fellow Gin & Tonic fans will be happy to see Beefeater 24, an interesting gin with several tea botanicals, on the shelf. (Unfortunately, limes seem to be a hot commodity, but a G&T tastes almost as good with a fresh orange wedge.) Golden Sands on the Level side features a wide selection of drinks to stay or take to the beach or pool, and the Level lounge also has a full bar (serve yourself, or have one of the friendly staff members assist) as well as a fridge stocked with wine and cans of Red Stripe for a beach brew.
Six restaurants feature something for everyone. A few do require reservations, but unlike at other resorts where you need to book tables for the entire week right when you check-in, all of Melia Braco Village’s have enough space to accommodate every guest, even when the property is at 100% capacity (I was told they would even have tables left over if that happened). The Market Place is buffet-style for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a breezy feel and an outdoor terrace overlooking the main pool and beach. I never dined there for dinner, and found better options at breakfast than lunch, including traditional Jamaican dishes like ackee and saltfish, made to order omelets and smoothies, fresh fruit and pastries, and a Mimosa and Bloody Mary bar. For lunch, follow the smoky aroma to the beachy casual O’Grille, where juicy and spicy jerk chicken is grilled on a steel drum (I couldn’t wait for it to be ready each day). The chef will cut it into smaller pieces if you like–I preferred my thighs and drumsticks kept whole and slathered with more jerk sauce, and served with flaky Jamaican beef (or chicken) patties on the side, and an icy cold Red Stripe. If you crave Teppanyaki and sushi for dinner, head to the Asian and Peruvian fusion-inspired Nikkei; if pizza and pasta are more your thing, try Rasta Pasta (the only restaurant I didn’t get to try during my stay.) And 876 Prime (named for the country’s area code) is the resort’s signature restaurant. Upscale, with mirrored walls, white leather chairs and banquettes and crystal chandeliers (but unfortunately, no windows or beach view), its menu standouts include lobster bisque, Jamaican grilled lobster and rib eye steak with several sauce options. The only dining option that disappointed was Golden Sands, where at breakfast my poached eggs took way too long and arrived undercooked, and at lunch my grilled grouper was also woefully underdone. It’s a shame, as this spot boasts a great view and is super convenient for Level guests. Every Friday evening, all restaurants are closed, and the resort turns into a Jamaican street festival, with drinks, buffet food, live entertainment and local vendors.
Sandwiched between O’Grille and Jigger is Yhi Spa, with a small locker room area, changing rooms and showers, and a relaxation room overlooking the beach and pool with infused water, tea and light snacks. The treatment menu offers a wide selection of massages from Thai to aromatherapy, as well as facials and body treatments. Since Jamaica is known for its Blue Mountain Coffee, I booked the Island Vibe, an 80-minute treatment that started with an exfoliating scrub made with ground coffee beans, Shea butter, sea salt and brown sugar. After being sloughed for about twenty minutes in a room that smelled like a sweet bowl of coffee ice cream, my therapist strategically wrapped towels around me and escorted me to the shower to rinse off. Following the scrub, a fifty minute massage with coffee oil combined elements of acupressure, deep tissue and Swedish styles. This was one of the best spa treatments I have ever had, and it definitely felt authentic. By the way, the spa sells some of the products used in its treatments, including the coffee scrub.
The resort’s newly opened Adventure Park features activities including a three-level ropes course (which I attempted and completed), rock climbing wall, trampolines, paintball and laser tag. Near Ocho Rios, Dunn’s River Falls is one of Jamaica’s most popular tourist attractions, where you can swim, climb and frolic in the falls. I did the Chukka Thrill Seekers Tour at Good Hope Plantation, where the highlight was five zip lines over the water and trees. A guided tubing cruise on a lazy river provided the opportunity for a little R&R, and an Appleton Rum tasting let me compare and contrast several spirits from the famous distillery.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.