Inside the Grand Opening of Sandals Dunn’s River, Where Legends Come Home

Over the weekend of May 19, a new moon rose in the skyscape of Ocho Rios, Jamaica. With it came a cosmic reset and a renewed sense of direction for the Sandals Resorts family. In great celebration and legendary fashion, Sandals Resorts unveiled its latest resort, the all-new Sandals Dunn’s River.

Pictured here: The 260-room Sandals Dunn's River, where modern design meets lush Caribbean landscapes.

In the presence of Caribbean leaders and dignitaries and Jamaica’s most famous performers, the new resort welcomed its first guests to honor the legends of the past, while keeping sights set on the future of Jamaican tourism. The A-list guest list included the likes of GRAMMY-award-winning artist Shaggy, The Voice winner Tessanne Chin, and the renowned cast of STOMP, fresh off their Broadway run. The party was a celebration not only of Sandals’ newest resort, but a commemoration of a 30-year-old dream realized.

Pictured here: From left to right: Singer-songwriter Shaggy, 'The Voice' Winner Tessanne Chin, and STOMP performers.

Three decades ago, our founder Gordon “Butch” Stewart handpicked the hallowed land that now holds Sandals Dunn’s River, once home to the iconic Arawak Hotel. In this way, the new resort stands as a representation of legends and a dedication to the golden age of Jamaican tourism. Stewart, who grew up on the sands and shores of Jamaica, left his fingerprints on every corner of the new resort, which stands as the final project he collaborated on with his son, Sandals’ current Executive Chairman, Adam Stewart.

With this sacred history in mind, the grand opening celebration featured a tribute to the late founder, Gordon Stewart – a hospitality giant with a larger than life legacy, who spent his early days selling fish to local resorts in Ocho Rios. His story, the Sandals story, is the stuff of legends, and that is what we were there to celebrate.

Pictured here: A soul-stirring tribute by a 40-person choir from the University of West Indies, honoring Sandals Resorts International's Founder Gordon 'Butch' Stewart's life and legacy.

Upon arrival at the swanky celebration, Caribbean Prime Ministers, Sandals executives, and honored guests were greeted with an exclusive cocktail, the “Jamaican Sorrel Royale,” a sparkling version of the traditional Jamaican Rum Punch. Between sips, they snacked on delicious bites from across the resort’s new restaurant concepts, including macarons infused with the destination’s locally-sourced chocolate and treasured Blue Mountain coffee.

Pictured here: The Most Honourable Andrew Michael Holness of Jamaica (left) and Sandals Resorts Executive Chairman Adam Stewart (right) share a cup of coffee at the first of its kind BLŪM coffee shop, one of Sandals' latest innovations.

Guests mixed and mingled to the melodies of a 40-member choir from the University of the West Indies, the Edna Manley College, and the Ashe Company. Jamaica’s most talented performers and most awe-inspiring voices swelled through a spanning and emotional tribute to Stewart, honoring a life well lived, a dream realized, and a legacy that will never be forgotten.

The music and the magic didn’t stop there. Well beyond sundown, guests danced to the sounds of a steel drum band and marveled at state-of-the-art video mapping of the iconic Dunn’s River Falls. At this celebration, the performances were not limited to a stage. Above the horizon line, aerial ribbon dancers gracefully scaled the facades of the resort’s new buildings, and entertainers performed in pools, floating on original bamboo rafts custom made by Jamaican artisans. This legendary celebration unfolded in the heights of the skies and the depths of the waters.

Pictured here: Gravity-defying aerial acrobats scale the façade of Sandals Dunn's River.
Pictured here: STOMP's show-stopping percussion brought the grand opening celebration of Sandals Dunn's River to life.

The thrilling artistry culminated in performances from world-renowned entertainers, beginning with a soul-stirring performance from the cast of STOMP, who brought the heartbeat of Jamaica to the new Sandals Dunn’s River grounds. On the edges of seats and the tips of toes, guests roared as they welcomed the ever-iconic Mr. Boombastic himself, Shaggy. The “King of Reggae” and the pride of Jamaica, Shaggy performed his greatest hits from “It Wasn’t Me" to “In The Summertime,” encouraging celebrators to sing along. The mere presence of these performers represented something far greater than evening party entertainment. These artists, alongside honored Caribbean dignitaries, represent the soul of the island Sandals Dunn’s River now calls home and their involvement certifies the authenticity and heart that was so thoughtfully poured into the culture of this new resort.

Pictured here: Mr. Bombastic himself, Shaggy, capped the night off with a surprise performance.

The performances ended in extravagant fashion, with an impressive fireworks display large enough to light up the entire Ocho Rios sky. Still, the celebrations continued into the night at a lunar after-party and beach bash under the light of the new moon.

All great parties, even the best of them, eventually come to an end. The thrills are ephemeral, the drinks run dry, and the performers rest. Stages are struck and new moons wax, but the reason for celebration never wanes. In the shadow of the Sandals Dunn’s River opening, we’re left only with the memories. What remains, of course, is the greatness, the legacy, and the promise of the all-new Sandals Dunn’s River.

The resort, the 17th in the Sandals Resorts family, awaits you, our honored guests. Here, the future promises new memories, greater parties, romantic moments, sweet hellos and bittersweet goodbyes.

Pictured here: After the surprise Shaggy performance, fireworks illuminated the nightsky of Ocho Rios.

Whether Dunn’s River marks your first or 17th Sandals visit, there is something new in store for you here. If you think you’ve seen it all, you haven't. At Sandals Dunn’s River, Jamaican roots are infused into every touchpoint, each corner of the resort echoing the destination’s lush forests and majestic banyan trees. The water that flows through the resort is sourced directly from the natural reserves of the Dunn's River Falls, from the lobby waterfalls to the cascading pools of the Red Lane Spa and Jamaica's largest pool. The all-new Tufa SkyPool Butler Suites mark the first cantilevered suites in Jamaica, featuring glass panels spanning the length of oceanfront balconies. The guest-favorite Coyaba Swim-Up Rondoval Butler Suites have been reimagined with vast open-air rooftops tucked into the island’s lush flora.

For the Sandals Resorts family, the people of Jamaica, and you, Sandals Dunn’s River is a legendary gift from the grand hotelier who started it all, and in only the way he would expect, the resort offers an entirely new experience of the island, of home. To learn more about the new Sandals Dunn’s River from the great minds who built it, tune into our latest PalmCast episode, “A Legendary Welcome: Executive Chairman Adam Stewart Introduces Sandals Dunn’s River”.

Relive the magic of the Sandals Dunn's River Grand Opening Celebration with our recap video. Please click the below video view.

Read More Travel Guides

Courtney Young

About Courtney Young

Courtney is a New York based writer and lover of travel. She is passionate about the exploration of cultures and the preservation of our planet. Her Caribbean destination of choice is Turks & Caicos.