In Jamaica, the Caribbean’s Ultimate Swim-Up Suites


What is a “rondoval”? The dictionary description of the word this marketing term comes from is “rondavel,” a round Southern African building with a peaked roof.

But at the Sandals South Coast resort in Jamaica, it might just be called the ideal room for a sensual but socially distanced couples Caribbean getaway.

Or, you can just call it a “Smurf House” — an adorable nickname that staff and guests have adopted for the blue-painted buildings at the resort’s Rondoval Village

What’s unique about these rooms is that they’re not just swim-up — they each come with their own private plunge pool, outdoor shower, and twin loungers on a semi-submerged patio — meaning you have your own plunge pool at the edge of the main pool.

The charming Rondovals — a combination of “round” and “oval” — find a home in the room mix at Sandals South Coast somewhere between the ground-floor swim up rooms at the resort’s oceanfront, three-story “village” buildings and its overwater villas, the most exclusive addresses on property.

Built on a patch of previously underutilized land behind the main hotel buildings, the Rondoval villas are waterfront — not oceanfront. So if waking up to the sound of crashing waves each morning is your jam, these rooms may not be for you.

On the plus side, the Rondoval village is a quiet oasis away from the pool and beach action any time of day, the rooms have beautiful views of the mountains, and you do have a choice of two pools — your private plunge, fed by a trio of waterfall spouts, and the 17,040-square-foot river pool, the longest in the Western Hemisphere — right outside your doorstep to splash around in.

Swing open the slatted doors of your big round room and you’re greeted by a blaze of sparking sunlight reflecting off of the communal Rondoval Village pool, which snakes between the community’s 20 thatch-topped villas and flows under a trio of bridges.

There’s no current in the pool, which makes it ideal for wading or lounging on floats (you can buy blow-up peacocks, loungers, and other floats at the gift shop, or just pack your own). You can wave at your fellow villagers from your patio as they bob on by — typically with colorful cocktails in hand — or join the daily ritual and circumnavigate the waterway yourself.

The fixings for a floating cocktail party are always close at hand thanks to the stocked fridge in the villas, which include a bottomless bottle of Appleton Estate rum and other libations along with Fruita fruit punches among the variety of mixers. And whatever isn’t immediately on-hand can quickly be fetched to the room by Sandals’ uber-efficient teams of 24-hour on-call butlers, who are just a cell-phone call away for room-service breakfasts, mid-day snacks, drink orders, restaurant reservations, and pretty much whatever else your heart desires.

Speaking of hearts, you’ll typically find something romantic arranged in towels, flower petals, and colored sticks on your bed when you return to your villa after a day spent at the beach or pool. Our butlers, Venice and Romeo, didn’t just wait around for us to ask for stuff: one day they suggested that they bring us a lobster lunch on our patio — great idea, who could say no to that? On another, we returned to the room after dinner to find a hot bath drawn in the two-person tub — something we probably would not have done for ourselves, but immensely enjoyed at the end of a long (if not especially stressful) day.

African rondavel designers knew all about keeping buildings cool in hot climates, and the Rondoval rooms are aided in this regard with 20-foot peaked ceilings, a suspended ceiling fan, and a climate-control system that shuts off and on automatically when doors are opened or closed. In addition to a comfortable king-sized bed, room amenities include a small seating area and large TV you’ll probably never use, a glass-enclosed shower with a choice of two shower heads (or use both!), and an outdoor shower for getting the beach sand off.

Eventually, the outdoor shower and plunge pool may be suitable for au natural bathing, but unless you’re a bit of an exhibitionist that will probably need to wait until some of the shrubbery around the Rondovals grows in. For now, there are lots of sight lines into the pool and patio area (and the rooms themselves, if you leave the doors or windows open) from the other villas, the big pool, the bridges, and even the walkways surrounding the complex. You can pull closed a big outdoor curtain across the pool entry area for a little more privacy, but even that is subject to the vagaries of the blowing wind.

For a few nights of escape from the pandemic, we found the Rondoval rooms — and Sandals South Coast — a safe and welcoming sanctuary. Having obtained our pre-trip negative tests and run the gauntlet of the Providence, Charlotte, and Montego Bay airports with N95-quality masks, we arrived at the resort.

But like us, all of the guests had either been recently tested or vaccinated, and nearly all activities were outdoors apart from the Red Lane Spa treatments.

Capacity was sensibly limited on the sunset Island Routes Caribbean Adventures catamaran cruise we took, and thanks to occupancy rates hovering in the mid-20 percent range, there was plenty of elbow rooms at the beach, the pool, and even the swim-up bar. The resort’s in-water gazebos, cabanas, and shady palapas (reservable daily via your butlers) provided other social distancing options. Even the beach volleyball nets have been divided in half to reduce group sizes.

We thoroughly enjoyed all of the resort’s amenities, from some excellent tennis instruction to a wild ride on the Big Mabel float, towed by a speedboat, as well as standout dining options like the waterfront jerk shack, casually elegant meals at Neptune’s and Schooner’s, and especially the Latitude overwater bar for sunset toasts and Cafe de Paris for coffee and crepes morning, noon, or late night.

And while we felt comfortable with the resort’s health and safety protocols, more risk-averse travelers could have spend the majority of their visit within the confines of the Rondoval Village — plunging in their pool, wading in the lazy river, sunning on the deck and ordering room service — and still had a wonderful few days in Jamaica.

If that had been the extent of our visit, we certainly would not have complained.

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