Compared with some of the larger, more ostentatious resorts in nearby Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, the Meliá Braco Village has a laid-back vibe befitting Jamaica, birthplace of reggae. Opened in January 2016, after a reported $23.5 million overhaul of an existing resort site, the 84-acre property put the emphasis on “village” — the outdoor décor has the feel of a 1950s American suburb, with gazebos, fountains, neatly manicured lawns and two pools with covered swim-up bars. The main attraction, of course, is the private beach, all white sand and turquoise water, with a long, narrow cove stretching into the Caribbean Sea. (Snorkeling, sailing, canoeing and other sports can be practiced for additional fees.) The 232 rooms are mostly in three-story tan buildings, set along gray cobblestone paths near palm and banyan trees. Meliá Hotels International, a 60-year-old Spanish chain, took over the government-owned property, the Grand Lido Braco, in small, lush Trelawny Parish, boyhood home of the Olympic track star Usain Bolt, after its previous owner, SuperClubs, reportedly ran into problems with its lease. Last spring, the resort opened 876 Prime, a high-end steakhouse (no flip-flops allowed); a 10,000-square-foot meeting space for large business groups is under construction.
Like most of the beachside resorts near Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, the Meliá Braco is secluded and encourages guests to remain on the property behind tall fences and a security booth. It’s about 33 miles east of Sangster International Airport, a bit removed from the more expensive properties that include Sandals and Iberostar. Renting a car gives you the flexibility to head out to attractions such as a tourist village along the nearby Martha Brae River, known for its rafting. But residents frown on tourists motoring about, given the crazy, pedestrians-and-goats-in-the-highway quality of Jamaican traffic. Of the driving time to reach our hotel, an airport rental car employee told me: “For us, 25 minutes; for you, 45.”
Frills were clearly played down during the Village’s overhaul, and that approach was evident in the rooms — off-white walls, hardwood floors, small white table and chairs, a small piece of art depicting a palm tree at sunset and nondescript light fixtures. We switched from a second-floor, one-bed Deluxe Garden Room, with a balcony overlooking the sea to a two-bed Premium Beachfront room on the first floor. The first room had a better view, but both were equally comfortable (plenty of pillows on the beds) and distraction-free. The point of this resort is the sun and the ocean, not lounging around in the rooms.
A daily breakfast buffet at the open-air Market restaurant near the beach was part of the all-inclusive package, in addition to lunch, dinner, drinks and room service. (The latter took only 15 minutes at 11 p.m., much appreciated after a long travel day, but while the pineapple and grapes on the fruit plate were juicy and delightful, the vegetable burger and fries seemed to be on loan from a high school cafeteria. One day at 5 p.m., before the dinner buffet, we waited an hour and our food never arrived.) The morning buffet is designed to be fuel, not art, so the omelet bar, potatoes, cheeses, muffins and juices were serviceable, not distinctive, and the enchiladas on Mexican-food night were unimpressive. It was the regional touches, like fried plantains and papaya, that stood out. The Market’s three buffets per day were available at convenient times. The reservation-only Chinese restaurant Nikkei opened not long after our stay. We sampled some of the solid appetizers at the poolside cafes.