I've now been to two Sandals Resorts and they offer something many other all inclusive resorts don't. That is a place where couples can relax without ever seeing families and children. Believe me, I love my five children. I also love getting away to quiet places without them.
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My wife and I stayed a week at Sandals Negril in Jamaica a few years ago. We very recently spent eight days in Freeport Bahamas at the Sandals Royal Bahamian that has a full spa and an off island. Both stays were memorable and we look forward to going to another Sandals in the future. Repeat customers get special perks. More later.
Many Sandals Resorts
Sandals started in Jamaica and now has over a dozen locations. There are seven on that island nation alone. Three other Sandals can be found in St. Lucia. My brother and sister-in-law, who we spent the week with in Freeport stayed at one and hopped to a few of the others while there. That's something they allow. Have breakfast in one, sun in another and have dinner in still one more. They loved the option and the properties.
Another Sandals can be found in Antigua/Barbuda. I recently read a review of a Sandals in Cuba that was given a four star rating by another writer here at Epinions. That one, the Sandals Royal Hicacos, Cuba may not be able to be booked via US travel agents as travel to Cuba by Americans is quite limited.
Our stay in Jamaica Negril was a completely couples only week. This is a strong point of Sandals. There aren't large families or kids running around breaking up the romantic feel of a lazy afternoon around the pool or a romantic dinner in the evening finishing with a slow walk on the beach. These all seem to be heterosexual couples, married and unmarried. I don't know if there is any kind of gay/lesbian policy with the chain or the different countries. They just weren't here.
What were there were people of all different ages. Many newly weds and couples that have returned to Sandals many times were at the Royal Bahamian. My wife and I are in our mid-fifties. Though most seemed a bit younger than us, there were much older people too. Youth is in your own mind. Ha, I wish I could say that about body too. I don't recall really checking the ages out when in Negril. It was also good to see a cultural and racial mix but the majority of the couples were white except for the poor souls who didn't heed the signs to "respect the sun". They were beet red. There also seems to be a wide economic spread in that we met both professional and blue collar workers. The sand, sun and surf and the pay ahead all-inclusive service are equalizers in income appearance and pretentiousness. You wouldn't know who has the money to pay for their stay cash from those who remortgaged their home for the trip or maxed out their credit cards. It seems to me that the essence of most of the people who visit Sandals comes across as fun loving, perhaps romantic, with a slightly sophisticated but far from being stuffy attitude. I noticed that there were many couples that stayed very much to themselves (one couple locked themselves in their room all week) and others who may seek some camaraderie through some of the sports and fun games or perhaps with easy conversation with others. Everyone seems to mix easily if they want to.
The rooms and included service may be different though. In checking out prices you may find a huge difference in pricing between rooms. You do have to shop for better rates. Sometimes a travel agent can get a good deal and sometimes you can find something on your own. I haven't found any real bargains in bringing down the price but I assure you the service and amenities are more than a notch above most. I kind of rate it as a relaxed Ritz without putting on any airs.
Weddings and Receptions
When in the Royal Bahamian we did see larger groups of people on occasion as the property is a big draw for weddings and receptions. The receptions were kept to more private areas of the complex but a couple of times usual public areas were closed to accommodate the wedding party. The off-island was closed one afternoon due to a reception and another wedding reception was celebrated next to a "theme night" set up for all Sandals visitors. It did change the feeling of the evening having a more vocal group, but it was also fun because it was a party atmosphere and we had plenty of time for "couples only" activity (or non-activity) throughout the rest of the week.
Not having to deal with cash, wallets, credit cards or tipping makes the all-inclusive method quite pleasing and easy. (that is after paying the initial cost up front) All the drinks and food are paid for. There is no charge when you walk into one of the restaurants or bars. There are some amenities that may be extra and they may also differ from resort to resort. The Sandals in Jamaica had one restaurant where you had to pay an additional fee for dinner. Not so at the Royal Bahamian where all the restaurants, regardless of popularity, reputation or availability, were all-inclusive. Some go as far as white glove service. Read my review of the Royal Bahamian to see what kind of restaurants we preferred.
Food is fabulous at the Sandals we have been to. Sandals offers a few different options for restaurants including Italian and Japanese. They also have a buffet restaurant too.
The all inclusive bars serve top shelf product. I enjoyed having a Grand Marnier after dinner without looking at the bill. At the bars the mixed tropical drinks are harmless. If you want a buzz just ask them to add more rum or whatever. They do it, "No problem mon".
Though the restaurants may all be inclusive you may still have to make reservations for particular dining rooms as soon as you get to the place. Don't be disheartened if told reservations are not available. Ask to be put on a waiting list for that evening with plans to go elsewhere if they don't work out. We received notes in our room several times stating we could get into the place desired due to cancelled reservations.
The mood of Sandals changes when the sun goes down. During the day its bathing suits, t-shirts and bare feet. It's very relaxed though Sandals isn't the kind of resort for those gals looking to go topless.
At night, at dinner time, the fashion changes. The gals dress up nicely in comfortable dresses and the guys have long pants and collared Caribbean dress shirts. Jackets, ties and socks are NOT the norm.
This change from simple wear in the afternoon to dress up in the evening is what I found a bit different than at a Ritz. When at those resorts fashion was a twenty four hour affair...I also found that many of the gals don't go in the pools or whatever at those resorts in the afternoons. They don't seem to want their jewelry wet.
Sandals has a bit more laid back atmosphere in the mornings and afternoons but takes on an air of sophistication at night. I liked that kind of combination the resort offers.
From reading their brochures of other properties and through the experience we had in two locations I can say Sandals has an excellent assortment of options of things to do. Judging by previous experience and following their brochures etc, I can see that most Sandals have an excellent beach area, several pools, organised games to play if interested, and some kind of special shows and entertaining activities several times a week.
An evening or two a week of listening to outdoor music and dance seems to be a staple of the resorts. We attended an International night theme and one night they offered a Mid-night Chocolate Festival. They have some entertainment, magicians, comedians and such, most nights of the week.
There are organised sports if you like. Both experiences showed that daily volley ball games happen as do water polo and water basketball. Your activities are monitored by the staff if you like and there is always a chance of winning prizes. Some of the couple get involved and others are never seen doing this kind of activity. It's a do whatever you like type atmosphere.
Most of the Sandals offer some kind of water sports. The Royal Bahamian had Hobi-cats that my wife and I went out on a few times. If you don't know how to sail, they will teach you, no charge.
Public Areas and Rooms
We found the common areas very clean and attractive. The two Sandals I've been to both had piano bars for sing-a-long entertainment in the evening. This is a lot of fun, Again the drinks are free and potent, so after a few, you may jump right in singing. The beaches had plenty of lounges. We didn't have any problem getting them there or around the pool. The resorts have a number of whirlpools scattered around the property. Some are active and some are more hidden away.
The basic rooms are comfortable with king beds. Views differ of course depending on the rooms purchased. Honeymoon packages are available and upgrades to butler and/or concierge service can also be had. With the butler service you'll find lounges in the beach area with your name complete with neatly folded towels. You do get what you pay for at Sandals with many options open.
We enjoyed the cash free Sandals experience that caters to couples. It's easy going or active if you like. The service is their greatest asset. I never found anyone with an "attitude", that was in both Jamaica and the Bahama resorts. The people do go out of their way to be sure you are the center of their attention.
We were returning guests the last visit and be sure they know it. There were definitely some special perks given. I'll also suggest joining their Sandals "Signature Guest" Membership Program. Other perks can be found there. You can sign up on their web site.
We will be returning to Sandals again and hopefully again and again.
Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort and Spa
Sandals Negril Beach and Spa
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