Written By: Geoff Millar, Ultimate All Inclusive Vacations This month we are going to begin our look at the well-known Sandals Resorts. We will begin our tour with the Sandals Resorts that are in Jamaica and then next month we will finish with a look at the Sandals on the other Caribbean islands. Sandals Resorts was started in Jamaica by a gentleman, Butch Stewart, a native of Jamaica. The first resort was the Sandals Montego Bay. Because of some political trouble in Jamaica he purchased the resort for a discounted price and also with the condition that he take another resort which is now the Sandals Inn, a more boutique style smaller resort located closer to downtown Montego Bay. The third Sandals Resort to open was the Sandals Negril and under the guidance of Butch Stewart, Sandals took off from there. Sandals also owns the resorts we reviewed last month, the Beaches Resorts which are the family side of the resort chain. One of the complaints, from agents, is the number of room categories Sandals has. Some Sandals Resorts have over 15 room categories. There is a way to make room selection easier. If you look at the Room categories, there are really only 3 basic categories, Standard entry level rooms, Deluxe and Premier, Concierge level rooms, and Butler level rooms and suites. All the many room names and designs they advertise fit one of the 3 categories. The additional names are only going to designate where they are located on the resort and are there for advertising purposes. Sandals Resorts are located on 6 islands throughout the Caribbean with the majority of the resorts located on Jamaica. Sandals claim to fame is that everything is Included. Just be careful that does not mean it is free, it is Included, so their prices tend to be a little higher than other resorts of the same quality. All Sandals Resorts have the renowned Red Lane Spas. We will look at the resorts by island, Jamaica, this month, Bahamas, Antigua, Grenada, St. Lucia, and Barbados next month. JAMAICA In Jamaica there are 7 Sandals Resorts and each one caters to a different audience. The first one we will look at is the original Sandals Resort, Sandals Montego Bay. This resort actually has the highest return rate of all the Sandals Resorts. It is located on the best beach in Montego bay. The one thing that clients need to understand is that this resort also sits next to the runway of the Montego Bay airport. The resort has a fun tradition, as the planes take off everyone at the bars lift their glasses in a toast to those leaving Jamaica. This resort just went through a complete room renovation. The accommodations cover all types from the lowest category, the Deluxe and Premier rooms to the concierge rooms, all the way to the butler Suites and Villas and everything from garden view, swim-up, ocean view, and ocean front. This resort has a very nice Caribbean feel. As far as dining the resort offers 9 specialty restaurants ranging from Buffet, French, Italian, Jamaican, Olde English, Pan Asian, Pizzeria, Caribbean, and Parisian Patisserie. In my opinion, compared to a lot of the competition, Sandals, in my opinion, needs to focus on the quality of their restaurants rather than the number of restaurants. We have a lot of clients who would forgo the number of restaurants for restaurants with a higher level of food quality and we are seeing a number of resorts and resort chains accommodating this desire. Concerning activities at the resort sandals does have a wide variety of activities. Another plus for them is that the amount of activity equipment is superior to other resorts. An example is when going sailing, Sandals has twice as many Hobie Cat sailboats as most resorts. They have their own custom designed dive boats used for diving and norkeling, they have their own dive school, and they offer their Resort course for diving where you, for $100, can try scuba diving before you have to go all in for certification. Sandals does also include 2 Snorkeling trips a day. They also have a variety of land sports such as tennis. Now you do need to remember that things like scuba diving is included for licensed scuba divers, it is not free. This means that if you are not a scuba diver you would still be paying for it. As all the sandals Resort, this resort has the fantastic Sandals Destination wedding dept. If you stay at the Sandals Montego Bay you would have exchange privileges with both the Sandals Royal Caribbean and the Sandals Inn with transportation provided. Overall this is a very nice resort with the main issue being the airport noise. If you can get past that it does sit on the best beach in Montego Bay. I would rate this resort a solid 4 star resort. The next resort we will look at is the Sandals Royal Caribbean. This resort sits just down the coast from the Sandals Montego bay. The Sandals Royal Caribbean has a very English feel and they still do the high tea in the afternoon. It sits on a very nice beach and even has its own private island. On one end of the island is where the resorts new over-the-water bungalows are located. The over-the water bungalows were the first ones to be built in the Caribbean. This resort also has exchange privileges with the Sandals Montego Bay and the Sandals Inn expanding not only the experience but more than doubling the number of dining options. This resort does get some airport noise as it sits at the end of the airport runway. It also sits right next to one of the RIU resorts. This resort, like all the Sandals resorts does not allow tipping. As far as room categories they are similar to the Sandals Montego Bay with everything from entry level Deluxe and Premier rooms, Concierge rooms and suites, and butler level rooms and suites offering garden views, swim-up, ocean view, and beach front rooms and suites. At this resort they also have the Butler over-the-water Suites which are located right off the private island. All rooms and suites are tastefully decorated in a subtle earth tone motif. For dining the choices are a wide variety of different theme restaurants and a great buffet. There are 8 dining options including, a Thai Restaurant on the island, an around the world menu restaurant, a French Restaurant, a British Pub serving British libations and English Pub food, Caribbean restaurant, Pizzeria, a Seaside bar and Grill, a Jerk Shack serving authentic Jamaican Jerk dishes, and a world class buffet. Activities at this resort are pretty standard at any Sandals Resort. They range from Scuba Diving, included if you are certified, $100 PP for the resort course, Snorkeling, kayaks, sailing, Aquatrikes, and of course, lounging on the beach. Land sports include Tennis, Volleyball, Pool, Fitness center, Spa at an extra cost, Basketball, shopping, and off-site tours at an extra cost. The resort also has nightly entertainment. The resort has the fantastic Destination Wedding Dept. as do all the Sandals Resorts I would rate this resort a solid 4.5 stars. The next resort we will look at is the Sandals Inn. It is a smaller resort, 52 rooms, located close to the downtown area. It has a beach across the street that is available, but it is a public beach. There are no watersports at this beach. For watersports you would have to take the transfer to either the Sandals Montego Bay or the Sandals Royal Caribbean. This would be considered Sandals entry level resort. As far as accommodations, this resort only has 52 rooms and suites made up of Deluxe and Premier entry level rooms, And 2 mini-suite categories, the Gran Lux and the Penthouse categories. Rooms have a Garden View, Courtyard View, or an Ocean View. Dining, at the resort, is limited to 3 options, a poolside International Restaurant, a French White Glove Restaurant, and a grill serving Jamaican Grilled fare. Guests also have exchange privileges with the Sandals Montego Bay and the Sandals Royal Caribbean bumping the dining choices up to 20 different options. Activities are limited at this resort, mainly to land sports like Tennis, a Spa, and nightly entertainment. As stated there is a beach across the street that is a public beach with no watersports available but, guests do have the exchange privileges with the other two Sandals Resorts in Montego Bay for additional sports options including watersports. This resort is a 3.5 star resort in my opinion. My rating has nothing to do with the quality of the rooms but more to do with the limited dining options and activities and having to transfer to other resort to make up for the lack of these. Now, it does have an appropriate price point. The next resort we will look at is the Sandals Ocho Rios or “Ochi” as it is known. This Sandals resort is a very large resort with two distinctly different sections. One section with the lower room categories and also the villas is located on the hill above the second section which is right on the ocean. This is important to remember when discussing it with clients as the upper section is not close to the beach or the ocean. Clients have to take a shuttle to the beach and the resorts beach club. The lower section is on the ocean and the beach. The resort is like this because it used to be two different resorts. Those that have been in the industry will remember that the section on the hill was the old Ciboney Resort. It then became the Beaches Grand Sport. It was later shut down, remodeled and then became, along with the lower level Sandals, the Sandals Grande Ocho Rios. It is now called Sandals Ochi. I don’t know why but this resort has been a challenge to sell, so it has tended to try and reinvent itself every few years. As far as Accommodations the resort has a wider than normal selection of accommodations. They do have the standard, Deluxe and Premier, Concierge level, and Butler level, but this resort has Villa and suite levels that other Sandals Resorts do not have. They have villas that contain 4 suites with a private pool for that villa as well as private suites and villas with private pools. In the upper section of the resort there is the Greathouse and the Butler village. In the Greathouse there are the basic room categories, Deluxe and Premier. There are also butler rooms in the Greathouse. Above the Greathouse is the Butler Village made up of private villas and villas with 4 suites. Each of the Villas has a pool. All room categories located in the upper level of the resort will begin with “Great House” or “Butler Village”. Access to the beach, the beach club, and other dining options located in the lower level is provided with a shuttle between the two areas. In the lower area the accommodations consist of Deluxe and Premier rooms, Concierge Suites, and Butler Suites, all with Garden View, Ocean View and Beach front views. Any accommodations located in the lower level of the resort begin with the word “Riviera”. Dining options at the Sandals Ochi are many and varied with restaurants located in both the upper level and the lower level. There are 16 restaurants and 11 bars located at the resort including a Gourmet Restaurant, an Italian restaurant, A Pan Asian restaurant, A Caribbean restaurant, A Southern Style Restaurant, A Mediterranean Seafood Restaurant, an Over the water restaurant, Poolside Grill serving Jamaican Restaurant, A Tapas Restaurant, and a Pizzeria. As with all Sandals no reservations are required. Activities are the same as they are at all the Sandals plus some. As far as the watersports, there is Scuba Diving, included for certified divers, and the $100 PP resort course for non-certified divers, a great way to try scuba diving without the expense of becoming certified. There is snorkeling, 2 trips per day, and it is included. There is also sailing, kayaks, windsurfing, and paddle boards. On land there is golf, tennis, basketball, rock-wall climbing, squash, or relaxing by the pool. There are 2 large pools, one at the Greathouse and one at the resorts beach club. Remember all the villas also have private pools. There is always nightly entertainment including the Sandals Ochi Speakeasy. This is a great Wedding destination with a huge number of Wedding locations as well as Sandals famous Wedding dept. This resort, in my opinion, this resort is a 3.5 – 4 star resort. One thing to watch out for is that, depending on the level of occupancy, sometimes not all the restaurants are open all the time. There is another fantastic Sandals Resort located in Ocho Rios. This is the 5 star all butler property, the Sandals Royal Plantation this is a small Boutique style resort that only has 74 0cean front butler level suites. This resort was actually kept out of the Sandals family for a number of years and was advertised as a separate upscale resort. The actual resort has been around for a long time. It was originally just the Royal Plantation resort before Sandals bought and completely remodeled it. One thing you need to know is that in order to increase the size of the suites the balconies were eliminated and made part of the sitting area. There is a large sliding glass door that makes the sitting area open to the outside like a French balcony. This resort has one of the nicest Spas of any of the resorts. It has a very English feel and still conducts a formal tea service in the afternoon. The Sandals Royal Plantation has full exchange privileges with the Sandals Ochi expanding the dining and activity options. Guests at the Sandals Ochi do not have exchange privileges with the Sandals Royal Plantation. Transportation is provided between the 2 resorts. As far as accommodations they have only 72 what I call large Jr Suites with large sitting areas and 1 bedroom Suites. Don’t be confused with all the room categories they show. They are all either Jr Suites or one bedroom Suites. The different categories really only change where they are located by building or floor. All accommodations at this resort are butler level. Dining is very nice and upscale at any of the 4 restaurants and the afternoon tea service. They have a French restaurant, a Caribbean restaurant, the Royal Grill situated on the beach, The English tea served on the Terrace each afternoon, and the Wobbly Peacock serving great Pub fare. I spoke with the Chef when I was there last and found out that the food budget at the resort is larger than the other Sandals Resorts elevating the food quality in my opinion. This resort also has a Caviar and wine bar at an additional cost. There are two bars located on the resort and drinks can be ordered at any of the restaurants. On the beach they have a unique way of ordering drinks and food right from your beach lounger. Each beach lounger has a pole with a flag and when a guest wants to order something they raise the flag and a waiter comes and takes your order and delivers it to you on your beach lounger. 24 hour room service is also included. Concerning activities, the resort has a variety of water and land activities. You do need to know that the resort has 2 small beaches, beaches in the Ocho Rios tend to be smaller than in other areas of Jamaica. Also, be aware that Scuba Diving and Snorkeling tours depart from the beach club at the Sandals Ochi. Sandals Royal Plantation does have sailing, kayaks, wind surfing, and paddle boarding. On land there is golf at the nearby Sandals Golf Club, Tennis, a fitness center, and a great Spa. Also located on the property is a private 3 bedroom Villa that can be booked as a 3 bedroom, a 2 bedroom or a 1 bedroom. The villa has its own pool and sits on the beach. It has exchange privileges with both the Sandals Royal Plantation and the Sandals Ochi. The Villa comes with a butler and a Villa staff. This resort is a great Wedding destination and they have a wonderful Wedding dept. This resort is, in my opinion, the top Sandals resort in luxury, service, and dining. I would rate it a low 5 stars. We are now going to move to the West end of the island and the town of Negril and the best beach in Jamaica, 7 mile beach. The resort is the Sandals Negril. This is the third oldest Sandals Resort, after the Sandals Montego Bay and the Sandals Inn. This is a nice medium sized resort. It sits on the East end of the Island. A little known fact but 7 mile beach is only 5.5 miles long to get 7 miles you must include the beach on Bloody Bay around the point from 7 mile beach but, we digress so onward. The resort stretches along the beach, so it is longer than it is deep, and all accommodations are just steps from the beach. The resort does sit next to the Hedonism Resort, but it does not intrude on the atmosphere of the Sandals Negril resort. Negril is a terrific location. It was known as the hippy destination at one time and it still has a more laidback vibe about it than other areas of Jamaica. It is also the home of Ricks Café and the famous cliff jumping and diving. It is also one of the few places that allows their patrons to jump and dive off the cliff. The Sandals Negril is one of the best resorts for those beach lovers. Accommodations at the Sandals Negril are wide and varied. They range from the Deluxe and premier category. Remember that the Deluxe Rooms are close to the road and do not have a balcony. They have Concierge rooms, Swim-up Rooms and Suites,1 bedroom Butler Suites, two story Villa butler Suites and Private 1 bedroom Millionaire butler Villas, a little wider variety of accommodations than some of the other Sandals Resorts. As far as dining there are 7 choices, an International restaurant, an Italian Restaurant, A Jamaican Restaurant, A Teppanyaki Restaurant, A Caribbean restaurant, A Seafood Restaurant, and a Pizzeria. There is no shortage of food and drinks. As far as drinks you have a choice of 5 bars and can order drinks at any of the restaurants. There is a full slate of activities as there are at all the Sandals Resorts including, Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, kayaks, sailing, paddle boarding, wind surfing Water Skiing, Water Bikes, relaxing on the beach. This is great, you will see people putting their loungers in the water because it is so calm. There is a fantastic Spa. On land there is Basketball, Beach Volleyball, croquet, indoor games. You have to be aware that golf is not included because there is no close golf course. The Sandals Negril is a great Wedding destination with a fantastic Wedding Dept. It faces West so sunset Weddings are very popular. This resort is a very nice 4 star resort on a beautiful beach. I only have one issue and that is because it sits at the end of 7 mile beach, the beach, in some areas, is not as deep as other resorts along 7 mile beach. Our last stop this month, in our tour of Sandals resorts in Jamaica is to the South Coast of Jamaica to the Sandals South Coast, formerly the Sandals Whitehouse. It was called Sandals Whitehouse because it was in the Whitehouse area of Jamaica. This resort was originally a new build joint effort between Sandals and the Jamaican Government. After several years Sandals took complete ownership of the resort. The resort sits on several acres and there is always talk about expansion or another resort being built. There was also talk about putting in a golf course. So far, none of this has occurred. The nice part about no expansion or new resorts is that it sits on a very large, 2 mile long, secluded beach. The Sandals Property sits within a 500 acre park so the only new building close to the resort will be what Sandals chooses to build. The Sandals South Coast Resort has a very nice Italian theme made up of 3 European “Villages”, the Italian, the German, and the French. Because of the unique way the accommodations are built, every room and suite have an Ocean Front view. Another thing to be aware of is that there is not much to do around the resort. The area is mainly made up of private homes. As stated, accommodations at the Sandals South Coast are divided into 3 sections or “Villages” The French Village contains the lower level Deluxe and Premier rooms. It has its own pool and restaurant and, as also stated, all rooms are ocean front. The French Village sits farther away from the public areas than the Italian and German Villages. The Concierge rooms and suites as well as the Butler rooms and Suites reside in the German and Italian Villages, which are closest to the public areas and the main pool. The Villages are very nicely landscaped. Recently added to the resort are 12 over the-water bungalows surrounding a heart-shaped walkway. The Over-the-water bungalows are slightly smaller than the ones at the Sandals Royal Caribbean. Dining at the resort offers 9 choices including, Italian, Asian, A Parisian Patisserie serving pastries, crepes, and specialty coffees and teas, Caribbean, International, Jamaican, Seafood, a Jerk Shack, and Sushi. As far as bars, there are 7 to chose from including an over-the-water bar. Activities are the standard Sandals activities, Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, sailing, Hydro-bikes, Tubing, Knee Boarding, Windsurfing, Paddle boarding. As far as land sports there is, Basketball, Tennis, Croquet, Squash, and a full Gym. There is nightly entertainment every night. The resort has a fantastic wedding dept. that Sandals is known for. At this resort they even have an over-the-water Wedding Chapel. This resort is, in my opinion, a solid 4 star resort. The only thing to watch out for is the ride to the resort. It takes about 1-1.5 hrs. over the mountain and the road is not very straight. This is a look at the Sandals Resorts located in Jamaica. In my opinion most of the Sandals Resorts in Jamaica are a solid 4 stars except for the Royal Plantation which I would give a 5 star rating and the Sandals Inn which I would give a 3.5 rating. Sandals largest demographic is the younger Destination wedding and Honeymoon crowd but there are some of the resorts that do well with the older crowd. Remember that they are couples resorts not adult only resorts and they control this by only putting king-sized beds in each room and suite. Next month we will look at the other Sandals Resorts throughout the Caribbean. Until then safe travels and good selling.