Thursday, June 04, 2015

My Experience at a Sandals Resort

This is a far too detailed post about my recent experience at the Sandals Resort in Exuma, Bahamas.  To save our tens of readers frustration and angst, I will put the whole thing under the fold.

For our 20th wedding anniversary I planned a trip with the wife for a few days to the Bahamas. Due to us having kids and a farm, we needed to make the trip for three or four days.  I even puked up for first class air fare.  It was going to be our gift to each other.  I don't typically buy much "stuff" for my family any more.  She has the rings and all of that crap.  I like to buy experiences, even for the kids.

Anyways.  Due to the relatively short trip length, we planned on the Caribbean.  Beach, sun, and adults only.  Those were the parameters.  The universe of places you can go is rather large, so I stopped by a travel agent.  She boiled it down to five or six places and we chose the Sandals resort in Exuma, Bahamas.

First the good.

The resort itself was absolutely immaculate and beautiful.  Apparently it was originally constructed as a Four Seasons and Sandals acquired it four or five years ago.

This is the view from our suite:

On the grounds they had fun lawn games, including a huge lawn chess set, croquet, bocci, and shuffleboard.  Here she is firing off another losing shot:

We spent some time at the pool, but not much.  Here is the main pool area and the swim up bar.
During our stay, the maids made different towel figures.  I liked this stingray the best.

Sandals is an all-inclusive, so there is really no need to bring money unless you want a premium bottle of wine or champagne, or souvie.  The other things that cost you money are day trips, or things like an organized bike ride I went on.

It is a couples only resort so there were no kids, and no big bachelorette parties or anything like that.

There were six or seven restaurants on the site.  In your room was an easy to understand list that showed which restaurants were open at what times.  Two of the restaurants were reservation only for dinner, and had a dress code.  The dress code wasn't crazy, just decent pants and shirt for guys and dresses of some sort for women.  I imagine a woman could have gotten away with pants if it looked decent.  I liked dressing up for one of the meals.

The food was good.  I would give it a 7 out of 10.  I liked the buffet that we had for breakfast every time, as there were a million things on it.  We also had it for lunch twice I think.  Just walk in and eat.

The staff was, well, as good as it could be.  The labor there was all locals and many were obviously not the most educated.  Some tried harder than others.  Some just didn't care.  Some were clearly being over taxed to their levels of education.

With that beautiful room view, we also got a private butler.  Most of the rooms with good views had the butler service and the rooms without views didn't.  The butler was the most, well, interesting part of the deal.

There is no tipping of any sort allowed on the resort (perhaps contributing to the nonchalant attitude of certain staffers) except for the butler.  And with the butler, this was, I felt, the only real hustle that was presented to me the whole trip.

So, with that in mind (and we will get back to the butler in a bit), here is some "bad".

This is the Exuma International Airport:
Yes, that is the whole thing.  Arrivals on the left, departures on the right.  Total dump.  And I thought the Cayman airport was small.  Upon arrival, a guy greeted us and we got into a "cab", which appeared to be some local's personal minivan.  The ride from the airport to the resort was 15 minutes or so.  Everything we saw was ugly.  Half built structures, people wandering about aimlessly - pretty third worldish.  I imagine there are nicer parts of the island, but we certainly didn't see them.  Then again, with our short stay we didn't really have the gumption to leave the resort.

When we got there, our room wasn't ready.  Not what we were looking for after traveling.  We were herded into the buffet restaurant, got some lunch and then waited some more for our butler, who was to show us the grounds and then the room.  The tour of the grounds and then the lecture in the room about all of the amenities was FAR too long.  We just wanted to get our swimsuits on, get a drink and hit the beach.  We didn't really know it at the time, but this was part and parcel of what I ended up calling the "butler hustle". 

Finally, we were left alone and started to relax.  Then about an hour later, the butler called (they gave us a private cell phone).  I answered and he asked if he could bring us anything and I said no, we had drinks, just wanted to be left alone.  Then, just after drifting to sleep on the beach, here comes the butler with some more drinks and a snack.  At this point, my wife and I were wondering "wtf" and just got back to relaxing.  An hour or two later another call - he wants to "walk us to the restaurant".  I said that I saw absolutely no reason he needed to do this and refused.  We had a great French meal and retired to the bar.  By then, I had shut off the butler phone.

We stayed out far too late that night, but everyone always gets up at precisely 9am every day at the resort, because that is the time when the grounds crews come in.  They mow, blow, trim, cut and move stuff for a couple hours.  Now, honestly, I can see that these grounds, as beautiful as they were, need maintenance, but it was clear that this was just a job farm, and that the crew was making work for themselves.  Also, as the butlers and others deliver room service breakfast, you hear the beeping of the golf carts as they put them into reverse.  We just tried to sleep for a while, but then the room phone rang.  Butler.  He couldn't get a hold of us.  Of course not - we had his phone off.

With this, we decided to "get lost" on the resort grounds.  The key was not to let the butler know your location.  That way, he can't bother you for things you didn't want if you chose that route.  However, you can call him if you want a drink, which is what we did.  But know that once he knows your location, he will likely start showing up to bring you a bunch of shit you may or may not want.

I don't want to trash the butlers too badly.  They are just running a small time racket to make some pocket change and doing what they are told.  And there are probably a large subset of people that love the attention.  We just wanted them to be there in the background. 

One other thing we figured out was that the rooms with the nice views all had butlers.  If we did this again, we would either get a room without a view, or get the butler, play lip service, then toss his phone into the room safe for our duration and just go wherever we wanted.  The occasional snack or drink was appreciated, but it was far too much attention for us.  YMMV.

Outside of this, we had a marvelous time at the resort.  There weren't as many birds as I had hoped.  I did like the gulls that hung around.  They weren't insanely aggressive and always liked to take a dip in this particular pool.  I assume this part wasn't chlorinated and that is why they hung out there.  In this photo you can see the gulls, and a butler on a tricycle delivering some food or drinks.  This was the only way they could get around the massive resort with any sort of efficiency.

So we had a great three days.  Now it was time to leave.  They said our cab was all set for 10am.  For a 1.30 flight.  Huh?  I complained but they said that if I chose a later time I would have to sign some sort of waiver or release.  This alarmed me so I said OK 10am it is.  Well, we got to the airport with a bunch of other guests and guess what.  We all stood in line since the damned staff wasn't even there yet.  When they did arrive, the computers were down (they had been down for a week I later found out) and they checked everyone in BY HAND.  It was ridiculous.  Even after that, we still had TWO HOURS to wait so we went across to the street to the local café and had a couple of cokes.  We would have much rather been on the beach that morning. 

After you check in, you are treated to the first class waiting accomodations at Exuma International:
That is the whole departure "lounge".

I think someday we may do an all inclusive again.  We really did enjoy our time "alone", and ate a lot of good food and drank a lot of good booze, enjoyed the weather, sun and water.  If we do an all inclusive, we would probably do it differently, but all in all, it was a great time.  I think I would recommend the Sandals chain to someone thinking about this.  Different people always want different things.  Some lounged by the pool all day.  We prefer the waves and water of the beach.  C'est la vie.

In all, it was a great three days and we were happy to get away from everything, even for a short time.


Carl from Chicago said...

That sounds like a great trip all in. I guess you need to just close your eyes until you get to the resort. You can see the difference between their investment in the resort and their general investment in infrastructure and people which is low.

I remember a guy telling me about a middle eastern trip he took maybe in Morocco or something and the resort was awesome but it was very depressing driving there. Kind of like that night trip you and I took back from the airport through Baltimore ha ha.

One funny thing is that since most people are hitting this site on mobile everything is below the fold nowadays.

Dan from Madison said...

Good point on the below the fold. We will run with the desktop until we are the last "buggy whip manufacturer".