We arrived at Sandals Royal Bahamian after one week at Club Med Columbus Isle on nearby San Salvador. This was on Jul. 25th. We quickly signed in and were led to the taxi that would take us to the resort. We didn’t have a good first impression when our ultra-all-inclusive vacation was started with “GRATUITIES GREATLY ACCEPTED” written all over the van. We promptly ignored this.
We were given a choice of one drink of champagne and a wet towel immediately upon arrival. Because we had filled in most of our registration card ahead of time at the airport, we were able to be checked in first among our group. Because we were on our honeymoon, they gave us a free upgrade to a honeymoon suite in the new Windsor building.
Our room was very clean and the fridge was well stocked. However, the mismatch of colours and styles was really ugly. Interior decoration from hell. Nothing seemed to match. The room was very quiet the whole time we were there, but we heard from people on lower floors that they weren’t so lucky.
The bathroom did not have a separate toilet (a feature we had grown to like at Club Med). Despite the fact that the building was only about 8 months old, it was already definitely showing age – the tap fixture kept falling off, there were cracks on the floor, etc. We heard people whose rooms were in the other tower complaining that they had no hot water. We had a lovely, huge tub, but when we filled it we discovered the water was an odd green colour. Not inviting. There was a hairdryer – but it was hilarious. It looked like a vacuum cleaner, and mainly made a lot of noise. We heard lots of other people complaining about it too, so it’s not just us.
The room’s balcony had two chairs and a table and a rack to dry your clothes on – nice touch. We proceeded to unpack our welcome package and found that we were missing our towel tokens. (A few other people complained about this too). We picked these up at the front desk. The bath robes were also missing from our room, and it took four days before we finally harassed housekeeping enough to give us some.
Both pools had loungers packed densely everywhere, with every guest on top of the other. In order to get a lounger with an umbrella, it was necessary to get there early in the morning. During the day, the pools were so full of people on the foam beds that it was impossible to float without bumping into multiple people. The pool was also not clean. We can understand part of the problem. There were tons of people there, and we saw one woman in particular eating an ice cream cone, with it dripping right into the water. Our suits wound up dirty. Not a nice feeling.
The grounds were not very well kept up. The whole place really needed a fresh coat of paint. The grounds always made us feel a bit claustrophobic, as they were trying to pack so much into a small amount of space. There was an awfully large amount of concrete, and very few trees or plants. The Villas at the back of the property looked beautiful, but were too close to the main road (which was busy even on the weekend) to be relaxing.
We searched for the advertised hammocks, and found only two or three of them – one by the villas close to the road, and two by the beach which seemed to be permanently in use. There was a hanging basket chair at the end of each of the docks, but these were very popular as well. With 600 guests, 5 cool chairs isn’t really enough.
The beach on the property was worse then we thought it would be. We had been warned it was small, but this fell short of our rock bottom expectations. There was the constant buzzing of jet ski operators trying to make a deal with the guests, and when they were unable to, they would zip about across the tiny beachfront disturbing everyone. We also saw broken glass washed up in several places. The beach was generally small, dirty, and packed. What little beachfront there was was broken up by the two docks, making for little patches of beach, some of it unusable.
The swim-up bars were often very crowded and it would take 5-10 minutes to get a drink. The mixes weren’t that good, either. We’ve had better daiquiris at a local corner restaurant.
The temperature of the buildings was very uneven. Some would be absolutely freezing, while others were sweltering.
The SANDALS logo is plastered everywhere. On buildings, in the pool, etc. Not that we would ever forget where we had gone. We saw a few cockroaches in and about the buildings, and one rat-like creature scampered around that we couldn’t identify.
We had been warned that it was difficult to get reservations at some of the restaurants. Immediately upon our arrival, we tried to make reservations at all the restaurants that required them. Baccharat is the smallest restaurant, and the ONLY reservation we could get was on Saturday night – which happened to be the night of the grand buffet at the Spices restaurant, which was something we didn’t want to miss.
Of course, what confused us was the couple who we met on the taxi had managed to get a reservation several days earlier. Of course, they had ‘concierge service’ which probably got them into restaurants more flexibly than our cheaper accommodation. When we left, they were just changing to a new restaurant reservation plan where reservations were required only for Cafe Goombay, the island restaurant. We’re not sure if this was a seasonal switch or a permanent switch, however.
Dress at most of the restaurants was at least khakis with nice shoes for the men, and sundresses for the women.
All the restaurants had dirty, tasteless, under ripe fruits. The service was generally pretty good with a few exceptions we’ll mention below.
We tried lunch at The Grill, which is the open air restaurant that has American-style hamburgers/fries/pizza/nachos. (The nachos were served with the kind of cheese product that you get at ball games). Service was extremely slow and we didn’t go back to this restaurant the rest of the week. The food was predictably very heavy. Pigeons and flies were everywhere – they should have installed netting to keep them out.
Kimono’s is the Japanese restaurant. There was a heavy emphasis on entertainment here. It was far from genuine cultural cuisine (as were all the restaurants). Our dinner was prepared in front of us by an over-the-top singing chef. Most of the people we ate with seemed to enjoy it, though. It was a good social dinner with other people, (a la Club Med), not a romantic spot. We were warned that some chefs are more entertaining than others. Instead of choosing a main meal from a menu, the chef prepared everything and you could just choose what you wanted. The dessert at this restaurant was excellent, by the way.
Baccharat is a small restaurant that is supposed to be the “fanciest”. When reserving, try to ask for a table near the window as this gets you a view of the pool and the Spices terrace. Of course, the place really wasn’t that fancy, as half of the tables shared a long bench reminiscent of eating at Denny’s. Breakfast here is supposed to be “light” and is ordered from the menu, unlike the other restaurants which were all buffet. We found breakfast cold and lacked taste, despite the fancy service. It was no lighter than the buffets. Dinner was pretty much the same, pretentious and underwhelming.
Spices is the main buffet restaurant, open for breakfast lunch and dinner. The food was mostly cold and seemed to have been prepared sometime last century. What little choice there was to have something made to order was usually bungled. We also saw the chef lick her fingers and proceed to cook our dinner. The food in general was very heavy, with poor quality meats. There were lots of choices for dessert, but they were all “Sara Lee” quality. Not what we were looking for from our “exclusive resort” vacation.
The Crystal Room was another quite pretentious restaurant. Service was excellent, and the food was fairly good. Lots of selection on the menu. The dessert was terrible, the same thing as the buffet desserts.
Casanova’s was their Italian restaurant and was by far and away the best. Breakfast and lunch buffets there were identical to Spices but at dinnertime this restaurant was simply in a class of its own. The service was amazing – very friendly waiters who never got our orders wrong. The food was the best we had. Excellent breads with pesto sauce and other toppings, nice salad, and every meal we tried was excellent. The meat was prepared how we asked for it to be prepared. Desserts were ordered from the menu and tasted great, but a lot of them tasted strongly of alcohol. (It’s fine if you like that taste, but if you don’t you had a choice of one dessert).
Cafe Goombay is the open air restaurant on the island. Seafood, seafood, and more seafood. Except it wasn’t very good. No choice of lobster, either, or crab, or anything else – mostly conch and other processed seafood. There was a choice of two soups – both involved conch. Despite everyone arriving by boat at the same time, service was pretty good. The desserts were the same quality as the buffets’.
None of the restaurants have ocean views, (but the fitness center does – who designed this place?). The decor is very over the top and often wasn’t consistent. The place portrays itself as being really fancy, and yet we found that the napkins (and towels) were frayed and falling apart.
The Room Service menu for breakfast consisted of continental breakfast. Juice, muffins, bread, fruits. It left a lot to be desired. They never brought enough of anything (if we each ordered the same thing, they brought only one serving) and often got things just plain wrong. They always forgot to leave the room service menu lists for the next day too – we don’t understand how they could mess up such a simple thing as slipping a menu under everyone’s door. A lot of other people were complaining about this too.
Sucked. The equipment was dirty, a lot of it was broken. The lifejackets, for example, were covered with mildew and dirt – it was disgusting. They were all the same size – and people aren’t. There were 6 newer ones that were still clean. For 600 people. We tried sailing a few times. The winds were very uneven, and when we got stuck out in the water and a thunderstorm rolled in, none of the Sandals staff noticed or cared – we had to paddle back into shore with our hands. We got a lot of attitude from the water sports staff, as well. We tried the glass-bottom boat ride to see if we wanted to bother snorkeling. We could barely even see through the glass bottom, as they hadn’t cleaned it in a while. They never cut the motor, so of course we never really saw any fish. We did however check out the condition of the masks and snorkels, and decided we didn’t really need to go snorkeling. They do also have windsurfing, which we don’t have good enough balance for, and waterskiing. We’re beginners, and although we loved it at Club Med, with the Sandals’ staff’s attitude and their equipment, we didn’t feel comfortable trying it there.
Sandals drops off a list of activities every day to keep the guests busy. We tried several of these and for the most part they were unorganized, late, and disappointing. The “playmakers” generally didn’t care at all: (for example, at one of the events, the “Big Games”, we heard the following (serious!) exchange. Playmaker 1: “We forgot the basketball at the office. With all these people, why do _I_ have to go get it?” Playmaker 2: “That’s the difference between _work_ and vacation.”) . Playmakers would show up to a Pictionary game *without* Pictionary or a board or markers. A water volleyball game was interrupted because the beach volleyball game was starting and they needed the only ball back. (We paid $4000 and they can only afford ONE VOLLEYBALL???). The playmakers often didn’t know the rules of the game they were trying to organize.
On the plus side, the lovers game was entertaining, if badly organized. We won a “free” t-shirt!
Sandals organized a few shows in the theatre. We only attended two, and that was two too many. Their showcase performance was called “Emotion in Motion”. It consisted of a narrator announcing that this show would bring us to “new emotions and planes of existence”. The opening piece featured a bunch of women in black bodysuits with white underwear on top. A black light was used, so we could only see their underwear. Before the music began, the dancers were lined up in a row facing away. We saw one girl scratching her butt at center stage as she waited for the show to start. It didn’t get better. We’ve seen much better high school productions. The talent show was equally pathetic. We’re sure some of the guests who performed were quite good, but it was so overworked and the announcer was so over the top that we left after the first half hour.
On nights when there was no show, they would turn the theatre into a disco. We never saw it with more than a dozen people there. They alternated between a DJ and a live house band. (The band wasn’t that bad). The volume was really loud.
There was also a very entertaining pianist in the piano bar. They passed out songbooks and everyone got pretty into it. The piano bar was very hot, though.
After all the problems we had, we tried contacting the “guardian angel” we had been assigned when we arrived. He was ‘out sick’ until past when we left. We finally yelled loud enough at other people that they gave us each a free half hour Swedish massage at the Spa.
We arrived a little late, and my wife got told off for this. (this despite the fact that the spa was empty and they masseuses were sitting around doing nothing).
We were under the mistaken impression that a massage was supposed to leave you feeling better than when you got there. This did not hold true for either of us. We felt poked and prodded, but no better. The massage also wasn’t as long as it was supposed to be.
On the plus side, they had really cool showers with 5 different heads that would move back and forth massaging away all the pain the masseuses had inflicted.
To add insult to injury, we were surprised to find we had $25 of room charges for TWO long distance calls, both under 2 minutes. They claimed that the calls were much longer (8 minutes) and their computer “couldn’t be wrong”. We stood our ground and fought long enough that they eventually reduced the charge to only $10.
Don’t go. Maybe we’re just not “Sandals People” but we really don’t understand who would be. Even if unlimited drinks are important to you, we calculated that for the amount extra we paid, we could have been completely tanked at Club Med 24/7. [Note: Cub Med now has unlimited drinks making it even more of a slam dunk!]