Part 2: The Sandals Experience
When friend Katie suggested Sandals for our group vacation, my first thought was of Michael from The Office being excited about his all-inclusive Sandals vacation. That, and the overly cheesy “Time of Your Life” commercials that tend to play every few minutes on early morning Bravo programming (I get my Housewives fix when I can).
So, even though I try and live my life by “What What Michael Scott NOT Do,” we ended up at Sandals Montego Bay. After stalking the resort page on tripadvisor.com for 4 months, I was worried. There were a lot of mixed reviews. Some people have great experiences, some people would rather coat themselves in sugar and stand in a room full of blood thirsty mosquitoes then spend another in another night at a Sandals resort.
A little background on Sandals: The Company operates several resorts around the Caribbean including Jamaica, St. Lucia, Antigua, and Turks and Caicos. Their family friendly version is called Beaches, but Sandals is adult couples only (in Jamaica, couples is restricted to heterosexual couples only. I didn’t know this at the time of booking). The big gimmick is of course the all-inclusiveness. Anyone who has spent $10 for a Heineken at a Hawaiian resort can appreciate ordering drinks from a bar and not getting a tab. Was this resort as nice as those Hawaiian resorts? Heck no. But it definitely wasn’t a hole-in-the-wall, and we never ran out of things to do. Our experience wasn’t bad at all.
Sandals has three levels of packages. We went with Concierge service which is the midrange package. You can get the basic package, or you can upgrade to Butler Service (which we think is worth it after seeing it in action). Concierge service allowed us to check-in faster, make reservations easier, and have a fully stocked bar in our hotel room included. Apparently staff was also more willing to help us out than people who didn’t upgrade to concierge. The room also came with a 4 poster bed, bathrobes, and a Jacuzzi tub. You can check out www.sandals.com for more specifics.
If you are considering Sandals or Montego Bay, here are some of highlights.
While we waiting for a ride to the resort, we got to sit in comfy couches, got complimentary Red Stripe (the official beer of Jamaica), and got to hang out with Cookie Monster! The resort itself was only about 5 minutes from the airport which was pretty convenient considering some other resorts were a 2 hour drive away. Unfortunately this also made for some brief, loud, plane moments. You also get complementary transport to the resort but you are expected to tip the driver and baggage handlers who are not Sandals employees.
Food (from cheeseburgers to Sushi and caviar), drinks (including top shelf liquors if you request them), entertainment and activities (like beach volleyball tournaments and concerts), and water sports including water skiing, kayaking, hobie sailing, and snorkeling are included. This means never having to carry cash or worry about waiting around for a bill. Tips are included too. NOTE: excursions, room service (unless you get a Butler), resort shop products, photos, and spa servicesaren’t included.
We always got a beach chair, and we always had our own ocean spot. The beach was immaculate and staff made sure that cups/plates were picked up promptly, and that the sand was combed multiple times per day.
Jamaicans are such wonderful people. Funny, outgoing, and full of personality. We noticed that the resort staff tended to be a young, attractive bunch probably hired as much for their appearance as for their personality. Many people at the resort developed friendships with staff members and we even saw some newly arrived guests greet staff that they obviously met on a previous visit. That being said, service is SLOW. There were times when we had to wait annoyingly long between courses, not to mention the hour and a half we had to wait before getting our luggage delivered to our room after check-in.
I don’t know how much this changes from week to week, but the resort was full of beautiful, young, friendly people. There was a good mix of ages including a great couple we met celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, but I would say the crowd was younger (20s-30s) and full of energy. Everyone was extremely friendly, and actually pretty clean and respectful. Public toilets were flushed, nobody stole our stuff when we were off splashing in the ocean, and nobody cut in line or acted entitled.
Basically, aside from the luggage delivery incident, I have nothing to complain about. If you are used to higher end accommodations, you might find some of the amenities subpar, or if you are looking for a secluded, peaceful vacation without noise you will probably get annoyed by the party people. If you like huge, lush poolscapes, you might think the ones here are small and boring. If you are looking for a culinary experience, or even some authentic island cuisine, you aren’t going to get it here (though the food was really good and diverse…just not 5-star cooking). I would definitely recommend this place, and we are absolutely looking into celebrating Aaron’s big 3-0 next year at another Sandals resort on a different island.