Early last year I think I made myself quite clear how I felt about cruises and resorts – not for me. However, I gave resorts another opportunity to redeem themselves hoping that the Sandals Caribbean experience would beat the previously visited Cancun all-inclusive resort.
Let me make myself clear, I am not much of a resort person to begin with. Within 24 hours of being at the resort I am itching to go, see, explore the island/country I am in. I always wonder what the point of traveling to Jamaica or Mexico is if you aren’t going to leave the resort and see the unfiltered country? To me being stuck in a resort for days on end is similar to a Matrix-like simulation – I could be on a beach in Florida or in Zion for all I know but I know I am in Jamaica because it said so on my plane ticket…
Despite my cynicism the Sandals Royal Caribbean Jamaica, in Montego Bay, did prove to be a pleasure in many cases. The food is delicious and I didn’t get sick once (unlike in Mexico), the drinks weren’t ridiculously sweet or cheaply made, the people who worked there were nice and had fun with the guests, and the beach activities were plentiful (unlike in Cancun). They even have a private island fit with a restaurant, two beaches (one with clothing optional) and an outdoor bar.
Another perk is that there are multiple Sandals resorts on each island and say you want to go check out the more pricey resort on the other side of the island, well you’ll receive all-inclusive perks there too with complimentary shuttle services to at least 2 other Sandals. One more thing I absolutely loved…no one pestered you for a tip after they brought you one drink! Tips are prohibited in Sandals but it is customary to leave money at the end of your stay.
What I also liked about Sandals Jamaica was that the people who worked at the resort wanted to teach you about their home. We ended up taking a bus tour, not particularly my style either but compromise is key when traveling with family, and the guide taught us about the history, the food, the local folklore and daily life. I appreciated his realness and desire to share and tell stories which helped me connect to the landscape much more intimately and less like a passive tourist. In 2012 it was Jamaica’s 50th year of independence and you could tell that national pride filled their faces with wide smiles when they talked about their home with intense passion.
On the flip side there are those tourists who overflow the pools and beaches every year and come with intentions to party and tan. If it’s your second (or more) time visiting Sandals then you’ll be invited to an awards ceremony of sorts where the person who has stayed the most nights will be recognized and receive a token of appreciation. One man we met had stayed over 800 nights over the course of his later life and was awarded with a pen – it’s things like this that cheapens the resort experience. But in all reality people go to resorts to escape, to become who they want to be but can’t at home, they go to forget about work, kids, life as they know it to be and though I may roll my eyes at their cultural blinders, it’s much needed and a nourishing mental and physical experience (maybe not so much for their livers) – who am I to judge that?
Would I return? Yes, but I would stay in Negril or try something new on a different island but next winter I think I’ll head back to Hawaii, rent a house and car for a more immersive and unfiltered experience.
Tips for Sandals Resorts:
1. If you can, book a butler serviced room. Not only will your bar be stocked regularly but you also can book your desired spot next to the pool or beach everyday accompanied by a cooler with ice cold drinks of your choice. Your butler is available around the clock and can be contacted with a special cellphone you will receive upon arrival. She/he will also bring you complimentary fruits and cheese each day and has some good recommendations for drinks.
**Note – Average rooms do not come with stocked bars**
2. They have an evening where you dress in all white – it is not necessary but if you want to participate pack accordingly.
3. Pack your Off! and Afterbite – there are plenty of mosquitoes and the gift shop isn’t part of the all-inclusive.
4. Some restaurants offer wines that belong to the Manager’s Wine List, you must pay for these upscale bottles of wine.
5. There is usually one restaurant that is exclusive to only those who booked a butler serviced room. However, if you become friends with people who have a butler room you could score a spot at this delicious restaurant without paying the price.