Sandals in the Sun

Written by  Melanie Reffes

Simply put, no resort chain knows the Caribbean better than Sandals. With fifteen properties on six islands (Jamaica, St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, Bahamas and Antigua), the adults-only all-inclusives sit pretty on the calm side of every island fronting beaches that are protected by offshore reefs.
One-stop-shopping for vacationers who covet the convenience of a no-wallet holiday, the upscale resorts come with high-end perks like a Rolls Royce pick-up at the airport, gratis Wi-Fi and butlers who are delighted to unpack your luggage, deliver breakfast in bed and cater a candlelit dinner on the beach. Upping the all-inclusive ante, the properties offer tour desks, spas, diverse dining and unlimited pours from top-shelf bottles from Napa’s Beringer Vineyards. Courtesy of a host of incentives for travel agents, Royal Bahamian in Nassau and Emerald Bay in Exuma are perennially popular for clients shopping for an everything-included vacation.

Retro-Classic in Nassau
Once the haunt of retro-royalty like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and the Beatles who filmed Help at the resort, 404-room and suite Sandals Royal Bahamian Spa Resort comes with its own offshore island, aptly called Sandals Cay. Reachable in minutes by boat, sailboat or kayak, guests can also dip their toes in a pool, belly up to the swim-up bar, enjoy a rubdown at the outdoor Zen spa and dig into delectable seafood signatures at Café Goombay. “I am so proud of the affection our staff shows to all our guests,“ said Patrick Drake, general manager, formerly with Sandals Emerald Bay. “We treat our guests like family and many get to know the staff by name and then come back looking for that particular housekeeper, butler, restaurant server, bartender or member of our water sports team.”
A pricey facelift to the Windsor Building includes new swim-up river suites and the addition of a pool on the ground floor, as well as upgrades to 174 suites. Also revamped and refreshed, the former Manor Building is now “The Balmoral Tower” in recognition of its storied past. “One of the wonderful features is the view of Sandals Cay from the fifth and six floors,“ added Patrick Drake. “The sunset from these vantage points is absolutely amazing, while the landscaping that leads to the fire pits from the walk-out rooms is spectacular.“ Thirty balconies connect to the beachfront rooms offering unobstructed ocean views, while eleven Bahamian Beachfront Walkout Suites tempt with patios that lead to the pool deck and the fire pits.
Ten dining options run the gamut from pub grub in The Cricketer’s (we recommend the spicy wings at an outdoor table while a soulful horn player serenades the sunset), pizza at Bella Napoli (surprisingly good in hot weather), light bites at the Royal Café (ask for the homemade fiery salsa), fine fare on the pier at Gordon’s where the menu showcases an eclectic selection from steak to scallops and teppanyaki at Kimonos. Aprés-dinner, the chocolate fountain in the Royal Theater is a must-do. For those preferring to dine in their suites or on the balcony, room service is quick and reliable and the mini-bar is restocked as often as needed with American Bud and Bahamian Kalik, as well as an international selection of rums from Hennessey Pure White to John Watlings.
If the ocean waves and sandy beach isn’t enough, seven pools and six whirlpools will do the trick while incentives to get off the sun lounger - if just for an afternoon - include snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, kayaking and paddle boarding. On land, there’s tennis courts lit for day and night play, lawn chess, beach volleyball, billiards, shuffleboard and fitness walks. For the ultimate chill-out, three spa facilities offer a menu of massages guaranteed to unwind and rejuvenate. For rubdown aficionados, a beachfront gazebo is a top pick along with The Zen Garden Spa. “I really felt the party vibe as soon as I arrived with the non-stop music and array of swim up bars and host of pool games and activities that ran all day long,“ said Janet McKenzie Kopec, who shared a suite with her BFF for a weekend retreat away from their husbands, kids and bills. “Coming from the craziness of NYC, the highlight was watching the sunset on the private island while sipping a fruity Bahamas Breeze as we listened to the waves and watched the boats pass by.”

A Grand Estate in Great Exuma
Rolling waves the color of faded denim, golfing on the 7,001-yard, par 72 course that winds through seaside dunes and mangrove preserves, an espresso to greet the day at Café De Paris and a buttery lobster at Il Cielo (one of seven on-site restaurants) is what vacations without the kids are all about at 245-all-suite Sandals Emerald Bay. On the largest island in the Exuma chain, the laidback all-inclusive oozes grown-up relaxation around every palm tree. Spacious rooms where butlers unpack your bags are just the beginning with a “Raindrop Dreams” rubdown at the lemongrass-scented Red Lane Spa (ask for Tamara who performs her magical massages in a seaside cabana), a cocktail whenever the urge to sip strikes or doing absolutely nothing in a comfy cabana that flanks the gigantic infinity pool is why you left the kids at home with
their grandparents.
On five hundred green acres, the resort opened four years ago on the site of the former Four Seasons and caters to a crowd that is less party-hearty than those staying at the resort in Nassau. With seven restaurants, ocean waves warm enough to keep you in it all day and staff so friendly you’ll remember their names, the postcard pretty property is a big hit with couples and groups of friends who are looking for a few days in paradise. “Our guests value their relationship with their travel agents who we encourage to visit in order to recommend, which is why we organize mega-FAM trips that are open to all agents who sell the Caribbean,“ said Jeremy Mutton, general manager, who has also worked at Sandals properties in Jamaica and St. Lucia. No shortage of creative activities include bread baking lessons and reggae dance classes while those with a penchant for the water can take their pick from kayaks and paddleboards to catamaran sails.
A Junkanoo street party is a must-do every Friday night for not only the heaping platters of conch fritters, but also for the entertainment that gets everybody up on their feet. “The street party was non-stop fun,” added New Yorker Janet McKenzie Kopec. “I loved the exotic buffet of local cuisine, colorful dancers like the flame-eater who was so engaging that even I got up and danced with her!”
Café de Paris opens at 6:30 am for early risers who like to greet the sunrise with a strong espresso and a sweet ‘Hello Dolly’ pastry baked with coconut and chocolate. Breakfast at Bahama Bay gets going at 7 am with an array of morning specialities. For casual snacks, Barefoot by the Sea is flip-flop friendly for fish fresh from the sea, Il Cielo tempts with their pasta dishes, La Parisienne suits the French palate, Drunken Duck Pub is the go-to spot for British comfort food and for a slice of pizza baked in a brick oven, Dino’s is the place to be. “Whatever the appetite may request, from snails in La Parisienne to a grilled lobster in Il Cielo with a side of thin spaghetti with an olive oil and black pepper drizzle,“ said Patric Loeser, food and beverage director, “I encourage our guests to sample all our signature dishes prepared with true Bahamian flair.”

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