We just returned from our trip to Sandals (Oct. 21 - 27) and unfortunately the negatives far outweigh the few positives. This was our first trip to a Sandals as well as our first time at an all-inclusive resort and we got married on-site while we were there. We also had butler service which turned out to be one of the worst experiences on our trip. We did stay during the hurricane so we tried to be as fair as possible about the weather issues which are obviously not the fault of the resort. We are pretty easy-going, laid-back people and this was so bad that our nerves were just shot by the end of everything. I realize that this review is long, but we really wanted to share our experience in detail so people know what they're getting into. If we can save just one couple from wasting as much money and time as we did, it will be worth it.
When we got to the Sandals check-in desk at the airport (literally it's just a desk shoved up against a wall) but nobody was there to greet us. We stood with our luggage for about 5 minutes before a woman with a sandals tee shirt asked if we were waiting. She had trouble identifying us on her new guests list because Sandals had swapped our names on the trip manifesto despite being given our CORRECT information multiple times (including birth certificates) to our agent, the on-line check-in, the butler preferences, etc. This name confusion continued multiple times for the rest of the trip. Once in our private car it was a quick trip to the resort although our driver continued to sift thru his papers while driving very fast. It was a little scary at times. He also didn't speak to us unless we directly asked him a question which we found a little odd. Once we arrived at the resort, we were given cool lemon towels and ushered into a small dark office to a couch. There were already two ladies sitting at the desk arguing with the check-in lady about their room. We were not offered any champagne like other reviewers mention. We sat on this couch for another 5 minutes with our cold/damp towels just sitting in our hands while the lady at the desk told us our butler would be there shortly and finally took our credit card.
Our butler finally arrived and introduced himself and informed us that our room was not ready (at about 1:30pm). That was no problem since we were hungry, so he took us to Spices, gave us the cell phone, and told us he would be back to check on us in a little while. A 'little while' turned into almost two more hours and he never came back. We were clearly done eating, so we decided to give ourselves a tour since we had nothing else to do. We were in our jeans and long-sleeves and really hot, so we found a bar and a seat in some shade and just sat until our butler finally came to get us around 3:30. We were on the 5th floor of the Balmoral tower and had a gorgeous view of the ocean and a very large deck. I think that view was the nicest part of our trip. The room was clean but relatively small (considering what we paid) and while it was very new, it was clearly already having problems. The shower dripped all day, one side of the toilet seat was broken so it slid around when you sat down, and the spool that holds the toilet paper was broken and continually fell off. We also put our wallets and passports in the in-room safe and it wouldn't re-open. At first i thought I had done something wrong with the instructions but we eventually had to call the manager who sent up a repair guy who easily spent 30+ minutes trying to get this thing open. He had to make a few calls and eventually said 'oh yeah, there's definitely something wrong with the way this one is behaving' so it wasn't my fault. He eventually got it open and we refused to use it for the rest of the time there. Obviously these were all manageable problems and if the rest of the stay had gone well, we wouldn't even have noticed these things, but piled on top of everything else, the little things all start to show.
Service: For everyone EXCEPT the butlers and a few other exceptions, we found the staff friendly and accommodating. People are constantly saying hello to you, drinks and meals were served very quickly, the wedding office was efficient and helpful, and ALL of the photography staff was FABULOUS. Our waiter for the candle-light dinner, Chris, was outstanding and actually ran back and forth from the kitchen to our balcony (on the fifth floor) all night since our meal had to be moved inside from the beach due to the high wind.
Resort: The resort in general was very clean and we didn't notice any sort of odd smells that some of the other reviews mention. The pools were clean and there never seemed to be a shortage of towels either. Unfortunately, due to the extreme weather we only got to enjoy one day in the pool and never got to make it out to the island. Although we did notice that only one of the hot tubs was actually 'hot.' One tub had bubbles but no heat, one was warm, but no bubbles, etc., and the pool water was very cold. The beach is also pretty and well-maintained and we watched a man rake up the sea weed the entire day. We also didn't experience any of the bug problems that other people have mentioned, but that was also due to the weather. In general, the resort is well-maintained, but pretty small, although we were given a map, we were still unable to find some of the activity locations.
Unfortunately, this is where Sandals receives a giant FAIL. With the exception of the candle light dinner (which was an extra charge but really quite good) the food is awful! We are not picky people and enjoy all types of food, but this was terrible across the board. None of the food in the buffets is ever really hot and unless you are there at the beginning, it's usually running low or out completely. There are some made-to-order lines, but they are always so slow that you are forced to eat the cold eggs out of the serving dish. And EVERYTHING is covered in pepper. We were one of the first couples on line at Cassanova's antipasta buffet, so we saw all of the serving dishes before they were touched and literally every single option was covered in a thick layer of black pepper. Unfortunately the bad food isn't just at the buffets either. Our first night at Crystal Room, I received a hummus plate that tasted like someone had scooped out a spoon of hummus and left it in the fridge because the top layer had an almost crispy outer layer until you broke thru to the softer stuff inside. It was served with four stale pita wedges, two olives, and a cherry tomato. That was it. Unfortunately, the main course was worse. My husband ordered veal and one of the three cutlets was literally inedible. He couldn't cut thru it with the butter knife, so he finally tore off a corner and literally couldn't chew thru it! I don't know if it was pure fat or just overcooked, but he actually had to spit it out! My entree was a veggie pasta dish that had so much red pepper in it, that it was also inedible. After two bites I was almost sick, and I really like spicy food. It was terrible. And Crystal room is considered one of the nicest restaurants on the resort! I realize that I could have ordered something else, but what you already have is terrible, you just don't want to order more of it. It was more than just 'I don't think this tastes good', you literally couldn't eat it! I had a similar experience at Cassanova's with a bowl of minestrone soup that tasted like liquid black pepper. I took one spoonful and almost gagged. My entree was gnocchi in a tomato sauce that tasted exactly like mushy ravioli out of a can. The cheeseburger at Royal cafe was burned although at least edible and the pizza at the wood fire grill tasted like a frozen stouffer's pizza (I can't understand the hype behind this pizza, it's just not that good). When you dread going to a meal on a vacation, and one of the best things you eat is fried mozzarella sticks, you know it's bad. Gordon's was fair but more for the ambiance than the actual taste of the food. Unfortunately we were unable to try Kimonos or Baccarat as they all closed down due to the weather before we could get there.
Service at the restaurants was odd as well. The food came quickly, but sometimes we got drinks and sometimes we didn't. On our very first lunch, they seated us and never came back for a drink order so I just went up to the bar and got it myself. Because we had butler service we did have reservations everywhere (one of the few things our butlers actually did for us) but when we were waiting to be seated at Crystal room we heard the hostess tell the couple behind us that there was a 45 minute wait. However, when we sat down, I only counted 12 other tables actually seated. There were empty tables everywhere! Again, not an issue for us, but I would have been very unhappy if I was the couple behind us. The same thing happened at Cassanova's the next night. A line at the door, but empty tables all over the place. The royal cafe and the pizza place were also confusing in that there was no front door, so you were really unsure of how it worked. Were they supposed to wait on you? Do you seat yourself? There were no signs, and nobody there to offer any help. I ordered the pizza at the oven and told them where we were sitting but then they started yelling out order numbers and people were getting up to retrieve them. It was very confusing. At the royal cafe, there are about three entrances, so we walked up and looked around and nobody sat us. We walked near an empty table and the waitress told us 'give me a minute to clean that off.' So we stood there and a different waitress walked by and gave us a really nasty 'don't sit there! It's dirty!' Just awkward and sort of rude.
Here's where we get to the really bad part. From the beginning, the butler service was touted as something really special, they were there to take care of all of your needs, and "expect to be wowed!" And we were wowed with just how awful these people were. We had three butlers which I will not name. One was terrible, one was fair but only because he was better than the awful one, and the third one we only met twice. TWICE- in a 6 day period. I don't think he should even qualify as our butler since he basically didn't exist, but he did manage to mess up the one thing we asked him to do. So right from the start they are very cheerful, 'anything you want, anything you need, just ask us, we're here to do everything for you, etc.' Except they don't actually offer anything. They don't make suggestions so you're like 'well, I just got here, so how am I supposed to even know what my options are?' For example we didn't think to ask for a tour of the place because we didn't realize that was something they did, but later we saw other butlers walking around with clearly new guests pointing things out and giving a tour. On our second day, Butler 2 asked us at dinner if we had received a tour and we said no, and he said 'oh that's definitely something I'll do for you tomorrow' but never actually did. All talk and no action. We did request on the very first day to get signed up for a snorkel trip since that was the one thing my husband really wanted to do. Butler 1 said 'oh absolutely, of course.' We never heard him mention it again and there were easily two+ days that we could have gone out before the storm hit. I don't think the butlers communicate between shifts, so something you tell one isn't transferred to the second so nobody ends up helping you out. We knew they weren't communicating because when we met Butler 2, instead of mentioning how he heard from Butler 1 that my husband wanted to do snorkeling, he suggested my husband go by himself into town to shop for me (which sounds incredibly dangerous and doesn't interest him in the least, considering my husband despises shopping in the first place). The butlers are also supposed to reserve chairs at the beach or pool for you. We asked to reserve a spot at the Balmoral pool the following morning. We went out around 9 and we couldn't find our spot anywhere! It turned out not to be an issue because there were open chairs, but this one simple request that seemed to be a huge part of their job was completely ignored. When we inquired about it later Butler 1 vaguely said 'oh yeah...we'll definitely take care of that tomorrow.' When we realized a storm was brewing we realized we had no umbrella. When we mentioned this to the butler he said 'oh there's one in the closet.' Well, there wasn't, and when we called again he told us the same thing as if we were lying or just stupid. A third request for an umbrella was finally met, and they brought us one. One umbrella for two people. When the butler dropped off the umbrella, he (and another butler who wasn't one of ours) insisted on barging into our room and tried making small talk with us to say good morning, when clearly the issues of high winds and an impending hurricane on the day of our wedding made the mood quite dour, but the butlers didn't take the hint and just stood there trying to talk to us, which was incredibly uncomfortable. Butler 2 walked us to dinner the first night, which was nice since there was a line, and we didn't want to cut anyone, but we already had reservations, etc. Unfortunately that was the only night they ever brought us anywhere. In fact, we weren't even sure where we were supposed to go for dinner on the pier so asked someone along the way. On night 2, we had 6:30 reservations at Cassanovas. The butler did not offer to walk us, so we went on our own and a giant crowd was waiting outside the restaurant when we walked up. Clearly they had no reservations and we were in front of this waiting crowd because they happened to get up and start forming a line as we walked by them. Awkward. The people behind us were making comments about us cutting in line. Were we supposed to wait in line behind all of these people and miss our reservation? If the butler had walked us, it wouldn't have been an issue and wouldn't have looked like we were cutting in line. I had a hair appointment at the spa which is at the very front of the resort and a massage at the spa right under the balmoral tower. Again, I had to figure this out on my own by calling around and asking people as the butlers were nowhere to be seen and certainly didn't offer to escort us anywhere. On the the day of my wedding, I had to walk back from the far spa with the hurricane wind blowing my new wedding hair and this would have been the perfect opportunity for the butler to come by and 'wow' me by carrying my umbrella or my multiple boxes of makeup/hair supplies, etc. Once the hurricane actually hit full force, all three butlers disappeared. In the 48 hours that we were in the bad part of the storm, we only heard from one butler ONCE. They did not call to alert us about the closing, storm updates, possible flight cancellation assistance, if we were alive, NOTHING. They literally disappeared until about 9:30pm on our last night there and I really think it was just their last ditch effort to secure their additional tip. We received turn-down service on the first night with some chocolate-covered strawberries, and then nothing for the next 6 nights. Two days before the wedding, I asked if they would take my wedding dress and husband's outfit to be pressed, which took the butlers an entire day to pick up (butler 3 finally picked up 1 day before the wedding, which ws literally the only time I met the man in all 6 days) and about 24 hours later (on the day of our wedding) I got a call from housekeeping saying that they had my dress and husband's outfit but had no idea what they were supposed to do with it. So I asked her to just press them and she said fine, they would be ready at 1 pm (the day of the wedding! Which was at 4pm). The dress did not arrive until 3pm, leaving us only an hour to get dressed for the wedding!! I almost didn't have a dress for my wedding (not to mention my husband's pressed shirt had an ink stain on the collar that wasn't there before we gave it to the butlers for pressing). Then on checkout I see a bill for $53 dollars for the pressing! When I asked about the charge since apparently one free pressing was included in our stay, the front desk told me that it didn't apply since it was a wedding dress (why we were charged for pressing my husband's outfit is beyond me). It also took Butler 2 18 hours to get us a bottle of champagne, water, and some orange juice. When I called to ask him for it he told me that stocking the minibar was 'someone else's job' but he would see what he could do (which was nothing). They were awful. And if we had only paid $2k for a lower-level room, none of these things would have been a problem. But we paid over $6k for these worthless men who made our entire trip uncomfortable and stressful!
Resort's reponse to the hurricane:
While Sandals cannot control the weather, they CAN control how they respond to it. We all had at least a day or two to prepare and its not like hurricanes are a brand new phenomenon in the Bahamas, so we were shocked with how poorly everything was handled. They did post updates on the storm and closures at various places throughout the resort and had daily briefings which were very helpful. However, they closed all of the restaurants except for the buffet (and the pub), which is fine, but they still insisted on seating people. At a buffet! Instead of just letting people take seats and walking around with trays of water or letting people go get drinks from somewhere else, they insisted on 'seating' you and they took forever! There was literally a coiled line in the front vestibule of cold and wet people that had to wait sometimes 20+ minutes to get a table for a buffet. Perhaps they were trying to keep some semblance of order, which I understand, but looking around while we were finally seated, there were empty tables everywhere! Completely unacceptable. They also hadn't prepared for the rush because most of the food trays were empty and never filled back up. Again, I understand that you are probably short-staffed, but if you are going to close everything down then at least make enough food to feed everyone! Then on the last, and worst, day of the storm, we went to the buffet around 3:30 after just finishing up with the photographer, walked into Spices and the waiters refused to look at us. They literally walked past us and turned their heads away. I finally walked up to a woman and asked if we could sit down and she told us they weren't serving anymore. There was an entire buffet of food behind her! And we would have understood if she had said they weren't serving but we could take care of ourselves, or at least let us get a plate of food to go, but they just said no. We couldn't eat anything. She said the pub was open, so we ran thru the resort in the rain and wind (and on the wet, slick as ice stone walkways outside) and sat at a table in the pub. Again, nobody would even look at us. After about 10 minutes of sitting a waiter delivered a full table of food to four people sitting to our right and I was finally able to get his attention and ask him for a menu. He came back about 5 minutes later and told us that the kitchen was closed. At this point I wanted to cry because we were so cold and wet and just wanted some food. I finally got a sad and dried out biscuit from a tray in the piano lounge on our way back to our room. That was our lunch. For a $6,000 vacation, we shared a cold biscuit and a can of diet coke from our minibar. When I asked the concierge desk about getting an earlier bus out the following morning since the airport would most likely be overrun with cancelled flights they gave me a huge attitude and told me we would have to make arrangements through our butler. At this point, I didn't trust our butler to bring us a bottle of water, let alone arrange our transportation. I finally stopped at the front desk and asked the exact same question to the lady at the front desk and her response was 'sure, just let us know when you want to go.' Then another butler walked by, named Orlando, and said 'we have cars running all morning. I'll get you there if I have to drive you myself.' So perhaps THIS was how the butlers are supposed to be and THIS is the type of service we were supposed to receive all week. We did get out the next morning and our driver was extremely helpful and delightful (we didn't catch his name, but he at least ended our Sandals experience on a positive note). Unfortunately the nice service came at the end of our trip when we were already miserable and frustrated.
To summarize, this resort did not live up to the hype and we barely saw any of the ‘perks’ we were promised and paid for!! You probably worked hard for your money, and you should go spend it somewhere else.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.