Hopefully this review helps some folks who are trying to make their travel decisions!
Overall we enjoyed our stay at Sandals Royal Bahamian. We were able to relax and make the most of our stay - however there are some things that need polishing at the resort for the prices paid. We traveled 12/21-12/26. We opted for a penthouse room in the Balmoral Tower with butler service. We decided to go all out on this vacation, and overall we were mostly satisfied with the experience. As Americans, sometimes we have to remember that we're on island time and in a different country, so things don't work quite the same as they do at home... but in the end... you are on vacation and you're away from reality. How bad can it be?
Booking & Pre-Check In
We booked with Funjet because they had the lowest travel insurance costs at $119 a person, fully refundable up to the day before travel. Great experience with Funjet, all documents were received on time. I did have to call the toll free number for Sandals to get our booking number for the resort so we could complete online check in. Once I got that number, we completed check in online and also filled out our butler preference form.
Arrival at airport
The Nassau airport is a dream come true. Very easy to navigate, looks brand new, clean and modern. Customs and baggage are a piece of cake. Walk right out of customs and there is the Sandals desk. Someone was waiting there for us, and within 5 minutes we were in our private car being driven to the resort. Very easy process. Compared to previous arrivals at the Cancun airport for beach vacations, the Nassau airport is a walk in the park! I love the Bahamas for their airport alone!
Transportation to resort
Being that we had the butler service, we were driven to the resort in a private Rolls Royce. We were so excited for this because when else would we ever be in a Rolls? Unfortunately the vehicle needed some work. The A/C was not functioning (and it was pretty warm outside) and the window buttons were broken. Not a great initial impression. On the way back, we were driven in a Mercedes and it was much nicer. The resort is SO close to the airport - 10-15 minute drive max. If you are looking for easy travel from the states, this resort is your ticket. And request the Mercedes! :)
Check in was easy and fast. We arrived and were escorted to a private area where they check in the butler level guests. We were given cool towels (which was nice after the hot ride over). After check in, our butler came to meet us and gave us a tour of the resort. We were then shown to our room, #609 in the Balmoral tower. The room was on the eastern edge of the tower, and overlooked the ocean and also some other small homes that were kind of run down. We also overlooked some trash cans, air conditioners etc. For the price we paid, I was really expecting a better view. When we asked about changing rooms, the butler told us the resort was only 65% full, so he was able to get us a room with a better view. We moved down the hall to room 614 which was right in the center of the tower and it had a spectacular view. No complaints! Luggage arrived about 2 hours after check in.
Rooms in the Balmoral Tower were renovated about a year ago and the finishings are beautiful! Comfortable bed, spacious bathroom, loved the canvas prints of the Carribean sea on the wall. Soft robes and slippers are provided. Our balcony was big, about 8' x 18' and it had 2 sun chairs, two regular chairs and a table. Plenty of room for a nice meal outside! There was a mini bar with beers (their local beers are Kalik and Sands), wine, champagne, rum, vodka and gin. Most of the booze was not brand name but I'm sure we could have requested other bottles if we wanted them. There is a large flat screen TV with quite a few American channels plus local news from Miami. There is also a Bahamian channel as well. It would have been nice to have a DVD player for nights in, to watch a few movies from home for entertainment, but that was no big deal. The only negative about this room was that it is right underneath the fitness center and we could hear, very clearly, any time that someone was using the treadmill. That wasn't so cool. We probably would have enjoyed a room on the 5th floor a little better without the treadmill noise. But overall, the room was gorgeous and the view was a highlight of the trip. True paradise!
The best advice I can give with butler service is to be very direct about what you want and when you want it. I was not used to having people do things for me and at first I felt kind of snooty asking for things to be delivered (like lunch at the pool) when I could easily get them myself! But, this is what the butlers are there for. We did have a negative experience with one of our butlers not too long after arrival. When we arrived, all of our dinner reservations had been made for us. A nice gesture, but the reservations were for 6pm and we prefer to eat later around 7:30 or 8pm. I called our butler to change a few of the restaurants and the reservation times and got a lot of attitude in return. I really didn't think I was asking for a lot considering the resort was only 65% occupied, plus we had really planned on making our dinner reservations upon arrival. After some back and forth, eventually our other butler stepped in and said that she would take care of everything, which she did. This is really the type of service that I expected. Once that was ironed out, our experience was much improved. Our two butlers did some nice things for us during our stay - we had a cheese plate in the room each day when we got back from the beach, chocolate covered strawberries in the evening, shrimp cocktail, etc. If we go back to a Sandals, it's tempting to have the butler service again... but you really need to make use of it. We didn't make great use of it the first few days and if we had it to do over again, I'd change that.
We are foodies, so we went into this experience with average expectations of the food considering that these resorts are mass marketed and not really known for true 5* restaurants. I would say the expectations were met. The food was tasty and we did not go hungry, but it was not 5* gourmet by any stretch of the imagination. House wines are included and they are Beringer wines - anything else is an upcharge. The house wines are cabernet, merlot, pinot grigio and chardonnay. Wine prices for anything other than the Beringer house wines were fairly reasonable. There is no shortage of choices around the resort for where to eat. Some highlights:
Baccarat - French restaurant, ate here the first night. We had the Caribbean lobster. It was cooked nicely, but covered in a white cream sauce that was a little heavy. Very nice servers. We had breakfast at Baccarat twice and enjoyed the experience. Champagne and caviar for breakfast, what a treat!
Kimonos - below average experience. The chef didn't entertain us at all and the grill stopped working halfway through. Everything was doused with a thick brown sauce. Not so good on the food side, but we met some other guests that were really nice.
Gordon's on the Pier - ate here on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Had the steamed lobster and requested drawn butter. One of the better meals at the resort. We had a few questions for the server about some of the drinks/food on the menu and he couldn't answer them right away - had to go ask someone.
Bella Napoli pizzeria - tasty little pizzas make for a nice lunch or snack on the beach.
Cafe Goombay lunch - wraps, burgers, etc. Pretty standard fare, nothing too exciting. Same with the Royal Cafe.
Spices buffet - we mostly ate here for breakfast and were happy with the selection. We had lunch here on our first day - large salad bar and lots of other things to choose from. Pretty typical resort buffet.
We were given a schedule of activities when we arrived. We wanted to do 2 of the activities that were listed (on separate days), however when we showed up, no one was there and nothing was set up. We asked around, but weren't given much of an answer, so eventually we just kind of gave up. We did take a Hobie Cat out one day and that was tons of fun.
Definitely a highlight of the trip. We went over twice and had a cabana reserved both times. Soooo relaxing and barely anyone was there! We preferred the side facing outwards into the ocean. Very peaceful. Vivek waited on us at the island and his service was great. We had lunch in our cabana both days and he brought champagne for my husband's birthday and other drinks we requested. The water was calm on both sides and just lapped at the shore. Very nice for swimming or snorkeling.
We mostly hung out at the Balmoral pool which is the quieter one. The Windsor pool has the music and is more of the party pool. As the other reviewers have said, the pools are not heated. They are pretty cold in December. The hot tubs were quite nice though :)
While it's not huge, the beach is clean and has plenty of chairs and cabanas. There are staff members out there each morning raking up the seaweed. They do a good job of keeping the beach nice and neat.
Overall Condition of Resort
This resort is about 15 years old and it's starting to show its age a bit. The room renovations in the Balmoral tower are fabulous, but there are some other things around the resort that could use a good scrubbing. Also... there are Sandals logos EVERYWHERE. On the buildings, doors, in the concrete sidewalks, across on the private island, at the bottom of the pool, everywhere you look! It's sort of annoying and very much overkill.
I'd say we were happy with this vacation because it fit what we were looking for - an AI resort in the Caribbean that was easy to get to, no long travel times or layovers. We had no need or want that went unaddressed. The staff members are very hard working and so friendly! Sandals Royal Bahamian is really nice on the surface, but needs just a bit of polishing to be truly spectacular.