This was our second stay at an all inclusive resort in the Bahamas so I don't have a plethora of experience when it comes to this type of vacation. However, when comparing our recent stay at Sandals to our previous stay at the Riu (on Paradise Island, next to Atlantis) all I can say is that the Riu knocked it out of the park, while Sandals struck out over and over again. Two other couples went with us, and all of us had similar experiences to what I will list below.
1. Resort is close to the airport.
2. Resort is beautiful.
3. The staff was very friendly
4. The room we ended up in was great.
5. No kids
1. Everything seemed to be an "upgrade".
2. Very unorganized.
3. No consistency (The same food and drink orders were different for different people).
4. Management was.... somewhere else.
The vacation started with us arriving at the resort before check in time (~11am) due to the available airline schedule and our desire to squeeze as much as we could into our brief 5 day get away.
We checked in but our room wasn't ready so we were told to enjoy the resort and come back after 3pm. The two couples rooms were ready, so we decided to throw our luggage in with them until our room was done.
When we got to the first couples room, there was already people in it and we all ended up in the third couples room waiting while our "guide" called the front desk and tried to figure out what to do. After a 1/2 hour or so couple number two was promised the room across the hall from their original room, but it wasn't ready yet and they had to come back later as well. At that point, not a big deal, everyone was still happy and we just wanted to start our vacation.
We then proceeded to hang out by the pool and get some lunch. The lunch was some hamburgers served at one of the open air cafes. It wasn't great, but it was decent and although the service was extremely slow, we just went with the flow and enjoyed ourselves.
Spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool, catching some sun. Since we weren't officially checked in we didn't have the required room card which allowed us to charge things back to our room. This is only a problem if you try to purchase something from the gift shop (like sun screen) and neglected to bring your credit card (perhaps you left it in the safe of another couples room while yours was being prepared because you figured why would you need your wallet in an all inclusive resort?). They don't take cash at the gift store and you have to go through this whole ring up of your merchandise, walk back to reception with the receipt so you can pay them cash and then return to the gift shop to show them that you paid for it when they will then give you your merchandise. This process is really confusing should you not speak English that well, and the process is really slow should you be waiting behind someone who does not speak English very well and is trying to comprehend why the gift shop won't sell them anything.
I should note at this time that pool side service was very slow due to the limited number of wait staff and large number of customers. We ended up going back and forth to the bar all day to get our own drinks.
I should also note that not every bar on the resort has the high end liquors (like Bombay Sapphire) that the resort advertises. Some do, but you have to search them out and once the bottle is empty they may not get it replaced. You can, of course, request it if you don't see it but it will take a very long time for someone to find a bottle. I spent a lot of time waiting for Bombay or Tanqueray and often just settled for beer so I could get back to the pool.
As the afternoon comes to an end we begin discussing our dinning options and we decided to get our room so we could freshen up. It was around 5pm at this time and once we got to the reception desk, we found that our room had been given to someone else. Why, I'm not sure since they knew we were there but for some reason they assumed that since we wouldn't be needing our room for our 5 day stay. (I later found out from another couple that the same thing happened to them and the resort admitted to frequently overbooking).
Much discussion ensued, and much time passed. They ended up giving us a room in the "old tower" next to the party pool on the ground floor, looking out onto a parking lot. This was much different from the bungalow room we were supposed to be in, next to our friends. The room itself wasn't too bad, just old and showing signs of ware. We were told that this room was an upgrade to the room we were supposed to have, but it turned out that the upgrade was that they put booze in our room. This really confused us because the room we were originally supposed to get (next to our friends) already had booze in it.
Much discussion ensued with multiple phone calls to reception and several supervisors involved and we were finally told that they cold move us back to a room like the one we were supposed to be in the next day. We said fine. They said to be sure to check out at 11am and then check back in at 3pm. We went to sleep.
The next day we checked out at 11am and then tried to check in every hour on the hour to make sure they didn't give away our new room. We ended up getting into our room about 2pm. It was the original type of room we were supposed to get and it was very nice. The booze was stocked and we had champagne glasses but no champagne. We called for it and they said they'd send it right over. They called back at 7pm as we were leaving for dinner and said they were on their way with the champagne. It was indeed there when we got back from dinner.
At this point, I should also tell you that while we were fighting for our room, our friends were trying to make reservations for dinner at one of the three restaurants that require reservations. While the meals are still included in the price, you have to reserve a table at the three higher end restaurants. They quickly found out that all of those restaurants were booked until Friday. We were leaving on Thursday. Booked as in they couldn't get a reservation for two let alone four or six should we all want to dine together. Turns out that Acura was having a corporate retreat there that week and the majority of the restaurants capacity was taken up by them. That and the group of travel agents that they were showing the resort to in order to drum up more business. I guess they wanted to make sure that they were able to overbook on a regular basis.
Food wise, we ended up going to all of the "normal" restaurants they have and the food was rather plain. In one case, our group went to the Italian Restaurant after one of our couples had gone there earlier (when we were trying to get our room) and the same meal that they had ordered two days ago was prepared completely differently than when someone else ordered it that night. We also got crushed red pepper when we asked for pepper that night. Everyone's meal came out at different times, and one of our dishes was completely wrong. In addition, they never refilled our water or wine glasses. My fettuccine was bland at best and my wife's chicken was cold. Very disappointing experience.
The supposed "A la Carte" breakfast restaurants basically just offer you what the buffet places offer you with the caveat that you have to wait for someone to bring you the food instead of getting it yourself. This can take awhile. Breakfast wise, I liked the omelettes but my wife thought the scrambled eggs tasted like they were powdered. We also found out that the quality of the grilled breakfast items definitely varies with the chef.
The bars were constantly out of product (Gin, Tequila, Bloody Mary mix, etc...) and the bartenders were constantly asking for our patience as someone should be there "any minute" with the proper ingredient or libation.
The pool/beach wait staff was constantly moving but just didn't have the bandwidth to serve everyone consistently so long times between drinks were customary.
The food was bland, and the quality was inconsistent.
In summary, the Sandals resorts sells you an image of being pampered and taken care of at every step in your trip. They advertise a high end experience allowing you to leave everything to them so you can relax. In our experience, we were treated more like a cog in a vacation machine, and unless you spoke up it was like you weren't even there. The staff was very nice, but they weren't empowered to do anything. They truly seemed to want to help and provide you with good service, but the resorts organization (or lack there of) didn't make it easy for them.
The experience Sandals provided was closer to what I would assume a Club Med is like. The Riu, which was less expensive than Sandals, had what I'd call an average property but the service and food was outstanding. I don't want to spend my vacation fighting to get what I already paid for, and I certainly don't want to pay for something I'm never going to get.
There were many people we met on the trip that felt this way and had similar experiences to us. One of them got compensated with a reservation to one of the three high end restaurants but that didn't happen for us. The people at the reservation desk said that someone would be contacting us, but that hasn't happened either and I don't believe it will. I think they just said that so they could get us out the door and bring in the next bus load of cogs for their machine.
I wouldn't recommend going here and suggest you spend your hard earned cash somewhere that actually cares about you after your check has cleared and not just before you get into the door.