It is truly difficult to review White Sands Cove, as my up-and-down experience here was at some times pleasant, others tiring, and yet other times baffling. In some ways, it was one of the most beautiful places I've stayed. As far as island paradises go, it fulfilled many of my expectations. But in other, more bizarre ways, the hotel experience was unfulfilling. Often, I felt the company was having an identity crisis.
Let's begin at the beginning. White Sands Cove is situated a few miles north of San Pedro proper, making its situation so-so. On the one hand, it's remote enough that the property is shielded from the tourism and noise of the town, but it also means you'll need to pay $10 US a person to get in and out of San Pedro by (often late) water taxi. A plus for seclusion, but a minus if you'd like to see more of the city or eat on a reasonable budget.
For these reasons, the shuttle driver Isaiah came to pick us up from the docks upon our arrival to the island. It was nice to have a personal taxi service, though it does cost double the rate of taking the water taxi to White Sands.
Isaiah was a nice guy, but he put us in a bad position for our first two days at White Sands. He stopped us at a grocery store and advised us to buy "snacks" for our hotel, so we picked up chips, beer, cookies, etc. Upon our arrival, we learned the on-site restaurant was not open for breakfast, so we really should have bought eggs, cereal, and other essentials, not snacks. We ended up biking half an hour and paying a decent chunk of change for breakfast the next day as a result.
This was not the only inconvenience afforded my wife and I by the restaurant. While I could take or leave some of the dishes (wings were great, fish was okay), I was happy to have a convenient dining spot 30 seconds from my room. But a few days into the trip, when we were returning from a long day of adventure, we found the restaurant closed at 8:45 pm. Even though our hotel info book and the sign outside says it's open till 10, the bar/restaurant closed early because "nobody was showing up." To me, this was a huge disappointment considering the hotel restaurant is the only safe, easy way to get food. What is the point of having restaurant hours if they can be changed with no notice? We were forced to eat our "snacks" for dinner and go to bed hungry.
It's weird because it isn't anyone's specific fault. The staff is, for the most part, nice. However, there is a very odd dynamic that made us feel unwelcome. You see, the groundskeeper and (presumably) the manager, Marlon, has been there for a long time. He's worked at WSC for years, to the point where people in the city asked us how he was doing when we mentioned where we were staying. However, more recently, there is a couple that is related to the grounds owners that moved in, and it seems like they are positioned to take/share Marlon's job. It is not immediately clear who is in charge of what or when, which makes seeking help awkward. And I get the feeling that the group dynamic is not cozy.
As a result, getting straight, timely answers is not always easy. You will go to the office, and nobody is there. Or sometimes too many people are there. Or Marlon will help you with something, but Ben will too, and then two taxis will show up instead of one! I am not sure what the endgame is, but in the interim the situation is inconvenient, and I hope Marlon isn't getting pushed out of something he has worked for for so long.
The miscommunications between the staff led to other strange problems. The day before we checked out, my wife an I were returning to our (double bedroom) room, in hurried need of a bathroom. When we got inside, we strangely found that the door handle to the bathroom we had been using was replaced with a lock! Not a locked door handle, mind you, a locked deadbolt (see photos). I honestly thought I had walked into the wrong hotel room! All our possessions from the room had been moved, and there was no notice or obvious reason why this had happened.
When we spoke to the staff, they told us they locked the bedroom because they were concerned we would run the A/C in both bedrooms (we hadn't done this) and they wanted to save power. You would think they could just talk to us, or leave us a note, or... I perhaps (is this insane?) just wait the 12 hours for us to check out before locking us out of our rooms. Ironically, when they agreed to open the door, we found whoever locked it had left the ceiling fan running! In their effort to save power, they actually wasted untold hours of power. What was I to think?
Unfortunately, the staff was not the only awkward element of our stay. During our trip, we came to realize that half the "guests" at the hotel were actually condo owners. While there was nothing wrong with them as people, they all knew each other and hung out together, which made the hotel feel cliquey. The other traveling couples we talked to agreed the dynamic was weird, and they felt uncomfortable striking up real conversation with all the friends and family that owned White Sands Cove. We felt like we didn't belong, and that, in the ideal world, WSC wouldn't have hotel guests at all, and it was just a temporary evil until they could finish selling condos.
So, with so many problems, why did I give WSC an "average" review? Well, there were a decent number of positives. The rooms themselves were nice, clean, and quiet (minus morning barking from the otherwise cute dogs). The grounds are well maintained, easily traversed, and very beautiful. The views overlooking the ocean are gorgeous, and while the hotel isn't perfectly situated, it's not hard to get to places you need to go. Most importantly, the pricing was very fair, as long as you keep in mind you will be paying more to go into town.
The on-grounds scuba/snorkeling shop was also good, with friendly, enthusiastic staff. They're a little averse to bad-weather trips, which I guess is good, but if you're planning a short vacation, you may be forced to hire another company if WSC's crew won't take you out.
In summary, White Sands Cove is having an identity crisis. It's nice to look at, but it doesn't feel like the management has figured out how it wants to run, who's in charge, or what amenities it wants to offer, when. Hell, when we were there, the staff had only just learned they owned a coffee pot! As a result of this confusion, the customer service is often absent, ambiguous, or simply unfathomable, as noted with our door lock issue.
It feels as though WSC is trying to "grow up" from being a hotel to being a condo resort, and it's in the middle of its awkward teenage years. There are some growing pains, some acne, and a few social faux pas. Will White Sands Cove mature by the time you arrive? Perhaps. But if you're not willing to take the chance, there are many comparable options along the beach.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Tucked away among tropical fauna and turquoise waters, White Sands Cove Resort sits 2.5 miles north of San Pedro, on the Island of Ambergris Caye. Just off the coast of Belize, our cozy boutique resort is tastefully defined by its unique balance of tranquility and adventure. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- White Sands Cove Hotel San Pedro
- Hotel White Sands Cove
- White Sands Cove Resort Belize/San Pedro