Destination Review: Sandals Barbados
In our never-ending quest for the perfect all-inclusive resorts for our clients, Janet and I spent a week in Barbados at the end of March. Our goal was to check out Sandals' two properties on Barbados, Sandals Barbados and Sandals Royal Barbados. The resorts are conveniently located next to each other on a beautiful stretch of white sand beach a short 15-minute drive from the airport. Sandals properties are all-inclusive resorts offering an exceptional experience with top-notch amenities and luxurious accommodations. Janet has shared pictures from our time exploring both resorts on our Facebook business page, so in this review I’ll skip the photos and share our impressions.
The two Sandals resorts in Barbados offer stunning ocean views from their location on Dover Beach. The location provides easy access to many of the island's top attractions, including historic Bridgetown, which is just a short drive away. Guests can explore the vibrant local culture, museums, shops, and markets, or simply soak up the sun on the island's beautiful beaches. But I’ll tell you from our experience…once you see what these resorts have to offer, you won’t want to leave their exquisitely landscaped grounds. We didn’t.
The best thing about staying at a Sandals resort is their “stay at one, play at many” policy which gives guests at one Sandals resort access to nearby Sandals’ properties. In the case of Sandals Barbados and Sandals Royal Barbados, the resorts are co-located…the are effectively two parts of the same property. We spent time exploring both resorts, dining in restaurants at both, and we came away with a good sense of what sets them apart from each other.
Sandals Barbados is the larger of the two resorts in terms of guest capacity with 280 rooms, but the facilities are packed into a smaller area than sister property Sandals Royal Barbados next door. The result is a somewhat higher flow of guests through the resort with a bit of a busy town square-feel, which is not a bad thing if you prefer a more active setting. Sandals Royal Barbados is the smaller of the two resorts in terms of guest capacity with just 228 rooms, but the facilities are spread out over a larger area resulting in a more spacious and laid back, no worries Caribbean vibe.
Each resort offers their own nightly entertainment with live music, DJs, shows and themed parties. Daytime activities include beach and pool games, and a variety of yoga and other exercise classes designed to help you work up an appetite. The resorts have their own spa where you can select from a full range of spa services for an additional fee. The spas feature private treatment rooms, a sauna, steam room, and a relaxation area. Spa services at Sandals are operated under contract with Red Lane Spas.
Gratuities are included at all Sandals resorts, and they mean it. Not only are additional gratuities not required…they’re not welcome. For most Sandals resorts, employees will be fired on the spot if they accept a gratuity from a guest, the only exception being the butlers and the spa staff. Sandals employees are among the best compensated throughout the Caribbean hospitality industry; however, Barbados has a unique law that requires Sandals to allow staff members to accept gratuities if offered. Even so, additional gratuities are not encouraged nor are they expected. We didn’t see any offered during our stay, and the only additional gratuity we handed out was to our butlers.
Sandals resorts are adults only and they cater to couples. So much so that single guests have to get special permission from the resort to book, and getting a room for a single isn’t a sure thing. Exceptions are made for singles attending a destination wedding or group event, but even those requests are carefully reviewed before being approved. Sandals it is not the resort to go to if you want to cost share your vacation with a friend…the only bed you’ll find in their rooms and suites are king sized, and there are no sleeper sofas or rollaway beds. That minimizes the large groups of loud party animals that you’ll find at other adults-only all-inclusive resorts. Which is not to say Sandals resorts are dull. Some do offer quiet relaxation in a romantic setting, but others offer a more active pace ideal for the younger crowd, as well as those young at heart. The two Sandals resorts in Barbados offer a bit of both.
The resort features a range of accommodations, from their entry level luxury rooms to suites with swim-up pools and some with beachfront views. Each room is tastefully decorated with modern amenities such as air conditioning, flat-screen TVs, and complimentary Wi-Fi. Sandals Barbados offers 11 different restaurants allowing guests to select from a variety of regional cuisines. The options include a French brasserie, Indian (Janet’s favorite), a sushi restaurant, a steakhouse, a pizzeria, and more. Since we didn’t stay at Sandals Barbados, I don’t have much more to share other than to say much of what we experienced is available at both resorts.
Sandals Royal Barbados
The main difference between Sandals Barbados and Sandals Royal Barbados is the level of luxury and service. Sandals Royal Barbados does not offer any of the entry level rooms you find at Sandals Barbados…all rooms are Club suites and Butler Elite accommodations. From the minute you arrive at any Sandals resort you’re treated like you are special. Each suite offers the same modern amenities as Sandals Barbados, but Sandals Royal Barbados elevates your experience to next level luxury with more elegant furnishings, high-quality linens, and the most plush and comfortable pillows you can imagine.
There are 10 restaurants, each with a unique cuisine and atmosphere, ensuring that guests can enjoy a variety of dining experiences throughout their stay. The options include a rooftop French restaurant with amazing views, an Asian fusion restaurant and sushi bar, Italian, Sandals’ signature Butch’s steakhouse (named after Sandals founder Gordon “Butch” Stewart), just to name a few. Most restaurants offer gluten free and vegetarian/vegan menu items. And if you get tired of dining there, just make the short walk over to Sandals Barbados and enjoy one of their 11 restaurants, or order room service. My favorite venue was the boutique coffee and donut shop. Each morning while Janet slept in, I enjoyed sipping on a cappuccino and munching on a cream cheese filled red velvet donut.
We opted for the Butler Elite Rondeval accommodation, which is a stand-alone, round shaped villa complete with private patio and plunge pool. It also came with expedited arrival processing at the airport and a private transfer in a Rolls Royce Bentley sedan. Each guest in a Butler Elite accommodation gets a cell phone to use to contact their butler throughout their stay. We had a team of three butlers catering to our every need, to include some we didn’t even realize we needed, between the hours of 8AM and 10PM. The butlers are shared amongst several rooms, but you wouldn’t know it with the attentive service ours provided throughout our stay. Even though we had the phone, we rarely used it because after our first day at the resort our butlers anticipated our needs and met them before we asked.
Each morning while most guests were still sleeping or sipping their coffee, our butlers were busy reserving our choice of lounge chairs by the pool, ensuring there was a cooler stocked with our choice of beverages under the shade of an umbrella. And as soon as the pool bar opened, one of our butlers was quick to offer us a specialty cocktail, even though it would have been a short walk for us to get it ourselves. Let me tell you, it’s easy to get used to that level of pampering.
We arranged with our butlers to bring a made to order breakfast to our private patio each morning, and they served us our choice of lunch poolside each day. They also made nightly reservations at our choice of restaurant and escorted us to our table to ensure we had the best seat in the house. Sandals’ butlers will also make spa reservations and any off-resort excursion and transportation arrangements you need. There is a concierge desk in the Club lounge for guests staying in Club accommodations, and while they’re happy to help with things like excursions, spa and dinner reservations, you are on your own when it comes to more the personalized services offered by the butlers…like staking out your chair by the pool.
Sandals Royal Barbados offers a unique outdoor sports bar that is open air but under cover, making it an all-weather venue. It has intimate seating areas, each with its own big screen TV that you could tune to whatever sporting event you find of interest. For a more active approach to relaxing, the venue includes a pool table, table tennis, foosball, and an indoor four-lane bowling alley.
Both Sandals resorts on Barbados share a common watersports center. Non-motorized water sports include kayaks, paddleboard, and catamaran sailboats. Snorkeling, from the shore or by boat, is included, as is daily Scuba diving for certified divers. They also offer certification classes (for an additional fee) at their PADI certified dive center. The Sandals PADI dive center on Barbados is located on the grounds of the Sandals Royal Barbados resort, but both resorts have full access.
The Sandals properties two shared tennis courts but there is no tennis pro at neither, nor is a golf course on property. There are several courses nearby, and you can book tee times for an additional fee. You can also rent shoes and clubs if you don’t feel like lugging your own gear along, and golf excursions include transportation.
In the spirit of full disclosure there are a few reality checks I have to share, to temper some of the Sandals marketing hype. Because it’s what I do. None of this detracted from our indulgence in the all-inclusive luxury…they are simply things you should be aware of if you fancy a stay at either of the Sandals Barbados properties.
The liquor. Sandals advertises their liquor offerings as top shelf. Premium brands yes, but don’t look for true top shelf offerings. We have a complete list of liquor and beer brands Sandals offers if that is important to your vacation enjoyment. But at an all-inclusive, after the first refill does it really matter?
The food. Sandals is like many all-inclusive resorts in describing their restaurants as gourmet dining. The dining is mostly ala carte and reservations are not required, both of which are nice features that you won't find in many other all-inclusive resorts. But “gourmet” is a bit of a loaded word and not one I would use to describe the food. I did find the food to be above average in quality, very good in creativity, and you can’t beat them when it comes to the flavors they offer in their Caribbean specialties made with fresh local ingredients. Just don’t order the Wagyu tenderloin. It wasn't tender. Nor was it Wagyu…not even American Wagyu. It was Caribbean Wagyu, which I'm pretty sure means the chef imagined a Wagyu steak as he cooked up some local beef. It was no more than half an inch thick and one of the toughest cuts of meat I’ve encountered. I ordered medium rare and what I got was well done, so I sent it back. The refire was properly cooked, but no better in quality.
The beach. The Sandals resorts are situated on the Atlantic side of the island, and that part of Barbados is known for rough surf and strong currents. The water was lively during our visit, and though a few brave souls went for a swim, most opted to get wet in one of the resort’s freshwater pools. They’ve built a breakwater to tame the surf and cut the undertow, and the water immediately in front of the beach was more swimmable but it was still a bit rough. We spent most of our time poolside.
The vendors. In Barbados, all beaches are open to the public which means the resort can’t keep vendors from approaching guests once you step out onto the beach. When we were on the beach we were occasionally approached by vendors, but after we politely declined they moved on.
Both Sandals properties in Barbados are exceptional all-inclusive resorts, offering guests a luxurious and indulgent vacation experience in a beautiful island setting. With stunning beaches, a variety of dining options, luxury amenities, and exceptional service, you are sure to have a memorable and enjoyable stay at either of the two resorts. It’s not the best choice for a friend’s getaway, the Beaches resorts are more appropriate for that, but for couples looking for a romantic retreat Sandals Barbados and Sandals Royal Bardados are ideal.