Although there are 7 Sandal’s properties spanning the island of Jamaica, three of them are found in Montego Bay alone: The Carlyle, Montego Bay, and The Royal Caribbean. Known for their exceptional accommodations, the best part of the plan is their Stay and Play concept. Stay at one of the resorts, but you’re granted full run of all three properties. So, it was only natural that I wanted a sampling of all three!
First stop: The Carlyle. Considered the smallest hotel in the Jamaican line, this boutique property boasts a mere 52 rooms and is situated right where city life meets seascape. It is nestled directly across from the beach and steps away from the “Hip Strip,” a bustling mecca of local finds and flavors. The best way to describe this mini-oasis was the island’s version of “Cheers.”
The staff treated you more like extended family, and they made a point to not only know your name, but also anticipate your every need. Run by Leighton Josephs, a man whose smile is as warm as the Jamaican sun itself, one interaction with him, and you know why 80-90% of the guests are considered regulars, returning year after year.
What they lack in size, they certainly make up for in heart. That was evident from the moment you meet CJ, their resident Playmaker. CJ took it upon himself to make an introduction and get us acclimated and integrated into the hotel culture. And with it being priced significantly below the other two nearby resorts, it is ideal for couples that want to return to paradise on the regular.
But, being a self-proclaimed sea worshiper myself, I had a need to get to a beach. And when you’re looking for the best beach in the area, word travels fast as to where you’ll find it.
So, I proudly donned my seaside duffel, boarded the shuttle, and set sail for Sandals: Montego Bay. The moment I stepped off the bus, I was immersed in the foliage, and searching out the source of the sea breeze. Plush, oversized seating areas beckoned me as I passed by, but the pull was too strong. And moments later, I found my way across the soft sand, and face-to-face with some of the most clear, calm, and inviting water I have ever made the acquaintance of. Looking down the shoreline, I saw what I would describe as an adult playground, ripe with cabanas, hammocks, and chairs galore. And void of any of the day-to-day responsibilities we’d all left behind. It was then that I breathed a sigh of pure bliss.
At the risk of sounding like a gushing schoolgirl, I must reveal my inner glutton and rave about the restaurants. Few people are pickier than me when it comes to finding fare I would actually write home about. And here I am, salivating about several of the dishes I sampled during my stay. With more than a dozen dining options among the three resorts, I helped myself to everything from Thai to Japanese, English pub food, and even a margarita pizza that I still want more of. With such eclectic offerings, what I thought might be a weight loss opportunity turned into a souvenir six pounds!
Midway through our trip, I was anxious to dive deeper into the wedding side of things, so we packed our bags, and headed for the last stop on our list: Sandal’s: Royal Caribbean. With 210 rooms, this resort was a nice mix of the other two. And it even had the bonus of a private island just a short ferry ride away. Under the direction of Mr. Gerald Christ, he is described as a seasoned and competent leader who always goes the extra mile and is nothing less than impressive. And this is evident the moment you see how his resort is run. The grounds were so magnificent, that in some moments, you thought you might be on the set of a movie. You know, the type of film that brings about fairytales, and makes you wish upon a star and never want to leave. Complete with a magical set of swings in the middle of the warm translucent waters. For the first time in quite some time, I truly wanted to savor every second.
Perhaps the very best thing we did during our stay was renting ourselves a Sandal’s cabana. Although nearly everything is included in your all-inclusive stay, there are a handful of extras you can spring for, and this one happened to be worth every extra penny.
So much so, we even sprung for a second day. Your very own water-front paradise awaits when you reserve one of these! The moment we arrived at our private cabana, we were greeted by our personal butler. She handed us a cell phone to dial her direct, in case we needed anything outside our immediate reach. We were fortunate enough to be taken care of by Nicole both days, who brought us lunch, had fresh drinks for us before we even realized we needed a refill, and surprised us with an afternoon fruit and cheese tray.
Lets suffice it to say, it was so perfect that I woke up from a nap somewhat upset that I missed out on savoring even a second of the experience while I was asleep. So perfect, perhaps, that even my own boyfriend couldn’t take the romantic irony of it all, and popped the question right then and there! (Let the record state, I said yes!!)
And suddenly, there I was, with weddings on my mind. And I just happened to be right in the middle of my very own little rom-com, delighted at the thought of doing a destination type of thing myself. I wanted to know more. So, true to my nature, I worked my way over to the wedding office, questions in hand. Fortunately, I was immediately connected to Rochelle Forbes and Tannif Turner, who thought nothing of spending the morning with me, daydreaming and discussing all things wedding.
As it turns out, these are very seasoned event specialists, as this resort alone has onsite: two wedding planners, two wedding captains, and a wedding steward. And although they can crank out an impressive average of 30 weddings every month, and as many as 60 during high season, each one of them are customized to the couple, so it never feels impersonal.
As Turner put it, “We are a luxury brand. We’re game changers. All of our locations are unique, with staff that is passionate and dedicated. Your experience is not a one size fits all, but rather tailored to each couple.”
This experience starts at the core, in the training of their staff. The highest standard of hospitality is present in every interaction, as that is paramount among everyone, from the General Manager to the gardeners. According to Forbes, “Sandals is big on growth development. On-the-job training really grows our company. We’ve always been trendsetters in terms of staying a step ahead of the curve.”
And just to be sure Sandal’s really delivered on their promise, I was fortunate enough to get directly to the source itself. I just so happened to run across an uber cute, hipster couple who just happened to be hanging out on their honeymoon, after having just exchanged their vows there a few days prior. Riston and Travis Schifko were planning to get married elsewhere, when a sudden change of plans shifted them to the Royal Caribbean instead. “Although it wasn’t our initial plan, it was as though fate intervened and brought us where we were meant to be. And we were totally blown away by how above and beyond everyone went to make our stay perfect,” said Riston. In fact, 36 guests followed them to the island to watch them exchange vows with one another. And as Travis assured me, “I think it’s safe to say at least 34 of the 36 will be back for vacation!”
Those sounded like pretty good odds to me. And in the end, as if it weren’t hard enough to leave in the first place, a little bird left a note under our door, beckoning us with offers to check out their other properties, with super sweet rates to boot. I admit it. I’m officially hooked on the Sandal’s experience. Simply put, I will be back!
Resort review conducted and written by: Christie Scott
Photography provided by: Sandals Resorts