Top-notch butler service that many find worth the splurge
Butler level guests receive transportation via Rolls Royce or Mercedes Benz
Not the biggest beach area; chairs with umbrellas are limited
Minibars in the rooms have plenty of beverages but no snacks
Ordering room service could require several dial attempts
The authentic English pub has an odor that may turn off guests
Guests may be pressured to buy extra excursions
Some restaurants require reservations which can be hard to snag
Windsor Tower rooms are more likely to experience late-night noise
Connecting to Wi-Fi can be a challenge
What was once known as the famous Balmoral Club back in the 1940s later became the 408-room Sandals Resort in 1995, where the motto is "Love is all you need." This resort has everything designed for couples and manages to impress upon arrival with Roman columns, statues, fountains, three levels of elegant accommodations, 10 distinct restaurants, and eight bars. Guests receive a slew of information at onset, including a schedule of both land and water activities and daily events, but many choose to relax at the beach or make use of one of two main pool bars to drink and mingle. Head to the offshore island for an easy excursion -– a boat leaves every hour and there’s a Jamaican restaurant (included) and cabanas for napping. It’s not all romance though; the resort does attract its fair share of partiers -– hence the rowdy Piano Bar and English Cricketeer Pub which are both open till the wee hours.
Romantics and partiers (mostly Americans) create a relaxed yet lively vibe
Like the two pool bars next to the beach -- one that has a party vibe (the Windsor) and one that is more romantic (the Balmoral) -- so is the clientele at Sandals, which seems to attract mostly Americans who fall for Sandals' clever market strategy featuring fit and attractive young couples. But there's more than meets the eye for a company that isn't necessarily known for history. This property has the distinction as being the former Balmoral Club from the 40s, which in its heyday saw the likes of the Duke of Windsor, President Nixon, and even the Beatles. Sandals has tried to preserve elements of the past; many areas stay true to the resort's roots, and guests can wander around and discover historic artifacts and art nouveau touches like the restaurant Baccarat’s chandelier.
After Hurricane Irene swept through the resort in August 2011, Sandals rebuilt the original hotel structure and renamed it the Balmoral Tower. There are varying degrees of rooms and price points across the board, but the main difference will be felt from the Butler service upgrade. These guests -- mostly at the Balmoral Tower -- will receive private airport transfers via Rolls Royce or Mercedes Benz, preferential treatment as far as amenities and beach spots, and free dinners at Gordon's on the Pier (other guests have to pay extra).
The afternoon sees a lively pool bar scene at both ends, which winds down around sunset. Some restaurants are more casual and others require ‘evening attire’ -- shirts with a collar and long pants for men, and elegant sandals for ladies. After dinner guests have options: they can grab a drink and sit by an outdoor fire and listen to live jazz, grab a spot at the piano bar and sing along, or sidle up to the Cricketeers pub for Guinness. The pub was purchased in entirety across the pond, disassembled and shipped over. Since this is the late-night spot, the Windsor Tower rooms may experience more noise than rooms at the Balmoral Tower and lesser-priced Village area, further from the beach.
Easy access from the airport means a quick start to the vacation
Many visitors arriving to Nassau International Airport (the largest airport in the Bahamas) will head to Paradise Island, meaning a longer drive, more traffic, and a bridge to deal with, while guests staying at Sandals have the privilege of being a 15-minute drive away. Guests can take a quick taxi to the resort for around $20. Butler level guests will be fetched via luxury vehicle –- most likely in the form of a Rolls Royce or Mercedes Benz.
As its name suggests, one of the resort’s stand-out features is the private offshore island, which can be accessed by the free ferry that departs from the beach on the hour. Guests can also schedule a number of excursions for land and water activities or experience local culture by taking the #10 bus (a stop is just outside the entrance) to downtown Nassau or the Fish Fry. Guests can also take a taxi to the Atlantis Resort to check out the casino.
A dizzying array of room types among three levels of luxury
There are 408 rooms at the Sandals Resort divided into three categories: Luxury, Club, and Butler. All rooms come with elegant decor, mahogany four-poster beds, sitting areas, full baths, and Red Lane toiletries.
Luxury level rooms are the most basic of the bunch, and these are located further away from the beach by the tennis courts in low-rise buildings. Some are smaller than others and lack balconies and certain amenities like minibars and the ability to order room service. The grounds aren't that extensive though, and it's not too far of a walk to get to one of the smaller pools in this area, or the two main pools and beach.
Two towers close to the center of the action are called the Windsor and Balmoral, and they hold rooms for the other categories. Club Level rooms are mid-range and have more amenities and space than the Luxury rooms, as well as a concierge service to help with dinner reservations and excursions. These guests receive welcome glasses of sparkling wine upon arrival in a seated area for check-in. Those splurging on the Butler rooms will experience the most luxury, starting with an airport pick-up via luxury vehicle and use of a private butler (and their cell number) for special touches and preferential treatment like reserved spots at the beach and cabanas on the offshore island. (Butlers are said to be trained by the Guild of Professional English Butlers). Rooms in this highest category have huge bathrooms and minibars stocked with top-shelf liquors and wines. If lucky, guests will end up in one of the 35 ocean-view rooms or 11 walk-out rooms in the Balmoral Tower, or one of the newer swim-up suites on the bottom floor of the Windsor Tower.
Land and water activities, a private offshore island, and ample dining options
Upon arrival, guests will receive a packet of information to become acquainted with the many amenities that the resort offers, including a weekly schedule of daily events such as wine tasting, scuba diving, or dance lessons. A daily orientation takes place in person, and offers an overview of the amenities and activities.
There are seven pool and six whirlpools across the resort, but most flock to the two main pools next to the two towers that each have varying degrees of atmosphere. The Windsor Tower has loud music and a fun party scene that could last until sunset. The Balmoral pool offers a slightly more refined vibe –- this area is surrounded with fire pits. Three smaller pools are located next to the low-rise Village area, and are a good option if seeking peace and quiet. All the pools and whirlpools are open 24 hours.
The beach extends the length of the property and sits alongside a public beach, so there may be vendors approaching guests to sell various goods, though security guards keep them at bay. Guests can take a free five-minute ferry to the pretty offshore island (owned by the resort) for a secluded beach, pool, swim-up pool bar, cabanas, and zen garden. Guests can shower here and have lunch or dinner at the Jamaican restaurant before taking the boat back.
Considering the resorts small size, its food and beverage options -- 10 restaurants and eight bars -- are impressive. Breakfast includes a well-stocked buffet at Spices, or a sit-down menu at Baccarat for French cuisine. For lunch, most guests either order food at the beach or pool, or head to the Royal Café for sandwiches, burgers, build-your-own nachos, and a salad bar. Dinner is where the most options are offered. Gordon’s on the Pier (notable for the Land and Sea combo) is the only restaurant not included for all guests. It is situated on the end of the pier and is available for guests of the Butler rooms only; otherwise guests can pay extra to have dinner there. Everything else is included and options range from casual (pub grub like fish and chips at Cricketers) to white glove service. Guests can pick between Japanese (hibachi and sushi), American, Italian, French and Caribbean with premium brand liquor and unlimited wine from the house brand Beringer. Beers include local Sands and a few imports like Heineken and Guinness. Reservations are required for a few restaurants, and it is best to make those upon arrival as they book up quickly.
Nightlife consists of Cricketeer Pub. It has a distinct pub scent and original photos of the Beatles, reminding guests of the band's ties to the resort. The Piano Bar also carries a British vibe and is a hot spot for late-night singalongs. Couples looking to get away from this scene can take a bottle of wine and find their own areas of seclusion.
Also included in the package is free use of canoes/kayaks, windsurfing, sailboats, tennis, Hobie cats, paddleboards, snorkel gear, and scuba diving for certified guests, who can enjoy up to two dives daily. Certification is available for new divers. Extra excursions are available and guests may feel pressured by attendants to book these.
The Red Lane Spa is located the bottom floor of the Balmoral Tower and offers indoor and outdoor treatments. Toiletries in the rooms are of this brand and in large quantities.
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