Review: Sandals Royal Barbados resort – all-inclusive heaven or hell?
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This is our review of Sandals Royal Barbados resort in St Lawrence Gap.
In the Caribbean, Sandals is a brand synonymous with mass-market luxury all-inclusive resorts. Originating in Jamaica in the early eighties, the brand now has sixteen properties across some of the biggest Caribbean islands.
On Barbados, it has two resorts: the ‘standard’ Sandals and the newer (2017 vintage) Sandals Royal Barbados. In reality, however, it is all one big 618-room resort: both sides are completely interconnected and guests can roam freely between the two, including at the 20+ restaurants and cafes across the property.
Clearly, this sort of resort is not for everyone. If you are hoping for a quiet beach resort with just a handful of other guests you will be disappointed. On the other hand, with so many restaurants and pools (I counted at least six) no two days will be the same.
With thanks to ….
We partnered with visitbarbados.org, operated by the Barbados Tourist Board, to arrange a free trip to the island. This was primarily to allow us to cover the new business class flights on Aer Lingus from Manchester (reviewed yesterday) but we also had short stays at two different hotels. HfP paid for all of its incidental expenses.
No points but ….
You can’t earn or redeem points from any major hotel loyalty scheme at a Sandals resort. It was chosen for us by the Barbados Tourist Board. However, we thought it was worth a look because it is very rare that an all-inclusive resort crosses our path.
(Sandals does offer the free Sandals Select Rewards guest loyalty programme, which allows regular guests at its resorts to accumulate points towards a free stay.)
In our second hotel review tomorrow we are looking at one of the new Marriott Bonvoy all-inclusive options on the island.
What is the difference between Sandals Barbados and Sandals Royal Barbados?
If you’re wondering what the difference between the two properties is, I was too. With guests on both sides getting free reign of all the restaurants and pools there is actually little to distinguish them.
The short answer is that Sandals Royal Barbados features 238 suites that are bigger and better than the 280 rooms spread out across the ‘main’ Sandals. All suites at Sandals Royal Barbados come with Club access or Butler Service.
At both resorts, the majority of ground floor rooms have access to a meandering swim-up pool whilst Sandals Royal Barbados also has a number of super exclusive stand-alone Rondovals that are extra private and have their own plunge pool.
What about Butler Service?
About a fifth of all rooms and suites at both Sandals Barbados come with Butler Service. Reminiscent of the St Regis butler service, you are assigned three butlers to take care of you and act as your first point of call for anything you might need. (Although you’re assigned three butlers we mostly had contact with just one – and met another one briefly.)
To stay in contact with your butler you are given a cheap smartphone with a direct line to their mobile and you can call them at any point when they are on duty from 7am until 10pm.
Butlers can help you pack/unpack, arrange tours/trips/activities and make dinner reservations where required. They’ll also reserve you your preferred loungers, supply you with an ice box full of water and bring you drinks from the bar from time to time (or when you call them!)
With such a big resort butler services makes a big difference. It’s incredibly convenient having a direct line to someone who can arrange whatever you want rather than traipsing all the way back to the reception building and consulting with the concierge there.
Back to the review ….
As one of the main resorts on the island, Sandals operate a transfer service from the airport. As you exit the terminal building turn left and you should find the Sandals transfer stand. It’s just a 20 minute drive to the hotel, which is equidistant between the airport and Bridgetown.
On arrival you are greeted by staff singing a welcome song:
…. which was a bit over the top for my English sensibilities!
At reception you are given a cold towel and a hold is put on your credit card and you are then escorted to your room by your butler if you have butler service. Bags are delivered separately.
In your room your butler talks you through the final paperwork, which includes signing for the fact that you promise not to jump from your balcony into the swim-up pool below ….
A bottle of sparkling wine is also popped.
All in all, it is a very welcoming arrivals process.
Suites at Sandals Royal Barbados
All rooms at Sandals Royal Barbados are suites (I believe) and I think most of them conform to the same dimensions. Here is the hallway:
On your left is a large bathroom:
The shower, which features dual rainfall and handheld heads, is almost as big as my entire bathroom at home:
Opposite you have two sinks and, I was very pleased to see, proper towel rails!
The toilet is just round the corner behind the dividing wall (there is no separate door).
Toiletries are by the Sandals spa brand Red Lane:
Back in the room you have the bedroom, with a king size bed:
You have bedside tables on both sides as well as plug and USB sockets:
Opposite the bed is a large chest of drawers and big TV:
After the bedroom you then have the living room, which can be closed off via large wooden sliding doors:
In addition to the sofa, armchair and coffee table you have a console which features your extensive mini bar. That includes a fully stocked fridge:
Self-pour spirits including Johnnie Walker Black, Tanqueray Gin and Absolut Vodka, as well as bottles of red and white wine:
If a preferred spirit is missing you can request it. You also get a coffee machine and kettle.
As Sandals is an all inclusive resort everything is included. Unfortunately the spirits include pour nozzles which mean you can’t pack them when you leave.
Above the mini bar is another large TV.
Last but not least is the balcony:
All rooms at Sandals Royal Barbados get a balcony bath tub plus some seating. Ours had spectacular views of the infinity pool and the beach:
Pools, gym and beach at Sandals Barbados
There are, as I mentioned above, a huge number of pools you can use – seven pools at Sandals Royal Barbados and three at Sandals Barbados, plus the swim up room pools.
Speaking of swim-up rooms, I don’t think I saw a single person swimming in their swim-up pool during my stay so the concept is more of a novelty than anything else.
The main infinity pool on the Sandals Royal Barbados side is pictured above. This is the noisiest of the lot with a live DJ from late morning until 4pm. I accept that, for a large percentage of our readers, this is probably a deal breaker.
There is a glass edge, which is slightly bizarre when people are resting over the ledge and looking out.
There is also a much quieter pool tucked away near the newest building, as well as a third with swim up bar just by reception and a number of restaurants.
The three pools on the Sandals Barbados side include this cosy small pool:
You won’t be short on swimming opportunities, let’s put it that way. If you have a butler, they can ensure that you are always able to get a lounger at your preferred spot, be it beach or pool.
There is an extensive beach club stretching along from the Sandals Royal Barbados side to the normal side. Remember that all beaches in Barbados are public:
Sandals Barbados is on the south part of Barbados which means it can be pretty windy and choppy on the sea. Swimming is still possible but you’ll have to contend with waves! On the other hand, you have an excellent view of the planes coming in to land at the airport, far close than it looks in this photo:
As part of its all-inclusive package Sandals also offers water sports to guest. Unfortunately unlike other Sandals resorts it only includes non-motorised activities, so it is limited to hobie cats, kayaking, paddle boards etc.
The resorts also feature a number of gyms across the property, including cardio machines and weights. There’s also a yoga pavilion where you can do morning yoga classes at 7:15am which is worth doing given you’ll be awake from the jet lag anyway ….
The Red Lane spa also features a site on both halves of the resort.
One of the key selling points of Sandals is that you get two dives per day included throughout your stay. I spoke to one guy who had gone on over 15 dives during his 10 days there!
As I had just completed my open water certification in Thailand I was keen to try this out. Morning outings leave at 7:30am and are two-tank trips whilst the afternoon trip is just a single tank.
There’s a dedicated Sandals boat with a lovely crew including Caprio and Charlie, the two dive guides. You can also get certified at Sandals if you can’t already dive.
Depending on the weather and visibility, you’ll be taken to a variety of different dive sites. I enjoyed diving at the ship wrecks in Carlisle Bay – if you’re lucky you’ll see string rays, turtles and a whole load of fish.
Restaurants and dining at Sandals Royal Barbados
There are 19 different restaurants across Sandals Barbados and Sandals Royal Barbados, plus Sweet n’ Salty’s Gourmet Donut Shop, where you can eat. Some are open all day whilst others close after lunch.
For breakfast, you can choose from a range of buffets as well as a la carte restaurants. We went to Spices first, which was pretty average for breakfast. This was a buffet:
It had an omelette station but there was a pretty long queue – things were clearly working on island time here.
The restaurant clearly hasn’t quite discovered buttery laminated dough because the croissants and pain au chocolat were more like sweet bread rolls. Bizarrely you could get ‘proper’ croissants elsewhere on the resort, including at La Parisienne restaurant.
Ceci n’est pas un pain au chocolat:
Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to sample one of the a la carte breakfast options due to an early morning dive, but I did send out my friend Lawrence and he confirmed it was much better than what we had the first day.
We only had two dinners at Sandals and opted for Butch’s Steak and Seafood on the first night.
I had the garlic prawns to start:
Plus surf and turf for my main course:
The steak was good but the lobster tail was a bit tough and I don’t think it was cooked freshly for me.
For dessert I opted for a delicious apple slice:
After talking with some other guests it sounds like the Butch’s Steakhouse on the standard Sandals side is actually better. It seems eating can sometimes be a bit hit-and-miss here with different restaurants operating to vastly different standards.
On the second night we tried the teppanyaki at Kimonos. This was a fun, theatrical dinner:
To start I had the duck salad:
Whilst the main course was a series of proteins cooked in front of us, including mahi mahi, chicken and beef. This was better than Butch’s but it’s not quite the same standard as you would get were it not all-inclusive.
We also had lunch at Jerk Shack, which was good:
As well as at Neptunes, where I had a Greek salad. αυτή δεν είναι ελληνική σαλάτα:
Service at Sandals Barbados
Sandals is a big resort – at full occupancy there are likely to be over a thousand guests at any one time – so the service is not as personalised as you might expect at a smaller resort.
That said, the service quality was really variable. Service from our butlers Arlene and Roshida was exemplary, but everywhere else was fairly patchy. Some staff, such as those at the Jerk Shack, are phenomenal whilst others seem to be completely indifferent.
Service can make or break a stay so it’s a shame that it wasn’t universally excellent.
All-inclusive resorts don’t exactly have the best reputation – the concept has a reputation for over consumption and low quality. It’s often about quantity over quality.
Sandals Royal Barbados makes it work. The size of the resort and the inclusions mean there’s plenty to do, if that’s what you like. It doesn’t get everything right but the sheer choice you have means you’ll never get bored.
I do wish the service from staff was slightly more personal, and I wonder if having some more premium dining options which are limited to one or two visits per stay would elevate the experience even further.
That said, the resort itself and the suites are very well presented and our butlers were great. If all you can eat and drink is for you then you’ll like Sandals.
The Sandals Royal Barbados website is here. Pricing seems to run between £5,000 and £6,000 for seven nights for two people in a butler-serviced room as I had, although you can deduct around £1,750 if you don’t want butler service and a few other perks. Packages are also available, and it is worth pricing up ‘flight and hotel’ deals including from Sandals itself.
Hotel offers update – April 2023:
Want to earn more hotel points? Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.
Want to buy hotel points?
- Hilton Honors is offering a 100% bonus when you buy points by 9th May. Click here.
- Marriott Bonvoy is offering a 40% bonus when you buy points by 3rd April. Click here.