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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.

Sandals Royal Barbados

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.

Sandals Royal Barbados swim up pool

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!)

Sandals Royal Barbados lounger coolbox

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.

Sandals Royal Barbados car port

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:

Sandals Royal Barbados welcome

…. 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.

Sandals Royal Barbados resort

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:

Sandals Royal Barbados hallway

On your left is a large bathroom:

Sandals Royal Barbados bathroom

The shower, which features dual rainfall and handheld heads, is almost as big as my entire bathroom at home:

Sandals Royal Barbados shower

Opposite you have two sinks and, I was very pleased to see, proper towel rails!

Sandals Royal Barbados sinks

The toilet is just round the corner behind the dividing wall (there is no separate door).

Sandals Royal Barbados toilet

Toiletries are by the Sandals spa brand Red Lane:

Sandals Royal Barbados toiletries

Back in the room you have the bedroom, with a king size bed:

Sandals Royal Barbados bedroom

You have bedside tables on both sides as well as plug and USB sockets:

Sandals Royal Barbados wardrobe

Opposite the bed is a large chest of drawers and big TV:

Sandals Royal Barbados chest of drawers

After the bedroom you then have the living room, which can be closed off via large wooden sliding doors:

Sandals Royal Barbados living room

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:

Sandals Royal Barbados mini bar (2)

Self-pour spirits including Johnnie Walker Black, Tanqueray Gin and Absolut Vodka, as well as bottles of red and white wine:

Sandals Royal Barbados mini bar

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:

Sandals Royal Barbados 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:

Sandals Royal Barbados infinity pool

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.

Sandals Royal Barbados swim up room

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.

Sandals Royal Barbados inifinity pool edge

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:

Sandals Royal Barbados European 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 Royal Barbados beach

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:

Sandals Royal Barbados beach plane

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.

Sandals Royal Barbados red lane spa

Scuba diving

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.

Sandals Royal Barbados dive boat

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.

Sandals Royal Barbados spices

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:

Sandals Royal Barbados spices buffet (2)

and

Sandals Royal Barbados spices pastries

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:

Sandals Royal Barbados sprices 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.

Sandals Royal Barbados butch's steak and seafood

I had the garlic prawns to start:

Sandals Royal Barbados butch's prawn starter

Plus surf and turf for my main course:

Sandals Royal Barbados butchs surf and turf

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:

Sandals Royal Barbados butchs 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:

Sandals Royal Barbados teppanyaki

To start I had the duck salad:

Sandals Royal Barbados kimonos duck starter

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:

Sandals Royal Barbados jerk shack

As well as at Neptunes, where I had a Greek salad. αυτή δεν είναι ελληνική σαλάτα:

Sandals Royal Barbados greek salad

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.

Conclusion

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 – May 2022:

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? There is a 30% discount when you buy World of Hyatt points by 30th May 2022 (buy here) and an 80% bonus when you IHG One Rewards points by 10th June (buy here).

Comments (147)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Joan says:

    We stayed at Sandals Grenada 2016 early December and it was actually quite nice . Very quiet . I think it was quite a new resort then . The food was ok , nothing fancy and there were a few cheesy evening entertainments.
    I remember it being relaxing and pleasant . We had the basic room which was very nice with a bath on the balcony . No butler – I would hate that .
    One evening my partner had a chat with the food and beverage manager as we fancied some spicy food – he had the restaurant prepare a special dinner for just us the next evening .
    We had a lovely time . The price was ok as long as you didn’t upgrade to bigger rooms with butlers which just seems unnecessary to me .
    The champagne wasn’t champagne though 😞

  • Peter Taysum says:

    Are Sandals still completely homophobic? I know they dropped the “ban” in 2004; forced into it after London Transport refused to accept their homophobic advertising; but a lesbian couple who stayed at Sandals (ban lifted) in 2020 were greeted with questions like “where’s you man?” Looking on tinternet seems they want the pink pound; whilst still being quite homophobic. Advertising very much tailored to straight couples.

    So I’ll give it a miss thanks; and shame on Head for Points for letting yourselves down badly here; failing to point out the homophobic history the resorts have…

    • Rob says:

      You seriously think that a policy that was dropped in 2004 should still be mentioned in 2022? If people are unwilling to support businesses that change their policies for the better then, frankly, businesses simply won’t bother changing their policies in the first place. Carrot, stick etc.

      Rhys is openly gay and I support his editorial decisions on things like this. He did not feel the need to mention it and of course was, almost literally, still in nappies when this was changed.

      Picking one random example presumably dug out from some obscure corner of the internet does not exactly reflect a corporate policy, I suggest ….

      • memesweeper says:

        ‘You seriously think that a policy that was dropped in 2004 should still be mentioned in 2022?’

        I won’t wear Hugo Boss because they designed SS uniforms! I assume they are no longer active Nazis, however.

        I all seriousness, I think it’s worth a mention, as even if the policy has changed over a decade ago, clearly some people still believe it’s not gay-friendly resort or destination. That’s worth clearing up.

      • SGJNI says:

        Sorry Rob but it just makes me cringe, “Rhys is gay and……….”, NOT “Rhys is openly gay”, makes him sound to be some sort of novelty or lesser than everyone else. That he is gay needs no further comment or qualification.

        • Rob says:

          I only qualified it in case anyone assumed that I was mentioning it when he would not have wanted me to.

        • Erico1875 says:

          SGJNI
          I think you have read far too much into the comment.
          Most people don’t really care, gay, not gay, black white, male, female so what.
          I’m sick of people scrutinising every phrase looking for something to be offended and outraged about

          • SGJNI says:

            Erico1875
            I don’t know your age, I’m over 60, but for ALL of my adult life “openly gay” was used by the tabloid UK papers as an insult or at least a way to proclaim their lesser worth. It was equivalent to something like , “how dare they be OPENLY GAY…..”!
            I didn’t think Rob was being offensive, merely copying the common usage, which I hoped to prevent being used again.
            He has provided an explanation which I am very happy to believe.
            Alternative phrasing might have included:
            “Rhys, a gay man himself…….”
            “Rhys, a happy out, loud and proud gay man……”
            “Rhys, who is gay……”
            “Rhys, (and with his permission) , is gay himself.
            I am not “scrutinising every phrase’, or, “looking for something to be offended and outraged about”. I said “cringed”.
            My apologies to Rhys for discussing him in such a fashion, and Rob who I think made his point inexactly.
            Rant over.

      • Peter Taysum says:

        I’ll miss Head for Points. Making assumptions about how people have experienced homophobia/discrimination is perhaps not the most sensible thing to do (by a cis white heterosexual male). It was Conde Nast; hardly some obscure reference on the internet in 2020 that I quoted. But hey it was discrimination against women so; I guess it doesn’t REALLY matter eh…

        Thanks for explaining why my experience of homphobia isn’t valid with this company.

        The BBC played the “token gay card” when Chris Moiles used “that’s so gay”; which prompted huge homophobia and bullying in schools.

        What you choose to put on your website is up to you; I just won’t read it anymore; which is sad as I’ve been an avid follower for many years and benefited greatly. Thanks for the brilliant tips over the years.

        • Rhys says:

          I’m not a token gay at Head for Points, Peter. I wrote the article and made the decision not to include it.

          Barbados still criminalises homosexual sex. If you want a gay friendly destination then clearly it isn’t going to be Barbados.

      • NorthernLass says:

        I don’t know – would it have been reviewed if it was refusing to accept black, Jewish or disabled guests until 2004?! I’m wondering now if Rhys knew about the previous policy and would it have affected his decision to go there?

        • Rob says:

          Of course he knew, we discussed it before he went.

          There are, of course, many hotels in the US that refused to accept black guests until the 1950s and in South Africa until the 1980s. Should we refuse to review those?

          • The Savage Squirrel says:

            Until the 90s, not the 80s for South Africa.

          • NorthernLass says:

            But there was an entire legal system behind segregation which required reversing; Sandals made a unilateral, conscious decision to bar same sex couples until much more recently. HFP can review whichever hotels it wants, my question was more to do with Rhys’ age than anything else (the 2000s being the dim and distant past for his generation!)

          • Rhys says:

            Homosexual acts still officially come with a life sentence in Barbados. I’m not sure why anyone is shocked that the official policy of a hotel on the island until 2004 was homophobic. Section 28 was still in force in the U.K. until 2003!

            And I’m 26!

        • Harry says:

          There are many of us, Rhys, and maybe they include you in your private capacity, who would not contribute to the economy pf places like Barbados which are viciously homophobic and transphobic. It limits our options I know but I try to act morally.

          I hear what people say that Sandals has changed (though they were forced to if they wanted to continue to advertise in places like the London Underground). What worries me is how much one would have to go back into the closet to stay there . I am afraid I am too old to pretend that my husband, with whom I have been together for nearly 30 years, is other than my husband. And in Barbados I would not regard it as safe to do so.

          I would be helpful if an out gay or trans couple gace us their first hand experiences of places like this.

          • Rob says:

            There is a line to be drawn between official Government policy (which is often driven by a small strongly religious minority) and the day to day actions of local people who are generally welcoming to all travellers. You would have absolutely zero trouble as a gay couple in any Dubai resort, for example, despite the official line. Not contributing to local economies generally only harms the people on the ground, not the Governments which are usually (not, admittedly, in Barbados) overrun with oil, gas or other natural resource revenue. Rhys understands this, I believe, and indeed he pushed for this Barbados trip – it was his idea, not theirs. Next month he’ll be in other non-officially gay friendly spots of Malaysia and Qatar where I’m sure he will continue to charm everyone he meets.

      • ZW says:

        Did Rob just out Rhys in public?!
        I’m surprised about the gay society in travel blogs.. the point guys, one mile at a time, non-stop Dan. All travel bloggers I follow are gay!

        • Rhys says:

          No, Rob didn’t out me. This isn’t the first time it’s been mentioned in the comments

        • Gordon says:

          So what if he did….My son is Gay and a couple of years younger than Rhys and I do not have a problem telling people he is Gay and how proud I am of him…..

    • NorthernLass says:

      Discussion on page 1! It did actually put me off booking with them in the late 90s but if you go back far enough if the history of any organisation you’ll no doubt find something unsavoury. But I like solitude on holiday anyway these days so it probably still wouldn’t suit me!

    • Chris DB says:

      My wife and I have just returned today from 9 nights at The Sandals Barbados and we saw plenty of very happy, clearly in a relationship, same sex couples across both Sandals and Sandals Royal

  • Erico1875 says:

    The All Inclusive isn’t really our thing. We prefer smaller independant beachside hotels or even apartments.
    We prefer to hang out and eat/drink in locally owned beach shacks and restaurants.
    Which Carribean island is best for this?

    • Gordon says:

      I think you would find what your looking for on any of the Caribbean islands….Most have small independent hotel properties.
      Or try Airbnb or holiday lettings etc for private renting once you have decided on your destination.

    • Doommonger says:

      Jamaica, some great inexpensive places to stay, as long as you don’t mind the locals hustling you to buy blow, (I don’t)

      Doomster

    • Colin MacKinnon says:

      Vieques (Iberia to San Jaun) or Jost Van Dyke

  • Thomas Trautmann says:

    Good thorough review, but no thanks, it’s Coral Reef Club for me : )

    • JJW116 says:

      100% agree. Sandpiper or Coral Reef are the top hotels on the Island in my humble opinion. If you prefer airbnb or VRBO, then Villas on the Beach is hard to beat.

  • Andy says:

    I do like a good AI – Ikos has been mentioned already in comments as an example. But Barbados generally, and St Lawrence Gap specifically, is not somewhere I would want to go AI – there is so much going on just on your doorstep.

    • Rob says:

      Someone who owns a luxury resort on the Costas was praising Ikos to me yesterday. Will have a dig.

      • Andy says:

        As well as the very good restaurants, beach service, wine bar with informed sommelier, etc., there are also other things (I was about to say nice touches, but it’s more than that) such as the ability to book dinner in local off-hotel restaurants as part of your AI, and the fleet of minis (at Dassia at least) which you can book for a day to go exploring (again, AI).

      • Gordon says:

        Ikos is a good call, We we’re in Corfu last year where they have a property and the island was very nice. The advantages of the long flight to the Caribbean is that you can virtually guarantee the weather Between Nov – Mar….

  • Mayfair Mike says:

    The photos of the food look very underwhelming. What on earth is a huge lump of garlic bread doing on the prawn starter?
    And that steak looks tiny and tired! Food always the issue at AI places for obvious reasons.

    Stayed pre kids in Antigua Sandals which we enjoyed apart from quite a lot of loud Americans…since having kids we tried the Beaches brand in Jamaica which also worked well for very young children

  • Peter says:

    I would certainly go out of my way to see a string ray !

    • John Phelan says:

      For the best stingray experience, try Kona in Hawaii. There’s a place where they use lights at night to attract the stingrays, and you can go swimming and snorkelling with them!

    • Rhys says:

      You don’t need to go out of your way – saw them in Thailand too!

  • Chris DB says:

    Did you experiment at all with the Sandals app? Restaurant menus that don’t actually line up with the physical copies you are subsequently given, the restaurant locator maps facility that shows them in totally different places, including one ostensibly out in the ocean. The daily planner that doesn’t line up with the actual physical copies posted around the two sites and neither of these actually lining up with reality in many instances – pretty poor really.

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