16 JAN 2016: Gordon “Butch” Stewart, one of the pioneers of the all-inclusive concept and one of the Caribbean’s biggest all-inclusive resort insiders is standing by the cockpit of the Gulfstream private jet, wishing his son Adam and the rest of his VIP guests (yours truly included) the time of our lives. Moments later we lift off for some island hopping to another totally different world.

And why wouldn’t it be?

I just experienced the reboot of Sandals Royal Bahamian Spa Resort and Offshore Island and was ready to suss out the Stewart’s other two new babies: a TLC makeover of the resort chain’s flagship in Montego Bay, Jamaica and the newest over the water villas, a first in the Caribbean.

In true Sandals style, Stewart bids us a friendly goodbye then disappears as quickly as he arrived.

It started as a single resort in Montego Bay - today Sandals Resorts International’s (SRI) “luxury included” vacations spans to over 20 resorts in 35 years. The hotel company reports wherever Sandals is located in the Caribbean there is a positive economic benefit. In the Bahamas, the company reports $US 85-million annually is generated in direct local economic impact. In Jamaica, home of the company’s flagship, the local economic benefit surges to US $310-million directly benefiting local businesses from taxi drivers to farmers.

Here’s a look today at two of the the three Sandals resorts:

Sandals Royal Bahamian Spa Resort and Offshore Island

There’s a moon above, white powder sand below, and the pulse of the surf circling this Bahamian isle. How much more fabulous can it get?

Try way more. Picture the world-famous Royal Bahamas Defense Force Band, multiple food stations serving rich island fare, exotic cocktails, fire dancers and the costumed Valley Boys Junkanoo strutting by the illuminated pool which later switches into the backdrop of a typical Sandals-style beach party (a.k.a. no bar tabs) where the popular Bahamian band Visage brings the house down.

In a star studded affair, the exclusive crowd of dignitaries and industry movers and shakers gather for a gala evening like no other. Who else in the world do you know could muster two prime ministers to an event?

Yes, Butch Stewart.

The all-inclusive maverick delivered a brief speech on the terrace of the property’s Piano Bar which in earlier years was a fabled spot for the amorous Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Edward VIII and Wallis, whose Bahamian love affair is well documented by a coterie of royal photos now decorating the bar’s interior.

And there was the chairman alongside the deputy chairman and CEO, his son Adam, who gave a nostalgic look back at the company’s storied history, to which a huge applause erupted when he stated, “35 years later we are still standing here,” on the resort company’s founding in November 1981.

Andrew Holness, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, commended Butch Stewart for taking an interest in the region. “The truth is when people think of the Caribbean region and not just an individual country our products will grow and we will have more visitors to our shores. So Butch I want to thank you for marketing the Caribbean region.”

Sandals Royal Bahamian upgrades

The reopening of the Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau in October was postponed due to damage sustained from Hurricane Matthew. The hotel company which has invested US$4-million in refurbishments that began on August 15 made upgrades to the pool infrastructure, guest rooms, villas, back of house and restaurants and other public areas. SRI reports a 95 percent occupancy level since the soft launch on October 25.

For this luxury resort seeker the upgrades were visibly apparent and the service top-notch. The adults-only property which employs 600 staff now offers those guests with butler service a Samsung cell phone to use during their stay for guaranteed seamless service. In addition, two new Rolls Royce vehicles join the current fleet. Canoodling couples can enjoy the beachside fire pits while the private offshore island has new spa cabanas.

My renovated one-bedroom suite at the Royal Windsor Tower channeled a sophisticate European ambiance with its Paris-vibe motifs in a bold black and white colour palette with dream amenities from top shelf liquors replenished daily to exquisite bed linen and two flat screen TVs.

Simply Royal indeed.

Sandals Montego Bay (http://www.sandals.com/main/montego/mo-home/)

Think 10 minutes from the airport then grab a cocktail or a Red Stripe at the lobby bar and let the vacay begin.

The oldest newest resort in the Sandals resort chain has over the past two years undergone major renovations with the latest refurbishments completed on December 15.

But the biggest appeal, in my view, is enjoying ocean views all around at SRI’s extraordinary revamped flagship. While the extra TLC in the additions enhances the experience Sandals still manages to deliver the latest upgrades without straying from the resort’s island roots. There’s a bit of Jamaica everywhere you go there.

Whether dining on the beach at Stew Fish, having a buffet breakfast at the open air Bayside restaurant, lunching on jerk chicken and a spicy Jamaican patty at the beach snack bar The Mariner Seaside Bar and Grill or enjoying coffee infused with Jamaican rum at Café de Paris, expect a nice selection of island rhythms wrapped in plenty of sun and sand.

Don’t be surprised by the waving gestures from staff either. This signature salute aimed to the clouds is a common occurrence as Sandals staff hail a final wave good-bye to their guests.

Adam Stewart later describes the reef-protected beach considered the largest private white sand beach on the North Coast as “easily the best beach in Montego Bay.”

Sandals Montego Bay upgrades

Clients can enjoy the renovated oceanfront suites at the Palm and Almonds buildings which are designed in a modern beach chic. For those other luxury seeking clients there’s the new secluded beachfront villas, and for sheer romance, nothing beats the extravagant beachfront Rome and Juliet Suites, perched on the second floor of a separate villa with its own outdoor tranquility soaking tub.

Moreover, the Millionaire Suites which launched in October as the name implies has top shelf interior design, the finest amenities, and of course, the service of two professional butlers around the clock. These personalized white gloved staff can reserve chairs on the beach, shine shoes, and make the extraordinary become ordinary. Clients are sure to tell their friends. (Hint: Easy way to grow your business.)


Watch for the Third newest, most innovative, Sandals tomorrow.


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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

Read more from Ilona Kauremszky

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