Monday, July 14, 2014

A Review of Sandals Whitehouse

This is the follow-up to my earlier blog post about the wonderful opportunity my hubby and I were given by my dear friend Candice Cain who I work with at Candy Cain Travel, to visit the beautiful Sandals Whitehouse Resort and Spa in Jamaica.

As mentioned previously, neither my hubby nor I had ever been to a Sandals Resort and were very excited for our adventure.  We boarded our early flight (like 7:00 am early) to Toronto where we caught our connecting flight to Montego Bay.  Yes our flight was early, but when I booked our flights, I was extremely happy to find how easy it was to find a flight to Montego Bay through West Jet that didn't have us having to spend the night in the connecting city, which is a major plus in my books!

Our flight arrived in Montego Bay just after 6:00 pm, and because we had never been to Jamaica before, we had previously booked the Club Mobay Meet and Greet package through VIP Attractions. With their VIP arrival package, you are greeted by a Club Mobay representative and are escorted and fast-tracked through customs and immigration, then you get to relax in their Club Mobay VIP lounge (with complimentary snacks and beverages) while you wait for your transportation to the resort.  I was just grateful for a place to change out of my jeans into my shorts and a comfy t-shirt before boarding our bus to the resort. For me, Club Mobay is one of the BEST decisions we made!  My husband and I were greeted off the plane by a rep holding our name on a sign board, we were walked through the long line to get into customs and sent straight to a line reserved for Club Mobay to get through security and immigration etc. Our rep walked us through everything and the whole experience took maybe 10 minutes!

The Sandals lounge was not crowded and they offered sodas (without ice) and Red Stripe beer. In no time (probably 15 minutes max) we were being called for our bus. The Sandals employees are very good about double checking to make sure your bags are loaded onto your bus. However, the man who loaded the bags was very insistent on receiving tips, so have a few dollars ready for each bag.

I had previously read reviews from others who had complained about the long and bumpy/scary ride to the resort, so both my hubby and I were somewhat prepared for the trip.  What we weren't prepared for was that our driver was an older gentleman who took his time and it took us almost 3 hours to get to the resort from the time we landed at the airport (normally the trip takes approximately 90 minutes).  The road is through the mountains and is bumpy and narrow. If you have no experience with this, it may be uncomfortable however, if you can, just relax and enjoy the scenery!!  When we finally arrived at the resort, the Sandals staff member that greeted us even commented "what took you so long?" LOL

I agree that the road is a little rough, but overall, we took the opportunity to enjoy the scenery before the sun went down and had a chance to view the Real Jamaica. Upon arrival at Sandals, we were offered refreshing towels, and were taken directly to the club quarters (Concierge) for our exclusive check in. While we were waiting, we were offered the most delicious punch to welcome us to Jamaica. Check in was very easy then our concierge escorted us to our room in the Dutch village.

Since it was fairly late, and most of the restaurants had either closed for the evening or were closing shortly, we decided to order room service and within about 20 minutes, our food had arrived.  It was our first taste of the wonderful food we were to experience over our 5 days at the resort, and we were definitely pleased!

Because it was already dark when we arrived at the resort, I was anxious to see what the view was from our balcony when we woke the next morning.  All the rooms at Sandals Whitehouse have a view of the beach and when I stepped out onto our balcony that morning, all I could say was "Wow"

Now onto the details:

The Room:
Our room was very comfortable with ice cold A/C and a ceiling fan over the bed.  Club level provided us with a well-stocked bar in the room with rum, vodka, gin, scotch, champagne, red stripe beer and all the juice, water and pop we could care for.  We did have to stop in a the Concierge building early one evening to ask for a restocking of the fridge - apparently we had slept in too late one morning and because we had the "do not disturb" sign on the door, they hadn't restocked the fridge that day, but within about an hour, they had that issue fixed.  The only other issue we ran into was that two days before we were to leave, the phone in our room stopped working so we could not call out for room service or schedule our wake up call for our departure day. The TV reception was pretty poor in our room but who watches TV when you are in an oceanfront suite on the south shore of Jamaica?

The property is beautiful and very well maintained. The peacocks walking around are gorgeous and the staff are lovely and helpful. The resort is spread out nicely so you don’t feel overcrowded and this is one thing I loved about Whitehouse. We did not think it was a long walk from one end of the resort to the other as others have mentioned. The fire pits are GORGEOUS at night and I loved all the nice seating areas around the resort ~ furniture is great and nice decor everywhere!

Beach/Swimming Pools:
Although some reviews were critical regarding reserving beach chairs very early in the morning, we found it was not the case. Some chairs were reserved by butlers, but we never saw each and every beach chair taken by someone. The beach is somewhat rocky and eroded in places, however it did not deter us from taking our daily walk along the beach beyond Sandals property. Keep in mind that if you do decide to walk the entire length of the beach, you will need to check out with the Ranger at the edge of Sandals property.

I would recommend the beach near the Italian Village, as it is not eroded compared to the Dutch and French beaches. Pools were awesome. Big pool, small pool, loud pool, quiet pool, swim-up bar... any kind of pool experience you want, you can pretty much have. (Well, except for a lazy river, which would make this ideal pool resort even more perfect). We love night swimming, and you can do that here. That's a big plus.

Since our objective was to relax, we did not sign up to any activity outside Sandals ... In fact there were lots of activities during the day at this resort. I don’t see how anyone could get bored here ~ TV/games room, pool table, Ping-Pong table, tennis, b-ball net, gym (which had great equipment!), and lots of activities from the entertainment staff.  Night entertainment was good too.  We especially loved to grab some wine and sit on the big long comfy chairs in front of the fire pits at night or lay on a hammock.

The Restaurants:
We made a point of eating at each restaurant during our stay and we never had a wait at any restaurant, and did not have one bad meal the entire visit. The food and wine were superb - everything was tasty! You honestly don't need to spend your money on the dinner on the beach. There are two restaurants right near the ocean (Neptunes and Bluefields) and you feel like you are on the beach. You could even order a dinner to go - and just go eat it on the beach on your own.

Eleanor's and Neptune's were our favorites.  Giuseppe's was good....the pizza wasn't great but it wasn't really that bad and the pasta was pretty good.  Bluefield's was our favorite for lunch, and Bayside was standard buffet food although I was a bit disappointed as variety is severely lacking. Bayside does late night food too after 10 and we did take advantage of that on one or two occasions.

Overall our experience was excellent. Most employees seem eager to help. But not all. Some of the staff act a little too familiar with guests that they don't know yet, and this sometimes makes them come off as slightly rude. I'm not a stuffy person, so it's not that big of a deal, however, it just feels like there should be a slight formality about the way they approach you until they know you better. And I did not feel that every employee went out of their way every single time to provide over-the-top service. That is what I expect from this kind of place. The shops offer decent selections and affordable-but-not-cheap prices. The Hobie Cats and other watersports are plentiful and fun.

My only negative comment would be the lack of wine selection. Sandals advertises free top shelf liquor and wine but in fact there are only 2 options for their red wines (Beringer stone cellars Merlot or Cab Sav) and 2 options for white (Beringer stone cellars chardonnay and pinot griggio) – these wines can be purchased in the USA for under $6 for a bottle. If you want any other wine you need to pay for the bottle. So yes, you can have top shelf liquor included in your price but if you don’t drink hard liquor and instead you want some variety or a better quality of wine with your meals you have to pay out of pocket.

On departure we opted for Club Mobay again. Sandals gets you to the airport super early and departing was wonderfully easy (make sure to keep your visitor cards given to you when you arrive). The airline check in line was long, but once that was taken care of, we were able to follow the clearly worded instructions on the voucher to check our luggage and get to the Fast Track security line. The Club Mobay lounge offers a buffet, full bar, a spa, large tvs and sofas. It was very comfortable and the food and drinks were good. The staff is very friendly and you get to wait away from the general crowds for them to call you for boarding.

But the lounge aside,  the fact that for immigration and customs on arrival and departure that they have VIP lines make the Club Mobay arrival and departure service worth buying (hands down). The queues at Montego Bay can be very long as they were for both our arrival and departure. The service of a welcoming Mobay representative marching you past these twisting lines is so worth it. The lounges are very nice and the icing on the cake. A cold beer waiting for you on arrival and to say farewell together with a range of quality complementary snacks. I could not see myself passing through this airport and not using them.

Being at the resort for only 5 days we strictly wanted to relax, which we managed to do. This was truly an awesome, fantastic vacation, and we loved the resort! Definitely a superior experience!

So that folks, is my review.  If you'd love to learn more about the Sandals resorts, just give me a shout as I am the Canadian Agent for Candy Cain Travel and would love to help you book your trip.