Sandals — Greatest Escapes

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From the Practical Traveler’s viewpoint, in season is out! Why not take advantage of the same weather, accommodations and activities but wait until the shoulder season? Savings can range from 25% to 100% just by being flexible with your schedule. Pick your dates and then shop for Internet specials. They abound! Travel mid week to miss the crowds.

This year, the thought of a no hassle, all-inclusive Caribbean vacation was very appealing. My wife and I concluded that, from the west coast, the Bahamas offered the best air schedule. We decided on Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort (www.sandals.com). Combining shoulder season pricing with an additional $455 per couple Internet discount added up to big savings.

The next challenge for the Practical Traveler, clothes for the tropics! The spring issue of the Travel Smith catalog led me to a trio of quick dry, no wrinkle sport shirts that proved to be a perfect purchase. One white, one blue and one tan. I already had several supplex shorts that can be used as swim suits, so I was ready for land and water. Since all Sandals Resorts have a “casual elegance” theme, there is no need to pack a sport jacket or tie. Although white pants are fun in the sun, khaki or tan is the color of dirt; white isn’t. Into my carry-on (my only luggage for the trip), went one pair of tan, wrinkle-free pants. I wore another pair. With two additional nylon/supplex polo shirts for the beach and a pair of sandals, I was almost ready. From Travel Smith online (www.travelsmith.com) my wife chose a poly-crepe reversible dress (two looks from one article of clothing), and a Cool-Max jumper that looked stylish, packed easily, and could double for work or vacation. I’m not the only practical traveler! For any beach vacation one also needs a good pair of aqua socks; most discount and all sporting goods stores carry them. Don’t forget to pack plenty of #30 SPF sun tan lotion. It’s cheaper to buy at home. With carry-on luggage, there is no suspense or anxiety at the airport making connections or at your final destination.

Upon arrival in Nassau, we were greeted by Sandals staff members at a kiosk in the airport lobby. Fifteen minutes after customs inspection, we were on our way to the resort. The check-in was delightful. We were seated in a lobby foyer, given a glass of champagne, signed in, and then escorted to our room with a quick tour of the facility on the way.

At Sandals, everything really is included; food, drinks, entertainment, daily newspaper, and all water sports including sailing, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, sea bicycles, windsurfing, and gratuities. (of course, gift shop purchases and spa services are extra) For one week, all I needed was a Sandals ID and a room key! No cash, credit cards, no room/cabin charges, no signing and keeping track of receipts, and no tips. It was a pleasure!

The resort, which opened in 1996, just added 210 suites and a dramatic 8,000 square foot pool with swim up bar. We stayed in the newly completed section. Ours was a large, comfortable room, nicely decorated, with balcony, sitting area, a raised, canopied bed, cable TV and plenty of closet and drawer space. It was also very quiet even though the hotel was full. The bathroom featured a very large tub and great shower. An in-room safe came in handy. There was a fully stocked bar and refrigerator including vodka, gin, bourbon, rum, red and white wine, champagne, soft drinks, beer, mixes and bottles of water. This was not a dreaded honor bar, but a use-as-you-wish amenity that is included in all concierge category rooms at Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort. A little touch, a drying rack, for wet clothes, on the balcony, was an indication that Sandals has thought of everything to make your stay pleasant and comfortable. There is turn down service every evening.
We were faced with difficult decisions three times a day: where to eat? There are eight restaurants at the Royal Bahamian Resort (food and drinks are available 24 hours a day). Reservations are necessary for three of the restaurants for dinner. The concierge, located in our building, was helpful in arranging times. Other dinners, lunches, and breakfasts were eaten at our leisure.

The Royal Bahamian Spa is consistently picked as one of the top spas in the world and the only one on the list in the Caribbean. Choices include a variety of massages, facials, body wraps, sports therapies, consultations, etc. We loved it; don’t miss it. It is a beautiful facility with a helpful, knowledgeable staff. Note: There are spa packages that include multiple services, available at a substantial savings. There is no charge for day use of the sauna, steam, showers, lockers, etc.

Sandals is, in some sense, like a land-locked cruise. Daily, an activity sheet was slipped under our door, with times for games, snorkeling excursions, poolside aerobics, restaurant hours, etc. There are all sorts of activities, athletic and cerebral, throughout the day. In the evening there was always dancing, entertainment, and a piano bar. Don’t miss a workout in the fitness room. It has the best view of the ocean in the resort. Did I mention the private island, Sandals Cay? A short five minute ferry ride and you are on Sandals’ own island, with its own restaurant, and private beach. The beach is beautiful and is usually uncrowded. By the way, Sandals Royal Bahamian has a couples only/no children policy that really enhances the resort experience.

The food was sensational. We ate in all eight restaurants and were amazed at the quality, menu selection, and variety. Unlike cruises where quantity seems to be the major emphasis, Sandals manages to bring well prepared, interesting food to each of their dining rooms. From local Bahamian delicacies to an authentic Japanese restaurant, plus gourmet and casual dining, we were never disappointed. Caribbean, Italian, whatever they did, they did it very, very well.

Shopping is the number one vacation activity. We traveled by jitney into downtown Nassau. These comfortable small busses stop to pick you up anytime you signal, even if you’re not exactly in front of the bus stop. We never waited for more than five minutes for a ride. The bus costs 75 cents per person (the Bahamian dollar is interchangeable with the US dollar) and the ride from Sandals takes about 15 minutes. The Straw Market is fun, but the shopping in Nassau has evolved into tee shirt shops and trinket selling. There are several Tourist Information Centers where you can pick up a walking map and learn about the historical side of Nassau. That is worth the trip into town.

So, what about gifts for friends and family back home? Always a dilemma. We love to browse through a local supermarket and bring back home-grown items such as spices, condiments, sauces, chocolate and other local delicacies. Small, compact, inexpensive, and always interesting.

Before I sign off, in the works are two travel trips. One, to the most exciting place in the United States: South Beach, FL including a visit to a world class spa, with hints on how to save money while there. Then off to Palm Springs in the summer. Now, that’s off season!

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