Our Director of Sales, Leah Marshall, has recently returned from a 10-night stay at Sandals Royal Barbados with her husband. This was the couple’s first trip abroad since the travel restrictions were lifted, here’s what she experienced.
1. Give us some insight into how you prepared for your trip?
We had booked to return to Sandals Ochi in Jamaica for our wedding anniversary as this is where we got married and it was also my birthday. We always travel at this time of year and for peace of mind book through our Tour Operator, Unique Caribbean’s Holidays LTD. Unfortunately, Sandals Ochi wasn’t going to reopen in time for our trip so we got moved to Sandals Montego Bay. The team were great, re-booked us in the same level of room category. However bad luck struck again, and Jamaica was added to the UK Government’s quarantine list which meant we were unable to travel to that island.
In the end we were moved to Sandals Royal Barbados. The team changed our flights and accommodation and we were set to look forward to a break away. With only a week’s notice until we departed, I started to investigate what we needed to do to safely travel to Barbados in accordance with their local government guidelines.
The Barbados website (www.visitbarbados.org) was very helpful and listed out all the important information pre-travel. Their guide made it easy to understand what was needed to be done, and I located a clinic in London that offered the private PCR Covid-19 test that was required pre-travel. The whole experience lasted 20 minutes, that’s for both tests, form filling and full explanation. The doctor explained it was a throat and nose swab. She explained it will feel like when you go swimming and get water up to your nose, and that’s the exact feeling! They confirmed the results should come back Tuesday night, the evening before we fly, and a certificate will appear in our account. We would also get a phone call about it. So, true to her word, as we were driving to overnight at Gatwick, we got the phone call and the email confirmation of two negative tests. Yippee, we were finally on our way!
2. Share your experiences of the airport, flight and arriving into Barbados?
Arriving early at the British Airways check-in desk at Gatwick’s North Terminal was a bit eerie, as it was fairly quiet. Everyone was wearing masks, and there was no queuing at the bag drop off. We used the British Airways app to check in online, so much easier as it means you then have your boarding pass on your phone. Very polite and efficient member of the BA team took our bags after seeing our negative test papers. Going through security was a breeze, mobile boarding pass on our phones and straight through. FastTrack was closed, but as it was so quiet, you didn’t need to queue or wait. Duty free shopping done, we headed to the Aspire lounge. Boarding the flight was a straightforward process, by seat row number, so once welcomed on-board we settled in for the long-haul flight. The first thing you notice again is all the crew wearing masks. You can’t see their smiles, but the service was warm, friendly and welcoming. Inflight entertainment was fine, even though there was a lack of new films, I still found enough to occupy our 9 hour flight. Food service was a little different, no silver service but we both still really enjoyed it.
Excitement started to build as we began our descent into Barbados Airport. A bus greeted us at the aircraft and again by seat rows numbers we disembarked. The opening of the doors when that warm Caribbean air hits you is such a wonderful feeling! Easy process through arrivals, a visit to the new Ministry of Health desk where we were given our temperature monitoring chart and we handed over our forms we had to complete prior to arrival. These forms give you the contact details of the national monitoring team and are quite straight forward. Take your temperature twice a day and record it on the form. We were now off to enjoy all the luxuries of our resort.
3. At your time of travel, Barbados protocols meant that you needed to quarantine in resort prior to taking a 2nd COVID test, talk us through what it was like quarantining in resort?
Arriving into Sandals Royal Barbados, we were greeted by our dear management team, Ramal Sobrino the General Manager, butlers, and concierge staff. Singing and presenting us with a glass of champagne and a cooling cloth. Felt totally safe and normal, except they all had their masks on! Our luggage was whisked straight to our suite, and our butlers explained the temperature checking machine that had been installed by the lobby. Great bit of kit, as you just had to walk up to it, stand in front of it with your forehead near the sensor and boom, temperature check reading was displayed. You need to make a note of it, and the date and time on your forms every morning and evening, so we made it a part of our daily routine, on the way to breakfast and on the way to dinner….a small change, but one that was made easy to do by Sandals.
Eager to explore on the first morning, we were able to move around the resort as normal, using all of the facilities with the only exception being the beach until we had a negative 2nd COVID test 3 days into our stay. All staff continue to greet everyone with a ‘hello’ and ‘good morning’ and always kept their masks on, unlike us. Guests only need to wear their own masks in the resort shop and Columbian Emerald Jewellery shop, or of course whenever they wish to.
4. What were your first impressions of the new ‘Platinum Protocol of Cleanliness’ at Sandals Royal Barbados?
Awesome job by all the staff. During our short transfer from the airport our driver had his mask on. We felt safe and welcomed into the island, despite coming from a country like the UK that is regarded as ‘high risk’. Morning, noon and night all staff are busy making sure the sun loungers, tables & chairs as well as door handles are sanitised at all times. They have sanitiser stations all around resort, including the restaurants, reception, in your bathroom and at all the bars, and even outside the lifts. Signage about social distancing is prevalent too. At the entrance to each restaurant the staff are well versed in asking all guests to please sanitise their hands before taking a seat in the restaurant and asking if they would like a menu or if you’d rather view the menu on the Sandals App. All of the housekeeping staff were taking longer to clean and sanitise the rooms thoroughly, but always accommodating when I frequently dashed back to our suite as I would forget something!
5. Were you able to relax into your holiday and enjoy all of the facilities?
We relaxed straight into the holiday…as we hadn’t been back to Barbados for 2 and half years, we were both keen to go exploring around the resort and chat to staff to see how things had changed. Apart from not being able to walk on the beach and not being able to leave the resort to venture on an excursion, we enjoyed all that the resort had to offer. We discovered another pool by the new Loggerhead building that was very relaxing! We also found the new Sweet n' Salty's Gourmet Donuts & Coffee shop, pretty much right opposite the gym! Oh, and I had every intention of going to the gym every morning….think I ended up going for about the first 5 mornings. For you gym bunnies out there, go early as it’s at its quietest in the mornings, but they have taken precautions to turn every other treadmill off to ensure social distancing.
Now to the pool experience… we are pool people, and we do take our own float (she is called Matilda and she is a pink flamingo and has been with us for the past 5 years). The normal pool floats have gone, so have the pool towel racks, your 2 towels are now put on all of the sun loungers first thing in the morning, and you can’t get extra, a good thing in my eyes, saves on the laundry. Shame about the pool floats, as we use them to transport our drinks from the swim up pool bar! The watersports team are still there to help and assist in moving that sunshade to exactly the right position, and constantly checking and maintaining the pool levels.
We both love our food, so this much needed break was to chill out, relax and enjoy the full restaurant facilities on offer. All restaurants were open across the two resorts, except for Spices. You don’t need to wear your masks in the restaurants or bars. No buffet breakfasts, always a la carte, you never miss out on anything though and the full menus are on offer everywhere. My husband loves his steak in the morning, so we enjoyed Portofino’s the most. Our server Kadisha always remembered how my husband liked his steak cooked and the chef would often come out and see us. Remember Sandals Resorts is designed for couples in love, so evening entertainment is still put on, the chocolate buffet is heavenly and included my favourite, chocolate dipped strawberries. One new addition we really enjoyed was the silent disco… what a laugh, two DJ’s on different channels on your own personal headphones and away you go!
6. Talk us through what was involved in regard to organising your 2nd COVID-19 test within resort?
This 2nd test can be arranged by the resort, you have two choices, go to the free of charge government facilities from resort via taxi which you pay for, or relax in resort and the doctor comes to a dedicated room. You wait to be called, leaving you free to enjoy all the facilities. We opted for the latter. This meant we literally carried on as normal until we were called. Again, a straightforward and quick process as only the nose swab was taken. Results back within 24 hours and a copy of the certificate emailed to us and a copy printed out and left in our suite. We did meet another British couple whom opted to book a private test the next day after arrival at a private clinic on the island as they were wanting to scuba dive as soon as possible.
7. You’ve travelled to Sandals resorts many times before, how did the atmosphere compare on this trip to previous holidays?
Quieter and more relaxing, everyone was of the same mindset, to just relax and enjoy being in paradise. I enjoyed the natural spacing of our resorts, they are big enough to get away from it all if you want to or join those more active in the infinity pool. Either way, you have your own space and never felt on edge, everyone was respectful of each other’s personal boundaries.
8. What are your top tips whilst holidaying at Sandals in Barbados?
Don’t worry, just book and go! Go to see Larkin at the Lovers Lane bowling alley for pre-dinner drinks, he makes the best shots to go with the 15 different beers on offer. It’s the coolest air-conditioned room too, and we enjoyed the interactive games tables prior to going to dinner. Head to the Sky Bar for drinks, the views and sunsets are stunning. Go see Pub Manager Jack in the Merry Monkey, the best steak, according to my husband (don’t tell Butch’s restaurant though). Seek out the hidden pool at the Loggerhead building, so tranquil in the late afternoon sun! Definitely enjoy a breakfast at La Parisienne and outside on the terrace overlooking the resort, stunning with a mimosa and cup of blue mountain coffee, and try the pancakes with blueberries and rum maple syrup! Book a spa treatment at the beginning of your holiday, really relaxing and good prep for your skin in the sun. Chat to our staff, they are so friendly and welcoming. We made time to chat to everyone, even our talented team of gardeners that maintain the resort so beautifully. Make sure you download the Sandals App, a great way to review restaurant menus on your phone. Use the ‘loop’ to commend our staff, it really is a great tool to say thank you for good service. Go to the Sandals Select Rewards dinner if you’re a returning guest, great food and a chance to meet fellow guests and swap stories.
9. Whilst in resort you received your Sandals Select Rewards Emerald status, tell us about this exciting achievement as part of Sandals' loyalty programme?
Yes, a bit of a surprise as I knew we would be close, but to be awarded at the Sandals Select Rewards dinner with our Emerald status with our names up on screen and to be presented with the pins and letter was a lovely surprise. The Sandals Select Rewards dinner is something we always like to attend. The chefs really do showcase their talents at this event, only three couples per table made it more intimate. We loved the experience, now to reach Diamond status!
10. Do you feel confident and comfortable to travel again?
Yes, it really was such a great pleasure to fly again and travel to our resorts. We felt safe to travel through an airport again and to fly, all protocols and procedures are adhered to. The resort experience was incredible, they’ve gone to great lengths to ensure all the guests and staff are safe, but also to ensure that guests have the most memorable holiday. For us it was just as good, if not better than I remember it.