Would you rather stay in the picturesque over-the-water bungalows complete with glass floor views to the ocean or the brand new luxurious rondoval swim-up suites at Sandals South Coast? That was the topic of debate among several travellers on site at the newly renovated and expanded resort in Jamaica. The top verdict? A split stay between the two offering the best for both worlds, naturally.
“Our brand new South Seas Rondoval Village [has] 20 beautifully appointed rondoval bungalows along the world’s longest lagoon, which makes them Sandals’ first swim-up rondovals,” Adrian Whitehead, General Manager of Sandals South Coast, told Travel Courier during an interview on location in Jamaica. “Plunge pools on the outside, spa bathrooms on the inside, immaculately appointed, and comes with our butler service, which is just incredible — and they’re all completely full. That’s the story of our life for at least the next six months from what I can tell.”
Notably, the South Seas Rondoval Village — located on a swim-up river pool with over 17,000 sq. feet of water — isn’t the only new addition to the resort.
There’s also the upgrades to the Dutch Village, which have transformed this section of the property.
“We took the opportunity to virtually demolish it during COVID and put it back together again,” explains Whitehead. “We extended every single balcony, placed a tranquility tub on every single one, gutted every single room, refurbished the inside, modernized it, we made the ground floor from one end to the other swim-up suites, we reworked the Dutch Village pool bar and the beach so the whole boulevard there just looks incredible.”
Whitehead looks no further than their occupancy rate of 95% to get an indication of how well all the recent additions are going over.
“Our swim-ups are selling like hotcakes. Our biggest complaint is that they can’t book for next year because they are already booked solid. The rondovals are full. We’re all over social media — it’s not us generating it — it’s the guests,” he says. “So the feedback has been nothing but amazing. They’re loving the tranquility tubs in the Dutch Village because you will see the sunrise and the sunset because the location is right on the point. Everyone is loving the swim-ups — we’re seeing a lot more use of patios than we’ve ever seen — virtually everyone is camping out and enjoying them.”
And the work isn’t stopping there. Next up, the conference facilities are being overhauled, the martini bar is getting an elevator and the main pool bar will be updated, to name but a few. The total room count is now 392 but the resort maintains a small feel since everything is spread along a two-mile stretch of beach.
“We’re not standing still and we continue to get better,” he says.
For Whitehead, part of what sets Sandals South Coast apart is its location within a 500-acre nature preserve.
“We’re remote. It’s about 1.5 hours to get to us but when you get here you’re in paradise,” he says. “It is paradise that you’re coming to — you’re getting away from it all. I’ve been in the industry for an awfully long time and this has to be one of the most romantic resorts I’ve ever worked on. Being part of this romance, to disconnect from the rest of the world, reconnect with each other, in paradise. Put your phones away, relax, enjoy and come and spend some time with us. We’ve got the beach. We’ve got the remoteness. We’ve got the water, everything here is about the water. Dining left, right and centre. You’ve got everything that you’d expect from a Sandals and you are really remote and in the middle of nowhere so that has its own appeal which just makes it incredible.”
And while the latest innovations are a hit — the existing resort already had popular features like the first overwater chapel and the first Latitudes° bar, as well as the overwater bungalows which opened in 2017.
Pointing to the level of pent up demand that exists, Whitehead is optimistic about what the future holds.
“The biggest thing I could tell travel advisors is if you find that slot, get the deposit down and encourage the customer to get the deposit down. I was just talking to a travel advisor in the States and the phrase they used was ‘a tsunami of vacations.’ People are so hungry to get out and they have disposable income,” he says. “Everyone has been frugal during COVID… so people have money in the bank and they want to use it to vacation and they are looking forward to going away.”
Good to know
Sandals South Coast’s GM Adrian Whitehead shares some helpful insights and tips for travel advisors
A brand to trust with onsite testing
“The antigen test or the PCR test for wherever you are travelling to is included. You don’t have to worry about it — we bring it to you. I always say that’s another worry you don’t have to worry about.”
Travel right now can be safe
“You are flying in a COVID-bubble when you are flying. You know that everybody has just been tested, they’re coming through an environment that has just been tested, they’re on a bus that’s just been tested to a resort full of people that’ve just been tested so you know you’re in a safe environment when you travel.”
Consider getting clients to book in advance
“Secure the space, get the deposit down, because even if things do change, we will change with you. And if the rules change for some reason, Sandals has shown itself to be trustworthy and flexible. If for some reason you can’t travel because of a COVID restriction change, we’ve worked with the client to move their vacation. So, if you get the space to travel now, book it!”
South Coast musts
Tasting: Appleton Rum, Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee and St. Elizabeth Honey are the three things you need to take back home with you
Don’t miss: for me it’s not seeing a sunset or a sunrise. There’s a little piece of beach just beyond the overwater bungalows that you need to walk first thing in the morning. It’s the most gorgeous pristine and untouched piece of beach and I thoroughly recommend it.
Off property: there are two things that stick out in my mind. One is the Pelican Bar, a stilt wood bar in the middle of the ocean. You wouldn’t travel the rest of the world just to come for that but while you are here, don’t miss it.
The other one is YS Falls. For me, if you are into nature and want to see some real countryside, YS Falls is the most pristine set of falls right in the middle of the countryside just on the South Coast. Not very touristy. It’s just a lovely way to see it.