UPPING THE ANTE ON ALL-INCLUSIVE
Sandals rolls out its “next-generation Luxury Included experience," with the opening of Sandals Royal Curaçao.
Written by Bridget Williams
The most successful businesses actively engage in an ongoing battle to stave off complacency. Butch Stewart purchased a dilapidated Jamaican hotel, renovated and reopened it in 1981 as Sandals Montego Bay. Chances are he didn't envision the 99-room all- inclusive resort eventually burgeoning to 251 rooms in 19 categories and serving as the flagship for a brand with sixteen distinct properties. Rather than resting on its reputation among loyal clientele, Sandals is focused on innovation, particularly in the luxury space, with its "next-generation Luxury Included experience," which debuted with the opening of Sandals Royal Curaçao this past June.
Nestling up to the spot where the serene and sheltered waters of Spanish Water Bay, one of the most well-protected anchorages in the Caribbean, meets the Caribbean Sea, the west-facing resort occupies 44 acres within the 3,000-acre Santa Barbara Estate. Ringed by rugged hills ideal for hiking and mountain biking, the property also lies alongside the protected Underwater Marine Park.
The 351-room resort includes many firsts for the brand, including more all-inclusive luxury options than ever before. The most coveted keys are those that open the door to the Awa Seaside Butler Bungalows, boasting a private infinity pool steps away from the beach and a large covered terrace with an alfresco soaking tub. Amplifying the experience is the attentive services of a personal butler.
Guests of all-inclusive resorts typically have little incentive to leave a given property. However, at Sandals Royal Curaçao, several intentional initiatives encourage the exploration of this colorful Dutch Caribbean island, home to more than 35 stunning beaches and a diverse heritage spanning 55 different cultures. Guests staying in the Kurason Island Poolside Butler Bungalows and Awa Seaside Butler Bungalows have a stable of MINI Cooper convertibles, painted in varying hues to mimic the iconic buildings in nearby Willemstad, at their disposal. We dropped the top and took ours to Shete Boka National Park (shetebokapark.org). The park's lunar-like landscape offers plenty of hiking trails and the opportunity to cool off in the arid environment by getting close to the sea spray from sizeable waves pounding into underground caverns and the jagged coastline.
Further immersing guests in the unique flavors of the island, Sandals Royal Curaçao offers the brand's first-ever offsite dining program, Island Inclusive, which expands its all-inclusive dining options to eight partner restaurants around the island. Valid on seven- night minimum stays, the program is available exclusively to guests booked in Butler suites and Sandals Select Reward Members, offering one voucher to dine out at one of the eight partner restaurants, with offsite roundtrip transportation included. We chose MosaCaña (mosacana.com), a lively and exceptionally popular fusion-style spot tucked away in the heart of Willemstad.
The resort has also partnered with Island Routes to provide authentic experiences all over the island. For example, during an afternoon guided e-bike tour through the capital city, we crossed the floating Queen Emma Bridge to admire the pastel-colored colonial buildings and stopped midway for a refreshing artisan fruitsicle at Popcultr.
As someone with limited all-inclusive experience, the on-property dining was certainly a highlight for me, with seven of the eight restaurants being new concepts for the brand. Arriving early and before our room was ready, we were ushered to the beachfront food truck area, where we didn't mind waiting while sampling small bites of Curaçao fare from Toteki, Spanish tapas from La Palma, and Asian fusion from Kishi.
Throughout our group's stay, the combination of a tempting menu, the all-inclusive format, and an inability to choose prompted several travel mates to select multiple appetizers and even more than one entrée at dinner, which was particularly easy at the Japanese-style restaurant Gatsu Gatsu. The most aesthetically unique spot, with plating to match, is European-fusion restaurant Vincent, whose interiors pay homage to the famous Dutch painter.
While diving is part of the all-inclusive package, most guests seemed content with bobbing about in the double-decker Dos Awa infinity pool (a design first for the brand). A DJ at the swim-up bar kept the energy up, along with games to inspire friendly competition. We opted to seek out a shady spot on the calmer and quieter beach adjacent to Spanish Water bay, where we made fast friends with a couple who were Sandals devotees and introduced us to their favorite shot—a Lemondrop. With 13 bars on the property, you're never lacking for a libation, including many premium brands. Still not accustomed to late-night activities eliminated during the pandemic, it was a treat to head to the resort's al fresco nightclub after dinner for a show followed by a dance party and then a nightcap in the piano bar.
Visiting soon after the property opened, we expected a few hiccups in service. Happily, we experienced only affable, engaging, and accommodating assistance, a testament to the brand's well-oiled machine methodology. Jamaican-born GM Kevin Clark, a Sandals veteran, explained that they achieved high standards from the get-go by importing top staff from other properties in their portfolio to work alongside island-based employees and bring them up to speed on the Sandals standard of services. And, with a ninety-two-percent occupancy rate and their Kurason Island Poolside Butler Bungalows booked through 2024, that strategy is paying off. sl For more information, visit sandals.com/royal-curacao.