I’ve just returned from my first trip to an all-inclusive resort. The resort was Sandals Whitehouse in Jamaica. Like all Sandals resorts, it’s all-inclusive, couples-themed, and adults-only. Not having kids at the resort was definitely a huge plus. Being my first stay of this variety, I have little to compare it to. The closest comparable was my cruise experience, which was pretty awful (the cruising part, at least) by comparison.
And there’s peacocks.
Matters of Transportation
Getting to Sandals Whitehouse is interesting. We arrived into MBJ , went through the usual international hassles, and then went to the Sandals lounge. There were checked in, got our free beer, and were told that we were ready to depart.
Now, as part of the arrangement, we were supposed to have luxury private transfer (as we find out later, that pretty much just means something like a Camry with a driver), but somebody dropped the ball. We ended up on a shuttle instead, but nobody else showed up for the shuttle. So it was semi-private, and kind of strange.
The drive itself is … interesting. I drugged myself with motion sickness medicine ahead of time (it pays to do your research). I recommend this if you, in any fashion, get sick in vehicles. The driver was good, but the road south from MBJ is incredibly bad. It works out to about 1.5-2 hours of swerving, pothole avoidance, sudden stops, and games of chicken with oncoming traffic. The scenery is interesting, showing “real jamaica” (our driver’s words, not mine) and a lot of the interesting inland geography. I enjoyed it both coming and going; it was fascinating to see.
A few minutes into our transfer to the resort, somebody figured out that there was a giant fuckup, but it was well-handled, and we enjoyed our time with our shuttle driver anyway.
On the way back we did have private car service, and it was relatively swell, except that the car was sprayed with perfume and I smelled like it for the rest of the day.
Now, real winners figured out something that wasn’t an option when I was booking through Delta: Helicopter transfers from MBJ to the resort are available. Would totally do that next time (easy to say when I have no clue how much it costs; reality probably differs from my assertion).
The food was the worst part of the trip. Fresh cut fruit at the breakfast buffet was excellent. The Stamp n’ Go was tasty. The pepper jack cheese was actually spicy and satisfying (sadly this was the only spicy thing we ate). I would have a hard time saying anything else was even good. Half of our plates were tolerable. The remainder were horrible. Food in my cafeteria at work or in my dorm in college is vastly superior. I’ve had better frozen meals.
Minor variations of the exact same sauce were used in virtually every sauced dish. Seasoning was uninspired and optimized homogeneity and flavor minimization. Vegetables were mushy and flavorless. Desserts were universally bad; pastries were vast in variety and quantity, but the quality was inferior to a continental breakfast at a $29.99/night dump in the Midwest. Even sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies were horrid.
The difference between the jerk chicken and the sweet and sour pork seemed to be that one was made with chicken and one was made with pork. A Wendy’s jerk chicken sandwich at the airport was superior in flavor and texture to any meat I had at the resort.
Some specifics: Beef carpaccio was thick cut dehydrated well-done roast beef. Ceviche was cooked with both acid heat, and was so rubbery and awful that I could stomach only a single bite. A hamburger was an inedible hockey puck. Snapper had the texture of applesauce. Flying fish was glue paste.
Saltfish was the only meat or fish tolerable, and it only came in the form of fried dumplings or in a soup of “spicy” (read: flavorless) ackee relish. Sadly the latter option was only available at the buffet on Sunday mornings.
A lot of work seems to be put into making the plating look “fancy” with sprays of sauce, brushes of chocolate, squirts of effluent, and swizzles of syrup. Unfortunately, fancy plating doesn’t make shit food taste any better. It didn’t help that the wait staff didn’t seem to have a clue what they were serving, even. As a small anecdote, I ordered cherry clafoutis. This is what came out:
It was presented as creme brulee. In reality it seems that it was some sort of decomposed flan, perhaps?
I could carry on, but this grows exhausting. It’s as simple as this: The food was truly bad. I can’t speak for other resorts on the island or for other islands, but I would avoid at least this particular resort if good food is important. The dining options are sufficient in providing sustenance and freedom from intestinal distress, but they offer little joy otherwise. Paired with inattentive and sluggish sit-down service, dining is downright miserable and arduous. The buffet and self-service options were the least disappointing should one wish to dine here.
Encounter With a Monster of the Not So Deep
I lied. Far and away the worst part of the trip was stepping on a spiny sea urchin. This happened in the designated swimming area that’s purportedly the nice sand (the normal beach quickly gets nasty, rocky, and muddy about 10 feet in). For our entire stay the water was pretty cloudy, and seeing more than a foot deep was difficult. Thus, I didn’t see the urchin, but he made his presence felt. Unlike stepping on a starfish (also quite common at the resort), which hurts a bit, this hurts like a motherfucker.
The spines entered my little toe and the side of my foot. It felt like being injected with large-bore needles coated in fire, if that makes any sense. We attempted to remove the spines to little success and a life guard joined the fun, but quickly gave up and suggested Melissa pee on my foot. Apparently this is legitimate, but we didn’t try it. The nurse said that if I was relatively healthy I would be fine. “The urchin, is carbon. You’re carbon. It will be absorbed by your body.” Things are still a little sore, but I believe I’ve escaped infection, which is what really matters.
I avoided the ocean thereafter.
Otherwise, encounters with creatures other than birds was relatively infrequent. Pesticides are applied liberally in rooms and around the resort. We ran into a few lizards and this giant moth (a bit larger than a deck of cards):
Some giant cockroach death beetles appeared after a night of exceptionally heavy rain, and it seems that guests enjoyed crushing them, as we only saw their smashed remnants around when we got up. But, suffice to say, I don’t seem to have received bot fly infections and I haven’t been attacked by foot-long venomous meat-eating centipedes that can move faster than a human.
I already touched on service during meals; it was about as good as the food. The exception was our private dinner on the beach; this meal had fantastic and attentive service with the only quirk a half hour gap between courses while she left to fetch our main courses.
Otherwise, service was pretty good. Bartenders were friendly, if quite busy, and alternating between patois back-chatter with other staff and talking to guests. I’m terrible at realizing when they context switched, but most folks seemed to get along with it just fine.
Room staff were largely exceptional, doing a thorough job of cleaning and restocking the room many times during the day. The rooms were well cleaned and prepared, and housekeeping spent significant time (at least a half hour) cleaning every day.
We had a concierge-level suite; this means a suite and certain other things (like a well-stocked and regularly re-stocked in-room bar). Our concierge awkwardly led us to our rooms initially and then promised to keep in touch daily thereafter. In reality we heard from him one other time and run into him by accident during a wedding. He did arrange to have the room set up nicely on Melissa’s birthday, but otherwise he was more or less nonexistent.
What we figured out after the fact was that the way to visit one of these resorts is to get the butler service. On the website, butler service offers various things we didn’t care about, like unpacking our luggage, pressing our clothes, and serving us dinner in our suite. Those are three things that were not worth an up-charge to me. In reality, butlers provide something far more important:
That’s right. Reserved space on the beach, with opaque shade, nice chairs, towels, and a cooler full of ice and drinks. Butlers also brought fresh drinks, frequently addressed the needs of guests, and did all the things that a concierge is supposed to do, but doesn’t. Ignoring that, though, a reserved spot on the beach with cold drinks is worth the price of admission.
One of the perks of the resort was ready access to alcohol. As mentioned previously, our suite was well-stocked with alcohol, featuring a bottle of white wine, red wine, and champagne. Also present at all times were at least four bottles of red stripe, four different liters of premium alcohol, several mixers, soda, and water.
I believe this is just a feature of concierge suites and up, but it was really nice and convenient. Bravo.
Otherwise there are a ton of a bars and options all over the place.
The house wines (except Champagne), a custom label by Beringer, are horrible, but plentiful. Up-charge wines by Beringer and other are available, but we didn’t generally indulge in this.
Daily drink specials are available, and most bar stations offered frozen, iced, fruit-based, and all other manner of drinks. It’s trivial to get stupid drunk and stay that way as long as you’re at the resort, but with the heat, it wasn’t really what I felt like doing.
I’ve talked about this a little bit, but the room we had was really nice. It was also huge. It was ground level, and we could easily hear doors slamming and people moving furniture, sliding glass doors, and themselves around upstairs. That sort of sucked, but otherwise the suite was pretty much exceptional in every way.
Our living area had a lovely porch and view of the ocean; the bedroom shared the view but lacked the porch (and that’s just fine). There was a sitting/makeup area in the bedroom, a large closet, hot tub, shower, king mahogany bed, reading area, desk, two couches, a bunch of televisions, the minibar (with a functional sink), dual sinks in the bathroom, well, you get the idea. It was nice.
So, yeah, the accommodations were pretty swell. Highly recommended.
In general, I had a really nice time at the resort. The weather was nice, with a good breeze developing in the afternoon. This made evenings cooler and kept bugs away (as if the pesticides weren’t doing this already). Our room was lovely, the view was great, and the value for the money was pretty decent. I would recommend it unless you mind long transfers from airports, expect good food, or want to swim in the ocean.