Trip Report: Sandals South Coast, Jamaica

Trip Report: Sandals South Coast, Jamaica

An Rx for R&R

My husband and I took a quick, four-day, jaunt to Jamaica in late April. It’s nice to be able to get away – even if for a short time – to rest and relax. When you’re in the mood for some R&R, what better way to unwind than go to Jamaica? After much research, I decided that Sandals South Coast in White House would be the perfect place to escape to.

Prepare for Takeoff

We left at 5:45 a.m. from Whitby, Ontario, Canada, and were so excited to get away that we missed our highway exit for Toronto Pearson Airport. Oops! As we drove down the 407 listening to music and chatting about our imminent trip, we ended up on the border of Oakville… and that’s how we started our vacation. 

I already completed our online check in with WestJet and received our boarding passes electronically, which I saved to my Apple Wallet. That was a huge time saver along with our new packing approach – bringing a carry-on only. It truly saves so much time at the airport. When we arrived, we simply parked and headed straight to security. 

Packing a carry-on only means you are limited in how much liquids you can bring with you on the plane, but there are multiple places after the security checkpoint to grab extras like mouthwash, toothpaste and even sunscreen.

After a breakfast mimosa at our gate, we were ready for our flight. After a smooth, enjoyable ride we were in Montego Bay in no more than four hours.

Club Mobay

Arriving in Jamaica was a seamless experience. We booked a Club Mobay bundle that included arrival and departure service – and we both agreed that this was absolutely priceless.

We walked off the plane and down the ramp directly to Club Mobay where representatives were waiting for us. Our dedicated Club Mobay rep guided us through the airport’s express lanes for immigrations and customs. We also saved time since we didn’t have to pick up luggage at the baggage carousel.

Within 30 minutes, we arrived at the Sandals Resorts and Club Mobay VIP lounges. After a rum punch, we made our way out of Sangster International Airport. Sandals staff were attentive and ensured that our private transfer was ready before we even departed the airport. All in all, we made it through the airport in 40 minutes. We both agreed that we will never go to Jamaica without Club Mobay again! 

Thompson Tours & Transfers

The ride to Sandals South Coast is about 90 minutes from the airport. I wanted to start the vacation as soon as possible, so I booked a private transfer to the resort. That said, Sandals Resorts always provides transportation to and from the resort, and it’s always reliable. We booked private transportation because our trip was on the shorter side, and this helped us to make the most of our time. 

We used Thompson Tours & Transfers after receiving a referral online. Our driver, Renford Thompson, took us from Montego Bay to White House through some windy rural and mountainous roads. It was beautiful to see the island – and we learned a lot about it as we made our way to the resort. We even had an impromptu stop at Border Jerk (a delicious roadside diner) where we were treated to jerk chicken and some delicious Red Stripe lemon and sorrel flavoured beers – yum!

All in all, we had incredible service from TT&T and we will definitely book them again when we head back to Jamaica in the fall with our kids.

Sandals State of Mind

The staff at Sandals South Coast, formerly known as Sandals White House, welcomed us warmly with a hot towel and big smiles. 

COVID-19 protocols are still being followed at the resort but are slowly being let up. Masks are no longer required to be worn in indoor areas.

We stayed in the Dutch Village, which was a quieter spot. It was lovely with a mix of entry, club and butler level rooms, including swim up suites.

Our room was Dutch Beachfront Luxury Room (DGB). With a four poster king bed,  modern bathroom with walk-in shower and balcony tranquility soaking tub on the veranda, we were impressed and agreed it was one of the most beautiful rooms that we’ve stayed at in a Sandals Resort. The Dutch Village is centrally located and offers sweeping views of the ocean and Latitudes Over-the-Water Bar.

One thing I noticed is that this resort definitely had an older crowd – about 70 per cent 60+ in my estimation. The resort is very spread out and there’s a lot of walking, although it’s all very flat and easy to navigate. I definitely got in my steps – up to 10,000 per day! 

The food was consistently good. Eleanor’s and Schooners were the highlights for dinner; and Giuseppe’s antipasto bar was to die for! Cafe de Paris had some of the best coffee I’ve ever had (maybe it was the half cream milk?!) and delectable crepes. The Jerk Shack was perfectly located on the beach – central within the resort – and offered jerk chicken, pork, sausage and fish options. Most restaurants were located in the main piazza, with the exception of Schooner’s which was in the French Village, located near the Over-the-Water Bungalows. If you can believe it, those rooms book up a year or two in advance!

Some of my other observations:

  • The resort is perfect for honeymooners and those who want a quieter getaway.
  • The entertainment was not to be missed! There were special themes every night at Le Cabaret (an indoor theatre space) and in the main courtyard.
  • The beachfront area was great for late night impromptu dance parties.
  • There are three great pools and various hot tubs on the property.
  • Sandals has added a new Rondoval Village with a swim-up pool that weaves through – it’s absolutely beautiful!  
  • All other rooms are all beachfront and absolutely glorious.
  • The stretch of beach was quiet, walkable and didn’t have any unsolicited vendors.
  • Being in a protected nature reserve/ocean protected area, there was lots of wildlife from peacocks to starfish. This meant that the water was not always the crystal clear blue you see in the Caribbean, but was perfect for water sports such as sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling and paddle boarding.
  • Great drink choices! The bars were well stocked and bartenders knew how to make a variety of yummy drinks.
  • The martini bar was popular every night, especially when late night entertainment was lined up.
  • Fabulous food options – not just the buffets, but a la carte selections for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Beautiful grounds – there was always someone very busy keeping everything looking pristine. 
  • The spa was lovely and tranquil – a touch smaller than other Sandals but very private and quiet.
  • A stunning on-the-water chapel with glass floors is perfect for destination weddings.
  • Lots of little spots in and around the resort to sit and relax.
  • Sunsets are divine!
  • It rained everyday from about 2 to 4 p.m. but that was perfect for nap time.
  • On that note… the mattresses were SUPER comfortable. 

The staff at the resort were a real highlight. Oshane at the main bar was incredible;  Marton in entertainment was a blast; Garnet at Schooner’s was so attentive;  Tanesha in housekeeping was on top of everything.

Speaking of – housekeeping was excellent! Our room was tied and replenished  daily before noon and we always had turn down service before returning to our room at night. 

Overall, our experience was exactly what we needed and I’d highly recommend this resort to anyone who is looking for a truly relaxing beach vacation.

Departing in Style

As noted, we booked Club Mobay for our departure as well. It was the perfect way to end our trip! Not only did we get through the airport check-in and dedicated security line in no time, but we were able to wait for our flight (after a 90-minute shuttle ride to the airport) with a drink and lunch (aka rum punch and Jamaican beef patties). Leaving is never fun, but it was great to extend the vacation as long as possible.

Club Mobay also offers family-friendly areas in their lounge, and they are perfect for those travelling with children of all ages. It’s conveniently located near the gate for your departure, so you don’t have to worry about hustling your way to board when called.

Book with Pink Palm Travel

Dreaming of your next getaway? Connect with me. As a Certified Sandals Specialist, I’m here to help you make the most of your vacation with dedicated concierge service.

Sandals Royal Barbados Announces Impressive Expansion, Just In Time For Summer

Sandals Royal Barbados Announces Impressive Expansion, Just In Time For Summer

66 dreamy suites will join the South Seas Village, two new wellness-inspired eateries, two new tranquil pools, and more.

Sandals Resorts International (SRI) continues its development in the Caribbean as Sandals Royal Barbados breaks ground on an exciting new expansion, just in time for the summer season.  Set to premiere July 1, 2021, the South Seas Village at Sandals Royal Barbados will be home to 66 new suites, bringing the total room count to 338, which include the brand’s signature Rondoval™ suites, Skypool and Crystal Lagoon Swim-Up suites and Millionaire Butler suite concepts; two new wellness-inspired eateries, The Greenhouse Restaurant and Heart & Sol café, bringing the resort’s impressive restaurant count to nine; and two new relaxing pools.

Flanked between lush gardens and the pristine, white sand beach of Maxwell Beach, the exceedingly romantic additions will be characterized by spacious and bright rooms, high-pitched ceilings and chic furnished light-wood finishes with quartz inlay – designed for seclusion, relaxation and serenity. The South Seas Village will include hallmark offerings such as the Sandals Tranquility Blissful Bed™, with a premium king-size bed, complemented by fine linens and a pillow menu, marble baths adorned, his and her sinks, bath amenities by the Red Lane® Spa, a private outdoor Tranquility Soaking Tub™ for two and a full in-room bar complete with a selection of liquors including Robert Mondaviwine. These accommodations will also showcase blackout shades, soothing lights, and an in-room aromatherapy system with relaxing essential oils to personalize scent experiences and promote a great night’s rest.  Guests staying in the new butler suites category will also enjoy a personal butler, 24-hour room service, and VIP check-in.   

Two new culinary concepts will also be introduced at Sandals Royal Barbados, bringing the resort’s total restaurant count to nine. The Greenhouse, a rustic farm-to-table eatery, will offer guests elegant cuisine prepared with locally sourced meats and seafood and straight-from-the-garden fruits and vegetables. Heart and Sol, the resort’s café, combines the variety, speed and service of a New York-style deli with locally sourced culinary offerings for a fresh and clean alternative to sandwiches, soups, salads, energy-boosting smoothie bowls, and nutrient-packed fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies and juices.

Two new freshwater swimming pools will be tucked away in a tranquil section of the South Seas Village. One swimming pool will have a full-service pool bar offering newly curated low-calorie cocktails. With various flavors to choose from like the Ginger Mule, Brûléed Lemon Sour, Green Gin and Cucumber Slush, guests can enjoy the taste of the Caribbeanwithout the guilt.

When staying at Sandals Royal Barbados, guests also have full exchange privileges with the neighboring Sandals Barbados, creating a mega-vacation that includes two all-inclusive resorts for the price of one – 20 total restaurants, 14 bars, 11 pools and five whirlpools. 

Sandals Royal Barbados is now accepting reservations for these accommodations for arrivals beginning July 1, 2021.

Sandals Royal Barbados infinity pool
Sandals Crystal Lagoon Swim Up Suite
Sandals suite with Tranquility Soaking Tub

Review: Disney’s Port Orleans Resort ~ French Quarter

Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort is known as a hidden gem on Disney property. I heard many great things about French Quarter, and it’s sister resort Port Orleans Riverside, leading me to book an early spring stay at the resort.

The theming is colourful and evokes the feeling of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The resort’s lush landscaping, black wrought-iron fountains and lantern-lit pathways gives this Disney resort an adult feel that’s still fun for kids.

Mickey POFQ

Why, hello there Mickey.

PRICE AND VALUE

French Quarter is classified as a moderate Disney resort. You can easily book a night’s stay in the $175 to $200 per-night range, which I felt was reasonable considering you can to take advantage of Disney perks such as Disney’s Magical Express airport shuttle, transportation to and from the parks, and Extra Magic Hours at the parks.

So what makes French Quarter stand out from Disney’s other moderate resorts?

Although the parks were close to capacity during our post-Easter weekend visit, the 1,000-room French Quarter never felt like we were visiting during one of the busiest times of the year. French Quarter is definitely the smallest and easiest moderate resort to get around–walking from one end of the seven-building resort to the other took no longer than five minutes. After walking around at the parks all day, you will be thankful to reach your room in such a short time.

Building 5: Lovely view of the pool and lush gardens, and close to transportation and dining.

Building 5 provided us with a lovely view of the pool and lush gardens, and was also close to transportation and dining.

ROOMS

Our room in Building 5 faced the pool and had easy access to dining, the gift shop and transportation. We were nestled behind trees on the second floor, which was surprisingly private and quiet despite having exterior corridors (like other value and moderate resorts).

French Quarter’s rooms are a modest size and sleep four, with separate shower/toilet and sink areas. This division makes getting ready in the morning much easier. A curtain separates the double sinks from the main room, which provides more privacy if needed.

The beds and pillows were comfortable, and looked like they had recently been refurbished. As much as the room met our needs, I felt the resort’s theming didn’t transition as seamlessly into the room itself, but French Quarter’s beautiful exterior made up for it.

TRANSPORTATION

Transportation at French Quarter was much more efficient than I had anticipated. Buses transported guests to all of the parks–and, luckily, we never had to wait longer than 20 minutes for one.

Gorgeous view of Downtown Disney from our riverboat.

Gorgeous view of Downtown Disney from our riverboat.

Our party of 12 was especially impressed with the time it took to get to Magic Kingdom–approximately 10 minutes. We never had to share a bus with sister resort Riverside to reach any of the parks. With smaller children, minimizing the amount of time spent in transit was definitely a priority for us.

In addition, French Quarter offers a boat to Downtown Disney. This was a beautiful (and fun) way to head to Disney’s dining and shopping district!

DINING AND RECREATION

With only one quick-service restaurant onsite, and no table-service options at French Quarter, I found that we often wanted to eat offsite.

Doubloon Lagoon features a sea serpent water slide--the kids loved it!

Doubloon Lagoon features a sea serpent water slide–the kids loved it!

While the food was good at French Quarter’s Sassagoula Floatworks Food Factory, we found a variety of delicious options at Downtown Disney.

Dining aside, we loved French Quarter’s themed pool area (“Doubloon Lagoon”) which is located in the centre of the resort. The sea serpent water slide was a hit with the kids, and the pool’s quieter corners were perfect for lounging adults. Daily afternoon pool parties, hosted by Disney’s excellent recreation staff, kept our kids entertained, giving us an opportunity to relax and enjoy the Florida sun!

If you’re seeking more onsite recreation opportunities, take a 10-minute walk up the river to Port Orleans Riverside, which includes amenities such as a full-service restaurant (Boatwright’s Dining Hall), a well-themed pool and recreation area, and numerous other quiet pools. Riverside also offers surrey bike rentals, cane-pole fishing and evening carriage rides.

Heading down to the pool for an evening swim, we were greeted by the French Quarter Gator Band :)

Heading down to the pool for an evening swim, we were greeted by the French Quarter Gator Band 🙂

LAST WORD

I’m confident that visitors to Disney World who are looking for a quieter resort option will enjoy Port Orleans French Quarter.

Whether you are a family of four, or a couple on a quick Disney getaway, Port Orleans French Quarter offers great value for a moderate resort.

Value, Moderate or Deluxe?

If you are heading to Orlando anytime soon, you will be faced with a few decisions to make about your accommodations.

Will you be staying at a Disney Resort, or off-site at a nearby vacation home or condo?

Now that I’ve had the experience of staying at a Disney resort, I’m not sure I could ever make the decision to stay offsite, unless the time I planned to spend is Disney was absolutely minimal.

People often ask me if staying onsite at Disney is worth the often-added expense. My answer is usually yes.

There are so many perks to staying at a Disney resort (free airport shuttle, transportation, access to dining plans), and luckily there are different accommodation levels that can help you budget the right resort for you. Don’t let the prices scare you from booking–while rack rates seem to be pretty high, you can usually get a great deal–sometimes up to 30 per cent off–during spring and fall months.

Can you find the hidden Tinkerbell?

Can you find the hidden Tinkerbell?

Disney resorts fall under three categories: value, moderate and deluxe.

Value resorts are made up of the smallest rooms of any Disney resort, and have limited amenities. They do, however, have a food court/quick service restaurant and pool areas for guests. It’s a great option if you plan on hitting the parks early in the morning and staying out until closing time. These resorts are typically farthest from Magic Kingdom.

Moderate resorts include enhanced amenities. This can include more dining options, upgraded pool and lounge areas and generally more recreational opportunities. Buses and boats transport guests to and from nearby resorts, Downtown Disney and the parks.

The Polynesian Resort: Home to Ohana, a volcanic pool, and the infamous Dole Whip!

The Polynesian Resort: Home to Ohana, a volcanic pool, and the infamous Dole Whip!

Deluxe resorts offer the best amenties–a great selection of restaurants (some that offer character dining!), elaborate pool settings, a variety of shops and usually more transportation options (especially true with the Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian resort, which are on the monorail line). Deluxe resorts provide a great getaway from the parks, and offer some recreation opportunities as well. You could spend a whole day at some of these resorts without having to leave.

My three picks to try from each category?

Value–Art of Animation
Moderate–Port Orleans French Quarter
Deluxe–The Polynesian Resort

What are yours?

A look at DVC and The Villas of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

While vacationing this past May at Walt Disney World, I kept hearing about “Disney’s best kept secret,” the Disney Vacation Club (DVC). Essentially it is a timeshare.

While it’s marketed as a cost-effective way to vacation (save as much as 70 per cent on your Disney vacations!), I’m not entirely convinced. However, I can see how DVC can save you a some money over time if you prefer to stay in deluxe resort accommodations on property.

The Grand Floridian at dusk

The Grand Floridian at dusk

Speaking of deluxe properties, my love of the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is no secret. Some say they are turned off by the “stuffiness” of the well-manicured resort and grounds, but our experience has been one of feeling at home.

This is why I am especially excited for the opening of this resort’s brand new DVC villas, opening in October.

The new building (under construction during our recent stay) will house 147 villas–a mix of deluxe studios, one- and two-bedroom villas and grand villas featuring three bedrooms and a media room.

A Mary Poppins theme will pull together the classic Disney touches that make this resort so enjoyable.

Check out the video below, courtesy of DVCNews.com for a look at the model rooms. There is so much to love–the tub! The chartreuse accents! The gorgeous window with muntins!

From the research I’ve done, DVC stacks up better than a lot of the competition out there.

For starters, DVC uses a points system that will allow you to vacation at any time of year (not just a pre-determined week each year). Points can be banked (from the immediate past year) or borrowed (from the immediate year ahead). Each resort has point values assigned for room types, according to the time of year.

If you’re thinking of taking the DVC plunge, you may want to ask yourself a few questions.

Are you planning to vacation in Florida (or at other DVC resort locations in California or Hawaii) at least every two-to-three years? The answer should be yes, as you won’t want to lose your points.

It’s important to note that there are many resorts at Walt Disney World that you may not have even known were Disney Vacation Club resorts–take Old Key West Resort for example. You can get great “value” for point use at this resort.

Olivia's Cafe at Disney's Old Key West Resort

Olivia’s Cafe at Disney’s Old Key West Resort

Buying direct from Disney will cost a minimum of $15,000 for 100 points. Will you be able to pay cash? Otherwise, potential vacation cost savings may be wiped out by interest payments. You must also account for annual dues on the timeshare for resort maintenance.

Purchasing a DVC membership on the resale market is also an option. Check out The Timeshare Store for more information about DVC resales.

One last thing–unlike most other timeshares, DVC contracts have an expiry date. The property with the lengthiest contract is the Villas at the Grand Floridian, which has an expiry date of 2064. While it might seem that you may not be vacationing to Disney well into your 80s, it’s comforting to know that there is an end date, and you won’t be on the hook forever.

I have to admit, the Villas at the Grand Floridian are making me think about becoming a DVC member. A number of other DVC resorts are on my bucket list (The Beach Club Resort, Grand Californian and Aulani), and this could potentially make getting there easier.

What do you think? Have you ever considered buying a timeshare? Are there any good news stories out there?

Review: Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is Walt Disney World’s flagship resort and crown jewel. And yes, it is grand, in all senses.

From the moment you walk into the five-storey lobby of the Victorian era-themed Grand Floridian, you are overcome with turn-of-the-century (the one before last) elegance, and an aroma that I can’t quite put my finger on. It slightly reminds me of Rainkissed Leaves by Bath and Body Works (which, sadly, I heard is now in the process of being discontinued).

Our experience, from beginning to end was unbelievable in terms of customer service. Staff–from bell services to lobby concierge and store clerks–all personified an era long gone (in personality, and uniform).

We booked a standard room, which sleeps up to five people, plus one child under three in a crib. I’ve heard that if you’re lucky, you can be upgraded for free to rooms with theme park views, or even the luxurious club level. Our room, situated in the Boca Chica building, was a ground floor room with views of the pool and grounds. At this resort, that ain’t a bad thing.

20130719-215552.jpg

Our room felt oversized, even with the five of us (mom, dad, two small kids and grandma) piling in. The room décor is very traditional, and some may say outdated, but I felt that it provided a cozy feeling that made me feel at home. It also stayed true to the overall Victorian nature of the grounds. If not for anything else, the beds at the resort are amazing, and I would stay here just to be able to put my head down to sleep at night!

With two pools and an Alice in Wonderland-themed splash pad, the resort is a great place to cool off on afternoons when you are taking a break from touring the parks. With a variety of eateries–including Gasparilla Island Grill, the Grand Floridian Café (a hidden gem, in my opinion), 1900 Park Fare, Narcoosees, Citricos and the prestigious Victoria and Albert’s–plus pool side quick service options, there is much variety to offer your palate. Tennis courts, boat rentals, a white sand beach, convention centre and a spa round out other amenities. Oh, and I forgot, shopping. Several stores in the main building can also help you pass the time as you navigate through the unique merchandise offered at this resort.

We often found ourselves sitting outside Gasparilla Island Grill morning and night. In the morning, we would start our day enjoying the early sun on a patio overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon and Cinderella Castle. By night, it became the place to watch the nightly Wishes fireworks at Magic Kingdom (second to being in the park itself).

20130719-215244.jpg

The monorail, Disney’s most exciting form of transportation, was accessible through the second floor of the main building. The length of the entire ride to Magic Kingdom was two minutes! A quick sneeze and we were at the front gates of Magic Kingdom, ready to start our day at rope drop and beat the lines.

20130719-215118.jpg

I could go on forever about the Grand Floridian. Overall, the resort provided a level of courtesy, elegance and recreation opportunities that made for an amazing vacation.

Looking forward to provide more in-depth reviews of the Grand Floridian’s restaurants in upcoming posts!