Hubby and I were fortunate enough to be able to stay at Sandals Negril for 8 days. I say “fortunate” because this was the most expensive trip we had ever taken. We saved for years for this one and it was definitely worth the money!
We wanted to go to Sandals because when we got married 16 years ago we couldn’t afford it. We have traveled throughout the Caribbean so when it came time to book our trip we chose one of the few islands we hadn’t gone to before – Jamaica. We chose the Negril resort over the others because of the reviews – they are excellent for this resort. The idea of the 7 mile beach, excellent food, and water sports was very enticing. Since we booked the Butler suite we were expecting to be pampered from the second we arrived until the second we left. This was my first real vacation (without a laptop) in over six years so we were looking to really relax and unwind and not having to do anything. Making a living from blogging is fun – but a lot of work!
I will say this – the resort was NOT what we were expecting when we arrived. The beach is a LOT skinnier than the pictures, the room was really dated, and the Butler experience on the first day was lacking. Actually our first day there was complete hell and we were about to pack up and go home.
Glad we didn’t, because it ended up being the best vacation ever. That is the main reason I decided to write this ridiculously long review – expectations matter a lot when going to Sandals. If you go into one of these trips knowing what to expect your trip will be a WHOLE lot better.
Butler Elite – What it is and what it isn’t:
We expected far too much because of all the Sandals hype. We actually hadn’t known anyone that had gone to a Sandals so we weren’t sure what to expect – especially with the Butler service. We had visions of our Butler meeting us at the airport with a sign with our name on it. Then he would whisk us off to start a vacation. Boy were we wrong. We didn’t meet ours until we were waiting in the lobby of the resort for close to 30 minutes. Then he took us to our room (we carried our backpacks – they took our two bigger bags) where we filled out paper work for another 30 minutes. Not the best start to our trip.
We told him we were starved after our 12 hour travel day and we were told nothing was open. We found a restaurant and I ended up carrying my food back to our room. Along the way two cleaning ladies said “hustle, hustle”. That actually led to tears for me because here I was on the first day of my long awaited vacation – carrying food. Needless to say – we fired our first butler within an hour of arriving and started talking about going home.
Long story short – we sucked it up the first night and decided to give the resort another chance in the morning. Especially since we were told we couldn’t get a refund and we couldn’t change resorts because they were all full. We were told the night before we would get a new butler in the morning so I walked to the front desk when I woke up. I was told a new one wasn’t assigned and we would probably hear something around 10am when the manager showed up. Still not happy. Where was my breakfast in bed? Where was my helper to unpack my luggage? Where was my dream vacation that I paid so handsomely for?
Around 8:30am 2 nice managers and our new Butler showed up promising to make everything alright. I was hopeful. Hubby was still sleeping so I asked if they could arrange breakfast on our patio in hopes of putting him in a better mood. Mind you, I have the most easy going hubby ever – nothing fazes him but after this first day, he was VERY upset. They did as they said and it arrived 20 minutes later. The omelets we ordered were awesome so I had a much happier hubby when he woke up!
The next seven days were a complete 180 from our first day. We were assigned two extremely nice butlers that helped us make our trip amazing. We got reservations at all the best restaurants, had assigned chairs on the beach, drinks waiting when we got off the Snorkeling trip, flowers on the bed, and many other small details that enhanced our trip. Mind you, we didn’t book the butler service to be treated like royalty, we just simply didn’t want to deal with anything for one week. That is what they provided!
We quoted online first. We knew the resort we wanted, we knew we wanted ocean view, and we knew we wanted the Butler suite. We just had to find the right deal. If we were going to go, we were going all out. Oh yea did I mention this was my 40th birthday trip too?
They seem to constantly run a 65% off sale so don’t let the full price fool you. You won’t be paying $17,000 for a trip. When we got the best price we could find online, we decided to call and see if they could do better. They were able to. I am pretty sure you have to call to get this, but they offer Military a 10% off discount. Since my hubby was in the Marines, were were eligible. It ends up being quite a big savings on a normal trip.
We chose to not book airfare with them hoping we could use frequent flyer miles. We couldn’t but we ended up paying less booking ourselves. BUT you do still get the $355 airfare discount even if you don’t book through them. Make sure to ask for any other promotion offers. We were also able to get a free couples massage thrown in by saying it was our anniversary (it was in March and we traveling in April).
Once booked, you will need to put down a $400 deposit to hold the room. If you book airfare too, you will be required to pay for the flight at that time. You have until 46 days before the trip to cancel and get a full refund. We booked ours 8 months before our trip so were pretty confident we would know if something was going to prevent us from going by then. I highly suggest booking early, because the affordable rooms sell out pretty quick. We noticed 3 months before that ALL of the lower class rooms were gone. This is definitely a trip you need to plan for!
You will need to fly into Montego Bay airport. Considering we were flying out of our super tiny airport here in Tallahassee, FL our flights really weren’t that bad. We definitely weren’t happy about the 2-3 hour layovers in Miami but they are necessary for Immigration – especially on the return.
When we arrived at the airport, it was chaos. It wasn’t too hard to find the Sandals welcome center (it’s the biggest storefront there). They have people to welcome you and direct you to the right bus. There were a LOT of people waiting when we arrived because this hub serves all four Jamaican resorts. There are some snacks and free beer but that is it. Honestly not too impressed with the welcome center. Keep in mind, we were looking for our butler lol.
We were offered the Mobay Club when I called to confirm our transport the day before. Not knowing what it was, we skipped it. Evidently you don’t need to call because of the welcome center, but seeing it was our first time there I wanted to make sure someone was going to be picking us up.
Turns out I wish I had gotten the Mobay Club on the way down. The Immigration line took us almost 2 hours. If we had the Mobay Club pass ($80 per person both ways or $30 per person for return) we could have bypassed the really long line. If you get down there and don’t have it, look for the line to the far left – it should say Club Mobay. Looks like you can purchase the passes there too. We flew in on a Tuesday so we didn’t expect too much of a line. Boy were we wrong – three planes landed right before us so we were last. Supposedly if you fly in on the weekend it is worse so you might want to check into the pass.
We bought one on the way home and it was definitely faster although the lines didn’t seem as long as when we arrived. They do offer complimentary drinks and food. We got there are about 9 am so the breakfast wasn’t much – the lunch however that they put out at 10am was VERY good. Sandwiches, soup, and much more.
Back to when you arrive…you will be assigned to a bus to be taken to the resort. On a good day the ride will take 70 minutes, on a bad day (like ours), close to 2 hours. If you have never ridden in a car in the Caribbean before, get ready because it is an experience! First they drive on the left side of the road – a little disorienting to those from the states. Second the roads are very narrow and they drive like madmen. Two lanes become three and it is not uncommon to drive off the road to avoid a collision. These rides are definitely not for the faint of heart.
There are quite a few things you should know about the resort, to make your trip better!
Things to Know:
- Room service IS included and can be ordered 24 hours a day. It’s actually really good food too!
- Save 10% off if you are military (anyone who served can get this)
- Scuba diving IS included – you can go two times per day
- You can get certified in the resort for $300 per person
Places to Go:
- Ricks Cafe – Definitely a must hit spot. We went twice – once by car and once by boat. This is probably one of the coolest bars I have ever been too. Complete with decently priced drinks and cliff diving! If you can go by boat, I highly suggest it. The cliffs around this area are amazing! You can actually rent a boat (25′ Chris Craft) at Sandals with a guide for a 2 hour sunset cruise for $250. That was the best part of our whole trip. Or you can purchase a private guide to take you shopping and Ricks for $70. They also offer a shuttle to the bar for $40 per person.
- Fireman Lobster Pit – when in season this is an awesome place to get a 1-2 pound lobster for around $20. Located about 30 foot from beach security stand near Barefoot. Fireman will let you select the lobster from his cage in the sea (yes, they are still live) and will then grill it and serve it in garlic butter. To die for! Eat there are take it back with you! Sometimes when they are slow, they will wander through the resort and bring it to you.