Our new Home! Sandals Whitehouse!
We spent a week at Sandals Whitehouse from April 30-May 7, 2014. For this trip report, I am going to compare my views with another all-inclusive I stayed at in the Riviera Maya back in 2008 (Grand Palladium Colonial). Please keep in mind that I’ve only been to 2 all-inclusive resorts so far in my life, but I think I can provide some insight to others who are in the same boat as me or who have never visited an all-inclusive resort before.
I have been following the TripAdvisor forums for a few months now trying to gather as much information as possible in the hopes that I could alleviate some stress by knowing what to expect. Thank you to everyone who helped along the way! Hopefully this report can help others.
Ok, here we go!! Getting to the resort…I read many comments online about the bus ride from MBJ to Whitehouse and how unnerving it can be. Since this was our honeymoon, we decided to splurge and went with the Island Hoppers helicopter transfer and boy are we glad we did. It was our first time in a helicopter and we loved the ride. Chris was our pilot for the trip to Whitehouse and Dave brought us back to MBJ. Both pilots were VERY experienced and very nice. We had great conversations and they told us about Jamaica along the way. Both guys were retired and moved to Jamaica to be helicopter pilots. What a life! The ride itself is pretty uneventful because it’s pretty smooth (uneventful in a good way). We just rose to 2000 feet and you go in a straight line towards Whitehouse. We hit 2500 feet to go over the final hill before Whitehouse and it was awesome to see the resort appear virtually out of nowhere. We saw many villages, etc. along the way but probably the best part of the helicopter ride was the fly-by across the beach. You’re only about 100 feet off the ground and it’s just so cool to see the resort this way. We have already decided that we will budget for the helicopter ride again next year.
Sue at Island Hoppers was great to work with and was very responsive and helpful for the questions I had. For the booking, I emailed Island Hoppers with our trip information and she returned a quote form to me which we were instructed to bring with us (when we checked in, they wanted to see this quote form to verify the price…maybe they quote different prices for some people??). We opted to keep the helicopter to ourselves for the round trip so the price was $1300 if you pay cash and it’s about $1390 if you pay by credit card. You don’t pay for this until you are ready to depart from MBJ. They asked if we wanted to pay for the entire round trip now or just the departure…I’m not sure how they would take payment for the return trip since you’d already be done with the flight on the return so if there was a problem with the credit card, that would be an issue. We paid for the round trip all at once. There is a helicopter ride sharing post on the Whitehouse TripAdvisor forum if you’re interested in sharing a ride to lower the cost. Please keep in mind that if you share the helicopter with another couple, your luggage will be transported on the Sandals bus so it will arrive later on. If that’s the case, just make sure to pack swimwear in your carry on luggage and you’ll be ready to go. If your room isn’t available at the resort yet, you can change in a bathroom or in their designated departure lounge, which includes showers, etc. Since it was just the 2 of us in the helicopter, our luggage traveled with us. I saw the luggage compartment on the helicopter and it could never fit 4 suitcases. It’ll take 2 large suitcases and maybe 2 smaller carry on bags. There is more than enough room for a bag between your legs in the backseat area if you want to keep a bag with you. Not so much room in the front left seat due to the floor controls and see-through floor.
For the ride to Whitehouse, Dave let me suction cup my GoPro to the front windshield so I have the entire ride captured in beautiful 1080p HD. I’ll have that online soon and will provide a link for everyone to see. If you’re interested in getting pictures of the resort from the air, you’ll want to sit on the left side of the helicopter on the ride to SWH and on the right side (back seat only) for the return trip.
We also used the Club Mobay arrival service and were walked through all of the processes by our guide (I’m sorry, I can’t remember his name). He had a sign with our names on it waiting for us before we got anywhere in the airport. For my first time at Sangster, that was VERY welcome! He helped us complete our paperwork and guided us through the immigration process. From landing at MBJ to Whitehouse, it was only 1 hour. AWESOME! Was Club Mobay worth it? For me, who has never been to Jamaica, it was absolutely worth it. For an experienced traveler? I think it’s got great value as well. I would estimate that Club Mobay probably saved us at least 20 minutes in the airport when looking at the lines, and when you’re just trying to get on with your vacation, that is money well-spent. We’ll definitely use Club Mobay again. We arrived at 11:40am but I think their primetime is usually 12pm to 4pm so the value of Club Mobay really increases during those busier times. I read many comments online about justifying the cost of Club Mobay…in my opinion, you’re spending upwards of $5000 or more to come to Sandals so what’s another $30 per person on the arrival to help get you through the airport and started on your vacation? I think it’s one of those things you just need to budget for.
We checked in online with Sandals about a week before our arrival and I think it helped us during check-in. A rep greeted us with champagne and had everything waiting for us in their beautiful lobby. Our room was ready to go so we just provided a credit card for charges and we were off to our room via transport on a golf cart! Check-in time was only about 5 minutes and was painless. They were very nice and inviting. Also, we were literally the only couple checking in at this time, probably because we took the helicopter transfer to the resort.
We booked our trip through Sandals.com and chose the Honeymoon Beachfront Grand Luxe room and didn’t count on nor did we ask for an upgrade. Based on comments from RandBTravel (thank you), you should just book the room you actually want because upgrades may not be available, or the upgrade they give you may be worse that what your original room would have been. We ended up in the French Village on the 4th floor facing the French pool (room 3411). We did have an ocean view but it wasn’t “straight on”. If you look at how the buildings are situated, we happened to be in the one that was perpendicular to the beach instead of parallel to the beach. I believe that the “honeymoon” part of the room puts you on the 4th floor. We still had an ocean view but it wasn’t as “wide” as it could have been if we had a room parallel to the ocean. It was still a great room. The room was very spacious with a king bed and sofa with sitting area. There were a few Sandals magazines on the coffee table to go through which made for good reading at the pool. We had a small balcony with 2 chairs and a table and they have 2 bars hanging on the wall for wet swimsuits, etc. There is no screen door on the sliding door to the balcony. It was pretty hot out during our trip so we never had the door wide open. Even if we did, we never had any issues with bugs on our balcony while we sat outside so leaving the door open shouldn’t be an issue.
The bathroom vanity was a generous size as was the separate bath/shower/toilet room. Overall we were very happy with the room and would definitely book this same type of room again. We never turned on the TV so I can’t comment on the programming available. There is a small refrigerator in the room that they restocked daily with Coke, Sprite, bottled water and some fruit drinks. We had a couple of the fruit drinks but mostly just drank the water. You may want to check the refrigerator’s thermostat setting when you get to your room. Probably for energy saving, ours was set to what seemed like a mild cold setting. We turned the dial and then had cold drinks. A hair dryer is included along with an iron/ironing board and a safe in the closet.
There is an iHome alarm clock in the room with a 30-pin connector. If you have an iPhone with the Lightning charging port (iPhone 5, 5C, 5S), you’ll need a Lightning to 30-pin adaptor to be able to set your phone on this alarm clock for charging. We had multiple devices that needed charging so we brought the Belkin SurgePlus 3-Outlet Mini Travel Swivel Charger Surge Protector instead. This includes 3 grounded outlets and 2 USB ports that can charge iPads at 2.1 amps. We loved the surge protector feature here just to ensure that our devices kept on working while we were there. The desk next to the bed included a Sandals notepad and pen and we used these to write up daily journals of our stay. We left a note one day asking for a new notepad and they delivered that to us one night. It was a nice special visit just for that!
Each day we’d get the Daily Breeze which included the scheduled events for that day. We’d plan things around that and choose to be at the beach or pool based on that too. They announce sales in the Daily Breeze too. Things like, 20% off of your purchase at the gift shop but only between 9am and 12pm.
Sandals provides turndown service each day so it was nice to have our towels refreshed and bed made (if we messed it up during the afternoon). We didn’t think of this before the trip but you’re going to take at least 2 showers per day. Once in the morning and another in late afternoon to get cleaned up for dinner. The turndown service was very valuable for this. Just make sure to pack enough shampoo, body wash, etc. Luckily, we topped off everything we brought and were fine. The room does include some toiletries for you though. And speaking of that, make sure you bring your own suntan lotion/spray and bug spray. It is VERY expensive in the gift shop! Coppertone spray was running $25 per bottle! We didn’t have any major issues with bugs. My wife got bit a few times and I think I only got bit once this was at night during our photo shoot on the beach. No issues during the day at all.
The French Village is the furthest away from the main pool and main restaurants but we didn’t mind the walk at all. The grounds are absolutely immaculate so it’s a nice walk each day. We were just sure to pack what we needed in our beach bag to hit the ocean or pool and didn’t need to go back to the room until late afternoon when we got ready for dinner. One option is to take the beach trail back to the room but we also liked the trail around the tennis courts.
WiFi: I guess there is a basic WiFi available for free but we opted to go for the upgraded WiFi for $42.95 per week for up to 3 devices (we like our phones to be fast!). You’re supposed to be able to activate it through your device and it’s charged to your room but I had issues. It wouldn’t take my credentials but that could have been because of the ‘III’ after my name. That sometimes complicates things so that could have been the issue. I called the front desk, they transferred me to the internet folks and I was online within a few minutes. They were VERY nice on the phone.
What blew me away is that we pretty much had WiFi EVERYWHERE on the resort. On the beach: check. In our rooms: check. In the restaurants: check. In the pool: check. In the bathroom: ch…well, we didn’t go there with our phones. LOL! Being able to stay connected while relaxing was really, really nice. We have a webcam for our dogs so we were able to talk to them a bit. We tried using FaceTime to call home but it was a bit choppy so it might not be fast enough for that. We have Verizon Wireless and we didn’t have cell service at the resort. We put our phones in Airplane mode and turned on the WiFi to make sure we didn’t connect to anything but Sandals WiFi.
Food: Sandals has 7 restaurants on-site (I won’t list them here) and let me tell you, they changed my view of what an all-inclusive offers. In looking at what was offered at the Grand Palladium (again, my only other experience), I came away from that trip very disappointed with the food as it was, to me, cafeteria food. I’m talking about hamburger patties that were sitting in water at the lunch buffet, Coke that didn’t taste right, fruit that wasn’t sweet, steaks that were mediocre, etc. The breakfast there, the lunch options, even the “nice” dinners just weren’t good. In looking at what is offered at SWH, I have to admit, I was kind of nervous. I’m a very picky eater so when I first saw the menu items, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find some variety for the week. However, I committed to having an open mind and now have some new favorites in my realm! The food is excellent and kind of redefined what an all-inclusive is to me. Many people think that an all-inclusive is a massive smorgasbord of food but SWH has great meals with class. I think we might have LOT weight during the week. We ate 3 meals a day with just a few desserts at Café de Paris. The meals were big enough and tasty enough to satisfy us.
For breakfast, you can go to Bayside for a huge buffet or Eleanor’s for a menu-based breakfast. We went to Bayside each day for the variety. This is not a crappy buffet…it, just like every other meal at SWH, is 5-star. You’ve got your normal eggs, bacon, etc. but also an omelet station, pancakes/French toast, fruit, muffins, etc. and it was awesome every single day. I was not a coffee drinker at all before coming to SWH but I am completely hooked on Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee now. I’ll take it black with 2 Splendas, please! Wow is it good. I tried a Tim Horton’s coffee back home the same way and I guess it’s not strong enough for me. The Blue Mountain coffee has a great bitterness and sweetness to it and I will sorely miss it until next year when I return to SWH (although I’ll treat myself to it every once in a while back here in the states!!).
For lunches, we hit Bluefield’s for the jerk chicken burger or jerk chicken meal. Great ambiance right on the beach and the food was awesome. The jerk wasn’t too hot or spicy either. It was hot enough to tingle your mouth for a few minutes but didn’t linger on and that was perfect. We also hit Giuseppe’s for the best pizza I’ve ever had and Bayside for the buffet lunch. We went to Café de Paris for dessert and coffee a few days as well. They have chocolate and vanilla ice cream which was great with the hot days we had! Note: here in Pennsylvania, if you want a chocolate and vanilla cone, we call it a Twist. They refer to it as Mixed at SWH so just keep that in mind because they didn’t understand us one day. When we said ‘twist’, they thought that meant ‘two’ and they gave us two ice creams. Also, I had a chocolate cone one day and walked outside with it. In 90 degree heat, it pretty much instantly melted and I looked like a 5-year old with ice cream dripping everywhere. LOL! Just stay in the air conditioning if you’re getting a cone or you can get it in a cup to be cleaner. The café also has a number of sweet treats and custom made crepes. The seating outside of the café was awesome at night to enjoy coffee and dessert.
For dinners, we hit Bluefield’s, Giuseppe’s, Neptune’s and they had a couple of days where they had dinners outside for events (manager’s dinner I think). I had the tuna steak at Neptune’s and loved it! All of the dinners were 5-star dinners…no cafeteria food here. Again, being a picky eater, I was nervous about the menus but I ended up trying many new things and loved them all! I think Neptune’s was our favorite place…great atmosphere and the best food. Neptune’s is also where I noticed something…they really don’t like seating couples sitting across from each other. We usually sat with the guy (me) on the right side. Interesting…but at Sandals, love is all you need. LOL! Shameless plug.
One criticism on the dining piece is that I thought the follow-up service during the dinners could have been better. For example, we got seated and ordered our drinks in a timely fashion, but once the dinners arrived, our server didn’t return to ask if we needed anything for the dinner or for more drinks. We had to ask a server passing by for more drinks. Don’t get me wrong…every single one was more than happy to help us, but it would have provided more personal service if they had done just that one return trip. One other item is that the service at Bluefield’s seemed to be slightly less than the service at the other restaurants. They didn’t have “it” down over there so we wondered if new servers started at Bluefield’s for training and then moved up from there. Trust me, it wasn’t horrible by any means, but it was probably like 90% instead of 100%. We’re very easy going people and understand that people need time to learn so we’re ok with that.
No tipping: this is huge…maybe bigger than most people realize. When I was in Mexico, it was a pain to have to carry around a few dollars all the time…especially when you’re in the pool and all that. And when you were dealing with someone, the “genuine” feeling was always questioned because you weren’t sure if they were just trying to get a few more dollars out of you through the tip. By NOT requiring tips during the stay, you really DO get more genuine and friendly service and the Jamaican people are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. It makes a huge difference. I remember reading many names of SWH employees in the TA forums and I always saw that as odd. However, now that I’m a SWH addict, I see the reasoning…you WILL forge friendships during your week at SWH so I will now call them SWH friends.
Shamone and Copeland at the main pool bar were awesome. So friendly and inviting. They work hard, take multiple orders at a time and show some flair when making the drinks for you. Thanks to Copeland for our very first Bob Marley shot! It’s a joy to watch it being made and you’ve got some great breath after taking the shot!
Dane was our server at Guiseppe’s for 2 of our dinner nights and was simply awesome. Professional, nice, genuine. We talked about iPhones, our waterproof cases, his iPod Nano watch. It was great.
At the pool, we had Karalee, Angelita and Prince. You’ve GOT to see Karalee twerk and dance. Yeah, she’s that good and she’s not afraid to show it off. LOL! And Angelita can hang too! Angelita and my wife hit it off and she was pulling my wife into every game they had (Gotta earn those points!! We won a hand-carved parrot for our points!). LOL! Prince? He is HILARIOUS!! During the Boonoonoos Beach Party, they introduced him and played the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song and he danced to that…including doing the Carlton dance! They kept us busy at the pool with many games and my wife even won a game! Sort of like a fishing game, you had to hold a pole with a string hanging and a ring at the end that you had to land over the top of the bottle. Seems easy, but my wife did this in 42 seconds while managing 20mph wind gusts at the pool! We came home with a bottle of Appleton Special rum for the win! I even captured the win with my GoPro camera so that’ll be online soon.
Ayshahvez and Sheldon, staff photographers. Photography is a huge hobby of mine and I brought my Nikon D800e with me for the trip. I was able to get some great shots of our time at SWH but I have to say how AWESOME it is to have the staff photographers roaming around the resort. When you’re hanging around by the pool or doing water sports on the beach or walking to dinner, they are there to capture the moment for you. Sheldon got some great pictures of us fooling around in the pool and that was great. We went to the photo shop to see them that night and they asked who the photographer was but we forgot his name. When we said he was in the pool with us, she said that was Sheldon…he’s the only one who will get IN the pool to take photos. LOL! We also ran into Ayshahvez and get got some great shots of us in the pool. We scheduled a photo shoot for him at 5:30pm on our last day and he did an awesome, AWESOME job. He got shots of us in a few different areas on the resort grounds and finished up on the beach with a beautiful sunset.
I have to absolutely recommend Ayshahvez if you’re looking to schedule a photo shoot or to even have random photos taken. Not only is he good (18 years of photography experience) but he uses good equipment compared to the other photographers (they have 10 on staff). For example, Sheldon uses either a Nikon D60 or D90 but has a generic lens (if you know about DSLR cameras, it’s all about the glass). Ayshahvez uses a Nikon D7000 and usually has the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II lens…I have this lens and it’s a Mack Daddy pro lens. In my photos, you can see two different sets of me and my wife in the pool and you can tell which ones were shot with Sheldon’s equipment and which ones were shot with Ayshahvez’s equipment. Big difference as the ones shot by Ayshahvez have great color and are balanced while Sheldon’s came out a little flat and muted. I tried to rescue those in editing but couldn’t do much to them. I guess that Sandals owns the equipment, but there must be a seniority piece in play for who gets the best equipment. Ayshahvez is the only photographer who uses 2 flashes as well. Off-camera flash is great for shaping light on their photos and this comes out in his photos.
All of the photography is done free of charge at SWH (even scheduled photo shoots) and you’re under no obligation to buy any photos. I snapped an iPhone photo of their price list that is in my photo gallery but for $240 you get 30 photos on CD, for $260 you get 30 photos on CD and those pictures printed in 4x6 format, or for $295 you get up to 100 photos on CD and they gave us a 5x7 print of any one we wanted. We ended up buying the $295 package. It’s totally worth it to capture many random moments of our honeymoon. Heck, a normal sitting fee of just one location can run $100-$150. A copyright release is also included so I’m free to get that wall mural of me at the beach made with no issues. LOL! The photographers are always walking around so you can flag them down and ask for photos. They are more than happy to oblige and they’ve got some creative poses up their sleeves.
Ocean: My wife kept telling me how clear the water is at SWH, but unfortunately, the water was cloudy for most of our trip. Our first few days were kind of windy with the winds coming straight in off of the ocean so we figured that’s why the water was a little murky. By around day 5, the water started to clear up a bit and the winds died down. The clearest area was in front of the Dutch Village. We found about 20 starfish and I got to hold one for the very first time. We found red, orange, green, burgundy, and green camouflage starfish. Pretty cool!
The best beach for swimming is near the main pool or Italian Village area. It’s mainly sandy here so it’s easy on the feet. There are ropes in the water designating the swimming area and they give you probably 40-50 feet. About halfway out though, the sand got really squishy and was like a suction so we didn’t go out that far. It’s a little rocky in the Dutch Village area so aqua socks are recommended here so that you don’t have to act like you’re walking in a minefield. The gift shop has Sandals-branded aqua socks for just $15 which we didn’t think was too bad. The beach near the French Village wasn’t that great. Sadly, you can see lots of erosion here to the point when it makes a small cliff on the beach that the water flows up against. It’s a very shallow beach where the water is but there is ample room on the sand for palapas.
Aqua socks are definitely recommended everywhere you go though. We heard that one guy stepped on a sea urchin on the beach somewhere and when their spines get stuck in you, you need someone to pee on it to kill them. Yeah, not really fun and it’s painful. While we were looking for starfish, we noticed probably 5 or 6 that were somewhat close to shore just hanging out in small grassy areas in the water. And I’m not talking about thick grassy areas…these were thin areas with grass and they look like a clump of grass. I used my GoPro on a pole to move one around and confirmed that it was a sea urchin. Be careful out there!
Pools: First off, the Dutch Village pool is very quiet. Nothing really going on here. Just people lounging and reading books. There is a small bar right next door. Next, the French Village pool is a decent size and has a swim-up bar with a pool volleyball net. This pool seemed to be the livelier pool later in the day as people were still hanging out in the pool and drinking into the dark. This pool has a hot tub as well. The main pool is just that…the main pool. Larger than the French Village pool and also includes a hot tub. They have more entertainment here and more space with the loungers and umbrellas. We looooooved the zero entry pool there and I even learned how to get on the flat foam pool floaty without looking like an idiot. LOL! You have to put the floaty on the zero entry area of the pool which is about 5 inches of depth. Climb on the floaty and then lightly lift yourself and push yourself back into the pool. I saw someone do it this way and it’s a piece of cake. I showed a few other people this trick as well so I paid it forward. HA!
As for saving your seat by the pool or ocean, we didn’t really have an issue with that. We usually left our room around 7:20am each day and hit the ocean or pool on our way to Bayside for breakfast. If we went to the ocean, we found many of the palapas near the French and Dutch villages taken and more seemed to be open near the main pool area of the beach. That’s where we wanted to be anyway so that we were close to the bar. Most of the palapas had metal loungers with cushioned pads but the ones near the Dutch Village seemed to be the plastic and nylon loungers (not so comfortable). Each palapa has a small table for your drinks as well. We also saw a number of palapas reserved by butlers and that’s a nice incentive to get butler service. Since I fell in love with Blue Mountain coffee, it would have been awesome to enjoy coffee on the beach after breakfast. Sure, I could have taken a cup to the beach, but we saw one couple who had their own tall carafe of Blue Mountain coffee so that’s better. For the pool, we only went to the main pool for our daily time and had occasional visits to the French Village pool. By 7:30am, about 90% of the loungers were still open with umbrellas available. They were usually all reserved by about 8:30am though. Early bird gets the worm here.
I read reports on TA of people moving towels off of a saved lounger and just taking it but I didn’t see any of that at SWH during our visit. To save a lounger, you should put some kind of personal item on the lounger, not just a towel. We saw MANY people get up and leave for the day and just left their towels on the lounger which gave the impression to many that the lounger was taken. Come on people…clean up after yourselves. There are towel cabinets around the pool where you can put your used towels. We left a beach bag or flip flops on our loungers and never had an issue. My advice is to be considerate of others. People are arriving every single day and may not be able to get to the pool until 4pm so if you leave your towels, they won’t get a seat. The French Village pool’s loungers were usually taken for the entire day. Unless you got one saved early in the day, you probably wouldn’t get a lounger until 6pm or 7pm. It’s just a smaller pool with not enough spots available. Also, the French Village rooms are cheaper so I’m assuming that the occupancy level is higher at this end so you’re dealing with more people for a limited number of spots at the pool. Bathrooms are very close to both pools so that was nice (one set by the French pool, two sets by the main pool). There were Sandals employees who went around late each afternoon to pick up used towels, clean up any remaining trash and/or glasses, and lower the umbrellas. We usually grabbed 2 new towels before leaving the pool so that we had them for the next day. The new towels don’t usually arrive until around 8:30-9am and we were in the pool before 8:30am on most days so this worked out for us. During the day, there was never a shortage of towels.
Peacocks: There are about 4-5 female peacocks and I think 2 male peacocks (with the big feathers) roaming the grounds. They are LOUD! They’ll walk anywhere during the day and then they fly up to the rooftops to watch people at night. I saw one peacock open his feathers once for a few seconds but didn’t have my Nikon with me.
Security: At no point did we ever feel like security was an issue at the resort. At night, the grounds are well-lit and there were enough people around to have safety in numbers. Day and night, we saw security guards walking the beach making sure things were in order there too. At the pool, I had $6000 of camera gear sitting on my lounger and never did I ever feel like that stuff was in danger. And believe me, people saw me take the camera out of the camera bag, use it, and then return it to the camera bag. That’s an awesome feeling. Of course, with the premium that Sandals charges, it’s one way to weed out the riff raff. Every single person we met during our week was so nice. Everyone is there to have a great time and that’s all. It’s a different type of crowd here at SWH…responsible, warm and welcoming. Perfect!
Glass-Bottom Boat: This was my first time seeing a glass-bottom boat and I always thought it was one large glass panel in the bottom. It’s not. LOL! There are eight 2-foot by 2-foot windows in the floor (gotta keep structure in the boat!) and they windows have 25% magnification so that it was easier to see below. They have trips at 9am and 2pm each day and you need to reserve your spot by visiting or calling the dive shop one day prior. On our first trip out, we were just pulling out when a guy was walking down the pier coming for the boat. My wife heard him say that he was looking for his wife because she was supposed to be there but she was still about 150 feet away running for her life. Our boat captain pulled back to the dock and picked them up. THAT’S what I’m talking about when I say that the service and people are great. He could have easily just left the dock but he did the right thing. Awesome.
The trip is only about 30-45 minutes but they take you out to the reef in front of the property to show you some fish and coral there, head over to the French village area of the reef, then they’ll take you back to the dock running pretty close to the shore. The captain narrates along the way about the property, a new resort coming soon next to SWH (I’ve heard people talk about a Beaches resort next door), and where the manager lives. It was interesting and a nice way to see the resort. We went on the trip 2 times. On the first trip, I had my GoPro attached to the GoPole and thought I’d end up with some great footage. It was just ok but not one single fish made the video. I did multiple angles, under the boat, to the side of the boat, etc. but came up empty. We went a second time and it was pretty much the same thing. I heard people who went snorkeling state that the murky waters are affecting things so that’s probably what happened. Beautiful coral though!
The glass bottom boat will take you snorkeling to the reef in front of the resort twice per day for free or you can pay $30 to go out further earlier in the morning. I met someone who did both trips and he said the $30 trip was worth it as he saw a lot of fish.
Horseback Riding Excursion: We originally booked this trip for Monday (we stayed Wednesday to Wednesday) but when we checked with the Island Routes office on Sunday afternoon, they told us that we couldn’t go on Monday because we were the only 2 people booked and they won’t run the trip for just two people. They asked if we wanted Tuesday since there was another couple there and we agreed to that. It might have been a timing thing but I’m not sure when they would have notified us of a possible cancelation for Monday. We had already paid for the excursion so that would have presented another issue.
Anyway, we went on the trip on Tuesday with another very nice couple from Youngstown, Ohio. Like my wife, they grew up with horses so they were very comfortable with the excursion but this was my very first time on a horse…and I loved it! The horses were very tame and calm and we went on a ride throughout their very large property for nearly 2 hours. We passed through a forest area, walked on what looked like a virgin beach (it looked very shallow pretty far out in to the ocean and it was light turquoise…beautiful), and then wrapped around to head back to the star. It was awesome. VERY relaxing and our guide narrated along the way. I didn’t hear everything he said though because my horse was in the back and we spread out a few times. Other times, my horse was “drafting” the horse in front of me. LOL! He was literally RIGHT in the butt of the horse in front of me. Funny!
A van picked us up at the hotel lobby and took us to the horseback riding area. We had to take a detour on our way there so a 30-minute ride turned into 45 minutes to an hour. The ride back was a lot faster though. And after being in this van, I’m happy we took the helicopter. Crazy drivers on the road trying to avoid massive potholes. They’ve gotta have some trust and some craziness to drive those roads. Dave, our helicopter pilot, stated that they lose a lot of tourists to vehicle accidents each year. We saw many times where a curve would come up and the person was literally on our side of the road trying to miss a pothole. Our driver, Larry, would honk his horn as he approached a curve but that may not work all the time if the other person had their stereo turned up for example. Even with this road trip, I’d still do the horseback riding excursion again. It was very relaxing and my wife loved it so we plan on doing it again next year. The really bad part of the road trip is seeing the houses that some people live in. It’s truly sad…as if they picked up random pieces of wood, brick and aluminum and secured them any way they could. We even saw some people who pulled over on the side of the road and were washing their clothes in a creek bed. I snapped some iPhone photos along the way during our bus ride back to the resort.
Club Mobay Departure Lounge: Let me tell you…this was the best money we spent all week. Sangster Intl Airport is CRAZY inside!! We were there around 12:30 for our 2:25pm flight and there were tons of people inside going every which direction. We checked in and dropped off our checked luggage, then headed to the Club Mobay desk to check in for the departure service. They confirmed our reservation and gave us 2 tickets for the actual lounge. Our next stop was to use the Club Mobay Fast Track line for the security check. The regular line was about 60 people long so Club Mobay really helped us here with only 6 people in front of us. Then the metal detector wasn’t working so that gummed things up a bit. Stress level: increased. We finally got through this section (after watching nearly $6000 in camera gear almost fall off of the x-ray conveyor belt when bags got jammed up…I was still on the other side of the metal detector so I couldn’t do anything about it…I almost cried!). Stress level: MASSIVELY increased.
We finally made it to the Club Mobay lounge (which is downstairs one level), presented our tickets and went inside. They actually have 3 lounges there…looks like one for adults only, one for adults with kids, and we’re not sure what the 3rd one is for. We got inside and the lounge is kind of small but we didn’t have any issues finding a seat. WiFi is free and they have a small food spread out for you. Drinks are free with servers walking around or you can head to the bar yourself. When we finally got sat down, I felt great. Just being away from all of the crowds from upstairs, the loooooong lines at the duty free stores and regular stores meant the world to us. That was pretty stressful going through all of that but now we could relax in Club Mobay. They even call you when it’s time for you to leave to board your flight. They called for our flight and we went up to our gate. Their timing was absolutely perfect as they started boarding our flight about 3 minutes after our arrival so they don’t wait for the airline to announce it, they anticipate boarding times and announce off of that. We loved it and will absolutely do both the arrival and departure services again.
Tipping: There are various times where tipping is needed along the way so I’ll list what we did for each person here.
- Dougie: Drove us and our luggage to the Island Hoppers helicopter and helped load it into the helicopter. He talked to us, told us some stories along the way and made us feel welcome for our arrival. We tipped him $10 on arrival and $5 when we left.
- Chris, our outbound helicopter pilot: I read from other trip reports that the pilot usually gets a $20 tip but since he let me suction cup my GoPro to his windshield for the entire ride, I gave him $40. Plus he was super nice and informative about Jamaica.
- Dave, our returning helicopter pilot: Dave was very nice, warm and welcoming but I didn’t put the GoPro on the windshield so we tipped him $20.
- Horseback riding guide: He was funny, knew his horses, and even snapped photos of us on the horses at the beach with my iPhone. We tipped him $20.
- Larry, our van driver for the horseback riding excursion: I read online that the drivers usually get $5 each way but we didn’t feel that was enough. He did almost an hour and a half of driving for us, talked to us along the way, even stopped to grab a couple of leaves off of trees to tell us how they are used in Jamaica. He waited for us at the horse stable so we tipped him $20.
- Club Mobay guide: He did a lot for us on our arrival by meeting us right when we got off of the airplane, checking our paperwork (which we completed incorrectly in a few areas), and telling us what happens at each stop along the way. He got us through in under 15 minutes. We tipped him $10.
- Rep outside of the Sandals lounge while we waited for Dougie to show up for our helicopter transfer: They only watched our bags for about 5 minutes so we gave him $5.
And speaking of tipping, here’s a tip: don’t run out of cash because there is no ATM at SWH…because you don’t need cash there so why would they have an ATM? We thought we brought enough cash with us but we ended up tipping a little more here and there based on our experiences...which is how tipping is supposed to work. So…next year, we will bring an ample supply of $5 bills and $10 bills so that we don’t run out. We didn’t bring TOO much cash because of the security issue, which was based on my past experience in Mexico. To be honest, when we left the resort, we only had $25 in cash, which we knew we’d use for the helicopter pilot and Dougie. We didn’t feel too good here because we weren’t sure if we’d run into another person that needed a tip along the way and we didn’t have any cash. We didn’t want to go down the road of finding an ATM, possibly converting currencies, etc. so that stressed us out a little bit. So bring cash…and if you carry it on you in the airport, make sure you’ve got it secured. I had mine in a zipper cargo pocket in my shorts.
Check-out process: On our last night, we had an envelope stuck in our door with the check-out process explained on a letter and our current charges that were on our room. The information on the envelope had our flight number/time, check-out time, bus departure time, etc. However, we were taking the helicopter back so we had to head to the front desk before dinner to make sure they were aware of our actual departure details. They were NOT aware of those even though we mentioned the return trip on the helicopter at our check-in. Somewhere along the line, that part got lost. They updated their information so that they weren’t looking for us to be on the bus the next day. This stressed my wife out a bit since now we weren’t sure if Sandals had communicated with Island Hoppers for our return. We had an awesome week but it was time to get home to our dogs and we didn’t want to risk any delays there. So I emailed Sue at Island Hoppers and she got back to me first-thing Wednesday morning to confirm the original details she gave me. She even told me not to get worried when I hear the helicopter arrive at 10:45am as that was for another couple. Our helicopter would be there at 12 Noon…and it was!
We did some last minute shopping in the gift shop and closed out our room charges to get everything finalized. That only took about 2 minutes. We also went to the entertainment office to get our points added up for the week. We got 180 points and came out with a hand-carved parrot. Sweet! You get points for participating in games…it doesn’t matter how well you do, just that you participated. It’s a great way to make new friends, get a little competition going, and breaks up the day a bit. The entertainment team does a fantastic job of keeping things going for us.
Final Thoughts: I was completely blown away with everything at SWH. I wasn’t completely sure what to expect going in. My wife had been to SWH probably in 2008 but it was my first time here and only my 2nd all-inclusive trip. I only had her comments, the TA forums and my own experiences to go on so, honestly, there was doubt and skepticism in my mind.
Everyone working at Sandals was so nice and with no tipping in the way, all of our interactions were absolutely genuine. When I read other comments on TA forums and I see people name-dropping, I get it now. And when people say they’re going back to SWH? I get it now. And when people say how warm and inviting the Jamaican people are? I get it now. We even saw people hugging Shamone and crying because they weren’t going to see each other until next year. I get it now. They are like an extended family member and none of the SWH workers are treated like workers by the guests. When you interact with the friends of SWH, you can’t help but be totally appreciative of who they are and the culture they represent.
After the first day there, I was completely sold on two things: Jamaica and Sandals. For 2015, I knew that I wanted to come back to a Sandals and I knew I wanted to stay in Jamaica because of the people. We met a travel agent at the pool one day and I explained this to him. He told me about Sandals Negril and Sandals Grande Riviera but those resorts have pros and cons with the layout, beach, pools and rooms. He had been to those resorts numerous times but kept coming back to SWH. We met a few other couples during our week that had the same thing to say. The other Sandals resorts are nice, but the people of Jamaica, the people of SWH, and layout of SWH were their favorite. All roads lead back to SWH. This was a looooong trip report but I just can’t say enough good things about our week at SWH. It was perfect.
You can check out my photo gallery of SWH here: jschmitt.photography/Vacation/Jamaica-2014/
I’m proud to call myself a Sandals Whitehouse Addict! And I’m proud to be a Jamerican!