It’s rare to combine history and luxury in a single Caribbean resort.
But Sandals Royal Bahamian, on Cable Beach adjacent to the city of Nassau, has managed to preserve The Balmoral Club, the original section of the 400 room property which was the exclusive gathering place and playground for Bahamas high society in the early 1940s. The most famous guests were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Duke, the former King Edward VIII, abdicated the British crown so he could marry the woman he loved, the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. The British, wary of Edward’s suspected pro-Nazi sympathies, sent him and Wallis as far away as possible and appointed him Governor of the Bahamas in 1940.
To its credit, Sandals has kept the character of the Balmoral Club largely intact including the Piano Bar and Billiard Room, plus several Royal Cottages, now used by guests (and, for a month in the 1960s, by the Beatles who were filming “Help!” in Nassau). The elegant Piano Bar is ringed with historic photos of the Duke and Duchess during the couple’s five year stay in the colony. The tradition of British High Tea continues daily near the Piano Bar and croquet can be played on a nearby lawn.
The fascinating history was a pleasant bonus but we were also anxious to see if September’s devastating Hurricane Dorian has had a major effect on the Bahamas’ prime tourist areas. Dorian did hit the northern Abaco Islands with Category 5 strength. The next day Grand Bahama Island was the target with a storm tide of 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.5 metres). There is still much cleanup needed in those northern regions of the country.
Hundreds of evacuees sought shelter farther south on New Providence Island but this heavily populated area, including the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort, was spared serious damage. It received only moderate winds and heavy rain, causing some minor flooding.
Arriving at Nassau’s modern and efficient Lynden Pindling International Airport, it was obvious to us that tourism facilities are working as they should, a fact confirmed during the short, pleasant 15 minute drive to the Sandals resort, now fully open.
There are three levels of accommodation at Sandals Royal Bahamian, the standard (called “luxury”) with 74 rooms, the 106 very fancy Butler suites and the most popular, the 224 Concierge Club suites. We registered in the Concierge Club, a part of the old Balmoral Club, giving off the aura of the 1940s. On the way to our room on the 5th floor of the newer, Windsor Tower we passed the remarkable Baccarat Restaurant. The most formal of the Sandals restaurants (no extra cost, but reservations are required), this French restaurant was also part of the original Balmoral Club. It faces the courtyard and Quiet Pool area with seven, tall floor-to-ceiling curved windows covering the whole front of the restaurant. The General Manager told us that each window would cost $50,000 to replace. We did eat at Baccarat once and the food was excellent, made even better by dining next to one of those remarkable, curved windows.
All rooms at Sandals Royal Bahamian are spacious and comfortable with signature four poster king size beds, plenty of closet space, a large bathroom complete with high end Red Lane toiletries and a giant, flat screen TV. Lots of free channels were available (including CBC Toronto) but there was an extra charge ($15) for movies. Our room also had the disadvantage of overlooking the noisy or Party Pool with loud thumping music and announcements much of the afternoon and into some evenings.
With nine restaurants open (the Royal Café and Grill was closed for renovations) the food was generally quite good. We particularly enjoyed Spices which, like its name, had excellent Caribbean and Asian cuisine with a kick. We were hoping for fresh seafood and Sandals did not disappoint. One memorable meal was at Gordon’s, located at the end of the pier. With gentle surf lapping below us, we had swordfish and a shrimp/tenderloin combo. Both delicious.
The other seafood restaurant is on Sandals private island, a half mile offshore the main property and reached by free boat shuttles. The island includes fine beaches on each side, lots of private areas to relax, a spa (one of three on the property) and the excellent Schooners Seafood Grill. For lunch we enjoyed outstanding fresh Red Snapper and Grouper. Back at the main resort, guests have free access to Japanese and Italian full service restaurants in addition to an English Pub and Pizza by the pool. The coffee at all restaurants (and in all rooms) was Jamaican Blue Mountain and was probably the best we’ve ever enjoyed at a resort or on a cruise ship.
All complimentary house wines were by respected California producer Robert Mondavi and they were quite good. One afternoon the resort offered its Concierge guests a wine tasting at one of its many bars. The leader went through a selection of Mondavi products but clearly knew little about wine itself or how to run a proper wine tasting (heavy reds were sampled before light whites). Afterwards the General Manager told us that the lack of a trained sommelier was a major deficiency among his 600 staff but the problem was being addressed.
Is Sandals Royal Bahamian for everyone? The adult-only, all-inclusive resort seems to attract all ages from newlyweds to plenty of seniors. The 25-40 age range is most typical. Part of the property is a hearty party zone but there is a quiet pool area and rooms away from the loudspeakers. Even after Dorian, the resort is now fully up to speed and would have special attraction for people who like to have a luxury tropical resort within 15 minutes of an airport. The unique inclusion of British Royal history and Beatlemania makes this resort among the most interesting in the Sandals chain.
All photos by Sandra and John Nowlan