Sandals Resorts International recently announced that the much-anticipated Over-the-Water Suites at Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay, Jamaica are now open.
In fact, the reception for the upscale accommodations has been so overwhelming that expansion plans are already in the works.
The first five villas, with rates starting at $1,435 per person per night, are sold out for the next 18 months, and Sandals Resorts International CEO and Deputy Chairman Adam Stewart told Travel Agent that (pending government approvals) plans call for overwater villas at three other Jamaica resorts, as well as the Sandals Grande St. Lucian, starting with the Sandals Whitehouse on Jamaica’s south coast next year. Sandals Royal Plantation in Ocho Rios will also get the category. And although we could not confirm the third Jamaica property by press time, we were told it will not be Sandals Ochi.
“Demand for the category shows no sign of slowing down,” Stewart told us.
“We are incredibly proud of these suites, the greatest of the innovations we’ve brought to market yet and, at $1.6 million per room, the most expensive ever built in the Caribbean,” he said. “They are our next frontier, the next big thing for us, and epitomize where we are going, the luxury direction of our brand. And more are coming.”
The five overwater villas at the Montego Bay resort are the first of their kind in the Caribbean, and an additional dozen overwater bungalows were in various stages of construction when we visited the Royal Caribbean resort this week (these smaller units, which start at $1,229 per person per night, are slated to open in March).
We spent three nights in the “earth” themed room no. 9001 (others have design elements reflecting “wind,” “water” and “fire” — the other of the four classic elements), giving the amenities and Sandals’ accompanying private butler service a good test run before they open to the public.
At 2,000 square feet, the villas are connected by bridge to the resort’s private island, where a pair of restaurants, beach cabanas, a pool, and a small clothing-optional beach are located.
Glass floors looking down to the sandy sea bed sit at the foot of king beds, with views out large sliding doors to the Caribbean. Spacious baths, nearly as large as the bedrooms, feature soaking tubs, oversized rainfall shower, his-and-hers vanities with lighted mirrors and Molton Brown amenities, and connected walk-in closets and toilets with bidets.
Outside, a spacious two-level deck is screened for privacy on both sides and faces out to sea; the same is true of the other villas, although some of the forthcoming bungalows will have land views. Guests can step down from a lounging deck directly to the shallow waters for wading or snorkeling. Relaxation spaces include a compact soaking pool, an inviting rope hammock positioned above the water, and a podlike hanging couch that sway gently in the breeze. Comfortable chairs are arrayed around a low table, perfect for room-service dining.
“The views from the suites at Sandals Royal Caribbean are spectacular, from the break in the sea to the protected land that gives our guests access to gorgeous, unimpeded Jamaican sunsets,” said Stewart. We thought the villas shone best in the mornings with the incoming tide; the slack tide in the afternoon exposed a broad sandbar dotted with coral boulders in front of our villa, but not the others.
The kitchen is small but provisioned with premium liquor, including local 12-year-old Appleton Estate rum. Private butlers are on-call via a dedicated mobile phone 24/7 to deliver snacks, meals and drinks as well as arrange activities, tours and dining arrangements at the resort’s eight restaurants.
The close proximity of the Royal Caribbean to the Montego Bay airport means guests can get from the terminal to their shapely, water-filled deck loungers in under 15 minutes, but overflights periodically interrupt the sense of isolation at the villas.
We expect that the units at the isolated Sandals Whitehouse, once completed, will be more comparable to the serene overwater experience found at high-end properties in Bora Bora and Tahiti, where the concept was pioneered.
Stewart said the opening is the culmination of a long process: local government officials in Jamaica had to be convinced about the practicality and environmental impact of the pricey overwater units, which only a single construction firm in Jamaica had the capacity to build.
“There were those who doubted Jamaica’s ability to support a product of this caliber, but we never had a doubt,” he told Travel Agent. “We believe a rising tide lifts all the boats. This has been our philosophy since the very beginning. And look, we’re proving it.”