Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Review: Sandals Whitehouse European Village and Spa in Jamaica

On December 31st, 2009 my fiance and I along with a group of 6 others, took a trip to The Sandals Whitehouse European Village and Spa in Jamaica. We started discussing this trip at the end of August and there were quite a few arguments. My fiance and I have traveled to the Caribbean a couple of times and we both love Jamaica so we knew that would be our destination. We have stayed at only 5 star resorts such as Riu's and Reef' we knew that you could still get an all-inclusive vacation at a great price...even during New Year's. My best friend found an incredible deal on the Sandals Whitehouse in Jamaica. Now the price was significantly more than what we paid before. But we knew that it was Sandals...the epitome of luxury and service plus it was adults only which was nice for a change.

About a week after we booked it we found out that the hotel would be going through with renovations...and it would be scheduled to reopen December 18th...TWO weeks before we were scheduled to arrive! So I went into control freak mode and sent the Guest Services Manager a request for a timeline to ensure that the repairs would be completed on time. Heather, the manager, got back to me and assured me that everything would be done in time for our arrival.

Unfortunately, things did not go as smoothly as we had planned on our end. 10 days prior to our trip my fiance tore his soleius muscle (the smaller muscle in his calf). After numerous x-rays, doctor's appointments and panic attacks (on my end), we were ready to go! My fiance had to wear a stupid stabilizer boot that we called the "RoboBoot" but we made it there in one piece!

Arriving in Montego Bay put smiles on all our faces :)

A Sandals representatives came up to us by the luggage carousel, loaded all our luggage and took us to the designated waiting area that Sandals has. It was like we arrived in a cute little mini hotel, complete with couches homemade DELICIOUS cookies, mimosas and Red Stripe Beer! We waited for no more than 15 minutes until they took us to our private transport. This was one of the negative parts of the trip: the ride to the was an 1.5 hours long. However, mostly everyone fell asleep on the ride there and those of us who didn't, like myself, were just excited to be in Jamaica and enjoyed the Reggae music and scenery.

The vastness of the hotel really took my breath away! The hotel is situated on 75 acres of beach!!!! All the rooms face the sea! The hotel is divided into 3 main areas or countries I should say, France, Dutch, Italy.

We were greeted very warmly by the bellmen and the concierge staff. There was however a problem with our check-in. We were placed in France, the farthest from all the restaurants and festivities. This would not have been a problem if my fiance did not have the "RoboBoot". After we explained that we had to be in Italy and all 8 of us would need rooms in the same building, they said they were at full capacity and would not be able to accommodate us. So I asked to speak to my dear old friend Heather. Within 10 minutes Heather fixed the problem! We were all together and in a very convenient location in Italy!

I have found that the best way to give a detailed review is to include pictures and categories. So below I have done just that :)

Beach: For my fiance and myself, the beach is one of the most important factors when deciding whether or not to go to a hotel. The day that we arrived, it had just finished raining on and off for about a week so the water was a bit cloudy. We went to the beach closest to us in Italy. I was instantly disappointed, although the water was tremendously clearer the next day, it only showed how full of seaweed the water really was. Seaweed I can deal with it was the rocks and the surprise critters in the seaweed that scared me:

There were starfish everywhere! I was not scared of them, I just did not want to step on the poor little things..and apparently they looooove seaweed so they were all over the place. The site was absolutely breathtaking! There were ones as big as my head! But we realized that swimming there was out of the question due to all the seaweed and starfish. So we walked the entire length of the beach and saw that the beach by France was incredible. We ended up lounging there for the remainder of the vacation and the water was perfect. What I loved about this beach is that it's HUGE...Sandals own 75 acres of beach and after their property ends there are security guards standing at the so-called border. After that border is one of the most beautiful wild beaches I have ever seen! The sand is like silk and the water is stunningly clear! It's a great walk and definitely a romantic one too!

The food was beyond incredible! Everything that we put in our mouth was perfectly cooked and seasoned! I was happy to know that there was only one buffet restaurant and it was only available as a buffet at breakfast and lunch. Firstly I will start with breakfast food. The breakfast buffet was smaller than I have seen in previous hotels, however it had everything I would ever want or need. Egg station, cereals, oatmeal, sausage, bacon, deli meats, smoked fish, breads and pastries, yogurt and fresh fruits. My personal favorite was of coarse the famous Blue Mountain Coffee and instead of adding cream and sugar I add in sweetened condensed milk. It's literally a piece of heaven with every sip :)

The other breakfast place was Elanore's Restaurant, which was a sit-down a la carte restaurant. It was fabulous as well! Everything we had there was terrific! We only ate there once though because it was better for us to just eat quickly and go to the beach.

For lunch there were many options. We went to the Bayside Buffet for lunch once and it was absolutely outstanding! There were plenty of delicious options and the salad bar was gargantuous! I saw other reviews where people were complaining about the choices. Honestly, I'm really not sure what they were complaining about because I am quite the picky eater and I had to be rolled out of there after lunch!

Neptune's Mediterannean Seafood was another lunch favorite for us. The food there was great! The catch of the day was incredible always! And the mussels were so good that everyone at our table (except me) ordered 2 orders!

Bluefield Beach Club was one that we visited often because it was right in France and we were able to just grab the food and take it on the beach. It was some really nice Jamaican fare and some of the most amazing cheeseburgers I have ever had! It always had some nice fish as well and their jerk chicken Caesar was a favorite of mine :) And of coarse their jerk chicken was fabulous!

Moving on to dinners...
Our first night there, there was a huge New year's Eve buffet so we just attended that. From what I can recall the buffet was nice...but there was plenty of Champagne involved :) As you can see they filled the entire fountain up with champagne bottles...

We went to Elanore's on our second night. Elanore's was a French Colonial inspired restaurant...Apparently, reservations could only be made by people who had Butler Service in their rooms. I found that quite odd since I easily made reservations earlier that day...but more on that later. The food and ambiance was outstanding! In every single one of those restaurants the ambiance was unimaginable. It really felt as if you were sitting in the middle of France somewhere enjoying a meal outdoors. The promenade surrounding us was stunning and there was always some type of beautiful music playing. One night it was a violinist, who we paid $5 to request a song and they played it beautifully! Honestly, out of everything, the ambiance and the feel we got in the resort was worth every penny and then some.
I had smoked Blue Marlin for an appetizer. It was served with a simple salad and some capers, but it was outstanding!!!

My fiance had the duck confit in a roasted potato with a wild cherry was AMAZING!

For an entree I had the filet with roasted potatos and seasonal veggies. Honestly, this filet was better than most I have had in Chicago! It was a perfect medium rare and so juicy and flavorful!

Someone else ordered the roasted pork tenderloin which was great as well.

Giuseppe's Italian restaurant was really fabulous as well. I had a sliced tenderloin there with a garlic sauce I believe. My fiance had the seafood pasta and loved it!

We went to Jasmine's Asian Fusion, but unfortunately my fiance' wa a bit under the weather so all the food I actually brought back up to the room for him. The food was good as well, no complaints.

Onto Bayside Grill! This was definitley a group favorite. The appetizer consisted of a chicken terrine, a mango, papaya chutney and a smoked marlin wrapped shrimp. YUM!

As an entree I had the surf and turf...I gave the surf to my fiance because I don't do lobster :) It was served very simply with scalloped potatos and it was AMAZING! It was so good that we ordered to plates of the scalloped potatoes alone! I mean wow!

We did not get a chance to go to Neptune's for Dinner but we heard great things about it.

And last but not least, Cafe De Paris...this was the perfect end to every night and the best beginnning to an early morning! The cafe was filled with new desserts every day! The classic French Napoleon was amazing. And the cheese and chocolate croissants were out of this world! They made fresh crepes like right in front of you! It gave us the feeling of sitting outside in a French village.

Service and Drinks:
The service was the only thing left to be desired. The wait to get seated for dinner was ridiculous. Being in the industry myself, it was so frustrating that things were not getting done to any sort of protocal. We waited for our tables sometimes 1.5 hours! I mean I understand, we were a large group of 8 to accomodate, but still, there were 2 tables sitting next to each other outside and all that needed to be done was for them to be pushed together...sometimes that took over 40 minutes just to do that. Evantually, we adjusted to this and spent that time wisely at the bar and taking pictures. Once we sat down we had to get accustomed to over 3 waiters. This got very confusing and frustrating for all parties involved. During the day, the bartenders at all the bars were very overworked. I think the problem was more that they just did not have enough bartenders for the amount of guests that were being served. There was an extreme lack in communication and organization.

Later we learned what the problem was: About a month ago, one of the managers left to the other Sandals in St. Lucia and he took majority of his staff with him. So in under a month, the hotel had to replace and retrain a completely new staff. Many of whom have never worked in a hotel or food service enviornment. Certainly we were understanding of that. All in all the staff were AMAZING! They were incredible if you just gave them a chance. A few people who really stood out were Sasha at Le Cabaret, Marlin at Bayside for Dinner, Venitha at Neptunes, Ian (lifeguard) at the beach and Orande at the front desk!

The grounds:
The grounds were INCREDIBLE! Beautifully manicured and cleaned. The most amazing part were the peacocks that roam the grounds. If you are lucky they will just spread their tails and show you how fascinating they really are!

On the second to last day, we decided to forego the 1.5 hour ride to the airport and take the helicoptor instead! It was absolutely amazing! The sights and views were something that everyone should experience once in their lifetime!

All in UNBELIEVABLE hotel with a couple of flaws...none of which cannot be fixed with a bit of time! I highly, HIGHLY recommend this to everyone!

What's to Come...

Hello All!
There is something about the cold winter months that inspires me to cook more and more! So I will be blogging quite frequently again! Be prepared for beautiful pictures, comforting recipes and fabulous reviews!

My fiance recently purchased us a new camera and it is AMAZING! I have never worked with a camera that takes such incredibly vivid and detailed shots. It really has made a huge difference in the way food looks on camera!

Along with the brand new camera, there are also quite a few other reviews that I have for my loyal readers.

Additionally, my blog has been chosen to review a few products from CSN stores! YEA!! Good think I love to use and review! I checked out several of their websites and they have everything from bar stools to cookware to home decor all in all some pretty incredible products!

As always it's great to be back!