“So where are you guys going and what are you going to write about next?” our friends would ask us. “Great Exuma,” we would reply. “Exuma? Where’s that?” all but one of our well-traveled friends would ask. “The Philippines? Africa?”
These questions, alone, made it obvious to us that we had picked a perfect location – exotic, Exuma.
Exuma is actually a district of the Bahamas, consisting of over 360 islands, also called cays (pronounced “keys.”). Great Exuma is the largest of the cays and is only 37 miles in length and has an area of 61 square miles. It’s joined to another island, Little Exuma by a small bridge. The capital of Exuma and location of the airport is George Town, with a population of 1000. Between 2000 and 2010, the population doubled, due to the construction of resort properties and the increased direct air flight accessibility from distant locations, such as Toronto, Canada.
Traveling to Exuma
Oddly enough, even though there are direct flights to Exuma from Toronto, there are no direct flights from New York, our home “hub.” Are you listening JetBlue? But still the trip is quite easy. We recommend taking the earliest flight out (ours was 5:40 a.m. on American Airlines to Miami, then Miami to George Town), so that you can arrive by 12 noon and be at Sandals Emerald Bay a short ten minutes later and enjoy a full day. This is important since the return trip leaves in the morning, so you’re kind of “cheated” a day on the way back
We were so impressed with the Sandals Royal Plantation resort in Jamaica (see our article at http://intimacytravel.weebly.com/what-size-sandals-is-right-for-you-royal-plantation-jamaica) that we decided to try another Sandals, this time, Sandals Emerald Bay, Exuma, one of the newer Sandals resorts. We were attracted by the beautiful beach, beachfront accommodations, and unlimited golf. Of course, it’s hard to beat Sandals for its value, since it is an all-inclusive resort with five-star quality all around.
A stylishly long and narrow tree-lined roadway leads to the entrance of the resort, misleadingly creating a relatively “petite” appearance.
However, once the doors open to the lobby and you see the expansive outdoor pool extended further by the Caribbean Sea, the colors of which are truly breathtaking, you realize that this is a formidable resort with endless possibilities of enjoyment
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the General Manager, Jeremy Mutton, a warm and gracious gentleman, who leads by example when it comes to his top priority -- which is service. He was not above getting on his knees to unzip our rather large golf club travel bag and dig out our sneakers, before stowing the bag and clubs for our use, later.
Even though we arrived hours before check-in, our room was nearly ready. While they were putting the finishing touches on our accommodation, we were given a tour of the resort by Valentino, one of three butlers assigned to us. We were first introduced to the butler service last year when we stayed at Sandals Royal Plantation, which is an all-butler resort. We are “do it ourselves” kind of people, so we would have never opted for butler service. But having experienced it at Royal Plantation, we would not book a Sandals resort without it. We highly recommend spending a bit more for this service, as it will enhance your vacation experience exponentially. The service these hard-working, congenial butlers provide goes above and beyond. It’s only second to having your own genie with you, as they literally try to provide for your every need, whim or fancy. This is aside from the practical chores of booking dinner, spa reservations and tee-times for you and taking care of your accommodation necessities, such as stocking the room bar with your favorite drinks. But instead of rubbing a lamp, you will receive a cell phone connected directly to your butler. If there is something you desire, just press a button and they will answer. If you don’t call them, they will periodically call to check up on you. You will be delighted and thrilled, even, by some of the surprises your butlers will have in store for you. Unlike a "real" genie, "wishing for more wishes” IS allowed!
Travel Tip: Sandals sends you a form to fill out in advanced of your trip, so that you can customize your butler experience with your personal preferences. Make sure you fill this out along with any additional needs and desires you may have. If you wish, they will even unpack your luggage upon arrival and repack it for your return.
The huge grounds of the resort are immaculately kept with great attention to every detail
There are two pools. The Main, large, signature pool, overlooks Emerald Bay, where aside from a long swim and swim-up bar, you can enjoy a variety of music and activities to enhance your poolside experience. You can also sit on comfortable sofas while dipping your feet in the pool and enjoying the fountain sculptures
Near the Main Pool are other activities, such as croquet
shuffleboard, bocce, table tennis
and an over-sized chessboard.
There is also a Games Room with several billiard tables and board games
If you want more of an intimate experience, and much warmer water, you can go to the Quiet Pool and enjoy swimming and serenity. The quiet pool has a smaller, walk-up bar.
Both pools have well-equipped cabanas and plenty of chaise lounges and Jacuzzis. You may want to know that the water in the Main Pool is cooler, which on a really hot day, or after 18 rounds of golf, you may prefer. The Main Pool is so large, that even there, it is possible to find your own “spot,” relaxing on the floats while provided with a nice cool drink in hand.
We have been told that when looking for properties on which to build a Sandals resort, that owner, Gordon "Butch" Stewart first looks for an amazing beach. This is evident at Sandals Emerald Bay, with its powdery white sand and perfect temperature multi-colored blue-green water. You should be aware of two things about this beach that you may not find at other Caribbean beaches. Although sandy, you have to be a little careful getting in and out of the water due to a soft drop-off in the sand level beneath you and the small breaking waves, which depending on the tide, can have varying degrees of undertow. Because of the waves, you won’t find the water to be crystal clear like some other Caribbean beaches, but, on the other hand, the sound of the surf can’t be beat, especially as you are dozing off on your chaise lounge.
Those who opt for the beachfront accommodations, which we highly recommend, will appreciate falling asleep to the “lullaby” created by the combination of surf sound and “cuddly” sea breeze. There is a “secret” way to find an easy-access, crystal clear, sandy beach, but more on that later.
We selected a Beachfront Junior Butler Suite on the second floor with a balcony, which provides more intimacy and privacy than the first floor and a beautiful overview of the beach and ocean. But if you like being literally “on the beach,” ask for the first floor “walkout.
We found the king-sized bed to be ultra comfortable, along with some "turn-down" surprises from our butlers.
There are plenty of towels and toiletries, a lighted magnifying mirror and hair dryer. Kudos to the housekeeping staff for keeping our room well-supplied and well-kept.
Travel Tip: Sandals has harder and softer pillows, so make your request known ahead of time.
The room comes with all the amenities you might expect from a luxury resort, including bathrobe and slippers. Of course the mini-bar comes stocked with all your favorites, which you would have requested ahead of your stay, using the preference form, which is sent to you prior to your arrival. An added luxury we found was the water pressure in the shower – nice and strong. Be careful of the hot water, though, because it can get very hot.
Having been soothed by the sounds of the sea throughout the night, we opted to have breakfast on our beachfront balcony the first morning. “Dressed” in our Sandal’s robes and slippers, sipping Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (one of the best blends in the world) and enjoying fresh eggs, French toast, and fruit, we planned our day.
There are a number of choices when it comes to dining. Il Cielo, an Italian restaurant, serves an a la carte breakfast and white-glove a la carte dinner. Make sure to try the dinner signature dish – ours was the Risotto al Frutti di Mare (Arborio rice, seafood medley, ricotta cheese). If you like lobster, as we do, try the Aragosta Arrostata (Roasted lobster tail, basil-oregano topping, Parmesan-ricotta mash, vegetable medley, and lemon-garlic butter). It is sweet and tender. For dessert, visit the Il Cielo's Dolce Lounge as your chef will exquisitely prepare fresh pastries and serve Italian gelato. Our chef, Aldin, was as delicate in preparing the desserts as the desserts themselves. Click here for Il Cielo sample menu.
La Parisienne, the French restaurant at the resort serves an al a carte white-glove dinner. As appetizers, we had the Foie Gras Aux Truffes (seared foie gras with white truffle oil & toasted brioche) and Coquille St Jacques au Cognac (fresh king sea scallop flamed with cognac, served with sautéed asparagus and mixed greens). For the main course, we ordered the Carré d'Agneau (juicy grass-fed New Zealand lamb, presented with caramelized apple and dauphinoise potatoes, fresh herbs and minted lamb essence). As an after-dinner drink you must try the signature drink, Brandy Truffle. It is out of this world! Click here for La Parisienne sample menu.
Travel Tip: If you use limited salt as we do in our daily cooking, make sure your request no added salt in your entrees, adding your own, to taste, if needed.
Bahama Bay offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. The buffet breakfast features made-to-order omelets and smoothies. Each lunch showcases a different “theme” food from around the world. If you like tropical drinks, sample the Sun Downer, a combination of Coconut Rum, Crème de Banana, Pineapple Juice and Orange Juice. We loved this one. Dinner is an a la carte menu featuring Caribbean-style cuisine. We particularly enjoyed the Coconut Shrimp appetizer, Bahamian Conch Chowder, Celery Soup (soup de jour), Pork Tenderloin and the Crab Cay Seafood Combo for Two, combining mahi mahi, shrimp, mussels & salmon. Yes, we know – three entrees for two. That’s the nice thing about an all-inclusive – no one’s counting! Click here for Bahama Bay sample menu
Our first meal was at Barefoot By The Sea. Before our initial tour, our Butler escorted us here for a quick lunch. We took off our shoes, planted our feet in the sand and had the Grouper Sandwich with some of the best French Fries. They were so good, we didn’t even add ketchup. But you must return for dinner and try the other great seafood dishes, including the signature, Grilled Lobster with lemon butter, vegetables served with peas and rice. Add an organic greens salad and for dessert, try the warm Exuma rum cake with ice cream. Click here for Barefoot By The Sea sample menu
Speaking of desserts, Café de Paris is dedicated to desserts and coffee. Opened from 6:30 am to 10:00 pm, you can choose to grab and go, or sit outside and enjoy pastries, ice cream, and all different types of coffee, including our favorite, Caramel Frappuccino. Go ahead and top it off with a scoop of coffee ice cream to make a Caramel Frappuccino float. We discovered this when Valentino, our butler, surprised us with this treat at the Quiet Pool, along with lunch. We sampled all the desserts – all scrumptious. Click here for Café de Paris sample menu.
You just never know when that “slice of pizza urge” will hit. It could be at the pool or late at night. Dinos Pizzeria is waiting to satisfy from 11:30am to 5:00pm and from 6:00pm to 9:30pm. You can grab a slice, order from a variety of homemade pizzas, or a slice from each offering, or create your own pizza combination. Take a box to the pool or beach – even better, have your butler deliver it to you. Dinos offers dinner a few nights a week, adding pasta and other Italian favorites to the all-outdoor menu. In preparation for this review, we asked for a sampling of all the pastas. The best was the Pork Scaloppini Linguini, followed by the Seafood Linguini, Linguini Alfredo with Chicken, and Penne Marinara (which was on the sweet side), with ricotta and basil. We were surprised that the Fettuccine Alfredo was even better than at the Italian Restaurant, Il Cielo. Click here for Dino’s Pizzeria sample menu.
We didn’t make it to The Drunken Duck, which is a British-style pub, offering a pub menu from 3:00pm - 1:30am and “gastro” menu from 6:00pm - 9:00pm, but we did hear a lot of laughter and “good times” coming from its vicinity. Click here for The Drunken Duck sample menu. The same hearty sounds came from the Il Cielo lounge, with the nightly sing-a-longs and karaoke.
Of course, nothing matches dining intimacy like dinner for two on the beach, especially with the sound of the surf and the full moon above. Add a grilled lobster entrée with lemon-butter, grilled vegetables served with peas and rice and you have romance for the palette as well as the heart and soul
We attended the White Party, where everyone dresses in white while enjoying chocolate delicacies, live music and dancing. Our stay happened to fall on Bahamian Independence Day, which was celebrated with a “street party,” including outdoor dining, live music, a Caribbean buffet and a Junkanoo parade
A predominant attraction for us in choosing Sandals Emerald Bay was the unlimited golf, which comes with your butler service. The really great thing is that the golf course is right on the premises, so you don’t need to take a taxi, wait for a ride, or any of that. Just leave your clubs at the clubhouse and walk over. If you want a cart, the fee is $30 for one and $40 for two, but there are no caddies that you need to pay for or tip. If you didn’t bring clubs, you can rent them. You will be supplied with plenty of water in your cart cooler and of course, you can ask your butler to bring you some sandwiches and fruit to take with you as you play. Another convenience is that, except for the actual putting greens and the number 11 hole, you can literally drive your cart up to your ball, no matter where it is – unless of course you happen to hit your ball into the thick rough or into the ocean and its splashing waves which accompanies the back nine. This is a big time and energy saver. The Sandals Grande Emerald Bay is a 7,200-yard, par 72 golf course, designed by Greg Norman, with six signature holes beautifully situated, hugging the perimeter of Emerald Bay’s peninsula. Many of the holes are challenging and fellow golfers won’t ask you, “How was your game?” but “How many balls did you lose?” But don’t let that discourage you. Give up distance and go for accuracy and you won’t regret it. We found ourselves stopping our game play to take in the ocean – with our lungs and our eyes.
After a round of golf, you may be inclined to make reservations at the Red Lane Spa to relax and loosen up and avail yourselves of the many optional health treatments. The Spa also has a fitness center for your daily workout routine
and a few semi-private pools for you to enjoy
We mentioned earlier that we would reveal a “secret” way to find an easy-access, crystal clear, sandy beach. What we didn’t tell you is that this optional excursion, “Castaways,” is the piece de résistance of intimacy. A taxi from the hotel takes you to a boat dock, where your captain whisks you away on a fifteen-minute ride to a deserted, idyllic island with powdery beaches and turquoise-colored water, so crystal clear that even though you are provided with snorkeling gear, you don’t need it to see a variety of multi-colored fish swimming around you. Where, left to your own devises for the day, you can easily out-perform Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity; Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward in Against All Odds; Giancarlo Gianni and Mariangela Melato or Madonna and Adriano Gianni in Swept Away, if you catch our “drift.”
Taken with our camera’s built-in timer
After creating your own steamy beach scenes, you can turn your attention to other hedonistic needs, as you are supplied with a cooler of champagne and glasses
delectable cheeses and fruit, sandwiches and beverages of all sorts, all to be enjoyed in your chaise lounges, under the protection of a large beach umbrella.
But like this one!
Travel Tip: Also, let your butler know if you desire any special food or drink items in your cooler. You can also request some beach floats. Bring plenty of sunscreen protection. Don’t be fooled by the perfectly cool water – you can still get burned. We prefer not to use chemical sunscreens. There are several good, affordable, natural sunscreen products that you can search for online. You can find some recommendations on the Good House Keeping or Prevention websites. In the past we’ve used “Tropical Sands” and “MexiTan” brands. On this trip we decided to use "Dr. Mercola’s Broad Spectrum Sunscreen 30 SPF” and it worked very well.
Don’t forget to have your captain snap a picture of you before he leaves you and when he comes to pick you up. Once our captain left, we used the bucket that was given to us to store the snorkeling gear, turned it upside down, rested our camera on it, and used the built-in camera timer.
With no official name, the natives refer to this spot in the sea as “Love Me More Island” (yeah, you think?!). It may be too small for a proper nautical name, but for just two people, it is quite large. And as you can see, you are totally alone.
Large enough for exploring, you can throw on your beach shoes and walk to the Atlantic Ocean side for some rougher “surf and turf.”
This is truly a unique intimate experience, which can take the two of you back to your primordial roots and will surely be among your most thrilling fantasies fulfilled.
We feel compelled to mention that it takes numerous hard-working people “behind the scenes” to make an exceptional experience for “just the two of you.” The administration and staff at Sandals Emerald Bay are service “virtuosi,” delighting in going “above and beyond” to fulfill your desires.
Stephen Clarke, Butler Manager, who was as professional as he was affable, attended to every detail of our stay and went out of his way to make our experience at Sandals Emerald Bay a very special and personal one. He is the “genie-in-chief.”
We weren’t at the resort ten minutes, when Patric Loeser, Food and Beverage Manager, not only recognized us from our stay at Sandals Royal Plantation last year, but remembered specific details about us. We had several delightful conversations with Patric during our stay. He could be seen constantly going from one eatery to the other, supervising and speaking with guests to ensure their satisfaction.
Sharline Adderly Lloyd, Director of Guest Relations, with whom we had the pleasure of sitting next to at the Sandals Returning Guests Dinner, connected with us on so many levels, professionally and personally and was instrumental in introducing us to Sno Watson, with whom we had a productive conversation about how we can assist the Sandals Foundation. We would encourage our readers to support this very worthwhile charity by visiting www.sandalsfoundation.org .
While at the Returning Guests Dinner, we were treated to the music of Shamond Smith, an extremely talented saxophonist and flutist, who on one evening during the week provided sweet and sultry music on the Sandals Tower, overlooking the Main Pool, where we and other guests did some slow dancing and relaxing by the surrounding fire pits.
Pandora, at Il Cielo, started our mornings with breakfast and a warm smile and we were fortunate on our last day to engage her in some deeper philosophical conversations about life.
The qualities of the dinners at Il Cielo were only enhanced by the service and wonderful personalities of Sheira and Simeon.
along with the artistry of our dolce chef, Aldin.
Even our tour of the Yacht Club was extra special because Hotel Manager, David Latchimy, with whom we quickly connected . . . in French and Italian.
Nebat Williams, manager at the Island Routes desk was professional and gentlemanly as he took a personal interest in our Castaways tour experience.
Kevan at the Shark Shack always provided a much needed “can do” pep talk before sending us to tee off on the challenging golf course.
The “behind the scenes” housekeeping staff kept our room immaculate, changing our pressed linen sheets nightly. Thanks to David for coming right away to tweak our AC.
We met a very special Sandals repeat guest, Derick, who has stayed a total of 197 nights at Sandals’ resorts. His youthfulness of spirit hid both his chronological age of 88 and the grief of his recently departed wife. Derick raved of the support he received from management and staff, who treated him not only as a beloved colleague but as family.
Enough cannot be said for the extraordinary daily care our butlers, Valentino, Hilton and Samson, provided.
Under the management of Stephen and supervision of Darrion, these hard-working butlers never ceased to amaze, undeterred by the largest or smallest request. You just never know what surprises you are going to find when you walk into your room. It could be a romantic message on the door mat:
Or, on your bed, made with natural flowers around some afternoon snacks or turn-down.
.You may also find “strangers” in your bed.
A new meaning for “throw in the towel.”
You may come back after diner and find a luxurious bubble bath waiting for you.
We have yet to see, not only a staff that works harder, but also a management who gets right “in there” with their staff to serve their guests and the resort.
How it is that in a week’s time, so many genuine friendships can be formed is part of the “magic” of Sandals Emerald Bay and a testament to the exceptional quality of the individuals as well as the hiring acumen of the Sandals Corporation.
Things can and do go “wrong” even at the most prestigious hotels, and you can read all the complaints for any resort on Trip Advisor. While the overwhelming majority of reviews for Sandals Emerald Bay are outstanding, there were some complaints, including some negative reviews about the food, which we found particularly odd. Of course, taste is subjective, but we would like to inform our readers that we live on Long Island, New York, in close proximity to New York City. We have access to and have availed ourselves of the best restaurants. We have traveled to Italy several times, again, dining in the best restaurants. While “there is no accounting for taste,” you can be assured that our palates would be considered sophisticated. As you can see from our review, we found the food at this Sandals and also at Sandals Royal Plantation in Jamaica to be excellent, and not just excellent for an all-inclusive, but excellent on its own merit.
The service ethic we found at Sandals Emerald Bay was that when anything went wrong, if the guests were disappointed, the staff was dismayed, and would do anything they could to rectify or remedy the situation. We saw this first hand when we just mentioned to our waitress that we found our lamb to be a little too salty for our taste. You would think the culinary world was coming to an end, as we were offered a replacement, other entrée, or anything else they could do. Without asking, the manager came over to our table to inquire if she could do anything for us “to make it right.” We didn’t find this necessary, which seemed to make her more upset that we were not 100% satisfied.
When the Main Pool bar temporarily ran out of CO2 for the draft beer pump, we observed that the repeater guests just sat comfortably, socializing, knowing with complete confidence that beer would shortly arrive from somewhere, which, indeed it did, as members of the staff scattered to other locations to fulfill the guests’ orders. At Sandals, it seems wherever you “plant yourself,” you will be accommodated.
So you can listen to the few naysayers and opt out of Sandals Emerald Bay, which will leave more room for the rest of us or you can trust this and countless other positive reviews of seasoned travelers and have a glorious experience at Sandals Emerald Bay in exotic Exuma.
“When It’s Just The Two Of You”
Gary de Sesa & Kita de Sesa are travel agents and owners of Gary D Travel. Contact us at 516-300-9924
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