Hays agent Marie Marshall recently returned to Sandals Montego Bay more than two decades after her first trip. TTG found out what’s changed.
In the early 1990s the travel industry was thriving, the high street agent was king and getting a complimentary upgrade to business class was realistically attainable.
At that same time – in 1991, to be exact – Sandals was also celebrating the 10th anniversary of its foundation, and a young Marie Stein, then at Intatravel, joined 99 other agents on a TTG “Prize 100” fam trip to Jamaica with Caribbean Connection/Tradewinds and British Airways.
During their stay, the agents visited several properties including Sandals Dunns River, Sandals Royal Caribbean, the now closed Sandals Inn, and Sandals Montego Bay.
Fast-forward to 2019 and Marie Stein is now Marie Marshall, a branch manager at Hays Travel Epping who has just returned from Jamaica, where she visited Sandals Montego Bay resort to see if it has stood the test of time.
“Sandals has always been close to my heart”
“Sandals has always been close to my heart – I met my husband [Andrew] during a Sandals trip in 1992 when I was staying at Halcyon Beach in St Lucia. He was a sailor in the navy and was docked there for a few days,” Marshall explains.
Her recent trip down memory lane was kick-started by a Sandals appeal, in which top agents were asked to send in old photographs of themselves visiting the Jamaican resort, which first opened in 1981. Thankfully, Marshall had plenty to share.
“Our Sandals rep thought the pictures were amazing and asked for more! I was thrilled when she offered my husband and me the trip. It’s been a tough year, I lost my dad. But the trip coincided with my birthday on 25 October, which was lovely,” she says.
Marshall says the all-inclusive concept has always been a big selling point for Sandals.
“The ultra all-inclusive concept was so new – experiencing it first-hand blew me away. Sandals Montego Bay had a real party vibe back then – they even offered free cigarettes at the bars! I loved the beach and the Jerk Shack, which was a real hang-out zone. It even had a hot tub. It’s still there, just more modern.”
Much has changed since 1991 at Sandals’ flagship resort. In February, an upgrade saw the opening of two restaurants: Butch’s Steak & Seafood and Soy, as well as the Latitudes Overwater Bar.
The hotel also houses an overwater Serenity Wedding Chapel and offers optional extras including chauffeur-driven BMW transfers.
Marshall adds: “What I love most about Sandals Montego Bay, then and now, is the food and drink offering – especially the Jamaican- style cuisine in the Oleander Room. You have the option of eating at the nearby Sandals Royal Caribbean resort, which has eight restaurants. We also visited the incredible Thai eatery on Royal’s private island.”
Another highlight of Marshall’s stay was spending time by one of the resort’s seven swimming pools, where you “never have to fight for a sunlounger”.
She says there are plenty of options for active clients too: the hotel offers free scuba-diving courses, kayaking and paddle-boarding, as well as motorised watersports such as waterskiing, knee-boarding and wake-boarding.
Marshall adds: “The hotel is perfect for couples and groups of friends. I would say it caters to younger to middle-aged clients. There is always something going on. If people are looking for a cool place to get a drink, recommend Latitudes Over Water Bar. I loved the firepits they’ve added, which weren’t there 28 years ago.”
Entertainment certainly isn’t in short supply at Sandals Montego Bay. Hot spots for grabbing a tipple include a swim-up bar and a piano bar, while themed nights play host to limbo dancers and fire-eaters.
“We were there for seven nights and never felt bored. The only time we left the hotel was to do a bit of shopping at Rose Hall. Between Sandals Montego Bay and its Royal resort, clients should have enough to do,” says Marshall.
Of course, there are options for clients looking to explore Jamaica too. Touring specialists Island Routes Caribbean Adventures has partnered with the resort operator, enabling guests to book anything from catamaran cruises to excursions to Dunn’s River Falls, a popular attraction in Ocho Rios.
While the “90s pink pastel” colour scheme at Sandals Montego Bay may be long gone, it’s clear the resort’s fun-loving ethos remains.
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