A Visit to Sandals Royal Bahamian: Chasing History and a Hurricane

View of Sandals Resort from the Windsor Tower

It’s rare to combine history and luxury in a single Caribbean resort. Guest contributors John and Sandra Nowlan visit Sandals Royal Bahamian in search of history and are pleased to see the resort was left unscathed by Hurricane Dorian.

After a $55 million facelift, Sandals Royal Bahamian has reopened with new features and offerings.

Guests can take advantage of an early check-in program and will find two new River Pools, new luxury suites in an Island Village section, reimagined beachfront swim-up suites, and the new Coconut Grove beachfront lounge.  

A resort steeped in history

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 Billiard Room at the Balmoral Club
The Billiard Room at the Balmoral Club

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.

The Royal Bahamian Piano Bar ringed with photos of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor
The Royal Bahamian Piano Bar ringed with photos of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Looking for remnants of Dorian

The fascinating history was a pleasant bonus, but we were also anxious to see if the 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 20-25 feet.

There still was much cleanup needed in those northern regions of the country when we visited and hundreds of evacuees sought shelter farther south on New Providence Island. 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 that tourism facilities were working as they should, a fact confirmed during the short, pleasant 15-minute drive to the Sandals resort, now fully open.

Exploring the resort

View of Sandals Royal Bahamian from the pier
View of Sandals Royal Bahamian from the pier

There are three levels of accommodations 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, which gives 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 replacing each window would cost $50,000.

We did eat at Baccarat once, and the food and service were excellent, made even better by dining next to one of those remarkable, curved windows.

The elegant high curved windows of Baccarat Restaurant at evening
The elegant high curved windows of Baccarat Restaurant
The authors at dinner at the Baccarat Restaurant
The authors at dinner at the Baccarat Restaurant

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 but there was an extra charge ($15) for movies.

Our room also had the disadvantage of overlooking the Party Pool with loud thumping music and announcements much of the afternoon and into some evenings.

Food and wine

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.

Gordon's Over the Water at Sandals Royal Bahamian: Fine fresh seafood
Gordon’s Over the Water: Fine fresh seafood

The other seafood restaurant is on Sandals private island, a half-mile offshore the main property and reached by free boat shuttles. Sandals Royal Bahamian is the only resort in Nassau with its own private island.

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.

Schooners Seafood Grill on Sandals Island
Schooners Seafood Grill on Sandals Island

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 knew little about the wine itself or how to properly taste the wine (heavy reds were sampled before light whites). Afterward, 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.

The bottom line

Is Sandals Royal Bahamian for everyone?

This adults-only, all-inclusive resort seems to attract all ages, from newlyweds to seniors. The 25-40 age range is more typical.  Part of the property is a hearty party zone, but there is a quiet pool area with rooms away from the loudspeakers.

Even after Dorian, the resort is now fully up to speed and would have a special attraction for people who like to have a luxury tropical resort within 15 minutes of an airport (Butler guests are usually brought to the resort in a Rolls Royce). The unique inclusion of British Royal history and Beatlemania makes this resort among the most interesting in the Sandals chain.

Visiting Nassau? Check out this inspiring list of things to do at the Port of Nassau.

**Guest contributors John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

All photo credits: John and Sandra Nowlan.

Disclosure: The Nowlans visit was hosted by Sandals Royal Bahamian but any opinions expressed in this post are their own.


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