Travel Weekly headed to the Caribbean to try three all-inclusive hotels

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Sun, sea and sand: the three pillars of a successful Caribbean holiday. Add all-inclusive and clients can enjoy themselves without the worry of spiralling costs.

Travel Weekly headed to the West Indies to experience those three Ss in the safe hands of three more: Sandals, Secrets and Sensatori.



Sandals LaSource Grenada




Tom Irwin tested the new Sandals property on the Spice Island of Grenada

If Christopher Columbus were to sail past Grenada today, our guide told us, he’d say it looks the same now as when he first saw it 500 years ago.

It’s certainly true that not much has changed over the years on this sleepy Caribbean isle, but the arrival of Sandals’ newest resort has certainly shaken it up a bit.

The chain’s chairman, Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, has been keen to bring the brand to Grenada for many years, so when LaSource hotel came up for sale he moved fast to purchase and transform the site.

The original buildings have been completely redeveloped and now make up the Pink Gin area of the resort, nearest the beach. Brand new are the South Seas village, which contains the resort’s Millionaire and Honeymoon Suites, and the Italian Village, which is fully serviced by personal butlers and features private plunge pools in rooms on the third to the sixth floors.

The 225-room resort spreads over 17 acres and is one of the most luxurious Sandals properties to date, with 20 room types on offer from the luxury level Pink Gin Beachfront Room to the butler level Italian Oceanview Butler Suite.

With nine dining options including sushi, Italian, Mediterranean, Teppanyaki and a British pub soon to open, there’s plenty of choice when it comes to food. New to the brand is Butch’s Chophouse, a classy steak joint that requires advance booking but is included in the package, as are all the resort’s other restaurants. Cuisine throughout is excellent, with particular mention going to Le Jardinier, a stylish French restaurant – the Frenchman at our table enjoyed his meal, which I took to be a great sign. The Living Room, a super-chilled piano bar during the day, transforms at night into a lively entertainment area.

The beach on the property, Pink Gin, is not your typical long stretch of sand with azure waters such as you’d find somewhere like Sandals Grande Antigua, so that’s something to consider if that’s a deal-breaker for clients. It’s lovely though, with a boulder breakwater to create a safe swimming area, while just a short hop up the coast guests will find Grand Anse, a stunning stretch of sand, which regularly features in top 10 lists.

Tours are operated by Island Routes and can be booked on-site or in advance, with 10% commission available for agents. I’d strongly recommend the river tubing adventure – a gentle float and swirl along the Balthazar River, punctuated with stops for swimming and leaping in from the sides. It’s a great way to see the island, and fantastic fun.

In resort, there is unlimited free scuba diving for those who are certified, and the island is particularly proud of its underwater sculpture park, which can be accessed by divers and snorkellers. Clients can also take introductory and official Padi scuba courses, plus there’s a fantastic range of other water activities on offer including kayaking, sailing and windsurfing.

Book it: Sandals offers seven nights’ all-inclusive from £1,799 between September 24-October 13, including flights and transfers.



Sensatori Jamaica




Chloe Berman attended the grand opening of Thomson’s new Sensatori property

Sensatori Jamaica is a new breed of all-inclusive hotels that’s a far cry from the outdated stereotype of ice cream-splattered children sporting coloured wristbands and vats of unappetising buffet food.

Formerly Beaches Sandy Bay, the hotel on Negril’s Seven Mile Beach has undergone an extensive 12-month renovation and the results are undeniably impressive.

What’s more, Jamaica is more accessible from the UK than ever, with Thomson operating eight flights a week this winter and six flights a week next summer, all on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Thomson’s sixth Sensatori resort is its smallest yet, with 135 rooms across designated adult-only and child-friendly zones. There is talk of expanding on a plot of land next door, but for now it’s a short walk from one side to the other.

The grand lobby, with its natural wood panels and stylish wing back chairs, frames the glorious view over the pool and the wide beach.

The hotel is run in partnership with Karisma Hotels, which means it follows the Mexican hotel group’s ‘gourmet inclusive’ concept of focusing on high quality à la carte restaurants rather than the traditional all-inclusive buffet.

The food was one of the highlights of my stay – whether it was the smoky jerk chicken at Palms Restaurant, refreshing gazpacho at Garfields Beach House or delicious entrecôte de boeuf at Di Romagna Italian restaurant.

Also included in your stay is top-notch Blue Mountain coffee and cakes in the lobby bar as well as rum at the Nasta bar.

Rooms are split over three attractive low-rise blocks, in line with Jamaica’s rule of no building exceeding the height of the tallest palm tree. My deluxe swim-up room had an outdoor daybed with direct access to one of the resort’s three pools, perfect for catching late afternoon sun and swimming up to the bar for a rum cocktail.

The room was contemporary and cheerfully decorated in neutral shades with pops of pink and turquoise. Sensatori also gets the little things right; the iPod docking station, L’Occitane toiletries, and rum truffles at bed time.

Service was friendly but sometimes over-eager – early-morning phone calls and frequent knocks at the door bordered on the over-attentive – but this could have been down to teething problems during the soft opening.

Families are well catered for here. They can opt for the two-bedroom family apartment or family suite. There is a small but lovely kids’ club, Azulitos Play House, for children up to 12. Parents can take a break while the kids enjoy a chocolate party or movie night.

Those seeking a more active holiday will be spoilt for choice, with a good-sized gym and dance studio, table tennis, archery and beach volleyball on site.

There is a range of paid-for excursions including a trip to the famous Dunns River Falls, a luxury catamaran cruise, snorkelling or quad biking. Clients can also meet the locals at the Orange Bay community, where they visit a local school and barber shop.

The spa opens on June 1, but until then don’t miss out on a massage on one of the beach-side spa cabanas. Crashing waves make a good alternative to piped spa music any day.

For evenings, Thomson has kept the entertainment low-key and local, with beach parties held twice a week with music from a reggae band. Even for an all-inclusive novice like me, it didn’t get better than munching on jerk chicken fresh from the barbecue, eating Gizzada coconut tarts and dancing the night away with the sand between my toes.

Book it: Thomson offers 14 nights’ all-inclusive from £1,503, including return flights from Gatwick.

thomson.co.uk
0871 230 2555

Jamaica



Secrets St James, Jamaica




Hollie-Rae Merrick kicked back with a cocktail at a couples’ favourite in Jamaica

Secrets seems a fitting name as you wander through this resort’s serene surroundings – you’d never guess it was just a stone’s throw from Montego Bay airport.

This property comes with a twin – Secrets Wild Orchid is right next door and boasts the same number of rooms again – making this an ideal spot to test out the romance-focused brand.

On this trip I had two missions; to relax and enjoy the resort as much as the honeymooners and couples I was surrounded by, and to sample as many cocktails as humanly possible. And while I was only at the resort for one night, I had a good stab at both!

Customers can use the facilities in both resorts giving an extensive range of nine restaurants and eight bars and lounges – in fact it would be pretty difficult to work your way around them all in a week. And while there is a bit of a walk from one side to the other, strolling along the white-sand beach next to the turquoise waters is hardly a chore.

This resort oozes relaxation, partly because it’s adult-only and like much of the Caribbean everything runs at a very chilled- out and slow pace. Then there’s also the show-stopping spa with its 15 treatment rooms and seemingly never-ending list of treatments.

I stayed in the Preferred Club, a private area featured at all 13 Secrets resorts in the Caribbean. The main benefits include access to a private swimming pool and breakfast restaurant, upgraded bath amenities, a private lounge and bar. It also offers a private beach area, complimentary Wi-Fi and a pillow menu – a particular benefit to those, like me, who find feather pillows turn them into a sneezing and wheezing mess.

At St James there are four room categories for the 350 all-suite, all ocean-view-room resort, and Wild Orchid, which also has 350 suites, boasts a further two room options, with 16 swim-up junior suites and one swim-up master suite.

During my stay it was difficult to move away from the two pools available to those in the Preferred Club – one so warm it’s like lying in a bath and the other the perfect temperature to cool off on the hottest summer days.

Waiters bring cocktails to you as you float in the water – which gave me the best chance to fulfil both of my goals at the same time.

Book it: Caribtours offers seven nights in a Preferred Club Junior Suite Ocean View at Secrets St James from £1,749, including flights, transfers and use of the lounge at Gatwick.

caribtours.co.uk