“Where amazing comes together.”
These are the words that hang on a leafy-green wall in the main lobby of Sandals Royal Curaçao, the 16th property in the Sandals Resorts portfolio and company’s first venture into the colourful Dutch Caribbean island that sits between Aruba and Bonaire on the outer fringes of the hurricane belt.
With 351 spacious rooms and suites divided into 24 categories, stretched across 44 lush acres, and flanked by views of a natural lagoon and bay, Sandals Royal Curaçao delivers the “amazing” experience it promises, as PAX is learning this week on a visit to the breezy and beautiful resort that opened June 1.
From now until Monday (June 27), PAX will be exploring every inch of Sandals Royal Curaçao, as well as destinations off property in nearby Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features colourful buildings and a roster of museums, monuments, restaurants and shopping.
Tonight (June 24), a grand opening celebration will be held to mark Sandals Royal Curaçao’s opening – an event that promises a “kaleidoscopic parade” of drummers, dancers, stilt walkers and costumes, as well as many special guests.
A "Sandalized" experience
Sandals Royal Curaçao marks the ninth island destination for the brand in the Caribbean region.
Situated within the Santa Barbara private estate, a 3,000-acre protected preserve with a golf course, Sandals Royal Curaçao had a lot of good bones to work with in taking over a hotel that was previously the Santa Barbara Resort (it also, at one point, was a Hyatt).
But make no mistake: the grounds here have been completely “Sandalized,” a word used to describe the process of transforming a property into the “luxury-included” experience Sandals is known for.
One example of this was constructing private pools for the purpose of creating ultra-luxe swim-up suites.
But Sandalizing a property isn’t limited to renovating the physical structure. It’s also a process that extends to the staff, who undergo specialized training in order to meet Sandals’ high level of service.
Currently, leading employees from Sandals all over the Caribbean are in Curaçao to mentor new staff as operations get underway.
A melting pot of cultures
“We’re happy to be part of the island,” Kevin Clarke, general manager of Sandals Royal Curaçao, told PAX at a sunset cocktail party last night that unfolded on a ocean-facing Hole 1 of Old Quarry Golf Course. “We’re just basking in being everywhere and having a good time.”
The high-end and playful property marks the first time Sandals has ventured out of the English-speaking Caribbean.
Curaçao, famous for its nearby dive sites and marine life, is a melting pot of different cultures, boasting a unique blend of Dutch, Spanish and African influences.
The languages you’ll hear on island include Papiamentu, a Spanish Creole language with admixtures of Portuguese and Dutch.
Spanish is also spoken by most Curacaons and English is widely used.
Here, you’ll often hear the phrase “Bon Bini!”, which, in Papiamentu, means “welcome!”
“There’s a certain vibe about the Dutch Caribbean,” Clarke said. “It’s sexy, it’s funky.”
Dutch influence can be seen throughout Sandals Royal Curaçao. For example: there are free-to-use bicycles set up for guests who feel like pedalling around the grounds. (Cycling is a common mode of transport in the Netherlands).
Curaçao is also a place where everybody lives outside.
Sunny Caribbean temperatures keep the land heated during the day, but at night, the air lowers just a few degrees, creating an atmosphere that is very comfortable.
Some Sandals “firsts”
Sandals is an all-inclusive, adults-only brand, inspired by high-end island living, and at Sandals Royal Curaçao, there are several “firsts” worth noting.
Firstly, there are two new signature suite categories: the Awa Seaside Butler Bungalows and Kurason Island Poolside Butler Bungalows, complete with Tranquility Soaking Tubs, private pools, butler service, and stylish convertible MINI Coopers complimentary for guests to drive while exploring the island.
The swanky pools attached to the seaside bungalows (the highest category on property) are pure eye candy and PAX hasn’t been able to actually tour one these units yet because, this week, they’re completely sold out.
The Kurason Island poolside bungalows (the second-highest category) are equally mesmerizing.
These eight luxurious suites are nestled away in what feels like a private community, connected by an exclusive pool, and the shape of this “neighbourhood” is a nod to Sandals’ leadership in being a romance and couples-focused brand.
If you fly a drone over top of this section, you’ll notice how the placement of the bungalows and pool form the shape of a heart.
(With butler service, one could easily spend their entire vacation in this serene section, if they wanted to).
All of the modern suites on property come with king-sized beds, stocked refrigerators, HD smart TVs, amenity kits, and more.
There are also culinary firsts.
For starters, there’s a village-like area featuring three beachfront food trucks that serve Spanish tapas, Asian fusion and bao buns and traditional Curaçao fare, such as chicken and fries, stews and ribs.
This concept is a home run in our books, as PAX, last night, sampled almost everything on the menu (the food, to be honest, is spectacular).
It’s not a “grab and go” concept necessarily. Rather, tables and chairs, as well as comfy couches, are set up in a “square” where attentive wait staff distribute menus and jot down orders.
There’s also a two-level bar in this section where guests can grab a margarita and enjoy the surrounding ambiance.
Other dining concepts that are new include “Kanaal,” an indoor dessert, wine and cheese bar,” Gatsu Gatsu (sushi) and Zuka (Latin Fusion).
This adds to Aolos (Mediterranean), Pietra (Italian), Strand (seafood), Vincent (modern European) and Butch’s Island Chop House (steak and seafood), which is named after the late Chairman and Founder of Sandals Resorts, Gordon “Butch” Stewart.
(Popular choices Vincent and Butch’s Island Chop House both require reservations).
The property also encourages culinary experiences off site: Sandals Select Reward Members and guests staying in Butler Suites for a minimum of seven nights receive a $250 gift certificate that can be used at select partner restaurants in town. Transportation included.
There’s also a “pool first” at Sandals Royal Curaçao – the two-level Dos Awa Infinity pool, which offers views of the ocean and rugged mountain landscapes.
Clarke describes this concept as a “pool within a pool” – one infinity pool looks out to the ocean while a second pool sits below.
Not only is this a fun spot to meet others and cool off in, it’s visually satisfying to look at.
For a chilled-out experience, there’s the Coconut Grove lounge area and beach, which offers a secluded escape from all the action. Signature events, like sunset toasts, are also held here.
Sandals Royal Curaçao also has the largest convention space on the island: a total of 38,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space.
The chichi doll says it all
The hard-working and super-friendly staff at Sandals Royal Curaçao also deserve a shout out as there’s a mutual and genuine goal among the team to take care of guests.
The giant and well-rounded chichi doll that greets visitors at the front entrance of Sandals Royal Curaçao establishes this tone from the very beginning of the experience.
Chichi, in Latin-America/Caribbean culture, traditionally refers to that older sister who is strong, proud and dynamic. One who takes care of others.
Sandals Royal Curaçao, with all of its innovation, is “a step in the right direction” for the famous brand, Clarke said, noting that its opening means that “Sandals is here to stay.”
“We’re doing lots more and our chairman [Adam Stewart, who will be speaking with media this week] is a crazy genius.”
“We’re here to make sure the dream he has becomes a reality.”
Stay tuned as PAX brings you more on location coverage from Sandals Royal Curaçao!