They say that travel can re-ignite a passion for life and stimulate personal growth. I’m a testament to the truth in that. Since arriving in Barbados three days ago, I have:
- Figured out how to install Chromecast on my laptop, used it to cast Netflix from my laptop to a flatscreen tv, AND watched Sherlock via this method (!)
- Created an Instagram account travellargefamily AND posted a photo on it (!!)
- Added a text widget to the blog sidebar AND installed a Blog Out Loud button (!!!)
In the words of Susan Powter, “Stop the insanity!”
Back to what comes naturally to me – travelling, saving money and liming in an authentic way. To lime is a popular Barbadian activity that means “to hang out”.
Today we’re liming at Umi Cottage. As only the third time Fahbio and I have travelled without kids in (gulp) 18 years, we’re focusing this post on couples travel, which, let’s face it, is different from travelling with a hoard of under-19s. We’ve rented an apartment and we were instructed to tell our taxi driver that the place was on the same road as Sandals Resort (not that we took a taxi but that’s another matter altogether). You know, the all-inclusive, couples only, resort. We’re on vacation with nothing to do, so let’s compare the two accommodations. Vamanos!
The price for 7 nights in Umi Cottage is $600 US ($810 Cdn). The owner agreed to replace the extra $80 US non-refundable property insurance with a refundable $500 US damage deposit. We booked through HomeAway, which unlike AirBnB, doesn’t charge guests a service fee. So no extra fees or taxes for us.
The price at Sandals varies greatly depending on dates and specials. The standard rate is roughly $1000 US per person per night: $14 000 US ($18 900 Cdn) for 7 days. Currently, you can snag that for less than 1/2 price – $7333 Cdn from April 13-20 or $5243 from April 20-27. Sandals advertises that the price includes “tax recovery charges” (see Karma below) and service fees.
In Barbados, high season runs until April 15 and prices drop off dramatically after that. We’re staying at Umi Cottage during high season and the discounted prices I’m quoting for Sandals are already in the low season.
Sandals will cost anywhere from 6 1/2 – 23 times as much as staying at Umi Cottage.
Umi Cottage is located 130 yds/150 m from the entrance to Sandals. For all intents and purposes, the location is the same.
People come to Barbados for the beach so how do the two compare on that front? It’s the same beach. Sandals sits right on Maxwell Beach but the beach is public (as are all of the island’s beaches) so you’ll be swimming and sunning with Sandals guests. You obviously can’t use the Sandals loungers and water sports equipment. From Umi Cottage, Maxwell Beach is an easy and pleasant five minute walk via a public access lane. Barbados is sprinkled all over with gorgeous sand beaches so chances are you’re not even going to spend that much time at Maxwell Beach.
Umi Cottage is very small. It’s a detached structure with a double bed, large flat screen tv, kitchen with bar fridge, toaster, coffee maker, full range and oven, dishes, sink. The tiny washroom has a toilet, sink, shower and a gorgeous view. In a separate area there is access to a full size fridge, microwave and washing machine. I’m not sure of the size of the Sandals rooms but I imagine them to be larger. I know they have tubs and coffee machines but no laundry or cooking facilities.
Umi Cottage is set in the grounds of a privately owned vacation home that is rarely occupied. We have a very large garden full of flowers, an enormous deck with loungers and barbecue, a wall that surrounds the property and complete privacy on all sides. We can’t see or hear any neighbours. A room in Sandals is private but it’s still a room in a hotel building.
Fahbio and I are both in the service industry so the service at Umi Cottage is excellent :-). In fact, to offset the cost of our vacation, we’ve decided to tip each other. Always innovating here at Travellarge… In all seriousness, the service from the owner in advance of our visit was top notch and since he’s not on the island, his uncle has called (by telephone) twice to make sure that we have everything we need and to welcome us. I imagine the service at Sandals is also top notch although there are grumblings on the internet about having to get drinks/food oneself as no one will bring it to you.
At Umi Cottage we have to pay for and procure our own meals. We’ve been combining shopping for groceries/cooking with eating out. Food is expensive in Barbados so we’ve already spent $225 US ($300 Cdn) on groceries and restaurants in three days. That will decrease as we bought some groceries which will last us the week. Also we went out for an expensive meal on our first night. At Sandals, all of this would already be included. We’ve heard that the food is very good but tastes the same in each of the on-site restaurants.
Sandals has 11 restaurants, 2 pools, scuba diving and water sports, wedding services, room service, fully stocked mini-bar, indoor and outdoor private soaker tubs, fitness centre, boutiques, spa (extra cost), air conditioning, entertainment, concierge, wifi. Umi Cottage offers complete privacy, large garden with flowers, full kitchen, laundry, bathroom that opens directly onto garden, wifi, large patio space, ceiling fan, air conditioning, shaded porch, 1 1/2 fridges, resident monkey.
Umi Cottage is extremely comfortable. I imagine Sandals would be too. Sandals offers the opportunity to check your brain at the airport and just coast on auto-pilot for a week. Umi Cottage offers the chance to unplug and spend a week interacting exclusively with your better half and the charming local population.
Here’s the interesting part. Sandals only opened at the end of January 2015. While guests are currently staying in Phase 1, much of the property is still a construction zone as the company rolls out a massive expansion that will see the Barbados Sandals being transformed into one of the largest Sandals resorts. Great for Barbados, right? Wrong! To lure Sandals to Barbados, the government has offered them a completely tax-free lease for 25 years. Furthermore, the following 25 years, Sandals will only pay 50% of the VAT and other taxes that regular citizens and businesses pay. Sandals doesn’t pay Barbados any taxes of any kind. Yes, there was a tremendous outcry when this was made public but it still happened.
Okay but think of all the jobs being created for local people. Locals are involved in the manual construction of the resort. Also, when Sandals opened, it hired hundreds of local people in its service industry. We’ve been told that after a few months, Sandals let 2/3 of its Barbadian staff go, instead bringing in staff from its other resorts. I haven’t verified if this is true but it’s certainly plausible.
But what about all the tourist dollars that guests are spending on the island. As one local restauranteur put it, “If you’re spending $14 000.00 US for a week at Sandals and everything is inclusive, would you ever leave the resort?” Because Sandals is exempt from all taxes and duties, it purchases its supplies abroad and has them delivered directly to the resort. We’re told that 6 shipping containers per week arrive in Barbados destined for Sandals Resort.
Barbados is not like some other Caribbean islands – all-inclusive resorts are unusual here. Most tourists coming to Barbados are supporting the island by getting out and eating out. Fahbio and I are frugal travellers but I feel confident in saying that we are doing more to contribute to the local economy than highfalutin Sandals guests are. I would be building great karma but my smug attitude keeps getting in the way ;-0
In the end, it comes down to a matter of choice when planning a couples vacation. For us, privacy, authentically liming in a beautiful garden, supporting the country we’ve visiting and having a kitchen to cook in, make Umi Cottage the clear winner.