Sandals Vs. Excellence: Let’s Take a Look

I was a Sandals junkie. Still am, in many ways.

But then, one winter, I was forced to make a serious decision: skip the vacation altogether or look for something more budget-friendly than Sandals.

I couldn’t stand the thought of not seeing my beloved palm tree paradise in the worst winter I had ever experienced, so I took Option B.

That’s when I found Excellence.

Let me explain.

Discovering the Magic of Sandals

In 2009, we took our first tropical trip. We decided to go to Jamaica to get married, and since it would just be the two of us (that’s right – no family or friends), we decided to splurge and go with Sandals. Besides, they offered a complimentary wedding package with any booking.

When I told my travel agent we picked Sandals, she warned me that I was setting the bar very high for my first trip and that it would be very hard – maybe almost impossible – to step down to a lower-grade resort brand after seeing and experiencing everything Sandals has to offer.

Six months later we were at Sandals Negril feeling like royalty. Wow – talk about luxury and pampering and getting everything you could possibly dream of in a vacation and in a wedding. I still get butterflies when I think of it.

 

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After only a few days there, we came to one conclusion: our travel agent was right – how could we possibly go anywhere but Sandals from this point on?

The following year, we booked Sandals. And then again the year after that…and then the five years after that. We knew we were paying more for Sandals but we knew where our money was going – toward top-notch everything and supreme royal treatment. Nothing could beat it, we thought.

Then, 2014 rolled around. The Canadian dollar started to plummet, which meant a 3K US resort US was now roughly 4K CAD, not including airfare. Huge difference! A few other financial blunders came out of nowhere later that year, so that’s when I had to make the dreaded decision: no tropical vacation in 2015 or a vacation that costs much less than Sandals.

The thought of Option A hurt my brain, so that left Option B. I started researching.

I wasn’t interested in Mexico or Cuba, so I set my sights on the Dominican Republic – specifically Punta Cana. I came across some good-looking resorts for decent prices, but I wasn’t completely sold on any of them for one reason or another.

Finally, I found Excellence Punta Cana.

The low-down:

5-star
All-inclusive
Adult-only
Huge stretch of beach
Secluded resort – the closest resort on either side is a mile or two away
Excellent reviews on TripAdvisor

EPC palms

Basically, it claimed to have everything we looked for in a Sandals – but for a fraction of the price. For the basic room at Excellence, the price was just under $1,600 US – so about half the price of a ‘lower-end’ Sandals resort.

Booked it.

Why not? No deposit was required and I had up until 7 days out to cancel the reservation with no penalty (they wait until 30 days out to charge your credit card). It was a no-brainer.

I spent months reading reviews, watching YouTube videos, and following the resort’s blog and social media pages. There had to be a catch, I thought.

So was there a catch?

Nope.

We got the 5-star experience, the turquoise beach, the palm trees, the immaculate grounds, and the royal treatment we always enjoyed at Sandals. And again…for a fraction of the price. We were nothing but smiles all seven days of our trip and couldn’t stop talking about the amazing property, food, service, and so on.

I won’t say that Excellence blew Sandals out of the water on every single level. In fact, in some respects, the two brands are neck and neck, and in some respects Sandals still takes the cake. But the caveat to that is those gains come with a heftier price tag.

With that, I’ll leave you with my thoughts on how the two brands compare. By the way, there are three Excellence resorts (two in Mexico and the one we visited in Punta Cana – with a new one on the way in Punta Cana). I’m citing my experience at only one of those resorts. I’ve been to four Sandals resorts (two of them I visited a few times), all in Jamaica.

Let’s take a look at how the two compare.

Top Marks for Excellence

 Included Amenities

If you’ve been to a Sandals and stayed in a base room, you likely got hit with some charges for ‘extras’ you naturally expected to be included with your all-inclusive package. You probably went to grab an ice cold beer from your room fridge, only to find it stocked with water and soda only – no alcohol. You then went to order from the room service menu but found out you didn’t have that option – you needed to be in a higher-level (i.e. more expensive) room for that.  Either way, you’re stuck with a bill you never wanted – either from adding the ‘extras’ once you got to the resort or from booking the higher-level room category (you didn’t need) in order to get those ‘extras.’

At Excellence, a base room comes with a stocked bar and fridge, a room with a Jacuzzi, a balcony/patio with a hammock, and certainly the ability to order from a room service menu. You don’t have to book a higher-level room (concierge-level) to get all of those extra amenities. No extra fees. No surprises.

No Towel Game

This may not sound like a big deal either, but it is. If you’ve ever walked around a resort for hours on end trying desperately to find a lounger, only to come up empty-handed, you know what I’m talking about. People wake up in the wee hours of the morning, throw a towel with a book or a pair of flip flops on their chosen chair and then go back to bed. Most of them don’t show up to said chair for hours, if at all (I’ve seen that many times). I’ve played this towel game for years at Sandals.

At Excellence, there’s no chance of this happening – you can usually find one within a couple of minutes. They have staff members (pool concierge) who keep an eye on the loungers and will remove your belongings if you’ve been away from the chair for more than a couple of hours. That eliminates the dreaded towel game fiasco.

Entertainment

The show at Excellence, and most resorts in Punta Cana, are far superior to any of the shows I’ve seen on a Sandals resort, save the steel drum bands. Every night they showcase really great talent: a Michael Jackson show, an incredible aerobatics show, and a Burlesque show. Other really cool live entertainment includes a saxophone player who plays almost nightly near the martini bar and a piano player who plays during mealtime at Toscana. Very cool!

Sales and Promotions

I don’t know about you, but when Sandals advertises a sale, I can never find it. They say ‘65% off’ but that seems to be happening every single day. You go to the website to check the price and see a line through this ridiculous price, like 15K for a base room, with a new low price of, say, 4K, which really doesn’t seem like a sale at all.

When Excellence advertised back in May that they were having a 35% off sale, I immediately went to their website. Their base/regular price was roughly 3K. Then, with the 35% off sale, it was marked down to just over $1600. The sale they advertised was actually happening.

Let’s Give it to Sandals

Food

I had wonderful meals at Excellence and I loved the variety and options, but I think overall I’ve been happier with the food at Sandals.

Loyalty program

I’ve written about the Sandals Select loyalty program. It’s truly one of a kind and keeps a lot of people going back.

No Tipping

At Sandals, tipping is strictly forbidden. They fire staff who accept tips because they don’t want to sacrifice the customer experience (i.e. they don’t want staff to favor customers who tip and ignore those who don’t). The downside is feeling guilty when you can’t tip a staff member who went above and beyond for you. The upside is you don’t have to worry about carrying dollar bills with you everywhere you go.

Excellence allows their staff to accept tips. However, it’s clear that the staff members are not allowed to request tips and they’re not allowed to ignore guests who do not tip or favor those who do. Every guest is treated equally, regardless if they tip or not.

Complimentary Wedding Package

Sandals includes a basic complimentary wedding package ($500 value) with any booking. When we were married, that included everything we needed – the gazebo, an officiant, witnesses, decorations, cake, champagne, and a personal wedding planner. Excellence does not offer this unless you book a club-level room or higher.

Airport Lounge and Transportation

When you arrive at the Montego Bay airport and clear customs, you head directly to a really lovely Sandals lounge, where they offer a place to put your feet up while you wait for your driver to take you to the resort. The staff there arrange your transportation and announce when your ride is there. On top of that, the transportation cost is included in your price. None of that happens at the Punta Cana airport. There’s no Excellence lounge, and you’re on your own to arrange transportation.

Neck and Neck

Dinner Reservations

It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but having a ‘no dinner reservation’ system really is a big deal. We’ve been to resorts that require you to make all of your dinner reservations for the entire week the moment you step foot on the resort; otherwise, there’d be no chance of getting a table at their busier spots. Other resorts require you to make reservations first thing every morning. You have to wake up early, decide where you want to go for dinner that night, go to the front desk and get in line for 30 minutes and hope there’s still a table with your name on it.

At Excellence, we didn’t have to do any of that. And we had until the very last minute to decide where we wanted to go for dinner. It was wonderful having so much flexibility every night. We could change our minds at the last second and still have no problem getting a table at the restaurant of our choice. We only waited once (at Lobster House) for a table (about 20 minutes).

Although some Sandals resorts require restaurant reservations for at least some of their restaurants, some do not require reservations at all.

Grounds

Both brands do a wonderful job at manicuring their grounds and making every inch of the property a complete masterpiece.

Service

Both make it clear they want you to be utterly happy and pleased with what they have to offer. To that end, they hire staff members that work very hard to make sure your every need is taken care of.

Fun and Nightlife

Both resorts have really great entertainment staff who make sure you’re having fun through the day and participating in pool- and beach-side games and competitions. And both offer a multitude of bars for mingling at night.

Conclusion

Sandals and Excellence are both impeccable brands that offer 5-star luxury and inclusions. I still go to Sandals, but I juggle the two– Sandals one year; Excellence the next. As you’ve seen, one resort offers a handful of perks that the other doesn’t, and vice versa.  The point is to find out what attracts you most .. and book accordingly.

Been to both? Which was your favorite? Comment below.

 

 

4 comments on “Sandals Vs. Excellence: Let’s Take a Look

  1. Jody thabk you. I have been going back and forth for weeks now trying to decide where my husband and I should go for our 30th anniversary. You would think I was trying to buy the resort for all the research I was doing.
    I would sit nightly with my ipad, my phone, and my laptop looking up sites on one thing and then research the reviews on the others. I was going crazy.
    My initial thought was Sandals in Exuma Bahamas, but the cost seemed very price and then trip advisor photos from visitors, showed rooms that were very different than the brochure.
    Then I saw the Excellence Resorts, and was sold on the plunge pools. It’s been 30 years and while I love children, this time around I really want privacy and time alone with my husband. Even seeing the beauty of the resort in photos, I was wavering, then I saw your comments…THANK YOU! I am Excellence bound.

    • Thank you, Cathy. Glad I was able to help! Happy travels :)

  2. I have been to Excellence Punta Cana and loved it. Was thinking Sandals just to try a different island. I think I may stay with Excellence for a few more trips! I love that once you are there you do not pay a dime for anything. It is truly an all inclusive experience.

    • Thanks for your comment, Beth. Heading back to EPC on Sunday :)

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