November 6, 2003 -- For storied luxury hotels, this is the era of the big-budget remake, with a plot that goes like this. The great hotel, largely living on its glamorous past, gets an enormously expensive facelift (usually upwards of $100 million) and, when the scaffolding is unwrapped, the critics carp that the soul of the property has been scrubbed away along with the years of neglect.
That was the line on the Dorchester (1990) in London, Raffles (1991) in Singapore, the Beverly Hills Hotel (1996) and the George V (1999) in Paris. It was also the quick take in some quarters on Sandy Lane in Barbados when it reopened in 2001 after a redo that cost about $280 million--or $2.5 million per room.
Well, the critics should look again. I stayed at Sandy Lane in the early '90s and the jet-set gloss that it had acquired in the 1960s and '70s was already gone by then. Moreover the understated architecture of the original building, a deft mélange of 18th-century classicism and High Caribbean Plantation, had been marred by a modern addition that resembled a junior-college dormitory. The new owners not only tore down that addition, but the original building, too, and then started over using the original stylistic vocabulary: Tuscan columns, rusticated archways, cornices that break the roofline. How's that for coming full circle?
Inside, Sandy Lane II has some of the most luxurious rooms in the Caribbean. They are enormous--900 square feet on average--and they've been endowed with formidable info-age technology, including plasma-screen TVs, wireless modems and DVD players with speakers in the loo and out on the balcony. (You quickly come to love that feature.) Everything--the curtains, lighting, fan, room temperature--is controlled via touch pads at the doorways and bedside. (Just memorize the light button position--upper right-hand corner--or end up fumbling in the dark.)
The décor deploys an urbane palette of white, gold and mahogany with dabs of Caribbean hues and gorgeous, if restrained, floral prints. Impressive, too, is the designer's keen eye for mundane room realities. It shows in the marble ledge opposite the toilet, put there so you can put down that novel you just can't put down. Best rooms: Luxury Ocean or one-bedroom Dolphin Suite. Memo to High Rollers: The two Penthouses ($3,000 to $6,500 a night) are not the top rooms; they don't even have a view of the beach, which is blocked by a line of trees.
The 47,000-square-foot resort spa is a testament to the owners' budget-be-damned vision. It has a 7,500-square-foot free-form pool with an artificial waterfall (a touch of Las Vegas); pedicure thrones with built-in heat, massage and water pump; treatment rooms with plunge pools; Jacuzzis with built-in stainless-steel beds; pilates equipment; and rooms dedicated to arcane treatments like Jet Blitz, a cellulite buster.
Service, surprisingly, can be hit or miss. My bags were whisked away at check-in--but then didn't turn up for an hour. Another guest's bags--a beautiful pile of midnight-blue luggage--turned up at 10 p.m. one night. And someone should shake up the gregarious (with each other) pool waiters. Mine gave me a lunch menu and never returned. None of this was terminal, but in such luxe (not to mention expensive) surroundings, small lapses loom large.
Sandy Lane has a 1,000-foot-long beach, one of the finest of any Bejan resort, and two Tom Fazio golf courses. And it's still a British-inflected hotel--half of the clientele jets in from the United Kingdom--a legacy of its founder, British-born Ronald Tree. True, the original house-party atmosphere hasn't been (and can't be) revived: There's no Maria Callas swimming ashore from her yacht any-more, pet marmoset on her back, or David Niven at the bar inventing cocktails. (Just as the Polo Lounge is not the Hollywood hangout it once was.) That was then.
Today I'm not sure such eccentricity would even be at home here because Sandy Lane II, like so many very high-end resorts now, is more about private-jet cocooning than jet-set glamour. On that basis, it should be rated a roaring success.
Nightly room rates at Sandy Lane range from $600 to $2,500. Reservations: 866-444-4080.