from New York City, New York
Submitted on 13-08-2016
These villas were built as part of the Four Seasons hotel that I was lucky to stay at in 2008 and found to be one of the best properties I ever stayed at anywhere including the Caribbean. Sadly enough it was closed in fall of the same year otherwise I would have been a regular there. Now the former Four Seasons hotel is Sandals and the former FS villas chose to be a hotel of its own. Well, in my understanding if something is built as a hotel from the start is one thing, but if I want, say, to c...
These villas were built as part of the Four Seasons hotel that I was lucky to stay at in 2008 and found to be one of the best properties I ever stayed at anywhere including the Caribbean. Sadly enough it was closed in fall of the same year otherwise I would have been a regular there. Now the former Four Seasons hotel is Sandals and the former FS villas chose to be a hotel of its own. Well, in my understanding if something is built as a hotel from the start is one thing, but if I want, say, to convert my house into a hotel, it's a different story. I have to be aware that there are requirements and regulations and standards I have to comply with to be called a hotel rather that just putting a sign saying "hotel" on my front door.
While staying at GI I could not get rid of a feeling (especially considering the fact that the villas were not converted into a hotel just before I came there - it has been functioning as a resort for a while) that GI management took lightly to the adjustments they had to make and bypassed the conversion stage, in many ways remaining more of a villa rental than a 5-star resort. These are the reasons that made me come to this conclusion:
1) places that call themselves a hotel and even more so a resort that GI is, should be equipped to offer their guests a seat at one of their restaurants to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner within the hours specified for each meal. Not the GI! One day (it was Saturday) we went on a boat trip early in the morning for a whole day. We came back at 6 pm. 6:30 I called to make a reservation for dinner the same night at their only restaurant, Palapa Grill, and was told they could not accommodate my request. Instead they said we could do take out or room service. Having eaten at the restaurant already I could only be guessing how much time room service would take when we often had to wait for up to an hour for our meals on site. As for take out, I don't come to 5-star hotel to eat out of boxes and hardly ever do deliveries when at home. I called the reception and informed them of a situation insisting we want to eat in a restaurant. I was pretty straightforward with them that in case our request for dinner reservation is not accommodated I would make it known to their potential guests that they don't comply with hotel requirements. Not even a call back to discuss what could be done - this just shows the level of service at this place or rather the lack of such. As we were hungry and did not have a rental car we walked to have dinner to the only place in the vicinity reachable by foot from the GI called the Pub where I would not eat otherwise as it is a diner type of place. After we tried it once we decided we would not eat there again not only due to poor food quality and overall low standard of this establishment but also because bugs and mosquitos in Exuma seem to get particularly aggressive at night and we got badly bitten while walking there the first time. I had a feeling that GI could at least offer us a taxi on the house to take us to a better place for dinner outside the resort if they were not accept our dinner reservation at their own restaurant but they chose to do nothing.
Next day we made dinner reservations at Palapa Grill for the rest of our stay at GI as we did not want to rent a car (something that many guests might choose to do) and thus were stuck with this only choice. Did I enjoy these dinners? Mostly not as coming to a 5-star resort I can at least expect to eat my food without making the choice between spraying myself all over with chemical anti-repellants or being bitten to death by mosquitos. And I don't think I am being that picky to expect to dine in a nice cool air-conditioned room when being in the Caribbean where it's hot and humid most of the year.
2) service at the resort is hit or miss, mostly miss, especially in the restaurant. They know that #1 thing to do on Exuma is boat trips and for most of them people leave at 8 am. Yet they open their restaurant at 7:30. When, prior to one of such trips, I called the reception and asked if half an hour would be enough for us to eat breakfast they suggested we come at 7:15. We come at 7:15 and they don't even let us enter the restaurant not to mention ordering food from the menu. 7:30 we are showed to our table, food arrives 7:55. And we are to make it on the bus that is waiting for us with guests coming from another hotel. And we ordered mostly food that did not require much preparation like cereal and continental breakfast not something that requires a long time to be prepared. Well, if to pour a glass of wine often takes long enough for it to arrive in the middle of eating your appetizer then I would conclude this kind of "service" is more of a norm at their restaurant than an exception. Countless times they "forgot" to bring ordered dished so that we had to have just the main course than an appetizer and a main course, and messed up the orders. One time we went fishing and brought fish to the restaurant to be cooked. We specified the time when we come for lunch to eat it - 2:30. 3:00 we get the fish. The restaurant manager comes around and says the chef won't charge us for preparation as the fish is small. That was obviously a joke as when the check came it reflected a $15 charge per person for this small fish, a $60 total. And this is my overall impression of the GI - everyone seemed very nice, smiled and said nice things, but talking and doing are two different things. I believe most people at GI genuinely wanted to please, they just were not properly instructed/trained how, and there was generally a lack of coordination between in their effort to serve.
3) The beach. As some other reviewers noticed, the sun beds are a joke. On a public beach in Greece where sun beds are free they are 10 times nicer than these. They are of poor quality, cheap and not comfortable. Beach service is nonexistent. And yes, due to the location of the beach in certain weather conditions a lot of sea weed accumulates in the ocean close to the beach and on the beach itself and I did not notice it being removed daily as the hotel states. It was removed however a couple of days before we left when the seaweed time seemed to be over and there was no more of it in the ocean. This and often choppy ocean when other beaches on the island have the water as calm as a swimming pool make this beach less attractive than other beaches on the island although the water color is beautiful and like I never saw on any other island in the Caribbean. On our last full day at GI suddenly I see beach service, a very friendly smiling guy, checking on everyone, offering cold water several time, menus etc. And I am thinking that maybe I am there at the right time to witness a magic transformation of GI into what I would like it to be. But then we go to Palapa Grill for lunch and my son gets iced black coffee instead of iced latte and I get a Teriyaki salad ordered with shrimp without it. Why aren't these servers instructed to write orders down if they are not capable of memorizing them? Although we had one waiter who wrote our order down and we still got something else instead of what we ordered. They are smart to automatically include 15% tip in their checks because otherwise they would not get it from me most of the time although I generally consider myself to be quite generous with tips as I do believe that good service should be rewarded.
4) the villas are beautiful - there is no denying it. However, I don't know how it worked when they were part of Four Seasons, but most villa rentals are not meant to be cleaned daily unless specified by guest. Honestly I don't know how much staff GI should have just in housekeeping to clean these villas properly on a daily basis as they are huge, and they are not cleaned properly. Hence so many reviewers complain about housekeeping at GI. For the 9 days we were there the sheets were not changed once! The floors were never mopped or vacuum cleaned. My son can be messy and a couple of times I saw pieces of candy wrap on the floor he left behind prior to us stepping out of our villa. Same pieces were sitting on the floor in the same spot when we came back and saw that housekeeping had already "cleaned". My computer case was covered with dust when removed from an open shelf of the bedside table. So, I concluded that daily housekeeping at GI is limited to trash removal, making the beds and changing towels that in our case were coming down in number towards the end of our stay. After the first 2 days they took our wash cloths and never replaced them. Then they took a couple of hand towels from the other bedroom and never replaced and on the last day we had our bath mat missing. There are no robes or slippers at GI villas. Maybe the only time when the real cleaning does occur is upon guests' check-out. No wonder they have check-out time as 10 am and check-in at 4 pm. Even so we were not checked in until after the check-in time, so if you are coming just for a few days be prepared to cut down on your first vacation day by waiting for your villa to be ready.
5) The Spa. We used it once and my massage was good. However it is a tiny little building with only 2-3 rooms in it, small reception room and no changing/shower room. Nowadays when, especially in fine resorts spas are designed as an attraction in itself (thinking of Jamaica Inn spa, Sugar Beach Resort, St. Lucia spa etc.) one would not be as willing to spend as much on a treatment performed in a spa like the one at GI in comparison to fine spas like the ones mentioned above where you are in your individual tree house listening to the sound of the ocean.
To conclude I would say that whoever decide to turn these beautiful villas into a 5-star resort definitely skimped on making certain adjustments for it to become such and they put their reputation at stake. They still came to realize the adjustments are necessary as they are saying now they are building another restaurant with inside and outside options. As of today the situation with this place is that coming here one has to be prepared to cook that will definitely save money, time and frustration, rent a car and drive around for food and see the island as taxi prices are ridiculously inflated (definitely not the GI fault) and to rely as little on the hotel management as one normally does in a villa rental that is what Grand Isle really is. My two stars go to villas design and comfort but most of all to the exceptional natural beauty of Exuma islands.