Prior to this post I reviewed a suite at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar in the Bahamas. This second post examines the amenities of the property including the pools, dining and property more broadly – but frankly, mostly food.
The lounge was really an 8/10 experience. I grade effort higher than anything else, and lack of effort in a simple to solve situation is unforgivable. I will get to that in a moment.
The lounge had a few partitions. Upon entering, there was a large, clean sitting room with huge twin TVs on opposite sides, this room was almost always at least partially full of people and was very high-end. The couches, pillows, even the floors were all very luxurious, a great deal of time and effort had been put into this room.
To the left is the indoor dining room with plenty of two, four and eight person tables. There was a good mix of each sized party almost every morning for breakfast and the setup was really well executed.
Outdoor seating amongst tables, couches, and umbrellas were available towards the entrance of the lounge as an extension of the dining room. We took advantage of this on at least one of our mornings.
Continuing through the lounge towards the back, to the right is a coffee station and soft drink fridge, service entrance, bathrooms and a private boardroom with seating for ten, a two desktop computer area for those traveling without a laptop of their own (aka my mother) and then the main food galley. To the right were cold dishes like salad in the evenings, fruit and dry cereal in the mornings.
To the left were some hot dishes (2-4 per meal period), bread, cheese, and other accouterments.
Breakfast was the same every morning: scrambled eggs, bacon, breads, charcuterie, individual quiche, hot oatmeal, four dry cereals, granola, yogurt, and a fruit selection. While a hot breakfast is always appreciated, there was no variety in the morning while every evening was something different. One night it was coconut shrimp, another steak medallions and onions, a variety of different vegetables – hot and cold – every night it was a different meal, every morning it was the same.
I was particularly confused that there were no American breakfast options given the close proximity to Florida and the large number of Americans in residence. I understand the world does not revolve around America, but if the majority of your guests are from the States, play to their preferences. In Asian countries where Japanese tourists frequent, you’ll find a salad bar in the morning, if the Chinese are expected visitors it’s congee, the Europeans get deli meats and cheeses (on offer at the club) – why would you not offer french toast, pancakes or waffles?
“We don’t have a kitchen here so we have to bring everything in from elsewhere so there would be no way to cook it.” the polite and respectful premium service manager in the lounge said.
“Well yes, but you could just bring it in a dish and place it on one of the hot plates as you’ve done with the eggs, bacon and the rest.” I replied getting a little perplexed.
“We have looked at bringing in the hardware to do an omelet station but it’s just too difficult to make it work.” She added not replying to anything relevant.
Even if you don’t like those items, your kids probably do. And it’s unlikely they start their days with waffles, pancakes or french toast. Maybe once in a while, but not every day. That’s what makes vacation so special for kids. A fun breakfast int he morning, then out in the sun, splashing in the water all day long until passing out in the hotel room still wearing their swimsuits while watching a movie. Instead, the lounge staff can figure out how to bring in bacon in a dish, but not pancakes – ok.
While we were not able to locate any marked “Adults Only” pools or “Family Pools” each tended to divide themselves appropriately. There are some whitewashed areas with lounge chairs in shallow water and lots of women reading Nicholas Sparks books – though in fairness I did see at least one Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood. Both these areas and all of the other pools had staff serving drinks and taking food orders as well as open-air bars and restaurants for a break.
Hot tubs are also spread out near the respective pools and seat about eight adults. There were both very hot and just warm hot tubs spread throughout the property which is good for when our little wants to take a break from the pool. It’s worth noting that all of the pools are heated, a welcome surprise during our January stay. It’s also worth noting that the pools are staffed with lifeguards which is reassuring for me as a parent.
Speaking of children, if you have kids, they will love one particular pool more than all others. There Facing the sea to the north (exiting the casino and hotel property) the farthest forward and left (west) lagoon will capture their imaginations and attention – yours too. The property has a small sea water aquarium with a pair of divisions, a larger section hosting a handful of nurse sharks, stingrays and tropical fish, and a separate divided section with a few seat turtles. Inside of a grotto within the aforementioned swimming pool is a a glass wall that allows guests (young and old) to come up close and personal with the animals without leaving the pool area. I will state that while I believe interactions with animals ultimately fosters protection and promotes education, this enclosure was pretty small and I had mixed feelings about it. I’m not really a green peace type, but the enclosure was pretty small and crowded.
We had limited exposure to the beach as the temperatures were in the low to mid 70s, but as it was snowing in Pittsburgh at the time, like any good northerner, we found ourselves at the beach anyway. We could only manage that for a short while.
At the same area as the grotto, there were two large rock formations where the property had designed jumping platforms with a 10′ deep bottom. The height from the water was approximately 6′ and 10′. I jumped from the 10′ height to show our daughter Lucy that there was nothing to be afraid of, though I will just say that it looked and felt a LOT higher from up there than it really is.
My four-year old Lucy (just two days after her birthday), after sufficient coaching from a friend, jumped on her own from the 6′ height. It was pure bravery, I am a very proud dad. This is one of the reasons we travel, moments like this one where my daughter summons all the courage she has and jumps off what must feel like a mountain without being able to fully swim in front of 20-30 strangers chanting her name. She did it.
The casino is the great connector throughout the properties. They connect the Rosewood (five star luxury property to the east of the complex), the Grand Hyatt towers (east and west) and the SLS on the west side. Yes it was low season, but the property seemed empty as there were never more than a handful of guests playing table games and a spattering of customers at the slot machines. The busiest we saw the casino during four full days and three nights was during the comeback win of the Patriots in the AFC title game.
There will be plenty of shopping in the complex eventually. Retail space has been built out on the ground level of the property though just a couple of shops have chosen to occupy the space, one of three shops (out of perhaps 20 spaces) was a hotel gift shop (quite reasonably priced but not sensibly stocked).
The only shopping that was widely available were luxury shops with Tiffany, Breitling, and others welcoming guests. Cartier and a couple more high end retailers had either already vacated or had not yet opened but regardless were not open now.
One final item, there is a gift shop between the Starbucks and Stix in the east tower that is charging criminal pricing and taking advantage of guests. I don’t make a habit of so blatantly calling out business owners, but the pricing for certain items were absolutely gouging customers. I am including an image of a thin, generic hooded sweatshirt that says, “Bahamas” on it – priced at $144USD. We clarified that this was not a mistake and the shop keeper stated it was not and that they sell a lot of them. I can imagine plenty of guests putting this thin hoody on their room bill thinking it was $14.4o.
For comparison, here is what you can get in the hotel gift shop for $65 which is comparable to what you would find at any other retailer.
There were more restaurants than we were able to visit in our short, four-day, three-night visit. I won’t attempt to cover them all, but I will provide some insight as to where you might find other restaurants in the same area. A number of small beachside/poolside bars and restaurants dot the landscape from the casino doors to the Caribbean sea. None of these will change your lives nor ruin it either. I am sure they each had their own name and distinctions (one such whitewashed pool area held a daiquiri bar – both virgin and alcohol-added) but were mostly the same poolside offerings – burgers, fries and something fresh.
My daughter also found the coffee shop and dessert venue at the far end of the property (Cafe Madeleine) carried macaroons the size of her fist. She’s on holiday too right? C’est la vie.
Along the beach, a few stores line the boardwalk with food truck-style offerings. These seemed to be a favorite for a wide-variety of guests. Hipsters and the generally fit enjoyed the Poke bowl truck with fresh, raw seafood offerings Hawaiian-style. A hot dog shop that I really wanted to try but didn’t get a chance welcomed a family crowd, and just about everybody stopped at some point at the Mexican food truck with handmade guacamole, rolled burritos, street tacos and nachos we took back to the cabana without incident as they are owned by the hotel.
There were a pair of fine dining restaurants that are worth mentioning as they were somehow both reasonably priced and expensive. You’ll likely be drawn to both during your stay, both are technically under the management of the connected SLS hotel via the Baha Mar casino floor.
The property has a genuine, full-service Starbucks overstaffed with mediocre Baristas. You can write all the comments you want about how I shouldn’t expect Starbucks baristas in the Bahamas and I will simply respond, if you charge me more than I pay in the States for the same cup of coffee, I expect at least the same level of drink.
For those who might want to escape to a coffee shop for a little work space away from the kids or other distractions, there were plenty of laptop-toting workers who setup shop like they would in any other coffee shop any where in the world (though the wifi is the same speed even down to the beach). I appreciated their co-working approach, some with headsets and Skype open, as they logged in for meetings and conference calls or pounded out emails in Outlook. I love that they have a full Starbucks on property, but the quality of the work was lacking.
Do not confuse Stix with the Chinese restaurant (Shuang Ba) that we were not able to easily locate during our stay (though we only looked for it right at the end). The final contractor for the property was a Chinese development firm and this would explain the elaborate (acceding to pictures) Shuang Ba, and the Asian fusion restaurant Stix.
We sat down to Stix as our first meal on the property and loved it. Entrees were mid-priced and portions were generous. The tab for four entrees and a couple of starters was around $80 – fair enough for the portion size, quality and convenience of the meal.
Italian food in a beautiful and contemporary indoor setting or on the patio, this restaurant offered “family style” dining but it’s hardly what you think. Let’s just discuss what family-style means. I am picturing my wife’s Italian family where several dishes are presented, each large enough to share that offer a portion to three or four guests at the same table. They are a little more expensive than a single entree but feed more than one person so it all kind of evens out in the end. When the servers at Fi’Lia say “family-style, sharing dishes” what they really mean to say are Italian tapas. I am more than comfortable with Italian tapas but it doesn’t help me properly order food if I expect we will share a dish and it’s really not enough for a single person.
We were seated outside on the patio on a perfect evening. Some tables were traditional, others were loveseats with a table in between, for one large party it was a fairly grand, long table with seating and toasts befitting a celebration.
Our server suggested the family-style Ceaser salad, created table side. This was perhaps the most popular dish in the entire restaurant and as such, the single appointed chef roamed from table to table throughout the dining room with her cart to cook croutons, make dressing from scratch and chop the perfect salad. It was excellent… by the time it got to us about 30 minutes after we ordered. Our four-year old loved the theatrics but it really was an awfully long time to wait for the first course of our meal – a precursor to the rest of the meal.
Following the salad came the bolognese about 25 minutes later. This was presented as a sharing dish, but barely satisfied myself, my wife and daughter even following a visit to the lounge a couple of hours earlier – our two guests didn’t even touch it as they didn’t want to eat anything off our plate given the portion size. They had also ordered a pizza to share.
About that pizza. We had fully finished the Bolognese (though we tried to wait, they encouraged us to eat) and the pizza had not yet arrived. We finally looked at our watches as the entire experience had gone south. From the time we sat down (8PM) until we spoke with another server regarding our second and final entree it was a full hour and 25 minutes. We asked for them to send a manager by, our server came instead stating they were having problems with the oven. That may be the case, but she probably should have said something before we were an hour and a half into the meal with no progress on the pizza to speak of. We assured her we weren’t upset with her, but we had waited patiently long enough for the pizza. It was out a quick 8-10 minutes after we brought it to the manager’s attention which is really quick for a broken oven. The restaurant comped the pizza, but after a salad ($28) that was actually family-style, a Bolognese ($20) that was fit for one person if they added a side, some soft drinks and at least a pair of cocktails for our guests (plus 15% service fee) we still billed around $75 to the room. The food was delicious but either it’s for sharing or it isn’t, the salad was, the bolognese and pizza were not, consistent messaging was non-existent from the menu to the staff.
Off the busy SLS lobby bar was Cleo, another tapas-style take, this time on Greek classics. Having made mistakes the previous night at Fi’Lia, we clarified with our server who used the same language “family-style sharing dishes”.
“When you say ‘family-style sharing dishes’ do you mean large dishes where we should order just a few, or tapas-style where everyone gets a little taste?”
The server smiled and said it was the latter (we were not the first to have a different understanding of family-style and it was also confirmed not to be a Bahamian usage of the term), then went on to suggest a few. We ordered about half the menu that evening (not really, but maybe). It wasn’t that we were trying to save money or that we were cheap, it was that we didn’t want to be wasteful. If you tell us these are Greek tapas we will order accordingly. If you tell me these are Italian family-style dishes to share, then we assume portions are akin to Buca DiBeppo. We ordered properly and our experience was measurably better than at Fi’Lia. The food was amazing, every single dish was exceptional. Portions were very small, but we ordered plenty of food and expected this. Timing was excellent, food came out as it was ready (instead of all at once) and it really felt like we hired a private chef who just kept bringing dishes to the table. We loved it and I will let the images of the food speak for our experience.
The Bahamas are not a bargain location, but we liked that the hotel wasn’t gouging us entirely. We ate almost exclusively on the resort due to the extortionate taxi rates (something we never do) and treated it as if it were an all-inclusive. We billed everything to the room for all three people (our daughter’s fruit slushies, fries, burgers and sandwiches add up) as if it were an all-inclusive and while we do not drink, we could have for free in the lounge morning to night. The cost to make the resort all-inclusive (not as a package but in practice) was less than $70/person/day. When comparing the quality of the property, the room, the taste and selection of the food – we felt we came way out ahead of where we would be if we stayed at an all-inclusive resort.
We would return to Baha Mar for the quality of the room, the excellent variety of pools and beach, and definitely the food.
Does Baha Mar live up to your expectations after so many years in development? Have you ever decided to make your hotel all-inclusive like we did?