"Rum makes everything better," said Corey Sobers, a Rum Ambassador at the Colony Club resort on Barbados. "Rum is fun."
I first met Sobers (interesting last name for a man dealing with a roomful of rum) when I was seated at a long wooden table in a room containing by 150 bottles of rum.
The Rum Vault, formerly the resort's library, opened in October 2018 and is the only such "vault" on Barbados.
Its contents, as the name implies, are heavy on rums from around the world, with Barbados rums at the top of the long list.
"Barbados is the birthplace of rum, and in here we offer rum-themed experiences, tastings and special rum dinners, limited to 10 guests," Sobers said.
I was solo and it wasn't dinnertime, so I was there for the rum-and-chocolate experience that features a variety of rums, each paired with a specific sweet.
"To best enjoy them together, you first clear your palate with water, then you swirl the rum in your glass, smell it, sip it, take a bit of the sweet, then sip again and swallow, and then repeat the steps," Sobers instructed me.
The chocolate is made at the resort, and there were as many varieties of that delicacy as there were rums, it seemed, but the combos I liked best paired the Barbados Mount Gay Black Barrel rum with a bite-size piece of Scotch bonnet chocolate and the Angostura rum from Trinidad with passion fruit dark chocolate.
Price for the rum-and-chocolate pairing is approximately $33 per person; the three-course dinner with rum cocktails is $125 per person.
One of the four pools at the Colony Club has a waterfall feature. Photo Credit: Gay Nagle Myers
The 96-room Colony Club is one of the seven properties plus Daphne's Italian beachfront restaurant that are owned and operated by the Elegant Hotels Group, whose portfolio on Barbados was recently acquired by Marriott International.
The $199 million deal is expected to be finalized by December, at which time Marriott plans to renovate the properties and operate them under one or more of its brands.
Six of the seven resorts are on Barbados' west coast, known as the Platinum Coast, and the seventh, Turtle Beach, is on the south coast.
Marriott will maintain the all-inclusive concept currently in effect at four of the resorts: Tamarind, Crystal Cove, the Waves Hotel & Spa and Turtle Beach.
The remaining three are European Plan (room only) properties: Colony Club, the House and Treasure Beach.
I stayed at the 101-room Tamarind, dined at Daphne's dinner-only restaurant next door one evening, walked to the 34-room the House, took a water taxi to the 96-room Colony Club and traveled by taxi to the 70-room Waves for site inspections.
Time did not allow for visits to the other Elegant properties, but the ones I did see, from bedrooms to bars, were each distinct in design and layout.
What was the same were the British accents I heard at each resort. In fact, at the Tamarind I was the only American guest during my short stay.
Adrian Grant, the Tamarind's general manager, said that close to 65% of the resort's guests are from the U.K.
"We are growing our U.S. business, but we are not as well known to the American market as other Barbados resorts, although we recently hosted several U.S. agents here on a press trip organized by Barbados Tourism Marketing,and this resort piqued their interest," Grant said.
The Tamarind opened in 1969 and used to be called Tamarind Cove. It was bought by Elegant in 1997 and renamed in 2010, when it was last refurbished.
The family-friendly resort announced that it was converting to an all-inclusive concept on Oct. 1, three weeks before Marriott announced its acquisition of the Elegant portfolio.
"Our employees were very energized by [our conversion to all-inclusive] and started training immediately to learn what the shift to an all-inclusive way of doing business would mean in resort life," Grant said.
The beachfront property resembles a sprawling, low-rise Mexican hacienda with terra cotta tile floors throughout the public areas. Guestrooms meander all over the property, and I found the signage regarding room numbers and locations to be a bit confusing.
Facilities include three pools (one of which is identified as adults-only near a pool bar named Rilaks), two restaurants, two bars and the Flying Fish Kids Club. Among the amenities are beach ambassadors to serve guests at the pools and on the beach, a spa, a free shuttle to the Oistins Friday night fish fry and complimentary water taxi service to the other Elegant properties on the west coast and to sister properties for the Taste of Elegance Dine Around program. There's also a new walking tour.
Dinner at Daphne's restaurant is included in the all-inclusive rates, which start at $690 per room, per night, double, through Dec. 18, increasing to $1,565 through Jan. 4 and dropping to $1,140 after that date.
A guestroom at the Waves Hotel & Spa, which came under the Elegant Hotels Group umbrella in 2016 and was then completely overhauled.
The contemporary all-inclusive Waves Hotel & Spa was in total contrast to the Tamarind.
The resort joined the Elegant group in 2016 and was completely overhauled that year. It targets millennials and families and offers 18 guestrooms for adults only across the street from the main, 52-room beachfront resort.
"Our focus is health and wellness, balance and sleep," said general manager Kim Griffith-Lewis.
Seascape, its main restaurant, serves three meals a day with a la carte dinners five nights a week and themed buffets the other two nights. Kyma, its cafe and deli, has all-day dining; and Shiso, its Asian fusion dinner restaurant, resembles a Japanese temple.
The House is an all-suite, adults-only resort that's upscale and modern. It is a favorite with repeat guests, who, along with honeymooners, drive most of the business, general manager Sandra Parris said.
Rates start at $870 per room, per night, double, for a junior suite and at $1,400 for a one-bedroom suite with two balconies and two bathrooms.
Average year-round occupancy is 50%, according to Parris.
The 96-room Colony Club, where I sampled rum and fun, started out in 1948 as a gentlemen's club and now hosts couples and families, many of whom are repeat guests, according to general manager Karene Roach.
As at most of Elegant's properties, the main market hails from the U.K., although the Marriott connection "is bound to boost our traffic from the U.S.," Roach said.
The beachfront resort has four pools, one of which features a waterfall; two restaurants; a complimentary kids program; and an organic garden that offers a cooking demonstration as part of the resort tour.
Peak season rates start at $1,075 per room, per night, double, and include breakfast.