"Hey, lady with the earrings, I remember you!"
That was my greeting when I arrived at the Sandals Royal Barbados recently. The first person I saw after check-in was Marksun, standing with a rake in his hand and a grin on his face.
I'd met Marksun, head gardener at Sandals Barbados, right after the resort opened in January 2015.
He's still there, but now he has the gardens of two resorts to nurture, pamper and tend.
Judging by the blooms on the bougainvillea, the blossoms on the frangipani and the brilliance of the hibiscus, the gardens are thriving under his very green thumb.
We stood and talked on the wide, stone footpath bordered by foliage that connected the two resort siblings sitting side by side on the southeast coast of Barbados.
While there are similarities to the properties, there are some differences, but both are luxury, all-inclusive resorts that bear the signature Sandals stamp of service and guest satisfaction.
The main pool at the Sandals Royal Barbados, which opened in December.
Although the couples-only Sandals Royal Barbados, which opened in December, is smaller in room count, with 222 suites versus 280 next door, its rooms are larger, the showers are built for two, there are more swim-up suites and suite categories and the resort sits on 14 acres next to the compact and cozy 7-acre site of its neighbor.
Butlers circle the property on bikes to answer the calls and requests. A crackerjack team of 80 butlers services both resorts.
The Sandals Royal evolved after chairman Butch Stewart scrapped the original plan to expand the Sandals Barbados and decided instead to build a new resort on the vacant site next door.
At the time, Stewart felt that expanding the first property could compromise both the intimacy essential to a romantic setting and possibly the service standards.
"We established a management team dedicated exclusively to Sandals Royal Barbados and designed the resort to complement Sandals Barbados, where in Sandals' style, guests may stay at one but play at two," Stewart said.
Guests staying at either have the option of dining at 17 restaurants, imbibing at numerous bars, relaxing at two spas, sunning on Maxwell's Beach or Dover Beach and swimming in six pools with no barriers or restrictions between the two properties.
Still, there are some features unique to the Sandals Royal, such as the Lovers Lane four-lane bowling alley (a first for Sandals) with a wraparound craft beer bar, the one-chair Clip Joint barbershop (the $33.95 haircut is by appointment only), the rooftop infinity pool, the cantilevered Sky Bar and La Parisienne cafe, the Chi Asian fusion restaurant, the American Tavern restaurant (try the fresh-squeezed orange juice at breakfast) and Butch's Steaks and Seafood.
To wow the honeymoon and wedding market, the Crystal Lagoon swim-up suites enable couples to walk out of their room onto a poolside terrace with lounge chairs in the water.
The resort’s South Seas Royal Rondoval Butler Suite. Guests at the couples-only Royal have access to the amenities at the neighboring Sandals Barbados and vice versa.
The 17 Rondoval Suites (individual cottages with conical, thatched roofs and tiny plunge pools in private fenced-in yards) "are a favorite with honeymooners and are always booked," according to Ferry Zievinger, general manager for both properties.
"We average up to five weddings a day, seven days a week," he said. "It's a huge market, but there are many choices of venues for the ceremony and reception so we do not impact our other guests. That's important."
Activities abound, from reggae dancing to cooking classes, mixology sessions and tastings at the infinity pool bar, beach volleyball, soccer, nature walks, garden tours, live music and shows at the pavilion and late-night entertainment at the fire pits.
For off-site excursions, Island Routes Caribbean Adventures has a desk at the Sandals Royal and can arrange numerous excursions, including a catamaran cruise around the island, a Bajan Historic Walk in Bridgetown and a hard-hat tour of Harrison's Caves, among others.
Zievinger said 30% of the guests booking at the Sandals Royal are first-time Sandals guests.
Occupancy has been running at 95%, and the upcoming winter season has very solid bookings, according to Zievinger.
Expansion is already on the horizon with plans for the Sandals Royal to add 50 rooms in the near future.
Rates start at $277 per person, per night, double, in an entry-level suite and can go as high as $5,391 per night, double, in a beachfront Skypool butler suite with a balcony soaking tub.