WHITEHOUSE, Jamaica -- Rising up from what not so long ago was desolate, uninhabited, brush-filled beachfront property on the southwest coast of Jamaica is Sandals newest and grandest effort to date.

Its heavy on the wow factor.

The opening of Sandals Whitehouse European Resort & Spa on Feb. 10 -- the date is solid, promised general manager Jeremy Jones -- marks the firms return to where it began in Jamaica in 1981 with the opening of Sandals Montego Bay.

The last Sandals resort built from the ground up in Jamaica was its Dunns River Resort 13 years ago. (Other Sandals have opened on the island since then but were acquired properties and not newbuilds.)

What I saw in mid-December was a resort more than 80% through the three-year construction phase.

The hard-hat tour took more than two hours as I traipsed through three European villages, stepped over pipes and planks, skirted scaffolding and marble columns and chatted up an army of tradesmen from bricklayers to tile fitters, painters, carpenters, crane operators and beach dredgers.

My tour guides were Jones and Brian Roper, Sandals director of operations, two men who know this resort from blueprints to bedspreads.

Theyd been on site for months as architectural renderings evolved into reality and building outlines took shape.

Some highlights:

" The resort is a palette of 62 Caribbean colors that extend well beyond Sandals trademark hues and neons.

The colors reflect fruits, feelings, flavors, said Jones.

Indeed they do, with names like playful periwinkle, passionate papaya, coral dust and melon medley. The place glows, especially when the sun hits the roof tiles or exterior walls.

Dominating the color scheme and anchoring Sandals public areas and pool complex is the gold-domed roof of the main lobby area with marble statues and arches framing piazzas and sea views beyond.

Weve taken the designs at this resort to the highest degree, Roper said. Our tilers came from Israel, Romania, Italy and Mexico to work on this project. At one point we had 800 workers here, and all who were not locals were housed in staff units that we built.

" A total of 360 rooms in nine categories set on a 50-acre resort site makes for a sprawling complex made intimate by the three-village concept -- architecturally themed Dutch, Italian and French guest buildings, set off by landscaped courtyards, four pools, many bars and seven restaurants.

No guest has to walk very far to swim, drink and eat, Jones said.

Sandals trademark marble fountains and Greco-Roman statues are located throughout its newest resort at Whitehouse, opening Feb. 10. TW Photo by Gay Nagle Myers" Sandals Whitehouse has one of the few fully air-conditioned -- yet open-air -- lobbies in Jamaica, topped by the gold dome, a cedar roof and many trademark Greco-Roman statues.

With the total cost of the project hovering around $80 million, Roper acknowledged that Sandals Whitehouse is one of the most expensive resorts on a per-room basis that weve built.

" Six of the seven restaurants will serve a la carte meals; the Casa Blanca martini bar overlooks a 12,000-square-foot, zero-entry pool (the largest in Jamaica, according to Roper); each guest room and the 80 suites offer ocean views; continental breakfast is served in all rooms and in 48 suites, while the 32 top-category suites offer 24-hour room service and Sandals new butler service.

" Two beach clubs flank either end of the half-mile beach. One club is at the active end of the beach where the water sports are based, and the other is at the restful end, Jones said.

The resort sits on a peninsula bordered by Parkers Bay and Bannister Bay, both protected by a natural reef.

We handpick beaches when we select a property, and weve got a winner here, Roper said.

In fact, there still are 29 empty acres of Sandals-owned beachfront property next to the resort, which leaves open the possibility of a Beaches Resort opening there at some point.

" The resorts spa will have 10 treatment rooms; an oversized courtyard and fountains; hot and cold plunge pools; and misting areas.

Roper described it as the ultimate retreat.

" Entertainment options include a three-level theater seating 120 with a mezzanine bar and cocktail seating at tables for two, a game room with an X-Box Game Oasis and a retail village with gift shops, clothing stores and a tour desk.

Roper is especially proud of the back-of-the-house operation, where weve spent a lot of design, time and money.

Details, like changing lockers for the 600 employees, a large laundry facility and the latest in environmental systems, drew equal praise. 

" Land sports include four tennis courts, a full gym, a putting green, two squash courts and, still to come, an $8 million, 18-hole golf course in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains bordering the property.

Sandals, which will bring many agents to Whitehouse on fam trips in 2005, jump-started bookings by offering them an opening special rate, which sold out very quickly, Roper said.

In fact, the 32 top-category suites that feature Sandals new butler service are sold out for the first six weeks after opening, according to Roper.

All-inclusive rates through Dec. 31 range from $335 per room, per night, double, in a deluxe unit to $595 in a one-bedroom penthouse.

A two-night minimum stay is required.

For more on Sandals Whitehouse Resort & Spa, visit www.sandals.com/main/whitehouse/wh-home.cfm.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].


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