I had the time of my life and it was arguably the perfect weekend away, which I accomplished without even leaving home. Well … when I say home, I mean the island. A quick car ride to the SLS Baha Mar, which has a reputation for being the desired hangout playground with some of the most desired restaurants and fantastic day and night life, took me out of the rut that’s been my routine and mundane existence of the last year.
Let’s face it – the reality is that we have all been dealing with a lot – and are trying to get back to some sense of normality. A year of homeschooling children has morphed into hybrid learning, curfew remains, mask wearing and social distancing are the order of the day. It has taken a toll and I needed a reprieve. A break from the four walls of my home was much desired, and hopping on a plane at this time is out of the question for me at least, unless it’s a dire emergency.
So, it was fantastic to learn that the SLS Baha Mar has curated staycation experiences specifically for residents looking to get away from it all – if only for a brief respite – with “Stay & Play”, featuring a special resident rate that has been substantially discounted specifically for Bahamian residents (an average of 40 percent discount); as well as “Time for Two” with everything a couple needs to relax and rejuvenate – breakfast in bed, complimentary bottle of champagne, daily happy hour (50 percent off at Monkey Bar from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.), beautiful SLS beach bag, and a 5 p.m. check out to enjoy the pools for a full day before heading home.
The SLS curated experiences are designed to take you out of your routine or typical day and put you in absolute relaxed vacation mode. They are designed to help you get back to some sense of normality in what is the new normal, and to truly experience so-to-speak, the playground SLS is known to be, without having to rush home for curfew.
Considering the SLS was the first place I ventured out to for indoor dinner as we reopened in this new normal, in all my trepidation, they made me feel completely safe with the COVID protocols they had implemented, so I felt comfortable spending a long weekend at the resort.
I envisioned it – pre-dinner cocktails at Monkey Bar, lingering over fantastic dinners and engaging in conversation without having to rush home by 10 p.m., heading to the rooftop Skybar for after dinner drinks under the stars while listening to a DJ spinning hits. Booked! And “Time for Two” was perfect.
At arrival, my husband David and I were greeted by Raeshaun Saunders, who relieved us of our luggage and proceeded to escort us to the front desk where we were checked in by Terrinique Pennerman, before accompanying us to complimentary COVID-19 testing, which is mandatory for all guests checking in to the hotel, then shown to a beautifully appointed luxurious suite to wait on our COVID test results. (Lolling about in a beautiful suite with a king-sized bed and an amazing ocean view was such a hardship). Upon receiving negative results, room keys in the form of waterproof bracelets (and a key card for those who still need it) in keeping with touchless protocols, were delivered to our room and we were free to move about the property.
I was more than ready to let the fun begin and let it all hang out, and I had an agenda: dining at the SLS restaurants, Cleo Mediterraneo, Fi’lia and Katsuya, and hanging out at Bungalow Pool Bar & Grill, cocktails at Skybar as well as Monkey Bar. And I hoped to sneak in a visit to ESPA for much needed treatments, a possible round of golf at Mini Blue, a professional putting inspired 18-hole miniature golf course, and the gym to hopefully try to get in a workout or two. (I was on vacation, that may have been a stretch.)
As I moved about the property, one thing definitely stood out, and it’s that the SLS is serious about its COVID protocols, which is perfectly fine with me. As a person who takes COVID protocols seriously, it was good to see sanitizing stations literally everywhere, and staff constantly reminding you to sanitize. And if by chance you aren’t wearing a mask as you move about in a public space, they politely ask you to put one on. (Because let’s face it, who hasn’t forgotten to not put on their mask when they get up from a table to dash to the bathroom.)
On the first night of my long three-night weekend, Cleo Mediterraneo reopened its doors, so I made a beeline for this restaurant that captures the vibrancy of Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and was taken on a culinary adventure of sharable plates, mezzes, flatbreads – hummus, feta and labneh, Brussels sprouts, green falafel, harissa tuna tartare, lamb shawarma, mushroom flatbread, Chilean seabass … you get the picture – and cocktails in the intimate, yet energetic atmosphere, that I had honestly forgotten was so warm and inviting haven’t not eaten here in a couple of years. That dinner reminded me so much of what I love about Cleo, but had forgotten.
Evening two meant dinner at Fi’lia where they proudly boast of honest Italian food, highlight fresh ingredients from the wood grill and hearth, handmade breads and pasta. On my visit, I gave in to a suggestion to try the impossible polpettine – plant-based meatballs in pomodoro sauce to discover the impossible was made possible. It tasted like meat, chewed like meat and frankly… tasted incredible. A little bruschetta, some arancini, grilled king prawns, braised short rib with polenta, and a wonderfully tangy lemon crostata rounded out the meal.
It was Katsuya’s innovative sushi and robata dishes, uniquely adapted for the western palate that held court on my final night – with a revamped menu item in its shrimp tobanyaki – sauteed shrimp with asparagus, negi (sweet, green onion), and an assortment of mushrooms with a sesame miso stealing the show and making me sit up and take notice. Coupled with king crab dumplings, crispy Brussels sprouts, lobster sushi roll and beef short ribs with BBQ sauce, it was indeed a good night.
In between the leisurely dinners, evenings hanging out at Skybar or Monkey Bar, my days were filled lazing away the time at the seductive Bungalow Pool Bar & Grill, taking a dip in the pool and light fare.
Like the true vacation experience, you indulge – a lot, so after staying out late, indulging in breakfast in bed, which was a part of the “Time for Two” experience, was a much-needed respite.
Beautifully appointed suite.
Stunning ocean and pool views.
Irresistible retreat with a wide range of activities.
Amazing cuisine and cocktails.
I stayed, played and indulged.
While it was the perfect weekend break, Axel Gasser, SLS vice president and general manager said they curated the packages especially for the local market for people like myself who remain wary of travel but would like to enjoy a vacation away from their home.
I’m back in the real world where we still have some limitations as we move through our day, but spending a few days at the SLS allowed me to take a breather and have fun in a disciplined manner, and most importantly, in a safe environment.
In speaking with Gasser, he stressed that the SLS takes the safety of guests and staff seriously.
“It is safe to come here,” Gasser said of the SLS. “And while you’re on property, we ask people to be respectful of our policies – we’ve created them for a reason. This is not the time to let loose and forget about everything, so we still need to be disciplined until we get to the end of this.”
And everyone who steps foot on the resort grounds has to have a negative COVID test – whether it’s a day guest for dinner, or a vendor, and employees are tested weekly.”
Gasser said they do everything in their power to create a kind of bubble where everyone who steps on property are negative, and social distancing is enforced.
“As a sbe operator, in the past, crowds were our action – Monkey Bar would have 500-600 people, but from the revised seating plan we allow people the opportunity to maintain the recommended social distancing, and also we are very strict on masks and we truly enforce it. Anyone walking through public areas has to wear a mask, but once you sit down you can relax in your space, but once you cross other people’s paths, a mask is mandatory.”
Gasser said he, too, can relate to the “Time for Two” experience.
“All of us have children at home and it’s just been very difficult; and as much as we love them, it’s great to get away from them, so we created this package in which two people come here and have a great time.”
He said people want to be taken out of their routine and want to have something they don’t get to experience.
“It’s very difficult to go to the US and we’re in a safer place here. You’re vacationing in your own “backyard” so-to-speak, but it’s an experience that you wouldn’t have at your house – world-class beverages, we have Sky Bar, the pools, fantastic suites, ocean view rooms; so you’re in the comfort of your backyard, but we’re truly taking you out of your routine and your typical day, and we’re going to put you in an absolute relaxed vacation mode and trying to get some sense of a new normal.”
Gasser described the SLS as the fun playground.
“We created this offer because we wanted to give back to the community, because everyone for the last year has been struggling – we’ve been homeschooling children, confined to our houses and gardens, so there’s been a tremendous amount of suffering and people just want to get out. As we opened up, we saw an amazing demand and support from the local community.”
The SLS packages he said gives people the opportunity to go back to their normal, even if it’s a new normal.
SLS has every single venue open with the exception of night life, the sbe party venues. Gasser said they do not feel comfortable opening night life, just yet.
“Since the pandemic started, we’ve put safety as a priority more than the economic impact. We want to make sure our staff, guests and the community are safe. We don’t want to have any negative impact on that, so nightlife is still closed.”