It was that time in second year at The International Hotel School where everyone else knew where they were going for their 6 month practicals – when they were leaving, how much they were earning, and where they would be staying. Except me. I was blissfully unaware of the journey I was about to embark on…
One day in Accounting, my friend Chloe turned to me and asked if I wanted to go to work on an island in the Caribbean, namely the Bahamas! Without hesitating I said yes, and before I knew it, the interview process was complete and we were sitting on a Delta flight to Atlanta, Georgia at the end of January.
After a long haul flight, a layover, yet another flight, and an exhausting experience at the most festive Immigration Hall, we had arrived. As we drove the short distance to Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort Spa and Off Shore Island – yes that’s right, we had our own fully equipped island to play on! – I remember looking out of the window and thinking, “I can’t believe this is going to be my home”, and truth be told I still can’t.
The Sandals Resorts family
Very quickly, Chloe and I were accepted into the Sandals family and boy was it a big one! Sandals Resorts International is a Jamaican company and as our General Manager, Patrick Drake, quickly taught us: it’s one small island with a huge heart and they so easily took us in. With 25 resorts throughout the Caribbean, the Chairman – Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart – had found the recipe for success! And it all started with us – he was just like us once upon a time, willing to do anything to learn about the industry and what it has to offer.
We were fortunate enough to be able to choose where we wanted to spend our days, and for me it was Food and Beverage. There were 10 different dining options on the property and whichever one needed help, I was happy to be there, not to mention the chaotic office of our Food and Beverage Manager, Rohan Saraf, and his right-hand administrator, Patricia Pinder – where I too spent many a day.
I can confidently say that no matter where I was at 9am when shift started, I was not only happy – I was capable. Chloe was a little more adventurous than I was – she tried her hand in Concierge, Bars, Weddings, and Public Relations, and was great at each aspect, so it was all about which one she loved more, and Public Relations was definitely her favourite!
Working hard and playing hard in the Bahamas
A time known as Reunion Week took us both away from our departments for what I can only describe as a full week of hosting guests that had been to a Sandals Resort before. We found ourselves at the ‘Barefoot on the Beach’ cocktail party to welcome our select guests, on a ‘Sunset Cruise’ to show guests what island living is all about, as well as hosts at our ‘Gala Dinner’ to show our five-star services in all formal attire. We also attended the ’White Party’ to showcase our diversity, and the final ‘Junkanoo Street Party’, a replica of a Bahamian festival filled with lights, dancing, and lots of the infamous Sky Juice cocktail!
When we weren’t working hard, we were playing hard – just the way it should be! From taking Scuba Diving Courses, to diving with reef sharks, to tanning on the many beautiful beaches, and taking yacht trips to swim with dolphins – we soon filled our days off, as well as late nights out at the various clubs our little island had to offer. And our little island was just one of the 700 in the country!
Whisked away to a piece of paradise
After talking amongst friends and family about the Exuma Cays, we were blessed enough to be chosen to do an all-expenses-paid photo shoot in George Town, Great Exuma for one of Sandals’ sister companies, Island Routes. We were whisked off to stay in one of our other properties, Sandals Emerald Bay, to spend our days on more boats, fuelled with alcohol and music, to take photos of what I can only describe as a piece of paradise!
From snorkelling to scuba diving, to experiencing a blow hole, to lying on a beach, or swimming with water pigs, and having lunches on deserted islands – it was another week in the life of the duo who soon became known as ‘the South African twins’. This magical experience was concluded with a private jet ride home from a friend and colleague, Adam Gomez, personal pilot to CEO Adam Stewart – what an experience to say the very least!
Living and travelling in the Caribbean
Living in the Caribbean lends itself to travel, and with Exuma under our belts, we sure took advantage of that! Miami, Florida was a frequent visit for us, as the night life was a taste we couldn’t get enough of!
We spent a week in New York City doing what girls do best – SHOPPING! Literally from 9 to 5, it was like our own version of a working day. We also took in the sights, cycling over the Brooklyn Bridge from downtown Manhattan to Brooklyn, and up to see the lights on Times Square before spending the most moving afternoon remembering those in the 9/11 attack at Ground Zero.
Orlando saw us next for our chance to be kids again in Disney Land, where the Harry Potter ride blew us away. We concluded our time with a trip to Jamaica to see the company, as well as the many friends we’d made! An all Jamaican Cook-Off in Kingston, with a real set of twins, to beach days in Montego Bay, and climbing Dunns River Falls in Ochio Rios, soon had as speaking the lingo!
The time of my life
Finally we spent a week in Cuba, staying with the most loving family in Old Havana and living like we were in the 1950s, driving the beat-up streets in a yellow 1953 Chevy, and trying our luck at Spanish, made late night coffee shop serenades all the more perfect!
Our journey lasted five months and I’ve come back a different person from when I left; I thank my lucky stars for not only the opportunity, but the friends that turned into family.
Looking back I know that these past few months will be those I will forever refer to as ‘the time of my life’.
by Gabriella Marcelino