After having stayed at both Secrets and Sandals, it’s fun to do a little ‘compare and contrast’ between the two luxury adults-only all-inclusives. Both brands have an impressive portfolio of properties, which we have barely dipped our toes into the waters of (no pun intended); this will be a broader look at general resort differences regardless of specific destinations or locations.
We visited our first Sandals on our honeymoon in June 2021 on the island of Grenada. We visited our first Secrets resort for a romantic getaway in November 2022 in Akumal/Riviera Maya. We must begin by saying that BOTH were stunning, and we plan on returning to both franchises for many more vacations in the future.
Another thing to note is that it can be difficult to write a definitive “pro and con” list because pro’s to one guest might be con’s to another – for instance having a lively and loud night club for after dinner might be important to some, while others would find it irrelevant. Others might value scuba diving while some would not include that in their list of priorities. Therefore I’ll predominantly be highlighting the major strengths of each brand along with the key differences and you can decide for yourself which one if preferrable! Although either one makes a dream vacation. :)
The key difference between the two is that Sandals resorts are located in the Caribbean on 7 different islands. Secrets resorts are primarily located in Central America – Mexico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic.
Sandals Resorts Strengths:
-PADI Scuba Diving included
-After dinner nightly entertainment – casual and early
-Late night eatery options with pub fare
-Airport transportation always included
-Couples-focused – many honeymooners and couples celebrating anniversaries. Centered on couples (as opposed to groups)
-Mini bar was better, and contained wine and champagne options. Butler-service rooms also contain full-size liquor bottles with mixers.
-Restaurant menus also included cocktail menus and specialty drinks and recommendations – helpful for those of us unsure of what cocktails and drinks we like yet. And if you aren’t satisfied with drink, it’s all included so no pressure to finish it! I enjoyed tasting several different cocktails that I’d never had before, and learned which ones I never need to try again (i.e. dry martini. ew haha)
Sandals Things to note:
-Some evening entertainment is repetitive and simple
-Room service not available to all guests and not 24/7
-Destinations have less flight options than many Secrets resort destinations. We cannot get to a Sandals resort in 1 day from Boise.
Secrets Resorts Strengths:
-Easier to get to from US.
-Room Service – contactless, tray pick-up, 24/7, all rooms.
-No reservations required at restaurants.
-Nighttime entertainment is more grand and has larger production value than Sandals; full shows with live bands, lighting, hosts, and themes were more elaborate than Sandals offerings.
-Full size toiletries and amenities (our room had sunscreen, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and other uncommon amenities).
-Daily snacks with mini bar restock
-Rotation of different afternoon snacks around the pools, including an ice cream cart, a pop-up pizza oven, fresh coconuts, and churros.
-Group activities daily: beautiful guided tequila tasting; guacamole making classes; dance lessons; spanish lessons, bike tours
Things to note:
-Airport transfer is not included. We used a company called Amstar which Secrets endorses. This will add another $160-320 to your trip.
-Seemed to center more around groups rather than couples. A little more difficult to meet new people than at a Sandals because many guests are already in a large established group that they are dining or drinking with.
-Tipping is common for all bartenders, waiters, butlers etc. Completely understandable, but can add quite a chunk to your total cost if you didn’t factor it in beforehand.
-Mini bar only contains beer and non-alcoholic drink options; no wine, champagne or liquor included.
Strengths of Both:
-Immaculate lush tropical landscaping
-Romantic rooms with interior and exterior bathtubs
-Friendly and kind staff
-Apps for restaurant menus and information, daily activity guides, room service, and resort maps.
-No children on property
-Sit-down restaurant options with diverse menus, rather than buffet-only
Overall, we enjoy Sandals resorts more because of their focus on couples and romance, and their wide variety of included water sports. However many of the Secrets resorts are easier and quicker to access from our region of the US and are comparable in luxurious and beautiful grounds along with restaurant and room quality. We plan to visit more properties of each franchise in the future, but thought a little comparison and contrast between the two might be fun! Have you been to either or both? What are your thoughts on the two resort options and what’s your favorite destination?
I did not get a passport until September 2020, months before my wedding and honeymoon. My first international travel was last year with my husband on our honeymoon to the gorgeous Caribbean Island of Grenada. It was such a fantastic experience, which is why I added this bucket list item for myself before I end my twenties, and what easier country to visit than Mexico!
We have international travel as a priority with our family in the future (I’ve always been an “experiences-over-things” type person) but for this particular trip, we decided to make it a romantic getaway since our baby has pretty much taken over our lives since the day we got married :D
I have never been to Mexico before, but my husband has been to both coasts – Cabo & Cozumel. I resorted to YouTube for travel advice on best time of year to visit, best cities, and best resorts. Ultimately, I landed on a Secrets resort because of their luxurious reputation for adults-only all-inclusives. It sounded similar to the Sandals resort we stayed at in the Caribbean and had an amazing experience with. Reading through the pros and cons of each location helped me narrow down the decision, because I value large landscaped grounds. To me, the outdoor atmosphere is one of the most important aspects to the accommodations, and I gathered from reviews that Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya had the most lush, dense, tropical, and elaborate grounds and solidified our reservations for just after rainy season – early November.
We dropped Brynnley off for a weekend of being spoiled by my parents, her Gigi & Pop pop. It’s totally different to go on vacation after you have a child, because the excitement of the trip is countered by the guilt of leaving them and the feeling of missing them whereas pre-baby travel is 100% guilt-free with no thought of home responsibilities. This resort would be much better experienced over a full week because of how much they had to offer, but I was only willing to leave Brynnley for a max of three nights so we made the most of the short and sweet time away together.
There aren’t any direct flights into Cancun from Boise, so we had a layover in Denver. Customs in Mexico was a breeze…I would say the length of time between walking off the plane and exiting the airport was about three minutes. We walked right up to a customs agent, handed them our passports for a stamp, and off we were! My second ever passport stamp 😊
We had arranged a private transfer to our hotel ahead of time with a reputable company, Amstar. The drive from Cancun International Airport to our Secrets resort in Akumal (which is just before Tulum along the eastern coast) was about 1 hour 15 minutes. Though we were on a single highway the entire time, there was dense jungle forest on each side that our driver told us was home to monkeys, tucans, and jaguars. There were even signs along the road for “jaguar crossing”!
We arrived at our resort only 20 minutes before sunset, so I felt a sense of urgency to get through check in and getting into our room so that we could see some of the property before it was dark. We were able to walk down to the beach and the turquoise ocean. We would have to wait for the rest of the tour til the next morning with our cup of coffee.
The resort has several full-service restaurants for guests, which do not require reservations. I prefer this format of full restaurants over buffet-style all-inclusive resort options. Obviously to get in the vacation mode, we opted for Mexican food the first night! The restaurant on property is called El Patio, and has several authentic menu items as appetizers, main courses, drinks and desserts. We sampled and shared several different things, starting with their grapefruit margarita with a Tajin rim. The waiter brought out chips, guacamole, pico de gallo and another Mexican sauce that looked like hummus but had pureed zucchini and other spices. I saw another table order a table-side hot chocolate drink which I decided to copy as my dessert for the evening.
We arrived on a Friday and would leave Monday early afternoon, so we really only had two full days to make the absolute most of our time there. The resort has three major pools plus the beach area with covered lounge chairs, 7 bars, and 8 restaurants plus unlimited room service. We started our Saturday morning with a couple of coffees from Coco Café and then a walk around the entire property which was still hard to remember the layout even after all four days. It was quite spread out with so many thoughtful touches, tropical gardens, hidden oasis’, and beautiful views. Next we stationed ourselves on the beach under a palapas palm umbrella with our books. We tried some snorkeling in the turquoise water but didn’t see anything major. We returned to the beach, ordered a cocktail and read our books until noon when I decided to order a little snack – grilled steak with fresh guacamole and pico de gallo. I am reading the book Verity by Colleen Hoover which is equally addicting and disturbing. Zeb is reading an autobiography of David Attenborough, our favorite National Geographic narrator of the Planet Earth series.
We told our waitress that we liked citrus and not-too-sweet flavors, and asked for a drink recommendation. She brought us a Citrus Punch, which is fresh lemon slices, lime slices, grapefruit slices, and pineapple muddled with Absolut Citron and club soda. So crisp, light and refreshing! We loved this drink and it ended up being one of our favorites from the trip. Since everything is all-inclusive, we try not to be wasteful but we do like to try many different things that we normally wouldn’t order and we don’t feel pressure to finish anything that we don’t love. I wanted to try my first espresso martini, mudslide, and mini beer shot. Mini beers were something we saw on a YouTube travel video I watched from the channel Memories and Mojitos, and it was delicious! It doesn’t taste anything like beer, which is good because I don’t like beer. It’s named for looking like a golden liquid on bottom with a frothy top. The bottom is Liquid 43 and the top is blended Baileys. Its very yummy and we enjoyed one together at the swim-up bar in the pool in the afternoon!
I could fill pages talking about everything we ate each of the amazing restaurants but I’ll just mention some highlights instead. Many of the restaurants have in indoor/outdoor atmosphere which is very beautiful. My favorite is Oceana. I was plenty hungry after walking around, swimming, snorkeling, and sitting in the sunshine all day and I was more than ready to take advantage of their full menu! We were brought a basket of fresh warm bread and compound butter, but I wanted to try some of the more exotic appetizers. We split mussels in manzano pepper, sailfish pinchos, and smoked marlin pescadillas.
Our waiter also brought us out the chef’s amuse-bouche (a single bite-sized appetizer), a small chunk of octopus with some sauce and garnish which I definitely would not have ordered but felt obligated to try since it is a common flavor in this region. The mental aspect of eating tentacles was too icky for me, and I joked to Zeb that they suction-cupped themselves to my tongue :D
I’d been waiting to order fresh coconut shrimp for MONTHS! It was the main dish I had fantasized about ordering when I looked forward to our vacation. It lived up to my hype and had so much intense and crispy flavor on a bed of cous cous.
The weather was sunny with blue skies and a few white clouds each day, always between 70-90 degrees. We were good about sunscreen because the sun was intense even at 10am, but I also tried to get a littttle bit of color again before I just concede to my paleness for the Idaho winter.
The second day, we decided to try snorkeling again in a different area and had a lot better luck with seeing some ocean life. However, I’ll save this for my separate post on the bucket list item “Swim in an Ocean.” After lunch, we scoped out some chairs along the infinity pool infront of the ocean. This pool has a large swim-up bar, covered by a huge palapas and surrounded by underwater barstools. This pool has several games going on throughout the day. An ice cream cart came by in the afternoon and we indulged in some pistachio ice cream cones. We cleaned up for dinner for our last night there, FaceTiming with my parents and Brynnley.
The final night we opted for the hibachi-style restaurant, mostly for the atmosphere and interaction rather than the menu. We can get hibachi anywhere in the states, but it is fun to get seated with other guests and go through the experience together and perhaps make some new friends to chat with during parts of your vacation. This happened to us on our very first night in Grenada and we clicked so well with our hibachi table neighbors that we ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the trip! We didn’t have quite the same luck this time but we did really enjoy our tablemates and our conversation with other couples from Quebec and North Carolina. The food was phenomenal as well, but by this point I was feeling pretty full and only really sampled everything they put on my plate.
We took advantage of all of the different nighttime entertainment – a burlesque show, a Voice-themed musical show, some outdoor casino games, karaoke, and live music performances every day.
Another highlight was an intimate tequila tasting. This was a free activity for guests but only limited to the first 12 people to arrive. It was set up in a very secluded tropical garden that was surrounded by giant green lush trees and plants. They even hung ceiling fans from the large tree branches. We were seated at a banquet table with waters, chips and guacamole. The tasting was led by a tequila Sommelier who first gave us an introduction to the production of tequila and the differences between blanco/silver tequila, gold, reposado, anejo, and ultra anejo. Then we tasted three different types – blanco, reposado, and anejo. He finished with a dessert drink, a 1921 crème de tequila which is comparable to a Kahlua. I saw a giant iguana sunbathing on a rock in this garden area as well. We saw about a dozen iguana through out the trip.
Over all, I would love to return to this gorgeous destination and any other Secrets resorts. We would have loved more days to explore Mexico, but were anxious to snuggle our sweet baby girl! I had a fantastic experience and appreciate getting to see a new country. We also talked a lot about the similarities and slight differences between Sandals and Secrets resorts, which I plan to do a separate blog post on in the future.