On the Scene With Dean

A first-hand report on the hurricane’s impact on Jamaica

By: Jill Weinlein

On our second day at the Beaches Sandy Bay resort in Jamaica, a letter from management appeared under our door. It was a hurricane-warning letter, urging us to attend a 10:30 a.m. informational meeting about Hurricane Dean building in the West Indies and predicted to hit Jamaica by Sunday.

Weather in the Caribbean can be unpredictable, especially during hurricane season from May to November. Jamaica has experienced some major and minor hurricanes in the last 30 years. Sandals Resorts has actively trained and prepared all staff members, on an ongoing basis, for these natural disasters.

Well Informed

First of all, the staff at Beaches Sandy Bay went into hurricane emergency mode days before the hurricane hit and kept guests informed with morning and early evening meetings in the lobby. Printed maps and information from CNN and weather Web sites were posted on bulletin boards to keep guests aware of the location, size and strength of the hurricane. A plan to move all the guests to second and third floor rooms in the buildings furthest from the beach took place the day before the hurricane arrived.

Management encouraged guests to leave the island, offering to help with travel arrangements. With phone lines jammed, and threats of the airport closing on Saturday, many of us felt safer at the resort, rather than traveling to the airport and waiting for hours for a possible flight home. For those who stayed, management assured us that they would do all they could to keep guests and their belongings safe and secure.

Prepared for Safety

As we had originally planned, we left Beaches Sandy Bay in Negril on Saturday and drove three hours to Beaches Boscobel Beach in Ocho Rios. Already the resort’s staff had relocated all guests from the beachfront Lanai Suites to the solid concrete main building. As we toured the resort, staff members were boarding up the Fitness Center windows and marking “X” on all the glass sliding doors with silver duct tape.

We awoke early Sunday morning to plywood boards being hammered into the window frames of the windows and doors of the Venetian restaurant. A letter from management, under our door, stated that Hurricane Dean was imminent and expected to slam into Jamaica at approximately 2 p.m. To ensure our health and safety, they gave us guidelines to observe:

- Stay calm, the storm must run its course.

- Guests are advised to stay in their rooms, or the lobby area, and not go outside until the hurricane is over.

- All bathtubs should be filled, the drapes drawn, and bathroom door closed.

- Remove all patio furniture and place inside the room.

- After the hurricane, guests shouldn’t roam the resort until the initial evaluations are done.

Since breakfast was still being served at the Bayside restaurant, we decided to have one last buffet next to the main pool. The weather was overcast as we observed lounge chairs being stacked. It began drizzling as staff removed fan blades from the ceiling fans in the Bayside bar, while guests carried bottles of champagne and wine back to their rooms to wait out the storm.

Management asked most of the resort’s staff to stay at the resort from Saturday through Tuesday. They worked round-the-clock shifts to keep guests safe, informed and well fed. There was one staff member for every two guests. We were informed that power might be turned off, however, the resort had generators that would activate. Candles and matches were brought to our room, just in case.

The storm hit at 1:30 p.m. and lasted until 8 p.m. We lost power for about 30 minutes, and then the generators took over. There was a lot of wind and rain, yet the resort ran smoothly. Food was being served in the lobby and downstairs restaurant. Staff members kept guests busy with crafts, games and movies. There was never a sense of panic from the staff, so guests remained calm.

Rewards after the storm

The following morning the rain and wind stopped, and staff members began cleaning up the beach, pools and walkways. Boards were removed from windows, and the Bayside restaurant was ready to serve lunch at noon. The main pool was cleaned and ready for swimmers by 2 p.m. Guest relations called guests to check on their well being and obtain travel agent names and numbers to be notified that their clients were safe and well.

Later in the day guests received a letter from Gordon “Butch” Stewart, CEO of Sandals Resorts, stating: “It is our pleasure to honor our commitment for a full replacement vacation/holiday as advertised and promoted. Our Blue Chip Hurricane Guarantee ensures that your luxury vacation at Beaches is replaced.”

Every guest who booked a one-week vacation, received a free, one-week trip within one year at any Beaches resort based on availability. For one day of inconvenience that is an extremely generous offer.

A hurricane can be dangerous and put a damper on one’s vacation. We wished the airport ran as smoothly as Sandals resorts. With long lines and lengthy delays with planes arriving hours late, we eagerly look forward to our free week vacation, later in the year, when the hurricane season is over.