I'll put the brass tacks right up front: my husband and I were married at the Sheraton Nassau 11 days ago (October 1, 2011). We had a beautiful wedding, but it was not the wedding we were sold. (Also, if you do end up deciding to get married here between now and 2014, you may want to check to see where they are in construction phases. This was not an issue for us, but there is a GIGANTIC resort complex being built all around the Sheraton property, meant to eclipse the Atlantis and open in 2014. There's no way the construction wouldn't affect the atmosphere at some point between now and then.) Let me explain, and maybe you can get a little guidance from our process:
What we were looking for: When we got engaged, DH said, "I want to marry you on an island." I was definitely not going to argue with that! We chose the Bahamas because most of our guest list was from the Midwest and the Bahamas would allow for less travel time and more vacation for everyone. What we wanted was place where everyone could come together and enjoy the setting and each other, without it feeling like a "factory" wedding. This is extremely important to me as I tend to get anxious in distracting situations, and I wanted to enjoy our day! Also we're very non-flashy, tendency-toward-simple kind of people. Read: The Atlantis was never even a consideration for us.
Where we looked: Initially we thought it would be great to get married on one of the family islands, as they have so many unspoiled beaches and not so much vacation culture. The family island we looked at was Eleuthera/Harbour Island, and the resorts we looked at were Pineapple Fields, Sky Beach Club, and Valentine's. We ended up choosing to stay in Nassau instead (though I took a LOT of convincing) because of ease of transfer and travel time; we had quite a few older guests and some dealing with fears of flying that we knew it would keep some of them from attending to get on a puddle jumper (or to spend an extra several hours on a boat). Additionally, we had a wide variety of attention spans, so proximity to entertainment options was important if I was going to have peace of mind that everyone was having a good time (I worry about these things. A lot). I will briefly say this: Sky Beach Club was probably my favorite venue for uniqueness and beauty, though there is not very much else around it at all. For exploration, guests need cars.
On New Providence (Nassau), we looked at: Sheraton (obviously), Wyndham (right next door), British Colonial Hilton, Compass Point, A Stone's Throw Away. We did not consider anything on Paradise Island; it just wasn't our style (with the exception of One and Only Ocean Club, but that just wasn't our budget!). We did, however, spend part of our honeymoon at the Riu, and I'll review that a little below as we did see two weddings take place while we were there.
A Stone's Throw Away: Just absolutely lovely. It was, however, not big enough for our guest list (we thought there was a really good chance we'd get 45 and ended up with 36) as it only has ten rooms. Plus, there are no packages, everything has to be done a la carte; this was just not something I had the time to coordinate from Michigan. We did, however, stay at A Stone's Throw for two days after we left our wedding hotel and found it a perfect place to take a deep breath and come down from the wedding. We've vowed to make sure to stay a night or two there every time we go back to the Bahamas, especially when connecting to the family islands (it's very close to the airport). Note: it is on a cliff of sorts, not a beach.
Compass Point: Fun, cute, different, and quite close to A Stone's Throw. The guest rooms ended up being more than I was willing to ask my guests to pay, though, and I didn't want to encourage everyone to stay and separate hotels (I'm glad I didn't, by the way; I'll get into that more below). The beach is nice, but Cable Beach is more impressive.
British Colonial Hilton: The British Colonial Hilton really appealed to me in a historical sense, and it really is a lovely hotel. It is close to downtown so everyone has easy access to entertainment and food outside of a resort, which makes it a great home base. Additionally, their wedding packages are quite reasonable. My major drawback is that, if I were to be married on their beach, I would have the cruise ships in the background as it is a harbor beach. In the end, the atmosphere was enough to outweigh all of the other positives. I would definitely stay here if I was on a cruise leaving out of Nassau though.
Wyndham: Just, well, no. Wyndham is going to be the first hotel to get knocked down when the Baha Mar super resort goes in, and it is obvious that they have decided not to invest anything into it. It's very shabby. It is, however, right next to the Sheraton, which was convenient for one of our more cash-strapped guests, as it was $40 per night less expensive and a very short walk.
And finally, we picked: Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort. As I mentioned before, I was initially anti-resort for our wedding, but I came around to the logic eventually. Sheraton won me over for the following reasons:
1) When I asked about their event booking policy and set the stage with my concerns, my coordinator (Tekeyo) shared how he used to work at the Atlantis, and how he enjoyed the Sheraton because it was not a "factory" setting. Phew! (So I thought.)
2) Gorgeous, gorgeous, swimmable beach
3) Fresh, modern decor while still feeling island-y
4) Reasonable wedding packages
5) Doesn't feel like Las Vegas (though there is a little rinky-dink casino for people who like to gamble, which proved to be an asset for a lot of my night-owl guests)
The Sheraton seemed to be a great balance for what was going to satisfy my wants/needs, and appeal to a broad base of my guest list (I know, it is supposed to be *my* or *our* day, but part of it being *my* day is not having to worry that my guests aren't having anything less than an awesome time). The property is lovely, the food is good (yes, it is pricey. Everything is pricey in the Islands), there are lots of options for people right there in the resort if they don't feel like leaving, but it's easy to go explore if they do ($18 taxi rides to Paradise Island or downtown, generally $5 per head of you get a bunch of people in a taxi van, which we did often).
What we got: We got a lovely wedding. We really did. Everyone had a great time, the setting was beautiful, the waitstaff was super friendly and fun, the food was delicious, the flowers were lovely, the photographer was great. My guests were happy. I, unfortunately, was left feeling really uneasy and dissatisfied. Here's what happened:
Strike One and Two: My wedding was executed simultaneously with another. Recall from above: when I was first in the Bahamas researching properties and venues, the first question I asked was: how many weddings do you do at a time? My wedding coordinator (Tekeyo) told me that the Sheraton never has two weddings at once. Also recall that the big reason that I did not choose Atlantis was because I did not want to feel like a factory bride, and Tekeyo had told me he understood, that the Sheraton does not operate this way and that was one of the reasons he enjoyed the atmosphere at Sheraton as a wedding planner. Again, this really stuck out to me and was the number one reason I chose to have my wedding at the Sheraton.
When I arrived, I found out that there was to be another wedding on the day of mine. I was a little disappointed, but I also understand that a hotel is a business and it needs to make revenue. I figured the wedding would at least be at a different time of day. It was not. It was at 5:30PM, and mine was at 6:00PM. On the day of the rehearsal and walk-through, I asked my coordinator where the other wedding and ceremony were being held, and he did not give me a straight answer, only said that I would not see the other wedding, I wouldnâ€™t even know it was happening. My mother also asked this question, as did my (now) husband and my sister, and every time the response was, â€œI donâ€™t know for sure, but I know you will not see the other wedding.â€ (To say "I don't know" when this question was directly asked multiple times is, frankly, a lie; he did know, everyone on the wedding/catering staff had to; how could one promise no "bridal clash" if one didn't know where the other wedding was going to be held?)
On the day of my wedding, I learned that my cocktail space had been eliminated the day before because it had been double-booked by the other wedding. The reception was going on directly next to mine. The other ceremony also took place is a space directly next to mine and ended exactly one minute before mine began: I couldnâ€™t even hear my violinist on my way out because the music from the other ceremony was drowning out mine, and I was delayed walking out to the altar while the coordinator went to ask them to turn it down. I was also taking pictures 500 feet away from the other couple, and couldn't get some of the shots I wanted. We couldn't get to our reception without walking through the entrance to their reception either, and had to wait for them to finish posing to make our own entrance.
I just want to be clear that my expectation was not that there would be no other weddings on Saturday, but that there would be no overlap. If, for instance, the other ceremony had been at 5:00PM instead of 5:30PM, I would have been able to hear my violinist instead of the music from the other ceremony, I wouldn't have been taking photos simultaneously with the other bride, and I wouldn't have had to wait for the other couple in order to enter my own reception. And if the other reception hadn't been directly adjacent to mine, I would have had my cocktails in the separate space that we originally contracted for instead of having it eliminated all together because the other wedding was booked over our space. So my concern, then, is not that there was another wedding on Saturday at all, but that I was told - several times - that there would be no overlap, that I wouldn't even know another wedding was happening, that it wouldn't affect my ceremony or reception at all, when, in fact, it did. And hey, it would have been better if I had been told, because no one likes to be negatively surprised (especially me, and especially on my wedding day). It would have also been better if it would have been explained to me not only that this may happen, but told where the other ceremony and reception were taking place (because we asked, over and over) so I would expect to see it on the day of. And I also think it's a bit unfair that our cocktail space was superseded by the other wedding, even if it was only half an hour, as it was in our contract.
Strike Three: Our booking coordinator kind of jerked me around. One of the very attractive incentives for having a wedding with a Starwood property is that the bride and groom can get 5000 Starwood points (re: free room night at any Starwood hotel, worldwide) for every 10 room nights booked by their guests. Additionally, we were contractually obligated to make sure that we had a certain number of rooms booked (30) at the property, otherwise we would have to be accountable for the difference in revenue. Tina, our booking coordinator (Senior Sales Manager) was having difficulty getting my guests discount rates directly through Starwood/Sheraton that were better than rates they were finding through online travel deals. We agreed that it was difficult to give them incentive to book directly though the hotel, and I should receive credit as these people would not be booking at the hotel at all if not for my wedding. So we spoke and emailed and in the end, she said "just let them book however they get the best rate. Just make sure that you give me your guest list so I can cross-reference and make sure that you get credit for all of your guests." She felt bad because all of the travel deal sites were offering better rates than you had entered for our guest rates and, making her"look like an idiot" (her words, not mine). We proceeded on that information and passed it along to our guests, which made several people's lives much easier.
After we checked out and came back from our honeymoon, I checked my Starwood points and noticed they had not been posted (apparently it takes 10-14 days after check out; that's fine, I just did't know). I emailed Tina an accounting of our guest room nights (64). She emailed me back to tell me I would only be receiving credit for 44 room nights, as they are not able to give credit for British Airways or Travelocity bookings. When I pointed her to our conversation in July, I received an email back stating, "In the conversation mentioned, I did state that you would get credit for those rooms towards your financial obligiation as that was your concern at the time. We never had any discussion about concessions. I will call the corporate office tomorrow to see what I can do and get back with you tomorrow evening as I will be traveling with no access to email." If I were to get credit toward the obligation under the argument that the guests would not be bringing in hotel revenue save for my wedding, why wouldn't the same hold true for concessions? And why wasn't that made clear at the time. In any case, she never got back to me.
The positives: As I stated before, my guests had a great time and a great time with each other, which the atmosphere of the resort helped to foster. We didn't really plan much for everyone, we figured they could have their vacation as they wanted it and then they could come watch us get married and have some dinner and drinks with us. The very cool thing is that we had representation from lots of different little pockets of our lives, and many were melding fir the first time... and they WANTED to hang out with each other! They were getting together groups to go explore the island, eat off property (Fish Fry on Arawak Cay was an adventure, and the Poop Deck is delicious), go snorkeling (Stuart Coves is highly recommended... they do a great job), meet up in the hotel to watch the Tigers game, gamble together, go for late-night swims, etc. etc. It was really fun and heartwarming to watch. In the same vein, we did a lantern release to conclude our wedding reception, and it was enormously enjoyable to watch everyone working together and getting excited to watch the fruits of their labor. The food at the reception was outstanding and the cake was very pretty (though not the one I asked for). The waitstaff at the reception was SUPER fun too! Very friendly, dancing around the tables, they were great! My flowers (in package; and here's a side note, MAKE SURE you are not getting charged enhancement fees if you don't want the upgrades!) were really unique and beautiful, and the photographer (Ronnie from Stop Motion, also in package) was really fantastic. I just saw the unprocessed images today and they are fantastic; I can't wait to see the final prints!
Wrapping it up: We did have a lovely wedding, and I married a wonderful man. I liken it to getting a really beautiful table, but when you get it home the legs aren't quite even. It still looks like the table you wanted, but you don't get the experience you expect when you use it. Really, everyone but me still had a great experience. Even I had a good one, it just wasn't the experience we were promised, and it makes me a little sad.
Quick addendum - Riu: It's not one of the nicer Riu properties, but it's not awful. The space for weddings is a little cramped and you definitely don't get much of a private feel. The rooms (we tried two) are very musty and smell like mildew; their ventilation and circulation must not be very good. While all-inclusive is attractive for everyone, I would have felt really uncomfortable having my family stay there.
Would I do it here again? I would probably look around, maybe at a few places near Freeport as it is also easily accessible. I loved the site, I really did, but nothing bothers me more than being lied to, and I was, repeatedly. The fact that they knew I was going to be unhappy, that they couldn't deliver on what they promised, and chose to let me be negatively surprised just makes me feel like I wasn't very important to them at all, and that kind of, well, sucks.