A Hotel That’s Too Trendy for Its Own Good: A Review of the SLS Baha Mar

Jun 29, 2018

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To The Point

Though it’s touted as a couples retreat, this hotel is more like a Florida spring break with a Caribbean twist. The pros: good food and stylish public spaces. The cons: already shopworn, impractical furnishings and a lopsided emphasis on partying.

Since opening its doors in November 2017, the SLS has billed itself as a sexy, luxurious Baha Mar property for couples in need of space from the kid-filled pools at the adjacent Grand Hyatt. I spent two nights there on the heels of a two-night stay at the Grand Hyatt and an evening at the Rosewood Baha Mar — an admittedly tough act to follow.

In This Post

Booking

With the exception of the Beverly Hills and Las Vegas properties, SLS hotels don’t participate in any of the major points programs. So we paid a total of $698 (not including a $37 daily resort fee and $21 daily service charge) for my two-night stay with a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which earns 10x miles per dollar spent on hotel reservations when booked through the special link at hotels.com/venture. You can also stack this with Hotels.com Rewards, which awards one free night per every 10 paid nights. Since the free night is based on the average price of the 10 nights, when stacked with the 10x miles from the Venture Rewards, it effectively gives us a 20% return on this reservation. That’s one of the very best credit card returns you can get when spending cash on hotels.

Location

A 15-minute cab ride from Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS), the SLS Baha Mar is a bubblegum-pink building on the massive Baha Mar resort complex. Transportation to and from the airport was included in the stay as part of its $37 daily resort fee — a nice and relaxing way to begin a Bahamian vacation. Because I was already at the property, however, I simply strolled through the casino to get to the SLS lobby on the day I checked in.

Within Baha Mar, the SLS is on the westernmost side of the resort complex, occupying a less-than-ideal location right up against a shuttered Wyndham hotel and casino and a neighboring Meliá property.

Image courtesy of Baha Mar.

Check-in

The SLS lobby sports a decidedly trendy, mid-century modern aesthetic. There was ample mixed-use seating, and the lobby featured alcoves with pin-tucked love seats, almost Brutalist columns and a central bar, the Monkey Bar, beneath eye-catching globe lights.

At first glance, the SLS Baha Mar impressed. But it felt as though the property put all its time and energy into decorating the public spaces, and the polished feel quickly faded.

At the front desk, I was asked to sign a number of forms — including one confirming that I understood the ramifications of losing my rubber wristband — something I did not experience at either the Rosewood or the Grand Hyatt. The SLS wristband was identical to the one I’d been given at the Grand Hyatt, only here, I’d be charged $50 to replace it — and no, this wasn’t a high-tech wristband that doubled as an electronic payment method. After agreeing, somehow, that my purple bracelet was worth $50, one of the front-desk agents helped me arrange a pick-up time for my checkout date.

I checked in early in the morning so I could access the property’s exclusive pools (more on that later), but it wasn’t until my room was ready, around 2:00pm, that I was able to head upstairs. After I received a call from the front desk saying my room was ready, a friendly bellman grabbed my suitcase and escorted me to my room.

After ascending in a sleek wood-and-gold elevator, the doors opened onto a rather bland hallway. Gray carpeting with a repeating rose petal pattern every few feet, white walls, recessed lighting — the effect was almost clinical. And though the property was just over six months old, it felt dingy and the worse for wear.

The bellman said that the air would automatically turn off when I opened the sliding glass door to my private patio, and that if I were to so much as touch something in the mini-fridge, I could be charged. He said something to the effect of “look at this,” turned on my bathroom light and departed.

The Room

As I mentioned earlier, after a night at the Rosewood, there was no way the SLS was going to feel somehow more impressive or luxurious. But I never expected to find myself wanting for the bright, albeit basic, room at the Grand Hyatt.

My first impression was not positive: The sink was chipped, and when I opened the sliding door to admire the pool view, I saw a few plastic cigar holders on the balcony.

There was plenty to like about the room, of course. The all-white space is accented with surprising pops of turquoise (inside the desk drawers, for example), and the gray trompe l’oeil wallpaper depicts a boardwalk stretching out to a bright, blue sky — a nice nod to the surrounding beachfront.

The crisp white linens, all-white furniture, white walls and white curtains felt, at first, bright and modern. But after some time in that room, it started to feel a little bland and, like the hallway, utilitarian.

My real qualms lie with the bathroom. It had a small, shallow sink with a faucet awkwardly positioned to the right rather than straight on — it almost reminded me of the bathroom on the United 737 that I’d flown down to the Bahamas.

And though the shower was tall enough for even TPG himself, the shower and separate toilet were both closed off with dichroic glass doors, creating the effect of a shimmering, translucent rainbow. I have to say, it was not at all flattering. There’s really nothing sexy about watching your kaleidoscopic reflection (or presumably that of your partner) while you sit on the toilet or scrub chlorine out of your hair.

The Ciel Reserve bath products were an upscale touch, but it was not enough to offset the funhouse effect of the rainbow doors, the way water sprayed through the cut open handle in the shower door and the unnatural position of the faucet.

An uncomfortable desk chair and an end table covered entirely by a large Bose radio added to the strangeness of the space, which seemed to favor flashy details over comfort or practicality. And then there were the strange shortcuts: My closet door, for example, was just a white curtain.

And perhaps too much attention was lavished on the bar cart beneath the flat-screen TV, which had both a mini-fridge stocked with mini-bottles of alcohol as well as a selection of more high-end spirits on top, with a shaker and glass underneath. This got to the heart of what the SLS Baha Mar was all about: partying.

Food and Beverage

I dined at chef Danny Elmaleh’s upscale Cleo Mediterráneo restaurant, which, though I struggled a bit with eating labna and hummus during a trip to the Bahamas, was one of the highlights of my stay. The service was attentive, and the fresh laffa bread was pulled straight from a wood-fired oven.

The SLS Baha Mar also has a nightclub, Bond; the lobby’s open Monkey Bar; an Italian restaurant, Fi’lia, helmed by Miami chef Michael Schwartz; and Katsuya, a Philippe Starck-designed restaurant that served traditional Japanese sushi, sashimi and food grilled on a robata.

Having eaten at Katsuya when I was still a guest at the Grand Hyatt, I can say that the crowd was a bit more mixed — it was right off the resort’s main staircase down to the swimming pools and beach.

I ordered the signature ceviche (thin slices of tuna, halibut, salmon and red snapper dressed with truffle, ponzu and citrus) and a rum and Diet Coke, and enjoyed the firewater display in the reflecting pool outside.

Amenities

SLS guests have access to all of Baha Mar’s shared amenities, including the 100,000-square-foot casino, six swimming pools and the shared fitness center and spa. The property also has its own spa and fitness center, open 24 hours and accessible only to those with an SLS room key.

The SLS hotel’s main attractions, however, are its two exclusive pools: the Bungalow Pool Bar & Grill and the Privilege Pool. The former is a shallow pool, which (a security guard told me in a way that I could not be sure if he were kidding or dead serious) is ideal because “people get so drunk here.”

And though I wasn’t staying at the SLS during this particular window, the Privilege Pool — which has that kind of designed-for-Instagram look (namely a few oversized and no doubt abused pool floats) — offers bottle service and hosts DJ-led pool parties every Thursday through Sunday starting in the late afternoon. You could hear the deep bass thump-thumping quite far away, until it mixed muddily with the music at the Grand Hyatt pools.

I could only imagine what that must’ve sounded like for guests trying to sleep in late or retreating to their rooms to cool off and chill out. I, for one, was very happy to be staying there on a Sunday and Monday, after the DJ booth had shut down for the week.

Overall Impression

The SLS may be considered Baha Mar’s midlevel hotel, at least in terms of price and amenities, but it’s a totally different feel from the family-friendly Grand Hyatt and the refined Rosewood. Though you get exclusive access to the property’s two pools (and all of the pools at the Grand Hyatt), you cannot enjoy the Rosewood’s amenities. And though the property bills itself as the luxe, stylish and couples-focused hotel, it’s really more interested in catering to partiers.

I realize there may be no way for me to write this without sounding judgmental but, here it is: The SLS is poised to be the next Miami club scene, only in the Caribbean. Women in bikinis stomped around the hotel grounds in heeled boots (yes, boots), and there was quite a lot of smoking on the grounds. There was an excess of liquor: in the room, by the pool, during the bottle-service-fueled ragers. For travelers who love the SLS brand and the endless parties it is known to deliver, perhaps the SLS Baha Mar won’t disappoint. It’s ultimately an extension of the SLS South Beach, where even the textiles and the wallpaper are replicated. Just know what you’re getting into.

Which brings me back to my stay at the Rosewood. While chatting with a guest-services manager as I waited for a new room key (mine had gone dead), I mentioned that the SLS seemed like quite a scene. With a conspiratorial look, he said that that they had received many guests fleeing the noise at the SLS.

And so, unless you’re coming to Baha Mar primarily to attend DJ pool parties and elbow up to the pool bars for multiple rounds of cocktails, you may be better off saving your dollars at the Grand Hyatt.

The Points Guy has comprehensive coverage of Baha Mar and the Bahamas — read all our stories here.

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