“ Sandos hotel in Papagayo district of Playa Blanca, Lanzarote. „
When we were researching resorts to visit for a Spring break, the one thing that was certain was that it would have to be somewhere where the weather was reliable. In March, even the Med can be a tad chilly. We didn't want to go long-haul so, out of what was left, The Canaries seemed the best choice. Some years ago we had enjoyed a break on Fuertaventura so we looked at the other islands. My brother-in-law swears by Lanzarote and goes there with his family every year so, we thought, why not?
Playa Blanca seemed a good choice of resort on the island, being on the south coast and getting decent reviews on Dooyoo. Thomas Cook offered a number of hotels there and the one that attracted our attention was Sandos Papagayo Arena. Thomas Cook offered an all-inclusive deal for the two of us for around £1,300. No reviews of the hotel on Dooyoo (no category then) but Tripadvisor had several and none seemed to suggest that we would find any issues serious enough to put us off.
As the name suggests, the Sandos Papagayo Arena hotel is to be found in the Papagayo district of Playa Blanca, which is at the most easterly end of the resort. The hotel is, in fact, the very final hotel; beyond it are only private homes, apartments, villas and wilderness.
The hotel does offer a free shuttle into Playa Blanca and back several times a day so, although it is a good half hour walk along the coast promenade into town, you can take the easy option if you wish. The Marina is only around 15 minutes away and deserves a visit, if only for the great selection of restaurants and shops and for the weekly street market.
All-inclusive guests, and most seemed to be, are indicated as such for the duration of the stay with the usual obligatory coloured wrist band. Checking in was no problem and we were provided with two card-keys for the room. What we didn't realise at the time was that the safe in the room required a key to enable it to be activated, for which a deposit against return was required. Also, although pool towels are provided, in order to get yours you have to obtain a voucher from reception to present to the attendant in the sports facility in order to obtain them. On returning the towels at the end of your stay, these vouchers must be obtained, to hand back to Reception, otherwise you'll be in trouble!
Be aware though, that the hotel will not accept any charges to your room. They claim that this is because they have had too many "runners". This is a hazard all hotels experience but I don't think that the inconvenience of having to carry credit cards around with you to pay for chargeable extras warrants this policy by the management.
The rooms are in several blocks around the complex. The lower rooms rise from beach level, sloping backwards up the cliff against which they are built. You can't actually see the patio outside each lower room because of the amount by which each level is set back from the one below, so privacy is assured. The sun decks and pools are actually on Level 7 so you have the strange situation that if you are in one of these rooms with a sea view you go up to the rest of the hotel, not down!
Sun, sea and sand
The hotel overlooks a small bay but, if you're looking for a nice, enclosed beach, forget it; below the hotel the beach, such as it is, is all stones at the top of the beach and a small expanse of grey/black sand, exposed only when the tide goes out. The beach is much more notable for the array of messages of love spelled out in stones, facing towards the hotel, undoubtedly the work of those seeking a holiday romance!
Fear not though, a short walk of around 10 to 15 minutes over the headland from just outside the hotel entrance will bring you to some of the best sand on the island. The Playa Papagayo beaches are huge expanses of golden sands bordering clear seas, though too chilly for me at this time of year. Be aware though that there are no facilities here at all so, if you decide to go and spread out in the sun, you'll have to take everything you need with you.
If you decide you don't need the exercise then the hotel has a number of pools for it's guests and all seem well-maintained, clean and safe. Around these pools are extensive areas for those who just want to take the sun and sun-loungers are provided for guests. The pool areas are not protected from the wind from the direction of the sea, which is the prevailing direction, because all of the accommodation blocks in that direction are lower than the pool decks. The pool and sun decks are surrounded by low walls of either concrete or glass but these do little to inhibit the wind if you are any distance at all from them. In the height of summer a little breeze would be welcome; in March it was a pain.
Sun-shades are not found everywhere though and those that there are are bolted to the ground and unmoveable because of the almost constant wind. Also, many of these sun-shades are broken and in need of repair or replacement. The sun-loungers are in a reasonable state but I wouldn't call them comfortable: it isn't possible to put the back in an almost upright position when you want to read!
There is one main bar for the sun decks and, nearby, an all-day café for snacks as and when you want them. All drinks around the pools are served in unbreakable containers, as you would expect. Cruzcampo beer is available on tap plus a whole range of other alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. There is also an ice cream booth.
Around the middle pool, entertainments take place at various times of the day so, if you don't want to be disturbed it would be best to choose somewhere else to plonk yourself down. It can get a bit noisy and the noise does tend to leak out into other areas but, I must admit, it didn't disturb me.
The main hotel complex, where all the facilities are to be found, is the top-most block. The main hotel is centred around a large, round atrium that rises through all the floors. The bars and restaurants all lead off from this atrium, as does the access to the rooms. The Reception is on the highest floor and this is the entry level from the street.
Our room was in the lower block, overlooking the bay. We were on Floor 5, just one floor down from the pools and sundecks. The room was large, as was the bed, which was quite comfortable. However, it was nothing more than two single beds side-by-side, with nothing to keep them together, so you had to be careful not to fall down the gap!
As well as our own patio beyond sliding glass doors, between the sleeping area and the patio was a lounge area, with a sofa and armchairs.
The bathroom was also large. The bath also had a shower. There were two separate basins, "his" and "hers", a toilet and a bidet. There was a bin by the toilet although there were no instructions about disposing of toilet paper in the bin rather than flushing it down the loo but, as you are expected to do so in most holiday resorts of this kind, we did.
The room had a minibar although we just used it for drinking water and milk. There were no facilities for making tea or coffee but we had brought a travel kettle with us. Otherwise, there was only a TV and that with just one English language station, CNN News. However, the TV did have an auxiliary input, of which I used the sound sockets to connect my mobile phone with a lead I had brought with me, so I could use the music player to play CDs I had converted to MP3s; it worked very well.
All in all the room was very comfortable and perfectly acceptable or our holiday.
Food and drink
The hotel has four restaurants: two restaurants are for general use and operate on a buffet basis, nominally International and Italian in style; two have to be pre-booked, one French and one "Oriental". There is no additional charge for the Oriental restaurant; you need to book because of the limited space. There is an additional charge for some dishes in the French restaurant though.
The food quality is reasonable in both the buffet restaurants and a fair variety of dishes is maintained on a day-to-day basis although there are the regulars as well. I was surprised that rice wasn't available almost at all. The Italian dishes were, to mind, better although there was an emphasis on pizza.
Drinks available consist of fruit juices, soft drinks, beer and wine. The wine is all dispensed from fonts: red, white and rosé are available. I have to say that I found all of the wine, especially the rosé, (which I am yet to be persuaded isn't simply the white and red mixed together!) almost undrinkable; the red was the best of the worst. The beer was OK though. The fruit juice was very weak and tasted watered down.
We ate one night in the French restaurant. The experience was reasonably enjoyable. The atmosphere was very subdued, perhaps as a result of only half the tables being occupied! Service was good but the food was nothing special.
We also ate one night in the Oriental restaurant. Here the food is buffet service although some meats are carved and served to you. We did find the dishes somewhat odd: it was difficult to define exactly what part of the Orient they were intended to represent. Once again, the food was reasonable but nothing more.
There are various bars around the hotel, on various levels but the one which we chose to visit after our evening meal tended to be the Green Bar. This is the one in which there is regular entertainment. Spirits are best value here and measures are generous.
In a climate such as you are likely to find, at least during the summer months, your consumption of water will probably rise. Water, like all other drinks, at least those classified as "local" in origin (i.e. Spanish) are free in an all-inclusive package. A bottle of mineral water is provided in your room when you arrive but the hotel does not make it easy to renew supplies. Bottled water is available, at a cost, from various machines dotted around the complex. However, there is only one place to refill your bottles for free and this is from two dispensers at the end of one bar on a floor below Reception, and often we found the containers empty with no staff making any efforts to replace them!
We enjoyed our stay but felt that it could have been so much better. I suppose that with the World economy as it is, it us difficult but we felt that economies had been made which somewhat spoilt the overall enjoyment: the food was mediocre; the equipment around the pools had clearly seen better days; the refusal to accept room charges; the difficulty in getting drinking water.
The hotel itself is a long way out of Playa Blanca and it does require determination to get out of the hotel to see the town and, indeed, the rest of the island. There is a dedicated car hire desk in the Reception lobby and we did use them and found them reasonable and reliable.
However, it was clear from our exploration of the area that there are far better hotels in the area. I doubt we would return to Sandos Papagayo Arena if we were to return to Playa Blanca, however that would not be because the hotel has anything objectionable about it, only that you could undoubtedly get better value, though maybe at a bit higher cost.
Abridged version of review posted on TripAdvisor.