Old Reviews – Sandals Grande St. Lucian Spa & Beach Resort

As my way of saying thanks to others who have taken the time to share their experiences (the Good, the Bad & the Ugly), here’s our story. The good far eclipsed the bad in our experience. All are detailed here. The wife & I spent 8 days at this resort from Monday, 11/29 – Tuesday, 12/7, 2004. THE TRIP from Chicago started very early & was long. ORD to Montego Bay, Jamaica, to Vuiex Fort International, St. Lucia. Air Jamaica was pleasant, offered meals on both legs, flight staff was pleasant, no complaints.

ADVICE: If possible, book your trip to arrive & depart on weekdays (Tuesdays – Thursdays) when fewer people are travelling to your destination. The flights were practically empty (allowing plenty of room to sleep, stretch out, stow baggage in the overhead compartments, etc.). If you’re making a stop or connection along the way, check how long your layover is going to be, and evaluate if the time sitting in some ariport is worth it.

GETTING TO THE GRANDE…

Like many, we took the shuttle van trip from the airport to the resort. It was added another 1.5 hrs. to the trip, but was worth getting to see a lot of the island from the road. By the time we arrived it was early evening and dark.

UPON ARRIVAL, the staff welcoming us was pleasant, offered a glass of champaign, and assisted with the registration. The main lobby is expansive, comfortable, and quite elegant, with impressive views out to Rodney Bay from many vantage points. Yes, if you want to charge spa services or purchases in the shops on site to your room, as well as telephone calls, they’ll take your credit card info at this time. It was convenient, and didn’t take too long. A Bell Boy handled our luggage & escorted us to our room shortly thereafter.

THE ROOM was an OCEAN VIEW, looking to the north towards the Atlantic. We were in Bldg #6 (which is incorrectly shown to be BLDG #4 on the Sandals web site map of the resort). We had been ‘upraded’ from a ‘Premier’ Lagoon Room by the management, which was fine with us. We’re not the type of folks who spend a lot of time in our room, but when we do we’re probably not looking to be disturbed by loud sounds of other guests partying, or resort activities going on. We could open the sliding glass doors to our balcony & enjoy the sounds & sights of the waves crashing on the rocks just outside the gates of the resort. It was a pleasant place to enjoy the complimentary continental breakfast when we requested it be delivered to our room in the morning.

THE GRANDE….

The resort is beautiful to see. The pools are plentiful and you can find as much seclusion or activities as suits your mood. By choice, we did not attend the orientation nor did we feel compelled to participate in the planned activities where you could garner points that, I believe, could be redeemed for Sandals trinkets. Not of interest to us, and that was fine. We did not visit the Palladium Club (the disco), nor did we play any billards. We dined at the Old English Pub our first night. Both our meals were fantastic, the service was terrific, and the staff working there were very pleasant. While that was the only time we ate there, we did go in on other evenings just for desert and a cocktail or two. Bayside offers breakfast, lunch, & dinner (except one evening when dinner was served on the beach), primarily buffet style. The variety of choices here were excellent, and for the most part, very tasty. We always enjoyed ourselves here, and it turned into our favorite place to have a meal. The staff was always making sure you had plenty of water, cleared your plates promptly, and once in awhile you did have to wait a bit to get a drink order filled. For me it was no problem to get one myself, but that wasn’t necessary but once ot twice. You certainly won’t go hungry, and if you like to eat, plan on bringing some clothes that you can comfortably ‘grow into’ towards the end of your stay. In my particular case I probably gained ten lbs., but then I’m not one to shy away from trying many different things when I’ve already paid for the all-you-can eat buffet. Barefoot By The Sea is a casual spot located between the main beach area & the water sports headquaters. The food here was good, but nothing to get overly excited about. The health club or exercise facility is nicely equipped, and will accomodate most people’s exercise training circuits or routines. That is if you’re looking for that sort of thing. The site map shows a basketball court, but that’s no longer accurate. There is a half court hoop in a parking lot adjacent to the tennis courts, but it didn’t see much use.

THE GRANDE STAFF…

With the exception of a select few, ALL the staff at the Grande were exceptional. Always friendly, went out of their way to accomodate our requests and wishes, very helpful with making suggestions, and not overtly seeking ways to intrude on your vacation or ‘sell’ you additional (not included) services. One (non-staff related) exception was the upcharge on spa services that was not disclosed PRIOR to my wife getting her hair styled. The published $32 US charge shot up to $52. The lone exception at the Grande regarding staff stuffy demeanor occurred at the Italian Restaurant. It was probably unique to our experience (or maybe not) that this was a common experience at all of Sandal’s restaurants that required a gentlemen dress code; dress slacks, no open toed shoes, & collared, sleeved shirts. The Pier was the same. One aspect of the dress-up restaurants I found to be less-than-appealing was the pricey wine lists. A fine selection of wines are available in these restaurants, while the house wines leave a little bit to be desired. I felt I’d already paid a healthy sum for the "All-Inclusive" experience, and didn’t care for the notion that fine wines in their finer restaurants was NOT INCLUDED. To each his own, but it didn’t make points with me. There were a few ‘team’ members at the Grande who really went above & beyond the ‘call of duty’ on our behalf, and are deserving of special recognition. Please forgive that I did not know, ask, or include here their last names. Al; at the Bellman’s station located at the entry to the resort. On our last night there I asked where I could get my hands on a tie (I’ll explain why later). Without a moment’s hesitation he shed the one he was wearing and put it around my neck. No worries. He was off the next day, so I left it at the front desk for him with a note of thanks. I hope he got both when he returned. Malaika; primarily works breakfasts & lunches at the Bayside Restaurant. This sweetheart always with a bright smile and an easy laugh, bent over backwards to serve us beyond our expectations. I mentioned to her my desire to get my hands on a tie the day before I borrowed Al’s. She told me she would handle it, asked me what I’d be wearing with it, and have an appropriate tie there for me to pick up the next day. I really didn’t expect her to follow-thru, so I never bothered to seek her out the next day. On the morning of our departure (after I’d worn Al’s tie the night before), I saw her and she pulled out a lovely tie that she had purchased specifically for me, as promised. Of course, I felt terrible for doubting her, and her having gone to the extra effort to do this for me. We debated my paying her for the tie for what seemed like five minutes until she finally gave in to my insistance that she allow me to pay for it. I paid her twice what it had cost (for her trouble). What a delightful young lady. Jennifer, who worked primarily the swim up bar, lobby bar, and free-standing bar adjacent to the Barefoot By The Sea Restaurant. Can’t say enough good things about her. Far & away one of the nicest persons we met on this trip, she was incredible. She & my wife hit it off from the moment they met. Jennifer is a wonderful person & terrific asset to Sandals. Too much to mention here about this gem of a lady. There was also Keisher (pronounced Kee-sher) and Kim, two noteworthy ladies we encountered there, as well as Bertie, the Buffet Manager at the Bayside Restaurant. Raymund was another standout who had worked for Sandals prior to his going to New York to attend college, and then had just recently returned to work again at the resort. He also represents Sandals very well. In the Water Sports Department there was Irwin & Dean. Both were a lot of fun, accomodating, and congenial in serving our needs. Regrettably I do not recall the name of the gent who attempted to teach my wife scuba. She was a wash-out and didn’t finish the class, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort on his part. Two unfortunate incidents that occurred put me in touch with the resort’s head honcho, Winston Anderson. I was impressed with how he addressed these situations, and complimented him on his management style. Empowering his staff to serve the guests in the manner that they do is the primary reason both the guests AND the staff truly enjoy the experience of the Grande. The same compliments can not be so easily expressed for the people we encountered at the other Sandals resorts on the island. In those cases, encountering the same warmth & commitment to serving their guests like at the Grande was the exception rather than the rule. That so many of the Halcyon & Rendevous guests ended up spending a lot of their time at the Grande speaks volumes about this topic, plus the amenities at there. We had read about making reservations early for the upscale restaurants at the Halcyon & Rendevous, and had no difficulty doing that. Wednesday morning I made dinner reservations at the Pier (Halcyon), and LeToc & Kimono’s (Rendevous) for Thursday, Saturday, & Monday, respectively. As things turned out, we cancelled our reservations at the last two because of our less-than-positive experience at The Pier Restaurant. The wife got a bad piece of fish there, and was feeling pretty queezy the next day. The shuttles running between the resorts were, in all but one instance, on time and very pleasant. In the evening they were also quite packed, especially coming to the Grande.

GOING OFF SITE:

We made a few trips into Castries specifically to shop. There’s a spice & crafts, plus the typical tourist fare shopping area right off the bay in Castries. Part of this area is called The Arcade which stays open until about 5 PM. It cost $20. (not including tip) to take a taxi from the Grande. If you’re pinching pennies, take the free shuttle down to the Halcyon, and then take a cab from there, especially if you’re dining or planning to spend additional time at the Halcyon after shopping. Around the corner from the Arcade is a two story building that houses a number of duty-free shops and a small casual dining establishment. This building is also the spot where the visiting cruise ships drop of & pickup their passengers. There’s another duty free shopping complex across the bay accessible via water taxi, but we did not go there. The duty-free prices appeared to be quite competitive (especially the booze) in the shops we visited. A number of the spaces in the building were vacant, so who knows what you’ll find on your visit. On Friday night we took a cab ($10.) from the resort into Gros Islet on Rodney Bay, specifically to experience a weekly event the natives refer to as JUMP or JUMP UP. It’s like a block party hosted by the locals for the locals. There were a number of vacationers there, too. When we visited the event consisted of about five blocks of street vendors preparing & selling food on outdoor grills, selling local trinkets such as jewelry & shells, and plenty of booze, primarily the island’s own beer, Piton. Lots of smoke from the outdoor grills and loud, local music. We did not stay too late (about 11:00 PM), didn’t try the food (had already eaten at the resort), did a little dancing in the streets, and mingled with the natives. We were told JUMP goes on until about 2:00 AM, but advised not to stay too late. Once again, we were impressed with the outgoing friendliness & warmth of the natives. We were also told of similar seafood type, native celebrations held on Saturday nights at Anse Le Ray (further south on the west coast), and Dennery (on the east coast), but chose not to attend. I got up early one morning & ‘scaled’ the hills at the adjacent Pidgeon Island National Park, which is a short walk from the entrance gates of the Grande. It was very worthwhile & be sure to take your camera. The views were spectacular. Pigeon Island’s history as depicted in various posted signs along the trails, and the remains of the buildings still standing was quite facinating. From another trip site on the web I’d read about The Green Parrot Restaurant, south of Castries near the Rendevous. On Mondays your lady eats for free IF she wears a flower in her hair AND the gentleman is appropriately dressed WITH A TIE (now you know the rest of the ‘tie’ story). It offers a tremendous view towards Castries and is a $10 cab ride from Rendevous. The food was truly excellent, a four course gourmet, French meal. You won’t find any of this faire available at the resort. Our total bill, with drinks, was about $67. which includies a $20. tip. The MAJOR damper on this experience was the RAT I saw twice during our visit. The first time I did a double take as I saw it scamper along the back of the outdoor patio where we first had drinks. Later, once inside, I saw the same terrier sized rodent scaling the parrot cage near the entrance to the restaurant. I alerted one of the busboys who appeared to be shocked when he saw it for himself. Towards the end of our meal my wife felt something light on her left shoulder. Moments later I saw the largest cockroach I’d ever seen come crawling over her right shoulder. I told her to look away to her left, and ‘kicked’ the unwelcome visitor off her with my middle finger. Maybe it’s no big deal to some of the readers here, and I didn’t make any more ‘noise’ about the incidents, but there’s no doubt we would not venture back there for primarily this reason. Too bad, as the food & service was wonderful. I regret not getting out more on the island for sightseeing excursions, as there are a number of places of interest we could have gone to see. Personally, I feel that the tours available from the booth located on the lobby are a bit pricey. I’d consider doing more research on the net before you depart to determine what sights are worth your time, and prioritze your plan accordingly. You’ll run out of time with all there is to do & see without some kind of plan.

THE WEATHER:

We had a total of only two days when it rained. One was quite heavy and lasted a few hours, and the other was just a series of intermittant sprinkles that lasted less than an hour. One cab driver informed us that our timing had been quite good, as it had rained almost every day for two weeks straight PRIOR to our arrival. So, I guess you gotta take your chances on what to expect. Other than the rain already mentioned, days were mostly sunny with the occassional clouds blocking the intense sunlight for short periods of time. Pack the appropriate sunblock for this. We went through a large container of SPF 8 after overkill on SPF30, but that’s just us. I had read elsewhere before our trip that mosquitos were a problem. Except for the evening we spent waiting in the lobby of The Halcyon, we never encountered any. Never had a reason to use the bug juice we’d carted with us.

SOME OF THE "BAD"…..& "UGLY"

After the sun went down & until it came up the next moring, the din created by the crickets tucked away in the bushes was unusually loud, constant, and unending. It may not be something that would even be noticed by most people, but I found it to be a negative & distracting. I was ready to leave behind that aspect of our stay. They stars at night away from the lights of the resort were beautiful to gaze at. On Thursday night in our room, as we were getting ready to leave for dinner at the Pier, we were startled to hear a knock on the door, followed IMMEDIATELY bby someone using a pass ‘key’ card to begin entering our room. I quickly stepped into the entry way (as my wife was not ‘decent’ at the time) to intercept whoever was trying to enter our room. The staff member quickly stopped, and backed away from the entrance to our room. He told me that he’d been instructed by someone at the front desk to come to our room and see if the room was occupied. Huh???? We’d only been in this same room since last Monday night, and would it have been too much trouble for the front desk to try calling the room FIRST??? I asked him to tell me again his reason for entering our room in the fashion that he did, and he repeated the same story. To say the least, this was unnerving for us. It just didn’t seem to make any sense whatsoever. The night manager who eventually returned my phone call to the front desk was nice enough, but ‘had to get back to me’ with an explaination, because she didn’t have an plausible answer when we first talked. A short time later she did call back with the excuse that their computer system had been acting up & they were unsure which rooms were occupied & which were not. That ‘story’ still sounds less than credible to me, and I never got the straight skinny on the ‘whys and whatfors’ of this incident. This was one of the topics I later discussed with Mr. Anderson, the Grande’s General Manager. He apologized profusely for the error, and told me that the staff is trained to knock no less than seven times, verbally announce themselves, and knock seven times again BEFORE entering a potentially occupied room. Obviously, this protocol was not adherred to in our particular case. I still have no clue as to the actual reasons behind the incident, and am sorry Mr. Anderson did not take the time to get back to me about it. That was not right, IMHO. I was swimming in one of the roped off areas specifically designated for swimming and stepped on a sea urchin. OUCH! Took two relatively small slivers into my right foot. When my wife was unable to remove them herself, I went to the nurse’s station on the resort. The lady on duty was very nice & knowledgeable. She told me that because the I had been stung by a dark colored or black sea urchin, it’s spines were very brittle and would eventually disolve under my skin. She went on to tell me that had I been stung by a white one the spines would have remained solid and would have easily been removed. I had no clue as to whether this was true or not, but what were my options. I never had any further trouble or discomfort from the experience after she administered the wounds. All in all, the GOOD far outweighed the BAD. Keep that in mind if Sandals Grande is a possible destination for you & your other half.

THE RETURN….

Since the first leg of our scheduled departure was at 2:40 pm, we really didn’t savor an 1.5 shuttle ride so early in the day to get back to the airport. Plus we wanted to see some of the island from the air, so we booked the helicopter shuttle from Castries Airport to the International airport at the southern tip of the island ($100.00 each). For an additional $10. each you can have the helicopter pick you up at the resort (probably something I would do). Four of us left Castries in the copter, with a scheduled pick-up of two more people at the Jalousie Resort (another All-Inclusive which is located bewteen the two Pitons), before heading on to the airport. This experience had to have been one of the highlights of the entire vacation. It’s been years since I’ve flown in a helicopter, and the scenery was a once in a lifetime thing. Our pilot took us right between the Pitons, flew close over lush ridges into valleys. I had my video camera rolling the entire trip. If your buidget allows for it, don’t hesitate to do it. You won’t regret the experience, or the time you save getting to the international airport.

The second leg of our return left us sitting in the MBJ airport for over four hours. So, I wouldn’t do that again. And the flight back to Chicago was delayed an additional 40 minutes. That put us back into Chicago after 11:30 PM. That got us home after 1:45 AM. Also, since we were picking up passengers from Jamaica and other islands in the area, this flight was almost completely full. Getting through Immigration & Customs in Chicago (probably because of the late hour) was a breeze. Given doing this again, I’d probably fly to a US hub city that offered non-stop service directly to & from St. Lucia, and avoid Jamaica altogether.

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