Sandals Grande St. Lucian Sue & Marv Weber, owners Marvelous Travel & Cruise Planners, an American Express agency Plymouth Meeting PA 610.277.6165 August 29-September 5, 2009 We own and manage two travel agencies and we would like to encourage you to do what we did. But, before we review this wonderful resort and island attractions, a few negative words about St. Lucia’s antiquated airport, the not so friendly Customs and Immigration personnel, and the pothole-filled roads. Although it’s a gorgeous destination, St. Lucia needs to upgrade the road from Hewanorra International (UVF) in the south to Castries in the north. After descending plane’s portable staircase onto the blacktop tarmac (there are no jetways) for the long walk into Baggage Claim, an hour or more may go by before one of the rude guards at Nothing to Declare goes through your luggage then permits you to go to Ground Transportation. Warning before you get off your plane, fill in your Immigration Form completely both sides or you will be sent to the back of the line really! We saw this happen twice and thought we were back in elementary school. The taxi transfer from Hewanorra to Sandals Grande north of Castries took another hour and a half. Although most of the road going to the north had been paved since we were last there in 2005, several stretches continue to wash out in the rainy season. You might consider using the St. Lucia Helicopter service ($150 per person) to fly to Vigie Airport in the north, just 15 minutes away the Grande. It will give you a scenic overview of the island as well as start your vacation off on a high note (no pun intended). As an alternative to the helicopter transfer or your jet landing in the south, consider booking the American Eagle flight connecting through San Juan which lands in the small Vigie Airport (aka George Charles or SLU) in Castries.
Arrival: We landed at 2:30 PM but it wasn’t until 5 PM that we arrived at Sandals Grande St. Lucian, a four-diamond resort on two miles of the island’s best white sand dotted with palm-frond umbrellas. It sits on the spectacular Pigeon Island Causeway with vistas of the bay and mountains on the Atlantic Ocean side and Martinique on the Caribbean side. Now we will tell you the good stuff! We were greeted warmly by Unita, the Returning Guest Manager, and escorted to the private Concierge Lounge for a private registration. After a brief orientation, welcome drink and a cold towel, we were escorted to a spectacular Beachfront One Bedroom Suite by Amos, our butler (more about him and his co-worker later).
Accommodations: There are 284 guestrooms and suites with ocean views on both sides of the property with natural-hued furnishings, crown moldings, and granite bathroom counters. The upper category suites are serviced by a dedicated concierge staff working from the Concierge Lounge or British-trained butlers accessible through private two-way telephones when you book in the highest categories of suites and penthouses. The Beach Rondovals have direct access to private pool decks with outdoor showers, private whirlpools or plunge pools. They feature minibars stocked with premium-brand spirits and access to Gordonâ€™s, the resorts special access, dinner-only, over-the-water gourmet restaurant.
Our oversized suite #2203 on the second floor of the Massade Building was unbelievably convenient to almost everything restaurants, beach, both pools, and the lobby. It had an enormous bedroom, Sandals’ signature four-poster king bed with quality bedding and a great mattress, a 32 flat screen TV on a huge breakfront with lots of drawers, and a work desk. The sitting room was as big as the bedroom with a sofa, chaise lounge, three tables, another breakfront with drawers, and another flat screen TV. We had a master bath with a Jacuzzi tub, shower, and two sinks as well as another full bathroom with a shower and a reserved-daily beachfront cabana. This was the most luxurious week we have ever experienced.
Staff and Service: Drinks on de wheel Latoya lustily announces as she pushes her beverage cart along the concrete beachfront path. She smiles at you, offers her special rum punch among several cold beverages and chats about whatever is on your mind as she makes you feel at home. She is the embodiment of the winning spirit of the entire staff at the luxurious Sandals Grande St. Lucian. It is the staff’s genuine enthusiasm and interest in our well-being that made our week so enjoyable at this hotel built about seven years ago as a Hyatt. Having already visited every resort in the chain Beaches, Sandals, Royal Plantation, and Grand Pineapple, we chose to return to this resort because of its size, the quality of its beach, and its relative young age. But it was the Grande’s wonderful staff and their willingness to serve that impressed us most! In fact, the saying, No pressure, no problem was all we heard during the week and it was absolutely true. We had the pleasure of having dinner with Winston Anderson, one of the best general managers in the Caribbean. His attention to detail and gentle yet efficient management style filters throughout the entire staff. The respect this staff and administration have for each other is amazing.
Amos and Giselle, our fantastic butlers, were at our beckon call from 7 AM to 11PM there was nothing they couldn’t do for us. If we didn’t need anything or have anything to request, they would make suggestions as to how we could be more comfortable or do more interesting things. It was our first true butlered experience and we can’t wait to try it again.
Dining: Dining at the Grande was very good to excellent. There are five dining options. The open-air Bayside Restaurant provides an international buffet breakfast and lunch as well as an ala carte menu for dinner. Barefoot By the Sea serves mouth-watering Caribbean cuisine and is located directly on the beach. The Olde London Pub serves traditional British pub fare for dinner and late night snacks. We loved the cooked-to-order breakfasts at Toscanini and Italian cuisine for dinner. We ate three times at Gordon’s (the specialty white glove restaurant for guests in suites). You can also order up room service all day long.
Since you have complimentary access to the two nearby Sandals resorts, you can do a Dine Around at a total of 11 additional restaurants. We hopped on the free shuttle two nights for French cuisine at the Regency and northern Italian at Mario’s at Halcyon both were outstanding choices. Getting reservations at these venues was not a problem.
Activities: Every imaginable resort amenity is offered â€“ tennis, modern fitness center with aerobics room, a nine-hole golf course (at the Regency) and the Caribbean’s most comprehensive all-inclusive SCUBA and snorkeling program including a resort certification course for first-time divers conducted in the resort’s own SCUBA pool. You can also play beach volleyball, windsurf, water ski, sail and kayak. The Red Lane Spa offers every treatment imaginable and its saunas, whirlpools and steam baths are complimentary to all guests. Nightly entertainment was low key and included live bands, a piano bar, karaoke and theme nights such as Charity Casino Night.
There are many excursions available (soon to be sold through a new branded Sandals program called Island Routes. Whatever you do off of the resort, don’t miss the nearby Rain Forest Sky Rides for eco-adventure or the hip/funky Friday Night Jump-up in Gros Islet. There are great water excursions for whale-watching and deep sea fishing. Visit Castries, the island’s biggest town just 15 minutes away, for value shopping at the enormous Craft Market. Ride horses at the local International Riding Academy. There are soft adventures doing mountain biking, ziplining, ATV and jeep explorations in and around St. Lucia’s majestic twin peaks of the Pitons and the mysterious pools of the Sulphur Springs and the drive-through, active volcano in the south.
Conclusion: We truly hope that air lift to St. Lucia will become more affordable and more frequent because, if you love the Caribbean, you need to experience St. Lucia, an exotic island paradise. Stay at Sandals Grande St. Lucian. We had a fabulous vacation there and you will too. Sue & Marv Weber Marvelous Travel & Cruise Planners, an American Express Agency 610.277.6165