> Destinations > St. Lucia > Trip Reports > Trip Report
5-13 Sept 2004
This was our third Sandals vacation, and it was make or break for us with Sandals. The previous two were not so good. We did the Royal Bahamian just after 9/11, and even considering the obvious problems with fewer guests and a cut back in help in order for them balance the books, it was not that good. Our second Sandals was the Royal Caribbean in Jamaica more than a year later. Again, we were unimpressed. While both stays were pleasant and the employees always courteous and professional, we were disappointed with the food and the activities; so this vacation was to determine if we will continue visiting Sandals. (I know, life if tough, but someone has to make the hard choices). We've also visited Beaches on Turqs and Caicos twice, and enjoyed both stays enough that we will probably go back. I mention this only because Sandals owns Beaches.
There are three Sandals on St. Lucia: the Halcyon, the Regency, and the Grand. The Halcyon is probably the least expensive and the smallest. It is, however a beautiful property and well maintained. All the St. Lucia Sandals look good, in fact, and all the employees extremely nice, courteous, and professional. Sandals provides a day-pass to all guests that allows you to visit the other Sandals, so where you stay is not really a big deal; you can always hang out where you like it best. We visited the Regency once, and then spent most of our days at the Grand. Aside from a few days interrupted slightly as hurricane Ivan brushed us for a day or so, it was a good vacation.
Travel. Air Jamaica, while cramped, was on time and served snacks. It is about six hours from Baltimore to the St. Lucia airport, with good connections. Other airlines made it as long as 10 hours. The return trip was not quite so efficient because the airline's computer system had been knocked out by Ivan and they were manually trying to seat everyone. The flight out of St. Lucia left on time, but they kept the connection out of Montego Bay on the ground for a few extra hours for some unknown reason. Still, we felt lucky to return on our scheduled flight. Those that had flights that had been cancelled because of Ivan were not even able to board because the airline couldn't track connections without their computer system.
Transport. Sandals arranges transport from the airport to the resorts. This was an hour-and-a-half trip from the south east end of the island to the north west over reasonable roads. In fact, it is kind of an interesting trip.
Registration. Greetings and registration were efficient. However, once again, they failed to remember that my wife has a handicap and we had asked for a first floor room centrally located. This has happened at every Sandals/Beaches vacation. Usually, it is not a big deal, since they fix the oversight on the spot. This time, they even provided an upgrade with the first floor room. Of course, they had advertised a "birthday" upgrade for September thru November (for which we qualified), anyway; but the local resort seemed not to understand that Sandals had advertised this special via email to Signature Guest members.
Room. The room was adequate; better than Holiday Inn, but not spectacular, except for the beautiful property. It was kept clean and we had no complaints. We did have a small problem with water leaking into the bathroom from a leaky pipe in the ceiling, but they promptly fixed it.
-Halcyon - Well kept, with typically beautiful Sandals' landscaping. There were lots of chameleons making all kinds of mating noise at night, and a few hummingbirds in the mornings. The building were all well maintained, with new coats of paint a lots of effort obviously going on day-to-day to keep everything nice.
-Regency - Much the same; beautiful with a golf course. They did have some public restroom maintenance problems after the storm, but those were minor.
-Grand - Compared to the Halcyon (and probably the Regency), the Grand was grand. It is newer, so the landscaping was not quite as lush, but the pools and facilities were extraordinary.
Pools. All the pools we saw were well-maintained. The water was clean and they were constantly taking care of them.
- Halcyon. Two pools (with Jacuzzis), both quite nice with swim-up bars. We spent all our time at the beach side pool. It was clean and well maintained.
- Regency. We visited the Regency the day after the storm, so it really wasn't a good day to evaluate. However, there were at least 2 beach side pools and two Jacuzzis. The larger pool had a swim up bar. We didn't notice another, but there was probably at least another big pool.
- Grand. The beach side had three separate pools, all side-by-side. The largest had a swim up bar and another pool side bar. One pool was kind of the play pool, where they did volleyball and basketball, though it was plenty big to swim in even when games were being played. There was another huge pool away from the beach that we did not visit.
Restaurants. There were too many restaurants to count. See the web site. I'll cover those we visited. While we didn't get to every restaurant, we did hear from many people that they were generally satisfied with the quality of the food and environment. One couple did say they were disappointed with the French restaurant, but I suspect they were expecting five star quality.
-- Bayside. This was the primary eatery, with a buffet breakfast and lunch. Dinner was buffet for two nights out of the week, but otherwise it was menu dining. The Bayside is open air, and except for the blackbirds trying to grab what they could, was very nice. The food was better than average at the buffets and good off the menu. In fact, the food was far better than what we experienced at the Royal Bahamian or the Royal Caribbean.
-- Italian. We did this one night and it was excellent.
-- Pier. Again, one night, and the food was great. However, there were termites or something dropping from the ceiling on to the table. This was disconcerting, but didn't really effect the meal.
-- We ate at the French restaurant and it was also quite good.
-- Buffet. We had lunch one day, and discovered the selection and food was a bit better than the buffet at the Halcyon Bayside.
-Grand. We ate only lunch at the buffet and it was quite a bit better than the Bayside and the Regency buffet lunch.
Bars. These, we visited quite a lot.
- Halcyon. I'd have to say that the drinks at the Halcyon bars were marginal to not good. It seemed even the basic drinks were watered. Frozen drinks were constantly polluted with bananas. I like a banana, but not in a Bahama Mama or Mud Slide. I had to resort to rum and coke to be sure I would get something not loaded with banana.
- Grand. The pool bars poured excellent drinks.
Entertainment. We spent every evening at the Halcyon. They had either a steel percussion band and/or a regular band. Since we generally were too tired to stay late to listen, we never did see if the crowd got more lively after 11PM, but prior to that it was fairly subdued. I love a good steel band, but after 3 or 4 songs, they sound the same-loud and redundant. The regular band had promise as they started out with some good songs, but it soon became clear they, too, would only play the same Caribbean rhythm over and over again, changing the words to express love, regret love gone bad, or beg for sex. I've yet to figure out why these bands at Sandals resorts play for themselves and not the audience. There were some evening games like bingo a few times, and (whoopee) the guests seemed to like this better than music and dancing.
Activities. Our past experiences with Sandals activities were not great. (Beaches activities, however, were generally very good.) The biggest issue has been that they seemed to take the slightest excuse to close down boating activities. Naturally, safety is the concern - but it was my humble assessment that they were mostly looking for an excuse to goof off for the day. I mean, if the wind picks up you might not be able to snorkel or ski, but you can certainly sail.
- Halcyon. Since we spent most of our days at the Grand, we really didn't get to do much at the Halcyon. I did spend one afternoon playing bocce ball and shuffle board as part of their fun time. Only a few people participated. The activity coordinators were fun and trying hard. However, I suspect the problem with participation was that they ran people off playing only island music as loudly as they could. We did play beach volleyball one time and had excellent games that went on for two or more hours. The Halcyon has a nice beach volleyball set-up. However, their water volleyball was totally lame. Boating was available, but I never saw them in action. I tried to go sailing a few times, and both times they were closed down because of "swells". I certainly was not familiar with local hazards, but looking at the swells left me unimpressed with the savage ferocity of the ocean. I could not see why they were closed.
- Grand. First, the poolside music was a relief. They played a good mixture of oldies and island, with some humorous songs thrown in. They had excellent water volleyball. The ski boat ran as scheduled and, aside from a wait to go skiing, was fun. The sailboats were always on the water, and there seemed to be a good breeze most of the time. The only thing that would have been nicer is if they had a few more games scheduled. The daily schedule was hard to find, and then they really didn't seem to want to draw guest into games like bocce ball. However, I did catch them playing horseshoes one day.
Snorkeling. I'll consider this a separate activity. We expected great things, but it turned out less than impressive. The Grand has its own pier and boat to leave from, but the Halcyon and Regency bus you to a Sandals boat facility about 15 minutes away. The day we went from the Halcyon, our bus got there first and we had to wait 15 minutes for the Regency bus, then we had to wait some more for them to get organized. It wasn't like we had a lot of other things to do, but I'd rather spend time in the water than on a bench. Anyway, they took us to a dead reef right on the shore line with hardly any fish. From the Grand, the trip was handled more efficiently, but, again, we went to a dead reef close to shore. There were more fish, but neither trip was anything like Turqs and Caicos, San Salvador, or other places we've been. The wife was disappointed enough that she chose not to go anymore.
Golf. Wanted to go, but discovered it was a short 9 hole course (par 32 or less). Plus, it was going to be $70 to play 18. I would have played for $50, but for the extra $20, I could wait. As you can see, I'm a bit cheap.though I like to prefer to it a cost/benefit analysis. I've yet to understand why the resorts charge so much while the courses seem to stay empty. When we were in Costa Rica at the Paradisius Playa Conchal the beautiful 18-hole course had practically no one on it for the entire week because of the $170 total fees.
Excursions. We don't do excursions. A few people said the Catamaran trip was good. We didn't hear about the others.
Departure. There was much concern from many people because of all the cancellations caused by Ivan. Fortunately, we were scheduled to leave on the day they resumed flying to Jamaica and got out without a problem. Others who had been scheduled days earlier were sent to the airport (Sandals swore that Air Jamaica said they would get them out), but did not make it on our practically empty plane. This caused them some consternation, I imagine, but we, as I said, were on our way home, and didn't see what finally happened to these poor folk.
Summary. Except for the disappointing snorkeling, I'd consider this an excellent trip. The storm was bit of a problem, but Sandals compensated as best they could for it. While all three resorts are nice and you can expect nice rooms and good food at any, it is worth noting, again, that if the Grand had not been available with daily boating and activities, as well as good drinks, I would have been disappointed. So, if you go, stay where you want, but be sure to check out the Grand.
Thanks to Chris for this trip report ...