10 DAYS IN // St. Lucia

Pitons, St Lucia
The Pitons from the air

I overheard another guest at the resort we stayed at saying “another day in Paradise” whilst gazing out over the azure Caribbean Sea with the sound of birds singing overhead. It was hard to disagree with him.

We stayed at the Sandals Resort La Toc on the north-western side of the island on a 10-day family holiday in February.

Family Pic
Family holiday in St Lucia

Magnificent 7 // St. Lucia

1. Enjoy the beach

2. Experience a “Joe Knows” tour

3. Take to the water

4. Explore the island

5. Visit a Sandals Foundation school

6. Play golf

7. Join in the daily activities

Getting there –

We flew Virgin from Gatwick. We stayed the night before as snow was forecast and our check-in would have meant fighting work traffic on various motorways to arrive on time. We stayed at the Premier Inn for the second time at Gatwick. The service was terrific, probably the best at any Premier Inn I have stayed at – and I have stayed at quite a few in the UK on business over the years. It was an eight-and-a-half-hour flight from Gatwick. Normal Virgin flight and service. Good but not special. The ‘plane arrived early and the views of the island as we were coming in to land were spectacular. Hewanorra Airport, located at the Southern end of the island, was small, but nonetheless efficient. Passport control, custom control and baggage retrieval were all very speedy. Sandals reps were on hand to take our bags and we were guided to the Sandals lounge before being transferred to the resort. The transfer by minibus took just over an hour, and you see the non-touristy parts of St Lucia that that do not appear in the resorts’ catalogues. Nothing but courteous and friendly service from arrival in St Lucia to getting to the resort.

Where we stayed –

We were in three Emerald Oceanview rooms that had glorious views of the bay and were centrally located for all amenities. The room itself was fab. The bathroom, in particular, had been designed brilliantly. Proper wet room, taps set away from the shower so that you did not get wet simply turning them on etc. We could have paid to upgrade, but could not see the point. We really did not need butler service and our views were great.

View from our room, with a cruise ship leaving the port of Castries, a few bays along from La Toc

There are three Sandals resorts on St. Lucia and you can stay at one and enjoy the facilities at all three.

The resorts:

Halcyon is the smallest resort and seemed to have more Europeans staying there. It was quiet when we visited and has less choice of things to do. A lot of rooms seemed to be slightly away from the beach with a “lazy river” pool in front of them.

lazy river
“Lazy river” at Halcyon resort
Lots of shade away from the beach at the Halcyon resort

Grande is a lot larger. We spent a few days there and our impression was that it attracted a much younger clientele. Most of the holidaymakers seemed to be from the USA, a good percentage on honeymoon. There was much more going on at poolside and the beach was terrific. There were no waves due to its location and there was a popular floating booze bar in the sea as well as floating doughnuts to lay in. Plenty of shade on the beach front and the hammocks were fabulous. Great array of water sports and the water sports centre stayed open longer than at the other resorts so you could kayak late in the afternoon.

Part of the Grande beachfront

La Toc has more rooms than Grande, but felt smaller. There seemed to be an even split between Canadians, Americans and Brits. The age demographic seemed to be much older than the Grande. La Toc has a small bay and the undercurrent is quite fierce. We swam in the sea most days and there was a designated swimming area for the Lifeguards to patrol.  The food choices at La Toc were superb.

Couple enjoying the sunset at the Grande resort

This was our first Sandals holiday and we were all impressed.

To eat and drink –

As you would expect hunger is not an option. There are many, many restaurants to choose from and all had veggie options. The breakfast and lunch buffets were served in the Pavilion and the range and quality was excellent.  Agnes, who ran the egg station, was someone we will remember for some time! Some restaurants require booking, so this needs to be done at the beginning of the stay. Rather than review each restaurant these were our particular favourites.

Pitons, La Toc, no booking required, Caribbean cuisine.

Bombay, Grande, booking required, Indian cuisine

Kimonos, La Toc, booking required, Japanese cuisine

Armandos. La Toc, no booking required, Italian cuisine

Kelly’s, Halcyon, booking required, Creole/seafood cuisine

Over the Water restaurant at the Halcyon resort

Magnificent 7

1. Enjoy the beach

A good beach is one of the main reasons for going on a Caribbean holiday.  At Sandals in St Lucia you have three that are all great in their own way.  The Grande beach is simply stunning, lots of palm trees, hammocks, shade, warm water, no waves and a gradual slope into the water.  And a floating bar should the shore be slightly too far to venture to get a drink. Aesthetically beautiful.  La Toc was smaller, a proper current, small waves, and quite a sudden drop in the sea bed level. Lots of small cabanas for shade. We loved them both.  On our visit is it was high 20s C every day.

Floating Bar, Grande

If you prefer lazing around a pool with swim-up bars, then all three resorts can meet your needs.

2. Experience a “Joe Knows” tour

There are many tours on offer. At the beach there are lots of people touting for business, but to be fair, they were not overly persistent and once you say that you have already booked the tours you want to go on they leave you alone.

We went on a “Joe Knows” tour. This was a speedboat cruise to Soufriere, the former French capital, and included visits to Marigot Bay (home of the Pirates of the Caribbean and filming of Dr. Doolittle), drive-in volcano, mud bath (great fun), a creole lunch and great views of the Pitons. On the return there was a 20-minute stop for snorkelling and a further swimming stop.  On the last leg from the snorkelling area to La Toc beach, the speedboat was turned into a party boat.  Loud music, a bit of dancing and lots of alcohol. We really enjoyed this day out, but it may not be for everyone.

The “Joe Knows” speedboat ready to board
The highlight of the “Joe Knows” tour was the dip in the sulfur springs

3. Take to the water

There are lots of water sports on offer and the ones that we tried were free (I think all those offered by Sandals are free).  A special feature of these resorts is a free dive each day, usually to a different site.  It is an early start and back at the resort around 2pm.  We kayaked at both Le Toc and the Grande. At Le Toc we had to stay in the small bay for safety reasons.  At the Grande there was a larger area to explore.  We also went snorkelling.  At La Toc you have a nice area near rocks where you can snorkel or you can join one of the daily trips to different reefs.  Some of these sites are shared with the divers, so whilst we were looking at fish near the surface there were divers 20 metres below us. There are also jet skis and dinghies to use and at the Grande we saw a guest water skiing.  There is also a nice warm sea to swim in at all three resorts!

4. Explore the Island

Spend time looking at all the brochures at the travel desk when you arrive.  You can climb the Pitons, go to a rainforest, zipwire through the tree canopy, wander around the capital Castries, go horse-riding, go to the Friday Night Street Party at Gros Islet etc.  There are two famous bays, Marigot and Rodney Bay, that have interesting history and you can hire someone to drive you around to various points.  From La Toc is not easy to get a local bus, but from Castries it is a few local East Caribbean Dollars to get to Rodney Bay.

Marigot Bay

But you may be at Sandals to relax, do very little and soak up the sun.  That’s fine too, but there are closer places to where you live to do that, albeit they may not have the same level of service.

5. Visit a Sandals Foundation school

Sandals offer a Reading Road Trip where you can visit one of the schools they support and read to a small class of students. Sue, a retired teacher, answered questions from students regarding a tourism project they were doing.  A humbling and rewarding experience.  Highly recommended.

foundation (1)
Sandals Foundation school

6. Play golf

There is a 9-hole golf course at La Toc. It is a terrific course and challenging. We took golf shoes and a few balls and tees.  We hired clubs, and a caddy is mandatory.  I prefer to walk rather than drive a buggy, so you have the choice.  The package for 9 holes with a caddy, club hire (and they provide 3 balls and tees) was US$68 which I thought was good value.  I tipped the caddy $10 on top.  A terrific way to spend a morning.

There is also an 18-hole St. Lucia golf course not far from the Grande, however 9 holes were under renovation when we were there so we did not play it.

One of the lush fairways at the Lat Toc course

7. Join in the daily activities

There is a daily schedule of activities at La Toc (and presumably at the other resorts).  We were too busy to join in every day, but we did the yoga class which was not too difficult. Most days we were there was volleyball in the pool and there are snooker tables at all resorts.  The gym at La Toc was good and we used this a number of times.  At each resort there is a weekly beach party with music and dance with tables set out on the beach with as much as you can possibly eat and drink.

La Toc beach party
La Toc beach party

Of Note –

  • Rating. This is a five-star luxury resort and the service levels were probably worth six stars.
  • Local currency. If you leave the resort, take some local currency (East Caribbean Dollars). When I was at the cricket the vendors sold food and drink in EC dollars without saying it was EC dollars and were very happy to take US Dollars at a 1:1 exchange. But then again, you are on holiday and local monthly salaries are low compared to those of us on holiday.
  • Gifts – We took a few things for the Sandals Foundation.  Sandals links with local schools and guests can bring crayons/pens/pencils etc that are distributed to local schools.
  • Wifi – In two of our three rooms the Wifi was great.  The other room had patchy wifi, so the girls went down to the reception area each night to upload photos to their Instagram feeds.
  • Tips – This is an “all inclusive” resort. No tips are necessary, except on the golf course where it is customary to give your caddy a tip.
  • Golf – Teeing off early before it gets too hot is highly recommended.
  • Shopping – There are a few shops on the resort. Prices are as you would expect, more expensive than Castries, but then again you are a captive audience. The rum is good value.
  • All inclusive – Everything is included; even the mini bars in the rooms are restocked everyday with wine, beer, soft drinks and water.
  • If you are going to go snorkelling, consider bringing your own snorkel and mask.  These are supplied, but we have always felt more comfortable taking our own.

Lessons Learnt:

  1. Look at the excursions offered and if you think you might do one of them, bring light portable equipment, eg snorkel, mask, golf balls, tees etc.  Also, if there is one you particularly want to do, check when it is offered.  The Reading Road Trip was only once a week.
  2. Make sure you have enough sunscreen. We took a lot of different brands and loved the ‘once a day’ variety. Also, bring insect repellent and something to dab on the inevitable bites.
  3. Do not start drinking too early in the day as sun, sea and alcohol in excess are a heady combination. It’s very tempting when the alcohol is so readily available and free.
  4. Book the a la carte themed restaurants a.s.a.p.

Fun fact: Saint Lucia was named after Saint Lucy of Syracuse by the French, the island’s first European settlers, and is the only country in the world named after a woman.

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