Back in 1988, I undertook the first of two trips to Jamaica to scout out properties for a large incentive group that had confirmed a booking with me when I was managing a tour operating company in Dublin. The company in question was Chieftain Tours and at the time, it was the only operator of charters to Toronto in Canada where it partnered with a large Canadian tour operator called Sunquest Vacations. I had pitched the idea of a multi-centre itinerary to the group that would take in Toronto, nearby Niagara Falls and the Jamaican resort of Ocho Rios.
As is common with large groups, I traveled out with the group leader to both Toronto and Ocho Rios, months in advance of the actual travel dates so that we could fine-tune various aspects of the itinerary and ensure that the group leader was happy with the hotel properties that I had chosen. One of the properties visited on that trip was the Sandals Royal Plantation. For reasons that I’ve long since forgotten, the group ended up not staying at the Sandal’s property (the most likely reasons were either cost or availability issues) but at the less fancy Mallard Bay hotel but I swore that someday I would return and stay in a Sandal’s property — so impressed was I with the product.
So, 31 years later but on a different island (this time St. Lucia), I made good on my promise to myself and spent an idyllic week staying at the Sandal’s Grande St. Lucian, which is located on a stretch of what is reclaimed land that connects Pigeon Island to the rest of St. Lucia. Pigeon’s Island’s fame is that it was once the redoubt of a famous Caribbean pirate called Peg Leg Le Clerc who ravaged treasure-laden ships of the Spanish Main back in the late 18th century.
Sandals Grande St. Lucian is the ultimate get-away-from-it-all, chill-out resort. The hotel and its collection of over-water bungalows, suites and villas sprawls across 17 acres of immaculately trimmed and maintained gardens which are surrounded by literally dozens of discretely positioned cabanas, hammocks, occasional rattan furniture, private dining areas, outdoor four-poster beds (yes!), together with a large swim-up bar, several other outdoor bars, gas-fired braziers (for those romantic chats under the Caribbean sky) plus numerous swimming pools and 12 different restaurants and eating establishments serving everything from street food to fine-dining Italian cuisine. In short, this Sandals property is quite simply an oasis of cam in a mad, mad world. Oh, and did I mention that it is all-inclusive and couples-only?
Now the term all-inclusive can mean different things to different people, depending on where you have the conversation but at Sandals, all-inclusive means exactly that, even down to the fact resort staff do not accept tips! OK, Sandals isn’t cheap but then you do get what you pay for and as for service — I would have to say that the staff at the Grande St. Lucian were the measure of any counterparts that I have experienced aboard even the most exclusive cruise lines and that’s saying something. Sandal’s are to be commended for levels of staff training and professionalism that is becoming increasingly rare nowadays in my opinion in all but the most exclusive properties around the world.
If you need to get away from it all for a week or 10 days, then I suggest that you would have to go a long way and spend a hell of a lot of money to get better value than what Sandals has to offer at this self-sufficient and perfectly formed beach resort in St. Lucia and the best time to travel is November to March which is the dry season and unfortunately high season as well. St. Lucia is a year-round destination but during the rainy season, the downpours can be of biblical proportions, even if they are short-lived. St. Lucians themselves are amongst the friendliest people you’ll meet anywhere on the planet and the road structure around the island is relatively good (they drive on the left too!) but the mountainous topography is such that even a journey of 40 miles can take up to two hours to complete because of the extremely windy roads. The main international airport of Hewanorra is located at the southern tip of the island outside the town of Vieux Fort, whereas Sandals Grande St. Lucian resort (one of three operated on the island by Sandals, the other two being La Toc and Halcyon) is located on the upper northeast of the island, so helicopter transfers are well worth considering — particularly for the return journey.