Review of our 2-week stay at Sandals La Source, Grenada, Caribbean in May / June 2015.
An 11 hour Tuesday morning cattle-class BA flight from Gatwick to Grenada, with a stop at Antigua to let folk on and off. As usual with BA, there's always something wrong: this time, my overhead light wasn't working. I can't sleep on aeroplanes, so after the cabin lights are turned off, I need this to be able to carry on reading (my ancient Kindle doesn't have an internal light). This was especially galling, as we'd paid extra to book our seats to ensure we sat together. We were offered seats right at the back of the plane, but from experience we know that BA frequently run out of things by the time the drinks and food trolleys arrive at the back, so we stayed put, and I watched movies instead (some good ones this time).
They'd also run out of immigration forms for Grenada, so practically the entire planeload were struggling to grab one once we arrived and complete it in the queue at Grenada passport control.
On the return journey, my tray drooped alarmingly to the right, and I also watched as another passenger struggled to refit his tray which had completely fallen off and was lying on the floor. Is this just BA or is it down to the quality of the Boeing 777s that they use?
Anyway, a swift and efficient collection and transfer by Sandals to the hotel just five minutes' drive away, followed by a welcoming but confused check-in at reception – we were asked to sit in three different places before we could fill in the check-in forms on iPads.
We were then taken to our room, which wasn't one of the ones we'd asked for, but by this time we were too tired to query this.
We'd booked a grandly-named “Pink Gin Beachfront Walkout Club-level room with Tranquillity Soaking Tub”, and were given room 1109 (we'd asked for one between 1112 and 1115 – presumably they weren't available). This means it's right on the Pink Gin beach (not one of the ones in the block behind). The “Walkout” bit means it's on the bottom floor, but this is misleading, as although you can walk out the front door onto the beach, you can't lock the door after you, so you still need to walk out the back of the room through the locking door onto the service walkway behind.
“Club Level” means you get an all-included in-room bar, replenished daily, with bottles of gin, rum, scotch and vodka, although you'll never have heard of the brand names, apart from the rum (Appleton). There's also Californian red wine, and a small fridge packed with cans of soft drinks and a bottle each of Californian white and French sparkling wines. They automatically supply the Chardonnay white, so we requested the very acceptable Sauvignon Blanc alternative instead. Also, even though you're supplied with a bottle of gin, there's no tonic in the fridge, so again we had to put in a special request. You get an ice-bucket - there's an ice-making machine a couple of hundred yards away on the floor above.
The bedroom is very comfortably furnished, with a massive bed, bedside tables, a couple of chairs and a table, a massive dresser containing a huge LCD TV, the aforementioned booze area, the tea/coffee making facility, and some small shelf and drawer space. There's also a small walk-in clothes cupboard containing hanging space, shelf space, a good big safe, and such useful items as umbrellas and an ironing board. There are lots of UK-style 13amp sockets for recharging stuff, which is good. There are even two USB charging sockets, but I found they were too electrically noisy and scrambled my tablet. There's air-con and a ceiling fan.
In the bathroom there's a single basin with some shelf space under, a good big shower (room for two), a towel rail and a separate WC. There are plenty of fluffy towels provided. One feature causing much comment is the window between the shower and the bedroom, so you can watch your other half showering – romantic or pervy? You decide.
Outside the front door to the beach is a patio with two chairs and a table, a small clothes-drying frame, a decking area with two sunbeds, and the “Tranquillity Soaking Tub”. This latter is a bath. On the deck area. Outside. Although there are nominally curtains around the deck area, there are wide gaps at the side of the curtains and the shuttering between you and next-door, which means that the deck area cannot be made private, and your modesty in the tub is not preserved. To avoid frightening the horses, you'd need to wear something if you used it. We didn't. The steps down to the beach are shared with the next-door room.
Although we were quite happy with our room, there were some negative points. We've already mentioned the “Walkout” design which effectively means you can't walk out the front door, and the rather pointless decking-area tub. Apart from those, we also noticed:
- The bedroom is quite dark. This is compounded by the fact that there are heavy shutters on the windows, which, even when opened, block out a lot of light. These windows are also set well back from the open area under the patio and decking area roofs, so little light penetrates into the room. The upstairs rooms have no deck area, and would not be so dark. There needs to be a ceiling light in the bedroom.
- The patio area does not have a gentle slope down, so does not drain. This means that when it rains, the patio is covered in water a centimetre deep, which does not evaporate for several days. Not only is this unpleasant as you are paddling in cold water while sitting on the patio, it is also dangerous as it makes the patio treacherously slippery. When we drew this to the attention of the hotel, they just said “oh, most of those rooms are like that”.
- The plug in the bathroom basin didn't hold water. If you try to leave some clothes soaking, the water drains away within a minute. It took us three goes at Maintenance before somebody fixed the problem. A few days later it was leaking away again. We eventually learned to solve the problem ourselves, by unscrewing the plug, and re-siting the washer which had become pushed away out of its seat.
- We would have welcomed more shelf/drawer space, although we managed.
- There's a good, massive, well-lit mirror above the basin in the bathroom. It has two small magnifying-mirror areas set into it, one at each end - a good idea, but unfortunately the design must have been made by a man, as these magnifying areas were both too high for anyone under six feet, ie most women, and you can't adjust them for height. Certainly, Linda was unable to use either of them.
- There's an alarm clock in the room, with lots of options for waking you up to sea-sounds, forest-sounds, etc. An excellent idea, but the clock was wrong, and we couldn't see how to set it to the right time. We're not stupid (I've a Master of Science degree), but there just seemed to be no way of putting the clock right. The fact that the clock was wrong in the first place was a big hint that no previous guests had been able to figure it out either. We'd brought our own alarm clock anyway, so we didn't bother to chase this up.
Don't get me wrong – these were small niggles, and we enjoyed our room on the whole. Sandals have plenty of experience in building and operating Caribbean hotels, and we felt that, in a hotel only recently opened (Dec 2013), there shouldn't have been this many niggles.
We'd stayed at Sandals La Source at the same time last year too, in a Butler suite in the Italian block, and enjoyed it so much, we vowed to return. For a description of the accommodation, the hotel grounds and facilities, please see our report from last year . The only things that have changed are the dive centre facilities (see this year's "Underwater" section below), and the opening of “The Tipsy Turtle”, an “English pub” bar and restaurant. This latter is open in the evening, and a cheery and casual place to sit and chat. It's noisy, there are two big TV screens (usually tuned to different sports channels), and, not surprisingly, there's no bitter beer, only local lager and Guinness.
The food in the restaurants is, if anything, even better than it was last year. The Filet Mignon and the Surf & Turf at Butch's, and the Chateaubriand steak at Le Jardinier were just divine. The artful presentation of the dishes at these two restaurants was imaginative and attractive – the sort of thing you'd be served at first-class restaurants back home. And it's all part of the all-inclusive deal. The food at Neptune's, Cucina Romana and Spices was good-quality and tasty. We tried the boisterous Kimono's dining experience – how you find this depends on how entertaining your chef is – ours was chatty and funny. We visited the Café de Paris for tea and cakes a few times. We didn't try the sushi at Soy. The food at La Source is better than any other Sandals we've stayed at.
Despite the resort being called "Sandals", there's an irritating rule that men have to wear closed-toed shoes, but not sneakers, in a couple of the restaurants. Then we spotted a note in "The Breeze" (Sandals' weekly newspaper) stating that "elegant sandals" are an acceptable alternative and congratulated the general manager on the "elegant sandals" alternative. However, he looked most put out, declaring that this was not true - he claimed it only referred to ladies' sandals. The rule is inconsistently applied, and inconsistently policed - we saw one or two sandal-wearing men in Butch's.
The gardens are kept beautiful by an army of gardeners. Everywhere there are exotic, gorgeous, brightly-coloured flowers, trees and shrubs.
Above all the staff everywhere are top-class – always smiley, chatty and helpful. They are clearly highly trained, all frequently responding with the same stock phrases that they've learned by heart, such as “You're welcome. Enjoy the rest of your day”, and when you enter a restaurant “Enjoy your dining experience with us tonight”, or when you place your order, “Do you have any dietary requirements or food allergies that we should be aware of?”, and, as you leave, “Thank you for dining with us this evening”. This could seem to some to be “corporate-speak”, but we chose to consider it as highly professional.
Once or twice our requests for various items or services failed to get a response, but persistence usually paid off.
The weather this year was not as good as last year, generally windier, and a bit rainy in the first week but hot and dry in the second. This meant that we gave up on the beach this year after being sand-blasted, and went to lie by the pool. There were always plenty of towels and sunbeds by the quiet Beach pool, although the sunbeds at the noisier South Seas pool further back were sometimes fully occupied. Occupancy of the hotel generally looked less than the 80+% claimed: there were always sunbeds and sunshades available on the beach, and we had no difficulties booking Butch's four or five times during our stay.
One day we took a taxi into the capital, St George's, half an hour away, and strolled around the town: Fort George, the Market Square, the Carenage, etc, ending up in the upstairs Nutmeg Bar & Restaurant on the Carenage for a great view over the harbour and a cooling beer. We'd visited this bar in 1992 when we first came to Grenada, and not much has changed! We watched a couple of fishermen tie up their small open boat at the quay below the bar and sell their catch to passers-by.
There are a couple of changes at the water-sports centre since last year. The first is good: they now have a second boat, a smaller, glass-bottomed boat dedicated for snorkelling trips. This means that the excellent, fast, big Newton dive boat can now be used just for diving. This in turn means that the morning dive is now a two-tank dive – great news, as you can do twice as many dives in a morning, but bad news as it means an earlier start at 0830. We hit Spices for breakfast at their 0730 opening time, so were still able to have time to slap on some sun-glup, clean teeth etc before heading to the dive centre. On Sunday, it's still a one-tank dive.
The second change is not so good. They are now charging for some of the dives, specifically US$50 for any of the dives in the Marine Protected Area to the north of St George's, including the Sculpture Park and Flamingo Bay (I did this latter dive last year and only had to pay a few dollars for the MPA entrance fee). And the dive to King Mitch (a deep wreck far off on the Atlantic side, with “guaranteed” sharks, rays, turtles, shoals of barracuda etc) is US$100. Since diving at Sandals is publicised as “all-included”, these paid-for dives are described as “private” dives, and take place at 0700, or late Sunday mornings, or other times when the regular dives aren't happening.
I'd hoped to go to Shark Reef on the Atlantic side, but was told that conditions were always too rough by 0930 or so when the dive would take place, though there were several days in our second week when we had more settled weather, and I felt there was an opportunity missed.
It was good to recognise some of the dive staff from last year – and some of them even recognised me!
Unfortunately the dives are kept short – usually no more than 45 mins, including safety stop, and frequently shorter. This means regularly having to get back on the boat with your tank still half full. As soon as the first diver gets down to 1000psi (70 bar), everybody has to surface. On one 12m dive, one large, excitable American got down to 70 bar after just 20 minutes. This is frustrating, as we had two instructors with us, one of whom could have taken the diver back to the boat, leaving the rest to get on with the dive.
Where we frequently go in the Maldives, the limit is 50 bar, not 70, and the dive leaders usually swap divers amongst themselves half-way through the dives, so that heavy breathers are in one group, and light breathers in another. So my dives usually end up pushing 60 minutes, with divers grouped with matching ability and experience – this seems to work better.
As before, this year's dives were all in Grande Anse Bay, no more than 10 minute's boat ride away. With the new two-tank morning regime in place, I was able to do 21 dives, which would have cost around £1200 in the Maldives. With more dives, I was able to get an even better impression of what Grenada has to offer, and was again impressed. While not in the first-rank of global dive sites, Grand Anse Bay is a cut above most Caribbean locations that I've visited.
The dive sites I visited were as follows (more descriptions on Sandals web site):
- Bianca C (twice). A deep wreck dive – a huge, 600ft ocean liner, sunk in 1961 after a boiler-room fire, complete with a swimming pool on the upper deck, all pretty broken up. While the dive briefing clearly stated “max depth is 30m”, I soon found myself following the dive leader at 38m. On my second visit, a Caribbean reef shark flashed past my buddy and me.
- Purple Sand / Purple Rain (three times). Adjacent parts of a long reef. Named after the large schools of Creole wrasse (actually more blue than purple) to be seen here. Pretty coral, pleasant dives, Green and Spotted morays, Sharptail eels, arrow crabs, shrimps, barracuda, lobsters, lionfish, etc. Lots to see.
- Veronica L. Another wreck, much shallower. Huge crabs on the wreck.
- Sponge something-or-other (can't remember the name). Pretty coral.
- Northern Exposure (twice). Flamingo tongues and pufferfish.
- Southern Comfort. Not far from Northern Exposure, and similar.
- Valleys. A small wreck on a shallow pretty reef, with lots of overhangs to investigate. Pederson Cleaner shrimps, Lionfish, Lobsters.
- MV Shak'em. Deepish wreck (keel at 31m), filled with sacks of cement. Barracuda.
- Kohani (twice). Pleasant shallow reef. Big crabs. A huge old Hawksbill turtle came up to the group and peered into everybody's mask – see the "Photos" section below.
- Big Sand. Lots of stuff to see, inc a big Southern stingray.
- Black Forest (twice). Covered in Black fan coral. Lovely dive – lots to see. Scrawled filefish, Slipper lobster.
- Japanese Garden. A very good dive. Ten squid in a group, a Hawksbill turtle, a Southern Stingray, Harlequin bass, Scrawled filefish.
- The Rock. Lots of bushy soft coral.
- Dragon Bay (in the MPA). A paid-for dive with an 0700 departure. Lots of reef fish. Plenty of life. Jackknife fish and Spotted Drum, Goldentail moray.
- Quarter Wreck: A small wreck in several bits, spread over a wide area. An excellent dive with lots of holes and overhangs to investigate, nearly all containing something interesting: lionfish, lobsters, etc.
All dives apart from the deepest wreck dives have pretty corals and sponges, and there are always Arrow crabs and Banded shrimps, Spotted morays and Sharptail eels to be seen. Varying amounts of reef fish.
I like the diving in Grande Anse Bay. While it's not as good as the Maldives, the coral and sponges are really beautiful, and there's still lots of life to see. Recommended. Thanks to Gary, Curtis, Adrian, Eli and Troyson underwater, and boat Captains Rendon and Shawn, plus various spotters and office staff, and Watersports Centre Manager Boota.
About ten pictures totalling approx two to three MB per page.
Another very pleasant Sandals holiday at La Source, with a quieter, more intimate atmosphere than other Sandals resorts. The food is exceptional. The staff are very good. Our room was good, with some irritating niggles. We got sand-blasted on the beach, so retired to the Beach Pool. The diving was most enjoyable, with beautiful corals and sponges, and lots of reef life.
Would we come again? Yes - we're definitely tempted, but there are so many other places to see!