St Lucia 2022: Sandals, Grande St Lucian
Review of our 2-week holiday at Sandals Grande St Lucian on the Caribbean island of St Lucia in Nov/Dec 2022.
We'd booked a night at the Hampton by Hilton hotel at Gatwick through APH, as it was an early flight with BA. The hotel is in the North Terminal, so in the morning we used the shuttle to get to the South Terminal for our reasonably comfortable Premium Economy return flight, taking about 8 or 9 hours. We'd qualified for BA's executive lounge through some BA loyalty scheme, which was most welcome.
We'd paid for Express Arrival at St Lucia's airport, to sidestep the queue at Passport control, and although we did get to the baggage carousel in rapid time, there's no way to speed up how long it takes for your baggage to appear, so it didn't really speed up the overall arrival process. Next time, we won't bother - we'll queue up with everybody else.
It's still a long transfer to Sandals Grande St Lucian - over two hours. St Lucia's roads really are pretty bad with overcrowding, queues and potholes. We'd paid for "Private transfer" - with a car to ourselves. We assumed this would be a comfortable saloon car, but we were shown to a not-so-comfortable minibus instead. Not sure we'll bother with this in future, either.
Grande St Lucian
On arrival, we were taken to the ever-friendly Club Lounge to check in, and then to our room - number 3307 in the Bonne Terre block, grandly called "Caribbean Honeymoon Penthouse Club Level Room". This comfortable room is on the top floor, with a great view across Rodney Bay and down the west side of the island. There's a big bed (some people may need a ladder to climb up into bed), bedside tables with awkward light switches, a large chest of drawers with a huge TV (including BBC News) and a minibar. There's an easy chair, a small sofa, and a worktop area with drawers and both UK and US electricity sockets for charging stuff. There's a wardrobe with some hanging space, the room safe, hair-drier, iron, robes, umbrellas etc. The bathroom has two washbasins, several mirrors, WC and a good big bath (room for two to shower in) with the shower rose over and shelves for bottles. It's a pity that there's no detachable hand-held shower rose. Towels and sheets were changed every day or two. There was a fluorescent light above the bath shelves which flickered on and off at random. We asked for it to be fixed, but it never was.
NB: On previous visits to Sandals, the Club Level minibar was re-stocked every day, but this wasn't happening this time. When we asked why, the Club Lounge folk told us that they only restock soft drinks and beers. If you want more wine or spirits, you now have to specifically ask the Club Lounge to arrange delivery of whatever it is you want. This is definitely a step back from previous levels of service, and one of a series of irritations that detracted from the "Luxury included" experience.
From the bedroom, there's a big glass patio door out onto the south-facing balcony with those great views and a table and chairs (ideal for breakfasts delivered from the Club-Level In-Room Dining service).
Our room overlooked the quieter of the two main pools, however there was still a lot of hubbub from the massive hot-tub and the noisier pool bar and beach bar beyond. You can get fresh beach towels from the racks in several places here and at the "Lovers' Pool" further along the beach. The Club Lounge also has beach towels.
There are lots of sunbeds on the beach, but you have to get up early and put your towel down on sunbeds near the pool area if you want them. We didn't, so had to walk the length of the beach to the area beside the Over-water Villas, well-away from the main pool in order to find free sunbeds with a sunshade over them. This means a long walk back to the Beach Bar if you are thirsty or needing the bathroom. Bar staff occasionally came along the beach taking and delivering drinks orders, but this service irritatingly seemed to dry up after our first week. Still - we needed the exercise…
I suggested to Nadia (Customer Support Manager) that there needs to be a bar and toilets at this end of the beach. There's no sign of any work taking place on the empty plot next door - Sandals were planning to build another hotel there, but these plans have run aground somewhere.
The weather was mainly good (29 or 30°C max) mainly sunny, but sometimes with a brisk breeze to take the edge off the warmth, and sometimes showery.
We visited most of the restaurants apart from Soy, Kimono's and the Jerk Shack. Our favourites were:
- Toscanini's for breakfast outside in the sun, with humming-birds flying around in the trees.
- Toscanini's again for Italian evening meals (outside again, since the a/c is turned up to 11 inside).
- Gordon's on the Pier for dinner, with great views across Rodney Bay.
- Mariners and Barefoot on the Beach for excellent fish and meat dishes, both lunchtimes and evenings.
- Bayside for breakfast and lunch.
We also visited Bombay Indian restaurant, but none of the food seemed to have any sort of spice in it at all - most odd for an Indian restaurant menu.
One thing that we noticed is that there were hardly any top-class beef-steaks anywhere. The only Filet Mignon was "plant-based", with a texture more like a beefburger. No Chateaubriand, Wagyu, Fillet, Sirloin or Rump steaks like we've had before. There were things called "Boston cut Striploin" or "Flank Steak" or the like, which were generally hidden under vegetables, and were really thin and chewy. Only in the Surf'n'Turf at Gordons did we get a halfway-decent steak. Perhaps Sandals are trying to save money by not providing such expensive cuts. This is another disappointment - we'd always looked forward to luxury steaks at Sandals. On the positive side, Tuna steak, Swordfish steak, Mahi Mahi fillet and Red Snapper were all excellent in other venues such as Mariners or Barefoot.
The only bars open in the evening were the Beach bar (noisy), the Lobby Bar (crowded and noisy) and the London Pub (the latter over-air-conditioned and deafening once the karaoke started). During the day, the Beach bar was obviously under-staffed, with staff working really fast to try and keep up, leading to long waits for drinks. A haven of peace was the Piano-bar, where the excellent Gemma Flood led sing-alongs round his piano twice a week. There's a video of him in the "Photos" section below.
The inconsistency of the dress-code at the restaurants continues to irritate us. For example, on Sandals' website, Gordons is described as Resort Casual, but when we got there it was Resort Evening Attire. Sandals' website and app both state that Evening Attire includes sandals, but the in-room information sheet said that sandals were not sufficient. It stated that only "closed-toed shoes" were permitted. We've experienced this inconsistency before at other Sandals resorts, with arguments at the restaurant door. Nadia from Customer Relations listened to our complaint and told Gordons not to turn us away.
We went on the Caribbean Sunset cruise on a massive catamaran with about 60 other guests. We were bussed to Castries to board the boat. A good cruise down the west side of the island to the Pitons, with commentary on the sights en route: Castries, Marigot Bay, Soufriere, and the wildly expensive hotels near the Pitons, like Jade Mountain and Sugar Beach. Snorkelling is available right under Petit Piton, and the sun sets on the way back. Plenty of rum-punch and beer available.
We also had a private tour in a Mercedes saloon on St Lucia's by-roads down the west side of the island to Soufriere, the Pitons, and the nearby dormant Sulphur Springs volcano, which steams vigorously and gives off a horrible rotten-egg smell. You can smear hot volcanic mud over yourself, which apparently makes your skin feel great. The Toraille waterfall is nearby, pouring 50 feet or so into a pool - you can swim up to, and under, it. Beware: St Lucia's back roads are narrow, windy, hilly and covered in potholes. Don't go on this tour if you get car-sick.
There's a good, fast 46ft Newton dive boat with plenty of room for the 15 or so divers who took advantage of the All-Inclusive package. It all seems very professional, and the instructors, shore and boat staff are all friendly and helpful. There's a single, small rinse tank behind the watersports centre for BCDs and wetsuits, and a rail to hang your wetsuit out to dry. They will take your wetsuit indoors and hang it up at the end of the day. You are asked to report to the dive centre and then the jetty outside Gordons on the Pier at 0800 for the morning two-tank dive. You will be issued with a BCD and reg and shown to a couple of tanks on the boat. They don't tell you which dive sites you'll be exploring until you get there.
The first week was a bit cloudy and breezy, which reduced the visibility to 5-10 metres. The second week was a bit better. I had one good day with vis 20+ metres. Vis seemed to be better down near the Pitons, but it's over an hour's boat-ride, so you may not get back until mid-afternoon.
There always seems to be problems with the dive boats at Sandals, and for several of the dives we had a smaller, slower, cramped, sub-standard boat while the main Newton was away being repaired.
Of the 9 dives I did, 4 were a waste of time with poor vis and nothing to see. The good ones were:
- Superman's flight - lots of reef fish.
- Anse Cochon - 3 times, each to a slightly different area. 2 x Barracuda, 1 x tiny frogfish, 2 x Lionfish, Lobsters, Flounder, Sharptail eel, Spotted Moray, masses of reef fish.
- Turtle Bay - 2 x Turtles, 1 x stingray, shrimps, some Barracuda, a tiny frogfish, great coral.
Thanks to Curwen, Peaches, Romanus, and all the other dive staff.
Around half-a-dozen photos to a page. Pages vary from five to ten megabytes in size. The video is 550MB.
A lovely holiday in the winter sunshine. The staff are mainly hard-working, professional and keen to be of help. But Sandals' 5-star crown is slipping. There were too many things that irritated us to give it the full 5 stars. Perhaps Covid hit them hard, and they are desperately trying to rein back costs. Underwater, the diving was spoiled by breezy weather in the first week, but improved later. The dive centre was great. Would we go again? Yes, because of the marvellous setting in Rodney Bay. We just wish they'd sort themselves out and get back to providing a 5-Star service.