SANDALS St. Lucia La Toc, Castries St. Lucia

EMAIL Phone & Fax (516) 375-4315

RE> TRIP REPORT Sandals St. Lucia La Toc, Castries, St. Lucia West Indies 13-20 January 1995 Copyright 1995 Liz Hanks *** GENERAL ST. LUCIA INFO *** St. Lucia is a beautiful, small volcanic island in the Eastern Caribbean, about 27 miles long. There are two Sandals resorts on the island: Sandals Halcyon, which is about 10 minutes by car North of the capital, Castries, and Sandals St. Lucia La Toc (the one we stayed at), which is about 5 minutes South of Castries. Both resorts are on the North-West coast of the island. The best scuba diving all seems to be near the town of Soufriere, which is on the South-West coast, 30 minutes from Castries by boat. /\ North / \ / \ ^ / \_ | _/ \ | / 3 \ 1: Sandals St. Lucia La Toc / 2 \ 2: Castries / 1 \ 3: Sandals Halcyon / \ 4: Anse Chastanet | \ 5: Soufriere | | 6: Ladera Resort | | 7: Jalousie Plantation / | 8: The two Piton mountains / | 9: Hewannorra Airport / | 10: Club Med St. Lucia | | (estimated location) \ | \ 4 | | 5 | | 6 | /8 10| / 7 | \8 / \ / --------------- 9 / \ / \/ *** GETTING THERE *** Basically, it's a pain in the butt. We had the option of going in December through Chicago and San Juan, or waiting until peak season and taking a charter with one single hop in Atlanta. The first option was going to take about 12 hours each way, and on the way back, we'd have to leave the resort at about 6 in the morning. That didn't sound like fun, so we opted for the charter. After a one and a half hour trip from St. Louis to Atlanta that started at 8 AM, we were supposed to leave almost immediately for St. Lucia. Instead, Club America (the company our travel agent booked the package through) decided to save some money, and put a bunch of St. Thomas passengers on the flight with us. This meant waiting in Atlanta for over an hour for them to arrive, stopping for well over an hour in St. Thomas to drop them off and pick up more passengers, and then finally head to St. Lucia. Instead of a total of 6 hours for our trip, it ended up taking over 11 hours. From what other people we met on the trip said, Club America has done this sort of thing many times. The next time, we might try Apple Vacations instead, but we heard complaints about them as well. After arriving at the airport in St. Lucia, going through immigration and customs was a breeze. For the people that had decided to bring a birth certificate and drivers license instead of a passport, it took 10 times longer to get through immigration. It's probably worth getting a passport for the trip, if you don't have one already. In any case, for U.S. citizens, a visa is not required. St. Lucia has two airports. A small one in the capital, Castries, which is probably 5-10 minutes away from the Sandals resorts, and a large one named Hewannorra on the island's southern tip. Passenger jets can't land in the small one, so you either fly in a prop plane from close by and land at the convenient airport, or take an hour mini-van ride from the far away airport to the resort. We opted for the mini-van ride. The roads in St. Lucia were nowhere near as bad as I expected. They are in perfect shape almost everywhere. The only pitfall is that they wind all over the place, and most drivers pass blindly and dangerously. Our driver wasn't like that, but he had to slam on his breaks several times to avoid head-on collisions with very large fast moving buses. Yikes. We finally arrived at the resort. They gave us a glass of champagne, a package containing fairly large bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, soft soap, and sunburn relief (I'm sure honeymooners just perceive these to be 5 bottles of lubricant :-), and then lead us to our room. Our baggage arrived a few minutes later, except for our golf clubs, which were automatically sent to the pro shop. We were glad we packed everything we needed for golf (including shoes) in with our clubs. *** GETTING BACK *** Our plane wasn't scheduled to leave until 5:45 PM, which meant almost an entire extra day at the resort. We ended up loading up in the mini-van at 2 PM, and our flight left a half hour early. Immigration and customs in Atlanta were a breeze, and we arrived in St. Louis right before midnight, as scheduled, so the trip went much smoother on the way back. One couple we met got so upset during the drive from the large airport to our resort, that they decided to take a scenic helicopter ride on the way back. They said this cost US$95 per person, and included a nice tour of the island. *** ACCOMMODATIONS *** We tried to get the absolute bottom-of-the-line rooms (called "Standard"), but they were booked solid from November through February (they probably only have one or two). We ended up going up one level, to "Superior". We were told the only difference between the two is the view. At Sandals, they always like to make you feel good, by claiming you've been upgraded to a better room once you get there. The upgrade seemed to be a myth for some guests and obviously true for others. We couldn't tell about ours. All rooms have a nice firm king size extra high four poster bed, an adequate bathroom, a blow dryer, a porch or balcony, a desk, a closet, a TV, air conditioning, a ceiling fan, a radio alarm clock, a small safe deposit box, and a phone. The maid service is incredibly good. They stopped by at least three times a day, so we never had to use a wet towel. Being the party animals that we are, were were usually in bed between 9 and 11 PM. Most nights there was a band playing music not far from our room, and we could hear it quite clearly. As it turns out, we had no trouble falling asleep to the music, and it always ended at 11. For more peace and quiet, some people might prefer the more expensive suites, which are rather secluded. We were very happy to be 1 minute away from the water sports, the golf, and the food. *** DIVING *** The Sandals resorts offer a resort course for those who want to try scuba diving without getting too serious. For the already certified divers, they require a quick check-out session in the swimming pool. This was necessary even for those with advanced open water certifications. They didn't check log books, just your C-card. There are three one-tank dives scheduled each day. The first one is a 9 AM deep dive for certified divers only; the second is an 11 AM shallow dive for resort divers only; the third is at 2 PM, and both types of divers can come along. There are a few exceptions to this schedule. On Wednesdays and Fridays, the certified divers get to go on a two-tank 8 AM dive, and I have no idea how that affects the later dives. Also, on Sundays, there's no diving at La Toc, but you can always shuttle over to Halcyon. We arrived late on a Friday night. We couldn't go on the 9 AM dive the next morning, because we hadn't been checked out. We did our check-out at around noon, and signed up for the 2 PM dive that same day. While we were at it, we signed up for 9 AM dives for the following 5 days. Since we were leaving on a Friday, we ended up only getting to go on one two-tank dive. If we did this again, we'd make sure we arrived between Sunday and Tuesday in order to get to do both. The 2 PM dive on Saturday was to a site they called Sting Ray Wall (although there were none to be found). We went down to 35 ft, and stayed for 30 minutes. The water was very murky. Visibility was maybe 20 ft, and we didn't see much of interest. They had apparently had some storms before we arrived, so we hoped it would get better later on in the week. The coral looked grey and the fish were sparse. Since there was no diving at our resort on Sunday, we had asked one of the divemasters to radio the Halcyon to sign us up for their 9 AM dive. We had the impression that there were shuttles every hour between the two resorts in the morning, so we showed up at the front desk at around 7:30. As it turns out there was one at 7 AM, and the next wasn't til 9 AM, which would've made us late for our dive, so we ended up having to take a taxi ($US12) to the other resort. This was really just stupidity on our part. There's a shuttle schedule on the front desk, and from then on we checked it carefully. When we arrived at the Halcyon's water sports, we were told that there were no dives that day because nobody had signed up. We should have made sure that the La Toc divemaster radioed in our request, instead of just assuming he would when we asked. In any case, Hamil, one of the Halcyon's divemasters managed to get the dive setup for us anyway. We just had to dock the boat at a gas station first to fill up. We eventually arrived at a site called Anse Cochon (which translates to Bay of Pigs, although there were none to be found). The reef started at a depth of about 35 ft. Our total bottom time was 45 minutes, and our max depth was 78 ft. We spent half of the time in a very slow diagonal descent, following the gradual hill of the reef. We spotted two tiny moray eels, a spiny lobster, and lots of small fish. There was red fan coral and purple sponges. We then started a very slow diagonal ascent, drifting the whole time with the current, and making our way back up to 35 ft. The visibility had improved to about 40 ft. The reef looked somewhat beat up, but we enjoyed the dive since we had the divemaster to ourselves. We had left our scuba bag at the Halcyon resort, and that proved to be a small mistake. If we hadn't, they could've dropped us off at La Toc at the end of the dive, since it was on the way. Luckily, we managed to make it back to Halcyon in time for the 12 PM shuttle. The next one would've been at 3 PM. Monday morning we dived "The Wreck", which I think the divemaster called "the wreck of the Leslie M.", or something of the sort. It's a sunken cargo ship, about 165 ft long. Visibility was 50 ft. We started by going down to the outside bottom of the ship, which is around 80 ft deep. As we circled the ship, we saw lots of beautiful coral growing on it. The colors were fairly vivid, and lots of small critters peeked out of the crevices. As we swam up and inside the ship, we found a large crab and a small spotted eel. The main divemaster was Charlie, the only staff member who seemed comfortable allowing my husband and myself to go off on our own. We heard from other guests that he was the best. After about 25 minutes of bottom time, we surfaced. Monday afternoon we went back to Anse Cochon for a shallow dive (40 ft for 25 minutes). The visibility was significantly better than the first time. Tuesday morning we went to Virgin's Point (there were none to be found). Visibility was about 60 ft, and was getting better with each dive. We went down to 72 ft for 25 minutes. The scenery was very similar to that of Anse Cochon. Wednesday we decided to do our two tank dive at the Halcyon Sandals, instead of at La Toc. It was less crowded and the equipment was better. As it turns out, the La Toc dive boat had an engine malfunction, and it ended up taking them 7 hours to finish the dives, instead of the 3 hours it took us. Our first dive was at at the foot of one of the two famous Piton mountains. As far as I could tell, all nearby sites are referred to as "The Pitons". It took us about 30 minutes to get there, and we were very close to the Jalousie Plantation resort. If they offer unlimited shore dives at that place, we'll stay there next time! As soon as we jumped in the water we knew this would be a great dive. Visibility was the best yet, probably 80 ft, and there was a marvelous colorful wall. We ended up going no deeper than 75 ft, although it was hard not to. We found several eels, barracuda and crabs. We drifted into tons of colorful schools of small fish. Our total bottom time was around 25 minutes. We then docked the boat in the nearby town of Soufriere for a snack and a surface interval of around 30 minutes. They gave us fruit and grape juice to calm our stomachs. Everyone raved about how incredible the dive was. I had never seen anything like it since the Great Barrier Reef, and another guy on the boat whose dived in Mexico and the Caribbean said only Cayman came close. For my husband, it was the best dive ever. Together we've only gone diving in Hawaii (on Kauai and the big island), and in Jamaica. The second dive was at least as good as the first. The captain plunked us right in front of the Anse Chastanet resort and we quickly hopped in. I felt a bit guilty about intruding on the guest's peaceful surroundings, but I certainly didn't regret it. I can see why people say it's the only place to stay if you dive. They have access to a spectacular reef that can be accessed by kicking your fins for about 10 seconds once you leave the beach. Both the coral and the fish life were plentiful and colorful. We ended up maxing out at 40 ft, and stayed down for 25 minutes. We again ran into several eels and barracuda. There were a ton of trumpet fish, parrot fish, trunk fish, angel fish, and many others I didn't recognize or find on the charts. Even more huge schools of colorful fish swam by us than on the previous dive. It was quite breathtaking. On the ride back they fed us lunch, which consisted of chicken, a hard-boiled egg, a sandwich, a banana, and a few other things. I'm glad we didn't eat all that during our surface interval... Since I had sinus squeeze problems on both of these dives, and my husband started to get a bit of congestion, we decided not to dive on Thursday. They were going back to the wreck anyway, and the two-tanker was definitely a good way to end things. It was for sure the highlight of our vacation. Notes: - All dives except the wreck were done without anchor, using free descent and ascent, and a 3 minute safety stop at 15 ft. The dive boat followed an inflatable that the divemaster dragged around by a long rope. - I would guess that the names of the sites are mostly made up by the resort staff, with the exception of the Anse Chastanet and Pitons sites. - All one tank dives were a 10-20 minute ride south of out resort. It seemed that the further South you go, the better the diving gets. It's a shame they can't take the time to go a bit further every day. - Gloves are normally disallowed, but I was permitted to use mine for thermal reasons several times. They just want to make sure you don't touch the coral. - All dives are supposed to be of the follow-the-leader type, but my husband and I like going off on our own. We always made sure we were within visual range of one of the divemasters, and we were only scolded on occasion. - If you look at our max depths and bottom times on several of the dives, you might cringe. We didn't have a dive computer, and yet we pushed and even exceeded the table limits. Even being the conservative diver that I am, I had no trouble with this, since we were only at max depth for 1-5 minutes. By far most of the time on the "deep" dives was spent above 50 ft. If you pretend that it was really two dives, with a surface interval of 0 minutes, we were way within the limits, and we ended up with so much leftover air it wasn't funny. Those of you who think this is crazy might want to bring a computer along. - There is supposedly a supply of oxygen in every dive boat, but I never actually asked to see it, so don't take my word for it. - The water temperature was always between 79 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit. My husband and I were fine with a thin Lycra suit, but others wore anything ranging from a swimming suit to a full wet suit. - There were problems with the equipment at both resorts. At La Toc, the BCs are pretty old, the regulators quite cheap. My husband had a faulty pressure gauge on one dive, and had trouble breathing out of his regulator on another. Other divers had problems with weight belts becoming undone. At Halcyon, my husband ended up diving once with a faulty depth gauge. On the positive side, La Toc had a nice digital gauge that included bottom time, depth, max depth, and temperature. Halcyon had much newer BCs and regulators, although I don't really think there was much of a difference between a regulator and an octopus at either resort. The use of all this wonderful equipment is included in the price, but I believe wet suit rental is extra. The next time we go diving anywhere, we'll have our own regulators and gauges... - All dives are videotaped. The cost is $45 for the first tape, and there's a deal on multiple tapes. - I believe the limit on the number of divers is 12. We never had more than 7, and one time it was just the two of us. - The dive boats have horrible access. Entries were a giant stride off of a small step that was usually slippery and hard to get to. Entry was a lot more difficult, since there weren't any steps under the water to climb on to, and no handles to pull yourself up with. Luckily the staff is very good at holding you steady as you go in, and giving you a nice harsh tug as you come out of the water. - At La Toc, since the surf was so rough, they couldn't bring the boat close to shore. So, the staff moves all the equipment in and out in a couple of kayaks, and the divers are left to swim with the large waves and harsh currents. I thought this was a blast, but others weren't so thrilled. One time it was so rough, they loaded us all in a mini-van, and drove us into Castries where they have that wonderful invention they call a dock... At Halcyon, they always brought the boat pretty close to shore and nobody had any problems wading their way to the boat. - Our tanks were always filled to at least 3000 psi, although one diver complained about only having 2400 psi on one trip. As soon as you reach 1000 psi, you're supposed to let the divemaster know. This sounded very strict at first, but nothing seems to happen when one or more people are somewhat low on air. We never aborted a dive early. On several occasions, divers came up with only 200-400 psi left. On another, a diver was allowed to breathe out of his buddy's octopus, and we all kept diving. - All the divemasters are very good about not grabbing the coral, although several of them ended up kicking it with their fins. For the most part, the divers seemed to be better at keeping their distance from the coral than the staff did, but I'll admit I never saw them actually damage it. - The closest re-compression chamber is on the island of Barbados. *** OTHER WATER SPORTS *** Here is the theoretical daily schedule for other water activities: 8:30 AM - 1 PM / 2 PM - 4:30 PM Water skiing 9 AM - 2 PM Snorkeling 8:30 AM Sunfish sailing, Hobbie Cat, Kayaks, Paddle The whole time we were there, the surf was very rough, and they weren't allowing much in the way of water sports. Some people that really wanted to do water skiing weren't too happy about it. They did get the skiing going several times, but taking the kayaks, hobbie cats, and sunfishes out was pretty much out of the question. It's hard to say how often the surf is a problem at this resort. The staff seemed to have differing opinions on the matter. In any case, at the Sandals Halcyon, the beach was quite calm the whole time, so it seems to be a better resort to go to for water sports. *** GOLF *** There is a par 32 9-hole golf course on the La Toc property. This is one of the reasons we chose the La Toc resort. We brought our clubs along, since we had found out that club rental was not cheap (US$15 for 9 holes and US$25 for 18 holes). The course is in fairly bad shape. The fairways are made up of crab grass, and the greens are beat up. You have to do a lot of climbing to get around. There is even a long series of stairs leading up to several of the tee boxes. We enjoyed this part of it since it was great exercise, but others might prefer to rent a cart (US$20 for 9 holes, US$35 for 18 holes) to avoid most of the work. The inconsistency of the greens was also a problem. They seemed to alternate between very slow and rock-hard-fast. According to the general manager, they've brought in a specialist from Canada who is going to start making improvements in this area. The mandatory caddies (US$4 for 9 holes) are for the most part wonderful. They are very young local boys that will jump in the water and weed patches to find your ball. The mere fact that they carry the clubs around this treacherously hilly course makes them worth their weight in gold. They also gave us very sound advice about where to drive and putt, and once they got to know our game, about club selection. It's nice not to have to use your brain too much when you're on vacation. After playing 9 holes one day, we didn't figure we'd play again, since there were more enjoyable things to do. We did end up playing one more time however, on an afternoon when there was nothing that sounded better. Next time we go to this resort, we'll leave the clubs at home and forget about golf. On the positive side, the views of the surrounding hillsides are beautiful, and the course is quite challenging. If we more avid about golfing, and had no expectations, we could've enjoyed ourselves a lot more. The last time we went golfing on vacation was on an impeccable strikingly beautiful beach front course on the big island of Hawaii, so we're just plain spoiled. On the other hand, that round cost us about US$150, and in St. Lucia it's included. *** TENNIS *** My husband and I both play tennis many times a week at home, so we were glad to hear that La Toc had 5 courts, of which 3 are lit. Once we got there, we were even more glad to see the conditions of the courts and nets. As the resort ages, I don't know if they will keep up good maintenance on them, but for now they look wonderful. I say they look wonderful, because we never got a chance to play on them. There was always too many other things to do, and we can always play tennis at home. The last time we were at a Sandals resort, we ended up going out and hitting with the pro for about 1/2 hour. At La Toc they also have a pro, and his services are included in the price, we just never made use of him. Here's the tennis schedule at La Toc: Monday: Pro available for Playing 4:30 PM - Social doubles Tuesday: 9 AM - Group Lessons 4:30 PM - Singles Tournament Wednesday: 9 AM - Group Lessons 4:30 PM - Social doubles Thursday: 9 AM - Group Lessons 4:30 PM - Doubles Tournament Monday: Pro available for Playing 4:30 PM - Olympic Tournament Saturday: Free Play Sunday: Free Play Every time we walked by the courts they were empty, so availability shouldn't be a problem for those who decide to make use of them. *** OTHER DAYTIME ACTIVITIES *** There are tons of activities to participate in during the day. There was little or no pressure to join in. Here's an example of a daytime activities schedule: 8:00 Morning jog 10:00 Orientation for newcomers 10:30 Aerobics 11:00 Bingo 11:30 Pool volleyball 12:00 Mid-day swing - water exercises 1:00 Lovers' knot competition 1:45 American football in the pool 2:00 Tone and stretch class 2:15 Water balloon toss 3:00 Beach madness 3:30 The drinks mixology class 3:45 Step aerobics 4:00 Pool volleyball 4:30 Siesta 5:00 Orientation for newcomers 5:00 Fit shape begins in the gym 5:30 Basketball 5:30 Aquacise They claim their swimming pool is the largest in the Caribbean, and it's easy to believe. You can have volleyball and aqua aerobics going on at one end, swimming relays in the middle, and lots of peace and quiet near the waterfalls for couples to float side by side on a raft on the other end. The smaller pool and hot tub in front of the piano bar are a nice place to relax away from the crowds. This area is mostly used by guests staying in the suites, since it's close by. The gym has a nice supply of free weights, Universal weight machines, and aerobic equipment (stair machines, upright and recumbent bicycles, and treadmills). There are a lot of indoor games such as cards, chess, backgammon, darts, pool, and ping-pong, and outdoor games like basketball, sand volleyball, shuffleboard, and horseshoes. La Toc has a 1/2 mile long beach. At one end is the waters ports center. The rest of the area is scattered with huts and chairs for reading, relaxing, and sunning. *** NIGHT LIFE *** Starting at around 8:30 every evening, a new band would play in the pavilion. There is no formal dance floor nearby, but the music was so inspiring that a lot of us ended up dancing in the walkways and around the pool. There was only one evening in which the band had bad rhythm and lousy singers. At 11 PM the music in the pavilion would stop, and we presume that everyone made their way to the disco. The one night we managed to stay up past 10, we went to see what the disco was like. At 10:30 it was empty, and was playing music extremely loud. We decided it wasn't worth staying up for. An example evening entertainment schedule follows: 7:30 Honeymooners hour 8:30 Band plays for dancing 9:30 Pre show presentation 9:45 Showtime 10:00 Sing a long at the piano bar 11:00 Disco dance class and contest *** TOURS *** St. Lucia has a lot of strikingly beautiful scenery. If you don't get enough of it from the airplane or on the bus ride, you can always sign up for some of the tours offered at the resort. None of these are included in the price, and we got to see a lot of scenery from the dive boat, so we didn't try any of these. Just for general information though, here is a list of tours: Day Tour Price (US$) Monday Deep sea fishing 88 Pigeon island explorer 35 Tuesday Soufriere day sail 70 Rainforest walk 42 Champagne sunset cruise 32 Wednesday Soufriere day sail 70 Marquis estate plantation 55 Champagne sunset cruise 32 Horseback riding beach barbeque 50 Thursday Grenadines day tour 210 Deep sea fishing 88 Soufriere day sail 70 Sugar mill/Marigot bay tour 38 Champagne sunset cruise 32 Friday Grenadines day tour 210 Rainforest walk 42 Champagne sunset cruise 32 Saturday Soufriere day sail 70 Deep sea fishing 88 The shopping shuttle goes to Castries and Duty Free Point Seraphine daily except Sundays and holidays. It leaves at 9 AM and comes back at noon. The cost if US$6 per person. There is a daily trip to Sandals Antigua that costs US$195 per person. In addition to all this, helicopter sight seeing tours and horse back riding can be scheduled. *** FOOD *** Breakfast: There are two options for breakfast: The Pavilion, which has a fantastic buffet from 7:30 til 10 AM, and The Pitons restaurant, which according to my notes has a buffet every day except Sunday, from 8:30 til 11 AM. We never made it over to the Pitons for breakfast, but in the Pavilion, there was always large quantities and varieties of fruit, juices (some fresh squeezed) and breads. They also had made-to-order omelets, pancakes, french toast, eggs Benedict, sausage, bacon, and all kinds of other deadly selections. Lunch: The Pavilion served a great buffet from 12:30 til 2 PM daily. The Pitons had a buffet with lower calorie entrees during the same hours. Dinner: La Toc has 5 restaurants that serve dinner. - At the Pavilion they have an international menu, and you never need reservations. One evening a week they have a buffet instead of a sit-down meal, and it is fabulous. We never tried their regular menu. - The Pitons doesn't take reservations either, and offers great West Indian selections. Their menu changes once a week, as is probably true of the other restaurants. - La Toc is an OK French restaurant. The service is white glove, and the presentation is impeccable. We enjoyed our appetizers, but the main course was a disappointingly overcooked and tasteless rack of lamb. The mousse by husband had for desert was frozen solid. Maybe it was on purpose, but it wasn't very good. We never went back. Other guests we spoke to had similar comments. - Kimono is like a Japanese steak house. Eight guests are seated in each room, around a large cooking surface. The main course includes several different kinds of meat, seafood, and vegetables, and is chopped into small bits by clinking knives and throwing them up in the air once in a while. Before the chef makes his appearance, appetizers, salad, and soup can be ordered from a menu. I had some sushi and it was pretty fresh. The diverse pieces of meat in the main course were overcooked, but we enjoyed the evening immensely since we got to meet and talk extensively with several other couples. As long as you don't expect too much from the food, Kimono is a blast. - Arizona serves steak and potato fare. We didn't go anywhere near it. Halcyon has 3 restaurants, one of which was closed because there weren't enough guests to fill it up. - Mario's is an Italian restaurant that has great pasta entrees. For an appetizer, I had an individual-sized seafood pizza which was quite good. My husband and one of the two friends we were dining with, ordered an entree that ended up including a couple of big soggy shrimp, so I would recommend sticking to pizza and pasta. - The Pierhouse is a West Indian restaurant that was booked solid by the time we tried to make reservations. According to several people we talked to, it was the best joint in either resort. Their seafood selections were highly recommended. - The Bayside Restaurant was closed, but normally doesn't take reservations, and serves international cuisine. Other meals: The Beach Grill at La Toc serves snacks from 11 AM til 5 PM and from 11 PM til 3 AM daily. We never tried it, since we discovered early on that there are many yummy drinks that can calm the munchies. Notes: - It is a good idea to plan all of your dinners as soon as you get to the resort. You can always change the reservations afterwards, but the restaurants do get filled up quickly. Also, find out what evenings the Pavilion international buffet, the lobster dinner, and the beach party are. You might want to forget about reservations on these nights, since all three can be worthwhile. Also, if you've already been to a Sandals resort, there's a special party with a marvelous 5-course meal one night in the Pavilion. It was the best meal we had the whole time we were there. - The dress code at Kimono's and La Toc is somewhat formal. Basically the rule is "no shorts", but you won't need a suit, tie, dress or skirt anywhere. At the other restaurants, shorts are allowed. In general, some people wore suits and fancy dresses, but most were more casual. *** DRINKS *** There are seven bars at La Toc, opening as early was 10 AM, and closing as late as 3 AM. Our favorite was the swim-up bar in the main pool. All of them have lots of different kinds of rum, vodka, scotch, liqeurs, etc. Each has a pina colada machine, a decent white wine, a not so good red wine, very enjoyable champagne, and Heineken on tap. Heineken is brewed on the island, and is just about the only beer you'll find at the resort. Mario's restaurant at the Halcyon proved to be the only exception: they serve bottles of the local Pitons beer. Our drinking routine most days consisted of several pina coladas and banana cows in the hot tub after diving, to stop the stomach from growling before lunch, and then champagne starting in the early evening during happy hour, and continuing through dinner. At other times, there were lots of yummy non-alcoholic concoctions to choose from. The Beach Bar had a long list of them. There were also soft drinks and iced tea available everywhere. *** WEATHER *** The last time we were in the Caribbean it was May, and it rained just about all day every day we were there. I don't think we'll every try to go in the low season again, since the low prices and the rain seem to go hand in hand. The weather on this trip was absolutely perfect. I never saw a thermometer, but it wasn't ridiculously hot during the day, and it cooled off quite nicely once the sun set. I'm guessing the temperatures ranged between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. On two days we had rain for about 10 seconds. The rest of the time it was very sunny. I don't know exactly when the hurricane season is, but I've heard it's at the end of the rainy season, probably around October and November. In any case, it's a good idea to find out what weather is to be expected during your planned travel dates so as to minimize unpleasant surprises. *** MISCELLANEOUS WARNINGS *** - Since both Sandals resorts are near the Castries airport, the noise of small prop planes coming and going can be heard throughout the day. - There were a fair number of flies and other bugs, especially near the dining areas, while we were there. My legs got a fair number of bites, and I would be sure to bring insect repellent the next time around. - The hot water pressure in the rooms was abysmal, mostly in the morning. There was plenty of water for a shower, it's just that from one second to the next, you never knew what temperature it was going to be. *** WHAT'S INCLUDED, WHAT'S NOT *** Included: Airport transfers, green fees, resort scuba diving course, snorkeling, scuba diving, basic scuba and snorkel equipment, shuttle service between Sandals resorts, all food, great booze, wind surfing, kayaking, water-skiing, use of tennis pro, most tips, fitness classes, fitness equipment, beach towel use, indoor and outdoor games, nurse services, etc. Not included: Caddy fees, caddy tips, club rental, cart rental, scuba wet suit rental, camera rental, photographs, underwater video tapes, horse back riding, tours, trips into town, manicures, pedicures, hair styling, hair braiding, car rental, laundry, dry cleaning, etc. *** COST *** For a 7 night stay, including round trip airfare from St. Louis, this trip cost US$4,000 for the two of us. If we had booked the land-only portion of the trip directly through Sandals, it would have cost about US$3300. Round trip air fare from St. Louis would have been a lot more than US$700 for two people, so we booked the air-inclusive package through Club America. Booking a standard room (if it really exists) instead of a superior room would have saved us about US$150. The most expensive suite would've cost an extra US$2000 for the two of us. The only expenses we had other than this oh-my-god-up-front cost were: - US$11 each for departure tax. This can be payed in US$ or you can use up any of the local currency you might have left over. It is not easy to convert the local currency back into US$, so don't exchange too much. We exchanged none. - US$5 each for every 9-hole round of golf to pay the caddy. The cost of each caddy is US$4 for each round, but this is the one place you're allowed to tip. - US$10 to get our luggage moved around in the St. Louis and St. Lucia airports. Once in the Sandals resorts, all your luggage is taken care of, and no tipping is allowed. - US$12 for a taxi between La Toc and Halcyon, the one time we didn't check the shuttle schedule carefully. Other than that, we spent a few dollars on souvenir T-shirts and postcards at the resort, and some drinks at the St. Lucia airport. *** THE VERDICT *** I've pointed out a lot of minor negative aspects of our vacation to try make sure that readers don't have any unpleasant surprises if they choose to go to Sandals St. Lucia. In spite of these facts, this was by far the best vacation we've ever had. It was well worth the money, and we both recommend this resort very highly, especially to non-avid divers. Since we've now visited three Sandals resorts, here are a couple of comparison notes: - The food and service at La Toc and Halcyon weren't as good as at the Sandals Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica. - The diving and beaches, are much better in both St. Lucia resorts than in Jamaica. - All around, the water sports are best at the Sandals Halcyon. Since we enjoyed several of the dives so much, we will probably go to a more dive-oriented resort on our next vacation. After an intense week of diving, we might try to stop by Sandals St. Lucia to relax and wind down for a few days. The next time we try to combine some diving and a lot of other fun activities in one resort, we'll probably choose Sandals Halcyon. There we can spend the morning doing water sports, and then shuttle over to La Toc for the rest of the day's activities. If we did it the other way around, we'd have to wake up at 6 or 6:30 every morning in time to catch the 7 AM shuttle over to Halcyon for diving. ---------------------------------------------------------------- Liz Hanks Department of Computer Science Voice: +1 314 935 5044 Campus Box 1045 Fax: +1 314 935 7302 Washington University E-mail: One Brookings Drive St. Louis, MO 63130-4899 USA ----------------------------------------------------------------

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