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Lance & Debbie Leighnor in St. Lucia at Sandals GrandeWelcome to the travelogue of Lance and Debbie Leighnor as we journey to exotic and lovely St. Lucia in the far South Caribbean Sea at the Sandal's Grande St. Lucian Resort and Spa. The purpose of this travelogue is to let family and friends know how our trip went and share some of the sights we saw on our trip. I also hope anyone looking to visit St. Lucia will find this information helpful. And if you get a chuckle or some useful information out of these pages - consider it a bonus!

If you see a camera icon () on any other page, there will be a link to pictures on that image. Or look in the main navigation, all our photo galleries are there too.

Rule #1 - GET YOUR PASSPORT FIRST!!!!

We broke rule #1.

We had plenty of time, we were originally going to St. Lucia in December 2009 and we applied for our passports in September of that year. Plenty of time, right?

WRONG!

What I didn't know is that some identity theft from 1985 would sink my passport application deeper than the Titanic. I called, I wrote, I contacted our Congressional and Senate offices - and what did I find out? Not a thing, other than "some investigation is going on". In fact, my passport application literally vanished from the State Department's web site. Talk about unnerving!

This information drought went on until the day before we were supposed to originally leave - then the State Department of Investigations calls me. We need fingerprints, deposition, etc ad nausm. After an interview with the gun-carrying kind of Federal agents, I finally get my passport in February of 2010. And we're frantically calling our travel agent to rebook.

Jim & Di Bengtson - Great Escape TravelWhich brings Us To Rule #2 And It's Almost As Important - Have A GOOD Travel Professional Working With You

We had one! Jim Bengtson at Great Escape Travel was magnificent in helping us handle this mess. We had travel insurance so the financial impact of the passport problem was minimized; he constantly provided information and steered us in the right direction so that when we did finally make it to St. Lucia, the trip went off flawlessly.

I can't say enough good things about Jim - so for anyone wanting to go to on a vacation, he's the man. Check him out here on the web.

Rule #3 - Talk To Your Bank!

Many banks have anti-fraud safeguards in place for ATM machines and online banking, particularly if you're using your debit or credit card in a non-normal situation. We had to register our trip with our bank (Bank of America) for both our debit card and credit card in order for them to work in St. Lucia. This registration ensures your access to your money will work when you're either out of the country or in a different location. We had no problem with our debit card in St. Lucia and the bank never questioned any charges coming through. So check with your bank before you go, otherwise you'll be trying to straighten money access out from a very long distace away.

Sandal's - the resorts REALLY can't be that nice, can they?

In a word yes. The beautiful pictures on their web site? It's for real. The only thing that was different is that instead of the resort being stuffed full of "pretty people" like on the web site, it was mostly normal types of people there. The predominant population of couples while we were down there was newlyweds. For those older folks like us celebrating an anniversary, there are older couples there too, but you will be out numbered by the "kids". There was no problem with this situation and we had a lot of fun.

One thing I will point out - they really do dress up in the evenings down there. We were scrambling a bit to have formal enough dress for some of the evening events we attended. Ladies, that's nice dresses for the most part. Guys, they really do wear some long sleeve shirts in the evening. Short sleeves will work too, but they better be dressy. Do bring nice clothes as you will need them.

For those that don't know about the Sandals resorts, they are an all-inclusive resort - which means you don't pay for anything there nor do you have to tip anyone for anything while you're there. Your food, your drinks, most of the activities - all of these things are included in the price of the room. At our resort, the food was uniformly great. For those that love fresh fish, you'll be in heaven as much of the fish is locally caught. So if you like Mahi-Mahi, you'll think you've died and gone to heaven. Likewise with fresh fruits (banana, pineapple, numerous others) that are grown and harvested on the island. There are also resort activities nearly every night of the week that includes things like a Street Party and Beach Barbeque.

In booking Sandals, if you go to the web site and look at the price, the first thing you'll do is faint. It's steep - BUT - you never ever pay full price. There is always a percent-off sale running of some kind. The Grande in St. Lucia gets discounted the least, some of the resorts in Jamaica get discounted the most. Which brings us to the fact that the dollar will indeed go further in Jamaica than St. Lucia.

Which brings us to the question - how in the heck do you choose where to go?

Map of the CaribbeanFirst, determine if you're going to do nothing but stay on the resort. We didn't want to just hang out at the resort, we wanted to explore a bit of the island and learn it's history and a bit about it's people. If you want to do that - St. Lucia is the place to go. It has tremendously varied scenery, from the soaring Piton mountains, to the rain forest, to the banana and pineapple plantations and finally to historical ruins from colonial times. (The British and French fought over St. Lucia 14 times - there are old forts and cannon still there.)

Here's the quick run-down that Jim gave me when we second-guessed our original thought to go to St. Lucia:

  1. Jamaica - abject poverty is right out side a lot of the resorts - literally. If you stay on the resort, you're fine. Other places on the island, not so fine.The dollar will go the furthest on this island too. Sandals Montego Bay is also right off the International Airport, so be aware. There are six Sandals resorts on the island, some very close to the airport, other resorts are a considerable distance away. If you go to Jamaica, look closely at the resort you want to go to!
  2. Bahamas - glitzy tourist trap for anything off the resort. There are two Sandals resorts on the island and one is brand new.
  3. Antigua - very small island, if it's the resort activities you want, great. Anything else you'll see in one day. There is just one Sandals resort in Antigua.
  4. St. Lucia - tons of stuff to see and do off the resort. Poverty, while present on the island, isn't as bad and mostly in the fishing villages - a fisherman's life is NOT an easy one. This island also costs more to get to due to higher airfare and the resorts there appear to be discounted the least. There are three Sandals resorts on the island, all located on the North end of St. Lucia.

Climate

St. Lucia is in the Southern part of the chain of islands that stretches down towards South America. As such, it's closer to the equator then the Northern islands, thus the climate is pretty uniformly warm. Upper 80s to 90s during the day, cooling into the 70s sometime at nights. Another nice benefit is that St. Lucia is by and large out of the Hurricane belt, the last storm to hit the island was in the 80s. So weather is less likely to disrupt a trip.

Sandals 101

When you stay at a Sandals, there are essentially a series of suites that you can choose and the cost goes up with the size of the room. How it all works is that the more you pay, the bigger the room and better the view or access to the beaches. There are two levels of service - Concierge and Butler that are also tied to the room size. The smaller suites are Concierge, the large and nicer suites are Butler service.

What that means is that with Concierge, you essentially take care of a lot of things yourself and with Butler service, they pamper the heck out of you. It costs more, but if you do what we did and take a few side trips, these Butlers were essentially our administrative assistants in getting off the resort activities arranged. What's even more important, they helped guide us in not doubling up on seeing the same things twice. More on this later, but if you can swing the money, the Butler service is worth every dollar you spend! They also shameless cater to your special events - this trip was our 30th wedding anniversary and Debbie's birthday rolled into one and our two Butlers took the trip from being merely nice to extraordinarily special!

Also nice about Sandals, is that you can go to any other Sandals resort on the island and eat or play in their pools or other activities. In St. Lucia, there are three Sandals resorts, all within about thirty minutes of each other in decent traffic. They are the Halcyon, Regency, and our resort the Grande. Our main reason for picking the Grande is that my wife Debbie is not a swimmer and is somewhat afraid of water. Of the three resorts on St. Lucia, the Grande has the gentlest sloping beach and lots of it. The other two resort's beaches tend to drop off far more quickly into deeper water. For the golfers, the golf course is at the Regency - it's also a very hilly resort and getting around that resort requires a shuttle unless you're in excellent shape. I can't speak much to the Halcyon as we didn't visit this resort. A shuttle service runs routinely between all three resorts.

The Trip Begins!

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Trip Date: July 20 - 29, 2010