Thursday, June 28th, 2012
Continued from my St. Lucia trip, part 1!
I didn’t try out too many activities to review for you all this time (sorry. I think my tailbone is still traumatized from the Jamaica horseback riding adventure), but I did do some SNUBA-ing. Let me tell you how cool SNUBA is: it is so cool. We took a five-minute boat ride to the nearby Pigeon Island, which I will also just let you know used to be a military base and a pirate hideout, because I like to mention pirates whenever possible. Now it’s the location for the St. Lucia Jazz Festival in May, which I think is far less badass but we’re not talking about me here, are we. We’re talking about SNUBA. Right. So we took the quick SNUBA course, suited up in our flippers and weight belts and masks and regulators, and took an underwater tour of the gorgeous reef just offshore. We saw tons of brightly-colored fish, spiny lobsters, sea urchins, “feather-dusters” that shoot back into their little hideouts in a hilarious way if you poke at them which I would never do because I totally respect nature (wink wink), trumpetfish, starfish, and I even got to hold a seahorse. Kids as young as age 8 can participate in SNUBA tours, and kids ages 4-7 can do the surface “SNUBA-DOO” tours. Definitely try it out and don’t let the kids have all the fun with this one. After the first couple of disconcerting underwater breaths, it’s just like breathing air, and you can go up to 20 feet deep without being SCUBA certified.
I did, however, do my sightseeing homework for you. The capital city of Castries, in the north, welcomes cruise ships and has tons of craft and food markets as well as duty-free shopping, along with the nearby white sand beaches. We made the two-hour drive to the south of the island to visit the laid-back city of Soufriere, where we saw the steaming, bubbling sulfur springs at the nearby semi-dormant volcano (relax, it hasn’t erupted since 1600-something). Close by are gorgeous botanical gardens and the Diamond Falls, where there are also mineral baths that you can bathe in that local
marketing legend says will make you look ten years younger.
Then we headed over to the famous luxury resort Jade Mountain (once featured on The Bachelor) and its sister resort Anse Chastanet. I’ll confess that I’ve sat here staring at the screen for quite awhile trying to figure out how to put the beauty of these places into words that even halfway do them justice. Anse Chastanet is easier: the villas are all completely open-air, and are constructed with open floor plans around key pieces of the landscape like boulders and trees. Gorgeous pieces of modern artwork hang on the walls.
Jade Mountain is a place that you honestly have to see for yourself to truly appreciate. The resort is built on the side of the mountain, and the sanctuaries (as they appropriately call the rooms) are all open-air and built on open floor plans as well. Each sanctuary features an infinity pool tiled with brilliant blues, greens, or reds that forms the outside wall, where it abruptly falls off into a breathtaking view of the twin peaks of the Piton mountains across the Caribbean Sea.
There is no artwork needed for the walls here. The Pitons are the artwork. The service here is exquisite also. This is a place where celebrities stay, and the prices reflect that. Probably even my marriage would have worked out if we’d have honeymooned in a stunning place like this one. (Ha ha! Just kidding. It wouldn’t have.) I think it goes without saying that you’ll want to leave the kids at home to come here… Under age 15, they are not allowed anyway. But I had to include it in my write-up because a) it’s one of the most incredible places I have ever seen, and I have been around a bit, and b) if you’re looking for a kid-free resort at which to soothe your frayed nerves, and have a lot of money saved up to do so, this would certainly be the place to do it.
You can go pretty much anywhere in the Caribbean for sun, sand, and beautiful views, but I would say the difference in St. Lucia is that the island is cleaner, more unspoiled and less crowded, and the people don’t have that manic, exhausting, you’re on vacation let’s do this thing frenzied enthusiasm that you’ll find elsewhere– they are laid-back, accommodating of any request from the trivial to the critical, and on the whole, the most genuinely friendly people I think I have ever met on vacation. We were all sorry to say goodbye, and I hope I’ll go back soon.
What to know before you go:
- Direct flights are available from JFK, ATL, and MIA.
- Electrical outlet converters (European-to-American) are handy but not necessary, as most hotels have a few American outlets.
- American dollars are widely accepted across the island, but you’ll get the much-more-expensive “tourist price” if you use them. Do your currency exchange at a bank rather than at your hotel or on the street for the best rates.
- Tap water is safe to drink.
- If you tend to get carsick, bring Dramamine for the roads. This is a requirement, not a suggestion.
Have fun, kids!
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Monday, June 25th, 2012
Hey guys, remember when I went to Jamaica and reviewed family-friendly resorts and activities for you? (Here and here?) Guess what– I got to do it again, and this time, in St. Lucia. Same disclaimer as last time: the people asking me to review this stuff let me come down there and try it all out for free… But you know me and you know I’m always honest, so you know you can believe me when I say it was awesome. This one is gonna have to be another two-parter. Here we go!
I didn’t know much about St. Lucia before I went down there last week. I’m willing to bet you don’t either. In my opinion, that’s the best kind of tropical vacation destination– gorgeous views, sun, sand, and far fewer people around than any of the islands that Americans actually know about. Honestly, if I were you, I’d get down there before everyone else figures out how amazing it is and gets all up in your beaches.
St. Lucia is a tiny island in the eastern Caribbean sea, south of Martinique and north of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It changed hands between the French and the British about a million times in the past, which explains why the people there speak a French-based creole but drive on the left side of the (terrifyingly narrow and carsickness-inducing) roads.
I stayed at a beach resort in Rodney Bay called Bay Gardens that was so luxurious that I just assumed it was an expensive chain hotel. My suite was legit bigger than the apartment that I live in, no joke, and right on the beach. Here’s the view from my balcony:
Not too shabby, huh?
I was surprised to learn that the resort, and the hotel and inn associated with it, were actually a family-owned business. I’m going to digress for a second and tell you the story behind it, because I think it’s something that, in and of itself, makes the properties worth staying at.
Caribbean society is fiercely matriarchal, full of strong and seriously cool women, and Joyce Destang is no exception. Over 20 years ago, she bought the inn and a bunch of reclaimed swamp land in the area as well, and planned to build more hotels on it. She told us that she used to sit in the empty lot and imagine what she wanted her resort to look like. Everyone told her she was nuts for buying that land, but long story short, she basically built the three properties out of nothing, and constantly works to improve them and keep them competitive in today’s market– no small feat when you are competing with giants like Sandals. I met her and she was a fascinating woman, far too humble for the things she has accomplished and the empire she has built literally from the ground up.
I loved the story, loved the “girl power” aspect of it, and most of all loved that it was a family-owned resort that I found was a pretty awesome place for families to stay as well. Their Bay Gardens Hotel (less expensive, starting at $110/night for a family of four, but further from the beach) and Bay Gardens Beach Resort (more expensive, starting at $200/night for a family of four, but has a beach on property) have rooms that can be rented as a king-size bed or two doubles. They also have suites with a pull-out couch and full-size kitchenette and living room, with attached rooms that have two double beds and their own bathroom that can be rented in conjunction with the suite in order to sleep up to eight people. They have sitters on property who are also regular hotel staff, so you can get to know them before you trust them with your kids. And if the beach and pool aren’t enough to entertain your kids, there are kid-specific activities scheduled when there are enough children on property to enjoy them. Really, the rates for families are pretty incredible considering the location and how gorgeous the properties are (and they’re actually running a 70% off special on their websites at the moment, just sayin’.)
Another thing worth mentioning about St. Lucia is the food. The first night we were at Bay Gardens, we ate at their Caribbean fusion restaurant Trios, and honestly, you guys, there are no words. Well, okay, there are some words: seared ahi tuna with a ginger orange glaze and pineapple chutney with shrimp ceviche. King crab and coconut chowder infused with saffron and chive oil, served in a coconut bowl. Red snapper sampler with coconut rundown, creole, and rum cream sauces, St. Lucian sweet potato mash, and a calaloo garnish. Mango cheesecake with passion fruit mousse and a cinnamon, vanilla, and strawberry rum cream sauce. I am drooling all over my iPad and also I am super fat now, you guys. It was all so beautifully presented, too. And in case you were worried about the kids, although there is no kids menu, the staff is more than accommodating with requests for simpler dishes, and that goes for any meal at any of their restaurants.
On our last night on the island, we ate at Spice of India, one of Rodney Bay’s newest restaurants. Despite its short existence, it has already been rated #1 on the island via TripAdvisor, and let me tell you, it’s well-deserved. They serve authentic Indian dishes that truly are some of the best I’ve had, and the service is impeccable. If this place were in New York City, you wouldn’t be able to get in the door unless you were Oprah or something. Go. Eat. Love it.
To be continued shortly, with details of SNUBA, sightseeing, and the most incredible luxury hotel I’ve ever seen! Stay tuned for part two…
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