Monthly Archives: July 2023
After my first vacation at an adults-only all-inclusive Sandals resort, I naively thought that each of the resorts in the Sandals brand portfolio would be fairly similar.
Like visiting a Starbucks! Sure, the ones in New Mexico have a Spanish-style roof, but overall the experience is nearly predictable.
Sandals has 17 resorts spanning 7 Caribbean islands, and there two most popular are: Sandals Grande St. Lucian & Sandals Grenada. My husband and I have now visited both, and WOW they are not the same! It’s more like visiting a Starbucks & a Subway! Of course local flair will differ island to island, but I was able to keep a pretty lengthy list of things that stood out to us that made the two experiences very different.
*We visited both resorts in the month of June. Grenada in 2021, and St. Lucia in 2023. Both resorts at the time were not affected by the Covid pandemic; we could travel freely around the property and did not need vaccines or prior quarantining.
Okay, let’s get to the Pro’s & Con’s of each property! Below that, I will list things that are similar between both properties!
Sandals Grenada – Pro’s:
- Huge variety in styles of rooms and price-points
- Modern style and decor of rooms. The interior of the suites was more luxurious and modern than Grande St. Lucian.
- 5 minute shuttle ride from the airport (yet you don’t hear airport noise on the resort)
- A free/included daily harbor boat tour with views of the capital and neighboring beaches, plus a designated stop to jump in the ocean and swim/snorkel.
- Friendly, warm, personable customer service from all resort staff members (this really impacts your overall experience!)
- More wildlife – Grenada has monkeys & large iguanas, which St. Lucia does not.
- So safe. The entire island has very little crime, and is overall an incredibly safe place for tourists.
- Snorkel gear included – I didn’t realize this was a pro until it wasn’t included in St. Lucia. The snorkel gear is available to use whenever you would like
- Shaded lobby bar is open all day in a very central location.
Sandals Grenada – Con’s:
- No ocean-front or pier restaurants.
- Less water sports and land activities (no wake boarding, water skiing, or golf)
- No other resorts on the island to go explore.
- Nightly entertainment was repetitive and simple.
Sandals Grande St. Lucian – Pro’s:
- Better view from property – lush green mountains in the distance
- More watersports and activities – hobie cats (sailing), paddle boarding, kayaking, water skiing, wake boarding, golf greens fees*, croquet, pool, life-size chess, volleyball.
- Three resorts on island with different features and a free shuttle to take you to each of them any day
- More restaurant options – 12 restaurants at this location plus 15 at the two nearby (some are repeats though)
- Gordon’s Restaurant is located over the water on a pier, with stunning 360 degree views, especially during sunset. Grenada does not have an over-the-water restaurant.
- Option to stay at over-the-water bungalows. Grenada does not have this room category.
- Nightly entertainment was more elaborate here than at Grenada, more of a production.
Sandals Grande St. Lucian – Con’s
- Very poor customer service from majority of the staff, as if they absolutely did not want to be talking to you. Not sociable.
- Less variety of room styles, and most decor is outdated and bland. Some exterior buildings weren’t what I would expect from a “five star luxury” property, and the main lobby was very run down in areas. Here are some examples:
- No daily harbor boat tour
- No free snorkel mask usage – a shame because they have plenty and there are SO MANY fish right there off the shore. Grenada allowed us to use their plentiful snorkel gear freely, but that was not allowed here. Guided snorkel tour sign-ups only.
- 2 hour shuttle ride from airport to resort through mountain roads – car sickness nightmare!
- “Free” golf greens still require you to pay for club rentals ($75 per person) and a mandatory golf cart ($50.) If you don’t show up in a collared shirt, you’ll need to buy one there which start at $110.
- Lots of large groups, less of a romantic couples’ getaway destination. Sandals is marketed as a romantic destination for couples, but we experienced multiple groups of corporate sales teams that earned this trip with 100+ other coworkers and detracted from the romantic vibe of the resort.
- Constant sales pitch to spend more money on add-ons: We were asked multiple times a day by several staff members to book excursions, tours, spa treatments, private boat tours, private dinners and other add-ons. This became quite annoying.
- Josephine’s Creperie (coffee and ice cream) is only open from 11am-9pm. I’d rather have coffee much earlier than that, and ice cream later! The open times seem silly.
- The lobby bar is closed during the day time and opens at 4pm. If you want a drink at any point during the afternoon before then, you have to walk to the main pool bar which is quite a ways away from some of the beach and the smaller heart-shaped pool.
- We noticed security guards walking around the property each day, which we never saw at Grenada. I preferred Grenada where we didn’t see uniformed security, because their presence made you wonder why it was necessary.
Here are some qualities that both resorts – Grenada and Grand St. Lucian – both offer:
- Swim-up pool bars have a good atmosphere.
- Great pubs with late night options.
- Beautiful beaches with gorgeous views.
- Huge variety of restaurant and food options.
- Both resorts require you to claim your beach or pool chairs early in the day, otherwise they are all claimed.
- Scuba diving included with interesting dives – my husband did scuba diving at both resorts and had good experiences at each of them.
- Daily entertainment activities at the main pool with little prizes
Overall, our experience at Sandals Grenada was much more romantic because the resort was full of other couples on honeymoons and vacations together, rather than a large corporate sales conference or earned trip. The staff at Sandals Grenada was so much more friendly to interact with, and we were not hassled constantly to sign-up for more costly activities. We would love to return to Sandals Grenada, but would not say the same for Sandals Grande St. Lucian.
Let me know if you have any questions I can answer in a comment below!
You might also enjoy my post on the primary differences between Secrets and Sandals resorts here!
My husband and I just spent 8 days on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia at the very beginning of June. We stayed at the Sandals resort, after having a fantastic experience on our honeymoon at Sandals Grenada. I’ve already posted a vlog of our vacation on my YouTube channel, if you’d like to see more video of the resort, food, and activities! ☺️
In fact, after we returned home to Boise, Idaho in June 2021 from our incredible honeymoon vacation, I could not WAIT to book our next Sandals vacation. I had been so thoroughly impressed by the resort – it’s size, immaculate landscaping, friendly staff, yummy food, and our interactions with other couples.
Sandals has 17 resorts on 7 different Caribbean islands. Which one to choose for our next vacation?! I did some research, and read other guests reviews on each of the resorts. It was unanimous on the internet…..Sandals Grande St. Lucian was rivalling Sandals Grenada for their top resort. Grande St. Lucian was the popular choice among all of the travel vlogs and comparisons I saw!
I booked us a week-long stay at Sandals Grande St. Lucian for June 2023 and we eagerly awaited our next travel adventure, especially now knowing how much fun we had in Grenada! In this post, I am going to recap our vacation (so yes, it’s going to be quite lengthy!) including the activities, drinks and foods we enjoyed. However I’m also going to be frank and honest about our disappointment with the Sandals resort and staff. My husband and I still enjoyed our time together, we still had plenty of fun, and the island itself is extremely beautiful. We just personally got a yucky taste in our mouth from the customer service aspect, and I would like to be honest about that.
A vacation like this is a chunk of money, a chunk of days off from work, plus now also time away from our baby. So while we are so thankful and fortunate to be able to plan and enjoy a vacation like this, I do think the money and time would have been better spent with a different resort. (I’m not sure what that is anymore, so if you have any favorites, let me know in a comment!)
DAY ONE: ARRIVAL & CHECK IN
We arrived into the St. Lucia airport on Saturday, June 3rd and were brought to the “Sandals lounge” which is just down a hallway from the baggage claim. A porter had aggressively insisted on carrying our bags for us, which we didn’t find necessary. We’d been lugging them around ourselves through four different airports (Boise, San Francisco, Newark, and St. Lucia) for the past 2 days. We assumed it was just custom. After he delivered the bags into a corner of the lounge after the 45 second trek, he said “Do you have a tip?” Hmmmm. This was a preview of the type of hospitality on this island that was VERY opposite of what we had experienced at Grenada.
Sandals arranges shuttle van transfers for all guests from the airport to their resort (There are 3 different Sandals resorts on the island that are a decent distance from each other). Holy moly. I knew from my planning that the drive was about 2 hours. I had not realized that it would be on winding mountain roads with sharp hairpin turns and a van driver who was taking his anger out on the brake pedal. It didn’t help that I sat in the back row and could barely see out the front window. My nausea grew and grew, until I tapped on Zeb’s shoulder and told him the van driver needed to pull over, I needed to get out.
Whew, after emptying my stomach on the side of a St. Lucian road, the van driver had me get in the front seat next to him and a fellow passenger handed me a stick of gum. By the time we arrived at the lobby of the resort, I was just ready to be walking on land and never wanted inside a moving vehicle for a few days!
For how much detail Sandals typically puts into decorating, I found the lobby to be surprisingly bland.
The checkin process is when we started noticing how SALES PITCHY our interaction with all staff members here seemed. We weren’t greeted with the same smiles and small talk like we were at Grenada (or even Secrets Mexico, for that matter). Before we were even given room numbers and room keys, everyone was given a paper list of spa treatments and another list of excursions. They continued to ask each guest which items they wanted to sign up for. This is an “all-inclusive” resort, but spa and excursions are exceptions. They are add-on charges, and we would be continually asked to sign up for them every day of the trip. There were literally staff members who sat at a permanent desk in the lobby to ask everyone who walked by if they could sign up for spa treatments. I wasn’t a fan of how much we were asked to spend more money throughout the week.
Pro Tip: As soon as you are checked in and settled, go make your dinner reservations for the week. You need a room number to make a dinner reservation, so we make this our first priority after we are assigned a room. Some popular restaurants fill up, especially during sunset. So try to get your reservations locked in the first day you arrive!
Why We Like Split Stays
We checked into our room which we would actually only stay in Saturday – Wednesday. We would be upgrading into a different suite for the rest of Wednesday – Saturday. This is called a split-stay. It’s not uncommon at Sandals. Sandals is so popular that they often don’t even have 7 consecutive nights in any of their suites a year out. To accommodate guests, they provide them two different rooms for their stay. This happened to us in Grenada, simply because we had booked our honeymoon about 8 months in advance and there were no rooms available for 7 nights in a row. However we actually ended up enjoying the split stay concept because it allowed us to stay in a “fancy” upgraded suite for the second half, which was out of our price budget for the whole week. This time in St. Lucia, we did a split stay on purpose. We picked a basic room for nights 1-4, when we would be doing excursions and not in our room very much. We splurged on a rondoval suite for nights 5-7 with its own pool and hot tub.
Zeb & I have made it our little tradition to pick the hibachi restaurant at a resort on night 1, if possible. We had a really great experience with this on our honeymoon, where we happened to sit next to another couple on their honeymoon from North Carolina. We all hit it off so well that we sought each other out and hung out every night together at the lobby entertainment and pub for the rest of the trip! Hibachi tables invite you to talk to other guests, whereas at the rest of the sit-down restaurants you just keep to yourself.
Kimono is the hibachi restaurant at Sandals. It was very pretty inside and I really enjoyed the decor and atmosphere. We were starving since I’d left my lunch on the side of the road and had only had a stick of gum since then haha. At this restaurant, you don’t choose anything off of the menu. The chef at the center makes a huge batch of fried rice, sauteed veggies, shrimp, chicken, and steak and serves it to all 12 people sitting around the table. It is all very tasty! We didn’t meet any new BFFs at this dinner; everyone at our table was leaving the next day.
DAY TWO: SUNDAY FUNDAY
Our first full day on the resort! I wanted Zeb and I to walk the whole thing together and get some video footage for my vlog and photos for my blog. That way we could familiarize ourselves with the resort layout AND I would get any content to use later, and not have to worry about it for the rest of the trip :)
It was already pretty hot by 8:30am! The temps in St. Lucia in June are around the mid 80’s – mid 90’s and it is very humid. There really isn’t much relief at night or in the early morning as the lows each day are still 80 degrees. From here on out, I would not choose to vacation to the Caribbean in summer months. I would schedule it during the cold Idaho winter months for a pleasant escape :)
There are two eateries open for breakfast – Tuscanini’s with an a la carte menu, or Bayside with a buffet. We tried Tuscanini’s for our first breakfast and sat outside on the patio. I enjoyed the fresh fruit plates every day! The breakfast menu at this place was pretty good, but this is also where we started to notice to stark difference in customer service from the staff of Sandals Grande St. Lucian to our previous outstanding customer service experience at Sandals Grenada.
The waitresses (not ALL, but certainly most) rarely offered a smile or a pleasantry when they would approach us to take an order. They looked and sounded annoyed, and often would set down our food or drinks without saying a word to us – just looking grumpy, not making eye contact, and walking away. Very few people at the resort seemed to enjoy their job, which definitely takes away from the guests experience. It’s awkward and uncomfortable to feel like everything you are asking for is an annoyance. Many of the bartenders throughout the resort were the same way, saying little more than “What do you want?” followed again by no eye contact or a single word as they slid a drink to us, unhappy expression on their face. Customer service is important to us, and this was a very noticeable downside to this resort.
*I did email Sandals customer service, and leave a review with this feedback on Trip Advisor. You can read my review and Sandal’s reply here.
The rest of Sunday we enjoyed the main pool with its swim-up bar, as well as a couple hours on the beach before cleaning up for dinner. The ocean water is BEAUTIFUL, so so so clear. The views from the resort are very pretty, with tall green mountains, turquoise water, and picturesque sail boats coming through daily.
Dinner that night was at the restaurant Soy for some sushi. We love sushi so much, and everything we ordered tasted fresh and delicious. They do have a bar that you can sit at and watch the sushi being freshly made right in front of you. The menu has really good variety, and we just order a bunch and share everything!
DAY THREE: A Hike & Our Anniversary!
We timed this trip to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary on the island. We kicked off the morning with a short little walk off the resort to Pigeon Island National Landmark (seriously, less than a quarter mile down the public beach). There is a $10 (US) fee per person to enter the park, and then you can explore a trail that goes in a loop up to two peaks with amazing lookout views of both sides – the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It’s a steep climb but totally worth it! This was where the English army set up forts and camps to battle the French for the island in the late 1700s, and many of the buildings are still standing. There are original cannons and many informational signs throughout, as well as a little museum.
Pro Tip: We would later learn that there was a little local restaurant and bar on the coastline of the park that we missed when we were ascending one of the peaks. We returned later in the week for a happy hour drink with an unbeatable view. It was called Jambe de Bois, and if you are staying at Sandals Grande St. Lucian then I recommend stopping by this cute place!
After the hike, we had lunch at Mariner’s. We finally had a waitress that didn’t seem to be annoyed by our presence! LaToya! I shouted her out by name in my review, because such warm customer service was so rare here. I got the blackened mahi mahi, which was very tasty. We ordered a nacho plate to share as well, which was underwhelming. Sandals touts their resorts as “Five Star Global Gourmet” dining. After the food experience, we went home wanting to research what the heck qualifies somewhere as “5 Star.” Some of the food was good, but most was average at best. I am a Five Star chef by their standards, haha!
That evening’s dinner, however, was one of the best. We picked Gordan’s for our anniversary dinner and had made our reservation about 30 minutes before sunset. We got a gorgeous cotton candy sky for our view and I thoroughly enjoyed my swordfish steak.
There are stray cats around the resort. For the amount of food around, it is surprising how skinny they are! I couldn’t help but share my swordfish with one.
DAY FOUR: OFF-RESORT EXCURSION TO THE PITONS
Prior to arriving for our vacation, I knew I wanted to book one off-resort excursion to the Pitons, which are an icon of St. Lucia. The pitons are two volcanic spires, that are green and lush just like all of the other mountains of the island. They are a “World Heritage Site.” We couldn’t go to St. Lucia without getting to enjoy them! *None of the three Sandals resorts on the island have a view of the Pitons. They are quite a bit away.
We booked an excursion through Sandals to take a catamaran on a 90-minute ride to the Pitons, snorkel at the base of them, and enjoy food and drinks on the catamaran.
The boat was a lot more full than I expected; they shuttled guests from all three Sandals resorts and it held quite a lot of people. It was really fun though, the entire ride was so scenic and pretty. And of course snorkeling at the base of the Pitons was a highlight of the trip! We saw so many bright colorful fish from the moment we stuck our faces in the water right at shore. It was magical! I loved seeing so many bright blue and yellow and red fish all around.
The Caribbean has lots of sporadic rain storms in the summer that end as quickly as they begin. So for about three minutes, the sunshine went away and we were getting pelted with rain while we floated in the ocean. And then it was over and the sun was on us again. It was really cool! The ride back was during sunset, and they cranked up the music and served wine, beer, and rum punch plus some finger foods. This excursion was $100 per person and I thought it was definitely worth it.
We got back to the resort around 8pm and the finger food hadn’t quite filled us up so we sat down for dinner at Tuscanini’s, the Italian restaurant. This is a good example of how the menu description sounded incredible, but the actual plate didn’t live up to it.
Example: one of my desserts was chocolate cake with prosecco berry compote. YUM! The “prosecco berry compote” ended up being 1/3 of a strawberry….
My appetizer, INSALATA DI MARE, supposedly contained “Shrimp, scallops, white fish, black mussels, caviar, lemon and olive oil, dressing, herbs.” I definitely saw no caviar and it really is just one small piece of everything else.
DAY FIVE: ROOM UPGRADE & SHUTTLE TO HALCYON
In order to switch to our rondoval suite, we needed to check out of our room by 11:00am and leave our bags in our room for porters to take them to our new suite. The new rondoval suite would not be ready until 3pm, so we killed time with water activities and lunch until then. Zeb went on a scuba dive while I stayed back at the small heart-shaped pool and read my book. We met for lunch at Barefoot By The Sea where the staff was absolutely not interested in serving us. Even though there were only about four tables with people at the restaurant, we waited over 30 minutes to have our order taken and nearly an hour after that to get our food – which was a spicy fish bite salad and a chicken quesadilla.
The rondoval suites are so dreamy. I loved the hut shape, with the tall ceilings. There’s a little seating area, though we never turn on the TV on vacation. The bathroom is huge with not just an indoor shower, but an outdoor shower too. The enclosed backyard has its very own hot tub and pool, along with some patio furniture and a hammock. We opted to just stay in our own pool each afternoon rather than the main pool. I could read my book on my float and order room service straight to the back gate.
The rondoval suites automatically come with “butler service” which I don’t particularly care for. They bring treats to your room each day and will make reservations for you, but like I said, we had already made all of our reservations. They insisted on walking us to dinner each night but I’m not sure why. They are available to unpack and pack for you, but I would feel very strange about someone handling all of my clothes and things! They did bring a fresh bottle of champagne in an ice bucket each day, which was my favorite drink at the property. I didn’t care for any of the wines on resort (and that’s a shame, because I’m a wine gal), I don’t drink beer, and I am finding that I enjoy mixed drinks less and less. Bubbles for me, it was!
The room service menu and the butler-level poolside menu were both really yummy with lots of options that you couldn’t find at other restaurants. Like “jerk chicken lollipops” with a spicy caribbean bbq sauce.
There is a free inter-resort shuttle that takes guests to all three Sandals on the island. It runs through each resort every 2 hours. We decided to take advantage and check out the next resort down the island, Sandals Halcyon. We had made reservations at their pier restaurant – Kelly’s Dockside. From my online research, I had read that Halcyon was much smaller and more quiet, and reviewed as better for a retired crowed. Seeing it in person, I actually didn’t find that to be true. The accommodations were more recently renovated and had so much more character. They were a fairytale cottage style, which is why I had liked about Grenada. The landscaping and little details were prettier to me than Grande St. Lucian. The restaurant was also very beautiful, though we had missed sunset so we couldn’t see the ocean from our table, it just dark out the window. We should have opted to eat outside.
The atmosphere was really pretty, and we had my favorite cocktail of the trip – a spicy watermelon margarita. They didn’t make them at all the other bars, but I wish they did! The food was just okay. About four vegetables on the plate, lots of butter, a hunk of golden hard polenta, and your meat of choice. Zeb got the swordfish and it was not as flavorful or moist as mine from Gordon’s. We took the shuttle back to our resort and were able to catch the second half of that evening’s entertainment, which was live country music. It was hoppin’! The other guests were all singing along and dancing, and it was probably the most lively night.
DAYS SIX & SEVEN:
The rest of the time on resort, we did a lot of the same. Zeb did another scuba dive which took up all morning Friday. I had room service breakfast in our hut, read my book in our pool, then played bingo at the main pool with some more jerk chicken lollipops. We didn’t really care to try the Indian restaurant or French restaurant, so we returned to Soy for more sushi. We know what we like!
The white party/silent disco night was such a flop. Barely anyone participated, and it was set up in a space in the lobby where people all opted to stay at their own tables rather than all congregate on a dance floor like it should be. Part of the fun of a silent disco is having multiple channels of music to flip through, so you might be dancing to Usher while the person on your left is grooving to the Beatles and someone else is having a Madonna moment. All of the headphones all just played the same song, and it was kind of a silly event.
Day Eight: Travel Home
Even though our flight home departed at 2:35pm, Sandals required us to checkout by 8:30am and get on a 9:00am shuttle to the airport. I bought dramamine for this shuttle ride, and told the driver I needed to sit in the front seat. It was still miserable, but I did not throw up.
We had lots of hours to kill before our flight home, so we snagged a table by the window and ordered some paninis. The St. Lucia airport is very small, so it was a little chaotic trying to get people to line up for their gates. Thankfully our flights were pretty smooth and our luggage made it home despite having two different layovers. We reunited with Brynnley on Sunday the 11th and were happy to be home!
My Sandals Grande St. Lucian Impression & Review
There were good and bad aspects of our stay here at Sandals Grande St. Lucian. The choice to go in June was completely our own, and I do wish we had gone in a cooler month. The heat and humidity were pretty intense.
- The view: The island is so beautiful with its clear water and turquoise horizon, with the added backdrop of green luscious mountains.
- Included water sports and activities: This resort had more water sports included than Grenada. They offer paddle boards, kayaks, hobie cats, scuba diving, snorkel tours, wake boarding, and wind surfing. We also played the giant chess and croquet. They also had pickle ball which we would have loved to play but it was just too hot.
- Restaurant variety: This resort has one of the highest number of restaurants, and if that’s not enough then you are free to go to another Sandals resort and dine at any of their restaurants too!
- Constant bombardment to spend more money: The staff members stationed in the lobby, staff members stationed by the main pool, staff members walking up to you while you’re in a lounge chair, the butlers, ALL asking you daily to sign up for spa treatments, excursions, premium candle lit dinners, and other chargeable amenities. I do not want to be hassled while I’m on vacation. Leave me alone and I’ll let you know if I want something. I don’t go to timeshares because I don’t want the sales pitch, and I don’t expect it at a “five-star” resort either.
- Customer Service from Wait Staff, Bartenders, and Hostesses: in a setting where you are paying a premium for a luxury experience, it was unpleasant to feel like 90% of the staff was unhappy and annoyed to be at work. We experienced such warm, friendly, talkative and personable customer service at Sandals Grenada that really just made you feel good. Feel comfortable, feel welcome, feel relaxed. That was not the case here.
- Most food was just “okay” tasting: There were some exceptions, like Gordon’s and Soy. However pretty much everything for lunch, everything at the buffets, and some of our dinner entrees and appetizers were nothing special. I like food and it’s a perk of an all-inclusive to be able to try as much as you want, which is why it’s such a let down to really not want more of anything they offered at all. Some of the food was bland, lots of the meats were very fatty, some of it seemed like mall food court dishes.
- The shuttle drive to and from: I’ve already covered this, but if you are prone to car sickness, this was a very unpleasant way to start and end the vacation.
- Caters to Corporate Crowds: This was surprising when we arrived and two large corporate groups were there as their sales team reward trip. Sandals is marketed as a couple-only resort, specifically for honeymooning and romantic getaways. One of the corporate groups that overtook the resort had over 100 people in their group, and actually reserved the beach one night so that regular Sandals guests couldn’t have the scheduled beach party. The atmosphere was no longer about romance, or couples, or quiet leisure activities. It was a sales team party week and completely changed the vibe of the property from what it was in Grenada.
I don’t want to disappoint you if you’ve already booked your own trip here; truly there was still plenty of fun to be had, and beauty to find. Perhaps if we hadn’t been to Grenada already and had a positive experience to compare it with, we wouldn’t have noticed as much. And I hope the Sandals staff does take my reviews and feedback to heart and make some customer service improvements.
Let me know if you have any other questions I can answer! :)