Trip Report Sandals St. Lucia Grande

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BalekFekete

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Philadelphia, PA
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Hi all -

Mrs. and I are fresh back from 9 days at the Sandals St. Lucia Grande and I figure a follow-on to the report I wrote for their Grenada site back in early 2020 is in order. First off, and to get this out of the way: this report is for a vacation with diving, not a diving vacation. If it's the latter you're looking for, where the whole trip is centered on diving only, then save yourself the trouble and stop reading as a Sandals won't be for you. That said, we clocked in 13 dives over the course of our stay, so IMO there was no shortage of diving. :)

Cliff Notes: trip was awesome, we enjoyed just about everything, and will certainly go back again at some point.

Now to the more detailed review...

Getting to the island was easy with a direct 4.5hr flight from JFK, arriving onto the island just after 11AM. The Hewanorra International Airport is small, no way around it, but that's OK. No trying to hussle around multiple incoming flights at the same time, letting the resources there dedicate themselves to your flight. Upon arriving, we were guided to a medical screening area where they collected information regarding our vaccination status (no pre-test was required for fully vaccinated travellers) and slapped us with a wristband...suspecting just to ID those easily who've been through the process later downstream in the airport. Bags were ready by the time we got to the belt and we breezed through immigration in less than 10 minutes total. Right after the immigration gates was the Sandals lounge where we were able to get some much needed refreshments and change into shorts in a nice, clean bathroom.

We opt'd for the included shuttle to the resort, which was a 10ish person van which we shared with one other couple. It's a 75-to-90 minute drive, so we buckled in and off we went. Here's the first of highly important recommendations for anyone who'll head to this resort - if you're going to use the same transfer, start your Bonine early. You see, St. Lucia is a mountainous island and the airport and resort are on opposite ends of the island. So it's a long drive on constantly winding roads, with hairpin turns and switchbacks more routine than straight stretches of road. Even those who aren't prone to motion sickness are apt to get off feeling less well than when they got on. I was green in the gills for sure 🤢 not being the best car passenger to begin with, but it wasn't long lasting.

Check-in was seamless as they were ready for us with champagne flutes in hand, walking us through the general offerings of the resort and guiding us to our room. We always opt for one of the more basic rooms since we spend so little time in it, but the room was well appointed. Comfy bed, pleanty of storage for clothes, ample bathroom and a balcony to dry gear on. What more do you need?

The resort is stunning from end-to-end. Landscaping was immaculate, beach was clean and well groomed with pleanty of lounge chairs for everyone, pools were crystal and the bars were pleantiful. There were enough restaurants where we only needed to repeat once for dinner, but given each was wonderful it was more a problem to decide which to do twice (we went for their Italian restaurant). All the food was fresh, crafted by staff that were clearly well trained and talented and what we'd expect from a 5* resort. Did I mention the bars? Multiple bars across the resort ready to provide anything you could want. The Bob Marleys were our favorite (layered frozen drink of Strawberry and Mango Daquari) but we mixed in more Miami Vices, Hummingbirds, and other frozen concoctions than I could count.

Each night there was a unique piece of entertainment planned. Most of the night we struggled to stay awake long enough, and often that wasn't a problem as the entertainment shows aren't Sandals' forte by and large. There was a good Water-and-Fire show poolside one night, and a talented country singer another evening. But the rest...well, if you want that sort of thing in your vacations...better options elsewhere.

Ok, now to what everyone here is interested in - the diving! :yeahbaby:

The last time we were wet was back in the summer of 2021 which exceeded the six-month timeframe for Sandals and necessitated a short pool session to demonstrate a few skills (few laps underwater to demonstrate bouyancy skills, a mask removal/replace/clear, and a lost regulator). Easy peasy. We were able to do it upon arrival in the afternoon and did not impact our scheduled for diving. In fact, it was a welcomed mini-refresher and got us the chance for a 1:1 conversation with one of the sites' instructors (and thereby able to get our names on the daily dive schedule for the week...bonus!). You're allowed to dive either a two-tank AM trip or a 1-tank PM trip on any given day except your arrival or depature dates.

Each Sandals we've gone to (Grenada and Jamaica/Negril previously) all use the same boats - 46-foot Newtons. The boat was well set up with ample room for people to stash their stuff, three rinse tubs (cameras/computers, a santitizing bucket for weights at the end of the diving, and one for masks). The boat has a marine head and a Gatorade-esque cooler of fresh water, along with snack boxes for the surface intervals. In checking in, they record the two tank pressures from everyone and then capture them at the end of each dive as part of the head count (in addition to the count each DM kept for their peeps). DIN valves were available for those who needed them (including us), however, part of the Sandals gig is that all diving gear is included in the price which many people take advantage of.

All dives are guided dives timed to the biggest air hog in the group. Across the whole week we didn't have a dive less than 45 minutes, so it never presented a problem. This is likely because they group people based on certifications and skill sets, so we were with relatively competent divers throughout our time there. The resort has a schedule of dive sites they run across any given week, however, depending on the captain and how well you chat them up, it's his discretion. The dive sites go across the entire western coast of the island, and we visited each area at least once during the week with focus further south (where better sites with greater viz were found). The crew were exceptionally friendly, professional, and a pleasure to work with regardless of who we had any given day.

By and large the reefs were in good shape and we saw good biodiversity across the dives. Standouts were the largest ray (a good 6-feet across) we've seen across our limited 65 dives and a surface interval where a pod(s) of 100+ dolphins ran with the boat for a good 15 minutes dancing in the wake. Was truly breathtaking! Lots of lobsters hidden away which the Mrs. developed a skill for tracking down, lots of spotted eels, and a fair share of lion fish were seen on each dive. Best dive was called Superman's Flight which, as you'd guess, was a drift dive along our the first wall we've dived at that point. Closely behind that was Aquarium which...you guessed it...huge variety of fish everywhere in little current which allowed for a long, relaxing dive with more to see than you could take in. Only one or two dives were 'meh' and those only being the ones where we stayed close to the resort due to the protected nature of the cove (on a day when currents were very strong down-island). A storm had come in and viz was rather limited...maybe 30 feet or so. Still lots to see, but not quite as good as the other sites.

Images of the resort and, more importantly, from our dives can be found here. A few of my personal favs here...enjoy!

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docsin

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Louisiana
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Thanks for the great post! Wife and I will be there in 3 weeks, mostly for a chill out vacation. We are bringing all our gear and plan to do a modest amount of diving also. Did you happen to travel to the other 2 Sandals on St. Lucia?
 
OP
BalekFekete

BalekFekete

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Philadelphia, PA
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Thanks for the great post! Wife and I will be there in 3 weeks, mostly for a chill out vacation. We are bringing all our gear and plan to do a modest amount of diving also. Did you happen to travel to the other 2 Sandals on St. Lucia?
We never did leave the resort, however, there was a regular influx of people coming in from the other two sites. From what I was able to tell, the Grande is the better of the three and the only one with a viable beach. Restaurants at the other two were relatively similiar if not carbon copies of what was at the Grande, so I couldn't come up with any real reason to waste what ends up being 2+ hours to see La Toc or Halcyon to be honest.
 

drrich2

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All dives are guided dives timed to the biggest air hog in the group. Across the whole week we didn't have a dive less than 45 minutes, so it never presented a problem. This is likely because they group people based on certifications and skill sets, so we were with relatively competent divers throughout our time there.
Appreciate that info. I'm not a Sandals trip candidate, but it should be helpful to those who are.
From what I was able to tell, the Grande is the better of the three and the only one with a viable beach.
Good to know. I imagine many of the people considering a Sandals Resort value a good beach.

First off, and to get this out of the way: this report is for a vacation with diving, not a diving vacation. If it's the latter you're looking for, where the whole trip is centered on diving only, then save yourself the trouble and stop reading as a Sandals won't be for you.
I suspect many would save themselves some money, too. I've looked into Sandals (adults only) and Beaches (families with kids) options before; even with their seemingly omnipresent 'big sales,' the prices were up there by my standards. IIRC, alcohol is included and I don't drink it, so that may be a factor.

Glad you had a good time and enjoyed St. Lucia. It's a very beautiful island.
 

docsin

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P.S. Did St. Lucia require the BOOSTER covid vaccine? We took the first two, but are not taking any more.
 
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BalekFekete

BalekFekete

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I've looked into Sandals (adults only) and Beaches (families with kids) options before; even with their seemingly omnipresent 'big sales,' the prices were up there by my standards. IIRC, alcohol is included and I don't drink it, so that may be a factor.
Agreed - it's an expensive resort if not really a perfect match for what you want, but when I break it down it's a bit more paletable for what we get. For example, we booked for 9 days/8 nights in Curacao for 2024 for $5800 for the two of us. Breaking it down...
  • Hotel - let's say $250/night - $2000
  • Meals w/ drinks - would run $100/pp/pd like-for-like - $1800
  • Other drinking - 5pp/pd * $10/per drink - $900
  • Diving - say conservatively $100pp/pd (no rentals, tips included) for 2 tank boat trips - $1400
Just with that I'm in the black, without even considering the airport transfers, nightly entertainment (not their strong suit tho'), included water sports (paddleboards, small sailboats, waterskiing, etc), included scuba gear if you need it, etc.

Can't wait to see how a more economical trip stacks up next month ( :daydream: Invasion). :rofl3:
 

ODD Diver 13

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Sounds like you had an awesome trip! Your pictures made me go find my pictures from my trip to St. Lucia and now I want to go back! I'm going to have to go find your report from Greneda. That Sandals resort/diving was highly recommended by a guy that I met on the boat in St. Lucia.

Wife (non-diver) and I were at the Grande in February. Had an amazing time, almost an identical trip to what you describe. The wife needed a relaxing beach vacation for our anniversary while I got to do a little diving. I was surprised by the ride from the airport to the resort also... we made the mistake of NOT taking motion sickness meds on the way to the resort and regretted it about half way to the resort.

The only snag we had with check-in was that our luggage was tagged incorrectly and was sent to the wrong room. Sandals staff continued to tell us that it was probably on the luggage cart for delivery to our room and each time we asked where it was, they said "you should have it within 30 minutes". That cycle continued about 5 times. We had packed bathing suits with our carry on luggage that we could have gone to the pool, however, we left our house at 12:00 midnight, had a 3 hour drive to Chicago, hopped a flight to Charlotte, flew into St. Lucia, and then had the drive to the resort and didn't get to the resort until 3:30pm. We were STARVING after eating snacks and what we could grab between flights. By the time we got settled in and looked around the resort a bit, we didn't have any clothes to change into to go to dinner (resort casual).

We also found that the lounge chairs by the pools were somewhat hard to come by. It seemed like if we were not down to the pool by 8:00am to reserve some chairs, we didn't get any for the day. I witnessed, on several occasions, different people reserving chairs and then heading out to the dive boat or head off to an excursion for the day. One of the couples was on the dive boat with me each day and every day that I came back, they went and took a seat at the nice chairs they had reserved beside the pool.

Other than those complaints, we had an amazing time. We would absolutely go back, but we are probably going to try a different island/resort next time, just because we want to experience different islands and different resorts.

In regards to the diving, I had some great DMs and some pretty good dives. The divers my first 2 days were well experienced and I felt like the beginner while diving with them. The second 2 days, there were a couple of people that SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ALLOWED ON THE BOAT. Neither of them could kit up properly, I'm almost certain neither one of them checked their air the entire time they were down, and they just had a sense about them that they were new to diving and they didn't have the proper respect that should be due Per my logs average time was 40 minutes, max depth was 85 ft. I found the first dive we usually were deeper 60-90 ft for a shorter period of time about 30-40 minutes, followed by the second dive of the day was 30-50 ft and was 45-55 minutes. Water temps were 78-82 degrees F. Great visibility, lots of fish and marine life, we saw a pod of dolphins while on our SI one day also. I got to see my first sea turtle while on this trip too.

I think my favorite dive site was the reef just off Anse Chastanet beach/resort. We were going to do Superman's flight, however the current was screaming so they opted to go to another spot and I have to say it was amazing. A light current, clear water, tons of marine life, a couple of the guys on the dive were lion fish hunting so we were all pointing out the lion fish for them to go spear. The site had some pretty neat crevasses or channels in the rock/reef that we swam through, fish, corral, other marine life all around, it was all around a great dive.

Safe Diving.
 
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