St Lucia Trip Report - Feb 08

Mar 29th, 2008, 12:23 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: Dec 2003
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St Lucia Trip Report - Feb 08

(I'll apologize in advance - this is a bit long)

It began, as these things usually do, with a plane delay…

We taxied out – first it was a warning light, then a bad sensor and an easy fix, then a major deal requiring a plane change.

Three hours later, we were off on a very slightly different plane – the difference caused ‘the computer’ to randomly generate seat assignments – couples and families split up, drama, etc. It was not Delta’s finest moment. Should they choose to merge with Northwest Airlines, it should go swimmingly! It appears they’ve already “benchmarked” each others “best practices” in providing the worst customer service.

With the delay, we landed in St. Lucia at dusk. Fortunes began to turn…

We were greeted at arrival by Pierre, our host at Villa Pomme D’Amour. He helped us get our luggage to our car where he had cold sodas and Piton Beers for our hour ride to the villa. (Because of the delay, the drive was in the dark – normally you’d get to see the Atlantic Coast and some interior mountains and rain forests.) Upon arrival at the Villa’s, the gold treatment continued. We meet Josee, Pierre’s partner, and their two dogs (dudu and nickkai). Once we settled into our two bedroom flat, Josee stopped by with a platter of bruschetta that she had made as well as a pitcher of rum punch made with fresh squeezed juices. We enjoyed both on the veranda while we could hear the surf crashing down below. In the kitchen, we found the fridge stocked with provisions for our first breakfast (eggs, bacon, bread, butter –for toast- as well as a small pitcher each of fresh squeezed orange and grapefruit juice.) After we settled in, Pierre gave us a ride down the hill to Marigot Bay for dinner and after we were done, we called him for a ride back.

That was our first night – not a normal level of service but VPDA isn’t your typical place – it is a small development –two two bedroom villas in one building and a 1 bedroom villa under the owners’ 3 bedroom flat. Josee and Pierre create a very friendly atmosphere – they seem to know when to help out and when to give you your space.

This trip was a bit out of the ordinary for us in that we were spending the entire trip in one place. On top of that it was in a place that we booked with none of the usual available feedback (guide books, trip advisor.com; fodors.com, etc) By the initial look of things we made a good choice!

We initially looked at splitting our time on the island or splitting time by taking an overnight sailing trip. In the end, I’m glad we made the choice we did. We found plenty to do from the one location.



We started ‘slow’ on Sunday, sleeping in followed by a breakfast with the goodies in our fridge then a trip to the supermarket in Marigot Bay. In the afternoon, we went snorkeling in the bay below the villa and took the kayak out for a brief swing (the water outside the bay was a bit too choppy)

On Monday, we went down to the dock in Marigot at 9:30 for a trip across the bay to the Dive Fair Helen dive shop. Our boat had a mix of divers and snorkelers. We went south to Anse Chastenet where the first dive started in about 15 feet and quickly got us down to about 65 feet. The dive had a good mix of corals and fish. The second dive (Devils Hole) was a bit shallower but still a lot of fish and corals.

On Tuesday, we had a pre-arranged (and pricey) sailing trip to the Grenadine Island south of St Lucia. Note to divers – we sort of screwed up and didn’t think about the flying issues when we dove on Monday. Fortunately, our flight was 18 ½ hours after our last dive (18 is the minimum recommended time). We got lucky; I almost had to eat a $1300 trip. It was a great trip, one of the highlights of our vacation. We flew out of the airport in Castries on a charter plane that carried six passengers (our party of four and an older couple from England) It was raining and cloudy when we left so we weren’t too bummed about leaving St, Lucia – we were hoping the weather would be nicer to the south. The 40 minute flight took us over St Vincent – mostly covered in clouds and over some of the better known Grenadine Islands (Mustique and Bequia) before landing on Union Island. After clearing customs (and filling out a ton of paperwork) we kind of stood around outside wondering what was next. After about 20 minutes a stretch golf cart from the Anchorage Yacht Club stopped and picked us up – the yacht club was about 400 yards from the airport and it was there that we boarded our catamaran for the sailing trip. The boat was a big party yacht; it looked like the kind that was typically used on cruise ship excursions. It probably held 50-70 people at capacity but we only had 8 tourists and 4 crew – not a bad setup.

First stop was Mayreau Island, the smallest of the inhabited Grenadines. The sun was out but it was still a bit chilly (probably something like 75 degrees) but after hitting the big beautiful beach – probably the best we saw on the trip – we hit the snorkeling. Not a bad snorkeling spot – tons of sea urchins.

The second stop, Tobago Cayes, was populated with a lot of sailboats. The snorkel was okay, not great but seeing a school of squid swimming was very memorable. After that snorkel, we were served lunch on the boat which included probably the best Chicken I’ve ever had – stewed in a curry /creole sauce. If I knew we had another snorkel spot, I wouldn’t have eaten so much!

But another stop there was, not too far away at another of the Tobago Cayes. The boat anchored a couple hundred yards off the beach. They said there were sea turtles, but we had to make the swim towards the beach – we did it and it was worth it. We got to swim in 10-15 feet of water with 4 or 5 big sea turtles – very cool. (The last stop at Palm Island – an upscale resort – was pretty boring – you could swim but we had had enough of that) Then it was back to Union Island for the flight back to St, Lucia

On Wednesday we rented a car and decided to go inland on the island. We started with a trip to Castries and the market in town. It is worth a stop at a minimum to see some local color. This is where the Lucians shop for fruits, veggies, fresh fruit, etc. There is also a ‘craft market’ where you can find stall after stall of tacky tourist treats, t shirts, spices, etc. etc. There are also a bunch of small ‘stall’ restaurants where the locals were eating. The family wasn’t brave enough to try the smaller ones, so we went to a ‘5 Star’ restaurant it said it right there on the sign – “Sugar and Spice Five Star Restaurant” unfortunately I didn’t have my camera. It was good local food. Lambi (Conch) Dinner EC$18, Chicken Roti EC $7, Curried Chicken Meal EC$12. The four of us ate for under $20 US and that included a few Piton beers.

After the market we drove further north for a horseback riding trip near Rodney Bay. We went to the International Horse Academy for a two hour ride that included riding the horses in the ocean. The best part of the trip was Cap-En-Bas bay (Atlantic side) where the horses rode in the ocean. Before that part of the ride, we took a break at the local bar, a classic old school dive beach bar; unfortunately it is right next to the Cotton Club, a thoroughly modern development with its own upscale beach bar. I think the natural course is for the classic old spots to get torn down in exchange for the modern expensive and sterile joints. As it was, at the dive, we met Robert, a local character. He cut some fresh aloe and applied it to our kids’ sunburn and sold us some to take home.

After the horse back ride, we rode through Gros Islet, a local town on the north side of Rodney Bay and the home of the Friday night Jump Up. It is a real Lucian town, then through Rodney Bay itself – the developed tourist town. Not my kind of place, this is where the All Inclusives are and where I think the majority of Americans come to stay. To me it was overcrowded but it did have a lot of restaurants. We stopped at Elenas for some really good Italian style ice cream. After that we headed back to Marigot Bay.


Thursday we took it easy in the morning & hung out at the pool, then we took up the villa owners on their offer for a half day trip on their zodiac. They keep the boat down in the marina by the hurricane hole We took our snorkeling gear and a small cooler with us. The small boat was a bit cozy with the four of us, our stuff and Pierre as our captain. He took us south down the coast to Soufriere and showed us a bat cave along the coast. We then went to the bay between the Pitons and had a very nice snorkeling stop at the base of the Petit Piton just off the beach from the Jalousie hotel. The ride back was a bit bumpy and we had a few sprinkles but we also got to see a number of rainbows over the coastal towns. Later that night we had our best (and most expensive!) dinner at the Rainforest Hideaway in Marigot Bay

On Friday we took our second diving trip, again with Dive Fair Helen. On this trip we had two great dives. The first stop was the Lesleen M wreck. The Lesleen M is a 160 freighter that was purposefully sunk to create a reef. It sits level on a sandy bottom in 65 feet of water in Anse Couchon bay. It was our first wreck dive and it was pretty awesome. The hold is wide open so you can dive in it even if you don’t have wreck diving experience or credentials. The second stop, Roseman’s Trench was another great dive. It was a shallow dive, about 35 feet, and it had a ton of coral and fish. We also saw a sea turtle. I felt like I was diving in an aquarium.

That night, we took a cab into the town of Anse Le Raye for their Friday Night Fish Fry. The town is about 5 miles south of Marigot. We shared the cab (a van really) with 3 British couples that we picked up at the Discovery hotel.

The Fish Fry is a great street party with a healthy mix of tourists and locals – highly recommended. You can get a range of fish in a range of prices (Flying fish – kind of like a large fried smelt – EC$ 1, Octopus EC$ 18, Lobster Dinner EC$140), There is music blasting on the streets and all kinds of libations available. Our favorite part was the Karaoke on the street – especially with Lucians belting out mainstream country music. There were some pretty talented singers (and some pretty horrible ones...)

We all agreed to meet up at a given time and shared the van/cab back to Marigot. The end was a bit of a bummer in that a few of the what I would think are wealthy folks proceeded to haggle and squeeze the driver over a few bucks. As we were getting dropped off last, we witnessed the entire thing and could tell the guy was visibly upset. It pissed me off. I asked him how much they shorted him – he said $20 which I made him good on. He then invited us to his house for a bar-b-que the next night (which I thought was just a kind / gracious offer he made but didn’t expect him to keep…..)

On Saturday we drove south, the roads are curvy along the mountains but they are in good shape and there isn’t much traffic. It took us about 2 hours to get to Soufriere but we stopped to take a lot of pictures. On parts of the drive, you are deep in the mountains and jungle – it feels like driving through a park. Unlike the drive down, there was a lot of traffic in Soufriere – we had some confusion on the way to the volcano but the town is small so you can’t get too lost. The world’s only drive in volcano is interesting. Rather than being a majestic site like Mount Fiji, it is a relatively small wasteland with some boiling and bubbling mud pots. A good (stinky) geology lesson for the kids. We then drove up to Ladera for lunch and the views. Million dollar views, ok lunch, horribly slow service. I’m ok with island time but the service is simply unacceptable from a 5 star resort that charges $700-$1000 per night for a room. Our lunch took two hours including over twenty minutes for our drinks – it wasn’t that crowded. One couple – I’m assuming guests at the hotel because the ‘pre-ordered’ their meal, still had to wait a long time for their meal. A fun, but potentially dangerous touch (with two kids) are the squirt guns on every table that you can use to scare away the small birds. Note on pricing – a chicken roti was US$14 at Ladera. One of similar quality at the Castries market was bout $2.75! After lunch, we took a quick dip at the Toraille Falls, then drove back to our villa. Dinner was a BBQ poolside at Damien’s house (our cab driver from the night before)

Sunday was our last full day, we went for a half day deep sea fishing trip. We didn’t catch any fish but we did see a number of pods of pilot whales

Monday was kind of a partial day due to the travel. We took it easy, a little packing then one last snorkel down at the cove, some more packing, some swimming at the pool then showers and time to head out. Our flight was at four and the drive was a bit over an hour. We left around 1 PM. We took a cab (about $80 US) and this time we got to see the Atlantic side in daylight. The airport was fairly uneventful but they are more intense about security than in the US. In addition to the ‘normal’ stuff, they search your carry on bags one last time before you board and all liquid duty free purchases are packed up and put in the hold for you to pick up at luggage claim at your destination. Note to travelers – don’t be lulled into thinking that different security rules apply here. We saw a garbage can full of rum, hot sauces, etc at security (and some irate passengers). We almost bought some hot sauce outside of security (and after we had checked our luggage) but the store clerk stopped us. It is easy to fall into this trap. (and lose a perfectly good bottle of rum!)


Trip Planning Details

Hotel –
Villa Pomme D’Amour http://www.villapommedamour.com/ - 2 bedroom villa $195 for two / $225 for four in high season – ask for the second level, the tree house, if you have a choice. Highly recommended

Grenadines Trip - $1335 ($345 adults, $300 under 12) Sunlink Tours www.stluciareps.com , they also have a lot of other tours on the island but seem to be focused on trips out of Rodney Bay. They are a bit disorganized and had us meet them at an inconvenient location way to early. We could have just met them at the airport and slept in another hour. The trip itself was excellent.

Dive Fair Helen – great dive shop / operator in Marigot Bay http://www.divefairhelen.com/ 2 Tank dives are US$84 with mask, fins snorkels (we had our own). We needed to rent BCs and regulators so our first trip was $104 each. Snorkeling was something like $50 adult / $35 kids. They gave us a price break the second time we went out (without us asking which I thought was pretty nice). They get a lot of repeat divers so they try to mix up their dive sites. We asked for the Lesleen M on Friday and they accommodated us and took the whole boat there that day. (Don’t be afraid to make a request!) The two tank dive trips for us lasted from about 9:30 AM to 3 or 3:30 PM and included lunch.

Horseback riding
International Riding Stables - http://www.stlucia.org/activity/soft_adventure.asp $55 for two hour ride, including ride in the ocean. $45 for one hour – excludes the ocean ride.

Fishing –
We used Captain Mikes - http://www.captmikes.com/ - $450 for a half day, private charter on a 31foot Bertram. It included all gear, beer, soda and water. The boat had a full cabin with a head. If I had to do it all over again, I would have hired a local for in-shore fishing. We talked to Captain Alex a couple of times but never used his services. For $180 he’ll take you out for a full day of fishing, snorkeling, sightseeing, etc. He has a typical Lucian fishing boat (20-25 feet) with a Bimini top. No head – I guess you have to go ashore or hop over the side  You can find Captain Alex in Marigot Bay – his name is on his boat. If you can’t get Alex, they are 6-10 other guys with the same set up in the bay. I think it is kind of a ‘no problem man’ kind of thing. When you are ready to go, there will be someone there with a boat ready to take you.

Marigot Bay Restaurants
You will not starve here but the choices are limited.

Chateau Mygo - on the water south side of Marigot bay- nice low key place to hang out. Decent fish dinners for EC$65, good but somewhat pricy pizza EC$50 but big enough for two. Go on Tuesday nights when they have a band,

Doolittle’s – across the bay on the north side. Similar prices to Mygo. They have different specials different nights. Decent food, nothing memorable but nothing horrible.

JJ’s at the foot of Marigot Bay in the Mangroves – ditto on Doolittle’s. Nice place to have a cold beer after diving (the Dive Fair Helen boats dock here)

Hurricane Hole – bar at Discovery. For as upscale as Discovery is, this place isn’t bad. We ate there twice. Good burgers and pizzas with decent prices.

Rainforest Hideaway – expensive but worth it. EC$120 for a ‘two course’ meal – starter and entrée or entrée and desert. Beyond the two courses you get some bruschetta to start, a little taste (which on our night was a small piece of lamb in a fancy sauce) and a sorbet in addition to your two courses. All the food was great and the setting is beautiful. Highly recommended. With the kids, we spent about $300 all in.

Little Euro Bakery down at the docks – I forget the name but we spent some money there. Fresh baguettes, pain au chocolate, ham and cheese Paninis, chocolate chip cookies. Not a Parisian bakery but pretty damn close…

Marigot could use another restaurant or two – perhaps with time. You can also go into Castries which is only 5 or so miles north, but we didn’t do that.

Driving-
As a former colony, they follow the British form – driving on the left. It really isn’t too hard – much easier than in England – because there aren’t a lot of roads or traffic. In the cities, where it is congested and can be a bigger issue, you just follow everyone else  The main roads were fine. Some potholes but nothing like in Michigan. The road south to Soufriere is twisty turny – mountain roads. Some of the side roads can be pretty rugged. We rented our car, a 4 WD Daihatsu Terios with the help of the Villa owners. It was US$70 per day for the 4 WD. I went with the extra insurance – that plus the taxes took it to about $100 per day. We could have skipped the car and hired a private car & driver for about $200 a day for the days we tooled around the island. I’m 50/50 split on having the freedom of you own car vs. the no-stress of letting someone else drive. Your call, there is no right answer – it is what ever works best for you.

Cricket – Boy they play a lot of cricket on St Lucia – we saw games going on in every school yard. I still don’t understand the game - http://www.cricinfo.com/ . Apparently it is huge in the British West Indies and they are pretty damn good at it

Culture - Interesting mix – the island gets a lot of British (and European) tourists – former Brit colony and you can fly non stop from London. We ran into other Americans but fewer than in previous trips like Belize and Costa Rica. The Lucians are pretty much black – all descendents of slaves. While English is the official language, and they all can speak it, their everyday language is a French/Creole Patois http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patois . With my limited French, I couldn’t understand a lick of it though the French Canadian owners of Pomme D’Amour said they could understand it quite well. The Lucians are very friendly and helpful people. Even though it is a somewhat poor country, we never felt unsafe.

Beaches –
All beaches in St. Lucia are public – no matter how fancy the resort. You can come by car or boat. The beaches we saw in St Lucia are okay. Not like the expansive ones you see in Caribbean brochures. We spent so much time in and on the water this didn’t matter. If your one requirement is a beach to lounge on all day, pick on of the beach resorts like Jalousie, Anse Chastenet or Ti Kaye or pick a different island. The beaches we hit in the Grenadines were pretty nice.

Shopping and Golf –
Two things I’m not interested in so I figured I could lump them together. If you are looking for these two things, St Lucia is probably the wrong island. They are building a big resort with golf on the Atlantic side – probably 2 years from completion. It looks like it will be pretty nice if you are into that sort of thing.

Summary –
Would I go back – yes; Would I stay at Villa Pomme D’Amour again – a thousand times yes; Was St. Lucia what I expected – pretty much yes, the people were friendly than I expected, the island was bigger than I expected, it wasn’t as expensive as I expected (we spent some cash but not like some of the Island stories I’ve heard). Rodney bay was smaller and the beach there was less nice than I would have expected – I’m not into All Inclusives but if I were, I don’t think this is the island that I’d visit to stay at one.

If you like the outdoors, like some local color, like to be on and in the water, St Lucia is a great place. We didn’t have time to do everything we would have liked to do. I would have liked to do some hiking, spend some more time in the south, visit Pigeon Island, go to the Grosse Isle Jump Up. I would have liked a longer vacation!

wayfarer is offline  
Mar 29th, 2008, 06:37 PM
  #2  
 
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Great report! Not long at all. It's good to have all the details. The villa sounds like a neat place to stay. Hope you write it up on TA so that they can have a review.

Was it the Yannis catamaran that you sailed with from Union? I agree with you, we also didn't find the snorkeling to be as great as we thought it would be. Always neat to see turtles though.

Thanks for posting.
mymoosie is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 06:15 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 51
Yes thank you for the detailed report, very helpful to folks like us who are planning our firsy trip there!
blue_water is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 07:58 AM
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That was a fantastic and detailed trip report. We don't see many about St Lucia. Thanks for taking the time. We did The Grenadine's trip also and enjoyed it very much. I'm glad we had the opportunity to see the islands even if it was too short. I wish we had made it to The Fish Fry. Sounds like a fun, authentic experience. We hired a taxi (someone we met who was very cool) to show us around. The terrain, driving on the left with steering wheel on right and shifting with the left hand deterred us. No way would I attempt a manual shift there! It seems as if the roads are better there now with the Cricket preparations. Glad you had a nice time.
brenandg is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 09:03 AM
  #5  
 
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I enjoyed your trip report. We went to St. Lucia about 8 years ago (I can't believe it's been that long). Beautiful island. What you did with the cab driver was really nice. Thanks for sharing your experience.
caribtraveler is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 11:44 AM
  #6  
 
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Thanks so much for the great report. The villa looks like my kind of place and I have bookmarked it! Were you uncomfortable with no A/C, and were there screens on the windows?
Maggi is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 07:30 PM
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The car we rented was an automatic. It would have been really tough with a stick. It was bad enough that I kept hitting the windshield wipers when I wanted the turn signal and the turn signal when I wanted the wipers!

The villas do not have AC - in fact this was a big concern with me (I hate being too hot). It turns out it wasn't a problem at all. The weather was pretty much high 83, low 75 every day. There wasn't much humidity and you had good breezes off the ocean. The rooms have ceiling fans too.

No screens on the windows either, we slept with the balcony doors open - beds have mosquito netting around them, not many mosquitos but there we some no see-ums so we did use the netting. Don't worry though - it wasn't too buggy. We didn't wear any insect repellant while we were in St Lucia.

I did post a review on TA but they take a few days to screen them. Josee and Pierre are great people. If this is the right kind of property for you, I know you'll love it!
wayfarer is offline  
Mar 31st, 2008, 06:11 PM
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Thanks Wayfarer!
Maggi is offline  
Apr 1st, 2008, 03:49 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Mar 2008
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Thanks for the report - Yes it is a little too detailed but thanks!
blue_water is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2008, 01:58 PM
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I love detailed - I can always skip over some parts if I need to. You rock!
Maggi is offline  
Jun 14th, 2008, 08:03 PM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
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Thanks for the great trip report! Do you think that it will be hard to do the day trips with an infant? Or do you think it will be hard to get around with an infant, I hear there are lotsa stairs, climbing uphill, unstable roads, etc. I would like to stay in Soufriere by the Pitons but all the good hotel deals seem to be in Castries.
Asiachick is offline  
Jun 16th, 2008, 03:28 AM
  #12  
iw
 
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I've been toying with the idea of visiting the island. You have convinced me! Great report and very helpful details!
iw is offline  
Jun 18th, 2008, 09:06 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Great trip report. It made me think of my honeymoon in St. Lucia (about 6 and 1/2 years ago). Is there any chance that you have photos posted somewhere of your trip? I would love to see them!

Thank you again for a walk down memory lane,
Susan
SSypniewski is offline  
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