And so I’m back from the unexpected gift that rounded off what has been a fabulous summer – a trip to St Lucia with the team from Sandals Resorts. When I left you at the end of my last post I was feeling both nervous and excited. I was delighted to have been invited but a bit surprised too because I’ve always seen Sandals Resorts as a honeymoon destination – so let me tell you how we found it. I warn you though there’s so much to talk about that it’s a ‘big glass of wine/pot of tea post’. Are you ready? Then I’ll begin: Sandals Resorts for midlifers – a good holiday option?
Sandals resorts for midlifers – a good holiday option?
Thursday – the journey and arrival
So here we are at the airport ready to go. Neither of us had slept at all the night before so we were tired but buoyed by excitement. Apart from a couple of client related trips to New York and Moscow, in over 20 years together we haven’t travelled long haul before. We’ve just never had the budget and even if we did, a part of me has always found it hard to allow myself to travel far away when the bounty of Europe lies at my feet.
Jumpsuit (now in the sale)
So for us, just being on a big BA jet was exciting in itself. We settled into our journey and halfway through were relaxing with a movie when the Captain interrupted all screens for a special announcement. You know what it was don’t you? The terribly sad news that the Queen had died. A plane that moments before had been filled with a happy bubble of holidaymakers fell silent and then with four hours ahead of us in a news limbo, we spent time talking about her with the people around us. It felt very strange knowing that we were going to be so far away at such a key time.
However, it wasn’t as if we could (or would) turn the plane around so here we are, arriving in St Lucia. The rustic airport contrasts with the plush Sandals Resorts arrivals lounge where you’re immediately pampered while your bags are whisked away for transfer. You can see that mask rules were still in place when we landed although they were finally removed a couple of days into our stay.
It was late afternoon St Lucian time and we had an hour’s transfer to our first resort – Sandals Regency La Toc, which gave us an early glimpse of St Lucia’s lush landscapes as we skirted the edge of the rainforest. We were all staying in Sandals Resorts luxurious Butler Suites for the first few nights and they’re quite something. With colonial style bedrooms…
…a separate living room and spa style bathroom, they also come with a selection of full sized branded spirits so that you can make your own cocktails and a fully stocked mini-bar that’s replenished every day. Everything is included at Sandals Resorts of course but we hadn’t expected it to be to such a high standard. Here’s our personal butler opening a chilled bottle of fizz as a welcome.
And we were just in time for our first Caribbean sunset which, with the news on our mind, felt bittersweet.
We headed out for a group dinner, a chance for the five couples who were travelling together to get to know each other – although you can tell we were tired because we didn’t take any photos!
Friday – settling in… and going out out
The time difference meant that the following morning we were wide awake at 5am so we had a wander around the resort…
… and a slap up breakfast at the buffet restaurant which isn’t like any I’ve ever experienced before. Imagine any kind of breakfast item and it was there… it even extended to chicken stew but it was the amazing array of fresh and unusual fruits that caught my eye.
The weather was both calm and sunny…
… and we spent the morning as a group enjoying a guided tour of the 220 acre La Toc resort – every bit of it is stunning.
One of the main differences to bear in mind between this Sandals resort and the other two I’ll go on to cover is that it’s hilly. I really liked the undulations and the fact that our suite was high up, away from the main resort – if you were feeling weary there was always the option of a golf buggy to take you back up the hill. For me, the peace and uninterrupted views made the distance from the beach and main restaurants worth it but if you’re somebody who likes to be in the heart of activity, you may prefer one of the flatter resorts that I’ll cover further down.
We had the first afternoon free to spend as we wished and there was nothing more that I wanted than to be by the Caribbean Sea.
I have a quiet aim over the next 20 or so years to swim in as many seas and oceans as I can so this ticked the first one off. La Toc is situated at the point where the Caribbean and Atlantic meet so the sea here isn’t as calm as the other resorts but I quite liked coasting with the waves. And it was so warm. Obviously this was just ten days after our family holiday in Turkey so I already had a bit of a tan but I don’t think it was quite as deep as it looks here.
Over dinner the night before, the Sandals Resorts team had been urging us to make the most of our three days of butler service. They reminded us that they were there to meet our every need. Being British we all reacted in horror when they suggested that if we left our book behind when we went to the beach for example, the butler would go and retrieve it for us. We couldn’t imagine doing that… and yet when we got to the beach… Mal had forgotten his book! We sent a quick text on the mobile that was given to us specifically for the butler service and it was soon there… along with a pizza snack that we fancied and a fresh lime daiquiri, prepared exactly to our liking.
The sun in the Caribbean wasn’t as hot as in Turkey so I was surprised after a couple of hours to feel myself burning despite my high factor sun cream so we retreated to the shade… another daiquiri for Mal… soda with fresh lime for me.
Claudia Bradby bracelets (gifted – past season)
We’d been told that every Friday night, Gros Islet (a township at the other side of the island) hosts a ‘Jump Up’ street party to celebrate the end of the working week. We were really keen to go and so we confused the Sandals team by saying that we didn’t want to eat on site that evening, instead we’d save our appetite for street food. It doesn’t get going until about 8.30pm so we decided to watch the sun set over a cocktail or two before we left…
Mara Hoffman dress 2016
… and let the magic of Sandals wash over us.
Sandals had arranged a taxi for us so we enjoyed driving across the island at night and then arriving in Gros Islet where ramshackle stalls had been built in the street. They led to the biggest speakers I’ve ever seen, they were the same size as the DJ who was peppering Caribbean music with an eclectic mix of more familiar tunes… including the macarena!
We found a stall that wasn’t too busy, run by a husband and wife team, by this point we were hungry and I wanted to try something different so I went for the Floatzilla…
… which was fresh bread dough stuffed with a mix of fresh tuna, cheese and pickled vegetables and then deep fried. It was delicious and a better choice, Mal said, than his fried pork and chips.
As some of you saw on Stories, he took a liking to the homemade spiced rum which the stall owners refused to serve to me. It’s for men only apparently(!) so I had the rum punch on the left instead.
After a while the others in the group joined us and we had a fun evening dancing in the streets until the heavens opened with a tropical rainstorm.
Saturday – exploring the island and a very special evening
The following morning we had to be up early for a group boat trip with Island Routes. Although they run all inclusive resorts, Sandals Resorts are keen to encourage every guest to explore the island too and they use local companies to take people out. We had a very charismatic guide for the day, Snoop Dog Jesse, and this may have been the moment where Mal began to regret his enthusiasm for the spiced rum!
So many of our Caribbean days were good but this was one of my favourites as we cruised around St Lucia’s coastline, past little bays with their sugar almond coloured villages…
… stopping off every now and then for a dip and a snorkel. You’re supposed to wear a life jacket because of the riptides which was a bit annoying at first but did make for good bobbing around…
…Jacques Cousteau of course was having none of the ‘health and safety nonsense’ and was off with his snorkel in his happy place.
We pulled up in a tiny harbour for a beach shack lunch of fish, lentils, plantain and breadfruit…
… dining under the Kalabash trees…
… with a view out to St Lucia’s famous mountains, the Pitons.
You can see them better here in our group photo (and I’ll introduce you to our new friends in a minute).
I think you know from the many holidays you’ve ‘spent’ with me that I’m never happier than when I’m out at sea on a boat…
… and the very best bit of this trip was when the captain took us out to the wide open sea and opened the throttle until we went so fast that our cheeks were flapping in the G-Force. Sandy and salty we headed back for a soak in the tub on our balcony which looked out over an endless vista of sea.
We were quietly celebrating a special anniversary in our diaries – of the day we first got together, 24 years ago. It isn’t a wedding anniversary so it doesn’t mean much to anyone else but it does to us – we usually mark it in some way or other but I don’t think we’ll ever beat this year. We dressed up for a group cocktail party on the bluff. I promised myself just one new thing for this trip and it was this, a jumpsuit I’ve had my eye on all summer…
The expert mixologists were waiting to make any cocktail we desired…
… and we chatted to our new friends. The husbands and partners who had been ‘dragged along’ on the trip…
… and here are the principal invitees – we all have particular strengths be it TikTok, YouTube, Instagram or blogging. I was initially a bit nervous about spending a week with a group of people I didn’t know, particularly as we had no idea who else was going until a couple of days before the trip. I’ve had a few tricky experiences with highly strung influencers so I knew it was a gamble but was reassured when Sandals explained that they’d chosen everyone specifically for their personalities. They couldn’t have been a nicer bunch, they were great fun and if you’re looking for somebody new to follow they’re all on Instagram.
From left to right: @shannonalxndra, me, @georgieeswallow, @sophiarcook and I can vouch for them all as truly decent human beings.
As these photos were being taken we were wondering where Josie, our fifth musketeer was. It turned out that on the way, Jack, her boyfriend of seven years, had rerouted her… and asked her to marry him in the most romantic spot so I even have a Sandals Resorts proposal to share with you. The path had been showered with rose petals…
… and you’ll be relieved to know that she said ‘yes’.
When they arrived at the cocktail party they were all smiles, it was a lovely moment on a day that already felt special to us. And I’m giving a big shout out to Josie because she was especially supportive to me, helping and encouraging me with Instagram while we were out there. I often talk here about our responsibility to help women who are younger than us. The women on this trip reminded me that we have a lot to learn from them too and if we’re willing to learn, they’re eager to help us navigate the things that come naturally to them but not necessarily to us. So here’s one last thank you to Josie – her Instagram account is @josephineslooks.
When the sun had set we headed off on our own to the resort’s eponymous La Toc restaurant for a special meal. The food was lovely but it was absolutely freezing in there – you don’t expect to need a cardigan when the temperatures are 32 degrees at night but every restaurant said it had to cater for Americans who seem much keener on aircon than us. When I asked if it could be turned down, the couple from Illinois at the table next to us asked why. We explained that we don’t really have aircon in the UK. Their eyes widened as they exclaimed, “how do you even breathe?” “We open a window,” replied Mal – with a smile.
We ate quickly because my teeth were starting to chatter and headed out into the warmth of the night, stopping for a cognac in true winter style. By the time we passed this flame tree all was well…
… we found a firepit and sat under the stars, remembering 10th September 1998 and wondering if we could ever have imagined what we’d be doing in 24 years’ time.
And then when we returned to our suite, our butler had added a little more magic. They really do know how to spoil you at Sandals Resorts.
Sunday – moving on
The following morning we transferred to our next resort, Sandals Grande St Lucian.
This is the biggest and most expensive of the three sites, spreading along a wide, sandy beach. It’s known for its party vibe and it certainly had a different feel to La Toc.
After a welcome drink we had a group tour and lunch…
… then checked into our Swim Up Lovers’ Lagoon room. Sadly we didn’t have a butler this time but there was a long, winding pool that you could step straight into from your door. We spent the afternoon catching up with some work…
Baukjen dress – SS20
… before heading out for yet another romantic setting – this time it was just a short walk along the beach to get there.
Boden top (2018); Hush skirt (2019)
Tables for two had been set up on the shoreline.
If I can’t be in a boat on the sea my next happiest place is sitting next to it so this was idyllic.
Once again we had our own butler for the evening who waited on us hand and foot and even caught Mal’s more romantic moments on camera.
As the sun went down behind the mountain the sky put on a spectacular display, it was one of the loveliest nights of my life.
Monday – a trip into the mountains
The next morning we had an early start for a day out with the Saint Lucia Tourism authority who were keen to show us the interior of the island. After a 90 minute drive around hairpin bends we reached the sulphur springs – in fact we could smell them before we saw them. We enjoyed soaking in progressively hot thermal pools before slathering ourselves with glow enhancing mud…
… there were creative moments to be had…
… and here we all are, waiting to dry.
And then from nowhere came a tropical storm – while the others embraced it, I took shelter with the sensible St Lucians.
Our next stop was the fabulous Bamboo restaurant for a lunch up in the rainforest.
Ever since I studied rainforests in Geography at school I’ve been fascinated by them but I never imagined I’d actually visit one – all of the sketches we did of tree canopies and creepers came flooding back to me. I was strangely moved to see cocoa plantations too – some of the world’s best cocoa comes from St Lucia and my guilty treats at Euston station are going to be even more precious now.
After a hearty Caribbean meal we headed back, with one last stop on the way at this beautiful waterfall which we had all to ourselves.
Of the many special moments we had, this is another that is high on my list… the sheer exhilaration of standing in icy cold water, fresh from the mountain.
The journey back down gave us a chance to see another side of St Lucia. Can you believe it was the first day of the schools reopening after lockdown? The hearts of anybody who experienced the joy of homeschooling must really go out to those parents. As we drove past, the teens were all pouring out, still looking immaculate.
There’s a lot of poverty in St Lucia and Sandals Resorts have their own charitable foundation. Among other projects they work directly with schools as so many children start their education with nothing, not even a pen. All guests are asked to bring a donation of materials and we’d dropped ours off…
… I would have focused on pens and pencils for writing but Mal was determined to include art materials too!
Back at the resort we were booked in for another group dinner but there was time for our new cocktail habit en route. Some of you will have spotted my hack with this jumpsuit, wearing it back to front for a different look.
And as we passed this old cannon, a moment of rugby player humour emerged – destined for his old team mates.
Tuesday – a visit to Sandals Halcyon
There was one more Sandals resort left for us to visit and so we were taken over to Sandals Halcyon which is just a third of the size of the other two. I got the feeling that in quite a few ways that made it more personal, they made a huge effort to welcome us with Caribbean dancers waiting as our minibus drew up.
We had a tour around the resort and every inch is a work of beauty…
… there are swim up pools similar to the one we had at La Grande…
… but this is where I’d love to stay, the Beachfront Club Level Walkout Rooms with Patio Tranquility Soaking Tub. They were just beautiful and very private.
When we’d finished exploring there was a garden party…
…with steel drums.
Followed by a dinner. The whole evening was a happy one and I loved Halcyon…
Dress (now in the sale)
…apparently it’s especially popular with British travellers because of the more intimate feel. There are fewer restaurants and activities but when you stay at any Sandals resort, you can jump on a shuttle bus to the others and use all of the facilities at no extra cost.
We arrived back at La Grande just as a show of songs from Broadway musicals was starting. Organised entertainment isn’t our scene so we picked up a cocktail and lay on one of the hammocks over the sea, singing quietly along – and I promise we checked there was nobody around so we didn’t ruin anyone’s night! By this point we’d worked out how to do Sandals in our own low key way.
Wednesday – our last day
How did it come around so quickly? On our final day we were left at leisure to do whatever we wanted. Mal headed off for a morning of scuba diving in the coral reefs, swimming with huge turtles and even spotting a stone fish. I, on the other hand, did the thing I enjoy most, relaxing by the sea with a book. It’s important of course to have space in a relationship to do whatever it is you really love.
We met up again for our last lunch and had got into the swing of all inclusive by now, ordering more than one dish if there was something we wanted to try. The waiters told us they don’t mind when the English do it because they know our culture is not to let anything go to waste (Mal must be incredibly British!)
A massage had been organised for us by Red Lane Spa in the afternoon and they took us out to beds on the pier, indulging us as the sun set… yet another blissful experience.
We enjoyed one last dinner alone and chose the simplest of restaurants – Barefoot By The Sea, with the water lapping beside us.
As we were leaving the waiter told us we looked so happy that he wanted to take our photograph in his restaurant so that we’d always remember it.
The following day, after one last dip in the Caribbean sea, it was time to say a wistful goodbye and head off on the long journey home.
Sandals resorts for midlifers – a good holiday option?
So to get back to the original question: Sandals resorts for midlifers – a good holiday option? A few people said on Instagram that they couldn’t imagine us at a Sandals resort. As you know we usually travel independently, booking a villa or an AirBnB. Probably because of our northern frugality we’ve never indulged in anything like this or travelled long haul and all inclusive was a completely new experience.
I would say that if you see yourselves as travellers aiming purely for adventure and a lot of local colour then this may not be the place for you. However if you’re just looking for a complete holiday then it is. Sandals Resorts are for people who want to ‘be’ rather than ‘do’. Of course there are plenty of activities if that’s what you want but for me the highlight would be the wholehearted opportunity to completely rest and reset. Obviously for us it was a busy PR trip and so we only had the smallest taste of that side of things but not having to think about anything at all is its own kind of heaven.
Usually when we go away I still have to stack the dishwasher, think about meals and make the bed every day. Here there was not a single thing that I had to do and with the butler service it was even better because anything we wanted was just a text message away. So if you’re looking for a complete break then Sandals Resorts are a great choice.
Each couple on this trip spent their free time doing something completely different to the others. There’s so much to choose from that you’ll work your way through what’s on offer to find what’s right for you. Midlifers like us know what they want from a holiday; for us it was less about the upscale restaurants and busy bars, instead we stuck to the beach which was quiet day and night because the majority of guests opted for the many pools by day and the busy inner resort areas in the evening. For us a Sandals resort break would be about spending days in and on the sea, enjoying a sunset meal and then relaxing by a firepit on the beach with a bottle of wine from our room. But you might do it differently – there are as many ways to work it as there are people.
As far as the resorts are concerned my order of preference would be Halcyon first if you like somewhere small or La Toc for a bigger experience. Grande is beautiful too but it’s busy and lively, catering on the whole for a younger clientele.
I want to finish by thanking Sandals Resorts for a once in a lifetime opportunity – the team who travelled with us made everything perfect and were a pleasure to be with. After a very busy summer with the boys it gave us time and space. We’ve come home with our closeness renewed and so many memories that we’d otherwise never have made…
… and that, after all, is exactly what travel is about.
Disclosure: our trip was free of charge for review purposes but I was not paid for this post. Sandals Resorts allowed me to write about it in any way I wanted – and I could have said so much more but I think I’ve gone on long enough!
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