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Monday 30 December 2013

Destination St. Lucia! (Part 1)

Destination St. Lucia! (Part 1)

Arrived at Gatwick Airport after a very comfortable night at the Sofitel Gatwick Airport. Can highly recommend the Sofitel – especially for travellers flying from the North Terminal, as the terminal is linked by a covered walkway, meaning a walk of less than 5 minutes. The hotel is beautifully decorated with spacious rooms and immaculate public areas which includes 2 bar areas and restaurants. The hotel is equipped with excellent business facilities and with spacious lifts and wide escalators, makes good provision for disabled guests
Greeted at the BA check in area by Jon Hardcastle from ITC, and ushered around to Club World check in by Jon, with the words “This is ITC Rob, flat bed all the way to St Lucia!”. Check in was a very seamless process with helpful and polite staff. Granted access to the BA Executive Lounge. Very luxurious lounge with very attentive staff and many facilities available although if I was to make one minor criticism, no hot food was available – something that I’m aware the Virgin V Lounge does provide.
Airside at Gatwick there are a plethora of shopping options for those last minute essentials, as well as more luxury and tax free gifts. Prices appeared very competitive versus the high street as you would expect. There were numerous food outlets as well
We flew on a BA 777 aircraft. Naturally, business class offered an incredible amount of comfort. The seat fully reclined to allow a flat bed with different recline positions available to you. By your feet, was a storage draw – very handy – and both the tray table and television screen were able to stored conveniently away when you wanted to rest. There was also a dividing screen which could be lowered or raised – depending as to whether you wanted to speak to the person next to you or ignore them!!! I was seated facing backwards to the direction of travel – a concept I had always thought of as strange. However, it felt no different to facing forwards. Access to the seat was a little confusing however and had there been anyone seat in the aisle seat in the row behind who had decided to sleep, I would have been forced to vault over them to get out to the toilets/snack bar area!!! Cabin staff were particularly attentive – already having checked the seating plan to be able to address guests by their names. They were very helpful throughout and very prompt in responding to any requests we had. The catering was high class with a choice of 4 main courses and 3 desserts and the inspired decision to have a speciality cocktail for that particular flight!!! Kir Royale x 7 was the request I remember!!! In terms of entertainment, there was a library of not just current films (I guess around 30 – 40) but also some of the classics, as well as a wide array of television programming – tailored to suit all age groups. There were radio channels – again to suit most musical tastes - as well as a CD library which again numbered around 30 to 40.
Flying time was 8 hours and 50 minutes – with regular inflight updates provided by the crew. On arrival, after descending the aircraft steps, a short walk, about 200 metres around the perimeter of the terminal was required to reach the immigration area. Wheelchairs were available for less able bodied travellers but I was not able to see how such travellers would be able to disembark. The immigration process was a little slower than ideal (extra windows were eventually opened up to speed up the process ) but the walk to baggage reclaim was a very short one.
NB Landing cards are completed on the aircraft to help speed up the process.
The airport is very small but equally is well signed. Once through to the arrivals hall, it is rather chaotic to be fair with many transfer providers jostling for position, alongside the car hire desks. We were however easily able to locate to Spice Travel representative and joined our transfer minibus to the Landings – on the very Northern tip of the Island, whilst the Airport is on the Southern tip.
The transfer itself gave you the opportunity to travel up the Western side of the Island through the St Lucian Rainforest and the journey was scheduled for around an hour and a half to an hour and three quarters. It afforded some breathtaking scenery, although the journey was very windy with some sharpish bends and inclines, so not ideal for everyone. We did encounter traffic issues upon arrival in the main town of the island Castries. We unfortunately arrived there just on rush hour and it took around an hour to get from one side of the harbour to the other – a matter of 2 miles at most. (Something that I later found out was not an uncommon occurrence, which I imagine is difficult to avoid for UK originating passengers – even perhaps also for those arriving on the slightly earlier Virgin flight). The journey eventually took just over 2 and a half hours. As an alternative to customers, there is a helicopter transfer option. The helicopter takes off from the far end of Hewanorra Airport and lands on a small landing area close to Gros Islet, where a number of the large hotels on the North of the Island are located. (Most hotels are reached by a 10 minute transfer from the landing area). Whilst we did not verify precise costs, the helicopter transfer is a fraction more expensive but certainly worthwhile for some clients, who after a near 9 hour flight, just want to get to their hotel.

The Landings

Very luxurious property with a rather grand reception hall – something you would expect more in the Middle East, although the property itself had a Floridian feel to it in terms of the layout of the accommodation blocks and other areas of the property. I was certainly reminded of a stay in Fort Lauderdale where rooms had Intercoastal views – similar to the harbour/marina views afforded at the Landings. Check in was a straightforward process with “heavy on the rum” cocktails offered. Guests were then immediately transferred by buggy to their accommodations – although to be fair no room in the entire property seemed to be more than a flat 5 minute walk from reception.
I was given a Two Bedroom Deluxe Villa Suite with a Harbour View. The room was huge – 2 huge bedrooms – both with large ensuite bathrooms and one with a dressing room. A separate washroom – laden with a washing machine and tumble dryer. A massive kitchen and dining area which opened out into a lounge area with large settee and armchairs – not forgetting the two balconies – one containing two day beds, the other a dining table, oh and a Jacuzzi!!!! I remember thinking, awestruck as I walked around, how’s a lad who Dad spent all his life down the mines, ended up in a place like this….
To be fair, this property is all about the accommodation itself. Whilst we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening in the luxurious restaurant – with a great choice of local specialities – and the bar area offered a plentiful supply of cocktails, plus there was a very good spa and pool at the property – it somehow seemed to be missing something. Shopping facilties, perhaps. However, fishing trips and other excursions could easily be arranged from the hotel so you would certainly not be short of things to do.
The hotel would certainly suit all age groups and with the kitchen/dining facilities available, it would lend itself to families with young children. The Rodney Bay shopping area is a mere 10 minutes from the hotel so provisions could easily be obtained - and stored in the huge American style fridge in the suite! The hotel has both 2 and 3 bedroomed accommodations and some of the more luxurious 3 bedroomed Villas have their own plunge pools too. Some rooms were on higher floors but each block had a lift and the blocks were wheelchair accessible.

Cap Maison

Had a site inspection and luxurious dinner at Cap Maison. This property, also located in Gros Islet, a very idyllic location at that, has a very Moorish/Spanish feel to it in its design. Rooms were beautifully decorated and again very spacious (a feeling you got from most of the properties we viewed in St Lucia). All suites afforded excellent views. The property had a very relaxed feel to it – with the owner/ manager keen to point out that they don’t trouble guests with admin or request credit card details as soon as they arrive, they allow them to enjoy their new surroundings. The property does lend itself to couples – rather than families – who want a relaxing luxury retreat and who want to be able to get on with their holiday without fuss. Equally, it was a good choice as a wedding venue compared to the other St Lucian hotels we visited. You imagined that there would be some amazing photographs! In terms of the less able bodied, it didn’t seem to lend itself that well compared to other St Lucian hotels.
In terms of dining, there are a number of options. Unfortunately, due to bad weather, we were unable to dine beachfront at the Naked Fisherman Restaurant so were taken down to Bruce’s wine cellar for a private dining experience. If he doesn’t sell this to guests as a meal option, then he should!!! Truly wonderful evening, tasting great wine and sea food. Equally, if not, private dining was an option, beachfront or should I say “rockfront” at Rock Maison – a small decking area which holding up to 30 but can cater for just 2. The property offered a beautiful spa as well as gymnasium facilities and overall, it simply oozed class!

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming on January 3rd!

For more information about St. Lucia, and other unique travel experiences, please visit www.kanootravel.co.uk, or call us on 0800 458 3412, or email webbookings@kanootravel.co.uk

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