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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Castries, Saint Lucia / Sandals Halcyon Beach

November 2013, 6-nights, Building #9, Guestroom #313 ~ Fabulous stay!


Arrival experience

Before our trip, I had read comments online from other guests about the porters at the airport. Guests had thought that they were being greeted by someone from Sandals, and then the baggage handlers dragged their bags around the corner and expected a tip. Because we knew this, and we only had one bag and a carry-on, we exited the airport with our own bags. We did not see the Sandals lounge, and initially we wondered if we were headed in the right direction. 

Here are directions to get to Sandals lounge from the Delta baggage claim (I do not remember if there were other baggage carousels or exits, although I think everything was in the same area): We went out the exit door just to the right of baggage claim. Facing the roadway/drive, we turned left, and walked along the front of the airport building (this is when we wondered if we were headed in the right direction because the Sandals sign was not visible, and I had expected the lounge to be inside the airport). After just a few steps, we saw the Sandals sign and entered the lounge. A staff member took our information, gave us tags for our luggage, we were offered rum punch, and we took a seat in the lounge. The lounge was comfortable, and there is a nice restroom in the lounge. The tags that we had been given for our luggage ended up being our room number.

After we had been waiting several minutes, and I observed two buses depart to the other Sandals resorts, I asked the employee at the podium about the shuttle to our resort. I was glad I did, because she then directed me to the door where the other two shuttles had left from, and we boarded a bus for immediate departure after we provided our information to the staff member at the door. I wonder if we would have ended up waiting for the next taxi/shuttle, if I had not inquired about our shuttle status just before this. 

The ride to Sandals Halcyon Beach was less than 75 minutes. It was comfortable and scenic. The road is curvy, although none of the passengers in our van had a problem with motion sickness. We had a good driver, and we gave him a tip at the end because we learned he was not a Sandals employee. I am actually not sure if this was necessary, though. In the states, I have sometimes been given a taxi ride to the airport from my hotel, which is covered by the hotel, when their shuttle is not running. This has happened to me so often, that I asked at the hotel if a tip is already included when this happens, and I was told yes. 

At the resort, all of us from the shuttle bus were taken into the concierge room, so I assume that everyone had reserved a Club room. We were offered rum punch, given a brief orientation, and then a staff member escorted each couple to their room. Before we departed to our room, I asked our concierge, Che, if we could make our dinner reservations first. We sat down at the desk, and he said that he needed to talk with us about our room. He said that the Club rooms had been oversold, so we had been relocated for the first night. He apologized, and said he was offering us a candlelight dinner for two, or a spa credit for the inconvenience. He also assured us that we would still receive our Club amenities. Our first night, and a good portion of the next day, was somewhat of an inconvenience, since we did not unpack or have our room attended to until late, because we were not sure if we would be moving to another guestroom. We ended up staying in the first guestroom, although this was not finalized until the next day. Sandals took excellent care of us, and I will talk more about some of the details of our experience throughout this review.

Guestroom

The guestroom was already stocked with Club level beverages when Che escorted us to our room -- vodka, whiskey, gin, rum, and cabernet wine were on the shelf, and Piton beer, white wine and champagne were in the fridge. 




The closet contained a large safe, extra pillow, and two bathrobes. Bathrobes are listed as an amenity on the Club Sandals page, so I am not sure if all of the guestrooms have robes, or if these had been added to this guestroom. The only thing I missed not having in this guestroom was a full length mirror.




The guestroom was spacious and clean. The sleep quality was excellent. The king-sized bed was superb -- good quality sheets and pillows, and the mattress was comfortable. 



The bathroom was a decent size, and everything worked perfectly. I was impressed to see 3 oz. size packages of Red Lane Spa amenities on the ledge at the end of the tub/shower -- body wash, conditioner, and lotion.


Because of our guestroom situation, I am not sure what we were supposed to have received from our room attendant. I do not know if services from the guestroom attendant are the same for all of the guestrooms. Guestroom housekeeping was mildly inconsistent. Sometimes our room was refreshed only once a day, sometimes we also received turndown and refresh service with a new activities paper, and one day our guestroom was refreshed 3 times! We usually only showered once a day before dinner, so this was not a huge thing. It was nice when the used towels were replaced though, and we missed not having our room refreshed the last night of our stay. Since we were departing the next day, we needed to shower in the morning before our room was cleaned, and our washcloths had not been replaced.

Sometimes, we did not receive a replacement cup or glass when the dirty one was taken, or after my husband had left the room with his coffee cup. And one day, we did not receive any regular coffee. The in-room coffee was excellent.

view from our balcony
building 12 on left
I am a light sleeper, and we did not hear hardly any noise from the outside, even though I had read complaints about the noise in other guest reviews. We heard the tree frogs as soon as it got dark; however, they were not audible over the AC with the door shut. We never heard any noise from the Beach Bistro. One afternoon, we heard quite a bit of noise from enthusiastic volleyball players, which did not disturb us much.

view from balcony

Guestroom 313 is on the top floor in building 9 on the map, pretty much where the incoming sidewalk meets the one in front of the building. It seems like volleyball or Bistro noise would only be disturbing in the guestrooms at the end of building 12. We sometimes heard sirens and traffic when we were in the quiet pool area, although we did not hear this from inside the guestroom when we were trying to sleep.

We really liked the secluded balcony and the view, which is one of the reasons we chose to stay in this guestroom. The chairs on the balcony were not very comfortable, and it looked like all of the balcony chairs were the same. 

balcony view from inside guestroom
It rained every day of our stay. It never rained for very long; however, a couple of times the downpours were very heavy. Since we had a balcony with a roof, we were able to sit outside during the rain. The Club guestroom balconies are not enclosed, and they have an umbrella instead of a roof overheard. 







Pools & beaches

Paradise pool
We liked Paradise Pool (the quiet pool) at Halcyon the best. We never had a problem getting loungers in the shade or a chair with an umbrella. The guestrooms around this pool are the Honeymoon Hideaway guestrooms with Club service, which we had originally booked. Most of the guests at this pool during our visits spent their time reading. There was one time that we heard guests having a great time in the whirlpool tub while we were in our guestroom. The noise was not bothersome, and for the most part, this area was peaceful. 
Club guestrooms
buildings 7 & 8

There is a swim up pool bar, and we also received bar service when we were sitting around the pool, just as we did when sitting on the beach at Halcyon.

As others have mentioned, the beach area at Halcyon is not as big as the beach at the other two resorts, and the water is a little murky. It was still enjoyable for one of our mornings. We visited all of the resort pools and beaches, so it was not like we wanted to just sit on the beach in one spot all day, everyday anyway. This is one area where guests did "save" chairs right away, so if you do want to sit on the beach, you may need to get a chair early.

Halcyon beach
We never sat at the Sunset Pool (main/activities pool) at Halcyon, although we often walked through the area and/or stopped to chat with others. The chairs at this pool have cushions, which is one thing I missed about the loungers at Paradise Pool. The area was never crowded any time that we walked through.
Sunset pool











There are three pools at La Toc: Main Pool, Piton Pool, and Sunset Pool. We sat for a short time at the main pool and the sunset pool, on two different days. 

La Toc beach

The main pool area at La Toc seemed to be the busiest pool area at all of the resorts. Even though many chairs were saved with no guests using them, there were still a lot of people in this area. We received beverage service when we were sitting around this pool, although the beer glass my husband received was cracked, so it was leaking and not full when the server handed it to him. It was leaking so badly, that he ended up leaving it for pickup, since the server had departed without noticing.
La Toc overlook from
the road walk to Sunset Pool

The loungers with shade at Piton Pool and Sunset Pool were usually gone when we arrived at La Toc on the first shuttle at 7:15 a.m. We were able to get two loungers at the sunset pool one morning.

Sunset Pool was our favorite pool at La Toc. It is located by Armando's Restaurant. The day that we got loungers at this pool, was unfortunately, the day that we were leaving for Grande on the 10 a.m. shuttle because we wanted to sail there, so we did not get to enjoy the pool area for long. If you do not mind walking, and want to go to the sunset pool or Armando's for breakfast, I suggest taking the first shuttle from Halcyon at 7:00 a.m. After you get off the shuttle and walk down to the main pool area, continue through the resort on the walkway between the guestrooms and the water until you get to Piton Pool. Then walk up the steps in this area to the road. Turn right, and walk up the hill along the road to the top of the hill. You will see Armando's sign, and then steps on the right, which go down to the pool.

The beach at La Toc is nice, and the view from the top of the hill is amazing. One thing we noticed, is that there were more flies at La Toc than either of the other resorts.


view from tower above
Grande Sunset Pool
The beach and pool areas at Grande are massive and beautiful. The resort was easy to navigate without a resort map. We got two of the last two chairs in the shade at Sunset Pool (main pool) the first day that we visited. Even though we stayed at this pool for a while, we did not receive beverage service unless we went to the pool bar.



view of Grand beach - north end
The second time that we visited, we went sailing first, and we did not look for good chairs beforehand. We thought Lovers Pool, and the beach area in front of that pool, looked like the best places to sit; however, we were not able to find a chair in either area. We could see Lagoon Pool from the shuttle when we arrived, although we did not walk out front to check it out. I am not sure if that pool is open to everyone, or just guests with rooms connected to the pool.

We did not have a problem with the local vendors on the beach at any of the resorts. We merely said, "no thank you," and they left us alone. I thought they were more bothersome at La Toc and Grande, although that was probably because there were more of them.


Water sports

We took out a Hobe Cat twice at Halcyon and once at Grande. We also wanted to kayak and paddle board, but we ran out of time. My husband had planned to waterski our last morning; however, the red flag was up, and they were not doing water sports before we left that day. We never had to wait for equipment, and the sailing was great at Halcyon.


Food & Beverages

Drinking water was plentiful in all of the restaurants and at the pools, and bottled water was well-stocked in our guestroom fridge. We were happy that Coke products were served instead of Pepsi. The coffee was excellent -- from the in-room coffee, to the cappuccino in Armando's. I was happy with the champagne and wine quality. The champagne was Montparnasse Brut from France. I usually drink Korbel Brut, and I thought it was pretty comparable. I prefer some of the other Beringer red wines to the two that were included, although I thought the merlot and cabernet were acceptable for a week. Alcohol was good quality, although some brands were not consistent between the resorts. Halcyon had Jose Cuervo; however, Grande did not. Grande had Bailey's, and Halcyon had a brand I did not recognize. All of the resorts had Absolut vodka. I had read reviews from beer drinkers who complained that there are only two beer choices; Piton and Heineken. Asian beer is also available in Kimonos at Halcyon, and the other resorts each have a pub with about four beer choices. Guinness is one of the varieties in the pubs that I recall.

The food was absolutely amazing! We have been on 13 cruises, and we had stayed in over 10 all-inclusive resorts before this Sandals trip, and this was the best food we have ever had. And, I do not agree with guests who wrote reviews about the small portions. We were stuffed after every meal, and I often could not finish my plate.

One thing I did not like about Halcyon, is that it is the only resort of the three Sandals in St. Lucia, that does not have an a la carte breakfast option. My husband is happy with buffet and made-to-order omelets from the buffet; however, I prefer unique, fresh options to a plethora of food. I only went to the Bayside breakfast buffet twice. There was not anything wrong with the buffet; it is just not my type of dining option. Two mornings, I went without breakfast, and two mornings we took the shuttle to La Toc, and had breakfast in Armando's. I probably could have ordered room service, since this is included with the Club Sandals room type we had originally booked. Sandals had already given us a candlelight dinner, and a refund of the Club services because of the overbooking/room relocation, so I felt like I would have been taking advantage of the situation, if I had demanded all of the Club Sandals perks. We had been told that we would still receive Club Sandals perks, and we did. I just did not request extras after the first day like I would have, if this had been a normal stay. My husband told me not to feel that way, since they told us we would still receive the Club Sandals amenities. If he had known that room service was included, I know that he would have ordered me breakfast.

The breakfast in Armando's at La Toc was very good, and the view was excellent. The first time, I had poached eggs with a zucchini cream sauce, which was excellent. It was similar to an eggs Benedict type dish. I had one of the speciality omelets the second time, which was also pretty good. Grande also offers an a la carte breakfast; however, the first shuttle to Grande did not arrive before breakfast was finished.

We had lunch at the Beach Bistro when we dined at Halcyon in the afternoon. The service was excellent, and we liked everything we tried: the nachos, pita/hummus platter, the wings (excellent!), salad, fries, G B & C sandwich, and burger. I am not certain if I have the name of the sandwich correct. I think it was guacamole, bacon and cheese. The only thing I did not like about this sandwich is that it had too much bread for me; there was a third slice in the middle. I thought the burger was just "okay," but my husband was happy with it.

We had lunch in Neptune's at La Toc one day, which was excellent. The view was also fabulous. We both had soup, I had a Mediterranean salad, and my husband had a fish dish.

We had lunch two different times at Grande: Barefoot by the Sea and Josephine's/Dino's. We were not offered a beverage in Barefoot by the Sea, and we had to specifically request a beverage when someone took our lunch order. There was quite a bit of mixup with orders during our visit. Our server had to return to ask us what beverages we had ordered. We received our food okay; however, we observed incorrect or partial orders being delivered two or three different times. Josephine's and Dino's share the same seating area with a menu from each restaurant, so we shared a whole wheat spinach pizza  (individual serving size) and a meat crepe. My husband wanted a little more to eat after we returned to Halcyon shortly after this, so this day was the only time we visited Bayside at Halcyon for lunch. Afterward, we thought that we should have gone to the Beach Bistro and shared an order of wings instead.

We thought the best evening dining was at Halcyon, although we did not visit all of the restaurants. The Soy Sushi Bar, Mario's, and the candlelight dinner were all fabulous! I cannot say enough good things about the food quality. I wish the sushi bar had been open for lunch.

Kimonos and Kelly's Dockside were also good at Halcyon, although I thought the sushi bar and Mario's were both better. The service that we received in the Halcyon evening restaurants was more attentive than what we received in the French restaurant La Toc. The food in La Toc was superb, just like the food at Halcyon. This may be one restaurant where guests complained about small portions; however, I still disagree. First, we received aamuse-bouche from the chef, then an appetizer, soupsalad, and our entrees. By the time we got to dessert, we could only share one.


When we had our candlelight dinner, we wanted to try the calamari and the Asian rolls. I was not sure how big the portions would be because of the comments we had read, so I was not sure if we could share them. I asked our server about this, and she brought us each both appetizers. We wished we had each had an order of the Asian rolls, and that we had shared one calamari order, because the portion size was generous.

 
Both of these food photos are from our candlelight dinner.

One thing I was not sure about, is whether we were supposed to give a tip for the candlelight dinner. This is not addressed on the Sandals website, like spa tipping. Since it is a non-included service, like spa treatments, we treated it the same way, and gave our server a tip, which I assume was extra. Spa tipping FAQs state: If you are happy with your experience and wish to leave a tip, it will be graciously accepted. It is not mandatory, nor expected.

Resort shuttle

shuttle sign
During our stay, the first shuttle left Halcyon at 7 a.m. for La Toc, and the first shuttle to Grande departed at 10:15 a.m. The shuttle schedule was posted on a post in the reception area, and you can get a printed schedule from the front desk. In the beginning, our departure times were about 10 minutes late, and one time when we returned from Grande, it was 20 minutes late. Do not depend on the shuttle being late though, because it departed on time, just as many times as it was behind schedule. There were a couple of times that we wished that there had not been 1½ to 2 hours between departure times to return. The evening that we went to Grande after dinner, we were not ready to return at 9 p.m., so then we had to wait until 11 p.m.

Misc.

We love that the Sandals resorts are gated, and that we did not need to wear a wrist band.

The only dress code we observed being enforced was men needing to wear collared shirts. Dress shorts were acceptable, and I was surprised to see men with open toed sandals in La Toc.

One day, when we were on our balcony, we heard a noise we did not recognize. Within a few seconds, we realized it was some kind of bug fogger spraying the grounds. We went inside, and the spray only lasted a few moments; however, we had thought it would have been nice, if we had been forewarned about this. If it was in the daily activities guide, we missed it.

The manager's reception party at Halcyon was very nice. Canap├ęs/hors d'oeuvres were served, and there was a drawing for several giveaways/prizes. We happened to be at La Toc when they had their manager's reception, which was held during the buffet lunch.

We attended two of the Club Sandals parties: the wine tasting, and the martini tasting. Both were very nice. We were not at the martini tasting long, because this was the night we were having dinner in La Toc, and our shuttle was arriving 15 minutes after it started. We missed the Club Sandals event Thursday night, because we only stayed for 6 nights, and that is the day we departed.

We thought the staff members at Halcyon Beach were more attentive and happier than staff at the other resorts. Even though Grande did not appear to be full, the service was not the same as it was at Halcyon. Only two staff members seemed exceptional at Grande: Bartender Peter, and Entertainment Director Sydney. None of the employees at La Toc seemed stellar. In fact, when we went to Cricketer's Pub, we were seated at the bar for a long time (over 5 minutes) before someone greeted us, even though the pub was not busy, and three or four people had made eye contact with us. And then, when someone did come out to serve us, she waited on a guest who had just arrived before she greeted us. Our server in La Toc did not smile, and we overheard a supervisor scold a server in Neptune's when we were having lunch.

Many, many staff members stood out at Halcyon, and I wish I had written down all of their names: Concierge Che, Manager Wayne, all of the female concierges whose names I did not learn, Dean at the Soon Come Back desk, the servers in the Beach Bistro, Spencer in Kimonos, Lenny, the gift shop supervisor (I forgot her name). Most of the bartenders were polite and attentive, although one male employee in Irie Bar was better than the rest. He was always attentive to everyone, and I wish I had made note of his name. The manager in Mario's was fabulous. He was attentive to every guest, and every food and beverage detail in the restaurant. All of the staff members we passed smiled and offered a greeting -- luggage handlers, room attendants/housekeepers, grounds keepers, managers, etc. I hope I did not forget anyone!

Departure

Sandals provided all of our return shuttle information in an envelope the day before our departure. I thought we would not need to go to the airport until 12:30 or 1 p.m.; however, we were assigned to the noon transfer. The ride back to the airport was miserable compared to the van we had ridden in when we arrived. The van was dirtier, and the A/C did not work well. I wore a sleeveless dress with sandals, and I felt like I needed to shower again by the time we got there.

Again, the porters at the airport will want to take your luggage. Be prepared for this, if you do not want to use this service. They even tried to take bags away from people who already had their bag. The shuttle dropped us off right in front of the check-in counters.

Since we arrived at the airport much earlier than we needed to, I wish I had thought to go to Sandals lounge before we went through security. I am sure they would have let us relax there for half an hour, and we would have been much more comfortable.


About us

Whenever I read a review, I always like to know what the person who is writing the review is like. Since this review contains so much information, and we encountered a situation that was handled above our expectations, I decided to provide a little more information about us. We are pretty easy going, amicable people. I do not think that we are any more good-natured than most people; however, we did overhear some rude guests during our stay. We also met some very nice people. Some who are probably reading this review, and we miss all of you!  :-)

One day, we heard a rude guest berating a housekeeper for something that had happened a few days earlier. My husband and I both thought the guest was way out of line. We also encountered guests at La Toc with an, "I am better than you," attitude. These were not guests we interacted with; merely ones we observed.

Having said that, I also want to point out that I always have high expectations, and that we both appreciate good quality. There are any number of ways that our stay could have gone after the initial overbooking snafu when we arrived. The fact that Sandals went above and beyond, portrays the kind of standards this company has. While we were there, we booked a future vacation at Sandals Royal Caribbean for next year, and we are already excited!

I welcome your comments and questions. Please comment below, if you have additional information to share, or a question about something I did not cover.