Grenada 2014 - Sandals La Source

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Review of our 2-week stay at Sandals La Source, Grenada, Caribbean in May / June 2014.

Sandals La Source

We flew with Virgin Atlantic, and stayed overnight in a hotel near Gatwick before the 9am flight.  Quite a tedious ten-hour flight in cattle class – we found the seats uncomfortable and cramped, and there’s a stop in St Lucia both out and return, which adds at least an hour and a half to the flight. 

Sandals La Source is an All-Inclusive (AI) resort only five minutes’ drive from the airport, so transfers are quick – we had a taxi laid on for us, but the more usual minibus would have been fine.  From the west end of the runway you can see the back of the hotel buildings just a few hundred metres away.  Airplane noise wasn’t a problem for us where our room was located, but some rooms further back at the head of the valley would have had more noise.

Sandals took over the La Source hotel at the far western end of the island on Pink Gin Beach in 2012.  It had run into money trouble some years previously after being severely damaged in a hurricane.  Sandals renovated the existing rooms (the Pink Gin rooms), expanded the accommodation massively by building several new blocks to a high standard, and re-opened the hotel in December 2013.  You can read about the accommodation on Sandals' web site.  The hotel is in a steepish-sided valley, and it doesn’t look too convenient for wheelchair users, as there are some steep paths and quite a few steps everywhere.  For example, most of the restaurants had a flight of steps up to the door.

There are two main pools, as well as some smaller ones such as the one in front of our room.  The South Seas Village Pool at the back has loud music, a swim-up pool bar, organised games and much whooping and hollering (it quietens down at 6pm when the music is turned off).  The Main Pool by the beach is quiet during the day.  There are whirlpools at each.

The beach is quite long, with plenty of space for sunbeds, and a few sunshades.  There’s a magnificent view across the bay to St George’s (the capital of Grenada) and the mountains behind.  The sand does have some small coral and shell fragments in it, but is pleasant enough to walk on in bare feet.  There are two marked swimming areas protected by sea-walls which carry walkways out to the open sea.  Bar staff come along the beach from time to time taking drinks orders.  When we were there in May/June there was a constant Force 3, sometimes 4, breeze from the east, which helped to keep you cool on the beach.

The gardens are a treat: full of brightly-coloured flowers and shrubs.  The garden staff are to be congratulated.  Sandals must use tons of water every day to keep the gardens looking green and fresh.

The staff are almost without exception cheerful, smiling, well-trained and eager to help.  There are more staff than guests.

While we were here, we clocked up our 70th night at Sandals, and were rewarded with a voucher for a free week at any Sandals.

Our room

We’d booked a relatively cheap “Pink Gin Beachfront Walkout Club Level Room with Tranquillity Soaking Tub”, but when we mentioned to Sandals that we would be celebrating our silver wedding anniversary during the holiday, and that we had in fact got married 25 years previously at Sandals Ocho Rios, they very kindly gave us a massive upgrade to a room that we couldn’t possibly have afforded otherwise.  Thanks Sandals!  We did manage to get a peek at the room we’d originally booked, and apart from being smaller and darker, we’d have been happy there.

So our room was a grandly-titled “Italian Swim up Bi-level 1 Bedroom Butler Suite with Veranda Tranquillity Soaking Tub”.  In the massive room was an enormous bed with bedside cabinets, two huge wall TVs, a writing desk, plenty of drawer space, a small dining-type table and two chairs, a settee and a coffee table.  The “Bi-level” bit means that the room is on two levels, with a couple of steps down halfway into the room, separating the sleeping and seating areas.  There’s a walk-in wardrobe with a good big room safe, an iron & ironing board, and extras such as umbrellas and dressing-gowns and slippers.  There are several spare UK-style 13A sockets, plus a couple of US-style outlets, plus a couple of USB sockets for charging stuff. 

There’s a minibar fridge with a bar above it, with bottles of Tanqueray gin, Johnnie Walker black-label whisky, Absolut vodka, Appleton Estate rum, and the house red wine.  In the fridge is a bottle of house white wine  and a bottle of French sparkling wine, in addition to lots of soft drinks and mixers, but curiously no tonic – we had to ask for that.  The bar and fridge are replenished daily, and the ice-bucket several times daily.

The big bathroom has just one washbasin, a huge uncomfortable looking bathtub and a massive shower that you could have held a cocktail party in.  There are plenty of mirrors, a hair-dryer and a separate WC.

Outside on the covered veranda were two big easy chairs and a table, and a further large bathtub with a detachable shower rose.  There are huge curtains that you can pull across the veranda to block prying eyes while you use the tub!  From the veranda you can step straight down into the pool that runs across the front of the building.  There are a couple of sunbeds in the “shallow end” of the pool first, before you get to the deeper pool itself (it’s only a metre or so deep).

There wasn’t much of a view from our veranda, just of part of the Main Pool, but we didn’t mind.  Some of the other rooms in this category had a view of the sea.

Our room came with two Butlers, Leanna and Kendra, who looked after us and organised things.  Our butlers looked after the occupants of four rooms.  They give you a mobile phone so you can contact them at any time 7am to 10pm (they divide the day between them).  While we didn’t make much call on their time, it was very convenient for booking restaurants (they'd actually booked us in at different restaurants every night before we even arrived), getting sun-beds on the beach or by the pool, ready-equipped with towels and a chiller containing bottles.  If we had any problems, we just called them and they arranged a solution.  They checked in with us by phone and personally several times a day to see if there was anything we needed.

Some folks on TripAdvisor have mentioned that the butler guests bag all the best sunbeds, and other guests therefore can’t get them.  This isn’t strictly true.  There were always masses of empty sunbeds on the beach and by the quiet pool near the beach, and if you don’t use your sunbed for a while, the towels are taken away, so somebody else can use it.  It’s true that the Butlers initially bagged for us the less numerous and more comfortable, wooden, sunbeds, but halfway through our stay, these all disappeared from the beach and were replaced by the more common, less comfortable, plastic sunbeds, so that all beach denizens had the same.  The wooden sunbeds re-appeared by the Main Pool.

Food + Drink

The food was of high quality.  There are nine restaurants – you can read all about them on Sandals’ web site.  Four restaurants are open at lunchtime: The Pizzeria, Spices, Neptunes and the Café de Paris (which only does pastries and ice-cream).  The Café and the Pizzeria are closed in the evening.  In addition, there's a hot dog stand set up beside the Main Pool every lunchtime.

Spices and Cucina Romana are open for breakfast from 7:30am, and Le Jardinier from 8.00am.  On previous Sandals holidays, we’ve complained that the breakfast rooms were open air, and the chairs, tables and buffet food are frequented by birds, sometimes leading to chairs streaked with bird-droppings.  Sandals have clearly learnt their lesson – while the rooms are still open-air, the buffet food at Spices and Cucina Romana is laid out in an inner room, away from the bird life.  Good move.

We ate at all the restaurants apart from the Café, Soy and Kimonos (we’d tried Kimonos on previous Sandals holidays).  We enjoyed the food at all of them.  The Filet Mignon at Butch’s, in particular, is fantastic.  Our favourites were Spices for lunch, and Le Jardinier (where the staff are bonkers), Cucina Romana and Butch’s for the evening.  There’s an extensive, and expensive, wine list for the well-off, but the house reds and whites included in the AI deal were perfectly acceptable. 

There are three bars: the swim-up South Seas pool bar, the beach-side bar in Neptunes restaurant, and the Living Room bar (next to the Main Pool) which has a large seating area, and is where evening shows are staged.

Out + about

The Island Routes shop does a variety of sight-seeing and activity excursions (again, see Sandals website).  We went on the Spicy Island Full-day minibus tour, which showed you a good deal of the island, and stopped at several places for sight-seeing: the Annandale Falls, the Grand Étang, and the Belmont Chocolate Estate, where you have a tour round the chocolate bean factory (the beans are shipped elsewhere to be processed into chocolate), taste the island’s chocolate (it’s famous, apparently), and have lunch.  The driver kept up a continuous running commentary, with a constant stream of facts, figures, and island history.

You can get a taxi into St George’s, the capital.  We’d seen St George’s on a previous visit in 1992, so we passed this time. 

Underwater

Snorkelling

There are regular snorkelling trips to the reefs just offshore every day – they always seemed well-attended.  You can borrow snorkelling kit free from the Watersports Centre.

Diving

I was pleasantly surprised by the diving from Sandals – it was much better than I’d expected.  It’s included in the AI deal, of course, and since hardly any of the 450 guests go, it’s a great deal, as they’re all subsidising your diving.  Sometimes there were only half-a-dozen of us on the dive boat, but there’s room for 25 or so.

The Watersports centre is at the eastern end of the resort, and the staff are helpful and professional, both above and below water.  There’s a small shop, a hanging room for BCDs, wetsuits etc, a couple of rinse-tanks, an open shower area and WCs.  There’s no jetty, but the dive boat backs right up to the beach, so you rarely have to wade more than knee-deep to get to the ladder.  The boat staff and dive leaders help you to get on and off.

The dive equipment is all good-quality ScubaPro.  There’s only one dive boat, which is also used for the snorkelling trip at 11am, so this means the morning and afternoon trips are only one-tank dives.  The morning trip is at 9am, so there’s plenty of time for breakfast beforehand.

Most of the dive sites are just a fast five- or ten-minute boat ride away, though a couple are more like 20 minutes.  Sandals' website lists several dives deeper than 30m (100 feet), but don’t take any notice of that – they only do one, to the 38m deep Bianca C wreck, and that costs US$80 extra!  Most dives were between 10 and 20 metres, and are limited to 40 to 45 minutes.  Nitrox is available at US$10 extra, but with most of the dives short and shallow, it’s not really needed. 

The reefs were pretty and undamaged with lots of colourful corals and sponges.  Fish life varied from sparse to plentiful.  We were very lucky to see a pod of about 40 dolphins from the dive boat one morning, but generally there’s not much of the big stuff:  Underwater I saw just four nurse sharks (all asleep under various coral heads), one turtle and a few Barracuda and stingrays during my 11 dives. 

So with little of the big stuff, you can concentrate on the smaller stuff: lots of eels and morays, lobsters (including a Slipper lobster), Arrow crabs, shrimps, Spotted Drum, Jackknife-fish, and occasionally huge schools of French Grunts.  The highlights of the trip were two Jawfish (one incubating eggs in its mouth) and two Seahorses at Flamingo Bay (one of them a most rare white colour), a Flying Gurnard at Japanese Garden, and a couple of Frogfish at the Veronica L wreck.  The dive staff are hawk-eyed, know the sites well, and are always pointing out stuff you’ve missed.

Sites visited were:

  • Northern Exposure.  Pretty corals and sponges, otherwise not much to see.
  • Shark Reef (twice).  Lots to see, including 13 lobsters, all packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a line under a ledge!  The only site I visited on the rougher, Atlantic side of the island.
  • Veronica L.  A 25m long cargo ship, deliberately sunk, now well-colonised by soft corals.
  • Japanese Garden.  Pretty corals, sponges etc.
  • Whibbles Reef (twice).  Lots of Lionfish.  Sandals don’t spear them in Grenada – they do in the Bahamas, where they’re even more of a pest. 
  • Flamingo Bay (twice).  A superb site in the Marine Protected Area north of St George’s.  Masses of fish.
  • MV Shakem.  A deepish 54m-long wreck (keel at 31m) accidentally sunk in 2001, with her cargo of sacks of cement still in the hold.  A short dive due to the depth, with an additional safety stop at 10m on the way up.
  • Purple Rain.  Nice reef.

Thanks to dive staff Chris, Gary, Shavon and Elijah, and the boat-captain, Tommy, for some enjoyable dives.

Conclusion

We really enjoyed this holiday.  Sandals La Source Grenada has a smaller, more intimate feel than the other Sandals resorts we’ve visited, and of course everything is brand-new.  The staff were well-trained, cheerful and helpful.  We were extremely grateful to Sandals for giving us a massive, luxurious room upgrade for our anniversary.  The food was excellent.  We enjoyed staying on the beach (we found a quiet, shaded corner at the far west end).  The diving was much better than I expected. 

Would we go again?  Well, we now have a voucher for a free week, so we’ll definitely go to Sandals again, but we’re torn between La Source and the Grande St Lucian…

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