A February half term holiday with the in-laws might not sound like most people’s dream getaway, but I was thoroughly looking forward it for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it was my first time to Saint Lucia, an island I had heard so much about; secondly, with my kids' cousins also in tow they would be well entertained; and last but not least, my parents-in-law are great company and the kids love spending time with them, so it was going to be a fun week.
We drove to Gatwick and spent a little extra on valet parking, which was well worth it; still cheaper than a return taxi fare would have been, we could walk straight into the terminal (no waiting for buses and lugging a multitude of suitcases half a mile around an endless car park in the rain), and the car was there waiting for us upon our return ensuring a speedy getaway.
We were a bit apprehensive about keeping five kids under 12 entertained for eight and a half hours on the flight, but through a combination of sticker books, games, meals, a mid-flight nap and the very good inflight entertainment meant there were no such worries. CBeebies plus movies like Despicable Me and Ice Age all went down well.
On arrival the immigration queue in Saint Lucia looked long and slow, but they have a separate line for families which really helped speed things up, and within 10 minutes or so of exiting we were in our minibus to the hotel. Be warned – the exit area is pretty chaotic, you can’t take luggage trolleys outside for some reason which is a bit of a pain, and it can be hard to see your rep so keep your eyes peeled. All hotels and local reps have to use the local taxi companies too, which most first time visitors wouldn’t realise.
The beauty of Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa is the 3 minute (I timed it!) transfer from the airport (provided free by the hotel). Perfect after a long flight with tired youngsters on board. In no time at all we were sipping a welcome cocktail and checking in. ‘Aircraft noise’ I hear you say – but it’s really not an issue, there’s only a few flights a day and no real noise disturbance.
The hotel is set in a large plot of land with a long entrance drive through lawns and palm trees, then the main central area which houses the reception, main bar, excursion desks and buffet restaurant. Heading left is the family wing of the hotel, with the adults only wing in the opposite direction, complete with child-free pool area.
We had booked the two bedroom interconnecting Family Rooms which worked really well – close to all the facilities, two large bedrooms with a King bed in one room and two Queen beds in the other, each with its own bathroom and balcony and an internal connecting door. The rooms are very spacious, with flat screen TVs showing about 100 US channels, a kettle with tea and coffee, mini fridge stocked with bottled water (included in the All-Inclusive plan), a safe and iron/ironing board. The King Room also has a double sofa bed. The bathrooms are quite small with only a shower, a basin and a WC, but served our purposes well enough.
The beach: Windy but beautiful!
Being on the south coast it is consistently windy, much more so than the north west coast would be, but never uncomfortably so, and it is a beautiful long stretch of gold sand. Quite a bit of seaweed gets washed up but the hotel’s tractor comes along several times a day to clean this up so the beach is always very clean, and the sand’s great for sandcastles! The water was very warm and safe to swim in, and a short stroll up the beach was a kite surfing school. Directly by the hotel on the family side are a few fixed parasols, some sunbeds and the beach volleyball/cricket area. On the adults' side there is no beach to speak of but it’s not far to walk.
Pools & Water Park
Something for everyone here, and one of the main reasons we chose this hotel. The adults-only pool I've already mentioned; there’s also a large freeform pool in the central area where the water polo etc is played; a second central pool with shallow areas for kids (be careful with real young ones as there are no barriers between shallow areas and deeper ones), and a swim-up bar – in fact two swim-up bars, one for adults and one for kids serving fruit cocktails etc., which was a nice touch. Then slightly further along was a small fourth pool, and the lazy river and water slides which were visited several times a day and were great fun. A couple of times around the lazy river on a rubber ring followed by umpteen times up and down the two water slides and the afternoon was taken care of! Toddlers who can’t swim yet are allowed to go down the slides on their parents' knees so everyone could enjoy them. Be sure to use waterproof all-day sun cream though, it’s easy to forget with the breeze and being in the water that the sun is so strong.
Excellent Kids' Club
Really spacious with a few different indoor/under cover areas including a baby room (they take kids from age 0!) where many of the activities like kite making, finger painting etc. are done; a large outdoor area with swings, slides, pirate ship; plus a water play area with fountains, water jets etc. which is used once in the morning and once in the afternoon for ‘splash time’. Nature walks, beach Olympics, photo album making, and evening outdoor movie nights were some of the activities on offer, and there’s a weekly schedule so you can see which ones your kids might like. The staff were all very professional, and we then hired one of them to babysit each night for a couple of hours while we went out for dinner (approx. US$20 an hour).
Food & Drink
We were very pleasantly surprised by the quality and range of food at Coconut Bay – being one of the more affordable, all-inclusive resorts, we perhaps weren't expecting haute cuisine, but in fact ate fantastically well. The main buffet restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is always popular – eggs to order and fresh crêpes, smoothies etc. for breakfast; a pasta station, stir fry station and salad bar at lunchtime (not to mention yummy puddings); and different themes each evening with something to cater for all our tastes. A couple of times they also relocate to the poolside for a themed open air buffet with entertainment. Also included however are three à la carte restaurants which we loved – an Asian with excellent Chinese dishes in particular; a Caribbean restaurant which we thought was the best – superb steaks, crab cakes and snapper in particular; and an Italian restaurant which was perhaps the weakest but with a help-yourself antipasti bar, followed by traditional Italian dishes like lobster ravioli. The welcome drink of sangría was a strange Spanish twist! During the day there is a grill by the pool bar serving a limited range of snacks like pizza, hot dogs, burgers, chicken nuggets etc. – not the healthiest menu in the world, and as our kids need their tea at around 5pm this was the only option at that time, but it was holiday after all!
The house red and white wines were perfectly drinkable, but there were additional bottles at a supplement if you preferred, and the bars all served a good selection of beers, spirits and cocktails with only premium brands like Jack Daniel's not included.
Out & About
At least one day out to explore a bit of the island is a must, it’s such a naturally beautiful island with the rainforests and mountains. We visited a few of the well known sites such as the Pitons, plus two waterfalls which you could stand and swim under – one was fresh water (on the chilly side!), the other was natural hot spring water – quite surreal standing under a bath-temperature waterfall! The mud baths and hot springs near Ladera are well worth a visit too, a visual reminder of the island’s volcanic history.
The hotel’s location then came into its own on our last day, whereby we chose to pay to keep a couple of late check-out rooms between us until 6pm (US$95 per room), and could enjoy all the facilities until then before heading to the airport, giving us a whole extra day in the sun before getting on the plane, and the opportunity to have something to eat at the hotel rather than on the plane. My 3 year old then fell asleep before taking off and didn’t wake up until it was time to land in Gatwick – perfect!