Activities, Caribbean, COVID-19, Drink, Food, Hotels, restaurants, Travel, Uncategorized

Getting back to travelling abroad…

Aloha my fellow travel adventurers – I know it’s been a while since my last post but Covid has been a bit of a bummer – it’s just not travel friendly. Anyway two years later and finally taking to the skies to explore one of my favourite places in the world – the lush and exciting Caribbean – we first stopped off at St Vincent and the Grenadines. This island currently still has strict covid protocols as in a pre-arrival PCR test and filling out a pre-travel form (although I am still not sure what they do with the form – we had to show all the paperwork again despite having sent it electronically). Most public places still call for mask wearing and sanitising on entering premises.

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Having got married here, these 32 islands (yes you read right) will always have a special place in my heart. Being able to fly direct now from London with Virgin Atlantic (finally after many many years) and landing at its pretty awesome new spacious airport, I got excited and curious. Had much changed? How has Covid affected this jewel of the Caribbean?

The only way I can describe it is experiencing “the good, the bad and the ugly”.

The “Good” mixed with “The Bad”

It seems some investment has come into mainland St Vincent. The old airport now has changed into a mall – great idea and fantastic use of the space. Some hotels especially have clocked onto the the mantra that “the customer is king” and have invested money, staff training and thought into the design of their hotels, menus and just general offerings. Two places in particular I was pretty impressed with for St Vincent standards were…

LaVue Boutique Hotel (Indian Bay)

This new 5 star boutique hotel replaced what used to be a well known old Caribbean colonnial style house and hotel called Grand View. Its charm back then was twofold – its location with a pool on the edge of a cliff, amazing views and a real sun trap being one. The other was its staff – very attentive and accomodating. The building itself though was starting to look tired and very little investment had gone into it over the years – it just wasn’t classy and doing its location justice hence it needed to be sold.

All I can say is what a transformation! This new modern, bright and spacious boutique hotel boasting beautiful gardens on a slope is definitely a place to check out when you visit the island. It hasn’t lost two of its best features either – the view is still amazing. In fact, it has been siginificantly enhanced by removing some of the bush that was obscuring the view on the edge of the cliff .

The customer service, despite being a new group of staff,  is still very attentive, friendly and accommodating “most of the time”.

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The hotel has three restaurants – a bar/restaurant overlooking the ocean, an Italian restaurant and my favourite a beach bar restaurant with chilled vibes and a varied menu. Whether you are in the mood for appetizers and a cheeky cocktail or the full monty, aka dinner, you end up sitting in this place and just liming watching the world pass by. The Mojito is to die for and if you are lucky to be there during lobster season you are in for a treat as we were.

However if you want to go for dinner at the restaurant upstairs expect to be disappointed u fortunately – we waited for over an hour for bad food and mumbled apologies. More details on TripAdvisor. Clearly management still need to sort this out if they want to run in the 5 star hospitality arena like Calabash in Grenada. They are definitely not there yet so don’t expect to see any awards any time soon.

The view not to miss though is by the pool bar overlooking the ocean with amazing sunsets.

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One of my reservations would be the lack of social media presence – with such a stunning place – the manager and owners should be all over showcasing the place on Instagram and other social media platforms apart from Facebook. Not the occasional carnival jump ups but showing a classy and versatile establishment.

Beachcombers hotel (Villa)

I do have a soft spot for this place right opposite Young Island as I had my wedding pictures taken at this hotel. What used to be a mediocre hotel with gorgeous gardens but terrible customer service had transformed into a very relaxing, lush and popular hotel with good social media presence. The owners had invested quite a bit into new hotel buildings to add rooms, redesigned the dining area near the pool that gives you space for live music and bbq nights, afternoon tea and Latin dance nights.

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A bright open reception area surrounded by beautiful plants, flowers and trees felt like a massive welcoming hug – you just felt good and ready to dive into what this place has to offer. It does only have one restaurant but I was impressed how the owners had really put some thought into the variety culinary experiences for locals and visitors to the island alike.

Customer service had improved immensly – we were greeted and looked after by some really friendly and attentive young staff on our first visit back. On our second visit new owners had taken over who hadn’t got their story straight – one was saying the kitchen and bar was closed and the other saying we could still use that bar. Hmmm

Two recommended cocktails we did enjoy on our first visit were the BBC cocktail and their rum punch. I hope they keep these the same.

The “Bad”

I did promise to mention the “Bad” so here goes –  Paradise Beach hotel in Villa (opposite Young Island) it pains me to say seems to have decided that not only does time stand still but also has forgotten the the key mantra of the ever changing hospitality sector.

The hotel itself boasts a long veranda along the beachfront with amazing views and the opportunities for bbqs and events. Having had my wedding reception here nearly 13 years ago it had so much potential. Amazing sunsets. But since then very little has changed – the furniture definitely hasn’t and staff were hard to find when you turn up. Not a good start in my book. If you want me to spend money then make it enticing, know what I mean?! The addition of a pool hasn’t really added much to the place either.

Having to walk to a daydreaming waiter standing around by the bar and asking to be served should have been the first clue for the breakfast experience.

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day so we had looked forward to a great fry up in true British style overlooking the bay. We had many of these especially when going on excursions with Fantasea Tours but this time it was very different.

The breakfast menu looked interesting but too pricey when we saw what we got for it. The Full American breakfast, for example, closest to a fry up, gave you a pile of toast with a small jar of jam, two eggs of your choice and either bacon, tiny sausages or ham. You also graciously got a hot drink and a juice although the selection was narrowed down to one type of juice. So if you couldn’t drink that type of juice, well that was tough beans for ya then. And whatever you do, don’t ask to get extras because you’d be confusing staff. Coming from the UK that seemed like an insult in terms of portion sizes and variety of ingredients. The pancakes seemed to be a batch of deep fried bits of pastry. Sigh – what can I say – this place was a huge let down. Come on – sort it out!

The “Ugly”

If you love exploring towns and shops whilst travelling then unfortunately Kingstown, capital of St Vincent, is definitely no longer the place. Houses and shops are even more run down than before Covid, restaurants and cafes have shut down and been replaced with either a multitude of pharmacies or banks and the billboards you see littered along the route into town are all political. Not very helpful when looking for inspiration for what to discover or do in town! I mean think about the impression visitors from cruise ships get. Even the market, often a real experience when visiting the Caribbean islands, doesn’t leave you excited or itching to get into that kitchen and cook. What a shame when St Vincent does have some amazing dishes…

With so much potential I think it’s time to start investing a bit of love and attention in this seafront town if you want to leave a good lasting impression of the islands for visitors.

Next stop Grenada…

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