In the southwest corner of the Caribbean, situated between Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, determined beach vacationers gravitate to the lush, volcanic island of Grenada.
Until the past decade, the 133-square-mile island was known more for growing, processing and exporting nutmeg and other spices than attracting tourists. But after Hurricane Ivan devastated the island in 1984, destroying homes, buildings and its valuable crops, efforts to develop tourism increased.
After all, a nutmeg sapling takes eight years or more to bear fruit and hotels can be built far more quickly.
I enjoyed a brief stay on the “Spice Island” back in 2001 following a small-ship sailing cruise, which began and ended at Grenada’s picturesque horseshoe-shaped harbor overlooking the capital city of St. George’s.
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Through the years, my husband and I have become huge fans of Caribbean vacationing, and we favor locally owned resorts rather than hotel chains. On a recent trip back to Grenada, however, we decided to deviate from our usual routine and try Sandals LaSource Grenada Resort and Spa.
Since the original Sandals opened in 1981 in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the resort chain has dominated the luxury all-inclusive market in the Caribbean with a total of 14 resorts.
Following its March 2014 opening, I’d read about its ultra-luxurious all-inclusive amenities — personal butlers, suites with infinity-edge pools and unlimited everything, from drinks to dining to diving the coral reefs. A multimillion-dollar expansion transformed the former spa-centric, 100-room LaSource resort over a 10-month period into its much larger 227-room version — set on Pink Gin Beach, so named for its rose-tinged sand.
Since the original Sandals opened in 1981 in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the resort chain has dominated the luxury all-inclusive market in the Caribbean with a current total of 14 resorts — seven in Jamaica; three in St. Lucia; one each in Antigua, Bahamas and Grenada; and most recently, Barbados.
The brand boasts of a high percentage of repeat visitors and an audience that often seems more interested in on-site pampering than island explorations.
Of course, we were ready for doses of both. Sandals’ three themed villages set on 17 acres offered a mind-boggling selection of rooms and suites, but we finally opted for a suite in the South Seas Village complete with a private plunge pool, heated whirlpool and butler service.
Savor the flavors
As the designated foodie in our household, I was also eager for a culinary exploration courtesy of the resort’s eight sit-down restaurants, which cover a range of flavors and styles. We began our foodie week at the classically French Le Jardinier.
There and elsewhere, every effort is made to accommodate all special dietary requests.
Other worthy choices included a specialty steakhouse, two Japanese restaurants (one specializing in sushi, the other Teppanyaki tableside cooking), Italian, Caribbean, Mediterranean seafood and an authentic English pub. There was also a selection of casual fare, such as a pizzeria, a hotdog stand and a French bakery, which we rarely passed without stopping in for nutmeg ice cream and a cookie or two.
You can spend most of your mornings diving, exploring healthy reefs and coral-encrusted shipwrecks like the Bianca C, a 600-foot cruise liner known as the Titanic of the Caribbean.
After dinner, we usually gravitated to a comfy couch in an area called the Living Room to enjoy the evening’s themed entertainment. A daily schedule on our room TV kept us informed about special events such as wine tastings and cocktail parties.
Diving and snorkeling in Grenada’s Underwater Sculpture Park
All Sandals Resorts offer unlimited diving with equipment and guided boat dives included — a big plus for certified scuba divers, since scuba diving can be an expensive hobby.
We spent most of our mornings diving, exploring healthy reefs and coral-encrusted shipwrecks like the Bianca C, a 600-foot cruise liner known as the Titanic of the Caribbean.
A highlight was being able to dive Grenada’s Underwater Sculpture Park, which opened in 2006. While divers swim among the 100 sculptures, these can also be viewed by snorkelers and from a glass-bottom boat, since they are in shallow depths from 5 to 30 feet under the surface.
A circle of life-sized figures holding hands, cast from local children, is the most impressive of the sculptures, spread throughout half a mile of the protected marine area.
Experience the Isle of Spice
When you’re ready for some new scenery, don’t miss exploring the Spice Island through Island Routes Caribbean Adventures tours.
Sampler tours ($59 half-day, $105 full day) include stops in the capital of St George’s, as well as historic Fort Frederick, Annandale Waterfall, Grand Anse Beach (a 2-mile swath of golden sand shaded by seagrape trees) and Grand Etang National Park’s crater lake.
Mona monkeys, found only on Grenada outside of West Africa, are often sighted around the Grand Etang Preserve area. We were able to observe them and take photographs, thanks to our tour guide, who spotted them in trees next to the road.
Full-day tours include lunch and a tour of the Belmont Chocolate Estate, where cocoa beans are processed for making some of the world’s finest organic dark chocolate bars at the Grenada Chocolate Company.
Other tours can be booked for sport fishing, river tubing and other island adventures. Rum lovers will enjoy touring River Antoine Rum Distillery, where rum has been distilled from sugar cane since 1785.
So, what’s not included?
Wines by the bottle (not included among selected Robert Mondavi wines), spa services, laundry and dry cleaning, professional sunset photo shoots, scuba diving certification courses and island tours.
If you go
Daily flights into Grenada’s Maurice Bishop International Airport (GND) from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) connect through Miami (MIA).
Sandals offers discounted rates up to 65 percent off and other specials throughout the year. A recent sale rate started at $340 per person and included incentives such as a free night, free couples massage, a sunset cruise and air credits. www.sandals.com.
For more information on vacationing in Grenada, visit http://grenadagrenadines.com.