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The Surprising Experience of Being Gay at Sandals

For those who don’t follow the Rainbow Getaways social media accounts, I had the opportunity to travel to the Sandals St Lucian Grande Spa and Beach Resort this past weekend. While at the resort, I toured the property and experienced the Sandals 5-star luxury. This was my first time at a Sandals property, and overall, I was very impressed with the resort, the service, the food, and nearly every aspect of my short time on the island.

St Lucia from a landing plane
The view of St Lucia from the plane as we were landing

Before this trip, I have been hesitant to try Sandals, given that the resorts are on islands that are not exactly friendly towards the LGBTQ community. Sandals has 15 resorts on six islands, all of which have various hurdles for the community that they have not yet overcome. After talking with several loyal brand enthusiasts, I decided it was worth trying out. The number of LGBTQ couples staying at Sandals resorts has slowly been increasing each year, but given the islands’ history, these are typically resort-only vacations where you’ll want to stay in the bubble instead of going it alone backpack style.

Speaking of the Sandals Bubble, you’ll walk into it as soon as you clear customs as you’ll be directed to the Sandals arrival lounge. In this lounge, you’ll have access to soft drinks and coffee and places to sit while you relax before your shuttle to the resort. During regular operation, you’ll also be offered light snacks and your first alcoholic drink on the island. Once your shuttle arrives, you’ll be directed to it, and away you’ll go.

The shuttle ride from the airport to the St Lucian Grande is between 90 minutes and two hours, depending on traffic. Transfers are automatically included, and there are options to book private transfers or even a helicopter to take you to the other side of the island. I opted for the included transfer, which was an adventure with twists and turns as we moved through the mountains.

Once I arrived at the resort, I was escorted to the Sandals Club Lounge, offered a cold drink, and escorted to my room. The Sandals Club Lounge provides 24-hour espresso, books, board games, a place to relax with friends staying at the resort, and easy access to the concierge. The concierge team is a one-stop-shop for all your needs while on property. I stayed in a Caribbean Beach View Penthouse Club level room with a fantastic view of the Caribbean Sea, the resort pools, and the expansive beach. Besides access to the Sandals Club Lounge, my room included two bathrobes, room service from 7am to 10pm, and a stocked bar with full bottles of scotch, gin, vodka, rum, and wine. The bar is refilled daily, and if you successfully finish a bottle, they’ll replace it as many times as needed.

Each Sandals property has three levels of rooms: Luxury, Club, and Butler. The layout of Luxury and Club rooms is the same, with the additional amenities that I listed above being in Club-level rooms. Luxury rooms are still 100% all-inclusive around the resort, but they do not have access to room service, and their mini bar is limited to beer, wine, and sodas. Butler categories are the ultimate way to experience a Sandals getaway. Each Butler room gets a full mini bar with upgraded liquors, 24-hour room service with an upgraded menu, and a Butler to take care of every need you’ll have while on vacation. Don’t be afraid to ask your Butler for anything, they’ll do everything in their power to make it happen … even filling in the last spot for a volleyball game.

Sandals Butler Playing Volleyball
The Butler (in blue) filling in the last spot on the team

There are three main types of Butler rooms at the St Lucian Grande, a 1-bedroom suite, a Rondoval, and the over-water bungalow. Each type of room has different options within it, so let me know what’s essential for your vacation so I can find you the perfect fit. The main perks for all three types of Butler rooms remain the same, but the brands of included liquors and the room service menu’s inclusions improve as you move into higher categories. Those staying in the over-water bungalows also get private WIFI in their bungalow and private transfers to and from the airport.

The food at the St Lucian Grande was as good as the brand self-promoted with their 5-star global gourmet slogan. The resort has a wide variety of restaurant options available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My three dinners were at Gordan’s on the Pier, Toscanini’s, and Bombay Club, but there are enough restaurants to eat somewhere new each night for an entire week. Of the three restaurants that I had dinner at, Bombay was my favorite, but it’s a close race.

The resort’s beach is absolutely stunning and probably is tied for my favorite one I’ve experienced yet. The resort’s beach is on the Caribbean Sea and is where all the action takes place. For a quieter ocean view room, you can book a view of the Atlantic Ocean with the rolling waves. The resort’s beach offers plenty of lounge chairs, chairs with umbrellas, and other seating areas to provide each couple a great day on the beach. Servers roam the beach making sure that your drink is never empty. When you’re ready to get into the water, the sand gently slopes down as you walk into the warm Caribbean waters.

The resort’s activities keep the fun alive while being respectful of those who just want to zone out to the sound of the waves. The main pool has a swim-up bar with a second bar close by for those who prefer to stay dry. There is usually a DJ, band, or other music playing while members of the activity staff are keeping guests engaged in games and dances. Part of the resort’s COVID protocols is that they have spaced out entertainment to encourage social distancing. This change will most likely stick around because of the positive feedback about having things spread out.

Speaking of COVID protocols, I felt completely safe with Sandals and the St Lucian government’s measures to try and manage the risk of spreading the virus. Going to St Lucia, I first registered for my trip with the government and needed a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 7 days before my trip. Once the results were in, I forwarded the results to St Lucia, and they gave final approval for the trip. Sandals is now including basic travel insurance with each vacation to help reduce some of the stress that goes along with traveling right now.

Social distancing was enforced in close areas with markers on the ground in places that people typically would stand in line at the resort. The resort has about 90% outdoor open space, so masks are optional, but as soon as you start to enter an enclosed area, a staff member is there to remind you to put on your mask and direct you to the hand sanitizer. Before new guests check into a room, a cleaning team makes sure multiple touchpoints are clean and sanitized. The room also includes a full bottle of hand sanitizer for personal use. No matter where I was, the other guests remained socially distant and respectful of personal space.

On January 26, 2021, the CDC’s updated entry requirements into the USA go into effect with a required negative COVID-19 test result before being allowed to board a plane into the country. Sandals will provide these tests free of charge to guests and will have a designated building for anyone who tests positive for their time in quarantine. I’ll be traveling to Sandals Negril in Jamaica on the 11th of February, so I’ll provide an update about the process after I get home from that trip.

Overall, I am incredibly impressed with the Sandals product and look forward to my trip to Jamaica next month. As a gay man, I was extremely comfortable on the property and made a few friends after noticing my rainbow Mickey facemask. I would like to see the staff at the resort use more inclusive language, but that will come with time as the islands' societies continue to progress towards fully welcoming the LGBTQ community.

Boarding plane in St Lucia
Boarding the flight home

Over the next few weeks, I will continue writing about my experience at the Sandals St Lucian Spa and Beach Resort. I’ll share details about all the great activities that will keep you busy day after day, how you can get married at a Sandals resort for free, and many other topics. Be sure to subscribe to the newsletter at the bottom of the page, so you don’t miss the next posts!

Rainbow Getaways is a full-service travel concierge specializing in travel for the LGBTQ community and our allies. Each vacation is planned to meet your specific needs, so you have a fabulous getaway. Schedule a free consultation with me to tell me about your dream vacation!


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