My original plan for my 50th birthday was to visit Fiji in September, six months after I turned 50. But of course, COVID interfered. And frankly, I think I’m glad. I had so much fun with eight friends at Anse Chastenet on St. Lucia. Everyone meshed so well despite politics, age gaps, and extremely different backgrounds and lives.
And in honor of my celebration, the volcano on St. Vincent blew the day we were leaving! This, however, wrecked havoc on our travels, not because the ash closed the air space. It didn’t. But because American Airlines used it as an excuse when they had 17 airplanes called in for maintenance.
Skip to “Arrival at St. Lucia” if you don’t want to read about the travel problems, but I’m writing it to document my argument with American Airlines.
My friends were coming from all over – Albuquerque, Colorado, DC, Florida, and Dallas. The five us from ABQ and CO landed in Miami first with the notice of our cancelled flight. My friend from Florida was in Atlanta waiting on her Delta flight that was departing. And my DC friends and Dallas friend were in route to Miami.
At the AA help desk, Kenneth and Anthony were atrocious. Given we were on the 1AM flight that AA switched us to a few months ago, we landed in Miami before all other passengers around 6AM. The only good part about that, is we were first in line.
When we asked why the flight was cancelled, one of the gentlemen looked down and away while he mumbled, “volcanic ash.” I couldn’t hear him. So, I asked again and received the same response. Looking down and away is a classic sign of lying, so my alarm bells went off.
In the meantime, two friends booked back to Denver as Kenneth and Anthony said, “There was only one seat to Atlanta to go on the Delta flight the next day.”
We regrouped. I happened to know the divemaster at Anse Chastenet, so I texted her. She confirmed the airspace was open and there was little ash. I also called my friend Page in Atlanta.
“Was her plane going and was it delayed,” I asked.
Her answer, “It’s leaving on time.”
Back to the counter we went. “How come Delta is flying and AA isn’t.”
“We can’t say why Delta is flying.”
Realizing we weren’t going away, they said, “Well there is a Jet Blue flight tomorrow. You have to fly to New York.”
Rebooked on Jet Blue
For now, we settled on that as they booked us on a 6PM flight. Then we overheard someone getting on a 12PM flight. Ummm, hello! We asked to be booked on the earlier flight and inquired about our bags. They assured us the bags were on the plane, but never provided a new baggage claim number for Jet Blue.
The booking only included vouchers, which they didn’t tell us, but we knew to look. With our vouchers in hand, we trudged over to the Jet Blue terminal where we got our tickets and boarding passes without seat numbers. We wanted seat numbers because they said the flight was full. As a result, they reissued our boarding passes.
It was probably around 9AM by now. Page was headed to St Lucia on Delta, and the five of us (Angela, Andrea, Cat, Tina and I) were headed to St. Lucia the following day via New York. Back at the AA counter, we were just waiting on Jon, Jackie and Ruth to land as the line grew and grew.
Jon and Jackie arrived first. As they stood in line, they called the AA help desk line since Kenneth and Anthony were not helpful. It was a two hour wait. Then I called the Gold Desk line. It was a 1.5 hour wait. Finally, Ruth arrived. She is Executive Platinum. She got right through.
I’m convinced her status is the only reason the three of them got on the plane, albeit at a much later time to New York. Though it did help that the AA employees continued to lie, and say it was volcanic ash which scared many people into going home.
But given they paid for our flight for Jet Blue, it was obvious something was up. Unfortunately, they have since refused to pay for our hotel in New York or for Anse Chastenet for which we missed a day. Some more tweets are in order.
COVID Tests and Baggage Claim
Now, the eight of us were headed to NYC on two different flights. The five of us with the early landing had to figure out what to do with expired COVID tests. Fortunately, Anse Chastenet worked with the St. Lucia government who notified the airlines it was OK.
With that figured out, we fetched our bags. NOT! In the Jet Blue office, and they explained, “There is no way we can track your bags because we don’t have a baggage claim number for our system. You must go to AA.”
So, we slogged over to the AA Terminal. By this time, I think we walked about six miles in the airports! Rossini proceeded to tell us it was Jet Blue’s problem, because they were the airline on which we arrived.
We countered, “No, you didn’t give us new baggage claim numbers for their system.”
Then she said, “Well, when you land in St. Lucia, you can file a claim, and then we can send the bags.”
Uh, that was a BIG NO. AA had already cancelled their flight the following day, another sign that it wasn’t ash in the airspace (how would they know what it would be like a day later). We wouldn’t have had bags for three days if we agreed to that suggestion!!
Rossini responded, “Well we’ve called around, and we don’t have the correct phone lines to Miami. They aren’t working.”
Finally, as I showed her the phone with her fellow employees’ names, I said, “How about calling Kenneth and Anthony? Their phones work, and they promised our bags would be on the plane.”
Suddenly, she was the most helpful person around. She called multiple people at AA and Jet Blue. And by the time we were done, over an hour later, others had come into the office with the same problem, so we tacked them onto the list.
We were told to come back at 6AM to get our luggage at the AA terminal before we went to our Jet Blue flight. My friends on the later flight were told to go back to the airport at 11PM and the bags would be on the carousel. Both statements were inaccurate. They were supposedly loaded on a pallete and put on the Jet Blue flight to St. Lucia.
The Next Morning
We would see, but by 7AM in the morning, three people had gone through security. And three people didn’t want to go because they were afraid they would not get home due to ash. I was caught in the middle. Then Tina showed up with the weather app showing all clouds, regular and otherwise, going east to Barbados, not north to St. Lucia.
I knew the trade winds were easterly, but I was anxious to return on time given I was under contract to sell my house and had 10 days to pack, get the roof and radon completed, organize the van, and get out. I didn’t want some random storm to change the pattern and leave me stuck!
Tina’s weather app convinced Ruth to go, so Tina, Ruth and I went through security to join the others while we let Jon and Jackie sort it out. About an hour before the flight, they showed up. What a relief! I’m certain I was the most stressed of everyone.
While of course everyone was going to St Lucia on their own because they wanted to, it was due to my birthday. I was torn between the two camps of going/not going which caused me a lot of mental anguish.
I’m thankful it worked out one day late with our bags, but AA needed to own up and not lie. Blaming it on the volcano added substantial confusion to the already stressful situation. Had we known at the time it was due to maintenance, which was on the news, it would have been a much easier decision. And despite the maintenance recall being on the news, AA still refuses to reimburse us! Incredible!!
Jet Blue on the other hand, was fantastic. Too bad they don’t fly more places out west. I’ll be looking into their flights more often in the future.
Arrival to St. Lucia
With the travel saga over, we arrived in St. Lucia, got our temperature checked, handed over all our forms, went through immigration, collected our bags, and met the Anse Chastenet representative who was there to drive us an hour between the Hewanorra International Airport in Viex Fort to the resort near Soufriere.
Finally, at 3PM a day late, we were sipping an alcoholic punch while going through the greeting ceremony at the resort. Hungry and tired, the greeting where we got an orientation, room keys and cell phones to call the office, was too long for us, but Peter was trying to make us feel welcome, so we couldn’t fault him for that.
The Food at Anse Chastenet
Soon, we were at the restaurant on the beach enjoying a snack. The food at Anse Chastenet was fantastic. They grow many of the vegetables and fruit at the 600 acre resort. Breakfast included a buffet of fruits, cereals, yogurt, and freshly baked breads along with any hot meal. The crispy bacon was spectacular! We enjoyed breakfast every day in the Treehouse Restaurant.
Lunch was served at the two beach restaurants. The bigger, more permanent restaurant at the Anse Chastenet beach had a nice atmosphere if seated in the small area by the water. It was a little hot and buggy if seated inward. But it was very convenient for a quick lunch between morning and afternoon dives.
When we didn’t have afternoon dives, both the divers and non-divers of our group walked the 10 minutes to the other beach, Anse Mamim. While it is possible to get both a car or boat shuttle, the walk was easy. That said, many of the resort goers didn’t make it this far, so we enjoyed an immense amount of solitude at the picnic tables and on the beach, as well as excellent food.
This restaurant on Anse Mamim is known for its famous burger. Personally, I think the staff says that to get people over there, because the burger is at both locations. Additionally, we liked the fish and chicken sandwiches as well as the ceviche better. Never the less, all of the lunches were good, and we liked the quaint atmosphere.
We took dinner at three different locations, the Tree House where we ate breakfast, the small romantic Tree House Balcony for my birthday, and at the Anse Chastenet Beach Restaurant. The Anse Chastenet Beach Restaurant featured mostly Indian food and live music and was open only certain nights. The Tree House featured traditional food and Vegan, though there was enough variety to get anything.
The beef, duck, fish, appetizers, and desserts were all delicious. Two of my favorites were the cauliflower tacos and the sticky toffee pudding. The pudding was only served on the beach, so on our final night they offered to bring up to us in the Tree House! Additionally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the chocolate.
They have a chocolate plantation and factory. The chocolate cake they made me for my birthday was divine! In fact, Anse Chastenet is very centered around its food and drinks. Ruth had been here previously, so they gave her chocolates. Jon and Jackie were celebrating their anniversary, so they got a bottle of wine. And my roommates and I got mimosas for my birthday! We also had welcome goodies in our room and a farewell drink. If you are a foodie, this is a good resort to visit. You hardly need a drinks package if you are celebrating something!
Activities at Anse Chastenet
As far as activities are concerned, there were many from which to choose. We were a little afraid we wouldn’t have enough to do since the COVID outbreak on the island restricted us from a visit to town. Not being able to mix with the locals on market day in Soufriere was disappointing, as it is one of my favorite things to do. But we were so busy at the resort, especially with one less day, I don’t even know when we would have made it there unless we stopped on the way back from our Gros Piton excursion.
What did we do at the resort? Here’s a list of just some options:
The Sugar Plantation Tour
The Sugar Plantation Tour is led by Meno, who has been leading guests through the treed hillside off Anse Mamim for 30 years. He taught us that Anse means bay and Mamim was the name of the plantation owner. He also picked several leaves off many plants for us to smell. He always talked to the plant to make sure it was OK first. We liked the citrus plant the best.
We also got to break open a chocolate pod, see the bat cave, and wander through the old ruins. I’m a sucker for old ruins, and wished I brought my good camera to St. Lucia, but I was already weighed down by all my dive gear. The tour takes about an hour, and it is worth taking after lunch at Anse Mamim.
While the jungle biking also takes place at Anse Mamim and requires renting a bike. Unfortunately, none of us made time for jungle biking, though Tina usually ran the trails each morning while some of us dove and others seeked out different activities.
Anse Chastenet offers three different chocolate tours at different prices. One is a tasting. Given you can get the chocolates for dessert every day, I might consider one of the more elaborate ones. During COVID, the tours were limited and most took place in the morning.
As a result, the divers couldn’t go, but Jon, Jackie and Page did the chocolate plantation and factory tour. They really loved it, and I liked the one I did in Guatemala. It is interesting to see the chocolate making process from stripping the chocolate pod, drying the beans and more. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to taste the chocolate in the end.
While there is a house reef which anyone can snorkel when the want, Tina, Jon, Jackie and Page all wanted to check out other places. Consequently, they signed up for snorkeling excursions for a fee which were scheduled twice a day, morning and afternoon. They went to places where the rest of us dove.
I’m told the snorkeling was good, though the seaweed and jellyfish floated in, so that shortened their time in the water one day. I snorkeled the house reef my final day and saw a family of 26 squid! There was also a rare turtle (for St. Lucia) that many people saw.
Other Water Activities
In addition to snorkeling, Anse Chastenet offers a selection of water activities from the Anse Chastenet Beach, including kayaking, sailing, and paddle boarding. The cabana boy drags everything out to the shore, so all you have to do is hop on your selected craft.
Most of us tried paddle boarding in the roped off area. We learned it was hard to turn right and come back to shore as the current pushed us out, so we were careful to stay close. Fortunately, we all paddled well and none of us fell off in front of a beach full of loungers!
Obviously, I’ve already mentioned diving a few times. I don’t really consider diving an activity per se, because we divers bought a dive package with our room. That said, if someone wanted to dive one day, there is a dive shop with several boats, and I’m certain anyone staying at the resort may sign up if they are certified.
The diving is run by Carmen and Adam, dive masters I met in the Solomons. They are excellent. Carmen can name every fish in the sea and is extremely passionate about teaching. Adam, specializes in photography and rebreathers. They both have a wealth of information and are so kind and fun. Knowing they were at Anse Chastenet, is a large reason why I chose this resort to celebrate!
Unfortunately, my birthday took place over a new moon and a volcanic eruption. Consequently, heavy currents and mediocre visibility sometimes interfered. On the flip side, the marine life was abundant and on my birthday we spotted two elusive sea horses and five lettuce slugs!! That is an unforgettable present in my book.
Another nice water excursion is the sunset cruise. I believe Anse Chastenet offers a standard group sunset cruise once a week. It is also possible to book a private one. I chartered a private one as a “thank you” to all my friends who came to St. Lucia. It was so much fun!
We did it early in our vacation which helped the group bond and relaxed us after our nightmare travel experience. Our group was too big a group for the sailboat, so we had a lot of space on the giant dive boat.
Captain Garfield was all about the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s mix and loved Michael Jackson. That worked out for me since I dressed up as Michael Jackson with the red jacket, glove, wig and face paint (when it wasn’t offensive) in the sixth grade for Halloween.
Anyway, Captain Garfield got the party started with an open bar and appetizers awaiting the dance moves. The dolphins joined in the fun as well, as we motored out toward sea and then circled back toward the coast. We got to see a small part of Soufriere from the water too. The town looked delightful. The cruise was a highlight for me!
Off-Site Land Excursions
When we weren’t in, under, or on the water, there were a few off site land excursions we could join as well. One was a trip to the Botanic Gardens. Page and Ruth joined this tour before they flew home. I’m told the gardens were nice, but small.
The rest of us hiked the Gros Piton the day before we left. The Gros Piton excursion included a to go breakfast, water, transportation, and a guided hike for approximately $100. The average time to hike the Gros Piton which is basically a Stairmaster workout is 4 hours. It is not for the faint of heart or the poorly conditioned tourists.
While we enjoyed it, we got a guide who holds the record for the fastest time to complete the Gros Piton hike. As a result, we raced up the volcanic plug and finished in 2:45. For more information, here is my post about our Gros Piton experience.
The Accommodations at Anse Chastenet
While I’ve mentioned the food, activities, and beaches, I have yet to mention the rooms. They are all unique. It’s my understanding that the ones on the beach include air-conditioning and are less expensive! That might be a factor in my next visit, though for my first visit I wouldn’t give up the spectacular views from our rooms up the hill.
The open-air rooms are huge. They are more like suites that feature swings, lounge chairs, couches, desks, many fans, and the usual coffee maker, refrigerator and safe. The beds were sheltered with bug nets, and the staff lit incense for bugs every night.
The view of the stars, the pitons, and at times the explosion of the volcano in the distance were superb. We all toured of each other’s rooms, and there was something special about each one. Andrea and Angela had a tree in their bathroom with frogs!
As much as we felt pampered by the staff and room, admittedly, by the end of the week, hiking up the seven flights of stairs and then tackling the hill up to the rooms was slightly exhausting. I suppose we could have utilized the shuttle if we were so inclined.
I don’t know how the folks at Jade Mountain made it to the beach! Jade Mountain is the sister resort to Anse Chastenet. It is hard to believe it is nicer, but it is. The resort includes and pool and gym. Anse Chastenet guests may use the gym, but not the pool.
Anse Chastenet guests may also upgrade for dinner at Jade Mountain. Jon and Jackie did this for their anniversary and really enjoyed it.
Overall, the service at Anse Chastenet was nice (sometimes island time and sometimes not), there were plenty of activities, the food was divine, and the accommodations were lovely. I’d definitely return. ETB