St. Lucia with kids: Making family memories a breeze on Caribbean island getaway
by Erin Fettig | The Grand Rapids Press
Press photo/Erin FettigTatum Fettig, now 4, plays on the beach in St. Lucia.
ST. LUCIA — "You’re taking the kids?"
My husband, Todd, and I heard it often when we told people we were going on a weeklong Caribbean vacation to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary — and we were taking our two young children.
Most people wanted to know why we were not going alone.
But the thought never crossed our minds. When our oldest was still a baby, we decided we wanted to travel with our kids. As much as our budget could handle, we wanted to show them the world.
So when we started planning a winter vacation to a warm-weather destination, we sought a kid-friendly place.
We wanted an island mostly untouched by commercialization — no need for casinos or a big nightlife scene. We just wanted warm weather, beautiful scenery and a place to explore with the kids.
We found it on St. Lucia.
Set between the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, St. Lucia is a volcanic, mountainous island with lush, green vegetation and a rain forest. It’s 27 miles long and 14 miles wide, and has everything this family needed.
Press photo/Erin FettigA church sits near the shore in Dennery on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.
Long reliant on the banana trade, the island in recent years has turned its focus to tourism. And it has managed to do so without sacrificing the beauty and culture of the island and without uprooting banana plantations dotting the countryside.
St. Lucians do this by catering to the eco-tourist, highlighting the island’s rainforests, volcano and its signature Pitons volcanic peaks.
They also do this by being gracious hosts. Touring the island by car, we met friendly, fun-loving, warm people. We felt at home here. In other places we have traveled, we have faced the uncomfortable situation of being asked for money from panhandlers.
But St. Lucia has a different feel.
And it is partly because it is one of the more prosperous islands in the Eastern Caribbean. There still is poverty, and you do find pockets of inadequate living conditions. Most noticeable is the mix of homes. You can pass a lovely home on a bluff overlooking the ocean and then stumble upon a shack planted next door.
Still, the average yearly income on St. Lucia is about $6,700, considerably more than Jamaica’s $4,000 and Haiti’s $1,600, according to the 2006 United Nations Human Development Reports.
Press photo/Erin FettigTodd, 34, and Tatum Fettig in Soufriere, St. Lucia.
On a day trip to Soufriere, the island’s second largest city, we were hard-pressed to find the tacky touristy shops we wanted for trinkets to take home. When we finally found the one little shop in town, we browsed without a pushy sales staff. In fact, we had stumbled into the shop unknowingly at closing time, and they asked us politely to make our selections so they could close.
The island’s scenery is at least as nice as its people. St. Lucia is a perfectly dreamy place, where coconut trees reign and lovely sightseeing adventures abound.
We won’t forget our time on St. Lucia. Months later, our kids have not forgotten. They say things about St. Lucia that catch me off guard. And they often draw pictures of tropical islands with coconut trees waving to us. They say, "St. Lucia is the best place in the world."
We cannot help but agree.
Here are the places we visited and a few we didn’t but wish we had:
Rainforest Tour — The real adventure was getting to this spot. Although the island is less than 30 miles long, it can take two hours or more to get from one end to the other. The main roads are well paved but have many twists and turns. Once you get on side roads, expect a bumpy ride down narrow streets with few or no street signs. A driver took us to our destination — Rain Forest Aerial Trams — but even he had trouble finding it. Luckily, the rainforest was worth the trouble. The aerial tram was a perfect way for our family to view the rainforest.
Coconut Bay Resort and Spa: Call (866) 978-6226, or go to coconutbayresortandspa.com. Cost for a family of four was $3,300 (not including airfare of about $2,400)
Information: Check out hotel and travel options at St. Lucia Tourist Board Web site at stlucia.org. You’ll find lots of options to fit your budget. Other costs: Renting a car and navigating the drive-in volcano is an economical — and exciting — option. Admission is $1.25 per person. If you pay a tour guide to drive, it’ll cost about $65 per person, drinks and lunch included.
Rain Forest tour: $70 per adult and $62 per child. The cost includes entrance to the park, a guide on the aerial tram, a walking tour and a drink.
Kayaking: $60 per person, which includes transportation to and from the hotel and two hours kayaking.
The trams are similar to an enclosed ski chairlift, and each car carries with it a tour guide who details the amazing trees and flowers. Our guide, Sunshine, was friendly and knowledgeable, and the kids loved her. After the tram ride, our guide walked us through trails in the rainforest.
Mamiku Gardens — This little gem was a fun, affordable stop for lunch and a leisurely walk. The gardens, on the southeast side of the island, sit on land that was part of the estate of Baron Micoud, a French army colonel and governor of St. Lucia in the late 1700s. The hillside gardens boast orchids and other native plants. It’s all low key and not overdone. Along with your admission, you receive a map of the trails and a numbered chart that identifies plants and flowers.
One trail takes you up, up, up to the ruins of the Micoud home and to an amazing view of the east side of the island. The trails can be a little treacherous, with roots and dips in abundance. A small gift shop has a few items for tourists. But a pleasant surprise of our gardens trip was the lovely lunch (with coconut ice cream!) we enjoyed at the outdoor cafe. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for kids.
Dennery — Bright, wooden fishing boats greet your arrival in Dennery, where residents celebrate the fishing trade with a fish fry every Saturday. Well, almost every Saturday — strangely, not during Lent, when we visited.
Sulphur Springs — This place stinks — literally. Located near Soufriere, the second largest city in St. Lucia, the springs are in a dormant volcano. And the smell of sulphur is in the air. Big time. With our 6-year-old-boy in tow, you can imagine the potty jokes. The volcano is touted as the only "drive-in" volcano. The description is a little misleading. In reality, the volcano is collapsed, so a road winds through the area where the volcano once stood. Now it is home to bubbling sulphur pools visitors can view up close.
Kayaking — Our 6-year-old son mastered kayaking the summer before, so when we saw a kayaking experience just 10 minutes from our hotel, we checked into it. Our daughter was too little to go, so the boys had some father/son time together. A guide picked them up from our hotel and transported them to the kayaks. They had an hour and a half and two guides to help them navigate an ocean bay. And when our son tired and became more interested in catching hermit crabs and making sand castles, the two guides caught crabs and helped build "crab town."
Rent a car — If you are up for a wild ride, it’s the best way to see the culture of the island. Prices vary, but most car rentals cost about $80 per day, plus other fees and taxes. The two-day total for us was about $200, but the experience was well worth the money. Be prepared to take steep hills and hairpin curves, all while driving on the left side of the road. But you’ll see sights you’ll never forget, and you can pull over whenever you want to capture them.
Other things to do
Island cruises — Several cruises take you around the island from city to city, snorkeling in a bay or on a sunset trip.
The Pitons — The volcanic cones Gros and Petit Piton are the island’s signature geological attractions. Visitors adventurous enough can climb these peaks. Gros Piton, the largest, is about 3,000 feet above sea level, and Petit rises about 2,500 feet. Climbing them is not easy, and a guide is recommended, (the cost for a guide is about $50).
Plantation tours — Get a close look at some of the historic plantations and learn more about their early days. Fond Doux Estate, in Soufriere, is one to try. With a resort on the property, you can stay on the plantation or just visit and walk the trails.
Castries — The capital is the biggest and is known for shopping and nightlife. It’s at the northern tip of the island.
— Erin Fettig is a freelance writer based in Walker.