As Saga first-timers we were very interested in how this would work out, as we normally go on more independent, adventurous holidays. We are in the `younger' age bracket, I suppose (our average age 59) for Saga customers, and this was noticeable when we arrived, though was not a problem at all.
Firstly, it should be said that right from the first phone call to Saga, all communications were very professional and courteous and we felt very confident in the Company.
Secondly, the holiday was attractive as we had VIP pick-up from home and three tours included in the holiday. We were also able to book our seats on Virgin for no extra cost (I understand from those who travelled with BA that they had to pay extra to book their seat positions).
The flight was good, though I think Virgin's standards have dropped - tight leg-room and minimal food & drink. We were taken, via mini-bus to the hotel which took about 1hr 10mins.
The Hotel was situated high up in the hills and was pretty inaccessible for walkers, though a shuttle bus was provided, which was very good. The hotel was only a third full, so the shuttle bus was easy to book places (other reviews had reported difficulties). The Hotel had previously been reported as `tired', but I would describe it as understated and fits comfortably with the surroundings. In fact, painters were on site sprucing up the place while we were there. As previous reviews stated, there are plenty of stairs everywhere, so you need to be reasonably able.
The swimming pool was not as small as some have reported, and as not many people used it we had no problems. What could be a potential problem is the age-old issue of saving sun beds around the pool area. You are told quite definitely when you arrive that there is no saving of sun beds or the towels will be removed by the staff. What we found very annoying is that not only did people ignore this and save sun beds, but they would go out for the morning and come back to their saved beds. Others, we noticed, would leave their towels on the bed and never come back for the whole day! Also the staff never did deal with this. In the end we just threw the towels off the beds and used them ourselves. No-one ever complained. This could be a big issue if the hotel was busy.
There was a poolside bar and eating area. There is also a large library by the pool (which I wished we had known about as we need not have taken our books with us).
The rooms were excellent, spotlessly clean and very roomy, with two double beds, shower, coffee/tea making facilities, hair dryer and flat screen TV with DVD player. It is worth knowing that there were two robes in the bathroom, a brolly, torch and iron/ironing board, and room insect spray was provided. Our room was on the third floor (311) and had excellent views over the bay and of the hotel gardens. The room also had a large tree outside which all the birds seemed to live in and regularly visited our balcony for their daily feed of sugar. Tip - you need to keep your balcony doors shut otherwise the birds fly in and take the sugar packets from the coffee tray!
The Hotel reception and restaurant was in a different building and was very pleasant. The restaurant was partly outdoors and you could also eat indoors. As vegetarians we are always concerned about the food as we normally have to make do with whatever is available. Now I hope this does not sound contradictory, but the food was very good - that is, well cooked and well presented (and the meat eaters loved it). The problem for us was that though we had plenty of choice it quickly became dull and boring. I felt the food was how it was in the 60s - meat and two veg etc. We were in a foreign country eating like we were in a Brighton hotel ! We had one choice of veggie food compared to 3 choices for the meat-eaters, so our meals consisted largely of broccoli, carrots, roast potatoes, boiled potatoes, salad etc. Though well cooked it was generally a very dry meal. We ate at the pool restaurant one day which again had three choices for the meat eaters, and one for us, and our meal was potato croquettes and French fries - potato and potato !!
The chef did keep asking what we wanted and we kept saying either local specialities or a nice Caribbean curry, but they never materialised, though he did do us a spaghetti one night and an enchilada on another!
We discussed this with the Hotel Manager and said that the menu was dull and we were told that `that's what people want'. Really? With all the international cuisine that we now eat in this country, people on holiday want meat and two veg every day and night?
I think Saga needs to look seriously at this issue as the new generation of potential Saga customers i.e. us, will not return if that is their attitude.
After saying all that we did put on nearly half a stone so we did not starve!
I was particularly impressed that at meal times decent wine was served, and also the other drinks provided were of a good quality. So many all-inclusive holidays serve up poor quality drinks.
Other reviews have commented on there not having a bar area to have an after-meal drink. This is not quite true as there is a bar in the restaurant which you can then sit and drink listening to the entertainment (which was nightly), or go outside and sit in a quieter environment.
In-between meals, scones and jam was served (4:15pm). Coffee/Tea was available all day.
The staff were exceptional and it is not fair to praise individuals as they were all so good. They all seemed happy in their work and interacted with the guests very well.
One member of staff I would like to mention is Eugene, the gardener, who is an interesting man to talk to. Go on the garden tour and meet him, as it is very interesting. He was very kind to us, so we are glad to have met him.
The real Gem for Saga is their Rep, Elizabeth. She was absolutely superb. I believe she had only been there 4 weeks, you would never had known! She was knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and related well with all the guests and even created small trips to go on from the hotel to the beach, the lighthouse, etc. She also made sure that people on their own did not feel left out.
We went on three trips that were included in our holiday which were very good and also went on the Beautiful South tour to Les Pitons/volcano/catamaran, the Jacqout trail, and the Snorkelling day, which were all very good value. I will review these separately.
All-in-all a very good holiday, well organised, lovely climate (though it rained quite a bit!).
Would we return here? No, but that is mainly because there are far too many other places to visit. Also the location of the hotel and uninspiring food would fail to tempt us back. Otherwise, well done Saga we would certainly consider holidays with you in the future.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Saga guests can now enjoy a holiday at Saga’s own hotel on the Caribbean island of St Lucia. Boasting stunning views over Castries from its setting atop a steep hill, the 4-star Bel Jou provides a tranquil, tropical retreat for today’s over 50s, free from the distractions of the more overrun resorts. With many opportunities for sightseeing and sampling island life, the hotel’s relaxed atmosphere is perfect for a leisurely holiday or a lively Caribbean experience. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Bel Jou Castries
- Bel Jou Hotel St. Lucia/Castries