Rodney Bay is an odd place out of season – the weather is warm, albeit a little muggy and rainy. The restaurants and bars are all open but there is hardly anybody about. The street that curves out round from the shopping mall out onto the spit of land on the seaward side of the marina, and home to any number of bars, clubs and restaurants – heaving with life for most of the year - is like a ghost town.
I wasn’t meant to be at the Royal. I was in St Lucia at a conference being hosted at the Royal, but my accommodation was supposed to be at the significantly cheaper Rex St Lucian next door. Having just completed the rather grim economy-class flight from Gatwick into Hewanorra and then having survived the exciting journey up through the mountains that run up the spine of the island to Rodney Bay, my colleagues and I were rather dispirited when our taxi arrived at the barrier of the St Lucian only to be informed that the hotel was closed until the next day and that we were to present ourselves at the next hotel along. As it turned out this was the Royal, and upon checking in, having been advised that we would spend the night there before transferring to the St Lucian the next day, I was slightly buoyed to be handed the key to a suite.
It’s only fair to the Royal that I be honest right from the start – It IS a NICE hotel, but it is also a thirty year old concrete structure which, based on the floor-plan, was designed by a Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast. There is no logic in how one finds one’s way though the various corridors back to reception, or the restaurants, or any other bit of the hotel for that matter. There are certainly no lifts (elevators if you prefer) which wasn’t a problem for an overweight, but still energetic, forty-something such as myself, but might have been a more chronic problem for older patrons (and certainly was for the bell-hops, which did cause a big case of guilt-tipping on my part).
The suite really was very good – it was spacious and tastefully furnished throughout (as against comfortably furnished, which is a very different thing indeed). The lounge had a pair of big sofas, all modern lines and hard cushions with sharp edges, and a simply huge flat-screen TV (closer scrutiny indicated that there were only a limited number of channels available and the signal wasn’t that great on many of them, but it did make the place look fabulous). The bedroom was festooned with Bougainvillea blooms, coating practically every horizontal surface, which, in turn, led through to a large, recently refurbished bathroom complete with a full-sized bath and his-and-hers sinks (I have already written in this forum about my prejudices regarding twin sinks, but I make no apologies for repeating here that I’m not a fan – I love Mrs Cheapbutdemanding more than life itself, but frankly I really don’t feel the need to share every single moment of my existence with her; gargling, flossing and any other number of ablutionary activities are something that I don’t need to witness to feel at one with my darling wife. Having heard the noises I make in the bathroom Mrs C has indicated that she is of a similar mind...). My favourite bit though was the wet room, complete with a huge rain-shower-type fitting suspended from the ceiling and directional nozzles coming out of the walls.
We were at the Royal on a bed & breakfast basis, so having paid a brief visit to the very good beach for a quick dip in the Caribbean, my colleagues and I dined at the bar restaurant next door, Spinnakers’, before jet lag claimed us and we headed for bed.
I was awake at dawn and it seemed silly not to go for another swim before breakfast. Whilst I was at the Royal the swim-up bar was being renovated meaning that the swimming pool was largely out of use, so I made further use of the ocean to take care of my early morning constitutional.
The dining room was deserted when I arrived for my breakfast, amplifying what a bright and airy place it is. I was able to take a table with a glorious view out on the yachts moored in Rodney Bay, bobbing ever so gently in front of Pigeon Island, and was presented with the breakfast menu by the cheerfully motherly waitress. I always bang on about the importance of breakfast as a measure of how good a hotel actually is, and this review is going to be no different – I’m not a huge fan of the “warm” (rarely an accurate term) buffet with its over-cooked eggs and dubious baked-beans, as it rarely provides anything other than a surplus of calories and a lingering sense of self-loathing. Given the choice I’ll always prefer a breakfast cooked to order and the fact that I was the only patron at that time meant that I could be sure my breakfast was as fresh as could be, so I thought that it would be negligent of me not to try the “full-hearty” breakfast on your behalf. I was advised that “beans was off” (although not in the South London cafe accent with which I am more accustomed) so I contented myself with the bacon, eggs, tomato and sausage that made up the rest of the meal. Frankly, one thing that St Lucian cuisine has yet to perfect is the ideal breakfast sausage, but the rest of it was fine and Chef had decided that a hotel of this stature needs a signature flourish on every plate, which explained the un-breakfast-like garnish of sliced red onions and parsley that adorned my plate.
As I’ll explain in a moment I had subsequent excuse to return to the Royal and found that if you just want a plate of bacon and eggs without all the extra faffing about, that is fine too. Although the red onion is compulsory (okay, I made that bit up, but every other bit of this review is accurate). There is a continental selection as well, modestly stocked when I was there simply to prevent waste I’d hope. Try the tamarind juice. It isn’t actually juice, rather it is tamarind pulp steeped in water, but it is quite refreshing. Seriously, try it.
I had subsequent cause to return to this part of the hotel for a drinks reception and conference lunches as well as a dinner. I can report that the Chic Restaurant (as it is styled) boasts a very good kitchen. The hot buffets were tasty, imaginative and looked appetising. I don’t know how this compares to the experience of “normal” guests, but I think it is a good indicator.
The conference (for the duration of which I was banished to the St Lucian – I am writing a review of that as well, so stand by...) went well and I was lucky enough to transfer back to the Royal for the last few days of my stay.
Upon my return I was assigned to a slightly less salubrious room that I had originally. It was spotlessly clean but seriously in need of refurbishment, especially as far as the yellowing bathroom fixtures were concerned. No wet room this time around, although the shower cubicle still had the directional nozzles that must be really interesting when blasting against tender, sun-burned tummy...
I now had a day off before flying home, so obviously the weather decided to say goodbye to the rainy season with a good, long, hard downpour. My colleague and I were planning on learning how to sail a hobby cat, but the near-zero visibility caused by the rain made this the less sensible option when compared to taking a nap on my flower-covered bed...
As I hinted at the start of this piece, location-wise, the Royal is close to plenty of bars and restaurants, but it does have the advantage of being at the far-end, so noise from fun-seekers going to and from the town centre will be minimal.
The Royal isn’t perfect – some of the paintwork in external areas was showing a great deal of wear and tear following the rainy season, and the work going on to renovate the pool bar was quite noisy and disruptive, but I’m sure that this is something that, by the time you get there, will have been well and truly sorted out.
I did really like this hotel, and if I’d being staying there using my own money, I’d still have been very happy.
Thank you for your attention. That is all. Carry on!