MAST Travel Network President and COO John Werner is joined, for the second time, by Journeys Travel Inc. Agency Owner Jeni Chaffer. In this sit-down John interviews Jeni as she is live from Sandal’s Grand St. Lucian in St. Lucia. Jeni provides insight into traveling to this Caribbean destination, as well as her experiences at both Sandal’s Grand St. Lucian and their other properties on the island and elsewhere. Find out what type of travelers Jeni suggests for this resort, as well as other options for must-dos on the island.
Key Points Mentioned In The Podcast
#1 – You DO need a PCR COVID test to travel to St. Lucia
“You have to register on their website, then you go have your COVID test.”
#2 – You can fly direct to St. Lucia from Chicago O’Hare
“They do have the non-stops on Saturday out of O’Hare on both American and United”
#3 – Every room at Sandal’s St. Lucian has excellent views
“There’s a water view, no matter where you’re at the beach is literally steps from your room.”
#4 – Get out and enjoy an excursion
“One of the things you really need to do here is go out on a boat tour, a catamaran tour or something like that.”
Full Podcast Transcript
John Werner 0:00
We are doing this on location live from St. Lucia. I think it’s wonderful to get to be able to see the background that you have there and the gentle breeze in the air and the sunshine and everything. It’s a good time of the year. We’re in the depths of winter here in the Midwest. Jeni, I wanted to start out by asking questions about your whole travel experience there that we can share with the audience. And people who would also wish to take a trip at this time or in the very near future.
I usually start out by saying, you know, who did you fly to St. Lucia, what airline, what was the experience like and the arrival at the airport there and so forth?
Jeni Chafer 1:02
St. Lucia is one of the islands that you need to test before you come, you have to be tested within seven days of travel. And there’s a few steps to actually travel to St. Lucia. St. Lucia Tourism Board has gone above and beyond, they actually have an infographic showing you exactly step by step what needs to happen. You have to register on their website, then you go have your COVID test. Once you receive your negative results, you send it in, and it’s a good thing, they have that stuff because my COVID tests were the same as when I had gotten them in August when I traveled to the Dominican. However, it did not have that it was a PCR test, it just had that it was a swab. They emailed me back and said, we need it to say PCR, so I had to go back to the hospital and get another form from them. Then their system showed it, it just didn’t show it on my copy. There’s just some of those little things that I’m very glad that I experienced. Now that I’m aware of that, once you send that in, you get a confirmation email. Then they also have another form. It’s like a health questionnaire, you have to fill out. Once I got to the airport, they did go through all of my documents made sure everything was in order, I had the confirmation email, my PCR test results.
The flight was very, very easy. Unfortunately, it was not very full, even for a nonstop but great flight. Once we landed, and you go into the area where it’s set up very, very nice. You go through, they check your temperature, and then they check all your documents. I was in and out of there in just a matter of minutes. Because I had my form and I had everything in order. Some of the other people on our flight did not have that form, they missed that step. They were able to do it, they were able to complete it right there. But it’s a two-page questionnaire. It does take a little bit of time, they then give you a wristband, and you have to leave that wristband on until you arrive at the resort to know that you actually have gone through the process and you are cleared to enter the country. Immigration, they had me show my band as well to make sure that I hadn’t skipped that step. They really are checking it at several levels, which makes me feel good. There’s nobody trying to buck the system there. But there are several steps to go through. But it looks like with the help of the St. Lucia Tourist Board, they make it easy.
John Werner 3:39
There are several steps to go through. But it looks like with the help of the St. Lucia Tourist Board, they make it easy. To make sure that everyone can get through it. That’s wonderful. So, then what’s the flying time between Chicago and St. Lucia?
Jeni Chafer 3:53
It was supposed to be five and a half hours, but we made it in four and a half hours. I’m not going to ask why but it worked. The nonstop, by the time you land go everything, and then it is quite a far transfer to get here. A lot of my clients actually do the helicopter transfer, so they arrived earlier. But if you do that drive, a lot of times you get here right after sunset. We were actually here early enough that we were in our rooms right at sunset was happening. It was nice and we did make it a little bit easier. There are a lot of flight times with stops through Miami. They do have the non-stops on Saturday out of O’Hare on both American and United.
John Werner 4:43
That’s good to know. What was the ground transportation that you took from the airport to the resort?
Jeni Chafer 4:54
At the St. Lucia airport, they actually have a Sandal’s lounge. As soon as I cleared customs there was someone there to help me with my bags, take me into the lounge, they then radio ahead to let Sandal’s resort know that I am on my way. We were in there maybe 10 minutes, long enough to use a restroom and grab a beverage. And then we were on our transfer drive to go across the country. Even that is great because you have your tour guide, which our driver was a tour guide. He was pointing out different places he stopped along the road. We could take a picture of a part of the island because there was a couple on the on the transfer with me that had never been here before.
John Werner 5:39
Ok, so what is the drive time?
Jeni Chafer 5:46
To get to Sandal’s Grand, because it’s literally the opposite end of the island. It’s about an hour and 45 minutes.
John Werner 5:52
Jeni Chafer 5:52
That seems like a long time, but it passed very, very quickly.
John Werner 5:56
You do get to see a lot of the island which is gorgeous. I’m going to ask you in a little bit. I have some questions about that. But I know you’re on this trip, you’re going to be visiting several Sandal’s properties. And so, you’ll be able to make some comparisons. Have you already thought about at this particular resort, the grand St. Lucian, the type of clients that would just love it there?
Jeni Chafer 6:32
This resort is my favorite for everybody. There’s a water view, no matter where you’re at the beach is literally steps from your room. I’m right now sitting by the overwater bungalows and they are phenomenal. You truly do feel like you’re in Tahiti with some of these over waters. But the layout and the way it is set up. It’s great for all ages, because you don’t have to walk far distances from your room to the beach, some of those things. And as he said, there are little bars set up all over so you could literally leave your room pass by a bar to grab a cocktail before you went to your dining. Last evenings show was right around the pool. It was right there as well. They’ve had activities in the lobby, and they do have elevators, so it’s very manageable for people of all ages. But for me, I truly love it for my honeymooners because it is such a tropical and exotic location that a lot of people haven’t been to.
Once before we got started the pier, I’m on I just happened to look over the edge. And I haven’t looked at my video yet, but there was a huge school of fish swimming directly below me. I’ll share some of those pictures.
John Werner 8:12
Okay, great, great. Well, there was also a reference made to like 12 restaurants on property. I know you’re not going to be there long enough to try them all. But the restaurants you’ve already experienced everything. What was your favorite?
Jeni Chafer 8:33
Oh, favorite. I don’t know that I could do favorite but I’ve had a variety of seafood at three different restaurants bar, and they’ve all been amazing. I had a swordfish steak that was to die for. I’ve had scallops, shrimp, conch, your name it, but if it’s a seafood I’m willing to try it and I had surf and turf the first night, so the steak was wonderful as well. A lot of times people are afraid to order a steak in the Caribbean, but I can tell you a Sandals there’s no comparison. Everything is top notch.
John Werner 9:07
Wonderful. Yeah. And for breakfast and lunch is it, how are they serving those two meals?
Jeni Chafer 9:15
They do have room service. And of course, that is my preference because I like to just sit outside on my balcony and listen to the waves and enjoy my Blue Mountain coffee. But they are serving. I know some of the other people went to the Italian restaurant this morning for it and they’re doing ala carte breakfast there. I will try that tomorrow. I haven’t gone out to do that. I’ve just been enjoying the included room service.
John Werner 9:43
Yeah, which is wonderful. You also reference shows outside of the traditional showroom, which a lot of resorts have, but to hear about the fact that they’ve done a water shown there and what other types of things have you been able to see so far?
Jeni Chafer 10:06
The night before, I believe there was a clarinet player in the lobby, she and she was amazing. She was playing all types of music. Then after that they had a DJ. The DJ was taking requests, so several people could get up and dance it was it was good time. Last night, the same thing, as a show ended the water fire show. And then it did start raining just a little bit. Most people ended up in the lobby, sitting around talking. And then the DJ was playing and, kept going from there. But it’s nice, because it’s been a variety. There’s lots of different places to sit and have a conversation. And we were able to sit at the table and talk with the DJ around the dance floor, you know, at the other side of the lobby without any problem. A lot of times it’s just so loud. You can’t do that.
John Werner 11:01
Yeah. So, what is your room like? I mean, how spacious are the rooms and the amenities in the rooms and so forth?
Jeni Chafer 11:11
My room is amazing. I have a fabulous view. If anybody is on my Facebook page, they saw the sunset last night from the from my balcony. I have a one of the club rooms. I have access to the club lounge, which is a concierge service. And they are really there to help you with anything you need. They’ll make your dining reservations. Yesterday, when I needed ice for my room for my knee, they were able to get that for me. I didn’t have to go out hunting for it. Just a lot of those things. I do have a walk-in shower, which is huge, very nice, spacious bathroom. Beds are huge. It’s got a sitting area with both a chair and a couch. If you do need to do some work, you can do that too. And then the balconies are just second to none because they should be called oceanfront even though technically, they’re not. But I feel like I’m oceanfront sitting out on my balcony.
John Werner 12:08
Very nice. I said a minute ago, I was going to ask you about the rest of the island. I know you’re going to get to experience some of the other Sandal’s properties and see some more of the island. What are the kinds of things that you recommend that people do when they’re in St. Lucia if they want to do something off property?
Jeni Chafer 12:35
One of the things you really need to do here is go out on a boat tour, a catamaran tour or something like that. I am doing one tomorrow that we are going out on the boat, we are going to snorkel and then it goes to where the Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed. Some of those things on previous trips, I’ve been on a catamaran cruise and we’ve gone down to the pitons and snorkeled right at the base of those, which is a beautiful way to see the island. You pass by a lot of the other properties, but you also get a feel of the lushness of the island seeing it from the outside. But honestly, this is one of the best places that I’ve ever snorkeled because the water is so perfect here you literally can just lay there and watch these amazing fish without having to work too hard.
John Werner 13:29
Right? Yeah, and that’s what I’ve always heard about St. Lucia is that the water is calm. There’s a lot of coves. And yes, so it would be really ideal situation for snorkeling.
Jeni Chafer 13:50
There’s amazing scuba diving down here. And as you may know, Sandal’s includes two tanks for certified divers. If you have any divers, this is a perfect place because it’s included and that adds up quickly. If you have serious divers traveling for a week or more. I met a couple from Iowa that came down here specifically for two weeks just so they could dive.
John Werner 14:15
Wow. Okay, that’s great. And golf is often included at a Sandal’s properties, right? Do they have golf?
Jeni Chafer 14:30
Yes. They do, but I’ve never had anyone golf here. They do quite a bit in Jamaica properties. I honestly do Sandals Emerald Bay because you can’t beat that course.
John Werner 14:44
That’s great. So, what would you say about renting a car on St. Lucia? Is that something that a lot of people prefer to do? Because there’s so much to do.
Jeni Chafer 14:57
Yeah. People think they want to I try to talk them out of it just so I don’t have to worry about them because they do drive on the other side of the road. You can do it and it’s very easy to do it and get around. But there’s so many great drivers and taxis are available and now they have the certified taxi. So, you know, you’re getting in one that is safe to travel in. There’s really no need.
John Werner 15:27
Right. So, well, you mentioned some of the must-see sites like the snorkeling and the pitons and so forth. Beaches. Mr. Anderson made reference to fantastic beach at the resort there. And what are the beaches elsewhere, like on the island?
Jeni Chafer 15:54
They are, most of the beaches I’ve experienced here are nice and wide, very soft sand. And you can walk out quite a way. You don’t have to feel like you can only go into your waist, and then you have to swim. What’s nice too about sandals is they have rafts floating. I don’t know if you can see them back there and my background or not, but you can get out there and then just float in the middle of the Caribbean Sea and enjoy the afternoon.
John Werner 16:23
Nice, very nice.
Jeni Chafer 16:25
Other beaches are all over and there are several excursions that will do that and take you and drop you off in another beach. And you can have lunch there. I’ve actually done an engagement like that. They went just for, what she thought was just the day. And they ended up having a picnic lunch on a beach where he did the proposal.
John Werner 6:41
Yeah. Good. Very good. Well, and of course, the mention of the pop-up bars. Sounds really fun to me. What’s your favorite cocktail at the resort?
Jeni Chafer 16:57
They have a special rum punch here that was very good. But you know, if I’m at a Sandal’s, they have my Appleton Estate. I’m partial to that. Anything that I can include it with Appleton estate, I’m happy.
John Werner 17:10
I like that rum as well. That’s great. Obviously you’ve met Mr. Andersen and other people at the resort and the staff and you’re going to do that at some of the other properties. Why is it so important to make these connections? And how does it benefit your customers?
Jeni Chafer 17:37
Since I’ve been in business, I have always felt that those relationships are what has set my business apart from some others. Because I do take the time to travel and get to know the staff on property as well as off property. You know, your BDM is your first point of contact, and they’re here to help you they want you to succeed as much as possible. But I do feel having those on resort connections are just amazing thing that, if you want to have something special, or if you have arranged if you have someone that has specific dietary concerns, they are great about that here, they have a department for that. But just to take that extra step for your client to be able to contact them in advance. Give them a heads up of what it is. So, you can reassure your clients. It’s just those little things that that go the extra mile, that’s truly what sets a travel agent apart.
John Werner 18:32
Right? Yeah. What would you say are your top three recommendations for visiting St. Lucia?
Jeni Chafer 18:46
You need to prepare to unplug. There is no reason to be on your phone other than to take pictures and videos. You need to just allow yourself to relax and enjoy the breeze and the sounds of the waves. And then you do want to go off property at least once and experience this beautiful island.
John Werner 19:08
That sounds so nice and just fantastic. Well, Jeni, what else would you like to say about your experience there?
Jeni Chafer 19:26
Honestly, it’s just been amazing. It’s nice to get away when snow is coming. This is just a fabulous location. The weather is amazing. We’re in the Caribbean. So, you’re going to have those showers but they don’t last very long. Last night was probably five minutes tops and people were back out under the stars. It’s just so beautiful and it is easy. Yes, it’s longer than going to Cancun but it’s not that much longer. It’s definitely something to consider. You need to come experience it for yourself and then definitely promoted for clientele because this is a beautiful island.
John Werner 20:08
Oh nice, very wonderful. Well, I really appreciate you visiting with us today and especially taking some time out of your beautiful stay there at the resort and I loved hearing from Mr. Anderson and Chris Martin and everything. It’s been wonderful. Thank you very much, Jeni and enjoy the rest of your stay in St. Lucia and the other resorts that you’re visiting.
Jeni Chafer 20:39
I will thank you so much.