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Monday,  July 15, 2024 7:23 AM 

On Location: Chocolate scrubs, rum & CocoLand – 9 takeaways from Coconut Bay in St. Lucia

On Location: Chocolate scrubs, rum & CocoLand – 9 takeaways from Coconut Bay in St. Lucia
PAX unpacks Coconut Bay in Saint Lucia. (Pax Global Media)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

There’s something to be said about the DNA of an independent hotel.

Usually, properties that aren’t bound to a corporate franchise have more autonomy in their decision-making, more say in the design of rooms and common spaces, and have the freedom to create authentic experiences that, in most cases, capture the spirit of a destination.

That’s what sums up the rhythm at Coconut Bay, an all-inclusive resort on Anse de Sables Beach in south Saint Lucia in the town of Vieux Fort. 

A village-like environment at Coconut Bay. (Pax Global Media)

The Atlantic Ocean-facing property, with just 250 rooms and suites, which are shared between an adults-only “Harmony” wing, and family-friendly side, called “Splash,” prides itself on being able to adapt to the times.

READ MORE: On Location - “Pampered in paradise”: PAX unpacks Coconut Bay’s makeover in St. Lucia

The laid-back property, for example, closes every September to upgrade its amenities. Its last refresh saw the addition of a bridal suite and wedding gazebo (Coconut Bay does just one wedding per day), spa enhancements and new vegan, gluten-free and vegetation menu items.

Inside the lobby of Coconut Bay. (Pax Global Media)

Now, as PAX learned during a recent visit, the resort has begun to renovate all of its suites and rooms, modernizing units with new bathrooms, flooring, furniture and art. 

It’s a massive project that the hotel expects to take about two years to complete. (Click here to see more before-and-after pics).

Renovated suite in Harmony adults-only wing. (Pax Global Media)

Most resorts in Saint Lucia, which lies in between Martinique (to the north) and Saint Vincent (to the south), are independent, which is what makes the destination different, Natalia Greene, vice-president of sales and marketing at Coconut Bay, told us.

Oceanfront wedding gazebo at Coconut Bay. (Pax Global Media)

“Owners are very invested in their products,” Greene said. “If you go to a trade show featuring Saint Lucia, you will meet [hotel] owners or managing directors. That’s what sets our island apart.”

Currently, there’s just three chains in Saint Lucia – Sandals, Zoëtry and Royalton. And while there’s nothing wrong with those brands, they compete against a mountainous landscape of one-of-a-kind hotels filled with concepts that are less likely replicated elsewhere.  

Beachside at Coconut Bay. (Pax Global Media)

That, for discerning travellers, has a certain allure, and at Coconut Bay, the mission to stay relevant (but remain unique) is a serious one, perfected down to a science.     

What’s the buzz at Coconut Bay? Here are nine takeaways from our visit from March 14-17. 

1. Coconut Bay is very, very close to the airport

Coconut Bay is literally a two to three-minute drive from Hewanorra International Airport. Within moments of exiting the terminal, parents can get their kids to the pool or beach and adults can grab an iced-cold Piton beer (Saint Lucia’s specialty).

When vacations start in record time, everybody wins.

The property is also a plane spotter's paradise. With Hewanorra's runway so close, you'll see aircrafts flying low overheard at various times of the day. 

Sprawling main pool at Coconut Bay. (Pax Global Media)

2. It’s a gorgeous location with lots of space

Coconut Bay opened in 2005. But before that, it was a Club Med, which means your clients can expect a prime location. The France-based hotelier, which exited Saint Lucia in 2001 due to the recession and aftereffects of 9/11, is known for being the first to enter a region, often scooping up the best land.

Coconut Bay, today, is a lush compound, set on 85 acres of natural beauty, facing the ocean and beach, sans neighbours (with exception to nearby Serenity, Coconut Bay’s all-inclusive, adults-only, 36-suite luxury property for couples, which, at some point, will expand).

Low rise buildings at Coconut Bay. (Pax Global Media)

With views of uninhabited islands, such as Maria Islands Nature Reserve, the property's buildings, which feature beautiful murals by local artists, are spread out – one watering hole, the t-shirt covered Paradise Bar, is a three, four-minute walk down the beach. 

It’s a village-like environment, with family-like staff, that never feels full or crowded.

3. There are tons of things for kids and teens to do

During our visit, we didn’t see a single child or teen looking bored. That’s because Coconut Bay is packed amenities that young people like.

At all-ages Splash, in a sprawling main pool, all kinds of fun unfolds, from “Aquacise” classes to games, like water polo and tug-a-war contests, to dance and foam parties. Adults have a swim-up bar, but so do kids (they get slushies).     

Poolside at the main pool at Splash. (Pax Global Media)

It’s one big pool party, pulsating with palm trees and pop/Caribbean music, where families can have fun together, or individually. Intergenerational bookings, thanks to an abundance of connecting rooms, is big business here.

Nearby Cove, an outdoor dining and entertainment venue, is where teens were often spotted playing pool. Here, guests can grab to-go items like pizza, wings, fries, gyros and burgers from an eatery called Flip Flops. With colourful surfboards tacked to the walls, the Cove reminded us of “The Max” restaurant from TV’s Saved by the Bell. It’s a funky, central hangout.  

CocoLand Water Park. (Pax Global Media)

Waterslides at CocoLand Water Park. (Pax Global Media)

Beyond the main pool is CocoLand Water Park (Saint Lucia's largest!), which has a 1,500-foot lazy river and two waterslides (one open, one enclosed, but both are fast). This is where guests, young and young at heart, flock for thrills and chills.  

Then, at the CocoLand Kidz Klub, there’s 50,000 square-feet of indoor and outdoor play space, including a massive fenced-in backyard with pirate ship playground, splash pad, and “Coco Corral,” which houses rescued animals.

The Klub has three supervised programs for children three and under, between four and seven, and eight and 12, and all participants receive a free backpack, water bottle, t-shirt, hat, a “SCOUTS workbook” and scrapbook. Even babies and toddlers (age two and under) are welcome. They stay in a colourful infant room, which has cribs and playpens.

Sprawling backyard at CocoLand Kidz Klub. (Pax Global Media)

Parents, meanwhile, are given complimentary local cell phones to stay in touch while their kiddos are at the Kidz Klub (if they want to).

There are kid-friendly events at night, too, such as a camping in tents with smores, CocoLand Pirate’s Night dinner, a pajama party, karaoke, a glow party and a hayride.

Kids can also take part in Sea Turtle Scouts (from March to November), which is geared towards the protection of nesting turtles and hatchlings on the resort’s beach, when they appear. 

Inside CocoLand Kidz Klub. (Pax Global Media)

Teenagers have access to their own games room, which has an Xbox and pool tables.

But upping the cool factor is “The Zone,” a 30,000 square-foot paintball facility (which costs $20 USD per person).

Bobbing in the background of all this are Coconut Bay’s neon-coloured mascots, Coco and Loco  two life-sized coconuts that roam the property at select times for photo-ops.

This well-rounded duo – Coconut Bay’s own Mickey and Minnie Mouse, you could say – light up a room, exciting both kids and adults.

Coco and Loco are Coconut Bay's mascots. (Pax Global Media)

As for kid-friendly dining, there’s an effort to give youngsters some independence. For example: at Coconut Walk, the main restaurant (which is like a buffet, but defined as a “marketplace” due to its many chef-manned stations), there’s a pint-sized area where kids can plate their own food and receive treats, like cotton candy.

Some foodie activations are just fabulous for all ages. On Friday nights, there’s a Chocolate Buffet with a chocolate fountain and other sweet treats. It’s the stuff kids (and adults) dream of!

4. Kitesurfing & wing foiling rule the waves

Coconut Bay has a Surf Shack, where kitesurfing and wing foiling (a combo of kitesurfing, windsurfing and surfing) awaits. Lessons, including gear for all skill levels, are available to guests ages 16 and over (hourly rates apply).

Beach, sand and waves at Coconut Bay. (Pax Global Media)

The property is an aquatic playground. The only “motors,” here, are the ocean and wind – jet skis, sail and power boats aren’t allowed. Water-based activities that don’t cost extra include kayaking, snorkeling and paddle boarding.

5. There’s a treehouse that serves jerk-style cooking

From surf and turf at Calabash to sushi and sashimi at Silk to Italian fare at Trattoria to oceanside dining at La Luna, guests at Coconut Bay can unpack all sorts of fresh flavours.

One lunchtime standout, arguably, is the Jerk Treehouse, a casual eatery constructed around a large seagrape tree. This started as a hut by the pool, where long lines would form as word about the BBQ’s succulent jerk-style cooking got out. 

The Jerk Treehouse. (Pax Global Media)

But the hours were limited. And so, in 2018, a treehouse-style venue dedicated to jerk cuisine debuted, steps away from the main pool and lazy river.

With tree stump-like seats and tables, Jerk Treehouse serves up spicy jerk pork, chicken and sausages (eat in or take it to go) and sides, like breadfruit, gravy-soaked rice and ginger beer. It’s Caribbean cuisine at its finest (it also helps that Coconut Bay’s executive sous chef is Jamaican).

Jerk Treehouse serves up spicy jerk pork, chicken and sausages. (Pax Global Media)

6. Adults can chill too

While Coconut Bay cranks up the family fun, there’s still room for a peaceful, adult-oriented holiday in the Harmony section.

There’s a great deal of space between Splash and Harmony. A DJ could be blasting beats for families in the main pool and the only thing Harmony guests will hear is the sound of palm trees rustling in the wind.

Sun tracker beds at Harmony at Coconut Bay. (Pax Global Media)

The main pool at Harmony at Coconut Bay. (Pax Global Media)

Harmony, embedded in green foliage, has two pools, one whirlpool, hammocks and “sun tracker beds” (loungers with umbrellas on platforms that turn with a handle so guests can tan, or shade themselves, based on the sun’s direction) that face the sparkling ocean.

Sanctuary Spa, nearby, has massages and skin treatments that use cool aloe vera from its own garden (a must for sun burns). There’s even “chocolate scrubs” that utilize cocoa plants that are grown in Saint Lucia.

Ocean-facing massage cabanas. (Pax Global Media)

The spa recently doubled its number of outdoor ocean-facing massage cabanas, which takes “pampered in paradise” to a new level.

Rum is also a big deal in Saint Lucia. From well-rounded Chairman's Reserve to gold-tinted Bounty, the island, which has a distillery, is home to many famous brands.

Current version of a suite, pre-renovation, in the Harmony wing. (Pax Global Media)

Coconut Bay, on Saturday nights, will host rum tastings (at no extra cost) for the adult crowd. The property pours premium rums that you don’t usually see at an all-inclusive (like Zacapa).

As for adult-oriented dining, there’s one al fresco venue for adults at Coconut Bay, Veranda, which serves up Caribbean flavours, including catch of the days ("From boat to plate, in the same day," as Greene put it). 

The adults-only Greathouse, which captures the romance of a grand mansion, is also available at Serenity for a supplement fee.

From left (of Coconut Bay): Mark Adams, president & CEO; Natalia Greene, VP, sales & marketing; Bartender Holder leads a rum tasting. (Pax Global Media)

7. A Saint Lucian carnival erupts every Saturday

The sounds of soca, calypso and steelpan spring alive during Saint Lucia Carnival season in July. But at Coconut Bay, the carnival comes directly to guests every Saturday night.

Saint Lucian carnival culture comes alive at Coconut Bay every Saturday night. (Pax Global Media)

As part of a poolside buffet dinner, the family-friendly event starts with a steel drum band and escalates into a colourful, feathery parade of fire blowers, stilt walkers, limbo dancers and live singing.

Fire performances at Coconut Bay Carnival night. (Pax Global Media)

It's the spirit of Saint Lucia, brought to life, and it brings out the best in people. Guests that seemed shy at the start of the show were later spotted dancing in a wild conga line, having the time of their life.

Coconut Bay also hosts a Country and Western night dinner by the pool.  

8. Coconut Bay cares

Coconut Bay cares about its community. During our visit, the resort revealed that it will adopt ABC Funhouse, a local pre-school educational centre.

From left: Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa Chairman Gary ‘Butch’ Hendrickson; Mark Adams, president & CEO, Coconut Bay. (Pax Global Media)

Facilitated by CocoLand Cares, (which has been distributing learning materials to pre-schools in Saint Lucia for some time now), the four-year project will see the remodelling of a classroom for pre-schoolers starting this September, adding new furniture and flooring, a new bathroom, equipment and tools, playground equipment and exterior upgrades.

9. The resort is just the beginning

This could have been an article about amenities, but that wouldn’t have reflected quintessential Saint Lucia, where visitors are encouraged to leave their resorts and explore the hilly island.

Coconut Bay sells many excursions, from jeep safaris to horseback riding, but the best value (I’d argue) is the Catamaran Land Sea Adventure, which checks a lot of boxes.

Snorkelling from a catamaran around the Pitons. (Pax Global Media)

A full-day program that costs $139 USD ($187.50 CAD), the tour starts with boarding a fully-staffed catamaran in the Atlantic, and sailing around the island to the Caribbean Sea, to the doorstep of The Pitons (two iconic volcanic plugs/spires, a national symbol), for the ultimate view and photo-op. 

Here, go face-to-face with exotic fish with guided snorkelling in two crystal-clear diving spots, including Sugar Beach.

Snorkelling around the famous Pitons. (Pax Global Media)

Upon disembarking in Soufrière, on the west coast, a van transfers you up a mountain for lunch, at Beacon restaurant, where local fare, like breadfruit pie, green figs in garlic and fish fingers, is served. The friendly spot overlooks those majestic Pitons.

A stop at Toraille Waterfall. (Pax Global Media)

Enjoying a mad bath at Saint Lucia's Sulphur Springs. (Pax Global Media)

The day wraps up with visits to Toraille Waterfall, where you can take a dip and feel the force of a 50-foot-high water drop pelting your back (Mother Nature’s massage!), and to the Sulphur Springs, where visitors smother themselves in volcanic mud, wade in steamy black-water pools and let detoxification do its thing.  

A bath with mud-icinal benefits! You’ll return to Coconut Bay feeling baby smooth.

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