“Welcome to Grenada! The Island of Spice where everything’s nice. If you like it, do it twice. And if it’s hot, put it on ice.”
Tour guides always have a good way of explaining things.
Lush and hilly Grenada, an unspoiled paradise of rainforests, white and black sand beaches, waterfalls, diving sites and cocoa, cinnamon and nutmeg farms, is one of those picture-perfect Caribbean destinations that dreams are made of.
But it’s the locals who make it real.
As we boarded our van for a day of hotel site inspections, our esteemed driver, Dragon, of St. James Travel and Tours, rapped a few rhyming verses and transported us to “pure Grenada,” a serene place where the motto “nothing is ever too much trouble” is infused into everyday life.
Grenada, measuring just 133 square miles, is nice, it’s full of spice – the island, globally, produces the most spices per square mile – and, as 15 Canadian travel advisors who toured the destination last week with Air Canada Vacations (ACV) learned, it’s a pretty place you, or your clients, will want to visit twice. (The country thrives on repeat visitors).
And yeah, it can get hot, so don’t forget the ice.
“It’s Hawaii, in the Caribbean,” Mississauga, ON-based cruise and vacation consultant Sue Hawkes of Expedia Cruises told PAX, which was invited by ACV, exclusively, to cover the FAM. “It has the chocolate, the waterfalls, the rainbows, the beaches…it’s everything that Hawaii is but with Grenada culture.”
With links to African, French, Caribbean, British and Caribbean heritage, the tropical nation, located in the West Indies at the southern end of the Grenadines island chain, is home to just 110,000 people spread across three islands – Grenada (the main island) Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
“The spice of the Caribbean,” as the Grenada Tourism Authority affectionately calls this trio.
Direct service with Air Canada
After roughly four months of COVID-19 shutdowns, Grenada reopened to international visitors in August 2020 and tourism, today, is carefully resuming as airplanes and cruise ships return.
In fact, the first line of ships to return to Grenada amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Britannia, magnificently sailed into the pier of St George’s, the capital, during our visit.
After it sailed out, another ship, Marella Discovery, floated in.
Canadian travel advisors have opportunities to sell Grenada after Air Canada, on Oct. 31, resumed its Toronto-Grenada flights – a non-stop route, operating on Wednesdays and Sundays, linked to 55 Canadian gateways, that will run until April 2022.
For ACV, it was important to get travel advisors in destination to not only experience resorts, but to also see everything that Grenada is doing to make visitors feel safe and comfortable.
“We wanted to show that people are travelling,” said Judy Munden, area sales manager for Atlantic Canada at ACV, of the trip, which ran from Nov. 10-14. “To showcase that travelling, fully vaccinated, is possible.”
Pure Safe Travel Approved
Tourism services in Grenada are “Pure Safe Travel Approved,” which means they have undergone an inspection process to ensure they’re adhering to COVID-era standards.
But peace of mind begins when booking the ticket – all travellers entering Grenada must be fully vaccinated (this does not, however, apply to persons 13 years and under).
A pre-arrival 72-hour PCR test, in addition to completing a travel authorization form, is also required.
The rules are strict, but they’re easing up: on Monday (Nov 15), a new policy kicked in that relieved visitors of having to quarantine at their hotel property while awaiting PCR test results.
Now, travellers are free to explore Grenada on arrival after a much-quicker antigen test at the airport returns negative. (The PCR test taken three days prior to arrival remains, however).
Chocolate, spice & everything nice
And take our word for it – in Grenada, you’ll want to get off property and explore.
“If you come here and you don’t leave the resort, you’re doing yourself an injustice,” as Munden put it.
If you want it, Grenada’s likely got it.
With preserved rainforests, lagoons, sulphur springs, mountainous terrain, marine biodiversity, and more than 40 beaches, the destination is set up for fun in the sun and on the sea.
Chocolate, in addition to spices, is another major product you can discover – there are six locally-owned chocolate factories and chocolate-themed tours, events and festivals take place throughout the year.
During our visit, one group of agents got to design their own chocolate bars, using ingredients like sea salt, nutmeg, almonds and marshmallows, with Aaron Sylvester of Tri-Island Chocolate.
(There was a lot of sensual moaning as we took those first bites).
Snorkeling and diving is also big business in Grenada.
The island’s Underwater Sculpture Park, heralded as one of the Top 25 Wonders of the World by National Geographic, is an underwater playground of 82 life-size sculptures that reflect Grenada’s culture.
Our group was scheduled to snorkel through this celebrated site. However, the tour was called off due to windy conditions at sea that day (it happens).
So, instead, we ventured into Grenada’s colourful capital, St. George’s, which was buzzing with activity because it was a Saturday – a market day for shopping.
As we weaved in and out of crowds wearing our masks, we passed vendors selling fresh golden apples and humongous avocados.
Then it was off to Annandale Falls, a 30-foot waterfall enclosed in a garden of vegetation, ferns and rocks with a pool that you can swim in.
In front of this watery wonder, there’s a treehouse-like restaurant, The Wild Orchid, where Coralie Belman, a travel manager at Let’s Get Out Of Here, an affiliate of The Travel Agent Next Door, said she ate “the best hamburger I’ve ever had in my life.”
“Grenada is one of my favourite islands,” Belman told PAX. “The people are so friendly and the food is so flavourful.”
Speaking of flavour, The Aquarium Restaurant, located on Magazine Beach, is an absolute treat (try the lobster!)
Agents also visited The Tower in St. Paul’s where they sipped a unique blue tea.
The “Sandals of tomorrow, today”
ACV and the Grenada Tourism Authority partnered with two all-inclusive hotels – the 257-room Sandals Grenada Resort and Spa and the 269-room Royalton Grenada Resort and Spa – to host the trip.
Donné Nixon, business development manager for Manitoba, Alberta and the Northwest Territories at Unique Vacations, the marketing arm of Sandals and Beaches Resorts, was on the scene.
Sandals Grenada, Nixon told PAX, is the “Sandals of tomorrow, today,” because of several “firsts” the company’s late Founder, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, built into the lush, village-like property.
This includes Skypool Suites, the “Living Room” (a trendy outdoor seating area placed directly in the centre of a quiet swimming pool), Rondoval Suites (luxurious, hut-like accommodations with private pools), and Butch's Chophouse, Sandals’ first-ever steakhouse.
And, oh, you haven’t lived until you’ve tried the locally-produced, nutmeg-infused ice cream served at Café de Paris.
Built on a slope on exclusive Pink Gin Beach, adults-only Sandals Grenada does its COVID-19 testing on property (as opposed to at the airport), utilized a comfy outdoor waiting space, which is convenient.
Sandals’ on-site testing allows guests to “start their vacation with us,” Nixon said.
“Travel is back,” Nixon said, “and we want travel agents to feel comfortable about the process, accommodations, protocols and offerings so they can share it with their clients.”
Initiatives worth noting include Sandals’ Vacation Assurance (which grants guests a replacement vacation if, by chance, they test positive for COVID-19), the Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness and the Vacation Assurance hotline, where a support team is available to answer all questions.
Nixon urges agents to get their clients booking early, especially as winter rolls in.
Since Canada lifted its non-essential travel advisory for fully vaccinated individuals, “customers are starting to rev up, and they’re revving up hard,” she said.
Sandals Grenada, for one, has a “very high return rate,” Nixon added, who sees this trend with British guests in particular.
But Canadians, too, are becoming loyal fans of the “Luxury-Included” resort, she said.
It all makes sense once you see the resort in all its glory. (“When you go, you know,” Nixon said).
Travel advisor Barbara Scrocco of TravelOnly called the property “one the most picturesque hotels on the island, offering beach, island and mountain views as your backdrop.”
“Sandals Grenada embodies the essence of the island and the friendly and warm staff make you feel at home,” Scrocco said.
Royalton Grenada, the gem
The family-friendly Royalton Grenada Resort and Spa – formally a Starfish and a Grenadian by Rex Resorts – opened with a chic and modernized look in January of 2020 right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
It temporarily closed in March last year and reopened, just recently, this past October.
The newness is felt throughout the plush grounds of tropical gardens, which extend to sprawling beach areas that face an electric-blue Caribbean Sea.
There’s a second-level pool on an escarpment near Grazie Trattoria and upgrading to Royalton’s “Diamond Club” has value-added perks, such as butler service, exclusive beach, pool and bar areas and preferred room locations.
The new Chairman’s building is one element Royalton built from the ground up. Here, you’ll find the ultra-luxe, 2,876 square foot Chairman’s two, three or four-bedroom suite.
The Grenada property is the first within Royalton’s portfolio to offer the new Ma Maison restaurant, a French bistro-style eatery.
It’s clubhouse for kids – which includes a playground and performance stage – is also infused with bubblegum-scented air freshener. (Details matter!)
“Grenada is a gem and Royalton is one of its gems,” said Domenica Aresta, regional manager, business development, hotels and resorts at Sunwing Travel Group (owner of Blue Diamond Resorts, which Royalton falls into).
“Everything is spaced out nicely, nothing is crammed, but everything is centralized.”
Location is key, too – both Sandals and the new Royalton are just minutes (seconds, even) away from Maurice Bishop International Airport.
8 hotels in 3 minutes
The trip included visits to other resorts on the island that cover all budgets.
The 229-room Radisson Grenada Beach Resort wow’d agents with its sparking pools, dreamy gardens and bridges and gorgeous beach, which is separated by a white picket fence.
From an accessibility standpoint: “The property is nice and flat, which is what I liked,” noted Bart Toney of Maritime Travel.
Blue Horizons Garden Resort is a leafy compound of apartment-style accommodations on a sloping hillside, 300 yards from Grand Anse Beach.
Great for long-term stays, the family-owned property, with 32 self-catering guestrooms, features six 1/4 acres of gardens and is close to local dining options.
Bold, Grenadian eats can also be found on site at La Belle Creole Restaurant and Bar and the Aqua Pool Bar.
With 80 rooms, Coyaba Beach Resort is classically Caribbean with teak furnishings, paintings by local artists, tropical foliage and a splendid beach that left agents gushing.
Jamie Powers of Escapes.ca liked the “nice and small” buildings. “There’s not a lot of walking [involved],” she said. “All the amenities are close.”
The luxury was cranked up a notch at Spice Island Beach Resort, an all-inclusive boutique hotel with 64 suites (both ocean and garden views) and a “home away from home” feel.
It’s royally posh and elegant: The Queen stayed there in 1966, Princess Anne has twice been a guest and Prince Harry visited in 2016.
Mount Cinnamon Resort and Beach Club, with 37 suites perched high on a cliff, offers soaring island views. It’s exclusive beach club, accessible by golf carts, awaits below.
And family-owned and operated True Blue Boutique Resort is a “climate-smart’ boutique hotel with playful pops of blues, oranges, and reds, quirky and adorable decor and affordable options for all.
PAX filmed each tour and has produced the ultimate Grenada site inspection megamix: scenes from all eight hotels, in just over three minutes!
Watch the exclusive video here!