TRIP COACH

Planning a Caribbean Vacation

Two frazzled law school grads want to relax and enjoy the outdoors in the tropics. Which island suits them best?

Jenny Meader (left) and Heather McKinney, near campus at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock

What you'll find in this article: Caribbean trip planning advice, St. Lucia restaurants, St. Lucia hotels and resorts, snorkeling, and other activities in St. Lucia

After three years of law school and several grueling weeks preparing for the bar exam, Jenny Meader and Heather McKinney, of Little Rock, Ark., are ready for some R&R. Both are in their early thirties, having worked for several years before heading back to school, and are looking to steer clear of a spring break bacchanal. "We're planning a Caribbean vacation before we become responsible adults again," Jenny wrote to us. "No more briefing, no more blue books, no more teacher's dirty looks."

Heather and Jenny have hefty loans to pay off and hope to keep expenses to a minimum, with a budget of $2,500 each for about five nights. "We'd like to leave sometime around April 7, when the bar exam results come out," says Jenny. "The trip will either be a celebratory one, because we passed, or one where we find a new career selling seashells by the seashore."

Picking the right island is the first task. We start by asking what they see when they imagine their ideal locale. "Sandy beaches," Jenny responds, "with clean, clear water, friendly locals, and good food." Heather adds that they'd also like to do some hiking. "Being near the beach and the rain forest would be amazing," she says. "We intend to go hiking and snorkeling." The island also has to be a safe, stress-free place for single women. And finally, they're looking for a stylish, welcoming place to stay with air-conditioning and, ideally, a kitchenette.

It's a tall order, especially considering their money constraints and the fact that they're traveling at the tail end of high season. We first suggest St. John, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Not only is the island mostly undeveloped, two-thirds of it is a national park, with fantastic beaches and easy day hikes. But there are a few drawbacks. St. John is popular for cruise ship excursions, and well-known beaches such as Trunk Bay can get crowded. More cons: St. John doesn't have a true, classic rain forest with towering old trees; and, perhaps most critically, inexpensive rooms with A/C are scarce.

Jenny is intrigued with what she's heard about the "Nature Island" of Dominica. It certainly has a legitimate rain forest, along with challenging hikes at altitudes high enough to keep mosquitoes at bay. There aren't a lot of tourists, which sounds good, but they stay away largely for the same reasons Heather and Jenny might--the beaches are either rocky or too far from the hotels they'd find most comfortable. And the main town, Roseau, is full of old, worn-looking buildings and might be a turnoff.

While discussing the options, Jenny and Heather discover their priorities don't entirely match. "I'm sold on Dominica," says Jenny, "but Heather doesn't want to give up the beaches. Is there someplace that's a cross between Dominica and the Virgin Islands?"

The solution is St. Lucia, famous for the two giant oceanside peaks known as the Pitons, with wonderful white-sand beaches and a variety of accommodations. We recommend staying in the shadow of Petit Piton, at the southern end of the island, near the fishing village of Soufrière. There are plenty of beaches and hiking opportunities, and it's away from the traffic and large hotels of capital city Castries. Before they settle on the Soufrière area, we offer up another choice on St. Lucia's east side, the Fox Grove Inn, which rents hotel rooms and apartments, only some of which have air-conditioning. And considering the location, they'd definitely need to rent a car, something they'd rather not do, at least not for the entire vacation.

Upscale Soufrière resorts such as Anse Chastanet and Ladera are out of Jenny and Heather's price range, but might be worth visiting for a meal or a swim. At our suggestion, they consider two retreats in the mountains outside town, Crystals Guest Cottages and Stonefield Estate Villa Resort. Jenny and Heather are instantly infatuated with the latter's 19 villas--with kitchens--spread over 26 acres; paths trace lines among the mango trees and other greenery. "It seems to be exactly what we want," says Heather. "It's away from the bustle, and how could we not be excited about the amazing views?" They especially like that airport pickup is included in their package, and that all guests can ride a daily shuttle into Soufrière and to the beach at the Jalousie Plantation resort, each about ten minutes away. They decide to delay their trip until after April 15, when the resort's rates drop. And then they splurge, going for a package that includes massages and a larger, ocean-view villa. "The regular deluxe suite was sold out for our dates, so we upgraded to the luxury suite," says Jenny. "We get our own private swimming pool!"

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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