Room Key: Coco Kreole

Address: Reduit Beach Avenue, Rodney Bay Village, Gros Islet, St. Lucia

Reservations:[email protected] or (758) 456-2800

Web:www.coco-resorts.com

Sample rates: Through Dec. 14, from $85 per night, double, with breakfast.

Location: 15 minutes from the airport near Castries; a three-minute walk to the beach.

Facilities: Bar, breakfast room, pool, wireless and complimentary Internet access in lobby.

Noteworthy: Family atmosphere, convenient location, friendly staff.

Not Worthy: Bathrooms need updating; no local maps available with street names, shop and restaurant descriptions for guests.

RODNEY BAY, St. Lucia -- Coco Kreole and Coco Palm may be sister resorts, but, as with siblings everywhere, there are similarities and differences.

In fact, if the new, 83-room Coco Palm were not linked to the smaller Coco Kreole by terraces, a pool, landscaping, gardens and similar signage, their relationship might remain a secret.

The 20-room, plantation house-style Coco Kreole opened in October 2003, a renovation of the former Candio Inn, as managing director Allen Chastanets first Coco Resorts venture.

With cheap chic as its theme, reflected in its rates and package prices, the boutique resort is a laid-back, informal and welcome respite from some of the large, faceless and much more expensive properties in the Caribbean.

However, both properties have personalized service and friendly staff.

At Coco Kreole, the staff called me by name within moments of check-in. Someone always stopped me as I came in or left to ask if I needed anything: directions, a lift to the beach (it was a three-minute walk away), more towels or just to say hi.

My room facing the street was unpretentious but comfortable, even down to the door lock, which was an old-fashioned key dangling from a chain instead of the familiar key card. (Chastanet said a key card system will be installed when Kreole is renovated within the next year.)

Breakfast, which is included in the daily rate, is served in the Brown Sugar Bar by Gregory who, by night, tends the busy bar, which has become a gathering spot for guests.

And theres been a lot of gathering, according to Chastanet. The resort has run a 91% occupancy factor since last November, and recorded an impressive 65% in its first year, with a mix of visitors from the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

Most people love it, he said. Coco Kreole breeds contentment.

Little touches at Coco Kreole stand out: Housekeepers wear madras aprons, the traditional fabric of St. Lucia; complimentary Internet access is available at all times at the one computer in the small lobby, although wireless Internet is in place throughout the hotels public spaces; the pool behind the hotel resembles something one would see in a suburban backyard; and warm Caribbean colors, gleaming wood floors and local art liven up the decor.

Chastanet is tailoring packages to suit his specific markets.

When we noticed that we were getting lots of women traveling down with friends for long weekends and quick getaways, we designed Island Girls and Princess Girls programs for them, he said.

The packages can be personalized to include nature walks, off-road tours, visits to a fishing village on Friday evenings, manicures and pedicures, yacht trips, shopping tours or whatever they want to do, Chastanet said.

Another program, called Kreole Kids Montessori Summer, is designed to encourage our guests to have their children interact with local kids, Chastanet said.

Its part of Coco Resorts philosophy to enrich the guest experience with everything St. Lucian.

The weekday program runs through Aug. 19 and is geared to 3- to 6-year-olds. It is priced at $130 per week or $25 per day. The program for 7- to 14-year-olds is priced at $138 per week and $28 per day.

Activities include field trips, swimming, horseback riding, dance sessions, island tours and golf (for the older group); prices include lunch and transportation to/from the Montessori Center.

My goal with both Coco Kreole and Coco Palm is to provide a quintessential Caribbean experience -- full of Caribbean heart and soul -- with all the modern conveniences for my leisure and business guests, Chastanet said.

My experience at Coco Kreole had that vibe.

Staying at Coco Kreole is very much like stepping into a home and settling in for a few days. Its not fancy or intimidating, and it suits my style.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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