Relaxation is rendered an afterthought on St. Lucia


Facing imminent departure from St. Lucia's Hewanorra Airport, I realized I hadn't spent a minute basking on the beach at Coconut Bay Resort & Spa, opposite the Maria Islands Nature Reserve off the southernmost tip of the island.

I took a sauna, cooled off in waters framed between a couple of fishermen chest deep with their nets and lay back drinking a Dirty Banana cocktail (rum, milk, banana, more rum), wondering why in a week I'd grabbed this 20 minutes of hammock nirvana only as an afterthought.

But no regrets, as I collected my 13-year-old daughter Katie from her farewells to British kids she'd met. Not to knock those seeking to stretch the usual Caribbean time warp to eternity: It's a noble pursuit, but there is too much to do on this island to spend one's time blending with coconuts. With a kid, there's too much to share.

St. Lucia, one of the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles (Martinique and St. Vincent can be seen from different vantage points) is shaped like a loosely defined mango three and a half times the size of the District of Columbia. Its 160,000 inhabitants are mostly clustered in coastal towns, many of them in the north. We stayed at the southern end, just minutes from the airport but a self-contained world away.

A former Club Med that lay fallow two years after 9/11, the expansive, 254-room Coconut Bay made a comeback with an infusion of millions from Jamaican hotelier Butch Hendrickson. Fully refurbished with multiple family offerings, including a water park, it also has a large, adults-only wing and multiple amenities, including acres of tennis courts.

Extras include a paintball battleground and, soon, a distant go-cart track. It's all-inclusive with a vengeance, including well-presented buffets, several specialty restaurants, multiple bars and kitschy but fun evening entertainment such as karaoke night, at which Katie teamed with well-lubricated New York lawyers and acquitted herself well on a song I wished she'd not picked. The house bands impress.

The resort employs green designs such as rainwater recapture, provides training programs for a technical school and works to improve a school for mentally disabled children, funding it with a regular casino night.

The spa goes beyond the usual pamperings to provide acupuncture and iridology, an alternative medicine technique of studying the iris to determine a patient's health. Manoj Kutteri from India amazed me with his spot-on analysis of my own iris.

With lots of World War II glory in my family, I figured I'd be a natural at paintball. After Katie's team slaughtered me three straight, I called upon the resort's concierge to organize less humiliating outings.

First up, zip lining from ground operator Palm Services. I've experienced plenty of rain forests. All are wondrous, but I've never seen any more beautiful than those in St. Lucia, with their giant ferns, bird of paradise plants, orchids and infinite palette of greens.

The beauty is particularly stunning from the 18 platforms that provide nearly a mile of zip line thrillers through the top of the forest canopy, as long as 800 feet and as high as 150 feet. The minimum age is 6 years old, and the maximum weight is 300 pounds.

Next up was a safari from Island Adventures in an open-back Land Rover with padded bar supports to enable passengers to risk standing during hairpin turns on rain forest roads through the mountainous interior.

Stopovers included cooling off in a chilly but gorgeous waterfall. Sulphur Springs, a "drive-in volcano," offered a trail around the caldera's clouds of steam, boiling mud pots and superheated water that eventually pours into mineral baths downstream. Hummingbirds swarm the surrounding flowers.

Another stopover was Diamond Botanical Gardens, with mineral baths built in 1784 to soak the soldiers of Louis XVI.

There's an intriguing cultural blend of French and English influences, as dueling empires flipped St. Lucia at least 14 times, after an initial discovery by Spain and some Dutch enterprises.

Pirates, sometimes at war with each other, were in abundance. Early European visitors often met harsh fates at the hands of the fierce Caribs, who by 800 had wiped out the Arawak Indians who had arrived around 200.

The Caribs were wiped out or absorbed, and African slave descendants, primarily Catholic, are the largest group on the island.

Independent since 1979, this well-educated country with a high life expectancy remains in the British Commonwealth.

Other pleasures included a sailing-and-snorkeling excursion aboard the 37-foot Beneteau Oceanis, via Mystic Man Tours. Departing from the Bay of Soufriere, passengers can see a giant gunsight formed by two volcanic plugs, Petit Piton and Gros Piton, from the water. The Unesco World Heritage site underscores the island's South Pacific appearance.

Coconut Bay organized a romp on all-terrain vehicles along rugged coastlines and through banana plantations amid bemused horses and sheep. The rainy season only adds to the fun.

Afterward, we stopped at the house of a couple who make wine from local fruits, and I organized a tasting.

A favorite experience was a day spent with Nerville Labadie of Nerv's Taxi Service. He pulled a vehicle from his fleet for my own photo safari of fishing villages, countryside, graveyards and ramshackle buildings.

I explored Balenbouche Estate, a secluded inn on stunning grounds well worth a stay. Visitors should at least have a meal and tour its 18th century sugar factory ruins with their end-of-the-world feel.

As St. Lucia images slipped into my mind's eye, I mused over returning for the annual Jazz Festival from May 1 to 10 and St. Lucia Carnival celebrations in July.

We also hit Auntie Debbie's, the ever-expanding Laborie roadside restaurant run by Nerv's aunt, a former singer who came home to St. Lucia to make Kweyol cuisine that made our lips quiver.

This remarkable island made all our senses quiver.

Through April 15, Coconut Bay is offering a rate of $570, per night, double, for a gardenview room.

For more information about the resort, visit For more on St. Lucia tourism, visit

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