The Welches thought they’d done everything right. They visited St. Lucia, which is one of the most popular honeymoon destinations in the Caribbean. It’s also a gorgeous island. And they booked through a reputable all-inclusive resort, Sandals.
“We had a horrible experience that will remain with us for our whole lives,” Katherine Welch wrote to me. “Please help us.”
Before I do, I should mention a few disclaimers. Back in 1993, as a cub reporter for Travel Weekly, I reviewed a new Sandals resort in St. Lucia. It wasn’t a positive article. The owner of Sandals, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, was so upset that he canceled his million-dollar ad buy with the magazine.
The experience was truly instructive. Honeymoons are a hundred-million dollar business, and Sandals wasn’t messing around. Neither did my employer, which promptly removed me from the Caribbean beat and banished me to covering Alaska — but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Anyway, I wouldn’t be asking you, dear readers, if this trip can be saved if Sandals St. Lucia Halcyon had answered the Welches’ letter. So let’s get right to it.
Back in May, Nicholas Welch surprised his fiancee with a St. Lucia honeymoon. It took place Nov. 7 to 12, which is a great time to visit the island. It’s outside the most active part of hurricane season, but just before the crush of winter travelers arrives.
When they arrived at the resort, they found their honeymoon suite hadn’t been serviced. The shower head didn’t work and there was no hot water in the room for the duration of the Welches’ stay.
But what really upset the couple were the little things — what I like to refer to as “laundry list” items — that ordinary vacationers might dismiss. But a honeymoon is no ordinary vacation. You take it once, maybe twice, in your life. Everything has to be perfect, and indeed, Sandals advertises its product to honeymooners as being just about perfect.
• They had no champagne when they checked into their honeymoon suite.
• The knob kept falling off of the “fixed” shower.
• They didn’t receive notification about a sunset cruise Katherine’s parents had booked for her.
• Reservations for their candlelight dinner and couples massage got screwed up.
• They delivered the wrong breakfast in bed order to the suite.
My initial reaction in reading these complaints were, “Come on!” These are such little problems, and even the most significant one — which is that the couple had double-booked a sunset cruise and that the resort hadn’t refunded it yet — was fairly minor.
I know what a honeymoon from hell is, and this is not it. If her resort had been washed away in a hurricane, that would be a disaster. But this, to the average reader, is an average Caribbean vacation.
But not from Katherine’s perspective.
“This was our one and only honeymoon, and can never be replaced,” she told me. “We are telling all of our engaged and soon to be engaged friends to stay away from Sandals.”
Well, alright. That’s a little dramatic, but I can also see her point. She’d been sold the idea that this would be a perfect, one-of-a-kind Caribbean honeymoon, and Sandals let her down.
I’m a little surprised that Sandals didn’t respond to her letter. Had it done so, then she wouldn’t be asking me for help, and I wouldn’t be writing this and asking you if I should help. But here we are.
I don’t know how to handle this one. If all these things had happened to me on a stay in the Caribbean, I would just shrug them off. I would thank my lucky stars that the volcano didn’t erupt, that my van didn’t careen off a cliff or that my plane didn’t crash into the side of a mountain. (Now that would be serious.)
At the same time, I think the Welches were sold a product they didn’t get. And when they complained about it, they didn’t receive a timely answer. That’s not the way you want your honeymoon to end, is it?
Update (6 p.m.): Sandals has responded to the couple’s complaint. It sheds some additional light on their experience.
Thank you for your correspondence with regards to your experiences during your honeymoon with us in November this year. In order for honeymooners to receive the honeymoon package on arrival, we must receive information prior to arrival, indicating they are honeymooners. We had no prior information that you were on your honeymoon. However, when the matter was brought to our attention the package was extended to you the day after your arrival.
During your stay with us, we were experiencing some problems with the hot water line which resulted in the problems you encountered with the hot water. Although the hotel has a preventative maintenance program in place from time to time there may be problems with faucets etc. We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.
The Candlelight dinner and massage were booked for the La Toc Resort. You were informed that the menu would have to be obtained from La Toc or you would have to go to the resort to choose the menu. You decided to have it sent to the resort and that was the reason for the delay.
It is regrettable that you were not informed, prior to you booking the tour that your mother prepaid a Sunset Cruise for you. This resulted in the two tours overlapping. As a goodwill gesture you were given a fifty percent discount off the Joe Knows Tour. Your parents were refunded via credit card, numbers ending 8383, on November 17th for the Sunset Cruise which she paid for.
You informed Mr. George that in order to “ease the sting” there is a bowl in the resort shop costing $29.99 which you wanted, that was given to you complimentary.
At Sandals we are cognizant of the fact that a couple’s honeymoon is no doubt a once in a life time occasion to celebrate the bliss of marriage and for this reason we make every effort to ensure that clients are as comfortable as possible. We are disappointed that your stay was not one hundred percent reflective of our usually high standards, but we hope that upon reflection of the positive aspects you will give us another opportunity to ensure you enjoy the true Sandals experience.
The letter is dated Dec. 9.
(Photo: Or bitalj oe/Flickr)