Sandals is the brand synonymous with luxury, honeymoons and romance.
So when I was invited on a group trip a couple of weeks ago, alongside fellow bloggers, I couldn't quite believe it.
Little old me, who hadn't ever stayed in a hotel back before I started this blog, was being sent to stay at a five star luxury resort with all inclusive activities, food and fun.
Er. Pinch me, please.
And if that wasn't enough, the resort in question was the incredible Sandals Grand St Lucian. In - you guessed it - Saint Lucia.
So, armed with enough summer dresses to cater for an entire resort, I headed off to the Caribbean for an adventure of a lifetime.
And while I already had high expectations, they were blown out of the window upon arrival. So sit back, relax and let me take you through just FIVE reasons why a Sandals resort needs to be next on your bucket list.
By Scarlett Dixon
They all offer something unique
Although there are three different Sandals resorts on the island of Saint Lucia, each one offers something very different. And this notion is reflected in other Sandals resorts all over the world.
So while you can indeed invest in the Sandals chain as a brand - and enjoy the concept, the friendly staff and the wonderfully intimate ethos, you can be guaranteed a very unique and special experience every time.
It's not a cookie cutter brand, as each hotel harnesses their local surroundings in a different way, generating a very different atmosphere and feel.
While staying at a Sandals resort in St Lucia, the 'stay and play' concept is adopted for the duration of your trip. This means that while you 'sleep' at one hotel, you can indeed eat and enjoy each of the resorts - taking advantage of a free shuttle service between each one. So if you wanted to try out the different activities, restaurants and pools at all three resorts during your stay, you totally could.
The Sandals Grande St Lucian where we stayed during our trip to the island is a stunning hotel, with a gorgeous sandy beach, over water bungalows (we did manage to sneak a peek inside one of these - see above for evidence) and an assortment of different restaurants and pools.
It was the perfect place to unwind, kick back and relax with a fresh coconut. Or grab a pizza from Dino's and chill out poolside.
It's also conveniently located near to Rodney Bay and Pigeon Island National Park, so there's plenty on offer for guests if they do wish to venture outside the resort.
Sandals Halcyon is a more intimate resort, with a real 'boutique' feel to it. I may go as far to say that it *might* be my favourite, if purely for the fact they have guacamole, salsa and nachos on tap all day.
Accommodation is in the form of cabana style houses, which are arranged in a crescent shape, making the very most of the coastal location.
For guests wishing to opt for a cabana with their very own private pool, there are currently an assortment of private pool rooms too - with more being added to the resort frequently, as they are so popular.
Sandals Regency La Toc is the largest Sandals resort on the island, spaced out over 220 acres of well kept coastal land. It has an assortment of room offerings, ranging from two-storey private pool suites (complete with your own butler) to the super luxurious Millionaires suites. We dined at this resort twice during our time on the island - and both times, the food was absolutely incredible. I'd highly recommend their Pitons Restaurant, which serves pumpkin soup with cinnamon croutons. It was without a doubt, the best soup I've ever tasted. And I'm now trying to recreate this dish at home, albeit without much luck!
Everything is included
Obviously the premise of 'all inclusive' is that everything is included, however my experience proved that Sandals offers so much more than a standard all inclusive resort.
They really have thought of every tiny detail and cater for a wide range of guests.
For example, in addition to the 9 different restaurants, offering a plethora of cuisines, you also have a number of activities each day - such as beach parties, pool parties and poolside games.
We tried sushi at Soy (where I can highly recommend the crispy spicy tuna rolls), tuna steaks on the barefoot beach restaurant (where you are encouraged to dine barefoot, to enjoy the sand between your toes), seafood at Gordons (a restaurant over the water itself), pick up a takeaway pizza for lunch at Dino's, enjoy crepes at Josephines, jerk chicken by the pool or have an a la carte breakfast at Toscanini's.
The opportunities are endless. And obviously we sampled ALL of the above. You know, er, all in the name of research.
There were even ones we didn't get a chance to sample too - such as the teppanyaki Kimono's.
Plus, water sports such as Snorkelling, kayaking, paddle boarding, windsurfing and scuba-diving* (free for certified divers, fee applies to others) are also included in the price, which is ideal for couples like David and I - whereby I prefer to laze by the pool reading my book and he wants to engage in an activity.
The best of both worlds!
It's perfect for couples
As I mentioned previously, Sandals is a popular choice for honeymooners and couples, since the resorts are all 'couples only'.
It's the perfect place to spend time with your partner.
And if wedding bells are on the horizon and you've always fancied getting married abroad, then Sandals is your perfect place since weddings hosted there are actually FREE.
Yup, their standard wedding package - complete with reception, food, drink, cake and a bridal bouquet is totally free for guests who have booked a 3 night or more stay at a Sandals resort.
And I guess the best thing of all would be that you wouldn't need to jump on a plane or travel to your honeymoon, as you'd already be there!
However, for families - Sandals also have a off-shoot company called 'Beaches' which offers the same luxury all-inclusive premise, but with different activities and offerings to suit both children and adults.
The staff are incredible
One unique aspect about the Sandals resorts is that despite being a large, global chain - the brand is still run by the original family.
And this 'family' ethos extends to all the staff members, who each seem to be genuinely enthused to work for the resorts.
I met so many bar-staff, waiters, poolside attendees and even cleaners who would smile as you passed in the corridor, say 'good morning' or ask how your day went. And it didn't feel like that false pretence of friendliness, it was all genuine.
I can often find it tricky going to another part of the world and having the reassurance that I'm going to be able to eat dairy-free items, without being vastly limited. However during my time at Sandals not once did I have to choose something else because it had dairy in it.
They gave me a huge beaming smile, said they would tweak it and speak to the chef and assured me that it was possible. It made the world of difference because I never felt like I was missing out.
This even extended to breakfast, when the chefs made me up a generous portion of French Toast each morning, made with almond milk and sprinkled with icing sugar and cinnamon.
I do think it makes such a big difference to your overall experience when the staff are happy, accomodating and want to join in the conversation.
They really have thought of everything
From the moment you step off the plane, collect your cases and are escorted through to their very own Sandals airport lounge, adjacent to the main building, to freshen up before your transfer, it's clear that you're going to be in good hands.
Every tiny detail has been perfected to ensure your stay is a memorable one.
I loved the fresh coconuts that they deliver to your sun lounger each morning (rum, optional) and the morning 'breeze' newspaper that slides under your door informing you of the next few days activities.
The fire pits where you can enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail with friends, watching the sun set gently over Pigeon Island.
The allergen information available on each menu.
Have you visited a Sandals resort? If so, which one? Or where is next on your bucket list?
Please note, this post is part of a press trip with Sandals however my opinions are entirely my own.