Introducing Admiral Travel’s new Hilton Family Travel Journal! As most of you know, Ryan & Malaka Hilton typically spend most of the year traveling, whether escorting guests on Founders Journeys and private departures, or performing site visits at partner properties across the globe.
“As the world turned in 2020, our plans for the year were sidelined – like everyone’s – and we found ourselves home in Sarasota, Florida with a little extra time on our hands. This was a perfect opportunity to connect more deeply with our young adult children, Alexandria and Carter, and with each other, too,” notes Malaka Hilton, CEO of Admiral Travel.
Alex is a rising sophomore at Florida State University and a budding travel marketer who is wrapping up her first summer internship with ATI’s marketing agency. It was at her suggestion that Ryan & Malaka lean into the travel investigator part of the job in this age of the virus. To ensure that Admiral Travel can offer our guests the best, most accurate possible answers to the many questions you undoubtedly have, our team considers it our responsibility to venture out into the world, to support the global travel industry as much as possible, and to report back to you what we learn.
And so in mid-July 2020, Ryan and Mal packed their bags for the first time since March (which is basically forever from their perspective), departing for the gorgeous Caribbean island of St. Lucia.
From both Ryan and Malaka’s unique perspectives, here is what both found noteworthy about their journey.
Through Malaka’s eyes:
When you travel for a living, and all of sudden that is taken away from you (thanks, COVID-19), you naturally find yourself dreaming of your next international getaway. When some countries started to lift borders to Americans, Ryan and I jumped at the chance to go somewhere.. anywhere… and one unvisited island that had always felt inviting happened to be open to us! Located in the West Indies in the southern Caribbean Sea, just a short 4 hour flight from the SE United states, we decided St. Lucia would be our perfect first trip since March.
St. Lucia requires a presentation of a COVID-negative test for all arriving passengers. At time of press, it is a test within 7 days of arrival but we anticipate they may shorten that.
We booked Delta since they are taking the social distancing more seriously than American Airlines. The choices for us in Florida are either American out of Miami, non-stop to Hewanorra International Airport (UVH is the code for St Lucia’s largest airport) or from Sarasota via Atlanta on Delta. As long as Delta is allowing that middle seat to stay open, I recommend flying that way.
There were only 12 people on our flight down, so social distancing was clearly not an issue, but as travel opens up, I caution everyone to check the airline’s rules before booking. And as long as masks are considered effective, make sure the airlines you choose REQUIRES passengers to wear that mask! (Delta did.)
Upon arriving on the ground in St. Lucia, we were welcomed with bright eyes and warm smiles that could be felt although not seen behind masked faced. There was a dedicated team of medical professionals at the airport who were thorough in checking our paperwork (negative COVID test results) as well as taking our temperature and confirming where we were staying.
Our driver met us (a requirement to have a driver vs. taxi) and immediately refreshed our hands with Purell.
Our review of Ladera Resort
Due to COVID, Ladera’s doors had been closed until the day we arrived so it was very quiet. The team did an amazing job of taking temperatures every time guests entered the common area or left the property (right now you can only leave if going on an organized water adventure.. fishing, boating, etc… which we did and LOVED! )
Ladera is in an amazing location up in the hills with a view of the famous Pitons. She could use a bit of a refresh in design and overall hardware, in the rooms and in the common areas. If you don’t like wood furniture, don’t go… because it is all carved brown wood EVERYWHERE!
Our room featured a heated private plunge pool, all freshwater. You truly don’t need to leave your room as I found the pool to be a true highlight; with that, the old-fashioned feel of the room truly fades away.
Because the rooms are situated up high in the mountain, the breeze is fantastic. There are only 3 walls to the room so it must be noted that there is no air conditioning system. Don’t worry that there is no A/C though… I am a huge A/C fan (pun intended) and it didn’t bother me! We were there in summer, so expect some insects — that’s just a given.
All meals are taken in the Dasheen and the food is AMAZING – kudos to the chefs! If it weren’t for them, I may not have even taken notice of the hiking trail and a gym on site. The wine list is great, too. St. Lucia is not exempt from Caribbean price points in this regard… you mustn’t be shocked by the $180 bottle of Veuve Clicquot, but hey – they have Veuve!
Dinner menus changed about every two nights and the selection was very dynamic. The Chef even made ceviche, filets, tartare, and tacos from the mahi mahi we caught on our day of fishing! We felt like he was our own personal chef.
The adventures to book off-property were really well priced – I don’t know if that is because of COVID or if it’s always that way — but pricing was very good in comparison to other island destinations.
The one thing I was pretty disappointed by (and frankly rather surprised) is that the GM was nowhere to be found. With only 8 – 12 guests on property and always at the dining tables at the same time, the GM was never there to greet the guests. At a time when leadership is so important and customer feedback is necessary, all GMs should be front and center talking to their guests, making sure they have everything they need and that all of their concerns are dealt with.
Overall, I would definitely return. Ryan and I thoroughly enjoyed our time there and we hope to send you there… or anywhere else that is open for business… during this time.
Through Ryan’s eyes: (be sure to read with Ryan’s Zimbabwean accent!)
Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport was very quiet and we breezed through check-in and TSA with absolute ease.
The Atlanta airport including the rail system was uncrowded, and social distancing markers and posted signs stating requirements and recommendations were everywhere. Audible announcements about the same could be heard throughout the short journey on the train.
*Masks were required throughout the navigation of both SRQ and ATL airports.
Boarding with limited seating available on the aircraft – from the rear of the plane – was smooth and uncongested with no standing and waiting for any reason. Masks were required on the aircraft for the duration of both flights. On both flights, sealed clear plastic bags with snacks, water and a wipe were distributed by the cabin crew.
Every step of the way it was very clear that the airport and aircraft staff and crews were doing all possible to keep the travelers and the staff/crew as safe as possible. We felt very safe and I certainly felt that all spaces were very clean. Far fewer touchpoints (opportunities for transmission) than there were before.
Arrival into St. Lucia to Ladera
Between the aircraft and our guest room we had our temperature taken 5 times.
It is clear that everyone there is taking the precautions very seriously and being very thorough in their commitment to keeping their populations safe from exposure by implementing these requirements. We felt safe and welcomed.
It is also clear that those delivering the arrivals (immigrations, health and customs) processing, airport welcomes, vehicle services, property security and hospitality staff are all, like everyone else, just learning these new procedures as delivery was not particularly smooth.
I expect that with time and exposure the idea of having something gun-like pointed directly at your head so often (without flinching) will become a little less intrusive and inhospitable.
Ladera, the property itself
The physical structures are perched atop a ridge facing southwest with truly spectacular views of the ever present Gros Piton and Petite Piton with Sugar Beach below. Alex gave me the challenge of capturing the property without including those geographical features that flood online image searches of the property. The truth is, they are inescapable. They stare back at you from a variety of perspectives. Day and night. No matter where you are on property. (I failed dismally at the task of not including those Pitons in the images, Alex.)
The hardware is old. The service is warm and sincere with lots of island flavor. The food is fresh and flavorful. Service was somewhat out of practice and for a property that claims and aims for high position internationally, they need work. At times, service was slow. But your time at Ladera should be slow.
We had our temperature taken 5 times a day: each time we entered the common areas of the property, and every time we left and returned to the property. All staff were wearing masks at all times.
Outside Activities (booked through Ladera)
Our snorkel, catamaran and charter fishing all were well delivered. Nothing fancy but clean, safe and well presented. My understanding is that during high season, under normal travel conditions, this stretch of coastline from Soufriere to Marigot Bay may have some riviera status and is frequented by many yachts and some of the superyachts. On every excursion we had the whole coastline to ourselves.
Our 7-day getaway felt necessary and was as comfortable as can be expected during times like these, for sure. We hope that once you again find comfort in travel, you trust our Admiral Travel team to accompany you on your journey.