Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
April 1 1996
Back to CTR Homepage
Last update 28 Mar 1996 2158 utc
PUBLICATION SCHEDULE: PLEASE NOTE THAT THE CTR WILL BE PUBLISHED ON MAY 15 AND THEN ABOUT JULY 15 AS IS THE USUAL SUMMER SCHEDULE. REGULAR FIRST OF THE MONTH ISSUES WILL RESUME ON SEPT. 1.
1/ ANTIGUA: CLUB ANTIGUA AND THE ISLAND BY PAUL GRAVELINE,
2/ JOURNEYS FOR APRIL 1996
1/ ANTIGUA: CLUB ANTIGUA AND THE ISLAND BY PAUL GRAVELINE, EDITOR
When I returned from my sixth visit to St. Martin last July, I resolved to visit some of the other islands which I had not seen in my previous travels, in particular, Antigua and Barbados. Since February air connections were simpler to Antigua than Barbados, I decided to visit Antigua first.
While I had plane reservations, I had no place to stay on Antigua. In the fall I had received and published in the CTR a promo for Club Antigua from their publicity people in New York. While discussing my upcoming trip to Antigua with the PR people they offered me a complimentary week at Club Antigua. Of course, I accepted.
Although I was the guest of Club Antigua , I've tried to be as objective as is possible in my reporting but did come away with a very favorable impression of the property. It provides very good value for money for someone desiring a well run beachfront Caribbean all-inclusive property with a fairly active schedule of watersports and entertainment. The week I was there they hosted an international clientele with only about one third being Americans. I found this enhanced the vacation experience.
One important fact does stand out: I never met or spoke with any guest who had encountered any rude, impolite or less than helpful staff people. This is the first Caribbean resort to which I have been where I can make that statement. In fact, I would have to say this was also true for all the other people whom I encountered in Antigua including the notoriously rude worldwide fellowship of Taxi drivers.
Club Antigua: The Resort
Club Antigua is a resort which stretches along a 1/2 mile of beach on the western shore of Antigua. It covers 40 acres and consists of 470 rooms arranged in 2 and 3 story buildings. There are 6 apartments. I had room 578 at the far end of the beach on the 3rd floor. Judging by the other rooms which I visited, mine was probably one of the best at the property. The basic construction is stucco, typical of many Caribbean resorts. The fact that Club Antigua did not sustain much damage in last fall's hurricane is a testament to the good condition of the structure.
They have 7 classes of rooms and some don't have a/c so be sure to check with your travel agent when booking Club Antigua, especially if room ambiance is of importance to you. In general, the rooms seem on par with others which I'd occupied in the Caribbean.
The beach extends 1/2 mile along the water and is of sufficient length as to never be overly crowded. I like significant amounts of shade on a beach and the hotel has placed many artificial palm like structures to enhance the natural shade of the trees. Despite this, many guests would go out very early in the morning to claim a shady spot. I guess building a roof over the beach would be the only real solution to the problem!
There are quite a lot of watersport activities including substantial jet ski traffic. Safe swimming areas have been designated thus greatly reducing any possibility of interaction between swimmers and sail or motor powered vehicles.
Many languages can be noted on the beach reflecting the international character of the guests.
There are the usual people tying to sell jewelry, hair braiding etc. But unlike other islands which I have visited, a simple "no thank you" would be all it took to ward off these folks. I never saw any rude or obnoxious pressure to buy anything. No one hounded you constantly to buy something.
Club Antigua boasts of 4 restaurants. One of which, the Flamboyant, requires reservations for dinner and is more upscale than the others. You are allowed 2 visits to this facility during your visit. Regular readers know that I'm no connoisseur and, people with whom I had become friendly enjoyed eating in the main dining area so I never sampled the food at the Flamboyant.
The main restaurant ( the Palm Court, if I remember correctly), serves food in a buffet style at all times. There are the usual 3 meals per day. Tables accommodated either 2 or 4 people and you could string them together to make for larger groups. Here, the food is not necessarily fancy but very plentiful and always of very good quality. I never head anyone complaining about the amount or quality of the meals, in fact, I heard a lot of compliments about the dining experience. It seemed like the dining staff was programmed to go out of their way to help the guests. Unable to locate milk, I asked a staff member where it could be found, he offered to go in to the kitchen and get me some as there was none in the dining area. This was typical of the dining area help. The other restaurants specialized in Italian food and West Indian food. I ate at the Italian restaurant one night and it was, like all the their food, quite good and plentiful. They had a small grill providing burgers etc. in the late afternoon when the main areas were closed. You never needed to go hungry at Club Antigua.
There are a number of watering holes opens from about 10 AM on till around midnight. These serve soft drinks, juices and of course the harder stuff. Despite the free flowing liquor, I never saw anyone who was drunkenly unruly. There were certainly people enjoying themselves but no one disturbed the merriment of the other guest. I asked others about this and no one reported having observed any problems.
Entertainment consisted of a local band late in the afternoon followed by a more formalized program after dinner at about 9 PM. Each night there was a "show" of varying quality. These included a limbo party, blues singer, dance troupe and staff talent night. There is always something going on to keep one busy if that's what you desire. Around 11 PM a disco opens. It didn't look too busy on the night when I checked it around midnight.
For children there is a mini-club which runs during the day beginning at 10 AM and there are activities for the kids to do. My impression was that very young children tended to stay with their parents on the beach.
Getting married at Club Antigua is a big business. Three or four weddings a day are not unusual. It costs about $400 for the ceremony with wedding and 7 night accommodations packages available.
A couple of things which could use some improvement included the size of the swimming pool. Given the extent of the property and the fact that the pool is frequently used for group activities, a bigger pool might be helpful. It was probably designed before the resort reached its present size. About 1/2 the pool is purposely shallow and designated for children. This is a good feature but does limit the extent to which adults can use the pool during the day.
The very small casino is a work in progress. The fact that a number of the slots were not in service compounded the problem. Word on the beach was that the machines paid infrequently but in large numbers when hit. So you would get few 2 or 5 coin hits but eventually a 50 coin hit. That was my experience.
So who should book at Club Antigua? The visitor mostly likely to enjoy Club Antigua would be someone interested in a clean well run beachfront resort with an active watersports program and a very accommodating staff. There is little hassle in getting adequate food and since you can check all your valuables, there is no continual fear that you might lose your money or important papers. Check-out consisted of walking up to the counter and handing in your key. The fastest check out I've ever experienced!
The beach is very nice and roomy. Although as mentioned above, obtaining a shady spot may go to the early birds. There were families and couples from all over North America and Europe as well as some single people and small groups of friends who had come to avoid the northern winters. If you are interested in a secluded romantic spot, then Club Antigua might not be your first choice. Everyone I spoke with thought they were getting very good value for money, and said they would consider returning.
ANTIGUA: THE ISLAND
I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by Antigua. Probably the most surprising fact was that I never met any unfriendly or rude local people. I sure they must be somewhere and maybe I just got lucky, but I found all the ones I encountered at least civil.
While I didn't travel extensively around the island, I did make a few strategic not to be missed stops.
St. John's is the capital and its tourist oriented commercial district Heritage Quay seems to have taken quite a hit from the Hurricane. There was a lot of banging and sawing going on making repairs. A true evaluation of the town probably wouldn't be possible until the reconstruction is complete. Children were on double sessions because a number of schools were destroyed or heavily damaged. All this would not deter me from returning to Antigua. I also visited the fledgling Antigua and Barbuda Museum. It contained simple but interesting exhibits and the staff was very willing to explain the purpose and mission of the museum to me.
Antigua seemed much less tourist oriented than other destinations I've visited. St. John's reflected the wear and tear not only of the hurricane but also of the daily commercial activity. There is the usual plethora of T shirt stalls etc. But clearly St. John's is more centered on serving the commercial needs of the Antiguans than on catering to an upscale transient tourist population.
If the Chicago Cubs are a religion on the north side of Chicago, then the religion of the eastern Caribbean is cricket. On the day I was riding around the island, every cab driver had his radio tuned to the match in India. At critical junctures they would cease talking to me and turn up the radio. While the match was in progress, my driver pointed out the home of the West Indian captain as we were driving by . He was forced to resign a few weeks later when the team played dismally and even lost to Kenya causing a great deal of consternation in the region.
I correctly opted to ride taxis around Antigua The government charges around $20 for a special Antiguan license and combined with the left side driving and somewhat Kamikaze nature of the locals, it is probably a good decision if you aren't going to be doing a lot of meandering. Another road hazard is that with no underground sewerage facilities, many of the roads have significant ditches on the side constituting significant navigational hazards.
Clearly one of the premier locations in the Caribbean, Nelson's Dockyard combines an aura of history with a modern ship provisioning center. You can experience history and see some magnificent boats at the same time. The dockyard seemed fairly quite for a Mid-February day and the locals told me that business was down because people had heard of the hurricane damage. I didn't notice any specific devastation at the Dockyard which is well worth the entrance fee of $2.50.
I can't even imaging the splendor of Antigua Sailing Week which takes place later this month. It is one of the three most famous regattas in the world and has the most tonnage with over 240 boats participating last year.
The next stop is also a classic Caribbean location: Shirley Heights. Overlooking English Harbor and Falmouth Bay this site ranks with the best of Caribbean views. On Thursdays and especially on Sundays, there is a huge party from 3 PM till whenever with steel bands etc. I unfortunately missed it but by all accounts, its quite a big splash.
Do not visit or stop in Antigua unless you visit these two beautiful locations.
I really had no reason to leave Club Antigua but a travel agent friend of mine had requested that I check out both Hawksbill and Yepton Beach. They turned out to be about 5 miles apart just outside of St. John's.
This resort sprawls out along 4 coves on the western side of the island. Hence they promote the fact that the resort has four beaches and this is a legitimate statement.
The main reception and dining area is situated on a hill which leads down to the first beach along which most of the rooms are located. There are single story beach cottages with some two or three story buildings set back from the water's edge. There are also some superior cottages. Of course, there is the obligatory beach bar, restaurant and tennis court and swimming pool. The most secluded of the beaches is a clothes optional one with no hotel rooms overlooking it. The third beach had no one on it. You could have your own private beach.
They told me that they had 50 per cent occupancy on the day I was there but it certainly didn't seem crowded. This would be a good spot for people trying to get away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. I think the guide told me that none of the rooms had phones, TVs or more importantly, a/c. So if these amenities are important to you, double check before booking. The four coves give Hawksbill a unique type of atmosphere.
The clientele seemed to be couples and European families with little children.
Don't expect a lot of action but for a secluded spot, this looks like a nice place
YEPTON BEACH RESORT
Yepton is only about 10 minutes from St. John's on the west side of Antigua. It is a relatively small property with 38 units. Fortunately, the owner, Edgar D'Sousa, a man from Montreal, was present and guided me around the resort.
Again it has the pool, bar, tennis court, and small restaurant. The brochure mentions entertainment at night.
Both of the units which Edgar showed me were very clean and quite spacious. I did not get the impression that I was in a resort designed to squeeze the most units from the existing land. The studio units had full kitchens and ceiling fans but were also air conditioned. Every room is a beach view and has a balcony or patio overlooking the Caribbean. Edgar said that there was 70 per cent occupancy that day but the beach was very quite. In fact, it extended quite a way beyond the buildings providing a more secluded location for the guests. This long stretch of beach with only 38 units on it is probably the major asset of the resort. An unwelcomed visitor named Luis did some landscaping damage and Edgar was busy trying to fix that up as well as building some type of natural screen for a man made area that contained building materials. As with most Caribbean resorts, things seemed to be in flux.
You might want to consider Yepton Beach Resort if you want a clean rather spacious living quarters on a very nice, almost private beach, not too far from St. John's. The accommodations look like they could easily lodge a family of four or two couples with no problem at all. Edgar himself spends significant time at the resort and since it is owned by one person and not a large chain, my guess is that it will remain well maintained. Edgar seemed very proud of it when showing me around the property. 800-361-4621 will get you in touch with his reservation people. All inclusive packages are available.
JOLLY BEACH MARINA
Right next to Club Antigua is the Jolly Beach Marina which is a very new development. It consists of a number of villas , a shopping mall, a marina with some very nice boats, a long beach and restaurant. You can book here and purchase day passes to Club Antigua about a 5 minute walk away. Apparently CHMS, the management company running Club Antigua, is managing some of the villas at the new location. They were offering upgrades ( apparently at no cost) to CA patrons who wanted to go and live in one of the villas. This seemed unusual. I didn't find anyone taking them up on that offer which indicated to me that most people were very pleased with CA even though the villas did constitute better accommodations. The villas are constructed around a small lagoon type area. I guess the eventual idea is that you'll dock you boat at the villa a la Ft. Lauderdale etc. A soon to be opened par 71 golf course is under construction ( Is par on the 18th a hole in one?)
I've seen some very reasonable charter pricing for this resort for the late spring. A typical price was $700 from Boston for one week with air included. Prices start at $80 for the villas themselves without air fare.
Again this is a good choice for families and groups of couples. If you don't purchase the all inclusive package for Club Antigua, you probably would have to rent a car if you stayed here. There is also a meal plan in conjunction with the marina restaurants -- about $25 a day with a limited choice of restaurants. There is also a very well stocked modern market on the premises.
That's it for my Antigua run down. The May 15th edition will carry a review of my Barbados visit in mid April.
/ JOURNEYS FOR APRIL 1996
ARUBA BY HUGH LAMLE
(Ed Note: Hugh has a beach house for rent on Aruba. Here are the details:
Aruba Beach House For Rent
Deluxe house 100 yards from your own private beach!
Four bedrooms (master bedroom with TV in separate wing)
Three bathrooms, plus outdoor shower
Separate sitting room with queen size sleep sofa.
Living room, with large TV, satellite receiver and stereo
Library with telephone answering machine (fax available)
Large fully equipped kitchen
Large, very private grounds with bar-b-que, gazebo with bar and beautiful tropical gardens
Large shaded verandah with tables for outdoor dining and views of the ocean and gardens
Separate guest house with live-in caretaker
Daily maid service included in rent
Our house is located in the finest residential area on the island, but less than two miles from most restaurants, casinos, hotels and two American style supermarkets with most American products. Windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, deep sea fishing, tennis and whatever Caribbean fantasy you desire is either on our private beach or close at hand. $2,800 - $2,000 per week and $ 8,500 - $6,000 per month depending on dates -- including daily maid service.)
Hugh can be contacted at :
Hugh R. Lamle
1185 Avenue Of The Americas, 18th Floor New York, New York 10036
Telephone 212-730-2000 FAX 212-843-5949)
Aruba is a self governed Dutch Caribbean Island wit that no unemployment, poverty or crime. With a population of 71,000 it's like small town America 100 years ago. If you leave your snorkeling or windsurfing gear on the beach, it will be there when you return. Everyone speaks English and the signs, menus, phone books etc. are all in English. Direct flights are available from New York and Miami among other places. Aruba has a very modern fully equipped hospital, a modern phone system for your fax and modem, a new Robert Trent Jones II golf course less than 1/2 mile from our house and you can drink the water.
The major industry is tourism and the local Arawak Indian and Dutch population is very friendly and helpful. Because Aruba is located 12 degrees from the equator and is a desert island, the weather is always perfect (that is if you like year round 82 to 85 degree temperatures, bright sunny skies, refreshing trade winds and crystal clear 82 degree, calm, turquoise Caribbean water every day of the year.) Aruba a is so far outside the hurricane belt storms are unheard of. The license plates tell the whole story; "Aruba - One Happy Island"
In any case, I just got back from 16 great days is Aruba. This report will contain some different info. Since we own a home there we of have needs that one time tourists don't but some regular visitors may. Also since I'm a fanatic windsurfer I know the country from that perspective.
Food. Pulblo and Ling both have good supermarkets. The meat in Ling is better. The bar b qued chicken in Pueblo is better. America product abound in both. Ling has DeCheccio Pasta. The frozen lobster tails in Ling and frozen shrimp are both very good. Fresh fish, shrimp and lobster are much cheaper and very good right off the boats at the harbour. Be sure to negotiate. A kilo of large shrimp should be $10.00.
If you need charcoal and lighter fluid after 8PM go to the Coastal Gas station.
Every Wed night Sailboard Vacations has a bar b que and windurfing video. $20.00 per adult $10.00 kids all you can eat steak, chicken, ribs, corn, rice, salad etc. Good food, friendly people of all ages, good videos and lots of fun.
Every Thurs. the Boardwalk Apartments has a Bar b Que catered by Boonoonoos. Same food as Boo... Good! Great videos and people. You don't have to surf to be there and enjoy the place. Boardwalk Apts. are the first driveway down the road to the north from the Marriot. If you need more info ask Dasher at the Vela Windsurfing place next to the Marriot.
Buying stuff. Discounting (after a fashion) has come to Aruba. Price Rite is a large store to the left of Ling & Sons and in back of the Sun Plaza. The best prices on appliances, and also snorkeling gear, coffee pots, beach chairs and what ever they have in stock. Not too negotiable but very good service and prices that are about 20% less the best negotiated prices on the island. Say hi to Maurice. We got a new T V , VCR, stove, refrigerator etc. from the. delivered and installed promptly and properly.
Windsurfing stuff. Gert Vandenberg who owns the Boardwalk Apartments noted above is a great custom board maker. They are expensive but worth it and he does excellent repairs. He is also a Neil Prayed sail dealer and about 25% lower price than America for the latest stuff plus no sales tax.
ARUBA BY KAREN MARINO
Needless to say we had 17 days of beautiful weather -- I think 2 or 3 drops of rain fell the entire time we were there.
We flew Air Aruba on Thurs., 2/8 (little bit of snow) and we
were delayed about 45 min. -- not too bad. Great flight, no
complaints. Arrived in Aruba right on schedule. Rented car at
Thrifty (airport) waited about 15 min. for car to be cleaned
up, paid $205 per week and #35 each extra
Day. Car was decent only problem was each morning when we would drive to the beach (we stayed at Caribbean Palm Village t/s) the brakes would make a horrible squeal. after the first time we stopped the car, the brakes would be fine. I guess the car didn't like waking up each morning.
We drove to CPV, where my parents were already staying and got
settled and had a relaxing dinner in. Mom bought shrimp off
the fishing boat in town and she cooked shrimp and pasta. We
stayed in a 2-bedroom at the CPV (newer bldg.), which is
extremely roomy and nice. The drawback is NO BEACH. We did use
the beach at one of the hotels (apparently the color GREEN is
a favorite of the beachworkers) and we had a beautiful spot
under a cluster of palm trees each
Day 2 - Had dinner at the Chalet Suisse: 2 lobster bisques, a salad, escargot, filet mignon (oh!), beef stroganoff and the two kids split a mixed grill (filet mignon, veal, chicken and shrimp - they loved it), an apple struedel, chocolate mousse, 4 sodas and 2 coffees - including tip $120
Day 3 - Lunch at Aruba Palm Beach Hotel - Sea Watch Restaurant: 2 pina coladas, a delicious burger w/fries, chicken salad sandwich, which was great - including tip $22. We really enjoyed their lunch. it was outdoors, near the pool, with lots of fish swimming in the little fish pools that they have.
Day 4 - Lunch at the Aruba Palm Beach again this time with the kids: roast beef sandwich; chicken salad sandwich; chicken salad platter and hot dog; 4 sodas - including tip $28. The kids loved it and my daughter said it was the BEST chicken salad she's ever had (she's 7). The lunches at the Aruba Palm Beach were so filling we just grabbed a quick bite for dinner.
Day 5 - Went into town for a LITTLE shopping. Is there such a thing as a LITTLE shopping?? Had lunch at the Paddock, which was a pleasant surprise - great crab salad sandwich. Most everything they offered for lunch was under $7.
Day 6 - Dinner at the Cunucu House: Happy hour drinks were only $2 each: 2 pina coladas; escargot, 2 French onion soups; kesha yena (which my husband loves) and I had the lobster tail (which was a little expensive - $32 - but was very good; 2 coffees; including tip - $80.
During the course of the
Days we got the bug to check out a few t/s. We looked at the CPV (no beach a big turn-off but were certainly priced right for the very large rooms they have); The Phoneix, witch is the one that is next to the "rusty royal" and they are offering pre-construction prices - big time pressure to buy - huge turn- off; Costa Linda - the name and the view they offer commands high prices; LaCabana - we were very impressed and very tempted but it was just a little TOO BIG and I was concerned about the beach area being roped off for coral.
Eventually we went to see the t/s at Sonesta Suites. We were very impressed with the grounds, and the private island that they have. It really offered everything we were interested in, especially since the kids are 7 and 9. We felt not only did it offer the pools and beach at the t/s but also the diversity of going to Sonesta Island and utilizing a different type of beach there. The rooms were a bit on the small side but we did get the larger one bedroom and we'll just have a cot brought in and put one of the kids in the pull-out in the living room. We really looked at it as a stepping stone for the future and since we bought week 7 the prices did get quite out of hand for larger units in other t/s. I think we'll be happy at Sonesta and with the convenience of the town we shouldn't need to rent a car for our entire stay. The only drawback was it was a Friday to Friday which I'm not crazy about.
Day 7 (2/14) We stayed in for dinner figuring that Valentine's
Day would pack the people into the restaurants and the food may not be up to par.
Day 8 Dinner at L'Escala (at Crystal Casino & Sonesta Hotel): What a great restaurant. Elegant, beautiful at sunset, excellent service: 2 drinks, smoked salmon appetizer (sliced fresh right at the table), escargot in a sauce that was to die for, I had a seafood fiesta which was a stuffed lobster tail, grouper, scallops and shrimp with veggies and Bob had chicken breast stuffed with crabmeat, chocolate mousse and a dessert which I can't remember but was custard-like with a fresh raspberry puree, 2 coffees - including tip - $128. This was a great restaurant.
Day 9 - Lunch at The Petit Cafe in town - Hot dog, chicken salad, burger, crab salad and 4 sodas - including tip $32. Lunch was o.k. -- not as good as I remembered it and definitely not as good as the Aruba Palm Beach.
Dinner at Papiamento - reservations made 5 days ahead just to get a table for two!! Escargot, Cocquille St. Jacques; salads; lobster tail, grouper, scallops and shrimp on the stone and fillet mignon and shrimp on the stone, 2 pina coladas and 2 coffees - including tip $96. I think you pay extra for the stone and the atmosphere, the food wasn't outrageous as I had remembered it.
Day 10 - Dinner at Tony Roma's - pleasantly surprised. Don't think I was ever at Tony Roma's and certainly would expect to eat ribs out while on vacation but really did enjoy it. Bob said he had the best Caesar salad in a long time there. We were six people that night. Three rib dinners, 1 chicken dinner and the kids ate of the children's menu - 1 chicken tender and 1 rib dinner, 4 sodas, 4 beers, 4 coffees - including tip $98.
During the day we mostly went on the beach. We did go on the Atlantis Submarine ride, which was interesting. It was a little expensive - $70 per adult; $30 per child under 12. We did get to see a lot of interesting and brightly colored fish - purplish, yellow, striped, a huge red snapper, some eel and other fish, the sea sponges, the coral reefs and the plane that they sunk for diving purposes. I would definitely recommend doing it once if you've never been diving - it's amazing what lives and grows so deep. The sub dives to 150 feet and it is quite comfortable (I do not like confined places).
Anotherday we packed a picnic lunch and drove around the island, lighthouse, cliffs, gold mines, casaburi rocks, natural bridge. We had our picnic out on the cliffs opposite the gold mines. What a place for a picnic!!
We decided to go to a Sun Day Brunch and really wanted to go to the brunch as L'Escala or the Sea Gull (at ABC) Most of the restaurants were either closed or not offering a brunch on 2/18.
Day 11 - Holiday Inn, Miramar Restaurant - Brunch - What a great brunch. We got there around noon and waited about 20 minutes to be seated. It cost $114.75 including tip for 4 adults and 2 children (I think it was $21 per/adult and $12 per/child + the 15% service charge). They served champagne and kept filling the glasses. They put pots of coffee on each table, which was nice since you didn't have to wait for a refill. They had fruit, juices, bagels, seafood salads, smoked salmon, shrimp, prosciutto & melon, cold cuts; they had made to order omlettes, waffles, fajitas (which were great), bacon, sausage, ham, potatoes, chicken, and on and on. They also had a dessert table, which I couldn't even look at. The entire time they had music and a gentleman singing all Caribbean- style music. It was really a great brunch and worth the price. The only regret was that we discovered it to late into our vacation and had no more sun rays left.
Day 12 - The island was nearly shut down because of the Carnival. No shops were open whatsoever on the entire island. Since there was nothing else to do, we were FORCED to lay under that cluster of palms on the beach. Another
Day of sun...what a life.
Dinner at Sole Mar which was good. Not real good service. We started out with a reservation for 8 people a few nights prior to going. When we got there they did not have a table set up for 8, even though it was only 6:30 and the restaurant was empty. Finally we were seated and we ordered. My husband order seafood fra diablo (sp??) and then before the waiter went on to take the next person's order, changed it to a shrimp dish instead. Two people ordered seafood combo's which were supposed to include calimari, the waiter said they were out of calimari but they would put extra shrimp with it, which was fine. My Mom ordered another seafood dish, my cousin and I had grouper in a lemon sauce (which was great) and the kids split an order of pasta. The kids ordered Caesar salads, and everyone else ordered house salads. When the house salads came it looked like lettuce shredded for coleslaw that you would use to garnish a plate, plus a sliver of tomato, and a pile of sliced onions. We were all laughing, because it actually looked like someone already ate the salads and we got the leftovers that they couldn't finish. When the dinners came that were supposed to have the extra shrimp it consisted of a piece of grouper, two scallops and two shrimp (I guess normally they would only put one shrimp). My Mom's seafood and pasta dish came piled high with calamari (which we figured was the reason why they couldn't put the calimari in the entrees that the others had ordered. My husband did get the right dinner, which we were surprised at. We had coffee, 3 glasses of wine, 3 beers and 2 sodas. We had a card that said "free glass of wine, soda or beer for each member of your party" and we gave it to the waiter. When he brought the check they charged us for the 2 sodas and 3 beers (which they shouldn't have), and they charged us for the original dinner that my husband ordered (which was about $6 more than the one he changed to and ate). When we called the waiter over and explained, he went back to where ever and about 1/2 an hour later they deducted the amount of the sodas and beers, the amount of the dinner my husband originally ordered AND the amount of the dinner my husband ate. Needless to say we paid the bill, which came to about $150 including tip. We got even for those skimpy salads.
Day 13 - Back to the Sea Watch for lunch. As usual, great food. We had dinner in that night.
Day 14 - Dinner at La Trattoria el Farro Blanco "The
California Lighthouse". Made a 7:00 reservation a few
Days ahead. Got there around 6:15 and figured we'd watch the sunset and have a drink. Since are table was outside and was ready we decided to sit. Very casual atmosphere outside with people milling about watching the sunset and having a drink. Goats were on the rocks waiting for people to toss food to them. The sunset was gorgeous and it was a great night to eat dinner outdoors. The service was very slow and night very good. The food was good but the menu was a little limited. We were 4 adults and 2 kids: 2 pina coladas, 2 beers, 2 glasses of wine, 2 sodas, 2 orders of fried clamari, 1 carpecciou (sp), a shrimp cocktail ($9.95 for 4 medium shrimp), a Caesar salad and a house salad, 2 risotto with clams, squid, shrimp, a fettucine with salmon, filet mignon, and the kids split lasagna, a dish of ice cream and a chocolate mousse and 3 coffees. The bill came to $210 including tip. Quite honestly, the food was good the atmosphere was great, the service poor, and the menu limited. I'm not sure I'd rush back.
Day 15 - Dinner at Ventas Del Mar "The Golf Course" - Just Bob and I went to dinner - left the kids with mom and dad. We started with 2 pina coladas (were they big), an order of conch fritters and a cold crab and shrimp cocktail, we had house salads (I think). Entrees were lobster, shrimp and salmon, served with a huge helping of summer veggies and grilled salmon with prawns also with veggies. We shared a delicious piece of carrot cake and had two coffees. The bill came to $108 including tip and was well worth it. We had an outdoor table overlooking the golf course and the lighthouse in the distance. It was beautifully landscaped and was very nicely decorated. They had a 3 musicians inside playing and you could hear them from outside. You couldn't really see the sunset from where we were sitting because the clubhouse for the pool was in the way but the sky was beautiful and you were able to see the cruise ship departing the island far off in the distance. It was a great dinner and the service was the best we had on the island. I would go back again and again. They had a good variety on the menu also.
I did a little gambling while there. I'm not much of a gambler so I played Let it Ride a little while and didn't do too well. I started out winning in roulette a few nights in a row. But eventually they got all my winnings back. It was fun just the same. The kids were the only winners. They were giving my mom nickels to play for them in the slot machine. Some nights 10 nickels some nights a little more. She didn't want them to lose so she was buying rolls of nickels for them and telling them she won them. Scott ended up "winning" $12 and Dana "won" $7 (my daughter wasn't quite as eager to part with her money from night to night. My son told me he wants to start a special savings jar for when he turns 18 and can gamble in Aruba. He's only 10 now...what have we created??? Bob's the smart one, he doesn't gamble at all.
Day 16 - Dinner at the Pirate's Nest: 4 adults, 2 kids. Five of us had the salad bar, which was about $5 p/p; 1 shrimp bisque, a stuffed salmon entree, seafood combo with calimari, squid, grouper and lobster, chicken stirfry, chicken cordon bleu and the kids ordered off the "snack menu" and had a burger and chicken tenders. We had 4 beers, a glass of wine, 3 sodas and 4 coffees and the bill, tip included was $155. The service was very good. We sat outside on the deck overlooking the beach and I thought it was a little windy and cool. The food was very good.
Day 17 - Time to go home. We took the luggage to the airport at 11 a.m., checked it, got our seats assigned, paid our departure tax and then went into town to shop and gamble. Spent more money in the shops, left more money at the Crystal Casino and had a great lunch at the Braseria in the Sonesta Hotel. Just 4 of us had lunch there -- my son and my Dad opted for good old American Wendy's. The Braseria had a great salad bar for lunch for $10.95 and $12.95 for the salad/pasta bar. Bob had the salad bar, which consisted of fruits, salads, coldcuts and he really enjoyed it. My Mom and my daughter had the buffalo wings (each order had 10) and I had a fajita dinner with a combination of beef and chicken and 4 tortillas. We had 4 sodas and the billl was $55. It was a great lunch and next time I would definitely consider the salad/pasta bar, where they were preparing a variety of pasta dinners at the salad bar. The service was slow until at 2:30 I told them we had a plane to catch and needed to get to the airport and then they started moving things along.
We drove to Thrifty, dropped off the car, ran across to the airport and slowly made our way (like cattle) through the many lines. Our flight scheduled for 6:00, took off about 6:45 p.m. because of the winds at home. It was a bumpy flight as we started descending, but all else was fine. It was nice coming home to milder weather than we expected.
Earlier in the vacation we did eat in Valentino's which I forgot to mention. We made a reservation several days ahead for a Tues.
Day at 6:00. We ordered two glasses of wine, we shared a fried calimari appetizer, two salads, ordered a fettucini to share (which they forgot to bring out and brought out with our dinners - I should have sent it back but it looked good so we kept it). I had veal with mozzerella and mushrooms and Bob had a filet mignon. I barely ate any fettucini, and couldn't finish my dinner. Since we were staying right at the CPV, I asked them to wrap my veal and then they brought the dessert menu. We both had coffee and I ordered cream puffs to take with me. Unfortunately, when we got back to the room and I wanted to have them, I didn't like them. They were made with some sort of a cream cheese filling (the menu just said cream) and I couldn't eat them. The service and food were good and the bill was $125. I'm not so sure we would go back there again.
I really felt the food at L'Escala and Ventas del Mar far exceeded Valentino's. Valentino's is under new management and has a new chef, compared to 4 years ago when we were last there and I remembered it to be much better.
We went to the Jewel Box Revue at La Cabana and had a wonderful time. We had great seats and participated a number of times with the show. I must say those guys made some gorgeous women.
All in all it was a great trip. No complaints at all. I shot 11 rolls of film (36 exp.) and I'm anxious to get them back.
ARUBA BY JO ANN RENDEIRO
Departed Air Aruba in a snow storm, long boring story, arrived Aruba 12 hours after boarding the airplane. Happy to finally be there, we checked into the Hyatt for the first night (Saturday) and spent the remainder at Playa Linda.
The island has changed since last year, the large and colorful shopping center downtown is an eyesore (my opinion). There is a lot of congestion and the traffic lights are turned off as you can no longer make left turns on the main street. The beach areas have built a couple of docks for the watersports ops, Red Sail has a nice dock between the Hyatt and Americana. The other warehouse looking thing down the beach is another matter (again, my opinion). Lots of building going on in town, some new, some renovation.
As usual, the weather was great even though there were storms in the Caribbean. Tues. (3/12) evening the surf rolled in like I've never seen it before and Wed. there was some mess on beach and alot of erosion. When I left Wed. afternoon the waves were still crashing and the clean up crews had heavy equipment out removing the seaweed and debris.
We dined at all the usual places, and can't say I had a bad meal. I was disappointed with the Mill but the manager is now at Le Bistroquet so perhaps that had something to do with it. Papiamento was great as usual and Gasparito was a great first time experience for me. I wasn't too impressed with Tuscanny, don't know what all the fuss is about, there are better restaurants on the island. L'Escale was good and there was a man dining who had a wonderful voice and sang when the musicians came to his table. Think he was the hit of the evening. Chez Mathilde was good but "stuffy" as always.
We did several dives, the visibility ranged from good to poor as the week progressed. Can't imagine what is was like the last few days with the storm at sea. The hotels are warning people to be careful about doing watersports with the "gypsy" outfits on the beach. They recommend the larger operators who are licensed and insured. We use Red Sail because they are convenient and we have always had good service though sometimes the boats don't always cooperate. We went deep sea fishing on Sat., trolled for 4 hours and caught nothing. This is our second bad fishing experience, I think it's the phase of the moon.
Did go to the natural pools by horseback again. This seems to be getting more popular as there were 2 different stables there at the same time. There was also alot of jeep traffic. This leads up to another long story for another time.
ARUBA BY EDWARD CASEY
Just back from 10 days in Aruba..and, as usual, it was great..but some things have changed--and not for the better. A monstrous new gingerbread-like mall has gone up across from the outdoor fruit and craft markets. It is gaudy as hell and is aimed at one thing...capturing all the cruise ship passengers when they first hit the streets. Little Switzerland is large and foremost on the ground floor of this three-floor monstrosity. It is a gaudy sight and if there were any zoning laws at all it never would have been allowed.
It certainly will have a devastating effect on the main street merchants and the malls at the Sonesta Hotel and Seaport Village. The only thing it does not have is a casino.
There is like a barrier down the middle of the main road through town...you cannot make any lefthand turns anywhere...traffic is gridlocked in the afternoons.
It really creates a honky-tonk effect in what I always thought was a beautiful downtown.
The second bad thing that happened was some kind of a weird shift in the wind on Wednesday night cut a swatch through the sand at Eagle Beach (in front of Manchebo Beach Hotel and the Bisuti Beach Resort.
Water gushed in and completely covered (2 to 3 inches) of all the sand in front of Manchebo (and that is the widest part of the beach on the island!)..water was almost all the way up to the Pirates Nest Restaurant at Bicuti Beach.
The freak front eroded about 10 to 15 feet of the beach from the Aruba Beach Club down past Costa Linda.
I doubt if people in the high rise area even knew this happened at Eagle Beach. From Wednesday through Saturday Eagle Beach was pretty rough and..all of sudden..very stony near the water. We went swimming at the Marriot and La Cabana beaches Thursday and Friday.
I saw nor heard of any crime on the island but there was a story in the local paper that the juvenile crime problem is worsening and that the law will have to be changed to give authorities better ways to deal with juveniles. Another story about drugs said that cocaine "is easier to obtain than it would be to borrow florins to take a bus to St. Nicholas."
That's the bad news...the good news is we had a great time..stayed at Bucuti Beach and it was terrific. I never experienced such friendly people anywhere I have traveled in the world!
I would highly recommend the seafood buffet night (Sunday) at the Pirates Nest at Bucuti. Cost $27 per person (includes wine) but the seafood AND steak are great and the limbo show was the best I have seen.
We found the Tuscanny Restaurant at the Marriot absolutely fantastic and not as high-priced as you might expect...$21 for salmon...pasta dishes for $13...somewhat formal setting with an 80-year-old piano player who plays nostalgic songs all night. We liked it so much we went back a second night. Papiemento still is one of our favorites and we went for the first time to Twinklebones and would highly recommend it!!! Good prime rib and a GREAT SHOW with the singing waiters and waitresses.
Took a trip to DePalm Island for the first (and last time)..what a rip-off..food was terrible and there were so many people snorkeling they were bumping into each other.
This was my third straight year to Aruba..and I know many on here have streaks I will never break...but it is the only island I will ever go to in the future.
The weather was absolutely perfect...the people as friendly as ever and the food good at reasonable prices.
Now if the casinos would only pay out a little better....but you can't have it all.
BARBADOS BY ARTHUR GOODWIN
Barbados - Our Wonderful Experience
Four of us, two couples, spent 6 days (5 nights) in Barbados early in March, 1996.
First of all, our trip was delightful. We found the Bajans (Barbadians) wonderful and very friendly. These included the staff at our resort, the Discovery Bay Beach Hotel, as well as the restaurant employees and those whom we asked directions when totally lost.
The Discovery Bay Beach Hotel is in Holetown, North of Bridgetown, and has about 85 rooms. Most of the tourists were from the UK. There were only a few from the US (including the four of us) with several couples from Germany. The grounds were spacious and well kept. There was no glitter or glitz. It was a very refined place to stay with no posted activities. A beautiful grassy yard was sheltered with colorful African Tulip trees. A large pool with adequate lounge chairs was never crowded. The pool had an adjacent bar and small restaurant where a rum punch and a sandwich was available. Their beach-front was adequate and had plenty of lounge chairs given the number of guests. A Hobie-Cat was available with a local "captain" offering rides for a price. You could walk for a mile on the beach before you ran into some impassable coral. We found the "Brits" very friendly. Most of them had been to Discovery Bay many times with one couple on their 30th trip. Our room air-conditioning was somewhat feeble although my wife thought it was fine. We would definitely stay there again.
In fact, our travel agent had recommended the Sandy Beach Hotel, South of Bridgetown, which was unavailable at the time. We stopped by to see what we missed. They have a deep and expansive beach well protected from the larger waves by a surrounding coral reef. They had an activity board showing 7 or so activities one could select including shopping trips to Bridgetown, deep- sea fishing, trips to Harrison's Cave, etc. Their grounds were small with a coral sculptured pool occupying much of the space. They had many more rooms than the Discovery Bay, and perhaps more facilities. However, we easily decided we were happier where we were.
The food in Barbados is excellent. We only ate our breakfasts at Discovery Bay. It was the standard buffet with eggs made-to- order (British-fried in oil) if you wished. There was plenty of fresh fruit, rolls (not so fresh), cereal and help-yourself scrambled eggs with bacon and sausages. We decided that we prefer to order from a menu but our room rate included breakfast so we ate there. We never ate dinner at Discovery Bay although we heard from others that the food was fine.
We had dinner at the local restaurants. Some of these were obtained from a list compiled from this forum. Since Discovery Bay is in Holetown, we selected restaurants nearby. The "strip" between Holetown and Bridgetown seems to have many restaurants of repute. The following is a brief account.
Koko's: We got this name from this forum with several different people recommending it. It was an excellent restaurant with good fish and some local recipes including a Pepper-Pot (soup). It has a beautiful setting overlooking the water's edge. It was not crowded there with no apparent reason. The service was excellent and the fare was about $75 (US) per couple including a bottle of wine, a rum punch each and dessert. This seems to be the "standard" price of the restaurants we tried.
Fathoms: This restaurant was recommended by another US couple at Discovery Bay . This place was much the same as Koko's, perhaps a little better. We ate there twice we liked it so much. Instead of overlooking the beach, it was on it. Had the tide come up another two feet, the dining deck would have been awash. The trees hung over the water and were lit with flood- lights. The food was excellent with a large menu selection. The setting was just beautiful and the service great. Again, it wasn't crowded and the fare $75 per couple.
Atlantis: Again, we got this name from this forum. It's located in Bathsheba on the Eastern shore of the island. We tried their Sunday lunch which apparently has a good following. There were quite a few local Bajans there which attested to their reputation of local food. But it was a buffet with a 1:00 PM serving. We all got in line. By the time we sat to eat, the food was somewhat cold. Like many of the restaurants, dining is on a covered porch. The trade wind from the East didn't help. They had a variety of food including Flying Fish which I think is best in a sandwich. Unless you want to try a local fare with a big selection, we jointly recommend other places.
Mews: We tried this restaurant the first night. It's in Holetown within walking distance from Discovery Bay. Although it's not directly on the water, it is well appointed. It appears to be an older house reworked into a small restaurant. The "rooms" have been remodeled with some walls removed to give it an open appearance. The food was excellent and again, $75 per couple.
Nico's: We had lunch here and because of the excellent food, contemplated dinner. Although across the street from the water's edge, it had an open setting, just a roof over a floor, no walls. We recommend this restaurant as well.
Calamari's: We had a light Sunday dinner here after our fill at the Atlantis. It's part of a hotel. It confirms our belief that a hotel restaurant isn't nearly as good as an establishment that solely depends on dining for its existence.
There were two restaurants we didn't try although we would try on another trip due to the recommendations of others. The Cliff looks over the beach from it's high perch across the road and has an excellent reputation for both the food and the view. I hear it's more expensive and more formal than the establishments we tried however. Carambola was another with a beautiful setting and fine food near both Koko's and Fathoms. It too is more formal and expensive that those we frequented. When we called at about 4:00 PM, it was booked solid. Yet, both Koko's and Fathoms didn't require a reservation. We figured it must be due to a cruise ship or some special hotel deal.
One last comment regarding restaurants. I never wore a tie but never dressed in shorts. The dining was labeled "casual" which means, I guess, shirts and shoes required. I didn't feel out- of-place dressed in a button- down shirt and slacks. There were no diners in blue-jeans I noticed, however. The women wore light dresses or skirts and blouses and even nice slacks. We heard that some of the more expensive restaurants had a dressier code. It would be advisable to check the dress-code when making reservations.
We rented a van since there were four of us and a Mini-Moke has a small back seat. Also, we heard that the open-air driving (a Mini-Moke has no doors or windows) can leave one somewhat tired of the wind after a long trip. We didn't make any car reservations ahead of the trip which was a mistake. I called five rental agencies before I was able to get this van for $500 Barbados ($250 US) for four days. It had a 4-foot wheel base and was no longer than 10 feet. Driving is on the left side of the road and we had a manual-shift. This made for some excitement being from the US. The van had no air- conditioning and the radio was broken. Parts of the van kept falling off. We would throw them into the back and keep going. The engine and clutch worked well, but the shocks needed work.
The poor shocks were a tribute to the roads in Barbados. The main highways are, for the most part, well paved. The back- roads need work. The pavement on these roads attested to the hurricane season which causes washouts and under-mining. Many of these roads abruptly end due to constant repair. Additionally, many of the roads, especially in the North and central High- lands, are not marked.
A good map is invaluable but even then be prepared to get lost as we did on more than one occasion. We had one navigator and one driver; it's best to have two navigators. The third right may look like a semi-paved one-lane road, but indeed it may be the correct one. So you naturally go to the fourth road which looks better...wrong! Once you take the wrong road and drive a bit, you can no longer follow the map and are lost. Since most of the road signs are missing, getting back to the map is almost impossible. We asked directions several times. Everyone was polite and tried to be helpful. One said, "I really don't know" which is better than the wrong directions.
Our car enabled us to see some of the attractions that are advertised. We traveled to the Northern and the Southern tip of the island, which is only about 20 miles in length. Although it is a small island, traveling is slow and the roads not direct so it takes more time to get to your destination than usually anticipated. The following are attractions we saw.
Flower Cave, North Point: We got there after 4:00 PM and the cave was closed. The small "pub" was good for a cool drink. I had my first taste of Banks beer... not bad; had a little salty aftertaste though. I heard later that the "flowers" in the cave were no longer there. Apparently, these were some kind of polyp that closed when touched.
Harrison's Cave: This is in the central Highlands where it's easy to get lost. We managed to find it and took the tour. An electric tram took the tour group into the cave through a man- made, cut-out road that traveled about a mile total. This cave had plenty of waterfalls, stalactites and stalagmites but was not colorful. The tram stopped for a few minutes at two locations. It was an interesting but not very exciting tour. I would recommend it to those who haven't seen many caves.
Welshman Halls Gully: This walk is not advertised but was one of the high- lights of the trip. The gully is maintained by the National Trust, a conservation group in Barbados. The hike is into a gully about a mile long (a two-mile hike). You are given a pamphlet with the description of the trees which are numbered. The air is cooler there due to the tree canopy.
Sometimes, the Green Monkeys of the island are there although we didn't see any. You see the Bearded Fig Tree, from which Barbados gets her name, and other plants including the Breadfruit tree that Captain Bligh of the Bounty tried to bring to the West Indies. Breadfruit tastes a little like potato. This attraction is a "must see" if you enjoy the "outdoors".
Rum Factory Tour: We took a taxi to the rum factory. The tour included lunch. Mount Gay rum is made there and the tour included a "wine-tasting" of Mt. Gay's best. Mt. Gay is a fine rum especially in the rum punch. I now have a collection of little umbrellas...at least 40. Lunch was OK with the ubiquitous flying fish as the main course.
Bridgetown: We never went there except for a quick intrusion by the taxi driver to drop-off two passengers from the Rum Factory Tour we attended. It's apparently a relatively large city compared to Holetown, which has just a few shops. Our mutual taste is not for the larger cities so we avoided Bridgetown. We never did go shopping.
Pottery Shop: We were able to find the Pottery Shop after a few wrong turns even though we had explicit directions. The pottery is very nice but not cheap but not tremendously expensive. The colors are primarily blue and green with contrasting orange and red all done in random island patterns. It's hard to describe but done very nicely.
Our general opinion of Barbados is very favorable. The weather was great in-spite-of one day of light showers. Be prepared to see the contrast of poor housing mixed with the expensive resorts. Inland, the housing becomes even poorer. But the Bajans are very nice and proud people. Their wage scale must be low since the resorts employ a great many people given the number of guests.
The country is very dry except for the hurricane season. Sugarcane is prevalent everywhere with many fields just cut and some still growing. They have two seasons; hurricane and not hurricane. Last Fall was particularly bad with the backlash of one hurricane that damaged most of the low-lying resorts of the West Coast. Discovery Bay had its dining facility awash last November.
So bring your credit card and be prepared to relax by the pool or on the beach. Bring your suntan lotion also so you don't get burnt...ouch! Drink the excellent rum punch and don't get lost.