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Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
May 15, 1995
PLEASE NOTE THE NEXT CARIBBEAN TRAVEL ROUNDUP WILL BE AVAILABLE ON OR ABOUT JULY 15,1995 AS THE CTR IS NOW ON ITS SUMMER SCHEDULE. REGULAR FIRST OF THE MONTH PUBLICATION WILL RESUME ON SEPTEMBER 1, 1995.
CONTENTS FOR MAY 1995
1/ News From The Caribbean
2/ Press Releases
Aruba: De Palm Tours
Hyatt :Camp Hyatt Childrens Programs
Martinique World Wide Web Site
Puerto Rico: Water Shortage
3/Journeys For May 1995
Anguilla: With Kids By Sophia Kulich
Antigua: Sandals by R. Todd Stephens
Aruba By Phyllis Ellafrits
Aruba by Jean Schultz
Aruba by Hettie Maidman
Aruba by Matthew Ingham
Barbados By Tom Leib
BVI by Ginny Noyes
BVI: Bareboat By Robert Lehnes
Cancun by Nancy Hinzmann
Cayman Brac by Paul Tibbetts
Cozumel by Daniel Waskie
Dominica by Jennifer Gold
Jamaica by John Blenkinsop
Jamaica Swept Away by Jerome Pineau
Jamaica: Jamaica Grande by Mark Mondul
Jamaica : Negril by Diane Woodard
Jamaica: Grand Lido by Sophia Kulich
St. Barts by William Bradley
St. Barts by Frank Sullivan
St. Croix by Suzanne Comer
St. Croix by Sheila Burks
St. Kitts by Pat Cake
St. Lucia: Rendezvous Resort by Gary Babaluk
St. Martin by Gerry Brennen
St. Martin by Peter Atwood
1/ NEWS FROM THE REGION
A task force has been set up to see what can be done about attacks on foreign visitors. A British man and his wife were attack last week. However, a British travel magazine interviewed by the BBC says that the Caribbean ranks average in crime. Holland and Belgium rank very high in safety for example.
Significant demonstrations took place in Castries on May 10 and 11 protesting pay policies of the government towards public sector employees. On May 11 a large number of people protested through he streets of Castries. They joined banana industry workers who have been on strike since May 7. This coincided with the St. Lucia Jazz Festival. Police had to man the customs booths in place of the normal contingent of customs officers.
In addition the county has been hit with a major political scandal regarding the possible diversion of United Nations funds for political purposes over the last few years.
2/ PRESS RELEASES
Aruba: De Palm Tours
Barbara Beane of De Palm faxed these recent developments at De Palm Tours.
Recently De Palm Tours has acquired 5 beautiful new Volvo buses which now brings their transportation system to well over a thousand seats. A state of the art stereo system allows our informative tour guide to explain the many interesting and picturesque points of Aruba. De Palm Car rental, which operates the Hertz franchise, added over 50 new vehicles to its fleet, ranging from jeeps to luxury sedans. Limousine transfer services are offered by luxurious stretch Lincoln Continental Limousines.
Always looking for avenues to offer complete and well rounded choices for our island visitors, De Palm Tours recently took over the operations of Steamboat Buffet restaurant. This new venture will add another dimension to our already extensive product line. The Steamboat Buffet is the only restaurant that offers Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner in addition to catering to special events.
Hyatt: Camp Hyatt
Activities involving the family and preserving the environment are the focus of the latest expansion at Hyatt's Caribbean resorts and its award winning children's program Cap Hyatt.
The supervised activities are for children 3 to 12 and the kids can tour lush tropical gardens to learn about nature, plant trees, visit a turtle farm , go rock hunting and observe underwater marine life. In addition Camp Hyatt offers a taste of each destination as part of their program.
Special Camp Hyatt menus feature such favorites as pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs and chips etc. Prices range from $3 per platter and children's half portions are available at every restaurant.
Location: Hyatt Regency Ceromar Beach and Resort , Puerto Rico Year Round:
Fees: Day Session: (9-4pm) $40
Night Session: (6-10pm) $28
Location: Hyatt Regency St. John
Daily Year Round:
Fees: Day Session: (9:15am -4pm) $35 including lunch
Night Session: (6-10pm) $25 including lunch
Location: Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman
Daily during Christmas, 3/11-20, 4/1-5/15 and on weekends the rest of the year Fees: Day Session: (9am -4pm) $43.75
Night Session is free except New Years Eve.
Location: Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort and casino
Daily on Presidents Week, Carnival week, Easter, 7/1-9/9, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's eve. Weekends the rest of the year Fees: Day Session: $40 including meals Half Day: $20
Martinique World Wide Web Site
On may 13 a press release arrived from the Martinique Promotion Bureau announcing a new WWW site for Martinique. They listed http://www.nyo.com/martinique as the new site. Your editor tried it a number of times with no luck. I then e-mailed them at an address also provided in the news release ( firstname.lastname@example.org) requesting info about the WWW site. There has been no response to date. Interested readers might try this address from time to time to see if it becomes active.
Puerto Rico: Water Shortage
From the Puerto Rico Tourism Company
The operation of tourist hotels and the comfort of the their guests should not be affected by impending water restrictions in certain areas of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company announced today.
"Our experience dealing with last year's water shortage shows that we can cope with this year's situation", said Luis Fortuno, Executive Director of the PRTC. "There should be no meaningful inconvenience to travelers visiting Puerto Rico this year." The government has announced certain restrictions will go into effect shortly to deal with the drought, which is general throughout the Caribbean area. Beginning May 9th, the San Juan area water will be turned off 12 hours every second day.
However, water in the hotels will not be turned off at any time. Many hotels have their own wells and or cisterns for water supplies. Last year hotels continued operating with no interruption of water supplies to guests, and in the end tourist travel to Puerto Rico set a new record in 1994.
"We still look forward to breaking that record this year", said Fortuno. The industry] has great plan and sweepstakes promotions travel agents to promote an exciting summer"
Restaurant in the tourist area will have an uninterrupted supply of water.
To show its confidence in the ability of the tourist industry to meet tourists' needs, the Puerto Rico Hotel Association has announced that any guest who is dissatisfied by a lack of water in the hotel will be given a 100 percent refund.
3/ JOURNEYS FOR MAY 1995
Anguilla: With Kids By Sophia Kulich
We had a great time there. We flew to SXM non-stop from JFK. From SXM we flew a little plane - Tyden air. It takes 6 minutes. We did it first time and it was fun.
We stayed at Blue Water apts on Shoal Bay West. It is private secluded, long beach which is shared by Blue Waters, CoveCastles, Chuck Norris house and Paradise cafe. The most number of people on the beach was about 10. The apartments are right on the beach. Some parts of the beach is coral, and it is good for snorkelling, and other parts have a fine sand and it is good for swimming. Only 1 day there was seaweed.
Blue Water Apts turned out to be much more than expected. For 4 of us (parents and 2 kids 17,8) we had 2 huge bedrooms and bathrooms, living room, kitchen and 2 big balconies where we ate. We were on second floor, but I liked first floor better. You can come out right from your patio on the beach, from second floor you have to walk around.
There were about half of the guests with kids with some as little as 1 year old. I have to tell you, as a Travel Agent myself I would not recommend it for families looking for kids organized activities, game rooms, group babysitting, etc. They would be better of at Club Med, Boscobel, or Sapphire beach or wherever. It is not full service resort. If you can entertain your kids yourselves or they are happy with building sandcastles on the beautiful beach, and snorkel, you would love it.
It is safe place and we let kids hang around on the beach by themselves. We've been to many islands and I would not do it anywhere else in the islands or US while on vacation. Island is safe, people are friendly and it is perfect island for family to explore. We stopped locking the car or apartment very soon, and at the end the car rental company told us to leave the car at the airport with keys in it!!!
However, it is very laid back and, when our hungry teenager was eager for food, he was disappointed couple of times that he had to wait. Us, we used to laid back Caribbean style of life and go with the flow. BlueWaters are not fancy.
They do have maid service 6 times a week (not on Sunday). But they do not change sheets, only towels including beach towels daily. No fancy toiletries, just 1 bar ivory soap per bathroom. Bring your own shampoo, lotion. If you want twice a day maid service, toiletries, next door Covecastles have it, but they are more expensive. Per my request, the owner did initial shopping for me, so we were able to relax on the beach after arrival. And the rental car was delivered the first day to the resort and we were ready to start our adventure.
First lesson we learned - on this little island in decent restaurants you need a reservation. After driving in the dark on wrong side (for us) in unfamiliar roads, we finally tried resort Coccoloba, where we were admitted and had West Indies buffet. Later every day the kids were reminding me: Did you make reservations?
As we knew before, the island is not pretty and it was dry season, but it is compensated by spectacular beaches. I was somewhat concerned about fancy restaurants if we would be comfortable with kids there. When I made reservations, they welcomed kids, more, on my question if there anything litlle picking eater would eat, even fancy restaurants like Mango's and Blanchards and others, offered cook a meal especially for him - simple grilled chicken or pizza in Paradise Cafe (which was not on the menu). We appreciated it.
The prettiest was Shoal Bay East, but it was more commercial, less shade and crowded (by Anguilla standards - about 40 people on busy day). Cap Juluca and Casablanca had nice private beaches. Sandy Ground has a nice picturesque beach which reminds me very much Magen Bay in St. Thomas, but there are many boats there which leaves not much space for swimmers. But views are spectacular there, you can see Sandy Island and they take you on a boat for there for lunch and snorkeling. We also watched fisherman showing off huge fish for Johno's dinner. It is very nice little island unhurried village. Island harbor was nice too with a view of Scilly Cay. But, of course, most of our beach time was spent on our Shoal Bay West since it was closer - right from the door (grin)and quiet.
All our days were pretty much the same - we walked on the beach before breakfast while kids still slept. After breakfast we went on the beach, then rested before lunch, drove somewhere for lunch, (sometimes with kids, sometimes ourselves) did some shopping too, returned to the apartment, rested, beach again and dinner in the evening. Our 8 year old son snorkeled most of the time.
If you are more active, you can take boat ride to different beaches, or explore Anguilla on horseback, or visit Museum in Valey or Arawak resort. Or, take a ferry to SXM. We toyed with latest idea, but then our neighbors at resort went there. They came back tired and reported that they rented a car, got stuck on the traffic to Orient beach, told us how many tourists from cruise ships went there and how crowded it was at 5pm, so we decided against it. Originally we were thinking about staying at SXM but now I am glad that we chose so laid back Anguilla.
Now, our favorite activity: eating!!!
Restaurants are top notch. Expensive, too. All Breakfasts we had at apartment. We generally enjoyed dinners. Some lunches we had were not impressive and the menu was limited. Plus, we almost always were alone for lunch at restaurant - around 1pm. Don't know why.
Lunches: Smitty - to sample local culture. This was not what we expected. Lunch was Ok, lobster was not that big, and ribs did not have much meat. I had crawfish and it was good.
Unfortunately, our peaceful lunch was interrupted by one local who was either drunk or on drugs. He did not want to leave and bothered us and Smitty's waiters. They tried to get him out, but no avail. He showed a pack of US $100 bills. Kids got scared. That was an introduction to Anguilla! That was the only one nut we met in Anguilla. All people there were courteous and friendly and nice to kids.
Smitty was $60 for 4. Please note that we usually do not drink, except glass of wine for dinner, so with drinks would be more.. Couple of days we had lunch at apt - did shopping at Vista - gourmet market - real European butter which I miss here in US. We bought baguettes and pastries in Le Bon Pain bakery, and once had take-out food at Fat Cat Gourmet. Ferryboat Inn - was really strange. We came at 1pm. Nobody was there. Finally a lady came out and asked what do we want, we said - lunch, and if they serve it. She said it depends what we want. We looked at the menu which looked quite impressive for lunch and wanted to order. She said it will take a while, but hamburgers will be faster. We ordered hamburgers and I had grilled snapper. She did not really look like waitress. She left for the kitchen and we did not see her for a long time. She did brought us cokes before that.
Our teenager complained that McD burgers are cheaper and faster. Then the other guy came looking like an owner and started screaming at her in the kitchen. We did got served and the meal was good, but we waited for a loooong time and there nobody else was in the restaurant. So we wondered if we are at the right place and time..Left $60 for 3 hamburgers, 1 snapper and cokes. Uncle Ernie - went there with George only, without kids. It was the best lunch. The lady said it will take 30 min. So, we swam and waited with cokes for the food. She sat most of the time, sometimes turning food over. Looks like she was not doing much, but the snapper and ribs and chicken were the best! $20
La Fontana - also were there alone at 1pm. It was nice and quiet. I hoped for the Italian Trattoria food, but for lunch - like everywhere else menu was rather limited - snapper, hamburgers. Had 3 hamburgers. Great homemade bread, and it was so big, that our 8 year old kid could not finish it, and we took it home for his brother to finish. $40 for 3 people.
Maybe we did not go to right places, but I expected lunches to be more creative. Maybe at hotels would be better - and we ate in local places.
Dinners - were highlight of the vacation. As I said, even in the best restaurants kids were welcome and the did special meal for my picky eater. No problem with teenager - he ate everything, including seafood and fish. First night - tried to get to Mango and Covecastles, but did not have reservation. Finally the manager of Covecastles who apologized profusely that they cannot accommodate us, suggested to go to Coccoloba.
We went there and had West Indies buffet. It was good, but again, buffet food - if you can eat a lot... They did not charge for a little kid, but for 3 adults (I realized that now 1 kid became an adult - that means we are getting old (grin) with 2 glasses of wine and 1 beer for our 'adult' son Ed it came up $160. They do include tip in the bill, so do not overpay it. I asked if it was EC dollars, but it turned out to be US (grin). First shock...Then you get used to the prices.
Second night - had dinner on our beach, Paradise Cafe - bistro, very good. They baked pizza especially for Mike, and waitress talked to kids a lot about life in Anguilla. We had excellent rack of lamb and teenager had seafood. After this they ran out of lobster on the island. Forgot what was for appetizer... Total for 4 with 2 glasses of wine, appetizer and dessert - $145. Owner was checking all the time if everything OK.
3rd night - Mango's. George said it was his best meal there - sesame snapper in soy sauce. I had swordfish in some exotic sauce, very good, I think I had lobster cakes for appetizer and George had soup. The grilled chicken Ceasar Salad for Mike and we finished his salad. Ed had crawfish. Again, with wine and appetizer, dessert and non-alcohol daiquiris $165 for 4.
Next - Blanchards. They also grilled chicken for Mike. It was really more exotic, like middleEastern - Caribbean cuisine. It was very good, but not better than Mango's and it turned out to be the most expensive meal - $208 for 2.
Next night the kids begged for the break from gourmet food and we went to Italian-American Arlos. Very nice. Nothing special, but very well prepared good old Italian food. Kids had pizza, which was big and we took it home to finish. I had baked mussels in wine and parmesan cheese - very good, George - cream of vegetable soup and both of us had tortelini Alfredo. Had dinner with garlic bread, too. Total $105 - without wine.
Top of the Palm at LaSirena hotel - very nice, me and Ed had crayfish, George - spicy Mahi Mahi, they had kids menu for Mike. Key Lime tart for desert. Now I remember that we had key lime pie and apple tarts in other places for dessert. They also served for starters a slice of eggplant with tomato and cheese on top - compliments of the chef. $147 without wine.
Last night we went to Pimms. For me, it was the best meal - me and Ed had beef tenderloin with potato leek pancake and onions - only French chefs could make it like this. Heaven! Also, lobster cakes were delicious. George had veal chop. They had quite impressive kids menu and Mike surprised us ordering fruit plate with yogurt. Poor kid got tired of chicken... The fruit plate was huge had bananas, mangos, strawberries, raspberries, cantaloupe, starfruit (not like here in US, but more sweet) and something else. Then he ordered creme brulee, which was delicious, but huge. He started it, I continued and George finished it. It was superb. Now at home, I found out recipe and will try to make it too.. Dinner for 4 without alcohol was $186. I liked it the most, they also had chefs compliments - some kind of soup - very tasty, but I could not figure out what was in there..
I hope I did not get you bored, but I just wanted to give you details. All restaurants - at least where we ate were located on the beach with gorgeous views. But at 7 already was dark.. It was very nice to be able dine outside. All restaurants are casual, George was wearing sneakers and shorts all the time. The only thing - portions were not large, except Pimms. But with appetizer and dessert, it's OK.
I already mentioned about Blue Waters where we stayed. It is very nice property and off-season is a good deal (1br apt is $140, 2 br 160). Since I some clients of mine were waiting for my Anguilla research, I visited some other hotels, but not many. I found out a long ago when trying to inspect too many properties, I would not remember much what and where.. Anyway, here what we found:
Cap Juluca - they gave us a tour of the hotel and we visited 1 luxury room and 3 bedroom private villa. It is definitely on of the best hotels on the island. Not a chain, privately owned by 6 investors - South African, British and Americans. Immaculately maintained. Wonderful beach. All rooms are oceanfront. Not all units have direct access to the beach, though. You have to walk around through the path. Some corner units have private patio for private sunbathing with a shower. The resort is designed with a purpose give a feeling of seclusion and privacy, something kind of sensual. The unit we saw also had second level for sunbathing. 3 Bedroom villa is completely private, with walls and a pool. Huge bathtubs for 2. The drawback of the resort? The price, of course <g>. Luxury room cost from 335 to 575 per night depending on season plus tax, and 3 bedroom villa from 2700 to 3790 per night. Also I found it outrageous that extra twin bed in a room costs extra 75. For the price you are paying it should be included. Another thing - the resort is very much spread out. Either you need a car or you call for a electric car and they drive guests where they have to. Only 3 and 5 bedroom villas come with a jeep.
So, either rent a car which is a plus on this island with great restaurants or you will be on a mercy of a staff who live on island time. <G>. The resort has special plans and programs for sport minded, honeymooners and welcomes families, too. They run kids program.
We had dinner at Pimms, which in my opinion the best restaurant and they had impressive kids menu.
Casablanca - new resort, about 2 years old. They will be still building villas. So far all rooms are luxury rooms, junior suit and 1 bedroom suite. It is all-inclusive and the Garden Luxury rooms are from 250 to 390, Junior suite from 300 to 465, 1 bedroom suite from 350 to 565 per person per night depending on season. They also have breakfast plan only.
This resort is for adults only. They also have day passes for $50 per person where you can eat lunch, have unlimited drinks (the waiters walk to the beach, take orders there) and use all sports and facilities from 10 to 6. Gorgeous huge pool.. Both Cap Juluca and Casablanca have Moorish architecture. Casablanca is owned by Saudi Arabian. He brought Moroccan artist to paint Moroccan design. It is just incredible hand work. You just can't take your eyes away from it. Oceanfront rooms are closest to the beach, but again, no direct access. They have honeymoon special promotion.
Actually, I liked it better than Cap Juluca. It is more compact. And with all-inclusive it is much better deal. No wonder Queen of England preferred <g>. She did had lunch at Cap. Actually, all restaurants the royal couple attended, have their pictures taken and proudly displayed. I highly recommend this place for romantic getaway...
Covecastles - luxury condos on Shoal Bay West, we stayed next to them. Don't have rates at my hand now, all I remember they are expensive. 2 level condos and 3 bedroom beach houses. Gorgeous private beach. No pool, but who needs it? Tennis court, boat instructions. French restaurant on premises. Very secluded and gives you feeling you live in your own house on the beach, not at hotel. Seen some skinny dippers in the morning Hammocks on the terrace. Direct access to the sand from first floor.
On the least expensive side, Fountain beach looked OK, but a little bit tacky. Cute tropical garden but the pool is small and dirty. Did not look at the rooms. Had lunch there. The beach is private, but not that nice as Shoal Bay by Earnies. You would have to walk a while to get to the good sand for swimming.
Had a lunch at Ferryboat Inn. We did not see apartments inside, but the property is very neglected. Beach is small. Don't remember prices now, but I don't recommend it.. Also, restaurant service was kind of strange, even though food was good.
Antigua: Sandals by R. Todd Stephens
My new wife and I just returned from a 6 day/5 night stay in Sandals Antigua. Before leaving we downloaded all the reviews from Compuserve that we could find. We hope this review may help you decide the location of your next vacation.
A Sandals representative was waiting at the airport when we arrived. She promptly arranged a taxi which was paid by Sandals. We arrived around 5:00PM, and were greeted with cool towels and glasses of champagne while our bags were delivered to our room. The room was air conditioned and complete with a refrigerator stocked full of refreshments and remote control cable television. Our maid cleaned the room once daily provided clean towels three times daily, and turned our bed down nightly.
There were four dining rooms included in the package. Two of these required reservations which can be available well in advance. One of these, the Japanese restaurant, comes highly recommended. The food is satisfactory and the entertainment superb. The main dining room included a wide variety foods. Breakfast and lunch consist of a buffet while dinner is per menu given four or five entree selections. The Monday night Beach party dinner was tremendous! The grill is a small fast food type restaurant and served food during lunch and late at night.
We ventured many water sports and games throughout the day. These included snorkeling where we saw and fed several Barracudas as well as hundreds of tropical fish. We participated in many of the organized games in which we met numerous new friends and won
several souvenir prizes. The daily Power Walks hosted by Dale are highly recommended. We earned points toward prizes and a dollars toward a T-shirt. These walks enabled us to see parts of the island we would not have otherwise ventured. Everyday brought new games to play as well as daily games such as volleyball. The employees who help with games are known as playmakers. Playmaker Patricia is a blast and we enjoyed her company in the many games she hosted. We met many other people with whom we became good friends in such a short time.
There are many bars in the resort including one swim-up type. These open at 10:30 AM and are staffed by eager bartenders very willing to serve any alcohol you will drink. Antiguan residents are very proud of their rum making for often potent beverages. There were also non-alcoholic drinks especially the Daily Special which was a fruity strawberry daiquiri type.
We recommend several tips to make your trip most enjoyable. First is a trip to St. Johns Bay, a street village with a casino and local vendors. We would not have felt comfortable in the streets of Antigua after dark, but the taxis will drop you off right in front of the Mcasino and pick up there also. Second, Sandals recommends that you arrive at the airport two hours before your flight leaves Antigua. We found this quite excessive and it took ten minutes maximum to wait in line and check baggage. Next time we will allow about an hour. Third, make your reservations at least several days ahead for restaurants and water sports so as not to miss any opportunities. The theme parties included formal night, pirate night, toga party, black/white night, carnival night (dress in bright colors) and beach night. Lastly, be ready for total relaxation and to be pampered 100%. A five star resort as far as we are concerned.
Aruba By Phyllis Ellafrits
Finally got my "stuff" together and thought I would bring the Aruba gang up to date. I returned on March 19th from a two week stay at the Playa Linda. First, for Playa Linda members, the t/s is looking good. Maintenance up to date. New countertops in many units. Gladys said they are putting new furniture in all the units beginning in May (I thought they put new sofas, etc. in last year. Adding some new chi chi's which should help the shade lovers. I prefer to sit under a Palm Tree myself. The resort is sold out so only units available are resale. Prices right now are no bargain. More and more watersport activities moving up to Palm Beach..good for their business...bad for the peace and quiet.
A cab driver told me Ramada resort was to be demolished the week of Mon. Mar. 6th. It was still standing when I left. The cabdriver on my way to airport said it would be demolished week of Mar. 20th. I'll bet it's still standing.
The Marriott is coming along well. Expected to be open April 25th. Good luck! I hope no one has reservations for the 25th. Beta is still rumored to be taken over by Westin. I think I solved the mystery concerning whether it was a Ritz Carlton or Westin. Westin has purchased a large share of the stock of Ritz C. - so looks like it will be a Westin.
I took a tour of Tierra del Sol. The golf course looks great, as does the clubhouse pool and restaurant. Spoke to some people who played golf there. They said it was windy, but fun and that the scenic beauty became a little distracting to their golf swing. A few condos are almost complete. Villas not yet started. Prices range on condos - $247,000 - $297,-000. $7,500 ann. maintenance (taxes and ins and $40,000 to join club with an additional $3,600 annual membership fee. Villas will range from $350,000 up. I felt a little under the weather my first week so I didn't make my usual round of restaurants. I did, however, try George Glaseman's favorite, Pizza Hut. Believe it or not, the Pizza was pretty good. The waiter at LaPaloma felt sorry for me so he brought me a big bowl of freshly made chicken soup. Hit the spot.
The next week I did manage to try "The Flame" (my first visit). Their beef was really good. They have a regular menu and one that is only beef. Prices on the only beef menu is pretty reasonable and the piece of beef you get is very big. Most people left with a doggy bag. Also tried L'Escale at the Sonesta. What a wonderful surprise! It was a little pricey, but the food was wonderful and beautifully presented. The waiters were attentive and the chef came out twice during the meal to check with the customers to see if their food was to their liking.
The island was not as crowded with tourists as during Xmas holidays. What a pleasure! It was probably bad for the hotel business, but we enjoyed the peace and quiet. I didn't need reservations at restaurants, rental cars available on demand, not many people on the beaches, etc.
We had more clouds than normal, hotter temperatures, higher tides. The tides washed up more seaweed and other natural debris, you know, like plastic cups etc. that grow at the bottom of the sea. It was so bad one day that the hotels rented a tractor to come clean the beach of debris. Even the Holiday Inn - and they hardly ever clean their beach. By Sunday, Mar. 19th, the water and beaches were cleared up and there wasn't a sign of the seaweed, etc. The water was the prettiest I've ever seen it. Of course, that was the day I had to leave.
The Island celebrated Flag Day and National Anthem Day so there were parades and other celebrations. On Sunday evening there were to be fireworks and barbecues, etc. I guess it's like our 4th of July.
Again, Holiday Inn slots were generous. However, the Hyatt was kind to friends of mine who won $l,900 on a $25. investment.
Phase One of Divi Village is complete and occupied. I walked through the complex. It really looks good. The resort has been nicely landscaped and the guests I talked to seemed really happy with their investment. They did complain that it took too long to complete. Some people paid their money in 1989 and Phase One was just completed this year. Looks like Phase Two is now under construction and the government has put a hold on Phase Three. I guess that's part of the t/s moratorium. Wish they would have done it at LaCabana before they added all those new buildings.
Speaking of LaCabana - construction is starting alongside the new villas on the Main highway(?) I heard it's going to be a new shopping center. There is a new strip type shopping center up near the highrise hotels "Fiesta Plaza", not much happening there.
Sun Plaza which seems to be pretty active, and a new four story department store/office building under construction downtown.
Houlihans scheduled to open in April. The cabdrivers think it's the prettiest restaurant on the island.
The Hilton Hotel facilities look really good after their renovation. The wind wasn't too strong this week so the sand wasn't kicking up at that end.
For someone looking for a cheap room for a night or two, Stauffers across from the Hyatt is reported to be pretty good. Rooms are not fancy, but the hotel is only one year old and prices are $105. including service charge The all inclusives seem to be popular.
We went down to the Tam. and it was pretty active. Talked to some people who were not on an all inclusive, but were at the Radisson and said they bought a "Dine Around" coupon book. I believe it costs $199 pp and you get a choice of some of the better restaurants. You can order off the regular menu, however the pricier dishes are marked by 2 star and depending on the number of stars determines how much additional you would pay if you wished to order that dish. I should have looked into it to see what restaurants were included. Prices for meals did seem to be higher this year.
I wish I had more to report, however, illness kept me close to home base this time. I did get to visit with a local doctor who was really nice - charged $l5. for the visit and my antibiotics and two other medications cost $24. What's wrong with our healthcare?
Oh yes, did get to the Carnival night at the Playa Linda. The barbecue costs $25. pp which includes the show. The costumes this year were particularly spectacular! Even if you don't go to have the meal, you can still sit at the bar and watch the show which starts about 9 p.m. Well worth it.
I still run into people who complain about the slow service in restaurants...Remember folks, you are not in the U.S. slow down, enjoy! If you are in a hurry, tell you waiter when he takes your order. It usually works.
Aruba by Jean Schultz
I just returned from another wonderful trip to our favorite island. This was our 5th trip. Everything went super. Flew out of Detroit on Travel Charter. Good flight! No delays. Stayed at our timeshare at the La Cabana. The place was beautiful and soooo nice. .
The weather was great. Had a few more clouds than normal but still got a good tan. Use Aruba suntan lotions, they work really good. I never seem to burn and always get a good tan.
I visited the California lighthouse area. The new restaurant has a super nice view and good food, too. It was quite busy. Workers were building something else around the lighthouse. Not sure what is going up. There is now street lights up to the lighthouse.
The Golf course area is very nice. The clubhouse and pool area are beautiful. The restaurant was open, but we did not eat there. It was neat to see all that green grass amid the rocks and cactus. Makes for nice pictures. Took over 3 hours of video during our week in Aruba. Got some super shots.
The DePalm Island has excellent snorkeling. My husband saw big bright blue fish and lots of other colored fish. Trip is $5.00 for boat ride to island and one drink or $10.00 which included lunch. Good food. Rented a jeep and jeeped the island. Great fun!!
Must do activity. It is the only way to see the real Aruba!
We drove up Jamanota. Scarey, narrow road but great view from the top. Could see Venezuela is the distance. Can see the whole island. Visited Charlie's Bar in San Nichols. They have fixed up the road outside the bar and painted the stores and added some new shops. The area looks much nicer. The bar was busy!
Also visited the Colorado point area and baby beach. Nice natural bridge at the point. Also drove to the caves, Dos PLaya and the sand dunes at Boca Prins. Downtown was nice. New Pizza Hut and Baskin Robbins near Strada shopping area.
Other island news: There is a supermarket now between the High rise hotels and the La Cabana. Good selections. Also new restaurant in same complex. Houlihans Bar and Grill has not opened yet. New York Deli in the Alhambra Bazaar has closed. Dunkin Donuts now near the Costa Linda and Alhambra Casino. La Cabana Casino is expanding - Will be adding more slots and a game room for adults and kids. Construction of new building in town across from the outdoor market.
La Cabana Pool Grill - Good food and drinks. Music and bands on Sat. & Sunday. Sandras - Good ribs and seafood!
El Faro Blanco (Lighthouse) - Italian restaurant with great view and good sandwiches.
Old Canucu House - Excellent. Good service, friendly staff and nice atmosphere. Has no smoking room. Super desserts.
Cheers - Port of Call Mall - nice place for lunch in town. Friendly staff and good burgers.
Pizza Hut - Pizza with Dutch gouda cheese was very good.
Pega Pega Bar - Manchebo Beach Resort - Had the best cheeeseburger. It was smothered in gouda cheese and served with fries. Nice view of the widest beach on the island. Talk of the Town - Excellent menu choices and good service.
Had good meals all week. Aruba has so many nice places to eat. Good ice cream at Lovers and the La Cabana.
We had a wonderful trip and can't wait to return next year. One week is just not long enough. Aruba is the best place in the world. If you have any questions, write us and I'll be glad to help out.
Aruba by Hettie Maidman
Our first impression of the island was great; in and out of the airport in record time, swiftly transported to La Cabana, and at the pool with sun time left in the day. We did have to change our unit later but that was no big deal.
Our first meal was at Chalet Suisse and it was outstanding. We enjoyed it enough to return one more time later in the week. Papiemento's, Old Cunuco House, La Petite Cafe, and El Gaucho all lived up to our expectations. The best of all was L'Escale in the Sonesta Hotel. It was recommended by a couple we met on the plane and ran into on the island after they had been there. It was expensive, $120.00 for 2 with a couple of drinks, but worth every penny. We're used to expensive dinners since we regularly visit St. Maarten where that is an average price for dinner but, our other meals in Aruba were running about $70.00 with no expense spared. I prepared copious notes about each meal, what we had, atmosphere, etc., but suffice to say that we were happy with each choice for different reasons.
We rented a car, $250.00 for the week and were glad we did. Unlike St. Maarten (SXM), driving was easy, traffic-free and roads well-maintained.
We saw just about everything that we wanted to see except the big natural bridge. We did see the little one near Baby Beach and that was enough for us.
The new golf course was more important to Mike. It looks like the surface of the moon in some places and quite a challenge to a golfer (no shade trees). The pro- shop was beautiful as was the restaurant. Many carts were parked, giving the impression that tee-time was available. It cost $110.00 per round which is "timed" by club officials who monitor how long you spend on each hole. If you're too slow, you will be warned. If you don't speed up, you will be asked to allow others to play through. If that isn't enough, you're evicted!! So much for just "hacking" on that course.
We spent our evenings at the various casinos, best luck in the Royal Cabana. Table games were easy to get to and I loved the .50 roulette. The slots were kind to me also.
In general, we loved the island enough to add one more week of time-share to the portfolio. The price was more than reasonable and the units seem well-maintained. We checked out Costa Linda but the smallest was 2 bdr. The property is beautiful and the beach seemed to be larger
Aruba by Matthew Ingham
I just got back from a week in Aruba at the Hyatt. This was our second trip. We got to the Hyatt late night. What a place!!! The whole setting is just beautiful. They have three pools, one with a swim up bar. BUT here's some advice. Buy your cokes at a grocery store for the beach and pool. They are $2-3 bucks at the bar, for half a can! In the store, they are 60 cents. The pools are each on a different level, and are connected by a staircase with water in it. There is a waterslide, not all to fast, but something to keep the kids entertained. I went on it a couple times, it's about 35 ft down.
Three restaurants are there.......... Ole-Italian Specialties
Ruines Del Mar-- Steaks and Pasta
Cafe Piccole-- Breakfast and assorted entrees. There are three bars, one swim-up.
The beach is very nice, RED SAIL SPORTS is on-hotel. It has a shop, and watersports activities. Try the Tube Ride, that is one way to wake up in the morning!
The Casino is big, not huge though. Blackjack; craps and roulette are the tables, along with slots and computer poker. There is also a game room at the Hyatt. The beach is very nice.
Houlighans is now open. It is a neat place to eat, with all the signs, flashing posters, etc. The burgers are huge!! Prices are reasonable.
Ruines Del Mar, at the Hyatt has very nice quality steaks, a great Fettchini Alfredo too. Prices Good.
Pizza Hut-- Menu as in the U.S. Try pizza with gouda cheese on it, it's good. Prices ok.
Other good restaurants: Pampiemento (sp?) On the island: Taco Bell, Burg King, McD's
We rented a car from National. Overall it was worth it. Buses however run between the hotels and Oranjestead and San Nicolas. Avis and Toyota rental cars are overpriced. Budget and National are priced well. They are located at the airport. If you take a tour, DePalm I have heard is nicest.
Hyatt is the best, and THERE IS NO WAY the Marriot is opening in June. NO WAY. It doesn't look all that special, but it isn't done. The beach in front of it isn't level at all. Americana looks nice, good pool. Playa Linda is second nicest. In that general area is a little shopping area w/ TCBY, SubWay, Developer, Dunkin Donuts too.
The Hyatt is priced well for what you get in return. A Monday beach partyat $15 per person includes dinner, a limbo, a beer drinking contest, a water balloon toss, etc. The people who work at the Hyatt are very nice.
Barbados By Tom Leib
My wife and I spent two wonderful weeks in Barbados during the last half of April. I have now amassed enough creative energy to take on the task of a Trip Report.
We arrived at the Island and picked up our car at the airport. We use Stoute's car rental. Their prices are comparable to others on the Island (we checked) and they deliver the car at the airport, saving a cab fare. And in a process that surely beats anything Hertz can do, the return goes something like this: "Drive the car into the lot next to the airport, put the keys under the seat, and get on your plane."
Rather than go through each day, I'll just randomly cite some vingettes describing our experiences:
We took two Sunday Morning hikes sponsered by the Bank of Barbados. These are marvelous ways to get to know the Island. The hikes begin at 6:00am (groan), but are worth the effort of getting up and finding the starting place. The first hike was in the area a little east of Speightstown, and the second hike was in the Northern part of Christ Church. There are three groups - fast (don't even think about it), mediuim (about 8-9 miles in three hours) and the slower and much more informative "Stop and Stare" which is led by Dr. Colin Hudson. Colin is truly an Island treasure. He knows everything there is to know about Barbados and studiously prepares for these forays. We owe a great deal to Colin for helping us to understand the local scene.
Easter Sunday afternoon is the National Barbados kite flying contest at the Garrison. The highlight is "big kite" contest. This year the largest entrant was 32 feet by 32 feet. That is some big kite! The team used a truck to try to get up. To qualify the kite must stay in the air for 1 minute after it is no longer being pulled. Alas, the super-kite only lasted 19 seconds. The real adventure is trying to get out of the way when this monster heads for the ground. People were scattering everywhere - it was chaos and lots of fun.
On Easter Monday, the fishing village on the Southern Coast throws a party for the rest of the Island - the Oistens Fish Festival. It starts at 6:00am with a 10k run from downtown Bridgetown (Admiral Nelson's statue) to Oistens. I ran, slowly, and had a good time. Certainly the locals can handle the heat better than I. I wasn't last, but I was certainly closer to that spot than first. I had an intersesting experience on my way to the race. I was driving my moke on the south coast road and was just 1km or so out of Bridgetown when I slowed down for traffic, and, all of a sudden, I had a local sitting in my vechile. He introduced himself and said he would be glad to accompany me to the West Coast. I informed him that I was just going to Bridgetown and was going to park my car and run the race, and that I wouldn't be back to my car for a couple of hours He muttered an expletive and then helped me through the confusing one way streets of Bridgetown. When I got to the race start he shook my hand, wished me luck and left...So much for the Bajan hijacking experience.
The Fish Festival itself begins in the afternoon and goes late into the night. We left at nightfall and it seemed that the entire island was already there. The event is lots of fun with loud reggae, great local foods (fray cakes are scrumpcious) and some fun contests like fish boning and greased pole climbing. We ended up bying some real nice local art of chattel houses and seascapes.
We ate in our room more often than going out, but I know that people are always curious about resturants. Pisces is real good, but the service is spotty, especially when it comes to getting a check. There is a new Italian resturant at the corner of St. Lawrence Gap and the Main Road. Its called Bellini's. Its quite good and the service is excellent. If you go, get the fettucini verdi. The Mermaid Inn is on Maxwell Coast Road on the South Coast and is a very pleasant place to eat - good food and good service. Their Calaloo Soup is outta sight!.
Our home in Barbados is our timesharing place on the South Coast, Sand Acres. We love the place - its friendly, breezy (we never use the air conditioning) and right on the beach. They are building a new, more posh place next door called Bougenvilla. I understand that sales are going well. We were able to show off our place to that Prodigy maven Terri B. and her husband. They stopped by and had a drink with us. Its great to meet people with whom you've corresponded over the past year.
Of course one Featival is not enough, so there was another one during our second week. This was called "de Congaline" Lots of music and food. And the worlds longest Congaline, weaving throughout St. Lawrence Gap.
Well, I'm worn out of writing and I guess you all are tired of reading. so I'll not discuss the Barbados Museum (ho-hum), the trip up island (don't miss Hackleton's Cliff, Cherry Tree Hill or Paul's Point near Cave Hill, and don't miss lunch of local food at the Atlantis Hotel in Bathsheba), the par three golf course (set on the rugged and picturesque eastern shore), SCUBA diving, wind surfing and the immense quantities of Banks beer consumed.
We will be back next year.
BVI by Ginny Noyes
We just got back from two wonderful weeks aboard our WILDCAT sailing and motoring around the BVI. We had friends along for their first time in the BVI so did many of the regular stops.
We arrived late at night so slept on board the first night. Provisioning went quickly the next morning with 4 shoppers at work. We left by noon, tried to snorkel the Indians but one of our group lost a fin in 45 feet. We didn't have our tanks yet so spend some time getting a nearby divemaster to bring it up after his dive. We had cocktails at the Willie T and spent the night aboard at The Bight.
Day 2 We couldn't get a mooring at The Caves so went back to do the inside of The Indians, very nice. Next picked up tanks at Peter Island and dove the Wreck of the Rhone. Great dive as always! On to Cooper Island for the night, snorkeled in area and had dinner at the Beach Club.
Day 3 we enjoyed a stop at the Baths. Then picked up more dive equipment and provisions in Spanish Town. They have a good bakery and market at the marina. We dove the Chimney off Great Dog, snorkeled at Mountain Point before entering Gorda Sound, had painkillers at Pussers, Leverick Bay and spend the night on board.
Day 4 we tried to sail to Anegada but there wasn't enough wind to make it much of a sail so we motored most of the way. We took a cab from Anegada Reef Hotel to Loblolly Bay and made a great beach dive! The coral and fish were great. We had a drink at the Big Bamboo while waiting for our cab. Two kids from Pam's Bakery came around by dinghy selling sweet rolls, brownies, cookies and fresh baked bread. Lobster at Anegada Reef Hotel was good. Lights went out for awhile but they just pulled up a couple trucks with headlights on and everything continued as usual.
Day 5 we walked down the beach to Pam's Bakery for more bread and cookies. We had to motor sail back for lack of winds again. We caught a barracuda but put him back. He wasn't amused. We attempted a dive at Lee Bay, Great Camanoe but it was too churned up, poor visibility. We went to Guana Island instead to snorkel and spend the night. We had planned a night dive but had painkillers before dinner so called it off.
Day 6, we motored back to Spanish Town to return tanks and other gear and pick up water and a few provisions. We had lunch and snorkeled at Great Dog. On to Marina Cay but too late to get a mooring so stayed in Trellis Bay. Our favorite restaurant, Conch Shell Point was closed on Monday so took the ferry to Pussers, Marina Cay and had a great dinner of Eserol (sp?) fish. The place was very nice although different from the way it used to be. They did keep the library on top of the hill.
The next morning we took our friends to the airport from the dinghy dock and bid them farewell. We got our first paper in a week and found out very little had happened while we were out and about. A couple hours later we met our next guests at the airport, brought them aboard and that will be
So began our second week aboard WILDCAT. After boarding from the airport we went to Cooper Island and relaxed, did some snorkeling and ate on board. This week would be more easy going. Our friends were happy to relax and take in whatever we did and there was no push to see and do everything.
The next morning we reached a charter board captain friend who happened to be at Valley Trunk Bay just north of the Baths so we motored up to visit with him on the beach. We then sailed down to Deadman's Bay, Peter Island for the night. This is one of our favorite places but there were eleven boats there that night. The beach and lights were beautiful as usual.
The next morning we went ashore and hiked up and around the hills. The views were spectacular. We took some nice pictures of our boat in the bay after most of the other boats left. We went across to our marina in Road Town to check the auto-pilot and get some provisions. We met other charter boat friends for a visit. Then returned to Deadman's Bay for another peaceful night; not so many boats this time. We spotted several turtles.
In the morning we motor-sailed to Soper's Hole for some shopping. Then to White Bay, Jost Van Dyke and the Soggy Dollar Bar. (When we were there last summer we came ashore with $40. We found $5 while snorkeling the reef. Our lunch bill was $45.50. Rafael told us to bring it next time.) We swam in, reminded him we owed him 50 cents and a tip. We paid our debt and he said today's painkillers were on the house. That's what I'd call island hospitality. We relaxed in the hammocks, walked the beach and played games at the bar. Then off to Little Harbor and lobster dinner at Harris' Place, outstanding as usual!
Next morning we cruised by Sandy Cay for some pictures and headed to Brewer's Bay, Tortola. (Our friends name is Brewer) We were quite careful entering the bay having read much about it, especially during winter months. We didn't have any trouble getting in and anchored. The snorkeling was out of this world!!! We saw 4 adult squid that did not go into hiding while we were around. Just a short distance away we saw 45 juvenile squid just below the surface. It was quite a sight. Of course I didn't have my camera along. I went back to the boat for it but couldn't find them when I got back. Another one of those wonderful pictures in your mind.
Then we went to Cane Garden Bay for the night. We walked to the Rum distillery, took the tour, bought a bottle and walked down the beach. We ran into some British sailors having fun on the beach. They offered us drinks in exchange for the rum which we found a great trade. We spent quite some time visiting with them, a very pleasant bunch and lots of fun, a nice way to spend some time on the beach. We had dinner on board waiting for the music to start. Myetts had 2 bands going until 3AM. I do not recommend Cane Garden on Saturday night unless you are planning on staying up till 3. There was no way to sleep in the harbor.
Next morning we decided to go up the northern side of Tortola. The winds were so nice we headed out and returned to Anegada under sail. It was great fun at 9-11 knots all the way. We walked to Pam's bakery for cookies and ice cream and had dinner on the boat. Next morning we had another nice sail back to Road Town. We began packing and threw a party on board for the staff and crews at our marina. At 9PM we went to the Captains Table for a light supper and found the UCLA game on TV. What a great surprise to see the game. Another wonderful trip and of course we started planning our next trip on the flight home. What a wonderful place, the BVI's, our second home.
BVI: Bareboat By Robert Lehnes
We just returned from 8 great days aboard a catamaran in the BVI. Our first bareboat charter. The crew included Dad (birthday present), three sons, and #1 grandson. Yes, 5 guys.
We chartered with Catamaran Charters out of Road Town, Tortola. Upon our arrival we were informed that the Privilege 39 we had reserved wasn't available and they had upgraded us to a 43' St. Francis w/4 heads. Not too hard to take. We spent the first night at the Village Cay Marina Hotel. Very nice. Dinner there was nice, as well. The following morning seemed to take forever before we actually set off on our cruise. Finishing touches on the boat by the charter company, chart briefing, boat familiarization and finally the check out sail.
A quick word about provisioning. We got the gourmet split provisioning package (4 dinners aboard, 3 ashore) from the Ample Hamper at Village Cay. Absolutely fantastic. Great food, plenty of it. A keeper.
A Captain from the charter company took us on a check sail and showed us the cat on all points of sail with tips on how to sail her best. He, by the way had sailed the St. Francis from South Africa to Tortola. He was quickly satisfied that we could ably handle the boat and let us drop him off at the ferry terminal on Peter Island rather than return to Road Town. We then sailed straight away toward Norman Island where we planned to anchor for the night at the Bight. Once the hook was set, we set out in the dinghy to explore Treasure Point and the caves. By this time it was getting late so we decided to put off exploring the caves until our last day. Had a drink aboard the William Thornton, an old Danish Baltic Trader sailing vessel permanently anchored in the Bight as a floating bar and restaurant. Experienced our first (and by no means last) "Painkillers." hit the sack early in anticipation of our adventurous week.
Day 2. Weighed anchor and set sail for Salt Island bright and early the next morning to snorkel at the wreck of the mail steamship Rhone. (Slight detour for a "dinghy overboard" drill when the dinghy towing line let go.) It was great with so much of the wreck in shallow water so as to be easily visible to snorkelers on the surface. After our first trip we sat on board and looked at the cruising guide and the pictures of the wreck in it. Lots of things we didn't see on our first trip so we went again. This time we had a much better perspective and really saw so much more of the wreck. Sailed to Cooper Island and grabbed the last mooring in Manchioneel Bay. Our only bad night for sleeping. The wind was howling with gusts that had to be 40 knots. The current had all the boats turned sideways to the wind so it was a rocky ride. Nobody slept.
Day 3. By morning the wind finally calmed down a bit and we set sail for Virgin Gorda and the famous Baths we had heard so much about. We sailed between Cooper and Salt Islands into the Atlantic to try to make the trip with only one tack, which we did. The seas were a little rough, but the cat was steady enough for us to prepare and eat breakfast while underway. While motoring into the Baths our port diesel threw an alternator belt so we motored in on one engine. We took the first mooring we found, not wanting to maneuver with only one engine. We called the charter company and explained our problem. By the time all of us had finished snorkeling and exploring the Baths, the chase boat had ours fixed. The Baths were great, everything they were said to be.
We sailed from the Baths to North Sound, Virgin Gorda, taking the short cut between Anguilla Pt, Virgin Gorda and Mosquito Island. Due to the shallow water, only cats are allowed to take the short cut. We picked up a mooring in Leverick Bay. What a great anchorage. Real nice and quiet (and calm). Had dinner ashore at Pusser's Leverick Bay. Dinner was superb. Great steaks and Mahi-mahi. More to come.
Day 4. Nice night of sleeping, especially after the last night. After breakfast we picked up some necessary provisioning and then motored out past the Bitter End and Saba Rock into Eustatia Sound for some snorkeling among the reefs there. Very nice. Motored out between Prickly Pear and Eustatia Islands and then set sail on a nice reach for Great Dog for more snorkeling. Ate lunch along the way. Good snorkeling at Great Dog, then sailed to Beef Island. Rather large swells, about 6' I guess. Picked up a mooring in Trellis Bay and some of the crew did some wind surfing in a fresh breeze.
Day 5. Beautiful morning. Decided to motor to Marina Cay to fill our starboard water tank. We had switched to the port tank the night before. Went to start the engines and they wouldn't turn over. The batteries were run down. Good thing we paid such close attention to the boat checkout. Always put the batteries on "both" when the engines are running and then switch to "2" when they're not running so as not to wear down the backup battery, #1. We paid close attention and switched to #1 and the engines started right up. (Remember, this was our first time charter.) A good lesson there for inexperienced charterers. All week it was the responsibility of one crew member to be sure the battery was put in the appropriate position. We never had a problem. After filling up with water we motored out the channel between Great Camanoe and Little Camanoe. What a bear!! The narrow channel, coupled with strong current and stiff wind made it interesting. Just outside the narrow channel, the water calmed down. We raised just the jib for our short sail to Monkey Point. Ate breakfast along the way. Picked up a park service mooring off Monkey Point where the snorkeling was great. Zillions and zillions of fish, almost so many that you couldn't see the coral and rock formations. Saw a school of fish off our stern and fed them a little bread. Neat. Nice sail to Cane Garden Bay where we picked up a mooring early in the afternoon. A couple of our crew wind surfed while the rest of us vegged. Cane Garden Bay is one of the most beautiful anchorages we saw all week. Had dinner ashore. Just OK.
Day 6. Beautiful morning. The bay was like a lake all night with just a gentle breeze to make sleeping comfortable. Motored toward Green Cay, our first scheduled stop for the day. Breakfast along the way. Anchored between Green Cay and Sandy Spit, right next to Wildcat, from Tuscon, AZ. (Guess who's boat?) We were located at L18 degrees 27.04'N and Lo 64 degrees 42.62W, just to let you know we even knew how to use the GPS (which we used all week by the way). Sandy Spit is the most beautiful desert island you can ever imagine. We took the dinghy ashore and took a walk around the island (only takes 5 min). Snorkeled there, but had seen much better at other places. Set sail for a short trip to Little Harbor, Jost Van Dyke. Wind was so nice that we spent the next few hours just sailing between JVD and St. John's (a few times). First time we hit 12 kts, quite exciting. Moored in Little Harbor and went for a hike up to the top of the hill. Breathtaking view of the harbor and other islands. Called Harris' Restaurant to get reservations, but they were out of lobsters, which we had our hearts set on. Paid for the mooring at Abe's and noticed live lobsters in a keeper at the dock. Made reservations for dinner when we paid for the mooring (and reserved 5 lobsters). Abe's was great! Some of the lobsters had to be 4-5 lbs, but they were all so tender and sweet. A keeper.
Day 7. Motored to Soper's Hole to get some provisions (we were out of film). Harbor very crowded. Dropped of crew in the dinghy and just circled around for a few minutes and then picked them up. Sailed between St. John's and Tortola headed for the Indians. Timing is everything and two boats were just leaving when we arrived. Absolutely great snorkeling in and among the caves along the point. Maybe the best of the week.
Fouled the mooring line in our prop when leaving, but cleared it off with the help of a butcher's knife. Put a new loop in the line. Sailed a nice close reach all the way up the channel to Fat Hogs Bay for our last overnight stay. Nice anchorage, although a tad small. But the moorings make it accommodating.
Day 8. Motored the short distance to Road Town and returned our boat reluctantly. The end of a truly great week. I hit only the highlights, the places that were special. Best food w/atmosphere - Pusser's Leverick Bay. Best food w/o atmosphere - Abe's. Best snorkeling - Eustatia Sound, Monkey Point, Treasure Point. Since we are now "experienced" bareboaters, we'll be happy to answer any ?'s or provide any additional information anyone may wish. Just happy to help out as other members of the bb had helped us. Smooth sailing.
Cancun by Nancy Hinzmann
Just back. Hope this helps someone.
Exchange rate: 6.00-6.40
Weather: 85-95 Windy. Black flags(extremely dangerous swimming) 6 out of 8 days. Hotel: Mirimar Mission Plaza. O.K. Nothing special. Clean.
Buses: Great. Just tell the driver where you want to go. They don't wait for you to sit down. They don't even wait until the door is closed. You may feel like you are on a race track. Food: Bogarts the best by far.
Senor Frogs-I thought I might be too old for this place, (38) but after one yard long drink, I fit right in. Perico's-wild and crazy-congo line-bring camera.
Mango Tango-had one very strong drink there, can't remember much else after that.
Gypsy's-food O.K. Flamenco dancing.
Captain's Cove-ate there often for breakfast. Buffet-$6.00.
XCaret-$70 to swim with dolphins now. We just snorkeled up to their pen and they came right up to us. Snorkeled the underground caves-interesting but not many fish. I got cold. Mosquitoes at the park. Tour was $44.
Isla Mujeres- Tour $37. Catch a ferry from Fat Tuesdays-$12 We took a cab to Puerto Juarez for $5 and the ferry for 10 pesos ($1.67) They try to sell you tours on the ferry. When you get off the ferry you will be surrounded by tour selling people. We walked on the beach to the left for quite a ways. Many topless sunbathers. Then we took a cab to the National Park to snorkel. Many fish.
Cozumel-Took the ferry out of Playa del Carmen. If it's windy, take Dramine. Many people got sea sick. Tour-$70. Diving Tour-$100. Ferry out of Fat Tuesdays-$27. Snorkeled by Cub Med. Million jelly fish. Got stung a couple of times. We saw sea urchins and squid there.
I was very careful what I ate and drank but still got sick. In my group, 3 out of 4 got sick. Bring meds.
Time share people everywhere-hotels, restaurants, beach.
Shopping: silver and tee shirts everywhere.
Bring a little calculator to figure out pesos vs U.S. dollars.
Cayman Brac by Paul Tibbetts
First of all, let me start off by saying that I've lived in Cayman Brac all my life so most of this text is going to be based on first hand knowledge. As you would expect, I love Cayman Brac, but I'll try to be fair and present it as I've heard visitors describe.
History: Cayman Brac was the first of the Cayman Islands to be discovered in 1503 by Christopher Columbus. It was discovered first because of its bluff (a flat cliff running throughout the island, reaching 140ft at the eastern tip). In fact the island was named after this distinctive feature (Brac is Gaelic for "bluff"). Turtles were so in abundance in the surrounding seas that the islands were first named "Las Tortugas". According to legend, the first settlers on the island were deserters from the British Navy stationed in Jamaica.
Reasons for going: First and foremost, diving. Every tourist I've talked to have said that the diving in Cayman Brac is unequaled anywhere in the diving world. Although not a diver myself (I've often wondered why) one can easily see the world under the ocean from the surface. The bottom can clearly be seen at over 150 feet. Another reason for going is the islands' natural beauty. The bluff, with its astounding flora and fauna, is a must for nature enthusiasts. Not an obvious reason, but one that should be mentioned are the people of the island (please don't judge them by the taxi or tour bus drivers). The friendliness of the locals is one the first things mentioned by any visitor to the islands. Driving down a road you'll see that everyone waves to you, whether they know you or not (I quickly discovered that this was not done too often in the States). This is just their way of saying "hi" and thanks for visiting. Unlike other Caribbean islands there are no homeless or unemployed (except for two people, but that's by choice).
Reasons for not visiting: Depending on when you visit, those expecting wild night life and entertainment are going to be disappointed. Everything on the island shuts down at or around 9pm (Due to the lack of things to do, the local young people usually hang out at the airport). During periods like Pirate's Week (last full week in October), Christmas/New Year's, Fourth of July (?) and other holidays the whole island gets involved with entertainment. Dances, with music supplied by local bands, are well attended at the hotels and at the Public Beach. Other than the dates above though, night life is sadly lacking. Prices on the island are slightly on expensive side (although not as much as you'd expect). When you come, be sure to expect to pay more than you would in the States.
Where to stay: There are 2, well 3 (but I only recommend 2) hotels on the island. Both Brac Reef Beach Resort (ph 809-948-1453) and Divi Tiara (ph 809-948-1553) are located on the beach front, offer outstanding service and include full service dive operations. Each hotel has its own unique charm. Tiara (as it is locally referred to) is definitely the more commercial of the two and is considerably larger. Tiara also offers Time Share Units (which are very popular). Brac Reef, on the other hand, offers a more secluded atmosphere yet still offers excellent dive packages. Both hotels are slightly on the expensive side (Brac Reef is the cheaper of the two). In addition to the two hotels, there are condominiums (Brac Haven Villas, Seafarer, Brac Caribbean Club) as well as numerous guest homes.
Eating Out: Rated in order of personal choice and popularity:-
1. Edd's Place - specializes in local, American and Chinese dishes. Food = A-. Price = $10-30ea. (extremely good cook) 2. La Esperanza - specializes in local and American dishes. Food = A-. Price = $10-30. 3. G&M Diner - specializes in everything. Food = B. Price $5-20. 4. Aunt Sha's - specializes in local and American. Food = B+. Price $10-30. 5. Wallgreen - specializes in local, American. Food = B+. Price $5-20.
In addition to these are several local snack type restaurants. "Angies" is easily the most popular among locals and visitors alike. "Seaview" (locally referred to as "Blackie's") has a drive-through, but its more closely related to a drive up, park, wait 10 minutes type of service (their food and locally made ice-cream (highly recommended) is usually worth the wait though).
One final note on food -- try "patties". They are to the Caymanians, what hamburgers are to Americans. You can buy them at any of the local stores. One taste and you'll be hooked.
Population: approx. 1500 Monetary Unit: Caymanian Dollar ($1CI=$1.20US) Crime: Non-existent Local Transportation: None, but several rental car agencies to choose from, as well as rental scooters and bikes. Electricity: Identical to U.S. Schools: 3 grade schools, 1 Middle/High School.
Points of Interest:
- Visit the lighthouse for a sunrise. You won't be disappointed. Complement this visit with a view of the sunset from West End Point. - Visit the museum. It's small, but it's full of interesting and unique facts and objects. - Visit Little Cayman. Go with
your hotel, or private charter to Point-o-sand for a day. I think it's the best beach in the islands. - Visit the caves (on the south side of the island). Recommended caves are "Bat Cave" and "Great Cave" - Visit the south-eastern tip of the island ("End of the road, south-side" as labeled by locals). Spectacular scenery and blowing holes.
I guess that about wraps up this session of "Bracology". When you're traveling again. Make sure you consider Cayman Brac.
Cozumel by Daniel Waskie
COZUMEL LIFE GUIDE 95
(Ed Note: The following Cozumel Life Guide was prepared by Daniel Waskie visitor to Cozumel 17 times, avid scuba diver, speaks Spanish, married 22 years. )
If you want a Resort type atmosphere, the best resort hotel for you is the Sol Caribe Cozumel. As you enter the hotel you walk into a truly recreated Mayan Jungle. Parrots, waterfalls, the whole works. It has everything. It's plush and has the only truly sandy beach on the hotel side of the island. Cozumel's water is so clear because of it's ironstone coastline. You will truly love Sol Caribe Cozumel. There is so much offered that you don't ever have to leave it for your entire vacation. It has the largest lagoon style swimming pool on the island where you can actually almost get lost swimming around the different areas of the pool lagoon. You eventually end up at a swim-up bar where you can sit on an underwater stool and enjoy your favorite drink. They have two restaurants, an open-air Mexican style where you will enjoy a lavish all you can eat breakfast buffet, and a formal restaurant for those special evenings when you don't want to go into town for dinner. There are shops, rental cars, tours, and a twenty-four hour taxi stand right at the hotel. Each evening, out by the pool in the Mayan Ruin Garden, they have a live mariachi band to serenade you until you're ready to call it a day. There beach is the best with plenty of chairs, another bar, rental snorkel and dive gear, free towels, etc., etc. - too much to mention. They even have their own water desalinization plant so you don't have to worry about the water. You also get bottled water in your room. Rooms are about 120/day. Expensive but worth it. See your travel agent for any deals going on at the time you want to go.
Choice number two would be the Plaza Las Glorias. Lots of activity, nice rooms, plenty of eating and shops, a little less money (95/day), I've stayed there but I prefer Sol Caribe. Stay at Sol and visit Plaza on the nights they have special buffets, such as their Mexican night. Don't get me wrong, this is a very nice hotel, but that's what it is, a hotel rather than a resort like the Sol Caribe is.
Choice 3 would be the Fiesta Inn, about 70/night, with nice snorkeling and a big pool. Again this is a large hotel without all the amenities of the Sol, however, this is still a first class everything hotel.
The largest resort is the El Presidente. It's big with everything but it's impersonal and bland to my taste. Lots of folks like its tropical-all alone atmosphere though.
All in- town hotels, my favorite ($5-50/night), are truly Mexican and not on the beach. The one we usually stay in is called the Meson San Miguel, it's right on the north side of the plaza, it costs $35/62night. No TV in the rooms (satellite TV in lounge) but they're comfortable, air conditioned, and we know everyone who works here. Great lobby with bar with satellite TV. Close to everything in town.
Another we like is the Mary Carmin, this place is small and very old (kinda run down) but has a truly Mexican courtyard with huge wooden doors leading you into the yard from the street. The rooms are clean and bottled water is provided. They don't speak much English here but enough for you to enjoy it. Costs the same as San Miguel but a block away from the bustle of the Plaza. You can actually hear the traditional bell-ringer at night ringing to tell you everything is safe (Mexican culture ritual). $25/nt. Hotel Lopez, which is right on the square has ceiling fan rooms for $10/nt. some sleep 6.
Coz has it all! From one-of-a-kind Yucatecan delights, to French Bistro style cuisine, to marvelous overstuffed potatoes, to Swiss-Italiano Pizza, not to forget traditional local dishes from all over Mexico. Succulent seafood and tender, hearty Sonora Beef! Of course there is "good old America U.S. food." No where in the entire western hemisphere will you find more variety and flavor, enjoy!
Expensive - The buffet at Sol Caribe which is about three miles south of town, get a taxi (you don't have to stay here to eat here), all you can eat. Really a super breakfast, one that you will never forget. Everything you're used to plus a whole lot of new things for you to try. About 10 bucks a head.
) Moderate (my favorite- Las Palmeras, located downtown right across the street from the downtown pier where the ferries come in. You must try this place. Served off the menu, you can order your favorite US style breakfast, or like we do, have one of the Mexican omelets, or create something of your own. The bread is baked fresh everyday for your toast and everything is delicious, no fears here. I have enjoyed breakfast at Las Palmeras for many years and find it hard to beat. It's an open air restaurant which allows you to enjoy the morning activities of the Mexican people. You'll see the kids fishing off the downtown pier and the natives buying their catch.
Right next door is a bank, the best place to change your money to pesos. You'll watch people getting on and off the ferries, and even the cruise ships that get in early. Cost: about $6/head for breakfast with fresh squeezed juice and really good coffee. Just once try the breakfast fruit platter, WoW! It's more than any one person can eat and it will introduce you to, besides the stuff you're used to, some Mexican favorites. Here you will experience the real Cozumel.
American - The Sports Page, walk a block north from the northeast corner of the Plaza. Owned by an Oklahoma friend of mine, this is the closest place on the island to being back home. The prices are good too. Breakfast runs around 5 bucks and it's very good. Ice cold air conditioning and a sports atmosphere with satellite TV going all the time, on every wall, makes you think you're back home in your neighborhood sports bar. When there are no games on, like for breakfast, you'll watch CNN. You can get American beers here and shoot a game of pool if you like. This place usually exchanges money at the best rate of all restaurants but not nearly as good as a bank. Almost 100% tourists but they do a brisk and quality business. You'll quickly meet friends here.
For lunch get the burger with fries. The owner is so successful with this business, buys so much, that he gets the quality from the markets he wants, you should hear him talk about his efforts to get true quality meats and seafoods. You'll like the Sports Page. Almost every sports star I've heard of has been there and their jersey is hanging on the wall or ceiling like wallpaper. The Sports Page is squeaky clean and safe, use purified water.
The norm on Cozumel for us tourists is not to formally eat lunch. Catch the late breakfast then an early dinner, if you must eat lunch on the go, pack something you bought from El Commercial (the grocery on the plaza) in a cooler (also sold at El Commercial) and eat it on the beach. Don't forget about the Mexican custom siesta. Most of the stores and shops close from noon or one until three or four. This is when the Mexicans eat their main meal of the day, at home. The shops and stores open again from about four until about seven or eight. Restaurants don't follow this custom.
If you're hungry at lunch time and want to eat at a restaurant I recommend (not necessarily in this order, depends on what you feel like eating):
The Sports Page for burgers and fries (see above)
Mr. Papas (a Mexico City franchise, like our McDonalds but without the drive-through, is a place that is clean, modern and tidy) for the Best Burritos on the Island, great BBQ chicken, everything is great. Try one of their many stuffed potato specialties.
My favorite is Ham/Bacon/Broccoli/Cheese.
Also try the Caprichosa (everything included) Even the fajitas are good. Burgers good too. Mr. Papas is located three blocks south of the plaza on an east to west road. Look for it during one of your first walking excursions through town. They have all the satellite TV stuff but in more of a MODERN AND COMFORTABLE Mexican flavor. VERY safe place to eat and enjoy either lunch or dinner.
ERNESTOS FOR FAJITAS: Don't leave Cozumel without trying these fajitas. The best FAJITAS on the island. Informal but professional. Meat imported from USA. but the recipe is purely Mexican. Not that the Cozumel beef is bad, it's just that this place insists on a VERY LOW and CONTROLLED fat count on its meat which apparently is why they import their beef. Enjoy the combo which includes imported beef, local chicken, and local shrimp. The food is fresh, extremely tasty, and the atmosphere is friendly Mexican. You'll come back again and again. Located a cab ride south of town on the main drag (malecon).
AT CHANCANAB PARK: La Laguna is pretty mediocre good for lunch, there is no other restaurant at the park, this is the largest native architecture on the island.
EVENING MEAL: This is the toughest subject for me to write about. Most places are very good but many are exceptional. My favorites for an evening meal may be different from yours probably because of price, whether you want to party and eat, or just eat and enjoy. I tend to seek out the lesser expensive places that still offer the atmosphere I'm looking for. I'll try to be unbiased in my selections for you.
CLASSIC ITALIAN CUISINE, DONATELLO serves it all, formally. Downtown and very plush.
FANCY STEAKS and MEXICAN FOOD with safe Salad Bar, go to PEPE'S GRILL on the waterfront downtown just south of the pier. The menu is extensive but I recommend the current house special, this will always be the freshest and best prepared item (usually a steak of some sort), or the always SUPER DUPER Mexican platter. You must order the Mexican coffee before the meal, it comes flaming and with a show (this is an alcoholic drink). These folks have been here forever so far as I know. They are one of the originals and are a legend. Owned by the richest families on the island. Mariachis serenade you after 8 PM. Tip the mariachis $5. Request the song "Cuando Caliente El Sol." You'll recognize it and love to hear it again. Great view of the waterfront. People are super friendly. Food is safe.
LOBSTER/KING CRAB, moderate, although all the restaurants serve lobster, the best place to go for really fresh (out of the sea daily lobster) is:
COSTA BRAVA restaurant. A little off the beaten trail, but the really best place to enjoy the flavor of the island. The people are the friendliest you'll ever meet. You will leave here full and satisfied. Also consider the King Crab. MAN is it good! This place, because a bit out of your way, really pleases. They demand that your palate calls you back to their place. It works! Best price for lobster on the island. Best price for all seafood. Pick a cool night due to open air. Just as the taxi driver to take you to Costa Brava.
PANCHO'S BACKYARD, located on the north side of town, on the waterfront. Full menu, the spaghetti is great. I've never seen nor tasted spaghetti prepared in this manner. It's a bit unique and I recommend you try it at least once.
PIZZA, GOSH HOW COULD WE LIVE WITHOUT IT! there is a Dominos on the island, they are doing a landmark business, last I heard it was around 16K/wk. They will deliver to your room. Who wants it? Probably those that are too lazy or drunk to go to some of the REALLY TASTY AND UNIQUE PIZZARIAS that are on the island. I recommend the following, none deliver:
GATO PARDO ITALIANO: Man is this good stuff.(my favorite) It's located one walking block southeast of the plaza, in a quaint storefront, but once you get inside they even have a back outdoor patio with falling water where you can enjoy a really great pizza. Other Italian specialties on the menu, all are super.
KAREN'S PIZZAS: Courtyard pizza with a mock bullfight on certain evenings. This place is noted for their pizza WITH ASPARAGUS. Order one of their pizzas that comes with asparagus. You will be delighted. The mock bullfight is a thing they do, certain nights of the week, where everyone is issued a Mexican Sombrero, and put into a line of people that march down the downtown streets of San Miguel to the beat music. There are certain stops where you are given ANOTHER SHOT OF TEQUELA. This is not for everyone, and you don't have to participate, but the pre-march show is worth the price of your pizza. It's funny and you'll enjoy it. Eat at Karen's at least once during your visit. Call them from your room to find out what night the mock bullfight is on.
Update 3-28-95 The bathrooms stink!
HAVE YOU EVER HAD A PIZZA BAKED IN A WOOD BURNING OVEN? Try PIZZA ROLANDI. This is another Mexican franchise, like Mr. Papas, that puts out a great product. The owners are friendly but the pizza is small, even the large is thin and small. It's located on the malicon (the waterfront street), at the furthest north end. You can walk there. It's the restaurant where the lights run out. It gets dark after Rolandi's. The reason I recommend it is because of the taste (man is it good) and the courtyard atmosphere (this is real Cozumel). It's intimate and mouthwatering and right on the ocean. You'll never meet nicer people than the folks that own this Rolandi's franchise.
THERE ARE TOO MANY TO MENTION IN THIS GUIDE: What I will try to do is give you a few tips, based on what your tastes are.
THE MUSTS TO DO AND SEE IN COZUMEL:
The first day, even your day of arrival if you get in early enough, is a trip to the Museum. The Museum is located just several blocks north of the plaza and any taxi driver will take you there. There are four rooms, on two stories, takes only about an hour, and only costs a couple of bucks. This will give you a flavor for the island and actually help you to plan the rest of your vacation. This Museum is a modern facility with even a restaurant and lounge on the top floor. Make this one of your first "things to do." Without a flavor for the island you will not have as good of a time.
Chancanab Park: This is a GARDEN OF EDEN and AN extremely well maintained NATIONAL PARK. "YOU HAVE NOT BEEN TO COZUMEL UNLESS YOU VISIT CHANCANAB. There is a mile of beach and plenty of shops to rent snorkel or scuba gear. Get there early for the best beach seats, I recommend you plan for this and get there at around 10am at the latest. First set up you beach site (put your stuff down and around your claimed beach chairs) then hit the nature walk. The nature walk will lead you past some things you have never seen before. Eventually to the Park Museum. You will not believe the meticulous care of this park. It will give you a lot of ideas on how to change your own yard and landscaping. You will wonder why our country can't do something like this. You won't have to worry about your stuff left on the beach (while you tour) because of the Mexican park police. They will watch it for you, stand almost next to it. It's amazing! Explore the underwater caves on the south end of the beach. You can snorkel down and peek in, or scuba inside the entrance. They are always full of 20-30 huge tarpon. About 20 feet deep to cave.
SNORKELING - Go immediately to any of the two "Dive Paradise" dive shops and get their free newspaper-syle "free" Guide to Cozumel. This is valuable information that is updated frequently and is absolutely free to anyone that walks in to one of their two dive shops. It's so complete that it even includes basic Spanish language study. This free paper has been a classic for over 10 years that I know of. YOU HAVE TO HAVE THIS! Do this on your very first day!
SCUBA DIVING - First and foremost, make sure any operator you dive with is a member of CADO AND SSS which has the only recompression chamber on the island. One dollar of your fee goes to support this service. There are two types of scuba diving on the island, traditional (slow boat) and modern (fast boat). Most good operators offer both with the fast boat being the most popular. I like the slow boat for at least one of my diving days.
SLOW BOAT: Usually a traditional fishing boat that takes you leisurely for a one hour ride to the first dive site. You do your deep (80') dive here then it pulls into shore where you enjoy a relaxing lunch of fish cooked on an open fire. On the way home you do a medium reef dive in 40-50' of water.
FAST BOAT: High speed boats, 20-30 minutes to the reefs, get in - get out, move to the second medium reef, get in - get out - home by noon.
DIVE OPERATORS: Too many to mention all but we like the following: Dive Paradise: American owner friend of mine died of heart attack last year but reports say the company is even better now. Same or better high quality service. Two locations on island and will pick you up in boat at any ocean-side hotel south of town. 12 divers max. on slow boat, 6 divers max. on fast boats. No cattleboats. A company you can trust. Coupons for 15% off in free blue book available everywhere on island.
Discover Cozumel Diving: My second favorite, especially if you use a Nikon camera underwater. This company supports photography.
No mater who you hire to take you, you should know something about the reefs
1)The great PELANCAR REEF (the most popular): this is actually a conglomeration of many different coral formations stretching for a distance of three miles. Every dive shop will make your first dive-of-the-day the Pelancar. It is world famous. You will love it. 80-100 ft. depths with 1-4 knot current. The boat stays above the bubbles so if you want to quit just follow the bubbles to the boat.
2)SANTA ROSA WALL: -regarded as the second most popular dive/drop off wall it begins in 70' of water. More fish than Pelancar. Drops straight-away to the deep 2000' down. You might see mantas and sharks if you're lucky. Whale sharks are seen too.
Rent a car from Budget downtown, they can make the best deal. If you want a car for more than a day, let's say a week, then make your deal with Budget before you leave the states, call their toll-free number. No one has ever figured out why, but you will save a lot of money by having your car/or jeep ready for you via an American "PRE" reservation. For instance: $50.00 per day rented on Cozumel translates into $185 per week if you rent the car before you leave home. I think it's because of the cruise ships, they can get more on a daily basis from the cruise people.
ONCE YOU RENT YOUR CAR, follow the schedule presented to you in the Dive Paradise (free) Newspaper. I might add to their itinerary: plan on spending a full day on the windward (east) side of the island. If you start the island tour heading south on the leeward island side (meaning a counterclockwise direction), take a side trip on every little road you see headed toward the beach. You'll find a lot of adventure. If you want to be left alone, once you get to the east coast of the island, turn right (on the rough dirt road at the beach), and find your own little beach in the sun. Strip off the clothes, forget the bathing suits, and enjoy the sun. No one will bother you, no one will even be able to find a parking place near where you found yours. The road is narrow and the ONE-CAR parking places are purposely spaced about a quarter mile apart. This goes on for about 10 miles. Rhonda and I really like this part the best. It's like being in another world. You will too! Imagine, just you and your wife and nature! Sand and sun. Need I say more? Don't fail to stop and explore the small Mayan ruins along this road. Also, if you're up to it, go all the way to the end of this dirt road and climb to the top of the lighthouse. The caretaker will feed you and sell you a soft drink or a beer. If you're hungry HE WILL ACTUALLY CUT THE HEAD OF A CHICKEN AND COOK IT FOR YOU RIGHT ON HIS WOOD FIRED GRILL! It doesn't get any fresher than this. My wife wouldn't eat it, it was great!
WHAT TO DO AT NIGHT:
Discos are a big thing on Cozumel. Not just discos, but real nice discotecs with laser light shows and smoke. These discos are as good as the best ones in New York City. Some of the LASER light shows are mesmoratic. The nightly entertainment is "UNLIMITED."
For Discos, the best one (it's hard to decide -they're all excellent) is the "SCARAMOUCH" downtown. This place goes on all night. So do several other places that are even larger than this place. If you're into the night scene, after the bars close (about 1 am) everyone goes to Scaramouch. The "Mayan 2000" is even better but it's only open during the season. Located waterfront at Sol Caribe.
Brothels: This guide would not be complete without mention of the 2 brothels on the island. Although any cab driver will take you to one of them, realize that they are illegal in Mexico and realize that you could go to jail. I've heard the Cozumel jail is not air conditioned. Bring condums, steel sack garbage bags, and get a shot upon arriving home. Remember SIDA (AIDS in Spanish) is worse in Mexico than in U.S.
YOUR HOTEL: probably has nightly entertainment. Some of it is very good. Most of it is overly expensive and a walk along the beach or a night beach picnic is best. The norm on Cozumel is "early to bed, early to rise."
GETTING AROUND COZUMEL:
Take cabs most of the time. There will always be a cab right outside your hotel. This is the best deal you will ever find in transportation. Cozumel taxi fares are strictly controlled by government and are, therefore, very reasonable. Drivers are, in general, friendly, helpful, and courteous but rarely carry a lot of change. Avoid paying in big peso bills, forget dollars. Learn the exchange rate and use pesos. Tips are expected because the fares are so low. You can get to most places in the populated areas of the island for under 5 bucks, usually 2 or 3.
Rent a car or jeep for at least a third of your stay. Reserve it first, before leaving the U.S. and you will save 50%. Usually, for a one week stay you get the car for the full week for what it costs to rent it locally for 2 or 3 days.
Rental companies are: Budget, Hertz and National. Call toll-free No. in U.S. before you leave and get the car on the weekly rate. There are no air conditioned cars in Cozumel.
DRIVING LAWS: in Cozumel are about the same as in the US. The major difference in Coz is that if you are stopped for a moving violation, the vehicle will be impounded and you will have to accompany the policia to the station to pay a fine. A little tip: a jeep, carrying over 5 persons (including driver), constitutes a moving violation. Money, a credit card, will get you immediately out of almost anything you get into in Mexico. I've never had any problems with the policia anywhere in Mexico. They want us to visit and will put up with most of our idiosyncrasies. Don't do drugs unless you like hot jails.
HOSPITALS AND CLINICS: In my opinion, I feel safer on Cozumel than I do when I'm in Cancun as far as hospitals and doctors are concerned. Cozumel has a hospital and a clinic, as well as very good doctors. Affiliated with St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Florida is Dr. Ricardo Segovia, MD, also Dr. M.F. Lewis, MD, an American Doctor living in Cozumel is available 24 hours a day. He has been on Coz for 15 years. The hospital and clinic are very modern and extremely professional.
PHARMACY: Use the pharmacy at El Commercial right on the square, no prescription required for any type of drug if you know the name of it. Mexico doesn't require prescriptions because of the lack of doctors.
DAY TRIP TO THE MAINLAND: No vacation to Cozumel would be complete without a day trip to the mainland. The places there you'll want to visit are Tulum (Mayan ruins) and Xel-ha, pronounced Shell Ha (a natural lagoon aquarium that you snorkel and swim in). There are numerous shops and restaurants at each of these locations to eat at. You will also want to shop and take a dip on the beach of Playa Del Carmen. The best way to do this is, just after visiting the Cozumel museum on your first day, walk south to the downtown pier and get the latest JetBoat schedule to Playa Del Carmen. Usually they leave about 7:00am and this is the boat you want to be on. Once you arrive in Playa you will negotiate with one of the many cab drivers for a full-day rate, don't pay more than $65-75. He will be like your personal driver and his cab will be right where you got out when you return. Don't pay until back to Playa although I've never heard of a problem. These drivers are government licensed, a license that is hard to get and easy to lose. They make a lot of money, comparatively speaking. Start out with Tulum, when you're through, have him take you to Xelha. From there back to Playa Del Carmen. Arrive back to Playa an hour earlier than the JetBoat leaves so you can swim and enjoy the exceptionally beautiful beach at Playa. The last boat to Cozumel usually leaves about 6:00PM. If you miss it, not to worry, Playa has a beautiful hotel right on the beach that will make your day even better.
DETAILS ABOUT TULUM AND XELHA:
TULUM: The only Mayan city built on the coast and one of the area's biggest attractions. "City of the New Dawn." Here's a sense of drama, seeing a ruin with a backdrop of cliffside blue water and adventure. 60 structures for you to look at with guided tours offered. The largest structure, Temple of descending God, is a climber with a view you will never forget. Also don't miss the Temple of the Frescoes, full of wall paintings depicting Mayan deities.
Xel-Ha: A natural aquarium considered to be one of the biggest in the world. Ten acres of stunning lagoons, coves and inlets naturally carved into the area's soft limestone terrain. Home to countless species of tropical fish. Explore underwater caves, cenotes (sinkholes), and a partially submerged Mayan ruin. Rent snorkel gear and have a ball. Restaurants, hotels, bars, etc. in the park. Don't miss this one.
CANCUN DAY TRIPS: Although you could JetBoat to Playa and Bus to Cancun, it's a long long day and a lot of things can go wrong. Your best bet is to fly Aerocozumel, get a roundrobin from the airport and don't miss the return flight. You'll have to rent a car in Cancun because it's so spread out. Hotels and attractions are miles apart. Cancun is like Miami Beach only about 10 times bigger. If you like this sort of thing I suggest you go to Miami Beach. It's safer. Cancun is not Mexico.
MONTEZUMA'S REVENGE: Don't drink the water, period. Unless your body's system has developed an immunity to the strains of bacteria in Mexico, stay away. Even if they tell you the water is safe, don't drink it! In Cozumel, only drink the water that comes in a sealed bottle marked "Aquaribe-pure perfection." This is the only 100% purified water on the island. Some hotels put drops of anti-bacterial agents in the bottled water. You can tell because the bottles are not sealed. They use the old Aquaribe bottles. Incidentally, if your hotel is making desalinated water from sea water, you can drink it. The Sol Caribe, and others do this. It does still taste a little salty, however. Only drink water, coffee, tea at the restaurants I've listed unless you're willing to gamble on your body's immune response. Some can take it, others get sick. This won't kill you but getting sick means feeling terrible, black runny stool, on the pot all day, it can last a week. Chances are, once your body develops an immunity to this bacteria you won't suffer from it again. But don't count on it. Like the common cold, there are many strains your body is not used to. Incidentally, the Mexicans get sick when they visit us and drink our water. It's just a thing that the immune system needs to build up an immunity to.
TIPPING: Same as US, but don't tip unless service is excellent which it usually is. Let's not spoil this island any more than it is already.
KID BEGGERS: It is now illegal, in Mexico, to give money to beggers, especially kids. May parents have purposely kept their kids out of school to beg to tourists. The government is trying to put a lid on it and recently I've seen a reduction of beggers. Although you'll see them, adult beggers too, don't give them any money, perhaps you might give older beggerst a piece of bread from your meal if you're encountered while eating at an open-air restaurant. This is sad but it sometimes happens.
SIESTA: Cozumel follows the traditional rules of closing most commercial establishments from 1-5PM. Plan on it. However, they open again till 8.
REAL ESTATE: Mexican majority ownership is no longer required to own property in Mexico. Foreign investment is now welcomed with open arms. Buy or start a business on the island if you are a good negotiator. The Domino's does 16K/week in business, none of the restaurants are hurting. Do it! Live in paradise. Most of the land is being bought up by Europeans but there is still opportunity if you can negotiate. As a matter of fact, 90% of the island is undeveloped and virgin. Just takes money and willingness. Build your own paradise.
CHURCHES: Whether you're catholic or not, don't miss a mass at the downtown San Miguel Catholic Church located at Ave 10 X Benito Juarez. The guitars and beautiful vocals from the balcony will bring tears to your eyes. The presentation, although in Spanish and you can't understand it, follows the catholic protocol. You will feel MORE than at home. There is also a very nice Presbyterian church at Ave 30, between Calles 8 & 10. There other churches but I haven't visited them.
GAS STATIONS: Only one on the island. Located on the corner of Benito Juarez and 30 Ave. It is open 7AM-Midnight/7days. Avoid the 3PM change of shift. Make sure your rental car has a full tank and make them fill it if it doesn't. Pay pesos at the gas station and pump it yourself to make sure of liters. Know liters to gallons conversion so you don't look stupid.
THEATERS (Movie): Most flicks are in English with Spanish sub titles. Two really nice theaters in Cozumel. Ask your cabbie what is what.
BAKERIES: For lunch or dinner, instead of going to a restaurant, go to the bakery. Located two blocks north adjacent to the plaza. It BAKES all day long and supplies the island with a lot of goodies. You will never forget this place. I wish I could remember the name but just walk two blocks north on the waterfront road, from the plaza, hang a right and it's right there. EXCHANGING MONEY: Always exchange at banks. You get the best rate. If you eat breakfast at Las Palmeras there is a bank right next to you.
AMBULANCE 24 HOURS 20639
RED CROSS 21058
BRYAN WILSON (Cozumel Consulate) 20654
HOTELS OF MENTION Contact your travel agent but if you barefoot, like we do, call from Coz. airport:
La Ceiba 20844
Mary Carmen 20581
Meson San Miguel 20233
Plaza Las Glorias 22000
Sol Caribe 20700 To call these numbers directly from the United States dial direct by picking up the phone and dialing: 011-52-987-then the number listed above. Be prepared to talk slowly or speak Spanish.
IDENTIFICATION: To visit Mexico you must bring with you a Passport, but in lieu of, a voters ID, and a Picture Driver's License. A few other ID's would be helpful and most important of all, "DON'T GO TO MEXICO WITHOUT A VISA OR MASTER CARD! The Mexican government wants to promote tourism but they will not tolerate those looking to take advantage of their easy prescription drug laws, nor will they tolerate illegal drugs. They are on the look-out.
TRAVEL AGENTS IN COZUMEL: Aviomar in Cozumel, a national travel agency, will take care of any problems you might have, plus they will help you with any touring you might want to do. If you want to see Chichen-Itza while you're here, this is the place to go. Please, only deal with professionals and you will be better off.
Dominica by Jennifer Gold
Dominica : A Rugged & Pristine Jewel
Dominica is a spectacular island, brimming with waterfalls, overgrown emerald-green foliage, volcanic rock formations, endless hiking trails that snake through the rain forest, and the ever-present turquoise sparkle of the surrounding Caribbean Sea. I had the pleasure of staying there for four days recently, sandwiched between three days on Guadeloupe, and meeting what I can truly say were the nicest group of people, collectively, I have ever had the pleasure to know!
I'd like to share a few of my highlights with anyone who's considering a trip to the island. Be warned, though, Dominica is not the place for travelers seeking duty-free shops, glitzy discos, and high-profile resorts --it's really an "alternative" Caribbean vacation. If you truly do want to get away from it all (including air-conditioning and fancy restaurants,) and prefer active days of hiking, swimming, diving and exploring untouched terrain, definitely consider Dominica.
We flew into Guadeloupe and took a 90-minute, pleasant boat ride to Dominica's capital town, Roseau. Roseau is small and colorful--the standard of living on this island is very low, but you do not get any sense of despairing poverty or unfathomable living conditions. This is mainly because the Dominicans instantly come across as being thrilled to have you visit their island, and eager to both get to know you and talk about themselves.
We'd planned to begin our stay in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park area, then move around the island. We fell in love with the beautiful terrain of the rain forest, however, and couldn't resist staying there for the whole trip! The Papillote Wilderness Reserve is not to be missed; an 8-room guest lodge nestled firmly in the heights of the forest, just outside the 680-person village of Trafalgar. A 15-minute hike to Trafalgar Falls, a double waterfall running both boiling hot and soothing, icy cold, is a treat upon arrival!
Papillote is surrounded by acres of botanical gardens, teeming with exotic flowers and trees, and chirping, clucking and croaking with farm life! Even a Rastafarian rooster struts proudly about the premises, boasting a wild mane of what you' swear were dreadlocks! Dinners at Papillote, about $20US for a full course meal, are fantastic, and with other options in the vicinity including, well... fresh bananas from the trees or a can of Spam from one of the tiny local food shops, it's certainly a good bet! Grilled, fresh mahi-mahi, pumpkin-callalloo soup, chicken with mango and papaya wrapped and roasted in a big banana leaf, kush-kush (still don't know what it is, but it sure was good!) are all delicious, and served on a breezy outdoor terrace overlooking the dense canopy of the jungle.
I can't emphasize enough how much it added to our trip to get to know the Dominicans. We hired Phillip Joseph to be our guide for two full days; an exceptional value as we got to be very good friends with him and a good number of other Dominicans (no extra charge!) My friends went on the in- famous day-long hike to Boiling Lake and the Valley of Desolation, said to be spectacular but not for the wimpy! Those masochists loved the 7-hour journey: hand-over-hand through mud and sulphur, breathtaking vistas, swimming through sun-streaked grottoes... yeah, yeah, I probably should have gone. Instead I spent the day exploring the open-air market at Roseau, where every Saturday morning farmers and artisans from all of Dominica's 70 or 80 villages gather to sell and buy and gossip. I also took a short bus ride to Emerald Lake, a beautiful, gleaming body of water with a small waterfall you can walk through and behind.
A word about the "buses": they're actually small vans that run on no schedule other than say, when George the driver has finished his late- afternoon snack, or "Oops, Norman forgot something at home so let's back up 300 yards back to his house to get it."
.. you get the point! They really gather speed, careening down the left-hand side of the road at heights and angles to make Evil Kneivel gasp. At under a dollar to get just about anywhere, though, they're a great deal and should be used whenever possible.
There are many Dominicans who work as guides and offer their help at a small, negotiable price to get you around the island. Use them selectively -- many areas are cheap and easy to get to on your own, while others really need someone who knows where they're going! There were four in our group, so a guide made financial sense. We were driven to Scott's Head, at the southern tip of the island, to take advantage of one of the best diving spots in North America. Not being scuba-types, however, we rented snorkeling equipment and spent a day floating face-down in a gorgeous secluded cove and marveling at the schools of needle-nosed silvery fish, spiky black porcupine coral and unearthly orange anemone lurking below the waves. Scott's Head is a charismatic village that straddles the Atlantic and the Caribbean, with a main street running along the coastline and a nice-sized stretch of rocky beach. Just south of the town sits a huge rock formation at the end of a long sandy spit of land, whose peak offers terrific views of Dominica, the expansive Atlantic, and a smoky Martinique in the distance. We even got a long, rambling history lesson from a random, amiable Dominican, as we peered at an ancient-looking rusty cannon perched on the hill, about the battles over the island between France and England over the centuries. Finally, the United Workers' Party held a day -long actual "party" that day in Scott's Head for the people of the island, to get their political message out (elections are coming this fall.) A UWP- funded gala of music, dancing, food and drink, peppered with candid ate speeches and handshaking -- it was fascinating and of course, lots of fun! The Democrats and Republicans could definitely take a few lessons from these people.
Our final night was spent at the home of a woman recommended to us by our new friends. Lucy rented us a couple of rooms in her very clean, very basic home and cooked us a lovely "Mom-would-be-proud" meal served at her dining room table. These kinds of accommodations were really all we needed, and again, are great for backpackers and other low-maintenance types; it afforded us an experience we'd never have otherwise had. We spent the evening at a very local "disco" (small wooden structure with a stereo system and blue lightbulb hanging from the ceiling) attempting to dance to Caribbean music but looking more like we were trying to rid ourselves of many small fleas attacking from all directions.
Our trip concluded with an early morning, 3-hour (total) hike to Middleham Falls, a not-too-strenuous trek through the dense forest to a huge, clear waterfall, picking and eating grapefruits, raspberries and mangoes along the way. Phillip again accompanied us, pointing out the various foliage and flora and showing us nifty local tricks like how to make a natural umbrella out of a giant waxy leaf, as shelter from the passing drizzle. We did miss out on many of the island's other features, like Portsmouth which is said to have some pretty beaches, and the Carib Indian reserve, but we'll go there on our next trip. The central rainforest area more than held our attention during the time we were there, and I believe it's the highlight of Dominica.
Dominica is a true multidimensional experience: its rugged, pristine beauty, the warmth and intelligence of its people, and the sense of buried treasure you feel upon discovering the island are a very special combination. I almost hesitate to recommend going there, only because it's the kind of secret you sort of want to keep to yourself! But I urge anyone with a respect for nature and the desire for adventure to give it a try. In terms of practical matters, we brought very little with us--temperatures remained between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, usually sunny and humid but with frequent breezes and drizzly interludes to keep you cool and happy. U.S. dollars and travelers checks are widely accepted, and a good bet.
To all who go: have fun and take advantage of it all!
Jamaica by John Blenkinsop
England, end of January. The weather is cold and wet. Linda-Louise and John, ordinary British tourists, board a plane for the eleven-hour flight to Mo'Bay. I would have liked less food and more legroom, Linda-Louise would have liked a shower. The flight tracking system showed our crawling progress past Iceland, over Halifax, down the East coast of the USA. More food. I couldn't feel my legs. I wished I wasn't sharing my seat with one-third of the woman next to me, who was even bigger than her husband. As we passed over Cuba and started our descent I thought of the two-hour transfer ahead.
My first impression of Jamaica, from the top of the aircraft steps, was mixed; the damp heat wrapped itself around me, but so did the dusk. I couldn't see much at all. After fourteen hours of daylight that "day", it was a disappointment! We crept through Baggage, Immigration, Customs and redcaps, found the Thompsons rep. and waited by the bus. The most alien things were the smells and the heat (darkness we can get at home). I felt a little threatened by the bustling, aggressive, noisy Jamaicans who demanded to carry our bags, sell us Red Stripe, introduce us to ganja.... My normal tourist inclination towards caution seemed to balloon into paranoia as I remembered everything I'd read in the Forum. Who was carrying a gun? Would I be arrested for talking to a ganja- salesman? Was this the right bus?
During the transfer to Ocho Rios, the travel rep. put us at our ease - we shouldn't give people a lift, we shouldn't buy ganja, or use unauthorized guides (a favorite trick appears to be for the guide to wander of for "ten minnits", for you to be mugged, and for the guide to return and request his fee before taking you back to your hotel!), or forget to tip the driver. We tipped the driver.
Actually, Appolline (the rep) and her driver, being the first Jamaicans we had any extended contact with, were very comforting. We took Appolline out for a meal in the second week and talked about recipes, lodgers, new bosses - that's when you get to know the natives; when you hear all the dirt on the woman next door's son's new girlfriend!
Our room at Club Jamaica was great. It was large enough for its king-sized bed and us together, had a wonderful view of Turtle Beach and the bay, free air-conditioning, satellite TV, bath/shower etc. and an efficient maid service two or three times a day.
We could hear some noise late at night from the in-house disco, but nothing disturbing - and the crickets were much, much louder!
The hotel itself is small (less than 100 rooms). The dining room (which can get quite chilly from the air-conditioning) has three dining-alcoves over- looking the main dining area, and a cute carved Jamaican coat-of-arms on the wall. The food is very good
on formal dining evenings, and the catering staff are imaginative in their use of the left-overs on informal nights and at lunchtimes. The soups are especially good, but the stews tend to be over- stocked with bone and fat. The jerk dishes are fiercely authentic! Waiting and serving staff are polite, prompt and friendly; they quickly get on first-name terms with their guests, which comes in handy for them when touting for tips towards the end of your stay!
The pool is very small, and 4' deep max., but since I learned to swim in it during our stay, I can't complain. The free watersports are limited - a glass-bottom boat, trips to the reef, free towels, snorkels and flippers; scuba costs extra. Linda-Louise, who is a good swimmer, is claustrophobic, and had never tried either snorkeling or scuba. After much coaxing Craig, the diving instructor (who comes from Doncaster, England) got her into the pool and taught her the elements of scuba, putting her at ease and even managing to make her laugh underwater! The watersports staff are great - enthusiastic, knowledgeable and (according to my wife) sexy.
Other facilities are a gymnasium complete with a miniature Stephanie (my kind of sexy) who does aerobics, etc. (I don't); two gift shops, one of which has a hair salon and massage; an inside bar (rarely open); and a poolside bar or CENTRE OF SOCIAL LIFE (pardon my shouting, but it's noisy round that bar). The "local drinks" rule appears not to be strictly adhered to - if you ask for Gordons or Napoleon, you get Gordons or Napoleon.
Now we are not Polish-American, so we didn't drink as much as we thought we would, given that the bar was free. It's surprising how boring rum mixes can get; they all tended to taste very similar, possibly because of the use of canned fruit juices. We eventually settled on G+T and Red Stripe. The bar staff were competent, happy and very helpful. They didn't tout us for tips; they probably never get forgotten.
After dinner there is entertainment which, apart from karaoke, crab races and a blind harmonica player, was really very good. The resident band plays to a high standard (although in common with bands everywhere they can't find the volume control), and for afters there's a disco in a traditional black-painted, laser-infested room with a rum-filled bar.
Dunn's river falls is a must. Having got over my fear of water by learning how to swim (or not to drown), I enjoyed wading up the cascades in my trunks (swimming shorts, in American); Linda-Louise enjoyed it too, but thought it cold. The climb is not difficult - anyone over 10 can do it - and the guide holds your cameras and takes competent photographs whilst you crouch under tons of falling river trying to smile. Don't take an expensive camera, just in case!
The Blue Mountain tour is good, but depends on which tour company you go with. We went with Holiday, which for this tour is better than Tourwise. Our guide was Lukey, a Belgian Jamaica-phile who had been deported half-a- dozen times until the Government got sick of it, and gave him a Jamaican passport. He is good! He plied us with strange fruits, drinks and a non- stop stream of information in an understandable "patois" style. He lectured us on coffee production, ackee-preparation, sugar cane, politics! We went over the mountains to Kingston, found that the Bob Marley Museum, which is only open on Tuesdays, was closed because Monday had been Bob's fiftieth birthday - the partygoers were still inside, sleeping it off. We shared lunch with the ants in the grounds of Devon House, a colonial mansion, and listened to the complaints of the other British tourists in our party. Back via Spanish Town, and complaints about the shanty-town - how disgusting, etc. - but it exists; it's just there; it's not as if we were having to pay to get in! We have our own, though smaller, in England. On the whole, though tourists expect everything to be beautiful, I'd rather have seen what we saw than be steered around the place as if poverty didn't exist.
River rafting - not the Martha Brae or the White river, both of which are near Ocho Rios, but the Rio Grande. A trip to Navy Island, and lunch at Errol Flynn's beach house. Don't make too many "big" jokes, or your wife will disown you! Navy Island is beautiful. If you can afford to stay in Port Antonio - or better, on the island itself - do it. The rafting is good, too. We had a raft captain call Sydney George Dunkley, who must have been sixty. Everybody knew him. He was friendly, cheerful and he would not shut up. He sang, joked, swore, provided a travelogue... An incident: We refused the attentions of the "bar boats" at every opportunity. Yet another came along; Sydney said, "They English; they poor; don' wan' no beer off of you, man!" And again, when someone on the bank suggested we would like to buy beer "for de captin", Sydney said, "You no beg fo' me, boy; I don' need you beg fo' me... (tirade of incomprehensible patois insults)"; Sydney is a good man, a Rasta in his heart, and the fastest captain on the river. Hope you get him.
Chukka Cove is an internationally famous equestrian centre, and is more than worth a visit. We were presented with ex-polo ponies and ex-racehorses. Linda-Louise, who is an experienced rider, said they were the best-kept horses she'd seen for public use. They are very sensitive in the mouth; you need only lay over the rein and they will follow your direction. You don't have to pull them about.
Half of our ride was sunny; out to the beach, about an hour, getting used to the sensations. At the beach the rain began. It poured. The toilet facilities had been invaded by sheltering goats, who had eaten all the paper. (I carry a supply with me on holiday - tip!) We stripped to our cozzies and rode into the sea. The rain drummed, the surf boomed, the horses swam and the water, being used to horses, was full of their breakfast. You do not want to fall off. I had to retire after three- quarters of an hour in the sea, because my glasses were getting slippy and threatened to fall off (tip two - take a spare pair, and wear the cheaper in such situations). It was thrilling, wet, frightening, fun, wet and wet. Then back through the pouring rain to Chukka Cove, through mud, rocks, wet vegetation and the giving of tips to the guides. I would do it again, even though my thighs ached for five days afterwards.
We went deep-sea fishing. We caught plenty of deep sea, but no fish. Our captain found a floating oildrum, under which some fish were lurking, and we nearly got one. I would have thought that the sensible thing to do would be to take out a sheet of plywood and drop it in the ocean, then go back next day and fish underneath it, but this has never occurred to the serious sport fisherman, who prefers to go back empty handed and boast. Still, the water helps to tan beneath the chin, I suppose.
Some more tips: Alcohol seems to be cheaper in the Airport duty-frees than in the shops... Always haggle, then walk away without buying; you'll be offered the earth in a free raffia bag... Hotel shops are much more expensive than any others... If you go to a chinese restaurant, as we did, order a quarter of what you'll think you can eat, it's huge portions... Always be honest. If you don't want ganja, a watch, a beer, say "I don't want it." The response is, "Respec'". If you say "I left my money in my other pants" you'll be hassled to hell and back, 'cos you're a dishonest son of a gun. It's nice to hear "Respec'".
That's what I learned, in Jamaica. When we go again, we'll have more "Respec'", and we'll earn more "Respec'".
Jamaica Swept Away by Jerome Pineau
This is a report detailing our experience with Swept Away, a privately-owned resort located in Negril, Jamaica. The trip took place on April 3rd, 1995 and lasted for 7 days. My wife and I left from Newark, NJ and flew direct to Montego Bay where we met two of our very good friends and boarded a JUTA (Jamaican transportation authority) bus for the hour and a half long trip to Negril. With regards to landing in Jamaica, I highly recommend that first- time travelers to this beautiful land bring a big stick to beat off all the "bag-carriers" at the airport.
The road trip to Negril from Montego Bay lasted one hour and a half. As the driver pulled out of the airport doing a mere 80 MPH, he mentioned that there were no accidents in Jamaica, only near misses. And surely he must have been right, as the concept of seat-belts has yet to reach the shores of Jamaica. Ya 'mon, hang on for dear life. There are no such things as speed limit signs either. Personally, I learned to drive in Paris and NYC, so the driving never really bothered me. But I could see the fear of death in various other passenger's eyes. It helps to have a couple of beers before the trip. Jamaican Red Stripe is pretty good. But as you only rent beer really, the driver was forced to make a pit stop half an hour from our final destination. As it seemed we were stopping on someone's private property, most passengers seemed reluctant to leave the bus so I jumped out first. But lo and behold, a bar and tavern appeared within seconds, followed by a bartender, and a barely clothed local man with ganja for sale at a very competitive price (or so he claimed). He also boasted of growing the stuff himself in his own backyard. I hated to disappoint him, so I let him know it would not be proper for an international DEA agent on vacation to accept such a bargain. I don't know if he believed me, but he certainly disappeared pretty fast. Already we were having a blast !
Arrival at the resort was uneventful. The staff seemed as concerned with our arrival as they might be about the unified theory of relativity. This was my first trip to an "all inclusive" resort, so I was somewhat taken aback when the first thing they asked us was for a credit card in case we break or end up "borrowing" anything. Yeah, I'm spending $1500 per person per week - I really need to take hotel stuff home for kicks <sigh>.
At this point, a word of warning to the few folks who may happen to be taller that four feet: all the vegetation at Swept Away hangs obnoxiously low all over the pathways. At first I thought it may be that the Jamaican people were distant relatives of African pigmy tribes, but I soon stood corrected. The only reason for this overbearing fauna growing on the ground is that the grounds are simply poorly if ever kept...Oh well.
At least our room was nice. Not so for our friends. They were told the resort was full and that they would have to stay in the annex where some of the staff also lives. In there, they found a small room with two very stiff twin beds. We found out later that the resort was actually at 60% capacity on that day.
We left our bags and proceeded to the "veggie bar" by the beach where sandwiches are (theoretically) served 12:00 to 6:00. A word of warning for hearty eaters who would rather not have to wait until dinner time to get their lunch: the portions are small and the service is amazingly slow. To make up for that though, the veggie bar staff is unfriendly and uncooperative. Like most other places in this resort, the staff makes you feel like they're really doing you a favor by helping you out. At any time, they know how to make you feel REALLY guilty about interrupting their ever-so important conversation to get you major items like a glass of water, a beer, or even silverware.
Luckily, this comfortable resort has bar staff combing the beach ready to fulfill your every drink fantasy - NOT. In seven days, we were actually asked only once if we needed anything on the beach. The small tray-carrying girl who happened to wander by us on that day looked so depressed that we sent her on her way totally guilt-ridden. We were hoping she would not commit suicide before coming back with our order. As our luck would have it, she did return indeed 40 minutes later with the wrong order. Hey, what can you expect. It's hot out there 'mon !
The beach furniture and, as a matter of fact, all the equipment at Swept Away is either run down or unkept. If you can find a floater seat that's not shredded or destroyed, call Mike Wallace. The beach is not combed or cleaned daily. For a resort of that size, you might expect to see more than a single hobby cat laying on the sand, but in fact there was only a single such vessel there the whole time and it was in no shape to be taken out for lack of a special kotter pin which, we were told, would surely need to be flown in from another country at some point in the near future. Ya 'mon !
And now for a more positive note: the scuba diving facilities and equipment are pristine. Even the scuba staff is nice, helpful, and professional. Given that, it did not surprise us to hear some days later that this operation was not part of the resort. It is a franchise. Of all our activities during this vacation, scuba diving was the most pleasant and rewarding. For those of you going to Swept Away who are not into scuba diving: bummer! Oh I shouldn't say that, actually, there is hope for avid golfers.
They won't tell you this during orientation (it's really more important to tell you about all the shopping opportunities around...), but golfing transportation is part of the "all inclusive" deal at Swept Away. You can actually hop on a bus and go golfing up in the mountains of Negril for an amazingly small amount of money. The Negril Golf Club is a really beautiful and manicured place. If I remember correctly, you can rent the equipment and get to speed in the golf cart all morning for under $30 per couple. The caddies are not just friendly either. With angelic patience, they can also give you excellent golfing tips.
What else can I mention. There's only one place in this resort worth visiting for dinner. It is the resort's Sport Complex annex restaurant called Feathers. Reservations are needed, unless you get on the Maitre D's good side. His name is Devon. He's a really good guy, and a very unusual employee at Swept Away because he knows his business is service, and he knows that means pleasing customers. A forgotten concept over there. I had a long talk with Devon and we spent quite a few hours discussing the situation over there. It is a small wonder that this restaurant is one of the most attractive propositions at Swept Away; Devon is a true professional who's been in the business since he was twelve years old. He may also one day open up his own place over there and I cant wait to see that happen. If anyone reading this happens to have the big investment bucks, do yourself a favor and go talk to Devon. He'll run a darn good place for you.
Since our friends happen to be travel agents, we were lucky enough to go on a "site inspection" at the close by resort of Grand Lido. This was quite an experience to say the least. Grand Lido is an extra $1,000 per couple per week. This extra amount is well worth it when comparing with Swept Away. Every square inch of this resort is polished and attention is obviously paid to each and every detail to make the guest's stay there a unique experience. From the airy, light and plush entrance hall, to the pristine equipment in evidence all over the place, to the comfort and class of the bars and restaurants, to the luxury and style of the every aspect of the resort's architectural features, this place is truly first class all the way. The owners/builders have obviously not been afraid to spend top dollar on this place. And it shows in a most exquisite and elegant way.
We travelled to Grand Lido for lunch and Paula, the resident Sales Office Manager was kind enough to invite us for the Grand Lido sunset cruise later on. The resort now owns one of Onassis' original yachts. This delightful ship was once offered to Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier as a wedding gift. It is now used to take Grand Lido guests on a two hour cruise leaving daily at 4:00PM. How good is the cruise? Like anything else organized by this resort, it is top notch, first class service all the way. A must-do at Grand Lido.
Returning to Swept Away from that experience was somewhat of a downer, but we all took heart. After all, we were leaving in one day. We did enjoy one last lunch by the veggie bar the next afternoon. Unfortunately, our peace and quiet was unexpectedly shattered in mid-course: Mr. Issa the owner, in his infinite wisdom, had on that day and at that time decided that his staff should start taking palm trees down near the bar using powerful, noisy and motorized saws. How subtle of him. The fact that he lacked the common sense to foresee that perhaps his guests would be annoyed to hear such obnoxious noise during lunchtime was the final jewel in his crown. But Mr. Issa can take heart, for as sure as the sun shall come up tomorrow over his miserable resort, he shall never again have to worry about seeing us there.
And so, after having talked to various repeat guests during the week, it seemed that numerous couples there had reached a similar conclusion. Many people can easily become disappointed to realize that they've just blown $1700 a week. Oh well, easy come, easy go.
My good friend Max, who was with us there at , came up with a new jingle for the resort - a more appropriate one I believe: At Shlept Away, we may be slower, but we get there later..."
How so very true...
Jamaica: Jamaica Grande by Mark Mondul
Just back from another (4th) wonderful Jamaica vacation. We have been to Boscobel Beach once, with the remaining trips to Jamaica Grande. For the sake of brevity, we'll dispense with comparisons, as they are probably irrelevant anyhow since it's been 3 years since our Boscobel trip.
To give you some background on us, we have three boys, 10, 7, and 20 months. The two older boys are excellent travelers, with the baby being the extreme opposite! All survived, however. We first went to Jamaica Grande before the official opening several years back.
Departure from Chicago O'Hare was pleasant and uneventful, with smooth transit through customs, and onto the bus for the hour-and-a-half ride to Jamaica Grande (JG). Some bad rides in the past going this route, but this one was excellent.
On arrival, you have a wristband placed on one arm identifying you as an all-inclusive guest, meaning you can get any food or drink anytime it's available. We arrived mid afternoon, and immediately put our clothing into the closet and drawers, and headed for the pool and beach. A delightful surprise was finding a local friend I had worked with our third visit. To do this sort of vacation right, it's best to find someone like this. More on him later...
We had heard from friends that it would be terribly crowded being Spring Break and all, that we'd have to go down at 5:00 am to get a poolside chair, etc. Not the case at all. We usually got up about 7:00 or 7:30, courtesy of our baby, ambled down and threw a few towels onto some chairs, then off to breakfast.
There are three pools, the center-most being the "Fantasy Pool." Once you see it, you'll understand its name. Waterfalls, rope bridge, swim up bar, etc. There is a nice shallow area for the baby to play in, but it does get deeper (it's not a baby pool). We spent most of our time at the northernmost pool, as there were fewer people.
The food was very good, with lots of fresh fruit each morning and noon. I had thrived on mangoes our last visits, and found them only one morning this time; a mild disappointment. Much seemed somewhat Americanized, which can be viewed as a positive or negative. I prefer the Jamaican myself. The beaches remain excellent, with good snorkeling right along the jetty at the north end of the resort. For the first time in three visits, we saw no topless sunbathing. Perhaps too many Americans <g>.
The beach volleyball was moved from next to the main pool, to north of the Jamaican restaurant (Cool Runnings). It is not so obvious there, and therefore, there were very few beach volleyball games going.
We checked our baby into Club Mongoose, their kids club several times. Each time he was well cared for, and enjoyed being there. Both our older boys are excellent swimmers and responsible kids, so we pretty much let them roam free, checking in only occasionally. There was never a concern about security or safety at any time.
My wife had done her pool and paperwork for SCUBA certification here stateside, but needed to do her open water dives to complete her work. This was accomplished in two days with Ray Irwin, one of the instructors on the resort. I was certified by him two years ago, and found him to be much more involved and concerned now than before. This was a pleasant finding: Very safety conscious. I also dove once with Garfield's Dive Shack just outside the south fence along the beach.
My wife and I decided on a day of rest to ourselves, and contacted Couples (by local phone, right from our room) for a day pass. This was $80 for the two of us, and lasted only from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, including lunch. Rather steep, but for the parents of three active boys, it was a welcome respite. Their "clothing optional" island is definitely not clothing optional, but strictly a nude island. As they say, "No problem, mon," if you're into this sort of thing. For this day, we hired a nanny through Club Mongoose at $2.50 an hour for the baby. Money well spent, as he was well cared for.
The entertainment at JG was most excellent, especially the Thursday night Carnival on the north beach. The disco (Jamaica Me Crazy) outside the north tower is nice, with lots of loud Jamaican music. If you've never experienced Soca or Reggae, you'll quickly develop an affinity for it.
Just outside the front gate is downtown Ocho Rios with its varied shops and The Straw Market where the locals sell their wares. Remember, everything is negotiable. Most of the downtown merchants take credit cards, and the duty free jewelry and liquor is fun. You will have folks try to sell you drugs. A curt "No thanks," ends the prospective transaction. I also had a gent try to escort me around town acting as my unsolicited "guide." I wasn't interested, and told him so. Near the end of my walk, he asked me to "Pay me some respect, mon." The "guided tour" lasted about four paces after I told him I had no money, and he disappeared into a side street.
The snorkeling tour provided by the resort takes you off the reef just north of the resort. They supply equipment if you don't have any. I strongly suggest bringing your own, as the shop is not open early morning when some of the best snorkeling is available just off the north beach. It's not bad, but best read on to the next paragraph.
The highlight of our vacation, as mentioned previously, was finding a local we had worked with last year. He cruises the shore line in his boat, about a red 25' dory called "La Zully." The man at the motor is Lipton, with his associate Danny up front. These two took us places the tourists don't normally get to see.
Danny and Lipton were both very safety conscious, insisting on everyone wearing a life vest while snorkeling, and escorting us up the falls and on our walking tours.
We went east to dive and snorkel on a shipwreck. My two older boys loved it, doffed their life jackets and dove down and touched the superstructure 30 feet down, with my 10 year old touching the deck about 40 feet down. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself. We then drifted with the current further west seeing conch, a spotted eagle ray, numerous colorful tropicals, and a large red snapper along our way. An absolutely delightful day, and $40 well spent.
The next day they took us west down the coast past Dunns River Falls, one of Jamaica's most famous attractions. Well, they took us to a place more beautiful, with no crowds. Great snorkeling again, an interesting trip up the falls (no one else on these), and an altogether wonderfully relaxing morning.
If you are interested in making prior arrangements, Danny can be contacted by UPS (Jamaican mail is worse than ours): Danny Morris 100 Main St. Ocho Rios Jamaica, West Indies
I would suggest contacting him several weeks before departure, let him know when you'll be there, and then look for "La Zully" on your arrival. He'll usually patrol the harbor, along the docks, and off the north end of the resort. Also, understand the resort doesn't appreciate him being there. I had security ask me more than once not to conduct business on their property with the locals, as they see it as money being taken from their pockets. The jetty and docks are not their property, and therefore, "No problem, mon."
Our next trip down to Ocho Rios, we anticipate making all arrangements with them prior to, and on, our arrival. A day trip back to the deserted beach will certainly be in order. They said they will provide a tent (for escape from the sun), and we should provide our own cooler with refreshments for what sounds like the perfect day trip. We can hardly wait.
Our last full day, I asked what we could sent back for them from the States. We realize how much we have here when they as for small items we take for granted every day. Everyone we met, excepting my "tour guide" were very friendly and helpful. We never once felt threatened anywhere we went. Using common sense is key. Don't wander the back streets of Ocho Rios at night.
We've been to Jamaica four times, and you can count on another visit. Next time we're thinking of a villa though. We're gonna contact our local friends for help with this one.
Jamaica : Negril by Diane Woodard
Forget Oz, Forget Home, There's No Place Like Negril! My husband and I just returned from our first Negril vacation. We started talking about the next time by the end of our second day...as in..."We'll get three more hours by taking the shuttle flight from and to Montego Bay next time."
This was the most idyllic escape from our stress-filled lives we could ever have imagined, much less experienced. We stayed at a jewel of an hotel, The Charela Inn. We entered our room through a cool, tropical garden and looked out on that clear blue Caribbean sea through palms and flowering trees. There are 39 rooms at the Charela, and we guessed there is a staff of about 36!
They offer a meal plan at $35/day that includes breakfast and a 5-course dinner. We didn't take the meal plan because we like to explore other places, but it would be an excellent decision, as the food was wonderful. We did breakfast there every morning
but one, on their glorious patio. The last night we were there, we "splurged" $25 each on the five course meal... conch chowder, a surprisingly delicate tossed salad, smoked salmon with a wonderful mango chutney, King fish steak with fresh vegetables, and banana splits(!). Accompanied by a nice dry white wine, followed by coffee and Tia Maria...and then by a trek down the beach to Alfred's for Red Stripe and reggae...more on that later.
What did we like most about Negril? Absolutely everything. Taking advice from my on-line contacts, we cabbed it up to the cliffs (Sam Sara one morning, Xtabi one afternoon) to snorkel and lunch. I could have spent every day snorkeling the reef (but alas, did not). We dined on the cliffs one night when the stars nearly leapt out of a velvet black sky. We'd walk up or down the beach nearly every night, and enjoyed meals at Kuyaba, and Alfred's Ocean Palace. Most nights we turned in by 10.
I felt sorry for people who brought their kids. Ours are teenagers and probably would have loved it too, but we truly enjoyed this trip with no one but each other to think about. Our room had a queen-sized four poster bed, probably a better mattress than ours at home, and freshly laundered sheets every night. We only used the air conditioner one night, the ceiling fan was fine all others, with the sound of the ocean just outside. The Charela is very quiet. No noise from neighbors at all. Whether it's the 12 foot ceilings, the masonry or what, privacy was never an issue or a concern.
They also furnished huge beach towels each day. If you were out swimming when they did your room, you could stop by the laundry and make the exchange yourself. Speaking of exchange, you could change money in the lobby at close to the bank-rate (and none of the hassle). Tips are included in the cost of the hotel and meals...you will likely add extra when you settle up at check-out. All tips are divided among the staff. The staff was delightful...Bishop the bartender joined the band one night for several songs. He had a beautiful voice. By the end of the evening, guests were dancing, the waitresses were dancing, and everyone was really enjoying themselves.
We had no problems with vendors on the beach. At the hotel's beach, Wayne would shoo-off anyone who tried to persist too much. But even strolling the beach during the day or night, there was no hassle at all. If you simply smiled and said no, they went on. We noticed the local law (usually in pairs) several nights. Perhaps their presence has had a desired effect, cutting down on harassment. Or maybe it's just that the "successful" guys are those who've cultivated discretion. That familiar (to us old hippies) scent wafts out from under dark palms, and across the crowds enjoying reggae on the beach.
Among the memories we'll keep are...some naked guy dancing around a bonfire in front of Fireflies...three Israelis in truly ugly shirts slowly loosening up to the beat of Jerry Anderson at Alfred's one night (and was that Grace Jones singing backup??? That height, that hair???) ...the love-struck Turk with his tall German wife and the gregarious Dutch girl with her reserved Swiss-German boyfriend we met on the sunset cruise...the topless Italians who seemed to belong that way, and the very well-roasted au-naturel couple we passed on our way back from Cosmo's, who really didn't look very comfortable. (Although with the heat, I can clearly understand the advantages of the clothing-optional thing.)
We enjoyed being in a minority of American guests at our hotel. I can't possibly imagine that those hundreds of people at Swept-Away, Poinciana, or the other all-inclusives could enjoy being bunched together on their beach when there was such an expanse of nearly deserted paradise elsewhere along that 7-mile stretch.
A couple of teachers from Boston whom we met at Charela and lunched with at Cosmo's told us they've been coming to Negril for 12 years. Every year they say they'll take a side trip to Dunn River Falls...but still haven't quite made it. Shoot, I was going to leave a card for Jamaica Jim at Cosmo's, but forgot all about it,
Maybe we wouldn't have stayed so late and drank so much at Alfred's that last night before we left, if we'd known how miserable we'd be on the van back to Mo-Bay. But we had so much fun..... and best of all, we know we will go back.
Jamaica: Grand Lido by Sophia Kulich
This report intends to give answers to frequently asked questions about GL. Also, due to mostly positive reviews, sometimes people tend to expect 100% perfect service. No place is perfect, but sometimes people expect so much, that they later come back disappointed.
Most of the problems you can avoid if you foresee them. Here it goes:
1. Room location.
First, you have to decide if you want to live on c/o or textile beach.
Second, if you want 1st or second floor. First floor has French doors opening to a patio directly on the beach. You can have your room service meals there. But there is less privacy since people will be coming by. Second floor has more privacy and better view, but balcony is small and there is no table there. Plus, if you plan to stay on nude beach, remember, you have to walk downstairs from outside and that means you have to put your clothes on. (If you need GL room location plan, e-mail me and I will be happy to send you a copy.)
Once you decide to a room, ask your TA to request it. Remember, when you request room, it does not means it is guaranteed, but they will try their best to accommodate you. A couple of times when GL was 100% occupied, we were placed in a room which was not our choice. We said it and soon as better room became available, usually on second day, they moved us. You can also fax your room request 2 days before arrival to remind them.
2. Service in GL is good and much better than in other resorts but remember, this is not high-paced US, and they live on Jamaica time. If you ordered room service, most of the time it will be on time, but occasionally it might be 15 min later. If you are really hungry, you would be better off if you order take-out in one of the houses, since the small bistro might be crowded around 7-8 pm for dinner, so, instead of standing in line, plan to have your dinner early, around 5:30-6. BTW this is the only restaurant - service is also great, but it is more formal and white glove service. This is the only restaurant which requires reservations. More formal attire, no sneakers/ tennis shoes, jackets for men, but no tie are the rules for reservations, gatherings.
The ratio of staff to guest is almost 1:1, but at dining area staff do only 1 thing at a time. For example, busboys clean only, one person pours water, another coffee/tea, another juice, bartenders take care of drinks and there is person who pours the wine only. All of them are supervised/ monitored by one supervisor/host. So, if you need juice, don't ask coffee person to bring it. He/she will not refuse, but you might not get for a long time. Try to locate person you need or ask supervisor.
GL first timer's tips.- do order breakfast in room or on the beach. There is nothing better to have it on your patio - what a way to start your day!
3. Unlike nudist resorts where nudity is required, at c/o you can wear what you want. Topless or full suit is OK too. Nothing sexual about it, too. (Maybe at Hedonism, that is not the case, but at GL, it is).
Unlike nudist resorts where nudity is required, at c/o you can wear what you want. Topless or full suit is OK too. Nothing sexual at it, too. (Maybe at Hedonism not the case , but at GL it is).
Also, people come in all sizes and it does not matter if you don't have a pretty figure. Nobody cares. If you are shy to try it, I suggest start at night at hot tub. You will meet nude people there and next morning you will be more comfortable. 4. Sunset cruise - do not miss it, but I think, one is enough. Very elegant, flat shoes for ladies, casual elegant for men, no shorts. Reserve with concierge. Do not confuse with sunbathing nude cruise where no clothes required.
5. Beach - there might be problems with towels. Towels are available during the day until late spa socializing (when last guest leaves the spa), but if you are an early riser, the towels might not be ready around 7am. To avoid this, just take extra towels in the evening.
There are 2 beaches - clothes optional and textile. C/O is very secluded, small, has more shade, its own pool, spa and bar and much better for snorkeling. Although, since it is compact and most C/O guests live on this beach, they tend to socialize more. It is not a rule, though, but we noticed that there was more fun going on there and we made life-long friends there. Main beach is where watersports are and is very long and very good for walking. Because it is large, people tend socialize less.
6. Ugly American syndrome. Just remember you are outside of US. Do not call people natives, Jamaicans are very private, they won't be intrusive, but do try talk to them. They are warm, and GL employs the best people so, you will enjoy spending time with them and learn their customs and history. Also, in certain time of the year when there is vacation in Europe, there will be more Europeans. Yes, they sunbathe topless and sometimes nude, they might not speak English or speak with an accent, but try to talk to them. You will meet interesting people from everywhere. BTW, Japanese and South Americans are shocked with nudity too, so you won't be alone.
Even if they do not speak perfect English, you will understand them. We understood Italian who, enjoying his drink on the lounge, said "Absoluto Magnifico!" Of course, sometimes you might get disturbed at the time of your massage when the phone rings 3-4 times in a row and the masseuse complains that they are trying to retrieve their message by calling to massage. But otherwise it is fun. I remember we met a Phillipino couple in piano bar while singing Karaoke. He was a terrible singer, but he told George that he has karaoke machine at home and has special karaoke room where he sings for relaxation (he was a surgeon). He did convince George to buy karoyke right after we got home.
7. Try to make manicure/pedicure appointment as soon you will settle down. It is included. Men, too. You don't have to get your toenails painted just to trim them, soak, remove calluses and massage with a lotion.
8. Even if you live on the first floor on the beach, always take the key with you even if you do not lock the door. What happens sometimes, when maid comes to clean the room or turn down the bed, she locks the patio door sometimes from inside. Especially, if you are on c/o beach, you don't want to be humiliated to show up dripping wet wrapped in your towel only at the Main House at night, where nightlife is in a full swing and everybody is dressed elegant.
9. Nightlife. If you are a party type, do not miss PJ party or Carnival party. Or, you can just relax with a drink and listen to performers on the terrace. Some of them, however tend to interact with a public and if you are shy, don't sit at the table in the front. There always will be crazy people like us to participate.
Another our favorite is piano bar where, I think the best bartenders are who know all that odd-named Jamaican drinks. We loved to listen and sing to the piano and sing Karaoke. Disco is opened until last guest leaves, but it is too loud for us and usually attracts younger couples (20). Or just have a romantic stroll on a beach or relax in a hammock.
10. Most people do not go outside of resort. G L does organize bike tour to Negril shopping market. I would not do it since roads are narrow and Jamaicans drive fast but I guess we are not adventurous types. We do take a stroll on a adjacent 7 mile beach...
11. Nude beach etiquette. If you decide to go to c/o beach, do not take pictures or videos. Some of the c/o beach regulars might want to run for president some day and they do not want their picture to be taken. Also, security patrols beach to protect them from gawkers. There is nothing different in the nude beach behavior, this is for people who want to sunbathe or swim without swimwear. C/O means like that, clothes optional.
12. Do not overpack. GL has dry cleaning and laundry included in your price. It does take 48 hours to clean it so pack accordingly. Unless it is an emergency, then they will try to do it faster.
St. Barts by William Bradley
We stayed at the Guanahani Hotel in room 92 facing west over the Bay of Marigot over on the north side of the island. This was a very nice place except for the squeaky floors in the bungalow. the restaurants were fantastic. Barththolomo on premises was very nice. Two tables away at the Indigo Restaurant was Marla Maples and Rick Ocasik from the Cars with kids in tow. See the April "People" Magazine for pictures. Also say hi to Barbara she helped a lot at the front desk.
Rather expensive for a night but you get hermes shampoo and soap each day and champagne on arrival in your room. There's A/C in all rooms the #90 rooms (newest ones built) all face west. these are farther away from the beach but are very private. Nice showers, mini bar that is expensive but there is a general store 5 min. away by car and a Caves de Vin about 4 min. away that is much cheaper. Breakfast IS included with a choice of rolls, croissants, jellies, milk ,tea, coffee, juices etc. (continental).
First Charles from the Wall House says that one of their waiters from the U.S. (actually Rye, NY and mentioned in a previous report from a NY restaurant/ travel critic) is no longer there and from personnel experience 2 weeks ago they still have some of the best food on the island. Charles (our waiter) stated that he was good at bringing in customers but either you loved or hated him and they would like that 1 year stint with "Paul" (the waiter) to be behind them. The people there were all very nice and when I mentioned this, some of the drinks were free. Steven King sat next to us at the restaurant that evening and he enjoyed his meal as well as us. Very nice place with local and foreign artists works that are displayed and for sale. We have bought two paintings there. Upon negotiating the sale of the last painting, we received a free Moet and Chadon champagne bucket after I said "Gee what nice bucket could I have one" - the answer was "sure no charge".
The Inn of the Three Forces:
Very interesting and quiet and looks out over the pool. Nice food with a fixed price menu. Narrow roads to the place just 10 minutes away from the Guanahani. located in Vilet. The matre'd was very nice and the chef is an astrologist. Very good view of the ocean from high up during lunch hour.
Best place "Photo Fast 1" in Gustavia. This is where islanders have finishing done and get instant passport photos. Interesting cheap gifts:
Door Mats in French:
At the building supply store as you come into Gustavia (after the hair pin turns down the hill) before the True Value Store. Also, the general store at the corner of Rue General de Gaulle and Rue de Centenaie in downtown Gustavia. Look for the building with boxes in the window on the second floor. This is on the same east west street as "The Select" restaurant east of "The Select". Door mats available at the time I was there (about $10)
Les Copains d'abord: "Pals First"
Sans amis la vie est si triste!: "without friends life is sad"
Cez moi......le service n'est pas compris :"My House the tip is not included" (alluding to the fact that most French restaurant bills include a 15% service charge on top of their hospitality by providing a good time, good food and sometimes good companionship. Don't give your host a tip, this is a joke).
"West Indies Diving": English spoken. Erik is verrrrry patient with new divers. Call 011-590-27-91-79 business 011-590-27-31-29 boat
VHF channel 79
Run by Lawrence (a female, in Europe Lauren and Lawrence are reversed as to gender) and Erik (from Belgium). My wife completed the written P.A.D.I. (professional association of diving instructors) course and some of the pool work in the U.S. Se finished the pool work in the ocean and did the open water part at St. Barths with Erik in nice 83 degree water. This was much nicer than going to some cold lake in early spring. after certification. She did some small cave diving and dove on a wreck about 15 min.
outside of Gustavia harbor. She is not a good swimmer so take the plunge if you are not either. Dive times are 9:30 am, 11:30 am and 2:30 am. Special dives can be arranged.
The wreck is the most expensive suicide I've seen, and I've been diving for 26 years. The story is a follows:
During the terrible market crash around 89 this man who owned, what was to be considered one of the 3 most beautiful yachts in the world, lost it all, except for his yacht or ship. It's about 210 feet long, dual screws, lounge and had a pool. The crew was sent ashore for leave and the owner opened a valve and scuttled the ship. He stayed onboard and died. His body was found a few days later. There was still a sound board and a reel to reel tape deck laying on the bottom next to the hull and the interior still has some chairs, toilets, and carpeting left. A must see for divers. oh, by the way the props are still on the ship.
Get a 1 year dive insurance policy from P.A.D.I., it also covers snorkeling. so if you get injured run and fall into the water immediately. Also, there is an assurance (insurance) shop located 1 street north of The Select. Legal remedies are very different in France for bodily injury (i.e. you won't collect).
East of The Select phone: 590-27-66-94 a little cheaper than "Little Switzerland". Plus buy a watch and ask for a bag or tee shirt from the manufacturer for free. Yes, they have them, usually. please speak a little French this helps and a little. Negotiation is o.k. but don't press it too far.
Don't rent a moke. They have side located fuel tanks on them. The roads are very narrow and I've seen many side swipes on cars there. And don't rent a motor scooter. Get a Samurai. All major rental companies are there. Remember you are in a department of France under French law. I lived in France for 1 year. It is best to get a little of the French language under your belt to at least show you tried (helps in negotiations). Get tapes and a translation book and a small dictionary for weird words. If you go into shops like you were going into K-Mart, and say things like "hey how much is this thing!" it still doesn't sit well with the people. If you use American slang they won't understand it. Keep the English simple and do not raise your voice unless it is something funny and laugh at the jokes.
Always complement the food and good quality of the merchants merchandise etc. (they have feelings to). Plus they also think that they have about 500 years of civilization under their belt as opposed to us and you will not change that. I've tried. "Seh tay tray b n" = "everything was nice" is a good finish to the waiter and staff. always gets good results
"Co mo sa va" = how is it going kinda like hi
"Bone jewer" = good morning/good afternoon
"Bone swar" = good evening
The response is usually asking you how you are and say " tray b en..mer c"
Learn to count to ten in french, say thank you, pardon me, etc.
"Je voo dray oon...(insert word)" (put in what you would like even in english). look like you are trying. somewhat impressive to them.
"I would like a ..........."
Hint: never pronounce any letter at the end of a word that is a consonant. It does not exist except in certain instances in speech.
The best way to learn french is easy. First go out and get a french translation book and about 2 bottles of wine. down the wine first. Try to translate the french. Now you are going to slur all the french words together, forget to pronounce letters in the word, have no inflection, or inflection in the wrong places, nobody you know will understand you, even if they are sober and looking at the same book. Viola, and congratulations you are now speaking french!!!
St.Barths by Frank Sullivan
We rented a villa high on the hill overlooking St. Jean. I now know why most of these reports concentrate on restaurants. Before going into the usual list, however, I want to share some general impressions and opinions about the island, those who live there and those who visit.
First, this is not really the best place for the "party-hearty" Spring Break-type crowd. That was fine with us. Eddie's Ghetto II (across the street from La Sapottilier on Rue du Centenaire in Gustavia) did have a band on Friday and Sat. night, a large crowd, and was rockin'. La Pelican, on St. Jean, has been closed for two weeks because the gendarmes caught them selling alcohol after 12:00a.m. while a band played on. Most bars are closed by 10:00 or 11:00. As you can see, it's a very quiet place and the police are fairly tough about it.
Second, this island is very upscale (compared to St. Thomas, Cozumel, Cancun, St. Martin, Anguilla, Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, or St. John). Reports of it being "dressy" are not true, but you would not be comfortable going for drinks at the Carl Gustav in cut-offs and a T-shirt. Shorts and a golf shirt for men, similar attire for women would be fine. We did not see anybody we recognized as "rich and famous" but we certainly saw a lot of people on mega-yachts who would be considered "rich" by any standard.
Third, the French who own and work in the local businesses are very friendly, courteous and helpful. Somebody suggested that "merci" and "ciel vous plais" go a long way and we found that to be very true.
Fourth, St. Barth's IS expensive when compared to other islands, but we think it's worth it. If you ate lunch every day at The Mansion in Dallas and dinner every evening at Morton's, your daily meal tab would not be higher than meals on St. Barth's. Because every dinner we had was BETTER than you would get in most of America's best restaurants, we did NOT think it was over-priced.
The problem that some experience is that there is really not a place to get a $5.00 sandwich. One day we were hanging by our pool and decided that we wanted to picnic "in." A quick trip down the hill to the local boulangerie (La Rotisserie at Vaval Center in St. Jean) for bread, ham, Swiss, some awesome pastries, and a $5.00 jar of mayonnaise at the grocery store, meant we spent $30.00 for ham and Swiss sandwiches. This is not a complaint (because it was a very laid-back day) but it does let some of you know what to expect. Also, our dinner tabs may have been higher than needed, because we always ordered wine. By the way, if you like French wines, a trip to La Cave is absolutely essential.
If there is a bargain on the island, it's there. Example: 1988 Mouton Rothschild (not a great year, but it is still Mouton!) sells for about $900.00 in Dallas-Ft. Worth. At La Cave it was $570.00. For frequent visitors to the island, they have lockers and
will store your wine for you! Since I'll never have enough money to buy a 200' yacht, my next goal in life is to be able to visit St. Barth's so often that I require my own locker at La Cave! (How swell....)
Finally, a word about "us"--sometimes ugly, Americans. While it is true that they want us to visit and spend our money, they don't want us to be obnoxious or oblivious to their customs. My wife saw a cruise ship passenger, who had just bought a $1.00 postcard DEMANDING change in dollars, instead of francs. The nice lady who was working behind the counter at Richard Photo said that she would rather GIVE the postcard to the customer than empty her cash drawer of the only dollars she had. We saw some people who were loud, foul-mouthed and demanding---and they were all Americans. They were an embarrassment but, fortunately, they were not representative of the vast majority of other Americans on the island. St. Bart's is not a place to belittle the locals--they are probably doing just as well as you and live in much more pleasant surroundings than many of us.
A suggestion about getting to and from the island: if the wind is relatively calm, take the Gustavia Express out of Marigot Harbor, St. Martin. We HAD to take it over because we couldn't get a seat on Windward Air. That turned out to be a highlight of the trip! The sea was like a lake, had a relaxing drink served by the crew, and watched a gorgeous sunset on the water. The ride took about 1 hr., 20 min. and cost $36.00 per person, 1-way. Windward is only $59.00 and you get there faster but we were pleasantly surprised by having the bad luck of not being able to book our flight. Because clearing customs in St. Martin is such a madhouse, the boat ride was a great way to begin the adventure.
Also, I would take the ferry back for the return flight because we learned the hard way that you have to clear customs again when you come into St. Martin FROM St. Barth's and THAT IS TORTURE! If you leave from the French side of St. Martin by boat, and return there, all you have to do is check in at the airline, pay the departure tax and you are done. We had to stand in the long line on St. Martin in fear that we would miss our connecting flight or lose our luggage in the mayhem that is the St. Martin airport. Trust me on this one, folks...take the Gustavia Express out of the Market at Marigot Harbor (a twenty-minute cab ride from the airport), return on the Gustavia Express to Marigot Harbor, take the taxi to the airport and avoid, at all costs, the hassle of re-clearing customs in St. Martin. I suggest this, in part, because you will need to save your strength, attitude and wits to survive what you will experience in the Miami airport when you arrive from St. Martin!
Now, let's talk about a subject that is near to the hearts of everyone who visits St. Barth's--food. One peculiar characteristic of this trip was that a good portion of our morning seemed to be spent planning dinner (something we almost never do at home).
On the night of our arrival, we tried Le Patio and because it was on the same hill as "our" villa. We had not been misled. This turned out to be our favorite restaurant and we visited it three times during our stay.
Marigot Bay Club--Very good; excellent and friendly service.
The Wall House--this was a great surprise! Right on the town harbor in Gustavia, nice, nice, nice (people, service, food and surroundings.) Why doesn't anybody ever talk about this place? We loved it.
Vincent Adam--also in the hills above St. Jean, but without the water view. Extremely good service and extraordinary food. This one was also a surprise. Not as pretty as Le Patio, The Wall House or La Sapottlier but very laid back, and excellent food.
La Sapottlier--this one is special...ate there our last night. Spectacular presentation, beautiful garden motif, and very expensive (even by St. Barth's standards). The only thing that marred this meal was a table of four American men, fresh off a sailboat, drunk as skunks but not being pleasant about it. They "scored" the women who entered the room, bragged about conquests back home and how they fooled around on their wives by taking late trains back to Conn. These guys were pigs and were the only people who got a check without asking for it. Which reminds me--I found out that you don't normally get a check at the end of a meal without asking for it. It's considered bad manners by the proprietor (who doesn't want the customer to feel rushed or unwanted). For those who are confused by the attentive service before and during meals, followed by what could be construed as a "disappearing act" after the meal--this is the explanation.
Chez Francine-- wife loved it; I thought it was very good. (We had the lobster, rock lobster and crab "boat") over a long lunch one day. It's right on the St. Jean beach and is a pleasant place to "hang out."
On our one fairly heavy shopping day (necessitated only because we had so much fun "frying" ourselves in our pool on the day before) we ate at the pizza place in the Vaval shopping area in St. Jean. Even this place was wonderful! This was the one place on the island where we actually heard Jimmy Buffett being played and we had a fine old time.
It was at the Pizza Vaval that I ordered profitteroles for dessert (having been hooked on them at Le Patio). I could see the cooks opening every door of the refrigerators and freezers, frantically opening every container and growing increasingly more impatient. Suddenly, the younger one said something to the older and an argument ensued in French. Arms were waving and the two of them were very agitated. It was NOT a scene, but from where we were sitting I could see it. Finally, the waitress came over and apologized because it seemed that they had only chocolate ice cream to put into the profiterolles and no vanilla. Laughing, I told her to tell the cooks to be happy, stay calm and that I thought chocolate in profiterroles sounded like a great idea! The cooks looked over the counter, smiled, waved and served up a really nice dessert that I had no business ordering in the first place. I'm telling you, folks, these people take their cooking SERIOUSLY.
Now I'm going to talk about a restaurant that has been highly recommended when you ask around in St. Barth's--Maya's. Maybe it was an "off" night, or maybe we just weren't cool enough to appreciate the place. I thought the service was the worst we had (BAD, by any standard). It may be quaint "whistling by the graveyard" on your way; the sunset may be beautiful (but certainly not as breathtaking as the patio bar at the Carl Gustav) but we were decidedly under-whelmed. I will admit that the food was good (though not exceptional) but I was not happy about the service or the ambiance of this place.
If you go, be sure to drive around the island. If you get to Flamands, have a banana daiquiri by the pool at the Hotel Manapany--the bartender is a hoot. Drive out to Point Milou, see the cliffs and the beautiful houses. Most are for rent, but I wouldn't really want to stay out there unless we planned to do most of our own cooking--somehow it SEEMS far from the places we liked. I think next time we may want to rent on the hills overlooking Gustavia Harbor at Governor's or maybe Columbier--but there's was NOTHING wrong with our place above St. Jean. (It was just completed in December and will be out of the rental pool when the owner moves from St. Thomas to live there in June.) We enjoyed seeing the old rock fences built by the Normans, the unique St. Barth's- style houses in the rural areas. The beaches and the ocean are spectacular.
One reason we went to St. Barth's is that, we wanted to find "our" perfect island. We loved the British V.I. and disliked St. Thomas (finding St. John only somewhat better). St. Martin, to us, looked like another STT or San Juan and reports of crime there have not been encouraging. Nevis looks great, if you stay in the Four Seasons. We haven't been to St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Grenada, or lots of other places but I know now that all of the others will be measured against all of those things that we found special about St. Barth's.
This doesn't mean that we thought it was perfect. Traffic when the cruise ships are in town (which is almost daily) was congested. The people drive on those narrow mountain roads like maniacs (a trait you will soon acquire out of the desire for self-preservation). But it IS a special place that I know we will go back to again and again. If I ever win the lottery, look for me backed into the sea wall across from LouLou's Marine--I'll be the guy sitting on the aft deck of some hot-looking Eurostyle motoryacht, blastin' Buffett, and wearing the silliest grin of all.
St. Croix by Suzanne Comer
We've just returned from twelve wonderful days on St. Croix. We noticed some changes, all for the good. There were many more tourists walking around Christiansted as more cruise ships are docking more frequently. Small businesses are still hurting but there is definitely an improvement. More police were present in town, perhaps this is the doings of the new governor. The sea plane service to St. Thomas is running regularly and on time as we watched it land and take off every afternoon from our beach at
The St. Patrick's Day parade was fun as is any parade in the islands - lots of color and music but typically plagued by delays.
We attended a candle light concert at Whim. The music of Roy Eaton was beautiful in such a lovely setting. Whim is now displaying its West Indies Furniture line in a portion of the museum, under the talented direction of Richard Harris of Designworks. Some of the pieces are great - and almost affordable!
We finally got around to joining the Landmark Society and spent a wonderful afternoon in its library browsing the collection of books, pictures, etc. on the Caribbean. The part time librarian, Carol Wakefield, was very helpful. The Landmark Society sponsored one of its Ruins Rambles while we were there. We've been waiting to do one of these for a long time.
We had a great tour of the ruins of Estates Anguilla and Spanish Town, both are on the grounds of VIALCO and generally not accessible to the public. Anyone going to the island who is at all interested in history should do one of these rambles if one is available during your visit. You'll pick up all kinds of information.
We tried some new restaurants. Lizards, right in town seems to be the jumping place these days - nice for a quiet lunch unless its St. Patrick's Day when the music was too loud for us. We went the next day for lunch and enjoyed it very much. The claim they have "warm beer and lousy food" but the beer was cold and the food was good. The relatively new location of the Cultured Pelican out at Coakley Bay provides a wonderful setting for an incomparable meal. Try to get there just before sunset, the view is spectacular. Hibiscus Beach Hotel has something going on all the time, even if they are not advertised. It's worth a call.
The Caribbean Dance Company performs there once a week and they are really something to see. Well worth it.
As usual, the weather was perfect, the Cruzans were delightful and we had a most relaxing time. We came back with two bags full of tourist material about the island so I am now again well stocked and will happily send anyone interested a package of information.
The Tourist Bureau has come out with a few new publications focusing on specific interests such as "Diving in the Virgin Islands" "A Virgin Island Honeymoon etc.
St. Croix is still the Caribbean's best kept secret. We're home now, but we're not happy about it!!!
St. Croix by Sheila Burks
Those of you who have read my previous reports know that we're pretty much the classic Couch Potatoes. Jack is content just sitting on the deck, reading a big fat history book and looking at the spectacular view from our house. And, the house is what keeps me occupied. The work on a Caribbean home never ends. The toll of sun and salt air in just a a few weeks or a couple of months is truly amazing.
The one disappointment of the trip was our trek out to Fredericksted one afternoon. I had expected to see some new shops and some of the 'pre-Hugo' splendor. Unfortunately, a ship was not in that day and most businesses opted to take the day off. I would suggest visiting this charming town on a day when a cruise ship is in port and more places are opened.
We always try to make a point of going to one new (new to us, that is) restaurant on each visit. This time we made it to 1 1/2. The half was Dino's. Certainly not new to the island. Dino's on Hospital Street in Christiansted has been one of the most popular restaurants for over a decade. This past season, there was also a Dino's at the Buccaneer. The menu is a bit different from the original Dino's and some favorites were missing but the spectacular view of Christiannsted and the air conditioning made up for it. You'll have to wait until next season to visit Dino's at the Buccaneer. It will be closed until next season.
Our new stop was the No Bones Cafe in Gallows Bay. It is primarily seafood and fish but there are always a couple of meat items on the menu. This is a no frills establishment, food is served on paper plates....perhaps because some of the dishes are so spicy that they might ruin fine china. After the meal, Jack emphatically announced that it was the best meal he's ever had in STX. By the next day, he had upgraded it to the best meal he's ever had in his life. It is definitely now on our list of 'must visit' restaurants in STX.
The island is not looking it's best right now. There hasn't been any rain for over 6 weeks so things are quite brown but, even though the temps were in the high 90's, the trade winds were blowing and we were never uncomfortable. Our next trip is in just a few more weeks and I'm already looking forward to it.
St. Kitts by Pat Cake
Our family recently returned from a 1 week vacation at Jack Tar Resort on St. Kitts. We wanted a family oriented vacation where we could spend time with our two children ages 3 and 5 and also have the opportunity to go on adult outings. We were also looking for a destination which would offer a variety of activities at a reasonable cost. We chose St. Kitts as there is a mix of geography - rain forest, volcano, beaches and the beaches are mostly tree lined so you can escape from the sun. Also St. Kitts is not 'touristy' so we anticipated uncrowded beaches. We chose Jack Tar because of the amenities, the kids program and the price. We were not disappointed. Here's an overview:
Jack Tar Resort: The resort is located in the Frigate Bay area about a 15 minute drive from the capital of Bassterre. The property is nicely landscaped with lots of palm trees and flowing shrubs/trees. The resort is comprised of many lowrise buildings scattered on the property. In the main building at the entrance is the casino, two conference rooms, a lobby with tourist information desks, and two restaurants. Walking through the main building brings you to a patio area with a bar and a short order grill. Behind the bar on a raised deck is the quiet pool which overlooks the small 'lake' (I am sure this lake is man made and serves some purpose - there are no swimming signs posted around the lake). Jack Tar could do something to make the patio area more esthetic as it is basically a paved area with tables and chairs (ho hum). There is also a small stage for evening entertainment. The rooms are located in two story buildings which house about 8 rooms each. Some of these buildings are located along the edge of the lake. Another section of the resort is centered around the activities pool. Again, there are clusters of rooms in a U shape around the pool. Adjacent to the pool is the Activities Desk, and another Bar. The children's play area is also near this area. On the lawn surrounding this pool are areas for shuffleboard, a pool table, ping pongee table. I had heard that the resort was 'run down' but did not find this to be the case. Certainly it is not a luxury 5 star property but it was comfortable and properly rated at 3 star plus.
THE ROOMS: Our room was located across from the activities pool. This was great with kids as the bar at the pool shut down at 6pm and there was no entertainment here in the evening so things were quiet for sleeping. The rooms around the patio area behind the main building would be noisier with the evening entertainment. Our room was large with two queen size beds and a full bathroom. They also had in room safety deposit boxes. One of the travel books suggested getting a second floor room as the ceilings on the first floor rooms were low. Our ceiling was about 10 ft - so maybe the book meant the second floor rooms. Again, this is not a luxury resort and the rooms had a type of indoor/outdoor carpeting. The beds were comfortable, there was lots of hot water, no trouble with the water pressure, we had satellite TV (with an all cartoon channel in addition to movie channels) and a patio with patio furniture. The furniture in the rooms was not fancy but serviceable. I did notice in wandering around the property that some of the rooms near the main building had been upgraded with plush carpet and bamboo-like furnishings. They also have some suites available - but not if you go charter.
THE FOOD: I was a bit concerned, never having been to an all inclusive that there would not be much choice in dining. Not to worry - there are no set eating times (except at the a la carte restaurant) and you can eat from 7am to 1am. The Garden Restaurant offers buffet meals from 7am to 9pm. Breakfast offers such things as cereal (cold and hot - our kids ate Froot Loops), fresh fruit, variety of freshly baked rolls, toast, bacon, sausages and a cook who makes eggs to order, pancakes and French toast. Lunch and dinner include a salad bar, several meat entrees (e.g. Jerk chicken, steak, lamb, fish) and vegetables (okra, carrots, potato and others). They tried to vary the menu but by the end of the week I was getting a bit tired of the fare. It was not gourmet cooking but I didn't have anything which was unpleasant. A couple of nights there was a lot of spicy things which was great for me but not for the kids. Dessert at lunch was ice cream plus toppings. At dinner they had a great dessert table with all sorts of pastries. Warning: if you want to eat at the a la carte restaurant book your sittings ASAP. I tried to book 3 days after we arrived and the restaurant was booked for the whole week. The grill cooked great burgers, hot dogs and fries.
BEACHES: The beaches at the resort were not great. The Atlantic beach is a 3 minute walk on the east(obviously) edge of the resort. It is sandy and large BUT rather rough and was not good for the kids to swim in. The Caribbean beach is about a 15 minute walk or a 5 minute ride by the free shuttle. Timothy Beach Resort is located here. Again I was disappointed with the beach. It was black sand BUT there was flat coral rocks right at the water's edge and it was not comfortable to wade in the water and not safe for the kids. The beach was also a bit dirty - old bottles, broken glass etc. One of the best beaches was about a 10 minute cab ride - South Friars Beach. Gorgeous white sand, palm trees and good snorkeling. It was calm with a gradual slope and our kids had lots of fun playing in the water. As St. Kitts does not have a well developed tourist industry the beaches are still pristine and this one was no exception.
THINGS TO DO: There are LOTS of things to do on St. Kitts. We took a half day rainforest tour (with kids). This was lots of fun. We all rode in the back of a jeep to the rainforest and then went on a 6 mile hike which was lots of fun. At the halfway point there was a swing set up on a very tall tree. Our daughter had a great time on this and we had to persuade her to give some of the adults a turn. Both our kids walked a good deal of the way even the three year old. There are some steep sections and areas where you climb over rocks and roots. There is also a full day trip to the volcano - we did not opt for that trip.
For those people who are snorkeling/dive enthusiasts St. Kitts also offers good dive sites. I am not a diver but the snorkeling was very good just from the beach and I saw a wide variety of fish (better than St. Maarten, Virgin Gorda and Venezuela). I did take the free SCUBA lesson at Jack Tar. Some people we met did go diving and had a great time.
There is also a catamaran cruise (full or half day) and we heard some excellent reports from that as well.
We did rent a car for a day and drove around the island. They were harvesting the sugar cane (their main crop) and it was interesting to see it being cut down with machetes and loaded on the narrow gauge railway which circumvents the island. We visited Brimstone Fort - the drive up the hill is not for the faint of heart. There is also a batik industry on the island - the Caribelle batik - located at Romney plantation. This is definitely worth a visit. We also stopped at one of the old plantations now turned into upscale accommodations for tourists. We sat on the verandah and enjoyed the view of the gardens while having a drink and trying to keep the kids quiet. We were not particularly impressed with Basseterre. They are trying to improve the section by the docks as cruise ships have started to anchor here. We did drive through the town saw where the OTI (Ocean Terrace Inn) was and then left.
OTHER ACTIVITIES: The resort organized activities such as volleyball, bingo, water aerobics, snorkeling safari's, contests and there was evening entertainment each night. There was also a variety of equipment which could be borrowed such as snorkel gear and bicycles.
JACK TAR KIDS CLUB: I was very pleased with the Jack Tar kids club. The sign says they accept kids 4 - 12 but they are more than willing to take 3 years olds. The kids club had their own air conditioned club house with lots of toys and a fenced yard with swings. In front of the club house were a Little Tykes slide, castle and play house. We did not use the club each day but it was a drop off and pick up anytime between 8am and 4:30 pm. The staff was very friendly and competent and organized crafts, games and outings for the kids. Our 5 year old daughter loved it. Our 3 year old son is not a good traveler and had separation anxiety so we only left him there for a short duration twice.
We had heard that the Jack Tar resort was mainly a golfer's destination and we were a bit concerned that there would not be very many children there. The resort was mainly adults but there were just enough kids (about 12) staying there that our two had company but the place was not over-run with kids.
BOTTOM LINE: We had a very good time here and if I were going back to St. Kitts I would definitely stay at the Jack Tar Resort again.
St. Lucia: Rendezvous Resort by Gary Babaluk
We spent 14 nights at Rendezvous Resort in St. Lucia from December 19,1994 to January 2, 1995. This resort was formerly called Couples-St. Lucia and the same organization also own the Resort called Le Sport in St. Lucia and La Source in Grenada. We had been considering coming here since 1992, but for one reason or another, we just never made the journey.
We arrived at the International Airport(Hewanorra) on the south end of the island and found the usual confusion at the airport but found that the customs area was set up quite well and breezed through customs. After customs, we were greeted by the usual army of porters that are present at most airports in the Caribbean. One of them grabbed our bags and carried them about 20 feet through a set of doors and as usual, wanted at least $5 for carrying them. I ended up giving him $2 and he didn't seem to mind the reduced amount. We were immediately greeted by the Adventure Tours person(we booked our holiday through Adventure Tours out of Toronto) who directed us to a representative of the resort who put us in a van with 2 other couples, all destined to go to Rendezvous Resort. We waited for about 10 minutes before departing but while we were waiting, we were asked if we wanted any Rum punch or soft drinks(compliments of Rendezvous) while we waited, which was very considerate.
We left and started the journey north and I was prepared for a long and grueling trip (every article I had read had warned about the trip from the airport to the north resorts) but it seems that the road had just been paved and other than the bad drivers, the trip was very similar to arriving in Jamaica. About half way to the Resort, I spotted a small stand on the side of the road and asked the driver to pull over so that I could buy a couple of cold beers. The beer was $2 each and we chose a Piton brand over a Heineken. The beer was decent and as I found out very quickly, the Heineken is brewed on the island which explained the somewhat different taste from back home. The full trip to the resort took about 70 minutes and this resort is very close to downtown Castries. The bigger problem about the resorts' location is that the resort is located at the end of a runway for the local airport(Vigie Regional). The noise was not too bad except about once a day(around noon), a big 737 would land and take off which was pretty noisy. There are NO landing lights on the runway, so there was no air traffic after 5PM(thank goodness!). .
The check-in was very quick and we never had to handle our bags as when we went to the room they were already there. There was a brief orientation before going to our rooms which was pretty good. I must mention here that Rendezvous is an ALL-INCLUSIVE resort which means almost everything is paid for up front. We had selected the cheapest room(called superior), as having been to other all-inclusive resorts, we never spend that much time in the room. This room, which was located on the ground floor of a 3 story building, was very convenient for coming and going. Our main door was the patio door in the room and I really enjoyed this and would probably request a main floor room again at other resorts if I knew that I could use the Patio doors for coming and going. The room had marble floors through out and had 2 sitting chairs inside. There was not enough room to entertain inside the room BUT my entertaining is done at the bars or at the restaurants. There were also 2 chairs and a table on our Lanai which was nice. All rooms have king size beds and the more costlier rooms have sitting areas and much larger baths and are closer to the ocean. The best rooms, if you want to spend the money, are the Sea-side suites(large rooms, not really a suite!). They are behind the free-form pool and take my word for it, they are the best the resort has to offer. The luxury rooms which are almost on the water, are close to the dinning rooms and have a very small balcony unless you are on the main floor. They also have a category called Oceanfront cottages which are semi-detached units which are located past the luxury units. These cottages had not been renovated as of our visit, and when we were there, people who had booked them were upgraded to the luxury units. Again, if you are going to spend the money, go for the Sea-side suites. Having been to other All-Inclusive resorts, I am always aware of the quality of the food and beverages that are included. Rendezvous was adequate from that standpoint. Their alcohol selection was not as Top-Shelf as other all-inclusive resorts we have been to. As an example, their best Scotch was Dewars. For beer, the 2 local brands were available and they are Pitons and Heineken. I don't drink any so called tropical drinks but everyone seemed to be satisfied that the bartenders knew how to make just about everything. The service was very good and I found the staff easy to talk to and friendly. I normally make it a point to get to know the staff and believe me , it pays off in the service.
There were 2 restaurants on the property, one outside for Buffet-style dinning, and the other, the Trysting Place, inside for a' la carte dinning. One reason that we chose to come to Rendezvous was that we would always have the option of a' la carte dinning. A comment on the breakfasts and lunches first. They were buffet style like the majority of all-inclusive resorts. Not being a BIG breakfast or lunch eater, I would rate them as being adequate, but not outstanding. At the pool swim-up bar, you could get Hot-dogs from 10AM onwards and at around 5PM they would serve chicken wings or some other snacks at the main bar. Which brings me to the dinners. We ate 12 out of the 14 nights at the a" la carte restaurant(Trysting Place). This was a beautiful restaurant and it is inside and was sometimes rather cool. The menu was pretty un-exciting. There was normally a soup, salad OR appetizer, main course( which was chicken or fish almost every day) and dessert. The preparation and presentation of the food was excellent BUT chicken or fish(same fish prepared differently) every day, give me a break!!!!! I must comment on the wine that was included in the price. They served a Spanish grunge called La Mancha (white and red). This stuff said on the label, to drink within 6 month or discard! I complained to the manager to no satisfaction because he said that he offered better wines for a price(so take note that if you enjoy a decent wine, it will cost you extra!). You could also get a decent French champagne without additional cost, so we took advantage of that feature. If there is one thing that I have learned over the years concerning All-inclusive resorts, the quality of their house wines normally indicates the quality of the cuisine of the resort. Anyway, I didn't starve and with an open bar and decent champagne, you become a little numb. We did have 2 excellent meals during our stay at Rendezvous. Being there for Christmas and New Year's Eve, both of the meals were excellent and included lobster, rack of lamb, fillet mignon, etc. The New Year's Eve party was great! The staff got involved and it was great.
Concerning the included sports stuff, I am NOT that big on sports stuff but I do like water skiing. Their boat for skiing was only adequate. I must comment on the scuba diving. Having been to Sandals in Jamaica and having to swim a quarter mile with a weight belt around my waist, I was pleasantly delighted to find that if you wanted to Scuba, the instructors were very accommodating for your dives. They were PADI certified and wanted to convince you to become certified at the resort for $350. If you are a beach lover, do NOT go to Rendezvous! The beach is non-existent and don't believe the pictures. If you want beach go to Negril in Jamaica! The clientele at Rendezvous were primarily British(at least 50%) and lots of them were there to get married. This was the first time that we had experienced so many British people. I found them to be very friendly. The remaining people were from the US and Canada and there were ALL age groups represented. Being from Canada, we also noticed that the British people, like ourselves, like to take at least 2 weeks at a time when we vacation. This made the vacation very enjoyable from the standpoint that the people that you met, would be there longer than a week.
A note on the insects on the island. This was the first time on a Caribbean island that we had problems with insect bites. Everyone we met had at least a few bites, so be prepared and bring some repellent. In summary, the question has to asked, would I return to Rendezvous in St. Lucia? NO, I would NOT. We look for quality dinning and Rendezvous is nowhere near the cuisine of Couples in Jamaica or any of the Sandals Resorts in Jamaica. The price maybe a little less than Couples or Sandals(for Canadians), but for us it's worth the extra dollars for the food.
St. Martin by Gerry Brennen
We just returned from our second trip to St. Martin.
We stayed on the Dutch side at the Pelican: Flamingo building, ocean front. (same as last year). The view across Simpson Bay is superb. The beach - from what I hear is man made, but was plenty adequate for us since we're not aficionado's of fine beaches.
Our first full day there was the hottest (89), the clearest and had the best sunset. We stopped at the "Cliffside Cafe" as recommended . We had a couple of beers and enjoyed the cliffs and a great view of Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Kitts - .neat place.
We ate at moderately priced restaurants, 67 bucks was our highest meal - with booze
I have a few incidentals. I always make it a point to ask the name of our "wait help" if not identified by badge. On about 15 or 20 occasions, I asked where they were from, I was surprised that not one single solitary person identified themselves as being from St. Martin. They came from as far as Surinam (Dutch Guyana) to Haiti, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Dominica, Dominican republic, St. Lucia and Grenada - interesting.
We ended up buying a ring at "Little Europe" - an anniversary gift that I promised my wife (Barb) last November, which I hoped she'd forget about - but didn't.
I left 3 dollars a day on our unmade bed with a note saying "for the maid", each day the money and note were gone, on Friday, I received a note back saying "thank you very much for your respect". I appreciated that.
I was talking to the bartender at the Pelican one night (from Surinam), he claimed he was going back home after the tourist high season was over because he thought it was too dangerous in SXM. He said that on the previous night the head of the "Chinese Mafia" (his words), was shot (not killed). He claims there's some sort of a power struggle going on. This is for info only, for our part, we never felt threatened at all and would go back in a minute.
Beer prices are about half that of the prices in Aruba. But in my opinion, the food prices in SXM are about the same as in Aruba unless you're hitting the big buck joints in Grande Case.
Car rental: We were with 2 other couples and rented 2 cars at 180 bucks a piece from Sunrise rental, we booked them from here and they were at the hotel when we got there. We didn't bother taking the collision insurance because there were so many dents in them that a couple of more would not have been noticeable.
Gambling: I donated about 150 bucks - not too bad, my wife Barb who is a heavier hitter than I am actually came back with a few bucks.
Tidbits: We flew TNT out of Boston -10 hours late on a 747 (Tower Air). It was my first time on a 747 to the Caribbean. It took 3 hours and 27 minutes at a maximum ground speed of about 625 MPH, the air temperature over Boston (at 30,000+ feet) was 66 degrees below zero, and was still 60 below over San Juan when we started the decent to SXM - then the temp sky rocketed to about 75 above when we landed at around 9:30 pm. Not bad Huh!
We had a great week -just a little too short. I think 10 days would be ideal.
St. Martin by Peter Atwood
We were once again in St. Martin for the fifth straight year and stay at Beachside Villas. We often refer people to the owners in Grosse Pointe (Yolanda and Telly Mascarin, 313-884-7706...they will overnight you information including pictures, etc.). These places just get better every year being right on the water. We literally walk off our deck onto the beach and into the ocean! This year the winds were coming from the North so it was very cool and the shape of the sands was fantastic! There is hardly anybody ever on this beach as well. This is the first year we didn't take off to another beach.
The units are well maintained. I think Yolanda recovers everything every year and of course with white tile you don't have to wonder what is living in the rugs.
We once again brought with us our favorite meats and wrapped in newspaper were hard as a rock! My wife thinks the food center is better and the prices are higher but not that bad. We eat in so much it is hard to write about restaurants but here are a few favorites or friends favorites:
Bisto Nu in Marigot....fantastic French selection with unusual offerings like veal fillet mignon, lamb, warm goat cheese salads, frog legs, etc. The veal was so tender you could cut it with a fork. We didn't buy that night but I think the bill was $45. person including wine. Great atmosphere. Don't be deceived by the location. A favorite of regulars on the island.
Le Chanticlair (on the wharf in Marigot). Great salads for lunch and dinners. Lunch for less than $10., Dinners around $20 to $25 plus wine. The wife is the waitress and the husband the chef. Very personable and a table in the front is great viewing of people, boats, etc.
Another favorite of our friends but we've not been there (on the French side) is L'Alabama (Grand Case). They swear by it and go every week the 3 months they are there. Great seafood, I think. Not on the water but reservations still needed.
Going to the Dutch we went to Cheri's of course. For the money and being outside we think it is good value and spontaneous but no gastronomical wonders here. The burgers are fine. And there is usually music of some sort in the evening.
We also ate at the rib place behind the pizza hut. Again great value with all the baby backs you can eat for 10.95 but be prepared for slow service. Beg for the wine up front.
We also ate at Laguna this year. Near the airport. An Italian favorite of regular local visitors. My snapper (I think) was fantastic. The Ceasar salad was a little flat. The owners can be very helpful. Prices can be less than $15 to $40 depending on how you mix things up. Add for drinks. Not much more on the restaurant scene from us. We eat in alot!
Regarding other tips....we got at the airport early. Go to the top for a drink or two while you wait for your plane. Much better than fighting the crowds downstairs. (Some people swear this is a best value restaurant to go to while you are on St. Martin).
Liquor is still a good value on the island. We brought back 12 liters for gifts, etc. and even with duty of $2.00 per bottle (if asked) a good deal!
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