Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
May 15 1996
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Last update 12 MAY 0230 Z
PUBLICATION SCHEDULE: PLEASE NOTE THAT THE CTR WILL BE PUBLISHED ON ABOUT JULY 15 AS IS THE USUAL SUMMER SCHEDULE. REGULAR FIRST OF THE MONTH ISSUES WILL RESUME ON SEPT. 1.
CONTENTS FOR MAY 1996
1/ Barbados by Paul Graveline, Editor
2/ News from the Caribbean
3/ Press Release
1/ BARBADOS BY PAUL GRAVELINE, EDITOR
After hearing so much about Barbados for so many years, I finally visited the island in mid-April. I found Barbados to be a pleasant place with generally friendly people and with a lot of things to do and see. In fact, I think it had more interesting attractions than any other Caribbean island of it size which I have visited. The Bajans seem to be well aware of their history. It is the only Caribbean island to be ruled by one country until independence was achieved. Even now there is still a strong British influence on the island and people speak with reverence of Queen Elizabeth and her husband ( but not, of course, of the other royals). They boast that Barbados has a 97 percent literacy rate and it was evident that education is an important factor in Bajan society.
All prices quoted are in US Dollars. The Bajan dollar was going at an almost 2 : 1 ratio when I was there. So a four dollar item in local currency equaled about $2 U.S.
One major factor to consider if you are planning a vacation in Barbados is that the calm water is only on the west coast along the Caribbean. The south shore is somewhat rough and along Atlantic facing east coast swimming is frequently prohibited in places because of the rough seas.
I stayed at the Divi Southwinds in the south of Barbados in an area called the St. Lawrence Gap populated by hotels and eateries. The DSW is a time share property (more about that later) with some of the rooms available for general rental. I had number 729 a beachfront room which opened out on the beach. The room itself was clean but not lavish but did not include an efficiency. It appeared that the my section was originally intended to be an upscale part of the hotel but it now seemed to be just a set of rooms located near the beach. The area had a pool just steps away. There was larger main pool on the property where a number of activities were conducted.
The rest of the resort consisted of a multi-story building set back but overlooking the ocean. Further back, there was another 5 story building with rooms overlooking the pool area. One drawback is that the resort is divided by a small public road which carries a moderate amount of traffic. So getting from the main pool area to the beach means that you must walk across this road which was frequently populated by hagglers selling jewelry etc. Its not a real point of contention, but it might be something to consider if you have young children.
My room had a TV ( with limited cable channels), a phone and clock radio. All rooms are a/c on the property. The sink was in a separate section next to the bathroom so one person could be shaving while another was taking a shower etc. The sink's mirror was surrounded by a series of light bulbs ( like you see in a stars dressing room), however, rust was encased on the light bulb holders indicating that they had not been renovated for quite a while. This feature suggested to me that my beach front section might originally have been build as an upscale part of the hotel.
One constant annoyance (which others also reported) was the inconsistency of hot water. This was especially true in the shower ( there was complete tub). It would alternate hot ( sometimes very hot) and cold making it somewhat inconvenient but also possibly dangerous.
There is a small beachfront eating area called Joselyn's which serves breakfast and lunch. I did not find the food being served there that good or of good value. There were many other eating options within a few minutes walk along the road so that's what I usually opted to do.
There was also the main restaurant adjacent to the main pool. It didn't seem to be doing that much business although the hotel seemed to be fairly full. I did eat there one night ( using a voucher which they gave me for hearing the time share spiel). The atmosphere was nice but he food ( except for the salad) was not very good. Alternate dining recommendations appear below.
The beach is rather nice but the sea is somewhat rough and I never saw anyone actually swimming. If you like moderate waves so you can bob up and down then this might be the area for you. There was little shade on the beach but adequate beach chairs. There was no area demarcated for swimming but I only saw only one jet ski during my stay. It might have been different if I had been there at high season in February.
There were the usual hagglers on the beach and they seem relatively persistent.
Unfortunately, there was little to distinguish the Divi Southwinds from other similar properties in the Caribbean. If I were to return, I'd choose another property: the Casuarina down the street for which you can find a detailed description below.
TIME SHARE EXPERIENCE:
Lured by the offer of a free breakfast ( continental) and a $25 gift certificate, I decided to endure my first time share promotion which was given by the DSW. Others told me that the pitch was much less pressured than they had experienced.
It was clear that the team of presenters had been briefed on all the possible objections to the concept of time shares. One problem which they seemed unable to overcome was the very negative reputation of time shares in general. It seemed like every time the presenter mentioned an aspect, there was to be a $100 fee attached.
They told me that if I paid only $5000 and only used the unit for 5 years then I'd be only paying $1000 per visit. They didn't seem to factor in the almost $400 a week maintenance fee which they explained. Maybe they can't add. And, of course, the fee is likely to increase.
They showed me a unit which overlooked the pool and was very nice but wasn't the one which I'd be getting for around $5000. In addition, I had to sign up that week or forfeit my golden opportunity to get a unit at a bargain price.
My biggest objection to these things is that management turns over and then your contract changes. I was informed that the Divi resorts had been in business for 30 years, I countered that Pan Am had been in business for something like 60 years and when was the last time they had seen a Pan Am Clipper land on Barbados!
I took my certificate and left.
BARBADOS: THE ISLAND
Before I run down some of the major attractions in Barbados, here's a definite to do recommendation. Take the Island Tour on Wednesday run by DMS tours and given by a woman named Olga who is 78 years old. For $50 you get a highly entertaining 6 hours or longer tour and a good meal at an very nice spot. You also get to avoid the crowds in Bridgetown because Wednesday is the day when the major cruise ships come to roost.
Here are some places you might want to check out during your stay in Barbados.
Bridgetown is the capital of Barbados. Like most other Caribbean capitals it is very busy and usually crowded.
The fairly compact duty free area is concentrated within a few blocks with the usual Little Switzerland and Columbia Emeralds along with some two story inside malls. Most of the merchandise on sale consisted of jewelry and the regular tourist oriented products. A few blocks away you could find the stores catering more to the needs of the local population selling refrigerators etc. ( wonder what customs officers at JFK would think if you showed up with a fridge as a declaration!). There were numerous signs promoting their prices as 30% below U.S. prices. But what U.S. price? Local discount houses around my area regularly advertise 20% off Timex etc. So the usual caveat is in order, know what you are buying and what it is really worth.
The taxi drivers are the most aggressive group in Bridgetown. They position themselves right outside the malls and ask anyone leaving if they need a cab . From tourist literature which I'd seen, I anticipated a more tranquil Bridgetown. It was as busy as any other major city in the Caribbean.
The prettiest place in Bridgetown is right across from the two small bridges which cross the Constitution River with some attractive looking sea food restaurants situated there.
If you are in Barbados on Saturday, check out the race course near the garrison just south of Bridgetown. You can see the horses run right from the street but would probably have to pay to bet on the results.
If you are not staying on the west coast, you should make a visit to that section of the island to see the more upscale resorts. Sandy Lane was the first one on the west coast and then the land rush began. Some of them are fairly exclusive and have been and currently are frequented by high rollers.
The rugged east coast is worth visiting as it has some of the most agitated water in the Caribbean -- actually its not in the Caribbean but facing the Atlantic Ocean. Swimming is usually prohibited on the east coast. I observed some surfers plying their trade on a fairly windy day. The tour which I took stopped at the Edgewater Inn for dinner which was quite good.
There are a number of historical sites on Barbados and you can visit many of them. The Barbados Heritage offers a passport to visitors which allows you to enter certain of these attractions for a reduced fare. Bajans seem to have a keen sense of the past and seem to have preserved their historical legacy better than almost any other Caribbean island which I have visited. One interesting stop is the St. Nicholas Abbey which was a great house for a sugar plantation. They showed some unique archival film of life on the island in the 1930s.
Here are some other things to consider when visiting Barbados.
While the cabs are not that expensive, especially if there are two or more in the party, you can opt to take the local buses which seemed to go all over the island. They seemed fairly reliable but not necessarily that frequent. Also they can be crowded but if your hotel is on the south or west coasts, then this might be a good money saving option for you.
Most of the hotel activity is centered on the south and west coast. As mentioned before, the south has a rather choppy sea while the west coast is very smooth, therefore, the more expensive properties are situated there. Where I stayed on the south shore it is referred to as the St. Lawrence Gap and there are a number of places to stay and a lot of local eateries. In general, the hotels on the south shore appeared to be a step down from those of the west coast.
I can only speak on the dining situation around the St. Lawrence Gap area where I was staying. The local road runs for about a mile with a varied landscape of eateries. I was, in general, disappointed with the fare at my Divi Southwinds hotel. The lack of patrons eating at the DSW is probably indicative of what they felt about the food service. Full breakfast was about $12 and continental $8.50. The quality of the food was not high. One night I cashed in my certificate from the time share presentation to eat at their main restaurant, and I was not impressed with the meal.
I was impressed with the steak which I obtained at a place called Bellini's at the very western end of the St. Lawrence gap area although this is primarily an Italian place. The meal was well presented. Patrons sit on a deck overlooking a little inlet from the Caribbean.
Pices is another favorite in the Gap area, however, I did not eat there but did hear a number of good reports about it.
Another local eatery is the Ship's Inn. I only stopped by for an afternoon buffet there. While there wasn't a large selection, the fare was of good quality. With a Banks Beer ( the local brew), the bill came to about $12 for the buffet so that wasn't too expensive.
I did find a small place for breakfast called Bubbles which is located a mini tourist mall. The $6 hamburger / salad was quite good. I also ate breakfast there one day getting a good meal for $5 including juice, tea, eggs etc. However, the best deal for breakfast on the Gap seemed to be just down the street at Bobby's Bar. You get a really large breakfast for $9 but I got juice, eggs, toast, tea, and sausages for $6. Definitely a place to seek out in the Gap. Apparently, this is a really swinging place at night. It's owned by some guys for Europe who are really into soccer so its something of a sports bar.
There are an number of convenience stores in the Gap where you can purchase items similar to those you'll find in the states. They were quite well stocked but, of course, their prices tended to be higher than in North America. Since there are a lot of time shares with efficiencies in the area, these may fill a real need.
In Bridgetown there are some nicely situated restaurants on the waterfront right in the heart of the city near the parallel bridges.
Cricket by Jiminey!
I realized the enormous significance of cricket to the English speaking Caribbean when I was visiting Antigua in February. When a major match is in progress you can hear radios all over the island blaring in unison. New Zealand was playing the West Indies in an major international test match at the Kensington Oval near the port area in Bridgetown.
I purchased an all day ticket for $7.50 in the Eric Innis grandstand which seemed to be the one similar to our baseball bleachers. The higher priced tickets were across the field. And although I did get a 50 yard-like view, there were virtually no seats to be had so I had to either stand or sit on a step. Apparently, like other English oriented sporting events, there are no assigned seats and its first come, first served situation. People had definitely come for a long time bringing newspapers, food and other entertainments to sit out the almost 9 hours of competition. I'd been told by store clerks that they were taking the day off to go to the match and school was canceled for the day in Barbados.
The locals were very enthusiastic and as I had read something about the rules before leaving the U.S., I was able to understand something of what was going on. It did not look as complex and mystifying as one might think if you have a grasp of the basics and its being played in front of you. Unfortunately, I was never able to find a good "tutor" in the stands. Most people only answered my questions with cryptic responses. (On the plane from Barbados back to San Juan, I was sitting with the Catholic bishop of Barbados and he explained a great deal about the game to me.)
An hour in to the match they broke for a little refreshment ( NZ was still batting) and then at 12:00 they broke 40 minutes for lunch. Around the oval were a number of vendors selling various types of food. They even had a souvenir shop for cricket fans but they have a long way to go in marketing to be compared with the NFL or Major League Baseball. Later in the afternoon they suspended play for tea. That's when I Left. The match continued well into the evening. I had hoped to see the famous Brian Lara bat for the WI but he didn't come to bat until around 6 PM. and then extended his batting until Saturday morning. He didn't do very well scoring only 37 runs in about a 90 minute total span. The Bajans were very disappointed. The match didn't end until the following Tuesday. And they say baseball is slow!
Casuarina Beach Club:
If I were returning to the Barbados south coast, I'd book at the Casuarina. I kept meeting people who were raving about the property and even guests at the Divi Southwinds where I was staying were very impressed with the Casuarina. They have a very high repeat business, I'm told.
It was suggested that I contact Bonnie Cole-Wilson at the Casuarina to get a tour of the hotel but unfortunately, when I went down to the property, she was not there. The grounds are lush with vegetation and I observed a number of people manicuring. I'm told that Ms. Wilson is very diligent about making sure things are just right.
The whole property has a wonderful ambiance from the entrance way to the beach which according the brochure extends 900 feet along the shore. There are 160 rooms which occupants described as very nice.
Rates seemed quite competitive at $100 a night off season for a beach front studio until 31 May then its $90 till Oct. 31.
The hotel was recommended to me by a cab driver, a tour guide as well as those who were staying there.
I understand that the occupancy rate is quite high even during the off season so you might want to book early if you are considering a visit. If I were going back to Barbados, this probably would be my first choice.
That's it for my first visit to Barbados.
2/ NEWS FROM THE CARIBBEAN
In late April, it was reported that due to a water shortage on the southern coast of Grenada, two major hotels had to cease operation. However, the water department supplied the needed water so there was little or no stoppage in operations. It seems that some hotels in near-by Barbados decided to contact London booking agencies with the news of the water shortage offering to re-book clients to their establishments on Barbados. Needless to say, the folks on Grenada were less than pleased with this.
Carib Express was forced to suspend operations in mid-April leaving many passengers stranded and causing some flight changes, primarily at BWIA. They also laid off many of their employees around the first of May. Attempts are being made to restart the airline.
There seems to be some movement for a division of labor among Caribbean carriers. BWIA to do the long distant international routes, Carib Express to handle the medium range flights ( SJU - Barbados) and LIAT to handle the inter island runs. However, they don't seem to be able to get together on a rational plan.
(Ed Note: The following items are reprinted with permission from Frank Barnako's Virgin Islands News. For more information check out http://www.clark.net/pub/fbarnako/otr/Paradise.htm/ as Frank also has a local villa to rent).
Saychelles by the sea shore
It used to be St. John1s Wendy1s. Now it's an upscale, beachfront restaurant with a menu focusing on the French and Mediterranean cuisine. Chef Bruce McGinty is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and she promises nothing on the menu has ever been frozen: "fresh" is his mantra. Even the herbs are fresh he says - they're grown in Coral Bay. The menu's a bit pricey, but we found it worth the splurge in January.
Selengut1s latest project
The creator of Maho Bay campground hopes his latest project will be operating by November. The project is planned to be a self- sustaining resort on estate Concordia, St. John. Selengut reported expects to build 120 units, a restaurant and a performing arts center on about half the 51 acre plot. The plans also call for a fish pond and permanent gardens to produce materials for the restaurant.
3/ PRESS RELEASE
CULEBRA: CORAL ISLAND GUEST HOUSE
(Ed Note: John Dinga owns the Coral Island Guest House described in the following article. For information , a free map and travel guide, and reservations call John at 617 773-0565.)
The Culebra Islands , a small group of 20 islands and cays, are located halfway between two popular Caribbean destinations, San Juan and St. Thomas. But don't be influenced by the proximity of these two well-known tourist meccas. Culebra, seven miles long by three miles wide is still not overly developed and is one of the last remaining islands where you can experience the Caribbean as nature intended it to be. Do not expect plush hotels with casinos, wild night life, traffic lights or local salesmen everywhere you go. Do expect little disturbed natural settings , a sense of adventure linked to all activities and the island's 2,000 residents eager to make you stay memorable.
How did Culebra escape development and commercialization, despite its location and association with the United States? Up until just two decades ago, the islands were bombarded by the U.S. Navy and its allies. After 6 years of protest by the island's 500 residents, President Ford signed an executive order in 1975 ending 40 years of outrageous abuse by the U.S. military. Most of the target areas are now administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and are part of the National Wildlife Refuge.
It's easy and relatively inexpensive to get to Culebra. San Juan is a heavily traveled and competitive route. Direct flights from almost all major U.S. and European cities are available into San Juan. From San Juan, Carib Air and Flamenco Airways offer several daily half hour flights to Culebra for $60-75 round trip. For the more adventurous or groups of 3 or more, the 1 and a half hour ferry ride from Fajardo, PR, may be just the ticket for the 1950's price of just $4.50 round trip. The ferry terminal in Culebra is just one block from the Coral Island Guest House. How's that for convenience!
DISCOVER YOURSELF IN THE UNFORGETTABLE CULEBRA ISLANDS
World Class Beaches / Turtle Watches
Most visitors come to the Culebra islands to snorkel, dive, sail, kayak, fish, turtle and bird watch or soak up the sun on one of many deserted beaches. You'll have to deal with uncontrollable urges to go skinny dipping. Some of my most conservative friends have even reported failure to overcome the urge. Two of the beaches are used by endangered species of sea turtles for nesting. Organized volunteer monitoring expeditions are available. Snorkeling opportunities are almost limitless.
Snorkeling / Diving
Snorkeling opportunities are almost limitless. There are many excellent sites available from shore, therefore no boat is needed. With 20+ islands to choose from, the diving is superb and diverse in relatively shallow water up to about 100 feet. As the visibility sometimes reaches 100 feet, you'll be able to see divers on the bottom.
Explore Uninhabited Islands
Water taxi service is available to explore the uninhabited islands. You're dropped off in the morning and picked up in the afternoon after having the island all to yourself for the day! What dreams are made of.
The offshore cays are great destinations. Pack your lunch and snorkeling gear for an adventure you'll not soon forget. Rentals are available. Land Adventures
Hikers and mountain bikers follow dirt roads or paths to the far corners of the islands. Bird watchers focus binoculars on the numerous marine and terrestrial birds. Sightseers rent jeeps to reach remote and deserted beaches. The helicopter pad from Navy days is a popular photographic spot with commanding views of Resaca Beach and St. Thomas on the east horizon.
The Coral Island Guest House on the waterfront is the oldest and longest operating Guest House on the island.. BBQ, relax, party, and experience a different spectacular sunset every evening on the spacious sky deck overlooking the Caribbean's breathtaking Bahia de Sardinas. Enjoy dining in the garden patio on the canal in our new restaurant, the Cafe Galleria, where local artists display their paintings and photographs which can also be purchased. Guests receive a 20% discount on all meals.
Most accommodations on Culebra are simple, clean and dignified. The affordable Coral Island Guest House provides clean airy bedrooms with ceiling fans. Air conditioning is truly not needed as the trade winds blow continually through the waterfront facility. All units have their own fully equipped kitchens or have access to one. Within walking distance are several other restaurants and bars.
1 Bedroom in Guest House
$290.00/week, double occupancy, $250.00/week, single
Large Room with private bath $450.00/week, sleeps 3-4 persons
2 Bedroom Apt. $500.00/week
3 Bedroom Apt. $670.00/week
4/ JOURNEYS FOR MAY 1996
ANGUILLA BY JOAN SCHMIEDLIN
We recently spent 15 days on Anguilla, and have some updates from our trip.
We expected to see more damage from Luis than we did. A few buildings are just not there any longer, some are still being repaired. Occasionally we saw uprooted or leaning trees, and some of the beaches are shaped slightly different, but still very beautiful. Maundy's Bay was the only beach with major work still going on where they were dredging sand. For the most part you wouldn't know a hurricane had even come through the island.
We arrived on the evening of March 1st, after an "interesting" day of travel.
We dropped our things at the house we rented, and went to the restaurant at the Pineapple Beach Club, 809 497-6061 for a relaxing dinner. It was just what we needed. A perfect setting with the sound of the waves in the background, a balmy breeze, and a starlit sky. Our food was excellent, and I personally recommend the Chicken Breast with Tomato Turmeric Vinaigrette. The Pineapple Beach Club is a West Indies style all inclusive resort in the middle of pristine Rendezvous Bay. They have an excellent restaurant which is open to the public, but make sure to call ahead for reservations.
The resort is very quiet and relaxing, with a very accommodating staff, and everything you need to enjoy the beach and the water. The beach is lined with lounge chairs and shade umbrellas for the guests. Eric, the water sports person is there each day to assist the guests with the sail boats, kayaks, and wind surfing.
The next morning we ventured out to stock up on supplies. Amy's Bakery 809 497-6775 came through again this year as our favorite place for breakfast pastries. The coconut tarts, coconut drop cake, and bread pudding are the best on the island. We ventured through the Valley to the Farrington area and found the Tropical Flower. It is a great place to purchase soft drinks, Ting, wine, beer and water by the case. Good variety, good prices.
Ashley's 809 497-2641 and the Fair Play 809 497-3877 were our next stops to stock up on snacks and a few groceries.
We don't like to cook too much with all the excellent restaurants on the island, and we did a good job of getting to many of them.
Paradise Cafe, 809 497-6479 near the Cove Castles had an excellent variety of pasta entrees, fresh fish, chicken, etc. Their calamari was superb for starters, as were the lobster ravioli, grilled snapper with garlic mashed potatoes, and grouper over rice and vegetables.
Mango's, 809 497-6479 has a new owner this year, but same menu and quality. Very nice dinner salad, conch bisque, sesame snapper, and yellowfin tuna. They rebuilt after the hurricane, a little further from the sea, and enlarged the restaurant slightly.
One evening we were going dancing at Johnno's in Sandy Ground, so we tried Pizzazz, 809 497-2386 for dinner. Nice menu, good variety. Delicious veal with lobster ravioli, and grilled yellowtail snapper. However, we prefer the more open air restaurants, to the closed air conditioned style buildings.
Johnno's, 809 497-2728 in Sandy Ground was a hit as usual for late evening dancing. Great variety of music many nights each week.
After Johnno's closes, people migrate to Rafi's (over looking Sandy Ground) for BBQ, beer and chat. It is a good place to meet the local crowd.
We also enjoyed dinner at the Pineapple Beach Club, 809 497-6061 on Thursday evenings. They have an informal BBQ with lots of great food, Steel Drum band, and a limbo contest!
We heard Cora was selling her famous roti's under a tree in the Valley while the Pepperpot is being repaired. Unfortunately, we didn't find her until the day before we left.
However, we did find excellent roti's at the Roti Hut on the main road overlooking the airport for about $4.US. We enjoyed relaxing with a Carib and chatting with the cook while she prepared our lunch.
One evening, we ventured to the east end of the island for dinner at Hibernia 809 497-4290. They have an extensive wine list, ranging from $22. to $390.US. The average wine was about $50.US per bottle. The restaurant was very pretty. The owner was delightful as she shared the story of her restaurant with us. I would vote their mixed green salad with fresh tarragon as the best dinner salad on the island, and describe the sweet potato puree "to die for". Also enjoyed grilled crayfish, and homemade ice cream.
We were looking forward to Uncle Ernies, 809 497-3907 on Shoal Bay for BBQ chicken with the best cole slaw ($6.US), and it was excellent as usual.
We had a fun Sunday afternoon on beautiful Shoal Bay swimming, snorkeling, and listening to reggae on the beach being performed by High Tension.
Lucy's Harbor View was a disappointment this year with the exception of her excellent pumpkin soup. The service was borderline, and food very average.
Blanchard's 809 497-6100 was very nice as usual. Their starter salad could easily serve 4. The service was excellent, the food was very good and the presentation was lovely.
Blanchard's and Hybernia were probably the only two restaurants where we felt the need to dress more formally.
We were comfortable in casual resort evening wear at most of the restaurants. Prices varied slightly, but for the most part, dinner for 2 with wine was about $100.US at each of the restaurants. I would recommend reservations for dinner, or you may be disappointed.
Each day was pretty much the same. We walked the beaches, read, snorkeled, swam, relaxed etc. Anguilla is a wonderful place to visit. It is very laid back quiet little island with a little bit of night life, beautiful beaches, perfect climate and friendly people who make you feel very welcome. For those who want more excitement, the ferry boat to St. Martin for a day trip is a suggestion. However, we never feel the need to go anywhere once we arrive in Anguilla. It is true when they say, "you come to Anguilla as a visitor, and you leave as a friend"
ARUBA BY GERRY BRENNEN
My one measly week in Aruba expired , what a bummer, since I had just downgraded my lotion from SPF 45 to SPF 25...needless to say, "behold a Pale man". If I had 3 weeks, I'd get down to SPF 8.
Let's see, where do I start...perhaps quasi chronological with an executive summary prior to getting into the nitty gritty details.
We were 40 minutes late out of Boston while the plane was getting hosed down with Ethylene Glycol, but 3 hours and 55 minutes later at 11:55 am, we were touching down in Aruba. The pilot had just announced that the wind was blowing at 12 MPH ...down from the normal 20 MPH...a hint that something was up. Clearing customs was a breeze and we were off to Jungle George's Alma Mater ...The Radisson. Taxi ride 15 bucks for the four of us, we gave a 2 buck tip. I just decided to drop the Chronological B.S. and go with categories....I'm beginning to put myself asleep.
The weather was perfect, mid to upper 80's during the day and mid to upper 70's evenings. We got about 10 drops of rain on our windshield the day we rented the car, that was it. The wind was much lighter than I had expected. There was some strange happenings with the wind and ocean currents a few days before, whatever it was, it left us with an ideal week.
VICTUALS AND GROG
We ate at four upscale restaurants. Tuscany's, Bistro 81, Chalet Suisse and El Gouchos. All were excellent, entrees in the 20 buck range, with about a 60 to 70 buck tab (per couple) with booze, service and TIP. A couple of comments about two of the restaurants. The chef at chalet Suisse prepared a special (at our friends request) Yeager (SP) sauce for the schnitzel, it was like a mushroom sauce in a brown gravy...it was excellent...with outstanding service and freshly ground German/Swiss style coffee...loved it. El Goucho's....the steak was excellent...the food plentiful, the penalty you pay is a cattle car atmosphere where they rack you and stack you and rush you. We won't hurry back. If grits are much more important than ambiance, I recommend it. The other 3 nights, we ate at Watapana (Rad), the Linda Vista (Playa Linda) and a Chinese restaurant downtown. These were moderately priced...say 30 to 35 bucks per couple with grog. The food "deal of the week" was at Danny's Delight in San Nicholas where we had breakfast...eggs, roll, bacon or sausage, potatoes and juice....now get this, hang on to your hats...14 bucks for the FOUR of us...we felt so good, we left him a 4 dollar tip. The place was clearly "local", but we enjoyed it.
The Radisson is a great hotel, the staff is friendly and helpful...the rooms are adequate, the maids are accommodating. We were in the Caribbean wing facing the garden wing with a nice garden view and also a nice view of a slice of the ocean. The rooms have a mini fridge...along with all the other amenities. We brought our own travel coffee pot ...so wanted for nothing.
There are 68 huts at the Rad, 59 huts on the beach and 9 back on the grass.. a combination of duplex's and single family dwellings. We paid homage to Jungle G's famous hut # 3 and 5...#3 was a duplex, George must have got tired of the neighbors, so he moved into #5....a single unit. Since we get to the beach so late, we were relegated to Hut 65 (with a slight cesspool odor), or if lucky, hut 66...needless to say, they were in the seedy part of town...back on the grass....we enjoyed it, and by weeks end, we just headed for 66....no problem.
WINNING AND LOSING
Yes the casino's...I'm beginning to think Barb is a casinaholic. She won $450 at the quarter slots on three payoffs. I suspect that put her on top for the week, oddly enough, she won 120 bucks 15 minutes before we caught the cab to the airport. All Barbs winnings were at the Rad although we hit the Crystal, Palm, Americana, Hyatt, LaC and Marriot. We met the casino manager at the Marriot who we knew from Curacao, he told us that the Marriot slots pay the best in spite of the Rad advertising a payoff of greater than 99 percent (selected slots of course). Our friends won $600 at the quarter slots, $300 at the Rad, $250 at the Marriot and $60 at the Hyatt. We blew 60 bucks at the dollar slots at LaC and left.....probably didn't give them a chance. My assessment Rad, Marriot and Hyatt. The Rad was a little chincy on the drinks...they charged Barb $4.50 for a baileys while she was dumping money into the machines....said it was a "premium" bar drink. The Marriot seemed to think it was an ordinary drink since she got it for nothing.
For you youngsters out there, you have to be 18 to gamble and 18 to drink booze...although a bartender told me they don't enforce the drinking age much.
ILLEGAL ALIENS....NOT FROM OUTER SPACE
I asked a lot of the "wait" help where they were from...Well, unlike SXM where 100 percent were foreigners, only 50 percent were from out of town....the usual, Jamaica, Dominica, Grenada, Venezuela etc etc. Presumably, most had work permits. The shocker came when we were having a drink at the Rad pool bar, and this English girl (from England) bartender admitted to us that she was a genuine illegal alien and was scared to death. She claimed that the feds (immigration) arrested two Rad employees, handcuffed them and took them away that very day. That perked me up a bit. She claimed she had enough money to get home, but thought she may spend it since she heard the feds picked up the tab for the return trip....so much for illegals.
BUYING AND SPENDING
Barb claims that Lladro's are 20 percent cheaper in Aruba, thus, she bought one for the Grandkid (one year old). The Columbian Emeralds International looks like it has some nice deals...if you can afford it. Saw a nice 2 1/2 carat necklace for 29 grand. I kinda like the pink ginger bread houses downtown..I actually enjoyed the shopping, and boy, does that place jump at night...looks like downtown Vegas. I stopped in at Handy Anns at Port of Call...I bought my Aruba cap there....cost 8 bucks. The Marriot has some very nice shops....Barb claims they have a woman's Italian clothes shop....says the prices are really cheap....for what it's worth.
LIZARDS AND OTHER SLIMY THINGS
The verdict is still out on how much booze an iguana can hold...there was an abundance of Iguanas, but a lack of booze impregnated cherries...not enough Manhattan drinkers on the Island I guess. We did find out (and joked a bit about it with the locals), that Iguana soup is a POTENT male aphrodisiac (I need that bad). I guess it's a joke, since we also found out the Iguanas are a protected endangered species....the stray cat I saw one day with half an Iguana hanging out of it's mouth, seemed to be flaunting the law.
CAR RENTALS AND TOURING
Saw an ad from Econo car for a Toyota Tercel for 30 bucks a day...auto and air....course they were all gone when we called...what else is new. Ended up with a Geo Prizm 4 door, auto and air with 13000 miles on it....cost $38 per day or $228 for 7 days. We rented for one day which was sufficient. We did the old routine....baby beach, natural bridge, rock formations etc....stopped at Charlies bar...didn't even buy a beer, actually we found a local bar up the street with a couple of hookers in there, had a much better time, and the beers were a hell of a lot cheaper. I love the local flavor...I do it all the time......oh yes, gas is about Afl..1.135 per liter...roughly $2.60 per Gal.
BEER PRICES....THE GOLD STANDARD
Anyone who knows me...knows that all judgments are made on the price of a single beer. Here goes...all prices are based on an 8 oz Amstel ; Rad Bar....4 dollars ; Rad mini mart....$2.50....steep I'd say. Playa Linda mini mart $1.65 Ling and son's a buck fourteen Wyndham....$4.50 Linda Vista............$3.75 Marriot 4 bucks and down town on the side streets where the people are not greedy and are very friendly and happy as hell to have your business...and appreciate it, and want to engage you in conversation....yep...the price of beer in the local bar is one dollar and 25 cents.....second best deal on the Island next to the breakfast.
JEWEL BOX REVIEW
Thanks to a recommendations , we attended the show at the Royal Cabana....we thoroughly enjoyed it, and would highly recommend it to all. Cost 30 bucks PP and well worth it. I have a little story that goes with this, may tell it later.
SUNSETS, STARS AND MOONS
Our first or second day there, the sun rose at about 6:40 am and set at 6:47 pm ...about 4 minutes off from my calculations....I haven't figured out where the error is..probably never will. Sunset is my favorite time in Aruba, I think there are few places in the world that have consistently beautiful sunsets as Aruba. One of the best was at the California lighthouse....with a goat in one hand and a beer in the other...watching the sun sink peacefully beneath the sea....beautiful sight. Ursa Major (the big dipper) is alive and well in Aruba...look to the northern sky about 45 degrees above the horizon....Venus was as bright as I've ever seen it. Jean is right about the crazy moon...we left the states during the last quarter, the moon looked normal....lo and behold, we get to Aruba...yep..it's upside down, actually, it would be more appropriate to say it was right side up.....when we left...after the new moon, same damn thing during the first quarter. By the way, high noon in Aruba is at 12:45 pm...thus, best tanning is from 11:15 am to 2:15 pm.
BARE BREASTED SHELL SEEKERS
There ain't none on Palm beach....least I didn't see any. We caught a cab one day to our old stomping grounds...walked from the Costa Linda to the Tam, of course we saw some of them beauties as we passed the Bucuti and the Manchebo...being a chaplin's assistant, I didn't take much notice. The beach was noticeably sparse, so while having breakfast at Manchebo, I asked the waiter what the occupancy rate was, he said ...about 50 percent....I thought it was a little high.
SERVICE CHARGES...AND WHO GETS SCREWED
First of all, get this one...talking about a poring, the Americana not only has a 15 percent service charge, but they whack you with a 1 percent energy charge, I expended 5 percent of my energy just walking there....no rebates. The waiters/waitresses tell me the management gets 9 to 10 percent for breakage (anyone broke 10 percent of their dishes lately), the remaining 5 percent is divvied up between the staff on a point system....the waiters/waitresses end up with 1 or 2 percent......you just gotta love the management. they know how to dork you in grand style.....with a smile on their faces. As such, we decided to tip each waiter/waitress as the service dictated....it was generally excellent.
ODDS N ENDS
One of my Aruba maps had a WEB site listed.... http://www.caribbean- on-line.com/earleltd I have not visited this site.
Pre-immigration in Aruba would have worked quite well had we not been delayed in our plane for 50 minutes while immigration was figuring out how to capture 2 couples that were on the plane....that they wanted.
Tierra Del Sol golf course..in my opinion is beautiful, the homes up there are expensive for the square foot of living space you get.
Monday the 18th was flag day, Prince Willem Alexander (next to the Dutch throne) was in town helping the Arubans celebrate.
The Arubans may be the friendliest people in the world...I had forgotten just how friendly and helpful they are...what a joy it is....they have a great sense of humor also.
On Sunday, We met our daughter (Robin) and spouse and friends at the dock, they had just arrived back in Aruba on the cruise ship Seawind....said they had a wonderful time. that was kind of a thrill for us.
The BEST "happy hour" on Palm beach is at the Holiday Inn...the opinion of 4 of us.
When I took Barb to church (St. Anna's) I think, the taxi driver told us that the best breakfast in town was a few doors down....didn't go.
The ice cubes, which half filled a 10 oz gin and tonic, lasted 22 minutes...at high noon....you gotta drink 'em fast.
Argentinean beer at El Goucho is 8 bucks a can....stay away from it....not worth 8 bucks.
Saw an Aruba "hard rock cafe" T-shirt......but I didn't see no Hard Rock Cafe.
Don't forget to put sun block on the tops of your ears....I forgot....paid later.
I noticed those little yellow birds like to eat sugar out of the sugar packets on the table...hope they ain't got no communicable diseases.
For you Italians, they have a Bocci tournament at the Rad a couple of times a week.
ARUBA by SUSAN KECKI
I just returned from my first trip to sunny Aruba and thought I'd try sending my version my experiences on the island. To sum it up in one word it was WONDERFUL! I really enjoyed the entire trip. I saw many things and realized that taking the advice that I read on this board proved to be very beneficial.
First of all hotels. We stayed at the Aruba Palm Beach which even though it's not really luxurious it was clean, comfortable and the location was great! It has a cute little garden and pools with fish in them. There are turtles, lizards toucans and parrots. It would be good for families with kids. They have a nice pool and a little wading pool. For adults there is a beach bar that has happy hour from 3-6 everynight. Pina Coladas $2.50. And Vincent does his limbo show there on Friday's from 4-6. He's incredible! We were within walking distance to many other resorts. The Hyatt was my favorite. It's absolutely GORGEOUS! And so romantic. A great place for a honeymoon. Ah, maybe next time.... The Marriott was also very beautiful!
As far as restaurants we ate at El Gaucho and it was great. We also went to Alfredo's was very good. Very authentic Italian in a casual setting. It's right by the mini golf near La Cabana. It's fairly new (about 2 years) and the people are so friendly. They gave us some Sambuca on the house for referring some of our friends to them. If you like garlic it's the place to go. They start off with a whole clove, oven roasted with olive oil and this fresh baked bread. It's fantastic! Then we went to the buffet at La Renaissance where they had a show featuring the Costumes of the Carnival. It was fun! ($32) And the desserts! WOW! On Friday at the Hyatt, they have all you can eat Fajitas. You can watch the sunset while having your Margarita and sizzling fajitas! Very nice (and filling) Well worth it! Only $14.95 per person. Then me & my Mom went to the Mill one night just for coffee & desserts. We had Dutch Apple pie & some Key Lime pie. We would have had dinner, but we were still full from lunch on the snorkeling trip to DePalm Island.
For other activities we rented a jeep for a few days and toured around the island. Since it was my first time there, we went to the California light house the Church and the Natural bridge. We found some nice blow holes and took alot of pictures. We also went to the other side of the island to Baby Beach and the bat cave. That was cool, but not for the skweemish! (sp?) It was interesting to see the difference in the landscape away from the resorts; the little goats running wild amongst the cacti rocks and dirt roads.
One day my friend and I went scuba diving. We went with Red Sail Sports. They were very professional and helpful. We dove Palm Slope (100') and Barcadera Reef (60'). I was pleasantly surprised to find the diving was excellent, since Aruba is not particularly known as a diving destination. There were many fish and healthy corrals and sponges. We saw 2 huge morays, a crab, some urchins and a small school of squid! No turtles though...oh well. I was very happy with the diving. I'll definitely go again. I only did the 2 tank dive, because I got a cold and decided not to dive any more that week.
So, I gambled instead! The Radisson's quarter slots were good. We saw a lady at the Marriott win $5000 on the dollar slots. And a guy won $53,000 on Caribbean Stud poker!! The Aruba Palm Beach had $2 blackjack. But for the most part we played, won & ended up putting it all back! We had a great time and will go back in 2 years! Well, that's about it for my trip. I'm hooked on Aruba!
I saw a few flies this year, but no mosquitoes.
ARUBA: UPDATE BY ORRIN EDWARDS
GENERAL ISLAND INFORMATION
The unfinished Ramada Hotel has been torn down and the associated timeshare section is now called the Aruba Phoenix Resort. It looks as though the rubble from the hotel was used to make two piers just south of the Wyndham Hotel, possibly to help preserve the beach in that area.
The Mariott Hotel has been open for nearly a year and has one of the nicest lobby areas I have seen. The property next to the Marriott will open as a timeshare facility by Marriott sometime in the future.
The road to the lighthouse is now paved and illuminated to provide access to the restaurant that has re-opened at the top of the hill.
There is a project to construct traffic-circles at a variety of places on the island and eliminate the signals. There is a new circle at one of the intersections on the road to Paradera as well as one under construction at the "T" in Tanki Flip. LG Smith Blvd is closed in front of the Pizza Hut for some utility work and will stay closed till a new circle is completed at the intersection in the Bubali area in front of the La Cabana.
The Roseland Buffet at the Alhambra complex is gone. The only remaining Buffet is the Steamboat in the hi-rise area and the price is up to $14.95 for dinner.
A new shopping complex (Royal Plaza) has opened just across the street from the open-air fruit market in Oranjestad. It is ideally positioned to be within easy walking from the cruise ship dock. It contains branches of most of the better stores from the Sonesta area and Main street. The architecture is the same Dutch colonial facade that is used on the Strada on the square at the end of main street, and has been used on the waterfront in Curacao. It is loaded with gables, balconies, etc, and painted with the traditional colors of the Dutch Colonial era. A few Americans have called it "gaudy", but I call it "decorative". In any event it's a photographer's paradise!
CASH (ATM) MACHINES
There are several cash machines in Aruba that connect to banks in the United States via the Cirrus/MasterCard network. The ATM's to look for are 'Bankomatiko' and 'ABN-Amro'. There are Bankomatiko ATM's near the hi-rise hotels at the Caribbean Mercantile Bank in Noord and in Oranjestad at the new Royal Plaza shopping center. There are ABN- Amro ATM's at the Seaport Marketplace and in the Sun Plaza next to the Pueblo supermarket. All the ATM's are clearly marked with the Cirrus/MasterCard logo and have an option for instructions in English. The Abn-Amro ATM's have an option to dispense Dollars or Florins. The Bankomatiko ATM's only dispense Florins. A 100 Florin withdrawal from all of the ATM's that I used resulted in a $56.42 debit from my account. This is the official exchange rate. There were no additional fees or charges. The Cirrus handbook states that outside the US, you may need a 4-digit pin code. If your pin code is something other than that, you should check with your bank before you leave.
The Royal Cabana and the Hyatt have raised many of the table minimums from $5 to $10. My observations are that most people are going elsewhere to gamble with very few people using the $10 tables. It will remain to be seen how long this lasts. The casino at the new Marriott has two sets of 5 cent 'progressive' slot machines. These are ideal for those who are 'fun' gamblers. While I was there, the jackpot was a little over $1000 on the 3 coin slots and over $10,000 on the 5 coin slots.
BAHAMAS: PARADISE ISLAND BY DEAN DOBBERT
We just returned from a one week trip to the Atlantis Paradise Island. I wanted to thank everyone here who helped us with advice over the past few months. Here's the short take. The hotel is a great place to take a family. The pools, the lazy river, and the water slide will keep everyone happy. The underwater tunnel is awesome. I walked through it at least once a day, and never tired of seeing the mother shark with her two babies in formation, endlessly prowling the lagoon.
The restaurants were uniformly excellent, with each one having it's own particular strong points. Meal plans are a must. Our biggest bill for two adults and one child, for salad, entree, desert and coffee, was $189. If you have the bucks to go with the gourmet plan at $69 a day per person, go for it, but be sure to call for reservations for all the restaurants the day you arrive. For the budget minded, the $42 a day plan gives you less variety, but includes the all you can eat buffet at Seagrapes, which was one of our favorite restaurants anyway. So make you decision on how much you want to splurge.
One activity that must be done is the dolphin encounter. Even my wife, who is not the most adventuresome person in the world, thought it was the highlight of the trip. Be sure to sign up as soon as you arrive on the island. The encounter costs $30 and includes standing in the water and petting the dolphin. The more expensive plan, for $85, includes swimming in the water with the dolphins and having them push you through the water with their snouts until you feel like you're water surfing. The more expensive plan was sold out a month in advance, so keep this in mind if you want to go on it.
I also played golf at the Paradise Island golf course, and found it absolutely wonderful. A tough course, with a slope of 133 from the white tees, it was in perfect shape, and just beautiful. Water comes into play on 13 of the 18 holes. Club rentals are $30 for Calloway Big Berthas, and green fees were steep, around $130, including cart. But if you love golf, ya gotta play it at least once.
Finally, just some random thoughts: The rooms were very clean, and the staff friendly. The casino was a lot of fun, and free lessons on blackjack, craps, baccarat and roulette are available every day.
It was a great trip.
BARBADOS BY CHRIS KEALE
My wife and I and another couple just returned from a week at the Almond Beach Club on Barbados' west coast (March 96). Here is a quick review of the trip.
The Almond Beach Club Facility & Staff: The hotel property for the adults-only "Club" (as opposed to the much larger family-oriented "Village" which is 15 minutes farther north) is not very large but I consider that a plus. All in all, I think the Club sits on about 4 acres. The property is easy to navigate. It's a quick trip from the pool or beach to your room. The property is also very well maintained. The flowering beds of tropical plants were beautiful and well kept.
I should caution you in that the beach is a little Spartan. There is a raised sandy beach area with beach chairs that sit above the true beach by about three feet. The upper beach tier is separated from the actual water by large rocks that help to protect against erosion. There are steps down to the water. There is plenty of room to sun but this is not a wide expansive beach that you might associate with many Caribbean islands. However the beaches in Barbados are all public property so you can take a long stroll if you like. There is a wider beach just 100 yards from the hotel if you so desire. The good news is that it is a short walk from your beach chair to the beach bar.
The pools are also great. This resort is adults-only so pool activity is quiet and relaxing. If you get too much sun, grab yourself a Banks beer (a quality local brew), a good book, and go hang out in the palm- shade of the cool-water Jacuzzi. This is good living.
The hotel service was terrific. The restaurant staffs were professional, attentive and friendly. The bartenders (especially Tommy in Tommy's Rum Shop) were also great. From the moment we arrived we felt very welcome and we were quite at ease. The staff was very professional. Each day there are concierge-type staff members in the main complex who help you plan activities to enhance your stay. They were terrific. They arranged for our mini-Moke, our scuba dive, massages, manicures, reservations for dine-around, and our sunset cruise. There was never a problem. They handled it all and were helpful throughout.
We enjoyed the all-inclusive plan at Almond Beach. We were able to put our passports, credit cards, and cash in the safe in our room for the majority of our stay. The hotel is a great value. I t may be a step down from accommodations at The Coral Reef Club or Sandy Lane but there is a lot of value for your money and we would certainly return. You can snorkel, sail, and wind-surf at no additional expense. Water-skiing is also included. Scuba diving will cost you extra, which is reasonable and normal. You will also have to pay for a ride on a jet-ski. However, the hotel prepared a picnic lunch for us at no additional charge. The hotel also put on a great day-trip and beach barbecue to Bathsheba without any additional expense.
The Rooms: When we go on vacation, we spend very little time in the room. Hence, we wanted functional, reasonably nice amenities, and we wanted it to be clean. We found all this at Almond Beach. The rooms at Almond Beach are not very big but they are clean and quite functional. We had plenty of closet space. The air conditioning was a little loud on it's highest setting but with the great Caribbean breeze you won't need it much (except perhaps to get ready for dinner). The king-size bed was great. The TVs are small but frankly, we didn't go away to watch TV so this was not a problem for us. The porch was nice for morning reading or evening cocktails. We had an ocean-view room that had a great view of the Caribbean sunset. It was worth the extra expense. At times the water pressure was low but I don't know if that's a function of Barbados or the property itself. It was a minor inconvenience. One final suggestion, the coffee maker is nice in the morning. Our friends brought some Starbucks coffee from home which was much better than the local offering.
The Food: All-inclusive hotels and MAP programs can be dangerous. At some resorts you may be committing to dinning at the same place for the length of your stay. This can be quite boring. At Almond Beach, this was not a problem because you have several dinning options. The breakfasts were buffet-style with your griddle selections made-to- order. It was great. For lunch, you can order up to four courses off the menu or your can go to the buffet (or both!). Dinner was a five- course affair from a menu that changes nightly. We were disappointed with the wine and coffee but otherwise the food was always quite good. I would not say the meals were the equal of a five-star restaurant but the food was delicious and the presentation was also great. Furthermore, you are not limited to just one restaurant. The Club has two restaurants - the main restaurant and then Enids, which offers local Bajan cuisine. My conversations with the local Barbadians tells me that Enids may not be truly authentic Bajan food but it was good nonetheless. You can also dine at the Almond Beach Village which features a good seafood restaurant called The Reef and there's an excellent Italian restaurant. We enjoyed our meals there as well. There is a hotel shuttle that runs every hour to between these properties so there's no problem getting back and forth. Finally, if you stay for seven days, you can go off property and dine at several other local resorts. We went to Putters at Sandy Lane. Putters was a little step up from Almond Beach. I'd strongly recommend it. Be aware though that drinks and other amenities of the all-inclusive Almond Beach do not apply here. Wine, etc. will cost you extra. The hotel arranged for our reservations and transportation so going there was very easy.
One last tip: At the end of each day, we would head to Tommy's Rum Shop before getting ready for dinner. We would play some cards, drink some "Rum Shop Madness", and discuss the next day's agenda. There are also checkers, chess, backgammon, and darts at the bar. It's a great way to wind down from a tiring day lounging on the beach.
Seeing Barbados I do recommend renting a Moke to see the island. Take the top of the Moke but don't forget the sun-screen. I found the roads to be acceptable but streets other than main arteries are not marked well so keep your eyes open. I did note that Barbadians give plenty of room when they see a tourist-filled Moke coming, which is probably quite prudent. While on your tour, I'd recommend that you get a picnic basket and go have lunch at Crane Beach on the south- east side. The blue water of the Atlantic was truly beautiful. We did the obligatory tour of Sam Lord's Castle and enjoyed it for the terrific view as much as anything else. Plus it was at Sam Lord's that we also got our fist glimpse of the elusive green monkeys. Our afternoon trip to Bathsheba was also well worth the effort. This remote beach is big, beautiful and un-populated.
We did go diving on the west coast and we were disappointed. Locals told us that the best diving is in August-December. When we were there the waters were rougher than normal so visibility was limited. Diving Caribbean Travel Roundup
check before you go. However, the dive-masters at Blue Water Dive Shop were some of the most professional I've seen. I'm sure Sylvester will take good care of you.
All in all, we were very impressed with Barbados. The Barbadian people were wonderful (Note: we were told that "Barbadian" refers to the people but "Bajan" refers to the inanimate items such as the local culture and cuisine). We were genuinely welcomed and we would return without hesitation. While on our Moke-tour of the island, people waved and smiled wherever we went. When beach vendors came to sell us their wares, we never felt pestered. If we weren't interested, they parted with a smile and a joke more often than not.
Unfortunately for us, there was simply too much to do and see to cover it all in one week. However, my trip was so wonderful that we are sure to return.