Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Showcasing the Best of Jamaica’s Cuisine, July 29th OCHO RIOS, JAMAICA, May 22, 2000 - The Jamaica Tourist Board will once again celebrate Jamaican cuisine with the third annual premier food festival, Jamaica Spice. The event will be a one-day celebration showcasing all that Jamaica has to offer local and international Epicureans. This year’s event will be held at Mahogany Beach where beautiful tropical gardens lead down to one of the best beaches in Ocho Rios. Festivities will begin at 10:00 AM and will continue until 10:00 PM offering an entire day of culinary delights fit for any palate. The main highlights of Jamaica Spice will be the exhibition of traditional gourmet, processed foods, and delights that originate in Jamaica and are produced locally. Close to fifty exhibitors are expected to showcase their products including coffee, chutneys, meats, juices, rums & liqueurs, arts & crafts, fruits and candy. Lively cooking demonstrations will be conducted throughout the day by exhibitors, restaurateurs and local media personalities. There will be displays of contemporary Jamaican food products prepared by culinary experts which will be available for sale and public sampling. Two new activities have been added to the Festival itinerary. There will be a Chef Cook-Off where chefs from local restaurants and small hotels will face-off in the kitchen. Armed only with a basket of groceries which they have just been handed, the chefs will be asked to create a new dish or an old dish with an exciting new twist. "My Granny’s Potato Pudding" contest will showcase the best of potato pudding from grandmother’s kitchens all over Jamaica. The puddings will be judged and the winning grandma will be announced at the Festival. A Kid’s Fun Zone and "Baking Corner" will be an added attraction for children to create their own cookies, muffins and other treats and enjoy games, face painting and much more. The Performing Arts will come alive with entertainment provided by Bare Essentials, Kingston Comprehensive Drummers, L’ACADCO Dancers, the Humming Bird Steel Band, and many other exciting activities that will be sure to provide fun for all ages. Complimentary shuttle service will be provided from select hotels in Ocho Rios and Runaway Bay. Admission to the Festival will be JA$150- Adults and JA$50-Children (approximately US$4.00-Adults and US$1.50- Children). The popular Little Pub Restaurant in Ocho Rios will host a Festival kick-off "Spicy Fete" party on Friday, July 28 complete with a spicy menu, entertainment and drinks for a minimal cover charge of JA$750 (approximately US$18.50). For more information on Jamaica, contact the Jamaica Tourist Board nearest you: New York (212) 856-9727, Chicago (312) 527-1296, Miami (305) 665-0557 or Los Angeles (213) 384-1123. You can also e-mail the JTB at email@example.com. The JTB’s Website now features the new "J-Mail Dispatch," which automatically updates you via e-mail about new events and happenings in Jamaica. Sign up now; visit the Jamaica Tourist Board’s website at www.jamaicatravel.com.
NEW YORK, NY, JUNE 2000 -- The tenth annual Ocho Rios Jazz Festival, one of the Caribbean's most prestigious jazz festivals, will be held from June 10 – 18 in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. The nine-day celebration offers music and entertainment with more than 30 concerts, jazz jams, and competitions. Since its inception in 1990, the internationally acclaimed music festival has spread from Ocho Rios to other resort areas island-wide. Due to the Festival's popularity, Jazz Week now has five festival villages participating, with each venue featuring at least three local and international bands. The designated villages are the Renaissance Jamaica Grande and the Almond Tree Hibiscus Lodge in Ocho Rios; the Sunset Beach Resort and Spa in Montego Bay; the Negril Tree House and the Hilton Kingston Hotel. This is the first year the festival will open in Kingston, and kickoff with the wildly popular, 15 member female group "Diva." Their portion of the concert benefits the Bustamante Hospital for Children. Two other major headliners for the festival are The Antelope Valley Big Band and The Jamaica Big Band. The Jamaica Big Band is celebrating 50 years of music by including many free concerts in Kingston and Ocho Rios during the festival. Festival organizers and world-renowned performers, Sonny Bradshaw and Myrna Hague-Bradshaw, co-producers of the Jazz Festival, will promote another unique aspect of Jamaica at the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival: the island's cultural heritage. As the Jazz Culture Tours were such a tremendous success last year, they have been added to this year's festival. Tours will include the Seville Great House, Harmony Hall, home to some of Jamaica's most incredible artwork, as well as the legendary Dunn's River Falls. "We hope our festival gives visitors a taste of the music culture for which Jamaica is known. Those who join us, even for a few days, will experience Jamaica at its best," said festival co-promoter Sonny Bradshaw. While other Caribbean jazz music festivals have had cross-over acts join their artist line up, the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival has stayed true to its roots, earning a well-deserved reputation as one of the most definitive Caribbean showcases for some of the top names in jazz. This year's festival will be no different, featuring talented jazz musicians from more than 11 countries, including three headliners from the U.S; the Nicholas Payton Quintet, the James Moody Quartet, and the Christian McBride Band, and other international acts such as the Lee Strawford Sextet (Holland), D.M.A- Direct Memory Access (Italy), and many more. Jazz lovers will have a unique opportunity to enjoy a diverse sampling of Jamaica's music culture. A variety of daytime and evening events will highlight the 2000 Ocho Rios Jazz Festival, including: Opening and Closing Jazz Days, Concert Nights (including a Kingston Jazz Concert, Daily Free Public Concerts, and Daily Youth Jazz Concerts), Nightly Jazz Jams in the Renaissance Jamaica Grande Festival Village, Jazz Dance Parties, Jazz Awards, A Night of Blues, and Jazz Happy Hours in Negril, Runaway Bay, Ocho Rios and Kingston. Tickets for the festival events can be purchased on-line at www.ochoriosjazz.com and range in price from complimentary up to $30 US. For more information, contact the Jazz Center at 876-927-3544 or visit the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival website at www.ochoriosjazz.com. You can also call the Jamaica Tourist Board office nearest you: New York, 212-856-9727; Chicago, 312-527-1296; Los Angeles, 213-384-1123; Miami, 305-665-0557, or e-mail the JTB at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Jamaica Tourist Board's website now features the new "J-Mail Dispatch," which automatically updates you via e-mail about new events and happenings in Jamaica. Sign up now, it's quick and easy. Visit the Jamaica Tourist Board's website at www.jamaicatravel.com.
OK First thing to keep in mind is that we came from the Hilton Jalousie Resort on St. Lucia which is pretty luxurious to Sunsail - which is pretty basic. OK the good points, Sunsail has LOTS of dinghies and quite a few 20-30 foot yachts that you can use, Antigua is a nice island, dryer than some of the more volcanic islands (like St. Lucia), if you have kids they have several programs for all ages and seem quite family oriented, the sailing staff are young and considering they get paid peanuts, quite enthusiastic... On the other hand, the accommodations are BASIC, clean but if you want extras (like a face cloth) you have to ask for it, the TV was down the whole time we were there (except for nightly videos), our phone broke and no one would fix it so we had to steal one from another room, both times we sent out laundry it took several phone calls to locate it (the last one on the morning before we left, but lets not go there), and the food was CRAP. To be fair the English people who were staying at the resort seemed to think it was OK but we found it tasteless and with little variety. The whole place strikes me as being on a strict budget, once the breakfast is put out for instance its basically left, nothing is replaced and if it runs out, well tough luck. For an included lunch there is nothing put out to drink but water. We ate most of our dinners at restaurants outside of the resort (and there are some EXCELLENT restaurants on Antigua). Drinks at the bar are quite cheap (especially compared to the Jalousie) but I think my Pina Coladas got no closer to the rum bottle than being shown the label.. The staff of the hotel are to put it politely, unenthusiastic. I found the condition of the dinghies to be quite good considering how often they are used, the larger yachts that they use for instruction are the older charter yachts sent to Colonna to die. We took a 3 day sailing course and on the first day I noticed that the fire extinguisher was flat (no pressure) and uninspected for years. As well the smoke flare was out of date. I think our instructor was quite surprised and vowed to take it up with the management. (Curiously the instructor told me the next day that the inspection tags for the extinguishers were kept in the front office. So this extinguisher was inspected but useless??) As well the engine had some problems, one of the sheet winches was flaky and some of the halyards were a bit frayed. The weather was lively when we were there, I don't think we had one day with less than 15-25 knots of wind, not exactly the kind of weather for beginners. Colonna is on the north end of Antigua (rather than the western side of island like other resorts) and once you are clear of the shore you are basically out in the Atlantic. For experienced sailors it can be a blast (rail in the water stuff) but the combination of the wind and the swell from the ocean would make me think twice about recommending it to beginners. (To be fair the weather in the summer should be less but there are no guarantees). Antigua we found pretty but not the lush jungle of St. Lucia. Cars are relatively cheap to rent and the roads uncrowded. The condition of some of the roads, particularly in the south east is somewhere between treacherous and laughable. If we went again I would rent on of the 4WD's that are available (for about $10 more a day). Would I go back to a Sunsail resort? I would for the sailing but I'd make sure I knew there were other restaurants around
Trip 3/00 Being a recent convert to Caribbean travel, I decided to take advantage of the relatively cheap charter flights from Toronto to Nassau. I wasn't convinced that I would like Nassau but for a four- day getaway in late March, I decided to give it a try. We left Toronto on one of three charter flights that left on Thursday March 30. The flight was a little over 2.5 hours. Not bad when you are trying to escape the cold dreariness of March. The flight was booked solid and we arrived in Nassau shortly before 10 am. Although all 3 of the charter flights from Toronto arrived within minutes of each other, the task of going through customs and claiming our luggage was relatively smooth. My first impression of New Providence was of a lot of trees and undeveloped interior bush. In this regard, it looked more like the States or Canada for that matter, but after a seven-minute taxi ride toward the Western part of the island, we quickly saw the beautiful waters of the Bahamas - very impressive. The Resort. There are a number of hotels offered by tour operators in Canada to Nassau, the majority of them being in the Cable Beach/Paradise Island areas. I decided to try someplace different and had read favorable reviews about Compass Point. Compass Point is a small (20 units), funky, colorful oasis within the commercialism and development of Nassau. The resort does not look like much from the road but once you enter the grounds, you are treated to a visual delight of vibrant colors everywhere: the restaurant, the pool loungers, the cabanas, and the sea huts. The other impression that immediately hits is the absolute friendliness and graciousness of the staff. Although it was close to 11 am when we checked in, the front desk staff ensured that our room could be ready as soon as possible. To make our wait more bearable, the staff offered us a complimentary house cocktail at the bar. Thirty minutes later, we were given the green light to go to our room, our bags were already there! Compass Point has three unit types: Studio Cabanas which are small units setback against the road, sea view and sea front huts and larger, one and two bedroom sea view and sea front cottages. We were in a sea front hut which was built right against the sea wall. The units are painted in bright junkanoo colours on the outside with muted shades on the inside. The accommodations are rustic but comfortable and well equipped. Our hut was an octagonal shape, with a king size bed, tv, cd player, coffee maker, fridge, and kettle, and in-room safe. We also had a small deck which looked over the water. The units are close together so you can see and hear your neighbors coming and going. This was not a problem however as our fellow guests were laid-back. Compass Point is a small, compact property. There is an attractive open-air restaurant and bar area, a small pool with a lounging/sunning area. There is a tiny beach for swimming, snorkeling, floating and kayaking. A long pier leads out to a covered deck for relaxing and reading. Most of the guests at Compass Point are couples, or families. There were very few children (a few babies). The resort's ambiance is very relaxed with most people content to sit by the pool and relax. It's a place where you can do nothing very easily. The food at Compass Point is very good (albeit expensive). It offers a variety of dishes that will please virtually every kind of diner. We ate all our breakfasts and a couple of dinners at the restaurant and were very happy we did. The service is friendly and professional. This was the standard at the resort. There is quite a bit of air traffic over Compass Point, so you can hear the roar of the descending planes regularly throughout the day. Just a small drawback to an otherwise very peaceful location. Getting Around Not much is around Compass Point. It is located in a small settlement called Gambier. To shop or sightsee, you either have to take the bus, rent a car or use taxis. I had read many caveats about renting a car and using taxis on New Providence. We did both and had no problem. In fact, having a car gave us to see a lot of New Providence . We checked out downtown Nassau which I found a bit seedy and congested, Cable Beach which had a lot of activity, large resorts and busy restaurants, Paradise Island, which is dwarfed by Atlantis and the Southern part of the island. When you leave the coastal roads, there is not much to New Providence. One thing that really stood out was the amount of residential development going on. All kinds of condo and apartment complexes are going up. There is definitely a property boom in New Providence! Some of places we visited were: Atlantis (you do have to see to believe it). We did not pay for the $25dollar tour of the resort but we checked out all the common areas and casino. I found the rest of Paradise Island to be more like Florida with its manicured roads and malls. Arawak Cay. We went to the fish fry and Arawak Cay and had a good seafood lunch. This is a good place to come if you want to try Bahamian cuisine as there are a number of small diner-type restaurants to choose from. Most of the Bahamian residents come here for lunch. Cable Beach: A long, strip of hotels with many guests vying for pool and beach space. I think this area would be fine if you are single or like a lot of action. It probably gives the guests a slanted view of what New Providence is like. Downtown Nassau: Lots of shopping if you are into duty free jewelry and watches. The Straw Market was no big deal. On the whole, downtown Nassau is not a pretty town. It is very congested and commercial. This is where the cruise passengers disembark so some days downtown are very crowded. Restaurants: There are certainly enough restaurants to choose from in Nassau. We really enjoyed our meals at Compass Point. Some of the other restaurants we tried worth mentioned were: Café Johnny Canoe: This was a busy family restaurant. We had to wait about an hour for a table. We waited longer for the table than it took for us to eat our meal! I don't understand what the fuss is about. It's an okay restaurant but I didn't "love" it. The Poop Deck at Sandyport: This a new Poop Deck which has just opened at Sandyport - a new gated community just west of Cable Beach. This was an expensive, casually elegant restaurant with a middle-of- the-road quality of cuisine, the usual choices of chicken, beef and fish entrees. One interesting part of our dinner was our neighboring diners: Danny Devito, Rhea Perlman and their family. Green Shutters: This is a English-style pub in downtown Nassau which is a civilized retreat from the action. It offers traditional pub fare (i.e.Bangers and Mash, Ploughman's Lunch etc. as well as Bahamian dishes such as conch salad (my favorite Bahamian dish). Crocodile's Waterfront Bar and Grill: This is a casual outdoor restaurant, just west of the Paradise Island Bridge. The nice feature of this place is looking over the Nassau harbour and you can see the busy boat traffic between Nassau and Paradise Island. Other impressions. During our four-day stay, we did not have time to take any of the cruise or snorkeling tours. But there are many activities to choose from if you are interested. If we ever go back, I would definitely try to visit one of the Out Islands. I was struck by the clarity and prettiness of the water in the Bahamas. Although I do not think I would go back to Nassau, I would definitely like to visit the Out Islands. Overall, the Bahamian people were friendly and I can understand why Nassau is such a popular destination for us Canadians.
Trip 7/00 My wife and I just returned from 6 days at Paradise Island. We stayed at the Comfort Suites on Paradise Island and had full access to the Atlantis Resort -- A smart Choice!!! The Comfort Suites had nice rooms (less expensive than any room at Atlantis), free breakfast and was right across the street from the Atlantis Resort. The Atlantis was amazing! We loved the many pools and water slides. We were there during 4th of July weekend and it was quite crowded. My wife and I weren't bothered by the crowds; however, the pool chairs filled up by 11:00 am on two of the mornings and it was a chore to find a lounge chair to claim. ADVICE: go to the pool early and reserve some chairs by placing a towel or some personal item on them. A lot of people did this and it was irritating to see tons of reserved chairs and no one occupying them, but that is the way it works. The pools at the Atlantis are awesome--lots of slides, waterfalls, caves, live music and much more. Be sure to walk the grounds and go to every pool--each one has something different to offer. The underground aquariums and "The Dig" at Atlantis are a must see. We walked through the Dig everyday to see the fish, sharks, turtles and other sea life. We were very impressed with the whole layout of the resort. The beach access at the Atlantis is very close. We walked to the beach every day and loved the ocean--warm and very clear. My wife got a few braids in her hair--the vendors weren't a bother to us (just say no and they leave you alone.) We went Para- sailing one day and loved it. It was our first time. The normal charge is $45 each, but we took $80 to the beach and had no problem in both of us going for $80. They also had waverunner rentals for $60 half hour and $120 for an hour -- you can go around the island or out to Blue Lagoon. ADVICE: a couple of times we had them down to $90 for a full hour but decided not to go. Take in cash to the beach whatever amount you want to spend on the rentals and you will probably get what you want! We took our own snorkeling gear with us, but we only used it for 10 minutes. The snorkeling at the Atlantis Lagoon was not very good for us. We have been snorkeling in Hawaii a couple of times and liked it much better. However, with all the glass windows and full size aquariums at the Atlantis, there isn't much need to snorkel. Food was very expensive everywhere on Paradise Island and especially at the Atlantis! My wife and I don't like to spend a lot of $$$ on food on vacations since we eat out a lot at home for free (family ties to restaurants.) We tried to eat nice and economical but still couldn't eat a dinner for under $40 (we don't drink alcohol) on Paradise Island. We recommend Anthony's Grill, The Blue Marlin, Outback Steakhouse (a short walk across the Paradise Island bridge), Atlas Grill in the casino and Shark Bites by the pool at Atlantis. We ate dinner at all of these places for between $35 - $45. Buying snacks and ice cream also got expensive. Ice cream at the Atlantis is $3.50 for a cone and $7.50 for a Bananna Split. The Atlas Grill and Jimmies at Atlantis are two good spots for late night ice cream. We actually took from home peanuts, granola bars and a few other snacks which we took to the pool each day. Having the free breakfast at the Comfort Suites and a few snacks during the day got us by until dinner a few days. We bought bottled water each day for the pool and we bought a gallon jug when we arrived for use in our room. By day two, we started drinking the water in restaurants and it was fine (a lemon or lime helps the flavor.) Speaking of restaurants, the service is usually slowwwwwwwwwwwwwww. People say it is the laid back style of the islands, but I say it is because they already charge you an automatic 15% gratuity on every bill. For the most part, people working at the restaurants and the resort were friendly. We went into Nassau one day to see the straw market and the town. We were a little disappointed with the market and downtown. All the vendors in the market have the same stuff (mostly junk)and it gets old fast. The shops in downtown are also boring (liquor and jewelry shops mostly.) We had fun taking the "water taxi" over to downtown from Paradise Island ($6 round-trip each); however, if you want to save time, take a taxi from the hotel instead ($8 each way.) We had no problems with the taxi drivers during our trip. A taxi from the airport to Paradise Island costs $25 and $1 bride toll. Overall, we had a great trip and we were glad we went to Paradise Island. We traveled a long way from Portland, Oregon. We loved the Atlantis and thought it was one of the nicest resorts we would ever visit. However, we both still prefer Hawaii over the Bahamas.
Trip 5/00 My wife and I have visited more than 40 islands in the Eastern Caribbean alone, diving on almost 30 of them. One place we keep going back to is Bequia, not because it's the best place to dive, but because it's got the best combination of good diving, beautiful scenery, wonderful people, terrific places to stay, and top notch bars and restaurants. I’m not going to spend a lot of time describing the island – you can read about it in the guide books and on the internet (I will tell you that it rates a 3 on the “Touristo Scale” in Rum and Reggae, so there are no big resorts, casinos, etc.). The first time we visited Bequia, we rented a Villa, and it was a great place. But while we were there, Pat Mitchell was building her new units at The Gingerbread on the waterfront on Admiralty Bay, and they looked as if they were going to be a great addition to the room options on Bequia (I even had a chance to go over the construction drawings while we were there, so we had a pretty good idea of what the new units were going to be like). On our last two trips to Bequia, we stayed at the Gingerbread, and weren’t disappointed. You can sit on your balcony and watch the constant traffic in and out of the harbor (ferries to and from St. Vincent, small cruise ships – mostly schooners, the mail boat that plies the Grenadines, and an endless array of yachts), or the fantastic sunsets almost every night. We like to sit out at night and listen to the entertainment next door at The Gingerbread’s excellent restaurant (open air, on the second floor of the main building, overlooking the harbor), although the quality of the entertainment has improved recently, and we often wound up going over and joining the fun at the bar. You get a full kitchen, a dining area (although we always ate breakfast out on the balcony, watching the morning foot traffic along Belmont walk), and some of the most attractive and comfortable furnishings you’ll find anywhere in the Caribbean. You can walk to almost any place on the island, although the taxis are so inexpensive that you may prefer to ride. We love to walk over to Spring, and then on to the Crescent Beach Inn near Industry, where we spend Sundays on the beach and enjoy one of Dean Nichol’s great lunches (off-season, the dive operation we dive with takes Sundays off, although if you had a big enough group, you might be able to convince them to break that routine). One of the best restaurants (and bars, and views) is Coco’s, on a hillside overlooking Lower Bay (and Admiralty Bay and Port Elizabeth, the main town on the island), and we walk there for dinner once or twice every visit, too. Another nice walk is over to Friendship Bay, where the largest hotel on the island is located, and one of the best beach bars, Herbie’s and Spicey’s). We used to dive with Sunsport when we were on Bequia, and were very disappointed when Bob Monnen sold out late last year, returning to his native Minnesota. But just before our trip in May, we learned that Ron and Laury, Sunsport’s excellent instructors/dive guides, had started up their own operation (located between the Green Boley, where you can get what may be the best rotis in the Caribbean, and Mac’s Pizza, with arguably the best pizza in the Caribbean). They even bought Sunsport’s boat, and diving with Bequia Dive Adventures is just as pleasant as diving with Sunsport used to be. You can dive two dives in the morning, and a third dive in the afternoon (although my wife and I never make the third dive – too many great spots to enjoy a long and leisurely lunch somewhere on the waterfront). For those of you who don’t haul your own equipment with you, Bequia Dive Adventures is the only dive operation I know of where computers are a standard part of the rental gear. I suspect this will be the start of a trend, since no one in his right mind would dive without a computer in this day and age. I can’t tell you where to eat on Bequia, because there are too many excellent places, and you’ll have to decide which ones appeal to your own tastes. But we always eat some of our meals at the Gingerbread, the Frangipani, the Green Boley, Mac’s, the Crescent Beach Hotel, and Coco’s. The Frangipani has a great waterfront bar, usually crowded in the early evening because of the sunsets. In May, Pat Mitchell was in the process of adding an outdoor bar area at The Gingerbread, just a few steps away along the Belmont waterfront, which may turn out to be an even better vantage point for lovers of great Caribbean sunsets. Sure, you can find more spectacular diving in the eastern Caribbean (Little Cayman, Grand Turk, West Caicos and Saba come to mind, and I’m sure many of you have your own favorites, too). But if you want to experience an unspoiled island where you can relax, enjoy peace, quiet, beauty, good food and drink, beautiful dive sites as close as ten minutes away, and one of the best accommodations anywhere in the Caribbean, book one of the upstairs units on the waterfront at The Gingerbread, and let Bequia Dive Adventures take you to Bequia’s best dive sites.
The friendly Cubano customer in one of the outdoor cafes grinned cynically saying, "You like Varadero? Well! It's only a showplace for tourists." His words, more than volumes of reporters' stories, sum up what the local Cubans think of Varadero - the country's top tourist attraction. Everything in this resort of some 17,000 inhabitants is geared toward foreign visitors. Italians, Canadians, Germans and others, in that order, are offered some of the finest tourist facilities to be found anywhere - a world that Cubans can only dream about. This crowning jewel of the 290 beaches in Cuba is a special pampered tourist resort. Varadero is the major source of the country's foreign exchange and the government is anxious that tourists be catered to, not gouged or harmed in any way by unscrupulous individuals. A spread-out town edged by 20 km (12.5 mi) of sugary- white sand, Varadero is Cuba's major tourist spot which brings in much of the foreign currency sorely needed by the country. A few years ago, Fidel Castro declared that, "Tourism and the export of medicine will, in the future, satisfy Cuba's need of foreign exchange." Today tourism is bringing in some 45% of the country's foreign exchange, followed by sugar, nickel, tobacco and in fifth place the bio technical industries producing new medicines. Recently, a vaccine has been found for meningitis - the only one in the world. . Located 144 km (90 mi) east of Havana, this resort is being developed into a first-class holiday spot by joint ventures between the Cuban government and European and Latin American companies - also partners throughout the country in agricultural, commercial, manufacturing and mining projects. Its beaches are bordered by some of the most sophisticated hotels in the Caribbean, almost all under the hospitality-minded eye of European or Canadian management. Of all these 60 hotels with 15,000 rooms, the ideal one in which to stay is the elegant Cuarto Palmas - built in Andalusian style and sharing with the International Hotel and Arenas Blancas the choice section of Varadero Beach. Located in the heart of town near the entertainment and shopping area, it is, for many visitors, the ideal abode in which to spend a vacation. When staying in this hotel, it is best not to buy the meal plan. The most concentrated set of restaurants in Varadero are within walking distance. On the other hand, if visitors are looking for an economical vacation, the 2 or 3 star abodes are the places to stay. A good number are all-inclusive and priced fantastically low. They offer tourists much more for their money than any other Caribbean destination. Yet, hotels are only the periphery to Varadero's appeal. The resort's mile after mile of talcum sand, so fine that it glides like silk across the feet, and the edging clear-blue waters are unsurpassed in the whole of the Western Hemisphere. Once a hideaway for millionaires like the Duponts, who banned ordinary Cubans from the beach, the resort today is almost exclusively the domain of thousands of tourists. Gone are the days when one of the top US Mafia leaders was the advisor to Batista, the country's long-time dictator, and his cronies and the Mob who ran Cuba and who were, able to built their luxury villas. Among others, the Dupont estate with its impressive villa has been transformed into a tourist spot with an 18 hole golf course. The majority of the tourists who travel to Varadero are a mixture of peoples from many nations. With their Babel of tongues and cultures, they have made the resort truly cosmopolitan. It is one of the few retreats in the Western Hemisphere where tourists are not mainly Americans - the US has an embargo against the country and its citizens are banned from travelling to that island. However, from 20 to 30 thousand Americans, in defiance of US policy, annually visit the country. Cuban officials welcome US citizens, mostly coming through Canada and Mexico, with open arms. Tourism, which drew around 1.8 million visitors to Cuba in 1999 has changed the peoples' lives dramatically. Foreign visitors are largely responsible, after the demise of the Soviet Union which reduced the country's GNP 51 %, for the recent upturn of the Cuban economy - in 1999 it grew by some 6 %. Of course, these tourists have also been responsible for a black market industry and young women soliciting visitors. Nevertheless, all over Cuba, the black market and prostitution have been drastically reduced due to a government crackdown. All of Varadero is a tourist playground. The heart of town is crowded with restaurants, night spots and shops. In their midst is Retiro Josone Park, consisting of a large artificial lake with row boats for rent, three restaurants and handicraft stalls. Rounding off Varadero's many attributes are the safety of tourists, the cleanliness of the resort, and the educated, warm-hearted and friendly inhabitants who love to enjoy themselves. Varadero's youth escape from their somewhat harsh life through love, and love seems to be everywhere, even infecting the tourists. These qualities have made the resort the fourth largest tourist market in Latin America. A Canadian visitor summed all this up saying, "For me Varadero offers, in a gratifying fashion, all I'm looking for in a vacation." The only drawback is that the ordinary Cubans can only look on hoping that one day, like the thousands of tourists around them, they will be able to enjoy the goodies saturating the hotels in Varadero - Cuba's full-service answer to the remainder of the capitalist Caribbean. IF YOU GO Facts to Know About Cuba: 1) Cuba has become for tourists much more expensive. It is best to take an all-inclusive package deals offered by travel agencies. 2) For transportation in Varadero, take taxis. Metered, they cost from one end of the resort to the other $12. They are the best way to get around. Also, there is a bus shuttle service that runs between the hotels - cost Autos are expensive to rent - about $85. per day and up and gas is around $1. per litre. 3) In spite of all types of shortages, Cuba is still safe, thefts are rare and tap water is drinkable, even in the villages. 4) The best buys in Cuba are rum and cigars. Beware of black market cigars - often they are not authentic Seven year old Havana Club is the top rum in Cuba. It is smoother than brandy and sells at around $ 10. a bottle. 5) Cubans are appreciative of gifts, especially soap, English-Spanish dictionaries and all types of clothing - new and used. 6) For Americans wishing to travel to Cuba through Canada, only a passport is needed. Also, USA citizens should not use their credit cards in Cuba. 7) Take bug repellent with you to protect against 'no see-ums' insects -their bites are very itchy. 8) Remember to keep $20. for a departure tax. Currency: The American dollar is the tourist currency of the country. For visitors, there is no need to buy Cuban currency unless traveling outside tourist areas. It is best to take U.S. dollars in cash - saves the high commission charge on travelers cheques. Never take American Express Travellers cheques or credit cards - only Visa, MasterCard and Eurocard are accepted. At present, the Cuban peso trades at around 20 pesos to a dollar, but remember, it is useless to visitors. Food: Food in most ordinary Cuban restaurants is quite dull. The meals in peoples' eating places run from $2 to $10.; good restaurants charge from $10. to $30. for a meal. Entertainment: At night Varadero vibrates with life. The top nightspot is the Continental Cabaret in the International Hotel. At a cost of $40., it offers a fine dinner followed by a spectator world-class show of fantastic dancers and singers in extravagant costumes - for show only $25. Charging from $5. to $10. admission fee, among others, the discos: the Havana Club at the Centro Commercial; and the most popular disco in Varadero La Bamba in the Tuxpan Hotel, are favoured by the young. Excursions: The best way to see the country is to take the offered excursions. My favourites are: Guamá and Bay of Pigs - see the countryside and a re- created Indian village - cost $51.; Havana Special - see Havana and attend La Tropicana, one of the greatest shows on earth - cost $129. For Further Information, Contact: Cuba Tourist Board, 55 Queen St. East, Suite 705, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5C lR6. Tel.: 416/362-0700/1/2. Fax 416/362-6799.
Trip: April 23-30,2000 I have just come back to earth after spending the most relaxing, enjoyable vacation I have ever had in my life! Let me start by saying that last October I spent a week at another hotel (all-inclusive) in Punta Cana and I came home not sure of whether I liked the vacation or not. In March when a traveling companion approached me about the need for a vacation I had to make a decision between a return visit to Punta Cana or a cruise. Because the DR offered more bang for your buck I researched and found a hotel which had both a Casino AND a Disco...something for everyone! The Riu Hotels seemed to fit the bill and reservations were made. We flew out of Mirabel Airport on Air Transat who now has "metal" silverware! I am not going to go into airport detail.....transportation to the hotel was aboard a new, fullsized air-conditioned bus. Once at the Riu Melao check-in was a breeze. Roman, at the front desk was very pleasant and helpful. A bellboy appeared and helped us to our room. The rooms are very rich looking with Mahogany doors and trim through out. There were 2 twin beds pushed together which we immediately separated with a night table in between! There was more than enough drawer and closet space for all our belongings. An in room safe is provided for guests and this service is free of charge. However, don't lose your key as there is a $25.00 fee if you do. There was also a nice mini bar which was stocked with plenty of beverages from beer, tonic, soda, coke, rum, scotch, brandy and gin. Plus a gallon of fresh water. The mini bar is replenished every other day and is also included in the package price. The shower was kind of tricky as it was only a hand held shower head.....the water pressure was strong enough to take paint off a car! The property is set up long and narrow so it was quite a long walk from where our room was to the "main" activity place. If you don't walk daily you may want to start a program about a month before you leave home to ensure a comfortable trip. The landscaping is just beautiful. There is constant pruning and trimming and painting, etc. going on. Aside from one day when I took a tour to Saona Island via bus/Catamaran/speedboat here is what life was typically like for me: Wake up early and pack for a day at the beach..... book, water jug,lotion, towel from home (yes...you are provided with one per day but I like to have my own as well). Walk down to the beach saying "Hola" to every person you see along the way! All the Dominicans will smile and say Hola as well...What a way to start your day! Smiley, happy people!!! After dumping backpack and towel on our "space" I took about an hour walk on the most beautiful beach on earth. Go in either direction...it doesn't matter. All is so beautiful. It is very warm even in the early morning hours however there was always a very nice breeze blowing to cool you off. Back to the lounge chairs. It seemed once you picked your spot for the week everyone seemed to respect that and it was a spot that was always available! There are hundreds of chairs and spaces for everyone. There is sun and shade...whatever you want...it is there. About 9:30 or so my roommate would appear and we went for breakfast. I think I grew to love breakfast the most! Aside from the normal breakfast fare of eggs, bacon, ham, hot and cold cereal there was always cheese trays, vegetables, fresh juice being made as you watched (tomatoe,pineapple, guava, mango, banana) homemade breads (YUM!) homemade jellies(super YUM!)...just about anything you could ever want! After indulging it was time to return to the beach spot and relax for a while before going for a nice swim. I also liked to bring an extra bit of bread or roll with me to hand feed the fish in waist high water!!! Then I would go to the water sports hut and borrow some snorkel gear (free of charge) for an hour. You can swim out maybe 100 yards and be in the best reef and spot to snorkel. No reason to go on the glass bottom boat for snorkeling! Ahh...then maybe a massage for $10.00!! By this time you are getting close to lunch and cocktails! Lunch is served both in the dining room and in the bar area. In the bar area you could get all kinds of salad fixings,pizza,hamburgers, hotdogs, grilled cheese, pasta, french fries, desserts, homemade ice cream, rollsthe ever present juice bar, sodas, iced tea or if you were ready for an alcohol cocktail...whatever makes you happy! I never took lunch in the dining room but did a walk through and it was very much the same as the bar area but included a wide variety of hot vegetables, beef, casseroles, things of that nature. Then re-fill the water bottle with ice water and back to the beach. Time for another walk and afterwards a swim. Also a good time to read a little. Sometime about 3 in the afternoon shade made it's way to my side of the palm tree I spent the week under and I don't know how this happened...but I fell asleep!! I never fall asleep on the beach! Apparently everyone around me took a siesta as well because at 4 pm the music from around the pool could be heard and everyone would wake up and we looked at each other with this kind of startled look on our faces! As if to say "how in the world did I fall asleep?"!! This was as good a time as any to take a last swim for the day and head back to the room to shower , have a cocktail on the balcony and get ready for diner. So far has this been too hard to take?! Life is good!!! Especially in Punta Cana! Diner is served in 2 shifts and you establish which shift you prefer the very first night you are there. You simply show up at either 6:30 or 8:30...are assigned a table and if you are satisfied that becomes another one of your spots for the remained of your vacation. Yes, there are tables for 2 or 10 depending on how many are in your group. We chose to dine at 8:30. We would begin our stroll towards the dining room at about 7:45. You have to pass right through the bar to get to the restaurant which makes it very convenient to stop for a "before dinner" cocktail or glass of wine. Then sit out at one of the tables in the beautiful breeze until the doors are opened for us to enter. On many evenings there were themes going on and one night a band was playing upon entering. Another night we were given tequila sunrises....I don't want to tell all so you can have something for a surprise! But every single night the waiters and matre de would welcome you with a buenos noches....and bon apetite! These people...all the staff at Riu Melao....went out of their way to make sure you were happy! How can so many people be so happy all the time??? All singing as they go about their work! OK..back to dinner. Start with some of the fantastic soups! I loved the garlic soup! Of course the endless wonderful breads and rolls...every night there was pasta, shrimp (served with heads and tails on!),rice, beef, veal, pork..anything and everything you could possibly want. I was never bored with the food and I think I could have (and will someday) stayed 2 weeks and still never been bored with the food. There were always 3 casks of wine...red, white and rose..all of which were very tasty. Oh and the big chunk of blue cheese every night with fresh tomatoes! After...if you still have room, there are all kinds of deserts also. Tip your waiter nightly as our waiter changed half way through the week. After dinner it was back out to the bar area for a night cap. My room mate would head off to try her luck at the Casino. (she did quite well) I had met a wonderful couple from Germany and we spent many a night trading stories! I did make it to the disco twice while I was there. It was HUGE. Be prepared though because the disco and the casino are the 2 places that your drinks are not all-inclusive. Some things I would like to say.... I never spent any time by the pool as it was filled with children. Rarely saw any children at the beach though! Tip your maid a couple dollars a day...you get really neat surprises! (never knew you could do THAT with a towel)! Be in halfway decent shape.....lots of walking! Hey...you need to walk off all that great food! Bring a water bottle or something so you can hydrate while you are at the beach. Be prepared to smile a lot! Will I go back? In a heart beat. I can't wait. For two weeks? YOU BET! I would even travel there as a single woman and feel totally safe. And it will definitely be to the Riu!!! Such a different place than where I stayed in October!!! (no names!)
Left Norfolk, VA on June 20, 2000 for a week long vacation to Grand Cayman. The flight with Delta went smooth with no problems. Arrived in Grand Cayman a little after noon. After retrieving our bags we went across the street to Andy's Rental Car to pick up our car. We were second in line but the guy in there was extremely slow and took at least thirty minutes to finally get out of there with our Suzuki Grand Vitara (Sidekick). The car was practically new with less than 10K kilometers on the tachomoter. We drove to our condo at the Achorage. Check in was quick and the lady was real nice. We were pleased with the accommodations. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, full kitchen, living room, closets galore, and small balcony. The entire condo was ceramic tiled and all the furnishing appeared new. The housekeeper did a good job of keeping our rooms clean. The rate was $160 a night with the seventh night free which averages to $137.00 a night. Compared to other accommodations it was a bargain. Our favorite restaurants on Grand Cayman was Bella Capri (Italian) and Eats Crocodile Rock. Bella Capri is not cheap but was worth the money. I got linguini with shrimp, garlic, olive oil, and spices and my wife got pasta with chicken and mushrooms. We both thoroughly loved our dished. We got no appetizer and drank tea and our bill was $60.00 (USA). Eats has the best grilled chicken sandwiches I have ever eaten. We ate there three times trying different chicken sandwiches. The best were Cajun and Rasta Mon (jerked with jerk mayo). We also enjoyed Chicken! Chicken!. Eats and Chicken! Chicken! were by far the best restaurants for the dollar on Seven Mile Beach. My wife and I snorkeled everyday. We snorkeled off our beach which is on the north end of Seven Mile. We saw all the different tropical fish, lobsters, barracuda, and two Cayman green turtles. We also snorkeled cemetery reef several times which was just north of our condo. The fish here were very happy to see us and were ready for any handouts. The reef was nice with loads of marine life. Even a large nurse shark greeted us on one visit much to the dismay of my wife. Our favorite snorkel sites were the reefs just south of Georgetown. We snorkeled Eden Rock, the reef off Paradise Grill, and the reef off Seaview hotel. The Eden Rock and the reef off Paradise Grill were spectacular to see. The water was clearer there than at the other sites. Tons of fish including tarpon and jack reside here. We also saw several turtles. We booked a full day snorkel trip with Capt Marvin Ebanks. First we dived for conch to be later prepared for an appetizer for lunch, we then snorkeled the coral gardens. We then ate lunch which included the conch, mahi, grouper, rice, and potato salad. The conch and the fish were delicious. I don't particularly care for rice or potato salad so I can't comment on these. We snorkeled a location where we played with a nurse shark and a large moray eel and then off to Stingray Sandbar. The trip was very enjoyable and a "must do" in Grand Cayman. Late one afternoon we drove to see the blow holes and stopped at the Reef Point restaurant on the way back to see the feeding of sharks and to eat. Well, the blow holes were not worth the long trip. Also, I do not recommend eating at the Reef Point. When we were going inside a girl brushed past us carrying a live rat by the tail. It was found in the kitchen. That was all we needed to see. The shark feeding also was not worth the trip. We saw one shark for about two seconds. The tarpon feeding at the various restaurants in Georgetown was fun. We went to Racham's Pub but I know that the Wharf also does it and would imagine all the restaurants down there do. The Turtle Farm was very educational and enjoyable. There were two large tanks that you could actually pick up the turtles. The turtles are quite pretty. We also got to eat a turtle sandwich. It was really good! It looked like lean roast beef. Hell is just a short drive from the turtle farm so we stopped by. If it was further away I wouldn't recommend making the trip. My wife and I both enjoyed Grand Cayman very much. We felt safer there than any other place we have vacationed. Being on the north end we felt we had the entire beach to ourselves. We are going to start to make arrangements on a return trip soon.
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