Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Trip 5/00 My husband and I set out for our first visit to St. John, USVI in May 2000. We stayed at Caneel Bay. Before we left, I read some reports of children dominating the resort (even in areas that are designated adults only). Four weeks before our trip, my husband called Rosewood Hotels & Resorts (managers of Caneel) in Dallas to voice his concerns about these reports. With the prices at Caneel, and limited vacation time, we wanted to feel comfortable about our decision to stay there. Rosewood was completely responsive and two people called my husband back within the afternoon to answer our questions. General Manager Brian Young spoke to my husband at length and ensured us that Luigi Romaniello, the Resident Manger of Caneel, would be made aware of our concerns before we arrived at the resort. I was impressed with their responsiveness, and took this as an excellent harbinger of things to come. Getting There and Checking In We flew United Airlines direct from Chicago into St. Thomas. Caneel Bay has an area at the St. Thomas airport for its guests to gather. We actually checked in while at the airport and got our room assignment. Simultaneously, Caneel staffers labeled our luggage with the room tags. Check-in took about two minutes. Then after five minutes, the guests hopped in a van. We drove about 25 minutes to a dock where the Caneel boat was waiting. The boat ride to the resort took another 25 minutes. On arrival, Luigi was on the dock to meet the guests. The bellmen whisked our bags off the boat and went off to put them in the room. We were offered cool towels and then we went in a golf cart with Yancie Toran, Director of Rooms, for a brief tour of the resort before we went to our room. History Laurance Rockefeller created Caneel Bay resort in the 1950’s. Not only did he purchase the old Caneel Bay plantation land on which he built the resort; he also purchased a large percentage of St. John. Rockefeller donated the Caneel Bay property to a non-profit foundation supported by the Rockefeller family. The foundation later donated thousands of acres surrounding the property to the federal government, which became St. John National Park. Therefore, Caneel has a unique location in the middle of the park. Rosewood has been managing the resort since the early 1990’s. Rockefeller’s original cottage (called Cottage 7) is still standing and has been divided into several very expensive rooms that hold priceless antiques. Rockefeller, at age 90, was at the resort the week before we arrived. Rooms The architecture of Caneel was intended to blend in with the landscape. The rooms are in one- or two-story blocks and the buildings are dull dark beige. We had a beachfront room on Hawksnest Beach. We stayed in room 125, on the second floor on the end of a two-story block. Room was large, especially by Caribbean standards. Our room had a king bed with a feather duvet thing and thick sheets. Very, very comfortable. We had a mini-bar stocked with drinks and food. The resort provided us with a complimentary bottle of rum and bottled water. Housekeeping refilled a small cooler with ice daily. The bathroom had a double sink and plenty of counter space. It had a lighted makeup mirror, blow dryer, and full-length mirror on the wall. There was plenty of hot water and water pressure was decent. They provided us with large amounts of mango soap, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion and gave us more each day. Towels were big, expensive, soft, and clean. We had eight beach towels in our room each day. There was also a walk-in closet with a lock box. In the closet were bug sprays, and a citronella candle if needed. The room was air-conditioned, although it had some louvered windows on every exterior wall that we could open if we wanted to forego the A/C. There was a ceiling fan over the bed. Note that the rooms do not have telephones or televisions. The resort provides telephones at various “phone stations” throughout the resort. Television is available at the Beach Bar, and the resort shows a movie every night at 9 p.m. If guests need to check email, there is a PC in the lobby area. There were two porches: one on each side of the room. The porch that faced the water has a lounger and a chair. We used the porch that faced the interior of the resort to dry our clothes (Caneel provided a drying rack). When we arrived, Brian Young had sent us a bottle of champagne and a fruit basket. A nice touch. Do not expect a sterile hotel room that you would find in the U.S. at large hotel chains. The rooms are simply furnished and designed Caribbean-style, with tiled floors and lots of charm. The real thing I noticed about what we got for our money at Caneel was attention to detail. This importance of this is often overlooked. For example, each night housekeeping provided turndown service. They placed a shell and a little card with a philosophical thought on the pillow. Housekeeping was unbelievable. The rooms were spotless. During the week, our toilet and our mini-bar stopped working. Caneel had them fixed immediately. The room was totally quiet. We did not hear our neighbors at all—just the ocean waves outside. I did not see any children staying at Hawksnest. We did have a problem with our smoke alarm that went off sporadically until we removed it from the ceiling. If I were going back, I would stick with the beachfront category. The rooms are literally five steps from the beach. The category up from beachfront is premium. These are located on Scott Beach, Paradise Beach, and Caneel Beach. The premium rooms are the same distance from the beach as the beachfront rooms. I did not see the inside of these rooms so I cannot compare them to the beachfront. The next category down is oceanview, and some of the rooms in this category have much better locations than others. If you are considering oceanview, you should have Caneel fax you a map of the rooms and pick one that is strategically located. Most oceanviews have only a 1-2 minute walk to the beach. The courtside rooms and tennis garden rooms are conveniently located to the tennis courts, the fitness center, and the Equator restaurant. However, they are a haul to the beach, with the nearest beach being Caneel. Tennis garden rooms looked interesting from the outside—stone structures with outdoor showers. Beaches Caneel has seven beaches: Hawksnest, Turtle Bay, Scott, Paradise, Caneel, Little Caneel, and Honeymoon. Following is a capsule analysis of the four main ones. All the beaches were uncrowded—some were literally deserted in the middle of the day. And the water is clear at all and the sands are white and soft. I think the best beach is Turtle Bay. Snorkeling is fantastic there, and the beach is wide and has the softest sand. The one downside is that there are many mosquitoes there, even during the day. Turtle Bay gets sun all day. Scott Beach is also expansive, but the ocean floor is very rocky and we needed shoes to walk in the water. Snorkeling is also first-rate there (but not as good as at Turtle Bay), and we always saw turtles. Scott Beach gets afternoon sun. Hawksnest Beach is the most private, but it has lots of seaweed on the beach. Hawksnest Beach gets sun in the morning and early afternoon. It can also be a little breezy on this beach. Caneel Beach is also nice, but busier with cruise ship passengers, and kids. Water sports are located on Caneel Beach. If you snorkel, you can see manta rays and the big barracuda that lives under the float. Caneel Beach gets late morning and afternoon sun. There is no drink service on the beaches except for Caneel. And even on Caneel, we would only see a waiter come by every few hours. Regular bar service on Caneel Beach would have been a plus. Getting Around the Grounds Caneel Bay is an eco-resort with natural landscaping. There are many animals on the grounds: iguanas, donkeys, mongoose, pelicans, crabs. The property is huge—170 acres—and Caneel has air-conditioned buses and golf carts to shuttle guests around. You can walk from one end to the other, but it takes about 20 minutes. This becomes a big hassle when you remember you left something in your room. Therefore, what happens is that you pack your beach bag or backpack for the day and carry all your stuff with you. It rather defeats the purpose of staying at a beachfront resort—you are not always near your room. Something that was mildly upsetting was that non-guests used Caneel towels, Caneel chairs, and the Caneel buses to take advantage of the property for free, while I had a monster Visa bill waiting for me at home. Caneel must crack down on the non-guests usage of the facilities. Why stay when you can play on someone else’s dollar? There are also two trails on the Caneel property that are maintained by the U.S. Parks Service. Turtle Point Trail leads around the cliffs east of Turtle Bay. The Hawksnest Trail leads from the rooms at Hawksnest Beach, along the water, and connects with the Caneel Trail. These trails take about 20-30 minutes to walk through. Food Caneel has four restaurants: Equator, Turtle Bay Estate House, the Beach Terrace Dining Room, and the Beach Bar. You need reservations for all the restaurants except the Beach Bar, so plan ahead. Our favorite restaurant was Equator. The restaurant is located within sugar mill ruins. The décor, open-air seating, and view of St. Thomas were spectacular. Equator features Caribbean cuisine and the menu did not change the week we were there, although they did have daily specials. We went to Equator Tuesday and Wednesday nights for dinner and the meals and service were perfect. Then we went back on Saturday night, and there was a different staff and the service was poor (messed up our dinner orders, lost track of us, etc.). So, stick with Equator on the weeknights. There were some special “romantic” dinners held outside at private tables in the ruins. To me, it seemed as if they were eating in the house from the Blair Witch Project! Turtle Bay is indoors, has a more formal atmosphere, and is air- conditioned. It consists of two rooms, each surrounded by glass doors, with high ceilings and lots of bleached wood. I did not see any children at Turtle Bay. We ate there on Friday and Sunday nights, and service and food were great. Nevertheless, Turtle Bay lacks the ambiance of Equator. As an example of the type of service we received at Caneel, I can impart this story. At our first dinner at Turtle Bay, my husband and I placed our entrée orders, and the server said, “That’s it? No special requests? That was too easy.” So my husband said, “Well, if you insist, I really would like some tuna, but I did not see it on the menu.” He said that if they had tuna, he would take that as an entrée, and if not, he would just take what he originally ordered. So a few minutes later, the chef comes to our table, introduces herself, and asks about the tuna order. She told my husband that they did not have any tuna in her kitchen, but they had some at Equator, and she would be happy to send someone down to Equator to get it if my husband wanted it. The staff at Caneel was always willing to go the extra mile to satisfy the guests. The Beach Terrace holds the breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets. We had breakfast there every day. They have a table of fresh fruit, a table of pastries, and a table with about 10 types of juices including tamarind, mango, and papaya. They also have cereal and yogurt. As for hot dishes, there is French toast, hash browns, crepes, bacon, sausage, and a grill where the chef cooks eggs to order and Belgian Waffles. Every morning the hostess seated us and handed us the New York Times facsimile. We did not eat there for lunch. As for dinners on the Beach Terrace, we only went to the renowned buffet on Monday night. They served Caribbean lobster tails, prime rib, and several other entrees. They had a huge pile of enormous fresh shrimp under an ice sculpture. For dessert, they had a table with about 10 choices. Now for the story of the Beach Bar. We ate at the Beach Bar for lunch almost every day. They have the same menu every day, and it is limited: wings, nachos, burgers, jerk chicken, some salads, and swordfish burger. However, the food was tasty, and the fruity (guava?) BBQ sauce they used for the wings was out of this world. During the week, service was fine at the Beach Bar. But weekends were another story. Saturday, we waited over 30 minutes for a server (no one came), so my husband ended up placing our own food and drink orders and picking them up himself. Then the servers showed up after we had already placed our orders and gave us attitude. Sunday lunch was equally bad. We waited 30 minutes again–with no server in sight. My husband again placed the drink and food orders himself. When he returned, our server had magically appeared. She picked up our drinks for us from the bar, and we mentioned to her that we had to make our flight and needed our food fast. We waited another 20 minutes for our burgers. All the other people at tables around us were extremely irritated as well. Our server had vanished. So my husband goes down to the grill and sees everyone’s food orders sitting there ready to be served and our server standing next to the bar doing nothing. My husband brought our food up himself and it was cold already. This poor service was inexcusable. The Beach Bar is understaffed and there are no managers on site. This must be remedied. As an aside, I have read many reports of people griping about the food at Caneel. I live in large city, I eat out a lot, and I enjoyed the creative cooking and presentation. If you are not used to Caribbean foods, you might not like some of the spicier/local dishes. The drink of choice is the BBC. It is Bailey's, rum, bananas, and coconut milk. Dress for dinner is sundresses or pants for women; collared shirt, pants, and no sandals for men. I saw many men buying shoes at the boutique because they brought the wrong type. Meal prices that I recall are as follows: breakfast was $20pp at the buffet. Lunches at beach bar would run about $40 for two, buffet was $40pp. Dinner entrees were $30-42, soups $6-$8, salads $6-$9. Wine lists were decent with the normal markups. Tropical mixed drinks were $7-$7.50 apiece. We were on the “Classic Caribbean” package, which meant we had breakfast and dinner (and gratuities) included. My recommendation is to take a meal plan that includes lunch so that it may be more cost effective to eat at the buffet and you can avoid the Beach Bar lunchtime! Caneel also can pack a picnic lunch for two for $38. We ate our on Hawksnest Beach. We got two sandwiches, a pasta or fruit salad, cheese and crackers, apples, cookies, and two juices. The price was a little steep, if you ask me. Activities/Sports I will only comment on the activities and sports in which my husband and I participated. The big activity at Caneel Bay is tennis, and many guests play. They have 11 perfectly maintained courts, and a pro shop that has clothes, strings, grips, beer!–pretty much anything you would need. There were drills or round robins every day except Sunday. In addition, many people were taking private and semi-private lessons. The pro was Giff Searls, of Peter Burwash International. Giff was enthusiastic and encouraged players to participate in the scheduled activities, and also did game-matching and tried to set us up with opponents of the same ability level. My husband and I took a few drills from Giff and he is an expert instructor. He has a knack for finding technical problems in your stroke production and giving you creative solutions. There is a dress code on the courts: collared shirts and tennis- specific shoes. Caneel has an air-conditioned fitness center—one of the best I have seen in the Caribbean. It is spotless and the equipment is new and well maintained. They have aerobic machines (treadmills, steppers, and bikes), Cybex machines, free weights, resist-a-balls, and some of those abdomen contraptions. Personal training is available as well. I also took some aerobics classes, which are offered Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. These classes were brutal--the instructor is awesome. The classes consisted of mostly high-impact aerobics with some kickboxing thrown in. They conduct the classes in the small fitness center, which is a shame because an instructor that proficient should have some dedicated equipment (like steps) and a separate aerobics room. My husband did some windsurfing, and commented that the equipment Caneel has in is terrific condition. They have a variety of boards and sail sizes. The watersports staff was helpful as well. The only trouble he had was that it was not windy enough on Caneel Beach. Caneel has snorkeling equipment that guests can check out for the time they are there. The best snorkeling is found off Turtle Bay and Scott Beaches. On Monday night, there is a manager’s cocktail party for the guests. They have tropical drinks and wine, and table of appetizers. I did not see any of the guests socializing there. Clientele Guests at Caneel Bay were almost exclusively from the U.S. and almost all came as couples. There were also many honeymooners. (There were about two weddings a day on site at Caneel.) There were few children in May, and all were under the age of six. I would say that I saw less than 15 children the whole week—all on Caneel Beach. I did hear a story about a rambunctious kid whose parents thought it would be appropriate to bring him on the “Romantic Sunset Cruise” and he was ill behaved and ruined the trip for all the adults. However, it seemed as if most of the parents were sensitive that Caneel is primarily an adult resort. There were all age ranges represented. It is hard for me to guess at an average age—I would say late 30’s. Most of the people seemed friendly enough, although it was rare when someone would engage us in conversation. Like I said, the resort is quiet and everyone kept to himself or herself. Despite the price, I would not call the resort stuffy. There were some jerks: the older lady screaming at the tennis staff across three courts to bring her a new racquet to play with or when my husband made an innocuous comment to a preppy-looking guy at the bar and he snorted and turned away because he could not engage in a conversation with just anyone! At the other extreme, there was the young, no-class honeymooner who launched a big wad of spit as he was walking by the area where people were quietly having cocktails. So you get all types, I suppose. Hazards The bugs (mosquitoes and no see ‘ums) were no worse at Caneel than on other Caribbean islands in May. I did not have a problem during the day except on Turtle Bay. Regular bug spray will not be effective against these guys—you need a product with at least 21% DEET. The OFF they supply in the room will not protect you, and they do not sell this level of spray in the resort store. You must bring it. Also, bring Benadryl cream in case you are bitten. The resort store does not sell sunblock higher than 20 and we burned wearing 30. Bring 50 and a hat. Excursions The “Classic Caribbean” package included three excursions: the Romantic Sunset Cruise, Buccaneer Beach Barbecue, and Day Trip to Little Dix Bay. Due to rain, we did not get to go on the Romantic Sunset Cruise. It runs 5.30-7.00 on Sun, Tues, Thurs and includes a steel band and hors d’oeuvres (shrimp, veggies, cheese and crackers) and rum punches and beer. Buccaneer Beach Barbecue was a waste of time. We went to Water Lemon Cay for snorkeling. The snorkeling was better at the resort on Turtle Bay and the other resort beaches. Then they took us to a beach that was not as nice as the ones at Caneel and we had a typical BBQ lunch (burgers, fish, salads, and potato chips). Then we went back and realized we spent an entire day on a trip that did not offer us better than what we had at Caneel. We were turned off after the wasted time on the BBQ and skipped the trip to Little Dix. No one gave the trip a rave review, and all the repeat guests skipped it. We just did not want to waste another day in a boat. The excursions are a good way to meet people on the resort. It is difficult otherwise since things are so spread out. If I had to do it again, I would get the breakfast/lunch/dinner meal plan and forego the Classic Caribbean package. The excursions that Classic Caribbean includes are not that wonderful and, if you want, you can still go on them and pay separately. Service Almost all the staff at Caneel were gracious and went out of their way to be friendly and did whatever they could to make our stay better. Thank you to Giff Searls (tennis), Peter (wine steward), John (security), Mat (server), Larry Nibbs (chef), Josephine (server), Claudia (chef), Scholastica (pro shop), Marlin (server), and all the others who made us feel at home at Caneel Bay. Checking Out and Going Home Check out was awful. They sent us a statement the evening before we were to leave with all our charges. They overcharged us almost $400, and every other guest we spoke to had similar problems at both Caneel and Little Dix. Most of the discrepancies can be attributed to the servers entering improper data for guests on the meal plans. To rectify the errors, my husband sat at the front desk for 35 minutes. The front desk staff has to fill out a separate form for each error, and when there are more than 10 overcharges, this can be very time consuming. Keep every receipt you get and cross check it against your bill. They charged us for meals that were included on the meal plan, room service we never had, tips that servers at restaurants arbitrarily added onto the bill. This, frankly, is inexcusable. You must leave Caneel about two hours before your scheduled flight time. We made our flight with no problem. One thing I did not know is that U.S. citizens have to show a passport or birth certificate to return to the U.S. Fortunately, I brought mine, but I presumed that immigration would only need to see a driver’s license since the Virgin Islands are a U.S. territory. Summary Caneel is a huge, very expensive, very American resort. I never really got the feeling like I was in the Caribbean at Caneel, but that may be the case with resorts in the USVI in general. The essential question is one of value for the money. At Caneel Bay, you pay a premium for the privacy. I am still undecided whether the resort is worth the high price tag. You must be aware of the quiet atmosphere and sheer size of Caneel. If you do not mind the shuttle buses, if you go to bed early, if you are really into snorkeling and the beach, you will enjoy Caneel Bay. If you are looking for a more active, intimate resort, you would be happier elsewhere. This might give you a better idea of whether you would like Caneel Bay. The first night there, we went to Turtle Bay for cocktails and to watch the sunset. We sat outside on a couch on a stone terrace that overlooks the bay. There were probably 20 other people on the terrace as well. It was dead silent. No one said a word for about 15 minutes as the sun went down. If this sounds like heaven to you, Caneel Bay would be perfect. I am glad I went to Caneel Bay, and now I can say I have been to one of the finest resorts in the Caribbean.
Trip 5/00 We made our fourth visit to St. John on 6 - 14 May 2000 and stayed at Villa Serenity, which is located at Francis Bay, on the North Shore next to the Maho Bay Campground. Previously in October 1996 and October 1997, we had stayed at Cloud Nine at the top of Gift Hill overlooking Cruz Bay and the Westin, and in February 1999, we had stayed at Rosebay further on down Gift Hill. Previously we had rented through Caribbean Villas, but the owners of Cloud Nine have now gone out on their own - www.cloud9villas.com - so we went with them. This time they were renting a place - Villa Serenity - within walking distance of our favorite beach - Francis Bay. (They no longer offer Villa Serenity.) During our previous three visits to St. John we had always rented a jeep to get around the island. When you are staying at a house on Gift Hill you really need a jeep both to go to any beaches and to go to town for groceries. However jeeps on St. John are fairly expensive - about $350 per week. Since Villa Serenity is within walking distance of our favorite beach, and since there is a Maho Bay campground shuttle that runs into Cruz Bay every two hours between 8 am and 8 pm, we decided to forego a jeep this time and stay at Villa Serenity. In addition, Villa Serenity was about $1600 per week compared to $1800 for Cloud Nine, so we saved about $500 overall. The tradeoff was that we would miss the beautiful view from the hot tub at Cloud Nine. On our previous trips we would start every morning having coffee in the hot tub and watching the cruise ships entering St. Thomas, and we would end every evening having rum punches in the hot tub and watching the cruise ships leaving St. Thomas. We keep returning to St. John for the beautiful weather, the beautiful water, the great snorkeling , and the solitude and privacy of staying at our own villa. Our tradeoff in renting a villa rather than a hotel room or condo is that we do most of our own cooking rather than eating out. Groceries on St. John tend to be both expensive and in limited variety. We bought a small soft sided Igloo cooler at Walmart, and we fill it with a 5 lb box of frozen shrimp, frozen scallops, crab cakes, and frozen spaghetti sauce. Since we don’t have to dress to go out to dinner, we pretty much get by the entire week wearing nothing more than a swimsuit. Therefore we back extremely light on clothes, and instead pack dry groceries - coffee, tea, bread, rice, etc. - and our snorkel gear, books, CDs, etc. Because of its location, the deck of Villa Serenity provides both a view of the sunrise over Tortola, BVI, and the sunset over St. Thomas. In May sunrise is around 5:30 am and sunset about 6:30 pm. After watching the sunrise and having breakfast, we were usually on the beach at Francis Bay before 8:30 am. We’d stay until 1 pm or so, then return to the house for lunch, spend the afternoon on the deck drinking rum punches and return to the beach about 4 pm or so. On Monday we walked up to Waterlemon Cay - about a 40 minute walk - because we had heard that the snorkeling around the Cay is fantastic. In our opinion the snorkeling was just as good at Francis Bay, so we spent the rest of the days there. If you walk to the extreme right on Francis Bay out towards the point, the snorkeling starts to get interesting about halfway to the point. We saw sea turtles, rays, and even a nursery shark, as well as many beautiful fish and coral formations. On Friday we had planned to take the around St. John snorkel tour on the Sadie Sea, but that trip was canceled due to forecast rough weather ( which did not materialize.) On Saturday we took Cruz Bay Watersports’ Blast to Jost Van Dyke. That trip was a disappointment compared to previous trips on the Stormy Petrel to The Baths, and on The Breath to Norman Island. We only got about 30 minutes of good snorkeling in at Sandy Cay. Because of frequent flyer constraints we flew American Airlines on Saturday May 6, even though Villa Serenity would not be available until Sunday. We stayed Saturday night at The Inn at Tamerind Court (www.tamarindcourt.com), which is located about 4 blocks from the ferry dock in Cruz Bay. That worked out well, and we’d stay there again. Actually, next time we’ll plan to fly down on a Thursday or Friday, stay at the Tamarind Inn a couple of days next time, and schedule our boat trips while we are staying in Cruz Bay, and before we head out to Villa Serenity. If you’ve never been to St. John before (or if you have been and stayed in the Westin or other hotel) I would recommend that you rent Cloud Nine (and a jeep). I’d recommend sailing to Norman Island on the Breath out of Coral Bay (contact Connections 776-6922). I’d recommend the J&J Texas Cafe (right at the ferry dock) for a good, relatively inexpensive breakfast or lunch. If you’ve seen all of the beaches and other sights, and are looking for a great place to stay near a great beach, then I’d recommend Villa Serenity. It would be a great place for an extended family, because it actually can sleep up to 11 people.
Trip 5/00 An excellent vacation all around. The hotel was very nice, good food, clean grounds, lots to do right there. You could borrow bicycles, games, shoot pool, play horseshoes, ping pong. The drinks were good, I recommend Ting with a Sting. Our room had a view of the golf course, and the views from the course itself were spectacular. Bring your camera on the course. There were so many excursions available we did not have time to do them all. We took the resort SCUBA dive course with Barry from Kenneth's Dive Shop. We went on 2 dives(only one per day though). The second dive was the best, we saw a huge turtle crawling on the bottom, and lots of variety of fish and coral. The first dive was a wreck and there were not as many fish. At Turtle Beach monkeys just come right up to people and will take fruit right out of your hand. The snorkeling here is good too. The volcano/rainforest hike was hard, when you go to the top there was a big volcanic crater and a view of the ocean. Getting down was just as hard because it was wet and slippery. You also get very dirty. We are also pleased that we got sports on TV, NBA and NHL playoff games. Did not miss a thing. I definitely recommend this island and this hotel for a reasonably priced week of fun and sun.
Trip: June 19-28, 2000 Left on a Monday from Dulles to St. Kitts via San Juan on American Airlines. I was surprised by the attitude of one of the flight attendants. She was a bit plump with too much makeup, very rude, no smile and gave us the feeling that everyone on the plane was an inconvenience to her. Besides that all went smooth until our departing flight from San Juan to St. Kitts was delayed by two hours and 10 minutes, due to brake problems. We finally departed and arrived on St. Kitts a little over an hour later. I was very impressed with the airport on St. Kitts. It was very clean, modern and service was wonderful. We may have spent about 20 minutes, if that, from the time we got off the plane until we were out front waiting for a cab. As soon as we entered the front outside, airport employees asked if we needed a cab and where we were going. They told us not to grab our bags the cab driver would. I do not recall the name of the cab driver, but he was very pleasant. It was a short ride to the Frigate Bay Resort. The ladies at the reception area were friendly. They had a hard time getting my credit card to go through their machine to be approved. We tried several cards, finally one was approved--for the room charges if used. We were given the key to our room, pool towel vouchers and a special VIP card that entitled us to a 15% discount at the restaurant or pool bar. The receptionist walked us to our room and had a young man bring our bags. We stayed in the hillside room 207B on the ground floor. The room was quite large and roomy. I had warned my boyfriend, who had never been to the Caribbean, not to expect US hotel luxury. He was pleased upon entering as was I. We had two double beds, large dresser, window a/c that worked too good at times, ceiling fan, 2 large closets, color tv w/ satellite, phone, mini fridge and large bathroom area. The room was simply decorated, tiled floors and had a wonderful patio area. I must give the hotel credit on the bath towels. They were thick and fluffy, not those cheap, small, thin ones some hotels use. Maid service was fine. We met one of them, I believe her name was Venietta. All were friendly as we came in contact with them. The grounds of the hotel were beautifully landscaped. They were constantly being tended to each day, watering , raking, trimming. The swimming pool was nice, with good quality chairs and umbrellas. The swim up pool bar was a nice idea. You could see the Atlantic, Caribbean, Royal St. Kitts Golf Course and the Frigate Bay area from the grounds of the hotel near the pool and some of the rooms. We ate in the hotel restaurant for breakfast only, which I thought was a bit on the expensive side. A continental breakfast was $10.50US and $13.50US for choices of French toast, pancakes (both which were banana), omelets, scrambled eggs. The two bad things were the service, which was at times bad and others tolerable. And for the six or seven times we ate breakfast there and got the same things we were never charged the same price. It's a good thing for the VIP card that saved us 15%, breakfast usually for the three of us was about $35US and that was with the discount. We ate at the pool bar the night we arrived, as we missed lunch due to the flight delay and were starving. We spent about $30US, for conch fritters, a hot dog , chicken wings and drinks. The service at the pool bar was a joke as well, depending on the person. The main female who worked it, was hot and cold. Friendly one minute, then service with an attitude the next. The service was slow and I expected it, but not quite like that. Dion, who worked the bar at times, was of course pleasant and speedy. My boyfriend who was not so sure about an island trip decided, hey this wasn't so bad--he liked it. The night we arrived, they were having the manager's cocktail party which was very nice. We got to met Sam Nagali (?sp) and the others. We felt very welcomed and they were terrific spending time with each hotel guest. They had already heard about me from RFrost. My boyfriend and the other couple we were with got a kick out of that. They made jokes, saying that with all of the internet searching I did and because people already knew me, maybe there were pictures of me posted around the island. Day one, I got up before everyone else. I brought along my camera, binoculars and started walking down the road to Frigate Bay on the Atlantic side. It took about 20-30 minutes. The walk was nice and not hard, with great views. I walked the grounds of the Sea Lofts and went to the beach. Beautiful beach, but definitely too rough for swimming and it was very windy. Took lots of pictures. I tried to find a bakery to grab some breads for breakfast, but had no luck. I walked back to the hotel by going down the road to Timothy's Beach Resort and walked along Frigate(Caribbean side) back to hotel. I timed the walk from the beach to the hotel, along side of golf course to pool--3 minutes and not strenuous at all. I had heard mixed stories on the walk. I definitely was a breeze, nothing to it. Around 10am we took a cab to South Friar's Beach. Our cab driver was Duke of Earl, Sydney Carty's son. He dropped us off and picked us up later in the day. It was an absolutely beautiful beach, nice white sand and several shacks to grab a bite to eat. This beach was our favorite. There may have been about 15 people on it all day long. We had an excellent, cheap lunch on the beach at the Sunset Cafe. We met Derek, who was a great host as well. It was a delicious lunch of chicken, rice and beans. We rented two chairs and an umbrella for $5US for the day. I did not get the name of the lady behind the bar, but everyone here was very welcoming and made the day very enjoyable. We found out later in the trip, that the best meals were at the places like this. I forgot to mention, that as of day one I was hooked on the Ting, my daughter Ting and Fanta and the men Carib. I think they may have depleted the island supply during our stay. Now at home, they are having a hard time drinking Budweiser. After showering and changing, we went to Stonewalls for dinner. This place definitely wins hands down for setting. A beautiful garden setting in the middle of downtown, but you don't feel you are there. The service was top notch. One of the ladies there, forgot the first name, last name Goldberg, said they call her Whoopi sometimes was a great part of the night. Just a bit of socializing, made us feel right at home. I did have a great peppered mahi-mahi for my meal, which was one of the better meals I had on this trip. I tried the flying fish fritters, which were okay. I didn't care for the tempura type batter, which is how a lot of the fried foods were done. Day two, we took the ferry to Nevis so the guys could play Four Seasons Golf Course and we could beach it at Pinney's. Our cab driver John, happened to be on the ferry over to Nevis and offered his service. We had him show us to the Nevis Bakery first to grab some treats. I loaded up for about $5US, what a deal. He then drove the guys to the course and us to the beach at Sunshines. I must admit, I had heard about the damage, but did not expect the beach to look as it did. A bit littered, black and tan sand and pretty beat up with barges out in the water. John was still there, so we had him take us to Oualie for awhile. Oualie was an improvement although a bit windy and we sort of got sand blasted. It rained twice on us and stayed pretty cloudy. The beach chairs here were free to use, but it was easier on us, if we stayed in the water where the sand wasn't blowing. The beach was nicer than the part of Pinney's in front of Sunshines. I ordered a burger for my daughter to eat at Sunshines, since I knew she wouldn't like the selection there and took it with us. We got to Sunshines at around 1245, seated ourselves and Sunshine himself came and took our orders. We got lucky, we got the last of the lobsters. I don't know what the actual price of the lobster, tossed salad and bowtie pasta salad came to, but well worth it. One of our best meals. The atmosphere was great, good times and laughs shared by all. I did not try the Killer Bees, but the other adults in the group did along with Carib, chicken and even the ribs. Our tab by 5pm was $160US. We got lots of pictures of Sunshine and the others. The guys got in with the Sunshine and the locals and had discussions ranging from politics, sports, education, sex, women and anything else. This day was great and all that I expected. My daughter finally got her hair braided, by a lady named "SweetPea" for $30US and everyone went back happy. Well, maybe not poor John's sister Olivia, who had to tote back two drunk men, one slightly buzzed female and my daughter and myself straight to the ferry dock. Took the ferry and cab back to the hotel. Of course, my daughter and I went to PJ's alone, as dad was passed out on the bed in his underwear from a hard day of drinking at Sunshines. PJ's the first time for us was very good, service wasn't bad. I had the goat cheese ravioli appetizer for my dinner, very tasty. My daughter got the bread pizza, but the bottom was burnt and black, so I cut it off and she ate the rest and liked it. She had like every night, vanilla ice cream for dessert and I the Tiramisu. That wasn't the best I've had, but it was good. Day three we decided to do the island tour. I forgot to mention our new cab driver, who came into play on our previous day. I introduced myself to Sydney Carty as he was out washing his taxi. I saw the name Carty's Taxi Service on the window and knew of him by word of Rufus Frost. From that point on Sydney was our cab driver. He took us everywhere we wanted to go, when we wanted to go, daily. He was very knowledgable about his island and did not zip around to get you to places in a hurry. He talked along the way, filling us in on the history and the daily scene of the island. Our island tour which is usually a 3 1/2 hour tour took about 5 hours. Sydney took his time and we appreciated that. He stopped for pictures and did not rush us at Romney Manor or Brimstone Hill. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Brimstone Hill it was sprinkling so we did not get to see the other neighboring islands. You could barely see Statia in the distance. We did however get to see a great historical sight. This place was impressive, the work that went in to it, unbelievable. We did see a few small monkeys on the way down. Romney Manor/Caribelle Batik was another worthwhile sight. The grounds were absolutely perfect. The cab driver said they have a lot of weddings on the grounds. I could see why. We got to see the process of the batik. I had no idea that it took that many days for the final product. We also saw the 350 year old Saman tree, which was huge. I took loads of pictures and they all came back perfect. Very lush, green and well landscaped. He took us to Kate Designs at Rawlins Plantation and I bought one of her paintings. A smaller one, so I thought, thinking it would fit in a suitcase, but it didn't and I had to carry it the whole time on the way home from St. Kitts to US. It made it damage free. We saw the rest of the island, except the SE peninsula. I enjoyed the whole tour. We really got to see a lot of the island that tourists usually do not see. It really made me think of how lucky we are for the home, cars and jobs we have and our ability to visit an island like that. I think you get a better understanding of the people by seeing outside the hotel/restaurant/beaches. That evening, we walked up to Marshall's at Horizons Villas for dinner. This was the place for top notch, professional, prompt service. The dining table looked out over the Frigate Bay Caribbean Beach with the swimming pool to the rear of the dining area-quiet, breezy, candlelit. I had the best pasta stuffed with portobello mushrooms and served in a creamy white sauce with seafood (shrimp, lobster, fish). The conch chowder was good. I also had the conch fritters, which were disappointing pretty much everywhere I went. Don't get me wrong, they were good, but not like I have had before in the Bahamas and the BVIs. My boyfriend had the surf and turf and was very pleased. This meal was $160US, but worth it. Day four we took a daysail to Nevis aboard the Eagle Catamaran run by Leeward Island Charters. Let me just say, I think this was the best part of my trip. The cost was $60US per person, my daughter was free (maybe that's why I liked it so much). We departed at 930am and sailed for a bit to Shitten Bay. They let us snorkel for an hour in a depth of about 18 feet. The snorkeling was so-so. The visibility wasn't that great, but we did see fish and I took some pictures. My daughter was afraid to get in the water with her gear, so they put her on a small plastic board/boat with a glass bottom view window. She loved this. I was able to snorkel along side her. Unfortunately, my boyfriend who had never snorkeled before was unable to. He tried several masks and couldn't get them to seal. One of the crew said "Mon, you should have shaved and it would have fit." He was on vacation and had that three day stubble. So, he missed out. After we all boarded the boat, it set sail to Pinney's beach up past Four Seasons close to Lovers Beach. This beach was 100% better than the part in front of Sunshines. We got there around 1230pm and stayed until 300pm They had lunch ready as soon as we got off the boat. They had grilled chicken, hotdogs, rolls, vegetable salad, and the most outstanding slaw --coconut and raisin slaw. I wish I had some of that now. All the liquor, beer, soda or other drinks available all day. The guys on this charter were outstanding. They were very professional, yet fun and catered like mad to my daughter. Elvis, I would say was the best. We had seen him at the beach at Friar's and he recognized us from that. We thought that was funny, but after all we being Americans probably stuck out like a sore thumb to the islanders. We arrived back at 415pm, a bit tired, wet and I got a lot of sun ( I was trying to though). That evening we went to the Circus for dinner. Our friends had been there previously and said it was great. I was not impressed. In fact, for most of the dinner we and two other tables were the only ones in the place. Our waitress tried hard, but she was a bit flighty. I tried the stuffed mushrooms, lobster bisque and carib conch for appetizers. The mushrooms were piled high with filler and cheese, but not heated in the middle, which was cold. Only the cheese was melted. The lobster bisque was very tasty, although it was like a thick broth. The carib conch once again had that tempura batter, which ruined it. I had for my meal the creole snapper, which probably was good, but I didn't care for the combination with fish, so I considered it my fault. The cheesecake for dessert was good with a nice homemade pie crust. I did have a very good Pina Colada here. Day five we were supposed to fly Nevis Express to St. Barths, but the trip was canceled because they needed at least five people on the charter and we only had three. We liked the daysail so much, that my boyfriend played Royal St. Kitts Golf Course and we did the daysail again. This time the charter was better, as we only had about 12 people- almost like a private charter. Service was great as the day before. For the price it couldn't be beat. If we took the ferry over and a cab to Nevis and bought lunch, we would have paid about the same. I think I could have done the day sail over again and again. We decided to stay close to the hotel for dinner and try PJ's with the whole family this time. (Since Sunshine's put a damper on that previously). PJ's was definitely better the first time. Our server this time was different and slower than the usual slow. We ordered the Mexican pizza, the pepperoni pizza, garlic bread, the goat cheese ravioli (again) and the shrimp ravioli. The garlic bread came first, about 10 minutes later came the goat cheese ravioli and no shrimp ravioli. About 10 more minutes went by and I asked our waitress about the missing appetizer. She said she did not hear me, so she turned in the order. Out came the pizzas, which were good and then came the appetizer minus the shrimp. We didn't say anything. When the bill arrived we looked and she ordered the wrong one. PJ's has a great menu, service could be hit or miss. The night time breeze blowing into the building made it nice and with comfortable cushioned type lawn furniture and nice decor. Day six we just hung out at the hotel pool and beach while he played golf. His comments on the golf courses were not what I expected. He played Four Seasons -$95 for 12 holes. He said even if it were in prime condition he felt the course on St. Kitts was better. He liked the views while playing on St. Kitts. The beach at Frigate (Caribbean) was okay with black and tan sand. I thought that the abandoned Crickets was an eyesore. It was windy that day and easier to take my daughter to the pool with her float. She enjoyed the pool. I was amazed at the guests at the hotel who spent all of their days at the pool. Why would one go to an island to hang out a the hotel pool everyday, when you have nice beaches a short ride away? We decided with the few restaurant choices on a Sunday, we'd go to Fisherman's Wharf for dinner. We got there a bit early and were promptly greeted and shown to the bar for a drink. I wanted to sit at one of the picnic tables closer to the water, but the wind was blowing pretty briskly and my daughter was cold. We sat inside. The only negative thing, lots of cats all around us during our dinner. I had to keep swatting them away with a napkin. The service was really great until it got busier, then it was harder to get our server's attention. We did have a few other people from the restaurant come around and check on us. I got the Cajun kingfish, he the lobster and my daughter a burger and fries. One thing the burgers on this islands are nasty. They taste "gamey". I joked with several people about them being monkey or mongoose burgers. A frequent visitor said it is because of what the cattle graze on. My boyfriend said he was disappointed, his lobster at Marshall's and Sunshines were better. I did like the pumpkin fritters on the buffet bar. We had NYstyle cheesecake, which was pretty bland and of course, had vanilla ice cream. I think my daughter lost weight and he gained. He ate everything and she, only fries, hardboiled eggs at breakfast and vanilla ice cream. Day seven we were going to go to Turtle Beach, but it rained a bit in the morning so we decided to do our shopping instead. We went into town, shopped. I bought two wonderful silk screen paintings at Bayembi Cafe. We had lunch at Ballahoos. I cannot say a bad thing about this place. Service was fast, food good and view of the Circus enjoyable. I had some of the delicious coconut slaw that I had on the daysail. I remembered that Ballahoo's catered for the Eagle. He had the chicken roti, which he had to spice up with hot sauce. They were kind enough to make a grilled cheese, which was not on the menu for my daughter. We decided it was great there, we'd come back later for dinner. We went back to the hotel after shopping and hung out at the pool. For dinner, service was a bit slower. He got the chili shrimp which he said was the best meal of the trip. I tried the conch fritters, which were close to good, but still a bit off. I think I tried every conch fritter on the island. My daughter was thrilled that for dessert they had fresh homemade chocolate cake. Everyone had "cakes" on menu, but when it came time to order no one ever had them. She was happy, and when she's happy so are mom and dad. Day eight we went to Turtle Beach. We had our wonderful cab driver take us down there and I thought this would be a great day. Wrong. Remember, my boyfriend who hates the beach, sand and heat, but decided this island thing wasn't so bad. Well, that all changed about two minutes after the cab driver left and we walked around the restaurant to the beach. The wind was really blowing and the sand felt like needles sticking you. I put our bag down and he started cussing and demanded we call the cab driver to come back for us. He wasn't going to stay at this &@#()$_$_*#*$)$(($($)$_)_)*&%$%$%beach all day. So, we regrouped went to the bar area and ordered a drink. He eventually came out to the chairs where we were. He decided to get his belly tan and wrapped his face up in his shirt. The water was very choppy, but warm with a lot of seaweed. A young man was raking the beach to rid it of the seaweed. The sand was perfect for building sandcastles. Watershoes were necessary as it was very rocky until you got out a ways in the water. There were a lot of people snorkeling, we did not. The sand was everywhere, even in things that were zipped, but hey, we got to see Turtle Beach. We ate lunch. He got the lobster sandwich, which was like lobster salad. I got the coconut shrimp and you guessed it--conch fritters. Well, wouldn't you know, I finally find the best conch fritters on the island and instead of the usual 5 or 6 at other places, they gave me 3. The coconut shrimp was okay. The shrimp was dried out and covered lightly in bbq sauce. The pina colada I got here was enough to kill you. The rum so strong, you wouldn't have wanted to light a match near me. I like a strong drink, but not overpowering. As we were finishing lunch, the monkeys came. About 15 of them and my daughter got to feed them. We got lots of great pictures. Sort of like a National Geographic Adventure or something. The owner and his son had a huge bowl of bananas and were letting the visitors feed the monkeys. It was pretty amazing. When our day was over my daughter asked the cab driver why it was called Turtle Beach, when she didn't see turtles, just monkeys. That night we went to Mangos for dinner. The setting was very similar to Stonewalls. I liked Stonewalls much better. I ordered a pina colada, which was about as nasty as the one at Turtle Beach. I had them take it back and mix half of it with the non-alcoholic portion. Our server was very attentive in the beginning, then he sort of fizzled out. We ordered our appetizers, conch ceviche and roasted vegetables. Both were okay. The waiter came out with a basket of bread and let us each take one roll. The bread was the best thing we ate in the place, and they were tight with that. He ordered the bbq ribs, which were awful. I had the mango and chicken crepes which were very good, but rich. For dessert choices we limited, so we again had cheesecake. It was NY style, just like what you get here at home. It took us forever to get the waiter's attention to get the check. The meal came to $97US. We left disappointed, as it was our last dinner on the island and not a memorable one. Departure day, we ate breakfast at hotel and checked out at noon. I asked if we were able to stay in our room until 115pm, as our flight left at 237pm. The receptionist said no, someone else was coming to that room. The cab driver told us they offer you a complimentary room. I also saw that you could pay $25US to stay until 4pm. So, no questions asked we headed to the airport. We said our goodbyes to Sydney Carty. We got to the airport too early, but hung out and wait for that 237pm flight. Then the panic began. They announced over the intercom that our flight was delayed. This put us in a panic, as our flight on San Juan was to leave at 510pm. We finally left St. Kitts around 315pm on the American Eagle. This flight made me nervous as hell. The young pilot, had his girlfriend or wife in the cockpit. He spoke fast and unclear when announcing things. He did not explain to us that he was circling the San Juan airport for 6 to 7 times. I felt like we were on a flight operated by an inexperienced captain. We finally landed and had about 15-20 minutes to get through customs, get our bags, check our bags and run like mad through the airport. Of course, our luggage was the last to come up. We grabbed it and ran like crazy to check it. They had us wait and then took the luggage and told us to run. We ran with people cheering us on "GO GO GO". We got to the gate with 5 minutes to spare. The flight home was a relief. A much more professional staff aboard. The flight attendants Barbara F. and Libby acted and looked like flight attendants should. They were very courteous and pleasant, all smiles. Our captain was very informative. We ran into a lot of turbulence and had to go around storms. He at least announced that, instead of ignoring it like the captain on the Eagle flight. We landed a half hour later than anticipated due to the storms, but safe and not looking forward to going back to work. My boyfriend said that this was the best trip he has been on. So, that means I started something that we will have to keep up every year. St. Kitts and Nevis were great islands. I liked the local culture. For the most part, all of the people we encountered were friendly. The food could have been better at some places and prices cheaper. The beaches certainly were not the best I have seen, but Friar's was pretty close. Safety was not an issue. I never felt threatened by anyone. Would I go back, yes, but after I visit all of the other islands I want to see first. Positive things on the trip. Our cab driver, Sydney Carty, who made our stay on his island a great one. The daysail on the Eagle with Leeward Island Charters. Our hotel, Frigate Bay Resort, which was priced right and very comfortable. The Carib beer which kept the men happy. The coconut raisin slaw, which I have never tasted anything like it. Ting, which was a refreshing drink after a day at the beach. South Friar's beach, a beautiful one. Sunshines and Sunset Cafe for some local flavour and socializing. The monkeys for daughter to feed. Negative things on the trip. The amount of time it took in a restaurant to get the check. The inability of people to convert ECs to US correctly. Service at some of the restaurants. The litter on an island, that could be much more beautiful. Uneasy flight back to San Juan and it takes a lot to scare me. The lack of menu choices for children, burgers or fries were it, an occasional hotdog at one or two places. Best beach Friar's, best cab driver Sydney Carty, best beer Carib, best restaurant Marshalls and Ballahoos, best beach shack Sunshines.
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