Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 106
July 15, 2000

Last Update July 14, 2000

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ST. LUCIA: SANDALS AND LADERA BY KAREN FRIEDRICH

Since  I learned so much from other trip reports, I had to post a trip 
report  to help anyone else considering St. Lucia. Background info: my 
husband  and  I  have  been  married  for  12  years,  are in our mid-
thirties,  and  have  been to several other islands including Jamaica, 
Aruba,  Bahamas,  Caymans,  Turks,  Cancun,  etc. We have also been to 
other all-inclusives, but this was our first Sandals.

We  flew  from  upstate NY on US Air to San Juan, and then American to 
St.  Lucia,  into  Vigie  Field.  Although it is a prop plane, it is a 
larger  one,  and  the  flight  was  fine. It was great to have only a 
short  ride  to  Sandals  (10  minutes) after a long day of flying. We 
stayed  at Sandals St. Lucia Golf & Spa the first 6 nights, and Ladera 
for 5 nights.

Tips  if you are going: You will not need a lot of cash. Everything at 
Sandals  and  Ladera can be charged to your room. The tours we paid by 
credit  card.  We  used  cash  to pay for the taxi between Sandals and 
Ladera,  we  bought some drinks, snacks, at the supermarket on the way 
to Ladera, and tip money. I brought checks home. 

Although  Sandals  will bring you an iron, I would bring my own - many 
nights  there  was a shortage and they come back for it in 30 minutes. 
They  will give you one at Ladera and you can keep it your whole stay. 
I  brought  a  converter  but never needed it - Sandals has 110 to the 
rooms  and  Ladera  has  converters  in the rooms. Bring bug stuff for 
Ladera  -  a  good  rule  of thumb is if you get bit at home (I do, my 
husband  does not), you will get some bites there. Nothing bad or that 
would  keep me from going back, just annoying. The mosquito netting is 
really  just  for  looks.  Also, I would bring a small radio to Ladera 
next  time.  It  would be nice to have some music at night when you go 
back  to  your  room.  Thanks  to  the advice on this board, I brought 
candles,  which  were  great at night. Many people talk about the ride 
between  the  two  airports  and  resorts as terrible. It really isn't 
that  bad  - a little over an hour on a winding road. Sandals arranged 
for a taxi for us the morning we

left  for  Ladera  ($80US plus tip), and Ladera arranged for (and paid 
for  since we stayed 5 nights)a taxi (5:45AM) for the drive back up to 
the  North  end  to  fly  home.  I  wouldn't recommend renting a car - 
besides  the  left hand driving, there are many hairpin turns and lots 
of traffic on the roads. Weather - as someone else said on this site -
  it  rains  a lot! However, except for 1 day out of 12, it just rains 
for  5  minutes and then the sun comes out. Not even worth getting out 
of  your  chair. There are usually some clouds, but it would be really 
hot  without  them  (and  I'm a sun lover!). The one day it rained all 
day  we  went on a snorkeling trip and sat outside in the hot tub - we 
were wet anyway!

We  loved Sandals! We stayed in a Luxury Oceanview Room (3 up from the 
bottom  category).  It  was  in  the main block, but on the 4th floor, 
with  a  huge  balcony w/ocean view, 4 poster bed, sitting area, desk, 
and  decent  size  bathroom.  The  staff  was  all  very  friendly and 
helpful.  The main pool area and swim up bar is where we spent most of 
our  time.  Drinks - anything you want, including brand names. You can 
order  bottles  of  wine  and  champagne  at  dinner - I recommend the 
champagne  -  it's  a very good French selection. Food - great! It was 
the  best  of  any  all-inclusive we have been at. The only restaurant 
that  requires  reservations now is Kimono's - we went there one night 
and  had  a blast. Went to La Toc twice and the new Italian restaurant 
twice  -  both  were  excellent.  I  used  the  fitness  center in the 
mornings  -  no  air  conditioning,  so  go  early in the day. The new 
fitness  center  up  on  the cliff is air conditioned, but has limited 
equipment.  We  did  breakfast  at  both the Pavilion (buffet) and the 
Pitons  (sit  down).  We really didn't eat lunch, but a late afternoon 
(or  2AM!)  cheeseburger  from the grill was always great. Activities: 
we  went  on  the  Sandals boat snorkeling one day - saw a lot of fish 
and  the  water  is  not cold at all, so you don't need a wetsuit, but 
they  supply  them  if you want them. We have our own snorkeling gear, 
but  they  supply that too. We got a couples massage at the spa ($155) 
which  was  very  nice.  Make  your spa appointments early - it seemed 
like  they only have one or two people working there each day. We went 
on  the  Soufriere  Day  Sail  ($80pp)  which  I highly recommend. The 
catamaran  sails  to  Soufriere (drinks on board), you take a bus trip 
to  the  botanical gardens, sulfur springs and volcano. They also take 
you  for  a  buffet lunch with a view of the Pitons. You sail back and 
they  stop to snorkel and swim for an hour and you get back to Sandals 
around 4PM. A lot of fun and worth the money.

One of the reasons we picked this resort is so my husband could golf -
  which he never did! There are so many things to do that you can't do 
at  home,  and it gets hot pretty early in the day, we just ran out of 
time.

Nightlife  -  they  had  live music many nights and shows on different 
nights,  most which we missed. We spend a lot of time at the piano bar 
(say  hi  to Ovid) which was fun! They also have a sports bar which my 
husband  discovered  had  free  Sega, so we usually had to make a stop 
there.  Other  nights,  we  just  got  a bottle of wine and sat on our 
balcony after dinner.

Ladera:  Where  do  I  begin! Paradise! We reserved (and got) a Deluxe 
one-bedroom  with  plunge  pool  -  Unit  U.  It  was  amazing, with a 
waterfall  and  pool  right  on the edge of the mountain, sitting area 
with  fridge  (stocked with beers, sodas, water and rum!), four poster 
bed,  double  doors  which  opened  to a small balcony on the opposite 
side  of the room, and bathroom with rock-walled shower, open above to 
the  sky.  Being able to open the doors opposite to the open wall side 
was  great  at  night  - we had a great breeze coming through and were 
never  really  hot.  The  staff were wonderful (say hi to Innocent and 
Barney).  They  arranged  for cabs into town, who would then come back 
and  pick  you  up  after dinner (both ways charged to your room - $10 
each  way).  Breakfast  is included with your room and is buffet style 
with  made  to  order eggs and omelets. Lots of fresh juices, homemade 
muffins  and  breads,  cereal, potatoes, bacon, sausage, and different 
local  dishes each day. We only ate in town twice - the Old Courthouse 
for  dinner  both  times (about $80US). Excellent food - lots of fresh 
seafood,  try the Thai curry shrimp if you like hot! We ate a Dasheene 
the  rest of the nights. Great food with a lot of specials every night 
so  you  won't get bored eating there more than once. Dinner cost runs 
about  $100 - $120, depending on if you get appetizers and/or a bottle 
of  wine.  This  is  also charged to your room, as are drinks from the 
bar.  We  were also there on Monday night for the managers party which 
was  a  buffet  and  lots  of  fun talking with the other guests. Free 
drinks  (beer, wine, champagne) and hors devours during cocktail hour. 
The  buffet was $45 pp, with more hors devours, salads, soups, grilled 
meat  and  seafood,  etc., all you wanted. We would sit at the bar and 
watch  the  sunset  most  nights  before dinner - the drinks are about 
what  you  would  expect  to  pay at a resort bar ($8 for a martini or 
frozen  drink  $6  for  wine  and beer), and they had hors devours out 
every  night  at  the bar around 6PM. The pool at Ladara is beautiful, 
clean  and  just the right temp on a hot day. They also come around to 
see  if  you  need  drinks, water, etc. We met a lot of people sitting 
around  the  pool,  including  some  of  our  fellow forum readers (hi 
Jennifer!).

We  took  the free shuttles to both the Hilton and Anse Chastenet. The 
Hilton  beach  is  nice  and  Ladera  gives you a voucher to use their 
chairs,  which  have  the  pull  up cabana on them. You cannot use the 
pool  at  the Hilton. I walked through the Hilton, which was nice, but 
very  much  a  ?Hilton? if you know what I mean - not very exotic, and 
lots  of  kids,  and many people waiting around for the Hilton shuttle 
to  take them down to the main hotel and beach! At Anse Chastenet, the 
beach  is  beautiful!!!  The  Ladera  shuttle takes you into town, and 
then  you  take  a  water taxi to and from the AC beach, which was fun 
(bring  your  camera - the water taxi guy stopped and took our picture 
with  the  Pitons  behind  us). Black sand (hot to walk on), with palm 
trees  right  on  the beach. Ladera supplies you with beach chairs and 
we  parked  them under a palm tree. The staff took drink orders and we 
never  felt  like  intruders.  We  had  lunch at the beach grill at AC 
which  was  excellent - we charged lunch and the bar tab on our credit 
card.  didn't  feel  like taking the hike up all those stairs to check 
the  rest  of the place out or go to the pool. We snorkeled at both AC 
and  the  Hilton  -  both were good, but AC was better. No jellies the 
day  we  went,  but a couple of people at Ladera went the next day and 
both  got  stung.  It  just  depends  on the tides. The Hilton shuttle 
leaves  at 9AM and Noon and you get picked up at either 12:15 or 3:30. 
The AC shuttle leaves at 9:30AM and you get picked up at 3:30PM.

At  both  resorts  there  were a lot of honeymooners, but just as many 
people  of all ages. I have read some people concerned about being too 
old  for  Sandals - no such thing! There are quiet pools, if you don't 
want  to sit at the main pool, and if you don't want to participate in 
the activities, you just don't!

I  would  go back in a minute and not change anything. The only advice 
I  have regarding Ladera is that if you like activities, three to four 
days  is  plenty  at  Ladera.  You can always do more tours, etc., but 
it's  pretty  remote  and not really any night life unless you want to 
go  into  town. The combination of Sandals and Ladera is perfect, plus 
you get to see both sides of the island, which is beautiful. 

ST. LUCIA: STONEFIELD ESTATE BY GREG AND ALYCIA SUTOR

Alycia  and I began our honeymoon at Stonefield Estate in St. Lucia on 
June  7th,  2000  and  stayed  for 3 nights until traveling on to Sans 
Souci  resort  in Jamaica (which we have written about separately). We 
had  originally  planned  to stay at Ladera Resort in St. Lucia at the 
recommendation  of  friends,  but  they  were completely booked at the 
time we were making our reservations (sometime in March of 2000). 

We  booked  our  vacation  through  Air  Jamaica  Vacations  via  "The 
Vacation   Hotline"   travel   agency   in   Chicago.  Linda  was  our 
representative  with  Vacation Hotline, and she did an exceptional job 
of  designing  the perfect honeymoon for us. She was very patient with 
us  as  we  made several changes in our reservations, and we have used 
her  for booking several other airline reservations since. Our highest 
recommendation  goes  to  Linda  if planning a vacation in the Chicago 
area. 

Our  airfare from Chicago was originally based on traveling to Jamaica 
only,  but  island hopping to up to 2 different qualifying islands was 
included  at no additional cost. We thought about going to Barbados as 
well  as St. Lucia, but decided it would be too much traveling for one 
vacation.  We  flew  out  of  O'Hare  airport  on  Wednesday  morning, 
transferred  in  Montego  Bay, Jamaica, and then arrived at Hewannorra 
Airport  in  St  Lucia  at  around  5 PM. Our cab ride to and from the 
airport (about 1 hour to Stonefield) was included in our package. 

We  were  greeted  at  the front desk and given very basic information 
about  the  resort  before being given the keys to our villa. We found 
the   staff   to   be   courteous  and  helpful  although  not  overly 
enthusiastic   or   eager   to  please.  All  requests  we  made  were 
accommodated,  although we would suggest being well informed about the 
island  and what you would like to do during your stay before leaving. 
We  obtained  such  information  through this web site and others that 
made  our  stay much more pleasant. It's not as if we had or needed an 
itinerary  planned  out,  but  don't expect an events coordinator like 
those found at larger resorts.

We  had  dinner  that  evening  at  the  only restaurant in Stonefield 
Estate  which  is  next  to  the swimming pool with an incredible view 
overlooking  the  ocean  and  Piton  Mountains.  The  food  was  good, 
although  nothing  exceptional,  with  a  nice  selection  of tropical 
drinks  to  choose  from.  Our  dinner  the  next  evening at Dasheene 
restaurant  (located  in  Ladera  Resort)  was  quite  exceptional  in 
cuisine,  service,  and  atmosphere  with  one of the most spectacular 
views  on  the  island.  The  other prepared meals we had in St. Lucia 
were  at  small  locally recommended restaurants in both Soufriere and 
Castries.  Again  they  were  all good Caribbean meals, but nothing to 
write home about in the way of quality or service. 

Against  much advice we rented a car which was nicely arranged through 
the  Stonefield  staff.  They had the car delivered to the front desk, 
where  we  filled  out  all  the  necessary  paperwork for a temporary 
Caribbean  driver's  license.  They gave us a very nice Suzuki 4 wheel 
drive  with  automatic  transmission  and  air  conditioning.  It  was 
expensive,  however,  totaling  up  at  about  $100.00 US per day with 
insurance, plus $25.00 for the license. 

The  roads in St. Lucia are treacherous. In the far south riddled with 
potholes,  then changing to mountainous terrain, very steep with blind 
hairpin  turns  at  over  180°  angles. Further north the roads become 
slightly   better,  although  local  drivers  seem  to  have  no  fear 
regardless  of  the terrain and pose additional challenge (and danger) 
in  all  areas.  After  learning to drive on the left side of the road 
and  getting  comfortable with the conditions, I did enjoy the driving 
as  well  as  the  freedom  it  gave  us to go where we wanted when we 
wanted.

The  first  thing we encountered on our travels through the island was 
that  every  local  person we met, regardless of age, wanted to be our 
tour  guide. We had little problem saying no again and again, although 
it  became  irritating  and bothersome. One such local who we informed 
that  we  had  no  use  for a guide as we already knew the island well 
(although  we  did  not)  instead  asked  us for a ride to the nearest 
town,  which  we  provided.  We became very comfortable with him after 
talking  for  a  while  and he did in fact become our guide. One great 
thing  about  this was that while with him, no one else would approach 
us for anything. It seemed to be a kind of local respect thing. 

Sunny,  our  new  Rastafarian  tour guide, took us through Marigot Bay 
and  Castries  and  gave  us  a personal rainforest tour, during which 
were  amazed  at  his  extensive knowledge of every tree and plant and 
its  use  and  harvesting  technique. He found me a good deal on Cuban 
cigars  in  town,  endlessly  offered us his homegrown Ganja (which we 
politely  declined),  and  even  invited us to a local reggae party in 
town which we did not have time to attend. 

One  of  the  nicest  parts of our trip was a visit to his tiny remote 
hometown  of  Bouton where the local residents were the friendliest we 
found  on the island. We met most of Sunny's relatives, as well as his 
friend  Peter, a retired schoolteacher from England who was now living 
in  Bouton 6 months out of the year. The residents were in the process 
of  building a guesthouse for tourists and invited us to come back and 
stay  with  them  on  our  next  visit.  It  was very primitive living 
conditions  in Bouton but stunningly beautiful and natural overlooking 
the ocean. I can understand why Peter is there. 

Getting  back  to  Stonefield  Estate and our accommodations there, we 
could  be  nothing  but  thrilled  with our location. As Ladera Resort 
originally  drew us toward it because of their private plunge pools in 
every  room, we decided on Stonefield as an alternative because of the 
large  private  swimming  pool  that  comes  with the Plantation House 
rental.  The  Plantation  House actually has 3 separate bedrooms (each 
with  its own bathroom) and a kitchen large enough to serve dinner for 
15  people!  Obviously,  it is designed for 4 to 6 people to rent, but 
we figured we would go all out as it was our honeymoon.

There  is  a separate dining room and large living room with a vaulted 
ceiling  and 3 arched wrought iron gates opening to the patio and pool 
area.  Each  bedroom  opens  to  a  different  patio or deck area that 
offers  excellent  views of the lush foliage that surrounds the house. 
The  swimming  pool  was freshwater spring fed and very clean with its 
deepest  end  at eight feet. The outer edge of the pool drops off to a 
slow  slope  rolling down a few hundred feet to the ocean and offers a 
spectacular  view  of  the Petit Piton Volcano to the south. Two steps 
down  from  the pool is a circular brick patio with a large mango tree 
in  the  center. In early June, during our stay, the fruit was at peak 
and provided a delicious addition to breakfast every morning. 

All  window  coverings  were  three-inch  hardwood adjustable shutters 
with  no  screens. Occasionally, you would see small lizards scurrying 
about,  and  one evening we found a small bat flying around at the top 
of  the vaulted ceiling. None of this bothered me, although Alycia was 
at  first  uncomfortable  with the critters but quickly became used to 
it.  The  Plantation House was a pretty and elegant residence but your 
choice  of  bug spray or mosquito netting for sleeping will remind you 
that you are not at the Hyatt. 

Overall  we  were very happy with Stonefield Estate and the Plantation 
House  and  we  would  visit again even if at a much smaller villa. We 
saw  so  many  beautiful places in St. Lucia but with such little time 
there  it seems we missed so much. We definitely preferred the outdoor 
beauty  of  St. Lucia to Jamaica and will visit again regardless where 
we  stay  (Bouton?). I will note, however, that we spent almost all of 
our  time  in the south and, while we did not get as far north as Gros 
Islet,  we  have  heard it is much more similar to other overdeveloped 
touristy Caribbean islands. 

ST. MARTIN: AS GOOD AS EVER BY JAMIE SUSAL

We  hadn’t  planned  a  planned a spring trip to St. Martin this year, 
but American Airlines was making an offer we just couldn’t refuse.

Their  spring  sale  on  air/hotel packages made it possible for us to 
get  to  SXM for the second time in 5 months. For just a bit more than 
we  usually  pay  for  air  alone, we got convenient flight times from 
Chicago to SXM and eight nights hotel at Grand Case Beach Club.

Our  flight  left  Chicago on time, the connection was smooth in Miami 
and  we  actually  got  into Juliana a few minutes early. Flight crews 
were  cheerful and friendly, the food was edible and the extra legroom 
AA  is  adding  DOES  make a difference. If this airlines is trying to 
win  back some of the customers they’ve alienated over the years…well, 
they’re making a good start.

Immigration  at  Juilana  was  a  breeze.  Despite  a  large  crowd of 
incoming  passengers,  we were out in minutes. It seems there has been 
a conscious effort to make this process more efficient.

Our  choice  for a rental vehicle this time was Hertz. Although we had 
reserved  the usual economy car (expecting a Hyundai Accent) they were 
giving  everyone  at  that point in time a Suzuki Grand Vitara with 4-
wheel  drive  capability.  While  we never thought we wanted to have a 
Jeep-type  vehicle,  this  turned  out  to  be really nice. The Suzuki 
handled  potholes  like a champ, laughed in the face of the rough road 
to  Club  O  and  allowed  us  to  drive all the way to the top of Pic 
Paradis.  It  will  be hard to resist requesting one of these vehicles 
next time.

Incredibly,  we  breezed through Marigot with no traffic jams and made 
it to Grand Case Beach Club in no time at all.

We  had  requested  to  be upgraded at GCBC and got it – sort of. Upon 
check-in,  they  put  us  into  a  bright, airy and spacious 2-bedroom 
condo  with  a partial view of the water. They did warn us at the time 
that  after  3 nights, the owners of this condo would be coming in and 
we  would  have  to  switch  to a different unit. We didn’t think this 
would be a problem as we figured they would just move us to another 2-
bedroom unit.

Unfortunately,  when  moving  day  came,  what we got moved to was the 
small,  dark  garden-view (more accurately, fence view) studio we were 
originally  assigned.  I guess I can’t complain too loudly, as this is 
what  we were actually paying for, but the experience left a bad taste 
in  my  mouth.  It  was like being upgraded to first class, only to be 
told  part way through the flight to go take a center seat in the last 
row  of coach, between two big guys who had just come from an all-you-
can-eat   bean  burrito  buffet.  What  made  it  worse  is  that  our 
travelling  companions,  Jeff  and  Sari,  had  also been given the 2-
bedroom  upgrade  and  they  got  to  keep theirs for the entire eight 
nights.  It took me a good day and a couple of good drinks to get over 
my p-o’d feeling, which is no way to spend a day of one’s vacation.

This  was  the first time in our six visits to SXM that we didn’t stay 
somewhere  on  Orient  Beach. Grand Case Beach Club is a nice property 
in  a  good location, but overall I still prefer to be on Orient. What 
GCBC  does offer over Orient is a lot of peace and quiet. The property 
sits  on  two  beaches: Grand Case, which is long but very narrow, and 
Petit  Plage,  which was never very crowded and turned out to be quite 
a  nice  place  to  while  away  the  afternoon.  Guests  of  GCBC get 
complimentary  use of padded lounge chairs and umbrellas, cutting down 
on our expenses overall.

Speaking  of  cutting  down  on  expenses,  this  turned out to be our 
“cheap  eats”  tour  of  SXM.  Our first night, we went to Talk of the 
Town,  one  of  the  lolo  stands  in  Grand  Case. The total bill for 
myself,  John, Jeff and Sari was $40, including a couple of beers, the 
standard “plate of food”, an extra side dish or two and tip.

Another  night,  we  went  to  Latin  Night at the Carnival Village in 
Phillipsburg.  Although  we spent $15 apiece on the concert ticket, we 
ate  dinner  at  the  lolos  there,  spending even less than we had in 
Grand  Case.  Can’t  say  we  stayed too long at the festivities – the 
main  show  starts  late  and  we  were  just too tired from the day’s 
sunning, shopping and imbibing.

Other   dinners   we  had  included  Vince’s  Konga  Café  in  Cul  de 
Sac…reasonably  priced  and  tasty.  We  ended  up  dining twice at Le 
Bateau  Lavoir in Marigot, once on our own and once as guests of Romeo 
Fleming,  President of the Office of Tourism for the French side. This 
restaurant  is  French-bistro  style  and  seems  like  many  tourists 
haven’t  discovered  it  as we were about the only tourists there both 
times.  Their  stuffed  crab-back  appetizers are outstanding, as were 
the codfish fritters and the escargot.

Another  evening,  we  went  to  Thai Garden in Sandy Ground. It’s the 
only  restaurant  on the island I’ve been to that is entirely indoors. 
It’s  also  the  only  place I got any bug bites the whole trip, so be 
forewarned  and  wear  your  repellent.  Sari and Jeff swear by a non-
chemical  citronella  spray  that  kept  them  free  of  bites at Thai 
Garden.  The  food here is good, although I didn’t find it to be quite 
as  spicy  as  the Thai food I’m used to in Chicago. We tried a couple 
of  soups  as  appetizers  that  were  delicious.  Along with the Thai 
dishes,  there  is  also  a  selection  of  Vietnamese fare. If you’re 
sensitive  to  MSG,  remember  to request to have it omitted from your 
meal.

We  made  our  customary  trip  to Restaurant du Soleil in Grand Case, 
where  John  chose  the  biggest lobster he could find in the tank and 
dutifully  ate every morsel. I had a filet mignon in raisin sauce that 
was  outstanding.  But  for me, the best part of the whole meal was my 
dessert,  which  was  really  quite simple: fresh fruit baked in a rum 
sauce.  This  restaurant  is  always  one of our favorites for classic 
French preparation with a Caribbean touch.

Our  last  dinner of the trip was at Bananas in Simpson Bay. This is a 
place  we  never  would  have  found on our own, particularly since we 
almost  always  dine  on  the French side. But the four of us ended up 
winning  dinner  at this restaurant (I’ll get into how shortly) and it 
ended  up  being  one  of  the  best  meals I had on this visit. Their 
standard  menu  is pretty American and not something I would go out of 
my  way  to  get. But every night, they have featured specials and one 
of  them  was mahi-mahi stuffed with crab. John had a rib-eye steak he 
declared  to be one of the best he’s ever had, anywhere. This place is 
also  known for having 100 variations of banana-flavored shots, but by 
this  point  on  the  trip, all my poor, over-taxed liver could handle 
was a nice, soothing bottle of Carib. Okay, two bottles.

So  how  did we end up dining free at Bananas? Earlier in the week, we 
were  talking  to  Bulldog, the morning DJ on Laser 101 FM. He invited 
us  to  come  by  the studio during his show, and put Jeff, Sari, John 
and  myself  on the air playing “The Newlywed Game,” just like the old 
Bob  Eubanks  game  show  classic.  Never mind that each of us couples 
have  been  married  about  10 years…I can assure you that a decade of 
wedded   bliss   makes   it   no  less  fun,  and  certainly  no  less 
embarrassing.  I’m  happy to report no one is getting divorced because 
of  the  experience,  and  we  won  the dinner at Bananas as a result. 
Plus,  we’ll  always  have the memories of doing a “wacky radio stunt” 
in St. Martin, too.

For  John  and  myself,  this  was our second trip to the island since 
November’s  Hurricane  Lenny  (the  first  being only a week after the 
storm).  For  the  most part, things are back to normal and as good as 
before.  Maho  is the one major exception. Cheri’s had just reopened a 
couple  of  weeks  before this visit, but with the Maho Resort and the 
Royal  Islander  still  closed,  the  area felt like a ghost town. One 
establishment  that  may  have actually benefited from Lenny is Sunset 
Beach  Bar. It’s the latest place to meet up with people and just hang 
out.  We  spent  many  an hour warming the barstools here. The sand on 
the  adjacent  beach  has  come  back nicely and the incoming aircraft 
provide  the  afternoon’s  entertainment.  And if you have a hankering 
for  a  cheeseburger,  this  is one of the best spots on the island to 
satisfy your craving.

On  May  2,  we  gathered  at  Sunset  Beach Bar with a group of cyber 
friends  from  the AOL SXM Friends chatroom. As always, it was a great 
experience  to  put  faces  with  the names and get to know personally 
some of the folks we’ve come to know on-screen for a few years now.

Phillipsburg’s  Front  Street is looking better than ever. I think the 
hurricane  led  to  an  overall  clean-up  of  this area and a renewed 
consciousness  of what the town looks like to tourists. Unfortunately, 
it  still gets hot and overcrowded when the cruise ships are in, which 
seems to be just about all the time now.

The  French  side  has recovered exceedingly well. In fact, there is a 
construction  boom  going  on.  Maybe even too much construction – new 
hotels  on Orient, new homes on the road between Grand Case and Orient 
–  hopefully  there  is some planning behind it all so that St. Martin 
remains  the  paradise we’ve always found it to be. The French side is 
also starting to develop timeshare properties. 

Our  flight  to  SXM  was  packed  and part of me is glad to see large 
numbers  of  tourists  returning  because  I  know  the island economy 
depends  on  tourism.  But part of me remembers being one of less than 
100  people  on Orient Beach right after Lenny and how darned peaceful 
it  was  then. Our first time to St. Martin was in 1996, so I can only 
imagine  what  it  was like in the ‘80s when Club Orient was about the 
only thing on that beach.

On  this  trip, Orient Beach was bustling. If you like to sit in front 
of  Club  O, it was necessary to claim your chair and umbrella by noon 
or  find yourself “SOL.” We were glad to see Andy and Cheryl from Surf 
Club  South  have  opened  up  their new place under the Baywatch name 
just  north of Pedro’s. They brought over all the old Jersey signs and 
the  t-shirts from the old place and the higher foot traffic on Orient 
has created a business boom for them.

If  you  haven’t  been  to  SXM  before Lenny, you probably won’t even 
notice  hurricane  damage  (unless,  of  course, you drive through the 
Mullet  Bay  area – it still looks like the war zone it’s become since 
Hurricane  Luis  in  1995).  There  did  seem to be a larger amount of 
litter  around the island. As for crime, we did hear of one car break-
in  among  our  AOL group, but in general, the street-smart person has 
nothing  to  worry about…just exercise the same caution you would in a 
U.S. city and don’t leave anything in your car.

We’re  already  starting to plan next spring’s trip to the island. Not 
sure  how I’ll get through the next 10 months – including a long, cold 
Chicago  winter  –  between  now  and  then. Someone, please send me a 
Carib!

ST. MARTIN BY R. BAILEY

My  wife and I just returned (June 29) from 9 days on SXM after a week 
on  St.  Barth's.  These  will  be  a  few rambling comments but not a 
catalog of our day-to-day activities. 

The  island  was  very  dry  -  I  can't  recall seeing it more brown; 
actually,  not  very  attractive.  I  expect that a first time visitor 
expecting  a traditional tropical island would have been disappointed. 
People  have  complained  about  ugly  litter etc. but I didn't notice 
anything  unusual  in that regard. Caribbean islands generally seem to 
always  have  an  untidy  look  about  them. On landing, one can see a 
number  of  wrecked  buildings at Mullet Bay and Maho that make a poor 
impression,  but  that is about the only hurricane damage that you can 
see.  Maho  shops seem up and running (we drove through only) although 
there  is  still  a  lot of reconstruction work going on there. Mullet 
Bay  is  the  same  as  it has been for several years. The beach is in 
very  good  shape  and  quite  popular,  and  while  there are wrecked 
buildings  near the ocean, many of the cottages of the old resort look 
surprisingly  sound  on  the  outside.  I am sure that they could have 
been  renovated  right  after  Luis  without  too  much problem if the 
developer  had not decided that he could make more money by trashing a 
reasonably  attractive  property  to  build a high rise and add to the 
uglification  of the island. The Sint Maartin government has never had 
the  sense  to  use zoning laws to protect their natural resources. We 
noticed  a  number  of  new roads cut into the hillsides on the French 
side that indicate a lot more developments will be going up here. 

We  rented  a  car  from  Alain Arnell at AAA; very smooth pick up and 
return;  no  problems.  Roads are in very good shape; better than last 
year.  People  who complain about them must be looking for US standard 
highways.  They  should  try  St.Barth's. Lots of directional signals, 
unlike  many  islands,  so it is easy to get around. Some of the roads 
to  beaches etc. may be unpaved and/or potholed. Tour buses for cruise 
ship  passengers  have taken over from gravel trucks as the main cause 
of traffic delays on the French side.

We  stayed  at  Grand Case Beach Club, where we have stayed many times 
before.  Still  a  very  nice  hotel,  with  some improvements such as 
thatched  umbrellas  for  shade  on  the sea-front lawn and around the 
pool.  A  continental breakfast at the Sunset Cafe is included; a nice 
place  with  good  service  even  when  they  are  rushed.  Rooms  are 
comfortable  with  air  conditioning,  fans,  in-room  safes and well-
equipped  kitchens.  Ocean front rooms have very nice views of the bay 
and  waterfront,  especially from an upper floor (3rd is the highest). 
Security is very high.

We  had  no problem with crime per se but on our first morning, near a 
bakery  on  Rue  de  Hollande  in Marigot, we encountered an obviously 
sick  woman  who  demanded  10  francs and became extremely aggressive 
when  refused.  Not  pleasant,  but not criminal. We also kept running 
into  a  young  Frenchman who was trying to give us "free" scratch-off 
tickets;  for what we could not tell, but understand it was to "win" a 
time share sales pitch.

Because  of  a  foot problem that limits my wife walking on soft sand, 
we  did less beaching than usual. However, we got to some. Friars is a 
very  good  beach  with beach bars and chair and umbrella rentals; the 
road  in  is  still  rough;  probably a good thing if it keeps it from 
becoming  too  popular.  We  spent  a  bit  of time on Rouge, which is 
popular  but  which I have never seen as particularly good, outside of 
the  beach  bars. The sand near the entrance ends with about an 8 foot 
drop  at  the water's edge, which is lined with flat rocks. Further to 
the  left  the  drop  disappears  but  the rocks remain. Not great for 
swimming,  poor  for  walking. The Oyster Pond end of Dawn Beach - Mr. 
Busby's  -  is  another  pleasant  beach,  but the new construction at 
Oyster  Pond  (more multi-story, not particularly attractive buildings 
that  replace what was a nice view) is likely to make this pretty busy 
in  the  future. Even now, beach chairs are pretty closely arranged on 
the  beach.  However,  chairs  rent for $3 and umbrellas are free; the 
usual  rate  is  $5  for each. Wonder how long that bargain will last? 
The  other  end  remains less crowded. Had lunch there at Scavenger's, 
not  an  extensive  range  of  choices  but  quite  good. Marla claims 
correctly  that  she  has perfected her rice salad. Didn't stay on the 
beach,  so  don't  know  what their rentals cost. Also went to Orient, 
but  as  we stayed pretty much in one place near the Perch on the Club 
O  side.  This  area  hasn't  changed much, but I can't comment on the 
main  part  of  this  beach.  L'Embouchure  also  is nice and would be 
especially good for children..

We  drove  through  Philipsburg  a  couple  of times at night to go to 
couple  of favorite restaurants, Wan Yang Doll and Shiv Sigar, both of 
which  we  highly  recommend  if  you  would like to try Indonesian or 
Indian  food  as a change from French or Italian. Because we were able 
to  park  very  near both, I didn't have any feelings regarding safety 
in  P'burg  at  night.  I  can't  understand why there is so much neon 
(very  much  out  of character for the Caribbean) when their has never 
been  much activity there at night anyhow. We also went in for a short 
time  on  Sunday to look around when it was not busy. They are placing 
sand  along  the  town  beach to replace that which was washed away in 
storms.  The  idea  is  that  it will protect the waterfront buildings 
from  high water but it remains to be seen how long it will stay. What 
I  can't  understand  is  why  they  allow  storm damaged buildings to 
remain  unrepaired  right  next  to  the  pier  at  which  cruise ship 
passengers  arrive.  Air  conditioners  dangling  on their cables from 
demolished windows can't make a very good first impression.

Besides  Shiv  Sigar and the Wan Yang Doll, mentioned above, Bistro Nu 
and  Yvettes  are  2  long  time  favorites. Yvettes has authentic St. 
Martin  food,  is popular with locals, and is a cut above the barbeque 
food  of the lolos. Excellent complementary johnny cakes. Bistro Nu is 
a  small  place  in an alley off the main street in Marigot, and has a 
wide  menu  of  French Bistrot and Creole food. We tried California in 
Grand  Case  for  the  first time and liked it very much. Malanga is a 
little  Creole  place  in  Grand Case that has good and bad points. It 
has  a  small  menu,  and  even  then  not  everything  on  it  may be 
available.  Our  main  courses,  kingfish  and  conch, were OK but the 
local  vegetables and home made hot sauce with them were very good and 
made  the  meal.  The  owner makes half a dozen kinds of flavored rum, 
which  come gratis. When we complimented him on them, he insisted that 
we  have another. The cost can't be beat, but they have trouble making 
change  even  for  francs and prefer credit cards. If you like Creole, 
want  a  budget  balancer,  and  like  the posted daily special, it is 
worth  considering.  Also  had  a very good pizza at La Main a la Pate 
and  a  couple  of  lunches  at  La  Belle  Epoch, both at the Marigot 
marina.  They  both seemed fairly busy, but a couple of places are out 
of business there, so the area may not be doing all that well.

There  is  a  small  zoo in Philipsburg that we had seen years ago and 
took  a  look  at  to  see  how  it  fared after some severe hurricane 
damage.  An  interesting diversion if you have children; it focuses on 
Caribbean  fauna,  but  is clearly having a tough time surviving since 
the  government  has  cut  its  support,  in  spite of the educational 
activities  that  it  provides for local children. It will not survive 
another hurricane, I suspect.

We  took  our usual day trip to Anguilla - a 20 minute, $10 ferry ride 
from  Marigot.  The ticket taker on the ferry rents cars on Anguilla - 
$35  for a car and licence. Ours ran well and had air but was a bit of 
a  wreck; fine though for a day exploring. We mostly just drove around 
rather  than spending the day on a beach. We did stop at Uncle Ernie's 
on  Shoal  Bay  for  a  beer; they didn't seem particularly anxious to 
serve  us. Shoal Bay (East) is the closest beach on Anguilla to Orient 
in   terms   of  activities  and  popularity,  but  not  in  terms  of 
(un)clothing,  since  even  toplessness  is  illegal  on  this British 
island.

Our  last  day  we checked in early to avoid the lines at Juliana, and 
paid  our  $20  per person departure tax. Had breakfast at Don Carlos, 
dropped  my  wife  with  the luggage at the terminal, drove across the 
street  to  leave  the car with Alain's representative, and were ready 
to  go.  The  departure lounge is undergoing renovation, and there are 
no  refreshments  in  it,  so until they finish it is not particularly 
attractive.  The  flight to Kennedy on AA was fine if you didn't think 
about  how much you are paying for it. We expect to be back next year. 

TOBAGO: BLUE WATERS BY JONATHAN GAL-EDD

Trip 7/00

Summary  : Prior to visiting Tobago, we read several articles claiming 
it  to be a secret that Americans do not know about. Just returned and 
we  understand  why  Americans  don't go there: It is difficult to get 
too,  Local food is expensive, and the diving is O.K. You spend over a 
day  getting  there,  Mediocre  local food with minimum selection cost 
$15  a plate, the diving is Advanced and requires work, we did not see 
a  manta.  (As a matter of fact Manta have been seen for 3 months, may 
be  in  August). We stayed both at Crown point and Speyside. If you do 
go  to  Tobago go to Speyside and stay at Blue waters Inn. Speyside is 
hilly  and  beautiful  and  unique  compare to over Caribbean islands. 
Speyside  reminded me of the Island in survivors. Crown Point is flat, 
boring  and  the  beach  and water is not a nice as other destinations 
(Cayman, Bahamas, Etc).

Details:  Getting  to  Speyside  :  Two  airlines  provide  service to 
Trinidad:  BWIA and American. With BWIA you can get to Tobago with the 
last  plain  at  9;00  PM. American requires a flight you need to over 
night  in  Port  of Spain. As the trip to Speyside takes about an hour 
We  stayed  over night in Port Of Spain in the Bell air hotel near the 
airport  ($72).  Got  up at 5:00 am caught the 5:40 AM BWIA to Tobago. 
By  6 we were in Tobago, by 6:15 in a Taxi on our way to Speyside. The 
trip  is  26  miles of a narrow two lane , through hills it took about 
an  hour  and  30  minutes. Cost per taxi $40. The trip is very pretty 
but  a  little  tiring.  For  those who get to Tobago late at night we 
suggest  staying  at  Crown Point and make the trip to Speyside during 
the day. Jimmy's and Arthur by the Sea are two good choices. 

Money  : the Trinidad dollar is 6.3 for 1 US. change money at the bank 
(airport)  the  hotel  give  s  you 5.5, shops taxi give 6. We arrived 
early in the morning and used our credit card where possible.

Blue   water  Inn/  Speyside:  Speyside  has  three  places  to  stay: 
Speysidfe  Inn,  Manta  Lodge  and  Blue  Waters  Inn.  In addition to 
restaurants  at  the  hotels,  Speyside has three restaurants: Jama's, 
Redmans  and  Birdwatchers.  Manta  Lodge  and  Speyside  Inn  and the 
restaurants  and  clumped  together  in  one bay. Blue Waters Inn is a 
miles walk over a hill and located in the next bay north of Speyside.

Blue  Waters  Inn is a great choice : it is secluded, on the beach and 
the  restaurants and rooms are on the beach. Manta and Speyside are on 
the  road  to Charlotsville. The rooms in Blue Waters Inn are nice, no 
TV  or  Telephone. Blue Waters Inn is unique and pretty and if you are 
going  to  Tobago  stay  there. On the way back we stayed one night in 
Coco  Reef  in  Crown point for twice the price. Coco Reef Is a resort 
like  many  others  in the Caribbean's. At Coco reef you were required 
to  ware long pants for dinner. From 4PM to 7 Pm every one was getting 
dressed for dinner. We went to Miss Jeans in Store bay.

Blue  Waters  Inn  is  unique.  Not  much  night life in Speyside. Two 
nights  Blue  Water  had  live  entertainment and the folks from Manta 
Lodge  came  to  Blue  Water Inn. By 10:00 every one was asleep. It is 
breezy  in  Speyside  and was not your typical warm Caribbean weather, 
Crown Point on the other side was hot and sticky. 

  We  did not rent a car as driving on windy roads is not for us. Food 
:  Blue  Waters  Inn offers a food plan, we did not get the food plan. 
We  brought  some  "power  bars" and snacks for breakfast. Blue Waters 
Inn  serves  free coffee and we used to grab a cup and sit in the bar. 
Some  days  we  went  a la cart : Eggs are $7.00, a fruit plate $2.50. 
They  do  not  have  a  break  fast  buffet.  We ate lunch at the bar. 
Sandwiches  and food were about $7-8, The garden salads were $4 , soft 
drinks  $1.  Dinner we ate at each of the restaurants prices were from 
$15  to $25 not including alcohol. The food is local, no menu or price 
list.  Three  choices  :  Fish, Chicken, Shrimp. Food comes with rice, 
vegetables  and  a  small salad. Jamas and Redmans serve empty plates, 
and  then  food and side orders are placed in the middle of the table. 
Bird  watchers and Sharon and Phebs (in Charlotvislle) server a plate. 
Jamas  served  a  lot  of food but was a little pricey. I did not like 
the  food  (had the fish) others liked it. We ordered for six and left 
half  the  food  on  the  table.  Jamas  is  a full meal with soup and 
desert.  July  4  had  a buffet at the hotel $25 pp. The next night at 
Redmens  we  ordered  4 servings for six (two fish two meat) I enjoyed 
the  meat. WE took a day off from walking to Speyside, took a taxi ($6 
on  way) to Charlotsville. Charlotsville is located on the Caribbean . 
The  only  restaurant  in  Charlotville  is Sharon and Phebes. Had the 
Fish  a  and  Shrimp Creole and enjoyed it while watching the sun set. 
The  bar  at  Blue  Waters Inn (Shipwreck) serves the light lunch menu 
until  8  ,so  we ate there once. The worst food was at Bird watchers. 
You  must  eat  at these restaurants as the local food stands close at 
5:00.  In Crown Point we ate at Store Bay at the food stands. The same 
food  as  Speyside  and  paid half the price (miss Jeans is the best). 
Tasted a local food called Roti's ($3) was not very tasty.

Diving:  We  got  the  dive 10 pack from Aquamarine. Price for tank is 
$33.  They  have  a 10:30 and 1:30 dive. They have two dive boats that 
can  handle  11  divers  each.  The  first  few  dives  were  a little 
disappointing.  Boats were crowded and visibility was poor. A group of 
11  divers  from  Detroit  had one boat and the rest of the resort (11 
divers)  the  other. July is the rainy season and it rained the entire 
week  before  we  got  there,  some  river  washed  into the water and 
visibility  was  20-30  feet.  We were diving in green and muddy water 
(known  on  the  east  coast  as  Ocean City conditions). The next day 
things  cleared  up,  but I was a little upset about the crowded boat. 
The  dives here are advanced and require work. The dives are drift and 
at  some  points  you  literally fly, some point you fight against the 
current.  The  dives  are 40 minutes long at 60 to 90 feet. We usually 
stretched  the dives to 50 + minutes. Some dives (with current) I came 
up  with  1200 PSI, against the current with 500. A dive master in the 
front  and  a guy with a marker in the back. At the count of three the 
entire  boat  backward  rolls into the water. Getting back on the boat 
in  the end is tough as the current carries you away ( especially with 
11  divers waiting.). After the first three tanks, things got better I 
was  assigned  to  the  advanced  group with no more than 7 divers per 
boat  and  had  some  good  dives. We did out best to find Mantas, but 
none  were  to  be found. The coral is in excellent condition, most of 
the  coral is the soft kind. The shape of the purple barrel sponges is 
not  round  due to currents. Visibility was 50+, and water temperature 
was  81 We dived : Manats, Cathedrals, Blackjack, Spinney elbow, Coral 
gardens,  Japanese  gardens,  special  and  picker. All sites are less 
than  15  minute  boat  ride.  The  view  returning  from the dives is 
spectacular, as you see the mountains and the bay. 

Two  of the sites had a swim through (Manta and Japanese gardens) were 
you  took off with the current. Some of the dives had thermo clines On 
three  dives  we saw Nurse sharks( mostly in the sand but one was free 
swimming),  two  turtles (one was bigger than me), several green Moral 
eel  (the  one  in  London  Bridge  was  half way out and was enormous 
,spotted  eels  and chestnut eel ( tiny eels ). Lots of big Angle fish 
and  blue  tangs.  Lots  of band shrimp, fire worms. In Cathedrals and 
Manta had many big Ocean trigger fish.

We  went  to  London Bridge and Marble Island ($5 extra per tank) this 
is 25 minute boat ride. 

Best  dive in Speyside was Picker: Currents, Nice coral and big stuff. 
The  dive started with a coral head with a turtle on one side, and eel 
on  the  other,  and  towards  the  end on the sand we saw seven nurse 
sharks  (one  on  safety  stop).  London Bridge and Marble Island were 
worth  the  trip.  Diving  there  is  in rocks. The water was a little 
murky  .  Marble  Island  was  a  great  "small  stuff"  dive. We were 
surrounded  by  fish,  schools  of  big  Angle fish. As a bonus we saw 
several  spotted  drum, Chestnut Eel, Octopus, school of Squid and two 
big lobster at the safety stop. 

Snorkel  and shore dives - From Blue Waters Inn (Beautox bay) you have 
a  shore dive. Brain, fan, rope and shingle coral from 9 to i 60 feet. 
I  did  this  site twice. You can also snorkel this which I did daily. 
While  snorkeling I had my Green Moray Eel in 2 feet of water, several 
angle  fish, tang Etc. A resident family of 25 Squid were there daily. 
The  squid  were  aligned  like soldiers from small to big. I used ½ a 
tank  of air to watch two squid matting. While diving we saw many band 
shrimp , big drum fish, and two lobster.

In  Crown  Point  I  snorkeled  and saw my first sharp tail eel (looks 
like a water snake). 

The  Manta  Hunter  -  desperate  for Mantas, we scheduled a dive with 
Redman.  Redman  is  the oldest dive master in Speyside ( yes his wife 
is  Redman  restaurant).  If  any  one can find a Manta Redman can. We 
waited for Redman for over an hour , and then he canceled on us. 

Bird  watchers:  the  week  of July 4 was over, the Group from Detroit 
gone,  and each day another American couple left. By July 10 we turned 
the  place  over  to the British. The table of the divers from Detroit 
was  replaced  by  a group of Bird watchers from England. You can find 
there report on rec.birwatchers newsgroup (just kidding).

The  official  The  Caribbean  Travel  Roundup  World Wide Web site is 
http://caribtravelnews.com.  The  CTR  is  also  available  on America 
Online.  Contact:  Paul  Graveline, 9 Stirling St., Andover, MA 01810-
1408   USA   :Home   (Voice   or   Fax)   978-470-1971.   E-mail   via 
editor@caribtravelnews.com or CTREDITOR@aol.com

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