Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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