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Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Note to Readers: THE NEXT ISSUE OF THE CTR WILL BE PUBLISHED ON SEPTEMBER 1ST.
CONTENTS FOR JULY 1994
1. Tourist Board Press Releases
Puerto Rico: Summer Hotel Specials
2. Caribbean Journeys for July 1994
Anguilla: Blanchard's Restaurant Reviewed by Dave Mann
Antigua: Hawksbill Resort by Joan Keeney
Aruba Restaurants by Melody Gabriel
Aruba by Pat Bishop
Aruba by Steve Cannon
Aruba by Mike Saperstein
Bahamas: Green Turtle, Abaco, by Sandy Reynolds
Bonaire by Brian McWilliams
BVI: Sailing by Howard Robins
BVI: Sailing Itinerary by Virginia Noyes
Cozumel by Marty Steinbruecker
Cozumel by Debbie Hoffren
Cuba by Andrew Coe
Dominica, Martinique and Guadeloupe by Patricia Manning
Jamaica: Grand Lido by Sophia Kulich
St. Barths by Larry Scarborough
St. John by Linda Tuffy
St. John: Caneel Bay by Jerry Lonon Sr.
St. John by Dennis Dimond
St. Martin by Susan Gilpin
St. Martin by Althea Bodgan
St. Martin by Bill Thompson
St. Martin by Gene Borio
St. Martin by Mark Creason
Villa Renting Tips by Lan Sluder
About our Contributors
Lan Sluder (Villa Renting Tips) is a travel writer and publisher. His travel writing has appeared in Caribbean Travel and Life, Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, Miami Herald, Bangkok Post and elsewhere. He is publisher of Belize First, the quarterly ad-free magazine on travel and life in Belize
1/ TOURIST BOARD PRESS RELEASES
Puerto Rico: Summer Hotel Specials
If you are interested in visiting "a continent's worth of natural attractions" at rock bottom prices, There is no better time than now to visit Puerto Rico courtesy of a vast array of value for money vacation packages, not only in San Juan but "out on the island" as well.
San Juan remains the prime tourist destination, with its major resorts and facilities and the lure of historic attractions including old San Juan. But beyond San Juan, appealing locations such as Ponce and Guanica on the south coast, Mayaguez and Rincon on the west coast, Las Crobras on the east coast and Isabella and Dorado on the north coast, also provide a wide variety of tourist experiences.
Not including air fare, a sampling of summer and fall packages include:
The Radisson Normandie has a "Romantic Adventure" package: a honeymoon suite for 3 nights for $360 per couple with a gift certificate for a 50% discount on a return "first anniversary" visit.
Radisson's Ambassador Plaza Hotel and Casino offers either the "romantic Adventure" or Romantic Adventure Deluxe" at prices up to $1000 off winter rates for a week's stay with a similar reduction on shorter stays. Its "Fun Sun and Good Luck Adventure package also is sharply reduced from already reduced summer rates.
A "Summer Romance" package is available from only $228 per couple at the newly renovated Condado Beach Trio Resort in which guests at either the Condado Beach or La Concha Hotels can enjoy the amenities at both, including the Condado' Beach's gourmet restaurant, Vivias, and the hotel's gleaming white sandy beach.
At the Condado Plaza Hotel and Casino, its the new "Fiesta Fantastica" package starting at $170 per person, double occupancy for 2 nights, the "Honeymooners" luxury package starting at $470 per couple for 2 nights; and a "Dine Around" package for both the Condado Plaza and its sister property, El San Juan Hotel and Casino for $68 per person per day.
The El San Juan has a "Caribbean Magic" package for varying stays -- 7 nights for $630 p.p.d.o.
The Sands Hotels and casino has several packages, including what it calls "the best value in the Caribbean" -- $199 p.p.d.o for 3 nights.
The Tanama Princess Hotel offers several package including the Puerto Rico "Princess Trip" from $280 p.p.d.o advertising " you pay for 5 nights and stay 7".
The Condado Lagoon Hotel has a 3 night package from $42,50 p.p.d.o
The Hotel Excelsior offer a 7 night package from $250 P.P.
The Best Western's Hotel Pierre has a 3 nightly "Weekend Getaway" package for $207 for 2 people, including "tropical" breakfast.
On the east coast:
The new $250 million El Conquistador Resort and Country Club, situated at Las Crobas atop a cliff overlooking both the Atlantic and Caribbean, offers no less that 8 packages at varying prices, including the "Family Holiday" package from $450 per couple per night. El Conquistador also has Camp Coqui, a day camp for children at $38 per day.
On the north coast:
Side by side at Dorado Beach are two Hyatt Regency Hotels -- the Ceromar Beach Resort and Casino whose packages include the "Honeymoon Romance" with 3 nights starting at $384.50 p.p.d.o and the Dorado Beach Resort and Casino whose packages include the "Honeymoon Romance" at a almost identical $389.50 p.p.d.o.
On the west coast:
The Horned Dorset Primavera Hotel, a Relais and Chateaux hotel in Rincon, has a 3 night package at $588 p.p.d.o. and includes breakfasts and dinners for 2 champagne and airport transfers.
Multi Coast Packages:
Holiday Inn has several properties in Puerto Rico and offers summer packages separately or combined. In San Juan, its Crowne Plaza Hotel and Casino has a 3 night "Family Fun" package from $248 p.p.d.o. and a 2 night "Honeymoon" package from $378 p.p.d.o. In Ponce, on the south coast, the Holiday Inn Ponce has a 3 night "Family" package from $306 per room. The Holiday Inn chain also offers a three site, 6 night "Inn and Around Puerto Rico" package -- 2 nights each in San Juan, Ponce and on the west coast, Mayaguez, starting at $399 p.p.d.o
The Puerto Rico Triangle Package" features 7 nights in three location -- two in the Regency Hotel in San Juan, 3 at the Copamarina Beach Resort in Guanica on the south coast, and two at the Costa Dorado Beach Hotel in Isabella on the north coast. The package includes a side trip tot he unique Rio Camuy Caves and to the Arecibo Observatory. The package starts at $824 p.p.d.o European plan.
2/ CARIBBEAN JOURNEYS FOR JULY 1994
Anguilla: Blanchard's Restaurant Reviewed by Dave Mann
Greetings from Anguilla.
Here is a review of a relatively new but excellent restaurant at Mead's Bay, Anguilla:
Travellers to lovely, laid back Anguilla, know that many of our restaurants are on the expensive side. Also, some of the big name resort restaurants have pretty lousy food, considering that you and your companion might spend $US100 to $US200 for an evening. These things considered are why BLANCHARD'S is good place to visit.
BLANCHARD'S serves a First Class meal, with reasonable prices, excellent ambiance, and a guarantee that you will enjoy your meal. As you enter, you are immediately greeted in a friendly, yet dignified manner. Tables have lovely views of the beach and trees, and the nights we were there, there was a delicious breeze wafting through the place, keeping everything nice and cool. The chairs are actually comfortable! Unlike so many of Anguilla's trendy places, who have their furniture manufactured by Torquemada, BLANCHARD'S furniture allows you to sink back with good back support and enjoy the meal. Smokers can congregate in their own area next to large windows receiving the prevailing wind. Non-smokers can enjoy fresh air without hassles.
The wine cellar, displayed through a glass panel door near the dining area, has a very interesting cache of wines. All I know about wine is that I like it, so I asked the proprietor to recommend something to go with the stuffed swordfish. Indeed, he knows his wine, since it was excellent and was reasonably priced at about $22.50. Since Mr. Blanchard didn't know me from Adam's Off Ox, I must assume that he did his best to mate my meal and my wine. I have some friends who will lift the glass to their nose and exclaim "Oooh, a very fruity nose, particularly naughty but still a slight amount of yahoo in the cork." And, they always say, choose the wine yourself because the restaurant will try to beat you out with the most expensive stuff. I think Blanchard's recognizes that not everyone is a wine freak, and uses their good judgment and honesty to make the diner happy. However, if you are a wine-o-phile, then you'll enjoy checking out the wine cellar and well-annotated wine list.
OK, now on to the appetizers: I had the "Crisp Tostada of Grilled Lobster, red bell pepper and jalapeno Jack Cheese." This was $8.00 and I could have stopped there -- it was almost a full meal. And terrific taste combination, the mixing of jack cheese, a bit of hot pepper and ole mister Anguilla Lobster who undoubtedly died happy that night. The tostada appeared to be a real home made flour tortilla, and the mango and garlic topping made it perfect. Our companions had the Beef Satay with Homemade apricot chutney ($8.00). This was more like an ordinary satay, but the apricot chutney did help to give the meat a more robust flavor. There was plenty of it, also, and the satay was shared around the table to the sounds of our clutching fingers, clashing forks and occasional grunts of ecstasy. This disgusting display of snorkeling down some great chow caused several tourist heads to turn towards our pig-out, and at least one gentleman from the Boston area appeared near to a swoon. We did refrain from throwing the bones out the window for the night birds. Another appetizer was the "Green Chili Corn Cakes with mushrooms, herbs and brandy sauce" ($6.00) . The corn cakes were a little bit dry and it needed, well, maybe some Trinidad green chili sauce or something -- I don't know exactly. However, everyone who cooks knows for sure that trying to get corn meal to come out perfectly moist is a tough job for any cook.
OK, on to the main course: by this time, we are sitting back in the chairs (remember? comfortable), enjoying the view of the beach and trees, and ready to be astonished by our main selections.
Main courses include Stuffed Swordfish with leeks, fontina cheese, herbs and grilled with lemon and olive oil for $21.00. This is Serious Swordfish, perfectly grilled, with the fontina cheese leaking out ready to be slurped with a chunk of tender, fresh swordfish. Give his dish four stars, four forks, four fish-hooks, four- whatever, it was good, real good. And *I* cleaned *my* plate, too! I'd order this dish again, for sure. Plenty of it; I did not have to ask for seconds as I've had to do in a couple of trendy French restaurants lately.
One of our companions had the Key Lime Coconut Shrimp ($23.00). The shrimps were sauteed and had a mustard and citrus sauce. Very tasty and the shrimps were not cooked to a rubbery frazzle, either, they were very tender. The mustard and citrus sauce put just the right twist on the shrimp, off-setting the coconut taste and making a perfect balance. This is another plate-cleaner meal!
Finally, our other companion enjoyed the Balsamic-Mango Snapper ($19.00). This was some local red snapper filleted and grilled with a vinegar, mango and orange juice glaze. Wow! another winner. And we hadn't started on the second bottle of wine either, so we could still taste, enjoy and make relatively cogent comments. The red snapper was it's usual tasty self, which is probably why snapper and grouper are the two favorite fish eaten by us locals. This is kind of an unusual taste combination for us, because my red snapper dishes at home are usually just grilled and a bunch of lime juice thrown in to suit. The combination of the vinegar and the mango/orange juices seems to make the already sweet-fleshed fish very tangy. Anyone who wants to get away from the ordinary, toss the fish on the grill, flip it around a couple of times and throw it on the plate, syndrome, would be wise to choose this dish at Blanchard's.
Finally, the last member of the party enjoyed the "Barbecued Free- Range Chicken". Mister Chicken had a glaze made of fruit juice and spices, maybe Chinese, or something. For sure, the chicken was tender and tasted just like you expect chicken to taste. I don't know whose "free-range" it came from, but it didn't taste like the chicken we locals get at Proctors, Ashley's and the Vista, food markets, which is USDA Grade "C" commercial chicken that has been frozen and unfrozen so many times you have to put chicken bullion cubes in with it when you cook it. SOooooo, Blanchard's Chicken was a very pleasant surprise and actually surprised us all by it's excellent preparation. Personally, I think nineteen bucks is a little stiff, even if the bird free-ranged all the way down from South Carolina stowed away on the American Eagle flight.
OK, how about dee-sert. By this time, we were two lovely bottles of wine over the yardarm, absolutely stuffed with appetizers, food, condiment dishes, big fat home baked hard rolls, pure butter, and looked at each other and said, "Oh god, what next?" Ordinarily, desert follows:
Well, my notes, so carefully kept in my shirt pocket, somehow got tangled up with the zip-lock bags that I had brought along for Willie, our cat. Without digressing too much, you see, Willie KNOWS when mummy and daddy go out and eat at a local restaurant, and he especially knows if daddy comes home with tuna, swordfish, steak, or snapper on his breath. Thus and So, the zip-lock bags and little bits of fish for his imperial felineity, Willie the Anguillian Cat, go into the shirt pocket and come home for a little kitty snack.
Where was I? Ah, desert and the notebook and ziplock bags. OK, Like I said, the notes got lost with the tid-bits for fish for Willie, and the wine was really starting to haze things over. But I THINK we each had a key line pie or cheese cake slice and some decaf coffee. You'll have to take my word for it. I'm sure the desert and coffee was excellent and a complement to the rest of the meal. I'll try to do better next time.
Finally, the bottom line: four of us had a great time, enjoyed the very clean and imaginative decorating, were served with ease and polite aplomb, ate some seriously excellent food, and managed to get out the door for less than $US45.00 per person, including the service charge/gratuity (which the local employees actually receive, unlike most of the big name places here on Anguilla). Mr. and Mrs Blanchard are very gracious, their staff is friendly and efficient. The restaurant is easy to find and parking is no problem. You'll probably need a reservation during the tourist season.
Getting there, (here) etc.:
Antigua: Hawksbill Resort by Joan Keeney
The June 1994 trip was our first trip to Antigua and overall, we were favorably impressed by both the country and its people. The Antiguan people are extremely friendly and helpful and have a wonderful sense of humor. At the market in St. Johns on Saturday morning ( a not to miss experience to appreciate the Islands sights, sounds and culture), I was looking for a particular seasoning pepper that grew on the Island. The local women went with me from stall to stall helping me find the pepper and offering suggestions on shopping etc. Unlike other markets I'd been to in other Caribbean countries, people were genuinely caring and polite.
Hawksbill Beach Resort
While definitely not a five star hotel, Hawksbill does have some very nice features. The grounds and facilities were immaculate. Unless you rent a car or take a cab, you have to take your meals at the hotel. Given this, the food was quite good. At both restaurants, the service and food quality was excellent. In our opinion the "sit down" meals were much better than the buffets. The only bad meal experience we had was one night we arrived at 8:30 for a dinner buffet and much of the food was already gone, sadly not to be replaced while we were dining.
The hotel has four well maintained white sand beaches. The water was calm, warm and wonderful for swimming. #4 is a clothing optional beach mostly frequented by couples. It was staffed with a guard, mostly to represent a "presence"
Our room was an Ocean front cottage. At $226/night we found it expensive in comparison to like resorts we have stayed at in other Caribbean countries.
While most guests didn't seem to mind the lack of A/C, we found the room to be quite hot at times, even with all the windows open and the overhead fan at full speed. Additionally, a band played every night till 11 PM, so weather you wanted to or not, you heard live music until then. Even with that, we had a very nice time and I would recommend it to others who would not be bothered by music or lack of A/C.
Aruba Restaurants by Melody Gabriel
We returned from Aruba in May. Here's a rundown on the restaurants we visited
on this trip:
BUCCANEER - features fish tanks built into the wall at booth tables. I had the special which was delicious - a white fish called Amberjack topped with crab and shrimp stuffing and a rich cream sauce. Prices range from $15+.
STEAMBOAT - went for breakfast buffet for $7.65 pp. Big line on Sunday a.m. Juices, fruits, cereals, scrambled and omelets, ham OR bacon OR sausage on a given day. Pancakes, bagels, English muffins. Okay if you want to stuff yourself! Rating: **1/2
EL GAUCHO - this is THE place for Argentinian steak. Make reservation two days in advance. The El Gaucho steak is the best, $18 if I remember correctly. Don't let the dismal looking outside of this place fool you. It expands to a couple
of nice dining rooms when you get inside. Phone is always busy. We had to make reservations by driving there. Never had a bad meal here yet. Rating ****
BOONOONOONOO's - Means "Have a good time" in Jamaican, pronounced Boo-new'-newnew's. We had read some good reviews about this place so decided to give it a try. One of us had Jamaican ribs, their specialty. They bring one rib to try first because they are very spicy. Our friend said okay, he could handle them.
But, in the end, he said they were too hot and spicy to really enjoy. Another friend had stuffed egg plant which she did not enjoy. I had grouper and my husband had chicken with a Pina Colada sauce and we both liked our dishes.
Could be hit or miss depending on your taste. Prices $15+ Rating: **1/2
LE PETIT CAFE - our favorite place that we usually return to again and again.
On the night we were there, the staff seemed to be indifferent but the food was delicious. Filet mignon cooked on a hot stone at your table is our favorite. Prices are $15 +. Rating: ***
TONY ROMA's - out of respect for Denn Evans (whom we met on *P) and all his hard work, we went here on our last night! Waited about 30 minutes for a table at 7:30 p.m. They do not take reservations. The food is delicious. I chose the sampler which had four different kinds of ribs on the plate - 3 kinds of pork ribs and one kind of beef ribs. Others had chicken and ribs and just plain chicken dishes. All six of us thought our meals were excellent. Service was great too! Prices ranged from $10 up, I think. Hostess said they were going to change menu soon because prices were changing. She didn't know if they were going up or down!! Denn, fill us in here now that you're back in the states. Are the prices the same as in the states? And. if so, how do they cover transportation costs? Rating: ****
MI CUSHINA - My husband got it in his head that we were going to try a new place out of the tourist area. so he chose this place for lunch because it is located just 1 mile outside of San Nicholas (coming from the hotels) and we were headed to Baby Beach. You will find it on the left on a small diagonal road. A small billboard points the way from the main road. It turned out that Bob had a terrific idea. The restaurant has lots of Aruban antiques on display. Since they were almost ready to close for lunch, we were the only ones there. The owner, a fifth generation Aruban, delighted in showing us all around the restaurant and explaining the antiques. We learned that Aloe was once used and imported for a laxative rather than a skin potion! When slaves were freed in Aruba, they got a pension of 42 cents per week. A pay sheet framed on the wall shows the accounting of payments. An 1820 census report, also framed, shows there were 159 whites and 331 slaves on the island. The lessons were terrific. We both had amberjack, a white fish and it was delicious and plentiful! RATING: ****
GABRIEL's KITCHEN - This place serves only shrimp cocktail and shrimp scampi over pasta cooked by Melody after Bob goes down to the dock at 8 a.m. to buy a kilo from the fishermen. Price is $12 for a kilo or $14-15 without the heads if you are a good negotiator. Rating: ***** AYO!
Aruba by Pat Bishop
We spent 3 days in Aruba (not nearly enough time) at the end of a cruise, so here we go...
We enjoyed Aruba very much. We had a nice studio room at La Cabana. It had a kitchen, big bathroom with hair dryer and jacuzzi. The whole resort was very clean and well taken care of. The beach is nice and you can walk and walk and walk. The one thing we didn't like was the constant wind. I know it keeps you cool but 2 days we had to leave the beach because the sand was blowing around so badly.
Rent a car - the roads are good, you can't get lost and you'll really be able to get to see everything. Parking in Oranjestaad is easy and the traffic isn't bad at all.
The people are all exceptionally friendly and everywhere you go its exceptionally clean! We were told that there is virtually no unemployment and not much crime. (How do they do it?)
Restaurants (so many good ones and not enough meals to try them all !!!! )
Lunch at Joey's in Savaneta - great chicken salad
Lunch at The Bali Restaurant - excellent pork sate
Dinner at Gasparito's - excellent food, interesting decor, moderate to high $$ Dinner at Manchebo's Bistro - very good food, relaxing. moderate $$
Dinner at Papiamento's - excellent food, charming atmosphere expensive $$
We had some really good drinks at the Paddock. We didn't eat there but the food we saw looked good. Nice relaxing atmosphere.
We went down to Charlie's Bar in San Nicholas, but they were closed 2 out of the 3 days we were there. (Guess we'll just have to go back) It's really a very nice island and we wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
Aruba by Steve Cannon
Here are some changes now taking place or planned for in the near future that might be of some interest.
Major changes in the airport next year, a second floor to be added with US customs and ramp ways out to the planes. The police are cracking down on parking in front of airport and have set up a special taxi lane. The taxi lane makes it a little harder for the rental cars but does improve traffic in front of the terminal. Departure tax now $12.50 a person, so be prepared.
Traffic downtown is still bad but at least it moves. Parking in town is very hard to find. If you are shopping, there is still parking at Seaport Market Place and across from lovers ice cream next to the produce market.
Elections will be held in July for a new Gov't. At present the main problem with the gov't is to many people doing too little work. (I wonder where they got the idea from). If either of the two main parties can get a majority look for major changes in the way the gov't is run. Best job in the gov't is casino inspector. If there were not 10 daily newspapers these guys would run of things to do during their shift.
Work on Marriot Hotel on schedule as well as new golf course that should open Dec. 94. Many of the hotels are already booking golf tours for next Jan. and Feb., so if you are planning to visit at that time would suggest getting your reservations in soon. Many of the greens are finished and talk about green grass in Aruba. You gotta see it to believe it. Would not like their water bill. The road to the light house has been changed slightly but still easy to get to and the best view in Aruba. Ritz Carlton will take over the Beta Hotel and should start construction in the very near future. As for the Ramada, no news, but some people think it will be torn down after all the legal problems are taken care of.
Great news for Paradise Beach owners. All owners should have received by now info stating that as of July 1 paradise will be officially open. Work on phase 2 should start soon and will take about 8 months to finish.
Cab fares have gone up slightly but are still reasonable. Rental car rates have not gone up and most offer discounts. There are more handouts of coupons at the airport so make sure you get them all.
For a change of pace try the buffet at Roseland in the Alhambra shopping plaza. Nice salad bar and several choices for main course at $12.95 with no added service charge. Large part of the traffic jam going out to the hotel area is Domino's delivery trucks. Last count, 10 delivery trucks and growing. More choices for things to do at night. Make sure you pick up free newspapers in the hotels and a small handout called the Billboard that lists what's going on each night. Hope some of the info here will help to make your stay in Aruba even more enjoyable.
Aruba by Mike Saperstein
Aruba is one of the most dynamic islands I have ever been to. There is no time of year when Aruba isn't tops. Through my travels on the island, I have eaten at over 50 restaurants, toured many sites, stayed at numerous hotels, and purchased a timeshare. Here is a quick rundown of my favorite places to go.
La Cabana Beach and Racquet Club- This is where I own a timeshare. Over 500 luxury condo units, 3 pools, 5 restaurants, and everything you could ever want in a hotel.
Radisson Aruba- One of the older, more established hotels on the island. This hotel has 3 wings which are surrounded by lush gardens. Such stars as Elizabeth Taylor and the Queen of Holland stay here. Also, there are 3 restaurants (rather expensive) on the premises.
Costa Linda- A brand new, smaller (about 130 rooms) luxury resort. All of the amenities, an awesome pool area with lush palms, music, and a bar. 2 restaurants on the premises, and a HUGE beach.
Hyatt Regency- One of the most spectacular hotels I have seen ANYWHERE. This hotel is surrounded by pools with black and white swans, there is a 3 level pool complex with waterslides and such. Spectacular casino. Brand new hotel.
Most hotels have casinos, here are my favorites:
ROYAL CABANA (at La Cabana)- The Caribbean's Largest Casino
ALAHAMBRA- Free standing casino and bazaar, open late.
CRYSTAL CASINO- Free standing, right in the heart of Oranjestad (the capital).
I was never at a restaurant there that did not have top-notch service, Here are my favorites:
WARUNG DJAWA (Indonesian) - This place is just GREAT.
EL GAUCHO- This steakhouse has the best steaks I have ever tasted.
SANDRA's- Great ribs.
MAMAS and PAPAS- Great local food.
BOONOONOONOOS- No, not a misprint. Great local specialties.
TWINKLEBONES- A great steakhouse. Great entertainment by the staff who put on a show two times nightly.
RIGOLETTO- Great Italian food.
CHARLIE's BAR- This place is legend. A MUST SEE!
All fast foods have branches here.
CLUB VISAGE BLUE NOTE CLUB PAPAS and BEER
Check out EAGLE PALACE for bowling. Tennis and Racquetball at most major hotels, especially La Cabana which has 10+ courts and such. Also, Aruba currently has a 9 hole golf course with a Robert Trent Jones 18 hold club being built.
All watersports can be found outside the hotels, on stands by the beach. Jet skiing, parasailing, motorboating are popular.
Oranjestad (the capital) offers the best prices on all goods. Shops are clean, air-conditioned, and modern. No tax. Some of the best shops can be found in the 80 store SEAPORT VILLAGE MALL. Other great shopping areas include HARBORTOWN and the ALAHAMBRA BAZAAR.
Fresh fruit can be found at the oceanfront fruit market (local crafts also available here).
Other towns to shop at inclusive San Nicolas and Noord. All hotels also have shops, and the airport (Aeropuerto Riena Beatrix) has duty-free shops.
DePalm Tours is widely known, and offers every type of tour imaginable. They also offer Glass-Bottom boat rides, horseback riding (at Rancho El Paso), and parasailing. Several other local outfits run tours also. They run ads in the many local tourist publications and such.
The island has many great sites. See the rocky North Coast, the sand dunes at California, the lighthouses, the Church at Alto Vista, the rock formations at Casibari, the gold smelter at Bushiribana, Frenchman's cove, and many many more.
Also, for the strong, Mt. Hooiberg offers a 563 step climb to the top. The views are magnificent, I have taken the climb 3 times.
Atlantis Submarine offers underwater tours originating from the port of Oranjestad.
American Airlines flies direct from NY JFK and from 100 other cities via San Juan PR. ALM flies direct from Miami and Atlanta, and Air Aruba goes direct from Newark, Miami, Atlanta. Also, many charter flights go to Aruba daily. From Europe, KLM and Air France fly direct. Several small airlines fly flights to Aruba from other Caribbean Islands.
Flights to Curacao and Bonaire are only a matter of a scant 15-30 mins.
For Further Info- contact MikeSap@aol.com. I can give more in-depth info on all these places. I hope you enjoyed this brief overview!
Bahamas: Green Turtle, Abaco, by Sandy Reynolds
I recently returned from an all too quick trip (fly over) to the Abacos - Green Turtle to be exact. My wife and I hit on G.T. 21 years ago (completely by accident on our honeymoon) and have been going back ever since. This time I went with my son for a little diving and and island hopping with a rented 15' whaler. It took this trip for me to realize that G.T. has really been discovered.
Things started changing in the last three or four years. Originally, When I first discovered G.T. there were no cars on the Island. Electricity was only provided for the village of New Plymouth. The clubs at the other end had their own generators. A flashlight was a necessary item for travel since the electricity would go off regularly. "The good ole days in the Bahamas". Radio was the primary means of communications (and still is, only now VHF instead of CB). And of course you didn't see any satellite dishes that have sprung up all over the place.
During the years we have been going there we have got to know lots of the locals, watched many get marry and start families of their own. Recently with the change in government there has been more emphasis for development of the out islands ("Family Islands") versus Nassau and Freeport, two cities I have no interest in - maybe Nassau every couple of years. The new President is from Abaco and as an election promise he has started to improve the roads and infrastructure on Abaco's mainland. As a result even little Green Turtle Cay, off shore has seen development. Land has been sub divided and some lots (1/2 acre) are now selling for up to $300,000 (on water). Seems the son-in-law of the original owner of the G.T. Club, the islands major resort (now that his wives father has died) is getting a little greedy. The old man was happy with just breaking even, but is seems his son in law wants to make a killing. Normally I wouldn't care, but I'm afraid his plans will change the Island's character into something other than what everybody has fallen in love with. Anyway how can this little island support the development planned? Yes there is a minimal garbage dump there and limited electricity but they can't support the planned development. That is the big question.
Another change, for the better, depends on your point of view. Recently they have changed the time period that duty would be assessed on your boat if cruising in the Bahamas. Before you would get hit with a 25% duty on the value of your boat and equipment if your stay exceeded six months! Now you can get an easy extension of up to a year. You can now even get a special cruising permit ($500 annually, I think) that will let you stay indefinitely. As a result the cruising charted companies have started to return to the Bahamas. Most are Based in Marsh Harbour. This gives the islands even more exposure. Add to this those "BIG RED" Disney Cruise Boats that stop in Great Guana Cay and ferry people to the neighboring cays of Man-o-War and Green Turtle.
I guess what we have here is the classic catch 22. The native folks like it for the increase in business but to the tourists who have been going there for years it's down here from here.
I am sorry to get into this dissertation, but wanted the readers to know a little about me and where I'm coming from. Yes I have been to other islands in the Abacos, Man-O-War, Hopetown on Elbow Cay and Little Harbour and other uninhabited Islands to numerous to name but G.T. has always been my favorite. I have been to the other Island groups where I have discovered the a new home away from home. Here I'm sure progress will arrive but not for long time, I hope. It is not on the Sport fishing circuit nor the charter fleets charts nor within range of the "Big Red"boats. With what is going on at G.T. I will soon have to change my allegiance. Maybe it's just progress, but for me, I prefer to be one step ahead of it.
Bonaire by Brian McWilliams
This was our (my wife and I) first visit to Bonaire this winter; I really hadn't seen so much as a photo of the place. So it took a little while to get used to the place and get into the proper mindset.
Overall, it was a great trip. We spent most of our time hanging around the muchmaligned beaches and snorkeling. We also spent part of each day sight-seeing. The weather was great -- never checked a thermometer, but felt like it was in the mid-80s, with constant strong breezes. The sun was very powerful, even though it was winter. It rained briefly probably 3 of the 8 days: just quick pop-up showers that passed by. One day the clouds lingered most of the mid-day, but then it cleared brilliantly. Humidity was moderate; lower than Hawaii, the only other "tropical" place I've been. No flying/biting insects to report, except for some mosquitoes when we ate outside at one restaurant. No roaches that I saw. (Lots of lizards, though.) Water temperature was around 79 degrees, I was told. A little cooler than normal for the time of year. I get cold easily, so I didn't get to dawdle much when I was snorkeling, but it felt great to climb out onto the beach, warm up, and hit the water again.
One of the mild surprises to me was how desolate the countryside (and even the towns) were. I had been told Bonaire is essentially a desert, but I wasn't ready for the abundance of rocks and cactii. This made for beautiful scenery in some places; close to town, it made the place sometimes look dingy and drab. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a fair amount of garbage on some of the windswept eastern rocky beaches. And the locals seem to have created improvised landfills here and there in the interior. Industry has a presence on Bonaire that can sometimes detract: the Akzo salt pier and salt piles are interesting, especially when the sun is low and the white salt is illuminated against a dark sky. But some might argue it's an eyesore. Ditto for the oil tanks on the northwest shore. The radio towers scattered about the island aren't very intrusive, but they don't help the view. At one point when we were driving around some back roads in the interior and came upon a bunch of junked cars, I felt like I was on the set of those Mel Gibson movies about life after the nuclear holocaust "Road Warrior"?)
If you stay close to your hotel, or you spend all day diving, you'd never notice the dinginess. Kralendyk, the main town, is bright, clean, and fun to visit. We didn't buy much except for little trinkets and t-shirts, but there were stores a-plenty. We shopped at the big grocery store in town, (Kalimara?), which was fun if somewhat frustrating. Lots of Dutch food products, decent variety for the American grocery shopper. (We brought frozen meat in our cooler, so we weren't dependent on the over-priced stuff at the grocery.)
We stayed at the Sand Dollar, which is a condo-style resort just north of Kralendkyk. Our one-bedroom place on the second floor was very spacious and had a real nice view of the ocean and sunsets. Generally quiet. Not as clean as my wife would have liked, and the a/c unit died on the second night (fixed next day by staff). The condo was supposed to have a dishwasher, but ours had been yanked out for repairs and was never replaced. Maids came in every day to do a light cleaning and make the bed. In general, I can recommend the Sand Dollar, but not to someone who expects conditions such as you'd find at a first-class hotel. Such folks might be better off at the Harbor Village resort just down the road.
My wife and I are not divers but had planned to take the resort SCUBA course and do a couple of dives. Unfortunately, my wife got a wicked head cold the day we left and had ear blockages during the plane flight. So we never dived.
But the snorkelling was great! We snorkeled from shore in a number of locations: off the pier in front of the resort; off Playa Lechi, the beach in front of the Sunset Hotel; off Klein Bonaire, the uninhabited island to the west of Bonaire; off Pink Beach, the large beach south of Kralendjyk near the salt ponds; and off Playa Funchi in the Washington National Park. At every location, we saw vast numbers and varieties of sea life in the generally crystal clear water.
My expectations were (rightly?) very low regarding the beaches on Bonaire. Reputation has it they are small and few in number, and the sand is sometimes outnumbered by rocks. But we found them *very* enjoyable as it turned out. For one thing, they were very uncrowded or even deserted. The water was generally very calm and clear -- perfect for lolling about to cool off or to swim/snorkel. And since most of the good beaches are on the west coast, you get to see some great sunsets from the beaches.
- We went to Pink beach most often. It's the longest stretch of sand on the island, beautiful cerulean water, total absence of rocks. Pink beach is kind of weird because it's pinned between the water and a steep bank of rocky coral, as though bulldozer had created a wall of the stuff. Made for a great windbreak, however, and gave the beach very private feel (it's right off the road). Pink was the most crowded beach we saw: at it's busiest (Saturday) there might have been a total of 25-30 people using the beach. Other times, we had it all to ourselves. FYI, lots of topless sunbathers on Bonaire, especially. on Pink.
Many of the people who visit Bonaire are from the Netherlands and seem to think nothing of stripping down in public.
- We spent one day at Lac Cai, a very pretty beach on a kind of lagoon off the southeast coast. We had the place to ourselves all day, except for the little local kids who were playing in the waves. Their parents probably owned / worked at the little cantina near the beach. The water at Cai was very shallow -- maybe 3 feet deep as far out as you could go. Not much to see with the snorkel except eel grass. But lots of sand rimmed by mangrove trees and the sound of waves crashing off in the distance on the rocky eastern shore.
- Klein Bonaire: we got a Zodiac ride over from one of the dive folks at the Sand Dollar and spent the day on Klein Bonaire. Fairly long stretch of sand, good snorkeling, some little beach huts to get out of the sun, and extremely quiet (again, we had the beach to ourself all afternoon). Fun to look across at Bonaire and get a perspective on it, and to watch the diving parties pass by. Definitely a highlight of our visit because of its beauty and ... well, novelty.
- Playa Franca, just past the oil tanks on the northwest coast: Weird little beach. No one there except for some locals who seemed to be living in a little stucco shack near the beach. The cantina was closed. Water has lots of coral, so we didn't get to "swim", but we picked our way around with the snorkels and saw some good stuff.
- Playa Lechi, the beach at the Sunset Hotel: we ambled over to see what the neighbors were doing. Ended up paying $5 each to rent beach chairs. (Free for guests.) The sand was very nice, but the beach was relatively crowded. Snorkeling right off the shore was pretty good. I can see why guests at the Sunset would enjoy using the beach, but I probably wouldn't go back unless I was staying there.
We mostly cooked in (that's why we stayed in the condo), so I don't have much to report. We did eat at Den Laman one night: very nice mahi mahi, quiet/pretty setting right on the water. Service was fine. Definitely recommended. We also ate at the Green Parrot, the restaurant on the water run by the Sand Dollar. Very popular/busy. Food sort of uninspired. Atmosphere ruined somewhat one might by some rowdy Americans at the bar. But convenient for us after a tough day of sun/water.
The guidebook I used (Frommers Caribbean 94) recommended using Budget, so we did. Not very happy with it. The surly Budget clerk gave us a fairly beat-up Suzuki econobox that had inadequate a/c and drove like crap. We were surprised to learn that Budget doesn't let you drive their cars (except for jeeps, I think) in the National Park during the "rainy season" (Winter), which was one of the reasons we wanted the car in the first place. But it got good gas mileage. We ended up renting a pickup for one day from AB Car Rental, which had an outlet at the Sand Dollar and allows the vehicles to go into the Park.
We're pretty low-key types, just as happy to spend the evenings reading a novel on our veranda and hitting the hay early. So we didn't do any "partying" at night. Did see a great slide show of underwater photography at the Sand Dollar that inspired us in our subsequent snorkelling ...
The "sights" on Bonaire are mostly underwater. We enjoyed spending a part of each day driving around the the bumpy dirt roads to see all parts of the island, but the so-called tourist sights are kind of a joke. The two sets of slave huts in the south aren't much to see, and there's no historical info provided besides a terse little sign. Gotomeer, the big lake in the northwest, was very pretty, and we saw a number of flamingos, but at a distance. We continued along to Rincon Village in the north. Lots of kids playing in the street and locals passing the time of day on their front porches. We weren't feeling very adventurous, so we didn't stop. But others might enjoy the ice cream place there or the bar / restaurants. The Indian Inscriptions near Playa Grandi on the northeast coast weren't much to see, and again there was no information provided to tell you about what you were seeing. The piles of conch shells at Lac Cai are interesting, but I wouldn't recommend making the longish drive there just to get a free shell. (The beach is nice, though.) I would say that the Washington National Park is worth a visit. Again, it's kind of understated: lots of cactii, hills, some vistas, rocky beaches. Go with the right attitude and it can be a fun way to spend several hours (just driving the rutted roads is a challenge), but don't expect to have your socks knocked off.
All in all, it was an excellent trip. It's fun going to a place that most other people haven't even heard about -- especially when it means you often have the place to yourself. It's also nice to be in a place where most of the tourists are not speaking English. We'll definitely think about going back sometime.
BVI: Sailing by Howard Robins
I returned after 9 days in the BVI and each trip gets better and better. We chartered a Lagoon 42 Cat from the Moorings. It was the same boat type that we sailed in Martinique last year. This is a roomy fast and easy to handle yacht-by far one of my favorites. We took it easy the first day and anchored at Deadman's on Peter and enjoyed the beach and the hike to the top of the island. The headed toward the North sound and spent the day at the Baths---love the moorings! We moored at Leverick Bay and had a great time at Pussers. Boy, things were quite and only two boats were anchored here, but had an outstanding dinner and a free bottle of rum. It seems that week is was an off period, prior to the huge invasion of power boats from Puerto Rico in July. We moved to the Bitter End and enjoyed the facilities on shore with lunch at the pool side cafe and a great dinner in the main dinning room. Saba Rock, Pirates Club is still great. We the headed out and snorkeled at Great Dog and George Dog.
Finally we ended up at Telis Bay on Sunday night and everything was closed, both the Last Resort and Conch Shell--so had a gourmet dinner on board---even home made Bruschetta (not bad for a Texas Crew). We sailed to Cane Garden, one of our favorites and met some Dallas friends on a boat out of St. Thomas and had dinner at Reymers (still great). Looks like Stanley's is about out of business. His mother died a few months ago and their hasn't been steel drum entertainment for a few months. However, we had a wild time at Myetts which had a great group on stage and left the next day for Sandy Cay and sailed the length to Jost Van Dyke, and decided to join our friend back at Cane Garden, with a great evening at Quito Rymers with his entertainment. Since the roosters wake you early we headed for Sopers hole and visited the shops with lunch at Pussers. We visited the Sunsail operation there and were impressed with the new fleet of boats. Even had a 48 Privilege Cat available for bare boating.
After we helped the local economy, sailed for the Bight on Norman and anchored in 20 feet in the south corner. We had dinner and a crazy evening on the William Thorton. Picked up a mooring at the caves and the indians for snorkeling. Seems we encountered Baracudas every time we stopped, but a diving friend said they won't bother you---but still mean looking.
The we sailed to Cooper but all the moorings were taken and I dislike anchoring in the grass so we headed back to Peter and had our last evening on Deadman's --still beautiful as ever.
This is our 8th or 9th trip and can't wait to go back. We talked to some local residents on Tortola who moved there from the states and everyone says things have really gotten bad on St. Thomas--the island has averaged five murders a week in 1994. Also, crime is increasing on St. John and the Moorings is suggesting you stay away unless you leave someone on board at all times. Also, US customs now wants to see the boat when you clear in---yuK! Well, we still love the Moorings--service couldn't be better. We spent our first night at the Mariner Inn and the last night at Treasure Isle (ready for a little A/C) which is delightful.
Starting to plan a one way trip St. Lucia to Grenada in early 95 and then will take my daughter who graduates high school in 95 back to the BVI with three friends.
BVI: Sailing Itinerary by Virginia Noyes
Day 1: Leave Road Town Harbor and anchor at Norman Island. Dive/snorkel at Indians on way. Possible dinner or drinks at William Thornton.
Day 2: Sail to Cooper Island for night.
Dive/snorkel Rhone at Salt Island on way. Possible lunch/dinner at C.I. Beach Club.
Day 3: Sail to the Baths for snorkel. Then to Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor or Savanah Bay for the night. Possible lunch at Little Dix Bay on way to Savanah
Day 4: Sail to Gorda Sound. Stay at Leverick Bay, Drake's Anchorage, Bitter End Yacht Club or Biras Creek
Day 5: Possibly stay another day, so much to do Board sailing, snorkeling Saba Rock, Ponchos, Pussers
Day 6: Sail to the Dogs. Get mooring at Great Dog or George Dog for snorkel or diving. Sail to Marina Cay for night. If moorings full, go to Trellis for night.(Good board sailing school)
Day 7: Sail to Monkey Point, Guana Island to snorkel. Continue to Cane Garden Bay for night. Great place for music, cocktails, dinner ashore. Tour the Rum Distillery
Day 8: Quick sail to Sandy Cay or Green Cay for snorkeling Next to Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke to Foxy's. Later to Little Harbor for lobster dinner at Harris'.
Day 9: Motor to White Bay for beach and reef snorkel Sail to Soper's Hole, West End for night or to Leinster Bay for quiet night on St. John.
Day 10:Sail up Drake's Channel to Peter Island for night. Possible dive/snorkel at Dead Chest Island. Anchor in Dead Man's Bay for last night
When you wake up the last morning and realize the time went too fast you can spend your time on the plane home planning your next visit to the BVI like we do.
Cozumel by Marty Steinbruecker
Cozumel is the place to go! My husband and I had a great time. We were there at the end of March. All the restaurants we ate at were great with the exception of Big Julians. Food was just average and service was terrible. They made us feel like we were inconveniencing them.
We ate at Las Palmeras for breakfast most days. Excellent food and very reasonable. We always a basket of rolls and they had the best cinnamon roll with coconut. Pepe's was the best - pricey but worth every penny. And the flaming Spanish coffee - indescribable. Other great places...La Choza, Chilie's, Karen's Pizza.
We stayed at the Sol Cabanas Del Caribe. The descriptions we received were accurate. The rooms are nothing special, but the grounds were beautiful. The staff at the hotel was helpful.
The snorkeling was great. I met a barracuda up close and personal. The beach at the Cabanas is very nice. The best part about staying there was the quaintness. It is relatively small compared to most hotels. Only two stories and about 50 rooms. We had a first floor room a few yards from the beach. I would go there again. I'm not a fan of high rises.
We did like the Presidente. We stopped there to check it out. Its very nice but had so many things we did not feel we'd use.
The island is beautiful. We rented a jeep and spent some time on the other side, also made the trip to the light house (I thought it was a paved road), and found the view spectacular. Other musts...visit Chakanaub but go very early, the plaza is fun anytime, but especially Sunday night and Zermmott's Bakery.
Beach recommendations: We didn't like Playa San Francisco-too commercial although crowded if you like to people watch. We found Playa del Sol to be nicer. The best beach was Playa Bonita on the eastern side of the island. Excellent swimming, food and very picturesque. We also just found a nice spot down from the road while jeeping the eastern side. It was quite isolated and very wavy. The sand was so soft.
The weather was perfect. I would bring a light jacket or sweater. I found it cool at night, especially near the water. My suggestion is to bring mostly casual clothes. Pack lightly. You won't need alot of clothes. We spent most of the time in our swimsuits.
We plan to go back next spring.
Cozumel by Debbie Hoffren
We spent an extended Memorial weekend at Diamond Cozumel. It has taken me this long to report because we did not like the resort!!!! We are too spoiled by Super Clubs and Sandals in Jamaica.
We took a Club America charter there. The flight was delayed because they put the wrong food on the plane. They gave no wine or liquor, only beer. The food was a strange meat.
They had an Italian restaurant and a Mexican restaurant, as well as the buffet. The first night, we had no reservations, so we ate at the buffet. The next night, we found that the Italian restaurant would not be open again for a week.
The buffets were average. The lunch buffets were awful--the beach grill was the best bet then. At dinner, they have carafes of wine and a grilled meat. Breakfast, they have waffles and omelettes. Breakfast begins at 7 a.m. (it's daylight at 4:30), lunch is at noon, dinner is at 6:30. If you want to eat at the Mexican place, reserve in the morning. One night they had all pork at the buffet. I am allergic. They were RUDE at the Mexican place and wouldn't let us in. I went to bed without dinner.
The buffet has glasses--the service is NOTHING like Jam. Lots of smokers were everywhere. At the pool bar, they have plastic glasses. Wine is jug wine. You can't even get a soda until 10 a.m.
The resort has two pools and an okay beach. They don't have many activities. This is an okay place for a SHORT getaway. We walked down the beach to ride waverunners--$35 pp. for 30 min.
One day, we rented a Volkswagon turned jeep to tour the island. Rent from National--$35 per day. Others are $60. They all tack on 10% tax also. There is only one gas station in town. The east side is BEAUTIFUL. We found a great beach on the way to the lighthouse and jumped the waves. That was the most fun of our trip.
The room was yucky. We had double beds, and it was HOT. We did have a safe deposit box.
The 3 days was LONG.
The resort has no jacuzzis. We went to bed at 8 every night out of boredom. We will NEVER go back. It is worth twice the price to go to JAMJAM, Couples, etc.
Cuba by Andrew Coe
Why visit Cuba? In the fourth year of the Special Period in a Time of Peace the government's term for the economic collapse caused by withdrawal of Soviet support much of the country has ground to a halt. Although reports in the foreign press are generally exaggerated, the Cuban people undeniably suffer from hunger, hardship, and unrest. Nevertheless, Cuba remains one of the most interesting and beautiful destinations in the Caribbean; the people unpretentious, generous and friendly, with a rich Afro-Cuban culture.
Cuba, unlike other Latin American countries, does not present extremes of ostentatious wealth and bitter poverty. Except for government officials carefully hidden away in a few Havana neighborhoods, everyone lives at the same level: down, but not destitute. Third World travelers with no experience of pre1959 Cuba may actually find the current standard of living not bad.
Most cities and towns have changed little since the 1959 revolution that saw guerrillas under Fidel Castro come down from the mountains to oust the government of President Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar. Relics of the past are everywhere. Central Havana Old Havana is undergoing restoration, and will soon stand in all its former haughty grandeur. Towns such as Trinidad and Santiago qualify as time capsules, with their cobblestone streets and old colonial buildings, fountains, and plazas still extant. The burgeoning number of horsedrawn carriages plying the streets a result of the country's transportation devolution contributes to the old-world atmosphere. This, in fact, is one of the unforeseen, positive effects of the Special Period: a cleaner environment. With factories closed and trucks idled due to lack of fuel, the air is pure and the water a crystalline blue.
Hundreds of miles of empty beaches await you. Varadero, the beach resort east of Havana, offers all the facilities you would expect at a good Mexican resort. The sand is spectacular and the scuba diving tremendous. The sun shines an average of eleven hours a day in Cuba, and the flawless emerald and turquoise water averages 80 degrees, three degrees warmer than the air.
Transportation is the Cuban traveler's biggest headache. Any trip longer than a taxi ride can quickly become a nightmare. The Cubans have a phrase for it:"No es facil." ("It's not easy.") Lack of fuel and spare parts has dismantled much of the country's public transport system. The easy and expensive way out is through the travel agents at tourist hotels. These people will do your booking, and you'll travel in relative comfort, though surrounded by other tourists and shielded from the nation's harsh realities.
Another pricey option involves renting a car, which provides good mobility but is often quite nervewracking. Even with little or no traffic, Cuba's roads are filled with hazards, and outside Havana and Varadero few gas stations accept tourist fuel vouchers. Those that do are often impossible to find.
The fastest way to get around the island is by air if you can secure a ticket. On a major route like Havana-Santiago only two planes fly each way per day, and in the Cuban waiting room the line is a week long. U.S. dollars will help, but you still must make reservations a week in advance.
Trains are the next step down the Cuban travel ladder, with a line of about three days for Cubans waiting with pesos. With U.S. dollars, however, you can often walk up to the station Ferrotur office, buy your ticket, and be on the train within an hour.
Cuban bus stations are citadels of desperation. Although the wait here is only two days, travelers know they will eventually be subjected to a 20-hour jaunt on a rickety Hungarian-made bus, the windows jammed open and the seats pushed back in positions of painful permanent repose. Dollars are worthless here, probably because no Cuban would ever imagine any foreigner wanting to ride such a bus.
At the very bottom lies a mode of transportation free and open to all: "hacienda auto-stop", or hitchhiking. You'll have plenty of company; the roadsides are lined with people who cannot afford a bus, train, or plane.
Many of the services the Cuban people complain about the train system is the most common target are not appreciably worse than elsewhere in Latin America. The problem most often is not quality, but quantity. Everything is in short supply, from bread to electricity, bus seats to cooking oil. Always be prepared to queue. Patience and a sense of humor are vital if you wish to return home with your sanity intact.
Cuba's tourist industry is young, barely 10 years old. Many Cuban tourism officials seem to sincerely believe all tourists wish to stay in large, beachfront hotels and join prepackaged tours to tourist-only destinations. They have yet to genuinely discover the alternative sort of traveler who wants to stay in Cuban hotels, eat Cuban food, and meet real Cubans.
Because of the vagaries of the world sugar market, tourism is currently Cuba's most stable source of foreign currency. The government sees great potential here and is developing major resorts all over the island. Castro himself is now an enthusiastic support of tourism, somewhat ironically championing foreign visitors as the saviors of his socialist system.
The U.S. Treasury Department's Trading With The Enemy Act does not prevent Americans from traveling to Cuba. It does, however, forbid them to spend their dollars once they get there.
Although technically illegal, many Americans subvert this ban by flying into Cuba from Canada or Mexico. Cubans welcome Americans and their dollars, and immigration officials will not stamp your passport. The U.S. government will never know of your trip unless you choose to blab about it.
Official exceptions to the U.S. restrictions do exist. You may travel to Cuba and shower the country with your money if you?re a working journalist or engaged in research related to your profession. Members of organized, educational tours are also considered exempt.
Two companies that arrange Cuban tours are Marazul Tours, 250 W. 57th St., Suite 1311, New York, NY 10107, tel. (212) 582-9750 or (800) 223-5334; and CamBas Associates, loosely associated with the University of Iowa, tel. (319) 354-3189, fax (319) 338-3320.
For more information on Cuba, contact the Center for Cuban Studies, publishers of Cuba Update, a bimonthly magazine devoted to the country. Write 124 W. 23rd St., New York, NY 10011, or phone (212) 242-0559.
For Further Reading:
Caribbean Island Handbook, ed. Sarah Cameron and Ben Box, Trade & Travel, 1992. Packs an amazing amount of nitty-gritty information into its 34-page section on Cuba.
The Complete Travel Guide To Cuba, Paula DiPerna, St. Martin's Press, 1979. Though a bit out of date, this well-researched, well-written, comprehensive guidebook offers a balanced, valuable view of the island.
Cuba: Official Guide, A. Gerald Gravette, Macmillan, 1988. A well-rounded guidebook with sound introductory chapters on history, culture, flora and fauna, and traveler's tips.
Getting To Know Cuba: A Travel Guide, Jane McManus, St. Martin?s Press, 1989. McManus is a U.S. journalist who has lived and worked in Cuba for the past twenty years; she spent two years writing and researching this book.
Trading With The Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro?s Cuba, Tom Miller, Atheneum Publishers, 1992. A superb travelogue with comprehensive insight into Cuban society, and a persuasive sales pitch for the nation's many attractions.
Dominica, Martinique and Guadeloupe by Patricia Manning
We sailed into Portsmouth, Dominica and were met a long way offshore by Laurence in his boat Laurencia. We had been told by Moorings to expect him, so the other boat boys were out of luck. Laurence was very helpful and capable. He also has 2 "assistants" who were lots of fun and nice kids. We set up a trip up the Indian River for that afternoon. This is a must see -- just like the Jungle Cruise only real. Trees overhang, birds chirping, cool green light...fabulous.
We took a tour of the island next day with Victor, a very interesting guide who is involved in the politics of the island, so we learned much about that. We went to Carib Reservation, Emerald Pool, Trafalgar Falls (Challenging climbing, but worth the trip...Hot and cold waterfalls).
We had a nice lunch at the Emerald Pool hotel. We counted 30+ fruits and vegetables that grow all over the island, just stop and help yourself to bananas, coconuts, etc.
Then we sailed to Rouseau for diving next day and anchored off the Anchorage Hotel and dove with Derrik Perryman of Dive Dominica. It's a great dive and he's a dive leader. We dove the "Champagne Bubbles" where hot water from the volcano region comes up through the water in "tiny bubbles" like Champagne that you swim through and saw a Seahorse for the first time ever and did a wall dive that just drops off to forever. The reefs are REALLY ALIVE, not like most of the major dive areas.
It's beautiful island. Wonderful people. Victor was helpful our whole visit, and would not accept additional tips for extra services. "It's OK", he'd say, after driving me around town Sunday morning for ice.
We left for Martinique next day. We sailed into St. Pierre late one afternoon. Challenging anchoring, as the bay drops off very quickly to 80+ feet. It's an interesting town even from the water, as the town walls and ruins are visible. Very intriguing town if you like history. There's a good museum, the theater ruins and jail are most interesting. This is the town that was wiped out by an eruption of hot gasses and ash from the volcano in 1902. Nice restaurant on the water.
It was nice to back in "France" for the great breads.
We left early for St. Anne next day. LONG sail as we were going nearly straight into the wind and our big tank of a catamaran won't do that. Arrived late and tired, but revived with a "refreshment" and a great dinner ashore.
It's another nice town, very scenic, lots of fishing boats.
After leaving our boat in the very capable hands of the Moorings (can't say enough about their service, it's great.), we spent two days at the Bakoua Hotel. This is a luxurious hotel (common areas and some of the rooms). We were upgraded to their best suite (accommodated because we had three people) which was really nice. It had a large private terrace, huge bathroom, jacuzzi tub, etc. All for $181 US. Great deal. Unfortunately, the standard room is much less luxurious. Very small and not too special.
We had dinner at Villa Creole and Pizza Napoli. Both very good. There is much to say about the food on French islands. SO GOOD.
Now on to Guadeloupe We stayed 2 nights at PLM Marissol at Bas du Fort. The hotel was nice, not fancy, but nice grounds, small beach, bungalows with small patio and spacious gardens. We had dinner there one night (Lobster buffet) that was OK, not special. Small beach on a small bay. I would probably recommend another area if I were to go again. We drove around the island(s) and I liked the St. Anne area and the St. Francois also. There are many nice restaurants to walk to in St. Francois.
We drove around Basse Terre one full day. This was a very interesting trip. The scenery is wonderful, people interesting, helpful (even with our very limited French), we had a picnic lunch with local families up the volcano road, stopped at Pigeon Pt. for "refreshments" ( nice lunch stop).
The next day we did Grande Terre whirlwind tour. Mostly drove and sight-seeing. Had a wonderful lunch/supper in Le Moule (I don't have my guidebook handy for spelling reference). Great fish, lobster, with a dynamite "sauce vert" that we talked the chef (Josephine) out of sharing with us! We came away with a jar full of sauce that we used on the boat all week for extra "flavor"!.
All in all, we liked Guadeloupe very much. We had no problem with language (though our hotel did have English-speaking staff) and no problem with service or customs as has been hinted at on this board. It's been said before -- If you go with an open mind and a smile you will have a good time.
From Guadeloupe we chartered a Moorings 37 foot catamaran and headed for Marie Galant and Les Saintes. We only spent one day at Marie Galant and didn't do it justice, but we had a great time wandering around the town and talking with people. (Again, no problem with language. Just try some french and SMILE). We were anxious to go on to the Saintes. We sailed into the main town and anchored off the house shaped like a ship. Great views all around, lovely anchorage. The town is so charming, lots of colorful houses, buildings, shops, etc. The people seem to keep to themselves, but we enjoyed the town. We rented scooters the next day to tour the island. Lots of fun. Normally I'm not a scooter person, but there are virtually no cars on the island, and it seemed very safe. Fort Napolean was great with wonderful views of all the islands and bays and interesting history. Ate lunch at Restaurant Plongee (also a dive shop). Great duck and mango salad.
The next day we moved to the Pain de Sucre anchorage. It was beautiful scenery, nice bar/restaurant on shore, good snorkeling.
Jamaica: Grand Lido by Sophia Kulich
After our fourth time to Grand Lido I decided to file a report on our favorite vacation place.
Grand Lido Negril is the 5 year old luxury all-inclusive Superclubs resort. Allinclusive means just like that. Unlike all other resorts which include 3 meals and throw some entertainment, or Club Med or cruises where you have to pay for your drinks and some sports, in Superclubs everything is included. All superclubs resorts gear toward different type of vacationers: Boscobel Beach to families, Jamaica-Jamaica to singles and couples, who are interested in Jamaican culture and sports (includes also tennis, golf and horseback riding), Couples - the name say it all - romantic, laid back, mostly honeymooners and newlyweds, Hedonism II - party place. Finally, Grand Lido was opened in 1990 as the first luxury resort. Another luxury resort San Souci Lido was opened in 12/93 and it is a European style spa. All these resorts attract nice mix of American, Canadian, European and Japanese clientele, which makes socializing very interesting.
Grand Lido (I will refer to it as GL) located on the west beach coast of Jamaica in Negril on 22 acres of beachfront property nestled in a 2 1/2 mile bay (I think it is called Bloody Bay). It is adjacent to the beautiful Negril 7 mile beach where the other Negril resorts are located : Hedonism II, Poinciana, Sandals Negril, Swept Away etc. But the GL property is not accessible to 7 mile beach, and the beach is private. The Superclubs plan to build another resort in the bay - Couples Negril which will be next on the east end. So far, construction has not started yet. GL is 55 miles from the Mobay Airport (about 11/2 hour ride). Transfer, of course is included,. They meet you at the airport and drive in the a/c car or van. There is a controversy about a ride. We personally can tolerate it, they give you a complimentary drink and this is the good way to see the countryside - mountains and sea. Some our GL friends opt for small airplanes - Timair - 1 engine plane - 4 seater, and ride takes about 15 minutes. There is about 1 min ride from Negril terminal to the GL. We personally do not trust those little planes, so we always take scenic ride. (Jamaicans drive fast!!).
From the moment you get off the bus, they take care of you. The staff to guest ratio is 1:1. You never stay at line to check-in at the counter. They will sit you in the lounge, take your documents and will bring you hot wet napkins to refresh and champagne (or other drink, if you like!) while they check you in. The bags will be delivered to your room. There are also no lines at the bars. Instead of you coming to the bar the waiters take the order and deliver. The same is on the beach (at least at c/o). They take orders and also offer fruit and popcicles.
The only thing we spent money for were massages (and, of course, souvenirs). We always left our money and documents in the safe. Each room has a safe and there is also a safe and the main desk.
What is included:
room including hotel tax
all meals, snacks, drinks 24 hours at the club houses and 24 hour room service
5 jacuzzis and 2 pools on property.
scuba, water-skiing, sunfish, aquacycles, windsurfing, kayaking, snorkeling, underwater vision cruises, Nautilus fitness center, aerobics, tennis (4 tennis courts) - professional instruction in all sports.
Motor Yacht Zein - almost daily sunset cruises and once a week clothes optional cruise.
2 beaches - one clothes optional
Games room - ping-pong, pool, card tables. Video theater. Library
Complimentary manicure and pedicure
Complimentary laundry, dry clean, pressing, and shoe shine. Wedding packages
NO TIPS PERMITTED!!
They mean it, at the manager's cocktail party they inform guests that the staff is very well paid (you can see it from the staff attitude) and if they will be caught taking tips, they will be fired.
There are 200 rooms, with 176 ocean-view facing either the main beach or secluded eau natureli (I will refer as c/o beach). All room are equipped with satellite TV with CNN, HBO, etc., cassette radio, phones, a/c, ceiling fans, small sitting area and either patio on the first floor with table and 2 chairs or small balcony on the second floor. The most important is to request the right location. You have to decide where you will spend majority of your stay at c/o or main beach. That is where you will request room. Some guests are offended by nudity, or c/o guests will take a longer hike to c/o beach (and will have to wear clothes). We do not recommend garden view room unless you are on a very tight budget. It is at the end of the resort (about 5 min walk to the main terrace and to the main beach, c/o beach is a little close) and the garden is couple of trees and a fence.
We love the c/o beach, because it is small and very convenient - since c/o rooms, pool , hot tub and bar are next to each other. Very relaxing, a lo of shade, hammocks, they have water rafts, volley ball net, giant chess set on the lawn, billiard, bocci, etc. Towels, of course, are provided. Also, for some reason, I don't know why, people tend to socialize more and are very friendly. About 97% of c/o guests, we were told by management, return 1 or more times. The beach is also very picturesque and is good for snorkeling. The main beach is much longer and flat and has clear water, this is the place where watersports are.
Unlike most all-inclusives, the dining at GL is not buffet style. There is only one night when all restaurants except the Pasta bar closed when they have the Grand Gala Buffet (Friday). It is incredible, with sculptures, about 30 feet long. There are appetizers, and main dishes, sushi, steak tartare, hot dishes include lobster (in season), jerked pork or lamb, curried goat and other. Another night is Caribbean buffet, but the restaurants are open too.
There are 3 specialty restaurants: La Pasta bar - Italian (Northern Italian mostly - not only red sauce - we usually do not eat Italian for gourmet, but were pleasantly surprised) - casual, shoes and cover-up required. Open 3P.M.2am daily. Cafe Lido continental - dress code semiformal (no jeans, shorts) 6:30P.M. - 10 P.M. Piacere - french nouvelle - formal, no sneakers, jackets required for men , no tie. Reservations only. 2 seatings: 6:30 and 9P.M.
All restaurants feature exquisite cuisine. The dinner in Piacere, for example can compare with French restaurants here in CT with price average $150 per couple.
Breakfast is buffet style and features almost every American breakfast items plus some Jamaican dishes. They also make omelettes to order. Another choice for breakfast is continental selection delivered to your room, on the beach (or anywhere). The selection varies from single items to executive which includes basket of fresh baked muffins, brioches, croissants and danish, mimosas, coffee, cereals, yogurt. We opted for this one, and ordered early, so they awakened us with breakfast, and we had leisurely breakfast in bed or, mostly, on the patio enjoying early morning on the beach (no clothes required!!!)
Terrace breakfast required cover-up over swimwear, the same for lunch.
Buffet style, also huge, they fix custom items for you, like different pasta with different sauces, or chef salads - you design your own and they mix with the dressing of your choice, cold cuts, soup, taco bar, salads, and hot entrees, including Jamaican BBQ.
Afternoon tea on the main terrace includes small sandwiches, pastries, tea.
Cafe A lait - around 11P.M. - selection of international. Coffees with liquors and small pastries.
In addition to this, if you choose -- do not leave the beach, there is a room service 24 hours a day. You can also get food 24 hours at clubhouses (basic menu, not very fancy, but great for snacks). All you have to do is crawl to the nearest phone and they deliver whenever you are. Very popular were hot tubs gatherings after midnight. One night were consumed 30 bottles of champagne by 3 different groups. Potato skins also were consumed a lot at night there...
Drinks. They have good French and Italian wines, Champagne, German sweet wines, all kinds of international liqueurs. They are very good on fixing Jamaican drinks. They also mix non-alcoholic drinks, like all kinds of daiquiris, and fruit punch.
Games. All kind of games in the main house. Video theater - open 24 hours, big screen TV and VCR.
Library: Has books, magazines, newspapers. Many books are not in English, though. Better stock your own. Audio and video cassettes can be borrowed from concierge..
Daytime activities: Bicycle tours to the Negril shopping area, beach volleyball, nature walks, mixology classes wine tasting, cooking classes, aerobics, reggae class
Entertainment. The Resident band performs nightly with other well-known Jamaican entertainers. There was one night jazz, one night oldies, Carnival night, Beach Party night, PJ party, guest and talent show. Our favorite is the Amici piano bar where you can sing along with the piano player and every other night there we had Karaoke - was very popular.
There is also disco which closes when the last guest leaves.
Yacht. Originally owned by Aristotle Onassis , m/y Zein was his wedding present to Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco. 147 foot yacht is used for afternoon sunset cruises (they are beautiful in Negril) and suntan cruises. Many weddings take places there.
The clientele is varied from 20 to 70+. There is myth that GL guest are yuppies and snobs, or old and boring (mostly from people who did not go there and looked at brochure only) , we found out that it is not true. You can do what you want, it is very relaxing and laid back, and people are friendly. We made a lots of friends there and keep coming back, and also maintain relationship during the year.
Is GL for you? If you are looking for romance and luxury, it is there. It is not a party-hardy place, but sometimes it could be rather wild. It all depends what you want to do. The service and staff attitude is superb. They welcome returning guests: welcome home! If you don't like confinement of all-inclusive, maybe you will not like it. But returning guests rate is very high. 99% are couples, rarely you will find singles.
You can have very active vacation, if you will want to utilize all inclusive features, or you can just let it go, and vegetate on a beach, walk the grounds, rest in hammock for 2, listen to the couple of parrots in the jungle, watch gorgeous sunsets from the beach and enjoy each other. As for us, lately we did not do much (except got married there ) and we can't wait to go back next year.
St. Barths by Larry Scarborough
I was on St. Barths in the late spring. Several locals on St. Barths did mention that it was very hot there already this year (last week) and I recall one lady saying that the hot weather was just starting now. The breeze on Pt. Milou was very strong, but I did notice that on the lower parts of the island or in places out of the breeze, it did get very hot. It wasn't very crowded on the beaches at all, and as long as the cruise ship wasn't in harbor, Gustavia wasn't crowded either. About 99% of the shops were closing for lunch about 12:00 and not opening until 3:30-4:00 P.M.; one shopkeeper said this was because of the "season" being over and less visitors to the island. Being as that's the hot part of the day, it's a good time to take a break anyway.
The Saline parking area is just great. They have finished paving the road completely up to the parking area now; it is the nicest piece of road on the island! The part that used to be just a dirt road is now concrete all the way, with little plants planted along the roadway. The new pavement is even a little wider than the rest (by St. Barth standards). You still have to park your vehicle, though, and walk to the actual beach. The short dirt area past the gate is still there, they put a few boulders in the middle of it to discourage car traffic...but motorcyles still drive on through and part at the bottom of the little hill leading to the beach itself.
The shop "M" in Lorient is still open (the best we could tell) but they seem to be on vacation or something while we were there. We went by three times at various times but they were never open for business.
The bakery on Pt. Milou does have a good lunch menu (sandwiches/salads/etc...). They opened every morning about 7:00-7:30 am. They also served breakfast and dinner as well as lunch. They are closed on Mondays. Comme en Provence was open, but I don't know if they are staying open all summer. Maya's was open and plans to stay open all summer this year (I think they have closed in the past). Le Patio was closed for the month of June, but will reopen in July. Couldn't tell you about Saline Creperie.
Other than the initial crowd at the airport upon our arrival, the island seemed to be fairly vacant, even for the low season. Traffic was not bad for St. Barth standards; driving was the usual adventure.
We rented an automatic Suzuki jeep this time instead of a moke. Connie wanted to drive some and was a bit unsure of attempting a manual transmission. I must admit it was alot easier driving the automatic, especially when we got stuck in a mini-traffic jam behind a slow-moving, wide-load backhoe that stopped traffic flow in both directions of the thin lanes. We were on a steep hill (surprise) and it would have been a little tougher trying to shift through it all. There wasn't any problem with power on the hills either; the automatic ran just fine.
I was sad to see one cruise ship in port on Friday. It didn't seem to be as large as most cruise ships, but it was large enough. It docked directly up to the shore in the "industrial" area just outside of Gustavia, and a couple hundred people descended on the town. We were going to lunch at the time, and decided to go to the beach after we ate instead of hanging around town. I went back into town about 5:30 that day and the ship was still there.
Columbier was great as usual, a little windy, but very enjoyable. We went there very early one morning and had the beach all to ourselves for awhile. There were about five boats in the harbor, but I guess they were all sleeping in late. I found a couple of sand dollars while snorkeling in about 20 feet of water, and also a great starfish which I played with for awhile, then left him alone. We left there and stopped at Flammands to eat lunch (we brought our own). The waves were coming in pretty strong at Flammands, and after Connie took a good-sized one broad side ( I gave her a 5.8 out of 6.0 ) we decided to retire back to the villa for a rest.
We also visited the beach at St. Jean three or four times and went to Saline twice. I was impressed with the new parking area at Saline. They have even landscaped it with small plants which looked fairly fresh. As with the rest of the island, the "crowd" was small and we had alot of beach to ourselves.
There was a new grocery store in Lorient called the Giruad Mini-Mart. It is located just before JoJo's store and burgers. It has alot of American food products for sell and was a nice alternative for driving in to Match at the airport. Even though it was easy to shop there (and read all the labels, etc...), I really hate to see the "Americanization" of the island happening. The clerk checking us out even asked us what "mini-mart" meant, she thought it was an "American" word, but she wasn't sure.
Obviously, part of the charm of St. Barth is the French atmosphere, and I would hate to see that changed just to suit the tourists. ( I realize that I am a tourist also, but we try VERY hard not to be American pigs).
Speaking of tourists, there were several articles in the local paper about the St. Barth tourist board trying to attract more tourists from Japan. Catherine Charneau ( of Village St. Jean ) headed a party in March welcoming several Japanese tour operators, travel agents, and press reps. to the island. St Barth is being marketed in Japan as a prime destination appealing to "an upscale market, particularly honeymooners". The St. Barth Hotel Association also sent a group to Japan in December for the same. More later...
Regarding Wimco, according to the letter I received from Wimco the new Vendome guide was "hot off the presses" . Be careful...after checking, I found out that the "new guide" (#5) is the one that we had already (we bought it last year). I guess maybe they just printed some more (?).
As far as restaurants go, we didn't eat out as much this trip. We were so pleased with our villa and the view, we felt we already had the best seats on the island. We did venture into Gustavia a couple of times and had some of the "almost required" cheeseburgers at Le Select. They were very good though, no doubt about it. We even had a little excitement as a Jeep Cherokee from the Carl Gustaf went by pulling a long speedboat on a trailer. It caught everybody's eye, but the good part was when it got wedged trying to turn the little corner past Le Select and stopped traffic in every direction. It took about 10 minutes for several people to 'kinda pick the trailer up and scoot it until they could make a straight shot down the street. Hey, you take whatever excitement you can get sometimes.
They have also begun some new construction at the SBH airport. They have extended the wooden deck out front (where the taxi driveway used to be) all the way to the street. Also, they had torn down part of the area (walls, etc...) between the arrival/departure area and the rental car booths, and were building something in that area. We couldn't walk directly to the rental areas; we had to walk out into the street and come in the other end. I'll be curious to see what's happening there.
One last thing that some of you might remember. There was an article in Le Journal de St. Barth about the article recently in Conde' Nast Traveler, written by Ann Magnuson. (Le Journal de St. Barth is a local newspaper there). To put in mildly, they were quite upset about the characterization of the island residents in that article. Very, very upset. They quoted several items from the article (such as the one about inbreeding and incest) and made it very clear that she was "not correct" in her assessments. The story ends with a call for the municipal government to sue for libel. I hope they do!
Can't think of too much else to say; it was just a great trip as usual and one that ended much too soon.
St. John by Linda Tuffy
Two weeks just isn't enough of Paradise! This time we began our trip with one night in St. Thomas.
We couldn't get into our home, Morningside Villa, for our first night so decided to try Hotel 1829 in Charlotte Amalie and had room #2, overlooking the city and cruise ships. The room was just okay, but the views and ambiance were spectacular! We had dinner in the gourmet restaurant there and it was one of the best meals we ever had!
The next AM, took a walk through the city and got all our shopping done. Checked out of the Hotel, and walked to the downtown ferry at noon ... OFF TO STJ!
It was great to be 'home' on St John. The new ferry dock should now be open. It is wonderful - even has seats to wait for ferries OUT OF THE RAIN! It's a nice welcome. The new Sparkies and Meadas Mall definitely dress up Cruz Bay. There's also some new apartments under construction next to Grumpies, and possibly some new stores.
Lindy is still walking around town. Every time we return we are amazed he is still alive. The other cronies are still hanging around in town ... BUT there is a new odd-ball. We noticed him about a year ago, and he's definitely settled in. He is white, about 40, and wears a life jacket all the time. Says there's going to be a hurricane, and he will be the only survivor after the tidal wave!
On to Morningside! The view from the house is still breathtaking! We brought friends with us, and all they could do is stare. It never gets 'old'.
First beach - Lamshure - the road is not for the weak of heart. Great place to learn to snorkel because it's always calm and never crowded. Best snorkeling off the rocks on the right. Then went on to lunch at Miss Lucys Restaurant. Had the Curried goat stew and conch fritters. Very good (for goat) and very clean. It's interesting eating goat when you can hear the little critters BAAing out in the yard! Had dinner at home with 5 pitchers of BUSHWACKERS for desert! Was a great first day!
Second day - Bushwacker attack! Slept around the pool all day ... lots of sun ... needed a Painkiller!
Third day - recovered - off on the Ferry to Jost Van Dyke to visit Foxy's. Never had been to Jost before. It was very interesting. Just bars and beach! Customs wasn't even open cause everyone was in St Thomas for carnival. Would recommend Jost, but not by ferry. Rent a boat and visit, but don't restrict yourself to the ferry schedule. The meal at Foxy's was fabulous. The bars were fun, but, that's all there is folks! We didn't go to the other beach because we were fried from the day before. So we just drank Heinekens all afternoon!
Next day - our friends had to shop STT, so we met them there for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, and then off to the Carnival for the Steel Drum competition. That was something! Different age groups of kids all jamming on the steel drums in their costumes. It was wonderful.
The rest of the time we just snorkeled Cinnamon and Waterlemon Cay. After our friends left, we did necessary house maintenance to Morningside.
Restaurant report from Le Chateau de Bordeaux. There are great views (aside from the flies on the dirty windows), had wonderful appetizers and soups. Could have skipped the main course - very disappointing. The Yellow Fin Tuna was blan, flavorless. All in all that's 2 bad meals out of 4.
Ed Note: In early July Linda contributed this further updated information:
New St. John dock opens ...Boynes Dock, named in honor of Captain Lorendon L. Boynes, Sr. was officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony in his honor on May 12, 94. He started Transportation Services and is one of the founders of St. John's present day transportation link to STT and BVI. At a cost of $900,000, it is 266 feet long (106' longer) and 35' wide (almost twice it's former width).
Keating Smith Clinic Reopens ... Myrah Keating Smith Community Health center has FINALLY opened. Named after the late Miss Myrah, a renowned nurse and midwife, the clinic has been under construction for many years. Just off Centerline Road, the new facility boasts state of the art equipment and a HELIPORT! It is a great addition to health care in the VI.
Harmony Resort ... newly opened above the MAHO BAY campgrounds, this facility operates exclusively on sun and wind power. It is designed not only to prove that the VI can live without relying on the power company, but also that an entire building can be made of recycled materials which are durable and aesthetically pleasing. Owned and operated by Stanley Selengut, who also built Maho Bay. Rates $95 - $125 off season, $150 - $170 in season double occupancy.
Water Water everywhere, but not a drop to drink...According to Jim LaBrenz, owner of Cruz Bay Realty in STJ, "I have not seen it this dry in my 15+ years on St. John". Even purchased water is at a shortage. All water in the VI is obtained from rain, no ground water here. Purchased H2O is RO (reversed osmosis) water obtained from the sea. The cost is about $.05 per gallon (your average toilet uses 3.5 gallons per flush). The water is stored in cisterns, under each house. When building, each house MUST have cistern capacity derived from a formula using square footage of the roof. All the rain is then collected from the roof. Most homes also use 'grey water' to water plants. This is water from sinks and showers. Those plants REALLY love the soap!
St. John: Caneel Bay by Jerry Lonon Sr.
Caneel representatives met us at the airport and took us and our luggage to Caneels own waiting room where we waited a short period for other guest. Caneel's taxi took us to the dock. We had about an hour and half to shop in Charlotte Amalie before leaving on Caneel's ferry for Caneel Bay. We where treated to rum punch on the way over. Upon reaching Caneel they had a reception for new arrivals. We where then taken individually to our room and explained the features of our room. Our room had a pint of rum and coke as a treat to consume until our luggage arrived to our room. That night we chose to go into Cruz Bay to eat. While waiting for a table at Lime Inn we visited Grumpys and had drinks while Cruz Bay power was going on and off. Finally we got to eat and the key lime pie was great as usual.
Day two---We took the Caneel ferry over to Little Dix bay which is Caneel's sister resort on Virgin Gorda. The ferry picked up a net and we had an unexpected stop at Tortola to have a diver go down and remove the net from one of the propellers. We cleared customs in Spanish Town. We where taken by taxi to the Baths to snorkel and tour the caves. We returned to Little Dix for late lunch. We looked over Little Dix and left on the Caneel ferry for our return to Caneel at 3:30. It was a super trip and we plan to repeat it. That night we went to Morgans Mango and had voodoo snapper and drank the best bushwackers we have ever had at their bar.
Day three--- Caneel furnished us with a jeep for the day to tour the island. We drove over centerline road to Coral Bay and ate lunch at Skinny Legs. They have super hamburgers. We bought a t shirt and met the owner. We then drove over to Salt Pond and returned to shipwreck landing and had a raspberry coloda which was their special drink of the day. It was good. We usually eat lunch there, but we had already eaten at Skinny Legs. We returned to Cruz Bay by shore road. We toured the Hyatt and tried to find Linda Tuffy's villa ( see report above). The pool at the Hyatt was nice but who comes to St. John for a pool? We thought we found Linda's place, but found out later that we found the wrong villa after returning to Caneel. We ate that night at Fish Trap. Great bartender as he does not pour a weak drink. About everyone there was smashed from his drinks.
Day four--- We snorkeled Hawksnest, Scott's, Caneel and Little Caneel Beaches. We saw many turtles, rays, squids, barracuda, and all types of fish and coral. that night we took a sunset cruise on Caneel's ferry. Stopped at the Back Yard and had drink. We ate at Pussers that night. Drank the famous pain killer and survived.
Day five---We took Caneel's half day sail with Captain Bob Cook. He showed us how to sail and then let us do it for a few hours. We shopped downtown and Mongoose Junction. We took the ferry over to Red Hook and ate at East Coast Bar and Grill. Great blacken swordfish as usual. They have remodeled their front of and now have a night club in a section they have added on. We bought booze to take home at the old market in Red Hook because it was cheaper than the new market across the ferry. The new market has the best meat department on the two islands. Returned in time to see Lucy's slide show at Caneel on underwater life.
Day six--- Caneel's Lucy took us on a snorkeling trip of Luvongo. A great trip with the lady who show us the slide show the night before. Returned that afternoon to snorkel the beached at Caneel. Saw many turtles and numerous rays, which where interesting to follow around. Ate again at Morgans Mango. Great food and bushwackers again. Went to Grumpys and had drinks and about several t shirts.
Day seven---Our seventh great buffet breakfast at Caneel. We shopped Caneel's gift shop and bought several gifts. We took the 12:30 Caneel Ferry back to airport for our return trip home on Delta.
Summary-- Caneel is worth the 350 a day we paid. I usually do not like to pay over 100 a day anywhere. We stayed in room 16, which is a super Caneel room. Meals 1 Morgans Mango; 2 East Coast Bar and Grill; 3 Fish Trap; snorkeling 1 Caneel Beach; 2 Scott's Beach; 3 Hawksnest Beach; best drink 1 bushwacker at Morgans Mango; 2 rum punch at Caneel. Best t shirts 1 Grumpys, 2 Back Yard 3 Skinny Legs
St. John by Dennis Dimond
My wife and I took a trip to St. John in June 1994 and stayed at the Gallows Point Resort on the western tip of the island. We found both the resort and island to be outstanding. Being the off-season, our condos, loft-bedroom, 1 1/2 baths, full kitchen, large living room with harbor view ran about $150 per day. The price jumped to $275 per day in high season. The units were very clean and maids changed linen daily. The open-air office offered pool towels that you could take to the beaches. The resort itself had a pool and snorkeling bay that faced St. Thomas and the sunset. There was also a gift shop at the resort that had a wide range of food and drink, postcards and T shirts. It also rented snorkeling gear (with fins) for $5 a day.
The Hyatt ran about twice the price ( it did have air conditioning) and Caneel Bay also ran about twice the price (we looked at a room there and ours was about twice as big and just as nice). The local people are upset at the Hyatt as they bulldozed the terrain to put in their garden-like resort, obliterating local flora and fauna. But it's beautiful there (we stopped for a drink at their beachside terrace where they didn't take cash (room number or plastic, please). I also ran into a couple in a taxi on St. Thomas who were staying at the Hyatt St. John. They liked it, but said it was one surprise after another. The first surprise was when they took the Hyatt's private ferry to St. John. After the trip they realized $45 each was added to their bill. The public ferry runs $3.
We flew into St. Thomas from Atlanta and took a taxi to Red Hook, a bay on the eastern end of the island ($8 per person). The driver was at the airport with a Gallows Point sign and our name. We then paid $3 each for the ferry to St. John. It docked just a half mile from the resort and a resort driver met us at the dock and gave us a complimentary ride up the hill to Gallows Point.
Since 3/4 of the island is national park, there are five splendid beaches unspoiled by development on the north end of the island. Trunk Bay Beach is rated in the top 10 beaches in the world. On many of the beaches, we encountered just two or three other couples. Snorkeling was great! Temperatures ran about 90 at day and 70 at night. But a constant tradewind from the east kept temperatures cool in the shade during the day.
We rented a Suzuki Sidekick for $55 a day (I think cheaper prices could be had if you called ahead). The island is only nine miles long and five miles wide, but the roads are mountainous. We drove several times to the east end of the island where we found restaurants at Coral Bay. We also rented a powerboat there ($100 for half day) but be sure the seas are calm. Also on the east end are several nearly deserted beaches that you have to trek to. The one we enjoyed most was at Salt Pond Bay. Best snorkeling was at the east side of the bay.
The food was great. There are about 20 restaurants on the island and shorts and T-shirts are fine at all of them. Prices for full dinner with drinks ran about $50 per couple on average. Every meal was a gourmet treat. The only restaurant I contacted that banned shorts was the Sugar Mill at Caneel Bay Resort. We avoided them.
If you don't want the expense of renting a jeep, there are plenty of open air truck-taxis you can barter with. Also, if you don't want to stay in a resort, there are campgrounds at several of the beaches.
Begging was almost nonexistent. My wife said two approached her during the whole stay. St. Johnians are proud people who see their island as a small town (5,500 permanent residents) and they seem to police their own. The folks we had contact with had great senses of humor and loved to talk and tell you about their piece of paradise. Most places shut down around 9 or 10 P.M. except when cruise ship passengers come over to see St. John. Then the bars and bands keep going to about 1 A.M. But overall, St. John is a tranquil, beautiful place to stay. We didn't see any of the resorts at St. Thomas, but from a day trip, found it a much busier, crowded island.
Sidenote: A friend's son who lived on St. Croix visited one day and said the tourism business is really down on his island right now so bargains might be available.
St. Martin by Susan Gilpin
We left Philly at around 2:30 and arrived in St. Martin around 9:30 with a brief lay over in San Juan. The drive to Pelican was manic. The driver obviously wanted to get us delivered and get back for more fares. Check in at Pelican was uneventful, and we had a fun conversation with the two young men that drove us to our unit. The unit was on the first floor of the Flamingo building with a great view of the beach from both the living area and the patio. The condo needed some minor repairs like a coat of paint on the woodwork and a towel bar replaced, special plumbing was being worked on but didn't cause too much of a problem. Otherwise unit was very comfortable and acceptable.
SUNDAY--We rented our car from Claude Arnell at Somerset (called before we left) and had a Toyota Corolla with a little over 10,000 miles. We spent the rest of the day the the Pelican beach and just relaxing an had an enjoyable dinner a Laguna. Can't for the life of me remember what we had. Must have been the rum punch (Thanks Casey for leave some).
MONDAY--Slept in then went to Baie Rouge in the afternoon. There is construction going on at the top of the steps. Unfortunately, a concrete mixer was active the whole time we were there. The beach was crowded for Baie Rouge. We went to Marigot in the very late afternoon and had dinner at La Residence on Rue Charle de Gaulle. Excellent Prix Fixe dinner that includes kir royale, appetizer, entree, and dessert. It has a nice East Indian atmosphere with each table with a tent over it and each tent with its own ceiling fan. The restaurant is on the roof of the hotel so that you are outside. There are a total of about 6 tables, almost all seat 6-4 so even if you are a party of only 2, you sit at the large tables. Food is very traditional, very properly served French food. This was recommended by an St. Martin resident last year. If you do go try to park close to the hotel, as this part of Marigot is pretty deserted at night. All the shops around it close around 6. We just did not feel comfortable walking back to the wharf area late at night. Good food and one of our least expensive meals even with a bottle of wine.
TUESDAY--Drove to Grande Case thought we'd make dinner reservations for later in the week. Somehow we didn't get around to it. We had lunch at one of the Lolo's then went to Baie de Prune in the afternoon. This is our favorite beaches: uncrowded, quiet and beautiful. We had dinner at the Paradise Cafe and had a delightful dinner. Couldn't believe how late is was when we left. Paradise has the best swordfish! This seems to be a place that no matter what you order you can't go wrong. Also inexpensive by local standards.
WEDNESDAY--We went to Mullet Bay beach. Absolutely gorgeous, plenty if shade-if-- you get there early. Could easily have spent the entire day there in the water; however, pain was not on the agenda and the resulting sunburn would have been that. We spent the afternoon in Philipsburg which we thought seemed to have been spruced up quite a bit since last year with fresh paint, etc. The Courthouse is in scaffolding and really didn't seem as run down. Several of the shops on Old Street have gone out of business. Greenwith Galleries on Front Street has a nice selection of paintings and prints. We made a purchase for our collection and a small purchase at Columbian Emeralds then back to Pelican and listened to steel band playing on the beach in front of our unit. Best seats in the house!
Having dinner at Saratoga is still a favorite. Scallops serviche and salmon in puff pastry with spinach and mushrooms were absolute perfection. Expensive, but then we love the food here and don't stint. Worth every mouthful.
THURSDAY--Baie Rouge in the morning. Much quieter, no heavy equipment, but building continues. There was a brief AM shower, not like downpour last year that kept us inside all day. This time we were able to stand under a sea grape tree for about 10 minutes then go back on the beach.
La Parruquet for dinner: different. The chef brings a cart to table with a display of the nights specials. Very small printed menu with emphasis on the specials. Features one very exotic entree, ostrich fillets the night we were there. Gorgeous veal chop, and some excellent seafood. Paul had the ostrich which tastes like beef. He says he's glad he tried it but because it is so much like beef probably wouldn't order it again. I had the biggest veal chop I've ever seen. It was prepared like steak au poivre and very good.
FRIDAY--Started out for Mullet Bay but got a late start. The beach was very crowded and all of the shade was gone. We went back to Baie de Prune. Really had trouble tearing ourselves away knowing it was our last day. We went for a 2 hour cruise on 70 foot schooner the Gandolf. We'd seen it numerous times, but didn't realize it sailed out of the Pelican. It has very distinctive russet colored sails and also sails to Anguilla, around the island and various other places.
We saved our favorite restaurant for last--Le Pavillion. We delivered a message from the skipper of the Gandolf to Marjella and had a humorous and fun conversation with her. She really appreciated our telling her how much we liked the restaurant. Service, food and ambience are really outstanding.
SATURDAY--Check out <sob>. Were sent to a "hospitality room" to kill some time before heading to airport it was locked. We found a couple of chairs in the shade by the pool until time to go to the airport. Dropping the car at airport was really nice. The flight to Miami was uneventful. From Miami on we knew vacation was over. American airline personal told us we didn't have to check in because we had boarding passes. When we got in line to get on the plane we were told we should have checked in an might not have seats. Just got seated when we were approached and told we didn't have two boarding passes. They'd taken the wrong thing. Got to Philly only to find limo company we were relying on was either on strike or out of business.
Need to start planning for next year. Trying to decide whether to go back to St. Martin which we love, or to try another island which we are concerned about liking since St. Martin really spoils you. We feel so pampered and relaxed when we come home.
St. Martin by Althea Bogdan
Four weeks in paradise! We arrived on the island in early May and that evening met Sue and Paul Gilpin ( Ed. Note: See previous article by Sue Gilpin) at the Paradise Cafe. We had a lovely evening with Sue and Paul, and needless to say, the food was terrific.
We ate at the Paradise Cafe a total of 4 times during our stay on the island and each meal was terrific.
First thing we did the next morning was a trip to Food Center to stock up for our stay. We spent the next couple of days just being lazy and did not leave the complex during the day till Friday.
On Friday we picked up friends that came down for the weekend. They were leaving again on Monday and it was their first trip so we had to do a lot in a short time.
On Sunday we did a ride around the island so our friends could see some of the sights. One of my favorite spots on the island is Guana Bay and we stopped there for a little while. Our friends left on Monday and after dropping them at the airport we went home to relax from the hectic weekend. I decided that Ed and I are just to old to have so much fun!!!
On Saturday we drove over to Club Orient to spend a few hours. The beach was absolutely lovely, the water calm and crystal clear.
I must admit the in general our days were spent being VERY lazy. The weather was ideal. I did do a little bit of shopping, but not a whole lot. I was even too lazy to spend a lot of money, much to my husband's delight and VISA's disappointment. I did add a few pieces to my crystal collection, bought some tee shirts for my granddaughters and perfume for gifts, but that was all done in about 1 hour and we did not go into Philipsburg again.
I must add that I did contribute to the financial structure of the island, quarter by quarter, in the slot machines.
To continue and give a rundown of the restaurants we went to and some of the wonderful meals we had here goes.
Paradise Cafe: We ate there 4 times, As Sue said in her trip report, they do the best swordfish.
Don Carlos: We had a nice meal there, although instead of having my usual Mexican meal, I ordered the Jamaican Jerk Chicken and found that I don't really care for the flavor of Jerk seasoning. Not the fault of the restaurant.
Lynettes: We had wonderful steak dinners at Lynettes on Friday night and was also there for the show by King Beau Beau. King Beau Beau performs island music and is entertaining. He is actually from Long Island, NY and a graduate of Hofstra Univ.
Saratoga: Fantastic food. It has become a favorite and will rival any restaurant in Grand Case. I had a salad with a variety of types of lettuce served with 2 dressings. I then had a steak that was great. For dessert we shared fresh berries with cream. I can't remember when my hubby had, guess I should have written it down.
Laguna: Another good meal. We both had house salads to start then my husband had angel hair pasta alfredo. I had pasta with chopped shrimp and lobster in an oil and garlic sauce. Good meal.
Hoa Mai: Great Vietnamese food. We had a double order of nems to begin, then the 6 variety dinner. We also took home a double order of nems to have another day for lunch. They were most accommodating an gave us the order to go uncooked so that I just had to deep fry them at home and they were great. We are so glad that they have reopened this favorite place.
DaLivio: Again, as usual, we had a terrific meal. As always we started with a Caesar salad. I then had the pasta festival which is manicotti, lasagna and ravioli combination. Ed had the shrimp scampi and we shared fresh strawberries
Barvaia: Good German cooking. I had smoked pork chop and Ed had bratwurst.
Yvettes: Another favorite place. I had pork chop stew and Ed had conch stew. A great, inexpensive meal.
Boathouse: We ate here twice and had nice meals each time. I had pepper steak the first time and Caesar salad with strips of steak the 2nd time. Both excellent and inexpensive.
Bayside: This is a new place that opened at the end of Dec. The couple who own it are from E. Orange, NJ. The food is great and quite inexpensive. They are located on the airport road just before the bridge (coming from the airport) We ate here a couple of times and enjoyed it.
There were many places we just didn't get to because we did eat home a number of times and entertained friends at home so I did a bit of cooking. All in all, a great month and I'm ready to return.
St. Martin by Bill Thompson
We spent the first week in April (Easter week) at the Marine Hotel on the lagoon near Marigot. First, we were very pleased with the accommodations. Our units were on the lagoon, and there is a very nice beach on the ocean side right across the road.
I would very much recommend the Marine Hotel with the qualification that you should ask for a room on the lagoon or next to the pool. The rooms have kitchenettes, so we generally had our breakfasts and most lunches there and splurged at dinner.
The first night we ate at a Thai/Vietnamese place called Ben Loc or something like that on the lagoon towards Marigot - very acceptable though unremarkable. Easter Sunday we had lunch at Il Nettuno (Neptune's) in Grand Case - it was great - we went back for dinner later in the week. Nice atmosphere, great seafood / pasta dishes, and the owner is a stitch! A new Cuban restaurant, Mambo, near the drawbridge in Philipsburg, was also worthy of mention. Le Jardin Creole by the bridge in Marigot was pricey but good, and our waitress was delightful. California in Grand Case was pleasant and relatively reasonable. We enjoyed the casino - won a couple hundred the first night but felt sorry for them so returned it the next.
Cheri's was fun and CHEAP. I has a huge sirloin for $10.95. (generally out entrees were in the $20 range, and we never had a bad meal). Save the best till last; Le Pavillon was all that had been promised. Try the alligator tail appetizer - it's good and something to tell the folks back home about.
We did 2 SCUBA dives with Lou SCUBA - no complaints. Only regrets - couldn't talk wife into a visit to Orient Beach (or to take off her top for that matter) and didn't get to dive Saba as I'd planned - tough to get away for a day!
All in all a great week - the time went fast but we packed a lot in. We rented a jeep from Roy Rogers and were overall satisfied with them. We'll be back!
St. Martin by Gene Borio
I read in the tour books about how there are two sides to St. Maarten, recommended restaurants, hotels, etc., but here's from my week:
The # 1 Industry on St. Maarten/St. Martin now is tourism, with an emphasis on time-shares. Everyone on the street seems out to sell you one, and has a deal: attend a 2 hour pitch for a timeshare and get a free trip (a $50-$75 value) to one of the neighboring islands--usually St. Bart's or Antigua (which are heavily commercialized) and not the scenic Saba or St. Eustacius.
5 years ago the island had about 35,000 full time residents. With the burgeoning tourist economy drawing job-seekers from all over the Caribbean, today there are over 60,000 residents on the Dutch side alone, probably as many on the French.
Physically, much of St. Maarten reminds me of my hometown, the rural San Fernando Valley in the 50s, just before the Ventura Freeway came in. Climate hot and breezy (though not quite as dry), over-taxed roads, a culture busily converting from rural to modern-day, with not much time for the niceties along the way.
The tourist season, usually from Dec. 15 to April, started early this year, right after Thanksgiving, and the volume is unprecedented. Planes are in and out of Juliana Airport all day long. The car rental agencies have run out of cars. Traffic along the main road between the airport and Philipsburg is a nightmare anytime, and is getting worse every day. The cruise ships dock in Philipsburg on Tuesdays, the buses move in, and the Philipsburg-Airport road is to be avoided at all costs.
I'd hate to be here during Easter week, when it must be a despicable nightmare akin to Ft. Lauderdale. In fact, the culture here may become intolerable within two years, during season. And in 20 years? You look at all those beautiful green mountains, and you just know they exist for no other reason than to build time-shares on. I visualize what happened to the San Fernando Valley, and environs, and it can make you sick.
CONSUMING: But it's already over here. St. Maarten is just another part of the global culture now. You can easily get: --any magazine, the New York Times, Miami Herald and Wall St. Journal. --CNN & HBO in most hotels, bars and timeshares. Lots of satellite dishes around --Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Subway --most supermarket products. There are at least two huge modern-day supermarkets with plenty of mainstream products from the US, the Netherlands and France, at reasonable prices. Prices tend to have only minor variations, whether you're at the supermarket or a small store.
FOOD: Almost anywhere you eat is terrific, especially on the French side. You don't have to spend hundreds to get food that is wonderful. The guide books cover all that stuff, though I will recommend the ambiance and staff at Kali's, a colorful and cozy beach shack in Friar's bay, which is a wonderful way to while away an afternoon with a charming group of French folk. Also, for local food, Island Bar & Grill near the Food Center is great for fish and goat dishes. The beauteous Yolanda is not nearly so attitudinous as she looks, and if you get her to laugh, the sun shines through the clouds dazzlingly.
DRINKS: Guavaberry is the local liquer, now available commercially. Guavaberry Coladas are delicious.
LANGUAGE: Dutch schools teach Dutch, English and Spanish. English is the de facto language of the Dutch side, as is US currency. Cash registers automatically convert. French schools teach only french, but in practise in stores and restaurants English, and US currency is no problem. Doesn't seem to be a lot of rip-off activity.
TRANSPORTATION: Rental cars are a standard $25-40 day depending on class of car. Daihatsus, Hyundais, Ladas (!) and Toyota Corollas. The Corollas seem to be some third-world version, perfect for these roads, rattly but solid, though a little under-powered. Hertz at the airport is a wise choice, as many timeshare tours offer as a premium 3 free days of Hertz rentals. **Avoid "Best Deal," the office at the end of the strip of rental agencies, at all costs**. 2 employees told us Best Deal would honor our voucher. After it was too late to switch agencies, the owner refused. The matter will be hotly disputed with Visa.
Taxis--the charge was about $6 for the 3 mile trip between the airport and our timeshare at Pelican. Mini-van buses are all over. You can get around easily by standing on the road and flagging down a mini-van--$1 if you have exact change, $1.50 if you don't.
The roads are primitive, the rules loose, and no one gets pulled over for reckless driving. There are maybe four traffic lights on the island. Add the college-age joggers just starting to arrive in force to roads that are barely the width of two cars, and you have serious potential for damage. Keep your wits about you, and recognize you're not back home where everything is regulated and codified. If you have to make someone slow down in order for you to pull into traffic, don't worry about it, that's just what's necessary. Speeding is controlled more by the abysmal condition of the roads than anything else. Potholes can be huge, and where potholes don't work, speed bumps are installed.
Without traffic, you could probably circumnavigate the island in about 1 1/2 hours. Taking all the by-roads to explore various beaches will take maybe 2 days.
Christmas: Seems big here, reminding me of those old "Christmas on Christmas Island" and "Santa in a Red Canoe" songs. Tree prices are good: $20 for 6 feet.
Hitchhiking, another throwback to the 50's, is a popular way for either men or women to get around.
CRIME: Don't leave anything in the car! Crime is mostly confined to petty theft, as there's no place for criminals to run. Even though there is a brand new police station, there are only 100 police for the Dutch side's 60,000 people. However, I've been warned to avoid all but the main road between the French and Dutch side at night. "You don't want to break down there." I've heard unsubstantiated rumors of serious crimes against tourists that are supposedly hushed up. Who knows. Be wise.
PEOPLE: I don't have the problem with the French that the rest of the world seems to. That in mind, again I found the French on St. Martin charming, the women sexy and fun. Hospitality on the French side seemed to me just fine, but if you're in the countryside, it would be very helpful to know a little of the language, as French schools teach _only_ French.
On the Dutch side, they seem more affected by the tourist economy, so you have more of the buy-buy-buy mentality here, and that servility-with-the-threat -ofrevolution-lurking-just-below-the-surface attitude, as you'd expect with a place whose motto is: "The Friendly Island."
BEACHES: 37 beaches here, most beautiful, all open to the public (if you can find them), and all without clothing regulations, though some are more familyoriented, where topless is considered as far as one should go. Orient Beach is quite famous, and has a nudist organization ensconced on the southern end. For body surfers, Guava Bay, just 10 minutes out of Philipsburg has the best waves, and very few people (shhh!). Orient Beach has the second-best waves. (This for early Dec. Apparently conditions can change radically with the season.)
MOUNTAINS: Pic Paradise is the highest point on the island, and is a tourist attraction like the old days. Most of the fun is navigating the potholes and pools on the steep road up to the peak, and, once there, finding the lookout point on your own. The wind is intense, and there are several tall weather- or some such towers with ladders for the adventurous to climb for _really_ spectacular views, and some hair-raising sways in the gale-force winds. Loose exploration and adventure as it was meant to be.
Music: Ah, to be surrounded with that great old reggae of the 60s-to-early-70s. Music here, as in the states, seems to be mostly living in its past, possibly in deference to the tourists. But all the live bands play great, and the radio, as you search for channels, is full of the kind of crackles and pops I haven't heard since the 50s.
Timeshares: The de riguer method of vacationing here, it seems. Pelican Resort and Casino has 700 units, 600 employees, and is expanding. The week we were there was a nightmare of confused, confusing and uncaring administration. It has enjoyed a better reputation in the past, but we were so maltreated we wrote a 3 page letter and faxed it to the president. We subsequently ran into a number of people seriously angry also: lost reservations, 1 1/2 hour waits to check in/out (tip: check out the night before, but try to make arrangements to keep the phone working so you can call the airport in the am. Saturday checkout time is 10am!).
Recommended timeshare: La Vista, just next door to the Pelican. 24 family-owned units, c. $6000/week. Personal, homey, direct. (The sales pitch involves no trip to St. Barth's, but you do get a free breakfast or lunch for a 10" tour-they show you what they have, how much it costs, and leave you alone. No hard sell). The big difference, from talking with owners, is customer service and attention par excellence.
If you take a 2 hour tour of a timeshare, and choose as your gift the 3 days of free car rental, beware--Hertz may not have cars available!
Telecommunications: Far better than I'd been told. Dial an AT&T number to get your outside US line, then place the call. $4.95 first minute, $1.05 each minute after. A 5 minute call, therefore, is about $9. Compuserve, Internet access could be arranged, but seems to be wildly expensive, with a $12 hookup charge, 1200 baud line (!), and a per/byte transfer charge. I'm getting more info on this, but it looks like a cellular phone (available here, or get yours to roam) might be cheaper!
UNIQUE THRILL: Hanging around the beach by the end of the Juliana airport runway to watch the planes. Watch them skim the fence on their way in, or, backed up to the fence, start their take-off, engines roaring, jet exhaust streaming through the chain-link fence, roaring across the road, to the beach, blowing sand and blankets and people into the water, clouds of sand rising in the air, little backward waves forming turbulently in the water, while those in the water take quick dives, and people who have laid their stuff in the sand in the hour since the last takeoff from this position suddenly realize their dread mistake.
All in all, St. Maarten is a tourist trap, and will get worse, but since the entire world seems about to become one huge tourist trap anyway, St. Maarten definitely has its charms: food and beaches and a return to a more rambunctious era.
St. Martin by Mark Creason
Well, we finally made it to St. Martin after many torturous months of waiting.
We arrived on Sunday, May 29th, for the start of the honeymoon. The flight down was fine except the flight from SJU to SXM on American Eagle was extremely HOT!! It had to have been 110 degrees on the plane. Once we landed though, we were through immigration, in our rental car from Hertz, and in our hotel within one hour of exiting the plane.
We stayed at the Esmeralda Resort on Orient Beach and it was absolutely wonderful. The rooms come with their own swimming pool, stove, fridge, etc.. They also offered a free complimentary breakfast every morning which included cereals, breads, fruits, and juices. I think I ate more bread there than I have my whole life!!
It was kind of late when we got in and we were rather tired from the wedding and all the night before so we decided to just clean up and have dinner at L'Astrolabe, the restaurant at the resort. Amy had roasted lamb, I had filet of beef. Both were very good. Entrees, salads, deserts, drinks, and gratuity totalled $83. Through out the rest of my report, whenever I tell what we ate and the price, the total always includes salads,drinks, gratuities, and most of the time desserts. The meals we ate were expensive but most of the time they were worth it.
Monday: We woke up early since the sun was so bright and decided to drive around and learn our way about. Never in a million years would I have expected roads or drivers to be so bad. It was stress city every time we were on the road.(By the end of the week I was king of the road though)
We went shopping that morning in Marigot and Amy got some real good deals on perfumes at Lipstick. We made it back to the resort around noon and hit the beach. After walking down Orient Beach we decided to stop at Pedro's for ribs, fries, and the first of what was to be many before weeks end, a Heineken. Ribs and beer were both great and only cost $15.
We played on the beach the rest of the day and decided to have dinner in Grand Case (GC) at Fish Pot. Amy- Lobster & Fettucini...Me- Grilled Tuna. Absolutely wonderful food and one of the best meals of the week. Total for all...$85.
Tuesday: Again hit the beach early as we did everyday. Amy stayed on the beach by the hotel and I ventured down to OBC but as soon as I got there the tour buses were letting everyone off so I turned around and headed back. It was pretty hot so we decided to leave the beach for lunch and went to Drew's Deli. Drew is from the US and is a wonderful host. He grilled up 2 of the best bacon cheeseburgers we'd ever tasted. Burgers, slaws, cheesecake, drinks....$15...then back for more sun.
We rested up then headed to David's Pub and the place was empty except for a couple old drunk men and a couple of Englishmen. We had a couple of Heiny's and started getting tired so we decided on Mark's Place for dinner. Amy-Lobster Bisque and Swordfish.. Me-Red Snapper. This was the least expensive meal we had all week (food and drinks only $35) but you get what you pay for. Food wise it was the worst we had all week. It wasn't terrible but I compared it to eating at Red Lobster for those of you who know what that is.
Wednesday: We drove into Philipsburg for some shopping. What a BIG mistake! Traffic and people were everywhere. The prices weren't that great either we didn't think. Although we did end up buying 8 bottles of liquor (Bacardi, Absolut,etc...) for about $43. We drove back through Marigot to get home and a small brush fire had started on the mountains by the airport at GC right as you turn to go to Mt. Vernon. It ended up burning for about 3 days and burned off nearly the whole mountain. We never did find out if it was intentional or accident.
We headed back to the beach and had lunch at the CoCo Bar (right on the beach at Esmeralda). Amy had Caribbean Chicken Salad that was very good and I had ribs that were good but not as good as Pedro's. Total for lunch and drinks..$18.
For dinner we had planned on going to Cha-Cha-Cha but when we got there we found out that they closed for the month of June. We walked up and down the main street in GC and stopped by South Side Beach Club down by Rainbow. The place was rockin'. They had a band outside and there were tons of people dancing and drinking. We had a couple of drinks and then started looking for somewhere to eat. The rib shacks looked pretty tempting with the chicken, lobsters, ribs, and all but we decided to go back to Fish Pot again. Me-Filet Mignon...Amy-Lobster Fettucini again...with water, salads, deserts and a lot of beer the total was $90 and worth every penny.
Thursday: We went on a sailing\snorkeling trip on a big sail boat called the FredickAnne. It sailed out of Marigot (by Nettle Bay Resort) at 8:30 for a 2 1\2 hour trip to Sandy Island, a little island on the other side of Anguilla. Too many Heinekens the night before and very rough seas made it the longest 2 1\2 hours of my life. I never got sick but I still think I would have been much better off If I could have. (Thanks to Dramamine the ride home was 1000% better) While we were there the waters were very calm and the snorkeling was great. As part of the package we got to eat at the only building on the little island. It was called Gary's and he offered you fish, chicken, or for $10 more you could get whole lobster. I opted for the chicken and was glad I did as it was the best I have ever tasted. Amy had the fish and it was also very good. After 3 1\2 hours on the island we headed back for a sail up Anguilla's beautiful coast. The cost was $65 each and included all the gear, lunch, all drinks (beer,rum punches,etc.) on the boat, and snacks. Well worth the money.
By the time we got home it was already dark (about 7:30) and we were exhausted so we thought we would stay real close to home and have dinner at the CoCo Bar on the beach. THIS WAS THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE WEEK!!! We didn't know it but after beach hours it is converted from a beach bar to a very quaint little restaurant with nice tablecloths, candles, the whole works. They have just about everything on the menu you could want. Amy had a Caesar Salad and a Filet Mignon that was much better than Fish Pot's. I had Caesar Salad and Lobster with a side of pasta. All this with desert,drinks, and tip, only $63. By far the best meal we had had. It only seats about 20 people and it was full but it also had the best service on the island by far. I HIGHLY recommend this place.
Friday: Rode into the Match to find some magazines printed in English for the beach and the plane trip home. Three American magazines cost $21. When we came back to the beach to lay out and had lunch at Pedro's again this time with chicken,fries, and beers for us..$13..(go to next subject)
Finishing up on Friday, I rented a Boogey Board after lunch and had a great time since the waters were pretty rough. For dinner we went to L'Auberge Gourmand. The food was good but not what we expected. Amy had roast pork that was OK. and I had roast lamb that was OK. Service was terrible as was all of the incredible noise from outside from all of the cars and people.
Saturday: spent morning in Marigot shopping for t-shirts and things. The market was going on so we bought some things from there and Amy bought a gorgeous amethyst ring from Colombian Emeralds International at what we felt was a great price. For lunch we just had some fresh fruits that we picked up at the market. We came back for one last day in the sun and I finally got up the nerve to head to OBC and tan au-natural (Amy never could even get up the nerve to take her top off). The tourists were bad again so I didn't stay long because it got really cloudy. At the time I was there, there were probably only 10-15 other people tanning nude.
A big storm blew in so we ended up staying close to home again and went back to the CoCo Beach Bar. Again we were thoroughly delighted. Amy had Prime Rib that would melt in your mouth. I had shrimp that were both big and tender. As we began to eat the power went off from the storm and the combination of the dark, candlelit dinner, and the sound of the ocean made for a wonderfully romantic last night. Again the total was about $65. You may think I'm nuts but this was the best place we ate and I'm sure it would give any of the GC restaurants a run for their money. We had to fly out about 10:00 the next morning.
Well that's pretty much it. You can see we didn't do a lot but lay on the beach, eat , and drink. But isn't that what a vacation is all about? We really did have a wonderful time but were ready to come home. Orient Beach is absolutely wonderful but it really is a shame that more of the money doesn't get passed down to the people who live there. I think we will definitely return but we are probably going to try somewhere new next year or around the holidays.
Villa Renting Tips by Lan Sluder
Rather have a whole house than a cramped hotel room? A pool of your own, instead of one shared with 200 other guests? A private beach? A live-in maid, cook and gardener? Renting a private home or villa in the Caribbean can be a wonderful alternative to a hotel or resort. Depending on the island and the number in your party, a villa can be less expensive than a hotel.
For those interested in renting a private home or villa in the Caribbean, here's an overview of the islands where this kind of lodging is available, along with contact names and numbers.
Of course, it's impossible to recommend one island over another for a villa rental without knowing individual preferences, budget, etc., but here are a few comments to guide you.
WHERE THE VILLAS ARE Villas are concentrated on a few islands -- St. Barths, St. Maarten, Jamaica, Barbados, Anguilla, the Bahamas, the US and British Virgins, Montserrat -- but all have at least a few.
Villas are available because private owners have built homes which they use only a few weeks or months of the year. To help defray costs, they rent the homes, usually through a villa rental agency. (By the way, most owners are happy if they earn enough from rentals to pay the operating costs -- local taxes, utilities, maintenance, insurance, staff salaries, broker's fees. Rental income is seldom enough to pay anything toward the mortgage.)
Islands with relatively low labor costs, such as Jamaica, tend to have villas which are fully staffed, with live-in maids, cooks and gardeners. On other islands, such as the USVI and St. Maarten, staff levels are much lower, and you may only get daily maid service.
WHAT YOU GET With a luxury villa you should expect to get a large, typically 2,000 to 3,000 sq. feet (600 to 900 sq. meters), fully furnished, wellconstructed private home, with a pool, modern kitchen, either on the beach or with a sea view. The more expensive homes may have a tennis court, jacuzzi, etc. For example, on St. Martin (the French side), one of the houses we stayed in was a three-bedroom villa in the Lowlands, owned by a wealthy family from Paris. They had spared no expense. The kitchen had all Braun appliances, including three refrigerators and two stoves. There was a large pool surrounded by a deck, with bougainvillea everywhere. The living room had a large-screen television, VCR, original art, and the whole house was air conditioned. Another villa I saw was on about three acres (1.2 hectares) of private beach-front property, with pool and tennis courts. The house, originally a plantation home, had been totally restored at huge expense.
Less luxe homes and cottages are more like what you would find at a beach town in Florida -- perhaps with cinder block construction, fans instead of air conditioning, and simple furnishings.
You'll usually get a complimentary selection of groceries and booze to get you through the first night or two. Depending on the island and the degree of luxury, you'll have a maid and caretaker, and perhaps a cook, gardener and other help.
In most cases, you will be met on arrival by an employee of the villa rental agency and taken to your house. The villa rental company can also arrange for rental cars, baby sitters, cooks, and other services.
WHAT IT COSTS The price range is enormous. You can pay anywhere from less than $50 a night for a small apartment unit on Saba ... to $400 to $700 a week for a little house on Montserrat or Virgin Gorda ... to $12,000 or more a week for a mansion on St. Maarten or St. Barths. As a general rule, condos and townhouses are much less expensive than free-standing houses.
Like hotel rates, villa rates generally are lower in the summer, typically 20 to 50 percent lower. September is the slowest month of the year for villa rentals, with the Christmas/New Year period being the busiest. Many villa companies require a two- week minimum at Christmas, and rates are often increased by 10 to 50% or more during this peak period. The most desirable houses are often booked months or years ahead of time for Christmas.
ISLAND CHOICES Here's a brief overview of the various islands where villas are available:
St. Barths has several hundred luxe villas ... great food ... sophisticated place for a quiet French vacation ... but it's VERY expensive ... villas typically come with a maid and caretaker, but not fully staffed ... probably not the best island for young kids.
St. Maarten/Martin -- many villas in all prices ranges, from about $800 a week for a small house near the beach to $8,000 for a four bedroom on the beach with pool and every luxury ... villas typically come with a maid and caretaker, but not fully staffed... also lots of time share condos ... much to do on this island (shopping, gambling, good swimming, not much golf) ... good jumping off point to other islands ... superb restaurants ... interesting Euro atmosphere ... my kids have enjoyed it on several trips ... St. Maarten is an excellent "compromise" destination if you have people with different interests.
Barbados and Jamaica -- because of low labor costs, villas here are fully staffed, often with four or five people ... many luxury villas with "the works" ... Jamaica is beautiful but poverty can make it a difficult place ... Barbados has had some labor unrest but is attractive for those who want a British island.
USVI -- mostly condos, although some private homes are available on St. John and elsewhere ... lots to do, with good shopping, sailing, swimming.
British Virgin Islands -- one of my favorite places, quite a few mid- priced villas ... wonderful sailing, good swimming and snorkeling, not much shopping or nightlife. Tortola is lush and beautiful with an interesting small capital town, Roadtown, and some good restaurants. Virgin Gorda is smaller, more arid and with less to do, but with fine beaches.
Saba -- one of lesser known but delightful islands -- no real beaches but wonderful scenery, great diving -- home rentals very inexpensive by Caribbean standards (e.g. around $700 a week for a lovely Saban two bedroom cottage with pool and view of the Caribbean).
Anguilla is flat and not very interesting visually, but it has fabulous beaches and an increasing number of upscale villas for rent.
Montserrat, Antigua, Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Mustique, the Bahamas out islands, the Caymans, and several other islands have villas here and there.
The Central American Caribbean (Belize, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala) is a wonderful area, but it currently has few villa rentals, though some are available on Belize's cayes, mainly Ambergris. Cancun has a large number of condo and time share unit rentals.
BOOKING A VILLA Here are some villa rental firms. The best ones have both onsite operations in the Caribbean and a U.S. booking office. I lean toward renting from a company that concentrates on one or a few areas, and has an office there, rather than from brokers who rent properties in every area. For one thing, the specialized agent is likely to be much more knowledgeable about individual houses, whereas the sales person who reps condos from Hawaii to Cancun probably has personally visited few of them.
When you call, try to have a good idea of which island you want and what you want to pay. A problem with renting a villa is that, unlike hotels which have fairly standard amenities, every villa is different and there is a vast range of amenities. Some companies have informative brochures or flyers on their listings, while other don?t. Typically, when you first call, the agent will quickly try to determine your interests and budget and will then send you
brochures on properties which meet your need. The more experienced agents say they can ?sense? what houses are right for their clients and send information on only two or three choices, claiming that too many alternatives will only confuse the prospective client.
Caribbean Destinations, 800-888-0897 in the U.S., (504) 834-4511 elsewhere, and fax (504) 834-4524. Ask for Leslie or Maria, tell'em I referred you. They are based in New Orleans, have an operation on St. Maarten and specialize in villas on St. Maarten, St. Barths, and Anguilla, priced at $800 to $8,000+ weekly.
At Home Abroad, 212-421-9165, a small but well-established, though basically one-person New York-based operation with a lot of nice listings all over the Caribbean, mostly quite expensive. Please tell Claire Packman that Lan Sluder recommended her!
WIMCO, 800-849-8012, one of the larger rental companies, especially strong in St. Barths.
The Condo & Villa Authority, 800-831-5512, more oriented to lower priced properties, and often works through travel agencies.
On most every island there also are local people, usually real estate agents, who rent houses just on that island. For example, on Saba, Ruth Hassell, phone 599-462299, has 8 or 10 houses and apartments from about $200 to $900 a week (Ruth is a Dutch anthropologist, and I recommend her highly). Most of the island tourism organizations can provide a free listing of villas or villa rental agents.
Other good sources of villa rental information are ads in the Villa Guide section of Caribbean Travel and Life Magazine, and classified ads in the Sunday New York Times Travel Section.
Many hotels in the Caribbean also offer villa-type accommodations as well as regular hotel rooms.
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