Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
July 15 1995
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BAHAMAS: COMPASS POINT BY BRUCE DRAKE
I was looking for a short Caribbean getaway of about 3 to 4 days and, by chance, I saw a short magazine article with photos of a new place on Nassau called Compass Point, which opened in February. It looked like it met my requirements: I basically wanted to sit on a deck and chill it and read, have a few drinks and go for a swim when the urge hit me. Close-by snorkeling would be a plus. The rooms needed to be comfortable and pleasant to read in at night if I didn't feel like going out, so the standard hotel box with a bed taking up most of the space wouldn't do. I wanted it to be easy to get to (as opposed to the multi-plane hops involved in going to places I'd been before like St. Barts or Ambergris Cay).
Compass Point measured up well on some of these counts; not so well on others. As follows:
First, the accommodations at Compass Point are a delight visually, and very well-designed. They consist of about 20 one and two bedroom cottages and "huts" that are standalone, and a number of smaller and cheaper "cabanas" that are joined together and sit against a fence that separates the hotel from the road. Outside, they are painted "junkanoo" style, in bright, cardinal colors. Inside, the accommodations are described by the hotel itself as "spare" because they are bare, unfinished wood, but actually, I found the look far more attractive than your standard room. There is a big platform bed in the one-bedrooms cottages and huts built in drawers and shelves in the bed and along the sides of the room; screened, slat windows, ceiling fan and two big doors that open onto a deck (all of which have water views of some sort). The decks have two rocking-style chairs. The rooms are octagonally-shaped with cathedral ceilings and have a big, spacious feel. An extra touch are the two big terrycloth robes and two big brightly-colored beach towels that the hotel has hanging for you on wood pegs. Final note: the rooms rely on the ceiling fan for cooling. There is no a/c.
So, for my purposes, this place was perfect on that score.
There was one other touch provided by the hotel that was a bit more two-sided. Perhaps because the owner (someone named Chris Blackwell) is in the music industry (the brochure describes him as "recording mogul turned hotelier") each room not only has a TV that gets satellite, but a JVC boom box that plays CDs,( the hotel even puts a selection of CDs in each room). Nice touch -- depending on your tastes and neighbors. There was a German couple in the one-bedroom to my left and a British couple in the one-bedroom to my right, and their ideas of a good time in paradise (certainly legitimate, just different than mine) was to have their boxes going full time, sometimes at what seemed to be full volume. Given the architecture of the structures, and how they are situated near each other (and the fact they have slat-and-screen windows, not glass), this means your neighbors' music is your music. Now, I know this may seem like the observation of a spoilsport, and certainly may seem like quibbling given all Compass Point's other plusses, but if you came for some relative quiet while you sat on your deck looking out over the water -- well, that may not be possible at Compass Point. There was one evening where it was impossible to sort out the music from the two nearby one-bedrooms plus what was coming over the speaker from the restaurant/bar.
The setting: Compass Point has a small, attractive pool and the area between the huts/cottages and the main building are lined with an assortment of extremely comfortable comfortable lounges and chairs. There is a postage-stamp beach. But the beach jumping-off point is excellent for swimming and, with snorkeling equipment, it's a relatively short swim to a nascent coral reef that has a decent amount of underwater activity. The brochure says the hotel sits on "two private acres of famous Love Beach," but if by that, the stretch of beach in question is the one that lies to the left of the hotel (with your back to it), you have to wade or swim around a breakwater to get to it. It's an all-right stretch of beach, but nothing that would light up the eyes
of anyone who has been anywhere else in the Caribbean. I would not choose Compass Point for the magnificence of its nearby beaches. But the water views from the room nevertheless are pretty.
The restaurant is enjoyable, as much for the setting as the food. It looks out over the water. The atmosphere is bright and casual, and a nice thing about it is that a lot of locals frequent the place. I splurged one night on the Bahamian lobster tail and was disappointed (as opposed to langouste I've had elsewhere in the Caribbean, I found it pretty tasteless and mealy). On the other hand, they make great conch chowder with dark rum and a really fine plate of conch and corn fritters, which I could have eaten all day.
The staff at Compass Point is excellent. They are unfailingly helpful friendly. This is a well-run place.
Geographical fix: Compass Point is about 10 minutes from the airport. The hotel picks up the taxi fare which is about $6. The location also offers the advantage of being able to go to the casinos, shopping, hotels and other restaurants at Cable Beach or Paradise Island if that's to your taste, and I'm told the cab fare is about $12 each way to get there.
Prices and such: In season, one-bedroom cottages go for $235-250 (depending on whether they are oceanfront or ocean view), and $165-175 in off-season. The one bedroom huts are $200-230 in-season; $130-150 off-season. The 2 bedroom cottages are $300 in-season; $200 off. The cabanas are $145 in-season; $100 off. The difference between a "cottage" and a "hut" is that the cottage is up on stilts and the area underneath has an open-air kitchen, surrounded by some Adirondack style chairs and a picnic table that (for oceanfront units) juts out over the water. If you're not renting a care, I don't see much advantage to the kitchen, since the nearest place to buy groceries is 3 miles away. I had a cottage, but the only reason was that the huts were sold out.
Final note: My visit was in June. The weather in June is similar to south Florida, although being right on the water tempers that somewhat. You also get a good amount of rain and cloudiness. I'm not particularly comfortable sleepingwise when the humidity is high, but I have to say that the ceiling fan got me by during this stay. I imagine the absence of a/c, for those who need it, is a lot less felt in high season, when temperatures are in the 70s during the day.
You can book Compass Point or get the brochure by calling Island Outpost in
Miami Beach, 1-800 OUTPOST.
BAHAMAS BY LINDA COUSINS/AMASEWA OKOMFO
(Ed note: The author has requested that the following information be passed along.)
The material is copyrighted and that she is the author of "Caribbean Bound! - Culture Roots, Places, and People" which is available from Cultural Travel Publications, P.O. Box 5, Radio City Station, New York, NY 10101-0005; 718/398-8941. (226pp, $14.95 postpaid). Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
For the person in demand of pure restful vacation bliss, the more laid-back Out Islands such as Andros, Cat Island, or Exuma distinctly beckon; and the majority of them are quite rich as well in African descendants' history. Yet for those who enjoy the energy of cosmopolitan cultural offerings and an intense African spirit, Nassau is the key to a panorama of pure and pristine pleasure.
Having previously done a great deal of research and reading on the island prior to my previous visits, as well as in preparation for my cultural travel guide, Caribbean Bound!, I was well aware of the former sites of slave descendants' villages such as Bain Town, Adelaide, Grant Town, Carmichael, and Fox Hill, home of the yearly Fox Hill Day celebrations held in mid-August. I had visited the Pompey Museum and leisurely perused the artistic offerings housed there, including the year-round exhibit of the famed elder painter, Mr. Amos Ferguson. (Declared a National Treasure, the 25 works are grouped under four main themes: history, religion, nature and folklore.) My deep interest in our global history as a people had also drawn me to the Pompey Museum to view the Road to Freedom: Slavery, Abolition, and Emancipation exhibit, which includes artifacts, historical documents, and drawings recounting the history of slavery and emancipation of the African-Bahamians. One of the island's historic landmarks, The Queen's Staircase, with its 66 steps hewn from limestone by the slave ancestors in l793, was also a part of my prior knowledge base.
This time I wanted to not only take in the island culture but to also experience the offerings by enterprising Black entrepreneurs and to get a deeper knowledge of the island history from a chat with an island expert on the topic. This vacation dream began with a stay at the Casuarinas of Cable Beach Hotel and Villas, a group of 80 comfortable units nested in an intimate setting on a stretch of Cable Beach. I had desired to spend this visit at the Casuarinas because over the years I had heard of the magnificent work and service of Ms. Nettie Symonette, an enterprising Black single mother and accomplished entrepreneur, who had overcome numerous obstacles and developed this facility into one of Nassau's most popular facilities; this, while rearing her children, most of whom are actively involved in the hotel's operation today.
With some units facing the swimming pool or garden and others the aquamarine sea, the hotel is only an eight minute ride from downtown Nassau--(jitney buses make frequent stops right in front of the hotel)--and is also in close proximity to the large Cable Beach casinos. The Casuarinas has two restaurants, the Albinos for the occasions when vacationers want to dine on Bahamian and continental cuisine in an intimate, luxurious setting, and the Round House Restaurant serving the delectable Bahamian specialties in a breezily casual setting. Enjoyed sitting on the Round House patio near the roadway sipping a refreshing tropical drink and watching the Bay Street passersby.
I have favorite hotels throughout the islands I've visited and prefer most for their convenience, comfort, reasonable price, and proximity to Mother Ocean. While the Cesareans possesses all of these amenities, it remains in my mind for a more distinctive reason--the absolutely intoxicating aroma of the tropical flowers that so splendidly pervade the evening air. Sometimes I'd just take a seat in the garden area and luxuriate in this blend of island nature fragrances permeating the environment. Our magnificent sister, the profound womanist writer, Alice Walker penned In Search of our Mothers' Gardens. If those blessed gardens are no longer in existence, the fragrances linger on in the night air of Ms. Symonette's is land garden.
Commendably, Ms. Symonette has expanded her work as a hotelier by recently opening another facility, Different of Abaco (Great Abaco Bonefish Club), a small hotel, birdwatchers' sanctuary (over 53 species), and ecotourism site approximately l8 miles south of Marsh Harbour, Abaco. Her children delighted in telling me of the 15 lovely flamingoes--(the island's national bird)--on the grounds whose companions include goats, donkeys, with ducks and a variety of fish swimming nearby--(actually under the rooms, they said)--haven't quite mentally pictured that yet. There are no telephones, tv's, or unwanted connections with the outside world with the exception of those in the main office. Menus are shunned in favor of delightful potluck meals each day made from fresh vegetables grown on the grounds. As with the Casuarinas, healthful bush (herbal) teas, also homegrown, are available for guests' enjoyment. Tropical fruits such as cocoa plums, sea grapes, and gooseberries grace the trees.
For lovers of fishing, the site must be paradisiacal as the fresh water ponds there are noted to be teeming with such fish as mosquito fish, telapia, and needle fish. Those intoxicating island garden scents of the Casuarinas must be there as well for there is an artfully designed rock garden and rainbow-hued island flowers from the hibiscus, Star of Bethlehem, and bougainvillea to varied native orchids appear seasonally. Wonderful experiencing such marvelous strides in a high-quality Black-owned business, particularly one initiated and guided to phenomenal success by a Black single mom's entrepreneurial acumen and determination. And speaking of enterprising Black single mothers, a friendly Jamaican jitney driver informed me that Sister Rita Marley owns a home just steps away from the Casuarinas--that, in fact, she happened to be visiting the island at the time. He also pointed out that she also had opened an African-centric souvenir shop, Tuff Gong, at the nearby shopping mall on Bay St. Culture lovers will remember that Tuff Gong was the name of the recording studio the great musical prophet, Bob Marley, owned at the family home on Hope Road in Kingston, Jamaica (now the Bob Marley Museum). Am glad to hear Sister Rita has opened this enterprise for cultural travelers to Nassau.
This visit brought me into contact with not only scenic tropical delights but the contributions of Black families to varied arena's of the island's progress. A leisurely town and country tour was hosted by Vincent Farrington of Romeo's Executive Limousine Service, an enterprise of the Farrington family. (Romeo Farrington, the CEO, began the business in l965, and now the entire family is involved in its operation, including most of his eight children.) In the Bahamas, many tour drivers have made their services quite unique from those available on other islands by offering classy albeit reasonably-priced limousine tour and transportation services. In addition to us cultural travel lovers, luminaries who have also enjoyed the limo service include Rev. Jesse Jackson, John Amos, Perry Como, Roxie Roker, Anita Bryant, Bernie Casey, Billy Dee Williams and Sean Connery.
Once more, it was an absolute joy to witness during a cultural getaway the phenomenal success and positive energy of a loving, supportive hard-working family of achievers. It is even more of a joy to support the enterprises that they have built to serve the vacationer and most of all to serve their island. Romeo's Executive Limousine Service can be reached at 809/363-3822.
Another magnificent limousine service which I would not fail to utilize while in lovely Nassau is that of Sam "Marathon Man" Williams. Br. Williams is a noted island celebrity, having distinguished himself as an outstanding track star recently installed in the Bahamas Hall of Fame. Between showing visitors the beauty of his home island via his limo service, he works tirelessly as the president of the Bahamas Loving Care Association, a community service organization which raises funds for varied local and national social causes. A tour with Br. Williams, as with Romeo's Service, renders the cultural traveler an opportunity to not only partake of island loveliness with one of the country's historymakers but to hear of community events relevant to our people there. (Bahamas Loving Care Association, PO Box 11-815, Nassau, Bahamas; 809/325-5807 or 809/322-3155).
The Symonettes and Farringtons are Black families who are leaders in the hospitality industry in Nassau, "Marathon Man" Williams, a distinguished African-Bahamian athlete, entrepreneur, and community activist dedicated to civic service to families and other individuals of the island, and then a perfect icing on the cake of this connection with island family life and service was an interview with celebrated island historian, Dr. Cleveland Eneas, prolific island author and chairman of the Nassau Public Library.
Dr. Eneas is a native of Bain Town, one of the original villages settled by the freed slaves there in Nassau, and he has written a fascinating work on the history of that settlement detailing his experiences as a youth growing up there in the early 1900s.
The personalities, the foods, the smells, the African retentions, the love as both a close-knit community and individual families comes through clearly in this work, Bain Town. Here is a book that not only Bahamian students should be well acquainted with but multicultural programs in other nations as well.
An alumni of Tuskeegee Institute, Dr. Eneas, (a retired dentist), has also penned a work (Tuskeegee Rah Rah!) on his days at this famed African- American college which was founded by Booker T. Washington and Meharry Medical College, History of the Class of '41, detailing his experiences and that of other classmates at the equally famed Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, including their numerous class reunions over the years. Yet another of his independently-published books, Let the Church Roll On, further documents Bahamian history from an ecumenical perspective.
Like the late African-American scholar and author, Alex Haley, Dr. Eneas, as a youth was blessed to have come into contact with his roots as a Yoruba descendant; (the majority of the Bain Town residents were descended from the Yoruba nation of Nigeria).
His great grandfather, whose Bahamian name was Britton Eneas, often described to his son how he and his sister had been captured in Abeokuta, Nigeria, and forced via slave ship to the Bahamas.
While a visit with the Eneases put me in touch with the historical side of Nassau, a visit to the Junkanoo Expo put me firmly and colorfully in touch with the artistic realm of the island. The facility houses rows of exhibits of winning floats and costumes from past Junkanoo festivities (a high-life Carnival celebrated on December 26th and January 1st).
Like Carnival celebrants throughout the island, Junkanoo (reputedly named after a shrewd African king), entails months of intense preparations as the intricately designed floats and costumes are meticulously readied for the end-of-year revelers.
Wandering through the aisles of the Junkanoo exhibits, one is struck by the brilliant-hued, artful designs of Bahamian creators. Was particularly drawn to the ones displaying a pride in African traditions and master achievers such as the quite detailed float bearing striking sculpted likenesses to Nelson Mandela, Malcolm, Dr. King, and the Hon. Marcus Garvey. The Junkanoo Expo, conveniently located on the waterfront in downtown Nassau, is an absolute must-see. The museum also has a small gift shop where one may purchase a selection of island crafts, as well as the Junkanoo music. And speaking of this popular island music, one can hear such music performed by talented local bands at upscale nightspots ranging from the newly opened intimate music scene of the Garden Club at the DaVinci Restaurant to the nonstop weekend jams at the Zoo and the highly rated Culture Club; owned by one of the island's most popular band, the Bahamen's, who of course, regularly perform there.)
Having been blessed with seeing the island's scenic and cultural offerings through the luxurious limo services of both the Romeo and Sam William enterprises, decided that while they were busy with other clients, I would take the opportunity to move with the vibes of the local people by taking jitney bus rides throughout the island--particularly to spots I had missed on my prior visits. Enjoyed a swim at Saunders Beach, frequented both by Nassauvians and a smattering of vacationers on weekends. Then for my Bahamian food-loving taste, there was the much-awaited drop by to Arawak Cay just up the road on Bay St. where rows of stalls of islanders preparing and selling Bahamian specialties line the area. Every type of conch dish the Bahamians ever set a knife or fork to is available here, including the popular raw conch salad whose ingredients are chopped and mixed right before the patrons' fascinated eyes; (the local folks will tease you about raw conch's aphrodisiacal qualities!). Delectable potato bread as well as fried fish and johnycakes are among the other tasty offerings.
For a leisurely dining and a quiet chat with friends and travel companions while in Nassau, the Shoal Restaurant is an ideal spot. Serving sumptuously spiced island seafood and other specialties, the Shoal comes highly recommended by native Nassauvians who know superb island cuisine when they sample it.
Upon leaving the island, I realized that I truly must get to the Out Islands during a future cultural getaway as many a Nassauvian has told me of the entrancing beauty of those islets and the culture-immersed elders there who can acquaint me even more with the soul depths of our history as a people in this part of the globe. Yet there's definitely got to be a way to squeeze Nassau back into my travel itinerary at least "one more again" as well 'cause -- Nassau nice, mon!
BVI: Biras Creek Resort by John Bloxom
In early February my wife and I spent a few days at Biras Creek Resort. Having used the resources of this library to locate Biras, we thought we would supplement those submissions that led us to this property.
Biras is located on the northern end of Virgin Gorda, reachable only by boat from the terminus of the road about a mile or so to the south. Although it comprises about 140 acres (as best I recall), the single principal building is located on a very narrow isthmus separating the Atlantic from the (placid) waters of the North Sound. This building, which houses administrative offices and on the top floor, a cocktail lounge and dining area, is made of stone in a circular configuration and is surrounded on one side by large patios. Because it is erected on the highest spot on the isthmus, it affords magnificent views of both the ocean and the North Sound.
The main building incorporates no rooms for guests. Instead, guests are housed in villas situated generally along the Atlantic Coast. These villas, some or all of which are attached to each other, are furnished and finished in a style which, by island standards, is fairly luxurious. The one in which we stayed had large windows facing the Atlantic and an open-to-the- sky shower in the bathroom on the side facing the North Sound. This design ensured a wonderful through breeze as well as the sound of crashing surf by which to sleep.
The balance of the resort is largely undeveloped and crossed and re-crossed by hiking and walking trails covering the hilly, arid terrain. To the northeast, down a fairly lengthy trail, lies the beach area at which is situate a small bar, lunch area and boat livery. The beach is unremarkable, being thin, not very long and located in a large, sheltered cove. These shortcomings are, however, largely offset by the fact that it is physically set apart from the surrounding parts of the island and therefore possesses a nice, intimate quality. At the beach there are sailboats, boards and other watercraft available for use by the guests.
To the north of the main portion of the property is a trail leading to the Bitter End Yacht Club and Hotel, and at this property are found a few shops, snackbars and restaurants that are worth visiting. The walk there is a short one, and it satisfies the desire to get off the property that builds slowly as a result of its geographic isolation.
Towards the southwest end of the property is a dock at which one can take a small skiff off for a few hours at no extra charge. By skiff one can travel to Saba Rock, a tiny bit of outcropping near Bitter End on which is located a restaurant and bar; Leverick Bay, a small village located a mile down the Sound at which is located several nice shops and restaurants; and numerous small beaches cut off from the balance of the island by the hilly geography of the place.
The Biras staff offers numerous side trips and excursions on almost a daily basis. One that we took was a day trip to Anegada, an island fifteen or so miles to the north. On landing there a van ride took us to a vacant, unspoiled beach at Loblolly Bay. There we spent the better part of the afternoon snorkeling the inner side of the barrier reef. Beyond snorkeling and a lobster lunch arranged there by the Biras staff, what we saw of the island was sand and sea grape. It was very pleasant.
If there were two weak points at Biras, the first and most obvious was the morning waitstaff and some of the administrative personnel, each of whom have acquired, to various degrees, that studied island, slow-motion, laughing indifference that can so quickly erode the reputation of a property. The morning waitstaff was particularly poor with guests being forced to wait on themselves in many instances. The second weak point was the absence of reasonable access to telephone lines. At Biras all guests are forced to share two small, uncomfortable outside phone booths. The staff defends this situation by advising that many guests do not wish to be bothered by telephones while on vacation. This argument, however, rings about as true as one which would dispense with the cocktail lounge on the ground that some guests do not drink. Installing data-capable telephone lines in the villas should be a priority for this property.
While we were at Biras we met a young man (whose name has now escaped me) who had just been engaged as manager of the property. His previous employment had been with a five star property in London, and he therefore was acutely aware of those areas in which Biras is weak. We were very impressed with this young man, and we would expect the property to improve quickly and dramatically under his direction.
On the whole, Biras offers a very pleasant, very high quality vacation. We
would recommend it highly to anyone interested in visiting Virgin Gorda.
BVI BY GINNY NOYES
We just returned from a great sailing trip in the BVI's. One thing that made it so great was the 16-24 knot winds every day. The sailing was our best yet! Another thing that made it so great was sailing to Anegada with the captain of our sailing school. We learned a lot from him and the sail was terrific!
The next thing that made it great was meeting Vic DeMattia and family for dinner at Harris' Place, Jost Van Dyke. We had excellent lobster as always and had a chance to visit aboard each others boats for the first time. This trip we had two dear friends along with their son and daughter and their spouses. Everyone pitched in and made the sailing lots of fun.
Our itinerary was as follows:
Day 1, Lee Bay, Great Camanoe
Day 2,3, Leverick Bay, North Sound, Virgin Gorda
Day 4, Cane Garden Bay, Tortola
Day 5, Deadman's Bay, Peter Island
Day 6, Manchioneel Bay, Cooper Island
Day 7, Marina Cay
Day 8, Anegada
Day 9, Little Harbor, Jost Van Dyke
Day 10, Return to Road Town, Village Cay Marina
We tried to dive the Wreck of the Rhone but the current was far too strong. We went around to the other side of Salt Island and dove Vanishing Rock. It was a 50' dive and very nice. There were lots of fish, some larger than you see at other sites. Another new dive site was Blue Chromis Reef on Cooper. Very nice dive for newer divers. Another new stop was snorkeling at Eustatia Reef, very nice.
I will list only the new things we saw and did: We went in to Pusser's, Leverick Bay for their Limbo Party with All-you-can-eat barbecue chicken and ribs served out by the pool, steel band and limbo contest. It was great for the younger set in our group.
We went in to Little Dix Bay, anchored and went in for cocktails at the resort. One of our couples had honeymooned there 3 years ago so they gave us the tour. VERY NICE!!!
While at the Baths we walked up to the shops at the Top of the Baths for T-shirts and had lunch at the Mad Dog Bar. It has great views and the food was good, drinks great. The reef across from Marina Cay on Great Camanoe is a very nice snorkel area. The Cuan Law was anchored there with divers down so it must be a good dive too.
Our friends voted Pirate's Pub, Saba Rock as having the greatest hamburgers in the world!
The Conch Fritters at Cooper Island Beach Club are still the best in the islands.
If you go to Anegada don't miss walking down the beach to Pam's Kitchen. We had fresh brownies just out of the oven, cut open and filled with coconut ice cream for the greatest ice cream sandwich bar none. Her kids come around the boats in the late afternoon with a dinghy full of fresh breads, sweet rolls, muffins, cookies and brownies.
Again, I cannot say enough about the wonderful winds for sailing. We have
been practicing our tacking and have gotten quite good at it. Who says you can't
tack a cat?!!!
BVI: Four Resorts Compared by Lynn McKamey
(Ed Note: Lynn McKamey's work is copyrighted.)
My husband and I first discovered the British Virgin Islands while taking a cruise through the Caribbean in 1987. We found many interesting islands, but the BVI was our most favorite of all. Located east of Puerto Rico in an arid, northern section of the Caribbean, it is not as lush and tropical as some islands nearer the equator like St. Lucia, nor does it have the boundless shopping, gambling, and nightlife of St. Martin. Instead, this cluster of 40 islands offers stunning beaches, unique resorts, perfect sailing conditions, great scuba diving, and some of the friendliest residents in the Caribbean. For those who like to explore beyond the nearest shores, the adjacent U.S. Virgin Islands are close enough for a day trip to shop in St. Thomas or to see St. John's national park.
The BVI has many outstanding vacation destinations. Unless one stays on Tortola which has the main commuter airport, most of the hotels and inns on nearby islands must be reached by boat or ferry. Over the years, we've stayed at five different resorts in the BVI, and returned to several more than once. We prefer quiet havens with gorgeous (and uncrowded) beaches, exceptional cuisine, attentive service, gracious staff members, easily accessible scuba diving, pleasant and privately located rooms. Our vacations are an escape from our businesses, children, and the daily grind - a few days in paradise where we can enjoy each other in beautiful surroundings, and our only worry is arising early enough to catch the dive boat!
The four resorts in this review - Biras Creek, Drakes Anchorage, Little Dix on Virgin Gorda, and Peter Island south of Tortola - are all special destinations, but each has its own personality, cuisine, and distinctive surroundings. Hopefully the information included in this report will provide some insight and help you select which might best match your own interests and expectations.
We visit, but do not stay on Tortola. While we enjoy an occasional day trip to that island, it does not have the best BVI beaches for snorkeling or swimming, and the quaint hotels and inns on the north side do not have diving operations nearby or on-site. We have stayed at the Bitter End Yacht Club, but it is not included since it is a huge resort with minimal beaches and focuses primarily on vacationers who love sailing.
Drakes, the smallest resort in this review, accommodates only 26 guests; Little Dix, the largest, will hold 200. Generally, the bigger the resort, the more activities are available; however, not everyone wants endless schedules of events and may prefer to privately enjoy a few wonderful days at the edge of a nearby sparkling beach. To each his own...
Drakes Anchorage Inn - North Sound of Virgin Gorda 26 guests, 4 small beaches, 120 acres on its own secluded island natural surroundings, very casual, West Indian Continental food
Biras Creek - North Sound of Virgin Gorda 66 guests, 2 beaches, 140 acres on a remote section of Virgin Gorda natural & groomed surroundings, resort wear, Continental food
Peter Island - 20 minute ferry ride south of Tortola 100 guests, 3 large beaches, 1800 acres on its own island natural & groomed surroundings, resort wear, American Continental food
Little Dix - center of Virgin Gorda 200 guests, 1 very long beach, 500 acres near Spanish Town groomed surroundings, elegant resort wear, International food
Note: all the resorts will take guests by crewed launch to a remote beach for a secluded "castaway" day. Drakes Inn and Biras Creek also have motor dinghies for adventuresome guests to take on their own.
DRAKES ANCHORAGE INN: a quiet, remote, barefoot get-away - like being on your own 120 acre island with a French cook who serves gorgeous breakfasts, gourmet lunches, and some of the best dinners in the Caribbean. This is one resort which refuses to serve hot dogs and hamburgers at lunch, instead guests have a selection of seafood crepes or salads (with fresh crab and lobster), sandwiches, soups and garden salads, fresh fish, and several dessert selections. The evening meal is a five course event - a special appetizer, salad, and soup change each night and are followed with wide selection of entrees such as broiled lobster, charbroiled swordfish with a pernod sauce, or filet of beef au poivre with a cognac creme sauce, to name a few. Dessert choices vary, but the famous chocolate mousse is always available. The tropical, open sided restaurant and bar is at waters edge and diners can watch "Charles" the ray drift by at night along with turtles, eels, and tropical fish. Service is excellent, even when 30 yachters and vacationers from other resorts (who obviously know about the great dinners here) join guests for the evening.
Drakes has ten fan cooled accommodations in three cottages just a few steps from a shallow wading beach (the Ocean View units are 20' farther from the water than the Ocean Side). Eight cozy rooms have large porches and nearby hammocks. Each has a newly enlarged bathroom with a big shower, long vanity, and separate room for the water closet. Since this resort is located on the breezy side of Virgin Gorda's North Sound, the rooms usually stay cool. Two suites have separate bedrooms and sitting areas - a good choice for families or a couple who likes extra space. Drakes Inn also has two secluded stone villas located on a hill with a panoramic view about a 10 minute walk, or quick bike ride from the dining room and cottages. Each multi-level villa has a large living room, kitchen, two patios, master bedroom, and huge bathroom with sunken tub, giant stone shower and separate toilet and bidet. One villa has an upstairs lofted bedroom with a full bathroom and will easily accommodate four guests.
The island rises to a peak of 271' and has several hiking trails with outstanding views. It is left in a natural state with little landscaping, other than coconut palms strategically placed along the beaches. Long Beach is a perfect white sand shoreline
with thatched huts and a nice snorkeling reef just offshore. Cute little Rocky Beach is surrounded by rock cliffs and also has excellent snorkeling; Honeymoon Beach is at the bottom of a steep hillside and has crashing waves and a very romantic atmosphere - a great place to watch the sun set.
Drakes Inn has windsurfers, small sailboats, and motorized dinghies which guests can take around the North Sound, and complimentary snorkeling equipment. A boat captain is available to chauffeur guests to Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda (a 10 minute ride), a remote beach, or across the Sound for tennis at Biras Creek or a visit to the Bitter End Yacht Club. The office can arrange scuba diving with Dive BVI, car rentals for a day on Virgin Gorda, and day sails around the islands.
Drakes has a friendly staff who is anxious to please guests, and many are cross trained to do a variety of things from bartending to serving meals or answering questions about things to do and see. However, if you arrive a bit early for happy hour and a bartender is not nearby, help yourself to the beer or soft drinks and tell the next staff member you see.
Dress is casual - pack your carry-on suitcase with two or three swimsuits, some T-shirts, and a couple of shorts or long pants (the evenings can be cool) then kick back, relax, and enjoy a "complete escape" on a secluded island. And don't forget to save room for all that scrumptious food!
Getting there requires some planning. Guests can fly into Beef Island on Tortola and catch the North Sound express ferry which makes runs at 10:30 a.m., 3:30, 5:30, and 7:15 (subject to change). Later trips may require an expensive charter, so plan to arrive at the airport by 6:00 p.m. On departure, the North Sound Express leaves at 7 a.m., 12 noon, and 4:15. Presently, only commuter aircraft fly directly to Virgin Gorda; taxis then take guests to Leverick Bay for the 5 minute boat ride to Drakes.
BIRAS CREEK: lovely, secluded accommodations in a 140 acre natural setting featuring a long walking beach, a protected cove with white sand beach, a salt water lake bird sanctuary, plus a towering hill in the center of the resort crowned with a gorgeous stone restaurant - one of the most enchanting dining rooms in the BVI.
This resort is located on the remote northeastern tip of Virgin Gorda, and like Drakes, is accessible only by boat. It uniquely sits on a slender isthmus of land which separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean Sea and North Sound. Biras Creek is a nature lovers paradise and offers numerous hiking trails through tropical forests, up steep hillsides, and along the beaches. Guests can also take a long leisurely stroll around the hill to the Bitter End Yacht Club. Activities include tennis, biking, plus snorkeling, sailing, and windsurfing in Deep Bay. Day trips to other beaches, the rest of Virgin Gorda, day sails, and diving with Dive BVI can be arranged by the resort staff.
Twelve of the sixteen cottages (two suites to a unit) line a rocky, coral strewn beach lapped by rolling waves and are situated so that each is very private with its own path, entry way, and patio. The breeze cooled suites feature ceiling fans, a bedroom with king or twin beds, separate sitting room with sofa, chair and desk, plus a roomy bathroom with a large shower open to the skies. Four units are nestled into the gardens within viewing, but not hearing distance of the rolling surf. Two spacious Grand Suites at the end of the beach have a private patio, a porch, huge living room, air-conditioned bedroom, dressing area with closets and vanities, separate room for toilet and bidet, plus a shower and sunken tub large enough for two people. The ultimate accommodation is the two bedroom "house on the hill" which comes with a golf cart for easy transportation around the resort. The villa has a patio and a wrap around balcony with a stunning view of the North Sound and Atlantic Ocean. The grounds surrounding the rooms and restaurant are perfectly landscaped with colorful tropical plants.
Breakfast, some lunches, and dinner are served in the hill top restaurant which resembles an open sided stone castle. Breakfast features a fresh fruit, cereal, and pastry buffet followed by choices of eggs, omelets, French toast or pancakes. The three course dinner menu changes each day and offers a choice of appetizer, and soup or garden salad. Entrees include selections as "Grilled Mahi-Mahi with Mango Salsa" or "Game Hen with Peach and Ginger sauce" plus pork, beef, and a half lobster or succulent lobster thermidor, followed by dessert. Early risers can enjoy coffee, tea, juice, and pastries at the pool area, and English Tea is served each afternoon. Lunch is usually a "Barbecue on the Beach" at the Deep Bay Bar, about a 15 minute walk from the rooms, or a leisurely bicycle ride. Guests choose from a buffet of salads and grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, fish, or the Chefs special of the day, such as ribs.
Biras has a friendly but reserved staff, perhaps in keeping with the British management. Visitors looking for an upscale, quiet, secluded hideaway with private rooms and enchanting natural surroundings will enjoy Biras Creek. Dress: pack two or three bathing suits, some coverups for the public areas during the day, and resort wear such as pant suits or summer dresses for the ladies, collared shirts and slacks for the men in the evening.
Getting there: The same way as for Drakes - take the North Sound Express from Beef Island, or a taxi from the Virgin Gorda airport which will meet the Biras boat at Gunn Creek for a 10 minute ride to the resort.
PETER ISLAND: A friendly, exquisite paradise with 50 rooms on a corner of its own 1800 acre island with a large choice of accommodations, menu selections, and activities. While this resort is very upscale, it has a relaxing, casual atmosphere not found at many destinations of its caliber, and seems to offer something for almost everyone. Guests can partake of all the on-site or off-island activities available, or simply spend some quiet time on one of Peter Islands long stunning beaches.
Chef Wilford Stoutt has been with this resort for over 20 years and creates elegant five course dinners which change each evening in the Tradewinds Restaurant. Guests have a choice of several appetizers, soups, salads, entrees and desserts. Appetizers such as "Quail stuffed with apples and pecans" or "Sauteed shrimp cake with a stone mustard sauce" can be followed with "Caribbean spicy pepper pot soup" or "Chilled tomato and basil soup"; three choices of gourmet salads always include "Traditional Caesar salad". Entrees offer many selections such as "Poached Atlantic salmon on a bed of vegetables and mousseline sauce", or "Veal scallopini with lobster medallions served with Madeira sauce". Sinful desserts abound! On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, guests wanting a more casual atmosphere can wear their shorts, shirts, and sandals to dinner in the Beach Grill which offers a fixed menu. Lunch at the Beachside Grill has an extensive salad bar plus grilled to order fish, chicken, ribs (some of the best I've ever had and I'm from "Texas Rib Country"), sandwiches, and burgers, followed by desserts, ice cream bars, and homemade cookies. A light lunch of salads and sandwiches is also served by the pool. Breakfast has a fruit, cereal, and pastry buffet followed by choices of eggs, omelets, pancakes, and bagels with smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomatoes and red onions. Early birds can enjoy coffee and Danish by the pool as the sun rises.
Most of this vast island has been left in it's natural state and has plenty of hiking and biking trails for exploring guests. The highest point is over 500' and provides outstanding views of the BVI. The grounds around the resort have been nicely landscaped with tropical plants and coconut palms lending to the pleasant island atmosphere.
Air conditioned Garden and Ocean View accommodations are located near the main dining/reception area and the swimming pool which overlook Drakes Channel and the island of Tortola. Nicely sized rooms have a king or twin beds, small sitting area, desk, full bathroom with a tub, and patio or balcony. Spacious Ocean Front rooms in stone buildings on Deadman's Bay feature a patio or balcony, king or twin beds, large sitting area, desk, and huge bathroom with a tub - each has optional air conditioning, plus ceiling fans. Two hillside Villas are available - each with two bedrooms, two baths, a living room, kitchen, and sun deck with a view of Deadman's Bay and the islands beyond. An outstanding, fully staffed four bedroom villa, the Crows Nest, perches at the top of a hillside with a panoramic view of Drakes Channel and Tortola.
Activities abound at Peter Island. Guests can enjoy playing tennis, or sunbathing on the gorgeous mile long beach at Deadman's Bay, the sparkling remote beach at White Bay, and the shell strewn beach on Big Reef Bay which has a fitness trail. Water sports include snorkeling, windsurfing, and sailing, plus divers will be pleased to find a complete Dive BVI operation on site. Hikers will find 10 miles of trails to explore, and the resort provides a detailed guidebook describing the island flora and fauna. A tour around the island by safari van is available twice a day, and the Peter Island Ferry goes to Tortola eight times daily for those who would like to shop at Road Town or take a day trip around the island. A resort ferry will take guests on a day trip to St. Thomas on Tuesdays and to Virgin Gorda on Thursdays. Sports fishing, day sails, and snorkeling trips to Norman Island and other coral gardens are also available on Peter Islands own fleet of watercraft.
Staff members are very gracious and provide excellent service in all respects. The American management team is quite visible and accessible to guests.
Peter Island appeals to those who love endless beaches, lots of on-site and off island activities, personal service, gourmet food, and privacy when and if they want it.
Dress: Pack bathing suits and coverups for day wear, plus resort wear such as sun dresses or summer pants suits for ladies, and collared shirts and slacks for men at dinner in the Tradewinds restaurant.
Getting there: No problem - Peter Island will arrange a 20-25 minute ride on one of their own ferries, regardless of the time of arrival or departure from Beef Island Airport on Tortola. A staff person meets guests at the airport.
LITTLE DIX: A large 98 room, classic resort overlooking a half mile crescent beach surrounded by hills. Little Dix was originally created in the 1960s by Lawrence Rockefeller as an exclusive 50 room retreat for the "rich and famous". Located in a picture perfect setting, rooms are hidden beneath palms and tropical trees set amongst meticulously groomed lawns and manicured landscaping. Over the years, this "upscale campy" getaway of yesteryear doubled in size, filling the entire half-mile beach and was recently transformed into a modernized resort when Rosewood assumed management of this property. Rooms have been completely refurbished, some now have air conditioners, and a state of the art phone system was added.
All of the rooms are scattered along or near the beach - some are almost at waters edge, while others overlook the gardens or a rolling lawn ending at the shoreline. Two floor plans prevail - square rooms grouped in one and two story buildings, and roomier hexagonal rooms, two or four to a unit with some set on stilts shading a patio and hammock below. All have a sitting area, desk, and small to moderate sized bathrooms with showers, except for four suites which have oversized soaking tubs. Only a few of the rooms offer complete privacy - those without air conditioning have lots of louvers (necessary since the resort is on the windless side of the island); those with air conditioning have a wall of glass and many are located near the beach and pathways with lots of visitors drifting by. Guests wanting solitude should request rooms at the furthermost ends of the beach.
The resort is divided into thirds with the arrival/departure pier and beach house 2/3 of the way down the beach; the dining rooms and front desk are 1/3 of the way down. Golf cart shuttles provide rides to guests in rooms farthest from the dining areas.
On site activities include tennis, hiking, kayaking, sunfish sailing, waterskiing and snorkeling. Dive BVI has a scuba instructor and small shop near the pier and schedules dive trips each morning and afternoon. Many different charters can be arranged for snorkeling, day sails, and fishing. The resort can also provide a trip to a remote beach, however guests who order box lunches should check to be sure plenty of drinks are provided. The resort welcomes children of all ages, although no specific activities are scheduled for them.
During the winter season, Little Dix has three restaurants open to guests - the Beachside Grill, the huge Pavilion, and the small intimate Sugar Mill - all with superb views of the bay; the Beach Grill does not serve evening meals during summer months. The dinner menus in the Pavilion and Sugar Mill feature "fashionable" cuisine and appear to follow the latest culinary trends. Appetizers such as "Rillettes of Crabmeat with Zucchini and Herbs dressed with Grapefruit and Ginger Sauce" can be followed by a salad as "Belgian Endive with Caramelized Apple, Celery Root, Walnut Oil, and Apple Cider Vinegar or Guava and Pepper Gazpacho", finished with "Sauteed Shrimp in Coconut Milk and Hot Madres Curry with Grilled Bell Pepper and Almond Pilaf Rice". Surprisingly, for a resort of this size, the menus do not change each night, although an additional 'menu of the day' is available to offer some variation at the Pavilion - the fresh lobster is excellent. Lunch at the Beach Grill includes hot dogs, hamburgers, fruit and chef's salads, turkey club sandwich and several entrees; a buffet lunch at the Pavilion offers a salad bar and grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, and fish, plus delightful desserts. Breakfast at the Pavilion has a fruit, bread, and cereal buffet, followed by blueberry pancakes, eggs, omelets, and waffles. English style tea and aperitifs are served each afternoon on the Pavilion Terrace.
Little Dix has a huge staff, necessary to provide service to the large number of guests and to maintain the extensive grounds. However, in many respects and situations, we found service very uneven during our visit, and the beach often accumulated cups, napkins, and clutter which were not picked up until the following morning. Some employees were very attentive, whereas others ignored guests and spent most of their time visiting with each other.
This resort could be enjoyed by couples and families searching for a classic resort with lots of scheduled activities and day trips for guests.
Dress: pack bathing suits and cover ups for the public areas. In the evening, ladies wear elegant resort wear and men wear collared shirts, slacks, and "closed toe" shoes (coat optional).
Getting there: No problem, Little Dix has a fast power catamaran which transfers guests to and from Beef Island at any time, and vans which provide shuttles to the Virgin Gorda airport.
STAYING AT TWO RESORTS: Some vacationers who take 10 day to 2 week vacations often like to stay at two different properties. Transferring between these four resorts is very easy. Traveling between Drakes Inn or Biras Creek and Little Dix requires a short boat and breathtaking taxi ride over the mountain. Transfers between any three of these Virgin Gorda resorts and Peter Island requires two 20-25 minute ferry rides making a connection at the Beef Island airport pier. Peter Island also takes its big ferry to Virgin Gorda on Thursdays, so vacationers could easily move to or from there on that day. Lots of possibilities for those who might want to stay at more than one resort.
THE FOLLOWING is a guide to the "most or best of". Where you see two resorts listed, it's because I asked my husband's opinion which doesn't always match my own!
Most quiet & remote: Drakes Inn, Biras Creek
Best for families with young children: Little Dix
Best Breakfast: All of them
Best Lunch: Drakes Anchorage, Peter Island
Best Dinner: Drakes Anchorage (entrees do not change each night, but all selections are superb) and Peter Island (changing menu, lots of outstanding choices for each course).
Most romantic dinner setting: Biras Creek, Little Dix Sugar Mill
Best "all around" service: Peter Island
Most private rooms: Biras Creek Ocean Front and Grand Suites
Most secluded accommodations: Biras Grand Suites and Villa, Drakes Villas
Most on-site activities: Peter Island
Most off-site activities: Little Dix, Peter Island
Best on-site snorkeling: Drakes Anchorage, Peter Island
Best windsurfing: Biras Creek, Peter Island
Most varied hiking trails: Biras Creek (but all have good trails)
Most convenient diving: Dive BVI, Peter Island since a full service dive shop is on site. Little Dix is a close second since Dive BVI has a dive instructor there. [note: scuba with Dive BVI is available at Drakes and Biras Creek too but the boat comes early!]
Easiest to reach and depart from the Beef Island Airport: Little Dix and Peter Island since they have their own ferries to Beef Island, Tortola and will meet any plane, any time of the day or evening.
Drakes Biras Peter Little Dix
Biking yes yes yes rentals
Hiking yes yes yes yes
Motor Dinghies yes rentals no no
Pool no yes yes no
Scuba Diving yes yes yes yes
Snorkeling yes yes yes yes
Small sailboats yes yes yes yes
Tennis no yes yes yes
Windsurfing yes yes yes no
Library & current news no yes yes yes
* Telephones in rooms no no yes yes
Some people like phones, some don't. (They can be easily unplugged.) Drakes Inn has phones in the secluded Villas which connect to the front desk.
POLICY FOR CHILDREN:
Drakes - prefers children over age twelve.
Biras Creek - prefers children over age six.
Peter Island - prefers children over age eight.
Little Dix - children of all ages are welcome.
DAILY RATES for two (summer 1995/winter 1995-96) including breakfast, lunch, and dinner - subject to change:
RESORT Garden View Ocean View Beach Front Suite Villa
Drakes Inn - - $327/$433 $338/$444 $373/$490 $515/$595
Biras Creek - - $365/$395 $450/$495 $575/$595 $600/$695
Peter Island $365/$565 $415/$625 $495/$715 - - $745/$1065
Little Dix $405/$630 $455/$730 $530/$830 $630/$1280 - -
NOTE: Drakes and Biras rates include all meals; Peter Island has room only rates - subtract $170 per day; Little Dix has room only rates - subtract $180 per day. All rates are subject to additional taxes and service charges - generally 15% to 22%. Most of the resorts have a round-trip transportation fee of $30-50 for guests who need transfers to and from the Beef Island airport on Tortola.
Summer (low) season is usually April to Mid-December; Winter (high) season is Mid-December through March. Peter Island and Little Dix have shoulder seasons during April and November to mid-December with higher rates than Summer. All resorts have weekly packages at good savings over daily rates.
For more information, contact the resorts, your favorite travel agent, or Olson Travel and Nautical Charters.
DRAKES ANCHORAGE INN:
1340 Centre St. Newton Centre, MA 02159
(800) 624-6651 or (617) 969-9913 FAX: (617) 969-5147
BIRAS CREEK RESORT:
c/o Ralph Locke Island, Inc. P.O.B.492479, Los Angles, CA, 90049-8477
U.S.& Canada: (800) 233-1108 FAX: (310) 440-4220
United Kingdom & Europe: (800) 373-742 FAX: (0-453) 835525
220 Lyon Street NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503-2208
(800) 346-4451 or (616) 776-776-6456 FAX: (616) 776-6467
PREFERRED Hotels Worldwide: (800) 323-7500
P.O.Box 720, Cruz Bay, St. John, U.S.V.I. 00831-0720
(800) 928-3000 (809) 495-5555 FAX: (809) 495-5661
OLSON TRAVEL & NAUTICAL CHARTERS:
401 Highway 181, Portland, TX 78374
(800) 525-8090 (512) 643-4555 FAX: (512) 643-6975
Dive BVI, Peter Island and Virgin Gorda:
(800) 848-7078 (809) 495-5513 FAX: (809) 495-5347
Or if you have a particular question, you can E-mail me at
BVI: LITTLE DIX RESORT BY LYNN MCKAMEY
(Ed Note: this material by Lynn McKamey is copyrighted.)
Almost every has heard of Little Dix, known in some circles as "the world's most famous beach resort". It was created more than 30 years ago by Laurence Rockefeller as an exclusive, secluded retreat for honeymooners and America's "rich and famous". His original design included 50 no- frills bungalows in the center of a gorgeous crescent beach edged with perfectly manicured lawns, towering palms, and colorful tropical foliage - one of the most beautiful settings in the Caribbean.
Alas, during the 1980's, the legendary "Rockresort" was sold, endured several expansions, changes of ownership, and eventually transformed into a large 98 room resort filling the entire half-mile beach. Happily, Rosewood Hotels recently assumed management of Little Dix, carried forth extensive renovations, and is striving to return it to the distinctive resort of yesteryear... not an easy task!
The basic concept of Little Dix is a very expensive, upscale resort with a country club atmosphere and personalized service for its guests. Want to visit a secluded cast-away beach for a day? No problem, a captained boat will take and retrieve you at the times of your choice. Want to join a crewed day sail to Peter Island or through Drakes Channel? No problem, the resort will schedule it. Like to scuba dive? Dive BVI has a shop located at the pier. Almost every imaginable off-island activity can be arranged, most at additional charge. Prefer to stay at the resort? Then you have a choice of sharing the shoreline with 200 other guests, booking a reservation for the tennis courts or water-skiing, paddling a kayak, hiking the nearby hills, sailing a sunfish, snorkeling the reef, or renting a bicycle. Windsurfing is not available since the resort is located on the windless side of Virgin Gorda. Some guests think there are plenty of on- site activities whereas others think not. And unfortunately, we found the "service" somewhat lacking in perfection during our vacation.
The no-frill guest cottages of long ago and newer accommodations received a complete modernization by Rosewood and are tastefully decorated with soothing colors and lovely rattan furnishings. State of the art telephones which accept data lines are now in each room. Scattered along or near the beach, rooms are grouped two, four, or eight to a building and follow two designs. Square rooms include a small to moderate sized bathroom with a shower (some have one lavatory, some have two); hexagonal shaped rooms are slightly larger with more spacious bathrooms. Several "hex" rooms are on stilts with patio and hammock below and are located behind the one-story oceanfront units. All have a small sitting area, desk, under-counter refrigerator, hair dryer, and umbrellas. Some rooms are air-conditioned; others have window louvers and ceiling fans. Two air conditioned suites feature a bedroom, living room, and bathroom with a deep bathtub. Unfortunately, only a few rooms offer complete privacy. Many beach front rooms are exposed to anyone walking the beach or the pathways (unless guests plan to keep the louvers and/or curtains continuously closed); fan- cooled "Hex" units on stilts have louvers which must be left open for occasional breezes and preclude privacy.
Guests who desire a quiet, secluded accommodation should make a specific request at the time of reservation.
We were in room 31 near the busy arrival-departure pier, Beach House dining room/bar, and rows of watersports equipment - very much like Grand Central Station of the Caribbean! The adjoining room had three adults and a two year old child who constantly screeched and cried. The nearby Beach House had continuous kitchen clatter, and we were close enough to the tennis courts to hear the thunk of balls from sunup to sundown. These annoying distractions did not provide the quiet, secluded, and restful vacation which we had planned.
Little Dix has three dining areas - the Beach House grill, the huge Pavilion, and the small intimate Sugar Mill - all with wonderful views of the beach and bay. Early morning coffee, juice, and pastries were available on the Pavilion patio from followed by breakfast which included a fresh fruit buffet with assorted cereal, pastries, smoothies, and juices. In addition, eggs, omelets, waffles, and pancakes could be ordered. Service was usually quite prompt.
Lunch was available at the Beach House Grill and the Pavilion. The small, often crowded Beach House grill offered salads, sandwiches, and luncheon entrees such as sauteed crab cake, fish, burgers and hot dogs. The Pavilion lunch buffet had a salad bar, grilled fish, chicken, burgers, and hot dogs followed with some delightful desserts! English style tea was served each afternoon.
Dinner during the summer season is at the Pavilion and the Sugar Mill (the Beach House is also open during winter season). Surprisingly for a resort of this size, the menus did not change each night, other than the Pavilion which added a "menu of the day". Selections at both restaurants followed the same pattern of "fashionable" cuisine with the latest culinary combinations such as "Sauteed boneless chop of milk-fed veal with prunes and ginger with sweet potato mash and poppy seed sauce" or "duo of duck breast and leg confit with a sundried cherry and green peppercorn sauce, celery chips and cabbage". Appetizers included "rillettes of crabmeat with zucchini and herbs dressed with grapefruit and ginger sauce" or "Chilled sweetwater shrimp with Lemon-Honey pommery mustard and horseradish cocktail sauces". Soups and salads offered choices such as "Belgian endive with caramelized apple, celery root, walnut oil, and apple-cider vinegar" or "Guava and pepper gazpacho". Each course is perfectly and artistically presented on the plate - almost too pretty to eat!
Many evenings we enjoyed a simple, excellent "Fresh Aneganda rock lobster served with rice pilaf and a bouquet of vegetables". Dinner service in both the Pavilion and Sugar Mill was generally good until the dessert course. Most evenings, we gave up after waiting more than 30 minutes for the dessert menu to arrive, as did many other guests. Entertainment was provided each night at the Pavilion, however, the speaker volume was turned up so loud that nearby diners could not hear each other, and it overwhelmed the soothing background music for those dining in the adjacent Sugar Mill. The Pavilion has a once a week buffet which is outstanding and should not be missed (cancel those Sugar Mill reservations)! Be sure and tell Anselmo Hodge hello - he was a gracious maitre de and delightful person.
Power at this paradise is often sporadic. Electricity usually went off for several hours during the afternoon. While Little Dix probably has its own generators for emergency use, it primarily depends on "island power" which evidently is not that reliable.
Guests in fan cooled rooms might not notice too much, but those in air conditioned rooms definitely would! We usually arrived back from a morning of diving to find the electricity off, the room stifling, the bathroom dark, and promises of "the power will be back on soon".
BAHAMAS: COMPAS rooms have few louvers and when the power goes off, it's hot! Unfortunately, the thermostats do not come on automatically when electricity is restored and must be jump started by guests.
Several nights we awoke to no power in a stuffy room and had to struggle out of bed several times to hit the ON button until it was restored. I realize that some vacationers abhor the idea of air conditioning in a tropical retreat, however, during the late spring, summer, and fall months it is almost a necessity at Little Dix since the surrounding hills block breezes. And, I admit, we are one of those couples who prefer to have the option of opening the doors and windows if the weather is cool, or shutting them and turning on the A/C, especially when staying at a resort on the windless side of an island.
Scuba divers will be delighted to find a Dive BVI operation conveniently on site. Mark has been the scuba representative for several years and schedules daily dive trips, provides certifications, and teaches the popular "resort course" - an afternoon introduction to scuba followed by a shallow water dive. He is an excellent instructor and gives special attention to those venturing into scuba for the first time. The dive boat leaves the pier each morning at 9 a.m. and returns by 1 p.m. for two tank dives; one tank dives are offered each afternoon at 2:30 except for Sunday.
Snorkelers can explore a protected reef just off shore and have many choices of chartered, guided snorkeling tours to other underwater gardens. Dive BVI also offers trips in their fast power catamaran - afternoon snorkeling at the famous Wreck of the Rhone, and a day trip to the distant island of Anegada, which includes a lobster lunch and transfers to the spectacular Loblolly Beach. Check with Mark at the dive shop for more information and reservations.
Many different day sails and sunset cruises are available, as are island tours. Hikers will find several trails, some with outstanding views at the top of the surrounding hills. The nearby Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor has fun, quaint shops and can be reached by a 15-20 minute walk or taking a taxi. (I am surprised that complimentary shuttle service is not available.)
Little Dix has a huge staff for providing service to guests and maintaining the vast landscaped grounds. However, during our seven day vacation, some staff members spent much of their time visiting with each other, lounging around the dining areas, and ignoring guests. Each morning we arrived early for breakfast to enjoy complimentary coffee, tea, juice, and pastries, but some employees setting the tables yelled and loudly argued with each other... not a great way to start the day in "paradise"!
Fortunately when the head waiters arrived, the atmosphere became more quiet and attentive. Lawns and shrubs were meticulously groomed, but plastic cups, napkins, towels, and trash accumulated on the beach during the day and often were not picked up until late the next morning. Our departure was scheduled on the 9:30 boat and luggage was to be collected at our room before 9:15. When no one arrived by 9:30, we dragged our numerous suitcases and heavy dive gear down to the dock, passing several staff members who offered no assistance whatsoever. While we often visit resorts with limited personnel and are quite self-sufficient, we expected far more attentive service than we received at Little Dix.
DRESS: Elegant resort wear. During the day, shoes, shorts or coverups over bathing suits are worn in public areas. In the evening, ladies wear pant suits, cocktail length dresses or skirts; men wear slacks, collared shirts, and closed-toe shoes. Coat and tie are optional for dinner.
TIPS: One of the most popular activities is escaping the often crowded beach at Little Dix and being taken by a captained motor boat to a remote, secluded cove on Virgin Gorda, so make reservations a day or two ahead. If you plan to order a picnic basket, be sure and ask how many drinks are included. One couple discovered that their $38 box lunch only contained two sodas to last them the whole day!
When swimming in the mid-section of the beach, between the Pavilion and Beach House, be alert and avoid boats and watercraft which must pass by to reach the dock.
The small, intimate Sugar Mill must have dinner reservations, as does the Beach House during winter season. Book at least one day in advance to be assured of a table.
Two meal plans are available - Modified American Plan with breakfast and dinner at $70 per person, and Full American Plan with all three meals included at $90. Those planning to dine at Little Dix will save by signing up for the meal plan since a la carte can add up in a hurry. Guests who prefer to dine elsewhere must take a taxi or rent a car.
ROOMS: Little Dix has a large assortment of room categories with various locations along or near the half-mile beach. Only a few steps from waters edge, rooms 1-36 are centered between the main dining areas and the busy pier/beach house; seven tennis courts are across the road from numbers 21-36. Units 37-80 are on the east side of the resort, with 77-80 being somewhat private but farthest from the dining rooms, however, motorized shuttle carts provide transportation for those who would rather ride than walk. Guest rooms 101-121 are in a secluded area on the west side of the dining rooms and overlook a vast expanse of lawn which rolls down to the lovely sea grape and palm lined beach. (Units 81-100 do not presently exist.) No room keys are available, but each closet has a safe for valuables. Unfortunately, it was far too small for our collection of cameras, video equipment, and laptop computer.
GETTING THERE: At this time, only regional airlines fly into Virgin Gorda from St. Thomas and San Juan - a van meets guests at the airport for a quick ride to the resort. American Airlines Eagles fly into Beef Island on Tortola and guests take a short van ride to meet the Little Dix power catamaran for a 25 minute cruise to the resort.
In closing, I must say that this was an extremely difficult review to write! Many of you have seen my numerous Caribbean vacation and scuba diving reports before, and usually found very upbeat information. In most cases, the upscale resorts we visit are meticulously researched and pleasingly match our expectations, be they large full service properties or quaint little hide-aways. Little Dix WAS a Rockresort, IS now managed by Rosewood, and survived a decade of changing owners, double sized expansion, and trying to find its niche in toady's very competitive market of many elegant first-class destinations. It is no longer the small intimate, personalized Rockresort of yesteryear, but perhaps can return to being an attentive, discriminating destination. The location is gorgeous, off-site activities abound. Little Dix is still a place to see and be seen. Since children of all ages are welcome, families who can afford the luxury rates may enjoy, although there are no scheduled children's activities. Guests who plan to spend most of their time on day sails and island tours will probably be delighted with all the options. However, couples wanting a quiet vacation with lots of privacy and ample room on the adjoining beach might be happier elsewhere.
RATES: Daily rates for two which do not include meals, 7% hotel tax, 5% service charge or $50 per person Beef Island airport transfer fees. All rates subject to change without notice.
Summer '95 Fall '95 Winter '95/96 5/1 - 11/15 11/16 - 12/19 12/20 - 3/31 Garden View $225 $325 $450 Ocean View $275 $375 $550 Deluxe $325 $425 $600 Premium (A/C) $350 $450 $650 1 Bedroom suite $450 $700 $1100 Third adult in room $50 $50 $50 MEAL PLAN OPTIONS: [a 15% gratuity is added to meals & beverages]
Per Person MAP (breakfast & dinner) FAP (three meals) Adults: $70 $90 Children (5-12) $25 $45 Children (up to 4) complimentary
Several weekly packages are available, plus a unique "Island Hopper" which allows guests to split their vacation between Little Dix and sister resort Caneel Bay on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Transfers can be made on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday.
LITTLE DIX: P.O.Box 720, Cruz Bay, St. John, U.S.V.I. 00831-0720 (800) 928-3000 (809) 495-5555 FAX: (809) 495-5661
OLSON TRAVEL & NAUTICAL CHARTERS: 401 Highway 181, Portland, TX 78374 (800) 525-8090 (512) 643-4555 FAX: (512) 643-6975
DIVE BVI, Virgin Gorda: (800) 848-7078 (809) 495-5513 FAX: (809) 495-5347
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