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Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor




Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 56
July 15 1995

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CANCUN BY TERRI DAVIS

Stayed at the Melia Turquesa, a very nice hotel. Located on the beach between Kukulkan and Flamingo Malls. Only 1 pool but it's quite large with a swim up bar. A couple of afternoons they set up a buffet by the pool(barbeque chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers) and a reggae band plays by the pool every afternoon. We used the hotels travel desk for our tours (Octavio runs the tour desk, and he is very helpful about which tours to take and what to avoid. He also had good restaurant suggestions).

The exchange rate varied from 5.03 at the airport to between 5.9 to 6.03 on the streets. The hotel rate was 5.7 all week.

We went on a few tours, Xcarat was our favorite, my daughter swam with the dolphins, and it was an awesome sight to see her being propelled through the water by the dolphins, but they went so fast it scared her a little. The underground river was a little disappointing, it was so dark (and cold) we couldn't see any fish .Dopey me should have realized since it is underwater it would be dark. The snorkeling in the lagoon there was much better. Also went to Tulum and Xel Ha on a tour, I thought we didn't spend enough time at Tulum next time we will rent a car and go on our own. The snorkeling at Xel Ha was the best we found all week.

Went to the Bullfight, and if we go again it will only be for the festival before the fight. Wonderful dancing and singing before the fight, my stomach just isn't strong enough for the main event. Enjoyed the dancing just as much as at the Folkloric Ballet, probably won't bother to go to both again, the food is not very good at the Ballet and it's quite expensive (around $48 per person).

We went to Isla Mujures for a day, but went on the ferry instead of a tour to save money. We rented a golf cart for about $20 U.S. to explore the island, drove down to the light house and spent some time at the beach. Had a wonderful time bargaining at the market, a lot of fun once you get into the spirit of it.

Went to Perico's our first night there, and it was as great as everyone said, this is one place you shouldn't miss, very touristy, but hey, I was a tourist! Food was surprisingly good, the waiters were crazy always coming by the table messing with us. One dropped a plastic spider on my friend, and I thought she would have a heart attack. We all ended up in a conga line, danced out the back door up the street and back inside, where everyone who wanted it got a free shot of tequila. They put these huge sombreros on all of us, I'm sure we looked ridiculous, but we had a great time.

We also enjoyed Carlos and Charlies a lot. I had been to the one in Cozumel, but it doesn't begin to compare to the one in Cancun. My friend and I didn't care for Senor Frogs too much, the crowd was much younger than our late thirty-something, but our daughters loved it.

Our favorite restaurant was Faro's, really good seafood. Also really liked Lorenzillo's. Gypsy's was a big disappointment, the food was horrible, but the flamenco show was nice. Also really liked Casa Rolandi in Caracol Mall, we had Pizza Marinara(pizza with shrimp and calamari), that was delicious The Rolandi's on Isla Mujures was also good. The closest thing to real Mexican we found was at Los Alamendros(sp?) near Mayfair plaza. Really good food, very reasonable prices. Also liked Planet Hollywood, Splash and Iguana Wanna.


GRENADA BY R. BAILY

My wife and I spent 8 days on Grenada in mid June. This was our second visit, the first being three years ago. This is not the best time to visit because it is the beginning of the rainy season, but we were lucky in having very little rain during the day time. Our flight was AA from Kennedy via San Juan, and was uneventful.

We stayed at the True Blue Inn, which is on True Blue Bay on the Southeast part of the island, fairly near the airport. It is not close enough to make you aware of most of the operations, but it does lie under the take off path of some flights, including a 7:30 AM BWIA jet that might annoy late sleepers. Otherwise, they are hardly noticeable. True Blue Inn is small, with 4 apartments and 3 two bedroom cottages. We booked an apartment but were upgraded to a cottage for the first couple of days because of some repairs being made to the roof, and then were allowed to keep it at the apartment rate for the whole stay. Accommodations here are good - not luxurious, but certainly comfortable. Bedrooms are air conditioned, the rest is quite airy with the windows open. The one thing to watch is the lack of screens that can mean a lot of bugs if the windows are open with the lights on in the evening. We kept windows open during the day and while we were sleeping with no problems. Not many of the bugs were mosquitoes. The inn has a small lending library, a very nice view, and a good pool. It is on the water but there is no beach; however, the best beach on the island, Grande Anse, is only about a 5 minute drive away. A car is a necessity. One feature of True Blue that is unsurpassed is the friendly and helpful management and staff. Julie and John Dixon, the managers, make a stay very pleasurable.

We rented an automatic jeep from David's Car Rental, mainly because they advertise an office at the airport and we wanted convenient pick up and return. I don't know how they compare in price with other rentals, but they provided a vehicle in good condition very efficiently, and happily sent an agent to the airport at 7:00 AM on Sunday morning to take return of the car. Driving on Grenada is not bad in Caribbean terms. Roads are hilly, twisty, narrow and with few signs (that is, "normal"), but apart from the East coast highway below Grenville (partly under repair, totally in need of it), the surfaces are good. Except for trucks taking blind curves in the middle of the road, the main hazard is the flocks of children when school lets out. There is a great deal of attractive and interesting scenery, and anyone going to Grenada should get out and explore the island. This is always one of our main interests.

Some comments on restaurants - some we had visited before, some new. For the most part, we only use them for dinner. Indigo's - at True Blue Inn. Very good food, very good service. Caribbean as well as Continental at reasonable prices; we ate here twice. The Red Crab - Also good, similar type of food at similar cost. The Boatyard - we liked it three years ago, but had heard it had changed for the worse. The menu is quite different, but we thought it was better than we remembered; a very casual, inexpensive place, so don't expect fine dining.

Tropicana - Chinese and Caribbean; three years ago my wife liked it, but I was not impressed. This time I had one of the best Chinese meals I have had in the Caribbean, and my wife confirmed her earlier opinion - and an excellent budget balancer.

Spice Island Inn - we were looking forward to their Caribbean buffet since our last visit. This time we did not find it particularly Caribbeanish, and while the quality of the food and the service were excellent, it is grossly overpriced.

Canboulay - excellent and innovative Caribbean-continental cuisine, and a beautiful view of Grande Anse and St. George's. We would have gone twice, but they were closed the night we wanted to go back - Corpus Christi day, which is a major holiday on the island when many restaurants and other businesses close.

Mama's - this is real Caribbean food. Samples of many dishes that are all delicious; not to be missed. It helps to have a slightly adventurous palate. Had lunch at Nutmeg in St. George's. A nice view of the harbor and good callaloo soup and chicken roti.

The French bakery (Le Boulangerie) in one of the Grande Anse shopping centers is a nice place for an espresso and pastries.

For those interested in beaches, Grande Anse is best known and very pleasant. An end to end walk is good exercise. There are a few salespeople on it, but they are not a problem, although on the days we were there were very few people; it might be different on season or if a major cruise ship were in port. (Throughout our stay, we did not see many other tourists anywhere.) Nearby Morne Rouge beach is smaller but also very nice. The beach at La Sagesse Nature Center is also worth a visit; we did not do any nature walks here. Access and facilities at Bathway Beach at the Northern end of the island are much improved. This is part of the Levera National Park, and has been put together very well with a visitor's center with changing facilities. It is a fair walk or a short drive (4-wheel drive not required) from here to Levera Beach. These beaches, particularly Levera, were pretty deserted and give some attractive views of nearby islands.

The Lake Antoine area is now easily accessible on good new roads.

One of the recommended tourist trips on the island is to Concord River and Falls. You can drive to the first of three falls on a one lane paved road and easily walk to the second. The falls themselves are not much as waterfalls go, but the location in the nutmeg and banana groves make the visit worth while. We walked a good part of the way toward the third falls, but turned back because of time and the threat of rain (which did not materialize). It was not a difficult walk even in sandals. Annandale Falls is another recommended site, which is prettier than Concord and has attractive plantings of topical vegetation and flowers. Unfortunately, some locals are hassling visitors with demands of money to watch the car and for diving into the pool at the base of the falls. Unless the authorities discourage them, or you are with a tour group, I would not recommend going. Grand Etang, a volcanic lake in the rain forest, is another worthwhile visit, but it has always been rainy when we have been near it.

We spent only a short time in St. George's, the main town, since we had explored it pretty fully on our previous trip. It has a large market that is interesting but a bit high pressure, a few tourist stores on the harbor, a good local museum and attractive views. If you are using a camera, remember that many of the locals strongly object to being photographed.

There are good supermarkets in Grand Anse and on the road into St. George's where we bought supplies for breakfast, lunch and snacks. They are well stocked with US and local goods, and are more reasonably priced for spice baskets and other such local gift items than the tourist shops. We used them to stock up on our own supplies of spices, hot sauce, etc. (We spend lots of time in food stores; my wife prefers them to jewelry stores - fortunately.) US money is as acceptable as the local currency.

Tourist development in Grenada is mostly limited to the South, and it has so far been done in a fairly low key manner. Facilities are good, but there is not a lot of nightlife, casinos, and such like. The rest of the island is accessible and attractive, and the people friendly. We like it and will go back.

GRENADINES: PETIT ST. VINCENT BY SANDY O'HARA

It was a dream! It was a dream that came true. We at long last were walking down the path to Cottage #18. As we descended, I could see the roof of the cottage fondly called "The Bunker." We stepped through the gate and under the archway, my eyes glistening under my sun glasses, I saw our long awaited paradise. It was everything and more than the Caribbean books had described. "It was Awesome."

We had wished and dreamed about this resort for ten years. My husband had found it in an ad in an airline flight magazine and written for the brochure. Each year before making a trip to some exotic Island destination we looked at the brochure and tossed it back into our brochure stash. Declaring, it's to expensive! Then it happened, my husband kidneys failed and he went on hemo-dialysis caused by condition called Scleraderma. Remarkably he went into remission and could be taken off hemo-dialysis. We decided it was time to take our dream vacation. We looked trough all of our stash of brochures. Our choice was PSV for eight days.

Our Journey started in Orlando changing planes in San Juan and them on to Barbados. After a two-hour wait for our "Private Charter" or so we thought. We boarded Mustique Airways for our final air leg to Union Island. Our six seater plane was occupied by husband and myself, with white knuckles, along with another gentleman. The pilot with no crew informed us that Barbados had no fuel for the plane and we must go to St. Vincent for refueling. I watched the gauges, of course I had no Idea what they said, for 50 minutes until we put the plane done at St. Vincent. They fueled us and our "Private Charter" took to the air again. About 15 minutes later, we descended over what appeared to be the smallest run way in the world, with water at both ends. I exclaimed, Union! Our traveling companion said, it's Cananoun. Your dropping me off. We ascended into air again. Now somewhat perplexed about the charter and taking nothing for granted, I questioned? Next stop? Our pilot exclaimed nonchalantly, Union!

I survived the flight and we landed at Union. We were whisked off to Anchorage Yacht Club where the Wakiva, PSV 42 ft Yacht awaited our arrival. We immediately started our 30 minute sail to Pt. St. Vincent.

At last! Passing the blinding white sand of Pt. St. Richardson, and we could see the beautiful shore line of PSV. The Minimokes and Rum were waiting for our arrival. We boarded the Minimoke for our short trip to our wonderful home. It was great after traveling for 10 hours not to have to go through the typical bothersome check- in with the credit card imprint. Haze was away on vacation was replaced by his accountant from Bequia. He welcomed us in our room and explained the services and asked if we would like room services for dinner. He left as quickly as he arrived so that we could enjoy our wonderful paradise.

I set off immediately to explore our new home. We had a large private deck, complete with two chaise lounges, and a hammock. A set of steps off the deck lead you to the sea where a private beach awaits. A break in the coral makes a natural 5' swimming pool and great snorkeling. The cottage itself is spectacular. The living room walls are sliding glass doors and open completely to the outdoors. The bedroom had tropical wooden shutters. The matching soft prints fabrics of the living room and bedroom are warm and inviting. The bathroom is equipped better that any resort I have ever stayed in. Q- tips, cotton balls, iron, ironing board, beach mats and bag , loofa mitts, and tons of plush towels , and much more. Special care has been given to all of your wants and wishes including Ice chest and a fully stocked bar. The shower leaves a little to be desired. Built with a blue birch floor, makes it somewhat difficult to stand on. But who cares! The cottage is so wonderful that you over look this one imperfection. We had a view from every room. Yes, this included the bathroom.

We loved PSV. The service and the respect of privacy was wonderful. We have never had such great service in all of our years of travel. We celebrated our 30th anniversary while we were there. They were only too pleased to make us a cake for the occasion, at no charge. They delivered coffee at sun rise, left outside the gate so us not to disturb guests. Breakfast arrives at the time requested. We ate lunch and dinner in the dining room. They would have happily delivered these meals to us in our cottage also. We enjoyed afternoon tea on our deck.

Each day we walked around the island on the beautiful beaches, and went swimming and snorkeling in our own natural pool. Bathed nude on the sun deck. Read and relaxed. Raised the red flag in the afternoon. Adorned our terry bathrobes and raised the yellow

flag in time for tea. We loved our visits from Hera, Zeus, Dotty, Daisy, Mr. Green, and Docty. (The Dogs) I must admit our favorites were Hera, and Zeus. They are all so well behaved and never enter your room unless invited.

Our adventure was a sailing trip to Carriacou. We toured the Island and saw the ship building, and ate lunch at Silver Beach Resort. In hind sight, we wish we had gone to Tabago Cays. There is not a lot to do or to see on Carriacou. If is indeed a very pretty island with some beautiful beaches. We did come back under full sail which was nice.

The eight days went by much to fast. Check out was again done in our room. What Service!! We loved PSV and I left the dock teary eyed. We boarded the Wakiva complete with bottle of wine and lunch to begin our trip home. We think about PSV often and talk about going back.

PSV HOPE TO SEEN YOU AGAIN SOON!!!!!!! It was definitely worth the money and the ten year wait. We miss your amenities and your service. I am sure we will request Cottage #18 again. The amenities of Sea, Sunrise and Sunset, the view of Pt. Martinique and your own private natural pool make it our first choice. Our second choice would be #21 and Third #6. We feel the #1 is too far removed from the action. Add a plunge pool to #18, and we would never look at another resort. It could even be Salt Water.


MARTINIQUE: CLUB MED BY ERIC GREIDINGER

I returned from a week at Buccaneer's Creek, Club Med Martinique in mid June, 1995. I'm a 29 year old single male who traveled alone; this was my first exposure to a Club Med resort. My impressions:

I had a pleasant time. The place provided the opportunity to relax in a tropical environment, and to participate in a variety of sports. Few unpleasant annoyances disrupted the trip.

The mystique of Club Med either as a center of extreme luxury or as a haven for singles, though, did not match the reality of the resort.

The Club Med approach to activities was summarized by one of the employees ("G.O.'s") with whom I spoke. As Annie, from transportation, said through her French-Canadian accent," we have a lot of activities, but if you say no, you don't want to do, no one will bother you." There were indeed many activities, although not many types of activities. One had the choice of sweating through one's clothes in the humid, fragrant air while following a tennis ball, a soccer ball, a basketball, a volleyball, a ping pong ball, billiard balls, or bocce balls. Or, one could soak oneself in the warm, clear sea to swim, waterski, windsurf, sail, snorkel, or scuba dive.

Excursions around the island of Martinique or to other islands could be purchased for additional fees. The narrow, yellow sand beach was a prime place for doing nothing, for those so inclined. An adequate selection of lounge chairs were available, as was a small library of books in French, Spanish, Italian, and even English. If one walked to the beach then turned left, a roughly one mile strip of sand led past topless European tourists into the village of Sainte Anne. Additional diversions, including jetskiing, parasailing, and ultralight airplane rides could be hired there.

To my disappointment, I found that a watch was necessary at club med. Activities and meals occur at distinct and closely constrained intervals. The only assurance that one would not miss a meal was the inconvenient discipline with which all other activities shut down an hour prior to mealtimes--those doing nothing did not have the chance to free themselves from clock watching. The apparent reason for this scheduling artifice was one of the main annoyances of the resort: they did it to make money off the guests.

Juan-Carlos from Mexico City, who worked in the financial office, explained: "We basically break even on expenses with the package prices. The profit is in the money people spend while they're here. Between the bar beads, the boutique, and the excursions, for the average visitors it's really a lot."

Thus, for an hour before lunch, an hour before dinner, and for several hours before the evening entertainment, one would face enforced idleness and an open bar. In order to lock in bar profits in advance, guests were encouraged to purchase non-refundable strings of colored plastic beads with which to buy their refreshments. Even nonalcoholic drinks were charged. Between meals, the only free thing one could ingest was the water from the water fountains (which fortunately was potable).

The meals themselves did make up for the waits. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner (but no midnight snack) all were served as sumptuous buffets. Superb French breads and pastries were the highlight of the continental style breakfasts. At every lunch and dinner, tables of breads, fruit, and cheeses were supplemented by some unchanging standards (which ranged from vegetables creole to French fries), and by a rotating menu of European and American specialties, both warm and cold. Some of my favorites included the bouillabaisse, the paella, the curried turkey, and the raisin bread. Beer, wine, and soft drinks were available free at every meal.

Meals were a delightful social opportunity. Diners were seated at the next available seat as they entered the open air eating areas. Thus, nearly everyone sat at a full table, and nearly everyone enjoyed vigorous mealtime conversation. While at some tables an occasional drinking song emanated, my conversations ranged from discussions of fine literature, to the possibly meglomaniacal schemes of Microsoft corporation, to the rigors of alpine ski racing. And even on Martinique one could not avoid people talking about the O.J. Simpson trial.

The hostesses tried to keep the languages of the guests in mind so that French speakers and English speakers were generally segregated. One night, though, I ate with multilingual couples from Italy and Switzerland: by the end of the evening, I had learned about some of the hot spots in Basel, and how to use Basil to make a pesto sauce.

According to Renee, a G.O. from British Columbia, "Not quite half the C.M.'s [guests] come from France, not quite half from the U.S. The rest are mostly from other places in Europe--we get a fair number from Italy especially." Most of the guests were educated, upper middle class travelers in their 20's and 30's.

There were slightly more singles than couples, and no young children. The week of my trip, single men substantially outnumbered single women. The resort in total only housed 200-300 guests, less than half its capacity. (By comparison, there were nearly 100 G.O.'s!) As a non-French speaker, the 200 or so number of guests was immediately cut again in half in terms of potential social contacts. Thus, while the resort attempted to foster a lively atmosphere with a cabaret show and disco dancing (much of it to actual 1970's disco music) each night, the social scene was hampered by being too small. On the plus side, by the end of the week, this meant that you knew nearly everybody else there.

The quantity of people (and who those people are) is likely to vary a great deal from week to week. I would guess that an experienced club med travel agent could provide very helpful advice regarding when to plan one's trip.

I scheduled the trip only with regard to when my break from work fell. Only one week before my departure date, I contacted Weekends Unlimited, based on advice. I booked as a "wildcard" trip out of New York for $999, minus rebate. Had I known better and been able to reschedule my work break, I would have preferred to travel the following week, when the Martinique Club Med celebrated its 25th anniversary.

To be honest, the place looks a bit worn by its 25 years. A patina of overuse hangs on the dance floor, the sidewalks, the bedposts, and the showers. I heard rumors that the resort will be temporarily closed this autumn to be refurbished. Welcome changes that could be made then would include adding air conditioning to the bathrooms and putting screen on the windows. The bedroom air conditioning kept the small room acceptably comfortable, but the bathroom was an eternal swamp. While frequent spraying kept bugs to a minimum, by the end of the week every guest had several mosquito bites. Use of insect repellent at night was nearly as important as the use of sunblock during the day.

For those who decide to go, pack heavily--I would go through two or three changes of clothes a day. A bit of dressier clothing was appropriate for the evenings, but jackets were never worn, and ties were never mandatory. Also, don't forget to bring a voltage converter to run any electrical appliances. The bathrooms have a low power outlet with a converter installed, but this was inadequate for my electric razor. My own converter worked fine with my contact lens sterilizer. With all the active sports, contacts were much preferable to glasses. Bringing a well-supplied first aid kit is also wise. The infirmary charged high prices for the bandages fellow guests needed for their scrapes or cuts.

As a long-time club med member told me, "of course they do a pretty good job at this--they've had 40 years to practice." He was right.

The rooms were clean, the staff courteous and efficient, the sports capably instructed. I felt that I was being looked after without being bothered nearly my whole time there, and even on the chartered flights each way. If you pack an easy-going, adventurous spirit along with your passport, then Club Med Martinique can be a delightful destination. My trip fulfilled, although it did not exceed, my expectations. B+.


ST. BARTS BY CHARLES HOUSTON

We just left an island you hate to leave, St. Barts in the French West Indies.

There's been a bit of restaurant shuffling since last year, construction activity (large homes) is brisk, and a drought has browned the island a bit. Otherwise St. Barts is just like it was last year-a most sensuous isle. Here are some notes from our vacation.

LE VOYAGE

"How much do you weigh?" barked the Air St. Thomas clerk . She added five pounds to the figure I gave her, and repeated the query to my wife. That was a tipoff. We clambered into a four passenger Piper Aztec with aged-cracked upholstery and an incompetent co-pilot in the right seat. Me.

The birdseye view was great as we flew up the Sir Francis Drake passage to Virgin Gorda to drop off a passenger. To land, you skim over boulders at the top of a hill, bank left and crab into a dirt strip. Different from the SBH approach, but just as entertaining. Our plane-mates were on their first trip to St. Barts, and had not done their homework: the SBH runway was a surprise to them 45 minutes later, as evidenced by a breakneck stream of anxious chatter from the back seat.

Logistically, getting to the island is a pain. We had a choice: $600+ each to fly coach from Baltimore to St. Maarten, or free (frequent flyer) first class space on Delta from Washington to Atlanta then St. Thomas. We chose the latter, but it made for a long day. Next year we might do it differently.

L' ILE

What wonderful weather we had! Blue skies, puffy white cumulus clouds, a gorgeous sunset every night and a bright full moon. It was hotter than last year, though. Perhaps 88-90 in the shade, and a whole lot more than that in the sun. Despite a pretty decent tan, the heat made it hard to lie in the sun for much more than 15 minutes between splashes in our pool.

You generally need a car on St. Barts, and most folks choose MiniMokes, Suzuki Samurais, or something similar. You basically put the gas pedal to the floor, sling the car around curves, and bounce it over hills. With the open, underpowered vehicles, it's like an island full of go carts. Avis rents Mokes at $38/day and Samurais at $44. I want to check with Europcar next year; it often has good rates overseas.

The early (5:00) sunrises and sunsets (7:00) get you up early and to bed early. The island was uncrowded, but we did not do as much exploring as last year. We'd get up , jump into the pool, get some coffee and cereal, then settle in for a day by the pool.

St. Maarten and other nearby islands had great radio stations- we were serenaded by "Itsy, bitsy, teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini" and "Mack the Knife", both in French. There is TV though we never turned it on. More fun to look for the hummingbirds.

While a variety of watersports are available, the island would have been pretty dull for our 13 year old. Younger children, especially if they bring friends, might enjoy a vacation there. Of course, we never thought one second about bringing Andrew--for us, St. Barts is a place for couples.

LES LOCALS

We heard a radio report of escapees from the jail on Nevis and a shooting incident involving British tourists (It wasn't clear on which island.) While St. Barts is not crime-free (there are some petty thefts), you feel absolutely safe on the island. We never bothered to lock our house.

A number of the local people live pretty poorly, in pretty rough housing with litter in the yards, but the people are nice looking. They are tanned, trim and youthful looking. Some, like our maids, speak only French. Commerce is bilingual, though you'll have an easier, more congenial experience if you are fluent in French like my wife. Most waiters, clerks, etc. have some command of English, though they all sound like Inspector Clouseau. (Of course, my pathetic French sounds like Donald Duck to them.)

LES TOURISTES

Previous guests in our rented house leave photos of themselves. In general they look pretty typical, with an exception or two. (A John-and-Ono lookalike couple, for one). And we did not hear one New York accent the whole week.

A visitor from Bermuda was not so lucky, as his letter to the local paper explained:"...to my horror, there were three cruise ships in the harbor. St. Barts is being destroyed by a cheap, almost disgusting cruise ship clientele. They spend nothing, pollute your beaches, and eventually destroy your lovely hotel and villa rentals."

We saw some first cousins to this species, in the St. Thomas airport. A 40-ish guy was wearing a full Philadelphia: strapless T shirt, baseball cap, running shorts, sneakers and a fanny pack slung beneath a large gut. Why do people travel like slobs?

LE VETEMENTS

On the island, you won't wear any more clothing than that bozo did, but hopefully you'll wear it with more style. Two pair of Bermudas, a pair of casual shorts, and one or two bathing suits is enough. Add a sport shirt for each day, and you're set. You don't need a blazer, long sleeved shirts, or long pants.

L' VILLA

We used WIMCO (401-849-8012) in Newport, RI. They have a great selection of rental houses and are a professionally run operation. We had a spectacular house atop a ridge in the Marigot area, with a 210-degree panorama, from the sunrise to the sunset. The living room had only two walls, the dining room had none. Nicely furnished (Hermes throw pillows), full kitchen, private pool, and total privacy. In fact, you don't need clothes at all, if you are so inclined! At least keep a robe handy for visits from maids (daily), the pool guy (twice weekly) and the gardener (weekly.)

The house could be featured in Architectural Digest. It rents for about $300/night in the off season, and is a far better value than a hotel. This particular house is rarely available, so I'm purposefully not naming it.

Bring coffee, sweeteners, and some snacks. Get cereal, irradiated milk (fresh is $5/quart), wine, bread locally.

LES PLAGES

We only went to a beach once other than to an ocean-side restaurant. We couldn't figure out how to get access to Marechal (the Guanahani Hotel was in the way) or Grand Cul de Sac. We finally found a bit of sand in the corner of Marigot Bay. Good for a tiny bit of snorkeling and a bit of sun. I wanted to go back to Saline, but Laura knew I'd gawk or even take my shorts off.

Unless you are devoted to salt water, I recommend getting a place with a pool, a private pool if possible. Le Toiny and Hotel Christopher are two inns with private pools.

PLONGEE

I got a saltwater fix by scuba diving. Marine Service, in the harbor, took me to a site called La Baleen, "the whale." It was very easy, conservative diving to 51 feet. Visibility was almost 100 feet, and the water was a warm 82 degrees. Corals were nice and relatively undamaged. I saw a small school of barracudas, a spotted moray eel, and many lobsters, along with maybe 35 species of smaller tropical fish.

A one tank dive is $50; a two tank dive is $80. Marine Service is a good operator. In general, St. Barts is not a place to go for scuba diving, but once you are there, it's fine for blowing a few bubbles.

LES RESTAURANTS

Dining is the second most popular activity on St. Barts. We ate at La Petite Bouffe ($40) our first night. Simple food. On Pointe Milou.

Paradisio is aptly named and divine. We had a smoked salmon salad, sea bass with leeks, and big desserts. Bernard was a friendly maitre d'. ($80 without wine, in town.) An $80 lunch? At Le Fregate ,on the beach at Flamands, we joined honeymooning friends for a pleasant two hours. Good but there should've been a few entrees under $20.

Hubert de la Motte at Le Tres Forces is a one man band. Host, chef, waiter and astrologer, he fed us a great lunch in a funky setting atop the hillside in Vitet.

Our friends had some high-priced meals at Carl Gustaf and a few other places. ($200 plus with four drinks but no wine).

They joined us for our last night's dinner at the brand new West Indies Cafe, which replaced La Toque Lyonaisse. A beautiful beach setting and an expensively decorated and furnished restaurant, it offers a prix fixe dinner for 250FF. Our meal was $98 with two glasses of wine and some Perrier. The maitre d' said the owner is in the lumber business in Paris. "Does he have a house on the island?" I asked. "Five," responded the maitre d'.

I'd settle for one.


ST. BARTHS BY DAVID NASH

We flew in from Anguilla on Tyden Air. I knew very little about this airline and was somewhat apprehensive about flying an "unknown" into St. Barths. However when we saw they were an agent for FEDEX I knew they had to be good. The flight turned out to be a great experience. On a little 8 seater I flew just behind the pilot who pointed out the various islands. Actually the landing in St. Barths was no problem as we landed from the St. Jean instead of coming over the ridge.

What's new in St. Barths- A new restaurant opened in May at the El Serno called The West Indian Cafe. I don't know if it's taking the place of La Toque Lyonnaise but for opening night it was $160 per person.

There is a new wine store in Gustavia. The selection is pretty good and the prices are not bad. Although Gustavia was very quiet the nights we were there I saw several advertisements for what I think are new night spots. One called Le Petit Club is a discotheque in Gustavia while another named "Why Not?" in Lurin offers free transportation.

Also there was a small piece in the paper stating the police were investigating a number of burglaries of jewelry and electronics at hotels and rental properties. I did not see any evidence of crime but did notice the spare tire was missing from our rental car this year.

Restaurants- After three years we finally found Eddy's Ghetto. I had lentil salad and leg of lamb while everyone else had Mahi Mahi. Everyone agreed the lentil salad was very good and practically enough for a meal. I enjoyed the lamb and everyone else was pleased with their fish. Eddy's definitely has large servings.

While at Sibrath we overheard Roger Lecour, one of the owners, recommend La Marine. Although they lost our reservation and we had to wait and extremely long time for our food we all thought it was excellent. My wife had snapper, I had the mussels, and our friends had the grouper in red wine sauce which they loved.

The next day we went to Chez Francine for lunch and had the fried fish which was delicious. Got two free rum punches by presenting the "Ti Gourmet" book. One night we brought steaks, white asparagus, and a bottle of red wine at Match, grilled out and just enjoyed the view of the Gustavia harbor from our house in Colombier.

On the last night we went to Maya's and had brochette of tuna, shrimp in ginger sauce and grilled Mahi Mahi. Again we all loved it.

Although St. Barths is known for its astronomical food prices at these places we did not spend more than what one spends at a good restaurant in the states. Granted we all didn't always order appetizers and desserts but we did order wine.

Beaches- Went to Saline, Governors, Flammands and St. Jean. All as usual were beautiful (although we did notice some erosion at Flammands) and seemed less crowded than usual. Really the whole island was not very crowded as the airport parking lot was packed with available rental cars.

Cruise Ships- Again there several negative comments about cruise ships in the paper. Two big ships and two mast type ships came in during our stay. Gustavia was VERY crowded when the big ships were in. When you look at the hours most of the stores are open- 10am -12 and 3pm-6(except for Hermes which opens from 11am-12 and 4pm-6) you wonder what is there.


ST. BARTS BY KELLI SIMON

Egads! What can I tell you about this place that will make you NOT want to go?

Getting There

We flew with a 5 year old and 11 month old, so this presented a bit of a challenge. Thanks to a portable stroller and a few cups of coffee, we made it to St. Maarten with no problems. Once there my ideas of relaxing on vacation were seriously shaken.

We flew Winair to St. Barts. Once I actually got an idea of where the gate was, the surly woman there told me she didn't work there. Moments later she called for us to board. All my frustrations were left on the ground when our plane took off. No time to be frustrated when you are praying for your life. The highlight of that ride was when my 11 month old reached out to pull the emergency exit cord. The ride was all everyone said it was and then some.

As a matter of fact, they not only let my kids on the island, they never checked anyone in our party's passport. Just a nod and wave. Much ado about nothing, I suppose. Going without kids.

Yes, I'll have to say that unless you have the happy grandparents with you it is probably the best way to go.

The Hotel

We had the good luck to stay at the Village St. Jean. We had a wonderful cottage with a view of the St. Jean beach and surrounding hills. Very private, quiet, and the view from the bed was beautiful. A huge terrace and the hammock was a selling point for me. Lydia, at the reception, was a great help with restaurants and a wonderful baby-sitter (my son is in love).

The Food

We were lucky enough to have some great recommendations from this forum. We also found a few places ourselves. Vincent Adam in the hills of St. Jean was a find. Reasonably priced and exquisite food. The atmosphere and service were relaxed and understated. Perfect for a romantic dinner.

Vincent Adam is located off the road that goes past the airport. Follow it past the supermarche towards St. Jean beach. It is a little road on the right. If you pass the Le Patio sign you have gone too far. Go up, and up and you run right into it. Beautiful and cool out on the side of the hill, it was quiet when we arrived around 8:00, but filled quickly. My husband had the rabbit (he is a chef and more daring than I) I had a great chicken stuffed with fresh basil and all sorts off great stuff. Presentation was beautiful (chef's wife talking ... it rubs off) and being a dessert fiend, I highly recommend the chocolate tart with coconut milk. My father in law says he has never had such good escargot. The service was laid-back and timed perfectly. Back in reality, I am shocked now by how rushed I feel even at the nicest places.

Wall House was where we spent our last night on the island. Quiet and set near the entrance of Gustavia harbor. The vanilla rum digestif was a welcome addition to a perfect meal. The triumvirate of fois gras was a hit. Le Select sucked me in and I couldn't leave before I had two burgers and more than one beer. It was a great break in the French/Creole thing.

Chez Francine had the biggest lobsters I have ever seen.

The Island

My family had to get a real car because of the baby, but after driving a moke, whose seat belts didn't work, I'd say that was a good thing. The beaches were beautiful ... spent some time on Flamands at sunset (great waves) and my son told me that daddy was looking at the naked women out on Gouvenor.

As for suggestions ... Flamands beach was deserted and romantic, especially at sunset. We found some great views and tide pools on the other side of the island ... near Grand Saline on a low road with those great stone fences. There were hundreds of little creatures ... some little spiny black things and others were starfish and even a few fish. If you don't mind a steep walk down the cliff, it is a winner. Caution: wear your shoes as it can get mighty slippery as my knees could tell you.

We hung out at the pool a lot and took full advantage of the siesta time that nearly everyone observed. We found some cool shops in Gustavia and bought some things at pipini(?) near the shell shop. If you are interested in the shell shop, the man who runs it sets quite irregular hours (his luxury) and may or may not open on some days. We lucked out on THE last day and bought some neat starfish and jewelry cheap, cheap, cheap.

I'll go back in a heartbeat - Anyone need a novice tour guide ?


ST. BARTH BY TIM HUNTER

We were on St. Barths during the June 11 elections and I thought you might be interested in the implications of the results. Bruno Magras was elected mayor and he happens to be the brother-in-law of Monique Magras who owns the villa where we stayed.

Monique told us that Bruno plans to establish more natural areas around the island to foster wildlife sanctuaries- particularly underwater areas where no fishing, spearfishing, taking of shells, etc., would be permitted. She also told us that Colombier is already a natural area and that our fears about development there are unfounded, despite new ownership. Bruno plans to continue the restrictions on resort development regarding size and height, and is committed to the maintenance of the quality of life on the island. He is not in favor of expanding the cruise ship traffic. To us it sounds like the right man for the job.

There were 2 cruise ships in port for a day each while we were there, and I can not possibly see why the islanders would want them there. The money of these people could not ever make up for the disturbance that they create. Caravans of mokes racing around the island hootin' and hollerin' and whistlin' at babes is not what the real visitors to SBH come there for. I was not proud to be an American on more than one instance this trip.

By the way, Monique Magras owns 5 rental properties at Flamands, and lives behind the villa we rented. She has lived on the island her entire life (except for a year of school in the State and a year in Paris). She is the epitome of charm and French flair. The chance to visit with her again this year made our trip even more special. As two more asides, her 9 yr. old daughter is the island tennis champion and is playing tournament in France and the U.S. this summer. Moniques grandfather was the man who sold Colombier to the Rockefellers. If you want to rent from someone who will take an interest in your enjoyment of the island, she is unequalled.


SAINT CROIX : BY BRAD FELMLY

(ED NOTE: This contribution is copyrighted by Bradford K. Felmly.)

The "laid back virgin" glistened like an emerald jewel in a turquoise sea as the American Eagle turboprop banked low over Fredericksted on approach to Alexander Hamilton Airport. Royal Caribbean's 'Song Of America' lay berthed at the new Fredericksted Pier, looking like a miniature yacht from afar. Saint Croix, USVI, lies forty miles south of hectic St. Thomas, but it might as well be 400. You'll find none of St. Thomas' frantic metropolitan tempo here. None of the shoulder-to-shoulder scurrying for the best bargains, none of the beaches jammed with tourists and hustle & bustle. Instead, a slow, easy, 'no problem' atmosphere prevails on this, one the best kept secrets in the Caribbean. While the duty-free bargains are every bit as plentiful as those to be found on it's sister island, here it is relaxed, casual, and uncrowded. It's beaches are unspoiled and secluded. It combines the best of St. Thomas' easy accessibility and St. John's insulated charm. And, (as if that weren't enough), St. Croix is American! English is the official language and the US dollar the official currency.

My wife, Carrie, and I arrived on this, our fifth visit to Saint Croix, on Monday, March 13, 1995. A 3 1/2 hour flight from EWR brought us to San Juan, then a quick 30 minute flight to STX on a. small turbo-prop afforded beautiful views of Vieques, Puerto

Rico's 'little sister'. We picked up a reserved rental car very quickly at the airport. After an easy 20-minute drive we arrived at our destination: the Buccaneer Hotel. The island's premiere resort, the Buccaneer occupies over 300 acres including three of the islands best beaches. It's grounds also contain an 18-hole golf course, two fresh water pools, tennis facilities (day and night play), a complete water sports facility, health spa, shopping arcade, and three restaurants. This was our first visit to the Buccaneer since Hurricane Hugo. The hotel sustained surprisingly little damage. This might be attributed to the 6-foot thick walls in the main hotel, a former estate house for the Knights of Malta, and home of the island's Danish governor. The Armstrong family, who have owned and operated the hotel since the 1940's, completely renovated the hotel after the storm. All the rooms and public areas were completely redecorated, the grounds were re- landscaped, and a second fresh water pool was added.

We found the hotel and grounds to be immaculately maintained, and the foliage abundant and green, despite the two-year drought that has plagued the island.

As we pulled up to the main entrance, we were immediately greeted (at the curb) by the Bell captain, the concierge, and the desk clerk. Many of the staff remembered us, even after a seven-year absence. In fact, we were upgraded to a fabulous ocean-view corner room on the second floor of the main house, with sweeping views of the Caribbean Sea, Green Cay and Christiansted in the distance.

Our room (as all rooms at the Buccaneer) had been completely redecorated, even down to the cool marble floor that extended onto the balcony. On our last visit to the Buccaneer, televisions and refrigerators were available for an extra $5 per day rental fee each. We found that these are now standard features in all rooms. Our room also contained an in-room safe, hair dryer, ironing board and iron, air conditioning, and a huge bath also finished in Italian marble. Water pressure was adequate for showers; the Buccaneer draws from its own deep wells. Similarly, the Buccaneer makes is own electricity, hence the current was reliable for lighting and appliances, but frequent power dips make it non-conducive for using a PC. Last (but not least), our room included one unadvertised feature: shortly after moving in, we heard a faint rustling outside our door, which proved to be a very friendly tabby cat with a diamond-studded collar. She sauntered in the room and made herself right at home on the king-size bed. Elizabeth Armstrong (the hotel's general manager) later told us that the cat's name was 'Rags', appropriately so because she had been adopted from a shelter and brought to the Buccaneer to live a life of pampered luxury. Hence, living a true 'rags to riches' story, Rags had free run of the Main House and grounds. We grew used to finding her waiting for us outside our door on returning from the beach or dinner, from whence she would follow us in the room and curl up on the bed for a snooze.

Our housekeeper (Gloria) had some excellent advice for us that became a theme of our vacation - "It's your vacation and you paid lots of money to come here, so leave your problems at home and enjoy St. Croix!" We did!

We had come intent on doing some diving, and quickly discovered that the Beach Shack's manager, Steve (a PADI instructor), was an expert on St. Croix diving. He knew of all the good dive spots, which charters to use, which not to use, and offered to arrange diving with pick-ups at the Buccaneer's dock. The weather was very windy and the ocean choppy for the first several days of our visit, but cleared in time for us to discover that the snorkeling is still terrific off the hotel's beaches. One of our favorite circuits was snorkeling from Beauregard beach to Whistle beach and back. The area teemed with life such as reef squid, angels, groupers, amber jacks, sergeant majors, etc., and we would frequently see large species such as rays and barracuda. Several times we drove 30 minutes to the north-east coast and dove the Cane Bay Wall. This is a section of the Puerto Rican Trench that plunges from beautiful coral heads at 40 feet to the infinite darkness of the deep. Our dive was to 100 feet, where black coral forests proliferated among dozens of very large adult sea turtles. One word of caution: do not use Anchor Dive Center at Salt Bay Marina. We made reservations three days in advance, only to bumped on arriving there. It seems that the operators overbook their dives, assuming that not everyone who reserves is going to show up. Although we had confirmed our reservation with a credit card and the admonition that we'd be charged for the dive if we didn't show up, when we did arrive (early) we were told that the boat was unexpectedly full and advised that we could wait four hours for the next party. Instead, we drove another minute down North Shore road and had a wonderful time diving with Cane Bay Divers (without so much as a reservation!) In retrospect, we should have charged Anchor Dive Center for a missed dive, as surely as they would have charged us had we not shown up. The old Fredericksted pier, long known as a world- class night dive, has been replaced. The new pier is nearly free of corals, but a variety of marine life has begun to take up residence beneath it. The pilings from the old pier are somewhat intact alongside the new pier, and some of the coral and crustacean growth that made it a notable dive still live there. However, its not the great night dive it used to be. Several ship wrecks in Butler Bay, north of Fredericksted, make for very good boat diving.

The changes that have been wrought since Hurricane Hugo (referred to among locals as "the storm") are profound. New apartments have replaced the poor warrens that many of the Crucians called home. The road system has been improved. New strip malls and shopping centers have appeared. Condominiums and townhouses have begun to proliferate on what was once forested land. Some hotels, particularly those on the south coast, have not reopened, but most have been restored or completely rebuilt fresher and better than ever.

The Buccaneer offers three on-premises restaurants for dining: The Mermaid, on the main (Cutlass Cove) Beach, serving breakfast and lunch. A typical lunch runs about $10 each. The Mermaid also has a regular Wednesday night "Crucian Buffet", where, for $25 per person, you can feast on shrimp in the rough, salads, soups, bread/rolls, ribs, bbq chicken/ribs, dolphin, goat stew, red beans & rice, prime rib carvery, and desserts such as carrot cake, chocolate cake. The Terrace serves dinner, appropriately on the terrace of the main house, overlooking the lights of Christiansted. Their menu follows. The Brass Parrot has recently begun serving Northern Italian cuisine. This is a formal restaurant; jacket and tie required. We didn't try it, so cannot comment. Full American breakfast is free at either the Mermaid or the Terrace, with a wide selection of fruit, pastries, eggs, omelets, pancakes, waffles, etc., and my all time favorite jelly - Dickinson's preserves! The Grotto is a lunch-only grill located at Beauregard Beach. Again, figure $10 each for a light lunch such as hamburger, fries and coke.

Menu (entrees as of 4/95) at the Terrace Restaurant, Buccaneer Hotel, STX: Linguini w/ calamiri sauted in olive oil with garlic & parsley: 18.00 Spaghetti Primavera w/vegetables & fresh herbs in Alfredo sauce: 18.00

Angel Hair Lobster Putanesca (local lobster sliced & saut?ed w/ olive oil, w/plum tomatoes, capers, garlic, red pepper and olives, served over angel hair pasta 19.50

Roasted Chicken w/herbs & roasted autumn vegetables 19.00

Thai Duck broiled w/honey, boned, served spicy & sweet 19.00

Rack of lamb marinated, grilled, served w/zucchini & potatoes 24.00

NY strip steak w/baked potato, grilled mushrooms & vegetables 22.00

Salmon, pan seared w/brown sugar & dill glaze, potato & veg 20.00

We sampled several other restaurants:

The Chart House, on the wharf at Christiansted. Great salad bar! Crucian Mahi-Mahi, chicken teriyaki, BIG mudpie (for 2), $62 w/tip. The Banana Bay Club at the Caravelle Hotel, on the waterfront in Christiansted. Chicken & scallops in Creole sauce, stir-fry shrimp, conch fritters. Very good food and waterfront seating. $45 including tip.

STI

on the waterfront in Christiansted. Blackened steak & half lobster, chicken teriyaki, $40 total. Best food of our entire vacation!

Food is, of course, more expensive than on the mainland as most everything has to be imported. We found groceries to be about 25% higher than mainland prices. Gallows Bay Market is convenient to the Buccaneer and to Christiansted and has reasonable prices.

The Buccaneer offers entertainment on the Terrace on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, usually consisting of jazz, raggae, calypso, and steel pan. Live bands can be found almost every night at the Moonraker Lounge in Christiansted.

One night the Buccaneer presented the 1970s musical "Pump Boys and Dinettes", in cooperation with the Caribbean Community Theater, an amateur theater group consisting entirely of St. Croix residents. The energy, enthusiasm, and talent that these folks put into the production made this one of the high points for us. At intermission we talked at length with a friendly resident of St. Croix who works in the construction trade. He travels regularly to Tortola, Grenada, Antigua, etc., for home repair jobs, and loves it. He moved to Saint Croix in 1990 after becoming fed up with the rat race. He had to live on the beach and in rented rooms for awhile before finding a steady job. Now, he said, he makes enough money to sustain himself comfortably. He went on to comment that he hasn't had a woman in five years (ratio of woman to men on the island is 1:15), but it's worth it to live in paradise. Just goes to illustrate that everyone has their own (sometimes peculiar) priorities!

Saint Croix's economy is generally dependent on tourism and on the large Hess refinery located on the isolated south-west end of the island. Tourism levels have not yet returned to pre-Hugo levels. We saw several shops in Christiansted and Fredericksted that were going out of business. We ate in more than one restaurant that was practically deserted. A desk clerk at the Buccaneer told us that their occupancy rate is running around 50% during high season, and they are one of the more successful hotels on St. Croix. We stopped at Cormerant Beach Club to check out its beach (found it still to be dirty and unkempt) and observed no cars in the parking lot and no one on the beach at 11:00 a.m. It seems that business and tourism are bad all over the island. Apparently they are still suffering from the bad press the island received following Hugo. For the record, we experienced no problems at all with regard to crime, feeling unsafe, or being hassled during this or any previous visit to Saint, Croix. The local people are among the friendliest in the Caribbean. Of course, precautions should still be taken as far as walking in strange areas, wandering alone after dark, etc., as on any island or any US city. We perceived some tensions between the Crucians and a crew that Hess recently brought in from Texas, but the "villagers" are working hard to defuse the problem.

Overall, we experienced a very relaxing, slow, tranquil, beautiful week. The place still looks like a picture post card, the staff is friendly, the food is good, the price is right! While I am hesitant to ruin a good thing by letting too many in on such a "secret" tropical paradise, perhaps its time to spread the word that Saint Croix is back better than ever! I'm doing my part, having sent two couples to the Buccaneer since our return. Sun lovers, shoppers, water enthusiasts, beach potatoes, honeymooners: give it a try; it's unspoiled, secluded, and American!


ST. JOHN BY DON HARRIS

We stayed at the Inn Paradise (managed by vacation homes). To say it is a wonderful place is an understatement. Three bedrooms, a beautiful living room/kitchen area, a deck surrounding the entire second floor. Up on a hill overlooking Chocolate Hole, Hart Bay, and parts of Rendezvous Bay. It is an easy (once you get used to the hills and unpaved roads) 5 minute drive to Cruz Bay. The villa has virtually (and I'm not kidding) everything you would want for a week. It is only two years old and everything is in the best of condition. Forgot to mention that the deck has a wonderful hot tub (better than the one we have at home) which overlooks this awesome scenery. Every room in the house has open sliding doors and windows (and ceiling fans) to take advantage of the refreshing tradewinds. Never in my life have I enjoyed 95 degree temperature with no AC than in this place. The managers of the property (Kathy and Dennis DeMar) picked us up at Cruz Bay and guided us to the villa (offering plenty of information about St. John and the villa along the way). They were always available for additional questions throughout our stay. If you are looking for a first class villa and operation call this number................... Vacation Homes (Kathy and Dennis DeMar) (809) 776-6094.

Snorkeling (our passion) is fantastic on St. John. We enjoyed Waterlemon, Francis and Cinnamon the most but there was really not a bad place to go. None of them were crowded at this time of year. Trunk Bay is a little worn down due to the cruise ship traffic. Klein Bay was a little underwhelming. Our best snorkeling was off the SADIE SEA - a power boat that has a three-stop, six hour snorkeling expedition to the sites you can't reach easily by land. Captain Sandy West and Kelly (her marine guide) were as nice and helpful as they could be. The cost was only $40 (you bring your own lunch). Of all the places we researched (and there were a bunch), this was by far the best deal and great fun. Sandy's number in SJ is (809) 693-9044.

We rented a jeep from Denzil Clyne for $330 a week. He is located right by the dock and Information Center. He had parking available for us every time we went "down town" to Cruz Bay. Service was efficient and there was no hassle getting or dropping off the jeep.

Restaurants- We had drinks at Pussers to see the sunset (the dinner menu was not impressive but the appatizers and drinks were fine). Ate dinner at Marvin's Mango (very nice food, atmosphere and portions). Had lunch in Coral Bay at Don Carlos (nice atmosphere, try the Mexicana Conch Fritters - best I have ever tasted and I live in Florida). If you venture to the East End you have got to stop at Vie's Shack. You ring the bell and Vie comes down from her house to cook some great garlic chicken and conch fritters. You may have to share them with the local goats, chickens and cats but the experience is well worth it. In Cruz Bay, Hercules has some great shrimp pate sandwiches. Went to Lime Tree Inn for the mandatory Wednesday night shrimp fest. Since we have shrimp up the ??? in Florida, we had fish dinners and they were terrific. Went to Etta's for Friday night happy hour ($1 rum drinks) and meal. Great local hangout with music and great food/drink. It was our last night and the drive up the hill to Inn Paradise was quite an adventure.

All in all, everything everyone has said about St. John is true. The most interesting, relaxing and trouble-free vacation we have ever had.


ST. JOHN BY TOM ALTSTIEL

The short ride from the airport to Red Hook through Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas shows how conditions have deteriorated on that island. Thankfully St. John has been spared most (but not all) of the violence, drugs, welfare and Rasta wannabes that

Of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, St. John is by far the least developed and most laid back.

pollute St. Thomas.

The water taxi from Red Hook goes directly to the Hyatt dock. It's about a 20 minute ride and a welcome relief from the congestion and decay of St. Thomas.

kitchen with modern appliances. There was a small pool next door that is shared by other units, however it was never crowded. There are beautiful views overlooking Great Cruz Bay.

It is a long steep walk down to the Hyatt. Those who would rather not make the hike can call for a courtesy van.

The main pool at the Hyatt is very large with two small islands, a waterfall and a poolside bar. The beach, which was brought in to replace the native mangroves, is clean and bright white. Sailfish, floats, ocean kayaks, sailboards and other water toys are available for rent. Many sailboats are anchored in the harbor.

The restaurants are generally good but pricey. The Splash bar is outrageously expensive for fast food fare. $40 for hotdogs and sodas for 4 people! The Chow Bella is an elegant Italian/Chinese restaurant with good, but not great food, at relative high prices. The Grand Cafe is more casual with average food and average prices. Service was good at all restaurants. There is also a small deli but prices are extremely high.

The grounds are beautifully landscaped and the buildings are in good condition.

We were very pleased with the facilities. It is much nicer than Caneel Bay. The Hyatt has better facilities and more things for the kids to do. The Villas/Hyatt is upscale without the snob appeal of Caneel, which we found was ideal for the "newly wed and nearly dead". After having stayed at both places, I would not hesitate to pick the Villas over Caneel.

Cruz Bay

The only town of any size is Cruz Bay, about 5 minutes from the Hyatt. It's rather run down and crowded. Streets are very narrow and parking is non existent. There are a few grocery stores where you can pick up items for a lot less than the Hyatt deli (but still a lot more than back home).

The main shopping area is Mongoose Junction which is a very attractive open air

CANCUN BY TERRI DAVIS

Stayed at the Melia Turquesa, a very nice has the best seafood. It's a favorite with locals. Not much night in Cruz Bay or anyplace else on St. John. The few bars cater to a more mellow crowd than those on other Caribbean islands.

Around St. John

Two thirds of the island is a national park, thanks to the gift of Lawrence Rockefeller. If you're not staying at Caneel Bay you can still access the grounds and beaches. The beaches are beautiful with good snorkeling but others are even more spectacular.

Hawksnest Bay has great snorkeling for beginners. There's a small reef a few steps from the beach. It's great for kids.

Trunk Bay is THE snorkeling beach. There's an underwater trail , equipment rental and lifeguards. There is also a huge crowd of people most of the time. Try it after 4 PM. The cruise ship crowds are gone by then and you'll probably have the snorkeling trail to yourselves.

Cinnamon Bay is also good for snorkeling but it can also get crowded and the reefs are farther out. Sometimes the current can stir up a lot of sand.

Leinster Bay has excellent snorkeling but the road there is very rough. Best to have a 4 wheel drive vehicle. More on that later.

The Anaberg Ruins are worth a short visit to get some idea of the Danish plantation past. If you continue past Anaberg you'll see some of the most spectacular views on the islands. Coral Bay is a tiny settlement on the east side of the island. It's not much but Don Carlos Mexican restaurant is a great place for a lazy lunch.

Getting Around

We've taken the open air cattle trucks that pass for sightseeing vehicles. There're crowded, uncomfortable and expensive. Unless you're with a large group, your best bet is a Blazer or other large 4WD vehicle. Be sure to drive on the left! Roads are generally good but most are very narrow. There are a lot of switchbacks and steep grades and I would not want to do too much driving in the hills at night.

Day Sails

There is an excellent full day or half day sail that can be booked at the Hyatt. The Shimmer is a beautiful 40 foot sailboat anchored in Great Cruz Bay. Captain Gene Morris is very friendly and an expert guide to the island. He took us near a deserted cay for some excellent open water snorkeling. We highly recommend him. Other charters are available in Cruz Bay.

If you want golf, a lot of night life, gambling, etc. , St. John is probably not for you. But of all the Caribbean islands we have visited with or without kids, we like St. John the best. It's more beautiful than the Bahamas or Grand Cayman. Friendlier than any French island. Much cleaner than Jamaica and St. Lucia. The snorkeling is great and the beaches are fantastic. You don't have to worry about being hassled in town or at the beach by higglers. It's exotic without leaving U.S. laws and currency behind. It's a good family place.

If you get the chance, go!


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