Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Trip 5/1999 Summary. The Melia Bavaro is a magnificent and lush tropical paradise located on one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in the Caribbean. They have good food and a fabulous pool. They offer a great value and set the standard for resorts in the Dominican Republic. In fact, all 3 of the Melia properties visited on this trip (Melia Bavaro, Melia Paradisus, and Melia Tropical) get the highest overall marks of any property I've visited in the Dominican Republic. I recommend booking with the MAP plan (breakfast and dinner buffet, no drinks, no a-la-carte dining) and purchasing food and dining options as needed. Punta Cana. Punta Cana area is relatively new to tourism. It is in a remote part of the country, about 3 1/2 hrs drive time east of the Santo Domingo Las Americas International Airport, along one of the most beautiful white silk-fine sand palm-studded beaches in the country, if not the entire Caribbean and world. 10-12 years ago, a group of investors developed the area by building about 5 or 6 mega-resorts and an airport. For example, at Bavaro Beach Resort, you can walk about a mile along the beach and still be inside the resort. Outside the resorts is mostly empty countryside. The resort workers usually live on-site in resort-supplied housing and come from all over the island. Today, there are dozens of big resorts on this beach over a stretch of beach about 20 miles long. The Punta Cana area is the most beautiful beach area in the Dominican Republic, possibly the entire Caribbean, with its 20 - 30 miles of silky white soft sand and thousands upon thousands of coconut palms. It is absolutely gorgeous. The area has a mild surf and tends to be on the windy side. It sits on the East-southeast edge of the Dominican Republic. Because this area is remote, people selecting this kind of vacation should plan on spending almost all their time at the resort. Any excursions are likely to be distant and time-consuming because everything is hours away. People that want to see the Dominican Republic from a perspective other than a beach resort should not go to the Punta Cana area but instead head to the North (Puerto Plata/Sosua/Cabarete/Playa Dorada area) or South (Santo Domingo/Boca Chica/La Romana/Juan Dolio/San Pedro area). Getting to Punta Cana. Getting to Punta Cana can be a challenge. The only scheduled commercial flights from the USA are on American Eagle from San Juan, Puerto Rico and only in the morning. This means that for people that do not live in Miami, Chicago, or NY, where one can catch a non-stop to San Juan, it is not possible to fly into Punta Cana on the same day you depart. You would have to connect and over-night in one of those 3 cities in order to arrive in San Juan early enough to make the flight to Punta Cana. Similarly, most would also have to over- night on the return. The alternatives are the many charter flights that fly directly into Punta Cana from a variety of cities in the USA. The drawback is that charters have limited schedules and the tiniest problem with the aircraft or crew can cause lengthy delays. Delays of a day or more are not uncommon on charters and multi-hour delays are frequent. Another option is to fly into La Romana airport, which is about 1 1/2 hours west of Punta Cana and there are regularly scheduled flights on American Airlines from Miami (jet service) and flights from San Juan, Puerto Rico on American Eagle. A taxi from La Romana to Punta Cana runs about US$70 each way. Another option is to fly into Santo Domingo and take a taxi 3 1/2 hours East to Punta Cana. This may seem like an uncomfortable experience, but the tour buses and taxis are very nice, air- conditioned, plush, and comfortable. As a final option, flights are available from Santo Domingo or La Romana to Punta Cana and can be arranged by calling Air Santo Domingo at 809-549-1005 or Caribe Air (809)550-2585 / 221-8076 / 542-6688. Helicopters are also available. Arrival. The Melia Bavaro is located on the East/Southeast coast of Bavaro Beach in the Dominican Republic, approximately 3 - 3 1/2 hours drive east of Santo Domingo's Las Americas International Airport, 1 1/2 hours east of La Romana's Aero Base International Airport (http://www.aerobase.com), and 10 minutes north-northwest of Punta Cana's international airport. The easy choices for arrival from the USA were to fly into one of these 3 airports. Except for charters, non-stop flights into Punta Cana come only from San Juan, Puerto Rico on American Eagle turbo-prop service. Since there were not any non-stop flights to San Juan from my originating city, we chose to fly into Miami and then on to La Romana to avoid a second connection. La Romana's Airport is a tiny airport with a single gate and actually crosses the 18th hole of Casa de Campo's Teeth of the Dog golf course, where an armed guard sits in a chair all day letting golfers know when it is safe to cross. At the airport, expect very little in the way of amenities such as food and duty free. Taxis and rental cars are available on site. Once in La Romana, we decided to take a taxi for the 1 1/2 hour drive to the resort instead of renting a car. Although there were signs most of the way to the resort, we were glad we took a taxi because there were a couple of turns through the town of Higuey where there were not any signs and we surely would have gotten lost. The taxi wanted RD$1300 for the trip, which we negotiated down to RD$1000 (about US$62.50). The road from La Romana to Punta Cana is a two-lane highway, severely pot-holed in spots with not much scenery and many slow moving trucks and buses which were difficult to pass at times for 10-minutes stretches. The trip took us 1hr 45min. and included two beer stops and two rest stops. Melia Bavaro Hotel. The Melia Bavaro opened in 1991 and the second phase was completed in 1994. The lobby of the hotel is magnificent. It includes a pond with turtles and parrots at the entrance, giant ceilings supported by massive marble pillars, and lush plant life throughout. The perimeter is lined with a variety of stores, including a decent sized grocery store where wines, liquors, foreign magazines, munchies, medicine, suntan lotion (expect to pay US$20 for a good bottle of lotion), etc. Upon arrival at the hotel, we checked in, which took about 15 minutes, included a detailed explanation of what was included and our dining options, and we were given two tiny non-alcoholic punch drinks. We also received a key for the room safe, a map of the resort, and plastic wrist bracelets which were to be worn throughout our stay. We were taken to our room about 1/4 mile away via a golf- cart train and our luggage was transported to our room separately. The luggage arrived minutes after we did and the room was already reasonably cooled by the air conditioner. Our Deal. The going price for a junior suite in a bungalow, which is what the majority of the rooms are, including breakfast and dinner buffets but does not include drinks and does not including dining at the a-la- carte restaurants (MAP plan) was US$85 per person per night + 7% tax. An upgrade to include beverages and limited dining at the a-la- carte restaurants (once per week at any restaurant at any of the properties of Melia Bavaro, Melia Paradisus, or Melia Tropical) was US$35 per person per night. This trip was given to us complimentary on the MAP plan for 5 nights by the owners of the DR1 Web site (www.dr1.com) as an award for submitting the best hotel and property reviews in 1998. They also arranged for us to upgrade to the all-inclusive plan at a discounted US$25 per person per night. The Grounds. The resort is massive, forming a rectangular area about 1/8 mile wide along the beach and about 1/3 mile deep. The grounds are lushly landscaped with a wide variety of trees and plants. This is the most lush and colorful landscaped resort I have stayed at anywhere in the Caribbean so far and also the most beautiful, with plants and flowers right next door to where my room was (in building 74) or on the other side of the pool and also at the beach (buildings 1 and 2). It appears as though they also have standard hotel rooms available. There was a ceiling fan over the bed, a sitting area with a good sized TV, a dining area with 4 chairs, a wet-bar, a mini-fridge stocked with various beverages and snacks, and a seating area with two rattan love-seats and a coffee table. The wet bar had a lighted glass rack overhead and was stocked with a few drinking glasses in addition to a few drinking glasses left on the counter and a stack of napkins in a napkin dispenser. The main area in the room was tiled and the sleeping area was carpeted. The room was one of the nicer hotel rooms I've stayed at in the Caribbean and the raised sleeping area was charming, with a "love nest" look to it. Off the main seating area was a medium sized balcony with a table and two rattan chairs. There was very little drawer space. The only drawers were a set of very slim ones mounted below a set of glass shelves. They were so slim that each could hold perhaps 1 pair of jeans or a single row of socks. I stacked my clothes on the glass shelves. The bathroom was separated into two parts by swinging doors. The first part had a marble sink, blow dryer on the wall, and a porcelain sink embedded in a marble counter top. Behind it was the closet with full length mirrors on the closet doors and a room safe inside. The closet was loaded with decent hangers as found in nicer hotels around the world. The second area contained the toilet, a bidet, and a porcelain tub with shower mounted in marble. Water pressure was excellent but the only way I could get an acceptably hot shower was to keep it all the way on hot, which was just the right temperature. There were loose flowers placed throughout the room. The air conditioner had problems. During our entire stay, despite multiple calls and visits from the air conditioner repairman, it never cooled the room below 77F although it was on full blast all the time. We had to turn it to low late at night because of the rattling noise made by the blower motor. At 77F, the room was borderline at keeping us comfortable. The bed, charming as it looked, was very uncomfortable. The mattress was so severely pilled that it felt like sleeping on fine bits of gravel through the sheets and the pillows were very hard. I called to get the mattress replaced. They offered to move us to another room, and when I suggested that it would be easier to swap mattresses than to relocate all of our stuff, I was told that all the beds were the same, that new mattresses had been ordered for the resort but had not yet arrived, and that nothing could be done. Other guests we spoke with told us that they had the same complaint about hard pillows and a severely pilled mattress. The mattress problem could easily have been solved by adding a mattress pad. Each day, the mini-fridge was restocked. With the all-inclusive plan we had signed up for, beverages were free but snacks, cigarettes, and sun cream were extra. There wasn't any extra room to put a few of the items that we had brought with us and it didn't have an ice area. The room did not come with an ice bucket. I asked at the bar and was told I could not have one, but they gave me a plastic bag full of ice that I placed in the sink of the wet bar. It melted after a day. I called the front desk and asked what I had to do to get an ice bucket and they sent over a champagne bucket with ice, which also lasted about a day and wasn't any better for us than the sink had been. The room was decorated with terracotta lamps and vases. The TV had a good supply of English speaking cable stations. I had brought my own music and candles. On our second day, the maid brought us robes and management sent a fruit basket to the room that contained a large pineapple already cut up and the pieces placed back inside. Other fruit included a couple mangos, chinolas, chinas (like an orange), and bananas. Others guests said that they did not receive robes or fruit baskets. The room also came with a large golf umbrella for our use, but luckily we never needed it Overall, the room was one of the loveliest rooms ever, in a prime location, and with the exceptions of poor air conditioning, uncomfortable bed and pillows, and no ice bucket, was great. Next time, we'll bring our own pillows, a mattress pad, and a collapsible ice bucket. Service. Service was prompt throughout the resort except at the pool bar. In fact, they seemed to have a follow-up procedure in place because whenever I placed a call about something, I always received a return call shortly after where the person calling wanted verification that my concern had been properly addressed. We even ordered room service one night, and 1/2 hour after the meal was brought, we received a phone call asking if everything had arrived to our satisfaction. I was impressed with this level of service and follow-up. The Pool. There were two pools, but the smaller of the two was located way out by the reception area and I never saw anybody use it. The larger pool was a massive free-form wading pool with a continuous depth of about 3 1/2 feet and a small offshoot with about a 2 foot depth. The pool had a swim-up bar and the entrances were gradual slopes. It was kept clean and was gorgeous. It was one of the largest swimming pools I've ever seen, although it is hard to tell when pools start getting that big. It was surrounded by beach chairs made of plastic with a nylon material suspended over them so they were more comfortable than plain plastic lounge chairs. The pool was also surrounded by thatch roof canopies, most of which had small tables built into their center support post. There were plenty of chairs and canopies at all times of the day, even though the resort was 80% full. The pool area was so large that it never felt crowded. It was very annoying at times when they decided to blast music while we were trying to relax, decided to MC a game of water polo, or yelled off bingo numbers in 4 languages poolside. It was very annoying and occurred in late morning and during much of the afternoon. Also, there were occasionally chickens walking around the pool area. There was no pool service, so to get drinks one had to go to one of the nearby bars or restaurants, or swim up to the pool bar. Service was very slow at the pool bar. It seemed it took the bartender a full minute for each and every drink and then it was like pulling teeth to get him to also have you sign for it so you could be on your way. No top shelf liquor was available anywhere at the resort and the drinks had to be vodka, rum, whiskey, or gin based. There were no fresh fruit drinks available at the pool bar, or any other bar for that matter, anywhere in the resort. I specifically asked. I ultimately was able to get a banana drink at the snack bar, where previously they had been out of bananas. All other fruit drinks were made from concentrate from a can. There were two massage tents located near the pool. We made reservations for massages one day at 6pm. When we arrived, they were not ready for us and after waiting until 6:30p, we decided to leave. They kept telling us it would be just a little longer but we had dinner reservations and had to go get ready, so we left, somewhat upset. I returned the next day and received an OK massage for 1 hour for US$45. The room came with two big blue beach towels and they were replaced every day. The first and second day, they did not take the old beach towels so we had 6 towels by the 3rd day. We never did use the beach towel cards they gave us at check-in, which we were supposed to have to use in order to get beach towels at the pool. A sign at the pool indicated that you must be present in order to reserve a lounge chair and that placing a towel on a chair and leaving meant that the chair was subject to being used by others. For that reason I had brought my own towels as well, but I never had to use them because there were always plenty of open lounge chairs. The Beach. The beach was as beautiful as beaches get. It was wide and miles and miles long. The sand was a powdery white silky soft sand and it was completely studded with palm trees along the back. There were no stones or sticks or any kind of debris mixed in. The beach was covered with the same lounge chairs and thatch roof canopies as by the pool and there were no shortages at all. The beach had a continuous warm stiff breeze and the water had a mild surf, a bit small most of the time for body-surfing but too much for water skiing. A myriad of non-motorized water sports were available for an extra charge. I snorkeled off the beach but never saw anything but a clean soft sandy bottom. For US$13, I took a snorkel tour out to a nearby reef, which entailed a very rough 10 minute boat ride. There, the snorkeling was good but not great. I was a little miffed with the water sports people as one day I had called about going snorkeling and was told I could go at 11am. When I showed up at 11am, they told me the boat was going to be used for a scuba tour so that there would be no snorkel tour that morning. I was upset because I already had other plans for the afternoon, which I ended up canceling so that I could go snorkeling. They should really get their act together on that. About 60-80% of the female guests were topless. There were no nude sunbathing areas. The beach area in front of the Melia was among the cleanest I saw and also among the most sparsely populated. The beach area between the water and the part where all the palm trees started was quite wide. I took a 5 mile walk along the beach to the North. The beach seemed endless. Along the beach it was resort after resort, with virtually no undeveloped area until I reached the Riu, after which I could not see the next hotel but didn't want to walk any further. I took a taxi back because my feet were starting to hurt. Looking at the resorts along the way, I passed briefly through each. They all seemed virtually indistinguishable from one another, with only minor differences in layout and accommodations. They all looked great. I did notice that it was a lot more crowded at the other resorts than the Melia and they didn't keep their beach quite as pristine as some of them had allowed bits of seaweed to accumulate along the shore. I stopped several times along the walk to buy beer and passed several kiosk areas where tourist goods were being sold by locals. Overall, this is one of the most impressive beaches in the Caribbean, if not the world. The endless stretches of soft powder white sand contrasted by the crystal blue waters and thousands of coconut palms is the ideal picture of what comes to mind when one imagines a tropical paradise. Food. Originally, I had signed up for the MAP plan, which included breakfast and dinner at the buffets only. Drinks were not included and it did not include eating at any of the many sit down and order (a-la-carte) restaurants. For US$35 per person per night, they offered an upgrade to include beverages and meals at any of the a-la- carte restaurants, including those at the Melia Paradisus next door or the Melia Tropical down the road. We upgraded. Later, I found out that guests an the all-inclusive plan we upgraded to were given a different wine list and a different and significantly limited menu altogether at some of the restaurants. It turns out that the upgrade was not a good deal at all. We were unable to sample all the restaurants at all of the resorts so I will just comment on the ones that we were able to try. I must point out that we had a very difficult time getting reservations to eat at the a-la-carte restaurants. There was little chance of getting a reservation the same day. Before I arrived, I had feared this and wrote an E-mail asking if it would be prudent to make some reservations before I arrived at the resort. I was assured that it would not be a problem and to wait until I arrived. Wrong. Reservations can only be made at a service desk in the lobby between the hours of 9am and 3pm and we didn't even arrive at the resort until 4pm. I complained to a person at the guest services counter and she (Carmen Barral) was very nice about it, made some phone calls, and got us into the Gourmet restaurant Licey for our first night. On the second day, when we could not get into any of the other restaurants that we wanted to try because they were full, we opted to eat at one of the nearby restaurants in the other hotels and quickly made our reservations for the rest of the trip. Good thing the Melia Bavaro was only 80% full. The Melia properties seemed to have the best dressed dinner guests of any resort I've been to in the Dominican Republic, with many women wearing long evening dresses, many men wearing jackets and ties, and I even saw some tuxedos, which I thought was a bit much. Regardless, I enjoyed dining with an elegantly dressed crowd and the table settings and service matched. I must note that birds frequently entered the buffet areas and were not always chased away in time to keep them from making a few pecks at the public food. Hispaniola - Melia Bavaro. This was always a buffet and was the main dining room of the resort. We only ate there for breakfast. As a breakfast buffet, it was decent. There were cooked to order eggs, waffles, and pancakes available, as well as the standard array of breakfast foods served buffet style. Two of the days they served fresh squeezed juices but the other days, juices were from concentrate. The buffet was not as big as that of the Bavaro Palace hotel, whose dining areas where huge compared to that at the Melia, but they made up for it with quality and great service. Licey (gourmet) - Melia Bavaro. The Gourmet restaurant at the Melia Bavaro takes place in an air conditioned building located in the center of a pond. The building is windowed from floor to ceiling on all sides and has a bar and disco on one side. The pond has many pink flamingos standing around and makes for a very beautiful and romantic setting. The food was pretty good. It wasn't until after I had ordered my food and was unhappy with the wine list that I asked if there was another wine list available where I could buy the wine. I was handed another menu that had a fair selection of wines at reasonable prices but it also was the regular dinner menu. Had I seen it first, I would have gladly paid for my dinner in order to get the rack of lamb, but it was too late. Our meals were pretty good and service was extremely attentive. The setting was elegant. Mexican - Melia Paradisus. The Melia Paradisus is right next door to the Melia Bavaro. In fact, from the beach side, you cannot tell where one resort begins and one ends. The food was very good at the Mexican restaurant and the service was also excellent. I had the beef tip served farmer style with a tortilla soup. Italian - Melia Bavaro. A small restaurant with a variety of pasta dishes. Veronica absolutely loved her pasta dish but I don't like pasta much and ordered the veal marsala, which was quite good. Their wine list was poor but it was a lunch and we were generally happy with the meal and the service was excellent. Chinese - Melia Tropical. This was the favorite of our restaurants. I'm not that big of a fan of Chinese food, but this place was magnificent. The setting is grand with high cathedral ceilings and elegantly decorated. Service was very attentive and they cook everything fresh in plain view of the guests. I've never tasted Chinese food so fresh. Even the egg- drop soup was served with shrimp crackers that were prepared fresh from the fryer. The food was excellent. I must make a special note about how everything was so freshly prepared. Snack Bar - Melia Bavaro. Unfortunately, this was the only restaurant that was open during certain key hours, at least for us. It seemed like whenever we were hungry, this was the only place open, such as after sleeping in or after a long afternoon at the beach. It was the only place to get food from 10am-1pm and from 4pm-7pm. They service hot dogs, hamburgers, and sandwiches. It was nothing special, with service in an open air canopied patio at plastic tables and chairs. Seafood Grill - Melia Bavaro. This was our favorite place to eat lunch. It was also set up as a canopied patio serving food to plastic tables and chairs and it was a buffet. They served paella, peel-and-eat shrimp, pasta, salad, and a grill with steaks, chicken shishkabab, burgers, Chopin - Melia Bavaro. This restaurant is famous for providing a floating concert from a boat in a pond outside the open air restaurant but unfortunately, the performers were taking their vacation during the week we were there so we did not get to see the concert. Regardless, this restaurant is in a beautiful setting over a lush pond. It is very elegant, yet it was a buffet. It was a very good buffet however and as usual, service was excellent. We had fun tossing bread off the side of the table into the pond, which was loaded with fish and took down the pieces of bread like piranha. This was one step above the usual Caribbean buffet and it seemed to me that they had too much food for the number of guests attending. This was the one restaurant that did not make a reservation for a specific time. A reservation was required, but guests could show up any time between 6pm and 8:30pm, presumably because guest typically would stay well after their meal to watch the concert. This was the dressiest of the restaurants. Room Service. We ordered room service one night. The asparagus was like it came out of a can and the shrimp was very mushy. Service was good and the hotel even made a follow up call to the room to make sure everything was all right. I thought the food was fair at best and the room service menu was very limited. Bars. I found the service to be generally good at all of the bars except the pool bar. None of the bars were stocked with top-shelf liquor or drinks made with fresh fruits. The hotel does not get high marks for its bars. One notable exception was the availability of bottled beer. Most resorts serve beer on tap, and it is never as good as the bottled beer. Another exception was the bar at the Melia Paradisus casino, which had a nice bar stocked with top-shelf liquors. Public Restrooms. The public restrooms throughout the resort were not only kept immaculately clean, they were very nice. Getting sick. I'm no stranger to the Dominican Republic. With over 60 trips around the island over the last 5 years, I've eaten in every kind of establishment from fine restaurants at big hotels and resorts, mass produced food at buffets, small out of the way restaurants in obscure towns, and even food sold by vendors on the street. I brush my teeth with the tap water and I've almost never gotten sick. Even when I have, it was mild and never lasted more than half a day. People frequently complain that they have gotten sick from the food in the Dominican Republic and people are quick to point out that excessive drinking and sun, not being use to the surroundings and bacteria, too many piņa coladas and fruit acting as a laxative, etc. are responsible. In my third day, I woke up vomiting violently and continued to do so through most of the day. I spent 24 hours in bed and could not move, very weak and with a fever. It was horrible and I can't really say for sure what had caused it but the last place I had eaten was the Mexican restaurant at the Melia Paradisus the night before and I had thoroughly enjoyed it. The resort pharmacy recommended a pill called Sertal-Compuesto, which I bought and took along with some Pepto-Bismol, but it did not seem to help at all. I thought I was going to die as I hadn't been this sick in 10 years. It took almost two days to completely recover and I still don't know what it was. I did not have diarrhea. So, who knows what it was. A Dominican doctor has since told me the following (paraphrased): Sertal Compuesto is on the order of Lomotil or Imodium AD. When one is vomiting and no diarrhea, it can be a symptom of intestinal obstruction of a high degree. A very dangerous thing that can be fatal. I would not trust a pharmacist to recommend anything and check with a physician. Obviously you did not have obstruction or you would be in more serious shape now. My first thought is Staph food poisoning due to the rapidity of onset and the rapidity of recovery. Staph food poisoning usually affects the upper GI tract and you don't get to the diarrhea stage. Another possibility is E.coli food poisoning but you usually have diarrhea with this and it is quite debilitating. At the bottom of my list is the myriad of viral intestinal infestations such as the so called 24 hour "stomach flu". Mosquitoes. Most trips to the Dominican Republic, I get some mosquito bites. Sometimes I get eaten alive, and sometimes I just get a half-dozen bites, but amazingly, I didn't get a single bite on this trip. I never even saw a mosquito. One of the reasons this amazes me is because this is the lushest resort I've ever been too and they have ponds and standing water everywhere. Perhaps it has something to do with the thousands of birds that walk around freely throughout the resort or perhaps they just do a terrific job of fumigating, which if they did, I never saw it. Excursions. We never got around to taking any excursions. This was in part because I had already toured most of the island and wasn't into booze cruises or jeep tours of the countryside. But they were available. One of the most heavily advertised excursions that did not require hours to arrive at was Maniti Park, an ecological water park where one can swim with dolphins. Entrance cost is US$21 (US$10 if under 12) with an extra US$65 to swim with the dolphins (reservations recommended). Tours can be arranged from the hotel or by calling 809- 552-0807 or 809-688-0729 (fax at 809-552-0810). Transportation to and from the hotels is included in the admission price and they have a colorful bus that goes around to all the hotels. The park is located about 20 minutes from the hotels in the Punta Cana area. Casino. The Melia Paradisus, located right next door to the Melia Bavaro, has a casino. You can either walk to it since the resorts are connected at the beach, or they have a free shuttle bus to take you across the service road connecting the two properties at the front. The Casino was clean and unexciting with just a handful of tables and a couple of rows of slot machines. When you see pictures of this casino, you are looking at 2/3 of the entire casino in the picture. I must comment that it was the most well air-conditioned room I entered in the whole resort area and that their bar (not included) was well stocked with top-shelf liquor. We sat there for about an hour just to enjoy the air conditioning, people watch, and savor some prime drinks. I liked that fact that I could actually serenely sit and listen to music instead of the constant binging and banging of slots and electronic poker that is so prominent in large casinos. Gamblers were all elegantly dressed. Plaza Bavaro. On my first night out, I went to the disco at the Melia Bavaro, starting out about 11:30pm. There wasn't a single guest in the disco, so the staff directed me to a more lively place which they said was located just around the corner outside of the resort. I hopped in a cab and 30 seconds later I was there. Yes, 30 seconds. It literally was right around the corner and if I had known, I could have walked the 500 yards. Around the corner from the hotel entrance is Plaza Bavaro. At night, there are 4 bars to choose from. Rincon Salsa is a shoe-box of a bar that is jam packed with Dominicans that work at the local resorts. It was too crowded for my taste and I didn't like the style of music so next I went and had a beer at one of the two outdoor bars in the plaza across the street. These are open-air bars and the one was playing Bachata, my favorite kind of music. There weren't but a few other people around so after I got bored, I went into Cocos's Disco, which had a short line to get in and was charging RD$60 (US$3.75) cover charge. They said the cover charge included a free drink but I never got mine the first night. Inside it was large and modern with carved out coconuts for ash trays. They had a good sized dance floor and it was about 75% tourists and 25% locals, mostly young Dominicans hanging in groups, more women than men. It was casually elegant but the Dominicans were dressed in nightclub wear. Outside was a nice deck with a romantic setting but after having a taste of that air conditioning, I opted to stay inside and there wasn't anybody else outside anyway. There was a bit of a crowd hanging out in the street as I was leaving so I spent my last half hour talking with locals that were hanging out, most trying to sell something. There were food vendors, motoconchos (taxi by motorcycle as is common for short distances in the Dominican Republic), a few beggars, etc. I walked back to the hotel, as I had been advised that if I were to use a motoconcho to go back, they could only take me as far as the hotel entrance (about 200 feet) and I'd still have to walk the long grand entrance way of about 300 feet to enter the hotel. I only considered it because I was hot and knew that once I reached the reception of the hotel, I still had about 1/4 mile walk through the resort back to the room. During the day, Veronica and I want back out to the plaza to check out the stores. There was a bank, a pharmacy, a couple of small grocery stores, but mostly it was filled with dozens and dozens of tourist type stores selling everything from bathing suits to paintings to wood carvings to Caribbean jewelry. Each and every store front and 1 or 2 people in front heckling us to come in an look at their stuff. It was a most annoying walk and we left. Also, Veronica felt the presence of armed guards was intimidating. Checkout. Checkout was speedy and uneventful. My bill was correct the first time. Melia Tropical. I had arranged to eat at the Chinese restaurant at 8pm at the Melia Tropical earlier and we were told to meet our complimentary transportation at the reception area at 7:30p. We arrived at 7:20p, but by 7:40p, no transportation had arrived. One of the guest services people actually then called a cab for us, drove in the cab with us to the resort, and paid the cab drive. She also told us to just call a cab when we were ready to come back and that the Melia Bavaro would take care of the fare. That's what we did and they paid the fare upon our return. That was good customer service for sure. The Melia Tropical opened in December of 1998 and is still under construction in some areas. While there, I met a retired travel agent, Pat Patterson, who was delighted with the resort and offered to show me his room. It was a very nice room, although not quite as nice or nearly as large as the one at the Melia Bavaro. It was however newer and more modern and his air conditioner was excellent judging by the blast of cold air I felt when I entered his room. His room overlooked the pool. The pool at the Melia Tropical was even more magnificent than the pools at the Melia Bavaro or Melia Paradisus, if that is possible. The Melia Tropical covers only a small slice of the beach compared to the Melia Bavaro and Melia Paradisus and their foliage still needs a bit of time before it grows in well, but the resort landscaping and walkways were similar to the other Melia properties. They had a more modern transport for moving guests around the resort in that they had a golf-cart type train but the front car was actually modeled to look like a choo-choo train and the trailing cars had fluorescent lighting and were wired with music. The new and modern Melia Tropical is also a grand resort. I was so impressed with the styling and beauty of the lobby restrooms I took pictures. Melia Paradisus. The Melia Paradisus is an all-inclusive property adjacent to the Melia Bavaro. I thought that the grounds were virtually identical to those at the Melia Bavaro. In fact, towards the beach, the sidewalks carry you across the property lines and you cannot tell where one resort ends and the next begins. The pool at the Melia Paradisus is slightly nicer than the one at the Melia Bavaro. We will have a hard time deciding whether our next stay will be at the Melia Paradisus or the Melia Bavaro. Last night pastries. On our last night, early in the evening, a hotel staff member came to our room to deliver a complimentary tray of small pastries. It was a very nice touch. I asked if they did this for all the guests and was told they didn't so I'm not sure what made me so special to receive such service. Conclusion. Overall, we had a great time. It was really a first class resort located on a gorgeous stretch of beach. It had some minor problems but overall, we were happy with the food, service, and accommodations. I was a bit bored at times but for an all-inclusive vacation where the prime objective is to relax by the beach and pool and enjoy good food, it was the best. Veronica generally does not favor the resorts in the Dominican Republic but this time she was eager to plan our return. We will recommend it to our friends and will be back
Trip 5/99 My wife and I spent 11 days on Grenada in mid May. This is a report on our trip, our 4th visit; the last 3 years ago. The travel from Albany NY was uneventful, but AA has certainly made the schedule a lot less convenient than it used to be, as well as more expensive. Very smooth through the Miami airport, with no delay at all through customs. Previous trips have been in June, the rainy season. The island was noticeably browner in spots, but we had no showers to contend with. Essentially perfect weather. We stayed again at Blue Horizons, for the 3rd time. We arrived near 9:00 pm and could have gotten food at the restaurant, but we had managed with the airline offering. Welcoming drinks were brought to the room, however, which was a nice touch. This is a cottage style hotel. Rooms consist of a sleeping area with two beds partially separated from the living area which has sofa, TV, table with 4 chairs and fully equipped kitchen including full size refrigerator. Bathroom has tub/shower, and there is a hair dryer. All is in good repair. Beach towels come with the room; no hassles with housekeeping or a watersports desk, no tickets or dire threats of what you will be charged if they are not returned. We took them with us the first day and they left a second set. Our unit at the top of the hill had a good view from the balcony toward St. George's; those at lower levels would not have a view, but the grounds are well kept. There is a good pool with lots of chairs; however, there is not much shade except near the bar and a shortage of umbrellas. Staff and service are great. It is a short walk from the beach. (Hint - if you have a car and don't want to walk, you can drive to Camerhogne (sp?) Park, entrance just south of the traffic circle on the beach-front road, and park by the beach. Alternatively, you can drive to a disused jetty just south of Spice Island and just a couple of hundred yards from Blue Horizons.) Blue Horizons is a sister property to the more expensive Spice Island, and you can share some of their facilities. The manager's coctail party the night after we arrived was a joint affair (elegant) held at the owner's home, to which guests were bussed. The hotel is a first class operation. We rented a car from David's, which was delivered pretty much on time the morning after our arrival. We normally would pick this up at the airport, but with an 8:30 pm arrival this did not seem to be worth doing. Cars are expensive on Grenada; we were charged $330 per week for a fairly new VW Polo with right hand drive. Many people are reluctant to drive on Grenada, and it can be a challenge, but it is not that bad when you get used to it. A lot of the roads are being re- surfaced and widened. Driving is on the left, which may bother some, but I find one adapts quickly. For those who are uncertain about driving, let me give a few details. The road from the airport to Grand Anse is no problem. From Grand Anse to St. George's the road has been rebuilt; good surface, reasonably wide 2-lanes. It does have a lot of traffic and as is common in the Caribbean, vehicles may be parked anywhere along it. However, it should offer no real problems. Construction is still going on, and there is (was?) a detour into St. George's that could be a problem if you don't know the town, but that should be done with in a few weeks,, giving a straight-forward drive to the waterfront where there is usually ample street parking. You can walk around some of the old streets where there are some interesting old buildings, walk to the market, Fort George, etc. A good time to do this for the first time to get your bearings is Sunday, when it will be very quiet, but of course the shops will be closed. Returning is not so easy because of narrow one-way streets; study the map first. You will be looking to turn right at Rudolph's Restaurant, and again immediately. These streets are narrow and have a feature common to many in-town as well as country roads: vertical sided drainage channels right at the edge of the pavement. You need to be slow and careful. Do not drive in the market area, or anywhere else in St. George's that you don't have to. The road to L'Anse aux Epines, where there are other hotels and restaurants, as well as other roads in the Grand Anse - Pte Saline area are narrow and may be pot-holed, but are not a problem to drive. The road up the East coast through Grenville to Levera and Sauteurs is also being rebuilt. It is very good in many places (even curbs to keep you out of the drainage ditches) but there are stretches of gravel where construction is going on, and occasional one-lane bits around machinery. The West coast road is narrower; not too bad, at least up to Gouayave, but you will have to be careful getting to it through St. George's. Going via the inland side is tricky; know the street map. You can go via the Sendal tunnel; more straight-forward, but a lot of traffic and the return can be confusing. The road over Grand Etang is narrow, full of steep hills and hairpin turns, and here is where the knuckles may begin to turn white. The surface is in good condition, however. Sunday is a good choice to avoid some traffic, especially trucks. I think the Grenville side is easier. Other main roads in the South are narrow and often pot-holed and are best takem after you have some experience. In all cases, besides the ditches and parked vehicles, you may find large numbers of school children on the roads in the afternoon. Some minibus drivers are maniacs, but they also do this for a living so presumably have adequate survival skills. Most other drivers seem quite reasonable. On the positive side, speeds are by necessity much slower than you will be used to (even if they don't seem that way), so there is more time to react. As to whether you need a 4-wheel drive jeep, if you are a first-timer, you will not go anywhere a car will not go (although you might not take your own car there), so the only reason for a jeep is psychological. My suggestion is to get the smallest (narrowest) vehicle you can; it is helpful when you have to pass a truck on a one and a half lane road. A final point - road or street signs, both in town and in the country, are infrequent, and the car rental road maps they are using now are pretty poor. The map in the tourist magazine is much better but too small. By studying them both, you can find you way, and people are very willing to help. If you stray from the main road, it becomes obvious within a few yards from the width and/or pavement. Restaurants: Grenada is not big on 5 star gourmet restaurants a la St. Martin, but it does have some good ones and opportunities to get local food. Most restaurants add a 10% service charge to the bill. Here are the ones we ate in and some comments. The order is roughly the order in which we went. Nutmeg - in St. Georges, which will be pretty quiet at night; if you drive to any St. George's restaurant you will be able to park very near. It has local food - stewed and curried lambi (conch) is always good here. They also have decaf, which many places do not. Vegetable roti at lunch was excellent with lots of spicing. Also try the sea moss, a local drink similar to a milk shake. Nutmeg is on the second floor and a nice overlook of the harbor if you can get a window table. The Boatyard - in L'Anse aux Epines. Considerably different (improved) from 3 years ago, but the price seemed high for what we got when compared to other places. Aquarium - past the airport on the beach. Semi-up-scale; very good food and service. On the recommended list. Brown Sugar - in Grand Anse. Upscale, with a menu inspired by traditional Grenadian cooking, but limited and a little too cute. Appetizers and main courses are on different menus, they do not have decaf and when we said we didn't want regular coffee they made no offer of dessert - just brought the bill. Food was good but overall this restaurant was a little disappointing. Rudolph's - St. George's. A little more upscale than Nutmeg, still with a local flavor. Also good lambi, among other things. Portofino - St. George's - Italian; went for a pizza which was good; not expensive. Pastas have been good on earlier trips. Tropicana - approaching St. George's - has very tasty Chinese dishes as well as local food, and a real budget-balancer. Has been uniformly good over several visits. Mama's - on the road into St. George's from Grand Anse. This is a legendary establishment that seems not to be getting much attention recently. You get 18 or 19 different dishes, except for the soup to start and the fruit plate dessert all presented at once. Some are unusual, all are traditional Grenadian dishes, and if you don't like one or two, there is plenty of food so you will not be hungry. This year it was better than ever (we've been on every trip). Reservations are suggested so that they know how much to cook. Don't expect "decor". You get plastic table cloths and mis-matched metal chairs, but it seems fitting. True Blue Bay - at the hotel of the same name east of the roundabout on the airport road; used to be Indigo's at True Blue Inn. Owned by a Mexican/English couple who have put together a fairly wide selection that includes authentic Mexican dishes as well as other things. We thought this was exceptional and if we had found it earlier in our stay we would have gone back. La Belle Creole - at Blue Horizons. A very upscale restaurant and the most expensive; not a large menu selection but excellent food and just right service; attentive, but not stuffy. Very willing to modify the menu items. Meals are listed at a prix fix $35 US, but if you don't want all of the courses they will charge a la carte. La Boulangerie - in the Marquis shopping center on the Grand Anse road, a short walk from the hotel. A French bakery/cafe where we regularly had an excellent espresso; a nice place to sit and relax. The baked goods there are good; the cinnamon rolls easily beat anything similar we have had on St. Martin, which takes some doing. Except for an occasional lunch, we mainly use restaurants for dinners and make our own breakfast/brunch. There is a good supermarket in Grand Anse, a short drive or moderate walk from the hotel. There is also "D" Greengrocer closer for local fruit and a surprising collection of other groceries. Carib is a standard beer, but also try Piton from St. Lucia. Heineken is ubiquitous. Beaches Grenada has a lot of beaches. Here are descriptions of a few that we actually set foot on this trip. Grand Anse is a world class beach with a number of activities but not too many. Most of the activity, and the area where cruise ship passengers are deposited, is toward the center. For those not familiar with it, the Flamboyant hotel is on the South end, with actually a rather small stretch of sand before a rock outcropping occurs. This can be fairly easily crossed if you want to walk. Past this and in front of the Spice Island hotel, the beach is pretty quiet. About half way along, at the Cot Bam Bar, another rock outcrop blocks passage. This seems more prominant this year than in the past, when it was much easier to walk over. Not good if you like long beach walks, but it does keep this end of the beach less crowded. Most of the water sports activities etc. are just along from here. The north end again becomes much quieter. Morne Rouge - just along from Grand Anse - smaller, very nice, quieter except when a boat load of cruise ship passengers is deposited. There is a bar at which you can get refreshments and I think they have beach chairs available. Pink Gin - Point Saline on the west side of the airport - no doubt renamed to appeal to the tourist; another map calls it Pingoulin Beach. The Aquarium restaurant is on one end, and you can get beach chairs there. The Rex Grenadian hotel is at the other the other end. La Sagesse - a little way up the east coast. A quiet and peaceful beach with a restaurant, although we haven't tried it. Also a nature sanctuary, although we have not taken any of the trails - never had time there to do much besides stroll the beach. Levera - in the national park at the northern end of the island; very pretty and very few people. Driving in you will pass Bathway Beach which is very popular locally. There is a visitor's center here, and just beyond it a new restaurant (Grenadian Culture) with a menu that looks fascinating, but again we only stopped for a drink. Levera beach is reached by continuing on the gravel road. Antoine Bay - unsurpassed for a long, deserted, clean and totally unspoiled beach backed by the traditional palm trees. Fine, firm black and brown sand that is perfect for long beach walks. Water may be a bit rough for swimming. Points of interest Grenada has a lot of things to see as a change from beaching. Each trip we take in a few more. Grenville market. This is a local produce market supplemented by T- shirt and other vendors, but a much more low key and a more pleasurable experience than the St. George's market that gets all the publicity. However, you have to get to Grenville on Saturday morning. Lots of local fruits and vegetables, some straw products and other things. Very low pressure - one or two people asked if we wanted something, but no pushiness. We bought some fruit and local candy - prices asked seemed too low to even consider bargaining (e.g., 4 mangos for $1EC). Dougaldston Estate - the decaying remains of a large, old spice plantation that is still operational (just). You can see something about spice processing and of course buy samples. It does have the feel of history. Laura Spice Garden - a modern variant of Dougaldston, where you will get a good tour of growing herbs and spices. Clark's Court sugar factory - actually a rum distillery, since they no longer produce sugar. Fascinating for anyone interested in 150 year old steam driven machinery that is still in operation. You can get a tour for which you tip the guide as you wish. You can taste and buy samples of their products, which are very good. Bay Gardens - a botanical garden (actually a commercial nursery) that in previous visits has afforded a nice walk through topical plants and flowers. This time there were not many flowers, and it seemed overgrown and uncared for. Can't put it on our recommended list. Mount Gado - there are brochures touting a new rain forest reserve with marked trails and a lookout for viewing a large part of the island. We tried it. The road in is 1-lane rock/gravel/dirt; passable with a car but interesting when you have to pass another vehicle (we had to once). However. the place was closed, the trails were not obvious (at least their starts weren't) and there were no directions. It has possibilities, but if you want to try it, find out if they are really open and be prepared for the road in. Flyin' Fish glass bottom boat - a 11/2 hour trip over the reef at Grand Anse that is quite good. Captain Wally comes into the beach just north of Cot Bam around 10 and 2 mornings and afternoons. He has a sign on the beach, and there may be a brochure in your hotel. Tourist hassles We see complaints from time to time about aggressive beach vendors on Grenada. We did not find any. There are a number of vendors selling T-shirts and coverups along the back of the beach, but they seemed quite passive - if you approached and looked interested, they would make their offers. A few others walk the beach; a couple of them approached us but a simple "no, thank you" was enough. We did see one vendor berating a couple of women tourists, however. Not sure why, but the impression was that they had promised to buy from him and then told him they had bought from someone else. We have heard that there are one or two obnoxious vendors who give the rest a bad rep. A vendor's market is being built, and reportedly all vendors will have to be based there in the Fall. Grand Anse is patrolled by local police. Didn't spend much time in St. George's. A couple of taxi drivers offered their services, but were not pushy about it and seemed not at all upset when we said we had our own car. There is one panhandler who has worked the waterfront for years; he can be a pest, and is best handled by saying "no" firmly and then ignoring him. Don't give him money to make him go away; then he won't. Two people at our hotel said that they were harassed to the point where they left St. George's before they wanted to, but I don't know to what extent they invited it by being hesitant. At any rate in our 4 trips we have never had a problem on the beaches or in St. George's (except the annoyance of the panhandler). Other The new Texaco service station and mini-mart on the Grand Anse- St. George's road is the current winner of the "Most Garish and Out- of-Keeping-with-its-Surroundings" award. You can drink the water (at least we have never had a problem at Blue Horizons), although we have heard that it may not retain its quality in all parts of the distribution system. U.S. money is accepted readily, but prices are in $EC and it is more convenient to use EC in smaller places. Also, you don't have to wonder what exchange rate you are getting. Grenada is not for shopping, although there are some good local products. There are some tourist-oriented shops in St, George's, but if serious shopping is your thing, forget it. Local jams and jellies and hot pepper sauces are good, but the supermarkets are as good a source as any. They also have pretty good liquor selections. The sun is very hot but the constant breeze keeps things comfortable. Do not forget to use sunscreen. Very few bugs - I saw one mosquito. Expect more in the rainy season. A very satisfactory vacation in a very nice place - it will not be our last visit.
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