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Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
September 1, 1994
CONTENTS FOR SEPTEMBER 1994
1. Caribbean Summer Swing by Paul Gravelline, Editor
2. Press Releases
CTO Ecotourism Conference May 1994
3. Caribbean Journeys for September 1994 Aruba by Franklin Caldwell
Belize: Tobacco Cay by Marti Martindale
BVI: Bareboat Sailing by Milton Byron
BVI: Sailing by Brad Breseman
Cancun Area : Diamond Resort by David Tacher
Grand Cayman by George Williams
Grenada by David Trachtenberg
Honduras: Mayan Ruins by Marti Martindale
Jamaica: Grand Lido by Ed and Liz Davidson ++CIS++
Mayan Area Cruise by Marti Martindale
Puerto Rico Golfing by Jack Shehab ++AOL++
St. Martin: Esmeralda Resort by Jerry Backof ++cis++
St. Martin by Barbara and David Mitchem
St. Martin by Kenneth Edwards
Virgin Island Ferries by Lynn McKamey
ABOUT OUR CONTRIBUTORS
Edward Smith ( Ecotourism) is President of the North Texas CTO Chapter and is associated with D-F-W Tours of Dallas.
Marti Martindale ( Belize, Honduras, Maya Cruise) is Vice President of the Tampa Bay Area Professional Writers Guild who specializes in writing general features especially on the cultural aspects of travel, including food. She is a former broadcaster, copywriter, reporter, interviewer, and stringer.
1/ CARIBBEAN SUMMER SWING BY PAUL GRAVELINE, EDITOR
Caribbean Summer Swing by Paul Graveline, Editor
During August I made a two week swing of Aruba, St. Martin and St. Barths. I've separated my comments about each location to facilitate readers trying to research individual destinations.
My first visit to Aruba was sparked when Joe Canty of Jean's Travel of Medfield, MA mentioned that he was looking for a traveling companion for a trip to Aruba. He'd won a free round-trip flight at one of the New England CTO Chapter meetings and discovered that the Aruba Tourist authorities sponsored special deals for travel agents during August. I was already planning a trip to St. Martin through his agency so I decided tack on aa Aruba connection to my St. Martin ticket. The whole thing came to around $623 for a Boston-Aruba-St. Martin-Boston fare.
Joe had to select on high rise and one low rise hotel to be split over four days. He picked the Radisson and the La Cabana respectively.
The Radisson was one of the first hotels opened on the island back in the late fifties although like most Caribbean properties, the name has been changed numerous times. It is a large hotel occupying three separate buildings. We had a room in the central building which housed the pool, reception area, bar, a rather small casino as well as a nice beach with considerable man-made shade.
The room was standard fare for the region except that it possessed a very large bathroom for such a room. A balcony provided an "ocean view". You could definitely see the ocean and beach although the adjoining building was the prevalent view which one obtained. All the rooms in the various buildings appear to possess an "ocean view". In general the room was more than adequate for a Caribbean hotel room. The occupancy level of the hotel appeared to be less than 50 per cent in early August.
The Radisson is located in the Palm Beach section of the island and it seem to be the best hotel area in Aruba. One very nice feature of Palm Beach section is a promenade on the beach side of the properties connecting a number of hotels in this area. This makes it easy to amble from one property to another so you can sample the ambiance of the various properties. We walked this area around 10 P.M. one night and felt very safe. You can easily do some bar hopping using the promenade.
A real plus for the area is the beach which is roped off for swimming. There is an abundance of powered water crafts especially, jet skis) and blocking off the swimming area virtually insures a safe swim assuming you stay in the marked area. This is a real advantage for parents concerned about child safety when swimming. However, like most other Caribbean beaches, there are no life guards.
My travel agent friend, Joe, felt that this would be an ideal location to send a first time Caribbean visitor. The hotels are fairly modern, with casinos, easily accessible and there is a good beach and plenty of eating and drinking establishments.
We met a woman switched from the Americana to the Radisson. She had numerous problems and had called her travel agent in New Jersey to get a change. She seemed to indicate that others were unhappy with the Americana.
After the second night we moved on to the La Cabana. It was Sunday afternoon arriving at LC was like culture shock. First our room wasn't ready and Joe had to wait in an a long line to get to a receptionist. They have a huge property with a very small reception area. This back up seemed to be common at checkout and check-in time. Their slogan ran something like "The dream begins here" -- I guess they never tried to check in during a busy period.
At 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon the pool area reminded me of a kiddy camp gone wrong. Sort of like one of those B movies with Rodney Dangerfield. Apparently, the local inhabitants can join a club and use the facilities on Sunday. There was much less commotion on Monday.
The property consisted of three distinct buildings arranged almost in parallel facing the sea. The main building faced the sea directly with building two constructed further back. Between one and two there was a substantial distance and a 100 ft. section of land filled with sand. Maybe they are thinking of building on the property but it looked like the area was in great need of some good landscaping..
Between buildings two and three the ground is tiled and there are two pools. However, one of the pools has a water slide which was constantly packed with kids during the afternoon hour. At one point, Joe saw the security guard trying to establish order among those wishing to use the slide. Needless to say peace and tranquillity were not to be found at LC on this trip. The situation may be different in the winter but Joe observed that it is a mass marketed property with low prices and may draw the family vacationers from around the Americas. Certainly there was an international clientele with lots of children present during our visit.
One plus for the property was the suite which we had. It was comprised of a small very well equipped kitchen area. A adequate living room type section leading to a balcony ( overlooking the infamous water slide in our case). The bedroom was relativity spacious and the bathroom was quite nice. Interestingly enough they requested that you conserve the towels yet had the towel rack at the back of the shower where you had to move them or they would get wet. Also something unique: the bathtub had embossed "La Cabana" on its side apparently demonstrating supreme confidence that the property would remain under the same name for eternity. Not a good prospect given the history of Caribbean hotels!
The front of our suite opened onto a walkway overlooking the main road going from Oranjestad to the Palm Beach area. There was an "Adventureland" type entertainment place across the street -- Joe said the whole scene reminded him of Phoenix, AZ!
There were 2 cable equipped TVs ( living area and bedroom). A safe with a modular lock was provided in the room. All in all this was a very nice modern apartment.
The casino which is housed in a separate building was accessed by a shuttle bus that kept running between the main buildings and the casino.
One thing that is somewhat misleading in the brochure is that prospective clients are given the impression that the LC is on the beach. That is technically correct, however, you must cross a busy road in order to get to the beach. The brochure displays an aerial shot of LC and the definition is not great enough to resolve this fact. It's not necessarily a big deal, but if you have little kids it may be important to know. If your child says that they are off to the beach, remember they must cross a road frequented by rapidly moving motorbikes and busses to get there.
It's possible that a visit in winter to LC would have left a different impression of the property.
One other property that we scouted was the Talk of the Town. This hotel is about 15 minutes walk east from the center of the town. It seemed like a nice cozy place for someone interested in doing a fair about of shopping. However, the beach was across the street and behind a structure that reminded me of a public beach see in cities on the Atlantic Ocean coast of the U.S.. It lacked charm.
One night we ate at Gianni's which had been recommended in the CTR a few times. It was pretty quiet being summer but the food was good. Total came to $54 for 2 including some wine and 15% service charge. I'd like to try other places but this was probably worth another meal next time. Another night we partook of the buffet at the Surfside Restaurant which costs about $16 excluding drinks. I believe this place is open 24 hours. It's almost opposite the Americana in Palm Beach.
On our last day, we took a de Palm tour of the island. The north side of the island is quite barren -- almost a lunar landscape. I was disappointed in the natural bridge. What is never shown in the frequent photographs is the rather large and unsightly souvenir stand situated only about 200 ft. from the bridge. It really detracts, in my opinion, from the beauty of the area.
So what's the bottom line about Aruba. Well, it appears to be an excellent location for the first time Caribbean visitor. The island is friendly and modern so there is little culture shock and the beaches (especially around palm Beach) are very safe and nice. However, I found that the island lacked character. It was strictly a tourist island and topographically boring. St. Martin on the other hand presents more diversity for the traveler to encounter. So it's off to St. Martin.
My plan had called for eight or nine days on St. Martin and a day trip to St. Barths. After a no hassle connection at SJU on AA from Aruba, I arrived on St. Martin and checked into the La Plantation on Orient Beach. I was given a studio room identical to the one I had last February. This time it was 641 with a better view of the surrounding seascape. I covered the particulars about the property and the room in the April edition of the CRT so I won't dwell on them again. However the staff was just as nice this time. Apparently they are doing well as they are building a few more units and were 70 percent full when I was there in mid-August. The restaurant was open only on the weekends but I preferred to eat on the beach except for one night when I visited the La Astrollabe on the Esmeralda property across the street. One criticism of LP is that lighting in the room is not good. I found it hard to read at night. Otherwise it's real bargain at $67 a night including continental breakfast.
Again the meal at La Astrolabe was very good. It seemed to be quite crowded even equal to the number of clients I'd seen in February-- a good sign given the season. The service was courteous and efficient. I'll go back the next time I'm in the Orient Beach area. I had two glasses of their Merlot wine which I found to be very good.
Taxi drivers told me tourism was so-so. Summers are busier now because time share people feel obligated to use their condos and come despite the season. All the planes I flew on were 50-90 percent full so that's not too bad for August. Of course, there are fewer charter flights which comprise a significant market.
I made a longer visit to Marigot this time than in February. Clearly the age of commercialism has come to the French side. The renovated harbor is quite nice with the various upscale shops surrounding the berths. With scattered eating establishments, the whole area now has quite a pleasing atmosphere. -- a nice place to spend a quite afternoon at one of the dock-side eateries.
I ate one day at Cheri's Cafe, an open air place, at Maho. Very good for the price and they 1/2 chicken was really big! However, I'm not sure of the surrounding hotels due to the aircraft noise landing at Julianna. It's certainly interesting though to stand at the end of the runway and watch a 757 go over at 75 feet or less. A 56 year old tourist had been shot and killed at either Mullet or Maho while I was there. On the day I left I heard that four people had been arrested.
I ate a number of times at Papgayo's at Club Orient and must pass along a caveat emptor. WATCH YOUR CHANGE especially if you give the waitress a travelers check. The first time my meal was around $17 and I only got back $3 after cashing a $50 check. They quickly corrected the error but a few days later after running up a tab of about $16 I got back a dime after handing the woman a $100 travelers check. She remembered the error from the previous day and accepted blame for the more recent incident while saying the bartender had erred the previous time. I do not believe there was any intentional attempt to deceive me. However, the waitresses seem to be frequently engaged in other matters (like who had a party going that night etc.) and may not have had there minds on providing the correct change. In any case it happened twice so patrons may want to be careful especially when dealing with travelers checks at Papagayo.
Well that's about it for St. Martin. I stayed mainly at the beach ( this was a vacation) and didn't roam around too much. I did pay a day visit to St. Barths so more on that now.
I decided that if I flew from the small airport at Grand Case on the French side, I could save lot in cab fare and avoid the SXM departure tax. I was right on both counts. I flew Air St. Barths for $88 RT. Air St. Barths has, as regular readers already know, is one of the most famous air approaches in the Western Hemisphere. I was a little apprehensive. After it was over, I was a little disappointed. Maybe I had expected too much from all the hype but it really didn't seem that exciting -- although the rapid powered dive required is certainly interesting. Having seen many planes land on St. Barths, I had anticipated a flare out by the pilot, instead I got a quick powered dive over the hill and a stall landing. It probably was very exciting but for some reason I had expected something very different.
As I was only on the island for about 7 hours, I'll leave readers to consult one of the many fine reports written by the St. Barths aficionados for more specific detail but I'll provide some general comments.
Even at 9:30 A.M. Gustavia was bustling. The shops had been closed the previous day for a religious holiday but were just opening. While there seemed to be more upscale merchandise available than my last visit in 1988, Gustavia appeared to have maintained its charm. I did visit the new Post Office which was built opposite the Port restaurant. I imagine the views from their second floor are not quite so spectacular now as when I ate there on a previous visit. .
The harbor was populated with a substantial number of small boats many with Moorings markings ( they may have an office there). Otherwise Gustavia hadn't changed much.
The cab fare to St. John's beach was only $3 after getting together with some other day visitors.
The uniqueness and atmosphere of the beach seemed to have changed. There is some large construction going on next to Chez Francine's where I ate and this seemed to have a negative impact on the area in my opinion. My CF bill came to about $27 for a chicken dinner and a couple of drinks. It's a nice location but the new construction gives one the impression that the area is becoming cramped. I felt it may have lost some of the St. Tropez flavor which I remembered from previous visits.
An article in the local paper had the mayor complaining that no matter what they try, getting people to come during the off season is still a real problem. One obstacle to drawing tourist out of season is that there is little for them to do at night on St. Barths. Apparently when the local establishments try to provide entertainment, the residents complain that too much noise is generated. He was also moaning about an article about St. Barths which appeared in the Conde Nast Traveler which criticized the airport and some racial policies perceived to be present on the island. He defended the island against these accusations and had sent CNT a letter to that effect.
Well those are my impressions of my two weeks in the Caribbean. My objective next summer is to revisit Guadeloupe and Martinique.
2/ Press Releases
CTO ECOTOURISM CONFERENCE MAY 94 by Edward Smith
The Fourth CTO Caribbean Ecotouism C9onference was held on Bonaire from May 22-27 at the Harbor Vilklage Beach Resort.
The conference brought together national, regioal and internatiaonl experts and tousim participants from within and outside the Caribbean region to focus attention omn the importance of product development, product quality and product profitability as it pertains to ecotourism. The theme was "Developing Eco-Tourism: Balancing Dollars and Sense".
The conference objectives wree:
+ Refoucs the atenditon of the CTO members on the importance of qulaity product development on Eco-touism.
+ Examine the issue of product developmdent within the context of Eco-tourism.
+ Demonstate the profitabiltiy of Eco-tourism.
+ Launch the Eco-tourism Scoiety of the Caribbean.
I had the honor and pleasure of being a keynote speaker on presenting: Marketing Eco-tourism tot he delegates assembled from around the world. I chaired 2 oif the 4 committees and was elected to the Eco-Society Support Network and that will be preeensted at the CTO Eco-Conference in Venezuela in 1995. The conference ended with high spirits and high hopes for Eco-tourism and the Eco Society.
Occupancy rates in Puerto Rico hotels have risen above last year's levels and , despite an island drought, tourists are expressing complete satisfaction with the quality of their vacation and water availability.
"All of our major hotels are providing guests with full water service and our guests are having an excellent experience", said Manuel De Juan, Deputy Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Authority. "Travelers should continue to come to Puerto Rico and enjoy our unique attractions."
In mid August, the PRTC conducted a survey of tourist departing Luis Munoz Marin International Airport. Ninety four percent of those interviewed said they had an excellent visit and would recommend the destination to friends. None indicated that the drought had inconvenienced them.
"This was extremely reassuring to us, and it should be to visitors as well," commented Mr. De Juan.
The drought, which began earlier this year in the Caribbean Basin, caused a two day water disruption to hotels in the San Juan area in mid-July. Hotel occupancy rates were up 7 percent in early July but following the two day disruption there was a temporary fall in occupancy.
In the middle week of August, however, occupancy has stabilized and is once again running above last year's level for August.
"It is reassuring to see our occupancy in line with reality," commented Mr. De Juan.
Other areas of Puerto Rico , including hotels on the west and south coast of the island have not been impacted by the drought. Many of the hotels outside the San Juan area have their own wells.
3/Caribbean Journeys for September 1994
Aruba by Franklin Caldwell
We spent July 24-31 at the Playa Linda. First things first. The Playa Linda is ideal! The room was on the third floor in the center of the property, overlooking the pool and directly in line with the sunset framed by beautiful palms blowing in the trade winds. What a sight! I took terrific still pictures and recorded five sunsets on video. We could view the sunset from the patio, at the dining table, or from the couch. The property is truly "beachfront", close to the water as are most hotels on Palm Beach.
Some of the beaches on Eagle Beach are too deep. The water is too far from the shade huts. At LaCabana you actually have to cross the street to reach the beach. We rented a car from Budget for 7 days. We were able to use the VIP letter I'd received from the 800#. I got a '94 Tercel with A/C for $179.75 including the discount in the letter. That was "cool". Oh, yea, we proceeded through customs and rented the car totally "hassle free". We were in the car leaving the airport probably within 20-30 minutes from landing.
SNORKELING: We snorkeled at Baby Beach. There's good stuff beyond the lagoon, but the shallow reef towards the right in the rough water can be dangerous. We also snorkeled at DePalm Island. This is probably the best snorkeling in Aruba. Take the ferry ($5), it's worth it. The water is very clear and there is a large reef with many beautiful fish. The water was a bit rough at the time.
The highlight of our trip as was two years ago, was a cruise on the 50 ft. racing catamaran, the "Balia Aruba". The "Balia" is the fastest, best cruising vessel in Aruba. It was great having Nana as our captain again. We took the two-hour snorkeling cruise at 9 am on Thursday. It stopped in the Arashi Waterpark and at Malmok (the German shipwreck). Both were good, the water was colder and rougher that before. Seemingly, the water was not as clear as before. The water in the swimming areas of Palm Beach is definitely not clear anymore. I got great pictures and video from the cruise. I also got some OK shots with one of those disposable underwater cameras. Buy it in the states, they were selling for $23 on DePalm Island! Also, bring your own snorkeling gear if possible. There's plenty to rent, but it's much better if you have your own.
TOURING: We toured the northeast side of the island in one day. We saw all of the caves and the dunes and stuff. It was OK, especially since we packed a picnic lunch. We packed a soft shoulder bag type cooler. I strongly suggest carrying one. They're only $10 at most stores. We used it each time we left the property. Kept if full of sodas and Bavaria Beer (Aruba's Heineken Beer).
CASINOS: We spent a LITTLE time (Thank God) at the casinos. Preferred the La Cabana Casino. It's the largest. The Hyatt's OK, but Roulette minimum bet was $5 there and only $2 at all of the other casinos.
MEALS: We ate like crazy! Took full advantage of the kitchen in the room. Monday, we loaded up on groceries at the Pueblo. Things are expensive, but we able to stock up for only $100. We had packed a medium-size suitcase with junk food, spices and some good ole locally cured country ham. We bought huge shrimp for $12/kilo at the waterfront. The buffet breakfast at the Playa Linda was OK. We ate it once and cooked our own the rest of the week. We ate at El Goucho. The Argentine beef was GREAT, just like last time!
Tony Romas - Great ribs and corn-on-the-cob. The salad, bread and baked potato left much to be desired. Ruinas Del Mar (The Hyatt) - Sunset, outside by the black swans and tropical fish, was very romantic. Superb atmosphere. The menu was limited, we settled for steak. It was OK, but could not compete with El Gouchos'.
Brisas Del Mar - Nice rustic oceanfront setting, great seafood, and probably the best place for an inexpensive sunset dinner. It's in Savaneta, on the way towards San Nicholas.
NIGHTLIFE: Trust me, I don't party like I used to. I cruised the parking lot at the Club Visage at 3:30 a.m. and there were carloads of beautiful Aruban girls just arriving. In my better days I would have hung out there all morning! It looked and sounded like good partying.
THIS GOLFING IDEA: It will be very interesting to play golf on the new course. I think the wind is gonna be a BIG hassle. The course looked good from the air. Oh yea, for GREAT aerial pictures/views of the island. Sit on the "A" (left) side of the plane both arriving and departing. I got some super shots, including the Natural Bridge.
ALL-IN-ALL: We highly recommend the Playa Linda. From now on, we will ALWAYS stay in condo/timeshare/suite type accommodations. Having the kitchen facilities makes life much more relaxing. You can eat what you want when you want. What's more convenient than microwave popcorn? Enough said. We'll definitely return again someday, probably with the kids (2 & 4). Sail the "Balia" at sunset! You'll LOVE it! Bonbini.
Belize: Tobacco Cay by Marti Martindale
Reef's End Lodge on Tobacco Cay in Belize, sits directly over Belize's 200-mile barrier coral reef, second in extent only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The great variety of corals and rainbow tropical fish rush when visitors merely chum makes the place ever-fascinating. Word travels far concerning Reef's End, and many Europeans seek out this tiny palm-swept island.
The smaller quarters are plain and cheerful, with no poshness intended. Most wouldn't want that here when room time but time-out between excellent home cooking, swims, snorkeling and dive trips out of Dangriga. Larger cabanas sleep more people, have a porch and well-slung, to-die-for hammocks.
Nolan and Winnie Jackson operate Reef's End, and they want to speak English. Nolan fixes breakfasts and Winnie prepares same-day- caught lobsters in season, as well as other fish and seafood dishes in the thatched hut over the vividly blue-green sea.
IF YOU GO:
Contact the owner, Nolan Jackson at P. O. Box 10, Dangriga, Belize. Telephone: 05-22142 or 05-22171. To get to the Cay, fly to Belize City, then take a short flight to Dangriga. Reef's End Lodge will pick you up by boat. Charge is only $100 per day, double, per person for a large cottage, with front porch, and three over-the-reef meals per day
BVI: Bareboat Sailing by Milton Byron
This will be a short report on what was probably my last sailing trip to the BVI. The weather was just outstanding for the entire 2 weeks . In fact, it was so great, we thought we were still in sunny Southern California. Sunny days, cool nights, calm, clear waters, and those great Trade Winds, 15-20 knots steady from the east every day.
Unlike last year when my wife and I went alone for 10 days on a Moorings 38, this year we sailed with another couple. (Not as much fun nor as relaxing). Sailing alone with your spouses a "blast". Unfortunately the only really bad part of the trip was the CROWDS. We had not experienced that problem in prior years during the summer months. Even our favorite "private" secluded anchorage, "Bails Ground" was occupied when we got there, and that's the first time ever. We did manage to find some seclusion at "Bluff Bay", off of Beef Island. Good snorkeling. but all other anchorages were crowded, if not maxed out, every day.
We also noted that many boats are using Park moorings for overnight, which is strictly against the published rules and makes it difficult for those who wish to use them legitimately.
We sailed out to Tobago Is. one day from JVD. I could not readily find a suitable place to drop the hook. (Too Dark and Deep), but did enjoy the trip and the view very much.
All in all, it was an enjoyable 14 days, and another memorable BVI experience, but I believe that I would like to try some other leeward islands area next time, provided I am bold enough, and can trust my seamanship skills. Perhaps I can find another area like the BVI used to be, friendly, beautiful and uncrowded.
BVI: Sailing by Brad Breseman
We just returned from one week in the BVI on 48' cat. A great boat. this was our first trip to the BVI and it had to be one of the best trips we have ever been on. relaxing and fun. There were nine of us on the boat including 3 children ages 16,15 and 10. there was plenty of room for everyone. Below is the report of our trip.
Day 1: We had plane problems getting into Tortola from San Juan and was running late so we didn't get to the marina till 5 PM. We checked out the boat got some last minute food stuff and stayed over night in the harbor.
Day 2: We sailed to Cane Garden Bay. There were not very many boats at anchor. Had a great afternoon visiting all the different spots along the beach and ended up at Myetts drinking painkillers and listening to the live music. Then ended up back at the boat laying on the trampoline and listening to the music form Myetts.
Day 3: We sailed to Green Cay after a late start. There were several boats anchored in the area but did find a spot and spent most of the afternoon snorkeling. Its a good spot as we saw several rays and a good variety of fish. we went to Harris's for dinner. the best lobster and biggest lobster I've seen. We didn't have the all you can eat because we'd heard that the regular was lobster being good enough. The charge was $25 for the adults $15 for the two teens and no charge for the younger child. Anchored over night in harbor up from Harris's.
Day 4: The winds had picked up to about 23 knots and the swells made for a fun trip up to Trellis Bay. About half way up to Trellis we decided to see what the big cat could do in the open ocean. We tacked for about 1.5 hours into the ocean and turned around. We got the speed up to about 11 knots some of our crew was getting a little green around the gills so they were happy to finally see Trellis Bay. Picked up some provisions and did some wind surfing.
Day 5: We sailed to north sound and had lunch at Saba Rock. The lunch was okay but the lady there was the most unsociable person I'd ever seen. I don't know how there stay in business. We snorkeled around there nothing special The we went to Leverick Bay to replenished water supply.
We went to dinner at Pusser's. The kids ate downstairs at the bar-b-q buffet and the adults ate upstairs. good food.
Day 6: We sailed to Great Dog and did some snorkeling: excellent snorkeling. Then sailed in the afternoon to the Baths and got there late but was able to pick up a buoy. We explored the Baths and did some snorkeling - all excellent. We stayed overnight in the Baths. Snorkeled with the first of several barracuda we saw.
Day 7: We sailed to the Indians -- great snorkeling. we went to the Caves. They were nothing special but the snorkeling around the Caves and up to the bight was good. Then went to the William Thorton for drinks and dinner and had a great time and the food was good and reasonable but after a few painkillers any thing would have tasted good.
Day 8: Left for home.
Cancun Area : Diamond Resort by David Tacher
Here are my impressions of this resort, for anyone that maybe interested. My wife, two boys (ages 7 & 11) spent one week at the resort.
We went on a FunJet charter. Both the outgoing and incoming flights were delayed over 30 minutes. The meals consisted of a sandwich, chips, cookie and apple sauce. As with commercial flights, soft drinks were free and liquor had a nominal surcharge.
We were met at the airport by a local travel agency, Viajes Turquesa, who contracts with Diamond for transportation services. The bus was air conditioned, and beer and soft drinks were available on the 40 minute ride to the hotel. However, these drinks are not included in the all-inclusive package. Cokes were $1 and beer was $1.50.
Check-in was quick and easy. You are provided with a wrist band that must be worn at all times. Lost bands cost $4 to replace.
The rooms are small. There was no drawer space, 3 shelves in the open closet. The beds were doubles, the mattresses hard as a rock. Although of stucco construction, the walls are NOT very soundproof. We were repeatedly awakened by a lady coughing in the room next door throughout the night. You can hear your neighbor's television as clearly as if it were in your own room. So be prepared to rap on the wall or call your neighbor to ask them to turn down the set!
There are two a-la-carte restaurants, one Italian and one Mexican. You are given one voucher for each of these, which has to be turned in when you make your reservation. Reservations are taken on the same day only, up until 11:00 a.m. The reality is that it is impossible to get a reservation after 8:00 a.m. We ate at the Italian restaurant which was pretty good. We were never able to get into the Mexican restaurant.
The buffets were average. Breakfast always had eggs (any style) and a limited variety of cereal available. Pancakes, French toast, ham, bacon, etc. on alternating days. A variety of fresh breads are available at each meal. Lunch tended to be the poorest of the meals. I think this is mainly because most people would rather eat at the pool grill rather than trek up to the dining hall. Dinner usually offered several choices of meats, included a small "healthy food" counter.
There are 2 large pools. There is usually something going on at the Activity pool - aerobics, volleyball, polo... The other pool is divided in two. One side is the children's pool, the other a "Relax" pool. The beach is nice, and good beach volleyball games take place each afternoon. Evening entertainment is fair. The hotel staff put on skits with varying themes each night. Strictly amateur. They had a few Karaoke nights, and some of the participants were funny.
There is a person who oversees children's activities, but these are very limited and not well structured. It was nothing like Boscobel.
There were not very many kids there, so ours had to mostly entertain themselves.
There's not supposed to be topless sunbathing at their beach, but there was usually at least one each day. We were never able to use the tennis courts. Not only are you not allowed to play in black-soled shoes, you cannot even play in black tennis shoes regardless of the sole color! Not only that, but you have to reserve the courts a day in advance. Even if there are unused, unreserved courts on a given day (and there often were), they will not let you play unless you reserved the day before.
Snorkeling is non-existent at their beach. They will lend you the gear but there is nothing to see. They do offer snorkeling trips, but these are not included in your "all-inclusive" rate. You can check out the snorkeling gear for use elsewhere, but you cannot keep it out for more than 4 hours. After that, there is a surcharge. Jet skis are available at $60/hr. Again, Boscobel had more activities included in their package.
We went on a tour to Tulum, Xel-Ha, and Kantena. Cost was $49 for adults, $24.50 for children. The guide was knowledgeable and made Tulum a pleasant experience. We had about 30 minutes after the guided portion to explore and take pictures. Be warned - it is VERY hot and humid there! Xel-Ha was a total disappointment. Perhaps it was because of all the build up it received. The fact that we only had one hour there was also a factor. My wife and I were both in agreement that the snorkeling was much more impressive at Cozumel! However, Xel-Ha is a series of lagoons with no wave action, not extremely deep, and lots of rocks you can rest on. This made it easy for my younger son, who was snorkeling for the first time. Kantena was basically a place to eat lunch. There are some reefs off the shore, but after lunch we only had 20 minutes left for snorkeling. Thus, we were not able to explore much.
Perhaps the hotel's strongest point is the activity center staff. These young men and women are all very friendly, pleasant, and accommodating. Oh yes, there is a lock box in your room. Hold on to the key though... it's $80 if you lose it!
The hotel is 40 miles south of Cancun, two miles from Playa del Carmen. If you want partying, night life, shopping, etc., this is NOT the place for you. If you want someplace which offers lots of things for kids, this is NOT the place to go. However, if you are looking for a relaxing site with good (but not gourmet) food, where the staff is friendly, you will enjoy Diamond.
I liked Boscobel better as far as a family oriented resort goes. However, Boscobel IS more expensive and offers much less to do or see off-site than Diamond and the Tulum corridor.
Hope this covers all.
Grand Cayman by George Williams
My wife and I just got back from Grand Cayman.
We stayed at the Raddison with an Oceanfront room. It was wonderful. We checked out most of the places on 7 Mile Beach and they all seemed decent. The beach at Treasure Island was poor, very rocky and small. I would recommend staying on the water. As why we went there was to see the ocean.
Grand Cayman was a welcome relief from Jamaica. Not one person approached me to buy anything!
We went on an all day snorkel trip through Stingray city tours. It was wonderful. We stopped at four places and caught lobster and conch which the crew fixed as part of our lunch. We ate at the Lobster Pot, Wharf, Island Taste, and took a dinner cruise on the Jolly Rodger. All were good and all cost around $100.00 US.
The island is very expensive $100.00 bills seem to evaporate like water. But what you get is a hassle free safe place to vacation. I am not a diver but the snorkeling was great.
When I go back I would want to stay in a condo as it would have been nice to have a refrigerator to put beer and pop in. as a beer costs $5.00 US at the hotels. We bought a case of Coors Light for 30.00. Still high but cheaper than the hotels. We had a great time though 4 days was too short if you want to see everything. I
Grenada by David Trachtenberg
Recollections of the Isle of Spice
I spent a week in Grenada (nicknamed the "Isle of Spice") from 1-8 August 1994, during their pre-carnival activities and want to record my observations and recollections here for the benefit of those who might be considering a trip to that Caribbean island.
I had planned this trip for some time as a surprise birthday and anniversary gift for my wife, who knew we were going on vacation for the first time without the kids but didn't know where. I was looking for an out-of-the-way, relatively inexpensive, and non-touristy foreign locale, something a little more exotic than our usual summer weekend trek to the Delaware seashore. Grenada was all this, and more. I also surprised myself by keeping the secret. My wife had no idea what our final destination was until we boarded the plane for the last leg of the trip.
After flying American Airlines to St. Lucia via San Juan, we arrived in Grenada from St. Lucia aboard a packed BWIA L-1011 which originated from Frankfurt. Apparently, Grenada is a big tourist stop for Europeans. We could count the number of Americans we met during our week stay there on both hands, but most of the guests in our hotel were Germans. In fact, many of the restaurant menus and hotel guides are printed in German. German tour company information was posted at every hotel we visited. Later in the week, the Italians arrived. The highly recommended Italian restaurant just down the hill from our hotel, La Dolce Vita, was mobbed that night, whereas 24 hours earlier it had been empty of patrons. Also present, but fewer in number, were the Brits.
My wife and I stayed at the Flamboyant Hotel and Cottages on the very southern end of Grand Anse Beach. Grand Anse is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in the Caribbean. It is two miles long and located on the southern part of the island, about 5 minutes north of Point Salines airport, and about 10 minutes south of St. George's, the capital. From our vantage point at the Flamboyant we had a magnificent panoramic view of Grand Anse and St. George's harbor. Looking out our balcony, we watched several cruise ships dock at St. George's, Grenada's capital and largest city, during our week-long stay.
Traveling to Grenada during the off-season, we found the beaches relatively free of tourists. At times there seemed to be more peddlers hawking their wares on the beach than potential customers. Some of the hotels were empty. Restaurants and nightclubs shut down. It was an eerie feeling. But at the same time it was nice to have one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean (almost) all to ourselves.
Also on Grand Anse beach is a campus of the St. George's University School of Medicine. (The main campus, nicknamed "True Blue," is at Lance Aux Epines at the south end of the island.) The "rescue" of its American students served as the pretext for the U.S. "intervention" in October 1983.
One of our first discoveries was that the Grenadian service industry still has a way to go. We thought that being the sole patrons in a restaurant would guarantee good service. Not so. We ate out as often as possible, to sample the local cuisine. Wherever we went, the results were the same -- 1 to 2 hours for a meal. At the Coyaba beach resort on Grand Anse, we were the only lunch guests. While we waited for our club sandwiches and then the check, the 3 waiters and waitresses talked and read what appeared to be a store catalogue. Total time elapsed: 1 BD hours. While some might appreciate the lazy, laid-back island approach, for Americans used to fast food it takes some mental adjustment.
On one of our first nights in Grenada, we hopped aboard a city bus from Grand Anse to Grenville, on the other side of the island. The approximately 25 km trip took 1 hour as we wound through the island's interior rain forest and mountains around curvy narrow roads at breakneck speed. The 18 passengers in our Toyota minivan (all "busses" in Grenada are minivans) shifted from side to side as the bus veered left and right and then left again. A Grenadian tour guide explained to us (tongue-in-cheek) the 3 "laws" for driving in Grenada: 1) seat belts are illegal -- don't ever wear them; 2) drive as fast as you possibly can; and 3) stay dead left, or you will be left dead. (In Grenada, a former British territory, all driving is on the left side of the road.)
A fourth rule, recently added to the list, is that you must honk your horn every few seconds. (Horn-honking is a national pastime in Grenada and can mean many things: hi there, how are you?, may I pass?, need a lift?, etc.) After a few bus trips I developed a fifth rule applying exclusively to busses: SOCA music must blast from the speakers at high volume and at all times. Our city bus to Grenville (and every other bus we took that week) complied with all 5 directives. (I brought back a tape of SOCA music and have been remembering my time in Grenada by driving to work in rush-hour traffic with the tape blasting.)
Because the end of July and first week of August is carnival time, shops were closed during a good portion of our stay. The carnival festivities kick off with the Carriacou regatta (Carriacou is the larger of Grenada's two sister islands, the other being Petit Martinique), followed by the "Rainbow City" Festival in Grenville, on the island's Atlantic coast, then the wild partying of Dimanche Gras and J'Ouvert (pronounced "jou-vay"), which begins at 5 AM the day before carnival actually begins. During J'Ouvert, or "Jab Jab" as it's also called, revelers parade down the streets with dabs of molasses on their bodies. It is suggested that spectators wear old clothes because of the high likelihood that they will return to their hotels covered in molasses. In past years, Jab Jab participants have carried live snakes, but a growing animal rights movement on Grenada has sought to ban this because of the trauma caused to the snakes. (How about to the tourists?) On carnival day, party-goers parade down the streets of St. George's in elaborate costumes. Pre-carnival events also include a steel band competition and a competition for King and Queen of the annual carnival. The entire carnival festivities could probably best be compared to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
We decided to check out the Rainbow City festival in Grenville, which was basically one big street party with thousands of people dancing and jumping to the beat of SOCA and calypso music. Street vendors cooked barbecued chicken and roasted peanuts. The crowd was so large it was nearly impossible to walk down the street. Grenada is mostly rural and relatively poor by Western industrial standards. Grenville is the second largest city on the island, and walking around it at night during the festival reminded me of a trip through an urban ghetto in the States. I confess to some apprehension, as my wife and I, looking like typical tourists, appeared to be the only Caucasians in the crowd of thousands. However, people are generally well behaved in Grenada and there is seldom any trouble. The police force, although unarmed, seemed to be ever present, and security was tight. Entering Grenville, our bus was stopped by a plainclothes policeman who ordered everyone out to be searched. I was carrying a British Airways carry-on bag with camera equipment in it and I offered it up to be searched. For some reason, the policeman waved me off without checking it. However, my wife did not escape so easily. She was handed off to a uniformed policewoman who did a thorough frisking of her to check for contraband. All in all, it was quite an experience.
Grenada is a farm lover's paradise. Everywhere we went there were cows, goats, and roosters grazing in the grass and laying in the middle of the roads. From our hotel pool we could see and hear these animals, along with frogs and geckos. In fact, every building, including our hotel, seemed to be covered with geckos scurrying along the walls and across our path. When we walked down the street we would always hear rustling noises of the lizards running through the underbrush. Crabs also make their homes along the sides of the roads, and there were hundreds of holes in the dirt and grass along the roads where they hid. At the sound of an approaching Nike or Reebok the crabs, who just seem to sit in the evening shade or darkness outside of their holes, would scurry in and hide until the human passed, when they would emerge again. The effect was something like that of a reverse "wave" -- as we walked down the road the crabs ahead of us would duck and take cover while those we passed would reemerge. Grenada is also dog heaven. During our week's stay we saw 2 cats and about 2,000 dogs, all of which apparently roam free.
On one of our walks we passed a man who began to climb a tall coconut palm tree. Effortlessly, he reached the top and whacked off a few coconuts with his machete. It is said that as long as you have a machete, you won't starve. And it must be true. The island's trees are full of coconuts, bananas, mangoes, and other fruits.
On the first business day after our arrival, we took a bus to St. George's and walked to the Ministry of Communications and Works. As a ham radio operator in the States, I thought it would be fun to apply for a reciprocal amateur radio license allowing me to operate a portable handheld radio while in Grenada, and the Ministry of Communications of Works is where this is handled. Prior to our trip, I had made arrangements to meet with Alexis Simon at the Ministry to fill out the necessary paperwork. Alexis was friendly and helpful on the phone, and as it turned out, shares a brithday with my wife. I asked him what he would like from the States. "A pair of sneakers," he responded, "size 10." When we finally arrived at the Ministry of Communications, an old building tucked away in an alley on Young Street, he was waiting for us at the entrance, calling my name like an old lost friend. Today, Alexis has a new pair of sneakers and I, thanks to the courteous assistance of the Ministry's staff, have permission to operate an amateur radio on Grenada as station J37LC. We tried to link up with Alexis later in the week, but the carnival holiday intervened again and we couldn't reach him at the office. I hope the sneakers fit.
After a day or two of laying out at the beach we decided to take a tour of the island. Prices for tour packages vary depending upon how many people go along -- the more people, the less the per person price. Walking around the St. George's Carenage, the crescent harbor where the boats dock, we were set upon by people asking for spare change and numerous local peddlers hawking their wares, mostly spice baskets, straw hats, steel drums, and the like.
We were also approached by "Big George" who offered to take us around the island on a 7-hour tour for US $100. He explained where we would go and what we would see. Big George was ready to leave now, but we weren't, so we politely declined. He gave us his business card, which listed him as winner of Grenada's "most courteous" tour guide award and asked us to call him when we wanted to take the tour.
For two people, Big George's $100 fare was comparable to the other tour agencies on the island. But we thought we might save a few bucks by linking up with other tourists at one of the bigger tour companies. So we called Arnold's tours. Their advertised rate is US $40 per person with a minimum of 4 people. Arnold's scrambled to find two more English speakers to join us on the tour but most of their customers that day were Italians. So we had to wait until the next day when they linked us up with a couple from Britain. This was the most worthwhile $80 we spent all week and I would recommend that new visitors to Grenada invest in an island tour. Our tour guide, Chris, was knowledgeable and had an excellent sense of humor. He was well versed not only in Grenadian history and culture, but in American affairs as well, having spent some time as a student at the University of the District of Columbia in Washington, not far from where we live. Cable television has also come to Grenada and Chris has kept up on events in the States that way. He told us that he, too, had seen the great O.J. Simpson car chase in L.A. because he was watching the New York Knicks NBA playoff game when NBC cut away to show viewers the white Bronco headed down the freeway with a dozen LAPD squad cars in tow. (Having cable TV in our hotel room was a mixed blessing. We didn't come all the way to Grenada to watch our local Eyewitness news, but there it was! After a while, though, we enjoyed watching the reports of lousy weather and the usual traffic tieups on the Beltway!)
The island tour went up Grenada's Caribbean coast, past some spectacular black sand beaches (a legacy of the island's volcanic creation), to the town of Gouyave, where we toured a spice plantation. Things have changed little here since the 18th century. Manual labor is what keeps the island's economy going. The processing of the spices (nutmeg, cocoa, cinnamon, etc.) is all still done by hand. From Gouyave we traveled to Carib's Leap, or "Leaper's Hill," on the northern tip of the island. This is the spot where brave Carib warriors committed suicide centuries ago by leaping to their deaths over the cliff rather than surrendering to the French. At Morne Fendue we ate lunch at Betty Mascoll's Great Plantation House -- a must stop for all visitors. The lunch was included in the tour price and guests are treated to a variety of local foods, including Callaloo soup, made from a leafy plant resembling spinach, and Betty Mascoll's specialty, pepper pot, the latest batch of which has been cooking continuously since about 1983. There is limited seating at the Mascoll plantation, which is only open for lunch. Dining with us was none other than Big George, who had apparently found some passengers that day to join him. Other stops on the tour included Grenville, on the Atlantic side, and the River Antoine Rum Distillery, the oldest rum distillery in the Caribbean, where the 150-proof rum is made the old fashioned way. The smell of the distillery as we approached was almost intoxicating. We also stopped at Pearls airport, now disused, the runway of which is home to assorted farm animals and the burned-out hulks of Cubana and Aeroflot planes destroyed by the Americans.
We also toured the interior of the island, which is a rainforest and protected wildlife preserve; viewed the Concord waterfalls; and saw the Grand Etang Crater Lake, formed by a volcano and rumored to be bottomless, though no one has ever measured its depth to be sure. Returning to Grand Anse via St. George's, Chris pointed out some of the more memorable city landmarks like the prison which is now home to some of the Revolutionary Government leadership, removed from power in the U.S./Caribbean intervention of October 1983. Inmates at the prison, according to Chris, enjoy "the best view of the city and the worst treatment." On a promontory overlooking St. George's harbor is the skeleton of a burned-out hotel, destroyed by U.S. forces because it had been converted for use as the headquarters of Maurice Bishop's New Jewel Movement. The hotel had been used in the filming of "Islands In The Sun," starring Harry Belafonte, and thought is now being given to refurbishing it for use as a hotel once again.
In the Grenada National Museum in St. George's there are exhibits recounting the dark days of the island's governance under Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard, and the "rescue mission" carried out by U.S.-led forces, including the 82nd Airborne. So it was a surprise to see, while shopping in St. George's one day, a few U.S. Army paratroopers whom I thought had vacated the island a decade ago. The mystery subsided a bit later when we found a U.S. Army compound with 100 paratroopers set up on the road between the U.S. Embassy and the Point Salines International airport, (with its 10,000 foot runway started by the Cubans and completed by the Americans). They had been there for a couple months doing some "work," as one put it. (On the day we left Grenada, the compound had been vacated. The reader is left to draw his own conclusions.)
Also by the airport is a monument to "Uncle Ronnie," as the Grenadians call him and the U.S. "heroes of freedom," as a hand painted sign on the side of a building notes. On that spot in 1983, President Reagan visited Grenada, the only U.S. President ever to visit a Caribbean nation. Memories of Uncle Ronnie are still favorable.
To round out our stay on the island we decided to sample the local cuisine at Mama's, a hole-in-the-wall type restaurant on the main road between St. George's and Grand Anse. There is no menu at Mama's. For a fixed fee of $45 EC (about US $17) per person you can sample about 20 or so local delicacies, including sea urchin, goat meat, and barracuda. I would highly recommend a visit to Mama's for the adventurous. All in all, we had a wonderful time on Grenada. We relaxed on the unspoiled beach, saw most of the island's beauty, enjoyed some pretty strange food, saw what carnival is like, relished the relative privacy of the off-season, took bus rides that reminded us of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland, and learned all about SOCA. Not a bad week overall. I would recommend a trip to Grenada to anyone who is thinking about a relatively tourist-free, unspoiled Caribbean beach vacation. You can't go wrong.
Honduras: Mayan Ruins by Marti Martindale
San Pedro Sula, Honduras will rapidly become a very popular gateway. It is a short plane trips from Belize City and circumvents the currently troubled country of Guatemala. Central America has several fronts to attract visitors, not the least of which the "find" of the island, Roatan at the southern end of the area's spectacular barrier reef.
Others come to the area to track the mysteries of the Mayan world and its remains. How did they all but vanish? How were they able to become so educated while so isolated? Why did they frequently bury their dead in a fetal position?
Old Mayan cities remained covered by forests until rediscovery in the 19th century with still more to be unearthed. Were these peoples practically wiped out by overpopulation, dramatic climate changes, foreign invasion, chronic warfare or devastating disease? Widespread speculation still exists, and thousands trek to Copan in Honduras each year to view over 2,000 years of early genius and artistic display. Besides Honduras, the ancient Maya lived in southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala. Their first people crossed the Bering Land bridge from Asia more than 20,000 years ago during the last ice age.
Historians have learned the Maya were the first people of the New World to keep historical records. They traced themselves from the great kings and queens who ruled from 50 BC until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. They also kept track of the solar and lunar years and the cycles of visible planets. The productivity of the corn farmer sustained the Mayan civilization. With approximately 150 days a year free from daily drudgery in the fields, these people used their spare time for building and crafting their art on small pieces of jade, pots and shells. New structures were frequently built over previous ones making restoration more of a puzzle.
At the Copan site, graduate archeologists have reconstructed one of the Maya's finest ceremonial sites with faithful preservation of their architecture and carvings. One staircase showing over 1200 glyphs rises high above ground near an ancient ball court . Regally carved stelae, or short, carved towers. with faces stand as monuments. Every structure is designed with perfectly fitting stones. .
IF YOU GO:
Just two short hours from Miami, many airlines fly into San Pedro Sula, Honduras. This is a surprisingly bustling city in the northwest, just south of Puerto Cortes which is located on the Gulf of Honduras. Honduras is known for its 700 species of birds, 140 types of orchids and over 500 species of fresh and saltwater fish flourish. Spanish is the official language, but some English is used commercially. A very contemporary hotel in San Pedro Sula is the Gran Hotel. The dining room serves organically-grown mini-vegetables and other good foods. Breakfast is pleasant around the pool.
Inside the Gran Hotel is the office for Maya Tropic Tours. Luis Cruz and his colleagues lead groups regularly to the sites in Copan. An excellent road leads west from San Pedro Sula to the town of Copan and the massive Copan site. It's easy to pickup on Luis' fascination for his homeland.
The Marina Hotel in Copan is a delightful country inn, and a stay of at least one night's stay is recommended in order to see the main ruin on the first day and nearby Las Sepulturas during part of the second day. Next door to the Marina Hotel is the Copan Artifact Museum.
Unlike many south-of the-border child vendors, the kids on the hotel steps have excellent soap-stone carvings, and one of the mothers drops them off at appropriate times in a station wagon. These stellae are very fragile and should be wrapped in clothing inside a suitcase. For information call: Maya Tropic Tours: Telephone 52-2405, FAX: (504) 52-5401, 57-8830.
Jamaica: Grand Lido by Ed and Liz Davidson
After reading several reviews of several different resorts on several islands (some we even read several times), we chose the Grand Lido Resort in Jamaica. The reviews of this beautiful, all-inclusive resort were right on target. We can highly recommend this one to others.
This was a June, 1994 trip and our first trip to the Caribbean. We had done Hawaii and Mexico on the Pacific side. We really like the Caribbean as much as the Pacific.
Located on Negril, the Grand Lido is a SuperClubs resort (Jamaica, Jamaica, Hedonism II, Boscabel Beach and Couples are other SuperClubs) and was built in 1990. In talking to others, Negril is the nicest Jamaica beach and the Lido is the finest Jamaica resort of all. We looked at some other Negril resorts when we were there and offer the following opinions: Sandals and Swept Away - very nice, but on the main Negril beach which seemed crowded compared with the Lido, which is all by itself on the back side of Negril beach in Blood Bay. Hedonism II - what a dive - reminds you of Las Vegas or maybe your college apartments when everyone got drunk and dove in the pool naked. Hedonism is literally across the street from Lido and has a very different atmosphere - a different group of people altogether. If you are single (or married I guess), looking to get drunk, get naked and get wild, go to Hedonism. If you want a very quiet (almost too quiet) very romantic, very relaxing, first-class place, go to the Lido. Different strokes for different folks.
Some general observations: Jamaica - the rudest people in the world. I was told the reason that Jamaica has so many all-inclusives is so tourists won't have to deal with the Jamaicans. The airport and customs personnel were terrible and the skycaps tried to sell you drugs. The SuperClubs desk people never smile at the airport and made you feel like you were inconveniencing them by asking where to catch the bus. By the way - the bus drivers which take you on the 90-minute trip to Lido are not SuperClub employees. Tipping is not allowed at SuperClubs resorts. However, these guys had there hands out before you got in the bus but were careful not to ask for tips once inside the resort gates. On the return trip they had there hands out at the end of the trip. The attitude changes quickly when you get in the resort, however, don't expect lots of smiles. Very efficient, just not very friendly.
All-inclusive - they mean it. With the exception of a massage and some suntan lotion there is no reason to have money on you. All drinks, food, tennis and scuba lessons, water sports, everything! Leave your wallet and watch in your room safe - you won't need them.
The facility - beautiful. Lavender marble in the entry, grand piano bar, fountains, etc. The rooms are large, clean, air-conditioned and have a beautiful view. Every room is the same, so there's no guessing about how deluxe a room to buy. Suggest you go with the ocean view rooms. Although the garden views are fine, they are a long way from the main facility.
Food - three fantastic restaurants. Breakfast and lunch are served in the open air verandah. Huge buffets for these meals. For dinner, the Pasta Restaurant is casual, the Lido Cafe is a bit more formal (no shorts) and serves four course meals from a limited menu that changes daily, and the formal restaurant (jackets for men) which serves nouvelle cuisine, five courses and white glove service. Good wines at all restaurants (your glass never gets empty), fabulous presentation of the food and the desserts are incredible. The waiters are efficient but pretty green, not very polished.
The beaches - a large, curved main beach lined with palm trees. Has its own bar and they bring you drinks all day. Water sports (sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba trips and lessons, water trikes and more) are on this beach. A younger crowd here, mostly honeymooners and anniversaries of 20 years or less. The guests are very friendly, but you can also be alone, just floating with your spouse in the water. The water is calm and very clear, but we were disappointed that the color was not more spectacular. Not the turquoise color that you see in some resort brochures. The nude beach is somewhat sheltered and has about a 2 to 1 men to women ratio - guess the wives don't want to "hang" around there. A somewhat older crowd and if you think about it that's really backwards. Shouldn't the young, shapely bods be naked. Seemed like every time my wife (a pretty, young lady) considered the nude beach there were six naked guys quickly checking out the new "meat" on the beach. Not good. If you don't plan on being on the nude beach then you should ask for a room on the main beach. Something a little odd about walking by the nude area and seeing two older, overweight men playing pool. Nudity seems a little strange to us Americans, however, it really was pretty natural there and no one stared too much.
Other stuff - Don't go on the shopping trip - it is a rip-off and goes to a couple of tourist traps in the town of Negril where Jamaican things are more expensive than at the airport. Don't bother taking the snorkel trip across the bay. The fish are just as good around the main beach. It is very hot and you will burn so bring lots of suntan lotion and aloe vera gel for burns. Men - bring casual slacks and a sport coat. Ladies - bring some casual dresses and something for dinner and dancing. We found that we packed too many shorts (all you need is a bathing suit and cover-up) and not enough nicer clothes for the night.
Average guest age (remember this was in June, lots of honeymooners) was 20 to 30-something. Many Southerners; mostly professional and managerial types; very friendly although most of the time folks ate meals as couples. This was great for our marriage in that it allowed us to get away from the kids and really focus on each other. Later in the week, as we got to know other couples, we began to have more meals with them, stay up late drinking in the hot tubs or partying at the disco. Suggest you stay at least five nights. This is a relatively expensive trip, but you'll get a lifetime of memories and it's a great honeymoon or anniversary place.
Mayan Area Cruise by Marti Martindale
The intent of an April, 90-passenger Mayan Prince exploratory junket was to work out a smooth American Canadian Caribbean Line (ACCL) Mayan Coastal trip, south to north. It was the ship owner's intent to maximize the Caribbean water experience while including as many Mayan stops as possible with minimum land busing.
At the onset, the exploratory group of 27, along with owner, founder and shipbuilder, Luther Blount, spent the initial night in San Pedro Sula. Following lunch the second day in the attractive Marina Inn in Copan, they visited the large Copan site. After spending the second night at the Marina, they visited some lesser sites in the area then bused on to Puerto Cortes to board the Prince docked in the cargo port. This was only one reason Blount was along. He would meet with PC officials and make arrangements to gather ACCL's future passengers at nearby, more aesthetic Amoa. This particular cruise didn't stop at Roatan, a rapidly- growing destination, but this fast-growing island will be added to this itinerary in the future.
An example of this unofficial venture is "the man upstairs," in this case Capt. Herringbone, told passengers they'd run three hours the following night to get to the mouth of the Rio Dulce (Sweet River) which leads up to Lake Usable. Firm to his word, the little ship ran three hours in the early morning during an enormous thunderstorm. People streamed from their cabins, snacked and saw the Prince through.
Just north of the mouth of the Rio Dulce River is Livingston, a town where former Carib Indians came under the influence of an Englishman, Mr. Livingston, and to this day English is spoken in this area. It's paved main street which climbs up a rather steep hill is, is a pedestrian street, only. One passenger on board confirmed a "worth-seeing Russian Castle" still stands not too far from the top of the hill. Half-way up the hill is an interesting hotel.
The Dulce has been used for filming during many Tarzan films. It's moderate white cliffs, overhanging trees and winding path make it an excellent binocular opportunity. At one point we pulled up to the Fort of San Fillip where a family sold bright central American goods. Once in Lake Isabel, we anchored just off the Tropical Hotel. Guests and hotel workers listened to tapes by UB40.
The Mayan routing in Guatemala between Honduras and Belize revealed no signs of hostility. In fact, if Americans are seen as child snatchers, the passengers on this expeditionary cruise of the Prince, received and spread around nothing but hugs and kisses when the ship pulled right up to the grounds of the Guatemalan orphanage along the river. Passengers and crew went ashore with brownies, balloons and pencils. The kids got to click visitors' cameras and make bunny ears behind each other...not too many clear throats. Unlike Rio de Janeiro, Guatemala tends to round-up their homeless city children and send them to this camp to learn skills they'll need.
In all, the 27 passengers, plus crew, made land stops at Lime Cay, Mariscos, Mariemonte, Livingston, Punta Gorda, Sopadilla Cay, West Snake Cay, Plancencia, Laughingbird Cay, Tobaco Cay and Goff Cay. Passengers explored ruins at Copan and nearby Sepulcha, Quiriqua, Lubaatum Nim le Punit, Altum Ha, Xunantucich, Xunantunich and Cahal Pech. Each ruin had its own expert guide, or ACCL made arrangement so meet up with a special expert.
Once in Belize City, the trip's end, passengers stayed at the Ft. George Hotel where the ship anchored at its dock. As the Prince pulled in, the crew was battening the hatches in preparation for a repositioning dart across the Gulf to West Palm Beach.
Formerly capital city of British Honduras, Belize, and as the former name implies, is English-speaking. A couple of people were rebuffed for speaking Spanish. This territory is also strong on ecotourism and abundant with endless song birds. A rather handsome, quality T-shirt is sold which benefits Belize Audubon.
Who sails ACCL? Among the 27 passengers, the majority were seniors. The Line has a history of catering to this age group with its three ships which seasonally cover vast areas of the western hemisphere. These ACCL seniors seemed to have considerable annual cruise budgets. It's a matter of record, the bigger a ship, the less the cost-per-cabin. ACCL's ships carry only 90 passengers, so these cruises are not cost- cutters for this fastest growing economic group. In contrast to vast and mega ships, passengers know ACCL means three excellently-cooked meals per day, get-them-yourself snacks around the clock and a BYOB bar. What also seems to appeal to this group is the shallow draft which permits these ships to ply relatively small waters and the subtle scenic marvels discovered in these places. With four decks, total, they have retractable pilot houses for bridge clearance and stern swimming platform.
NOTE: Travelers to Belize City and San Pedro Sula, Honduras via Tasca Airlines mid afternoon flight in Miami, can endure a over a two-hour standing wait in line, kicking luggage ahead. This can be avoided by checking through Tasca mid morning, then return in time for the flight.
Puerto Rico Golfing by Jack Shehab
This is your quick and easy, all you need to know, guide for golfers planning a vacation to Puerto Rico.
With 10 championship 18 hole golf courses (and more planned) Puerto Rico is known as the "Scotland of the Caribbean". Unlike Florida, Hawaii, and other golf destinations, even during the peak season you will be able to get tee times and nearly all courses are open to the public.
If bright lights and checking out the action at all the hotels is what you are looking for, you can stay in the San Juan hotel strip, a small guest house, or a rental condo and still play a resort golf course. You can rent a car, have the hotel tour desk arrange transportation, or use an outside tour operator to get to the golf course. If you want to save your drives for the par 5s, book yourself into one of the four golf course resorts and walk to the first tee. The choice is yours.
When golf and Puerto Rico are used in the same sentence, the Hyatt Dorado Beach (296 rooms) and its sister hotel the Hyatt Regency Cerromar Beach (504 rooms) are the first to come to mind. Located in Dorado, less than an hour west of the airport and San Juan, each of these two resort hotels have two Robert Trent Jones Sr. design golf courses. The four Hyatt golf courses each have their own personality and are a pleasure to play. The Dorado Beach East course will be hosting the World Cup in November of 1994 and the Senior PGA Tournament of Champions in January of 1995. Chi Chi Rodriguez maintains a home on the grounds of Dorado Beach and is easy to spot when he is in Puerto Rico. Follow the children, the laughter, and the warmth, and it will lead you to Puerto Rico's Ambassador of golf.
Hyatt Dorado Beach charges $75 for hotel guests and $130 for public play. Cerromar Beach charges $75 for guests and $110 for public play. Telephone 809-796-1234.
The nearest golf course to the airport offering daily public play, and the first new golf course in Puerto Rico in 20 years is Bahia Beach Plantation. Located in Rio Grande 16 miles east of San Juan, Bahia Beach, as it is known locally, is part of a 600 a acre resort development. Pending the construction of the first of its hotels, Bahia Beach is being operated as a public golf course with low greens fees, and tee times accepted daily without restrictions. With three beachfront holes, two miles of beach, 75 acres of lakes, dramatic views of the El Yunque Rain Forest from every hole, Bahia is considered by many as the most challenging and beautiful golf course on the island. This is not your typical resort golf course, so come prepared to play. Bahia Beach
can arrange transportation from local hotels and cruise ships and has a special rental car rate. The daily fee rates are $40 daily, $50 on weekends and holidays including cart. This is the best value in Puerto Rico. Telephone (809) 256-5600, fax 256-1035.
Virtually across the street from Bahia Beach Plantation is Berwind Country Club. Berwind is the only private, equity golf course on the island but does allow public play on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.
Berwind is known for its long fairways, small tight greens, and excellent golfers. From the back tees this is a long, tough layout. The weekday rate is $45. Telephone (809) 876-3056.
Further east of San Juan, but still in Rio Grande, is Westin Rio Mar. Rio Mar is the future site for a 600 room Westin Hotel and an additional golf course. The golf course is a George Fazio design and is open to the public seven days a week, but on weekends and holidays public play is not accepted until after 10 AM. Rio Mar features an ocean front par 3 into the wind that requires a driver, many lakes, and is located at the foot of El Yunque. Bring your camera and pose with their huge iguanas. Villas are available for rent through local Realtors. The weekday rate is $55 and on weekends $62. Telephone 809-888-8815.
On the north east corner of Puerto Rico in Fajardo is the majestic and newly opened El Conquistador (750 rooms). It is east of San Juan and approximately 1:10 from the airport. The golf course is an Arthur Hills redesign and is noted for its 200 changes in elevation, and dramatic views that extend all the way to St. Thomas. At present, they do not permit play from non-guests, but give them a call and maybe you will get on, or better yet, book a room at this beautiful resort. The hotel guest rate is $95. At present the course does not accept outside play. Telephone (809) 863-1000.
Palmas del Mar (278 hotel rooms plus condos with maid service) is located in Humaco, south-east of San Juan and approximately 1 hour from the airport. This large resort and residential community features a Gary Player design layout and beautiful Caribbean ocean views. A large hotel and a new golf course is planned. Palmas has the reputation as being a well maintained golf course. During the peak season it is difficult for non-guests to get tee times but during the rest of the year there is generally no problem. Hotel guest rate is $54 weekdays & $69 weekends, the public rate is $69 weekdays & $80 weekends.
Telephone (809) 852-6000.
Here are some tips and suggestions you may find helpful.
+ The cool trade winds make play pleasant year around but do not minimize the effect of the sun. Use sun block. Buy a large brim straw hat with the course logo. It will be a great memento, will keep you cool, and provide sun protection.
+ Weather in Puerto Rico is unpredictable. Although it may be raining at your hotel, the golf course may be in full sun shine, or visa versa. Call ahead to check the weather. Generally, we do not permit rain on golf courses until after dark, or if we are about to be closed out on a Nassau.
+ All golf courses have a dress code that require golf shirts with collars for men. T Shirts, bathing suits, and short shorts are not permitted. If in doubt call ahead and ask, or come prepared to make pro shop purchases.
+ There are no snakes, alligators, or dangerous critters to worry about. Even the huge iguanas are harmless and not escapees from Jurasic Park. Local golfers love to follow behind tourists who are afraid to venture into rough or mangrove looking for wayward golf balls. A popular topic for conversation at the 19th hole is the number of once hit Titleists found a few feet off the fairways.
+ The saying "trees are 90% air" does not apply to palm trees. Palm trees are 5% air so do not even think of hitting through the palm fronds. If you hit the trunk expect the ball to bounce back behind you. It counters the laws of physics but Einstein had a 30 handicap.
+ Learn to play the wind. There can be a 2 club difference. Check the palm trees to get the best idea on strength and direction. Palm fronds are very heavy so when they move you know the wind is strong so plan accordingly.
+ All turf in Puerto Rico are strains of Bermuda and the grain grows toward the setting sun.
+ Local golfers are very friendly and enjoy meeting and playing with visitors. Many lasting friendships have originated from a starter making a threesome into a foursome so don' t worry about going out by yourself. The hospitality and friendliness of the Puerto Rican people is well documented and is especially true with golfers. A word of caution however, lying about handicaps is a universal vice so demand to see their GHIN card.
St. Martin: Esmeralda Resort by Jerry Backof
We spent a week at the Esmeralda Resort at the end of June 1994. I had learned about the resort and asked my travel agent to set up a package for a week on the island. All reports indicated that the Esmeralda was a nice place to stay and the reports were completely accurate.
Arriving at Juliana Airport on the Dutch side of the island, we rented a car for the week and traveled the narrow two-lane road to the other side of the island, a distance of approximately 20 miles. The Esmeralda is located near Orient Bay on the north-east side of St. Martin. Access to the resort is controlled by an entry gate and guard who checked our Esmeralda ID card at first, and eventually came to recognize us and gave a friendly wave as he raised the barrier.
The Esmeralda is divided into villas with each villa providing housing for two to four groups depending on the size of the parties. Our villa housed my wife and me, another couple, and a family of four. Each suite or room in the villa is separated from the others by a substantial wooden door.
Our living area was spacious with a high arched white ceiling and ceiling fan, and separate rooms for the bath and the toilet. Windows were screened, and were covered by wood slats that could be adjusted by a control on each frame. The air conditioning was more than adequate and, in fact, we turned it off more than we used it at night. The room had a king size bed, several tables, and several wicker chairs. Each room was also provided with a steel safe for the storage of valuables.
Each room also had a private porch with two wicker chairs and a wicker table where we could sit and enjoy the view -- mountains in one direction; the Caribbean in the other. Each villa has a pool, and the Esmeralda Resort has a total of 14 swimming pools altogether. Each pool had a massage pump located near the steps and the water depth never exceeded approximately 5-1/2 feet.
Within the Esmeralda complex is a restaurant called the L'Astrolabe. Although the food was superb, the portions were very small and the cost high. We ate many of our meals down at the beach at the Coco Beach Restaurant located at a distance of approximately 1/4 of a mile. There the food was excellent and the portions plentiful. In addition, the staff was very friendly and went out of its way to be cordial and helpful. Beach chairs and umbrellas for Esmeralda guests were provided for free.
Coco Beach is located on Orient Bay. The beach is apparently raked each morning by the staff at Coco Beach. The sands were clean and the view was spectacular. We spent the entire first day on the beach before venturing out to other locations on subsequent days. We even spent three days at the Club Orient beach where we were able to join others in a clothing-optional setting. We also ventured into other St. Martin towns for shopping and dining, and we explored several other beaches on the west side of the island.
Another wonderful restaurant, Yvette's Restaurant, is located in the town of Orleans, a distance of 3-1/2 kilometers to the south. This restaurant is off the main road but a prominent white sign at the corner marks the turn. Yvette's Restaurant has no frills, but the prices are extremely reasonable ($8.00 and up for dinners), and the atmosphere is friendly. The food is excellent, but stand clear of the homemade spicy hot sauce found on the tables! It gives new meaning to the word HOT! When you leave the restaurant, you will meet Yvette and shake hands with your waiter who will urge you to come back again.
The Esmeralda Resort is an excellent place to stay on St. Martin. I would recommend that you rent a car at the airport, but you can also rent one at the Esmeralda. The concierge will be glad to make arrangements for everything from parasailing to baby-sitting -- all at extra cost, of course! Checkout time is at 1:00, but we had checked out in the morning in order to check our luggage in early at the airport. Then we spent part of the day shopping on the Dutch side.
St. Martin by Barbara and David Mitchem
We spent two wonderful weeks at Club Orient in mid-June . This was our third trip to St. Martin / Club Orient and each time we discover something new about the island. We went to Marigot twice and ate breakfast at Cafe Mastedana both times. Undoubtedly "Zee Best" croissants in the entire world, and a good 'St. Martin' omelet too!
One trip was on Saturday to the market place. What an experience! Highly recommend this for everyone. Fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, spices and island craft work are for sale. Also window shopped at Colombian Emeralds and Little Switzerland, but no purchases. Found the prices to be about the same as Houston area, save for the sales tax.
We went to Cupecoy resorts and spent almost 2 1/2 hrs. looking at the beautiful waters and beach of Cupecoy.
We did our major food shopping at the Match in Marigot and Food center at Cole Bay (the light never stopped blinking!). Prices and selection about the same at both, although the Match did have a better cheese selection. At lunch at Mark's Place-lobster salad, the leek soup and 2 beers each were about $30. It was excellent as usual and Mark sends his regards to everyone. We had dinner in Grande Case 2 times, L'Atlantic was dinner for 4 -- salmon in light cream sauce, garlic chicken, Creole chicken, Caesar salad each and 1 bottle of wine was $60. Service and food outstanding, its a very small place with only 6 tables with owner and wife as cook and waitress, both very friendly and helpful.
Next was L'Alabama, dinner for 2. Tomato mozzarella and fresh basil salad each, grilled snapper in ginger sauce for Barbara, monkfish in garlic, mushroom and scallops for me, 1 bottle of wine and 2 aperitifs w/tip was $72. Food and service in both places were excellent, will certainly return!
We ate at Kon-Tiki on Orient Beach one night, 2 glasses wine Each, Caesar salad each and "Texas size" grilled shrimp with rice and peas was $40 with tip. Not bad for the money. The rest of the time we cooked on our chalet with wahoo, mahi-mahi and swordfish from the fish market in Marigot. Linda and Chris Ashley, who live on their boat in Orient Bay, invited us for lunch one day. Fresh lobster salad, French bread and wine. Yummm!! Linda picked us up on the beach in their dingy, but made us swim back so we could work off the lunch! Linda is the English lady that makes the waist chains, necklaces and ankle bracelets sold in the Club O boutique and Chris sometimes works in the watersports center. We made good friends with them on our first trip to SXM/Club O and always stay in touch with them.
We went to Philipsburg one day on business (no ships in!) and got back to Club O before noon. The rest of the trip was spent being victims of sand gravity and swimming and snorkeling in the clear, warm waters of Orient Bay. Leaving is sad, but making plans to return gives you something to look forward to, right? So here's a toast------ 'till next time!!
St. Martin by Kenneth Edwards
Seven days of St. Martin at the Golden Tulip Resort. Overall our first trip to St. Martin was great. The view from our room and the resort was terrific. Not too many people know about the Golden Tulip because it just opened in Feb. The rooms are nice and spacious. The restaurant was fine but there are so many fine restaurants in the area. Check out the watersports package at $20 for the week. The beach is not the best but they plan on improving it. Orient Beach is right around the corner. We rented a car at the hotel for $175 for the week (4 door w/AC) to explore the island.
We saw most of the beaches. Starting at the French side, we liked Orient Beach as a long beach with the nudity on one end and water sports at the other end. Plenty of small beach restaurants. We ate at Kon Tiki and Boo Boo Jam which were very good. Pinel island and Little Key were good snorkeling and water sports. Baie Rouge had a pretty beach with good snorkeling. Go around the rocks on the east side and through the small tunnel in the cliffs and you will a stretch of very private beach available only to people who can snorkel to it. Cupecoy Beach was another different beach with lots of cliffs and caves in the limestone. Its a bit hard to get to. We paid the $2.00 for safe parking.
The food on the island was beyond belief. Our favorite places included: Mark's Place (By the Golden Tulip), Le Taihiti (on the road to the Mt. Vernon at Orient Beach), Le Alabama (in Grand Case) and The Boat house (Simpson Bay). We didn't try the shacks in Grand Case but every body said they were great.
Thursday was the best day for shopping since there were no cruise ships in port. Try the small Mahogney shop at the end of front street if you like wood carvings. I found they would drop their price 50% with persistent bargaining. Most merchants need to turn the inventory in the slow season and will barter.
We also did horse back riding at the Bayside Stables. They took good care of the horse and had 1 guide for every 4 people. The horse back ride on the beach was relaxing. The best part was the bare back ride in the water. Lots of fun.
Virgin Island Ferries by Lynn McKamey
(Ed Note: This feature is copyrighted by Lynn McKamey and is used with her permission and appears in all editions of the CTR).
Some of you have probably read my travel reviews of the British Virgins; several have asked for more details about traveling back and forth to the nearby U.S. Virgins. This article is written primarily to give you ideas about the vast extent of the inter-island ferry system, and how easy it is to travel around the "Virgins". Yeah, I know, lots of people like to stay at one place, unwinding on the same beach for a week or two, but others, more adventurous, might enjoy taking a day trip to the "other islands" or staying a few days in both the U.S. and British Virgins. Scuba divers, in particular, will find dive sites in the BVI far more interesting and extensive than the U.S. Virgins, but for some reason or another (like shopping in St. Thomas, or visiting the incredible beaches of St. John) want to see the U.S. Virgins too. So, I have written this WITH some ferry schedules, but don't hold me to the times and days listed which can vary depending on the season. Just use it for some ideas of planning ahead...and contact the ferry companies for current information.
Geographically, the British Virgins and two of the U.S. Virgins, St. Thomas and St. John, form one continuous chain of islands and are linked by well established ferry systems and commuter flights. With a little prior planning, tourists can visit and spend some time in both the U.S. and British Virgins, or take a day trip from one to the other. Some vacationers fly in and out of the large St. Thomas airport and use the ferry systems to reach a British Virgin Island hotel or resort. Or others fly into the small Beef Island BVI airport, stay a few days, use a ferry to transfer to the U.S. Virgins, and fly home from St. Thomas. The possibilities are endless! Don't forget to take your passport or certified birth certificate when you travel from one set of Virgins to the other though... you are transferring "countries", remember.
Boats and ferry systems are a way of life in the Virgins. Residents and vacationers in St. Thomas "escape" to the quiet BVI for a day or two away from the madness of cruise ships and hordes of shoppers in Charlotte Amalie; British Virgin Island residents and vacationers go to St. Thomas for a little excitement and to shop for all those things NOT available in the BVI. Because of the narrow roads, mountainous terrain of Virgin Gorda and Tortola, and traffic jams of St. Thomas, it is sometimes faster to go by boat to the other side of the island, than by car or taxi! And it is often easier to take a ferry between islands than a commuter flight which usually cost twice as much as a ferry ride.
Most of the public ferries are large boats, air conditioned, very seaworthy, and have a minimum amount of rock and roll. I am subject to mal de mer, and yet have never been woozy on the ferries. Some are very fast, and can make the trip between Road Town, Tortola and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas in little more than one hour. The ride is quite a treat, a lovely scenic cruise amongst the beautiful Virgin Is- lands... don't forget your camera!
Ferries dock in downtown Charlotte Amalie, Red Hook on the east side of St. Thomas, Cruz Bay on the west side of St. John, West End and Road Town in Tortola, and Spanish Town in Virgin Gorda. Smaller ferries provide links to the North Sound and Peter Island of the BVI.
Generally, the public ferry schedules are as follows: (Subject to change; for current information, please check schedules on arrival or by calling the ferry services listed in this article.)
Between Road Town (RT), West End (WE) and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas (St.): Smith's Ferry Services; Native Son Ferries (70-90 minute trip)
Depart RT 6:15am; WE 7:00 am. & 10:00 am. & 3:00 pm. to St. Thomas
Depart ST 8:10 am., 12:30 am., 4:30 pm. to Tortola
Depart RT 6:15 am., 8:45 am., 2 am.; WE 7:00 am., 10:00 am., 2:30 am.
to ST Depart ST 8:30 am., 12:00 noon, 4:30 pm. to Tortola
Depart WE 9:15 am. & 4:00 pm.; RT 3:30 pm. for ST
Depart ST 8:00 am. & 11:00 am. & 3:00 pm. to Tortola
Daily West End (WE) Tortola to St. John (SJ) and Red Hook (RH), St. Thomas Depart WE 8:20 am., 12:30 pm., 4:00 pm.
Depart RH 11:30 am., 3:20 pm., 5:30 pm.
Between Virgin Gorda (VG) BVI and Charlotte Amalie (ST): Speedy's Ferries Tuesday and Thursday: Depart VG 6:30 am, 2:45 pm
(trip: 2 hours)
Depart ST 8:45 am, 5:00 pm
Saturday ............ Depart VG 8:30 am.
Depart ST 3:30 pm.
Between Virgin Gorda (VG) and Road Town (RT): Speedy's Ferries, Smith's Ferries (Trip: 30 minutes)
Depart RT 9:00 am., 1:30 pm., 4:30 pm.
Depart VG 8:00 am., 11:30 pm., 3:30 pm.
Depart RT 8:50,, 12:30 pm., 5:00 pm.
Departs VG 8:00 am, 4:30 pm.
North Sound Express from Beef Island to North Sound, Daily (20 minutes):
Departs BI 6:30 am., 10:30 am., 3:30 pm
Departs NS 7:10, 12:00 noon, 4:15 pm.
Peter Island from CSY dock (this is not the main ferry dock) on the east side of Road Town, Daily (Trip takes 15 minutes): Departs RT 7 am, 8:30 am, 10 am, 2 pm., 3:30 pm, 5:30 pm, 6:30 pm, 10:30 pm
Departs PI 8 am, 9 am., 12 noon, 2:30 pm, 4:30 pm, 6 pm., 10 pm.
Please note that there are lots of small ferries which run between Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook, St. Thomas and which also travel between ST. Thomas and St. John. They are not listed since ferries are numerous and schedules vary.
Now, a couple of pitfalls... During the week, most of the ferries depart and arrive at West End Tortola. To go from West End to Road Town, you will either need to take a taxi or rent a car to navigate the hairpin turns on narrow roads. The trip takes about 40 minutes, but the views are really great! The same thing happens if you want to go from Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda to the North Sound - another rolly-coaster taxi or rental ride which will take about 30 minutes (but the views are fabulous on this trip too!)
For current information about ferry schedules between the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, contact:
Native Son, Inc.
(809) 495-4617 in Tortola (my favorite)
(809) 774-8685 in St. Thomas or 775-3111 Red Hook
FAX: (809) 779-2811
Smith's Ferry Services: (809) 494-2355 or 495-4495 in BVI
(809) 775-7292 in St. Thomas
Speedy's (also has car rentals, safari tours, taxis, and boat charters)
(809) 495-5240 or 495-5235 in Virgin Gorda
(809) 776-0333 in St. Thomas
North Sound Express: (809) 495-2271 Beef Island airport
Peter Island: (809) 494-2561 BVI
A couple of tips... If you plan to vacation in both the British and U.S. Virgins and to "shop 'til you drop" in Charlotte Amalie, I suggest that you depart from the U.S. Virgins. U.S. residents can each bring home $1,200 worth of duty-free merchandise, including a gallon of alcoholic beverages per adult if purchased in the U.S. Virgins; however, U.S. tourists can only bring $600 duty-free per person from the British Virgin Islands. Besides, you won't have to lug all that stuff back to the BVI! Another advantage is that you will go through U.S. customs at the St. Thomas airport BEFORE departure, instead of when making connections through San Juan. [For those of you new to this game, if you depart from the Beef Island airport in the British Virgins, you will fly to San Juan, have to retrieve all your luggage, drag it through customs, put it back on the airline carrousel, and go to the gate... allow at least an hour for this process.] If you don't plan to do a lot of shopping in St. Thomas, then it really doesn't matter (duty wise) which country you depart from.
Check airline schedules for flying in and out of St. Thomas (STT) as opposed to Beef Island, BVI (EIS) or Virgin Gorda (VIJ). Often fares are much cheaper and connections easier if you use St. Thomas (STT). Beef Island is serviced by American Airline Eagles and several commuter airlines, which are often booked up way in advance. Virgin Gorda is served only by commuter flights. To fly into St. Thomas and transfer by ferry to West End or Road Town, Tortola on the same day, you must arrive at the Charlotte Amalie downtown ferry docks no later than mid-afternoon! Leaving the BVI and taking a ferry to Charlotte Amalie to catch a flight home on the same day is usually easy... leave on a BVI morning ferry and take an afternoon flight from St. Thomas -you'll even have time to do a little shopping since the docks are just a few blocks from the main shopping attractions.
The Native Son ferry system will allow you to leave your luggage at their dock in downtown Charlotte Amalie if you want to spend a few hours shopping before leaving for the airport. I suspect that Smiths and Speedy's will too.
You should arrive at the ferry docks about 15-20 minutes before departure. The ferries are seldom full or sold out, but this will allow time to purchase your ticket and become settled on-board. Fares generally run about $16-18 for one way between the U.S. and British
Virgins. Purchase the tickets from the small ferry stands at the dock, NOT your taxi driver who often adds $2 or $3 to the cost of the ticket.
Currency in both the U.S. and British Virgins is U.S. dollars. Most hotels and restaurants take major credit cards, but it is handy to have some small U.S. bills ($1, $5, $10, and $20s) for ferries, taxis, and out of the way places to eat or drink.
In the off season (after Easter until mid-December), hotels usually have vacancies and rates are about 1/3 less than the winter season. However, it is best to have hotel reservations before you arrive - see your travel agent, or contact the U.S. and British Virgin Island tourist boards for information and a hotel list.
What to pack? Unless you are staying at one of the 5 star, deluxe resorts in the U.S. or British Virgins which often require evening "resort wear", then a carry-on suitcase and/or duffel bag with two bathing suits, several pairs of shorts and T-shirts, underwear, sandals, plus a pair of tennis shoes (for hiking), slacks and shirt or blouse that you wore on the plane should be enough for a weeks visit. [Plan to wash a few clothes along the way!] Take an extra duffel though, to stuff full of island purchases.
Taxis are abundant at the ferry docks, so don't worry about being" stranded" once you step off the boat.
Those traveling to the BVI should contact the BVI Tourist Board at 370 Lexington Ave. N.Y., NY 10017 or call (800) 835-8530 or (800) 232-7770 for an information packet. The comprehensive BVI WELCOME Tourist Guide (which includes ferry schedules and everything else you ever needed to know about the BVIs, including restaurants and places to stay) is published 6 times a year - an annual subscription is available by sending $25 in U.S. funds by check or money order to Island Publishing Services, P.O. Box 133, Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, or can be ordered by phone and credit card at (800) 281-1935.
The weekly St. Thomas information guide called "ST. THOMAS THIS WEEK" can be ordered by sending $2 to Box 11199, St. Thomas, VI, 00801-4199.
Most importantly of all... visit all the virgins and have a great time!
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