Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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1/ USVI News November 1996
2/ Journeys for November 1996
(Ed Note: The following items are reprinted with permission from Frank Barnako's Virgin Islands News. For more information check out http://www.clark.net/pub/fbarnako/otr/Paradise.htm/ as Frank also has a local villa to rent. Much tanks to Frank for keeping us updated on the USVI happenings. ).
New hotel provokes more St. John public noise Community spirit has boiled again in St. John , on the heels of success in squelching government plans to install traffic lights on the island. Now protesters will apparently get their way and have the Industrial Development Commission convene a public hearing on St. John concerning plans for a new hotel in Cruz Bay. The item was originally scheduled as part of a Commission hearing agenda. on St. Croix. Solomon's Plaza Inc. is proposing a $5-million, 40-room facility. Ralph Solomon reportedly wants to build the project on property he owns next to the Chase Bank, a location that for years housed the island's largest "five-and-dime"-type store. (10/29/96) Season looks good An editorial in the "Daily News" says that as the tourism season approaches, "it looks like it's going to be a good year. Hallelujah!" The paper points out Caneel Bay will be full when it opens next week, Nov. 1. Ritz-Carlton development is spending $15 million to renovate an east end luxury resort, and is 85% booked for Christmas. The editorial also says there is an increase in convention bookings for this year.(10/29/96) Ferries cancel runs During the Summer, two Cruz Bay-Charlotte Amalie ferry trips have been canceled. The ferry companies say they cut the 9:15am and 2:15pm departures because there weren't enough passengers. Still operating are runs at 7:15am, 11:15am, 1:15pm, and 3:45pm. There are also ferries from St. Thomas to St. John daily at 9am, 1pm, 3pm and 5:30pm.(10/29/96) Cunard's Countess cancels St. Thomas visits The Cunard company has sold the 750-passenger Countess to an Indonesian company, which will sail it in Indonesia. "Daily News" reporter Bernetia Akin says the Countess called on St. Thomas for almost 20 years. Cunard will continue to dispatch its Sea Goddess II to the islands.(10/29/96) New restaurant: Local Culinary at Meada's Plaza In downtown Cruz Bay, chef Angela Dann says she must be doing something right: "Everybody cleans up their plates," she tells "Daily News" reporter Lynda Lohr. The menu features fried rice, hot dogs, chicken roti, conch and shrimp.(10/29/96) Park Service Still Struggles By Tessa Williams, Tradewinds, St. John The National Park Service is still struggling to reopen all of its 20.5 miles of trail - thirteen months after Hurricane Marilyn's winds downed trees, two months after Hurricane Bertha's rain caused a massive overgrown, and one month after Hurricane Hortense added her finishing touches. The V.I. National Park budget has not been able to fund a continuous clearing program for the park's system of tails for more than a year, according to a V.I.N.P spokesperson. Two weeks ago, only three volunteers responded to a Tradewinds story about the lack of trail maintenance. "Oh, it's been bad, no one showed up since the last issue," said Leon Varlack, V.I. National Park trail supervisor. "I don't know exactly what it is." "Monique Rogers, V.I.N.P. clerk, however, is working on a group of people who will volunteer to do some work for us," Varlack said. Cinnamon Bay Loop, Lind Point, Margaret Hill, and Peace Hill trails are open, he added. (Oct 15, 1996) Caneel Continues Facelift, Old Hyatt Languishes By Tom Oat, Tradewinds As the island's oldest resort, the 170-room Caneel Bay, geared up for a November 1 reopening, there was still no word on the future of the largest St. John resort, the 280-room former Hyatt Regency at Great Cruz Bay. Caneel Bay, the grand dame of Caribbean resorts, is in hectic last-minute preparation for its November reopening. The resort expects to be operating at 100 percent capacity for November and has been hiring staff for mid-October employment. "There is an awful lot of work to be done," one employee said. "That's not to say it won't get done by November 1." Both hotels have been closed since last fall in the aftermath of moderate damage from Hurricane Luis and the Hurricane Marilyn in September 1995. The double closure left hundreds of island residents without jobs for a year and all but shut down the St. John tourism industry. No Word from Great Cruz Bay Resort At the renamed Great Cruz Bay Beach Resort, general manager Phil Baxter declined comment on the current state of readiness of the resort or plans for its future when contacted October 4.(Oct 15, 1996) St. John Spices Up By Tom Oat, Tradewinds After 12 years "off and on" St. John and a lifetime in the restaurant business, Alex Ewald finally has an island place of her own - La Tapa in downtown Cruz Bay. "I love making people happy," said Alex, who most recently has been a smiling face behind the counter at Mongoose Deli. "I can finally do it on my own." La Tapa features a tapas, or "few bites," menu Alex brought back to St. John from more than three years living in Madrid, Spain. The casual presentation of colorful platters of tapas, soups, and salads with homemade sauces and dips also fits Alex's personal preference for dining. "I love eating from other people's plates," Alex said. "It brings people together, sharing food."(Oct 15, 1996) Pusser's Reopening Oct. 26 By Tom Oat, Tradewinds More than a year after Hurricane Marilyn closed its doors, the island's largest and most heavily promoted restaurant, Pusser's Restaurant on Cruz Bay beach, is preparing to hire more than 40 people and reopen by the end of October. The 275-seat three-story restaurant with its popular Beach Bar and Crow's Nest, is planning a major reopening party to coincide with the second St. John Saturday, October 26, according to corporate food and beverage manager Kelly Jones. "We've had a lot of problems with staffing," Jones said of the delayed reopening. "There weren't a lot of people coming through." St. John Saturday Crowd Was Convincing While Pusser's reportedly was waiting for the former Hyatt to reopen to provide an on-island customer base, a visit to the island during the successful St. John Saturday, September 28, convinced Jones that Pusser's should be open for the next event.(Oct 15, 1996) Airport fees rise, US Air rattles sword Airlines serving St. Thomas are not happy at the V.I. Port Authority's intention to double passenger fees at the islands' St., Thomas and St. Croix airports. The Port Authority says it has no choice, facing a $3 million loss due to lower traffic in the wake of Hurricane Marilyn. The Daily News reports a station master for US Air saying "the airline will have to consider the feasibility of continuing" its daily flights from the mainland. Park Service setting up HQ on St. John St., John Tradewinds editor Tom Oat reports in the latest edition he's learned there is a 'very preliminary' plan for a multi-million dollar expansion of the island's visitors Center. He also reports there are plans to move the Park service's center of operations from St. Thomas to St. John. He quotes a Park Service spokeswoman saying the project could be complete within two years. Song of Norway being sold One of the V.I.'s most frequent visitors, the Song of Norway cruise ship, is being sold by Royal Caribbean. The 1,050 passenger ship is being transferred to a British company at a price, reports the Virgin Islands Business Journal, of about $40 million. Song of Norway will continue to offer Alaska cruises this summer, and Caribbean cruises this winter until next February. No news on the Hyatt "The owner is optimistic" it will sell the property formerly known as the St. John Hyatt, but no one knows when. Meanwhile, the Tradewinds reports the general manager of Caneel Bay is traveling in Europe to drum up business, and Caneel's reopening is on schedule for Nov. 1. Source: http://www.stjohntradewindsnews.com/
>From May 20th through 25th I took my first trip to Nassau and the new SuperClubs Breezes. I had been to Runaway Bay, Jamaica (Jamaica Jamaica, which became a Breezes) the past two Februarys. I wanted to see the Bahamas and with SuperClubs I knew what to expect and had good experiences in Jamaica. I flew from Newark to Miami and then to Nassau on American. They were both good flights considering the flight from Miami to Nassau was on an American Eagle prop plane. Being two weeks after the ValuJet crash I was a little nervous, but things went OK it was a nice flight. Unfortunately, in hoping to miss the hurricane season, I think I got caught in their rainy season. One night we had about three inches of rain and only 2 sunny days (Thursday and Saturday, my last day). It was cloudy pretty much most of the time or rainy. The beach was nice, the water was warm but full of seaweed. They had beach volleyball, which was fun, a trapeze and a trampoline (I did meet someone who got hurt on the trampoline and I'm not that crazy about trapezes (fun to watch, but no thanks. I also saw three weddings from a verandah oabove the pool (it's a popular place to get married). The pool was cold so the best place to hang out was the hot tub. The drinks were good (be careful of those Bahama Mamas and Blue Breezes, maybe just have a Kalik or two!). The food was good, the dining room was nice although I missed eating outside when it was nice out. They did set up an outdoor dinner around 6:00 each night with Jerk Pork, Hamburgers, Corn on the Cob and I think salads. Then at 7:00 they had dinner inside. There was one night it started raining while I was eating so I wound up going inside and eating again. Actually, I must have been hungry eating dinner twice. They had a midnight snack with cold cuts, meatballs and pizzas. The room was nice, the only thing was the whole hotel had white tile floors so it was easy to slip on when wet. I saw a couple of people slip in the lobby but they didn't get hurt. As for things to do at night there was a games area (ping pong, pool, checkers and board games), a satellite TV. I managed to meet two guys from New Jersey so we'd watch the NHL playoffs and then go to the Hurricanes disco downstairs. The house band was not good they would play slow songs, some reggae, mostly Bob Marley whom I like, but I like other stuff too. I was disappointed there wasn't much Bahamian calypso music, it was mostly reggae or American. The DJ at Hurricanes was pretty good although there wasn't much room to move around at the bar. They had a pajama party one night and on Friday they had sumo wrestling in the disco. So one night we went to "The Zoo" and "The Waterloo". The Zoo is the more popular of the two discos in Nassau. We also went to the Atlantis on Paradise Island, that was cool how it was built around the ocean. You could walk through caves and see sharks, stingrays and other fish swimming around. They also had a waterfall which was cool. The casino was neat to walk through and I gambled a little. I also went to the Marriott Crystal Palace and played the slots. I did manage to take day trips to Blue Lagoon Island (I learned how to snorkel in deep water but didn't see much) and Coral Island. I got a lot of great pictures and the calypso band on the cruise to Blue Lagoon was cool (I got some great pictures of the Paradise Island and Nassau shore lines). At Coral Island which is just off Nassau, you get there by bus, it is an aquarium set on an island. They have a Stingray pool, a turtle pool, an undersea observatory and a snorkeling area near the observatory where you can get equipment and go down and see the real thing under the sea. I was able to get some great pictures. The snorkeling was $14 US, the trip to Coral Island $20 US and the trip to Blue Lagoon US $35. There were no tours run out of Breezes (in Jamaica some tours were included). The tours were privately run I guess. I left on Saturday and the one great thing was clearing US customs in Nassau as opposed to Miami (which was a pain on my first trip to Jamaica), it saved a lot of time since I was visiting my brother who was waiting for me and I got a little lost in the airport finding my luggage which I checked on the flight. The rest of the trip with my brother was great. However my flight home from Miami on Memorial Day was overbooked, the plane left 2 hours late and we sat on it for an hour of that. It was coming from Hati and was delayed leaving there and when it got here had to go through customs and be prepared for us. Then the pilot had some mechanical things to take care of which forced us to sit on the plane for an hour. We were supposed to leave at 1:40, we didn't leave until 4:00. That's what you get when you travel out of Miami on a holiday! I don't know if I would go back to the Bahamas, they always seem to get bad weather and it can be cold in the prime of the vacation season.
(Ed Note: This material is copyrighted 1996 by Mike Benoit and is used in the CTR with his permission.)
Recently my family and I had the opportunity to spend a week at this resort location. As has been my practice for several years, below is my report on the facility and our experience. We initiated our trip with a jumbo jet flight to San Juan, PR. This was followed by an American Eagle ATR 42 island hop of 35 minutes to Beef Island, Tortola, BVI. Upon landing we were herded through Immigration, experiencing the normal nonsmiling but efficient person checking our passports and visas. Next we claimed our baggage and assembled everything for Customs. We encountered a jovial, round man who was very polite and to the point. He would make a great black Santa Claus not to mention providing a positive first impression of the BVIs attitude toward tourism. Once we had cleared Customs, we proceeded to North Sound Express (NSX), a local ferry service that was to transport us to Virgin Gorda. They tagged our bags for our final destination and taxied us to the ferry dock which was a stones throw from the airport. The boat itself was reminiscent of an overgrown cabin cruiser but served its purpose. Unlike many other resort ferries, NSX did not provide any refreshments nor conversation, resulting in my impression of them as a water taxi service rather than a resort- related travel accommodation. The thirty minute ferry ride afforded newcomers to the BVI the opportunity to see the Dog Islands, Little Dix Bay area, Spanishtown, and the Baths - this was assuming they were sitting outside of the cabin in the sunlight. Those riding inside the boat could see little unless they were over 6 tall as the seats were set low relative to the windows. Upon arrival at the Bitter End dock, we were warmly greeted by the resident manager, Mary Jo Ryan. She and a couple of her associates guided us to the main reception area where we filled out registration forms and identified our luggage. As an aside, it seems to me that this should have been worked out with the ferry service on Tortola whereby they would tag not only the Bitter End location, but also the room number since it was already known. It would have saved us time initially when we were already worn out from the travel gauntlet. We were directed to our rooms by Alice who was very cordial and proved an informed source of how to transverse the property and where outlying amenities might be found. The rustic building that housed our rooms was a duplex-type of structure consisting of separate entries for each of the two rooms and a common porch which overlooked the beach and beyond. The view was breathtaking for we could see several islands, including the highly publicized Necker Island as well as the reefs that stratified the calm waters of the sound from the Atlantic ocean. Our room included a king size bed, table/chairs for work purposes, a large, two-sink powder room which also housed the functional refrigerator, and a separate shower and commode area. We quickly experienced the cooling effects of a continuous ocean breeze blowing north to south. This alleviated any concern about a lack of air conditioning. The childrens quarters was similar to ours except there were two twin beds and two foldaway, large cots. The room was designed to easily house all four while in use. The shower and commode area could be closed off with a sliding, translucent glass door, providing privacy for each of our children when using those facilities. The only problem with their room was that the breeze we felt in our northerly exposed room was lacking in theirs on the southern face. As we spent so little time during the day in the rooms, this did not manifest itself as particularly troublesome ... or maybe young adults are more resilient and less demanding than us old foggies. Once we were completely settled in, we began our quest to locate all of the important reference points in the complex. The road system consists of one partially paved single lane connecting the two endpoints of the property. It took about ten minutes to walk the entire length. At approximately the half way mark are the main facilities for dining, administration, and water activities. Thus it was easy for us to identify where to go and what to expect once we were there. Put in perspective, the first time we went to the massive resort Caneel Bay, St. John USVI, we were totally lost and spent considerable time identifying where to go for what. That is far from a problem here, sort of a plug and play geography. The dining facilities were clean and open air, providing a view of the main bay area. We were on the seven-day program and thus qualified for the full American meal plan. This was very nice in that each of us first would navigate the buffet area, selecting from salad, bread, and condiment offerings. Next we could order from the menu a main entree, choosing from a wide selection with the grilled swordfish being our absolute favorite. All of the food was tasty and prepared properly. The quality and selections paralleled Jumby Bay Resort in Antigua, a retreat where pampering the guests was the main objective. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised about this as the price of the two were widely divergent, but the results were in parity one with the other. Attention to detail seemed to be an important facet of the mission in the kitchen. My wife has a very severe allergy to eggs and chicken. If she ingests even the minutest amount of either, she becomes immediately incapacitated. Often we have visited resorts where my wife was forced into a fasting mode because so much of the prepared dishes contained egg ingredients or chicken ... or they did not know or were not capable of ascertaining how the food was prepared. While we have successfully subscribed to Weight Watchers in the past, while on vacation we prefer to be more daring. Our family dreads beginning a meal with the concern of the food contents and whether all at our table will be able to partake. That was definitely not the case with Bitter End; they considered my wifes malady a challenge. At each meal there was quietly placed a special tray of breads and a dessert so that she could enjoy the food without embarrassment. She ate plentifully and we thank Winston, the talented and experienced head baker who is native to the region but has a worldly pedigree in the culinary arts. Without belaboring the issue, the most accurate barometer of the food in general was our nineteen year old son. At six foot three inches his insatiable appetite is outdone only by a rather unusual dietary utility curve. Generally a sitting consists of mass quantities of pasta in any form, breads and/or pastries, and a cola to wash it all down. Ironically, many of the dishes he was forced to consume were common menu items but foreign to his system. In polling his recollections of the trip, eating was at the top of his list of most enjoyed activities. His need to eat steak and pasta followed by four pieces of pie was met and fulfilled by Bitter End. For instance, at supper, they baited him with ancillary dishes such as lobster in several forms, grilled tuna, and soups. He has now succeeded in superimposing fresh grilled tuna over the memories of the canned variety he was forced to eat on Fridays as a child. Yep, he gave them the thumbs up, a ten on the scale of satisfaction. Since one of the main attractions of Bitter End is the variety of water activities, we had decided before we departed home that this trip would be spent visiting as many of the outlying areas as possible. We prefer deserted beaches with good snorkeling. BEYC maintains a fleet of twenty Boston Whalers with 6hp engines available for use by guests. Our family checked out two of them, one for my wife and me and the other for the kids. The first excursion was to the neighboring island called Prickly Pear. We landed on the northeastern side, picking the smallest of the three empty beaches. I felt like Christopher Columbus when we first landed as the only visible life was in the water. After anchoring the boats and donning our masks and fins, we plunged into the water in search of colorful fish. The first moving creatures were a group of squid, dangling in the water as though each was suspended by puppet strings. Quickly I clicked a picture with my throwaway camera for posterity. This encounter was followed by others with various fish of differing sizes and colors. Once we had worn out this beach, we moved on to the next one along the same side of the island. Dotting the waters edge were volcanic rocks jutting out and beckoning us to gather round and take pictures - which we couldnt resist doing. So there they are, pictures of wife, daughter one, volcanic rock, daughter two; another shows son, father, volcanic rock. Nice family gathering here. Each day we repeated this process of planning our objective sites, obtaining boats, and heading out to discover what was to us more unchartered waters. We continued this process until we were worn out from snorkeling and overexposed to the sun. One beach that remains in my memory as highly unusual was situated due east of Bitter End and called Oily Nut. It was located along the far northwestern tip of Virgin Gorda. Upon landing there rather than encountering the sandy beach of prior sites, we stood upon a beach of coral, shells and other fossil forms. Gazing up the dune, we realized the dunes themselves consisted of these same ingredients. We wandered along the shoreline, picking and choosing shells for our collection back home. Apparently this location, geographically set near the outlying reefs, is the final resting place of many sea creature remains, thus educating us as to the essence of a shelling beach. Other activities that we plunged into were a day trip to Anegoda, night snorkeling (not for beginners), and a champagne beach party late in the week. The party was a highlight for one of my daughters as the Reggae and Calypso music helped her usher in her twenty-first birthday. Dinner, drinks, and dancing accompanied the celebration. Not to be outdone by her older sister, the youngest member of the family won a liter of rum at the evenings culminating event, a limbo contest. Granted, the locals, some obviously capable of snaking under the stick, kindly backed off and let the tourists soak up the enjoyment of the moment. What a birthday party! In summary, this is a resort that is well managed, well preserved, and well stocked for an active family. I highly recommend it for those who want a varied selection of activities where one may pick and choose on a whim what the activity du jour would be.
(Ed Note: This material is copyrighted 1996 by Derrick Bloch and is used in the CTR with his permission.)
VARADERO, CUBA I spent a week in Varadero in September '96. Following is a short report on Varadero itself, some of the hotels, and some remarks about a day-trip to Havana. If anyone has any more specific questions I'd be glad to answer them to the best of my ability. Incidentally, despite Messrs Helms and Burton's best efforts American citizens ARE allowed to visit Cuba, as long as the trip is from a third country, via Canada, for example. There are direct charter flights from most Canadian cities. GENERALLY SPEAKING.... Varadero's beach must be one of the great ones. White sand (very slightly coarse) beaches that stretch for something like 20 miles, clear WARM water in the ocean (why anyone would want to spend any time in a swimming pool is beyond me, but that's a personal opinion), palm trees etc. - your Caribbean idyll. You can see what attracted old man duPont (he of the multi-millions) to buy up half of Varadero Island. His house still stands, and has been converted into a museum and restaurant. Somehow I didn't manage to get to see either - too busy vegging out - but the restaurant, I'm told is excellent. (Next trip, perhaps...) Varadero island stretches north-east/south-westerly for about 30 kilometers long. The decent hotels stand along the north-west shore line. The town itself is not much to see. Apparently there used to be typical wooden Varadero houses. I managed to find only one. I hesitate to use the word "quaint" - I find it almost kitschy - but I guess it sort of does the job: overhanging eaves, fretwork, wide stoops. The colour had been worn out of the woodwork leaving a dull blue- grey tinge, and where the trimmings had once been white, they too were now dull. Paint peeled off the window frames, and sheets of carton had been patched over where glass had once been. The house was a delightful patchwork of tired textures, but it was only semi- interesting architecturally. I don't know if I'd go back to have another look or not. There's frantic new building going on all over Varadero island and around the town. In a few years it'll probably resemble a full-blown Mexican resort (more's the pity, mais c'est la vie - how does one say that in Spanish?). There are already something in the area of 25 better hotels and resorts along the beachfront. At the south-west end of the island there's a channel separating it from the mainland - it's been converted into the entrance to the Marina, and every morning the sport fishing boats and a naval patrol vessel grumble out to sea, leaving a huge wake washing along the walls of the channel. On the mainland side of the channel, separated from the hotel strip by the water, local Cubans cast for fish. They're there every day. For most of them the channel of water could be as wide as the Atlantic - the hotel strip is almost a foreign country. Varadero is NOT Cuba. It's aligned to the tourist industry. There are pockets, though, where you can get a real Cuban meal - rice, beans and barbecue. Well, as real, I suppose, as one can in a town whose purpose is to be what tourists want it to be. We had lunch at Bodegita de criollo: 1st avenue and, I think, 67th street (shades of Manhattan?). No tourists. And a genuine feeling of welcome from the crowd who were there. We battled along in a combination of poor Spanish and better English and had fun. They have it tough, but the laughter was genuine. HOTEL TRYP PARADISO SIESTA I spent a week at the Tryp Paradiso Siesta. It's only fair to mention I stayed there for free - an incentive reward from one of the tour package companies whose product I sell in the travel agency. This report will be a mixture of personal and professional opinions - I can't separate them. Most of the brochures list the Tryp as a 4-star hotel. My feeling is that that rating is overgenerous - 3 to 3 is the absolute maximum I'd go to. That said, I liked it a lot. I personally don't go on holiday for hotel rooms. They're a place to sleep at night and grab a bite to eat perhaps. The beds at the Tryp were comfortable (sprung mattress on a wood base, European style), the linen clean, the towels fresh. There was no dust on the door lintels or the tops of the picture frames, and no curly hairs in the corners in the bathroom. The plates in the dining room were clean, the cutlery didn't always match, the kitchen more than hygienically satisfactory. The food ranged from totally bland to out of this world. And even when the food was bland it wasn't inedible. There was always the alternative of a decent pizza in the cafeteria instead of the regular buffet- style dining room. The barbecue by the pool was always good, and portions more than generous. Fairly large pool with the obligatory swim-up bar always crowded with consumers of free drinks, and there was a bar down at the beach too, supplying an unending stream of rum cocktails. (Somehow rum seemed to be the drink even for me, an avowed Scotch imbiber.) There's an entertainment crew at the hotel whose job it is to organize beach volley-ball, games, evening stage-shows that get the guests (particularly men) to go up and make fools of themselves, aerobics and salsa dancing. The disco in the hotel was closed while I was there - I don't know what plans there are to reopen it. I spent one evening at the disco at the Internacional hotel, of which more anon - it was, shall we say, an interesting experience. I think the one memory that will stick with me is the day we were presented with a crab-fest on the beach. Large (to say the least) crabs cooked in a spicy tomato sauce, served under the palms, the sea a few yards away and a 7-piece band playing salsa music. I could get used to it. The guests were a mixed crowd, of singles and families, young people and old. Spaniards seemed to dominate, quite a few Italians, some Portuguese and Germans and a solid contingent of Canadians. In winter and spring the Canadian content blossoms - for the equivalent of US$600-odd an all- inclusive week there (flight from Toronto included) is really good value. Would I go back to the Tryp? Depends. If I were looking for a week of vegging out, I would, without question. And I would definitely recommend it to good friends who are looking for reasonable amenities. But there's a lot more of Cuba that I still want to see, so it'll be a while. OTHER HOTELS I took a day off from working on my tan to look at some other properties, but as these were only brief one-hour visits I couldn't get as much of a sense of the places. SUPERCLUB VARADERO Apparently the only Superclub (so far) outside Jamaica. From the professional point of view - perfect. The lawns are carefully clipped, there are no wilted flowers on the bushes, the rooms are tastefully appointed, jacuzzi's by the bar overlooking the ocean, food never less than good, complete gym with all the right equipment...everything is just right. I had a careful look at the condition of the scuba-diving equipment (a personal interest) - not a speck of dirt or rust or corrosion. The beachtoys (windsurfers, Hobiecats, Sea-doos, banana-boats, water- skiing equipment) were spotless too. (My companion noted that the beach activities and diving instructors were not exactly unattractive either, but she ended up having lunch with me, not with them. Charm wins out in the end!) Guests pay a lot of money, and are entitled to an excellent product. I think they get it. If you're looking for a better class all- inclusive, resort there's no doubt that SuperClub is definitely worth considering. Personally - and I must stress **PERSONALLY** - I had reservations - the style is not for me. I had a sense that nobody would make a fool of himself in public. Nobody would make silly jokes with someone they don't know in the elevator. Again, this is a PERSONAL reaction, not a professional one, and my personal vacation needs are different from the next person's. I concede that I may also have been influenced by the fact that I was kept waiting at the gate before the public relations person (a former university- level languages teacher) gave permission for me to be admitted. The property is definitely very exclusive, and while you can gain entrance to any other hotel in the area, the SuperClub has a gatekeeper. Again, and I risk repeating myself, this is a personal opinion. SuperClub is a first class place - better than first class, in fact. Having seen it, I would have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone looking for a vacation in an exclusive, very high standard resort. HOTEL GAVIOTTA CORAL Mid-scale - something on the level with the Tryp Siesta, except that there's no all-inclusive option there. It's actually a complex of hotels marketed and managed by one company and built around a central swimming pool area, and of course, close to that magniforacious beach. I'd had a choice of places in the incentive award. I chose the Tryp because it was an all-inclusive deal. I think that the Gaviotta Coral complex would be a pretty good deal too. Everybody there seemed to be having a good time, and the rooms passed my dust-on-the-door/curly-hairs-in-the-bathroom checkup. The staff I spoke to were friendly, with ready smiles. For mid-scale, a good deal, I think. MELIA LAS AMERICAS Usual quality Melia standard. Their lobby is a high atrium with cascading plants, and nicely furnished. I arrived without an appointment, so I couldn't see the rooms or much else. At a glance I was generally impressed. You can't go wrong with Melia or their Sol subsidiary. MAR DEL SUR Two-star (according to the brochures), self-catering, furnished units with kitchenettes. I think it was Winston Churchill who said something to the effect that nobody ever died of indigestion caused by swallowing an unpleasant remark. HOTEL INTERNACIONAL As we drove up in the taxi I took one look at the building and said "1951". I was out by a year. An architectural buff would find it interesting in spite of the pink paint (there's a strange abundance of pink paint on the buildings in Varadero). Apparently the Internacional was the first hotel to be built on Varadero beach, and it shows its age. Columns inside are faced with Cuban marble, but the chips over the years have been roughly filled in with plaster of Paris. The hotel must have been glorious once. Again, no appointment, and I was rebuffed. "After 1 o'clock only". After one o'clock I intended to be back in the sea, and out of my sweat-laden white cotton shirt and chinos. The disco was, as I said, interesting, with a wide range of guests, some of whose identities and proclivities were - shall we say - not exactly in the North American, Protestant, suburban, soccer-mom, tradition. Pimps and prostitutes were very active. Without being self-righteous, it came as something of a shock to me that services could be bought for US$2 on the beach and US$3 on a bed. I was rather saddened by the number of tourists (of both sexes) who took advantage of the going rate - at ten times that rate there would still be customers. I guess it's a reflection of the cost and standard of living. One Italian fellow I came across boasted that he'd acquired the company of a woman for a week for a couple of bottles of shampoo and two sets of clothes for her baby. DAY TRIP TO HAVANA a very short note: Havana is DEFINITELY one place I'm going back to. And not just once. It must have been resplendent once, and with the efforts by UNICEF to restore it (it's a world heritage site) it's going to be beautiful again. I took the day-trip in from Varadero - about two hours' drive away. Cost US$44, including lunch (about which the less said the better). I had certain objections, which I'll get out of the way straight off - the guide was more interested in getting us to cigar and rum stores where he gets a kickback than in giving us time in the old city. Okay, this happens everywhere in the world, but in our case it was blatant. And, although he may have been fluent in idiomatic English, his knowledge about what he was showing us was basic. It may have been in my tour's case only, I concede. An example - I asked about the Cuban flag, and the meaning of the various parts. His explanation of the red triangle on the left hand side "red is for the blood of the martyrs in the War of independence (1901, against the Spanish)". "Why a triangle?" I asked. "Oh they probably thought it looked good". Now, NO flag ANYWHERE has ANY particular component because it LOOKS good. (I subsequently found out the significance elsewhere, and it was pretty surprising). Now that my objections are out of the way: Havana is a must-visit. It's more than our image of decrepit 1950's Chevrolets. The city is dilapidated. It's a mixture of modern-socialist- functionalist-deco- noveau-Spanish Baroque style. There're dozens of hustlers and as many beggars, and everyone wants to sell you "genuine" Cuban cigars or rum ("I give you special price!"), and nobody seems to pay much attention to the posters and signs extolling the victory of the revolution or the dignity of labour. Economically - by American standards, at any rate - it's poor, but I guess poverty is relative. Havana is vibrant and alive. Havana seems to move to a beat that permeates through its every stone, and the women move with a grace that harks back to another continent, another time. The rhythms of the music, and the art and the carvings in the market in front of the cathedral remind you of that continent too. Most of the buildings in the old quarter are being restored. The cathedral on the old square is obscured by scaffolding, but the details one can pick out show the Moorish influence from old Spain. The Internacional Hotel (not to be confused, by any means, with the one in Varadero) has been recently restored and reopened under Spanish management (5 stars plus). It used to be a owned, apparently, by a syndicate headed by certain gentleman by the name of Capone. And I'd love to be on the sea-front boulevarde in July when the carnival is in full swing. A day-trip to Havana is not enough. I'll go back, rent a room in a private home, and walk Havana's streets and alleys. It's a city worth getting to know better. And, by the way, the 1950's Chevy's look just great.
Hello All, Just got back from Sandals Mo-Bay and had a blast!!! Here's a report of a few days of activity anyway!! Our flight arrived without incident although going through customs always makes me a little nervous. Guys who I thought were soldiers standing around in there red barets, and I wondered if they just randomly pull a couple out for a "third world search". It was only about a five minute drive to the resort on the left side of the road. We made it in fine and were escorted to our concierge who upgraded us from a jr.exc.honeymoon suite to a one bedroom suite. We had our own livingroom which looked right over the ocean with a TV(although it was only turned on once the whole week), a wetbar stocked with Red Stripe, Miller Lite, Pepsi (no Coke), and 7- up, and of course bar liqueurs. 2 French doors lead into the master bedroom with 2 closets, and a separate bathroom. Sandals is about 20 years old I'd guess, but in excellent condition. Anyway about 30 minutes after check-in we went to an orientation of the place and quickly ran over to Sandals Royal to dine at Bali-Hi restaurant. Each guest receives there own silk wrap to ware, we dined with two other couples, both whom were staying at Sandals Inn. Neither liked the Inn at all, and one had upgrade to the Royal.(for about $600.00).The dinner was great. One thing that stands out was a beef-k-bob with a peanut butter bar-b-que sauce,, yummy!!! The only negative there to me was the soup. Susan thought it was OK, but I nicknamed it "goat shit soap". Made it home about 10:30 and were both totally exhausted. The next morning went to the Breakfast buffet, a great setup. You can pile on omelets, sausage, you name it tons of pastries. We aren't really breakfast people and both had a bagel and oj. The dining area looks over the beach and it was a great place to watch the sun come up. Spent the whole second day we a couple we met at orientation from Long Island, who turned out to be great friends by the end of the week. I went snorkeling 3 times and basically just hung out on the beach drinkin Jamaican delites. Many delites!! The next morning We all took off to Dunn's River falls. Its about a 2 hour bus trip but well worth it! the falls are absolutely beautiful. The only negative was taking the bus for $98 bucks a couple instead of getting a taxi where you can set your own pace. for instance we went to a nice shopping center in Ocho Rios but were only given 30 minutes to shop. anyway go to the falls!! That night we eat a the Oleander Room, nice place, eloquent, but not what we were in the mood for. Ended up at the piano bar around 11 and sang and partied till late. One thing for sure about Jamaica, you are either filthy rich or dirt poor. No middle class, no welfare system . so many families live in one room shanties, with cardboard walls no floors or running water. It's hard not to feel for the children living there. Went to one straw market and had enough after about 30 minutes. the vendors are very aggressive, but never pay close to what the ask for their products, at least get 50% off or go to the next one. As they all have the same stuff, hats, canes, baskets masks, etc. I wanted to go to the scuba-diving class but never made it up in time. The water is crystal clear and I snorkeled about 12 times during the week. I think we enjoyed the food at Tokyo Joe's the best, were we were able to create our own stir fry. Friday night was Lobster night at the main dining room, it was good, but we should have gotten there earlier than we did. The resort was beautiful, with palm trees bearing fruit, banana trees, and some of the prettiest flowers I had ever seen. The only negative were the jets flying over our heads, but it didn't bother us much at all. The beach grill was great for a 1 am Burger and fries. All in all we loved, made some life-long friends we never would have met and would go back any time. Wish we would have gone to Negril. Hopefully next time, anyway thanks to everyone for the advice before the trip, any questions fire away, cause everything is Irree Mon!!
We've been looking forward to the honeymoon, thinking of it as a perfect ending to a flawless ceremony at St. Juliana church, and perfect reception at The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach. The impression from the travel literature (and the price) is an all- inclusive Ritz-Carlton, replete with exquisite food and exotic tropical refreshments. I should have remembered that it was after all an advertisement. The flight was less than two hours, and the food was palatable. After landing, we walked through an empty airport (it was only 8:30 AM) to the SuperClubs desk, where we waited for our car to arrive. We politely refused the porter's offer to carry our bags, and walked the whole thirty feet ourselves to the waiting cab. The drive was quite scenic, and the driver pointed out landmarks and talked about Jamaica. The entrance to Grand Lido was beautiful, with lush grounds, open air walkway, and fountains. They seated us and offered us champagne (a very average Moet) and orange juice while we filled out the various forms, and told us that orientation was to take place at 5pm in the piano bar. We were then escorted to our rooms to wait for our bags. My travel agent had requested a bottle of champagne, flowers, and chocolate to be in the room when we arrived. About fifteen minutes after we walked in our room, a warm bottle of champagne and a bucket of ice were delivered, with a card that read "Irene, I love muchly - Rick". We decided to take a look around while it chilled. We went straight to the beach bar to get a drink. Since it was warm and very humid (it had just finished storming for the last 24 hours) we asked for a rum runner. I don't know if the woman behind the bar was part of the normal bartending staff (she wasn't wearing the traditional colored vest) but it took a couple of attempts to order the drink. She would start to clean the blender, then forget about us and start doing some- thing else. Eventually we got our drinks, and they were terrible. TIP: Always specify a top-shelf brand of liquor. Otherwise, you will be served brands such as Vostok vodka, and Galleon rum. We walked the length of the beach, and ordered new drinks at the main bar, this time asking for strawberry daiquiris. I was still assuming they used top-shelf liquors for the drinks, so we got the same Galleon rum that ruined the last drinks. The daiquiri mix was a radioactive pink color that I've never seen before, and not too sure I trust as a food coloring or flavoring. After strolling to the Timber House bar, we traded them in for beer. TIP: don't ask for any particular beer. All they have is Red Stripe on tap. >From then on, all we asked for were mimosas, beer, well drinks, (making sure to ask for the top-shelf liquor) and shots. The bartenders in the piano bar and the disco seemed to know their stuff, I don't think the others were bartenders by trade. There were many employees around, fixing and cleaning. Well, some of them were. Many were lounging around. I noticed a lot of maintenance and cleaning that needed to be done if it was to pass as a four-star hotel. The landscaping, however, was beautiful (watch out for fire ants, though, on the c/o side's back garden; one of them took a piece out of me). While we were gone, the flower arrangement was delivered to the room. It came with the same cryptic card as the champagne. The chocolate never did arrive. At 12:30 we went to lunch, and picked through the buffet. It was decent, and with the abundance of dishes we found enough to satisfy us. The afternoon passed uneventfully (it was still too cloudy to go to the beach or pool) until it was time for orientation. On arriving at the piano bar, we were told it had been moved because they were recarpeting the bar (I guess no one told the rest of the staff). We went down to the front desk, and they were as surprised as we were. They then told us that we should have been given an orientation when we arrived, and gave us the itinerary for the week. We saw a few things we would have liked to do that day, but of course had missed. We went back to the room, our mood steadily darkening. Dinner time found us at La Pasta. The place is decorated with strands of garlic bulbs, which is a shame as they should have put it in the food. Irene had what they described as a seafood medley in a marinara sauce, but we were hard pressed to find any of the shellfish listed, just bits of fish. We then spent the evening looking for any nightlife, and after finding none, we returned to the room at midnight. Day two found us out on the beach. We retreated indoors during the daily rainstorm, and found that it must be cheaper to mop than to fix the roofs. Every room in the main complex had an enormous puddle after the storm, and you couldn't even walk in to the gift shop without walking right through one. We decided to get a Hedonism II itinerary, so we would know the best time to get a day pass. We asked someone at the front desk, and they said they didn't have any, we'd have to get one from Hedonism. I hinted that they should call and obtain one for me, but they insisted that I had to make the call to have it faxed, or go pick one up. After trying to call and having the phone ring over twenty times (BTW, we were charged for the call) their PBX disconnected me. I was pretty miffed at this, that with the high service image that they try to project, they couldn't have gotten it for us. Eventually we got it ourselves when we tried to do the tour of Hedonism. It turns out they only give tours at 11am and 3pm, and we were late (another little thing that GL didn't inform us of when we asked about the tours). I suppose I should try to summarize the rest. Food: The room service menu is fixed and limited, as it comes from whichever house (a bar/kitchen/hot tub) is closest to you. La Pasta is passable (like an Olive Garden restaurant) but without any Italian spices in the food. Piacere is touted as a great French restaurant, but I didn't think much of it, and can find a half dozen better than it within Palm Beach county alone. Cafe Lido is probably the best, as it doesn't make any pretentions, and serves decent food. Service is excellent at all of them, except it is excruciatingly slow at La Pasta. Jamaican cooking is spicy, but none made it into the food that GL served. Drinks: See above. Don't order anything more complicated than a top- shelf well drink except at the disco or piano bar. Nightlife: Not much, but the piano bar can be fun. Be sure to go to the pajama party in the disco on Thursday night. It was fun, and after a couple of rounds of flaming Bob Marleys, a few couples made a hot tub run. Many of the staff, especially security, seemed to know us on sight the following day :-) You won't be allowed in the PJ party except in sleepwear. We couldn't figure out why people would be shy about showing up in their underwear, they were wearing a lot less on the beach that afternoon. Daylife: You must register for scuba diving the previous day. They have all the equipment you need, but I brought my own mask and fins. The water was warm enough in early October to not need a wet suit. The dives are one tank dives. Kayaks and sailing is available, and they will tow you in if you can't make it back by yourself. There is only one water skiing boat, so you usually have about five people ahead of you. Parasailing is available from a vendor right off site for about $30 US. Humorous observation: The main cabin of the M/Y Zein has a framed letter from the Prince of Monaco's social secretary, thanking them for inviting the Prince to visit Grand Lido and his old yacht. He said that if the Prince was ever in Jamaica he might grace them with a visit. I know we posted our bag-letters in college (one page rejection letters from employers) but I didn't think GL would post theirs! >From talking to the other guests who've been to Sandals, Club Med, etc., I learned that Grand Lido is the best. In my opinion, you do not get what you pay for. For less than what my wife and I paid, we could have gotten the same thing with better food and stayed at the Breakers, the Ritz-Carlton, or other hotels that are part of The Leading Hotels of the World (TM). A couple we met agreed with me, saying that someone is making a fortune off of the SuperClubs chain. Today I found out a friend of mine knows the family that owns it (she works out with one of them) and says that they have more money than Switzerland. Too bad they don't put some of it back into the business, I think Grand Lido has a lot of potential. If I ever return, I would try Hedonism II. The food will probably be just as good, it will cost less, and there will be more to do. As the author of the Discworld books, Terry Pratchett wrote in _Eric_: "...(It was) a particularly high brand of boredom which is like the boredom you get which a) is costing you money, and b) is taking place while you should be having a nice time."
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