Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Patti and I left Chicago's O'Hare on 9/30 at 6:15AM for SXM, transferring in Miami. Because of this early start we were up at 3:15AM to catch a Limo at 4AM. Check-in at O'Hare at 4:45AM is a snap (took only 5 minutes). Flight was uneventful to Miami and on time. Our wait in Miami was only 1 hour and we were on our last leg to SXM. We arrived on AAflight #445 at exactly 2:30PM. I am assuming that what happened in the next 25 minutes was simply due to it being the slow season. Patti and I went through immigration in less than 5 minutes and our bag was already on the carousel on the other side. We grabbed a taxi to Hertz and picked-up our car and were leaving the Hertz rental area at 2:55PM. This obviously was a new record for us since it took nearly 90 minutes in August of '96 to perform the same maneuver. Feeling real good about ourselves, we headed for Marigot and Match for a few necessary provisions - French bread, Brie cheese, etc. We had already brought some other basics such as coffee, creamer, sugar, soap <thanks Carol>, bug spray, fruit. As we left Match I noticed, as some others have, that things seemed cleaner along the roadway compared to last year. We arrived at Club O at 4PM and checked-in with no problem <thanks Jim Ruos>. We booked a beach chalet through Jim and were somewhat apprehensive as to what it would be like compared to our accommodations at Esmeralda's last year. We were pleasantly surprised. The unit was very nice and located equidistant between Pedros' and Papagayo's - Unit #68. I won't describe the unit, since Carol Hill has done that very nicely in her previous Club O report. I will say however, that the view was great and we did have A/C in our bedroom, which was all we needed. After unpacking, Patti and I made a dash for the water and spent the next hour in the water, on the beach, in the water, on the beach <G>. We walked up and down the beach to see how things have progressed since last year, and were amazed at how much had been accomplished at Club O in the last 13 moths. After our water and beach baptism we headed back to our chalet for French bread and Brie cheese out on the front patio - aaaaaah what a life! It occurred to us that a some point we should get ready for dinner and put some clothes on (which we so easily shed when we got to our unit). We left about 6:30 and headed over to our favorite eating area, Grand Case. We had already been warned that many of the great restaurants over there were closed for vacation. However, our favorite, 'L'Auberge Gourmande' was open, so we were thrilled to start our trip off with Christine and her chef husband. We both had the house cocktail, champagne with apricot brandy, and a wonderful conch soup. For a main entre Patti had red snapper rolled around shrimp in a wonderful basil sauce and I had lobster thermidor both with nicely done vegetables. For dessert I had creme bruelee while Patti had a walnut cake topped with creme bruelee in a raspberry sauce with a scoop of passion fruit sorbet and butter cookies as trim. All-in-all a great first meal on our first night in paradise. Christine was kind enough to buy me an after dinner drink of Chambord Liqueur while Patti decided to buy one of L'Auberge's T-shirts. I will not comment on the pricing of our meals, since I believe it would take all the fun out of it and also remind me that we probably spent too much <G>. We arrived back at Club O around 9:30PM. You must know they now have a gate that must be raised and lowered to get into Club O - so the guard has to keep on his toes for the late casino arrivals. I failed to mention earlier, that one thing we hadn't missed was that great road leading into ClubO and Orient Beach - sure beats any potholes I've ever seen. After a nightcap on the porch, looking at the stars and listening to the ocean, we called it a<VBG>day. Wednesday morning, 10/1, I awoke to beautiful sunshine with a smattering of clouds. While Patti was still sleeping<which she did every morning until I had croissants in hand>, I took a quick dip in the water and then proceeded to L'Orientique to pickup the morning croissants and another French bread. This became a ritual every morning but two, so I won't repeat myself. The one thing that was a different experience for me was the way I shopped <G>. After returning to the chalet I got Patti moving by the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the allure of croissants from paradise. We sat on the porch and had breakfast, relaxing quietly for the first time in a long time. After breakfast we did the suntan lotion ritual which was necessary especially this first full day on the beach. We parked ourselves on the beach with two chairs and an umbrella, supplied to us by JB, a nice young man who works for Papagayo's watersports. Our location was somewhere between our chalet #68 and Papagayo's. Except for a brief passing shower <more a nuisance than anything> the morning was spent in water, on the beach, etc. For Lunch we decided to try the new Papagayo's. Patti had the curry chicken salad and I the cheeseburger with Dutch cheese washed down with our favorite - Mango daiquiris. Overall a nice lunch in a great atmosphere. After lunch it was back to the beach for the afternoon with the weather very much cooperating. Patti did want to visit L'Orientique in mid-afternoon, so we strolled over to see what they had to offer besides croissants and French bread. The shop is very nice but very expense, so we decided that we would hold off on buying any gifts, etc. for Marigot or Philipsburg later in the trip. After our browsing, we hit the beach and the water again. Wednesday evening, as many know, is the wine and cheese party between 5:30 and 6:30 at Papagayo's. I've been to many cocktail parties over the years, but this was a first for Patti and I. Somehow this was the greatest 'equalizer' I had ever experienced <G>. We had a great time. We met Mr. Brink, our host, and a number of other very nice people. We met one couple, Terry and Sarah, from Mississippi who were spending their 7th or 8th vacation at Club O. Being wiped out from our first day in the sun, we decided to stay and have dinner at Papagayo's. Patti had a kabob of fish featuring mahi mahi, tuna, and swordfish, while I had grilled swordfish. The meals were accompanied by rice and very fresh broccoli, however we did order potatoes instead of rice. For dessert we had an almond cake with fresh whipped cream. The meal was good but our complaint was the slowness of service. It took nearly 2 1/2 hours and there were only four other tables having dinner in the restaurant that night. After dinner it was back to the chalet and called it an early evening. As a side note, we are not opposed to casinos, but since we NEVER win, we decided to spend our money on food <BG> instead of going over to the casinos after dinner. Thursday, 10/2, we got up and had breakfast and started to put on our lotion for the day when it started to rain. The rain lasted for about 1 hour and then the sun came out. During the night we had very heavy thunderstorms with tremendous flashes of lightening. Our hope was that this was not going to be a trend for the next week. While waiting for the rain to pass, our maid was cleaning our chalet and we had an interesting conversation with her. She will be turning 65 this year <looks 55> and she has 9 children and 24 grandchildren. She originally is from the Dominican Republic but has been on SXM for about 17 years. Like a bartender or a barber, she had great insights about life. For lunch we decided to walk down to Pedros' only to find it closed. I suspect that this was due in part to the poor start to the day weatherwise and because there was no cruise ships. As with no cruise ships there were no gawkers which was very nice for a change. So, we turned around and headed back to Papagayo's for lunch. Patti had the Greek salad for lunch and I had the fried calamari with fries <great for the cholesterol> both moistened by Mango daiquiris. The afternoon was spent on the beach and in the water, meeting two couples who were visiting Orient Beach but staying over on the Dutch side in their timeshares. Since, Patti and I are originally from Philadelphia, it was interesting to us that one couple was from Allentown, Pa. and the other just outside of Doylestown, Pa. It was fun just talking about, and catching up on, what's been happening back there for the past 11+ years. Thursday evening we had reservations at Mario's Bistro in Sandy Ground for 7PM. We had called down for reservations about two weeks in advance so we could be assured of a table by the water. Without disappointing, our favorite server Didier, showed us to our table overlooking the water channel. I started off with an appetizer of penne paste in a mushroom sauce topped with parmesan and goat cheese while Patti had a bacon romaine salad with a vinagerette/blue cheese dressing. For a main course Patti had a 2 inch thick grilled tuna steak topped with freshly grated blue cheese and gnocchi in a red sauce as a side. I had the most outstanding veal chop (12 oz.) that I had ever tasted with crusted pesto on top with crispy onions and chedder cheese potatoes. Dessert consisted of fresh strawberries in an upside down cone for Patti <looked like a volcano> while I had raspberry marbled cheesecake in a vanilla sauce. With a great dinner in tow, the car moved slower up and down the hills of St. Martin back to Club O for the evening. Parked on our chairs on the porch of the chalet, we again looked to the stars and listened to the peaceful roll of the water and the chirping of the frogs. <P.S. until dressing for dinner at Marios's, I came to realize I had not worn any clothes for almost 48 hours - how relaxing>. Friday, 10/3, we started the day by adding passion fruit juice and bananas to our breakfast menu. After a stroll on the beach and a dip in the water, we headed to Marigot for the Market on the waterfront. While there, we ran into another Club O couple from Tennessee, Nancy and Dave, who were looking for Bruce Farrington's favorite croissant place. We later found out that they found it, but we were not so lucky <Bruce you need to draw me a map>. Patti bought an island doll from a local artisan <dolls being Patti's passion> and I a very nice gold and stainless steal/silver bracelet for Patti. Being a very very hot and humid day, we headed back to Club O after about 2 1/2 hours so we could hit the beach for the afternoon. The afternoon was more cloudy than not, but that was OK since we needed to lighten up on the sun for a little bit. Lunch, by-the-way, consisted of a chocolate croissant and Perrier in Marigot. On the recommendation of Jim Ruos, we headed over to Bistrot Caraibes where the live lobsters reside in the fountain out front. To start, Patti had the lobster bisque soup and I the conch stew. As a comparison to L'Auberge Gourmande, I had the lobster thermidor which had a tarragon/cheese sauce and Patti had a sea bass dish. Both were excellent meals with the added side learning of how to tell the difference between a male and a female lobster. Obviously I thought all you needed to do was to turn them over, but our server was much more astute than I. Patti had five different berries <straw, blue, black rasp,red rasp,and guava> with a very creamy vanilla ice cream for dessert and I the creme brulee. The meal was topped off with the traditional Grand Case rum after dinner drink laced this time with ginger root. While we were in Bistrot Caribes, unbekownst to us, there were three other couples from Club O who would later meet and become known as the suspects in the recent 'St. Martin Fall Fling'. More on this subject in subsequent trip reports. After dinner, we walked down the street to a small shop called 'Sexy Fruits' where Patti bought a pair of earrings and then headed back to our chalet for the night. Saturday, 10/4, started off spectacularly from a weather standpoint. Saturday was the beginning 5+ days of sunshine with little or no clouds, 88 to 90 degree temps, no wind<on the beach or otherwise>, and very humid. Needed to resupply on French bread and Brie, so added these items to my daily routine stroll to L'Orientique. Patti and I were on the beach by 9:30AM and never saw our chalet until 5:30PM. I rented one of Papagayo's yellow floats for the day <$5> and Patti and I used it to float two or three times out to the floating diving platforms that are 30 to 35 yards off shore. What a great way to spend a day. One thing one needs to remember however, don't forget to reapply that suntan lotion all over, especially after sitting on your beach towel or floating in the water face down for any period of time <ouch>. For lunch, we decided to walk down to Pedros' and see what was happening at that end of the beach. Fortunately, there weren't too many 'cruisers' on the beach, just mostly locals and their families. Patti had the St. Martin version of a 'Philly' cheese steak - swordfish steak sandwich and some bottled water. I thought I would try the ribs, fries, and a coke. The swordfish steak sandwich was only passable as were the ribs. I guess I'm spoiled by 'Carson's' ribs here in Chicagoland. Lunch was filling and certainly enough to keep us going on the beach and in the water for the rest of the afternoon. Beach day ended with us sitting on the porch with our traditional Brie and French bread. Saturday night, we headed back over to Grand Case to Il Nettuno's. They had just opened this evening after a month long vacation. We were greeted by its very loud and comic owner, who let you know that this is an Italian restaurant and not French. As an appetizer I had the Portabello <spelling?> mushroom and Patti had a tomato with basil salad topped with an oil and vinaigrette dressing. For an Entre Patti had the bowtie pasta in a cream sauce with chunks of smoked salmon and spinach while I had the veal saltimbocca. We finished our meal with a very very creamy and light white chocolate mousse. As we were leaving we had a pleasant conversation with the owner who apparently spent 26 years in the Washington, DC area running two French restaurants. The day ended with our five minute ride back to Club O - very convenient. October 5th, we started the day off a little different by walking down to Papagayo's for breakfast <known as 'Breakfast at Papagayo's'>. Breakfast there was one of those little surprises. Patti had the ham and cheese omelet with a croissant instead of toast <only substituted in the off season we were told> and coffee. I had the Eggs Benedict with fresh orange juice and coffee. On the way out we inquired about the TIKO TIKO nude cruise. We were told that Guillome an Phillip would be bringing it into Orient Bay later that day and would start the cruise on Friday <too late for us, since we were leaving on Thursday>. More about TIKO TIKO later. As some of you already know, the TIKO TIKO was in drydock for about a month on the Philipsburg side of the island. After breakfast it was back to the beach and the water with another float rental for the day. We met another couple on the beach who were from North Carolina this time, Graham and Diane. Graham offered his snorkeling gear to Patti and I which we graciously accepted. Graham indicated there were some good snorkeling just off the rocks from Pedros. So, Patti and I headed in that direction. Saw some interesting coral and some different fish. Although this may not be very interesting to most, it was a major accomplishment for Patti who has not snorkeled in 20+ years. We both had fun with it and I could tell how much it meant to her. Since Patti did not finish all her bowties from the previous night's meal, we heated them up for lunch back at the chalet, along with some French bread and wine. Afterwards it was back to the beach and in the water. One would think that this gets boring, but not for us old beachcombers from South Jersey. Sunday evening we made our regular trek over to Grand Case again to try Le Cottage. We started off with the house special - Champagne with a berry liqueur. For an appetizer, Patti had raviolli bay scallops and I had a chilled tomato/cucumber soup. The ravioli was very light with a white alfredo sauce. For our main course, I had a rack of lamb in an oriental sauce and Patti had the lobster thermidor. Dessert for me was white chocolate mousse once again but with mangos, pineapples, and passion fruit with Patti having a macaroon with a strawberry/mango sauce and slices of mango throughout. Dinner ended with a rum after dinner drink. Once back to our chalet, we were sitting on our porch when Graham and Diane came down, from chalet # 72, to say good-bye since they were leaving Monday to head home to North Carolina. This was the first time at Club O for Diane, and she was just raving about how wonderful their trip had been. We exchanged business cards an E-mail addresses and indicated that we would keep in-touch. On Monday, 10/6, Patti and I decided we better get down to Philipsburg and do some shopping before the time slipped away. As usual, Philipsburg was crowded with a Carnival cruise ship in port. We did not do any serious shopping in 'Touch of Gold' or 'Diamond Creations' this time. We stayed pretty much to basics, getting a few island gifts and drifting to 'Last Mango in Paradise' to get my Jimmy Buffett fix. After 2 hours of intense heat and humidity, we got outta town quick. We took the eastern road back to Orient Beach via Dawn Beach and Oyster Pond, two areas we had not seen before in our previous trips to SXM. WOW, what a hill to Dawn Beach. Fortunately the brakes held and we had enough horsepower to get back up the hill going back towards Oyster Pond. By the time we got back to Club O it was lunch time, so we made it easy and went down to Papagayo's and split the Chef's salad which consisted of ham, turkey, cheese, red & green peppers, lettuce, etc. with a ranch type dressing. As required, we had our Mango daiquiris to ease everything down. As we were leaving, we noticed a sign up at Papagayo's watersports indicating that the TIKO TIKO was going to begin its cruise on Tuesday and every day for the rest of the week. Well, we were in luck since we were led to believe they weren't sailing again until Friday. We asked if we could go the next day, Tuesday, and the fella behind the counter told us that 3 people had just canceled and that they had room to add us to the cruise for a total of 11 <12 being the maximum on the cruise>. I rushed back to the chalet to get money for the cruise and then came back to make our gourmet luncheon selections and pay for the trip. Timing is really everything I believe. As we were heading to the beach for the afternoon, we ran into the couple we had met earlier from Tennessee, Nancy and Dave. We were telling them we had just signed up for the cruise on Tuesday when they indicated that they had organized a group on the beach to take the same cruise. Things were obviously shaping up in establishing what later would be known as the suspects to the 'St. Martin Fall Fling'. Later that afternoon Nancy introduced Patti and I to the other members of the upcoming trip. Back to Grand Case for dinner, this time repeating ourselves by going to L'Auberge Gourmande again. Patti had bay scallops in a pancake with a cajun sauce and I the cooked bay scallops wrapped in raw salmon. For the main course Patti had salmon in a port wine sauce and I had the shrimp scampi. Dessert was a lemon souffle with raspberry coulis and pieces of dark chocolate and their famous chocolates dessert for Patti and I respectively. Again Christine bought our Chambord to finish off the night. I think by now Patti and I have gained at least 10 lbs. from all this fine food. So, Patti decides to walk down again to Sexy Fruits to purchase a bracelet, necklace, earrings, and sunglasses. This is her version of exercise and an excuse not to lose money at the casinos <she wants something to show for it>. Finally we call it a night and head back to Club O. Tuesday, 10/7, its an early start since we need to meet the cruise party in front of Papagayo's by 9:15AM. Guillomeand Phillip are ready, willing, and very much able to take on this motley crew for a day in the sun, sand, and water. We all took the small rubber boat over to the TIKO TIKO and began our trip to Tintamarre. There was very little wind so we went over by engine power <took about 40 minutes to ride over>. The weather was perfect with no clouds and the temperature about 88 degrees. The others joining Patti and I were couples from Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, and a gentleman from Scotland. As others have indicated, this is without a doubt a great way to meet others staying on SXM and Club O. The laughing, the friendship, the sheer fun of the day was worth the trip alone. No one took themselves seriously and we couldn't stop grinning all day. After we anchored, we all floated or swam ashore while Phillip brought the umbrellas, drinks, snorkeling gear, floats, and our personal bags over on the rubber motorboat. Having established our base camp for the day, we set about to do some serious swimming, snorkeling, sunning, and exploring. This was THE finest day of the trip. About two hours after we landed however, a very large Cat called the 'Golden Eagle' anchored and unloaded about 75 tourists for some snorkeling. Unimpressed, we stuck to our principles and remained 'au naturale' with very little gawking or picture taking on their part. Actually they seemed relatively un- moved by us. All-in-all it was a peaceful coexistence. They stayed for about 3 hours before heading to Philipsburg. Around 1PM Guillome blew his horn calling us to the gourmet lunch aboard the TIKO TIKO. Like a flotilla, we headed for the boat eagerly awaiting lunch. The TIKO TIKO lunch menu was: Champagne -- 8oz Sirloin Strip Steak with garlic butter OR 12oz Mahi Mahi Filet with lemon sauce OR 8oz Marinated Chicken Breast with your choice of Baked Potatoe or Corn on the Cob -- Salad TIKO TIKO -- Cheesecake in Raspberry Coulis -- coffee or tea -- after dinner drinks -- an array of French Wines. Patti had the Mahi Mahi and corn while I went with the Steak and baked potato. The meal was prepared to perfection. All we did was roll off the boat after lunch and float headup back to the beach. What a way to spend a day. This was our finest hour. What more could we ask for - great meal, great weather, great location, great friendship, great hosts. This was the closest thing we have experience to heaven on earth. Thank you God. In the afternoon, Patti and I had a chance to spend sometime with Guillome in the water. We found out that the reason why they were so late getting their boat out of drydock was that the crane broke in the marina the had put into and they had to find another crane operator. While lifting the TIKO TIKO into the water, the new crane operator dropped the TIKO TIKO onto some rocks and compromised the hull's integrity. Some minor leaking was occurring and there was some damage to some of the routine hull work they had done while in drydock. Obviously both Phillip and Guillome were very upset. They did some patch work and decided to bring it back to Orient Bay for the season in hope that no more leaking will occur. After what was clearly a great day, we headed back to Orient around 4PM, giggling all the way with our new found friends - the suspects of the 'St. Martin Fall Fling'. Once back on the beach, we all headed to Papagayo's for Happy Hour. After about an hour, Patti and I excused ourselves from the day's crew and went back to the chalet to dress for dinner. Knowing our stay in St. Martin was coming to an end, we decided to see if any other restaurants had opened from vacation over in Grand Case. Much to our pleasure we discovered that Le Tastevin was now serving evening dinner after being closed for a couple of weeks. Not being very hungry, we limited ourselves to just appetizers and dinner preceded by a glass of white wine and Kir. We both had the snails in a creamy blue cheese sauce for an appetizer while Patti had 3 small crispy salmon filets in a curry sauce for her entre and I the shrimp & scallops in a garlic butter sauce. Being done in by the sun, the water, the food, and mostly the drink, we crashed back at our chalet at Club O. Wednesday, 10/8, we dedicated ourselves to the beach and the water for our last full day. We had breakfast on the porch having our regular - croissants, coffee, juice, and fruit. I had scheduled myself for a message with Dinah for 10AM on the beach; Martha not being available. Dinah had a small little covered structure built on the beach between Papagayo's and Pedro's for her customers <this structure was just completed during our visit>. Not ever having a message before, this was truly an incredibly unique experience for me. After an hour of heavenly relaxation, I joined Patti and two of the 'suspect' couples on the beach for more sun & water. Lunch was brief, each sharing the chef's salad once again along with our Mango daiquiris. After lunch, it was back to the beach for one last afternoon in paradise. As the afternoon began to fade, a rainbow appeared over Tintamarre signally for us that this was a good trip. The three remaining 'suspect' couples agreed to meet for dinner one last time at 7:30PM at Mario's Bistro. Trying to keep some sense of decorum we kept our laughter and giggling down to a minimum. However, our hosts knew we were close to being out-of-control had it not been for our restraint in the liquor department. I had a very nicely done soft shell crab as an appetizer along with the rack of lamb in a port wine sauce for dinner. Patti had the Caesar salad and very tender scallops accompanied by crab ritollo. Dessert was one creme brulee split between the both of us. Following dinner, our friends from Virginia invited us all over to where they were staying for after dinner drinks. We drove over to Cupecoy Beach Club where they were staying in a magnificent two bedroom, three bath condominium. This unit is owned by one of their friends who live there about six months out of the year. They can come down and visit almost anytime they wish <must be nice>. Nearing midnight, and knowing we were going home the next day, Patti and I left to return to Orient Beach. Thursday, 10/9, was a sad day. We decided to have breakfast at Papagayo's one more time and then spend the last couple of hours on the beach. The weather was still beautiful and we tried to imagine how we could live in St. Martin year round. We were able to keep our unit until 12:30PM before having to vacate for the next lucky arrivals. As we were ready to leave, one of the 'suspect' couples stopped by for one last good-bye. With tears in our eyes, we vowed to do it again next year. Our trip to the airport was smooth and uneventful, gassing up before arriving at the Hertz rental area. There were few people at the American counter and the plane was on-time <darn>. Our scheduled departure was 2:48PM on a plane that was half full. The rest is extremely boring. We arrived home about 10:30PM Chicago time. The Chicago weather was beginning to cool <58 degrees> and the leaves were turning colors and falling off the trees. Reality had set in.
Below is a trip report of our recent stay at the in May, through American Fly Away Vacations, we booked a week at the Sands Hotel and Casino in San Juan. We were told the hotel was closing from 8/15 through 10/1 for renovations, but would certainly reopen on 10/1. We booked the week of 10/15 through 10/22. On 10/7 (1 week prior to leaving), our travel agent called me and said that the hotel was not going to reopen on time. American had offered to re-book us at another hotel in San Juan. I checked out the hotel and it was a downgrade from where we were staying. I told our travel agent - no. I checked on the Internet several options and called American Fly Away Vacations myself that evening. I told them that since my trip had been canceled, I didn't want a downgrade and, in fact, wanted to stay at the Wyndam Sugar Bay in St. Thomas (which was all-inclusive - the Sands was not). After about 15 minutes on the phone, they agreed to change the entire trip at no extra charge (even for the additional flight from San Juan to St. Thomas). Left Philadelphia at about 7:00 a.m. and changed planes in San Juan. Arrived in St. Thomas on time and was greeted by the shuttle service who immediately got us on an open air bus to our hotel. It was sweltering in St. Thomas and the open bus didn't do much to cool us off. Arrived at the hotel around 1:30 and were immediately checked in and taken to our room. The room was very nice with a fabulous view of St. John and Tortola. Since we hadn't eaten, we went down for lunch - and I do mean down. The pool, beach area, and one restaurant are set down by the ocean - 97 steps down from the main area of the hotel. Lunch was at the Mangrove Cafe - buffet lunch with a pasta station, salad and dessert bars, sandwiches made to order and a grill where you could order hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, grilled tuna. We were immediately seated and served our drinks and told to help ourselves to lunch which was average. After a few more drinks, it was back up the 97 steps to our room to unpack. There was a shuttle available to take you to the lobby area of the hotel, but we figured we needed to walk off lunch. There were two options for dinner - the same Mangrove Cafe for a "theme buffet" dinner (that night was Caribbean), or the Manor House in the main building. You needed reservations for the Manor House, so we called and reserved 8:00 p.m. After unpacking, we were too tired to go to the beach, having been up since 4:00 a.m., so we stayed in our room until dinner time. The rooms are very nice - king-size bed, table with chairs, two easy chairs with a footstool and a large dresser. There was a refrigerator, coffee pot (fully stocked with coffee, decaf, sugar, creamer, etc.), ceiling fan and in-room safe. There were also two sinks (one in the bathroom and one right outside by the coffee pot). Prior to dinner, we went up for a drink in the bar and found ourselves to be the only ones there. Very friendly bartender - made anything you wanted - all liquor was also top shelf. I asked for a J- B and water and he informed me the only scotch he had was Johnny Walker and Chivas Regal. Dining room was very nice with another great view of St. John. There were about 8 entrees on the menu, with 2 specials every night. The menus changed every 2 days. There was a salad bar and also a dessert bar, but you were served soup, your entree and coffee. Service in the dining room was excellent. Drinks, wine or champagne were also available. Meals were very good - lots of fish, but I did have a very good prime rib one night. We only ate at the buffet dinner once - it was barbecue night and the food was very good - the chef was grilling rib eye steaks to order, they also had snapper, tuna, pork, chicken, mahi-mahi, etc. Next day, checked out St. Thomas This Week and saw that there was only one cruise ship in Charlotte Amalie, so we decided that was the day to go. Got in a cab with 2 other people for the 20 minute drive to town (which was $10/couple). However, when we arrived, we saw 3 cruise ships in port. Well, it was very hot and humid and the town was packed. Couldn't hardly get in any stores. Plus - you had to deal with people selling time shares on every corner. This got old fast - so we made our way back to the hotel and spent the day lounging around the pool and beach. Wanted to see the island, but didn't want to rent a car and drive on those roads (they drive on the left, plus there is a lot of traffic and horrible curves), so we rented a cab for an island tour. Set off at about 10:00 and took a wonderful tour around the entire island - very informative cab driver - told us all about the island and took us to various points where the view of the island and surrounding islands was spectacular. We ended up at one of the highest points on the island - Mountain Top - where they invented the banana daiquiri. There was a bar, small restaurant and couple of shops. He told us to spend as much time as we wanted up there. Had to have a banana daiquiri - it was terrible - took some great pictures and left. We were gone for about 3 1/2 hours on the tour and the total cost was $40. Rested and relaxed for the next couple of days, hanging at the beach and pool. Snorkeling equipment was available at no charge at the hotel, so we took advantage and snorkeled a lot off the beach. All non-motorized water sports are included - the only thing you pay for are jet skis or parasailing. Monday decided to go to St. John to see what that was like. Took a short (5 minute) cab ride to Red Hook and got on the ferry - $3.00 each. Before we boarded, yet another time share person tried to get us to come to the Sapphire Beach Hotel the next day for lunch (yeah, right). Ferry ride was about 15 minutes to St. John. It is much more laid back than St. Thomas. Took a tour around the island and wished we had brought our snorkeling equipment. Wandered back in town and found some great shops - a lot of them branches of the stores in St. Thomas but without the crowds. Shopping was great there. The next morning at 8:00 a.m., the phone rang and it was the time share woman wondering if we wanted to come over and see the hotel. Realized I had told her our last names and where we were staying - big mistake - don't give them any info! Told her wasn't interested and spent the day at the hotel. Rented a jet ski for 1/2 hour ($55) and lounged on the beach. Since our plane didn't leave until 4:00 p.m., the hotel quite graciously let us stay in our rooms until 2:00 the next day. All in all, the hotel was great. There are no hidden charges for anything - food is very good and the staff at the hotel went out of their way to be friendly and helpful. There is always something going on at the pool - volleyball, basketball, bingo, etc., but no pressure to participate. Also, entertainment every evening in the hotel bar - limbo show, reggae music, trivia contests with disc jockey up until 1:00 a.m. The hotel goes on our list of places to return to.
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