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Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
December 1, 1994
CONTENTS FOR DECEMBER 1994
1/ Small Inns of the Caribbean by Paul Graveline, Editor
2/ Journeys for December 1994
Akumal by Alex Pawlukiewicz
Anguilla by Joe Gavula
Antigua: Jumby Bay by Mike Beloit
Aruba by Steve Cannon
Barbados by Craig Walford
Bonaire Diving by Phil Carta and Jenny Darby
BVI: Biras Creek Resort by Lynn McKamey
Diving on the Caribbean Explorer by Phil Carta and Jenny Darby
Grenada: LaSource by Sophia Kulich
Grenada / Jamaica: LaSource - Grand Lido Compared by Sophia Kulich
Jamaica: Hedonism by Michael Sharp
Jamaica: Swept Away by Harold Bagnetto
Saba by Joe Gavula
St. Barths by Jamie Gavula
St. Martin by Jill Crompton
St. Martin on The Cheap by Steve Siguaw
About our Contributors
In this month's edition, Jenny Darby and Phil Carta provide more travel information focusing on diving in the St. Martin, St. Kitts Saba area as well as Bonaire. They are associated with Caribbean Adventures and you can contact them at Caribbean Adventures, 10400 Griffin Road, Suite 303, Ft.Lauderdale, FL 33328 -- (800-934-DIVE). The material is copyrighted and all rights are reserved so we thank them for allowing the CTR to use their material.
1/ SMALL INNS OF THE CARIBBEAN BY PAUL GRAVELINE, EDITOR
1/ SMALL INNS OF THE CARIBBEAN
One of the more interesting presentations at the New England Chapter CTO's monthly meetings took place in Cambridge MA on Nov. 7. Instead of the regular promotion by an entire island like Jamaica or Anguilla, representatives from a number of small but highly attractive properties were invited to deliver a five minute talk and slide show on their respective inns. The participants were held to the five minute time limit by one of the NECTO Board members who rang a triangle at the end of the allotted time period. The fact that the venue for the meeting was "The Inn at Harvard", a courtyard like property about three blocks east of Harvard Square, only enhanced the evening's impact.
The properties summarized below all gave the prescribed five minute talk and, in general, their daily rates run from $350 and up for double occupancy. Clearly if you were looking for a unique Caribbean location, any of these properties would merit your consideration.
Here's a run down of the main points. I've tried to get the details as accurately as possible but you should check with your travel professional before booking any of these beautiful locations.
Virgin Gorda: OLDE YARD INN --This property has 14 rooms situated on 4 acres with each room having a view of the sea. It's been family owned for 10 years and they pride themselves on personal service. A new open air health club and gazebo area is anticipated for Dec. 94.
Dominica: HUMMINGBIRD INN -- Dominica is known as the "Nature Island of the Caribbean" and this property has significant amounts of gardens. It has 2 building with 1 honeymoon suite with views of the Caribbean.
Mustique: COTTON HOUSE -- It has a PADI diving school with free transport to other island beaches and has undergone a 1 million dollar renovation. The honeymoon suite overlooks Mick Jagger's island villa. Accessible from Barbados via Mustique Airways.
St. Kitts: GOLDEN LEMON -- One of the oldest properties in the region -- over 30 years old. It was originally a sugar merchant's warehouse. When purchased, friends told the buyer he'd bought a lemon. All breakfasts are served in the rooms and the rooms are furnished with island antiques and due to rental policies, it is rarely filled. There's a black sand beach inside a reef and no TVs etc. From the pictures, it didn't look like "a lemon".
Jamaica: JAMAICA INN -- Family owned with private beach and ocean view all rooms. Near Sandals Ciboney etc. with open air dinning. I think it has 37 rooms.
Grenadines: PETIT ST. VINCENT -- PSV is a small island with 22 cottages for about 44 people with a staff of 80. The beach surrounds the island for about 2 miles of which 95% is white sand beach. You notify room service by raising a flag at your cottage. There is no a/c but trade wind help. There are covered patios.
You editor has visited PSV and the beach is quite nice with little grass shacks with hammocks overlooking a very nice sand beach. A good but out of the way honeymoon spot.
St. Lucia: LADERA RESORT -- Located in the southern part of St. Lucia it has 19 open air suites and villas 1000 feet over the Caribbean affording a great view of the two pitons on the island. The ride to the beach takes 8-12 minutes. From the pictures shown, this is a spectacular location.
Puerto Rico: HORNED DORSET PRIMAVERA --Located on the west coast (there is air service to the west side of P.R. from JFK), it appeared to be built on a hillside but with some beach front accommodations ( check this before you book). No children under 12 allowed and there are no TVs, radios etc. It belongs to the "Relais Chalet" association. The bathrooms are appointed with Italian marble.
St. Barths: ILE DE FRANCE -- The rooms appear to overlook the swimming pool and ocean. May be the only one with a/c in this review. Accepts reservations from families.
Well, that's it for the "Small Inns of the Caribbean". I hope I got the details correct so, as mentioned above, please check further with your travel professional before making any concrete reservation. My impression was that any of these properties would make a wonderful vacation but each has a special ambiance and character that could not be transmitted in words. If any readers visit one of these destinations, please share your impressions with the CTR's readers.
Paul Graveline CTR Editor
Akumal by Alex Pawlukiewicz
I just returned from a week in Akumal. First time there.
Akumal is a quiet village with several hotels, restaurants, numerous condos and villas, a small grocery store and a few shops. Very few phones and TV's. Never saw a newspaper. Good swimming and snorkeling but usually not at the same beach. Some beaches have a lot of coral rock and rubble which makes it difficult and impractical to swim or even wade. Some sort of footwear is advisable. Water is shallow in most places. Nothing in the way of night life. Even the beach bars closed by 6 P.M. in early November.
There are several dive shops with what looked like extensive facilities and equipment.
You need to speak a little Spanish in order to dine and buy things. The waiters and shop personnel speak almost no English. We brought a book with handy phrases and my 7th grade Spanish and did quite well. It really helps to know your numbers as well.
The Akumal area consists of Akumal Bay, Half Moon Bay and Yalku Lagoon. These are essentially three separate sections that are connected by a common road. Aventuras Akumal, which is also on Akumal Bay is reached by another road about 1/4 mile south of the Akumal turn off. Akumal Bay has a nice swimming beach. Half Moon Bay has a beach for snorkeling. Yalku lagoon is accessible from a small public parking area or private houses and has no beach at all but decent snorkeling. It's fed by fresh water springs which make it refreshingly cool but limits the marine life that will tolerate these conditions.
The Mexican people that work at the hotels and condos live just outside the entrance to the resort section. The typical home is a small hut and fairly primitive. The people are very friendly, especially if you try to speak Spanish. Didn't hear of any crime in this area. Probably because the Police station is right inside the resort area and they do watch everyone coming in. They'll write down your license plate number every time you drive in.
Akumal Bay - Hotel Club Akumal Caribe, Villas Maya, Las Casitas. Small grocery store, small outdoor loncheria with counter and a couple of tables for breakfast and lunch and sometimes dinner. Dive center and several restaurants and shops. Great beach but very shallow water. Best at south end in front of Hotel Akumal Cancun.
To the south 1/4 mile is Hotel Akumal Cancun. Very nice restaurant. Motel type units. Further south is Aventuras Akumal and the Club Oasis an all inclusive resort.
Half Moon Bay - condos, good snorkeling, not safe for swimming. Plenty of coral formations just off shore. Many nice live corals, lots of sea fans and gorgonians. An occasional angelfish or butterflyfish otherwise mostly parrotfish and damsels. I saw a few anemones and a good number of sea urchins. Some construction going on in Half Moon Bay. Work starts at around 7 A.M. and runs until dark. Seems like they work on the weekends as well. The security guard at entrance to Half Moon Bay area has a rope across the road and speaks no English. He's hired by the condo/villas owners to keep tourists out. We never could figure out how he communicated and decided who to let in. We just said the name of the condo we stayed at and he'd let the rope down for us to pass.
We stayed at Luna Azul (Blue Moon) which are 8 privately owned condos in a four story setup. Ours was very spacious and consisted of a bedroom, large bathroom, kitchen, dining area and living room. No a/c but ceiling fans in each area. Our ground floor unit had sliding doors onto a patio right on the beach and about 10 paces to the water. We left all the doors, windows and drapes open at night and in the morning you could lay in bed and watch the sun come up over the beach. No phones or TV. We paid US$80 per night during first week of November.
Yalku lagoon - yet another security guy that doesn't speak English other than "no suntan oil". This place is a tranquil lagoon loaded with Sgt. Majors and Parrotfish but is being ruined by tourists loaded down with tanning oils that destroy the marine life. You can often see the oil slick on the water.
Shopping/Dining Super Chomax (grocery) - basic food stuffs. Simple yet computerized. No English. The hard part is dealing with numbers in Spanish but here they point to the computer screen which displays the price in pesos. Almost everywhere you go they figure 3 new pesos to the US dollar. You'll usually see they price as N$ which is new pesos.
Loncheria Akumalito (the little outdoor lunch counter) N$12-15/person (US$4-5) for breakfast or lunch. Great fresh orange juice (jugo de naranja), cafe negra(black coffee)/con leche(with milk), huevos(eggs), tostada francaise(French toast). You get a pile of tortillas (about 1 dozen) with most dishes. There's an English menu on the wall that you walk over to and point to your selections. Also one in Spanish. We felt confident enough by the second day to order in Spanish. Well we did include some hand signals (scrambled eggs for example). It's definitely more fun to order in Spanish.
El Bucanero Ice Cream - on the beach. Expensive - $2 per scoop (but good). Big selection. Order by the numbers or point to the menu.
Aluxes - Hotel Akumal Cancun 1/4 mile south of Akumal. Large palapa structure, on beach, nice atmosphere, somewhat upscale but casual. We spent $N136 (US$45) for two for soup, great salad, shrimp entree, Pollo Yucatan, two pina coladas and dessert. Great personal service.
Casa Cenote - open palapa on the beach, very informal and casual. American owned and a hangout for American locals. Friendly. We had nachos and lobster N$80 for two(US$35), beer N$5 (US$1.65).
Lol-Ha pizza - any 3 toppings about $10. Have TV - CNN. About equivalent to a good frozen American brand.
Several people raved about a restaurant in the Hacienda de la Tortuga condos but we never got to eat there. There is no sign so you have to seek it out.
Xpu-Ha (Sh-pu-ha) Restaurant. Not fancy but reasonable (under US$30 for two) and good food. Menu has English on one side and Spanish on the other. No English spoken here.
Playa del Carmen - very touristy due to cruise ships and ferry to Cozumel. Nevertheless we had fun shopping and eating here. Went back a second time. Lots of little shops and restaurants. What first seems like a hustle to get you into these places is really a friendly attempt to win you over.
We had a great meal at La Parilla for US$15 (total for the two of us). This included 2 Margaritas, 1 beer, fish Vera Cruz style, chicken and free after dinner drinks. We chose Kahlua. Great friendly service. Made us feel like we were special.
Puerto Aventuras - highly developed resort with golf course, man-made beach. We ate at Carlos and Charlie's a friendly, crazy place. Everybody becomes fast friends here. You're sure to get into a conversation with the diners around you. We met a couple that were staying here and they raved about their accommodations and the facilities at the Club Oasis - an all-inclusive resort. Dinner was 2 Margaritas, a beer, Mexican platter, shrimp special for N$100 for two (US$33). A real party atmosphere. Lots of things hanging from the walls and ceiling.
Tulum - You can't climb up the stairs of pyramid - they are roped off and look pretty dilapidated. Beautiful ocean view. Parking $N5. Entry N$16/person. Tram ride to ruins - extra US$1. Modern parking facilities and shops. What looks like what will be a museum is under construction.
Coba - N$14/person. Undeveloped. 3 pyramids in jungle. Lots of walking - about 3 miles round trip. Small ruins along the way. Many mounds of uncovered ruins. Can walk up pyramids but it's a little scary (not for the timid). One is about 20 meters high and the taller is about 40 meters. The steps are somewhat difficult to maneuver. Coming down is harder so plan ahead. There really isn't much of a view from the top since it's in the jungle. You can see two lakes however.
Car rental - a must to get to Akumal and get around to eat, shop and tour. Budget was $180 US, plus gas, with unlimited mileage for a basic Nissan with a/c, no radio. It was a great little car. Be sure to document all defects, scratches, dings, etc. prior to leaving rental premises. We didn't have a problem but they do check the car when you return it. The rental agreement has a sheet that shows where every defect is on the car. Also check for a spare tire, jack and even floor mats.
Gas stations are far apart - 20-30 miles. Get gas when gauge reads 1/2 full.
Although there is bus service to most places it's difficult to get accurate information about schedules. We gave two students a ride from Coba to Tulum. They were stranded overnight because they were given bad info about the bus service.
There are many attractions along Route 307. Some cater to busloads of tourists from Cancun and various cruise ships. Others are very remote and undisturbed. That's why a car is helpful if you feel adventuresome.
We rented our condo through Caribbean Fantasy. They were very helpful in answering our questions and aiding us in deciding on where to stay. They also have an informative booklet that details the things to do and places to eat in the area. All of the tour books I researched had little info on Akumal and the one with the most "Yucatan Peninsula Handbook" had outdated information.
All in all we had a great time and as you can see it was very reasonable. Hasta luego.....
Anguilla by Joe Gavula
Ok, here we go...
We came over on the ferry from St. Martin to Anguilla - cost $9 each plus $2 departure tax. The taxi ran about $12 for the trip from the airport to the ferry and $7 on Anguilla from the dock to the Seahorse. It runs $25 each to fly from SXM to AXA.
Our initial impression of Anguilla was it was not a pretty island - more scrubby looking than we expected but in a couple of days we changed our minds - it just has a different kind of beauty. The beaches are gorgeous and the best we've seen and the people are so pleasant and genuine that we were quickly converted to Anguilla lovers.
We stayed at Seahorse Apts and really enjoyed it - basic but private and everything you really need. The owner, Ronni, is as helpful as she can be and just a really nice person. We stayed in one of the beach units -(there is a duplex on the beach and the 3 more apts up a short path - any of them would be great. The beach is very small but private with easy snorkeling. There's a bbq grill, table, hammock just above the beach and the sunsets were terrific. The moonlight on the water wasn't half bad either. We were the only ones there for the first two days and then a couple from Canada came to stay 3 weeks. The location is out-of-the-way but you aren't far from lots of restaurants and great beaches.
It was very hot while we were there and several people mentioned it was hotter than normal. It rained a couple of times for a short while. Ronni said they were waiting for the Christmas winds (but they come in Nov.).
Driving was no problem once you got the round-a-bout figured out. Must buy a temporary license - $6. Ronni had a car waiting for us at Seahorse through Thrifty - $195 including license - a Suzuki Fronte 4 speed - no a/c. It was nice to have it waiting 'because we arrived on Sun and the stores were closed. We drove to Johnno's for dinner - Ronni gave us directions.
Shopped for groceries at Proctor's and Vista - Vista takes credit cards and is centrally located.
Be sure to take some insect repellent - had quite a few mosquitoes particularly at dusk & no "see-ums" (which nothing seems to repel). We just used Cutter's and were fine.
Beaches - drove around the entire island one day and looked at a lot of beaches - didn't go into any of the hotels though. All the beaches were beautiful and deserted - Shoal Bay east was the busiest and Rendezvous Bay was my favorite of the big beaches - you can see it from the Seahorse beach. Spent one day at Scilly Cay - it was fun and relaxing - the rum punch was very good - the lobster very good also - but high priced - $40 for lobster and $35 for crawfish.
Shoal Bay East - spent an afternoon on this beach - really great beach, wide and easy walking, not crowded and home to Uncle Ernie's - had burgers and beer - great and cheap.
Little Bay - a great small beach but I almost chickened out . You have to climb down a rope (maybe 30-40 ft) from a rocky small cliff. I did it but the height did bother me - once you get down there it is well worth the effort and climbing back up is much easier. It is nice for snorkeling and just beautiful - another couple came after about 20 mins. but that was it.
Palm Grove- Drove to Palm Grove and had a beer at the bar - was surprised to see about 10-15 people there - it is pretty remote. It was a pretty beach with some snorkeling and we watched the sail boats go by.
We found we used the beach at Seahorse quite a bit so we didn't really go stay on any of the others. It was so handy to be able to get a beer, take a nap in the hammock, etc. It is small but there are chairs and the water is just great, it feels very private.
We think that we should go back so that we can try all the ones we missed.
We ate at several for dinner but by the end of the week we were getting to the point we couldn't eat anymore - generally speaking they had large portions of food. A 10% or 15% service charge was added to your bill at every place we ate.
Johnno's - went on Sun night after we arrived - had great food - lobster and good music - everyone really enjoying themselves - great to watch the sunset. Lobster about $22.
The Old House Restaurant - ate breakfast there twice - fresh eggs were terrific - Joe really enjoyed them - good service - moderate price.
Smugglers - nice location and atmosphere - the food wasn't as good as I expected, had lobster soup, snapper and mahi-mahi shrimp kebabs - good but not great. Lucy's Harborview - nice atmosphere and view - but dinner was not that good - had lobster and snapper with shrimp - OK but would not go back - seemed a little expensive.
The Pepper Pot - had rotis for lunch and watched the kids get out of school - 2 rotis with salad and 4 Heinekens - $20.
Blanchards - absolutely the best meal on our vacation - wonderful atmosphere, very elegant but relaxed - had blackened lobster which Joe said was the best of the whole trip - I had spicy grouper which was terrific - had 2 salads - drinks - coffee for $100 - I highly recommend Blanchards. It was also the busiest restaurant - make reservations. We saw everything as far as clothes - one woman had on a wedding dress and another one cut-offs with a crop top - I would wear something nice but not too dressy.
Tropical Penguin - on Sandy Ground - Stopped and had a fish sandwich and a beer for lunch - very good and would have liked to go back for dinner but ran out of time - moderate in price.
Cyrils' Fish House - Island Harbour - decided to try it because we met the owner at Uncle Ernies giving out his card to everyone. Really very good - liked the decor and music - Joe had garlic crusted snapper which was very good and I had lobster with angelhair. Moderately priced and worth the drive. The rum punch was great too.
Reefside - on Shoal Bay East - had a terrible snapper sandwich - other items might be good but our fish was not!
Ferry Boat - close to Seahorse Apts - went there our last night. Our second favorite restaurant on our trip - really good food. Had French onion and black bean soup which was some of the best I have had, then snapper and a seafood casserole that was outstanding. John waited on us and is quite a character - we were his last customers and we stayed for awhile - he bought us an after dinner drink and told us about a hundred jokes. Very moderate in price - about $80 for a wonderful meal. That's it - we ate well and often!
Antigua: Jumby Bay by Mike Beloit
(Ed Note: This file is copyrighted by Mike Beloit and used with his permission.)
When the walls of business pressure are closing in on me, I attempt to relieve stress by fantasizing an escape from the decision-making process to a faraway island. Periodically, I get mad and realize, as the expression goes, I can't take it any more. That's when my travel agent provides medicinal relief. The latest excursion was definitely far from the maddening crowd -- Jumby Bay Island off the coast of Antigua in the West Indies. Unlike many remote locations, this one is just a hop, skip and a ferry ride from most East coast US cities. For my bride of twenty-seven years and me, it was an early morning Delta departure from Atlanta to San Juan. American Airlines then zipped us via an A300 airbus to Antigua in less than an hour.
But -- nothing in life is worth achieving without some preamble of pain - and attaining paradise this day required an initial jousting with misery. Upon landing at VC Bird International Airport's brief runway, my body exuded the residual stress saved up by my not having dutifully reported to the office that fine day. While my senses indicated I was about to crash into the ocean following a brief flyby tour of Antigua, the pilot having obviously been to this island before, applied a major dose of brakes causing my seatbelt to revisit the airline meal I ingested on the San Juan leg. The strange feeling was a sense of deja vu of a St. Thomas USVI touch down of old.
The landing provided a prelude to the welcoming committee on Antigua itself. As we departed the plane with the ocean breeze teasing our faces, boyhood memories flashed by of Hawaiian wahines placing their sweet scented flowers around my neck, all the while indicating my importance in their lives with their eyes. Antigua had a somewhat different marketing plan. Apparently, they perceived customs agents as being the more appropriate greeters of weary travelers. The unusual aspect, however, was that their customs agents had been trained by the police. Somewhere in the syllabus of this educational process, the section on cordial greeting was expunged. Remembering Eastern Europe of the Seventies, my brain instructed my eyes to look groundward and follow their unsmiling instructions explicitly. That surely helped get me through this barrier.
Once out of the customs gate with the sense of great accomplishment lingering, a lovely and considerate person greeted us by introducing herself as the representative of Jumby Bay Resort. While a trophy seemed the more appropriate award for customs survival, the guiding hand leading us to the awaiting taxi was sufficient. During the five minute ride, the taxi driver played dodgem with a bizillon potholes, but managed to deliver us safely to Jumby Bay's own dock. No sooner were we on board their catamaran than Captain Bernard was offering us wine or rum punch. There was just enough time to enjoy the ten minute boat trip and the drink.
Upon docking at Jumby Bay, the staff graciously hailed our arrival with a quick tour of the main facility, and hustled us to our room, one of only thirty-eight dotting the island. Entering the portals of our new home, we discovered the first hints that we were indeed in paradise. The main room's bar area bespoke the champagne celebration soon to arrive. A king size bed was tucked in a corner, elevated one step giving the sensation of being in an anteroom. I could have lived without this decorative addition though, as I nightly kicked the tiled riser with my big toe when retiring - much to my wife's glee.
The bath facility was almost as large as the rest of the lodging. A ten foot long dressing and vanity area separated relaxation from cleansing. Besides a shower large enough for my whole family (five children) to use at once, the bidet added a touch of Europe to the appointment. Naturally, as in the better resorts, a safe was in the closet area for valuables.
Which brings up an interesting note - we weren't issued a key for our room. I inquired at the front office about this omission and was informed that one doesn't need such security at Jumby Bay. My wife, who is always ready to point out what should be obvious but never seems to be for me, suggested that since it was on an island with little else, who would break into our room?
After a quick swim and total elimination of the bubbly helped shed the remnants of the trip, we slipped into some casual clothing in anticipation of dinner. Eating represented a special shade of excitement all its own at this all-inclusive resort. The preparation and quality of food was placed in the hands of a very able chef - Rex Hale. From a farm near St. Louis by way of a biochemistry degree from Tulane, and through the kitchens of Commander's Palace and Brennan's, Hale touted a lofty pedigree. With additional stops at Kansas City's American Restaurant and Sun City Resort of South Africa, he brought a montage of recipes to this isolated island. Throughout the entire week we savored every bite of a variety of appetizing dishes ranging from lamb and steak to the local parrot and whahoo fish. Each offering was accompanied by palatable wines from the vineyards of the resort's Italian owner, Villa Banfi.
Less one conclude we ate and slept our way through the week, I must confess that with each dawn we embarked on a jaunt around the island. A three mile bricked path defined the outer reaches of Jumby Bay and provided a changing face as we touched each compass point. Initially the road was dotted with villas and tennis courts built by those who were sufficiently enamored with the island to have invested in their own stepping stones to paradise. This juxtaposed neighborhood opened into grassy plains from which we were certain a rhino or giraffe would emerge at any moment. Moving in an easterly direction, the path reached the farthest point from the lodge. One glance at the scraggly, inland-bending trees confirmed this was the windward side of the island. The rest of the walk yielded vistas of the Atlantic Ocean, Antigua mainland, and a sugar mill which looked too well preserved to be authentic.
Certainly there was a reason for this morning trek - an exorcism of guilt for what would be the daily activity of consequence - beachtime. While we were lounging on a lightly populated, private beach and indulging the latest Tom Clancy/John Grisham offerings, a kindly soul appeared in convenient time intervals with our refreshments. He was followed by another who issued iced towels to stem the heat of day. Occasional dips in the Caribbean waters completed the ritual. Excepting the sporadic flyby from VC Bird, it was truly quiet solitude.
An added bonus in the late afternoons involved meeting our fellow adventurers while imbibing various concoctions whipped up by Elaine, bartender at the main house. While the number of guests is very limited, we found each of them to have been successful in their life pursuits and a delight to mix with.
A word of caution to other type A's though - there is a very limited activities desk. Snorkel trips to outlying islands, water skiing in front of the beach spectators, and scuba diving encompass the short menu. Oh, there is always the taxi trip around Antigua itself, which we found to be a waste of precious time and money. Jumby Bay is destined to fail for those who do not wish to detune on vacation - they will be miserable.
It would be remiss of me to omit critique of the facility. Their short existence precludes them from already having the experienced years of a Caneel Bay, so they have some fine tuning to do. A refrigerator in the room was sorely missed. Obtaining beach towels was a daily ordeal that rested with us but should have been handled by maid service. Snorkel equipment was issued loose, whereas a mesh bag would have been more user-friendly. One issue of both soap (irrespective of size) and accompanying bathroom articles seemed a might cheap considering the daily rate ... and ladies generally prefer their own smaller and more feminine scented soaps. Hopefully, these types of shortcomings will be resolved with time.
The unfortunate consequences of this entire adventure is that now as I reflect on the experience, the daily dose of stress portends the need for repeat therapy. Would I choose Jumby Bay with its expensive rates (I just paid the bill - yuk) again? If I want relaxation in concert with a motivated staff to engage my needs without the recreational directored agenda - absolutely!
Aruba by Steve Cannon
Hope the following information will be of use when visiting or thinking about Aruba.
Golf course is almost complete and should open unofficially sometime in Dec. with grand opening in Jan. Everybody is still guessing how the wind will effect play but just being able to play in Aruba is great. The new Government seems to be on right track, they are doing a lot of studies and most people feel they will start making changes in a very short time. There are still problems with power supply, 3 outages in 2 weeks but life still goes on, unless you are on the top floor of the Hilton.
I stayed at Amsterdam Manor and they have just gotten cable, about 28 channels including all major networks. Hook up for whole island should be by end of year. It's nice to be able to relax and see the rest of the world after a hard day at the beach .
A few restaurant notes, El Gaucho is closed for remolding and should open for the busy season around the middle of Dec. The Flame is running a big promotion on steak (I wonder why) and is doing a lot of advertising. Food is good buy still not El Gaucho. The Flame does have one of the best Caesar Salads on the island. La Dolce Vita has moved from intown to the old Bon Appetite restaurant, a five minute walk for the high rise hotels. I checked out report that Puelbo and Ling were not converting to dollars and charging higher amount. Every time I handed clerk US she would calculate amount of purchases in dollars without me having to ask. Hope those reports were misunderstandings. A quick rule of thumb to figure Florins to dollars is to take half of the amount and add a little more than 10% to that figure. That should be pretty close to the dollar amount owed.
They are going to try out another traffic control idea at the airport so that everything runs smoothly, don't hold your breath. Speaking of airports, if you can, avoid Miami when returning from Aruba, it's a real ZOO and getting worse. Going to Aruba via Miami is OK but customs coming back took almost an hour, of course they take you on a walking sight-seeing tour of the airport.
The wind was a problem a few days, not that is was blowing hard, but it wasn't blowing at all, so that all the tiny little bugs stayed around. No one should complain about the wind, it keeps you cool and sends all those little critters to South America.
I checked out most of the casinos and make my donation before moving on. Seaport casino seemed to be paying off on the .25 machines, while the $1. were coming out pretty good at the Hyatt. I hit for 1000 nickels at the Alhambria, then had to wait while they opened the vault to pay me. Paradise Beach Villas is up and running, they have builder for phase 2, but sill no money at this time. They are working hard on getting the needed funds and should have more information in Dec. One change is that phase 2 owners can request time in phase 1 and if available will only pay the maintenance fee and will have a confirmed stays.
It rained a few days, about 5 to 10 minutes then the sun came back, in fact a few times the sun stayed out to watch. It still amazes me to watch people on the beach or at the pool run for cover when it rains. That's about it for now.
Barbados by Craig Walford
My wife and I visited Barbados November 6-12, 1994. Because of bad flight connections, we were only there 6 nights and 5 days. That's not enough.
To put my comments in perspective, it might be helpful to know our priorities:
(1) Lying on a hammock overlooking the water and reading escape novels like those from Ludlum, Clancy, etc. A small number of books will suffice because reading is repeatedly interrupted by naps. <g>
(2) Lounging on the beach and taking leisurely swims in the sea.
(3) Getting a feel for the locals.
(4) Visiting the points of interest of the island.
(5) Snorkeling and fishing (We're not divers).
We never made it to priority 5; there just wasn't enough time.
The locals are friendly, pleasant, and helpful. Everything is expensive in Barbados, but I never got the feeling that the person across from me was smiling just because he was about to empty my wallet. The beaches we visited were nice and sparsely populated. We were warned about the drug dealers carrying brief cases on the beach. We never encountered one, although that may have been because we weren't on the more populated beaches.
We decided we wanted to rent a villa rather than stay in a hotel. The reasons were that we thought we'd get more living space and associated privacy, more sparsely visited beaches, and less regimen in activity schedules. Basically, it worked.
Because we wanted a villa, we used a local travel agent whose name I got off this forum. It was Sue Yellin of YES Travel, P.O. Box 406, Bridgetown, WI, Tel: (809) 425-9338, Fax: (809) 425-8998. She found the place we rented, arranged for transport to and from the airport, the car rental, appeared the morning after our arrival with maps and to answer any questions we might have, and volunteered to make any reservations required for the activities we wanted to entertain. She and Jill Williamson, a lady that fills in for Sue from time to time, did an excellent job.
The place we ended up renting was called James Bay (Lower). It's about 1/2 to 1 mile south of the border between St. Peter and St. James. Actually it was a sort of duplex with upper and lower units, each having a separate entry. Each unit has 2 bedrooms, and a living area including a small kitchen (frig, stove with oven, microwave, 2 sinks, and a washing machine), couch and associated tables, and an adjoining dining area. A decked porch, running the entire width of the building, has a table for dining outside, my treasured hammock, and 5 chairs. The place is separated from the water only by a 50-75 foot back yard with lots of palm trees. There's a gardener who maintains the nice landscaping. Conscripted cooks and cleaners will be happy to know that a maid is part of the package. She comes at about 9:30 and stays for 8 hours, unless you release her early, which we usually did. Given the hours, she won't usually be there to prepare breakfast or dinner, but she will do the breakfast dishes and will prepare dinner which you can heat in the microwave at a time convenient to you.
Only the bedrooms are air conditioned, but this worked out OK. There are two ceiling fans in the living area and the doors, when not open, have louvers which circulate lots of air.
Since only my wife and I were on this trip, I told the travel agent I wanted a one bedroom place on the water. We ended up with a rental of U.S.$700/ week, on the understanding that they would lock the second bedroom door. They didn't lock it, but we didn't use it. (I suspect this is an off season accommodation.) The price included the villa, transfers to and from the airport, and the maid, sans tips.
If you ask, they'll include a breakfast food package which includes bacon, eggs, bread, orange juice and things I don't associate with breakfast (e.g., a six pack of beer, tomatoes, oranges, and apples). This package is above the quoted rental rate.
The beach in front of the place was nice. The sea floor was, unfortunately, a little rocky. A two minute walk to the south eliminated that problem, however. (To the north, both beach and sea floor got even rockier.)
The one problem we had with this place occurred on the evening of day 3 when a couple and their two teenage kids moved into the upper unit. The wife made Jim Madden seem soft spoken, and she seemed to have the talent for striking up an argument with anyone in the vicinity. Will Rogers never met this person. From below, her gait seemed akin to Tyrannosaurus Rex playing hop scotch. You never know whether the neighbors will be great or terrible, but, if you want to eliminate the downside, you might consider a situation where you rent the entire place.
DRIVING AND CAR RENTAL:
Like most tourists, we rented a mini-moke. That's a low-slung, half- sized jeep without windows or doors and a cloth convertible top. You'll never truly feel safe in it, but you will get used to it. We didn't price a real car, but my guess is that mini-mokes are popular because of their cost. I never saw a local driving a mini-moke. (You can tell by the license plates.) They can't be as unsafe as they seem because, if they were, tourists would be dropping like flies, and the practice would stop. I would, however, have appreciated knowing what I was getting into.
The absence of doors, windows, and a roof makes you feel somewhat exposed. In our vehicle, the seat belts were not adjustable, so I never knew whether it was better to have the seat belt off or on. If it rains, you will get wet. If the ladies are wearing a dress for dinner, they will object. The way you get into this vehicle is to hike one leg and kind of jump in.
The good side is that mini-mokes are pretty miserly on gas consumption. Gas is expensive. (I think I paid about BD$5.00 per gallon.) We drove a fair amount and I think I had over 1/2 a tank left when I turned in the car.
If you arrange it right your vehicle will be delivered to and picked up from where you are staying. Don't try to pick up the car at the airport. I would have seen the dawn of the next morning long before I saw my abode.
Driving is, of course, on the left side, U.K. style. You'll get used to it pretty quickly, but it is good, initially, to have a navigator that reminds you of the ground rules before each turn. Remember that the turn signal and wiper levers are on the opposite side of the steering column that you're used to. My wife commented that turning on the wipers was probably not the most effective way to tell people which direction I was headed.
"Highway" seems to be a very flexible term in Barbados. In some locations, it describes exactly what you'd expect in the U.S. Other times, it's a narrow 2 land road. For example, from south of Holetown to south of Speightstown, Highway 1 turns into a fairly narrow road with no shoulders. Especially between 3:00 and 6:00 weekdays, there's a lot of pedestrian traffic, including school kids, on the sides of the road. It's best to avoid travel at these times, but, if you can't, slow down, concentrate, and drive safely. Don't drive faster than your comfort level and don't get intimidated by honking horns.
Speed limits in Barbados are 80 km/h on a few major highways, and 60 km/h elsewhere. You'll usually be driving considerably slower. If you get a speeding ticket, please get off the road.
The road system started around a mentality that all roads lead to Bridgetown. That's helpful for a gross navigation guide. All bus stop signs say either "To City" or "Out of City". The problem comes when you want to go east to west across the island. Then you're relegated to secondary roads that truly are narrow and not very well marked. You'll save a lot of time if you stop and ask directions. As I said, the locals are pleasant and friendly, if you act accordingly.
IMPRESSIONS ON WHAT WE SAW AND DID:
One day, we drove to the east coast via St. Nicholas Abbey and Cherry Tree Hill to Bathsheba and the Adromeda Botanic Gardens. The return was via the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, Grenade Hall Forest Signal Station & Signal Station, and Farley Hill National Park. That's an all day trek.
St. Nicholas Abbey is a plantation house built between 1650 and 1660. It never was truly an abbey, and you wonder why it has 4 fireplaces. It's a little run down, but interesting for the historical aspects.
Probably not more than 250 yards up the road is Cherry Tree Hill, a must see. There's nothing on the hill but a police hut, but the view of Little Scotland (a green, hilly part of the island) and the Atlantic on the east coast should not be missed. I would recommend continuing your drive on the east coast to Bathsheba and the Andromeda Botanic Gardens. The gardens are no great shakes, unless, I guess, your a horticulture buff. However, as long as you're there....
The Grenade Hall Signal Station falls into the same category. This was one of 5 or 6 signal stations built to enhance the government military to react to slave uprisings. The last station was completed a year after they abolished slavery. If walking through rain forests floats your boat, you'll enjoy the Grenade Hall Forest. Technically, it's not a rain forest, but walking through it gives you the same feel. They've done a good job laying this out, even if the environmentalists got a little carried away on their sign propaganda.
The Wildlife Preserve is a mini, walk-through Jurassic Park for monkeys, turtles, birds, and the like, with only perimeter fences--nothing separating humans from the other animals. It's worth a visit.
We skipped Farley Hill National Park only because it was getting late.
On another day, we went to Harrison's Cave and Welchman Hall Gully. They say that the cave is the most popular tourist attraction on the island. They have done a good job developing the cave, but, frankly, as world caves go, they didn't have a lot to work with. On a worldwide basis, this one won the "Taller than Mickey Rooney Award". You can be awfully short and still win this one. The trip is enjoyable, just don't believe the hype you're given before you get there.
Surprisingly, we really enjoyed our leisurely walk through Welchman Hall Gully. I'm no horticulture buff, but if you walk slowly and pay attention to the brochure, I think you'll see some interesting things. At least we enjoyed it. (The path is not circular. Unless you do this one on a tour, you're going to have to walk back to the entry. I wouldn't recommend a tour for this one because you want to do it slowly.)
Finally, we did the Atlantis II submarine diddy. It's pricey, about BD$145/ person, but enjoyable. You have to get to their offices in Bridgetown on your own (no hotel pickup), but the place is fairly easy to find. From Bridgetown, they transport you to a site about a mile offshore where the submarine dives to about 130 feet over coral reefs and a shipwreck. The ship was purposefully sunk to try to create another, artificial reef, but it's still interesting. I'd do it again.
Because we ate some at the villa, there are only 4 restaurants that I can comment on.
The Fathoms, just south of Holetown, was great. You eat on a terrace overlooking the water. Service is good, albeit a little slow by U.S. standards. I had the local rock lobster tail which was to die for. Of course, it was the most expensive entree, at BD$58. My wife had a Dolphin entree which was also good. Entrees seemed to start at about BD$30 and run up to my lobster. Each of us had two glasses of wine a starter (try the octopus), and an entree. The bill was BD$152, sans tip. Over the phone, they'll tell you that shorts are acceptable, but you'll be much more comfortable with slacks and a shirt. You'll see a few jackets and ties.
The Carambola, a mile and a half south of Holetown, is also nice, but a little more expensive. Entrees start at about BD$40 and run to the BD$90 lobster that my wife ordered. (Mine at The Fathoms was better, but her's was still good.) I had Caribbean Shrimp which was great. One drink apiece (terrible), a starter each, and the entrees mentioned cost BD$198, sans tip.
During our tour to the east coast we ate lunch at the Atlantis Hotel. The place is a little run down, but the lunch was interesting in that it gave us an introduction to Bajan food. Fixed menu--your only choices are pan fried flying fish or chicken. It's served with rice and black peas, a spinach loaf, fried banana, pickled banana and rice, and pickled pineapple. Desert is mixed fruit and a coconut pie. More food than you probably want, but interesting. The price is BD$23/person, plus drinks and tip.
Don't go to the Brig in the "shopping mall" in Holetown. It won't make you sick, but even a sandwich there is an unwanted adventure.
Sorry to be lengthy, but I hope this helps someone get a feel of what we experienced in Barbados.
Bonaire Diving by Phil Carta and Jenny Darby
The car tags say it all, "Divers Paradise" an island that caters almost exclusively to scuba diving enthusiasts from around the world. Bonaire is a desert island covered with cacti and scrub brush along with wild goats and donkeys thrown in for good measure. In contrast, underwater Bonaire is spectacular, with beautiful healthy corals and an abundance of fish life, thanks to the foresight of the government who protected this area by designating it a marine park. The effect is noticeable everywhere around the island; all shore dive sites are marked by large yellow rocks with the name of the site on them, making Bonaire the perfect place for shore diving.
When visiting the island you should spend a day touring the interesting sites. The southern tip of the island has the salt flats, a beautiful "pink" beach, old lighthouse and slave huts. The northern tip of the island has Washington/Silage National Park, a wildlife preserve and a great spot for watching some of the animal species that are unique to Bonaire. You will see pink flamingos, beautiful Parroquets, lorets, big blue lizards and three foot iguanas. Lac Bay, on the windward side of the island, has some of the best windsurfing in the world.
After paying a $10 Bonaire Marine Park Fee and an orientation to the island and marine park rules, you will do a shore dive to check your weight and get comfortable with your diving before heading out on the boats. Diving in Bonaire is perfect for novice or experienced divers as there are dive sites to fit all needs. Most all of the sites off Bonaire can be reached by shore so hard core divers can easily dive 4 to 5 times per day. Klein Bonaire diving can only be done by boat so most divers on the island choose a 6 boat dive, unlimited shore, package and do their boat diving around Klein Bonaire.
You will find a very healthy reef system which has large patches of elkhorn and staghorn coral, plate coral and massive coral formations along with huge gorgonians everywhere. The fish life in Bonaire is astounding with schools of fish cascading by you every few minutes. On our recent trip we saw stingrays, turtles, trumpet fish, coronetfish, scorpion fish, huge grouper, banded shrimp, pederson cleaning shrimp, file fish, balloonfish, spotted drums, flamingo tongues (seven on one gorgonia), goldentail morays, monster green morays, spotted morays, sand divers, barracuda, damselfish and parrotfish just to name just a few.
Night diving in Bonaire has to rank as some of the best in the world. The eels come out to feed and I have counted as many as 20 on just one night dive. Tarpon have also found they can catch an easy meal in the divers' lights so don't be startled when a 5 foot silvery monster zooms by you to devour his unsuspecting dinner. A trip to Bonaire is not complete without a night dive at Town Pier, which has to rank as one of the top ten dives in the Caribbean. This is a macro photographers heaven with frogfish, seahorses, arrow crabs, moray eels, anemones and orange cup corals.
Those of you who remember the old Buddy Beach & Dive Resort are in for a surprise. The new Buddy's is under construction with two buildings completed and the apartments have to be the nicest on the island. They offer one, two and three bedroom units with an additional four buildings to be built along with renovating the older existing unit. All units have air-conditioning in the bedrooms, a cute mini-kitchen with stove, dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave, bar or dining area, living room, TV and double French doors out to a large balcony with nice ocean views. Buddy's also has a pool bar and new restaurant.
Buddy's dive operation is the most convenient for shore divers because you can back you rental vehicle up to the shop and load your gear along with all the tanks you need for the day. For those who prefer boat diving there is a sign up sheet and the boat goes out once or twice a day as needed. There is also a large room for gear storage and fresh water rinses on the dock. Mechelien, Pascal, Ursula, Muffin and Hans will make sure you have a great time if you decide to stay and dive with Buddy's.
Harbour Village is a luxury property comparable to a Hyatt and not really suited to all divers who visit Bonaire. But it is a nice spot for a non-diving companion who wants to be pampered while you are out diving.
Everyone who visits Bonaire eventually makes it to the Sand Dollar, the most Americanized property on the island. The units range from studios to three bedrooms and most all of them have great views of the ocean. As with other apartments on Bonaire the bedrooms are air-conditioned and living room, dining area and kitchen are not. All rooms a private balcony or patio; there is always a breeze circulating through your room.
Andre Nahr runs the best and most organized dive operation I have seen in all my years of traveling the islands. There are four scheduled boat dives daily. If you are a photographer you will appreciate the extensive line of equipment rentals along with courses, the E-6 processing and light boxes in the viewing room. There is also a large room for dive gear storage and large rinse tanks built in on the dock. Don't forget to try the Parrot Burgers at the Green Parrot restaurant, located beside the dive shop. They are one of the better spots to eat on the island and have a friendly staff who treat you like members of the family.
The Sunset Hotel is the budget property for divers on Bonaire and the only hotel with a beach. Standard rooms have two double beds and are located on the road. Superior rooms have two doubles or a king and some have a small balcony. Deluxe rooms also have two doubles or a king with a large balcony. All rooms are clean and have a mini safe, air- conditioning and small refrigerator. There are three new Jacuzzis on the property and a pool, along with a beautiful sand beach. The property also has two bars and restaurants with excellent food and service. The dive operation is located on the beach and offers one to two boat dives a day along with shore diving packages. There is also a storage area for your dive gear.
The small family type Sunset Inn is a short 5 minute walk from town with a dive shop located conveniently next door. There are 5 rooms and 2 suites in the Inn and they all share a common lobby and kitchen. All rooms have a refrigerator and the suites have a hot plate, toaster and coffee pot. There is no beach but there are great ocean views from the front porch and access to the water by steps for snorkeling and diving.
The Sunset Villas are separate homes and apartments located throughout Bonaire. All have been totally upgraded recently and have safes and cable TV. They range from studios to 2 bedroom apartments and 3 bedroom homes, perfect for families and small groups. Most of them are located on the ocean with good snorkeling and diving right out front. Your dive package can be arranged with one of the local dive operations and you have the freedom to dive Bonaire at your leisure. Bel-Air apartments were especially nice for people wanting a quiet peaceful location, with huge balconies and a beautiful view of Klein Bonaire.
I was amazed at the diversity. Everything was available from hamburgers and pizza to Chinese, European and Indonesian. Some favorites were Rendez Vous, owned by Marcel Nahr, who serves homemade soups, and fresh fish along with great house specials and Mona Lisa which has the best lunch specials in town and just should not be missed. For local fare try the Ankertje located oceanside past the town pier on the left and for happy hour try Karals Bar across the street from the Harborside Mall.
Yes, ladies, there is shopping in Bonaire! It is not extensive but what is there is very good. There are several shops selling Caribbean style clothing made in Indonesia and I found some excellent buys. Jewelry shopping was also very good with a nice selection of those unique hard to find items that divers love like pendants and earrings in every fish and dive shape you can imagine. Beware, however, the store policies which generally say no refunds. Be absolutely sure that you want it for there is no taking it back. Bonaire, Divers Paradise...for divers and non divers it's a perfect vacation.
BVI: Biras Creek Resort by Lynn McKamey
(Ed. Note: This is a copyrighted article by Lynn McKamey used in all editions of the CTR with her permission.)
Biras Creek is like a exquisite jewel set within emerald hills and surrounded on three sides by shimmering turquoise waters. Secluded cottages resemble pearls cast along the silvery shoreline...
I had these thoughts while standing at the edge of a lovely terrace, part of Biras's landmark "stone castle" crowning the top of a peak - the centerpiece of the resort. We have visited many places in the Caribbean, but truly, Biras Creek has one of the most romantic, idealistic settings of any we have seen! It is located on a slender isthmus connecting three land masses in northern Virgin Gorda. The steep hillsides separate three bays and are dotted with hiking trails for the surefooted and more adventurous guests. Many resorts are located on the "calm" side of an island and have tranquil waters for swimming and snorkeling; some hotels are built on windward shorelines with surging waves suitable only for seaside walks. Biras uniquely has both!
The Stone Castle, an open sided architectural wonder of multi-level rooms and terraces, holds the main bar, restaurant, a cozy chess room, elegant library, and reception office. Sweeping panoramic views show that to the south, a fresh water swimming pool and sixteen cottages line Berchers Bay which faces the breezy Atlantic Ocean and has rolling waves and coral rock beaches. To the east is a wooded forest which surrounds a bird sanctuary and salt water lake. These are near the protected cove and sandy beach of Deep Bay - a perfect place for swimming and watersports activities; to the west are the tranquil waters of the North Sound which contain the marina and main dock.
We arrived by Biras Creeks small ferry boat during the last week of October 1994. A hostess with a motorized golf cart met us at the pier and gave us a tour of the 140 acre grounds before taking us to our cottage suite. Check-in amounted to filling out a card which could be dropped by the office at our convenience. There are no keys, but each room has a safe for valuables and plane tickets. Each cottage holds two suites which contain a sitting room, bedroom with either two twin, a queen, or a king bed, bathroom with a huge shower open to the skies, and covered porch with a private entryway. Ceiling fans cool each suite; louvered doors and windows allow the breeze to float through. Bicycles for guests are parked in front of each unit and can be used for peddling to Deep Bay, about 3/4 mile away. Our beachside suite overlooked Berchers Bay on the Atlantic - a lovely rocky shoreline. Each morning we awoke to a glorious sunrise, watched the waves splashing the beach and the pelicans diving for fish. Most of the cottages sit at waters edge, but eight units are located in gardens for those who prefer it or who might find the sounds of the surf distracting at night. The lapping waves slightly disturbed us the first evening, but thereafter, lulled us to sleep. Biras Creek also has two marvelous Grand Suites, comprised of very large sitting rooms, bedrooms with king or twin beds, and a huge sectioned bathroom with separate areas for toilet/bidet, two lavatories, and a big shower and sunken tub - six ceiling fans cool these units, plus the bedroom has an air conditioner to supplement nature a bit. A hillside villa has a large living room, kitchen, two bedrooms & baths, a wrap-around deck with panoramic view, and patio with grill - perfect for families or two couples. The house is located at the top of a steep winding path so a motorized cart is included. The decor of the suites and villa are stylish Caribbean - lots of wicker and rattan with tasteful tropical fabrics.
After watching the sunrise each morning, we had breakfast in the castle restaurant which is 50 winding steps above the cottage paths. A cold buffet of cereal, fresh fruit, juices, croissants and Danish pastry awaited us, followed by a full menu of pancakes, eggs, omelets, and French toast. Barbecued lunch was served from 1 to 2 p.m. at the beachside pavilion on Deep Bay and offered a selection of salads plus grilled chicken, fish, hamburgers, and hot dogs; two days a week, a light lunch was available in the main restaurant. Each evening, we enjoyed tropical drinks on the bar terrace and watched the sun slowly set over the North Sounds glittering waters. As dusk arrived, the castle turned into a romantic setting of candle-lit tables and soft lighting. Dinner began at 7 p.m. and consisted of three course meals starting with a choice of an appetizer, soup, or salad such as fresh asparagus & king prawns with a chive butter sauce, Caribbean conch chowder, chilled eggplant soup, or garden salad. The main course offered such delicacies as grilled tenderloin steak with sauce, chicken roti with a light curry sauce, broiled yellowtail snapper with Biras Creole Sauce, or Spinach ravioli with spicy tomato and basil sauce. The menu changed each night, but a meatless pasta was always available as was a half lobster. Succulent lobster thermidor could be ordered if we advised the office by 4 p.m. Besides Stilton cheese and port wine, two dessert choices were offered each evening and varied from moist chocolate cake to pecan pie. The wine list was quite extensive. Early risers could find pastries and juice by the pool at 7 a.m.; afternoon tea was served at 4 p.m.
Guest activities include swimming, snorkeling, and other watersports in Deep Bay, tennis, scuba diving, taking a Boston whaler round the North Sound, hiking miles of trails, or swinging from a hammock with a book. The resort will also pack a lunch and take guests by motor launch to a remote intimate beach. A day or sunset cruise is available in one of the custom built 45' yachts, or overnight sailaways can be arranged. While we are not serious hikers, we enjoyed finding some of the pretty pathways shaded by colorful tropical plants on our way to Deep Bay and the main pier to catch the dive boat. While Biras Creek can accommodate 66 guests, the extensive estate provides plenty of room for everyone and allows a sense of privacy.
Biras Creek is a nature lovers delight. Palms, sea grape and tamarisk grow along the beaches; thick stands of Mangrove trees line the marina and the cove at Deep Bay. Flowering shrubs, white cedar, nutmeg, and cactus are scattered along the hillsides. Bird watchers will enjoy visiting the salt water pond which attracts migratory flocks and provides a nesting ground for Banana Quits and hummingbirds. The estate has no poisonous snakes or dangerous beasts, but a stray goat or sizable Iguana may cross your path, along with lots of cute hermit crabs skittering by. During our visit, hundreds of white butterflies fluttered around. Numerous garden walks through wooded areas connect the cottages with the lake, marina, and beaches. Six nature trails offer treks up hillsides, around peaks, and along the shorelines (don't forget to take your camera!) One 30 minute walk leads to the Bitter End Yacht club. Being a scuba diver and snorkeler, I loved walking the rocky beach on Berchers Bay and finding thick mounds of shells, broken coral and sponge which had washed ashore.
We spent each morning exploring "underwater flora and fauna" with Dive BVI, our favorite scuba diving operation. We arrived back at the resort in time to stop at our suite and hop on our bikes for a 5 minute ride to Deep Bay and a leisurely lunch. My husband Kenny usually windsurfed the crescent cove each afternoon, while I lazily read books and absorbed the vistas.
Biras does not have phones in the suites, but two are available in small rooms attached to the gift shop located next to the castle. One is for local calls, the other for long distance. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. and has a FAX machine available for those who might need to stay in contact with the "real world". Satellite television is in the library, along with films and current newspapers. Electricity is 110 volts; water is provided by a desalinization plant and is quite safe for drinking. I might add that water pressure is excellent and hot water abundant! Most of the managing staff are British, as are about 30-40% of the guests. We also met vacationers from Europe and the U.S.
Rates include breakfast and dinner plus complimentary activities such as snorkeling, windsurfing, sailing in Holder 12's and 14's or a 19' Squib, puttering around the North Sound in a Boston Whaler, trips to remote beaches or other resorts in the area, tennis, and fishing. Guests simply sign up for these activities at the main desk; instruction is provided for watersports if requested. At additional charge, scuba diving, daysails, sunset cruises, overnight sailing adventures, and sports fishing are available. The resort will gladly arrange for a day trip to the famous Baths, the distant island of Anegada, or a car rental for a trip around Virgin Gorda. Dress is casually elegant. Beach coverups are required in the castle during the day; for dinner, most men wear slacks and collared shirts (jackets are optional), ladies wear cool dresses or resort clothes . Currency is the U.S. dollar, but Biras also accepts major credit cards. To enter the British Virgin Islands, Americans need proof of citizenship, while those from all other countries must have passports.
WHO WOULD ENJOY BIRAS: people wanting an upscale hide-away in a picture perfect setting; young lovers who desire privacy and a romantic atmosphere; executives searching for total tranquillity far away from the daily rat race; anyone who wants to slow down, relax, and enjoy nature at its Caribbean finest.
HOW TO GET THERE: Two ways... one is to fly into Virgin Gorda airport, presently served by a commuter airline from St. Thomas. A taxi will meet and take guests to Gunn Creek where a resort launch will provide a short 10 minute ride to Biras. The other way is to fly into Beef Island Airport in Tortola and take the 30 minute North Sound Express boat to Biras. Round trip transfers are $40 per person. After 7 p.m. a charter may have to be arranged by the resort for an additional fee.
RATES: All include breakfast and dinner, plus complimentary amenities for two people. WINTER 1994-1995 daily rates are $465 for a Garden Suite; $515 for an Ocean Suite; $685 for a Grand Suite; $840 for the Villa [$998 for four]. OFF SEASON rates from April 1 to December 16, 1995 are $340 for a Garden Suite; $425 for an Ocean Suite; $550 for a Grand Suite; $575 for the villa [$710 for four]. Several packages are available during the off season, such as an 8 day/7 night honeymoon/anniversary package starting at $2140 which includes a sunset cruise, a beach trip with picnic for two, continental breakfast in bed one morning and a bottle of champagne on arrival. Summer adventure and special family packages are also available. The Biras Creek Sailaway is a land/sea combination and is available year around. All rates are subject to a 7% Government tax plus a 10% service charge. Prices are subject to change.
For more information, contact:
UNITED KINGDOM AND EUROPE:
Unique Hotels Worldwide The Old Warehouse, Old Market, Nailsworth Gloucestershire GL6 ODU, England Telephone: (800) 373-742 or (0-453) 835801 FAX: (0-453) 835525 [Toll free FAX from Germany: 0130-817000
UNITED STATES AND CANADA:
Ralph Locke Island, Inc. P.O.Box 492479, Los Angles, CA 90049-8477 Telephone: (800) 223-1108 FAX: (310) 440-4220
Olson Travel and Nautical Charters 401 Highway 181, Portland, TX 78374 Telephone: (800) 525-8090 or (512) 643-4555 FAX: (512) 643-6975
Dive BVI Box 1040, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands (800) 848-7078 or (409) 495-5513 FAX: (809) 495-5347
Diving on the Caribbean Explorer by Phil Carta and Jenny Darby
Upon arrival in St. Maarten it was a short taxi ride to Bobby's Marina to a warm greeting aboard the Caribbean Explorer. Even though I arrived on the late flight and it was now 11:00 PM, Jennifer, the cook, had a wonderful hot meal await for me. My gear bag was left on deck and my small bag of clothes was carried to my cabin by a crew member. These are just a small sample of the service you receive on board the Caribbean Explorer.
As a veteran of liveaboards, having been on most in the Caribbean, I was impressed with the level of service on the Caribbean Explorer. This boat has, without a doubt, the best crew of any liveaboard in the world. Captain Luc Callebaut and Photo Pro Jackie Lee have traveled extensively around the world on their own boat and as operators for other dive operations. This has given them the knowledge needed to make the Caribbean Explorer dive experience what it is. As an extra benefit you get the opportunity to watch slide shows or video each evening that Luc and Jackie have shot in many of the exotic destinations they have visited.
After everyone is on board the crew casts of for the trip to Saba. The next morning you awake to the smell of coffee brewing and Jennifer's smiling face in the kitchen. Breakfasts were wonderful with the largest variety of menu selections of any liveaboard I've been on. Choices ranged from eggs (any style), waffles, French toast and at least 10 different types of cereal.
As soon as everyone finished breakfast we had our dive briefing from dive instructor Rich Buttenshaw. Rich explained the rules of the boat: always dive with a buddy (if you do not have one a crew member will gladly accompany you), never exceed the depth limit of 130 fsw and no decompression diving. We were then given an excellent briefing of the dive site and off we went on our first dive. Entry is from sides of boat with a short 5 foot drop into the water.
The typical diving day consisted of breakfast, dive, rest, dive, lunch, dive, rest, dive, dinner, rest, night dive, watch slides or video . . . and then try to get to your room before falling asleep. Then you wake up and start all over again.
Saba is fondly called the Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean and when you see the underwater life you will surely agree. The area is known for its pinnacle diving volcanic mounds that just up off the floor of the ocean with the tops starting in 90 feet of water. My experience diving the Eye of the Needle was just spectacular. I entered the water and descended the mooring line to wait for my buddy. I was greeted by a large gray reef shark that slowly circled me as I shot my roll of film. Then to my amazement the shark followed us around the pinnacle. The Eye of the Needle is awesome enough with its covering of colorful corals but the shark added a little something extra.
Other pinnacles include Third Encounter and Twilight Zone which have depths of 300 to 3000 feet. You can imagine how they got their names. In the afternoons we did shallow diving on the reefs in the area (Saba is a protected marine park) where we saw turtles on almost every dive along with stingrays, garden eels, flamingo tongues, flounder, porcupine fish, huge parrotfish, blue tangs, coneys, butterfly fish, filefish, barracuda and schools of every kind of Caribbean fish imaginable. On one dive I spent the entire time playing with a pair of beautiful squid which changed colors constantly for my camera.
After 2 days in Saba we departed for St. Kitts to dive an area that few divers have the opportunity to visit. It was a 3 hour trip, made after dinner while we sat on the top deck watching movies and reading. The next morning several of us decided to take an island tour of St. Kitts instead of the morning's diving. Diving is always available the tours are optional at a slight cost.
St. Kitts is a gorgeous island well worth the time spent there. Highlights of the land excursion include a trip to the Brimstone Hill National Park along with a visit to Romney Manor, home of Caribelle Batik one of the few places left that make real Batik, not the cheap wax print stuff found in some shops. They will give you a free demonstration and explain the process of true Batik. You may also purchase shirts, wraps and art from them. After returning, some guests took the ferry over to Nevis while the rest of us decided to try the diving.
Diving in St. Kitts is mostly shallow with several wrecks and some very nice reefs. What impressed me most was the fish were not scared of the divers and the photographers on board had great results. I was especially pleased with the porcupine fish, which I call ET fish because of the big eyes. They did not shyly disappear like in most places they came right out and posed for the camera.
After two days in St. Kitts we headed back to Saba, again after dinner so as to not interfere with the dive schedule. We did more pinnacles, reefs and even took an optional tour of the island of Saba. That evening the Caribbean Explorer treated us to dinner at Brigadoons for some excellent fresh fish cuisine. My marinated conch steak was heavenly.
Saba is a very unusual Caribbean island in that it has no sand beach. The top of an ancient volcano, it is a huge rock jutting out of the ocean with a rain forest on top. You must try Saba Spice, the spiced rum made by some of the ladies on the island from a secret and very ancient recipe. I enjoyed it so much that a case followed me home!
All too soon it was Friday and our last day of diving. We did 2 morning dives, had lunch and then started the return trip to St. Maarten. For part of the trip we were treated to a pod of dolphins which circled the boat and gave us a show. Upon arrival in St. Maarten we packed our gear and spent the afternoon shopping in the duty free shops around Phillipsburg. That last night we all got together at a local restaurant for a final dinner.
The 106 foot Caribbean Explorer carries 18 passengers in 9 cabins (6 cabins have private lavatories) There are 3 heads, 2 on the lower deck, 1 on the upper. The crew has a head in their quarters. There is a reverse osmosis water maker with a 1500 gallon per day capacity. She is also well equipped for photographers with a dedicated camera table and lots of outlets for charging. Plus 2 monster coolers on the top deck were well stocked with soft drinks and beer.
At the risk of overusing a cliche, the food was first class and plentiful. There was lots of fresh fish and fresh fruit for snacks. Buffet lunches and were served on the top deck: salads and grilled burgers. Dinners were varied and, when it wasn't fresh fish, it was chicken and barbequed ribs. It was true divers' food.
The atmosphere aboard the Caribbean Explorer was outstanding: the crew was always smiling and happy. They all receive 5 stars for making my week on the Caribbean Explorer a success.
Grenada: LaSource by Sophia Kulich
We just returned from all-inclusive resort in Grenada, LaSource. We enjoyed it very much. In addition to all features that all other a/i offer, LS includes spa treatments and health program. We especially liked relaxation techniques, stress management, tai-chi, Japanese meditation and yoga. The guy who does it is, Jean Pierre is superb and he is somewhat a healer.
Grenada's people are very friendly. As soon we got from the airplane, we were met by the sounds of the local band. Also, tourist reps were giving away little souvenirs and info on the island. They had tourism awareness month, and try to attract tourists, especially Americans. The majority of the tourists are from Europe, mostly British. BA flies directly from LON. AA has one flight per day from SJU, and BWIA fly from MIA. We flew from JFK to SJU and from there to GND.
After customs we were greeted by LaSource rep. We were whisked, no less - to white stretch limo along with 3 other people and in 5 minutes we were at the LS entrance.
The grounds (40 hilly acres) are gorgeous, and resort will be one year old in Dec. The work is still continued on landscaping, and they will build gazebo up in the mountains for meditation. The architecture and decor is British colonial village. The Great house where restaurant is has time on clock tower 5:10p - a cocktail hour for British colonials.
The name is inspired by the painting LaSource of French artist Jean Ingres. A female figure pouring the wine means beginning of life. You can see it on the decorations everywhere and in the tiles outside. To ensure total relaxation, there are no TV's in the resort.
Rooms are great, superbly decorated in British colonial style, and bathrooms are huge and marble. However, bathrooms sink was a little bit high and bath tub has too much marble around it, and you have to watch your step getting in and out. They have dryers, of course, and robes. All rooms have fairly good size balconies facing the beach. We had oceanfront room. The robes are for wearing to the treatments, because some oils might stain your clothes. The beach is beautiful, but it is a bit hilly, and the sea is open, so there is quite a surf. Also, beach is not shallow, couple of feet and it is deep. If you are not afraid of surf, it is great for swimming, or you can use 2 huge pools which are connected by waterfall. One pool is 4 ft deep, another is deeper. Pools and hot tub are adjacent to the terrace.
On the beach, if you need a drink, there are flags, and you just stick it in the sand. The bar attendant will come up and take your order.
The food was excellent and healthy, with 1 or 2 selections of lighter choice. The breakfast (British style), is buffer or you can order continental breakfast in your room. The lunches were the best, very creative, but dinners were good too, very well prepared and presented. But, there is only one restaurant for dinner and it starts at 7:30p. We are early eaters and did not have a problem, but we saw people who came at 8:30 had to wait (they sit you at the piano bar next door and will call). The service was good, and very attentive. Except for one time when they mixed up our order. Afternoon tea is from 4 to 6 PM with cucumber sandwiches, pastries and peanut butter sandwiches (for Americans? ). There are 2 bars with drinks available all day and evening but not 24 hours. One is terrace bar and another - piano bar. They also make great non-alcoholic drinks like banana daiquiri ), fruit punch, and others. The atmosphere was very relaxed, sometimes subdued.
Treatments: for 6 days we've been there the following treatment were scheduled for us:
Also, another extra is couple massage, 1 hour, we took it. They teach you massage each other, also inclusive. An extra fee is a 3 hour detailed massage (I think $70 us), manicure/pedicure and other.
The treatments were great, and it is one of the reasons we chose LS and were not disappointed.
Sports: gym, aerobics, 2 tennis courts, water aerobics, 6 hole 3 par golf course, archery, fencing, jogging, walking (with guides), volleyball, badminton, Ping-Pong, stretch classes.
The instructors are called bodyguards. Water sports: snorkeling, scuba diving, water skiing, sunfish, windsurfing.
In addition to this, there are relaxation classes: yoga, tai-chi, zen - Japanese meditation, energy management, was first class.
Beach: Brochure mentions c/o beach. That's was a disappointment for us. True, this beach is very secluded, between 2 cliffs, very beautiful. You just have 2 walls and a sea, like in movie. Bad news: IT IS NOT FINISHED YET!! So, for all of you c/o fans, forget about it for now! LS is a very new resort and will be 1 year old in December and they are still working on it. Nude sunbathing is prohibited in Grenada, but they still want tourists and that's why LS got away with it. The government closes his eyes as long is not in public place. As result c/o beach was put on the last item of their priority list (along with gazebo for meditation up in the mountain), and alas..
They plan soon to clean up garbage and make a path /shortcut so guests could get there faster. For now to get there, you have to walk around resort, it took us 11 min., via a dirt road and woods with cactuses. In future, it will be closer, and they will clean up garbage. But, they said, since it is secluded and they will not supervise it, they will not put lounges there, because, they will be stolen right away.
All beaches in Grenada are public and they can't block the beach. So, comparing this beach with GL's beach in Jamaica where we spent our pervious 4 vacations, GL wins in this respect. As for topless sunbathing, no problem. Europeans do it all the time. Of course, George said what's is there for me?
Clientele: Mostly European with majority British. For some reason they complained that there are too many Americans. Some Germans, sometimes Japanese and other people whose language we did not understand. We were surprised to see kids. They do allow kids! It was drawback but even kids were supervised fairly well by parents or baby-sitters and were small but I can imagine at vacation time you can see them more. There is not much to do for them...
Generally the atmosphere was nice and the people were pleasant. Somehow we did not feel like socializing, but it is easy to make friends, if you want to.
One time in a week there is manager's cocktail party, as everywhere. The staff is very eager to please, and we thought in general Grenadians are friendlier than Jamaicans. They are more efficient and faster. Our room was always cleaned up by 10am, and the bed turned down after dinner. They give you 2 beach towels every night , and you use them during the day. If you need extras, stop by at housekeeping station and towel s were always available. The same with robes.
As for location, make sure to ask room closer to the beach. (oceanfront, it is more expensive but worth it). The farthest rooms (oceanview) are also on the hill and people complained that it is hard to walk up and down al the time.
Tours are extra from a tour company which has an office at LaSource. A 4 hours trip was $35 per person up to 8 people. We took a private tour - got a car with a driver/guide (local taxi) for $20 per hour for a car. And he showed us St. George, took us up to mountain to see rainforest and waterfall. It was beautiful. The island is very pretty. People are poor, of course, trying to sell you things, but thank you will do. They don't insist. In Jamaica they are more pushy. And, surprise, nobody offered us drugs!
Because probably we were at health resort?
I think I covered most of the info. If you are looking for a R&R in a beautiful place, you will like it. But not too much of a entertainment and parties.
Grenada / Jamaica: LaSource - Grand Lido Compared by Sophia Kulich
Since many people asked me how do we compare both resorts, LaSource and Grand Lido, I will try to compare them, although they are a little bit different.
Breakfast - LS had the same British buffet breakfast every day with roasted potatoes, tomatoes, porridge, poached eggs, fried eggs, sausage, ham, bacon, scrambled eggs. Another station had fruit juices, fruit, yogurt, cereals. Third station had Croissants, 1 variety of muffins, 2 variety of danishes. very tasty. We especially liked nutmeg jam and guava jam. I bought for home. But, in GL there are French brioches, bagels, lox, smoked fish, eggs benedict, omelettes made to order. For gluttons like me, GL breakfast is more appealing. For George, he was happy with porridge and poached eggs.
Lunches: I liked LS's lunches more. They are more creative, more vegetarian dishes and every day were different. One day was international, another oriental (with sushi and nigiri salad), next day Mex/South American (we did not care about this, too spice, but I loved cuesadias stuffed with mushrooms. Paella was also delicious, pasta dishes very good, Salads very fresh. Separate station with deserts - plenty. Afternoon tea is the same as in GL.
Dinner: GL has more choices. LS has only one restaurant. No dress code, but they suggest casual elegant. No need for shoes and jacket/tie. Some people even dined in shorts. They suggest moderate eating. Food is not that heavy as in GL, and I never had that heavy feeling later. 4 selection of appetizer/soup/salad, 4 selection of main entree, and 4 selection of dessert. Almost all entries were excellent. See my LS report. It is hard to compare food, but, again, we enjoyed LS food, I think, more. It does not make you thirsty like in GL. Maybe different cuisine. One night was Caribbean buffet, but nothing special there. I think food is healthier at LS. If you want variety with 24 hr service, GL wins. Otherwise, quality of food in general is better at LS.
8. Drinks. There are 2 bars at LS. GL has, I think, 5. LS has terrace bar and piano bar. All drinks are the same, wine and champagne is served with dinner and lunch. Non-alcoholic drinks are tasty, they swirl fruit in blender, juices, non-alcoholic daiquiris. Quality is the same in both, but, again, 24 hour service (who needs it) in GL and more places where to get a drink.
9. Sports. LS wins here. In addition to all sports at GL, LS has 6 hole 3 par golf course. No carts, but the 'bodyguards' (they call social directors and instructors bodyguards) will carry your clubs. They also jog or walk with you outside of resort if you want. Plus LS has fencing, archery. Water sports are the same.
10. Spa. That's why we choose LS. Relaxation, meditation classes were top-notch. We attended zen-japanese meditation, tai-chi, yoga, stress management and energy channeling classes. Treatments were great. See my LS report. GL has manicure and pedicure, at LS it is extra. But all massages and treatments (every day one or more) are included. I think it is more important.
11. Rooms. LS has larger rooms than GL, superbly decorated. Baths are also huge, marble. They have robes in the room. LS has also walk-in closet. But it is not a priority for us. All rooms face a beach. We had oceanfront. All rooms have good size balconies like patios at GL, with 2 lounge chairs and 1 table. Nice to have breakfast. But, GL has French door directly going on the beach. In LS you have to go around the same way you would walk out from GL's front door. Building is at the same distance from the water as at GL. I think the reason they have balconies is because of security. They do not patrol the grounds (probably no need to), because, except occasional very polite peddlers on the beach, we were never bothered. But beaches in Grenada are public and they can't block access like they do in Negril. Anybody has right to walk on this beach. So, I would give a tie here.
12. Entertainment. GL wins. LS has piano bar (no karaoke), with piano players and sometimes vocalist singing. Every night some local band plays at the terrace. But, there are a lot's of mosquitoes at night, plus after late meal and full day of treatments and exercises, we just walk a little and went to the room. We did not see any hot tub people at night. It was much more subdued than GL.
13. Social directors and "bodyguards" were great. We met some of those kids who reminded us of Sean a lot - a lot of fun. That's it for now. I hope I gave you overview.
Now, we are in shape for GL April visit! But if you are going to try something different, you cannot go wrong with LS. It lacks ambiance, white glove service, 24 hour food and drinks, but how much can you drink and eat?
Oh, one more point - price - it is a little bit less than GL. It would cost approximately $3200 for 2, and GL about $3600. (It is hard to say because they have anniversary special in Nov.).
And, other thing what GL has and LS does not - the "M/Y Zein."
Grenada by Susan Gilpin
Grenada is a beautiful island and we do intend to return. We've found that one visit is just not enough to know a place if you've enjoyed being there. The lovely soft-spoken, graciousness of Grenadians is certainly one of the island's greatest attributes and one of the reasons we would return.
We stayed at the Mahogany Run Residences on Morne Rouge. It is very small and quite pleasant. We were met at the airport by the hotel manager and driven to the Residence. Each morning one of 2 delightful young ladies came and fixed our breakfast when we called and said we were ready for breakfast. We had a small kitchen and ate lunch in so we could splurge for dinner. Morne Rouge beach was about 100 yards away. Seaweed was a problem at one end of the beach, but walking beyond the designated vendor area (there were no vendors) solved the seaweed problem. The water on Morne Rouge is very gentle as this beach is very protected. It is almost like swimming in a lake. The Rum Rhunner uses this as one of their "secluded" beaches. We fortunately were off the beach each time they arrived. We had two problems staying here that would probably prevent us from returning--except we loved the management and the people that worked here. 1. It is away from Grande Anse and the main area where the restaurants are located, which required extensive use of taxis at night. 2. The disco Fantazia 2000 which is owned by the neighboring resort is RIGHT there. Wednesday night we were rudely awakened by car alarms, screaming "kids", etc. We really thought about moving elsewhere. For some reason we decided to stay. Friday and Saturday night were dead quiet!
A tour of the island is a must. We were fortunate in finding a guide that we thought was excellent through "happenstance". We called for a taxi to go to the grocery to get stuff for lunches. As we talked with the driver and started asking questions we realized that we were in the company of a well-informed, well-spoken gentleman whose company we enjoyed. He mentioned that he gave tours. He is based at the Ramada Renaissance and a member of their drivers association. After some debate we decide to take a tour with him rather than some of the well known companies. Spending 4-5 hours in Volvo sounded a lot better than a van.
Our tour was outstanding and fun. We were treated like friends that had come for a visit. We felt like we were getting special treatment, but I'd guess that each "client" feels that way. Our first stop was the spice plantation. We were the only tourists there and had an engaging and wide ranging conversation with the plantation guide: spices - comparative education. Next stop was the nutmeg processing plant. Really intriguing. Again one-one with the plant guide. Passed through gorgeous countryside on the way to the rain forest with a stop a banana plantation and an interesting perspective on banana exportation ( main export). Our final stop was Annandale Falls, one of the few that do not require hiking to. Absolutely gorgeous. Also had educational conversations concerning the nuances of horn honking: if you come up behind a group of women walking down the road, you'd better toot or you'll get "some kind of a tongue lashin' ."
I was intrigued by people carrying things on their heads that were obviously very heavy. Seems our guide's grandmother used to call all of the grandchildren to help her find something she'd misplaced. You guessed it! It was on top of her head and she'd forgotten she'd put it there!!
The two beaches that we got to were wonderful. Both had plenty of shade if you needed to get out of the sun. We preferred Grand Anse but it was a long walk from where we were staying and straight down a very step hill, which of course, meant straight uphill coming back. A couple of weeks of walking/hiking would certainly put one in prime shape! We did notice that most of the tourists, except those that seemed to be staying at the Spice Island Inn seemed to be younger than we (51 and 59).
We really enjoy trying different restaurants and there are some really outstanding choices. We went to the following restaurants and here are our impressions.
Hope this was helpful to anyone considering visiting this lovely island.
Jamaica: Hedonism by Michael Sharp
My wife and I just returned from another trip to Hedonism II in Negril Jamaica and thought that I would report on the happenings/events there during our trip. There have been some changes since our last trip last October. We always go during the second week in October because of the price break and the low number of others that travel at that time. This year we met our usual group as well as some new couples from all over the country.
The temps were in the 90's during the day with a rather high humidity away from the ocean. Temps at night were in the 70's with lower humidities if it rained during the late afternoon. During October it has been our experience that it is pretty typical for it to be clear/sunny mornings with clouds building in the early afternoon. Around 3-4 pm, there are some rain clouds which built up and it rains for about an hour or so and then clears up. This year was typical, but it only rained on the resort three of the days. The rest of the week was without rain and we got to see some nice sunsets. The winds were light most days and the water was calm except for one day when the wind came up in the afternoon from the south and there were some small waves. The water temperature was very warm this year and was I measured the it while scuba diving to be 83 degrees (at 90 feet !!!!).
Activities: There were the usual activities this year although our water balloon battles were not allowed due to the complaints by others on the beach. We did manage to "sink" quite a few Sandals boats/kayakers/local ganja boats/booze cruise boats though. There seemed to be more people on the nude beach this year than in previous years. There were a lot more singles that ventured over, especially after the island picnic on Monday. There were many more single men than women that we noticed. I would estimate the nude hot tub was always full late in the day and in theevenings. There were some prudes that ventured over to the nude beach and the nude hot tube and refused to take off their clothing, which caused some complaints from the nude beach goers. The management of the resort was told of these incidents and for the most part it was taken care of, but some refused to leave.
We found that the security this year was not as good as past years in enforcing the nude only/no photography rules. We went to lunch with Gary Williams down the beach at Cosmo's one day and he told us of the upcoming Super Club happenings which I will elaborate on later in this post.
I and two others made a day trip to Montego Bay to play golf at Tryall, home of the richest golf tourney, the Johnny Walker Tournament. In one word I can sum up the day: HOT !!!!!! The course was difficult, but for my first time there (and being a bogie golfer) I managed to shoot my usual. Stay in the fairways and you will be okay....go out of them and your in trouble........The caddies were helpful and provided instant yardage help and club choices. The greens fees were not outrageous and rentals of clubs/shoes are available also at a reasonable price. Overall I think that the cost for greens fees, caddies and clubs was around $150 US.
Scuba diving boats were very full again this year. A large group of professional divers took one of the boats every day, so it limited the number of boats available for others. We still managed to go each day on a at least one dive. The reefs we visited were different than last year and seemed to be in great shape with a lot of fish and lots of nice coral growths. I would suggest going to Joe's Reef, Kingfish Point, and Treasure Reef. These were the nicest dives. I didn't get to go on the two-tank dive (due to my leaving that day on which they were scheduled . Joseph took a group over to the cliffs near Rick's Cafe for the two-tank dive. Hopefully they will continue exploring new reefs and trying new types of diving experiences. There was some talk of doing some night dives, but none were scheduled. Kingfish Point, Treasure Reef and Joe's reef would be EXCELLENT night dives. Hopefully night dives will also be the norm rather than the exception in the future. One had to sign up for diving the day before a trip although some openings on boats could be found to replace those that spent all night in the disco.
The scuba diving crew down there has always been pretty good and continues to be that. Even though we had dove with them before and they knew us, and we were advanced divers, they asked us to go out on a shallower checkout dive prior to making any of the more advanced dives. There were quite a few taking advantage of the scuba school there and getting certified. Please make sure that if you dive there that you be extra careful so as not to damage any of the reefs so that we can all expect to enjoy them for a long time. We had numerous instances of "advanced" divers plowing over the reefs and knocking parts off, etc. One girl pulled out her dive knife to pry off something until I glared at her and she put it away.....Take away only memories and leave only bubbles.....Please.....
The snorkeling/fish life off the beaches was still pretty good and there was a large green moray living in the rocks just off the pier in about ten feet of water. There were also cuttlefish, southern stingrays, spotted eagle rays and puffers at night off the pier. Take some bread down from dinner and feed them. There were numerous urchins in the water on the nude beach and we had one instance of stepping on one (ouch....). If you bring some bread down in the morning to the nude beach, the fish in the little reef down from the far raft will eat right from your hand. There were a lot of other activities during the week and most seemed to be popular.
The two island picnics seemed to be well attended and after the first one, made the nude beach more popular. This may have been due to the shortage of single women on the prude beach. There were a lot of entries in the body painting this year and there were also a lot of cameras and prudes checking it out. Once again security was lax. The Pajama party and Toga night were well attended and there were a lot of entries in the "most revealing"/sexiest categories for both events. The men seemed to be mostly in boxers or nude with a sock or something covering their penises and the women seemed to lean towards the see-through body suits or topless/open breast pajamas. There were a number of styles of togas that were pre-made by returnees and there was a minor fiasco for some when the housekeepers forgot to put sheets in some of the buildings on the nude side, so entire buildings didn't get their togas until right before dinner.
The piano bar was very active each evening and seemed to be the place to go after the dinner shows. The beach parties were well attended each night also. The reggae this year seemed to be a little less rap-oriented and more Bob Marley style. There were sand fleas out during the beach parties but were a minor nuisance. The pier was popular each night feeding the fish and seeing the rays/squid/etc. come in. Popular trips off the resort seemed to be horseback riding and trips to Rick's Cafe for the sunsets. We didn't make either of these trips but did manage to visit a local bar down the road owned by the son of a friend of ours.
Overall Negril seemed to be a safe place to go out and one wasn't threatened at all. There are a lot of locals who vend various products throughout the day, but security wasn't lax about keeping them off the property.
One of the couples that we met while there were making their first visit to Hedonism II and tried to fit in as much activity as they possibly could during their stay. I'm going to try to contact them for their opinions of the activities they took part in and post their responses. Believe me when I say that they tried everything. We called them the "adventure couple" !!!!!
Entertainment in the main dining room was better than in past visits in my opinion. There has been a great deal of change in the staff of Hedonism II and with it has been a change in some of the entertainment. There was more professional groups from Kinston performing and there was an excellent steel drum group that entertained the entire dining room. Talent night still occurs on Thursday nights. Food and Drink: This year's meals were pretty much the same as last year's fare with a little more variation in the vegetables available. Other than the lobster tails on Saturday nights (small the first Saturday night but much larger the second Saturday we were there...) and the mushroom soup, the food was good but not exceptional.
There was a good variety of salad bar materials as well as meats and breads and no one should ever go away hungry from Hedonism. We did eat some breakfast and lunch meals in the main dining room this year and found it a change from our usual routine of going to the snack bars on the beaches for grilled sandwiches and French fries. There was a coffee brewed on the nude beach at DelRoy's every morning starting at 7-7:30 am and there usually was a platter of cookies or fruit there also for the early morning beach comers. The returnees party on Wednesday night had it's usual good fare and everyone was full when they left although we did go to the dining room for dessert afterwards. After trying the newly opened Pastafari restaurant last year, we decided to give it another try this year to see if it had improved. While the service was much better and the rules as far as dressing had relaxed a little (no bare feet or swimwear),I found the food to be so-so, but it is no where near the hustle-bustle of the main dining room and was a nice change of pace. I would recommend trying the pasta choice with mushrooms/asparagus/sun-dried tomatoes. It seemed to be the most popular choice among the 8 people at our table. DelRoy and Scuba still make the best drink's on the beach and Michelle does a wonderful job at the main dining room bar and there was no shortage of beverages. Popular non-alcoholic drink this year was Ting on ice. If you haven't tried a Ting (only available in Jamaica),then try one when down there.
We went to lunch with Gary Williams to a place down the beach called Cosmo's. Very good food at a reasonable price. A very good drink available there but not available at Hedonism is called a Shandy. It is a bottled beer/champagne combo that comes in a variety of flavors and is very good.
I did hear some complaints from some people that their favorite brand of beer wasn't available and that the only choice for beer was Red Stripe, but I guess that you can't stock EVERYTHING or please EVERYONE all the times. We found the choices to be more than adequate and the adding of Vodka Slush dispensers at the bars to speed things up. Now we just need a Dirty Banana dispenser and I'd be happy.....
I forgot to mention that someone with 14 visits took the prize at the returnees party......
NEWS: Now I can dispense some news that you all may have been waiting for. Gary Williams disclosed to us that he is still trying to get a nude pool put in at Hedo. A lot of the promised construction had been put on hold and may be put on further hold due to the construction that is starting in November on a new Hedonism II resort on the island of St. Lucia. It will be identical in amenities to Hedo-Negril and will be called Hedonism II also. It will be built on a peninsula with the prude beach on one side and the nude beach on the other. Everything as far as activities will be the same with the exception of NO SCUBA DIVING. Construction has been delayed due to the island not liking the idea of a nude beach.
A new series of SuperClub resorts will be opening soon and will be no-frill resorts but still be somewhat all-inclusive. They will not have all the activities of Hedo/Grand Lido/etc. The first one will be opening in Nassau, Bahamas soon and will be called Breezes. Apparently it was previously the Windom (spelling) and as soon as it has been remodeled, etc, then it will be opening.
Gary and Cornell also mentioned that the resort may revise the "stay 2 weeks-in-a-year-get-3-free-days" in the near future. For those that don't know about it, if you stay at Hedonism II 14 days in a CALENDAR year, then you can get three free days. Your travel agent or yourself must ask and keep track of it though. They didn't say if they were going to make the extension longer or cut it out.........if someone hears, let the rest of us know.....Gary, Cornell, and Kevin are all working hard to keep everyone happy and returning to Hedonism II. Let them know if there is a problem and they are very good about getting the problem resolved.
By the way.....check out Gary's new cigarette boat parked at the pier...
Miscellaneous: I thought that I would make a list of what we consider essentials to take with when traveling to Hedonism II especially for newcomers.
+Sipper cups--keeps out sand/water and makes for less trips to the bar
+ Zip-lock style bags--keeps things dry (like cigarettes and lighters)
+Inflatable rafts--Great for floating around on the water, especially if they have slots for drinks and then they can be used to supply the whole group. The dive shop will fill them for you and most people just leave them there for others when they leave.
+ Suntan oil/lotion--Bring lots since it can be expensive or not available. Make sure that you prepare for the intense sun or you may have a miserable sunburn.
+ Beach bag--works good to carry towels/snorkeling gear/etc. + Hat--intense sun....enough said..... + Water shoes--sea urchins...enough said
+ Medicated powder (Mexana)--prevents/heals sun rashes especially if you are on oral contraceptives.
+ AT&T calling card--only AT&T has direct /no hassle lines from Hedonism II.
We also flew again this year to Negril from MoBay via TimAir. They always have great service and schedule their flights around you. Cost this year was $220 round trip for two with a discount if you had others flying with you. Reservations can be made a couple of weeks in advance by calling:
TimAir Ltd 809-952-2516 809-979-1114
PO Box 122
Reading P.O.,St James FAX: 809-979-1113 Jamaica,W.I.
Other ramblings: Overall our trip was exceptional again and we will surely be returning to Hedo II next year. We have always been happy going to Jamaica in early October and have not had any bad experiences while there, although the day before we left some of the Halloween/Anniversary swinger crowd had started to arrive and perform their particular brand of exhibitionism in front of everyone. I had heard stories of some of these types of happenings and the reputation that outsiders had gotten of Hedonism II due to these groups, but until this year we had not seen it in person. I'm not criticizing the groups activities, but if exhibitionism/overt sexual freedom is not your cup of tea then you may want to check with the resort to see if these groups are going to be there when you are. The management did quickly act to prevent some VERY explicit acts on the rafts on the nude beach after they started for the second day. We are not prudes and we are not nudists but we really avoided these groups (which meant avoiding the hot tub) after witnessing some of the activities and that kept us from enjoying the resort. Luckily we were leaving the next day and didn't have to go through the hassles. If I had been a newcomer to Hedonism II and looked out on the nude beach rafts during the exhibition, I would definitely think about whether or not I had made the right choice of resorts
So that's my latest diary/impressions of our latest return trip to Hedonism II. I'll be returning, hopefully, next year and gather with old and new friends at DelRoy's.......til then.....
Jamaica: Swept Away by Harold Bagnetto
Our stay at Swept Away was unquestionably the best vacation experience we've ever had. It started out however, with all the marks of a vacation from hell - with an hour and one half delay out of Dallas, a missed connection in Miami and lost luggage with almost all our clothes in them - probably continuing on to Caracas. We were then in the proper state of mind to face the cross country trek from Montego Bay to Negril. (We had heard that it wasn't a particularly pleasurable experience.) But wait, it wasn't that bad. The scenery did have some rather impressive moments and the driver was typical of almost all Jamaicans, very pleasant. After the "hour and a half" ride (Jamaican time), we arrived at Swept Away.
We were greeted by a very nice young man who invited us to sit in the open air lobby while he arranged for our bags, the few that we had, to be brought to the room. We informed him of our dilemma with the baggage on American Airlines. He and another young lady began contact with American until the bags were located and later that evening had them sent to our room. What a relief that was.
I can't say enough good things about the staff at Swept Away. From the initial desk clerks to the water sports workers, tennis pros, waiters and maids - all were very efficient and polite, seemingly going above and beyond the call of duty.
The Atrium rooms where we stayed, were different than anything I had ever been in. There is not a glass window in the whole place. All the widows, which cover a large portion of the walls, are louvered mahogany panels. And since each four unit building is located among lush gardens, when all the panels are open that garden atmosphere moves right into the room.
There is a little difference between the upstairs and downstairs units both having strong points. We were hoping to be assigned an upstairs unit, since a previous writer had suggested that, but we were given a lower unit. At first we had asked to be transferred if possible, which they arranged the next morning. After going up and looking at the upper unit we decided to stay in the lower. Here is the difference. The upper unit has a high wood beamed ceiling that is very pretty and an upper verandah that can't be accessed from the garden walkways. The lower has a regular 8 or 9 foot ceiling but has a verandah that opens into the gardens. This garden access had some very positive aspects that we discovered. In the morning, room service will bring your tray to your back door, tapping and leaving it on the coffee table next to the couch on the verandah. What a way to wake up in the morning! Also, most of the downstairs verandahs (we had 1118) are completely enveloped with vegetation for a very private feel. And if the vegetation is not private enough, there are drop down shades. The upstairs units seemed to not have nearly the garden feel or the privacy on the verandah, not to mention the special room service treatment. But either way, I don't think you can get a bad room.
The architecture of the buildings seem to have been designed to fit the Caribbean feel desired. The orangish clay tiled roofs protrude just above the palm trees. After walking down the beach and taking boat trips past the others resorts. It is my opinion that Swept Away is by far the most elegant of the resorts on the strip for its natural beauty.
When I first began a search for the perfect romantic place for our 20th anniversary celebration, I posted a question in the forum asking about a place for romance. One wise respondent replied, "Romance is where you find it." This is true, however some places lend more in atmosphere than others. Swept Away has all the atmosphere you will need for a perfect romantic interlude.
There are many different dining opportunities at Swept Away. The main dining hall has buffet breakfast which is lavish. Lunch is also buffet with a sizeable desert table. I believe we over did it there. The dining hall's evening meal is from a menu although on Monday night there was a huge beach buffet complete with ice carvings, a pig roast and a Jamaican show.
For gourmet type dining there is Feathers. It is located across the street at the sports complex and you must have a reservation. The food there was very good as well. Being from New Orleans originally, I enjoy food with spice. Though the Jamaicans use different spices than I am accustom to, all the food was very flavorful.
For snacks there was the "Veggie Bar" which would "juice" or peel any fruit available. They also had some very interesting sandwiches. And if that isn't enough, there is someone almost always grilling chicken or fish at the beach grill. This also includes a late night snack time from 11:00 pm to 1:00 am which we enjoyed a couple of times after a late night dip in the Jacuzzi.
Oh I can't forget the Coffee. If you like good rich strong coffee you will be in heaven. The Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, which we had with every meal is some of the best in the world. I couldn't get enough of it. I even brought back some.
The activities and sports opportunities are to numerous to do all in a week. Well I guess you might be able to if you did what I saw one British couple doing - running from one thing to the next, skiing at 8:30, running to catch the scuba boat at 9:00, then tennis in the after noon. But that's not why we came to Swept Away. We took everything in pace. We did what we wanted to, when we wanted, and were very laid back. We snorkeled several times. The coral reefs were beautiful. I water skied some. They taught us how to sail the Aqua Cat sail boats which we really enjoyed. There are also Sun Fish, and Sail Boards. On Friday I had my first experience with SCUBA. Let me make one suggestion. If you are not a certified diver and want to dive you must take their in house training course. There is a limit of eight students per course, which lasts the entire morning, including a dive. Be sure that you go immediately down to the "Diving Hut" and sign up for the course as soon as you arrive and are given a room number. These classes may fill up fast and you may not get to dive until later on in the week. Once you have taken the course you can make the other assisted dives.
The Beach is world class and the water is a beautiful aqua green best seen in the morning and early afternoon hours. There is an ample supply of lounge chairs with foam mats for the beach. Oh, and you need not bring beach towels. They are supplied and may be changed as often as you like for fresh ones.
The sports complex is very respectable. There are hard and clay tennis courts as well as squash and racquetball courts, a nice weight facility, lap pool, sauna and steam rooms. I took a tennis lesson from one of the pros which really helped my back hand. There is also a massage room. Massages are the only thing that we found that would cost you extra, $25 for a half hour. You might want to sign up for the couples massage class which I believe was on Saturday, no extra charge.
With all that was available on location and since we came to relax and enjoy each other, we stayed at Swept Away for the entire week except for a short trip by boat into town for some shopping on Thursday. The shopping trip was the only thing that I could have done without. They put you off at what might be called "The Gauntlet", a series of little shops selling t-shirts, hand crafts, wood carving, and other local paraphernalia. These shop owners would put to shame any used car salesman in America for their persistence.
One surprise that I found to be a big added feature was the good international mix. We met couples from England, Germany, Uruguay and Italy. I'm sure there were more. The accents kept changing as the week wore on.
The owner, Lee Issa, was on the grounds talking to guests and dining at least four times that I saw during the week. His attention to the place seemed to be a big factor in its first class service and facilities. From talking to some of the staff, he seemed to be very respected by them. The staff was happy, friendly and always had the traditional, yet sincere motto, "No Problem, Mon".
There is much more that could be said about Swept Away not the least of which is "We Will Be Back." If you have any questions that I have not answered here please feel free to send an E-Mail or Forum Message.
P.S. If you go be sure to try out one of the many hammocks under the palm trees and loose yourself for several hours. Especially during the sunsets, which are spectacular.
Saba by Joe Gavula
We survived the plane landing (very short runway) and arrived in Saba staying 2 nights at Captains Quarters - a very nice and neat, lush landscaping, beautiful view and very relaxing. There was a pretty pool with a great view and patio. We liked our large room and 4 poster bed - was surprised by the TV and minibar - the minibar was reasonable priced and convenient - great for waking up thirsty in the middle of the night.
The weather was great - it rained one time in the night but was clear and sunny the rest of the time. We walked around early Saturday morning but was a little too early as most shops were still closed - we met a medical student from Montserrat who was checking out Saba - she didn't like Montserrat at all but was very interested in Saba's medical school and was delighted with Saba.
Unfortunately, I'm not blessed with strong ankles and good balance, I missed a step and fell on my foot and that was the end of my exploring in Saba - I was disappointed not to be able to hike Mt. Scenery - however, it was great just to be there so I sat and watched all the comings and goings around me. We were there over Halloween and were able to see lots of tricker treaters - listen, they do some serious Halloween costumes - young and old! The medical students were fixing up a haunted house for the kids.
Captains Quarters had a barbecue Sat night which was really good and then most people were going to a Halloween party at Guidos later.
Everyone was extremely nice, pleasant and helpful - one of our taxi drivers had been to OK to fish at Lake Texoma - smaller world than you think.
While we didn't really do much we had a great time - Saba is very beautiful, quiet, peaceful and relaxing. The cottages and gardens are picture perfect with lush green surroundings - just beautiful.
On the plane ride back to St. Martin, there were a few photographers hired by the government of St. Maarten to photograph Saba, Statia and St. Maarten - they talked the pilots into circling the island so the could get more photos. Really fun and beautiful to see from the air. ONE WORD OF CAUTION: the Captains Quarters Special (from the bar) - it is a great drink that goes down smoothly and then knocks your socks off! - I had two before dinner. Boy, I wish I had one now!
We found Saba well worth the effort to see - it's a whole other time and place.
St. Barths by Jamie Gavula
We are back from a week in St. Barths -- it was truly wonderful! We stayed at villa MAG and it was a great choice - perfect for the two of us. We are glad we decided on a villa - it was the right choice for SBH.
It was hot and humid the day we arrived and the pool was just what we needed to cool down.
Villa - the chairs were comfortable for sitting and lounging - the deck chairs were also comfortable. We had all the appliances one could need in the kitchen with a really efficient refrigerator. The location was good - Lorient - not too busy and a great view. We also had a stereo and TV - only turned TV on when it rained all day and I wondered if we were having a tropical storm. We had WIMCO supply our first night and it worked out great, it was enough for 2 meals and was convenient since we arrived on Sun and all the stores were closed. I think La Rotisserie supply the food.
Weather - the sky was overcast some the first few days and we got rained on at Saline and Flamands - then it rained all day one day but the last 3 days were terrific.
We settled into a routine of going to a beach in the morning, the out to lunch, then back to the pool or shopping if it was raining. We didn't go out to eat at night but once as we found we just weren't hungry at night. (we spent a week in Anguilla the week before and we were stuffed from going out to eat there) We would just read, talk or listen to the stereo or the ocean.
There is a new radio station in SBH at 100.3 and we really enjoyed it - all types of music and almost no advertising - be sure to listen for it. It's called Radio Transport.
Groceries - We shopped at Jo Jo, AMC and Sodexa with JoJo having the least expensive prices generally. We always used francs for groceries.
Cars - We found the driving a bit intimidating at first but was better after a few days - I would hate to see the traffic in winter (high) season. Joe is a good driver but he couldn't ever see any views due to having to watch the road all the time.
We rented from Budget - a moke - ran $210 for Sun to Sun. The only problem with the moke was it was really low to see out of - we didn't attempt to take the top off - it would start raining at any time and we watched others getting soaked. The driving on SBH is not for the faint hearted.
Beaches - overall we liked the beaches - very clean and a nice size for walking and stretching out.
Saline was nice and big but there were quite a few people on it - I counted 40 vehicles in the parking lot when we left and 3 more were driving in. We watched 2 couples that walked down by us then took their video camera and photographed all the nude and topless bathers - they giggled and then picked up there stuff and left. When we walked out they had swimsuits on but I guess they just wanted pictures - they appeared to be Italian. We thought they were rude.
Gouverneur - it was my favorite beach - not too many people and very picturesque - we had a great morning there.
Flamands - nice beach but we didn't stay long as it rained - we decided to have lunch at Le Fregate and it quit raining while we ate - it has a lot of hotels, cottages and houses but it still was not very crowded and nice - better in the afternoon I think for sunbathing.
Colombier - great beautiful beach - the walk in was not bad at all and actually was a nice hike to see the ocean and countryside - the walk just added to the enjoyment - this was my husbands favorite beach - there were quite a few people there and a few boats but still lots of room. Best for sunning in the morning I think.
St. Jean - very windy the day we were there so we ate lunch at Chez Francine and watched a windsurfer. There is some construction going on next to Chez Francine and down a little way. (The airport in under construction also). The St. Jean area was really busy and a bottle neck for traffic. Lots of shops and stores are remodeling and getting ready for winter season.
Restaurants - we ate lunch most of the time.
Le Fregate - very good food - had octopi and lobster - reasonable priced had raw mahi-mahi for the first time and it was good - service a little slow and they served us someone elses espresso.
Chez Francine - nice location and food was good, lobster salad and lobster provencale, but was more expensive than Le Fregate - it was very windy and overcast so it was nice to sit and watch the beach.
Le Select - we went twice - great burgers and fries - loved the location - we sat and people watched. A group of local men were celebrating and drinking champagne - we never found out what the occasion was but they had a trophy with them. It was our favorite hang out - we watched the local men eye all the women - great fun!
Marigot Bay Club - the only place we went for dinner - we made a reservation on the blackboard and met the owner's children who were out of school. They proudly told us their DAD owned the restaurant. Very good food, beautiful location - our most expensive dinner - again we both had lobster and the spicy codfritters were very good.
La Gloriette - great food, good view , it was raining and it was a nice place to spend the afternoon - had mahi-mahi and snapper - codfritters were good here also - reasonable priced.
Jardin Samba - we stopped here for lunch after leaving Colombier beach - it was a great meal and Joe's favorite, we were the only customers and it is a charming, relaxing place - had mahi-mahi that was perfect, also had an appetizer - not sure what it was - but it was great! The waiter was Gustaf and he was very helpful and glad to practice his English. It was our least expensive meal - $44 for 4 beers, entrees and appetizer and coffee. If we hadn't been leaving the next day we definitely would have gone back. They were making Sangria and having "paella" for dinner that night - it smelled great. The chef was a very interesting looking man
We had a terrific time and would go back to St. Barts in a New York minute but I would like to learn more French - it was frustrating not to understand - I wish I knew what those men were hollering at Le Select!
St. Martin by Jill Crompton
After 18 hrs. from Phoenix (leaving at midnight) we were the fortunate ones to be "allowed" to fly on to St. Martin. Those going to Tortola (on LIAT) where we were to stop on the way to St. Martin were told that there was no room and they could go tomorrow. For once in our lives we were headed in the right direction!
Overall was a better trip than expected. We arrived in St. Martin at 5pm, easy through customs, picking up car at Budget ($150/wk) at check in at Royal Islander. One fact no one mentioned is that all license plates end in 971 (I think) and all cars on the island are white and small! We had our first meal at Cheri's Saturday night: had a Ceasar salad for two and French onion soup, very good! We also walked up to Paradise Grill for our first rum punch of the trip. The bartender, Rev. Tbone III, makes an outstanding punch! Unfortunately it had rained Friday, Saturday and Sunday which forced us into shopping on Sunday -- our first day there. The rain was so heavy that we really didn't know what the island looked like. Being from Phoenix it didn't really bother us though, we were just happy to be alone on an island. Many stores were closed on Sunday even though cruise ships were in Philipsburg. Even the big stores, like Little Switzerland were closed.
We ate lunch at Ric's on the beach in Philipsburg (owned by a Dallas couple).
We went back to Orient express for happy hour - a deal we couldn't refuse all week - 2 for 1 from 5-7pm. Robin, the bartender was also a tremendous help whenever we wanted to plan for the next day. If anyone is looking for a stiff drink, see Robin -- he won't let you down. We went daily (except for one day) and the tab was either $7 or $11 for 4 drinks a piece. On Sunday we had dinner at Paradise Cafe, great food as we had heard. We had swordfish and Chicken parmesan, bottle of wine for $61 and received a coupon for 15% off next visit (cash only). They also had island entertainment books there. Monday: We visited the Food Center and was really surprised at the great selection there. Didn't plan on eating in the room much, but the experience was worth it.
The Royal Islander had a Bacchanel Party in the street, $10 included hat, t-shirt, 2 drinks, music, dancers. We went to the Casino Royale for second time to recover our money and got lucky. The Caribbean poker God was with us, for a little while anyway. Tuesday: We packed snorkel gear and headed for Baie Rouge. One of our best days, but then I don't recall any bad days in St. Martin . Baie Rouge has an unusual surf, very deep sand, and more rock formations than Maho. It's great snorkeling, as long you don't keep your back side facing the sun too long (as Dave did). But he managed to stand and drink that evening! We ate lunch at Gus' Beach Bar, $5 just as we were told and saw several kinds of fish snorkeling, starfish, lots of coral as well as many neon or iridescent fish. The people on this beach seemed to be predominately European. Not much interaction between the people on the beach, unless the water was washing your belongings into the ocean.
Anther comment we hadn't picked up is that the casinos are very different than what we expected, or are used to. Not bad, ......to be
With the rainy weather it's just as well that the casinos were not more inviting, we would have just lost more money. They didn't open until 1pm and Caribbean poker does not start at Casino Royale until 9pm. There's only 1 blackjack table available in the afternoon. Tuesday night we had dinner at Don Carlos. Strange as it may sound, We had a green peppercorn filet mignon that was out of this world! Definitely one of the best steaks we've ever had! It was a huge portion and both of us took enough home for dinner later that week. The vegetables served with it were very well presented and cooked perfectly. Also had a bottle of wine, dinner including tip was $68. The filet must have been at least 12oz. We went back to Casino Royale and managed to walk out a whopping $6.50 ahead of the game! (This is where the good news ends)
Wednesday: Plans to go to Anguilla were canceled as we had too much sun in a measly 5-6 hours (and we're from Phoenix mind you). So had to shop instead, oh darn! We were on a T-shirt mission, but no luck. We started in Marigot, had lunch at the French CanCan. We had great food, but if you don't speak French, improvise. They didn't volunteer much English. We can survive speaking limited Spanish, but my years of elementary/H.S. French were useless. Wednesday is open market in Marigot. We stopped at La Brasserie for Rum Punch before heading back to RI.
Thursday: Caught the ferry in Marigot and headed to Anguilla. WOW! If we had gone there on Monday, I'll bet we would have returned. Shoal Bay is everything everybody says and more! Perfect place to be alone, all beach and very few people. Walked until there were no more people on the beach and settle in for some snorkeling and relaxation. Watch out for thistles growing in sand (made us feel right at home in cactus heaven). We had lunch at the place next to Uncle Ernies (can't remember the name of it), they took charge cards and by then Casino Royale had caught up with us! Anyway, we had great food, chicken, chicken salad and many Heineken's. Hated to leave this beautiful, peaceful beach and nice people. The water was gorgeous, gentle waves, beautiful color. That night we had dinner at Tiberio's - Italian restaurant at the end of Maho Plaza on the second floor. Impeccable service, great food, can't think of anything they could have done better. Shared an appetizer, marinated beef with lemon and greens, had daily fettucini with tomato, cream sauce and mushrooms and also Gnocchi dinner. Excellent food! This was our most expensive dinner, but again we had a bottle of wine -- not sure but think it was about $80 including tip.
We went to Casino Royale Cafe for great dessert, Napoleon, $4.
Friday: Bummed out! Last day in St. Martin, started at the RI on the 5th floor for coffee, explaining why we were not interested in buying a timeshare. No pressure, 10-15 min. unless you felt like talking. Sure had what seemed to be good deals, just too hard for us to get there. Took our last shot at shopping in P'burg. We had lunch at Bayside -- good food, very reasonable prices. Somewhere along the line we stumbled upon an outstanding jewelry store in Marigot, La Coulee d'Or. This is jewelry with an artistic flair! Guess it's good we did not find it early in the week.
Saturday: Not much time for anything other than our last good bye to St. Martin and the RI. Would highly recommend RI, and hope to be there again sometime! T
St. Martin on The Cheap by Steve Siguaw
The following is how to enjoy this paradise and afford it without selling the kids nor getting a second mortgage on your home
The off-season in the Caribbean is generally the more reasonably priced time to get to know this truly wonderful paradise. Hotels, meals and even air fare is far more reasonable in the months of April-Dec. (15th) than during the high season of the prime winter months. My wife and I just returned from our fourth visit to St. Martin (November 4 - 12, 1993) and we come back more impressed after each visit and with the knowledge that it is affordable if you try.
We flew American Airlines from Denver-Dallas-San Juan-Sint Maarten (depart 8:00 am and arrive at 10:00 PM). This year our airfare was just over $500.00 each. Last year each ticket cost $471.00 round-trip. The 'normal' airfare from Denver - Sint Maarten - Denver is right at $750.00 (have your travel agent check the ever-changing fares daily until you find what you want!). Besides American, Continental Airlines flies direct to Sint Maarten from Newark, NJ. Those trying to use frequent flier miles must book at least a year in advance (or book first class). United has decided to drop their service from Denver to San Juan. Delta has service into San Juan also. A short connecting flight on a local carrier (like WinAir) can then be used to get to Sint Maarten. We also saw a lot of KLM planes landing this year. In addition, there are the charter flights that may get you there. Again, check for a deal.
Car Rental (La Boiture)
We always get a car. Budget Rent-A-Car has a weekly rate of $150.00 for a compact car and will either deliver the car to your hotel or there is an office one block from the airport. They also have an office on the French side in Cul-de-Sac. We found Budget to be the cheapest when booking in advance. Hertz has an office near the airport and there are also several local rental companies at the airport and around the island. Check your prices before you rent!
Hotels (Ou sejourner)
The French side of the island is much more quiet than the Dutch side. We have stayed at the Pelican Reef on the Dutch side, Grand Case Beach Club and L'Esplanade Carib on the French side. The Pelican is lively, has a nice small beach and caters to a primarily American clientele. It is near the airport and within walking distance of several nice restaurants and bars (more about this later). Room rates vary from $125.00 to $205.00 depending on the type of accommodations you wish. This resort is also a very large time-share facility.
Grand Case Beach Club is very quiet, friendly and has an international mix of guests. It is located a short walk from the village of Grand Case and is right on the beach. The rooms are very clean, offer nice views of the sea and are like most of the other rooms in hotels on the island. Prices vary from $95.00 per day to $150.00 per day depending on size (again, keep checking as the rates for all hotels on the island vary-I check weekly on CompuServe for the latest prices). Continental breakfast is included in the price.
This year we stayed at the brand new L'Esplanade Carib Hotel in Grand Case (very near the Grand Case Beach Club-look up the hill!). We had a one bedroom loft that overlooked both the town of Grand Case as well as the harbor. It was a two minute walk to the beach. They offer studios and 1 bedroom lofts; all with views of the sea. Prices range from $95.00 per day to $180.00 per day depending on the number of people. A 10-15% discount is offered if you book directly with the hotel.
There are many other reasonable and some very cheap places to stay on the island. Some examples are: The Sea Breeze Hotel (Dutch Side) for $55-$85 per night; The Pasanggrahan Royal Inn (downtown Philipsburg) for $68-$88 per night; and the Hevea right in Grand Case. Of course you can always ignore your gray matter and stay at La Samanna if you intend to get that second mortgage on your house in order to pay for your stay!
Another item to consider in your hotel cost is the government tax. The Dutch side will charge a 5% daily tax on your room. In addition, a service charge of 10-15% may be levied by the hotel. Watch out! The French side charges either a $3.00 per person/day tax or 5% per day tax. In addition, there could be a 10% service tax added on. Include this tax in your calculations for the best deal.
Beaches (Les Plages)
There are some 37 accessible beaches on the island. The most popular are Maho, Mullet Bay, Orient Bay (clothes optional), Dawn Beach and Bay Rouge. All beaches are topless. This year my wife and I noticed that around 80% of the women were topless (the exceptions were some of the American women; yet many do get up the courage to "pop their tops" and find that it really doesn't matter to anyone!). Also this year we figured that the percentage of thongs for both women and men is increasing. Approximately three fourths of the women and 35% of the men wear 'thongs' or 'Brazilian bottoms'.
The less popular beaches and the least crowded beaches are (don't tell anyone though): Cupe Coy (clothes optional), Long Bay (clothes optional to the right), Grand Case Beach-northern end and Plum Bay. Bring your own food and water (except for Cupe Coy which has refreshments from an island native). If you want to be seen, these beaches are not for you. If you want solitude, just walk down the beach for 5 minutes and you'll be alone. Again, all of these beaches are topless and nudity is fairly common.
Running is one of the highlights of a trip to St. Martin. The Sint Maarten Road Runners are very active. They meet on Wednesday's at the Sports Complex (near the hospital on the Dutch side) at 5:00 PM and run approximately a 10K run. On Friday's they meet at Maho near the convenience store at 5:00 PM to run on the golf course. They also have a long run (20km or more) on Sunday from the Royal Palm Beach Club at 6:30 am to Marigot on the French side.
After this long run, they usually eat breakfast and a truck returns the runners to the Royal Palm. Stop in at Tri Sport near the bridge at Royal Palm Beach Club and talk with Malcolm Maidwell about these training runs and any possible races while you're visiting. Malcolm is the Caribbean Champion in the triathlon for his age group and an excellent runner! He also owns Tri Sport.
The highlight of our trips to St. Martin has been running with these local runners and even entering one of their races. In addition, you will get first hand experience about how to run with their most interesting traffic! This year we managed to be there when they had the "Race Around The Island" relay race. There were 27 teams from throughout the Caribbean and it was very competitive. Each team was made up of 8 male and 2 female runners with each leg 2 miles in length. There is also a non-competitive individual (non-recognized) run around the island at the same time. Running in the tropical heat and humidity is something to be experienced!
Many of the road runners also compete in triathlons and have practice triathlons prior to the long Sunday training run. The biggest triathlon for St. Maarten takes place the first weekend in December on the Dutch side and it attracts a very competitive field.
There are also swim competitions held for all levels. Again, stop in at Tri Sport (mentioned above) and ask for details.
Wind surfing is best at Orient Beach. The trade winds can really kick up on this side of the island making the surfing great.
Hobies, Jet Skies, and Sunfish can also be rented at Orient Beach as well as some of the other popular beaches mentioned above.
Yacht races are frequent on St. Martin. During the third week in November there is a race around the island (2 day race) with an overnight stop at Tintamarre. Inquire at Bobby's Marina in Philipsburg.
Snorkeling is popular in most all places. The best places I have been to include: north of Grand Case Beach Club (swim from beach to the same place where the glass bottom boats take tourists), Green Cay (north end), Dawn Beach (south end) and off Pelican Reef (Pelican Resort). Ilet Pinel is also rumored to have great snorkeling. Scuba trips can be arranged through many of the hotels if you're certified.
Cycling is another sport that is enjoyed on the island. The triathletes train daily and it is easy to join up with a partner for your ride. Again, contact Malcolm at Tri Sport for information.
Eating in this tropical paradise is incredible to say the least. Only the better restaurants are able to survive so your chances of getting a bad meal are quite slim. Here are some of our favorites:
Moderate (Prices are for two people)
It doesn't get any better than this. Everything on the island is duty free. No import nor export taxes. Please, barter for everything. Some great deals can be made if you come prepared with a knowledge of what you want and its cost back home. The shops on the Dutch side get more tourists than on the French side (the cruise ships dock on the Dutch side!). Try to pick a day when the least number of cruise ships are in port for your shopping. You will feel less rushed and more appreciated by the merchants.
The French shopkeepers in Marigot are genuinely happy that you want to buy something since they don't get many of the cruise ship tourists yet. Local handicrafts can be obtained in Philipsburg from the Shipwreck shop and the Island Craft Shop (walk toward the Marina from the pier and it is on the beach side of the street). A nice new mineral found in the Caribbean is Larimer-pale blue in color which perfectly matches the Caribbean sky. The art galleries feature local artists such as Minguet (best deals are at his studio in Rambaud) and many unknown artists as well. Lithographs can be purchased from $10.00 on up in Philipsburg or Marigot.
Yes, there is gambling at several places around the island. We gambled at the Pelican Casino, Atlantic Casino (Maho) and at the Sheraton (Port de Plaisance) which was very elegant. There are other casinos on the Dutch side - just ask at your hotel. We would manage to win around $5.00 per night but mainly just enjoyed the fun.
What to Avoid (Du Hasard)
Please avoid being an ugly American. You are in a foreign country (actually 2 foreign countries). Your culture is very different than either of theirs. Respect and a nice smile goes a long way here. Above all, enjoy your visit to the real (and inexpensive) Caribbean. A long forgotten author once wrote, "Qui vit sans follie, n'est pas aussi sage qu'il croit." (Whoever lives without folly is not as wise as he thinks.) Tink about it mon.
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