Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Trip: Sept. 9-15, 1998 My husband and I were married on Labor Day weekend and decided to travel to Curacao for our honeymoon. Given it was hurricane season in most of the Caribbean at that time, we felt Curacao would be the perfect place for our much desired beach vacation. We left for Curacao on Sept. 8 on an evening flight from LaGuardia Airport the day after our wedding. We had to spend a night in Florida because of the connections, but we did not mind as we were exhausted from the wedding weekend. Our flight to Curacao left from Miami the next evening on ALM, so we arrived in Curacao around 10:00 p.m.. We managed to obtain our luggage and move through customs pretty quickly, and we caught a taxi for the Sonesta Resort in Piscadera Bay. We had arranged for a 6 day, 7 night "Passion in Paradise" (that's really what it's called!) package with the Sonesta, and we had forgotten that the hotel was supposed to arranged for someone to meet us at the airport, which they neglected to do. When we realized this, we spoke to some of the managers at the hotel and they reimbursed most of our taxi fare. I say "most" because they reimbursed us the amount that the taxi driver should have charged us according to government rates. The driver overcharged us probably noticing that we were tourists and did not know the accepted fares at that point. We really did not have any other problems after that. The staff at the Sonesta were more than friendly and very accommodating. Overall we found the people of Curacao to be very friendly and helpful, and we were just amazed by the fact that most of them speak four languages fluently! Sonesta Resort: The Sonesta Resort was absolutely beautiful and I would recommend it to anyone traveling to Curacao! Our package included a 6 day, 7 night stay in an ocean front room. Also included was a full "American" breakfast buffet every morning in their Palm Cafe, champagne with fruit and cheese upon arrival (which was set up beautifully in our room when we arrived), 2 Sonesta T-shirts (quite nice), one dinner for two served in our room (complete with candles and flowers), and chocolate covered strawberries and Curacao liqueur on our last night. The Sonesta is not a high rise hotel, it has three floors and is spread out over a large area. We were given a corner room in a quiet end of the hotel which was perfect for us. We had a balcony overlooking the water, and although it was very hot, we could leave the sliding doors open and listen to the waves at night. The Sonesta has a gorgeous, large "free-form" pool that overlooks the ocean. There are plenty of lounge chairs around the pool and towels are available for the guests' use. By the pool there is the Seabreeze Bar which serves wonderful (strong!) tropical drinks and grilled lunches and tapas. The resort also has it's own beach with thatched roof umbrellas and chairs as well. The beach was large and beautiful. The days we spent at the resort, my husband and I usually "staked out" a space at the pool and made use of both the pool and the beach frequently. Snorkeling and diving equipment can be rented as well and since we are not divers, we made good use of the snorkeling equipment. We actually snorkeled right off the hotel beach where there is large rock jetty. Other guests who had snorkeled in different parts of the island definitely thought the hotel beach had some of the best snorkeling. Willemstad: Willemstad is the capital city of Curacao and was about a 15-20 minute drive from the Sonesta. My husband and I decided to rent a car for 3 days of our stay so that we could explore the island a bit more. I would highly recommend this to anyone visiting Curacao as there are many interesting things to see and many beautiful beaches to go to. One day we drove into Willemstad and took a free tour of the Amstel Brewery which produces Amstel beer for the (Lesser) Netherlands Antilles islands. The tour was interesting, but it was VERY HOT and it helped to be given some ice cold beer at the end. We drove into Punda, which is the main shopping district in Willemstad, afterward to do some sightseeing. In Punda we checked out the shops offering everything from Curacao liqueur to designer clothing. We visited the Mikve Emmanuel Synagogue which is the oldest temple in the Western Hemisphere that is still in use. The curator of the small museum there was a very nice woman (I forget her name unfortunately) who told us a lot about Curacao's Jewish population in addition to interesting facts about the island. We stopped for a delicious lunch in a small cafe right in the center of Punda. We definitely enjoyed walking around Punda, but eventually the temperature really got to us and we headed back to the hotel for some swimming and cool drinks. Westpunt: The next day we decided to take a drive to the western part of the island to check out some of the other beaches and the landscape in general. We headed in the direction of Westpunt, the town covering the north west tip of Curacao. The drive was interesting and a bit of an adventure since my husband had failed to tell me that he had not driven a 5-speed vehicle in 10 years and of course our Suzuki Jeep was 5-speed. When we arrived in the Westpunt area, we ended up stopping at a beach called Playa Kalki which is down from the Kadushi Cliffs Resort. Playa Kalki was absolutely beautiful and I just cannot say enough about it! It is a secluded little cove with warm, aqua (clear) water and soft rolling waves. There were only about 10 other people on the beach, some snorkeling, some just laying in the water and relaxing. We put our things down in a shady patch of sand and went swimming for a good hour. After a wonderful swim we decided to walk up the stone staircase to the beach to the Kadushi Cliffs Resort to get some lunch. We ended up eating in the Resort's open air cafe (again, I cannot remember the name) which was wonderful. It is a round building with a thatched roof and no walls. It is perched on the top of the cliff with an amazing view of the water. Lunch was sandwiches which were very good and tasted even better with a beautiful view and refreshing breeze coming off the water. Food: We really enjoyed the food in Curacao and made a point of trying some of the other restaurants on the island instead of just sticking to the hotel. Here are a couple of the places worth visiting: -Seabreeze Bar at the Sonesta: Had grilled fare for lunch and tapas at happy hour. We enjoyed lunch at the bar a couple of times during our stay. The food was great and the prices were even better. One day I had 6 grilled gulf shrimp served with french fries and a tomato/onion salsa. The shrimp were huge, spicy and delicious. Definitely much better quality seafood than we can get at home. Their menu consisted of sandwiches, grilled satay, and a wonderful chicken caesar salad. -Fort Nassau Restaurant: Located on a hill in an old stone fort overlooking Willemstad. The view was excellent, the restaurant was candlelit and quiet. The menu had a variety of items including seafood and steaks. It was definitely pricey but worth it. I had the red snapper, which is a popular fish in Curacao and it was absolutely delicious. My husband and I shared a wonderful raspberry mouse concoction for dessert. -Blues Restaurant (located at the Avila Beach Hotel): This was probably our favorite restaurant on the island. It is located off the beach if the Avila Hotel and from the beach the restaurant looks like a small wooden shack jutting off of long wooden pier. Once inside however the feel is completely different. Table are all booths around the perimeter of the restaurant, with a large bar in the center (jazz bands play on weekends). The restaurant is open air (no windows - just open spaces) and is decorated in various shades of blue. Lights are dim and tables are candlelit. We were early for dinner, so we were able to get corner table with the sea on both sides, and we enjoyed the breezes and the feeling of literally sitting out in the water. The menu mostly consisted of seafood, I had red snapper (yes, again) with a mango sauce that was out of this world. We both enjoyed chilled soups before our entree, and wonderful Caribbean desserts (mine was warmed pineapple with a coconut glaze and homemade passion fruit sorbet). The staff were extremely friendly and accommodating. The manager of the restaurant made a point of introducing himself to the guests and we had a wonderful talk with him. I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone traveling to Curacao. All in all we had a wonderful trip to Curacao. It was very difficult to leave and we will definitely go back someday. The island offered everything we wanted for our honeymoon: hot, sunny weather every day, gorgeous beaches, friendly people, the ability to go exploring, and wonderful food. It's worth the trip!
This was our first visit to both Jamaica and Sans Souci. Sans Souci truly lived up to it's name which in French means, "without a care." We arrived at the Montego Bay airport around noon and were quickly ushered outside for refreshments, and whatever else we could be convinced to purchase. Our van to Sans Souci was ready in just a few minutes, and we were relieved to discover that we (my husband & I) were the only passengers and that it was air conditioned. The ride was pleasant enough to start out (though Jamaica was much less developed than I had thought) but began to get tiresome after a while. About two hours later, we pulled up at the resort. We were offered a drink and then a seat while our check in was being taken care of. This only took a few minutes and then a bellman arrived to help us to our room. We were excited to hear we were given an upgrade to a jacuzzi room, which we definitely enjoyed throughout the trip. We were in D Block and had a very nice view of the scenery and beach. Our room had a separate sitting room with huge windows which let in the sunshine. The mini-bar had pepsi, diet pepsi, sprite, bottled water and canned Miller Lite. My husband doesn't care for canned beer or Miller Lite, so he was a bit disappointed in this selection, but they did have Red Stripe at all of the bars as well as through room service. Our arrival was just past lunch time, so we ordered some fried squid to hold us over until dinner. Room service was very prompt and the squid was good. They also brought us some cheese and crackers as well as a bottle of champagne (I'm not sure if this was because we indicated it was our anniversary or if it a nice welcome for all guests). We decided to go to La Terazza for dinner and though we had several maps in the room, we weren't 100% clear on where we were headed (a new pool had been added since the maps were created). We began to wander in search of La Terazza and it started to rain. We finally made our way to the lobby and asked how to get to where we were going. People looked at us like we were crazy, "It's where you had breakfast, " they all said. Finally, someone working at Casanova understood that we had just arrived and had one of the bellman drive us to the restaurant. It turns out we could see it from our room!! Having never been to an all-inclusive resort before, we weren't totally sure how things were done. The menu didn't identify specific items as appetizers versus entrees, but it was easy enough to figure out. The food was very good and the staff was incredibly friendly. I was happy that I bought a couple of new dresses just before the trip as everyone looked very nice. Our first full day began with the breakfast buffet which was very good but didn't differ much day to day. It included made to order omlettes, pancakes, sausage, cereal, baked goods, lox, and lots of fresh fruit. We went right from breakfast to the beach and I was thrilled to see foam floaty rafts on most beach chairs. Not only do they make great cushions when lying out, but they are also very relaxing to float on as your tan develops. Jeff got some snorkeling gear but didn't find much off the main beach to see - we signed up for a snorkeling trip that afternoon but it was canceled due to rough waters. The beach setting is beautiful. There are rocky "cliffs" on either side, so you are totally secluded from the rest of the world and any other resorts that are in the area. The watersports kiosk is at one end of the beach and the men working there were all very nice - you didn't need to sign anything out - they just gave you what you wanted (kayak, snorkeling gear, sailboat) and you brought it back when you were finished. No problem, mon. You eat lunch the same place you eat breakfast, and it is also a buffet. The dress is very casual for lunch - most people just wore bathing suit cover-ups. At lunch there was always a variety of hot food as well as plenty of salads and desert. There was also pasta with made to order sauces. There is a beach grill which usually opens around noon, but it is better for snacking than a meal. They have some spicy meat pockets that we enjoyed, but other than that there was no menu - you just got whatever they happened to be cooking! The drinks were free flowing and refreshing - I particularly enjoyed the "dirty banana." I could drink several without feeling the least bit tipsy, so they weren't particularly potent. However when my husband ordered Beam & Coke, it was more like a glass of Beam with a shot of Coke, which he enjoyed. We scheduled our spa treatments on the first day - we signed up for everything but the body scrub. We had our reflexology only an hour after signing up. While the foot massage was very relaxing, the lady doing it was clearly unhappy and complained to the lady doing my husband's massage, which kind of put a damper on this experience for me. Perhaps normally I wouldn't have noticed, but everyone else working at the resort was so very friendly that it made this woman stand out. Our massages and facials were both wonderful. The facials were in a small building as was my husbands massage, but my massage was in a wood "hut" overlooking the ocean - I don't think I've ever been more relaxed. There is a new pool right by the main beach which is very nice - it has a pool bar but it wasn't yet completed and not open. We really enjoyed the mineral pool and mineral Jacuzzi. The mineral pool overlooks the ocean and was never too crowded. The water in it is so relaxing and the Jacuzzi is set back in the trees, but also has a wonderful view of the ocean. We visited the game room twice and found it a nice break from the sun. There was a pool table, slot machines, and a Mortal Combat video game with free credits (much to my husbands delight). You need tokens for the slot machines, so don't use quarters. There are also books in the game room which you can take to read on the beach. We did the trip to Dunns River Falls on our second day - the brochure we had gotten at home said this was included, but evidently that has changed as it was now $15/person. The falls were beautiful, and our group from Sans Souci seemed to get special privileges as our guide bypassed the line of people waiting to climb the falls and took us up the middle. It was kind of scary at first - you move very quickly and the water is rushing everywhere - but you get comfortable after a couple of steps and it is a lot of fun. The guides were again very nice and gave us ample opportunity for us to stop and have our pictures taken. Thursday afternoon, we both signed up for the resort course in scuba. My husband is actually certified but hadn't been diving in ten years and thought a refresher would be good, whereas I had never dove before. It was only the two of us and the instructor and we spent about 1 1/2 hours in the pool learning the basics. Our instructor was very serious and made sure I could do everything - which meant repeating things a couple of times. We went out Friday morning on our dive. I had a little trouble but managed to make it through - we spent 1/2 hour under water and it was really a great experience. On Friday afternoon, we attended a yoga class in the fitness pavilion - neither of us had done yoga before but thought it would be fun. The fitness pavilion is open-air and offers a wonderful view of the ocean. Our yoga instructor, Magi, was one of a kind with a calm soothing voice and dreadlocks to his toes. He took us through a series of yoga positions and stretching that lasted 90 minutes - he was very good. We left the class extremely relaxed and talking about signing up for a yoga class when we got home! We tried to make reservations at Casanova (the fancier French restaurant) for dinner but all they had left for the next two days were 9:30 and 9:00, so we took what we could get. We went for the 9:30 reservations and found the restaurant more than half empty, which was frustrating considering we had wanted to eat 2 hours earlier. A loud reggae band had started playing just outside the restaurant, which kind of took away from the formal atmosphere. The food we got a Casanova, in our opinion, was okay at best. We canceled our 9:00 reservations for the next night but went again later in the week and again were disappointed in the food. The beef tenderloin I ordered medium rare was still mooing and the salmon I got the other night had several bones in each bite. We elected to go to La Terazza all other nights and were extremely pleased with both the food and the service. The two gala nights - Tuesday Jamaican Night on the beach and the more formal Friday dinner on the lawn were very nice. Everything was set up beautifully and made good pictures, and the food was excellent. The one thing we didn't like was that there were no tables for two. We aren't anti-social people, but we don't go on vacation to make small talk with strangers - we get enough of this at work. We got to the formal gala early and took a table near the back hoping nobody would sit with us, but sure enough, just as we finished eating, two bubbly couples approached us and sat down. Overall, our vacation was wonderful - any negative comments I may have made were minor and didn't put any damper on the incredible time we had at Sans Souci. The location of the resort is too beautiful for any words to do justice - tropical flowers, landscaping, and very well maintained (we often noticed someone sweeping the walkways to keep everything pristine). I cannot say enough about the people working at Sans Souci - they truly made the trip special. They were always quick to say hello, make sure you had everything you needed, and wish you a good day - not to mention the way all women are addressed as "my lady" - you start to feel like royalty! It was very had to leave Sans Souci and return to the real world, but I am confident we will return as it really seemed like paradise.
September 14 - 21, 1998 Our Honeymoon ~ I’ve made this report quite in depth to give people a feel for the resort and our impression of everything. We don’t promise you will experience the same things we did while there, but we highly recommend it and had a fabulous time. I will quickly rate something’s before I get into the details. Service: 9 (except for pool bar service, which I’d rate around 7) Beach: (keeping in mind this was our first trip to Caribbean and we understand the volcanic make up of the island): 7-8 Food: Almost all suppers, I would rate: 10; but some of the buffets and snack bar food, I would rate: 8 (still very good) Grounds: 8 Drinks: 10 (never skimpy with liquor either) Entertainment: 6-7 Activities: 9 We flew direct from Toronto (Pearson, Term. I) to St. Lucia International Airport with a flight time of approximately 4 hrs 45 min. We flew charter flight SkyService through Alba/Sunquest Tours and thought the service on flight was wonderful. The International airport is located 1 1/2 hours from most of the resorts on the island including Sandals Halcyon. We were off the plane and in an air- conditioned van within 20 min, we enjoyed the scenic ride through many villages, banana plantations, and rainforest and ocean backdrops. This island is so beautifully green and lush, we instantly felt as though we were in our idea of heaven. Upon arrival at Sandals Halcyon, a friendly staff member whisked us off to the reception area for chilled champagne and a refreshing cool face towel. He briefed us on check-in, handed us our keys and a courtesy package with suntan lotion, soap, etc.; and it was as simple as that, Someone showed us to our room and within a couple of minutes our baggage was delivered to our door. Here is a tip we read from a recent guest: Book all your weeks restaurant reservations upon arrival (after check in). We took her advice and after check- in, proceeded to the reservation desk and quickly and easily made our reservations for the restaurants we wanted to try during our stay. We had no problem getting into all restaurants of our choice, (although we heard from some that waited till next day, that they could not get into some: like The Pier and La Toc.) Our Room: we booked Deluxe, which is the Standard nice and simple room. We asked for a complimentary upgrade and we were given a Premium room (next step up, didn't see a big difference in rooms at this resort, other than location). We were quite pleased with our room, which was nicely decorated in island style with a four poster bed, TV armoire with large Sat. TV, a sitting table with 2 armchairs, a large closet, a desk and chair and a bathroom with tub and shower. Our room was located about 15 steps from the quieter "Paradise Pool" which was a fair size windy pool with bridges-very nice, and a swim up bar and a hot tub. Our room did slightly back on to the road, but noise was minimal during day, and the view to the road was obstructed by fences and lots of shrubbery. Age group of the resort during our stay, was mostly 25-35 (which surprised me as I had read that the older crowd gathers at this more intimate of the 2 Sandals on the island). Almost all there were on their honeymoons. There were mostly American and Canadians, with some from European Countries. September 14/98 -Our first day! The resort is small and intimate and runs all along the Caribbean Sea at Choc Beach. Nice beach, very calm water and the beach was always kept clean. No sign of seaweed or Jelly fish…(our 1st time to Caribbean) & the water was amazingly warm and clean. Dinner was at the Bayside, the main buffet restaurant overlooking the beach and The Pier restaurant. This night was Caribbean night buffet and a steel band played in the background as we ate. The buffets really offer tons of variety and we really enjoyed our meal. Caribbean night offered fire-eaters, music, good entertainment. We retired early to the wonderful sound of crickets and frogs chirping away. Tuesday, Sept. 15/98 Breakfast at Bayside was delicious and we were impressed with the variety. They had everything, including made to order eggs and omelets, fresh fruit, breads, cereals, Danishes, French toast, pancakes and homemade waffles, bacon, ham, .......and so on. We hung out most of the day at the main "Sunset Pool" and enjoyed Pina Colodas, Purple Rains, and Cherry Coolers. We tried snorkeling for the 1st time, and fell in love with it. Sandals have a dive boat that goes out 3 times a day on snorkel and scuba dives. This time they took us to Wesley Bay. It was a lot of fun and the scenery on the ride to the site was beautiful. We also tried out the kayaks. We played in a game of Beach Volleyball. The staff at the Grill was the best I've ever met; Pamela and Estelle are amazing people. Our favorite meal of the trip came at suppertime at The Pier. All our dinner reservations were late in the evening (8-9p.m.) and this worked out great for us. Dinner started with wonderful Red Wine- Cabernet Sauvignon. Also the water here was wonderful and safe to drink (we never felt ill once). Our 5 course meals included: Calamari for Shaune and Jumbo Shrimp in Cream Sauce for myself for appetizer; we both had tossed salad, soup and Beef Tenderloin in Wellington Mushroom Sauce for our entree. We were so full, but managed to split a piece of Chocolate Sponge Cake. Wednesday, Sept. 16/98 Early up for a day trip. We booked with the Carnival I Catamaran boat cruise at the trip desk at Sandals. After a short shuttle to Castries harbour, we boarded "Aaron's" boat. There were around 25 other couples and plenty of room on deck. We set off around 9a.m. and headed towards Soufriere. The day was beautiful with zero rain and very HOT. The boat ride was about 1 1/2 hrs to Soufriere and as we entered the village, The Piton mountains loomed overhead and made the trip worthwhile for this alone. The Drive in Volcano was our first stop and although I was glad to see it, the smell of sulfur was far worst than I imagined and I was glad to go when we did. Next we were taken to Diamond Falls and the Botanical Gardens, where our tour guide pointed out all the flora and took us to the Diamond Falls, which provided a nice photo backdrop. Lunch was included and we were taken to a local hillside restaurant overlooking the village, where we sampled authentic St. Lucian cuisine. Once back on the boat, we set off for a quick look at Marigot Bay (just beautiful), worth a longer look. We stopped for swimming and snorkeling at Anse Cochon beach for about 30 minutes. This was very good snorkeling, the best on our trip. After our swim, the boat headed toward Castries, and the boat began to party a bit more, with complimentary 'Jungle Juice' and beer. We arrived back at the resort at around 5p.m. Dinner was late at Mario's (Italian) with smart elegant dress, and no shorts. The food was very good with a wonderful antipasto bar to start. Good wine variety. I had: cheese stuffed pasta shell for appetizer, fettuccine Carbonnara, Sautéed butter Shrimp, and chocolate mousse with caramelized almonds,(our favorite dessert of our stay). Shaune, my husband, had fried mozzarella for appetizer, same pasta as mine, Veal Marinara, and same dessert. Cappuccino with dessert was a nice treat and very good. They had a really good lounge singer, she really got the crowd involved. I volunteered Shaune to go up on stage with other new husbands and they all had to give their best dance and then 'dirty dance' with the singer. Then she went around the audience and had some of the gal’s sing along on her microphone. We enjoyed this show very much, and did some dancing to club music, but by midnight we had went for our moonlit dip in the “Paradise Pool”. Thursday, Sept. 17/98 Up by 8:30 a.m. and enjoying another delicious breakfast of bagels, banana bread, etc..... Snorkeling was booked all day, so we made sure to book for the next couple of days. Shaune wanted to water-ski, and the boat took him out immediately (no set times, which was nice, just 1st come, 1st serve). Just the staff goes on the boat, so I watched from shore. We basically floated around the pool for the rest of the day. Lunch was set up around the pool area for "Creole Day" and featured many local dishes such as roast suckling pig, grilled fish steaks, coconut pie and banana pudding. Local Vendors set their booths around the main pool area and quietly sold their goods to those interested. We bought a beach sarong, 3 T-shirts. At 3 p.m. I entered a beer chugging contest, and won. At 3:30 p.m., I tried the water aerobics (to work of the beer and lunch), great workout and lots of fun. Their fitness guy/director was very good and high energy. About 10 other people got involved too. At 5:30p.m., we were invited to the "Honeymooners" gathering, which featured drinks and hors d'oueuves as all us romantics watched the sunset on another perfect day. Colombian Emerald store had a display of their gems for sale set up, and a Sandals playmaker held contests for us all to play. Throughout your stay, you will often see a resident photographer, who will ask to take your photo. Here is a tip: Always say yes, we got some absolutely gorgeous shots of the two of us. How it works is, they will take a couple photos, and the next day at 10a.m., you can go to the photo board and purchase any of your photos you like ($6/per photo). If none catch your eye, you simply don't buy. We purchased 4 nice photos for keepsakes, 2 of them taken this night in the gazebo while we watched the sun set. We canceled our reservations at The Pier, and opted for the main dining room "Bayside", where they were serving a la carte this night. It was another wonderful meal. I had proscutti ham with walnut cream cheese wraps for my appetizer. We both had salad and cream of portabello soup, My entree was rib- eye steak and jerk chicken platter. Dessert was buffet. Shaune had crab pastry for appetizer, and lamb chops in rosemary sauce for his main course. We met up with a nice couple from North Carolina (Craig and Nicole) and went for a quiet drink at the bar at The Pier. We were the only ones at this little bar and it is a nice quieter spot to hang out and talk. It was Cabaret "Magic" night (which we thought was kinda lame) that had a fire- eater on a unicycle, juggler, magician and a comedian. All local entertainers. We retired early for a swim and hot tub. Friday, Sept. 18/98 Slept in and just caught the end of breakfast. There was a lot of talk going around about Hurricane George. We received a notice under our door updating us on the hurricane, the path it appeared to be taking, and the notice requested us to attend a briefing meeting at the entertainment center - to update us and discuss safety precautions should the need arise. Besides this meeting, all was normal and calm and no one (including many locals we spoke to) seemed worried or alarmed by the weather forecast. St. Lucia is south of the typical hurricane track and we were told that the island rarely got hit and that it had been 9 years since the last bad one hit St. Lucia. We went snorkeling at Le Sport's beach and we spent a lot of the day socializing in the pools. We signed up for the Hobie Cat lessons and the instructor took my husband out for a 10-minute lesson. Then we took off on the Hobie Cat sailboat and headed out to sea (they keep a eye on you, in case of problems). This was a lot of fun, and we looked forward to trying it again (but never got the chance-thanks to "George" and the waves he later brought to our calm beach). For supper, we had reservations at Kimonos Japanese restaurant at the other Sandals La Toc property. The closest shuttle left at 5p.m., which was ok since we had not yet been over to the larger Sandals to check it out. The shuttle between the resorts took about 15-20 min. and went passed Vigie airport, and through the town of Castries - Old town style, but with many modern shops. At Sandals La Toc, we entered a grand lobby mezzanine overlooking the "Pavilion" buffet restaurant down below and the main winding pool and a great view of the sea. We tried some finger foods set out by the Pavilion restaurant and drinks at the side bar, and then strolled around the grounds. The property is quite large with the main hotel and public areas, surrounded by several villa style accommodations, most very far from the main area of the resort. The grounds were very nicely manicured and the resort appeared quite well taken care of. The beach looked quite nice and a bit of waves, compared to Halcyon which seemed calm all the time. We did notice that the sunset is obstructed by a cliff (where the concierge rooms are) that juts out into the sea. You will not see the sunset into the sea from Sandals St. Lucia (at least from what we could see, unless you are in a concierge suite on the cliff)...which is no big deal to many-but something to know about. The resort was very massive and quite impressive and crisp looking. Wide open spaces framed by marble and fine woods surround you. Pink is quite dominant in their exterior - as all the hotel and rooms are pink (stucco I think). We took a shuttle from the main lobby to Kimonos (the walk is about 15 min up hill). The shuttle driver was very nice, and even taught me some St. Lucian 'patios', like: E bon (spelling probably wrong) for very good; and Irie for good. He dropped us off in front of Kimonos and you are welcomed at the door and taken out to a back verandah overtop of the water to await the rest of your seating party. Kimonos is built into the side of a cliff over the breaking waves below. From the back verandah, you are served a sangria-style champagne (short wait of about 5 min). We were taken upstairs to the dining rooms and were seated for dinner with 4 other couples (2 couples from Colorado, 1 couple from Boston, and 1 from New York). We were served red or white wine and given a moment before ordering our meal. We enjoyed eating a meal with other couples and had a lot of fun getting to know them during supper. They were all staying at this Sandals La Toc resort and all loved it and were having a blast. This bigger resort seemed to be the place to be to 'party'. Our chef's name was Neil and we all called him Neil'son'. He was funny and entertaining and an amazing chef. He cooked right in front of us all and got us all involved...tossing chicken into some of our mouths. We enjoyed all kinds of food; chicken, pork, beef, fish and fried rice. To start our meal off, I chose crab and lobster spring roll and Shaune had some kind of duck dish. We both had broth soup and Chinese cabbage salad. For dessert, they take you down stairs to a 'tea room' and I had coconut squares, while Shaune had Chinese ice cream. Although they offer Chinese tea, we decided on champagne and 'borrowed' a couple of bottles and got some 'looks' from the staff. We enjoyed our champagne anyway and had a wonderful night. Saturday, Sept. 19/98 This was the day, we were going to take the resort diving course for beginners that was offered free, but we slept in, and besides that: we knew with the hurricane going through the Caribbean, we probably would not get a chance to dive before we had to go home. (we were right). So, we lazed around the pool a lot, bought some souvenirs at the Sandals shop and got ready for supper. We had dinner this night (for our 1wk anniversary of married life) at LA TOC, the French restaurant at the larger Sandals that we had heard rave reviews about, from everyone who'd been already. This is the fancy restaurant, and we were recommended to dress up and enjoy. I wore a black cocktail dress with heels and Shaune wore dress pants and shirt and tie. It was hot, but the restaurant was air conditioned and we actually enjoyed getting all dressed up for a special night. We caught the shuttle over at 5p.m., grabbed some appetizers again from Pavilion, and went and sat down by the beach. We met a couple that was also trying LA TOC, and they were staying at Halcyon as well. They really liked the resort. We socialized with them for a while and then headed up to LA TOC. Up 2 flights of stairs. This is the only time I witnessed not 'so' great service. We had been watching a bride and groom have their pictures done, and they were having their 'intimate reception' at La Toc. We got to the restaurant at 6:27p.m. and apparently it didn't open until 6:30 sharp. Well, after her husband had helped her up 2 flights of stairs in her big dress, a staff member came out and told us and this bride, to go back downstairs and wait the 3 minutes until they opened! I thought they could have allowed this couple and their small wedding party of 6 in 3 minutes early. As I said, this was the only time I saw bad service! We did notice, on our 2 visits to this larger resort, that although the service was good-it certainly wasn't as personal and they just didn't go out of their way to help like they did at our resort. I imagine this is because it is such a large place and at our smaller resort - the staff get to know you quickly. Anyhow, we were seated for dinner at 6:30 sharp, given our menus along with a fine wine list. The wine we chose was a French dry white and was the best on our trip. First time we drank the whole bottle. As this is a 'French' restaurant, we had a long menu. Appetizer: We both chose escargot in pastry basket and mushroom sauce. Soup: We both chose French onion soup Salad: We both chose Caesar Salad Entrees: We got 3 entrees (on a tip from our friends who had went 2 times during their stay). We both ordered the filet mignon with herb- mashed potatoes and vegetables. Our third entree was linguine with jumbo garlic shrimp in a butter sauce. Dessert: I chose a Sinful white chocolate and dark chocolate wafer tower with chocolate mousse and papaya/raspberry sauce overtop. Shaune chose iced neugant, and did not like his choice, so we shared mine. After dessert, we enjoyed liqueurs to finish. Hit the spot and took away that full feeling. We really enjoyed this meal. It was first class all the way, and we were very glad we had packed one fancy outfit in with our shorts and sundresses. We got home, enjoyed a drink at the entertainment area, and retired for our usual swim. Sunday, Sept. 20/98 The planes were still flying out of St. Lucia as the storm approached, except for a few canceled. We were told that our plane -scheduled to leave Monday, would more than likely be going on time (shucks!!!) We woke up, and heading towards the breakfast buffet, walking along a path parallel to the beach, we noticed the waves. Our water at Halcyon was so calm and today the waves were tremendous in size. The beach had been red flagged, and no one was allowed to do water sports and swim in the ocean. Even the main pool's swim up bar was closed, although they opened up their entertainment center bar-just a few steps from the pool. The tide was bringing in everything from car tires, to big shells, and broken coral rocks. We spent most of the afternoon, dodging the big waves and coral as it came in to shore, as we picked around for good shells. We had heard from one couple who had been staying at Sandals La Toc, that they were getting hit worse than we were. Apparently, they changed over to Halcyon because many areas of the resort were flooding due to big waves and the main pool was full of sand and seawater, washed up from the beach. The Pier was closed (as it sits on stilts in the water) for supper this night, so many who had reservations, had to eat at the Bayside. They featured an a la carte menu this night, perhaps because of the inconvenience to diners. We had reservations at Mario's for late in the evening. I made sure to get the fried mozzarella this time for appetizer - it was so good. For our main course, I ordered chicken eggplant parmesan with linguine primavera and finished with chocolate mousse like the last time. Shaune ordered deep-fried seafood (octopus, squid, fish, shrimp, and scallops). His was quite good, but I did not like my chicken. He had a caramelized pudding cake for dessert. Our last night, we stayed up for a bit and watched the shows, and then retired for our last swim. Packed up the last of our things and retired to bed. Monday, Sept. 21/98 We had been given our notice the day before that our flight was still on schedule and that we were to leave our bags outside our door at least 1/2 hour prior to our shuttle pick up. Our shuttle to the airport picked us up at around 9:45a.m. (kind of early we thought), and the ride back just wasn't the same! The ride seemed a lot longer...perhaps because we knew our trip was coming to an end. I surely hope we go back to St. Lucia again someday, although we do want to try other islands. We have developed the 'travel bug' and are already planning our next trip in January to Cayo Coco, Cuba.
Trip 10/ 98 Well, better late than never. Returned a week ago from 14 wonderful days at the Sapphire Beach Club w/ Mary-Lee and Chris Jr. (he'll be 4 in Jan). I'll try to keep this short. We arrived at 2pm and picked up our rental from Paradise Island Car Rental. Reserved through Vacations By Judy and all was great. Green Corolla w/ 5k miles. Not even sand in the car. We were off to the Sapphire within 20 min. When we got to our room, it was a disaster. This was our 3rd stay at the Sapphire and we've always loved it. To be short, any room that starts with a 2 and ends with a 6 is their lowest level room. They are the only rooms that face away from the water and don't have Jacuzzis on the balconies. To make a long story short we were switched to an ocean view unit the second day and all was well. From what we saw, many fared much worse with the delays in building 3. It seems they are making significant progress on that building now. We pretty much spent our beach time at Baie Rouge (loved Chez Raymond for lunch), Orient, and our favorite, Cupecoy. Baie Rouge was a little rougher than usual with a few too many rip currents, but the beach was beautiful and there was a nice mix of people. Get there early though, parking is getting tough here again. Orient was Chris Jr.'s favorite. We spent our days there between Coco and Waikiki beaches. Sand was great. Water was beautiful. Chris Jr. swam for hours in his Safety-Seal. While Mary-Lee soaked up the sun (and a few of my Coors Lights. Sorry, but they are our favorites!) Chris Jr. and I walked from one end to the other. Don't care for the areas around Bikini Beach with the smell of gas and oil from the motorsports. But everyone seemed to be having fun there too. Then there was Cupecoy. What can you say. The beach was in full force all the way from Cupecoy II down to the Sapphire. The normal steep drop off was not there. The rocks were barely visible under the water. The rocks on shore were only the cliffs along the back of the beach. Chris Jr. got over his fear of waves here. Before we knew it he was swimming along side of us. Anyone familiar w/ Cupecoy might think this a bit risky for an almost 4 year old. But the water was very accommodating and we never had a problem. That is not to say Cupecoy II does not still have its problems. The annoying Local that tends to get the flair for exhibitionism was back. I think Casey may remember who I am refering too. We met a very nice couple on their honeymoon, John and Kim at Cupecoy II after said local got a little too firsky toward Kim. We stopped them as they were leaving the beach to make sure the incident did not turn them off to SXM. Turns out John's Mom owns a unit at the Simpson Beach Villas and this was not their first time on the island. A very nice couple. Ran into them the next day at Orient and never did get to say good-bye as we were separated by a small rain shower that turned into a day ending downpour. The second week at the Sapphire we switched to a 2 bedroom beachside villa. These are to die for. Swimming pool in the room on the balcony overlooking the Caribbean. Spent every afternoon floating along watching the sunset. We are not big restaurant goers. Chris Jr. is fine for going out, but we enjoy our evenings close to home. We did go to Sambuca and were disappointed for the last time. Too hot inside. Too buggy outside. Food was so-so at best. We did really enjoy Cafe Julianna. Good food and Chris Jr. could not get enough of the runways. Oh yeah, Pizza Hut is back too. How American can we be. Big disappointment was Cheri's being closed. Was due to open on 11/14. Quick final thoughts. Casinos were not good to me. Atlantis is much brighter and much cleaner than in the past. Ram's Food World surpassed the Food Centers by light years for selection and prices for those that cook. Maho Hotel was still closed when we left. Overall the island is in excellent shape. If I think of more I will add. Hope this gives you the fix I always get from all of you.
St. Maarten / St. Martin lures West Coast people too! OK, most US visitors going to the Caribbean live on the East coast. It's already far enough to fly from to nibble away at their scarce *vacation time and budget. But St. Maarten / St. Martin's beauty, friendliness, charm and vacation offerings is so special that when my family (wife, soon-to-be born-son and I) visited there for the first time about nine years ago, we have been eager to return from the Los Angeles area once a year or more ever since then. We first went for 3 nights, then one week per vacation, and now we go for two weeks. We less occasionally also go to Maui (Hawaii) for shorter vacations to enjoy a "US" beach ambiance, but Sint Maarten's Dutch and Saint Martin's French Caribbean-European lifestyle is a big part of the draw for us. Our visits are made affordable yet luxurious by having purchased a timeshare week at the ROYAL PALM BEACH CLUB, which now has expanded to 8 weeks for our eventual retirement. Meanwhile, I rent out the weeks we can't use. My homepages describe the rental arrangements but also allow me to show off parts of St. Maarten / St. Martin by including short write-ups and photos I've taken of the island's beaches, the timeshare I own, and some interesting and fun places around the island. Plus, there are many links to other island reviews, tourist office sites, etc. If interested, check out -- http://home.earthlink.net/~ronfrankel/ My beach and water activity photos and links page is located at: http://home.earthlink.net/~ronfrankel/wsports.html Colorful? Picturesque? Absolutely! Remote? Crowded? -- Your choice! Restaurants are a very big part of our vacation draw, and our review runs the gamut from extremely reasonable to expensive. Our 1998 favorites can be found at: http://home.earthlink.net/~ronfrankel/sxmdine.html See if you can see the large iguana in the tree. My wife says the photo seems to show only a tree with a dark blob on it. Excerpting from my page: http://home.earthlink.net/~ronfrankel/rentinfo.html the restaurant lure is described. "Going to SXM is like going to a laid back Europe. Restaurants have chefs who were schooled in Europe. Many restaurants prepare everything fresh daily, including the baking of their breads (buy some at a market and bring it home for breakfast or sandwiches). Shopping/dining in Marigo is like visiting a small seaside village in France. Like Heineken beer? We prefer wine (French as well as California varieties are abundant there) but you can get a Heineken anywhere on the Dutch side. French fine dining and Dutch grills are superb. And to boot there is a local Caribbean style food." Of course, most places have a downside as well. We always find leaving St. Maarten / St. Martin and returning to reality to be that downside.
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