Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Dec 2, 2000 we left a cold damp Toronto on Canada 3000 for sunny Cozumel Mexico. I had been earlier in April of this year but at that time my son could not accompany us so this was a long anticipated trip. We (son is 17, mom 38) were both happy and anticipating a great week on the four hour flight. We had booked a room at a local B&B called Alicia's over the web after reading some great traveller reports. Touchdown was smooth if somewhat late, but hey we were on vacation! Entering customs we tried for the shortest line, as it was we picked the one nearest the airport main entrance. Through the glass I looked and thought I recognized Chuco (co-owner of b&b) from web sight photos. As he turned I read his sign Welcome. My son and I waved as we exchanged happy smiles. Immigration was quick we hit the green light and were out the door. Meanwhile Alicia had joined Chuco and we all piled into the car for a quick ride to our home for the week. It was just wonderful with the sun shining and the wind blowing through our open window. Alicias is a wonderful, comfy, lovely place to stay. I will state that straight out. They are accomodating and helpful hosts whom I can't say enough good about. Chuco makes a big tasty breakfast every morning with killer guacamole. But here is the best part amazing really these great accomodations ran us only $35.00 per night (that for both of us). Alicia is knowledgeable and friendly and can help if you desire find a way to enjoy any activity you could imagine.Oh can't miss mentioning Chavita the worlds most spoilt dog. Our week was a whirlwind of activity we enjoyed touring the other side of the island with a lovely couple also from the b&b. This side has no hotels just miles of beach, rocky shores and great little beach bars dotted up and down the coast. The taxi driver Luis whom took us touring was very knowledgeable and friendly, we even got to stop and meet his sister at her home. The day of our arrival was spent with another guest taking in the downtown sites and enjoying a game of puttputt at Scott and Sallys under the water tower. This is fun for anyone beautifully landscaped and again very friendly hosts. Not to be missed is the cold cervesas and sangrias delivered to you as needed. One day was also spent on the mainland, we were up early and ferried to Playa del Carmen where we took the local bus to Tulum a bargain at $3.00 round trip per person. What can I say it was simply breathtaking. The view with the surrounding ancient ruins backed by the bluest waters is one I will always treasure. That afternoon we headed for the park Xcaret located just outside of Playa del Carmen. This was an unexpected pleasure as my expectations had been rather low. The place was very quiet and we enjoyed some snorkeling and saw many different fish at the aquarium. We also snorkeled the underground river which was fun. As night fell we ate a hearty meal and headed for home. Then of course the reason for the trip. The DIVING!!! We used Deep Blue located on 10th ave just up from the square. An excellent outfit which I highly recommend. Our dive master Luis was fun and experienced and made every dive special. We saw turtles, rays, eels, barracudas and wonderful coral castles under the sea. It was a time we will always remember. When we weren't diving we spent time lazing at the beaches favorites were Dzul Ha and Playa Azul where the bartenders where always entertaining and the beer cold. We had some great meals following many of Alicias suggestions. All in all one of the most fun trips I have ever been on. Met so many people and enjoyed it all. After years of vacationing at various All inclusives I can honestly say this was so much better. Hope to go again soon. Buenos Noches.
Trip 11/00 We went to Curacao from Nov. 23-29. I would highly recommend this destination. We flew ALM from Miami and had heard horror stories; however we were very pleased with the service and on-time flights we had both from Miami/Curacao and Curacao/Bonaire. We arrived at the airport and there was a taxi driver there waiting outside for us sent by the Princess Beach Hotel, where we were staying on the "Family Fun" package. This package included airport transfers, a free T-shirt, free city tour, free shuttle bus to Willemstad, free welcome drink, and $10 worth of casino chips for $5. The hotel was beautiful. Our room was in the Ambassador Wing, and had a huge balcony with a great view of the beach and the city lights of downtown Willemstad. There are 2 restaurants there, and both are good. There are also good restaurants within walking distance of the hotel. Although the hotel had 2 pools, we preferred to snorkel/swim/dive in the Caribbean. The underwater park starts right behind the hotel, and the coral and fish there are amazing. The visibility was great. The hotel has a dive shop on the premises, and you can get unlimited shore diving package for $60 for 3 days. Well worth it. We saw sting rays, green moray eels, and all kinds of coral and fish. The shuttle bus has 2 trips into Willemstad each day. Punda, is the shopping area, with charming Dutch buildings, and the floating market where the boats come in from Venezuela to sell fresh fruits and fish. The pontoon bridge to Ostrabonda (the other side) is really pretty marvelous. The Mikve Emmnauel Synagogue is the oldest "in use" synagogue in the Western Hemisphere since the 18th century. It has sand floors and is absolutely beautiful. We went to Westpunt with Tabor Tours for $20 that we booked right in the lobby of the PBH. We stopped to do some snorkeling at Cas Abao, a gorgeous, pristine beach with sand rather than rocks. We also stopped at Knip Beach, another sandy beach, favored by the locals. We saw a slave hut, and went to some caves. It was a great way to spend a day. We also took a day trip to Bonaire booked through Tabor. It's a 15 minute flight to Bonaire from Curacao. Again, a guide was at the airport to meet us. We went to the salt ponds, a lake where the flamingos breed, and traveled throughout the various plantations. After lunch at the Plaza Hotel, we used the beach facilities to do some snorkeling. This was absolutely the most pristine reef, and clearest water I have EVER seen. The tour guide picked us back up and dropped us off to do some shopping before returning to the airport to go back to Curacao. We have traveled quite a bit, and this was one of our best, if not the best vacation we have ever had. Everywhere we went, the people were friendly and helpful.
Trip 11/00 My girlfriend and I stayed at the Coral Hamaca Beach Resort for 4 nights from November 23-27, 2000. We are both Americans and from Virginia. This was my second visit to the Hamaca, having stayed there way back in 1997. I have also visited the Hamaca's sister property, the Coral Costa Caribe, on two occasions including most recently in March 2000. The following is my review, which I am sorry to say, is not as wonderful as I would like it to be. To summarize, this resort may have expanded but it has certainly declined somewhat significantly in quality since my last visit. In fact, it is no longer one of the better all inclusives in the Dominican Republic and your 4.5 star rating should probably be rethought (Costa Caribe is now a slightly better resort). Travel We had a wonderful flight on US Air from Philadelphia. For those of you used to traveling only on American or TWA, US Air has new service from Philly to Santo Domingo which is awesome. In fact, there was no lines on the return home at the Santo Domingo airport (while AA and TWA had lines that looked like they might take all day). The airport, as everyone knows, is totally chaotic with some immigration officials taking like 15 minutes a person. We were scheduled to be picked up by Prieto Tours for our transportation to the hotel. Prieto is ok, although you will generally have to wait a good bit of time while they find everyone they are supposed to take. You are then loaded onto a crowded bus and shipped to the resort. Overall, its not bad but a taxi may be worth the convenience (the correct price is 250 Dominican Dollars-make the taxi driver agree on this is advance or he will rip you off and charge you three times that). Hotel Grounds The hotel remains beautiful. The garden side across the street is the nicest with a fantastic pool (with swim up bar) and separate little garden apartments. The hot tub is huge but generally packed with thousands of people at once on weekends. Its probably a good idea to avoid it when its so crowded. The beach side of the hotel is very nice, although not nearly as beautiful as it once was. A hurricane a few years ago forced the resort to import packed sand (its a man made beach now) which, among other things, has actually changed the color of the ocean water within the reef (it used to be a beautiful green-now it a more standard blue). There is also some nice new tennis courts and a fun miniature golf course on the pool side of the resort. There is a pool on the beach side, but as noted by the last commenter, its small and generally used just by very little kids and the scuba people. Unfortunately, the large pool on the garden side does not have water sports and is very quiet-it would be awesome for water volleyball and water polo!! The beach volleyball court is nice and games are always ongoing. The Food & Staff OK-here is the real downer about the Hamaca these days. Three years ago, the food was actually above average for an all-inclusive resort and breakfast (including loads of fruit juices such as cant elope juice) were available. This is simply no longer the case and , in fact, the Coral Costa Caribe has far better food. The buffet restaurant is generally a disaster with poor service (it used to be far better) and even poorer food. I go often to the DR and don't expect much-but this is really bad. Of the three specialty restaurants, the best is the Mexican which has fairly good traditional Mexican plates. All three free specialty restaurants have good service and attentive waiters. Do not waste your money on the pay-for-service Pelican Restaurant. Its expensive and very mediocre. Finally, for lunch stick to the bbq chicken and hamburgers made over at the beach. The chicken especially is high quality and good. The pizza bar is also fairly yummy, especially during late night when you have had your 40 beers. As for the rest of the staff, there are a few fun and excellent bartenders. I would especially recommend Hansel at the bar next to the Casino in the hotel itself. He is FANTASTIC and a load of fun and great to hang out with. If you see him say Scott and Jannette say hi!! Please do remember to tip the good bartenders as they make almost no money and rely on tips (unfortunately, most non-Americans and non-Canadians did not tip at the resort). However, many of the staff, including the bartenders, seem almost disinterested and not as dedicated as they were on my prior visit. Moreover, while the "Chocolate Friends" entertainment staff does put on quite fun shows at night, they are not up to par during the day. I remember the resort especially because of how much fun and active they were in 1997 (and continue to be to this day at the Costa Caribe). Now they are totally disinterested and do as little as possible. They didn't even converse or face the guests during their daily half-hearted efforts to teach the guests the Chocolate Friends Dance each day. Nor do they ever update the allegedly current daily activities board. Overall, disappointing. However, do look for Hansel!! Viviano at the beach bar is also fantastic! The Guests Just a quick note here. The resort does have a decent amount of Americans, and even more Canadians. On weekends the resort is now dominated by Puerto Ricans (maybe 75 percent) who take advantage of cheap specials. While Europeans used to come to this resort in droves, it appears that most charter companies now take their guests elsewhere to properties that are more preferred. In some ways, over expansion has hurt the Hamaca significantly by causing a quality reduction that has spiraled. The Bars and Entertainment The bars are as expected and serve delicious Presidente Beer, which is quite good. They also serve fantastic Pina Colada and Banana Mama drinks (but remember to ask for rum!! If you do not, the majority of the bartenders will not put any alcohol in the drink!!!). The beach bar is open 24 hours so you can get a drink at any time. The nicest bar is the one next to the casino, but this is quieter than the rest (its where Hamsel works!). The casino is OK, although it seems to have not discovered any American music. That said, when not overly crowded (which it gets on weekend due to locals that show up) is can be a fun time. The drinks are included. Better, down at the beach the resort has karaoke twice or three times a week (they never really seem to know when its scheduled). However, they will quickly stop it after like only 30 minutes unless harassed by the guests to keep it going. By the time the shows end at 10:30, the workers responsible for having the karaoke have usually managed to end it and get out of there. Its a shame, because the one night we kept it going it was a great time and loads of guests got involved. Other than the disco, there is little else to do at night (if karaoke is not going). Overall While once deserving of a lofty rating (Hamaca was considered DR's showcase property in 1997) the Hamaca no longer deserves the 4.5 stars it receives. The resort still is beautiful and has some attractive features, but it is in a clear and serious state of decline. Travelers can find better deals elsewhere in the DR.
As we drove from Valladolid, a replica of a Spanish city in Mexico, toward that once great ceremonial and cultural centre of Chichén Itzá, I thought of the Mayans and their renowned civilization. The Mayans' age of splendor was from about 200 to 900 A.D. when their civilization reached its zenith. During this period they built hundreds of cities in the lands which today include Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico The creators of one of the greatest of the ancient civilizations, they developed a very complex writing system of some 500 symbols. Their engineers constructed grand highways, excellent drainage canals and majestic temples which still inspire awe. They had an intricate knowledge of astronomy and medicine, and even carved the theory of evolution in stone, 1,000 years before Darwin. In the 10th century, the Maya- Mexicans (once called Toltecs) - a group of Mayans who had moved to central Mexico and had been influenced by the other Mexican-Indian cultures in that part of Mexico - returned and conquered their brethren. They developed the highly civilized Nahua culture, then passed it on to the Aztecs who produced the last great indigenous civilization in the Western Hemisphere. It took us about a half hour to drive the 26 km (16 mi) from Valladolid to Chichén Itzá - the most visited archeological site in the Yucatán. After walking through the entrance, I could not see a thing, so thick was the jungle. However after a few hundred feet, there it was - the grand ruins of a once fabulous city which annually draws a million visitors. Abandoned before the Spanish conquest, Chichén Itzá, capital of the Mayan Empire at its zenith and covering 15 sq km (6 sq mi), is one of the greatest historic finds of all times. Located some 210 km (130 mi) from Cancún and 120 km (75 mi) from Mérida, the city was an important commercial, political, religious and ceremonial centre of some 200,000 during the Mayan Classic and Post Classic periods from 200 to 1200 A.D. when it was mysteriously deserted. The site incorporates both Mayan and Maya-Mexican architecture. The latter made it their religious capital and packed it with palatial temples, sculptured pyramids, serpent carvings and hieroglyphics. The jaguars, eagles and the plumed serpent god Quetzalcoatl, also known as Kukulcán in Mayan, covering the monuments, are all Maya- Mexican innovations We began our tour in the Central Group of buildings at the La Casa Colorada (Red House), a pure Mayan structure, then moved on to the La Casa de las Monjas (Nunnery), an old palace which divides Mayan Chichén Itzá from the later Maya-Mexican section. At the El Caracol (Observatory), one of the few circular buildings built by the Mayans, we stopped awhile to admire the work of ancient America's, top most scientific people who determined both the solstice and equinox and developed astronomical mysteries, not yet solved. >>From the observatory, employed by the Mayans to make astronomical observations, we moved to the Northern Group of structures. Our first stop was the Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Well) some 60 m (197 ft) deep and 20 m (66 ft) wide. The Mayans believed the well to be the abode of the rain god Chac to which they presented sacrifices and offerings. Objects like gold, jade, clay vessels and human remains have been recovered from its waters. Our next stop was the Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors), owing its name to armed personages sculpted in stone. Before us was a fantastic sight as we stood on its platform and surveyed a mass of columns which were once a part of a marketplace. It was easy to imagine what an imposing-gigantic structures the temple and its adjoining marketplace must have been in their days of glory. A few minutes walk and we were at the Juego de Pelota (Ball Court), impressive even by today's standards. One of the 13 ball courts within Chichén Itzá, it is 168 m (551 ft) in length. Believed to have been a sacred field for religious-sport contests, the Ball Court is the best preserved and largest playing field in pre- Columbus Mesoamerica. For the dramatic finale of our tour, we moved to El Castillo (Pyramid), built over an earlier pyramid - the Mayans' prodigious feat of engineering which dominates the ruins. Constructed about 300 A. D., it is a structure of near-perfect symmetry. On each of its four sides, 91 steps lead to the topping Temple of Kukulcán. The steps total 364 which, with the tip, make 365 - the number of days of a year. The whole structure is believed to be a solar calendar in stone. Erected over previous structures - one of which a visitor can climb inside the pyramid, it is one of the most well-known of all Mayan temples.. I looked at this masterpiece of the Mayans for a long time before deciding to climb its steep steps. As I laboured upwards, to keep my mind off the dizzying height, I reflected on the Mayan genius of construction. Four times a year the pyramid heralds the advent of seasonal change by a play of light across its surface. At precisely 3.52 P.M. , as the sun is setting in the west, isosceles triangles of light form down the staircase. These move down the facade with the stealth of an undulating snake. The final triangle fusing with the serpent's head at the pyramid 's base completes the reptile's image. As the sun continues to descend, the snake's head is projected in shadow across the ground. The illusion is that of some divine serpent dropping from the heavens, then moving out among the people. For the Mayan masses, this was a realization of a covenant with their god. Atop the pyramid, as the cool air eased my tired muscles, I sat down in the Temple of Kukulcán like the powerful Mayan priests must have done long ago. Before me the small 5 sq km (2 sq mi) excavated section of Chichén Itzá was exposed in all its splendour set to a backdrop of stunning natural beauty - a thick jungle which stretched as far as the eye could see. "How much more impressive this largely still jungle-covered city must have been when priests sacrificed human victims to their gods", I thought to myself. To us, this structure built to shed human blood seems barbaric, but who are we to judge? In the words of our guide, "It's true my ancestors sacrificed some humans, but what do you call the millions which in the name of nationalism, nations still sacrifice in war?" IF YOU GO How to Get There: The best way to see Chichén Itzá is to join a tour group in Cancún or in Mérida. However, there are public buses which leave hourly from both Cancún or Mérida. If one wants to drive, the roads are good, but beware of the hundreds of topes (man-made bumps in the roads). Facts About Chichén Itzá and the Yucatán 1) A small car rents for around $50. U.S. per day - less if you bargain or if not fussy about the auto. 2) A day's tour to Chichén Itzá from Cancún or Mérida costs around $30. 3) Entrance fee to the ruins of Chichén Itzá is $4. 4) There is an excellent `light and sound' show held every evening which recounts the history of Chichén Itzá - entrance cost $5. 5) When travelling to Chichén Itzá or any of the other Mayan ruins - wear a hat and comfortable shoes and take sun block lotion. 6) Beware! It is a criminal offence to take artifacts or souvenirs from the sites or out of the Country. 7) Currently, US$1. = 10 pesos and CDN$1.= 6 Mexican pesos. If Overnighting in Chichén Itzá, a Good Place to Stay: Hotel Mission Chichén Itzá: the top hotel close to the ruins, it is just 2 miles from the archeological site. Reservation and information in the U.S.A. and Canada tel: 1-800-44-UTELL. The hotel also has several good restaurants with accompanying folklore. Note: All prices quoted are in U.S. dollars. For Further Information, Contact: In Canada contact Mexican Government Tourism Office - 2 Bloor St. West, Suite 1801, Toronto, Ontario M4W 3E2. Tel: 416/925-0704. Fax: 416/925-6061; in the U.S.A. - 405 Park Ave., Suite 142, New York, NY 10022. Tel: 212/755-7261or Toll-Free Assistance, from US/Canada 1- 800-44 Mexico.
Trip 12/00 I just returned from Caribbean Village Playacar in Playa del Carmen. The "animation team" was interesting, doing PR for the guests (mostly Italian and German guests and a few English speaking people.) They put on mediocre shows for evening entertainment. The food was a tremendous disappointment: bland, so-called "international food". Fruit and salad was O.K., but the meats, pastas and sauces all tasted awful. After a few days (out of 6 days), it was easy to tell that the leftovers were used for days after the first initial preparation. Drinks were awful, made from very cheap alcohol and served in glasses that tasted like disinfectant. They were made extremely sweet with extra grenadine or other syrupy substance to try to disguise the taste, but it didn't work very well. The most memorable experience was when leaving, the front desk personnel told us that we owed an additional $386.00 even though the package was PAID IN FULL in advance. The manager of the front desk actually told me that I had been advised of the extra fee when I first got there, but I had not been...the only "documentation" was a penciled in dollar amount obviously written there after I received my copy. (I wish I had gotten the managers name.) They threatened to not let us out of the complex unless we paid the additional amount, but at the last minute did raise the gate so we could exit the gated complex. This apparently is a scam that is common, and I think it should be announced to every single traveler so no one has to succumb to this scam.
Trip Report November 23-30, 2000 Background I booked this trip through All-Inclusive Vacations after researching airline prices and availability. I looked into charters. We have used Funjet many times, but they only fly out of Houston between late May and late September. However, I knew that Dallas had year- round charters through Adventure Tours and Funjet. After further research, I found that both charters used the same carrier and book people on the same flight. The carrier is Champion Air. I knew Adventure Tours had a Chapter 11 a while back, and we have used Funjet quite a few times, so that part was an easy decision. Sandals had a returnee sale, but they also had a 35% off sale. Since this was the cheaper of the two, we used that. I noticed that the regular commercial flights were mostly full, even though it was 3 months before our departure. Many flights were nearly $1000 for coach, although it is usually just under $700. The Funjet charter was $289 and didn't require us to go to Miami or Atlanta. Funjet has always collected the departure tax upfront, but most airlines are doing that now since October 1. Make sure you know what you have and haven't paid for. Ours was $26.50, but with the exchange rate could have been as cheap as $22.62. We live about 3.5 hours from the Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) airport. This flight was supposed to leave at 7 a.m., so I began looking into whether we would drive or fly to Dallas and where we could stay and park if we drove. I asked a few of my travel agent friends about stay and fly options. Lisa (Momagain97@aol.com) knew about some deals through International Holidays. They deal only with travel agents. She arranged for us to stay at Comfort Inn in Irving. We would be allowed to park for a week and would get a free shuttle to the airport. This all cost $68.12, including tax. On Wednesday, November 22, we left home at 1:10 p.m. We expected to find some traffic getting out of town, but we figured most people would be going the other direction to get toward the airport. We were wrong. Once we got to I-45, we found that it took us an hour to get from The Woodlands to Conroe (a few miles). We had another hour trip getting across Huntsville (the town has 4 exits) and another hour in Corsicana. We had planned to eat dinner at Dennys, which we knew was across the street from the Comfort Inn. However, after all the delays, we had to use the restroom in Corsicana and decided to just eat in the car at McDonald's. It was pouring down rain. We had no delays getting across Dallas at all. That was a surprise. We had excellent door-to-door directions that we had retrieved from www.mapquest.com. Our 3.5-hour trip took just under 6 hours, and we pulled into the Comfort Inn parking lot a couple of minutes before 7 p.m. There was nothing to do but get our keys since we had paid upfront. We asked about the shuttle and were shown a schedule. They run every 15 minutes beginning at 4:55 a.m. I grabbed some hot tea, and we headed for the room. Lisa had requested a non-smoking room. The room was no-frills, and that was all we needed. We had a king-sized bed that was quite comfortable. There was a table and two chairs, a dresser, sink, bathtub with adjustable showerhead, and TV. The TV had movies or games for purchase, and it was possible to order Pizza Hut and various other items. We did none of that. Todd's only complaint was that only one side of the bed had a nightstand. I watched Titans while Todd read USA Today. I slept from about 8 p.m. to 12:14 a.m. and then was awake all night. At 4:15, a wake up call came, and the alarm went off. I was already in the tub before that. While Todd got ready, I went downstairs and got us each a donut and some tea for myself. We were on the 5:15 a.m. bus. The driver was very enthusiastic. We were picked up in a red Park n Fly vehicle and dropped at Terminal B. Our flight was to leave at 7 a.m. We left about 10 minutes late. We were given a bag with a bagel and yogurt. We don't eat yogurt but did eat the bagel. We were given a soft drink. The flight was long, but we did have an exit row, so it was fine. We landed exactly on time at 11:30 a.m. There was an hour time difference. We landed way down past the cargo plane area and had quite a hike into the arrival area. The line was very long but moved fairly quickly. Our bags were off and all together when we got to the baggage claim area. A guy in a blue shirt practically pushed me out of the way to heave the bags on the cart I had retrieved. Then he tried to push it. I told him we were fine. Todd gave him a dollar. That has never happened before. Then of course, we had the skycaps after that. Sandals does point out that the skycaps aren't with them. We had to sit on the bus about 10 or 15 minutes waiting for some people. Then we headed straight to the Royal. Todd and I identified our bags. He tipped the bus driver, and he was the only one who did. This did not please the driver. We were taken to the concierge lounge and offered drinks. We were told they could arrange us a lobster dinner after I asked about a lobster night. We came back to the concierge orientation at 4:30 and arranged it. We were also told we could order any liquor we wanted and they would go buy it, but when Todd tried to order Myers rum, they wouldn't do it. Our room was already ready. It was nearly 1 p.m. I noticed our robes were not in the room. We got that taken care of quickly. The Room We booked a Royal Suite because the last two stays, we had booked the category below and had never been upgraded even though there were rooms sitting empty and our paperwork at the airport said Royal Suite. We had All-Inclusive request room 104, and we were given that room. The Royal Suite is much nicer than the room category below. When you walk in from the corridor, (I will call that the back door), there is a mahogany 4 poster bed. There are nightstands on both sides and a 4-drawer dresser with a seated bench dressing table built in. There is a full-length mirror on the wall and a mirror over the dresser. There is a remote TV in the bedroom. The hallway contains an area for hanging clothes. There are 3 shelves in the side. The other side has the safe deposit box, which has a key that costs $100 US to replace if lost. There is a shelf that has an ironing board (the room also has an iron). The bedroom also has a hair dryer hanging on the wall. The hallway is also the location of the restroom. The bathroom is marble. The tub is fine but nothing special. The living room has no door, but the doorway is the width of the hall. This room has a larger TV and the bar and refrigerator all in one unit where the doors can be open or closed. The room has two couches. There are two end tables and a coffee table. The bedroom houses the phone, and the living room doesn't. Therefore, if you are going to hook up a laptop to the Internet, it will be necessary to use it on the bed unless you bring a VERY LONG cord. The living room has a 4-cup coffee maker. Coffee and tea are provided. The bar had vodka, Appleton rum, gin, and scotch. There was white and red wine. There was Red Stripe, Diet & regular Pepsi, 7 Up, club soda, water, tonic water, and ginger ale. They stock the bar every day. You can get Lite beer, red wine and champagne. If you ask, you can get Heineken. The standard wine is Jamaican. Sometimes they brought a Spanish one. The Property There are 190 rooms for couples only in 6 categories in various locations of the property. The staff to guest ratio is nearly one to one, assuming the resort is full. (They currently have 341 rooms). When we first arrived, the resort was overbooked. By the Monday after Thanksgiving, it was down to 93%. Just that much made a big difference. The front entrance is very elegant whether you face the Georgian Great House or turn around and face the gates. Rooms located near the south pool and jacuzzi are in the Arundel and Caernarvon Block. These are also near the lobby, tennis courts, and basketball courts. Will be near daytime activity but probably peaceful at night. Rooms in the Windsor Block are on the beach very near the watersports and volleyball. This can be a center of activity day and night, but the view is right, and all amenities are convenient. Rooms in the St. James, Clarence, Buckingham, and Glamis Blocks are all located in the gardens. Patios open out onto the main paths. Depending on location, these can be quiet or bothered by the noise of the main pool and swim-up bar, which can often be noisy. The Edinburg Block is very near the Health Club and near the back of the property. Rooms appear to be like cottages with patio table and chairs. The Sandringham Block is located directly on the beach near the beach jacuzzi and beach bar with a good view of the private island and sunset. I am not sure when this block will reopen. Although this could be noisy now and then, I would choose this location if not staying in a suite. Rooms at the back of the Balmoral Block are Royal Suite rooms which open out onto small sections of the beach separated by piers which house gazebos or tables. This is a nice location if you want to lay on the beach a lot. I recommend rooms 101 - 104 if getting a Royal Suite. Those rooms open right onto the beach. So do rooms between 1, 2, and 97 & 98. It is a short walk to the east end pool and jacuzzi and the main beach jacuzzi and bar. Kensington Block is at the east end of the property. All rooms face the pool, jacuzzi, and beach. Grande Luxe Honeymoon Beachfront Concierge Rooms at the side of the Balmoral Block face the pool, jacuzzi, and have side view of ocean. There is also a jacuzzi and swim-up bar on the island and a few paddle boats over there. Gardens have giant chess game, hammocks, croquet, and many local plants and trees. You will see peacocks. At the front of the path, there are large goldfish, catfish, and a turtle. Two singers/instrument players walk around in the afternoon entertaining guests. Lunch Lunch is served buffet style at Regency from 12:30-2. You can dine inside or outside. On the first day, it was raining, so everyone was inside. Items served had an oriental theme. There was Szechwan beef, a spicy chicken, and tiny, cooked to order spring rolls (yum). Soup was a chicken. They served sandwiches, cold cuts and many deserts. There was heated custard with liquor. Fruit didn't look too appetizing. They had non-alcoholic drinks served in the hallway, and bar drinks were eventually offered. We had white wine. It was brought by the glass. Friday-they had grilled fish and some very spicy minute steak. Soup was red pea. They had seafood au gratin. They were serving pita sandwiches to order. Again, many deserts were served. We were not offered any drinks the entire meal but did finally find someone to get us water. Saturday-we ate outside and did get offered water and drinks. We even got a wine refill. The buffet had fried chicken, roast beef, pasta, and Jamaican specialties, such as curried goat & jerk pork. The soup was cream of cauliflower. There were many salads and cold cuts, including pastrami. They had papaya today and many deserts. We were very selective. Sunday-pepperpot soup & carved lamb served by Rupert. He was back! There were several other entrees, salads (no lettuce), deserts, and sandwiches to order. Monday-I got the seafood Newberg while Todd was still at golf. I stopped at the beach grill and got Todd a cheeseburger and fries. He was in the room when I returned. Tuesday-I got seafood lasagna. It had mussels, scallops, and a few other items. Todd got a cheeseburger & chicken burger from the beach grill. Wednesday-the soup was seafood bisque. They had tacos made to order and seafood pasta. They also had Kingfish. The soup was wonderful. Todd wanted to sit inside due to the fact that all tables in the shade were occupied outside. I was disappointed but did agree to eat inside. We sat next to a very loud couple. Dinner Thursday at Regency-Only Royal Thai and Regency were open due to the rain. Regency was very crowded and noisy. We ate crab (fake) cakes for our appetizer, Todd had shrimp and potato salad (just grilled shrimps & chunks of potato), and I had greens (boring). I had pumpkin soup, and Todd had shrimp bisque. We did not have the turkey and dressing, but it was well presented. We both had seafood medleys. Todd's was served with a puff pastry and a creamy but not rich sauce. Mine was similar but with just a little red sauce and no pastry. There were also steamed veggies. I ate only the mussels and fake crab, skipping the squid and calamari. We waited a long time and never got a dessert menu. We waited 30 minutes to be offered wine and were on the 3rd course before we got water, but they brought blush when we ordered white. Todd drank it and we told them I wanted white wine (he did, too). We finally got some French wine. They kept bringing by the glass even though many tables had bottles of wine and champagne. There was a huge table of returnees, but we hadn't been invited. Friday-we took the 7 p.m. shuttle over to Sandals Montego Bay. It left promptly. We were reserved for Saturday because they were supposed to be closed on Friday. We don't like beach buffets most of the time so we decided to go to MoBay and see what interested us. We got right into Tokyo Joe's without a reservation. We had dim sum-a shrimp in a spring roll wrapper, a tiny pork spring roll and a tiny chicken one. Bother were about an inch long and 3/8 of an inch wide. We had salad, which you make yourself. It was good with almonds and such. The soup was miso. For the main course, you select vegetables. You order your meats. Choices were beef, shrimp, pork and chicken. Todd had all choices. I skipped pork. I ordered mine spicy, he had regular. They mix up a bunch of sauce and cooked the meat in it and serve white rice on the side. If you have had Mongolian BBQ, you are familiar with how this works except that they don't let you put your own meats or sauces in the bowl. Todd had the ice cream dessert. We were given some sort of red wine that they call champagne and also ordered white. We were looking forward to entertainment, but they had an art auction going on. We played slots. I won $37.50, but we played until the bus time and lost our original $10. The bus was on time at 8:45 and went straight back to Royal Caribbean. We got back, and the beach party games were going on. It was 5 minutes before they quit serving, and we walked over and saw 3 lobster tails. We got them all. Todd got a piece of beef, and we took a few tortellini. I ate a lobster, while he ate beef. Lobster was grilled. I had one at breakfast & one at 10 a.m. on the beach. Saturday-Pavilion. We headed to the Pavilion at 7:30. Although there were empty tables, we were told they'd have to set one up for us. They asked us to go to the piano bar for 5 minutes and that they would come get us. We sat on the Almond Terrace and listened to the band. It was nearly 30 minutes before they came and got us. The meal took a long time. One couple left before they got their entrée. We saw them also leave Royal Thai. We had spring rolls for our appetizer. We had crab soup, it was broth based. I had smoked chicken and cantaloupe for the salad. For the entrée, we had stewed seafood. I had encouraged Todd to get grilled tuna, but he didn't. The stewed seafood was OK but not great. We didn't wait to be offered dessert since we figured they might never come. We heard them offer someone else pineapple upside down cake or pie. Sunday-Regency. We were waiting in the room watching CNN because the election was supposed to be certified. We'd told the Concierge to have our special dinner arranged for 7 p.m. The chef called at 6 p.m. and told us to come any time we wanted. At 6:50, someone called to ask when we were coming, so I said, "Right now". The scene at Regency was completely different from the previous dining experience. It was like what we are used to. We were asked our smoking preference. I said, "Way non". That is what we got. Most guests were out on the terrace. We were Oceanside and began our meal feeding bits of rolls to the fish swimming along beside us. We waited a while for those rolls and a while for menus. We did get water. We were eating the last bite of the second course before drinks were offered, but we did get a bottle of French wine. When ordering, we told the waiter that we were in room 104 and that the chef was preparing us lobster and that Todd would like a steak with his. We ordered other courses. We had spring roll for the appetizer, crab and egg soup, and a noodle salad. The noodle salad was a combination of cold spinach noodles, tiny cashew bits, lettuce, and tomato. Our waiter was very friendly. Our entrees were very well presented. Todd received a New York Strip and one lobster tail. I received two lobster tails. The entrees were served with thinly sliced stir-fried vegetables wrapped in a lettuce leaf. There were also potatoes. I ate one lobster tail, and Todd ate his steak. We put the rest together on a plate and were given a cover. We skipped dessert. Monday-Courtyard Grill. We arrived at 6:50. There was a line to get in, although there were tables available. There was a party of 6 in front of us and another couple. They all got in, and we were told to come back in 20 minutes or go to the bar and someone would come get us. I went to get drinks while Todd sat there. I got Todd a Cool Breeze drink, which I tasted and thought was good. We ended up with a shorter wait than mentioned. We had a nice table for two off at the side. This restaurant seemed to be ignoring the dress code. One girl was basically in gym shorts. Another guy was in jeans and tennis shoes, and a lot of people were in shorts. We have always been mosquito bitten at this restaurant, so I wore a long dress, while Todd wore long pants. I still felt bites around my ankles, but it wasn't bad. We ordered all courses. I do not remember the appetizer. The salad was an antipasto plate with egg, tuna, cucumber, tomato, olives, etc. The soup was red bean. They also offered a chilled soup. I ordered grilled seafood, while Todd had a grilled steak. My seafood included mussels, scallops, shrimp, and fish. Todd's steak was well prepared. We had better service here than at most other meals. Tuesday-International Buffet on the Almond Terrace. They had spaghetti, burritos, quesadillas, mussels, fake crab, oxtail, curry chicken, egg rolls, stir fry, carved ham, and a few other items. They had many desserts and salads. There was no soup. Wednesday-Returnee dinner. The cocktail party was to be held on Hampton Terrace at the South Pool. It sprinkled a little, and so they held the cocktail party in the disco. Carl Hendricks introduced guests with a lot of nights. We were introduced with 50 nights. Several staff managers were introduced. Bill and Doris Maguire sat with us. Appetizers were served. I enjoyed the shrimp and mussels. I tried what I thought was bacon wrapped scallop, but it was banana! Todd did the same thing. Dinner was served at 7 in the regency. The dinner included a taco salad that was meatless, a mushroom soup (but I had pumpkin), a chicken breast with batter, stuffed with spinach, and cherry ice cream topped with chocolate. We were served champagne and offered other drinks throughout. We had good conversation with the P.R. manager, the Maguire's, Carl Hendricks and others. We were all given leather sandals necklaces. The ladies were given orchid strands. The men were offered cigars. Todd didn't take any. Earlier in the day, we received t-shirts, and we received Appleton Rum earlier in the week. The dinner ended before 9 p.m. I had heard the resort was taking group returnee pictures each week like Royal Bahamian does, but this did not occur during our dinner. Weather. There was lots of wind. There was rain on Thursday, especially at night. It was actually slightly cold, and the pools felt like someone threw ice cubes in them. It was overcast on Sunday afternoon. On the Thursday that we left, it was also raining. Most days, it was sunny and in the 80s and just incredible. It did rain briefly here and there and a lot during the night. Some days it was overcast in the afternoon. We did see two beautiful sunsets. Entertainment Thursday night (Thanksgiving), it was pouring rain, but the band played and sang wonderful songs as guests peered out the doors of the piano bar and Regency entrance. Friday night-a marching band went all around the property. We have seen this before, but last time, it was daylight. Friday is the beach party/pirate night. Saturday-The Hatfield Social Group performed on the stage at the Almond Terrace. Their show included music and costumed dancers. The show was long, and the group was large and very active. At 10:30, the magician, Martino performed. We've seen him before, but last time, it was on the Almond Terrace. He does very interesting card tricks and other tricks. He includes the audience. Sunday-We listened to Marilyn at 8 p.m. She brought out Carlton, the bartender to dance the lobster. She could really belt a tune but was very much into involving the audience more than singing herself. It was a good show, though. Part two of the show was at 9:30 with some other entertainers, but we did not stay up for it. Monday-oldies night. The singer did many songs from the 60s and included a lot of audience participation for the mashed potato, twist, jerk and other dances. Then the singer got a guy up to help sing Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. After the show, which lasted a long time, I moved into the disco to play slots while the karaoke went on. There was one lady who sang like a professional. I played $10 and came out with $31 after an hour. This is the night Elvis used to come out. We found out at the returnee dinner that we missed Elvis, as he came on when I decided the Oldies show was about over and it was time for Karaoke. They had Elvis outside and Elvira inside! Tuesday night at the international buffet, there was a drummer group of about 14 men playing several types of drums and dancing. Then there were 4 female dancers that came out part of the time. I believe we have seen this group before. They sang and danced 43 minutes before pausing briefly to end a song. Then they started right back up. It was impressive. As usual, Sandals did not allow videotaping. After this show, a group of 4 women performed. We didn't stay for that. Wednesday-this night was the staff and guest talent show. We saw two skits, the Reflections band played several times, one couple did a jitterbug, and there was a lot of singing. On this night, you are allowed to videotape. Fitness center Kenrick is the fitness instructor. Friday-Tae Bo, Saturday-body sculpting. Monday-step part 1. Tuesday-step part 2. Wednesday- circuit training. Thursday-fat burning. At each class, there were generally 3-4 guests. We worked hard for about 45 minutes and then had a 5-minute meditation. They have a half dozen treadmills, various other machines. No longer Nordic track. There is a sauna in bathroom, no steam room. Beauty salon The lady that runs the salon has been there 20 years (longer than Sandals has run the hotel). Her name is Maureen. The lady that did my facial has been there almost 15 years. I recognized her from all of my other times at the resort. She said they have been discussing at great length whether to put a spa at SRC or SMB but have not decided anything or where it would fit. Meanwhile, the salon offers great treatments at reasonable prices. The facial lasted 45 minutes and cost $40. It included steam and some arm, leg, and foot massage. Hensey had strong hands. Manicure and pedicure cost $35 together. They require credit card or cash. You cannot charge services to your room. They also offer massages and hair braiding and will do the hair braiding on the beach or in their shop for $2 per braid. Manager's Cocktail Party The manager's cocktail party is held on Monday night. They had several hot appetizers. There was shrimp, spring rolls, small burritos, fried fish, finger sandwiches, fruit, cheese, and mini- cheeseburgers cooked while people waited. You had to go to the piano bar to get drinks unless you drank from the orange juice/punch fountain. Several managers were introduced, and trivia questions were asked by Carl Hendricks (general manager) for prizes. On another night, Fabian, the entertainment manager asked trivia questions for points. Golf On Saturday, Todd went to Ironshore at 8 a.m. The cab has a 2-person minimum, so he paid $6. Then he paid $58 for green fees, $5 to get back & $30 for the caddie, including tip. He has played there many times but not since SuperClubs took it over. He said the sand traps have been allowed to grow up grass, and the course is in bad shape. He said it has never been in worse shape. For $99, he was disappointed. Perhaps it got in this condition before SuperClubs bought it, but it needs drastic improvement. Since the golf course is outside of SRC's gates, $11 is a bit much for cab fees. On Monday, Todd went to Ritz Carlton White Witch. Todd arranged for a cab at 8 a.m. It cost $16 each way since he was, again, charged the 2-person minimum. When he got out of the cab, he was treated like a king. The hostess greeted him at the cab and introduced his caddie, Stacey. His clubs were immediately taken. He was able to pay by Discover! The round cost $175 plus tax, so it was $201.75. Again, he brought his own clubs. He tipped the caddie $15 ($10-15 was recommended). The whole outing cost about $250 with his own clubs, shoes, and balls, but it included green fees, cart, caddie, driving range, and putting green. He also was given a ball marker and a personalized pewter bag name plate with White Witch on it. They asked how he wanted his name done. The course was impressive, and Todd could not say enough good things about the course or the staff. On Wednesday, Todd went to Half Moon. Todd and I went to the concierge on Tuesday and set up a cab and tee time for Wednesday. We were informed that Wyndham is still closed and sending guests to Ritz Carlton, and we noted that Tryall costs $64 for transportation for 1-4 people. Therefore, Todd booked Half Moon. On Tuesday, we met some people that had come down for a tournament at Upton. I told the man that Todd was playing at Half Moon early the next morning and that he would love to share a cab. The guy indicated that he knows the assistant manager and might be able to get a free round, and he said if he could get a free round, he'd love the share the cab and play early. A short time later at the concierge party, he (Bill) informed us that he had arranged Todd and himself a free round and that he'd like to move Todd's 7:30 cab to 7:15. We got our breakfast delivered at 6:50, so Todd even got to eat. He brought his wallet in case the round wasn't free and set off again with a camera, although he didn't want to bring it going with someone else. He paid $10 for one direction of the cab and paid $15 for the caddie and $25 for half the cart. He paid $6 for drinks. The free round cost $56. Todd thought the course was better than Breezes, more along the lines of Sandals Upton. Half Moon is flat, and he thinks that Upton is more interesting. Trip Home We were to have our bags out at 10:15 a.m. and get transported to the airport at 10:45 a.m. Checkout is at 11 a.m. and you will be charged extra if you stay in the room past that. You are allowed to use the facilities after that as long as you turn in the room keys and a towel ticket showing you brought the towels back to the watersports area. We filled out our comment card. We were picked up at Royal in a Toyota Camry after checking out with the concierge. We were upset to be charged $20.30 for local phone calls even though we made only 6 or 7 calls. We were charged even when we didn't connect. They wouldn't take anything off. These calls were all within St. James to Infochan for the Internet. We boarded Champion Air on time and departed 5 or 6 minutes early. I had brought Todd a beer from the room. The second he opened it, they took it away with not a sip drank. They said they couldn't serve liquor that wasn't theirs. They didn't serve it! Well, we showed them with a negative survey. The lunch was a turkey and cheese sandwich, small chips, one biscuit cookie and carrots. We arrived at DFW to get our bags from customs at 3 p.m. Even though there were only about 60 people on the plane, it took 45 minutes for the bags to come off one by one. We found our way out to the shuttle and arrived at Comfort Inn a few minutes later. On our bus were several talking about various experiences with SuperClubs resorts. One couple went to Breezes Montego Bay and didn't enjoy it. One couple went to Breezes Golf and Beach and did enjoy it. One couple had tried to get into Hedo II for an evening but didn't want to pay the $85 guest pass fee. One couple did go over and was commenting on their evening there. We found that our car battery was dead, due to need for water. We got water and had the maintenance main jump the car. We gave him $5. We were ready to go, but the alarm was going off. We set off with it going. We had a lot of accidents and traffic to get through and had to get gas on the way home. This set the alarm off again. We got home at 9:10 after just the one restroom and gas stop. Concierge Service Comments Service has become more reactive rather than proactive. However, every request we made was honored and followed up on, so this was actually better. Beverage service all over the property needs a lot of work. Staff is thrilled if you strike up a conversation with them and will talk in a friendly manner about themselves, the island, resort, etc. The resort has lost some management and others to Ritz Carlton, as have other resorts. We continued to enjoy feeding the fish. We also continued to enjoy the intimate size of the resort and the true beachfront aspect of our room. The concierge service was the best it has ever been and added to our stay. The entertainment at the resort remains good. We really don't like the fact that we heard they most likely wouldn't affiliate with a golf course any time soon. We never realized just what a benefit free shuttle service can be. The staff seemed excited about the two new Beaches properties but couldn't really say when they'd open. They seemed to either not know or couldn't predict, but those that knew about Royal Plantation (some still think the name is Imperial Hideaway) thought it was more ready to reopen than Ciboney. Both were scheduled to open December 15, but more are thinking that Royal Plantation will reopen in February or March. However, we heard that the third restaurant is nearly complete, as is the spa renovation. Some still thought Royal Plantation could open in December. Royal Thai is serving in the coffee room. This is the only restaurant that currently requires reservations. Only on Thanksgiving was this restaurant crowded. On that night, Pavillion and Courtyard Grill were closed due to rain. We didn't dine here on this trip, but they have gone to a set menu rather than the old Bali Hi family-style service. The restaurant on Sandals Cay is being rebuilt and will most likely take until at least February. The rest of the island is still open and operating.
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