Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Stayed at the Renaissance which was very good location. There was a shopping center across the street with grocery and fast food among other stores. That was a real convenience. The grounds of the hotel are lovely and very well maintained. The rooms were nice - mahogany furniture but not overly large. The beach was very good at the hotel and some lovely views of the sunset from the pool bar in the evenings. Restaurants - Brown Sugar Restaurant is fabulous. That was our favorite followed by Pier One. We also dined at The Aquarium - while it is a lovely restaurant - appears to be fairly new, the plumbing was not working in either the male or female restrooms - toilets out and water not running. I thought I was in Mexico <G>. Recommend hiring a driver and not renting a jeep. The roads are quite narrow and curvy. You can rent a driver for $15hr and it is well worth it. Gas is about $2.50/gal. Make sure to see the Waterfalls - the best we saw was Concord Falls. We visited the spice plantations (and they make tons of different spices) which was quite interesting. The rum distillery may be of interest too. And it is the cheapest place to buy a bottle of the native brew. I got one for $5. Nice souvenir. The island in general is very lush - some beautiful panoramic views of the island from the top. The medical school is on a cliff overlooking the ocean..Unbelievably gorgeous scenery. Don't know how they concentrate on school. There is a dive shop on the beach by the Renaissance and it was cheaper to do a resort dive from that shop than the one down the beach a little further (called Dive Grenada). The weather was in the high 80's but we had rain each night for a brief tropical shower to cool things off. After the first 24 hours we had adjusted to the temp. The people are quite friendly and accommodating to Americans. You don't have to convert to East Caribbean money if you don't like but it is running about 2.6 EC to our dollar. The tendency is to give US and get EC back so you may want to start unloading some of the EC before you come back. It is also legal tender in the Grenadines and several other islands. All in all it was a wonderful vacation. There appeared to be something there for everyone. Not really heavy on night life but it does exist and to be quite frank, by the time we had dinner and after arising so early in the am, the pace was just about right. A couple of other points to make: 1. Visit the perfume factory for some heavenly fragrances made right on the island - a wonderful bottle of "Rain" or "Island Man" for only $5. Our friends back home raved about the fragrances. There are many others to choose from. 2. Visit a spice plantation to find out how all the spices are grown and harvested. For instance - did you know that mace actually comes from nutmeg. The nutmeg looks like an acorn with a shell... There is an orange spice that covers the outside of the nutmeg which is mace. The shell is opened but saved. Used as if it were gravel in driveways and walkways. It is preferred because of the crackling sound it makes. The residents know when someone approaches their home. The inside contains the nutmeg which is ground to a fine powder and used in many native dishes. 3/ Not many Grenadians are smokers so you won't see no smoking signs. What you will see are "no profanity signs" in many public eateries. These are very clean living folk who are a god fearing people. Swearing is against the law! I would definitely recommend this island. No one needs to be concerned about the 4 day invasion in 1983. That is long over and there is no civil disturbance going on at all.
We got back from Guadeloupe two weeks ago, and I haven't seen any postings on this island (or pair of islands) in this newsgroup, so I hope this posting is useful to someone... It's obvious not only from the paucity of postings on this large and beautiful island, but also from the fact that there are only two 42-seat turboprops from the US flying into the island daily, that Americans have shied away from the island. Despite the fact that American Airlines told me in July that the two seats I got with my frequent- flyer miles were the last two available, there were 14 empty seats on the way over and 18 on the way back. Also surprising to me was the fact that fewer than half of the passengers seemed to be American (most seemed to be local). Having been to ten Caribbean islands (eleven if you count Cancún), I can say with at least some authority that Guadeloupe is the most beautiful, accessible, and geographically diverse Caribbean island I've been to. It really consists of a pair of islands, volcanic Basse-Terre and coral Grande-Terre, linked by a drawbridge (I cannot imagine the drawbridge ever being raised, as the bridge is a very busy freeway). The diverse topography results in distinct microclimates which are much to the visitor's advantage. Southern and eastern Basse-Terre get dumped with massive amounts of rain, but Grande-Terre gets mostly spared. One can therefore visit lush rainforests and waterfalls in the former island, then escape to a dry sunny beach on the latter. The beach on our hotel faced Basse- Terre, and I remember half the time seeing the southeast shore of Basse-Terre getting dumped while it was clear overhead. We stayed there for eight days, and the only time it rained on us was when we were doing waterfall/rainforest hiking in southeastern Basse-Terre (and it felt refreshing, actually). Getting around is also easy, as Guadeloupe has some of the best-maintained roads in the Caribbean--the best I've seen, although Puerto Rico isn't far behind. We hardly saw a single pothole, since the highways are kept in tip-top shape, and there are even machines that go along the highways of Basse-Terre that quickly slice off the lush foliage that wants to encroach the highways' shoulders. Be warned, however, that gasoline prices are European- styled out of sight-- almost $4/gallon (about four times the price as Puerto Rico's). Be that as it may, it's clear the island caters to French, not American tourists. The French are second only to Americans among the developed world's peoples in their lack of language-learning skills. Guadeloupans are no exception. If you do not speak French, bring a good phrase book. Our hotel was one of the most expensive on the island (Auberge de la Vielle Tour), and there wasn't a single non-French channel on our TV (we loved watching a dubbed 'Family Matters' at 7 PM each day, though)! Only one of the restaurants we went to had a menu in English (or other foreign language). The hotel also sent us messages and newspapers in French, although they knew we were American (fortunately, I'm fluent in French, but I can see how it could be troublesome). As far as restaurant recommendations, the best restaurant we went to in Gosier, and probably the island, was "La Belle Creole," which is on the left side of the Route des Hotels (Montauban). Not a fine dining experience, but great food at a great price (about 90-120 FF for a full menu, including lobster dishes). Neighboring restaurant "Le Corsaire" is fine, too. On Basse-Terre, I would recommend "L'aventure" which is in the northern part of the main highway in the village of Pigeon. There is good, although not outstanding, scuba diving in the Pigeon Islands off of Malendure beach. Several dive shops operate from there, and the prices are low, and include equipment rental, although, again, good luck in finding someone who speaks something other than French. If there was any good beach snorkeling on these pair of islands, we didn't find it, although there is some passable snorkeling from Raisins Clairs beach in Saint Francois. I hope this helps!
Booking the trip, in addition to extensive internet research on Jamaica resorts, we felt it made sense to use a travel agent as a source of information. We used Lance Hutchinson at Go Classy Tours (888 8CLASSY) because Go Classy was so frequently mentioned in trip reports as being knowledgeable and reliable. We found Lance to be very familiar (from personal experience) with the character of the different resorts we were considering, which was extremely helpful in choosing the right spot for us. Moreover, Go Classy’s rates were the best we found, and we got half a dozen quotes. Prices vary, so make use of travel agents and be sure to try Go Classy. Getting there We took USAirways from Charlotte to Montego Bay, arriving at 2:15 EST Monday (and departing the following Monday at 2:05 EST). If you travel when daylight savings time is in effect in the U. S. , you’d get in at 1:15 since Jamaica does not observe daylight saving time. We traveled on frequent flyer points, so we really had no choice of airline. USAirways was fine, but if I were paying for airline tickets, I’d try to find flights that got in as early as possible and departed as late as possible in order to maximize time on site. The next question is transportation from Montego Bay to Negril. Superclubs provides bus transportation as part of your package, but the trip is at least one and one-half hours and not too exciting. We chose to charter a plane from Air Negril (owned by Superclubs) and would do so again. Upon exiting Jamaica customs, we walked up to the Superclubs desk and in under three minutes were in a cab for the brief ride around the airport to the general aviation area. Our luggage was promptly loaded, and 15 minutes later we were on the ground in Negril. From there, it’s a two minute cab to Grand Lido. We also took the charter on the return trip, which meant we didn’t have to leave Grand Lido until noon, compared to 10:00 had we taken the bus. Cost was $120 per person, round trip, and well worth it. Charter service is also available from TimAir at the same rate, and scheduled service (five trips daily, I believe) from Air Jamaica at a rate of $70 per person, round trip. Whatever you choose, your travel agent can make the bookings. Checking in Check-in was routine, albeit a tad slow. They seemed to be having some confusion on room assignments. The grounds The Grand Lido property is remarkably well kept, a tribute to the small army of employees tending to the grounds throughout the day. Truly beautiful. The rooms We had asked for a ground floor room on the clothing optional beach, in the building containing rooms 1053 through 1064. We chose this location because it is close to the pool, to the best part of the beach, and to the nude pool bar. Grand Lido does not guarantee room assignments (not even clothing optional versus the regular beach), but our travel agent put in the request and I followed up by fax to the hotel about a week before we left. We got exactly what we asked for. Grand Lido’s phone is (867) 957- 5010 and the fax is (867) 957-4317. Whether you stay on the clothing optional or regular (textile) beach, downstairs is the way to go because French doors open right onto the grassy areas in front of the beaches. The upstairs rooms have decks, but they are so small that you can’t open the doors completely without bringing one of the chairs inside. If staying downstairs, you’ll seldom use the front door to your room and, if staying on the clothing optional side, you avoid having to put clothes on to go back to your room (the upstairs rooms can only be entered from the side of the building opposite the beach, and at Lido clothing optional applies only to the beach and not to other areas of the resort, even on the c/o side). The rooms are in good repair, clean and include a king-sized bed, TV, radio, CD player and wall safe. The floors are tiled, which is superior to carpet in this environment. We had no problem with adequacy of hot water or with water pressure. Laundry and dry cleaning are complementary - next time I’ll pack less and use this more. Maid service was great; they usually appeared in late morning, did a nice job tidying up, including a daily change of sheets. The beaches - clothing optional or textile beach . This was our first trip to a clothing optional beach, and like most first-timers, we (especially Sidney) were a bit apprehensive about what to expect. We decided to just jump right in, and left our clothes in the room and headed for the beach Monday afternoon. The feeling was a little strange for about 30 seconds, and then we felt right at home. Everything we’d read was true: no one gawked or stared. There were all sorts of bodies and all sorts of shapes, and a wide range of ages. Grand Lido is a good place to try a clothing optional beach for the first time, because it is a *clothing optional* beach, not a *nude* beach. That is, you can go nude if you want to, or wear a suit if you prefer. About 90 percent of the people on the c/o beach were nude, but several women just went topless with a thong, and a few couples wore suits. No one cared, unlike some other resorts where you’ll be heckled (or asked to leave) if you’re on the nude beach and *not* nude. My guess is that if you’re not sure you want to try going nude, then your best bet is to stay on the textile side and visit the c/o side to try it out, since I think you’d be uncomfortable in a suit when virtually everybody else has gone optional. Aside from swimwear (or lack of it), the main difference between the two beaches seemed to us to be ambiance. On both beaches, there is a strip of grass between the buildings and the beach, but on the c/o side the grassy area is much narrower (say 50’) than on the textile side (more like 150’). In addition, the textile beach runs the whole length of that side of the property, while the c/o beach covers just about half of the property, with the rest of the ocean front made up of rocky promontories. This seems to have the effect of pulling people a bit closer together on the c/o side. We met a great number of wonderful people on the c/o beach, and there always seemed to be social interaction among the people there. In contrast, people on the textile beach were very spread out, and no one seemed to be talking to anyone else. Maybe it’s just that the c/o side folks were more gregarious, but it was a marked difference. Notwithstanding the foregoing, if you want to be by yourself on the c/o side, you’ll have plenty of personal space and can do your own thing. Again, no one cares. The c/o beach has a pool and hot tub, together with a bar open from about 10:00 until 6:00. About 7:30 each morning, the staff bring out two large urns of coffee, so you can just dart out your back door for an early cup. The bar recently has been expanded to include what is going to be a poolside grill, though no one seemed to know the opening schedule. This might be a modest improvement, but given the room service availability (see below) lack of a pool/beach grill wasn’t a problem. On the textile side, the main pool is at the near end of the beach, attached to the main Grand Lido building, and there is a bar at the far end of the beach. Both beaches have plenty of lounge chairs, complete with cushions that also serve as floats for the ocean. On the c/o side there are relatively more trees for shade than the textile side. I made it a habit to stake out some chairs in our desired spot early each morning. It’s been reported that neoprene surf booties are handy due to rocks on the ocean floor, particularly on the c/o beach. We didn’t have them, nor did we see any need for them. It's hard to stereotype the Grand Lido guests, except to say that, without exception, they were friendly and outgoing (at least on the c/o side). Ages varied from mid 20s (the exception) to late 60s (also the exception). Most couples (and it *was* couples - virtually no singles) were in their 30s, 40s and 50s (we’re early 40s). I’d guess the average age was about 45. We met more fun people on this trip than any other we’ve ever taken, and plan to coordinate return visits to Grand Lido with several of them. The great thing about Grand Lido is that it is spacious so you can have time by yourself, but attracts a sociable crowd that’s fun to be around. People make or break a trip like this, and we were very fortunate that we met some great folks. The staff In a word, the staff throughout Grand Lido was outstanding. Always friendly, always going the extra mile to make your trip special. This was true from housekeepers to bartenders, waiters to busboys, room service folks to front desk. If you put aside the cultural differences, you’d think this was the staff at the Four Seasons or a Ritz Carlton. They were *that* good, and even when things didn’t come off perfectly, they kept trying. The food Grand Lido lived up to its billing here. From 8:30 to 10:30 each morning, there’s buffet breakfast in the main building: expansive selection, with made to order eggs if you wanted a fresh omelet or just some scrambled eggs. A continental room service breakfast of fruit, breads, coffee, orange juice and mimosas (among other choices) is also available (just put the card outside your door the night before). It always arrived when we wanted it, and it was what we ordered. Lunch is again buffet, and much better than I was expecting. Wide variety and high quality. Dinner on Wednesday and Fridays is buffet, each of which was outstanding (and we’re usually not too hot on buffets). The jerk pork, jerk beef and jerk chicken were especially good. Other nights (and on Wednesday) you have a choice of La Pasta, a very informal pasta restaurant (shorts are the rule), Cafe Lido, a very nice indoor and outdoor restaurant (allegedly long pants and shirt with collar required, although the former, but not the latter, was being ignored when we were there), and Piacere, a first-rate continental restaurant. Because of the small seating capacity at Piacere, there is a once-per-week limitation on reservations, but you can book additional nights on a standby basis (don’t count on it). All the restaurants are good, but Piacere is truly outstanding. I’ve had many dinners in name Manhattan restaurants that weren’t as good. Piacere requires long pants and a jacket, but no tie. Book Piacere as soon as you arrive. The 24 hour a day room service is one of the truly great features of Grand Lido. Although the menu is limited, its breadth is adequate and the service is timely. The baby lamb chops and Mexican style potato skins are great. Most days, we ordered room service for lunch to the c/o pool (or to that conveniently located room) and avoided dressing for the buffet and maximized sun time. Also, it was no problem getting drinks delivered to the c/o hot tub late at night. Room service is provided from three houses located around the property. Each has a small seating area, bar and hot tub. The houses often were a gathering spot after dinner and before the hot tub or other activities. Bar service was universally excellent. All your favorite top shelf brands are available but, inexplicably, you must ask for them. If you want Tanqueray and tonic, ask and you shall receive; order gin and tonic, and you’ll get some brand I never heard of. Wines are not as impressive as liquor. Most were Chilean or low end French, but in both cases drinkable. Some (alleged) Jamaican wines were also available: avoid them like the plague. Recreational activities If you’re looking for the late night, party hearty crowd, Grand Lido probably isn’t for you. There is good entertainment in the main building most evenings, but it’s over by about 10:30. Most nights activity in the disco was rather limited, except for the Thursday night pajama party, which was well attended. About half the people left after prizes were awarded at about 12:15. Thereafter, we got the deejay to put a halt to the Beegees and Village People (I remember now why disco died) and switch to Four Tops, Temptations and Rolling Stones, which caused things to pick up a bit. Some nights, the Amici piano bar saw some activity, but it’s much more laid back than, say, Hedonism II. Most nights there was a small to medium crowd in the c/o hot tub. Lots of watersports are available, including snorkeling, scuba, windsurfing, sailboats and kayaking, with instruction available for all. Parasailing and jet skis also were available (at extra cost) from entrepreneurs cruising outside the swimming markers on both beaches. Water-skiing was also available, though I don’t know if it was offered by Lido or by outside entrepreneurs. There is a sunset cruise nightly (except Sunday) on the Zein, a 147’ yacht. We passed on this since the trip began about 3:30 (and we didn’t want to give up the sun time), but went on the clothing optional cruise Thursday morning from 10:30 until just past noon. The c/o cruise was well attended: about 60 people with basically everybody taking the optional route. Many of the great people we met at Grand Lido we met on the c/o cruise, so don’t miss it. There are four hard surface tennis courts in excellent repair, two of which are lighted for night play. There’s a tennis pro in residence to help you with your game if you so desire. We played late two afternoons when the sun was low in the sky, but found that the humidity (which we really hadn’t noticed as bothersome) really gets to you when you get moving. Nevertheless, we’d take our tennis gear again and maybe play at night, followed by a shower and dinner at Cafe Pasta. The exercise rooms recently have been enclosed and air conditioned. Equipment is older, but serviceable, Nautilus, some universal type equipment, free weights, treadmills and Stairmasters. There’s a fitness guy to help you out. Thursday morning about 10 of us from Grand Lido took the clothing optional catamaran trip departing from the Hedonism II beach. The trip was a lot of fun, and included a stop for some great snorkeling as well as a stop for cliff diving (either straight off a 30’ cliff or via rope from a somewhat smaller cliff). I tried the latter, and began to get the hang of it on the second try. One of our number did the cliff dive, uneventfully except for some (hopefully short-lived) pain in his ears from the water pressure upon impact. Our visit to Hedonism II We made a trip over to Hedonism II one afternoon with some other folks we met at Grand Lido. We saw almost none of the alleged debauchery that is the stuff of Hedo legend (even at night when things are supposed to get wild). Hedo has a better pool and hot tub arrangement on the nude side than does Grand Lido, and has a truly outstanding grill next to the bar on the nude side. The main difference between the two resorts, based on limited exposure, is that Hedo is much more crowded than Grand Lido, even given common occupancy levels. There are just more people in a smaller space at Hedo than Lido. This makes for a more cocktail party type atmosphere at Hedo - everybody sitting around in the pool or hot tub chatting away. It seemed that it would really be a problem to get your beach chair turned around as the sun moved - they’re packed that close together. The people at Hedo were not much different than at Lido, except younger; I’d estimate the average age at about 35. But if you’re interested in viewing the full range of body jewelry, for both men and women, try Hedo. We talked to lots of folks about the food at Hedo, with comments ranging from super to awful, but that’s not why we come here. I’ll leave it to the Hedophiles to debate this one. Nightlife is definitely more active at Hedo than Lido. I wouldn’t say one resort is better than the other; they’re just different. My read is that if you want a nonstop cocktail party atmosphere, then try Hedo. If you want something more relaxing, want more amenities and pampering, and more casual social interaction, then go to Lido. Our plan next time is to bask in the luxury of Lido during the day and early evening, then hit Hedo after dinner for some nightlife, at least for a night or two. Summary We thought Grand Lido was a great value: more expensive than other all-inclusives, but with services and amenities that made it worthwhile. We’ll go again.
In November of 1997, Ann and I had an opportunity to visit the property formerly known as Braco Village. The management of this property has transferred to the SuperClubs family of resorts. A new addition to the resort that was already underway to add a family section has been transformed into a section dedicated to nude use only - more on this area later. SuperClubs is also training the staff in the manner of service standards of the other Lido resorts. Other changes are being made to add other Lido style amenities, like 24 hour room service. The first part of the report will be for those who have not been to the resort. The second part will focus on the new area. The resort (I'll call it just Braco) is slightly less than 4 years old. It is located west of the very small village of Rio Bueno, Jamaica. It's between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios - about a 50 minute trip by bus from the Sangster airport in MoBay. Patrick, our bus driver, filled us with various stories about the various locales as we made our way to Braco. Upon arriving, you enter what looks like a Jamaican village - albeit a newly painted one. You proceed down the main street into the registration area. Registration went really quickly even though there were a few other couples registering at the same time. We were given room keys and a safe lock/key set. We also left a credit card imprint in case we wanted to use the room phone. We ended up not using it. The porter took our luggage and led us to our beach front room. There are two rows of guest room buildings. There is a row along the beach and a row off of the beach. We had a first floor beach front room. We could walk out our back door onto the beach. The room was vary spacious with a large sleeping area and a large bathroom. There was plenty of closet and dresser space. There was a bedside radio/CD player. There was a TV receiving several satellite stations from the US. Since we got in rather late in the afternoon, prime beach time had already ended. So we decided to walk around the resort and get an idea of the area and meet some people. We headed to the center of the village. There is a nice fountain there which provided for a lot of photo opportunities. Around the village were several shops. We strolled through them and received a friendly greeting from the staff. Once we told them that we were just looking, we were left to look at our own pace. We then strolled over to the main bar for some drinks. The bar wasn't crowded and Randy served us a couple of cold drinks in no time. We took our drinks and checked out the rest of the building housing the main bar. It included a piano bar and lounge area, and a TV area downstairs. Upstairs was a game room with pool and ping pong tables. There was also an exercise area with some stationary aerobic equipment and some gym equipment - Universal, I think. We then walked around the main pool area. It is a very large pool with an space set aside for volleyball. There is a swim up bar with about a dozen stools. One end of the pool has a walking bridge over it. Just off the pool is a whirlpool. It held 4 or 5 couples. Beyond the pool area is the beach. I believe I read where it was about 2000' long. There is a booth housing the water staff and is the central place for checking out snorkel gear, getting clean beach towels, and checking out the sailboats and kayaks. The beach is very sandy. However, there are some rocks just off shore that can make walking a little bit tricky. A pair of water shoes came in handy. As we returned to the main area, they were setting up for dinner in the town streets. Various food stations were located around the area and tables were set up along the street. The wait staff was eager and quick to bring drinks to you or you could get them from the bar. A couple of times a week, dinner is eaten in this manner. After dinner there was the presentation of the Jamaican flag and their national anthem. On other days, meals are served in a variety of other locations. There is the Victoria Market area, which is the main dining room. Meals are served there buffet style. Part of the dining room houses a stage. However, during our visit, this part was closed off and construction was going on behind a temporary wall. An auxiliary stage was set up outside of the market area for nightly use by the various Showtime groups. There is also an Italian Pasta and Pizza restaurant. Next to that is a bakery and ice cream parlor. There is also a jerk pit. The food was plentiful and very tasty. You can have a continental breakfast brought to your room in the morning. Of course, when the entire changeover to the Lido style is completed, you can get room service 24 hours a day. Every night had some various forms of entertainment. It was mostly singers and dancers. One night they held hermit crab races where you could bet on your favorite and win cash! There is also a disco which opens later in the evening and has a lot of room for dancing. There is a small casino with various slot machine games. We never did see anyone other than guests at the piano bar, but the activity schedule did show that there was someone there - evidently at times that we weren't there. For those that enjoy the clothing optional beach atmosphere, or are interested in trying it, the far end of the beach is designated for nude use. There is a bar there along with a grill serving lunch items. A hot tub for nude use is also located in this area. We had 8 couples in it and didn't feel too crowded. This area will revert back to a clothed beach once the nude addition opens. More on that later. The nude beach was not very crowded. If you are staying in the last couple of buildings and are on the ground floor, you can walk right out onto the nude beach area. We were with a group of about 8 other couples. Other than our group, there were never more than 10 others on the nude beach. We met several people who were trying nudity or partial nudity for the first time. They found it to be a very relaxing atmosphere. Since Braco is isolated, there are no outsiders walking the beach or boating by to make you feel uncomfortable. Most of the guests were couples. All the singles we met were with some type of a group. The atmosphere made it very conducive to making new friends. The Jamaican national soccer team "The Reggae Boys" stayed at Braco for a few days preceding their match with Mexico held on the Sunday we were there in the stadium in Kingston. They needed a win or tie to qualify for next year's World Cup in France. They ended up in a tie. The prime minister declared Monday a national holiday. There was a lot of celebrating and flag waving. This was the first time that Jamaica qualified. It must have been their practice time at Braco that did the trick. There is a 9 hole golf course on the premises. I did not play it. A couple of acquaintances who did, said they had a good time - they played the course twice. I saw my first mongoose in the wild. It was roaming the area at the edge of the beach and the lawn down on the nude beach. THE NEW NUDE SIDE The group we were with had special access to the new nude side. We were all acting as models in a photo shoot for publicity pictures. We spent a couple of hours in the nude pool and on the nude beach. The nude pool is huge! It's over 200' long with a large swim up bar and an even larger bar above that. I think there will be food service from the larger bar. There is a lot of pool deck for relaxing. There is a water volleyball area. You can't even see the far side of the pool from one end to the other. At one end, you can enter and exit the pool via a shallow incline, much like a beach. Our group had the honor of being the first people in the nude pool. There was a nude hot tub under construction. It will be kidney shaped. It was hard to tell at this stage how many people it could hold. For those who have been to Hedonism II, it is not as large as their nude hot tub - but it is larger than most. There was a tennis court going in for nude tennis. There are going to be many walkways suitable for bicycling, jogging, or walking. There are several new guest buildings along the nude beach. Many of the rooms are suites of various sizes. They were putting the finishing touches on them. Some have small kitchens. All of them are on the beach front which has a lot of sand and will have chairs and umbrellas. A new Japanese restaurant is also under construction. This will add to the variety of selections for eating. It will not be for nude use, but is part of the new construction. When completed, this area should be one of the premiere nude vacation spots in the Caribbean. The Lido philosophy will provide all the extra touches required for a truly memorable time. You won't have to have a room on the nude side to use the nude facilities. However, the convenience of walking out your front door to the pool or your back door to the beach can't be beat. Construction is proceeding at the typical Jamaican pace. It's difficult to guess when the facility will be totally completed. I'm sure it will be after the first of 1998, though. Most of the activity left is related to the grounds. The guest building are complete and were being furnished. There is a lot of landscaping and finish work remaining on areas like the hot tub and tennis courts. The bar facilities were only roughed in. It didn't take an exceptional imagination to see what the potential will be when completed. We can't wait to return and see the final results. If you're planning a visit to Braco and expect to use the new nude area, be sure to check with your travel agent about the current status of the area. We traveled through Go Classy Tours - who we've used for many trips to the Caribbean. Their staff makes frequent visits to the resort to check on the progress first hand and would be a very reliable source of information on the status of the construction.
I visited Mustique in August, l997 spending four days there with my crew while bareboat sailing in the windward islands. 1997’s windward cruise was the completion of a personal Caribbean sailing odyssey. Each summer starting in l993 I have bareboat chartered in the Lesser Antilles - - Virgins to Grenada - - with family and friends as crew, several of the seasons for 30 days at a time. My original intent was nothing more elaborate than just to see if I could do it. For a weekend sailor of my skill level this was reason enough as the Caribbean offers great challenge to such sailors. In pursuit of my love I ended up willingly distracted by another affair - - the islands themselves which I have come to enjoy as much as the sailing itself. This is the story of an episode in the affair - - a stopover in the intriguing island of Mustique. Located about 15 miles south of St. Vincent, Mustique is a privately owned island. Politically, it is part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines but otherwise is a world apart. Known as a haven for rich and prominent privacy seekers Mustique is rarely included among vacation package deals. Its wealth, exclusivity and penchant for orderliness make it unique in the Caribbean. In fact, Mustique’s quest for Caribbean perfection may actually have taken it to the brink of imperfection - - the place is undergoing decaribbeanization and that is either a virture or vice depending on your personal reasons for going to the Antilles. Island publicists call it the neatest and most secure vacation location in the world. They may be true but some people will find it is at the expense of sacrificing a big chunk of Caribbean soul. Getting there by airplane is no problem via the small island airport served by Mustique Airways. But that’s kind of expensive for just a looksee. Daytripping by boat is more complicated. Britannia Bay is fine if you’ve got your own boat and don’t mind being known as the "boat people”. There’s no scheduled boat service [the interisland St. Vincent/Grenadine ferry calls everywhere else but here] nor did I see any headboats in the harbor. I was told that commercial cruise ships are banned and saw no sign of them in any event. On Bequia and St. Vincent there are ads for day trips on small vessels, 10 passenger size, but that was about it. There's not much of a welcome mat for the day trade. This island isn’t looking for such customers. There's hardly any shopping and only one non-hotel restaurant. For that matter there’s only one hotel and a single overnight guesthouse. So the island isn't exactly reaching out for the hotel trade either. Mustique is geared towards serving its dominant purpose - - catering to the needs and wants of the residents of the 80 or so fabulous villas for which the island is famous. About 45 of these villas are available for rental. The overall population of the island is small, about l000 including both permanent villa residents and locals. The locals are all employed directly or indirectly in the island’s critical industry - - service. The island itself is about 4.5 square miles in size, hilly and picturesque. Mustique’s present is rooted in its very recent past. It is said to have been a swampy, mosquito ridden outpost where locals eked out a hardscrabble existence less than 50 years ago. A visionary bought the whole island seeing its development potential to serve the special needs of the very rich, i.e. privacy, privacy and privacy. The process that led to a villa-oriented economy began in the late 60’s. A sprinkling of celebrities bought there and today their presence on the tax rolls [it’s sort of ambiguous how often they are actually there] is used as a name dropping inducement when merchandising the rental villas - - after all your next door neighbor might be royalty or even a rock star. Of course as the place grows in popularity the celebs may start looking elsewhere if they haven't already begun doing so. Right now there’s a building boom going on with several new multi-million dollar villas under construction. 140 villas is the maximum permissible under current law so act fast. The island is run by the Mustique Company, or The Company as it is more often known, whose shareholders own the island. The Company exercises powers conferred through a series of agreements with the St. Vincent government. "Mystique company would be more apt. It has a quasi-political status and seems to exercise what in a lot of places would be considered public, not private, authority. It operates very much like the government of an autonomous state. For example, locals told me that the Company sets residency requirements. The spouse of a worker may not permanently reside on the island unless employed, regardless of Vincentian citizenship. I guess if you own an island, even a fair sized one like this, you can decide which citizens of your country can live there. Of course the term "local" here may be a misnomer. Most of the worker-residents are transplants from elsewhere, mostly St. Vincent. One thing can be said with certainty - - the Company really gets things done including getting all of its employees to brandish permanent smiles for the tourists. You’ll never see a frown among Mustique’s workers. No idlers allowed around this island, everybody seems to be a Company man. Boat boys hawking goods? Guys spoiling your fun on the beach by peddling jewelry? Gimme a break, no way the Company would allow it. Britannia Bay is the only harbor suitable for overnighting a boat. Naturally, that’s where we moored. We used the boat as our base of operations. We would eat on the boat once in a while but generally we departed each morning via the dinghy to the dock for exploration and eating ashore. The harbor is excellent for swimming so we would frequently return to the boat during the day to swim or just relax. We slept aboard each night. There is no town as such on the island. The commercial district is centered at Britannia Bay within a 1/4 mile of the dock. Right on the beach is Basil’s Bar & Restaurant, legendary for its celeb watching potential. It overlooks the bay and has music, dancing and bar-b-que several nights. It's very casual, maybe casual chic actually and - - like all things here - pricey. 100 yards away begins the shopping district, such as it is. There’s a well stocked grocery store, a wine/cheese shop, a bakery, general merchandise store and a couple of clothing/gift boutiques. There’s also a nearby fish market open when there’s catch to be sold. The island gas station is a 1/4 mile up the hill where vehicles can be rented - - likewise available through Basil’s. That’s about it other than Lovell Village which is off the tourist path and set up for the locals. Not a single tee shirt shop on the island unless you count “Basil’s Boutique”. . It’s debatable whether Mustique’s Cotton House is the finest hotel in the Caribbean, but a lot of knowledgeable people think so. Our first day we made it our destination for a walk. It is situated about a mile and a half from the dock and a steep walk so the sedentary should consider a cab (also available at Basil’s; free pick up if you are eating there). We walked. From the outset it was as if we were on the grounds of a country club - - everything in this part of the island was landscaped and manicured. It is sad to say but secondary to beautiful vistas the most ubiquitous sight in much of the Caribbean is litter - - but there's none here, absolutely none. The place is super shipshape. The walk took us past the new library/community center donated by a wealthy resident, a primary school [Mick Jagger was reputed to once have been the head of the school board here], medical center, church and a section of Lovell Village that looks like a middle class suburban residential development. If there are any Caribbean shacks on this island we missed them. Maybe they're hidden out of view or - - more likely - - just don’t exist due to the level of prosperity and the strong will of the Company. The Company has definite ideas of how the place should look. It appears to provide well for its employees. I was told - - and perhaps this story is partially apocryphal - - that the Company believed the fishermen’s shacks at Britannia Bay were a conspicuous eyesore. So it decided to replace them by providing the brightly colored small homes where the fishermen now live. My informant did not indicate what the Company expected in return but the part about the brightly colored homes is definitely true - - very picturesque right there on the shoreline next to Basil’s. Cotton House is situated a little past the airport. No worry about noise, only a few flights a day of puddle jumpers. It is set in a restored 18th century plantation. There’s a restaurant in the greathouse and 22 rooms spread about the spacious grounds which could easily pass for a botanic garden. It’s a full service resort with its own beach, full watersports including dive shop, pool area with bar and dining, fashionable boutique and the like. Amentities are characteristic of a much larger facility so it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that with so few rooms the prices must be pretty high. They are. Range from almost $1000 - $800 per night American plan at the Christmas highest season down to $500 per night off season when we were there. We lounged around the pool for drinks and decided to return another evening for dinner. When we did so we had cocktails in a large drawing room with period furnishings in the greathouse proper. For dinner we repaired to the surrounding porch and ate outdoors by candlelight with the manager joining us for a while at our table - - nothing short of spectacular for cuisine, ambiance and service. Another walking tour took us to the island’s only guesthouse, the Firefly, a former villa converted into four rooms to accommodate overnight guests. That’s located on a hill overlooking Britannia Bay. It has a great little bar and is a nice place to hang out, as celebs are alleged to do although we saw none. Relatively speaking the Firefly is a Mustique bargain hunter’s delight - - rooms range $250-300 per night breakfast included but not including the 17% surcharge for service/tax. Looking for something unique for the millennium? They are taking reservations for their 2 week special Christmas/New Years millennium bash - - $10,000 per couple. They throw in all meals but you still have to foot another $1700 for service/tax. I'd say hope springs eternal but maybe they know what the market will bear. We also took a tour of the entire island by cab mainly to get a close up look at the villas. All of the villas are architecturally interesting. They come with staff included in the price, many have staff quarters right on the premises. Typically, they also include a car, private pool, rooms which open to the sea and air, spacious grounds and magnificent views. Renters provide their own food and drink. Prices vary according to size, location and season with high season rates running $3800 for a budget two bedroom place to as much as $15000 per week for deluxe 5-7 bedrooms, plus 13% tax/service. Add 30% for Christmas time, deduct 30% for the summer. We saw the exteriors of about 20 of them or so which were visible from the public roads but many are secluded on private driveways which of course we did not see. My own preference is for those set up in the hills with breathtaking views of the sea and nearby islands. Fresh water is in short supply here, particularly on the arid southern end of the island and the Company trucks water to cisterns in many of the villas. Statistics from a few years ago showed villa ownership to be principally U.S. (27%) and British (21%) with many nationalities represented but the remainder mostly other European and Canadian. There’s a dozen or so bays around the island but only half of them have easy beach access. One particularly pretty beach - - Macaroni Beach - - is where the residents go for sunning, swimming and picnicking. We spent some time there, very pleasant surroundings. Horses can be rented for beach riding elsewhere on the island. Other than pursuit of the watering holes at Basil’s, Cotton House and Firefly most island evening activities are homebound. On our final day one of the crew flew out so we accompanied her to the airport for her 7:30 am flight to Kingstown, St. Vincent. Like the rest of the island the airport is unhurried and intimate. Everything is highly personalized, even the customs/immigration station at the airport. Nearby is the post office and Mustique Company offices. The remainder of that day we spent snorkeling in and around Britannia Bay [fair coral and fish] and beach combing on the western side of the island. There’s supposed to be better snorkeling elsewhere on the island but our spot had the benefit of being reachable by dinghy from our mooring. That night we had a fine dinner at Basil’s but nothing like the super meal at Cotton House. Sailed on to Canouan the next morning. Mustique is obviously not for the budget minded traveler. In fact the only way to spend any time there without mortgaging the farm is the way I did it - - stay aboard a rented boat in the harbor. Even with the boat rental cost you are ahead of the game at 15 bucks per night for a mooring or zero bucks if you anchor [cheapskates beware: Mustique is ecology sensitive and if your boat or anchor damages the coral there’s a whopping fine]. But cramped living aboard a boat and rough seas are not for everyone. The other possible approach is to get several couples together to rent one of the villas. While the villas are pricey they are not massively more expensive than comparable villas elsewhere in the Caribbean. Splitting costs 3 or 4 ways brings the cost range within earth’s orbit. Still, there is no denying that Mustique is mighty expensive - - and intended to be that way because the high price helps achieve the main objectives of privacy and exclusivity. Mustique is not easily compared with anywhere else in the Caribbean. Places like Petit St. Vincent and Palm Island in the Grenadines come to mind as do Peter Island and Guana Island in the British Virgins. All are self-contained resorts with low guest density that occupy entire islands. Having either stayed overnight or stopped in at these spots during my travels I can vouch they are all world class. But these islands are small fry in size comparison and are resorts with hotel room/cottage orientation not villa living. Mustique is different. Big enough that you don’t feel the sense of confinement and uniformity that a resort can sometimes create but small enough to capture the exclusive, private club atmosphere. It’s as close to having your own home on your own private island as you can get without actually renting an entire island for yourself. As I said in the beginning there's not a lot of Caribbean soul here. But for that matter some of the resort-island operations and other snazzy Caribbean resorts have the same deficiency. Everybody know of travelers who prefer it this way - - they remain within the compound of their resort for the whole vacation. Well here in Mustique they can venture off the compound knowing that the whole place is "the neatest and most secure" place in the whole world. >From what I saw Mustique may not be for the real active vacationer who’s looking for a lot of structured activities. Goofing off and hanging around are the main activities though there’s the usual water sports available too. The key is deciding whether villa living is what you seek - - perhaps a multi-generational family vacation or group of like minded friends. You have to combine that with the low key style and super privacy of the place. Some might consider it to be the doldrums. But if you need a little action you are not necessarily Mustique bound the whole time. There are day trips available to interesting places like the Tobago Cays and other islands in the Grenadines. St. Vincent itself is readily accessible. What is truly unique about this place is being on a island where the whole thing - - not just the resort where you may be staying - - has an upscale, no-hassle flavor about it. Everything's gonna go right for you on Mustique because the Company's gonna make sure it goes right. There's no other full sized island quite like that in the Caribbean. Just make sure you bring a fat wallet!
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