Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 81
January, 1998

Last Update 29 Dec 97 1300ET

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GRENADA BY BETTY ROTHGEB

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.

GUADELOUPE BY CARIG DESOER

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!

JAMAICA: GRAND LIDO NEGRIL BY DOUG AND SIDNEY MUIR

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.

JAMAICA: GRAND LIDO BRACO BY DENNY PASTERNAK

  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.

MUSTIQUE BY TOM CARROLL

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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