Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Gert van Dijken, Editor
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(Editor's Note: This is regarding 'Tips from Travel Guide Author Harry S. Pariser'.)
Dear Gert, Can you please mention in your February issue that the Spring 2003 update for Explore the Virgin Islands is now online in PDF format at http://www.exploreavirgin.com or http://www.savethemanatee.com/VI. Thank you. Harry S. Pariser
COZUMEL, Mexico (Jan. 24, 2003) ^÷ The 147-room MeliŠ Cozumel All-Inclusive Beach Resort Golf and Country Club (formerly Paradisus Cozumel) has aligned its new brand name and offerings with Sol MeliŠ^“s four other MeliŠ all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. ^”MeliŠ Cozumel features personalized service, comfortable accommodations and an array of specialized activities for families, honeymooners, golfers and divers alike,^‘ said Emanuel Schreibmaier, vice president of sales and marketing for the Americas Division of Sol MeliŠ Hotels & Resorts. ^”The resort joins three other MeliŠ all-inclusive brand properties in Mexico, including the MeliŠ Puerto Vallarta, MeliŠ Azul Ixtapa, and MeliŠ Cabo Real in Los Cabos, plus another in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, the MeliŠ Caribe Tropical. We will also convert MeliŠ Turquesa Resort in Cancun to an all-inclusive product in June.^‘ MeliŠ Cozumel offers deluxe rooms, junior suites and honeymoon suites with Jacuzzi, along with three restaurants, five bars, nightly shows, complete activities program, separate Kid^“s Club, wide array of watersports, on-site resort dive course, quick boat access to Cozumel^“s best reefs and walls for the island^“s famous dive experiences, and unlimited golf privileges at the adjacent Cozumel Country Club and its 18-hole, par 72, eco golf course designed by Nicklaus Design Group. Sol MeliŠ Hotels & Resorts is one of the world^“s most successful hotel companies with its four brands ^÷ MeliŠ Hotels, Tryp Hotels, Sol Hotels and Paradisus Resorts ^÷ with over 350 hotels in more than 30 countries worldwide. Sol MeliŠ^“s 2003 expansion plans include new properties in Brazil, Peru, Puerto Rico, Mexico and throughout Asia Pacific and Europe. Individual reservations can be through a travel consultant or by calling toll-free 1-800-33MELIA (63542). Group reservations can be made through a professional meeting and incentive planner or through Sol MeliŠ^“s group desk (CIMAS) by calling 1-888-33MELIA or via e-mail: Cimas@sol-group.com. Hotel information can also be obtained by accessing Sol MeliŠ at www.SolMeliŠ.com.
COZUMEL (Jan. 29, 2003) ^÷Isla Cozumel, the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean, is preparing for its 101st annual Carnaval celebration to be held on Feb. 26 through March 5, 2003. The pre-Lenten celebration will provide visitors with an authentic look at Mexican traditions, including regional food, musical performers and ethnic dances, as well as parades, floats, and costumes. The focal point of the celebration is the Comparsas Ball featuring a group dance competition on Feb. 28. Scheduled Carnaval Events: Wednesday, Feb. 26 The Carnaval celebrations will begin with a children^“s masquerade contest. Thursday, Feb. 27 Children^“s costume contest. Friday, Feb. 28 Children^“s Parade on main street Comparsas Ball Saturday, March 1, Sunday March 2, Tuesday, March 4 Carnaval Parade - procession of vehicles, floats and people in costumes, departing from the Municipal Palace and then returning. Monday, March 3 Adult^“s masquerade contest and ball. Wednesday, March 5 (the last night of Carnaval) Awards night with the King and Queen of Carnaval. Awards and prizes are given for the best overall in every Carnaval category. ^”Every year Isla Cozumel^“s Carnaval events continue to grow, as the island and its inhabitants are dedicated to providing the best celebration possible,^‘ said Fernando Ferraez, conductor of Carnaval, involved in the Cozumel event for nearly 20 years. ^”Cozumel looks forward to another record-breaking year with more than 30 floats projected and 100 percent hotel occupancy.^‘ >From Feb. 26 through March 5, the Museum of the Island of Cozumel, located on Avenue Rafael Melgar, open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. will feature special exhibits with photography of children from past Carnaval celebrations. Within the museum visitors can learn about the island^“s origins, wildlife migration patterns, reefs, archeology, galleons and pirates. Murals that depict daily scenes of Mayan life line the walls as well. The museum^“s phone number is (011) 52 987 87 21434 or (011) 52 987 87 21475. Named "Cuzamil" by the Maya who inhabited it more than 2,000 years ago, Isla Cozumel or "land of the swallows" is located in the state of Quintana Roo, east of the Yucatan Peninsula. Cozumel, approximately 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, has an international snorkeling and diving reputation with the world's second-largest reef network featuring limestone caves, tunnels and rare black coral. Cozumel Reefs National Park, a protected 30,000-acre national area covering 85 percent of the island^“s dive sites and embracing the southern section of Cozumel, was created in 1996 for the purpose of conserving, monitoring and researching the reef formation and its natural habitat. In 2002 a U.S. News & World Report Travel Agent Survey recognized Isla Cozumel as the North American/Caribbean destination offering the best vacation value. Visit Cozumel on the World Wide Web at www.islacozumel.com.mx.
Writetoown.com is making trips of a lifetime and other valuable prizes come true! Writetoown.com is a Texas-based company whose website is geared toward making dreams come true. The company operates an essay contests website. Contestants write a short essay, usually 150 to 200 words, complete an entry application and submit a small entry fee all to win a variety of luxurious prizes and trips. The website creates a competitive way for anyone to have a chance to win something they might not otherwise be able to afford. The number of contestants is limited in each contest so contestants. chances of winning increase. When essays are received they are numbered for confidentiality, read and judged by an independent group of judges. Each contest has at least two, and sometimes three winners. The first place winner receives the grand prize, with the second and third place winners receiving prizes as well. Current ongoing contests include a SeaDoo Jet Boat, a 7-day First Class, luxury charter through the Caribbean on a private yacht for four. The trip includes airfare to and from the Caribbean for four, all food and drinks on-board, a private on-board chef, scuba diving, swimming, fishing, wake boarding, wind surfing, water skiing, sunning, and much more. The trip is valued at over $35,000.00 but for the winner - the cost is a little time to write a short essay and a small entry fee of $50.00. A contest for a romantic get away to Tahiti is coming in a few weeks and a Canadian Ski Vacation for next winter will be coming in the summer. The website allows people to win dreams,. says Mr. Gibson, founder of Write To Own. .If contestants can be original and a little creative they have a good chance of winning.. Our goal has been to create a place people can enjoy competing and winning. Gibson goes on to say, Although it.s not for everyone, it does allow people willing to work for something the opportunity to reap big rewards.. Contest at: http://www.writetoown.com/CaribbeanSailingCharterContest.asp
The obvious problem of living on an island is getting around. Some islands are close enough to be reached by boat while others are a flight away. I have always had a passion for airplanes. 7 years ago I got my Private Pilot's License in the Boston area, soon followed by my instrument rating. In 1998 I teamed up with a friend to buy a four seater Cessna 172. Flying in the Caribbean is interesting as most of it is over water, often under blue skies in visual conditions. The air traffic controllers are helpful and courteous and a bit more laid back than in the heavily used north-east corridor of the United States. A few weeks back, a friend, Bob needed to go to St. Martin for the day and asked if I wanted to fly over. We would be joined by his wife and daughter and would fly into Grand Case, on the French side of the island. I usually prefer this field instead of the larger, busier Princess Juliana airport which is the island's main airport. Esperance airport at Grand Case is an uncontrolled airport with a 3,800 foot landing strip nestled in between two hills that rise several hundred feet on either side. I rose early on our day of departure and called the weather service in Puerto Rico for a weather briefing and to file my flight plan. After checking the Doppler radar and the weather charts, the briefer told me that a high pressure system was dominating the area and that the weather forecast was for clear skies with some localized clouds that should dissipate by early morning. By the time I got to the airport at Beef Island at 7.30 AM to pre-flight and prep the plane for an 8 AM departure the rain had started to fall and the cloud cover was getting thicker. I called the weather services for an update and was told that the rain would be stopping shortly. To be on the safe side I amended my flight plan from a visual flight to one under instrument conditions. Shortly before 9 AM the rain stopped and the cloud cover started thinning out. With the latest weather briefing in hand we set out. We took off on runway 25 and immediately banked left to a heading of 180 degrees to clear the hills and to intercept the flight path to St. Martin. Soon after departure we were handed off by the Beef Island tower to the San Juan Air Traffic Control who instructed us to maintain our heading and climb to 7,000 feet. As we climbed to our assigned altitude I noticed that the weather ahead was starting to look more threatening with darker and thicker clouds. Within seconds the weather had closed in around us and we were being buffeted around by some serious turbulence. For what seemed like forever, but in fact was less than ten minutes all I could do was insure that the plane stayed right side up. I did not worry about maintaining my altitude nor about staying on course. Survival was the order of the day. Just as I thought that the plane would not take this kind of punishment for much longer, a break in the clouds appeared ahead of us with clear blue skies beckoning. Once we were in clear air the plane settled down and I set about resuming navigation towards our destination. We had been blown off course by just a couple of miles and had surprisingly not lost or gained any altitude. The rest of the trip was smooth as we flew around a few remaining towering clouds. Forty five minutes into the flight St. Martin appeared on the horizon and we touched down at Grand Case twenty five minutes later. Later that day I called weather services at San Juan to discuss my flight and the discrepancies with the weather briefing I had received. The briefer I got was very pleasant and knowledgeable. He informed me that I seemed to have experienced unusual conditions. The Jet Stream, it seems had dipped way south that morning and the Caribbean had experienced the fringes of the stream that created upper level winds that blew in an uncharacteristic West to East direction. At the same time the trades were still active from the East to the West and we were apparently caught in between where the two wind systems collided. We had had enough flying for the day and elected to spend the night on St. Martin. I usually stay at La Residence in Marigot, but they could not accommodate us so we stayed instead at a neighboring hotel called La Louisianne. Marigot is a fun place to spend some time with its pastry cafes, boutiques and its French cache. That evening we drove over to Simpson's bay, on the Dutch side to Anan's, one of our favorite Indian restaurants. The return trip, the next day was relatively uneventful. Linda, Bob's wife admitted upon deplaning at Beef Island that she had had a strong urge the day before to get down and kiss the ground at Grand Case.
I have just returned from my 17th week in Bonaire since Aug. 01. My 7th visit was for purposes of running the Bonaire PWA World Freestyle Finals. In between work (what fun it was), I windsurfed and read many books. I also ATE some incredible foods and felt compelled to describe some of the culinary delights found in Bonaire. Bonaire is the quieter of the ABC islands. The Dutch influence is seen in the architecture as well as the cuisine. Other influences come from Indonesia, Surinam, Spanish and African. In 6 weeks I sampled fare at over 25 places. Here are some of my favorites: Boobijan's is a neighborhood bbq located in Kralendijk. It is only open on weekends and that is when the crowds descend. Get their around 6 and you are all set. Otherwise you may have a wait. For about 10.00 USD (17,00 Guilders) you can have the special: two chicken sates, ribs and chicken. Included are to die for fries and coleslaw. Wine is 2.25 for a glass of the house blend. Beer is even cheaper. Now, you see why it's so popular. It's super! Capriccios is one of the top 3 dining spots in Bonaire. The wine list is most impressive with thousands of choices. Lola, your hostess can make a suggestion based on her expertise. All meals start off with a Prosecco Mimosa. Fresh homemade pastas and local fish are favorite menu items. The desserts are even better. Eat inside to avoid the noise of the street but bring a jacket as the AC is chilly. For a romantic night reserve one of the booths. Mangos is a new spot at the Sand Dollar Resort. Ruth Van Tilburg has created a dining oasis poolside. I had lunch here twice and LOVED the Caesar Salad with fresh grilled fish and extra anchovies. Great menu and a wonderful hostess. In the little town of Rincon there are several popular local eateries. Rose Inn is a lively spot with lovely goat stew (gabrita stoba) and ribs. Unfortunately it was closed or out of food the 4 times I tried to eat there this Nov. and Dec. The owner directed us to my new favorite spot, Sjoni Grill Garden. It is on Kaya Poirier on the road to Lourdes Grotto. Ask for directions and order the goat or chicken. The food is amazing and about 8.00 USD per person. Wine and beer is available. Well, I think this is a sampling of a few of my favorites. Others include Kontiki with breathtaking views of windy Lac Bay, Donna and Giorgios (super red wine in lovely balloon glasses), and Luigi's (local eatery for lunches). I love to share these spots with my clients who descend on Bonaire to windsurf, dive or find a myriad of eco friendly diversions. Next time you are heading to Bonaire email me for a list of other tips. Annie www.bonairecaribbean.com Caribbean Wind and Sun Vacations P.O. Box 820 S. Dennis, MA 02660 508-385-8174 www.antiguacaribbean.com
This was our 3rd journey to Grand Cayman in 4 years. While it wasn't the best trip of the 3 visits, it wasn't horrible either. Here are some details of our experience... We planned this trip last July for the 2nd week in December. The Marriott rooms rates go up sharply beginning the 3rd week in December. We also planned on using our Marriott rewards points to pay for the room. I must admit that the process Marriott uses to cash in the points was exasperating to say the least. It required several calls to customer service just to clarify how the process works and the interminable paperwork. Ultimately, we did trade in our points successfully. The surprise is that the cost of upgrading our room amounted to approx. $95 per night (the points only get you a standard room). Coupled with the exorbitant taxes and fees that are levied by the hotel and the Cayman islands on a per night basis ended up costing us over $1200 for what we thought was going to be a fairly cheap trip. We did remind ourselves that the Caymans are a very expensive place to visit. But the appeal of the islands makes up for the cost in a lot of ways...I guess it's truly "you get what you pay for". Our trip began on a very sour note. We were to fly out of Boston via Charlotte to the Grand Cayman on USAIR. Unfortunately, there was fog at Charlotte so we were delayed for 3 hours at Logan Airport. We stayed on the plane the entire time! We even had to taxi back to the terminal for more gas. We were hopeful that the outgoing flights from Charlotte were equally delayed so we wouldn't miss our connecting flight. Here is where USAIR dropped the ball. Upon approaching and landing in Charlotte, USAIR failed to communicate connecting flight info. to us. When we disembarked, the USAIR monitors did not even list our connecting flight. There were no USAIR personnel waiting at the gate to help us. Their "Special Services" line was backed up with at least 50 people! Some special service. My wife and I hustled to find out some info. We ran back and forth from terminal to terminal. When we finally found out (25 minutes later) where our connecting flight was, it was pulling away from the Jetway. I'm sure if a USAIR rep. was at our gate, we would have made the connection. So, we missed our flight. Two hours later, USAIR was able to get us on an American Air flight to Miami. They even screwed this up. The ran out of some special forms that must be filled out when changing carriers. So when we got to Miami, the AA rep. couldn't get us on the connecting flight to Grand Cayman without the proper paperwork. The connecting flight to the islands was due to leave in less than 1 hour. We had to run back to the USAIR desk at Miami, explain what happened, get the proper form and go back to the AA desk. We thought we were going to spend our first night in Miami. Not an ideal situation to say the least. By some miracle we made it to the AA gate in time. The gate was a zoo! Massive crowd and no organization. The US travel industry is in a world of hurt. No wonder people flip out on flights! After being checked twice at the gate, we got on board the plane and ultimately made it to the hotel by 11:30 pm...we were to land in GC at 1:45 pm. I would suggest to other travelers that they use a different carrier than USAIR. We certainly will from now on. The only positive of using USAIR was that we got fairly cheap tickets ($318 each roundtrip via Expedia). We also thought that our luggage was going to end up in Mexico or something. It showed up in GC right on time! You can imagine our pleasant surprise at this stroke of luck. The Marriott hotel was basically the same as we left it on our last trip (March 2001) except for the fact that their beach front was non-existent! We noticed on our last stay that their beach was small. We were told that erosion and a series of big storms was wiping out the beach and that they'll be enacting a reclamation project to re-build the beach. Well they work is still underway and the beach is still missing. I would recommend staying at another location if you are a beach person. The waves were breaking over their seawall on occasion. We can't fault the hotel about beach erosion but they never made any attempt to tell prospective customers of this problem. Nothing on their website or any disclaimer by their customer service reps. It will take a long time for the beach to come back. We would have stayed at another Marriott destination had we known about this. The hotel pool was average at best. The rest of our stay at the Marriott was non eventful although the hotel does need a bit of updating and maintenance. I would think that if Marriott were to compete with the other hotels (Ritz, Hyatt etc.) on the island, they have quite a bit of work to do. Hell, the Holiday Inn up the street is better looking! The hotel restaurants were typical hotel fare and overpriced...we tried to limit our visits to offsite destinations. It appears that the tourist industry on the island has turned up the customer gouging factor once again. On a more positive note. We discovered a few pleasant destinations and re-visited some previous haunts. We visited the botanical gardens as well as taking a trip out to Rum Point. We passed on Stingray City and the Turtle farm as we've done these before. They are still a lot of fun for 1st time visitors and are a must. We enjoyed several restaurants. Namely, The Lighthouse, Calypso, Pappagallo and Bed. Each restaurant has it's unique aspects. Keep in mind that prices can be a bit steep depending on what is ordered and most wines cost more than you'd think. Out of this list of restaurants Pappagallo is a must. It's a beautiful location and design. Very romantic. Bed is interesting in that all the staff are wearing sleepwear and is owned by a previous Miss Universe contestant. I would avoid other most restaurants along 7 mile beach as they are far too touristy and the value is questionable. Rent a car/Jeep if you can. Otherwise, you'll be limited to paying a lot for taxis. I would suggest Soto's on Seven Miles beach. Definitely try to get out to Rum Point for a day. It's quiet, very family oriented and a great place for snorkeling. Overall, we did end up enjoying our stay albeit the travel experience was harrowing. I would still recommend the Cayman Islands but be very weary of the costs. Some other destinations that we visited previously were St. Lucia, Antigua, Aruba and Bonaire. We would recommend all but Bonaire. I wouldn't compare them with the Cayman Islands as each has their unique culture and activities. Suffice to say most destinations to the Caribbean are nice...some just better than others. We will definitely go back to the Cayman Islands again but not for a few years. Our next destination is St. Kitts/Nevis.
We've been to the Caribbean over a dozen times, with 10 of those trips being to St. Martin as our primary destination. Obviously, we love SXM, but the time had come to broaden our horizons. We'd done some previous research on Curacao, and it ranked high on the list of places we wanted to visit. So with only five precious nights available for our vacation in late 2002 (Nov. 28-Dec. 3) we decided to take the plunge on Curacao. Inevitably, comparisons were made in our minds between the two islands. What follows is not just a trip report on Curacao itself, but a comparison of many features of the two destinations. GETTING THERE: In order to be able to take this vacation, we had to find a good deal on airfare. So, we flew Air Jamaica, and on the way down, it went like clockwork. We both marveled at how fast the flights down seemed to go. Of course, it didn't hurt any that our connecting gate in Montego Bay was next to Margaritaville, so the hour or so between flights went very quickly with the help of a cold drink and some tasty conch fritters. Coming back home was a different story and I now know why this airline has such a bad reputation for delays. It began when our flight left Curacao 2-1/2 hours late. We figured we would have to make a run for our connection if we were going to get it on time. Only trouble was, when we got off the plane in Montego Bay, no one knew what gate the flight to Chicago would be leaving from, or even when it would be leaving. This was true not just for the flight to Chicago, but also flights to Philadelphia, Newark, Atlanta and a couple other cities. Some passengers started to get surly, gate agents started to cop attitudes and it was basically a big, ugly mess, with hundreds of confused passengers crammed into a small hallway trying to figure out where to go. The whole process was very disorganized and we ended up taking off about 2-1/2 hours late on this flight as well. But, to be honest, I've been in situations with U.S.-based airlines that were just as bad in their own way, if not worse. So, the best thing to do is take it all with a grain of salt; remember that in the end, it was a good flight if you get where you were going safely, within at least a few hours of the originally scheduled time and with a minimum of discomfort. Coming into Curacao, the approach to Hato International revealed the first major difference between this island and St. Martin: cactus and lots of 'em. The spiny stalks, known locally as kadushi, grow everywhere. Curacao is an arid island, with ample trade winds. I had heard about Curacao's ever-blowing breezes, but we were not on the island during the windiest time of the year. Overall, I would say it seemed no breezier than SXM, although it did get gustier occasionally. We never found the wind on Curacao to be unbearable; to the contrary, it usually kept us from feeling overheated. Without some breeze, this place would be hotter than hell! CAR RENTAL: We used Avis for our rental car, getting a Toyota Yaris (similar to a Tercel) with 51K miles on it. Another difference between SXM and Curacao: I found no information either before or during our trip that indicated the presence of strong independent rental agencies that would be preferable to U.S.-based chains. Although I did look into a couple of independents, they all seemed to be higher priced and less flexible with their offering. The service and car provided by Avis were fine and I would certainly use them again. Rental prices were slightly higher than SXM. Driving on the island is easy and orderly, the best of any Caribbean place I've visited. Unlike SXM, there were no 'suicycle' drivers to cause fear, nor did there seem to be a 'stop your car anywhere' style of driving among the locals. OUR HOTEL: We stayed at the Floris Suites, located in the same Piscadera Bay area as the Marriott and Sheraton. This is a 72-room European-style 'boutique' hotel; truly one of the nicest hotels we've ever stayed in, anywhere. We had a "royal suite", which was a 1-bedroom with separate living room and fully equipped kitchen. The hotel had been designed from top to bottom by a renown Dutch interior designer who put his attention to detail on every aspect from the lobby to the room appointments and even down to the design of the coffee cups and saucers. The closest thing that comes to mind in the U.S. would be a Hotel W, in the sense that it's stylish and modern in its design. I walked around the grounds of both the Marriott and Sheraton was convinced we chose the right place with the Floris. The Sheraton looked a little run down. The Marriott was beautiful and had a superb beach, but it seemed to have a bit of a stuffy attitude, e.g., they had rules about where you could go barefoot, etc. The only negative I could find about the Floris was that it's not directly on the beach, although it does have its own beach that is about a 5-7 minute walk away. But the grounds of the hotel were so nice, we really didn't miss the beach not being right there. The Floris has a beautiful, lushly landscaped pool and often we were content to stay right there. And with our own kitchen with beer, rum, soda and snacks, it saved us some money on the bar tab, too. DINING: In general, we found food and drink to be more expensive than in SXM. Part of this I attribute to the fact that this was just our first visit to Curacao and we haven't yet found the island's equivalent of 'Talk of the Town' where you can get a yummy meal and drinks for two for about $25. All but one night, we spent at least $100 for dinner, but I have to note that we always got a bottle of wine and often ordered dessert. There is a 5% sales tax in Curacao in stores and restaurants that boosted the dinner tab, too. Some places also charged a 10-12% service charge. In all cases, menus and wait staff were clear and open about whether or not the establishment had a service charge, and we never felt pressured to leave a full tip in addition to the service charge. In all restaurants we visited, service was professional, efficient and gracious. It is worth noting that the European custom is followed; that is, the server will not bring you the check till you ask for it. The American approach of presenting the check before the customer requests it is considered extremely rude outside of the U.S. The style of food in Curacao is diverse. As a Dutch island, Indonesian cuisine is very popular there. Virtually every day, either John or I had a meal that included chicken sate in the classic peanut sauce. Our most memorable meal was at a restaurant called Ryjstaffel Indonesia. The meal included tapas-sized portions of somewhere between 15-20 different dishes. Even though St. Maarten also has Dutch roots, the only restaurant I'm aware of that features Indonesian rijstaffel cuisine is Wajang Doll in Philipsburg. On either island, this is a cuisine worth exploring! Be sure to bring a good appetite! Another evening we ate at Jaipur, an Indian restaurant in the Kura Hulanda Hotel complex. Their specialty is tandoori, and if you tell them you like your food spicy, they will put your tastebuds to the test. My chicken tandoori actually brought streams of tears to my eyes, but I enjoyed every mouth-searing bite. Other meals included Blues at the Avila Beach Hotel, Hook's Hut on the beach near our hotel and Shallotte within our hotel. All were good, with professional, gracious service, but I still believe SXM beats Curacao hands down when it comes to dining. THE ISLAND: Curacao is physically larger than St. Martin, and this allows them to be light years ahead of SXM when it comes to respecting the environment. Although the island has a large population, it is less dense than SXM and there are several areas set aside as parkland. Curacao is starting to explore some ecotourism. There are many stretches of undeveloped land, with the wild kadushi cactus reflecting the island's arid climate. In other areas, you'll find canopies of leafy trees that somehow thrive in the dry climate. We also saw a preserve of wild flamingoes. Other wildlife includes a healthy population of lizards, everything from small chameleon-like critters, to good-sized geckos to big, beautiful iguanas. Yet at the same time, Curacao is very cosmopolitan. The main city of Willemstad is perhaps five times the size of Philipsburg. It is very prosperous, with many government offices, banks and thriving businesses. There didn't seem to be as much contrast between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' as one would typically see on other Caribbean islands. I suppose Curacao has its level of crime like anywhere else, but at no time did we see evidence of any or feel uncomfortable in any place we drove or walked. In general, everything seems very well kept and orderly, from the condition of the roads (which included four-lane divided highway) to the distinctive architecture of Willemstad to the overall lack of litter on the roadsides. The additional revenue Curacao brings is through its sales tax, in addition to what they siphon off of the other islands in the Netherlands Antilles through collection of taxes there, does at least seem to be well-spent in infrastructure. BEACHES: We only got to explore a few beach areas of Curacao. Unlike SXM, not all beaches are free to the public, although most can be accessed with a modest entrance fee. Neither is the sand as smooth as on SXM; it is necessary to either have tough soles on your feet or to wear beach shoes into the water to avoid the sharpness of rocks and chunks of coral. Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent on all of the beaches we visited on this trip. One main difference we noted between Curacao and SXM is that the umbrellas are permanent structures, either in the form of palapas or hard-shell umbrellas that mount into concrete stands. I think this is because of the higher winds often found in this part of the Caribbean. But it also meant that if you wanted to stay in the shade, you had to move your chair around as the sun moved, and it also limited the number of umbrellas available to beach-goers at any one time. Curacao is supposed to be a top destination for diving and snorkeling. We brought our own snorkel equipment with us, as we always do on Caribbean trips, but for some reason neither one of us ever felt like snorkeling much. I spent no more than 10 minutes with my face in the water; John didn't snorkel at all the entire trip. I suppose it was a shame to miss the opportunity, but it just wasn't high on our list of priorities. SHOPPING: Though I've been known to make a purchase or two at Touch of Gold in SXM, in general we are not big shoppers. I did notice a few jewelry stores around Willemstad, including the ubiquitous Little Switzerland, but I can't offer any input as to quality or selection. There is an ample selection of tourist shops that cater to the cruise ship passengers, including a typical Caribbean outdoor market that sets up near the pier when a ship is in. There is also a very modern mall near the pier that was just starting to open when we were there in early December. One thing I can speak about is grocery stores. The supermarkets in Curacao are as large and well-stocked as any in the U.S. In fact, the majority of the brands sold are American brands, which was a little disappointing as we love the European shopping experience you find at a store like Match in French St. Martin. Brands we did NOT see in Curacao but wished we did included the soft drink Ting and Carib beer. We also did not find the wide variety of rums at rock-bottom prices that we've grown accustomed to in SXM. What WAS everywhere was Amstel beer, considering it is brewed right there on the island. We toured the brewery, as well as the Curacao liqueur factory. SIGHT-SEEING: If you get bored on Curacao, you must be doing something wrong. In addition to all the beaches, the town of Willemstad, the Amstel brewery and the Curacao liqueur factory, there are many other attractions, including several museums and the Sea Aquarium. The only museum we visited was the anti-slavery museum at the Hotel Kura Hulanda complex. It is a very well-done exhibit that chronicles man's inhumanity to man throughout history and across the continents. I certainly learned some new things there and found the exhibit to be very touching. There are also archeological artifacts on display, dating back to the earliest years of civilization. The value of these can't even be counted and they were amazing to see. THE BOTTOM LINE: Would we go to Curacao again? Absolutely! It's a charming and delightful island. The people are friendly, the scenery is beautiful, the architecture is distinctive. Did it get into my soul the way St. Martin has? Not quite, while I would definitely return to Curacao, I can't say that I would feel driven to return there 10 times in six years like I did with SXM. But it did provide positive reinforcement on the concept of 'broadening ones horizons'. Maybe in the future we'll alternate our Caribbean trips between SXM and other islands. What it ultimately comes down to: so many islands, so little time!
We have just returned from our second vacation to the Couples resort in Ocho Rios Jamaica. - a week later and im still in the "post caribbean depression" mode! In the past we have done the charters for 7 days - but found that we needed a bit more, so the last few times we have gone for 9 days - that extra 2 really makes a difference! Anyway, we love couples - the staff is wonderful and laid back - in sharp contrast. in my mind, to the Sandals resorts - where we have also stayed several times. One of the things we like best about Couples is that when youre lounging on the beach youre not continually called upon to play in some beach games, like they do at Sandals - and when you say no at Sandals, they dont seem to believe you! At couples the service is there if you need it, always with a smile - the food is excellent, the rooms overlook the ocean, the golf is superb at the nearby Sandals course(fees are included, but you must take a caddie, which is extra, and you usually want a cart because its so hot) Actually, one of the reasons we returned yet again to ocho rios was because of our caddie "Rook" who we have had with us the past 4 or 5 years weve been coming to jamaica. The resort does the obligatory "beach" night, where the food is served on the beach with the entertainment of steel bands, fireeaters, traditional dancers etc - i was actually glad it rained that night and it had to be moved inside! The french restaurant, the only one requiring reservations, is excellent, but our favorite was the Italian restaurant that sits right out on the water. I can't say enough about this place - it was our best vacation yet - and as I said before, we have been to Sandals Ocho Rios 3 times, Sandals Halcyon In st. Lucia, and have also been to St. Kitts - so we do have things to compare it to. I would recommend this resort highly!
Just returned from a 9 day stay on Providenciales in Turks and Caicos. Took US Air from Philly - changing planes in Charlotte. We stayed at Coral Gardens which is a hotel/condo right on Grace Bay. Picked up at the airport by Sonny's Taxi (complimentary of the hotel) and after a short 10 minute drive we arrived at Coral Gardens. Upon checking in - we were asked if we had lunch - and we said no. The beachfront restaurant, Ripples, was about to close (at 2:30) - however, the desk clerk called and asked if they would stay open for two arriving guests. After a quick lunch - we went to our room. We were given a one-bedroom unit on the first floor which opened out onto a patio - but you had no view due to the gardens. Asked if we could be moved to a 2nd floor or higher unit and within 15 minutes - the bellman came by and took our bags up to the 2nd floor. Great room with a fully-equipped kitchen, living area and powder room on the 1st floor. Then up about 6 steps to the bedroom and master bathroom. Huge balcony with 2 lounge chairs and 3 upright chairs and table. Since the balcony had a ceiling fan - it never got hot and muggy while sitting outside. And it had the most fantastic view of Grace Bay Beach. Since we had a kitchen, we wanted to go and get some groceries, so we got a cab and went to the local IGA. Even though we were told there were a lot of cabs outside the store, we saw none. Our driver said he would wait for us and the total cost would be $14. Prices were higher than US (same as in most islands). Beer, however, was very high - $44/case. Had reservations that evening at the Coral Gardens restaurant, Coyaba - fantastic food and gorgeous atmosphere. We did discover that there is a 10% tax added to all meals and some restaurants also add in 15% tip. You must check your bill to see if the tip is added in so you don't double tip. Since we had been up since 4:00 a.m. - we decided to go back to our room and call it a night. Next day we decided to rent a car rather than pay for taxis. We rented a car right at the hotel ($55/day). We found out later in the week, that if we rented at Provo Auto Rental, we could have gotten a $40/day rate. Went out to explore the island. The roads are horrendous - potholes everywhere. And - there isn't too much to see - except that gorgeous beach. There is no large town or shopping area. The only shopping area we found was across from the Allegro Resort at Ports of Call. There are about 10 little stores there and 2 small restaurants. About a mile away from the hotel was a marina called Turtle Cove. We found about 6 restaurants there, so decided that would be where we would go for most meals. Now for the beach - in one word - FANTASTIC. Grace Bay Beach has to rate as one of the top in the Caribbean. It isn't a very wide beach - but extremely long with the most gorgeous sand I've ever seen. The sand is like flour. It is white, soft and clean. No shells, no seaweed - nothing. Just sand. There is a large coral reef out in front of Coral Gardens where the snorkeling is fantastic. A lot of people walk down to the beach from Beaches and Allegro resorts just for the snorkeling. The "Belongers" (as the residents of the island are called) are terrific. Everyone went out of their way to talk to you and they were extremely helpful. Since we had such a gorgeous view from our balcony and a fully-equipped kitchen, we ended up eating breakfast and lunch in our room and then went out to dinner. Some good restaurants we tried were Tiki Hut, Baci and Sharkbite - all in Turtle Cove and Hemingway's at The Sands Resort. Tried our luck at the American Casino at the Allegro Resort a couple of nights. If you are looking for shopping and nightlife - Providenciales is not for you. But, if you are looking for a fantastic beach, great people terrific food and a relaxing vacation - then go there. We'll definitely be back!
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