Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Gert van Dijken, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Gert van Dijken, Editor
Edition 132
February 1, 2003

Last Update February 3, 2003

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1/ FEEDBACK, PRESS RELEASES AND OTHER NEWS

FEEDBACK: TRAVEL TIPS GUIDE UPDATE BY HARRY S. PARISER

(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

MELIA COZUMEL RESORT BECOMES FOURTH MELIA ALL-INCLUSIVE BRAND IN MEXICO

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: ISLA COZUMEL CELEBRATES CARNAVAL 2003

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.

INTERNET LAUNCHES ESSAY COMPETITIONS TO WIN BIG PRIZES BY KYLE GIBSON

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

2/ JOURNEYS FOR FEBRUARY 2003

UP IN THE AIR BY RAMIZ ABU HAYDAR (TORTOLA)

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.

BONAIRE: DINING IN BONAIR BY ANN PHELAN

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

CAYMAN: GRAND CAYMAN BY BILL BOZAGLU

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.

CURACAO VS. ST. MARTIN BY JAMIE SUSAL

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!

JAMAICA: COUPLES OCHO RIOS BY BETH KIDWELL

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!

TURKS AND CAICOS: CORAL GARDENS BY JO-ANN DUNN

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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