Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 72
February 1, 1997

Last updated 29 Jan 97 1700ET

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JAMAICA: NEGRIL BY STEVE AND BARB ENGERER

The  following  are  some  thoughts  about  Negril,  and some of the 
things  we did on our vacation there from May 30 - June 6. Sorry for 
not  finishing  this  sooner,  but  most  of  what we wrote is still 
valid.  This  is  not a "daily diary" type of trip report - we won't 
tell  you  what  we  had  for  every  meal. We'll talk about the fun 
things  we  did,  and  give  our  impressions  of some of the unique 
things  about Negril. In addition, there are several pictures in the 
library on some of these topics, which we will note in the report.

 Air Jamaica

Many  trip  reports start with the plane ride to Jamaica, so this is 
as  good  a  place as any to put this topic. On our previous 4 trips 
to  Jamaica,  we had gone with charter air and hotel packages. Since 
Air  Jamaica  just  began  flights  from  Chicago in 1996, and their 
packages  were  competitive  in price with the big charter operators 
(Apple  Vacations  and  FunJet  are  the  main  ones  in Chicago) we 
decided to give them a try.

A  big advantage for Air Jamaica is that they have daily flights, so 
that  you aren't restricted to going on specific days, as you are on 
charters.  Various  commitments  at  home required that we had to go 
from  Thursday  to Thursday, which would not have been possible with 
Apple Vacations, for example.

Another  plus  for  Air  Jamaica  was that the plane wasn't close to 
being  full, so we got a whole row of three seats for the two of us. 
It  was  even emptier on the way home, with about 25 people in a 150 
passenger plane.

The  final  advantage  of  going  Air  Jamaica  is  that you use the 
regular  terminal  at  Montego Bay, instead of the charter terminal. 
The  regular  terminal  is much nicer, with modern counters, baggage 
handling  equipment, lots of shops and a large, pleasant area to sit 
and wait for flights. This turned out to be very important.

However,  we  ended up very unhappy with Air Jamaica, because of the 
way  they played "bait and switch" with the flight times. All during 
early  '96,  they had been running large newspaper ads promoting the 
fact  that  their  flights arrived earlier and left later than their 
competitors,  thus  giving you the maximum time on the beach. In all 
their  ads  they  boasted  of  an  arrival  time  of  10:50 AM and a 
departure  time  of  5:15  PM. This sounded great to us, as we would 
have  a  whole  afternoon  on our arrival day and a whole morning on 
our  departure  day. (On one of our previous trips we had arrived in 
Negril  after  dark!)  When we booked the flight, these flight times 
were  included  in  the  letter  of confirmation they sent us. Then, 
only  a  week  before  our  departure,  our  tickets  arrived with a 
departure  time  of  2:15 PM, 3 hours earlier than advertised. This, 
of  course,  meant that we would have to leave Negril before noon on 
our  departure day. Also, the flight home was no longer nonstop, but 
included  a  stop in Nassau! To make matters worse, we were informed 
on  our  arrival  in  Montego  Bay that the bus to the airport would 
pick  us  up  at  our  hotel at 10:15 AM, since we had to get to the 
airport  2  hours  before flight time and they "had to allow 2 hours 
for  the  drive  from  Negril." Now, many of you know, as well as we 
do,  that the drive from Negril to MoBay is only an hour and a half, 
and  we  have  a  hard  time  understanding  why we had to be at the 
airport 2 hours early for a flight with only 25 people on it!

Nevertheless,  our  protests got us nowhere, including a call to Air 
Jamaica  offices  the  day  before  our departure requesting a later 
pickup  time.  The  final  insult  occurred  when  we arrived at the 
airport  for  our flight home, only to find that the flight time had 
been  changed  to  3:30.  So  instead  of being at the airport 2 1/2 
hours  early, we were 3 1/2 hours early! Good thing we weren't stuck 
in that old charter terminal or we would have gone crazy.

 The Charela Inn

We  chose  to stay at the Charela Inn, a small hotel near the center 
of  Negril's  beach. The Charela has been around for a long time; we 
met  a  couple  who  had been visiting the Charela every year for 15 
years.  It has only 39 rooms, including a few family rooms. Ours was 
a  garden view and a lovely garden it was. The vegetation was mature 
with  probably  a hundred different species of trees and flowers. My 
favorite  was  a  large  poinciana  tree  in bloom. (We must have 10 
pictures  of  that  tree!)  The  rooms  are  pleasant  with  10-foot 
ceilings,  4-poster beds, and wooden wardrobes. We had fresh flowers 
in  our  room  several times during the week. The lobby has circular 
staircases  leading  up to a lounge, TV room, and some of the rooms. 
The  restaurant  and  bar  are  in  the  older  section of the hotel 
adjacent to the beach.

The  food  at  the  restaurant  was  quite  good. We ate a number of 
breakfasts  there  and  found  the  prices  to be reasonable ($2 for 
French  toast  and  $4 for a large omelet and toast). The restaurant 
featured  a  5-course meal each night with the menu announced in the 
late  afternoon. This was expensive ($25-28) and more to eat than we 
usually  wanted,  so  we did not try it. There is also a limited ala 
carte  menu that we ordered from several times and everything we had 
was delicious.

The  beach at the Charela is deeper than that of many Negril hotels, 
with  a  number  of  palm  trees,  so  that  sun  or  shade could be 
selected.  There  were  plenty of lounge chairs. The water is almost 
perfect  - warm, calm, beautiful blue, with a nice sandy bottom that 
gradually  increases  in  depth so that you can walk out a long way. 
People  would  often stand out in the water and talk. We met several 
couples  this way. Sailboats, windsurfers, and kayaks were available 
at  no  charge.  The  beach  attendants  were  helpful  in arranging 
snorkeling  trips,  parasailing,  etc.  The guests were about evenly 
divided  between  Americans and Europeans. This meant that there was 
more  topless  sunbathing  than  at  some  other  hotels  and  Steve 
particularly  wants to thank those two Italian women for setting the 
tone of the beach by wearing only thongs (:-).

Our  dealings  with  the  hotel  were  mostly good; we had one phone 
message  that  got mangled and another that was lost completely, but 
the  management  was  generally  quite  helpful.  The prices for the 
Charela  are  among  the  lowest of the hotels included in most tour 
packages.  We did not feel that we were roughing it at all. We would 
definitely call this a "best buy".

 A Visit to Hedo for a Day

Our  trip  to  Jamaica  overlapped one day with one of Jamaica Jim's 
trips  to  Hedo,  and  he  invited  us to spend the day with him. We 
won't   give   a   play-by-play  of  our  day,  but  will  give  our 
impressions.

Hedo  is  really two resorts in one. One side is a very active, all-
inclusive  resort  with  a  full spectrum of things to do. The other 
side  is  a  nudist  resort, where you can be nude all day except at 
breakfast  and  dinner.  It  is not just a resort with a nude beach. 
You  can  walk  nude from your room to the beach and to the nude hot 
tub,  and  you  can  get  drinks at the bar nude and eat lunch nude. 
This  nudist resort happens to share a dining room with the regular, 
clothed  resort. (Some nudists are not happy unless they can be nude 
all  the  time,  including all meals. For them, the only true nudist 
resorts  in  the Caribbean are Club Orient on St. Martin and Sorobon 
on  Bonaire.  Conversely,  some  who  frequent the nude side at Hedo 
don't  consider  themselves  to  really  be  nudists.  As far as I'm 
concerned,  anyone  who  likes to be able to walk from their room to 
the  beach  nude, and eat lunch nude, is a nudist!) The nude side is 
pretty  slow-paced; the major activity is getting up to walk over to 
the  bar  for  more  drinks.  Occasionally some people walk back and 
forth  between  the 2 sides, but mostly they stay on one side or the 
other.  We  met  a couple who had been to Hedo 5 times and had never 
been  on the nude side! When we walked from one side to the other we 
could really feel the difference.

The  nude  hot  tub  is  truly impressive.. But it is a major social 
gathering  place  for  the  nude side. Some people spend hours in it 
every  day.  While  we  were unable to personally verify whether the 
"sperm  bank"  reputation  is  justified, the atmosphere at night is 
certainly  conducive  to  such  activity.  It  is  big enough that a 
couple  could easily move off by themselves for some privacy. And if 
they  wanted  to  be  public  about  it,  it  wouldn't really bother 
anyone.

While  we  were  there,  the  much discussed construction of the new 
pool  was  in progress. I personally think people are making too big 
a  deal  about this. It's a small pool, and I think the main purpose 
for  its  existence  is  so  Hedo can say they have a "swim-up bar". 
This  seems  to be the latest marketing device for all-inclusive. It 
certainly  isn't  big enough to swim in, or play water volleyball in 
(the  two things I would want a pool for). And I doubt there will be 
any  water  aerobics classes in it. (Although there's no reason they 
couldn't. In fact, nude water aerobics sounds like a neat idea!)

The  new  nude  beach  was finished before our visit, and while they 
have  improved the beach area, it's still the worst beach in Negril. 
There  is almost no sandy beach. A couple feet into the water you're 
in  weeds  and  rocks.  It  is also easily the most crowded beach in 
Negril,  so obviously sand isn't everything! (This is pretty typical 
of  nude  beaches.  The  nudists  get  the part of the beach no else 
wants,  either  because  it's  a lousy beach or it's too hard to get 
to.)  It  is  a  credit  to Hedo's management that they're trying to 
improve  it,  but the fact remains that the nude beach is not nearly 
as  nice  as  the prude beach. And it just does not compare with the 
main Negril beach.

Nevertheless,  we  had  a  lovely  day  at Hedo. There is definitely 
something  to  be  said  for vacationing at a resort where there are 
people  that you know. We had more interesting conversations on that 
day  than on the whole rest of the trip. The food was good, although 
a  bit  more  American than at a Club Med. The grounds were nice and 
so  were  the  rooms.  It  is  a good solid resort, even without the 
attraction of the nude beach.

 Booby Cay

Some  of  the  hotels in Negril (like Sandals and Hedo) advertise an 
"offshore  island"  or "island picnics". Some suggest that this is a 
private  island for their guests only. Well, there's only one island 
-  every  hotel  in  Negril uses the same one. That's Booby Cay, and 
it's  just  off  the point between Hedo and Grand Lido. It amazes me 
that  all  those  island picnics aren't falling all over each other, 
but  apparently  there  is  some  sort  of  cooperation.  (You  take 
Saturday,  I've  got Tuesday, etc.) The picnics are held on the main 
beach,  where  the  boats  drop you off. There are some shelters and 
benches  here,  and nearby there are some craft booths where several 
locals  will sell you souvenirs and drinks. The main beach is a nice 
size, and there is a little shade.

Some  hotels  advertise  the  island trip as a snorkeling excursion, 
and  some  mention  that  there  is  a nude beach on the island. The 
snorkeling  and nude sunbathing is at the other beach on the island, 
reached  by  walking  down the path past the craft booths. This is a 
fairly  small beach, and the access to the water is rocky. The rocks 
make  it  so you can't wade or swim at this beach, but they make the 
snorkeling  better.  This  is the only good beach snorkeling that we 
know of in Negril.

 Diving and Snorkeling

There  are  lots  of  opportunities for snorkeling at Negril. As you 
walk  down  the  beach,  besides  offering  to sell you souvenirs or 
something  to  smoke,  many locals are offering snorkeling, jet ski, 
or  parasailing  trips.  There  are  dozens  of snorkel operators to 
choose  from.  We  solved this problem by asking the beach attendant 
at  Charela  for a recommendation. He introduced us to Clarence, who 
took  us  out to the reef for about 45 minutes of water time for $30 
($15  pp).  We were the only ones on the boat. It is a short ride to 
the  reef,  and  there are mooring buoys to prevent anchor damage to 
the  coral.  There were 2 larger boats there when we arrived, and we 
indicated  to  Clarence  that we didn't want to be in a crowd, so he 
tied  up  to  a  buoy  a  little  ways away from the others. When we 
arrived  at  the  reef,  he said that he wouldn't be able to go into 
the  water with us but pointed us in the best direction. Apparently, 
we  didn't  follow  directions well, because he soon jumped in after 
us   and  guided  us  to  some  nice  healthy  coral.  It  was  nice 
snorkeling,  with  a  number  of interesting anemones and some coral 
that  bloomed  during the day. There were a variety of fish, but all 
of  them  were  quite  small. The reason demonstrated itself when we 
heard  a  ping  nearby. I turned and there was a spear-fisherman. He 
knew  Clarence,  and  got  a  ride  back  in  with  us. BTW, topless 
snorkeling, like most other things in Negril, is "No Problem".

There  are also quite a few scuba operators in Negril. I think there 
are  probably  10  or  more. After reading an item in "Negril Today" 
(there's  your  plug, Rob) we picked Mariners, a hotel and dive shop 
near  Rick's  on  the  cliffs.  We  decided we wanted to try a shore 
dive.  They  picked  us  up  at the Charela, ("some time in the next 
hour"--so  we  waited  on  the  beach), and drove us the long detour 
around  the  road  construction.  It probably took 30 minutes to get 
there.  Once  we  arrived,  we  picked  up  some  gear, met our dive 
master,  Stanley,  and  one  fellow  diver,  and had a splendid dive 
right  off  of  the  cliffs. It was a wonderful way to dive--no long 
boat  dive  to  make  us sick just before we got in the water. There 
was  good coral, and lots of interesting small creatures. We have an 
underwater   camera,  and  went  slow  enough  that  we  could  take 
pictures.  In  a larger group, the dive master often keeps the group 
moving  too fast to get pictures, especially with the close-up lens. 
Our  maximum  depth was about 60 feet, so we had about 40 minutes of 
bottom  time.  This  was  cheaper  than a boat dive, and we liked it 
better. We paid $30 pp, and this included all of our equipment.

Note  the  prices  of  the  diving  and  snorkeling. I think this is 
another  "Best  Buy"  for  Negril.  We seldom see prices better than 
this  elsewhere  in  the  Caribbean, and we had as good a diver/dive 
master  ratio  as you can get. In the Bahamas we paid more than this 
to  dive  on a "cattle boat". (This past summer, we took a a trip to 
the  Florida  Keys;  the best snorkeling price we could find was $20 
pp, and the best scuba was about $60 pp.)

After  our  dive,  we  walked  through the road construction and had 
lunch  at  Xtabi. A storm was coming, so we didn't do any snorkeling 
there,  but it seems to be a nice place to sun, and we certainly had 
a nice lunch.

 Sunset Cruises

Our  stay at the Charela included a free sunset cruise. We sailed on 
a  yacht  (although many other trips are on a catamaran). We went in 
swimsuits  and  t-shirts  although many others were in much dressier 
clothes.  We  had  to  wade  out  to the boat that ferried us to the 
yacht,  so  many others were quickly rolling up pant legs. On board, 
we  were  served  free  rum  punches  or  soft drinks and a plate of 
cheese  and  crackers was passed around. Other drinks were available 
for  purchase.  We  first sailed north out around Booby Cay and then 
close  to  Grand  Lido.  We  turned  around  and came back along the 
beach,  past  the  Charala  and along the cliffs past Rick's. We saw 
the  lighthouse  and then turned back. We stopped to watch the cliff 
jumpers  at  Rick's  for a few minutes, and then headed home. It was 
an enjoyable 3-hour cruise.

 The Character of the Beach

Don't  go  to  Negril  looking for long strolls on a deserted beach. 
Negril  is a lively, active beach, with one hotel after another. The 
difference  between  Negril and other popular beaches like Cancun is 
that  almost  all of the hotels are small, usually 50 rooms or less, 
and  only  2  stories high. No big high rises here. As a result, the 
beach  is  busy,  but not crowded. There are some large resorts, but 
they are not along the main section of the beach.

The  main  section of the beach runs from the Craft Village north to 
Cosmos.  At  this  point  the beach ends for a little bit where some 
trees  come  down into the water, then it picks up again with a very 
narrow  strip  that  soon  widens  and  continues north. Grand Lido, 
Hedo,  and  Sandals are off by themselves at the end of this smaller 
northern  section. Swept Away (and the new Beaches resort, scheduled 
to  open  in  1997)  are  at  the  north  end of the main "strip" of 
hotels,  but  not  visible  from the rest of the beach due partly to 
the  way  the beach curves, but mostly to the "no higher than a palm 
tree"  building code. So the view on Negril beach is of sand, water, 
and  palm  trees,  with  a  few  buildings  poking  out of the trees 
occasionally.  Altogether,  it's a very attractive beach. Also, most 
properties  are  not  very  wide,  so  in a short walk you pass by a 
variety  of  resorts,  restaurants,  bars,  shops,  etc. Ironically, 
because  the  biggest  3 resorts are isolated at the north end, many 
visitors to Negril never see the main beach.

On  our  first  trip  to Negril in 1982, there were only a few small 
hotels  and  restaurants  and  a  lot of empty beach. They were also 
fairly  "relaxed"  about  beach wear. At our hotel orientation, they 
told  us  that  topless sunbathing was OK anywhere on the beach, and 
nude sunbathing anywhere except right in front of a hotel.

Every  time  we visit, more of the beach has been built up since the 
last  time.  Now,  it  looks like every bit of space along the beach 
from  the  south  end all the way north to Cosmos has been used. The 
Beaches  resort,  under  construction  while we were there, occupies 
the  last  empty  bit of beach (called the last wild nude beach in a 
previous  trip  report).  That part of the beach has been usable for 
nude  sunbathing,  even during the construction. But now there is no 
longer  a  part  of the beach that's not "right in front of a hotel" 
and  thus  no  more  nude  sunbathing. (A minor exception to this is 
Firefly,  which  allows nude sunbathing on its beach. Unfortunately, 
Firefly's  "nude  beach" is approximately 2 lounge chairs wide.) For 
a  nude  beach  in  Negril  (other than Hedo), you now have to go to 
Bloody Bay, north of Grand Lido.

Topless  sunbathing  is  also  much  less common than it used to be, 
varying  a  lot  from hotel to hotel. Some hotels discourage it (one 
hotel  told us it was against the law) and some have no problem with 
it  (the  Charela  specifically  designates a part of it's beach for 
topless  sunbathing).  In general, the more Americans there are at a 
hotel, the less topless sunbathing there is.

North  of  Cosmos,  a  public beach has been created, including life 
guard  chairs, changing rooms, and a snack bar. This is a good idea, 
since  it  preserves  part  of  the beach for the local residents to 
use,  as  well  as  visitors  who aren't staying in one of the beach 
hotels.  The  public beach occupies the stretch of beach from Cosmos 
up to where the trees come down to the water and the beach ends.

 Jamaica Time

In  conclusion,  a  word  about  the  pace of life. Things generally 
don't  happen  as  quickly  in Negril as most Americans are used to. 
Some  find  this annoying, some find it amusing. You will enjoy your 
trip  a  lot more if you can keep from being annoyed and be flexible 
about things. Our parasailing experience is a good example of this.

On  Monday  we  had  arranged  (the day before) to go parasailing at 
9:00  and  go to Booby Cay at 9:30. Since parasailing is only a 5-10 
minute  ride,  we  figured  we were allowing plenty of time. Ha! The 
parasail  boat was supposed to pick Barb up at our hotel at 9:00. At 
9:15  the  operator  came  walking  up the beach and said she had to 
walk  down  to  their  office in order to fill out the paperwork. Of 
course  no  one  mentioned  that  the  day  before  when we made the 
arrangements.  When she got there, they didn't have the kind of boat 
she  wanted (the new parasailing boats launch you right off the back 
of  the  boat, instead of pulling you off a raft). It was apparently 
being  repaired, and they said she'd have to use the other kind. She 
said  no,  she'd  just go some other time. Then they said they'd get 
the  kind  of  boat  she  wanted  and pick her up at our hotel in 10 
minutes.  It  was  now 9:25. She walked back to our hotel, explained 
the  situation, and we waited until 9:45, then decided to give up on 
parasailing  for  the day and headed off to Booby Cay. (It should be 
noted  that  Clarence,  our  ride  to  and from Booby Cay, was quite 
reliable, and picked us up right on time.)

On  Wednesday  morning we tried again. This time Clarence found us a 
parasailing  operator who had the kind of boat Barb wanted, and took 
us  and  another  couple  to  their  office. We paid our money, then 
waited  half an hour while they put the boat in the water and got it 
started.  After  they  got  out  into  the water, it took another 10 
minutes  to  get  the rigging arranged right. Barb was the first one 
up,  and  got some great pictures while aloft. She was up a total of 
5  minutes, and when she was done, the boat came back to shore. They 
were  out  of  gas!  Eventually,  the  others  on the boat got their 
rides. Altogether, it took an entire morning for a 5 minute ride.

ST. BARTH BY JON MILLER

We had our usual wonderful time, and here are the high points. 

Restaurants:  Le  Patio-- good food, service, and reasonable prices. 
We  always  go  there  on our first night. La Marine: went on Friday 
night  and  had  Dover  Sole--  fantastic food, but service was very 
slow,  however, best fish I ever had. L'Escale and Bistro des Arts-- 
went  for  lunch  and had tasty pizza and salads-- reasonable prices 
and  nice  view of the harbor. Marigot Bay Club-- wonderful food and 
service,  not cheap, but very romantic. New Born-- huge lobsters and 
grilled  fish--  sat  in  the  back room and watched the lobster get 
pulled  out  of  the  tank--  lots of fun! Chez Domi-- went there on 
Xmas  eve  and  had  good  grilled  fish. Le Rivage- good for lunch. 
L'Entrepont--  very  good  Italian  cuisine,  and good quality price 
ratio.  Le  Tamarin--  had  excellent  but  pricey lunch-- must make 
reservations well in advance. 

Overall,  the island was not changed much-- the foliage has grown up 
quite  a  bit over the last year. There were a couple of interesting 
developments.  The  beach  at  St. Jean seems wider near the airport 
runway,  but  over  near  Filao  Beach  hotel  there are problems. A 
couple  of  units  at  Emeraude  Plage  are almost in the water. The 
beach  has  eroded  and to save the units closest to the beach, many 
huge  rocks  have  been  dumped  at  the edge to attempt to halt the 
erosion.  Flammands  is  about  the  same as last year-- the Baie de 
Flammands  is still a wrecked shell of a building. There is some new 
construction  on the hill above Taiwana, and the beach has eroded at 
the  far (northwest) end. Saline is now my favorite beach, the water 
was  finer  than ever. The street that runs in front of the Anglican 
church  has  been  vastly  upgraded  with  new street lights and the 
wrecked boat that was there last year is now gone. 

Match  is still the busiest and best-stocked grocery store. New wine 
store,  across  the  street  from AMC grocery store in Gustavia. The 
store  is  on  the  ground  floor above the underground wine cellar. 
Very  nice  store  and  good selection of expensive wines. Sodexa at 
St.  Jean  is  closed.  Could  not  find out any explanation re: its 
demise,   but   I  imagine  that  Match  ran  it  out  of  business. 
Nevertheless  it is interesting that the remaining stores seem to do 
OK.  On  some  days Match would not have any fresh milk, but I found 
it  at  the  much  smaller  JoJo in Lorient. I have learned that you 
must  sometimes  hit  all the grocery stores to find some items that 
we take for granted in the states. 

Between  Xmas  and  New  Years, there were more yachts in the harbor 
than  I  have  ever  seen. People in the know reported that numerous 
celebrities   were  on  the  island,  including  Stallone,  Michelle 
Pfeiffer, Letterman, Chevy Chase, and Monica Seles. 

Cruise  ships  are  still coming in, but did not seem any worse than 
last  year.  My  impression  was  that  most tourists staying on the 
island  were  French,  probably 2/3 French and other European to 1/3 
Americans. 

New  Years  Eve  was  great. Just before midnight, we climbed up the 
hill  to  the lighthouse with our champagne. At 12:00 the yachts all 
sounded  their  horns,  and there was a terrific fireworks show that 
originated  down  below.  I  was told that a local resident pays for 
the  entire show each year, but takes donations to defray the costs. 
The  night  was  clear,  and we could also see fireworks far away on 
St.  Maarten  and  Anguilla.  It  was a great way to ring in the new 
year! Well, that's it in a nutshell. 

ST. MARTIN: RESTAURANTS BY DEBRA FLEISCHER

Here  is  our  trip  report  (mostly  a Restaurant report because we 
spent every day at the beach): 

Saturday  dinner:  Saratoga.  Appetizers:  Carrot  and ginger bisque 
w/citrus  sour  cream,  Gazpacho w/lobster (both were very good, but 
the  gazpacho  had  but  3 small pieces of lobster, and at $12 it is 
too  pricey  for  what you get). Main course: Salmon w/3 caviars and 
shoestring  potatoes, Salmon w/onion crust and corn salsa (both were 
fair;  both  dishes  just  ended  up  tasting greasy; the shoestring 
potatoes  were  an  especially  poor  choice  to  go  w/the salmon). 
Dessert:  we  shared  a Raspberry Sorbet w/fruit, and were surprised 
at  what  a  small portion it was, just melon ball-sized sorbet. Far 
different  from  our last experience at Saratoga. Overall I'd say we 
were very disappointed compared to our last experience. 

Sunday  lunch:  Papagayo  at  Orient Beach (KonTiki was reservations 
only  on  Sunday!).  Chicken  Breasts  w/peppers  and  mushrooms  on 
bagette  and  Lobster Salad. Both were wonderful, with an especially 
large  amount of lobster in the salad; in fact, all our lunches here 
turned  out  to  be  a very pleasant experience. The quality of this 
restaurant is far superior to the past. 

Sunday  dinner: Le Tastevin (we had reservations at Le Pressoir, but 
a  party  in  the  street  was so loud that we chose to come back on 
Wednesday.  The manager of Le Pressoir was extremely gracious at our 
canceling  the  last  minute.) Appetizers: Snails and morels in puff 
pastry,  and mussel soup. The mussel soup was superb, but the snails 
in  puff  pastry  was  exquisite.  Main course: Mahi mahi in vanilla 
cream  sauce,  and  Mahi  mahi  in  orange sauce. Both were perfect. 
Dessert:  Creme  brulee. Very good but slightly runny. The fruit and 
sorbet  plate  that we noticed our next door neighbors having looked 
incredible.  Le  Tastevin  was  in  top  form. Even though we had no 
reservations, they treated us as honored guests. 

Monday  lunch:  Papagayo.  Tuna Salad and Grilled Fish on a bun. The 
grilled  fish  was  lightly  coated  w/peppers;  both were excellent 
choices. 

Monday  dinner:  Le Bistro Gourmand. Jeffrey Miller recommended this 
one,   and  we  were  anxious  to  see  just  how  good  they  were. 
Appetizers:  Caesar's  Salad  and Spring Rolls stuffed w/conch. Both 
were  excellent,  the  spring  rolls  being  a  decidedly  wonderful 
surprise.  Main  course:  Red snapper w/sundried tomato sauce (which 
really  ended  up  being  a  mushroom sauce), and Rack of Lamb in an 
herb  sauce. Both were good-sized portions and the quality was first 
rate.  The  vegetables  were  especially  wonderful  here, w/stuffed 
zucchini,  great  sweet  carrots,  spinach mousse, and w/the rack of 
lamb  the  best garlic potatoes I've ever tasted. Dessert: Chocolate 
Mousse  Cake w/coffee sauce. This was excellent and turned out to be 
the  best  dessert  we shared on our trip. We would highly recommend 
this  restaurant  to all; even if it's out of your way don't pass it 
up! 

Tuesday  and  Wednesday Lunch: at a lolo in Grand Case (the one near 
the  T-shirt  vendors).  Baby-back  ribs w/coleslaw, rice and johnny 
cakes. Yummy, yummy, yummy!!! 

Tuesday  Dinner:  Mario's Bistro (we went w/another couple we met on 
AOL).   Appetizers:   Scallops   w/avocado   confit,  Caesar  Salad, 
Asparagus   w/camembert   cheese,  and  Snails  in  a  terrine.  The 
Asparagus  and  Snails  were  excellent; the Caesar salad very good, 
but  the  Scallops w/avocado was disappointing because all you could 
taste was onion. 

Tuesday  DinnerMario's  Bistro.  Main course: 2 Ducks w/honey orange 
sauce  and  garlic  mashed  potatoes,  Veal piccata and Tuna on Crab 
rissoto.  The Duck was superb, but the garlic mashed potatoes lacked 
garlic  and had way too much butter. The Veal piccata was very good, 
and  the  Tuna on Crab Rissoto was excellent. Dessert: Sorbet plate; 
very  good  but  nothing  to write home about. What bothered us most 
about  this restaurant was the service; it was not befitting a first 
class  restaurant. We were rushed to order, and were left on our own 
for  the  rest  of  the evening. We literally had to call the waiter 
over  several times for additional water, etc. We would go back just 
because  the  duck  was so good, but this certainly does not rate as 
one of the top restaurants we visited. 

Wednesday  Dinner:  Le Pressoir. Appetizers: Lobster Bisque and Foie 
Gras.  The  Lobster  bisque was excellent, and the Foie Gras superb. 
Main  courses:  Shellfish  in  Puff Pastry w/Columbo spices (creamy, 
mildly  spicy  sauce),  and  Rolled Salmon/Snapper/Shrimp (rolled in 
phyllo  dough  and  baked,  topped  w/a red cream sauce. Both dishes 
were  highly  unusual  and  perfectly done. Dessert: Homemade Nougat 
(ice  cream) w/raspberry sauce. This was the 2nd best dessert we had 
on  the  island.  This restaurant was excellent and deserves all the 
high  regard  it  has  received  here.  The service was friendly and 
professional.  We  can't  wait  to  go  back  and  visit  this  fine 
restaurant. 

Thursday  Lunch:  La  Ville  en  Rose  Cafe in Marigot. Caesar salad 
w/grilled  chicken,  and Salad Nicoise. Both first class, good bread 
here. 

Thursday  Dinner:  L'Alabama. Appetizers: Sea Bass Rillette (mousse) 
w/grean  bean  salad, Lobster and Crab "Pie" w/raisins and raspberry 
vinegar.  The  Sea  Bass was excellent, but the Lobster and Crab pie 
was  not  a good choice (it was a cake, not a pie and was very dry). 
Main  Courses:  Grouper  w/Banana  and  Honey  Raspberry  sauce, and 
Shrimp  w/  orange  and  coconut  glaze w/colorful rice. Both dishes 
were  light  and  tropical. We would rate these dishes as very good. 
Dessert:  Puff  Pastry  w/lemon  cream  and pineapple in a raspberry 
sauce.  This was a fine choice. We would not rate this restaurant as 
one  of the best; however, the menu is so different from others that 
it is a nice change of pace, and we would return. 

Friday  Lunch: Papagayo. Chicken w/peppers and mushrooms on bagette, 
Calamari  w/salad and fries. Again, this is a fine choice for lunch. 


Friday  Dinner:  Yvette's.  Appetizers:  2  Conch  Yvette's, 2 Conch 
Soups.  Both  choices  were  wonderful,  with an edge going to Conch 
Yvette's  (cold  marinated  conch  in Island spices). Main course: 2 
Yvette's  Special  Seafood plates, 1 Conch Stew, 1 Shrimp w/tropical 
sauce.  The conch stew and shrimp dishes were the best choices. What 
can  you say about this restaurant; it's wonderful and our next trip 
wouldn't be complete without a visit here. 

Friday  Dessert  was  had  at the Coffee shop right next to Cherie's 
Cafe.  We can't recall what we had, but we do remember that both the 
desserts and the coffee were excellent. 

We  never  mentioned  breakfast,  because we were in a villa and had 
breakfast  in  every  day.  On  Thursday, it was a bit breezy and we 
decided  to  take a rest from the beach and went shopping in Marigot 
and  Phillipsburg.  Debra  picked  up  a  wonderful  pair  of  Fendi 
sunglasses  at  an unremembered shop in Marigot (we do remember they 
bargained  -- they were the only ones in Marigot who would). Bob saw 
a  Movado  watch  in  Marigot,  and  we  thought that we could get a 
better  price  in  Phillipsburg (and did at Little Europe). Hope you 
enjoyed our report as much as we enjoyed St. Martin. 

ST. MARTIN BY HETTIE MAIDMAN

Well,  we're  happy to report that the island looks very healthy and 
very  active;  almost  as  busy  as our pre-Luis X-mas trips. We saw 
more  people than in July and definitely more than last Dec. Traffic 
was  back  to  normal  stand-still at the usual times and the lights 
are  still  dormant  except for the one in P'burg on Pondfill Rd. in 
front  of  the  Police Station. The weather was a little rainer than 
in  previous  years and the locals blame the volcano and/or Luis for 
the  changes.  My  first  report  was  to  be  about  food  and I'll 
generalize  a  bit  before I review individually. We dined with lots 
of  friends  on  most nights so it's a little different when talking 
about  "service".  When  it  was  just  the 2 of us, we were treated 
differently.  During  the  busy  holiday weeks large parties are the 
norm.  But,  overall,  it  didn't  matter  too much. We were pleased 
either  way.  Maybe because we ate in places where we are known, who 
knows? 

Again,  without  going  into minute detail, our finest meals were at 
DaLivio  and  Mario's. A little note about DaLivio... we stayed away 
for  about 4 years because of the owner's attitude despite the great 
food  we  always  had  there.  Now,  Mr.  Livio  has retired and the 
restaurant  is being run by Antoine's son, Daniel. What a difference 
!!  The  food  is  better than ever and Daniel is super gracious. We 
were  there twice and had the fabulous Caesar salad and monster veal 
chops  both times. (perfectly grilled loin chops with NO sauce, just 
great  flavor).  I can't say enough except GO ! Call 001-5995-22690. 
Daniel  is  eagerly  awaiting  my report which will be faxed to him, 
and  welcomes  *P  folks.  It's too bad that P'burg closes early and 
one  cannot  browse  the area pre-dinner as we do in Marigot Harbor. 
It's  very  safe  but  there's  only  casino  action  and  some  fun 
activities  at  Bobby's Marina (pretty far from DaLivio) if you want 
night-time  action in P'burg. Anyway, it's worth the effort just for 
DaLivio.  Mario's  and others will be covered in another report. I'm 
too  tired  to  think  and  just wanted to get started with the best 
first.

  More  about  food...I  should say that we do enjoy fine-dining and 
make  an  effort  to eliminate fast-food while on the island. We are 
also  not  lunch  eaters  and  concentrate on dinners. We did have a 
couple of lunches just because 

Ric's Cafe in P'burg is always a fun spot. 

La  Rosa,  in  Maho,  near  our resort is always a favorite. We were 
there  twice, the first night of vacation and X-mas day. As usual, I 
enjoyed  veal dishes (veal parm & veal chop Regine). "M" enjoyed his 
spaghetti  Capricio  on  the first night and veal the next trip. The 
Caesar  salad is always good at La Rosa. The average price for 2 w/a 
couple  of  drinks and tip was about $70.00. That became a total for 
just  about  every  meal  we  had  and sometimes a little more if we 
shared an appetizer or dessert. 

Saratoga  was  not quite up to par. I had a boneless stuffed chicken 
breast  dish that looked beautiful but the flavors didn't work well. 
"M"  liked  his loin of pork. The atmosphere does compensate for any 
lack in the food, especially if you sit outside. 

Don  Camillo,  in Marigot was a hectic X-mas eve experience. We were 
a  large  party  among  many  other  large  parties  and the kitchen 
couldn't  quite handle it. The food was good, once it arrived, and I 
would  have  preferred  going on an off night (which is tough during 
the holidays). 

Spartaco  was as good as ever and I love the romantic setting in the 
hills  overlooking  Maho  across the bay. We enjoyed sharing grilled 
eggplant  appetizer  and  rack  of  lamb  for  me,  grilled  lobster 
w/garlic sauce for "M". 

La  Laguna  was  another  excellent  meal.  I had delicious grouper, 
shared  Caesar  salad,  and "M" had shrimp fra diavalo over linguini 
which  is  his  favorite  at Laguna. The host is especially friendly 
and remembers his regulars with after dinner cordials. 

Les  Cocotiers, on the Marigot Marina, next to Brassiere de la Gare, 
was  just  OK.  A  "bad"  lobster  was one reason not to return. The 
filet  was  fair.  The attitude of the staff left lots to be desired 
but  the  owner  tried to compensate with a bottle of Mumm's for the 
table. There were 12 of us; could have been part of the problem. 

Cafe  Toscano  at  the  Maho Beach Hotel was our only option for New 
Year's  Eve. It was awful. We usually do LaRosa but they were closed 
for  N.Y.  Eve  because  they  didn't want to disappoint the regular 
crowd  by  having to turn some away. If this was a solution, it made 
no  sense  to  us.  Anyway,  we  had  eaten pretty well on all other 
nights  so  one  bad  meal was acceptable under the circumstances. A 
few of us didn't feel too well the day after, however. 

Pelican  Reef  was  a  nice  change,  good  grilled  meats and fresh 
veggies.  The  portions  were huge and the filet was excellent, half 
left for lunch the next day. 

We  would  have  gone  to  Grand  Case  but  we  were  unable to get 
reservations  at  l'Alabama.  They were fully booked for 2 weeks. We 
purposely  skipped  Rainbow  this  trip  and  should  have  done  Le 
Pressior.  There's always next year. I must repeat that Da Livio was 
the  best  over-all and we preferred to repeat there rather than try 
some new place. 

Additionally,  Mario's  was thoroughly enjoyable. We were a party of 
8  and  were  treated  very  well,  service  was  attentive  but not 
obtrusive  and  the  food, especially the Filet Mignon "special" was 
out  of  this  world.  Each  time  we  go  there  we're too full for 
dessert.  I  had  a  bite of some apple thing that was wonderful. We 
tried  to make another reservation for later in the vacation but the 
only option was a late seating the night before we were leaving. 

  Shopping...I am apologizing for this brief report because I didn't 
do  much  damage  this  trip.  Touch  of  Gold  was  our  first stop 
(naturally)  and  we  didn't  get there until the day after Xmas. We 
had  a  minor setback because our luggage was "misplaced" and didn't 
arrive  until  23  hours after we did. This caused me to be severely 
depressed  and  prevented  me  from running to see Heeru immediately 
upon  arrival.  <<GG>> I made up for my lost time by grabbing pieces 
from  the  new  collections  at  Touch  of  Gold before they were on 
display.  They now carry Susy-Mor, beautiful 18k w/enamel items that 
were  featured in the Oct. issue of Town & Country magazine. I chose 
a  ring  from  that  group. I also traded a diamond 2 tone ring from 
last  year  and  got  a  new,  updated  and larger one. This one has 
invisibly  set,  princess  cut  stones.  The VERY latest design. Why 
bother  to  keep  something  that's  last year's design when I don't 
have  to  ?  This is one reason I love Heeru so much. She is current 
with  the  latest in European fashion and very liberal in trade ins. 
If only she had a car dealership near home... 

I  also  bought  a beautiful 18k white gold chain from her. I needed 
it  for  a  pendant  and  was  glad  I  waited  to buy from her. The 
selection  of  white  gold  was  fabulous  there, none to compare at 
home.  That  was  it  from  T. of Gold this trip. I did look at many 
watches  at  as  many  stores  as  we  could  cover during our brief 
shopping  excursions. I've been lusting after a particular brand and 
finally  located  it  at  Carat  in P'burg. My 18 year-old Rolex has 
been  just  fine for all those years so I never really looked at any 
new  brands.  Several  years  ago I got a Phillipe Charriol watch in 
Marigot  and  still  enjoy that, also. The one I wanted this time is 
not  available  in the Phila. area and is called Pequignet. That was 
a  tough  purchase  at  Carat  because I had no idea what the retail 
would  be  at  home. I think we got a fair deal, however. I did know 
what  the  Paris retail price is. Whatever, it was better to buy the 
watch in SXM. We're not planning to be in Paris anytime soon! 

My  other meager purchase was a bag at MCM. The prices were OK there 
but  not the 40% off that Gucci used to have when they had stores on 
the  island.  I  looked at Desmo in Marigot; great stuff, not what I 
was looking for. That's it for now. 

ST. MARTIN BY RICHARD MOLLICA

My  wife,  my  11-year  old  son, and I went to our timeshare at the 
Pelican  Resort  on  St.  Martin between January 11-18th, 1997. This 
was  our third trip to SXM during January, and as usual, the weather 
was wonderful. Here's a recap of the highlights of our trip. 

ARRIVAL 

We   took  USAir  Flight  1441  directly  from  Baltimore-Washington 
International  (BWI) Airport to SXM. The flight leaves BWI at 8:40AM 
and  arrives  at SXM at about 1:30PM. Subtract the hour added by one 
time  zone  change  and  you  have a flight that takes a little less 
than four hours. 

The  first  difference  we  noticed  upon  arrival  was a Steel Band 
playing  enthusiastically  as  we  entered the terminal. What a nice 
greeting!  The  immigration  process  went very fast, as always when 
you  take  this flight, and we were treated to complementary glasses 
of  guavaberry  juice as we waited for our luggage. After retrieving 
our  luggage  and  grabbing  tourism  booklets  and coupons from the 
racks in the terminal, we headed outside to get our rental car. 

RENTAL CAR 

About  a  week  before  we left the states, we had telephoned Summer 
Set  to rent a jeep. They met us with the jeep at the airport and we 
did  the  paperwork  right  on the jeep's hood. Summer Set gets rave 
reviews  on  the  Prodigy  travel  boards, and we liked them when we 
used  them two years ago, but this year they foisted a real piece of 
junk  on  us. They disguised the fact that the removable roof had no 
anchoring  snaps  by  tucking  the ends of the plastic roof material 
into  the rear (tailgate) doorjamb. There were no windows mounted on 
the  sides  or  back,  but we figured they were under the seat (they 
weren't).  There  were  no  seat  belts in the back seat, the visors 
kept  dropping down, the radio barely pulled in a channel, etcetera, 
etcetera.  For  this the charge was $350 per week (jeeps are quite a 
bit  more  expensive  than  cars).  I  shouldn't have been in such a 
hurry  to  get  our  vacation  underway, so I take the blame for not 
being more careful in checking over the jeep before driving off. 

Anyway,  the  whole roof collapsed (because the roof material in the 
back  doorjamb  came  loose) as we proceeded down Airport Road - the 
sound  of  my  wife's  scream  and  the  sight of the collapsed roof 
flapping  in  the  wind  behind  us  were  clear  signals to my keen 
intelligence  that this jeep really wasn't a keeper. I called Summer 
Set  from  the  Pelican.  At  first  they  said they'd give me a 10% 
discount  to make things right (no way!); then they said they'd give 
me  an  air  conditioned car, which I didn't want; then they kind of 
chastised  me  for  taking the jeep in the first place, because if I 
hadn't  taken it, they could have rented it to a couple of kids from 
Baltimore.  They  were  not  unfriendly during all of this, and they 
were  very courteous and apologetic when they picked up the jeep and 
returned my credit card slip. 

The  next  morning  I  got  the  same model of jeep from Empress Car 
Rental  at the Pelican Resort. The jeep was practically new and came 
equipped  with  a locked spare tire, tire-changing tools, the "club" 
to  lock  the  steering  wheel,  seat  belts,  an excellent radio, a 
cigarette  lighter  that worked, and a roof and windows that snapped 
into  place  properly. They even have a hotline phone number to call 
if  you need road service. Imagine! And this jeep cost $300 per week 
vice Summer Set's price of $350. 

BEACHES 

Here's a thumbnail sketch of the beaches we liked the best. 

BAIE  ROUGE  is  my  favorite  beach.  The  surrounding  scenery  is 
beautiful  (in  addition  to  the  tops-optional  aspect). The beach 
itself  has  one section where the waves have a lot of action (which 
my  son absolutely loved) and the rest is fairly calm. There are two 
lo-lo's  on  the beach (Gus's Place and Chez Raymond) with a handful 
of  tables  with  umbrellas where you can get all kinds of alcoholic 
and  non-alcoholic  drinks,  barbecue,  and sandwiches. You can rent 
beach  chairs and umbrellas ($5 each), buy T-shirts and wrap-arounds 
from  local  "entrepreneurs",  and  even get a massage right on your 
lounger  (mine  was  30  minutes  of  heaven  for $20). Another nice 
feature  is  that  there is a security guard who watches the cars in 
the parking lot now. 

PRUNE  BAY  is  another  great tops-optional beach. There aren't any 
food  services  here,  just  a beautiful stretch of sandy beach with 
mild  wave  action. This is a wonderful place to go to get away from 
crowds. 

CUPECOY  is  in  great  shape  and is simply a beautiful spot. There 
were  quite  a  few  people  there,  about  75% of whom were nude or 
topless. 

ORIENT  BEACH  was  at  its  best. The beach itself was in wonderful 
shape,  the  wind  conditions  were  the mildest I've ever seen, the 
concessions were all back in full swing, and the place was packed. 

GRAND  CASE  BEACH  CLUB  is  one  of  the  best kept secrets on the 
island,  in  my opinion. We stayed there two years ago and loved it, 
and  now  its  better than ever after being refurbished. But even if 
you  don't  stay  there,  you can use many of their facilities. They 
have  a  great  tops-optional beach at the north end of the hotel, a 
nice  casual  restaurant  right at the waterfront, waiters who serve 
drinks  to  the  sunbathers, a small store, clean public rest rooms, 
and  rental  equipment (chairs, umbrellas, floats, snorkeling gear). 
We really love that place. 

SNORKELING 

PELICAN  BEACH.  My  11-year  old  son snorkeled at Pelican Resort's 
little  beach  and  loved it. It's no great shakes for an adult, but 
my  son  had  a  ball  while  gaining  snorkeling  experience  in  a 
relatively safe spot. 

CREOLE  ROCK.  The  Grand  Case  Beach  Club runs two trips a day to 
Creole  Rock  (11AM  and  2PM),  which  is less than a mile from the 
hotel.  A  former French Navy diver named Philippe took my son and I 
in  a  small  Zodiac  boat out to the rock. Hurricane Luis destroyed 
most  of  the coral, so this is a far cry from its former glory, but 
again,  my  son  absolutely  loved  it. The trip cost $20 per person 
($25  if  you  need to rent snorkel gear) for about an hour. Veteran 
snorkelers  or  divers  wouldn't  enjoy  Creole  Rock in its current 
condition, but people who are new to the sport would love it. 

BAIE  ROUGE. My son and I snorkeled around the cave at the north end 
of  Baie  Rouge,  but  the  wave action in that area on that day was 
enough  to  kick  up too much sand. Visibility was about zero, so we 
headed back to the beach 

PRICKLY  PEAR  is  an  island  off  the  coast  of  Anguilla  and is 
reportedly  the  best  snorkeling  trip left in the SXM area. My son 
and  I  signed  up  with about 35 other people for a snorkeling tour 
aboard  the  Lambada,  which is a 68 foot catamaran. We had a blast! 
The  Lambada  is spacious, comfortable, and smooth sailing. The sail 
to  the  island  takes  about  90  minutes. There is an open bar and 
snacks  on  board,  and  we  had a BBQ lunch on the beach at Prickly 
Pear  at  a  bar/restaurant  called "Johnno's" (this place was rated 
one  of the top 10 bars in the entire Caribbean by a national travel 
magazine,  the  name  of  which  escapes  me).  The coral is in good 
condition  and  there are plenty of fish. We snorkeled before lunch, 
relaxed  on  the  beach  after  lunch,  and then snorkeled once more 
before  leaving. The whole trip is a 9AM to 5PM deal which costs $65 
per  adult  (children  were less, but I forget how much). I strongly 
recommend  this  trip;  my  11-year old says it was the highlight of 
the whole vacation. 

Two  tips:  There  is  a coupon in the discount books at the airport 
that  gives  a  10%  discount  on  the Lambada package. And consider 
buying  one  of those Kodak underwater cameras so you can bring home 
some great shots of you snorkeling. 

OTHER ACTIVITIES 

PARADISE  PEAK  is a little side trip not to be missed. I don't know 
which  is  more  exciting  -  the  trip  up and down the road or the 
incredible  view from the top. In any case, take an hour out of your 
day to go up to Paradise Peak - it's worth it, and it's free. 

BUTTERFLY  FARM.  Not  in  a  million years did I expect a tour of a 
butterfly  farm  would  be  interesting,  but  it was fascinating. A 
guide  named  Laura (an expatriate from Canada) showed us around and 
made  the  whole  trip  very  interesting.  It even merited my son's 
approval!  A  ticket  that  was  good for our whole vacation for our 
whole family cost $20. 

MARIGOT  MARKET  is  a  little  smaller now because the film set for 
Speed2  took some space, but it's just as colorful, just as crowded, 
and  just  as  fun as always. My favorite stands are the spice stand 
and  the  French  painter's concession, but they're all fun. We were 
pretty  successful negotiating at most concessions, but there were a 
couple  that  wouldn't budge from their prices. I also happened upon 
a  funny  episode  in which a cab driver made the mistake of parking 
in  front of a very large woman's stand. She wanted one of the buses 
from  the  tour  ship  to  park  there,  so  she  was  screaming and 
gesturing  at  him  in a heavily Creole accented English to move his 
cab,  and he was yelling back at her in the same very loud voice. At 
one  point  she announced to the whole market that the cabbie was an 
"ignorant   a..hole",  to  which  he  hollered,  "You  can  call  me 
ignorant,  but  don't  call  me  an  a..hole!"  Seeing  that  he was 
fighting  a  losing  battle,  the  cabbie  started looking for help. 
Unfortunately,  I  was  right  there.  He turned to me and explained 
that  the REAL reason the woman was yelling at him was not his color 
(they  were both black), but "it's my education, 'mon". "But damn it 
'mon,"  he  said,  "she  and I went to school together so she has no 
right!"  I was trying to figure out the logic of that statement when 
a  beleaguered  looking  policeman (who seemed to fear the oversized 
woman  himself) finally hustled the maligned cab driver into his cab 
and  away  from  the  parking  spot. The woman in the concession had 
that  same smug look of satisfaction at having won the argument that 
men the world over recognize. 

SPEED2  was  filming  the  finale  of  the  movie  while  we were in 
Marigot.  We  watched as the forward half of a ship moved on a track 
into  a  Hollywoodized  Marigot as "shoppers" ran from the disaster. 
It was pretty interesting to see how they do it. 

SHOPPING.  We  did  pretty  much  the  standard  shopping stuff that 
everyone  does in Marigot and Phillipsburg, so I won't belabor that. 


RESTAURANTS 

LE  PRESSOIR.  This  is  an exceptional restaurant, the one we would 
choose  if  we  could  only  eat  at one restaurant on the island. I 
raved  about  this  restaurant  last year, and it's even better this 
year.  Located in Grand Case in the oldest house on SXM, Le Pressoir 
combines  absolutely  superb French cooking with exceptional service 
and  wonderful  ambiance.  We  had three dinners with wine for about 
$100. Go there. 

RANCHO  ARGENTINIAN  GRILL  in  the Palapa Center in Simpson Bay was 
another  outstanding restaurant. The steaks here simply melt in your 
mouth  and  the service was attentive. There was a three-piece combo 
playing  calypso  music,  which  added nicely to the ambiance. Three 
steak  dinners  with wine and a couple of fine Tiramasu deserts cost 
just $71. We didn't need reservations. 

MARIO'S  BISTRO  in  Sandy Ground is a favorite of SXM regulars. The 
food  this  time  was very good, well above average, but not "to die 
for"  as  we had experienced in the past (maybe it was just the dish 
I  had  -  scallops  -  that  was  the  exception to the rule?). Two 
waiters,  two  waitresses,  and  the  ever-present  Martine  (owner) 
provided  great  service.  The  place was packed. We spoke at length 
with  Martine, and she's really concerned that we Netizens are over-
hyping  Mario's.  She's  afraid  people's  expectations are too high 
when   they   arrive,   and   she  can't  possibly  meet  such  high 
expectations.  She  asked us to tell our Prodigy and AOL friends and 
others  on  the  Internet  that  she appreciates our enthusiasm, but 
asks  that  we not overdo the hype. "We are just a casual three star 
restaurant,  and  people  might  come  here expecting something much 
more fancy," she said. 

Martine  is  really  a  sweetheart. She's from Canada, has two kids, 
and  is  working  80  hour weeks at the restaurant. Incidentally, we 
called  for  reservations  early  on  a  Tuesday  and  couldn't  get 
anything  earlier  than  9:00PM  on  Thursday,  so  call  ahead  for 
reservations (011-870636). I would definitely return. 

REN  &  STIMPY'S.  Wow!  What  a  great  surprise!  This is a small, 
unassuming,  place  which,  according to their advertisement, is "on 
the  first  paved  road on the left after crossing the bridge on the 
way  to  the Airport." They serve Creole and Italian food, and every 
morsel  of  it  was  outstanding.  I mean really outstanding and the 
portions  were generous. We had three dinners and drinks for $61 and 
had  to take half the food home with us. We didn't have reservations 
and  the  place  was empty when we pulled up at about 7:30PM, but in 
just  15-20 minutes every seat in the place was full. Ren & Stimpy's 
is an exceptional value. 

LE  MAIN  A  LA PATE was another pleasant surprise. While schlepping 
around  the  Marina Royale at Marigot (wondering how we could retire 
and  live  aboard  one  of  those  great  boats), we stopped at this 
French   restaurant  for  lunch.  I  ordered  something  called  the 
"Romance  Kabob"  which  consisted  of  marinated  scallops, shrimp, 
tomatoes,  and oranges - grilled and served with a scrumptious sauce 
with  a  mouth-watering  seafood risotto. It was all so unexpectedly 
delicious  that  I  couldn't  stop babbling about it! My 11-year old 
ordered  a trusty cheeseburger which he acclaimed to be the "best on 
the  island." With drinks our whole lunch cost $38. I imagine dinner 
would be just as outstanding. 

TURTLE  PIER. We ate lunch at Turtle Pier, located right across from 
the  Airport.  This  is  a  fun  place  to eat, especially for kids, 
because  the restaurant has a miniature zoo there. Monkeys, parrots, 
turtles  (of  course),  and gila monsters make for quite a show. The 
restaurant  area  is  built on a deck over the water, so kids seated 
along  the  edge can entertain themselves by tossing bread crumbs to 
the  fish lurking nearby. The food is good, service is adequate, and 
the price was fair (about $35 for our three lunches with drinks). 

TUTTA  PASTA.  This  is an Italian restaurant located at the Simpson 
Bay  Yacht  Club  complex.  Prices  for  each entree are a couple of 
bucks  higher  than  last year, but the prices are still reasonable. 
Unfortunately,  we  were disappointed in the quality of the food and 
service  this year; they are not as good as I wrote about last year. 
The  tomato  sauces  were  too  heavy  this time and the service was 
mediocre.  The  ambiance in the Tutta Pasta is nice though, and they 
still  attract  a  good  crowd.  We  spent $66 for three dinners and 
drinks. We probably wont go back. 

BREAKFAST  or  CASUAL LUNCH RESTAURANTS In this category I place the 
Pelican   Resorts  CROCODILE  restaurant;  INDIANA  BEACH  (formerly 
Felix's)  down  the  hill  from  the Pelican; SURF CLUB SOUTH on the 
road  between  Grand  Case and Orient Beach; and SUNRISE CAFE at the 
Grand Case Beach Hotel. 

The  first three serve American-style breakfast fare for $5 or less; 
but  Sunrise  Cafe  is  by  far  my favorite place to eat breakfast. 
Situated  on  a  deck over the water facing Creole Rock, this little 
open  air  cafe  has magnificent ambiance - precisely the ambiance I 
imagined  when I first decided to come to the Caribbean. The waiters 
are  from  France,  speak good English, and are very attentive. This 
is  a place where I languish over coffee and croissants to watch the 
incredibly  clear  blue-green  water set against deep blue skies, to 
admire  sailboats  moving  lazily in the distance, and early morning 
swimmers  enjoying  the  nearby  beach.  It's  one  of  the scenes I 
daydream about long after the vacation is over. 

MISCELLANEOUS 

SPORTS  TV  If  you  want  to  catch an important sports event (as I 
wanted  to  catch  the  AFC  Championship game last week), there are 
several  restaurant/bars  that  have  satellite  hook-ups  and  show 
sports  for  patrons.  The ones I know about are Cheri's (Maho Bay), 
Surf  Club  South  (has  a nice big screen TV), and Turtle Pier. I'm 
sure there are others, but these are the ones I noticed. 

FOOD  SHOPPING. This one is a no-brainer now. The new Food Center on 
the  road  between  Cole  Bay and Phillipsburg is like shopping in a 
U.S. Supermarket, and the prices are fair. 

CIGARS.  If one were to purchase Cuban cigars, the best prices I saw 
were  in  the  Connoisseur shop in Simpson Bay (you can't see a sign 
with  that name from the road, but you can see a neon sign that says 
"Havana  Cigars").  A  box of 25 Monte Cristo #5, for example, costs 
$125 there, which is $10-20 cheaper than I saw in Marigot. 

PAGERS.  I  have  a  Pagenet  alpha-numeric  pager  with  nationwide 
service.  The  Pagenet  folks  said they had a customer who received 
pages in Jamaica, but mine didn't in SXM (for what it's worth). 

BEST LISTING IN THE SXM PHONE BOOK: The Sandy Wood Pecker Shop 

EYE-CATCHING HEADLINES IN THE NEWSPAPERS: 

Brave Women Jumps Off Moving Car To Escape Evil Motorist
I Slept With Ramona
  (Suspect  In  Murder  Of  Transvestite  Says He Slept With Him For 
Money But Didn't Kill Him) 

Furious Judge Gives Rapist 5 Years Jail 

'French  Immigration  Brutalized  Me,' Says Dutch Resident of French 
Quarter 

ST. MARTIN BY STAN AND MARIANNE GRAVES

Flights 

Typical  charter  flights.  Cattle  car seating. Two and three seats 
per  side.  No  leg  room,  except  for  the bulkhead seats. Mexican 
airline,  Allegro.  Flight  crew spoke some English. Free drinks, if 
you drink vodka, rum, beer or premixed Margarhittas.

No  immigration/customs  forms  on  board for either arrivals. Makes 
for  an annoying time getting into customs/immigrations on both ends 
of  the  trip!  Flight home delayed by 5 hours because of weather in 
Boston.  Hard  to  believe  upon  arrival since there was no snow or 
ice!  We  were  supposed  to be picked up @ 10:15 A.M. However, they 
were  smart  enough  to  tell us at 11 A.M. to check back @ 2:00 and 
made  rooms  available  to  us  for  changing clothes and showering. 
Hotel 

Mount  Vernon  Hotel is still repairing from the hurricanes. Not all 
of  the  units  were  open, which worked to our advantage because we 
got  an  "ocean  view junior suite" instead of a "garden view". Room 
was  large  and  very comfortable with 2 twin beds masquerading as a 
king,  two  good  size  closets,  a  bureau/vanity, couch, chair and 
coffee  table,  TV,  tiny  fridge  and  two  burner  hot plate. Nice 
balcony  with  table  and  2 chairs overlooking the salt Pond with a 
view  to  the ocean to the left. Had some start up difficulties...no 
TV,  refrigerator,  hangers  or  wastepaper  baskets,  but  all were 
resolved within 24 hours. (Never did turn the TV on!) 

Hotel  is  on  a  big  hill.  Lots of up and down hill walking, some 
fairly  steep.  OK  for us, but tough for anyone who has any kind of 
physical limitations. Advise clients accordingly. 

  Breakfast  buffet  was unexceptional. Cold, watery scrambled eggs, 
limp  bacon,  hash brown patties, brown-and-serve sausages, Cheerios 
and  corn  flakes for the Americans. Lots of fruit, yogurt, cheeses, 
sliced  ham  and  rolls  for everyone else. Not too bad, really, but 
nothing to write home about. 

Lunch  was  served  at  the  pool  restaurant, which was still under 
construction.  Had lunch there the last day. Not bad, but again, not 
great. 

Had  $100  room  credit  for food and beverages. Not the place where 
you  want  to  eat dinner and we chowed down at breakfast and didn't 
eat  lunch.  But  @ $3 a beer and $6 a drink, the allowance runs out 
quickly.  Also  there  were  additional  room and local taxes on the 
hotel  room  for  the week. They didn't amount to more than $100 for 
the week, but they could be a surprise for some folks. 

Phone  calls  to  the  States were expensive. We couldn't figure out 
how  their  phone system worked and no one was much help. Pay phones 
are scarce. Location 

Orient  Beach is awesome. It took a day or so to get used to running 
into  a fellow guest who was stark naked. OK, it took a day or so to 
get  used  to  seeing  so  much  anatomy  exposed  in any one place. 
Actually,  the  weekend  was the worst, and by Monday there were far 
fewer  people  nude  on the beach. Mount Vernon does not allow total 
nudity  and  most  of  the  buck naked folks were @ the Orient Beach 
Club.  Amazing how most of the totally nude folks really should have 
been the ones covered with a sheet! 

The  hotel  is  really  remote and you really have to rent a car. It 
would have been nice to have had a car rental prearranged. 

There  are  some  restaurants on the beach, but their prices go up @ 
night  and  they  are as expensive as the places in Grand Case. Plus 
one  should check out some other beaches, shop in Philipsburg and go 
to Pinel Island to snorkel. 

Cabs  are  expensive  and  random.  A  cab  ride  to Grand Case - 10 
minutes  from  the  hotel - was $10 plus tip one way! Car rental was 
not  cheap,  but a week's rental was equivalent to 10 round trips to 
Grand  Case!  Roads are awful and the natives turn into maniacs when 
in  their  cars.  Speed  bumps  and pot holes rule. Gas is expensive 
(~$4/Gal),  but  the island isn't that big. We burned 1/2 a tank for 
about $24. 

Food 

WOW! 

We  stayed  in  the  French  side  and ate very well. Dinner, with a 
drink  and  a  bottle  of  moderately  priced  wine averaged $100+ . 
Contrary  to the guide books, service was not automatically included 
in the tab. 

Here are the places we hit: 

IL Neptune - Grand Case : 

Waterfront.  Italian.  Romantic.  Food  was  very  good.  Owner is a 
Washington  Red  Skins  fan,  so we had some fun with him before the 
Pats  game.  Waiters  are  awesome  and  the  selections are varied. 
People  we  met  like  to  go there for drinks and appetizers before 
heading off to dinner! 

Surf  Club  South:  Near  Orient  Beach.  American  food  run  by  a 
Philadelphia    expatriate.    Big   screen   TV,   swimming   pool, 
cheeseburgers  and  ribs.  Saw  the  Pats  crush the Stealers there. 
Would love to go back for the Super Bowl! 

L'Alabama:  Grand  Case,  on the wrong side of the street. Not water 
front,  but  who  cares!  Best meal we had on the island and several 
other  couples agreed. Pascal and Karin are the owners, and chef and 
hostess  respectively.  Reservations  necessary unless you get there 
before   7.  Am  enclosing  several  business  cards  -  that's  how 
impressed  we  were!!!  If you can get us a discount there next time 
we are in St. Martin, I would eat there 7 nights! 

Bikini  Bar  :  On  Orient  Beach. Great appetizer - coconut shrimp. 
Everything  else quite god, but hard to enjoy when cats and dogs are 
competing  for  your  table  scraps! Atmosphere better suited to day 
light  and  lunch  time  menu  more  reasonable. If you are going to 
spend  $100  for  dinner,  go to Grand Case. Drop by here for lunch! 
I'd kill for those coconut shrimp, however! 

Heava:  Grand  Case, wrong side of the street. Tiny, antique filled, 
charming.  Food  was  almost  as  good as @ L'Alabama. Francophiles, 
made   little  effort  to  speak  English  (unusual,  by  the  way). 
Charming,  romantic  and  worth  every  penny.  We  walked  in,  but 
reservations  are  probably  a  good idea for dinner after 8. I'd go 
back here again. 

Fish  Pot: Grand Case, waterfront. Good, but over rated. Would eat @ 
L'Alabama  or  Heava  before going back here! Expensive, pretentious 
and  the  place  to  go, I guess. Reservations a must. I don't think 
I'd rush back. 

Rainbow  :  Grand  Case, waterfront. Small, romantic and not too bad 
as  far  as  the  food  and  service  go.  Reservations necessary. I 
enjoyed  dinner because it was our last night, but the value for the 
dollar was lacking. 

Hao  Mai: It is almost with regret I tell you about Hao Mai, I would 
hate  it if we couldn't walk in there at will next visit! Hao Mai is 
in  Cul  de  Sac,  just  around the corner from the Mount Vernon. It 
specializes  in  Viet  Namese  and  Creole food. It is also the only 
place  we  found  where  you could have a completely satisfying meal 
for  under  $80! The owner, Hao Mai, is this ageless, charming, Viet 
Namese  woman  who  lavishes attention on you. Definitely a place to 
go,  even  if  the  location  is less than optimal . The hotel it is 
located  at is still closed and there isn't much else in Cul de Sac, 
But Hao Mai is worth the trip! ETC. 

Shopping 

Prices  on  just about everything are fair traded across the island. 
It  doesn't  matter if you are in a big market or a small store, you 
will  pay  the  same for a six pack of beer, a cigar, a Modavi watch 
or  a  bottle  of  Dewars. I suppose you can bargain for some stuff, 
but  I  would  be  on  my  guard against "knock-offs". There is very 
little  "native art". We found one gallery in Philipsburgh. Bought a 
couple of prints 

GWV 

Forget  this outfit. They were useless at best! Poor organization at 
the  airports.  Useless  at the hotel. The orientation meeting was a 
joke!  Our  rep  was there for maybe two hours every other day - and 
those  2  hours  were during prime beach time. Not a problem for us, 
but  some  folks  who  lost  luggage, or were in the wrong hotel for 
physical  reasons...well, it was ugly. Plus, when the rep was there, 
she was clueless. Summary 

I'd  go  back again, And I'd like to stay at Orient Beach. The Mount 
Vernon  is  not  off my list. The Esmeralda looked OK, but I kind of 
didn't  like  the  fact  that the villas were so far from the beach. 
There weren't any other hotels on Orient that looked cool. 

Didn't  get  to  Oyster  Bay, but understand that Dawn Beach and the 
Oyster  Bay  Hotel  are  still intact. Have NO DESIRE to go to other 
places on the Dutch side. They have out done Miami Beach there! 

TURKS AND CAICOS: PROVO BY JERALD SCHREIBER

Susie  &  I  arrived  on  Provo  on  Christmas  day. We had a little 
trouble  locating  our truck but after 20 minutes of searching found 
it  in  the  parking  lot  near  the  car  rental. Things are really 
getting  busy  at  that  airport. The weather for two weeks was near 
perfect.  Low  of  74  in  the eves and highs to 87. Wind was nearly 
constant  and  if  you want to snorkel go early or late. Smiths Reef 
as  usual  was  stupendous and snorkeling there is as good as diving 
in  Cayman.  The reef at the White House has regenerated beautifully 
since  our  last  visit  in  2/96. Lots of marine life and new coral 
growth. 

There  are lots more cars on Provo now since last year but > traffic 
seems  about  the  same.  The  same old friendly faces at the casino 
greet  you  and they might even remember your face. Susie and I were 
married  at  the gazebo near the pool at Grace Bay Club on 12/29/96. 
We  had  a  brief  ceremony  and immediately afterward a great egret 
landed  right  at  the  pool.  This is a rare bird and drew a lot of 
attraction.  After  we  sat  down to dinner (we call it lunch!) JOJO 
appeared  at  the  beach as we ate. There was/is a lot of flu on the 
island  and  the  Caicos  two-step  caught both of us. Bring lots of 
immodium!  The  only thing really new is the Lone Star cafe which is 
modeled  after the one in Cayman. The owner worked in the Cayman one 
for  7-8  yrs.  Time  seems to just creep away on Provo so plan your 
trips accordingly or before you know it, it's time to leave. 

There  are lots of new car lots and car rental places. The tiki huts 
at  the  northwest  side  of the island are still standing but just. 
The  road  to  get  there  is  still  OK.  Caicos  Sol return from a 
refitting  in  Key  West and is taking daily cruises again to French 
Cay. 

New  restaurant  at  Turtle Cove Inn called the Terrace is very high 
tone  but delicious. Run by two guys who were reputedly the chefs at 
Anacoana  last  year.  (Just like the owners at Coco Bistro were the 
chefs   at  the  Erebus  hotel).  Alfreds  unfortunately  is  closed 
permanently.

The Caribbean Travel Roundup is available worldwide via Compuserve and INTERNET and is distributed internationally through the facilities of America Online, GENIE, The Travel On Line BBS (Lake St. Louis MO 314-561-4956), and Delphi. Selected features appear on Prodigy.

Contact: Paul Graveline, 9 Stirling St., Andover, MA 01810-1408 USA :Home (Voice or Fax) 508-470-1971.

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