Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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Contact: Paul Graveline, 9 Stirling St., Andover, MA 01810-1408 USA :Home (Voice or Fax) 508-470-1971.
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http://www.gobeach.com/ctr/ or http://www.slmtravel.com/~slm. E-mail via CTREDITOR@aol.com, CTREDITOR@prodigy.com, email@example.com : On Prodigy - MKWC51A: Travel Online BBS firstname.lastname@example.org.
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