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Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
March 1, 1995
ANNOUNCEMENTS: The publication schedule for the CTR will be the following: April 1, May 15, about July 15, regular first of the month publication resumes on Sept. 1, 1995
NEW PROJECT LAUNCHED:
I've decided to publish consolidated files for many of the specific destinations and upload them through the network. The first one is on St. Barts which is available now and should be accessible through your normal source for reading the CTR.
Aruba will probably be the next and will be available on or before April 1st. Reader response to them is appreciated.
Also any publicity which you might give to the Caribbean Travel Roundup would be appreciated. If a friend or hotel asks you where you obtained the information, please say it came from the Caribbean Travel Roundup.
If you wish to reach the CTR the most frequently checked addresses are:
1 March 95
CONTENTS FOR MARCH 1995
1/ Island News
2/ Press Releases
Jamaica: Negril Marine Park Via Jim Jordan
Puerto Rico: A Museum Lovers Paradise
2/ Island Journeys for March 1995
Aruba by Karen Cohen
Bahamas: Club Med Eleuthera Patt Salve
Bahamas: Crystal Palace by Lori Beth Swanson
Cancun by William Stickley
Cayman Islands by Kurt Godwin
Cayman Islands by Jon Saff
Grenada: LaSource Resort by Joe Farrel
Jamaica: Negril by Cheryl Campbell and David Heberling
Jamaica: FDR Resort by Jack Benoff
Jamaica: Couples by Bob Green
Puerto Rico: Dorado Hyatt by Gary Levine
Saint Croix by John Milmore
St. John by Robert Gouget
St. John by Gary Levine
St. Martin by Linda Moss
St. Martin by Robert Smith
St. Martin by Ed Gonsalves
1/ ISLAND NEWS FOR MARCH 1995
The new airline Carib Express began running on 15 Feb. It is a rival to LIAT but only the first day was mentioned in the sources which are followed at the CTR. If there are more developments we'll carry them. There is also opposition to the privatization of LIAT which went into effect in late February. A number of Trinidad citizens feel that the deal is bad for Trinidad and are considering measures to fight it. They are not necessarily opposed to privatization and improving service but don't feel the island go a good deal from the mainly American buyers.
A possible story to watch if you are going to the Caribbean in March is the potential riff over the route of a ship carrying nuclear waste fuel from France to japan. Its not certain if it is going to pass through the Caribbean ( of go through the Suez Canal) but Greenpeace has been alerting governments to watch out for it. It may wind up as a non-story or maybe something to watch.
The BVI held elections in Feb. The Virgin Islands Party won but had to woo an independent MP to be able to form a government. If you have island news that you think readers would be interested in receiving, please send it to the CTR for publication.
2/ PRESS RELEASES
Jamaica: Negril Marine Park Via Jim Jordan
(Ed Note: the following information was provided to the CTR by Compuserve Caribbean sysop Jamaica Jim Jordan who scanned it for us. Thanks to Jim for passing it along.)
This material is copyrighted and may not be republished without written permission from the publisher. Negril Reef Rap is published quarterly by the Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society, Post Office Box 27, Negril, Ja., W.I.
The following information file is from a front page article from the December, 1994 issue of the quarterly news magazine of the Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society - "Negril Reef Rap."
This article is about the recently announced establishment of a marine park and protected area in Negril, Jamaica, one of the more popular destinations for Caribbean visitors. This will have a major favorable impact on the reefs within the beautiful Seven Mile Beach and surrounding Negril areas.
It is copied here with full permission of the NCRPS, Kathy Thaker - Program Director.
MAJOR ENVIRONMENTAL GRANT AWARDED
At long last, one of the goals and dreams of the Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society will become a reality! The Society recently received news that the European Union will be funding a proposal submitted by the NCRPS for establishing a marine park and protected area.
Approximately $22 million Jamaican has been allocated to the NCRPS. The project includes hiring and training of Rangers, a vigorous educational program, mariculture projects for fishermen and farmers, reef restoration projects, water quality monitoring, and the placement of zoning and reef mooring buoys, among other programs. NCRPS will continue working closely with the newly formed Negril Area Environmental Protection Trust, (NEPT), which will serve as a local advisory committee to the marine park and other future parks within the protected area.
The funding is in response to a proposal submitted earlier this year on behalf of the Society by Katy Thacker, NCRPS Program Director and NEPT Chairperson. The two Negril based organizations have been working together on a management plan for the proposed protected area extending from Green Island on the north to Salmon Point on the south, and inland areas that include the entire watershed.
The announcement was made at the Society's fourth annual workshop, "Protecting Jamaica's Coral Reef Ecosystem," by Head of the European Delegation, Mr. James Moran. In announcing the grant, Mr. Moran said that, "The funding represents the single largest commitment in the Caribbean region for the European Union to help developing countries." and added, "It is a major expression of confidence in the NCRPS.
The European Union is also funding the central sewage system for Negril, and the two projects certainly are an indication of the EU's understanding of protecting fragile ecosystems. "Without a sewage system to guarantee improvement of water quality in the area, a marine park project would be futile," notes NCRPS Vice President and owner of Negril Scuba Center, Karen McCarthy. "With the combination of these two projects I think we can expect to see real improvements in our tourism product."
"One of the top priorities of NEPT will be to put in place a system so that the NCRPS Marine Park and other proposed parks and protected areas will be financially self-sustaining after the European Union grant funds are exhausted in two years," stated Katy Thacker. "This will include an endowment or trust fund and will be financed by user fees, souvenir sales, donations, and fundraising activities. NEPT will also be exploring initiating an environmental levy by working in conjunction with government.
Membership in the NCRPS is tax deductible and any interested Travel Forum members may join and obtain a full individual membership for a contribution of US$15. Contribution/membership fee should be sent to:
NCRPS Post Office Box 27 Negril, Westmoreland Jamaica, W.I. Phone and Fax - 809-957-4425
Puerto Rico: A Museum Lovers Paradise
(Ed. Note: Special thanks to Joan Bloom of Hill and Knowlton in New York for providing a word processed file of this excellent press release. Most ( if not all of the other) PR agencies are still distributing their releases in a hard copy format thus requiring your editor to type in the material. This is quite discouraging when faced with an extensive but highly informative release such as the one below. After contacting Joan Bloom, she had a disk version sent by overnight FedEx to the CTR. Hopefully other agencies will begin to realize the advantages of supplying there information in other than the traditional printed form. Kudos to Joan and the people at Hill and Knowlton.
Puerto Rico is known for its beautiful beaches, superb shopping and spectacular sites. But, visitors looking for "that something extra" after a few days of sunbathing, shopping and sightseeing will be happy to find that the island also boasts the Caribbean's most impressive array of art, history and cultural museums for virtually all ages and interests.
In fact, visitors will have a myriad of museums to choose from almost anywhere they travel on the island -- from the Museo del Nino (children's museum) in Old San Juan to the world-renowned Ponce Museum of Art. While San Juan offers the widest variety, a number of interesting museums can also be found "out on the island."
Old San Juan
It's been said that there are more museums per square foot in Old San Juan than anywhere else on earth. Anyone who has taken a walking tour of the old walled city would be hard pressed to question this assertion. In fact, some consider Old San Juan itself a life-size museum of colonial architecture, with most of its important buildings having been declared National Historic Sites by the National Historic Preservation Office.
Any museum tour of Old San Juan should start at Fuerte San Felipe del Morro, or El Morro fort, located at the end of Norzagaray Street. The most dramatic of the city's military fortifications, El Morro contains a small museum, with maps, models of ships and exhibits on military life. Along with San Cristobal fort, El Morro is a National Historic Site and part of a World Heritage Site, administered by the National Park Service. (Open daily, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; tours, orientation and video presentation in English and Spanish; 809/729-6960)
Also on the El Morro grounds is the Cuartel de Ballaja, which was once home to Spanish troops and their families. Today, it is a recently restored building that houses the Museum of the Americas. The Museum, which opened its doors during the quincentennial festivities, currently features changing exhibitions, archaeological finds of the Ballaja area and a colorful exhibit of crafts in the Americas. (Open Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and weekends, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; 809/724-5052)
From El Morro, it's only a short walk to Casa Blanca, the home of Ponce de Leon's family, overlooking San Juan Bay. The city's first fortress, Casa Blanca was originally built in the 1520s. The house is now a museum of family life in 16th- and 17th-century Puerto Rico and also contains an ethnographic museum with a miniature re-creation of a Taino Indian village. (Open Wednesday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, and 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.; 809/724-4102).
A few blocks away in a small house on San Jose Street is the Museum of the Indian, which tells the story of Puerto Rico's indigenous people, with dioramas, tools and baskets, a hammock and stone carvings of monkeys and pelicans. (Open daily, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; 809/724-5477)
Near the end of Cristo Street is Casa del Libro, a museum/library housing more than 5,000 rare and precious books, many of them 16th-century masterpieces. It also features the most important collection of incunabula (books printed before 1500) in this part of the world, as well as documents signed by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. (Open Tuesday to Saturday [closed on holidays], 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; 809/723-0354)
For the young, as well as the young-at-heart, Old San Juan also offers the Museo del Nino, which opened in the fall of 1993. Small children can enter the museum by crawling through the legs of a large wooden figure of a child. Inside is a village of playhouses, as well as the Visit to the Dentist exhibit, in which children can play dentist on unwitting adults. (Open Tuesday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and weekends, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; 809/722-3791)
On the corner of Cristo and San Sebastian Streets lies Plaza San Jose, featuring a statue of Juan Ponce de Leon. Several historic buildings and museums surround this square. Among them is the Museo de Pablo Casals, a collection of memorabilia from the master cellist's legacy to the people of Puerto Rico. The museum holds manuscripts, photographs and videotapes of Casals Festival concerts. (Open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; 809/723-9185)
Another building off Plaza San Jose is Casa de las Contrafuertes, believed to be the oldest private residence remaining in Old San Juan, dating from the early 18th century. The second floor houses the Latin American Graphic Arts Museum and Gallery, while the first floor features the Pharmacy Museum, a 19th-century drugstore complete with scales and old bottles. (Open Wednesday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; 809/724-5477)
For a glimpse into a typical Old San Juan home, drop by the Felisa Rincon de Gautier Museum, which honors the first woman to serve as mayor of San Juan, from 1946 to 1968. The museum is located in Dona Felisa's former home on Caleta de San Juan and includes photographs of important moments in her colorful career, many of her honorary degrees and awards, an impressive collection of keys to American and European cities, and several of her dresses, elaborate wigs and elegant fans. (Open weekdays, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; 809/723-1897)
To the south, in Puerto Rico's second-largest city, are countless monuments and buildings from past centuries, as well as a number of the island's most interesting and important museums.
First on any visitor's list of things to see should be the world-renowned. Also known as the Parthenon of the Antilles because it has the most complete collection of art works in the Caribbean, the museum was founded in 1959 by former governor Luis A. Ferre.
It houses some 850 paintings, 800 sculptures and 500 prints which represent the important schools of Western art over the past five centuries. Also featured are an outstanding collection of 19th-century pre-Raphaelite paintings, as well as works by a number of prominent Puerto Rican artists. A modern building designed by Edward Durell Stone houses the art, three gardens and a library. (Open daily, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; 809/848-0511)
Also of interest is the Museo Parque de Bombas, or the Firehouse Museum, located on Ponce's main square. The spectacular black and red structure was built in 1882 and was a firehouse from 1883 to 1990. After its restoration, it reopened as The Museum of the Firefighter's Corps. (Open weekdays except Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; guided tours available; 809/840-4141)
For an inside look at two of Ponce's historical residences, stop into the Museo de la Historia de Ponce, or the Ponce History Museum. Inaugurated in December 1992 on the 300th anniversary of the founding of the city, the museum occupies two houses on the corner of Mayor and Isabel streets: Casa Candal Salazar and Casa Zapater. Within its 10 halls are displays on the most important aspects of the social, cultural, political and economic development of Ponce. (Open weekdays except Tuesday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Saturdays, 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and Sundays, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.; guided tours available; 809/844-7071)
Also located in one of Ponce's noteworthy residences is the Museo de la Musica Puertorriquena, or the Puerto Rican Music Museum, which occupies the first house in Ponce to have telephone service. The previous location of the Ponce Art Museum, the building now houses exhibitions on such topics as music and instruments from the pre-Columbian cultures, the African influence in the Bomba y Plena, the Danza and its composers, and today's popular music. (Open Wednesday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, and 1:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.; guided tours available; 809/844-9722)
No visit to Ponce would be complete without a visit to the Museo Castillo Serralles, or the Serralles Castle Museum. This mansion, built in the 1930s in the Spanish Revival style, was once the home of the wealthy Serralles family, founders of the Mercedita sugar mill and the Don Q rum distillery. After a short film, visitors can take a guided tour of the mansion and visit its many rooms. (Open Tuesday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Friday to Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; closed Monday; 809/259-1774)
Out on the Island
A number of interesting museums can be found outside of Puerto Rico's two largest cities. These museums will provide visitors with a broad perspective of the island's rich and varied history.
San German, the second urban center founded by the Spaniards on the island, has retained much of its original Spanish colonial charm and numerous lovely residences, many of which are currently being restored. Off the plaza in San German is the Porta Coeli Church, which dates back to 1606. Restored by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, the small church now serves as the Museum of Religious Art. It contains colonial paintings and wood statuary from the 18th and 19th centuries. (Open Tuesday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, and 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.; 809/892-5845)
Also in San German is the Levered Ramirez de Arellano y Rosell Art Museum. The small museum, located on the road to Lajas, exhibits art, turn-of-the-century furniture and changing shows. (Open Wednesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, and 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.; 809/892-8870)
For further information on Puerto Rico, contact the Puerto Rico Tourism Company: in New York, 575 Fifth Avenue, 23rd Floor, New York, NY 10017, (212) 599-6262 or (800) 223-6530; in Miami, 901 Ponce de Leon Boulevard, Suite 604, Coral Gables, FL 33134, (305) 445-9112; in Los Angeles, 3575 W. Cahuenga Boulevard, Suite 560, Los Angeles, CA 90068, (213) 874-5991; or in Canada, (416) 368-2680. To order brochures, call 1-800-866-7827, ext. 55.
/ ISLAND JOURNEYS FOR MARCH 1995
Aruba by Karen Cone
I just returned from Aruba and thought I'd give a brief report. Had a wonderful time. The bus only cost $1 US and we took it frequently between Eagle Beach-Oranjestad. Actually an enjoyable ride. We rented an inexpensive wreck of a car to take us from point A to point B and drove all around the island.
My 9 yr. old son loved Baby Beach and even dared to try snorkeling. Enjoyed it so much I couldn't get him to give it back to me.
Had lunch at Charlies Pub in San Nicholas - very enjoyable. Charley is great fun. If you get out that way you have to stop in (even for a drink) and say hello.
Loved Boonoonoonoos in town. Ate there several times and was excellent every time and was very impressed with the service as well as the great food. It's a have-to-dine-at restaurant if you are ever in Aruba.
At the Seaside Market Mall we found CocoTree which was very inexpensive, wholesome food. Great if you have kids, too but wasn't too impressed with the Buccaneer Restaurant although it is nice for kids. We did have a table next to the aquarium which was nice for our son, but the food wasn't prepared very well. They took basically healthy lo-cal fish, etc., and ruined it by frying and overcooking. Ugh. Guess the little kids don't notice.
Tony Romas was Tony Romas. Had dinner at the Old Canucu House and was very impressed . The conch steak was well prepared, dessert was excellent, so was the service (and I was a woman dining alone that night). Not cheap, but you got your moneys worth.
The Natural Bridge was awesome, but too many tourists crowding around. The Ayo Rock Formations were something to see and kids love it. Did the Atlantis Submarine ride. Very interesting and worth the $ if you an spare it - very unique - cost $63 without a coupon. If you pick up the tourist info booklets they contain lots of usable coupons for discounts. Use them. We shopped at the Columbian Emerald Store- great selection and the service isn't too bad when not crowded. The prices appeared to be reasonable and the emeralds are beautiful blue/green. At the floating market there are lots of trinkets, etc. Don't be afraid to bargain. Even for the fruits and veggies (smile).
Bahamas: Club Med Eleuthera Patt Salve
This is a fabulous place to take a family. Our sons are 9 and 12 and have traveled quite a bit. Both rated Disneyworld a 7 and this Club Med a 9. Guess they are holding out for even bigger and better. They were both in and out of the Kid's Club (group for 8-12 year olds) This program offers something for every child at every level of ability. The GO's that worked with the kids in this program were Underwear (no kidding), Christy, Stephan, and Andrea They were great! They had the kids try sailing, water skiing, snorkeling, and scuba (my kids favorite!) They played golf, tennis, soccer, basketball, volleyball, and football. They went for nature walks on the beach and played on the beach. They swam in the pool and had a sand castle contest.
Every child was encouraged to try activities, but no one was forced to do anything they weren't comfortable with. They received an enormous amount of individualized attention and grew VERY attached to these GO's. My 12 year old was in tears as we left his new GO buddies.
The only downfall to this program is that children older than 7 do not need to be signed in and out of the group. They can pick and choose which activities they want to stay in the group for and can leave if they don't want to do something. There were a couple of tense moments for my 9 year old when he left the group and couldn't find Mom and Dad right away (we were at activities, too!) We fixed this by discussing what we were all doing everyday at breakfast so that everyone knew where everyone else was all the time.
After a couple of days the kids didn't much WANT to leave the group anyway. If your children are closer to the 8 year old end of this group you may want to discuss this before you go.
We had no experience with the baby club (1-2 yr. old) Petit club (2-4's) or mini (5-7's) but LOVED the GO's we met. I am a child care provider, so was interested in how they ran these clubs for their youngest guests. I was really impressed by what I saw. Most of the toddlers and up were crying WHEN IT WAS TIME TO LEAVE THE GROUP! This is a sure sign that they were having a great time.
All of the parents that I spoke with regarding these clubs couldn't say enough good things. They have great equipment (Little tikes, etc.) and seemed to be doing something or going somewhere all the time. The little ones put on some shows in the evenings which are adorable and had a great rate of participation.
Think of Club Med as camping with an attitude and you will be thrilled. This is not Disney's Grand Floridian. We had 2 rooms that were next to each other, but did not have a connecting door. This caused this nervous mother to borrow a baby monitor from the front desk for a fully refundable deposit of $70. The monitor will ONLY work from room to room as everything is made of concrete and stucco. DO NOT PLAN ON LEAVING A SMALL CHILD IN THE ROOM AT NIGHT AND GOING TO THE EVENING ENTERTAINMENT RELYING ON THE MONITOR. Baby sitters are available for a fee and the clubs are open until around 8:30.
The rooms were about 15x20 and have 2 twin beds in them. TIP: The beds can be made into a king. ASK!! We did not find this out until the day before we left. Hubby and I spent a week in 1 twin! (togetherness to the 10th degree!) It was OK for us but might cause divorce in other families! There is no TV, radio, or clock. Nor is there carpeting on the floor. The water in the shower and sink is brackish (partly salt water) so bring a real good quality shampoo and conditioner. Does this sound awful? We had a great time! We were in the room approximately 6 hours to sleep and shower every day. It could get a bit tense if you got an extended spell of bad weather. We had none.
This is where this club really shines. The Scuba Team GO's, Charles, Mike, Richard, and Pete are outstanding athletes, instructors, and human beings. My husband, 12 year old son, and I took the resort diving course which consisted of 1.5 hour lessons every day for 4 days. I can't recommend this enough. It was a great first exposure and test to see if this sport is for you. This CM also offers a PADI certification course which required a substantial amount of your vacation time, but I can't imagine getting BETTER instruction ANYWHERE
After completion of the resort course we were able to go on a dive excursion trip which was 9am-4pm and 1 hour's drive from the club. This might not work out for parents of small children if they don't feel comfortable being that far away from their children for that length of time. This trip was an additional cost of $155 per person. The drawback to this is that the club will not make the trip if they don't have at least 4 people sign up to go. This can be a huge disappointment if you have committed much of your vacation time and attention to diving lessons. I am sending a recommendation to the GO in charge of sports that they offer some shorter excursion dives during the week lasting perhaps 3-4 hours a bit closer to the CM property and for a less prohibitive cost so that more people can take advantage of this program. THAT SAID, the dive was fabulous! Being this was my 1st experience I was completely awestruck.
I felt prepared after my instruction and Charles (the GO that headed the trip) was extremely patient and understand with those of us who were novice divers. There was a mix of newly certified and experienced divers and the general consensus of the group was that the trip was a worthwhile adventure.
There was a great deal of equipment available and it was of very good quality. Snorkeling can be done anytime the marina is open. Snorkeling instruction is available. 2 boat trips a day are offered for snorkeling away from the club. These are free and worth doing. We went on one and saw some nice parrot fish, sergeant majors, needle fish, and some interesting corals. They also offer an adult only picnic snorkel trip and a family picnic trip. We did not go on either of these, but heard mixed reviews on the family trip. Apparently the beach that the boat takes you to is not as nice as the one at CM and the trip is too long for what you have to do when you get there.
There is EXCELLENT snorkeling right from the beach at CM This club also offers sailing lessons, and free sailing everyday, water skiing and tubing.
This is a fabulous program. Take advantage of it. They offer trapeze and juggling for adults as well as trapeze, juggling, trampoline, and clown shows for children. There is something for everyone of every ability. The circus GO's are clown Gabby, Ulster, John, and Vine. They are headed up by Jeff and they are one very talented bunch of people. They have the patience of saints. The show that they put on with the children is not to be missed. Bring a video camera
There is plenty of it! All meals in the main restaurant are served buffet style. The quality was good overall. Buffet food is difficult to keep as hot or cold as one might like it, but they do a god job. Don't expect gourmet fare. They have "theme" nights every night and some things are better than others. You will absolutely NOT go hungry here. Wine and beer are included with your meals. Expect to pay around $6 for mixed drinks at the bar.
The children can eat with the kids groups for lunch and dinner and 80% of them do. Breakfast is a family affair.
DINING ROOMS : The main dining room becomes incredibly noisy during meals. Seating at the main restaurant is at tables of 8, so generally you sit with many different people. The GO's eat with the guests and they are delightful. This club is a French/English club and there were a few meals we ate with people with whom we could not communicate. There were probably 5 or 6 different languages being spoken during the week we stayed. The vast majority of the GO's are bilingual. Many are fluent in 3 or more languages.
The smaller restaurant is called the terrace and is open for late lunch and dinner for adults only and by reservation. Thin sliced meats or fish and vegetables are served raw with a super heated stone for cooking. You cook your own. This was interesting and worth doing. This restaurant has table service and is much quieter than the main dining room.
There is an open air restaurant at the marina that is open for lunch by reservation. We never ate there but it looked like a nice quiet spot to be. Very scenic.
PICTURES :There is an independent photographer in the village that seems to be everywhere! The photos are on the expensive side ($20-$25 for an 8x12) but they are beautifully done. We got some great shots of our kids that will be on the mantle for many years. These pictures make great keepsakes for relatives left back home, too.
PRICE: Our family was billed as 3 adults and 1 child and we paid $5060 including airfare from Hartford CT. Most Americans in this club seemed to have gotten there on CM's Family escape program where you choose the week and they select where you will go. Going on the family escape would have cost us $3750 including airfare out of New York. We did not choose this program for 2 reasons.
1 We could have ended up at Sandpiper in Florida which specializes in golf and tennis-2 things we were not interested in.
2 We were handed selected Eleuthera from info from some friends that have been there .
For a second trip we will probably opt for the family escape and save some $$. Keep in mind that children under 5 stay free most non peak weeks. All things considered we got our money's worth out of this vacation.
Bahamas: Crystal Palace by Lori Beth Swanson
A friend and I visited the Bahamas for the first time in Nov. 94 over Thanksgiving. We stayed at the Crystal Palace as part of a package deal. We found the accommodations at the CP to be very nice. However, there was a handle missing on the closet door, and sharp screw that stuck out. We took care of this by putting a cotton ball on it.
The CP is a beautiful hotel. The decor may be a little much for some people, but it seemed to fit right in with the Bahamian atmosphere. (In Michigan it would have been considered tacky.) The main lobby of the hotel seems to consist of several large glass
domes and lots of windows. Some of the windows were broken, but that may have been caused by Gordon who went through the week before.
The staff was very courteous, although slow. Check in was at 3 PM. We arrived at 2 PM, and took a chance that we would be able to get a room. No such luck, we were told that our room would be available at 3 PM. That was fine, because we knew we were trying to check in early. At 3 PM. we went back and had to stand in a rather long line. Again we were told our room wasn't ready and asked to try back in an hour. We tried again at 4 PM., and this time were given a coupon for a free drink at the lobby bar because our room still wasn't ready. Finally at 5 PM., our room was ready. (During this entire period, our luggage was stacked in a pile on the lobby floor with other guests' luggage.)
Our room was very nice. It was on the second floor, or the main floor. It had a balcony and an ocean and pool view. The beds were comfortable, and we liked that the double sinks were not in the bathroom. Two women in a hotel need to be able to use a sink and a mirror while the bathroom is occupied by the other. We also liked being able to have a safe in our room rather than giving our valuables to the front desk. (Who knows how long we would have to wait in line to get our jewelry when we wanted it.)
The pool area was very nice. We were immediately asked if we wanted our hair braided. (We were also asked again each time we came out of the hotel.) However, once you said no to one of them, they basically backed off (for a while). We were also approached about going on a booze cruise, which we decided to do. We didn't think the price was bad. $30 for a 4 hour cruise, snorkeling, lunch and all the booze you could drink. (I'm not a drinker, but I was on vacation.)
We were supposed to go on the boat on Thanksgiving day, however, it was very windy, and another man who was trying to sell us a booze cruise convinced us that it would not be any fun because of the wind. Snorkeling wouldn't be good. We were informed that although our receipt said Thursday, we could go anytime we wanted. So, since we were not on any kind of schedule, we decided to shop instead.
Nassau has some really interesting shopping opportunities. (Not having to pay sales tax was a trip.) We found that although Bay Street has some very nice shops, it was more fun to go down some of the side alleys and streets to check out those shops. We had a lot of fun just exploring all of the possibilities. We didn't make it to the straw market, however, before it was closing.
That night we went to The Zoo, which is a new nightclub in Nassau. Unfortunately, they had exotic dancers that night and were charging ladies even though it was ladies night. So, we went to Fanta-Z, a disco at the Crystal Palace, and danced. Fanta-Z was not very exciting. Although there was one man there that could really dance. He was, however, looking for a Bahama-Mama, but I was not looking for a Bahama-Papa, so we slipped out when he wasn't looking.
Back to The Zoo, we got in for free after the exotic dancers were finished at midnight. (In Michigan, we wouldn't have even considered going to a nightclub that late because they all close at 2 am. In Nassau, however, they stay open until 4 am and sometimes later.) There we danced to Calypso, Socca, Rock, Reggae, etc. The man who had talked us out of going on the booze cruise was there and he and I danced together quite a bit. (His name is Donn.) He also helped discourage some unwanted attention that my friend was getting.
Friday, we spent by the pool at the Crystal Palace. (I don't tan, but I enjoy being in the sun.) Then that evening we caught the dinner show at the casino. The show was very entertaining. I was a bit shocked by the costumes, having never seen a Las Vegas-style show, but I enjoyed myself anyway. After the show, Donn met us in the hotel lobby and to us to Club Waterloo to dance some more. This worked out nice, because he seemed to have passes for all the clubs we wanted to go to.
Saturday, we went on the Booze Cruise. (Donn went on the cruise with us.) To say the Booze Cruise was an experience would be an understatement. Everyone is there to have fun and they do. We were able to talk to people. And if you were on the upper deck of the boat and didn't feel like going to the lower deck to get a refill on your drink, there was always someone who was willing to get a drink for you. (I found out that Bahama Mamas go down much too easily and I drank much more than I intended.) (I never did, however, get my own drink.) When it came time to snorkel, I didn't because I had had too much to drink. But I did enjoy watching the fish from on deck when the crew threw out food for them. Lunch consisted on Ribs, Peas and Rice, and salad. It was very good. I am vegetarian, so I didn't personally have the ribs, but my friend said they were very good.
That night we went back to The Zoo to dance some more.
Sunday, we took a bumpy flight back to Michigan.
I must note, that before we met up with Donn, we thought the food was very expensive. But once he showed us were the locals ate, we found that food prices were not that bad.
Overall, our stay in the Bahamas was very nice. We shopped, we danced, we cruised, and we enjoyed. We were not overly hassled by hawkers, and found the locals to be very friendly and accommodating. We found service to be slow, but it was the Bahamas, and life seems to be pretty laid back. Besides we were on vacation, so we didn't care, we didn't have any appointments to keep.
Footnote: I enjoyed the Bahamas so much I went back in January. It was a wonderful place to visit...and fall in love.
Cancun by William Stickley
First of all, I want to say that Apple Vacations was great. All their guides, tour conductors, hosts, and other employees were really friendly and helpful.
RECOMMENDED BY FOLKS I MET IN CANCUN Flamingo Cancun (even non-oceanfront is nice overlooking Flamingo Plaza and Kukulcan Boulevard), Club Las Velas, Westin Regina, Oasis I and II, Melia Turquesa and Melia Cancun, Cancun Palace, Sheraton Cancun RECOMMENDED BY US (MOM-57, AUNT BEV-61, BILL-32, BRIAN-27)
Continental Villas Plaza / (Conteenental Viyas Plasa) We were really pleased with this hotel. ALL staff was friendly and helpful. Room was nice w/ patio (ocean- view). Well kept and real clean. CVP also hosts the Folkloric Ballet, a history of Mexican dances from Mayan to present with dinner buffet and open bar. We recommend it for a little culture while you're away. Also of mention was that the air-conditioning worked great everywhere (You really didn't need it with the constant ocean breeze) and we drank water in major hotels and restaurants and had ice too and didn't have any problems with Montezuma's Revenge.
Beach Palace - it sits next to an abandoned hotel project that was left in ruins. It's quite an eyesore.
PLANET HOLLYWOOD - Flamingo Plaza - good and hearty meals from shrimp to salads
HARD ROCK CAFE - Plaza Caracol - good hearty meals try the stuffed jalapenos appetizer - Muy bueno!! TONY ROMA'S - Continental Villas Plaza Lobby - ribs are their specialty - everything else is good too
CAPTAIN'S COVE - at Captains Cove - just a teeny bit south of the Oasis Cancun I entrance and across the street. Very, very good breakfast buffet. Lots to choose from Watch out for the smiling Public Relations Girl. She'll want to invite you back tomorrow
for a free breakfast, which includes a tour of the timeshare across the street!!!
PAT O'BRIEN'S - Flamingo Plaza - dinner or partying in the evening - good food - fun time
PERICO'S - saving the best for last - Cancun Centro - take a cab - Perico's had excellent food and drinks, a mariachi and maramba band, and the wait staff is part of the entertainment. They cut up with the crowd and each other. The restaurant is fashioned after an old-fashioned Mexican cantina. Go about 6-6:30 for food. Stay for the show. It's kind of a controlled wild atmosphere. We all loved it and our ages range from 27 to 61!!!
We took all but 1 of our trips through Apple Vacations. They were all great. The buses were air-conditioned, new, on time, and the staff was wonderful. We recommend all the following "things to do". FOLKLORIC BALLET - at the Continental Villas Plaza A history of Mexican dance from the ancient Mayan ritual dances to more modern folk dances, including dinner buffet and open bar.
CHICHEN ITZA - ruins - about 2 hours away with a stop in Vallodolid a small town with a 16th century Catholic church.
XCARET - pronounced (sh-caret) - tropical paradise with gardens, horseback riding, swimming in underground rivers (cool), snorkeling, animals, aquariums, eating, swimming and sun-bathing. about an hour from Cancun.
ISLA MUJERES - snorkeling, handicraft shopping, moped rentals available - it's only 5.5 miles long by .5 mile wide We took a two story boat/sun on top/air-cond on the bottom. It was through Aqua Tours. This was a party trip with open bar Our host was Enrique. He was from Spain, obviously schooled in the U.S. He was really outgoing, friendly, and fun. He was great entertainment for the approx. half an hour ride there and back. If you go, tell him he was personally recommended.
SCUBA DIVING - thru Aqua World - again all the staff was great and friendly. We learned how to scuba in the hotel pool and the Continental Villas Plaza, then were off to the Aqua World docks where we took a boat almost to Isla Mujeres and then dived to 25 feet on a reef. Well worth the $80 per person. Will be going scuba diving again for sure.
1. exchanging money when making a purchase is bad. You don't get the most pesos for your US dollar. Change money at your hotel or a bank
2. beaches are all public, feel free to explore them
3. there's a great miniature golf at the hotel Cancun Plaza
4. DO NOT go to the handicraft market downtown (it's called Ki-Huic, pronounced Kiwi) during siesta, You'll be the only customer in there and you WILL get hounded. We really preferred the handicraft market on Isla Mujeres No pressure selling like in Cancun Centro.
5. We were generally disappointed in the snorkeling just about everywhere but one place, and guess what, it was free.
Rent snorkel gear at your hotel, take the bus to the last southern stop at the Westin Regina Hotel. Walk up their drive and down the other side onto the beach. If the guard questions you, just tell him your going to the beach. Make a right and you'll see Club Med about a mile down the beach. It's the one with all the thatch roof buildings. When you get to Club Med's beach it will sort of end in a rocky point jutting out into the water. You can see a white tower on the point. Cross over that and you'll see the reef area where it's best to snorkel. It's a little rough getting in. Wear some kind of sandals that you can get wet and that you have sure footing in. Snorkel away. Be careful not to break any coral, and you should try not go in the water with any suntan lotion on. It ruins the delicate eco system of this small area.
6. Most importantly, don't think just because you can't swim, you can't snorkel. Many places including the southern point of Isla Mujeres and Xcaret rent or give you life preservers, so everyone can enjoy and snorkel safely.
Cayman Islands by Kurt Godwin
This report may be a little biased. I really love the Cayman's and this makes my fifth trip. The information here should be helpful.
We arrived at the Owen Roberts airport approx. 12:00 via USAir non-stop from Charlotte, NC. As we came with six people, we had reserved a mini-van from Budget rent-a-car at the airport. We got a pretty good rate at $55.00 a day. Not bad for six people. The rent-a-cars are a short 5 minute walk from the main terminal, so leave the luggage and someone to watch, pick up the car, then drive back over.
Driving in Cayman is a little exciting if you've never driven in a British environment (Cayman is still a British Crown Colony). Driving is on the left side of the road, and most of the cars are British standard with the driver on the right. It's not really that tough, just remember to look the proper direction before turning onto the road. Fortunately, except for downtown Georgetown during the daytime when the cruise ships are in port, the traffic really isn't that bad.
We made reservations and stayed at the Holiday Inn on Seven Mile Beach, only about a 15 minute drive from the airport. The Holiday Inn is about middle of the road as far as fanciness. There are some better hotels (i.e. more expensive - Radisson, Hyatt (not on the beach), Clarion (also not on the beach), and there are some lesser hotels (Sleep Inn). I think that with the Holiday Inn you get the most bang for your buck. It is located on probably the best part of seven mile beach (one of the prettiest beaches in all of the Caribbean). It's just far enough from the cruise ship port that you don't get too many cruise ship people. This can be important, considering cruise ships call on Grand Cayman everyday but one, and on certain days there are 4 ships in port! Anyway, back to the Holiday Inn, this hotel offers everything you could want. They have a great pool, a beach bar where a local favorite "The Barefoot Man" plays Wed-Sun nights, a full complement of water sports activities, and a completely operational dive shop all right on the premises. The rooms are clean and comfortable and each sport a mini-bar with all the usual items. The hotel has 2 restaurants, 2 bars, and a comedy club, plus on the pool deck every night, they have a theme buffet for usually around $13.95.
As far as water activities, we rented different equipment right at the beach from Aqua sports. Prices were a little high, but very friendly service, and the equipment was all in good working order. As far as scuba diving goes, Bob Soto's diving is located right next to the pool. It's a great location and for the most part pretty nice people. They offer a "resort" course dive for scuba beginner's every morning with an afternoon ocean dive, all for only $90. This is a great deal, as everything is right at your fingertips; however, the only downside is that they have one instructor named Missy, who seems miffed at the world. She was very rude, unpleasant, and generally pretty incompetent in the dive instructor area. If you decide to try out diving, make sure she's not working it. All the rest of the dive people were great!
As far as restaurants go, I think we went to two of the finest restaurants I've ever been to on successive nights. The first was called The Wharf located right at the beginning of Seven Mile Beach. This restaurant was fantastic. The closest thing I could compare it to is Mama's Fish house on Maui, if you've been there. Anyway, this place has a huge deck right next to the water. The view is superb, as is the ambiance. The service was excellent, as was the food. We all tried different things, but the grilled Dolphin in almondine sauce was the best I ever had. In addition, the restaurant sported roving harp players who would go from table to table, taking requests. A real treat. We had our six year old son with us, and when the harpist arrived, he played the Aladdin theme for our son. He was thrilled. The other cool thing about this place was that at 9:00 PM every night, they feed the Tarpon off the rear dock. Anytime after about 7:30, these giant Tarpon(6-7 feet) gather in anticipation of their meal. Lots of fun to watch.
The second place we went that was really good was called Pappagallo. This is a Northern Italian restaurant located on the northwest part of the island called the West Bay. It's about a 15 minute drive from seven mile beach, but well marked with signs the whole way. The restaurant has great Polynesian architecture and is located next to a large pond, with torches all around, a very romantic atmosphere. The service and food were excellent.
The third place we went was more of a fun place. Not really in the league of the first two, but fun. It was called the Lone Star bar and grill. The best way to describe it is "A little taste of Texas" in the Cayman's. The food was OK, but very hot. I think they put a chili pepper in everything they made. The bar is the stand-out in the this place. They had 102 different "shots" of differing varieties.
Their are a couple of interesting local sights to see if you have time. The Turtle Farm is an interesting place to visit, especially is you have kids. It's a working farm which breeds the green sea turtles that once were in great inhabitants in the Caymans. A bit of history, Grand Cayman's former name was "Las Tortugas", which loosely translated means the turtles. Also, another place of interest is "Hell". There is a little location with rock formations that resemble the way Dante described Hell in his book "Inferno". There is a post office in Hell, so you can send all your friends postcards from Hell!
The only remotely bad thing I can think of regarding Grand Cayman is that their currency is stronger than the US dollar. You will get approx. .84 cents in trade on one US dollar.
Other than that, everything about the Caymans is great! It's one of my favorite places!
Cayman Islands by Jon Saff
My wife and I just returned from a vacation on Grand Cayman and one of the best times in our life. Besides the fabulous weather and the wonderful beaches the experience was truly memorable due to the wonderful people we met.
This was especially true for our hosts at the Island House Resort (P.O.Box1083GT, Church St. West Bay, Grand Cayman, phone:809.949.4242, Fax:809.949.3347). It is a small (10 room) hotel with large rooms, double beds, and even hammocks to relax in. Every room has the usual amenities ,such as TV, portable ice chest for the beach, and air conditioning. the hotel is located in West Bay, just down the street from Seven Mile Beach , close to The Turtle Farm, Hell , and Morgan Harbour where many of the diving , snorkeling and fishing charters work from. The price is extremely reasonable for the Cayman Islands , with rooms at $US 80 for the high season and $US60 during the rest of the year. There is an open air bar which is frequented mostly by locals and, as such, you can get to know better the people of the island , rather than staying at the Holiday Inn and meeting other Americans or Canadians .
People there were very friendly and open to us and we learned a lot more about what Grand Cayman is about from these patrons than any tour guide or book will ever give you. We found this to be one of the best parts of the stay. Every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday there is live music ( mostly reggae and island-based music) . Saturday night dance parties are particularly jammed and it is a great chance to party with Caymanians.
We could not complain about the food, either. A local woman makes one of the best lunches around and for a very reasonable price, too. People from the neighborhood come here to lunch on rice and beans , fried plantain, breadfruit, sweet potato, pumpkin ( West Indian variety) and such meats as curried chicken or goat, conch stew, turtle, salt beef and fried chicken.
The host of the Island House Resort went out of his way to make us feel welcome. Little things such as picking us up and taking us to the airport were much appreciated . When we were unable to return our rental bicycles on the day of our departure he took care of this problem. The folks here were clearly committed to make our stay a very positive experience. This may read like an advertisement, but it just a reflection of the great time we had due to the folks at the Island House.
For diving and snorkeling I would recommend Bayside Watersports out of Morgan Harbour. They do full and half-day charters on a 53 ft boat and serve a great lunch as well on the full day trip. They are also a good place to go if you just want to rent snorkels, as they have the lowest rental fees around ($US 5/day).
I would also recommend the idea of bicycling around the island , even for only a day or two. Try exploring some of the less traveled areas , such as Boatswain Bay , the areas south and east of Georgetown , or the eastern end of the island. Its a great opportunity to see the more rural and undeveloped parts of the island ( the "true " island ) and meet a lot of nice people along the way. There are lots of places to rent bicycles, many of which are close to the hotels along Seven Mile beach.
Grenada: LaSource Resort by Joe Farrel
My wife and I visited LaSource in Grenada from February 3 to February 10, 1995. We chose this property because of positive experiences with the sister resort, LeSport in St. Lucia. We traveled in the company of two other couples. This is an all-inclusive resort where you really do not need to bring money.
LaSource is located about two minutes from the airport in Grenada. The resort is located on a very long beach, has a large pool area as the center of activity, has a spa area for "treatments" and approximately 100 rooms that are upscale Caribbean. The property attracts a group of mainly US, Canadian and British visitors in the 40 to 60 age group. There are exceptions to this, but the property is not for young children or teenagers.
Detail of Property
The resort has a small store to buy outdated newspapers, suntan lotion, bathing suits and typical sundry items. The prices were fair; for instance you could buy the expensive suntan lotion in the large cardboard display with the pretty girl for $16.00 to $20.00 or the generic brand on the glass shelf for $6.00. The LaSource tee shirts, which were of good quality, were $20.00.
There were two bars, the piano bar and the pool bar. The piano bar is open only in the evening and is tastefully done in large consuming lounge chairs with a piano and on selected nights, entertainment. They serve typical Caribbean drinks as well as a fully stocked bar. Examples of brands are Johnnie Walker Black (my Scotch), Beefeater Gin, Absolute Vodka and etc. The quality is very nice. The Carib beer is good. The dress is usually long pants for men and similar dress for women. I forgot my long pants for the trip and my shorts were perfectly OK (or at least so I think, I did not get thrown out!). The pool bar is very casual and it seems is always open. You walk to the pool bar and request drinks or you could put up your flag on the beach and hope that someone comes by to take a drink order. The general rule was that you walked to the bar.
There are two restaurants to eat (you could also order room service, but I do not think many people do). Breakfast, lunch and Tuesday and Friday evening meals are buffet at the pool restaurant that is adjacent to the pool bar. This are is casual, open air and has entertainment on Tuesday and Friday night. Breakfast consists of buffet style with the typical cereals, fresh fruit, eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, baked tomatoes, juices, fish, potatoes, toast and muffins and the like. This is served from 7:30 am to 10:00 am. We all wished that they had a omelet station for fixing eggs like they did at LeSport because the breakfasts were getting kind of boring. Lunch is a real treat in that the buffet can cause stress in deciding what to eat. It was very good. You could make a salad, have fish (always have fish), deserts and the like. The lunch was always changing and we all commented how they do such a good job of using leftovers from the previous meals. The lunch I think tended to be the bigger meal of the day for most guests. Lunch was served fro 12:30 PM to 2:00 PM. Dinner is served in the Main dinning room which was very nice with ocean views of St. George lit up at night, table cloths, lots of silverware (like three knives, three forks and two or three spoons), wine glasses and water glasses. Cloth napkins were there--you get the picture that it was a very nice facility for the evening meal. The menu constantly changed with four or five entrees, soup (the soup was great--not heavy, but very flavorful) and wonderful deserts. Typical meals consisted of veal, chicken, fish (remember always fish) and some vegetarian dish. The presentation was excellent. The wine served with dinner was different most every night with always a red or white. On Italian night they had Soave and Valipollica, other night Cabernet and Chardonay. Dinner was served by a team of two, a waiter and a busperson. They were very attentive to you. The portions were smaller but of a high quality. Dinner was served from 7:30 PM to 10:00 PM. Afternoon tea was served from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM and consisted of light finger sandwiches and scones and the like. Some people actually drank tea too! This was a nice little snack to tide us Americans over since the evening meal was typically later. I should also mention that the manager had a cocktail reception for new guests on Friday night which is a great way to get to know people. I think they should do this more often as we met a really nice couple from the UK whom we will probably visit. The really nice thing about the meals and drinks is that this is not a resort where quantity is king; quality seems to be first and you do not have to pay. It is great to order champagne for 8 when something special happened (we had a lot of special things happen, now that I think of it!) or when people came and went you did not have to hassle with who owes what. They do not even want you to tip the staff and no one did.
The rooms were in a separate area from the main activity hub; were about 100 of them I think, three floors and were nice. Each room had marble floors, a king poster sized bed, two chairs for reading and ample storage. The bath was very large with lots of marble and a big marble enclosed tub. The rooms were air conditioned or you leave the doors and windows open for the sound of the ocean, or of the band on entertainment nights. Nightly turn down service was around 8:00 or so (sorry but no mint). All rooms had a little balcony that you could sit on and see the water. Phones in the rooms, but no TV which was great. I do not know when you would watch it. The buildings on the property were all painted a off white or yellow with a distinctive mahogany wood that was the railings, doors and windows. This gave the property a real classy look. There are ocean view deluxe rooms and a building to the rear with a limited view of the ocean. Make sure you know what your purchased so you are assigned the correct room.
The pool was definitely the center of activity. Never had a problem with towels or chairs, never! The large pool is for general swimming, water aerobics, volley ball and just general hanging around. The smaller diving pool is connected with a small waterfall effect is for jumping into and for scuba training. The hot tub (which was cold--a part was on order--remember this is the Caribbean!) was a good hang out also. At the pool most people would talk or read either in the sun or under the shade of provided umbrellas. The pool is naturally connected to the bar. Naturally!
The beach was very long, deep and had lots of places to find your spot either in the full sun or under a tree or under an umbrella. People tended to have their spot. You could cluster in a private little area and be by yourself or out in the full sun. The beach area had lots of chaise lounges and most people kept the area clean. The beach was close to the bar, naturally. A good portion of the women went topless on the beach. There was also a nude beach somewhere, but we did not look for it. There were vendors that would try and sell you things on the beach. It is entirely legal for them to do so and the staff at LaSource could not do anything about it. They were not intrusive however.
The water sports shack was at the far end of the beach and had sunfish sailing, water skiing, snorkeling and scuba diving. Actually scuba diving was subcontracted I think, because the staff were very professional and one of the guys in our group said that the equipment was good and worked (remember we are in the Caribbean). The week we were there Grenada was having their annual sailing festival and LaSource rented a 45 foot sailboat and somehow the owners or Tim, the water sports guy, finagled berths for us on 65 foot Swan sailboat called the Kings Legend which was in the Whitbread round the world race. If you are a sailor, you would say, whoa! This was really neat, and we won the race. We were the biggest boat and had a Norwegian crew. Us from the hotel made great rail meat (that's when you hang your feet over the side of the boat when it leans or heels in an attempt to keep the boat upright). This experience did not cost us anything. When they said all inclusive, they really mean it.
The spa stuff
The people in our group did the spa stuff, but they are not writing this so I will not say a lot about it because I don't do spa stuff. Actually I had a massage because I pulled a muscle in my back from the sailing trip. The spa begins with a visit with the nurse whose job is to check your blood pressure and get you to sign the release forms. After that you get a schedule which includes a treatment each day. Treatments consist of foot massage, full body massage, aroma therapy?, facial and salt lofa?. They tell me that the staff was better trained here at LaSource then at LeSport. You can trade your treatments (or sell them to the highest bidder for drinks) with no problem. There were lots of optional treatments that did cost money, but I do not know of anyone who took them. They also have mediation and relaxation sessions which one of our group members attended religiously. We could not figure out if she really liked the session or if it was Jean-Pierre that she really liked. Her husband fell asleep and was reported to be snoring in the session. He was not invited back.
I attended all of the exercise classes, which consisted of step aerobics. Chris and Bertrand did a good job. I do this a lot in the states and tell you that this was not a hotel deal for the fatties--they really did a good job on the step. Every day they had water aerobics at the pool which varied in intensity as to who did the leading. The walks consisted of a power walk at 8:00 am and it was truly a power walk. There were walks at 11:00 and 5:00 that were less strenuous. Archery, tennis, golf, fencing and other lessons were given. The golf is a par three, three hole deal I think. There were plenty of time available at the tennis courts. The staff really tried hard to make sure the people had fun. This is always a difficult thing to do because you do not want to herd people or bug them, but the staff was upbeat and wanted to play volley ball on the beach or in the water and this helped to get things going. You could also be very content to do absolutely nothing.
Tours and excursion
There was a little storefront on the property that LaSource rented out to Anne who ran the tour shop to help arrange trips. She was very nice and helpful--I think she truly cared. I had a problem with a hike I had scheduled in that I was taken on the wrong one (I hiked up to Mt. St. Catherine which is 2,700 feet above sea level). Well the actual guide got it goofed up and Anne really wanted to know so she could fix it. Some of our group rented a Jeep for a day and had a real nice time. My wife and I took a half day tour of the island, which we thought was plenty. We both seemed to end up at the same places. Tours and excursions are extra cost items.
The Island is poor by US standards but the people were friendly and nice. The downtown area is very un tourist oriented. No shops that we would want to buy anything from. There was no real shopping on the island to speak of. I personally like to explore islands that is why I took the 6 hour hike in the rain forest, but I would not plan on more than a half day or a day at the most out of the resort. Some our group that had the Jeep visited the school in St. Patrick's parish and talked to the principal. This was a nice experience since one is a teacher and the other is in public health education.
Guests were very friendly. We met some real nice people that we will correspond with. One couple from Ireland came over by themselves and got married on the beach. Well then one hell of wedding reception and party with all of their new friends that they met. Being from the States, one week was enough for us. Dress is casual. Bathing suits during the day and shorts or long pants at night. It did not get cold. Some people dressed up in nice dresses and even saw a sport coat now and then
Jamaica: Negril by Cheryl Campbell and David Heberling
My husband, David, and I just returned from a very enjoyable stay in Negril on the West End (cliff side) of town. We had a very relaxing trip, perfect weather, delightful accommodations, and only a few annoyances. Before I try to recall the highlights, I wanted to pass along a few tips that would have made life a little easier.
1. Really try to tie up all your loose ends at work before leaving. Once in Negril, we COULD NOT USE A CALLING CARD TO CALL OUTSIDE THE COUNTRY. It's amazing how handicapped you feel when you cannot call out (except for collect calls). Fortunately, our hosts at the Tensing Pen cottages let us use their phone (the operator calls back with the charges), and they had a fax machine (which was easiest of all -- I relayed all messages through a single person in the states). The reason for this is calling card theft and fraud.
2. PLAN ON USING JAMAICAN DOLLARS FOR ALL YOUR PURCHASES, particularly at the restaurants. Avoid credit cards. ALL establishments will insist on writing your VISA statements in US dollars and they will individually use a conversion rate which is BENEFICIAL TO THEM. In our case, this added 6% to several of our bills, since the stores/restaurants would use a rate of $30J per $US, rather than the prevailing $32/$US.
If you use VISA, insist on Jamaican dollars. They'll say that it's not possible, but put your foot down. They have to accept their own currency (we confirmed this with the banks)!
3. DON'T DRIVE. We've traveled extensively, and have bravely navigated rentals through Paris, Rome, and other notorious driving locations. Jamaica is even more aggressive. I was reading an airline magazine which said that traffic accident rates are the 3rd worst in the world (only higher in Ethiopia and India).
We had a delightful driver (Nelton) that we use for going to the YS Falls and for Montego Bay airport transport. We thoroughly enjoyed having this gentlemanly 50-year-old articulate fellow take us around the island.
4. EAT WITH THE RASTAS. Food is vegetarian, wonderful, cheap, low calorie, and you won't get hassled or ripped off. Or, eat at the local fish joints or jerk houses. Super food!!! If Americans ate like this, we'd all be a lot better off.
We stayed at the Tensing Pen on the West End of Negril, which consists of 10 cottages. Three of these cottages are on 10-foot pillars set right on the little coves. The coves are lit at night and ledges exist for sunbathing. You can dive right into the 30' clear waters. Spectacularly beautiful. Gardens are everywhere. The common house has fresh fruit, bread, jams, juices, and coffee placed out each morning. You can use its kitchen whenever you'd like. The cottages have thatched roofs and lovely furnishings. We had a VERY LARGE bamboo 4-poster bed, our own verandah, and walls and floors of golden hardwood shellac-ed to a satin luster.
Weather was delightful (78-82 degF during the day and pleasantly cool at night with the ocean breezes). Did a lot of snorkeling, which was nice but not nearly as brilliant as I have seen in Aruba or the British Virgin Islands. Still a lot of fun, particularly when exploring the caves which exist on the West End of Negril. You can also walk down into the caves from Xtabi or the "cave bars" located near Xtabi.
As I said above, the food was great nearly everywhere we went. I really loved the curried conch. Curried goat has too many bones (kinda surprising) but is very tasty. You can't go wrong with fish. The ordinary "fish and chips" was often red snapper. We ate a lot of patties. Get some from "Jaba" who sells them from a vividly colored hut across from Tensing Pen. The ackee ones are out of this world. How I wish we could get ackees over here. They are the ideal substitute for scrambled eggs (and a lot better tasting than Egg Beaters). Service, at any sit-down establishment, is leisurely, so don't be in a rush.
We got bikes for the week and went up and down the Negril road (about 12 miles of crafts, hotels, food stands, local businesses) about every day. The t-shirt vendors and local artisans do approach you, but were not really a nuisance. Their economy is pretty depressed, so I can't blame them for doing a good sales pitch. We were very impressed by the quality of the wood-working. Some beautiful carvings. A fellow in the craft park (right by the downtown bridge) near the entrance of this park makes particularly outstanding giraffes. We got a giraffe and a set of exquisite birds on a tree. The designs can be extremely clever.
Nelton took us on a day trip to YS Falls, Bamboo Avenue, Bluefields, and Black River. HIGHLY RECOMMEND DOING THIS WITH AN INDIVIDUAL DRIVER, NOT A TOUR. Nelton got us to the falls before the little tour buses (JUTA) arrived. They are stunning. We had it to ourselves from 10-11:30am. Tip the guide well and have a super time. I swung from the rope into the falls and swam behind the falls. [Women with weak upper arm strength should not attempt this as there are rocks near the jump off point.] It was wonderful.
The ride is very scenic. Our driver was an expert on all the flora, as well as local (and international) politics. We really got a lot of insight into a Jamican's hopes for his family and country, as well as his gripes. I'd recommend the Black River boat ride if you have not been to the Everglades. The river gets narrow, forested, and alligators abound.
Avoid eating at the local tourist Inn in Black River. Instead ask your driver to take you to the "fish ladies" near Savanna-del-Mar. Their local fish is beautifully presented with onions and other seasonings (the fish could have been on the cover of Bon Appetit).
We also went horseback riding in the hills behind Negril. Bernice, the host at Tensing Pen, has the number of the lady (her name is pronounced FA-NET) who got us and took us on a very nice 2 1/2 ride through uplands to a spring. We had a great time, even though we were total novices.
We were surprised at how sedentary the tourists are. The beach area (in contrast to the West End) was virtually dead at night. With all the reggae and Calypso, I was surprised that dancing (outside of the reggae clubs which get going after midnight) was almost totally non existent. We "made our own dance floor" at Xtabi and used our "boom box" at Tensing Pen to dance under the stars. Work on your merengue before you go.
Our only complaint is that the presence of marijuana is really too prevalent. You'll be frequently approached, but a polite "NO MAN" sends them on with no problem. There is a lot of second-hand smoke. It's all this ganja which keeps the tourists sedentary, perhaps?
We left our 4-year old with the grandparents, but would not hesitate to take her on a future trip. Negril was very child friendly.
It's been 8 years since I was at Ocho Rios. From the regulars at Negril, I've heard that Ocho Rios has gotten way out of hand and that the waters are now polluted. (From several professional divers and biologists at Negril, I understand that Jamaica is working to improve the sewer systems to handle all the visitors and they are also planting artificial reefs). At least in Negril you can enjoy wonderful water quality. We recommend Negril as a delightful place to visit, subject to the tips above.
Jamaica: FDR Resort by Jack Benoff
My family of 3 children ages 5, 3, 11 months and my wife and I have just returned from FDR.
The property is very small, there are 76 suites. The food at the Verandah in the evening is excellent and meets any food that I have had at Sandals, Couples or Boscobel. The property sort of grew on us by the second day. The rooms are very nice. Each is actually a condo with a living room, dining room and kitchen. There is a separate bedroom. We had a two bedroom 2 1/2 bath unit. My main complaint about the suite is that they only have one television which is located in the living room. I would have appreciated a TV in the master bedroom. My other complaint is that the only rooms to have AC are the bed rooms. The Girl Friday concept is good. Some guest really took advantage of them.
The new beach is small but a very nice cove with very nice sand vs. the other beaches which are bigger, but have a combination of stones and coarse sand.
The only complaint I have is that compared to Boscobel I felt that the kids program was not what I was expecting. It is more designed for the Friday to take the kids there and do stuff with them at specific times vs. Boscobel that is more like being at camp. The other problem is that you are assigned one Friday. We had our 11 month old sleeping, and one son wanted to go to the game room and the other wanted to go to the playground. It was impossible for one person to be three places. When I took my son to arts and crafts they asked where the Friday was and I was told that it was her job to supervise him, not theirs.
All in all we had a great time with the family. I would be a hard choice as to which is better FDR or Boscobel. Each had its own unique benefits. FDR was more attentive to service and food quality and would be great if you have an infant or only one child. After asking my 5 and 3 year olds which place they liked better their choice was Boscobel for these reasons. They could get ice cream when the wanted and make Sundays all the time, they liked the camp, the pool was bigger, they didn't have to see us all day, the jerk chicken was not as spicy, they loved the banana boat and the game room was better. My choice would be a combination of both.
I mention Boscobel in this report because we were there in October for 10 days and had heard from our friends about FDR and how great it was. We thought we had to find out for ourselves, what a great reason for a vacation.
Jamaica: Couples by Bob Green
We spent the week of 2/5/95 at the Couples Club in Jamaica. Couples is all- inclusive with much more to do than you have time for. I will report on the things we tried. See their brochures for the many other things they offer.
Our charter was out of Boston and the tour operator asked people to be at the airport 3 hours before departure. We arrived 90 minutes before departure which seemed just about right. They process charter groups through in batches and our group processing began just as we arrived. Our plane left about 30 minutes late for no apparent reason. Tower Air, the operator, gave no excuse.
On our return from Montego Bay, the flight was delayed about an hour. The departure schedule TV monitors showed our flight but no gate or departure time. This was the case right up until our departure time passed and the flight disappeared from the screen. The uncertainty about what was going on was very annoying to many people waiting for the flight. This was very inconsiderate of the Tower Air management.
We flew both ways in a 747 which was nice. Food was meager. Bring a lunch if you expect to be hungry.
Montego Bay Airport and the Bus ride
It took an hour from the time we got off the plane until our bags showed up on the conveyer belt. Be prepared for a wait, the Jamaicans don't seem to move very fast. After clearing immigration and customs we found our Super Club representative and were directed to a bus for the 2 hour ride to Couples. The baggage handlers loading buses expect tips, and they ask for it. Our package included transfers and tips but I was not certain about this situation so I paid the tip. There were about 20 or 30 buses in the parking lot waiting to take people to clubs all over the island. It was rushed and hectic getting boarded on the bus. This is not a pleasant part of the trip. The bus stops for food, drink, and rest rooms, about half way to the club. Unless you are really hungry, wait until you get to the club. Food and drink are always available at Couples, and it is included in your package price. When we arrived at the club the bus driver did not seem to expect a tip, and none were offered by those on our bus.
On our return the bus driver did seem to expect a tip at the airport, although he didn't ask for one. Everyone on our bus gave a tip to the driver. A group of men unload baggage from the buses and they expect tips. They ask for it. Then another man hauls your bags to the ticket counter and he expects a tip also. This seemed like too much, it cost me 3 tips to get from the club to the airport.
The Island and the People
We spent the week at the club and did no traveling around the island. From the 2 hour ride to and from the airport I would make the following observations. There is less vegetation than I expected and it seems somewhat dry. There is very little farming. We saw some sugar cane and many cattle and goats but few if any crops in the areas we went through. The standard of living as judged by housing and clothing is low. There are of course some nice homes, but there are many shacks. We had heard that crime is a problem in Jamaica and this was evidenced by bars on doors and windows of stores and homes. There are many uncompleted buildings and homes which seem now abandoned. Looks like these projects were started and then never completed.
Couples is located along a busy street in Ocho Rios. There is little to no undeveloped beachfront property in this area but once inside the grounds the commercialism of Ocho Rios is not visible. There are 3 main guest room buildings, each several stories high. One side of each building faces the ocean with beautiful views, and the rooms on the other side face inland. (They say mountain view but I could see no mountains). The beach is rather small, but is adequate for the resort size. Swimming is at the center and one end of the beach and the water sports equipment is at the other end. The main building with the lobby houses the piano bar, two enclosed restaurants (Verandah & LeGourmet) and the open sided patio building where breakfast and lunch are served. There is a stage here where the evening entertainment is held each night at 10pm. The swimming pool is adjacent to the patio as is the bar. As you face the street from the lobby, on your right is a large grassy lawn area where many of the weddings are held. Across the lawn away from the main buildings towards the street are individual cottage units each with a fenced in court yard with a private hot tub. These appear to be a higher rent than rooms in the main building but we didn't check. These units do not have an ocean view. The resort has 172 rooms and all were occupied the week we were there.
During our stay we met several repeat guests and found out that on a repeat visit they give you extras such as a free 1/2 hour massage, lunch at an Ocho Rios restaurant, etc. If you are repeating, ask about it.
We had a mountain view room on the second floor just over the lobby. The room was average size for a motel room but had a large closet and a large bathroom. All rooms have a king size bed. Our balcony looked out over the front drive and was fine. The ocean views are nicer if you want to pay more. The room had a radio/cassette/disc player. I brought some CDs for back- ground music. The room also had cable TV which we didn't expect. It included ABC, CBS, NBC, TBC, CNN, ESPN, and HBO and MAX at no charge. We never had time to watch TV. Our radio didn't work properly and it was fixed immediately after I reported it. Each room has a safe where you can lock up your money and valuables. This is convenient since you don't need any money inside the club.
We took our daily showers around 6pm and did run out of hot water a couple of time.
Be aware. The rooms are air conditioned but we seldom used the air conditioner. The rooms have outside venting and if you leave the sliding doors open, you get a nice draft all night. Bugs and mosquitoes were not a problem. We saw none. They do start mowing at 8am some mornings, so if you are on the mountain side with your sliders open, don't plan to sleep late.
Food & Restaurants
LeGourmet - French, 7-9pm
Verandah - American, 7-9:30pm
Bayside - Italian, 7-9:30pm
We found all the food to be excellent. All the restaurants have complete dinner menus and you order all you want as part of your package. Wine is served by a roving waiter. Generally you have a choice of red or white. They choose the wine. LeGourmet has the best dry wine (corked), Bayside serves a cheaper wine (screw-on top), the Verandah serves mid-range wine. You don't need reservations but when busy, the restaurants do fill up. One evening we couldn't get into the LeGourmet or Verandah and went late to Bayside. Service was terrible. Wine refills were impossible to get, and the salad bar and desert bar were mostly gone. We waited for coffee after dinner but none was offered so we left. Note: eat early or take your chances.
All 3 restaurants have live entertainment during your meal. Either piano music, or a roving violin or guitar player. They come to your table and play your requests. A nice touch.
The best atmosphere is at LeGourmet. You will need to dress decently here; long pants and nice shirt for men (no jacket and tie required but some do wear them), most women were wearing something a little dressy. Women may be rejected if they don't have a shoe with a back or a heal strap (no thongs).
Breakfast and lunch is buffet style, on the Patio. The selection is incredible. Wine is available with lunch from a roving waiter. I was able to get wine only once since the roving waiter is never around. I could have gone to the bar for wine, but was too lazy. On Monday they had a Jamaican tasting party pool-side at 5pm. The foods were very hot and spicy, but interesting. Again, the selection was enormous. Wednesday evening they setup tables by the pool for dinner which was a buffet. The setting was very appealing, however, we ate at LeGourmet.
There is a grille on the beach directly under the bar that serves hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, French fries, and soft drinks from 10am to 5am every day.
There is a bus to take shoppers into the Ocho Rios shopping area twice daily. There is also a shop on the property that sells clothing, makeup, per- fume, suntan lotion, luggage, magazines, and other things. At the Couples shop, T shirts are $15, same as in US. If you plan to buy clothing there, wait till Wednesday when they have a lunch-time fashion show, and all the clothing is on sale that day.
They perform 2-3 weddings each day. On Valentines day this year, about 20 weddings were planned. Weddings are one of Couples specialties.
They have 5 excellent tennis courts with 2 pros who give clinics and lessons (at no extra cost). Three of the courts are lighted for night play. There were not too many tennis players when we were there and we were able to get a court any time. This is a nice feature if you are a tennis player.
There are two Jacuzzis next to the pool that can hold 12-16 people each. These tended to be luke warm and occasionally, one was turned off even though every room was occupied the week we were there. Another large Jacuzzi is located between the buildings and the ocean past the west end of the beach. This jacuzzi was always hot and usually occupied. It is somewhat remote from the center of activity.
On the West end of the front lawn is the jungle. It really looks like a jungle and there are walkways through it. Located in the jungle are some benches, a basket swing for two, and two 2-person jacuzzis. We did not try them but these are frequented by couples who wish some privacy.
The Nude Island
Everyone on the mainland wears clothes or swim suit. At orientation, we were told that after 1am, the whole resort is clothing optional. We didn't stay up to see. About 200 yards off shore is a small island for sun bathers who wish to go nude. A ferry boat takes you back and forth from 9am to 5pm each day. The island is small, about 50 yards long and 20 yards wide. It has wood decks with lounge chairs, a few sandy spots, and a few covered gazebos with a hanging basket swing for two. There is a small pool there with a swim-up bar and food counter. The pool is fresh water, but not big enough to actually swim in. The island seemed to attract about 20 or so people at any given time. Since there are over 300 guests, you can see is this not the center of activity. If you go to the island you are expected to disrobe. There is a guard there and he may ask you to remove your suit or leave (he did to us).
Beach towels are available by the pool but they are always running out. It seems they don't have enough towels and they launder and redistribute towels all day long. If towels are out, come back later and you will likely find a fresh stack.
Scuba lessons are very popular. It is very well organized and managed with the first lesson in the pool followed by dives in the ocean. You must be in excellent health. We did not participate, but on the first day we watched a group of 20 or so go through
the orientation. At least 8 were rejected for reasons such as health condition, or medication they were taking.
Its unusual, but we had a rainy week. It rained every day except the day we arrived and our last day but we had periods of sun. I estimated we got 10 inches of rain during the week. During rainy periods the staff makes every attempt to keep people happy with activities on the covered patio such as entertainment, bingo, etc. Also rain is no problem for swimmers and hot tubbers.
The bar is open from 10am to 1am and is busy all day. Since drinks are included in the package, most people drink a lot, but drunkenness was not obvious. The bar is first class with most any drink you can imagine. All top brand liquors are available including brandy and liqueurs. The only down- side is that if you are not big drinkers (like us) you know you are helping pay for the people who drink all day long. It is not advertised, but the bar will give you bottles of wine and plastic glasses to take to your room, or to the jacuzzi.
The Sunset Sail
This goes out 3 times during the week at 3:30 and returns at 6pm. Make sure you go at least once. The boat is a 60' catamaran and you get rum drinks and a tour along the coast of Ocho Rios. They stop for swimming and diving off the boat. The ride can be rough, but its a fun trip.
The evening entertainment from 10 to 11pm was generally very good. Usually the entertainment consisted of a singer and couples would come up and dance on the dance floor. There is some audience participation skits that can get pretty silly so if you are not into being called up on stage, set towards the rear (as we did). Friday night was the guest/staff talent show. There were some very talented guests who performed. If you have talent, polish up your act before you come.
Dunn's River Falls Trip
This was the only off-site trip we took and we recommend it. You climb up through water falls where the river cascades down to the sea. Very scenic - very wet. You will do best with some water shoes. They rent them for $5 if you don't have them. My wife went barefoot and did OK but you have to watch for sharp rocks under water. If you don't want to get wet, there is a stairway along side the fall for walking up.
We have been to a lot of places including Club Meds and others, and felt this was our best vacation yet. The staff is very friendly and helpful and do their best to make your vacation enjoyable. We plan to do it again next year if we can. We like the all-inclusive plan and the couples-only format is great. You seldom see a person without their mate, and usually only in twos. The atmosphere encourages couples to spend their time together.
For bargain hunters, shop around and think about a last-minute booking - prices vary greatly. We met a couple from Chicago who paid $2100 each for advanced booking, and another couple from Boston who took a last minute booking 2 weeks before departure for $1200 each.
Puerto Rico: Dorado Hyatt by Gary Levine
Dorado Hyatt has great food (for a hotel)with the ability to also eat at the Ceramar (via bus Shuttle that goes between the two hotels every 30 minutes). The 4 golf courses between the 2 Hyatts are famed, though quite dry now due to little rain. The beach at the Dorado is really great, long and wide and superior to the Ceramar. Ceremar has a superior and much larger swimming pool than the Dorado, and its also warmer than the Dorado's. The bad about both is the room prices are quite high. Dorado rooms are superior to the Ceramar's but doesn't seem like either has been updated for quite some time. Also, at the Dorado, its an older crowd and more subdued than the younger crowd (with kiddies) at the Ceramar.
Saint Croix by John Milmore
My wife and I stayed at the Club Saint Croix from Jan. 8-14, 1995. It was our first visit to the Caribbean, and while we enjoyed it overall, we found a few things disappointing.
Club St. Croix itself is one of several condos lined up on a stretch of beach a few miles west of Christiansted. The "Club" has little to offer in terms of activities, aside from a nice pool, tennis courts and a small concession that rents a few small sailboats and some snorkeling gear. There is a poolside restaurant, but there were precious few customers all week. The condo itself was spacious and well-furnished, and it had a balcony with a beautiful view of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, the panorama was spoiled by what appeared to be a small oil refinery about a mile to the east, which was close enough to pollute the air depending on which way the wind was blowing. Add to that the proximity of a large public housing complex, and one could hardly get the feeling of being in "paradise". But in the Club's favor, we found the service by the staff to be friendly and excellent.
The high point of our trip was probably the Island Safari Tour. It is a full day tour conducted by Sweeney, who came from Trinidad 30 years ago, and who really knows and loves St. Croix. We visited the Botanical Garden, Whim Plantation, Cruzan Rum Factory, Domino Club and took an exciting ride over the mountains to the site where Columbus landed. Sweeney makes EVERYTHING fun and a learning experience --- don't miss his tour!!!
As far as restaurants go, we enjoyed the Banana Bay Club, which has a delightful porch where you can sit and eat good food while checking out the boats in the harbor at Christiansted. But the prize for a fun place goes to Lizards. We were strolling through the town on Friday evening, when we heard the sounds of a duet doing a nice job with an Eagles tune. I saw a sign, reading "Warm beer and lousy food", and chalk marks on the sidewalk leading to a stairway going up over a jewelry shop. We went up and took a table between the entertainment and the entrance. The burger and fries were fine and the beer was COLD. But best of all was the motley group of folks who drifted in....the party atmosphere was VERY contagious!
Our trip to Buck Island was another story. We went on a nice trimaran on a hot, sunny day. Captain Heinz is a classy sailor, but I think we caught him on an off day. The snorkeling (our first experience) felt rushed and nerve-wracking. About half of us returned to the boat without seeing too much, and we then pulled up anchor and spent a while on the Buck Island beach. I've heard SO much about the underwater trail that I felt quite frustrated. Perhaps other boats would have been a better choice, or maybe trips like this are best for those who have a fair amount of snorkeling experience.
The week went by quickly....and I vowed to visit the Caribbean again as soon as possible. Although we have no basis to compare St. Croix with other places, I would say that overall it was quite nice, but not quite Eden!
St. John by Robert Gouget
My wife and I recently completed a 9 day honeymoon stay (Jan. 9-18, 1995) on the island of in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Following are my personal observations about the resort at which we stayed (Caneel Bay), the activities that are available, the restaurants, and anything else that happens to come to mind. I hope anyone planning a trip to St. John will find this file useful. Sorry for my English, it's not my first language!
GETTING THERE. We were coming from Los Angeles so we took a night flight from LA to Miami, waited 5 hours, and boarded our flight to San Thomas (2h45). There is one hour jet lag compared with Miami time. As we did our reservation to Caneel Bay resort by fax in advance (we had to send $1000 for our reservation to be OK 1 month in advance), we were greeted at the San Thomas airport by Caneel staff. First thing we were asked was a print of our credit card. We were also asked to choose between European Plan (EP), Modified American Plan (MAP) or Full American Plan (FAP). More on this subject later.
Then we waited approximately half an hour in their private air conditioned lounge with a few complimentary drinks. Our luggage had been taken care of by Caneel staff. Then we all (all guests arriving on our plane) boarded an open air small bus (with a roof) and went to the harbour. We then were told we had half an hour free to shop before boarding the boat to go to St. John. My wife and I rapidly toured the shop around and decided that shopping was not very interesting. We then boarded on time the quite big boat and headed to St. John. The ride lasts half an hour, the sea was calm and a punch was offered to us.
On our departure the boat took us to Red Hook and then we took a van to the airport (we would have preferred to go by boat to Charlotte Amalie harbour). Caneel bay charge $27.50 per person to cover all cost of airport arrival/ departure and ferry transfers as well as unlimited use of the Caneel ferry between St. Thomas and Caneel bay.
Organization of our arrival was OK (but it may not be a good idea to ask for meal plan and credit card when you just arrive from hours of flight, jet lag and a sleepless night) but we really felt a lack of welcomeness and ambiance when arriving at Caneel Bay. For a minimum of $400 a night without breakfast a little bit of warmth would have been a good idea. Arriving in the hotel we were greeted by staff who briefly described the hotel and then drove us (yes in a van!) to our room as the property is huge. Our luggages soon arrived to our room.
ROOMS There are 171 rooms at Caneel which are located around the property. Price vary depending on the location from $335 (court side) to $695 (cottage), + local taxes + a 7.5% service charge. We had booked for a court side room and were probably upgraded to tennis court room. Rooms are OK, but to our point of view far from being a good value for the money. Bathroom is small, you have only a shower (which temperature could change during a shower between cold to very very hot). Bugs are well taken off by nets on every window. We had a nice terrace overlooking the garden and the tennis courts. There is a well stocked fridge. When arriving in our room, we found a complimentary bottle of Californian champagne, a bottle of locally produced rum, 2 cans of coke and a bottle of water waiting for us.
The main drawback of our room and presumably of all rooms, as construction seems to be the same everywhere on the property, is noise. We could clearly hear our neighbours talk, snore, bang their door .... not very relaxing for honeymooners! The only enjoyable thing is that at night you can hear the noises of the insects outside which feels like being in the middle of the jungle, but safe in your room.
At 9AM every day, Caneel staff come to fill up your buckle of ice that you have left outside your door. I don't understand why they do this at 9AM: it does a LOT of noise and at that time many people are already gone away so the ice stays outside sometimes directly under the sun for the whole day.
The additional lock on our room was broken (the one you use to prevent anyone from entering your room even hotel staff) so we had to rely on the 'Do not disturb sign'. It did not always work, as once a maid entered our room to open the bed as we were already in bed (at 9PM because of jet lag) with the 'Do not disturb sign' on.
We also had the 'pleasure' to be waken up twice during our stay at 6AM because one of our neighbour was checking out early: 'ARE YOU UP IN ROOM 147?' Reminds me the army.
BEACHES: There are 7 extraordinary beaches at Caneel. Everyday we snorkeled and it was common to see turtles and rays not farther than 3 meters from the beach! Really GREAT. On the opposite there are much less fish that in other popular snorkeling sites as Polynesia, Hawaii, or Maldives. Clarity of the water was good but not tremendous. Winter is not the best seas on for the best clarity. A good thing is that beaches are not crowded. We sometimes were nearly alone on the beach (Hawknest beach in the afternoon). Chairs are available and welcomed at all Caneel beaches. The possibility to get a cool drink on the beach is not offered. May be it is better as we saw guests dumping a bottle of beer and an empty can of coke they had brought, in the sand ... some people do not deserve what they are able to buy !
ACTIVITIES: All the usual activities are available: kayak, windsurfing, snorkeling (gear is provided complimentary, the guys at the snorkel shop are very friendly and will tell you where and when to snorkel), tennis, swimming in the pool (that could be better cleaned). A good thing: there are no noisy activities such as jetski. There is a general shop (You have to reserve your newspaper in advance if you want one! They can't afford to have spare ones!), a diving shop (PADI, very friendly) and a tennis shop. The dress code is very strict at Caneel and my wife once was refused to enter the breakfast buffet because she had no shoes on. You also have many day trip organized by the hotel, some complimentary. Bring your own set of chess or scrabble if you enjoy it as we could not find one.
RESTAURANTS There are 3 restaurants at Caneel. At the airport we chose the European plan because we thought we would move around the island. We later switched to Modified American plan ($65 / day / person for breakfast and dinner). At first we went to buffet lounge where we found it expensive ($45 is too much for what you get). Service does not match the price. We then tried the Sugar Hill Equator restaurant which served more exotic food from all over the equator. It was much better in quality and in service. But the best place was definitely the Turtle bay restaurant. Despite that you have to wear a jacket if you want to get in, that you have to take the internal bus (one every 15-20 min.) to reach it (depending on the location of your room), that you have to make a reservation, it is well worth it. Food is very good, as wine and as service. Highly recommended. I am not sure that outsiders are welcome, phone before. If you have chosen Modified American Plan, you can choose what you want on the menu: good deal.
I also recommend the complimentary afternoon tea at Turtle bay. At lunch time we usually had a burger or a sandwich at the bar (staff could be friendlier). Pina colada were good.
CAR RENTAL: We rented a car for 1 day to tour the island. We asked at the reception desk which quickly called the AVIS center located in Cruz Bay (10 min. driving). They came 20 min. later to pick us up to the Avis office. We paid a whopping $71 for the rental of a 4 wheel drive Suzuki during 24 hours (and we managed to get a 10% discount!). If you rent a car at Caneel, go to the phone booths near the reception desk and check the yellow pages, you probably get a better deal! (There are no phones in the rooms). When driving in St. John, beware: drive on the left side of the road and be careful on the VERY STEEP roads that you will encounter. Not for the faint of heart. For people staying at Caneel, a one day rental is enough as the best uncrowded beaches are at Caneel. We visited the Hyatt and found the people there very friendly. The main drawback is that the beach is not comparable with the ones of Caneel. If you stay at the Hyatt rent a car and go to Trunk bay or Hawknest.
GENERAL STUFF: There are no phone in rooms. If you want breakfast in your room you have to tell the reception desk the day before! If you receive faxes you will have to pay $1 per page. If you want to send faxes it is MUCH more. Important: Triple check you bill before departing: we were overcharged $600. After complaining it took half an hour to erase them from the bill (their computer system does not seem up to date!)
I had read in the Travel Forum that bills were often wrong and they were. We were 3 to depart on the 18 of January early in the morning and we were 2 with problems with the bill !
CONCLUSION: Caneel bay has a tremendous location. Beaches are gorgeous. But the hotel really lacks warmth, there is no ambiance. Everything is so pricey that you really think they try to make the more money they can out of you. I have been to other hotels of that category in other islands (Polynesia, Bali, Mauritius, Maldives) and you can get much more for your money elsewhere than in Caneel. Caneel was may be the top 20 years ago but it is not anymore.
St. John by Gary Levine
Here is my good, bad and ugly travel report on St. John.
x4. We made a big mistake renting a car from O'Connor as grumpy old man O'Connor was the biggest scumbag we met on the island. Its located at the Texaco station and avoid this rental place like the plague. He has a nasty habit of attempting to charge you for "damage" to his cars AFTER you return it even when there is no damage to the cars!!
Otherwise we had a good time, though ST. Thomas has really gone downhill. Personally, St. John is a nice place to visit, but not to live....we much prefer living in Maui.
St. Martin by Linda Moss
We have been back 2 weeks now and are already planning next trip. We didn't keep a detailed diary but would like to comment on some of our experiences. We were very pleased with the timeshare units we purchased at the Pelican - the unit was 2 connecting one bedrooms, upstairs and downstairs each with kitchenette, living room area with sofa bed and bedrooms with king sized beds. Our 20 year old son took the upstairs living room as his space, the 13 and 12 year old girls shared the upstairs bedroom and Mike and I had the downstairs all to ourselves!
We found the location convenient, liked having the casino nearby, stocked our kitchens from the Peli Deli, and quickly discovered it was better to eat almost anywhere else!
Our personal favorites (we traveled with another family and we were all in agreement) La Tastevin was fabulous, Rainbow was only so-so but their onion soup was incredible! La Residence in Marigot with the price fix at $28 was one we will definitely repeat - the filet and the chocolate souffle were super, service pleasant, nice atmosphere.
Il Nettuno in Grand Case was OK but rather expensive (my how those drinks, soups, salads and desserts add up for a for a party of nine! They were also the only restaurant that would not let us split the bill onto 2 separate credit cards. Saratoga was pleasant atmosphere but our evening was rather spoiled by a snippy waitress who clearly did not appreciate the under 21 members of our group and was quite rude for no reason. We will skip them next time - to many people eager to please elsewhere.
Which brings us to Bayside - run by Ronnie and Louise who are charming, friendly and should by rights by doing better than they apparently are given their great food at very reasonable prices. They have added a belly dancer who starts at 9 p.m.and we all enjoyed watching my husband get a lesson!
We ate at Tutta Pasta by the Yacht Club, reasonably priced pasta, nice owner Angie - they were not yet accepting plastic which can be kind of a drawback - we like to hang on to that cash!
In Philipsburg we loved Pasangrahan and Ric's Place for breakfast - another good breakfast spot near the Pelican is the La Vista Timeshare poolside. In Marigot we enjoyed La Croissanterie and La Creperie. Buy some croissants to go! Our friends visited La Samanna and Esmeralda for breakfast - not for the tight budgets.
The boys liked the Music News Cafe for the young late night crowd - they could walk over from the Pelican.
St. Martin by Robert Smith
I just got back from SXM to Boston on the non-Leisure Air flight with TNT. The flight back was on AV Atlantic Airlines and got back about two and one-half hours late but still probably better than having to change planes somewhere.
In my opinion the Divi Little Bay Hotel as a whole is a good place to stay. The rooms themselves aren't that great. We had warm to hot water every day except on the last Saturday morning when I presume everyone was getting ready to leave at the same time.
The water pressure in the shower also left a little bit to be desired.
Now the good part. All the rooms are right on the ocean. You sit on your balcony and watch the beach, the waves and the sunsets. No garden views or looking at the rooftops of other buildings; direct ocean view and just a few steps from the water.
The beach is very nice and is not crowded like Orient Beach. Everything is available at the hotel such as wave runners, sailboats, snorkeling and nice calm waters for swimming.
I am not sure why all the people think it is so wonderful to rent a car, pack up the car and drive 30 to 60 minutes to go to a beach. Little Bay is very nice and the rooms are only a 10 second walk to the beach.
Had lunch at the hotel every day and again it is right on the beach. The hotel restaurant for dinner was very nice as well. We are not fancy eaters so we were happy with good steaks. $65.00 for drinks, salad, meal, dessert for two. They light up the beach so you can sit and have dinner and watch the waves roll in at night.
The hotel also has a small but friendly casino and you can walk around to the other side of the resort and see the cruise ships in harbor.
It is about a 20 minute walk to town and I even walked over to the Food Center in about 25 minutes.
When you consider the price we paid to stay there it wasn't a bad deal. The rooms at the Pelican might be nicer but that is not a beach at the Pelican and you look at rooftops and walk steep hills to get to the beach.
I have certainly stayed in better resort hotel rooms such as Hilton in Aruba, Marriott in Maui, Holiday Inn in Cancun, Quality Inn in Surfer's Paradise Australia. So although the rooms at the Divi aren't that nice they were pretty clean but plain. I spent an interesting hour or so at Maho Beach watching the planes.
St. Martin by Ed Gonsalves
SATURDAY- Flying a charter down to St. Martin from Boston with GWV travel. The plane was scheduled to leave at 8 am. As this is my first experience with a charter, the plane decides to have mechanical problems. This was my only reservation about taking charters and it came true. I spent day at Logan Hilton. Finally took off at 10 PM.
SUNDAY- We landed at SXM at 3 am. GWV had to call the airport to keep it open since it usually closes at 9:30 PM. Breezed through immigration (what do you expect at 3 am). Onto shuttle busses and onto Orient Beach. Passed the News Cafe on the way out of the airport, the place was packed at 3:30 in the morning. I got to Esmeralda at about 4 am. Checked in, got settled. Now its 5 am - do you stay up and watch the sunrise or try to get some sleep? We slept, having been up for 24 hours. Got up at about 8 am, had a continental breakfast that is included in your package.
We went down to beach and finally started to enjoy the vacation. Since our room had a kitchenette consisting of a mini refrigerator, 2 electric hot plates, a microwave, and a sink, we had our lunches in our room. In the afternoon we went back down to the beach.
We had dinner at the CoCo Beach Restaurant. This restaurant is located at the bottom of the path from the Esmeralda to the beach. The dinner was chicken with lemon sauce, tuna steak, 1 beer, 1 margarita, and 1 Caesar salad. It came to $48.
MONDAY- Back down to beach in morning. We walked down to the Club Orient food store to pick up some food supplies then back to room for some lunch. That afternoon, we went down to the beach at Club Orient and I had my first nude sunbathing experience. Loved it. When I was there, the entire length of Orient Beach was clothing optional except in front of the restaurants and in front of the Mont Vernon hotel. Dinner was at the Kakao Beach restaurant. Lasagna, Seafood Alfredo, 2 beers, 2 frozen drinks came to $38.
TUESDAY- We had arranged to have a rental car delivered to hotel from Express rental car out of Marigot at $35/day for a very small Dihatsu (sp?). 5 speed manual, no air (didn't need it). We drove through Grand Case, then over to Marigot, then to Maho Bay area. The roads are narrow and the speed bumps are plenty. It seems all the locals know each other because they are constantly beeping their horns and waving at other motorists. I thought I was doing something wrong with all the beeping I heard from behind me, but it was just somebody saying hello to all his friends. Had lunch at Cheri's Cafe a nice outdoor cafe with good food and a great atmosphere. Had 2 burgers, 2 cokes, side of fries. $18 plus tip.
Then we drove down to Philipsburg, the capitol of the Dutch side and walked around the shops along the waterfront, 4 cruise ships in so it was crowded. Didn't buy anything. Back home to the Esmeralda and then dinner at Marks Place in Cul-de-Sac, which was
about a 5 minute ride from the resort. I had heard great things about this restaurant and wanted to try it. Wasn't that impressed. Food was OK - not great. Veal Cordon Bleu, lemon chicken, 2 beers, 1 pina coloda came to $36. Our ankles got bitten by a lot of no-see-ums there.
WEDNESDAY- We drove over to Marigot to see the open air market. Locals buying, selling fruits, vegetables, fish, etc. and walked around Marigot a little. Narrow streets, and to think the main road winds through the downtown area. Went up to Fort Marigot, which overlooks the town from up on a hill. Great view. Just follow the signs (if you can find them).
We drove back to the hotel for lunch, then onto Dawn beach for the afternoon. An incredibly steep, winding, narrow road leads you to Dawn Beach. I would not think about doing the trip in the dark. Beach was narrow and very crowded. Lots of families. I think Orient Beach is the best beach on the island, with Cupecoy beach next on the list.
We drove back over to Maho Beach area for dinner at Cheri's Cafe. Chicken parm, scallops, beer, 2 strawberry daiq's came to $38 plus tip. Then went next door to the casino. Nice place, wasn't crowded at the time we were there (8 PM). Contributed $40 to the St. Maarten economy in no time.
THURSDAY- Drove down to Cupecoy beach. Almost missed the public parking lot as it is next to a condo high-rise under construction. The parking lot is small, so I'm glad we went early. Cupecoy is a great beach. Not too many people. Both nude and clothed. We didn't want to leave. Drove the short distance through the Mullet Bay resort to the Maho beach area. Went to Cheri's again for lunch then over to Maho Beach for the afternoon.
Maho Beach sits approx. 100 yards from the airport runway. Now this pilot was in heaven. Here I could indulge in 2 of my favorite pastimes - watching planes come in and laying on the beach. The planes would fly over you at about 100 ft. An Air France 747 comes in at 3:20 PM. Not to be missed. Be careful not to set up your blanket directly behind the runway. When the planes takeoff, they kick up a lot of sand. Saw some unsuspecting people almost blown over.
Anyway, back to the resort for dinner. Decided to get some take-out pizza from the Kakao Beach restaurant. $9 for a great pizza. We enjoyed the pizza on our deck while we took in the view of the area.
FRIDAY- Last full day on the island. The rental car people came and picked up car. I headed down to the beach at Club Orient for the last time. There has been a nice breeze all week, which can be dangerous because you don't feel the sun. I used SPF 15 all week and didn't burn. Towards noon saw some menacing clouds coming my way, so I got up and went over to the T-shirt stalls by Pedro's to see about some shirts. As I got to the stalls, it started to pour and it lasted about 10 minutes then cleared up.
The T-shirts ranged in price from 3 for $10 to $18 for one. The 3 for $10 shirts didn't look like they would hold up too long. Saw a shirt I liked for $15, offered the lady $10, compromised at $12. Back to the room for some lunch then back to beach in front of Esmeralda for the last time. Final dinner was at the Coco Beach restaurant.
SATURDAY- We checked out in the morning for a 2:20 PM flight. The hotel tax came to $3 per person per day. (This tax is on the French side only I believe.) Airport was a zoo. Waiting area very crowded with many flights leaving at the same time. There is a $10 departure tax per person from SXM. Our plane had to stop in San Juan for fuel due to runway length and terrain at SXM. Sat on ground at San Juan for 45 minutes but couldn't get off plane. It was very hot. We got back in Boston at 7:30 PM.
Saw a septic tank truck with the slogan "We pump what the competition talk."
Saw signs on the side of the road with inspirational messages such as "Change starts from within".
The roads are narrow and not in great shape. The people have no problem passing other cars going up hills and around corners. The people are friendly and helpful.
Out of all the areas we visited, we liked the Orient Beach area the best. More like a quiet neighborhood setting than a crowded beach resort.
I hope to return to St. Martin sometime soon. (Not on a charter though!)
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