Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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The following information is provided by Frank Barnako who owns property which he'd like to rent.
For the most relaxing vacation of your life, stay at Over the Rainbow Our management company has produced a new web site for Beyond the Sea, a spectacularly sited 2-1/2 bedroom property. Please take a look at: http://www.caribbeanvilla.com/develop/carib/beyond/beyond.html. Historic efforts in St. Thomas The Historic Preservation Commission is hard at work in downtown St. Thomas, encouraging residents and business people to remember the island's Danish heritage and architecture when they remodel or rebuild. The Daily News reports Topa Equities' Palm Passage shopping mall is among the properties making preservationists happiest. Other businesses are hard at work restoring original brick walls and even installing reproductions of old-time lanterns.(2/25/97) Visit Caneel Bay While the New York Times, last month, ran a positive article about vacationing at Caneel Bay, you don't have to spend the $300- $550/night (dbl occupancy) to enjoy the resort. Island visitors, properly attired and behaved, are permitted to register with the visitor's desk and use the main Caneel beach. Visitors also have access to both the main restaurant and the newly-refurbished Sugar Mill now known as Equator, offering a spicy Asian-flavored menu. Don't miss it.(2/25/97) Big fire, follow-up In the wake of the downtown Cruz Bay fire about two weeks ago, a volunteer fire department is being organized on St. John. Almost two dozen island residents have volunteered to participate in training and be available. Government authorities concede that some "full time" firefighters assigned to St. John live on St. Thomas which, therefore, made them unavailable when the recent blaze erupted. If you're interested in eyewitness reporting of the big fire, and its results, visit the Tradewinds "News" area on-line at http://www.tradewinds.vi.(11Feb97) St. Thomas's largest resort to close for repairs As much as $40 million will be spent to renovate and expand Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Hotel. The facility will close April 1 and, management says, when it reopens next Fall, the new hotel "will set a new standard for excellence in the Virgin Islands tourist industry." Frenchman's reef was damaged by 1`995's Hurricane Marilyn, but stayed open and even house repair crews. Then Bertha last Summer caused more damage. Now Marriott will close the hotel to "catch up" to other properties on the island which were closed during the period and have completed refurbishing and reopened.(11Feb97) Beer brewing on St. Croix Visitors to the Islands these days drink lots of beer, and some of it even has a "local" label. But the beer is in fact brewed in Minnesota. Now a Spanish company plans to convert a rum factory in Christiansted, St. Croix and produce Don Santa Cruz beer. As many as ten workers hope to start producing the brew this month. Distribution to St. Thomas and St. John grocery stores is planned.(11Feb97) What's doing? An ensemble theater company is starting its fourth season on St. John, with performances at the Cinnamon bay Campground amphitheater. Carla Sewer is directing the Carabana Company players in the season opener, "No Man is an Island." The Virgin Islands Daily News reports the work "takes a satirical look at the island's fragile marine ecosystem." The play is offered Saturdays at 7:30pm, until May 24. (11Feb97) Source: http://www.stjohntradewindsnews.com/
HONEYMOON SPECIALS GALORE! Sailing the idyllic blue Caribbean waters onboard your own private yacht is more of a bargain than most folks know about! Compare your all inclusive resort or first class Caribbean cruise ship to this 5 star honeymoon vacation -- dollar for dollar you can not beat it. All inclusive: sailing yacht of 45+, Captain, cook, food, all beverages, champagne beach picnics on remote islands (unattainable by cruise ships), snorkel equipment, TV, VCR, floatation mats, sea kayaks, hammock for star gazing and romance, and more... Price as low as $2,990. a 7nights/8days = or $1495.PP For the 2nd time Honeymooners where money is no barrier to a special celebration, consider CASADOR 67' sailyacht - luxury cruiser. Included for a week of exploring new tropical destinations every day is Unlimited Champagne plus a one day jeep rental on Tortola or parasailing for two on Virgin Gorda. A yacht is a floating hotel - where service and food are customized for the client. Call 800-666- BOAT(2628) or click onto www.carolkent.com.
Recently I visited what I have always considered THE AMERICAN PARADISE - St. John , USVI. It is lovelier than I had remembered, despite the hurricanes of recent years ( which one would not even suspect occurred). The Sunset Ridge Villas are absolutely lovely. There are six units in all, each consisting of two buildings , adjoined by a tiled terrace with a private Jacuzzi pool. A gas grill is provided for those visitors who wish to have a secluded barbecue overlooking world class vistas. The first floor of the two story building has a spacious living room / dining room combination, a large kitchen ( complete with necessary utensils) , and a downstairs bath; the second floor has a loft bedroom with twin beds and a bath. The one story building housed the master bedroom and bath. The units sleep six comfortably, and all linens are provided. They rent for $2100 per week from Dec. 21 to April 27, and from $1365 per week from April 28 to Dec. 20. This is based on two guests, and there is a $25 per day surcharge per person for more than two guests, however, children though the age of 12 are free. There is no bar or restaurant on the grounds - the units are self contained and one requires a jeep / vehicle rental. Everyone who visits St. John chooses to rent a vehicle. The villas are situated on the highest hill in St. John. The views are incomparable and breathtaking - the prettiest I've seen in the Caribbean - and maybe the world! One can see the islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas and numerous smaller islands, There is a pervasive feeling of serenity and privacy. there is a 50 foot which overlooks the sea far below, and it is shared by the guests from the six units. The Villas are a 7 minute drive to the ferry landing, and a 10 minute drive to the nearest beach at Caneel Bay ( public parking lot is provided). Guests can also use the Hawksnest Beach which is about 15 minutes from the villas. The town of Cruz Bay is funky, chic. and interesting with great shops and world class dining. The town is a 5 minute drive from the Villas. There is management staff on-site and everyone is laid-back, friendly and helpful. This property will appeal to families, extended families, honeymooners and anyone is in love with the beauty of St. John. A wedding took place there while I was visiting. The grounds are immaculate and interesting, and, as the hilltop is partially undeveloped, there is a wild Caribbean field to explore - replete with bougainvillea, hibiscus, and butterflies. Truly, Sunset Ridge Villas offer AFFORDABLE ELEGANCE IN THE AMERICAN PARADISE.
My wife and I returned from our first vacation in Antigua in September 1996. We arrived from the cold of the UK at VC Bird Airport to be greeted by rain and incredible humidity, the airport is the type I love, where you leave the aircraft and actually walk across the tarmac to the terminal rather than sitting in a stuffy bus. The immigration + customs guys were all very friendly and assured us that the rain was only temporary and the Sun would return in the morning. They were right! We left the airport in a minibus accompanied by our driver Myson who gave us a running commentary of the sights we were passing through. We drove though several small villages, and were cheerfully waved at by lots of brightly dressed schoolchildren on the way home from another school day. Arriving at Club Antigua was a bit of a shock, we pulled off the main road and down a potholed track. We knew it was sold as a budget resort, but our initial reaction (largely I realized now, fuelled by tiredness after a long journey) was that, we hated the place. It took ages to check in, and it was chaos waiting for the buggy to take us to our room. Also we were tagged around the wrist like a convict with a bright yellow plastic bracelet. This tag is to ensure that no interlopers gain access to the Club facilities, but from then on wherever you visited in Antigua you were instantly recognizable by all as a Club Antigua escapee!! Things started to show a marked improvement when we finally got to our room, which was ground floor, right on the beach with air- conditioning & patio windows. The room was simply furnished but clean, comfortable and generally a lot better than we had hoped for. (It is well worth paying a little extra for a Standard air- conditioned room - the Fan rooms were very small + hot.) I diplomatically left my wife to unpack the cases and wandered across to the beach bar for some much needed refreshment, it was a strange feeling to order at a bar and yet not have to pay! Club Antigua is set on the South west coast of the Island approx. 30 minutes ride from the Airport, it is located largely on its own and is not surrounded by other resorts, with the exception of the Jolly Harbour Marina Complex which is adjacent, and contains self catering town houses and also several shops, bars and a good small supermarket. Club Antigua is low rise, crescent shaped and faces the ocean, most rooms have sea views. The overall atmosphere is fairly lively. Around the pool area, music blared loudly all day, (this was an area near the bar, popular with the younger guests !) we were looking for peace and quiet and were easily able to find it. Everything you do at the Club (with a few exceptions) is included in your holiday price, food, drinks, Entertainment, tennis and watersports (not Jet skis - which are privately run, but reasonably priced). I had a free sailing lesson at the watersports booth on the beach and after a brief instruction period I was on my own (with mandatory lifejacket). The watersports booth also lent out snorkel gear and gave windsurf and water-ski lessons. There are ample opportunities to sail off the beach on trips both to sight-see and snorkel. We attempted a trip on Francos Glass bottom boat, unfortunately the day we got onboard no-one else did -- ! -- and the trip was canceled. The Jolly Roger booze cruise schooner was popular and that arrived once a week and moored in the bay to take on its victims. We took a very good snorkeling trip on a small tri-maran called First Tri owned by Slim a very friendly Antiguan, (his daily advice on the weather to us was always accurate!!) If you wished to spend your holiday drinking, eating and partying with no additional expenses then this is the place for you. There was an assortment of guests and nationalities at the club, a large number of young couples spent time sitting around the rather dirty pool (Music plays loudly here all day) the majority of the "older" guests 30+ (this included us !) were on the beach soaking up the sun. Entertainment is provided every evening when a live band performs in the bar area. The evenings were themed by the entertainment's staff along the lines of Limbo, reggae dancing, karaoke, beach parties etc. Most activities are concentrated around the bars, although there is a small room showing nightly Video films and a casino area with U$D quarter slot machines, Blackjack, and a strange roulette type game played with ping pong balls! The food at Club Antigua is, considering it's size very good. The resort has several eating places, the main and largest is the palm court terrace. This is a full buffet facility. Breakfast would include, Juice, good fresh fruit, Pancakes, French Toast, eggs and wonderful crispy bacon. Lunches were made up of hot dishes + salads and deserts. Dinner was a wide variety of styles, chicken, steak, fish, duck even goat all of which was very good. Another eating place located on the beach for hot + spicy lunches only, is the Crab Hole, further along the beach again is a pizza and pasta joint. For evening meal table d'hote service, you can eat at the grandly named Flamboyant Restaurant, the brochures lead you to believe that this is an every day option but on check-in you are given meal vouchers, you have to book, and can only eat there twice a week, we did not go, but heard reports that the food was very similar to the main restaurant only not as good!! A big selling point of all inclusive resorts is that all drinks are free. At Club Antigua we thought this was a mixed blessing, the (self serve!) Antiguan Wadadli beer was good, as were the soft drinks, the cocktails (with the exception of those that were Rum based) we thought were poor and the wine was un-drinkable. We resorted to buying wine from the supermarket in Jolly Harbour for evening drinks before dinner and sitting on the beach late at night. We are very lazy when on holiday and as such spent a lot of time lounging in the sun on the beach. The weather in September according to the reports we had read in advance, should have been hot and intermittently sunny with frequent rain showers. We however were very lucky with the weather, we had the goods fortune to arrive after a tropical storm and the weather was incredibly hot & sunny throughout our entire stay. The beach at the club is long and wide with free loungers, (and free beach towels) but is not as idyllic as we had hoped, it looked little like the brochure pictures we had seen. (The hurricane in '95 had obviously ripped out a lot of the palm trees.) The hawkers on the beach can be a real pain for the first day or two, then they recognize you and tend to leave you in peace. From your beach bed you can buy an amazing variety of goods & services; Boat trips, horse riding, Shells, aloe Vera, T/shirts, Body Massage, Hair Braiding, foot massage, jewelry and Taxi trips. (Taxi sightseeing is a big thing in Antigua, every driver is really proud of his island and will all tell you that he offers the best + cheapest trip.) The taxi driver we knew only as "Peters" saw us as a challenge and kept lowering his prices to encourage us to join him on one of his self pronounced "famous" island trips. We hired from the booth a 4x4 Suzuki jeep at U$40 a day (Plus a one off charge of U$20 for a temporary Antiguan 3 month driving license) and set off to explore the Island. The roads are incredibly bumpy with a wide variety and depth of potholes, however you soon become adept at swerving across the road to avoid these. We drove round the south coast and stopped at many wonderful deserted beaches and on through villages where everyone smiled and waved in a genuinely friendly manner, we felt very safe everywhere we visited. We drove along the tourist trail up through Fig Tree drive, a tropical area full of lush vegetation, sugarcane, bananas and pineapples. We visited Nelsons Dockyard at English Harbour, a restored dock area, where Admiral Nelson based and ran his ocean fleet. We then drove around the bay and up the hill to the bar/restaurant and viewing area at Shirley Heights for an amazing overview of the harbour. (This must be the most photographed view in the Caribbean.) Shirley Heights is famous in Antigua, as on every Thursday + Sunday they throw a party, with live bands and many drunken & dancing people!! Exploring further around the coast brought us hungry and thirsty to Harmony Hall, an old sugar mill that has been turned into an arts centre selling Caribbean art and other items, it also serves an excellent lunch on the terrace overlooking the sea. We spent the afternoon swimming and snorkeling at nearby Half Moon Bay, a wonderful crescent beach gently shelving into warm clear water, the beach was empty and idyllic. (Antiguans rate Half Moon Bay as the best on the Island) Driving around Antigua is very easy, there are very few official road signs but there are many signs nailed to trees & posts pointing out restaurants, hotels and other attractions. This is often the best way to find your way around the island, we found that we would spend an hour traveling from one point to another over rough potholed roads, and then on the way back manage to find a smooth road and finish the journey in half the time! On a plus point you will never get lost in finding your way back to Club Antigua/Jolly Harbour, as all over the Island there are fluorescent signs for the resort pointing out the easiest and most direct route. North of the capital St. Johns, are Dickenson Bay and Runaway Bay, home to several upmarket resorts (Sandals) and also some very good restaurants, one of which is the Lobster Pot. Located right on the beach at Runaway Bay, and rebuilt totally since the hurricane this is a great place to eat with a wide and varied menu. We enjoyed wonderful grilled Antiguan lobster with the rapt attention of Coco, the owner's cat, who also is very keen on Lobster! Saturday saw us heading into St. Johns for a shopping expedition, the place was jumping with vendors and shoppers. A lot of stalls were selling the ever present printed T/shirt, some of the shops sold good local sportswear and beachwear. (Base was our favorite.) We ended up at Heritage Quay, a newly established duty free shopping area built on the dockside largely to cater for the visiting cruise ships. On the quay are the usual duty free goods, watches, jewelry, clothing, perfume. (Clinique skincare items were very good, cheaper than in the US apparently and half price from the UK cost.) Our two weeks in the Caribbean sadly went all to quickly. After some initial misgivings about Club Antigua, I would now have no hesitation in wholeheartedly recommending it to anyone. It is a budget resort to stay at on an "all inclusive" basis, and this gives you the flexibility to explore the Island at your leisure. Overall the resort is great, you are able to take from it what you want. You are not encouraged to get involved in activities if you have no wish to, but if you do, then you can be active from 7.00 am to midnight the choice as they say is yours! See you there in 97 ??
We left Newark early on a Friday morning with half of the couple we were traveling with (yes, folks, your papers had better be in order at the airport or you will NOT get on the plane). Flew AA, so had to make the San Juan change and arrived ANU around 2:00. Cabbed to our accommodations at Jolly Harbor Beach Club. This is a non all inclusive adjoining Club Antigua and is under the same ownership. Our two bedroom, two bath condo was immaculate if a bit sparsely furnished. Daily maid service was a decided plus and was included. This resort is called the "Venice of the Caribbean" as it has many "canals" (man made) so that yachts can tie up right outside--several were so moored during our visit. Jolly Harbor features some timeshare units, and that is how we found the resort as it is not in any of the tourist literature that we have seen. The grounds are lush and the beach is long, white powdery sand, and gorgeous. Lounges are available as are a good number of thatched roof "huts" for shade. Many watersports are available although few seemed to be used while we were there. It was fun to watch the more active Club Antigua water activities--water-skiing, parasailing, windsurfing. The Driftwood beach bar/restaurant is right at the entrance to the beach and features breakfast, lunch and dinner and all the cokes or rum punches you could want all day long. Happy hour, too!!! Jolly Harbor is very spread out and cars are not allowed at the units. However, for those of you (us) not in shape, you can rent a golf cart to get around. There are 5 restaurants on the premises, all with bars. There's a good market, a pharmacy, liquor store, car rental, boutiques, etc. You could truly spend your entire vacation here without leaving the property. A large marina is home to many big sail boats and more kept arriving during our stay. Race week in Antigua is big time, apparently, and boats come in early to practice. Sunday night of course we went to Shirley Heights for the party, and it sure is one!!! The Halcyon Steel Band is absolutely wonderful-- could listen to them every night! The ambiance is great, the view fine, the rum cheap, the folks mellow. A weekly event not to be missed. We did rent a car and were finally joined by our errant friend who had a good deal more trouble getting out of the US than she expected! We took the scenic route through the rainforest to Nelson's Dockyard. Not a road on which you wish to see your "low fuel" light go on, but ours did. A detour to All Saints for fill up relieved us all, and we bumped and bounced on to the historic site. This is a beautiful spot and worth the trip. While we did not opt for the guided tour, several were going on and are probably worth while. This is a place where you can really imagine history happening, the restorations are good --the little museum is in need of some work, but you can enjoy a "cool one" on the patio at the Admiral's Inn and think you are in the 17th century. We were exhausted coming back, but hungry so pulled off at a local spot--Turner's Beach Bar and Grill. Got there just in time for a quick dip as the sun set on another fabulous beach. Good roti, hamburger and grilled chicken. Worth a stop in your travels. Bumped home to Jolly Harbor and an early night--our terrific books couldn't keep us awake! Another jaunt took us into St. Johns where we did not do the town justice by going only to the cruise ship area. Not very interesting there unless you are coming off the ships and want to shop--name stores there and quite nice. Not much island flavor, though! >From St. Johns we went on out to Dickinson Bay for a looksee and lunch at Siboney Beach Club. Sandals, Antigua Village and other nice resorts are right along the beach front on yet another long beautiful white beach. Much activity here and more people than we saw anywhere else on the island. Lunch was leisurely and lovely in a charming open air restaurant nestled beneath some old Sea Grape trees. Good food, too. (More about this later). Well, no, since we're on it, lets talk about food now! We have been going to St. Martin for years and as most know food there is a game of "can you top this" by the zillions of restaurants there! Our impression of Antigua's culinary delights (with a few exceptions) is that you eat to "fuel up!" and not for the particular enjoyment of the meal itself. Since Jolly Harbor had plenty of restaurants and we chose not to go out at night because of the road conditions we tried them all. Can not say anything was awful, but we did not have a memorable meal there foodwise. Everything is grilled and tastes the same. Chicken is always your best choice. In looking for places to go out, there did not seem to be much other than in other hotels. On a previous visit we went to HOME which is still there and we remembered as pretty good, but we did not get back. On our last day we discovered Coco's, right next door to Jolly H but did not have a chance to get there. It is new, on the beach, and intends to be just a restaurant. Should do OK and if anyone gets there, please post a review here! Le Bistro got raves from all we spoke to who had been there so we set out to see if we could find it and make reservations. Another thrilling ride (although much better than any other we took) got us to this pretty little house in the country and we did make reservations for our last night. We decided to drive--after all, we had made it fine in daylight (!). Here's some news: all Antigua's roads look exactly alike after dark, have few street lamps and LOTS of people walking around that you can hardly see! This is not to mention stray dogs, goats and the occasional cow!!! High anxiety! Anyway, after a detour at the firehouse for directions, we finally arrived at Le Bistro a bit late for our reservation, but they were quite gracious about it. Well folks, it is worth the trip! Very French country, charming, candlelit. Pretty old casement windows enclose patiolike dining room. First you have your cocktail(s) in the small, homey bar area while you peruse the menu and place your order. The menu is extensive and it would be foolhardy for all in your party to order the same thing as tasting is imperative here! We had a wonderful meal and a fine time at this spot and would highly recommend it. P.S. It was much easier getting home! We were heartily sorry to leave in the morning, even though we were headed on to St. Martin where we have had a timeshare for years. The weather while we were in Antigua was a bit disappointing. It was cooler than normal and there was more rain--we got caught in showers more than once. The breeze was also stiff--we love those trade winds, but these seemed more hurricane like!!! (As a result we did not play golf--Jolly Harbor has a nice little nine hole course--with a funny little bar where we watched the super bowl with a group of Europeans who kept asking us what was going on!!! We never had a whole good beach day--we'd get out in the am until clouds came or run out in the afternoon to grab a few rays. The weather was certainly not enough to spoil our week, but it could have been better. Antigua's greatest strength is its people. Without exception everyone we met was friendly, polite, very proper, and seemingly interested in us, and in making our stay pleasant. If at first Antiguans seem a bit aloof (until they get to know you, there aren't many smiles), be assured it is only their reserve and not their disinterest. We greatly enjoyed talking with many different Antiguans from hotel staff to taxi drivers, to sales clerks, beach vendors and of course, barkeeps! The women are quite flirty, which pleased our middle aged husbands no end!!! All four of us agreed it was our best vacation together yet and we would highly recommend this island as a spot for a relaxing vacation where you can lay back and do nothing or go out and get some history as well as interact with people who live there and learn something about their culture and lives. A fine time.
Last week my wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary on the island of Aruba. We had a fantastic time!! As an aid to anyone who desires to visit the island, I'd like to give a description of ours. This was our first trip to the Caribbean, and I did a lot of research on line and in libraries. These sources prepared me well for the logistics of the trip, but nothing can prepare you for the beauty of Aruba. Yahoo searches of the net yielded many interesting sites on Aruba. This trip was a surprise for my wife, and I prepared a notebook full of printouts of all the info I found on the net, for her to see on the plane. Our trip was booked as an American Airlines package, flying on American and staying at the Aruba Hyatt. Our American flight left Miami on an Airbus 300. The Airbus is a large, comfortable aircraft. American, however, seemed totally indifferent to what should have been a happy and exciting flight. Perhaps next time we will look into Aruba Air or another smaller airline with a bit better "personality"! Although you can enter the island with just a birth certificate, I found a passport to be strangely comforting, and I'll always have the Aruba customs stamp to remind me of my visit. The trip through Aruba customs was fast. A quick check of the declaration form you were given on the airplane, a look at your passport, and a verification you've got a place to stay and a ticket off the island, and you were set loose on the streets of Aruba! There are several rental car companies across he street from the airport, but my suggestion is take a cab to the hotel and rent one there if you desire. Cab fees are set amounts based on destination. The ride from the airport to the Hyatt was $14 US. Cabs are everywhere! You won't have any trouble finding one, and they can take you virtually anywhere on the island. After we stepped out of the airport, I could see why the hotel person, that I called from home, laughed at me when I asked my wife's question about if there were hair curling irons available for use. Forget it ladies and gents. The wind will control your 'do. Go with the flow. If you're worried about what your hair looks like, you'll miss all the fun anyway! We were lucky to get a great cab driver from the airport. With great pride and excitement he showed us through the town of Oranjestad. Casinos, Shopping, Dining, Discos, he showed us them all! I wish I knew his name, but if you see a silver Mercury with gray leather seats, you probably have the right guy!<g> We were breathless at the sight of the Hyatt's lobby. It must be the size of a football field, yet entirely open to the outdoors. The look and feel of the lobby can not be topped by anything Disney would put together! A wonderful lady named Fabiola took care of our check-in procedures and made us feel at home from the very beginning! Thanks Fabiola!! Our room was a "garden ocean view" (room 239) and was outstanding. Our balcony overlooked all the restaurants, pools, and bars in the Hyatt courtyard as well as the beach and ocean. It was a truly spectacular view! The room was immaculate and modern in every way. Pleasant surprises included a room safe, and satellite TV. During one of the few hours spent in our room, we watched NYPD Blue, broadcast from the states. <g> The daily concerns were quickly solved by the excellent bellmen and concierge folks. The concierge people quickly learned my wife's name, as she got the honor of calling with all our questions. (real men never ask questions, right?) The concierge was very helpful with reservations for dinner and shows. The lobby contains several over-stuffed couches and chairs for you to sit and watch the world go by. It is a great place to sit and relax in the evening while listening to the band play in the courtyard. The Hyatt's courtyard was filled with color and water. The 3 pools connect with a series of waterfalls, steps, and a slide. The slide is a killer! Give it a try! (Make sure you lay flat, and don't do the chicken sit-up like someone I know.) <wink, wink> There are birds and iguana and salamanders everywhere. If you eat at the tables by the swim up bar, you can hand feed the iguana parts of your lunch. They seemed to especially like pieces of the hot wings! On the walkway, the red and blue Macaws will say hello to you in several languages, and they have a huge "play tree" where they spend their afternoons. There are 2 Jacuzzi's located off the walk way, and provide a nice quiet nook to melt in the hot water. My recommendation is to try it at night. Very, very nice. One place we discovered on our last day was the Hyatt's workout room and spa. Even if you're not into the workout scene, you've got to go just to see the locker room and bathrooms! Sounds silly, huh. Well, just take a look and tell me you're not impressed! <g> There was one very unexpected benefit to staying at the Hyatt. When you would buy something by credit card at the shops in town or make a reservation at a restaurant, they would ask where you were staying. When we would say the Hyatt, the clerk would say, "ooooh, Hyatt". We were big shots on the island. <g> A word of warning. Drinks are very expensive. One round of a mixed drink and a coke was $9.50 US.!! We quickly learned to hit the local grocery store for 2 liters of coke. (about $2.50 US.) The prices in the grocery are all in the local currency, Florins. The cashiers will take your US money and give a good exchange rate. Your change will be in their coins, gilders. A coffee machine is in the room, but coffee for one pot would cost you $3.50 US from the room stock. Once again, hit the grocery store and you can get some great Norwegian coffee at a reasonable price. On the beach you can rent anything your little heart desires. From SCUBA/Snorkeling gear, to wave runners, to water scooters, to wind surfing gear, to water sleds, to ski boats, to paddle boats, to..well, you get the picture. For the adventurous, there are plenty of guided tours on the island. Not being much for the group scene, we decided to rent a jeep and tour the island by ourselves. It was a decision we learned to love. We rode out to the Natural Bridge (a rock that has been eroded by the sea so that the water passes beneath it forming a bridge). It is an awesome sight that shows the true power of the sea. The color of the water coming through the opening is fantastic. Kodak ASA 400 speed film does about the best job possible picking up the color, and you'll be happy you're lugging that bulky 35mm camera around! Just an aside, we brought both our camcorder and 35mm cameras, and didn't regret it for a minute. We spent the plane flight home watching the videos we shot on the island. Bring LOTS of film with you. One roll of 35mm can run $10 or more on the island. Take the number of rolls you think you'll shoot, and double it! And forget about developing it there. We checked into same day processing and it was $41.50 US for one roll! If you have any camera needs while in Oranjestad, there is a great camera shop in the mall by the Crystal Casino. They helped us out when I managed to smear some sun tan lotion on the lens. :-<...... The windward side of the island presents a stark contrast to the wonderful beaches on the leeward side. Massive rock and boulder formations are crashed into by the sea. The spray from the water towers over the shoreline. Down the road from the Natural Bridge is the Old Gold Mill Ruins. I have no idea of the dating on this structure, but it is an amazing site. The building is made from rock and was used for some sort of gold smelting operation. You can walk in the building and look out the windows, which face the Caribbean Sea, and dream of what those people used to see. One of the few low points of our trip occurred here, though. It seems the local "youth" must not appreciate this site as much as we did. They have graffiti all over the lower rocks. It is truly sad. We left the Ruins site, and drove North along the dirt path that follows the coastline. We were treated to vistas of unbelievable beauty all along the shore. While a 2WD vehicle can make the Natural Bridge and the Gold Mill Ruins, do not try the drive along the coast in anything but a 4WD jeep. There are a couple of places where 4WD's almost got stuck. The sites are well worth the $60 per day Avis charged for the jeep rental! On the way, we were treated to some of Aruba's wild life. Four wild burros were feeding by the road. At the end of the dirt trail is the Chapel Alto Vista. It is a beautiful little chapel on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Inside the chapel there are a few seats and a wonderfully decorated alter. The end of the chapel has large doors which, when open, allow people seated outside to see the chapel interior and its proceedings. It is a wonderful place to worship. Up on that cliff with the ocean all around, you feel very close to God. Once more back on the blacktop, we headed for the California Lighthouse and it's view of the island. Be sure to bring some apples or something for the wild goats at the Lighthouse. We only had 3 nights to spend on the island which went much too quickly. We explored for 3 solid days, and still had much we didn't see. If you have time, there are representatives for resorts and time shares running all over who will give you all sorts of "goodies" in exchange for hearing their sales pitch. One offer was too good to be true. They promised 2 round trip air tickets to Aruba among other things. I knew there had to be something wrong, and at dinner one night a fellow said the tickets had to be used within the next 30 days to be valid. Caveat emptor, right? If you have the time, they will give you a lot of things. Other offers were 2 days of car rental, free ticket on the Atlantis submarine, and of course the t- shirts and towels, etc. Our typical day was like this. Up and out the door about 8am. Downtown shopping and exploring Oranjestad. Visit a casino in the afternoon. Back to the Hyatt and their pool about 5pm. (The swim up bar comes in very handy right about now) Then out to dinner and back home to enjoy the live bands at the Hyatt. I could get used to that life real fast! During our limited time we hit 3 major restaurants. The Ruinas del Mar at the Hyatt is designed after an old Gold Mine. You can eat inside, or out on the patio overlooking the pond with black swans and red flamingos. Very good food and excellent service. One thing you will see is that everywhere on the island the dinner check includes a 15% gratuity already on the bill. I have no idea whether that goes directly to the server or if they split it with the "house." With the type of service we received, I always added an additional tip. The del Mar was some of the best service we received. The second night we went to the Buccaneer. This restaurant is also very nice, although the service was not quite as good. The seafood was excellent. The dining room looks like the inside of a wooden ship, and in the side where we sat, every table had it's own aquarium in the wall. It was very cozy, and a good place to reflect on the days events. On the other side of the restaurant, there is one large aquarium on the wall for all to see. This side was noticeably louder and more raucous. There are no reservations taken here, so be early (7pm) for quick seating. Otherwise you'll be in for a wait. On our last night, we went to the Red Parrot. We definitely saved the best for last! It started out by us being 20 minutes late for our 7pm reservation. (by the way, never make a reservation for earlier than 8pm, or you won't be able to see the full Aruban sunset - that's why we were late, we stayed out watching the sunset too long <g>) The Red Parrot is set up so that 2/3 of its seating is inside a dining room with no wall on the ocean side so you can see right out to the beach. The other 1/3 of the seating is past that open wall on a terrace with a 3 foot stone wall separating it from the beach. You literally eat right on the beach. A great guy named Andres helped get us another table right by the stone wall on the terrace. It was completely black out except for the moon and the restaurant lighting. We ate to the sound of the waves on the shore, and a live band playing on the beach. My wife and I were just spellbound. Turns out there was a limbo show on the beach that night too, and we got to sit and watch this guy limbo. (I never knew a guy could get under a pole sitting on top of 2 c Now I understand why I once saw someone state in a post, "The Red Parrot is..well, uh,..The Red Parrot." There just is no comparison!!!! The Red Parrot is in the Divi Divi Resort and is a fabulous restaurant. My recommendations for casinos: for slots and craps, try the Crystal Casino. For cards, the Seaport Casino did us proud! (Of course we made donations at all the others!) Be sure not to miss Baby Beach. It takes a while to get to, but it is worth the trip. Eventually, all good things must end I guess. When we called to confirm our 4:50 pm flight home, they told us to be at the airport by 2 pm. Of course we weren't going to let a minute of our time go unused, and we decided 2 pm was just too early. Once we got to the airport, we found out why they told us to come very early. The lines for the ticket agent were from the counter to the terminal door! 45 minutes later, we had the boarding passes and airport tax slips (don't forget the $20 donation at the airport before you can leave) and our wait in the customs line began. Once all that was done, you get to wait in a "departure" room for your plane with what seems like a million other people. The torture of it all is that in the departure room, the wall by the tarmac is glass, and you can see all the new arrivals to the island coming into the terminal. Oh, how you wish you were just arriving again! A couple of tips: -Pack light. Bring only carry on luggage if you can -Bring lots of small denomination US Currency ($20 or smaller) -Purchase beverages and snacks at a local grocery store -Purchase your camera film before you leave (get a lot more than you think you'll use) -Unwrap your film and put it in a clear zip lock bag to pass around the airport scanners -Make reservations for the popular restaurants (lots of people are turned away) -Don't miss the sunset on the Hyatt pier (the drinks are 2 for 1 5:30 to 7pm!) -Don't worry about drinking the water - it's great My wife and I decided we'll be back. Many times! And some day, if the island needs a nurse and a pharmacist, they may never get us off the island!! <G>
Just got back from our favorite island paradise last Thursday night. A day earlier than expected because of a family crisis. Luckily I had trip insurance because we were on Air Aruba and could have changed the ticket to the same flight (721 leaving at 5 PM) only the Air Aruba flight was delayed and not expected leave until 9:45 PM and in fact it didn't leave until after 10 PM arriving in Newark at 2:10 AM. So we bought one way return tix on American for $$$$, but will get reimbursed by the trip insurance company. Now for my report. First, Air Aruba. Well folks, they really do have a problem. I have been an Air Aruba booster for the past five years. BUT this time?? We arrived at Newark at 6 AM, an ungodly hour, only to find that the flight was being operated by Kiwi Airlines, now back in business, because Air Aruba was down tow of their four MD-80's. However the flight would and did take off on time. However after we boarded the 727 we were told that there would be a stop in Miami to refuel, but that it would only take a half hour, and indeed it only did. But that meant that we arrived in Aruba at 3:15 PM instead of 1:40 PM as planned. Our younger daughter had arrived before us from Los Angeles (via Miami) and was waiting has we cleared customs. Shortly thereafter Flight 679 arrived from JFK and the luggage crisis loomed. So the best laid plans went out the window. After collecting everyone's luggage and baby paraphernalia we were ready for me to get our reserved van from National. I went over to pick up the van (National had the best deal $423.30 for the week and $235 for a Toyota Tercel for the second week. Now they have a new gimmick. No more included collision. Its' now $10 for week one and $5 for each additional week. Surprise. Started to leave the rental area in a Dodge Caravan, when there was a ding, ding, ding, ding, ding signal that wouldn't stop. Took it back and found that it was showing one of the doors open. So we spent a good fifteen minutes trying to figure out which door. They couldn't give me another van because they didn't have any others. So finally it stopped. I picked up the troops in front and we were off to Costa Linda. The next night we were on our way to Valentino's for dinner when the damn dinging started again. Well we survived the torture to and from the restaurant and when we got back to CL, I called National. They had just gotten a van returned and sent it over at 10:30 PM. The van lasted the week without any problems. We had a glorious week with the family. Our grandson (7 mos.) had a wonderful time. He loved the beach. We had him in the ocean and in the pool. The folks at Costa Linda were outstanding as usual. What a fabulous place. My birthday party on Thursday 1/16 was a huge success with a barbecue and a nice bar setup all provided by CL. We had 17 people and all enjoyed. The weather our first week 1/10-1/17 was super. All of the restaurants were very baby friendly and we took the baby with us to all. . Our meal at Chalet Suisse was excellent. In fact, the only disappointing meal was at Valentino's. Our best meal was at the Tuscany in the Marriott, and with only one person having an appetizer and including a bottle of Ruffino Chianti the check was fairly reasonable. In fact the bottle of Ruffino Chianti was only $16 at the Tuscany as opposed to $24 for the same bottle at the Trattoria el Fero Blanco at the lighthouse, which was also excellent. Here is a list of the restaurants we ate at over the two weeks along with comments on them: The Sun Club at Costa Linda (very good), Valentino's (overpriced and fair), The Monday night barbecue and show at Costa Linda (very good and an excellent show) - our daughter and son in law went to Chez Mathilde that night and said it was one of the best meals they have every had, Boonoonoonoo's (very good - I survived the Jamaican Jerk Ribs), The Driftwood (excellent seafood), The Tuscany at the Marriott (superb), El Gaucho (superb - we brought leftovers back and had them for lunch the next day - steak sandwiches), Mama's & Poppa's (good but the service was very slow), Trattoria El Fero Blanco (excellent - sat out on the terrace), Chalet Suisse (excellent - superb duck and excellent Weiner Schnitzel, and then Twinklebones (our first time there and it was lots of fun and the Roast Beef was excellent). They put our grandson in the show, picked him up a danced with him and he loved it. He's a real ham. Eddie entertains at both Twinklebones and Mommas and Poppa's (same owners) and entertains during happy hour by the pool bar during happy hour at Costa Linda. Well, the family left after the first week and our friends arrived from New Jersey on Saturday for week 2. Saturday morning we restocked on bagels from Bon Bini Bagels. First week we stopped in town. This time we stopped by their shop next to Casa del Mar. Excellent Lox/Cream Cheese spread and good bagels. Refilled three times. Then the rains came. It rained for about two and a half hours. When we got to the airport at 3:00 PM to pick up our friends the sun finally came out and stayed, although it rained almost every morning for about a half hour. Tuesday, we went over to LaCabana we were very impressed. Then it started to rain as we went downtown. In the past five years we have never seen it rain like this in January. The main thoroughfare in front of the Sonesta was totally flooded. We had parked in front of the Paddock, and you had to take your shoes and socks off to wade across to the car. It rained for about three hours straight. Then it cleared and out came the sun. That night, we went to the Hyatt for a little casino action, and I am happy to report that Helen hit a $720 jackpot on a dollar slot machine after putting in only $28. Not as good as Sandy's hit in AC, but we'll take it. It helped to pay for the trinket Helen bought at Little Switzerland. Whew! It got me off the hook. l All in all Helen came away ahead by $900 and I just about broke eve, maybe about $40 ahead. So, all in all it was a great two weeks. We are going back the last week in August (8/22-8/29). Only thing left to say is that we traded down from the van to a Toyota Tercel for the last week which managed to get us everywhere we needed to go. Only sorry we had to leave a day early. Hope Air Aruba gets their act together.
My wife and I spent ten days in January 1997 in Bonaire. We had longed to visit Bonaire ever since we went to Curacao 2 years ago and loved it there. We had a difficult time finding a travel agent who would send us to Bonaire. All we heard was, "You wont like it-its very boring." Most travel agents we talked to would recommend two or three days, not ten. But finally we found someone who would listen to us, and off we went. Having visited a neighboring island, we knew this would not be a tropical garden paradise. I think that people who go to Bonaire expecting lush foliage and greenery are going to be disappointed! United and ALM flew us down without a hitch, except when we deplaned in Bonaire, my luggage was still in Miami. Luckily, we had three other bags arrive intact. Another couple on the plane had no luggage arrive at all. The ALM counter ensured us they would deliver my bag the next morning. They never did, and finally we had to make an extra taxi trip back to the airport to retrieve my bag. Grrrr! Our accommodations were at the Sunset Beach Hotel, which was a ten minute drive from the airport. I was a little disappointed at the condition of the Sunset Beach Hotel. The place really needs a renovation! There is an open-air check in counter, staffed with friendly employees who seem eager to make ones' stay comfortable. The hotel is a two-story low rise, with an abandoned miniature-golf layout located in the center. There is a large terrace with what maybe used to be a restaurant and sitting area, also abandoned. The landscaping was negligible. First impressions are a big deal, and the first impression one gets at the Sunset Beach is "run-down." As my wife kept saying, "A little paint goes a long way." Our room was a "deluxe," comfortable but nothing fancy. We had a king- size bed, full bath with hand-held shower, refrigerator, and mini- safe. Our money was twice trapped in the safe due to power failures; maintenance opened the safe with a metal rod. Our air-conditioner was adequate, but quit on the fourth day-once again, maintenance was very quick to fix the unit. Two mornings we awoke to find bugs in the bathroom (roaches? Or just some exotic tropical bug?) The mosquitoes were horrible as well. We had not expected this, but it has been a rainy winter in Bonaire, and we were awakened several times a night by buzzing in our ears! On the positive side, Sunset Beach sits on Playa Lechi Beach, which is one of the nicest on the island. I do not dive or even swim very well, but I do snorkel a lot. At Sunset Beach, you could literally take two steps into the water, put your face in, and see hundreds of fish! Each day I used a life-vest which I rented from Sunset Sailing, on the beach at the hotel. John, the owner, is Dutch and very friendly. He also operates a water taxi to Klein Bonaire for only $10US round- trip, as well as sailing excursions and sailboat rentals. The waters in front of the hotel teem with fish-I counted at least twenty different kinds, including trumpetfish, parrotfish, flounder, lizzardfish, and angelfish. The dock where the dive-boats tie up is a great area to find fish, but the whole beachfront was very active with fish and made for great snorkeling. On our second day, we rented a Susuki Vitara jeep, and kept this throughout our stay. The people at Budget were very friendly and efficient. Driving in Bonaire is very easy-the roads are in good condition and very well-marked. One of our favorite drives was up to Rincon via the scenic route, which takes you right along the shoreline on a very narrow one way road. Lizzards are everywhere, and the scenery is stark yet beautiful. Past Rincon is Goto Meer, a lake where the flamingoes like to hang out. This was a very peaceful area, well- marked with many signs explaining what we were seeing. We saw maybe 50 to 100 flamingoes, which are very shy-you really have to drive slow and be quiet to get good pictures. I would suggest a tele-photo lens, because our pictures didn't turn out that great with a plain camera. The drive through Washington-Slaagbai park definitely requires four- wheel drive. The roads are dirt and bumpy, very much like Chrisstoffel Park on Curacao. The day we went, only the green, short route was open, so it took us about 3 hours to get through the park. The birdwatching is good, with flamingo, chibi-chibi, and trupials in abundance. The terrain is desert, of course-bring your own water! We attempted to climb Mount Brandaris, but found that the path to the summit was not well marked. We came to a fence after about ten minutes of climbing, went through the gate, and the totally lost the trail. Rather than getting lost and spending the night in the wilderness, we reluctantly hiked back down. The snorkel spots in the park looked too rocky and rough for me, a non-swimmer, to venture in. The highlight for us at the park were the iguanas. These were at least 2-1/2 feet long, and very reclusive. We tried hard to get pictures, but as soon as the iguana sensed we were near, it would run off at top speed into the brush. Again, a tele-photo camera would have helped. The drive south is dominated by the salt pans, slave huts, and flamingo watching. Most of the flamingoes kept their distance, although we did see a nice flock fly in while we were at the slave huts. Pink Beach is nearby, and is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. We had the place nearly totally to ourselves, which was very peaceful and relaxing. The snorkeling action starts quite a ways offshore, and again, I was too chicken to swim out that far. As you drive around the south end of the island, the waves become heavier and the shore rocky on the windward side. The next highlight is Sorobon and Lac Bai. Sorobon is a "naturalist" clothing optional beach. We tried to gain admittance, but the girl at the front desk told me "The beach is full." Just as well, as I don't nude-sunbathe. Just past Sorobon is Jibe City Windsurfing. Lac Bai is just as the guidebooks say it is- very shallow, very windy, and ideal for windsurfing. As we watched, people would fall off their boards into only chest-high water. The wind always blows towards shore, so there is little danger of being blown to sea. I did not see much snorkeling potential here-the water is too shallow and the bottom is sandy with no reef system. The only other point of interest over on this side of the island is the huge mountains of Conch shells at Lac Cai. There are signs warning you not to take any under penalty of law. Maybe someone can tell me why these are all sitting here? There must be 10,000 conch shells, and that's about it. Very strange. Back to Kralendijk-all of the guidebooks make it sound as if this is a very boring little town. I will admit its not Nassau or Kingston, but we were able to find plenty of shopping and things to do downtown. We recommend Buddies Dive and Scuba, who were very helpful and friendly and carry everything you might need for underwater adventure. Best Buddies was a nice shop with lots of island handicrafts. Benzer's had lots of t-shirts and nick-nacks for the folks back home. All these shops are right downtown on Kaya Grandi. Out from downtown, we found "Eastern Store" on Kaya Korona had the best prices on sunscreens and incidentals. "Peter's Playa Place" just north of town was good for light groceries or beer. The best grocery was the Cultimara Supermarket, which was an experience in itself. Very nicely stocked, one of the nicest groceries I've seen in the Caribbean. Spent 180 NAf there! It is within easy walking distance of downtown shopping areas. Food in Bonaire was quite expensive. We usually made our own breakfast and lunch, then ate out in the evening. We tried the following restaurants: Chibi-Chibi, at the Divi Flamingo beach Hotel, was a good all-around value. The Green Parrott, at the Sand Dollar hotel, was one of our favorites. Get a seat by the water and watch the fish. Our waiter was from Suriname, very nice and casual. Food and wine were excellent, meal for two averaged about $60US. Grand Cafe Toys is across from the new Plaza Bonaire Hotel. We went for the rijstaffel, 85Naf for 2. It was delicious and service by the owner, Tineke, was excellent. Dinner at the Harbour Village set us back $80US, not including a bottle of wine. Portions were smallish, and the ambiance was a little more formal. A little too expensive for my tastes. Beefeater, downtown, is in an al-fresco setting. Bill was $80US including appetizer, steak, and Amstels. Very casual relaxing atmosphere, good food. Crocantino was also al-fresco, Italian dining. Passable Italian fare, good wine, about 100NAf for 2. The Friday Barbecue at Playa Lechi at Sunset Beach was very satisfying for only $19US pp. All you can eat, very casual and relaxed. We never felt rushed during this meal. We usually ate between 6-8 PM, and often were the only people in the restaurants. Maybe things get busy later in Bonaire-I think most divers stick close to their hotels for food. Outside of eating, we found little nightlife in Bonaire. The casino at Divi Flamingo is the smallest I've ever seen, and the Casino at Plaza Bonaire was much larger but not paying me off. Most nights, we were too tired from swimming and snorkeling to do much anyhow. Best snorkeling spots I found were at the Divi Flamingo resort, Captain Don's Habitat, in front of the Black Durgon Inn, and further north at Weber's Joy and 1000 steps. These last two have a very rocky coral beach entry- wear something on your feet or it can be uncomfortable. All in all, our ten days in Bonaire were very enjoyable. I never felt bored at all, despite what all those travel agents and guide books say. Best of all, we always felt safe on Bonaire. No one approaches you to sell you things, no one bothers you. We never once felt threatened. If I was to do it over, I would probably stay at the Sand Dollar or maybe The Divi Flamingo. Upscale travelers may prefer the Plaza Resort or Harbour Village, but these are out of my price range. My only regret is that I didn't stay a month!
It is Sunday afternoon and I am feeling sorry for myself. Why ? Because this time last week I was bathing under the beauty of a Caribbean sky with temperatures in the 80s. Now it is cold and gray outside with a fine mist that hints of sleet. So maybe it is time to write a trip report that would remind me that it was not dream, and this tan on my face is genuine. My wife and I left for Cancun on Saturday February 1st. I had won a trip, through my company, to 5 nights at the Ritz Carlton. Cancun would not had been a choice of mine to go to. I always thought that it was overly commercial, kind of like a Miami Beach in Mexico. It was, but it was it was so much more. Besides, who am I to argue with a free trip! We rented a Jeep through Hertz. Actually the decision to rent a car was a major one for us. Fodor's and so many others had said not to rent, that the roads were dangerous. Hogwash. I have driven everywhere from Amsterdam, to downtown New York. Even through there are potholes that could swallow a VW, anyone driving with some sense will be OK - even at night. In fact, highway 307 that connects Tulum and Cancun, with all its potholes, added to the charm of the trip. I knew I was not in the United States driving that road. Where in the United States can you pass broken down trucks filled with live chickens, or get stopped and searched by the Mexican military. So it was with a little bit of sadness that on my last day in Cancun, I read where the four lane highway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen would open by the end of the month. Slowly but surely, the place will be transformed into looking like the 51st state. The Ritz Carlton is an interesting hotel. Typical of the chain, it was finely appointed. But on the other hand, it seemed geared more towards business. In fact, most of the people we saw seemed to be connected with business meetings and not on vacation. I wondered what they thought of us as we came in a night, weary from driving on 307, with matted hair because we had been snorkeling all day ! Therefore, I would not stay at the Ritz Carlton on my on. Too stuffy, too business like, and those were the things I was getting away from. We had only four good days to do things. Saturday was swallowed up with travel, we had booked late so we could not get the non stop. Instead of arriving at 1:00 PM, it was more like 5:00 PM. That left Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. We were to return on Thursday. On Sunday we headed down 307 toward Tulum. What an interesting place ! The Mayans really knew how to live. They built buildings by the sea shore that can stand the test of time. How well will those splendid Cancun high rises be 500 hundred years from now. Afterwards we went to Bonanza Beach. I learned about this place through Outside magazine. They described it as the closest thing Tahiti in the Caribbean. They were not wrong. I had to stand there and gaze at the shear beauty of this place before I could move. There was only a beach front bar, some hammocks, and few living quarters. We snorkeled right off the beach and discovered some nice reefs. If you are interested is a few miles south of Puerto Aventuras. It is the last dirt road before the Robinson Club entrance. Go there, you will not be disappointed. On Tuesday we went to Puerto Aventuras. We had booked the "Indiana Jones" tour through Mike Madden's Cedam dive center. Take my word for it, if you enjoy snorkeling, then BOOK THIS TOUR !!! I read about Mike Madden on American Airlines' AmericanWay magazine. He lead the expedition that mapped the largest underwater cave in the world, the Nohoch Nah Chich (Giant house of Birds) Part of the cave or cenote is accessible by snorkelers and that is the tour we took. AmericanWay interviewed several people who took this toured who had dived and snorkeled all around the world. Many were speechless, and these were people who had been diving around the world. I had a chance to meet Mike Madden afterwards. How ironic, I read about this man at 35,000 feet up in the air and five weeks later I'm standing in his office. Afterwards, we returned to Puerto Aventuras for dinner. We decided that when we return to Mexico, we will stay there. It is a development that reminds me of Hilton Head. They have a nice ocean front hotel where you can snorkel right off the beach. Our destination was the Papaya Republic restaurant. The folks on our Indiana Jones tour raved about this place. We drove to the "entrance" which was actually a path that cut through some dense forest. At the end was an ocean front restaurant with some excellent food. However, the view is what makes this place. I think of all the places I have eaten around the world, this is the best. There was the ocean, 20 feet from our table, and the only thing surrounding us was palm trips. Wow, had I flown to Bora Bora by mistake ? We decided to stay in Cancun on Tuesday. We drove around the city and visited some shopping malls. 90% of the people had to be Americans. I was still in a daze from the previous two days thinking that I had seen it all. Then we went to Senor Frogs for dinner. You veterans know what I am talking about. For those who have not been - go ! It is undoubtedly the most party oriented, get down have a good time, drink until you fall over, place I have ever seen. Whether you are 18 or 118, you will have a good time there. I cannot begin to describe everything I saw. Suffice it to say that you will leave very, very happy. Wednesday was our last full day. We had planned to get an early start and tour around Cozumel. But we didn't, to be honest we were both hung over from our experience at Senor Frogs. We finally left the hotel around 11:30 AM and arrived in Playa del Carmen just in time to be too late for the ferry. So we thought about not going at, but in the end we decided to go for it. This left us some time wonder around Playa. What a wonderful little town Playa is. There are several open restaurants that are on the ocean. Plus there is a Senor Frogs there as well. The side streets are much more authentically Mexican than anything in Cancun. In short, a funky little town that I would definitely go back too. One note, I did noticed (as if I could miss it !) that about 50% of the women were sunbathing topless. I'm not a prude, but I don't think I would take my kids there for that reason. Anyway, we caught the ferry to Cozumel. We rented a moped in San Miguel. Our destination was Chankanab national part where I understood was some excellent snorkeling. We were not disappointed. The only regret is that I did not have more time there and to moped around the island. We watched the sun sink toward the ocean while eating an early dinner/ late lunch. Then it occurred to me that it was close to sundown, we had to moped back to San Miguel, catch a ferry back to Playa del Carmen, and ride back on the pot hole road back to Cancun. So we got a move on after spending a grand total of maybe three hours on Cozumel. Thursday was our last day in Cancun. Our flight did not leave until later in the day, so we had time to tour around the hotel. There on my last day in Cancun, I finally stepped foot on the beach. Of course it did not stack up after seeing those glorious beaches to the south. You could not even swim that day due to rough current. Still I was in the Caribbean, the sun was warm and beating down on my face. I was thinking that if could only capture this moment and somehow make time stand still. But I could not. So here I sit Sunday afternoon finishing all of my thoughts. The cold rain outside has definitely turned to sleet. My son is asking me to build a fire. So I need to finish up and join my wife who is doing something that is helping her cope with the post vacation blues, which is planning our next trip back. So in the words of the Arnold WE WILL BE BACK !!! Final thoughts - don't miss Bonanza beach Puerto Aventuras The Indiana Jones Snorkel tour - just do it The Papaya Republic restaurant Playa del Carmen Senor Frogs - if you so desire
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