Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Trip 1/00 I won't bore you with all of the pre-travel details. We flew Air Jamaica reluctantly. We had a lousy experience with them the first time we went to Jamaica, but they had more flights out of Philadelphia, and they were cheaper as well. That morning was our first snowfall of the season. The flight was delayed three hours, but that was not Air Jamaica's fault. On the way home, we landed about 10 minutes past our scheduled landing, which was incredible. Overall, Air Jamaica was pretty good to us this time around (of course, we skipped the food on the way back and were happier for it). The flight was three hours. We landed, got our bags, and proceeded to the Couples desk. My wife & I had booked transportation to Negril through Air Link. It was $50 per person each way. We took a three-minute drive to the smaller airport which houses TimAir, AirLink, and Air Jamaica Express. AJ Express owned the largest planes, but they fly only two or three times per day. As far as I can tell, Air Link and TimAir fly continually. The flight in our 8-seater was about 15 minutes, and very smooth. >From there, Couples was across the street, but we waited a few minutes until we could get an attendant to call the resort for us. A car was sent, and we finally arrived at about 5:15 pm. I cannot stress enough how great it was to fly to Negril. We had done the drive to Ocho Rios a few years ago. It wore us out to be on a bus another two hours after traveling all day. We were told that the trip to Negril took closer to two and a half hours, and the road is terrible. They even have t-shirts that say "I SURVIVED THE BUS RIDE TO NEGRIL!" for sale in the gift shop. Even waiting a few minutes for the plane (we had just missed one, so we had to wait for them to fly up and back), we were still there at LEAST an hour before the bus travelers. Around the Resort The resort itself is very nice. The second floor lobby overlooks the main part of the resort. Standing in the lobby, you see the long Couples pool. Beyond the pool are the palm trees and the beach. The view is magnificent. The pool is huge. It is very long, but only about 4.5 feet deep. At either end is a large Jacuzzi, and they were almost always in use. Along part of the pool is a small waterfall spilling into a smaller pool, with the swim-up pool bar. Here we found the friendliest and best bartenders on the resort. Be sure to ask them for their "special" of the day, and they'll make up something interesting for you. We had a gardenroom. Nothing terrible, but nothing exciting either. A king-size bed, small TV (not too many channels, but they did have Cinemax & HBO). There was a decent sized balcony, and the bathroom, shower, and tub were all acceptable. There are six room blocks are on either side of the pool. By the way, what you have read about beach-view is true. We did not have an ocean view room, but it looked like most of them did not really have a good view of the ocean, and they weren't much closer to the beach. Unless you want a suite, save your money and get a garden view room. The Beach The beach is fantastic. All of the raves about the beach do not do it justice. To explain, I hate beaches. Sand annoys me to no end, and in general I get bored at the beach. However, I did not want to leave this one. First of all, it is big. It is both long enough for a nice walk and also wide enough to have a few rows of beach chairs and not feel crowded. The sand is smooth, and the water is calm most of the time. The bay keeps the water calm, and you can walk out pretty far and still be touching bottom. It was very nice to lay out in the water on a raft. Although we didn't use them, the Couples staff walking around taking drink orders was very nice too. One suggestion: There looked to be about one raft for every two lounge chairs. Once or twice we were unable to find an open raft. There were some people that put their books out on lounge chairs before breakfast (our things seemed to be safe even when left in one spot all day). You may want to do this if you must have a raft. Chairs themselves were never a problem to obtain. Rafts are very nice, since the water is usually very calm. We often spent some time floating out in the bay admiring the view. The nude beach, from what I am told, used to next to the watersports area. It has been moved to the left side of the resort close to Grand Lido. It is basically a fenced off area of the beach. There were consistently about six to twelve couples on the nude beach. However, there is nothing to prevent people from walking through this area, and it really is a clothing optional beach, since no one enforces the au natural part. It is pretty much hidden from the main beach unless you want to go in the water. However, it is directly in front of one of the room blocks, so people walking to and from their rooms sometimes walked through the nude beach. There was a self-serve drink area with soda and light beer on this part of the beach. From what I have read, this feature does not come close to the au natural tower island in Couples Ocho Rios. If this is an important part of your trip, you may be disappointed. My wife and I were there twice, but spent most of our time at the textile beach. Other areas of interest - There were two souvenir shops, along with a small newsstand that sold various sundries: candy, sun tan lotion, magazines, etc. We bought post cards and stamps to the states here. Interestingly enough, they had no post cards that said 'Couples' on them. Stamps were $0.75 each, and a waste of our money, since we mailed them the second day of our trip, but they didn't arrive for almost three weeks. Very anticlimactic to receive a post card two weeks after someone's return. There were a few natural pools to look at. There were also a few swinging benches at the lobby, looking out over the ocean. These were very popular, especially around sunset. Food Food was pretty good overall. The food was actually authentic Jamaican food, with lots of Jerk chicken and pork throughout the week. Also, the soup was usually delicious. One of our favorites was the broccoli cream soup. It was nothing like the thick milky cream soup we get in the States. It was more of a broth with a slight creamy texture, and plenty of fresh broccoli. It is something we'd never eat at home, but are really glad we tried on vacation. There was a decent variety, with at least one beef, pork, fish, chicken, and pasta dish each night. There were three buffets during the week (Thursday Night Mediterranean, Saturday Night Welcome Back/Farewell, and the Monday night Beach buffet). On the sit-down dinner nights, it seemed that the later you arrived to dinner, the longer your meal would take. We did have one night that we were waiting for a pretty long time, but that seemed to be an aberration. Dessert was always a buffet, so there was plenty of variety for those with a sweet tooth. We did notice, however, that if a dessert ran out, it was usually not replenished. So, if you see something that you must have for dessert, you may want to grab it during dinner. Service and Staff The service was excellent throughout. We had no problems with the cocktail service at dinner, and usually had 1 or 2 drinks with dinner without delay. Everywhere else in the resort, we found every staff member willing to go out of their way to make our vacation a great one. During our previous trip to Jamaica, we had pretty good service at the Enchanted Garden. However, there was such a difference in attitude at Couples. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was happy to help, and looked happy to be there helping. The activities The resort is a great place for active couples. We always try to stay active on vacation by participating in the activities such as beach volleyball, aerobics classes, and the various couples' games. We were pleasantly surprised to see so many other active couples participating as well. We even won a bottle of Tia Maria at the ring toss game! They also give one-hour couples massage course five or six times a week. The water activities were both varied and fun. Steve tried the resort course for scuba diving and thought it was wonderful. The course started at 8:30 am with instruction and practice in a pool. They went on their first dive by 11:30. For those thinking of trying it, participation requires being able to swim 10 laps in a cold pool, so be prepared. You can do the resort dive as many times as you would like. This is a wonderful way to try out scuba. The resort will also give you the full PADI certification at an additional charge. Since we are avid snorkelers (we even have our own equipment), we went snorkeling 3 times during the week, always at the same reef. We saw a moray eel, needle fish, squirrel fish, sea cucumber, urchins, lots of sergeant majors, and an anchor and a cannon from a pirate ship. The staff said they could try a different reef only if the weather cooperated. Unfortunately, it never did. They also have water skiing (or should we say "face skiing, since neither of us actually made it up on the skis), hobie cat sailing (which was awesome), kayaks, and pedal boats. The staff was always friendly and willing to teach you how to do any of these things. We highly recommend taking advantage of these activities. Outside activities included a sunset catamaran cruise (which is not to be missed) and a trip to Rick's Cafť. The sunset cruise consisted of 70 people on a catamaran, taking an hour ride to the Pickled Parrot. You have about half an hour to snorkel (if you have your own equipment). Also included at the PP was cliff jumping (30 ft.), rope swing and a water slide (with a BIG drop at the end, be warned!). Most people stayed on the catamaran and watched the adventurous jump off of the cliff. Steve thought the jump was great and highly recommends it. On the way back, keep your eye on the water - we saw a school of flying fish. They also had a great party with plenty of rum punch, a live Jamaican band, and a limbo contest. We never went to Rick's, but heard that it was a nice evening activity similar to the Pickled Parrot. Entertainment Each night at dinner there was a band playing instrumental American music. Very odd, but we heard very little Reggae while in Jamaica. After dinner, there would be a show lasting about an hour. There were various singers and bands. Most were pretty good. Later each evening, there were sing-alongs in the piano bar, but we never made it to them. There were also a few game-show events, such as copies of the newlywed game. Make sure you don't miss these, as they are usually very funny. We participated in one, came in first and won a bottle of rum. Minor Complaints We do have a few minor complaints and tips, but realize that these are being discussed for the sake of the review. Truthfully, we would be really pressed to come up with any true problems with the trip. My wife and I were bothered that you needed to sign up for various activities at different places. Reservations for the formal restaurant (along with paid off-resort excursions) were made next to the front desk in the lobby. Reservations for snorkeling and the catamaran sunset cruise were at the watersports hut at the far right end of the resort. Scuba sign-up was in the scuba hut next to the watersports hut. This watersports hut was also the place to exchange beach towels. We were given two towels in our rooms, and we needed to get a receipt from the watersports hut before we checked out. Whenever we needed fresh beach towels, we had to bring them to the watersports hut. A more centralized location (such as the lobby or pool) probably would've been more convenient. The daily activities were posted at the Beach Grill, while the fitness related activities were posted at the aerobics room. The schedules usually didn't match the listing provided in our room when we checked in. Booking the Trip For anyone interested (and, for anyone that actually made it this far through the review), I booked through All-Inclusive Travel, based in Florida.( http://www.honeymoonmall.com/index.htm , 1-800- 536-3866 ) They don't handle anything else, but Tom Bukaty was incredibly knowledgeable regarding All-Inclusives. He answered my many many questions, and was happy to provide additional information that I did not think to ask, spending a good deal of time on the phone with me. They also provided the lowest price I was able to find. I have no affiliation with them, but if you are looking for an all-inclusive, and you are obsessive about getting as much information as you possibly can about your vacation, I strongly stress you use this company.
This was our second trip to Sandals Royal. We we're there in 1997 and have also stayed at Sandals Negril, Dunns River and St. Lucia. We were not disappointed at all. Beautiful grounds, great food, friendly staff, watersports and clean beach. We love the private island. We like the size of the resort, small. We did take the free bus to Montego Bay(5 min. ride) for dinner. The only let down was the Plane noise. Could have been the wind direction or the result of booming business for Air Jamaica, but at times it was very loud. The price you pay for being ten minutes from airport. I got sick the third day and did not leave my room for 30 hours, when my wife called to cancel our dinner appointment, she was asked why and told them, within an hour, dinner was sent to our room for her. The nurse called the next day to check on me. Overall, a great vacation and a well run resort.
Trip 1/00 My husband and I were making a return trip to Jamaica following a 17 year gap since our honeymoon there at Couples, Ocho Rios. We were looking forward to it very much. Before our arrival at Sandals we spent 3 nights in Manchester, Jamaica, touring and visiting. What and incredible experience that was. We were traveling with another couple. Upon our arrival at Sandals we were initially disappointed. We weren't quite sure why at first. We soon came to realize that we found the resort very "Americanized". It felt as though we checked Jamaica at the lobby door and left her there. Had we not spent 4 days in the Manchester area we probably wouldn't have felt that way. Sandals is an incredible resort. If you are looking for "the real Jamaica" she's not at Sandals. Check out the Jamaican Tourism web site for a listing of true Jamaican hotels. If you're looking for an all- inclusive, extremely sanitary, beautifully kept beach resort, then Sandals Negril is for you. We have absolutely no complaints about the resort whatsoever. The food was good-very good, the accommodations were very nice (we received a free upgrade upon check-in), the facilities were beautiful, the beach and sunsets a pleasure. The very best part of Sandals Negril is the staff. The playmakers, the restaurant staff and maintenance staff are wonderful. The playmakers and waiters and waitresses were a lot of fun. They made our vacation at Sandals very Jamaican. There is a point system for participation in activities. Absolutely no pressure. It makes for a lot of fun poolside and at the beach volleyball court. Nicola, Mikaela, Shelly, Ian, Shanelle and Sadiq are young, energetic and very personable. We enjoyed the atmosphere that the staff created so much, we're looking forward to bringing our children to Beaches Negril in the near future. We only wish that our friends from Sandals could transfer to Beaches to be there with us. There were only 2 minor concerns--not complaints. There was a cold front stalled over the island for about 6 days. It was enough to lower the temp of the pools significantly. Espee, the fit-shape instructor, refused to give aquacize classes. She doesn't get in the water while she's instructing, her concern was for the guests. She believes the temp should be about aquacize for healthy aqua work- outs. We weren't even close. The sea was much warmer. We guests asked for the pool heater to be turned on. No heater. Oh well, we became accustomed to jumping in and screaming at the same time. By the end of the week the pool water had warmed up about 5*F. The other concern was the lighting in the room. It wasn't quite bright enough for hair and make-up. It really didn't have much impact on the vacation. Just thought I'd mention it if great hair and make-up is important to you. You might find it a little frustrating. I didn't really notice until we got our pictures back. (just tell your friends and family that it was really humid--worked for me!) :) At Sandals Negril you can rest your bones on a deck or beach lounge all week or go full speed into every activity you can fit in, as we did, to anything in between. The only thing missing is on-site golfing, if that's your thing. We were happily exhausted when we arrived home. In-island flying or bus ride? If you've never been to Jamaica try the bus ride one way.. It's an experience you'll want to share with your friends and family back home. It's not that bad, especially compared to the "roads" we traveled on in the mountains of Jamaica. Now that was a story. Air Jamaica was our option back to Montego Bay. We spent the remainder of our last day at Sandals Montego Bay. The flight was nice, great views of the coastal areas. Sandals Montego Bay on the other hand doesn't even measure up to Sandals Negril. We were very glad we didn't stay there. We loved our trip to Jamaica and wish it didn't have to end. Sandals Negril gets our vote and recommendation as a great all- inclusive. Have fun.
Trip 2/00 We arrived on February 13/00 for our one week honeymoon. When we arrived our first impression was our accommodations were well cared for, clean and the house keeping staff did a fantastic job. There are a lot of special touches and details such as the wall hangings, the furniture and local artists have provided their own unique flare with wood sculptures etc. Things just kept getting better... the resort was spotless from the front lobby to the beach. The pool was crystal clear and the poolbar staff made a wicked "dirty banana." In the heat of the day a waitress would even bring you a Red Stripe beer on to the beach to cool you down. (Now don't get me wrong the one or two girls working the beach worked their tails off so they were not exclusively at your beckoned call.) The beach was clean and the water was gorgeous. They provided neat flotation pads but make sure you reserve yours early. We found a few disposable water cameras also proved to be a useful purchase. Bring your own because the gift store charges a small fortune. One of our favorite additions were the swings, hammocks and chairs for two. What a great idea! The food was exceptional and the pastry chef puts Martha Stewart to shame. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were amazing. We did not go to the restaurants but heard wonderful remarks about them. However, we did enjoy the Jamaican buffet in a romantic, quaint candle setting around the pool. In the morning it was an absolute treat to have room service (@ no extra charge.) We enjoyed fresh fruit and pastries on our balcony. The entertainment was top quality and the added bonus of lunch entertainment made for an enjoyable atmosphere. We participated in the nightly activities such as the beach games, bonfires and dancing. It was a comfortable mood whether you choose to get involved or not. We took advantage of the many great trips included... cataraman cruise, shopping, snorkeling, Rick's Cafe. We had a great time, the staff was friendly and helpful. We especially liked the catamaran cruise on the day trip. On account of being honeymooners we greatly appreciated complimentary massages. We had never experienced such a wonderful stress & tension release. One last note, we were warned about the bus trip from Montego Bay to Negril. In all fairness we must warn others, although we did not find it that bad. Yes it is rough and bumpy but both ways we had great bus drivers and it was "no problem!" Relax, feel irie and fall in love all over again.
As we drove into Villahermosa, capital of the Mexican State of Tabasco - no connection with the fiery Tabasco sauce said to have been invented in the U.S. State of Louisiana - it was like passing from wild nature into tamed nature. Well-tended parks and gardens, edging spacious tree-shaded boulevards which spanned flowing rivers, gave the town a look of a domesticated countryside. This flower, greenery and water in the sparkling new part of the city continued until we reached its historic spruced up core, dominated by an impressive twin-spired cathedral, only built in the 1960s. It was a short journey, yet, it reflected the story of this modern but, at the same time, ancient town, founded in the 16th century. The city, the heart of Mexico's oil industry, is a rambling urban centre of a some half million located on the banks of the mighty Grijalva River - once an important commerce highway for the Spanish. The town is surrounded on all sides by lakes and rivers - there are 1200 rivers in the state. Fed annually by the some 3000 ml of rain, these waters account for 60% of Tabasco's land mass and 33% of Mexico's water supply. Between the lakes and rivers, the land is covered with swamps, jungles and many banana and cacao plantations - a world of lush greenery. Historically, Tabasco is famous for Malinche, considered by Mexico's indigenous people to be the greatest traitor of her race. She became Cortes's mistress and greatly helped him in the conquest of Mexico. In literature, theatre and in the media, she is remembered as the country's number one betrayer. For centuries after the Spanish conquest, Villahermosa remained a small provincial town until Tabasco's oil wealth transformed the city into an attractive and prosperous urban centre of high-class mansions, cultural centres, theatres, parks, golf courses and shopping plazas, like the newly built Tabasco 2000. Today, besides this petroleum affluence, the town's proximity to the ruins of Palenque and, above all, its Olmec and Maya past are helping in the creation of this prosperity. The Olmecs, one of the oldest and most important cultures in the Americas, flourished during the pre-classic period - 2000 B.C. to 200 A.D. Honoured as the mother culture of Mesoamerica and the model for future `Indian' civilizations, they invented the pyramid, ball courts and the numerical and cylindrical systems in the Americas. Their civilization became known as the culture of the jaguar and jade due to the jaguar theme running through all their sculptures and a collection of jade found in their ruins at La Venta. They established the first art style in the Western Hemisphere, chiselling their monumental works without the use of metal tools. No remains of their writings have been found and their history and lifestyle remains an enigma. However, they have left behind enormous sculptures, especially those found at La Venta, one of their once important, but now lost cities of earthen pyramids - some 100 km (61 mi) west of Villahermosa . The main Olmec treasures found in this city have been transplanted to the superbly designed Parque La Venta - a world of tropical gardens just outside Villahermosa. In a small museum and amid a variety of animals, lush greenery, orchids and other flowers are now located these Olmec ceramic figurines, mosaics, sculptures of jaguars and priests, stelae, tombs and ceremonial stone altars - reminiscent of those of ancient Mesopotaina. Topping all these ancient treasures are three colossal stone heads - the largest over 22 tons - carved out of basalt rock. >From the remains of the Olmecs in this park, visitors enamoured with history can travel 65 km (40 mi) to the little-visited Maya vestiges at Comalcalco. It is an easy drive to the site, but the best way to see the handiwork of the Maya is to take one of the tours offered by several excursions companies. The tour includes visiting a colourful church at Capilla, a picturesque hacienda, then ending at Comalcalco's Maya ruins. Today, a series of scattered pyramids, temples and other minor structures remain from that unique Maya city which flourished between 200 and 1300 A.D. It was a prominent city in Mesoamerica's indigenous world - one of the important ruins in the 25,000 archeological sites to be found in Mexico, Its most unusual feature is related to building materials. In the early centuries of its existence, the buildings were made by piling up soil, shaping it, then plastering the whole building with stucco made from clay and lime - extracted from sea-shells. Beginning in the 8th century, baked brick began to replace the soil. The use of bricks seems to have been due to the lack of local stone. Comalcalco is the only Maya city in Mesoamerica built of bricks. Hence, its name meaning `House of Clay Pans'. Most of the brick structures were erected atop artificial hills. The landscape is flat and man-made mounds had to be created to give the buildings an air of imposing majesty. The most striking structure is Temple I or the Pyramid, built entirely of brick and once totally stuccoed - today little of this covering remains. Vying with the Pyramid's splendour is the Great Acropolis, erected on a huge platform atop an artificially hill. Its temples, palace, sunken courtyard and Tomb of the Nine Chieftains make it the focal point of the ruins. Along with the Olmec remains in Parque La Venta, these ruins draw many tourists to the State of Tabasco - tourism is very important to the economy of the state. However, others come to enjoy the dense vegetation of the state - that is the ones who can contend with the swarms of mosquitos and the heat, along with high humidity. The temperature year-round averages between 21 and 41 C, accompanied always with about 80% humidity. Nevertheless these irritants are overshadowed by the historic ruins and luxuriant countryside, with its plantations, lakes and rivers. In fact, some travellers have called the state a `Garden of Eden'. On the other hand a great number of tourists travel to Villahermosa on their way to Palenque, the most famous ruins of the Maya, some 149 km (93 mi) away. These attributes have made the capital of Mexico's water state appealing to both nature lovers and historians alike. F YOU GO Facts About Villahermosa: 1) Villahermosa has a fine small airport with good connections to Mexico City, Mťrida, Acapulco and other Mexican cities. There are also good train and bus connections. 2) Small cars, fully insured with unlimited mileage, rent for about $70.per day. 3) For dining, Zona de la Luz is the place. Famous for its shops and cafes, it is the part of town where one can people watch while enjoying a meal or coffee. For high-class dining try the Bougainvillea at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. 4) Tour operators in Villahermosa offer a series of excursions in Tabasco and the neighbouring states. Two that should not be missed are the ones to Comalcalco and Palenque. Both are a day's tour and cost $65. An excellent tour company is Viajes Villahermosa. Some of the Sites Not Mentioned Which Should Not be Missed: Besides the sites mentioned, travellers to Villahermosa should not miss seeing: The Museo de Historia Tabasco, features the history of Tabasco from pre-Columbian times; Yumka Park, a piece of tropical forest with three ecosystems: jungle, savanna and lagoon and their wildlife; and Centro de Investigaciones de Culturas Olmeca y Maya, displays an expansive collection of Olmec and Maya art. Where to Stay in Villahermosa: Villahermosa has hotels to satisfy all tastes. In addition to the budget hotels there are over two dozen top class abodes. The top among these are: Hotel Hyatt Regency Villahermosa, Hotel Best Western Maya Tabasco, Casa Real Villahermosa, Hotel Ceencali and Hotel Calinda Viva Y Spa Villahermosa. Cost of rooms in all these hotels $100 to $120. Note: All prices quoted are in US dollars. For Further Information, Contact: In Canada contact Mexican Government Tourism Office - 2 Bloor St. West, Suite 1801, Toronto, Ontario M4W 3E2. Tel: 416/925-0704. Fax: 416/925-6061; in the U.S.A. - 405 Park Ave., Suite 142, New York, NY 10022. Tel: 212/755-7261; or Toll-Free Assistance, from US/Canada 1-800-44 Mexico.
Trip 3/00 My wife Sue and I are battle scarred veterans of the "How do we get to St. Barth from here?" wars. We just got back from our 8th trip to St. Barth. Like all the past trips it was perfect. But... for the rookie traveler, the fun is just getting there!! We left Boston via American Airlines and had a routine no hassle trip to San Juan. (Here I digress, we usually go AA to San Juan, change to a smaller AA flight to Princess Julia in St. Maarten then do the Winair flight to St. Barths but we figured we go to plan B) In San Juan it was a direct Air Guadeloupe flight to St. Barth. At this point the St. Barth flight was canceled and Sue and I with an additional 6 in our merry band found ourselves on a flight to Port- a-Pitre Guadeloupe for an over night. Thus began a National Lampoon Caribbean vacation. The eight of us were stiffed into a six person van and off to the hotel by way of the scenic route. (Scenery is better in New York City) Once secure behind the hotel's fence (I don't even know the name!!) we had a great dinner and a promise of an early flight. We got a call at midnight that we'd get a wake up call at 4:15 AM. At 4:45 it was via bus to the airport and a guided tour of the back rooms and hallways of a major airport. The we opened a door and we were on the runway. A plane was sitting in the pre dawn light and with two quick flashes of its landing lights as a signal we got on board and flew to St. Barth. Of course our luggage never made the trip from San Juan so there were many "I love Guadeloupe" shirts being worn. All in all we lost about 12 hours...not bad for Island Time. Once on St. Barth (a French island with a Swedish history) we settled right in to our routine. We stay at a funky little hotel with one of the best views that can be had on St. Barth. It's inexpensive, clean, fun and I'm not telling you where it is to keep it cheap and fun (it'll always be clean). A stop at Le Select is of course a must and as one of the numerous stickers that adorn the walls says "I only hang out here to see what happens next". Le Select is the pulse of the island, cruise boat commandos, mega yacht owners and crew as well as the locals all rub and bend elbows here. A great place to watch the world go by with cheap drinks and food. Shell beach is gone!!! There is really nothing left but rock. Gouverneur's beach is your best bet for an easy walk (get there early) great vistas and not much wind. Remember it is clothing optional!!! Saline is certainly a close second. New and a must is "BouBou's" for lunch at the Serino Beach resort. Great food , dancing and grooving waitstaff a Berber motif. St. Barth is arguably the best island in the Caribbean and sometimes the fun is just getting there. I'll leave you with two thoughts.....Winair is the way to get on island and the landing at "SBH" is an thrill ride to itself. But that's another story!
Trip: Feb 19 to March 4, 2000 With :Pegi, Reg, Sandy and John Saturday February 19 Flew down to SXM on Air Transat from Toronto. Flight went well, landed at SXM and a representative of Paradise Car Rental met us at the Air Port. They have a booth to the left of the main door out of the Arrival area. The Paradise Car Rental representative greeted us by name and within a few minutes we were provided a shuttle over to their offices. On our arrival there our information was taken very quickly and at times we had two people looking after getting us into a car and on our way. That evening we went to Ricís Place for dinner. Reg and I had the Chile Con Carne; Sandy had the Fish Sandwich and Pegi a Hot Dog with Sauerkraut (she said the Sauerkraut was excellent). All of the food was very good and reasonably priced. Other than that we spent a quiet day enjoying a few drinks and unwinding from the trip, watching the ocean from the patio at Guana Bay. Sunday February 20 Shopped in Philipsburg in the morning. Went to Cupocoy Beach in the afternoon. The west end of the beach still has sand with lots of room, as there were not too many there this afternoon. The majority that day was wearing a Bathing Suit or Topless. The long narrow stretch to the east was mostly washed out with a very small piece of beach on the very east end. The terraced area towards the center of the beach also had some sand in front of it although not as much as before. About 3:30 pm went over to Maho Beach. We just missed seeing Air France land, but did see the Corsair 747 land. There were a lot of people on the road at the end of the runway and at the Sunset Beach Bar. Come early if you want to get near the Sunset Beach Bar it was packed. We got two beers and 2 Pina Coladaís for $16. The west half of the beach is almost non-existent just a lot of very large rocks. The east end does have sand but not as much as in the past. For dinner we got pizza from Dominoís that was very good. Monday February 21 Around noon we drove to Friarís Beach, which is a very nice beach with three beach bars on it. Today only two were open. We did some snorkeling there, which was nice. There was lots of room on the beach and each of the three beach bars had lounge chairs in front of them we were on the north end of the beach virtually alone. There were a number of boats at anchor in this bay. We had lunch at the Friarís Bay Beach Club, had bacon, tomatoes, onion & cheese on a Baguette (much like a Sub bun). This in addition to 5 mixed drinks ($6 each) came to $74.00 US. This was not good value and we were caught unaware of the conversion rate. I would recommend being careful when you purchase something on the French side as they often only list the price in Francs. Tuesday February 22 It rained all day off and on. We shopped in Philipsburg today. The Timeshare folks were still pestering us. We had lunch at the Kangaroo Court, Pastrami on Rye was very good, Chicken Caesar was also very good with lots on the plate and the Fruit Plate was good value. This is not the place for fast food folk as the service is slow, but I think it is intended that way. Be aware that an 18% tip is already on the bill. Met the new co-owner of Everyting Cool, Andy from Kingston Ontario. This place looks like fun but is not open evenings. The original owner was from Toronto; the manager is John who is from the USA. Went to Butterfly Farm quite interesting however the rain made it impossible to spend much time there. So we went to Orient Beach for a look-see. The rain kept most people off the beach; just a few people off the cruise ships were standing there looking around. The sign at the beginning of the Club O end is gone, a victim of Lenny probably. For dinner we went back to Ricís Place because the food was so good and the prices were fair. We had Hamburgers, which were excellent with great hot sauce. The girls had Tuna Salad, which was very good, and there was a lot. Again the meals were good value. Wednesday February 23 During the morning the rain was pouring down. The local radio station Lazer 101 had storm information including road closures and washouts and school closings due to high water running down from the mountain. Went to Philipsburg in the afternoon, bought groceries and beer at a little shop on Back street. Some prices were higher and some lower than Rams Food World were we have shopped the most. Back to Ricís Place for dinner. Sandy had the Chicken Salad, which was good, Pegi had the Fish Sandwich, which she agreed was also good, and Reg and I had a Wet Burrito, which was excellent. Ricís has quickly become the benchmark by which all restaurants are measured. Thursday February 24 We went to Plum / Prune Bay Beach which is a beautiful beach, however there are no facilities which can be a problem so bring any food and drinks that you want. There is nice parking but only for a few cars and a good path through to the beach. The beach is huge and looks just like a post card. A high hoe was working on what may soon be a resort at about the center of the beach; this might in the future add facilities. We went to Chez Raymondís on Rouge Beach for lunch. We had Cheeseburgers in paradise for lunch they were good and reasonable in price, but not as good as Ricís burgers. They did have prices in both Francs and US dollars. For dinner the guys tried to impress the ladies with our cooking skills by making dinner at the unit. Must have been ok as nobody got hurt and nothing was broken. Friday February 25 At 30 am we were at Indianaís beach to take a dinghy to the Heineken Catamaran with Bluebeard charter. We went snorkeling at Prickly Pear Island. This is an excellent way to spend the day with a great crew, lots of cold Heineken, Rum Punch & Pina Coladaís. They served snacks on the way out and back which were made up of Bread, Cheese and Crackers. Lunch was served on the island and was BBQ Chicken Breast or Chicken Leg and Ribs Or Vegetarian Plate. This was served with Salad, Home Fries & Rice. There was a dynamite Hot Sauce on the table which was made in Anguilla. The food was not hot and I am not sure if it was intended to be that way or not. But it tasted really good; even the Home Fries were good only warm. Snorkeling was quite nice in the morning but clouded up by the afternoon. There was a nice reef with lots of fish & coral. I took many pictures of the colorful fish and the different types of coral. With the heavy surf that was coming in you had to be careful while traveling over the coral as the rise and fall of the water as you hit crest or trough of the wave could put you right into the rock or coral which would not be good for you. There is a lot of power in them thar waves. Would definitely do this trip again. Spent the afternoon lazing on the beach, followed by even more lazing on the boat on the way back. The trip back was a little less rough than the trip over in the morning. Or maybe it was the fact that there was more sun and this was a little less rude a time of day. As I write these notes the next morning I could swear the table is moving with the pounding of the surf I hear through the open door of the patio. This evening we made calls home using Phone Cards from Antelecom. We learned that you must use their phones on the side of their building and that not all phones are created equal. Kind of like us guys on the beach. Some seem to reach out real well and others just give you static. The phone connection seemed to keep cutting out but we quickly learned that these must be satellite phones or at least a radio type hook up and only one person can talk at the same time. There is a slight delay in the switch. Once you get use to this it is ok. There are phones down on the docks but we could not get them to work with any of our cards. They seem to be based with USA companies and maybe their calling cards will work but not our Canadian ones. We had used our credit cards in 98 and learned that is a much more expensive way to do it. A $20 Antelecom card got us through all the necessary calls we needed to make. There was a big Street Party set up on Front St. and we were told they do it every week. There were bars set up along the street with food available and live bands. We saw one rock style band and a steel band. We made our way down to the Greenhouse bar and there was a large crowd there in preparation for the finals of the Hawaiian Tropic Bikini Contest later that evening. Oddly enough they had a bingo game going as we passed. We did not stay for the evening. Saturday February 26 We woke up this morning feeling sorry for the folks who came down on the Air Transat flight with us who would be flying home today. Today was a beautiful day, probably the best so far with hardly a cloud in the sky. Naturally, started the day shopping in Philipsburg. We actually wanted to drop a ballot off to win another trip back. We found the ballot in one of the magazines they give to us tourists. The ballot said to drop it off at either Guavaberry Shop or Everyting Cool on Front St. We went first to the Guavaberry Shop and they did not know anything about it there. So bought Sandy a Guavaberry Pina Colada to fortify her vitamin C and walked down to Everyting Cool and it was still closed at 11:30 am. We later learned that they do not open on Saturday. There was no ship in today so down town was fairly quiet. Went to Cupocoy and parked by the wall. Beach had more people on it than last time but still enough room to find your own place in the sun. A large piece of narrow beach to the east had no one on it except at the far end ďWhere the boys areĒ that had about a dozen folks on it. Just past this area there is a nice little cave eroded out of the stonewall by the surf. At this point the beach now ends, the rest having been washed out by the storms. The good part of the beach is now not as wide as before Lenny. But not as bad as different posts on the Internet said. There is actually one little private chunk of beach down at the east end but access would be a little challenging and the beach area is only large enough for two or three couples. The guys being bolstered by our previous culinary success cooked dinner again. We see a future of employment on the island in the restaurant business and have already developed a staff dress code for our wives. Sunday February 27 Began day in Philipsburg. Went to Fed Ex / Mail Boxes location on Front St, west of Court House on north side. The office is upstairs and they charge $5 per half hour for computer time and $.20 per minute for phone time to Canada & USA. They use Internet Explorer ver. 4.0 with only 40-bit encryption. We had been to Cyber Nation Cafť at Simpsonís Bay just east of the bridge and the airport on the ocean side. They charge $.20 per minute for computer and use the same browser. Cyber Nation has the ability to send e-Mail which Fed Ex / Mail Boxes could not. They had a general power failure in Philipsburg at about 10:15 am and everything basically shut down. We went back to the car and off to Orient Beach. The general opinion among the ladies was that Orient Beach was not the best beach on the island. If you like lots of people and an amusement park type setting Orient will be right up your alley. There were lots of people today. To the Club Orient side there appeared to be more chairs and umbrellas than on our previous visit a year ago. But I donít know if that represented more people or just the pushing out of the independent chair guys by Club O. We broke tradition this trip by not walking down toward Club O or being able to take our pictures at ďThe SignĒ. The sign appears to have been destroyed during hurricane season and not replaced. I think it should be because having your picture taken there is quite an event for a lot of people. One tradition that we did not break was to get Donna to put beads in the girlís hair. We talked to her about her family and remembered that her youngest of three kids had a birthday on the day we met her which was March 11. This year she will be 3 years old. To the north of the where the sign was there are a lot more chairs, bars and shops. Today there was a lot of water activity with Jet Skiís, Parasailing, and Windsurfing & Ski Diving. You will never be bored on Orient as there is always something happening. About 1 pm it turned cool and the wind picked up considerably, as the girls were not really enjoying themselves we decided to see Anse Marcel. This proved to be an interesting trip over a mountain road. The bay is very quiet but still cool with the wind blowing in from the north. We decided to venture back to Philipsburg and try to see if Everyting Cool was open. It was but just barely. We got there at 3:30 pm and were told that the kitchen closes at 4 pm; they had last call for the bar at 4:15 pm. We had BBQ Pork sandwiches, which were good. Pegi had a Maui Maui sandwich, which she did not like at all. However a passing dog seemed to really enjoy the unexpected treat. Everyting Cool is a good place for someone off the ships who is looking for a little beach, drink and party. This really seems to be the trade they are after. However the food would have to improve a lot to beat Ricís Place and their hours really are set for the cruise ships. Much later in the evening we stopped by the Greenhouse for drinks and a snack. We had the Black Bean Soup, which was very good. Monday February 28 We drove to the east side of Cupocoy Beach to a sort of private Beach area. Private because of its small size and the difficulty to get down to it. It is the area of the old east end of Cupocoy, which is now separated by stone from the west end. This is a nice sandy section of beach big enough for a couple of couples. There was one couple there already so we did not impose. But noted that we would have to get an earlier start if we wanted to get this little beach for ourselves. We went over to Long beach. This was probably once a very nice beach. But the recent storms had made it all but impossible to get into the water without climbing over rock just below the surf line. There were also no facilities on this beach that we could see. The beach itself is very long and has a nice arc to it and is fairly wide with sand. We returned to the west end of Cupocoy and spent about 3 hours there until the surf got pretty rough. We then went to Maho Beach to spend some time at the Sunset Beach Bar. We went there to take some pictures of the planes coming in to land at the airport. Air France which flyís a 747 into St Maarten was supposed to land at 3:00 pm but came in at about 3:30 pm. We got some good video and pictures of the approach. We had a burger while we were there. The burgers were good and about the same price as Ricís Place which has become the benchmark for food. Reg was not sure it was as good as Ricís. I thought they were just fine but then I am pretty easy to please when it comes to most food. The burgers are cooked on a BBQ that is made out of a stainless steel beer keg and cooked over charcoal. The Sunset Beach Bar has a sign behind the bar which says ď Topless women drink freeĒ while they had pictures to prove that was so, we did not see any women drinking for free or at a reduced rate either. Even though we encouraged our wives to help reduce costs these normally price conscious women opted to pay full price. We went back to the west side of Cupocoy to take some pictures of the girls with the surf in the background. We figured that later in the afternoon there would be fewer people using the beach to worry about and with the sun in the west the lighting would be better. Cupocoy may be the best beach anywhere for the photographer types. With the surf rolling in and at times rolling into nice breakers, the colorful sandstone cliffs, the mini caves and even the clothing optional designation make it possible to take pictures you may not get anywhere else in the world. With the beach looking mostly south, but slightly to the west, in the morning and at sunset you will get interesting shadows on the rock wall. Throughout the rest of the day you will have lots of light to work with, even natural reflected light off the rock wall. A Special Note: Bring your own Model / Subject, people on clothing optional beaches donít always want their picture taken. At the very least ask first. I always try to direct the camera away from other people and through body language or the direction I am facing to the subject let the rest of the beach users know they will not be in the picture. Tuesday February 29 Got a reasonably early start this morning and drove to the Butterfly Farm for 9:00 am. This is their opening time and a good time to take a tour and see the new butterflies. We ended up getting an almost private tour through the farm. There were the four in our group plus a gentleman from the states and his driver. I did not think a tour through a Butterfly Farm would hold my attention for more than a few minutes or that there would be much for the guide to tell you other than the names of the different types of Butterflies. Wrong on both counts. There is a lot of interesting stuff to know about those little critters and the young lady who led the tour and another fellow who answered some questions earlier before the tour really know their stuff. We were there for just over an hour. I had read via the Internet to go there in the mornings, as the butterflies donít move as much later in the day when it gets hot. The guide said they get their energy from the sun and seldom sit still so there you go. The farm itself is a tube metal frame with netting over it. The whole farm might be 100feet by 200 feet. Inside the netting are all the plants that the butterflies need to live and it is set up in a garden sort of thing with a footpath through. There is also a little bridge over a pond with fish in it. All of the butterflies are free to roam around inside this area. would recommend that you take the tour because if you donít you can be sure you will miss some of the stuff going on in that insect jungle. Next we went to Pic Paradis, which is the highest point on the island. The road up the mountain (1400 ft) is pretty much straight up. It is only about a car and a half wide and not in great shape until you get to where you turn off the paved road then it gets worse. From this point on either you walk or take a four-wheel drive. Frankly I think I have more respect for a vehicle than to take it up that road, four wheel drive or not. The road from here on had long ago washed away. On foot it is not a bad climb or a long one taking about 15 minutes. However you want to be in reasonable shape as you are going uphill the whole time and wear decent footwear. The view from the top is breathtaking or was it the walk. No it was the view, after a few minutes. The top is not an organized viewing station like I thought it would be but a series of paths that take you to different point were a good view is available. It is well worth a look at least once, but you should note that there is nothing in the way of facilities at the top. We then went to Happy Bay. We parked at Friarís Beach and walked the trail over the hill into Happy Beach. We picked up the trail behind the snack bar at the north end of Friarís Beach. You begin by climbing a good-sized hill and decent footwear would be a good idea. During the walk you need to watch for two strands of barbed wire. We took the trail to the left that brought us out beside a new development. Now we figure they must have a road into this soon to be a resort but donít know where it is. This will be a really nice resort when it is complete. And it will no doubt increase the amount of traffic on Happy Beach. Happy Beach is like being on a deserted island. When we arrived at the beach that is approx. 1,000 ft long there was a couple on the south end and a fellow and two ladies on the north end all where Au Natural. We parked ourselves in the middle, which still gave us all lots of privacy. Due to the way the sand is deposited on the beach when a person laid down they were often not visible to the other beach users. About two hours later for a half hour or so we were alone, the whole beach to ourselves. If you ever thought of an Oceanside romance this may be just the place, until the resort opens anyway. While Happy Beach has many pluses, there are two problems. You need to carry everything you need in with you. Please also carry out all the garbage, sadly not everyone does. A beach bar may be opening soon as there was a building down by the beach that looks like it would serve that purpose. And there are lots of ankle biting rocks in the surf. This is a tricky beach to get into the water at. The rock line and angle of the sand creates a lot of being pushed around in the water and some sore ankles, but there is no noticeable undertow. On the south end there is an area of rock, which lends itself to some really nice pictures and also natural surf fed whirlpools in the rock for good photo opportunities. On the way home we stopped at Indianaís Beach Bar for a drink and to look at all of the boats parked in the bay with the sun behind. This location has good sunset picture potential. Wednesday March 1 Went to town to get film. Then drove over to Cupocoy Beach. In the two days since our last visit the sand below the surf line has been washed away exposing a line of rock that would have made getting into the water to swim pretty difficult. So we went to Dawn Beach via the road to Scavengers Beach Bar. The road itself is quite an adventure; it has a couple of hills that you would not think a car would climb over. When we got to the beach it was very nice on the north end. The waves were not so high as on the south end. The waves of either end were easily swimable with no noticeable rock line. We went snorkeling and saw a number of fish. There were a lot of different fish to see but the water was murkier with sand than Prickly Pear so taking pictures was more difficult. There was strong surf coming from the northeast and Dawn Beach was fairly protected. The beach itself is fairly flat to the water and there was lots of room. Had a burger from Mr. Busbyís Beach Bar that was very good and reasonably priced. Went back to Ricís Place for dinner. The guys had to get one more of those Wet Burritos. Sandy had a Chicken Salad and Pegi had a Greek Salad, both reported it was good. The guys just reported. We also had Nachos Grande, which was supposed to be enough for two, but we split it as an appetizer for four. It was very good as well. So far Ricís canít be beat. Thursday March 2 We went to Philipsburg for the last souvenirs, and then we went to Cupocoy Beach and got the private beach for about 2 hrs. We took some pictures of the Corsair 747 coming in from our perch of Cupocoy Beach. We were on the east end and there were a ton of shells on this end. We then moved to the west end for another couple of hours and to catch the 747 from Air France. Today you could only swim on the east end and from in front of the terraced rocks. Went to the Harbourview Restaurant for dinner and had Stewed Beef which was very good, the Vegetarian Plate which was excellent and Grilled Chicken was also good. This is a family operation that has been around for about 9 years. A couple of sailing crews were also there. We ended the evening by going to the Greenhouse to see the Heineken Regatta Party, which was very crowded. We did not stay there long. Friday March 3 Began packing this morning for tomorrow. Went to Philipsburg to check for any last, last minute items. One final walk up and down Front St. For lunch we went to Everyting Cool. They were busy with the cruise crowd, but were greeted right away and seated. When a table near the beach became available we asked to be moved there and were. There was a beach volley ball game happening that kept the girls entertained because the teams were all guys and mostly young guys. Almost the entire beach was being used for the whole time we were there. Lunch was good and the drinks were cold but the Everyting Cool folks have identified their market as the people off the ships. And they do well with them. About 3:30 pm when people had to start catching their rides to the ships the place emptied quickly. Had dinner at Maryís Boon, they served Lobster Bisque which was very good. They serve dinner family style and costs approx. $35.00 with everything included except drinks from the honor bar. They have a nice location that is very well laid out with a beach and a pool with swim up bar. Plan to make an evening of it because they take all evening to serve dinner and this is the way it is planned to be. This evening is not for folks who like to eat and run. Make your reservations early in the week because they can only take a few people and fill up fast. Saturday March 4 Arrived at the airport 3 hrs prior to flight, there was already quite a line up. It took about an hour to check in. Reg took the car back and everything was handled well and very quickly. He was back to the airport in approx a half hour including travel time. Paradise is definitely the company to rent from. We took a walk to Maho Beach for one last look. The walk was further than we thought but it gave us one last chance to be pleasantly surprised by the people of St Maarten. We had just started our trek back to the airport when a lady in an Explorer type vehicle stopped just ahead of us. With our carry-ons over our shoulders it must have been pretty obvious where we were heading. She says she is delivering a pizza for Pizza Pasta in Maho and would we like a ride because it was too hot to walk that far. She was right about the heat and we were very happy to accept her offer. Hope to get back soon.
Was on the island from March 4-11. I was very impressed with the way everything looked. Yes, the vegetation needs to grow back and some of the roads are not good, but all in all, I would not hesitate to go again tomorrow if I could (and take advantage of that $199 roundtrip charter airfare from Detroit). Stayed at our timeshare at Divi. I wholeheartedly agree with a previous poster on the condition of the resort. I almost think it looks better than last year and when the last few buildings are open and the beach decides to come back, what a beautiful place this will be. As some of you may remember, we upgraded our unit last year and I was a little worried (because of the hurricanes) that repairs would not be done that were promised and wondering if we made a good decision, but it looked great (Building 12, Unit 707 - last building on top of the hill). It was freshly painted throughout, new appliances in the kitchen and very clean. Ate dinner and a couple of breakfasts at Chesterfield's which is located just past Bobby's Marina. I don't see them mentioned too much - you should try it, their food is excellent. Also at dinner at the Boathouse and Rancho Steak House. Both very good. Had breakfast and lunch (different days) at ZeeBest. Even brought home some of Danny's pastries. Place really looks good redone. Went to Princess Casino a couple of times - big place. Had their buffet dinner one night; was not impressed. Ate at Don Carlos for breakfast and a lunch. Free internet service for 20 minutes if you eat there. Had dinner one night at the Pelican Reef. Their stuffed lobster was the best I have ever had. Visited our friendly jewelers at Touch of Gold Too. Great deals as always. It is nice to walk through town with no cars or timeshare hawkers. The drive through Mullet is just a horrible mess. It looks like a war was fought there. I never saw it before Luis, but I can imagine what a showplace it must have been. For those of you Divi people out there, I have various pictures that I am scanning of the new buildings and beach with no sand. If anyone would like a copy of the scans, please e-mail me with the format you would like and I'll get them to you. Only 50 weeks to go!
Trip 1/00 I just had to write and let you know how wonderful Tobago is. I traveled to Tobago at the end of January with 2 good friends for our annual "Girls' Trip to the Caribbean". Although I hesitate to tell the world about this beautiful island, there is plenty of room yet for visitors. One of the first impressions I had of Tobago, other than its beauty, was how up-to-date a lot of people are on the island. Everywhere we went we saw constant reminders of the internet! It seems that a lot of local businesses all had email addresses and/or web pages, listed on billboards, signs, business cards, and the local island magazine. There were cyber cafes and roadside stands where you could get your computer fixed or sign on to the internet! It was also the easiest time I had researching the island ahead of time on the internet, finding a villa to stay in, and renting a car. The beauty and peace of the island are everywhere, with flowers in bloom, the mountains falling into the ocean, and uncrowded beaches, even during high season. The people are friendly, the prices affordable, a large assortment of fruits, vegetables, and fresh fish, and a constant tropical breeze. Although I can't attest to the snorkeling, I have heard that it is good. During our one week stay, the water was too churned up to see anything. I can tell you that one week was not enough time to enjoy the island. (When is one week ever enough in the Caribbean?) Although Tobago is only 16 miles long and 5 miles wide, it can take up to 2 hours to travel from the southwest corner of the island near Mt. Irvine to the northeast corner at Speyside. The roads were decent, but twisty and turning, and a lot of up and down the mountainsides.
Trip 3/00 We recently returned from a trip to Beaches in Turks and Caicos and were VERY dissapointed in our stay at this property. The resort was badly in need of repairs and painting, the walls outside of our room were covered in mold and mildew as were most of the patios that we say. Stray animals romaed the grounds seaching for food and trash that was left unattended for days at a time. There was no pool service offered, and if you wanted something to drink, you had to go inside, stand in line, and wait to be served. The staff was unattentive and rude, and the food offered was poor in appearance and quality. The buffett had the names of food written in magic marker on plates that were set in front of the food! Reservations, which are required at most restaurants, were impossible to get. We cut our trip short because of the entire experience. The photos I took are testament to the overall conditions at this hotel. We travel extensively, and were truly disturbed at what was supposed to be an "ultra all inclusive" resort!
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