Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 124
April 1, 2002

Last Update 29 March 2002

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BVI: TORTOLA BY ROB WHITE

We  arrived  on Thursday March 8.  Beth, my wife, planned our arrival 
specifically  so we could attend the Full Moon Party on the 9th (more 
about  that later).  We flew in on a 10-seater from San Juan and went 
through  customs  with  no  problem,  mainly  because  we  don't have 
dreadlocks  --   believe  it  or  not,  the government of the British 
Virgin  Islands  won't  allow  people with dreadlocks to pass through 
customs.   This  is  pretty  surprising, because Tortola is otherwise 
quite libertarian, albeit civilized.

The  airport  in  Tortola  is  not really on Tortola, but actually on 
Beef  Island  and  is  connected  by  the  diminutive Queen Elizabeth 
Bridge,  which is guarded at one end by an elderly civil servant in a 
toll  booth.   You  drop  your  50 cents into a coconut shell that is 
attached  to  a  length  of bamboo which the toll keeper silently but 
authoritatively  thrusts at you as you approach.  They don't have the 
Fast  Pass  here and I'm not sure what happens to toll evaders, but I 
hear  that  they  still hang criminals in the Caribbean, so I dug out 
50  cents  and  plunked them in Her Majesty's coconut shell.  Anyway, 
Beef  Island  Airport  is, shall we say, Built by the British Army in 
the  mid-sixties  out  of  plywood  and  corrugated tin (kind of like 
Heathrow),  there  are  chickens and goats wandering around the lobby 
and  the  parking  lot.  We had arranged to be picked up by Hertz and 
driven  to  their office in town, but being the islands where nothing 
is  really  certain,  they  didn't  show.   No  worries, mon said the 
agent,I  think  one  of  me cars is out there, and if you can find it 
and  find  the  keys,  it;s  yours.;  So after running around the two 
dustbowls  that  double  as  parking lots, still in Northeast stress-
mode,  sweating  my  butt  off, I found the dusty Suzuki and shoveled  
through  a  pile of ashes in the ash tray and pulled out the keys and 
we  headed  into  town,  driving on the British side of the road, but 
sitting on the American side of the car.  

Road  Town  to us Bostonians) is the capital of the BVIs and its main 
commercial  port  where  many  yacht charters also originate.  Though 
it;s  not  a  huge  city,  it;s quite bustling and has the ubiquitous 
goats  and  chickens  and  cows  running around loose on the streets.   
After  we  stopped  by  Hertz  to  trade up our car for an even newer 
Suzuki  Sidekick  with  fewer  inches  of  sand  and  cigarette ashes 
inside,  we  gave the agent a ride home and headed to the West End of 
the  island  to  meet  our  friend Ginger at the ferry dock.  She was 
coming  in  by  ferry  from  St.  Thomas  because her and her husband 
Kevin;s  surfboards  wouldn;t  fit on the little planes that fly from 
San  Juan into Beef Island.  Kevin was flying in from a business trip 
in  Sweden  and  wouldn;t  arrive until Saturday, after the Full Moon 
Party.  

So,  from the West End we headed to our villa in Brewer;s Bay - about 
5  miles  as  the crow flies, but about 30 minutes drive.  Tortola is 
incredibly  mountainous  and  the  roads  are  unbelievably steep and 
winding,  never  allowing  you to drive faster than 35 mph.  The last 
mile  or so down the mountainside into Brewer;s Bay is not only steep 
but  unpaved.   If  it  was  a  ski  trail,  it would be triple black 
diamond  with  moguls;  if it was a ride at Disneyworld, people under 
12  and  those  with  a  history of heart disease would be prohibited 
from  riding. Brewer;s Bay is pretty remote and quiet - just a beach, 
a  beach  bar,  a  campground,  and  a long-abandoned rum distillery.  
Icis  Villas  is in a clearing in the jungle about 300 yards from the 
beach.   We  were  greeted  by  Alison,  a  friendly  30-ish Brit who 
previously  had  worked  on one of the Windjammer ships.  She checked 
us  in  and  served  us  dinner  along  with Icis herself, a charming 
Tortolan  who  is  also director of operations at the local office of 
Scotia  Bank,  is  on  the  Board  of Immigration, and is wife of the 
Chief of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force. 

Anyway,  we  had  a few cocktails and went to bed, although we were a 
bit  distracted  by the whistling tree-frogs outside our window along 
with  the  screeching  cats  in  heat.  At 4AM, we were woken up by a 
cacophony  of roosters which, in turn, incited the bleating of a herd 
of  goats.   From  then  on, we slept with the windows closed and the 
air conditioner on. 

The  next  day,  we  had  breakfast  and  headed  into  Roadie to buy 
groceries  and  alcohol  (Rum  is about 1/3 the price that you pay in 
the   US    --    (Ginger  &  Kevin  brought  their  Black  &  Decker 
rechargeable  blender)  pick  up  our snorkeling gear, and to get our 
BVI  drivers  licenses.  We also stopped by the BVI agricultural fair  
--  kind  of  like  the  Topsfield County Fair, but without the giant 
pumpkin  contest.   Much to our dismay, we missed the presentation of 
the Farmer of the Year Award.  

Back  at  Brewers  Bay,  Ginger and I went surfing in the swells that 
the  Nor;easter  sent  down.   I;m still quite a novice, but I looked 
pretty  cool  standing on the beach with my surfboard tucked under my 
arm...isn't  that  what's  most important anyway?  Ginger got whacked 
in  the  head  by  her  board  and  had  a  lump near her temple that 
reminded  me  of  the ones that the Coyote used to get when the anvil 
fell  on  his  head instead of the Roadrunner;s.  The lump eventually 
went down, but she had a black eye for the remainder of the trip.   


On to the Full Moon Party!
Bomba;s  Surfside  Shack is owned by Bomba, an aging, crusty Tortolan 
who  drives  a  beat  up  Cadillac  with "DON;T SIT ON MY CAR!" spray 
painted  on  the  hood.   He  is  also  the  purveyor of the infamous 
Bomba;s  Punch  - essentially four ounces of rum with a hint of fruit 
juice and an ice cube or two. 

The  Shack  is  literally  a  scrap  heap, but that;s all part of its 
charm.   Its  floor  is  sand,  its  foundation  is  plywood  and  is 
fortified  by flotsam and jetsam and other junk including auto parts, 
license   plates,  pitchforks,  hubcaps,  busted  computer  monitors, 
telephones,  mattresses,  toilet seats, and whatever else happened to 
wash  up  on shore during the last hurricane.  Across the street in a 
dirt  lot  is an ocean cargo container from which elderly local women 
cook  ribs  and  chicken on an open pit.   The place is frequented by 
local  rastas  with names like One Love and Natty Dreadlocks who love 
to  dance  with  the  female  tourists,  including my wife.  Down the 
street  is  an  evangelical  church  whose  pastor preaches about the 
evils of Bomba;s. 

The  inside  of  Bomba;s  is  even  more  intriguing.  The ceiling is 
decorated  with  a  wide  assortment of women;s undergarments - which 
brings  us  to  some  of Bomba;s “policies”.  Bomba holds 
court  each  night  at the corner of the bar.  A woman can get a free 
drink  if  she gives Bomba her panties.  She drinks free all night if 
she  takes them off in front of him.  If she gets completely naked in 
front  of him, she gets a T-Shirt.  Stapled to the wall are dozens of 
polaroid  photos  that  capture  this policy being implemented.  And, 
sure  enough,  while  we  were  sitting at the bar, a few feet away a 
young  woman  pulled  off  her  dress  and  at Bomba;s direction spun 
around  a  few  times  and  bent  over  in front of him -- completely 
naked.   She  then  re-dressed  and collected her T-shirt… Beth 
and Ginger decided that they had enough T-shirts.

Once  a  month,  Bomba hosts the Full Moon Party.  It's a combination 
of  Woodstock,  Animal  House,  and  Jonestown.   Thousands of people 
show  up  -  locals and visitors - clogging the narrow road that runs 
along  the  beach.   It starts around 9:00 and runs until sunrise and 
the  bands  are  rocking  the whole time.  One event unique to the FM 
party  is  the  midnight  serving  of  tea  made  from hallucinogenic 
mushrooms  (apparently  legal  in  the BVI as long as they're free of 
charge).   Like  junkies at a methadone clinic, people crowded around 
a  wooden  stand  in  the  dirt lot across the street from the Shack, 
first  for  cups, and then for tea.    We stayed 3:00...the next day, 
our heads throbbed...pretty good for day two on Tortola.

JAMAICA: MONTEGO BAY BY SUSANNE DIETZ


I  always  like  to say that the vacation starts the second you leave 
your  house,  so I'll start there! We decided to stay at a hotel near 
the  airport  the  night before our departure since we didn't want to 
get  up  at  the  crack  of dawn on the first day of our vacation. We 
live  about  40 minutes away from the airport, and considering check-
in  was  3  hours  prior  to  departure....  and our flight left at 8 
am....  well,  you  see  where  I  am  going with this. In hindsight, 
though,  I'm  wondering  if  it  really  even mattered since I barely 
slept  a  wink  that  night.  I  was so excited for our trip, I could 
barely contain myself! :-)

  On  to  the  flight:  We flew first class (first time ever!) on Air 
Jamaica,  and  let  me just start by saying, if you have the money to 
do  it,  upgrade  to  first  class!  What  a nice treat! On any other 
airline,  we  wouldn't have been able to afford it, but Air Jamaica's 
first  class is very reasonably priced. We flew Air Jamaica before (2 
years  ago),  and  I  am highly impressed with them in general. There 
food  is, in my opinion, among the best in the skies. The first class 
lounge at BWI was a nice treat as well.

OK,  jump  ahead  3  hours  and 40 minutes... we land in Montego Bay! 
Customs  was  a breeze, and about 30 seconds later we were greeted by 
a  Sandals  rep  and  put  in  a  bus. We dropped everyone off at SMB 
except one other couple, and then it was off to SRC. 

I  was  really  impressed  when  we drove up to the resort; it was so 
beautiful  with all the flowers. We had booked a Honeymoon Beachfront 
Conceirge  Room,  so  we  were  met by Pernell as we got off the bus. 
Pernell  and  I had been communicating via email for a few weeks, and 
I  was  so glad to finally meet him! If you are booked with concierge 
service,  you  will  truly  enjoy  meeting  Pernel.  He is an amazing 
person;  he  was  so  helpful  and  friendly.  We were taken into the 
Concierge  office  and  checked  in.  Our  room  ....  well,  it  was 
spectacular!  We  were  in  69E,  in  the Windsor Block. I had been a 
little  worried that we wouldn't like the room because I had heard so 
much  about  the  Kennsington Block being quieter, nicer, etc..., but 
after  a  week  of  watching the sunsets from our porch and waking up 
every  morning  with  the  sand  at  our  back  door, I wouldn't have 
changed  our  room  for the world! We were told the Windsor Block had 
recently  been  redone,  and  you really could tell. The only thing I 
could  find  wrong with the room was that it was loud in the evenings 
up  until  11pm  (due  to  the  entertainment).  The  first  day this 
bothered  us  a  bit,  but  with the TV on and the AC running, we got 
used  to it. Kind of like the whole plane situation. And, yes, you do 
sometimes  hear  the  planes  at SRC, though not nearly as much as at 
SMB. 

The  maid  service was wonderful and friendly (if anyone stays in the 
Windsor,  say  hello  to Theresa for us! She was the highlight of our 
stay!  ),  the  concierge  service  always  refilled our bar (I drank 
enough  Champagne  to  last  me a lifetime) and room service (yes, we 
were  lazy),  though  it  did  take  anywhere  from  30-60 minutes to 
deliver,  was  a great plus at 1 am when we had the munchies. Oh, and 
the  bed was unbelievably comfortable. I slept like a baby the entire 
week!

OK,  on  to the Food: We ate at every restaurant except the Pavilion, 
and  I  have to say I was highly impressed with everything except the 
Beach  Grill.  I  would  give  it  a  B-.  The  reason  I say that is 
1.everything  there  was  fried  with  the  exception  of the grilled 
chicken  sandwich,  which  I  lived  on  for a week. 2. there weren't 
nearly  enough  people working to accommodate everyone (especially at 
the  bar!  We  had to wait a minimum of 20 minutes for a drink. Thank 
goodness  we  had  a  bar in our room!)3. the place was pretty dirty. 
The  worst  part was that the entire week we were there, there was no 
soap  available  for  the  cook to wash his hands. The soap dispenser 
just sat empty....kind of frightening...OK, VERY frightening...

The  buffet  lunch  and the buffet breakfast I'd both give an A-, and 
yes,  they did serve lunch on the island, but we never were there for 
that  lunch  buffet.  The  salads and fruit were my favorite at every 
meal;  very  fresh!  The  only  thing  I could complain about is that 
silverware  was  not  available at the buffet unless you asked for it 
or  sat  down in the Regency to get waited on. I started taking extra 
silverware  sets  and  keeping them in the room the first day just so 
we  wouldn't  have  to  worry  about  it.  Also, the omlette line was 
always  long;  they  really  need to get an extra omlette station. We 
ordered  room  service  a  few  times for breakfast just to avoid the 
omlette  wait.  We  ate  at  the  Courtyard  once  (A, especially for 
atmosphere),  and  it  really  was delicious. My appetizer was better 
than  my  meal,  though.  Phil  ate  steaks the whole week: it didn't 
matter  which  restaurant  we  were  in.  (he loved them, but I don't 
think  he  thought  they were as good as ones we can get at home, not 
to mention after a week of steaks, he was pretty steaked-out). 

We  ate  at  the  Regency  (A+)  twice,  and I would highly recommend 
the....  well, I don't remember the name, but it was grilled chicken, 
topped  with  seafood.  Very  tasty!  The Snapper was a must, too! We 
never  did make it to the Pavilion, but from what I heard it got very 
mixed  reviews.  The  Thai  restaurant on the island was very good as 
well.  I  would  probably  give  it an A-. My food was delicious, but 
Phil  didn't  like  his  that  much,  and we heard mixed reviews from 
everyone  at  the  resort.  The atmosphere was amazing on the island! 
One  night  we  ate lobster in our room, and that was by FAR our best 
dinner.  A++ ! But, then again, how can anything compete with lobster 
and  champagne?  Right? And finally, dessert. My favorite meal ;-) It 
didn't  matter  what  time  of  day  or where we ate, the dessert was 
FABULOUS!  The  banana bread in the morning was wonderful, there is a 
chocolate  bread pudding thingy at the buffet and at the Courtyard, I 
believe, which was amazing, and ... well, I could go on and on... 

The  Bars...  well,  like  I  said,  prepare to wait a while for your 
drinks,  but  other  than that, the bartenders were very friendly and 
fun!  Not to mention, you're on island time, mon! I'd rather wait for 
a  drink  in  Jamaica  than  in DC ;-) The drinks were fantastic! The 
dirty  banana  (I  think that is what it is called) is a must Oh, but 
FYI  there  is a huge glass/cup shortage. The soda machine was facing 
the  outside  of  the beach bar so that you could get your own sodas, 
but  usually  you had to wait a while for the bartenders to get you a 
clean  glass.  And  just  be sure to rinse our your glass a few times 
because it's usually still soapy.

OK, how about I move onto the Beach and Pool. 

The  biggest  problem,  by  far,  is that people save chairs and then 
don't  end  up using them,. I was up at 7:45am every morning grabbing 
beach  chairs! Luckily I'm an early riser, but I can just imagine for 
those  who  are  not,  the  lack  of beach chairs was a nightmare. We 
didn't  even  bother  trying to get chairs at the pool because we are 
"beach  people",  but  from  what  we heard, the chair problem at the 
main  pool  was  far  worse than on the beach. I know a lot of people 
complain  about  the  beach  not  being  big  enough, but we actually 
enjoyed  the  set up. The beach is split up into sections, divided by 
piers,  and  it  really  makes for a neat, intimate setting. We never 
made  it down to the beach in front of the Kennsington Block. Yes, we 
were  ultra  lazy  in  that respect ;-) The section of beach where we 
were  was  next to the watersports area (which is where we spent most 
of  our  time  anyway).  There  was  some  seaweed that would wash up 
during  the  day,  but  every  afternoon one of the watersports staff 
would  rake it up. The beach was very clean! There were staff walking 
around constantly picking up glasses and trash.......


OK,  onto  the  Watersports.  The watersports staff was wonderful! If 
you  needed  lessons  or  tips  for  any  of the equipment, they were 
always  there.  Phil  loves  sailing,  so  he  took  me  out  on  the 
Catamaran/  Hobicat (spelling?) almost everyday. Yes, I was a chicken 
about  it when the winds were high, but we never flipped over, though 
we  did  see some people that did. Yikes.... The canoes were a lot of 
fun,  too,  but  my  arms  were  so  tired  from paddling against the 
current,  that  we didn't end up using them that much. The current is 
pretty  strong,  and  when  it's windy, it seems even worse. We tried 
the  sunfish  as  well, which we ran aground once ;-) Be very careful 
because  there  are  some  very  shallow  spots  between  SRC and the 
island.  We didn't try the waterskiing, and much to Phil's dismay, we 
found  out  on the last day that they do in fact have a wakeboard. We 
went  on  the glass bottom boat ride, which got us so excited to jump 
into  the  water that we signed up to go snorkeling the next day. The 
snorkeling  boat  takes you out just past the island, and we saw some 
beautiful  small  fish, an eel (ick) and some interesting large fish. 
We  didn't  get  to  see any turtles or sting rays; we were told they 
saw  them  the  day  before,  though.  We didn't make it to the scuba 
classes...  you  guessed  it,  laziness  factor ;-) We really wish we 
had,  but  I'm not sure our ears would've handled it too well. So, it 
might  actually  be  a  good thing that we didn't go! From talking to 
other  couples  that  did  it,  the  Sandals scuba certification is a 
must!  They  had  such a great time, and most of them got to see some 
very interesting sea life.   

Next  stop;  the  Entertainment.  Let me just say that the Playmakers 
were  wonderful, absolutely the nicest people we met during our stay. 
We  didn't get involved in any of the day activities until our second 
to  last  day...  again, the laziness factor. But, we decided to give 
the  Olympics a try, and it really was a lot of fun! We wish now that 
we  had gotten more involved because we met so many nice couples that 
way.  Not  to mention we won a ton of "sandals"! We had such a blast! 
And,  I  do have to say that the Playmakers didn't really hound us to 
get  involved;  they  tried  to  get everyone involved, but they were 
never  pushy.  The  Mixology game was fun, and the "Fuzzy Ducky" game 
is  a  must!  Beach  volleyball and pool volleyball were big hits, as 
well.  

The  Staff:  Wonderful!  All I can say is kudos to Sandals for hiring 
the  most  amazing  bunch of staff members. They were all so friendly 
and  helpful!  The bartenders, the waiters, the maids, the cooks, the 
watersports  team,  the Playmakers, etc... always had smiles on their 
faces.  It was so nice to be on vacation and always be greeted with a 
smile  and  a  "Irie".  :-)  The thing I really wish is that they got 
paid  more;  in  my  opinion  they all deserve a huge raise. I really 
felt  bad  NOT  being  able  to  tip  them.  Like I said, before, the 
concierge staff was absolutely superb!  

What  am I missing.... oh, yes, the Shopping.... We didn't do any :-) 
Well,   I   should   say,  we  never  left  the  resort  to  do  any. 
Laaaaaaziness.....  There  was,  however, a craft fair at SRC the day 
we  left,  and  we  bought a few beautiful paintings. Just as an FYI, 
there  were  a  few guys floating by on surfboards that would try and 
sell  you  things. But, quite honestly, they were really nice. If you 
don't  want  anything,  the  best  thing  to  tell  them was that you 
already bought/had everything. Believe me it worked!   

SMB:  The  following  contains  materials  that may not be suited for 
everyone...  OK,  bottom line, don't kill the messenger for the first 
few  sentences.  The last few sentences are very SMB positive! We met 
a  lot  of  really nice couples at SRC; a bunch which were staying at 
SMB.  They  told  us  that they were spending the days at SRC because 
"people  were  much  nicer  at SRC", "entertainment is much better at 
SRC"  or  "SMB  is  run  down". Now, I have never stayed at SMB, so I 
can't  vouch  for anything that we were told, but we met 4 couples in 
the  first  day  that  were  from  SMB that said they wished they had 
stayed  at  SRC.  One  couple said that the planes were deafening and 
that  they  could see the planes take off from their room...? Another 
said  that  they  had  been  upgraded  to  the Presidential Suite (or 
something  of  that  nature),  but  it  was completely run down, with 
leaking  water and mildew stains about the bed, so they switched to a 
beachfront  room,  which  they  said, was very nice. HOWEVER, The one 
thing  that we thought was that the beach at SMB couldn't be beat and 
the  food  was  wonderful.  OK  Coral  was  great,  and  the  Italian 
restaurant,  which  we  never  made  it  to, was supposedly superb as 
well.  And I met one couple that had come over to SRC for dinner that 
said  SMB's  atmosphere was much more their style (they had just been 
married  there),  and  they wouldn't stay at SRC for the world. So, I 
say,  to each their own. I loved SRC, and who knows, I might love SMB 
when  we stay there.... I'm already planning the next Sandals trip ;-
)  

Check  out:  since we were flying Air Jamaica, they had check out for 
us  at the resort. What a way to travel! It made for the best airport 
experience  I've  ever  had.  We  checked  in  at  the Disco with Air 
Jamaica  after  checking  out  with the Concierge Office at 11am. Air 
Jamaica  checked our luggage for us, gave us our boarding passes, and 
we  got  to  spend  our  entire  last  day on the beach! Perfect. The 
resort  locked up our carry ons for us so we didn't' have to lug them 
around  all  day,  too.   All  in all, I'd have to say that SRC was a 
wonderful  experience!  I  really  had  a great time, despite the few 
problems  (few bartenders, few glasses, few beach chairs, etc...) The 
atmosphere  and  staff at SRC were so wonderful, that I don't think I 
could've  had  a bad time if I tried! And as lazy as we were, believe 
me  we  didn't  try that hard ;-) I would definitely recommend SRC to 
anyone,  except  maybe  those who don't like good food, great drinks, 
wonderful service and clear blue waters ;-) Irie.... 

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