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Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor




Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 64
April 1 1996

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BARBADOS: SANDY LANE BY HARRY PARISER

(Ed Note: This review of Sandy Lane, one of Barbados' most exclusive resorts is extracted from the Third Edition of The Adventure Guide To Barbados (IBSN 1-55650-707-0) by Harry S. Pariser. Copyright 1995, Hunter Publishing. All rights reserved.) It is available at your local bookstore. (Request them to order it from Hunter or from Ingram if it is not in stock). Copies of The Adventure Guide To Barbados may also be ordered directly from Harry S. Pariser (1327 9th Av., No. 1, San Francisco, CA 94122) at the above address for US$20 (check or money order); copies are shipped via priority mail. Please mark "BOOK ORDER" on the envelope. For more information contact Harry S. Pariser at (415) 665-4829 or send e-mail to salsa@slip.net

Harry now has a Web Site: http://www.Catch22.COM/~vudu/ )

Set on a 380-acre sugar estate, the exclusive Sandy Lane Hotel (tel. 432-1311, fax 432-2954) was first opened in 1961 and was renovated in 1991 and again during 1994. A member of Forte Exclusive Hotels, Elegant Resorts of Barbados, and Leading Hotels of the World, the Sandy Lane was envisioned by its founder Ronald Tree as "an elegant country house party in English tradition."

During the nearly 30 years of its existence, Sandy Lane has welcomed many of the high-and-mighty. Among those who have sojourned here have included the likes of Tom Jones, Mick Jagger, Princess Margaret, Elton John, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Kevin Costner, Fidel Castro, Claudette Colbert and David Niven.

Run since the mid-1960s by the Forte Hotels, the hotel was built by the late Ronald Tree who spared no expense in its construction. Portuguese masons worked on the bathrooms, and Tree designed much of the furniture himself. Its golf course for many years was the only 18-hole course on the island. Tree brought his wealthy friends with him, and the neighboring 380- acre Sandy Lane Estates contains more than 100 luxurious dwellings valued at between US$350,000-$3 million each!

Nearby Sunset Crest is a French-designed condo complex. The hotel has been extensively refurbished in recent years, and it has attractive furniture and a beautiful chandelier in the lobby which were designed by Heather Aguilar-Swan.

On the premises are a 3,000 sq. ft. free-form freshwater swimming pool. Complimentary watersports include snorkeling windsurfing, water-skiing, and hobie cat and sunfish sailing. Golf and tennis lessons are available; there are five tennis courts (two are illuminated at night), and the golf course (scheduled to expand from 18 to 36 holes) is one of the finest in the island. Use of both tennis courts and golf course is complimentary. A special Tree House Club will babysit your children while educating them; other special young adult activities are available.

The hotel has 30 suites and 91 double rooms. Suites and exclusive rooms have TV; in other rooms it is available for an additional charge. All rooms and suites have a/c, clock radios, telephones, room safes, mini bars, hair-dryers, and private patios or balconies. Newly renovated suites have huge bathrooms with climb-in marble baths, mirrors, glass-door showers, and a separate toilet chamber with toilet and bidet. There are a total of three phones, and the stationary comes with your name embossed.

The hotel also has a number of shops; transfers to and from the airport are in Rolls or private cab. Honeymoon, "Classic Gold," diving, golf, diving, and other packages are available. Rates run from B$900 for a garden view room off season to B$4,400 for the penthouse during the high season. Airport transfers, welcome champagne bottle and fruit basket, breakfast and dinner, and numerous other amenities are included in your stay. A total of 15% is added for tax and service. For more information call 800-225-5843.

Overlooking the ocean, The Sandy Lane Restaurant (tel. 432- 1311) is one of the nation's most elegant dining spots, one which compares favorably with the best European bistros. Its menus combine French, Bajan, and international cuisines, and its food . Dress here is generally "elegantly casual." Administered by Executive Chef Hans Schweitzer, the restaurant offers a daily afternoon tea, a Sunday traditional lunch, and a Friday evening buffet.

Dinner offers unique starters such as "kingfish sashimi with lemon and yellow peppers," "avenelles of dorado simmered in a chardonnay wine sauce," or "lasagne of local vegetables with leek creme." Delicious soups are offered such as "chilled tomato soup with avocado guacamole" or "pink prawn bisque with fine champagne." Main courses are such delights as "cavalli fish marinated with fresh coconut and citrus baked in banana leaves" or "St. Vincent coral lobster served in an exotic manner with brunoise of mango, papaya, and spring onions." One entree is reserved for "nutritional cuisine." Even the rolls here are out of the ordinary: you have your choice of three varieties! After the main course, a waitperson will come by with a sterling silver brush to "crumb" your table. Dessert includes such delights as "praline and chocolate pyramid" and "plateau of cheeses served with crisp celery and grapes." Dinner comes to B$178 pp without drinks. Breakfasts are served buffet fashion and include such luxuries as smoked salmon and made-to-request omelets.

Sandy Lane's more casual Seashell Restaurant and Beach Restaurant (buffet lunches) are open only during high season.


BONAIRE BY KAREN MONTIETH

Returned from one glorious first time trip to Bonaire.

Stayed at the Divi and I do agree it is run down and not a bargain. The room was kept very clean but the bedspread on the second bed did indeed have a whole in it! Room 605 , a second story room over looked the roof of the restaurant but there was a patch of azure sky and sea visible. The air conditioning worked and worked itself into a noisy vibration at 2:30am nightly. So goes the "complaint" list....otherwise the staff was helpful .

Mirna arranged for a car rental for three days over the weekend when cars were not to be had. I drove a nifty little Toyota project- stick-with air ( which I chose not to use) 158 miles all around the island several times! It only had 30,000 miles and I used only one full tank of gas.

Tuesday I dined at the Mona Lisa and then waited along side a lovely island family for the last parade of Carnival to pass by. What a wonderful effort the parade was. It felt like I was a guest in a warm and close knit community/family.

Wed. I chose to take the all day snorkel and Bar-B-Que trip with the Woodwind catamaran with hosts Renee and Stephan. We went to No Name Beach and a second snorkel location nearby. The food and drink were very good, fish viewing was great.

Thurs. I met up with a couple that I encountered upon arrival in the airport. They are 17 year veterans of Bonaire visits and as it turned out live in a neighboring town here in CT! Both exuberant seniors, they had come to relax and windsurf! They took me out for a full day of sightseeing with complete and knowledgeable commentary in Washington Park That gave me an appreciation of the island that I otherwise would not have known. What good fortune it was! And what an island it is.

Fri. I discovered Ver Mar for breakfast and enjoyed the Dutch apple pancakes for about $5 US the rest of the stay. The Divi offered quite a buffet ; but there was no opportunity to personalize the buffet at a lesser cost for the lighter appetite.

Friday afternoon I took a second snorkel trip with the same crew which took us to the tip of Klein Bonaire and to 25 feet of coral rich snorkeling. The sheer quantity of fish was impressive as well as color and varieties of fish and coral! I dined three nights at the Divi. The 6-6:30 sunset watch at their bar was always wonderful and the sunsets and green flash were thrilling and spectacular! I ate at Richard's on Saturday night...as a solo person getting seated seemed to be a little bit of a challenge there but not as much as getting the electricity to come on just at the start of the Sat. crowds!! I spotted a couple from the snorkel trip and asked if they would join me which did seem to get the three of us seated quickly and served promptly. The surf and turf dinner was outstanding! My luck wasn't as good Sunday night at the Green Parrot.

The Sand Dollar was completely booked for that week , the host flatly told me that he could not seat me. When I inquired about waiting for the bar he said (accurately) it didn't look promising.

So I left and fortunately came upon the Italian restaurant in town The Catatoria ( spelling is off) The Nordic penna and glass of wine in the garden setting made up for the hustle at the Green Parrot.

Saturday I drove out to Nukove and enjoyed the snorkeling several times. I also snorkeled at Bachelor Beach and Torri's reef near the salt flats. I spent a lot of time and energy using a new long lens on the island drives and got great pictures of the parrots, yellow birds, lizards, cacti, windmills, salt flats and flamingos, the light houses, the wind surfers at Lac Bay, wild surf breaking over the south end, sunsets, wild donkeys and a large goat herd in the middle of the road!!! It was a feast for the soul ,eyes, and heart!

Thought I would take up the offer of use of a divers light to night snorkel my last night there but instead I decided to relax and dine at Chez Tous(sp?) there I was invited to join a Canadian couple and again another magical meal with enriched conversations of travel made for yet another wonderful evening. It was hard to leave the island in spirit.


CAYMAN ISLANDS BY CHARLENE PETERSON

Just returned from 17 wonderful days on Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman. After spending one night on Grand Cayman at the inexpensive Seaview Hotel (good, clean, okay place for a night or two), we went on to Cayman Brac and stayed in a home belonging to Cinthy Pierce and Gary Thomas. What a great house! - 2 bedrooms - full kitchen - right on the water - wonderful breezes - screened porch - hammocks. Went with another couple and we dove almost every day, the guys fished from shore a LOT, and we RELAXED. We dove with Brac Aquatics, who were absolutely great. One highlight was one day when Cornell, the head divemaster, spotted dolphins (as in Flipper) off in the distance. As soon as the last divers were in the boat we took off, caught up with them and had the thrill of speeding along with twenty or more dolphins jumping alongside and in front of the boat.

We ate at a few of the restaurants on the Brac - Ed's Place, the Coral Isle and La Esperanza. All were good, but the Coral Isle was our favorite. Our meals were always around $8 to $10CI (definitely a bit less than on Grand Cayman).

We did a little exploring and driving around and spent time talking to some of the colorful characters on the island, soaking up the local flavor and laid back way of life. There's not room to go into detail, but our favorite was when "Junior" let us into his grocery store (Kirk's) and told us to help ourselves to what we needed and come back and pay another time (he was supposed to be closed for Ash Wednesday) - that typified the way everyone on the island treated us. Thank you Gary and Cinthy for helping us to make our week on the Brac so much fun!

From there we went to Grand Cayman for a week and a half at Plantation Village, where we go every year. The beach in front of PV really looks just the same, although I understand that it had almost "disappeared" after Hurricane Roxanne last fall, but thanks to a Norwester or two (and maybe a little help from heavy equipment), it's really back to normal.

Weather was great - food was great - ate at the Seaview Hotel, The Almond Tree, the Crow's Nest and the Lobster Pot (see my previous note under Cayman Restaurants). We dove almost every day on Grand Cayman - always with Ollen Miller. He is a private operator who only takes out about 6 to 8 divers at the very most. We have been diving with Ollen since 1991, and last Sunday I made my 100th dive! In fact, I made 26 dives during this vacation!!! Don't know what got into me!

We went to Barefoot Man up at the Holiday Inn three times (one of my very favorite things to do) and we went next door a couple of times to Treasure Island's outdoor lobby to listen to Earl LaPierre on the steel drums (often accompanied by his six year old son- fabulous!) One night he had me come up and help him play La Bamba (well...four notes) he played the rest, but I did great! One of the biggest highlights of all was snorkeling with the turtles behind the Victoria House. We went twice - bringing them into shore by throwing little pellets of dog food one at a time from shore. We were snorkeling just inches away from these glorious animals - it was really a special treat.

Took lots of underwater pictures.

Walked through the Westin - just saw the lobby and the pool and beach. The pool looks great, the beach is wonderful, but I don't think that the grounds can compare to the Hyatt. However, the Westin is on the beach and the Hyatt is not. The rates are high-street side are $350 a night, ocean front are $550, and 4 suites are $1500 a night! Anyway, we had a wonderful time (as usual) - we love both Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac - we'll probably go to the Brac as often as we can in addition to our timeshare at PV


CAYMAN ISLANDS BY ALAN SARHAN

My wife and I spent 4 days on Grand Cayman recently. Westin is beautiful but a bit sterile--not much character. And the "ocean front" room we had looked directly into trees and the pool, not ocean. You have to be on 3rd floor or above to see the ocean. Good snorkeling right next door, about 100 yards out from the Governor's residence. Best snorkeling was Cemetery reef, Smith's Cove good too. Rum Point is a nice relaxing place, pretty drive, OK snorkeling.

Stay away, far away, from Budget Car Rental--rusty broken down cars, delivered with empty gas tank, etc. Coconut Cars looked better. Good meals at Hemingway's (Hyatt restaurant on the beach-expensive); Wharf, also expensive; Ferdinands at the Westin-OK but expensive; Cracked Conch-bar/diner atmosphere, decent food; Eats-50's diner atmosphere, typical diner food. Hog Sty Bay Cafe-OK food, slow svc, great view.

Advise you to convert some US $ to Cayman$ so you don't have to try to track the conversion rate every time you buy a newspaper or something. Most places take VISA but a few of them add 5% if you use it!. We wanted to do a night trip on the Atlantis Submarine, but they only run night trips a few nights a week--Mon. through Weds.? Cayman Museum closed 1st Mon. of each month-didn't get in. Felt safe the whole time, not worried about vandalized car when we went snorkeling etc., which is more than I can say for Hawaii, where we usually go. Residents pretty friendly.

Went to Turtle Farm to kill a few hours. It's pretty interesting. All in all, a good place for sun and diving and that's about all there is to do there. Next time we go we'd probably stay at the Radisson, not sure the Westin is worth the extra $. The beach there is very nice but marred by the boat and jet ski coming and goings. (Not sure if Radisson would be quieter, though)


DOMINICA BY RICHARD CLARK,

Left NH at 5:15 am to Boston's Logan Airport for 7:45 am flight to San Juan for 12:38 pm touch down. Left San Juan at 1:50 pm for Dominica on American Eagle, with a 3:35 pm arrival at Melville Airport. Got everyone's flying nightmare, one of my two suitcases still in San Juan, for 13 suitcases of day before arrivals came in on the flight, as right now flights are overfilled by demand. American Airlines tells me they will forward it to Fort Young, for which they failed to do, leaving it just sitting at terminal.

Bob, a young man I meet at the airport get a ride by Alleyne Taxi to Roseau, which crosses the mountains enroute. Alleyne on finding out from me that I was into photography, was very helpful in finding spots to get off the road so I could get some great shots, for weather this day was real nice, as the peaks were mainly cloudless. Bob gets dropped off at the Continental Hotel, and at Fort Young Hotel nearby, with a arrival time of about 5:30 pm. I check in and go up to my room, for which I would be very pleased with, with a well set up room and a porch with a view overlooking the Caribbean, and south to Scotts Head. Had dinner that night at the hotel for a well served meal, but a little pricey at $27. U.S.

Next day for 9:15 am pick up by a Bobby Fredrick, who would provide me with his top guide Stanley, for trek to Boiling Lake. After picking up Stanley, we would drive to the trial head near the holding pond for the hydro electric plant.

Stanley and I, as well as another guide and a 25 year old Dominican would start off just before 10 am. Note: Normal starting time is mainly from 7-9 A.M. Weather was not looking good, but we made good time as it started to rain before getting to Boiling Lake in just over 2 1/2 hours. At Boiling Lake that day, with the cool rain getting harder by time, it was no day for photography, as in waiting for a hour to get a good shot of the Boiling Lake, saw it once for less than a second, as the cool rain hitting the 190 degree water produced heavy fog, combined with the normal steam from the lake made pictures impossible. Upon leaving the lake, we would meet another guide with 2 young women and a couple in the Valley of Desolation, of which the guide would ask Stanley upon getting done our trek to go to the village and get flashlights and start back in the end they would not get out till a hour and half into darkness. Stanley on the way in had put two eggs in a plastic bag, into the steaming water. When on return he got the eggs, they were black from cooking on the outside, but fine inside. Down in the Valley of Desolation, it was now in a all out downpour, for as we climbed out of the valley, the red- brown water flowing down the trail was at times half way up to my knees. It was a joke seeing ourselves, for we were coated to our heads in mud! After reaching the lookout, and about 15- 20 minutes later, the rains finally let up, to where you could see where you were stepping. When we reached the dam, the guys decided to climb down on the dam to wash off some mud. Normal flow over the top is 3-4 inches, but with that days downpour, the flow was over a foot, for which one fellow almost went over the dam.At observing myself ,and knowing Fort Young would have good reason to throw me out, I asked Stanley to watch my pack , wallet , and passport , as I just removed my shoes and with my pants and all other clothes on , climbed down onto the dam and dove in and could only get about 15' up the narrow Teetui Gorge , for the water flow coming down it was too swift form the recent downpour. At lease I had got the mud layer off. Bobby would pick me up and take me back down to Fort Young , where I would find out that my suitcase with all my clothes changes had not arrived. My only change was my bathing suit , of which after a shower , I would only leave my room in my bathing suit to get ice , as I had brought some junk food , and Bobby would get me a bunch of fresh fruit on our return trip from the trek. That night I would wash my clothes 3-4 times.[To continue] Richard


JAMAICA: BOSCOBEL BY TOM SCHAMP

Beach trip report

My wife and I and our two kids - boy 10, girl 14 - spent the week of February 17 through 24, 1996 at Boscobel Beach resort in Jamaica. Many of you may already know that this is one of the SuperClubs all-inclusive resorts, and one of the few all- ins anywhere that caters to families with kids. This was the school vacation week for much of the East Coast, so the place was packed.

The land cost for seven nights was about $1600 per adult with the kids (one per adult) "free". Well, the kids are built into the adult rate, of course, but it's not a bad price: only a few hundred bucks more than adult-only all-inclusives.

Getting There

We flew from Boston to Montego Bay on US Air via Charlotte. We used $$ for the air tickets on this trip, and I chose US Air because I get a fair amount of frequent flyer mileage on them already from other trips. This wasn't the best idea for a winter trip; American Airlines has a non-stop on same route which would have been better. Turned out we got lot of leg- stretching time in the lovely Charlotte airport killing time due to our connecting flight being delayed two hours by snow in Baltimore. We got to Montego Bay a little before 5 PM instead of 2:30. There were over a dozen of us heading to BB and seems like we stood around in the airport for longer than necessary waiting to be led to our bus. We went to Sandals one time and two of us got put in a taxi for our transfer real quick. BB is a bit east of Ocho Rios, supposedly a 2-hour bus ride from MB. Rain started falling, heavy at times, during our drive. Road was in good shape for the Caribbean, but low- lying, so the bus had to slow a lot to go through foot-deep water. The kids on the bus got to know each other a bit during the ride, a bit like a summer camp bus, I'm afraid... Got to the resort at 8:15, a 2-1/2 hour ride.

The buffet dinner normally shuts down at 8:30, but they held it open till 9:00 that Friday night for the bunch of us. Checking in to a Sandals all-inclusive a year ago was nice: a personal intro, glass of champagne, etc. Boscobel Beach check- in was more like a Days Inn, I'm afraid. Well, they handled the luggage for us, but no special welcome.

The Layout

Our room was a "Junior Suite" which had a king size bed and two single beds. It's all one big room, actually, but the king bed is on the entry level and the other two are on a lower level down just a couple of steps. There's a low wall separating the two levels, but no privacy. There's was a balcony with glass doors, overlooking the courtyard, but it was pretty much wasted space. We weren't in the room much and the drapes were drawn when we were. But it looks nice in the brochures.

The resort's layout is hilly and a bit confusing the first couple days. The whole oceanfront east of Ocho Rios is a steep bluff above the water. Our room was on the third floor of our building. Even after getting down to ground level, we still had to negotiate four or five more flights of outdoor stairs to get down to the beach. They even have a free-standing elevator to get you from upper level down to the beach boardwalk. The sand beach at BB is pretty disappointing. It's 110 yards long from the dock at the east end to the concrete wall at the west end. The photo in their brochure does a good job of showing you practically all of the sand there is! It's pretty obvious that the sand has been imported by barge, for what it's worth. If you want to go for long walks or jogs on the beach, you'll have to go somewhere else.

The Kids

Kids at this age can be a challenge with their own ideas of what they want. We were hoping they'd have a great time on their own without having to be with us the whole time. This worked out great! The two of us would be up early and sneak out to breakfast early. By the time we got back to pick up our dive gear for the morning boat, they'd be getting up. When the two of us got back around noon, they'd be out with their friends doing one thing or another.

The teens are pretty much on their own, as might be imagined. There are scheduled activities, but they can pick and choose. The 8-12 year olds were supposed to have a sign-in/sign-out parent policy with their club, believe it or not! First of all, this is way too wide an age group. Secondly, our 10-yo wouldn't think of being signed in and out. Somebody at BB is out of touch with kids of the 90s.

Diving

My wife and I have been certified in scuba for just a couple of years, but have been diving in the Caribbean a couple of times so far, most recently at a dive resort in Grand Cayman in October. The BB dive operation is a rather poor comparison to a real dive resort, I'm afraid. We brought our own equipment with us and ended up hauling it up seven flights of stairs each day after diving; no lockers near the dive shop.

I was not particularly amused with the way the BB divemasters ran the dives. Some of us had our own gear, others had all borrowed gear from the resort. It's best to let each diver setup his own tank right on the boat, IMO. But they setup the tanks for most of the divers (we always did our own!) at the shop and then carried the rigged tanks 100' to the boat. One day the boat got a ways off from the pier when they discovered we had 11 divers, but only 10 setup tanks. They made a U-turn and got another one. Signing up for dives was a problem for some prospective divers. Unlike a real dive resort, these dives were "free", so nothing lost if you can't go out one day 'cause the boat's full, right? Their boat is on the small side: only enough space for 11 divers and two divemasters, one tank each. Twin 48-hp outboards. We were unable to get space on the boat our first day, Saturday (grumble, grumble), but did sign up for Sunday morning. Weekdays, they have a 9:00 dive boat and a 10:30 shallow dive boat, but only one per day per person. We did manage to get the 9:00 boat each following day, but it was always full, so some people were unable to go, I'm sure. This sort of chancy operation is not what I'm eager to pay my money for. In and out of the water was a bit sluggish, too, mostly due to their boat's poor design, but aggravated by their approach. Best way is for buddies to get their tanks on together and then get wet by flopping over the side or stepping off the rear deck. Problem is the boat was a bit small for putting on gear and walking in the aisles. So they insisted on having us sit on the rear section while they brought tanks to us two at a time.

Getting out of the water was slow, too. We had five-foot seas a few times, so that made it fun. However, the boat only had one ladder for getting out of the water and it was too short. I prefer just to take off my weight belt and fins in the water, and then climb aboard wearing my tank. No good here, they want you to take off tanks in the water and hand them up too. Takes twice as long, I'm afraid.

We rented dive computers on our Cayman trip; we didn't have computers on this trip, but wouldn't have mattered if we had. All dives were preplanned in time or until first person had 1000 psi. I usually surfaced with 1400-1500 psi, a bit of a waste. Strictly "follow the divemaster" too, unlike the Caymans.

The diving itself was decent; better wet than dry, eh? I won't detail each of the five dive sites we did, none were extremely noteworthy. Depths varied from 55 feet to 85 feet, the latter including a modest wall dive. We also visited a wreck one day.

Fish life was modest, I guess. Not a lot of biggies. People seemed to feel they overfish the area. With all my comments, we both still enjoyed the diving. But still, next trip...

Romantic Sunsets

There were none. BB faces north, remember, the sun sets in the west. We made up for it by hot tubbing. Bunch of us usually showed up at the adult pool/tub/bar around 5 PM and had nice chats before breaking for dinner. One day it was pouring rain during tub-time. So we got extra plastic cups to put upside down over our drinks at the tub so they wouldn't get water- logged. Resourceful we were.

The Food

Right off, the food was great, better than Sandals for a change. This was the consensus of our nightly hot tub gathering as well. They have one big terrace buffet seating area for all meals. It's open air but covered. The temperature and humidity were always just great the whole time! They did expand the seating out down to the pool after the first night because of the full-house.

The breakfast buffet was fine. Lots of variety in fruits, juices, breads. Only complaint was the omelet line. Usually had to wait 10 minutes+ to get to have custom omelet. They should put a second guy on that station. Lunch buffet was also great. You could do a light lunch, with fruit and salad, or they usually had a few hot entrees, as well. The seafood and jerk chicken and pork were great. Lots of variety in desserts, too. Dinner was similar to lunch, but with more hot entrees and a good soup. I usually tried to take in a lot of fluids to counter the dehydrating effects of diving and drinking.

BB also has two reservation-only restaurants with waiter service. The Italian place was especially nice, but required guys in long pants. Problem is, they take reservations at 9 AM and the line starts forming by 8:45. Damn if I go to an all- inclusive to stand in line for half an hour!

Drinks

The drinks were pretty much as advertised, from 10 AM on, name brands, and fairly strong unless you said differently. Sandals did better job of posting all the tropical variations available, including non-alcoholic versions. The banana daiquiris were great; a whole ba in each! I had a couple every day to keep my potassium up.

Entertainment

They have a row of 25c slot machines not far from the front desk. They have obligatory sign restricting access to 18 years or older. But after a couple days, the kids were all over them. They should have better raised chairs with arms on them so the 6-year-olds won't fall off when they're pulling the lever! Hey, this is Jamaica, not Kansas. Down on the boardwalk, they have an arcade--pinballs and video games, all FREE. A great idea. Kids obviously loved it. I even played a few! They have what they call a disco which is open in the latter part of the evenings. Remembering the one at Sandals, we looked forward to this a bit. No good, I'm afraid. Mostly empty sometimes, bunches of teenagers a few other times.

The three singles/couples SuperClubs on Jamaica advertise "Laser Karaoke" in their brochures, so we were hoping maybe at BB, too? (We go out to karaoke most Saturday nights at home.) No such luck at BB; no karaoke at all. Again, they're spread too thin trying to accommodate all the different age groups; not sure where they could find a place to put it. "Showtime" was every night at 9 PM on stage adjacent to the terrace dining area. This they did really well for a change. Different highlight each night. They had an Elvis impersonator Sunday night, a quiz show game with 8 on-stage couples another night, and a staff/guest talent show another night. We always wandered down to check it out.

We took the free daily trip to Dunn's River Falls; I actually did it twice! "Everybody" goes there and maybe it's a bit hokey, but do it once, at least. You start at sea level and walk right up the middle of the shallow river from one boulder to the next, holding hands in a chain. About 900 feet vertical, they say, but may be a bit less. Afterwards you get to experience the quaint Jamaican confrontational sales technique in the craft bazaar you walk through back to the bus.

Tennis

I play tennis all year round at home and took my rackets, but only visited the BB courts twice. They were wet both times. Plus the courts are up on the highest part of the property, six stories above the beach. They just didn't fit into my day much this trip...

Boats

We took Sunfish out sailing several times. This was just fine; always a decent breeze blowing. Their life-jackets were in short supply sometimes. They have this big banana boat tube they haul people around on behind a motor boat and there was always a line of people waiting for it with life-jackets on.

They have a 16' Hobie, but, unlike Sandals, they seem to restrict use of this to their own staff to take 3 or 4 people on rides out beyond the reef and back. I didn't really ask to see if I could take it out myself. They have sailboards for the windsurfer set, but we're not quite into that yet.

Bicycles

They have a bunch of Mickey-Mouse single-speed fat-tire bicycles chained together up near the entrance. Heaven only knows what they're for; they have some sort of bike ride each day at 4:30, but I managed to contain my enthusiasm. I'll be renting a 21-speed Trek mountain bike on a forthcoming Bonaire trip and I'll expound in detail after that trip.

Conclusions

Our BB trip was a "good" trip, but we won't be going back. Too many compromises, I'm afraid. The place doesn't have enough resources and real estate to do both the kids and adult functions properly. We're going to be going to other Caribbean islands in coming months, mostly those known for good diving. The two of us may return to Jamaica in a few years, we both like what we've heard about the Hedonism II SuperClubs resort.


PUERTO RICO: COPAMARINA BY DANIEL WALKER

Just returned from a wonderful week at Copamarina which lived up to all advance billing.

The price was right ($150per room, per night). Room was comfortable & clean. Service preferred swimming in the unclouded pool, because the ocean was too shallow and the bottom seaweeddy, except at nearby Gilligan's Island which was idyllic. Our only problem, if there was one, was that the nouvelle cuisine in the dining room left something to be desired and we didn't make the effort to try the few other nearby restaurants in Guanica, Ponce, or Parguera. However, we learned while we were there that the hotel has recruited a couple who run a successful restaurant in Portland, ME, take over the hotel's two restaurants, starting April 1. We survived the nouvelle cuisine and ate very well by selecting soups, appetizers, and salads and, most of the time, avoided the more expensive and fancy items on the entree menu. The hotel provides a coffee pot, so all you need are filters and coffee, which we purchased at the nearest shopping center.

We enjoyed side trips to Ponce and Parguera, both about 30 minutes away. While we there, the Copamarina management was at the hotel asking guests for their recommendations. Our fear is that if they do just a few things, especially improving the dining situation, Copamarina will become so popular it will lose its charm and bargain prices.


ST. CROIX BY DAVID MCMAHON

My wife and I have traveled the Caribbean for over 20 years. We rarely return to the same island. We have been from Puerto Rico to Grand Turk. We always travel in January and usually split our vacation between two islands. Last year we did ten days in Antigua and five days in St. Correct. We were fortunate in that we had been referred to the Tamarind Reef in St. Croix by a St. Croix real estate broker. We usually spend a lot of time exploring but we enjoyed ourselves so much that we never left the Tamarind for the whole five days.

This year we returned for two weeks which gave us time to explore. We snorkeled at Buck Island among other places and the snorkeling was really good. We went out on the "Diva" with Captain Francis which leaves from the Green Cay Marina which adjoins the Tamarind Reef Hotel . Captain Francis takes a maximum of six people while the Teroro, a catamaran, also from Green Cay Marina, makes the same Buck island trip with larger groups. Cost are reasonable.

The Galleon, an absolutely great restaurant, although a little pricey, is also at the Tamarind Reef / Green Cay complex. At the Tamarind Reef guests are made to feel very welcome by both the staff and the locals. It is really a fun place. It is the newest hotel on the island having been built after Hurricane Hugo. The accommodations are clean, roomy, and especially attractive. Each unit has either a patio or deck right at the water's edge. There is nothing in the world like being lulled to sleep by the sound of the water. In all our years of traveling , we have never met a more friendly, accommodating and competent staff. Everybody has a smile and a hello and it is all genuine.

Dick and Mary Pelton, the owners, are always around the premises to make sure that everything is always up to par. Kevin Jackson is the front office manager and he can't do enough for "His" guests. Jerry sand Kathy are always on the beach or at the beach shack, giving windsurfing lessons, launching kayaks or snorkeling with guests to show them the best places. All the sports equipment including snorkeling gear, kayaks and windsurfers are included in the price of your accommodations. We have never been made to feel more welcome in any place that we have visited.

The Tamarind is two or three miles out of Christiansted which is a great town to walk around during the day. Nice shops, a fort right on the harbor to explore, lots of diversions, sunset cruises, float planes rides and very good restaurants. We went to Christiansted one night and it was kind of deserted and we didn't feel comfortable so we went back and partied at the Deep End.

We also visited the St. George's Botanical Gardens which if you are interested in tropical flowers and plants is a must. Acres and acres of flowers and plants very well laid out so that maps of the grounds are very easy to follow. You can go on you own or a guide will take you through about every half hour. This was the fist time I ever saw a lavender hibiscus.

The Whim Plantation Museum is an interesting place to visit too, Lots of historical information and artifacts. It is amazing what was going on in the islands in the 1700's and 1800's.

The Cruzan Rum Factory Tour capped a day of exploring for us with free rum punches. That was fun too.

Although we did not partake, there were three golf course, tennis, bi-plane rides, horseback riding and other types of recreation available.

Dinner at Dino's at the Buccaneer was excellent and the Villa Madelyn was elegant with a beautiful view.

All in all St. Croix is a great island, the roads were the best we have seen in the Caribbean, but it's the friendliness of the staff and the beautiful; accommodations of the Tamarind Reef that will make us return.


ST. CROIX BY PATTY COYNEGH

Just returned from a week in St. Croix.

We stayed at Sugar Beach and found the location to be ideal. Just about the center of the island, 5 min. from C'sted and not a bad ride to everywhere else.

Took Sweeny's tour and enjoyed being "chauffeured" around as we got to know the points of interest. We didn't have Sweeny himself, but Charles was also very pleasant and informative. Only thing was, the rum distillery was closed (Sat.) and we decided to go on our own another day. I wouldn't try too hard to get there unless it's part of another tour. The distillery tour is very quick and the drink at the end is the best part. The smell of fermenting molasses can be overpowering too, although some people claim to love it! Of course, we did make the obligatory purchases to take home!

Botanical Gardens and Whim Plantation were very interesting and gave us a real sense of history of the island. The drive through the rain forest was also neat for us first-timers.

Enjoyed the Diva trip to Buck Island. Capt. Francis takes only 6 people as opposed to other charters who take 30-40 people. I hadn't snorkeled for a few years and was afraid I'd be rusty. Francis was very attentive and I did fine. We felt like we were sailing with a group of friends and had a good time, wishing we could have stayed out with him all day.

We leaned toward the very casual in restaurants and enjoyed meeting other vacationers and also islanders. People were very friendly just about everywhere we went. Ed joined a dart game at Lizards and we met a group of "locals" who relocated from N.J. with Hess Refinery.

Enjoyed the music--cover songs of Top 40--not really island music, but still fun & we hung out for the evening. We saw the Caribbean Dance Co. at the Hibiscus Fri. night and really enjoyed that, although the food was just OK. I was not really looking to dance, but we were pulled out for the finale with about 20 other people--lotso' fun!

Our favorite dinner was at the No Name Bar & Grill. I'm sure there are lots of restaurants with great settings, but this was on a deck right over the crashing waves with a great view of the sun setting behind the mountains. We had the "best" table right on the corner, but you can't go wrong anywhere! Food was great. No Bones was good also. Chef Tomas came out to chat and see how we liked our dinners, and the waiter (Phillip?) showed us a picture of his latest catch (400 lb. mahi I think--it was huge). I can't imagine vacationing in a more friendly place. Stixx was recommended by vacationers we met, but it was just OK. Mango Grove was enjoyable for lunch in town. CBurgers in Paradise was fun for Sat. night dinner-- guy singing was neat. People used to fine dining would probably not be impressed with these places, but there are lots around that we didn't try that would qualify.

One thing we noticed (or didn't notice) were street signs-- they're not too common. Looking for new places usually involved asking for directions once we got close. Our favorite beach was at the Carambola. Great waves and pretty surroundings. There are definite extremes in housing, but I'd guess most islands are like that.

Regarding recent crime in the USVI, you can usually tell where it's OK to go, staying on the beaten path we never felt concerned. We met one of the 12 STX policemen at Lizards, and he mentioned that their main concern is drug trafficking among the islands, personal crimes are very infrequent. I realize I've been long-winded, but in planning our trip and choosing location, I found notes like this from recent travelers to be very helpful.


ST. CROIX BY HEIDI RUBINS

We stayed at the Westin Carambola. It is on the far end of the island. Very isolated. But very unique, beautiful and relaxing. The hotel is at the bottom of one of the highest points on the island, and is located on a beautiful shore in somewhat of a cove. The beach is very pretty, but from what we heard the sand was shipped in from somewhere in South America as most of the sand was sent elsewhere in the hurricane.

The hotel staff is all very pleasant. The concierge needed a bit of help in the brains department... but we acclimated to the "sit-back-and-relax" tone of the island and didn't get too perturbed with her!

Restaurants that are a must =

THE WAVES AT CANE BAY

*Great food*, *great staff*, *great location*! The tables are right along the beach (some actually on it!). The waves crash into this incredible natural pool... and the setting is just lovely. We ate here three nights out of eight, which tells you how good it was!

NO NAME BAR & GRILL

Another restaurant located near the Carambola, and directly overlooking the crashing surf. The food is great, but they limit the number of dishes of each item in a night, so get there fairly early for the best selection. The Apple Crisp for dessert is to DIE for. *Outstanding*! I want some now!

TUTTO BENE

Pretty darn good Italian food! They do not take reservations, so plan on waiting (it's worth it!). This restaurant is in Christiansted and doesn't have an island feel at all, It's true Italian... and the Barolo is the wine to drink here!

Taxi fares from the Carambola to C'Sted run you $20 in the day/$25 at night (for two). So the fares add up over a week.

It's *beautiful* in St. Croix!


ST. LUCIA BY CARL LUNDGREN

We just returned from a week in St. Lucia and I thought I'd share our experience for those of you out there interested in St. Lucia.

We stayed at the Rendezvous in Castries. We loved it and will definitely go back. Rendezvous is an all inclusive, couples only resort affiliated with La sport (St. Lucia) and La Source (Grenada). While it is not a spa it has everything from archery to wind surfing. All the sports and activities and instructions are included in the package. We learned that a lot of the resorts do not include instructions, but Rendezvous does. They serve breakfast, lunch & dinner buffet style and also have a traditional sit down restaurant for dinner. The food was excellent. The staff was very friendly and seemed to anticipate our every need.

We took 2 side trips that were excellent. The first was on the catamaran "Mango Tango" which sailed down the west coast to Soufriere where we were taken by van to the botanical gardens and the "drive-in" volcano. They served lunch at a working 18th century plantation & gave us a tour of the plantation. We returned to the boat and sailed up the coast to a secluded beach for swimming and snorkeling, then a short cruise through Marigot Bay ("Hurricane Hole") then on back to port. It was a long trip 7:45am-6:00pm, but worth every minute. The cost was $70 US/person. We highly recommend this trip.

The other trip we took was the Explorer Adventure Jeep Safari to the Rainforest. They use large open Land Rover 4x4s that only hold 8 people + the driver & guide. We drove down the west coast of the island through several villages where we were treated to fresh baked biscuits. We followed a dirt road deep into the rainforest then hiked a couple of miles to a water fall where we took a refreshing swim before hiking back out. Throughout the trip the guides showed us the native fruits that grow wild often climbing the trees to get us samples to try. After the rainforest they took us to a restaurant on the beach in a secluded cove for lunch, swimming & snorkeling. The 2 young guides were a lot of fun and really made the trip an adventure. We also highly recommend this trip. $75 US/person.

One thing we noticed is that on trips that include snorkeling they provide masks & snorkels but no fins. So bring your own.

The thing that made our vacation a wonderful experience was the people of St. Lucia. They are very warm and friendly. Always willing to explain things to us and show us around. This was our 5th Caribbean vacation and by far it was the best. The BB has a lot of talk about renting a car on St. Lucia. We did not and had no trouble getting around. All the buses and taxis are new mini vans (in fact all the cars seemed new and freshly waxed). The roads are not too narrow but there are sections with a lot of pot holes and a taxi ride becomes a thrill ride as the drivers negotiate around other vehicles, pot holes and pedestrians. We did not see any signs marking the roads. We were glad to leave the driving to them. The drive from the airport to Castries took 1.5 hrs and my wife was getting car sick by the time we stopped. That made a good excuse to take the helicopter back to the airport from Castries ($100 US/person). St. Lucia & the Rendezvous were great. We will definitely go back, more than once.

When we arrived back in Boston Sunday, reality hit quickly as we had to clean an inch of snow off the car. Yesterday we got 6" of snow and they are predicting 10"-16" more tomorrow. Already St. Lucia seems far away, but a wonderful memory.


ST. MARTIN BY BAGGOTT MICHAEL

Arrived on Feb. 8th, with Sandy, Dave, Liz and little David on Feb. 8th, to a waiting minivan from Sommerset, having spent the previous 8 days in Guadeloupe. We weren't surprised that we were able to fit the five of us plus our luggage into the vehicle, since we succeeded in doing the same in Guadeloupe in an Escort. Drove to La Plantation, were we shared two/thirds of a three unit villa at the top of the resort. Wonderful accommodations at a reasonable price overlooking Orient beach. The view was spectacular and within reasonable walking distance to the beach, although we usually drove.

Orient beach is alive and well, with no noticeable damage from Luis, until you get to Pedro's. Not only is Pedro's gone, but so is the ground that Pedro's sat on. The devastation is unbelievable! Walking further down the beach, and the first sight of Club Orient took my breath away. The wind simply caught under the porch overhangs of the units and tore the roofs away. I spoke to Brink, and he expects to be open next season. Other locals on the island that know what's happening also expect that he will be rebuilt, at least in most part, by next season. All the restaurants between Pedro's and Mt. Vernon are rebuilt and going strong. Mt. Vernon reminds me of La Galleon, deserted and no reconstruction going on. speaking of Le Galleon, Patrick is doing well, he still has the best American style hamburgers on the island, and the Trist(sp) is well on the way to repair.

A drive around the island found it to be in surprisingly good shape. While there was an abundance of blue roofs, it is had to believe that the island was seriously damaged by the storm. The speed at which the island was rebuilt is amazing. P'burg looks good, especially to Sandy, who had a ball at Hager's Jewelry. I know Touch of Gold is popular but Lucky at Hager's, located next to the casino on Front St., has always taken good care of Sandy's wants and my billfold.

The devastation on Simpson Bay during the storm appears to be much worse then anything reported in the news. The consensus among the locals that I talked to suggest up to 1200 boats sunk, and 500 to 800 people died. Considering the number of boats I saw either totaled or under repair, the numbers make sense. I counted over 100 boats totaled, and still laying on shore, as I toured the island. I hope that the stories I heard were exaggerated.

La Pressoir(sp) has replaced Testivan as the king of the hill in Grand Case, in my view. While it isn't fair to rate restaurants this quickly after they have re-opened, La Pressoir was wonderful. We had 8 dinners in Grand Case, and one on the Marigot harbor, and never had anything but gourmet. Without detailing each meal, which I couldn't do anyway, we ate at La Pressoir, Tastevin, Le auberge, l'Escapade, Sebastiano's and Y'vettes, twice to le Pressior and Tastevins. Needless to say, we ate well.

Bruce, the butterfly farm is back in business.

Since we spent almost no time on the Dutch side of the island, I can't provide much info, except to say that most of the larger resorts were still closed when we were there. It seemed that they are taking this opportunity to do major renovations, since the damage was so devastating.

As you drive into Marigot from Sandy Ground, there is what was a large hotel on Marigot harbor. I don't know the name of it, but sitting on the beach, standing perfectly erect, is a large, maybe 300ft, freighter, placed there by Luis. It's unbelievable. Make a point to visit it.


ST. MARTIN BY SUE AND PHILIP BREMS

Returned from our first week long stay on St. Martin and can't wait to go back.

We stayed at the Bel Air Beach Hotel. The hotel itself was in great shape. Although they had sustained $1 million in damage from the hurricane, they got things put back together very quickly. There was a casino adjacent to the property that was not open but there were people working on it. The beach unfortunately will take a while to get back. It was extremely rocky. Luckily, we had brought surf shoes, which was a necessity for getting in and out of the water.

The Divi property next door was severely damaged and no activity apparent to fix it up, but they claimed it would be ready to open May 1st -- can't see how.

Went to Orient Beach a couple of days and it was beautiful, although the second visit the water was a little too rough for my taste. I got knocked down by a couple of waves - two days later I was still trying to get the sand out of my hair.

Tried some of the restaurants recommended and were not disappointed. Mario's Bistro was absolutely FABULOUS. Not only was the food great but the presentation was spectacular. We stopped by on Sunday and got reservations for Friday.

Mary's Boon was also a good take - we were there on shrimp night, which is served family style. We would go back there too. Reservations a must. Also ate at Turtle Pier, Boat House (breakfast and dinner) and a great little restaurant in Marigot - I think the name was La Maison Sur Le Port (but can't find the card) but it was a colorful little place by the fort and the dining area surrounded a waterfall - food and service were excellent.

Stopped in at Ric's place during our shopping excursion to Philipsburg - nachos and burger great and the beer was nice and cold. Front Street was busy. There were 2 to 3 cruise ships in port every day. Tourism is starting to pick up. Estimates were they had 60% capacity of the rooms available. The manager at the Bel Air said the travel agencies are just now starting to recommend travel to SXM.

The island has everything you need to have a great vacation and they are working very hard to improve it daily.


The Caribbean Travel Roundup is available worldwide via Compuserve and INTERNET and is distributed internationally through the facilities of America Online, GENIE, The Travel On Line BBS (Lake St. Louis MO 314-561-4956), and Delphi. Selected features appear on Prodigy. Contact: Paul Graveline, 9 Stirling St., Andover, MA 01810-1408 USA :Home (Voice or Fax) 508-470-1971. WORLD WIDE WEB SITES: http://www.slmtravel.com/~slm or http://www.best.com/~paradise/ctr/. E-mail via CTREDITOR@aol.com CTREDITOR@prodigy.com 74007.3434@compuserve.com : On Prodigy - MKWC51A: On GENIE- P.Graveline: On Travel Online BBS paul.graveline@travel.com.


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