Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Trip 3/99 We're back from Cuba and we had a super time. Our two star hotel, Horizontes Costasur at Playa Maria Aguilar on the Ancon peninsula wasn't fancy but the location was great - a perfect location, really. We had the fabulous town of Trinidad to visit, the green mountains for a hike, and the beaches for swimming and snorkeling. It is located on the south shore of Cuba on the Caribbean, in Sancti Spiritus province. We flew into Cienfuegos and it is about an hour and a half transfer from the airport to the hotel. The Costasur Hotel is relatively small, just 131 units with basic but very clean rooms and inventive chambermaids who did decorative things with your towels every day. The home-style food was plentiful, with lots of rice, local fruits and vegetables, and a choice of at least two meats or fish. Some of the choices will be unfamiliar but it gave meals that local flavor. The main dining room which all-inclusives used served buffets at all meals. There was also a snack bar and Italian restaurant near the beach. Our beach was quiet and a little rocky but great for snorkelling, especially for beginners. The reef is close to shore and you can snorkel right from the beach. The water is shallow enough to stand up if you get nervous! No boom boxes, no motorized water sports. It was great. There was another beautiful sandy beach a 20 minute walk or carriage ride away at the other fancier hotel, the Ancon. There is a scuba centre with CMAS-accredited instructors further along the peninsula. The clientele was international - the evening entertainment was introduced in French, English, German, Spanish, and Italian. Some of the tourists there during the week were Canadians from the Maritimes, Quebec, and Ontario, Swedes, Brits, French, Italians, Spaniards, and a few Americans. We went all-inclusive, but you don't have to. Some people on touring holidays stopped for a night or two. However, some bars, such as the beach bar, were for all-inclusives only. There were superior rooms and some quite nice bungalows also available. There are some shortages - only 1 set of billiard balls but two billiard tables. Their bicycles needed maintenance. We were fascinated by Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Time really has stood still there. Although the buildings have deteriorated, there is such beauty and colour. A half dozen museums, a street market, a tower with a view over the rooftops, a wonderful Plaza Mayor, music everywhere, and friendly people. It costs under $10 for a metered taxi to Trinidad from the hotel. You can also go by horse-drawn carriage or even by the hotel staff bus. Another highlight was a trip by jeep to the Escambray mountains to hike through the woods to an icy cold waterfall and then to a small lake for a swim. We spotted the brightly coloured Cuban national bird, the tocororo, in the treetops and delicate orchids in the underbrush. The forest had a sweeter smell than Canadian woods. Our tour rep arranged for us to visit a coffee farmer for a meal. We had met the farmeršs son by arrangement earlier in the day to be polled about whether the farmer should kill a pig or a goat for our dinner. Goat was the winner (or loser!). After our hike and swimming, we were ready for the delicious meal prepared by the farm family - goat stew, yucca, fried banana chips, rice and beans, and fresh orange juice. Their house was small, clean, and isolated - a 10 minute walk down a track from the road. There were chickens, dogs, cats everywhere and a rose and nasturiums growing in the hard-packed earth at the front door. Their outhouse had a roosting chicken in it which unnerved the first guest to use it - she came running out! We had a great time in Cuba - and the weather was perfect! We didn't even need the air conditioner.
First off, we flew down on everyones favorite airline, American which proved to be the beginning of a very unusual vacation. Due to some unknown reason our flight to San Juan with connection to Puerto Plata was delayed 3.5 hours resulting in us being guests of AA in San Juan overnight. That is another story. After 2 days delay we arrived at Jack Tar which is a beautiful resort. Our room was a very spacious room with a double size patio over looking the putting green and a distant view of the ocean. It was immaculate with good closet space. It included air conditioning as well as a ceiling fan plus shuttered windows. We did not use the AC at all because it RAINED EVERY DAY we were there! The beach had a little bar and snack bar/restaurant. Also on our beach was water sports but no motor sports which was nice because it was very quiet. The beach had a lot of chairs and was quite wide even during high tide. The bar and snack bar were not very good, snacks were limited and drinks were small. Nightly there was a buffet with a different theme as well as 3 specialty restaurants. We ate at the restaurants- Italian and Caribbean and were not overly impressed. We both liked the buffets better. Wine was poured constantly through dinner as was coffee and purified water. Breakfast was the same and yes the wine flowed then. There were 3 bars off the beach, one swim up, one main bar and a piano bar. The pain bar was very nice with excellent drinks and was up the stairs from the main bar. There was nightly entertainment as well as a golf course. Overall, I highly recommend this resort. Service was excellent and although we occasionally ran into a language ( English ) barrier it wasn't to difficult to make your self understood. The only drawbacks were exchanging money - the peso was trading 16-1 when we left and we could not get US currency changed, and transferring from the airport to the resort. The airport is not for the faint hearted. Flights are coming in all at once to a small airport and unless you have a transfer lined up, trying to obtain a taxi is frustrating. Playa Dorada where the resort was, was incredibly safe. We walked around at night and were never approached for drugs or to buy things. and all the resorts had guards patrolling the properties. If you are looking for a very reasonable, very laid back, vacation, Puerto Plata is a great place to go.
Trip 4/98 My wife and I stayed at the Iberostar Punta Cana in April of 1998. It's tough to add much to the comments made by others. We have traveled to Bermuda, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, St. Martin, Antigua and Puerto Plata in the past few years and found the resort (this place is cleaner that Disney World), the beaches (what's not to like about 26 miles of white sand), the local people and the area itself to be the best we've ever visited. Our own rating system: Puerto Plata, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Antigua...glad we went, probably never go back. Bermuda, St. Martin...we'll go back someday. Punta Cana...can we find a way to go back next year? A Boston area couple that we met at the resort had traveled much more extensively than us and shared our opinion. Go to the disco as often as you can, it's the best way to learn the Merengue and the 'Club Dance'. Don't be alarmed by what appears to be an overwhelming number of Dominicans there. You will soon recognize many of them as resort staff members who are there to teach and entertain you (and to have fun). If there is any of the famous Dominican "machismo" present, it is not apparent. It is safe and fun (and you don't have be up early to watch every sunrise do you?). We took the trip to Saona, a 1 1/2 hour bus trip to La Romana followed by a boat trip to Saona (a small island that is a national park). Half to the travelers make the boat trip to Saona by motor launch (actually 5 or 6 of those open dive boats) and the other half sail out on the catamaran. On the trip back, everyone switches places. If you are offered a choice, take the launch out to the island and the cat back. The launches run fairly close to the coastline and you get to see the miles of coconut plantation and the mangrove swamps better in the morning. There are no drinks served on the launches but there are on the cat, so the afternoon sail back with music, dancing and cervezas is much more relaxing. After a couple of drinks and the beach and the boat, you'll also appreciate that the cat has a 'head' and the open launches are, well...open launches. The bus stops in Higuey for a half hour or so on the way back to Punta Cana for shopping and restrooms. If you're adventurous, try the Crazy Wheels four wheelers. They will pick you up at the resort and take you to their starting point (about 7 minutes away). Two people share each 4-wheeler. There are 2 trips a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The guided tour goes down a dirt road, through the jungle and along the beach to secluded Macao beach for swimming. After that you travel to the other side of the beach and stop at a small restaurant for a snack (cheese, fruit, soda, etc.). Then you travel up more dirt roads and stop at a farm area where the guide (multilingual and very knowledgeable) points out the sights and explains the history of the region (and the perils of over-rapid development). A couple of dozen local children will swarm around the 4-wheelers at this point looking for a handout. Guides on most of these tours warn that any money that you give to these children will end up in the parents' pocket and that raising a generation of children who survive on handouts is not good for the future of the region. An Argentine couple in our group brought a huge packpack full of pens, pencils, notebooks, paperback books, etc. and handed these out to the children. If kids could vote, this couple could have won a presidential election that day. A final stop is at the "Blue Tents" that are north along the beach from Iberostar. The trip costs $35/pp US. Take good shoes, a towel, a camera, a few pesos, and a bandana to keep the dust out of your mouth (they will sell you one for $5US but you can get one cheaper elsewhere). Finally, here's a tip for salad eaters. Sprinkling your salad with lemon or lime juice will kill any bacteria left from washing with unpurified water. We're going to Aruba this year because we were a little concerned earlier about the damage from last year's hurricanes and we wanted to say to ourselves "its even better than we remember". We have heard that everything is put back together and looking great.. Maybe next year!
Trip 6/98 Just a note before I start . . . our trip report my not seem 'action packed' but then again, we were on vacation to get away from everything and to take a much needed break from being new parents, our son was 18 months at the time of our trip. And as you may or may not know about being parents, your schedule revolves around them and you don't really have a lot of quality time to spend with your spouse. And this trip made up for some of that lost time . . . May 27 (Wednesday) My wife and I drove to Chicago the night before so we didn't have to leave our house at 2:00 a.m. It was hard to sleep knowing that in less than a day you were going to be in paradise! May 28 (Thursday) We had the 6:45 a.m. flight on Air-Jamaica. You had to be there at 6:00 a.m. The flight was smooth and enjoyable. We arrived in Montego Bay on time. The customs lines stretched all of the way to the opposite wall. But it only took 15-20 minutes to get through. Our baggage arrived on time, too. You have to be careful of the floors down by the baggage area, very slippery from the humidity. After getting our luggage, we found our way to the Super Clubs desk. We told them that we were going to Braco and in a matter of minutes, we were escorted to the bus (minivan). It was about 1 hour from the time we landed to the time we left the airport. We were told by our driver that if we wanted a Red Stripe that he would pull over. But we didn't, considering that it was only about a 50 minute ride to Braco and we were eager to get there and start our vacation. The bus carried 14 people, comfortably and with the A/C going. We tipped the guy that carried our bags to the bus and we tipped the bus driver once we arrived at Braco. One thing that surprised us was that no one else tipped them. Remember, they do not work for Super Clubs so tipping is appreciated. The drive to Braco was humbling. You drive past the real Jamaica, the one that is a third world country, doesn't have a good economy, etc. At check in, the staff gives you a warm towel and a mamosa (spelling?) or wine. You have to give the staff a credit card for any long distant phone calls and for the lock, for the lock box in your room. We had a few hours to kill before the required indoctrination and tour for the new comers. We went to our room (originally a Garden View on the textile side) to unpack and change. We went to the hot tub on the textile side. The people in there didn't want to acknowledge that you were there and you had to force a conversation out of them, which was short. After that 'cold' hour in the tub, we walked around the resort a little. After the indoctrination and tour, we wound up getting our room upgraded from a Garden View on the textile side to a Junior Suite on the C/O side. As we walked past the bar on the C/O side, we saw a 4 couples sitting at a table and they said: "Welcome neighbors". That made us feel at ease, knowing these people weren't going to be stuff- shirts. Our room was beautiful! If I remember correctly, our room number was 3045. We were in the second building on the second floor, and first room to the left of the stairs. Our room had 2 A/C units, a refrigerator, hot plate, coffee maker, 2 bathrooms, 2 TV's, small living room and a balcony over looking the C/O beach. One thing to remember, know or learn how to convert temperature from F to C, since the A/C units are in C. We froze our asses off the first night!! I think I had ours set at 66 F that night. Thursday night We had dinner at the Victorian Market. Everything was really good! After dinner we went back to our room. We got a call from the club- house to let us know that there was a bottle of wine coming up to our room. We watched the sun-set off of our balcony. You don't have the best view of the sun-set there, but we were trying to ease into the au natural thing, since we were first timers. We went to the PJ Party. It was pretty mild that night. We've heard from other people that it can be anything from mild to wild. We talked to a couple who we met later in the week and they said that the PJ Party the following week was wild. No details, I'm not one to gossip. We finished our night by swimming in the pool and sitting in the large hot tub by our selves. Again, it was nice to be alone the first time you are nude. It gave us a chance to get comfortable. The nice thing about this place (and I'm sure other c/o places are this way) is that nobody gives a shit about what you look like. Big, small, fat, thin, black, white, etc. It just didn't matter! Friday This day started out to be what our daily routine would be. Coffee in the room, lay out at the c/o beach for a hour or so. Breakfast at the Victorian Market, back to the c/o beach. By 10 or 11 over to the c/o pool. Lunch at Nanny's Jerk Pit, back to the pool for cocktails, B.S.'ing with new friends and just relaxing. Dinner at the Victorian Market and back to the c/o pool for more cocktailing and B.S.'ing. Friday night We went to the Street Dance with some people we met at the pool. All of the restaurants were closed and they moved their food to the Village Circle. The staff had some dance contests and then a street dance after dinner. Then back to the hot tub . . . Saturday We met some more couples. These people were the people we wound up hanging out with the rest of the time we were there. They were more down to earth like us. Tracy and I went swimming in the ocean on the c/o side. I got stung in the crack of my ass by a jelly-fish (it's pretty funny now but it hurt like hell at the time). In the afternoon, Denton and Valecia gave a 'mix-ology' class at the c/o bar. Then after that Renard tried to teach us some Jamaican terminology. We also played a few games of nude volleyball, which made for some jokes and laughs! This was a short night for us since we started early with the cocktails. Sunday A 'little' hug over today. . . today was a slow day. We went swimming in the ocean on the c/o side again. And again I got stung by a jelly- fish (this time on my forearm) and Tracy didn't, even though we were only a foot or two apart. Needless to say, that was the last time we went into the ocean. We felt good enough to enjoy a little pampering by going to the French restaurant for dinner. Then, met up with our new friends for a drink at the c/o pool to share some jelly-fish stories and quite a few laughs! Monday and Tuesday These two days were much of the same thing . . . relaxing, walking, eating, B.S.'ing, etc. Wednesday This was the difficult day for us. The day to say good-bye to all of the people (guests and staff) that made our trip so enjoyable. We missed the beach party that night, which we were told was a blast. The one thing that nobody has mentioned is that you have to pay a tax to get out of the country. It was $21 per person when we left. This is paid at the airport when you check your bags. The only thing that was bad about our trip was that our plane was delayed one hour. Which gave eight to ten 20-somethings a chance to drink more at the airport bar, apparently they were at the airport bar for a couple hours already. Then we had to listen to these jerks acting stupid and drinking more for 4 hours on the plane to Chicago. A few of the staff that really made our visit fun were: Anil Sud - Resort General Manager Richard Bourke - Assistant General Manager Valecia - activities coordinator, fitness instructor Beth - activities coordinator Renard - activities coordinator Denton - bartender, c/o pool Isha - bartender, c/o club house 'Snoop' - bartender, c/o club house Tisha - wait-staff, Victorian Market & bartender, c/o pool Skinny - c/o pool maintenance Other people have complained that there were maintenance people all over painting, etc. . . my feeling is that I would rather see those people out doing their job than to see the resort turn into a shit- hole because nobody was keeping it up! During our visit, the weather seemed to always be the same. 85 - 90 during the day and then between 3:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., there was a 10-15 minute down-pour. Like I said before, we got out of this vacation everything that we wanted and more. And yes, we would recommend this place to anyone.
Trip 1/99 We visited Sandals Negril for the second time from January 15-22, 1999. This was our sixth trip to Sandals. GETTING THERE AND BACK The flight was delayed since we left in the middle of an ice storm. Fortunately, it was raining by the time we took off and, with a little preflight deicing, we made it out and arrived in Jamaica only a couple of hours late. We had decided to take the bus since our travel agent couldn't get us seats on the scheduled flight. We remembered the bus trip as not too bad from our previous trip two years ago. I don't think the road has been fixed since then and I know the springs in the bus haven't improved. They're building a new road, but that's added construction equipment to the mix. The trip took close to 2 hours. I highly recommend you fly. There are a number of charter flights available for little more than the scheduled cost and it makes the trip less than a half hour from leaving the terminal in Montego Bay to arrival in Negril. We opted for the plane on the trip back and found it to be quick and easy. The concierge at Sandals arranged the trip. They put us in a cab (paid for by Sandals) and sent us on our way a few minutes before the flight. The charter was $60 per person (one way) plus a 5% surcharge for using a credit card. We flew in a single engine Cessna that is run by Jamaica AirLINK. All six seats were full (four passengers, a pilot, and a copilot). One thing we did discover is that we didn't want to be very early for the flight since the chairs we were given while we waited were outdoors. It wasn't a problem, but it was a little warm. Air Jamaica has a desk at Sandals that's open each day from 9:30 to 11:00. We packed and had our luggage delivered to the desk where it was tagged and taken away. The next time we saw it was in the US. We were also able to pay the exit fees ($21 per person), have our paperwork checked, and were given boarding passes that allowed us to skip all the lines at the airport in Montego Bay except the one to actually board the plane. The flight back was uneventful and actually landed a few minutes early. OUR DAILY ROUTINE Our daily routine didn't change much so I'll only mention it once and then describe each event in more detail: Breakfast, a walk around the property, snorkel, sit in the spa or on the beach, lunch, a walk around the property, snorkel, sit in the spa, watch the sunset, dinner, drinks, and bed. There are lots of other choices, including scuba diving (multiple trips are offered each day), tennis (24 hour courts are available), squash, racquetball, a disco, etc. We went to snorkel and relax so can't really comment on many of the other amenities. The weather was quite good. We had rain two days, but in each case, it lasted only a hour or so and didn't really interfere with having a good time. BREAKFAST There are two choices: a buffet and Sundowners. We tried each. The buffet is in the main dining area and offers cereal, bread and rolls, an assortment of fruit, omelets and eggs cooked to order, French toast, pancakes, an assortment of toppings, four kinds of juice, cold cuts and cheeses, at least one kind of potatoes, and traditional Jamaican items like ackee. In short, there's something for everyone. We generally had an omelet and lots of fruit. Sundowners offers many of the same choices only ordered from a menu and served at your table for those who don't like buffets. Service was excellent. In each case, coffee and a choice of teas are available at the table. WALKING THE PROPERTY The property is long and narrow. It took us only 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other when we strolled, less than 8 minutes when we were actually trying to go somewhere. Many of the trees and plants are marked so you know what they are. The grounds were well maintained and flowers were abundant. The beach itself had areas of both shade and sun so you could choose where you wanted to sit. There were lots of lounges available. There were also a number of hammocks for two scattered around the property. SNORKELING Sandals runs a boat to the reef four times a day. We took two trips a day and enjoyed every one of them. We saw lots of fish of various kinds, several rays, a turtle, and large amounts of coral. The staff will help you with basic instruction if you've not snorkeled before. The equipment was in good shape. Life vests are available for those who are novices or who just want to relax without worry. The fish seem to like bread and, in some of the more popular spots, will actually flock to the boats looking for a handout. THE SPA AND THE BEACH The beach is lovely. You can walk the seven miles if you want. A security guard takes your name as you leave the property and checks you back in when you return. The beach is public, but they do take care that visitors don't stray from the beach to the facilities. There were two pools. The main pool was where the organized games were played and we spent little time there. There was a second, smaller pool by the piano bar where we did spend time when we had had enough sand. Each of those pools had a spa next to it and they worked fine. Their temperature did vary from day to day, but was between 102 and 104 most days. The view of the sunset from the terrace of our room and from either spa was quite nice and we enjoyed it each day we were there. There's a third pool specifically for scuba instruction. A resort course is available and included in the basic price. LUNCH Lunch each day was a buffet. There were lots of choices, both hot and cold. The sandwiches were quite good and were made to order on request. There was a large selection of breads and rolls, a broad selection of salads, and various hot dishes on a steam table. There was at least one pasta available each day. There was always two or three selections from the grill (jerk pork, jerk chicken, grilled marlin, etc.). At the end of the buffet, "fit shape" food was available. This was generally a steamed vegetable, various raw vegetables with no dressing, and at least one entree. There were various sodas available as well as coffee, tea, and selections from the bar. If you wanted wine, you could ask and it was delivered to your table by the glass or by the bottle. There were 10 or more desserts to choose from to end the meal. There's also a beach grill with the usual grill food -- hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, grilled cheese, etc. Between the restaurants and the beach grill, food is available 24 hours a day. SUNSETS The sunsets were spectacular. We varied between watching from our terrace and watching from the spa. DINNER In addition to the main dining room, there are three restaurants available: Sundowners, 4C's, and Kimonos. The meals were a pleasant surprise for us since we felt that the food at Sandals Negril was, at best, average on our last visit. There's a new executive chef and we thought the improvement was dramatic. The main dining room varies between buffets and sit down dining, depending on the night. When sit down dining was offered, the service was quite good. We skipped all of the dinner buffets (well, except dessert one night). When dining from a menu, there was a choice of 8 appetizers, three salads, two soups, and at least a dozen entrees, including seafood, pasta, and "healthy cuisine." We tried three different appetizers, two kinds of salad, and four different entrees in our two meals there. All were prepared well, presented well, and served well. Sundowners offers Jamaican cuisine. Service was excellent. The food was well prepared and enjoyable. We tried two different entrees in our one meal here and both were enjoyable. 4C's offers "healthy cuisine." You choose your dinner, selecting what food you want by piling it on your plate from the raw selections offered. In addition to a variety of vegetables, you can pick from small shrimp, beef strips, and small pieces of chicken. Since you pick the ingredients, you control not only the mixture of foods, but the quantities. Your plate is then whisked away and the food is stir fried with the addition of garlic, onions, and ginger (you can choose to have any or all of those omitted). While you food is being cooked, you go to the salad bar and serve yourself a salad and bread. Soup is also available. The entree is returned cooked properly. The results were quite delicious. Kimonos is a show and the only restaurant at which a reservation is required. This is also the only place where you can't sit alone as a couple. You have a choice of two appetizers. Salad and soup are served. You then watch the chef prepare stir fried vegetables, beef, chicken, pork, scallops, shrimp, and marlin on the grill. Each is divided and served to you at the table. Dessert and coffee are available at a separate table after the meal is complete. THE BARS There are at least four bars: the pool bar (including a swim up area), the beach bar, the piano bar, and the main bar. We mostly used the piano bar this trip. It had multiple bartenders, depending on how busy it was. It also offered popcorn and a soda machine for self service. Drinks were mixed well and an assortment of wines, liquors, and liqueurs were available. Most were generic brands, but I did notice that Jim Beam was available, for example. The wine lists have improved since our last visit. If you want premium wine, there is a list and an extra charge, but the ordinary wine is available in all of the restaurants and at the bars and is drinkable. There is a choice between Jamaican, Chilean, French, and American of various kinds. THE ROOM The room was pretty standard for Sandals. We stayed in the Sundowner block in a "honeymoon room" (or something like that). We felt it was worth the money for the location -- at a quiet end of the property right on the beach. I wanted a room where I could both see and hear the water and this one was a good match for that. The room included a small bar, two Sandals robes, and a daily NY Times news fax. The room had a terrace with a small table and two chairs with a wonderful view of the water. Inside was a king size bed, a desk, two side chairs, a small table, a television (which got all the networks plus ESPN, USA, and other channels), a refrigerator which was restocked daily, and a bathroom. The water pressure was good. Hot water was abundant. The bar was stocked with vodka, gin, scotch, inexpensive champagne, red and white Jamaican wine, and lots of soda and juice. We ended up drinking a lot of soda and juice, but found it just as easy to go down to the piano bar for a real drink. THE STAFF The staff, as always, did a superb job. They always make you feel welcome and like they enjoy their jobs. Many will greet you by name after the first day or two, if you introduce yourself. At the snorkeling desk, not only did they remember our names, but our flipper sizes. The bartenders remember what you drink. Even the groundskeepers and security guards are happy to talk to you and listen politely to what you have to say. It's a cliche, but the staff does make the difference between having a nice time and having a truly wonderful time.
My wife and I spent a week at Couples Negril starting Jan. 31, 1999. This is a new club that has been open only 6 months and is located next to the Grand Lido on a very nice beach. We have been to Couples Ocho Rios twice and to Braco Village (now Grand Lido Braco) and we felt Couples Negril was the best. The following are some of the highlights you may find helpful. LOCATION: Negril beach is by far the best beach area on the island. The beach is about 7 miles long and is mostly built up with clubs. Couples is on the Northern most end with about a mile of public beach to its North. A very busy road runs along the back side of all the clubs along the beach and provides road traffic noise day and night. The noise is more of a problem for tennis players since the tennis courts are along the road. A bigger nuisance that the road noise is the Negril airport which is directly across the street from Couples. The runway is parallel to the road and the planes taking off are quite noisy. WEATHER: The weather was perfect; sunny and hot, no rain. We were quite pleased since we have had rainy weeks in Ocho Rios both times we've been there; first week in Feb. We heard from other guests that Ocho Rios was having rain again this year, so I'm beginning to suspect they have different weather over there. ROOMS: We were very happy with the room. It had a typical motel room layout but was large with sliders to a balcony. The room had radio, TV (cable), telephone, and a safe. The bath room was large with plenty of space to set things. The king size bed was comfortable and towels were changed twice a day. RESTAURANTS & FOOD: There are three restaurants; the main restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and is where you take most of your meals. It is very nice with buffets at breakfast and lunch, and usually a menu for dinner. It is covered with open sides and has a stage for evening entertainment. No reservations are required and you can wear most anything. The food is plentiful and varied. We thought it was good but not outstanding. The service was ok, but again not outstanding. During peak evening dinner hours they seemed understaffed. The gourmet restaurant is small and requires a reservation. The service is excellent and the decor very nice. However, the food was comparable to the main restaurant. They have two seatings at 6 and 8:15, and are not open every evening. We ate there once but did not go back. The third restaurant is the grill where you can get hamburgers, fried chicken, etc. They are open for lunch and dinner and some nights have a buffet. Its a small restaurant with some tables under the roof and other umbrella tables on a deck. Same food and service as the main restaurant. DRINKS: There are two walk-up bars open all day and evening and one in the piano bar which is open till 2am. There is also a swim-up bar in the pool. They have any kind of soft or hard drink you may want with unlimited supplies. ENTERTAINMENT: They have entertainment nightly at 9:30. Local talent some of which was very good. Most nights there is dancing while they sing and play. Friday night is staff/guest talent night which was a real loser the week we were there. They have a beach party one night with a fire eater, limbo, and other traditional beach entertainment. The piano bar is a room that is open from 11pm to 2am for those late night folks. POOL & JACUZZI: The pool is very large and long if you want to do laps. There is a Jacuzzi at each end that will hold about 8 people each. On the side of the pool center is a water fall down to a smaller pool with a swim-up bar. Stools for about 10 people. The other side of the bar is a walk- up for the people on the beach. THE BEACH: They have an excellent beach. Its long and wide with lots of natural vegetation that provides shade if you want to get out of the sun. The water is clear and warm but is rather shallow in the swimming areas. Nice sandy bottom, no rocks. Since there are so many boats in the area you can only swim in roped off areas. There is a clothing optional area at one end of the beach which is not very private since its next to the water sports equipment which is a very busy place all day long. Very few people spend time at the clothing optional beach, however, topless sun bathing is common everywhere on the beach and even around the pool. WATER SPORTS: They have many water sports activities which are all included at no extra charge. These include snorkeling equipment and two snorkeling trips daily, scuba training and a daily dive, glass bottom boat trip daily, and water skiing daily. They have kayaks, wind surfers, Hobe Wave sail boats and water bicycles you can use anytime. The equipment is all new. FITNESS: They have daily activities for the fitness buffs that include most of the typical exercise machines plus aerobic classes. They have 4 very nice tennis courts (2 lighted) with tennis clinics and round robin play daily. You can schedule private tennis lessons at no extra charge. They provide rackets and balls. There is a resident tennis pro and each week they have a different visiting pro. The week we were there Larry Peterson from Saddlebrook in Florida was the visiting pro. He is an excellent tennis instructor. REC ROOM: There is a small recreation room with a pool table, ping- pong table, and card table. It has games and tables for cards, plus a TV. A nice touch is a popcorn machine which always has warm popcorn. SPA: The Spa provides all sorts of personal care items at extra cost; hair, nails, massage, etc. Every day there are many many things to do including trips outside the club. Golf is included but you need to take a bus to the golf course. Three times a week there is a sunset sail on a very large catamaran that sails down Negril beach and back (no extra charge). This is a good trip.
Trip 3/99 I have just returned from a week at the Firefly - my first time in Jamaica - and this is a more or less brief report. I won't say much about Negril since I was there during Spring Break and, I was told, Negril was not its usual self. The students were well behaved but there was a lot of late night entertainment - I was glad I took some earplugs. I used Air Negril ( $120 roundtrip ) between Montego Bay and Negril. They were running about a half hour behind both ways, otherwise, no complaints. USAir at Montego, however, was understaffed and although I was there in plenty of time, my flight was being called by the time I made it through their line. American seemed to having the same problems. Visit a Firefly web site, <http://www.beingees.com/ffmain.htm> for a fairly accurate description of the resort. Firefly is an interesting place on a very narrow property. No two rooms seem to be the same. I stayed in a Beachfront Penthouse. The room consists of a bedroom, a separate kitchenette and a bathroom. It is quite small. There is, however, a covered balcony which overlooks the beach. It has a light you can read by so that is where I spent all my waking time. The Penthouse View link at the web site shows the view from the Penthouse; the building in the picture is the bar and a rental unit. You must climb two flights of narrow, steep, exterior stairs to get to the room. Once there, I found it comfortable but cramped. The furnishings are nothing special and it has the only shower I have met that has a learning curve. I found the grounds attractive and the staff and management helpful and friendly. The portion of the beach that Firefly occupies is narrow but deep enough that you can be pretty well away from the beach traffic; there is a fair amount of shade and not enough lounges - grab yours early. I ate most nights at the Charela Inn which is about half a block down the beach. Not that it is anything special but it was not outrageously expensive, the service was good and, important to me, they start dinner service at 6:30 instead of 7:00. I also ate at the Box Lunch(?) ( a couple of pieces of pretty good chicken and lots of rice and beans ) and at the Best In The West ( very good jerk chicken and a couple of slices of bread but no veggies. I wished I had saved some of the rice and beans ). I took a cab into town once ( the driver recommended by the Firefly was good ). As near as I could tell, the grocery store is your best bet for everything including liquor. I didn't find any groceries to speak of within walking distance. If you are a smoker take 'em with you; American cigarettes are hard to find and outrageously expensive. I found it best to carry both US$ and J$. Firefly has a small bar on the beach with good prices; you can run a tab. You can get some "fried breakfast" type meals there also. A few people offered to sell me "smoke" but I did not find peddlers to be particularly offensive. In regard to the Clothing Optional aspects, nudity is permitted on the half of the property nearest the beach. Some time ago I asked whether nudity was accepted and customary and a respondent said it was accepted but that "customary" was another matter - that was accurate. I arrived on Saturday and until Thursday the only nude person I saw was me. From Thursday until I left on Saturday there was only one other person who was nude. In fact, I found the dress on the beach to be conservative - the college students being the most conservative of all. Oddly, the bar asks that you not be nude although not ten feet away you can be. As mentioned above, you do not need to be in the main traffic pattern of the beach and I doubt that one beach stroller in ten noticed that I was naked. I had no problems/comments/pointed looks. You must, however, be comfortable being the only naked person in miles. Those of you who don't like to walk Orient Beach nude after 9:00A will be uncomfortable. Firefly is a small place and I would guess that the amount of nudity on the premises varies greatly from week to week. To summarize: I liked Firefly. I'll reserve my opinion on Negril but I would like to go back in quieter times. If you are looking for a CO vacation, take your sang froid with you.
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