Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 94
April 1, 1999

Last Update 29 Mar 99 1700et

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CUBA BY FRANCES WEST

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.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: JACK TAR, PUERTO PLATA BY MARNEY MACFADYEN

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.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: IBEROSTAR PUNTA CANA BY DAVE AND DIANE ROSS

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!

JAMAICA: GRAND LIDO BY RUSSELL HANDY

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.

JAMAICA: SANDALS NEGRIL BY ANDY DELANEY

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.

JAMAICA: COUPLES NEGRIL BY BOB GREEN

  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.

JAMAICA: FIREFLY, NEGRIL BY P. L. SPERRY

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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