Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Trip: 3/00 Conclusion: We enjoyed Blue Bay Village - Cancun very much and we had a great time with lots of laughs. We would recommend the resort for those looking for a mix of fun activities and relaxation. As far as the clientele are concerned, the mix seemed to consist of about 35% Canadian, 35% American, with the reminder a mix of British and South American; ages generally 20 to 30 years old with a few senior citizens. We like to take our annual vacation in a different location each year. Having been to various Caribbean islands such as St. Lucia, Jamaica, Antigua, and Barbados, we finally decided to give Cancun a try. Having been on a Mexican Riviera cruise, we had already visited Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, and Mazatlan, and decided the Pacific side of Mexico was not our to our liking (beaches and ocean not comparable to the Caribbean sea). We have also determined over the last few vacations that "all-inclusive" is the way to go. We don't like the idea of having to concern ourselves with food or drink costs throughout the course of our vacation. Reviewing various tour brochures and web-sites for all-inclusive resorts, we finally settled on Blue Bay Village (BBV) with Sunquest. The BBV is an "adults only" resort, however one should not conclude that that means it is like a Sandals resort (i.e. couples only). A multitude of preening college students keeps the action quite lively. We can't say whether the resort is always like this or only during Spring Break. The "adult-only" designation is intended mainly due to the types of activities that take place. If you want a quiet vacation, a resort with children may actually be more apt for you. We arrived in Cancun mid afternoon on March 11th. When we got inside the customs terminal, we were very surprised to see the amount of people standing in line waiting to go through customs. We knew it was spring break, but we had no idea how busy things would be. We spent almost an hour and a half in line. The customs agent at our gate was in no hurry to get the people through. Arriving spring breakers will also receive a form to sign saying they have been formally notified that being a public nuisance will not be tolerated in Cancun. Once in the main terminal, finding our bags became a bit of a chore as they don't unload and group them by airline. The bags were just off-loaded along with the other flights that arrived before and after ours so we had hundreds of bags to sort through. It helps if you have distinctive luggage (i.e. not black). Once we found our luggage, we were off. Watch out for the supposed "information booth" (i.e. time- share booth), they will try and get you to sign up for a tour on the spot, but the catch is you have to sit through a timeshare presentation, so beware! It seems that anyone trying to stop you to talk will have some affiliation with time-share. Outside the airport is quite busy. We were on a Sunquest tour package so we just looked for a Sunquest rep and he pointed us to our waiting bus. We sat on the bus for some time as other passengers were also held up in customs or looking for their luggage. The wait didn't seem so bad when we found out that there was ice cold Corona ($US2) and soft drinks available from the bus driver. We ended up leaving the airport about 5:30 p.m., having originally landed around 3:00 p.m. The trip into Cancun was quite short. It was almost dark when we finally reached the hotel strip. We had seven stops to make prior to reaching Blue Bay Village so we just sat back, relaxed and enjoyed tour. It was very interesting traveling down the strip at dark as it gave a really good indication of what Cancun's nightlife had to offer, and we liked what we were seeing, especially how modern Cancun was (after traveling on Caribbean islands which are not quite as modern). After about an hour, we finally reached our destination. When we pulled up to the Blue Bay Village, we were surprised at how plain it was, compared to the other hotels we had just stopped at. But as we quickly learned, looks can be very deceiving. The bellman took our bags from the bus to the lobby and set them aside while we checked in. Checking in was very quick. They were very organized and had all the papers prepared. We just had to sign in, receive our "all inclusive" purple bracelets and beach towel authorization cards. The bellman loaded up our bags and we were off for a short walk to our room. Our room was located on the second floor with our door facing Las Margaritas Bar & Cantina and the front balcony facing the pool/ocean. Our room had a king size bed, TV (Channel 6 seemed to be quite popular - hint hint!), and phone. The furniture in the room was the typical Santa Fe wood and wrought iron. We had reserved the lowest rate room which was garden view with queen size bed and ended up with a king size bed and a beautiful view of the grounds, pool and ocean, so we were quite pleased. The bathroom was marble tile with a shower that could have easily fit two (but it only had one showerhead). We also had a balcony with a table and chairs. The BBV is an older hotel (not sure how old but we heard someone mention about 20 years old). The room was very clean. After dumping our luggage, we quickly freshened up, changed clothes and headed out for dinner to El Embarcadero, which is the main buffet dining room. The resort also has The Village Wok Chinese Restaurant and La Lagarta Italian restaurant for dinner choices. As with most all inclusive a la carte speciality restaurants, reservations are needed. We had done our research on BBV prior to arriving so we headed to the Chinese and Italian restaurant to reserve our nights for dinner as they book up very quickly. The speciality restaurants are a nice change from the daily buffet. The Blue Bay Marina Resort (sister property) has Ostras & Oysters which you can also reserve for dinner. Just to give you a rundown of the different areas: The Hotel: The hotel was great. It is a large complex, 3 stories high, spread across a large area (not unlike Sandals St. Lucia Halcyon or Rex Halcyon Cove Antigua). The lobby contains a shop where you can purchase all the necessities as well as snacks, clothing and souvenir items. There is a pool table in the lobby along with several couches and chairs that you can relax and watch the big screen TV or use the computer to surf the net or check your e-mail (for $US10.00/ hour). There is a hotel tour desk in the lobby as well as a desk for the vacation tour package representatives. You can book all your tours at either of the desks. The grounds outside the hotel are nice and well kept. The pool was wonderful. Its nice and big and I especially enjoyed the swim up bar. It also contains four jetted tubs within the large pool that are nice to relax in. There is also a smaller sport pool used for water polo, volleyball and basketball and one other smaller sitting pool. The hotel is located on a small but beautiful white sand beach with a small marina very near by. There are several cabanas for those, like my husband, that are not sun worshipers. Because the BBV is an "adult only" resort don't be surprised when the bikini tops come flying off for the complete tan, to the likes of many men! The water is quite shallow and very calm. It is not the greatest area for snorkeling. You can walk quite far south on the beach but take along some shoes as you will come to a couple rough areas where you will be thankful that you have them. Food & Beverage: We never experienced a bad meal at any of the restaurants but then we aren't picky eaters. The main dining room was set for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast had a large selection of fresh fruits, cereals, juices, yogurt, breads, meats, cheeses, and a wide variety of hot items such as bacon, sausage, chicken, pancakes and waffles. Eggs and omelets were made to order with a great selection of omelet ingredients. Lunch was a varied selection of fresh fruit, vegetables, salads, several hot entrée selections and deserts. Lunch was also available at the snack bar which was usually hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken burgers, fries, nachos, fajitas, salads, etc. There was also a varied selection of non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages available at either restaurant. Dinners were either in the main dining room or at one of the a la carte' restaurants. We enjoyed two meals at the Chinese restaurant which were both very good. The menu is not your typical 50 item menu, it is limited to choices of appetizer, soup, entrée and desert. There were about 10 entrée choices. You could order a dish each for yourself or order what you wanted to share. The portions were very generous and the staff were always asking if we wanted seconds. The Special Coffee was the best! Service here was excellent. The Italian restaurant was also very good. Again, the entrée menu was limited to but it too was comprised of the four courses. The portions were also very generous and the white wine was good. We were disappointed that we could only get one reservation here (that's an indication of how quickly it books up). We didn't get over to Ostras & Oysters as I'm not big on seafood and we were pleased with the food at our resort so we didn't see the need to make the trek over to the sister resort. We did go over for a visit and highly recommend the Blue Bay Village over the Blue Bay Marina resort for atmosphere. The alcoholic drinks are a bit watered down but if you ask nicely, the bartenders will throw in extra. The bar at the disco was very busy after 11:00 p.m. and sometimes you had to wait awhile to get a drink. An extra bartender over and above the two already there probably would have helped. Neither of us got sick, however we always brushed our teeth with bottled water and never drank the tap water, as recommended to us by the tour staff. Simply buy a 2-liter bottle of water from a local store and then just keep asking the hotel bartenders to re-fill it or fill it yourself in the main dining room at the bottled water station. The service in the restaurants and throughout the resort was excellent. The local Mayan descendants are very friendly and eager to assist. As a whole, the hotel service and staff here were much friendlier than what we experienced on the various Caribbean islands. Even the cleaning ladies were singing and smiling in the morning. At mealtime, the staff was quick to clear away dirty dishes or ask if you needed a refill for your drink. There are several activity directors that organize games throughout the day, such as pool aerobics, beach volleyball, horseshoes, Tequila pool volleyball, and in the evenings, best men's legs, best women legs, etc. Many of these games are adult oriented, both in language and in intent. Don't be surprised to see a bare butt or two (or even more than that) during some of the games. We haven't laughed as hard as we did here. The resort also has an outdoor theater where they hold evening shows, about 45 minutes long starting around 8:30 p.m. The shows are very well done and worth seeing, plus there is a bar there with no line-ups, so you don't lose drinking time, (in case you are worried about that). Tours: We went on two tours: the Mayan ruins at Chichen-Itza and Isla Mujeres. The Chichen-Itza tour took a full day, from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., but is well worth it. There are three classes of tours; budget, moderate and deluxe. We figured that this will be the only time we ever do this tour so we paid the $US 75 each ($11 more than the moderate tour). The deluxe bus seats about 26 with tables between 4 seats. It also included continental breakfast, coffee, tea, soft drinks, Corona and fresh fruit. They provided umbrellas to ward off the rain and sun. It also included a very good authentic Mexican meal at one of the local restaurants not far from the Chichen-Itza. Although the tour takes all day, you actually only spend about 3 hours at the ruins. Traveling to and from the ruins takes 2 hours each way and you stop in a small town tourist shop (same souvenirs you get elsewhere). Our tour guide, Pepe, was very knowledgeable, proud of, and well read on the Mayan history. Touring the ruins by yourself without a guide explaining the significance of the various buildings or carvings would not be as interesting. The Isla Mujeres tour involved taking a 25 minute water taxi ride over to the island ($US15 per person). We didn't want to go on a combined snorkeling/island tour, although they are available. The island is only 6 km long so you should rent a golf cart or scooter and tour around. We paid $US30 for a half day for a new Honda scooter, but you can probably negotiate a better deal if you try. Take your time when traveling around because it really isn't that big. Most of the traffic consists of other mopeds and golf carts so it is safe and easy to get around. The far side of the island has a national park with some excellent snorkeling, some nice cliffs, and viewpoints. They also have a sea turtle farm, which probably has more to see during egg laying time. There is also a large street market area so be prepared to spend some money while you are there. If you go to Cancun, make sure you take a side trip to Isla Mujeres. Other than the above, we made a quick trip into downtown Cancun to see the Kiwi market, a large tourist shopping area. Be ready to hear a lot of sale pitches asking you to come in and look in their shop, "K-mart prices", "no charge for looking", etc.. If you have a hard time saying no or don't like to be pestered, then don't go here. It's pretty harmless though and everyone is friendly, and you just have to say no thanks. Getting to the city or to other hotels along the 20 kilometre strip is best done using the local busses. A one-way ride costs 5 Pesos ($US 0.50) and there are lots of stops along the way. The BBV is located at KM 4 from the city, the main shopping malls are at KM 12, and the large bars and discos are at KM 9, so you will need the bus to get around. The KM 9 area, where the Hard Rock Café, Planet Hollywood are located was jammed packed in the evening with college students. We hear the larger bars will pack in 2,000-5,000 people at a time and getting drink service is a chore. Supposedly, if you don't tip the waiter well he won't come back. We were not sure if it is always like this or only during spring break. Overall we enjoyed Cancun very much and would go back there any time. The area is clean and safe, the local people are very friendly. The BBV hotel staff is very helpful with good food and activities. If you want a wild and crazy time with few inhibitions, consider the BBV for your next vacation. (PS: No, we don't work for the hotel.)
A while back I took a trip to Cuba. Though I spent much of my time at the magnificent white beaches, I also visited some of the island’s great cities. Among these was the port city of Cienfuegos. The city is veryclean, with many beautiful palm trees. At night I felt safe walkingbetween nightclubs and pubs. One of the things that amazed me the mostwas the architecture. The city has managed to preserve much of itscolonial architecture. Signs of its colonial heritage are visibleeverywhere one looks. From castles to old churches, there are manysights to be seen. The Ballet Place with his peculiar architecturediverse structural and ornamental styles, among them the Mohammedan Art. The beautiful buildings are, of course, not the only attractions of this city Park Marti is a great park in the city, wine bar provide live Cuban music and Cuban special drink Mochito. Also in the park is a colonial Tomas Terry Theater in the Shakespearean style. Often this theater presents a symphonic orchestra and even the Canadian tenors held a performance there recently. The Botanic Garden, once owned by Harvard University, is now a major tourist attraction. It lies a mere 20 km from the city and I managed to hire a taxi for $15, round trip. For $5I got access to a truly beautiful garden. Tropical and endangered exotic plants and two thousand tropical species fill the complex. Another great attraction near Cienfuegos is El Nicho. The 46 km bus ride is a mere $24 per person, again for a round trip, lunch is included. Or if you prefer, you can rent a jeep for $65 for a day to get there. El Nicho is simply stunning. Abundant wildlife can be seen through out the mountainous forests. The bird watching is phenomenal. There are also many waterfalls with crystal clean water ideal for swimming and bathing. Also there are hiking trail leading through caves and all around the region. If you like you can also take a tour of a coffee plantation still producing coffee for export. Go check out some Cienfuegos great pictures at web site http://www.netssa.com.Cienfuegos is definitely worth visit.
Grenada Visit 4/15/00 thru 4/25/00 Flying American Airline from Philadelphia, stopping in Miami and continuing to Grenada was uneventful. Lay over in Miami was an hour late, but as of May 1 American will only have a connecting flight through Puerto Rico. I had arranged an airport transfer with Mandoo, a service I had used my previous trip 2 years ago. Mandoo was waiting for us even though we were an hour late arriving. I was dropped off at the Blue Horizon Cottage Hotel and was checked in promptly. My light snack order was in the fridge waiting for me, and a very nice flower arrangement was sent to me by the management. This was my second stay at the hotel. Everything was very clean on my arrival and was kept that way through out my visit. Blue Horizon is a sister property of Spice Island Inn, and is not on the beach at Grand Anse. However, you can take a 3 minute walk to Spice Island and use all the amenities at that property as if you were paying the $350 a night instead of the $100 a night a short walk away. Blue Horizon is considered a self-catering hotel, with full kitchen facility in each suite. You need not go out to eat every meal, and you have a chance to walk to the nearest grocery store and shop for island fare. Taxis are available at the Grand Anse Shopping Center, so you don't have to lug everything back the 1/2 mile you walked. I found Mike, a very good and polite driver who we used for transfer between restaurants and shopping expositions. I did not use the public bus because the music was too loud for me, and the drivers could be very good or very bad. However, public buses are the cheapest transportation on the island. Tours I had previously taken tours in the Southern part of the island, which I enjoyed very much. However, this time I choose a Northern tour with Mandoo's Tours and Taxi Service. It was an excellent choice. Mandoo had just taken possession of a new 22 person, luxury, air conditioned bus, that was perfect for the 9 hour tour that commenced. Mandoo is a native Grenadian who knows his history and culture of his island. He is one of the best ambassadors of his country. A well groomed, patient and pleasant man, who understands tourism. This tour may have been long, but it was well worth the drive. I saw much more of Grenada and the agricultural environment. Lunch was included, which was traditional Grenadian fare, at a very nice open air restaurant. What was an added delight was the interaction with the other passengers. Everyone was friendly and outgoing, which made the day even more enjoyable. Another tour which I took was with Adventure Jeep Safari Tours. It went up into the rain forest, into hot springs, on to a plantation for lunch and finally to Dragon Beach for some snorkeling. The vehicle was a land rover that you could stand up in and take great pictures in a 360 degree position. This is considered a very soft and easy tour. The two representatives of the company were Denver and Joe. I was very comfortable with Joe's driving, and Denver was very informative about the flora and fauna. We went into Grand Etang Lake and Forest Reserve, which is protected by the government. What a pristine sight! The people who were on the tour were also great company. Everyone had a very good day together. Restaurants and Stuff I went to 3 different restaurants for dinner. The first was La Sagesse Restaurant. It is on the Atlantic side, has nature trails you can explore, a protected beach you can play on, and a very good and tasty restaurant. I enjoyed the fact that the nature trails were easy to explore, and they had beautiful vistas. The beach was very safe for swimming, and they also have a hotel on the property. This is a very quiet place if you don't mind being far from any type of action. You make your own good time here. They have a $28US package that includes a tour, lunch or dinner, and the taxi ride to and from your hotel. Drinks, dessert and tip are not included. I spent about $40 for 5 hours of fun and dinner. I thought this was a very good deal. The second restaurant was Aquarium Restaurant. I suggest you go early and watch the sunset on the beach. This restaurant is by the airport, and a very short ride from Grand Anse. I went around 6:00 pm when no one was there, had a drink on the beach, ordered dinner at 6:30, had good service and excellent lobster. You can only get fresh lobster from December through April. They allow their lobster a rest May through November so they don't over fish the population. It was the best lobster I had had in years! The only problem with Aquarium is that the later you stay the harder it is to get your waiter's attention. It is a very popular place, and gets very busy by 8:00PM. I had to hunt down my server to get the bill. That was the only problem. I had 3 hours of great dining and atmosphere! The third restaurant was La Belle Creole on the property of Blue Horizons. I had dinner the previous visit and in comparison the restaurant has become ho hum. It seems that either you can have an on night or an off night, and you never know which way it will go until the first course is served. Obviously, they have several chefs, some good some mediocre. I don't think I would eat there again. On the whole, I would recommend a visit to Grenada if you like sea, sand, and nature. Night life is limited, however, I prefer to have my activities during the day. The people on the whole were kind, polite and interested in how my stay was. The few surly people I came across were burnt out on the tourist season and just wanted their island back. I understood how they felt and did not take offense. These were only 2 out of about 20 service people I came in contact with. In the US the surly percentage would have been much higher.
Trip 2/00 We visited Guadeloupe and Marie Galante at the end of February this year. This was our fourth trip to Guadeloupe (and second to Marie Galante), the last being in 1998. Our first trip was in 1993. We enjoy Guadeloupe for its scenery and because it is still a bit off the beaten track for most Americans. While the island's tourist infrastructure has grown (including a new airport), Guadeloupe remains very low-key. It is an island that primarily relies on income derived from bananas and sugar, rather than tourism. The road system is excellent, with money being poured into it by France and the European Union. The island is a part of metropolitan France, thus it has the same relationship to Paris as Hawaii does to Washington, D.C. While English is spoken by more and more people, travelers should have a little knowledge of French or at least a phrase book, before they go. As for security and safety, there is nothing unusual that we were aware of. Just use the same common sense that you would use in the United States. What We Did Right: After three previous trips in which we stayed exclusively in eastern half of Guadeloupe, Grande Terre, we decided that we were spending too much time in the car driving to the west. So, we divided our time in Guadeloupe between lodging in the western part of Guadeloupe, Basse Terre (Domaine de Malendure) and Grande Terre (Canella Beach). The Domaine de Malendure is located just south of where the Route du Traversee meets the west coast. The hotel rooms are spacious and have large balconies. All the rooms have great views of Pigeon Island, a diving site and nature preserve. The location makes travel to northern and southern Basse Terre easy. Restaurants of note in the town of Malendure are the Rocher de Malendure and La Touna. Both serve excellent seafood. The restaurant in the hotel is good, too. On Grande Terre, we stayed at the Canella, in Gosier, where we had stayed during our first trip. The Canella is a family-oriented hotel. It is quiet and all rooms have a small outdoor kitchenette with basic utensils. Rooms are good sized; the property is well cared for and the architecture is pleasing, unlike that of some its neighbors. The beach is small, but clean; in fact, a little nicer than we remembered from the first trip. Restaurants of note in the Gosier area are le Bananier (nouvelle creole) and the Caf‚ des Arts (in the marina area; French bistro with local twist). The L'Agouba barbeque shack was surprisingly good and cheap. There are some inexpensive restaurants on the strip leading to the Canella. We ate at one, La Belle Creole, which was rather disappointing. The food service was slow due to a large group at a different table and the chef had a very heavy hand with the salt shaker. But, with a three-course meal costing 100 francs, including lobster, you can't complain too much. Other than the Belle Creole, restaurants were not crowded. Frankly, some were rather deserted. Perhaps we visited during a slow week. The Ecotel, which is mentioned in many guide books, looks to be in really, really bad shape. One restaurant that we should mention is Chateau de Feuilles in Campeche, which is in the northeast of Grande Terre. It is only open for lunch (you should reserve), unless you can gather ten people for dinner and make special reservations. The food is excellent. While you are waiting for your order, you can swim in the restaurant's pool. After you eat, you can lounge at poolside. Nobody will rush you to leave. Note, this is not a cheap eats, but is worth a journey. A visit there can be combined with a trip to the Pointe de la Grande Vigie and Port de l'Enfer, which are definitely worth seeing. What We Did Wrong: We made the mistake of going directly to Marie Galante the first day. There are only two American Airlines flights to Guadeloupe from San Juan each day. Due to flight schedules, we had to wait four hours to get the plane to Marie Galante. We could have taken the ferry from Pointe a Pitre, but the idea of dragging luggage around to the pier was not appealing, either, especially since we had to get up very early to catch a 7:00 flight to San Juan. When we finally arrived on Marie Galante via Air Guadeloupe, our luggage, and that of most of the other 20 passengers was not delivered. This is a relatively frequent occurrence, we were told, due to weight restrictions. The luggage was there early the next morning. We stayed at the relatively new Cohoba Hotel. This is a nice property consisting primarily of bungalows of four individual units. The property is well kept and the rooms are nicely sized. There is a quiet beach right off the hotel property. The hotel is located about ten minutes drive from downtown Grand Bourg; The restaurant in the hotel was ok, and could have been better with just a few small touches. We really recommend visiting Marie Galante. It is a quiet place, with beautiful, empty beaches; a favorite is Mosquito Beach (don't let the name put you off), on the west coast. We rented a car and drove around the island, stopping at beaches and natural sites. The island is famous for producing great, if very strong, rums. These are labeled 'Vieux', and are not meant for mixing into cocktails. Rather, they should be treated as if they were cognac. Pere Labat is probably the best one. We decided to return to the main island of Guadeloupe via ferry, rather than Air Guadeloupe, to avoid the risk not getting our luggage, since we were not staying near the airport. The ferry also leaves at a more convenient hour (9:30 am versus 7:30 am). We recommend going to Marie Galante during the middle of a visit to Guadeloupe. That way, you can pack light, leaving the rest of your bags in storage at a hotel. Some Beach Notes: For those concerned with such things, the beach at the Club Med no longer has a clothing-optional section. A big sign at the entry reads: "Nudisme Interdit". Everyone obeyed. Anse Tarare remains a clothing optional beach. It is pretty small, which means being up close and personal with local gawkers and hustlers. There are very few women on the beach and the end of the beach is exclusively gay. While there was no inappropriate behavior on the beach itself, we did hear some sort of activity in the shrubs behind the beach. The gawkers/hustlers were a real downer; it's a shame, as the beach itself is a great place to swim, since it is sheltered by a reef. It is a very pretty area, too. Grande Anse, on Basse Terre, remains a lovely beach. We were worried that the late-season hurricane which came from the west last year had damaged it. It's in fine shape. We did see signs of storm damage along the coast of Basse Terre. At Grande Anse is the creole restaurant Karocoli. This is an excellent place to have lunch (and probably dinner, too). The outdoor dining area is on a deck with a view of the island of Montserrat. Petite Havre: This is a nice little beach east of Gosier. There are two parts to the beach. To the left of the parking lot, the water is very shallow and the beach narrow. The area to the right of the parking lot is nicer, with deeper water to swim in. Things to See On Grande Terre, the Point des Chateaux, Grand Vigie, and Port d'Enfer are all worth seeing. Very spectacular scenery. A visit to Basse Terre is not complete without a journey to the Soufriere volcano. Unfortunately for us, we got caught in a long, heavy rainstorm about two-thirds of the way up. Those who intend to hike up should bring a change of clothes with them. We did and were happy we had done so. One thing to note: the very top of the summit was closed to hikers approaching from the main trail from the parking lot. This is due to high levels of acid in the air up there. When we went up two years ago, you could feel the acid in the fog stinging your bare skin. Some people chose to ignore the signs and went up. The rainstorm made our minds up for us. We do not recommend stopping at the Cascade aux Ecrevisses on the Route du Traversee on Basse Terre. The area is too crowded. However, the Saut de la Lezarde is worth exploring. It is located near the east end of the Route. This is a lovely waterfall which flows into a pool where you can swim. Important note: The half-hour trail to the falls is very, very muddy. You can rent rubber boots at the trail head for a few bucks. Do so, unless you have an extra pair of shoes with you that you can put in a bag and hope to clean off later. Travelers Tips: At the airport, go to the bookstore and buy the IGN (French government agency) road map for 55 francs. It is the most detailed map you can get of Guadeloupe. Car rental agencies will give you a pretty good basic map, but this one is the best. There are sufficient ATMs, from which you can get cash advances on your VISA/Mastercard account or gain access to your checking account. You get the best exchange rate this way. If your hotel doesn't include breakfast in the rate, you may find it cheaper just to go to the nearest supermarket or, better yet, bakery (patisserie) for croissants and coffee. Tres francais! A hotel like the Canella, which has a kitchenette, makes it easier for you to keep breakfast and picnic lunch fixings at hand for the duration of your stay.
My partner Alan and I, and our good friends Paul and Carmen, just got back from a 5-day trip to Breezes Golf & Beach Resort in Runaway Bay. I researched this resort thoroughly on the Web before going, and did not find much else other than positive reports. Our own experience was OK, but I doubt we'd go back. Check-in was very disorganized. We arrived about 2:00 and it took until 3:30 before our rooms were available. However, I appreciated the fact that the desk staff didn't react to Alan's and my request for a king bed, given Jamaica's notorious homophobia. We had paid only for standard rooms. Based on advice in various postings, we asked for adjoining king rooms in the 2000 or 3000 buildings, wanting to avoid the dreaded 3000 building rooms directly opposite the perimeter fence. We did receive adjoining king rooms (well, next door; all adjoining doors are blocked by AC units) in the 3000 building, facing the perimeter, although unlike the 1000 building the property border here is decently landscaped and the perimeter fence is a little distant and pretty well hidden. We were on the first floor, the farthest rooms from the beach. Because there was only one sliding glass door for a window, due to privacy concerns on the first floor the curtains were almost always closed and therefore the room was quite dark. There was no screen, and we would have kept it closed anyway due to security concerns. So, there were no breezes at Breezes. Actually, I think the rooms facing the perimeter are probably superior to the rooms facing the lobby/pool/dining room in the 2000 and 3000 buildings. They would have been quite loud, and the ground floor rooms there were far less private due to the much heavier foot traffic. However, our rooms did suffer a bit from being too close to what sounded like the laundry - there was a constant heavy rumble. The noise was covered by the AC units, but since ours had only two settings, off and frigid, we turned it off most of the time. We got used to the noise after a couple of days; at least it was "white noise". The rooms themselves were really nothing special. The size was OK, cleanliness was mediocre at best, and they were just not very comfortable. The 2000 and 3000 room blocks, both interior and exterior, were quite old and unattractive. Piecemeal renovations had not helped their overall feel very much. The three room blocks ran perpendicular to the beach, two floors each, with one LONG hallway down the middle. The hallway was tile with stucco walls, so late night noise from drunk guests returning to their rooms was a bit of a problem. The resort itself was not laid out well. Almost all of the facilities were clustered at either end of the garden between the 2000 and 3000 blocks. There is nothing in the garden between the 1000 and 2000 buildings, other than a little-used Jacuzzi and the wedding gazebo. I think the rooms facing that garden would have been the quietest. We ate only at the buffet and the beach grill. We didn't really want to spend an entire evening waiting for Caribbean-speed service in Martino's, the sit-down restaurant. We also never made it to the new terrace restaurant outside Martino's for dinner. It seemed the least popular choice; I don't know why. The buffet was quite good for the number of people served. The wine was OK. I didn't try the red, but the white was simple, lightly sweet and refreshing. Drinks other than wine, water and iced tea had to be brought specially from the beach bar, and took quite a while to get. The wait staff in the buffet, while a bit disorganized, were very friendly and well meaning. In fact, almost all of the staff was quite friendly. That was in contrast to our only other Jamaican experience, Point Village in Negril, where the hotel staff didn't seem very pleased to be at work. I'll say one thing for SuperClubs, they must treat their employees relatively well, otherwise they wouldn't have been so uniformly chipper. We also enjoyed the midnight Snack Attack, which we visited right on the dot of 12 o'clock each evening. It was basically a small buffet set up in the terrace restaurant outside Martino's, with a limited selection of fruit, hot dishes and an omelet station. The bartenders worked the hardest of anyone at the resort. They also had to put up with the most from the guests - a thankless job, at times. The bars served top-rail liquor, but you had to ask for it, otherwise you got bottom-rail stuff. We would have appreciated a menu of suggested fruity resort drinks; the bartenders knew how to make a bunch, but were so busy they didn't like taking the time to think up suggestions. One tip: the pina coladas at the beach bar came from a slurpee machine, while the ones at the Pelican bar in the main lobby were made individually and were vastly superior. The beach was fine, not the most spectacular I've seen, but relatively wide and clean. The beach side of the reef is nothing great for snorkeling, but it was pretty good around the ocean side, particularly at the nude beach end. The nude beach is really just a section of the main beach down at the end by the 3000 building. Since some of our group preferred occasional beach nudity and others didn't, we tended to situate ourselves in front of the berm separating the nude and prude beaches. We got shade there most of the day, too. It really was very pleasant. However, as others have noted, it was a bit odd having the families from Franklyn D. Resort walk along the waterline of Breezes' beach from beside the nude beach all the way to the beach club on the other side of Breezes. When the kids didn't feel like walking so far, they jumped in the water at the edge of FDR's property and paddled around right in front of Breezes' nude beach. Security was actually pretty tight -when an FDR guest struck out across the beach, the guard would warn them to stay near the water, and radio to his colleague on the other side to expect them in a few minutes. If either guard saw them straying toward Breezes' property, or they just didn't show up at the other side, the guards were diligent about finding them and escorting them away from Breezes' amenities. Being between the two areas, we took our choice of beach bars, neither of which was too long a walk. The nude beach had a small self- service bar, fine for cokes and beer, while the main beach bar was the destination for mixed drinks and popcorn (good and fresh, not the pre-popped kind they have in movie theaters nowadays). The nude beach hot tub was a small pre-fab job, but it was secluded and pleasant for a quick dip among friends. However, finding a time when it was unoccupied was a challenge. There was a slight "swinger" atmosphere there at times - we got leered at by those taking our places more than once, and had the misfortune of seeing one man reach for his girlfriend's privates while we were still gathering our things to leave. The pool was unpleasantly warm, cloudy and slick - you couldn't see the bottom, and there was a constant sheen to the water from all the suntan oil. It also wasn't quite large enough for a resort of this size. Getting water sports instruction was a bit of a challenge. We wanted some basic lessons on either the sunfish or windsurfers, and got told "Too windy" even when it wasn't. The instructors also hit us up pretty brazenly for a tip beforehand. Personally, I tip generously when it is warranted, but refused to do so in a place like Breezes whose prices are high and explicitly all-inclusive. The water sports staff also gave me the only bad vibe of the whole trip for being gay - they kept asking me why if I wasn't married I had a ring on my wedding finger and telling me it would keep me from "getting any p___y". I just tried to move the topic of conversation along, because I didn't really want to get into it, but they were pretty persistent. I assume they were just trying to be friendly, but it the whole conversation made me pretty uncomfortable. We did finally get short lessons on sunfish sailing, and the water sports staff was good at watching out for guests in trouble and hustling out to see if they needed help. (Not that I did, of course.) The circus school wasn't much. Trampoline instruction time consisted of an hour when a staff member allowed you to jump, with no flips (safety, mon) though when there were no guest wanting to use it (most of the time) he had no problem showing off his moves. Trapeze instruction was a bit more fun. They tethered you to a safety device that also allowed you to let go of the trapeze and do a controlled flip. That one little trick was all they had on tap, though . . . you really didn't learn much. The worst part of this resort was the emphasis on hard drinking and loud partying, particularly after dinner. One of our party didn't drink at all, and the others were not hard partiers. It was absolutely impossible to find a quiet place to hang out after dinner and talk or play card games, which was our preference. The beach bar was grungier and louder the later it got until closing. The beach buffet was the venue for the loud and amateurish nightly entertainment. The disco - enough sa+id. The main lobby had a coffee setup (in addition to the Pelican bar) that was open all day and was nice until the piano bar really got going around 11. However, the piano bar was quite a rude surprise. We were expecting classy jazz or standards. What we got was a drunken singalong - "American Pie", "Joy to the World" (Three Dog Night version), "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" and the like. From 11-12 when the midnight buffet started, we usually wandered from spot to spot bemoaning the fact that management wasn't thoughtful enough to provide at least one place to relax quietly. Our group usually travels independently, in an "upscale backpacker" style. Nonetheless, we had enjoyed our earlier all-inclusive Jamaica trip to Point Village. We decided to go to a SuperClubs resort hoping for a more consistent experience on such a short trip, and we paid quite a bit more for the supposed comforts of a resort that was part of a well-regarded chain. Frankly, it wasn't worth it. The resort's overall atmosphere was a bit like a Midwestern American frat party for adults - neither exotic nor gracious. We had a better time overall at Point Village, probably because we paid so much less and our expectations were correspondingly lower. While the beach was lovely, the food decent and the staff friendly at Breezes, the experience overall wasn't worth the money, at least in high season
Trip 4/00 My husband and I went to Sandals Negril for our honeymoon from 3/27- 4/3, 2000. We took a red-eye flight from SF to Miami, then another to Montego Bay, Jamaica. We finally arrived, and were treated to a troupe of Jamaicans singing as we waited in customs. Nice touch, esp. since the airport is short on amenities. We had to trek all around the airport to find the Air Jamaica Express flight to take us into Negril, then waited another hour. The flight to Negril was on a turboprop plane holding 20 people, all crammed into a tiny, noisy, hot little space. People say the drive to Negril is harrowingly bumpy and rough, but the flight isn't all that smooth either. In such a tiny plane, every bit of turbulence is magnified. Not for the easily nauseous, but it does provide a great view and only takes 15 min. The Negril airport is just a wee shack, where we found a taxi quite fast. Our driver was the 1st to try and sell us ganja. We soon lost count of how many people tried to sell us pot there. Walking along the beach and in the craft mkts. were where we got the most offers -- but a simple "no thanks, mon" is enough to deter the sellers, if your are not interested. Sandals Negril is a beautiful, if compact resort. From the brochures and website, it seems like it would be a large, sprawling complex. But actually, it's quite tightly laid-out -- handy when you want to get from activity to activity, but also means it's prone to be noisy more often than not. There's music piped in all over the grounds (elevator strings in the a.m.; generic reggae and random top 40 in the p.m.). Weird, but you get used to it. We were given champagne and escorted up to the Concierge Office. I highly recommend getting a Concierge-level room. You get a stocked minibar in your room, 24-hour room service, and the Concierge staff will efficiently make any RSV's you need. Worth it if pampering is your thing! My only complaint is we never got the terry cloth robes that our room was supposed to have. I called every day for the 1st 4 days, and they kept saying the robes would arrive soon. @ the Concierge orientation, not 1 of the dozen couples had received robes either. Our room was in the Paradise block, very near the center of the resort (convenient, but noisy). It was a Honeymoon Grande Luxe Beachfront Suite, though it wasn't anything I'd call a suite. It was an average-sized, narrow hotel room w/a balcony. But the view from the balcony was totally worth the $$$ -- we looked directly out onto the beach! Gorgeous blue-green ocean, framed by swaying palm trees, and fronted by a fringe of white sand. It was like gazing out into a perfect picture postcard every day! Other than that, the room was pretty standard: king-size 4-poster bed; desk and chair; small table w/2 chairs; amoire w/large TV (though very few channels) and just barely enough drawer space; nightstand; small closet w/iron and board, and beach towels; minibar w/fridge and lots 'o liquor, juice, and sodas, all refilled daily; and a marble-accented bathroom of reasonable size w/plenty of thick bath towels. On the balcony were 2 cushioned chairs and a table, which we used for room-service breakfasts. The floors throughout are tile, which gets dirty/gritty/sandy quite easily. Sandals gives you an amenity pack w/shampoo, conditioner, bath gel, and aloe vera gel, but all except the aloe vera smelled too antiseptic for our tastes. Every room has both AC and a ceiling fan. @ night, the AC was too cool ( and the controls are too high to easily reach), but the fan was perfectly pleasant. The weather overall was great. Sunny and warm all day, but not that hot. It's incredibly humid, more so than Fla., but not unbearable. There were always ocean breezes to cool it down, and nights were sultry. We spent the 1st day recovering from about 17 hours of travel and little sleep the day before. We used Sandals' room service and enjoyed it -- limited menu, but the jerk chicken sandwiches, breakfast omelets, and Blue Mtn. coffee are very tasty. A few words about the food @ Sandals -- it's definitely more gourmand than gourmet. It's always edible and s'times truly delicious, but s'times it's a bit generic and bland. I expected more Jamaican spices, but they seem to be catering to mild Middle-American tastes. Stand-out dishes were the banana bread French toast @ the Sundowner (sweet and delicately flavored), the grilled everything @ Kimono's (a vaguely Japanese restaurant that requires advance rsvps; the chef grills veggies and meats right in front of you, and all was fresh and delicious; but it was weird to be the only 1 using chopsticks @ the table!), everything @ the seafood buffet on Saturday (had a massive dessert buffet too), and the very best food of all: the plate o' jerk chicken pieces @ the Beach Grill. It's the spiciest damn thing you'll ever eat! The guidebooks. are right -- the national beer, Red Stripe, is the *only* thing that can quench that jerk chicken fire. Big eaters, be forewarned: the portions @ most of the non-buffet restaurants are rather small. Filling only if you have several courses. The buffet nights, on the other hand, are lavish and plentiful. Throughout the restaurants, the service was slow -- it's that island- style relaxed attitude, but s'times it could be a tad frustrating, esp. ordering drinks w/dinner. We were usually 1/2 done before the wine arrived. But all the staff was very courteous and helpful, and occasionally amusing (such as the rhyming waiter @ the main restaurant: "it will be even greater later; take it from me, your waiter"). The bartenders were the best of all, very fast and efficient and friendly. The bars are all well stocked, even w/a few name brands like Absolute, but don't expect much if your are a wine snob like me. I did enjoy their Calif., French, and Jamaican table reds and whites w/meals -- but by the end of the wk I really craved a good Merlot or cab. I often forget how spoiled we are living in the S.F. Bay Area when it comes to food and drink! Two drinks worth noting -- Red Stripe beer and the Paradise Coolers. I'm not a beer fan, but something about the climate makes Stripe really appealing. Paradise Coolers are the ultimate fruity frou-frou drink -- a concoction of coconut rum, 7-Up, orange/lemon juice, and strawberry syrup, shaken up w/ice. Very sweet, light, and refreshing. I would say that if you don't drink alcohol, don't eat meat, or don't go in the water, you won't get your $$$ worth out of Sandals. Drinking is omnipresent, though thankfully not in a frat-house kinda way (except for the Jolly Mermaid cruise, which got rowdy). The restaurants all have limited veg. selections, and you'd get very hungry if you're vegan. Every activity seems to revolve around the water. IMO, that's the best part! The pools are wonderful, and the ocean's pleasantly lukewarm, but w/no more waves than a small lake. No surfing, but lots of other water sports. The 1st morning we did an orientation, which is handy to get the lay of the land. We planned out our wk and scheduled 2 tours, a cruise, and a passel of spa treatments. All of those things cost extra -- we ended up charging @ least $750 to our room, incld. the large amt. of shopping we did in the Sandals' gift shop (note: Kodak film costs about $12 per roll @ the gift shop -- so bring plenty of your own!). Our wk was largely spent in 1 of the pools and the adjoining Jacuzzis. It wasn't crowed, even when volleyball was being played @ the big pool w/the swim-up bar. Btw, that swim-up bar is the ultimate in tropical luxury! Most of our nights were spent in our room, watching DVD movies on our portable player hooked up to the TV. We also took a dip in the Jacuzzi every night or so. We were far more interested in relaxation than partying. From our room, we could hear the thumping music of the top 40 disco and the cover bands playing on the main stage. The music s'times lasted till 3am. Didn't bother us much, but more sensitive ears might want to be on the other side of the resort. Wed., we did the Concierge shopping tour, which hits 3 different. spots. 1st is the Times Square Mall, where duty-free meets tacky tourist trinkets. We loaded up on the latter. The next stop was more touristy stuff, plus a grocery and pharmacy. Lastly was the craft mkt. It's a warren of sweaty little stalls filled w/both touristy T- shirts and handcrafted knickknacks and jewelry. Bargaining is highly encouraged. We managed to get decent prices on a some lovely carved wood items. The next afternoon, we did the booze cruise on the Jolly Mermaid. The boat has windows in its hull, so you can see the wonderful Negril reef w/out even going in the water. We did go in the water, and it was prob. the best out of my 3 snorkeling trips so far (the others being Kauai and the Florida Keys). Lots of fish, sea urchins, a ray, and wonderful coral. The coolest bit was when a school of fish totally enveloped us. Now I really know what it's like to swim w/the fishes! After this too-short snorkeling stop, the cruise continued along the beautiful coast and ended up @ Rick's Cafe. This celebrated bar is really just 1 giant frat party on top of pretty cliffs and caves. Several other boats were stopped there, and a huge crowd of drunken kids (or adults acting like kids) clamored around the cliffside bar. It was fun to watch people dive off the cliffs, but we weren't interested in going ashore. After Rick's, the boat reved up the reggae and soca tunes for a raucous dance party and limbo contest. Obviously, the Stripe and rum punch were flowing liberally. We watched the antics w/bemusement and enjoyed a beautiful sunset. Fri., we spent all day on a tour of the Black River and YS Falls, and happily we had a minivan to ourselves. Our driver, Morris, was very friendly. The roads, not so much. Jamaican roads are obstacle courses of cracks and potholes large enough to swallow a reggae band alive. But @ least we got to see the countryside. Morris took us to the town of Black River, where we got on a rasta- driven boat and cruised up the river. The boat's captain had a practiced eye and showed us many crocodiles, plus snowy egrets, mangrove trees, water lilies, and other flora and fauna. The Black River area is a lot like the Florida Everglades. After lunch and another bumpy ride, we were @ YS Falls. A tractor- drawn shuttle takes you to the base of the waterfalls, and you climb the jungle staircase to the top. Truly beautiful! We took a dip in the uppermost falls, then went to the next lower falls. There's a rope swing there, which my husband did, but I failed miserably to manage. Instead, I took lots of pictures. When we got back to the resort, we realized we were out of cash. Every place took both US and Jamaican $$, but we hadn't brought much cash w/us and still had gifts to get. So we walked 15 min. to the nearest ATM @ a petrol station. Sandals does *not* have an ATM on the property. Between the petrol station and the resort was another craft mkt., where we bought more trinkets (if you don't want to pay for a drive to the bigger craft mkt., walk down to this 1 for the same merch.; also some craft vendors come to Sandals' beach on Fri. too). We also stopped by Hedonism II to inquire about day passes. It costs $65/pp for 1 day and wasn't worth it to us. Also, their security guard was the rudest person we met in the entire country. Sat., we hung out by the pool and beach. Sun., we did spa stuff. The spa @ Sandals Negril is great! The facilities are elegant, and everything seemed very clean and efficient. I had a seaweed body wrap, followed by a mineral salt hydrotherapy bath, while my husband had an aromatherapy hydrotherapy bath, then a Swedish massage. Both of us were impossibly more mellow and relaxed after this than we had been all wk. Prices range from $20 to $100 per treatment and were worth it to us. The next morning, we caught the 9am shuttle to Mo Bay. The trip takes nearly 2 hours, but it's not any more bumpy or uncomfortable than the plane trip to Negril. I actually fell asleep in the bus. At the airport, we found out you have to pay a $27/pp departure tax *in cash* before you can get your boarding pass. Why this tax is not included in your plane ticket price (like it is at US and European airports) is beyond me. It's hard to know how much to schedule and how much to play by ear @ Sandals. There are so many great activities to do, and many of them require advance notice. We missed out on snorkeling again (for free) because. the afternoon trips on the weekend booked up a day early. Book in advance for anything that's crucial to your are enjoyment of the trip. But don't book *too* much -- leave enough time to enjoy the laid-back, "don't worry, be happy" atmosphere!
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