Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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We traveled USAirways to San Juan. Because it is a 2+ hour drive from San Juan to Guanica we decided to spend the first night in San Juan at the Ambassador. The Ambassador is about 2 blocks from the ocean front on Ashford St. It cost us only $12 from the airport to the hotel for six of us--not bad! Our accommodations were fine for the one night but would not have wanted to stay their for a week. We got up early the next morning for our drive to Copamarina Beach Resort. Our ground transportation was included in our package. We were taken to Guanica in a very comfortable van. The drive there was beautiful--we were glad that we waited until daylight to make the trip, as there was a lot to see. We were welcomed at the resort and moved quickly into our rooms which were quite nice. The decor was as it should be with hand-made pine furniture and bright, attractive colors and clean. In-room safes are provided for your convenience. We checked out the dive shop and found out that no one was diving because of the unusual weather--high winds, rough seas. They said things were pretty churned up and as soon as this front moved through, things would be back to normal. There is one open-air dining area and one restaurant (Wilo's). Although both restaurants were quite good, they were also pricey. The open-air dining was open for breakfast and lunch only and also had a bar that overlooked the sea. The drawback was that all of this area, including the bar would shut down every day at 6:30, when the Wilo's would open and then there was no place to get a snack or a cocktail without going into Wilo's. The more formal restaurant was open for dinner only. They really needed a bar to stay open all evening that could also serve sanwiches and burgers. After several nights of dining in Wilo's we quickly realized that they do quite a bit of "take out" business. Guests were actually eating in their rooms--I am assuming to avoid have to dress for dinner and also eliminating the 15-20% tip. There were no other dining options nearby. Also, there is no taxi service in the area. After our third day, it began to rain. Now, this was a problem for locals, since it NEVER rains in Guanica! It really and truly NEVER rains there for any length of time. They may get a shower every few days but, of course, the week that we are there it rained for 2 1/2 days. This was a problem for personnel at Copamarina because things started to flood--the walkways, the pools, the open-air dining room. They really didn't know how to handle it or what to do with the guests. They all had a good sense of humor and were very kind and friendly! Since there wasn't much to do at the resort in the rain we rented a mini-van for a couple of days and toured the island. The first day we traveled north-west as far as Aguadilla (sp?). We ended up spending the day at Crash Boat. There was a very nice beach there and the sun was shining on this part of the island--we really lucked out. It was great fun to sea the boats crash into the beach and to look at their "catch". On the way back to Guanica we head in the direction of Ponce. We ate dinner at a great little restaurant called La Montserrat. It literally sits on poles out over the water and had great, fresh seafood! It was a great change of pace. The next day, it rained again and we headed for Ponce! There is so much history there and such beautiful architecture! We visited their famous fire house and then took a bus tour around the city. This was fun for all of us, adults and kids! The next couple of days we hung around Copamarina and had a marvelous time. None of the water sports are included. You must rent EVERYTHING--ocean kayaks, motorized boats, paddle boats, sun fish, etc. This is not a cheap resort, by any means, but it is quite peaceful and quiet. We then went back to San Juan and toured around a bit, shopped, had a fabulous dinner flew out early the next morning!
Trip 4/00 My Wife and I stayed in St. Barts last week in Columbier which is up in the mountain, at a beautiful small hotel called Le Petite Morne. Greatest view on the island. A package deal can be obtained with car, breakfast and maid service for a reasonable price. We ate at the Eden Rock (the Rock) and the food and service was excellent. We also ate at Le "T" St. Barth in Point Milou...We where less impressed with the food and service.,although it is the latest hip place to be seen. They dance on the tables. The best tee shirt deals we found where in Villa Creole, which is up the street from St. Jean beach.. At St. Jean beach the eatery there is very friendly and light...great music....watch the planes land/takeoff. Ask for "Jeff" he is one of the waiters...nice guy. Check out the creme broili at the Carl Gustav hotel, and pizza at La Scala, both located in Gustavia. We recommend Saline and Columbier beaches...Columbier is a little walk from the road 30 minutes or so but worth it even though the palms trees got battered by the hurricane. If you decide to go from St. Martin forget flying....take the "Edge" motorized katamaran from Pelican bay...ask for Captain Bob....It will be the most interesting 45 minutes of your nautical life... Definitely stop at Le Select at the port of Gustavia..its the central point of everything. Another good eatery is Le Sappotilier located in Gustavia. St. Barth is beautiful and elegant.....Hone your driving skills before you go, you will need them.
Trip 2/00 Over the past year I've benefited greatly from reading about the vacations and adventures of other writers. As a way of "paying back" I thought I'd share Bev and my experiences during a trip last month to St. Lucia. Bev and I have traveled extensively in the Caribbean (St. Thomas x 3, St. Croix x 9, BVI x 1, Aruba x 1 and Bonaire x 1) over the past decade. I'm an avid ham radio operator and enjoy making contacts from the islands. The past 5 years have been spent exclusively on St. Croix. Nine trips to STX were enough, however, and we started to look for our "next island". After much Internet based research we decided on St. Lucia. (BTW, if anyone has questions about St. Croix, we know that island like the back of our hands and would be happy to share). I also made a commitment to Bev that I'd leave the radio home for once (though I did substitute the golf clubs!) Bev and I don't normally book ourselves into resorts when we travel, we prefer renting a villa. We've found the cost is comparable but privacy, freedom of action and eating options are better. On the Internet we located "Villas St. Lucia" (they've just changed their name to Islandtrips.com) and a villa called the "Orchid Cottage". We rented for two weeks. Villas St. Lucia arranged for Bev and I to be picked up at the airport and driven to the villa, for a rental car to be delivered to the villa the next morning and for a representative of the company to act as our personal agent during our stay. We arrived at Vigie airport about midnight. Vigie has a single runway that parallels a busy Castries street. Because we arrived late on a small plane from San Juan and into the smaller airport, customs and immigration went very quickly (forget this "no passport required" stuff, things go much faster if you have a passport). All our luggage arrived with us, not an automatic occurrence when you fly American Eagle out of San Juan! Peter, a driver from the local representative of Villas St. Lucia, Unique Vacations St. Lucia, was waiting for us. The ride to the villa took 15 minutes and cost US $27. Orchid Cottage is a one bedroom villa situated halfway up a hillside overlooking both the Atlantic Ocean and the St. Lucia Golf and Country Club on the extreme northern tip of the island in an exclusive residential area known as Cape Estate. It is visually very private but perhaps not as private as we had hoped as far as sound was concerned. Another villa sits above the Orchid Cottage and voices from the other villa were audible at night. The cottage features a living room / galley kitchen that opens onto a very large covered deck, a bedroom with king size bed, a bath that features a very private outdoor shower and a plunge pool (also very private) with deck. Gardens surround the house with many wonderful huge flowering plants all around. The plantings nicely camouflage a security fence that surrounds the entire villa. All in all a really beautiful and romantic setting. The cottage is nicely equipped with cable TV, stereo, telephone (blocked to long distance outgoing calls without prior arrangements with the management), decent but not extravagant furnishings and all needed "housekeeping accessories" including a microwave, etc. There are several large 250v/110v transformers on the premises to allow usage of 110v appliances. A maid comes in three mornings a week. We were very comfortable in the cottage except for two annoyances. Although the bedroom and bath were screened, the living room was not due to the fact that normally the large doors that divide the living room from the deck are open, allowing mosquitoes into the living room. We found that in order to enjoy the living room at night we had to use bug repellent. On the positive side, several finches took advantage of the "indoor/outdoor" setting to come inside and became our breakfast companions, taking bread right from our hands. Also at night we would often be "serenaded" by the neighborhood dogs, the barking sometimes woke us up several times a night. Our "on-island helper", Patrice from Unique Vacations St. Lucia (email@example.com), arrived the morning after our arrival exactly on schedule with the car. She immediately offered us 13 days of rental for the cost of 12 and a upgrade to full size from the medium size we had reserved. Of course full size in St. Lucia means a Toyota Corolla, but it was very nice. If you are going to rent a car (and you must if you're going to rent a villa) I strongly recommend you obtain an international drivers license ($20 at AAA) and get it stamped by immigration when you arrive. This eliminates the need of obtaining a temporary St. Lucia drivers permit from the local police station. Patrice's price for a rental car was 1/3 off the quoted Avis price for the same size car. St. Lucia, a former British Crown Colony, drives on the left with right side steering wheel. It took a day to learn to signal for a turn without turning on the windshield wipers. Patrice brought with her a book with pictures and descriptions of various trips and adventures available on the island. Bev and I chose a day trip via power boat to Soufriere and an evening cruise on the square rigged Brig, Unicorn. Patrice took our credit cards and booked us right from the cottage. All in all, I was impressed by the "not what I'm used to in the Caribbean" efficiency of Unique Vacations St. Lucia. Patrice also gave us her pager and home telephone number and told us to call her anytime if we needed help. As an avid golfer I spent a lot of time at the country club. Only 9 of the 18 holes are open but the closed 9 holes were a beehive of activity with crews and equipment working to make the old front nine into the new back nine. The opening date for the entire course is April 15th. I was impressed by the course, the only fully irrigated course on the island. A group I played with from Sandals (the other course on the island) told me the country club course made the Sandals course look like a farmers field. Of course at US $85 a round (9 holes, go around twice) it should! I wound up playing 8 days out of the 14, and was able to work a deal for "local's rates" after the club pro and I got to know one another. I also met the course architect one morning on the driving range, a very interesting conversation. My advice, if you're not straight off the tee, expect to buy your balls back from the locals the next day. The course has many landscaping crews that tend to follow the less skilled golfers around, watching balls fly into the rough. I played early every morning and was always approached to see if I needed to buy golf balls. Prices started at US $1 a ball and could be negotiated down to one EC dollar (about .39) a ball if you bought by the dozen. A good, decent, OK for beginners but pleasurable for decent golfers golf course. The Orchid Cottage had views of holes 4 and 7 from the deck. Bev and I love to relax on the beach during our trips, reading and drawing mostly. We always look for a beach with shade, palm trees, lounge chairs, a decent bar, a restaurant for lunch and clean facilities. No public beach met our requirements. The beach at Rodney Bay was too commercial and had no shade. It looked badly overused and shabby. All the beaches at the all-inclusive resorts restricted facilities to guests. We found the perfect beach for us was at the non-inclusive Wind Jammer resort. We always bought drinks and lunch at the resort and in exchange the manager allowed us full use of the beach facilities. It's a lovely white sand beach with many palm trees, chaises spread all around, swimming area, wait staff service on the beach, good security, an excellent bar and restaurant (don't miss the Sunday Brunch) and clean rest rooms. The Wind Jammer was about a 10 minute drive from the villa. One reason to take a villa rather than stay at a resort is the freedom it allows regarding dining choices. We ate at several excellent restaurants and a few poor ones! Excellent The Coal Pot, Capones, Memories of Hong Kong, Wind Jammer Resort (Sunday Brunch), Eagle Inn and Mortar and Pestle. Good Froggie Jacks, Key Largo, Snooty Agouti. Poor Charthouse, JJ's in Marigot Bay, Spinnaker's Beach Bar and Grill. We normally would eat breakfast at the villa and occasionally, when tired, just stay in at night. There are regular supermarkets on St. Lucia that allow you to stock the kitchen as you like. The two trips we took both worked well for us. The full day trip seems to be a standard itinerary followed by a dozen different boats. We left Castries Harbor about 9:30 am and sailed to Soufriere where we transferred to small (14 person) vans. The vans took us, with guide, to see the "walk in volcano", the botanical gardens, lunch at the Still Restaurant then back to the boat for views of the Pitons, a look in to Marigot Bay, a little snorkeling and return by 5:00 p.m. Soufriere is much more a "third world" place than Castries, I was glad we were with a group that had a knowledgeable guide. The streets were extremely narrow and unmarked and there was a lot of poverty evident. Castries and the northern part of the island seemed a lot more prosperous. The sunset sail on the Brig Unicorn featured an excellent steel band, good appetizers, the sight of the crew sailing a square rigger (they obviously had no fear of heights!) and a beautiful sunset. The only drawback to the sail was that you shared it with about 100 other folks, things were a little crowded though there was enough room for all and the crew got everyone rum punches and food whenever they wanted either. Bev likes to shop but found St. Lucia disappointing. Castries has a local "native market" but it seemed set up to cater to the cruise ships that come in almost every day. Every vendor had the same t- shirts etc. Castries itself seemed very commercial but not in a "tourist shopper" sense. It is the capital of the nation and is obviously that rather than a tourist town. There is some duty free shopping that you can use if you bring your passport and airline ticket but nothing special. Parking is impossible in central Castries but if you do lunch at Froggie Jacks you can leave your car there and take the water taxi over to town across the bay for EC $3. Tell the waitress to put out the water taxi flag for you. Lots more fun. There are many things to see and do on the island if you want to explore. The Pigeon Point Park has ruined forts, ramparts, etc. You can also take trips into the rainforest or climb a Piton but Bev and I never did any of these things so I cannot comment. Two weeks went by very quickly, probably quicker for me than Bev since she doesn't golf! We had an early flight out. We just left the car at the villa and had Peter drive us back to the airport. Once again, no hassles and no problems. We were accessed EC $54 per person as a departure tax, put the rest of our EC money into the charity boxes that line the departure lounge and departed. American Eagle had us back in San Juan perfectly on time for a delightful flight (managed to get bumped to first class) back to New York. Would we go back? I would in a heartbeat, not sure about Bev. I would find a fully screened villa and bring someway to mask the dogs. Other than that, a delightful time in a wonderful place. The weather was outstanding and the people were very friendly. St. Lucia has the feel of a place that's on the cusp of a real explosion as a vacation destination. There's lots of building going on and lots of plans (including, according to my friend the golf course architect, 27 more holes of golf). I think Bev was distressed by the bugs and dogs and wishes the shopping were better.
Trip 4/00 Well we're back from a very nice vacation. Had a great time. It was a lot different from usual since we were alone. Kind of nice not having to plan anything and doing stuff on the spur of the moment. Stayed at the Summit. We had a front row room overlooking Simpson Bay. Nicest view on the island. Beaches - Cupecoy got ruined. The northern section behind the white wall was privately purchased, cleared, and a large stone retaining wall (similar to a jetty) was built parallel to the beach. We were told that the Government told the owner to remove it, but we'll see. The once remote, pretty beach is an eyesore on the north end. Not too much sand there, but it appears to be coming back. Orient was very windy. We even drove over twice and walked to the beach and left because there was sand blowing all over. The Surf Club South has relocated to next to Pedro's. There is a large kiddy amusement area with blow up slides in the parking area behind Pedro's now. Many new hotel buildings are going up to the north too. Unfortunately, with everyone selling beach chairs and the daily tour busses its becoming way too commercial over there now. Bai Rouge was nice, plenty of sand. A couple of perverts were hanging around and had to be told off. Restaurants - Messalina's - Best rolled Swordfish, lots on appetizer buffet Tutti Pasta - Inexpensive and great Tropicana - Best new place we tried in Marigot, French food Boathouse - Remodeled front, same menu Bistro Nu - Excellent, down an alley in Marigot La Cocalierre - across from Lightning, huge meat portions La Rosa II - Italian, Maho area Cheri's had their grand reopening on Friday and it was packed. Maho area - Hotel closed until Oct. No beach behind Royal Islander, sand dredged from Simpson Bay to be dumped at end of airport runway this week. Casinos closed - Atlantis, Casino Royal
This was my second trip to T/C as we usually vacation only during the winter months and due to the location of north of the Caribb, I fear that it would not be warm enough for me in the cold of the Winter. Having been blown from Cap Juluca and my long awaited trip to Anguilla we sought two alternatives and decided on Mexico and ultimately the Mexican Caribb (Maroma) and Meridian Club. My passport reminded me that the previous visit to the T/C was in early December 1995 and we did stay on Provo, the more populated island of the chain then. Turks and Caicos are located at the end of the Bahamas chain just north of Haiti/Domincan Republic and as one Islander stated years ago, "There is so little here that no one even tried to escape to here." There are only two flights out of MIA that will get you to Provo on AA but there are charters through Beaches (ProAir, I think) and Allegro (TWA). They only fly weekends and since my "escapes" are usually for more than 7 days, we had few alternatives. A British Crown Colony that uses the US Dollar as currency is just a 90 minute flight out of Miami and consists of six inhabited islands plus many little "cays" which offer pristine white sandy beaches and crystalline waters. This time we flew from Provo to Pine Cay on a small chartered plane but you can boat it if the flights are not flying. The flight is about 5 minutes to a small private island that offers 12 beachfront rooms and one beachfront cottage as part of the resort experience or a few privately-owned homes (older homes are definitely beachy type - much like the cedar shake homes that dot the eastern US shoreline; newer ones reflect the glitz and more modern styles) which are also available for rent. Needless to say, this is about as close to all inclusive as I get ... there are no options unless you are in one of the homes and choose to cook! (NOT ME!!!). Always up there in the top of the beach resorts but "'unknown" enough to still consistently maintain the majority of guests returning year after year. That might soon, I think, be challenged by Parrot Cay, just three short cays away - but that has a whole different flavor and not sure that those who love one would love the other. Rooms are large divided into bedroom, dressing, bath/dressing area (showers only/two vanities with sinks) all with louvers and a wonderful screened porch across the front facing the beach. Faces west so sun rises are not a treat but those sun sets!!! Wow! Electric ceiling fans and louvers are the air conditioning!!! It was wonderful! And NO thumps from nearby compressors!!!! Light bulbs were bright for reading in the sitting area (furnished with a comfortable chair and ottoman and a "day bed " sofa that could be converted to an extra bed, table and handmade carved chairs) and each side of the king-sized bed had a small booklite to use so not to disturb a sleeper when reading. Sand Dollar Cottage sits slightly apart from the duplexes and offers a generous sized cottage, a huge shower, a real coffee pot as opposed to the "Hot Shot" for instant in the rooms. (However, we go prepared with our own travel coffee pot for emergencies!) and a large screened porch with padded furniture rather than the "strap" type in the other accommodations. The Beach is incredible! Goes forever ... and no one in sight. Of course the "tiki huts" ... what are they for? Shade? Not for me - again my dermatologist's wishes ... are tucked in the dunes and most chose to sit under rather than pull the chaises out into the hot full sun that was delightful with wonderful breezes that kept you cool! A very natural, un-manicured flat and scrubby cay dotted with scrub brush, pine and fresh water ponds and a wonderful long-term staff who live in staff quarters on island but do travel to neighboring North Caicos for time off at their homes is what you find at Meridian Club. All snorkeling, diving is done at a reef off shore and boats available daily for snorkeling, diving, exploring neighboring Dellis Cay or others. Not much life from the reef to the beach but incredible colors and clear water, shells ... including my favorite, plenty of sand dollars. Unfortunately my plan to spend at least one day at Parrot Cay was not realized - they were not accepting "day trippers" even with an expensive day pass fee of $85 and $75 lunch - that 's what we were told! A great report on Parrot Cay is in The NYTImes Travel Section April 9, "Relaxing Like a Celebrity." But am sure that the high maintenance ambiance of the Parrot Cay as well as the Ferragamo's outweigh Meridian and its natural beauty with "barefoot elegance" being the key! Meridan Cay is wonderfully "older" and furiously maintains the status quo of a "beach club" since its charter in the 70's by American and Canadians who built homes there with the same wonderful charm and ambiance that I find at few resorts since Rosewood assumed the RockResorts Little Dix and Caneel but others might find "rustic," No phones, fax is the mode of communication with the outside world at $15 a pop to "call" home, no modems and no cd- players! Faxes are received at the desk and picked up there. There