Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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The following items about Cuba were culled from "Cuba Unlimited" and submitted by Ileana Carreño of Cubalinda.com Inter-Active Travel Moon Handbooks: Steering Travelers Straight There's nothing better for a traveler than to listen to someone who's already been there. As such, we'd like to steer you to the second edition (2000) of Moon Handbooks: Cuba, by Christopher P. Baker, a learned explorer of the island . The packed Handbook has 827 pages of geography, culture and society, as well as legal advice, history and suggestions for recreational activities. He includes both private and State lodging options with prices, addresses and telephones, without missing restaurants, night clubs and cultural activities. If you remember to carry this guide in your luggage, it will probably never leave your hand while here. On our site www.cubalinda.com click "Your Favorite Guides to Cuba" for this jewel and more. Barracuda School and Diving Center An ACUC-certified at Varadero beach, the facility covers a 64 km (40 mi) diving zone along both sides of the Hicacos peninsula, between the Florida straits and Cardenas bay. There are 21 buoy-marked diving sites between 4 and 30 meters, with caves, tunnels, coral reefs, sponges, sea fans, shad, pompanos, Atlantic spadefish, snapper, grouper, sharks, manta rays, barracuda, dolphin, grunt, dogfish, whale sharks and more. The Saturno cave experience will leave you dazed: it is a fresh and saltwater-filled cavern with some of the most impressive stalagmites and stalactites you have ever seen. The center has Cressi diving subs, regulators with second auxiliary stages, pressure gauges, bathymeters and more, and one can also outfit oneself. Their courses run from Beginner to Advanced, with internationally valid certificates and experienced instructors. The nearest hotels are Cuatro Palmas, Copey Resort and Dos Mares, close to many night clubs, restaurants, bars and shops. Professional divers should bring their certificates, because non-card-carriers will have to take a shallow water test with an instructor to be able to go on a deep dive. For diving package reservations or course applications write: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (53-7) 55 3980 Los Frailes Hostal Opens The sermons and chanting from the San Francisco de Asis Basilica have overflowed to the nearby Los Frailes Hostal. Recently opened, innkeepers dressed as monks provide chambers for true believers and the less devout on calle Teniente Rey # 8 entre Oficios y Mercaderes, just a few meters from Old Havana's Plaza Vieja. Former residence of the French Creole Pedro Pablo Duquesne, it recreates an ecclesiastic environment with sextants, oil lamps, irises, crucifixes and beautiful murals. There are three floors with 18 windowless cells including: ·air conditioning ·candle-shaped lamps ·mini-bar ·antique writing desk ·telephone ·security box The four suites have extraordinary views of the Old City, the bar and restaurant are excellent, and there are plenty of cafeterias and restaurants outside. It's a gracious, heavenly spot to stay, with the best in modern tourism: a monk should have it so nice! Reservations: email@example.com or telephone (53-7) 55-3980 Varadero Golf Resort The former mansion of the Dupont family in Varadero is now a clubhouse for a world-class golf course next to a beach that will make your jaw drop. Sand traps, waterholes and a constant sea breeze provide a challenging game, and the five-star Melia Las Americas hotel borders the course. The resort and course are less than five miles from the village of Varadero and 20 from Matanzas international airport. The hotel has 340 rooms with a seaside view and is easily one of the highest ranking in its category. Reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone (53-7) 55-3980
When we arrived at Our Lucaya I entered my room at Lighthouse Point and found a balcony facing the setting sun, a large luxurious living space, and a yellow hand blown glass plate full of treats for a weary traveler. We were at the eastern end of a wide white beach right next to the Grand Canal where the gentle traffic of yachts and working boats paraded slowly. Palm trees and grass, twinkling aqua pools and sparkling turquoise ocean were the view. There were paths just begging to be followed which disappeared through wide gardens, around a gazebo and up the beach. I was thinking that we might find this brand new resort only half an hour from Miami more crowded than we like. With over 1300 beds the place certainly can rock, but because of the careful design involved in creating Our Lucaya, it was jazzy and sociable where you would expect it to be, and serenely quiet where that was desirable. In fact, there were four different lifestyles represented on the 372 acres of beachfront. Combined they offer 14 restaurants & lounges, a camp for kids & babies, three very distinctive freshwater swimming areas with multiple pools each, a golf course, several outdoor hot tubs, full conference facilities, and one of the nicest spas I have ever seen. The varied facilities were comfortably spaced apart with paths to connect them, and each had paths to the wide white beach. Every day we walked past the spa located at Lighthouse Point. The graceful style of the place eventually drew me out of the sun. I indulged in a signature treatment one afternoon. They use fresh herbs infused into the air and water as they scrub, stimulate and massage all parts of your body. The hydro-beds were new to me, and there is a sparkling clean feeling that the herbs in the water, and in the massage oils impart to your skin. They serve teas before and during each signature treatment, picked fresh from local gardens. These create delicious and refreshing blends that treat you on the inside. Just across from the Manor House, the path ends at a rabbit warren of over 80 very sophisticated shops, and beyond that a very nice marina. Navigation is a bit tricky here as the buildings have a charming kind of organic growth arrangement to them. Surprises abound, such as the fresh fruit stand where they open a fresh coconut for its milk, and serve you a frozen pina colada inside the shell. This small oasis was free standing between small Easter egg colored buildings offering some of the world's most famous jewelry designers' work at astonishingly inexpensive rates. I was very hard pressed to lead a friend back to it the following day, but that attempt revealed many shops and open air stalls that we had missed before. The marina on the far side of the shops was also a surprise. Many famous superyachts were there along with liveaboard boats and working boats with a neighborhood atmosphere about the whole place. Next door is UNEXSO, which is one of only three places in the world where you can meet dolphins who are there by choice. There are pens, but the main purpose is to keep dolphin-eating sharks out. These pens are easily and frequently jumped over by the dolphins who go out for a romp and later return to the safe haven. Meeting a dolphin in such a friendly environment is a lovely thing. Once you have looked into the eyes of such a sweet and clearly intelligent animal you will always remember it with a smile. Each day as the sun crossed the yardarms we took the path up the beach which ends at Billy Joe's Sand Bar. For people like us who just love wooden picnic tables on the sand, cold beers from a shack with no sides, fresh wood fire grilled fish and the camaraderie of locals, Billy Joe's was the perfect place to watch the sunset. Under the palms at the edge of the ocean the brilliant orange sun slid gracefully over the blue horizon as we happily dug our toes into warm sand. Our Lucaya offers about five different flavors of sunset, so whatever your preference, you can find it. In the course of three nights my friends and I followed the paths to three very different places for dinner. Under seemingly endless palm trees serving delicacies from all zones of the Pacific Rim is China Beach. A Sushi bar and private tables behind carved screens surround the fully exposed kitchen, surrounded by the beach. Churchill's Chophouse offers carefully selected cuts of beef, vintage wines and live music from the baby grand in the corner. I had prime rib which was carved tableside, and a baked artichoke. Both were as good as it gets! Willy Broadleaf's theme is that of the adventurer. You wander through a Mediterranean palace, an Egyptian open-air market, a Saharan buffet and a Mexican cafecita. I got lost for a while roaming around among huge tapestries, shelters made of palm fronds, and columns surrounding Mediterranean tile. Each area had an impressive buffet set up against the spectacle of its own open-air kitchen. The variety of choices and smells was intoxicating and we all ate too much! Nightlife there has as much variety at the end of each path as the dining. We went dancing at the Prop Club with its exotic lighting and curious blend of Calypso and Jankanoo music. During the day this place is a full-blown sport bar with nine TVs, basketball courts and a view over the beach volleyball nets. Another evening found us sitting on big rocking chairs listening to live music and sipping island run at Portabellos. Most evenings ended with a bit of time spent at the Havana Cay Cigar Bar, with its dark wood, leather chairs, fine cognac and quiet jazz. Our Lucaya is a masterful blend of differing experiences at the end of each path. We found just what we wanted, peaceful days, quiet dinners and long lingering evenings. I observed that people traveling with children found plenty to do with them, but when they wanted to play golf or dine privately, Camp Lucaya was a great diversion for the kids. Singles can find plenty of places to make new friends and dance until the sun comes up. Life is good along the paths at Our Lucaya. --------------------- Sidebar Information ---------------- Our Lucaya Information 877.687.5822 Website: http://www.ourlucaya.com Online reservations: http://www.ourlucaya.com/rese_z-rez.cfm UNEXSO Next to Port Lucaya Information: 373.1244 To enter the Bahamas you need to have a driver's license plus a birth certificate or a passport. There is a departure tax of $18 per person. American Airways, American Eagle, Continental, TWA are among the airlines which travel to Grand Bahama Island. A few of the 400 slides as low res online samples http://www.HOWS.com/sailingphotos/lucaya
Trip April 2001 After 6 years I returned to Cozumel for 5 days. The major changes were the existence 4-6 cruise ship daily, and the many "tourist" and jewelry stores Cozumel is still a great place with the town of San Miguel and good diving. We arranged our vacation through Continental vacations. The weather was perfect, I did not sweat as much as I did during my previous visit. Getting To Cozumel From/to Baltimore Through Houston was un eventful. We had great connections and by 11:00 am we were in Cozumel ( 2 hours difference than EST). We stayed at the Coral Princess, which is located North of town (23 pesos = 2.3 dollars taxi ride to town). The hotel and location were a great choice, other than the taxi to meet the dive boat. We dove with Paradise Divers, paid a little extra ($63 per day for two tank) to go on the advanced fast boat (EDP) and it was worth it. At night we headed to town for a lobster or Mexican meal, which were tasty and reasonably priced. Diving: We had a maximum of six divers and we were back by 12:00. Due to winds (or so we were told), we were limited from visiting the most southern reefs. Our deep dives were: Columbia, Palancar(Gardens and Bricks) and Puta Sur (devil throat and Cathedral). In each of the deep dives we had at least one Turtle. In Columbia we also saw sting and eagle rays. Second dives we did in reefs between inter continental hotel and the Barracuda. The shallower dives were O.K. (not great). Not enough variety and marine life, and the end of the dive ( 60 minutes) was over sand. After lunch we made shore dives from our hotel, Le Ceiba and Chacakanub. Le-Ceiba hotel is located near the pier where Carnival cruise docks, and the beach is very crowded. Chakanub coral was damaged from divers, however a great cave with Tarpons and silver sides, and A coral head with 6 large lobster made it a worth while dive. At the Coral Princess saw lots of little stuff and an Octopus during a night dive.
My wife and I just returned from spending 2 weeks (February 27-March 13,2001) at the Iberostar Bavaro Resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. This was our second trip to the Dominican Republic. Last year we stayed for 2 weeks at the Bavaro Grand while it was being sold by Allegro to the Mac Hotels. We are seasoned Caribbean travelers, so when reading this review, please keep in mind that we have been to Jamaica 6 times, Antigua, Mexico so many times, we have lost count, St. Martin, Aruba, Bahamas, Venezuela, Brazil, Columbia, etc. We booked with Canada 3000 Holidays out of Winnipeg (on a Royal Airlines flight) and everything was great. Flights left on time and service was as good as the regular scheduled airlines. We booked the Royal Class seats ($100 each round trip), which are good, because you don’t have to wait in line for check-ins and the seats are the same but with more leg room and it seems that they only book 2 out of the 3 seats so we had lots of space. There was an open bar with champagne and any other liquor that you asked for and one attendant who would take orders at anytime. The food was better than coach as we had a choice of entrees and wine. The only thing that seemed to bother most people on our flight was that we flew into La Romana Airport instead of the Punta Cana Airport. The Canada 3000 Holidays brochure specifically stated that the flight was to La Romana and the distance to Punta Cana was 120KM. The bus ride was approximately 2 hours including, a 30 minute stop for beers. It seemed that most people were unaware of this long bus ride. Having flown into the Punta Cana Airport last year, and with all the confusion at this airport, this was a minor inconvenience, as our flight was one of only 2 flights that were arriving on that day. We were in and out of the airport within an hour. To sum up the vacation for all you readers who want the quick summary, the resort was, in our opinions, one of the best, not only in Punta Cana , we have stayed at anywhere! This is not a party place (we weren’t looking for that), so if you want excellent service, great junior suite, excellent food, and the best beach that we have ever stayed at, go and book this resort! Staff and Service: We found the staff at the hotel to be the most friendly and polite that we have ever experienced. They seemed very shy but by trying to speak a little Spanish to them, they opened up very quickly. This was probably the first resort that we have stayed at (all-inclusive) that had wait service on the beach. Also, at all the bars, whether during the day or in the evenings, there were wait staff everywhere to take your orders. The service at the restaurants was prompt, sometimes they would confuse an order but we found that repeating the order at least once helped to eliminate the language issue. Staff was always very accommodating when you asked for something. Drambuie was hard to come by and when I finally found a bottle in La Dorado restaurant, the wait staff was willing to go to the restaurant to get it for me, even if I happened to be in the Lobby Bar. The Director Residente (General Manager): Daniel Diaz was always around talking to everyone and taking notes. He did mention to us that Iberostar is opening a new resort in November/2001 in Bayahibe called the Hotel Iberostar Hacienda Dominicus, He said that this property would be the Iberostar’s most up-scale property in the Dominican Republic when it opens. Food and Beverage Selection: Food -- The food at the resort was some of the best we have had at any “all- inclusive” resort in the Caribbean. The food is definitely better than the Sandals properties (Antigua and Negril) and almost on par with Couples and the “OLD” Ciboney in Jamaica (before Sandals took over the property and Sandalized it!). When you stay at the Iberostar Bavaro, you can use all the restaurants of the Bavaro as well as the Dominicana and Punta Cana resorts. You needed reservations for all the “a la carte” restaurants and we experienced no problems getting into any of the restaurants. You had to go to the “Guest Services” desk (left side of the registration area) any time during the day from 9AM until 10PM and have them make you a reservation. There was never a line up for making them and we had reservations for 2, 4 and 6 persons throughout our stay. Their system is fully automated and when you check in, they give you a note stating that they will guarantee you at least 3 reservations for a 7 night stay and 5 for a fourteen night stay. There was some confusion as most people read this as limiting them to a number of reservations. The hand out was very clear in that if there was availability, you could make other reservations. Please be aware that there were no non-smoking areas in any of the a-la-carte restaurants and only a small area in the buffet Los Haitises. The following is the summaries for all the restaurants: La Dorado (Bavaro) This restaurant was their seafood one. The only “meat” in the place was a veal picatta appetizer on the appetizer bar. There was an appetizer bar, consisting of a number of seafood delicacies, including smoked salmon with caviar, shrimp, calamari, salads, etc. The entrees that we tried and would highly recommend are: Mediterranean paella (with lobster, shrimp, calamari), salmon on a phyllo crust, sea bass, tuna with a red pepper sauce, snapper, and a seafood stew with lobster, shrimp, etc. The desert bar consisted of rice pudding, a very decadent chocolate something, cheesecake in a biscuit basket. We ate here three times and found every meal excellent. This was one of our favorite restaurants. La Cana (Bavaro) This was the Brazilian restaurant that had changed to a steakhouse in the last month. It is down by the pool and during the day it is Los Bohios for lunch. Everyone’s consensus that ate here agreed that this was the least enjoyable of all the restaurants. The menu consisted of steak, ribs, chicken and salmon. My wife ordered the ribs and had to send them back as they were covered in a thick layer of fat. The side plates of baked potato and corn on the cob arrived cold. The barbecue chicken was okay. Deserts were good – key lime pie, chocolate brownie, which was very good , and some kind of “apple betty”. We only ate here once. We tried to order a combo of chicken and ribs (which wasn’t on the menu) and could not get it. There is the same restaurant in the Punta Cana resort that we did not try. Hashiru (Bavaro) This is the Japanese restaurant. For starters each couple is given a plate of sushi and some tempura vegetables. Both were excellent. Main dishes that we particularly liked were the teppanyaki dishes of chicken and shrimp, and the teriyaki salmon (absolutely the best salmon that I had during the stay). Desert was a choice of tempura banana with ice cream, a coffee liquor gelatin served like a Spanish coffee with ice cream on top. This was very good if you can get past the idea of coffee flavored Jell-O. We ate here twice. Los Haitises (Buffet at Bavaro) This restaurant was huge, with many food stations throughout serving different fare. Breakfast was very good with lots of choices for fresh fruit, cereal, made to order eggs, pancakes, sweetbreads and home made donuts. Fresh fruit shakes were offered at one of the stations, but there was no fresh orange juice. Dinner offered lots of variety and there was always something for everyone’s taste. We ate here 4 times. The only negative was at the carving station – whatever they were carving, whether it was beef or lamb was extremely overdone. However, if you wanted rare beef, it could be found at another station, that was so tender it could be cut with a fork. There was always pasta, grilled chicken breasts, grilled salmon, shrimp, salad bar, Mexican appetizer bar. The desserts were very good with lots of choices – ice cream, chocolates, cream puffs, mocha mouse, walnut tarts, etc. The buffets at the Punta Cana and Dominicana offered similar, but not quite as extensive selections for dinner, but their deserts were more North American in style – coconut cream pie, tortes, etc. Los Bohios This is the only restaurant open for lunch and is by the pool and beach. Dress is very casual with bare feet allowed and minimal cover up required. This is where we overdosed on seafood as the first few days we were here they were cooking up seafood paella, seafood bouillabaisse and mounds of shrimp. Combine this with eating at the seafood restaurant for dinner and you quickly become tired of shellfish (at least we did). There was always rotisserie chicken (fantastic), burgers, hotdogs, pasta, pizza, salad bar. Desert at lunch was minimal consisting of ice cream, fruit and one kind of pie that was the same everyday. Friday on the beach at lunch, head over to the Dominicana where they cook up two huge vats of seafood paella, consisting of lobster tails, prawns and calamari. They don’t start cooking this until about 12:30 and start dishing it out at 2:00. This was great the first week, but we were fished out by the second week and passed. La Mirimba (Dominicana) : This is the Italian restaurant in the Dominicana. We ate here once and enjoyed our meals. My wife had lasagna and I had veal marsala. There were mixed reviews on the veal marsala as most were expecting the veal to be like scaloppini, but this veal was thicker and more like roast veal. The flavor was good and very tender. I had a side order of pasta with puntenesca sauce, which is a red spicy sauce, which was very good. There was also an anti pasta bar which was very good. For desert we had an excellent tiramisu. The wine in this restaurant was the worst of all the restaurants. La Sibilia (Dominicana)/La Ballena (Bavaro): We ate at La Sibilia in the Dominicana once. This is the gourmet restaurant with one fixed menu daily. The menu here is the same as in La Ballena in the Bavaro, the only difference is that they alternate weeks (they work on two weeks worth of menus). We had filet mignon on the day we went. My wife’s was overdone and not that tender, mine was very good. They didn’t ask us how we wanted our steaks, so we didn’t know what to expect. Appetizer consisted of a ham mouse with puff pastry, and a pineapple and lobster salad. Desert was a baked apple. The meal was okay, but the downside of this meal was the room. It was freezing! They had the air- conditioning turned up too much and we couldn’t wait to finish dinner and get out. Saturday night at La Ballena is lobster night. We didn’t go, but heard it was good. The lack of a choice of entrees prevented us from coming here more than once. Maria Bonita (Dominicana): This is the Mexican restaurant in the Dominicana and it was a pleasant surprise. We ate here twice. The appetizer bar was good enough to make a complete meal of – coconut shrimp, chicken chimichangas, cheese quesedillas, nachos with different dips, two choices of soup. All of it was fantastic. For entrees we tried tequila shrimp (excellent), fish in Vera Cruz sauce (very spicy and very good), filet of beef (very good). My wife had a beef, pork and pineapple taco, which was extremely interesting and tasty. It consisted of finely chopped meat and pineapple, served open faced on a corn tortilla. There was a dessert buffet consisting of crepes with caramel sauce. Beverages : The beverage selection at the Bavaro was definitely better than most all-inclusive resorts. From what I have read, in most Dominican resorts, you are limited to National brands only and have to pay for any real imported brands. This was not the case at the Bavaro. They had 3 different kinds of Scotch (J&B, Ballentines and JW Red), Canadian Club, Jim Beam, Tanquay, Beefeater and Gordons Gins, Smirnoff vodka, Dubonnet, etc and most liqueurs including Baileys. The beer was Presidente on draft in the bars and in cans in your room. They had Heineken available in bottles in the main bar that was good. You could also order sparkling wine by the glass at the bars (Cava brand of champagne from Spain). My only complaint was that they ran out of Drambuie after the first week and it was not replaced! There was also no Grand Marnier or cognac. Last year at the Bavaro Grand, both Drambuie and Grand Marnier were available as well as real cognac and premium JW Black Scotch. The other issue that was a little disappointing was the selection of “House” wines. The best wines that were available were in the Sibilia/Ballena, La Dorado, Maria Bonita and Hashiru restaurants. All the wines were from Spain and most were not that good. I would not buy any of these wines at home even if I could find them in a liquor store. I tried to get the wine( in a bottle) from the a la carte restaurants in the buffet restaurant and was told that it couldn’t be done, with no explanation why. Previously, you could get a choice of house wines in any of the restaurants but that feature has disappeared. The majority of vacationers are not regular wine drinkers, so the resorts seem to think they have to serve tasteless wines that have no body and therefore no taste so as not to offend the patrons. The Iberostar Bavaro wines were as good as Sandals, Grand Lido Braco or any of the other all-inclusives we have stayed at but that still isn’t saying too much! Rooms All the rooms at the Bavaro are “Junior Suites”. We stayed in unit 2513, which was a second story unit very close to the beach and pool. The room was very clean, king-sized bed, with a stocked fridge and separate sitting area and a large all marble bathroom. The only minor complaint that we had was that our maid for the first 10 days would do our room LAST! This meant that our room was being made up sometimes as late as 5PM or on the 10th day of her mission, she was still not in the room at 5PM. I went and found her supervisor and had a brief talk with her and for the next 4 days, we had a new maid and our room was the first that was made up and everything was very good after that. We were only drinking the Diet Cokes out of the fridge, so I let the maid know this and she always left extras. All the drinks in the fridge were in plastic bottles and the beer, Presidente, was in cans. The only problem that we had was that one night I broke a glass in the bathroom and had to scramble to pick up the pieces. We got a plastic glass from the bar for the bathroom after that but every day, the maid would take the plastic glass with her. Washcloths are supplied daily. Beach/Water/Chairs: The beach and water in front of the resort had to be the best in the Caribbean. The sand was “white”, and raked very often. There was no “seaweed” and you could go snorkeling right in front of the resort. We walked the beach in both directions for at least 2 miles both ways and the beach in front of the Bavaro was the widest and least crowded. Lots of palapas and chairs and no problem with saving the chairs. We had one minor problem one afternoon with a family from France who had taken our palapas when we went for a walk. I was a little angry at first but, I actually spoke with them and we sat beside them for the rest of the day. Tours Taken : We took the all day Monster Truck ride, which included a tour of the backcountry of the DR. We visited a small fruit plantation, an actual “Voodoo” witch Doctor and had lunch beside a river. The cost of the tour was $85US and was well worth it. All the tours are around $75 or $85 US. Conclusion This was our second time to the Dominican Republic and we were very pleased with our vacation. Very good bang for the buck at this resort. We have paid twice as much to go to Sandals and other “all- inclusive” resorts and for us, why pay the extra thousands of dollars! When we go on vacation we always rate it on the quality of the food/service, rooms and beach and this resort was great from that perspective. This probably was the first resort in a long time that we both agree that we would return in a second without hesitating.
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