Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Gert van Dijken, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Gert van Dijken, Editor
Edition 135
May 15, 2003

Last Update May 19, 2003

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- Jamaica: Couples Ocho Rios Travel Journal
  • By: Lynn Suther
  • Date: Thu, 10 Apr 2003 13:22:03 -0400
Couples Ocho Rios March 2003 Trip Report

Day 1
We landed in Montego Bay a bit later than scheduled due to a flight delay in
leaving Atlanta. As soon as we stepped off the plane, we knew we were out of
the snow and cold. The 80 degree weather and the sound of Jamaican music and
songs greeted us as we entered the terminal.

We headed straight towards immigration and used the line to the far left. We
have found in the past that this line seems to move quicker than the others.
Once done here we went downstairs to claim our luggage and clear customs,
then we were off to the Couples Resorts booth, which is currently located
all the way down on the right (near the bathrooms).

We handed over our paperwork to the staff and were told it would be a few
minutes before we’d go to the van for our ride to the resort. They were
waiting for two other couples going to Ocho Rios. While waiting, a gentleman
asked if we’d like a drink. We said yes and gave him money for a Red Strip
(beer) and a bottle of Ting (a Jamaican lemon lime soda).  Soon the other
couples arrived, did their paperwork and we started to the van. The
gentleman showed up at the van with the drinks.

The ride to Ocho Rios takes about two hours. We chatted with one of the
other couples who were from Knoxville, TN. About half- way to the resort,
the van stopped for a bathroom drink break. You could also buy your first
souvenirs if you wished. The road to Ocho Rios is now under construction.
Some places are nothing but dirt and gravel, so it was a bit bouncier & took
a bit longer to get there than in past years. The views along the way are
breathtaking.

We arrived at the resort about 4 pm. We received the usual greeting of a
cool damp towel and champagne, we turned in our paperwork and waited for our
room assignment. Suddenly several of the staffers we had met in previous
years came over and greeted us like long lost family. There were hugs,
kisses and handshakes all around.

I finally got to meet Maxine face to face. She and I had corresponded over t
he Internet for quite some time. She and Mcgyver said they had a surprise
for us. They grabbed a room key and took us upstairs. This was our third
visit to Couples and we were given our first upgrade in a room - one of the
new penthouse suites. We were in shock! What a great way to start our eight
nights in paradise.  Maxine told us that even though we had just arrived
they would like us to attend the returning guests’ dinner that night and
cocktails started at 6 pm.

We checked out the room and could hardly believe the view from the balcony.
It looked directly over to Tower Island. The penthouse suites are in the
main building on the fourth floor. They are larger than the normal ocean
view deluxe rooms we’ve had in the past. Besides all the usual things in the
room there was a mini-bar & a refrigerator & the bathroom has a Jacuzzi, The
walk-in closet in the room is also larger.

 Our luggage was delivered to the room a few minutes later our.  Because the
returning guests’ dinner was being held at Le Gourmet, we had to get dressed
up. We rummaged through the suitcase, found our dress clothes and got ready.

We headed down to the main bar and had our first tropical drinks, then it
was off to the returning guests cocktail party at the piano bar. There we
saw several of our friends on the staff. It was great seeing everyone again.
One of the other couples at the party was B&A who I had been emailing back
and forth before our trip.

After cocktails, everyone went into Le Gourmet for dinner. The food was
wonderful as always. There is a preset menu for the returning guest dinner.
Sitting at our table were B&A, two couples from Great Britain as well as
Nadine of the sales staff.

After dinner, we stood on the outdoor walkway and watched the entertainment
at the beach party. It had been a long day so we decided to go back to the
room early. Before going up, we stopped at the bar and grabbed drinks to
take with us. We filled out the breakfast room service form and hung it
outside our door.  We enjoyed the view from our balcony for awhile and then
went off to sleep.


Day 2
This year we decided to make it a relaxing vacation. I wanted to spend a lot
of time just hanging around and laying on the beach. Our continental
breakfast arrived the next morning on time. We ate it on the balcony while
watching the waves. After breakfast, we headed right for the beach. I was
surprised to learn they now have drink service on the beach. Philroy came
around and offered to fill our insulated mugs. I think he was surprised I
only wanted ice water in the morning.

We headed back to the room around noon, and discovered we had no water. I
called the front desk and let them know. A short while later it was working
again. We washed up and then went down to the Patio restaurant for lunch.

The Patio at lunchtime puts out a large buffet. There are always lots of
choices; hot dishes, soup, salads, fruit, cold cuts, cheeses, breads and
desserts There is always some sort of hot meat that they will slice. It can
be ham, roast beef, lamb, turkey, etc. The other hot dish can range from
tacos to sweet and sour pork, from fettuccini Alfredo to Jamaican jerk
chicken, fried snapper and more. The salads can include the standard lettuce
and vegetable to crab salad, from potato salad and coleslaw to tomato and
onions. The fruits range from watermelon to papaya and from oranges to
mangos. The cold cuts can cover anything from ham to tuna and from corned
beef to sliced turkey. If you can’t find something you like, you can always
go to the Beach Grill. By the way, I haven’t mentioned the dessert choices
which go on and on as well. They even have soft ice cream in banana flavor.

After lunch, it was back to the beach. Joe decided he wanted to take out one
of the kayaks. It was very windy that day, and everyone seemed to be getting
blown around in the water. This was the windiest we had ever seen it in Ocho
Rios. He paddled around for a while and had a great time.

Then, we headed over to the dive shop. We brought pictures with us to give
to the dive instructors that we had taken the previous year. We also brought
along a framed photo I had gotten from another guest to deliver to them. It
was great to see that most of the guys we had met in prior years were still
there. They really seemed to get a tickle out of the photos.

Later we went over to guest services to sign up for horseback riding on
Saturday. We also found out they were now taking reservations for dining not
only at Le Gourmet but also for the Bayside starting that Monday. So, we
arranged to have dinner at the Bayside on Tuesday night. We then went over
to the Internet computer and checked email before heading back to the room
to relax and get ready for dinner.

Thursday night is lobster night during the season (lobster is out of season
from April 1st to June 30th. FYI Conch is out of season July 1st to Oct.
30th). We decided to head to the Bayside. We really love the view and
sitting over the water. The Bayside is the pasta/steak restaurant. They
always have several choices of pasta and different sauce to go with your
main course. Joe had lobster, of course, and I had steak. The meal was
delicious, but I was still jet-lagged, so right after dinner we went back to
the room -- I crashed early that night.

Day 3
We got up early Friday morning and went down to the Patio for breakfast.
Breakfast is buffet style. On the buffet there are always scrambled eggs,
bacon, sausage, ham, potatoes, usually French toast and pancakes, some sort
of Jamaican specialties, lots of fruit, breads, muffins, pastries and more.
You can also have omelets made to order, fruit smoothies, several different
juice choices, mimosas, bloody Mary’s, and of course milk, teas and Jamaican
Blue Mountain coffee.

Joe was taking the resort dive class that morning. He left for the pool at 9
am. I headed for the beach and grabbed two lounge chairs and a small table
under one of the trees. I read for awhile. Later I went over to the sales
office, which is now located past the gift shop. I brought a picture of
Nadine that I had taken the year before. She seemed happy with it. We
chatted for awhile and I also had a chance to talk with Maxine.

I then headed back to the beach and saw Delroy, a.k.a. Water Rat, there. He
had been so friendly the year before I thought I should take a few pictures
of him. I also took some shots of Tower Island. Joe had my digital camera,
so this time I was using my old film camera. Digital cameras are great for
most things, however I wanted to make a poster size print of Tower island
and film is much better for that.

I went back to the beach lounges and waited for Joe to finish his diving
class. While there, Tanecia of the entertainment staff came by and asked if
I could sing. Friday night is the staff and guest talent show. I told her no
one should be subjected to my singing but we would come and watch the show.
We talked for awhile before left to find some more talented guests.

Joe came over after his class and we grabbed a light lunch at the Patio. We
took some more photos and then went over to the spa to arrange our ½ hour
massages. This is one of the perks that returning guests get (two free ½
hour massages per couple). After that we went to check email from home.
While there, another couple came over and asked if I was Lynn. It turned out
to be C&D who I had been emailing before the trip. We talked for awhile and
decided we’d meet at the bar later for drinks and have dinner together at
the Calabash.

It was fun actually getting to know people I had chatted with on line. Now I
had faces to go with the names. After dinner we wandered the grounds. and
ran into some people we had gotten to know the year before, and they
introduced us to Terrence Beach, who is the operations manager of the
resort. It was getting near show time, so we went back over to the Patio.

The talent show that night had guests and staff doing different numbers.
Some of the guests danced and sang songs. The staff sang, danced and did a
short sort of play. It was fun.

Day 4
Saturday morning when we woke up it was cloudy.  This was our day for
horseback riding. We went down to the breakfast buffet and then on to the
lobby at 8 am to catch the bus.

Horseback riding is now done at Prospect Plantation. When we had gone riding
two years ago there was a stable across the street from the resort. The ride
to the plantation only took about 15 minutes. It was two other couples and
us. We signed the usual waivers and each found helmets for the ride. We
waited a few minutes and then went over to the spot where they get you up
and onto the horses. The horses had either English or western. You didn’t
get a choice.

I had a horse named Flash Dance and Joe rode Simon. There were three guides
that went with us. It’s a slow and mostly gentle ride. You do go up into the
mountains. The guides tell you about the plants along the way. You get some
nice views of a river, Ocho Rios and even the old mansion. They stop at one
place and take pictures that you can buy later if you choose. The cost of
the photos is $10US each. At another spot they stop and have you get off the
horses and you are given a demonstration of how to climb a coconut tree and
also a lot of information on the local fruits and nuts. We were given tastes
of coconut milk, fresh coconut and some other fruits for your information
the guy giving the demonstration accepts tips and so do the guides. They
aren’t Couples’ employees, so keep this in mind.

We were back at the resort a bit after 10a m. Joe signed up for a dive for
the next day. He went back to the room to relax, and I went to find a spot
on the beach in the shade. I chatted with several of the staff members who
went by. Everyone is so friendly they really do make you feel like family.

Later Joe came down for lunch. I was in the mood for a burger and fries but
Joe wanted something more substantial.  We went and were seated at the
Patio, Joe went to the buffet and I went down to the snack bar.  I brought
my food up to our table at the patio just as it started to rain. It rained
quite hard for a short time. It lasted just over an hour and then the sun
came out.

After lunch, we headed over to the game room and shot a few games of
billiards. We decided we were both a bit tired. Hey, this is a vacation, let
’s go take a nap, so we did. We woke up to the sound of music. The Cool Jazz
(the catamaran) had pulled up on the beach for the sunset cruise. We watched
people get on board. As the boat headed out, I was surprised that no one on
Tower Island did the typical mooning as it went by. I guess things have
changed.

We decided to walk the grounds before dinner. We went to the Aviary, took
some pictures, then stopped at the gift shop to look around. To be honest, I
’ve found some things at the gift shop to be reasonably priced and others
seemed high priced. You just have to pick and choose. The same holds true in
the duty free shop (you can haggle a bit here, but not very much).

We then went over to the bar to wait for the “Grand Pool Buffet” to start.
While having a drink, C&D came by and we decided to have dinner together.
This was their last night at the resort. We picked a table in front of the
game room. It gave us a nice view of the entertainment, which that night
were a cello player and a violinist. They were very good. They had set up a
stage over the shallow end of the pool.

There are so many food choices at the buffet, you can’t try them all. There
are choices of fish, seafood, beef, veal, and lamb, pork, chicken, salads,
fruit, pasta, rice, vegetables and more. There were also so many dessert
choices -- it was hard to choose. We all ended up stuffed.

After dinner, we said goodbye to C&D as they headed back to their room. We
ran into some old friends & we chatted for awhile. They introduced us to
several other couples.

The show that night had a featured entertainer. His name was A J Brown. He’s
preformed in Las Vegas. He did a great show. He really knows how to play
with the audience. Our favorite song that he did was called the Big Bamboo.
It was very funny.
Day 5
Today, Sunday, was the day Joe was going scuba diving. I had arranged to
meet the two ladies that are part owners of the resort. The ladies and I had
emailed during the year and I was very happy to know they would be there
during our stay.

We had breakfast in the room and then headed for the beach. Joe’s dive wasn’
t until 10:45, so we had time to relax and just hang out.  We ran into P&T
on the beach. T was going on the same dive as Joe. He was working on
becoming a certified diver, & he achieved that during his stay.

At the appointed time, Joe left for the dive shop and I went to check my
email.  I had an email from my son saying he had called the night before and
left us a voicemail.  It turned out that our sump pump at home had died and
our basement was flooded. He said he would do his best to take care of
things. He put in an old pump he had and would see what happened. Oh well,
nothing we could do about it now. Hey, we’re in Jamaica Mon, no problem, we’
ll deal with it when we get home. I knew my son would keep us posted, so no
worries, at least not too many! This would not ruin our vacation!

On my way back through the lobby, I happened to pass the general manager. I
asked if I could go out to Tower Island to take some pictures. Officially,
no cameras are allowed on the island to protect everyone’s privacy. I got
his permission to go out to the island at 5 pm when it closes to take some
pictures. I thanked him and then headed back to the beach to meet my
friends.

I had a lovely time with the ladies on the beach talking and playing in the
surf. They introduced me to the chairman of the board for the resorts (their
brother). Since they know Jamaica so well, they made some suggestions for a
few places we should visit on our tour the next day. Unfortunately, as it
turned out, we didn’t have time to get to those places this year. Well any
way we have to leave something new for next time, don’t we?

Joe came back from his dive, and said he really enjoyed it. During this
dive, they went along a trench.  We headed for the Patio to grab some lunch,
and back to our room to check the voicemail. The phone had what looked like
a message indicator, but it wasn’t lit. I followed the instructions on
retrieving voicemail. It turned out there were many messages in the
voicemail, the last of which was my son’s message. I guess they don’t always
clear the messages when guests leave, so I suggested to the management that
they check the phone to get the message indicator fixed.

Later that day we went out across the street to take some pictures. Somehow
the past two years I hadn’t taken photos of the tennis courts and other
things that are there. Then it was back across the road and over to the
Bayside. I wanted to get some pictures of it during the day. I’d only taken
photos of the restaurant from a distance or at night. When we finished at
the Bayside, we went over to the main bar to relax and wait for the sun to
go down. While there, one of our friends on the staff said they wanted us to
meet their family. We did, and had a great time.

Afterwards, we decided to grab a quick dinner at the snack bar and bring it
back to the room. Tomorrow was our day to go on an off site tour with a
guide we had hired. Before this trip I had done a lot of research on the
Internet. I had checked out several different guides and tour companies. One
of the repeat guests at the resort recommended Chef,  and that’s who we
chose. His wife, Libby, had even called Sunday night and left us a message
to confirm that we’d be picked up at 9 the next morning.

Day 6
The next morning Chef arrived in his van on time.  He looked just like the
pictures I had seen of him on his web site.  We talked about the places and
things we wanted to see and started out. Our first stop was at a pottery
studio just up the road from Couples. There we met Fitzroy, the potter.  He
had a few interesting pieces, but most of the items seemed to be for the
tourist trade. We made a small purchase and then headed on.

Next stop was the roadside stand of Brother Albert Jones. He is a wood
carver and has won prizes for his craft. He uses mahogany and ironwood.  He
is also quite a character. We spent some time talking with him about his art
and how he enjoys creating things. He has many beautiful pieces. It was hard
to choose only one small carving to bring home. Maybe next year we can buy
another piece. For those who want to know, Brother Albert’s stand is just up
the road from Couples but on the opposite side of the road from the resort.

Our next stop was Firefly near Port Maria. Along the way, there Chef pointed
out different places of interest. Firefly is the former home of British
playwright, Noel Coward. It was called Look Out when the pirate Henry Morgan
lived there. The estate is up on the top of a hill overlooking a bay. In the
middle of the bay is Cabra Island, a.k.a. Goat Island.

The main house at Firefly is well designed for the area. Most of he rooms
are open air. There are beautiful gardens surrounding it.  The view from the
bedroom takes your breath away. Noel Coward’s grave is also on the grounds.
They say he has a permanent view of the harbor. Just to make sure that’s
true there is also a statue under a tree of Noel sitting while looking at
the view. The second building we saw on the grounds was the original
building used by Captain Morgan. The walls are very thick and there are gun
ports in the walls. He could look out the windows and know when to send his
men to raid the ships nearing the port.

When we left Firefly, we headed down the hill to the Zabai Tabai Museum. It’
s located all but beneath Firefly. It was closed at that time. Chef said we’
d go over to his place and he’d have his wife call the man that runs the
museum to see if we could get in.

Once at Chef’s place, we got to meet his wife, Libby. She is originally from
England. Both she and Chef have British accents. Chef spent many years
there. We sat on their veranda and Libby offered us a drink. She gave us
strawberry juice, a new sensation  and it was wonderful. They have a great
view from the veranda. It was so peaceful and relaxing we decided to scratch
our plan to go snorkeling there.

Libby gave us a tour outside the house and talked about their plans. She
showed us her gardens that included a Noni tree and even a mini-pineapple
she had growing. Joe went down to the beach and took some pictures. Libby
was able to the man at the museum to open just for us. , So we said goodbye
to Libby and off we went.

The Zabai Tabai Museum is basically one room crammed with many artifacts,
photos and literature. Errol Henry, who runs it, discovered Indian ruins on
his property. There have been several excavations done over the years. It is
devoted to the Taino & Ciboney  Indians who where the first aborigines of
Jamaica. I had thought that it was the Arawak Indians, but the items
discovered here say differently. Arawak as it turns out can mean several
different things. One is the name of a group of Indians, but it can also be
the language they spoke. That’s the case with the Taino Indians. Errol
Henry, who runs the museum, really seemed to enjoy talking with us. It was
definitely worth stopping there.

We left the museum in Port Maria and headed back towards Ocho Rios. We were
stopping in town at the supermarket to buy rum cream and Jamaican blue
mountain coffee to bring home. I found out after the fact that the rum cream
was cheaper at the airport, but the coffee was the best price I’d seen.
After that stop it was back to the resort. We had people to meet later. We
arrived a little after 4.

If anyone is interested in doing a tour with Chef, here is a link to his web
site.
http://sealawncoralbeach.20megsfree.com/photo3.html
If you do book a tour, be sure and say hello to him and Libby from Lynn &
Joe.

We got back to our room and wanted to shower before heading down to the
Manager’s Welcome Party. We discovered the water wasn’t working again, but
about ten minutes it was back on.

The Manager’s Party is held on Mondays at 5 pm on the walkway outside the
lobby. They serve hors d’oeuvres and drinks. A 3-man band plays Caribbean
music. After awhile Terrence Beach, the operations manager, gave a short
speech and introduced many members of the staff. We got to meet J&R of
Wisconsin, who we had exchanged, messages with before coming to Jamaica. We
also met several other guests who had read my posts on the message boards
and looked at my web site.

We made a stop after the party at the main bar. There we found D&B who are
also from Wisconsin And with whom we had exchanged several messages before
the trip. They had someplace to be shortly, so they left. Joe and I decided
to dine that night at the Veranda.

The Veranda is located across from Le Gourmet off the main lobby. It serves
continental and Caribbean food. It’s more upscale than the Calabash, but not
quite as fancy as Le Gourmet. Some of the tables have views of the ocean.
The food was great and beautifully presented. One of our favorite bar
staffers, Charmaine, was taking drink orders that night. It’s great to see
familiar faces. Joe and I both had steak and really enjoyed it..

We made a quick stop at the bar after dinner and grabbed rum cream to take
back to the room to put in our morning coffee. Then we did one of our
favorite things at Couple Ocho Rios, we sat on our balcony staring at the
sea and stars. This night we got to see a ship passing in the distance. You
do get to see many ships heading in and out of the harbor at Ocho Rios. The
port seems to get busier every year.

Day 7
After our busy day sight seeing, today was a day to hang out. We had
breakfast at the buffet. Joe enjoyed a fruit smoothie with his meal. There
are so many selections, it was hard to choose. This morning we each had
omelets made to order, as well as several side dishes.

We had scheduled ½ hour massages for 10 am. We were shown to the couples
massage room. Two masseuses came in and we each got a wonderful massage.
Afterwards, I felt like jelly. Then it was back to the room to shower off
all the oils.

Joe decided to hang out in the room for awhile to see some of the other
suites that weren’t occupied so I could take pictures for my web site. I got
to see an ocean view one bedroom suite and one of the villa suites with it’s
own private outdoor Jacuzzi.

Today we were going to go out to Tower Island. I had told Joe if he went on
the off site tour with me, I’d go to the island with him. I wasn’t
comfortable being nude in front of others, but a promise is a promise.

So late that afternoon we took the boat over to the island. We headed for
the quieter side and found 2 lounge chairs in the shade. Once settled in our
spot, we coated ourselves from head to toe in suntan lotion and I settled in
to read my book. A short time later Joe got thirsty and went to get us some
drinks at the bar. He was very much at home on the island. He even went back
over to the other side later on and spent some time in the pool.

About 4:45 everyone started getting dressed and heading back to the
mainland. Joe and I got dressed and waited for everyone else to leave. Then
I took out my camera and took photos of the island.  Since we were only on
the island for a short time, I owe Joe another trip out there on our next
visit.

Once back on the mainland we got ready for dinner. We had reservations at
the Bayside for 7:30. Before dinner we had arranged to meet Mcgyver, one of
the staff members. I had talked to him about how I store my photos during
our trip and he said he’s like to see my digital wallet (which is basically
a handheld hard drive I download my pictures to.) I showed it to him and we
talked for awhile.

The Bayside is our favorite restaurant at the resort. It’s so romantic
sitting over the water listening to the waves. On this night you got to fix
your own salad at the salad bar. As always, there were several choices of
main dishes and styles of pasta. The food and service were great.

After dinner we stopped briefly at the Patio. It was casino night. They had
a few card games and also some sort of roulette game. No real money is used.
We watched for awhile and then headed down to the beach for a romantic
stroll. Both the hammocks on the beach were already occupied, so we found a
lounger and relaxed for a time watching the ocean and sky.

Day 8
The next day was our last day in paradise. Joe woke up not feeling quite
right.  We decided that a light breakfast was in order.  After breakfast we
went out to the front lawn and relaxed in one of the basket swings for a
time. It was so peaceful there.

Joe headed back to the room and I wandered the resort.  Eventually I headed
down to the beach and found one an empty hammock. . I climbed in and enjoyed
reading while listening to the sound of the waves. I think I could have
stayed there forever, just relaxing and swaying in the breeze.
Joe came down from the room and wanted lunch. Back to the Patio buffet we
went. The rest of the afternoon was spent just hanging out. It was
Wednesday, again which meant it was beach party night as well as the
returning guests’ dinner.

I let the staff know we would come for cocktails but wanted to go to the
beach party to eat. This was our third visit after all, and we had yet to
eat the food at the beach buffet.
The cocktail party was nice as always. It’s interesting to hear where the
other returning guests come from and why they enjoy the resort as much as we
do. One couple was second generation returning guests. Their parents had
been coming to the resort and now they come there as well. We learned about
70% of the guests are American, 10 – 20% from the UK, 5% Canadian, and the
rest from other parts of the world. The majority of the resort’s business is
returning guests.

After cocktails we headed down to the beach party. We found an unoccupied
table near the front and sat down. The buffet lines where long so we decided
to wait. A couple from the UK came, M&N, and asked if the could join us. We
said of course. A short time later T&P walked by looking for a place to sit.
There were still two seats available and we asked them to join us as well.

We each took our turns going through the buffet line. There was so much food
it was hard to decide what to choose. There was no way you could try
everything. They had several beautiful ice sculptures on some of the serving
tables. One entire table was devoted to nothing but desserts. During dinner
they had a steel drum band playing. It was great entertainment and really
put everyone in a festive mood.

When most people where done eating, it was time for the beach party show to
start. This year the show included a variety of different dances from around
the world. Of course, this included the limbo. They also had two fire-eaters
to entertain us.

When the main part of the show ended, Joe and I decided we had better go
back to the room and pack. Alas, the real world was starting to creep back
in. Time to think about flights and being ready in the morning to catch our
shuttle to the airport.

Day 9
Our flight back to the states was around 2 pm.  We had in our room one last
time. We finished packing and put our bags outside our door. Grabbed the
beach towels to be returned to water sports (you get a certificate from them
showing you’ve returned them, which you turn in at the main desk when you
check out), then one last look around the room and we were off.

We dropped off the towels, then went around to say our good-byes to the
staff. We had to be in the lobby at 10:30 to catch the shuttle to the
Oracabessa (Ocho Rios) airport for a short flight to Montego Bay. The ride
to the airport takes about 15 minutes.

We checked our luggage and each of us was asked what we weighed. This year
the complimentary returning guests’ flight was on the new Air Link. We flew
on a small 6-person prop plane. Our pilot was Harold and he did a great job.
We got to see some great views, including Couples from the air. What I liked
about Air Link over Burl Air (we flew them last year) was they use their own
vans to not only pick you up at the resort but also to take you from the
domestic terminal at Montego Bay to the International one.

Well, that’s our tale of this year’s trip. Suffice it to say we are back to
reality. We cleaned up the flood at home and are back to the daily grind.
Our minds frequently drift back to the warm soothing breezes of Jamaica. We
can hardly wait to return to our “Couples Family”.

Yes, the resort may not be perfect, but it is after all the oldest,
all-inclusive in Jamaica. If you truly get into the spirit of the place and
relax, everything works out. Remember in Jamaica it’s “No Problem Mon”. So
go, relax and enjoy. Who knows, some of you may fall in love with the place
just as Joe and I have.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me lynn@garion.mnbsyr.com
www.garion.tzo.com/lynn/couple1.htm



- Jamaica: Grand Lido Braco
  • By: Jim & Juanita Rich
  • Date: Sat, 03 May 2003 13:02:38 -0400
Grand Lido Braco Report 5/2/03

A little over a year ago I wrote a very critical report about Jamaica, Air Jamaica and
Grand Lido Braco. We decided to give them another shot and are glad we did.

We booked 6 days 4/28-5/1) at Braco ROH through our travel agent of many years,
Jackie at Sprayberry Travel in Marietta, Ga.  (the decision was San Suici or Braco and we decided
after talking with Jackie to go back to Braco)  Glad we did! A good travel agent can
be a treasured asset.  Our Air Jamaica flight scheduled to leave
shortly after 830 am was 7 hours late leaving. (shot the day).
Seems there was some defective part  which had to be flown in from Boston.
Then Air Jamaica lost the part. (They could have flown another plane in
from Montego Bay in half the time).  Many unhappy people although the Air Jamaica
lady handing out the boarding passes did a super job trying to please folks.

Arrived at Braco late and literally got the last room...on the back of the property next
to the tool shed.  By then our spring was wound real tight so we decided on dinner.
Took over 2 hours to get served and get dinner.   End of the bad stuff, we decided
things had to get better and am glad to report they did.

Now the good part. We will forever be thankful to Mrs. Davis who promised to move us
first thing the next day to beach front....closer to where we wanted to be. A good night¹s
sleep and breakfast and things were looking up.  We stopped to make reservations for
the two private restaurants and found the attitude of the concierge was wonderful.
In fact the attitude of everyone we talked with from management on down was MUCH
improved over our last two visits. Service improved greatly from Sunday on.
Prime Rib in the market Sunday night was perfect.  Breakfast was always great.
Lunch in the clubhouse on the aunatural side was great every day. (Get the lambchops)
The drinks were just right. Beach was perfect, pool was clean and inviting. New chair
cushions around the pool were so thick and soft falling asleep was almost impossible.
Unfortunately the sauna was not working but that wasn¹t a major problem.
Laundry was done right on time.  Entertainment has not changed much from previous
years, but we don¹t go for the entertainment. (If you go to the Japanese resturant, try to
get Dwight as your chef...great personality and puts on quite a show.  
Braco has really worked on the attitude of it¹s people and it shows! Great job Super
Clubs!
Will we go back...YES!  Were we pleased...YES.  Would we recommend Braco?
YES!
Fortunately the economy has caused Air Jamaica to close its private VIP lounge.
That is good news. Got to the airport Thursday afternoon,  cleared customs easily
this time and headed for Margaritaville.
Being a Parrott Head this made waiting for the plane much more
enjoyable than our last visit.  On the flight back we experienced the best flight crew
we have ever had on Air Jamaica. Their helpfulness, attitude and professionalism
made the flight home that much more enjoyable.  Looking forward to next time!


- USVI: St.John
  • By: Rose Hanson
  • Date: Thu, 8 May 2003 08:33:25 -0700
St. John, USVI, January 2003  by Rose Hanson

My husband and I have been to the Caribbean numerous times, with the majority of those trips to Cozumel.  We have always loved the snorkeling Cozumel provided, so when we read about the snorkeling out of every bay on St. John, we knew we had to go there.

We started our week-long vacation on January 18 and stayed at Cinnamon Bay Campground.  We went with two other couples  also, their first visit.  We are avid campers in Minnesota, so we thought we could combine this love with our love of the Caribbean.  We opted for cottages at the campground, which we thought would provide a bit more room than tents and wouldn’t be as much work.  But the cottages were quite dirty, a lot of work, and infested with “no-see-ums”, but more on that later. 

We left Minneapolis at 6:00 a.m. and finally got to Cinnamon Bay Campground around 5:00 p.m. It was a long trip between plane, taxi, ferry and rental cars.  The last leg of the journey was by rental car to Cinnamon Bay.  We had read that the speed limit was only 20 mph, but didn’t imagine that the reason was because of “treacherous” switchbacks and roller coaster roads.  It took me a couple days to get used to the roads and four days before I was brave enough to drive.  After that, you couldn’t get me out from behind the steering wheel.

Snorkeling
A couple words of advice for the snorkeling trips. One of the most useful books we’ve found for snorkeling is a picture book of the different fish (book references at end).  Second, the best snorkeling is always out around the islands or farther away from shore.  We found that you have to have a high level of interest to see everything and to be a strong swimmer because you will be snorkeling for 2 3 hours at a time.  There is good snorkeling closer to shore, but not the canyons and bigger fish described below.

Our first snorkeling trip was at Cinnamon Bay.  It wasn’t very exciting until we got close to the island, Cinnamon Cay.  The far side of the island was the best snorkeling.  We didn’t see many big fish, but there was fabulous coral.  We saw a turtle and the usual blue tangs, yellow snapper, porcupine fish, houndfish, etc.  But someone else reported seeing a baby nurse shark.  The far side of Cinnamon Cay also had big coral heads and some small canyons that made it very interesting.

We went to Salt Pond on our second day.  The beach was a short 10-minute walk from the parking lot.  We started snorkeling out the middle of the bay, which was not very exciting.  Sandy bottom and not many fish.  Our next door neighbor’s son saw a baby octopus in this area the following day.  So a sandy bottom is not necessarily all bad.  In the bay, we started veering to the left where the shoreline had a big drop-off.  This was fun, but not many fish.  We then started toward the rock outcroppings (not the big island way out in the bay, but the two clusters of rocks sticking out of the water).  The farther of the two outcroppings was the best.  Huge canyons, brain coral and lots of structure that made you want to check out every inch of it.  We saw the biggest porcupine fish I’ve ever seen hanging out in one of the canyons.  Also saw something like a nurse shark.  It didn’t have the dorsal fins, but it was at least 6 ft long. 

After spending about an hour at this outcropping, we started heading back.  We checked out the next rock area.  It didn’t have the structure the other one did, but it was still great.  By this time, we had probably been in the water for 2-½ hrs, so we decided to head in for refreshments and rest up for the hike to Ram Head.

On Tuesday, we went to Waterlemon.  This beach was about a 20-minute walk from the parking lot at Annaberg.  Nice beach and great snorkeling around the island.  We started out from the middle of the beach and veered right.  There was some turtle grass covering until you got out past the shoreline.  Once we were close to the island, the bottom had more structure.  We saw two huge pompanos, quite a few stingrays, some blue tang, etc.  We circled the island counterclockwise and stopped to rest and discuss the adventure on a narrow strip of sand.  From there, we decided to go straight back in through the moored sailboats.  We were hoping to see some bigger fish hanging out by the boats, but only saw some squid.

On Wednesday, we went to Great Lameshur.  Actually, we were aiming for Little Lameshur, but ended up at Great Lameshur by mistake.  The road is great until you get to the parking lot for Salt Pond / Ram Head, then the pavement runs out.  But it’s still a pretty good road if you take it easy.  The road turns into a roller coaster at one point, but the road is cement and 4-wheel drive will get you there.

Entering the water from the beach is tough because of the coral and the snorkeling doesn’t start until after the dock on the right side.  Once past that point, there are huge rocks, beautiful coral and awesome structure.  We saw quite a few stingrays; the biggest one was about 4-½ ft. across.  We saw flounder, a school of about 100 blue tangs, a huge school of something like baby jacks  about 1,000 fish.  We were mesmerized by the size of this school, and then another school about the same size came swimming at us really fast.  We didn’t know what was happening until we saw the big barracuda following behind them.  We’ve seen quite a few barracuda and the big ones always make me nervous.

It was raining on Thursday morning, so we didn’t start out until 12:30.  We decided that Brown Bay was the trip for the day.  The trail took about 25 minutes from where we parked off the East End Road.  Snorkeling was ok.  A lot of turtle grass in the shallows, so it was interesting snorkeling around looking for smaller fish.  Along the right shoreline and out towards the point, there is more structure and more coral.  We say a big stingray, about 5-ft across, a bunch of squid, flying fish, some starfish and lots of conch.  We tried swimming out towards Sir Francis Drake Channel, hoping to see bigger fish, but no such luck.

After Brown Bay, we went into Coral Bay to see if we could find someone selling fresh fish.  It was about 4:30 and a fisherman was cleaning his catch on a fish stand at the edge of the water.  He was throwing the guts and remnants in the water to the tarpon and stingrays.  We got our snorkeling masks and got in the 2 - 3 foot water.  The tarpon were so big; their dorsal fins stuck way out of the water as they swam.  From the top, they looked like shark fins.  The exciting part for me was when a stingray swam right underneath me when I was in 2 ft of water.  It was somewhat scary, too, so I stood up and screamed.  I finally got a smile out of the fisherman.

On Friday, we decided to go to Little Lameshur, since we didn’t make it there on Wednesday.  We were in the water about 9:30 and were out for about 2 hours.  Little Lameshur was disappointing until we got out past Yayzi Point on the left.  Once out there, we encountered huge canyons, brain coral and lots of structure.  There’s a huge reef about 30 feet down that’s about 30 feet deep.  Therefore, you’re in about 60 feet of water.  We kept going out farther and farther, following the reef.  It was a great reef and I wanted to keep following it.  But we were getting out way too far so we turned back.  We saw a fairly big stingray, a bunch of turtles and a sanddiver.  I saw the biggest queen triggerfish I’ve ever seen.  This is one of my favorite fish  they’re so beautiful. 

Everybody’s snorkeling experience is different at each bay.  We’ve read lots of reports that differ greatly from ours.  I think it’s all a matter of luck as to what you see and when you see it.

Beaches
The beach at Cinnamon Bay was fabulous!  Super fine sand and a beach that extends on forever.  The only problem is there is limited shade unless you’re back by the tree line.

Salt Pond beach was horrible.  Very little sand and millions of little thistles.  We were pulling them out of our beach blanket all week.  And walking down to the water barefoot was not fun.

The beach at Waterlemon was great.  We had shade all day, was an easy hike and not many people.  It was very scenic and beautiful with the sailboats and islands in the distance.

The beaches at Great Lameshur and Little Lameshur were good, but I preferred Little because access to the water was much easier on the feet.  Plenty of shade available, plus there were picnic tables and an outhouse at Little Lameshur.

Brown Bay has a small beach with soft white sand.  The trees encroach on the beach so they provide shelter from the sun or rain.


Hikes
The Ram Head hike was great.  It took about 45 minutes from Salt Pond Beach.  It wasn’t very difficult, but it was hot. We took a break on the beach with the rock art.  The views were fabulous from the top.  It was really windy and I was reluctant to get too close to the edge.  Gene, Mike and Doug had no qualms about standing right on the cliff edge.  There were huge crevasses in the cliffside, the cacti were in bloom and the view was breathtaking.  Mike found a custom made rock-chair in the cliff facing south at the very end of Ram Head, sat down and played his guitar.  Mike brought his guitar everywhere, even snorkeling.  He had a waterproof bag that worked great.  He would sit out on an outcropping or climb a point and play his guitar until he was ready to snorkel or hike some more.  This hike was definitely one of the highlights of the week!

The hike to Brown Bay was about ¾ mile and was supposed to take about 45 minutes.  It took us 25 minutes and was fairly easy.  Mike was playing his guitar and singing on the hike back. 

Yahzi Point Trail was very easy.  It was supposed to take 20 minutes each way from the beach at Little Lameshur, but only took 10 minutes.  There were huge cacti about 10 feet tall along the trail.


Restaurants
We ate breakfast at the restaurant at Cinnamon Bay Campground one morning.  Most of the food is prepared ahead of time and sits in warming pans.  The food was as expected.  Not great, but it filled the void.  Coffee was good, but you’re limited to two small cups. 

P & B Café in Coral Bay has a great breakfast.  I had stuffed french toast that could have fed at least two people.  Great coffee and great service.

Shipwreck Landing in Coral Bay had great fish & ships.  The fish was Mahi Mahi and hand breaded.  We also had grouper, which was good, too.

We had mango daiquiris at the bar at the Bordeaux Mt. Restaurant.  The drinks were almost as great as the view.  The view looked down on Coral Bay, the East End and some islands in the distant.  Absolutely fabulous.  We went back again and again for those drinks and the view.  Service at the bar outside was fabulous, too.

Probably our favorite meal was at the Fish Trap in Cruz Bay.  Reasonably priced for the quality of food.  It was my husband’s birthday so this was a great restaurant for the occasion.  There were six of us and with tip, the bill was still under $200.00.  We had shrimp, scallops and a new fish for me, escular (sp?), which was wonderful!

We also had breakfast at Chilly Billy’s in Cruz Bay.  Really good food, great service and the coffee was bottomless and tasted fantastic.  The waitress told me it was Caribbean Gold and that we could buy it at the market.  I looked for it but didn’t find it.  I’ve also been looking for it on the Internet and can’t find it.  It must have a different name.  I would LOVE to find out where I can buy some of that coffee!

We had hamburgers at Skinny Legs in Coral Bay.  Good food and the guys got to play horseshoes.  The place was packed, but we got served pretty quickly.

We had drinks at Duffy’s Love Shack. We ordered extravagant drinks in glasses you could keep.  I kept my glass, which is a large parrot, and planted a cactus in it.  I guess that makes up for the cost of the drink.

We also had breakfast from one of the walk-up food vendors right by the ferry pier, but I don’t recall the name.  It had wonderful coffee, muffins, breakfast sandwiches, etc.  The service was great, too.

As you can tell, we were quite busy during our short stay on St. John.  To ensure that we could see as many beaches as possible, we rented two vehicles.  The best deal we found was from www.book-it.com.  We rented a Grand Vitari, which was $390.00 a week and a smaller Vitari, which was $330/wk.  We read stories from people that had visited St. John where they said you didn’t need to rent a vehicle.  One could see everything by using taxis or by bus.  Since this was our first trip, we decided we wanted to rent vehicles so that we could leave whenever we wanted instead of being stuck to a schedule.  The taxis like to wait around to load up with people before departing.  The people at Book-it.com were very relaxed and great to work with.  They were not worried about the different dings or scratches on the vehicles when we picked them up.  A big plus was using their parking lot when we were in Cruz Bay.  Parking is very limited in town, so this saved a lot of headaches.

Anyway, we were happy we had the vehicles to explore the whole island.  Driving the roads on St. John was one of the best experiences for most of us.  Kathy and Jody would have preferred going about 5 mph and definitely staying away from the East End road.  That road was the highlight for the guys.

Almost everything about the island was a favorable experience, except for our stay at Cinnamon Bay Campground. Check-in at the Campground was horrible. The front desk clerk was extremely rude to us when we found out that they did not have the cottages available that we had reserved.  You would have thought it would be the other way around.  But after talking to other people during our stay, we found out that this type of treatment was typical.  Also, we figured out that the staff would tell you anything you wanted to hear when you called to inquire about availability or make reservations.

The cottages themselves were far from acceptable.  One cottage had gutters, the other one didn’t.  But the cottage that had gutters hadn’t been cleaned in awhile, so when it rained, the water just poured over the side onto you and everything beneath it.  Also the beds were infested with sand fleas.  We had heard many stories about the “no-see-ums” on the island.  Every morning, Gene, Kathy & Jody would wake up with more bites on their legs, arms, etc.  We thought it was because we would sit outside the cottage at night and were getting attacked then.  It wasn’t until late in the week that Gene figured out that all four beds in each of the cottages were infested with sand fleas.  Gene was covered with huge infected welts by the time we went home.  Besides the rude front desk staff, the contaminated beds are another reason why we will never stay at Cinnamon Bay Campground again.

The weather was very hot and humid.  It rained a few days, so that brought out the bugs. We brought along 100% Deet bug spray, but that didn’t seem to work for Gene. Next time we go to St. John, we’ll rent a house and go in late February or March.  That way, the weather will be drier and the no-see-ums won’t be as numerous.

Recommendations
There are a couple books that we would highly recommend and one book that we bought, but quickly sold because it didn’t provide any helpful information.

Good books:
Ø       St John Feet, Fins & Four-Wheel Drive by Pam Gaffin
Ø       Snorkeling Guide to Marine Life by Paul Humann & Ned Deloach
Ø       St. John Off the Beaten Track by Gerald Singer

Other books:
Ø       The Best of St. Thomas and St. John by Pamela Acheson: this book was primarily about St. Thomas and the section about St. John was not very informative.

A few other recommendations:
Ø       We had a private taxi pick us up at the airport in St. Thomas and take us to the Red Hook ferry.  We arranged this through Book-it.com.  The cost was $12.00/pp and definitely worth it.  We didn’t have to stop at every hotel along the way, which you do with the shuttles.  The only stop we made was at the store to buy beer and rum.  The driver, Elvis, was great.  We would highly recommend this route for any large groups of 6 or more.
Ø       We brought our main food entrees, like steak & scallops, with us and then bought fresh fruit and vegetables at the Starfish Market in Cruz Bay. 
Ø       We brought cans of concentrated fruit juice to mix with the Cruzan Rum.  The cans of juice did not have to be refrigerated and worked out great.  Juice is very expensive on St. John.
Ø       We bought rum at the liquor store in Cruz Bay, called the Warehouse Liquor Store.  But we bought the beer at Starfish Market because it was cheaper there.  Actually, the prices at the Market were pretty comparable to our prices at home.  But rum was a lot cheaper.  Plus, there are so many varieties: Mango Rum, Orange Rum, Pineapple, etc.  My personal favorite was Mango Rum.
Ø       A small backpack is very convenient for hiking.
Ø       Fuji makes a great disposable underwater camera.  We like Fuji much better than Kodak.
Ø       Bring a hat with a brim.  We ordered our hats from www.ultimate.com.  Somewhat expensive, but very lightweight, crush-resistant and fashionable.
Ø       USVI National Park has a tear-resistant, waterproof topographical map that details all the trails, beaches, roads, etc.  Absolutely a necessity if you’re going to explore the island.  We ordered ours online for $9.95.  Multiple places sell them, one of which is http://shop.store.yahoo.com/caribmart/usnatpar.html.
Ø       The people are wonderful, very friendly and really fun to talk to.  They consider a visitor to be very rude if you do not exchange pleasantries with them before transacting your business.  Also, be sure to refer to people as a “lady” or a “gentleman”.  To call someone a “woman” is considered an insult.

St. John is an incredible island.  It’s a bit of a hassle to get to, but that just means we’ll have to stay longer next time.  My husband and I can’t wait to go back.  We will definitely stay in a house or condo and we’ll go for at least two weeks.  I know we’ll rent a vehicle again and try to make it to some of the beaches we didn’t get a chance to visit this time.  We would also like to spend more time in both Cruz Bay and Coral Bay.  Plus, visit the BVI on a day trip, rent a boat to cruise around St. John, and maybe try a little charter fishing.  Maybe two weeks still won’t be enough time!


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