Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Trip 3/99 Left Detroit on Sun Country Air and had no problems. We arrived in Aruba on time and got a cab to Caribbean Palm Village. This is our second trip to Aruba. We rented a timeshare there for one week at the Caribbean Palm Village. The CPV is very nice but it is not on or close to the beach. It is about a mile away and is located at Noord. There are two pools and two Jacuzzis. There is also a bar and outdoor restaurant there called Coco- Loco's. We ate there on Saturday night and the food was good. The timeshare was a one bedroom with a sleeper sofa that made into a bed. There were two baths, a very small kitchen that was adequate, and a nice porch that faced the street on the other side of the complex. We spent a lot of time watching traffic and the local people which we found to be interesting. On Sunday, we got up and went to the beach and spent the day kicked back and enjoying the sun. Sunday night we went to the Flame to eat. Very good food there. We usually ate breakfast in and sometimes went out for lunch or ate in. We ate dinner out. Monday we rented a car (Thrifty, and not the best) and drove out to the lighthouse and had lunch at the lighthouse restaurant. The food was great but we just had sandwiches. Other people ordered other things that looked delicious also. After lunch, we went to the beach at the Manchebo and spent the afternoon on the beach. The Manchebo is really nice and the CPV has an agreement with them so we could get beach lounges etc while we were there. Tuesday was "shopping" day and we spent the day downtown browsing and had lunch at Iguanna Joes. Wow, what a good place to eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. Tuesday night we went to Boonoonooonooon's for another meal that couldn't be beat. Also, we went to the Bon Bini Festival at the fort. Not knowing what to expect, we really enjoyed ourselves. We recommend that as a great thing to do to aquaint you with Aruba. Wednesday we went to the beach at Manchebo again and had another great day in the sun. Wednesday night we went to Gasperito's and had another meal that was unbelievable. What a treat! Thursday, it was back to the beach. We stopped in at the Pirates Nest and had a cold drink and found out that the restaurant manager there is from Ohio also, so we had a nice chat. Even knew some of the same people!! Thursday afternoon, DISASTER - The power went off on almost the whole island for three hours where we were. And we had reservations at the Flying Fishbone for six o'clock. Well, we went out there and they were in the process of making alternate food plans when the electricity came back on. We then were taken to our table - on the beach - and had a wonderful meal as we watched the sun set over the Caribbean. We really enjoyed ourselves. Friday we went to the beach till after lunch, stopped at Subway and had a sandwich, and then went downtown to finish the last bit of shopping that had to be done. Friday night we went to the LaPetite for dinner. Here, the food is cooked on a stone. Another mouth watering experience. Delicious! Saturday - "go home day" and you can believe we were in no way ready to leave here!! We packed, checked out, said good-bye to the friends we had made there and went back downtown. We HAD to make one more stop at Iquanna Joes for eats and drinks. Yum! We then went to the airport, dropped off the car, and sat around while the Aruban customs agents had a two hour strike... Oh well, we just kicked back up in the air conditioned restaurant and had a couple cold ones and waited till they got back... No Problem! The rest of the trip home was uneventful. Our first trip to Aruba was to the Tamarijn in March of 1997... It was all inclusive and we really enjoyed it. I am adding this on to our trip report because I think it is an important addition. At the Tam, we paid one price for all inclusive... At the CPV, we had to eat all of our meals out basically. We basically decided there is no difference in which one you choose. The restaurants are a little more expensive in Aruba, but that has to be expected due to shipping, and its a resort island. There was no way we could eat at all of the restaurants we wanted to go to - only if we were there a month or more... We NEVER had a bad meal. All were fantastic. We would have liked to have gotten to the Canucu House, Driftwood, Twinklebones, Buccaneer,French Steakhouse, El Gaucho, and some others I cant think of at this time. All good places to eat according to the people we talked to. There was also Valentinos at the CPV, but we did not eat there either. We decided to check out all of the resorts we could and see if we could find one that we would want to come back to and stay at the next trip. We walked most of the way from the Bushiri around to the Marriott. We did not see any resort we would not want to stay at. They are all great and anyone looking for any thing should be able to find a resort on Aruba that meets their tastes and needs. One of the required things for me at a resort is to be near the beach and water. Although the High rises are really nice, I prefer the low rise because they are closer to the water. In the end, we decided on either going back to the Tamarijn or to the Divi and stay in one of the Casita's.... However, this creates a problem for us because of them being all inclusive. We found that we really enjoyed eating at the different restaurants and enjoying the fine Aruban food... So, we will probably stay where we want and go out to eat a "couple" of nights and pay the extra. After all, we ARE on vacation, aren't we..... We feel it is worth it. The next thing is in choosing a resort to stay at. I have been following the Aruba B/B and the Visit Aruba B/B for a long time now and everyone keeps asking for a recommendation of which resort is best. I would like to comment on that. There is no BEST resort in Aruba. You have to decide what you want in a resort, research it, and figure out which resort best suits YOUR needs. Of course you have to ask questions, but no one on the B/B knows your real needs or desires. If you want a recommendation, put all of your requirements, desires, wants and wishes on the B/B and then people that have been there can suggest to you which resorts may best meet your needs and/or desires. I hope this helps everyone that may be trying to decide where they may want to stay, as it is hard to know when you have not been there before. We have been on organized tours and have gone by ourselves. If you are afraid to venture out on your own, or are skeptical about it, the tours would probably be for you. If you are not afraid, then you may want to go it on your own. You can not get lost in Aruba. Just follow the Divi trees wind swept branches back to the hotel area... Again, if you are skeptical of driving in another country and out in the back country, maybe the tours are the way to go instead of renting a "peej" and going it alone.. We rented a peej and had a riot driving all over and seeing what we wanted to see. This is another one of those decisions you will have to make. It is easy to drive in Aruba. It is like in the U.S. Maybe you could tour the back country and rent a car for the hotel/downtown driving needs. I think it is handy to have a vehicle so I can come and go as I please and see what I want to see. So, here it is, a trip report written from the perspective and desires that I consider important, along with a few tips that I thought people might be interested in. We hope that it helps you decide how you may want to plan your vacation. And finally, where ever you decide to stay on your vacation in Aruba, you will enjoy yourself amoungst a very safe, friendly island with the most friendly people I have met. So go, enjoy yourself, and look around and decide where you would like to stay the next time you visit Aruba... Because you will want to return to this beautiful island!!!!!
Trip 4/99 Between March 26 and April 6, 1999, my wife and I (both around 50 years old) stayed at the Allegro Caribbean Village Fiesta (7 days) and the Hotel Villas Lapas (7 days) in Costa Rica. It is our opinion that you receive good value for your money at both resorts. The Villas Lapas is situated on the edge of the rainforest and is a small quiet resort. For those people looking for a quiet vacation or are interested in nature, especially birds, the resort is ideal. There are 46 rooms (some are small cottages) and a small swimming pool. There is one TV in a common room and a phone at the front desk. Although there were some children there, the lack of activities for children would result in them getting bored very quickly. The meals are very good. The only bar opens at 10 AM and closes at 10 PM. You can get snacks (French fries etc.) during the day through the bar. An afternoon tea (coffee with liquors is also available) with sweets is served around 4. The staff is very friendly and willing to assist in anyway they can. You can take various tours, at an additional cost. We went on the Canopy Tour and had a great time. We also visited the Carara Biological Reserve where we saw two Scarlet Macaws and a whole assortment or birds and plants. The Caribbean Village Fiesta is located south of Puntarenas. The resort is the opposite of the Villas Lapas. Here you have several pools, children's activities and various watersports and classes (Spanish, dancing etc.) for the adults. Nobody places any pressure on you to do anything the choice is yours. There is always a bar or restaurant open to get food and drinks. There is even a juice bar where they will combine whatever fruits you like into a cold drink. We found the variety and selection of food to be very good. They have two restaurants on site. An Italian and Seafood. Both require reservations. To reserve you must be at the main bar at 8 AM. The availability of seats goes quickly. Both restaurants would rival any 4-5 star eateries with respect to service, quality of food and presentation. The main buffet style restaurant has numerous "stations" where you can get the daily offering of beef, pork, chicken, fish, pasta as well as local cuisine. Usually the final cooking of the food is done in front of you and often done the way you like it. The rooms are large and clean. All of the staff are friendly and willing to help. The shows at night are very good and they even have a children's show that starts at 8pm. There is a disco and casino neither of which we went to. The unique black sand beach can get very hot during the day so be careful. The resort encourages you, for your own safety, to stay within the boundaries of property but we walked on the beach for a considerable amount of time and had no problems at all. Like any place, it is not wise to be wear a lot of jewelry or flash your money. The swimming in the ocean is OK but most people kept to the swimming pools. There are several kayaks and other watercraft available for your use. To me the downside was that there was no snorkeling. Again several tours are offered at an additional cost. We went on the Tortuga Island trip and had a great time. Other people we talked to went to Volcano and enjoyed it while some found the trip to Manuel Antonio National Park, while good, was a long way to go for a day. Both the Caribbean Village Fiesta and the Villas Lapas are Allegro Resorts properties. They are both well managed and offer good value for your money and we look forward to visiting other resorts within their chain On a scale of 1-10 we would rate the hotels at 8.5.
Trip 4/99 Returned a couple weeks ago from a wonderful trip to Costa Rica. We were a group of 15 ,( 8 adults , 4 16 &17 year old girls and 3 14 year old boys) all friends. We booked our own flight through Travel Charter on ATA, which was the only downside of the trip. We transferred to 3 different planes before finally taking off after an 8 hour delay. Which basically killed one day of the trip. Obviously safety is paramount when flying but the lack of courtesy , communication and small perks to make the delay palatable was very irritating. Plus at a cost of $600 a person you would hope to get a little consideration. . Enough bitchin’. On the upside the tour group we booked through was fantastic. Their name is Serendipity Adventures, based in Ann Arbor, Mi. and Costa Rica. They have a web site, serendipityadventures.com . Serendipity focuses on active vacations but they’re very flexible. We had a group meeting initially to plan this trip and each person ranked the kind of things they wanted to see and do, I sent Serendipity my initial thoughts on what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go in Costa Rica and they came back with a very reasonably priced tour which was doable in a weeks time. Getting around Costa Rica is slow going, roads are twisty, can be steep and not a lot of guard rails. They can also get badly potholed, so going from place to place is a major consideration. We were picked up at the new Liberia airport in a ½ sized bus, which we had for the whole week. Our driver Jorge was a great guy. Alex Fernandez was our guide and stayed with us for the first 5 days. Alex was very personable, lots of fun and well organized. He grew up in both the U.S. and Costa Rica so he’s bilingual , knowledgeable about the country and a real hard worker. The first night we drove to Cabanis de Montana near Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano. Real nice accommodations in a beautiful setting close to Tabacon Springs. Got up at 5:30 am and went on hike to the Volcano. As usual the top of Arenal was covered in clouds, we never did see the peak. Went to breakfast then half our group went for a kayak with a naturalist, Roger, and half went horse back riding with Alex. Saw howler monkeys, iguanas and Jesus Christ Lizards and a poison dart frog. Visited a remote homestead, pretty primitive but had coffee and dessert there, quite interesting. That night we went to Tabacon Springs to relax and have dinner. The hot springs are wonderful they’re broken into various areas and pools, and we gravitated to the pool with the swimup bar. Purda Vida. The next day we were up early to a great breakfast and then my turn to horseback ride. Well never having horseback ridden before this was about as much as I could handle, these horses liked to run. I guess I never appreciated what it’s like to be on a horse at full gallop. We rode out for an hour , stopped in the jungle climbed a strangler fig and then repelled down the 40 ft or so. Then rode back, I had a welt/blister on each cheek that is still healing, but I’m glad I did it, and it was quite a sight to see these late 40’s plus women repelling down this tree. That afternoon we left for Turrialba, it was a 5 hour drive and we ended up staying at the Turrialba Mountain Resort ? up in the mountains overlooking the town. Great view nice dinner and breakfast, walls were paper thin but led to a good laugh talking to our friends in the next room as we lay in bed getting to sleep. The next morning we went to Miner Gomacho’s snake Farm. What a treat, poisonous snakes, red eyed frog and boa constrictors. Very educational and interesting. Then off to the Pacure River to White Water Raft and spend a night in the rainforest. Rafting was fun, not too difficult, water was low but the scenery was great. They had 5 rafts , 3 for us and 2 for provisions and 2 kayaks for safety. The guides were at lot of fun. Stopped at a falls to waterslide. The camp was great , platform tents and a kinda of raised palapa with tables and barbecue for a dining area.. Great appetizers, beer , wine and barbecue chicken and beef. Weather was a pleasant surprise, warm not hot or humid and no bugs. Our friends John and Mary opted to sleep on an overturned raft on the riverbank instead of tents. Rafted the next day for 4 more hours then pulled out and had lunch. After lunch drove a few hours through San Jose to a hotel ‘The Chantel’ west of there to say goodbye to Alex and spend the night before going to Samara on the pacific coast to relax and sun. The place was ok but dinner service was very slow. It was about 4 hours to Samara, including a ferry trip, the roads were ok for the most part with a ½ hour stretch that was real bad. The last 2 days we were on our own more or less , still had the bus. We had to pay for our meals but the hotel was covered. We stayed at the Brisas del Pacifico. Nice place, great food, margaritas and view. Lots of howler monkeys there and good surf. The town is a 10 min walk up the beach and very small. Some rented horses to ride on the beach, I declined however, bad case of baboon butt. John and Kirk went diving with Carlos, saw a manta ray but the visibility wasn't good and a lot of tidal surges. We were all very happy campers and I believe most of it had to do with the wonderful job Alex did organizing the trip and guiding us. We all think we’d like to go back again if time and money permit. Purda vida As a footnote, Travel Charter did call a few weeks later and say they were giving a $150 voucher to everyone on the flight. They did this without any contact from us, which I give them credit for. So I'd like to give them acknowledgement for this in the article.
Trip 4/99 We traveled to Curacao from Boston during school vacation week Apr. 17-24, 1999. There were 3 adults and 2 teenage girls in our group. Getting there: We chartered from Boston with GWV. Direct flight that stopped in Bonaire to let people off. The return was nonstop. Easy checkin except you had to be at the airport at 5am for a 7am flight. The airport in Curacao was easy to get through. We rented a car (Toyota) from Hertz ($300 for the week). Since we were staying in a timeshare condo we needed groceries. Had been advised to shop at the large supermarket near the airport (a wise decision). Stores are generally closed on Sun. The ride to the resort was 45 min. The resort: Stayed at Kadushi Cliffs resort in Westpunt. The far western end of the island. The resort is well maintained and one of the loveliest sites imaginable. High on cliffs above the water. You could hear the crashing surf against the rocks from your unit. The units are duplexes with 2 bedrooms up and living room, dining room, kitchen down. 2 full bathrooms. Jacuzzi in master bedroom. A porch (lanai) off the master bedroom overlooked the beach and water. You could hear the waves and wind rustling in the palm trees. The resort staff was very helpful. Check in was easy. The beach (Playa Kalki one of Curacao's best) was right there. The pool (fresh water) was large and never crowded. Weather: the days were monotonous warm (high 80's), sunny, and windy. There were small ants (if you left anything out). We generally kept the doors and windows open to get the breezes. We slept with AC (only the bedrooms have it) to keep the night bugs out. Activities: Snorkeling and diving are excellent. Curacao has small coves with small beaches. You can generally walk out to dive or snorkel. No need for a boat. There is often coral at the wave line so water socks are helpful to save your feet. There was a dive shop at our beach to rent equipment and take diving lessons.(PADI). The water was warm and full of fish and coral. Other things to see: The Hato Caves near the airport are interesting. Short guided tour for about $5. The SeaAquarium on the other side of Punda is wonderful and well worth a visit. We have a good Aquarium in Boston and this was equal or better. Lots of interactive areas. Boac Tabla near Westpunt is worth a visit too. It's a park on the windward side with waves crashing onto the rocks (coral) and small caves. Land Huizen (old land houses) are scattered all over the island. We didn't visit any however they looked interesting. Town: Otrabunda and Punda are the main central area of interest. Separated by a swinging floating bridge. Good shopping and sights. Casinos. The cruise ships dock there. Many restaurants. The Miklev synagogue is worth a visit. Restaurants: We are used to excellent restaurants in Boston so were a bit disappointed. Most were over priced. The best far a n away was Fort Nassau. It's in an old fort high atop a hill overlooking Willemstadt. Great views and sunset. Gourmet food elegantly served. Go early and watch sunset. Make reservations. This was the only place we "dressed up" (wore long pants not shorts) for. Other restaurants we tried were the Pirates Restaurant (ok), the Cactus Club near the Aquarium (like Chilis) in town. In Westpunt we ate at the Cliff House (at our resort) --a great view and setting but only have food. (I did try the goat stew which was good). The most fun place (we went twice) was Jaanchi's in Westpunt. Jaanchi is quite a character. The menu is in his head which he gives with editorial comments (he always recommends the fresh fish). He has iguana on the menu (we didn't try it) "tastes like chicken". The island is fun to tour around but distances are great (an hour to get from one side to another). It's mainly desert with cacti etc. Driving was easy unlike other Caribbean islands. The main roads were well labeled but the side roads weren't. We frequently got lost but what the heck it's vacation time. The people are friendly. They speak papiemento but most also speak English. We felt save everywhere. Dollars are taken everywhere. You need not exchange for Dutch Antillean Guilers. All in all, Curacao is nice place. Other islands have more to offer for less money and hassle. It is also a long trip to get there (our nonstop flight was 5 hrs). The main reason to go is to snorkel/dive. With those reservations I highly recommend it.
Trip 4/99 We are back from a one week stay at the Flamenco (our stay in near heaven). We took the all inclusive pkg. with Sunquest that allowed us 4 sit down meals in the various restaurants around the resort. Be sure to pack your appetite. I was amazed at what was available (although fresh citrus drinks are limited -- more of a mix), the meals were great (and this is coming from a picky eater!). The service was exceptional and we did tip our waiter at the rooftop pizza restaurant. He happened to spot us on the resort a few days later as we waited to enter the grillhouse restaurant and made a point of coming over to thank us and ask us how we were enjoying our stay (in his best broken English). The resort is a series of low rise buildings. We were in building #3 (near the main building and restaurants). Friends of ours were in #10 (adjacent to the main pool and evening stage area).Towards the back of the property is a series of trees and walkway to the beach/disco. NOTE: rooms are ready only after 3 pm. We were stuck in our "polar" gear until the room was ready and we could change (yes, a sign of a Canadian traveler). I would suggest taking shorts/bathing suit etc. in a carry bag and changing in a washroom upon arrival. Also, should you wish a fresh set of room towels when your room is done up in the morning, they will be brought to your room after 3:30 in the afternoon. We didn't know this one day and had already handed in our beach towels and were caught with just one towel for our shower. The beach is clean and well maintained. It is wide and the water is very warm and sheltered -- due to a coral reef about 200 yrds out. After one rainy and stormy day they had a tractor and crew out raking the beach. The waterfront was usable within an hour or two. The same could not be said for other resorts in the area. We did go for long walks and noted The Paradise has a sewage pipe draining into the ocean in front of it! Let's just say high noon and blue air take on a whole new meaning. We hired a taxi to go with another couple to Sosua beach and flea market. You will need to rent beach chairs. The locals are inventive in trying to make money and you will probably have a youngster offer to wash the sand off of your feet and legs once you're out of the ocean. One thing that we were not told is that the week leading into Easter is a religious holiday and tours and waterfront activities shut down. Although the hotel has a "fun club" and still offered a number of activities but not the waterfront ones. We were already weeping having to go back to the airport had we been treated to these we probably would have done just about anything to stay indefinitely.
Trip April 1-7, 1999 Trip to Montego Bay We took an American flight from Houston Intercontinental to Sangster, Montego Bay. This connects through Miami and isn't pleasant. We got out of bed about 3:20 a.m. to get ready for our 6:45 flight. We had an easy time getting out of the house and stopped at Whataburger for breakfast tacos at 4:45. The flight boarded at 6:15. We were there by 5:15, and the line went quickly. We had parked at the city lot and noticed the bus ride was longer and a bit different. Evidently, Continental bought out American's area of the airport and built American a new area in terminal A. We had breakfast bar (saved ours for a rainy day), tiny banana, and yogurt (threw away). The "Bistro Bag" breakfast also had orange juice in it. We got an exit row and got to Miami on time. In Miami, I scrambled to get Todd some sunshade clipons for his glasses at Sunglass Hut, since he had forgotten his sunglasses. Air Jam was having its 30-year celebration. Quite loud and jammin'. We got on our plane on time and got to Jamaica at 12:15, 20 minutes early. Several other flights came late, so we waited 40 minutes in customs. We got to the Sandals desk and got on a bus in about a second. However, we waited 20 minutes for the bus to leave. Two feet past GL Braco, we made a stop. That stop was 30 minutes long since the bus driver mysteriously disappeared, the way they usually do there. We were forced to look around and saw some very unusual (obscene) woodcarvings. Bus time was over two hours; we left the airport at 1:30 and got to Dunns River at 3:37. The bus driver's name was Hugh. He was one of the slowest drivers ever. He gave a tour, though. Why can't they be slow on the way back, instead of the way to the resort? At our check-in, we were offered champagne, a cold towel and told to fill out our paperwork. This was a change from last year when we were not offered anything. We were sent to the room without our bags. I got us some food from the beach grill while Todd waited for the bags to come up. I had faxed ahead for a room upgrade stating this was our 7th Sandals stay and our 6th anniversary, but we were upgraded based on the travel agent's entry of this info, as we later found out the resort ignored our fax. We were upgraded from Deluxe to Grande Luxe Oceanview (4 categories) and placed on the 5th floor of the Florence wing in room 2514, although we got no paperwork stating this was an upgrade. We had a nice view. The Room We were in room 2514 in the Florence Block. The room is set up such that you can see out the window (which can open) from the sitting area, the bed, or the balcony. The balcony had two chairs and table and a rack for drying suits. There were no lounge chairs. The balcony provided a nice view, but it was meant for standing, as a sitting position provided a view through the wooden railing. We had a view of the pool with the waterfall, the beach, the swim-up pool, the beach grill and all the room wings. The two-story buildings (Rialto) look the quaintest and are the most secluded. They are also the newest. The rooms inside are exactly like the Grand Luxe Oceanview, however. The Rialto area has beautiful gardens that have improved since last year. The gardens all over have improved, and I noted the head gardener was the same as last year and is obviously an asset. Our room had a large bed, two chairs, a bench at the end of the bed, a desk, a dressing table, a nightstand, a hair dryer above the dressing table, a TV with satellite channels, air-conditioning (manual) a coffee pot with tea or coffee, and a good-sized area for clothing. I think there were around 20 hangers provided. Irons and boards could be ordered from housekeeping. The hot and cold water were fine, but the bathtub was tiny and would not hold water. I like baths and attempted a few, but I had to have a washcloth shoved on top of the drain plug to even partially hold the water. The Property Like last year, the place was bustling with activity. The Genoa and Florence wing give an ocean view. The Rialto wing, the rooms in the two-story buildings are conveniently located to amenities. This is the honeymoon room area. The resort has 7 bars, but they are never all open. There is the tree bar, open in the evening. There are two swim-up bars, one at each pool, and they both have a walk-up side. The bars around the property do not all operate at the same time. The hours are: beach bar 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Windies bar (outside restaurant) 12:30-2:30 p.m. and 6:30-10:30 p.m., tree bar (behind the lobby) 5 p.m.-1:a.m., swim up pool and piano bar 11 a.m.-3 a.m. ,(or whenever after 11 a.m.), swim up main pool bar-10 a.m.-5 p.m. disco 10 p.m.-3 a.m., Kimonos bar (restaurant) 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Beach towels policy has changed. Cafe Ameretto was an area on the sidewalk that used to have tea and coffee in the mornings and continental breakfast on Sunday. Those things are now between the treebar and the lobby by the Internationale. The orientation, general manager's party, and various other activities are held at Cafe Ameretto. The Florence wing on the ocean side had the best views, with garden views opposite. The Genoa wing had a side view of the ocean. The 2 story wings (Rialto) had some ocean view, depending on location but were certainly the most convenient to land and some of the amenities. The upper floors of these rooms had a balcony, but it was a walk-up to the rooms and was shared. No chairs were on it, but guests could stand and look out. The downstairs rooms had tables and chairs on the patios, but the slat-style partitions between them may have blocked most of the ocean view. If you want quiet, you will most likely hang out at the pool and bar near these rooms. Another quiet option is the garden side of the Florence wing. These rooms are across the hall from the oceanview rooms. Both Genoa and Florence have elevators that can be slow at times. Concierge rooms and suites are in the Genoa wing. There is a new room category called honeymoon concierge room in Genoa wing. The resort is elongated and boasts a very large main pool with a waterfall and gazebo. Another pool is the piano bar pool. Both pools have a hot tub. The signs at both hot tubs reads "temperature 103 degrees", but neither was ever that warm. The one by the main pool was always 96 degrees F. The one by the piano bar pool was always 100 degrees F. The one in the spa was always 104 degrees F and had siblings of hot and cold plunge pools. On the property, there is quite a lot of exercise equipment, horseshoe, lawn checkers, lawn chess, shuffleboard, 9-hole pitch & putt course which does get used a lot. There are also darts and two ping pong tables. There is beach volleyball going on quite often. The tennis courts are at the east end of the property and looked quite nice. The basketball court is near the beach piano bar. There were games most days. There was always a handful of people at the gym. There was hot or cold plunge pool and wet and dry saunas but the wet ones never worked, which was a huge disappointment. There is now a whirlpool at the spa, under cover. Occasionally, it was necessary to bring your own towel. There were restrooms there and a water fountain (not always working). The gym instructor, Uriel, is an older guy that is very fit and enthusiastic. He will ensure that you do all of the exercises with the proper form. The gym is open-air, and the equipment is all new. The lobby has been painted and upgraded in looks a bit. It made quite a difference. This was a very lovely and welcome improvement. This property is bustling, no matter where you are. Lots of games go on around the main pool starting around noon until sometime between 3 and 5 p.m. More people arrived every day. There was an age mix from about 20 to in the 70s with a significant number of guests being over 50. Over the holiday weekend there were quite a few Jamaicans at the resort. After the holiday, the age mix moved to 30s to 60s. This property is what I would classify as active, rather than elegant. There are activities from 7 a.m. until the wee hours, and ALL are attended. Unlike the typical couples' resort, this place doesn't die at 10. Even the Jacuzzis were full by 7 a.m. There are many interesting trees and plants on the property. These have grown up nicely since last year. The grounds were improved and housed so many beautiful and impressive things. Towels A token is given at check-in. Every day, you can exchange towels from 7-7 at the towel hut. At the end of your stay, you must turn the towels in and get the card to present at checkout. Breakfast-Windies becomes the Terrace during the day. Service is available here from 7:30-10:00. Breakfast consisted of pancakes, French toast (thick), omelets or eggs to order, bacon, Jamaican don't touch me sausage, some form of potatoes, variety different every day, scrambled eggs, a couple of Jamaican dishes, fruit, yogurt, cereal, pastries, juices, etc. On Easter, there was smoked salmon. Many mornings, it was very windy and too cold to sit at the edge with the best view. Two or three juices were available every day. There was a continental breakfast by the bar outside of the International (where coffee and tea were always available) on Sunday. Only pastries were served. The a la carte breakfast has moved from the Italian restaurant to International and is offered every day but Sunday. Don't miss it, but plan on spending at least an hour. Lance (the guy with the Eddie Murphy laugh) is a manager there, along with Kimonos. We ate there on Saturday. I had the petite ribeye, along with fried egg. Todd had chicken breast and omelet. Fresh fruit and cereal are available, as well as a full menu of items. Lunch-Terrace buffet, served 12:30-2:00p.m. -on salad bar, always fake crab, various salads, such as pasta, potato, about 10 ingredients, breads, sandwich bar, fruit lady, ice cream, pastries, fresh pasta, carving bar, several entrees, such as grilled fish or chops, Cajun chicken, various pizza, a spa dish (often eggplant),and various other stuff. There was much less variety than last year. There were various pastries and always soup. Soups were terrific and better than at dinner. Soups are one area where Sandals continues to excel above Lido and all others. They have it down. On various days, I had pumpkin, cream of carrot, seafood chowder (huge chunks of seafood), and pepperpot. Other days, they had various bean and such. One or two Jamaican dishes were served every day. Windies bar opens during this meal, and wait staff takes orders during the meal. Seconds were never offered, and wine seemed to be a real problem. Sometimes drinks never came or were not offered until we finished eating. Someone always carried our plate to the table at breakfast and lunch and put our napkin in our lap. A service manager roamed to ensure the staff kept up to expectations, but they rolled eyes in disgust over several small incidents. The beach grill posts a "self-serve" menu and a grill menu. A lot is offered, and this remains extensive. It is open a lot of hours and is highly used by the guests. Some items offered are cheeseburger, hamburger, garden burger, hot dog, chicken burger, jerk chicken, popcorn, pizza, nachos and a new self-serve soda fountain (bring your own glass and ask them to fill what's empty or do without ALL week),and meat patties. Other self-serve items are an array of cold sandwiches and chopped (boxed) fruit. The grill was crowded, but you could get your order taken in 0-5 minutes. The jerk chicken remained good. On Friday, I asked for white meat. The wing was good but the rest of the breast was a little dry. The chicken burger was breaded on Saturday and grilled on all other days. One day, I ordered chicken and got a burger, but I ate it and found it tasted like a U.S. burger, a surprise. Yummy. Gone are yogurt cones and the fish sandwich. The grill had a bar on the other side. Sometimes at some of the bars, white wine wasn't available. They'd either go get it or ask you to drink champagne instead. The wine quality during the day varied. At night, we were either offered one or two choices depending on the location. Quality varied. Service varied. Dinner Ristorante d'Amore--served from 6:30-10 p.m. Last year, I stated the food and service was outstanding. This year, we didn't enjoy our meal there at all. Since the menu didn't change a bit since last year, I don't know whom to blame. Seating was available for couples or groups. There was no longer an opportunity to be seated outside. The decor is very interesting. The antipasto bar was smaller than last year. I enjoyed the tortellini, mussels, and pastrami. I know I enjoyed the meal last year because it was lobster night. Monday--only this restaurant remains open on Monday, and the Reef Terrace remains open at Ocho Rios. The resorts have their beach bash/pirate & wench night. Two soups, tortellini and seafood with tomatoes were offered. Todd's tortellini looked good. I had the seafood tomato. I had one big shrimp and some chunks of fish. Otherwise, it tasted like vegetable soup. Salad choices were Caesar or greens with raspberry vinaigrette. Todd's Caesar looked good. My salad didn't have raspberry vinaigrette as it should have (last year, it did have the raspberry, and it was tart but tasty). The pasta was served as a course, rather than with the entree. Todd had fettuccini Alfredo. I skipped this course. The cook prepares it in front of everyone who looks over there. I ordered the shrimp with tomatoes, and Todd ordered lasagna. Both had the same sauce, which tasted like BBQ sauce. I am not used to BBQ sauce on my Italian food. I ate 3 of the 4 shrimp and about 3 fettuccini noodles, those that weren't in the sauce. I ordered the fruit tart pizza. I ate the paper-thin watermelon and honeydew off of it and left the cake part, as there was no pastry. There were breadsticks on the table, along with some other very tasty breads. Last year, this restaurant had a wine list. This time, they offered red or white. The white was Italian and very good. Service on the refills was very slow. Beach Bash Buffet--Monday (follows the general manager's cocktail party). We are not buffet people, however, this buffet had some very good looking items and certainly would have been a better choice than what we ordered at the Italian restaurant. Although we were stuffed, we shared a grilled steak and 1 shrimp. Both were absolutely outstanding. Windies-Caribbean with seating from 6:30-9:30 p.m. with no reservations needed. We ate there on Tuesday night, arriving at 6:30. There were several guests waiting for them to open. Todd skipped the appetizer. I had mussels. We both had pepperpot soup-it was very good. I had a green salad with very good vinaigrette. Todd ordered crab with papaya. He didn't eat it. It was the fake crab and had no papaya. It wasn't bad but not as good as mine. This restaurant formerly offered a sampler-type platter. Now, some of the same items are offered but they are offered individually. The menu is much smaller than last year. We made our own platter anyway and ordered steak and shrimp. I asked for a small steak and a couple of shrimp and received a huge steak and 6 huge shrimp. I could not eat even half. Todd finished the rest. These steaks were cooked closer to the way we ordered them. A choice of 4 or 5 starches was available. I enjoyed the rice and peas (good everywhere). Last year, the restaurant had a wine menu. This year, they just served us Jamaican. Not a single restaurant at the resort had a wine list. If you get there early enough, you get a table facing the pool. We had a prime seat. The meal was pleasant, but we were in a hurry to get to the casino games. Kimonos (renamed from Teppanyaki)-this restaurant is the only one at Dunns River to require reservations. There are various seatings throughout the evening, beginning at 6 p.m. Do not show up late for your meal, as they operate on a strict schedule. This restaurant is good to go for a fun evening and a few pictures. I would rate it just below Benihana. We were scheduled at 6:30 on Saturday. We ate with 4 other couples all honeymooners or there to be married and most were returnees of Sandals. The meal at the table lasted one hour, and we were sent outside the restaurant to eat dessert. Appetizer choice was a variety of sushi as one, another type of sushi, a spring roll, ginger pork skewer, and tempura vegetables. We both had the spring roll. Soup choices were chicken broth or miso and crab soup. I had the miso (very good), and Todd had the broth. First, they brought me the wrong soup. The salad was cucumber and greens (but I couldn't find the cucumber). The entree was called Emperor's Feast, same as last year. It included items cooked by the Jamaican, Riley, in the Benihana suit with the typical show. Our waiter was Howard. Lance was our host and was delighted we remembered him from last year. Riley cooked and fed us tuna, shrimp, pork, steak, and chicken, along with vegetables, which were Japanese, but not the same as Benihana. The rice was gummy rice. It tasted good, and we were given chopsticks and forks. To end the routine, he had Todd and another guy catch a shrimp in their mouth. The dessert outside was either lychee pudding (good) or ice cream. Hot tea was not served, although I requested it. A welcome drink (Malibu Boy again, and some people had several) and a glass of wine were served inside. Internationale-boasts the most extensive menu on the property. Service is available from 6:30-9:30. We ate there on Friday night. Service was white glove. The restaurant had very nice decor and fast service. Our meal took a little over an hour. We arrived at about 7:10. For appetizer, I had crayfish--4 little ones. Todd had some wonderful chicken in phillo dough thing. For soup, I had chicken chowder, and he had French Onion. Mine was outstanding. He enjoyed his but said he's had better. He ordered a seafood pasta salad. I didn't order it because the menu said it had mayonnaise in it. I ordered a green salad with balsamic vinaigrette. His salad looked great and had no mayonnaise. I didn't get the salad I ordered, but mine was good. It had greens and some tuna and a very good dressing. For the main course, Todd had the New York, New York strip steak. I had the seafood jambalaya. Todd ordered the steak medium, and like all steaks ordered at Dunns before, it was nearly burnt to a crisp. My seafood jambalaya had crayfish, shrimp, and fish chunks. The sauce was not at all like anything we get in South Texas (being close to Louisiana), but I enjoyed the seafood and the vegetables I got. The rolls we were served were cold. They took a long time to offer desert, and we didn't see anything appealing enough on the menu to tempt us that much. We are not big dessert people. The dessert menu here did look better than other restaurants at the resort. The restaurant closes on both buffet nights, Monday and Thursday. There is a dress code. For something similar, try St. Ann at Ocho Rios. All of the golfers Todd met from Sandals Ocho Rios had high praise for that restaurant. International Buffet-Thursday beginning at 6:30 p.m. all around the main pool. We are not buffet people, but last year this looked good, so we gave it a try. It was a cut above most buffets, and I would not miss this one. We ate some pumpkin soup. It was so very good that I had another half bowl. The presentation at this event was wonderful. The tables had candlelight. There were ice sculptures. There were a larger variety of foods at this buffet than at any other during the week. There were many salads and pastries. There was pasta cooked to order. Grilled jerk chicken was being prepared. The same crayfish with the heads that we had around the property were being grilled. They looked like shrimp but had a different taste and texture. Understand that these were TINY but delicious. Thre were several stir-fry dishes being prepared in very large pans, and the staff was having a blast cooking it up, but they took too long. The carved meat was beef. I enjoyed the mussels. The entertainment was a one-man band. He sang some songs and just played others. Todd enjoyed trying to figure out the tunes. This was toga night, so a small percentage of guests ate dinner in their togas. At 9:30, the entertainment moved to the Forum for a cabaret singer, the Ray Charles of Jamaica. Before he came on, there were costumed dancers. At 10:30, the toga parade and party began. We did not attend that event but saw about 14 people in togas. They were provided by the resort and in colors of green and yellow. Returnee Dinner-Wednesday begins at 6 p.m. We received our invitation on Monday. It noted that guests leaving before or on the day of the party should go to public relations (hours stated) to get their special gifts. We were given an Ultra Club form to fill out with dates of our previous. We went on Tuesday at 1:30. They did not believe that we hadn't received our gifts and made us wait for them to verify the need for our silver sandals. We found out we had not been invited to the reunion week outing to a botanical garden and that it was that day. I was so upset. Nell and Bob, who we ate with last year at the returnee dinner, were in the office hearing all of this and were this time on their 23rd Sandals visit. I recommend not missing returnee night if you are a returnee and even if you are not. That is the night the comedian performs. Nell had said the dinner wouldn't be that good this time because there were 160 people coming. Manager's Cocktail Party--held Monday at 5:30 p.m. Appetizers included fritters, chicken skewers, fruit, and finger sandwiches. We didn't eat anything. Various staff members and Louie Grant, the general manager, were there. Some were in costumes. A drawing was held, and four couples got nice prizes. Sandals Ocho Rios The Reef Terrace--we visited on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. Reservations are not required at this restaurant. The menu for this restaurant and all others at SOR are available in the lobby at SDR. This restaurant offers open-air dining with an ocean view and a partial sunset view. We took the 5:30 shuttle bus to SOR from SDR. The bus was completely full and left early. As a rule, the buses arrive a bit early, and I have heard from other guests that not all couples get on, at times. The bus ride was 15 minutes each way. We took a little time to walk around the property and take some photos. The babbling brooks behind the cottages were working this time, and it made quite a difference. The foliage had grown up, and the gardens were beautiful. The gardens include a small aviary and a cactus garden. There are several fishponds, and very large and colorful fish are in them. SOR has over 200 rooms. There are two pools, one in the gardens and one near the amphitheater above the ocean. That pool has a swim-up bar and a good-sized hot tub. Quite a few people were using the hot tub in the gardens. In the gardens, there are paths leading to various places, such as basketball courts. It is easy to get lost on this property. The lobby of SOR was multilevel. The lobby housed an area with a few slot and video poker machines. When we finished eating, there were two people playing and appearing to be doing well. At the Reef Terrace, we actually got a wine menu, but they didn't have the French wine we ordered. They offered us another French wine "just like it". It was quite good and served by the bottle. Appetizers (very few) and salad were available on a self-serve basis. We tried the grilled squash and salad. Since it was our anniversary, I splurged on a steak. Both of ours were cooked just right, and our vegetables were lovely. For dessert, I actually ate one and enjoyed it. The key lime tart was amazing, and I ate it. We took the 8 p.m. bus back to SDR, and it was VERY full. The evening buses do not run at all frequently, so it is necessary to pay attention to the time. Watersports Kayaks, paddle boats, aqua trikes, hobie cats, windsurfing, and sunfish were available. Snorkeling was offered 5 times daily at 9:30, 11, 1, 2, and 3. Water-skiing was also available from very early morning until 4 p.m. with a one-hour break, along with kneeboarding. Water-skiing, snorkeling, and sunfish lessons are offered everyday. Scuba lessons are offered everyday except Saturday. Resort certification scuba is available, and guests must go through a swimming test and learn about equipment and what to do in the water. There are 3 dives daily, all in the morning and only one on Sunday, which departs at 9. I do not know which dives are for resort divers and which are for certified divers. Check with the watersports staff. A glass bottom boat goes out daily; check with watersports for times. The 11 a.m. snorkeling trip was normally a combination snorkel and sightseeing trip. We took that trip one day last year and saw a James Bond site. However, this year, we left late, so they only took us out to the reef. We were given bread to feed the fish. We saw a lot of colorful fish, big and small and some nice live coral. We stayed out about 45 minutes. Many snorkelers were out for the first time, so they came back early. We were required to wear life vests, even sitting in the boat. Activities Theme Activities Every day and night had a theme, and sometimes the day theme was different from the night theme. Pirate Night Activities (Monday). Entertainment was held on and around the tiny stage near the beach grill. Guests were crowded around in chairs. We watched reggae dancing by the playmakers, nail board dancer (involving some very active returnees), the snake charmer (scared a few guests), and participated in the group reggae dance. Oh, yes, and the fire breather involved a playmaker and a few guests. We left when they were still doing the socca dancing. Activities to follow were beach games and volleyball. Last year, we heard this party until 1:30, but they thankfully moved some of the activity this year to the Forum theatre. Perhaps some guests complained. No one wore costumes to this event. Jamaica Day-Reggae Night-Friday. During the day, additional activities are held to teach about Jamaican crafts and activities. A junkanoo band performed around the two pools and beach. There were costumed dancers. There was an art auction at 8:30 in the forum. Items all went for the minimum bid (high) or not at all. The minimum bid included shipping. His first name was Eli. At 8:30, the charity bingo is held. I won one and got an anklet, a carved fish, and a leather sandals necklace. We also earned points for this. Saturday Night Live-Saturday--The jazz band plays from 5:30-9:30 p.m. outside of the Forum, and you can hear them for quite a distance. 70&80s music with a reggae flair and lots of dancing happen in the afternoon and again in the evening. There is Karoake after the cabaret show. Casual Elegance-Sunday. Again, the jazz band plays at 5:30. After the cabaret show, there was a best-dressed couple contest. Pirates & Wenches-Monday. At 5:30 (5:45), the general manager's cocktail party was held. The playmakers and lots of staff were introduced. Activities included a steel band, nail board dancer, fire-eater, snake charmer, and games. During the day on Monday (they called it Easter month), there was an Easter Egg hunt and a kite- flying demo. Las Jagas-Tuesday. The charity casino was held at Cafe Amaretto. Games included golf putting (Todd cleaned up on that), black jack, poker, and some other game. Gloria, another guest, cleaned up on poker. I lost my funny money on black jack, but I had a blast. At 9:45, an auction was held. It took us 23,500 points to get a white Dunns River t-shirt. We got points with the rest of our money. During the day on Tuesday, they had activities such as water balloon toss. We heard a female reggae singer that night at 10. She involved the audience. Toga Night-Thursday. There were games on the beach and in the pool. Some guests wore togas to the International buffet. The later in the evening, the more people were in togas. It was a small percentage of the guests, though. The toga party began at 10:30 p.m. with a parade, followed by games. This event provides clean fun. Before that, E.T. Webster performed at the Forum for dancing and listening. We've seen him several times, and he is popular. Before Eli came on, the resident band played and sang and a costumed group danced. Shelly Ann, one of the playmakers, told us that another group alternates Thursdays and are the best. Other Activities Lots of activities held daily and activity board near main pool showed the day's schedule. However, a more complete schedule was posted by Windies/The Terrace and by the entertainment office. For watersports schedule, check the watersports hut. There were pool games, basketball, pitch and putt, shuffleboard, tennis tournaments, volleyball, and various other unique games invented by the playmakers. We were not given a schedule of the week's activities when checking in. Some of the activities included ping pong tournament, dance lessons daily and nightly, too, domino tournament, speak Jamaican, mixology, charity bingo and casino, Jamaican trivia, horseshoe tournament, fashion show, dress up competition, lover's knot, Newlywed game, beer drinking, water aerobics, darts tournaments, backgammon, and jeopardy. Points were given for most things and were in the range of 5-15 per activity. I don't know how many points this trip to get a necklace--I think it has been upped to 70. We had 140 points and two red marks (a red mark indicates they owe you a necklace). When we checked out, the playmaker would only give me one pair, insisting we'd already received a pair (pretty much calling me a liar). I was very insulted and upset. I had been just starting to get over not being invited to the Reunion Week outing. The usual Sandals watersports were available, and water-skiing and knee- boarding were at the opposite end of the property from the watersports hut. Optional (not Sandals) Jet Ski was available. Sometimes, we saw parasailing and once a banana boat. Guests had to flag these down, as they weren't part of Sandals. Games There was shuffleboard, croquet, table tennis, pool, backgammon, checkers, slot machines (didn't win anything on my $20), and board games. Golf-buses leave throughout the day, beginning at 7:15. The next one leaves at 8. Caddies now cost $15, up from $12, and Todd tipped $15. If a person shares a cart, a caddie can be shared. A cart is $30. Tours-tours can be arranged at a desk in the lobby. The prices vary. Books and Board Games Both are available for loan from the playmakers. Points Points are awarded for activities such as volleyball, aerobics, aquacize, contests and games, tennis, basketball, talent night, Olympics. You can go to the playmakers and find out how many points you have at any time.. Dancing There is dancing every day by the pool with the playmakers. Many evenings, there is an event entitled "dancing under the stars It is just like the poolside dance. Usually, people dance at the cabaret shows. The disco dancing begins at 10 p.m. and has moved to the forum since people didn't go to the old disco. Photos A photographer takes your picture all over the property at various times. No pressure to buy. You don't even have to go look at them. Gift Shop Lots of Jamaica and Sandals items. They had various sales. For cameras, batteries, and some other items, expect to pay double from back-home prices. Fish and Birds There are fish & turtles in the lily pad pond across the street from the lobby and up the hill on the pitch and putt course. There were two parrots on the pitch and putt course, too. All of that area across from the lobby is a beautiful garden. Spa The spa menu is provided at check-in. If there is something you don't see there, they can probably do it. They are very accommodating. There are quite a few different massages, reflexology, scrubs, wraps, paraffin treatments, facials, mud treatments, hand and feet treatments, and specialties such as back treatment, after sun, couples massage lesson, wedding packages, mom to be package, treatments for men, and quite a few combo packages. The new spa is complete and different from what I expected. Sara remembered me from last year. Elaine is still at the spa but was off the first day I came to visit. Earl (I think) was working there. They will put together any package you want. However, Earl didn't really know how to price what I wanted and charged me full price. On Friday, Todd and I had the couples massage. His was rough and mine was too gentle. It was nice, though, and I heard myself snore once. We were in a big room that also had a large hydrotub, as they also offer a couples package that includes that. They offer another couples package where you are taught to massage. Facial--on Monday at 10 a.m., I had the European facial with Norma. It was very personalized and lasted 70 minutes and cost $60. There are a variety of facials available. This one includes the steam and a mask. She massaged my hands but not the scalp and neck. Wrap--on Tuesday at 9 a.m., I was scheduled for a paraffin wrap. I told Elaine I was worried that the front of my legs were too burnt. She had Pauline do a seaweed wrap with aloe and lavendar. During the wrap, I had a reflexology. Afterward, I had paraffin on my hands and feet. Before the wrap, I was placed in the dry sauna. They tried to get the steam room working and stuck me in there for a few minutes because I wanted to experience it (I love this at other places). Pauline sprayed peppermint in there. That was neat, but she couldn't really get the steam going. Elaine charged me $90 for all of that since I had booked several things but hadn't booked an existing package. The spa uses orange-scented towels. They are nice. Not very obvious are lockers behind the desk. Also, they have hairspray, private shower, facial mist, and some other amenities. Next to the spa's hot tub are hot and cold plunge pools. A lot of wails were heard from those trying the cold plunge pool, as the temperature was 50 degrees. I had no trouble getting appointments at the spa. They are open 9-7 daily. The spa treatment rooms have piped-in music that is soothing, but you can hear people talk in other rooms. There are cut-glass windows to provide a look of more space. The saunas were a mixed bag. Only one of the two hot ones was ever hot, and the wet saunas never worked. One didn't even have a door. To be 10 months old, that was a huge disappointment. Showers and the saunas were uni-sex. Monday through Friday, a power walk is held at 8 a.m. I chose to do my own workout at that time most days. At 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday, a water aerobics class is held at the main pool. That is a lot of fun and usually attended by about 20 people. I tried it two days (once it rained) and got points. Monday through Friday, a class is held at the gym at 4.p.m. Uriel did what he had scheduled even when all attendees wanted to do something else. I attended three days (all week days except day of arrival and departure). One day, we did step aerobics. Another day, we did a gym curcuit. The other day, we did a high/lo aerobics work-out and floor work. I tried to do 1-3 workouts a day. I only got Todd to the gym once. I tried barbells but couldn't tell the weight of bar to match with home. Slot Machines There are about a dozen by the pool tables. These are quarter slots. There are a few other games, such as video poker, and very few $1 machines. There was always an attendant there any time of day or night when I came by. I remembered one from last year. I won $250 one night playing on $20. We tried $20 a day between us and left the trip with $210 in winnings. Beach Bar and Grill The bar opens from 11 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. and perhaps late a +++++++++++ p.m. - 3 a.m.). The grill opens from around 11 a.m. and stays open into the night. Alcoholic and Non- alcoholic drink specials are posted at the beach bar and main swim-up pool par (two menus are not the same). Afternoon Tea Tea and coffee were always available at a table near the tree bar and Internationale restaurant. Sometime during the afternoon, fruit is brought out. At night, coffee and tea were available for self-service beside the bar by the Forum. Piano Bar The pianist plays beginning at 11 p.m. We never saw him. Another piano is set up outside the Forum, and we heard some tunes there. Shuttle to Sandals Ocho Rios The shuttle runs every 1-2 hours Sandals Ocho Rios. The schedule for each is in the lobby near where the bus comes. They fill up early, so come 10-15 minutes before scheduled departure. In the evenings, the bus is infrequent. Entertainment Lots going on during the day and then the jazz band plays. After that, the cabaret shows are held at 9:30 in the indoor room called the Forum. It was always about half full. See the theme activities section for more information on entertainment. We heard 3 different reggae singers--two men and one woman and saw some costumed shows. Departure and Return Home When checking out you can request American Airlines frequent flyer points. We had to check out at 9 a.m. We never got a note stating what time to have our bags out, but we called at 9 to have them picked up after enjoying breakfast and a last trip to the Jacuzzi and a beach stroll. Our bus left at 9:30 a.m. The bus was huge and full. We stopped on the way down for a rest stop and again at Sandals Royal Jamaican and Montego Bay. Check in at the airport was no problem. They had a Miami line, and we were third in line. Since our skycap had taken bags for someone to Funjet, we had trouble getting our bags from him by the time we needed them for check-in. Departure tax remains $21 per person U.S. We had time for a Jamaican Farewell stop before boarding our 12:50 flight. Customs in Miami took a long time, as it took 40 minutes to collect our dog- inspected bags. Even with all of that, we still had hours to wait for our flight. We went to the gate and waited a couple of hours. Then, I noticed we had a gate change. We hurried to the tram and went for our 7:30 flight. We arrived back in Houston at 9 p.m. We waited a long time for our bags and the bus to the parking lot and arrived home at 10:10. Returnee Program The Ultra-Club is the reward system for returnees. Instead of number of trips, they will be rewarding by number of nights. After 70 nights, 7 nights, land only, will be awarded free. Getting our silver sandals and returnee gifts was a hassle, since they lost or ignored my fax (also didn't do anything for our anniversary, which was in the fax). Once again, we were almost called liars trying to get our gifts. We found out the reunion outing was going on at that very moment and was a trip to a botanical garden. We could have easily gone but weren't invited after spending 40 nights at Sandals. We were told they'd "make a note of it". Comments Sandals Dunns River is a very active resort. This has disadvantages for people that just want quiet and to be alone. Privacy and quiet can be found, but they are not available everywhere at all times. Because the resort is so full, there is very seldom the frustration of searching for an activity only to find that the activity coordinator didn't show up. Services such as the tour desk, guest relations (where dinner reservations are made), casino, and bank have longer hours than many resorts. Breakfast and lunch buffets at The Terrace are usually a disappointment, but the a la carte breakfast and extensive beach grill help make up for this by offering more variety and options. Staff was very friendly and interested in service. There were quite a few gaps in service, and the staff obviously works at least 3 levels of advancement. In the service department, there are managers just walking around to see what the lowest level are doing wrong. This makes them feel threatened. Housekeeping came between 10 and 3. There was no turn-down service, and sheets are only changed if you put the card on your bed requesting it. Guests can fill out a survey upon checkout. Negative comments are circulated among the staff for review. The cards are placed in a drawing held twice a year. People are sunbathing by 8 a.m. Unless they drink juice or water from the buffet, there are not many drinks available until 10 or 10:30 a.m. Self-serve soda machines have been added, but the Diet Pepsi never worked, and there were almost never any glasses. I used the machine for soda water several times when I had my own glass. The day we left, I went to 3 bars trying to get a glass, but was told by all they weren't open. Only the 3rd place gave me a glass (no soda) and offered Todd orange juice after assuring us he was not open. Coffee and tea are available all the time near the lobby. The arrival greeting should always be as advertised in the brochure, even when guests arrive at 7 p.m. After a 10 hour trip, guests look forward to a certain level of service, and the greeting leaves a lasting impression. Weddings were held on the stairway to the tennis courts. Receptions were held in the gardens. Those who got married on the resort enjoyed it, but I would think some of the other Sandals resorts offer a better choice of location. Photos are taken around the property, and there is a setup for taking pictures at the beach. Generally, there were several weddings a day. Note the 48 hour residency before a wedding is weekday. Once couple arrived on Friday and couldn't get married until Tuesday. Activity centers on the elongated strip that houses most of the facilities. Oceanview rooms in the two high rise buildings have the best view. The building with the luxury rooms may not have the best view, but it is newer. The other high rise is the old Hilton Hotel. The two story buildings are add- ons. If the resort decides to add more rooms, they would likely convert those two to have more floors or to be one building. The sand and beach at SDR have a nice tan shade and are picturesque. The beach does not provide the opportunity to walk for miles and miles. You can walk down the stretch on the property, and I enjoyed that. You can also pass the guards and walk a ways on either side of the property, but expect hagglers if you do that. For the very best in all-inclusive luxury in Jamaica, pick a Grand Lido or a different Sandals, perhaps. However, Sandals Dunns River provides a great opportunity for a good vacation. There is quite a variety of things to do and see, and the various specialty restaurants and dinner buffets give guests an opportunity to sample local and international cuisine.
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