Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 116
July 15, 2001

Last Update 11 July 2001

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BVI: TORTOLA BY RON BAILEY

This report describes our stay on Tortola 6/12-6/19.    

We  had visited  Tortola several times before, but last in 1987, so we 
were  interested  in   seeing how things had changed. The trip did not 
begin  well.  We  were booked  on American and American Eagle; Albany-
Boston  - San Juan - Tortola,  arriving late afternoon. At 6 AM we got 
a  call  from  American  to  tell  us   that  the  Boston  flight  was 
cancelled,  but  we  were  rescheduled  Albany -  Kennedy - San Juan -
Tortola,  arriving  10:30  PM. After 45 minutes on the  American Eagle 
plane  at  Albany,  that flight was cancelled for mechanical  reasons, 
It  was  now  too  late  to  make  any  connections, so we lost a day.  
Rescheduled  through Boston as originally done. Next morning, American 
Eagle   cancelled  its  Boston flight. However, we got 2 of the last 3 
seats  on  a   Continental  flight  leaving  at  the  same  time,  and 
thereafter  things  went   smoothly,  even  being  able  to  get on an 
earlier  flight  from  San  Juan.  As we  were waiting for the taxi (a 
truck  with  bench style seats in back that  takes everyone going in a 
particular  direction)  at the Beef Island  terminal, a chicken calmly 
walked  through, so we knew things had not  changed too much. However, 
I  do not think they will walk through the new  terminal that is under 
construction;  airport  expansion,  a  lot  of what seems  to be areas 
being  opened  up  for  construction,  and  cruise  ships  in port are  
probably  going  to  change  considerably  in  Tortola in the next few 
years.

We  stayed  at  Fort Recovery.  It has an old Caribbean feel to it, so 
might   not  appeal  to  those  looking  for something fancy. Pam, the 
manager,  and   Anita,  the owner, are very accommodating and give the 
place  a  very  personal   feeling. The hotel buildings occupy a small 
space,  but  it  does  not  feel   crowded,  and our villa, a poolside 
penthouse,  gave  reasonable  privacy, was  airy, and was quite roomy; 
lots  of  pottery and art decoration, but  furnished fairly simply. We 
were  a  little  surprised  to find no locks on the  doors and no safe 
deposit  facilities.  There  is a nice pool, and a small but  pleasant 
beach.  Although  it  is  close to the main road, we did not hear much  
road   noise,   and  although  there  were  the  traditional  Tortolan 
roosters   within  earshot, they were too far away to wake you up. The 
hotel  provides  a   very informal continental breakfast set up in the 
reception  area;  juice,   coffee  (including  decaf)  or  tea, toast, 
English  muffins,  banana  bread,  hard  boiled eggs. It also provided 
one  dinner  served  in  the  room. We elected to  have that our first 
night.  It  was  very  good. There is a menu to select  from; we had a 
curried  vegetable casserole and a chicken roti dinner to get  started 
on  local  style  food.  The  villas  have well equipped kitchens, and  
supplies  are available locally at Big Ben's supermarket that is about 
a  30   second  drive away - small, but a surprisingly good selection. 
You  can  walk   it fairly easily, but the road has no shoulder and is 
hot  if  you  are   carrying  anything.  There  are  larger and better 
stocked places, particularly  the Rite Way in Road Town.

The  hotel  had arranged a jeep rental through D&D Car Rentals - quite  
satisfactory.  For  an  additional   $25,  less than the taxi fare, we 
were  able   to drop off the car at the airport, which was convenient. 
Roads   on   Tortola   are  pretty  good  by  small  Caribbean  island 
standards.   They  have  been  widened   since  our  last  visit,  are 
reasonably  pot-hole  free,  not  too  much  traffic,  and have decent 
signs  and  even  lighting.  Some of the switchbacks on the  hills may 
be  a  bit  intimidating  to  the inexperienced, but at least now they  
are  wide  enough that you don't really need to worry if you encounter  
someone  going  the  other  way. There are also a fair number of speed 
bumps   that  mean business. Most are easy to see, but a few can sneak 
up  on  you.   The only other problem is the drivers who don't seem to 
know the reason for  the low beam switch on the headlights.

We  did  quite  a  bit of driving around, exploring and photographing. 
Visited   some  of  the  North shore beaches - Smuggler's, more easily 
accessible  than   in  `87,  with  the  honor bar and a competitor; we 
found  it  rather hot and  airless; Cane Garden - lots of spots to get 
beach  chairs  or  hang  out;  Brewer's - would have liked to have had 
more  time  here;  Josiah's  -  couldn't   see how to get to the beach 
easily  through  the  Lambert  Beach  resort  and  didn't have time to 
investigate  (this  resort looks very nice indeed, with  an impressive 
pool  -  the  main disadvantage is its remoteness - very  inconvenient 
if  you  want  to  eat out regularly at night); Long Bay East -  great 
deserted  beach.  We  did  not  look  at Long Bay West, where Long Bay  
resort  is.  This  is  where we used to stay, back when Terry Ford ran 
it   before  it  was  upscaled. Went to Mount Healthy National Park at 
Brewer's   Bay    -  very  peaceful  little  reserve;  would  be  more 
impressive  if they could  incorporate more of the estate remains. The 
botanical  gardens  in  Road  Town  are very pleasant. It turns out we 
had  visited  them in `87, the first year  they had opened, and except 
for  some  of  the  vegetation looking more mature,  it hasn't changed 
much. Well worth the visit.

Restaurants,  in no particular order, were Jolly Roger twice; good the 
first   time,  but our selections the second time were a little bland. 
Quito's,  very   good,  with  Quito entertaining. Myette's, good food, 
but  it  took  forever  for   them  to bring our food. Not just island 
time.   This   was  the  least  enjoyable   experience.  Sebastians  - 
excellent.  If  we  had  gone  earlier, we would have  repeated. C&F - 
also   an  excellent  local  restaurant.  People  have  commented   on 
enormous  portions  -  we  found them generous, but not excessive (and 
we   are not big eaters). There also have been comments about it being 
hard  to  find - actually, it is very easy. Lunch on Sunday at Village 
Cay  Marina  in   Road  Town was very pleasant Also had a lunch at the 
Pub  in  Road  Town that  was quite satisfactory; otherwise we lunched 
at our room. We do favor  places which emphasize local style foods.

We  made  our  first visit to Jost Van Dyke; back in `87 there were no 
regular   ferries  as  there  are now. Lunch at Foxy's also very good. 
Did not encounter  Foy - maybe next time.

We  were  going  from  Tortolla  to St. Martin, and again the airlines 
made  it   interesting.  When  we  checked  our  flight  a few days in 
advance,  the airport  desk could not find us in the system and Winair 
had  stopped  running   temporarily.  However,  the Liat folks in town 
were  very  helpful  and  promised   that if the Winair flight was not 
resumed  as  promised,  they  would  get  us  there. As it turned out, 
Winair came through, although they had changed  their flight time.

This  was  a  quiet  but enjoyable stay that reminded us that we liked 
Tortola  very much and we will put it back on our to-return  list.

CAYMAN ISLANDS: LITTLE CAYMAN BY JONATHAN GAL-EDD

Trip Report 7/ 2001

The  "big" trip destination for our annual July 4 dive trip was Little 
Cayman   Beach  resort(LCBR). This was a some what pricey vacation, in 
the  range  of  $2000- 2500 per person (including air , parking nitrox 
etc.) We had a great  vacation and highly recommend it.

Getting  there-  Several  carries  service  Grand  Cayman:  AA(Miami),  
Delta(Atlanta),  US airways ( Charlotte, Philly), Air Jamaica , Cayman 
Air  and   more.   Most  flights  arrive  around  lunch time.   Little 
Cayman  is  serviced   exclusively by  Island Air ($150 PP Roundtrip). 
Island  Air is very strict  about weight you get 55 Lbs PP (= One dive 
bag). Getting there and back was  uneventful.

The  Islands  has  two  and half stores, and one road. A ten mile bike 
ride   covers  the entire Island. We where there for the "big' event , 
the  resort   raft  race There is nothing to do on this Island after 5 
O'clock  (unless  you   are night diving). There is one nice beach (We 
did  not  see  it  ourselves),  Snorkeling is done on the shallow dive 
sites.  The resort on the South are  protected from waves, as they are 
located  in a bay with separated by Coral  from the sea. If you do not 
dive  there  is  little  to  do  on  this  Island, I have  seen better 
beaches and better shore snorkeling.

We  stayed  at  LCBR, and visited Conch Club (Condo's belong to LCBR), 
Southern   Cross  and  Dive Paradise, all located on the South side of 
the  Island.  LCBR  is   a  very nice resort, great food and delicious 
deserts.  The resort has a pool  And a Bar(not all resorts have those) 
where  Drinks  cost $7.50 each.  Bring  your own Rum and make your own 
mixed  drinks. Most of the guest were couples,  or families with grown 
up  kids,  many  are  returning  guests.   The atmosphere is  very low 
key.  LCBR has more going on the other resorts. Diving:

LCBR  offers  three  dives a day. You make the 25 minute bot ride from 
the  south  side to the dive sites.(Dive Paradise drives the people by 
car  to   the  marine  park).  The dive operator LCBR  is Reef Divers. 
Reef  divers  has  ,  they have  three 42 feet nekton boats. You leave 
your  regulator  and BC on the boat and  the rinse it off for you. You 
suit  up on the platform, You are not allowed to  wear fins, or put on 
your BC on the boat.

Morning  dives are in the marine park ( Bloody Bay and Jackson Bight), 
after   noon dive are out side of the park. The after noon dives sites 
are  very   mediocre  compared  to the morning dives.   Die hard diver 
that  feel  that   socializing  and eating is secondary might consider 
an   operator  like  Dive  Paradise , who dives 4 dives in the Park. I 
was very happy with LCBR, and  will return there.

Diving  in  Little  Cayman  is  excellent.  The  coral is very healthy 
,several   spots have a lot of marine life. Water temperature was 84f, 
Visibility  was   not  great.  The diving here is slow paste, you move 
very  slow,  examine  each   coral  head  (unlike  the drift diving of 
Cozumel),  It  was  not  unusual  to  finish dives with 750- 1000 PSI.  
During  a  week  of  diving  you  cover  80% of  the dive sites in the 
Marine  Park  .   The  marine  park  includes Bloody Bay -  which is a 
shear  wall  starting  at  15 feet, and Jackson bight which has a mini  
wall,  sand,  and then the wall. My favorite dive site is Mixing Bowl, 
where    Bloody  Bay  and  Jackson Bight meet ( Skin Diver August 2001 
has  a  good  description of these sites). Much has been written about 
the  strict rules of  diving in Cayman, it did not bother me. I rarely 
went  under the 100 feet of  the first dive, the second and third dive 
each  dive  that  were  60  feet for 50  minutes dives which I used as 
"guidelines  " and not rules, I went through   swim through that ended 
in  80  feet,  and  literally  took  a nap with a sleeping  Turtle and 
Lobster  at  75  feet.  Most  of  my  second  and  Third dives were 60  
minutes  long.  I always was   first in the water and came up with the 
last   group. One has to make sure not to slow the group up from going 
back to the  resort to eat lunch...

The  fish  are  very  friendly  and  you can get very close to each of 
them.  This   can  be attributed Due to no touch policy. Every day  we 
saw  at  least   one   turtle,  several  rays  in  the sand with Jacks 
following  them,  many groupers and  cleaning stations, and drum fish. 
We  also  saw some Lobster (  two Lobster  mating in broad day light), 
Crabs,  few  (  not   many)  eels,  several  nurse  shark  encounters, 
Barracuda  (including  a  cleaning  station)  and the typical tropical  
fish.   My  favorite dives were on the sand, where the Eagle ray roams 
(not   over  the  wall),  usually followed by a huge Parrot fish ( saw 
them  three   times).   I had two close encounters with the Eagle ray, 
one at a site called  .. Eagle ray Roundup..

   In the sand at the edge of the mini wall were several sand dwellers 
my   favorite  being the yellow jaws and bleni.. I admit I have become 
a sand  diver.

  Towards  the  end  of our diving week I quit paying attention to the 
dive   briefings  a two type of dive plans: Plan A- Follow the turtle, 
find  a turtle  on the surface follow him through out the dive. In one 
dive  (In  Sarah  Set)  we   saw as many a six Turtles, Number Six was 
munching  on a coral head under the  boat the entire time. Plan B play 
with  the  Grouper-   Little Cayman has many  groupers the most famous 
are  Ben and Jerry which like to be petted and  play  fetch a when you 
point  them  towards   a squirrel fish.  The coral is very pretty, the 
wall  has  sponges  and  Elkhorn, some the shallow  corals heads I saw 
very  ver  large.  For  the  adventure  divers,  there are cuts,  swim 
through and chimneys.

In summary a very relaxing vacation with lots of very good dives.  

COZUMEL BY STEVE AND KAREN PARKER

My  husband  and I just visited Cozumel for the first time. Aside from 
mechanical  problems  and  set  backs  with the airlines, the trip was 
uneventful  and  went  as  planned.  We  spent  the  first part of our 
vacation  at  Fiesta  Americana  hotel. A beautiful hotel south of the 
town  of  San  Migel,  but  within  a  short taxi ride to downtown. We 
pretty  much  stayed  at  the  hotel  though,  for it was lovely, nice 
though  small  beach,  and good snorkeling right there. We stayed in a 
casita,  which  is  a  small, condo like unit behind the main hotel. A 
little  more  secluded,  quiet, and with our own private iguana lizard 
that  visited  by our back door daily. The people were friendly and we 
really enjoyed the pool.

The  second half of our trip to changed to a hotel downtown, La Cieba. 
It  is right on the water. You can choose a ground level room that you 
can  walk across the sandy beach area to the great snorkeling area or, 
like  we did, choose a room up in the tower that allows you to see out 
over  the  water,  enjoy  the sun sets, and watch the big cruise ships 
come  in.  It was a bit more busy and active than our first hotel, but 
we enjoyed the change.

Both  hotels we stayed in were non inclusive. Some of the hotels there 
offer  a full inclusive package that includes all your meals. That was 
not  for  us,  for  we wanted to try some of the local restaurants. We 
went  out  to  a  different  one  most  every night, and we thoroughly 
enjoyed  all  we went to. We really recommend the La Varanda, a unique 
setting in a courtyard and very nice food. Excellent fish dishes. 

We  felt  safe every where we went. However, some of the haggling gets 
a  little  intense  in  some areas, and I found it began to wear on me 
and  it was not what I enjoyed. But, then that is just me. All in all, 
we  had  a  great  time.  We used US money, never exchanged it, and it 
worked  just fine. We found it was a good idea to ask the taxi drivers 
how  much a certain fare was before you went somewhere. If you didn't, 
we  found some times the drivers would ask for the fare in pesos then, 
and  ask  for  more  if  you  didn't have it. Tipping is expected from 
everyone, so have plenty of 1's ready to go. 

We  went  on our trip at the very beginning of their off season. Hotel 
rates  are  cheaper  then,  but  you  do run the risk of more rain and 
storms.  We  had a few days of both, but it was still warm and we went 
snorkeling  anyway,  the fish don't care! We really enjoy the sun, but 
having  a  little  clouds  and  rain was actually a good break from to 
much sun.

We  will  go  back  again.  We  have gone to Hawaii many times for our 
"warm  up" break in the spring, but will now consider Cozumel also. We 
live  in  Alaska,  so  the  trip is a long one though, and travel more 
spendy that far. But for any of you folks that live close by,go!

CUBA: BEACHES VARADERO BY KEN KUCHLING

We  had  heard  many  good  things  about  Cuba and loved what we were 
seeing  on  our  search  through  the  internet  and  brochures, so we 
thought  we  would give Varadero a try. We also spoke with others that 
had   been  to  Cuba  and  stayed  at  various  resorts.  They  highly 
recommended Beaches Varadero.

Our vacation package was booked through Canada 3000. We wanted an all-
inclusive  resort  since we just like to put the wallets away while on 
vacation.  We  also knew that Beaches is owned by the Sandals group so 
we  felt  that  the quality and service should be first class. We have 
stayed  at  Sandals  in  the  past and have experienced first hand why 
they  are  rated  one  of  the  best all-inclusive resorts. Our flight 
departed  at  7:40  a.m.  so  we  were  up and off to the airport very 
early.  We  have  used  Canada 3000 for previous vacation destinations 
and  have  found  the  service  and staff all very good. We had paid a 
nominal  fee ($20 pp) to have our seats pre-booked since we prefer the 
emergency  row exit on the Canada 3000 planes due to the extra legroom 
available.

Check  in  at  the  airport went just fine. Pay close attention to the 
attendees  when they are instructing you on how to fill out your Cuban 
tourist  card.  This  information  is  very vital as Cuban Customs are 
supposed  be  very  picky  about  how these cards are filled out, i.e. 
when  they  say  print  in block letters, make sure you print in block 
letters.  If  you  fill it out improperly, you will have to purchase a 
new card in Cuba for a cost of US$50.

The  flight  to  Cuba  was  uneventful. Our plane was full to the brim 
with  a preening high school band students off to Cuba to perform. The 
flight  was  quite  noisy  but  it  was  understandable  as  it was an 
exciting trip for all.

We  arrived  in  Cuba  at approximately 4:30 p.m. The Varadero Airport 
was  much  more  modern  than  what we have experienced in some of the 
other  Caribbean Islands. We deplaned quickly and lined up at Customs. 
You  will  need  your  valid passport and correctly filled out tourist 
card.  The  lines moved at different paces, ours (naturally) being one 
of  the  slower.  People  traveling  with children were whisked to the 
front  of  line.  You don't see the immigration officer until you walk 
directly  up  to  the window, which faces away from the line. Of note, 
they  only take one individual at a time so don't walk up as a couple. 
You  then  exited  through  a  door to security where they X-rayed the 
hand  luggage  entering  the  country.  Leave your cell phone at home. 
They  took  a  long  time  examining  my  phone  but eventually let me 
through.  You  will  also  notice  many military people throughout the 
airport.

Once  past  security,  picking  up  our luggage was quick and easy. We 
headed  outside  the  airport  and  the Canada 3000 representative was 
right  there.  She asked us our name and she handed us an envelope for 
our  hotel  along  with  some information on Cuba including the Canada 
3000  office  in  Varadero  and an emergency after hours number. There 
are  a  lot  of  baggage porters who are more than willing to help you 
with  your  bags. Make sure you arrive with some American $1.00 bills. 
US  dollars  are  the  common currency used by all, particularly those 
associated  with  the tourist trade. They also take Visa credit cards, 
but  don't try to use an American Express card or AE traveler cheques, 
they are not accepted.

Our  transfer  bus,  to our pleasant surprise, was a luxury tour bus - 
no  different,  if not nicer, than what we typically see in Canada. We 
waited  about  30  minutes  at  the  airport for others that were also 
traveling  to  the  same  hotel  then we were off to Beaches Varadero, 
which was approximately 20 minutes away.

The  weather was not that warm when we arrived. It was only 19 degrees 
Celsius  and  quite  windy.  We  just hoped that the temperature would 
warm  up for the week as 19 was not what we came down here for. We had 
a  Canada  3000 representative on the bus that gave us a narrated tour 
of  what  we were seeing on our way to the hotel. Again, Cuba was much 
more modern that what were expecting and most of all, very clean.

We  arrived  at Beaches Varadero about 5:30 p.m. The hotel is only two 
years  old, therefore there was not a lot of large, lush vegetation in 
the  front  of  the hotel but the hotel itself was very beautiful. Our 
bags  were  unloaded  and whisked off to be delivered to our rooms. We 
handed  our  hotel  voucher  to  the Canada 3000 representative and he 
took care of our check in.

We  had  booked  a Junior Concierge suite which included upgrades such 
as  preferred  check  in,  welcome party, bath robes, in-room bar, top 
floor  ocean  view, and preferred times at the a al carte restaurants. 
We  are  pretty  down-to-earth people who are just fine with a regular 
room  but  there  was  nothing  available  at the hotel in February or 
March  for  a regular room. We wanted a March vacation, so we took the 
upgrade.  In  the  end,  we  were  very  pleased that we had made that 
choice.

Our   check-in   went   very   quickly.  We  were  met  by  the  hotel 
representative  and she whisked us off to the 5th floor (top). We were 
pleasantly  welcomed  by a live band performing, a full bar set up and 
a  table  of  appetizers.  There  were  people  milling around, having 
cocktails,  and  enjoying  the  music. This was the welcome party that 
came  with  the upgrade. We headed to our room with our representative 
and  she  explained the key procedures. The door opened and we were in 
our  home  for  the week. The Cubans are very smart on the electricity 
conservation.  The  only way the electricity will work in your room is 
to  have  your  room  pass  inserted  into the power slot, so when you 
leave the room the power goes off.

Our  room  was  very  large  and  spacious.  It had a king size bed, a 
sunken  living room, desk, TV (satellite), and mini-bar. The mini bar, 
which  is  part  of the concierge package, was stocked with beer, soft 
drinks  and  2L  bottled water. There were also full 26 oz. bottles of 
several  liquors  such as rum, vodka, gin, and rye. Anytime you wanted 
anything  else,  such  as wine, champagne, etc. just let the concierge 
on  your floor know and it would be there in no time. We had a balcony 
with  a  table and chairs that overlooked the entire resort and ocean. 
The  room was extremely clean and very modern. The bathroom had a tub, 
shower,  toilet  and  bidet.  There was a full closet with a room safe 
(free).  The  sink  and  mirror  with  blow  dryer  were  outside  the 
shower/toilet  room.  The  floors  and  walls  were  all  done in very 
attractive marble.

After  the  room  inspection,  we headed to the welcome party. We were 
greeted  with  a  full  bar set up with premium brand liquor and beer. 
They  had  wine,  champagne,  and  lots  of little appetizers, shrimp, 
cheese,  crackers,  etc.  We spoke with some of the people who were on 
their  second  week at the resort and they had nothing but good things 
to  say.  They  also  gave  us  some  tips some of the tours that were 
offered  and  what was good and not so good. We stayed for a couple of 
drinks  and  headed  off  to  tour around and get a look at the resort 
before the sunset.

The  resort  was  very  beautiful.  It was quite vast and the pool was 
large  with  lots  of  chair  space.  The grounds were kept very neat. 
There  is  also  a  salt-water  lagoon (2-3 feet deep) that circulates 
through  the  grounds.  There  were various fish, jellyfish, and three 
sand  sharks  in  there  (the largest about 4 feet long). Feeding time 
was  in  the  morning  and  was  interesting  to watch. The two larger 
sharks  were  hand  fed and the smaller one was still being trained to 
do  so.  There was a bar by the pool along with the beach grill, which 
also  became  Arizona's  Restaurant  in  the  evening. Across from the 
bar/beach  grill  was a stage where they held daily activities as well 
as  the  nightly  entertainment. Between the beach grill and the beach 
were  the  beach  volleyball  and  badminton courts. The tennis courts 
were  on  the  other  side  of the hotel, along the shady side in late 
afternoon.  The beach was a bit of a walk from the resort (compared to 
other  Caribbean  destinations,  the  newer hotels in Varadero are set 
quite  away  back  from the beach). When we reached the beach, we were 
impressed.  It was spectacular! It was pure white sand and it went for 
as  far as the eye could see. The water was crystal clear and warm. It 
was  quite  windy  so  the  red flag was posted (for some dummies that 
don't  know how to listen, that means stay out of the water!) so there 
were  no  people in swimming (except for the dummies!). The chairs and 
cabanas  were  plentiful (my husband is not a sun worshipper so he was 
thrilled  to  see  all  the cabanas). We never had a problem getting a 
lounger under a cabana all week.

There  are  4 restaurants at the resort; three of which are a-la-carte 
and   two   require   reservations.  The  main  buffet  restaurant  is 
Reflexions.  It  was where breakfast, lunch and dinner were served. We 
had  no  issue with any of the food. There was always a vast selection 
to  choose  from  at  every  meal.  Breakfast  had a good selection of 
everything.  There  was  an "egg station" each morning where you could 
get  made  to  order eggs and omelets. There was fresh fruit, waffles, 
pancakes,  cheeses,  cold  cuts,  and a selection of hot Cuban dishes. 
One  thing you will notice with food is that it is a bit bland for our 
liking. They didn't use many spices.

Lunch  was  also  available  in  Reflexions  or  at  the  Beach Grill. 
Reflexions  had a pasta bar and sandwich bar with a great selection of 
meats,  cheeses,  breads  and  condiments. The bread in Cuba is to die 
for!  There  was a fresh bread station at every meal sitting. You just 
cut  as  much  of what type of bread you wanted. There were many salad 
ingredients  available  and  a  good  selection of hot entrees. We ate 
here  most  days  since we can eat burgers and fries any time at home. 
The  Beach Grill offered burgers, fries, hot dogs, rotisserie chicken, 
soups and salads.

The  a la carte restaurants on site were Italian and Seafood, Western. 
We  ate  at  each  of  these  only  once.  Make  sure  you  make  your 
reservations  upon  your  arrival as the prime times are taken up very 
quickly.  In  hindsight,  we should have gone to them twice since they 
were a nice change from the buffet.

I  don't  eat  Seafood  but  my  husband  does.  The  menu  had a good 
selection  of  appetizers  and  entr‚e's.  The  appetizers  were small 
enough  so  my  husband  ate  both  his  and  mine. There were several 
seafood  entr‚e  selections  and  only  one dish that was not seafood, 
which  was  vegetable  penne.  There was also a nice selection of wine 
available.  The hotel was very generous with the liquor. If you wanted 
the  whole  bottle,  you got it, whether it was wine or champagne. The 
food  in  the  Italian  restaurant was also very good. They had a nice 
selection of entr‚e's and a very good salad and soup bar.

Each  evening Reflexions had a different theme for the dinners varying 
from  Italian  to Chinese. One evening was BBQ night where they served 
all  you can eat steak and lobster tails. They were also very generous 
with  the  after  dinner liqueurs. They had all the premium brands you 
could  want  and  they  just  free-poured  (sometimes  too much). Each 
evening,  the resort presented a stage show with their house band. The 
music and shows are very entertaining and worth sticking around for.

The  maid  service  was  outstanding.  The  maids  would  come  in the 
evening,  straighten  up  the  room  and turn the bed down. They would 
place  clean  towels in the shape of swans, hearts, etc. on the bed (a 
nice  added  touch). We were told that common toiletries were in short 
supply  for  the Cuban public so prior to our departure we purchased a 
variety   of   toiletries  such  as  toothpaste,  toothbrushes,  soap, 
shampoo,  lotions,  hair burettes, brushes, etc. We left something out 
each  night  and they would leave a note thanking us for the gift. Our 
tour  guide also encouraged us to leave unused toiletries when we left 
as they are very appreciative of any supplies that they can get.

  We  only  took  one  major tour; it was a day trip to Havana ($US 63 
pp).  This  is  trip that you should definitely take. It takes about 2 
hours  to  travel the 140 km to the city, stopping at different hotels 
in  Varadero  for  pickup. (We also heard that you could go one way by 
boat  and  then return by bus). Like any other Caribbean city, it is a 
bit  run-down  in  parts,  but  it  has  some  of the most interesting 
architecture.  There are the old forts and churches from the 1600's to 
the  Art  Deco  style,  to the modern buildings. In its heyday, Havana 
must  have  been  one of the most vibrant cities around, although most 
of  that  construction  was  done  before the Revolution. The bus tour 
also  went  through  the  main  cemetery, which is unique with all the 
sarcophagi  and marble statues. While walking around town, many people 
will  stop  to  ask  you  for money, your hat, your t-shirt, ballpoint 
pens,  soap,  etc.  We  were told not to give them anything since they 
will  just  sell  it  on  the black market. Make sure to take your own 
toilet  paper  along  on  the  tour, since most public restrooms won't 
have  any.  There  is  usually  a person selling a square or two for a 
buck  or two outside the restroom door. Our tour videotaped the entire 
Havana  day  -trip,  which you can then purchase for about $20-$30 US. 
It  is  delivered the next day to your hotel. We decided to buy it and 
are  quite  happy with the quality. The guy doing the taping gets more 
on  film  than we actually saw and it is a nice keepsake. I think most 
of the 12 couples on our tour bus ended up buying the video.

Cigars  are  sold  at  government  controlled  shops,  so  prices  are 
consistent  everywhere.  For  interest,  a box of Montecristo #4 costs 
$72  US,  with  a  single cigar selling for $5 US. Upon our return, we 
checked  at  a  local cigar shop and saw that same cigar for about $20 
Cdn  each.  So  before you go to Cuba, ask friends if they want cigars 
because there is a real cost saving.

Although  we  didn't  golf,  there  is  a nice golf course a couple of 
resorts away ($US60/18 holes, $10 club rental, $20 cart).

Beaches  does  have  a get-together for past Sandals patrons, but that 
event  happened  the  evening we were leaving, so we missed it. If you 
are  considering the Beaches Varadero resort, check to see if there is 
a  convention  coming in at the same time. We experienced an influx of 
approximately  200 people for a sales convention at the hotel the last 
two  days  were  there.  It made meal times a little less enjoyable as 
the  main  dining room was very loud and busy. Check out time was 1:00 
pm,  while our flight didn't leave until 7:00 pm. The hotel stored our 
luggage  for  the afternoon and had a shower/change room available. At 
the  airport  departure  lounge, bathroom attendants will charge a fee 
of  $1  to  use  the  restroom.  Again,  the  cell  phone created some 
excitement at the X-ray scanners when leaving.

Overall,  Cuba  is  a  definite  must  if  you  are  interested in the 
Caribbean.  It  has  a different feel than the other islands, with one 
of  the  nicest  beaches  you  will  ever experience and very friendly 
people.  There  is  a  good choice of resorts, ranging from low end to 
high-end  all-inclusives.  The  tourists  in Cuba are mainly Canadian, 
Italian,  German,  and  British, with a few South Americans. We highly 
recommend  a  visit  to  Cuba,  it  was  more  than  our  preconceived 
expectations. 

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: PUNTA CANA RIU PALACE MACAO BY JOE MCKIBBEN

The Flight and Arrival:

My  wife  and I flew from Cincinnati to Punta Cana for a one-week stay 
at  the  Riu  Palace  Macao.  It  was  an Apple Vacations package with 
charter air service by Sunworld International.

The flight down took about 3 «
hours  and  was  right  on  schedule. The plane, a 727-200, was pretty 
crowded.  I'm  not  that tall and I could have used more legroom. When 
traveling,  especially  on  charter flights, we always try to get exit 
row  or  bulkhead  seats.  If  those aren't available we got for aisle 
seats  across  from  each  other.  That way at least you don't feel so 
cramped.

We  landed  at  the  same time as another charter flight, as well as a 
747  full  of  French  people.  The  place  was absolutely packed! The 
immigration  process  in  Punta  Cana  was easy. First you pay $10 per 
person  for an immigration form. We made the mistake of filing it out, 
then  getting  in  line.  Next  time,  Id  get in line, then start the 
paperwork. 

Immediately  after  clearing  customs  a  gang  of Dominicanos in blue 
jumpsuits  and  ballcaps grabbed our luggage. This feeding frenzy over 
suitcases  was  a  little  disconcerting at first, but when I realized 
the  Apple  Rep  was okay with them handling our stuff; I felt more at 
ease.  One  of  the  guys  loaded our luggage on a cart and he was off 
toward  our  bus  like  a  rocket.  To  a  guy  working  for tips, mas 
dispacio, por favor (slower please), isn't part of his vocabulary.

The  bus  ride  from the airport to the Riu Palace Macao took about 35 
minutes.  The  roads  weren't as bad as Id heard. On the way, an Apple 
rep  gave  us some general info about the Dominican Republic and about 
the Punta Cana area.

The  resorts  in Punta Cana are clustered together inside of shallowly 
scalloped  bays  along the coast. There are, for now anyway, wide gaps 
at  the  point of each of these small bays with no hotels. It does not 
resemble  Cancun  (thank God) with hotel after hotel lining the shore. 
It  appears  that  the DR has put in place the no higher than the palm 
trees  rule.  I didn't see any high-rises at all. From the water, many 
of the buildings are invisible, tucked far back among the palms.

Arrival at the Hotel and Check In:

Arrival  and  check in at the Riu Palace was very easy. There were 6-8 
people  from  our flight staying there and there were more than enough 
desk  staff  to  handle  us. When you check it, they do take everyones 
passport  for  a  few  minutes.  I  presume they make copies for their 
records.  It  might  be  a  little troubling to some, but it was okay, 
everyone got theirs back.

While  they're  doing  whatever  it  is  they  do  with your passport, 
everyone  was  taken  to  the  main  bar  in the lobby, La Cubana, and 
offered  a  rum  punch  and  given an orientation by some of the staff 
members.  They  tell  you  how  everything works, dinner, getting your 
beach  towels,  etc.  The guy who took care of us, Luis, made it clear 
that  they  wanted  us  to  be  very nice and very happy and to have a 
wonderful marvelous time while staying with them. 

All  of  the  reception  desk people spoke English, as well as German, 
French,  and  Spanish.  You had to listen closely sometimes. If you've 
ever  listened  to an interview with a Dominican ballplayer, like Jose 
Rijo  or  Sammy  Sosa, that's what they may sound like. Sometimes they 
put  the  accent  on the wrong syllable. One of the guys was using the 
word  opposite  but  put  the accent on the 2nd syllable so it sounded 
more like deposit. It keeps you on your toes! 

After  reclaiming  our  passports  and  other papers, the head bellman 
took  us  to  our  room. The hotel is shaped like a capital E with the 
open  ends  facing  the pool and beach. The reception, main dining and 
bar  areas  are at the center with a wide veranda facing the pool. Our 
room was on the first floor to the left side of the hotel.

I  hadn't  wanted  a  first floor room. I was concerned about security 
and  about  issues  of  bugs, water, etc. associated with being on the 
ground  floor.  None of those were a problem. The first floor of guest 
rooms  is actually the 2nd floor of the hotel. The bottom floor of the 
hotel  is quarters for the staff and is accessed from the back side of 
the  building. The balcony is separated from the ground by a veritable 
moat  of coral stones and thick vegetation. I suppose the upper floors 
caught  a  nice  breeze, but it was nice not to have to go up and down 
step each time we went to our room. 

An  odd  thing  about  the  numeration of floors is, though we were on 
what  Id  call  the 1st floor, we were considered to be on floor zero. 
While  Id  be  inclined  to  number  them  1 through 4, the Riu people 
thought 0 to 3 worked better.

Each  wing  of  the  hotel  was  arranged around a long, narrow atrium 
planted  in  trees  and  vines.  At  the  ends  were  stairs. The only 
elevators  I  saw were in the main lobby. Our room faced the center of 
the  hotel  and  overlooked  the  pool  area  and  center  of the main 
grounds.  I  don't  think  I would have liked to be on the side facing 
out.  The  view wouldn't have been as nice and I cant imagine it could 
be any quieter than ours was.

The  rooms  were good sized. Opening the door led to a hallway, with a 
large  bathroom  to  one  side. Our room had 2 full sized beds against 
one  wall,  and  a  large double-doored closet on another. There was a 
small  key  locked  safe  inside  the  closet. A desk and dresser were 
opposite  the  beds.  Attached  to  the  wall  above the dresser was a 
cabinet  that dispensed 4 different varieties of liquor and below this 
was  a mini-fridge stocked with beer, pop and water. All the beverages 
were  included  and  it  was  restocked daily. Two chairs, and a small 
table  were  against  the  sliding  door  that led to the balcony. The 
balcony  was  very  large  with 2 rocking chairs and a table. A drying 
rack  for  wet  swimsuits  and  towels was in one corner. The room was 
decorated  nicely,  with white furnishings and pastel and floral walls 
and accents. 

Id  heard  that  the  rooms  had  a slightly damp smell to them, so we 
brought  some  air freshener with us. A spritz or two was all that was 
necessary   to   freshen  things  up.  We  also  found  that  the  air 
conditioning does not work when the balcony sliding door is open.

The Hotel Facilities and Grounds:

The  hotel  was  done  in what appeared to me as a Colonial style with 
something  of  an  Art Deco influence. There were lots of tall columns 
finished  in mahogany or painted in pastel colors. In the public areas 
there  was lots of frosted glass in pediments and mirrors. Things were 
done  on  a grand scale, architecturally. The place made me think this 
is  what a hotel from the 30s in a place like Havana or Tangiers might 
have looked like. 

Between  the verandah and the pool was a large lawn, lined with hedges 
and  plantings  and  dotted  with several tall coconut palms. The pool 
wasn't  the  spectacular,  water park-like pool you see at some of the 
new   resorts   but  was  very  understated  and  elegant.  It  was  a 
rectangular  shape  with  fountains  at  each end and in the center. A 
large  patio surrounded the pool and a bar and restaurant were at both 
ends  of  this  area.  A  word  of caution, the stones around the pool 
became unbearably hot by late afternoon.

There  are  a  variety  of  activities that take place around the pool 
during  the  day,  everything  from  Spanish lessons to Merengue dance 
instruction  and  table  tennis. The beach offers aerobics classes and 
volleyball.

The  pool  area  sat about 100 yards from the waters edge. Between the 
ocean  and  the  pool  was  a  large grove of palm trees situated in a 
sandy  area.  For  those  who like the shade better than the sun, this 
was  a  perfect spot. You were protected from the sun and wind. A wide 
path lead to the beach. 

The  beach  at  the Riu Palace was absolutely spectacular. It was wide 
and  slightly  sloping. The sand was not white but a very pale tan and 
was  incredibly  soft.  It never felt hot at all. Closer to the waters 
edge  it  was packed down and made a good walking surface. It appeared 
that  you  could  walk  for  miles and miles in either direction. Tall 
palm  trees  lined  the  beach as far as you could see up and down the 
beach. Anyone could take pictures that looked like postcards here!

The  water  was very clear. You can easily see your toes when standing 
neck  deep  in  the  water. There was some surf at the Rius beach, but 
most  of the waves broke several hundred yards offshore at the reef. A 
very  large  ship  that  ran  aground  on  the reef is visible a short 
distance up the beach. 

There  were  chairs and some tables at the beach. The Riu had Playeros 
working  at the beach that'd carry a chair pad to your designated spot 
in  the  sun.  Unlike  other resorts we've visited the Early Bird with 
the  Towel  game  was  never played here. The hotel discourages guests 
from  claiming  a  chair or whole section of chairs by placing a towel 
on  them.  We  usually  got to the beach by 10 and never had a problem 
finding a spot to sit. 

Unlike  some  places  we've  visited  in Mexico, there were no vendors 
cruising  the  beach  trying to sell you things. The only solicitation 
we  received  on  the  beach  was from a man who offered to take us by 
boat  to  see  a  very  wonderful,  very marvelous new condoplex being 
built just a short boat ride down the beach.

There  is  a  Water Sports building at the beach where you can arrange 
to  parasail,  water-  ski,  snorkel,  or  whatever  you'd like to do. 
Kayaks,  small  sailboats,  and  snorkeling gear are complimentary. We 
arranged  to  go  snorkeling  down the coast one day and a 2-hour trip 
cost  us  $15  each. We also took a turn on the banana boat where 2 of 
the  Playeros  drag you across the waves on a giant yellow tube and do 
their  best to knock you loose. We paid $6 each for this privilege and 
it was well worth it.

You  can also arrange scuba diving trip here. Id heard that the diving 
was  less  than  impressive.  From  what  I  saw  when we snorkeled, I 
believe  it.  Were  admittedly  a  bit jaded when it comes to this. If 
you've  not  done  much  diving  or snorkeling, it would be well worth 
doing but there are many other places with better views underwater.

Restaurants and Bars:

There  are  several  restaurants  and  bars around the Riu Palace. The 
Patio  is  the  main restaurant located nearest the lobby. There's the 
International  near  the  pool  area  and  another called La Cabana (I 
think)  that's located near the beach. We ate in every one of them and 
thought the food ranged from good to outstanding.

Since  the  Riu  caters  mostly  to  Germans,  the food served largely 
reflects  their  preferences. Some of the things seemed a little heavy 
with  thick  sauces  and  other  things  just  seemed  like a puzzling 
combination  of  tastes.  Some things we tried weren't very appealing. 
Still,  there  was a wide selection of tasty items to choose from. You 
shouldn't  go there with an expectation of standard American fare. Its 
definitely more European.

Contrary  to  what  our  travel  documents  said,  we were able to eat 
breakfast  and lunch at the neighboring Riu Hotels restaurants. We ate 
lunch  a  few  times at the Riu Tainos beachfront restaurant. It was a 
little more casual than the Palaces beachside place. 

For  dinner, you have to select either a 7 oclock or 9 oclock seating. 
You  can  change  your seating my making arrangements at the reception 
desk.  You  can  also choose to eat in a Mexican or Italian restaurant 
by  making  reservations. We did not do this, since we found The Patio 
restaurant very enjoyable.

The  bars mirror the location of the restaurants at the Riu. La Cubana 
is  situated  near  the lobby and was mostly empty during the day, but 
busy  before  and  after dinner. A poolside bar served both drinks and 
ice  cream  during the day. There is a waiter who serves guests around 
the  pool  all  day.  The  beach bar is small and informal. They don't 
have  any  blender  drinks, so you cant get a frozen daiquiri or other 
exotic  bebidas. You can get soft drinks, fruit juices, as well as the 
very good local beer, Presidente.

The  Riu  Palace  has 2 venues for evening shows. The Copacabana is an 
outdoor  amphitheater  and La Boehme is an indoor cabaret. Waiters and 
waitresses  circulate  through  the  crowd  during the shows for drink 
orders.  The  show  begins  around  10:15  each  night.  Prior  to the 
beginning of the show, there is a band that plays music for dancing.

Unlike  other  all  inclusives  we've  visited,  the  Riu Palace has a 
professional  troupe  that  puts  on  the  shows.  We've  stayed at an 
Iberostar  and  at  Allegro  resorts  where  the  same team that plays 
volleyball  and  holds aerobics classes for guests during the day, put 
on  the  shows  at  night.  The  Rius  dedicated  entertainment  group 
definitely  resulted in a more professional presentation. The theme of 
the  shows  seemed  to be on a 2-week cycle so guest staying that long 
wouldn't see the same show twice.

The  Riu  has  two facilities that are open to people from the outside 
who  are  not  guests of the property. The Discotheque is open until 4 
or  5  a.m.  We  were  there only once and relatively early. It looked 
like  any  other college dance club I've seen, but I heard that it was 
quite lively after midnight.

The  Palace  has  a  small  casino  that features slot machines, video 
poker,  blackjack,  roulette  and  poker. Its very low key, as casinos 
go,  not  even as glitzy as our nearby riverboat casinos. It was still 
fun  for  amateurs  like  us.  The minimum bet on the table game was 1 
dollar  and  the  slots  started  at a dime. Since both the casino and 
disco  are  open  to the public, food and drinks here are not included 
in your package.

Shopping:

I  couldn't  recommend  Punta  Cana for the die-hard shoppers. You can 
browse  a  little  and even haggle in local markets, but you cant find 
an  A.H.  Riise  or  Little  Switzerland  with a search warrant. Since 
there's no town close by, all shopping is centered around your hotel.

Inside  the  Riu  Palaces  lobby  were some small shops. There was the 
typical  hotel sundry store, selling toiletries, newspapers (including 
the   Miami   Herald),  candy,  cigarettes  and  cigars,  etc.  I  was 
astonished  that  a medium tube of Banana Boat sunscreen was going for 
over  $20! There was also a small jewelry store and a ladies boutique. 
Everything  was  marked  in Dominican pesos, which exchanged at 16 per 
US dollar.

The  Riu  Palace  is part of a large complex of 5 Riu hotels and there 
is  a  central  shopping  area  called  Caribbean  Street. There are a 
bigger  variety  of  shops  located  here. There are men's and women's 
beachwear  shops,  a  music  store,  a  photo  shop,  a  small medical 
facility  and  pharmacy  and  even a cyber caf‚. You can get online to 
send  e-mail  to  friends or websurf for $5 per half-hour. Though less 
colorful than a post card, its probably cheaper and certainly faster.

About  a  half-hour  stroll  down  the beach, in either direction, are 
local  markets.  They  are  made  of flimsy wooden frames covered with 
tarps.  Picture  the  Straw  Market in Nassau, gone Nomad. A hurricane 
could  destroy  the  place, and it'd be back in business the next day. 
They  sell  all  manner  of  tourist  junk; t-shirts, beach wraps, art 
objects,  refrigerator  magnets,  rum,  cigars, you name it. They will 
haggle  and  bargain  with you. They're generally lighthearted and not 
terribly  aggressive and if you're not interested a pleasant no thanks 
works just fine.

One  thing  I  have  to  warn  people  about. These markets did a huge 
business  in  fake  Cuban  cigars. The mostly had the Cohiba and Monte 
Cristo  label,  the two most well know Cuban brands. They were some of 
the  worst  fakes I've ever seen. One guy offered me a box of 25 Monte 
Cristo  #2s, one of the most sought after cigars in the world, for $30 
for  a  box  of  25.  That would be a great price for 2 real ones! The 
boxes  were crude, shabby looking copies of the real things. Don't buy 
any  cigars  from  these  people.  I  did buy some real Cohibas at the 
hotel  gift shop. They had all the right markings and were a very good 
price too. 

The Hotel Staff:

I  found that most all of the staff spoke enough English for anyone to 
get  what they needed. They genuinely do seem to like it when we tried 
to  speak  Spanish.  I asked one of the Playeros (beach guys) what was 
the  word  for  cushion.  He  told  me but also wanted to know what we 
called  it in English. The man at the beach towel stand helped correct 
my mangling of the word toallas. 

We  were  continually impressed by the service from all the Riu staff. 
Each  of  the  first  3 days we were there, someone called our room to 
make  sure  we were still nice and happy. We had a minor issue with an 
electrical  converter  in the bathroom and they did their best to help 
us. 

One  day,  my  wife  had arranged for a massage at 1 p.m. This massage 
was  done at a thatched roof hut right on the beach a hundred yards or 
so  down  from where we were sitting. At 15 until 1, the masseuse came 
and  found  her.  How  she  was  able  to  pick her out from among the 
hundreds  of  other  sunburned,  white  people on the beach, Ill never 
know.

One  morning  at  breakfast, I was looking for some fried potatoes. In 
my  fractured  Spanish  I  asked the lady at the cooking stand if they 
had  any  papas  fritas. The mistake in using a little Spanish is they 
think  you can actually speak the language. She gave me a reply that I 
lost  completely. She realized this and held up 7 fingers saying seite 
minutos.  I thought, okay, they'd have more potatoes out in 7 minutes. 
I  went  back  a  little later and still didn't see any, so I just got 
something  else.  A short while later, the lady who Id asked about the 
potatoes  came  up  to our table carrying a big plate of French fries. 
They  weren't  part  of  the regular breakfast menu. She not only took 
the  time  to  prepare something special for me but came to find me as 
well!

These  are  some  of  the  hardest working, and happiest people I have 
ever  been  around.  Not once did we encounter anyone who was surly or 
short  with  us. The amazing thing was, they were just as happy at 9pm 
as they were at 9am! Whatever the Riu management is doing, it works.

Summary:

I  might  not recommend this destination to someone who likes to be on 
the  go  a  lot  or who likes a lot of sightseeing and shopping. There 
are  excursions  into  the countryside or into Santo Domingo, but from 
talking to others, these seemed to be long, all day affairs. 

Someone  who  has  trouble adapting to different cultures or different 
ways  of doing things besides the way we do it at home might have some 
difficulties.  We  liked  the fact that Americans were in the minority 
there  and  that  we had to learn to try new foods and new ideas. When 
we   heard  English  being  spoken,  it  was  usually  some  Americans 
complaining about something.

We  were very pleased with our vacation in Punta Cana, and had a great 
time.  It  was a fun, relaxing visit to a deluxe, well run facility in 
a  beautiful  location.  We  ate  and drank everything, except the tap 
water,  and  had  no  health  issues  at  all.  As usual, Apple did an 
excellent  job in moving us from home to a great hotel and back again. 

GRAND CAYMAN BY STEPHANIE TISCHLER

Well,  my  husband  and I just got back from a fantastic week in Grand 
Cayman.  We  had  such  a great time and it feels like we are still on 
"island  time"!  The  trip  reports  were  so  helpful in planning our 
vacation,  I  thought  I would write down our experiences to hopefully 
help other visitors to the Cayman Islands.

We  stayed  at the Westin and thought is was fabulous. The service was 
excellent  and  the staff was very friendly. The beach in front of the 
Westin  is  by  far  the best part of Seven Mile Beach. The beaches in 
front  of  the  Hyatt  and the Mariott were much smaller and the beach 
chairs  were  always set up in rows so that there was very little room 
to  move  around.  It  seemed  to have a very crowded and cramped feel 
rather than the open and relaxed feel of the beach at the Westin. 

We  did  a  total of 14 dives while we were there all on the West side 
of  the  island and all were with Red Sail Sports. The dive boats were 
clean  and  spacious  and the dive masters were friendly, professional 
and  above  all,  safe. They made everyone feel relaxed and not rushed 
at  all.  The boats picked us up in front of the Westin which was very 
convenient.  We also did the stingray city dive and thought is was the 
best  experience  of  the  trip!  It  was fascinating to interact with 
these large and graceful creatures. 

One  day,  we  decided to golf at the Links at Safehaven. The wind was 
very  strong  that  day  and it really impacted our scores! I honestly 
think  that  if  we  went  to the Caymans again, we wouldn't golf. The 
course  was  ok,  but  it was nothing spectacular like I had imagined. 
There  was  only one hole that had a great view of the ocean which was 
disappointing, but we did have a fun day.

As  far  as  restaurants  are  concerned,  overall,  we  had wonderful 
although,  rather  expensive  meals. I think that everyone is somewhat 
prepared  for the expense before going down to the Caymans, but it can 
be  a  bit  of  a  shock. Every morning we ate the breakfast buffet at 
Ferdinand's  in the Westin. It was excellent and we ate plenty of food 
each  day to not need lunch in the afternoon. I would highly recommend 
eating there even if you are not staying at the Westin. 

For  dinners,  we ate at Casa Havana in the Westin, Hemmingways in the 
Hyatt,  Bamboo  in the Hyatt, the Warf, Bed, Rigazzi, and Papagallo's. 
I  think our favorites were Casa Havana and Hemmingway's. The food was 
outstanding  and the service was excellent. For fine dining, these two 
are  the  best!  Bamboo  is  a  sushi place in the Hyatt that had very 
creative  rolls  with  excellent  atmosphere  and service. If you like 
sushi,  you'll  love Bamboo!! One evening we wanted just pizza and got 
so  much  more  at  Rigazzi.  It is a casual Italian bistro with great 
pizza  served  in a very classy bistro setting. I highly recommend it! 
Bed  is  more of a local's restaurant with a dark, New York feel. They 
don't  serve  island  drinks  there so don't bother ordering them. Try 
one  of  their special martini's which are great! The food and service 
was  excellent  and there were very few if any tourists. We really got 
a  chance  to  chat  with the people who live and work in the Caymans. 
But,  be  sure  to  bring  a sweater with you since the restaurant was 
kept rather chilly. 

The   two   restaurants   that  we  liked  least  were  the  Warf  and 
Papagallo's.  The  Warf  did have good food and service, but it was so 
dark  on  the  patio  that  is  was  difficult  to read the menus. The 
feeding  of  the  Tarpons  was  ok,  but  nothing  that I would make a 
special  trip to see. Papagallo's had amazing decor and good food, but 
the  service  was  the  worst that we saw on the island. It took me 10 
minutes  to  flag down a waiter for a soup spoon! Everyone was running 
around  like  crazy  and  it  wasn't a relaxed atmosphere which I want 
when I go out for dinner. 

One  of  the  last  things we did was rent a scooter and go around the 
island  and  visit  Rum  Point. I did enjoy the tour, but Rum Point is 
nothing  spectacular.  It  is basically a place to hang out and relax, 
but  the  beach  in  front  of  our hotel was much nicer. I would only 
recommend Rum Point if you have time. Don't worry if you miss it.

The  shopping  in  Georgetown  is  basically  jewelry  and perfume. We 
bought  small  souvenirs at the glass blowing shop which was nice, but 
unless  you  are looking for diamonds and other gems, the shopping was 
not as great as I thought.

In  summary,  I  would highly recommend the Cayman's as a fun vacation 
destination.  It  is  clean  and safe and very relaxing. It is a place 
that everyone can enjoy! 

JAMAICA: BREEZES RUNAWAY BAY BY BILL AND APRIL JOHNSON

Friday May 25th,2001

2 Couples traveling together celebrating 10yr anniversaries.

We  left Orlando about 2pm, fought our way through traffic and arrived 
in  Ft.  Lauderdale  about  6pm.  We  stayed  at  the  Comfort Inn Ft. 
Lauderdale/Hollywood  Airport.  Very  nice  hotel  with  a large pool, 
restaurant,  bar  and  shuttle  to/from the airport. We went to Dave & 
Busters  for  dinner that night. Great place with great food. It had a 
drink  menu  bigger  then most food menus and a huge arcade/game room. 
We  played  3  holes of virtual golf while having dinner. We went back 
to  the hotel and got a good nights sleep anticipating our trip in the 
morning

Saturday May 26th

4:30am  wake  up  call!  All  4  of us were showered and ready for the 
shuttle  at  6am.  Off to the airport for a very non-eventful check in 
and  flight  to  Montego  Bay.  Flight to MoBay was smooth and for the 
very  first  time  I  had fish for breakfast! Enjoyed 2 mimosas on the 
way and before I knew it - there was the beautiful island of Jamaica.

Arrived  in  MoBay  about 9:40am. Jamaica is on Eastern Standard Time, 
but  they  do  not  celebrate daylight savings time so they are 1 hour 
behind.  YEAH,  an  extra  hour  as  soon  as we got there! We breezed 
through  immigrations  and  customs,  even though there were very long 
lines.  Made  our  way to the Super Clubs desk and was on a bus and on 
our  way to Breezes within 20 minutes. In fact, the driver had to wait 
for our husbands to pay for their beers so we could get started.

WOW  is  that drive exciting! We stopped to get gas and it was strange 
to  see the gas prices at $25.11 per gallon for unleaded. We had about 
5  minutes  to  smoke a quick cigarette before we were on our way. The 
drive  is  beautiful - coastal road the whole way. You could choose to 
stare  at  the  beautiful  mountains or the ocean for the entire ride. 
Our  driver  was  very  funny and said, "Don't worry about the driving 
unless  you  hear  me  scream!"  I  tried  to  prepare  myself for the 
poverty,  the  driving  on the wrong side of the road & the goats/cows 
wandering  about - but you just can't prepare - you have to experience 
it.  We got stopped up in traffic in Falmouth as it was a busy day and 
then  we  stopped  again  for  a  drink/smoke  about 15 minutes before 
arriving  at  Breezes.  After  reading how bad the higglers supposedly 
are  -  I was expecting to be jumped on by car salesman like Jamaicans 
as  soon  as  we  stopped,  but  not  1  single  person harassed us to 
purchase  merchandise or drugs. Yes we were offered - harassed we were 
not!

When  we  pulled  up and into the gates of Breezes about 11:15AM and I 
think  my jaw dropped at the beauty of just the front grounds/gardens. 
My  husband  and  I  checked  in  immediately  and  got room 2208, our 
friends  had  to  wait until 1pm in order to get the room next door to 
us.  Our room was in a great location, it was just up the steps in the 
center  building!  All  4  of  us  went  up to my room to drop off our 
luggage,  change clothes then off exploring we went. We spent the rest 
of  Saturday  wandering  the property, eating, drinking & swimming. We 
called it an early night and were probably in bed by 11pm.

Sunday May 27th

We  hired a local driver by the name of Chef Thompson who picked us up 
at  10am to go to Ocho Rios and Dunn's River Falls. Our first stop was 
the  falls,  which CAN NOT be explained in a trip report - you MUST GO 
and  do  it for yourself. I would not recommend someone that is out of 
shape,  old  or  unhealthy  to  attempt  this climb as it can be quite 
challenging.  Since  we  went  on our own, we did not use one of DRF's 
guides,  we  just  gave  all  of our stuff to Chef to carry for us and 
started  climbing. The tour groups stick to the left side of the falls 
so  we  went  up  the middle and the right side. Some of the rocks are 
slippery  and  we all fell at least once, but no one was hurt. We took 
lots  of pictures on the way and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Once we 
made  it to the top we all high-fived, hooted and hollered because you 
feel  like  you  really  accomplished  something after completing that 
climb.

After  the  falls  we  drove  through Ochi, did some shopping (most of 
everything  was  closed),  went to a local bar then drove through Fern 
Gully. 

We  got  back to BRB about 4pm and spent the rest of the day relaxing, 
swimming, eating and drinking!

Monday May 28th

Some  of  the days now begin to blur together, but we spent the entire 
day  Monday  both on the beach and in the pool. We snorkeled, took out 
a  catamaran,  hubby  went sailing, laid by the pool, ate lots of jerk 
chicken & French fries from the grill and drank (a lot!)

Went  to  Martino's  that night for a wonderful meal, hit the bars and 
back  to  the  room.  Bill & I ventured to the nude hot tub this night 
and had it all to ourselves!

Tuesday May 29th

At  11am the couple we were with renewed their vow's (wedding gown/tux 
and  all).  Immediately  following  their  renewal,  my  husband and I 
renewed  our  vows. SuperClubs and Kerry-Anne do an excellent job with 
the  weddings.  We  meet  with  Kerry-Anne on Monday, set the time and 
picked  out  our bouquets. 11am Tuesday morning Kerry-Anne was waiting 
on  us  at  the  gazebo  with  our flowers - talk about beautiful! The 
pastor  was  wonderful  and  funny  and  we just loved the vows - they 
really  hit  home.  We  opted out of the horse & buggy ride because it 
was  sooooo  hot  and was fixin' to rain! We did get pictures with the 
horse  &  buggy and got inside just as it began to rain. That was 1 of 
the 2 rains we got while there.

At  1pm,  we  went  to  the wedding of friends we made on the bus from 
Illinois.  We  helped  with  camera's and fell over laughing when both 
the  bride  &  groom  stripped  off the clothes and ran into the ocean 
after their ceremony!

Needles  to  say,  this  day  was spent celebrating! Lots of drink was 
flowing  and  quite  a  bit  of ganga was burning that day. I think at 
some point my hubby and I went to the room for a nap.

Went  back  to Martino's that night for another wonderful dinner, some 
drinks and back to bed!

Wednesday May 30th

Spent  the  morning  at  the pool relaxing. After lunch we were off to 
Hooves  horseback  riding.  Another completely awesome experience! The 
ride  begins  at  a  plantation  built  back around 1498 (by the Taino 
Indians  that  Christoper Columbus enslaved after he found them living 
in  Jamaica  when  he  landed  there).  The ride takes about 1 hour to 
reach  the  beach  -  you are in a group of 8 with 2 tour guides. Ours 
were  Everton  &  Lincoln  and they were both so sweet to us. Once you 
reach  the  beach, you dismount for a small rest before remounting and 
riding out into the ocean. The horses actually run through the water -
  it's  an  unbelievable  experience! After riding in the ocean, you & 
the  horses  rest  again  before riding along the beach and back up to 
the  plantation. The entire ride lasts about 3 hours and is well worth

the $65 per person.

On  the  way  back  to  the resort, we stopped at a grocery store. The 
storekeeper  was already locking up, but unlocked the place and let us 
in!  We picked up some coffee, rum and munchies and BS'd for a bit for 
heading back to the resort.

  We  got Back to resort for some food & rest before dinner and the PJ 
party! 

The  PJ  party  was  probably  the  wildest night we had in Jamaica. I 
thought  I  was  being conservative but ended up wearing less then 90% 
of  the  rest of the crowd. The crowd was a bit more conservative then 
what I expected.

Hubby  and  I  left  the party for one last trip around the resort. We 
spent  some time on the beach in a hammock, the nude hot tub, the pool 
and  then  the  very hot, hot tub behind the gazebo before retiring at 
about  3am.  I  was  sad  when realizing this was my last night on the 
island and I really had to come home the next day! 

Thursday May 31st

Room  service  woke us up at 8am for the last time. I hurriedly packed 
and  off  to  pool  we  went for a last couple of hours of sun. We had 
breakfast  by  the  ocean, then it was time to shower and go. I picked 
up  a  few  things  from  the  gift  shop  and said goodbye to all the 
friends  (both  locals  and other guests) we made while there. The bus 
arrived  at 1pm to take us back to MoBay. The ride back was uneventful 
and  quiet  as  I  guess  most  of  the  guest  were  lost in thoughts 
remembering their time in Jamaica.

Sangster  was  a mad house when we arrived, but eventually we made our 
way  through the lines, got our boarding passes and off to the gate we 
went.  The  flight  home,  customs  and  immigration went smoothly and 
before  I  knew it we were back at the Comfort Inn for 1 last night of 
vacation before driving back to Orlando on Friday!

Overall Impressions

Air  Jamaica  -  Out  of  Ft.  Lauderdale was fine, but we did have an 
8:15am  flight,  so  delays  were  not a concern. Out of Sangster is a 
different  story.  After  arriving  at  the  airport  and  seeing  the 
disorganization,  the  lines  and  people  just  looking  lost and not 
getting  much  help - I started to get nervous. We did make it through 
the  line with about 35 minutes to spare prior to take off. The flight 
crew  was  not  very  warm  or  friendly. The food was ok and I had no 
problem getting more then 1 drink.

Super  Clubs  -  They  were  very  helpful  during the entire planning 
process.  When  calling  the 800#, I sometimes held for quite a while, 
but  always  got an answer to my questions. Everything they said would 
happen  -  did happen, including a bottle of champagne being delivered 
to our room on the 2nd night we were there.

Breezes  Golf  &  Beach  Resort  - BEAUTIFUL! The resort is well kept, 
clean  and  modern. The rooms are not 5 star, but I didn't book at the 
Ritz  either.  The room was large, clean and more then we needed for 5 
nights.  Great  balcony  in  which  I  could  see  the ocean from, the 
beautiful  gardens,  the  pool  and  the game room. The floors are all 
tile  (great  idea),  so  they  get  kinda chilly in the middle of the 
night.  The  A/C  was  good  and  cold  and  the water pressure in the 
showers  was  great!  Plenty of hot water to go around. The maids do a 
beautiful job w/ towel creations & flowers.

There  is  a  nightclub upstairs above Martinos, a huge lobby bar with 
piano,  gift  shop,  jewelry  shop,  arts & crafts shop, massage room, 
workout  room, game room, Starlight grill (buffet food), 3 hot tubs, 1 
huge  pool,  pavilion for dining, beach bar, grill, hammocks all over, 
beautiful gardens, nude beach and all the activities that go with it!

Excursions  -  Dunns  River  Falls  is a MUST DO if you can physically 
handle the climb. 

Hooves  Horseback  Riding was awesome! You get to learn the history of 
the  plantation, while enjoying a nice relaxing horseback ride down to 
the  beach.  Yes,  you  have to cross the road on your horse, but they 
stop  the  traffic for you. Once you get to the beach, you rest before 
riding out into the ocean. This is something I will never forget!!

Jamaica  -  A  beautiful country w/ some of the sweetest people I have 
ever  met.  They say we are so nice down here in the south, but I have 
never met more kinder people then I did in Jamaica. 

JAMAICA: GRAND LIDO BRACO BY M. BOLYARD

June 2001

It  was our first trip to the island of Jamaica and won't be our last. 
Maybe  it  was because we had such an absolutely fabulous time at GLB! 
The resort was up to all the research I had done and more.

I can' t decide which was the best:

food,service,beach,entertainment,etc.

Our  room  was  incredible.  always  clean  and  nice touches like the 
turndown  service  every night. We had a room on the beach with French 
doors  leading  out  to  the balcony. The grounds around the buildings 
were  always  being  attended  to  and  kept  clean.  The beaches were 
groomed every night and straightened again in the afternoon.

The  food was the best I've had anywhere. I will miss the jerk pork at 
Nanny's grill.

Piacere-  warm  inside,  but  beautiful and delicious. Presentation of 
food- incredible.

Victoria  Market-  Daily  variations in the buffet. Incredible layout. 
Jamaican curried pork-out of this world.

Muna  Hana-  so much fun and another very high quality meal! La Pasta- 
Fantastic-  Ate  there  3 times. As good as the best Italian food back 
home and that is saying a lot! Garlic pasta and smoked chicken-YUM!

Room  service  was  ok.  A bit slow. One time the food did not come as 
described,  but still very acceptable. The beach was very big , clean, 
and  beautiful.  Very  windy  ,  but  didn't  stop  us from having fun 
snorkeling  and  riding the rafts. We could always find a float( raft) 
,  a  thatched  cover , chairs and towels or a hammock. We felt we had 
plenty of privacy if we wanted it or to sit and talk to others.

The  pool  is a popular hangout for mostly pool floaters and people to 
hangout  at  the  swim  up bar. The service at the pool and around was 
wonderful.

Excursions  are  extra  ,  but  we loved the grounds so much we didn't 
want  to  leave.  We  also  took advantage of biking , walks and golf. 
Most  of  the seasoned travelers we talked to said this was one of the 
best  resorts  they  had  been to in Jamaica. The service , other than 
room  service  was  so  attentive.  The  Jamaican people were so kind, 
intelligent and friendly.

I  also  took advantage of the free manicure and pedicure and that was 
probably  the  only  unfriendly person I dealt with( manicurist). In a 
nutshell  the place is FABULOUS! The bus trip from Montego Bay was not 
bad  at all. We got to do our checkout at the resort with Jamaican Air 
and  go  right  to  the  gate at the airport when we left. A wonderful 
service! 

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