Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Gert van Dijken, Editor
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Sandals Royal Caribbean June 2002 Steve and Diana Tarnow For the first time in 3 years, my wife and I had the opportunity to "get away" from our beautiful 4 and 5 y/o daughters for a long weekend. Our criteria for the getaway destination was (1) somewhere in the Caribbean, (2) direct flight, (3) close to the airport, and (4) carefree. Based on this, we chose Sandals Royal Caribbean. We had been there six years ago when my wife was pregnant, so we knew the property and what to expect. We booked three weeks before departure, and Janet at Simplicity Travel was great (email@example.com). I shopped via the internet for prices, and theirs beat the competition by several hundred dollars for a three night/four day trip. She also alerted me to the Signature Guest Membership promotion, helped us through the paperwork, and got us an additional $375 off the price. Total for both of us, with non-stop air via Air Jamaica from Boston, Friday to Monday, was $1,440. We were scheduled to arrive MoBay at 10:30 AM, and leave on Monday at 5:30 PM, so the schedule was great for getting vacation time on the travel days. Anyway, here's the trip report: Flight was on-time, and we arrived at the resort a little after 11:00 AM. Greeted with the champagne and towel, told that our rooms would be ready within an hour or two, changed, and were in the pool by 11:30. Shortly after lunch they found us, and we were in our upgraded mini-suite by 1:00. This room is in the Chester block, a one story section of rooms in the middle of the resort. Very convenient to the main pool, and very quiet for sleeping. We came to call that area of the resort "peacock and bridal alley" for all the peacocks and brides walking back and forth. Our only negative comment about the room was that it was very dark, even with all the lights on. Outside of that, we had all the room and amenities we expected, plus the four poster, king size bed was very comfortable. Being returning guests, we were given complimentary Sandals t-shirts and a bottle of rum?a nice touch. I'm not going to go into every detail of our long weekend stay, but here are some comments you may find useful. The bar service was very good at all locations. The bartenders all seemed to be aware of who was next, and work diligently to keep the drinks moving. The beach bar crew was especially good at keeping guests happy during our Sunday afternoon monsoon. The only disappointment was the lack of frozen drinks at the pool bar on the island. The entertainment was a cut above what I remember seeing six years ago. On Friday night they had an emcee that really motivated the audience to participate and have fun. We were some of the non-participants, but had a great time laughing at the antics. Saturday and Sunday night they had professional singers working with the resort band. More reggae Saturday, then mostly pop and dance music on Sunday. The food at the restaurants was good, not great, but the service was excellent. Even during weather-related changes, the staff seemed to really hustle to accommodate all the guests. Service was prompt, friendly, and attentive. The food was well presented, but the quality, especially of the meats (lamb, steak, etc.), was not up to our expectations. The food and service at the beach bar was very good. I'm biased because I love Jerk chicken and pork, and that's what I got at most visits. Hamburgers and pizza were also ordered, with the pizza showing too much shelf life unfortunately. Fries and onion rings were always good. One final note on the weather. As we tell our kids about a lot of things, "you get what you get". Two of our days were more sunny, and the other two were mostly rainy. Guests who had been there all week said the weather had been great before the weekend. Good luck during your stay. The flight home could take a report of it's own. It included much confusion at the airport, leaving an hour late, a passenger vomiting on three other passengers, and one of the attendants threatening to have a passenger jailed upon arrival in Boston. Since the inflight movie was not working, I chalked this all up to their "Plan B" for entertainment. Everyone arrived safely (although some a bit smelly), and only a little late.
AventuraSpa Palace May 16-23, 2002 We first stayed at Aventura Palace (adults only resort) Nov. 2000 for four days and loved this wonderful, beautiful resort....so we decided to return and stay for seven days. I am not going to bore you with the travel to Mexico, customs and airport security. During the time we were there in 2000, they had built another Palace resort directly next door to Aventura, called the Spa Palace. During construction there were a lot of negative reports coming from guest, but this did not change our plans of revisiting this wonderful resort. Prior to May these were two separate Palace resorts, of which you still had full privileges to use the pool, facilities and restaurants....we had learned that when you checked in at Aventura you were given (2) $50 coupons to be used at the Spa Palace for the spa treatments, we were excited for this comp. Well let me explain later about this. After arrival to Cancun, found got our luggage, went thru customs and met our Royale Tours shuttle, loaded up, paid a local $3 apiece for two Corona Beers while we waited on other folks to board the shuttle. We had learned the on May 1st, they merged both resorts, it is now called AventuraSpa Palace Resort. The shuttle pulls into the AventuraSpa Resort, which is the Spa Palace front entrance. We disembark, and proceed to the front desk of the Spa Palace. Earlier in the month I had e-mailed Alberto, stating we were returning guest of Aventura and requested a room in Building 0 or 1, on the second or third floors, with a low room number (better view of the ocean). Well....when we checked in the clerk gave us our room keys, #3331, I told him that I had requested thru Alberto, building 0 or 1. He told me that they were full and this was the closest room. I was upset at first but really didn't care, as it was 6 p.m. and we were tired. I knew that according to our room number, we were in building 3, third floor and room 31......at least we were on Aventura side. Aventura Palace part consist of buildings 0,1, 2 and 3. Spa Palace consist of buildings 4, 5, 6 and 7. At check in you are given two room keys (plastic cards), a room safe key and lock, and two towel cards....what ever you do don't loose any of these....they charge you for the loss. We were escorted via a golf cart to our room and our luggage followed, I gave the bellboy a tip for carrying our luggage up three flights of stairs to our room. The room had a average view, king size bed, refrigerator (stocked with Dos XX, Tecate (light Mexican beer), water and soda, there was two person Jacuzzi next to the patio doors, also there was a two person walk-in shower with glass doors, coffee pot and hair dryer. In the closet is a safe for valuables, and ample closet and drawer space. There is a TV with numerous channels, great Mexican MTV station and a phone, but no CD player. Room Service is available with an extensive menu available. Maid service was very good each day. Upon check-in, they arranged a time to meet with guest relations about a VIP tour, I will explain this later..... Well the next day I meet with Royal Tours to set up return transportation to the airport and then proceeded to guest relations for information concerning the VIP tour. The VIP tour was of the Spa Palace, which would only take 90 minutes, and you would get the (2) $50 coupons for spa treatments, $100 in Palace money to be used at gift shops and some other stuff.......I realized it was a time share or they refer to it as a RCI travel membership (which it will waste about 4 hours of your time and high pressure time share selling). I had enough of this crap, two years ago, read my first trip report concerning SHARKS... so I nicely declined the offer and but them off each day of our stay, cause they hound you each day to take the VIP tour. So folks, you do not get two free $50 coupons for spa treatments at check in, since they have merged both resorts as one. If I were you, decline this offer, unless you want to waste valuable time of your vacation and get pressured with high pressure sales techniques. This resort includes several off site tours free. If you stay 3-4 nights you receive one tour, if you stay 5 + nights you receive two tours which consist of Chichen Itza, Chichen Itza Light & Sound, Tulum, Isla Mujeres, Coba, and Ek-Balam. Something else has changed from when we where there before, there is a free shuttle that takes the guest to Playa del Carmen, Moon Palace and Cancun daily now, compared to scheduled dates two years ago. The shuttle leaves each morning at 7:50 a.m. Let me describe the resort since it has been merged into one resort. Everyone checks in at the Spa Palace side, regardless of which side you booked. The front desk of Spa Palace was beautiful, open aired, stained glass in the ceiling, Mexican tile all around, palm trees and flowers every where. Around the corner from the front desk is the Main Lobby Bar, looking out into the Patio Courtyard, with tables and chairs. Around the courtyard you will find the gift shop, jewelry shop and two of the restaurants ( La Huerta - vegetarian dining with an up scale a la carte service and Mo Mo No Hana- oriental style in a exquisite private setting), on this side of the resort. Out side of this area, you will find an indoor pool with 3 hot tubs and a fully furnished exercise room, next you will find the main pool for the Spa side, with swim-up bar. Behind the main pool is El Greco Restaurant- Mediterranean cuisine in a casual atmosphere, which serves buffet breakfast, lunch buffet and a la carte at night, facing the ocean. There is a man made lagoon and beach area on this side too. Other things you will find on this side, is a cross current pool, walking trail, rock climbing wall, and spa massage huts. The Spa side of the resort is for relaxing and calmness for those who wish to be tranquil. The room buildings on this side consist of building 4, 5, 6 and 7. If you are walking from the Spa side to the Aventura side, you will not know when you cross into the next, every thing looks the same, building numbers will be the only identification and that will only be recognized by returnees. Aventura side has not changed since our last visit except that you do not check in on this side of the resort. The former lobby is still open aired, with stained glass ceilings. Refer to my other trip report for details. On this side, you have Aventura Main Lobby Bar, overlooking into the open aired courtyard, around this area you will find a gift shop, Q-bar which consist of big screen TV, pool tables along with hors d'oeuvre tables, and a night time bar. There are two restaurants: Ventanas - exquisite Italian buffet for dinner and La Hacienda - very upscale Mexican restaurant- a la carte for dinner only. At night they have shows with local talent or staff performing, either in the open-aired courtyard or upstairs in the convention room, depending on the weather. All activities, such as shows, local bands, wandering Mexican Quartets...take place on Aventura side. This is where all the action or entertainment is. The Spa side is especially for relaxation. Outside of the main area of Aventura, you will find the huge magnificent pool, stretching from one end of the resort to the other, with plenty of lounge chairs and walk-overs to get you from one side of pool to next, shade huts, and a swim-up bar with grill, plus there is the Mundaca Restaurant which serves international food, breakfast buffet, lunch buffet and dinner a la carte. Also you will find the man made lagoons with man made beach, it has numerous shade huts, water is blue with plenty of fish swimming around, nice snorkeling in calm waters. Plenty of lounge chairs were found around the pool and lagoon areas. Summary of Restaurants: North Lobby (Spa side) La Huerta: Fine Vegetarian Dining with an upscale a la carte service. Open from Sunday to Friday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Dress code: Elegant casual attire is required (long pants for men) Mo Mo No Hana: Delicious Oriental Food in a exquisite and private setting. Open from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. (Dress shorts) El Greco: Mediterranean cuisine in a casual atmosphere. (Dress shorts) Breakfast-buffet: 7 am till 11 am Lunch buffet: International buffet from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner: Mediterranean A la Carte from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. South Lobby ( Aventura side) Ventanas: Exquisite Italian Buffet, open from 6 p.m. till 11 p.m. (Dress shorts) Mundaca: International Food. (Dress shorts) Breakfast-buffet: 7 a.m. till 10 a.m. Lunch buffet: 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner: A La Carte 6 p.m. till 11 p.m. La Hacienda: Simply the best of Mexico for you, Open 6 p.m. till 11 p.m. Dress code: Elegant casual attire is required ( long pants for men) No restaurants require reservations, at La Hacienda you did have to put your name of a waiting list. While you are waiting for your table, you can get a drink at the main bar, but just keep checking back on your table. COCKTAILS AND BARS: Pool Bars: Located at both main pools, open from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. Lobby Bars: Located at each lobby on both sides, on Aventura side there is an additional Bar set up in the Q-Bar section. Open from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. Snack Bar: Great snacks located behind the swim-up bars either side, and in Q-Bar of Aventura and next to the main lobby bar of Spa side, open 11 a.m to 6 p.m.. Juice Bar: Healthy choice, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They do offer currency exchange at both lobby's of the resort, you can exchange U.S. money for Pecos, but not really needed, cause most merchants accept U.S. money for purchases. You can not exchange Pecos for U.S. money at the resort. I have basically given you an quick over view of AventuraSpa Palace, you might want to compare a more detailed layout of Aventura in my 2000 trip report. Ok, let's get to the actual report of our opinions of the resort. Yes we were in Room # 3331, not a great view but a very good location for walking between both resorts. Just make sure you do not get placed on ground level, if it rains, you might have a river flowing in front your door, drainage is not too good on ground level. Once I thought a great view of the ocean was important, but if you think about it, you are in the room for a short period of time, you get in late at night and get up early the next day and leave for the pool or an excursion. The room had a decent view, king size bed, refrigerator (stocked with Dos XX, Tecate (light Mexican beer), water and soda. There was two person Jacuzzi next to the patio doors, also there was a two person walk-in shower with glass doors, coffee pot and hair dryer. In the closet is a safe for valuables, and ample closet and drawer space. There is a TV with numerous channels, great Mexican MTV station and a phone, but no CD player. Room Service is available with an extensive menu available from 11 am till 6 a.m.. Maid service was very good each day. We did not take any of the free off site excursions, this was a relaxation vacation. We did go to Playa del Carmen and Cancun for a day of shopping. We ate at two local restaurants in Playa Del Carmen, had very good food, included a seafood salad with lettuce , draft beer and a local Mexican entree......we did not get sick and very tasteful. The merchants in Playa liked to barter on the prices, it was fun for a few hours but later got boring, so we took a cab back to AventuraSpa for $12.00. We also went to Cancun one day on the shuttle for a day, they dropped you off at Beach Palace around 9:30 a.m.,we had breakfast there (free), went shopping at KuKulCan Mall for gifts, very good prices. In fact better prices than in Playa del Carmen. We laid around the pool at Beach Palace, had lunch there, and plenty of beverages free while we waited for the shuttle to pick us up at 6 p.m. We went to Puertos Aventuras, taxi was $6 each way, to watch the dolphin interaction shows, which was entertaining and to shop.. All of the Restaurants at AventuraSpa were open aired, no air conditioning. We ate all the restaurants except for La Huerta (vegetarian) and Ventanas ( Italian). We found service to be great along with the food. The waiters were always asking if everything was ok and if you needed another drink. It was remarkable. I will say order your steak, medium rare, cause they seem to over cook meat, along with seafood. We ate at both El Greco and Mundaca for Breakfast....very good, the buffet was good, scrambled eggs were not dried out but very moist, plus they offered made to order omelets, fried eggs and pancakes. We found all breakfast buffets very well pre-pared, scramble eggs on buffet was very moist, the omelet, fried egg, and pan cake stations very well done. Out off six mornings we found service to be implacable, except for one morning the waiters seemed not to be attentive, but that was ok, they finally recognized us. Service at Mundaca at night was great. In fact we ate there 3 times for dinner during our stay. Mundaca had a very extensive menu, a la carte, food was nicely displayed on your plates when served. We had shrimp cocktails ( twelve very large peeled shrimp in a glass of lettuce and limes ), fresh asparagus soup, very nice tasting rib-eye steaks ( request med-rare for steaks, they seem to over cook the meats) and deserts. We got grilled seafood one night, a little bit over done, but with everything else that we ordered we were full. The deserts looked very nice displayed, we got the chocolate volcano and the cup-o-chino made out of chocolate . The volcano was a cone shaped chocolate pastry topped with a cherry, cherry juice running down the sides, and liquid chocolate inside the cake......the cup-o-chino was a chocolate made coffee cup, inside was a topping of mocha chocolate cream with cake underneath. I will have to say these deserts looked great and tasted GREAT. We have had deserts such as these at casinos in the U.S. and resorts in Jamaica, they looked good, but tasted like cardboard. I guess Mexico proud's their selves in the looks and taste of their deserts, compared to Jamaica. They had musician's that wandered from table to table, singing for the guest. We ate at the Oriental restaurant several times, very extensive menu. I calculated that they has around 12 main entrees, sushi, and fried ice cream on menu. Service was prompt. El Greco, we found the food good, very good seafood soup and fresh soups, steaks were cooked to our taste, service was great. One night, two other couples and us, decided to try La Hacienda Restaurant. We had to put our names on a waiting list, so we decided to sit at the Aventura main bar, have a few drinks and talk. I checked a couple times to see where we were on the list to get a table, finally got to our name around 10 p.m. They did not have a table for 6 people, so we asked if we could push two tables together. The waitress first said no, but the head Maitred' came over, we explained the situation, he accommodated us and pushed the tables together for all 6 of us. He did this probably since it was late at night. The food was good, and you could not ask for better service. We found the service at all restaurants was very good by the wait staff. They do work hard and so tipping is not necessary but if you feel service you received was good, leave the waiter a couple bucks. We ordered room service one night, around 10 p.m.( left the pool around 5 p.m., figured to take a fast nap and go to eat at a restaurant, but I guess too many Margarita's, we woke at 10 p.m. and ordered room service). Room service menu was extensive ( compared to Grand Lido Braco in Jamaica), they has listed several main entrees, not just snacks. We ordered 2 shrimp cocktails, 2 orders of cream of asparagus soup, 2 fillet mignons, and 2 deserts. It was delivered with-in 45 minutes, still hot and very good. I compliment this resort with room service, very good menu and service. After 10:30 p.m., room service still offers hamburgers, and sandwiches till 6 a.m. The pool at Aventura side was lively, plenty of lounge chairs to accommodate guest. Certain areas of the pool, you can pull your lounge chair into the pool. There are 3 or 4 Jacuzzi's located in the pool. Most guest stayed around this pool due to everyone having fun vs the Spa pools where most folks relaxed and read books. The staff played volley ball and other games with the guest at the pool. The waiters or waitresses continuously walked by taking drink orders and returning with your drinks, if you were in a hurry, just swim up to the pool bar. The pool was only 4 foot deep at any point. The lagoon area was very nice, sand and plenty of lounge chairs and shade huts. The water in the lagoon was clear and calm, you could see fish swimming around. This is a good place to snorkel. Also the waiters would take and bring drink orders to you at the lagoon. Behind the swim-up bar, is a snack area for lunch. They had numerous items to eat, plus they had a grill where you can order hamburgers, grilled chicken, or grilled steaks. If none of this was to your liking, put on a cover up and wander over to Mundaca restaurant. Swimsuits ranged from women wearing one piece suits, bikini's, string bikini's, rio cut bikini's and thongs. Men wore everything from the standard boxer style suits, to speedo's and bikini's. We noticed that more and more people, men and women, had real tattoos. By the way if you want a Henna tattoo, they do them at the pool for a small charge. Around the pool and in the pool, numerous woman were topless and others had on thongs, this was also common around the lagoon area. Toplessness was fine as long as it was contained around & in the pool or lagoon area, walking to your room you have to have your top on. The ages of the guest, ranged from twenties, and on up. A very good mix of guest. To utilize all aspects of both resorts, there is a lot of walking involved. I did not go into details of the Spa side but they did have walking & running trails, rock climbing wall, cross current pool, along with the main pool, very nice gym and spa treatments.. Each night, on the Aventura side, there was a show, put on by the staff. The shows were average to cheesy. The also had a local band play in the patio area after the show, for about an hour. This local band was pretty good. Prior to arriving at AventuraSpa, I had met several couples on the Playa message board. They were from Texas, New Jersey and Connecticut ( and we were from Mississippi). We all had fun together, ate several meals together and enjoyed each others company. So hi guys, we really enjoyed meeting yall. I have pictures posted at http://briefcase.yahoo.com/bismith39056 To answer another question, YES we enjoyed the resort just like we did two years ago and YES we will return, the ADULTS ONLY concept is wonderful, the service and food was very good, very little complaints with either one. I compliment the staff of the resort.
I won't bore with the details of Immigration and long lines, etc, etc, etc... let's simply say 4 people checking in 400 takes a long time. Very unorganized at the airport. Also, WorryFree/MLT Vacations is about useless. Worry Free=NOT Worry Free for several reasons, none of which I shall bore people with. Onto the resort......... Destination: Cancun, Mexico [resort is really in Punta Brava, very secluded] Hotel: El Dorado Royale, 5 of 6 star rating Type: Adults-Only, All Inclusive, 18 years and older... no group reservations, etc. Time of Travel: Early July 2002 Carrier: Champion Air Amenities & the Basics: The water is purified at the hotel, but the management staff recommends in-room tap water for bathing and brushing teeth only^×high mineral content. Each room has a Jacuzzi, programmable safe, TV with 3 HBOs, 2 Cinemax and other channels, alarm clock, marble floor, much storage room, a small fridge stuffed with bottled water, soap, plenty of towels, beach towels, hair dryer, shampoo etc, a giant walk-in shower, a terrace with a functional hammock, and two plastic chairs on the terrace beside the hammock. Each morning, the room is made up and the housekeeper creates a towel^Å structure such as swans, a heart, etc.. then sprinkles rose petals over it^×very nice, elegant, tasteful. The water served for drinks, ice, soda, and tea was also filtered, but via a different process and plant^×completely fine. We had not one problem or disorder with the water or food. Soda was served from the ^Ófountain^Ô and was strong. The drinks were very strong, yet well-mixed. Bottled water was available everywhere, literally 1000s of bottles throughout the resort^Å. Bars, restaurants, rooms^Å. They even place extra water (10+ bottles) on the vanity in the bathroom. We counted one day and had 20+ bottles of water in our room. Most were in the fridge, ice-cold. No expense was spared when it came to drinks, water, food^Å. Bacardi, Jack Daniels, ^Óname-brand^Ô liquors were had everywhere. On tap was Dos Equis, very very cold. Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, iced tea, coffee, juices were everywhere. There are numerous swim-up bars and 3 larger ^Óland^Ô bars, one beachside^Å the resort has many pools, one giant pool with volleyball, etc^Å the other pools front the rooms and were very small and deserted. Many couples had a quiet time, to themselves, in the various pools. Each small pool had a step for lounge chairs, half-submerged, then further went down to a depth of 5 feet. We counted 10 small pools, but there were likely more. The Casita pools had a bartender and swim-up bar, like the large pool. I have to mention the various swings around the smaller pools, many of which face the ocean. Wide, rope swings hang from the ^Óhut^Ô roofs around the pools, making for a very romantic experience. We sat on a swing each night and watched the surf^Å very nice touch.. unique. There are numerous umbrellas on the beach and plenty of lounge chairs. We went to the beach daily and never had any problems finding an umbrella and chair set for use.. even at 12 PM and later. The umbrellas are thatch-covered and at night dimly lit^Å romantic. Staff waited on us in these areas, but not everyday. Lastly, even the pools without bars had pina colada and daiquiri ^ÓSlushy^Ô machines^Å with and without alcohol, and fountain sodas. Nice touch, tasty once again... The staff cleaned each of these machines nightly and very thoroughly. If on anniversary or honeymoon, the resort requires a marriage license or proof^Å but you receive a romantic dinner on the beach, just the two of you with your own waiter. Limited menu for this, but a classy touch. Otherwise, it^Òs available for $20 USD(!), which is wonderful and reasonable. The restaurants were great^Å one Mexican, Italian, Japanese, a beachside 10A-5P, and one 24*7 poolside also wonderful. Breakfast was served daily poolside only. You must make reservations for the specialty restaurants, but that is easily done with Guest Services. Portions are small, but if you want more or two meals, just ask! Lastly, room service, with a limited but great, menu is included!! You should tip, in our opinion, but this was a nice touch. The longest it took for room service was 40 minutes^Å the shortest^Å 10 minutes. Outstanding in my opinion (our opinion as well). I must mention the resort has around 236 rooms, on 500 acres, and 2 miles of private beach. The drive into the resort is a Jungle Tour^Å. Winding driveway. Security is out front (1 mile away), but there were staff members all over the resort 24*7 with radios, always ready with ^ÓHola^Ô and a watchful (but not weary) eye. Very secure, private, exclusive place. There are no buffets, plenty of private tables, and guests do not wear bracelets of kind to signify they are guests. Men wore collared shirts and Docker shorts to dinner.. women wore dresses and/or slacks. Long pants are required for the restaurants, supposedly, but it was very hot and after the first evening/seeing everyone else break the rules, I opted for shorts. Restaurants have smoking and non-smoking areas. The resort: The world "spectacular" does not begin to describe El Dorado Royale, its staff, the grounds, the calm sea, the sandy beach (on which we walked barefoot), the food, the room, the views, etc. Paradise. Talked to many other "repeat" guests who state they go nowhere else. We tipped US dollars discretely wherever we went, but noticed the same, good service was given to people who did not tip. Not once did we EVER see any staff person standing around... they cleaned the grounds 24*7, I kid you not. Everyone has radios, constantly communicating. It was like watching a military operation... all in the guests^Ò honor. One time, we saw a bartender ignore a group of people patiently waiting^Å that was the only bad thing we saw^Å and he continued to wait on us. The biggest pains in the asses were the very few tourists who could not handle their consumed alcohol. A few really made asses of themselves... sometimes fun, but sometimes insulting the staff with epithets, and so on. We drank, but some got out of hand. Not a big deal at all, just comical. The place is not at all stuffy... just fun and elegant. The architects really designed the resort well.. no building is more than 3 stories high and the resort is spread widely rather than back into the gardens. I think having an oceanfront room results in a far better experience than with garden-view rooms. We laid in the hammock a lot of evenings and just watched/listened to the ocean. The Casita Suites are not worth the upgrade of $160 nightly for two people. The resort is expanding, but the construction is hidden and silent.. large walls with thatch and trees hide this fact. No machinery was ever heard^×ever(?!). We only noticed the wall our 2nd evening at the resort^Å odd it is hidden so well. The Beach and Ocean: Bring water shoes, as the ocean is rocky. But you know what that means??? LOADS of fish.... even saw a stingray. I would also suggest bringing your own snorkeling gear, as checking it/returning was a pain. I saw schools and schools of fish beyond the sand "bags".... 1000s of fish... the stingray was the highlight.. even took a picture of it. The ocean has cement and sand structures 100+ feet from the beach to protect the beach from eroding. These were an eyesore initially, but they enable a calm area to exist for swimming and snorkeling. It was fun watching people jump and dive off these structures. There is no lifeguard on the premises, but if you don't venture too far beyond the sand "mounds," you will be fine. I stood in the ocean and talked to many people... some stayed by the pool and drank, drank, drank... those people really missed out on what the resort is all about: casual elegance for mature, FUN, sociable people. As stated, we watched several tourists, the only rude people we encountered, staggering back to their rooms at 5 PM after drinking all day. What a waste of a vacation when you can do that ANYWHERE in the world... I would not listen to the people complaining about this hotel on various message boards. They either went to a different resort, just had bad "luck," or forgot this: YOU ARE IN MEXICO.... NOT AMERICA, CANADA, EUROPE. RELAX. One couple we met complained there were not enough "activities.." To us, that WAS the appeal. Who needs disco music 24*7 pounding by the pool (during the day, yes, there is music, but they keep it low because they understand what good taste and decorum are)?? So, we loved the place. I think there^Òs a show nightly at 10 PM and I was told the guests could get out of hand, women topless, guys stripping to music^Å all in fun, but we were on the beach by that time. We took one tour: horseback riding with Loma Bonita Ranch... rode horses on a private beach. Something we'll never, ever forget. $63 per person thought MLT. A lot of fun. We would certainly return to El Dorado Royale and highly recommend it to anyone. It is a charming place that never seemed crowded. And the staff we encountered were a pleasure to meet.
Spent 11 days on Provo- 6/16-26/02. This was our first trip to Provo. The weather was wonderful with the exception of the day we had booked a catamaran trip. It was windy and rainy for most of the day. The sun was out every day, some with cloud cover and a few of the days it sprinkled a bit while we were on the beach, but didn't last more than 10-15 minutes. It seemed to happen about 2:00. The wind blew constantly, especially at the beach which made the water a bit choppy. I felt like I was in Aruba with the wind blowing. Locals told me it didn't normally blow like that. We found most of the locals kind. I always made sure I greeted them with a hello and smile. All of the wait staff we encountered were fine, with the exception of two (discussed later). Arrival at the airport was smooth. Very impressed, long lines, but did not take long. There also was a very organized lady out front handling cab situation. We stayed at the Comfort Suites, mainly due to the price--got a good deal with American Airlines on package price. The hotel staff were polite and friendly upon arrival. The hotel grounds were beautifully landscaped and constantly being tended to throughout our stay. The pool area had a pool bar that usually opened in the afternoon. We only spent one evening at the pool, the first night, but the mosquitos tore us up. I am not one to hang out at a pool when you have the beautiful sea so close. I can go to the pool at home. We were given a room on the third floor (no elevators) overlooking the pool. The room was spacious--2 queen beds, a sleeper sofa, a coffee table, a small round table with 2 chairs, fridge, coffee maker, in-room safe and ceiling fan. The lighting was very dim though. I finally got used to it, although when I got back home it took me days to get adjusted to the bright lighting here. The room key, which you only got one of (if you went separate ways you had to leave it at the front desk) also operated a power box in the room. In otherwords, once you left your room with your key, all power went off except the fridge.We found out the last day though that any paper stuck into the box worked. Well, when you are gone all day and your a/c is off, your room takes quite some time to cool off. Our first room never cooled off. For two days, we followed their a/c advice. Never move your a/c controls past the comfort zone level or the unit will freeze up and water will leak on the floor and the unit stops running until it thaws out. Well, the unit froze up many times, water all over the floor and the room was hot. We had a window which we opened. The wind blew like crazy our whole trip, but not in the direction of the window opening. The ceiling fan was on high speed, but moved more at slow speed and did not produce any sort of breeze. Another note, when you opened the window or door at balcony the a/c cut off. After two days of the heat, the front desk was kind enough to give us a different room down the hall with a balcony. This room was cooler, although the a/c did freeze up at least three times a night. It seemed to work better in the day, so we joked saying that because electricity is so expensive they purposely cut off the a/c at night when they thought you'd be asleep. The balcony was a nice place to eat breakfast or relax in the evening. Included in the hotel price was a continental breakfast. This also sold me, because I thought we could save some money on breakfast. Well, the continental breakfast was not like one you'd see here in the U.S. at a Comfort Suites. The breakfast consisted of coffee, tea, two kinds of juices, a tray of mini croissants and a tray of some sort of bread (maybe banana). At home, you would have found boxed cereal, fruit, english muffins, toast and more. Yes, Comfort Suites is across the street from the beach. Well, the walk was more than across the street from the beach. Once I got across the street, it was 297 steps to the boardwalk that led to the beach. The walk from the hotel, past the Ports of Call Shopping Complex and to the road you cross is way more than that. I did not mind the walk, but it certainly was more than we were led to believe and some people may have a problem with the distance. The beach was a wonderful sight. Absolutely the softest sand and beautiful water. The advantage to the Comfort Suites location on the beach was the lack of people. I walked the beach area east and west passing all resort areas and this was the quietest stretch. The Comfort Suites has shaded umbrella hut things about 4 of them and enough chaise lounges. The first day we went out early and put our towels on them to reserve, but found it not necessary. Plenty of chairs, the shaded umbrella huts were harder to get later as there were so few. The beach area in front of Beaches was crowded (like Virginia Beach, Daytona Beach or Ocean City). I wouldn't stay there if you gave me a free trip. Dining on Provo was unimpressive. We ate at the following places: Barefoot Cafe-never ate dinner here. Great place for late night ice cream cone (3.85each--delicious coconut ice cream). Average food for breakfast and lunch. The French guy who seemed to be waiting on people for lunch and dinner was very friendly with speedy service. At breakfast, the slowest, most non-attentive waitress served us twice. The first morning for breakfast the soccer game was on. She had her nose stuck in the TV. I needed jelly for my toast and she pointed to the kitchen and told me to go ask the cook. We couldn't get our check. No smiles, greetings--and I was very friendly. 2nd time we went our last day, she had the same attitude, no good morning, no smile, she acted as though we were inconveniencing her. She spent time gossiping with the cook neglecting us. I have been to many islands and experienced some of this, but she ranks up there with another girl I ran into on Tortola. Calico Jacks-excellent service, the very courteous hostess really catered to my daughter (brought her coloring book/crayons, told her she looked beautiful). The conch fritters here were good, spicy. The jerk chicken wings were very good. Got nachos the last night and they were yucky (like you'd get at 7-11). The other food we ate here was good-average, but the service made up for it. Caicos Cafe-nice nighttime setting (mosquitos got us here), kid friendly, great food presentation. Jerk chicken was so salty my boyfriend could not eat it. They made my daughter a grilled cheese with fries, but the bread was so garlicky she said it made her feel sick. I tried it the garlic was so overpowering. I had to give them credit for trying to please her though. I had grilled fish which was okay, nothing great. The staff here were very organized and on the ball, until they got busier. Passed on dessert that night, but went there the next night for dessert to go. Creme Brulee (good, not great), Brownie with ice cream good and some other French puff pastry with ice cream and chocolate very good. $26 for three desserts. Lattitudes-good service, cheaper prices, excellent chips and salsa (one of my better meals on the island--the food on Provo did not impress me). Lattitudes felt to American to us. Mango Reef-nice setting, kid menu, average to good food. Food here took longer than anywhere else and there were only two other groups besides us. Sticker shock, boyfriend ordered the special Surf and Turf (veal and BBQ shrimp). I had only ordered 2 appetizers-pineapple conch fritters (which I tasted no pineapple) and blackened conch quesadillas, which tasted like something you'd get at a TGIFriday's. Daughter had dino shaped chicken nuggets and our bill was $91--turns out the special was $40. It's a good thing he liked it. Service was good. Seaside Cafe-We ate breakfast here two times and lunch more than that. This was the closest place on the beach to grab a bite to eat. Prices were reasonable for Provo and the setting was beautiful. Service for the most part was good, we had three different waitresses--two very friendly and one so-so. Seaside gives you a great deal on kid's meal--large portions for about $5. Adult meal portions were good too and well presented. We did get very rare burgers on one occasion when we ordered them MW. Their conch fritters were very greasy though with a tempura type coating. Hey Jose's-reasonable prices, good food. This place was busy when we got there and it got busier. The two wait staff, one being bartender as well, could not keep up with the crowd. We needed more drinks, which we never got and it took a long time to get the check. Tiki Hut-had read before we left that someone liked the old Tiki Hut better. This was our favorite, even though we only went there one night. We took a cab to Turtle Cove Marina--which was a dump--certainly could use some sprucing up. We were originally heading to Banana Boat which didn't look so good. We found SharkBites, looked at the menu and decided it was too much like food at home. We finally found Tiki Hut. Nice setting, great service and excellent food. There was something for everyone on the menu. Kid's meal served in a bag like McD with crayons. Only negative remark--Top 40 music playing. Gilley's- went here for lunch one day to check out Leeward Marina area--which was better than Turtle Cove, but could use some sprucing up as well. Okay food, service average. It seemed that most restaurants offered the same food with a little variation. The food we ate was average and for the most part overpriced. There was nothing here I ate that I thought was outstanding. After spending a good deal of money on so-so food, towards the end of the trip we just ate at the restaurants near us to avoid cab fare and more disappoint. The music was very disappointing. We go to the islands to hear the music, feel the culture. With the exception of a few songs, most of the music we heard consisted of Jennifer Lopez, Sheryl Crowe, Patsy Cline, Goo Goo Dolls and more of the typical Top 40 crap we hear at home. The lack of island music and too much of the American feel, we thought on several occasions maybe we took a plane to Florida instead. We rented a car one day for about $75 (everything included). We got the map and drove around. We made a wrong turn somewhere trying to get to South Dock to get to Sapodilla Bay. We stopped and asked locals twice, but no one was able to help us and it seemed as though they did not understand us. It was very easy to get around, and we wished we would have rented a car from the start. Some comments made it sound as though the locals drove like maniacs and the streets were poorly lit. Some people drove crazy, but they do here and the lighting problem wasn't so bad. Boat trips were the big disappointment. I had since January emailed several boat companies regarding different boat trips to narrow down the ones I knew would be right for us. Upon arrival to Provo, I went to Dive Provo to book a catamaran trip with Sail Provo. It was $246.50 for two adults and one child. We were to meet the boat on the beach near the Allegro Resort, which was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. The boat arrived on time. We boarded and showed our receipts. We picked up all other guests at different resorts. After all passengers were picked up, the Capt. gave a little bit of info about the boat. I have been on a few other cat trips and this was definitely not as professional as previous and it only got worse. About 10 minutes into the trip it started to rain--you could see squalls all around us and the wind blew like crazy. The water was choppy. Our first snorkel stop was over the barrier reef--a few people got off the boat. It was windy, rainy and the water too choppy. We stayed on the boat, but unless you went down into the galley below deck you got wet no matter where you were. Then we headed over to Little Water Cay (Iguana Island) after the rain stopped briefly. I had read that the iguanas are all over the place when a boat comes up. Well, we only saw two iguanas (one small and one a bit bigger). The Capt. said they hide when it rains. We had lunch in the rain on the boat which consisted of: lunch meat, cheese, bread slices, grapes, melons, a small plate of imitation crab delights, a small bowl of Pepperidge Farm cookies, warm tuna pasta salad, several 2 liter containers of soda, drinking water in a cooler and diluted rum punch in a cooler. After lunch, the Capt. informed us that we were near Pine Cay/Ft. George and we could snorkel for sand dollars and walk the beach. He said the depth of the water off the ladder of the boat was 3 feet deep. Well, a very tall man was the first person in and it was over his head--more like 15 feet deep. I almost let my daughter go in first without a life jacket thinking it was shallow. As I said before, the wind blew and blew which made the water choppy. I decided that we should get in and head for the beach and try to find a sand dollar. I didn't want my money to go to waste. The crew were all down in the galley. I had to find our life jackets myself and one of the guys finally popped out and helped us with fins. We put on our life jackets and headed out towards the beach-swimming-it was a long distance. Everyone asked the Capt. if he could get the boat closer to the beach--after all they came up on the beach to pick everyone up. A lot of people did not go into the water. He did not. He just made a b.s. comment that if you swim out to the left of the boat the water wasn't that deep. Getting to the beach was easier than getting back. The water conditions I thought were a bit hazardous. The crew being in the galley was not professional nor safe. These guys should not have been running the show. Every other trip I have taken on cats. on different islands, the crew have been professional, knowledgeable, fun and interactive with the passengers. These guys were awful. Other trips the crew always assisted passengers off and on the boats (easy to slip), they hosed you off to rinse off the salt water, they interacted with you and they definitely kept watch on all that was happening. These guys did not of the above and I did not leave them a tip. I could not wait for that boat to get us back to our part of the beach. I was extremely disappointed. I know they could not control the weather, but the rest of it they could. The lunch was pitiful. I complained slightly to the Dive Provo lady and she said she had never heard a negative thing before. I told her I had researched online and heard good things. Next boat trip was to be with J & B Tours. I had emailed Jill from J & B many times before my trip and a week before departure. I was interested in taking the Island Exploration trip which for $125 adult $75 child was to take you to Pago Pago, Bonefish Hole, Pirate Cave, SW Bluff and lunch on beach. This is according to their website and brochure that is all over the island. I called J & B and talked to 2 different ladies on the phone about the trip and what was included. I was told it was basically a BBQ on beach with snorkeling stops. It sounded a bit iffy to me, but I had contacted Jill and the website/brochure so I thought they were leaving some details out. The website also states they use a boat with toilets/freshwater rinse. According to the girls I spoke with they only use that boat if someone requests a need for toilet facilities. I just happened to talk to the tour girl at Comfort Suites who told me what the tour consisted of. I went back to the room and called J & B. I asked to talk to Jill, who was unavailable. I asked each one of the girls if I were going to see Pago Pago and the rest. Nope, about a year ago the government made some of that area a nature reserve and they are no longer allowed to go there. I said, a year ago, I had an email from a week ago that said that was what I would be seeing. I asked them to cancel my trip, even though it was less than 24 hour notice. I did not want to pay for a trip that wasn't what I was told it would be. And I certainly did not want to pay for another crappy trip. I was hoping to take three boat trips while on Provo. After the first disaster and the near 2nd, I decided to go home with more money in my pocket and spend the rest of our days on the beach. I was afraid none of the other companies had their crap together either. The island certainly is not pretty. The beaches are. It is very scrubby, dusty, dry with too many construction projects going on. Normally, while on an island we feel as American tourists that we are the minority, which we like. On Provo, it appeared that there were few native islanders. Most people we met i.e. waitresses, shop owners, restaurant owners were all from other countries (S. Africa, France, Canada, Australia, etc.) This was a disappointment to us as well. We can say we came and we saw, but I would not return unless the trip were free. I am glad we got to see it when we did. The construction going on is going to kill what little bit of island feel there is. It appears that Provo will be condo heaven soon. The only pleasing thing I saw was Grace Bay Beach. Getting back to US was no problem. In fact, it was too easy. At the airport on Provo, they hand checked our bags that were to be checked not carry ons. I thought that was strange. I had read reports that getting through customs in Miami was awful. We came back on the last flight Sunday night, so maybe that was why, but we got through and got our bags with 40 minutes to spare and we were worried 1 hour and 40 minutes would not be enough time. I am concerned though that when entering back into the US they barely looked at our id's. The clerks seemed more interested in conversing with co-workers. Very laid back feel. We were searched more leaving the US than entering. No wonder the lunatics can get into the country.
To give a bit of contrast to our major trip to St. Martin, my wife and I decided to spend a few days in June exploring a part of Puerto Rico we had not seen before. After flying in on AA from JFK on Monday, we overnighted both ways at the Wyndham el San Juan in Isla Verde, a large and elaborate resort and casino on the beach. We didn^Òt spend enough time there to really use the multiple pools, restaurants and other facilities, but if you can get a good price on the room, as we did, it is worth while. Of the several restaurants, we only used the Mexican one, but it provides an outstanding view as well as good food. We picked up a car from D and H car rental, which has an office a few blocks from the hotel, and drove to Rincon the next morning. Rincon is a small city at the extreme West of the island; a surfing center in the winter but not much of a tourist area in this season. Our intention was to explore and sight-see this part of the island. Rincon itself has beaches that don^Òt seem very developed, but the very large and popular beach at Bocqueron is not far away and is very nicely done for a public beach probably a bit wild when crowded. Crash Boat is another popular one in the other direction. The zoo at Mayaguez is another attraction. Much of the way from San Juan to Rincon is on a freeway. Puerto Rican drivers tend to cut in and don^Òt signal, but don^Òt drive very fast. The main highways are good but can become congested going through towns. KFC and McDonalds etc. are notably abundant. Secondary roads are narrow, crooked, but well surfaced and often scenic. The Lazy Parrot Inn is a big contrast to the Wyndham. It has only 11 rooms, and while we had one of the better ones, it was small with little drawer space and only one chair, but with these limitations was comfortable, clean and well kept up. Management was very friendly. The room had a small refrigerator, which was nice. A bakery next door can provide some basics. The room shared a nice terrace with another room, but this was mostly exposed to the sun and too hot to be used very much. The pool and garden were very attractive. Another feature is a very good restaurant. We normally like to eat around, and there were several restaurants within reasonable driving distance, but there were enough things on the menu that we wanted to try, and our first meal was good enough, that we said to hell with it and ate dinner there all 4 nights. We did stop in to see the Arecibo observatory on our way back to San Juan interesting, especially to anyone with any kind of interest in astronomy. We enjoyed this as a different experience and an introduction to a new part of the Caribbean for us. We left on LIAT on Sunday for St. Martin the airport was crowded with cruise ship passengers going home, but they did not interfere with a problem free and routine flight
My wife and I arrived June 16 on LIAT from San Juan for our umpteenth visit to St. Martin after a few days on Puerto Rico for variety. The San Juan airport was a zoo with departing cruise passengers; this didn^Òt affect us, but I would not like to fly out of that airport on a major carrier on Sunday. No line at St. Martin immigration, but as we had to gate-check a bag we had a bit of a wait while they off-loaded the luggage. Myra from Triple-A car rental was waiting for us and we got the usual excellent and problem-free service a Nissan Sentra in good condition. The island was extremely brown when we arrived no rain for several weeks but this was made up for on Monday, when it rained on and off most of the day. We used it to visit some supermarkets, which my wife fortunately prefers to jewelry stores. There were a few more showers the next day or two, but the weather steadily improved for the rest of our stay. We stayed at Grand Case Beach Club, our usual spot, and got a third floor ocean view with the usual good treatment. The main beach in front of the hotel has suffered considerable erosion it is gone for quite a distance toward the village. The walks along the beach to town are a thing of the past now. There is a corner left at the hotel that is very nice and provides a calm area for swimming, but it is small. Petit Plage, the hotel^Òs second beach, is fine though. Although we had plans for some activities, sand gravity seemed stronger than usual, and we spent most of our time on Orient, with a couple of half days on Dawn Beach at Scavenger^Òs. The road over the hill from Oyster Pond (sorry Oyster Bay now that it has become too big to be a pond anymore) which used to be awfull has been resurfaced and is very good. This end of the beach where the old Dawn Beach hotel used to be is a lot less popular than the other end, but I think nicer. Scavenger^Òs is a low key and fairly limited operation, but they have chairs and umbrellas, restrooms, and a menu that we like. The Club Orient end of Orient Beach was pretty well occupied most times that we were there. Some sand has returned at Pedro^Òs and beyond, but the stretch immediately north of Pedro^Òs is ugly a virtually solid wall of eating establishments fronted by a row of beach chairs before the drop-off to the water. We drove over to Anse de Petites Cayes late Sunday afternoon. This is a rather remote beach and it has been years since we saw it, so There is a good deal of construction at the beginning of the road, which is rock and best suited to the garbage trucks. We were surprised when we got to the beach to find the road lined with cars and a lot of people on the beach. Apparently it is pretty popular with locals perhaps they go there to get away from the tourists. The beach has a lot more sand than we remember, but is mostly very narrow and stony in spots. The hills along it are used for launching hang gliders. We did manage to take a sunset cruise on the lagoon on the Lagoon Princess. We highly recommend this experience a pleasant hour and a half, an unobtrusive commentary that was both amusing and informative, and very good frozen rum punch (and other drinks). Restaurants we have a number of favorites that we go to year after year. I know we should try new ones, but we don^Òt want to miss these, so we are stuck. Our taste run to Creole, so we don^Òt do much with the gourmet French places. This is a log in no particular order. Marks still excellent food at very good prices, and now set up so you don^Òt notice the parking lot surrounding it. Went twice for excellent conch stew. Bistro Nu unusual dishes very well made. Was full our first visit, nearly empty the second. Jean-Claude was, as usual, very gracious. La California we find their regular menu good (more Creole), but the Bretonne crepes are unusual and delicious as is the complementary rum punch. The souvenir Polaroid is a nice touch if you like that kind of thing. Yvettes still the best for local food. We were surprised to be the only people there. Shiv Sagar we like Indian food even more than Creole, and they have very good Indian food. The best nan, and the condiments alone are worth the visit. Went twice here also. Le Mambo this is a small, very attractive restaurant on the land side of the street in Grand Case that we hadn^Òt been to for a year. The menu has some interesting and unusual preparations that are excellent. We haven^Òt seen this mentioned very much, but it should be more popular. Very nice service from Maryline. La Main a la Pate we got a lot of suggestions for my wife^Òs pizza (thanks to those who responded), but we settled on this restaurant as our only dinner at the Marigot marina; no disappointment, the pizza was great. It was packed Sunday night, but most of the other establishments were closed. We got good service in all of these places, but then except for La Main and California we are known in all of them. Although we do most of our own lunches, we did go to La Belle Epoque since they have a tropical fruit salad that my wife has to have every year; the onion soup and goat cheese salad aren^Òt bad either. Also did Scavenger^Òs and Papagayo^Òs. Currency: the Euro dollar conversion was erratic. Some menus had prices listed in both currencies based on who knows what conversion factor. A few places have the same price in Euros and dollars. About the only euros we saw was a 1 euro coin given as change with apologies by some place that was running out of $1^Òs, and a couple of euro cents masquerading as pennies. Crime: didn^Òt encounter any. However, some comments by locals and on local talk radio suggests that there is more crime against tourists than the officials want to admit, so care is warranted. A security guard with a nasty looking dog was patrolling the Marigot marina on Sunday night, and there was a guard on Front Street in Philipsburg near Shiv Sagar. This street was pretty deserted, but you can park across the street from the restaurant. We saw no sign of security in Grand Case, while it was very evident last year. Departure: we checked in before 10 AM, when there were few people present. As we use carry-on, we avoided the hand search of luggage. Afterwards, drove around a bit (Maho beach was almost deserted) and had lunch at Ric^Òs before turning in the car. Carry-ons were being randomly hand searched we were selected for a very cursory inspection. The flight to JFK was uncrowded and uneventful, and got in early.
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