Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
July 15 1996
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Aruba News and Notes May, 1996 Exchange rate is 1.77 (divide in half and add 10 percent for a rough estimate) The beach in front of the Divi is not as washed away as some described here on the BB earlier. The beach in front of the Tam up by the Dutch Village Phase I did erode badly during an early April storm and was being repaired with a breakwater and new walkway all of last week. A huge backhoe was maneuvered between two of the Tam buildings May 6 and they began rebuilding the walkway and retaining wall that has been washed away. May 7 we watched the backhoe construct about 60 feet of breakwater running parallel to the beach in front of the Tam to protect the new walkway that will be rebuilt. Rental cars now come in colors! Red, teal blue, green! In the past, it was tough trying to find your our rental car in the midst of all those other white cars! The new Royal Plaza Mall is beautiful! At night it is lit with huge white globe lamps. It is located right across the street from the open-air market. The three-story Dutch-style pink stucco building has outside winding staircases, an elevator and two escalators. In the center of the mall is a domed disco called the Cobalt Club. In front of the disco is an indoor/outdoor restaurant called Frankie's Prime Grille, owned by Frank who also owns Le Petit Cafe. The nice thing about the restaurant is you can sit on the outdoor second- floor balcony and watch the action below. (See restaurant reviews for more details.) Little Switzerland seems to have the prime shopping space on the first floor with a large jewelry store in the center first floor space and a smaller separate store featuring accessories. Gandelman Jewelers has another prime front location. There are a number of new shops selling different wares, notably a couple of shops featuring imported Italian men's and ladies shoes. A new post office and public rest rooms, (not air-conditioned) are also part of the mall, a great convenience. However, as I wandered back through to the city plaza behind the Sonesta, I couldn't help but wonder how the businesses back there were doing. I talked to one woman at our resort who had been here a whole week and had never ventured beyond the new mall and out the other side of the Seaport Village Mall to the square. She didn't know there was anything going on back there! It made me wonder how far into the town the cruise shoppers get in their short time on land. Then, during the week, the newspaper Aruba Today ran a feature story about the many stores that can be found on the back streets. Their message is clear - "We're here too! Don't forget about us!" There are many more one-way streets this year and blocked accesses to other familiar turns. Going toward town, if you don't make a left way before entering town, you can no longer make a left anywhere until you are way down past the Sonesta Hotel. In other words, the street corner where the new mall sits is blocked by moveable square cement flower beds in the center of the road. Dutch Village people can drink at the Tam by buying coupons at the front desk for $4. We went to the Bunker Bar with our chits and when I saw the small plastic glasses the drinks were served in I asked the bartender if we could have 2 for 1 because we were PAYING and he gladly obliged. Of course, we tipped him well. With the Tam being all inclusive, which means all you can drink, I think they made the glasses smaller! For those of us paying, that hurts until the nice bartender took care of us! By comparison, down the beach at the Casa del Mar outdoor bar, blended drinks were available at Happy Hour 4-6 p.m. in bigger cups for $2.75. The road leading to the lighthouse is now paved a lined with street lamps! Golf at the Terra del Sol golf course costs $85 which includes a cart. The price drops after noontime to $75 and after 3:30 to $57. Club rental ranges from $25 to $40. Most of the Casinos now have "slot tournaments." We entered one at the Radisson Tuesday night. For a $10 entry fee you get put into a group of five people to sit for five minutes on special slot machines. If you are with a group of people or even a spouse, it is wise to play on different teams because there is only one winner from each group qualifying for the final heat. The play consists of hitting the "spin" button continuously to score the highest points. Amazingly, the machines are set to win lots of points. The winner of one group of five hit the lucky three blue 7's four times. She had more than 5,000 points when the five minutes was up. For the $10 entry fee you get a T- shirt and a hat; some good luck beads placed around your neck; plus the pick of a key which, hopefully, will open a treasure chest. (It didn't.) We didn't stay for the final round because none of us qualified but the three first-place winners divvied up $350 in cash prizes. Other casinos have variations on this theme one or two times a week. For example, we watched a similar tournament at the Crystal Casino. There, the entry fee was $20 per person, the playing time was 15 minutes and the grand prize was $1,000. Caribbean Stud Poker has taken on a new twist...automatic card shufflers for the dealers. We didn't like this "cold deal." For one thing, you get all five cards at once, then, the next person gets his five cards at once, etc. No one-at-a-time deal. We finally found that the small Aruba Palm Beach Casino had $2 Caribbean Stud Poker (as opposed to $5 everywhere else) and a real live dealer. We still didn't win but enjoyed it more! I was dealt a straight but the dealer didn't qualify with an ace, king or better so I didn't get paid my 4-1 odds. Bummer. Friday night, May 10, the lights went out all over the island. It was very interesting to see what hotels and casinos had for emergency power. We were at the Radisson when it happened and their generator kicked in to provide us with some power. The machines went wacky, spinning and spinning but NOT paying! Since there was also no AC, we survived about an hour and then we had to get out of that sweltering oven. We stopped at the Aruba Palm Beach Casino but the casino doors were locked and the place was in the dark. Next, off in the horizon, we saw La Cabana lit up so we headed over there. They must have several emergency generators because the exterior lights were on but no other power was available at the timeshare units. The casino tables were operating but not the slots. The Jewel Box Revue show never went on and money was refunded to all who couldn't return another night. By this time we had to go to the bathroom. There was a candle lit in the ladies room of La Cabana Casino but the toilets didn't flush! The generator lights started to flicker at La Cabana and the pit bosses, probably fearing a raid on their chip boxes, ordered the dealers to hurry and finish their last game and lock up tight. We left and came back to the Tam and Dutch Village where it was pitch black...not a light in sight except in the laundry. Fortunately we had two candles and flashlight. Others weren't so lucky. Power was restored about 3 a.m. I would strongly suggest when packing for an Aruba visit bring a flashlight and some candles for just such an emergency. Restaurant Reviews Aruba 1996 Saturday Buccaneer, Gasparito 11-C (Ph. 66172) Specializing in seafood :Entrees $12-$25. We selected the Catch of the Day - red snapper or shark for $12. Three of us chose the snapper grilled and I had it stuffed with crab (imitation) and shrimp with a delicious cream sauce. The chef/owner, Joseph Munzenhofer, made a point of circulating among the tables and greeting the guests, a nice touch! This has become a tradition for us...our first night in Aruba we go to the Buccaneer with our good friends, the Smiths from Bangor, Maine. The Buccaneer does not take reservations. But, it is worth the wait, especially if you request a table with a"view." The view is an aquarium right at your table in keeping with the theme of the Buccaneer. In other words, you are supposed to feel like you are underwater, down in the deep blue sea. Look up at the ceiling for a surprise! Sunday: Le Petit Cafe, Emmastraat 1 (Ph. 26577) Specializing in international cuisine, Entrees $15-$25 For an unusual dining experience, try this, our favorite restaurant in Aruba. Located right on the plaza behind the Sonesta Hotel in the center of Oranjestad, this darling little restaurant specializes in steak cooked on a sizzling hot imported Italian stone brought right to your table. The steak, or seafood if you prefer, is served with raw onion and a slice of pepper which also cooks on the stone while you eat. Three of us ordered Surf and Turf for $18.95 which included a small steak and three large seasoned shrimp. Our fourth diner doesn't like beef so she ordered Mahi Mahi, a local white fish, which was also cooked on a stone. Salad, baked potato and veggies come with the meal. For dessert, two of us had their delicious flan at $3 each. We also had a coupon left over from last year for a free glass of wine and the staff was most happy to honor it for all four of us. Another nice thing about this restaurant is that you can chose to eat outside in a cafe-like atmosphere where the balmy night air is pleasant or inside in air-conditioned comfort. Monday :Chez Gabriel, Dutch Village #121, by invitation only! Tonight we invited Phyllis and John Williams over to our patio at the Dutch Village for shrimp scampi over pasta and a salad. Fresh bread and a delicious cheese cake, both from the Pueblo bakery, rounded out the dinner. My husband Bob and three other guests from the Dutch Village went on their annual trek down to the docks in Oranjestad this morning to buy shrimp right off the boat. The dickering started when one fisherman asked for $12 for a kilo. The guys walked away to the next boat and that fisherman sold them each a kilo for $10 with the heads, a very good price. We got 29 plump, sweet shrimp for that amount! We enjoyed a nice candlelight dinner (when the wind allowed the candle to stay lit) out on the patio with the palm trees rustling in the breeze. Tuesday: Tony Roma's, J.E. Irasquin Blvd. 230, (opposite the Holiday Inn) Ph. 67427, Entrees $10-$20 This is an American chain famous for ribs, opened in Aruba a few years ago, and is located down by the Holiday Inn. The prices are higher than an American version of Tony Roma's due to import costs but the ribs are delicious. Wednesday Frankie's Prime Grille, Royal Plaza Mall, opposite the outdoor market, PH. 38471 Entrees $10.95-$28.95 This is a new restaurant, open only four weeks when we ate there May 8. It is located on the second floor of the Royal Plaza Mall with a choice of indoor and outdoor dining on a balcony overlooking the main street. The restaurant, which is owned by Frankie, also the owner of Le Petit Cafe, features a salad bar ($3.50 with an entree, $7.50 by itself) with all kinds of unusual items such as artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, several cold vegetables, tuna and potato salad as well as the usual items. Our party of four ordered Vodka penne, a pasta dish for $10.95; Mahi Mahi, the catch of the day, $14; filet mignon, $17.95 and lasagna, $11.95. The food was cooked to perfection and the service was excellent. We had eaten earlier in the week at Le Petit Cafe where the hostess gave us a card to present at the Prime Grille for a free glass of wine, a nice touch! Poli Tromp is the manager here and, of course, he is anxious to get this restaurant known on the island. While we were dining outdoors, we were "serenaded" every 15 minutes with the new clock/carillon with mechanical figures marching around a square tower - a little reminiscent of the clock towers in some town squares in Germany. This clock tower is the centerpiece of the new Royal Plaza Mall. Thursday El Goucho, Wilhelminastraat 49, PH. 23677 Entrees $15-$24 This is THE placed to buy a steak on the island. The restaurant, located near the downtown area, features Argentine beef. The most popular cut is the El Goucho or "Churrasco" steak ($20) which looks like an eye-of-the-round roast when it is served to you on a platter! Three of our party of four ordered the El Goucho. The fourth person ordered the catch of the day which was grouper ($18). With dinner comes a nice salad and potatoes and two vegetables. The place is so popular that you need to make reservations a few days in advance. Further, the phone is ALWAYS busy so it is best to drive there a few days before you want to go and make the reservations in person. About 18 months ago the restaurant took over a building next door and enlarged the dining area, added a bar complete with space for a piano player, and new restrooms. The entrance and exterior have also been updated. We used to tell people not to let the shabby outside fool you but we need not say that anymore. In place of a tiny front door, the restaurant now features attractive double arched doors. Friday Chez Gabriel again! Tonight we stayed in and feasted on JUMBO shrimp cocktail and left over El Gouch steak. A great meal and it was just as well that we decided to dine in. Power went out on the island about 9:30 p.m. so restaurants were hard pressed to finish cooking orders put in at that time. Back to the shrimp.....Bob was able to buy a kilo without heads today for $14, an excellent price and they were BIG. The other day he paid $10 for a kilo with the heads. We also checked out a few restaurants and their menus but didn't have time to try them out: La Trattoria - Faro Blanco is the new Italian Restaurant located out at the Lighthouse. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays, the day we happened to stop by. But, we did meet the chef who was happy to show us the menu. Prices range from $10(pasta) to $28.50 for sea bass which, the chef said, is flown in from Boston daily on American Airlines! The decor is lovely and the sunsets out at the lighthouse are spectacular. The road leading to the lighthouse is now paved and is adorned with street lights! Modernization comes to Aruba, even at the once desolate lighthouse! Ventas del Mar, the restaurant located at Terra del Sol, Aruba's upscale golf course, has prices ranging from $15 to $28, slightly less for lunch. A cab ride out there from the high-rise hotels is $8; from Oranjestad, $13. The area is being developed quickly. There are several new houses being constructed and it appeared that there were several high-priced duplex town houses as well. Tuscany's is the Italian Restaurant located at the new Marriott. Prices there ranged from $10 for pasta to $30 for a shrimp and lobster dish. Most of the restaurants tack on a 15 percent service charge following the European and south American tradition. However, it is important to note that just a portion of that goes to the waiter for a tip. Some of it goes to the bartender, busboy and the restaurant for breakage. We usually tip an extra 10 percent, depending on the service. Tony Roma's did NOT include the 15% service charge and the bill was stamped with big black letters letting us know that! When in Aruba, be sure and pick up a neat new publication called "First All Restaurant Guide." Published by the Aruba Gastronomic Association, this colorful booklet lists all of the restaurants in Aruba and features favorite recipes from some of them. I was shocked to learn that there are 36 Oriental restaurants on Aruba and we have never eaten at one of them. But, there's always next year!
We just returned from a great vacation. s There are a couple of things we wish we'd known: like how to nab a taxi at the airport. That scene made very bad first impression. Instead of coming in and lining up for passengers in some kind of order it was absolute chaos. They stopped in the end or the middle of the area marked for them or in the middle of the street. It seemed like whoever jumped on the hood first got the taxi <G>. The policeman there would motion to one, and it would go to the beginning of the line, he'd turn his back and chaos again. I walked over and asked him what the system was, and he told me that they were supposed to line up for passengers from the beginning of the line. Yeah, right. Is there a system???? More on cabs later (good stuff). The other thing is so simple is may seem stupid, but we got sandblasted the first day on the beach before realizing you really need to thread your beach towel through the slats of the chair to protect yourself. As for laying directly on the beach--forget it. We watched as one couple tried--they gave up real fast. It was not as bad in the morning as in the afternoon. We did enjoy the beach once we did that. The one by the Divi Village was nice, small and not at all crowded. No shade except for huts in the a.m. and shadows are back on the sidewalk in the p.m. We traveled Sunday to Sunday (our cab driver told us Sunday is the busiest day at the airport). Were too tired to do anything but check in (were handed a fruit punch as we waited for check in--nice touch), have an early dinner and sack out. Or try to. We'd both been up since 4 am. Had dinner at the Lobster Bay. The mango daiquiris were great, the food just okay. Got back to the unit and hit the sack and then we heard it-- chugging, clanking, grinding mechanical noises that caused the wall behind the bed to vibrate. The wall is an outside wall and the noise was building related, not the unit itself. Called the front desk-- maintenance would check it out. For some strange reason, it stopped at 10:00 p.m. and then resumed around mid-morning. There was also a loud clattering noise in the duct work during the same time period. Unit number is 3106--if you get this one ask for another unit. A shame because it is a lovely large 1 bedroom., 1 1/2 bath unit which seems to be part of a lockout. Someone paid a lot of money for all that racket. Monday--We went to the grocery, both Pueblo and Ling and Sons are within walking distance, then headed into Oranjstead. The bus is a great way to get around if you don't mind standing. Spent the morning browsing in the shops--Aruba may not be a prime shopping area for bargains, but there is certainly an abundance of shops. Had lunch in ?? which is upstairs in the new pink thing. The outside marquee said Frankie and Johnnies, the menu said Le Petit Cafe (which is elsewhere). The view from the balcony was great. We should have looked at menu *before* we sat down, but were hot, tired and didn't feel like looking further. We each had soup and Caesar salads one with grilled shrimp and one with grilled chicken and an Amstel each.. Everything else on the menu was for a big heavy meal. Undoubtedly *the* most expensive lunch we've *ever* had to the tune of $44--outrageous! Especially since the service was lousy. Water was poured *after* we got our check, and we had to wait forever for that even after we asked for it! Had dinner in the unit and then went to the pool bar for a nightcap. Oranjstead is impressive for a Caribbean city. It is much larger than we expected. Made reservations to rent a car since Tuesday was the Queen's Birthday and Wednesday Labor Day. We found it interesting that restaurants that are normally closed on Tuesday's were open. This is not so on the Dutch side of St. Maarten. There many are closed for the holidays and dining out is difficult and crowded. The bus schedule was cut back to every hour, and the taxis were required to charge $1 extra. We actually had a cab driver apologize to us because he had to charge us $6 instead of the usual $5. Never happen in Philly! Actually you'd never get any place for $5 or $6 in Philly. Tuesday--Spent the morning on the beach and just lounged, relaxed and took a siesta. Tuesday evening we went to the Bon Bini Festival at Fort Zoutman. Funny, I've never seen it mentioned here. We thought it well worth the $3 admission fee. We were there on a holiday, so maybe the groups were better than average, but it was a really pleasant way to learn about the Aruban culture. The MC was a hoot as well as very well educated and informative. The audience of about 75 was a very international crowd with 10 different nations represented. Entertainment, other than the MC, was a "Ting-a-lingy box" (Europeans couldn't say the name in Papiamento), an excellent band, and 2 troupes of dancers. One was of beautifully costumed young native Aruban dancers that showed the Caribbean variations of various dances including African influenced dances; the other an older group that showed some of the dances that were common at European parties in the Caribbean. The youngest members of the second group were 57 and the oldest member 80! The smell of the food coming from the food both was so good we opted to try it. It was billed as stewed meat with mixed vegetables and fried rice. It was tasty and filling. I suspect the meat was goat, which is really hard to tell from beef. Dinner was $12 for 2. There were also booths selling artwork, pretty amateurish, beverages, and of course, T- shirts. A fun evening. Wednesday--We had reservations on the Atlantis Submarine. Since we'll never dive, this gave us the opportunity to see things that would other wise not be possible. If you dive, it's not worth it. The variety of coral and the colors of both the fish and the coral are breathtaking. The ride on the pontoon boat to and from the site gave a nice vantage point of the shoreline of the island. We ate lunch at the Paddock in Oranjstead and then went back to our unit and crashed for the afternoon Had dinner at Boonoonoonous that evening and our first taste of Keshi Yeni. Absolutely delicious. Nice presentation and excellent service. One drink each, pumpkin soup, oyster soup (my first taste of Madame Jeanette. Whew!) and entree was $60. Thursday--Went to the beach in the morning, had lunch in the unit, and set out on a driving tour of the north end of the island. I did the driving and found it quite pleasant. We headed for the gold smelter and the Natural Bridge. The trash and litter around the Natural Bridge is appalling. We made frequent photo stops just because the landscape is so other worldly. Also drove through Tierra Del Sol and several other interesting residential areas on the way to the California Light House. Wended our way back to Nord and tried to find Gasparito. We realized later that we drove past it about 5 times and just didn't realize it. It's easier to find at night when it is all lighted up. Boy, did we feel stupid when we found it later! We had a lovely dinner at Papiamento. One drink each, shrimp bisque, shrimp on the stone and steak and shrimp on the stone, dessert and expresso for $107. Do be forewarned that the shrimp is served European style with the heads. Friday--Same as Thursday morning, then drove to the south end of the island with Paul doing driving duty this time. Drove to Roger's and Baby Beach, tried to find Colorado Point--never did at least we don't think we did and then headed for the caves. We started to go down in one, but about 1/4 the way down I realized I just couldn't handle the climbing because of a bum knee. Found muscles that had been in hiding for years. Don't even think about trying this unless you are in excellent physical shape. Drove back by the white sand dunes, had what I think was the stallion for the herd of wild mules pose very nicely for us and also make a very loud vocal statement when my camera buzzed. His opinion of tourists? <G>. Just had fun exploring and taking pictures. Then headed back to Nord and finding Gasparito, which had now become the challenge of the week. We did succeed, but had taken a chance on a table with no reservation. Made reservations for Saturday and went to the Buccaneer for dinner. Again a really good meal with drinks, soup, entree and expresso for about $60. The chef came around and chatted at each table and again the service here was excellent. We didn't have to wait for a table and had a great aquarium next to our table with one of the most intriguing fish we've ever seen--a scorpion fish. An absolute master of camouflage. I thought it was just a part of the coral until Paul pointed out that it was breathing. Saturday--our last beach day and time to relax. Really didn't do much at all. Took advantage of the early check-out procedure then headed for the high rise area and a stroll along the walk that joins the hotels. The Hyatt is just gorgeous. Took advantage of happy hour as advised and tried to watch the sunset. Unfortunately there was a heavy cloud cover at the horizon so it wasn't great. Guess we'll have to go back so we can see one in all it's glory. Took a cab to Gasparito and were surprised when the tab was only $4!. Again a wonderful meal with great ambiance and service. Make sure you read the history of the place that's on the front porch--very interesting. We both had escargot for appetizers, I had seafood in melt in your mouth puff pastry and Paul had the seafood Keshi Yeni. Would have loved to tried dessert, but were stuffed so just had expresso. Again about $60 including 2 drinks each. Sunday--Headed for airport and the craziness of getting home. Came home to pouring rain and cool temps. Got home around midnight. This was one loooong day. General stuff--Renting a car for a first time visitor is something we would recommend; however, if we go back we probably won't bother. Even with the discount we found car rental costs higher here than St. Martin where we've never paid more than $150 a week in this same time frame for a car with 10,000 miles or less on it.. We rented from Budget which was at Divi Village. The regular rate was $46 a day. We were given a 20% discount. The car had over 80,000 miles on it and let out a loud squawk every time you got in or out of it. It was not in very good shape, but it was clean. The bus system is quite efficient, cheap ($1), and easy to take. If you want a seat you need to go around behind the Sonesta where there is a bus station. The Palm Beach route begins and terminates there. The cab drivers are terrific. Coming from an area where they are known as rip off artists it was refreshing to be apologized to for a government imposed supplement. When change was given even if you told them to keep the change it was handed back to you and you had to hand it to them separately. The Aruban facility for languages is amazing. In several instances we saw (or heard) "You don't speak _____, let's speak _____". We felt very safe walking around even early on Tuesday evening when the place was just about deserted. Later that night it was bustling. Seems there is usually lots of activity at night in Oranjstead. We did see one very brief instance of something suspicious, but just kept walking. And finally, a comb is a totally useless commodity except for getting the snarls out! <BG>
The trip was great as usual, I really can't believe the weather perfect every day with such refreshing water. I have been three times now and its a fantastic island. When we landed on Saturday, it took a hour to get the luggage, three planes had landed at the same time. The baggage area was in chaos with so many people. But we survived and got our rental through budget paid 240.00 with air. I like to rent because we like to drive to all restaurants and casinos and bars at night. Also sunsets at the California light house. We arrived at La Cabana easy check in great suite all for 599.00 each for 7 nights with air. I must say that La Cabana staff is very friendly and the place is spotless, there always cleaning something. Plus security is everywhere its so safe there. We ate breakfast in the suite every day I brought down juices, booze, breads, etc. Ate lunch and dinner out. I don't recommend eating at the restaurants at La cabana the food stinks and the prices outrageous. The beach at la Cabana is truly the best, its less crowded the water is beautiful, wind doesn't bother you like the high rise area. Also they have 3 huge pools with slides and waterfalls also 3 bars. Go to the happy hours for the 2 for 1 drink specials. Speaking of drinking which we do alot on vacation. The Wnydam has a great happy hour from 5.30 to 7pm all you can drink for 8.50. Also some new bars are Cheers downtown, ladies night was Tuesdays all ladies drink free from 10 to 12.30. The place was packed. Also Whiskey Roadhouse bar next to Houlihans was a fun late night bar. There specials are 1 dollar drinks from 11.30 to 1.am they have live music there too. Costa Linda has a great managers cocktail party on Mondays 6-7pm full bar good food. La Cabana is Thursday beer and wine only. Its also between 6-7 pm. We ate at Boonoonooous the first night excellent local restaurant with island specials the Jamaican jerk ribs are the best and hottest I've tasted. My wife had the keshi Yena the local Aruban chicken casserole covered in gouda cheese also great all for about 50.00 dollars with drinks and desserts. The next night we ate at the Driftwood also downtown. It was mothers day and the place was packed with locals. Great atmosphere and great seafood. We had lobster thermidor and it was great they serve great garlic bread too. Real friendly staff. lobster was 31.50 each. Go there for local fresh seafood. Another of my favorite places is Momma Mia's across from the Sonesta. It is right on the harbor and its all open air dinning. We ate there twice. They have the best whole rock lobster ,they serve it any style you like. Big money runs 20.00 a pound, but worth it. Great al fresco dinning. Tried the Waterfront Crab House. Also nice local seafood very reasonable prices. Located in the seaport mall. Great red Snapper and cajun grilled shrimp. Wasn't impressed with Valentinos, very expensive not worth it for gourmet Italian. My wife's shrimp were not FRESH! will not go again. 150.00 for two. I was very lucky at the casinos this time I would play blackjack before dinner and would win 100-150.00 that would pay for the dinner. It seemed to be like that every night . because I never had to spend any of my own money down there I used my winnings to pay for everything, I won every night and we would gamble about 1 hour before dinner and a couple hours after. I was real happy about that!!!! Love the Hyatt casino and the Wyndham. The others are so so. Raddison is good for slots. I heard La Cabana Casino lost 7 million dollars from counterfeit chips last year. The whole management team has been replaced. DO NOT GAMBLE THERE!!!
Landed on Aruba after an uneventful direct flight from JFK. Getting our baggage actually went better than I had imagined. We picked up what seemed to be the universal rental car, a Toyota Tercel, from Budget. Lucked out and was given one only a couple of years old with only 24K miles. It was a pleasant surprise to find the car rentals really were just a short walk across the street as we were told. Couldn't imagine how that could be. Took us only about 20 minutes to get our car. Wish I could always get my car as quickly. The car had very little power from a dead stop with the A/C running. While a car is more expensive than using the taxis on Aruba, we felt that the convenience was well worth the $$. It was great especially for my daily trip to Ling and Sons to get a nice warm baguette right out of the oven. Great with some imported Danish cheese. Oh well, the goes my cholesterol! Being this was our first trip to Aruba, the initial drive to La Cabana took somewhat longer than subsequent trips back to Oranjestad, etc. after we were a little familiar with the route. By the time we got checked in at La Cabana it was time to start thinking about dinner. We were supposed to get a 1 br. Grande Suite, but ended up with a 1 br. oceanview suite in the front section. After seeing both suites, I definitely preferred the oceanview even though the Grand Suites are slightly bigger. We would stay in 1 br. oceanview if we returned to LaCabana. When trying to decide between high-rise and low-rise before going, the low-rise seemed to fit our desires the best. After viewing both I would find it difficult to choose, as both have things in their favor. We took the island tour with Pelican Tours which had a desk at LaCabana and enjoyed it very much. While Aruba is extremely arid without lush vegetation, it has a beauty all its own. The sunset dinner cruise, also with Pelican, was good but if we did it again would just take the sunset cruise without dinner which was only OK at best. After hearing so much about the winds on Aruba we didn't find that to be a problem at all. In fact, it helped keep the heat tolerable. Only one day did the wind whip up the sand on the beach, and only for a short time in the afternoon. Monday - Dinner at Chalet Suisse. Weiner Schnitzel for Sue, and Red Snapper for me. Sues' good, mine very good. Great service and nice atmosphere. Tuesday - at Watrefront Crabhouse near harbor. Sue had Lobster stuffed with crab, mine was an assorted seafood dinner Both very good. Nice place to dine outside. Wednesday - at Boonoonoonoos. Kesha Yena for me (GREAT),shrimp dish for Sue(good). Thursday - at Pelican Sunset dinner cruise. As I said earlier food as just OK at best. Sue had assorted B-B-Q dishes, mine was basic seafood. Wouldn't do this again! Friday - at Pavaroti. Sue had a great meal of shrimp and crab in vodka sauce over pasta. My meal of shrimp and scallops over linguine was equally as good. Nice place with great wine selections. Saturday - at Miramer in the Holiday Inn. Chef made Chicken Oscar at our request. Good, but not as good as we have had at other places. Sunday - Checked on Sunday brunch at the Casa Del Mar in the Aruba Beach Club on Saturday and was told all about it. Price, etc. and that reservations wouldn't be needed. Went there on Sunday only to be told by another person that there was NO Sunday brunch. We went with plan B, which was brunch at the Holiday Inn. Not only did we have a table with a great ocean view, the brunch was fantastic. Comparable to some of the best we have enjoyed in Fort Lauderdale, New York City, Boston and here at home in CT.. A very nice surprise as Holiday Inns are not usually my favorite places. We had a great time on Aruba and it is up the top of our list of places to return to, as is St.Maarten. Better restaurants and shopping on SXM, but Aruba has equally nice beaches and certainly better driving conditions. I must admit to feeling safer on Aruba when going out in the evening. Too bad people have to feel insecure anywhere. I didn't really realize how negative most newspaper stories are in the states until picking up a local paper after not reading one for a week. Looking forward to our return to Aruba and will probably try the high-rise area next time.
Immigration and Customs were very quick - about 15 minutes from when we clambered down the stairs with our carry on baggage until we exited the terminal. One strange activity - many, many officials at the customs exit - all they were doing was stopping everyone and lifting their luggage to see how heavy it was!?!? Anyone out there heard of this procedure??? What's the purpose?? Anyway -- over to Budget -- had the car (Toyota Tercel) $237/10 days within minutes -- arrived at CPV (Caribbean Palm Village) and were in the room within an hour after touchdown. Headed for Lings to stock up on the essentials, coffee, wine, water and some food for those days when we didn't dress for dinner. Our daily routine was to head for the beach first thing in the morning -- we parked opposite Chalet Suisse, then walked the beach towards town for 30 minutes down, 30 minutes back. Our exercise out of the way, we returned to CPV and rinsed off the sand and salt, then relaxed by the pool for most of the day, until dinner. During our stay we returned to several of our favorites from last December, plus three new dining adventures!! All prices quoted were for two people and include appetizer, 2 glasses of wine, entree, coffee, 15% service charge, plus an additional 5% tip we added to the service charge, with the exception of El Gaucho. The food was excellent at all of them. Buccaneer twice for their escargot, followed by lobster tail -- $75. Ventanas Del Mar - excellent ambiance -- seafood appetizers and entree -- $130. Chalet Suisse - Escargot & Lamb Chops -- $100. Papiamento - Land & Sea (Shrimp & Filet Mignon) on the stone -- $90. Tony Romas - Rib combination platter -- $40. Waterfront - Shrimp platters -- $55. El Gaucho - Gaucho Steak -- $75 - no extra tip as it took 4 requests and 30 minutes to get the check after we had finished eating!! We explored several of the casinos -- the Marriott and the Hyatt were the cleanest and best run BY FAR -- in fact, we wont go back to any of the others if we want to make any donations in the future! All in all another great trip -- over all too soon of course. We've already started planning January 1997!!
Great news from the isle of Aruba, the golden arches are coming to Palm Beach, that's right my friends, Mc Donalds is opening very soon across the street from another great place (Wendy's), I just know everyone would be as thrilled as I was to learn the super news, just made my day. (VBG) Not to be outdone, Sparros is opening in Seaport across from the new movies, also hear Arbys might be on the way down, can Denny's and IHOP be far behind (G). Now that I got the really important stuff out of the way will update on the latest from everyone's favorite home away from home. New road should be open in about 8 weeks from airport (you will go straight out of airport instead of making left turn towards town) and will come out right below La Cabana, you will not have to go through down to get to hotel area. They have turned off the traffic lights on the main road through down so traffic can go about 10 MPH instead of the usual 5 (G). Also have changed some traffic patterns and now have tow away zones, but you can still park on the sidewalk, just not in the street anymore in certain spots. New bus terminal to be build across from Lovers ice cream with a big parking lot, but I'll still part on the sidewalk, it's more fun that way. That new Pink thing (Royal Plaze Shopping Center) is up and running but will hurt little shops in town. Believe it or not have not gone through the place yet and have no plans to do so as long as wife doesn't find out what it is. I always take the back roads and kept telling her that big pink thing over there is the new bus terminal, hope they don't build the real bus terminal to fast or I'm in big trouble (VBG). There was a small set of stores surrounded by the seaport village, ain't there no more, took about 2 days and now a vacant lot, most likely new stores, just what they need. That's about it for downtown, will now move out towards low rise area. As most of you know, Club Visage burned down a while back, seems like the owner got the insurance check and vanished, now that's odd, you would have though he would have rebuilt. Reminds me of a story, seems there were these two business men laying on the beach and the first one sez he was retired because his business had burned down and he had a good insurance policy, second guy said his business was hit be a big flood and he too had a good insurance policy. First guy asked the second one, how do you start a flood? (VBG) Anyway, you will never guess what they are building on the old Club Visage site, even in the US they would not build what is now being built there, if you guessed another grocery store, you are right. Plus Certified grocery is also rebuilding. Did some price shopping on this trip and find that Puelbo has the best prices overall and is even running specials. They seem to be stocking more American items, just what we need more of, and the meat selection is excellent and tasty. The cheese prices are cheaper than at the airport if you are thinking of taken some home. While I'm on the subject of food, so what's new about that, if you are in a time share unit and like shrimp, on Tuesday or Wednesday morning go in town to the dock area, turn right at lovers ice cream go to end of block, make a left and you will see the small fishing boats lined up, but go early, around 8am and you will find some of the best shrimp and at $10 to $15 a kilo (about 2 lb) it's a great buy. You will find the shrimp with or without heads, don't let the heads on scare you, they come off real easy, wish I could say that about some people I know. <VBG> You can find cocktail sauce in Puelbo. While in the dock area if you like bagels, stop in at Bon Bine Bagels, they are great. For a great breakfast deal go to the Royal casino at La Cabana from 8 to 11 am. For $9.95 you get buffet of fruit, pastry, juice, meat/cheese and an entree from kitchen, plus they give you a coupon good in the casino for buy $10 in coin and they give you back $15, so unless you gamble it away, breakfast cost only $4.95. Another place you might try for a change of pace is the Patio restaurant in the Sun Plaza building. Great local food, shrimp with salad and garlic bread for $5. Mixed grill for $12. You sit outside and have a great time. While not gourmet fare it's a nice experience and won't put a big dent in your wallet. Many of the restaurants are now offering early bird specials and a few are not adding the service charge to the check. They stamp the message NO SERVICE CHARGE across the bottom of the bill so you won't forget to leave a tip. One thing I did notice in several places is they just add the service charge into the price of the item without adding it separately at the bottom of the check. Had not been to the Mill in several years and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food. While not as big as El Gaucho, the filet at the Mill was excellent as was the fish. My wife loves blue cheese dressing on her salad and said the Mill has one of the best she has ever tasted, real stuff. As usual great meals at Chalet Suisse, Flame, La Dolce Vita, Brisas Del Mar, Roma Di Notte and of course El Gaucho. Wendy's was great too. (just kidding George).<grin>. A new restaurant to Eagle Beach area is Mi Cushina, it use to be on the other side of the airport but they moved a few months ago, local food, fresh fish, goat stew, I guess if they run out, just step out the back door and get more,<VBG> plus other local dishes. George, stop reading here. We also had a great dinner at Tony Romas, chicken breast and ribs, some of the best I have ever eaten and while not the real thing, a large Caesar salad that really tasted good, plus some of the best service on the island. That's it for part 2, stay tuned for part 3 if I can read my notes.
Eloise and I had never even heard of Tortola before we saw the special offered by American Airlines a few weeks ago. We couldn't pass up the deal they offered and having been there, couldn't be happier! While Tortola might not be for everyone, especially if you like high rise hotels and glitz, it's a laid back island with a charm all its own, and excellent diving. We stayed at Prospect Reef Resort and loved it. We had a suite with a refrig, but no air conditioning. We didn't even miss it because the large overhead fan was great. The only complaint I had was that the no-see-ums (mosquitos) loved me. Eloise only got two bites the whole week! That's probably because they were busy chomping on me! The room was large and airy and the view was spectacular. Hammocks were available and were great. Also a very large lap pool was almost our own private pool! Very few guests used it and we loved it. The grounds are very well kept and the help is superb. The water is potable which is a plus. There's a marina on site, as well as Baskin in the Sun dive shop. Two restaurants and other shops compliment the place. Another plus is that it's close to town and we walked there a few times. Roadtown has a lot of neat shops and as I said, no glitz. Usually there was one cruise ship in port and sometimes none. The restaurants on the island are moderately priced and wonderful! We especially liked C & F's. You won't believe the delicious bar-b-qued chicken, ribs, and lobster! It's a small place so make reservations. I can't wait to get back there! We also tried Mrs Scatliffs which is on the other side of the island and the food was great. This is one of those restaurants that you have to go to at least once to experience it. The PUB outside of Roadtown was super for dinner with a great view of the harbor and good food and music. For a meal with super atmosphere, you have to try Pussers Pub in town. We also dropped some $$'s in their great shop attached to the restaurant. But for excellent Italian food, don't miss Capriccio Di Mare in town. We love Italian food and this was some of the best we've ever had while on vacation. On the other side of the island is Cane Garden Bay, a beautiful place to swim and enjoy the sun. The restaurants are also very good. We went back twice and spent about 5 hours there each time. The diving was great! I dove two days and Eloise dove one. I dove Rhone Reef and Painted Walls and they were both great reef dives. I have great pictures that I took at both sites. The topping on the cake was when Eloise and I dove the wreck of the Rhone. The ship sank in 1867 and is in two parts. You do the forward part on the first (deep) dive which is about 82 feet and the aft section on the second dive, which averages about 60 feet or less. Lots of neat swim through, portholes still in one piece with shiny brass and in one the glass is still there, and even a spoon that is sticking out of the wreckage! Lots of marine life and super, super picture taking opportunities. We can't wait to get back there. This is a site you could dive many, many times. There's even a rack with huge wrenches in it. On the forward dive you can see the mast and crows nest lying on the bottom. There's also a swim through where you come out by a very large propeller! Great pictures! We dove with Baskin in the Sun, and they were great. Only complaint was that on the Rhone dive we were on one of their smaller boats and it was really overcrowded. They have a large dive boat called the Narcosis and there's lots of room on it. However they were taking snorkelers from the cruise ship out on it that day. The divemasters were extra special, especially Melanie (Mel) and Mickey. Try to dive with them if you get the opportunity. We also went on a day sail on the White Squall sailboat. This 80 foot boat is beautiful and we had just a super time! Made great friends and were treated great. Couldn't have been better! Highly recommended for an unforgettable day trip. As you can tell, we're hooked on the place and can't wait to go back.
Had a wonderful week sailing in the BVI and wanted to post a few comments. We started our week right by having a great dinner at Spaghetti Junction. If you have not tried this restaurant and like Italian food it is a must!! The next day we set sail with a past charter captain friend to the Bight to see the new Willie T. We did some snorkeling and anchored with another charter boat captain friend for awhile. Great to catch up with local friends. We dropped our friend off at Soper's Hole for a wedding. Since it was late we couldn't catch a mooring so brought the right bow up to the fuel dock between 2 boats to drop him off. We made the other boat crews very nervous with only inches to spare as we edged in. Great challenge. We then went up to Cane Garden Bay for the night. We anchored in front of Quito's Gazebo. He started singing about 9 PM and we fell asleep listening to him. A perfect night's ending. Next day we sailed around West End and up the channel, 35 miles in less than 5 hours. Made our way into Savannah Bay and up to Mango Bay. This is a beautiful anchorage but I must say it is intimidating with very shallow reef areas all around. I can't recommend this place for deeper draft boats. Had dinner at Georgio's Table, cute open air restaurant, Italian, with piano music right on the water. Another great evening. We sailed to Anegada . Sailed to Cooper Island. This was a very mellow, wonderful sail. Cooper Island Beach Club will be under new management in June. Contract was up and current managers decided to do other things. The Conch Fritters are still the best we have had. We snorkeled at Blue Chromis Reef. Sunset and evening at Cooper Island is still one of our favorite stops. The new cottages for guests are finished and very attractive. Next day we heard other friends hailing us on the radio. We sailed up to George Dog for lunch with them and some snorkeling. Can't believe how fast the time passes. One week is definitely not long enough. We didn't get to so many of our favorite places. Have our plane reservations made for the next trip this summer. We will be diving that trip. Although we enjoy having friends along and sharing these wonderful islands with them I must admit it is a treat to have the boat to ourselves once in awhile. We had no schedule, nowhere we had to be, nothing we had to do. We followed the wind for a perfect week.
We just returned from a truly enjoyable vacation. We stayed at Ole Works Inn (aka Quito's Place) from 5/6-5/13. Cane Garden Bay will now be my vacation of choice. The best way to describe CGB is that it is a quaint and charming little village in the Caribbean. Imagine, you are on the beach with your eyes closed.. in the background you hear some of Quito's music, the sound of itsy bitsy waves hitting the perfect sand beach, a lamb and roosters. It was not uncommon to see goats, donkeys and cows strolling through the streets. At OWI, we stayed in the old building, although we toured the various rooms in the new building too. The rooms were clean & reasonable priced. My only complaint about the old building is the fans in the roof that did not have screens. I received about 100 no- see-um and mosquito bites (remember to back Avon's Skin So Soft next time). At CGB, we ate at Quito's(excellent chicken roti and ribs), Paradice Club(breakfast everyday & sometimes lunch--great conch fritters) & Rhymer's(excellent Caribbean lobster). We met many interesting folks, including locals and tourists) hanging out at night at Quito's. Dinner at C&F Restaurant was absolutely the best(Surf & Turf was $35 and had more food than Gene could ever eat!) We also went to Soper's Hole to explore the shops & eat at Pusser's Landing (a Painkiller is an absolute must!!) Unfortunately it rained for the entire first 2 days of our trip, but we made the best of it--we explored Roadtown & it's shops. St.Thomas it is not!! As a matter of fact it was a pleasure not to be slapped with "souvenir & T-shirt signs" every place you turned. On Tortola, T-shirts are limited, but post cards are abundant. The best gifts & purchases have to be the jellies & spices.(I'll bet we spent over $100 on spices alone). The one thing I must say about Tortola is that I have never felt so safe. Never, not even during the island's power failure (lasted about 2 1/2 hrs) did I feel like I was in danger. Everyone, from the littlest child walking to school to the oldest person, was so friendly--one gentlemen even stopped us to ask if we wanted any sugar cane (for free!!). One interesting fact is that Mother's Day is a very real holiday there. EVERY mother was very dressed up & they all had their hair styled so beautifully. No more St. Thomas for me--I plan to return to CGB at least one more time this year.
Well, have been home a month and starting to recover. This was our ninth trip and still love it. Chartered a Moorings 40.5 and spent our arrival night at the Mariner Inn--now updated with new furniture and A/C. Had dinner at our favorite Spaghetti Junction in Road Town. Left on a Saturday after we did our shopping--we provision ourselves. Took a short sail to Sprat Bay and spent the day on Deadmans Beach. Absolute tranquillity. Had dinner at the hotel on Peter and the meal was expensive but outstanding. Worth putting on a pair of dockers. Great entertainment after dinner in a beautiful setting. Left Peter headed for the Bitter End with a lunch stop at Leverick. Enjoyed the facilities and the beach. Had dinner on the boat that night. Also, had starter problems, but the moorings has a repair crew at the bitter end. Monday, we went to the North Sound and to Anegada. Had a wonderful sail and we finally made the first marker (about the size of a basketball) but now I have it marked in my GPS for ever. Picked up a mooring behind WildCat and we made dinner reservations at the Hotel and took the Taxi to LobLolly had a great lunch, snorkel, and enjoyed the fishermen harvesting their lobster. We were rather disappointed with most of the restaurant food except for Peter and Anegada. Next day had a great high wind sail to Cane Garden and Visited with some friends who live there. Had dinner at Quitos and it was horrible!! He sang and is still great. We had two nineteen year old girls (boy crazy). Left Cane Garden and headed for Spanish Town with a lunch stop a Soper The girls heard a band was scheduled at the Bath and Turtle and begged us to go. Well, the weather was mild so we headed for the Yacht Harbor. Rented a jeep and toured Virgin Gorda--shot some great video from the highest point. Spent time a Little Dix bay--beautiful. Had a fun evening and danced to the band retired. Good dinner at Bath and Turtle. Oh-- their is a beautiful new restaurant at the Baths called the top of the Baths--with great views and heard the food was excellent. Next day planned to go to Marina Cay, but a fan belt broke (this is new boat???). Wind was 3-5 and had to sail wing on wing to Trelis to meet the mechanic--who finally shows up with the wrong size belt But, had a great evening at the Last resort-just love Vanilla the new donkey. Next AM sailed to Jost Van Dyke for a day stop and then back to Cane Garden for Quitos band (ate on the boat). Next day had a nice sail back to Road town. Had numerous problems with the boat. Starter, head, fan belt which cost us some time. Trying to get a credit with the Moorings for a day. In general found dining out to be more expensive then previous trips with quality down. Early, May is a great time to go. Nothing is crowded and it was cool at night. We usually go in June and July-- but May is wonderful. Flew to San Juan and spent a night at the new Marriott Resort and had a great time. I traveled to San Juan on business for five years and always enjoy a short visit. We our planning a one way spring (97) trip from Martinique to Greneda and then back to the BVI.
What follows are my biased impressions of how four people spend ten days in Paradise, enjoying the people and places in the BVI. We avoid the big name resorts and restaurants -- didn't even bring long pants. We prefer secluded harbors, funky beach bars and good sailing. Tuesday, June 4, 1996 - Arrived at Beef Island right on schedule. Cleared customs, boarded the waiting Moorings van and were whisked to the Mariner Inn with just enough time to check into our rooms, drop our bags and keep our 10:30 pm dinner reservation at the C&F Restaurant. Fabulous dinner and friendly people and, of course, our first order of conch fritters! C&F is a must stop in Roadtown. Our return taxi driver learned that this was Mary Jo's first trip to the BVI and that she had never had a Pain Killer, well, Pusser's was the only place still open, so, why not! Wednesday, June 5, 1996 - Sherry and I were up before 6:00 am. We went down to check the boat and the beverage provisions we had ordered from The Moorings. All in place and the boat was immaculate. Sherry and Mary Jo headed into town to The Ample Hamper to augment our wine supply and check on our provisioning order while Alec and I attended the Chart and Boat briefing. Moorings no longer requires (or even recommends) that you set two anchors. The primary anchor with 160 feet of 3/8" chain is now sufficient. In fact, the secondary anchor wasn't even mounted on the spare bow roller -- it was in the lazarette. Most Moorings boats are now equipped with Lazy Jacks and Lazy Cradle. Our boat had that rig, making it difficult to reach above the cradle when raising or dousing the main. Our solution was to unzip the cradle from the mast, then re-attach after the sail handling was completed. We had a ten-day charter, so the Moorings allowed us to take a second compete set of boat linens. The Ample Hamper delivered our provisions at about 12:15. It was about 1:30 before we had all the provisions, ice and gear stowed, so we had lunch at The Moorings, a quick swim and cleared the dock at about 2:15. We set sail immediately. One problem with the Lazy Cradle is that it will accumulate rain water. Sherry, diligently watching the masthead windex to keep us into the wind, got about 20 gallons of cold water in her face as we raised the main -- much like the old Laugh-In TV series. We cleared the Roadtown entrance buoys and headed south. Winds are SSE, about 16 - 20 knots and seas in the Sir Francis Drake channel very flat. A fast easy sail into The Bight at Norman Island. Anchored without incident and then a short dinghy trip to the new William Thornton for excellent Margaritas and a great time. Met a couple from Southern California and their cocker spaniel who had just returned from three days in Anegada. That confirmed our intention to go to Anegada this trip! Thursday, June 6, 1996 After an early morning snorkel at the Caves, we departed The Bight, heading East, then South of Peter Island heading toward Salt Island. Winds SE, estimated 22 - 25, gusting a little higher. Seas were 6 - 8 feet. We were concerned about a Tropical Wave condition approaching but the system did not appear to be building significantly. As we approached Salt Island, we were surprised to see dive moorings available at the RMS Rhone. Well, why not. Alec and I had a great 40 minute dive of the wreck. Good visibility despite considerable surge and noticeable current. Mary Jo and Sherry snorkeled from above. Left the Rhone and headed North to Trellis Bay. We had a pleasant visit from Anouk's. Made dinner reservations at the Last Resort. A warning to neophytes -- your table has a number and pay attention to your number! You will be severely reprimanded if you try to go to the buffet table out of order. Also, if your dinner reservation is for the 7:30 pm, be there ready for dinner at 7:30. We kind of upset their system by having a drink first. We were disappointed that Tony was not there that particular night, but Pete Merrigan put on a great show. In fact, we wouldn't let him go when he finished. Mary Jo does some great Patsy Cline vocals and she and Pete put on an impromptu show. We had too much to eat and drink, but Pete was smart -- he was drinking O'Douls. Vanilla joined us -- what a party animal. Friday, June 7, 1996 Today, we were on a mission. Mary Jo still needed the open water portion for her PADI certification. As a result, we wanted to get to Bitter End early in the day, and unfortunately had to skip a side trip to the Baths. Alec and I pulled up the mooring and left at daybreak, letting the ladies sleep. We set the sails and had a great trip toward North Sound. We arrived at the Bitter End about 9 am. First we check in with Christine, the Moorings representative at the Bitter End who was very helpful last year. Moorings requires a captain for your first trip to Anegada. Thereafter, just sign a waiver and you're OK. We then arranged with Kilbride's for dive lessons for Mary Jo, and for Alec and me to dive Mountain Peak. Mark, Bob and Diana from Kilbrides's, and Diana's significant other, John, the videographer, are great people. I highly recommend them for any diving trip. Took the dinghy to Saba Rock and had great burgers and crab fritters (they didn't have conch) at Pirate's Pub. Then headed back to Kilbride's. Great dive, beginning with trip through a short tunnel, under an arch, along some coral beds to a wall dropping to about 70'. Couldn't find any rays, nurse sharks or barracuda but did come across a green moray. We followed Mark through the silversides, down a tunnel and surfaced in a beautiful rock grotto about 15 feet in diameter. Returned to the dock and Mary Jo was still uncomfortable with removing her mask underwater. Bob was great! He stayed with her for at least an hour and a half in the shallow water next to the dive office until she was comfortable. Had dinner aboard, barbecued salmon steaks basted with Alec's special mustard sauce made from whatever was available. Saturday, June 8, 1996 - We have our only mechanical problem about 200 feet from the Moorings dock. The dinghy motor develops a fuel blockage. A quick call to Ron (Christine's husband) and the problem is solved. Then, the best of all possible news -- there wasn't a Roadtown based captain available, so Christine volunteered to take us to Anegada the next day. Mary Jo and Bob went out on Kilbride's Sunchaser to complete her certification. The rest of us went to Leverick Bay for lunch and laundry. Warning on Leverick Bay -- check those mooring pennants. Some of them are in pretty bad shape. We returned from Leverick Bay at about the same time that Sunchaser returned and filled up on water and dinghy fuel. Mary Jo is certified! Another trip to BEYC to check out the rum drinks and margaritas, then to Pirates Pub for more Red Stripe and Crab Fritters. Departing Saba Rock, I slightly miscalculated my step into the dinghy and managed to swamp it at the dock. One lady said to her husband, "Don't put your camera away, honey, I think they'll do it again!" After drying off, we started looking for a steel drum band. The only one around was at Biras Creek Resort. Sounded like a winner until we found out that they have a very unreasonable dress code -- long pants! Instead, we reconnected with Bob, the dive instructor. He took us to Captain Pancho's Pool Hall and Bar in Gun Creek and we learned some of the local dances. Still don't know the significance of "Dime, Dime, Quarter, Dollar", but I guess if you have to ask, you really shouldn't know. Some of the local traditions may or may not be innocent, and may certainly be offensive to unsuspecting ladies and/or their significant others. If you're going to Gun Creek, bring a local to introduce you and you'll have a great time. Sunday, June 9, 1996 - Christine arrives at 9:30 and we're on our way to Anegada. Beautiful sail, we're off the wind, blowing about 15 knots, 3 - 5 feet seas. Mary Jo is not feeling too well -- we suspect a little sea-sickness. Sailing into Anegada is not difficult, but pay attention. With Christine's help, the outer channel marker is exactly where she said it would be. Two course changes and we're tied to a mooring in front of the Anegada Reef Hotel. About a 2-1/2 hour sail. We make our reservations for Lowell's famous lobster dinner, have another Red Stripe and arrange for a taxi to take us to the other side of the island for lunch, Big Bamboo at Loblolly Beach. Lunch was excellent, but don't expect fast food in the BVI! The beach is unbelievable -- miles of pure white powdered sand. Mary Jo is still not 100%. Taxi shows up at 3:30 sharp and we're on our way back to the hotel. We take the ladies out to the boat while Alec and I return to sample a few more portions of Lowell's rum and tequila at the self-serve honor bar. Fabulous lobster dinner and good wine, but Mary Jo was reserved. After dinner, she's feeling miserable, so we get her a room at the Hotel. We suspect dehydration and Lowell brings Mary Jo hot tea with lemon. She's starting to feel a little better but we know now we'll need medical help. Once again our luck holds. The Anegada Health Centre is normally staffed only by a nurse during the week, but a doctor comes every Monday morning from 8 am until noon. Monday, June 10, 1996 - We arrange to rent a Suzuki Carry All (this vehicle is a Ralph Nader nightmare) from Lowell to go the Health Centre. Apparently the three dives, breathing dry compressed air, a long sail in the sun and very little to drink was the problem. After the morning at the Health Centre, Mary Jo is feeling much better. We decide to tour the island further. Anegada roads are interesting -- some form of hard pack, covered with several inches of white powdery sand, usually 1 to 1-1/2 lanes wide. There are virtually no road signs, but then, there really aren't a lot of roads either. Follow the power lines to determine where a building may be. We enjoyed a great lunch at Pomato Beach, got briefly stuck in the sand, then a trip around the island. Can't resist the Cow Wreck Beach Bar and Grill (recommended by Pancho at Gun Greek). There we meet Wendell and Bell Creque. They also own the Banana Well Bar & Restaurant in the Settlement. We decide then that we'll stay one more day in Anegada because Bell didn't have all the ingredients with her for conch fritters, but she'd make them for us tomorrow! We take the scenic route back, looking for the island's famous flamingos and iguanas. Couldn't find either. Back to the boat and barbecue a wonderful rack of lamb. Tuesday, June 11, 1996 - We picked up the Suzuki again (we named her "Lady Vi" because of her LVI license.) Decided to snorkel the reef at Loblolly Beach. This time, we went to the Flash of Beauty, yes, another beach bar. The reef has excellent snorkeling and is very close to the beach. Many caves in the reef, lots of fan coral and several large fish lurking in the reef indentations. Couldn't really tell what they were because we didn't bring the dive light. We have heard rumors that the shark population outside the reef is intimidating to scuba divers, but we didn't see any menacing creatures snorkeling on the inside. We felt guilty not staying for lunch, but after all, we had reservations for conch fritters at the Cow Wreck. Did buy a few diet cokes and a Red Stripe. The attendant was so pleased with the business, he gave each of the ladies a conch shell! Arrived at the Cow Wreck in mid afternoon. Bell's conch fritters were the best of our trip. Suggest that you try them at her other location, the Banana Well, because she should be able to have all the ingredients there on shorter notice. Wendell was out in his inflatable catching dinner for a group from Drumbeat. Could we stay? Of course. Wonderful dinner of freshly caught lobster, rock fish and, Bell claims, legally purchased conch. We had an unobstructed view of the sunset. No better place to watch the Green Flash, a phenonomen we have read about in the guide books that appears for a split second as the sun sets into the sea. Well, I think the Green Flash went the same way as the iguanas and flamingos. We didn't see any of them. Also, if you rent a car on Anegada, you are not supposed to drive at night, so we called Lowell on Wendell's VHF to tell him we're on our way. It's easy to get lost, but once again, rely on following the power lines. Somehow, we made it back and Lowell didn't seem too concerned. Wednesday, June 12, 1996 - It was time to settle our bill at the Anegada Reef Hotel and release our mooring. The only way to find the channel is to have at least two crew members locate that tiny green buoy and not let it out of their sight. Even when you know exactly where it is, the little buggar disappears against the green Caribbean water. Once clear of the channel, it's about a 25 mile beam reach to Jost Van Dyke. Winds SSE at about 20 knots, 3 - 5 ft seas, a great sail. Stopped at Sandy Cay and walked the botanical path around the island. Lots of indigenous flora and fauna. Plant life ranges from desert cactus to lush jungle vines. Animal life included geicos (sp?), lizards, lizards with strange fins appearing like miniature iguanas, hermit crabs, laughing gulls and even canaries. We then pulled into Little Harbour, JVD, reminiscing of the long and enjoyable talks we had last year with Harris Jones. We all sure miss him. Excellent dinner and a good time Thursday, June 13, 1996 - We need water and West End was the closest fill. Another early morning departure, arriving at Soper's Hole about 7:30 am. Absolutely no room so we orbit the anchorage until 8:00. Soper's Hole Marina doesn't answer the radio until about 8:20 and when they do answer, they're not much help. Finally, a spot opens and we side-tie at the end of the main dock. Sail back to JVD and anchored in Great Harbor. Dinghy into Foxy's. Foxy came out and serenaded us with many of his famous songs. Don't miss it! Time now to head across to Cane Garden Bay. Remembering the wonderful times last year, our first stop is Myettes. We walk up to the bar, and The Sandman is there, wondering where we've been and why it took so long to come back. Did we really spend that much time at his bar last year? A couple of Red Stripes, several Caribes and a double order of conch fritters to go, and we're back in the dinghy heading for dinner aboard. As we finish the last drops of an excellent St. Emmilion Grand Cru, we hear steel band music coming from the beach. Scramble the dinghy and head for the dock at Quitos. Whatever entertainment Quito had that night had long since gone, but Rhymer's had the Tin Pan Dance Band. Just what we needed to cap a great evening at Cane Garden Bay. The band stopped at about 10:30 and we headed back to Myettes. Sandman was closed. I guess the wild music until 3 am at CGB is only during the high season Friday, June 14, 1996 - It's hard to believe that this is our last full day on the boat. We remembered talking to the crew from Drumbeat about new dive buoys off of Brewers Bay, just east of Cane Garden Bay. We head east and see two white buoys, very close to shore. There's no way these are dive buoys -- they're somebody's lobster traps. We head farther up admiring the incredibly beautiful Brewers Bay. Unfortunately, this bay is bright red on our cruising area chart and obviously off-limits. We admire from a distance and head back by West End toward Pelican Island. Have a beautiful sail, going to weather in about 20 knots with 3 - 4 ft seas. Remember that Tropical Wave we were worried about? It's here. Blowing much harder and raining. We pick up a dive buoy at the Indians, somewhat in the lee of Pelican Island. A wonderful dive of the Indians, many more fish and life than we remembered from last year. When we surface, the weather has deteriorated more. It's raining heavily now and we skip Cooper Island head to The Bight. It's raining so hard we rig an additional tarp to protect the cockpit and barbecue for dinner -- we still won't eat down below! Alec and I made a sentimental trip to the Willie T for a last good by. Had to stow the supplemental tarp before it blew away. Based on the howling in the rigging, I would guess wind was blowing a steady 25, gusts to 30, and heavy rain all night. Saturday, June 15, 1996 - Morning brought blue skies and a nice easterly breeze. We donated our extra provisions, a nearly unopened bottle of gin and a lot of ice to the boat anchored next to us. We're under way at about 10:00 and reluctantly head north to Roadtown Harbour. We secured to the dock at 11:30, reluctantly return our rented dive tanks, complete the de-briefing and are off the boat by noon. We say a sad good-by to our good friend, our home for the past ten days, and we board a taxi headed for the airport. We fortunately weren't going directly home, we had three days in Antigua for gradual re-entry. Next year, though, we'll spend the extra days on the boat!
My wife and I just returned from an 8 day stay at Club Med Cancun, 14-22 May, and the following is a detailed report of what this wonderful place has to offer. I hope the information is useful for others who are considering a vacation to Cancun. If you have any questions that are not answered here, just drop me a note and I will attempt to provide the answer. We departed Wash National airport, to Newark, changed planes and flew to Cancun; all via Continental Airlines. The flight was uneventful. Before boarding we had to show either our passports or a birth certificate with raised seal and picture ID. While on board they handed out some paperwork to fill out (Visa stuff and something else) -- bring a pen with you or you'll have to bum one from someone else. Upon arrival in Cancun, we departed the plane and proceeded through our 1st check point. Here we turned in the paperwork and showed our ID again. We walked away with our Visa paperwork(keep it because you will need it to return). Next we picked up our luggage and proceeded to another check point. Here you press a button and either a red light or green light appears. If red, you get your luggage checked. If green, you proceed through. We got red and it took all of 2 minutes to go through our 2 bags. Next you have to decide how you want to get to Club Med. I guess some package deals have this included, but ours wasn't a package deal. You can buy a bus or taxi ticket in the airport (we took a taxi for $18 total), or you can walk out the front doors to the taxi stand and "negotiate" a ride. You can probably get it for less by negotiating, but we just wanted to get to Club Med. The ride took about 20 minutes. We were met by a staff member who inprocessed us, offered us a fruit drink, then showed us to our room (providing a tour of the place in the process). The staff are referred to as "GOs" -- this stands for Gentils Organisateurs. We guests are referred to as "GMs" -- this stands for Gentils Membres. When we got to the room, he explained where we go to get something to eat, and as I started to tip him, he reminded me that at Club Med there is no tipping. The room was rather plain -- a very hard king size bed, shower, sink, toilet, desk and chairs, closet space, and a sliding glass door looking out on the lagoon. You get towels, shampoo, soap, and moisturizing cream. You also can exchange a card for a large blue beach towel that you keep (exchanging as necessary for a clean one) throughout your stay. Don't lose the blue towel -- it will cost you $20 to get another one. The blue towel identifies you as a GM when using the beach chairs at the beach and pool. Maids clean up the room every day and replenish the sundry items and towels. There is no TV, radio, phone, or alarm clock in the rooms. The concept is to get you out of the rooms to enjoy the activities as much as possible. We used our room to sleep, clean up and change clothes, and on occasion for those things couples do "wink" "wink". After unpacking, we headed out to one of the 2 restaurants to grab something to eat. Upon arrival you are ushered to an 8 person table (smoking and non-smoking sections provided). The main restaurant is all buffet style -- and has way more to offer than one person could ever hope to actually eat. The second restaurant is smaller, a bit more intimate, and when one restaurant is closed, the other is open. So, there is always some place to go to eat, and you can, if you desire, move from one to the other and just eat, eat, eat. The smaller restaurant (La Palapa), requires reservations in the evening. You eat as much or as little, no one cares. Each day has a different theme -- Italian, French, Asian, Mexican, International Buffet, etc. The chef and staff come from all over the world and there is always something there you will like. Wine is provided at every meal -- as much as you like. You can take food out with you, but it is fun to sit at the tables, meet new folks, and just socialize. GMs come from everywhere, and the GOs also eat here and mingle all the time. Meal times are really fun. Now, about the GOs. There were probably 50-60 of them, average age mid- to late 20s. Most speak English and French fluently, and generally also speak at least one other language. Their job is to encourage you to take part in fun and games of all kinds and entertain you on stage each evening. The minimum contract for a GO is for 6 months, so they are not college students our for a 3 month summer job. Most have worked at various Club Meds all over the world. They are on duty from 7 am to 1 am everyday and kid around that they are paid 68 cents and hour. And, they are always upbeat (I think they run on duracell batteries!!!!!!). GOs run the bank, excursion office, phone bank, offices, boutique, sports activities, and tend the bar. They also write, choreograph and perform in the evening shows. Then when that is done, then head to the disco to dance until they turn in. Most GOs we talked with had jobs before Club Med, many have college degrees, most say they will do it until their energy cells give out. Get to know them, they are a fascinating crew that brings to Club Med a true international flavor. After eating, we got our beach towels, grabbed a lounge chair on the beach, and began the process of relaxing. The hot sun helped. Oh, there are plenty of lounge chairs to go around -- no need to rush out early in the AM and stake one out. Shade is provided by natural palm trees and thatched umbrellas. There are also plenty of lounge chairs around the pool and umbrellas. The water at the pool and at the beach, was clean, clear, and very relaxing. Now, remember, the GMs come from all over the world, so, there is some topless sunbathing (perhaps 5% of the women there -- varying in age from early 20s to their 60s). Nobody cared, and there is no totally nude sunbathing. While on the Club Med beach, you will be approached by a few vendors selling silver jewelry and hats and puppets and ponchos. A simple no thank you and they move on. And, there are not enough of them to really become a bother. But, you might want to at least see one time what they have to offer and try your price negotiating skills. They will move on when the deal is done or you say no thanks. After the beach we cleaned up, changed, then headed to the bar before supper. Happy hour is from 2-5 (2 drinks for the price of one). Now, nothing from the bar is included in your Club Med fee. What you do is go to the hostess' office and exchange $ or pesos for plastic beads (yellow is $1, orange is 50 cents, and white is 25 cents). You exchange these beads for your drinks. Mixed drinks are $6, beer and wine are $2-$3, and sodas are $2. After one day, it is funny how you watch out for your plastic beads since they have value here. At about 7:15 PM on the Tuesday we arrived, the Mariachi Band started, the vendors had set up their wares for sale, and the GOs started handing our tequila shooters for free. This was Mexican night. They said there was a limit of 10 free shooters per GM, but I didn't see anyone counting and the GOs were handing them out right and left. Finally we went upstairs and ate. Met some very interesting folks, had very nice conversation, and ate way more than we should have eaten. After dinner we headed out to the chairs near the pool to relax a little more, and at about 9:45 the evenings activities began. The GOs gather and the music starts, and they do their darndest to get all the GMs involved in the group dancing. Hey, join in -- after all, no one here knows you, you probably won't see them after this week, and you are on vacation!!! At 10 pm, the show started -- this being Mexican Night, the show was put on the Ballet Folklorico of Mexico. It is the only weekly show not put on by the GOs. It was a hour of traditional dancing from the Mayan and Mexican traditions. Very enjoyable. After the 1 hour show, we again retired to the chairs near the pool as many of the younger crowd headed to the disco (open from 11 pm to 4 am). Finally around midnight we turned in. The cycle of Club Med activities is generally based on arriving there on a Saturday and departing the following Saturday. But, many others, like us, arrived mid-week and departed mid-week. I would suggest starting on Saturday and leaving the following Saturday. Saturday evenings entail a meet and greet session with all the GOs, and the activities kinda build through the week to Friday when awards are handed out to those folks who participated in the various sporting activities and competitions and did well. We saw the switch on Saturday, and it is noticeable. The GMs there for our first 4 days, were on the average, probably in their early to mid-20s. A lot of singles, though there were newlyweds and other couples ranging up into their 60s. A lot of energy in this group. When most of them left on Saturday and the new group arrived, I swear the average age of GMs jumped 10-15 years, and considerably more couples showed up. The energy level now was much lower. They say spring break here can be very energetic -- now I see why. Regardless, the vacation is what you make of it. Our daily routine went like this: - up around 8:30 - head to a restaurant and eat - head to the beach to read a nice book and gather some rays - when tired of relaxing on the chair, head out to one of the actvities - chose a place to eat a late lunch - either head back to the beach or an activity - around 5:30 pm, head to the room to clean up and change - head to the bar around 6:30 and wait for the early evening activities - eat dinner from 7:45 to 9 pm or later - sit around outside and wait for the next set of activities - 10 pm watch the show - 11 pm sit around and chat with some with new friends - 12 or so, turn in. There are numerous sporting activities available at no cost: - swimming pool - water skiing - windsurfing - sailing (one and 2 person boats) - Tennis - a fitness center - water exercises - aerobics classes at least 5 times a day - ping-pong - volleyball and basketball courts - picnics and boat rides - open air disco GOs are available at every turn to teach how to do any of these activities and there is no limit on how long you can do them. All necessary equipment is provided. Scuba and scuba lessons are available for a small fee. And, the Pok- ta-Pok Golf Course is nearby -- 18 holes. Additionally, there is a beauty salon, boutique, and massages are available for a fee. There is a bank of phones you can use to call out on -- a GO will do all the dialing and searching for you. I recommend calling collect (phone cards don't work here). If you charge to your room, you will get all the added fees and taxes put on the bill. You can leave the number for this office and they will receive and post messages for you. Really, unless you really have to, there is no need to ever leave Club Med during your stay. But if you do want to branch out, you can walk the 1/4 mile to catch a bus, or get a taxi right there, and scoot up to other areas of Cancun. Or, you can sign up for one of the various excursions coordinated through the excursion office. The resort part of Cancun is basically shaped like a 7 with Club Med being at the lower end. As you move up the 7 you will pass hotel after hotel after hotel, interspersed with stores, restaurants, water activity centers, etc., etc. There are modern shopping malls, and if you have to have a Dominos, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds fix, you can find it there. The buses are clean and run continuously -- you just flag them down. Cost for a trip is 3 pesos (about 40 cents). You can find numerous places to exchange your $ for pesos, but there really is no need because $ are taken everywhere. The official exchange rate is about 7.3 pesos per $. Most places will figure 7 per $. When you pay in dollars, most often you will get pesos in return. COUNT YOUR CHANGE IMMEDIATELY and know what change you should be getting. Three times, even once in a very modern mall store, my wife was handed the improper change in pesos. Its not funny money, it does has value so make sure you are not getting ripped off. Keep a few pesos for the bus ride. Now, as I said, there is an excursion office there. For a fee, you can sign up for many trips. I don't have the prices (except to one), but most are reasonable. - Tikal - Chichen Itza ($185 per person) - Coba Tulum - Uxmal Merida - Deep sea fishing - Bottom Fishing - Sunset boat ride - Cozumel - Isla Mujeres - Horse back riding - a city tour where you can shop at the market - Cenotes. Now, when you shop in the markets, negotiate the price. Don't ever pay what they first ask you for. It is all a game and you are expected to play along. Take their offer and cut it in half right away. Then negotiate up as much as you think it is worth. If you don't like their price, walk out -- they will follow you and lower it -- and if they don't, you can be guaranteed to find the same stuff in the next shop. As far as customs goes, each US citizen can bring back in duty free $400 in purchases. As a final note -- why did we choose a Club Med rather than a hotel along the strip? Well, Our Club Med fee included our rooms, all the food we could eat, and all the Club Med activities. If you go to a hotel, you get only the room and their small beach areas. There you have to decide where to eat and how much you want to spend on each and every meal -- plus you get only the food you pay for. And, for activities you have to budget for the 1/2 and 1 hour fees they charge. In the long run, I am sure it would have cost us a lot more at a hotel. Oh, the ambiance at Club Med is great -- and that really has no price tag!!! The day before you leave, you visit the bank and clear your account - - your name comes out of their computer. Any further purchase must be in cash. We had an early morning flight out, so we coordinate for a 4:30 am wake up knock (remember, no phones in the rooms). Once up, we got a taxi and headed to the airport. The cost is 50 pesos total for the return trip. Once at the airport, we checked in, showed our IDs, and grabbed a coffee and pastry before the flight out. Would we go back -- sure. But, it would probably be to another Club Med (say in Greece or Italy) to see what they have to offer. Our College aged daughter is beginning her planning to coordinate a group of her sorority sisters for Spring Break at a Club Med next year. Now that we have been to one, we are sure she will enjoy herself. Oh -- what to bring along: - lots of casual clothes - maybe one set of slacks for the men in case the evenings cool down. - lots of suntan lotion (try to get some tan before the trip -- suffering with a burn on vacation is no fun) - credit card to put all your charges at Club Med on (this way when it is process you get the official exchange rate) - a good book or two to read while catching rays (or on those rare occasions when it is overcast or rainy) - passport or birth certificate with raised seal and photo ID - a good appetite - dancing shoes. What not to bring: - beach towels (you get a color coded one there) - real fancy clothes - fancy jewelry - lots of cash - a bad attitude - any inbred biases to foreigners (remember, you are the foreigner here) - sports equipment (unless you just have to have your own). Well, this was long, but I hope it helps out others who may be considering traveling to Cancun, particularly Club Med. Enjoy your vacation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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