Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
July 15 1996
Back to CTR Homepage
Back to CTR July 96 Index
I just spent the third week of May, 1996, at the Swept Away Resort in Negril, Jamaica. Since I found earlier trip reports so useful before my trip, I thought I should do my part and contribute my own observations. This was my second trip to the island of Jamaica. My first was in 1990 to the Sandals resort at Montego Bay. Although I am sure Sandals may have changed quite a bit in six years, I make several comparisons to Sandals in my report. The trip started with the dreaded arrival at the Montego Bay airport. In 1990, the airport was like stepping back in time to a third world nightmare. The baggage claim consisted of a large room with one wall open to the tarmac. Trucks carrying the bags swung by and dropped the suitcases on a yellow line that ran from one end of the baggage claim area to the other. Once your bags were dropped, it was a free-for-all trying to find and claim them. I was quite surprised to find that the Montego Bay airport has undergone many changes since 1990. The baggage claim area is now air conditioned, and has modern baggage carousels just like you would expect in a modern airport. We proceeded quickly and efficiently (by Jamaican standards) through immigration and customs, and in almost no time were being escorted to the Swept Away bus. No beverage service is provided on the bus to Negril, so we picked up a bag of iced down Red Stripes at the airport. There is a small hut just outside the main terminal building near the bus stop that sells a variety of drinks. The lack of beverages on the bus was about the only thing we did get at Sandals that was not provided on our trip to Negril. Of course, Sandals at Montego Bay was a five minute trip vs. the 90 minute ride to Negril. I would highly recommend grabbing something for the road at the airport. The bus trip was not nearly as bad as I expected. It is very scenic, and with a couple of Red Stripes for the road was actually quite enjoyable. Most buses stop half way for a bathroom break and a beverage refill. A word about exchange rates. The airport was selling $J at $36.50J to $1 US, while the rest of the island was $38J. I would not recommend buying any Jamaican money at the airport. Rates there were worse than anywhere else on the island. If fact, if you bring lots of $1 and $5 bills, you don't really even need Jamaican money. Every place we shopped seemed to prefer US money over its Jamaican counterpart. We brought about $75 US in small bills to cover tips and small purchases that we made along the way. It is well worth tipping baggage handlers a few bucks for the fine, friendly service they provide. We arrived at the resort around 3:00 in the afternoon and were in our room within 15 minutes. The receptionist was very friendly, ran us through the basics of the resort, and told us of an orientation at 6:00 that evening. By 3:30, we were on the beach! The wide variety of guests we met at Swept Away said a lot about the resort itself. On my first trip to Jamaica, I was somewhat annoyed that everyone staying at Sandals seemed to be exactly the same. Sandals caters to "twenty something" honeymooners from the USA, and you will find that 95% of its guests fit that description. At Swept Away, you still find that most guests are couples in search of romance, but they seemed to come from everywhere, and all age groups were represented. We met people from Germany, Italy, England, New Zealand, Canada, and across the United States. About half the guests were on their 1st honeymoon, and many were celebrating anniversaries. Guests of all ages were represented, and I would say the average age was around 30 - 35. Many guests staying here had been to Jamaica before, and returned to "get it right this time". Most people staying at Swept Away seemed to have spent a fair amount of time doing their research before choosing it. The Swept Away resort is stunningly beautiful in a very natural way. We were truly awed by the gardens that surround every square inch of the resort. Each walkway is shrouded by every imaginable type of tropical flower, shrub or tree. The buildings that house the main lobby and all of the rooms blend in nicely with their surroundings, but are easily identifiable by the bright orange roofs. We stayed in an "Atrium" room about halfway between the beach and the road. There are 4 rooms in each villa, and the upstairs rooms have high vaulted ceilings. The rooms are quite unlike anything I have ever seen. There really are no windows, but all walls are louvered wooden blinds with screens. When all of the louvers are opened it is like you are sitting in the middle of the jungle yet having all the comforts of your room. All rooms are surrounded by trees, so the rooms are fairly private even when the blinds are opened. The large verandahs for each room are shielded on two sides, and open on the other two sides. The verandah is nearly as large as the room and provides and excellent location for early morning breakfast, or late night champagne toasts. If you get too hot, the blinds can be closed, and the air conditioner cools the room fairly quickly. We usually opened our blinds in the morning, then closed it down late in the afternoon and slept with the air conditioner on. Even with the blinds closed, you will hear the sounds of the cicadas, or perhaps a babbling brook or the ocean outside. Since the blinds don't really seal that tight, you might also hear your neighbors, and possibly noise from the nearby road. Other than a few trucks in the early morning though, the occasional noise never disturbed us. No radios or TVs are in the rooms, and there is a good reason for this. One couple that moved in next to us about half way through our trip brought a radio with them that disturbed us and others in the building. They were quickly asked by the management to keep the volume way down, and since then it never disturbed us again. I recommend enjoying the natural sounds at the resort, and leaving your radio at home. The beach at Swept Away is one of the best reasons for staying there. It is heavily shaded along the back, and provides a wide arc of white sand for sunbathing or just relaxing. The resort provides plenty of lounges and beach chairs. Even during the peak beach times, you could always get the type of chair you wanted with plenty of space between you and your neighbor. The beach is topless and around 30 - 50 percent of the women on the beach usually opted to take advantage of this. There is supposedly a nude area on the deserted beach next to Swept Away, but I never saw anyone completely nude there during our week long stay. The only truly nude beaches we saw were at the Grand Lido and Hedonism resorts (more on that later). Just south of Swept Away, there are no big resorts nearby, only small hotels and villas. Some of the villas looked quite nice and may provide a less expensive way to experience Negril beach. There were a few "hasslers" on the beach, but they were very friendly and never too pushy. Show them respect, and a friendly "no thank you", and they will leave you alone. To the north, the beach is deserted for nearly a mile. Right next to Swept Away, construction has started on a new Sandals resort that is expected to cater to families. The resort is huge, and looks like it will devour a fairly long section of Negril's least developed beach (including the alleged public nude beach). I was told the resort is expected to open by year end under the name "Beaches", but the natives were doubtful about the schedule. We walked one morning all the way to Hedonism II resort at the far north end of Negril beach (about 3 miles). It was a beautiful walk, and I highly recommend it. We passed through the Poinciana Beach Resort, Sandals, and Hedonism. Guards at these resorts make you check in with them, but have no problem letting you walk the beach and check out the resort. All of the resorts looked pretty nice, but as we passed each one, I was happy we had chosen Swept Away. This long beach is another advantage of Negril over Montego Bay. At Sandals in MoBay, you did not leave the resort via the beach, so long beach walks were out of the question (unless you just kept going back and forth on the few hundred yards of beach). The water sports equipment at Swept Away was always available early, and I found everything to be top notch. Swept Away recently purchased an 18 foot "Prindle" cat. For those familiar with catamaran sailing, this is a very fast (and expensive) little vessel. The resort staff would not let anyone take the Prindle out by themselves which is probably wise on a windy day. Just ask for the Prindle though, and a staffer will take you on a wild ride (if the wind is right). Swept Away also recently purchased two Hobie "Wave" catamarans. These are similar to the "Aqua-Cat" but a bit larger, more stable, and possibly a little faster. Unlike a real Hobie cat, there is only one sail (no jib) so sailing is easy for even a novice. We spent a lot of time by ourselves on the "Wave" sailing up and down the Negril coast. Lots of Sunfish sailers and wind surfers were also available. For the calm mornings paddle boats and kayaks are also on the beach for anyone to use. Most of the equipment looked new or near new. My only complaint was that the life jackets were getting near the end of their useful life, and smelled a bit moldy. Water skiing and knee boarding is also available on the beach. >From the beach you can also sign up for snorkeling, scuba dive trips and a glass bottom boat ride. We do not scuba dive, and did not want to spend three full mornings getting certified so we passed on the scuba. The snorkeling has fun though, and should not be missed. The reefs around Negril are not as spectacular as the Florida Keys or Cozumel, Mexico, but it still provides a nice view. All of these activities took you away from the resort, but cost nothing additional. This was somewhat different than Sandals which cost extra money for nearly anything that took you off of the resort property. We did take the glass bottom boat ride one morning. The first hour is spent along the reefs, and second hour you tour the Negril coastline. They take you up past Booby Cay to the Grand Lido resort, and swing by the nude beach for a close look. I found it kind of rude that our boat came so close to the nude swimmers at Grand Lido (and I believe they felt the same). Nevertheless, we got a great view of the resort (and it guests). From the ocean Grand Lido looks quite nice. The buildings are quite beautiful, however it does not appear to have the same class of gardens that you will find at Swept Away. Some of the locals though did not like Grand Lido because they felt it attempts to hide the "real Jamaica". If you are looking for a more formal, elegant type of resort, and don't care as much about experiencing Jamaican culture, then Grand Lido looks like a very nice place. Before I booked at Swept Away, I couldn't find out much about the beach volleyball. I am quite a volleyball enthusiast, and I was looking forward to some competitive games on the beach. The resort schedules volleyball at 11:00 each day, and several guests would usually gather at that time to play. The quality of play was somewhere between organized C league and backyard volleyball. Around 2:00 each day though, the staffers that ran the dive boats gathered for some more competitive play. These guys play every day on the beach, and were happy to have the guests join them. Beach rules were followed pretty tightly, and play was extremely fun and competitive. After about an hour of play though, the hot Jamaican sun leaves you feeling a little wilted. Swept Away also offers an 8:00am bike tour each morning into Negril. Two staffers accompany the guest bikers, and make sure everyone stays together and out of harms way. The road into Negril is under some pretty heavy sewer construction, and is filled with many hazards. My wife was almost run over by a bulldozer once, but otherwise, we escaped any real problems. The first stop in the tour is the Xtabi restaurant and bar on the cliffs. There is a wonderful view here, and many caves within the cliffs to explore. After Xtabi, you go into Negril for some shopping. The resort has a deal set up with a local merchant to deliver anything you buy to the hotel later that day. This eliminates having to carry it back with you on the bike. Other than the minor road hazards, the bike trip to Negril made for a very fun morning. We skipped most of the indoor sports and the tennis. The weather was beautiful all week, and we spent most of our time on the beach side of the resort. We did venture over to the sports for complex for a professional massage, and the couples massage class. Both were wonderful! Our package included a 30 minute massage that we each extended to a full hour for an extra $25 US. 30 minutes in the hands of a professional is just a teaser. We also heard very high recommendations for the yoga and tai chi classes, but we never found time in the afternoon to make it. The aerobics classes were usually pretty empty. Both the aerobics studio and the weight room is not air conditioned, so if you work out, you need to do it in the early morning. Food at the resort was always excellent. The "Feathers" restaurant at the sports complex is well known around Negril for its fine food. Like any fine restaurant, expect to spend several hours at dinner. We found that the main dining room was also quite good. In our seven days there, a buffet was served two nights, and the other nights were sit down dinners. The bar at the sports complex also offers pizza and snacks that provide a nice break from the more exotic gourmet food in the other restaurants. The evening routine a Swept Away was pretty similar each night. The piano bar fired up around 6:30. The piano player, Ultimate, is lots of fun, and we wished we could have spent more time there. I was somewhat disappointed that the piano bar only had a piano player from 6:30 until around 8:30. It would be nice if the piano bar started up again after the main show in the dining room ended around 10:30. Some form of entertainment ran in the main dining room from 9:30 to 10:30 each night and the house band continued to play until around 11:30. The entertainment consisted of local Jamaican singers and/or dancers each night. The resort seems to want to show its guests a variety of aspects of Jamaican art and culture each night. The only night I could have done without was "Amateur Night". On that night, certain guests are asked to perform for everyone. Apparently, there was not much talent at the resort the week I attended. I appreciated that the entertainment at Swept Away was "all Jamaican". At Sandals, I remember guys that looked like they should be playing reggae music attempting to sing Elvis, and rock classics from the 50s and 60s. The entertainment was very "Americanized", and the result was sad. At Swept Away, the Jamaicans did what they do best. The house band stuck mostly with reggae classics from Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Jimmy Cliff. There were a few American classics thrown in, but they always had that Jamaican reggae twist. The house band at Swept Away was always excellent, and I was always left wanting more when the night ended. If you are truly a night person, then you may be disappointed with Swept Away. After the band stops at 11:30, the resort gets very quiet, and most people go to bed. The bar stays open until 1:00, but I never even made it past midnight. After a full day of activity in the hot Jamaican sun, we were usually beat, and ready to turn in by the time the band stopped. One other word about nighttime in Jamaica. The mosquitoes hear are quite abundant, and you absolutely must cover your entire body with bug repellent any time you venture outside after dark. Most of the restaurants are "open air", and if you are not wearing repellant, you will be eaten alive by the bugs. In addition to all of the activities that are included at Swept Away, we participated in several things that do cost a bit extra. The Catamaran "Booze Cruise" leaves the resort every Tuesday and Friday at 3:30 in the afternoon. The cruise costs $35 US per person and includes beverages and snorkeling equipment. The cruise is fun and worth doing, but nothing overly spectacular. About 15 couples 6 crew are on the boat for the duration of the 3 hour cruise. The cruise starts with about 30 minutes of snorkeling at the reefs just off the Swept Away beach. Following the snorkeling, the next stop is several miles south for some cliff diving. Nearly everyone on the boat climbed inside the caves to the top of a 35 foot cliff and took the jump. Finally, you swing by Rick's Cafe, and moon the onlookers. During the cruise, a couple of the crew play guitar and sing some reggae songs. It is really a lot of fun, but probably not much different than cruises you can get anywhere on the island of Jamaica. I took a similar cruise from Montego Bay in 1990 and this one was nearly identical. My only complaint was that we motored most of the trip, and didn't really do much actual sailing. Probably because it happened to be a very calm day. Horseback rides are offered every hour from the resort at Babo's stables in the Negril Hills. If you are at all adventurous, and want to see the real Jamaica, then I highly recommend this tour. It costs $77 US for a couple including taxis to the stable. Each couple gets their own guide for the 2 hour ride around Negril. Our guide was an excellent rider and very knowledgeable about the area. This is not just a boring little trail ride. At many points of the trip we had the horses at a steady canter or gallop. If you take the trip DO NOT WEAR SHORTS! Even though it may be hot, you will be glad you wore jeans when the trip is done. During the trip you stop at the old White Hall plantation house that is partially destroyed by fire. This is the highest point in Negril and the view is spectacular. Rastaman "Rick", the former caretaker of the mansion, takes you on a brief tour of the area before the trail ride continues back to the stable. Back to the beach, there are plenty of jet ski / wave runner rentals just south of Swept Away. The parasail boats are also nearby, and will pick you up right at the resort. Parasailing is $35 US per person which is much cheaper than I experienced a couple of years ago in Cancun, Mexico. The harnesses looked a bit frayed, and I was a little nervous about the age of the boat, but we had no problems. We got a beautiful view of the Negril coast, and the ride ended with a nice soft landing on a floating platform. There are plenty of other outside excursions to take, but a week does not allow enough time to do them all. Overall, I believe the Swept Away resort was the most perfect paradise on earth I have ever experienced. The resort exceeded my expectations, and all of my complaints are very minor. I highly recommend this resort for couples in search of a relaxing and romantic week in a unique tropical paradise. Irie!
We found Braco in July of last year and it truly is one of the most fabulous all-inclusive properties on the island. Again as a refresher for those who haven't viewed the past reports, photos and property map in the Library. Braco Village is built around a true Jamaican village concept. You have a town square complete with a beautiful lighted fountain (much like that found in Falmouth), architecture that reflects all styles of Jamaica, (Georgian, Victorian, Gingerbread, etc.) and all the amenities you would want in a typical village. Being an all- inclusive your one rate includes airport transfers, lodging, all meals in your choice of 4 restaurants, all refreshments (top brand name alcohol and juices/sodas), daily activities, land sports, water sports (except scuba), nightly entertainment, disco, piano bar and so much more. Absolutely no tipping and service that is exceptional! Property / Activity / Restaurant Recap The property greenery had developed nicely over the past 9 months since it's opening date and now is getting to the point of constant trimming. Gardens are beautiful and the "dry" gulch that runs through the middle of the complex by the rooms is very nice. Several hammocks to just lay back and enjoy the breeze can be found about the property. Just watch out for that rooster up front that can't tell time. Crowing his heart out at 3am! The Gourmet restaurant was as exquisite as ever, the staff has really become professionals and you can see the pride in their accomplishments. The menu in March remained the same, a good selection of beef, pork, poultry and fish as well as a vegetarian dish. And more than you could possibly eat. They have changed the reservation system for Susumber. You now make reservations in the lobby the day before. Reservations are taken at 4pm for the following nights sittings. If you are an early bird, I'd suggest the 7pm time slot. You should be done eating around 8:30 - 9pm. Nanny's Jerk pit still serves up traditional Jamaican meals, Stews, Jerk, Patties, Coco bread, soups and great Jerk Chicken/Pork. Many a meal/brunch spent here as they are open from 11am - 2am. Victoria Market, the Pizza/Pasta and Bakery are the other options for dining. Victoria Market is buffet style for breakfast and lunch. Dinner alternates between 3 menus, 2 buffets. You have the Street party on Friday nights and the Beach party on Wednesday nights. The Pizza/Pasta and Bakery are open from 2p - 11p and are located in the village square. The golf course was still not completed - first 3 holes done and still grooming. Current target date for active playing is June for all 9 holes. Clubs are available at the complex if you wish to leave yours at home. They have stocked one of the retention ponds with Black Perch and Red Snapper for fishing. You can go down, and what ever you catch, they will prepare for you that evening. Nice and relaxing. The daily activities remained the same as on our previous visits. You now have a beach party on Wednesday nights - the show is also held on the beach and a wonderful display of Jamaican culture, dance and the traditional fire dance and limbo. Also some audience participation and a few games after the show. Stick around if no more than to watch. It can get quite entertaining. Thursdays fare the Beach Olympics. Tug of war, volleyball, relay races, chug contests, pool games etc. Points awarded to both team and individual and a good way to spend an active day and win some rum and Tia Maria to boot! The staff/guest show is now held on Monday nights. So brush up those acts and get in on the fun. If you just want to participate and don't have a talent to show off, the staff will help and set you up! No problem! Since Braco is on the North coast, you have a pretty constant breeze throughout the property. It is really appreciated when the temperatures soar into the 90's but also can limit some of the water sports activities if the is a storm brewing up the coast. The Clothing optional beach was taking on some improvements when we were there in March and May. The "jerk" shack has now been replaced by a complete bar!. All your favorites, blenders and wonderful coco bread and Jerk chicken/pork. This bar is open until 5:00pm for service to the CO beach. In May they had completed the Jacuzzi on the CO beach. A large oval shaped Jacuzzi on a raised deck. The beach on the CO beach has most of the boulders now removed. Some small rocks are still in near shore but they are constantly removing them and it was a 100% improvement in May from our March visit. The second jetty is now cemented in and beginning to take shape. The 3rd jetty that was just beyond the CO beach is now gone so you get nice breezes and waves coming across the beach. Anniversary time! Our trip in May was to join in the festivities of the Grand Opening. Our flight on Air Jamaica was quite eventful as the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Mr. Patterson was on our flight down from Chicago. Quite a commotion in Chicago as the other passengers were speculating just who might be on our flight as the security and activity level before the flight was heightened. The Prime Minister was very congenial with the passengers, coming back within the cabin mid flight to allow the passengers to take pictures with him. The flight arrived at Montego Bay early, but even with our carry on luggage, we waited for about 1/2 hour for our transportation to the resort. None of the properties were transporting guests until the passengers had cleared customs. Caribic Tours provided the bus trip to the complex (trip you'll not forget if this is your first visit to Jamaica <G>). Even with the wait for clearance we still arrived at the complex by noon so we had most of the first day to relax in the sun Because of the grand opening, the property was at 100%+ occupancy from Thursday - Sunday. The staff at Braco was still just as courteous, friendly and helpful as they were when we had stayed with only 40% occupancy. The Prime Minister arrived for a 3 day stay on Thursday and to assist with the dedication ceremonies on Saturday. The complex was nicely decked out for the ceremonies with ivy around the lights, new tables, umbrellas. Traditional Jamaican flavor in the staff dress and general atmosphere of the complex. A cocktail party followed and a dinner round that surpassed the famous Friday night street dance. Multiple stations staged with various entrees - no body could have left hungry that night! Braco had a Jazz Brunch on Sunday. After the normal fare of breakfast on Sunday mornings, they roll right into a brunch from 10a- 1p and then into lunch. It was quite pleasant as you had a large selection of shellfish, pastas and other assorted treats and a Jazz band playing for listening and dancing during the brunch. I believe this is a regular scheduled Sunday event and is a welcome treat. Off Property Since we had all been to Jamaica before, we didn't partake in many off property tours. If this is your first visit to Jamaica, or to the North Coast area, I would highly recommend the Raft trip, Ocho Rios for SHOPPING (another experience you won't forget - just remember they are trying to make a living too!) and Dunn's River Falls. For another option a perhaps a longer day trip, the Black River is an enlightening tour and you can swim with the alligators if you so desire..... We decided to venture to Port Antonio on this trip. (actually I talked the guys into going). I have always wanted to see the falls, Blue Lagoon and other sights along the Northeast coast and had heard wonderful reports from staff and other visitors that had ventured to the far east side. We arranged the trip for the 3 of us with Caribic tours and left the property at about 6:45a on Friday morning. A box lunch and beverages were prepared for us to take on our long journey to tide us over. Our driver, Mr. Osbourne was magnificent. Bill had him during his March visit and was so pleased, we requested him for the Port Antonio journey. Port Antonio is about 3.5 hours from Braco with a stop in Port Maria along the way. We walked through some of the local Banana groves and then off to the beautiful Blue Lagoon. Unfortunately I fell sick with something that resembled heat/sun stroke so it was a long ride back to the property, covered in towels and ice packs. Not sure what the local residents thought when they say a "mummy" in the front of the van during our stops. It is a beautiful area, great views and the raft ride down the Rio Grande is supposed to be one of the best. But alas, I'll have to experience those on another trip. Phase 2 (Braco Family) is coming along. Anticipated date for opening some of the property will be in April, 1997. This will be similar to the FDR property for families with children. Watch for uploads of some additional photos taken at Braco to show some of the improvements and new features of the property. Will we venture back to Braco again? I know I will definitely as the property has all the amenities of other all-inclusive resorts, the most friendly and caring of team staff members and a truly Jamaican flavor for your vacation.
We've just returned from two weeks in Puerto Rico, and want to make sure that everyone knows how disappointed we were in general with recommendations from the Arthur Frommer and Insight books on that destination. First off, Puerto Rico (in particular, San Juan) is a fantastic Caribbean destination which we would recommend quite highly to all. There are some great off-season bargains, friendly people, and beautiful beaches with clean water. The biggest disappointment was our stay at the island of Vieques, about six miles off the coast of the main island. This destination is highly touted in the Insight Guides as well as the A.F. travel books on Puerto Rico, and it is ONE TO BE AVOIDED. Vieques has deteriorated badly. The island could be considered a floating garbage heap with the way that the locals treat their litter. You will be walking down the road to a restaurant (forget taxi's, there are none) and a car load of people will drive by and throw out sacks of garbage by the side of the road. I don't care how pretty a beach is if you have to sidestep broken glass and every manner of food container to get into the water. Unfortunately, this attitude about cleanliness (or lack of) seems to have made it through to some of the formerly fine destinations. A few years ago, "La Casa del Frances" on Vieques was a Bed and Breakfast that was worth the ferry ride all in itself. The problem with the current travel guides is that no one seems to have spent the time to visit in the last couple of years, as they still recommend the place. The "Casa" is one of the dirtiest places we've ever stayed (we are in the travel business, and have been to locations all over the world). As an example, they have a huge mosquito problem and guests are used to slapping the little buggers wherever they land. The white bathroom walls are covered with the last several years of dead mosquitoes and the resulting stains are not pleasant to look at. Cleaning the rooms at the "Casa" consists of two guys coming through with a wet mop and in five minutes they wipe your place down and make the bed (without changing the sheets, of course). If you are thinking of a vacation in paradise at this little Bed and Breakfast, I'd seriously think about making other plans. Reasons to go to Vieques would most likely include snorkel or diving trips, and we understand that the island does well in these tourist endeavors. If you are going, check out the dinner at The Vieques Country Club. This is a smallish pub-restaurant in the Isabel Segundo area which has taken on a decidedly big name -- but which deserves it based on the quality of the fare. The owners of this eatery also run a cooking school during the day and it is evident in the uniqueness of their menu items. We enjoyed the Chicken Breast with Garlic Sauce, which was a fried chicken with the most delicious crunchy garlic sauce you've ever tasted. Washed down with a Medalla (local) beer, it was about $10 pp. Another recommendation we were disappointed with from both Insight and Frommer guides is the Parador Martorell, located by Puerto Rico's most famous beach, at Loquillo. Although this property was clean, in the last several years it has deteriorated so badly that it bears no resemblance to the fine little Inn that is described in the tour books. For example, the "wonderful fresh fruits and homemade breads and compotes" described by Frommer ended up being some cubes of watermelon and Velveta cheese, served with store bought bread. The TV in the room is in a small locked cage located on the ceiling of the room. In fact, the hotel is so security conscious that you get the impression you are living in a jail cell. Loquillo has quite a crime problem, we understand. Right down the street from their beautiful public beach (worth the 45 minute drive from San Juan for the day) is an excellent burger joint, one of the best we've ever landed in (in any country!). The "Brass Cactus" is run by a couple of Norte Americanos who have built a business catering to the food and drink requirements of the U.S. military in the area. Friendly and attractive waitresses help you acclimate to the surroundings, and the burgers are gigantic and cooked to perfection. In San Juan, we stayed at the beautiful Caribe Hilton, always a delight. Although I would like to have had more personal service and the Bed and Breakfast type of accommodations, we felt that we could not trust any other recommendations from Insight or Frommer. Old San Juan was a sparkling gem, and in four sun-drenched days we totally forgot about our problems in Vieques and Loquillo. We'll be back, Puerto Rico, if only to get another cup or two of that famous Puerto Rican java at the Cafe San Juan. Dave and Linda Jensen, Designs on Travel, Sedona, Arizona
Located some 28 miles southwest of St. Maarten, Saba (pronounced Say- Bah) is five square miles of rugged, mountainous terrain carpeted in lush green tropical foliage. Long known for offering some of the best scuba diving in this region of the Caribbean, Saba has much to offer the non-diving Caribbean traveler seeking an out of the ordinary destination. To be certain, Saba is not for everyone. If you're seeking fine beaches, exciting night life, gourmet dining, casinos or any of the other attractions common to her neighboring islands, then Saba is not for you. Saba has a single wandering black sand beach that comes and goes with the seasons and night life is what you make of it. While good restaurants are to be found, they can't be considered gourmet by any stretch of the imagination, and casinos simply don't exist. If on the other hand, you are seeking peace and quiet, outstanding panoramic views from every vantage point, hiking through a rainforest on established hiking trails, great scuba diving and arguably some of the friendliest people in the Caribbean all within a lush tropical setting, Saba may be what you're looking for. As a frequent visitor to Saba, the following information is being provided not only for those who haven't discovered Saba but also those seeking up-to-date information since their last visit. Getting There. The only way to get to Saba is via St. Maarten. Although some travel guides insist that you can get to Saba via St. Eustatius, it is generally the same flight from St. Maarten that services both islands. Windward Island Airways (carrier code WM) provides service to Saba from St. Maarten five times daily. The flight takes some fifteen minutes, unless a stop in St. Eustatius is required (Statians are sometimes known to insist that the flight first go to their island since they are not overly fond of the takeoff and landing on Saba). The Saba experience begins and ends with your landing and takeoff from what is described as the world's shortest commercial runway at some 1300 feet in length. Not too worry though, as a general rule only half of it is required since STOL Twin Otters are used. Besides, if you survive the landing you automatically qualify for the "I survived the Saba landing" tee- shirt. Note that you may have some difficulty in getting ticketed all the way through to Saba since many major carriers do not have ticketing arrangements with Winair (your travel agent may only be able to make Winair reservations for you). In that case, it is wise to confirm your reservations with Winair prior to departure and pay for them in St. Maarten on arrival. Similarly, it is also a good idea to only check your luggage through to St. Maarten, pick it up there, and tote it over to the Winair counter for check-in since baggage check through procedures are suspect. While you must clear St. Maarten immigration, be advised that you do not need to pay the airport departure tax in St. Maarten provided you continue on to Saba the same day. For the less adventurous or those considering a day trip to Saba, a ferry (the Edge) provides service to Saba on a semi-regular basis from Simpson Bay Lagoon. My recommendation, take Winair the landing and take-off from Saba alone are worth the extra cost and it's not as hair- raising as you might be led to believe, although it has been likened to landing and taking off from an air craft carrier and some locals jokingly refer to the Twin Otters as the "flying coffins". On arrival in Saba, taxis are available to take you to your accommodations as you experience "the road that couldn't be built" which twists and turns its way up the mountainside past the rugged and picturesque village of Hells Gate, through the rainforest, and on to Windwardside or the Bottom (Saba's capital). Finally, as some of the taxi drivers might say, "welcome to Saba, ain't nobody going to bother you here." Accommodations. The majority of Saba's accommodations are located in the village of Windwardside some 1100 to 1500 feet above sea level nestled between Mt. Scenery and the Level. Constant breezes and the altitude make Windwardside comfortable during the day, but just the same don't forget that tropical sun! Similarly, you might find it useful to bring along a light sweater since nights can become uncomfortably cool to some. Within Windwardside accommodations include Captain's Quarters, Juliana's and the Cottage Club and Scout's Place. I've personally stayed at all of these and can recommend any of them. Captains Quarters is considered the grand old lady of Saba and is built around an old sea captain's residence. Recently acquired by the Holm family of Saba, it has undergone some renovation and offers its own distinct charm and atmosphere including pool, bar, and outdoor dining under the canopy (and now TVs in the rooms). The Captains Quarters atmosphere has been likened to that of a New England style inn. Juliana's is located right next door to the Captains Quarters, and is owned and operated by Franklin and Juliana Johnson who are without a doubt one of the more charming couples this world has too offer. Juliana's is immaculately maintained, has a pool, rec room, and breakfast and lunch are available at the Tropics cafe which is on-site. In addition to the rooms offered at Juliana's they also manage and operate Flossie's cottage, a two bedroom old Saban cottage complete with red roof, shutters, and gingerbread accents. The Cottage Club consists of twelve Saban cottage reproductions that offer kitchens, cable TV, balconies, and large rooms --- a pool is currently being constructed. On this trip, my wife and I stayed at the Cottage Club and were very satisfied. Past stays at the Captains Quarters and Juliana's have been equally satisfying and a clear cut recommendation is difficult since each has it's own distinct advantages. My only recommendation would be that if you are more of a self-sufficient traveler, you might find the kitchens at the Cottage Club more to your liking since Saba does have a well- supplied grocery store, the Big Rock Market (can't miss it since it's the one with the big rock out front). In addition to these recommendations, you may want to consider one of the many privately owned cottages or apartments that are available. Repeat visitors to Saba may find that their favorite cottage or apartment is no longer available since many are now being rented to the medical school students as its enrollment steadily increases. Nevertheless many attractive cottages and apartments in the $300 to $600 per week range still exist. For the more up-scale traveler, you may want to consider Willard's of Saba perched high on a cliff located some 2000 feet above sea-level on Booby Hill and offering an outstanding view of Statia, St. Kitts, Nevis and on a really good day Montserrat. Include tennis court, privacy (not that that's unique on Saba), pool, Jacuzzi and exclusivity --- all within the $300 per night range. Outside of Windwardside, the Gate House in Hells Gate is highly regarded and is one of my recommendations for dinner. In the Bottom, you might want to consider Cranston's Antique Inn. Overall, accommodations on Saba are comfortable and affordable (with the exception of Willard's for most). For diver's, pre-paid package rates which include diving, transfers, accommodations, tanks and weights are the best choice. For convenience, I recommend staying in Windwardside since that is where most of the restaurants, boutiques and artisans are located (but Jim Siegel down at the Gate House is a great guy). Restaurants. As mentioned, gourmet dining is not one of Saba's strong points. Nevertheless, you will find something to suit your tastes. The Captains Quarters restaurant as of this trip was very good and offers a Saturday night poolside barbecue. Breakfast is also available. Juliana's Tropics Cafe offers a great breakfast menu and lunch menu at reasonable prices. Guido's Bar and Pizzeria offer great pizza, hamburgers, fries, and now offers a pretty good pasta selection --- make sure to ask for the meatball sandwich since its not on the menu. The Brigadoon Pub and Eatery offers a pretty good selection of chicken, seafood and pasta dishes; Monday night is generally Mexican night and the deserts are particularly good. A welcome addition to Saba is the recently opened Caribake bakery offering fresh baked goods and great sandwiches at lunch time. Also great for satisfying that sweet tooth at breakfast. For Chinese, consider the Saba Chinese Restaurant. For a touch of local flavor including goat and land crab, consider Scout's Place or Lollipop's. Finally, I'll reserve my highest recommendation for Jim Siegel down at the Gate House in Hells Gate --- nightly three- course dinner which includes soup or salad, choice of three entrees, coffee and desert for $20. On most nights, Jim will pick you up --- but even if he can't it's worth the walk from Windwardside and besides you'll definitely work up an appetite! One final caution, you may want to consider reservations --- not due to crowds but to ensure that the cook or chef shows up. For repeat visitors, the lower Chinese restaurant and bar is no more. Similarly, Allan at the Gourmet Deli has returned to the states. Nightlife. None to speak of --- consider a long leisurely dinner, retire to the Captains Quarters bar, Guido's, or Scout's for some lively conversation and/or relaxation. Go for a long walk, listen to the tree frogs, read a book, play a game of pool at Guido's, talk to the locals, grab an ice cream at Scout's, sit on a ridge watching the lights in St. Maarten, gaze at the stars and simply enjoy a slower paced vacation and the simpler pleasures that Saba has to offer. Transportation. Although rental cars are available on Saba, the best way to explore still remains by foot. If you find yourself too tired to continue, simply sit on the wall looking totally exhausted and someone will undoubtedly offer you a ride. Shopping. Within Windwardside, you'll find a number of interesting shops and boutiques. Check out Jo Bean's Hot Class Studio, the Breadfruit Gallery for some unique artwork, Jean MacBeth's Around the Bend shop and sample the many different varieties of Saba Spice (a 40 proof liqueur that starts with 151 proof rum --- an acquired taste with each family's maker using a closely safeguarded recipe). Fishing. Consider Greg Johnson's half-day fishing charters. Hiking. The Saba Conservation Foundation maintains a series of well marked trails. The highlight is of course the hike up Mt. Scenery's 1064 steps carved out of the rock. All along the way you will notice wild orchids, elephant ears, and some interesting flora and fauna as you enter the rainforest. Fairly strenuous hike that should be left to the last day for divers since the top is at some 2800 feet above sea level. Upon completion, stop into the Tourist Bureau for your certificate signifying that you've successfully climbed Mt. Scenery. For a less strenuous hike consider the trail up Maskerhorn Hill or simply stroll up to Booby Hill or the end of the road in the Level. Starting from Hells Gate take the trail to the old Sulfur Mines or the Mary's Point ruins. Also consider the Crispeen Track between Windwardside and St. John's. The tourist bureau can provide a guide to the trail systems. Hiking boots or at the very least comfortable walking shoes are a must. Diving. I bet you divers out there thought I'd forgotten. Clearly, Saba's main claim to fame is her diving. The waters surrounding Saba to a depth of 200 feet are considered protected as a part of the Saba Marine Park which is zoned for various uses. For all practical purposes, there are now only two dive operations on Saba --- Sea Saba and Saba Deep. Wilson's Dive Shop is effectively closed at this writing. Both of the remaining operations are reputable, highly regarded, and dive the same sites. All sites are permanently moored with the exception of the infrequently dived Green Island. Saba's best dives are considered to be the pinnacle and sea mount dives which include such sites as Third Encounter/Eye of the Needle, Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, and my favorite Shark Shoals. All of these sites are considered deep by any standard and begin between 80 and 90 feet. Due to their depths these sites remain in excellent condition with no hurricane damage apparent. At the same time, the operators emphasize proper buoyancy control which helps to ensure their continued good health. Encounters with black tip reef sharks, hawksbill turtles, and any number of pelagics are common place. Although deep, these sites are fairly easy to dive without current. Descents and slow ascents along the mooring lines are strongly recommended. Safety stops are an absolute must and with the visibility still allow you to watch the show down below. Typical profiles are in the 16-20 minute range and the proper use of dive computers is strongly encouraged. The minor sea mount dives at Diamond Rock and Man O' War Shoals provide a maximum depth of 80 feet to the sand surrounding them and make for excellent multi-level dive profiles. Diamond Rock extends well above the surface where as Man O' War Shoals rises to within 20 feet of the surface. Both of these sites attract a variety of marine life and southern sting rays are commonly found in the sand (look for the tails and eyes poking out of the sand) Despite its reputation for deep diving, Saba does offer some excellent shallow sites in the Ladder Bay area as well as Tent Reef. Non-divers who are interested in trying out scuba diving will find that both operators offer the "resort course" and will be able to experience these shallow sites first hand. Saba's shallowest dive is located at Torrens Point with a maximum depth of approximately 40 feet. This site is considered Saba's nursery and many juvenile species can be found here including baby hawksbill turtles. In addition, Saba's underwater snorkeling trail is located here, but some of the other shallow sites are equally suited to snorkelers. Finally, some of the sites located on the way towards the windwardside of the island offer some of the better dives that I've had on Saba. These sites include Core Gut, Hole in the Corner, and Big Rock Market. Due to their locations, they are dived less frequently and you will run into and be approached by some very curious critters at these sites. On my last dive at Big Rock Market, had three Queen Angelfish at once swim right up to me, pose, and check me out --- naturally my camera was back on the boat. The only real disadvantage to Saba diving and snorkeling is that it is only by boat due to a lack of beaches and wealth of cliffs. Overall impressions of the condition of the reefs on Saba this trip was favorable. The pinnacle dives remain pristine and untouched. While some hurricane damage from last season was apparent to me, it would probably not be noticed by new visitors to Saba. Expanded operations at the rock and gravel crushing operation in Fort Bay seem to be having some affect on the close in reefs, most noticeable was Tent Reef --- but again if new to Saba you might not notice it. Overall, Saba's reefs remain vibrant and healthy. Finally, Saba appears to have a new attraction. For the past eight weeks or so, a solo bottle- nose dolphin has been hanging around the Fort Bay area and Ladder Bay area. This dolphin, like JoJo on Providenciales apparently prefers the company of divers and snorkelers in particular (still isn't to comfortable with divers' exhaust bubbles). He keeps coming closer and closer to the dive boats and would appear ready to permanently call Saba home since he hasn't joined any of the pods of dolphins passing by Saba in recent weeks (apparently someone in Fort Bay area is keeping him well fed). However, he has moved on to parts unknown and hasn't been seen in recent weeks. Hope all of this helps those interested in Saba, and hopefully you will come to know Saba as I have. Clearly Saba has much to offer both above and below water. Feel free to contact me with any specific questions you may have. (email@example.com)
I enjoy swimming on St. Barts and I do a lot of actual swimming (2 - 3 hours a day!) when I'm there since the water is so clear, warm and calm (most days). For health reasons, I try to avoid getting too much direct sun--now a little more difficult since there are almost no trees on any of the beaches since the hurricane. I did however locate one or two trees on St. Jean Beach on the spot where a favorite locale restaurant named Francine's used to sit. Some of the St. Jean stores sell beach umbrellas which help a little, but if there are those beautiful trade winds, the umbrella doesn't like to stay standing for long. By the way, the beaches in St. Jean now are even more lovely than before, thanks to a widening of the sand from the forward motion of the sea during the hurricane. The islanders have done an amazing job of cleaning everything up and the hotels on the beach have planted fabulous new gardens and palm trees, so if you hadn't seen all of the previous foliage in the area, you wouldn't really know that anything as cataclysmic as Luis had ever happened. Eating out at lunch time is my favorite way to check out the restaurant scene, since 2 hours over lunch and drinks can easily be followed by more swimming and thus also avoiding direct sun during the peak noontime hours. Here are a couple of great beach side lunch spots: my two favorites are The West Indies Cafe in the Sereno Beach Hotel at Grand Cul De Sac and The Hotel Filao Beach Restaurant in St. Jean. Two great bartenders--Alexis at West Indies Cafe and Mario at Filao Beach will keep you entertained. Mario speaks perfect English as he has been on the island for quite some time. He'll tell you stories about the hurricane and how they all pitched in together to rebuild the deck and pool that fronts the restaurant on the now serene St. Jean Beach. The food is 5 stars at both places and the seaside views mesmerizing. The excellent cuisine, if pricey, is worth it since I usually stay at a great cottage in Lurin, where I can make breakfast and dinner and then afford to splurge at lunch. Here's a great post hurricane story. My friends Thierry Tsalapatanis and his girlfriend Framboo (French for raspberry!) who own and run Restaurant Topolino "adopted" an injured sea bird that was limping around on the roof of the restaurant the day after the hurricane. This big gray bird with a long beak and webbed feet, I think, is some kind of sea loon. Anyway, after they'd healed its injured leg with the help of the local veterinarian and fed it for a week, they let it go. It flew away, but showed up daily for the small fresh fish that they feed him (about 25 a day!). Aptly named Luis after the storm, this bird hangs out at the restaurant near the barbecue pit where Thierry cooks up his freshly caught fish each night. The bird also goes swimming with them in the pool at Topolino and goes fishing with Thierry on his boat. It's hilarious to see this crazy bird! At night, he sits next to the Topolino barbecue pit, preens and submits to petting by various diners who know how to be slow and gentle with this otherwise wild bird. Of interest as to where to stay--try Manoir de Lurin on the mountainside. Here you can have quiet, luxury, in a forest setting, and not too expensive--comes with a car too. You can rent either of two cottages there by contacting St. Barth Properties at 1-800-421- 3396. They have a lot of other villas and hotels too, and give really personalized service. I've been using them for the past several years for my trips there. Made In St. Barts seems to be a relatively new shop in the Villa Creole shop area in St. Jean. They have some interesting things there, including a few originally designed tiles from Jean Yves Froment who is an artist that has lived on the island for many years.
My wife and I, along with another couple, shared a villa on a hill overlooking Lorient Bay with St. Martin in the distance. We rented the villa through St. Barth Properties (SBP) and were very pleased with the accommodations. Our dining area was outside but under and extended roof. On the nights we ate in, a beautiful sunset added to the ambiance. Cool evenings, good wine, good food, good company and a great sunset..."it don't get much better than that". Our villa was equipped with two large bedrooms with queen size beds and individual a/c units - which we used on a part time basis. A 4 foot deep swimming pool with a built in table and bench was also part of the villa. A TV and stereo along with a comprehensive library of paper backs was also available. There are only two local TV stations, so it doesn't take to long to channel surf. Also, they are in French. They showed some episodes of "Murder She Wrote" and "Doogie Howser" dubbed over in French. Doogie made as much sense in French as it did in English. Although there were some minor problems, they were handled in a timely manner by SBP's local representative; Carl at "The Rental Shop". Overall, IMHO, a villa is the only way to go if you are interested in freedom and privacy. Our first night in St. Barts, however, was spent at the Seahorse Hotel where the view from our terrace overlooked Marigot Bay/beach. Loic (pronounced leweek), the manager picked us up at the airport and was a very helpful guide in familiarizing us with island culture. He told us the only French we needed to know was Bonjour (good day), Bonswa(?) (good evening), Merci'(thank - you) and smile a lot. As we were stuck for transportation on our first night, Loic offered to drive us to a local restaurant - le Rivage. I had the grilled chicken breast, and my wife had linguini. The meal was excellent and we got out for about $40.00 which included a glass of wine each and a 15% gratuity. After dinner the restaurant manager gave us a ride back to the hotel...in a full size Ford pick-up no less - a rather unusual vehicle for St. Barts. The Seahorse Hotel was a very nice place to stay. Our room was equipped with a kitchenette and all the necessary cooking utensils. The view from our terrace included the hotel swimming pool and Marigot Beach/Bay. Located near the hotel were many fine restaurants. Price for the room for a single a single night was $90.00 and was booked through SBP. Reynald from "The Rental Shop" picked us up the next morning and took us to the villa and then to get our rent car. Waiting for us at the villa was a complimentary bottle of champagne courtesy of St. Barth Properties. OBSERVATIONS, OPINIONS & OTHER STUFF ROADS & DRIVING We rented a Suzuki Samauri with 4 - speed manual transmission and 4 wheel drive. You need the 4WD when rain makes the roads slick. Unless you are alone, don't waste your time in a "moke", as they do not seem to have the power to handle the hills. Some of the hills are a 15% grade so be prepared to stand on the gas. My first impression of the roads was that I'd seen wider cow paths, but after a couple of days they did seem to get wider and straighter. The roads are twisting and narrow and if you can see around corners, so much the better<g>. It is not uncommon to come up on two cars headed in opposite directions stopped in the middle of the road with the two drivers holding a conversation. The streets in Gustavia are narrow with parking on both sides making them even narrower. There are, I think only 3 or 4 stop signs on all of St. Barts, with two of them in downtown Gustavia, so you have to be on your toes all the time. Some of the roads are not to well marked, so it is easy to miss a turnoff, but not to worry as its no t that far around the island and almost impossible to get lost. The most accurate map can be gotten at the Office of Tourism in Gustavia. It's an aerial view of the island with the roads highlighted in yellow and is fairly detailed. Mopeds and motorcycles are in an overabundant supply and the riders will ride right up on your rear bumper then pass at the first opportunity....curves included. BEACHES & OTHER WATER SPORTS No question about it the two best beaches are Saline and Gouverneur with Colombier a strong third. Saline and Gouverneur can be reached by car. Saline is fairly easy to find, as you can see the adjoining salt ponds from a distance. To reach Gouverneur, turn at the Santa Fe Grill and the road will take you right to the beach. Colombier is much more difficult, but still can be reached by car. There are two places to access the beach, one is from the observation point where you have to follow a steep, narrow rocky trail to the bottom of a hill. Unless you are a mountain climber I would not recommend this route. The other is a 15 minute hike from Flammands over some pretty rocky terrain. We rented a boat and took the easy route. Of the three beaches, Colombier had the best snorkeling. From what we experienced, all three are "unofficially" clothing optional. On Wednesday we rented a boat from Marine Service for 4 hours and cruised the leeward side of the island with a long stop at Colombier Beach for snorkeling. The boat was 17' long and similar in appearance to a Boston Whaler. Marine Service also ran dive trips out to some of the surrounding islands. The day we went it was sunny with the visibility around 50'. Depth of the dive went from 10 to 40 feet. The highlight of the dive was a school of about 15 Barracuda swim by to see what was going on in their ocean. Sizes ranged from 2 to 4 feet long. RESTAURANTS, FOOD, AND DRINK We ate out 4 of the 7 nights there and never had a bad meal. With it being the off season there weren't many customers so we got exceptional service. The first was le Rivage which I mentioned earlier. Second was the West Indies Grill which was a little pricer, but the food was excellent. Both of the above were on the beach at Cul de Sac. On Thursday we ate at la Marine on the waterfront in Gustavia. My wife and I both had (large)lobster and a glass of wine and got out for just under $100.00. The place was packed because it was "mussels" night so the service was a little slow....but nothing to complain about. Friday was Pizza Night so we ate right next door at L'Escale. Price was about the same as a top of the line US pizza place. At the end of the meal they served each customer a small glass of brandy which hit the spot. If you order water with your meal, you are charged for it, sometimes as much as a soft drink or beer because it is bottled. Tap water is not used because St. Barts has no natural water supply and is dependent on rain water or water from a desalinization plant. For our other meals we shopped at either UNIC Plus or Match grocery stores that are located in a shopping center across the street from the airport. On the whole prices were much higher than the states but had a good selection. CHURCHES There are three churches on St. Barts. Two Catholic with services in French and one Anglican with a service in English. AIR TRAVEL Do not check you luggage all the way to St. Barts, or you may not see your luggage for a few days. Check your bags directly to St. Maarten or which ever island you are connecting through. Then take your bags over to Winair or Air St. Barts ticket counter. Get an "In Transit Voucher" both coming and going through St. Maarten to avoid the $12.00 departure tax. Allow at least 1 1/2 hours between connecting flights at St. Maarten. Some of the people employed by the local airlines operate in their own time zone. The same time interval applies if you are going home through Miami. Immigration and Customs, for us anyway, on Saturday night was chaos. In fact 2 hours would be better if you can arrange it. When in St. Barts, confirm your return flight to St. Maarten or wherever at least 48 hours in advance. If you don't and the plane is full, you will be out of a ride until they can find you space. OTHER TIPS AND OBSERVATIONS In most cases a 15% gratuity is included in your bill, but you might want to check and be sure. Electricity is 220V so bring an adapter if you are going to be at a villa. Very low or non - existent crime rate. Our villa was unlocked all the time and we felt secure. There was an absence of sirens in the night and other symbols of our time. Most of the crime is a petty nature, like someone stole a camera that was left on the front seat of an open car....stuff like that. No violent crime. There was no place on the island, day or night, where we felt threatened. Exchange rate is 5 French Francs per US dollar. Overall, this is probably the best vacation spot we have ever visited! CONTACTS St. Barth Properties, Inc. Cynthia Smyth 1-800-421-3396 The Rental Shop Residence Jardins De St.Jean Carl or Reynald 011-590- 27-50-18 Marine Service Dominique & Henri Jouan 011-590-27-70-34 Should you have any questions, send me an e-mail: Chuck Rearick 76216,1506
WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL! I can't say enough good things about the campground and the island in general. I loved Maho's earthy-crunchy, environmentally conscious and super laid-back atmosphere. The workers and guest were a diverse mix of some very friendly people. The nightly lectures were a educational treat. I got a great astrological reading from a lovely woman, Kelley Hunter, who will be there for the next month or so. The tent was perched right over the water so the views were fantastic. You were right about all the steps--killer after a night of drinking in Cruz Bay. Beaches..... all of them were GORGEOUS. The best I've seen in the Carib. I like Maho's beach for relaxing and its calm waters for swimming...Snorkeled at leinster and then made the trip out to Watermelon Cay, which was well worth the extra effort for the INCREDIBLE SNORKELING. wish I brought an underwater camera...Trunk Bay was pretty but for the 'tourists'. If anything make the trip for the snack stands French fries--yum! Hawksnest was lovely and the snorkeling was good...Cut through Salt Pond to do some beach combing on Drunk Bay...Made an attempt to go to Soloman but wasn't sure if I was on the Lind (?) trail behind the biospere building so we just said forget it. Food... Only ate out a couple of times, the rest were spent in the tent or at the pavilion. First dinner was at Don Carlos. The Texas chili is delicious and HOT! However, the fajitas that followed were only OK. The other dinner was at Lime Inn in Cruz Bay. DELICIOUS! I had blackened Cajun tuna and my boyfriend had sirloin over linguini. Highly recommend dining there. Trails... Missed the Reef Bay hike with Hamilton. We were going to do it alone but after considering the heat exhausting inspiring climb back up the mountain we considered against it. Did the Cinnamon trail hike which was pleasant, if a bit steep, winding through a very green and semi-lush forest. Also enjoyed the Cinnamon self-guided tour through the plantation ruins. Hopefully I'll hit some of the others next time. The trip really was great. The island was clean and seemed safe, even at night. If you go, buy the book "feet, fins & four wheel drive"--excellent book with very thorough descriptions of just about everything to do on the island. Oh, before I forget, there was one slight bummer: the sand flies. Make sure you shake off your shoes, towels, clothes everything before you go into the tent. Once you accumulate a bunch of sand in there (like i did) forget it. Bug repellent after sunset should take care of any if they do get in the tent. If you have any ?'s feel free to ask. Until next time (sigh)...........
Let's see what I can remember about our wonderful trip to St. Martin! We left CT on 16 April in the pouring rain and came home 16 May in the pouring rain. Some things NEVER change! Flight down was uneventful even though the first leg of the trip was late we had no problem making our connection in San Juan. When we got to the condo Vincent from Summerset had already been there and let the car for us. Unfortunately, he locked the car and forgot to leave the keys. After tracking him down and having him drop off the keys we did some shopping at the Food Center. Got most of what I wanted even through the shelves were kind of bare. We arrived first day of Carnival and I have to tell you that the island was MUCH more crowded this April then last April. The island really looks good, nice and green. There are still some blue tarp roofs but work is being done to repair them. Several boats are still half sunk in the lagoon. We went to Mullet Beach most of the time to take advantage of the shade. There are still quite a few trees left on the beach. Beach was cleaned up by E on and I believe boys and girl scouts one Sunday when we were there. Water was gorgeous. Numerous cruise ships came into port during our month long stay and P'burg and Marigot were quite crowded then. We went to the Grand Carnival Parade and it was beautiful! Neither Paul nor I could get over the gorgeous costumes. Natch the large trucks with the loud speakers was LOUD!! It was really so enjoyable watching the parade that we went to the second day parade the next day! I don't see HOW the marchers (or should I say dancers) could keep up the motion over that long parade route. They were really good and we have quite a few good pictures of them. Well as I said we spent a month in SXM and we did not do anything! Just watched the sand grow it seems. Never got to St. Barth's, or Anguilla, or anyplace else we generally go. Did a little shopping but not much. We did go to the market in Marigot twice, bought some t-shirts the first time and the second time I got some pictures (prints) by Chantal-Marie (I believe that is correct). Friday we went to Surf Side South to meet the others. It was a nice time, would have been nicer if the band was not so loud. It was hard carrying on a conversation over the music. We visited the museum on Front Street, found it very interesting. The library is really great. We paid our deposit and one month's fee (total of $30 or so) and took some books out. They have a pretty large selection of books. Before we left we donated all the paperbacks we had brought with us and got our deposit back, also. That's about all we did except beach, beach, and more beach. And of course EAT! Where do I start with that???? Mario's Bistro is fantastic. We were there twice and service, food, and ambiance are great. It is especially nice when you are called by name. Le Cottage was outstanding. I thought the garlic mashed potatoes at Mario's were great and then I had the ones at Le Cottage and I have to say they were better, more garlic in them. This is a charming place and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Le Tastevin - a great lunch as usual. Le Riviera - had a great snapper there for one lunch. Le Poisson D'or - a fantastic beef tenderloin. Only thing was they did not have coffee! A restaurant without coffee...seems the machine was broke! Il Nuttuno - stopped in for lunch, looked at the menu and did not see what I wanted so we started to leave. Waiter asked what it was I wanted and I told him (it had been a special last year when we were there). He went to see the chef and the chef said 'no problem'. He made me the most delicious escollape of veal with portabella mushrooms. It was really great. Paul had a very nice shrimp dish. Auburge Gourmand - outstanding as usual. Christine is huge and is due in a couple of weeks. La Rosa, Too - great veal chop as usual, service leaves a whole lot to be desired. They have the tables so close together that I had the waiter's butt in my face quite a few times during the course of the meal. Le Perroquet, good but not as good as usual. Saratoga - great meal. Grill & ribs - we both love the 'all you can eat' baby back and went there several times. Tutta Pasta - seems that it was better with the old chef. It was still good but not as good as previously. Surf Club South - stopped for lunch one day and had a good hamburg. Turtle Pier - great hamburg there. Funny thing, I very rarely eat hamburgs at home. San Marco - did not care for the place, food was soso and service terrible. Le Bec Fin - this is one place I doubt if we EVER go back to. Paul had rack of lamb and he was served the smallest, thinnest 4 lamb chops that I have ever seen at a cost of $29.00. He had the same thing, rack of lamb, the next night at Le Cottage for $19.00...quite a difference. He said the ones at Le Bec Fin were o.k., nothing to write home about. I had a snapper which was supposed to be cooked in parchment with vegetables. It was cooked in foil and was the most tasteless fish I have ever had. The vegetables were mush. I sent the meal back telling them that I did not like it and I saw the waiter and bartender eating it at the bar! Of course I was charged full price for it which I don't think was right, but... I think that about sums up the restaurants. I did do a lot of cooking also. Now for more on the island.... Food Center on Bush road is being rebuilt and by the looks of it will be HUGE! The store that is where Ram's used to be is called Food World and is owned by Ram's. Guess they just changed the name after Luis. A sales tax is scheduled to be implemented 1 Jan 97. Paul was supposed to bring the paper home with the info on it but he forgot to pack it. I'll post what I can remember. 4% tax on goods (not necessities), 2% tax on medical, 6% tax on services. I wish I could remember more, I do know that originally the taxes were to be on a scale of from 2% to 11% but that was changed a little. Naturally, they is a lot of opposition to this. Carl's Unique Bakery has an addition, Carl's Unique Inn. Carl was voted the boss of the year during the secretary week banquet at Sambuca. He also has a very nice little supermarket where the prices are in both guilders and dollars. All in all it was a wonderful trip and we really HATED to come home. Gotta get started planning our next trip!
This was the first time Mary-Lee and I were getting a chance to bring our 16 month old son to St. Martin. Plane ride down (5/7) was uneventful until we landed in a torrential downpour in SXM. That lasted through picking our car up at Summer Set and the drive up to the Sunrise Hotel. A little disappointed in the request for $50 cash for the car seat for Chris Jr., but I did not want to start on the wrong foot. The room at the Sunrise was very nice. Not really toddler friendly (sunken living area) but Chris Jr. adapted very well. Better than his nervous parents for much of the beginning of the trip. Agnes, the young lady running the Sunrise in Christians absence, was wonderful. Took care of an overheated fridge, ant problem in the bathroom and two power failures like a veteran. For those of you that have read Herman Wouk's "Don't Stop the Carnival", Agnes lived it her first few days at the Sunrise. Overall our stay there was very nice. On our 4th day we moved over to the Towers at Mullet Bay. A very nice 4th floor 1 bedroom unit. Chris Jr. loved this room as well as taking the elevator up and down. Not exactly what we might go to SXM for, but hey, it was his first time and he was doing the right thing after all; enjoying himself. The beaches were wonderful. Went to Coco Beach a few times early on and had a very nice time. Being from Long Island though the wave runners, parasailers and so on are not our favorite part of SXM. We quickly settled into our favorites; Baie Rouge and Cupecoy. Both were wonderful. Baie Rouge has more chairs and umbrellas available than I remembered as well as two places for food. The security just off the beach where you park your car, while depressing to see, was a comfort just the same. The people on the beach were great. Cupecoy was very nice. Not thrilled with the guys that seem to waiting for you to leave something of value on your towel while you head in for a dip, but had no problems. People here were terrific too. Beach had about the same number of sun Lovers as we were used to. Restaurant wise we did not really go out that much. Figured the least we could do was give extra attention to Chris Jr. for putting up with us dragging him out to the beach each day. Did try Il Nettuno up in Grand Case. Food and seating were terrific. Chris Jr., well that's another story that probably belongs on the parenting bbs. Had take out from Sambuca and found the appetizers to be wonderful, the food was I would say average. Cheri's, you would never know they had to be entirely rebuilt. To a tablecloth as we remembered it. As good as always. And many may not agree, but Mary- Lee and I have simple tastes in food, the Grill and Rib Company still gets two thumbs up. All in all we had a great time. Chris Jr. was great. It is an adjustment from having no responsibilities and just doing things on your own time, which is what Mary-Lee and I always enjoyed about SXM, but it was well worth it. The 18th ended our wonderful 11 day stay. Now we have to look 5 months forward to being back at SXM at the Royal Islander!!
| CTR Home | << Prev | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Next >> | Search |