Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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While all of us love the sandy beaches, beautiful blue water and great fun in the sun associated with Caribbean living, we cannot discount the fact that hurricanes can play havoc with the region. You can keep up with the latest hurricane situation by accessing Gert van Dijken's hurricane page. Gert is the technical consultant for the main CTR site. When you need Caribbean hurricane information check:
The following information is provided by Frank Barnako who owns property which he'd like to rent. You can check it all out at:
For the most relaxing vacation of your life, stay at Over the Rainbow Our management company has produced a new web site for Beyond the Sea, a spectacularly sited 2-1/2 bedroom property. Please take a look at: http://www.caribbeanvilla.com/develop/carib/beyond/beyond.html.
* VIs "better than ever" for tourism New efforts are underway to boost the islands' tourism business. Tourism Commissioner Wylie Whisonant told a Rotary Club meeting he has talked with officials from Valujet, American, Continental and American airlines to encourage them to add flights to the islands, the Daily News reported. He also said the islands are making an effort to host the next National Bar Association convention, which likely would be held in early 1998. The News also reported Whisonant said he would support the Governor if there is a proposal to ban souvenir stands from scenic lookouts on the islands. (6/23/97) * U.S. Virgin Islands gets new area code The Virgin Islands, which has shared the 809 area code with 11 Caribbean nations, has been assigned a new code. Either 809, or the new code, 340, can be used until June 30. When all the changes are done, only the Dominican Republic will use 809.(6/23/97) Westin targets October reopening The luxury-resort formerly-known as the St. John Hyatt is projected by its new owners, Westin Hotel and resorts, to reopen in October. St. John Tradewinds editor Tom Oat reports the deal closed in the past week, with Westin paying Skopbank a bargain price of $40 million, less than half the assessed value of the bankrupt property. The Virgin Islands Daily News reported Westin has laid off all remaining employees at the hotel, but plans to reopen with a minimum of 230 workers, 100 more than employed there previously.(6/27/97) St. John businesses hail deal Understandably, business people on St. John are excited at the prospect of the Westin resort opening this Fall. Enid Liburd, who lives near the property, at Chocolate Hole told the Daily News "It is a very good thing for St. John because it will supply work. I wish it was open already."(6/27/97) Cruz Bay restoration project A restoration project is underway which will link the Wharfside Village shopping center with the main ferry dock in downtown Cruz Bay. The land between the two landmarks is the site of a classic brick, coral and stone home belonging to the Sprauve family. Wharfside owner Paul Sabers is handling the reconstruction and told the Tradewinds' Tom Oat "we are going to do a history of the property with Miss Elaine Sprauve. She's a joy to work with and the Sprauve family represents the best of what is St. John." Oat says most of the vacant waterfront property will be landscaped and turned into a park- like piazza. St. Thomas architect Robert DeJongh has been working on the project. New Park Service center delayed Plans for a $3.5 million National Park service headquarters on St. John are on hold. The Virgin Islands Daily News reports the delay has been ordered by deputy superintendent Donna Green, to give residents time to comment on an environmental assessment report on the project expected this week. Late last month, almost 50 adults and children marched in protest of plans for the new center, which plans indicate would cause a reduction in size of a children's p[playground. Green was quoted by the daily News saying "the will of the people must be considered." (6/17/97) Hyatt gone but not forgotten About 160 boxes of paper products, toiletries and other items have been donated by the Hyatt Hotel Corp. to St. John schools and senior citizens. The items remained in the company's closets when it closed the Hyatt Regency property, which is now being renovated by the Westin Hotel Corp. Island administrator James Dalmida, according to the VI Daily News, said the items will be distributed to schools and through the Human services office.(6/17/97) ** St. John public tennis courts renewed The St. John Racquet Club's resurfacing of the public tennis courts behind the fire department is complete. The Club has been insuring the courts get a workout also by sponsoring several tennis matches, including an exhibition between St. Johnians Art Allen and George Newton, two of the top senior players in the islands, according to the St. John Tradewinds.(6/10/97) ** Zoning holds up Frank Bay restaurant The owner of the Frank Bay Bed & Breakfast has been stymied in her desire to add a restaurant which would seat about 20 people. Joshlynn Crosley, owner of the B&B - as well as Cruz Bay's Cafe Roma - says she needs the restaurant to make a go of the guest house operation. However a petition signed by 19 neighbors argues the proposal would add noise and parking problems to the neighborhood, the Tradewinds reported. As result, at a recent hearing of the Department of Planning and Natural resources, the restaurant application was not approved. Crosley's option now is to petition for a variance.(6/10/97) Westin Hotel set for a go Nov. 1 Tradewinds editor Tom Oat reports the Westin St. John is taking reservations to reopen the former-Hyatt resort. Target date: November 1. The director of marketing for Westin says travel agents have been remarkably persistent in keeping tabs on the Westin's plans. "People who love St. John love St. John," she told the newspaper. It's apparent the Westin will not be operating in a Motel 6-mode. Rates for Thanksgiving week are $420 a night for a room with an ocean view and double beds. In-season rates, the Westin said, will be $425-$575 double occupancy. Plans for renovation and changes include expanding health club facilities. (6/3/97) Park service plans raise concerns Recent news the National Park service plans to use hurricane insurance money to build a new Visitors Center has a downside. The site for the Center is likely to remove the only group of palm trees in Cruz Bay, and eliminate the only playground in town, too. Island parents upset about the plans have planned demonstrations to protest, meanwhile the Tradewinds reports Park officials plan to meet with community members to find a new location for a playground. (6/3/97) While you wait for the ferry Visitors to St. John generally take a cab from the airport to Red Hook. Ferries to St. John depart every hour on the hour. Should you miss the boat, count yourself, perhaps, fortunate because you've a perfect opportunity to visit the nearby Blue Marlin restaurant. Specializing in seafood, with a marvelous floating patio deck on the water, the Blue Marlin is open daily from 4 pm, with dinner served 6 to 10 pm. Little known secret: co-owner Maureen Fitzpatrick makes bread daily - fresh sourdough and sun dried tomato are the favorites. (5/20/97) Summer season begins "It's like a light switch," the director of Cardows Jewelers said at the end of April, when high season ends. Nonetheless, several dozen more cruise ships are planning to visit St. Thomas this Summer than last year, but nothing like the as-many-as seven ships a day that call during the Winter. Some retailers say, during low season, their business drops 50 percent. Said one retailer, "Every Summer things are slow - it ain't no big thing."(5/20/97) Carnival Cruise Line's hotel division is reportedly making eyes at St. Croix's Carambola Beach resort Hotel. The Virgin Islands Daily News reports Carnival is considering converting the property into a casino and hotel. The paper says lawyers for the owner and potential buyer have been meeting. One source reports Carnival would expand the 153-room hotel to 200 rooms.(5/13/97) The price of getting there from here For vacationers, air travel from the mainland to the Virgin Islands is important. Just as important to VI residents, is air service off the island to nearby places such as San Juan. At the recent Governor's Conference on Travel and Tourism, the daily News reports representatives of American eagle airlines were criticized for high fares (as much as $187 St. Thomas-San Juan). Meanwhile, it's also reported that US Airways is shifting the starting point of its non- stop flights to St. Thomas from Baltimore-Washington to Philadelphia.(5/13/97) Westin gets ten year tax break Gov. Roy Schneider has reportedly approved tax incentives for the Westin St. John Hotel Co., which will mean the facility will avoid paying "most" taxes for ten years. The tax break was recommended by the islands' Industrial Development Commission. The incentives include 100 percent exemptions from property taxes, gross receipts taxes and excise taxes on building materials, according to an article in the Daily News. The Governor's office said Westin is offering to employ at lest 230 fulltime workers, 80 percent of whom will be from the Virgin Islands. The company also promises to invest $36 million in the former St. John Hyatt property and to offer room discounts to VI residents.(5/13/97) Source: http://www.stjohntradewindsnews.com/
Just returned from a week in Anguilla. Weather was beautiful except for one day when there was much-needed rain. The people there are wonderful. The house we rented from Anguilla Connection was very nice and the company was very good to deal with. The interior of the island needs a cleanup (junked cars and trash are everywhere). When people say they go to Anguilla for the beaches, I can understand why. We've been many places and have never seen more beautiful sand and water. Our favorite restaurant was Zara's (at the Allemanda Beach Resort on Shoal Bay). The chef, Shamash, is very inventive, accommodating and funny. We liked this place so much we ate there twice. Second on our> dining list would be Barrel Stay at Sandy Ground. Bob, the owner, turns out gourmet cuisine at reasonable prices. Recently rebuilt, the restaurant faces the beach and is a quiet haven from the louder establishments nearby. We did the obligatory jaunts to Uncle Ernie's, Smitty's and Scilly Cay and thoroughly enjoyed them all. (Smitty has better ribs, Ernie better guavaberry coladas, and Eudoxie at Scilly Cay better ambiance and grilled crayfish). The island is seriously into "off-season" now and there were very few tourists to be found. Johnno's was NOT what we expected. On a cloudy afternoon when we were exploring the island, we stopped at Johnno's for a drink and it was obvious that the> bar staff was more interested in watching Days of Our Lives (pumped loudly into the PA system) than in taking care of us. We were treated nicely by everyone EXCEPT: Johnno's, and the staff at American Eagle. In fact, I would recommend not flying Eagle at all-- take the 727 from San Juan or Miami direct to St. Martin and ferry across to Anguilla. Going down, American left DFW late. We landed in San Juan and ran to the Eagle gate. We were at the gate two minutes BEFORE the scheduled departure but Eagle would not let us board the plane. Because it was the last flight of the day, we were stuck in San Juan overnight. Eagle KNEW six passengers were arriving from Dallas and still would not let us board. In > addition, they were rude and condescending. They refused to tell us even WHEN the next available flight would be. On return from Anguilla, we tried to check baggage 2 1/2 hrs. before the flight and they refused to do it. (Although their own rules REQUIRE that you check in not later than 2 hours before departure!) The staff on Anguilla was not helpful at all and had an "attitude" we had not seen on that island during all of our dealings with the other people who live there. In short, our trip was relaxing while there, but terrible in transit. If you are looking for peace and quiet, beautiful beaches, and good restaurants this is not a bad place at all.
My wife and I have returned from a 3 week vacation in Anguilla. This is our sixth trip staying at Allamanda Beach Club. We normally go in February when the temperature is consistently 85-90 degrees with a cool Caribbean breeze blowing every day. We especially love Anguilla because the sun shines every day. Anguilla's greatest assets are the excellent beaches (30), the fine dining, and the friendly Anguillan people. We usually take a picnic lunch and stay on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world when we are not at Shoal Bay Beach. Shoal Bay Beach is rated one of the ten best beaches in the Caribbean (Conde Nast 11-96) being 2 miles long with powder white sand and the greatest snorkeling just off shore. The beach is also excellent for swimming and the water remains at 80 degrees even during February. Dining on Anguilla is a gastronomic experience. You can dine at a different restaurant for 2 weeks and never hit the same one twice. There are many excellent restaurants run by both local and foreign restaurateurs. We found that all of the restaurants and some new ones are all open even though some were heavily damaged during the hurricane in 1995. A special new restaurant to mention in Zara's which is getting rave reviews by everyone who has eaten there. We were there for four dinners and would rate this restaurant, along with all our other friends who ate there, as being in the Boston Globe, New York Times, 4 star category. Zara's is located on the property of Allamanda Beach Club and is a must if you are dining out in Anguilla. Chef Shamash is a master Caribbean chef who is very well known and popular on the island for his creative talents. He previously was chef at superb restaurants such as Cyril's Fish House, Cove Castles, and LaFontana. We stay at the Allamanda Beach Club which we consider the best value not only in Anguilla but in the British West Indies. The Allamanda offers a fabulous location on Shoal Bay Beach with all rooms facing the ocean, Zara's restaurant and bar, swimming pool, kitchens in every room, maid service, and much more. To us, the Allamanda is the ultimate Caribbean hideaway with only 16 rooms. It is very quiet, romantic, and relaxing and what we consider a perfect vacation. Sam Mason, the owner of the Allamanda, tells all his guests that he has built this hotel, yet undiscovered, so that he can offer the best value and friendly experience without anyone going bankrupt. For this reason, the Allamanda's daily rates are the best starting at $85. We have stayed at most of the other islands over the last 21 years and we have made many friends. Most of our friends are now relocating to the Allamanda and all agree this is the best of the best in beaches, hotel, and dining. So based on our experience with Anguilla and the Allamanda Beach Club, you don't have to spend a lot of money per night to have a great vacation.
(Ed Note: Lori Gedon, CTC is the President of VHR, WORLDWIDE, a leading luxury villa, condominium, apartment and private island rental firm whose sales and marketing division, MARKETING IN MOTION, provides sales, marketing and consulting to the travel and tourism industry. Contact can be made through : (800) NEED-A-VILLA; (201) 767- 9393; fax (201) 767-5510 and e-mail KLYU87A@Prodigy.com.)
Just got back from a brief stay at Sandals Antigua... I have been to most of the Sandals properties, and I must say that this chain has reliably good service. From the maids to the bellmen to the wait staff, they are "there". Nothing is ever a problem. I asked for an iron/ironing board - had it in ten minutes. We had a plumbing problem in the bathroom - was fixed by the time we got back from breakfast. Sandals Antigua is spread out a bit, and none of the buildings are higher than two stories as I recall. There are different types of accommodations, from little casitas to rondelle-style cottages to suites. Some are near the beach, some are in the gardens and others are on the hillside. We were set on the hillside, on the first floor of a two-story building. There was a swimming pool (one of 8? on property) right off our covered verandah. This was, we were told, the "quiet" pool. No music, no bar (just a juice stand), no games, no Playmakers. People swam in the pool or adjacent Jacuzzi, or read on lounge chairs. It was very peaceful there. The "main" pool was the Happening Place. It had a swim-up bar (accessed on two sides) and was very large. This is where the rowdy crowd came to play...and drink. There was also a large Jacuzzi next to this pool, and a pool table situated in a covered gazebo just behind the bar. Playmakers came by in the afternoon and organized games. The beach is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Right up there with Treasure Cay (Abaco) and Negril (Jamaica). Long, white and sandy. Shallow water, great for swimming. We went snorkeling one day to Paradise Reef. It was fun - they threw bread in the water and the fish went wild, like being in an aquarium - but I was saddened to see the damage done by the last series of hurricanes. There are three specialty restaurants (dinner only) - Japanese, a Steak House and Italian - plus a grille for hot dogs and burgers pretty much all day, and their buffet restaurant which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food was very good, and the service - exceptional. Our suite was located at the top of the property. It contained a beautiful mahogany, four-poster bed (with steps so you could climb into it, it was so high!), big-screen TV with remote, remote- controlled A/C, setee & chair. The place was immaculate! Turn-down service at night, a nice touch. Cold water put in the rooms. There was also a small coffee pot with amenities. There were couples of all ages, which was nice to see. Entertainment every night. It really was "all-inclusive" - even diving, which surprised me. We highly recommend Sandals Antigua!
From May 20 until May 28 my friend, Brenda and I stayed at Breezes Bahamas. I did a lot of reading on Nassau and decided on Breezes since it is located right on Cable Beach and is all-inclusive. We were pleased with our choice. We flew from Detroit to Atlanta then to Nassau on Delta, terrific flight both ways. Breezes is a very nice hotel and the rooms are pretty decent. I was impressed that the room was cleaned every day by 11 AM which was a plus since we could rest in the room after lunch when we felt like it (especially when we were sunburned and wanted to avoid the midday sun). Brenda is very active and made good use of all the facilities. She really enjoyed water-skiing, sailing (Sunfish), kayaking, and the trapeze. I was content to sit on the beach and read all day. I did try a Hobie-cat ride with one of the watersports staff members. Brenda also used the work-out room daily and said it was very nice and had modern equipment. In the evenings we played ping pong, pool and took walks. There is a new "walkway" in front of all the hotels on Cable Beach that is about 3/4 of a mile one way. It was a pleasant walk with plants and flowers to look at while walking. Many of the tourists and locals took advantage of the path and walked every evening. We checked out the Marriott and Radisson and both are nice with huge pools. We liked the size of the pools at both hotels since the pool at Breezes was a bit small for a hotel that size, we thought. Also, there were theme nights and activities every evening. We only watched one show, the Staff and Guest talent show. We got lucky, there was this guy from NJ (I think) who could really play the guitar and sing. He performed "Johnny Be Goode" and got a standing ovation. Now about the food, what can I say, it was plentiful! Brenda is a vegetarian and found plenty to eat. I'm a fussy eater and found plenty to eat. We were definitely well fed. If you like to drink all day then you would appreciate Breezes. The two of us don't drink alcoholic beverages but were able to drink virgin strawberry daiquiris, pop and juices all day. One morning we saw a guest who definitely had too much to drink passed out at the pool area. Security and the nurse ended up wheeling him away in a wheelchair after they couldn't rouse him! It's amazing how much people can drink without keeling over! Since the resort was all-inclusive we weren't motivated to leave! We went out only two times. The first was to the Dolphin Encounter on Blue Lagoon Island. That was so cool, both of us picked the "Swim with the Dolphins" package and it was totally worth it. The cost was $85.00 for each of us and we had such a good time. I would definitely recommend this trip. The second was to venture downtown to buy the required t-shirts and jewelry. We took the wrong bus and had an unplanned tour of neighborhoods surrounding Nassau. FYI-take the number 10 bus which is the more direct route! I was happy we got downtown at 9 AM because by 10 there was a cruise shop docked and many many cruisers took over the town. If you are not a die hard shopper you probably can see all the shops in less than two hours including the straw market. Last but not least, the weather was perfect! We were lucky to have sunny skies and 80 degree weather the whole time we were there. I would definitely recommend Breezes if you like to be active, drink and eat all day or even if you just want to relax on the beach. If you want a quiet place, this is not it since the hotel was totally booked the whole time we were there. Brenda and I considered the fact that no kids under 16 were allowed a big plus. I would like to add that everyone at the hotel was very friendly and helpful. Also the locals were nice and friendly to us as well. We have been to St. Kitts, St. Croix, and Aruba and found the people on New Providence to be the most friendly. All in all we had a wonderful time! Now its cool and rainy here in Michigan and I for one want to be back in Nassau! :-)
My wife and I just returned from three glorious sun filled weeks in Barbados. This is our sixth year in a row to visit there and each year seems to get better. Even though its a small island there is tremendous diversity and we never run out of things to do. The major event this year was the Congaline parade on May 1 - Barbados Labor Day. The Congaline festival is a relatively new event lasting ten days and featuring up and coming Caribbean musical groups. They strut their stuff each night at the Dover Field in St. Lawerance Gap. (We saw Lady Salsa, a 14 person all female band from Cuba - talk about high energy!). The whole shebang culminates in an island-wide parade from the Garrison, through Bridgetown to Spring Garden. This Ann's like your normal St. Patty's day parade. Its much more animated and fun filled. There were about a dozen large trucks with floor to ceiling speakers and either live bands or DJ's. Behind each truck came large numbers of revelers, with coordinated t-shirts, headbands and banners. And they are not marching, they are "Jumpin" - which means that they dance, gyrate and do things that most middle age bodies cannot contemplate. Following the big trucks are one or two smaller truck dispensing either rum or beer continuously. Everybody is happy! The parade took about two hours to pass us, before noon, and I am told that once they reached Spring Garden that they partied late into the night. What saying power the locals have. As in previous years, we participated in the Barbados Trust Sunday morning hikes. This year our first hike centered around Turner's woods, the island's only remaining rain forest. The foliage was breath taking. Our second hike started at Foul Bay, near Crane's Beach Hotel and went south along the coast to the edge of the airport. On this hike we viewed the world's largest gun (I'm not kidding). It was evidently used for scientific purposes, but has now fallen into disuse. Our third Sunday morning hike was the most spectacular. We set forth from Morgan-Lewis Beach on the North-east part of the island, walked north along the beach and then up the hills to what for me was the most magnificent view on the island. I really thought I could see the earth curving from this grand vantage point. For those of you who have seen the view from Cherry Tree Hill, this view is similar, but much more expansive. To get there from Cherry Hill, just proceed down the hill, take the first left and then an immediate right. You'll have to then get out of your car and follow the path for about a quarter of a mile. Then just sit down and enjoy! Also, on the hiking scene, we finally took the Highland Tour after hearing how great it was from our daughters. For $60(bd) you are treated to a guided hike from the center of the island, up to Mt. Hillaby (the highest point on the island), and then down to a beach on the east coast. The tour guide is an incredibly knowledgeable local named Andrew (a.k.a. Cat) who points out flowers, wildlife and views that you won't get a chance to see elsewhere. The hike ends with a bajan lunch (yummie) and plenty of Banks beer and rum. It was definitely worth the price of admission. We also hiked along the abandoned railroad tracks south of Bathsheba. The views along this hike contain the wonderful rock formations sculpted by the rugged Atlantic ocean and panoramic scenes up the coast line from Martins Bay. Well, so much for the hikes. We also went to some of the "attractions". For the first time we went to Welchman's Gully. It is right next to Harrison's caves, in fact many thousands of years ago it was probably part of the cave. But the roof "caved in" and a lush gully was formed. Welchman's Gully is a "must-see" if you are interested in tropical plants and foliage. We saw the biggest and prettiest bearded fig tree on the island there. We also went back to the Flower Forest this year. We had been there five or six years ago and enjoyed it enough to try it again. We are glad we did. The place has improved a lot. The flowers and trees are well marked. There are more types of palm there than I have ever seen before. Also, because we went late in the day, we saw lots of green faced monkeys swinging from tree to tree and generally making lots of noise. Our next attraction was the rum factory in St. Phillips. This is a new factory that is highly automated. Evidently the sugar in Barbados is about as good as it gets for rum. However most of the sugar gets shipped off the island to other rum making sites. This factory is an attempt to keep some of that industry home. We learned a couple of things about rum in Barbados. First, the white rum does not give you a hangover, but the brown rum does. Secondly, there are 1,683 rum shops on the island. (And we only got to half of them). The rum made at this factory carries the brand name E.S.A.Fields, or ESAF, which the locals say means Eternal Saviour and Friend. Now on to eating. The newest eating experience is the Friday night fish fry in Oistens. Every Friday night locals and tourists alike converge on this little fishing village on the south side of the island to get fried fish from any of a large number of vendors who operate out of little kiosks. We went twice and had wonderfully seasoned dolphin from Mo's shack. We also sampled Crazy Eddie's which was good, but not as well seasoned as Mo's. The meals are about $15 (bd), (about $7.50 US),and the beers are only $2 (bd). An inexpensive, but enjoyable and taste filled night. Our favorite "upscale" restaurant (now keep in mind that we only frequent the South side of the island, there are some fantastic restaurants on the west side that we just don't seem to get to) is Belleni's Italian Restaurant. If you go there, I recommend the Shrimp Belleni - the sauce is fabulous. We also went to David's, which was quite nice and has a wonderful setting; to Josef's which has excellent service and food, but is quite expensive; and to Champers. I see that others have had bad experiences with Champers, but we evidently lucked out. If you go there, be sure to get the fish pie, a delightful mixture of local fish, mashed potatoes and cheese. We went there twice and ate on the first level where the bartenders serve you - this may account for the fact that we always had good service. Finally, after an exhaustive search my wife and I have located the best banana daiquiri on the island. It can be had at TGI Boomers in the St. Lawerance Gap. And, if you're looking for a lot of fun try Angies Beach Bar on Wednesday night for good music and dancing and a tasty bajan buffet. Can't wait until next year!
(Ed Note: The following article is copyrighted by Michael benoit and is used in the CTR with his permission.)
Recently my family and I had the opportunity to spend a week at this resort location. As has been my practice for several years, below is my report on the facility and our experience. We initiated our trip with a jumbo jet flight to San Juan, PR. This was followed by an American Eagle ATR 42 island hop of 35 minutes to Beef Island, Tortola, BVI. Upon landing we were herded through Immigration, experiencing the normal nonsmiling but efficient person checking our passports and visas. Next we claimed our baggage and assembled everything for Customs. We encountered a jovial, round man who was very polite and to the point. He would make a great black Santa Claus not to mention providing a positive first impression of the BVI’s attitude toward tourism. Once we had cleared Customs, we proceeded to North Sound Express (NSX), a local ferry service that was to transport us to Virgin Gorda. They tagged our bags for our final destination and taxied us to the ferry dock which was a stone’s throw from the airport. The boat itself was reminiscent of an overgrown cabin cruiser but served its purpose. Unlike many other resort ferries, NSX did not provide any refreshments nor conversation, resulting in my impression of them as a water taxi service rather than a resort- related travel accommodation. The thirty minute ferry ride afforded newcomers to the BVI the opportunity to see the Dog Islands, Little Dix Bay area, Spanishtown, and the Baths - this was assuming they were sitting outside of the cabin in the sunlight. Those riding inside the boat could see little unless they were over 6’ tall as the seats were set low relative to the windows. Upon arrival at the Bitter End dock, we were warmly greeted by the resident manager, Mary Jo Ryan. She and a couple of her associates guided us to the main reception area where we filled out registration forms and identified our luggage. As an aside, it seems to me that this should have been worked out with the ferry service on Tortola whereby they would tag not only the Bitter End location, but also the room number since it was already known. It would have saved us time initially when we were already worn out from the travel gauntlet. We were directed to our rooms by Alice who was very cordial and proved an informed source of how to transverse the property and where outlying amenities might be found. The rustic building that housed our rooms was a duplex-type of structure consisting of separate entries for each of the two rooms and a common porch which overlooked the beach and beyond. The view was breathtaking for we could see several islands, including the highly publicized Necker Island as well as the reefs that stratified the calm waters of the sound from the Atlantic ocean. Our room included a king size bed, table/chairs for work purposes, a large, two-sink powder room which also housed the functional refrigerator, and a separate shower and commode area. We quickly experienced the cooling effects of a continuous ocean breeze blowing north to south. This alleviated any concern about a lack of air conditioning. The children’s quarters was similar to ours except there were two twin beds and two foldaway, large cots. The room was designed to easily house all four while in use. The shower and commode area could be closed off with a sliding, translucent glass door, providing privacy for each of our children when using those facilities. The only problem with their room was that the breeze we felt in our northerly exposed room was lacking in their’s on the southern face. As we spent so little time during the day in the rooms, this did not manifest itself as particularly troublesome ... or maybe young adults are more resilient and less demanding than us old foggies. Once we were completely settled in, we began our quest to locate all of the important reference points in the complex. The road system consists of one partially paved single lane connecting the two endpoints of the property. It took about ten minutes to walk the entire length. At approximately the half way mark are the main facilities for dining, administration, and water activities. Thus it was easy for us to identify where to go and what to expect once we were there. Put in perspective, the first time we went to the massive resort Caneel Bay, St. John USVI, we were totally lost and spent considerable time identifying where to go for what. That is far from a problem here, sort of a plug and play geography. The dining facilities were clean and open air, providing a view of the main bay area. We were on the seven-day program and thus qualified for the full American meal plan. This was very nice in that each of us first would navigate the buffet area, selecting from salad, bread, and condiment offerings. Next we could order from the menu a main entree, choosing from a wide selection with the grilled swordfish being our absolute favorite. All of the food was tasty and prepared properly. The quality and selections paralleled Jumby Bay Resort in Antigua, a retreat where pampering the guests was the main objective. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised about this as the price of the two were widely divergent, but the results were in parity one with the other. Attention to detail seemed to be an important facet of the mission in the kitchen. My wife has a very severe allergy to eggs and chicken. If she ingests even the minutest amount of either, she becomes immediately incapacitated. Often we have visited resorts where my wife was forced into a fasting mode because so much of the prepared dishes contained egg ingredients or chicken ... or they did not know or were not capable of ascertaining how the food was prepared. While we have successfully subscribed to Weight Watchers in the past, while on vacation we prefer to be more daring. Our family dreads beginning a meal with the concern of the food contents and whether all at our table will be able to partake. That was definitely not the case with Bitter End; they considered my wife’s malady a challenge. At each meal there was quietly placed a special tray of breads and a dessert so that she could enjoy the food without embarrassment. She ate plentifully and we thank Winston, the talented and experienced head baker who is native to the region but has a worldly pedigree in the culinary arts. Without belaboring the issue, the most accurate barometer of the food in general was our nineteen year old son. At six foot three inches his insatiable appetite is outdone only by a rather unusual dietary utility curve. Generally a sitting consists of mass quantities of pasta in any form, breads and/or pastries, and a cola to wash it all down. Ironically, many of the dishes he was forced to consume were common menu items but foreign to his system. In polling his recollections of the trip, eating was at the top of his list of most enjoyed activities. His need to eat steak and pasta followed by four pieces of pie was met and fulfilled by Bitter End. For instance, at supper, they baited him with ancillary dishes such as lobster in several forms, grilled tuna, and soups. He has now succeeded in superimposing fresh grilled tuna over the memories of the canned variety he was forced to eat on Fridays as a child. Yep, he gave them the thumbs up, a ten on the scale of satisfaction. Since one of the main attractions of Bitter End is the variety of water activities, we had decided before we departed home that this trip would be spent visiting as many of the outlying areas as possible. We prefer deserted beaches with good snorkeling. BEYC maintains a fleet of twenty Boston Whalers with 6hp engines available for use by guests. Our family checked out two of them, one for my wife and me and the other for the kids. The first excursion was to the neighboring island called Prickly Pear. We landed on the northeastern side, picking the smallest of the three empty beaches. I felt like Christopher Columbus when we first landed as the only visible life was in the water. After anchoring the boats and donning our masks and fins, we plunged into the water in search of colorful fish. The first moving creatures were a group of squid, dangling in the water as though each was suspended by puppet strings. Quickly I clicked a picture with my throwaway camera for posterity. This encounter was followed by others with various fish of differing sizes and colors. Once we had worn out this beach, we moved on to the next one along the same side of the island. Dotting the waters edge were volcanic rocks jutting out and beckoning us to gather round and take pictures - which we couldn’t resist doing. So there they are, pictures of wife, daughter one volcanic rock, daughter two; another shows son, father, volcanic rock. Nice family gathering here. Each day we repeated this process of planning our objective sites, obtaining boats, and heading out to discover what was to us more unchartered waters. We continued this process until we were worn out from snorkeling and overexposed to the sun. One beach that remains in my memory as highly unusual was situated due east of Bitter End and called Oily Nut. It was located along the far northwestern tip of Virgin Gorda. Upon landing there rather than encountering the sandy beach of prior sites, we stood upon a beach of coral, shells and other fossil forms. Gazing up the dune, we realized the dunes themselves consisted of these same ingredients. We wandered along the shoreline, picking and choosing shells for our collection back home. Apparently this location, geographically set near the outlying reefs, is the final resting place of many sea creature remains, thus educating us as to the essence of a shelling beach. Other activities that we plunged into were a day trip to Anegoda, night snorkeling (not for beginners), and a champagne beach party late in the week. The party was a highlight for one of my daughters as the Reggae and Calypso music helped her usher in her twenty-first birthday. Dinner, drinks, and dancing accompanied the celebration. Not to be outdone by her older sister, the youngest member of the family won a liter of rum at the evening’s culminating event, a limbo contest. Granted, the locals, some obviously capable of snaking under the stick, kindly backed off and let the tourists soak up the enjoyment of the moment. What a birthday party! In summary, this is a resort that is well managed, well preserved, and well stocked for an active family. I highly recommend it for those who want a varied selection of activities where one may pick and choose on a whim what the activity du jour would be.
My wife and I wanted to take advantage of the American Airlines fare sale that they made available due to the temporary stay of the pending strike. We looked at our "Frommer's Guide to the Caribbean" to find islands that matched our requirements. We found a table in the book where it rated the islands as to "best beaches", "friendliest", etc. Virgin Gorda came up a winner on all of our criteria. And, I must say that after visiting there, the ratings were correct! Some background: I scuba dive and my wife does not. At least once a year we go on a "diving vacation". These vacations are where I take at least 1 boat trip (2 dives) a day and she reads, walks the beach, etc. while I'm diving. We then explore the island together when I'm not diving. We also like to walk a lot on vacation as opposed to renting a car the whole time. Since I have started diving, we have been to Grand Cayman (Radisson & Holiday Inn) several times as well as Jamaica (Swept Away), and Hawaii. We stayed at Fischer's Cove from April 3-10, 1997. It was a very good hotel, and a good value when compared to the other hotels on the island. HOTELS: On Virgin Gorda there are several ultra expensive resorts such as Little Dix Bay and Biras Creek. Then, you have the hotels/cottages of Fischer's Cove, Guavaberry and Olde Yard Inn. These are operated more like small inns. Fischer's Cove is the only one of these directly on the ocean. It has 8 cottages all with ocean views and a small two story hotel just a short walk from the ocean. The cottages are equilateral *triangles with one side facing the beach. The bed is in one corner, the kitchen in another and the bathroom in the third. The walls were full of screened windows with slatted vents that could be adjusted to allow the breeze to come in. There wasn't any air conditioning, but it wasn't needed. The ceiling fan and the vented windows kept it quite cool. In fact some nights, we had to turn off the fan and close the windows completely. One nice thing about Fischer's Cove is that it is just a 5 minute walk from the yacht harbor (the center of activity on the island). The restaurant at Fischer's Cove is also very nice. It's a little pricy, but good. They serve 3 meals with the lunch and dinner menus changing daily. There is a buffet on Wednesday nights. The night we were there the buffet include roast beef, lobster, fish and local vegetable dishes. I can highly recommend the buffet and the Goat Stew that I had for lunch. BEACHES: The Baths, which is the trademark of Virgin Gorda, are about a 25 minute walk from Fischer's Cove or a $3/person taxi ride. However, Spring Bay (just north of the Baths, take the road next to the green National Park sign) is much better and much more secluded. Taxis will take you there for the same price. Savannah Bay just north of Spanish Town is also a gorgeous beach. The beach is very long and the water is very shallow, with a marked snorkel trail and very small waves. RESTAURANTS: The Bath and Turtle Pub in the yacht harbor, is a relaxing gathering place with good food. They take credit cards and have a full bar. At the top of the Baths is Mad Dog's a very nice, small bar, where the owner hands out flowers to the women in the evenings. Their Pina Coladas are not to be missed. I highly recommend Sar's, a cheerful reasonably priced restaurant that serves West Indian fare as well as Chinese take-out. It is located just north of the yacht harbor on the road that leads from the Ferry Dock. Get a Roti here. A Roti is sort of like a pot pie's filling wrapped in something that's a cross between a tortilla and pita bread. DIVING: I dived with Dive BVI. They are headquartered at the yacht harbor and they have a boat that leaves from the harbor every morning around 8:30am. It then makes a stop at Little Dix Bay to pick divers from the resort and then off you go. There are buoys are all the dive sites in the BVI. Since there are few dive operators in the BVI, the dive boats use an additional safety line to tie up to the buoy's anchor point. You wouldn't want the buoy's line to break while you were diving, since everyone goes in the water. Since we were there during a "north swell", our dive sites were limited to those on the south sides of the islands around Virgin Gorda. These consisted of "Alice in Wonderland", "Ginger Steps", "Coral Gardens", and the "RMS Rhone". DRIVING: Driving is an experience on Virgin Gorda. Driving is on the left, yet most cars left hand drive. The speed limit on the island is 20mph. Although, it will be difficult to achieve this speed because of the roughness of the tarmac and the number of speed bumps. Also, when driving from Spanish Town to Leverick Bay, the slope of the road approaches 45 degrees. Most rentals are "jeep" type cars. Ours was a Suzuki Samari and we had to use 1st gear to get over the mountain in the middle of the island. Watch out for the speed bumps just as you are "oohing" and "aahing" over the beauty of the view, you hit one. Also, you must watch out for the goats and cows that wander the roads. OVERALL: Virgin Gorda is a great place to "get away from it all". Its people are very friendly. It is very beautiful and clean and has extremely good sunsets. The diving is spectacular, since there are so few visitors. The only downside is getting there. You have to fly into Puerto Rico and then to either St. Thomas or Tortola. You can take a ferry from either to Spanish Town. So you want to time your arrival to coincide with a ferry departure. A good URL for the BVI is http://www.bviwelcome.com/ This is the company that publishes the BVI Welcome magazine that you can get on the island. It lists ferry schedules, etc.
Club Paradisus, Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic I should have guessed that this was going to be a different kind of vacation when I first noticed that everyone else in Miami getting on the plane for LaRomana airport looked like retired physicians with their straw country club hats, accompanied by their wives who were decked out in fancy scarves and gold necklaces. When the plane landed at its destination, I noticed that the runway actually crosses the fairways of several holes of the "famous" Teeth-of-the-Dog golf course attached to the huge Casa de Campo resort on the south shore of the Dominican Republic. There are literally golf cart crossings on the airport runway. They prevent golf cart/727 accidents by blowing a high pitched whistle as a plane nears the runway for a landing and as a plane readies for takeoff. This golf course actually hugs the jagged coast and is among the worlds' most beautiful (and probably challenging) courses. Clue number two came on the short cab ride to the Casa de Campo lobby when my wife saw that the golf tees each seemed to have a uniformed guard, with a rifle across his lap. Why does a golf tee need to be guarded ? My next clue should have been my encounter with Hertz Rent-a-Car at the Casa de Campo lobby. We were gong to drive to Punta Cana, approximately 70 miles east of LaRomana. At a resort that caters almost exclusively to golfers from the USA, the Hertz person spoke almost no English. Although I consider my almost total lack of foreign language skills to be a personal flaw, I would not have expected language to became the issue at the Hertz counter. We reserved a small Fiat which sat 4 but had room for only about half our luggage (the girls sat with small suitcases on their laps for the entire trip). The formal pre-rental inspection pointed out several small dents and (I thought strangely) that all 4 hubcaps looked like they had been chewed on by large rodents. We were to learn firsthand that these bites didn't come from any animal. The trip east was not without its moments. We had landed at about 3 PM, allowing us 3 to 4 hours of daylight to get to the resort. That was good planning. The hour lost getting to and through Hertz got us underway at 4PM. The multiple challenges of speed bumps considerably taller than our road clearance, the complete lack of road signs along the highways, and the incomplete directions to our resort didn't dampen our spirits or delay us much beyond the 2 hours we had been told to allow for the trip. The resort. The Paradisus resort, billed as the "exclusive all- inclusive", is part of the Spanish Sol Melia hotel chain. This hotel, and its next-door neighbor, the Melia Bavaro, are outstanding properties with all the extras that make them world-class. The grounds, literally hundreds of acres, are manicured with tropical plants, well maintained gardens and small fountained ponds. The room that my wife and I shared had a king sized bed, a living room with 2 small couches, satellite TV, and a small kitchen area. There was a wrap-around deck through the sliding glass doors that had a breathtaking view of Bavaro Beach. All the rooms are in 2-story "bungalows" containing no more than 16 rooms. While we were there we had excellent maid service, though the room was made up at a different time each day. The beach. The stretch of beach in front of the resort seemed to go forever. It was wide and clean, with fine sand and crystal clear water. The resort had plenty of cushioned lounge chairs and enough palm covered thatched umbrellas for everyone who wanted them. Long walks revealed that other resorts share this beach. Additionally, local vendors have kiosks where they have local art, crafts, and assorted cigarettes and booze for sale. They had no problem communicating in English and accepting US dollars for merchandise. Strangely, these merchants spoke better English than most other folks we met in DR. The pool. Paradisus claims to have the largest freeform "sweet water" pool in the Caribbean. I believe that they may be right. The pool was gorgeous and gigantic. This was a great place to spend the last few hours of sun each day since there was a swim-up bar and plenty of entertainment in the form of music and pool sports. The food. Here was a disappointment. We had expected to not need to buy the food plan at $45US per person per day since the room had a kitchen and there was mention of a food store near the property on the Sol Melia web page. We had carried a couple of days worth of dinners, as well as breakfast food (ie cereal) with us from New York. What we discovered was that the kitchen didn't have a stovetop or oven to boil water or cook even simple foods, that the food store carried only the simplest of foods (potato chips, beer, etc.) at outrageous prices, and that there are virtually no decent restaurants anywhere near the resort. We ended up buying the all-inclusive plan and eating all our meals at the resort. The resort has 7 restaurants to choose from, several of which require reservations for dinner, which can be made at breakfast. The food at these special restaurants was good-to-very good. The food at the other restaurants was uninteresting, but filling. We neither starved nor suffered from any food-caused acute discomfort. On a scale of 1-10, I'd rate the food a "6". The all-inclusive food plan had two other benefits though, free water sports and free drinks (also, free cigarettes for smokers). The entertainment. Every evening at 10:30 PM the resort put on a show for the guests. Prior to the show a local musical group played for about 45 minutes. They were terrific ! The shows changed every day. However, they were all very similar, with dancing, lip synching, and a host who literally spoke 4 or 5 languages simultaneously. Although they were more professional than any I've seen at Club Meds, they were a lot less fun. Afterwards, a form of crazy-signs (another Club Med idea) was performed. Here, the summer camp-for-adults didn't work at all. Higuey. About Thursday we began to feel penned-up at the resort and decided that since we had a car that we should do some sightseeing. We had passed through the city of Higuey on our way to the resort, so we knew the way (remember, no road signs !!) . Higuey is a poor smaller city with a notable past. It is the site of the oldest Roman Catholic church in the Western Hemisphere. So...off we went. The trip to Higuey was somewhat uneventful if you can disregard the road itself. Car travel in DR can be a harrowing experience. The roads vary significantly in quality, from fairly good (2 lanes only) to very ugly. When the road gets bad, it may be for a hundred meters, or for 10 km. The bad roads are on a par with what I envisioned the road from Baghdad to Kuwait looked like after the Persian Gulf War. The ruts were deep and the entire road became a game of dodge the largest holes. I found myself driving, at times, on the shoulder of the other side of the road. The only difference was that there were no smoldering tanks and armored vehicles, instead the surroundings were sugar cane fields or quiet farmland with sparse livestock. Once in Higuey, we drove through busy city streets, more people and mopeds than cars, until we came upon the Basilica. The Basilica was not hard to find since it stands about 6 or 7 stories tall, compared to the next highest building of maybe 3 stories. Incidentally, Higuey has a new highway challenge ... reverse speed bumps (i.e. intentional deep ruts). At the Basilica we parked in the special lot for tourists (maybe about 4 cars total) and were quickly greeted by Franklin, an "official" tour guide (he wore a special badge !!). Franklin spoke passable English and was superb in taking us through the Basilica, built only 25 years ago on the site of the old sanctuary. One note: there is a large sign, in English, that states that no shorts are allowed at the Basilica. All 4 of us were wearing shorts. Franklin informed us that this was not a problem and our tour would in no way be curtailed, and it wasn't. The Basilica was interesting inside with its rich mahogany wood and its stained glass. It is an "ultra" modern structure made out of poured concrete. We were able to walk all the way around the alter and even look up close at important artifacts of this congregation. After the visit to the Basilica, Franklin asked if we wanted to take a walking tour of the city. Sure, why not ?? He took us through the Basilica gates, past the armed guard (khakis, machine gun, helmet), past the throng of small children asking for pesos ("peso, peso, peso"), into the streets of Higuey. Here we walked past a few small government buildings (guarded by men, machine guns, helmets) to a street with a few storefront vendors. We stopped at Alexander's, a vendor that had a slightly larger establishment. This store had what was to turn out to be the "normal" stuff in DR. There was amber, latimar (the stone found only in the DR), silver jewelry, wood carvings, and Haitian paintings of all sizes and shapes. Virtually every store sells the same stuff.. This makes for a wonderful bargaining position (if you really have the best price, I'll be back...). Bargaining is mandatory, start at ˝ price and go DOWN from there. The tour continued after a stop at a local eatery for drinks. One Presidenti (local DR beer, not bad !) and 2 33cl Pepsi's for $3US. From here we walked to the open markets with everything from major appliances to meat that was displayed on hooks in the open street with no refrigeration. The vendors, small children, small animals (both domestic and farm) took turns making noise and generally wandering around. It had the basic look and feel of the open food market in Boston's Haymarket Square. After this we'd come to the end of our energy and returned to the car. Franklin bid us good-bye and we headed back to Bavaro Beach, where we finished up the afternoon at the pool. Shopping. Shopping was confined to a limited number of opportunities. The resort had a gift shop that had beachwear, jewelry, and "necessities". All were fairly pricey and the variety was fairly limited. The beach vendors (some of which had tarp-covered kiosks) seemed to have the same stuff I mentioned above. Again, start at ˝ price and work down. Lastly, near the resort was a vendor-mall. Here about 30 vendors were housed in a small nicely layed-out shopping center, which unfortunately again carried much of the same collection of local arts and crafts. Prices were a little higher, but after negotiating resulted in about the same final prices. We succumbed to some simple jewelry at this mall and a 20"x50" painting on the beach. We carried the painting home rolled up in a suitcase. The people. The people we met on the island were wonderful. In spite of the fact that we had a difficult time communicating with them, they were uniformly pleasant and happy to have us on their island. This was true even for those we met who were not in a position to get some of our money. We always felt safe, however, we didn't venture out of the resort after dark. I expect that a little care here is a good idea no matter where you go. Summary. As a whole we had a great time. We enjoyed the beach and the resort. The food was passable and the people were very nice. But, we could not find anything compelling about the Dominican Republic to bring us back. We've found equally magnificent beaches on other Caribbean islands. These other islands have more to see and do, easier driving, more variety in shopping and they have a population of restaurants that demand sampling. There are other Paradisus resorts on other islands and in Mexico. I'm certain they are equally beautiful and offer equally good service and I could be tempted to try one of them.
Just got back from a trip to Grand Cayman’s East End (May 24- 31,1997). We flew in on American Airlines from Miami after making a connection from Nashville. One major word of warning. You cannot enter Grand Cayman on a simple driver’s license anymore. One of the people with us did not have his notarized birth certificate with him and the people at the airline would not let us check his luggage through to Grand Cayman until we could get it. We had to check it through to Miami instead. In all fairness though the people at American were great. We had his birth certificate faxed to the airport in Miami while we were in transit . They had a Public Notary waiting at our departing gate to notarize the fax so we could continue to Grand Cayman. The luggage did not make it on the flight to Grand Cayman since the flight from Nashville was running 20 minutes late due to a mechanical problem. They simply put the luggage on the next flight out and we picked it up at the Grand Cayman airport an hour after we arrived. After arriving in GC we picked up a van that we had reserved at Budget Car Rental. I had specified a premium van on the reservation along with a child car seat. There was nothing premium about the van that we got unless they put in premium gasoline. It took almost an hour for them to get the van for us and when we finally did receive it, it seemed like the oldest van on the island. Fortunately it never broke down on us. The interior was dirty, the sliding door was rusted out so it was difficult to close, the floor liner was torn up and the gas cap cover wouldn’t open without the use of a knife to pry it open. The child seat was dirty and torn also and there were no seatbelts to secure it with in the back seat. If I had to do it over again I would have reserved a van with Coconut or Economy. Their vans looked really nice. Most of the major resorts and restaurants in Grand Cayman can be found along the west coast where you’ll find the famous Seven Mile Beach. The West Bay Road is quite heavy with traffic with such a large concentration of tourists. East End on the other hand seems to be an almost different island altogether. Once you get outside of Georgetown you find much less traffic and the pace of life is much slower. It takes about an hour to drive to East End so we bought groceries at Foster’s supermarket which is near the airport . They have just about anything you might want so we stocked up on snacks and lunch foods. We did prepare a couple of dinners during the week including ribeye steaks on the grill one night. Eating out on GC will cost you anywhere from $60 to $75 for two depending on where you go and what you get so it helps allot to buy groceries and eat in a few nights a week. We did eat out at some nice restaurants during the week. David’s is the in-house restaurant at Morritt’s Tortuga Club and is a solid choice whether you are staying there or not. If you do stay on East End you might want to keep in mind that it is an hour to Georgetown so plan your time carefully. We ate at the Wharf one night. Make sure you get reservations early to get a good table. One of the best things about eating here is getting to see the staff feed the many Tarpon which gather around the dock in the evening. If you have kids this is the place to go if nothing else for the musical entertainment and the fish. Believe it or not this is also a very romantic place too. We also ate one night at the Lighthouse restaurant. They have wonderful food and a great view of the water. Make sure to check out the Wine cellar before you leave. They have an amazing collection of wines from around the world. Accommodations around East End are much more limited than on Seven Mile Beach but if you’re looking for peace and quiet this is the place to come. We stayed at Morritt’s Tortuga Club which is just north of the town of East End in Collier’s Bay. We rented a two bedroom oceanfront townhouse condo. There’s a nice kitchen downstairs alog with a large dining area. The back porch opens directly on to the beach. Since we had 5 people we used the roll out bed in the sofa downstairs. There was plenty of room for everyone and we didn’t have to share a bathroom since there was a full bath downstairs next to the kitchen. The property itself is a collection of beautiful Caymanian style buildings with a wide iron shore protected, sandy beach. There are 2 pools with one having a swim up bar and rock waterfall grotto. Parking close to your condo can be a problem if you have lots of gear to haul but everyone seems to find a slot. There is a restaurant and a bar near the lobby as well as an outdoor terrace so you can eat overlooking the beach. Kids will enjoy the play area on the beach and if you’re in the mood there’s a beach vollyball area also. If you want to relax you’ll find plenty of hammocks in which to relax. The other options in the area include a number of private homes and villas. These range in size from small condos to multi-million dollar estates. Also if you’re looking to save money you can stay at Cayman Diving Lodge. The rooms are very basic and without allot of frills. All have air conditioning though and there’s a nice sun deck with a view of the water. This is the place to stay if you’re here just for the diving. There’s no pool and the beach is not as good as some other places but this is heaven if you love to dive. Just walk down the dock and hop on the boat. They also have a good kitchen that makes some great homestyle food. There are three options if you want to dive the waters off East End. At Morritt’s Tortuga Club you’ll find Tortuga Divers located right on the pier in front of the resort. They are not associated with Morritt’s but you can have the diving put on your room bill. Also you can dive with Cayman Diving Lodge which is about a 6 minute drive south. Ocean Frontiers is down the street from the Lodge about 1 minute and is the only independent operation in East End. When we arrived at Tortuga Club on Saturday we wanted to dive with Tortuga Divers since it was so convenient. I had already booked three days of diving with Ocean Frontiers (Tuesday, Thursday and Friday). We went down to the pier to see if we could get on the next morning’s boat for a two tank dive. The first thing they asked us was how long it had been since we had been in the water. I didn’t dive last year on vacation since I had a cold so I told them that It had been two years ago when I went to Little Cayman. They told me we needed to take a refresher course which involved a morning session in the pool and one shallow afternoon dive and would cost $70. They told us we could not dive with them until we took the course. I knew it was a good idea to brush up on our skills but I thought this was a bit steep for only one dive in addition to losing one full day of diving. I asked if it would be possible to only do the time in the pool then do a two tank afternoon dive. They said no, so we got on the phone with Cayman Diving Lodge. Mike answered the phone and I asked him if they required the same refresher course. He simply asked what we would feel comfortable with. I told him that if we had a dive master go down with us we would be all right. He said that on most of their dives a dive master went down anyway. We could choose to stay with him or do our own exploring. We booked ourselves on the next morning’s dive boat. We enjoyed the diving so much we booked the two days that we weren’t diving with Ocean Frontiers. Cayman Diving Lodge gives a 10% discount if you dive three or more days with them. So we spent the whole week with Cayman Diving Lodge and Ocean Fontiers. Both operations are first class operations. Cayman Diving Lodge was the first dedicated dive resort on Grand Cayman and has been around for a long time. Ocean Frontiers was started in February of 1996. We enjoyed diving with both groups even though there are some similarities and key differences in the way they operate. Both operations are very laid back and allot of fun to dive with and you couldn’t go wrong with either one. Regardless of who you choose to dive with you won’t see another boat on the water while you are out and odds are you will be diving with fewer than a dozen people on your boat. CDL is the veteran of the two operations and it really shows. They don’t have the latest and greatest equipment in the world and what they do have is well worn. It wasn’t uncommon to blow an ‘o’ ring or to find that your tank wasn’t completely full. Pressures ranged from 2700 to 3200. In contrast to that OF would give you a tank pressure of 3500 every time. CDL also doesn’t have the newest dive boat on the island while OF has a brand new custom built twin hull that rides beautifully. But where CDL shines is in the way that they run their operation. They have the best staff and dive masters I’ve ever been around. Everything is done with impeccable timing and thought. From the time you step on board till the time you leave, everything is run with tremendous efficiency and it makes a big difference in your dive experience. When you step on the boat the dive master asks you how much weight you need. You tell him and before you know it your weights are laid in front of your gear. By the way if you miscalculate like I did, there is a weight belt at the end of a 15 foot rope underwater. All you do is swim up and get an extra 2 or 3 pounds. Very thoughtful. Also between dives they change your regulator and BC to a new tank. What’s amazing is that its done before you know it. After your last dive they disconnect your reg and BC for you. Also, their boat (Minnow II) is laid out very well. The tanks are mounted on a rack that runs down the middle of the boat. Since the gunnells are open, all you have to do is strap on your gear, turnaround and do a backwards roll into the water. No walking around the deck with fins on. There’s no ladder on the back for getting out of the water but its no problem. You just slip out of your BC, they grab your BC and you lift yourself on the platform using your fins. Another big advantage for CDL is in how long it takes to get underway when you’re heading out in the morning. OF doesn’t have a dock so they have to shuttle everyone and their gear out on a small fiberglass dinghy. That’s not bad at all but it seems to take them a long time to get everything on board and ready to go. One morning we saw them loading up the boat with divers before there were any tanks loaded. The last day we were there we waited on the boat an hour and I watched CDL load up their boat and leave in a quarter of the time it took us. They were on the dive site and getting in the water before we made it out of the cut. The CDL dive masters seemed to know the East End waters the best also. Several times when we went out with OF we encountered allot of current and had to pull up from the mooring and change sites. One time we had to change sites after everyone had already geared up. Some people on the boat were already in their masks and fins ready to get in the water when we had to change sites. This never happened while we were with CDL. CDL seemed to have more of a family type atmosphere about it which I preferred. That’s natural since most of the people you dive with there are spending the week at the lodge. OF is more of an upbeat and some would say exciting atmosphere. Most of the folks there are on a one to three dive adventure and are staying on other parts of the island. OF does have allot of good things going for them. If you want to stay on Seven Mile Beach and come dive for the morning, they have a van that will pick you up and take you back to your hotel. They’re the only operation on East End that does this. They also have all new Scubapro rental equipment that is well worth the rental fee. With so much going for them it won’t take much to make this one of the best diving operations on the island. All they need is a little more experience with the East End waters and a better sense of timing with their guests. The diving around East End is some of the best in the Cayman Islands. Here you’ll find sites that looked like they’ve hardly been dived on. Some of our favorites included Iron shore Caves, Snapper Hole, The Maze and Pat’s Wall. We also did several drift dives that were allot of fun also. The coral here is amazing and compares well with Bloody Bay Wall on Little Cayman. The walls are not as dramatic as Bloody Bay but there are numerous cuts and swim throughs. The walls begin much deeper on East End, usually around 70 feet deep. The fish life is fantastic with large schools of Tarpon, Jacks, Groupers and Snappers. On a night dive we saw a Caribbean Reef Octopus and the largest Spiny Lobster I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking for pristine dive sites you must visit this area of Grand Cayman. Above the water you won’t find the array of activities in East End like you will on Seven Mile Beach. If you stay at Morritt’s though you find plenty to do on the resort property. In addition to a great restaurant you’ll find Cayman Windsurf on the end of the beach. You can take windsurfing lessons (which we did) for $40 or take three days of unlimited windsurfing for only $99. They also have sailing and glass bottom paddle boats for rent. Snorkeling here is good but not great. We saw several flounder and rays as well as grouper and angelfish. The resort has several planned activities during the day also so you won’t get bored here. Before leaving we stopped by Lone Star restaurant along West Bay road. It’s a great place to pick up some Tex-Mex food and enjoy the atmosphere. Here you’ll find tons of sports memorabilia including a soccer jersey signed by Pele and Super bowl t-shirts signed by the teams. There’s even a Texas flag signed by Ann Richards. The ceiling is covered with T-shirts from around the country with messages from people who have eaten there. It all makes for a fun and interesting lunch. Overall we had a wonderful time on Grand Cayman even though you feel more like you are in south Texas or Florida than in the Caribbean. East End is a world away from the rest of Grand Cayman. The pace is slower. The diving is fantastic and unspoiled. If you decide to come to east End, bring your diving gear and your sense of adventure and you’ll have a great time.
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