Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Trip 5/98 Left Axa on LIAT flight - supposed to leave at 1:15pm and fly to St. Kitts then on to Nevis and arrive at 2:15pm - we left Anguilla at 12:30pm (45 mins early) - only 2 other people were flying and no one was going to St. Kitts, so we flew direct from AXA to Nevis and arrived about 1pm. It was another 9 passenger Carib Aviation plane and Joe and I got to put our feet up and enjoy the views - great flight with no problems! Took taxi to our hotel - $12 U.S. Accommodations: We stayed at Pinneys Beach Hotel - it is at the very end of Pinneys (pronounced pennies) Beach and is close enough to walk to town - about 10 minutes. I knew that the hotel had seen better days and that was certainly true - it is pretty ramshackle and rundown looking. The rooms did have a/c, cable tv, phone and when I asked about a refrigerator - in about 5 mins a man carried a small one into the room and plugged it in. The mattress was pretty uncomfortable and the gold shag carpeting made you want to keep your shoes on. In typical island fashion, the sink was directly in front of the toilet but they had wonderful water pressure and the location worked well for us. Joe wanted to take a break from driving so we didn't rent a car on Nevis. At $90/night the hotel was OK but wouldn't stay there again without some major improvements. The manager said that they were in the process of remodeling - but it looks like it might be awhile. At first we thought we were alone at the hotel but we met a couple from England at the pool - they were on a leave of absence since Nov. and were traveling the islands, also met 2 music teachers from New Jersey who were in Nevis for a week to teach classical music to the primary students. Joe talked with a Jamaican from New York whose sister-in-law's husband was from Nevis - being Memorial weekend they were dedicating a burial plaque for the husband who had died. The best thing about the hotel was that while it really isn't beachfront, you can walk to Pinneys beach with a few steps - it is supposed to be at least 4 miles long - a good walking beach although a few places you do have to walk around the rocks and in the water. We walked from one end to the other and it took about 1 hour. Luckily, Tequila Shelia's is at the end of the beach - for a well- deserved beer!!! Other places we noticed to stay next time were Hurricane Cove bungalows on a hillside and Oualie (pronounced walley) Beach hotel on a small beach, but our favorite pick was Cades Bay Inn on Pinneys beach - just opened in Jan. - no TV, no a/c, nice looking from outside, on a small hill over a beautiful swimming beach and bay, there is also a swimming pool. Tequila Shelia's Bar and Restaurant is on the premises and they run the inn. All the hotels are right off the main road on the beach side not far from the airport. Probably need to rent a car though since it is pretty far from town. There are also villas and houses for rent and we plan to look into it for next year. We met a couple who had lived in Nevis for 5 years and were being transferred to Seattle (he works for Four Seasons), they are in the process of putting their 3 bed villa with a pool on the internet for rent. Randy said it was only about 5 minutes from Tequila Shelia's, they had pictures and it really looked nice. Restaurants and Bars: Ah, our favorite subject! Tried EDDY'S in Charlestown our 1st night (Sat)- had pizza and flying fish - very good, plentiful and reasonable prices, we sat a few hours drinking, eating and talking with the bartender, Deb (she was from Wisconsin), she gave us a ton of info on how to get around, where to go and when things were going on - it was a pretty slow night and according to Deb, Wednesday is the night to go to EDDY's- there have happy hour and are packed. One nice touch - they have coozies (sp?) and offer you one for your beer. There are several hanging behind the bar - some with names on the bottom. Deb is the one who told us to try Tequila Shelia's (it is run by Eddy's wife, Shelia) and that we could walk to it from our hotel on the beach. Sunday, TEQUILA SHELIA'S at Cades Bay was a godsend after walking the beach - we arrived before noon and wound up spending all afternoon - we watched volleyball, talked to Shelia and met a great crowd of folks. Deb, the bartender showed up and introduced us around. They were serving Sunday Brunch - Joe had steak and eggs, I had chicken quesadillas, good and reasonable priced. It was happy hour and Shelia was working like crazy to keep up with the bar. She bought us a beer and gave us 2 of the famous Eddy and Shelia coozies for being patient and able to last the day. SUNSHINES on Pinneys beach - is a great famous beach shack where the party from Tequila Shelia's moved to on Sun night. We caught a ride with a Guyanese man who's working in Nevis. I had been told to try a "Killer Bee" by Merlin, our taxi driver on St. Kitts, but I had also been warned by Deb so I stayed away from trying one. There was quite a crowd and we stayed for dinner - had bbq chicken, salad and rice - good and plentiful. Great Music - we were told that Sunshine's is about the only place to hear blues or anything other than dancehall/rap. We didn't know Frank Sinatra had died but found out when Sunshine dedicated the evening to Frank Sinatra and we danced in the sand to old Sinatra tunes!! Someone started a bonfire and there were several dinghy's that came in from boats anchored in the bay. Sunshine treated us to complimentary shots of local moonshine when Joe told him Merlin said to say "hi" - (now I know what is probably in a "killer bee"!) We thought the day had been as perfect as a day could get but we were in for more. We got the chance to watch a gorgeous fireworks display - sitting on the beach, listening to great music and everyone awestruck by the beautiful images of fire and light. (Turned out there was a convention of investment bankers at Four Seasons (next door) and the fireworks were part of a perk trip for their cream of the crop) - we met a couple who was part of that group at Tequila Shelia's - then we saw then again at Sunshines - we were getting ready to walk back to the hotel and they told us not to leave yet. I'm glad we didn't miss it - It was a great night, truly magical and memorable!!! PINNEY'S BEACH RESTAURANT - at hotel, only ate breakfast and it was fine, sometimes good and sometimes not so good. Walked to SEA SPAWN Guest House - half a block from our hotel - ate on the porch for dinner one night, had chicken , rice and salad, plus a couple of beers and cokes - $24 - a VERY local place with OK food and plenty of it. SEAFOOD MADNESS is across the street from the hotel and we ate breakfast our last morning, very good and wish we had tried it for lunch or dinner. Coffee, eggs, toast, juice, etc. about $15. Restaurants continued: We stopped at GOLDEN ROCK ESTATE for lunch on our island tour - it is one of the old sugar plantations that has been turned into an inn. We ate the lunch buffet - fish, chicken, salads, desserts, very delicious and I would go back - $25/pp total bill ran $70 with drinks and service charge. The view was great and there were several people arriving for lunch while we were there. The owner said that they don't have refrigeration there and bring the food prepared in ice chests to the hotel each day. Our last dinner was at Beachcomber Restaurant on Pinney's beach - made a reservation and we were the only couple there to eat. Watched the sunset through the rain but it still was beautiful and a nice evening - had rum punches, appetizers, and lobster, just great - very good and would go back. We did met the manager and his family who are British - I think this rest. is owned by folks who have Old Manor Estate/The Cooperage but I'm not sure that it is open now, just the Beachcomber. (Not sure about that). Drinks: Rum punches made in Nevis were not the fruity drink I am familiar with - I heard one woman complain about not liking the rum punches in Nevis. Shelia tried to make something else for her but it wasn't right - so she tried a vodka and TING, loved it and was happy. I like Nevis rum punches but they have a lot a bitters and are definitely different tasting. Also the Carib beer in St. Kitts and Nevis is not the same as what we drink in Anguilla - Anguilla's Carib is brewed in Trinidad, I think and St. Kitts brews Carib for themselves and Nevis - I think the St. Kitts is better, the bottles are smaller and run about $5 EC ($2 US) and at happy hour $3 EC ($1.25 US). Beaches: Pinney's Beach is THE beach on Nevis, there are others like Oualie beach which is small and has a hotel, restaurant and sports activity dock. Nisbet Plantation is on the beach - nice but the water is not as calm as Pinney's. Pinney's is about 4 miles long, dark sand with palm trees and seagrape lining the sand - behind is Mount Nevis in the clouds - very beautiful view and backdrop, reminds us a little of Kauai. There are a few restaurants/bars on this beach, and a couple of the inns have beach areas for their guests. Only 3 hotels to choose from - Cades Bay Inn, Four Seasons Resort and Pinney Beach Hotel. It must be one of the last undeveloped stretches of sand. Not for long, I'm sure. Bugs: The most mosquitoes we encountered on our trip. Lots of places have screened porches though and we just used repellent, the look of lushness and green does come at a price. Island Tour: We called Teach Tours for an island tour and enjoyed it. We would have never found some of the plantations - we were struck by the history of the island with a few buildings dating back to the 1600 and 1700s. Charlestown is the main town, small streets, a little crowded and bustling, a little run down too, but there is a lot of work going on. A big surprise was the amusement park that an American from Philly has built a little way out of town - CARIBBEAN COVE - it was closed but Teach (who used to be a school teacher) said it was very popular with kids. There are bumper boats, minature golf and a games arcade, restaurant and bar. Who woulda thunk on an island of 8,000 people and 36 sq miles!! The American also created a Botanical Gardens attraction but we skipped it. Visited the plantations inns and Teach was a good guide - MONTPELIER P.Inn was very nice, they don't allow tours through the property but if it is just a couple they may let you in. This is where Princess Di stayed - it felt very exclusive and I loved the mural on the wall around the pool - runs about $200/double off season and $300/double on season. HERMITAGE P.Inn has a building from 1740, really interesting place, there is a variety of accommodations that are new buildings. Pool area is attractive and inviting. Runs about $160 - $250/double off season, $300-400/double on season. GOLDEN ROCK ESTATE was nice and very interesting also, they have a nature trail - one about 30 mins and one about 2-3 hours hike - it is supposed to be the best place to see monkeys on Nevis. It is not as expensive as the others but it is not as luxurious as the other 2. We almost stayed here but decided to stay on the beach instead. Runs about $130-$165/double off season and $200-$235/double on season. NISBET P.Inn is the only inn on a beach, it is very nice, manicured and groomed landscape - a very large property but the most expensive of all. Stopped at the FOUR SEASONS RESORT and went into the gift shop - absolutely a beautiful property and everyone seems very proud of it. They are building villas and expanding - the golf course looked gorgeous and we heard it runs about $100/game. We did see something funny - about 10 donkeys galloping all over one of the greens in the late afternoon - hey it's the Caribbean!! We learned a lot about the island and were glad we took the tour - ran about $50-60 for 2-3 hours. We drove completely around the island - one side is prettier than the other due to rainfull amounts. Nevis grows sea cotton and its 2 main exports are cotton and lobster/fish. Water comes from springs and wells - some are hot so the cold water out of the tap at our hotel was perfect for a shower - basically we never turned on the hot water. We drank the tap water in Nevis with no problems. While Charlestown is a little messy, the houses and yards look maintained and neat in the countryside and small villages - very picturesque and very Caribbean feeling. We were completely charmed by the island and the people. General Impression and Gossip: We found the locals to be shy and reserved but very nice and helpful - when we walked to town, several women on the side of the road asked how we were enjoying ourselves. Seems like everyone knew Teach as we drove around - he took very good care of us. We heard that Nevis is getting a reputation as the "other" St. Barths. We also heard that Ritz Carlton is looking for property for a hotel. Kuwait is supposed to be loaning some of the money for the deep water port that is being built north of Charlestown and the airport is being expanded and expected to be finished by end of the year - they want to accommodate 60 passenger planes like American Eagle flies. Nevis is definitely a Caribbean experience and worthwhile the island is wonderful and we intend to go back and stay a little longer!! I would suggest going soon as it looks like Nevis is about to get very popular and upscale. This whole trip was so refreshing and we are glad we tried somewhere new. Our trips are something we look forward to all year and thanks to everyone who helped with info and advice - it makes all the difference!!
I would like to respond to Sandra Rosenwald's comments about her trip to Puerto Rico , and how it's too much like a city and that she- wouldn't return. Well, San Juan is a big city and that is what you experienced. If you had left the big city and traveled to gorgeous mountain scenery and pretty quaint villages, not to mention the fabulous cave system, all the physical beauty of the Caribbean is easily duplicated in Puerto Rico. But , you have to leave San Juan and explore the island plus the two little gems of Culebra and Vieques. These offshore islands are the real Caribbean of 50 years ago . Unfortunately, what this lady experienced is typical of most tourists to Puerto Rico and many other places. It's like going to downtown L.A. and writing that you'll never again visit California for it's too much like a big city. A traveler should always acquaint themselves with reputable information about a destination. And not rely on the local taxi men to be a competent source of information. The truth is that throughout South America and the Caribbean Spanish speaking islands there is a natural disregard for police and government authority similar to what teen-agers in the mainland do. The best example of this is going through red lights at night after stopping. Although there are car-jackings like any other American city, here it's an excuse for breaking the law and those who break the law are usually young drivers...gee, I'm not surprised. I hope that Mrs. Rosenwald gets another chance at Puerto Rico. Those that have experienced her totally have a different story to tell..eg some of the other travel letters... I have been fortunate to see most of this world, and Puerto Rico is one of the loveliest places with wonderfully warm people as I have ever experienced...
(Ed Note: The following article by Ed Adams is copyrighted and used here with his permission.)
Trip May 98 Caneel Bay Resort on St. John in the US Virgin Islands is consistently lauded as one of the Caribbean’s top 10 resorts. Article after article praises its seven beaches, top-tier food and impeccable service. Based on a week-long vacation my wife and I took in early May 1998, those laurels are more that justified. But Caneel is also one of the region’s priciest resorts, with daily rates for a beachfront room in 1998 ranging from $650 a day in the high season to $375 a day during the summer. At those tariffs -- which do not include any meals -- even the smallest fault can ruin a vacation. Since one person’s mere annoyance is another’s major crisis, we’ve tried to provide in this travelogue as much detail about the resort and our stay there as possible, so you can judge for yourself whether it would satisfy your needs. While this may read in spots as an extremely picky review of Caneel, keep in mind that, on balance, we had a tremendously enjoyable time, and would have no hesitation returning to the resort -- provided our bank account cooperates. BACKGROUND Caneel Bay was made famous by Laurance Rockefeller, who bought the 170-acre, 166-room resort in 1952. He also had the foresight (and wealth) to buy up most of the surrounding land, which he later gave to the US government. Most of St. John is now a lush national park, which completely surrounds the resort. Other than a stray house or two, the hillsides are nothing but a carpet of greenery, making guests feel like they have truly escaped to an island paradise -- albeit one with maid service and excellent food. You feel as if you are part of the natural surroundings: our first night, two donkeys that had wandered down from the hills silently ambled past our room, oblivious to us sitting five feet away. One morning, a young owl flew into the shrubs outside our room. A battle ensued in the midst of the bushes, and a minute later a victorious mongoose emerged, trotting by our verandah with the hapless owl clenched in his teeth. The resort was part of the RockResorts chain, along with its nearby sister resort, Little Dix Bay on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. RockResorts was eventually sold, and the resort went through several owners. Both Caneel and Little Dix were purchased by Rosewood Hotels in 1991. Rosewood runs a small collection of very upscale properties worldwide, including Dallas’ The Mansion on Turtle Creek and The Lanesborough in London. Caneel still very much trades on the cachet of the Rockefeller name, and retains the country club atmosphere one would associate with one of the world’s wealthiest families. It has a sedate, but not stuffy, ambiance. We saw several guests who looked like Captains of Industry straight out of Central Casting. But most of the guests during our off-season stay seemed to be ages 30-50, and well-to-do but not on the Forbes 400 list. Almost all were Americans. There were just a smattering of guests who fit comfortably within the confines of the old cliche about people who go to pricey Caribbean resorts: the newly- wed, the over-fed and the nearly-dead. Rosewood, for obvious financial reasons, is trying to expand the resort’s appeal, to include families with children and corporate groups. There is a relatively new children’s activity center in a secluded corner of the resort, and we saw a handful of guests with children. Most were well-behaved babies or toddlers. But we met a couple who said the baby next door to them provided their morning wake-up call -- plenty early for them to be the first people in the dining room for breakfast. Also while we were there, a group of 40 or so salespeople from a chemical company was having a retreat at Caneel. We encountered several of them as they came back from the nearby town of Cruz Bay with a cooler of ice and a case of beer, loudly urging their comrades to stop by for a cold one that night. There were exactly the people we were trying to avoid by coming to Caneel. Fortunately, they were staying far from our room. Caneel is also a very large resort. While that provides guests with a variety of room, dining and activity options, it is not the place for people who are seeking true seclusion. During our off-season stay, we’d guess the resort was 50-75 percent full. At times, we had to settle for a dinner reservation 15 minutes later than we wanted, or had to schedule a massage for a day later than desired -- nothing too troubling. But during high season, when the resort is full, we can imagine that making decisions about which restaurant to eat in and what activity to do require more advance planning that we would like. A road runs around the interior of the resort’s grounds, and an electric-powered shuttle bus comes along every 15 minutes or so to ferry guests around the property. Before we took our trip, we thought this must be an amenity used almost exclusively by guests in the “nearly-dead” category. But a sweaty 15-minute walk to breakfast one morning convinced these two 30-something visitors that the bus was the way to go. It seemed, based on the volume of ridership, that most of the other guests agreed. GETTING THERE Paradise, unfortunately, is rarely close at hand. We’ve found many of the best Caribbean resorts are also the hardest the get to, and the journey to Caneel is no exception. Five modes of transportation are involved: 1. The car or cab to the airport. 2. The plane to St. Thomas -- the most populated of the three major US Virgin Islands. We chose a flight leaving at 8 a.m., even though it required us to wake up at 4 a.m. We also spent the extra cash for a non-stop flight, which touched down at 1 p.m., rather than a connecting flight that would have gotten us in at 5 p.m. We were glad on both scores, since it allowed us to spend half our first day on the beach. You’ll be met at the airport by a Caneel representative, who checks you into the resort at an office adjacent to the baggage claim. Once you touch down in St. Thomas, Caneel takes care of all arrangements to get you to the resort. 3. The “troop transport” from the airport to the ferry dock. The transport -- our nickname, not the resort’s -- is a flatbed truck with six padded bench seats facing forward, and an awning overhead to protect you from the sun. Depending on what time your plane arrives, the trip is either a 15 minute dash to the dock in Charlotte Amalie, which is St. Thomas’ largest settlement, or a 45 minute jaunt to Red Hook, on the far end of the island. We were told that during high season, Charlotte Amalie can have as many as five massive cruise ships in port at one time. It has all the standard shops designed to separate those cruise passengers from their money. Caneel has several shopping trips into Charlottte Amalie and St. John’s Cruz Bay every week, and even a weekly presentation by a shopping consultant on where to find the most interesting merchandise, for those who are interested in such things. 4. At the dock, you’ll be met by Caneel’s own high-speed ferry. On board, you can have your first rum punch of the trip. Depending on which dock you’re at, it’s a 15-30 minute ride directly to the resort’s dock. 5. Stepping off the dock at Caneel, you’ll be met with cold towels for your face, the ice still clinging to the terry cloth. (When guests leave the resort, a Caneel employee waves to the departing ferry from the dock) Then it’s into a golf cart -- your bags are following on another cart -- to your room. ROOMS The 166 rooms at Caneel are not all the same. Ours was Room 81 on Scott Beach (for more on beaches, see below). Upon arrival, your room is stocked with a complimentary bottle of rum, two cans of Coke, a bucket of ice and a large bottle of water. (Tap water is drinkable at Caneel) Our package included a bottle of champagne upon arrival, which was missing. It finally arrived near the end of our stay, after we asked for it twice. Ice is replenished once a day, generally in the morning. During the heat of the off season, twice a day service would be appreciated. In addition to the typical ice bucket, there is a small cooler filled with ice you can take to the beach. There is also the standard minibar, with the standard $2.75 Cokes. Our room had a king size bed, two side tables, dresser, small desk, two large wicker chairs and a small table in between. The chairs get extra style points -- the right arms had a two-inch hole built in, with a coaster at the bottom, where you could rest your drink. There are no phones, radios or televisions in Caneel rooms. There is a phone near each beach which connects you to the front desk, and can be used to call outside the resort. There is also a small business center near the front desk that includes a personal computer. There is a TV in the main bar that receives satellite broadcasts from the States. During our stay, it was used only for special events: the NBA playoff games and the finale of “Seinfeld.” The resort plays videotaped movies each night in a room at the children’s activity center, which is near the Turtle Bay Estate House. There was an adjustable-speed ceiling fan above our bed, which we found sufficient to keep the room relatively cool. Only a very few of Caneel’s rooms have air conditioning, the absence of which we found lent it a tropical ambiance. But we can imagine that if you visit in June, July, August or early September, the heat could be suffocating. We heard a rumor that the resort was planning to install air conditioning in all the rooms. There was no glass in the windows, just screens and louvers. There are blinds, but they keep only some of the light out. We loved living on island time, waking up as early as 5 a.m. when the sun rose, and going to bed as early as 9:30 p.m. Light-sensitive guests who want to sleep-in may find the Caneel rooms a challenge. Our bathroom had a roomy closet, safe, two sinks, toilet and a windowed shower that looked out onto a wall of greenery. The shower head was one of the lowest we have ever encountered -- about 5 feet, 3 inches high, requiring us to bend over to shampoo. The bathroom also had a ceiling fan. There was no tub. There was a basket of coconut- and mango-scented toiletries, two robes and a hair dryer. The resort did a very good job of replenishing towels; we almost always had four bath towels and four beach towels ready for use. The room also had a can of Raid and a can of Off to keep the bugs away. On any lush Caribbean island, there are bound to be mosquitoes and their smaller cousins, “no-see-ums.” They tend to come out around dinner time, and we both sustained several bites a night, despite our best precautions -- which included Skin So Soft and DEET we brought from home. If you dream of laying on the beach at night, staring at the full moon, the bugs will be a problem. But frankly, we’ve had worse experiences in other tropical locales, and encountered no bugs during the daylight hours. BEACHES You can request a particular beach at the time you book your room, but there is no guarantee they will be able to honor your request. In our experience, which beach you are on can make a significant difference in your stay. The ferry pulls up to the resort’s dock at one end of Caneel Beach, which has a dozen rooms in single-story units strung along its length. (None of the beaches at Caneel is terribly long. You could walk the longest -- Scott -- in 7 leisurely minutes) We would have found this beach too busy for our tastes, because of the sounds of boats motoring in and out of the bay, plus the adjacent main dinning room. The side door into Room 14 openings almost directly into the dinning room. Looking at the resort from the water, to the right of the dock is Little Caneel Beach, on the hillside above which are a dozen rooms in single-story units. We met a couple who moved away from Little Caneel because of the smell from the resort’s sewage system, which is located perhaps 100 yards down the coastline from Little Caneel. The noise of boats would also be a problem in the rooms above Little Caneel. If you walk on a path through the greenery from Little Caneel, again to the right, you come to Honeymoon Beach -- so named because no rooms are adjacent to it. We never visited it, but we did see it inundated with a boatload of perhaps 30 cruise ship passengers on a day trip -- which could really ruin that honeymoon feeling. Returning to the resort’s dock, if you look back toward land and to your left, beyond Caneel Beach is a small peninsula. Around that is tiny Paradise Beach, above which are several one-story units, and Cottage Seven, the old Rockefeller family house that has been subdivided into several units. Continuing to your left, around a small outcropping of rocks, is Scott Beach. It has 20 single-story units of four rooms each strung along its length. They each have covered porches, with two chairs, a table and a chaise lounge. They are separated from the beach by only small sea grape plants and palm trees. There is a two-foot by two- foot concrete basin filled with water outside each room, for getting the sand off your feet before you return to your room. We found Scott Beach almost ideal. The rooms are five steps from the beach, which can be seen when you’re lounging on your verandah. The beach faces more or less West, so you don’t have to worry about direct sunlight until about 9:30 a.m. or so, and you get fantastic sunsets. After dark, you can see the lights of St. Thomas off in the distance. (Though it should be noted that those lights, plus those from the resort, combine to obscure some of the night’s stars.) And since they are single story units, they afford as much privacy as is available at Caneel. All Scott Beach rooms are in the resort’s Premium category, but we felt they were worth the extra money. Another plus is that Scott is a five-minute walk from the resort’s two remaining beaches -- Turtle and Hawksnest. As you look at Scott from the water, Turtle is to your left, around yet another peninsula. It has a dozen rooms in two-story units. They are separated from the beach by a relatively high wall of trees and sea grape. It appeared that only some of the rooms, generally on the second floor, have unobstructed views of the water and the unpopulated islands beyond. Turtle is the farthest beach from Caneel Beach and the main restaurant. It has very good shade in the morning. If you were to follow a trail through the foliage around the final peninsula, you’d find yourself at Hawksnest Beach. It is faces the opposite way from Scott -- to the east. It gets the morning sun. It also is the windiest of the beaches, and has the most shade in the afternoons. We often decamped there after lunch. It has 24 rooms in three two-story units. Up a hill from the main Caneel Beach are Courtside rooms, where you’ll hear the “tink” of tennis balls on the resort’s six courts, and the Garden View rooms, at the top of the hill. Neither have views of the water; both are close to the resort’s little-used pool. Set well back from Caneel Beach are rooms in the Ocean View category. They have a great deal of pedestrian traffic passing by, as guests go to and from the main bar and restaurant, and are the least private of the options. In our judgment, if you’re going to come all this way and (no matter which rooms you select) spend all this money, we’d recommend Scott Beach rooms. If you’re concerned about having a breeze, we’d suggest you opt for Hawksnest. Turtle is also quite lovely. If you can, have the resort fax you its map, so you can actually see where the rooms are located. ACTIVITIES If you want to do more than simply lie on Caneel’s seven beaches (all of which, except Honeymoon, have chaise lounges), the resort offers plenty of options, even in the off season. There will be a weekly activity sheet in your room. Options include daily scuba trips, tours of St. John, aerobics and tennis. Twice a week, the resort hosts a snorkel and swim trip on one of its boats, which ends with a beach barbecue on an unpopulated beach. It has trips to its sister resort, Little Dix Bay on the British Virgin Islands, twice a week, as well as separate day-long snorkeling trips to the BVIs. There are sunset cocktail cruises and sails, and a day-long trip to the BVIs Jost Van Dyke, on which just 150-some people live. It’s home to Foxy’s, probably the Caribbean’s most famous beachfront bar. The resort also has daily tea, an artist-in-residence who you can watch paint lovely watercolors of St. John, and a massage center -- the latter unfortunately within earshot of the tennis courts. Sunfish, kayaks and other non-motorized water sports equipment are available on the main beach. Golf fanatics, be warned: you must take a boat to St. Thomas to find the nearest course. We love to snorkel, and have previously explored the waters off Tortola and Virgin Gorda (including the famous Baths) in the British Virgin Islands, Provo and Mexico’s Cozumel Island. We found some of the best snorkeling we’ve ever experienced at Caneel. Standing on Scott Beach, facing the water, there is a reef shelf that begins on your right, almost at the end of the beach, and extends around the peninsula. We saw a pair of black Angel fish, Parrot fish, Sergeant Majors, Groupers, a school of thousands of tiny One-Eyed Jacks, several Barracuda, two Skates and Wrasses. There is also an excellent reef to the left of Turtle Beach, where there is an amazing variety of coral. Both reefs are just off shore, easy to reach even for poor swimmers. Caneel puts a different spin on the standard snorkel trips by having a former marine biology teacher named Lucy do twice-daily trips to the off-shore reefs. Her encyclopedic knowledge of the fish and coral formations add enormously to the experience. She also gives a once-a- week slide presentation that’s worth your time, provided you have the energy to stay awake for it. Caneel can also fulfill special requests. We wanted to find a deserted beach. The resort arranged for a boat to pick us up at the Caneel dock and go down the coast several bays to Little Cinnamon Beach, in the national park. It dropped us off, and picked us up again 3 hours later. We alternately swam and sat under a palm tree, marveling at our own private version of paradise. Unless you’re on a package (see COST, below), most activities are an additional fee. All activities, as well as all reservations for evening meals, must be booked through the activities desk, near the main beach and restaurant. FOOD We wish we could move some of Caneel’s restaurants to New York City -- the food is that good. And it’s in the food that the size of Caneel works to its advantage, offering guests a variety of choices every day in where and what to eat. There is a free continental breakfast beginning at 6:30 in the main bar, which is near the Caneel Beach. The beach bar also serves a light menu of sandwiches and salads all day, every day. Breakfast proper begins at 7:30 in the main restaurant (the Caneel Beach Terrace), and stretches to 10. We generally don’t like buffets, but Caneel’s breakfast buffet was marvelous. It included a dozen tropical fruits -- from mangos to pineapples to strawberries -- seven kinds of juices, cereals, breads and muffins, French toast, bacon and corned beef hash. There was a station for eggs, pancakes and waffles made to order. The quality of the food was outstanding, and the kitchen made sure the buffet never ran out of anything. A limited breakfast menu can also be ordered by room service -- the only meal of the day served in the rooms. The Beach Terrace is open on three sides to the beach and the manicured grounds of the resort, with the roof supported by columns made to look like palm trees. It also serves lunch, which is again a buffet, this time with salads, entrees, and hamburgers, hot dogs or chicken sandwiches grilled to order. (Guests going off the property during the day can order a picnic lunch to take with them) The Beach Terrace also had an evening buffet twice a week, and also had an a la carte menu one night during our stay. On evenings when there is a buffet at the Terrace, it was our only option for dinner, other than the main bar. On the other nights, we had the choice of either the Equator or the Turtle Bay Estate Restaurant. Up a small hill, in a building made to look like an old sugar mill, is the Equator Restaurant. It was open only for dinner when we were there. Its conceit is to serve dishes from countries along the equator. Dinners look out to the lights of St. Thomas in the distance. The food was good, but we found the restaurant to be hot and buggy, even with ceiling fans. We’d recommend you sit along the ledge, in the middle of the semi-circle of dinners, where the occasional breeze is most likely to reach you. The Turtle Bay restaurant is the most formal of the three, with white table clothes and a ban on children under 8 years old. Here’s where you can have an appetizer, soup, salad, and a “light” little entree, like filet mignon or shrimp, scallops and lobster in a wine sauce. The food was every bit as good as the best restaurants in New York. The restaurant is air-conditioned, and it was on when we were there, even though the French doors that look out onto the greenery were open. There is also an open-air terrace where you can watch the sunsets. During the day, shirts and cover-ups were required in all restaurants. In the evening, men were required to wear long pants and collared shirts. Dinner generally looked like the J. Crew catalog come to life. During the high season, the resort may require either jackets or ties for men -- we don’t know, but it’s that kind of place. Also, in all of Caneel’s restaurants, whenever guests leave their table, a waiter appears to fold their napkin over the arm of the chair. It was a charming custom in the fancier restaurants, and almost comical in its formality when you’re returning to the table with your hot dog at lunch. Evening entertainment is the one aspect of the Caneel experience we were most disappointed in. Some kind of musical group would play for a couple of hours each night in the main bar. They ranged from a guy who was literally a one-man band to a jazz quartet. The groups were as sedate as the resort’s oldest customers, and no one was dancing whenever we passed through the bar. We would have liked to hear a little Caribbean music, from bands just lively enough to coax patrons onto the dance floor. COST You’re probably going to want to book one of Caneel’s packages, which will likely save you somewhat on the overall cost of your vacation. The town of Cruz Bay, which is a 10-minute taxi ride away (about $10 round-trip), has its share of restaurants, but we think you’d be hard pressed to find food as consistently good as what you’ll have at Caneel. Even if you eat a couple of meals in town, the packages make sense because of the extremely high cost of meals at Caneel. Breakfast and lunch are $20 a person. In the Turtle Bay restaurant, entrees alone topped out at $39, with entrees in the Equator not far behind. You figure you’ll be satisfied with a hamburger in the main bar? That’ll be $15, please. As of summer 1998, the Pure Romance package was going for $4,300 for seven nights in a Premium category room, or about $614 per night. Without the package, the room alone cost $425 a night. With the package, you got three meals a day, champagne upon arrival, round- trip transfers to the airport ($50 for those not in the package), the beach BBQ, two hours of massage, day trips to Little Dix and a sunset cocktail cruise. The Classic Caribbean package, which gives you most of that minus daily lunch, was running $550 a night for the summer 1998 season. More information about the resort and its rates can be found on Caneel’s excellent web site: http://www.caneelbay.com For management at a resort of Caneel’s quality, there is a fine line between recouping the substantial costs of running the resort and making guests feel that you are trying to wring every last penny out of them. At times, we felt Caneel crossed that line. For instance, even with the packages, any beverages -- including soft drinks -- are extra. We would have liked Caneel to simply adjust its rates slightly to include drinks of all kinds in its packages, as other high-quality resorts have done in recent years. The resort also has an enormous gift shop, where you can outfit yourself with everything from t- shirts to resort wear, all of it bearing Caneel’s logo (even the disposable cameras). Nothing wrong with that, but is it really necessary to charge $22.50 for four ounces of sunscreen?
Trip 5/98 Our 1st trip to St. Kitts - left OKC at 11am on AA, all connections worked out through DFW and SJU, we had no problems other than sudden turbulence over St. Thomas, it lasted all of about 45 seconds but if we hadn't had our seat belts fastened we would have been in the aisle, as it happened I only wound up with my socks and shoes soaked with coke and rum. Luckily, there were only 7 passengers on the plane. We arrived in St. Kitts about 9pm and took a taxi to our hotel $14U.S. Coconut Beach Hotel - formerly Timothy Colony Beach Hotel - on the Caribbean side of St. Kitts. We had a 1 bed apt - kitchen, microwave, coffeemaker, living and dining area, balcony, bath with tub and separate bedroom ,cable TV, phone, and a/c for $95/night - really an excellent deal - looks out over a salt pond and not the beach but we didn't mind at all. Not fancy and lots of stairs but we would stay there again, didn't see any other place that was more interesting. There is a bar and restaurant - Coconuts (?) - good breakfasts and rum punch. The beach is small and dark sand with a sports center - waverunners, kayaks, windsailing, etc. - umbrellas and chairs for rent and the MONKEY BAR - we found out it is a very popular local place with very good rum punches and lots of interesting folks. The beach was full of people that day but they were mostly from cruise ship, we did have a few beach vendors hit us up - shells, jewelry, braids, etc. We wound up spending all day on the beach having a great time. We only had 1 day left so we took a taxi to Turtle Beach and spent the next day there. Beautiful views on the 20 minute drive, saw monkeys, cows, goats, you name it. Joe snorkeled and we ate burgers, a very nice place to spend a relaxing day. We ran into people we met at the Monkey Bar the night before - they recommended we eat at Sprat Net for dinner, which we did. Sprat Net is about 20 minutes from BasseTerre and on the water - Fri. night is a big night and you have to get there early to get lobster - it is a rustic picnic table sort of place and we enjoyed the food, etc., mostly tourists early in the evening. The food was good and reasonably priced - johnnycake, corn on cob and lobster or fish or chicken or ribs. We were going to go to Fisherman's originally for dinner but our taxi driver, Merlin, also recommended Sprat Net. Definitely would go back to eat. BTW, Merlin is a Nevisian working on St. Kitts - he was very informative and a really pleasant and happy person - he made a great guide. We heard there was going to be a party at the Monkey Bar around 10pm so we headed that way later - it was closed, we met another couple in Coconuts bar and talked to them for awhile then we went back to our apt and sat on the balcony watching the parade of maybe 30 - 40 cars drive down to the Monkey Bar and turn around. It would have been some kind of party - too bad it was canceled. We left the next day for Anguilla - we never took an island tour or rented a car on St. Kitts, so we don't have a good feel for the island. A very big plus for SKB is that the tap water is drinkable - comes from mountain springs - they don't have the water problem AXA and SBH do. We probably won't go back but mostly because we realize we enjoy small islands with fewer people and we are basically beach people. If we were more outdoor sports enthusiasts, ST. Kitts would be a good choice. We had a good time and enjoyed our stay, wish we had more time to explore.
Trip 5/98 I just returned from 8 days at the Jalousie Hilton in St. Lucia. I have been researching St. Lucia for a while, reading various reports, and thought I would post my own opinion. Diving: Absolutely wonderful. I dove only in and around Soufriere. This is the best diving on the island. I have read many trip reports that warned St. Lucia was not as good as Cayman, Bonaire, etc. Well, I have been to these places, and many others, and St. Lucia ranks right up there with these sites. The vis was about 80'+, sometimes 100'. The coral was in great shape and vibrant. Thousands of fish, many small, but some were fairly large (cuda, etc.). The walls around the pitons rivaled what I saw last year on Little Cayman!! Even more dramatic in places. Overall, I would rank the diving as good as anywhere else I have been. Short boat rides, no waves, excellent weather. I dove with Frogs which is located at the Jalousie. New boat, good equipment, great staff. Island: Lots to do and see!! Great rain forest, volcano, waterfalls, gardens, great eco island. The Jalouise Hilton is right between the two Pitons in one of the most dramatic settings I have been in. Huge mountains, great views. Bonaire, Cayman, Cozumel can't even come close. The roads are narrow, and rough, but we rented a car and had no problems at all. We drove all over. We got lost several times. The locals are very friendly and always answered our requests for directions with delight. Although some offered to be our guides, for a fee, we refused, and they would then give directions freely. No shopping, hard to even find a t-shirt shop! Little night life as well, but the Jalousie did have entertainment several nights, including a steel drum band, etc. So we had all the entertainment we needed. Lodging: The Jalousie Hilton was awesome. The best "dive" resort I have stayed in. The staff was about the best I have ever encountered, and I travel a lot!! We had our own private 2 room villa with our own private plunge pool. Very nice. The resort has a top notch spa, which my wife loved, good restaurants, a good beach, and over all great facilities. There are very few places I would return to as I like to explore new locations every year. This is one I plan to return to. With out a doubt, the best overall dive trips I have ever had.
Trip 6/98 Just got back from our first time on St. Martin. We loved it!! And we can't wait to return. We stayed at Le Habitation, beautiful resort!! The road up the mountain (and down!) was pretty adventurous but it didn't really bother us too much. In fact, all the roads over there are an adventure! Anyway, the hotel was nice and we liked the small beach it was on too. We snorkeled a lot at Dawn Beach, saw some pretty fish. Our first trip there, we had locked our digital camera in the trunk and when we returned, we noticed it was missing. That really made us mad but we learned our lesson not to use the rental car as a "safe". Restaurants were not crowded at all. Sometimes we were the only people eating at 7 pm. Restaurants we went to were: Le Fish Pot - had lobster ravioli and a salad with goat cheese. Pretty good. Le Bar de la Mar in Marigot - had a wonderful grilled lobster and shrimp. Cheris Cafe - yummy! Rainbow - this was a disappointment. I had shrimp over risotto and it was too heavy for my taste. Don Camillo - had veal marsala which was great and i had lasagna - not so great! I think our best dinner was at Turtle Pier Bar & Restaurant over by the airport. Ate only 2 lunches out, the other days we ate crackers and peanuts. We ate lunch at Scavengers on Dawn Beach, she makes a wonderful rice salad and a great coleslaw! Also ate lunch at Bikini Cafe-great burgers! Ate breakfast 3 mornings at the La Habitation restaurants. Ate one breakfast in Marigot at La Croissantre (sp?), those chocolate croissants were so mouth-watering!! MMMMMM! The other mornings we ate rice crispy cereal in our room. We really had a wonderful time and can't wait to go back! I really wanted to go over to St. Barts or Anguilla for a day but just ran out of time. We had beautiful weather except for only one day of rain off & on. Went shopping in Phillipsburg on Tues. because we heard the cruise ships were in port on Mon., Wed & Fri. that week so it was not crowded at all!! Marigot also was not that crowded. In fact, the whole island did not seem crowded to us. Of course, traffic was really bad around 8 am and 5-6 PM but we learned to avoid being out then. The beaches were beautiful. our best had to be Dawn Beach and Baie Rouge. I was surprised that Orient Beach was "as dirty as it was". Lots & lots of seaweed stuff washed up on the whole beach. We ventured over to the nude beach once and walked up & down just to say we saw it. Definitely different! ha ha All in all, it was a great week in Paradise!
My wife and I just returned from our second trip to St. Martin. Prior to our trips to St. Martin we have read all of the St. Martin trip reports contained in the Caribbean Travel Roundup. We found them very informative and useful. So now it's our turn to contribute. Our first trip to St. Martin last June was wonderful. We loved the Island beauty, wonderful beaches, diverse population and the European atmosphere and attitudes. So as you probably have guessed, this second trip was filled with high expectations and optimism. Unfortunately the trip got off to a shaky start. Due to flight cancellations and Continental Airlines refusal to re-route us because we were on Frequent Flyer tickets, our trip was delayed one day. Weather Upon arrival it was raining and it apparently had been raining all day. However, it soon cleared and stayed partly cloudy and warm throughout our stay. A couple of rain showers while on the beach, but they did not last long. Accommodations. Our first stop was the Hotel Mt. Vernon on Orient Bay. We stayed there last year and found it relatively comfortable and accommodating. The hotel is not very crowded in June although it did have quite a diverse group of guests; French, Germans, Spanish, Brazilians, English and Americans. You hear many different languages while enjoying their complimentary buffet breakfast in the morning. My only complaint about the Hotel is that things sort of seem in disrepair and not enough attention to detail. For example, our TV and in- room refrigerator did not work properly, nor did they last year. I noticed that all of the chase lounges on the beach in front of the hotel were never put back on order by the staff at the end of the day. It had looked each morning as if a cyclone had hit their little portion of beach. Not a big deal, it just seemed that this and other small things were basic hotel/motel management 101. We moved to Grand case on our sixth day to the L'Atlantide hotel. The L'Atlantide is a very charming small hotel in the lovely village of Grand Case. We had the studio, and although not large by American standards, very comfortable. If you are looking for a full service hotel or don't speak French, this is probably not the place for you. During the summer, the front desk staff of one, is only available a few hours per day. They do have maid service daily but everything else is "help yourself." My only concern about the Hotel is the lack of security. You park your car either under the hotel in open stalls or on the street. The first night someone broke in to the drivers side door of our rental car with a crowbar. Nothing in the car but a few dog biscuits my wife kept in the car to feed the homeless dogs. (Yes, believe it or not, they did steel the dog biscuits.) They also severely damaged the front door to the point that it will probably have to be replaced. Good thing I used my VISA Gold card to rent the car. This was not our first break in. Several nights earlier my wife and I were leaving the Kontiki restaurant on Orient only to find two men opening our trunk. Even though we caught them in the act, they continued to deny any wrong doing. I decided for mine and my wife's health and safety, it was best not to pursue the matter any further as we caught them before they could steal anything. We did immediately go back to our hotel and report them and their car license number to the local gendarmes. After these two incidents and several conversations with the local police about local crime, I was much more cautious about our security and safety than on our first visit. My advise; unless you are at a resort with full time security, leave the diamond earrings and gold necklaces in the safe deposit boxes when you go out in the evenings. I also think that when your car is parked in town or at the beach, you should leave it unlocked with the glove compartment open. This tells a potential prowler that you are not dumb enough to leave anything of value in the car for them to steal. If they want to steal the car itself, locking it won't deter them. Beaches We spent most of our time at Cupecoy, Long Bay and Orient Beach. Our first day was spent at the far end of Cupecoy. This is a great beach, especially for swimming and sunning. We met a nice couple there from Raleigh, NC and spent several evenings with them during our stay. Unfortunately, since Cupecoy is clothing optional and somewhat isolated, it does attract some undesirable elements. Several times, mainly late in the afternoon, a group of men would assemble down at the far end of the beach for purposes other then sunbathing or swimming. I am sure what they were doing on a public beach (alone and with each other) is illegal even in liberal St. Martin. We spoke to some of the local beach vendors about this and they were quite frustrated also. They say people complain but the authorities don't or can't do anything about it. I guess there are perverts all over, even in paradise. To bad because its a great beach, relatively uncrowded and most of the populace is respectful of each others clothing/no clothing preferences. This activity can really make it uncomfortable to be there, however. We spent a couple of days at Long Bay beach and loved it. The beach was basically empty and at times it felt like we had the whole two mile stretch to ourselves. Although Long Bay is not officially clothing optional, on the far west end (opposite La Samanna) we noticed several couples au naturel most likely due to the vast amount of privacy one enjoys on this great stretch of beach. Restaurants My wife and I don't put a high priority on eating out or gormet dining, so not a lot to report here. We did have a few notable diners however. The first was notable for the wrong reason. We had a late afternoon dinner at the Kontiki on Orient beach our second night. We had eaten several times at the Kontiki on our previous visit and enjoyed the meals and atmosphere. We were basically the only ones in the restaurant. I usually don't order fish anywhere, unless I caught and cooked it myself, but I made an exception this time. My wife ordered the salad and also shared a small portion of my main course. Everything tasted great. The next morning however, we both awoke feeling somewhat sick. I got worse by the hour. I was definitely food poisoning and I attribute it to the fish. The fourth night we had dinner at L'Alabama in Grand Case. Both the service and the food was excellent. It was recommended to us by the proprietors of Michael's Cafe, also in Grand Case. Michael and his wife recently moved to Grand Case from Boston and opened their small ocean side restaurant and bar. Great people and great view. If you're' looking for a inexpensive breakfast or light dinner, I would highly recommend Michael's. Our last dinner of note was enjoyed at La Tropicana at the marina in Marigot. Although I thought the food took an excessive amount of time to arrive between courses, (they were quite busy) it tasted great once it got there. Great presentation and service. The owners really made you feel welcomed. After dinner everyone was served a complimentary shot of their banana rum liquor. In summary, we had a great trip despite some of the problems mentioned. Would we go back? I am debating but my wife says yes. So we will see. Maybe the memories of the car break ins and the incidents on the beach will diminish and the visions of the blue ocean and white sand beaches will emerge to the forefront as time passes. One thing we do want to mention is that the homeless pet problem did not seem to be as bad this year. Apparently, this can be partly attributed to a women and her staff whom are dedicated to taking care of these forgotten pets. For those of you who want to make a donation to this worthwhile effort, you can send it to: Lyne Coffin % of The Animal Shelter Le'Gailion, St. Martin F.W.I We are sure any amount would be appreciated.
This is a report of our (my wife and I) trip to St. Martin for 2 weeks in mid-June. We flew in from Kennedy on AA on a Saturday in a plane that was perhaps 3/4 full; no hassles. Ditto leaving. We were a week too early to experience the new Arrivals Lounge. I will not go into details of our activities, but will try to give some information about the island as we experienced it. Because of some recommendations on the newsgroups, we reserved a car with Alain Arnell (AAA Car Rental) for $140/week. Someone was waiting for us at the airport as promised, but it was not Alain and he did not have our car. Alain was hung up with it because of road construction (on driving around I could see how it could happen) and we cooled our heels at the Stop and Shop across from the airport for 20 minutes until he did arrive. The car itself was in good condition inside and ran well, but the lock on the passenger door had been punched out and you had to lock and unlock it from the inside. Also, a tire had a slow leak and we had to add air a couple of times during our stay (but good tread and a spare). These things didn't bother us enough to warrant taking the time to do anything about them. On dropping off the car, someone was waiting at the departure gate just as promised, and Alain also had told us what to do with the car if there wasn't anyone. Alain seems to be running a small operation based on a great personality and an attempt to give good prices and personalized service. Sometimes a glitch appears that he can't cover as smoothly as a large operation might but, if you are prepared for this, then I would recommend him. Our hotel was Grand Case Beach Club, where we have stayed many times and have commented on in earlier reports. It remains our choice - good location, good beaches, good in-room facilities, friendly staff, well taken care of, good off-season price. A simple continental breakfast at the Sunset Cafe, the independent restaurant at the hotel, is included. Other menu items can be bought - pretty good, friendly personnel. It has been several years since we spent enough time on the island to do much exploring, so this time we did a lot more driving around to see the changes. The main roads are pretty good, but there is a lot of road work going on. Traffic can be heavy at times, and you may find yourself going up hill behind a 10-wheel gravel truck at 1 mph, but he will be faster going down. Some roads off to the beaches are heavily pot-holed and in some cases unpaved. We tried Pic Paradis, which we had gone up a number of years ago. At that time, we were not particularly impressed by the view, perhaps because we had not picked the clearest day. The road up is generally bad; narrow (of course), with some deep holes where the edge of the pavement has broken away that could be interesting if you meet another vehicle. However, somewhere near the top conditions got so bad that I had serious concerns about getting hung up on a rock or breaking something, so we said the hell with it and turned back. If you try it, either take a jeep or plan to hike the last portion. There is a lookout with a nice view of Marigot part way up, however. Incidentally, if you dead end at a communications tower with no view, you missed a left turn. If you want a good view, go up to Fort Louis at Marigot on a clear morning. When we first went up, the path was a dirt and rock trail up the steep hill. Now it is an easy concrete stairway. Oh how easy the modern tourist has it! - Takes away half the fun!! The fort itself is partially restored and interesting. Here are some observations on beaches. One thing we have noticed the past couple of years is that many St. Martin beaches now have beach bars where you can get beach chairs as well as refreshments. No longer the almost deserted beach feeling, but makes them more convenient in other ways. Isle Pinel - a 5 minute, $5 boat ride from Cul de Sac - is very nice. Has a lot of activity - a couple of beach bars, water sports, snorkeling - but not as excessive as parts of Orient. Pick a chair and someone will come along to collect. Orient - unquestionably the best on the island for beach-walking, and always cooled by a good bre establishments the regiments of side-by side chairs and umbrellas and the multitude of jet skis take away from its previous charm. I guess it is a question of whether you like lots of room on a nearly empty beach or to be part of a crowd. The area near the "main" entrance at Pedro's is most crowded, probably because this is where the cruise ship passengers come in. The road leading into BooBooJam gets you near the least busy part of the beach. Some nudity along here, although most is at the Club Orient end. Coconut Grove - Baie L'Emboucheur - another nice beach for walking. There is a wind surfing operation, and we saw people riding donkeys in the water. If you drive through the grounds of the old hotel, you get easy access to the beach. It seems to be popular with people with young children as the water is quite protected and shallow. Unlikely to be crowded. Lucas Bay - it is an interesting drive from Orleans to Oyster Pond via Lucas Bay. There does not seem to be an obvious access to the beach except through the Coralita Hotel grounds. We have used this in the past, but things seemed pretty deserted this year, although the hotel did not appear to be closed. Dawn Beach - this beach is now as good as it gets. The old Dawn Beach Hotel that was never rebuilt after the hurricane has been mostly removed, and you can drive in to a new beach bar called Scavengers that seems nice. Reportedly a new hotel will be built on the site, but perhaps not so close to the beach. At any rate, now is the time to enjoy it, although it can be a bit rough for swimming. There is also a popular beach bar, Mr. Busby's, on the Oyster Pond end of the beach. Guana Bay - an attractive beach, but too rough for swimming. There is a beach bar at the north end. A lot of expensive development still going on in this area. Cupecoy - the other major CO beach on St. Martin. Guys rent beach chairs ($5 each is standard price on the island) but there is no beach bar; though they may sell a cold drink out of a cooler. There are people pushing time shares and selling clothing on this beach, but they don't seem to hassle you if you just tell them you're not interested. The beach is backed by cliffs and can be hot; also rough if the wind is strong, but a nice place to hang out. Long Bay is lightly populated and does not seem to have any facilities except the hotel at the end. We didn't spend any time there, it is a difficult beach to walk; something we like to do. Baie Rouge is popular; some people call it the prettiest beach, but I don't see it that way, although it is nice enough. Some discrete nudist use on the far end. Lots of people at the beach bar. There are a couple of newish beach bars on Nettle Bay in Sandy Ground. A lot of hotels in this area; though the beach is not particularly good. Friar's Bay is another nice beach that went from essentially deserted a few years ago to where it now hosts no fewer than 3 beach bars. Certainly wasn't crowded when we were there. The only negative about this beach is that there are sometimes smells coming in from the salt pond behind it. Grand Case Beach, and Petite Plage at the Beach Club, are quiet, not crowded, and quite nice. Facilities are available at GCBC. The main beach runs the length of the village, separated from Grand Case Boulevard by a row of buildings. There are a few openings for public access from the main street, but access through GCBC is preferable. There are a few small hotels along this stretch, but they don't appear to offer facilities for the casual visitor off the beach. Likewise, the various restaurants that overlook the beach are not geared to beach traffic. There is a beach bar type establishment near the pier, but in general it is not a beach for the public to rent a chair and umbrella. We didn't see any of the other beaches. We were going to stop in at Little Bay, but the hotel looks so uninviting with guarded gates that we didn't bother. For those who care, most of these beaches on both sides of the island had topless use. We generally avoid Philipsburg in the day time. We did go in twice this trip, however. Once was on a rainy afternoon when we went to see the museum. It is small but interesting; not as good as the Marigot museum only because the Dutch haven't put as much support behind it. Probably they have been too busy trying to make Front Street into little Las Vegas. We drove down it one night after going to a restaurant; the neon is ugly, garish and out of place. One of the local politicians is now saying that they should try to restore some of the original character to the town; about 10 years too late. We also went in on a Monday morning to try to find some Saba Spice. We assumed that there would not be cruise ships, but there was one. To add to the mess, the power in St. Maarten went out early that morning for half the day - the official excuse being that a rat ate a cable. Interesting with shops trying to sell things from the back shelves by flashlight. Front Street has someone pushing time shares or T-shirts every few feet, it seems. Mostly, you can ignore them, but in total they are pretty tiresome. Marigot is more pleasurable for shopping or walking, although it gets busy with cruise passengers coming in on tourist busses - and not just the 15 passenger variety. There are some nice shops, and also the local market, which has degenerated into a field of T-shirt and souvenir stands - not that it is all junk. The produce market from which this descended (the word was chosen deliberately) is still there behind the T-shirts. There is talk of trying to bring larger cruise ships into Marigot harbor, which will further spoil things for the stay-over visitors. We use the local supermarkets for supplies for lunch and snacks. Match in Marigot has more French goods; the market in Cole Bay is a little more American in style, with some Dutch supplies. The Food Center near Philipsburg is new and large, and has its own power generator - possibly useful if the island power goes out again. We took one day trip - the ferry from Marigot to Anguilla. Surprisingly, the fare collected on the boat ($10) was less than the posted value ($12). There is no formal car rental at the Anguilla ferry dock, but most of the taxi drivers can provide one. We ran into someone from Connors first - a regular rental place. The price, $40 for the day, might have been high, but at east they are known to be reliable if you have a problem, and are a nice outfit to deal with. We simply wanted to explore, as it has been quite a few years since we were there. We were disappointed at Shoal Bay, not by the beach but by the way it has been built up, making access much less convenient than it used to be. Had a nice but simple lunch at the beach bar to the left of Uncle Ernie's (can't recall the name), and a beer at Johno's - still a nice place, little changed over the years. We have a number of favorite restaurants on St. Martin that we always look forward to revisiting, but this trip we had time to try a few new ones as well. In spite of the many excellent French restaurants here, our taste is in other directions. Most are relatively inexpensive by St. Martin standards. Current exchange rate is 6ff/$, which helps. Mark's - Bush Road near Philipsburg. Quite a different atmosphere from his old place in Cul de Sac, but the food and prices are just as good. Try the octopus stew and christophine farcie. There is entertainment some nights. Tou'Bagaille - a new place on the Marigot side of Grand Case, with a highly varied menu including some Japanese yakitori style dishes that are very good. The miso soup and seaweed salad that come with them are exceptional. Arhawak - on the port in Marigot - would have overlooked the harbor if they hadn't filled it in to make room for the T-shirt stands - but a pleasant sidewalk restaurant. The blaff (a special) was outstanding; otherwise food was pretty good but nothing special. Portofino - Grand Case. We tried this partly because someone said they have the best pizzas in St. Martin. We can't dispute this, as we haven't had any other pizza in St. Martin. They are thin crust and very good, but not quite the best we've ever had in the Caribbean. There is also entertainment several nights a week. A fun place but loud! La Diva - Rue Hollande in Marigot. We liked this Italian place quite a lot years ago, but for one reason or another haven't been there for a while. Food is very good, generous portions, reasonable price. The one drawback was very slow service - not that we felt ignored; just that, though gracious, it took forever!! Wajang Doll - Philipsburg. An Indonesian restaurant that we have been going to for years. Continues to be a favorite of ours, with an excellent rijsstaffel, and mango or papaya desserts that my wife says are "to die for" (she who almost never eats dessert!). A little more expensive than the others, but worth it. Yvette's - Orleans. St. Martin style Creole - even better than on our last visit a couple of years ago. Excellent salt fish cakes, johnny cakes and stewed conch. ShivSagar - Philipsburg. A favorite Indian restaurant with a good menu selection. The nan is delectable, the condiments great, and the paneer tikka a favorite. Don Carlos - near the airport. We use it occasionally for breakfast, especially the day we fly out. I like their fritata. Someone's report raved so much about ZeeBest's chocolate croissants that we decided to try them. Very nice - tasty, and not too sweet. It turns out that Michael grew up in the next town to the one that my wife grew up in. Altogether, a good, restful time. Decent weather - a couple of very windy days, a couple of days with a bit of rain, but mostly good. In spite of a lot of negatives, St. Martin remains a favorite. It is always sad to leave, and the $20 pp departure tax doesn't make you any happier.
We just returned from a week at Beaches, Turks and Caicos. We flew on their direct charter flight from Philadelphia, it was great not having to change planes. We stayed in a ‘deluxe room’. It was a typical room with two double beds, a small table with 2 chairs, and an armoire with the TV in it. It was clean but not fancy. There are larger and more expensive (much more) rooms available. The staff were all very friendly and helpful. There are five restaurants to choose from. Kimonos is a typical Japanese steak house, where they cook the food at the table. You don’t get a choice of entree; they prepare everything on the menu (6 items) and you can try what you want to. You do get a choice of individual appetizers. The food was good but not special. Arizona’s is a tex mex restaurant. They have a lunch buffet everyday with burgers, hot dogs, chicken or fish, a variety of salads and fruit and a desert bar. The dinner was good, but again not special. Sapadilos is the ‘fancy’ one, with adults only. It is elegant and the food was delicious. The filet mignon was terrific as were the appetizers. There was a good selection, especially if you like to try new things. Schooners is the seafood place, with very good food. Portions are small, but you can ask for double servings. Also, if you order an appetizer, main course and desert, it’s more than enough. It has a great setting on the beach. We watched 2 wonderful sunsets from the outside tables. Reflections has a nightly buffet which we didn’t sample. Their breakfast buffet is very extensive, eggs anyway you want, pancakes, meat, cereal, juice, fruit, toast/bagels, danishes, muffins, etc. I found that the all-inclusive encouraged me to eat and drink more. This is not a quiet place for couples. There were lots of families with lots of children. The pools were very noisy because of this. So were some of the restaurants. We spent most of our time at the beach, which was one of the nicest in the Caribbean that we’ve been to. If you snorkel, take your own equipment, otherwise you’ll be limited to the Beaches trips. The best snorkeling from the beach was a 10 minute walk to the left, in front of The White House (a rental place). You could just walk in the water up to your waist and be surrounded by many colorful fish. We got to see barracuda, squids, manta rays. Someone people reported seeing turtles and even a small hammerhead shark. At the beach in front of the hotel, we saw a starfish at least a foot wide and rays feeding close to shore. Watersports equipment, such as hobie cats, water tricycles, kayaks, and wind surfers are included in the all-inclusive price. So are the snorkeling and scuba trips; we didn’t go on any so we can’t comment on them. Forget shopping, there isn’t any. Unless you like to drive around and see the island scenery, you won’t need a car. We both agree we would return to Turks. I’m not sure I’d return to Beaches. I do not have children and was not expecting so many of them around and making things noisy. We also heard several horror stories about Beaches overbooking and people arriving without a room and getting shipped to the Comfort Inn, one of these being a honeymoon couple.
Trip July 98 After visiting Cozumel, Cancun, Cayman, Bonaire and Curacao we decided on Turks and Caicos. We a great vacation with some not so great adventures Our original plan was to spend 4 days in Salt Cay and 4 days in Provo. We ended spending a day in Provo, 3 in Grand Turk and 4 in Provo..... Getting There We flew American Airlines from Washington D.C to Miami , with a connection to Provo. Miami airport was closed for two hours because of bad weather. Our plain landed to refuel at West Palm Beach and we arrived in Miami 2 hours late. By the time we landed in Miami we were 1:30 Late for our Provo connection. We ran to the gate and... there was our plane. 90 minuets later ( 8 O'clock at night) we were in Provo. We were in Provo, but our luggage was not. We also missed our connection from Prove to Salt Cay. American Airlines put us in a ( forgot the name) suite hotel (run by Days Inn)hotel near Port the Calls on Grace bay , a 5 minutes walk to the beach. Grace bay is very pretty beach with white sand and rum color water perfect. At 3:00 we headed back to the airport to meet the next American flight and our luggage. By 3:45 we were on our way with Inter Island Airline to Salt Cay. Inter Island has 8 seaters. The 8 on our flight were: half of a family visited Salt Cay three times and was raving about it, a second family ( with a 6 year old) that has been to Grand Turk and decided to give Salt cay a try, and my wife and me , the new comers.. Salt Cay Mt. Unpleasant We all were booked for diving and full board with Mt Pleasant. Salt Cay has one taxi which met us at the airport. Teddi, a local, the Taxi driver told my wife and me that as we are a couple we will get a "private" house. A few minutes later we were dropped in a middle of village ( not near the beach) in a house with no air condition. The shower was out door. We refused to go in and asked to Mt Pleasant. On the way to Mt. Pleasant the Taxi driver showed us several houses that we could stay inn. When we arrived at Mt Pleasant the owner , Brian Shehy informed us, yelling, that if stay in other properties on the Island ( such as Castaways) he will not refund us, he would let us use the meal plan we paid for. Two hours and $690 latter we were back in the airport on our way to Grand Turk. As a "bonus" each couple had to pay the Taxi driver $20. The rate of Taxi is $2 per person per mile, we drove for 5 miles there for $20. Grand Turk In Grand Turk we stayed at the Arrowak. Arrowak is the pre mire hotel on the Island ( there about 5-6 hotels)with about 15 rooms. It is on the beach on the south west of Grand Turk. The cost was $120/per room/ night, about $150 with taxes. The rooms are nice and have a kitchen ( we did not bring food as we had a meal plan in Salt Cay). It is a very relaxing and laid back island with about two restaurant. To get from Arrowak to down town at night you need a Taxi ($10 one way two people). We ended up eating once down town at Turks Inn ( the food was great), other nights we ate at the Arrowak. We spent three nights in Grand Turk, two nights we were the biggest news item on the Island. One day, we visited and the tourist office and submitted an official complaint against Mt Pleasant. One day we saw Mantas. The other night the big news was graduation ... Grand Turk Diving The hotel in Grand Turk called Oasis divers. Aroawak already had a group of 6 more divers from Michigan were diving with Oasis. Oasis is run by a couple , Everett ( Local, used to be the captain of the Aggressor live aboard) and Dale ( from the US). A two tank dive cost $50. I expected Oasis to send one boat for all the divers in the Hotel. Instead they gave 4 of us (the Salt Cay refugees..) our own boat, with our own dive master named Paul. The Boat was a very small (15 feet), you dive one tank ,go to the dive store for a surfaces interval and get new tanks. After the second tank you choose to go back to your hotel, or go "down" town. Dale ( the owner) would drive you back from town to the hotel. On the way back Dale stopped for us at the store. The diving in Grand Turk is excellent. The Wall diving and coral was pretty (Better than Grand Cayman),nice reefs with tropical fish at about 25- 40 feet and you see "big stuff" (which we did not see in Bonaire). The visibility was not great (60FT) due to plankton. The visibility tends to be better at the northern side of the Island. We dove: Black Forest, McDonald, Coral Garden. In Coral gardens, Alexander the Nassau Grouper likes to be petted and follow you through out the dive. We saw many groupers, a few eels, a nurse shark ( small free swimming), and the typical tropical fish. From the hotel we made two sore dives one to the wall and one under the old town peer. In the old town peer we saw several spotted eels and two Bat fish ( Ugly). The Michigan divers made several early morning ( 4;30 AM ) dives from the hotel. (it takes 10 minutes swimming to get to the wall). Above the water we saw dolphins and turtles. We really enjoyed the Gibs Ray sting ray snorkel/picnic trip ( recommended by Roadle magazine). On the way to Gibs Cay we skin dove to get our own Conch, which we made a salad. At Gibs Cay several (10) sting rays gathered around you (similar to sting ray city in Cayman). When we snorkeled we saw 18 Squid swimming together. We were also visited by an Eagle Ray ( in 3 feet of water) several times. The last dive was the best. I suggested we dive Tunnels on the south side, (this site in the Pieces diving guide showed a picture of a Manta). The rest of the divers (my wife and the other couple) reluctantly agreed. The dive was that Paul ( the divemaster)and me will go through the Tunnels ( deep dive) and the rest will stay at about 60 feet. Before I jumped in I called: "if you see the Manta in 60 feet, make it summer salt for awhile so we get a chance to see it". I hit the water first and landed in front of the Manta. By the time the rest of the divers were under he disappeared. Paul and me headed towards the Tunnel, Paul pointed toward a turtle, suddenly behind the Turtle the Manta re appeared. We followed the Manta and before too long we had three Manta's, two of which were somersault salting around us. One on top ( 40 feet) one on the bottom ( 80 feet). We spent the entire tank looking at the Mantas. When we were out of air, we went back to the dive store got more tanks and used our second tank with One manta. We were so focused on the Mantas that we ignored the turtle was with us the entire time, A barracuda was under the boat, and a pair of squid. Provo Coming from Grand Turk to Provo, Provo seemed very touristy and Americanized. Provo has several hotels, and two all inclusive: Sandals and Club Med. We stayed at the Turtle cove Inn, $95 a night/room. The Hotel was charming, and within walking distance to 5 very good restaurants ( more than entire Grand Turk). Turtle Cove is located on the marina, and is a 15 minute walk to the beach. The staff at the desk were very friendly . They gave us a ride to the beach with our equipment, so we can do a shore dive at Smith's reef. The Hotel was full because of a deep water fishing competition. Every night at 6 , the Marlin of the day was weighed in the dock. We enjoyed the food at the restaurants ( Tiki Hut and the terrace), and felt that Turtle cove was an excellent value. Provo Diving Provo has a variety of dive operations, The biggest is Turtle cove diving (they operate from Turtle cove Inn). They ran two big boats full of divers a day. They dove in Provo or Pine Cay. A second type were operations associated with Beaches and Club med. Club Med has with their new one million dollar boat. We dove with Caicos Adventures. Caicos adventure goes every day to West Caicos. A two tank dive cost $75, and includes a lunch. Surface interval are done at a snorkeling spot in West Caicos. While snorkeling we saw Squid and Octopus. Philip the owner of Caicos adventure is character, and we enjoyed his sense of humor. Philip (Pepe) used to work in Club Med. The Boat was big with about 16 divers. Half were Club Med folks that had enough of being in Club Med and wanted something different, a few beginners, and some advanced divers. If you have a computer you can dive with your buddy. Diving profile in West Caicos is deep diving. The wall begins at about 100 feet, and the reef is at about 60. On our dives we saw a very large lobster walking, and on two dives we spent following a 6 foot reef shark. The diving was good, but the profile did not allow a s much bottom time as in Grand Turk. On the water we saw sharks and sting rays. We made a shore snorkel and dive from the Hotel. Smith's reef is no deeper than 20 feet. On the snorkel we saw a nurse shark and a a big s orange star fish. On the shore dive we saw several tropical fish, some lobster and a big king crab. We did no see JOJO. JOJO's trainer was away on vacation, and when he is away JOJO stays away. Bottom Line We had a great vacation, the people are very friendly and very helpful. We plan to come back.
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