Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Eleuthera is a difficult island to describe -- a hundred miles long and rarely more than two miles wide, full of scrub brush and vistas to the vast blue-green sea. Yet for an island of this square mileage, there are relatively few people -- only about 10,000, clustered in the 8-10 main "settlements" (towns) on the island. It is an island of poverty, that is rich in generosity, an island of beautiful beaches, with almost no tourists. We researched Eleuthera (what little information we could find) before we set out for our six days of R&R. We were in search of deserted beaches, some snorkeling, possibly some sailing, and definitely some exploration. And that's pretty much what we got with the exception of the sailing. My husband and I rented a cottage right on the beach at a beautiful location on a 5 mile stretch of sand in Governor's Harbour. It was a stunning spot, yet no one else was there. We had complete privacy. This feeling of remoteness might have been frightening back home, but here it was nirvana. One highlight of the week came the first day we arrived when we attended the Pineapple Festival in Gregorytown. A small "pineathlon" (swim, run, bike) competition was the focal point of the morning. It was supposed to begin around 10 a.m., but didn't really rev up until about 12 noon. It didn't matter much. In Eleuthera, people do things on "Bahaman time" -- which roughly translates to whenever it happens, it happens. We participated in a relay with a local guy from Nassau. He did the run, my husband and I the bike and swim, respectively. Our runner, Kenny, turned out to be quite a local hero, holding the title of Boxing Champion of the Bahamas. He along with most of the competitors travel from other islands in the Bahamas to compete annually in the event. And the prizes aren't small! A round trip airline ticket to Miami for the first place individual, 3 tickets for the first place team! The mood is very casual -- none of the insurance and bike inspection/helmet stuff is required, as it is in the states. In fact, to orient the athletes with the course, everyone jumps in the back of a truck, and they drive the course before the race begins. Anyway, we didn't win the airline tickets, but we met some terrific people and enjoyed the rum, the reggae, and all the wonderful foods available at the festival which ran late into the night, long after we'd gone home to bed. The rest of our week we alternated between exploring and hanging out at our beach house. We like to find unmarked dirt roads and drive down them, hoping to find an unspoiled piece of heaven at the end. It almost never happens that way. One time we took this horrible bumpy road with branches scraping at us through the windows. No beach at the end, just an orange and mango grove and lots of bugs! And the fruits weren't even ripe! Another road, which we dubbed "the road to nowhere" because it went on for at least 5 miles and the island's only supposed to be 2 miles wide, took us to a beach, but a rough one at that. Actually, on the way out, we explored a sound where my husband snorkeled, so the trip wasn't a total loss. You have to remember though, at $3 a gallon for gas, on remote, infrequently traveled roads, exploration can be costly and dangerous without food and water to accompany. The towns on Eleuthera, are picturesque, but there is nothing to do in them, save talking with the locals or grabbing a bite to eat. We took down our own meat and staples, and so ate only two meals out. One was at "Sammy's" in Rock Sound toward the southern end of the island. The other at Angelina's on Harbour Island. Both were great meals including fried conch and fried fish. My better half was fond of the cracked conch salad which you see being made on docks everywhere. The conch are removed from there shells and soaked in salt water to "take off the slime." Then they are scored, cut, and mixed with chopped peppers and onions, and marinated in lime juice. The result is a yummy, crunchy, spicy, raw conch salad for about $5 a bowl. While we're on food, a word on liquor. Rum is cheap, beer is expensive -- about $16/6 pack. Yes, you read right. In Gregorytown, you can get a case of beer starting at $32. Individual beers will run you $2.50 to $3.00, except at the airport in North Eleuthera, where they can be had for the low low bargain price of $2.00 each. On shopping: We found only 2 stores that sold T-shirts/souvenir type items. One is in Gregorytown, called Island Made. It is one of the only places that takes credit also. If you need to buy on credit, Island Made will run your card, and then you can take the slip to the store where you want to purchase your goods. No ATM's on the island, and bank hours are limited, so take your cash. American dollars are excepted everywhere, but sometimes you get Bahamian change. No big deal, they exchange at a one-one ratio. Harbour Island, a $4 ferry ride from North Eleuthera near the airport, is a little more "citified" with picturesque homes and pastel paint everywhere. There may be more shopping there -- but we didn't pay much attention. We enjoyed just watching the boats in the harbour and spent a couple hours on famous "Pink Sand Beach." As for places to stay, you are limited there as well. Harbour Island boasts a few hotel/guest houses for varying prices. Most start at around $150/night off season. Eleuthera has Club Med with the circus set up for kids. Our kids would have loved it, but the one morning we jogged there we had to laugh at the over-enthusiasm of the staff. One G.O. (genteel organiseur) walked up to us beaming and belted out, "GOOD MORNING JOGGERS!" It was all we could do to not bust out in laughter! In fairness to him though, he was friendly and there to help. There is Unique Village, a nice cropping of bungalows with great sea views and beach below--at the end of the long beach we stayed on. It looks like it has a nice restaurant too. North of Gregorytown sits The Cove, also adequate accommodations. Both start at about $80 night off season. Both will arrange any type of water play or excursions you might be interested in. Scuba divers (we are, but didn't this trip) will enjoy a large number of wrecks to explore. Last, but not least, I'd be doing a disservice to the people of Eleuthera if I didn't mention their friendliness. Everywhere we went people waved and said hello, first! Even small and adolescent children were friendly. We picked up several hitch hikers and learned a good deal about the island. One electric company worker told us about his wife and baby. They flew to the Nassau to induce the labor because the clinic on the island, they felt, was not sophisticated enough to handle potential complications. There was the older gentleman from Upper Bogue who told us about his friend who had too much rum at the Pineapple Festival. He said that now that the police knew this man, they would watch him and that is why there is so little crime. There was the deaf girl from Lower Bogue heading into the pineapple festival to sell her water color fish paintings. And Lionel, owner of the Sunset Inn in Governor's Harbour, and cousin to the electrical worker, who called the man we rented our car from, when we had a flat tire. It was fixed before the sun ever set. And speaking of the man from whom we rented our car, Tommy Pinder, what a trusting guy! We ran out of cash and so had to pay him upon arrival back in the states. That was after we picked up the car without ever meeting him, keys inside, no payment, no contract, just hospitality, Bahamian-style.
I have just returned from a trip to the Bahamas. We stayed at the Paradise Island Fun Club. We had considered the Atlantis, but it sounded a little too big and too ritzy for our family. We are not casino people and don't care too much for the type of accommodations that cater to people who go on vacation to see casinos... At any rate, the Fun Club was a wonderful place and a wonderful buy! We had a nice room, nothing too fancy, but the pillows were soft and the beds were firm, which is a big plus for me. The air conditioning worked wonderfully and we slept very comfortably. The meals were terrific, with choices of eggs, pancakes or waffles every morning, with sausages or ham as an accompaniment. Eggs could be cooked to order, too. Breads ranged from white toast to croissants and there were always two kind of Danish. Lunches were also wonderful, with all kinds of options. There were always potatoes, each day done a different way, another vegetable or two and a meat, a pasta and a fish. There were tuna salads and cold cuts as well as a salad bar with at least 6 different salads. There were hot dogs and hamburgers going on a grill just outside the main dining room and they served both before and after the buffet shut down. There was also a pizza and pasta bar by the pool which served at the same times as the grill - before during and after the dining room hours. Dinner was much like lunch only more choices and the meats and fishes were more elegant. They had poached grouper that I loved, creole and cajun fish, as well as the plain meat and potatoes kind of food that some Americans, like my husband, seem to exist solely upon. The lagoon outside the hotel is "man-made", but the fish seem to love it. There is a boardwalk over the lagoon, which goes from side to side and has a small covered portion to sit on. You can see fish come into the lagoon from the bay and watch all the boats go by. There are snorkels available at the pool area and the fish near the rocks seem to be acquainted with the idea of snorkelers, because they don't seem too frightened. The inevitable seargent major fish were all around in every size imaginable, as well as black angel fish, blue headed wrasses, yellow fish in large groups, rockfish, parrot fish, and others that I can't even begin to describe! The club also has a miniature golf course, which my 10 year old daughter loved. She and her father played almost every night we were there. It had some pretty tricky holes, but the lighting was good and lost balls were no problem. The course was open until 2 am, so the lighting had to be good... The pool has no lifeguard, but it has a fairly shallow end of 4 feet, so there are always a lot of kids in the pool. The bar at the pool has a "sip and dip" section, as I heard someone describing it, where you can order a drink and sip it, then sink into the water below your stool and cool off and return to your stool or take your drink to the edge and float while you drink. The club has an afternoon cruise to another island where you can snorkel or swim and a sunset cruise out past Nassau, although the sun doesn't always want to cooperate by setting with the spectacular colors you see on the post cards. The bicycles are old foot brake types, which are so easy to ride and are maintained so well that a trip to the little mall for shopping right down the street is simple and quick. Just be careful dismounting - I fell off, but just once! One man asked whether they were coaster brakes and when I told him yes, that was the only kind I could ride, he smiled and said that he could only ride that type bike, too. The tour desk at the Fun Club assisted with some wonderful side trips from outside the club. They included the Dolphin Excursions, which went to visit Flipper - actually three dolphins played him in the last movie. We got to pet a bottle nosed dolphin named Fatman (his associate, Jake, was one of the movie Flippers) and got a kiss from him. It is very commercial, but is exciting and I found myself making a fool of myself talking to Fatman and giving him a big kiss when it was my turn. It was the most expensive of the trips that would appeal to the family ($30 per person, with the swimming encounter even more), but it was worth it. We also went to Coral World, which has an underwater aquarium and a reef tank aquarium. We got to feed sting rays and pet a nurse shark. It is a trip that is a must, even if you only send a post card (40 cents postage to the US and Canada) home from the underwater mailbox. We went to the Ardastra Zoo and Botanical Gardens where we got to see the marching flamingos. They are beautiful birds - and one person gets to stand out with them- like me- and pretend to be a flamingo! After the flamingos finish parading, their trainer brings out a boa constrictor and lets the crowd pet it and a few brave souls wear it before the show is over. The flamingos and their friend Benji, the boa constrictor only do two shows a day. The rest of the tour around the grounds is lovely and you can find uncaged small animals like lizards and frogs if you watch for them on the ground and in the little stream. The tour package included bus service. a t-shirt and a glass of punch, which was a nice bonus after walking around for so long - and pretending to be a flamingo. We had a wonderful time on Paradise Island and the Fun Club made it even better with wonderful people working there and all the privileges we needed. The freedom we had by having an ALL-inclusive package made us enjoy everything we had to pay for even more. The servers were nice and friendly even though they knew there was no tip involved for them.
We were in the BVI during Hurricane Bertha. Thought I would share some of our experience with everyone. We arrived in Tortola 7/3 PM. After putting our gear in our rooms at Maria's By The Sea (nice rooms & staff) we walked to Spaghetti Junction for another wonderful dinner. You must try his seafood dish, Frutti Di Mare with white wine sauce!!! And don't forget the choc. mousse. Next day we provisioned and left the marina just after 1 PM. We sailed down to Bare Ass Bay, Gt. St. James Island across from Cruz Bay. We anchored with two other boats full of friends for the night. Fireworks went off at 9 PM and it was a wonderful show. So glad we did this. May have to make it an annual event. Next morning went in to Cruz Bay and cleared customs. They didn't understand why we didn't come in last night be we told them we didn't get there til 6 PM and thought they would be closed. After a nice lunch at Mongoose Junction we picked up some light provisions and ice and sailed to Jost Van Dyke. We had a birthday girl in our group and had our celebration at Foxy's. It was a great dinner, BBQ ribs, chicken and fish, great band and real fun evening. You should hear happy birthday sung island style. Next morning we sailed to Soper's Hole for water. Some of our group had not sailed with us before and didn't appreciate saving water so we had to refill. We had heard weather reports but it was not clear yet if we would have to return to our marina. We picked up a weather fax at Sunsail and it did not look good. We sailed to the Bight, Norman for the night. Great news!!! They were installing 30 mooring balls. Sure makes that a more comfortable anchorage. We actually were so taken with weather reports, snorkeling, etc. we never made it over to the Willie T just a few hundred feet away. We were unable to get much news and the weather channel would not come in where we were so called Tucson to get an update from the weather channel. We had coordinates and were charting the storms path. Things didn't look good. Our base called at 7:30 Sun AM and said come home. We headed back to Fat Hog's Bay and arrived there by noon. Our base people got us 2 rooms at Tamarind Club. Cannot say enough about these people. They were closed and leaving the island that day until they got so many calls from people needing rooms they opened up and took everyone they could. Even gave their son's room to a couple. Without staff or any outside help this couple prepared the rooms with extra mattresses, made dinner for a full house, had the weather updates on the TV in the bar until the power went out and ran an honor bar where you sign a book for your drinks. They also gave the rooms at a huge discount. We were so grateful and impressed with them. Monday morning came early. Everyone was up and waiting as the winds began to increase. Bertha arrived about 9 AM. We put the mattresses between us and the windows on the side getting the hit. Once we felt safe we ended up sitting in lawn chairs on the balcony outside watching the winds and rain. We had one portable radio and one of our group stayed tuned throughout. We now call her Sparks. We continued to chart Bertha with every update. About 12:15 PM the winds and rain stopped. The sun came out but it was very eerie, so still, and the air was very thick. We realized we were right in the eye of the hurricane. Everyone came down around the pool which was full of all the tables and chairs we threw in last night. We shared info we were able to get by radio. The owners warned not to get too far from your room because the second part of the storm will come very quickly and will be more violent. There were tree branches all over. Many smaller trees were uprooted. But the building was well intact. We made sandwiches in our rooms from the food we brought from the boat along with plenty of liquid refreshment. At 1:30 Bertha came back with a vengeance. We moved the mattresses to the other side of our rooms (two rooms with 4 people each) and settled in. At one point one of our men from the other room walked down the balcony to check on us. Before we could open the door he was blown back down the way like moonwalking. He stayed in his room. We heard more news from St. Thomas than the BVI on the radio. The police were out arresting people who had no sense about being inside. There was a curfew in the USVI. Some surfers were arrested while trying to catch the ultimate wave. Talk about crazy. Bertha had passed just after 5 PM. We went out and walked up the street hoping to see our marina and our boat. No such luck but neighbors were out everywhere cleaning up the roads so cars could pass. We helped clean up at our hotel. There was water, dirt, and leaves everywhere, some minor damage to lattice, etc. One neighbor offered to drive us down to the marina. We were able to get through but had to dodge some trees and power lines downed. We could see the mast on our boat and it looked okay. Further down the road we could see the large boat next to it and all was in the right place. We were still without power but ate dinner in the open air patio thanks to our wonderful hosts. We spent the evening visiting with other guests about our experience. All in all, knowing we were okay everyone seemed quite excited about having this experience. Tuesday morning we ate English muffins and peanut butter in our rooms. We were able to call our base on a cellular phone belonging to one of the guests. Hotel phones were out. We agreed to be at the marina in a couple hours. The base manager had been out to the boats and all looked well but the tide was so low we could not move our boat for a couple hours. At noon we went over by dinghy and started putting things back together and untying everything. We had 7 boats rafted together and all tied bow and stern to the mangrove trees. It seemed to work well. Not one scratch. Once we were back to the dock we had a couple hours of work to clean off the stains from the mangrove leaves. That was the hardest job we had. By 5 PM we were on our way to Cooper Island for the night. They were not serving dinner but we had enough on board to get by and had a very nice evening. Since we had not slept too well through the hurricane we decided to make an easy day. We stayed at Cooper, talked to the dive shop people, made reservations for dinner that night and spent the day snorkeling, reading, walking on the beach, cocktails at sunset and an excellent dinner as usual. Next day we sailed to Spanish Town for a few provisions and water. Then motored past Little Dix and in to Mahoe Bay just up from Savannah Bay. What a beautiful setting. We took much care coming in as there is reef everywhere. The snorkeling was excellent. We walked on the beach and had a great BBQ dinner after sunset. One couple in our group was leaving at noon so we sailed across the channel to Trellis Bay. We had heard they were hit harder. There were 11 boats on the shore, some more damaged than others. We watched one man chop up and burn what was left. We got our friends to the airport and checked in. Computers were down but everything else was working fine. We had hamburgers at De Loose Mongoose, great as always, and bid farewell to our friends. Then over to Marina Cay for the day. The snorkeling was not the best, poor visibility. We walked around Marina Cay and had a very nice dinner at Pussers...a pleasant surprise as last trip it was very disappointing. Again, our greatest respect for everyone in getting things back to normal so quickly. Next day we sailed around the area, snorkeled at a couple favorite places on Guana Island and anchored for the day. The end of our trip was very easy going. Dinner on board again. Next day we sailed down to Road Town for our last day shopping, etc. and back to Fat Hog's Bay for our final stop this trip. After getting our packing started we went to dinner at C&F. What a wonderful meal!! We enjoyed ribs, chicken, conch, shrimp. Everything was excellent. And the key lime pie was out of this world. After checking our bags, etc. at the airport the next morning we headed across the street for lunch at the little restaurant. Half of their room was missing but the burgers were great. Bottom line, it is still paradise. Everything was wonderful as always. No trip is ever long enough.
I have returned from a wonderful trip to the BVI. I stayed on Tortola at the Prospect Reef resort in Road Town. We stayed in the simplest and cheapest of their wide choice of rooms. Reef room which faced the Sir Francis Drake Channel on the 2nd floor. No a/c but never regretted it at all constant cross breezes through screened windows that faced the pool and screened door and windows that faced the channel . Ceiling fan all that was needed. Best of all no a/c at night or even day to drown the beautiful relaxing sound of the sea that lulled us to sleep. Room was simple but very clean, no bugs, maid service daily. The resort has kiddie pools, dive pool, regular pool, tennis courts, pitch and putt golf, hairdresser, laundry facilities, small grocery store, few gift shops, seaside snack bar Seapool Bar and Grill that serves simple sands for lunch, drinks from 11 am to 6pm. Wonderful dining in there restaurant The Scuttlebutt Bar and Grill. They are open for b/l/d excellent homemade soups and nightly dinner specials. Night time dining candlelit on covered open air patio overlooking the harbour, casual dress. Courtesy bus take guests to Cane Garden Bay beach certain days of the week for free need to notify guest services day before and they will sign you up. Leaves at 10 and departs CGB at 3pm. Guest services offers free use of snorkeling gear, clean daily beach towels, beach bags and other items. Very friendly service. Our room was $337 pp for 7 nights. This resort is on the water, no real beach. There are seapools wonderful to snorkel in and great for beginners to learn the techniques. The seapools have small manmade like beaches. Not a bad place to hang out for a day. This resort is a very convenient easy walk (20 minutes) to Road Town which we walked to several times a day to catch ferries, eat, shop. Even walked at night, safe. No real sidewalks so just stay as far off the road as possible. Traveler's check accepted everywhere. Do not use Barclays Bank on Tortola to cash travelers checks they will charge you an unfair amt. No problems using ATM machines, used one at Banco Popular and Chase Manhattan both in Road Town $2.00 service charge debited from my account with each use, no special PIN needed. Cab fares were $15 from airport to Road Town, $15 to Cane Garden Bay , Brewers Bay, Carrot Bay , West End from Road Town. Found the cab drivers to be reliable, they will sort of adopt you for your stay, let them know your needs and they will be there at the right time and place to take or pick you up. Very easy to find cabs in Road Town, especially at the ferry dock. Cabs flock at the ferry docks and are easily found outside of restaurants. Your hotel will call for you or even restaurants will if you need one. The only negatives I have about my trip below; Rhymer's at Cane Garden Bay, Tortola. Read alot about this place couldn't wait to try it out. Girls working there down right unsociable. They gave me the impression that to serve me was not what they wanted to do in the least, no smile, what can i get you, no words exchanged. I observed other workers behavior towards other patrons and saw the same. Never encountered it anywhere else on my trip, but really made me want to take the 2 drinks I ordered and put them you know where and ask for the $4 tip back, which I never heard a thank you for it or saw a kind facial expression. SPEEDY's ferry service. I avoided them completely. Situation being I was going to Vgorda for the day knew I wanted Smith's Ferry service. Guy from Speedy's all but grabbed me to get me to take his supposedly bigger, better boat for the same price. They have a very rude sales tactic. Told him no I was going to use Smiths and he got ticked mumbling about his better equipment. Smith's ferry guy was courteous, not trying to compete with Speedys in the least. First day we went to St. John USVI. Ferry leaves out of West End which is a $15 cab ride from Road Town to WEND. We got some delicious homemade breads/cakes at Zelma's which is right across from the ferry dock. The ferry was $36 p/p Roundtrip to Cruz Bay. Once on Cruz Bay taxis were easy to find waiting at ferry dock to take you anywhere on the island. We chose to go to Trunk Bay. The cab ride was $6 for 2. I heard this place got crowded, it never did. I heard that Friday was a better day and it evidently was. We got there around 930am, the place was ours alone no one there except the park ranger, lifeguard, 2 stray donkeys and concession stand workers. The beach was beautiful. People did not start to show up until around 11ish and I would say there were no more than 15-20 people spread out along the beach and in the water never felt our privacy was invaded. Little snack bar on beach that serves burgers, fries, hotdogs, sodas, chips, beer. Small gift shop and stand that rents snorkeling equipment, lockers, beachchairs. Clean large restrooms there with large free showers. Great for cleaning up at day at beach and changing for some roaming in Cruz Bay. Neat little area with shops, restaurants. Trunk Bay's biggest plus is its underwater snorkeling trail. The beach has a lifeguard who will direct you, the trails is marked by bouys. Underwater you will see signs directing you and showing you pictures of what fish and plant life you will see. Rent a snorkeling vest at the stand for beginners or non swimmers the water is about 15 ft deep. The vests make it wonderful, easy and enjoyable. First time my daughter experienced this. She held my hand at first, but soon let go she loved it. Do not miss a trip to Jost Van Dyke. The ferry leaves out of West End ferry called the When. I heard it got the name because the man who runs it works "when" he feels. We left about a half hour after ferries' scheduled departure, but we got there and he came back for the last pickup at 5pm. It was $15r/t per person and $10r/t per child. The boat will take to Great Harbour, JVD. As soon as you get off of the ferry dock there are signs with arrows pointing you to the different restaurants. You must go to the Bun and Christine Bakery which is right down the short road straight off the ferry dock- 3 min walk. They have got wonderfully delicious baked cakes, breads - you have to go there first because the selections get limited later in the day. You will not be disappointed. There is a water taxi available inquire at Cocco Loccos to the left off the ferry dock which will take you to beautiful, quiet, clear water of White Bay. Water taxi $5. We were not aware of the water taxi until after the fact so we hiked up the very steep mountainous climb just past Rudys. It took us about 20 minutes to get to White Bay which was well worth it. Great cardio workout easier heading back to Great Harbour. We had lunch if that's what you'd call it at Ali Baba's. They were out of almost everything on the menu because they had not gotten their shipment from Tortola yet. We did get wonderful service, drinks only at the Club Paradise. Delicious Pina Coladas and very kind lady at the bar. Clean restrooms here and okay at Ali Baba's. Stay away from the bathroom at Happy Laurry's- stinking and pretty close to outhouse like, writing on the wall says "don't even think about flushing a #1. YUCK!!!! Trip to Virgin Gorda wonderful. Different vegetation on this island, more desert like with lots of cactus. We took trip to Baths. Ferry leaves from Road Town and arrives at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour. We used Smith's Ferry Service. $19 r/t per person no charge for children. Cab cost $4 from VGYH to the Baths dropoff where it is a 350 ft downhill climb among well marked easy to do trail. The site of these large boulders everywhere is unbelievable. You sort of feel like dinosaurs out to pop out somewhere. Beautiful beach with palms, bring lots of film. This was the most crowded beach we encountered on our trip, but saying most crowded really means like 20 or so people spread out over a big area. We found our own spot to snorkel in where no one else came. There is a sign directing you to another beach Devils Bay via a very to say the least challenging trail through caves and rocks through wading knee deep water, up and down man made ladders, pretty fun but not safe for young children and it would be hard to carry them through the whole trail. At the drop of to the Baths is the Top of the Baths Restaurant. Breathtaking views, it is located 350 ft above the Baths. This restaurant was the prettiest I encountered. Great food, reasonable prices, excellent service. Open air dining with small pool on premises that patrons are allowed to use. Another plus I give them the "Cleanest Bathroom Award". I make a big deal out of this but you will know what I mean or you already do from experience. I know there are flights that can take you to Anegada. We went by boat through Dive BVI located at Marina Cay. We had to take a cab from our hotel to the government dock at Trellis Bay (near the airport) $15 cab fare. From there you take a free ferry to Marina Cay where from there you take a fast comfortable boat to Anegada, which I believe is about 20 miles northeast of Virgin Gorda. It is a flat, coral and limestone atoll, not visible by sea until you are about 5 miles from it. For $75 p/p you get transfers to and from Trellis Bay/Marina Cay/Anegada once on Anegada a cab will take you to Loblolly beach where you may snorkel , walk , hang out at the Big Bamboo Beach Bar, or whatever. We snorkeled and walked to Flash of Beauty Beach which was very close. Beautiful, clear water. The capt. of the boat will direct you to the good snorkeling spots. That price also includes cab ride back to the Anegada Reef Hotel where you will have a lobster lunch other menu choices are available, this includes all gratuities. There is a gift shop on the premises, restrooms (clean) and ask to go to the bakery I believe it is Pat's or Pams and she too has excellent homemade goodies. You will have plenty of time to walk there after lunch. The boat ride to and from Anegada is beautiful , you'll see all the different shades of the water unbelievable. To make the trip to Anegada contact Simon at Dive BVI- 809-495-5513, he's wonderful and will give you all the details. The small islet of Marina Cay is worth hiking around and grabbing a drink while waiting for your ferry trip back to Trellis Bay. Lots of tropical plants, cactus and another one of the famous Pussers' Restaurant. Ignore all that you may have heard about how expensive Peter Island is. You can go there for a daytrip and enjoy the whole day there. The ferry departs from Peter Island Ferry Dock which is not an easy walk from Road Town, the cab will cost $3 from Road Town for 2. The ferry is the latest running of all the ferries coming back to Road Town as late as 11pm. The r/t pp price is $15. This is a private island with unbelievable palm covered beaches. They ask that you respect the privacy of the guests by not using their hammocks or lawn furniture. There is another quiet beach just down from Deadman's Bay where we used the beach chairs, no one was around on the beach to use them. Good snorkeling out by the rocks. We wondered where the guests were because with the exception of a few boats anchored offshore we were alone. This is supposedly one of the most romantic beaches in the world. Looked like it for sure. You start out at the dock and sign will direct you where to go . There is a fitness trail you can follow good for photo opportunities up high. You will enjoy the outstanding, almost too formal lunch service you'll receive-remember your beach shorts/shirt or coverup. For $25 p/p cheaper for children you can get a complete lunch pkg. including salad bar w/ homemade pasta salads, cheeses, crackers, homemade breads, fresh fruits, dessert bar with actual homemade desserts and one ala carte item ranging from burgers, grilled chicken sand, grilled fish sand, blt, grilled cheese, etc. including fries. Drinks are not included and gratuity will be added to your bill. Definitely worth it, delicious and very filling. They open at 12:30pm. About the restaurants on Tortola, I can say I was not impressed with the famous Pussers located in several locations throughout the BVI. The prettiest was on Marina Cay, liveliest was at Soper's Hole. The food was not bad just not remarkable enough to rave about. Their pizza I found to be very bland. Spaghetti Junction In Road Town- a deceiving little joint, almost looks on the outside like it couldn't be a good dining place, wrong!!!!! This place has all sorts of salads, pastas, garlic bread different ways and Fettucini Alfredo was the best I have ever eaten. Excellent service, seated promptly, reasonable prices. Not open on Sundays and the place is very small so I would advise making reservations, well worth it. If they have the Creme Brulee order it for dessert you will not be disappointed. Capriccio Di Mare- in Road Town on Waterfront Drive a few doors down from the ferry dock. This is the place to get pizza. Once again good service, pastas, salads, sands, expresso, cappuccino. Try the Tirami Su for dessert, large piece really enough for two to share unless you like your sweets like I do. Paradise Pub in Road Town- if you are looking for French Toast for breakfast this is the place to go - 7am. The order of French Toast with bacon will leave you full all day or be wasted because it was too much for you to eat as in my case. For dinner they have nightly dinner specials, try the stuffed mushrooms in marinara sauce - never had them this way till then, different switch. Service here gets the "BEST SERVICE AWARD AT DINNER " out of all of the places we went to.
We returned from a great sailing-diving trip that started with Tortola Marine Management on 8/5/96. This is the first flight I have taken since the new security measures were put into effect. We departed fm Philadelphia and always carry on our luggage. I thought we would be a target as we carry more electronic stuff than clothing and I'm sure it looks strange to the xray machine. We were searched leaving the US but not entering BVI. The customs agent at the airport in Tortola asked about our food and its value.(that was a first) On to the trip. We had a tough time getting to our dock as it was the first day of carnival. Most of the town was closed and the main drag blocked off due to the parade. After some bobbing and weaving we arrived at TMM. They are always great about checking us out as soon as possible so we can get underway. The wind was honking about 20-25 knots (a mere freshning breeze <G>) for the first few days. Great for sailing but not good for diving viz. We were trying to make Spanishtown in Virgin Gorda to dive the wreck Chickuzen (sp) the following morning. Dive BVI does that dive on Tuesdays only and of course the wind was on our nose so we bailed for Cooper Island and bagged the wreck dive and hit Alice's Wonderland for what was our best dive. Viz was fair, but the sealife was outrageous. The largest lobster & French angelfish I have ever seen.(certified in '78) and of course my camera jammed. ugh! I still don't know if that dive seemed so good because it was the first in months, or it was actually that good. So we hit it again later in the trip and it was the site. Our second dive was the Step in the same area as Alice's. It was good not great. We then made for North Sound with a stop at Leverick, filled our tanks and moved on to Bitter End. I was amazed at the amount of traffic for this time of year. Had a cocktail at BEYC and departed for Anegada in the AM. What a sail. A beam reach at 20+knots...I am still grinning. Got to Anegada and as we looked around we did some touring and decided to head to cockroach at the dogs for the days first dive. Again the viz (or lack of it) made what could have been a great dive only fair. Moved on to George Dog for our second dive. Better viz not alot of sealife. Left for Marina Cay. Next to White bay on Jost Van Dyke, Marina Cay is a favorite stop. It was here we learned that Fritz Seyarth (sp) a local author and legend had died in his sleep. He will be truly missed. We drank many to his memory. Up and at em early for Alice's again the next day. It was as good as the first dive. #1 on the dive list. From this point on it gets a little foggy. I remember dropping the hook in the Bight at Norman Island and making it over to the William Thornton From that point on, well, they have this water ski hanging from the ceiling with glasses velcroed to it and you line up and do group shots...get the picture. What a great place to yuk it up and meet people. Oh...I heard they have food there too. Called for a lay day the next day and just took our time enroute to Jost, White Bay. Had a nice visit logged time in the hammock and moved over to Great Harbour for the night. Returned to White Bay the next day for some more quiet. There is now a road from great harbour to white bay and I don't think that little piece of paradise will ever be the same. As one of the locals put it. I don't know if I want to hear a car horn honking while I am in my home. I have never heard one and I don't want it to start now." I never thought of it that way but he's got a point. Anyway off for our last dive at the Indians and then over to West end for our final day. All in all it was great to be back in the land of fun and sun...(you know the rest) There was very little noticeable damage from Bertha. I only hope they are spared the wrath of storms that they had last year. Living in a coastal tourist community, I know the fear of Hurricane season.
BONAIRE DIVE TRIP At long last I take keyboard in hand and offer my review of life in the slow lane on Bonaire. I'm going to throw in prices that are current in 1995, but are obviously subject to change. Prices at island shops are often quoted in US dollars, sometimes in Guilders. If it has the dollar sign, it's US. Guilder prices usually have "NAF" next to them. Either dollars or Guilders are accepted, and most stores have calculators by the cash registers to figure the 1.77 exchange rate (1.77 Guilder to 1 US dollar). Credit cards were frequently not accepted unless the total was over $20, and the prices were always listed as US on the credit card slips. Unlike most dive travelers, we decided not to take a "package" trip, mainly because we had two novices (just got certified the week before we left), one not-too-interested diver, and myself. I figured if everyone else was nice enough to take my suggestion of Bonaire as a vacation spot, I had better not push diving too hard. We arranged to stay in a townhouse just south of the main town of Kralendijk, and then see what kind of deal we could get on renting tanks and weights from one of the shops in town. I am happy to report that a 6 day "unlimited shore diving" package ranges from $79 to $95, depending on where you decide to rent. Before you jump at that $79 deal, be aware that you are assigned one tank, and you bring it back to the shop after every dive to get refilled. Since the island is only 28 miles long, it's never a terribly long trip, but it could be a pain if you wanted to night dive and dive early the next morning, too. (Something we frequently did.) We chose Bon Bini Divers as our gear supplier. The people were very friendly and informative, and our neighbor at the resort got us a 10% discount on the rental. You are required to "sign out" all tanks you take, but you can take as many as you can carry in your vehicle. There are also packages which include boat dives ($205 for 6 boat dives plus unlimited shore diving, $300 for 11 boat dives plus unlimited shore diving). If you are shore diving rather than boat diving, you need a mode of transport. We rented a "minivan" from AB Rentals for $176 for a week. When we looked at the price of boat diving, we found that the cost of one boat dive for the four of us would just about pay the van rental. It meant no dives on Klein Bonaire, but you take the bad with the good. (We later noticed the dive kayaks at Bon Bini Divers which could be used to get to Klein, and found that the water taxi to Klein cost only $11, so we could have gotten there.) It is also worth noting that many of the boat trips were to the south part of the island, an area where shore entries are very easy. Why pay $30- 40 to take a boat to the same place you can drive to? At almost every dive site we went to during our stay there a dive boat was either just leaving as we arrived, or just arriving as we were leaving. If you feel the desire to do some underwater photography or videography, but forgot to bring your camera, no problem. Sunset Beach and Sand Dollar both rent cameras and camcorders for $30-$60 per day. They also do the loading and reloading, so you don't have to worry about flooding their equipment. Finding dive sites is easy. Each site has two yellow rocks with the name of the dive site at the entrance to the parking area. There is also a yellow mooring buoy for the dive boats. None of the buoys are more than 150 yards offshore, so swimming out to the areas frequented by the dive boats is a piece of cake. Most of the buoys are in 15-20 feet of water, just at the edge of the flats before the reef drops down. Picking a dive site was made more interesting by checking out our guide books. We checked both "Diving Bonaire", and an out of print book called "Guide to Bonaire Marine Park." The out of print book is by far the better - if you can find it in a used bookstore, it's worth getting. I am now scouring old bookstores to find a copy. We would pick the depth, terrain, and types of marine life we wanted to see then head out for the place the guidebooks indicated was best for our needs. All of southern Bonaire is fronted by a double reef. The flats from the shore go out about 100 yards or so, then drop down to 50-130 feet to a sand channel, then the outer reef rises to within 20-30 feet of the surface, only to drop again to 600+ feet. The further South you go, the shallower the sand channel, so you can easily choose a comfortable depth. The adventurous can go over the outer reef to get all of the depth they can handle. The marine life varies from location to location. One site, for instance, was loaded with garden eels, while other sites that looked similar in terrain had none. Some sites have various type of black coral, others have none. Basket stars are abundant at one site, but relatively rare elsewhere. It is almost as though the park had been planned so you would have to check it all out. Favorite sites for us were "Angel City", "Salt City", and "Invisibles". All are part of what is called the "Alice-in- Wonderland" complex, so named for its bizarre coralscapes. It looks very much like a fairyland, or Munchkin Land, maybe even Hobbiton. We dove Angel City several times for video and still photography. The coral scenes were fantastic, and the variety of fish life made it easy to pick subjects. The "Hilma Hooker" is the resident wreck. It is a fairly large ship, but has only been underwater for about 10 years. It has the requisite groupers hanging around, but is only beginning to become a coral garden. Wire corals are common on it, but not many others. The Hooker lies on her starboard side, bow facing south. She was scuttled to land in the sand channel between the inner and outer reefs. The three mooring buoys hooked to her port rail mark the bow, amidships, and stern. The only thing which kept the ship from turning turtle was the presence of her masts. These act as props to keep the ship on its side, rather than upside down, but the deck is tilted wildly. When you sit on the sand at 95 feet and look up at the ship, it is easy to imagine that she is going to topple over on you. Too easy. Since the four of us were non-wreck types, we opted for a look at the reef after a quick look at the Hooker. The reef here is wonderful, particularly the outer reef. There is almost no diver pressure on it because everyone is attracted to the ship rather than the reef. Don't expect a lot of excitement and nightlife in Kralendijk. The town is about three blocks long and two blocks deep. The major stores are gift shops for tourists, with a grocery store and a couple of banks thrown in to round things out. There is a casino at the Divi Flamingo, perhaps the smallest casino in the world. It has two blackjack tables, one roulette table, and about two dozen slot machines. I suspect that the dive resorts are the hot spots for "fun- loving" Americans. We dubbed the Sunset Beach "Hangover Central", since when we went to the dive shop the most frequent question we heard people ask each other was "How's your head this morning?" We went to a few of the free slide shows which are presented by the resorts. Our favorite was Dee Scarr's presentation at Captain Don's. It was 45 minutes of excellent photos with informative and interesting commentary. For a bit of fun Dee has a set of slides "choreographed" to "Rock and Roll Reef". All of the slide shows we saw were great, and easily the best value on the island. Expect to see the presenters in your travels about the island. We ran into Dee Scarr several times, and most of the other presenters at least once. It's a small island with a very small area of it frequented by tourists. The park at the northern end of the island is worth a full day to visit. Plan on spending your non-dive day up there. It is loaded with various birds and lizards, not to mention wild burros and goats. The landscape is beautiful, but definitely desert. You are surrounded by huge cactus and parched dirt, yet in the midst of this is an enormous lake full of flamingos. Additionally there are various site of "Indian Inscriptions", the petroglyphs etched into the coral caves by early inhabitants of the island. One of our favorite relaxation spots was Pink Beach, near the slave huts. The beach is fine sand which has a pinkish cast to it, and was all but deserted every time we went there. On the quarter mile of beach there were only fifteen to twenty people, even on a Sunday afternoon. Of course the natives think that the 85 degree air temperature and 80 degree water temperature in February are too cold for beach-going, so things may be different in the Summer. Those looking for more active pastimes can head over to Lac Bay on the windward side of the island and check out Jibe City. Lac Bay is a very large, shallow bay (average 3 feet) and is an excellent place to learn to windsurf, or to polish up your jibing skills if you are an old hand at the sport. The wind is fairly constant, and they considered the 15-20 mph wind that was blowing the day we were there to be "dead". Rental rates are $20 for 1 hour, $30 for two, $50 for all day, and $250 for a week. For your money you get to try as many different boards and sails as you want, and if you want to share the time with a friend or two, that's OK, too. We rented one board for four of us and took turns. A nice feature of Jibe City is the ability to buy food and refreshment there, or bring your own. The bar tender spent much of the day opening beer that people had brought from town, rather than selling them beer from his bar. Food in Bonaire is fairly expensive. We found that lunch was affordable ($6.25 for a Burger or Fish Sandwich and Fries at the Green Parrot) but dinner seemed to start at $17 and go up. To be fair, we didn't look around for cheap places to eat since we had a place to cook. The least expensive place we saw was the cafe at the airport. Fish sandwiches went for $4.00 there, and weren't too bad. Expect the odd wild burro or two to wander across the road any time you are out and about on Bonaire. They have little fear of vehicles, and have no respect for private property. We were serenaded several mornings by a burro in the parking lot of our resort. We were almost victims in a minivan/burro accident on our way home from Dee Scarr's show. Fortunately the brakes in the van were excellent and both burros and minivan left unharmed. Burros have no running lights, so they are hard to see at night. As a final note, we felt our accommodations were great and reasonably priced. Our townhouse was fifty feet from the water on a sand beach. It was a two bedroom place with three full bathrooms. It also had a full kitchen, which radically cut down eating costs. The place rents out for $115 - $140 per night depending upon the season. Since there were two couples involved, our rental worked out to $65 per night (after the Bonaire bed tax) per couple, less than a "reasonable" hotel in the States. Of course we needed a car to get around, and couldn't walk to the dive shop to get our tanks like you can at the dive resorts, but we managed. (Minivans easily hold 8 tanks, dive gear, and four adults). I might add that as a result of this trip the not-too-interested diver is now an interested diver, and the two novices (who only came to Bonaire for the windsurfing) are now madly buying gear so they don't have to rent it on their next dive trip.
Our last trip to Cancun was in 1985 and by comparison I can tell you that this sleepy little tourist destination on the Yucatan Peninsula has evolved into a world class Caribbean Resort. Personally we enjoy something a little more secluded and not so well known. However, the Mexican government has done a wonderful job of creating a sunny destination for singles, couples and families with kids of all ages (ours are 2 and 4). The first thing we noticed was that the airport has been modernized considerably. Air conditioning in spots (specifically the boarding/departing gates). No more stairs existing/entering the airplane and then a long walk across the tarmac. They have those "hall ways" that come out to meet the plane now. And as for the ever alluring meeting with the customs official, well he was quite pleasant! We rented from Budget and as expected there was the normal 3rd world country wait for our car. The wait, however, was quite shorter then our last visit (and much, much shorter then most other places in the Caribbean). AND, the car was washed inside and out and in good working order! A marked improvement from our 1985 visit (I don't even think Budget, Hertz or Avis had agencies in Cancun then?). After checking into our room at the Plaza Los Glorias we headed for the pool for a refreshing dip and cold margarita. The sun was already slipping behind the horizon and after enjoying a splendid sunset with palm trees swaying in the cool ocean breeze we retired early to our room so that we could get a fresh start the next morning. We spent our first full day surveying the new hotels that have sprung up over the last 11 years. Each one bigger and more grandiose than the one before. Our favorite was the Omni with the Westin (right down the beach from Club Med) running a close second. After splashing and dipping in several of the mega resort pools we had an early dinner (late lunch) at Captain's Cove that was enjoyably tasteful! Nice patio seating too with an entrancing view of the lagoon. About midweek we got a late start up the Cancun/Tulum corridor arriving as far south as Captian Lafitte's. This little hotel (currently little but already in the expansion mode) is a short dirt road drive off of Hwy. 307 (which is being turned into 4 lanes, it is currently only 2). One does not have to have great intelligence to figure out that what has happen to Cancun will surely happen to the rest of the Cancun/Tulum corridor in the not to distant future. Our afternoon at Captian Laffitte's was spent in the small (but adequate) pool and walking along the great expanse of beach on which it fronts. We could have spent the whole week here. The lunch we had at about 3:30pm (even though they are suppose to quit serving at 3:00pm) was delectable and abundant. The grounds at Captian Lafitte's were impeccably maintained with a great amount of attention given to detail. Children's play area, TV room (if you "need" it), recreation room with pool tables and ping pong, etc. Check this place out soon before it to is discovered by the masses. Just about no vacation to Cancun is complete without a trip to the alluring pyramid and structures of Chichen Itza. In order to avoid the tour bus crowds we arrived in Chichen Itza around 2:00pm and checked into the Mayaland Hotel. The top of El Castillo (the castle) can be seen from the road in front of the Mayaland Hotel, and what a mystical site it is. We made arrangements for the Light & Sound Show later that evening. In the meantime we made a visit to the pool for snacks and drinks. While there we were surprised with a cooling summer down pour (complete with thunder in the distance), refreshing to say the least. Fortunately the rain subsided and we were off to the ruins of Chichen Itza later that evening for the dramatic Light & Sound Show. Although not quite the presentation we had expected it was still worth the small admission price paid given the history and facts provided in the narrative portion of the show. The following morning we spent exploring the many ruins of Chichen Itza. Using the knowledge obtained from last night's show made it even more interesting. A climb up the outside of El Castillo for its panoramic vistas should not be missed. The 62 step climb up the confined interior of El Castillo to the awaiting jaguar is another story. To many people in to close quarters for my tastes. Extreme heat and humidity added to an uncomfortable experience (at least I can say I did it, for whatever that is worth?). And lastly, if you haven't heard of the newest craze to hit Cancun by now you will within minutes of disembarking from your airplane. The Disneyland type amusement park known as Xcaret. Again, I'm not one that enjoys crowds but, we had to go see what this Xcaret thing was all about. I say Disneyland "type" because of the way things are maintained and handle at the park. Constantly cleaned with full service and attention given to the visitors/patrons. It's not really an amusement park purse' but more of a fantasy island with zoo, shows, Mayan village, ruins, underground snorkeling, and a beach/lagoon area that (if not for the sheer numbers of people) would be quite romantic. Now that I've been Xcaret I don't know that I would feel the need to return. However, if you're in Cancun a FULL day trip to Xcaret should be included in your itinerary. This Trip Report is in no way intended to be all inclusive. Cancun is now a place with so much to see and do that it would be difficult to provide a single report covering it all. If you plan to go Cancun one small warning still rings true when visiting Mexico - don't drink the water! Other than that, enjoy your stay Cancun and when you return share your experiences with the rest of us.
My family just returned from a week at the Westin. While Bertha blew through the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas, life was grand in GCM. We only had a brief thunderstorm one day at lunch. Food- it was expensive! For breakfast, we stayed at the hotel using discount coupons. For lunch, we hit the fast food several times and also adopted a strategy of eating at a fancier restaurant at lunch and picking up something small for dinner. Restaurants: Eat's (not as cheap as expected, so-so food), Ferdinands (at the hotel, expensive even at the casual hotel restaurant), Whitehall Bay (good seafood and nice view), The Lighthouse (good seafood, good view) and The Almond Tree (casual patio dining, good conch fritters). Activities: We hung out at the hotel quite a bit. The pool and beach are OK. We snorkeled at Cemetary Reef and Governor's Reef and really liked Cemetary. We went on a 1/2 day trip with Capt. Marvin and had a lot of fun with the stingrays. We hit the turtle farm (educational) and took a trip on the Atlantis submarine. We went over to the Holiday Inn and listened to Barefoot. Stingray Beer: I have never seen anything on the board regarding this GCM microbrew. It was quite good and a bargain at $7 CM per six pack. We visited the brewery and brought home a tee shirt. Reflections: A car is a must. Our mid-size from Andy's was small but served the purpose. The Westin was very nice. However, the island view rooms look over the front parking lot. Go for the partial ocean view. Stingray City (sandbar) is a must. If you don't dive, take a snorleling trip there. I recommend Captain Marvin. Book direct, pay cash and use the 20% discount coupon in the tourist book.Barefoot was fun. Buy his CDs direct during the show.
Just back from first trip to GCo. First impressions: I am now a believer. Thought maybe many of the comments concerning how expensive it was were a little inflated as we have found most if not all "islands" to be expensive vacation destinations. Wrong! It is the most expensive we have found-by far! We had a car for our entire stay and explored the island extensively. It seems the whole island is "for sale". Have never seen so many real estate signs. We stayed out on the northside having rented a beach front house and it was lovely. Quiet, serene, light, bright a and airy-just a delightful place. The downside was that restaurants out that way are few and far between so we ate in a lot. We tried the Edge in Boddentown and the food was good but the service was extremely slow. We had a good dinner at the Lighthouse so we went back again and it was not as good. We found the service there is efficient but cool and aloof. Just under $100.00 American both trips including gratuity. We had lunch 3 or 4 times at the Lone Star. Their Ranch Burger is great!--and it is a fun place. Also had lunch at the Hog Sty Cafe overlooking the harbor and that was a good time. The snorkeling-which -for me- is the main reason to go to the islands- was disappointing. I have always heard about the clear water in the Caym part. We took 3 boat trips-more about that later-and on two of them the water was clear and the snorkeling at the Coral Gardens(which I don't think is a great snorkeling spot-but it is good for the operators as it is close to Sting Ray City and the Barrier Reef so they don't have to go far from one to the other). The reef was a great snorkel-too short. Sting ray city was both interesting and fun We bought a "Snorkeling and Diving Site Map" for $4 bucks to help locate the sites recommended here on the board and we hit most of them. Eden Rock-Grotto area, Cemetary reef, Parrots Landing, Smith's Cove were just some of the spots we hit and all were good spots but the water simply was not clear when we were there so it was not as enjoyable as it could have been. Interestingly some of the best water Clarity we encountered was the day we snorkeled the very shallow reef close to the beach across from the Indies House or whatever it is called. We rented a car from Mc Curleys Tours North Side. BA for Beth Ann is Mrs. Mc Curley and she picked us up from the air port, stopped for groceries and wine and took us to our house where she had our rental car waiting. Gave us a wealth of info on the way to the house. Then she picked us up and took us to the airport-all for the fee of $225.00 per week American. They run tours and Taxi's and BA is the only American who works on the island and is allowed to pick up at the airport. She is married to an islander. Anyway, I recommend them highly. We went shopping for the usual tourist-souvenir stuff and didn't find any big bargains. It is fun to go downtown when the Cruise Ships are in just to watch people-certainly not to shop. These folks have to wait in line to get on the tenders to come to shore, wait in line to get off the tenders, wait in line even to get in to some of the shops as there are so many people disgorged at once. Sometimes they seem to be turning in circles and I was told by one "Cruiser" that they do not have much time ashore. Then they have to "que"? and wait in line to catch the tender back to the ship. It sure looks like a lot of fun. I mentioned earlier that we took 3 boat trips. 1 was good, 1 was great, and one was a disaster. Will do another session later and let you know which one to avoid at all costs. One place we enjoyed during our shopping expeditions was Cathy Church's Photo Gallery. Her underwater photography is exciting. Marie and I have been doing "Islands" since the early 60's when we fell in love with them on our first trip. We have been to Nassau and Freeport many times but not recently. We have been to many of the Bahamas out islands and prefer that atmosphere now. We have also been privileged to visit the American Virgins, The British Virgins, and Puerto Rico- all on a number of occasions. In addition we have enjoyed Martinique, Barbados, and Anguilla among others. As you have probably gathered we are getting a little bit old-even though we don't feel so- particularly mentally. . So what's happening on the quiet northside of the island? To tell the truth-as we see it-not a lot. There is the "Kaibo"-a small outdoor restaurant located next to a public beach and dock. OK for lunch but not really much to see and we think that "Rum Point" would be a much better choice. The operation serves dinner but we did not consider it an option as the seating arrangements are less than comfortable. A lot of the boat operators put in for lunch at this spot under the arrangement that the tour guests may use the "Kaibo's" picnic tables in exchange for buying their drinks from the restaurant. Taking your own sodas or beer is not allowed. A can of Pepsi is $2.50 American. Mudslides are $8.00 American Sorry to say we just can't say much about the "Kaibo" as a place to visit. Unfortunately the same holds true for the Cayman Kai Resort. I know it is off season but the place is dying. We stopped by at lunch time a couple days and one day there was one couple having lunch and the next time there was nobody. I did some snooping and was told that the "Hyatt" is looking at the property. For now-forget it-in our opinion. We found "Rum Pointe" the place to go on the north side. We had not been there prior to the "Hyatt" regime so have no basis for comparison but the food was good for lunch, the site is nice, and I would think it would be a neat day trip on the ferry from Georgetown for those who are staying in town. There is swimming, snorkeling, a water sports desk where you can book trips to snorkel etc, hammocks big enough for two and comfortable, and not to be missed-"Rum Pointe Thomas" the resident cat who seems to preside over everything when he is not sleeping. They also have a nice gift shop and good rest room facilities. There is also a new pricey gourmet restaurant which looks very nice- it opens at 5 PM when the snack shop on the beach closes. However we did not try it as it is almost exclusively sea food which Unfortunately I am allergic to all kinds. Entrees are $20 Cayman and up and do not include a salad. Having been advised by fellow travelers to try a mudslid or 2-we did. The first and worst was at the Paradise bar and cafe on the water downtown. $6.95 Cayman and it was not very good!! Don't!!!! Things got better from there, however. We had several at the Lone Star $6.00 Cayman and they were very good. We had one at the Bayview Restaurant on the 2nd floor overlooking the harbor and it was very good. $6.95 Cayman. The best one we had was at the "Cracked Conch" next to the Turtle Farm where they use Chocolate Chip Ice cream in the mix-it was great!!! Had a great price, too--$8.00 Cayman--$10.00 American for one drink and not including gratuity. Wow! So we took 3 boat trips and observed several other operators from close distance. It seems they all go to the same places-Coral Gardens, Barrier Reef, and Sting Ray Sandbar. Of the three we took "Soto Cruises" won hands down. No contest. They have a great boat- "Sea Hunt" and it is big and comfortable and the crew pleasant and helpful. The other operator we went with and would recommend is Frank's. Same trip- smaller boat but not overcrowded and they served rum punch on the leisurely trip back in. The third--Bayside Watersports-operating out of Morgan's Harbour Marina and Fall's Shopping Center-Avoid! Avoid! Avoid. I was told on the phone that they offered a fullday with lunch from 9AM-3PM. They had us back and off the boat at 2:15 after a run at full throttle from the final snorkeling site-the best one-the reef-where they allowed only 25 minutes. They also said on the phone the do not overcrowd their boats. They had 29 of us on a 33 ft boat and I can tell you it was way overcrowded. Way overcrowded. They also said on the phone that their crew was one of the best and devoted their day to making sure the guests had a great time. That was the biggest crock. The Captain- whom some of us nicknamed "Captain Luv" had his girlfriend, another gal and her mother(I think) and they had one big party all day- monopolizing the best spots on the boat-while the guests were left to fend for themselves. Capt. Luv seldom left his honey and I think he had big plans for the afternoon which is probably why we had short snorkels and got back early. I could go on and on about how poorly this trip was run but and will answer any inquiries. Avoid Bayside Watersports and don't believe anything they tell you on the phone. They feature large boats in their ads and took us out on the smallest boat they had-the "Reel Hooker" or something like that. It was the lowpoint of our trip. Of the other operations we observed, would stay away from "Cayman Delight Cruises". It looked like a cattle car every time we saw their boat. Capt. Marvin appeared to have a great crew but their boat was very crowded all three times we saw them on the water. We have been traveling the Islands since the early 60's and love them. We enjoyed our trip to GC but will probably not return. We feel there are better values elsewhere. Prices were not just expensive but border on the outrageous. We stayed on the North Side so had limited choices for restaurants and no night life and that was our choice. We would probably stay closer to town if we did it again. We just don't feel high rises, heavy traffic, etc. do much to give a tropical isle flavor. Not knocking, mind you, it is just not our thing.
Well folks we just got back from our family vacation on grand Cayman island and we had a GREAT time. it is now my favorite place anywhere (including Hawaii). 1. Hyatt Regency--It was great, although as several people mentioned, not on the beach. We stayed at the villas which were about a 5 minutes walk and about a 1 minute ride (Hyatt folks were always very willing and prompt to come pick us to take us, but by the end of the week, we hadn't gotten used to enjoying the walk--even our 10, 7 and 5 yr. old kids ). Only drawbacks at Hyatt were: (a) VERY expensive, and (b) although the concierge said the camp Hyatt menu for kids was available everywhere, it was NOT available at Hemingways or at pools (at pools you could get it, but you had to order through room service- -very much of a hassle)(other food at Hyatt didn't thrill the kids). we had a kitchen in our villa, went to the grocery store by Benjamin's on the roof (reasonably priced) and cooked breakfast for the kids rather than the room service. 2. Prices--a little offensive at times (e.g. underwater cameras priced at $8 in the US were $30US in Cayman shops. to the extent you could, buy everything you could anticipate needing in US. 3. Red Sail Sports--We took several trips on these 65 foot catamarans (a half-day snorkeling trip to various spots, a half-day trip to Sting Ray City, and a resort dive course where you don't have to be certified but get morning instruction and then go on 40 ft. dive in the afternoon). Red Sail folks were fabulous, all very nice and knowledgeable. on each trip, they had photographer shooting video so that you could buy a tape of your trip above and below water. a little expensive, but one of those things if you don't buy, you will have wished you did when you get back home. we only bought a video of the sting ray city trip, but when we got back home, called and bought the other video of the resort dive. Bridgett was one of the photographers: she was very pretty, extremely nice and talented, and you should ask for her . We also used Red Sea to go water-skiing and on a banana boat ride. in summary, right there on the Hyatt beach couldn't have been more convenient, and they were great folks. 4. Submarine Ride--We went on the 100 ft. odyssey trip. expensive for the first trip ($82US for adults and $41US for children). they offer you a $30/$15 price if you take a second trip, which is more reasonable, but you really only need to do this once. for those worried about claustrophobia-- not a problem. the folks at Atlantis taking the money are kinda rude, but the people on the sub are great. definitely worth doing once, but that's about it. 5. Restaurants--The Wharf--good food (we took our kids; they ate the chicken), they have 9pm tarpon feeding where they let the kids take the days food scraps and feed them to these 50lb tarpons who anticipate their nightly meal with relish , feeding only lasts about 5 minutes, but kids enjoy it . Benjamins on the Roof--food was kinda heavy, but the piano player was FABULOUS (one of the best I've ever listened to, you should definitely buy one of his tapes and no, i am not his agent ). Lantanas--best food on the island that we found. we went to Lantanas sans kids (they went to camp Hyatt and loved their time with another girl named Bridgett --from NY and the kids loved her); if you go to Lantanas-save room for the souffles for dessert-my wife had the chocolate and i had the fat-free raspberry (which, after tasting my wife's chocolate, as delicious as that was, i believe was superior to the chocolate). really a great restaurant whose food rivaled those of the best that we have in Houston (including Tony's and cafe Annie); kinda expensive--dinner for 2: $140US with drinks . Lone Star: very average, kids liked but don't expect a lot. 6. Miniature Golf near the Hyatt: we did this twice, the kids loved it, its a pretty nice little miniature golf layout, and well- maintained. again, kinda expensive ($10CI for adults/$5CI for children--oh yeah, the conversion rate for those that don't know is $1US = $.80CI).
We stayed three nights on Cozumel at El Presidente and then stayed four nights on the Mexican mainland about 15 miles south of Playa Del Carmen at Robinson Club Tulum. I don't wish to be redundant with respect to the already existing reports, however there are a few items I would like to cover: GETTING THERE We flew US Air from Cincinnati through Charlotte. It was a good flight, not too crowded and took about 2.5 hours from Charlotte to Cancun. We used a special fare that required a certificate from Kroger's supermarket and paid $299 each. In case the reader is interested, the fare is available until August 31, 1996 for travel until December 15, 1996. We are using the same coupon to go to St. Martin in November (also $299 each, round trip). We got a cab to Playa Del Carmen from the airport for $50 for the five of us. Too high, but better than the $70 fare originally quoted (they will bargain). Took the ferry from PDC to Cozumel. El Presidente was an outstanding hotel. The grounds were beautiful and our room was very large (about 15 ft. by 22 ft.) The beach area was much larger than it appears on their brochure. Snorkeling off the beach was great and constituted the next best snorkeling to Chankanaab Park (five minutes south by cab). As stated in many previous reports, the locals are very kind and considerate people. We found a cab driver that we liked and used him almost exclusively. The first night we ate at Pepe's Grill which has a great view of the water- front. I had their chateaubriand with bernaise sauce for $13 US. The food was very good and the bill for three of us was under $50 US. The next night our driver recommended a fish place that he billed as the best restaurant on the island, but he further advised that it was not a place frequented by tourists - only locals. He pronounced it 'Papaya El Marino'. As we arrived I noticed a sign with a picture of Popeye the Sailor and Olive Oil and realized that I had misinterpreted his pronunciation of the name. After looking again at the English spelling 'Popeye' and considering the Spanish pronunciation of vowels, I realized my error. In any event, we were seated at a table and a menu was offered. We were the only customers there and none of the staff spoke English. We managed, by butchering the Spanish language, to order dinner. The fish was outstanding and the price turned out to be about $4 US each. The best place we ate during our stay on Cozumel was Pizza Rolandi on the main street facing the harbor, about 2 blocks north of Carlos and Charlie's. It is not only a pizza place, they have great steaks. The bill for the three of us was about $45 US. The dining room is an open air courtyard with candles and tablecloths. Not at all what I expected. Snorkeling at Chankanaab was outstanding. We got there early before the crowd arrived and had a great time. The visibility was probably over 100 feet. Around noon the crowds arrived. A couple of ladies doffed their tops but were quickly told by the staff that topless bathing is not allowed. In contrast, topless bathing was the rule, rather than the exception at Robinson Club Tulum, which was inhabited primarily by Europeans. I have always admired the European casualness about topless beach attire. Were I a woman, I would probably go topless too. El Presidente was clearly the best hotel on the island and I would return there if I went back to Cozumel. It was a little pricey but it was outstanding in every way. We went to La Ceiba to snorkel because my son wanted to see the airplane underwater. Not much to it, certainly not worth the effort. The snorkeling at El Presidente was much better. After three nights we packed up and went to Robinson Club Tulum, taking the ferry across the channel and a vehicle about 15 miles south of Playa Del Carmen. Robinson Club Tulum occupies about 20 acres on the Caribbean and has a great beachfront with occasional fenced-off turtle nesting grounds. The beach is about 50 yards wide, with the first 30 yards being moderately shaded by palm trees. There is a beach bar and restaurant that is occasionally used for evening meals. We found the food at RCT to be very good. There was plenty of wine with dinner and there were about 10-12 different food 'stations' for salads, entrees, desserts and etc. Tables are arranged with eight at a table and generally you are seated with other guests, which was interesting since we were one of the few who spoke English. The crowd appeared to be overwhelmingly German. One thing we learned was that most of the Germans we talked to wished they would put the Berlin Wall back up. Apparently they are being heavily taxed in order to subsidize East Germany. I was struck by the notion that the tax is basically a cost attributable to World War II and it is, moreover, an inter-generational tax not unlike our current Social Security morass. RCT is apparently owned and managed by Germans. It operates with classic German efficiency. For example, at 10 AM and 4 PM the staff congregates on the pool deck with a wireless microphone to explain the days activities. I noticed that this event took place at exactly 10:00, not 9:59 or 10:01. You could set your watch by it. The rooms are small but efficiently organized. In each wing there is a washer and dryer for the guests' use. We went to the ruins at Tulum and went snorkeling at Xel-Ha. We arrived at Tulum early and were impressed by the ruins. It is worth the trip. Xel-Ha was unimpressive. The water was murky and there were very few fish. The snorkeling at Cozumel was 1000 percent better. I would not waste my time again on Xel-Ha. RCT also had a short driving range (about 100 yards long) and rented golf balls for about $4 for 25. Too high, considering that you were required to hit off plastic mats. They had a PGA pro who ran the range and the 'golf program'. The golf program consisted of a free session on the range for beginning golfers on Friday evenings. The pro is from Scotland and his name is Mark James. He is a very good pro and conducted the best 15 minute introduction to the game I have ever seen. My son and I are pretty experienced golfers and were bored by the presentation, but we knew that was going to happen going in. Mark the pro still picked up a swing flaw that I have that is very hard to detect and offered a cure. I was impressed. He obviously is a very good teacher. Apparently he also gives private lessons to guests. The range balls were not included in the 'all- inclusive' price. Also not included were many of the watersports. In order to windsurf, you were required to either carry some sort of windsurfing competency card or prove your competency to the staff. In the event you were incompetent to operate the windsurfer, you were required to take a class which cost about $100. Scuba was also not included in the price. It was about $100 for a short course. We paid $1400 for 3 of us for 4 nights. I thought the price was fairly reasonable even considering that which was not included. El Presidente had a special of $300 for two rooms (first room at $200 and the extra room for half-price or something like that). Since there were five of us it worked out pretty well. Were I to return to that part of Mexico I would probably only go to Cozumel. The Tulum area is nice but you are pretty much stuck at whatever hotel you happen to be staying. At Cozumel downtown is never very far away and is always interesting. I guess I like a little activity. We chose our hotels on the basis of reports filed on Compuserve. We found them to be very accurate and hope that this report is as useful as the ones before it.
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