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Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Trip 7/98 My wife Peg and I recently returned from a 1-week stay at La Cabana. Not really much to report. It seems that the more we go to Aruba, the less we do. It's either that we finally reached a comfort zone or we are getting older, hopefully it's a combination of both. Our week started out very badly. Peg's luggage was damaged upon arrival in Aruba. I reported it to AA and was told to leave it with the bellman at LaCabana and AA would pick it up for repairs the next day. That sounded good so we went off to La Cabana only to find that they gave our unit away. Don't ask me how as all we were told was some nonsense about someone refusing to check out. The bottom line was that we were put in a 2 bedroom, 2 bath suite for the week and our luggage was repaired (only to be damaged again on the return trip). Although we were happy with the room, it did cause some problems as our son and his friend were due to check in our unit the following Sunday and we agreed to leave a lot of stuff there for them, including snorkeling gear. La Cabana will hear from me very shortly about this hassle. Getting back to our vacation, the weather for 3 days was sort of cloudy by Aruba standards. We had a brief but heavy rain storm on Weds and after that the sun came out full time. As far as restaurants go, we had a great meal at the Tuscony Room in the Marriott. We have been going there ever since it opened and have never been disappointed. This was probably our second best meal as we went to Le Dome. We both had the filet and can not remember if we have ever had a finer piece of beef. Another interesting meal was had at the Weds festival outside the Hyatt. About 8 restaurants had tents there and for $3 to $6 you could have a pretty good meal along with some fine entertainment. As usual we spent every night in the casinos, mainly the Royal Cabana or the Marriott. I was about even up until Saturday went I lost, but not too much. Peg, on the other hand, started out on Monday with a Royal Flush on a progressive video poker machine at the Royal Cabana and followed it up a couple of nights later with another Royal at the Marriott. And just think, it was I who taught her how to play <BG>. As I said, we didn't do much at all. I laid around the pool all day with my cooler (La Cabana wanted $4 a beer) and Sony discman and Peg read, walked and played in the casino. We did hit Baby Beach one day for snorkeling. Plenty of fish made for a good day. Aside from going to LeDome, the only other thing we did different was to visit the Pelican Pier by the Holiday Inn. There is now a bar on the far end of the pier. Its a great place for a drink and a bite to eat. The Marriott time share seems to be taking shape, but they still have a long way to go. The same is true for the Raddison. I seem to remember a ramp front entrance. That is now totally gone and work continues. Not much else I can think of. We relaxed and had some good meals, and, in Peg's case anyway, won enough for the start of another vacation (I'm hoping she'll take me along).
Trip 7/98 Just back and getting caught up with the comments about the Phoenix that I can't agree with. 1. The studio we had on the 8th floor didn't smell. 2. There were no rugs. The floors are tiled. 3. There were some rooms being repainted. Knowing the history of the Phoenix, there is no doubt that some of the first units probably need refurbishing and it was going on. I won't go into all the details of my stay at this time but overall the Phoenix was better then I had expected. Other questions were about the Radisson. I had a chance to talk to some of the workers and a contractor from the Miami firm was doing the work. There is a lot of action taken place. All the balconies have been removed and extended, to allow for the expansion of the rooms. The lobby is gutted to make room for a (???) casino. I put question marks there because there is a problem in financing the whole project. I'll go into more details later, but I'll quote the paper. "Our revenue projections have been based on an opening date of January 1999. It now looks like the opening will come much later, if at all." That comes from the company that runs the casino. They were pouring concrete for the two pools and the continuation of the walkway that runs from the Phoenix to the Holiday Inn. I was told that they will be constructing another building along side the tower about the same height. I hope it won't be the same story as to the other construction in Aruba. They start building and then run out of money. We will wait and see. Other news that everyone on the board is concerned about is the present Air Aruba situation. Aserca of Venezuelan has given a letter of intent, that has allowed them to assume day to day operation in anticipation of the ownership transfer. They put it's second MD-80 back in service. All details are still not settled. The Holiday Inn casino is now the Excelsior Casino and is possibly for sale. An interesting sidelight is about the Bon Bini Bagel bakery. For $350 you participate in a lottery to own the place. 1000 chances will be sold, and the winner will pay one florin to take over from Roz and Allen. I'm almost tempted to enter. In closing I would like to add that I have received from the Aruba Tourism Authority. They are working on an awareness program that will make the persons prone to causing troubles aware of the effect that could it have on tourism. In addition other security measures are being implemented to keep Aruba "one of the safest islands in the Caribbean"
Trip 8/98 My family and I just returned from 12 days in the BVI. We stayed the first two nights at Rhymer's on Cane Garden Bay and then had 10 days on a chartered sailboat. Rhymer's was OK. It is certainly not a fancy place but the price is right (about $45 per night) and is air conditioned, has cable TV and IS right on one of the prettiest beaches anywhere. There are numerous restaurants close by. We chartered a Beneteau 445 from Footloose. This is fourth charter from Footloose and we have found them to be perfectly adequate. They are owned by the Moorings and feature 4 to 5 year old boats that have come out of the Moorings programs. The boats are well-maintained and they offer good service, follow-up, etc. We provisioned ourselves this time (after having tried every other option over the years). We brought some stuff from home and went to Riteway in Roadtown. There is a good selection but prices are 10 to 40% higher than the U.S. Still, we recommend this option. We spent the first night at Norman Island and enjoyed the fact that there are a lot more mooring balls available now. The new bar/restaurant, Billy Bones, is quite nice and is a wonderful spot to sit, have a drink and watch the sun set. Cooper Island continues to be one of our favorite spots. The restaurant is good and consistent, the anchorage can be rolly but there is always a nice breeze. Marina Cay is great. They still make, in my opinion, the best Pina Colada in the BVI. However, provisions from the Pusser's store there are the most expensive that I have ever seen - $6 for a bag of tortilla chips. Jost Van Dyke remains a yachter's paradise. Foxy's is still unspoiled and the food is solid. They have a BBQ on Friday nights that is very popular. White Bay on JVD has become our favorite beach stop. We anchored there one night (be sure and use two anchors) and we found the beach, the water and the Painkillers from the Soggy Dollar Bar to be spectacular. We wanted to go to St. Thomas this trip but at the last minute, we decided to leave the boat in Soper's Hole and take the water taxi. This worked out great and I can highly recommend it to anyone. The water taxi is $40 and takes about an hour from Soper's to Charlotte Amalie. We made a half dozen dives including, the wreck of the Rhone (of course), Cistern Point, Painted Walls, off Norman Island, etc. All were great and are recommended for intermediate level divers. All, in all, we had a great time. The BVI in August is almost deserted, compared to other times of the year, but you are rolling the dice with regard to the weather. We were lucky and had great weather. This time of the year, the anchorages are uncrowded and the rates are the lowest. We also made it to Bomba's Shack for the Full Moon Party. It was a great time. However, don't bother to go until about 11 PM.
Trip 8/98 We are two pretty active elderly couples with somewhat different tastes and this is a summary of our Grand Cayman vacation. We shared a two bedroom condo at Victoria House on SMB. Really nice, and well recommended for both cost and location. We rented a car for the last 4 days, $30 per day through Hertz (special deal) + $7.50 driving permit.- much more economical than taxis. (All prices quoted here are in US dollars. One $Cayman = 1.25 $US). Prior to that we used minibuses which run along SMB West Bay Rd. about every 10-15 minutes, sparse after 8PM, and none on Saturday nights or Sunday. Fare $2 one way, no specified stops, just wait by the side of the road for a 'beep - beep' and wave them down. They have no distinctive markings and are mostly used by the locals. Weather. Mid 80's night, mid 90's day. Thunderstorms most days, with rain for up to an hour-and one waterspout! Food - several good Supermarkets along SMB, Kirks, Fosters, - but closed on Sundays. Food not cheap, 1 gal milk ~ $5, tomatoes $2.50/lb., bananas $1/lb.,Fujis $2.50/lb. Restaurants - warning, quite often a 15% service charge is included but the bill may not be specific, so ask. The Wharf was our best meal, and with a bill close to $200, why not. Wines and entrees were over $30 and up, everything a la carte. And the tarpon feeding of course. We liked Island Taste, at Georgetown Harbor, lunch $8 - but service charge included ! Big Daddy's got mixed reviews, I liked it (spare ribs) but the fish was rated so-so. Prices good, dinners $9 and up. The Edge out at Boddentown was great for lunch, mahi-mahi and cajun chicken, $10 for a big meal. Also liked Rackham's on N. Church St., nice setting and entrees about $12. We all agreed that the Cracked Conch, next to the Turtle farm was very disappointing' including the house chardonnay - and all this after an enthusiastic recommendation from a friend - did we hit a bad night? - nice ambiance though. I also went native at Liberty's, ackee and salt codfish, liked it. And don't forget the Wholesome Bakery, lots of good reasonably priced pastries. Other vacationers gave strong thumbs up to the Lighthouse at Boddentown, but expensive. ATM's abound for the locals but only the Cayman National Bank has our familiar logos like Cirrus. There are CNB outlets at the supermarkets in addition to the downtown bank Entertainment is pretty thin at this time of year, especially in Georgetown which is dead once the cruise ships depart. We are ballroom dancers and got in some dancing at Treasure Island with a great steel band player - just one, but good. There are several discos which are pretty popular we're told. Swimming was great (we belong to swim clubs and lap swim), snorkeling off SMB so-so. Did the Sting Ray City trip with Captain Marvin(~$25) and that was pretty enjoyable, good snorkeling and the rays were impressive. Did an obligatory drive around the island, including the Sting Ray brewery, good microbrewery type beers at about $10 for a six pack. Rum Point is quite a development, strong singles scene but the swimming wasn't great with cloudy and not too clean water. The Turtle farm was quite interesting and we even liked the tourist trap at Hell, sort of funky. And we got wet at the Blowholes. In conclusion, based on the realtor signs, the whole island is up for sale. If you're thinking of going, don't delay, things can only get worse congestion wise and the locals, who are very friendly now, may OD on tourists.
Trip 7/98 The Package. I had booked our air separately and we flew non-stop from New York's JFK airport into Puerto Plata, which is on the North coast of the Dominican Republic. We had been quoted a price of $35 per night per person for a hotel located right on the beach, with pool , breakfast, and dinner included. The room was to be a 1-bedroom apartment overlooking the pool area and there was to be a 23% tax added, but if we stayed 2 or more nights, we would get a 20% discount. I was apprehensive due to the low price but an old acquaintance had recommended the place if we did not need all the amenities of an all- inclusive. Arrival. We arrived at Puerto Plata Airport and after a short wait for our luggage, were faced with a long line at customs. For some reason, the customs agent walked directly up to us, about half way into one of the long lines, and told us to go. So, we did and were happy not to have to wait in the line because the agents were going through the bags of passengers very thoroughly. Most of the passengers on our American Airlines flight from JFK were Dominican and had huge bags packed to the limit with stuff other than clothes and personal articles. As we exited the doors of the terminal, there were ropes to either side and those waiting to greet arriving passengers as well as the guys that help to carry luggage were not allowed inside them. There was a uniformed police presence and we had a clear and easy walk to the line of waiting taxis. We didn't want to just grab the first taxi that asked so we walked off to the side to grab a beer. I had heard that tourists were being aggressively hassled at the Puerto Plata airport as "maleteros" were demanding that they carry passengers' luggage a very short distance and then demanding high payment. We stood around and watched, and while they were eager to help, I did not witness any problems and they seemed to take no for an answer quickly and moved on when arrivals did not want help. Whatever problem had existed before seemed to have been taken care of. We ultimately selected a cab and were charged RD$150 (US$10) for a 15 minute ride to our hotel in Sosua. Reception. Arrival at Sosua by the Sea was uneventful. The reception area was tiny as this was not a huge hotel. We were checked in and minutes later a porter carried our bags to our room. I had received an E-mail confirming that we would have an apartment size room overlooking the pool area. When our room did not overlook the pool, I returned to the reception and was informed that the only rooms that overlook the pool were studios. Apparently, they were not honest when I made the reservation, which was done in English via E-mail. I returned to the room but the air conditioner was only blowing warm air. We switched to another room but it had the same problem. The third room had air that worked, but not great. During the trip, the temp never got below 75F per my travel thermometer but it was adequate. The Room. The room was very nice and it was quite large. There was a separate bedroom with a tiny balcony that contained a small table and a couple of chairs. It overlooked kind of a passageway between buildings that had plenty of foliage. We never used the balcony. The bedroom had a single full-size bed (not queen or king) and I found it a little on the short side. There was adequate space to put my clothes in the dresser and vanity. The bedroom had a phone. Outside the bedroom was a single bed, a sitting chair, a coffee table, a dining room table, a TV with HBO and lots of cable channels in a variety of languages, another phone, a safe (for which we had been given the key), a bar (unstocked), a sink with a mini- refrigerator below it, a stove and oven. No utensils were provided but they could be obtained from the restaurant if needed and I had noticed some in the other rooms that I had turned down for lack of air. This place was big and comfortable and also had a ceiling fan. The bathroom was split into two parts so the toilet and shower were in a separate room with a door (very small). The sink and mirror were just outside in another little room (no door) and a wall to one side that provided open closet space with a pipe below a shelf and some hangers. The room included plenty of extra pillows and so far, I felt I was really getting a bargain. The floor was tiled and the furniture was wicker. The place was in good shape, but not outstanding. We had problems with the shower during our entire trip and the hotel staff was not able to do anything about it accept to offer to move us to another room. The problem was that if any hot water at all was turned on, only scalding hot water came out of the shower head. We managed by just barely turning the hot water on, and I mean just barely, and it was acceptable, although very difficult to maintain a decent temperature as it varied between ice cold and scalding hot. Also, the hot water pressure seem to be reduced to a sputtering (all faucets) many times during our stay where no hot water at all could be obtained and this apparently was a problem with the hotel's pump. The Pool. The pool was nice but nothing spectacular. Free unlimited beach towels were provided in the pool area as were beach chairs. One did not have to sign for the towels. When we arrived, there were hardly any other guests at the hotel and we practically had the pool to ourselves. The only shortage was of beach umbrellas if you wanted shade. There were a few, but not enough. There was also a grassy area where one could hang out on beach chairs, and some guests did. Location and Beach. The hotel was located on a rock cliff and it was really quite beautiful. There wasn't a beach directly in front of the hotel, just rocks, but to the right was a small beach (about 50 yards wide) that was bordered on with the food at the single restaurant by the third day and opted for some of the surrounding places in town. Food was of good quality and service was excellent, and I mean excellent, everywhere we went. This was a refreshing change from what I had experienced at other Caribbean destinations. On Friday and Saturday nights, a special restaurant in a romantic setting was also available at an extra cost at Sosua by the Sea and guests on the meal plan at the hotel were offered a generous credit towards the cost of eating there but we never got the chance to try it. It looked real nice but I was more than satisfied with their tasty dinners and marvelous setting that was included with the hotel. Value. Amazing as it was to get all this at such a low price, for some reason, we were only charged US$25 per person per night at the end of our stay. I did not question the charges and was very happy with my stay. I did tour the fabulous Casa Marina resort next door, and they were charging about US$80 per night per person, all-inclusive. They had a few massive and gorgeous swimming pools. I might opt to stay at Casa Marina next time, just because it also seemed like a great value, but for the money we paid at Sosua by the Sea, I was ecstatic with the place. The staff was 100% friendly, they hustled, and always served us graciously and with a smile. For budget travelers, this place definitely gets a thumbs up. It was small enough that every staff member there knew us by the end of our stay. The town. The town of Sosua is quite quaint. It was very clean with freshly paved asphalt roads and no shady characters hanging around the street. Just about anything you want could be bought at the local stores, at least anything somebody on vacation would want, and it was very peaceful to walk the streets at night and stop at the various outdoor bars and restaurants for a coffee, a beer, or a bite to eat. Down to one side of town was a street where all the small independent vendors were located. It was a street lined with shacks, end to end and on both sides of the street, selling locally made wares, t- shirts, stuff from Haiti including wood carvings and paintings, etc. At the end of the road was Sosua Beach. Sosua Beach was in the shape of a big horseshoe in its own little cove. It was a nice beach and the back side of it was lined with more shacks selling trinkets, t- shirts, local wares, beach food, etc. There were lots of independent water sports available such as water skiing but I was disappointed at the lack of boats with sufficient power. We skied 1 day behind the best boat we could find but later opted to water ski behind the 7000cc jet skis that were available for rent over by Sosua by the Sea. The water was very calm on some days and not so calm on others with small waves breaking on the shore, sizeable enough to play in. The sand was a golden brown everywhere we went and we found it difficult to walk on it in our bare feet because the sun really heated it up. Discos. The 3 main discos in Sosua were Casa del Sol, High Caribe, and Copa Cabana. Casa del Sol had cheated us as we had been handed coupons for free entrance but they refused to honor them when we arrived and we had to pay a small cover charge. Inside was a huge warehouse style disco with good mix of tourists and locals. They did a short Michael Jackson act-alike one night and we had a great time. This was the place to go earlier in the evening. The other two discos were typical of any American glass-and-chrome disco, were well air-conditioned, very nice, and had modern disco lighting and sound systems. They were a little dressier and were 80% tourists. Most of the locals were Dominican men dancing with tourist women, and they sure know how to dance. Both High Caribe and Copa Cabana were first class discos. They didn't get real crowded until after 1:00am. My favorite place aside from the discos was a big outdoor bar called Merengue Bar. Cabarete. For RD$75 (US$5) each, we took montoconchos (125cc motorcycle taxis) and the same price (RD$150 or US$10) for a taxi for the 15 minute ride to the town of Cabarete. There, we encountered a beach town with, at some spots, businesses so packed together is was difficult to find beach access. This was definitely wind-surf territory. The water had a decent surf breaking on it and the beach was huge with soft sand. The back side of the beach was lined with place after place to eat or drink and they set up tables and chairs on the beach for dinner as dusk approached. The water had hundreds of wind-surfers out in it and the beach had a continuous flow of blowing sand in the area between the beach and 6 inches above the beach. The stuff we left sitting in the sand was covered with several inches of sand after only 1/2 hour. We rented some beach chairs to lay down along the back side of the beach and there wasn't a problem with the blowing sand further from the water. Down at one end of the beach, the businesses that line the back side are replaced by small sand dunes and it was easy to find a relatively secluded spot to drop our stuff off and hang out swimming in the water for a couple of hours. The main beach was loaded with surf boards and wind surf boards. We wanted to find a pool to rinse off in because the local spigots of water that we found between some of the restaurants for some reason were not putting out water, even though we had seen them running earlier. We checked a couple of the places with pools on the beach by they wanted over US$100 for a room so we crossed the street to the other side and checked into a hotel for the afternoon for US$50 so we could use their pool. The price was all-inclusive but there wasn't any food available until 7:00pm and we left before that so we never got to eat anything there. Puerto Plata. We toured Puerto Plata one day and saw some of the historical sites related to Columbus but thought it kind of old and run down compared to Sosua and Cabarete. We also toured the mega resorts that make up the Playa Dorada Complex. We found that area to be quite fabulous and private, with some nice golf available and some very good-looking grounds and hotels. I believe the complex is made up of about 7 mega- hotels, each being all-inclusive. This is where I would stay if I had no interest in sampling the true Dominican culture or interacting with the locals and just wanted a luxury Caribbean vacation without hassles. Summary. Sosua by the Sea was a great value for the budget traveler, with an excellent location a good pool, very good food, excellent service, big rooms, and we would not hesitate to go back. The town of Sosua was very clean and quaint and we had a great time. Cabarete had a huge beach and the town was a bit congested and built up for my tastes but a wind-surfer's paradise. Puerto Plata seemed old and run- down compared to the other places but had a few historically interesting sites. Playa Dorada is recommended for those looking for a luxury all-inclusive isolated from the locals. I'll definitely be back to Sosua.
August 19, 1998 Dear Interested Parties, I regret that I have not updated you on the status of Eden Bay in the Dominican Republic since my last writing of May '98. The situation has changed very little since that update. Sure there have been a number of "deals" put together, presented and rejected. None of these "deals" were economically viable nor attractive enough for the individual unit owners to contract with the entity proposing them. And none of the "deals" guaranteed any level of clothing-optional operation. The General still has an offer on the table for his land that most people familiar with the location feel is more than attractive for prairie land. Mr. Robinson is still in the picture, but pressure appears to be mounting from the Government and others with regards to unpaid employee social security payments and debt. Our Association Secretary recently came back from the Resort and sent me a video of our units and the Resort property. Our units have been maintained in excellent condition by our competent Association General Manager, Patty Gordon, and her staff. She has even provided security personnel since the Resort left that responsibility lapse. So in essence, we, the Association, have rental units available immediately in the case that a Resort operator can come in and fund the repair and replacement of the Resort amenities. And therein lies the rub. The Resort property has been ravaged by time, vandalism, theft and neglect. The infrastructure physically looks salvageable (though costly) and a lot of elbow grease effort needs to be expended. The grounds remain as beautiful as before (nature has a way of rebounding) but are in need of grooming. The beach area seems improved and expanded naturally (as we had predicted it would in time). If negotiations that are underway and court rulings that are pending progress as anticipated, this Dominican Standoff as I have referred to it may come to an end. Will it come in time for a re-opening of the Resort this season? Maybe late. Could everything fall through? Possibly. So what kind of status am I giving? The best I can at this time without hampering negotiations underway and with the hope that when the Resort does re-open I will have a contingent of interested friends who will join me & my fellow owners in celebrating our success. There is another General Homeowners' Association Meeting scheduled for October 10, 1998. We will be conducting it down at the condo property at Eden Bay. I will continue to keep you informed as things progress. Thanks for your continued interest, Tom Fernstrom Eden Bay Homeowners' Association
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