Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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A few notes. I'm 42, my wife is 36, we have four kids between us ranging in age from 18 to 9. We are both principal technical writers for a major computer company, and we're both native New Englanders waiting for the kids to grow up so we can move to the southeast coast. Of Jupiter. Somewhere where we no longer have to listen to the drone of, "Where are my soccer shorts!" My wife and I were married on Aug. 23rd in Nashua, NH, the number one city in America according to Forbes magazine list of best places to live in the United States. It's a great place to live, but number one? Ummm...I can think of a few other places I'd rather be. In any case, we left the reception and took a limo down to Boston for our first night together. We decided to splurge a little so we stayed at the Ritz Carlton hotel, just opposite the Public Gardens in downtown Boston. Very nice. Very elegant. Very romantic. And very expensive. In our first 10 minutes there, we spent nearly $30.00 in tips alone. That may not be much to some people, but we're used to places like the Marriott or the Motel 6, places where "they leave the light on fer ya". But again, we wanted our first night to be special so we didn't really care. We had to get up at 3:00AM to catch a 3:45AM shuttle to Logan Airport for a 6:30AM flight on Midway Express to Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. They tell you to get there two hours early and we did, but realistically you sit there for 99% of those two hours. The flight was uneventful if you're a normal person, but if you're like me and you hate to fly, there is no such thing as a normal flight. I hear every bolt expanding and every toilet flush, just waiting for the big event to occur where we go down in a ball of flames and I can be one of the subjects for a made-for-television movie. So after kissing the tarmac upon our arrival at Montego Bay, we headed for customs. This was my first time out of the country so I was very curious about life in a third world country. The airport at MoBay is fairly spartan and was reasonably well managed. The paperwork can be intimidating if it's your first time overseas ("will they throw me into the chokey if I don't dot my i's?"), but realistically it wasn't all that bad. Again, there's alot of waiting around in line but it wasn't as bad as I was anticipating. After clearing customs, we picked up our luggage and headed for the SuperClubs booth. I was expecting big smiley faces and swarms of representatives waiting for us with drinks and helpful attitudes. No such luck. We were told to wait in a specific place near the desk for the Grand Lido transport. Eventually a gentleman in a red cap grabbed our luggage and hauled it out to our bus. It was an older model bus that doesn't look much different than a conventional school bus in the US, though slightly more dilapidated. We were told rather brusquely by the Red Cap that we owed him 50 cents per bag as he didn't work for SuperClubs. One of the women on the bus complained about that, telling the guy that she paid for an all-inclusive trip and wasn't in the mood to tip the guy. After some uncomfortable moments, she finally relented and got on board. She was traveling with another woman and they were the only other people on this large bus. We were off to an inauspicious start. Clearly upon arrival, this was not a cradle-to-grave operation by SuperClubs. The trip out to Lido wasn't as bad as what I was prepared for. Yes, the living conditions we saw were certainly something you don't see much of in the US, and yes, if the residents would simply pick up the trash and garbage in the yards, the place would look much nicer, but the ride itself wasn't as harrowing as we were led to believe. The road is winding and the driver does tend to go faster than he probably should, but we were so tired by that point that we were barely conscious anyway. We stopped about an hour into the trip at what appeared to be a farmstand/hole-in-the-wall store. My wife went in and bought a soda for some outrageous amount of money. She said there was nothing in there but a small cooler with sodas and alcoholic beverages. I thought I had read somewhere that SuperClubs provided drinks on the bus, but in our case that was certainly not true. Not only was this not cradle-to-grave, it was looking more like retirement-to-grave. After a 10 minute stop there, we were back on our way. About 35 minutes later we turned a corner and were transported from third-world reality to paradise. We were greeted at the front of the resort by several folks who took our bags and led us through the marbled entrance to the check- in area. We were offered champagne or some rum punch while we filled out some paperwork and they processed us into the resort. We don't drink at all, so just by definition Grand Lido was going to make out on us all week, and it started right there. "Diet Cokes, please." No problem, mon. We requested a lower-level room on the regular beach and received room 1019, which, as it turned out, was perfect. It was far enough away from the main complex that we didn't hear the activity at the bandstand or the disco, yet it was located directly in front of the best place on the beach. Furthermore, we were about 100 feet from the Beach House, one of three 24-hour cabanas that served drinks, food, and provided room service to their section of the resort. In my opinion, the lower-level rooms are better than the second floor rooms. The patios are larger than the decks up above, and you can walk right out of your room onto the beach (about 100 feet away) without going out the front door (or back door, depending on your orientation). But this is strictly a personal preference. And it was good that we requested it. Others that were checking in with us at the time ended up in the upper levels, so my guess is that we would have, too, had we not asked. So be advised. If you want a lower level room, speak up. We were all led to our rooms where the luggage was supposed to follow. Others have reported that you're supposed to get a tour of the facility either before you get to your room or even while you're walked there, but we didn't get anything of the sort. We were led to the room, handed our key, and left there. It wasn't a big problem, but I was getting a little edgy at this point because things hadn't gone exactly as I had been led to believe they would. I certainly wasn't feeling pampered. After waiting for the luggage and not having it show up, we decided to return to the main building again for lunch and figured someone would deliver the luggage and throw it in the room while we were gone. The main building is very large, with its centerpiece being the lower level large terrace, open on two sides, where they serve the daily breakfast and lunch buffets and the three-times-a week evening buffets. Each table is elegantly appointed, with Grand Lido staff running all over to make your dining experience as comfortable as possible. The food ranges from outstanding to "what new life form is this, exactly?". Our first lunch there was interesting. There were salads of every type and description, plenty of choices on the bread table, lots of local-looking entrees, and a wide assortment of desserts. GREAT desserts as a matter of fact. Some of the best desserts I've ever had. Then again, you're listening to someone who buys those 25 cent celophane bags of instant muffin mix for a late night splurge. I have to confess that the meats, at least at lunch, looked a little less than appetizing, but again, that may have been just me. We were both famished by then, so we tanked up on the salads and the desserts. We walked around a little after lunch, and visited the upper level where the three restaurants are located all in a row. Beyond the restaurant area was the concierge desk and the check-in area from where we had come an hour before. Beyond that is the main lobby and the gift shop. Along a corridor past that is the salon, library, and video room. If you continue out that corridor, you arrive outside the main complex but directly in front of the walkway that leads you to the fitness center, or Devil's Island as I came to call it. More about that later. We were thoroughly exhausted by this point so we went back to our room where we noticed our luggage had arrived and been left OUTSIDE the room. I would have figured they would have dumped it INSIDE the room, so I was a little concerned about that. But I was too tired to really care. We unpacked only a little before we both collapsed. After about a 3 hour nap, we checked out the beach area in front of our villa. The living areas are truly beautiful. The room we were in had a large king-sized bed and large bathroom with a tub and shower. The sunken living room area just to the right of the bed had a couch, chair, and television hooked to satellite cable. There were about 20 channels with the main assortment available to you, including HBO and Cinemax. The living area opens out to the patio through French doors. The landscaping at all of Lido is impressive. We never failed to see workers out there either trimming the grass along the walkways or tending to the coconut trees. As I described before, there is a large lawn just outside the patios of the villas with a walkway that leads back to the main complex. On the other side of the walkway is the beach, fronted by an assortment of trees (mostly grape trees and palm/coconut varieties). The beach is perfect. Each day they twice run a tractor towing a rake attachment along the beach. A staff member manually rakes areas beneath the trees that the tractor can't reach, collecting leaves that have fallen and smoothing out the sand. The sand is so soft that walking on it after it's been raked is like walking on the cotton balls you pull out of your Tylenol bottles. You sink down to your ankles. If you like beaches, you'll love this one. By this time it was 7:00 PM or so (Jamaica is in what amounts to the United States Central Time zone) and decided to have dinner at La Pasta, the Italian restaurant. It's smallish, with a few tables set outside along the concourse above the main terrace. We ate inside because we thought it a little intrusive to be eating in a hallway that services a fair amount of foot traffic. I have to say at this point that Grand Lido was probably at about one-half to two-thirds capacity during the week we were there. It was very quiet, so the traffic normally seen there was significantly less than what otherwise is considered normal. So we probably could have eaten outside with little annoyance. The food and atmosphere at La Pasta were excellent. It was very romantic (candlelight), the waitstaff was great, and the setting was outstanding. We'll never be mistaken for cuisine experts, but I can tell you that the food all week was way beyond what we're used to or what we expected. The menu in La Pasta changes about every three days. That night we had a chicken/ziti combination that was great. After being seated, a staff member from the bar next to the main terrace came by and asked us if we wanted a drink. We asked for and received a couple of virgin pina coladas. That hooked us for the week. We probably had six or seven a day for the rest of the week, but more about that later. Before the bar person stopped by, our waiter offered us a selection of wine he was toting around. That was typical in all the restaurants. Dessert was a coconut pie that was great. After dinner, we stopped by the main terrace and watched the house band, Impact, play a couple of sets. They, too, were quite good. By this time, we were exhausted again and retired for the night. The next morning (Monday) we arose at 5:30 AM. We laid in bed trying to outline our day and decided to check out the fitness center before it got too hot. The fitness center is divided into two parts, with one section comprised of the weight room and the other the aerobic center. Each section was open on three sides to the outside, with a trellis-like structure separating the inside from the outside. The aerobic center contained two treadmills, one of which had no plug attachment so it was out of commission all week, three different models of stairmasters, a recumbent stationary bicycle and a regular stationary bike, along with exercise pads and steps for step aerobics. The problem is that it is so hot and humid down there that after a mere five minutes of working out, you're generally soaked through your clothes. I know others have complained about this, and the good news is that they were removing the trellises and replacing them with glass to enclose and air condition it. Good news for future visitors -- bad news for us. It took them all week to enclose it, so each day there was less open air and more glass to magnify the sun. What started out as a sauna-like atmosphere turned into the surface of the sun. Welcome to Devil's Island. They probably turned on the AC the day *after* we left. Nonetheless, we got in our hour workout and survived. After showering, we headed over to the terrace for breakfast. Breakfast was a real treat for me all week. Just about anything you can think of in the way of breakfast food they had. Each day they served either French toast or pancakes, but that was the only daily change. Other than that, they had bacon, sausage, ham cut from the bone, custom made omelets while you waited, all manner of pastries, fruit, breads, even sushi and some stuff I couldn't quite define for you. I know it was dead, though. Poking it with a fork rendered no response. Nonetheless, you would take whatever you wanted off the buffet and as you walked toward the terrace seating area, a staff member would greet you, take your plate, and seat you wherever you liked. Again, the table settings were great and the atmosphere was tremendous. Most days they had freshly- squeezed orange juice and you could order anything from the bar, even at that hour. Many folks had champagne in flute glasses every morning with their eggs. Nice touch. The only two complaints I can even conjure up is that the water was warm and they only put ice in the water glass when you specifically asked, and flies could be seen kamikaziing the bread table, but the staff had napkins covering most of the bread so it wasn't an issue. We always chose a table along the outside perimeter of the terrace so we could easily look out on the property, which in that area is beautifully landscaped with flowers and plants of every sort, little walkways with wooden bridges over small gullies, and huge palm trees. Not at all like looking outside your local Denny's or International House of Pancakes to view the local interstate. After breakfast, which by the way is served from 8:00 AM to 10:30, we hit the beach (finally!). We live for the beach, so our main event every day was staking out our spot and either relaxing in the chairs or hitting the water. The beach is lined with white, plastic reclining chairs. Over each chair was a body-length foam-like mat that could be used as either padding for the chair or as a float in the water. As I said, it wasn't crowded there during the week so taking one set of mats for the chair and having another set for floating in the ocean was no problem. My guess is that when it's crowded, you probably have to use the same mat for both floating and reclining on your chair. Life is tough and then you die. The water temperature was at its warmest on Monday. Conservatively, I would have to say it was in the low 90s (Farenheit) that day, which was heaven to us. The water temperature at the beach in NH is probably in the high 50s. You have to swim with one eye open for rogue icebergs. This, however, was unbelievable. So if you come from a cold-weather region you'll think you're swimming in your local YMCA Jacuzzi. Another fact of life that took some getting used to: topless sun worshippers. To all you Europeans out there, welcome home. To my American brethren not familiar with European-style beaches, be aware, you're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. Not that there are any beaches in Kansas. There are two beaches in Grand Lido; the regular beach and the clothing-optional facility. Even on the "textile" beach, though, women can freely go topless. That being the case, there were only about two or three women a day that chose to do that. I would estimate that there were only about 50-75 people a day on the regular beach, if that. Again, though, it was a slow week. Laying in the water on the mats was great. The only risk was the potential of a jelly fish bite. I managed to avoid that all week. Charlotte was stung once on Saturday, our last day there. I don't think it's something you can readily prevent because they're so hard to see, but it also doesn't happen that often. We watched a staff member pull out a large jelly fish on Tuesday that was about the size of a large dinner plate. I have no idea if the one that bit Charlotte was smaller or larger than that, but it hurt badly regardless. Again, though, I think it's a rare occurrence to be stung. And as my wife pointed out to me, "that's what the female swimmer in the opening scene of "Jaws" thought, too". During most of the week, there was water skiing going on beyond the swimming buoys. I'm not quite sure if that was a free activity or an extra that you had to pay for. I know the parasailing wasn't free. My understanding was that you tend to pay upwards of $75 for a trip in the US. I think they charge that much in Jamaica when the resort is full, but for this particular week they were charging only $30 -- a pretty decent price if you're into that sort of thing. Being dragged around in a parachute over cliffs and sharp coral wasn't my idea of pleasure. During the early afternoon, we took out one of the kayaks, part of a fleet of watercraft you could sign out between about 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM. The watercraft area is on the beach just to the north of the main complex. There is a point of land that juts out from the main complex that divides the clothing-optional beach from the main beach. The pier for the M Y Zein is located on that point. When you launch one of the watercraft, the point of land is to your left with the main beach on the right. Along that point of land are little coves where you can go to check out the topography. Once you clear the point, you can look to your left once again and see the clothing-optional beach. There wasn't much activity when we went by, although later in the week the population grew substantially. The beach on that side is nowhere near as nice as the main beach. It's smaller, both in width and length, and the floor of the ocean there is much rockier and rougher than on the main side. We paddled out further but decided to turn back when dark clouds moved in. As was the case on most days, it clouds up rather quickly in the afternoon and begins raining usually around the 3:30 to 4:30 PM timeframe. We had rain on all but one day of our week there. One day (Friday) it rained all day. It wasn't a very good trip from that perspective, but it never really became that big of an issue for us. We paddled back to the other side, past the main beach and beyond the property line of Grand Lido, where the beach continues to stretch off into the distance. We beached the kayak on a deserted part of the beach and went for a swim and that's all I'm going to say about that. :-) We brought the kayaks back and got back to the villa just as it began to rain. We ordered some potato skins from room service. These had a very Mexican flavor to them and were quite good. We should have ordered two sets of them because there were only 4 small ones per plate and we were quite hungry. So if you're even mildly hungry and you don't eat like a bird, if you're ordering for two, order two. After a two-hour downpour, we left for dinner at Cafe Lido. This is their continental restaurant that is more formal than La Pasta and slightly less formal than Piacere. Cafe Lido is semi-formal, meaning men should be in long slacks or "dress shorts", a definition left to some interpretation. But because the resort was fairly quiet, I don't think they were too strict with the enforcement policies during the week. I loved Cafe Lido. It's located at the back of the main complex and overlooks the ocean and sundeck just to the north of the pool area. If you can get the table in the near left corner, your table overlooks the ocean. Tables to the right as you walk in offer a view of the terrace and concourse through large panes of glass. The restaurant has an extremely romantic air about it. The menu changes there every night, so the best thing to do is check out the menu during the late afternoon and see what's cooking for that evening. There was only one night where I would have had difficulty finding anything less than excellent to eat there. Service was impeccable. If you're a big eater, you might have some grounds for complaint as the portions were rather small, but hey, if you were desperate, you could always head for one of the room service grills or even La Pasta to fill your tank after eating at Cafe Lido. Charlotte had the Filet Mignon and I the Chicken Cordon Bleu, although they may have had more exotic names for them on the menu. Again, we ordered drinks from the bar in the terrace (yeah, virgin. Sorry) and tried something I couldn't even pronounce for dessert. I was blown away by the whole experience and thought, gee, if Cafe Lido is this good, what's Piacere like? Like I said, though, the target set for me is usually Wendy's or Taco Bell. We went back to our room to discover that the staff had come in to turn down the beds. They really do a great job. They also touch up the room, replace the towels, turn on the radio to some soft music, turn down the lights for effect, and every night seem to do something a little different. One night we got back and the staff had created an image of two swans kissing on our bed using two large bath towels. Interesting. Another night we had a flower on our pillow. And so on. I was tempted to order more potato skins from room service but knew I would be working out in the morning and didn't want to add the calories that I would otherwise be burning off. So I resisted. So we found other ways to burn calories. The next morning we got up at 6:40 AM and went to work out again. It was very hot once more and the fitness center was hotter still because the plate glass was being installed. Nothing against the workers there, but an American or European crew of that size would have had that job done in a day, two at the most. These guys were still working on it when we left on Saturday. After another hour workout, we showered and went to breakfast, then we hit the beach again. While you're on the beach, a couple of members of the staff walk along the shore and take drink orders, stock up at the beach bar at the northernmost edge of the beach (about 50 yards from our spot on the beach) and then bring your drinks to you. They're very friendly and we got to know two of them very well, Karen and Georgia. They are all very outgoing and take an interest in getting to know you. We did a little research and discovered that on average, they take home about $80 US dollars a week, which is not much when you consider the hours they work. But I was left with the impression that $80 was a fairly high wage there. I should mention here that language was probably the biggest issue for us most of the week. Although English is the official language of Jamaica, the Jamaicans actually speak some other non-English dialect. It sounds almost pig-Latin in form. As a result, their English is marginal. The accent makes it difficult to understand what they're saying and they have a tough time understanding American English. This was a chronic problem all week. As very inexperienced foreign travelers, we fell into the pitfall of using American idioms, which really confused the locals. Example: "Would you like more water?" "Thank you, but we're all set." "Huh??" And they look at you wondering whether they should pour the water or walk away. Or dump it on your head. So we quickly resorted to using a straight yes or no. In most cases, conversations consisted of us repeating things at least twice and having the locals repeat things at least that many times. It's an annoyance, for sure, and by the end of the week we were gratified to get back to Boston to hear the immigrations guy say, "Yo, welcome to Bahstin. Pahk ya luggage ovah heah." Something I can readily understand. We tended to skip lunch during the days. After an 8:30 breakfast of the magnitude we were eating (huge)(and we're used to a simple bowl of cereal back home), we weren't in the mood to chow down at noon. On Tuesday, we grabbed our snorkels and walked over to that deserted public beach we visited in the kayak the day before to practice snorkeling. Neither of us had ever done it before so we wanted to flounder around with it alone before going on one of the daily trips they offer to a reef. We got the hang of it and collected a bunch of shells and took some underwater pictures. There isn't a whole lot to see there, but the idea was to figure out how to breath through a tube. In our case, anything other than drowning was considered a success. Tuesday was the only day it didn't rain, so after changing back at the room, we decided to go check out the alleged doubles tennis tournament that was going on. Each day in the terrace area, they post a list of the activities going on that day. We noticed the tournament was listed in the morning, and being a tennis buff, I thought we'd check it out. There are two sets of courts, one (lighted at night) is located just to the south and front of the main complex and the other is adjacent to the Beach House on the northernmost section of the property. We arrived and there was no tournament. In fact, there wasn't a soul in sight. We were just about to leave when Chris, the Jamaican tennis pro, showed up. I asked him about the tournament and he said no one had signed up and that the resort was pretty empty this week. Apparently that happens often in late August and the resort does much of its construction and repair then as was evidenced by the fitness center work and the fact that they were adding more villas over by the watersports shed. Chris wanted to know if either one of us wanted a lesson, as they offer free lessons in the morning and afternoon. I've played before so I told him I wouldn't mind hitting the ball around with him. Charlotte expressed an interest in getting a lesson (she's never played), so we went back to the room to change into our workout/tennis duds. I hit the ball around with Chris for about 45 minutes and probably lost about 5 lbs. in the process due to the heat. Charlotte hooked up with another of the instructors, Gregg (a Canadian) and had her first lesson. We returned to the room and after showering, tried out one of several hammocks they have on the lawn between the beach and the villas. That night we returned to Cafe Lido, which was great again for me but Charlotte complained a bit about the beef kabobs. Dessert was a Heath Bar cake concoction that was excellent. Not satisfied with that, we stopped at the Beach House on the way back to the villa and ordered a chocolate banana sundae. Each of the three 24 hour food places (the Beach House, the Timber House, and the Stone House) sits under a cabana- like structure and each has a Jacuzzi to its side. We found the Jacuzzi at the Beach House to be extremely hot to the point of being impossible to use. We later found out that the temperature in there fluctuated from day to day, with some nights being impossibly hot and others being cool. Nice concept, though. We arrived back home around 10:00 PM and went to bed. Wednesday morning dawned bright and sunny. We changed our routine, having breakfast first and working out after. Charlotte had another tennis lesson while I went to the "Bridge Over the River Kwai" Fitness Center for my morning session in the hot house. We immediately hit the main pool afterwards, located just to the back of the main terrace. We then went to the beach but it clouded up very quickly and we lost the sun by about 11:00. We bailed out of the beach and instead walked around the entire grounds, looking for decent places to take pictures. Charlotte brought her wedding dress on the trip and I dragged along a suit, and the plan was to take pictures in our wedding garb. We didn't want to pay the onsite professional (he wanted a king's ransom for 20 pictures) so we decided to ask one of the beach staff if she would help us out by taking the pictures. (Note: Only after getting back home did we find out that the pictures were pretty awful. Fortunately, she got two decent ones and, of course, the ones that we took of each other were excellent. In retrospect, we should have paid the ransom for the king, but hindsight is 20/20.) The rain started coming down as we scoped out picture locations, so we beat it back to the room. When the rain didn't let up we decided to go over to the gift shop to check out the goods there. In a word, if you love being gouged, visit the gift shop. It's a gougee's playland. To make a long story short, we did buy a couple of t-shirts as momentos, but other than that, the prices were far too ridiculous to spend money on anything else. Another annoyance in there: when you find something that you are even considering buying, don't pick it up and walk around with it. One of the staff there will grab it from you and bring it up to the register to stack with all your (they hope) future booty. It's a pain and it creates a mildly uncomfortable situation. It ain't Wal-Mart fer sure. Earlier that morning, we had made reservations for the French restaurant, Piacere. You can arrange to go there once, and each successive attempt to go after that is based on its availability by others who haven't yet gone, so they put your name on a waiting list. Don't miss it, though. The food was excellent, but greater still, the experience was way beyond any I've ever had at a restaurant. The atmosphere dripped with romance, the waitstaff was phenomenal, and the whole ambiance of a very elegant restaurant bowled me over. Lots of things happened that made it that much more fun. They played the processional to our wedding (Pachabel's Canon in D) just as we were seated (naturally not knowing what they were doing), the pianist was great, and the attention to detail was unparalleled. I didn't want to leave. Then again, you're hearing from someone who took one look at the flatware setup and said, "How come four forks? Can't I use the same one for everything?" I know. I need to get out more. And the sorbet to clean your palette in the middle of the meal? Is that like intermission during Dr. Zhivago? Go figure. While we were there, the main terrace was staging a Beach Barbeque, which had to be brought indoors because of the rain. It would have been more like a beach barbecue had the weather cooperated. After leaving Piacere, we stopped in for added dessert at the buffet. Normally they have the barbecue outside, with tables lining the beach and torches burning to create this "From Here to Eternity" aura. I was feeling guilty about the amount of food I had eaten and the fact that I didn't do a full hour at Devil's Island that morning, so I went back to do the treadmill hell at the fitness center. By now most of the aerobic room was enclosed and yet there still wasn't any AC. I managed to finish without having to resort to using the defibrolator paddles. On the way home we stopped in again at the main terrace where a show was being performed. The shows at night varied in content from music presentations to talent displays. Some contortionist was holding court when we were there. Pretty interesting stuff. I didn't know you could do some of that stuff with the human body. I tried it when I got home. Didn't work for me. Got to bed around 11:00. Thursday morning dawned cloudy and threatening, and the forecast for the rest of the week was not promising, so we decided to go ahead with trying to take the pictures in our wedding garb before it rained. We met Georgia at 7:00 AM and went to all the places we had staked out the previous day. She never really mastered the idea that if the subjects in the viewfinder aren't in focus, they probably won't be in focus in the final product either. Or that even if they *are* focused, framing them so that one is in the picture and the other subject's head is cut off, it probably won't be a very good picture. But hey, live and learn. She tried. The sun actually peeked out for a couple of hours that morning. Charlotte had an apt. for a hair braiding (not free) and I floated around the beach. It should be noted that the beach at Lido is actually in a large bay so that there are no waves. It's like being at a lake, really. The water didn't seem nearly as warm as it had been on Monday. The sun hadn't been blazing much since then, so likely that had something to do with it. That afternoon we decided to go on the snorkeling trip out to the reef. Big mistake. The weather had turned decidedly worse and once the boat carrying about 12 people cleared the point, the open seas became very rough. Not having a strong stomach for that sort of thing, you can quickly figure out where this story goes. Suffice it to say, it was a very long hour. There wasn't alot of snorkeling going on for either one of us, but it sure felt like our masks were bolted to the front of our faces and we were breathing through an air hose filled with cotton. It was awful. We were both in terrible shape when we got back to terra firma, so we headed immediately back to our villa to sleep and recover. We got back to near normal before heading out to Cafe Lido that night for yet another great meal there. The chicken dishes at Cafe Lido were constantly better than the beef or seafood most of the week, as was the case on this evening. Being in total pig mode, though, I went to the Beach House later that evening and tried a hamburger and sundae as a nightcap. The food at the Beach House varied all week from great (potato skins) to mediocre or poor (hamburger, hot dog). Even those tended to vary based on who was doing the cooking. Went to bed, dreaming of snorkeling in a blender. Friday was awful weather-wise. It was a downpour right from the beginning. We went to breakfast first, then Charlotte went for her free manicure/pedicure while I worked out in what was now the planet Mercury (sun-side), completely enclosed in glass. We went back to the room and decided that the rain wasn't going to get in our way, so we grabbed the dreaded snorkels and walked out to the deserted beach off the property and went swimming. With no one in sight, we increased our ability to cut through the water by ditching the suits. For two ultra-conservatives like us, it was rather liberating. Then again, there was no one is sight. We tried the Jacuzzi over by the Beach House but the water was nearly at the boiling point. After changing, we actually ate lunch, figuring, what the heck, we paid for it. Let's eat. After lunch, the staff staged a Trivial Pursuit tournament in the main dining area. We got into it a little late, but lo and behold, we managed to win! The prize was a bottle of Tia Maria. Great. Liquor. Like eskimos winning a bag of ice. By this time, the skies looked like they were improving so we walked around the resort some more and visited the Stone House, the last barbecue place we hadn't yet seen. Just to be different, I tried a virgin banana daquari (sp) and fell in love with that. We walked back to our beach and sat on the wet chairs while the skies cleared and the sunset became spectacular. After a bubble bath, we got ready for the Grand Gala Buffet, their huge buffet they stage every Friday night. 130 items, replete with 4 or 5 foot ice sculptures, fine desserts, and all manner of exotic dishes. While the buffet was going on, they had a fashion show (all items being fashioned can be purchased in the gift shop for billions of dollars) and a vocalist capping off the evening. The food was great, the show was only okay. While we walked back to the villa, we were treated to something we saw almost every night -- a lightning display out over the ocean. I don't know if this was something Jamaicans got to witness every night, but we did while we were there. I would estimate the storms were a good 50-100 miles out, but the lightning strikes were very prominent, though buried in the clouds. We pulled up a couple of beach chairs and watched for about 20 minutes until the sand fleas started having us for their grand gala buffet. The next morning, our last full day at Lido, we very gratefully woke up to full sunshine! We also discovered that our air conditioner was on the fritz, so we called about that. Not wanting to waste a minute of sunshine, we quickly had breakfast and raced out to the beach. While floating around, we met a very nice couple, John and Lori, from Charlotte, NC. After several hours in the water, we decided to have lunch instead of skipping it as we had done most of the week. After lunch, the staff conducted dancing lessons in front of the terrace bandstand. We watched that for awhile and then returned to the room. We were called by maintenance and told that they couldn't fix the AC before evening, so they offered to move us into a new room. While Charlotte had us moved, I worked out because it was clouding up anyway. By now, the entire fitness center was glassed in but there was no sign of air conditioning anywhere. When I got back to the new room, we were told that our request for another reservation at Piacere was accepted, so I was psyched about that. The downside was that Charlotte was feeling worse as the day went on. We took a walk back to the main complex to check out the menus at the other restaurants and decided to have a quick dinner at La Pasta to minimize Charlotte's time out. We reluctantly canceled the reservations to Piacere. That evening I ordered room service and decided to flick on the TV to find out what was going on in the world. CNN was running a breaking story about an accident in a Paris tunnel that turned out to be the story of the year. That had a rather dampening effect to our last night. Even now I don't know why it affected us that way and to that extent, but it did. We sat transfixed through a good part of the night, watching the coverage. The next morning we were up at 5:15 AM and had ordered the continental breakfast. We showered and were checked out at 6:45 AM in time to catch the coaster ride back to Montego Bay. This time the ride was having a very detrimental effect on Charlotte who was still not feeling at all well. I was worried about her most of the way back to MoBay, but she made it without incident. After having to wait around the airport for nearly two hours and having been subject to ridiculously outrageous prices in the shops in the terminal, we boarded our flight to Boston and arrived home by 4:30 PM. All in all, it was a sensational week at a truly wonderful place. Would I go back? Definitely. Would I pay the same amount to do it? I might look for a slightly better deal. We talked to a couple of folks down there who paid significantly less than we did, yet we paid much less than others who booked out of Boston for the same week. The prices fluctuate radically. Nonetheless, the trip was outstanding and we have the 300 or so pictures to prove it.
This should have been a report on Club Ambiance, however, due to a tour operator foul up, we found ourselves stuck with the Trelawny Beach Hotel. Before I begin, let me warn you that this is not my kind of hotel and I would not have stayed there if the tour operator had not left me little choice when I was sitting in the lobby at Club Ambiance with no room available after an overnight flight and a one and a half hour bus ride. My preference is for small hotels with rooms located directly on the beach and the idea of having to ride an elevator to get from my room to the beach is a nightmare to me. The hotel also caters to children and I would prefer an adult's only facility although I will admit that the children only disturbed my meals and were usually not a problem on the beach area I used. This means that you may see some bias on my part against the hotel and you will need to make allowances if a high rise beach hotel such as you find in Hawaii and Miami Beach is to your taste. The Trelawny Beach Hotel is a seven story hotel consisting of two V shaped wings set vertical to the ocean and a couple of hundred yards back from the beach. Between the hotel and the beach are several cottages primarily intended for families and the pool area. All rooms are claimed to be ocean view since each room has a small balcony inset into the V in such a way that they point toward the ocean. As a result of the growth of trees over time, I would not rate any room on the first three floors as ocean view although it is possible that a patch of blue might have been visible if you worked hard enough at it. Higher rooms were able to see the ocean albeit not close to shore. I guess what I mean when I look for ocean view is actually beach view since an ocean as calm as the Caribbean is somewhat similar to the desert floor - just a different color once you get away from the shoreline and provides no view to speak of. BEACH The hotel is situated on a stretch of sandy beach. The sand pretty much ends at the western end of the hotel's beach but extends at least a half mile to the east with no serious obstructions until you come to the wall which separates the public beach from the privately owned beach areas. There are two groins maybe two hundred feet apart that define the main beach directly in front of the pool and beach bar and grill. These provide some protection from the wind created chop. To the east, the hotel's beach extends another hundred yards with the last fifty feet farthest from the hotel marked as clothing optional and separated from the rest of the beach by a bamboo fence about three feet high. When I was there the prevailing wind was from the northeast so this beach area had no protection from wind generated chopiness. Toplessness was tolerated anywhere on any of the beaches. The main beach area had no shade except for some trees which grew between the pool area and the beach and provided shade at some times of the day. The beach extension had several thatched shade areas with one being placed in the clothing optional area. Since I am more of a skinny dipper than a nudist, I was quite happy to have a place where I could take off my suit before entering the ocean even if it was relatively small. The beach shelves quite gently for perhaps fifty feet from the edge and is sandy out to a point well beyond six feet in depth with only a couple of patches of sea grass. The ocean temperature varied from a low of 86 degrees to a high of 91 based on the thermometer in my watch and was quite pleasant from a temperature perspective any time of the day. My only complaint which may or may not represent typical conditions was the wind which came from the northeast kicked up to 15 to 20 mph every morning around 8:30 and by 10 had made the ocean too choppy to enjoy swimming but didn't seem to bother people who just wanted to play in the shallow water. I usually swim a couple of miles in the morning and afternoon but don't like water in my face which is almost impossible when the water is choppy. If it hadn't been for the wind, the beach would probably have redeemed all of the other deficiencies of the hotel. The hotel ran glass bottom boat, snorkel and dive trips on a regular basis. Sunfish sailboats, kayaks and sailboards were also available. Water skiing was the only event which seriously bothered me. They started from in front of the clothing optional area in about 4 feet of water and ran eastward through the area I used to swim. Since I don't care to share my ocean with a high powered boat, I usually had to get out of the water when they were skiing. This also meant that a good sized crowd of non nudes were clustered in the ocean in front of the nude beach area through much of the morning. The reef was a half-mile offshore which limited somewhat the protection afforded to the beach. There was no worthwhile snorkeling close in to shore so the snorkel trips were required if you wished to see anything interesting with a mask and snorkel. ROOMS: This was a seven story hotel with over 300 hundred rooms in two buildings and a half dozen cottages. Access to the rooms was via a pair of very slow elevators at the middle of one of the buildings. There were stairwells at the end of the building that could be used but they had no access to the grounds requiring you to return along the first floor corridor to the center of the building to get onto the grounds. The hotel is quite old - I have been going to Jamaica every couple of years for 20 years and it was there the first time I went - and do not appear to have been refurbished for some time. The tub dripped and could not be stopped, the toilet dripped and could not be stopped and the basin tried to drip but could be shut off with effort. The lamps were supplied with 220 volt current which is unique in my experience and defeated my attempt to switch their 60 watt bulbs with the 100 watt ones I always carry since I need more light to read than hotels usually provide. There was a king size bed in the room that was very firm but reasonably comfortable. The room had a telephone and plenty of closet space and hangers. A small balcony provided the ocean view although since the room was almost vertical to the ocean, you needed to be on the balcony or in one small corner of the room to actually see the ocean. Our forth floor room was high enough to see the ocean over the trees. The maid usually made up our room between 9 and 10 in the morning but I did hear some of the other guests complaining about how late their room was done so I assume this was an accident of location. Access to the beach from the room required a hike down a long corridor, a wait for the elevator of anything up to 5 minutes, a couple of hundred yards through the dining and cottage areas, and crossing the concrete apron of the pool. Altogether, I would estimate a quarter of a mile each way if you went to the main beach area and another hundred yards if you wanted a little privacy and shade which was only available in the eastern extension of the beach. MEALS: Meals were served buffet style in a patio set between the two buildings and immediately adjacent to the elevator. There was also an a la carte restaurant on the second floor which required reservations and a beach grill. Altogether, food was available from 7:30 in the morning until after midnight with about an hour break between breakfast and the opening of the beach grill and another hour between the evening meal and the midnight snack. The food was unexceptional but not bad in any of the eating facilities. The buffet did cooked to order eggs for breakfast with most other standard breakfast items available on the buffet. Lunch was sparse but offered a couple of items as well as made to order sandwiches and always some sort of pasta. At the beach grill, hot dogs and hamburgers were always available as well as one or two special items which changed from day to day - including fried chicken, fish and chips, and patties. Ice cream and popcorn were also available at the beach grill. The dinner buffet usually included a fish, a fowl and a red meat either pork or beef as well as pasta. Oddly enough, the restaurant included the same choices but they came in a fancier sauce. Bread is one of the things Jamaicans do very well and the rolls and homemade breads were very good. Unlike the higher end clubs, there was no steak or lobster night however, there was a Caribbean night with barbecue and a Jamaican night with jerk pork and chicken. I did not sample the midnight snack so I can't report on it. There were two self serve drink dispensers - one at the hotel and one at the beach. The one at the hotel served not only soft drinks but Red Stripe draft bear. Another plus was that the restaurant adhered strictly to its posted opening hours. In the past, most restaurants in Jamaica have considered anything up to 15 minutes late to be acceptable. BARS: There were two beach bars and a piano bar in the hotel itself. One of the beach bars was located actually on the beach between the two main beach sections. There didn't seem to be any effort to stint on the amount of alcohol in drinks although I'm not enough of a drinker to tell. They were open from 10:30 in the morning until well after I had gone to bed. OTHER: The hotel provides a free shuttle to Montego Bay for shopping which ran once a day. A small shopping village is located just outside the hotel grounds. Safe deposit boxes were available at the desk. There was a show presented every night that was pretty much standard although I did think the reggae group was one I hadn't seen before. There is a disco which opened at 10:30 each evening and admitted anyone over 16. There is a kiddy program and a gym. Mosquitoes are a problem. When we were there, the gift shop was not carrying any insect repellent so carry your own.
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