Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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(Ed. Note: Elba also contributed reports from Isla Margarita and Puerto Plata in this edition.)
Although a Caribbean island with semi autonomy, Puerto Rico is for all practical purposes the US. It is also primarily a manufacturing state. Only recently has Puerto Rico focused on tourism. Unions and sindicates have kept tourism and services on the island at a premium rate. For this reason and the fact that minimum wages are at US levels, the island is a lot more expensive than any other Caribbean country; and has less to offer. We visited my in-laws this Summer in PR. It was cheaper for my wife and me to fly to an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic for a week-end than staying at one of the Hyatt or Westin resorts! Puerto Rico's resort are very upscale and for the upscale tourist with a good chunk of money. The best way to visit is with a package deal which includes airfare. Only recently has the tourism board re-done the old part of town, Old San Juan as well as the waterfront. Therefore you still encounter a lot of the local problems such as beggars, dirt and a few unsafe streets and run down buildings. The traditional areas where the main hotels are (Condado and Isla Verde) resemble Miami Beach with high rises and shops and chain food restaurants. In fact quite a few more food and hotel franchises have recently arrived on the island . The rest of San Juan is anything but tourist oriented. Like any large city it has an important financial center, residential neighborhoods which are fenced off, malls like any other US mall and a lot of public housing and of course the worst traffic jams possible. I find Miami safer to drive in as well as more tourist oriented. The rest of the island is another country, small and winding roads with little or no signage. No set destinations or places to actually stop and rest and eat, except more malls and Kmarts and Walmarts spread all over the 100x35 mile island. The paradores or coffee plantation inns are nice and romantic but with little to do unless you are a honeymooner... Not cheap either; they run above 80 dollars a night plus food. I would catalogue it as a learning vacation like going to NY city or San Francisco more than a relaxing one like Bahamas or Jamaica.
Trip 2/99 This was our first trip to St. Martin and we loved it. We chose St. Martin because we had frequent flyer miles from AA. Our flight in was pleasant and on time!! We arrived at 9PM and were met by Glen our bus driver. He was a bit grumpy at first but after he dropped off his other fare (REALLY GRUMPY) he loosened up a bit and kept us amused with island gossip. We checked into the Hotel Beach Plaza in Marigot and were very pleasantly surprised! We were supposed to have a marina view room but instead were given a Caribbean front room (#276) Our room was nicely decorated and was spotlessly clean especially the white tile bathroom! By the time we got settled it was 11PM and we were starving and we wouldn't get our rental till the next day. We asked at the front desk and they directed us to the Marigot Marina and luckily the Brasserie De La Gare was still open. The food was so so Grilled Lobster a bit dry, tomatoes in the tomatoes & mozzarella tasted like the tomatoes we get at home in the middle of winter. Bill's Caesar salad was good , but the ambiance made every thing great it was really what we needed after a day of traveling. Day 2- Got up fairly early 8AM and went to the breakfast buffet downstairs.(included with room $)Pretty good actually, GREAT COFFEE, fresh fruit, eggs(soft boil your own) or creamy eggs(a disgusting version of scrambled eggs that should be called runny eggs)pastries, croissants, meats, cereals, great jams and fresh juices. It's open air overlooking the pool and Marigot harbor. A really nice way to start your day. After breakfast we picked up our Hertz rental car and decided to upgrade to a Jeep Wrangler ( a bit of a hassle but well worth the hassle and expense) Our jeep was red and only had about 400 miles on it. We took off the doors , rolled up the sides and took off on our adventure! We decided to check out all the beaches and then pick our favorites. First stop was Orient Beach where i bought a thong and pareo, went topless and got right into vacation mode. We also checked out Anse Marcel (ok but not our style) and friars beach (more us, really laid back and beautiful calm cove). Hit Match (thanks to all who recommended it) picked up some supplies and grabbed a quick burger and fries at our hotels beach/pool bar. For dinner we walked to the Marigot Waterfront and tries Bar de La Mer , GREAT Grilled Snapper for Bill and huge steak for me. Everything is really fresh and grilled right there on the sidewalk. Service was ok, they are very busy. Day 3- Still touring the island. Stopped in Phillipsburg (had to check out jewelry, right?) picked up some stuff for the kids in the open air market. Stopped at Dawn Beach(we loved it) Guana Bay deserted and the beach was dirty) P.S. the road from Guana to dawn is VERY steep! Have a drink after you get to Dawn Beach. I had lunch at Scavengers ( beach bar run by American ex-patriots) Grilled Mahi w/ potato salad (GOOD) then hit Orient Beach again. Bill ate at Pedros (excellent) Dinner at Don Camillo ( I was a bit disappointed, food was ok and service was really sloooow) Day 4-Checked out Baie Rouge, Baie Longue, and Plum Bay.(security at each one )Best adventure of the day was Cupecoy Beach.Ok, We pull into the area where you park, there is no security and trash is everywhere, there is a big cement wall with barb wire on the top and no one else in sight except a guy digging in a car trunk ( I was convinced he was robbing it) Then this same guy sees us and comes up and says he will show us where the beach is. My first impression is to say no but my husband says lets go look. We follow him down this narrow path to the 1 st beach, he says the beach used to be here but not anymore so follow him to the next beach. We keep following him and the next time I look back there is this big woman carrying 2 shopping bags following us. At this point I'm convinced we are going to be mugged or that someone is ripping off the jeep. We finally come to another beach and this one is all naked men and truly a breathtaking beach and cove. Then he tells you to keep following him that there is another beach. And there really is and it is also a beautiful cove filled with naked men AND women. OK so now the problem is that we left all our beach stuff in the jeep because we were just checking it out. He tells us not to worry because there is a closer place to park beside the sapphire Beach club? and he would meet us there. Well anyway it turns out that it really is his job to show you where the beach is and rent you chairs and the woman is Norma, she cooks you lunch . Cupecoy became our favorite beach. the water and beach were beautiful and the people were friendly and it wasn't as commercial as orient (though we love orient too) Had our best dinner that night at La Vie Rose? on Marigot Waterfront!!!!!!!!!!!! Tomato Confit w/crab and avocado, Bill had Lamb W/ foie gras and truffles, I had stuffed veal Loin, dessert was a sampling of all the chef's special desserts. Absolute heaven!!!! Everything was excellent, beautifully presented, and we had a table for 2 on the balcony ($159 w/tip and cognac) Day 5-A great day at Dawn Beach snorkeling and being a beach bum. Lunch at Mr. Busbys, flying fish and grilled shrimp. Dinner was at the Bar de la Mer again, this time we had French onion soup, Grilled Lobster, and grilled lamb, dessert was at this little ice cream place just off the marina. Day 6-Fortified with cheese, fruit, bagguets. and beer we spent the day at Cupecoy. The water was absolutely perfect and so was the day! Got kinda fried on some sensitive areas but it was worth it. Went to Grand Case for dinner. I can't remember the name something like la Abourgne? Dinner was ok, bill had frog legs in garlic, we shared conch egg rolls and i had lobster thermidor. Even though the food was not the best we had tasted the service was exceptional. Upon leaving we found what later turned out to be a very expensive parking ticket.($54 US) Where in the world do you pay these things? We never did find out. Day 7-DRAGGED Bill to Phillipsburg for jewelry shopping. I had already priced around in Marigot and Phillipsburg so I headed right to SHIVAS. Haggled a little more over the price and left with my treasures (diamond necklace, diamond and platinum earrings and really unusual gold choker) The sales people were very attentive, bringing you a chair, cold beverage etc.. I was very surprised by the pampering especially since my purchases were small compared to many of the other customers. Back to our hotel to drop off our purchases and off to Friars Bay! You know, driving here is really not that bad. Just edge into traffic and they let you in (1 beep) more then 1 beep means get out of my way, and never hesitate. Walking is the same, step off the curb and they will stop or at least slow down so you can cross, but again, never hesitate. We really liked Friars Bay! The water was so calm and clear. They didn't have grilled snapper at any of the beach shacks so off to orient Bay and Pedros for a late lunch. Dinner was at Marios Bistro !!!! EXCELLENT in every respect, We had a romantic table overlooking the canal, our waiter was very attentive and kinda flirty. Bill and I shared Mussels Marinara(to die for) I had Duck with Ginger(excellent) and Bill had veal w/ lemon capers( also excellent) dessert was Creme Brulee (excellent again). I definitely recommend Marios. Day 8-Started the day at the outdoor market on Marigot's Waterfront. A really entertaining adventure. Spent the day at Orient Beach. It really is a fun beach, even if it is touristy. We were tired that night so back to the Bar de la Mer for Veal Normande (really good) and grilled shrimp(the biggest I've ever seen) I think the waiters recognized us because they seated us right away much to the displeasure of some of the other guests still waiting. Met some really fun people from Argentina and smoked my first Cuban Cigar. I really like our hotel. The hotel restaurant is not very good but everything else is. The staff are very helpful and give great attention to detail. Every time I looked around someone was polishing something, the maids were wonderful, extra towels? ,no problem, our room was spotless and they filled our ice bucket for us. The staff will arrange any kind of outing for you, scuba, snorkel, fishing, boating. Our view was beautiful especially at night with the boats anchored in the harbor all lit up. Day 9-Our last day. We finish up our shopping in Marigot and head to Dawn Beach and then Orient Beach for a late lunch at Pedros. Dinner was at the Marigot Marina at a crepes place. I can't remember but I think it was the St. Germaine?? It hit the spot as we were not that hungry. After dinner there was a parade of the locals and we had a fun time watching them. Then a nice stroll to Bill's favorite ice cream place just off the marina for mango ice cream and back to the hotel to pack. Day 10- We are so bummed that it is time to go. St. Martin was a wonderful vacation and we are already planning to come back next year. oh well.
(Ed. Note: Elba also contributed reports from Puerto Rico and Puerto Plata in this edition.)
This was our first visit to an all inclusive and to the Allegro Resort Chain. With no expectations, we were thrilled by the service. Arrival. Connecting in Caracas, Venezuela is a pain b/c the international and national terminals are not connected. Nevertheless don't despair. Local airline, Avensa/Servivensa however could do a much better job in assisting passengers when arriving and departing. Rooms We were initially given a very small room in which a day bed had been squeezed in and no amenities. We asked for a larger room (we have learnt that trick) and were relocated to the 3 floor to a suite with a suite with kitchenette and a separate bedroom, 2 bathrooms, plus balcony. Layout The resort caters to guests and time sharers who lodge in a different section. The bedroom bldgs are built in a semi colonial setting with nice patios and very nice gardens. The facilities area is large and open aired. 2 large swimming pools. A dune separates the beach in order to fend of the strong winds from the ocean. An interesting elevated walkway joins the beach where you find a restaurant where lunch is served daily. Food the food was very good in the main restaurant as well as lunch. The Italian restaurant (they all have them!) was above standard. As always, reservations for the restaurant is tricky and seems to be controlled by the Mafia. You cant reserve the day before yet the following days seemed to be always book. Don't take no for an answer, persist and then go talk to the manager. Miguel Vega is the GM and a really nice person and very helpful. The staff They are the heart of the party. All Allegro resorts have an entertainment staff. This group was above par. The group of guys and girls join you at the dinner or lunch table, are friendly and entertaining, not to mention good looking! The nightly shows were also very good, and interactive with the guests. Beach and pool sports are encouraged and well planned. The staff actually sets up a team to play volleyball and other sports against guests. They also get the show going in the disco. They are always ready to challenge you to a game of pool or ping-pong. The rest of the staff is also quite friendly and always greets you. There is little time to get bored and enough time to have a quiet moment. A lot of European tourists who come down on charter flights. Topless sunbathing is practiced on the beach and no one seems to care. A place I highly recommend and plan to return. It is a good idea to rent a beetle VW for 20 bucks and drive to Porlamar for the day. Nice shops and the cleanest and best Wendy's I have seen on the earth. They don't take US dollars but there are several banks where money can be changed.
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