Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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The first time my Mexican friend described Mérida, a beautiful Spanish-style city in Mexico's Yucatán, I was intrigued with his portrait of that Andalusian-like town. He said that its clean streets, white homes with hidden courtyards, flower-saturated gardens, ancient structures, and friendly people, gave the city the seductive aura of the Spanish Moors. He went on to say that the city was at the epitome of appeal every Sunday when a colorful festival permeates its central streets. Now as I walked Mérida's streets, intrigued by the old structures with their Moorish flair, I remembered his description. However, I found that his words did not, in a sense, reflect reality. The whiteness has faded with the years and the traffic is maddening, but many of the buildings with their grandiose façades, carved wooden doors and archways, concealing exquisite marble tiles and lush gardens, reminded me of Andalusia. The capital of the Yucatán and that state's key commercial centre, Mérida's origin goes back to 1542 when it was erected by the Spanish atop the ruins of the Mayan city of T'hó (Place of the Fifth Point), indicating that it was the centre of the universe - the spot between the cardinal points. This pre-Hispanic past has haunted the city ever since. Even though it looks more European than any other city in Mexico, it remains very Mayan. Mérida's largely Mayan inhabitants have added their culture and customs to that of those from the land of the conquering Conquistadors. They introduced into the Spanish aura the flavour of a people whose ancestors had created one of the finest civilizations known to humankind. Here, the cultures of the two peoples with a sprinkling of others are fused into a mass of enticing colours. This is best reflected in the weekly festival held every Sunday from 9 A.M. to 9 P.M. in the heart of town. On that day, the streets around the Zócalo, the main square in town, are roped off to traffic - horrendous and annoying to visitors. Men, women, whole families and foreign visitors parade inside this fenced area in their Sunday best. Sidewalk cafes compete with pushcart vendors, selling drinks, sandwiches, corn on the cob and sweets, yet do a lively business. Almost all of Mérida's historic buildings are within walking distance of the Zócalo. The severe fortress-like oldest cathedral in the Americas, built from the stones of the Mayan temple; the Palacío de Gobierno with its 27 gigantic murals, narrating the strife-filled history of the Yucatán Peninsula; the colonial-style Palacío Municipal; and the 1549 Casa de Montejo, the former home of the conqueror of Yucatán and the oldest colonial structure in Mérida, all edge the Zócalo. Around these relics from the past and beyond all day Sunday the merrymaking goes on. Fathers and mothers with their children paddle around in their four- wheel bicycles - the parents, seemingly enjoying themselves more than their offspring, unaware of the encircling world of noise and traffic. No less enticing to the young are the balloon sellers - the pied pipers for children. Walking amid the bicycles and strolling humanity, the youngsters appear to be overwhelmed by their colourful blown-up balloons. From the morning hours until well into the evening, the Zócalo is a beehive of entertainment and other activity. Concerts are ongoing with musicians enthusiastically playing classical, jazz and folk music. Handicraft and food stalls crowd each other throughout the large square - their vendors try to induce customers, many of them tourists, to buy their hand-made peasant dresses, Mayan statues and the numerous other hand-made souvenirs much sought by visitors to the city. For young and old alike it is a panorama of colour and fascination. Young men and women, decked in breath-taking finery, perform to the music of the Yucatán in the streets and nearby Plaza Santa Lucí which also features a mini-flea market. Aboriginal, Caribbean and Spanish music, and a mixture of all three fill the air. Entertainers perform European, Latin American, Aztec and other aboriginal dances. At times, all these are blended together into a variety of Mexican steps which defuse an aura of history and refined entertainment. My favourite was the Aztec dance, a performance of haughtiness and pride. Men and women, dressed in Aztec traditional clothing, stamped on the stage with thundering steps, holding their heads high as had the Aztec warriors of Montezuma. The other dances reflected Mérida's history. They were a melange of Indian, Spanish and French influences - cultures which were at one time or the other predominant in the country. Very exotic and appealing, they ended the day of festivities. It is no wonder then that Sunday is the time of the week the Méridans cherish. On Monday morning, Mérida appeared to be another world. The roar of the 20th century traffic filled the once quiet streets around the Zócalo. Gone were the colourful folkloric dresses and peoples dressed in their best. Now we were in the real world. The smell of car exhaust intermingled with people rushing back and forth to work while vans unloading their goods obstructed their pathways. As in all modern cities, life was a mixture of hustle and bustle and stress. I could easily see why the inhabitants of Mérida look forward to their Sunday festival. IF YOU GO How to Get There: Mérida has an airport with good connections to Mexico City. Facts About Mérida : 1) In the city of Mérida, streets are almost always congested. A small car rents for around $50. per day - less if you bargain or if not fussy about the auto. Taxis charge from 10 to 20 pesos inside the city and 80 pesos to airport. They must be contacted by phone or at taxi stands. 2) Mérida is a great spot from which to take tours to the Mayan world and nature reserves. Viajes Rotea, tel: (99) 262831, fax: (99) 268075, is one of the many tour companies that has tours to all parts of the Yucatán. 3) Mérida has the best shopping in the Yucatán in handicrafts which include hammocks, belts, sandals, henequen bags, hand-embroidered items, palm fibre hats, guayabera shirts and many other artisan products. Casa de Artisans is the place to buy high quality handicraft articles. 4) Currently, US$1. = 10 and CDN$1.= 6 Mexican pesos - best rate found at Consultoría Finvex near the Zócalo. 5) Tips - restaurants 15%; maids $1. per day; and porters $1. for one or two suitcases. 6) When in Mérida, for authentic Yucatán food, try sopa de lima, a soup made from chicken, tortilla and lime juice; puchero, a vegetable and meat stew; pollo pibil, marinated chicken cooked in banana leaves; papadzules, tacos stuffed with hard-boiled eggs; and salsa de chile habanero, a hot sauce. A good place to eat and be entertained is Los Tulipanes. Along with authentic Yucatán food, customers are entertained in a cenote (underground river) with realistic Mayan folklore. Main course a la carte $4. 7) If one has time to spare, there are 8 museums in the city.- don't miss Museo de antropología e historia. Good Places to Stay in Mérida: Fiesta Americana: one of the top hotels in the city, it defuses an aura of luxury. Tel: 1-800- fiesta 1. Daily cost of a room around $135. Hotel Conquistador: surrounded by ancient trees , it is located on the aristocratic Paseo de Montejo. Tel: (99)262155. Fax: (99)268829. Daily cost for a room $85. Gran Hotel: a fine renovated budget abode which is one of the most beautiful and elegant buildings in downtown, a block away from the Zócalo. Tel: (99)236963. Fax: (99)247622. Daily cost for a double room $50. Excursions: For tours of the Mayan ruins, haciendas and ecotourism, Mayaland Tours organizes excursions and also offers a special bus pass that allows unlimited travel around the Yucatán - a pass for 30 days costs $99. Note: All prices quoted are in U.S. dollars. For Further Information, Contact: In Canada contact Mexican Tourism - 2 Bloor St. West, Suite 1801, Toronto, Ontario M4W 3E2. Tel: 416/925-0704. Fax: 416/925-6061; in the U.S.A. - 405 Park Ave., Suite 142, New York, NY 10022. Tel: 212/755-7261; or Toll- Free Assistance, from US/Canada 1-800-44 Mexico.
"I just about missed this tour! And I've come to Mérida just to see the flamingos!" The man appeared upset as he sat next to me on the bus which was to take us to Celestún - a flamingo haven on the coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. He continued, "This morning Mérida's traffic is so bad! I don't know how people get to work!" Unlike the fuming gentleman, when taking a tour, I always make it a point to be early at the gathering point, and this day was no exception. Mérida is a bustling city of some 1.5 million and, like most large Mexican urban centres, it has a continual traffic jam, especially during rush hours. Sunday is the only day on which one can enjoy the city. All day long on Sundays, the downtown streets are blocked to traffic and one can stroll in peace, relishing the Colonial- Andalusian architecture of the old town while being entertained by folkloric performances in the streets. Now, on the two-lane highway, running through a shrub-blanketed countryside, once covered with sisal plantations which has almost faded into oblivion, I forgot about the city and its auto-jammed streets. Every village we traversed was a picture of rustic life, made interesting by its people, especially by the older women dressed in their traditional huipiles (flashy embroidered dresses). Unlike the younger generations, dressed Western style, they gave colour to the streets and sidewalks. In about 1 1/2 hours, 90 km (56 mi) after leaving Mérida, we were in Celestún National Park - one of the spots in the Yucatán most visited by tourists. Its tranquil estuary 22.5 km (14 mi) long and one mile wide, running parallel to the sea, is a natural rustic paradise for animals and birds. It attracts many migrating winged winter visitors and is the home to some 500 species of resident water birds, mammals, reptiles and tropical fish. From these, Celestún is noted, above all, for its Greater Flamingos, known for their exceptional beauty. Here nest, some 30,000 of these birds, making the estuary the home of one of the largest flamingo colonies in the Americas. Our group were excited as we stepped into a small motorcraft at the pier of the picturesque village of Celestún. Soon, the boat's spray caressed our bodies as we skipped over the green-looking waters of the estuary. In less than five minutes as our boat began to slow down, I heard someone excitedly shout, "Look! Look! There must be thousands of flamingos!" Before us the waters were covered with these colourful birds. In two huge flocks near each other, they were wading in the shallow parts of the estuary. The flamingos barely moved as our boat slowly sailed forward. However, just when I would come to take a close up photo, the nearer ones would take flight. Our group must have exhausted most of their supply of film, taking photo after photo of the seemingly tame flamingos. It was a beautiful rustic tableau - a birdwatcher's dream, being realized in these birds' natural habitant. As the operator of our motorcraft revved up the motor to leave, one of the flocks took flight. Above us the sky was painted pink with flamingos. Again it was a photographing session - that is for those who had any film left. For all, it was a seductive and unique experience. From the flamingos, we slowly sailed past the mangrove trees which thickly cover the banks of the whole estuary. I wanted to see, beyond the mangroves, the Petrified Forest, but it was not on this day's itinerary. Instead, we slowly glided around a small island, identifying numerous species of water birds. However, all of these were overshadowed by small flocks of pelicans who seemed to always keep us company. Leaving the birds behind, we sailed through a water tunnel, shaded by an umbrella of mangroves, to a crystal-clear freshwater pool - one of the many springs around the estuary which flow from underground rivers and bubble to the surface. The pool looked so inviting that a number of our group dived into the tranquil-inviting water. The leisurely boat ride back was conducive to reminiscing about our sailing the natural world of the estuary: the mangrove trees creeping into the water, the many birds nesting on the small island, the irresistible pool with its clear spring waters and, above all, the fascinating flamingos. It was truly a journey through unspoiled nature. From the pier, we drove along long stretches of the beach lined with swaying coconut palms and seafood restaurants to Hotel Eco Paraiso, located in the centre of a coconut grove. It is the only one completed from a number of ecologically friendly hotels planned for the area. Nestled into the environment, its Mayan type bungalows all offer the best of 20th century amenities. The fragile ecosystem of the Park is government protected and like Eco Paraiso, the other planned hotels will be built to fit into and solidify the preservation of nature. As we dined on Eco Paraiso's seafood delicacies - some of the 1001 exquisite seafood dishes said to be prepared in Celestún - I thought of the lures of unspoiled nature in one of Mexico's most fascinating biological reserves, of course, topped by the majestic pink flamingos - the crown jewel of Celestún National Park. IF YOU GO Where to Stay in Celestún National Park: Hotel Eco Paraiso Xixim: Called `the Ultimate Mexican Escape', the 20th century hotel is located in the middle of a 5 km (3 mi) virgin beach and surrounded by palm trees and coastal dune flora. Tel: 1-800-400- 3333.
Trip: September, 1999 We just returned from a seven-day vacation in Jamaica at the Boscobel Beach resort. This was the first vacation out of the United States for our sons (ages 8, 9, 12) and I will admit that I was more than a little apprehensive about potential problems. We had heard negative reports from other world-travelers-with-kids, and had already delayed our trip from April because of rioting in Jamaica. The ride from the airport is 2 hours long and we were in a small van with a wild driver on wet roads ... I was beginning to think I made a big mistake!! Happily, I was wrong... The resort is not the Ritz, but our room was clean and comfortable. We were in the junior suite, which is basically one big room with a half-wall divider. We were in the main building (where you check in), which I would ask for again. The fun -- this is why I think most people go to a family all- inclusive -- was non-stop. The activity coordinators were the happiest group of people I've ever seen ... and full of the energy that only someone in their early 20s could muster. During the day there were pool volleyball games and water polo that were competitive while at the same time inclusive of all ages and abilities. (If one team got behind, the entertainment staff generally started a water war, then adjusted the score so that everyone was happy!) The snorkeling was a once-a-day must for the whole family -- the kids brought home big shells that they found at the reef ... absolute treasure! The banana boat was fun ... a little slow for the boys, but worth doing. Sailing was great (they bring you out if you don't sail). We got into the Jamaican culture with hat weaving and tie-dying classes (this is not something I would expect our athletic-minded sons to do, but we were in Jamaica mon) ... more souvenirs to bring home. They boys stopped into the arcade (located at the beach) which is rigged to operate without quarters, on a daily basis ... I don't know why anyone would leave the sun and sand for video games, but they were happy. At night, there were opportunities to get totally silly (the Sunday night beach games were a riot and the kids' toga party was a hit) or get away to a quiet sit-down dinner. We opted to get involved in most activities at least once, but there is no pressure to do anything at all if you don't want to ... they kept reminding us it was our vacation. The Allegro adults-only restaurant is worth coordinating around one of the nightly kids events -- at least once. We also enjoyed dinner at the Pavilion (so we could get waited on) with the boys ... they sat at one table with their new friends, and we sat at a separate table with our new friends ... perfect. Most of the time, we stuck to the pool-side Terrace restaurant for its casual atmosphere and wide variety of food .... peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, French fries and hot dogs were always available as a stand-by when the boys got picky. The bars served great mock-cocktails, along with the real thing, so everyone could get into the island tastes. The kids club was great. We never asked the boys to give us time alone, but every day they found an activity they wanted to participate in ... and we got our solitude. By the end of the week, the distinction between those were getting ready to go home (no shoes, no formal attire, no problem) and those just arriving was obvious! I have never seen my family so relaxed. Bottom line: this is a comfortable, let-your-hair-down resort that caters more to fun than glamour. We're going back!
I don't think we could have had more perfect vacation than the one we had at both Couples resorts. It's hard to explain it without sounding like a salesman, but it really was fabulous. Both resorts were great and uniquely different. The double-take is very worthwhile. Couples Ocho Rios was older but had a colonial or Jamaican feel to it. The excursions were great. I wouldn't miss horseback riding, Dunns River, or the Sunset Catamaran Cruise. They were all great and are extra at most of the other all-inclusives. I would get an ocean view room in Ocho Rios because it really is worth it. We enjoyed looking out over the water and being able to hear the waves roll in was very nice. The food was great. The Bayside and the Verandah were exceptional and very romantic. They both had strolling musicians to serenade you. Le Gourmet, the formal French restaurant, was great but I had a hard time getting in because I didn't bring any closed toe shoes. They are very strict on the dress code. All the bars were great and served almost anything you could think of. The plane ride between the two resorts was on a six- seater Piper. My wife is terrified of flying and after it was over she admitted it wasn't that bad. We were the only passengers and we felt very safe with the pilot. I would rather fly forty minutes than ride and the Jamaican roads for four hours. Plus you get a great view of the Island. Couples Negril is literally across the street from the air strip. Transferring between the two resorts only took two hours out of the day and was well worth it. It seemed like we had two vacations at once. Couples Negril is very modern and resort-like compared to Couples Ocho Rios. It was a nice contrast. A garden-view room in Negril would be fine since none of the buildings directly face the water. We were in building six which is the closest to the pool and main eating area. This was very convenient but at night it was very loud until the band quit at 11pm. They offered to move us after the first night but we liked being so close to everything so we just stayed put. The water is Negril is perfect. The bay is very quite and is not a part of the seven mile beach all the other resorts are on. This kept down on the foot traffic. The spa/massage services were great. The sunset catamaran cruise was really fun, They stopped at a place with a slide, rope swing, and cliff diving. The snorkeling was better in Negril, there was more colorful coral and fish. The scuba diving also seemed more popular. The food was great at the Cassava Terrace. Otaheite, the formal restaurant, was very elegant with excellent service. It was also the only one with air conditioning which is a nice break. We ended up staying two extra nights in Negril because we just couldn't pry ourselves away from the beach. There seemed to be a little more to do in Ocho Rios and I would recommend staying there longer if you had to choose. However, if you are a beach bum Negril has the edge, with the exception of the clothing optional area. In Negril it was pretty non-existent. It was right next to the water sports area and was never used. They have plans to move it to the other end of the resort where there is a lot less foot traffic. A lot of the women in Negril did go topless on the regular beach, but it wasn't a big deal. The nude island in Ocho Rios was less intrusive and kind of intriguing. If your going for the clothing- optional areas Ocho Rios is the place. If it's not your thing it's all done in very good taste and is easily avoidable. I can't say enough good things about our experience with Couples. It is a first class operation that takes the time to think of all the little things that make all the difference between a great and a fabulous vacation. The best part for me was leaving my wallet behind and not worrying about how much things cost because it's truly a all-inclusive resort with no hidden charges. We would return tomorrow if we could. Hope you choose the Couples double take, you won't be disappointed!
We were concerned because of all the hurricanes which had occurred this season as well as the promise of another "Irene" on the day of our departure from the Dayton,Ohio airport with a connection through Charlotte. The day started with a 7:00 AM flight from Dayton with arrival at Montego Bay of 2:30 PM CST. While on the plane we spoke with a group of girls going to Hedo 2, they convinced us the 1 1/2 hr bus ride was not the best part of the trip and we should take a hopper flight from Montego to Negril. Our travel agency did not even know this was available only the Air Jamaica flights. We signed up at the Airport with Timair and had our bags brought to the Van. Getting help with your bags is NO PROBLEM MON if you tip. We get in the Van and first thing we get hit up with was you want a Red Stripe (beer) from one of the street hustlers. Finally the 4 girls and my wife and I get started for the short ride to the local airport. The driver was nice but his comments about the Van was "this is a piece of shit, hope it makes it there" The agreed upon price was $55 one way with our group. At the airport with the luggage the girls had (350#) worth and our 120# worth, we could not all fit in the small plane. We ended up waiting 20 minutes until another pilot came who could fly the 9 passenger plane. While at the airport we all got hit on by the baggage handler who said "IF YOU NEED ANYTHING I AM YOUR MAN". He was trying to sell drugs. Finally we get loaded on the plane and after tipping the 3rd person since we arrive we left on a short 20 minute flight to Negril Airport. The flight was great we went out on Montego Bay and followed coast line for a short distance until we started the approach to the airport. We saw the buses on the winding road and they were going no where fast. The road looked as if it was being widened and instead of doing a section and finishing it, there were lots of sections started with dirt wash-outs on the existing road. We had asked for Timair to call the hotels prior to landing, but it had not been done. On arrival, Grand Lido was called and 5 minutes later, we were picked-up by a smiling doorman. By this time, both my wife and I were drenched with sweat since Jamaica was 88 degrees 90% humidity and Ohio had been 50 degrees and drought conditions. On arrival to Lido, more smiling faces and Welcome to Grand Lido. We were escorted to Amici, Piano Bar, for a drink(s), one of the social directors and the Conciere were there to have us fill-out the paper-work. One down side of trip was the 1/2 - 1hr check-in. Don't know why it takes so long, but maybe it is done to get you to relax and get used to Jamaican time. At the check-in we were also given the weekly events, restaurant hours, information of dress requirements, as well as when snorkeling etc. Finally at 4 O'clock we get taken to our room where our luggage had been brought. Each room has its own safe so we put our tickets, billfolds, jewelry etc. in it. Since we were on a budget, we had asked for a Garden View room. They were redoing the Garden View section we were given an Ocean View room close to the Wedding Gazebo. I had been teasing my wife since we booked about getting her on the C.O. beach, we weren't on that beach but the C.O. beach was the closest beach to us. She was very perturbed and blamed me for the booking, but I had nothing to do with it. The room was nice with ceramic floor and a couple of throw-rugs by the beds. The only bad thing about the tile floors were when you opened up the patio doors there was instant condensation and any dirt got dragged into the bed. The only other feature which may cause problems is the entertainment area -- couch and coffee table with the TV on a level that was lower than the bed level. If it was night there could be a tendency to break your neck if your were not careful. We solved the problem by putting our luggage in the area between the wall and the steps. We unpacked and showered. The bathroom has Shower gel, lotion, shampoo, soap and a hair dryer, which my wife said wasn't very good and she has short hair. There are no paper maps given so we just headed for the main complex to find someplace to eat. We chose the Cafe Lido where they ask you to wear pants and a shirt with a collar while the women should wear dress shorts, dress etc. It was raining hard and the covered walk-ways kept us dry. Several couples were waiting in line to eat. The ambiance is nice with a duo playing music. There was another couple, apparent newly- weds, who we asked if they wanted to eat alone or join us. They joined us and that was the start of meeting many new and interested couples. The food was very good, the wine though not outstanding was adequate and never stopped flowing. We started with an appetizer, followed by soup, salad, an entree and finally dessert with coffee and an after dinner drink. The conversation was very enjoyable and we spoke with Steve and Julie from San Francisco several times during the week. We ate at the Lido several nights later and found the menu was not the same as the first night. Prior to going to eat we called for a bottle of Champaign and it had not arrived when we got back. We went to the Stone House, the closest club house with a hot tub to our room and ordered a couple of drinks and asked about the Champaign. While there they were just bringing it to the room. The wine may not have been top rate, but the liquor was outstanding everything from Jack Daniels, to Gran Marnier, Remy, VO etc. The Bartenders were very good. We ordered VO and Diet Coke, it was okay but the Diet Coke and Pepsi have a different taste than we were used to. My wife order a Strawberry Daiquiri and we returned to the room with a bottle of Champaign. Back at the room, they had also delivered a 2nd Bottle of Champaign with a dish of strawberries, chocolate and cream we a welcome. We finished both bottles and finally went to bed. I think we drank a case a Champaign during the week. Next day, I had wanted to do Scuba, just got my Certificate but weather did not cooperate. The sea was too choppy and visibility was low both for scuba and snorkeling. We ordered in the Executive Breakfast with some additions via Room Service and were pleasantly surprised by the quality and amount of food. Even though the room had a coffee maker and coffee, I ordered some of the Blue Mountain Coffee. I had about 2 cups of coffee and had a caffeine buzz all day. We went exploring that day, walked the beach, swam, ate a lunch buffet at the Grand Terrrazo and just took it easy. Friday nights they have the Grand Buffet at the Grand Terrazo with seafood and dancing. Each day was a repeat of the first day except we started adding water sports after the sea calmed down. The Scuba crew were very professional, Valentine was the Dive Master. I had just gotten my certification and I wanted to go. The first dive was 90' in choppy seas and he had suggested the 30' check-out dive. Being stubborn, I went on the 90' and wasn't really as ready as Should have been. There were glitches, but Valentine became my dive partner for the dive and made certain everything was done properly. I dived everyday afterwards and really became comfortable. Denny from NJ was my partner the rest of the week. I got 6 dives in and the last dive of the week was the most exciting, we saw a group of dolphins -- 6 or 7 with either 1 or 2 babies. We dove in with them and 2 came down to visit at 60', during the same dive we saw a small skate and a sea turtles plus many fish etc. Scuba goes out 2 times a day -- 9:00 AM (50- 95'dives) and 1:30PM (30' dives). They also offered resort Scuba certification and most of people who I knew took course were well taught for shallow supervised dives. The equipment was all top rate. My wife, who has never snorkeled and who is not a swimmer, wanted to try snorkeling. We checked out some of the equipment and practiced prior to the going on the boat. The boat which is used for snorkeling is a glass bottomed boat so you can see reefs as you pass over. We went about a mile out past the Hedo 2 island to a mooring spot. Other hotel boats were in the same area. Since I had my own equipment I jumped in and waited for my wife to get instructions as well as have a live vest attached to make it easier for her to swim. The reef was probably 100 yards of exploring, my wife and I went around the reef and saw Sting Ray, Stone fish, star fish etc. She really enjoyed it and we were the last back to the boat. The snorkeling boat goes out 10:30 and 1:30. We also checked-out snorkeling equipment and went snorkeling close to the C.O. beach and Gazebo. We saw a 4' sting ray, a 12" puffer, a Stone fish and a bunch of fish. I wanted to snorkel out to a mooring buoy about 200- 300 yards from the Gazebo which was used for snorkeling but water tended to get a little rough in the afternoon and my wife couldn't make it. Other Watersports -- there are 3 or 4 Catamarans, 5 sailfish, a couple of Windsurf boards, kayaks, water tricycles and water bicycles which can be used from 9:00 to 4:00. We tried the Catamaran, first time sailing and did okay. They have instructions on how to sail for those who want to learn. Activities, Grand Lido has activities for every hour of the day from 8:00AM aerobics to 12:15AM Karoke. If you want to get involved you can and if not NO PROBLEM MON. The weight room had Nautilus type equipment while there were also some treadmills and stair climbers. The steam room and sauna were large but seemed seldom used. A plunge pool complemented the sauna and steam room and was in the same complex as the Spa facilities. We had a 1 hr massage ($60/each) as well as the free manicure, could have had a pedicure but opted not to. The massage was at one of the outdoor massage gazebo's. Restaurants were the Cafe Lido, Continental, the La Pasta , Italian not impressed with it and the La Piecere, French need reservations and a coat. The Piecer very good food and service takes approximately 2 hours. They also had assorted buffets on the Grand Terrazo for both lunch and evening and had a beach meal day on which both lunch and dinner were served on the beach. The food whether from the Club houses -- Timber, Stone or Nude Beach house or Grand Terrazo and restaurants on a whole was very good. The desserts were killer and fresh fruit always available. The main beach is beautiful, but at the time we were there, was seldom filled. The resorts occupancy was probably at 40% or less while there. The people on the main beach tended to stick together in groups and while friendly were not as extroverts as on the C.O. beach. The C.O. beach was something else, both my wife and I had never been to a C.O. beach. The first night we stopped for a drink and talked with Tom & Susie, 30 timer from 1992. It was quite different talking to someone nude. My wife and I did not know where to look and yet not be impolite. After the initial shock, we got used to the idea of the C.O. beach and as week progressed spent more time on it meeting and talking with the crowd. We found out some people pushed the idea of NUDE beach while others said if you wore clothes that was fine, being nude is something you normally don't just do. Denny said he had no problem being nude but his wife only went topless until at night in the Hot Tub. The nudist ranged in age from some newly weds which just started into it to some people in their 60's. All were very friendly people. The C.O. beach is quite a bit rocky and therefore going into the water without twisting an ankle is difficult. There is a pathway which is rock free. The lady bartender does a great job with Ice drinks, we had 7 or 8 different ones from Pina Colada to Caribbean Sky and Jamaican Sunsets. MY ZEIN, Princess Grace's boat, was an afternoon cruise from 3:30 to 6:30PM was a nice diversion. We went to the Light House and back while the sunset. Drinks and small snacks were served. Dress was semi-formal -- slacks for guys and dresses or skirts for girls. -- no heels allowed. Our room was very close to the wedding Gazebo and many people were getting married at the Grand Lido as many as 10 a day. We renewed our Wedding Vows and was very impressed. The ceremony was performed by a Church of God minister. It lasted about 20 minutes with vows repeated, a small sermon and the blessing of our rings. My wife got a beautiful 2 foot bouquet and I had a boutonniere. The Lido also furnished a small 2 tiered cake as well as Champaign. You can have pictures taken by a professional for $270 but we opted to have pictures taken with our camera. We took a side trip to the Negril Craft Market, the Lighthouse and Rick's cafe. The Craft market had pushy vendors who tried to get you to come into their shack. All in all, the crafts were the same from one vendor to the other. Bargaining was relatively easy. Rick's cafe is where they jump off a 30' cliff and watch a sunset. Rather expensive place but was okay. The drive to Rick's from the Grand Lido took 1/2 hours and the roads are wild. There is a Catholic Mass @ 5:00PM Saturday for those who wish to go to church. We really enjoyed our stay at the Lido and hope to visit again. I would probably stay on the C.O. beach area since it is closer to the club houses -- Timber, Stone and Nude Beach as well as to Spa facilities and the Grand Terrazo. If you are going to Lido, suggest you get a travel agent who knows what they are doing. We somewhat over packed and under packed on other items. A good travel agency who was familiar with the Superclubs could have given tips, our agency just booked the package and did not offer any help. Mine did not have the slightest knowledge of Timair, prearranging Vows, getting reservation prior to arrival for La Piecere etc. The Air round-trip on TimAir = $110/person, the girls at Hedo 2 said it took them 2 hours on the return bus trip. You are really pampered at the Lido and the staff is great. Another suggestion would be hit the tanning booth prior to going, we did it for 2 wks prior and had little problems with sunburn.
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