Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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January 17 - January 23, 2001 After much consternation on choosing a place to stay, we finally selected the Radisson Aruba Resort. Our travel agent, Alan Kramer from Pinnacle Tours in Brooklandville, Maryland, was magnificent in advising, booking, and obtaining vouchers that saved us over $350 in meal and drink expenses. Believe me, these vouchers came in mighty handy when you are dealing with a $17 per person breakfast buffet and frozen beverages at $8 apiece. It adds up very fast. I also surfed the Internet and found the Aruba Bulletin Board. It contained much information from travelers and their experiences and recommendations. More information than any other place I have been. You can get websites on restaurants with menus and prices to satisfy any taste. I found the abundance of new restaurants astounding. New ones are opening each week. You can even book reservations from the Internet before you leave home. I booked them a month in advance, so we could get in some of the more popular sites. If you dont have the Internet at home, the Radisson has two free computers to "surf" the Internet right in their lobby. You can even send email to friends or check on business. However, who wants to check on any business while in this tropical paradise. The Radisson provides an activities coordinator in the lobby who will gladly arrange excursions, restaurant reservations, and any other activity you wish. They also have a list of all of the local excursions and activities that you can do while there. They will handle all of the details. Day One We booked American Airlines, from Baltimore/Washington International Airport on 1/17/01 to San Juan with a connecting flight to Aruba. Air Aruba used to fly direct from BWI to Aruba, but they went belly up a few months back. It is always wiser to not take chances with your prize vacation. Book a solid airline and an upscale resort and you will not be disappointed. The flight was about full on both ends. The flight and the baggage handling went off without a hitch and we arrived in Aruba about 2:30 P.M. local time. Aruba is on daylight savings time all year long. Getting through customs was not hard, provided you have the proper documentation. Make sure you have a passport or a combination of a state-issued birth certificate and photo identification. My wife had been previously married, but customs officials did not ask for any correlating documents. I would highly recommend that anyone traveling call the airline they are traveling on and give them your birth certificate information, so they can enter it into their computer records. It makes it much easier when going through customs at both ends of your trip. Customs officials can cross-reference your information with the airlines database and verify who you are. American Airlines took both of our information including; maiden names, birth dates, birth cities, and most importantly the state-issued identification number of our birth certificates. With this information, we had no problem. The airlines will give you an information card that will be required to leave Aruba on the return trip. Put this with your airline tickets. It is vital not to lose it. We took a taxi from the airport to the Radisson Aruba Resort. About a 15-20 minute ride. One word of advice, only take the absolute minimum of clothing. All of the restaurants we ate at were resort casual dress. Meaning resort dresses or slacks for women, polo shirts, and Dockers for men. This will make your load much lighter for packing and un-packing. It will also help you when returning to the US, because going through customs on the return is a much longer route to carry baggage. Remember, you have to carry your own luggage through customs on the return trip. No baggage handlers are available there. The other piece of advice is to have some bills in $1 and $5 denominations to tip all of the people helping you at the resort, especially the taxi drivers and the bellman. Taxis here do not have a "meter". They have pre-determined fares, depending on the distance. Therefore, fares are reasonable especially if you come from New York where the fares for the same distance would be three times higher. Once arriving at the Radisson, my first impression was WOW! A beautiful open-air lobby that is immaculate in appearance and style. We were warmly greeted at the registration desk and checked in record time, even though I learned later the regular check-in employees were in a staff meeting when we arrived. A bellman took our luggage straight to our room and we were on the beach by 3:30 P.M. The room was a "garden view", even though we could see the beach from our balcony. It was plenty for the two of us. The rooms are tastefully done in a subdued hue of Caribbean colors and all of the furniture is in a dark cherry wood. There is ample dresser and closet space for all of your belongings. The rooms are equipped with a 31-inch satellite television and an in-room safe to keep your valuables during your time on the beach. The rooms are all equipped with a fully stocked "wet bar". The only advice I would give here is unless you want to be automatically charged for these items, do not move them. But, if it is more convenient and you dont mind paying slightly more than you could get out of a machine, go right ahead. Remember all of this will be added to your room costs when checking out. Rooms are also equipped with individual thermostat controls for keeping the temperature at a level that you prefer. What a magnificent job the Radisson has done with its renovations. This is surely the best-designed resort on the island. We looked at the Marriott and the others on Palm Beach, but the Radisson has made their beach the best combination of palm trees and cabanas on Palm Beach. It is certainly more appealing than the starkness of the beach at the Marriott and less cramped than those at the Playa Linda, Holiday Inn, or the Hyatt. In addition, the Radisson has one of the largest pool areas that I have seen anywhere. There is plenty of room to make yourself at home. No worrying about getting a comfortable lounge here or feeling you are in a sardine can. The square footage in the pool area is HUGH. More than enough to accommodate the maximum amount of guests. They also have two whirlpools hidden behind the Bonaire tower for a bit more privacy. I liked the fact that the Radisson would let you build a running tab for drinks and food you consumed at the resorts three different eateries. We could just sign a bill for the drinks we consumed on the beach and not have to carry anything with us except a towel and a good book. The attentive staff will cater to your every need. Another word of advice is the Radisson has a television station that will show you the running tab you have accumulated under "Guest Services". I advise to check this each day to make sure any vouchers you have presented on check-in are accounted for and no other items have been charged to you that you did not use. The Radisson has a convenient "towel hut" for getting towels to use on the beach and to reserve a shady cabana if you have sun-sensitive skin. You should use a high SPF sunscreen if you burn easily. The sun can burn you very quickly if you are not used to the Caribbean sun. I was pleasantly surprised by the coolness of the sand on the beach and the balmy breeze. Since I live in Maryland, I know what humidity is. There was virtually no humidity in Aruba. Even though the air temperature is in the upper 80s, it does not feel that hot. I could take that weather all year long. Even in their "hot" months, it does not feel as hot as a "Maryland summer". Once on the beach, I got a padded lounge chair and camped out under a shady cabana next to two swaying palm trees. Life doesnt get any better than that. I managed to get in some serious reading and snoozing. The sun sets around 7:15 to 7:30 P.M. and is beautiful to watch on the Palm Pier bar with your favorite frozen drink or a friendly waitress will constantly attend your food and beverage needs without you having to leave your lounge chair on the beach. Life is definitely tough here! It is a great romantic setting. We decided to not leave the resort on the first day, since we had already put in a 17-hour day before dinner. Therefore, we decided to have dinner at the Sunset Grill at the Radisson. What a lovely décor for a restaurant. A lighter décor in yellow, orange and blue that gives off a sense of happiness. The host showed us the actual portions of each entrée on the menu in a display case. The portions are definitely for those who can eat a LARGE meal. These were the largest portions of all of the restaurants we visited. With cocktails, appetizers, and entrees, the bill came to just over $100 for two. We could not fit a large portioned dessert after all we had, but they sure did look good in the display case. Remember, a 15% gratuity is included in most restaurant bills to cover all tipping. Day Two Our travel agent got us vouchers for the buffet breakfast during our entire 6-day stay. I cannot say enough about this seemingly insignificant matter. This alone saved us over $200. The Laguna Grill served a buffet or ala-carte breakfast menu beginning at 7 A.M. until Noon. The buffet featured all of the traditional items plus a wide variety of fruits, cereals, and custom-made omelets. There were also some local items. One was seasoned meat rolled in a light flaky crust, somewhat like a small taco. This is definitely a "must" try. Our server was a very nice, middle-aged lady named "Esther" from Curacao. What a lovely human being. She had a kindness and outlook that radiated from her. She took the time to talk with us about her adventures to Canada and New York and her desire to visit many places. She asked us if there was anything she could do to make our stay more enjoyable. She definitely had a "lust" for life in its simplest form. A lesson we all could learn. This made our breakfast that much more pleasant to learn the best life is the simple one. It could definitely make you re-examine your priorities in life. This was one common element among all of the local people we spoke with. It was their ambition to make our stay the most enjoyable it could be. I believe the closing of the oil refinery in 1985 and the subsequent unemployment impact on the island would, in most instances, be classified as a "depression". With 30% of the island unemployed, they had to look elsewhere for sources of income. I believe the turnabout in the islands fortunes and the beneficial impact of the tourist industry has made Arubas people more sensitive to the treatment of foreign tourists. After breakfast, we decided to lounge at the beach and "chill out". I decided to take a few books and take in the sights. The beach waiters giving us the daily drink "specials" attentively served us food and drinks on the beach. We made reservations for the French Steak House at 7:30 P.M. Taxis are at the ready at all popular sites. A line of ready and waiting taxi drivers were at the front lobby at all hours of the day and night. If you are going somewhere off the beaten trail, make sure you have the address. Some of the drivers do not have a command of the English language and may get confused or not understand where you want to go. Have the bellman translate it for you before you depart. We arrived about a half hour early, but they were accommodating and seated us immediately. The menu had a variety of seafood and steak entrees. I chose the "churassco" steak. This is tenderloin cut of beef somewhat akin to a New York strip, but juicier but not as tender. I recommend, if you are a steak lover, to give this one a try. If you are curious about why the waiter rings a bell and says "Mmm, Ooh La La" as they exit the kitchen, it is a tradition when they serve the "churassco" to do this. If you are seated near the kitchen, be prepared to have this going on all night. This got to be a funny joke between my wife and I. I told her I was going to buy a bell and install it in our kitchen. With dessert and tip, the bill was about $75. You will find that all of the restaurants are very big on presentation of meals. The appearance is very important and all dishes are finely prepared to look as good as it tastes. We were in and out in about 90 minutes. This is an experience that you want to savor. Therefore, I recommend taking the time to enjoy it. Day Three Decided to take a day and visit the "tourist" areas of downtown Oranjestad. The area was very brightly done in a definite Scandinavian motif. Very colorful buildings that you dont see everyday in the US. The mall area is small, relative to our standards, but has a complete line of top-of-the-line stores including Tommy Hilfiger, etc. Be sure to visit the Bye-Bye Shop. Has a great selection of tee shirts and hats to take home for friends. Made reservations at Chalet Suisse for 7:30 P.M. They were crowded. We were promptly seated and the menu contained entrees more from a German and Dutch flavor than we were accustomed. My wife had the seafood entry and I had the "beef stroganouf". I would recommend the seafood. The stroganouf was ordinary. Maybe, I was expecting too much. I had the apple strudel for dessert, which again was ordinary. I was somewhat disappointed in this restaurant due to its high reputation among other people. With appetizer, drinks, tax, and tip, the bill was about $70. Day Four Another beach day. Reserved our cabana near the end of the property adjacent to the beach front bar and grill called Gilligans. This is definitely a takeoff of the old television show about some castaways. If stranded here, who would want to be rescued! Gilligans has a limited menu, but the entrees are good. Even the rather large hamburger is nicely done with traditional lettuce and tomatoes. If you wish, have one of the beach waiters bring it to you. A true "couch potato". Booked the dinner and show at the La Cabana Resort and Casino. The dinner was good. A pre-selected list of items that are on the "show" menu. These are good items, considering it is a casino. The show was definitely worth it. The "Jewel Box Revue" is laugh-out-loud funny. A talented group of men impersonating famous women, including Cher, Madonna, Whoopi Goldberg, Judy Garland, and most impressive Joan Rivers. These performers should not be overlooked on your trip. A true "Las Vegas type" revue is most entertaining and a throwback to the vaudeville days when Uncle Miltie first appeared in drag. Most famous male comedians have their own version of appearing in drag (i.e. Robin Williams, Jonathan Winters, Johnny Carson, etc.). Rather pricey at $120 for dinner and a show for two, but it was definitely worth it. Day Five We booked the "Discover Aruba" tour. This is a 4-½ hour island bus tour through De Palm Tours. Our activities coordinator booked the trip and the air-conditioned bus, complete with refreshments came right to the lobby to pick us up. We left at 1:15 P.M. and made a complete circle of the island. We began with the lighthouse on the very northern tip of the island. The trade winds gust at about 25-30 MPH, so hold onto your hat. We continued through the desert part of the island. It is very different from the lush greenery of the resort to the starkness of the national park area. The island receives very little rainfall during the year and everything not irrigated is brown. The island was formed from a volcanic eruption and some of the lava flows can still be seen near the waters edge. Millions of years of wind and water erosion have carved the islands beautiful Natural Bridge and Natural Pool. The Natural Bridge is an awesome sight to witness the raw power of water in contrast with the calmness in the resort beaches. The tour takes you through the national park, which takes up a large chunk of the island. The landscape reminded me of the pictures sent back from Mars by the lunar rover a few years back. Many rock formations indicate this island was once under the ocean and thrust up by millions of years of volcanic activity. The island is gradually moving in a northward direction towards Cuba, which it will collide with in about another 100-150 million years. Cant wait to see it! The tour moved on to Baby beach which gets its name from the calmness and lack of depth of the waters in the inlet. The water is only about waist deep, combined with the tranquil ness, you could bring a baby to swim without any worry. You can try snorkeling if you are novice without any worries. If you get in trouble, you only have to stand up. Lastly, we rode through the gritty town of San Nicholas. This town was severely hammered by the oil refinery bankruptcy in 1985 and it looks as if it has not recovered. The refinery, now owned by Coastal Resources of Houston, Texas, has reopened and begun to re-employ local people. However, the lasting environmental impact of an industrial complex, such as an oil refinery, will not make this town a place where tourism will abound. This is, again, in such stark contrast to the beautiful areas on the north side of the island. As tourism increases, the government will have to find other ways to dispose of solid waste. For a population of this size in this small area, instead of the open-air burning method now employed, the government will have to find alternatives, otherwise the island might lose the appeal it has fought so hard to win. Wound our way back through Oranjastad and back to the high-rise district about 5:30 P.M. For a first-time visitor, the education was worth the money. Made reservations at Madame Janette for 7:30 P.M. For the ambiance, presentation, and overall taste, this meal tops all others we had during our 6 days on the island. The setting is just right for complete outdoor dining. This restaurant is distinctly German in origin. The highlight of the meal was the dessert. My wife had the pineapple based in a rum sauce, which was delicious. Try the sautéed onions. The presentation of the meal was an artistic delight. It looked as good as it tasted. You wanted to take a picture before devouring it. Even with the best of all things, the prices were more reasonable than most of the others. With appetizer, entrée, and dessert, our bill came to about $65. Day Six Took the morning to, again, work on my reading material on the beach. The beach waiter indicated there was a special frozen concoction called the "Hurricane". I chuckled at this, considering these people have never seen or been close to a real hurricane in their life. I ordered one for my wife and myself. A mixture of rum and pina colada mix in a frozen base was very good even though the price was a bit steep of $8 apiece. In the afternoon, booked the underwater sightseeing adventure. This excursion has a vessel that has a cabin that is completely under water and windows that allow you to see all of the coral formations that form the fragile ecosystem just off shore from Aruba. It also take you to a scuttled German freighter, named the Antilla, and shows how even the worst of things can somehow be redeemed by Mother Nature. This artificial reef has become part of the ecosystem, allowing coral and fish to have a place to inhabit. I enjoy this type of excursion. It may not be for people who get claustrophobic, because it is a narrow enclosure and the illusion is magnified under water. It may cause nausea in some cases. Overall, it was an enlightening experience. It still left enough time to stroll down the beach and examine the remaining resorts along the way. After seeing the grounds of the Allegro, Playa Linda, Hyatt, Holiday Inn, and the Marriott, I conclude the Radisson has the best layout of all. The trees and cabanas have been strategically placed on the beach to optimize the shade and sun areas, especially for those who have sun-sensitive skin. You dont have to be constantly worried the sun is going to burn you and ruin your vacation. Made reservations at El Gaucho for 7:30 P.M. We arrived 45 minutes early, but I am glad we did. They were booked solid and were waiting 45 minutes by 8 P.M. We were given a "beeper" and told to wait in their lounge across the street and we would be notified our table was ready when the beeper went off. We decided to stay in the bar area and have a drink. Our table was ready about 15 minutes after we arrived. Many of the cruise ship tourists visit this restaurant, which is purported to be the "most popular in Aruba". I ordered the "churassco" steak and my wife did likewise. What a mistake she made. The portion is HUGE, about 18 ounces of beef tenderloin. If you are not a big eater, better order something else. We are not accustomed to seeing those types of portions where we live. This was large enough for two people to share one portion and still fill you up. I would have to admit, the "churassco" I had at the French Steak House was tastier. The ambiance here was noisy and loud. You could not carry on a conversation without talking very loud across the table. With appetizer, drinks, and dessert, the total was about $80. It may be the "most popular restaurant in Aruba", but I would say it is not the tastiest. Day Seven Check out day. Time to return to the reality of our cold and miserable winter. Leaving the lovely white sandy beach and 89-degree weather to 27 degrees and a couple inches of snow a few days ago. No wonder people get hooked on coming here year after year. My wife cannot wait to come back. I asked her why. She indicated the friendliness of the people along with the weather and the resort made her feel relaxed. Our flight did not depart until 3:45 P.M., so we asked and were given a late check out of 1 P.M. That left enough time to enjoy one last morning on the beach, soaking up the Aruba air, and playing in its waters. Around 12:30, it was time to get a shower and get our luggage down to the lobby. We had to wait about a half hour until a bellman showed up, because they were busy. I had to tell the young lady at the check-out counter that my room billing had not been credited for my $150 food and beverage voucher that I redeemed at check-in on the first day. She checked and it was credited. Therefore, with the $150 voucher and the coupons for the breakfast buffet credited to my room billing, the total bill was $85 instead of $440. A sizeable chunk of change in anyones language. We shared a van to the airport with another couple that we had met a few days prior on the beach and they lived just 40 miles north of us. A word to the wise, Take the advice and allow 2 hours to get through customs at the airport on your return trip. I guarantee it will take that long due to the number of people departing for the US and the small number of customs agents, usually 2-3 at most, checking people through. Dont forget to have your paperwork ready and Aruba customs officials will ask for the information card given to you on the plane when you arrived. All said, this trip was one of the most enjoyable we have ever taken. My wife has indicated she would like to return here on a winter vacation next year. I agree this was one for the record books and will look forward to our next Aruba holiday. The trip reports depict individual experiences and opinions which are not necessarily consonant with views of the operators of Visit Aruba.
July 30 - August 3, 2001 July 30 Departed BWI Airport at 12 Noon on Sun Airways chartered by Apple Tours to Nassau, Bahamas. The plane was an older 727 model and the seating was cramped by todays standards of commercial flight. Not anything like the major airlines, but this is how Apple keeps their costs down. Arrived in Nassau by 1:45 P.M., about 15 minutes early. The flight was smooth and the food on the flight was good in comparison to commercial airlines. The plane had picked up a large contingent of passengers in Cleveland before arriving at BWI, so we were pretty much full upon leaving for Nassau. Once arriving in Nassau, we went through a small claim area toward Bahamian customs. This went smoothly and we were out of the terminal in good time. Once leaving the terminal, an Apple representative was coordinating the passengers toward their respective resort vans, while the luggage was loaded onto a large truck for transport to the resort. We had to wait for the proper van to pick us up for about 30 minutes. Once out of the airport, we were transported to the Marriott resort on Cable Beach, just outside of downtown Nassau. When we arrived at the resort, we were surprised by how warm it was in the lobby of the hotel (I use the word hotel, because I do not consider this Marriott up to the standard of using the word resort.). We later found out the hotels air conditioning system was off for the previous two days before we arrived. If I had been there during that time, you could have bet the farm that I would have found the first flight back home. I can not imagine being in 90 degree heat in a hotel room without air conditioning. It took another full day for the hotel to cool off. There was the normal long line of customers waiting to check in. One customer had checked in, but was still waiting for his room to be ready 5 hours later. When we checked in, we found out that our reservation was for a standard room instead of the king room we had asked for when making the reservation with our travel agent. We were informed that no king rooms were available and were offered a room with two queen beds instead. We reluctantly accepted. Glad we were not on our honeymoon! The room was nothing to write home about. It looked like any room you would get at any other hotel. The ventilation system was full of dirt and needed a good cleaning. The room had a musty odor and my wife went to the maid and asked for some spray freshener to mask the odor. We noticed that we did not have any wash cloths in the bathroom. We called down to ask for some and they did not bring them until the next day. I would tell Bill Marriott that he should be ashamed to have his name on this place because this hotel needs a overhaul and quickly. My wife is in the concrete restoration business and noticed many places were water is leaking in the main lobby and collecting on the roof of the casino and will cause it to leak. We decided to take advantage of the remaining time in the day to go swimming by the pool. We went to get some towels at the pool towel hut. They were out of towels by 3 P.M. in the afternoon. Can you believe that? In addition, the woman working the hut seemed ambivalent about finding out if any more were available. Glad we brought our own beach towels! July 31 We decided to have breakfast in the hotel at the Seaside Buffet. This was the first time that I noticed that tips are automatically included in your bill. The buffet is pay before eating. $14.95 plus a 15% tip for a full breakfast. Costly by anyones standards. You can get a more continental breakfast for $9.95, but it does not include anything hot. Just cereals and fruits. The breakfast was fair, mostly what you would see at any Shoneys breakfast buffet. Once finished breakfast, we decided to lay beside the pool. The waterslide was broken the full time of our visit, so we did not see this in action. We got to the pool early, due to the fact if you do not, all of the seats will be taken and you will have to go to the beach to get one. If you are sun sensitive as I am, you need to get a shady spot early as they are the first to go. We got into the pool and noticed that there were many small pebbles in the pool bottom. We quickly found out that the pool has some damage caused by erosion to the concrete liner. One place had a hole about 6 inches in diameter where the water had carved a hole in the bottom and pebbles were constantly being chipped off the edges and spread across the entire length of the pool. Not pleasant to walk on. If this is not fixed soon, the entire pool will have to be drained and shut down to fix it. In its entirety, the hotel is showing its age and needs to be renovated. It seems the only place where any money is being invested is in the casino. When Marriott bought this place, I bet they thought they would make a fortune in the casino. It is empty during the day and only gets somewhat crowded at night. But not by Atlantic City or Las Vegas standards. I noticed that the hotel was only about half full and a couple of the tower buildings had only about 10% occupancy. That is why I could not understand why the gentleman had to wait 5 hours for a room to be ready. After looking at the buildings at night, I made an educated guess that the entire hotel was only about half full or less. Cannot make money this way! August 1 Decided to book a tour with a local tour operator to see Paradise Island and the local tourist sights. The one thing that struck me was the ambivalent attitude of the locals toward the tourists. It seems that they do not care if you are enjoying yourself or not. They will not go out of their way to do anything for you. We had an Apple representative in the main lobby and booked the tour for $25 per person. We had a great breakfast at Café Johnny Canoes , at the Cable Beach Hotel next door to the Marriott. This was one of the highlights of our trip to Nassau. Johnny Canoes has a great menu and service with reasonable prices. Their Grand Slam breakfast was only $6.95 plus a 10% added in tip. Well worth the price. We decided to have dinner there too after looking at the dinner menu. They were definitely rated a 10 compared to the others we visited. The rack of ribs is definitely a must have item. Bring a hearty appetite, because this portion is huge. The trip to the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island was worth the trip. If not for that, it wasnt worth it. But to see this marvel of engineering and imagination is well worth it. I wonder how many investors laughed at this proposal of spending $800 million on a resort on such a poor island. The Atlantis is the only real place to stay in Nassau. But be prepared to spend some major bucks as EVERYTHING is expensive here. The average person from the states would get sticker shock at some of the prices being charged for the most mundane things. You could easily spend $1,000 here in a week, not counting you room and airline tickets. I would advise getting a all-inclusive package, from a tour operator, that includes all meals and tips. It is more economical than going it alone. The downtown area is still somewhat run down despite some new stores being put up by the pricey retailers such as Fendi, Versace, etc. We did not go directly downtown and did some shopping at the Paradise Island shops. We did get some good prices on shirts at the Paradise Island shopping plaza. As for the remainder of the sightseeing trip, there are not many sights to see. So you may want to bypass the remaining trip. We did see the Olsen twins, of Full House fame, making a movie in the lobby of the Atlantis. Make sure you see the restaurant off the main check in area. It is fabulous. Most of the Atlantis is reserved for paying guests, unless you want to shell out $25 for a walking tour of the place. We passed on this. We decided to take in the show at the Crystal Palace Rainforest Theatre. The show was playing to a sparse crowd of unenthusiastic patrons, who had to be encouraged to applaud. The showed featured a dance routine, which I found entertaining, and an illusionist. The illusion was how many tricks could he perform with three pieces of rope. He needs to polish up his act. I found this pretty lame for the Marriott. I pretty much enjoyed this 90 minute program, except when the waiter asked me for another $12 for two 8-ounce drinks he served. I thought they came with the $25 entrance fee. August 2 We decided to get a tan on the beach. Next door to the Marriott is the Nassau Beach Hotel. On their beach are some nice lounge chairs and a cabana that will provide shade to those who are sun sensitive. Nice to relax and watch the world go by. I noticed sand on Cable Beach is coarse. Not like some sand on other Caribbean islands. We decided to take a dip in the pool at the Nassau Beach Hotel. It was deserted on a Thursday morning. We noticed the hotel looked deserted as well. Just my impression of the off season in Nassau. Most of the people were on the beach. We decided to eat at the Capriccio Restaurante, just across from Sandals on Cable Beach. Boy, what a disappointment. The place is small with about 6 tables inside and a few more outside. But, who wants to sit outside when it is hot and humid. The indifferent waitress seemed as if she would rather be anywhere else but there. She brought us some very dry bread while we ordered our drinks. I feed that kind of bread to the birds at home. We had meat ravioli and lasagna. I have had better frozen Italian dinners from Safeway. I was just as shocked at the small portions they served for the price they charged. Our bill came to about $45 for two. The dinners did not include a salad or dessert. They were both extra. If you got both you can add another $25 to the bill. I would definitely pass on this tourist trap. We then split cab fare with another couple back to the Marriott. The 2 mile ride cost each couple $6. I would like to have exclusive rights to that franchise. $12 for 5 minutes work. I thought cab fares were regulated. Not so here. I think we got taken to the cleaners. But it wasnt the first time for this island to take people to the cleaners. I find it very amusing that a island that is 20 miles long and 7 miles wide, has over 400 registered banks. I know it is not the money of the Bahamians supporting all of these business ventures. One advertisement says that if you bring $750,000 with you, the government can speed up the process of getting you permanent residency here. My wife decided to try her luck in the Crystal Palace Casino at the Marriott. Now I know where all the money is going. Tell Mr. Marriott to pump some of that money back into the hotel. It needs it. My wife played a slot machine that yelled out Wheel of Fortune, just like the intro to that television program. I cant imagine how much those casino employees must hate Pat Sajak after hearing those machines scream that all day. I decided to go to the Sports Book area of the casino. Just like Vegas, where you can plunk down money and bet against all of those sports teams that you hate. I decided to watch all of the evening ball games on one of 6 television sets just outside of the main sports book area while having two scoops of my favorite ice cream from the hotel creamery. Now that is how you end the day! August 3 Time to check out. We had breakfast at Café Johnny Canoes. Once again, very good with great service. We had packed the night before, so we did not have to rush for our 12 Noon van ride to the airport. The Apple representative was nowhere to be found at the hotel during check out. I almost left our luggage at the hotel. Until my wife went outside and saw everyone piling their baggage on the sidewalk and noticed the Apple Vacations luggage tags on them going to Baltimore. I toted all of our bags to the sidewalk where a large truck was parked and you had to tote them out to the street and have the driver toss them onto the back with a thousand other pieces. Glad we didnt pack anything breakable. The van finally arrived and took us to the airport where we passed through what seemed like an endless maze of Bahamian and US Customs areas before getting into the small cramped terminal building. I find it amusing that Nassau schedules all daily commercial departures at within 30 minutes of each other. So, there are 4 daily flights from Nassau, all departing between 2 P.M. and 2:45 P.M. That means everyone shows up at the terminal at the same time. What a way to run an airline! Nassau has not changed much in the past quarter century. Except for some of the glitz on Paradise Island, it is essentially the same combination of haves and have nots that I remember from many years ago. It will probably take a lot longer than my lifetime for this island to emerge into a real resort destination, if ever.
We arrived in St. Lucia at 11 PM on Oct. 26. It was very hot and humid having come from Portland, Oregon. We stayed at the Inn on the Bay above Marigot Bay. Our hosts were Normand and Louise. They showed us to our room which was very neat and clean. The next morning we stepped out our door to a most wonderful view of Marigot Bay. The bay had numerous sailboats anchored there and water taxis moving about. Even a banana salesman on a surfboard. We had breakfast on the deck by the swimming pool. Three other couples were there also. We had bull finches looking to get a bite of our breakfast, moving about on the rail of the deck. The "Inn" is about 300 feet above the bay. Normand gave us insight as to what to see. The first day we took a water taxi to Anse Chastanet to snorkel and have lunch. The snorkeling was OK with some coral but not an abundance of large fish. We rented a car for 7 days the next day from Cool Breeze. It was a Suzuki sedan. Very gutless. You had to turn the air conditioning off to get up hills. We drove north to Rodney Bay. We had lunch and drinks at Spinaker's. We then visited the Hyatt over by Pidgeon Island. Some of the rooms have steps down into a large pool. It looked great. The beach was nice there. We then hiked to the top of Pidgeon Island to the fort and took some pictures. Great view! Spinakers was beckoning us for drinks and the sunset. They had great sunsets there with sailboats between you and the sun for great photos. The next day we drove south through Anse le Raye, Castries and on to Soufriere. All these towns or villages revolved around fishing. Castries was special because the women of the town were washing their clothes under a bridge and singing songs. They later carried their clothes away in a basket on their head. Lots of great views before and after arriving in the villages, especially Soufriere with the Pitons in the background. We drove up to Ladera for lunch. The restaurant is called Dasheene. What a spectacular view of the Pitons. Food and drinks were great. We were shown a room with a plunge pool. Very romantic place. We then drove down to the Hilton Jalousie. We snorkeled there on the right edge of the beach. It was better than Anse Chastanet. More coral and fish. The beach sand was very white and appeared to have been shipped in. Nice place between the Pitons but things appeared to be overpriced. There appeared to be separate buildings there with pools also. We watched the sunset there and drove back to the "Inn". The next day we dove with Scuba St. Lucia at Anse Chastanet. The first dive was a shore dive near the snorkeling area and was much better than I would have imagined from the snorkeling we did earlier. We had a buffet lunch at Anse Chastanet. It was good lunch with the waitresses dressed in colorful outfits. The second dive was in Soufirere Bay at the Pinnacles. We liked it very much, especially coming up from the dive and seeing the Pitons at water level. We felt very safe with Scuba St. Lucia, especially having a dive master with 20,000 dives to his credit. We ate at the Green parrot that night. It had good food in a delightful setting. It is in a mansion with a view of the Castries. The cook is Harry Edwards who entertains as well as cooks. Interesting items on the menu include Stuffed Pussy and Steak Pussy Galore. We spent a whole day on the Brig Unicorn. It is a large square sailed ship with a fun crew who serve drinks the whole time and serve a nice lunch. You sail down the coast from Gros Islet to Soufriere and visit the volcano, botanical gardens and Diamond Falls. The Botanical Gardens has wonderful flowers which we had not seen anywhere else. The volcano looked and smelled like something from Yellowstone Park. Diamond Falls wasn't as big or great as I has imagined. We stopped for a swim on the way back. It is a fun trip. Well worth the money. We left the Brig Unicorn to go to Spinakers for another sunset. This one had a green flash. It was great. We ate at the Coal Pot that night. It was our best meal of the trip and was recommended by Normand. We also liked Froggie Jacks in the same area. In Marigot Bay the Shack had the best food. We spent a day shopping at Point Seraphim because it was raining non-stop for several hours. We found the prices not that great nor the selection compared to St. Thomas or St. Martin. We rally enjoyed our stay at the Inn on the Bay. The hosts Normand and Louise were great and all their tips and recommendations were right on. The rooms were spotless and appeared to have just been painted. The views were spectacular of the bay. It was very peaceful up there except at night when the tree frogs make their noise. We got used to it very quickly and it wasn't a problem. The roads on St. Lucia aren't great. One of the hazzards are the deep ditches along the roads which when stearing the car on the right side but driving on the left side of the road, are very hard to judge. If you get in a ditch you won't get out easily. Another problem is the turn signals are on the right of the steering column and the wipers on the left. When turning left you pull down on the wipers and turn them on constantly. There are many "Hairpin Bends" between Marigot and Soufriere, which can be very exciting if a car is in your lane. St. Lucia was the most lush island we have visited anywhere. It has many banana plantations with lots of coconut palms. The people were really friendly especially if you get to know them. We went to Anse le Raye instead of Gros Islet for the Friday jump up. They had the whole town out. We each ordered a huge lobster for about $20 US. We talked to the people there for 4 ho