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Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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GRAND LIDO FACILITIES Location: Negril, Jamaica - One and one-half hours West of Montego Bay's Sangster International Airport by car, 15 minutes by air. The property is nestled on the shore of Bloody Bay, which is located east of the seven-mile beach in Negril. Grand Lido P.O. Box 88 PHONE (876) 957-5010-8 Negril FAX (876) 957-5517 Jamaica, West Indies Facilities: Grand Lido has 200 sleeping rooms and two separate beaches (one traditional beach, and one secluded clothing optional beach). Meeting facilities are available. Two new resorts are being built to the east of Grand Lido on the same bay. The room: In the junior suite, which is a standard room, the raised sleeping area is set apart from the lounge area. The buildings are only two-stories high and rooms are accessible by an open-air hallway on the non-beach side, and on the beach side of the first floor rooms. Rooms are tiled, and upholstery is pretty and in good condition. The suite's lounge area includes a love seat and floor lamp, a coffee table, an upholstered chair, and a stand that holds a (satellite) television, a CD/cassette/radio boom box and a table lamp. There are no screens or glass on the two small windows that face the ocean, only lockable louvers which allow the ocean and tree frog sounds in at night. In between the two small windows is a patio door; upstairs rooms have a tiny balcony, downstairs rooms have a beachside patio (if it is a beach-front or ocean-view room). The ceiling fan and air conditioner are located on the lounge side of the suite. The sleeping area of the room includes a bed with two bedside lamps and a telephone, across from the bed is an attached wood vanity with upholstered vanity chair and a lamp, and a full-length mirror. There are more than enough pillows , and they are comfy, too. Hotel information is available in the folder found on the vanity, including laundry information, room service menu, in-house phone numbers, etc. Near the entrance of each room is a built in wood closet (which houses a mini safe), and a built in dresser with four small drawers and three shelves - with a lighted mirror hanging above and an electrical outlet. There is a coffee/tea maker on the vanity there. A dispenser in the bathroom tub/shower has shampoo, bath gel and lotion. Towels abound! A hair dryer hangs on the wall in the bathroom, next to the sink and mirror. Louvered-glass windows are available to help air the humidity out of the bathroom. Daily maid service includes full cleaning in the morning and turn- down service in the evening. Improvements in progress: First, and most notably, all of the hotel's public areas are being resurfaced with beautiful Italian Marble tiles ... The marble lobby, the lounge, the Terrazza, the walkways and the pool areas. It should be quite stunning. (We were disappointed to know the old marble lobby would be covered, but upon careful viewing one could determine that the flawed Jamaican marble in the floor was crumbling, cracking and difficult to clean.) The fitness area is now enclosed and air- conditioned. An aerobics work-out pad has been installed overlooking the ocean, near the main pool. A spa area is being constructed. It will include massage, reflexology, body scrubs, a mineral plunging pool. Don't know the details yet, but it is going to be beautiful. The sales manager has told us that these services will be offered at an additional fee. Three massage huts have been built over-looking the ocean. The clothing optional pool bar has added a grill. While not operational during our visit, it appears much nicer than the old pool bar building. One-Bedroom Suites and Executive Suites are being built on the main beach, between the first guest room building and the main building. Facilities include: The main building, which includes the Terrazza, Main Bar, Marble Lobby, Lounge, Main desk, Piacere, LaPasta, Café Lido, Amici, Games Room, Atlantis Disco, Video Theater, Library, Salon Delores, Boutique/Duty-free Shop and Gift Shop. The Terrazza - Main gathering spot for buffets, as well as lunch- time and evening entertainment. Games Room - Offering backgammon, board games, cards, dominoes, pool tables, Ping-Pong, and a small collection of slot machines. Video Theater - open 24-hours a day, offers a big screen satellite television and use of a VCR (tapes available from concierge). Library - Books, magazines, newspapers - limited quantity and selection (guests don't return items). Boutique/Duty-free Shop and Gift Shop Marble Lobby (being re-tiled) is home to a collection of art, available for sale from Chelsea Gallery, Kingston. Eight Bars - the main bar on the Terrazza, the Amici Piano Bar, Atlantis Disco, Three clubhouse bars, the main beach bar, the nude beach bar. Club Houses - Stone, Timber and Beach House - each offers a light menu, a bar, whirlpool and terrace. Fitness Center - Newly air-conditioned, includes treadmills, stairmasters, stationary bikes, with freeweights and resistance training equipment. Aerobic classes and power walks are available. The newly constructed aerobic platform over-looking the ocean was not yet in use during our visit. Spa Area - to open soon. Three massage huts - each overlooking the ocean. Were not in use at the time of our visit. But, if we return, I'll have a massage in one of these!! Four Tennis Courts - two are lit for evening play. Golf - is available, see the concierge. Large pool/whirlpool area - adjacent to the Terrazza and directly on the ocean - the deck around it is being re tiled. Small pool/whirlpool area with beach bar on the clothing optional side of the beach. A grill has been added to this newly updated beach bar, and this pool deck is scheduled to be re-tiled, too. Water Sports - housed on the main beach - includes wind surfing, sailing, water skiing, kayaking, snorkeling, water tricycles, glass- bottom boat rides and instruction for each of these water sports. If para-sailing is desired, let someone at water sports know and they will call over a non Grand Lido para-sail boat. There is an extra fee for para sailing. (Mike went para-sailing on a previous trip and had a ball!) SCUBA - daily dives are offered for beginners and PADI certified divers. A resort course is available. International PADI certification is available at an additional cost. Yacht - The M/Y (motorized yacht ) Zein was originally given as a gift from Aristotle Onasis to Grace Kelly and Prince Ranier of Monaco ... a wedding gift. Now owned by Super Clubs, the yacht is available for (almost) daily sunset cruises (reservations with concierge are required). This is a pleasant cocktail cruise that takes all aboard past Rick's Café and the Negril Light House on the West End. It includes entertainment and light appetizers, by no means a meal. There is also a clothing optional cruise, usually on day mornings, but check daily activity sheet to confirm date/time. If the Zein is in dry dock or out for maintenance, another boat is contracted by the hotel to provide a sunset cruise. Guests complain about the contracted boats, but there is no other boat so elegant as the Zein to hire, and the Zein does need maintenance. Salon Delores - offers manicures and pedicures (complimentary of course). Their employee walks the beach to offer authentic Jamaican hair braiding to guests ($4 per braid) - your hair can be done right on the beach. Many brides use Salon Delores to have their hair done for their big day. Laundry and Dry Cleaning - available from your room at no charge. Make sure to allow 48 hours (for sure) for return of clean clothing. DINING GUIDE Gran Terrazza - Daily Breakfast, 8:00 - 10:30 AM Buffet Menu: Hot items like sausages, bacon, eggs Benedict, scrambled eggs, breakfast fish, corned beef hash, French toast and pancakes; Bread items like bagels, muffins, English muffins, banana bread, whole wheat bread, multi-grain bread and white bread. Toaster and bread condiments (like marmalade, jam, jelly, butter, cream cheese, locks, etc.) Made-to-order omelets. Fresh fruit. Cheese display. Yogurt. Sweet rolls. Juices, coffee, tea, soda, mimosa (etc.) served at the table. Attire: casual, cover-ups must be worn over swim suits. Daily Lunch, 12:30 - 3:00 PM Buffet Menu: Hot items differ from day to day, usually ethnic cuisine is featured (Mexican, Jamaican, Italian, Oriental). Hot soups. Huge bread display featuring European-type breads, Jamaican coconut rolls, traditional white/wheat dinner rolls, and pizza bread, as well as traditional breads. Build-your-own sandwiches ... including meats, cheeses, condiments, tuna, etc. An array of cold salads are offered each day, salad bar, and on some days a salad chef is available to toss a special lettuce/Caesar salad. Desserts are incredible ... full dessert display and ice cream sundae bar. Wine, coffee, tea, soda, juices and bar drinks are served at the table. Attire: casual, cover-ups must be worn over swim suits. Wednesday Night - Island Buffet, 7:30 PM Menu: More food than one could imagine - all displayed beautifully with ice- cheese- and fruit-carvings and sculptures. Hot items include regional favorites like curried goat, rice and peas, white fish cakes. Also included on the hot food line: vegetables, potatoes, fish, beef, chicken, pork and shell fish. Salad chef. Bread bar. Fresh fruit galore. Sushi. Crudite of fresh vegetables and dips. Cheese display. And more. Desserts are abundant ... cakes, pastries, brule, tiramisu, biscottis, cookies, pies, cream cakes, and more. Wine, bar and coffee service is available at the table. Attire: spiffy causal to semi-formal Friday Night - Grand Gala Buffet, 7:45 PM Menu: Everything that is listed above ... and way more! Usually more seafood (lobster or langouste, prawns) and red meats. Wine, bar and coffee service is available at the table. Attire: spiffy causal to semi-formal Club Houses - Each of the "Houses" is a bar, plus a place for a quick meal. Open 24-hours a day. "Stone House," "Timber House," "Beach House." Menu: Tossed salad, soup du jour, club sandwich with fries, grilled baby lamb chops with peppered jelly, pan fried snapper sandwich, "build your own" sandwich on a torpedo roll, Mexican potato skins, hamburger with fries, chef's salad, vegetarian garden burger with fries, hot dog with fries, ice cream, seasonal fresh fruit plate, chocolate brownie, ice cream with bananas foster and whipped cream. Also available, popcorn. Attire: casual 24-hour room service Menu: Same as the Stone, Timber and Beach Houses (listed above). Also available, continental breakfast ... Hang the order card (available in your room) on your door before 2:00 a.m. and order from a limited continental menu that will be delivered at the time you request (between 6:00 and 10:00 AM). Breakfast menu includes: cereal, toast, bakery basket, assorted yogurt, fresh fruit plate, cottage cheese, Blue Mountain coffee, decaffeinated coffee, tea, mango nectar, a large variety of juices, and milk. LaPasta (Italian Cuisine), open daily from 3:00 PM - 2:00 AM Menu: Appetizers, salads and soups are available to get one started. There are four or five sauces offered, along with four or five pastas to choose from. Each of the sauces is different, ranging from traditional red beef sauce, to seafood in a cream sauce, to vegetables in a red sauce, etc. If you don't see just what will settle your palate, ask for a deviation from the menu (i.e. a plain red sauce or "no mushrooms"). LaPasta's staff tries to accommodate special requests. (The menu at LaPasta changes every four or five days.) Three or four desserts are displayed on a cart near the front of the restaurant. You may dine inside or outside. Attire: casual Café Lido (Continental Cuisine), open daily (except Wednesday and Friday) 6:30 - 10:00 PM Menu: Three or four appetizers, two or three soups, two or three salads, and six or seven entrees are offered. The meal is accompanied by a basket of bread. Full wine service. Dessert is listed on the menu and includes a selection of five or six tantalizing items. The menu here is just as impressive as the Piacere, although the environment is not as formal and there is no sorbet/ palate cleansing course. (If your a Plane-Jane eater, go ahead and order without sauces, herbs, seasonings, etc. They will try to comply, and usually do.) You may dine inside or outside. Attire: dressy to spiffy casual Piacere (French Nouvelle Cuisine), open daily 6:30 - 9:30 PM, reservations with concierge are required for seating Menu: Three or four appetizers, two or three soups, two or three salads, and six or seven entrees are offered. Again, full wine service and a basket of breads accompany your meal. The service is impeccable and white- gloved. Although the staff is prepared to be as formal as one would ever desire, the staff will warm to you if you encourage conversation, and because of that the service doesn't have to be "stuffy", but can be FUN. The menu here is as good or better than we've ever experienced anywhere in the United States. Attire: Formal/ Semi-formal. Men must wear leather dress shoes and jackets, although no ties are required. Women usually dress quite formally. The sales manager has told us that Grand Lido is likely to open a Jamaican Cuisine Restaurant on property in the near future. DAILY ACTIVITIES - see the daily activity sheet available through the concierge or at the front desk for activities while you are there ... the ones listed below are "daily standard," but by no means include all activities AM 8:00 - Power Walk, meet in front of gym 8:00 - 11:00 Audio/Video Library 8:15 - Bicycle Tour (reserve with Concierge) 8:30 - 11:30 and 3:30 - 6:30 Tennis Pro on duty 9:00 - 4:00 Water Sports available on main beach 9:30 - Morning Announcements, on Terrazza 10:00 and 5:00 - Formal Orientation, meet outside of Amici 10:30 - Beach Volleyball PM 12:30 - Lunch Time Band performs (except Sunday, the One Man Band plays) 1:30 - Lunch Time Announcements, on Terrazza 2:30 - Lunch Time Activity, on Terrazza, different activity each day 3:30 - Evening Cocktail Cruise, departs from pier (reserve with Concierge) 4:00 - 6:00 - Afternoon Tea in the Marble Lobby 6:00 - 2:00 - Amici Piano Bar 9:00 or 9:30 - Evening performance on the Terrazza, a different show each night 10:30 - either Laser Karaoke or Resident Pianist Performs in Amici Piano Bar 10:30 - Atlantis Disco ***A wide variety of daytime outings and tours are available by contacting the concierge. Additional charge. OUR TRIP - everyone has unique and special things happen to them while on vacation ... Out trip report will not go through a minute- by-minute account of our vacation (we don't want to bore anyone). However, we would like to point out a few of those individuals, activities and items that made our trip exceptional in some way ... or, information others may find useful. day, October 16 - "We arrive at our destination luggageless." The trip started out as uneventfully as one could possibly hope for. We flew out on Midwest Express (all seats are first class on this airline) to Milwaukee, then on to Atlanta. We had a three and a half hour lay over until our Air Jamaica flight took off for MoBay. We arrived as scheduled. Immigration lines were not horrendously long (about 20 minutes), and we were entertained by a local folk dance group while waiting to get through. Upon arrival in the baggage claim area, we immediately realized that our luggage did not arrive quite as uneventfully as we ... in fact it did not arrive at all. There were five other couples who flew into Atlanta on Midwest Express whose luggage did not arrive either. We began the business of filing lost luggage claims at the Air Jamaica counter. While the women working were trying to be very helpful, they did not react to the urgency of the situation and, understandably, Mike soon became exasperated ... We were at their mercy. I took over the paperwork. The women could not identify where our luggage had been lost, when it would arrive in, if it would arrive in. They did, however, want us to give them combinations and keys for our luggage so they could take our luggage through customs upon its arrival in Jamaica. As their printer was broken, I had no receipt of the claim we had filed, just a claim number. Remember, nothing is ever a problem in Jamaica, and our lost luggage was "no problem" to the Jamaicans trying to help us. Quite on the contrary, we thought our lost luggage was a problem. Although they were not helpful in terms of providing the information we are accustomed to receiving under these circumstances, the women at the Air Jamaica counter were very friendly and they were doing their best to be helpful. After getting our customs form pre-signed for Air Jamaica, we proceeded through the baggage claim area to look for the Tim-Air (a chartered flight provider) desk. Before we had spotted TimAir, the TimAir porter spotted us, remembering us from our last visit. He took the one carryon we had with us and walked us to a bus that would take us to the FBO. TimAir used to be accessible through the airport but has recently relocated to a facility outside of the Sangster airport building. We had made flight reservations from home but paid the $240US round trip (for both of us) with a credit card at the TimAir office. The pilot and co-pilot were ready for us, and we got into the four-seat airplane immediately. The 15-minute flight was beautiful. It rained on and off, and that was - with the exception of a few raindrops on the following Friday -- the only rain we saw during our vacation. A taxi was awaiting our arrival, and we were immediately taken from the Negril Aerodrome (across the street from Grand Lido) to the resort. Check in took five (5) minutes ... barely enough time to drink the beverages we were served upon arrival. We were escorted to our room by the Sales Manager, Christopher Johnson, who took us on a short walking tour of the improvements being made at Grand Lido. After cleaning up, we stopped in at the returning guests cocktail reception ... it was a pleasure to see many old friends, waitresses, waiters, managers who had helped make previous stays enjoyable. We had our first dinner, at LaPasta, where we saw many old friends who waited on us. Ah, Jamaican coffee tastes better in Jamaica! Dessert, chestnut cake with peach brandy ice cream, hit the spot, too!!!! We stopped down to the whirlpool for a half-hour before stumbling off to our bed. The tree frogs and waves lulled us to sleep. Friday, October 17 - Is there anything more grand than waking up in Jamaica? Yes, ordering a pot of coffee and having it arrive within 10 minutes (room service consistently took between five and ten minutes when we ordered coffee or coffee and Pepsi). We spent plenty of time trying to track down our lost luggage. Mike was on the phone with Montego Bay and the U.S. Getting nowhere fast, it was suggested he talk to the concierge.... Shelia, the concierge, proved to be sweet and quite helpful, too. She helped us to get our bags, and helped Air Jamaica to open our bags to get them through customs (our bags are locked with a full-size MasterLock: try explaining over the telephone, to a Jamaican, the technique for opening a MasterLock!!!). At 5:15 our bags arrived. Luckily, we carried an extra set of keys to our luggage, as the keys were not returned with the luggage. Everything was intact, nothing taken, and we could change our clothes!!!!!! We went to the Grand Gala Buffet at 7:30 - as usual, the food was everywhere!! Huge prawns were my favorite. Mike liked the "death by chocolate" pie. There were new performers on stage: a funfilled staff fashion show (Mike loved the swimsuit portion of it!). A very talented female vocalist, Judy Emanuel, took the audience by storm. At 10:30 we hit Amici Piano Bar for Karaoke, and later hit the disco (Friday is a good night to watch all of the Jamaican employees dance ... and they can dance!). Saturday, October 18 - I made reservations for the French Restaurant (Monday), A Massage for Mike (Today, Saturday), and a Pedicure/Manicure for me (soonest appointment was Tuesday). For the second day in a row, the weather was delightfully hot and sunny. We went to lunch at the buffet. Hot items featured Mexican cuisine. We were introduced to Zein Issa (SuperClubs VP of marketing) who joined us briefly. Apparently, she has had the opportunity to read the AOL travel board and she carefully considers the criticisms of the postings, and how to correct the situations/problems. For dinner, we went to Café Lido. Mike ordered minestrone soup and a sirloin (without the sauce described) ... his request was "no problem." I had pumpkin soup, something I crave when I am not in Jamaica, and a grilled tuna steak. (A Grand Lido chef once told us that domestic pumpkins are quite different from Jamaican pumpkins, and therefore ours are not much good for making soup.) We both skipped the other courses. Although Saturday is traditionally a great night for entertainment on the Terrazza, Reggae Explosion Night, we were too tired and hit the sack early. Sunday, October 19 - I woke up without the alarm in time for a Power Walk. Met Donovan, the temporary gym instructor, outside of the gym facilities at 7:55 AM. (He is always prompt.) There were three other walkers, and we took off down the beach. It was hot at 8:00 and I sweat like a pig! We walked on the beach of Bloody Bay, going east, until we could go no further because the jungle takes over the beach ...we then turned toward the road, and once we arrived at the road, we walked back to Grand Lido. 35 or 40 minute walk (3 miles???). I needed water. At least I could say I exercised while on vacation. Mike and I went to breakfast at 9:30 - something we rarely do on vacation. Mike had eggs Benedict and I did too. I also indulged in Grand Lido's awesome banana bread. Then, off I went to lay in the sun and soak up all those harmful UV rays. - Again, it was hot and swimming was a necessity. Later, Mike and I walked the beach and talked with some of the "Beach Friends" we have made over time. (We enjoy spending time with the Jamaican people, on and off property.) So, we exerted a little energy before lunch. Lunch notes: Pumpkin/chicken/vegetable soup - awesome!! In addition to all of the regular items, today is Jamaican Day on the hot buffet line ... Akee and Salt Fish (the Jamaican national dish), peas and rice, curried goat, to name a few. Again, we went to swim. And later we left to go to Sandy Bay (community about 15 minutes away) to visit a friend. We returned to have a cup of tea at Afternoon Tea and were joined by Social Director Ted. Monday, October 20 - Note: this day is National Heroes Day in Jamaica, a national holiday commemorating the gifts five men and one woman made to the people of Jamaica. This is the first time, in all of our seven visits, that a Jamaican holiday was celebrated in a big way. We told the new Entertainment Manager, Floret, that we enjoy the attention called to Jamaican holidays and heritage. We are, after all, guests in their country. It does us good to understand their culture, and this information is interesting, too. - First things first, we ordered coffee. (Although there are coffee makers in the room, I much prefer to have room service deliver coffee in the morning. In my book, that is luxury.) Called in laundry, something you have to do before 10:30 AM. Lunch buffet featured hot pasta, made to order on the buffet line grill. Another soup favorite of mine was served today, conch chowder. Grand Lido has really wonderful soups, and the European breads to accompany them. Mike built himself a respectable sandwich nearly every day for lunch - cold cuts, cheeses, lettuce, onion, tomatoes ... all the fixin's! We took advantage of the clear, hot windy weather and went for a walk and a sail on a sunfish. Mike was able to get that boat cranking and we had a great time. Again, as in previous visits, we noticed that the Water Sports guys keep a serious eye on all of the vacationers who take out equipment. They went out to help a guy who was having a lot of trouble with his sailboat. Later in the day we saw them go to help out another sailor, preventing him from washing up on the rocks. We had reservations for Piacere at 7:00. We dressed typically fo this restaurant: Mike wore khaki pants, a white shirt and navy jacket, I wore a simple black dress. We were greeted by the host and seated immediately. Wine first, we selected the Conch y Toro Cabernet/Merlot blend - one of the better tasting wines on property - and the menu selection began. I began with crab cakes (appetizer) , we both ordered tomato salad, Mike ordered sirloin steak (and asked for it without the special sauce) and I ordered salmon steak. We skipped the other courses. We enjoyed each item, but wished the tomato salad were less complicated - it included eggplant goat cheese rolls embellishments, and some other unidentifiable stuff - but for the adventuresome diner, it was a great salad. Mike's steak was wonderful, and the salmon was incredible, too. We ended up in the Amici Piano Bar enjoying the Jim Beam and Wine. We left, all smiles, two hours later. Tuesday, October 21 - The first slightly cloudy day we've had, but still hot and muggy. A great day to lay by the pool. Notable lunch items: stew, rice and vegetables, grilled chicken, red pea soup (excellent), and the usual array of everything else. I had a manicure/pedicure - enjoyable, and she (Trina) did a nice job, too. We had received our laundry by 4:00. Went to the beach and, later, to the afternoon tea. We received an invitation to the returning-guests cocktail party that is held on day evenings and we RSVP'd immediately that we would attend. This is always a great time to let the management know how your stay is and how they can make it better next time. The M/Y Zein returned from dry dock and we reserved a spot on Saturday's cruise. The "lady" was given new German engines, new piping, new electrical, a facelift and is essentially a new boat. From the shore, all lit up at night, she is beautiful. Decided to hop into the whirlpool before bed, but it was not hot enough ... I had the goose bumps. But there were a lot of people chatting and drinking around the hot tub by the time we left! (We later spoke to Byron "The Hardest Working Pool Man In All Of Jamaica" and he said, once again, he just can't please guests. One guest says it is too hot, one guest says it is too cold. The policy for temperature is 100 102 degrees F. He said, engineering was going to put a lock on the door to prevent guests from entering the pump house and changing the temperature themselves. Later in the week, Mike and I overheard one guy bragging about taking matters into his own hands when he thought the whirlpool was too hot - he said he had turned the heat off in the pump house the night before -- so we know it happens.) Wednesday, October 22 - We slept in again and vowed to go to bed early tonight! We were in the sun by 11:30 AM but had to chase down towels, a chaise for each of us, and seat cushions. We sat out for about an hour - I put sunscreen on, Mike did not and he burned badly. The volleyball crowd was in the pool (day three or four of all-day volleyball games ... made it unpleasant for me to be near the pool ... if I wanted to swim, I could not ... one guy (who was quite raunchy, although not everyone who was playing was the same) liked to shout out comments about the appearance of certain individual's body parts ... tacky and tasteless. We later talked to Donna, the resident manager about him - she said if an individual gets too out-of-hand, Grand Lido will ask them to leave for the enjoyment of the many.) After lunch, we linked up with some new friends and went across the street to the "shops" and had fun just looking and watching our friends try to get pricing down. The shops resemble small one-room wood shanties. Each houses a menagerie of T- shirts, carvings, beaded jewelry, shells and paintings. Nothing here is too expensive, although the first price you are given is usually double what you actually need to pay. A guy by the name of Christmas Man (a Rasta guy) took us under his wing and attempted to keep the "hagglers" away from us. Relentless salesmanship here is annoying unless you learn to politely, but convincingly, say "no." Shopping made us very hot, so we decided to take a dip in the pool (after we got through chatting with a few people on our way through the lobby). The volleyball-ers were pool-side, not actually in the pool, so we were able to swim. Refreshing! Decided to hit the Amici prior to dinner ... the M/Y Zein Captain Wynn Jones and his wife Linde were there, along with another Captain Laurie and a judge from Westmorland Parish ... The jokes overfloweth. Christopher Johnson found us as we reached the Terrace for the Wednesday night buffet ... we found a table way up front. Dinner was excellent ... I had a few regional "delicacies" (whitefish stuffed with caliloo, and white fish cakes). We all enjoyed several death-bychocolate desserts. Entertainment consisted of a guy named Fox who eats fire and does a balancing act, and a unicycle guy named Slinky. There were folk dancers who performed and led a interactive Soca dance routine ... entertaining. 10:30 Karaoke ... up too late again!!! day, October 23 --Nothing outrageous on this day. We did however, order room service for dinner. We Ordered Mexican Potato Skins and a brownie for dessert - drinks included Pepsi and coffee. Room service took only a half hour to arrive (as they said it would when I called). They have changed their potato skins since our last visit, but they were still very good - you have to make changes here and there, I suppose. Friday, October 24 -- We had made plans to go out to the country with some friends, and for fear of ruining our private escape, I will not disclose where we went. Although I will tell you, there are so many beautiful areas in the hills. And the Jamaican people are equally beautiful. Mike and I believe our most wonderful excursions have been with individual Jamaican friends to their homes and stomping grounds. We departed at 9:20 and returned at about 6:00. We were excited about our day, and although we were tired, decided to go get a bite to eat at one of the restaurants. We enjoyed dinner in LaPasta, they had a basic red meat sauce Mike likes on the menu. I tried a vegetable/pork sauce and it was O.K. We met up with some new friends, who in turn introduced us to their new friends ... another night of smart talk and beverages. Stopped in Amici on our way to our room. Ike (the talented resident pianist) was there ready to play piano, and requested that Mike tell a few jokes to the crowd of a dozen that was there. He did, and we left them laughing. Saturday, October 25 - We had a lazy day by the pool planned. Mike is not one to sit, so he went off to talk and joke, and to find some coffee to bring home (Me? Addicted???). I went down to the pool (endured one more game of volleyball) and searched for a towel, chair and cushion. Couldn't find a towel, so I went back to the room to get one there. An old friend came to visit us after lunch, and then we prepared for the evening cocktail cruise. Captain Laurie welcomed us onto the bridge, and we enjoyed the cruise immensely. We all watched for the flash of green light that is supposed to be seen just as the last speck of sun dips below the horizon ... no one saw it. We did have a great time. Again, we dined in LaPasta - the seafood was excellent! Sunday, October 26 -- Our last full day. Got up early, but lounged about and enjoyed the last Jamaican-time morning we had together. The Jamaican coffee was exceptionally good. (Mike always brings 30 cans of classic Coke with him when we go to Jamaica, because the Pepsi and Coke on the island are so yucky! He had quite a few left, so he enjoyed a few CocaColas while I savored the coffee.) I swam and read, Mike joined in a sea-side backgammon tournament, orchestrated among a couple of friends. I had my finger nails re- painted at Salon Delores, then I got Mike for lunch. Some of our friends, who are in management at Grand Lido, invited us to go jet skiing on their new machine ... off we went. Oh what terror, I mean fun! We made our way over to the Hedonism beach, and returned later. Our last afternoon was spent having beverages by the main beach bar. We swam and chatted and enjoyed the hot tub. I went up to the room to pack, and the notice of return-flight confirmation had been slid under our door. We were to depart at 8:15 AM, and have our bags outside the door at 7:15 AM. We called Christopher Johnson to see if he had dinner plans, he did not so we agreed to meet him for dinner at the main bar. There was a wait for tables at the Café Lido, so we each had a beverage, and chatted with some return guests who had just arrived in. Dinner was lovely (Chris suggested I try the capon taco appetizer, I did, and they were great). I needed one last Grand Lido chocolate fix, and there was no chocolate on the dessert menu, so the waiter kindly went over to LaPasta and got a chocolate dessert off of their cart. Our last stop was at Amici, where Karaoke was in progress ... great crowd and great fun. Monday, October 27-- It was a sad day. We got our bags out in time, Mike gave away his remaining Coca-Cola to a fellow Coke Classic Addict, and everything was like clockwork getting home ... bags and all. OUR OWN TIDBITS Grand Lido really is an all inclusive resort ... no tipping. Although it is sometimes difficult to believe, because the service can be so good, employees are not working for a tip - they will tell you they just want you to have a great time so you will return. Prior to this trip we had read one posting in the AOL Travel Board (Grand Lido section) describing employees as "rude and surly." Upon our arrival, and then at the Friday night grand gala buffet, we made a special effort to review to service and demeanor of the waiters, waitresses, and bartenders. Our findings: while service is not always perfect, on the whole the Grand Lido employees are always trying to make your meal enjoyable and your stay pleasant. There was never a behavior we could classify as unfriendly, much less rude or surly. Quite contrarily, we have found the workers at Grand Lido to be more than pleasant, entertaining and enjoyable. As we have said, we've been to Grand Lido many times. The first time, in February 1995, we found the service impeccable and the staff quite friendly. The next visit, following a labor dispute, service was lacking, although employees were trying, they simply had not yet been trained properly. In-between, we've seen some improvements, but never a return to the impeccable service of our first trip ... until now. Grand Lido's service is back. I am not a great connoisseur of wines, although I enjoy a glass here and there. I prefer dryer, full-bodied reds and have found the Chilean Conch y Toro Cab/Merlot to be consistently pleasant. This trip, there was also a red French table wine that was pretty good. Also, the new Jamaican red wine is all right, but not great. There is a wonderful non-alcoholic beverage ... called a Fruit Punch, it is a blend of ice, fruit and fruit juices. Highly recommended by both of us. Jamaican Coke and Pepsi are not the same as beverages with the same name and logo in the U.S., or anywhere else. Ting - a 7-up type beverage with grapefruit juice in it - is quite good. Floret, the new entertainment manager, has brought a high level of entertainment to Grand Lido. There is great improvement from our last visit, on the part of the shows and on the part of the activities directors. It is a good thing that the resort is re- tiling so much area, because the place was beginning to look weary ... this may be just the face lift the place needs. The only other facility boosts we could recommend are: 1 new tile in bathrooms, and 2. A larger clothing optional pool with more of a pool deck to go along with. At times, there was a lack of available towels, chaises and chaise cushions (floats) on the beach. This became a real negative. At the very least, once you get to the beach, you want to be able to sit down on a cushioned chair and have a towel available, too. The Grand Lido will have to work on this problem. Part of the problem is people going down to the beach in the morning, marking a chair and a cushion with two towels, and then leaving ... other guests are afraid to use the chair and cushion because it is reserved, and the two towels are towels that cannot be used by anyone else. If you are going, enjoy the use of your chair/ cushion/towel ... but when you're done pick up after yourself and put the towels in the dirty towel bin. If everyone did that, there would be no need to reserve chairs for the day either, because not everyone is always on the beach. In short, if you're not going to be using a chair/towel/cushion, pick up so someone else can use them. Another thing to remember ... The Jamaican life-style is a bit slower than we are used to here. Don't let is frustrate you, let the slowed pace relax you.
O.K. I have to admit, there are some advantages to growing older. The kids are nearly grown, and busy enough with their own lives, to afford us baby boomer parents an opportunity to plan elegant escapes for a week here, or a week-end there. My husband Steve, and I recently returned from a week on the Dutch-French island St. Maarten/St. Martin. We had such a wonderful time, I didn't even mind going back to work on Monday morning. Funny how quickly you forget you've been up since 4AM, standing in lines at airports, squeezed into totally full airplanes, when the pilot makes a circle of a beautiful island with rugged green mountains, inviting stretches of beach, and those breathtaking neon blue waters and sets down. We picked up what we soon began calling "the Cadillac of Caribbean rental cars," a Toyota Corolla from "Best Deal Rental Cars." Apparently the coupon from some St. Martin- related web page (don't ask -- I probably could never find it again and there area sooooo many!) entitled us to this gem of a car for $150/week unlimited mileage. Seemed like a good deal, whether that was true or not, and we were exhausted. Plus the guy even told us how to find our condo complex, Simpson Bay Yacht Club. We belong to a vacation club, Med Resorts International. This property is their location in St. Maarten, and while not on a beach turned out to be perfectly fine for us. When we set up this vacation week, the reservations clerk apologized for the fact that it is only a studio apartment -- very small -- she warned us. While it wasn't nearly as large as the two bedroom apartment we'd stayed in Cancun, nor the one bedroom we'd had in Hilton Head, or the delightful two story place in the Poconos, this was a comfortably large studio with a kitchen w/all appliances (coffee maker, microwave, electric range, refrigerator, freezer with ice-maker, etc.) large bathroom with excellent storage, dining area, queen-size bed (with a terrific mattress) living area w/sofa two chairs, Cable TV, clock radio, overhead fan and air conditioning. The floor was ceramic tile, the ceiling strikingly varnished mahogany, and apparently, superior soundproof white plaster walls! The exterior has a Mediterranean look, stucco with ceramic tiled scenes on garden walls and red roofs. Lots of interesting roof lines, mini turrets, odd shaped windows and terraces. Someone in CompuServe Caribbean forum once told me it wouldn't be a first choice if one were paying for it -- and I might agree because if I were paying I'd probably prefer something in Grand Case, Oyster Pond or Baie Orient. But on the other hand, we had lighted tennis courts, two pools and a Jacuzzi. While cars were parked in front of many of the units, we only saw three or four other guests using the pools -- which were beautifully incorporated into the marina area with tiled walls, walkways and gorgeous multicolored flora, ferns, etc. We often returned from a fab dinner to change into our suits and hit the Jacuzzi and have the entire pool area to ourselves. Tennis lessons could be arranged. Having packed our rackets on several previous trips to the Caribbean only to realize it was way too hot to consider playing, we would have loved to have had them this time. We will know better next time! The security gated entrance was staffed 24-hours, and while you could operate the gate with a keycard, they knew who we were by our car and never failed to greet us coming or going. The island is easy to explore by auto -- I can't imagine just staying in one place the whole time when there is so much to see and do. We liked the map provided by the info booths on the French side better than on the Dutch side. As a matter of fact we liked the French side better that the Dutch -- but with our location it was just as easy to head to Marigot or Grand Case as it was to Phillipsburg. Unless one is on vacation to shop, I'd avoid Phillipsburg completely. It isn't particularly attractive. We paid as quick a visit as possible on Sunday morning. A cruise ship had just arrived and many people were cruising for bargains. We were looking for someplace that sold sunscreen. (Hint, best place to find toiletries are the pharmacies -- which are clearly identifiable by bright blue neon crosses. By the way, there may be more neon on this island than on Time Square in NYC) That found, we hit the road for Dawn Beach. The island seems to have almost completely recovered from Hurricane Luis in 1995. There are two places where storm damage and related legal problems are still noticeable. What was once probably a charming resort of tiny villas on Dawn Beach is still in ruins. Later in the week, we heard from someone that it was more of a scandal that left that place in ruins. The husband had left his wife and young children and took off with a girlfriend and several million from the insurance company. If our "source" is to be believed, the guy is currently serving a three year prison term. There was a neat little beach bar/restaurant, Mr. Busby's. And a beautiful hotel on the point. One of the guides says the owners are planning to turn it into a time share. We came to dread the concept of timeshares throughout the week. Touts are EVERYWHERE, offering you free sailing trips to Anguilla, St. Barths, or Saba. Or $100 in casino chips. Or a weeks vacation (guess where!). And free t-shirts. Finally we just told people we were already owners. Or it was our last day. Personally, we just had too much to do to waste any of our time touring someplace we have no reason to want to stay or buy. While we don't do casinos, and were more into having fun doing stuff than shopping, we found it easy to make massive contributions of cash to the local economy. I'd been feeling guilty having spent a week in New Orleans in business and having to leave my husband back home in Maryland. I'd gotten to eat at wonderful places, and he and I have always enjoyed eating out at great restaurants. Well, I guess we more than made up for that on this trip. This island has to have more fine dining establishments per capita than any other I've visited. All my pre-trip research indicated we would find nirvana in Grand Case. We did. Sunday afternoon we'd made it around the island to Grand Case, and checked out menus for ideas about where to go for dinner. Reservations in early October clearly don't seem to be necessary -- which made this a real bonus. We decided upon L'Alabama and drove back to change and stop at an ATM. Dollars seem to be the preferred currency, although you'll find prices marked in francs and dollars (and guilders on the Dutch side). Language is not a problem on either side, either. My high school French is pretty rusty, so while I could greet and agree en francais, it was easy to get along without even that. (Sometimes just a little is plenty enough to show you care!) I won't give a blow by blow of every meal we had, but I must recommend L'Alabama as a marvelous place. The owners, Pascal and Karen, along with their handsome waiter were charming, helpful and whomever was responsible for the kitchen was masterful. We went back on our last night, for a second meal. Some American tourists think French restaurants are stuffy. They've never been anywhere like this one. It is not on the ocean side, but is spacious and open to the street on one side and a lush garden on the other. Ceiling fans and breezes keep it extremely comfortable. You can order wine by the glass, but the wine list had so many great choices, we picked a delicious white Grave on Sunday and an equally good (red) Medoc on Friday. I don't know if it is as common in season as out, but everyone was offered after dinner drinks "at no charge, from me to you, whatever you wish." Before we left on Sunday, we told Pascal we'd be back later in the week, and asked his recommendation for other restaurants. He listed three on the back of his card, one of which L'Hibiscus, we visited on Thursday night. While L'Alabama was excellent (I'd describe their menu as South-of- France chic), I have to say L'Hibiscus provided one of the most extraordinary meals we've ever had. It has only been open two years, and is in a tiny West Indies style cottage at the end of the main street in Grand Case closest to the hotel L'Esplanade. There was one waiter/maitre `d/master of your dining entertainment: Francois. He is a tall, thin, gray-haired gentleman who was the only person we saw wearing a tie during our whole week. The menu is French Caribbean. This meal I will describe in total because it was so very special. We choose a "simple" mixed green salad as appetizers, as we wanted to save room for dessert. Steve ordered a West Indian goat curry, and I picked roast breast of duck in a Tamarind sauce. Francois suggested that we consider a special dessert -- which had to be ordered along with the entrees as it took time to prepare, so Steve decided to try it: A "sweet tomato" -- sounded pretty intriguing. We chose our wine for the dinner, a Margaux which worked well. While it "breathed," and before our salads, Francois served us small complimentary servings of a crustacean soup. It was smooth and buttery and tasted like lobster and wonderful and garnished with delicate tiny tasty leafy greens. Wow, what a start. The salads were terrific, at both L'Alabama and L'Hibiscus vegetables are carved into tiny wonders -- clearly it makes a little go a very long way, but it also makes you appreciate different flavors of carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, zuchini,onions and mushrooms. Our entrees, especially the duck, were incredible. I've never had such moist, tasteful and interestingly sauced duck in my life. And the vegetables served with it were equally extraordinary -- onion and potato grated very finely in a light bed beneath the sliced duck, and bites of sweet potato that seemed to have been wrapped in spinach (or maybe some local green). Something else quite special about intimate restaurants like this one are that you can smell whatever's being concocted in the kitchen. Steve's special dessert was one of those delightful scents. I ordered something much lighter, assorted sorbets, which turned out to be delightful and perfect melon-sized balls of about six different tropical flavors. With our dessert, Francois served us (complimentary, again) a charming dessert wine in chilled fluted glasses. While I don't care for sweet wines, this was quite fine. And of course, the sweet tomato. It was, as billed, amazingly different and delicious. I think it was peeled and poached in a liquor, and stuffed with a caramelized mixture of nuts and fruits, with puffs of ice cream on the side. After coffee, Francois wheeled up his cart of flavored rums, offering your choice of about six -- yes, complimentary again. The best of the two we chose was flavored with fennel, of all things. The bill for this two-and a half-hour (at least, I sort of lost track of time) dining experience was $101. We added a sizable tip. Such a meal in NYC or even Washington DC would have cost at least $200. And I doubt one could find such uniquely perfect combinations of tastes, scents and ambiance anywhere else. Not that we spent ALL our time eating. We loved people-watching on Orient Beach, snorkeled around Pinel Island, were terrified by rough waves on the otherwise beautiful and famous Cupecoy Beach, and traveled to Anguilla for snorkeling and beach exploration twice. Once we parked at Marigot and took the ferry across -- met a taxi driver who took us to gorgeous Shoal Bay for the day, and returned to get us back for a 5 o'clock return ferry. On our last full day we took a catamaran daytrip where we snorkeled a reef off Cove Bay, then traveled to Crocus Bay for lunch before the return to St. Martin. We enjoy snorkeling and I'd compare these locations with Akumal, on the Yucatan coast. We saw many more interesting corals around Anguilla, and I saw a stately spotted ray cruising over sea grass beds in Cove Bay. Maybe my perfect vacation would be to have my own sailboat to spend days on Anguilla and nights in Grand Case. Ha! If asked where I'd like to stay on the island, I think I'd seriously consider L'Atlantide in Grand Case, or Le Petit Hotel Residence (it looks tres $$$) and I've heard nice things about L'Esplanade. Mont Vernon and Esmerlda look charming in the Orient Beach area, and Oyster Pond/Dawn Beach looked to have some lovely villas and hotels as well. I don't think I'd enjoy the big resorts like Pelican or the huge places in Maho Bay on the Dutch side. One of the most depressing sights is the Mullet Bay resort condos decaying after the storm destruction. Apparently court cases between developer and owners have indefinitely delayed any reconstruction. The result is scary. The Friday night before we arrived, a Canadian couple who had thought it would be lovely to take a late night swim from secluded Mullet Bay Beach were attacked by two gun men. She was raped, they were robbed, and it was truly ugly. Especially when authorities admitted there had been five previous incidents in the vicinity. Visitors were advised to avoid the beach after dark, to lock car doors traveling over the roads through Mullet Bay at night, and not to stop for anyone. So paradise requires one exercise common sense. Hard to do when your senses have been caressed and pampered and thrilled to such natural beauty all day long. I'll not forget driving up and around some corner to see one of those picture postcard views of sand, sea and lush greenery. Nor will I forget the extremely friendly people of the island. (Although I'd like to forget those persistent time share hawksters.) This was a delightful vacation. We will probably go back in the next year or two. Next time, however, 1: We will take only direct flights. 2: Bring our tennis rackets. 3: Try to make it two weeks instead of one. 4: Find a place to spend several days on Anguilla. 5: Remember that the shops in Marigot close between 11am and 3pm, and at 7pm at night. 6: Change my voice mail message at work before I leave! (I never did find a phone where I could use my MCI international calling card.)
Departed Atlanta on Sunday (10-12) at 8:40 am on American Via Miami and arrived in SXM at 2:20pm (on time finally). We proceeded through customs, picked up our luggage and checked in at RI within 15 minutes of landing. We surveyed the property which was as beautiful as ever. However the beach which comes and goes was just about gone when we arrived. We got a car at RI from Ambassador @ $ 150 per week proceeded to do some shopping at the Food Center and returned back for our yearly 4:30 get together for happy hour at the lobby bar. We met about 20 other people, had some cool drinks and renewed acquaintances. It was like we never left. We had been advised that the Island was receiving some of the after effects of the Hurricane in Mexico. Sunday night there was a down pour and we also had some rain on Monday. The water were very rough and it was very windy for a few days. The weather although fine for our stay affected air and cruise traffic. All ships coming into port on Monday through Wednesday turned around without stopping in port. The rough waters did not enable any transportation to shore. Air traffic by major airlines were canceled on Tues. and Wednesday. By Thursday everything was back to normal. Ships docked and air traffic was busy as usual. Although the winds and seas caused incoming traffic problems the only day that was not a "real" beach day was Monday. Our first night's dinner was very casual with a group of friends at the Pizza & Pasta (Trottoria) in back of Sheri's and next to the Royal Casino. Food was good very good and we all enjoyed reminiscing the past year. Since Monday was not a beach day my wife decided it was therefore a SHOPPING day in Phillipsburgh. We did the town and then stopped at our (really hers) favorite jewelry shop (Little Europe) where we talked (Nina & Heru-owners) about the past year. They explained that business has not been good over the past year, a fact that was evident when we walked through town and observed quite a number of vacant stores. After talking for about a hour my wife made her yearly selection (this year a Tennis bracelet) and we headed back. I had not yet been to a casino and I was already substantially in the "RED". Monday Dinner at Mary's Boon, one of our favorites. Monday's choice was either Chicken Cordon Bleu or Lobster Creole. Since chicken has not been a big favorite a second choice was provided. This was a first since there had only been one dish available on all nights in the past. For interested the rest of the week was Shrimp Provencale (Tues), Veal Dijonnaise (Wed), Roast Duck (Thur), Lobster Creole (Fri) and Beef Tenderloin (Sat). All meals have a set charge of $ 30 or $ 35, include three vegetables, dessert and coffee as well as seconds if anyone is interested. Prior to dinner there is an honor bar where you can relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery. For those of you who know Carla & Mark (new owners since hurricane) they had their first child (Adam) on the following Monday. After dinner we headed to the Royal Casino where they have updated and refurbished their casino. First night was not to good, although we played for about 2 hours. Just a note about Monday. The owner's breakfast on Monday morning and the welcome party on Monday evening were both forced indoors for the first time ever. In spite of this, a good time was had by all attending. Tuesday was Marigot time since it was still overcast and rainy and we did some more sightseeing and shopping. At least my wife was having a GREAT time. We had dinner at Cheri's enjoyed a light bite which included the very delicious French Onion Soup and some great wine and deserts. Doe's sound so "lite" now. Note: By Tuesday morning the entire beach was gone from the Royal Islander to the old Caravansarri. A couple of notes of interest. Effective January 1997 there was a $ 24.50 per week tax assessed upon each timeshare week you own. There is also a 3% turnover tax assessed on purchases made, no matter what the purchase and the Departure tax is now $ 16 per person. In addition a couple of "FUNNY" notes at RI. #1. If you have breakfast at the Palms restaurant make sure you and your wife are both in agreement as to a breakfast or a buffet. If you choose a buffet and your wife chooses a regular breakfast, management will not let you sit together. We had breakfast with our son and daughter-inlaw. My son wanted the buffet and had to sit at a separate table. #2 Information book in rooms states if you run out of toilet paper before maid service on Thursday "your on your own". Are things getting PETTY or what? Back to the trip. Wednesday was beautiful and sunny but there were rough waves which three of us ventured out into, and had quite a bit of fun and a great workout. Wednesday dinner at Don Carlos. Food was fair and service was TERRIBLE. After dinner we ventured over to the Pelican Casino, which needs a major uplifting. At one time this was the "In Casino" but it now had only a small gathering. The Pelican resort seems to be in much better shape (ownership) this year and there is quite a bit of cleanup and building being done at both the Pelican & Flamingo which appear to share a portion of the same complex. Pelican casino also proved to be a wash for me at the tables. Thursday was a very relaxing day. It was hot and sunny. All air traffic was back to normal and we just sat at poolside with friends for the day sipping coladas. Dinner Thursday at Sambuccas restaurant. Food and wine was good. We sat on the deck overlooking the bay. Friday was a replay of Thursday, sunny & hot, poolside, coladas etc. On Friday our son & daughter-inlaw wanted to go back to Marys Boon. They enjoyed the lobster Creole SO much, they wanted some more. Again another excellent dinner. Saturday again sunny and hot as was the rest of the trip. Weather was back to normal and the beach was about 1/4 of the way back. On Saturday night we dined with the Kids and friends at RANCHO. The kids were leaving on Sunday and they were in the mood for some Argentinean Steak. The food (Churrasco steak) and drinks were excellent and there was live music, which was enjoyable to all. After dinner we headed to the Atlantis Casino which is on the other side of the Mullet Bay complex which is still in limbo. Casino has been updated and you can also get a gamblers card and accumulate points for gifts like most USA casinos. I watched ballgame while my wife played some slots and hit a $ 200 pot. On Sunday we had a going away buffet breakfast for the kids. This was the only way we could all sit together. We had a nice meal, they finished packing and sat by the pool. Their flight departed at 2:00pm and we were ready to start week #2. The entire 2nd week was sunny and warm. We had dinner with friends at La Vie en Rose and Residance in Marigot, both very good. We also dined at Chesterfields in Phillipsburg (excellent) and at La Rosa Too (very good). On Saturday night we had a very casual dinner with about 16 friends at the Trottoria. We had the entire rear room and had some very good food and drinks. But more important we were all saying farewell until next year, since most of us were leaving on Sunday. From the restaurant we walked next door to the casino. FINALLY a big win. Got back about 60% of my old money. Why did they have to wait until the last night? Wait till next year!! We departed SXM at 2:40pm and arrived back home in Atlanta at 11pm. WHY did the time go sooooooo fast. Only 362 more days to return.
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