Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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The following material was received at the CTR regarding St. martin for the St. Martin Focus section.
If you are looking for first-hand information about St.Maarten/St.Martin, come visit our website at http://www.gobeach.com. I grew up on St.Maarten and I am delighted to be able to promote 'the Friendly Island' in any way. On our website you can for example find which beaches I enjoy going to, or where I like to meet my friends for a happy hour drink. We have also compiled a long list of our favorite restaurants. Some of the restaurant owners which I know personally even let me include an exclusive Internet special for a free drink when you mention our website! You can also find reviews of many, many restaurants from people who have vacationed on the island and told us about their favorites and not so favorites. We can also help you find the perfect accommodation for you and your family. Since I am from St.Maarten I know where I would personally like to stay and where not. We have a list of hotels which I think are really good bets (and these are not the big all-inclusive resorts). Also, we are specialized in villa-vacations. Did you know that it is sometimes more cost-effective for your family to rent a nice villa with private pool, etc. than staying in a hotel? I have personally seen about 90% of the large selection of villas on our St.Maarten/St.Martin website, and I can usually pinpoint it down to a choice of a couple of villas which will suit your needs best. Further on our website you can find information about activities, an island map (which we based on a satellite photo), weddings (yes, it is possible now for tourists to marry on St.Maarten), some history and more. So please visit us at http://www.gobeach.com/sxm.htm and let us help you plan your perfect vacation! Note: Paradise at Best has also been the host for the Caribbean Travel Roundup Newsletter for many years and has played a very important role in the distribution of first-hand information during recent hurricanes with their Caribbean Hurricane Pages.
French Caribbean International, (800) 322-2223 or (805) 967-9850, Fax: (805) 967-7798, Web site: http://www.frenchcaribbean.com French Caribbean International is your leading resource for select hotels and villas in the French West Indies. Their experienced, helpful specialists can assist you with reservations for the magical islands of Guadeloupe, Les Saintes, Martinique, St. Barthélemy and St. Martin. (In St. Martin, they can help you with the luxurious La Samanna Hôtel , the intimate Pavillon Beach Hôtel, the popular Mercure Simson Beach Hôtel and dozens of gorgeous private villas.) These tropical French destinations include dramatic rain forests, towering waterfalls and exotic lagoons as well as magnificent, topless beaches with warm, gin-clear waters. Charming seaside villages, captivating boutiques and fascinating historical sites await your arrival. A complete range of activities including tennis, hiking, diving, windsurfing and sailing are available. Complement your adventures with delicious French and Créole cuisine. Visit French Caribbean International's comprehensive Web site or call toll- free to learn more about these extraordinary islands.
Simpson Bay, St. Maarten A former governor's house tastefully renovated into spacious fully equipped apartments. Each is delightfully different and displays a personality of it's own. The Horny Toad Guesthouse offers private and comfortable accommodations within relaxed informal atmosphere at a nominal cost. The superb location was chosen for it's close proximity to the water, the sun, tennis, golf, boating, fishing, and the airport.... plus freeport shopping and casinos. Kitchen facilities were added to give guests the option of dining in to conserve on waistlines and pocketbooks. However, many fabulous restaurants are within a short distance.... on the beach or in the nearby towns of Philipsburg or Marigot. The Horny Toad is a deliberately small and distinctive guesthouse known for its congenial and unpretentious atmosphere. Each spacious housekeeping apartment (there are eight) has a separate bedroom with bath, plus a fully equipped kitchen with living area and private gallery overlooking the secluded beach of Simpson Bay. Fielding's Guide honored the Horny Toad with the Author's Award describing the Horny Toad as "a small and special place" and "one of the best bets on the Island". Fodor's Guide considered it "an excellent value". We're inclined to agree and would love the opportunity to prove it to you. All rates are European Plan, double occupancy. Because some of the apartments are larger than others we give an extra person rate. No children under 7 please. Sorry, no credit cards. Daily maid service except holidays. Winter: Dec. 15 to April 14 Apartment $180.00 Extra person $ 40.00 Summer: April 15 to Dec. 14 Apartment $ 98.00 Extra person $ 25.00 Government Tax of 8% is added to the daily rate. Rates subject to change without prior notice. Check in: 2:00pm Check out: 12:00 noon. A daily rate will be charged for check out after 12:00 noon. Deposits: three nights rate must accompany reservation request in order to confirm. One weeks rate to reserve 3 weeks or more. Payment: Sorry no credit cards. Balance of account payable following check-in. Cancellation: 60 days notice. For more information and pictures see the gobeach.com webpage.
Wedding and honeymoon trip at Sandals Royal Bahamian, 14-21 October 1998. SUMMARY A 'large-ish' but lovely property with impeccable service, tasteful rooms, eight restaurants, excellent food, numerous bars, premium liquor, two huge pools, day time and late-night activities, full-service dive shop/water sports department, two beach and swimming areas, and a private off-shore island. Expensive but worth every penny if you just want to relax near the sun and surf with no worries for a few days. No kids, couples only, and lots of weddings, honeymooners, and anniversary celebrants. The warmth of the Caribbean, the luxury of Sandals, and only a short 45 minute flight from Miami. We'll definitely be back. ARRIVAL/DEPARTURE Pretty fast and friendly on both counts. Ground transfer from Nassau airport was quick and efficient. Nice champagne introduction and welcome, then a short wait before being shown to our rooms by a very friendly bell cap. We were allowed an extra hour for late check out and full use of property until our late afternoon departure. Forty-five minute delay processing credit card due to some kind of telephone problem dialing out. Not really their fault as power was going off and on for a couple of hours. ROOMS Grande Luxe Oceanfront room had excellent location on top floor of Manor House with full ocean view, but not especially large or inviting and NO BALCONY, which was a requirement for us. Paid small upgrade fee (lots less than the actual price difference) for a Junior Suite on the fifth floor of the new Windsor wing. Bell cap was back to collect our bags before my fiancee had even returned from taking care of the charge. Only problem here was our suite didn't have a sitting area and we never were introduced to our concierge. When I called the concierge desk they would just transfer me to the appropriate departments to make my own arrangements. Not really sure if we had the Junior Suite or the Honeymoon Concierge Grande Luxe Oceanview, but both are supposed to have a sitting area and suite concierge service. Friends of ours had a Deluxe room on the first floor of Manor House which was not bad considering it is the lowest category. Had a small balcony with room to sit, king size bed, TV armoire, table and chairs, and roomy well appointed bath. The Windsor wing is quite nice and more what we were expecting for our money.. Large balcony with full view of pool and ocean, in-room bar, Sandals robes, great view, king size canopy poster bed, , table and chairs, marble-tiled bath with oversize tub, separate vanity - in all very nice. The new wing seems to have a newer, better, brighter feel to it. Only complaint was a picture noticeably missing from the wall where three large bolts remained. I meant to call and ask for my picture, but never really got around to it. Bar was initially locked and we had trouble working the safe. Both issues were resolved with very courteous and attentive service in a matter of minutes. SERVICE Overall service is outstanding. Staff is extremely friendly and all of them , from groundskeepers to bar tenders to managers make a point of greeting as you pass. There are plenty of people around to help, but you are not 'bothered' by anyone. Lots of smiles and friendly faces, not found so easily at many Caribbean destinations. We encountered only one rude female bartender, and even she was nice once or twice -- but when she was rude she was very very rude! Restaurant service was also extremely attentive and courteous, yet understated and not intrusive. Commonly heard words were 'no problem', and 'you're at Sandals now'. Of special commendation are the following staff members we encountered (sorry we don't have any last names): -Hilton and Ryan - Pub -Christopher - stocked our in-room bar daily -Quinton and Lamonte - Kimonos chefs -Trevor and Teba - dive shop -Demetrius, Colin, Denardo - Spices -Carla - wedding reception hostess -The Rev, Gary, Beverly, Mona Lisa - wedding services -Kim - hair stylist -Tamaine (very elegant and polite young man) - Crystal Room -Piano Man - can play and sing anything in any key -Bell Desk - Kenrod and the guy who handled our bags the first day -Windsor pool swim up bartender - thanks for makeshift wedding morning bachelorette party and post wedding champagne and wine WEDDING SERVICES Mixed review on the wedding package. Nice, friendly, fairly efficient, but certainly not worth the $1,500 package price. I had to ask for the manicure and the T-shirts, never did get the pedicure or massage. Didn't receive voucher for manicure and they initially tried to charge me extra for it. 'Elaborate' Caribbean wedding cake and 'beautifully decorated' wedding area were both a bit of a stretch. Cake was tasty but was basic cream color, very small two layer. Wedding area decoration consisted of three ribbons. Only permitted two choices for bouquet, for anything different there is an extra (minimum $50) charge. When they say one 5x7 photo, they mean one snap. They literally take just one photo. We assumed they would snap a few and we could pick one. Not. Additional charges start at $180 for 12 shots. The limit placed on food and drink provided for the champagne reception (we were told four guests maximum) is interesting seeing as how it is as an all inclusive resort. We had a wonderful and memorable wedding day, but the price is just out of line and then they try to charge you more for extras! Best thing was the 'Rev' and how well he and the videographer work together. You can tell they've done this before, but they still make you feel 'special' and they get all the names right! The video really turned out great. Our 'one' photo, however, arrived about five minutes before our departure and that was only at my repeated prompting. (It was a very nice shot though.) RESTAURANTS All restaurants provided excellent service and food. No matter where we went, they kept the wine coming! -CAFÉ GOOMBAY: Tons of conch dishes. Disappointed that this offshore island restaurant is only open four nights a week and then was closed three days while we were there due to weather conditions (a bit of wind). Did have lunch there one day but lunch menu is limited to burgers, dogs, fries, and grouper fingers. Still a very charming Caribbean style restaurant, and I know it would have been a wonderful dinner. -KIMONOS: Japanese style. Great chefs, very entertaining, they sing to you and make jokes. Also nice chance to mix with other couples if you want. Food was great but scallops weren't cooked well enough for most of us. - SPICES: Classic Caribbean dining. Good service, dine in or al fresco, varied menu. Breakfast buffet with every imaginable food. -CRYSTAL ROOM: Had to wait for a table but this was some of the best food and service of all, without being too stuffy. -BACCARAT: French cuisine. Kind of a high brow place with food served in dome-covered dishes. Excellent food and service, but we're a bit more casual sort of people. Provided a lovely wedding dinner. -CASANOVA: Italian. Never had lunch or dinner here, only breakfast with buffet similar to Spices. Very good. -CRICKETEERS PUB: Pub-style food. Never ate here, only drank. Great Margaritas by Ryan and enjoyed the attention of one of Sandals' greatest representative employees, Hilton (as in hotel and "it's no problem, you're at Sandals now"). -ROYAL GRILLE: Beachside hangover food. Nothing special, but you can go there in your swimwear and they serve all afternoon. Also have pizza, patties, salad bar, and desserts to which you can help yourself, or you can order a la carte. Saturday night is a beachfront international buffet with foods from around the world. Don't miss it. WEATHER Days 1 and 2 were very calm and beautiful. Days 3, 4, and 5 so windy that watersports and the island were closed. Day 6 calm and sunny again, day 7 brought occasional heavy rain but mixed with sun as well. Water was warm, but not quite as warm as say the Eastern or Southern Caribbean in October. BEACH Not really as much beach or swimming area as we expected. A little man-made in appearance with a sea wall, but then we are used to the natural beaches of Antigua. Plenty of beach chairs and a second large beach area slightly elevated and back from the surf. Some beach vendors, mostly braid ladies, not to bothersome. Take some bread out and feed the fishies. Off shore island beach is more what we had in mind. Only a five minute boat ride from the main hotel. ACTIVITIES We didn't' participate too much in organized activities, but beach volleyball looked fun, outdoor aerobics were very good, fitness center was impressive, diving staff was excellent, dive sites were nearby, and the dive boat nearly brand new. Day time pool events were lightly attended and some of the evening entertainment was great, some a bit dull. Karaoke was fun but they stopped it after only a few songs and told us to go home! The piano bar is a great late night fall back if you have a good group of people who will knock a few drinks back and aren't afraid to sing and get silly. Manager's cocktail party and theatre entertainment following (Monday nights) is really a lot of fun. Just be prepared to participate and learn how to dance Caribbean style before you go! EXCURSIONS Only excursions we made were into town to take care of our marriage paperwork and the shark dive at Stuart Cove's (south side of island). Nassau was a cute town with lots of shops. Stuart Cove's is a nice dive operation and returned all of us safe and sound from the shark feed. That's all folks.
(Ed Note: This file is copyrighted and se in the CTR with Bob Bridge's permission.)
Trip: November 5 - 11, 1998 As a belated present for my 30th birthday back in May, my mom and stepfather invited me on a trip with them to the Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. We had each been to the Bahamas before, I went to in May, 1996 and they went the Paradise Island Fun Club about three years ago. We had each visited the Atlantis and were so impressed that we hoped to eventually go there for a vacation. The Atlantis is truly an amazing place as you will see! We left on Thursday morning and we were quite concerned that our flights would go out as the remains of Tropical Storm Mitch was headed towards Miami and the Bahamas from Key West. We flew down on American Airlines on the 6:45am flight from Newark to Miami. The flight was fine despite occasional turbulence on the way down. However when we got in the vicinity of Miami is was quite cloudy and rainy. The pilot circled Miami and was looking for the perfect altitude to make a descent with the least amount of turbulence. He finally found a clear opening in the clouds and was able to make a fairly smooth landing at about 9:50am. After arriving at the gate we went to the American Eagle gates to catch our 11:00am connecting flight to Nassau. When we arrived to check in, we found out the flight was overbooked and they offered volunteers a $200 voucher for an American flight anywhere in the continental U.S. and a seat on the 12:30pm flight. We volunteered but they had enough seats after all. After a short bus ride across the tarmac we boarded the plane. Despite the fact there was no rain it was still quite windy. The plane we flew on was a propeller driven plane. We were late taking off as there were about a dozen planes in front of us waiting to take off. It was so windy and with the plane being a lighter plane I could feel the plane rock from side to side. After about a half an hour it was our turn and we took off (the ascent was fairly smooth). We had a tail wind so after 45 minutes in the air we arrived at Nassau (which is 160 miles southeast of Miami). The remnants of Mitch had also arrived in Nassau as the sky was full of dark gray clouds. The descent and landing were very turbulent as the plane swayed from side to side and we made our landing with the plane leaning to the right. It was the scariest experience I ever had while flying. After landing we stepped out the plane and ran in the pouring rain up the steps, through the covered walkway and into the terminal. It was nice to be on the ground after that landing! After getting our luggage and clearing customs we caught the Majestic Tours bus and proceeded in the rain around New Providence island into downtown Nassau and then went over the two-lane bridge onto Paradise Island. New Providence Island is 21 miles long and 7 miles wide and Paradise Island is three miles long and one mile wide. Paradise Island is undergoing major construction as the Atlantis is expanding and a new marina and second bridge are being built and is scheduled to open in December, 1998. It will take guests to the new Royal Towers which are described below. The building that housed the original casino and showroom has been torn down to make way for the new marina which is due to be completed in early 1999. Sun International which owns the Atlantis also owns about 80 percent of the island. The Atlantis consists of two towers, the Beach Tower and the Coral Tower and several villas located between each tower. A third tower, the Royal Tower is scheduled to open in December, 1998. It will feature five waterslides, 1,202 rooms, including 56 junior suites, 102 executive suites, 10 grand suites, four presidential suites, three royal suites and the Imperial Suite (priced at $25,000 per night!) connecting the two buildings that make up the Royal Tower. We stayed in the Beach Tower. The Beach Tower has meeting facilities, a women's clothing store and a sundries store for shampoo, suntan lotion and other essentials like a toothbrush which I bought as I left mine at home. There is also the Logo Gift Shop featuring Atlantis merchandise. I bought a red swimsuit and Polo shirt. It cost me $3.30 for the toothbrush and $35 for the swimsuit and $55 for the Polo Shirt. Also you can wander the paths along several pools and falls featuring many tropical fish and marine life. You'll see sea turtles, sting rays, sharks, barracuda and many fish of different shapes, sizes and colors. The most unusual of which was a sawfish with a very sharp and long mouth! There are also several caves where you can look at the fish below the water (one which features music simulating the feeling of being under the sea!). There are several bridges, including three rope bridges that connect paths or go over the pools (including one that dangles over one of the pools). There is also the Goonbay slide (which is two slides, the first about fifty feet that winds around and then a twenty foot slide to the bottom. It was fun as I went on it twice. There is also tubing down a winding pool which feeds into one of the main pools. There are two main pools, the River Pool and the Lagoon Pool. Next to the Lagoon Pool is a large pool for snorkeling and other watersports. We went snorkeling but there was not much to see in that pool. We enjoyed early afternoons relaxing near the falls by the River Pool. On the other side was a bandstand where music and games went on throughout the day. We also enjoyed the Lagoon Pool, but preferred the River Pool for its view towards the Atlantic Ocean. You could not see the ocean from the Lagoon Pool. Booths are located near each pool where you can towels and sign up for various watersports and boat tours, including Blue Lagoon Island. We signed up at the Paradise Island dock where the boat leaves. The dock is about two blocks from the Beach Tower. As for the ocean it was rough as the Caution (Yellow and Red) and Red flags were out the whole time. It still was nice and warm compared to the pools. After a while the sun gets so hot you just have to take the plunge into the cold pool! We enjoyed walking on the beach as we walked down to the Ocean Club one afternoon. There were many great restaurants to choose from. Our favorite was the Water's Edge which overlooked the snorkeling pool and is located at the back of the Coral Towers. They featured a delicious buffet breakfast for $15.95. You can also order off the menu which features the same items and additional entrees including Eggs Benedict priced from around $12.95. We also enjoyed dinner there as they had a wide range of beef, pasta and chicken dishes, priced between $20 and $35. We also had a delicious buffet breakfast at Seagrapes Restaurant located just off the lobby in the Beach Tower. We also went there for lunch as well our first day at the Atlantis. Prices for Seagrapes are about the same as the Water's Edge. The Lagoon Bar also is great for lunch as they had a delicious Tuscan chicken sandwich with a great pesto, cheese and vinegarette sauce. Their prices are less expensive, about $8 to $20. We also went to the Cave which is located next to the River Pool. The Cave is a fast food restaurant similar to McDonald's or Burger King. We also went to the Atlas Bar and Grill and for lunch and dinner and had everything from nachos to pizza to steak (prices range from about $6 to $20). To celebrate our special trip we dined at the Courtyard at the Ocean Club where we got dressed for dinner (sport jackets are the attire for men and a nice dress or elegant outfit for the ladies). At the Ocean Club we had Roast Duck and Roast Lamb and I had Lobster Bisque and a Chocolate and White Mousse Cake and a Bahamian Coffee. The entrees are priced around $40 and appetizers and desserts around $8. Mixed drinks averaged about $6. The prices for drinks and desserts were priced the same at Seagrapes, the Water's Edge and the Atlas Bar and Grill. In the Coral Towers, there is also Mama Loo's and the Five Twins restaurant in the Coral Tower which we did not go to. The Bahama Club is also there as well. You can get either a Basic or Gourmet Meal Plan with your package. The Basic Meal Plan is $55 a day and the Gourmet Meal Pan is $75 a day. With the Gourmet Plan you can eat at all the restaurants. However, with the Basic Plan you can't eat at the Bahama Club, Mama Loo's, the Five Twins, Voyager's or the Ocean Club. With each plan you just pay for drinks and tips. If your room is not ready or you have a late flight back like we did, there is a Hospitality Cavern. There are lockers, showers (including soap and shampoo), hair dryers and brushes, shaving cream and razors. Toothbrushes and toothpaste are available if you need it. A neat feature also is a water extraction machine so you don't have to pack a wet bathing suit. The Hospitality Caverns open at 9:00am. One worthwhile thing to do is take a tour of the grounds when you get there as it is very informative. You'll find out not only how things are laid out at the Atlantis, but also about the various marine life. Tours are daily at 10:00am, 1:00pm and 4:00pm. The tour lasts about one hour. Our room overlooked the ocean and we had two double beds, clock radio and TV with cable and satellite channels (NBC and ABC were from Detroit, CBS was from Toledo and I don't know where Fox was from). There also is a local Bahamas station, ZNS, featuring local and world news, local sports news, weather and syndicated programs. Interestingly, there was a fire at Voyager's restaurant that burned the roof. Workers repaired the damage on the roof and Voyager's opened the next day. Workers also must have hit a cable line during construction as our TV was out for one day during our stay. The Atlantis stations were still available. There is also a channel with events going on and a channel featuring a video about the Atlantis which runs continuously. There are also Pay Per View movies available for $10.95. We saw "The Wedding Singer" with Adam Sandler which was really a funny movie. There were about five radio stations, including LOVE 97.5 featuring reggae, jazz and oldies from Motown, Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis. There was also 100 JAMS featuring dance music and reggae. A new Entertainment Complex is just off the lobby of the Coral Towers. The main feature of the Entertainment Complex is the new casino which features more than 1,000 slot machines and 80 gaming tables as well as the Atlas Bar and Grill (a diner style restaurant) off the casino floor as you enter. There is also Voyager's (a coffee shop similar to Starbucks). Coming soon will be shops featuring such designers as Gucci and Versace. Dragons nightclub off the casino floor features music from unusual dance bands. You'll hear Bahamian, South African music as well as music from Caracas and even the great hits of the artists of Motown! I didn't take home any winnings at the slot machine. The most I won while playing was $6.25. My mom was the lucky winner at the slots out of the three of us. After we gambled we went over to the bar on the side of the casino and listened to the band, which played reggae, and danced to club and disco music between sets. Also part of the Atlantis is the Ocean Club (which features 70 villas) and the Comfort Suites hotel which Sun International manages. Guests at the Comfort Suites and Ocean Club can use the facilities at the Atlantis. Across from the Atlantis is the Club Land'Or which features 50 suites (for more on the Club Land'Or Click here). There is a shuttle bus that runs between the Beach and Coral Towers, the Ocean Club and the Paradise Island Golf Club (which is an 18 hole championship course) every 30 minutes all day and night. We also went to the Blue Lagoon Island which was nice. The boat ride was great but the snorkeling was not good, on this, my second trip. The price if you book at the watersports booth at the Atlantis is $65 a person (which includes everything). We booked our trip from the Paradise Island dock where the boat departs. The price was $50 for the boat ride, lunch and equipment or $20 for the boat ride. One night we went over to Nassau to see the King and Knights show at the Nassau Beach Hotel featuring King Eric playing standards and hits on the Steel Pan drum, fire dancers and a local Bahamian singer who livened up the crowd. The show was $20 a person and we had coupons for a free rum punch. The cab over was $16 plus $2 for the bridge back to Nassau. After six days of sun, fun and relaxation it was time to return home. Fortunately, we had a 5:40pm flight from Nassau to Miami on American Eagle, so we did not leave the Atlantis until 3:30pm. It took about 40 minutes to get to the airport (again through Majestic Tours). We had about an hour in the airport before our flight boarded. I bought a CD of Bahamian Soca music called "Bahamian Hits" by the KB's. To find out what's on it, Click here The flight from Nassau to Miami was uneventful except for the beautiful sunset which we followed for the 45 minute flight back. It did take about 15 minutes to cross Miami and land at the airport. Then we took the bus back to the terminal and then had to take a monorail to an adjacent terminal to catch our 7:30 flight to Newark. The airport was very busy and full of people. Unfortunately our flight was pushed back to 8:00pm as the flight attendants had not arrived yet. Even though I had a chicken sandwich, onion rings and a Coke at the Cave before leaving the Atlantis I was hungry. I had a hot dog and a Coke as well as a small bag of Doritos that came with it. I had to gulp down the soda as it was 7:45 and they were boarding the plane. The flight to Newark was nice I watched CBS and listened to Motown on the headphones. We had a Cheese Pocket Pastry and a cookie for dinner as well as a Coke to drink. My stepfather likes to sit on an exit row as he is tall and likes the legroom so we were separated on the other flights as I like a window seat. However I wanted to sit with them so I sat in the middle section across from them. I was right in front of the TV which was great. It was also interesting as we talked with the flight attendant seated there during takeoff and landing. We made up some time and landed at Newark at about 10:45pm. After about a 10 to 15 minute wait for our luggage we met our limo driver for the ride home. I got home around 11:30pm. It was a really great trip and it was extra special because my mom invited my brother and his family over from Fort Lauderdale for the weekend we were there. My 9-year old nephew really enjoyed the Atlantis as it not only left him fascinated but I was really amazed by the beauty and the natural environment of the Atlantis.
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