Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Trip 2/1998 We stayed at Club St. Lucia for one week in late February 1998. We just loved it. The staff was very friendly and excellent and it was a very good value for the money. A few highlights: 1. The smaller beach (Smugglers' Cove) was beautiful & not crowded (maybe 20 people) This was a great place for snorkeling (both to the right & left of the beach). 2. The food was quite respectable. The main restaurant always has some type of carved roast which was very good. The rest of the buffet dishes ranged from adequate to excellent. The kingfish with capers & peppercorns was particularly good! I wasn't impressed with the pasta at the smaller restaurant "Angelos". Breakfasts were pork-out fests! Excellent French toast & other b'fast fare. 3. There are a number of small roads & trails leading to the northeast side of the island. These are accessible by bike or 4WD. Very pretty, rugged & remote. 4. Biking to Pigeon Island (about 3 miles) is a fun way to spend a day. Beautiful scenery, nice small hikes, good beaches, etc. 5. The rooms were & quite nice - no complaints. (AC is a near necessity) 6. We did a cab tour, which in hindsight I wouldn't do again. Very pretty, but an extremely long drive. I might do a packaged tour with return by boat instead. A couple more suggestions.... 1. Food: The beach barbecue shack is ok in a pinch, but not particularly great. The on-site waiter service "Lambi's" is also free. It books up 4-5 days in advance, so we didn't get to try it. Pick a night & reserve a spot on your 1st or 2nd day there. All restaurants have local hot pepper sauce, which is GREAT if you like scotch bonnets! 2. The local vendors on-site are MUCH more expensive than those at the Castries market. For example - the common nicely printed cotton wraps were $20 US at the club, and were $8 US at Castries. You'll drive right through Castries en-route to the resort, so you'll get a preview of the city - very pretty views of it as you descend down the twisty road from Morne Fortune. We taxied to Castries (about $20 US each way), and enjoyed walking around the city for a few hours. There were other excellent deals at the central market as well - nice spices, pottery & other crafts. Lots of stalls to buy the typical t-shirts too ($5-10 US each vs $15-20 at the resort). 3. Taxis: Both cab drivers we had were nice, and both were knowledgeable about the area. (If you want to bike to the Atlantic side of the island - ask a cabbie to show you the back roads first - there are a zillion new/rough roads where new houses are being built, which are fun to mtn bike on!) The typical taxi rates to various places on the island are posted at Club St. Lucia at the Sunlink Tours desk - it's a good reference. 4. IT IS HOT THERE! STRONG sun at midday. Lots of nasty sunburns! Enjoy all!
Just having returned from a week's stay on St. Lucia, I wish to post a few observations. We stayed at the Club Odyssey (formerly Club St. Lucia) Resort booked through "GoGo Tours" in order to stay for ten days. Upon arrival (@1:00 a.m. EC time), the Club had no record of our reservation. The night manager was a pleasant fellow who went ahead and trusted our word and the vouchers we presented and got us a room. The room was standard and located near the activity center. Our voucher stated that the room was "upgradable upon request". Our request the next day for an upgrade went ignored as we were told the standard room was all that we could have. (Don't expect to go to bed earlier than midnight unless you have a high tolerance for noise). We are well traveled. The Odyssey Resort is nice for beginning tourists. It is clean, friendly, and ratable as good regarding food and beverage. On grounds, shop prices are relatively high in coordination with the rest of the island. The grounds and gray sand beach should have been kept cleaner. Noticeably, for the most part requests were accommodated by meeting the minimum of effort but in the same courteous manner. Our "GoGo Tour" rep. was notified that we had arrived on our own and never once tried to contact us or showed-up. Any information about the resort, island or package perks(we received none) had to be ascertained by our own efforts; eg. the location of and use of the Club's facilities on adjacent "Smugglers Cove". No one at Odyssey volunteered any information unless asked. To reiterate, we recommend Odyssey Resort for beginners or couples with children (lots of them at the resort). Don't expect a lot of personal treatment from the resort. As for St. Lucia itself, if you are American: don't drive, especially a manual transmission. It's difficult and combined with the road design and terrain it can be quite hazardous. Do Not Attempt the drive into Anse Chastinet: it's single lane for 4x4 travel only-all gravel & rock. For the most part, St. Lucians were friendly and sociable to foreigners ( I use this word instead of 'tourist' for a reason). Around Soufriere we were verbally accosted with obscenities by a taxi driver who either didn't like tourists or those of a different color( as it occurred for no apparent reason). This led us to believe that a deeply rooted prejudice exists with some of the population. Use some caution with picture-taking and coral purchase; it may either offend or be illegal and punishable by St. Lucian law. Would we return to St. Lucia ?: NO.! There are better places to visit and certainly more accommodating resorts for American tourists, such as Bonaire, Caymans, Bermuda, Barbados, BVI, Mexico and Hawaii. We cannot recommend St. Lucia for snorkeling either. In closing, just a word to the St. Lucian government. Since it's 20 years of independence from G.B., St.Lucia is going the other way. If the people don't start caring about their own backyard, it is soon going to look like Jamaica- a living garbage heap. We would expect that it won't take long before the resorts will have to be fenced-in with barbed wire topped chain link and armed guards at every exit and entry(as in Jamaica). Already gang violence, drug dealers, and ethnic intolerance etc. have taken root in St. Lucia. Shouldn't you start worrying about your no. 1 industry ?
March 14 - March 21, 1999 After reading Leslie Lightfoot's travel report (Caribbean Travel Roundup Newsletter 11/98) I decided to plan a trip to Sandals Halcyon. Because I found her report so inspiring and full of such good information, I've written my own. In December I decided to surprise my boyfriend for his 30th birthday with a trip to St. Lucia in March. He knew we were going away, but he didn't know where until we checked in at the airport. I booked our trip through the internet (Jason Cavadas at Twinsburg Travel www.sandalsoutletstore.com) and was very happy with the service. Sunday, March 14 Our Miami Air charter flight was supposed to leave Newark Airport (NJ) at 8:00 am. We had a problem with an engine, then while it was being checked and repaired the pilot and flight crew had to take their 8 hours off (FAA regulations). So, we hung out in the airport all day. Due to a number of unforeseen circumstances, our flight didn't take off until 2:15 am, 18 hours and fifteen minutes later. So, the first day of our vacation was spent in lovely Newark Airport. Our delay experience was not a pleasant one, but I wont bore you with the details here. Lets just say we, any anyone we know, will never fly Miami Air. Monday, March 15 We arrived at Hewanorra Airport in St. Lucia at 6:30 am. We arrived at the resort at approximately 8:00 am. We were whisked away to Bayside for a breakfast buffet. We were starving! We chose a sampling of breakfast items from the buffet: French toast, bacon, banana bread, bread, poached eggs, juice and coffee. When we were finished we headed to the lobby to check in. We had to wait about 10 minutes for our room to be ready, then we were handed our room key, safe key and lock, and a small tote bag full of body lotion, aloe vera gel, liquid soap, shampoo and conditioner. I had asked if our room had been upgraded (as my travel agent was going to request) and we were told we were upgraded (I think most of the people on our flight were because of all of the problems and inconvenience we experienced.). We also made our restaurant reservations because we didn't want to miss out on any of the restaurants. Only two restaurants required reservations, so we booked Mario's for Wednesday night and Kimono's (at the Sandals Golf and Spa Resort) for Thursday night. We were taken to our room, room 412 on the second floor of the Gros Islet Block which had a beautiful garden view. We could almost see the ocean. We showered and then went to bed because we were so tired from not having slept the whole night. When we awoke, we freshened up, then headed to the Beach Grille where Estelle and Beverly made us a hamburger, cheeseburger and French fries and we each got a drink from the bar. At 5:00, Playmaker Jonathan gave us a tour of the resort. At 5:30 we went to the General Manager's Cocktail Party where we enjoyed lots of delicious appetizers (fried shrimp, fish, puff pastry, salmon on bread). They had two or three drawings and we happened to be the winners of a 25 minute massage and a bottle of rum. For dinner we had grilled king fish steaks, ribs, and flank steak, which were all delicious. Next, we relaxed in the beach jacuzzi and looked at the stars and listened to the waves. The dessert table was calling, so we headed back to Bayside and each enjoyed some dessert. We met a nice couple (Kris and Mike) who were on their honeymoon. The evening entertainment was a fire eater and limbo dancers. They were very entertaining and they got the crowd involved, but after watching for a little while, we headed back to our room to go to sleep so we would be well-rested for the next day so we could really start our vacation. Tuesday, March 16 We started our day at the breakfast buffet at Bayside where there was a pretty consistent selection of choices each day (They always had French toast, pancakes, waffles, eggs made to order, omelets, bacon, sweet muffins, banana bread, fresh tropical fruit, juice, coffee and then there were always a few different items each morning.). We hung out at the Sunset Pool all day so we could be part of the action. We had lunch at Bayside (king fish, mahi mahi, salad). In the afternoon we decided to start earning some points towards our Sandals necklace, so we participated in lilo bumper rafts and pool volleyball. For dinner, we decided to visit La Toc, the French restaurant at the other Sandals resort. We took an early shuttle over (6:30) and La Toc was pretty empty so we got seated right away. I had a salmon and caviar appetizer, Caesar salad, shrimp with pesto linguine and a tropical fruit meringue. Tom had lobster and mushroom ravioli, Caesar salad, chicken with artichokes, olives, capers and sundried tomatoes and apples in a phyllo purse. We really liked everything we ordered and the service was great. Wednesday, March 17 We woke up at 8:00 and headed to Bayside for breakfast where we had waffles, bacon, fresh fruit, an egg over easy, French toast, poached eggs with hollandaise sauce. We relaxed on the beach and the water was just too tempting, so we headed over to the watersports area and took out a "twoman" kayak. We kayaked to the little island (We think it is called Rat Island.) There was another couple exploring the island and they told us they had heard that nuns used to live there. We walked around the island and when our feet couldn't take the rough grass anymore, we headed back for the shore. We inquired about snorkeling and found out that even though I had snorkeled before (Tom had not), we needed to attend an orientation at 3:00 before we could go on a snorkel trip. We had lunch at Bayside (fresh fruit, cucumber salad, kingfish, grilled beef in a pita pocket, cheese tortellini in a cream sauce, moussakka, tomato and calamari salad, nut cake, cherry pie and apple crumble. Tom also really loved the locallygrown lemons.). We went for our snorkeling "lesson" from 3:00-4:30, then hit the Sunset Pool for pool volleyball. As we headed back to our room, we stopped at the Beach Grille for some nachos and another drink. Our dinner reservation at Mario's was at 7:15. They had a nice antipasto bar to start. I had penne rigate in a pesto sauce, shrimp in a garlic and butter sauce and hazelnut parfait with a praline sauce. Tom had pasta in a red crab sauce, frito miso (fried seafood), chocolate sponge cake, espresso. We enjoyed every last morsel! At 10:30 we headed over to Sue's Piano Bar and had a blast! David is a great pianist and also very funny! When the Piano Bar closed, another couple wanted us to join them in the disco, which we did for a little while until we were too exhausted, then when I headed back to the room, Tom went to the Beach Grille for a cheeseburger. Thursday, March 18 After our late night, we slept in and missed the breakfast buffet. The continental breakfast was served in Mario's restaurant where there was a selection of bread, croissants, fruit juice... At 11:00, we went on our first snorkeling trip and were hooked! We saw lots of beautiful fish and coral and couldn't wait to go snorkeling again. We had lunch at Bayside (johnny cakes, salt fish cakes...). We decided to do some exercise, so at 3:00 we took the aqua aerobics class in the Sunset Pool. This was the first time we've ever done water aerobics and it was fun! At 4:30, we did our regular activitypool volleyball. This game only lasted 10 minutes because it was a shut out 110. Our team won, so it was another 10 points for each of us! Our reservations at Kimono's were for 8:30, but we wanted to walk around the other Sandals resort because another couple we met from our flight was staying there and they had said that our resort was much prettier. We took the shuttle at 6:30 and walked around for a little while, but soon ran out of places to look at so we got a drink at the bar and relaxed. We felt that the Golf and Spa Resort was elegant, but Halcyon was prettier. I was glad I chose Halcyon! At 8:00 we arrived at Kimono's, eager to enjoy some Japanese food. We were escorted to the deck overlooking the sea and each given a glass of champagne and cranberry juice while we waited for the other four couples to arrive (It was hibachistyle.). Once everyone had arrived (including another couple we had met from our flightJennifer and Scott), we sat at our hibachi table and perused the menu, where we were asked to choose an appetizer, soup and salad. Tom and I each had 4 pieces of assorted sushi, chicken and vegetable broth and a salad. Then "Neilson," the chef came out and entertained us while he cooked fried rice, vegetables, shrimp, chicken breast, salmon, kingfish, pork and steak. Instead of ordering one entree, Neilson gave each person a portion of each item he cooked. Neilson gave each person a name while he was cooking. I was Diane and Tom was Charlie. Then he referred to each person by their "Neilsongiven" name throughout the evening. It was very amusing! For dessert, I had ice cream with tropical fruit in the bottom. "Charlie" had coconut custard with raspberry sauce and phyllo dough sticks. We finished up at 10:30, so we had some time before we had to catch the 11:00 shuttle back, so Jennifer, Scott, Tom and I went to the Amphitheater to watch a few minutes of the guest/staff talent show. At 11:20 we arrived back at Sandals Halcyon and we couldn't resist the piano bar. Jennifer, Scott, Tom and I went in for a few drinks and songs. Friday, March 19 We were up VERY early at 7:00. We had breakfast at Bayside then left for our tour "Soufriere With a Difference." Be booked at the tour desk in the lobby. It cost US $80 per person. There were ten couples on board, which was not a lot. We were on a large catamaran. On our sail towards Soufriere, we saw 2 whales in the distance and the Pitons. There was a photographer with us (Nursia) who took lots of pictures. After arriving in Soufriere we boarded two vans. Our first stop was the Botanical Gardens and Diamond Falls. There were lots of interesting flowers. My favorite was "The Crab Claw." The falls were a great backdrop for pictures, although they were less impressive than I had imagined they were going to be. We got back in the van and went on a short drive to the Sulfur Springs (the drive-in volcano). I had read that the smell was intolerable/overpowering, but we didn't find this to be the case. It smelled like hard boiled eggs, only stronger. Tom's sinuses felt great after breathing in the air! "Leroy Brown" gave us our brief tour and was very informativehe showed us "Gabriel's hole" where Gabriel, a guide, fell in several years ago and got 3rd degree burns. The bubbling water was blackish-brown and there were calcium and sulfur deposits and steam all over. We boarded the van again and headed to the Morne Coubaril Estate, an old sugar plantation, now restored (This is the "difference" in Soufriere with a Difference.). It was neat. We saw how cocoa, coconuts and sugar were processed. This is also where we had lunch, which was our least favorite meal of our trip. We had baked macaroni, salad, fried chicken, stewed pork, sliced vegetables and a glass of lemonade. Dessert was a scoop of ice cream. We were still hungry after lunch, which was a first for us this week! (Later when we spoke to other couples who went on the regular Soufriere Day Sails, they said their lunches weren't great either.) Right after lunch we headed back to the boat and after a short ride, we stopped for snorkeling, swimming and sunbathing. Tom and I snorkeled and it was interesting to see different fish than we had seen at another reef the day before. After about an hour, everyone got back on the boat and we partied. We had rum punch and listened to loud reggae music. Four men participated in a beer chugging contest and the first two winners each got a bottle of champagne. Then it was time for the ladies...3 girls went up, but they needed a fourth. The girls dragged me up, while Tom pushed me up against my will. We had to chug a bottle of Piton beer. No one chuggedit was the longest and funniest beer chugging contest in the boat's history. I was laughing so hard, I kept spitting the beer out. Finally, one girl finished her beer. Then we needed a second place winneranother girl dropped out, so there was only two of us leftI didn't want to win (I don't love beer or champagne!) so I kept rooting for the other girl to finish her beer to put me out of my misery. It was hysterical!!! While we were partying, we sailed through Marigot Bay, looked at the scenery and yachts. (George Forman's house is on the hill and its round like a hamburger.) A few minutes later we were back at the dock and we got shuttled back to Sandals. We visited the Beach Grill where Pamela and Estelle made us each a cheeseburger and fries. They hit the spot after our lunch! I also had a Hummingbird (drink) while Tom had a beer. For dinner, we went to The Pier. We arrived at 7:45 and the first available table was at 8:15 so we waited at the back of the restaurant on the little deck and looked at the fish in the sea while enjoying drinks. For dinner, I had: fried calamari as an appetizer, octopus salad, and seafood pot pie (seafood caserolette) which were all delicious. Tom had: fried calamari as an appetizer, roasted eggplant and saffron soup, Christophine salad, and seafood pot pie (seafood caserolette). For dessert I had peanut surprise and Tom had coco vanilla cake. We especially liked the seafood caserolette which was filled with lots of fresh seafood and the pastry crust was delicious. As at all the other restaurants (and the entire resort) the staff was very attentive. After dinner, we walked over to the Forum where we received one Sandals necklace for the points we earned this week. We watched part of the staff/guest talent show, which was good, but we were tired after our busy day, so we headed back to our room early. Saturday, March 20 We had breakfast at Bayside and said goodbye to our friends Kris and Mike from Orlando who were leaving that morning. Then we sat and watched the sea. We made an appointment for the massage we won and another massage so we each could get one. At 11:00 we went snorkeling. Martin led the snorkeling tour and pointed out different types of fish and coral. Tom and I had smuggled some bread out of Bayside at breakfast, which we brought with us in a ziploc bag to feed to the fish. Lots of fish followed us because of the bread. It was great! I wished I had brought an underwater camera. We passed through Marigot Bay and Martin told us about it. We went on three snorkeling trips during our week and each was different. At 1:00 we had lunch at Bayside. At 2:00, Tom had his massage and at 2:30 I had mine. It was the first massage ever for each of us, and Pearl did a great job. We both felt so good afterward. We decided to walk to the little shopping center down the street from Sandals. We looked around at the souvenirs, but couldn't find anything we were dying to buy. We went into the grocery store and each bought a 6-pack of Piton beer and a bottle of Magic Coconut oil. I also bought some St. Lucian pasta. We felt we should bring something back for our families! At 6:30 we took the shuttle to the Golf and Spa Resort and went to La Toc for dinner. I had smoked chicken and pumpkin coulie with linguine, Caesar salad, shrimp and pesto linguine, and an apple phyllo purse for dessert. Tom had Alaskan king crab and mushroom ravioli with a corn and lobster bisque sauce, beef and barley soup, Caesar salad, lamb chops, and an apple phyllo purse for dessert. We took the shuttle back to Halcyon at 9:00, then headed over to the piano bar for karaoke at 10:30. We were sad it was our last night! Sunday, March 21 We woke up early (not on purpose) and went to breakfast at 8:45. We relaxed by the pool for a little while, then finished packing up our stuff. We checked out at 11:00 and the shuttle left for the airport at 11:30. We sat in the airport for a while and boarded our plane (which was late) at 3:30. We departed at about 4:00, landed in Antigua to drop off/pick up people. Then we had to make a stop in San Juan to refuel since the weather was bad at Newark Airport and we might have to circle the airport before we could land. We finally arrived at Newark Airport shortly after midnight. I was glad I took the next day off from work! All in all, we had a wonderful trip! The staff at the resort were so nice and really made us feel at home! We would love to go back to St. Lucia again in the future and we also plan on trying other Sandals resorts. As of this submission (5/4/99) we received a letter from Sandals saying we would be refunded 400-something dollars for the first night when we were not at the resort due to the flight delay. I am disappointed that they didnt refund more. They also offered us a free night at a Sandals resort to use within a year. I also wrote to Miami Air about our delay and the way in which the situation was handled at the airport, but I have not heard anything from them yet.
Trip 3/99 I had the pleasure of visiting St. Martin from March 21 to 28th. We flew out of Boston on a GWV charter and stayed at Palm Court (adjacent to St. Tropez) at Orient Beach on the French Side. This vacation was one of the best that we've ever had and we are already planning to go back to St. Martin. Accommodations : (Palm Court) great location at center of Orient Beach. The rooms were adequate and had a refrigerator which was nice. We did have one problem and that was the lack of a person at reception desk to answer questions , etc.. This hotel is small (26 rooms) but they could of had someone available for at least the first day or two to help get everyone oriented. Everything else was fine. Rental Car : This is essential. We were able to rent a car for $240 for the whole week from Island Car Care rentals. The car was similar to a Corolla type vehicle and was more than adequate. Beach : Absolutely loved Orient Beach. Beautiful beach/sand with chairs , umbrellas, restaurants, and water sports. I windsurf and there was a small outfit called Wind Adventures located on beach with plenty of equipment. The windsurfing was better at end of the week as the wind got stronger. Good flat water conditions and side onshore wind. Equipment rental prices were very reasonable and the convenience of their location was great. Restaurants : Spent a lot of nights on Grand Case. Establishments visited included L'Alabama, Fish Pot, Le Cottage, Talk of the Town BBQ, and Turtle Pier. The best place by far was L'Alabama as the food and service was fantastic. The worst place was Turtle Pier by airport, the service was terrible and food was only OK. All others were very good. We mostly had seafood , red snapper was my favorite. Tours : We only did 1 tour and that was to take the Lambada Catamaran to Prickly Pear Island for snorkeling. The boat ride was nice but kind of long - 1.5 hours, but the worst part was that the snorkeling was terrible. Our GWV representative told us that it would be like jumping into an aquarium. I don't know what aquarium he has been to but it was the worst snorkeling I've ever seen, very little fish or reefs around. While I'm on the subject, we were not happy with GWV which was not surprising to us as their service is second rate and they were only good for getting us to the island. Next time we will be booking our own flight and hotel. We didn't go to St. Barth's but wish we had as we heard from others that it was definitely worthwhile to go. Other Items : We only visited one casino , Lightning Casino, which was supposed to be the biggest on the island. It was OK and I thought it was very small. We found the shopping in Marigot to be better than Philipsburg as there was more of a variety and just better atmosphere. Overall this was a great vacation and a great island to visit.
Trip 3/99 Our 2-week vacation in paradise began on March 6 at 4:30 a.m. in a blinding snowstorm. Luckily we had a limo picking us up for the 50-mile trip to Detroit Metro (we live outside Toledo, Ohio) where our flight was to leave at 7:15 a.m. We were on an air-only charter through MIT vacations, Northwest airplane (from a tip I received from a fellow St. Maarten lover on the AOL St. Maarten travel board). My travel agent did not even know about it - she had to call NWA for the information. After being de-iced twice, we were on our way at 8:35 a.m. I knew that once we got above the storm we would be fine. We had rented a car ahead of time from Alain Arnell, Triple "A" Car Rental through the Internet (email@example.com). He was waiting for us at the airport (we were an hour late getting in). He is a great guy and everything everyone says about him is true. Practically brand new car - 2,300 miles on it - $200 per week. We were on our way within 10 minutes. The first week was spent at our timeshare at Divi Little Bay Beach & Racquet Club. We have owned a studio unit here since 1995 (pre-Louis). I know some people would not stay here from their comments, but it works for us. The location is what I would call semi-secluded in that it is on that little strip of land all its own. Peaceful and rather quiet. There is nothing like waking up in the morning and walking out to see how many cruise ships in port that day or in the evening, walking up the hill and watching the sun set. A man told us one night as we were watching the sun set that if there are no clouds in the sky and if you are watching very closely, the instant the sun drops below the horizon you will see a green flash. It's true - I saw it for myself. What an experience! Divi is still in the process of rebuilding/restoring from Luis. There is evident roof damage from the storm last September. Long, slow process. First set of hotel rooms now open - second set (beyond where the new check-in and dining room will be) seems to be just about completed. All timeshare buildings on Great Bay side due for complete restoration - new everything. Will be shutting down one building at a time for renovation. Based on this information and the need for a bigger unit (and believe me, we know about being told information that never seems to pan out), we upgraded to a one-bedroom, two-bath unit in the last building (12) on the hill on the Great Bay side. We are not big beach people, do more sightseeing than anything else. Must of drove around the island tons of times (didn't really keep track), going different ways each time and into different areas, some we wondered if we would ever get out of. Of course, we did do the shopping trip a couple of times. Went back to where we bought jewelry 2 years ago - Touch of Gold (at that time, the first and only time we had ever been in the store). Deepak had waited on us then and when we walked into the store this time at their 3rd location, I mentioned something like you guys are doing so good you now have a 3rd location. He said hello Diana. I know I stood there with my mouth open and looked at my husband as if to say how could this man remember me from one encounter 2 years ago? But he did. Took back a diamond bracelet and upgraded it. These people are not high-pressure people. They will show you a lot of things, but never have felt pressured to buy anything. They have a web site: http://www.atouchofgold.com. Thanks to Jeff Burger (jmbcommunications.com) for his great, informative website on St. Maarten. Printed off his list of restaurants with the coupons and used a few. I have listed the places where we ate and given OUR opinion of each. Breakfasts at Turtle Pier (ok), Sambuca's (good); Don Carlos (very good); ZeeBest (excellent just like everyone says -Danny's new daughter is a cutie); Harbor Point at Maho (very good). Lunch at Good Fellas (food fair, service lousy). Dinners at Chesterfield's (excellent, and they now take credit cards except AMEX), Salad Galley at Bobby's Marina (very good), Sambuca's (good), Rancho Argentinian Grill (very good); Surf Club South (very good - go there on Sunday night - great band); The Greenhouse (good, noisy place); The Boathouse (excellent, ate there twice); Indiana Beach (so-so - service was fair). Spent the second week at the Sapphire. Beautiful room (7th floor) and beautiful view. Only bugs we saw were ants and then only because we left food on the counter. Their Monday night manager's party and buffet were good. Turnout was great, with great audience participation. We stayed here because Divi was full for our second week. I found our room to be clean and the place is more upscale than Divi, but I would not buy here. No beach to speak of and even though not big beach people, do like to walk in the early morning and early evening on one. Location nice in that it is not in the heart of things with a lot of traffic. It really is a shame getting there though to drive through the Mullet Bay area and still see the area in ruin. It is such a lovely area. I know people ask over and over again what is it with this island that people can't get enough of. For us, it isn't something you can describe - it is the feeling you get the minute you walk through the door of that airplane after 4 1/2 hours and feel the warm breeze and sunshine on your face. People mention the increase in crime. Pick up any USA city newspaper on any given day and see how much crime is reported. We never felt unsafe, just took the normal precautions that we take at home. Well, until next year, we will just have to imagine ourselves there through everyone else's reports. SXMitis has for sure invaded our souls.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In many ways, this, our fourth trip to St. Martin, April 17-24, was the best yet because of the warm friendships and good times we made with people we had previously known only as screennames on the AOL message board and chatroom. It was also the worst of times because, for us, we had a run of bad luck that served to delay us and forced us to cancel some plans that we had really been looking forward to. The trip really started out on a dismal note. Because of forest fires and thunderstorms in Miami, we missed our connection, the last flight to SXM of the day. So we ended up stuck in Miami for the night. If you have "SXM-itis" as much as I do, you can only imagine how bad I felt about this. Luck was with us the next morning, however, because we got confirmed seats on the 11 a.m. flight. After another delay for a slight mechanical problem (a broken overhead bin latch that had to be fixed before we would be allowed to take off), we finally touched down on our beloved island just after 2:30. On the recommendation of many on the AOL message board, we had reserved a rental car through Unity. Part of Unity's customer service is that they meet you at the airport as you leave the baggage claim area. So when we got delayed in Miami, I called their answering machine and left a message that we wouldn't be arriving when planned. The next morning, once we had confirmed seats, I called their answering machine again and left word about what flight we would now be on, but I had no idea if they would get these messages or not. Well, when we got off the plane, there they were, with our name on a sign, so Unity is definitely paying attention. We had the chance to test their service level again during our trip. The car they gave us was, quite frankly, a beater. It was in bad shape, with 88K miles, a weak battery, ripped upholstery, missing radio dials, missing vent covers on the a.c., etc. Michael apologized and said it was the last car they had left that day. Well, all we really needed was something to get ourselves from one place to another, so we accepted the car and went on our way. The next morning, we came out to find a flat tire on the car. Luckily, we had checked for a usable spare before leaving the airport, so John changed the tire. But I felt we really needed a different vehicle, so I called Michael. He told me he would gladly replace the car, but wouldn't have anything available till the afternoon. So I made arrangements to meet him at our hotel, the St. Tropez, at 4 p.m. John and I finally went out to grab some lunch and do some shopping in our beater car with the spare tire. The bad side of this is that we had to pass up our plans to meet our new friends over at their beautiful villa overlooking Baie Rouge. The good news is that Michael showed up at 4:00 on the dot, with a much nicer car that served us well the remainder of the week. Bad luck comes in threes, right? We got socked with #3 the next morning. We had all made plans to fly over to St. Barths for a day trip. When we went to leave our room at about 8:30, we couldn't get the door unlocked! Beth and Joe, who were also staying at the St. Tropez, were waiting for us by the pool, and the 4 of us were to meet up with the rest of the group at the airport for the short flight. To make a long story short nothing could get that door open, a locksmith had to be called, it took nearly 3 hours to get the door open and get us out of the room, and we, Beth and Joe missed the flight to St. Barths. We turned lemons into lemonade, however, and went to Cupecoy for the day instead. In retrospect, this was probably the best use of the day for us. Talking to Jeff later, St. Barths sounds overpriced and people there are not nearly as friendly as on SXM. We had a great day at Cupecoy. There was just enough sand for our chaise lounges, the sun was warm, the skies were clear and we had a chance to make great friends with Beth and Joe. To summarize the rest of our trip as briefly as possible: DINING: This trip was unique for John and myself in that we passed by fine French cuisine most of the time, choosing instead to feed our souls with our new friendships. My favorite dinner memory comes from a completely spontaneous cookout we had at Jeff's villa after our day at Cupecoy and their day at St. Barths. We also had a unique opportunity to have dinner at the home of Bernadette Davis, director of tourism on the French side. She and her husband are both wonderful people and Bernadette prepared us a fabulous dinner of local specialties. We also got a taste of homemade guavaberry liquor, and I can assure you it is much, much tastier than the commercial product. Not to leave the restaurant scene out entirely, we did eat at Le Piccolo, which we both loved. The service was very attentive and the food was a unique blend of French-Canadian and Caribbean. The highlight of the meal was a local pumpkin soup. This is a different kind of squash than a Halloween jack-o-lantern and was very good. In spite of having the soup, we also ordered appetizers: mushroom caps stuffed with conch, and the scallop carpaccio (yes, it's raw!). For main dishes, John had duck breast and I had stuffed king fish. John ordered the sugar pie with pears for dessert, while I had basil flan. Our other unique dining opportunity found us at the Paradise View, which used to be known as the Cloud Room. Coincidentally, this restaurant is run by Bernadette Davis' sister Claudette. They are open for dinner only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. When we went on Friday, they featured a West Indian BBQ. Unfortunately, the band that had been scheduled to appear never showed up and it ended up being a rather quiet night at the restaurant. In fact, some of Jeff's group was going to meet us there, but it was so quiet, they thought the place was closed and left. Their loss, as we enjoyed some very tasty local specialties and had the chance to meet and talk with more St. Martin residents. They mix some good drinks there, too, my personal favorite being the mango madness. We also had our first opportunity to experience Zee Best. The first time was for lunch on Monday. We both ate the vegetarian crepes. And we knew we would have to return again for a couple of reasons: it was Dani's day off and we really wanted to meet him, plus they were out of chocolate croissants and I just had to have one. So we went back on Saturday to grab a bite before heading to the airport for the trip home. I got my chocolate croissant and we did meet Dani. For whatever reason, our friend Jeff has given us a reputation because Dani immediately pegged us as his friends. I'm sure I hadn't mentioned to Jeff that we were going to go there, but somehow Dani seemed to be expecting us. OUR HOTEL: This was our third stay at the Hotel St. Tropez. As I mentioned before, we had the incident getting lock in our room. However, I would still stay here again, because in my book, you just can't beat this location and the place is clean, comfortable, quiet and affordable. STATE OF THE ISLAND: I regret I never had the chance to visit St. Martin before Hurricane Luis. People tell me it will never be the same. But from my viewpoint, it must be rebounding nicely because the island was more crowded, with more new construction than I had ever seen before. And I was amazed how much the foliage had grown since our last visit in Dec. '97. I'm not sure if it's the result of a wet winter or of the passage of time since the hurricane, but flowering bushes seemed to be everywhere. I saw no evidence of an increase in crime, except for stickers on some of the rental car trunks warning tourists not to leave anything of value in the car. And oh yes...at Cupecoy, I saw a cliffboy. In action!