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I need to apologize for the touch of melodrama yesterday. Sure, it was painful to be swollen from bug bites and sun stroke, but truthfully it doesn’t matter when you are looking at the ocean all day long.
And so ends the great Caribbean adventure. It took a rickshaw, three boats (because the first two had to turn around due to technical difficulties), a Cessna, an A320 and a New York taxi cab to get me from Villa Aquamare to Villa Meagan, but it was worth it.
In lieu of a wrap-up, let me leave you with a few fun facts about Virgin Gorda:
There are approximately 3,500 residents on the island. Anyone who wants a job has one available to them, and almost every resident owns property. This is very different from many of the other Caribbean islands where high-end luxury sits adjacent to abject poverty, breeding resentment among the locals toward the tourists.
The vibe is a bit different on Virgin Gorda because locals are instilled with a sense of pride and accomplishment, and there is far less of a clash between the haves and the have-nots.
The island is the third largest in the BVI after Tortola and Anegada, and the rumor goes that Christopher Columbus named it Virgin Gorda (The Fat Virgin), because the island’s profile looks like a fat woman on her side.
Caribbean dispatches closed.
Five bleary-eyed, hungover, mosquito-feasted-upon, red throbbing piles sit around the pool this morning. You can put us in Frette linens with Bvlgari bath amenities and maid service twice a day, but the reality is we are a mess.
When you look at the magazine spreads of the Caribbean you see perfectly sculpted, tan models sunning themselves while butlers serve them fruity drinks with umbrellas. What they don’t tell you is how damn strong the sun is and how your body becomes a full service buffet for thousands of bugs. We are in so much pain that we are praying for rain today just so we don’t feel guilty for holing up in our rooms hiding from the sun.
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating but I’ve been to four islands in eight days and I don’t think my body can take any more “paradise.” The bubbling sun blister on my arm speaks for itself. Give me takeout and DVR. NYC…I’m coming home.
So did someone mention a five-bedroom villa? Why yes, I believe they did. I sit here from the couch at Villa #3 in the Villa Aquamare complex, a community of three five-bedroom villas all connected by gardens with direct access to the ocean.
This ultra luxury enclave usually runs for about $20,000 per week in low season, and upwards of $50,000 per week during the holidays. Each villa is 8,000 square feet with private pools, gourmet kitchen, outdoor showers and balconies. It’s not a bad place to be. Not at all.
The British Virgin Islands are a collection of about 50-odd islands in the Caribbean Sea. The largest four are Virgin Gorda, Tortola, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke. Some of you may have heard of Necker Island, as well, which is Richard Branson’s private estate.
While the destination caters to mostly couples and families, we have quickly discovered that it is an amazing destination for a group of friends to travel to together. Aside from imbibing heavily, grilling steaks outside and napping in the beach cabana (and a touch of sun stroke or two), we managed to leave the estate to visit The Baths, a national park of beach caves and rock formations. Wriggling through small caverns to find hidden tide pools? What could be better?
Last night we were treated to a private dinner of garlic shrimp, smoked salmon and home-made pecan pie, along with copious amounts of white wine. I never really considered myself to be a connoisseur of luxury, but after my earlier Alpine adventure and then this trip to paradise, it seems this could be a lifestyle I’m very much on board with.
Just a day and a half left to soak it all up, but I don’t think anyone is ready for it to end.
Planes, trains and automobiles. That’s Caribbean island hopping for you, except forget trains and substitute boats. Inter-island hopping can be a major pain in the ass. At least, that’s how the rumor goes, seeing as everyone runs on “Caribbean time,” a warped sense of reality foreign to cosmopolitan dwellers who schedule their days down to every bathroom break.
I may be one of these people. So you can imagine the agita I was feeling when I heard that the airline I was flying from St. Maarten (SXM) to Tortola (EIS), LIAT Airlines, was known by the locals as Leave Island Any Time. A quick search on Lonely Planet left me reeling as I read horror stories of lost luggage and a common theme that the airline always manages to at least “arrive on the day it is supposed to.” I had a noon ferry to catch in Tortola to take me over to Virgin Gorda, and the next one was not for another six hours.
Well, fortunately, this is a story that turns out well. The flight landed early and it was a very brief walk from the airport to the dock to catch the ferry. When taking a ferry off of Tortola, you will usually be embarking from Trellis Bay. As soon as you leave the airport doors, make a left and keep walking straight for about five minutes and you’ll come upon the piers. A small market is available that sells snacks and cold beverages so you can wait comfortably for your ferry.
There aren’t a whole lot of options to get off of Tortola. The BVI caters to a very upscale community and most of the luxury resorts have their own private transfers, which come at an astronomical fee. There are a few low budget ferries, but because they are the only options they tend to leave when and how they want to. I recommend using Speedy’s. A one-way ticket to Virgin Gorda is $20 and they run on a pretty reliable schedule. It’s about a half-hour ferry trip.
All in all, not a bad day for travel. I left St. Maarten at 10:30 a.m. and arrived at Villa Aquamare at 12:45 p.m. Not too shabby.
Now I sit in this 8,000-square-foot, five-bedroom villa drinking a Carib beer looking over the private plunge pool out toward the ocean, wondering what on earth I did in my previous life. But that, my friends, is a story for another day. Until Monday.
What I have always loved about this job is, despite the loneliness of being in some of the world’s most beautiful places alone, you usually meet other solo travelers and for a brief moment you are able to connect with people who completely understand how comfortable it feels to be anywhere but home.
After debarking in St. Maarten, I was able to tag along with a couple of friends I have made along the way in this biz. They were renting a car and driving around the island with no real destination in mind. The point was to just see.
It’s easy to rent a car from the cruise terminal – a station is literally right at the pier. So we made our way, sans GPS and new-fangled technology (just a shitty little road map) all the way around the island, stopping periodically to gape at the water – a perfect gradient from aqua to sapphire. But anyone who has ever been to the Caribbean admires the water, so for me the real joy was having no plan whatsoever, tooling around the island’s dusty back roads with three other victims of wanderlust.
St. Maarten is divided in two: the French side and the Dutch side. The cruise ships and the main airport are both on the Dutch side, but it is less than a half hour’s drive to make your way over to the French area, which is much more beautiful and charming. On your way around the island you will pass through Oyster Bay, which is quite trafficked as you come upon it, but slowly becomes more and more desolate the further you go down. Stop by Boo Boo Jam (yes…that is the name) for an ice cold Presidente beer and a few glimpses of the topless lades (because, yes, that is allowed on St. Maarten).
Stop for lunch in Grand Case, a tiny community flanked with beach-side restaurants serving up the local catch and grilling ribs on giant outdoor racks. We stopped at The Rib Shack and for $9 each sucked on juicy ribs and devoured plates of side dishes. A beer is also a lovely $1.50. (Prices are in Euro and Dollars, but the ratio in St. Maarten is one-to-one, so it’s favorable to pay in dollars.)
Unfortunately my companions had to embark back on the Oasis of the Seas to finish up the conference we were covering. I hung back in St. Maarten for the night and I’m writing to you from my balcony at Simpson Bay Resort & Marina, bottle of wine, loaf of bread and cheese at my side. I need to be well rested for my early flight to the British Virgin Islands tomorrow, where I will give Richard Branson a run for his money in the meaning of luxury. On to Villa Aquamare.
I’ll give you one good thing about cruises: the access to free drunk food is amazing. I spent much of yesterday cursing the day as I went down the laundry list of alcohol I consumed the night before, the likes of which included champagne, martinis and scotch. (Yes, apparently I turned into a high society booze hound on Monday night.) But this stream of poor decisions led me to see the light about cruising: all-you-can-eat pizza is….perfection.
Okay, so maybe I’m going overboard (no pun), but when you are stumbling back to your room after partying with fellow media (because those dudes can hold their own), and you see a man holding a piping hot pizza, cheese glistening with grease, and he says that it is free and unlimited…well…let’s just say good thing I’m not single.
So maybe cruising isn’t exactly for me, but at least with Oasis of the Seas, for whom they cater to, they do a very good job. Everything about the experience has been seamless, the staff is friendly and the food is actually surprisingly good. This isn’t how I would choose to spend a vacation, but I’m not exactly complaining about the 85-degree weather, tanning on the pool deck and hanging out on my stateroom balcony. It’s also fun to play the part and embrace your inner kitsch.
Sure, the internet connection is sh*t, and when the ship docks the passengers rarely leave the port, which to me, begs the question “why even travel?” But I’ll put my travel snobbery aside I suppose, because I’m supposed to be cruising like a cruiser.
However, when docked in St. Thomas a writer friend and I took ourselves into town for lunch and a local beer (the hair of the dog, am I right?). If ever in town on a short amount of time, hit up Coconuts and try the fresh grouper and a Blackbeard Ale (sold exclusively in the Virgin Islands, but bottled in Portland, Maine…). You won’t be getting a local experience, but at least you are off the boat. The food is fresh, the beer is cold and you’re in the Caribbean. Life is good.
Tonight there will be time for one last adventure before disembarking in St. Maarten for a solo stay.
David Foster Wallace once wrote, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” It was about cruising. Well played, Dave. Well played.
I arrived in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday morning with the notion that all-inclusive cruises were the reason why the world hates Americans (I’m thinking of you, midnight buffets and the march of the XXXL’s). Don’t get worried – I haven’t had some life-affirming experience that has changed my outlook on cruising, but there are a few upsides to this floating Las Vegas that could help put it in a new light.
First of all, it’s a floating Las Vegas. Let’s look at the positives of that. Last year I went to Vegas four times (all for business, relax). When you go somewhere that often you need to learn how to make the most of it, which is how I have been approaching this sea titan. The upsides: Excellent restaurants, legitimate pool/hot tub scene, great bars and a spa/fitness center. And the views of the ocean don’t exactly hurt, which is something Vegas sorely lacks. Also – let’s not forget that cruising at this level was designed for the truly lazy (and no this does not belong in the negative column). When you are in Italy, you would be an idiot to sit by the pool all day. When you are in Ho Chi Minh City, you aren’t signing up for multiple spa treatments. But when you are on a Caribbean cruise? You go ahead. You lay by that pool, you meander off the boat at a leisurely pace only to return an hour later having accomplished nothing. It’s okay! Good for you!
Truth be told, cruising has come a long way and this ship was a definite game changer. You are no longer forced to eat at the same time with the same people holding awkward conversations (although you can, if you still want to). The entertainment has upped the ante in terms of electronics (and perhaps pyrotechnics) and everything just feels fresher and newer.
The downsides: Much of it is all-you-can-eat, which is often grossly taken advantage of. (I once heard a story about a guy at an all-you-can-eat that sucked sauce off of his plate to make room for more food. Oh, America.) Second, it’s all families and couples and once again I’m here alone, though that’s just the nature of the biz and no fault of the cruise line. Bucket of champagne for two for one? Yes, I will drink that all alone and further drown my loneliness by eating all of those chocolate covered strawberries….what?
Ahem. Point being, it’s not awful. I could actually see myself having some fun. But going back to Mr. Wallace, his outlook is probably with where my allegiance will align.
Okay…so it’s not really 80…but it is a substantial amount. I realize not all of you live in New York, so my posts on the New York restaurant scene can become a bit tired. Should you find yourself in these necks of the woods, here is where you can go to get some tasty snackage.
Bermuda Tourism is offering travelers the chance to save 50 percent off listed room rates with the “Bermuda Pink Sale.” This offer is good on minimum four-night stays booked by February 3 for travel January 23 to April 30.
Participating hotels include:
Grotto Bay Beach Resort & Tennis Club- $97.50 per night
Coco Reef Bermuda- $99 per night
Coral Beach & Tennis Club- $125 per night
The Fairmont Hamilton Princess- $129.50 per night
The Fairmont Southampton- $129.50 per night
Newstead Belmont Hills Golf Resort & Spa- $234 per night
CheapCaribbean.com is offering a slew of hotel packages with air credits. Some of the offers include three nights for $199 at Grand Lucayan Radisson Resort in the Bahamas, air included, as well as four nights for $289 at Comfort Suites Paradise Island in the Bahamas, air included. The sale ends TODAY! Come on people…be impulsive!