This is our trip report from our July 1 to 8, 2000 trip to St. Martin. We enjoyed one of our best trips ever, thanks in no small part to the many great folks that we met on the trip. We had reservations for Grand Lido Braco in Jamaica for the same time period until about 45 days before we left. However, air prices going to Jamaica never came down and US Air announced an air fare sale which we were able to take advantage of to fly to SXM from BWI for a little over $400 per person, so we grabbed it, plus reservations at Club Orient.
Eric played the fare rules to the max, taking advantage of a sale that supposedly ended on June 30 by flying to Philadelphia on Friday June 30 and spending the night there. We spent the night at the Airport Marriott, which is connected right to the Philadelphia Airport. No worries about getting even a shuttle bus to and from the airport. It was a very nice hotel and we would stay there again in a shot. Cost just for the hotel was around $102 for the night, including tax. We arrived in Philly about 10 P.M. Friday night, had a late dinner there at the Marriott and a nice full breakfast at the hotel in the morning, and just walked over to the terminal to check in in the morning. Especially since we had only carry-on luggage, it was an extremely painless experience. Strangely enough, they also have an airport shuttle there, which I really don't understand.
As we were just reaching the counter to check in, Dave P from Traveltalk walked up to the counter and asked the lady if she could page us, as they wanted to meet up with us prior to the flight. Well, of course, we replied--here we are!! (By the way, whenever from here on out, you see "TT" I mean thereby the TravelTalk BB, which is a BB on which we talk about St. Martin. The url is http://traveltalk.com/cgi-bin/sp/sporum/sporum/index.cgi We had a lovely few minutes getting acquainted and boarded our FULL 757. As usual, after we boarded the plane, there was some strange glitch, as the pilot announced there was some "interface problem" with Dulles control, whatever the _ell that means. After about a 30 minute delay, we were off for home!!
We arrived in SXM to the usual sunshine and no other big planes in. Even though we were in row 30 of the airplane, on this occasion, it was an advantage, as they rolled out two stairways, one forward and one aft, and thus we were the second ones out the rear door!! As usual, we did all carry-on luggage and were IN our rental car driving away in a world record fifteen minutes. As always, we rented through Hertz, through Jim Ruos, at $150 for the week. We ended up with a GREY Hyundai Accent with only about 4,400 KM on it and received an upgrade, for whatever reason. We certainly didn't complain. It was a nice car, no problems with it for the week, as always. We have never had a bad car from Hertz.
Since other folks on the BB and The Daily Herald had reported that Match had been on strike for over a week, we weren't sure whether it had reopened or not. We decided to check out U.S. Import/Export in Sandy Ground. For the first time in recent memory, we did NOT take meats with us and we bought some decent steaks there. Frankly, their selection there was OK, but we didn't think it was nearly as good as Match. We did pick up a nice assortment pack of cheeses, packaged together, which we enjoyed a lot. One of the cheeses was a dessert kind of cheese, with walnuts on top and a little strand of crushed walnuts through it. It was lovely, but no idea what the name of it was. Anybody have a clue?? They DID have Ma DouDou, and in fact, in a larger bottle than we had seen before, a full liter. The price for the liter bottles was $7.20, a good deal. These bottles have a screw cap, which is nice for resealing them. Unfortunately, as we would find out later in the week, the caps are somewhat fragile. Stay tuned on that subject later in the week!!
What US Import/Export did NOT have was any Pepsi products, which is problem, since I'm a Pepsi (or usually Diet Pepsi, actually) kind of gal. We always bought our Pepsi at Match, and Eric wanted some tonic in bottles, so we decided to try Match also. Of course, Match was open but didn't have any Pepsi or any tonic in bottles this time, so it was kind of a wasted stop.
We arrived at Club Orient and were pleased to find that we had in fact been assigned one of our two requested units, number 41. Now, I think numbers 40 and 41 are the best kept secrets at Club Orient. They are full ocean view mini suites, located to the right of Papagayo's, as one stands on the shore facing the ocean. As mini suites, they are fully air conditioned, and have quite a bit more inside room than the studios. If we could guarantee getting 40 or 41 all the time, I would stay there every time. The only problem with those units is that you really don't have the "walk-by" traffic that you have in the other units, of folks walking by and saying "hi!!". On the whole, I would certainly accept that problem if I could get that unit all the time, as otherwise we considered it just about perfect.
As soon as we arrived, Eric put up our Traveltalk flags outside the unit and we unpacked our stuff and settled in. Eric went over to Papagayo's and L'Orientique to set up our accounts there. I laid down for a short nap, since we hadn't had a huge amount of sleep the night before. However, in what would be a theme for the week (_amn those TravelTalk flags on the unit--G!!), soon there was a pounding on the door and this fellow with a TT flag pinned to his _ss is standing there, holding a t-shirt and grinning like a hyena !! Of course, it turned out to be Wendell from TT BB and he presented me with a TT t-shirt.
All right, well I guess I have to explain the TT flag pinned to his _ss business. Ok, you caught me, it wasn't actually pinned to his _ss, It was pinned to his bathing suit. But you do have to admit, it was a good way to get folks' attention!! G!!
A word here regarding Wendell is in order. He had made up some 30 t-shirts emblazoned with the TT flag and "July 4, 2000 A TravelTalk SXM BB Gathering" on the front, at his own expense, and gave them away and REFUSED any payment for them, more than once. Above and beyond the call of duty, my man!! Good show.
By this time, it was time to head out to happy hour at Papagayo's, and thereafter for dinner. We made plans prior to leaving home, of meeting Don and Linda and Ed & Susie from the BB for dinner, along with two other couples they knew, whose names escape me at the moment. For some reason, Papagayo was packed this evening and they did not have nearly enough servers for the crowd. Even though we were a table for 10 and had been imbibing for a while during happy hour and we bought a bottle of champagne also and thus were kind of rowdy, Papagayo's servers managed to ignore us for a while. We eventually got served and Eric and I, at least, had an excellent dinner. We shared a French Onion soup (which was better than the one we had later on in the week at Auberge Gourmande), Eric had chicken with rice and I had spaghetti carbonara. Both were excellent, although I couldn't nearly finish mine.
Since it was off season, Papagayo's had a DJ this evening, instead of a live band, as they do during the winter. After a while, they started up Kareoke. After suffering through that for a few minutes, it was time to call it a night.
Sunday morning we had a croissant at the unit for breakfast and headed out to the beach with the flag. We met Michael and Diana from TT early on, and chatted with Ed & Susie and Don & Linda. Around 12 o'clock, there was a 10 minute or so shower, so we headed over to Papagayo's with Michael and Diana for lunch. I had an allegedly medium well done cheeseburger that was BURNT and Eric had the chicken cheese steak. After several more tiring hours on the beach (G!!) we headed out to drive around a little before dinner. We checked out all the new construction at Orient and drove through Cul de Sac and discovered Le Piccolo still closed for vacation, and Vince's Conga Café just gone-no sign on their former home at all. Despite what we had seen on the BB earlier about Vince's getting "a better offer" over in Port de Plaisance, we heard a rumor that the REAL story was that Vince and his wife were having marital problems and that she got tired of him taking credit for her great cooking. The rumor also said that Vince's wife was going to be setting up some type of health food restaurant and that he was setting up his own restaurant at PDP. No clue whether any of that is true or not.
As is somewhat our norm for Grand Case, we kind of made a loop through GC, trying to decide where to dine this evening. I had decided that we should try Hevea, based mainly on recommendations I remembered from the old Prodigy BB service. Frankly, we were not really that impressed. The wine list was uninspiring-only 7 or so selections each of red and white wines and a few blushes and champagnes. I chose the third from the cheapest white wine and it was $30. Eric had shrimp bisque soup (which was by far the best thing we had there). I had beef with peppercorns and Eric had an oyster and shrimp combination platter. I had bananas flambe and Eric had the apple tart. The bill was $115. I don't think we will go back to Hevea any time soon. Other than getting a BURNED creme brulee at Le Tastevin (which the maitre d' refused to do anything about, by that way!!), this was the least impressive meal we have ever had in Grande Case. Nothing was bad, we just were not impressed, for the price we paid.
After dinner, we headed to the casinos, hitting Dolphin, Atlantis and Pelican and winning about $100 for the night. Overall, a successful evening at the casinos.
Monday morning we decided to check out Baywatch (former Surf Club South) for breakfast and try to check with Kakao about our proposed July 4th TT party, which was to be the next day. Somehow, we had thought that Baywatch was close to Kontiki and found out after driving down to Kakao to park and walking ALL the way back, that Baywatch is almost right next to Pedro's. Live and learn. We had a good breakfast there at Baywatch and met Andy (the owner) and had a good time talking to him for a couple of minutes. Eric wore his TT t-shirt and Wendell had been there before us, posting a shirt. A fellow sitting at Baywatch, that we didn't know at all, asked us about the shirt and where the party was going to be. The next day, he found us on the beach at Club O and we told him the party was moved and he actually showed up for a few minutes on the 4th.
As we were finishing up our breakfast, Ed & Sue from TT came up to have breakfast and we sat and talked with them for a while as they ate. It proved to be kind of a theme for the week, just kind of meeting up with TT folks and passing an enjoyable few minutes on the best beach in the world.....
Before leaving home, we had planned to have a July 4th get together of TT folks at Kakao beach bar. We went down to Kakao Monday morning after breakfast and found the manager, only to discover that Kakao had supposedly been rented for the whole day by a cruise ship and they could not accommodate our folks. We had two problems at this point-where do we meet now, and more importantly, how do we letfolks know where the party is going to be now that we know that we are going to have to move it?? The manager of Kakao suggested we try Bikini, so we hiked on down there. Unfortunately the manager there was not going to be in until some hours later, so they suggested we come back in a few hours.
We headed back down the beach, disconcerted and hoping we would be able to work the thing out. Fortunately, by means of our TT flag, we were able to meet up with Paul Marini, Larry and Gretchen and Wendell, and all the other folks we had met previously, to let them know that there was going to be a change of location and we were able to let those folks know later on in the afternoon that things were a GO for Bikini.
Since we had a late large breakfast at Baywatch, lunch was some cheese at the unit at 3:30 and then we weren't too hungry for dinner, and headed over to Grand Case to Calmos Café for dinner. Calmos is almost directly across from the soccer field, if you know where that is. It is on the water side and several of the tables are ON the sand. They serve chicken and ribs, burgers, and some fish selections. The menu is on a blackboard and the lady who waited on us didn't speak a lot of English, so it was somewhat of an experience early on. We wanted to order the ribs meal and instead ended up with the ribs appetizer. The ribs actually weren't the best we've ever had. Getting the appetizer by mistake turned out to be good, as we then ordered the sate chicken meal to split and it was GREAT! There were about 3 or 4 sticks of chicken, plus some great fried potatoes and a salad. The one appetizer, one meal and two drinks each was $30 altogether. Some of the best money we spent all week. After dinner we headed out to the Dolphin Casino, our favorite. Things were really bad early, then looked up toward the end. By the time the evening ended, our several drinks and t-shirt from Dolphin only ended up costing us about $20. Not bad at all. We got back to Club O about midnight and had to wake up the guard to open the gate to let us back in.
Tuesday was to be the big TravelTalk 4th of July party! I headed out to the beach (somebody has to do it!!) and Eric headed to Match to pick up champagne supplies. Around 1, Eric walked down to Pedro's for an order of chicken and fries, which we split for lunch. He drew several envious glances of TT and other folks and barely made it back to our chairs with the food intact!! G!! The party was to be at 3 and we headed down to Bikini and saw Wendell and Sheryl and Ed & Sue driving down. Folks kind of filtered in and we ended up with right around 20 folks, more or less. Wendell handed out TT t-shirts all around. We had brought name tags, which helped folks get to know each other. The highlight was when Paul and Maryann (the bride and groom from two days before) arrived and we all made a champagne toast to them and to SXM and TT. Those in attendance were Wendell & Sheryl, Don & Linda, Ed & Susie, Michael & Diana, Paul & Maryann, Jack Rinaldi (Mr. St. Martin), Lee & Teri, Jim & Luda, Gladys & Dave, and Larry & Gretchen. Jack hauled out bags of goodies, including t-shirts and SXM luggage tags, which were greatly appreciated. Towards the end, we highjacked a couple from the bar to take our picture out on the beach and there is a nice picture of the whole crew on our home page and on the TT BB. It was a great time, putting faces to names and chatting with lots of different folks. Bikini was very accommodating to us taking over a whole section of their bar and treated us to one free round of their own special concoction of spiced rum. Good show, Bikini!
Dinner this evening was to be one of our new favorites, Il Nettuno in Grand Case. This was the second time we had eaten there and both times were wonderful. It's on the water side and fairly large, as compared to some of the other restaurants. And the owner has the great good sense to be a Washington Redskins fan, so we have to patronize his establishment, right??? G!! Anyway, we had one order fried mozzarella, one order appetizer lobster ravioli, I had the spicy sausage spaghetti and Eric had clams and pasta in a red sauce. That and 3 glasses of wine was $71. Very enjoyable meal, great service. After a disastrous short trip to the Pelican, it was time to go home for the night.
Wednesday morning we had eggs & bacon in the unit for breakfast. By the way, they sell bacon in ½ pound packages and eggs by the each at L'Orientique. We vegged out on the beach till 2, then headed down to Baywatch for lunch. Hey, nobody told us how great their food is!!!! We had a fabulous chicken parmesan and a meatball platter, both to die for! Great food. We met Wendell & Sheryl there, just finishing up their lunch also. Back to the beach (it's a tough life!!), till the wine and cheese party, which was packed, as always. We cooked out steaks in the unit then fell into a satisfied, somewhat intoxicated slumber for the night.
Thursday we headed to Papagayo's for breakfast and watched folks head out to the Tiko Tiko again. For the whole week we were there, they were extremely busy. I believe they did NOT go out only on Monday, for the week we were there. Unfortunately for us, Guillome was on vacation, as we enjoy meeting and talking with him and enjoying his zest for life. For lunch, we headed down to Bongo Byron's, which is right by Baywatch. This is also a great lunch spot. We had some really GREAT hot wings. I had a chicken wrap and Eric a pork BBQ. Good food, great view of Orient, as always.
After some more hours on the beach, we headed to my personal favorite dinner spot, Auberge Gourmande, in Grand Case. We had kind of eaten too much at lunch, and so weren't able to enjoy a dessert there, but managed to survive on a shared French onion soup, chicken with peanut sauce for me, snapper for Eric and a bottle of Gerwurteminer (SP!!!). $68, not bad. By the way, even though it was only 2 days later, when we got home, the bill from our credit card company for the meal, along with one other meal, was already there!! Insult to injury......
After our meal, we headed out to a very enjoyable evening at Dolphin, where Eric and I both did very well. This evening, they were paying us to drink. Life is good!!! It was around 2:30 A.M. by the time we got back to Club O. This time, Eric had to get out of the car and pound on the desk of the security guard to wake him up to let us in. I told Eric he should have just reached in and pushed the button to raise the gate and not disturb the poor fellow's sleep!! G!!
Friday morning we again ate breakfast in the room and headed out to the beach, seeing off Larry & Gretchen, who were going on the Tiko Tiko today. After several excruciating hours of doing nothing on the beach, we headed down the beach to eat lunch at the place right between Baywatch and Pedro's. Can't think for the life of me what we had there and have no notes. It was good though!! BTW, Eric was nude there and they had no problem with it whatsoever.
We had not been to Sunset Beach Bar except one night about 9:30 P.M., and had planned on seeing the sunset there Friday night. We had been too lazy to get to the "factory" in Cul de Sac to pick up our supply of Ma Doudou to take home, so decided to stop by US Import/Export on the way to Sunset to pick up some more of those great liter bottles. Since we were going to Sunset, I didn't want to put the bottles in the car in plain view. Well, Eric decided to take the long way through the Lowlands to get over toward Sunset, and the bottles sloshed and sloshed around in the trunk. We found out later when we got back to the car that the cap on one of the bottles had broken and it leaked out all over the trunk. SOOO, the moral of the story is-if Hertz tries to give you a grey Hyundai Accent, with a ZAH in the license plate and very few miles on it, make sure you smell the trunk before you accept it, unless you want your luggage to smell like DouDou!!! G!!
All right, well as things would have it, we missed the sunset by about fifteen minutes. And, just to be technical, it kind of looks like to me that one can't ACTUALLY see the sunset for Sunset, since that one building is in the road, n'est pas??? Anyway, we met up with Larry & Gretchen for drinks and we had great sandwiches there. How come nobody says what great food they have at Sunset???? I had a steak sandwich (which was HUNKS of steak on a bun-delicious!!) and Eric had a very good cheeseburger. They only serve like from 11 AM to 8 P.M., or something like that, and not a big menu at all, but what we had was marvelous! We watched the Air France 747 take off and could swear that the pilot stuck his _ss end out over the road behind the runway in order to get started with as much room as possible!! After watching several smaller planes land, it was time to head over to Casino Royale for their grand reopening.
CR had never been one of our favorites, as they often had $10 table limits, which is a little too rich for our blood. However, this evening we wanted to check it out. Champagne was free flowing, as well as nice appetizers, caviar, smoked salmon, cheeses, etc. Best of all, the table limits were almost all $5. The place was absolutely packed. It looked like the old days to me, at the Grand Casino, in Mullett, when one could hardly press yourself through the crowd. This was also the only place all week where we even saw a craps table open. After a while, we headed over to our favorite, Dolphin and had several of those five cent drinks (Wink, wink, Bob!) and it was time to head home for the evening.
Saturday morning we finished the awful job of packing and headed out to the beach. Eric checked out at 11 and closed out our accounts. We went to Baywatch and had another excellent lunch, this time ribs and fries for Eric and a sausage & peppers sandwich for me. We saw some most excellent looking onion rings being delivered to another table and decided we have to do the WHOOOLE menu there. Best lunch on the beach. PLUS they have up a TravelTalk T-shirt and flag. What more could you want??
Time to head to the airport. We had some trouble with gas, stopping at 2 stations which didn't have any unleaded and 1 station that had a huge line, before finally getting gas. Eric dropped me off with the bags at the US Air line and went to check the car in. Since this was US Air, not American, I was to the check-in counter long before he got back from turning in the car. However, we still had plenty of time to go to the airport shop and replenish the bottle of DouDou which had been sacrificed to the trunk of our car. They are doing some construction at the airport and, as mentioned before, the place where you used to be able to go outside and have a drink and a hotdog after passing through security is gone, at least for the moment. The airport departure lounge was HOT, HOT, HOT. I don't remember it ever being so hot before. We talked with Gladys and Dave for a while, then boarded the plane for home. That plane left on time, without incident and we watched Erin Brocovitch on the way home. Good movie. Our plane from Philly to BWI, which was supposed to leave Philly at 9:40 P.M., in fact left at midnight, putting us home around 2:30 A.M., instead of midnight. Tiring end to a great trip.
Miscellaneous stuff that I didn't fit in somewhere-
Sorry, we didn't really hear anything about the owner's takeover of Club O. We didn't spend much time at happy hour or the bar this time, so don't have anything to report.
When I'm not sleeping, most of my weeks at Orient are usually spent reading a book. Due to how busy we were this week with meeting folks, I only finished four books this time. G!! One of the best, kind of hidden features of Club Orient to me is that I usually don't have to bring a big bunch of books to read. There is a bookshelf in the units where folks have their own kind of informal lending library. The selection of books this time was just outstanding-a recent Patricia Cornwell, Michael Crighton, Mary Higgins Clark, many NY Times best sellers. The last book I had not finished when it was time to leave, so I took it with me, but left three books that I had brought down, so I felt that was a fair exchange.
The island was pretty brown this time, as there had not been much rain lately. There were a lot more leaves on the trees and the palm branches were out quite a bit more than in January, but the hillsides were brown. There were some brush fires. We had absolutely fabulous weather all week, with 2 five minute showers during the day. The wind was delightful, not a gale like it often is. Just a nice breeze to cool you down. Just delightful weather.
Casinos-All the casinos have reopened from the various hurricanes, EXCEPTthe old Grand Casino, in Mullett. It has not reopened since Luis and Marilyn and at this point, I would assume that it will never reopen, or at least not till Mullett does, which is anybody's guess when that might be. Atlantis has moved around some of their stuffand has a lot more slot machines. They still have that kind of weird looking ceiling, with the folks looking down at you, however. They have a 24 hour $4.99 buffet, but looking at it from afar, didn't look too promising. Pelican looks about the same as before, but has some new lighting. Drink service there was bad. There is some construction going on to the front of Lightning, but it's open. We did not go there or Port de Plaisance or Tropicana or any of the casinos downtown. PDP is by far the most elegant casino in SXM, but had high table limits in January. We didn't stop there this time. Tropicana attracts a more local crowd and it was busy several nights this time. As stated above, Casino Royale just reopened the night before we left and it was packed that night, but presume that the crowd will calm down a little bit. They offered 2nd chance Caribbean Stud at both Pelican and Dolphin and Let it Ride at Dolphin. Dolphin drink service was outstanding and they got most of our gambling business. Nice folks there. The St. Martin Nights book had match play coupons for Dolphin, PDP and Coliseum (one of the downtown casinos). Match play coupons at Dolphin also get you a free t-shirt.
We observed repaving of roads all over on the French side. Also, the side ditches which were often extremely deep in January had been filled in, so one wouldn't lose a CAR in there, as was possible in January.
There is a whole lot of construction going on in the area of L'Hoste hotel on Orient. There is a whole section of retail shops which looked finished outside, but no tenants anywhere in sight. The one hotel complex right beside them basically also looked finished except for the parking lot. We were trying to figure out where folks were going to park there, actually. It looked like that complex was going to be very nice, especially second and third floor rooms. There are also two other sections of hotels which are being built and are not nearly so far along. That section of beach will become even more crowded soon. One good result, I suppose, is that more of the beach restaurants will be open in the evening. Eric walked down the beach one evening at 6 and Bikini was the only beach restaurant open.
There were a lot of restaurants that were closed for vacation, including Bistrot Cariabes, one of our favorites, where we had intended to eat, and Le Piccolo in Cul de Sac, along with some other places being closed on some nights, open others. As always, we didn't make any reservations, didn't need them anywhere, as we walked right in to everywhere we went.
Despite some reports about folks sectioning off parts of the beach with fences, there were no fences evident and folks still walk the whole section of the beach. We saw nude use of the beach all the way from Bikini to Club Orient. The beach is a whole lot busier than it was even five years ago, but there are also a lot more great places to eat lunch on the beach than there used to be.
Summary--We had a wonderful time, one of our best trips. Requesting a particular unit at Club O is always a crap shoot, but unit 41 was absolutely perfect for us. We enjoyed great food, great conversation, fun, lovely sunshine, a cool breeze, meeting new friends, 5 cent drinks in the casino-what more could one want?? (Except to go back, NOW!!!!!!!!!) Thanks for reading this, folks. Carol & Eric
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