Club Orient, New Years Eve
This is our trip report from our Millenium trip to St. Martin, December 30, 1999 to January 6, 2000. We started thinking about being somewhere GREAT for the Millenium about three years ago. At that time, we put down a deposit on a Princess cruise, not knowing price, itinerary or ship. When the prices eventually came out, we were in major sticker shock and eventually ended up canceling the cruise before the penalty phase kicked in. Then we started looking to go to SXM instead, originally booking LaPlantation. Around June, we canceled LaPlantation and booked Club Orient instead. Astoundingly, Club Orient charged their normal winter rack rate. As some of you may know, the cruise lines found out they had overestimated their market and most of them ended up reducing their prices drastically. As it turned out, we had a fabulous trip and cannot have imagined a better time than we had in SXM to ring in the new Millenium.
December 30, 1999 to January 6, 2000
But of course, one has to GET there to SXM, which normally means American, unfortunately. AA was one of the few ticket scalpers that made out OK for the Millenium, as we ended up paying $962 per person for air from Dulles to SXM, roughly twice what we normally pay. We got on a waitlist for air tickets back in January and purchased tickets in February. We checked many times over the intervening months and the price NEVER came down. Originally the tickets were totally NONrefundable, but I understand that AA did modify their stance somewhat after the hurricane. There were a few empty seats on all the planes we traveled on, both ways, but overall AA made out like a bandit, like normal. Fortunately, flights Dulles to San Juan and San Juan to SXM, SXM to SJU and SJU to IAD were all relatively on time with no problems, so at least there were no delays to add to the insult of the price.
We took carry-on only for the flight down, including some frozen meat in a very small cooler, and our supply of TravelTalk beach flags and the flagpole. We arrived about 2:30 local time, were through immigration and in our car in about 30 minutes, with the longest wait being the one for the shuttle bus to take us down to the Hertz lot to pick up the car. By the way, for those reading this on the Traveltalk BB, we always rent our cars through our travel agent, Jim Ruos, who has a special arrangement with Hertz for those who also rent hotels through Jim. We paid $233 for the week for a car with only about 8,000 miles on it, with a/c and automatic. For once, it was not white!! Hertz cars may sometimes be more expensive than some of the other folks, but we personally have always gotten good, relatively new, good running cars from them. I am willing to spend a few more bucks if I have a confidence that the car is going to run well.
As always, we stopped at Match on the way to Club Orient, to pick up the (mostly liquid) essentials for the stay. Despite Y2K rumors of a shortage of champagne, Match had all the champagne that one could ask for, although they were out of tonic on Thursday. By the way, Match was giving 6.5 to 1 on American dollars. We arrived at Club O around 4:30 and were pleased to learn we had been assigned studio 16, which is very close to Papagayo's, and, other than the beach chalets, as close as one can get to the water (probably only about 50 feet) with a partial ocean view between the beach chalets. Last time we stayed at Club O, they tried to "upgrade" us to one of the mini-suites, which are ALL the way down by the guard shack. That time, we refused to take the upgrade and eventually ended up with 17, which was great also. The only real problems with #16 are that it has twin beds (!!!!) and it is slightly smaller, so there is not a couch in the unit. With it being the Millenium, we were just ecstatic to get a studio in that general area.
We checked in and put away some of our stuff and had some time to relax before dinner, when we had plans to meet some internet friends for the first time. We had corresponded with Bob and Betsy over on the Prodigy BB, and by email for more than a year regarding SXM, and the Grand Lido resorts in Jamaica. We knew that they, along with some friends of theirs, were spending the Millenium in SXM and we had resolved to get together during the trip at least a couple of times. They came down to Club O for dinner, sans friends, who weren't c/o types. They recognized us from our home page (and from the fact that we were sitting at the bar, I suspect! G!!) and we sat down to an enjoyable dinner. Conversation was great and drinks were flowing, as the service was less than stellar. I had the fish soup and scallops and Eric had fish soup and mahi mahi. That and drinks was $74, including tip. Not the best meal of the trip, by far, as the service left a lot to be desired, but the conversation was great. We compared notes for NYE plans and learned that they were going to L'Astrolbe for dinner. We waffled around, and figured we would probably end up at Club Orient, which is where we eventually did end up. After dinner, it was back to the unit to a couple of drinks of Ma Doudou, then it was off to bed, to dream of fireworks to come, over Orient Beach! It was a welcome rest, since we had only had a couple of hours of sleep the night before.
New Year's Eve day weather proved to mirror the theme for the week--windy, scattered clouds, occasional passing showers. We broke out the TravelTalk beach flag and did some visiting with some nice folks on the beach and winding down from the hassles of life..
Guess I should explain what a TravelTalk flag is. Eric and I have been frequenting an internet site called TravelTalk for a while now. Folks exchange information there regarding most of the islands in the Caribbean, but the most active BB, by far, is the one about SXM. The url is http://126.96.36.199/cgi-bin/talkthread/carib/sxm/travel. Anyway, several folks on the BB were kicking around the question of different ways for folks to meet up while we are on the island. Someone came up with the idea of putting a flag together. Folks voted on different designs for the flag and Eric took the lead and made it happen by getting the flags professionally screen printed and taking orders from all over the U.S. and Canada for flags. We are not making ANY money off the flags, it just was an idea to help folks get together. It ended up being a lot of work for Eric, but it was a lot of fun meeting up with folks from the TT BB and other folks on the beach who came up all week just wanting to know what the heck this flag deal was all about! (For information and instructions about how to order a TT beach flag, and flag pole instructions for the flag pole that survived just about the worst winds that Orient could throw at it, go to our home page at www.info-res.com/ehill).
Bob & Judy and Len and Lisa picked up their flags on Friday and we had several people ask about the story of the flag, as was the case all week. The catamarans and sailboats were arriving all day long, in preparation for NYE. We watched them building a bonfire on the beach almost in front of Papagayo's. We went to Pedros for lunch, but were not impressed with the service or the fact that the price for chicken and fries is now up to $9, from the $6 it was probably only a year ago. I don't know if Pedro's has gotten too big or caters too much to the cruise ship people, with their (very loud) band, but we have been disappointed there the past couple of times.
A word here regarding plans for parties on SXM for the Millenium Eve--It appeared from our limited survey that the most expensive place to eat on Orient Beach for that night was Kontiki, which made out like a bandit for Y2K. They were charging 2000 francs per person (over $300 per person) and they filled the place for BOTH NYE and New Year's night. I have no idea what a person got for that. It could not be enough, under any circumstances. Kontiki was also gouging people at lunchtime, as they were serving only their dinner menu for lunch--no burgers, no hotdogs, no pizza. Other than Kontiki, it seemed that there was space available at most any restaurant you wanted for New Year's Eve. Bikini was charging around $150 per person for a buffet, with no liquor included. We talked about getting in the car and driving around to a couple of places to try to see what parties were where, but ended up at Club O by default, which ended up fine. Club O charged $65 per person for a buffet, and was supposed to have a free champagne toast at midnight. We had brought our own bottle of good champagne for the occasion anyway, so we didn't really miss it. The buffet was pretty good, with shrimp, ham, roast beef, assorted fish, meatballs, salads and desserts. The service was very good for drinks, even though the place was packed. The only thing that kind of disappointed me was that they did not have a live band, just canned music and kind of a DJ fellow. There were some Brazilian dancers that weren't bad, plus a costume and limbo contest. Club O helped to make the evening fun with free noisemakers and hats and by coming around dumping glitter all over folks. By the way, did you know that glitter sticks to skin??? At midnight, the DJ counted down to zero, and the REAL show of the evening began--the fireworks!! I'm sure it was a combination of the fireworks (which actually were very good) the moment, the company and the champagne we had been swilling all night, but it was certainly by far the most memorable fireworks display I had ever seen. Most of the fireworks were being shot off in the area of Kontiki, but there were smaller displays going off at the same time over Blue Bay area and at Club Orient. It was a spectacular display, especially with some of the fireworks seeming to be going off directly overhead. We took some pictures, but as always, pictures of fireworks are so disappointing, nothing like the actual spectacular display. Club O also had a huge bonfire which they started around 10:30. That was lots of fun also, especially as the night, with the wind, was somewhat cool. After finishing our bottle of champagne and dancing a few dances, it was time to trundle off to bed.
Sadly, in the days after New Year's, we found out that a couple of folks had been killed in SXM by fireworks and several others severely injured. The folks that were killed, it was strictly a really bad accident. However, I suspect that there will be changes in the policy of what fireworks can be obtained by whom in SXM in the near future, as up to now, there had basically been almost no controls on the availability of huge, commercial grade fireworks there.
On Sunday, we got up around 8:30 and were hungry, but found Papagayo was not open for breakfast, so we headed out to Marigot for breakfast at Le Croissanterie. We both had crepes. Crepes and coffee and some delicious croissant was $20 for both of us. It was a delicious breakfast, accompanied by a nice view of the marina.
After breakfast, we went driving around the island to assess the damage caused by Lenny. The Dutch side of the island took by far the worst of the storm, with the most noticeable thing being many of the palm trees, especially around Simpson Bay and the airport, being knocked askew and having brown patches. Many of the palms have had their brown tops chopped off and green shoots are starting up on them. We went through Maho, which seemed lonely and dark, with Cheri's being closed, along with Royal Islander and Casino Royale, both of which will be awhile to recover. We heard that Cheri's is having trouble with her insurance company, in part because she not only didn't take her tent down, she didn't even move her tables and chairs before the storm hit. Casino Royale still had major work to be done. The Towers at Maho are getting worse with each storm, and we heard a rumor that they were going to be bulldozing some of the units soon, which would be a good thing, I think. The golf course was being used as we drove by. We didn't go there ourselves, but heard that there wasn't any beach left at Cupecoy. We stopped by a couple of other beaches during our tour and all were being used. Most of the remaining damage that we noticed was to the local homes. Atlantis Casino was closed and they appeared to be working on it, but it still had a ways to go. Sambucca was closed, although it didn't really appear to have any damage. We heard a another rumor that Atlantis was considering taking over their building.
The French side fared much better than the Dutch and there were basically few signs of any recent storms other than some brown foliage, which was already greening up. The only thing that we saw on the French side that was closed due to Lenny was The Fish Pot, which lost it's over-ocean balcony and was closed. The Butterfly Farm was all intact but was closed for New Years Day. Blue Bay showed no outward signs of damage. The Hotel at Orient Bay and Sunrise Hotel were fine and Pinel Island was busy with guests. On Green Cay, the hurricane seemed to have affected the beach and moved it further around to the side. At Club Orient itself, we saw no damage at all other than the tennis court net was on the ground. I don't know if it was intact or not. Earlier, we had heard that there was damage to the fence around the tennis court, but the fence was intact when we were there, so that was either incorrect, or it had been repaired. On both the French and Dutch sides, there were more potholes on roads and side ditches were larger than we have seen before. Not straying off the paved section of the road would be a very good idea. Overall, unless you have a time share at Royal Islander or someplace else that is closed, there is absolutely no reason not to go to St. Martin this winter and spring.
After spending a few hours on the beach, we met our friends Bob and Betsy and their friends at L'hoste for drinks before dinner. We admired their "free" gifts from the hotel for their Millenium trip and checked out all the new construction in the area. By the way, if you're thinking of staying in one of those hotels in the future, with the new construction, Lhoste is the only one that now has an unobstructed view of the water and 301 and 302 at Lhoste now have the view to the side obstructed. The new units will be very nice, but they are basically destroying the view of the hotels that were there before.
The six of us headed to my favorite SXM restaurant, Auberge Gourmande, for which Bob and Betsy had made reservations. They had been unable to get a reservation until 9 P.M., and of course, the table wasn't actually ready till around 9:30, which I found somewhat amusing, since they had made a reservation. We have made it a practice up to now, at any rate, that we have NEVER made a reservation to eat in SXM. That's one of the reasons why we have never eaten at Mario's Bistro, which everyone says is one of the best restaurants in SXM. We have never been disappointed with not having made a reservation, as if we couldn't get in at a particular place, we just go to the next restaurant. By the way, after January 2 or so, the island seemed to really clear out and I suspect that one could have gotten in to most any restaurant you wanted without any problem.
The management gave us free drinks as we waited for our table and we enjoyed ourselves. As always, the meal was fabulous. Eric had the onion soup, which I shared a couple delicious spoonfuls of. Eric had tuna and I had a wonderful chicken in a peanut sauce. Eric had the three chocolate dessert and I had creme brulee for dessert, plus coffee. We shared two bottles of wine for the table. We split the $320 check three ways. However, the most exciting moment of the evening for me was when I was finally able to get my plate! Auberge Gourmande serves their meals on painted plates, complete with the name of the restaurant on them. On previous trips, I had twice asked if I could buy a plate from them and been turned down. This time, due to perseverance by Bob and Betsy's friends, they did let me have a plate. It had a chip in it, so they gave it to me for free. As we speak, the plate sits proudly on my bookshelf!
Sunday was a beach day, as always, and the weather was somewhat problematical, with scattered showers on and off. We had lunch at our unit, cooking burgers on the grill. By the way, they seem to have collected all the grills at the units and you need to go to the guard shack to pick up a grill these days. The grill we got appeared to be brand new.
There was some excitement that day, as we saw the government rescue several people in a helicopter off the back side of Green Cay. Apparently several folks had gotten too close to the island in their speed boat and been washed up on the reef. The boat was still there several days later. The helicopter buzzed the beach at Orient, very low, and caused at least our umbrella to go flying through the air. It was a very dangerous moment, and I don't have a good idea why they came that close and low to the beach, other than an infantile pilot wanting to see the naked people.
Before leaving home, we had planned a party on the beach at 3 P.M., to christen the TT beach flag. About 2:30 P.M., a storm came through and as usual, the beach guys came through and put down all the umbrellas. As Eric and I huddled under the collapsed umbrella with our towels wrapped around us to attempt to keep our hindquarters dry, we were fairly concerned about the status of the party. However, by 3 P.M., the skies had cleared and we had beautiful sunshine, and folks started coming by. By the time we were done, there were approximately 20 people in attendance. Most of them were TT folks, but some were just folks who saw a party in process and decided to join in! G!! Like our trip reports, I wrote and Eric delivered, the message of the day, for the christening of the flag.
"We are here today to christen the TravelTalk beach flag. We raise our glasses to toast St Martin, new friends and the computers that brought us together here. May we all enjoy enough money, time and good health to enjoy our flags for many years to come."
We finished 6 bottles of champagne along with some other liquid refreshments provided by the various attendees, and had a great time talking and putting names and faces with email addresses. The flag was now being recognized along the beach as being associated with a computer group. Toward the end of the party, a person walked up to the group of us asking if we were part of the computer group and then proceeded to ask an internet related question. Several photos were taken showing the group and the flag. The party was a real highlight of the week for us.
After the party we were all still standing around and decided to head up to Papaguyo for drinks. There, we sat with Paul from TT and the folks who run the Changes in L'attitudes charter boat and met Andy and Wanda. After some drinks, Andy and Wanda and Paul headed with us to Vince's Konga Cafe for dinner.
We had heard about Vince's for a while and now are sorry we hadn't been there before. The Konga Cafe is a hidden treasure in Cul de Sac. Vince's Konga Cafe is not a fancy place at all, but serves great food at a great price. To get there, take the road to Cul de Sac, which is about half way between Orient Beach and Grand Case. Vinces's is a house on the left hand side of the road, before you get to the Pharmacy. We had a satay appetizer, plus the entre. The entre was salad and sirloin with potato, and cost was $10. For the entire group of 5, the meal including drinks was under $125. This is a true bargain of a restaurant and the food was excellent. After the meal we enjoyed the free spiced rum that Vince supplies and the nice conversation with the Vince and his wife. He does the serving and she does the cooking. Vince doesn't take credit cards, by the way.
Incidentally, if you are thinking about going to Vince's in the near future and you fly down on American, you might want to take a look at the free magazine that they give you on the plane and take it to Vince's. The little girl on the front cover of the December 1999 edition is Vince's daughter. If they are still handing out the same version of the magazine by the time you go, he wants some more copies for family and friends.
Monday was another beach day and we met up with another TT member who recognized the flag. Since we had not been to the casinos at all this trip yet, we decided to check out the Port de Plaisance and Dolphin Casinos this evening after dinner. For dinner we tried out another new restaurant for us, LePiccolo Cafe in Cul de Sac. The menu at LePiccolo varies from night to night and favors fish and seafood. We had duck rolls for appetizer, which were GREAT, and Eric had a broccoli soup, which was OK. Eric had a fantastic seabass and I had shrimp, which was served wiith a wonderful delicate sauce with sunflower seeds and bean sprouts. Dessert was carrot cake and a chocolate and ice cream combination. The cost of the meal, including tip and 2 (small) carafes of wine was $80. The food was excellent, Grand Case quality. LePiccolo also does not accept credit cards.
Then it was off to the casinos to try our luck. PDP and Dolphin both have plenty of parking. Several people mentioned that the buffet at PDP was great, at $10 per person, but we didn't check it out. PDP had 2 roulette tables, 1 craps table, quite a few blackjack tables and a couple of Caribbean stud tables. According to their ad, they have over 700 slots. We got there a little early on Monday and the casino was fairly empty and they had only one $5 blackjack table open, lots of folks milling around like us, looking for $5 BJ, and THREE $10 BJ tables open with nobody sitting at them. The casino itself is beautiful, by far the most attractive in SXM.
Dolphin Casino was really busy, probably because of Casino Royale being closed. For those of you who don't know, you get to Dolphin by taking the road which runs between the end of the airport runway and the water. They had two roulette and one craps table, a couple of second chance Caribbean Stud, a couple of Let it Ride and quite a few Blackjack tables, with most being $5 tables. The casino itself was not fancy, but clean and new. We ended up with a T-shirt from Dolphin but it was a very expensive T-shirt, as Lady Luck frowned on us that night. Both casinos were fairly good about bringing drinks. We headed back to Club O at 1:30 A.M., somewhat glad we hadn't been to the casino before this night! G!! We didn't go to any other casinos this trip, but Lightning, Pelican, Tropicana, and the casinos downtown were all open. This week, there was a note on the TT BB that the Pelican was now closed for some financial reasons.
On Tuesday, we got up late, due to our late night. We knew that there was going to be a live band at Club O that evening, so we thought we would cook in for dinner. We were out of red wine, so we needed to go buy that and decided we would try stopping at the Ma DouDou factory.
We were introduced to Ma Doudou this summer when staying at Green Cay Village, where they gave us a complementary bottle, which started something of an obsession for us. Ma Doudou is a spiced rum which comes in a bunch of different flavors and is made by this fellow in French Cul de Sac. The "factory" is really a house with a small showroom. The fellow who makes the stuff doesn't speak much English, but his wife, who handpaints some of the bottles, speaks English better. They also provide tastings of all their varieties, if you like. We picked up several bottles to bring home with us, including a couple of bottles painted with St. Martin 2000. If you want to go to the factory, go to Cul de Sac and follow the signs for Sunrise Hotel. MDD is right across the street from Sunrise. MDD is available at Match, and is served at a couple of the beach restaurants on Orient. It is NOT served at Vince's Konga Cafe, by the way. I asked about it there, since he's in Cul de Sac also. Vince replied, kind of haughtily, that he didn't serve DOO-DOO. Since I thought it was pronounced DOW-DOW, I thought he was making fun of it. Turns out, it really is pronounced Doo-Doo, but don't ask Vince for it unless you want to tick him off! G!!
After our trip to the factory, we stopped by the small grocery store in Grande Case and picked up our bottle of wine for the evening meal and then headed to the beach. The day was beautiful, the wind slightly less than the previous days. We had lunch at Papaguyos, splitting a chicken cheesesteak sandwich, salad and a side order of fries. After a brief rain shower, it was back to the beach for a lazy afternoon.
After cooking some steaks on the grill for dinner, we headed over to Papagayo for the live band, which played from 7:30 til 10:30. We met up with Andy and Wanda and some other folks who were staying at Club O for some drinks, good conversation and dancing. At some point, Eric walked back to our unit to get some Ma DouDou to share with the good folks. We ended up downing a couple of bottles with the group. At our request, the band played Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" for their last song of the night. It was a lovely end to the evening. In all, I was happy to not be driving this night, though! G!!
Wednesday is the wine and cheese party at Club Orient and was to be our last night on SXM for this trip. Since we had polished off several of the bottles of MDD the night before that we had intended to take home with us, we first had to make another trip to the factory to replenish our supplies. We were kind of thankful that the fellow's wife was there, not him, as he would have thought we were real drunks, coming back twice in two days! G!!
There is a restaurant above Orient Beach which is a big stop-off for cruise ship busses which is now called Paradise View It used to be called The Cloud Room. We ate there for dinner a few years ago and it was wonderful. However, this trip was a mistake, as we had a very missable chicken salad and crab sandwich. The view there is very nice but the lunch was nothing to remember. Upon leaving, I decided I needed a new outfit for the wine and cheese party and succeeded at finding an outfit from one of the shops there at Paradise View.
We spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach, then headed to the wine and cheese party. The party is now being held on the front terrace by the ocean, which provides more room. We enjoyed plenty of wine, great conversation and laughs.
For our last night, we wanted to go to Grand Case for dinner and had originally planned on going to someplace cheap like Calmos Cafe. However, as we were walking down the street, the idea of Italian food appealed, so we ended up at Il Nettuno. We hadn't eaten there before, but will likely return, especially since the owner has the great good sense to be a Washington Redskins fan!! G!! Il Nettuno is kind of a large restaurant for Grand Case, with about 20 tables. We enjoyed a great meal and the view of Anguilla. We split an appetizer of lobster filled ravioli with shrimp sauce that was good enough to be a main course. Eric's spicy sausage with spaghetti was excellent, my veal was also good but we liked the sausage better. The cost was $84, including tip and 4 glasses of wine.
Then it was off to the casinos to see if we could do better than our last trip. We went to PDP first, but they are maintaining higher table limits so we were off to Dolphin without donating any money at PDP. Dolphin has a large number of $5 tables and at least for the time being, the staff is very friendly to the customers. Eric was playing second chance Caribbean Stud and a couple of times, the pit boss came by and told the players whether to bet or not, based on the dealer's hand. We ended the evening after several hours of play only down a couple of bucks, so considering the numerous drinks that we received, we were even for the night.
Thursday we woke to an extremely windy day. This was the first day that the wind and sand made it really uncomfortable to be on the beach. The umbrella guys would not allow the umbrellas to be put up, it was so windy. Tiko Tiko also did not go out that morning, even though they had a charter to St. Barts scheduled. We had talked to Guillome the night before and he said that they probably wouldn't go on Thursday, as Phillippe had reported 10 foot swells the day before, which was really the max that the Tiko Tiko could safely negotiate. We finished doing the packing early, and put our stuff in the car by the unit so we could stay on the beach until around 1:30 :P.M., before heading to the airport. The trip to the airport and the flight home were uneventful. We noted that during the week of our stay, that there were some new roofs on Mary's Boon.
Summary--we had a great trip, spiced with meeting many new friends, internet and otherwise, assisted in no small part by the excitement associated with New Year's Eve and the advent of the TravelTalk flag. We can't wait to return!
Carol & Eric
Quick link to Club Orient, St. Maarten, New Years Eve Celebrations - 12/31/99