This is our trip report of our trip from October 11 to 18, 2003. This trip we stayed at LaVista Beach Resort and Eric's parents came along. We served as tour guides for them quite a bit during the week, as they had only previously visited on a cruise ship. As always, we had a great time, and although the island was a little slow due to the October time frame, we still managed to meet up with lots of great folks and have a wonderful time.
We booked US Airways from Washington National through Charlotte both ways, booking around the end of July, and paid more than we wanted. We hoped to get a rebate on the fare if the fare went down. We did want to make sure we were on the US Air Charlotte flight though, as Eric's parents had booked Tampa to Charlotte to SXM, so we wanted to be on the same flight as them to SXM. As it turned out, we never got any money back on our tickets, as the price kept going up and up. ...Eventually, that would be AOK with us, though!!!! (Read on for the rest of the story!!!!) There were no problems with the flights out of DCA or Charlotte, although they were asking for volunteers in Charlotte to be bumped, and arrive 8 hours late in SXM. No thanks. We arrived pretty much on time, despite a 30 minute delay in Charlotte, to see the newest thing in SXM -COMPUTERS at immigration.
COMPUTERS AT IMMIGRATION!!-
Well, as we all should know by now, anything that you want to take three times as long, please do it by a computer!!! We took an hour and 15 minutes to clear immigration in SXM. There was a Delta flight in, but most of their folks had cleared immigration by the time we arrived. The arrival hall was astoundingly hot and it was a very uncomfortable wait. When we arrived at the counter, we found out the reason everything was taking so long is that the immigration dragon ladies now have computers which scan your passport. These take an INORDINATE amount of time, per person. Apparently, the deal is that, once you have had your passport scanned once, it will go much quicker. And, oh, those folks that don't have a passport, OMG, it takes even longer, as they have to type in all kinds of stuff into their computer. Apparently the computers are now required because of enhanced security measures. However, I can easily see waits of 2 hours and more at immigration during high season. They will need to do something about this soon! If possible, they should make a separate line for folks who have already had their passports scanned. BE PREPARED FOR EXTREMELY LONG WAITS AT IMMIGRATION, FOR A LONG TIME! As we were waiting in the extremely long line, we saw JD (ruralcarrier from the board), who had come in on the Delta flight.
We rented our car (and Eric's parents' car) from Michael at Unity this time, and we ended up with a GREEN Toyota Corolla. How great was that-we actually could find the car in the parking lot!!! No more trying to stick the key into the wrong white Corolla!!! We had no problems whatsoever with either car, other than a problem with a tire unrelated to Unity.
We had a two bedroom unit at the (relatively) new LaVista Beach section of LaVista. We went there to check in and drop off our stuff, then off to the grocery store for essential supplies.
BEWARE THE PARKING LOT AT LE GRAND MARCHE!!-
We went into Grand Marche for our groceries. This is the new, very nice grocery store by the roundabout, in the same shopping center with Mark's Place. We got our supplies for the week without any problem, until we returned to the car. As we returned, a local teenager was standing by our car, wanting to wash our windshield. "No thanks, sorry". "Oh, but sir, your tire is flat!" "Huhm, it was fine when we went in." Now, how strange, two OTHER cars in the same parking lot ALSO had flat tires!!! "No, we do NOT need your assistance to change the flat tire!!!!!!!!!" No such thing as such a coincidence... One of the teenagers succeeded in his scam, as one of the groups had him change their tire. We were also distressed to see one of the timeshare sales ladies there, who just happened to be hanging around the parking lot, espousing how "sometimes tires just go bad..." (By the way, we looked at the tire and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it, other than the fact that someone had let the air out of it...) Be careful in this parking lot, my friends!! We parked fairly close to Mark's. Parking in the other side of the lot, closer to the road and the Cost u Less might be a better idea. (An even BETTER idea would be for Grande Marche to get rid of these thieves...)
We were kind of wondering what was going on, by Saturday at 6!!! However, as it turned out the huge hot long line at the airport and the flat seemed to be the worst of our troubles for the week, so that was good!!
We normally go to Orient every day, but we knew that Eric's parents would want to visit different beaches, and not for long stretches, as Eric's dad can't take much of the sun. So we rented chairs and an umbrella from Packlight via the internet from home (www.sxm-info.com/SXM-Services/packlight), making the arrangements for Craig to meet us that first evening in the parking lot at LaVista to drop them off. They are sand chairs, thus low to the ground, but lightweight and very portable. Eric's parents used them several times, and Craig came back by the hotel the last morning to pick them up. No muss, no fuss. They also rent cell phones, coolers, floats and snorkel gear.
One of THE best parts of SXM for us is meeting people, both old and new friends, locals and folks from the bulletin board. We saw old friends like Andy and Cheryl from Baywatch, Neil from Buccaneer, Thibault and Amory from Bistrot Cariabes, Ric and Cathy from Ric's Place, Dale and Bob from Bananas, Jack and Linda and Shawn from Peg Leg, Brad from Hot Tomatoes, Barbara from the zoo, Andrea and Mario and Al from LaVista, Michael from Unity, and Brian LeBlanc. We also made new friends Deepti, Max Mad from Caribbean Gems, Larry, bartender from the new beach bar at LaVista, Neil from Celine, Junior (JD's taxi driver friend) and several of his family, Janet and a host of other nice folks from Ms B's, Craig from Packlight, along with TTOL members blueboy99, clem, jkjpenguin, ruralcarrier, fabila, Chris and Paul and Carl and Jill. I'm sure we missed a bunch of other folks too. Many, many old and new friends!!!
We only ever go to Orient every day, although we did drive by most of the other beaches when we were showing Eric's parents around. On Orient down toward Baywatch, the beach was OK, but there was not really room for any chairs in front of their restaurant. On the Club O beach, the water is still lapping up against the restaurant at Papagayo's and there was not really any beach for the first 50 yards or so, but after that, the beach widened out nicely. We never had any problem finding a chair in the area of the Perch, but Orient was not really particularly busy any time we were there. BTW, they appear to be doing some modifications to the Perch, I'm not sure just exactly what, possibly building a deck. I really hope that they will bring back the toilets and showers. Now THAT would be nice! AND serve some more different food.. Of course, I still believe in Santa Claus also....
LaVista Beach is the new section of the resort, and is located on the ocean, down the hill from the older section of LaVista. It's been open maybe a year and a half. LVB has only 18 units, 9 2 bedroom units and 9 studios, located over 3 floors. Last time we stayed on the 3rd floor, this time the 2nd, and I prefer the 2nd. The view is just as wonderful and less stairs to climb!! We stayed in a 2 bedroom unit, which is set up extremely well for two couples. There are two full bathrooms, one fully contained within the master bedroom, which has a king bed, and one which is accessible either from the hallway or the 2nd bedroom, which has twin beds. There is one, good sized, keyed safe for the whole unit. As usual with timeshares, there is a well equipped kitchen. All the units at LVB have an unobstructed view of the ocean and St. Barts in the background, on a nice balcony, complete with a table, 4 chairs, and a chaise lounge. There is a pool right by the ocean, and as of this week, a Tiki Bar, right on the ocean by the pool! Which brings us to the subject of TTOL parties!!!!!!!
Playoff game at Ric's
Monday night we had a get together of a bunch of TTOL folks and several sponsors during the Baseball playoffs. Ric's was packed with baseball fans, but we could claim about 20 of those folks as being there because of TTOL and folks enjoyed getting together for a few drinks and snacks while watching a pretty exciting baseball game.
Party at LaVista Beach
Tuesday night we had a BIG party to kick off LaVista Beach's brand new beach bar, which was only finished–or at least mostly–as of that day!! The folks at LaVista were busting tail to get the bar and restrooms, etc., all ready for the big night!!! I had the FIRST drink served from the bar. I think maybe they need to name a drink special after me, what do ya think?????? The party started at 5 and lasted till around 10:30, and was greatly enhanced by the live music provided by LaVista!! That was a big surprise to us, and even to Andrea, as her husband, Mario, arranged the whole thing! We had a great 2 person steel drum band which played non-stop from before 5 till around 9:30, and lots of great drinks and companionship. We provided some appetizers that folks seemed to enjoy, along with the conversation. We enjoyed a lovely sunset, along with a view of the cruise ships sailing by on the horizon. Altogether, we had over 50 people there, with folks coming and going all the time, but I definitely counted over 30 at one point. It was a lovely christening party to the beach bar. If you're looking for a nice quiet place to enjoy a sunset, please check out the new bar, along with my friend Larry, an excellent bartender and all around good egg. The bar is open to everyone, not just guests of the hotel. Within the next month or so, they will also have food there.
We had breakfast in the unit every morning, or ate nothing, except the first and last morning. The first morning we went to Indiana's, just down from LaVista, right by Buccaneer. Breakfast was OK, but the service was slow. There was only one other group in the restaurant. The last morning we had breakfast at the Hideaway at LaVista. It was a nice breakfast, with an assortment of eggs, pancakes and french toast between the four of us.
-Baywatch-what can you say??? Excellent as always!! We had lunch twice at Baywatch, once with Eric's parents, and once with several TTOL'ers, including Clem and JD and JKJ Penguin, who stopped by. I had their meatball parmigiana (to DIE for!!!!) and the philly cheese steak Eric had fried scallops and sausage and peppers. Eric's mom and dad had chicken parmesan and ribs. BTW, Cheryl says that, as of this week, they will be open 6 days a week, only being closed on Monday's.
Pedro's-We had chicken and fries one day. It was good, but Pedro's is overpriced these days, I think. Think it was something like $9 for chicken and fries and a dab of salad.
Chez ?????-Right next to Baywatch on Orient-On Monday, basically nothing else around on Orient was open, or we wouldn't have gone there. Service was abysmal, food was OK. I had a chicken sandwich, Eric had the crab sandwich.
Ms B's-Split an order of ribs at Ms B's one day. Great ribs, although chewy, not the "falling off the bones" type. They have a nice spice to them. One order of ribs was something like 10 to 12 ribs, plus salad and bread, for $9, a good bargain and certainly enough for two to share for lunch!
Airport restaurant-We had lunch at the airport prior to leaving on Saturday. Eric had the spaghetti bolognese, which is always good there, and I had the chicken salad, which was tasty and a good sized meal. Service there is pretty slow, usually, but the food is good, the view is nice, and the a/c works well!!!
Dinner-We ate on the Dutch side more often than normal, as we were staying on the Dutch side. We shall get back to Grand Case much more often in December!!!
Peg Leg Pub-We ate here the first night. Eric's dad had the snapper sandwich and he raved about it all week, as it was huge, filling the plate! Eric and I had some of Jack's fabulous steaks and couldn't really finish them, as they do give great portions and we were tired from the trip, as always. Eric's mom had the roast beef sandwich. Sorry, don't know her name, but a gal working there lied to me and told me Shawn wasn't working that night. I was so disappointed, till I saw him appear from off the patio, and he engulfed me in that huge hug of his!! We also met up with Jack and Linda and renewed acquaintances. We also happened upon Brian LeBlanc, as he was getting carry-out at Peg Leg. He is living in SXM now, and working somewhere, although I can't remember where.
Bananas-Bananas, as usual, was closed for the month of September, and reopened on October 13, to some nice crowds. We were part of the crowd and we all enjoyed one of their great hamburgers. Best burgers on the island!!!!
Hot Tomatoes-I had the brisket, which was very nice--unusual, very tender and a little spicy!! Eric and mom and dad all had the grouper. And OMG RUM JUMBIE BANANA!!!!!!!!!!!! You have GOT to try this!!! None of the four of us really wanted dessert, but Brad suggested he would treat us to a new addition to the menu-Rum Jumbie Banana!! They deep fry the banana after dipping it in some rum jumbie rum and serve it with ice cream. Wow, this is to DIE for!!!!!!
Bistrot Cariabes-One of our all time favorites in Grand Case!! We took Eric's parents and JD there for dinner one night. I had French Onion soup and the chicken in sauce, with the melted chocolate cake for dessert. Eric and his dad had fish, with chocolate dessert and creme brulee. His mom had the salad, French Onion soup and creme brulee. All was wonderful!!! As always, Thibault and Amory came with their rum concoction after dinner and joined us in a couple of rounds!
Le California-We really like Le California, not the least of all because they are giving 1 to 1 on the Euro!!!!!! For those that haven't been there, they are on the water side in Grand Case and serve a nice variety of things, from pizza to entre salads to French cooking to rather spectacular ice cream desserts. Dad had French Onion Soup and the Perch. Eric and JD had what we called "a pan of stuff". Actually, I think it was maybe scallops and lobster in some type of a sauce, but they had run out of the original fish that was supposed to go in the dish, so we called it a pan of stuff! I had the chicken with mushroom sauce and mom had the California Salad and the French Onion Soup. All pronounced their meals quite outstanding. After dinner at LeCalifornia, we headed down to Bistrot Cariabes for a round of creme brulee and chocolate cake. Yummy!!!
Boathouse-Mom and I had chicken sandwiches and Eric and dad had some type of fish. A nice meal, no disappointments. We were happy to actually have a breeze finally, this night, as it had been HOT all week, and it actually rained a little as we ate dinner.
-We had NO rain during the day but we also had almost no wind, which made it almost unbearably hot at times. All the locals were also complaining about how hot it was. One day on Orient, the ladies braiding hair and selling you trinkets didn't come by at all, which tells you it MUST have been hot!!! Toward Thursday and Friday, we started to geta little bit of a breeze, so hopefully the weather will be cooler by now.
DAY TRIP TO ANGUILLA
Strangely enough, we had never been to Anguilla before. We knew that our friend JD (ruralcarrier) had been there bunches of times before, so we asked him to go along with us and show us the ropes, as it were! We arrived in Marigot just in time to miss the 8:30 ferry and had to wait for the 9:30 one. So much for there being one every half hour.. By the way, you NEED your passport to go to Anguilla, and they check it pretty well, as you have to write it down and they check your actual passport. You pay your SXM Departure tax at $2.50 PP. before you get on the ferry, but strangely, to me, you pay the fare for the ferry itself ($10 PP each way) on the ferry. What happens if you don't have the money??? They throw you off half way across??? There was a taxi driver there on the dock in SXM who asked if we needed a ride once we got to Anguilla, so we set that up with him before we left SXM. We got a van tour of island and transport to Shoal Bay for a total of $65 for 5 people. Unfortunately, he did the standard taxi driver thing and picked up another three people along the way, but we hadn't really specified that we didn't want anyone else in the van, so we put up with it. The ferry ride was 20 minutes (VERY smooth) in a semi-air conditioned boat that was pretty comfortable, although you couldn't really see out the windows much. I don't know if it's part of the normal tour or not, but he stopped at Dolphin Fantaseas, which I didn't like, as I have a big aversion to their program there. I gritted my teeth and didn't say anything and we left soon. Apparently, because of the time of year, all the resorts were closed, so it's possible that he only went there because the resorts were all closed. We got to see the beach at Cap Jaluca but that was it, as far as the resorts. Otherwise, there's not a lot to see on the island tour. He then took us to Shoal Bay and dropped us off, asking what time we wanted him to pick us back up. Shoal Bay is indeed quite a beautiful beach, huge long stretch of beach, with that varying shades of blue that graces the covers of so many Caribbean Travel and Life Magazines. There were about 6 other people on the beach, in addition to our group, and the quiet there was amazing. You know that Corona commercial, where all you hear is the sound of the waves and the picture of the Corona bottle against the blue of the water??? That's Shoal Bay. We ate lunch at Uncle Ernie's, which was the ONLY place open on Shoal Bay. We had an assortment of Chicken ($6), Snapper ($10) and Ribs ($8), along with some various drinks. It was a nice lunch, and a quiet day. We rented chairs from Raymond??, a friend of JD's, and sad to say, not sure how much the chairs were, as JD took care of the chairs for us. They provided free floating mats also, which was nice. Our taxi driver picked us up on time, we paid our $3 departure tax to leave Anguilla, and took the 20 minute ride back to SXM and were back around 3:30.
-We didn't get to the casinos as much as usual, although with the extent of our bad luck, we might have been getting money from the ATM if we had gone more often!!! Dolphin was still open, and we didn't really hear anything about them closing. We did try to do our part to make sure they stay in business, though, as we lost our _sses there. We had not been to Atlantis in a long time, so I have no idea if it's a new thing or not, but Atlantis has a nice match play bonus deal. You buy in at each table with at least $100 and you get a 10% bonus in match play chips. We only went there one night, so I don't know whether you can only do that one night during the week or not, but it's a nice option for match play. After we lost our share that night, we watched some of the 7th game of the Playoffs with the d*mn Yankees and their equally d*mnable fans, who were totally obnoxious. We left before they won the game. Tropicana is where we lost the least amount, so I suspect we will be headed back there again next time. Didn't get to Pelican (Hollywood) at all. They are having some serious parking problems there now, as apparently they are not allowing anyone going to the casino to use their parking lots and people are parking all over both sides of the street going up to the Pelican, which is a PITA.
THE TRIP HOME---OK, MAYBE I DO LIKE US AIRWAYS, AFTER ALL!!
Saturday morning we had breakfast at the Hideaway, and met Craig from Packlight to have him pick the chairs back up. Then finished packing and headed to the airport around 9:45 to be there around 10:00, when the US Air counter opened. There were about 15 people in line in front of us, but it moved fast once they opened, only about 5 minutes late at 10:05. When we got to the desk, we asked whether we could volunteer to take a bump and eureka!!! The nice lady said yes!!! She wasn't quite sure what she was doing, but by 10:30, we were OFF the Charlotte US Air flight at 2:45, ON the Philly US Air flight at 4 PM, with confirmed reservations the rest of the way home to DC, with a free roundtrip ticket back to SXM for each of us in our pockets!!! Life is good!!!
We went back to the hotel and I hung out in the pool for around an hour, a little too long, as it turned out!!! We had arranged from home to meet up with KevinNYC and Jamie, who were both coming in from NY on the JFK flight at 11:55. We planned to meet at the airport restaurant, although I figured they would be later. We got there around 12:20 and they had already left. Of course, no one at the airport could tell us whether the JFK flight had already landed or not. (BTW, don't bother to ask the airport information lady anything, as she ain't got any information!!!) We finally decided that they had to have already landed and left, so we took a chance and headed down to Lee's, which is where Kevin said they would be. Hey, this time we guessed right and they were still there, along with our friend Barbara, who I had missed seeing before that! So, we got to visit with them and Barbara for an hour or so, and they took us back to the airport. Flight to Philly left on time and of course, as always, when we arrived in Philly, there was no gate available. Thus we waited for 30 minutes on the ground for a gate. Eventually we were off and on to our flight to DC with no problems, and home!
Summary–great trip, great friends, and a free airplane ticket to boot!!! How can you beat that???????
Carol & Eric
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