Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tasting St. John's Local Flavor

Most people travel to St. John to bask in the luxury of five-star resorts, dine in expensive restaurants and get tanked at shiny bars with ocean views. But to those searching for a more authentic experience, the swankiest of the three US Virgin Islands also reveals an exciting glimpse of Caribbean life -- one that sparkles with West Indian flavors and rhythms, and comes at a much cooler price.

Consider breakfast. Instead of wasting $12 or more on an omelet with home fries at a predictable tourist eatery, St. John's local Caribbeans prefer to start the day with Johnny Cakes. A savory deep-fried flour pouch stuffed with any combination of eggs, cheese or ham, this palm-sized specialty sells for $1-$2 at the local take-out kiosks. These tiny stands also serve delicious lunches. Comfees in downtown Cruz Bay, up the hill from First Bank, prepares some of the best pates on the island: elliptical rolls of dough filled with ground beef, chicken, salt-fish or conch, a soft Caribbean shell-fish. At just $2-$4 each, pates -- similar to Jamaican patties -- make a cheap lunch that works well as a beach-side picnic (Tel: 714-5262) .

Arthur Hercules sells plenty of meals from his kiosk called Hercules located strategically across from the Lumberyard Mall in Cruz Bay, St. John's biggest town. (Tel: 776-6352). The tourists are mad about the patés," he says from behind his white wood counter, squeezing raw dough in his hand. "Locals go for the salt-fish and Johnny Cakes." A welcoming St. Kitts native who worked at a luxury resort here for twenty years before starting his own business, Hercules also recommends bull foot soup -- made with cows feet and vegetables -- for breakfast.

Salt fish is ubiquitous on the local menus, and Sosa's Restaurant on Cruz Bay Road cooks it just right, in a piquant tomato sauce for $12. Like most of its entrees, the shredded, chewy fish comes with salad, rice and beans, and sweet fried plantains, providing more than enough to feed a hungry surfer. Sosa's livens up at night and on weekends you'll hear salsa and merengue hits blaring from a juke box, as a young Dominican clientele chats over icy beers (Tel: 693-8881). Just a few steps away, Sogo's Restaurant specializing in West Indian cuisine serves a reasonable curry goat stew with vegetables, plantains and rice for $10 (Tel: 779-4404).

To get away from Cruz Bay, check out the much smaller town of Coral Bay on the other side of the island, where many locals live. Vitran buses leave every two hours from the ferry dock in Cruz Bay and the 45 minute trip costs $1.

Although the commercial area of Coral Bay consists of little more than a recently paved road and a handful of businesses, a casual restaurant on the main drag called Sticky Fingers serves excellent barbecue. Popular with a diverse neighborhood crowd who sit in the gravel front-yard under a baby blue and yellow awning,the eatery serves up barbecue chicken, pork ribs or beef brisket with a scrumptious home-made sauce and two sides for $12.95 or less. (Tel: 715-1110)


Like the nightlife?

But the insiders' scene is not all about food. Although the quiet existence led by most locals leaves a nightlife with little to brag about, a couple of clubs cater to the needs of the young and sleepless.

On Cruz Bay's King Street on Wednesdays and Fridays, Fred's jumps to the beat of live soca music and reggae long into the night, its concrete dance floor and low corrugated roof barely containing the young crowd. The frenetic rhythm of the calypso-like soca can be intimidating at first, but your thighs will thank you for the workout. (Tel: 776-6363).

If it's cheap liquor you are after, look no further than Cap's Place, a seedy sprawling roadside bar across from the post office on North Shore Road. (Tel: 693-8609). Always busy on weekends, Cap's sells rum drinks for $2, and keeps three television shows running for good measure. A dimly lit pool table and loud salsa music complete the picture, but it's worth stopping in just for the experience.

If you're serious about your music, however, trek out to Coral Bay where Sputnik attracts some decent bands. In the eighties and nineties, Sputnik was a key destination for reggae aficionados from around the Caribbean; today it's not quite as high-profile but it serves a dedicated group of St. John music fans. Bands usually play Friday and Saturday nights, but call ahead to confirm. (Tel: 776-6644)


An affordable bed

When you're done partying, eating and drinking at a discount, get ready for some painful news at bedtime. On an island where visitors think nothing of spending $400 on a double room, cheap hotels can be difficult to find. The Inn at Tamarind Court on Centerline Road is one of the cheapest hotels around, with six economy rooms with shared bathrooms that go for $75 from December 1 through May 31. Book several weeks in advance and steer clear of the windowless rooms (Tel: 776-6378.)

But the best way to get affordable accommodations on the island is to opt for the less traditional choices. Maho Bay Campgrounds offers a host of tented bungalows, private canvas-sided "villas", if you will, built on wooden platforms and shaded by lush greenery that are quite comfortable, and go for about $110 per night in high season (the price drops to $75/night from May 1 through Dec. 23). Go to maho.org for full information. If you really want to keep down the cost, check out the Cinnamon Bay campgrounds off Route 20 where you can pitch your own tent for $27 or share a cottage with up to four friends for $110-$140. (Tel: 776-6330.) The cottages are spartan and the communal bathrooms primitive, but you'll be just yards away from one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Deserted Beach

Even on popular islands, there are ways to feel like the two of you are the only people on earth. An empty stretch of sand may be a short boat ride away.

Nothing says romance like being on a secluded beach with someone you love. But how do you find a spot where you can re-create the famous From Here to Eternity kiss without putting on a show for a dozen gawkers?

Many charter operators offer boat excursions to hidden coves and tranquil cays in the Caribbean where couples can spend a day on their own private beach. The operators will include food, drinks, and snorkeling gear--if you need it. "Honeymooners definitely keep themselves busy," says Kermaine Lightbourne of J&B Tours in the Turks and Caicos.

All that alone time doesn't come cheap, however. Tours run anywhere from $225 for a full day in the Turks and Caicos to $700 for just a half day in the Bahamas (the boat holds six, but that cuts into the privacy). Prices may also fluctuate depending on the cost of fuel, so check in advance.

Privacy is easy to find if you make it the point of a vacation--such as spending a week in the Bahamas' Out Islands--but these day trips are ideal if you have little time or you'd rather have someone else handle the planning. All you have to do is bring plenty of sunscreen.

Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
J&B Tours Full day with lunch, beer, wine, beach chairs, snorkeling gear, and umbrella. 649/946-5047, jbtours.com, $225 for two.

Silver Deep Full day with lunch, beer, rum punch, water, snorkeling gear, umbrella, and beach chairs. 649/946-5612, silverdeep.com, $275 for two.

Bahamas
Brown's Charters Half day with water, soft drinks, and snorkeling gear. Nassau, 242/324-2061, brownscharter.com, from $500 for six.

Hunter Charters Half day with water, soft drinks, and towels. Paradise Island, 242/364-1546, huntercharters.com, $700 for six.

Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Island Time Full day with ice-filled cooler and towels. 284/495-9993, islandtimeltd.com, from $370 for four (or you can just rent a small powerboat for $195).

Grenada
Caribbean Horizons Full day with lunch, juice, and snorkeling gear. 473/444-1555, caribbeanhorizons.com, from $580 for two.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Relaxing Alternative

In America, if we want to go from point A to point B, we jump in our cars, hop on the freeway and rush to get there. We almost never take the time to enjoy the actual journey. Why not slow down and check out your world? What better way to do that by taking the Ferry? I know, sometimes there is a quicker way to get there, either by car or airplane, but why not relax and enjoy the ride?

I found a great article in Budget Travel that lists some not-to-be-missed ferry trips around the country. I thought I would share it with you below.

The Most Beautiful Ferry Rides in the U.S.
From Alaska to Maine, these remarkable trips bring you within gawking distance of some of America's greatest natural and man-made treasures.

Alaska Marine Highway System
Leaves from: Juneau's Auke Bay Terminal
Alaska's ferries cover 3,500 miles of coastline, but the 150-mile voyage across the Inside Passage from Juneau to Sitka is extraordinary. The 10-hour trip takes you past humpback whales, sea otters, black bears, pristine spruce and hemlock forests, and the sprawling, blue-tinged Mendenhall Glacier. In clear weather you can see the spectacular peaks of the Coast Mountains. The ship's outdoor heated solarium lets you bask in the views while fending off cold winds; indoors, the ship's cafeteria serves local salmon and beer brewed in Alaska.
Can I bring a car? Yes
Cost: Adults $45 one way, kids $23, cars $79
More info: dot.state.ak.us

Seattle to Bainbridge Island, Wash.
Leaves from: Seattle Main Terminal, Pier 52
Glide past sailboats and cruise liners on this quick hop across Puget Sound, with views of Seattle's skyline and the snow-covered flanks of the Cascade Range. Weather permitting, you can even make out the 14,410-foot peak of Mount Rainier, about 100 miles away. Disembark on Bainbridge and spend the day exploring the island's hiking trails and downtown cafés (try the caramel pecan French toast at Café Nola), then time your return trip to watch the dusk settle over Puget Sound, and the city itself.
Can I bring a car? Yes. And to get to Bainbridge's hiking trails, you'll need one. You can also pick up a cab at the dock, but you might have a hard time getting back.
Cost: Adults $6.75 one way, kids $5.50, cars, $11.50, bikes $1
More info: wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/

Staten Island Ferry, New York City
Leaves from: Whitehall Terminal
See classic views of the city's skyline and the Statue of Liberty from the decks of this massive, bright-orange passenger ferry. Depart from Manhattan about an hour before sunset, grab a soft pretzel and a beer from the snack bar, find your sweet spot on the multi-decked vessel, and enjoy the show. Then hitch a ride on the next ferry back as darkness falls and the city's skyscrapers light up, and do it all over again.
Can I bring a car? No
Cost: Free
More info: nyc.gov

Bar Harbor to Winter Harbor, Maine
Leaves from: Bar Harbor Inn Pier
On this short excursion to Winter Harbor, a picturesque fishing village on Maine's remote Schoodic Peninsula, a 40-seat powerboat winds through clusters of lighthouse-topped rocky islets in Frenchman Bay. Free up space on your digital camera, because you might also catch glimpses of seals, porpoises, and bald eagles—and fabulous photos of Acadia National Park's spruce forests and granite shores are virtually guaranteed.
Can I bring a car? No
Cost: Adults $30 round trip, kids $19.50, bikes $6
When: June 23–Aug. 31
More info: downeastwindjammer.com


San Francisco to Sausalito, Calif.
Leaves from: San Francisco Ferry Terminal
It's about 30 minutes one-way on this ferry from San Francisco to Sausalito. The ferry sells wine and beer, so you can toast good times with friends as you skirt past Alcatraz Island and take in the views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Get off the ferry at Sausalito and walk among the town's cute art galleries and shops or stop for fresh seafood at the many waterfront restaurants. Cyclists can bring bikes (yes, the ferry has bike racks) and tour Sausalito's colorful hillside homes before pedaling back across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Can I bring a car? No
Cost: Adult $7.50 one way, kids 6–18 and seniors $3.75, bikes free
More info: goldengateferry.org

Halls Crossing, Lake Powell, Utah
Leaves from: Halls Crossing
This 25-minute run in a simple, flat-bottom ferry to Bullfrog Marina links the northern and southern sections of Utah's State Highway 276. On this serene stretch of Lake Powell, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world, watch the extraordinary glass-like reflections of orange Navajo sandstone formations and Utah's prevailing clear-blue skies.
Can I bring a car? Yes
Cost: Adults $5, kids under 5 and seniors free, cars $20 one way
More Info: udot.utah.gov

Boston to Harbor Islands, Mass.
Leaves from: Boston's Long Wharf
The ferry to Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area might just be the best way to see Boston's skyline. The passenger-only catamaran has a snack bar serving beer—act fast if you're thirsty, because it's only 15 minutes to the first stop. Spectacle Island is a former landfill turned ecological park with five miles of walking trails and supervised swimming off a restored beach. The second stop, Georges Island, is home to Civil War-era Fort Warren. The scenic highlight of the route is a view of the last manned lighthouse (and oldest continually used lighthouse site) in the country: Boston Light on Little Brewster Island.
Can I bring a car? No
Cost: Adults $14 round trip, kids $8
When: May 9–Oct. 12
More info: harborexpress.com

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Feb. 20, 2008

My name is Bev and I have been in the travel industry in one capacity or another for 25 years. Now, I am working from home, creating vacation experiences for my customers that have remained with me over the years as well as new friends and customers that I meet along the way.

I am located in Northwest Arkansas but that really isn't a problem. I have clients all over the country. These days with hi-tech communications, it doesn't matter much where I am physically because I can be just about anywhere virtually!

I have brought my business home so that I can be more available to help my parents. They are getting older and I need to be close by. The travel industry and computers, cell phones and email all make it possible for me to do that.

For travel arrangements, you may email me at
travelwithbev@gmail.com
anytime with your needs and I will do all I can to make it happen for you.