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December 08, 2009

Tips for the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia

ts_Dasheene_restaurant_St_Lucia_091208.jpg
The last time I was on St. Lucia, I ate lunch at Dasheene Restaurant.
Photo: Lisa Limer for Condé Nast Traveler


A question has come in from a reader named Nancy:
"We are going to St. Lucia's Coconut Bay Resort on January 1st. Any tips for our week there?"
I'm a big fan of St. Lucia--it's a lush island full of picturesque drives, rainforest, and views--and have been there three times but, unfortunately, for only one day each, as a stop on a cruise.  The last time--three years ago--I hired a driver in advance to pick me and my husband up at the pier in the morning when the ship pulled in and drop us back there in the late afternoon. My advice for you is to spend a day on a private island tour with him. His name is Julian Bissette, and his email address is bissettejc@candw.lc. (If you want his phone numbers, shoot me an email at wperrin@cntraveler.com.)

Julian showed my husband and me the island's highlights that were on my agenda--the fishing village of Soufriere and the Diamond Botanical Gardens among them--as well as off-the-beaten-path spots we wouldn't have known to look for on our own, such as Plas Kassav, a "factory" where they make a local bread from cassava root the traditional way (an experience that I wrote about here).  I found Julian through the concierge at Ladera Resort, where my husband and I ate lunch midday (at the restaurant pictured above). My suggestion for you is to contact Julian and let him spend a day showing you his island.
October 16, 2009

Finding the Cheapest Days of the Week to Fly

"What are the cheapest days of the week to travel to the Caribbean in November?" asks reader Robin.


I've found that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are often cheapest to the Caribbean, although sometimes it can be equally cheap on Sundays and Mondays. Of course it depends on many factors, including your origin and destination. 

One tool for pinpointing the cheapest days to fly within any 30-day period is Orbitz's Flex Search. Go to Orbitz.com and click on "Flexible Dates," in the lower left corner of the blue box. Plug in your city pair, go to "Option 3: Flexible Stays," choose your trip length, punch in your up-to-30-day travel window, and click "Find." Hope that helps.
March 30, 2009

Cheap Beach & Nature Getaways for Families

Fond Doux
The Hillside Guava Tree
cottage at Fond Doux.

by Wendy Perrin

Still haven't made your April/May getaway plans? Neither have I. But it's not too late to turn to one of the 28 affordable, easy-to-reach, warm-weather escapes listed in the More Sun for the Money feature in Conde Nast Traveler's March issue.  Some of these resorts start at just $70 a night.  Most can be reached from major gateways and don't require a rental car once you're there. And a few are for travelers who want nothing more than a hammock strung between two palm trees.

Deal of the Day

Today I'll highlight our article's most budget-friendly recommendations that also happen to be family-friendly (pictured is a cottage at Fond Doux Plantation on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia). The rest of this week, Julia will bring you the more romantic, adventuresome, and cultural options.

For now, here are the kid-friendly school-break options that I wish I could have found the time to book a couple of weeks ago:

Continue reading "Cheap Beach & Nature Getaways for Families" »

March 24, 2009

Flying in the Caribbean? Beware CheapOair

Conde Nast Traveler contributor and Daily Beast consulting editor Lee Aitken recently ran into trouble booking Caribbean airline tickets for an assignment for the magazine. I thought you all should hear her story:

"Here's a scam to watch out for when you book local flights within the Caribbean. Big sites like Expedia don't deal with puddle jumpers like Dutch Antilles Express, so I used CheapOair to book short hops between Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. They were even offering $10 off each ticket. (Always looking out for the magazine's money!) CheapOair took my money, confirmed my reservation, then emailed me that they couldn't book the flights I'd chosen for a "technical reason" unspecified. They proposed different flights at times that didn't suit our plans. So I got on the phone to Bangalore and said, "If you can't book the flight, I want you to refund my money." The poor operator there said they would be holding on to a $48 booking fee for each ticket. I raised hell about that, demanded a supervisor, and after a long time on hold was finally told they would refund ALL the money to my credit card (although we'll see if they do). Then I rebooked the flights directly with Dutch Antilles Express and discovered that its round-trip fare for Aruba to Bonaire is $75 lower than CheapOair's! How dare they call themselves CheapO? (Answer: Because people like me fall for it.)"


November 08, 2008

Bahamas Vacation Deal at Atlantis

Atlantis_aerial_view
The view of Atlantis from atop one of the Aquaventure slides, March 2008.

by Wendy Perrin

Attention, moms of energetic young boys and water slide fanatics of all ages: Here's another travel deal I might just nab myself if I weren't headed to Europe on business:

Through December 18 Atlantis, on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, is charging $299 per adult for three nights' accommodations, which includes four days' use of the over-the-top water park (complete with phenomenal water playground for toddlers) and entrance to the 50,000-creature marineAtlantis_scuba_diver_2

habitat (which had my kids mesmerized when we were there last March; pictured at left is my four-year-old, who now wants to grow up to be a scuba diver). Included with each room are two shallow-water dolphin experiences at the resort's renowned and eco-friendly Dolphin Cay.

Even when you add in all the mandatory taxes and fees, plus the $198 air fare from New York or $178 fare from Boston on JetBlue, this deal still works out to be a good value IF you can travel on the requisite days of the week (spelled out in the fine print). The deal is for travel through December 21.

Three key tips, based on my family's visit to Atlantis last March:

Continue reading "Bahamas Vacation Deal at Atlantis" »

July 25, 2007

Seeking Kid-Friendly Beach Resort

Beaches_turks_caicos
Beaches Turks & Caicos is where I'd take my preschoolers . . . if only I could afford it!

 by Wendy Perrin

Question from reader Nandamom:

"Our nanny just announced she is taking off the last week in August, so my husband and I are scrambling to plan a last-minute weeklong getaway for ourselves and our two girls, ages two and four. We'd like to try an all-inclusive family-friendly beach resort in the Caribbean. We're in the New York area and can spend up to $5,000 for airfare and accommodations, with some child care and activities included."

August is rainy season in the Caribbean. That doesn't mean it rains every day, but it does mean you need a resort that will keep your kids entertained and off your hands should the weather turn inclement. I think your smartest option is the Beaches chain of all-inclusive family resorts. The property I've heard the best feedback about from other parents is Beaches Turks & Caicos, but a seven-night package (including airfare from New York) for the four of you for the last week in August would cost about $6,000.  Beaches Boscobel -- which gets an excellent review at the dependable family travel site WeJustGotBack.com -- is more affordable. The seven-night package at the Boscobel property, which is in Jamaica, comes in at just under $5,000.

Continue reading "Seeking Kid-Friendly Beach Resort" »

June 07, 2007

Finding The Right Rental Villa

Rivendell_villa_on_st_john_usvi by Wendy Perrin

Question from reader JSHenry76:

"Just read your excellent article on villa rentals and am anxious to do one. We're thinking of renting in Florida next Christmas or February, and I was disappointed to see that the only rental agent listed for Florida is very expensive. Any suggestions for an agency with more affordable villas?  A villa on St. John is also a possibility.  Does the U.S. Virgin Islands specialist you recommend handle St. John as well as St. Thomas?"

If you want something reasonably priced, forget about renting over Christmas!  Prices are at their peak, and the few good-value properties are probably booked by now.

For an affordable rental in Florida, you might try ResortQuest or VRBO.  ResortQuest is not on our list because the only Florida rental agent who has met our exacting criteria is the expensive one you cited: William McClain of Villazzo.  VRBO stands for Vacation Rentals By Owner, which of course means you skip the middleman.

As for St. John, the U.S. Virgin Islands specialist we recommend, Diane Aamodt of McLaughlin Anderson, is our top choice for that island. The photo above is of Rivendell, a villa on St. John that Diane represents.

If you happen to be looking for a beachfront villa that's a good value for your dollar, you might also consider Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.  Unlike the U.S. Virgins, Virgin Gorda has a large supply of villas located on the beach (the large supply is, of course, what makes them relatively affordable). For a Virgin Gorda rental, try Hunter Butler at Blue Escapes.  Happy villa hunting!

March 13, 2007

Seeking Caribbean Wedding Spot

Beach at Caneel Bay, St John
The beach at Caneel Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Photo: Caneel Bay Resort.

By Wendy Perrin

Question from reader Jmsangel:

"We are looking to get married in an intimate 3- to 5-star boutique resort on an island in the Caribbean.  The wedding attendance should be around 40, so we'd like to keep the room rate reasonable or have accommodations nearby for those on tighter budgets.  Do you have any suggestions?  The ceremony could be at the hotel or at another scenic spot on the island."

Continue reading "Seeking Caribbean Wedding Spot" »

March 01, 2007

Mandatory Tipping At Resorts

By Wendy Perrin

Question from Conde Nast Traveler reader Jay Benzon:

"We've just come from a fine Caribbean resort that adds 10% to all room and food/drink charges as a service charge.  We've seen this at similar resorts in the Caribbean. Does this take the place of tipping, or should one tip over and above the service charge?"

Jay, I've just come from a cruise ship that adds 15% every time you buy a glass of soda, a bottle of wine, a cappuccino, a bottle of water, etc.

What might be confusing you is that at these properties, whenever you're given a credit-card receipt to sign, there is a "gratuity" line beneath the "service charge" line. Many people don't notice that a service charge has already been added and write in a gratuity, thus double tipping.

My take on these 10% or 15% charges is that they take the place of tipping unless someone has provided such great personal service that you feel more is warranted.  One reason the charges are there is so that the resort can guarantee its waiters, housekeepers, bartenders, and other attendants a certain basic level of bonus pay.  Americans are known for being good tippers, but many nationalities (e.g., Brits) are not, so a mandatory gratuity protects workers from wide fluctuations in pay that are beyond their control.

How to decide if an extra 5 or 10% (above the mandatory 10%) is merited?  Say I order a mudslide at a swim-up bar and the bartender plunks it down ten minutes later.  I'll probably leave the tip at 10%.  Now say a waiter trudges all the way to the far end of the beach to deliver me a mudslide and brings along some maraschino cherries for the kids. I'll probably tip him a total of 20%. A good piece ran in the L.A. Times last year on the "Demise of the Optional Gratuity."


February 21, 2007

Customer-Friendly Cruise Ship?

America's Cup yachts
America's Cup yachts that
25 Constellation passengers paid the cruise line to sail on. Here, other people are sailing on the boats at the same time that we were supposed to! Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, Feb. 12, 2007, 12:05 p.m.

By Wendy Perrin

Another thing I learned on my recent cruise on Celebrity Cruises' Constellation: Just because a cruise line sells you a shore excursion doesn't mean it's going to happen.

Cruise lines encourage passengers to sign up and prepay for shore excursions online, well before the cruise.  These prefab group tours are the only type of land-based activity that many passengers do. On the cruise I took, if you were to cancel a shore excursion you'd booked, you had to do so at least 36 hours ahead to get a refund. The cruise line could, however, cancel with no advance notice, potentially ruining your precious few hours in port, since it would be too late for you to make alternate plans.

Continue reading "Customer-Friendly Cruise Ship?" »

February 19, 2007

And The Winner Is

Wendy's son leaping in Constellation cabin
Where in the world has Wendy been since Feb. 9th? The final answer: Cabin 2065 of Celebrity Cruises' Constellation.

By Wendy Perrin

Well, my cruise is over and I'm now happily ensconced at a friend's canal front home in Fort Lauderdale--a house that, unlike my cruise accommodations of the past ten nights, has free wireless, five bedrooms, and a private pool. (Now that's my idea of vacation!)

Pool aboard the Constellation
Deck 10 on the
Constellation, Feb. 17, 2007

Since I'm no longer paying an arm and a leg for Internet use, I've spent the past few hours reviewing everyone's guesses of the past week, trying to figure out who won the WHERE IN THE WORLD IS WENDY? contest. It's not easy.

Continue reading "And The Winner Is" »

February 18, 2007

WHERE'S WENDY? Days 6 & 7

Larry Ellison's superyacht in Cruz Bay
Rising Sun, the famous superyacht owned by Larry Ellison of Oracle, off of Cruz Bay on St. John, Feb. 16, 2007

By Wendy Perrin

Who won the last round of the WHERE IN THE WORLD IS WENDY? game?  Good question.

After motoring from St. Thomas (in the U.S. Virgin Islands) to Jost Van Dyke (in the British Virgins), I had to go through U.S. Customs in order to get back to St. Thomas. Before you can enter U.S. territory down here, you must physically go to a U.S. Customs office and show your face to the authorities (this has been the case since 9/11). The quickest place to do so is the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol office on St. John, at Cruz Bay . . . especially if you're returning to Red Hook (the best spot on St. Thomas for catching a small private powerboat either to St. John or the British Virgins.)  Thus the pier where Ingvar Hagstrom was standing (see my last post) was at the American Yacht Harbor Marina in Red Hook.

So it looks like Tracker1312 won the last round of WHERE IN THE WORLD IS WENDY? . . . unless I was on B and C Docks or the Loredon L. Boynes Sr. Dock -- I actually haven't the vaguest idea! -- in which case I guess LoriB won. I'll have to figure it out later . . . once I'm off this cruise ship and no longer paying 65 cents per minute for excruciatingly slow Internet access. (You can't imagine the bill I'm racking up!)

Wendy with fish
To find out what I'm doing, read on.

Continue reading "WHERE'S WENDY? Days 6 & 7" »

February 17, 2007

WHERE'S WENDY? Day 5 (Part 3)

Off mystery shoreline
After Jost Van Dyke, where did I go?

By Wendy Perrin



Kudos to all of you (especially glued-to-her-computer CoralsO) who figured out I was at Foxy's on Jost Van Dyke in the B.V.I. yesterday morning. When I hopped back into the private powerboat that took me there, where do you think I headed?  (Hint: I had to go through U.S. Customs twice yesterday.)  Can you name both the island and the harbor?

Continue reading "WHERE'S WENDY? Day 5 (Part 3)" »

February 17, 2007

WHERE'S WENDY? Day 5 (Part 2)

Hammock on Caribbean island
This hammock hangs outside a popular bar on which Caribbean island?

By Wendy Perrin

Okay, either (1) you all actually have lives or (2) you're at your computer 24/7 but the last clue was just too tough.  So here are a few more: The man pictured in my last post presides over the most popular watering hole on this island.

Continue reading "WHERE'S WENDY? Day 5 (Part 2)" »

February 17, 2007

WHERE'S WENDY? Day 5 (Part 1)

Four Seasons golf course and view of ruins
The ruins of a sugar mill sit at Hole 2 of the golf course at the Four Seasons Nevis. In the background is Nevis Peak.

By Wendy Perrin

Congrats to Seafarer, who was the first to guess I ate lunch at Mango at the Four Seasons Nevis, and to CoralsO, who figured out I was also on the resort's golf course.  LoriB, you're awfully prescient about where this game is going.  First, though, we need to do Day 5. 

Continue reading "WHERE'S WENDY? Day 5 (Part 1)" »

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