The following is how to enjoy this paradise and afford it without selling the kids nor getting a second mortgage on your home
The off-season in the Caribbean is generally the more reasonably priced time to get to know this truly wonderful paradise. Hotels, meals and even air fare is far more reasonable in the months of April-Dec. (15th) than during the high season of the prime winter months. My wife and I just returned from our fourth visit to St. Martin (November 4 - 12, 1993) and we come back more impressed after each visit and with the knowledge that it is affordable if you try.
We flew American Airlines from Denver-Dallas-San Juan-Sint Maarten (depart 8:00 am and arrive at 10:00 PM). This year our airfare was just over $500.00 each. Last year each ticket cost $471.00 round-trip. The 'normal' airfare from Denver - Sint Maarten - Denver is right at $750.00 (have your travel agent check the ever-changing fares daily until you find what you want!). Besides American, Continental Airlines flies direct to Sint Maarten from Newark, NJ. Those trying to use frequent flier miles must book at least a year in advance (or book first class). United has decided to drop their service from Denver to San Juan. Delta has service into San Juan also. A short connecting flight on a local carrier (like WinAir) can then be used to get to Sint Maarten. We also saw a lot of KLM planes landing this year. In addition, there are the charter flights that may get you there. Again, check for a deal.
Car Rental (La Boiture)
We always get a car. Budget Rent-A-Car has a weekly rate of $150.00 for a compact car and will either deliver the car to your hotel or there is an office one block from the airport. They also have an office on the French side in Cul-de-Sac. We found Budget to be the cheapest when booking in advance. Hertz has an office near the airport and there are also several local rental companies at the airport and around the island. Check your prices before you rent!
Hotels (Ou sejourner)
The French side of the island is much more quiet than the Dutch side. We have stayed at the Pelican Reef on the Dutch side, Grand Case Beach Club and L'Esplanade Carib on the French side. The Pelican is lively, has a nice small beach and caters to a primarily American clientele. It is near the airport and within walking distance of several nice restaurants and bars (more about this later). Room rates vary from $125.00 to $205.00 depending on the type of accommodations you wish. This resort is also a very large time-share facility.
Grand Case Beach Club is very quiet, friendly and has an international mix of guests. It is located a short walk from the village of Grand Case and is right on the beach. The rooms are very clean, offer nice views of the sea and are like most of the other rooms in hotels on the island. Prices vary from $95.00 per day to $150.00 per day depending on size (again, keep checking as the rates for all hotels on the island vary-I check weekly on CompuServe for the latest prices). Continental breakfast is included in the price.
This year we stayed at the brand new L'Esplanade Carib Hotel in Grand Case (very near the Grand Case Beach Club-look up the hill!). We had a one bedroom loft that overlooked both the town of Grand Case as well as the harbor. It was a two minute walk to the beach. They offer studios and 1 bedroom lofts; all with views of the sea. Prices range from $95.00 per day to $180.00 per day depending on the number of people. A 10-15% discount is offered if you book directly with the hotel.
There are many other reasonable and some very cheap places to stay on the island. Some examples are: The Sea Breeze Hotel (Dutch Side) for $55-$85 per night; The Pasanggrahan Royal Inn (downtown Philipsburg) for $68-$88 per night; and the Hevea right in Grand Case. Of course you can always ignore your gray matter and stay at La Samanna if you intend to get that second mortgage on your house in order to pay for your stay!
Another item to consider in your hotel cost is the government tax. The Dutch side will charge a 5% daily tax on your room. In addition, a service charge of 10-15% may be levied by the hotel. Watch out! The French side charges either a $3.00 per person/day tax or 5% per day tax. In addition, there could be a 10% service tax added on. Include this tax in your calculations for the best deal.
Beaches (Les Plages)
There are some 37 accessible beaches on the island. The most popular are Maho, Mullet Bay, Orient Bay (clothes optional), Dawn Beach and Bay Rouge. All beaches are topless. This year my wife and I noticed that around 80% of the women were topless (the exceptions were some of the American women; yet many do get up the courage to "pop their tops" and find that it really doesn't matter to anyone!). Also this year we figured that the percentage of thongs for both women and men is increasing. Approximately three fourths of the women and 35% of the men wear 'thongs' or 'Brazilian bottoms'.
The less popular beaches and the least crowded beaches are (don't tell anyone though): Cupe Coy (clothes optional), Long Bay (clothes optional to the right), Grand Case Beach-northern end and Plum Bay. Bring your own food and water (except for Cupe Coy which has refreshments from an island native). If you want to be seen, these beaches are not for you. If you want solitude, just walk down the beach for 5 minutes and you'll be alone. Again, all of these beaches are topless and nudity
Antigua: Jumby Bay by Mike Beloit
(This file is copyrighted by Mike Beloit)
When the walls of business pressure are closing in on me, I attempt to relieve stress by fantasizing an escape from the decision-making process to a faraway island. Periodically, I get mad and realize, as the expression goes, I can't take it any more. That's when my travel agent provides medicinal relief. The latest excursion was definitely far from the maddening crowd -- Jumby Bay Island off the coast of Antigua in the West Indies. Unlike many remote locations, this one is just a hop, skip and a ferry ride from most East coast US cities. For my bride of twenty-seven years and me, it was an early morning Delta departure from Atlanta to San Juan. American Airlines then zipped us via an A300 airbus to Antigua in less than an hour.
But -- nothing in life is worth achieving without some preamble of pain - and attaining paradise this day required an initial jousting with misery. Upon landing at VC Bird International Airport's brief runway, my body exuded the residual stress saved up by my not having dutifully reported to the office that fine day. While my senses indicated I was about to crash into the ocean following a brief flyby tour of Antigua, the pilot having obviously been to this island before, applied a major dose of brakes causing my seatbelt to revisit the airline meal I ingested on the San Juan leg. The strange feeling was a sense of deja vu of a St. Thomas USVI touch down of old.
The landing provided a prelude to the welcoming committee on Antigua itself. As we departed the plane with the ocean breeze teasing our faces, boyhood memories flashed by of Hawaiian wahines placing their sweet scented flowers around my neck, all the while indicating my importance in their lives with their eyes. Antigua had a somewhat different marketing plan. Apparently, they perceived customs agents as being the more appropriate greeters of weary travelers. The unusual aspect, however, was that their customs agents had been trained by the police. Somewhere in the syllabus of this educational process, the section on cordial greeting was expunged. Remembering Eastern Europe of the Seventies, my brain instructed my eyes to look groundward and follow their unsmiling instructions explicitly. That surely helped get me through this barrier.
Once out of the customs gate with the sense of great accomplishment lingering, a lovely and considerate person greeted us by introducing herself as the representative of Jumby Bay Resort. While a trophy seemed the more appropriate award for customs survival, the guiding hand leading us to the awaiting taxi was sufficient. During the five minute ride, the taxi driver played dodgem with a bizillon potholes, but managed to deliver us safely to Jumby Bay's own dock. No sooner were we on board their catamaran than Captain Bernard was offering us wine or rum punch. There was just enough time to enjoy the ten minute boat trip and the drink.
Upon docking at Jumby Bay, the staff graciously hailed our arrival with a quick tour of the main facility, and hustled us to our room, one of only thirty-eight dotting the island. Entering the portals of our new home, we discovered the first hints that we were indeed in paradise. The main room's bar area bespoke the champagne celebration soon to arrive. A king size bed was tucked in a corner, elevated one step giving the sensation of being in an anteroom. I could have lived without this decorative addition though, as I nightly kicked the tiled riser with my big toe when retiring - much to my wife's glee.
The bath facility was almost as large as the rest of the lodging. A ten foot long dressing and vanity area separated relaxation from cleansing. Besides a shower large enough for my whole family (five children) to use at once, the bidet added a touch of Europe to the appointment. Naturally, as in the better resorts, a safe was in the closet area for valuables.
Which brings up an interesting note - we weren't issued a key for our room. I inquired at the front office about this omission and was informed that one doesn't need such security at Jumby Bay. My wife, who is always ready to point out what should be obvious but never seems to be for me, suggested that since it was on an island with little else, who would break into our room?
After a quick swim and total elimination of the bubbly helped shed the remnants of the trip, we slipped into some casual clothing in anticipation of dinner. Eating represented a special shade of excitement all its own at this all-inclusive resort. The preparation and quality of food was placed in the hands of a very able chef - Rex Hale. From a farm near St. Louis by way of a biochemistry degree from Tulane, and through the kitchens of Commander's Palace and Brennan's, Hale touted a lofty pedigree. With additional stops at Kansas City's American Restaurant and Sun City Resort of South Africa, he brought a montage of recipes to this isolated island. Throughout the entire week we savored every bite of a variety of appetizing dishes ranging from lamb and steak to the local parrot and whahoo fish. Each offering was accompanied by palatable wines from the vineyards of the resort's Italian owner, Villa Banfi.
Less one conclude we ate and slept our way through the week, I must confess that with each dawn we embarked on a jaunt around the island. A three mile bricked path defined the outer reaches of Jumby Bay and provided a changing face as we touched each compass point. Initially the road was dotted with villas and tennis courts built by those who were sufficiently enamored with the island to have invested in their own stepping stones to paradise. This juxtaposed neighborhood opened into grassy plains from which we were certain a rhino or giraffe would emerge at any moment. Moving in an easterly direction, the path reached the farthest point from the lodge. One glance at the scraggly, inland-bending trees confirmed this was the windward side of the island. The rest of the walk yielded vistas of the Atlantic Ocean, Antigua mainland, and a sugar mill which looked too well preserved to be authentic.
Certainly there was a reason for this morning trek - an exorcism of guilt for what would be the daily activity of consequence - beachtime. While we were lounging on a lightly populated, private beach and indulging the latest Tom Clancy/John Grisham offerings, a kindly soul appeared in convenient time intervals with our refreshments. He was followed by another who issued iced towels to stem the heat of day. Occasional dips in the Caribbean waters completed the ritual. Excepting the sporadic flyby from VC Bird, it was truly quiet solitude.
An added bonus in the late afternoons involved meeting our fellow adventurers while imbibing various concoctions whipped up by Elaine, bartender at the main house. While the number of guests is very limited, we found each of them to have been successful in their life pursuits and a delight to mix with.
A word of caution to other type A's though - there is a very limited activities desk. Snorkel trips to outlying islands, water skiing in front of the beach spectators, and scuba diving encompass the short menu. Oh, there is always the taxi trip around Antigua itself, which we found to be a waste of precious time and money. Jumby Bay is destined to fail for those who do not wish to detune on vacation - they will be miserable.
It would be remiss of me to omit critique of the facility. Their short existence precludes them from already having the experienced years of a Caneel Bay, so they have some fine tuning to do. A refrigerator in the room was sorely missed. Obtaining beach towels was a daily ordeal that rested with us but should have been handled by maid service. Snorkel equipment was issued loose, whereas a mesh bag would have been more user-friendly. One issue of both soap (irrespective of size) and accompanying bathroom articles seemed a might cheap considering the daily rate ... and ladies generally prefer their own smaller and more feminine scented soaps. Hopefully, these types of shortcomings will be resolved with time.
The unfortunate consequences of this entire adventure is that now as I reflect on the experience, the daily dose of stress portends the need for repeat therapy. Would I choose Jumby Bay with its expensive rates (I just paid the bill - yuk) again? If I want relaxation in concert with a motivated staff to engage my needs without the recreational directored agenda - absolutely!