Kuddle up in St. Kitts

St. Kitts Marriott

St. Kitts Marriott Resort and The Royal Beach Casino

When traveling, a lot of times we want to explore a place we’ve never been, but want to stay with a hotel brand we all know and trust, so we’re not going into completely unchartered territory.   On the beautiful island of St. Kitts, the Marriott Resort and The Royal Beach Casino fills that desire.   St. Kitts is not necessarily the first island that comes to mind when deciding to take a Caribbean vacation.  However, it should be on the top of your list.   St. Kitts has only been focusing on tourism for around a decade, (the Marriott turns ten this year) so tourists and tourist traps do not overrun it.  You can enjoy a romantic Caribbean getaway alongside the extremely friendly locals, the Kittitians. 

Beach at St. Kitt's Mariott

Beach at St. Kitt’s Mariott Resort and the Royal Beach Casino

Staying at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort gives you the benefit of enjoying the best of all worlds while visiting the island.  Situated on the Atlantic side of the island, you can be relaxing in a lounge chair, with the wind blowing in your hair, watching the waves crash along the shore within five minutes of walking out of your hotel room.  You also have the benefits offered by staying at a resort, such as three large pools, a whirlpool, snorkel gear and raft rentals, and the only swim up bar on the island!  The Emerald Mist Spa is also available for all of your relaxation and zen needs for unwinding and working out sore muscles while away.  This full service spa smells magnificent from the second you step foot in the doorway. 

Emerald Mist Spa

Emerald Mist Spa

They offer a number of services including massages, facials, manicures, pedicures, etc.  I loved their amazing signature treatment, which was a bamboo massage.  They heated wooden bamboo sticks and used them in conjunction with a deep tissue technique to work out tight muscles and also inducing a state of pure relaxation.   Also included in the spa treatment is unlimited use of the steam room, sauna, and hot and cold plunge pools. 

The gym is open twenty four hours, so whether you like to get a workout in before breakfast or come back from a night at Mr. X’s Shiggidy Shack and work off dinner, it’s at your disposal.    Having a casino in the lobby of the resort is also a fun way to spend the night, or any time of day!  Along nightly entertainment, you can enjoy the standard table games and slot machines. 

Royal Grille Steakhouse

Royal Grille Steakhouse

With Marriott celebrating its ten year anniversary this year, you automatically get $10 in free slot play and the opportunity to spin a wheel for up to $500 more in slot play.  I just grazed over the $500!   I enjoyed their virtual blackjack tables and met some fun people who were going to vet school in St. Kitts. 

Royal Grille Steakhouse

Royal Grille Steakhouse

There are plenty of food options throughout the day.  For breakfast, order in room service and start your day on your balcony with a cappuccino and the sunrise, or head down to the calypso grill and indulge in the breakfast buffet with an omelet, pancake and waffle station.   For dinner, you must eat at least one night in the Royal Grille Steakhouse.  

Carambola Beach Club and Restaurant

Carambola Beach Club and Restaurant

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Carambola Beach Club and Restaurant

The restaurant has an open kitchen and serves amazing seafood and steak.  You won’t go wrong with the scallops and surf and turf! I think it served some of the best food I had while in St. Kitts.   Another outstanding and incredibly romantic restaurant off property is Carambola Beach Club and Restaurant.   This open air restaurant has the majority of seating inside, so you get the benefit of being on the beach without actually sitting outside.   There was a table set up right besides the waves as well, and can always be requested for that special night or private party.   As you walk into Carambola, there is soothing love songs playing.  There is a piano inside the restaurant and right outside, the ocean lights up with beautiful palm trees and a fountain on property.  

Romney Manor

Romney Manor

This is the perfect setting for a wedding on the beach or a proposal.  Just opened in the last two years, Carambola has quickly become one of the finer renowned establishments in St. Kitts.  Their menu offers everything from sushi and fresh fish options to lamb and delicious risotto and pasta dishes.  

Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park

Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park

While you can’t go wrong relaxing by the beautiful turquoise ocean or drinking pina   coladas at the swim up bar for days, you may want to check out other parts of the island and have lunch at spice mill, which sits on the Caribbean side of the island on the beach.  You can enjoy the fresh catch of the day and then head into the calm Caribbean ocean.

Spice Mill

Spice Mill

Romney Manor is a beautiful plantation where you can buy an array of items made on premise and the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site with some amazing views of the island. 

Gideon Force Organic Farm

Gideon Force Organic Farm

We also took a quick visit to the Gideon Force organic rusti farm.  You must eat lots of mangos while in St. Kitts. If you get there during the right season, you’ll be treated to the most succulent mangos you’ve ever tasted in your life, but be armed with floss and lots of napkins!

Mangos!

Mangos!

Many people choose to get married in St. Kitts and they make it very easy whether you’re arriving for just one day by cruise ship or plan on spending the week.

A man and his monkey overlooking the island

A man and his monkey overlooking the island

 St. Kitts is definitely a wonderful place to escape to rejuvenate and get away with a loved one, even if it’s just for a few days.  If you base yourself at the Marriott, you’ll have all the amenities you need on hand, be close to the fun nightlife and restaurants of Frigate Bay, and be immersed in the friendly, warm and inviting Kittitian culture!  

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The Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is the perfect escape.  In less than four hours, you can be soaking up the sun at a prestigious resort, or taking in the culture of its capital city, Santo Domingo.   We decided to do both.  We left from New York and took a direct flight from JFK to Santo Domingo aboard one of my favorite airlines, Jet Blue.  I personally love Jet Blue for their friendly and accommodating crew, the extra spacious legroom, personalized TVs, blue chips and mini bottles of water.   After landing, we hopped in a cab to the Hilton Santo Domingo, about 30 minutes from the airport.  I highly recommend getting around by cab and transfer companies.  There aren’t many traffic lights and driving can get pretty chaotic.   Situated along the shores of the crystal-blue Caribbean Sea, Santo Domingo is the country’s largest metropolitan area and dates back to the early 1500s.  While it’s popular for business travelers, you’ll only need a day or two to explore the Colonial Zone, a UN designated World Heritage Site, and home to the first cathedral, monastery, university, customs house, and hospital in the “New World.”  There are museums, forts and historical buildings dating back to the time of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in 1492, as well as a long block of cigar and souvenir shops. If you want a true Dominican dinner, La Conuco is a fun restaurant with an incredible meringue and salsa show and delicious traditional dishes.  

 

The 21 story Hilton Santo Domingo is the only hotel in Santo Domingo to earn a AAA four diamond rating.  The rooms are modern and immaculate and the food spectacular.  Sol y Sombra is one of the restaurants which offers magnificent views of the Caribbean Sea and serves sit- down meals as well as a delicious Dominican breakfast buffet.  The Hilton also has a spacious gym overlooking the sea, a swimming pool, sundeck and poolside bar.  The casino on the second floor is the newest and largest in Santo Domingo.

After experiencing much of the culture and people of Santo Domingo, we were picked up by Tropical Tours and transferred to La Romana, a two hour ride from Santo Domingo.  Tropical Tours offers transportation, tours and excursions.  Its spacious van fits up to seven people, so if you have a group, it definitely cuts down the cost.  Even as two people, it made our travels so much easier.

As soon as you arrive at Casa de Campo, you know your relaxation has begun.   After a quick and informative check-in, your luggage is loaded onto a golf cart and you’re driven to your room.  Guests can stay in a spacious hotel room or suite, a private villa, or in a luxury apartment. Outside your room is your own golf cart to use throughout your stay since the resort is just too big to get around by foot alone.   A 7,000 acre playground on the southeastern coast of the Dominican Republic, Casa de Campo is the perfect place to bring your family, as there are so many activities for both adults and kids.  If you are coming as a couple, you’ll find the resort very romantic, and unlike some other resorts, you’ll barely know there are children there.  Everyday there are various organized activities such as a kayak tour down the Chavon River, horseback riding, or a snorkeling trip.  Do as much or as little as you’d like.  You can relax at the private LaMinitasBeach and drink pina coladas or rent a peddle boat, sailboat, or kayak and enjoy the delicious food at The Beach Club by “Le Cirque.”   The marina is home to many shops and restaurants, including “La Casita” which serves outstanding seafood and Spanish cuisine.  As a guest at Casa de Campo, you have the option of paying separately for everything, or signing up for one of their all-inclusive packages.  Considering the caliber of the cuisine, you are definitely going to want to take advantage of their incredible restaurants.  Lago Grill offers a great buffet breakfast with an omelet station, fresh juices, fruits, and breads.  

Casa de Campo is home to the most comprehensive shooting facility in the Caribbean and offers true in the wild shooting experiences for shooters of all ages and skill levels.  To my surprise, I shattered a few of the clay pigeons as they flew through the air, and did better than my boyfriend!  If you’re an avid golfer, Casa de Campo’s three Pete Dye-designed resort courses are among the finest in the world.  The famous “Teeth of the Dog” with seven sea-side holes consistently ranks as the #1 course in the Caribbean on Golf Magazine’s “Top 100 Courses of the World.”  The resort also features tennis courts, and deep sea and river fishing.

Altos de Chavon is a part of the resort not to be missed.  It is an artists village consisting of cobblestone streets, quaint shops, exclusive boutiques, art galleries, magnificent restaurants such as La Piazzetta, and an archeological museum.  The Grecian-style amphitheater is a magnificent spot to watch Kandela, a Caribbean style musical review which features spectacular singers and dancers under the stars.

Casa de Campo works with “Scuba Fun,” a local dive center, to offer snorkeling and diving trips to the islands of Catalina, Saona, and Catalinita, and the Piscina natural which is crystal clear water 3-5 feet deep with white sand and giant starfish.   I highly recommend taking a half or full day to enjoy the beauty and the fun that John Sack and his crew provide on each of his boats.  Depending on the trip you take, you can see huge sting rays, Nurse sharks, and the spotted eagle rays.  A buffet lunch on the island is also included.

After a day of activities, you’ll want to unwind and pamper yourself at the eco-friendly Cygalle healing spa, which offers indoor and outdoor services.  The luxury spa makes their own products at their on-site spa pharmacy, which contain no chemical preservatives.  I highly recommend one of the body treatments, in which you are exfoliated, painted with clay or a puree made fresh that day, and then treated to a mini massage.

They don’t call themselves “Caribbean’s most complete resort” for nothing.  With so much to do, you can spend weeks at Casa de Campo.  But if you’re like me who only had a couple of days to get away, the resort will rejuvenate and energize you in no time at all.

Luxury Romance At It’s Best

Ever since my group exercise instructor showed me pictures from her honeymoon in St. Lucia over 10 years ago, the island has intrigued me from the beauty and romance her pictures captured.   When I had the opportunity to visit the resorts of Jade Mountain and Anse Chastanet,  I did some brief research online but nothing could have prepared me for the breathtaking scenery I was about to experience and the sanctuary I would call home for three nights.   Archictect Owner Nick Troubetzkoy’s built Jade Mountain and Anse Chastanet on Morne Chastanet, overlooking St. Lucia’s Piton World Heritage site and the Caribbean Sea.  Jade Mountain is a resort within the resort of Anse Chastanet.  His philosophy of building in harmony with Caribbean nature forces one to unwind and just be in the moment with your partner or in touch with yourself if you choose to come to the resorts to unwind and reflect.

Stepping into your sanctuary, which is what they call the rooms, took my breath away. The fourth wall is gone, so an open view of the incredible twin Pitons is seen from your bed, elevated bathroom, which features a hot tub for two, living room and your own private infinity pool in which you can control the colors inside the pool.  There is no formal separation between the rooms so everything flows into one another.

As a guest of Jade Mountain, it is easy to see why this five diamond resort has won numerous awards and recognitions over the years.  In addition to the amazing setting for this property, the service is unparalleled.  Upon check-in, you are given a mini cell phone that calls reception and your own personal Majordomo who is there to service your every need.  If you would like a complementary shuttle down to the beach or to one of the restaurants at either of the resorts, or if you’d like to take advantage of their outstanding room service, all you have to do is call them to let them know you’d like a meal or snack and then place the order form in a bag which you  hang from the outside of your door with the time you’d like it delivered.  I decided to have two breakfasts and one dinner in the room, tried the Indian restaurant one night and the restaurant at the top of Jade Mountain another, and all meals were delicious.  With a wide variety of local, Caribbean and international foods to choose from, as well as a vegetarian restaurant and options on each menu, your biggest concern will be choosing what to order.  However, if you elect the all-inclusive option for your meal plan, you can sample a bunch of different flavors.  Since I love trying new food, I chose to get some of the entrees in appetizer sizes so I could try a variety of options.

One could easily stay in their sanctuary all day and reconnect with nature and each other.  There are no televisions or radios in the room, which you’ll soon realize is not needed, but if you must keep in touch with the outside world, they do have an optional wireless internet hookup.  In the morning, the sounds of the many birds will wake you up naturally as the sunlight shines in and the amazing galaxy of stars will relax you as you unwind from the day.  However, if you’d like to add some activity to your day, they offer everything from scuba diving and kayaking to biking with Scuba St. Lucia, Kayak St. Lucia, and Bike St. Lucia.  I went scuba diving for two boat dives and a shore dive at the Anse Chastanet Reef.  Some of the famous dive sites include Pinnacles and Superman’s Flight at the base of the Piton Mountain, the setting for part of Superman II.  The dive operation is a five star Padi shop and  all of the dive masters are great at helping you out with your equipment if needed and pointing out some great finds during the dive.   You can also join many complementary tours into town  or to the rainforest or choose from an excursion like a visit to the botanical garden and volcano.  If you’re looking to  treat yourself to some more rest and relaxation, take advantage of their terrific therapists and get a solo or couples treatment in the spa, in your sanctuary or on the beach.  I had the traditional Swedish massage and the therapist was great.  I’ve had some back and neck issues in the past, have had massages to know what is good and what’s not, and after this fifty minute treatment, my aches were gone! 

Many couples are looking to go somewhere beautiful and romantic for their destination wedding or for a special anniversary, or maybe just to renew their relationship.  I can’t think of a better place than the magic and serenity of Jade Mountain and Anse Chastanet.  They offer many wedding packages and will prepare everything for you…all you have to do is arrive two days prior to the wedding day, which is a perfect way to transition from your everyday busy life into a perfectly relaxed state for your big day.   With the beautiful backdrop of the Piton Mountains, there is no better place to spend your wedding or honeymoon than Jade Mountain and Anse Chastanet in gorgeous St. Lucia.  Keep in mind the prices are not those of your average Caribbean resort, but this is far from your average resort.  If you’re looking to treat yourself to an experience to last a lifetime, treat yourself to Jade Mountain and Anse Chastanet.

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Dive into Romance at the Marriott Grand Cayman

While many visit Grand Cayman for their diving, it is also a very romantic and beautiful island.  Take a drive around the island along the coast and you’ll have the opportunity to dine at many waterfront restaurants, many along seven mile beach, where the Marriott is located.  Whether it’s a romantic getaway or a destination wedding, the Marriott Grand Cayman is the perfect choice.  Grand Cayman is a great island on which to marry because all of the marriage paperwork only takes a few hours, so couples have been known to come in by cruise ship for the day and be married by the time they get back on board!  The wedding planners at the Marriott know exactly what to do to make your day a special one.  They prepare weddings for many different budgets and specialize in ethnic and military weddings.  When I met with Lucila Leiva, the wedding coordinator, she had just gotten off the phone with an Indian couple planning their three day traditional wedding.   Not only can you choose the budget and type of wedding you would like, but also the location within the Marriott because they have a tropical courtyard garden, a lush lagoon with turtles who take up residency, a large pool area, or of course you can use the ocean as your backdrop.

The rooms at the Marriott are spacious, clean and comfortable with a terrace overlooking the courtyard or ocean.  While there is plenty to do around the island, one could stay at the hotel for their entire stay and have plenty to do.  Red Sail Sports has a shop at the Marriott and they offer scuba diving and snorkeling trips, and kayak, sailboat, and water bike rentals.  There is a bar and restaurant on the beach so you can set up shop for the day and never have to go back inside.   Their buffet breakfast is phenomenal and includes many varieties of breads, muffins, lox, meats, oatmeal, yogurt, fresh and dried fruit, bacon, sausage, pancakes,  potatoes and an omelet station.  They also have themed dinners and entertainment most nights of the week.

While the food is excellent at the Marriott, you may also want to try a restaurant in West Bay or the East End.  I did not have one bad meal in Grand Cayman.  The food was always bursting with flavor and the seafood so fresh wherever we ate.  Some places I would recommend include Ristorante Luca in the Caribbean Club for its fine dining and ambiance, Over the Edge for it’s great food at a reasonable price, the Lighthouse for the an incredible romantic experience or a jerk chicken shack on the side of the road for some local and delicious cooking!  If you are flexible with your travel dates, I would say to wrap it around the annual “Taste of Cayman” weekend in which a huge selection of restaurants from the island set up shop in one location and for a small cost, you can sample food and drinks from many of the most popular restaurants.  This event is very popular with the locals and is filled with terrific food samples, wine, rum and martini bars,  and live entertainment from the area’s top bands.

So if you’re looking for an island getaway with great food, diving, people and ambiance, I would highly recommend heading to the Cayman Islands! However,  if you rent a car, you will be driving on the opposite side of the street!  I was really nervous since it was new to me and it took me awhile to stop hitting the windshield wipers instead of the blinkers, but the actual driving turned out to be fairly simple since it’s an easy island to navigate.  I guarantee you’ll love the island!

Dive from Dawn ’til Dusk at the Sunset House

The Cayman Islands have been on my list for awhile, and even more so since I became a certified diver.  Last year, I was on a cruise with NJ 101.5 and one of the ports was Grand Cayman but unfortunately the weather was not cooperating and they would not allow us to get off of the ship.  I was so disappointed so I made it a point to visit another time and for more than just the few hours the cruise ship would have allowed.

I flew in on Wednesday and stayed until Tuesday, which was a great length for the trip. However, I could’ve definitely stayed longer and seen more, but I’m not complaining. Originally I was supposed to leave Thursday, but we were expecting another one of our huge snow storms so I decided to leave the morning before and it was a good call because the original flight was cancelled. This trip was such a welcome respite from the freezing weather and snow we have been having all winter.

I decided to stay a few days at “The Sunset House” which is known as a diver’s hotel, run and owned by divers for divers and a couple of days at the Marriott, which is along the seven mile beach stretch and is more of your traditional, romantic hotel. Sunset House is your no frills, but comfortable, friendly and clean hotel, perfect if you’re looking for a trip focused on diving. It is also a great economical choice since many of the hotels along seven mile beach are a bit pricey. They have great shore diving right outside your back porch where you can see a famous mermaid as well as the many fish, eels and other creatures found in Grand Cayman. The shore diving allows you to go whenever you’d like as long as you have a buddy and even if you’re traveling solo, it’s always easy to find one since everyone there is interested in diving as much as possible. They also have five top of the line dive boats which go out each morning and some afternoons to Sting Ray City and to see the new U S S Kittiwake that was sunk just a few weeks ago. You’ll get a locker as soon as you arrive so you can leave your dive gear there for the length of your stay. Everyone at the dive shop of Sunset Divers is very helpful but will also give you your space to do your own thing if that’s what you prefer. When you go out on the boat dives, you have the option to follow a guided tour of the reef or explore on your own with your buddy. You are in charge of setting up your own equipment on the boat, but if you need a hand, they will assist and make sure everything is set up properly. If you are looking for a more VIP diving experience, you’ll want to dive with their sister company, Red Sail Sports. They run a real nice dive operation and they will set up your equipment on the boat, so all you have to do is show up. If you are looking to dive Sting Ray City or the U S S Kitiwake, and your schedule does not mesh with Sunset’s schedule for diving these sites, it’s nice to have other options. I ended up diving Sting Ray City and the U S S  Kittiwake and the Angelfish reef with them. Red Sail Sports has a few locations throughout the island, including Seven Mile Beach and Rum Point, where you can rent sailboats, kayaks, the huge water bikes, and jet skis so no matter what part of the island you are on, you have options.

When you stay at Sunset House, ask for an ocean view room. It is spectacular sitting out on your terrace and watching the sunset or you can watch the sunset at the bar and restaurant and enjoy some good food and drinks while comparing dive pictures. I met a great group of people from Montana, some from Oklahoma, Texas, and Montreal. Meeting people from different regions is one of the best parts of the traveling and the Sunset House’s environment makes this easy. It’s nice to know too that the owner of the property is on site during the day and takes pride in the hotel and making sure everything is running efficiently.  

So the next time you’re looking for a dive getaway relatively close to home (only 3.5 hrs direct), with the opportunity to see sting rays, huge moray eels, lobsters, beautiful french angel fish and so much more, think Grand Cayman and the Sunset House.

NJ 101.5 and Club Getaway Cruise 2010

I’m sitting on the top deck of the Costa Atlantica, the sun’s in front of me high in the sky reflecting on the glistening water below.  Many in our group are on the pub crawl, others  relaxing in the hot tub. This has been a phenomenal week.  With over 150 men and women on the Club Getaway Sports and Adventure Cruise, in addition to the few thousand already on the ship, there have been lots of new friends made, some hooking up, and possible budding romances.   The days were packed with excursions in the Western Caribbean, when not at sea, and the nights filled with cocktail parties, dancing, dinner and spectacular entertainment from the ship’s performers.   Club Getaway did a great job in making sure everyone was having a great time from morning until night.  While in port, we had the option of doing set excursions with the group or going off on our own.

Since I love scuba diving, I had to dive while in port, considering Key West, Roatan and Cozumel are all known for their incredible reefs and wrecks.  In Key West, I dove with Dive Key West and we dove the Vandenberg, a  world class wreck that’s a 520 ft. long steel hulled troop transport and missile tracking ship.  It is the second largest artificial reef in the world and sits a mere 40 ft. below the surface making her accessible to divers of all levels.   Everyone at Dive Key West was top notch and they’re definitely the shop to dive with while in Key West.  Bob Holston is the owner and has been operating for almost 40 years.  They really pride themselves on safety .  There was one person in our group who wanted to dive with me but since it had been awhile since his last dive, they turned him away rather than just taking the business, knowing he needed a refresher.  Greg was a great divemaster and lead us through the inside of the wreck which was really neat.  For the second dive, we dove a coral reef and saw a nurse shark, midnight parrot fish, sergeant majors, french angel and squirrel fish.

Having been to Roatan a few months ago, I was excited to go diving again with Anthony’s Key Resort.  Normally their dives are just for resort guests, but they also handle the cruise ship passengers.   I’ve been on four dives with them now and each one has been so enjoyable.  They really make you feel at home and are also very conscious about safety.  With every new diver, they do a quick check out dive to make sure you have the right weight and know the basics.    The first dive was beautiful through the “Spooky Channel”…Wayne’s Reef.  We saw huge grouper, hogfish, cowfish, scorpionfish, lionfish and a huge king crab.   If you are taking a cruise into Roatan and you’re a diver, this is the activity you’ll want to choose while on the island.  With the time we had in port, I was able to do a two tank dive and for the second one, I had the opportunity to dive with the dolphins which was so much fun! Everytime I interact with them, they put such a smile on my face.  It was really cool to see them swim around in their own habitat.  They seemed to love the camera and would swim towards you so you could rub and play with them.   If you are going to Roatan and not on a cruise, you definitely want to stay at Anthony’s Key Resort.  The cottages are right across the water from the dive boats and they will ferry you back and forth all day.  In between dives, I put myself in a hammock and fell asleep to the sound of the birds chirping.

I was really looking forward to diving in Cozumel since the last time I was there for a day, I was not yet scuba certified.  At first when we arrived, the port was closed for all water activities because of the rough winds.   I went with the rest of the group to Chankanaab Park, which is a great place to go for snorkeling, diving, the beach, and playing with the dolphins.  They’ll also give you a tour of their Mayan ruins.  About an hour in, they changed the flag to yellow and announced the water was open.  I ran to the dive shop and they hooked me up right away with gear and took me diving right off the shore.  It was a one on one dive and we saw a huge lobster, sting rays, and an eel in the cave we swam through.  After we got back, I really wanted to find a dive shop with whom to do a boat dive because I had been told that what you see by boat is incredible.  The dive shop in Chankanaab recommended I head to Mr. Santos and to the Ramon Zapata’s Diver’s dive shop.

I had just missed the boat and normally they need to have at least four people.  It was already 2pm and I knew that if I couldn’t go diving with them, I would be in Cozumel for a second time without having seen the magnificent underwater life for which it’s known. When the owner, Ramon Jr., came back from the dive, his sister, Aldarita, who also helps run the diveshop, spoke with him and they said they would send me out with divemaster Abraham even though I was the only one.  I was so thrilled and happy I had found such a friendly operation.  Family run, their father, Ramon was a pioneer of diving in Cozumel.  Having been born in 1925, he started the dive shop and his son and daughter took it over.  Turns out the shop I went diving with in Chankanaab was owned by them as well.   The whole staff really made me feel welcome and was so enthusiastic to share with me their family history in diving.   In addition to the dives you can do from Mr. Santos Beach Club and Chankanaab Park, they will customize any dive for you depending on where you’d like to go, including bullshark diving in Playa del Carmen.   You can also do a discover scuba with them if you’ve never been diving before, and you can get your certification in just a few days.   Divemaster Abraham was great in pointing out many things on our dive.  The coral was absolutely beautiful and the fishes magnificent.  Just as I was posing for a picture near some coral, a huge green moray eel crawled out from a rock under me.   I would highly recommend diving with Ramon Zapata’s Divers if you’re headed to Cozumel.  You can make a reservation by emailing them at ramonzapata_divers@hotmail.com.

Overall the week was a ton of fun and if you did not make it on this cruise, you definitely want to make sure you’re on the next one.  We  had some great laughs and met  new friends that we know we’ll see again.  And the best part, while we were partying it up in the tropical Caribbean, the tri state area was getting hit with yet another snowstorm.

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NJ 101.5’s Cruise to Bermuda

img_6348-1It’s been two days since we’ve been back from the NJ 101.5 cruise to Bermuda and I’m missing the beautiful pink beaches and the outstanding entertainment aboard the Norwegian Dawn.  But most of all, I miss the new friends we made in the week on board!  We sailed out of New York and said goodbye to the city skyline and cold rainy weather.  img_6133In just a few days, we were in warmer temperatures and calm waters and awoke to a beautiful sunrise.  img_6333-1While on board the Norwegian Dawn, we had the choice of several restaurants, some included in the cost of the cruise, and plenty of specialty restaurants, such as a steakhouse, French, Italian, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Sushi and a Hibachi for an additional fee. Plus since it’s freestyle cruising, you can eat when and where you’d like.   I would say Le Bistro, the French restaurant, had the best food and was worth the extra money.  img_6499The Hibachi was also entertaining and very good, but for $25 per person, it’s really no cheaper than if you went to one in your hometown.  We also enjoyed the buffet for breakfast and anytime we wanted to grab a quick bite.  The good thing about sailing to Bermuda is that it saves you the cost of your meals.  The restaurants in Bermuda tend to be extremely expensive, and the food not always so good, as was the case with “The Lobster Pot” in Hamilton, which claimed to have the best seafood on the island for the past 25 years.  They must have been off the night we were there, and we weren’t the only ones in the restaurant who thought the fish was overcooked and the veggies just defrosted.  The couple next to us definitely made their opinions known to the staff.   Maybe it’s the fact that we are from the NY area and are spoiled with our food, but if you’re going to be overpriced, at least make us feel like we are paying for something!

The entertainment on the ship was great.  img_6466Every night there was plenty of music, musicals and acrobatic shows, a comedian, Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe, a magician, karaoke and tons of dancing.  For anyone who wanted a little pampering, the spa provided many services to fill your needs.  However, they definitely were heavy on the sales pitch, so hopefully no one was suckered into buying hundreds of dollars worth of facial creams.  If you take the cruise in the future, be aware of their spa specials.  There were a few treatments that they said were two hours long, but in actuality, it was only a 75 minute treatment and then they told you to go sit in the sauna and steam room.   With any spa I’ve ever been to, that comes included free of charge.  Out by the pool and hot tubs, there were bbqs and festive music throughout the day along with a jogging and walking track to burn off all of the good food!  In the gym, you could ride the ellipticals while looking out into the ocean, which was motivational.

I really loved our cruise for all the time we had in Bermuda.  img_6293-1It was nice not to have to hop on and off the ship every day at a certain time.  We had almost three full days to explore, and we really got to see so much.  When we arrived on Wednesday, we took a four hour cab ride around the island to get a lay of the land.  He showed us some really pretty beaches, gardens, and the popular aquarium in Hamilton.  There are many cab drivers who are like tour guides and know the island backwards and forwards.  They charge $40 an hour for a minimum of three hours for up to 4 people, so it is definitely worth it.  Our guide, Lenny Holder, was terrific!  We had asked him what foods are local to the area and when he mentioned there were avocado trees, of course, I had to ask if we’d be passing any since I LOVE avocados. At the end of our tour, we passed by his house, and he had arranged for his wife to put one in his mailbox with some seasoning for us.  Talk about Bermudian hospitality!

img_6318-1As most of you know, I was recently scuba certified, and I couldn’t wait to dive in Bermuda.  However, half the fun of diving is sharing it with others, so I scooped up a few people from our group and we went for a scuba lesson with Fantasea Bermuda. They picked us up at the pier and took us to 9 beaches, where everyone learned the basic principles of diving with our terrific instructor, Guy, and then we went for a shallow dive.  Everyone did so well, considering it was the first time they had ever put on scuba gear and tried to breathe underwater with a regulator.   The waters were a bit murky, as we were coming off of some bad weather, but the next day for our dive, we couldn’t have asked for clearer waters!  img_6264I would highly recommend Fantasea Bermuda.  Not only do they run diving lessons and boat dives, but they also offer kayak and glass bottom boat sightseeing tours, whale watching, catamaran cruises, jet ski and other recreational rentals.   The staff is so friendly and really knows their stuff.  Melissa was our divemaster and led us around the wreck and reef we explored.  She made sure to stay with the uncertified divers and really made them feel comfortable.

img_6462I had heard so much about Horseshoe Bay Beach, and Lenny had told us that not only is it considered the nicest beach in Bermuda, but had been ranked by Conde Nast as the second nicest beach in the world.  Between the combination of the pink speckled sand, the beautiful rock formations, coves, great snorkeling and gorgeous sunset, I could definitely see why.

On Friday, we took a 45 minute ferry out to St. George, the historical part of the island.  We only had an hour, but it was enough time to check out the Bermuda Perfumery, a few churches, and see the outside of the museum, town hall, and a two gardens.  img_6385-1We also managed to squeeze in a few rum cake samples from one of the shops!  The ferry ride itself from the Royal Navy Dockyard is very pretty and scenic.  At the Royal Naval Dockyard, where the ship was docked, you’ll find the Bermuda Maritime Museum, a small shopping mall, a craft market, the Dockyard Glassworks, where you can watch the workers blowing glass, and the Bermuda Rum Cake Bakery, with lots of free samples of rum cake made with 80% proof alcohol.   Snorkel Park, a small beach with great reefs for snorkeling and a fun bar called Hammerheads, is located right in the dockyard, along with the popular Frog and Onion Pub, serving local Bermudian beer.  We hear that the few of us who chose to try the beer were also the last ones to get back on the boat..oops!  As much fun as we had on the ship, if they had left us in Bermuda, I don’t think we would have been too upset!

img_6497I know I’ve said it before, but it was a true pleasure meeting everyone who came with me on this trip and I look forward to seeing all of you again on the next one.  Here’s to new friends and to the ones I will meet next time!  Cheers!

Bermuda…Here we come!

If you are a New Jersey 101.5 listener, you know I have been talking about this cruise to Bermuda aboard the Norwegian Dawn for months and it is now three weeks away!  I am so ready for another trip and can’t wait to set sail out of New York for seven nights to the beautiful pink beaches of Bermuda.  I’m excited to explore the ship wrecks and beautiful coral reefs with my new scuba certification.  If you are not a certified diver, there are plenty of places to snorkel as well.  Guys can enjoy the gorgeous golf courses while the ladies take advantage of Bermuda’s great shopping!  On our cruise, there will be a mix of singles, so  no worries if you’re coming alone, and couples looking for a romantic getaway, some celebrating anniversaries, and  I  hear there may be a proposal on board!

If you have not booked your cabin yet, you can still jump on board with us.  As part of the NJ 101.5 group, we will have exclusive activities planned just for us, including two open bar cocktail parties, an activity on the island, and thrown in will be a bottle of champagne for your room and a NJ 101.5 tee-shirt.When we first started promoting the cruise with GalaxSea Cruises and Travel, they were offering a promotional rate.  I have been told that this rate is still available and includes all of your port charges, fees and travel insurance, so give them a call at 732-335-1000. For all the details of the cruise, click here.

I look forward to seeing you on board!!!

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Dive Into Bonaire!

img_6020I’m sitting on the plane back from Bonaire and I still cannot get over the incredible week I just had. I love to travel, as I believe with each trip, you learn something new, whether it’s a new culture, language, or way of life. For me, this trip was truly life changing as I discovered a new world…the one underwater. I have snorkeled and done some introductory dives in the past, but I finally decided to get scuba certified, and I couldn’t have asked for a more enriching and spectacular playground than that of Bonaire.

This past week was filled with so many new experiences, including meeting great new diving friends, boat and shore diving, and my first night dive! I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people with whom to go diving than those at Captain Don’s Habitat. img_5867The casual and open setting facilitates easily formed bonds between people of all ages and diving levels. One of my biggest fears before arriving was the fact that I would be a new diver and everyone else would have much more experience. However, my fears quickly dissipated as experienced divers and divemasters offered to be my dive buddy. They were quick to help me double check that all of my equipment was hooked up correctly or pull me back down if I was ascending too quickly as I started to do on my first dive (you have to do a safety stop at 15-20 feet for 3 minutes so you can slowly let the nitrogen out of your body).

During my stay in Bonaire, I did my four open water dives to complete my certification right off of the pier at Captain Don’s, and did four boat dives to Forest and Keepsake in Klein Bonaire, Kalli’s Reef and the Hilma Hooker ship wreck, which was my deepest dive at almost 100 feet! di-dieter-bonaire_08-21-09_09141The night dive was an experience unlike any other. When I first jumped in off of Captain Don’s pier, I couldn’t believe how dark it was, but with our dive lights we were able to see around us. Again, I had such a wonderful dive buddy, who held my hand for the whole hour. There were four of us that went out and we wanted to make sure we all stayed together. As we ventured through the waters, we had a big tarpon following us, probably using our light to hunt for his dinner. Its skin was shiny and glistened off of our light. di-dieter-bonaire_08-21-09_0911One of the guys the night before had seen an octopus and I was really hoping we would as well. Turns out just as we were heading back, this huge octopus was beside us morphing into different forms and colors. The color changes were amazing, a new one every few seconds. It’s probably the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!

Since this was my first time diving, I didn’t want to buy an expensive underwater camera or video camera just yet, as I knew I would need to concentrate on my buoyancy (making sure you don’t hit the coral or float to the top). However, I also wanted to capture this amazing underwater world and my first experience on tape, so I called Hendrik Wuyts, owner of Bonaire Film Productions, and the best underwater videographer on the island of Bonaire. He came with his very high tech HD video cam and captured the whole dive for me. Not only did he get great footage, but he knew all the right spots to look for the best fish and coral. p1010025 On this dive, I saw two turtles, one that was swimming and one sleeping, which I was really excited about, and a flounder making his way along the bottom of the ocean. He was the same color as the sand, but you could see his eyes open and close as he scurried along. In addition, we saw beautiful butterfly, cowfish and trunkfish. It was a remarkable experience and Hendrik makes you feel completely at ease so you can explore while he takes care of the rest. He has a way of getting the fish to come to him, as he captures their true essence. Even if you are an experienced diver, you should bring him along on one of your dives or if you are in a group, he will film you all jumping in and interacting with the fish. I know I haven’t been to many other dive spots yet, but I can’t imagine one more beautiful. It is ranked as one of the best spots in the world for its sustainability. ta_dushi_film_frontHendrik also just released a DVD entitled Bonaire Ta Dushi which talks all about Bonaire’s past and present, the Bonairean people and their history and highlights all of the things you must see and do in Bonaire. A naturalist teaches you about their birds and beautiful flamingos, while marine park gurus explain why Bonaire still has such pristine reefs.

This was “Celebrate Our Planet Week” in conjunction with Bonaire’s “Dive Into Summer” program and featured famed oceanographer, Dr. Sylvia Earle, who I had the honor of diving with twice and attending her seminar. img_5986 Dr. Earle is an extremely interesting and accomplished individual who has worked practically her whole life studying marine life and trying to teach so many what is going to happen if we don’t work on conserving our lifeline.   Dr. Earle has led more than 60 expeditions worldwide involving over 7000 hours underwater in connection with her research and is known as the ambassador to world’s oceans.

So if you’re thinking about getting Scuba certified, I would recommend contacting DEMA and get on board their  “Be a Diver img_59151Program.” They will help you find a dive shop in your area. Do the classroom or e-learning work at home as well as your pool dives and then complete the rest in Bonaire. You’ll be certified within a day or two of your arrival and will have the rest of the time to explore. If you are an experienced diver and have not made it to Bonaire yet, what are you waiting for?! After you discover some of the 80 dive spots in Bonaire and Klein Bonaire, you’ll see exactly what I mean…a whole new world like you’ve never seen before.

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Scuba Certified!!!

di-dieter-bonaire_08-21-09_0889I’m so excited….just finished my fourth open water dive and now I am officially certified!!  Woo hoo!  Now I have the rest of the week to dive, except for the day before I leave.  I know I’ll be doing a boat and shore dive on Thursday, so that should be a ton of fun.  I saw such cool multicolored fish today and a pretty big jelly fish and stingray.

Last night we went to the “Taste of Bonaire,” which is held four times a year and features food from the local restaurants, craft vendors and live music.  I tried goat and iguana stew, goat’s blood, and fish balls.  img_5905Hmm…yum!  It actually wasn’t that bad.  The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the cactus soup.  Tonight is BBQ night at Captain Don’s! Ok, enough with this computer…I must go back in the water!

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