Sunday, August 18, 2013

Let Me Tell You About......St. Lucia

A four hour flight from JFK in New York will get you to one of the most amazing islands in the Caribbean, St. Lucia.  This lush playground has everything you could want in a vacation spot - all inclusive resorts in all price ranges, plenty of excursions from zip lining to visiting a dormant volcano and having a mud bath to nice beaches. Located 21 miles from Martinique on the northern tip of the island and St. Vincent 26 miles from the Southern tip,  the island is 27 miles long and 14 miles wide. However, due to the extremely hilly terrain that roads must be built around, getting around can take more time than you would anticipate on a small island. From the Hewanorra Airport to Castries, the main tourist area,  the ride can take about an hour by car.
There are two airports - Hewanorra (UVF) located about 40 miles from Castries and George F. L . Charles Inter Island Airport in Castries. Most airlines fly into Hewanorra hut you can take a helicopter from Hewanorra to the Castries airport to avoid a drive of about an hour and a half.
Coconut Bay Resort in St. Lucia
English is the official language but French Creole (Patois) is also spoken. The U.S. dollars is widely accepted, but the Eastern Caribbean Dollar is the official currency, which is linked to the US Dollar at the exchange rate of 1 US$ to about  2.70 EC$. A passport is required to enter the country for U.S. citizens.
A tropical climate kept mild by trade winds allow St. Lucia to be a year round destination. From June to November be prepared for sporadic tropical showers. Average temperatures range from 70 degrees to the mid 90's and can be hot and humid. June through August are the hottest months, and December and January are the coolest, with temperatures between the mid 70's to mid 80's. There is a rainy season from June to November. During this time, there can be heavy rainstorms that quickly clear.

There are large rainforests and the Piton Mountains are a major attraction on the island. Visitors exploring the trails through the rain forest in the center of the island need to be prepared for some very hot and humid weather without any relief from the trade winds. Many of the major landmarks in St. Lucia were made by nature.  These include the two volcanic domes of the Pitons, Sulfur Springs Drive In  Park located at  a dormant volcano  and  Diamond Falls, which features a mineral bath, botanical garden, and waterfall.  At Sulpher Springs, walk through the crater and you'll see pools and hot springs bubbling up. Just outside, you can bathe in the warm pools.

There are many award winning resorts on St. Lucia - from the Body Holiday, Hotel Chocolat, three Sandals Resorts, Jade Mountain, Anse Chastenet and many more, there is something for everyone. Enjoy water sports and seek out rare wildlife. Some hotels feature water parks, beach volleyball, and multiple pools for everyone's enjoyment. There are many excursions that can be purchased - take the family to stunning waterfalls, rainforests and mineral baths. Don't forget a stop at the "world's only drive in volcano" located in Soufriere - and have a mud bath!

Rodney Bay is located in northwest St. Lucia and probably the most active city on the island. During the day, the gorgeous beach of Rodney Bay makes any St. Lucia experience memorable and is the perfect location to experience nightlife and multiple restaurants, cafes, shops, night clubs and even a casino. Every Friday night, Gros Islet comes alive with dancing, seafood and Caribbean music in what is called "jump in".
Love spas? The Soufriere Volcano  supplies mineral rich mud and steam baths unique to the island. Resort spas use these natural resources in some of the most sophisticated spa treatments in the world.
St. Lucia is also the perfect place for a destination wedding - there is no residency period and you can apply for a marriage license two days before the date of marriage (most resorts suggest arriving three to four days before your wedding date to complete final paperwork and get your marriage license). Your guests will be thrilled to attend a destination wedding on such a diverse island.
So what's not to like? We are St. Lucia Specialists and can provide the right resort for you based on your wants and needs. Contact us for more information. 516-608-0568


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Westin Waterfront Hotel Boston Review

While not exactly waterfront, if you are given the right room you can have a view of the water. But wonderful is the word for the Westin Waterfront Hotel in Boston. Located about a half mile  from the South train station and right next to the convention center, you notice the Westin difference as soon as you enter.
Check in was a breeze at the individual check in stations at the time we checked in but that wasn't always the case. Several times while in the lobby we noted long check in lines with one or two people performing check in. At one point, we saw four employees at the desks with three people waiting on line and suddenly three  staff members went behind an office door leaving one person doing check in, and the line quickly built up. 

Staff was warm and welcoming. Our room was 859 with a view of the hotel roof and a sliver of the waterfront. There were two queen sized beds, a flat screen t.v.,  refrigerator in the credenza (empty, perfect to store your bottled water) safe and three drawers. A desk, chair and small table were near the window.

There was an extremely small closet and good sized bathroom. The shower had a rainshower head. Bathroom amenities include shampoo and separate conditioner (yeah!), soap and body lotion. A hairdryer is in the room. The room was very clean. There is a coffee maker in each room, but we had to ask for creamer.

Westin Hotels  feature the Heavenly Bed system, and that is an apt description. The bed felt like a cocoon, and I woke without the usual backache from a new bed. There is a pillow menu as well. Take advantage of this - I didn't and woke up with a stiff neck from overly high pillows.

Internet service is $12.95 per day in the room, free in the lobby. Breakfast buffet in Sauciety Restaurant (open for breakfast and lunch) was $21. 

M.J. O'Connors was one of the  restaurants inside the hotel, which features an Irish type menu. If you sit at the bar or at one of the outdoor tables, you can order from the $7 bar menu. On the menu was excellent ribs (3), fried mac and cheese bites (5), olive sampler or pretzels with a chipotle sauce (3 long soft pretzels). There was also City Bar in the lobby that had a small menu of bar food. A comedy club is expected to open within the next month or so.

There is also a gift shop, Starbucks,pool and gym.  The pool is indoors and the room was oppressively hot so we didn't use the pool or hot tub although we wanted to.

We were at a conference and the conference rooms were very large. Most are windowless thus very dark inside. The rooms were were also cold so bring a jacket.

Unless you are going to The Boston Convention Center for a convention, the location of the hotel is not ideal. There is no place to eat in the immediate area besides the hotel restaurants and you are trapped with their high prices. After two days, an employee gave me a hint about a Greek deli that was in the building across the street and had great sandwiches for half the price of M Donahue's and Starbucks and the sandwich was ready in two minutes.Otherwise it was a long walk over the D Street bridge to the waterfront for restaurants, a 7-11 and Dunkin Donuts.  One night there were fireworks on the Harbor and I was able to enjoy them from inside my room.

The Aquarium and Fanuel Hall are walkable from the hotel over bridges and up Atlantic Ave.  It is a little over a mile, longer if you walk the waterfront path through condo and hotel yards. 

The area is being built up with planned apartments and condos so hopefully in the next few years there will be more restaurants and amenities in the area. The hotel is a beautiful one with great staff and can be so much more if there were more things to go in the immediate area.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Don't Speak The Language? Don't Be Afraid To Go

Have you put off a dream vacation to Europe because you can’t speak the native language of the country you are interested in going to? Many people state this as a number one hindrance to booking a vacation to Europe. Yet it doesn’t need to be a show stopper – there are some basic things you can do that will help you along the way.

 In many European countries, the “young” folk speak some English and tour directors and hotel employees are often fluent in English. Many menus have the choices printed in the native language and English. But with the advent of smart phones, there are many ways to overcome the language difference if you do a little studying beforehand. In most countries, the locals appreciate it if you try to speak in their native language. Learn the words for hello, good-bye, please, thank you, pardon me. If you took a language in high school yet haven’t spoken it in 30 years you will be surprised at how it may come back to you in order to speak basic sentences.

 Buy a small dictionary or a phrase book with some common phrases. It is very easy to pull out your book and point to the words you want to say. Do some studying on the culture of the country or city you are visiting. Before visiting France, we read horror stories of people who felt the French turn their nose at Americans and refused to help if they had a problem. I did not find that at all. Because I took French in school, I made sure to say “Bonjour, Madame or Monsieur” and ended every conversation with “Merci” and “ Au Revoir” (thank you and goodbye). In Italy, “Buon giorno” (good morning) was my greeting to our hotel manager each morning, “Buona Sera” at night (good night), “"Come sta?" (how are you) “Grazie” (thank you). If you try to speak a few words you will find the natives appreciate it.

Your smart phone is your friend. Make sure you have internet access when traveling and download a free translator app on your phone. Google Translate, IHandy Translator, Translate Voice Free are a few of the best rated translator apps. You can type in what you want to say and it will translate it – hand it to the person you want to speak to so they can read what you want to say.

Book tours. Your travel agent can book tours for you before you leave and ensure that the tour guides speak English. Most tour guides are younger and speak very clear English and they will be delighted to share their native language skills with you as well. In Italy, I only had one instance of meeting someone who did not speak any English (or didn’t let on they did) when purchasing a train ticket. I needed to get to a certain stop and had to hand the girl the name of the place I needed to get to. She gave me my ticket and attempted to tell me where I could find the line I needed to get on, but I felt lost when she told me where to go. I arrived very early to try and figure out the train station. I was able to find the line I needed and found a policeman who pointed me to the line I needed to get to and I ended up getting to where I needed. We never spoke, I pointed to the stop and he pointed the way and the announcements on the train allowed me to figure out where to get off. When I got off, I was totally lost and simply stopped people along the way asking “Per favor”(please), told them what I was looking for and they happily pointed the way.

 Don’t fear the unknown. Embrace it, prepare for it and you will have a great time. It is very rare that you will find yourself somewhere that no one speaks English, but politeness on your part will go a long way to help you in a foreign country.