Category Archives: Caribbean

Adventures in Airbnb

I tried Airbnb for the first time to book a place to stay for our two days in St. Maarten before our cruise. I wanted to book a whole condo/house, not just a room, and the app made the process fairly simple. Like most service businesses, there are traps for the unwary and I fell into a few with this booking. My first choice did not have availability, so I went to the second one. There were two reviews for the townhouse that were fairly good and I went ahead and booked it because we were leaving the next day. What I did not realize was that the owner also rented just rooms in the townhouse through Airbnb and if I had seen the reviews for the room rental, I would definitely have not rented the house. I had assumed that since I was renting the whole house, it would be more like a vacation rental but the owner kept his own clothes, personal possessions, and food in the house and there were no paper products like toilet paper. Also, the reviews for the room rental made clear that cleanliness was not a priority for the owner even though the cost of the rental included a cleaning fee. We found dirty glasses with ashes and some unidentifiable stuff in the sink, the sheets were stained, and I’m not sure when the last time the floors were cleaned. The house is up a very steep hill that was an 8 story hike. We had several taxi drivers refuse to drive us up the hill. The one thing going for the rental was the wonderful views of Simpson Bay from the townhouse’s rooftop deck.

Sweeping view of Simpson Bay.
Sweeping view of Simpson Bay.

Based on this experience, I’m not sure that I would use Airbnb again. The lack of real oversight and control makes the process a bit of a crap shoot. For the prices some of these places were charging including the one I booked, there are other avenues to book nice places with some assurances of what you are getting.

Unexpected trip to the Caribbean

My friend and I had planned a trip to Central America that included a cruise through the Panama Canal and up the western coast of Costa Rica.  I was really looking forward to this vacation because I’ve never been to Central America and I really needed a nice break.  Unfortunately, the cruise ship ran aground a week before we were supposed to leave and the company canceled our cruise.  We found this out two days before we were supposed to leave for Panama.  Needless to say, it was a mad scramble to cancel our flights and hotel and to rebook another itinerary.  I thought about trying a land trip to Panama and Costa Rica but it was too hard to make the necessary travel arrangements in one day.  We decided instead to take up the cruise company’s offer to rebook on another cruise in the Caribbean leaving at the same time as our original cruise.

The cruise ship will be leaving out of Phillipsburg, St. Maarten and we flew to the island a couple of days early to explore it more fully than when I was here a couple of years ago.  Now I have 2 days to see more of St. Maarten.

Pappardelle w/lamb chunks
Pappardelle w/lamb chunks

We had to take a really early morning flight and knew that we were in no shape to participate fully in the NYE celebrations. We had an early dinner at IZI, an Italian restaurant in Simpson Bay. The food was wonderful especially the homemade pasta. The chef got in the NYE spirit by adding his own embellishment to each dish. Excellent way to end 2015.

3 Islands, 28 Hours, and Unexpected Miami Bonus

I’ve been lazy in posting to this blog and my brother’s blog of his cross country car trip inspired me to continue with mine.  So here we go…

I let my friend, MM, convince me to take a quick weekend trip to the Caribbean.  Ok, I admit it – did not take much arm twisting.  The ambitious plan was fly to St. Maarten on Friday morning, take a ferry to Anguilla on Friday afternoon and return to St. Maarten in the early evening.  Go to St. Barths for the day on Saturday and then return to St. Maarten in the evening.  Spend Sunday morning in St. Maarten before heading home on Sunday afternoon.  The trip did not go as planned- the pace was even more frenetic.

Years ago, I took a bus from Oxford to London.  A few minutes after the bus pulled out of Oxford I needed to pee.  The bus did not have a functioning bathroom but I thought I could hold it since it was 1.5 hours away. Then we hit rush hour traffic and the trip turned into a 3.5 hour ordeal.  That trip traumatized me so much that I avoided intercity buses since then.  But, in the spirit of adventure, I overcame this trauma to take an intercity bus to NYC to take a flight from JFK to St. Maarten.  While I survived, I don’t think I’ll repeat the experience anytime soon.

After a routine flight to St. Maarten, we checked into the Beach Plaza hotel in Marigot on the French side.  Because of some hiccups at the hotel (note to self – listen to TripAdvisors), we got a late start to Anguilla.  The ferry ride was bumpy but short, thank goodness.   A very friendly taxi driver drove us to the famous Blanchard Beach Shack on Meads Bay and was willing to wait to drive us back to the ferry when we were done.  Can’t beat that friendly island service. The food was delicious but I think almost anything would have been delicious given that a) nothing beats the ambience of a beautiful and nearly deserted crescent-shaped beach; and 2) I was starving.  Alas, we were able to stay only about an hour before we had to head back to ferry.  It’s such a small island that I think everybody knows each other – our taxi driver pointed out when we passed the owner of Blanchard’s on the road.

Ordering at Blanchard's Beach Shack
Ordering at Blanchard’s Beach Shack
Eating on the beach in front of Blanchard's
Eating on the beach in front of Blanchard’s

The overnight bus ride to JFK and the mad dash to and from Anguilla caught up to us (well, me at least) and we ended up crashing at 9:00.  So I can’t report back on the night life of St. Maartens but I’m sure it’s lively and fun based on the locals we met.

It was a good thing I went to sleep so early since MM wanted to take the 7:15 am ferry to St. Barths.  After sorting out another mix-up over our ferry reservation by the hotel’s concierge, we boarded the ferry – it’s the “nicer” one and shows an in-cruise movie.  We got to watch 30 minutes of “Love & Basketball” before docking at Gustavia, St. Barths.

Since we were catching the 10:30 am ferry back to St. Maartens, we hurried to St. Jean Bay to have breakfast followed by a quick walk through Gustavia’s waterfront for some souvenir shopping.  I had hoped that the ferry back would show the ending to “Love & Basketball” but instead it showed the same 30 minutes – I guess they figured that no one taking the 7:15 ferry would actually take the 10:30 ferry back.  I need to see whether it’s on Amazon Prime so I can find out who won the one-on-one.

Boats docked at Gustavia
Boats docked at Gustavia
Luxury yacht leaving St. Barths.  Wonder if anyone famous on board.
Luxury yacht leaving St. Barths. Wonder if anyone famous on board.

When we arrived back in St. Maartens, MM was concerned about whether we would be able to get back home the next day given the flight situation.  So we made a game-time decision to catch a connecting flight through Miami that night.  We theoretically had 3 hours to connect in Miami.  However, there was an over 2 hour delay because the aircraft had mechanical problems, and then the St. Maarten airport closed to allow a rain squall to pass by, and then we had to wait at the Miami airport tarmac for another plane to leave the gate, and then I was stuck behind a slow moving woman and her children.  MM and I booked it through immigration, custom, and TSA screening to the gate and…we missed the flight by 1 minute, literally.  And it turns out that the flight left 5 minutes early.  So we got to spend the night in Miami but we managed to get on the first flight out the next morning.

Now, would I do this again? No but I do not regret doing this trip this time around.  Not many people can say that they visited 3 Caribbean islands and overnight in Miami in less than 48 hours.  Final thoughts, St. Maarten, Anguilla, and St. Barths are wonderful islands that I will likely visit again at a more leisurely pace.