Hurricane damaged Caribbean Update – Spring 2018

Sailing out of Phillipsburg, St. Maarten March 2018

My wife and I led a group of 150 travelers to the Caribbean in March on the Celebrity Reflection. We stopped in Barbados, Antigua, St. Lucia and St. Maarten. We wanted to give you a short update on what we found. There is always confusion about the Caribbean and hurricanes. The media will tell you when they hit and will show the damage, but sometimes the viewer is left with the impression that everything is destroyed. This is never the case with the Caribbean. First of all the region is very large and while hurricanes are large as well, they never cover the whole Caribbean. Secondly, the damage inflicted varies by the strength of the storm  and the water damage. So for our 4 ports, the islands of Barbados and St. Lucia were spared the severe wrath of both hurricane Irma and Maria. Even though Barbados has not had a hurricane since 1955, the tourism fell off for this season because people thought there was damage here. I can personally report that all of the tours, restaurants and shops on both St. Lucia and Barbados are running normally as they would during the tourist season.

Antigua was hit with fairly high winds from Irma but the resilient people were able to put their island back in shape in a very short time. Their sister island Barbuda was not so lucky. The full brunt of Irma hit Barbuda, and it devastated that island. The people have been temporarily relocated to Antigua until Barbuda is habitable again. For the cruise tourists, the activities on Antigua as well as the shops and restaurants for the most part are completely open.

Of the four ports, the island of St. Maarten/Ste. Martin is the one that sustained the most damage and is still working on recovery of the island’s infrastructure, buildings and tourist offerings. One of my favorite tours, the America’s Cup sailing race has had to be relocated to Cozumel for the season. Other tours were working. We took a wonderful tour of the western side of the island on a catamaran. It was missing its mast, but the boat could still navigate under engine power and we were able to visit Maho Beach and view the planes coming in for a landing. And we motored past Maho village and beach to the French side.

In Phillipsburg, we were able to find many restaurants and shops that were open. Based on our estimate, about 50% of the buildings were occupied and running. Some of those had damaged roofs but were still able to run as businesses. We had a wonderful lunch at the Holland House Hotel, right on the beach. We could see that many rooms were still under renovation, but both the Horizon and Holland House were accepting reservations. Most of the larger resorts were closed still and undergoing major renovations.

The people of the Caribbean are resilient. This is not their first hurricane season!. It will not be their last. But they have a strong spirit and will rebuild when needed so that they can continue to operate in their island paradise. We were thanked time and time again for coming back so soon after the hurricanes. They desperately need the money as tourism is the number one source of foreign funds for these countries. So, as cruisers, do come back, and spend some money! For the landlubbers who wish to stay at resorts, check with your travel agent for the condition of your hotel you wish to stay at.

Sandals Negril Jamaica. Bliss for Couples.

Revised from original November 2014 article and posted again in October 2017.
I have been coming to Jamaica for 39 years but it has been 33 years since I last visited Negril. Ah, Negril, why did I wait so long? I am sitting on the spectacular seven mile beach with Bloody Bay just off to my right by less than a half mile, as I was writing this (in 2014).
I am at the all inclusive Sandals Negril resort. Does working get any better than this? As I write, a server is bringing me my drink from the bar which is only steps away. The dive boat and snorkeling boat go out four times daily to the azure waters of Negril.
The restaurants include a Japanese Teppanyaki, Italian, and Seafood restaurants. The food was quite good, and the service is up to the usual standards of Jamaica. Tourism is the number one business on this former British colony, and the Jamaicans keep us coming back with their friendly attitude.
What I like about all inclusives like Sandals is the complete lack of needing to fork over my money or credit card every moment.. Yes even the booze is free unless you want an expensive wine.
The specialty restaurants are not extra charge like they are on many cruise ships these days. That means no big surprise when you get your bill at the end of your vacation.
This adults only resort caters to the wedding and honeymoon crowd. There were several weddings on the beach while we were there. You can have a romantic dinner for two or massage for two right on the beach. And the top rooms come with your own butler service. The couples ranged in age fro the 20s to the 70s while we were there.
There are three Sandals on Jamaica. Negril, Montego Bay and just outside Ocho Rios. There are exchange privileges at the other resorts.
The owner, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, wanted to bring the Sandals experience to the families of kids, and hence Beaches was born. We visited Beaches Negril one of the days while we were here. Families with kids of any age will find there is plenty of fun at Beaches The Sandals residents have the privileges at any of the Beaches or Sandals properties on Jamaica if they so choose.

While Sandals is a great all-inclusive place to stay while in Jamaica, don’t spend all of your time there. Get out and see this wonderful Caribbean country. Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean and it is incredibly diverse. Negril is located on the western part of the island of Jamaica. Its about an hours drive from Montego Bay. Negril is home to the famous Rick’s Cafe, which is one of the best places to watch the sunset while drinking the local beer, Red Stripe. We chose to take a party catamaran trip over to Rick’s from Sandals, and swam in from the sailboat. Of course, you can take a taxi if you prefer to stay dry. There is a cliff here, and visitors take turns diving off the cliff into the Caribbean sea below. For the insanely adventurists, you can climb a pole and dive from an even greater height. Here is what that looks like … Diving at Ricks.

There is so much to do in Jamaica, you’ll have difficulty making that decision. My personal recommendations are: Rainforest Zip line at Mystic Mountain, The Blue Hole and Secret Falls, Rafting on the Martha Brae river, climbing Dunns River Falls, golfing at one of the 12 championship courses, beach activities, shopping in the craft markets and horseback riding.

Sandals continues to grow the number of resorts it has and the travelers it serves due to their unrelenting focus on delivering a great, upscale experience. They presently have 16 Sandals, and 3 Beaches properties located among seven Caribbean Islands. Under Adam Stewart, CEO and son of founder Butch Stewart, the company is the largest employer in the Caribbean with over 13,000 employees. For those who want an upscale all inclusive beach resort in the Caribbean, we heartily recommend any of the Sandal’s properties. Some even have OVER WATER accommodations! Those sell out early, so keep that in mind when booking.

Getting There: Connecting flights from MSP to Montego Bay, Jamaica are offered by Delta, Sun Country, United, Air Canada, and American. You can arrange for transport to the resort from the airport in advance. Best time to travel to Negril is December through May.

You may want to avoid the June to November time period when you could encounter a hurricane or tropical storm, but at that time you can get a great bargain on your vacation. Getting there from Minneapolis is easy. There are non stops from MSP and connecting flights via Atlanta, Miami and others to Montego Bay. Traveling from Montego Bay to Negril will take about 75 minutes by van. Although Kingston also has an international airport, but not recommended for travel to Montego Bay or Negril. There is a new tollway that opened recently and now traveling to Ocho Rios from Kingston is only 30 minutes longer than Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, making that airport an option for some. Tired of searching all the reviews and web sites to find your perfect vacation? Let the experts at Schilling travel help you. Call 612-332-1100, check out www.schillingtravel.com or email us at inquiry @ schillingtravel.com.