Trip Coach: Nov. 29, 2005

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Joan Tapper answered your questions on the Caribbean

Joan Tapper: Hi, I'm Joan Tapper, the author of Island Dreams, Caribbean, and it's nice to be here with you today.Thanks for joining me. I'm ready to answer your questions.

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Olympia, Washington: Can you tell me what kind of hurricane damage was done to the Maya Riviera? I've heard that Cancun sustained significant damage. But how about the east coast of the Yucatan? Is lodging readily availabe?

Joan Tapper: Hello, Olympia, I haven't been to the Yucatan myself since the hurricane, but as you probably know, Cancun was harder hit than the Riviera Maya area to the south. From what I've read, in the Riviera Maya, between 67 and 70% of the hotel rooms are available. In Cancun's hotel zone about half of the 21,000 rooms are expected to be opened around December 20.


Although the rooms are being refurbished and reopened, however, you may still find it difficult to find flights or reasonable seats.
The Riviera Maya Tourist Board has an informational website with an online reservation system for the whole area: 10gatesrivieramaya.com

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Eudora, KS: We will be on a Caribbean cruise in January with stops at Montego Bay Jamaica, Cozumel Mexico and Grand Caymans. Are their any things that are especially great deals for souveniers or keepsakes in any of these places?

Joan Tapper: Hi, Eudora, Kansas, I'm a big fan of looking for food and music items on any island. In Jamaica, that could mean hot sauce, coffee, and reggae recordings.

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Northfield, Ohio: Our family (3 kids 17, 15 & 9) has enjoyed two trips to the Caribbean-Moorings sailboat in the British Virgin Islands & Maho Bay (St. John) + Frenchman's Reef (St. Thomas) We would like to take the kids on a 3rd great trip this year from March 26 to April 1 since our oldest leaves for college in August. I am considering an all inclusive this time and was wondering what you would recommend for the 5 of us? We could fly out of either Akron/Canton or Cleveland? I was hoping to get this all organized and give it as the "big" family gift this Christmas. Thanks!

Joan Tapper:
Hello, Northfield, Ohio, since you enjoyed your Moorings adventure, you might look into the Bitter End Yacht Club, an all-inclusive at North Sound on Virgin Gorda, one of the British Virgin Islands. It particularly caters to sailors and other water sports aficionados. You could get there through St. Thomas or from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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St. Louis, Mo: Years ago, I liked to take winter vacations to Puerto Rico which I enjoyed. Now, thirty something years later I would like to take my wife there. Friends tell me that it is too dangerous. Is this true? Has it changed that much in thirty something years where we would not enjoy it?
Bob

Joan Tapper: Hello, St. Louis, I think Puerto Rico is a wonderful destination, and you'd undoubtedly see a lot of renovation and refurbishing in the Old San Juan area, which is now full of cafes and restaurants and beautifully restored colonial architecture. There are both fancy and fun hotels along the beach in San Juan. And if you want to drive around the island, check out the surfer's town of Rincon in the west. It has a low-key atmosphere that's also fun.

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New York, NY: I'm planning on visiting Trinidad and Tobago next June. Do you have recommendations on what to do? Will it be unbearably hot?

Joan Tapper: Hi, New York, let me start with the weather; you can probably expect in the 80s during the day, a bit cooler at night. Tobago will feel cooler than Trinidad because it gets more winds. June is the beginning of the wet season, which runs till September. The islands are usually south of the path of hurricanes, however.
In Trinidad, be sure to tour the Queen's Park Savannah, a park area in Port of Spain bordered by some wonderful 19th-century buildings. Also be sure to visit the Asa Wright Nature Center in the Arima Valley, outside the city. Trinidad is a major birders' destination and the nature center there is a fabulous place to see hummingbirds, among the island's hundreds of other species.
Tobago is smaller and more laid back. The roads are slow, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to tour, especially if you are driving to the north part of the island. Tobago is ringed by beaches -- Pigeon Point, Mount Irvine Beach, Turtle Beach, Englishman's Bay, Parlatuvier Bay -- take your choice. There are lots of waterfall hikes, as well. The island also has wonderful diving and snorkeling. Buccoo Reef has a longtime reputation, but I think the reefs near Speyside in the north are far more pristine; there's good birdwatching up there, too.
If you're in the mood for local cuisine, sample curry crab and dumplings.

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Paradise, CA: As a Caribbean island vacation destination, how does
Guadaloupe stack up against the more popular and highly
advertised islands?

Joan Tapper: Hello Paradise, You can always recognize Guadeloupe on the map; it's the one that's shaped like a butterfly. You're right, it's less well known than a lot of other islands, and there aren't as many flights from the States. But it's a wonderful place to explore. There is a rain forest, a national park around an old volcano and lots of beaches, many of which have terrific open air restaurants near the water. Often they're simple, but the island is part of France and the cuisine blends French and creole cooking. Because it is French, the currency is the Euro, and the exchange rate affects prices. It may be helpful to be able to speak a little French, too.


One of the other fun things about Guadeloupe is that there are a couple of tiny islands off the south coast that are great for day trips (or longer). One of them, Terre de Haut (one of the Iles des Saintes), is one of my favorite places in the Caribbean. It's tiny but special.

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Arlington, VA: Where to go over Spring Break? Single mom who wants some local color and good food; 7 yr old boy who just wants to dig in the sand and play in the pool and ocean. Max $2500- air and hotel. Just returned from Jamaica, Riu Tropical Bay. Beautiful beach, mediocre food, horrible service, nothing to do. Thanks.

Joan Tapper: Hi, Arlington, Spring break is a peak travel time and it still falls within the Caribbean high season, so that will affect the prices. That said, here are a couple of islands to think about. You might explore St. Lucia, which has a lot of Creole flavor, excellent food, and good beaches in the Rodney Bay area.
There is also St. Martin-- which is half Dutch and half French. There are wonderful beaches on both sides. As for the food, there's a whole town on the French side, Grande Case, that is nothing but restaurants. St. Martin is very developed, however, and it can be busy and crowded at that time of year.

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Milwaukee WI: Hi Joan! My husband and I, both 47, are flying to Jamaica for the first time Saturday. We are staying in a villa near Duncans for a week.
Which daytrips would you recommend, and what should we skip?
Thanks,
Dana

Joan Tapper: Hello, Milwaukee, Duncans is about halfway between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, along the north coast, which is very lively and full of things to do.


Rafting the Martha Brae River, just to the west of Duncans would be a pleasant experience. And Dunn's River Falls, near Ocho Rios is really a lot of fun. It can get extremely crowded, however, so try to avoid cruise ship days. Also in the same area is a wonderful art gallery/lunch place called Harmony Hall.
Beyond Ocho Rios, if you're a theater fan, is Firefly, which belonged to Noel Coward and which has a wonderful view up the coast.
Be aware that driving along the north coast road (on the left, don't forget) can be trying. You may want to hire a driver.

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Fairfax, VA: My brother keeps saying he wants to pack up and move to Antigua. He has never been there and knows nothing about the place. He currently lives in Virginia but grew up in Florida. What can you tell me about Antigua? Thanks

Joan Tapper: Hello, Fairfax, Antigua is a very interesting island for both history and beaches. It has an English heritage and a long tradition of tourism, particularly for the British but now increasingly for Americans.

The capital, St. John, is very low key. What everyone remembers about the island, though, is that Antiguans claim there are 365 beaches (with lovely white sand and gorgeous water). So that should keep your brother busy for a year just exploring them.

Antigua is also famous as a sailor's destination. It was a main port for the British navy centuries ago. Today, on the south coast is English Harbour, which is the site of a world-famous sailing regatta, Antigua Sailing Week, every spring. Also nearby is a national park called Nelson's Dockyard, which is a recreated working Georgian dockyard.


Before your brother moves, however, he might want to try visiting...

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Bend, OR: My three sisters and I are trying to plan a family reunion trip with something for everyone. Between my parents and the girls, we will have 10 adults, 5 children under the age of 12 and 2 infants, everyone with a wide variety of interests. We are each on a budget, and are searching for an affordable family retreat at the end of June 2006 after the kids get out of school on the 17th. We will have families coming from Orange County, CA, Bend, OR, Lafayette, IN, Galesburg, IL and Springfield, VA. We are considering the Caribbean, Las Vegas or Hawaii, or possibly even a cruise. Any suggestions?

Joan Tapper: Hi, Bend, since this is a family reunion, a cruise would be a good opportunity not to have to worry about lots of logistical details, particularly with so many ages and interests to consider. Given where you're all coming from, and the time of year, you might consider a cruise along the Pacific coast of Mexico.

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Falkville, Alabama: What island has direct flights from atlanta or charlotte, has small intimate hotels, on the beach, popular with Europeans, safety is also important.

Joan Tapper: Hi, Falkville, have you looked into the Turks & Caicos? There are direct flights from both Atlanta and Charlotte, some quite lovely hotels right on Grace Bay Beach and it's a fairly international destination. It's also quite safe, and the sand and water are spectacular.

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Chicago, IL.: Looking for a multi generational family trip for late June of
'06 for about a week leaving from Chicago. One 80 year old active couple, two couples in their 50's and a child of 12. Some of us like golf, sailing, scuba diving, animals and travel to interesting places. We'd like some supervised activities for the child so that the rest of the family can do thing on their own. We'd like to be together at least for breakfast and dinner. Cost is somewhat of an issue. Can you please make some suggestions for locations, tour and /or facilities? A cruise won't do as some of us get sea sick very easily.

Joan Tapper: Hello Chicago, you might consider a trip to the Dominican Republic, which is very large and has several resort areas, the Amber Coast in the north, Punta Cana in the east, and Santo Domingo, the capital itself. There are some world-class golf courses, the landscape of the island is extremely varied, and an all-inclusive might alleviate some of the logistics of catering to people of different ages and interests.

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West Des Moines, Iowa: I would like to take my family of 4 (Mom, Dad and 9-year old twins) on a 1 week Caribbean vacation in March. Right now I am leaning toward Jamaica because I have been there before but I am open to any suggestions. Ideas?

Joan Tapper: Hello, West Des Moines, there are soooooo many choices. The thing I love about the Caribbean is the great variety of landscape, culture, food, language...you name it.

If you do want to try something different, low key and quiet, say, there are the Out Islands of the Bahamas. Puerto Rico has a wonderful, historic city in Old San Juan and terrific beaches. It's the United States with a Spanish accent.
St. Martin is half- French and half-Dutch with beautiful beaches and lots of places to stay.

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Joan Tapper: Thanks for all your questions. It's been fun chatting with you.
Joan

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