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Trip Report St. Kitts, the Green Flash and Cruise Ships, Oh My! Or, how ejcrowe spent her Thanksgiving vacation

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My husband and I planned a somewhat last minute trip on a strict budget for 5 nights over the Thanksgiving holiday. We tried various ways to use airline miles in order to maximize our dollars, but nothing was available. Figuring we would have to sacrifice our usual vacation style, we found a very reasonably priced AI package through AA Vacations to Sugar Bay Club on St. Kitts that was the same price as the airfare alone.

Flights – We were booked in a fare class that was eligible for FF miles, plus we earned bonus miles for booking online. Yay! We connected in Miami outward bound and in San Juan homeward bound. All flights were extremely bumpy and I confess there were a few moments when my heart felt like it had stopped. It was the first time I had experienced extreme, sustained turbulence like that. Several people actually screamed, and at least one person was sick from it. Not just one leg of the journey, but on every leg save the one between SKB and SJU. Quite unreal, actually.

Sugar Bay Club – Run by the Elite Island Resorts company, this 100-room resort is located along the Atlantic coast of North Frigate Bay. The resort was far from full, and most of the guests during our stay were British couples, with a few families and singles thrown in. Despite the large number of rooms (we prefer our hotels in the 25-or-fewer-rooms category), the resort did seem fairly compact and blessedly quiet. Our Garden View room was clean and sufficient—a decent size with king bed, balcony, a/c, tv, separate bathroom with tub & shower, sitting area with table & chairs, and a small fridge. Tile floors, tropical print bedspread & curtains, watercolor reproductions on the walls. In other words, fairly typical of a moderately-priced mid-range resort. The standards of housekeeping were high in terms of cleanliness, but on our first day we had no towels in the room except for two wash cloths. A call to the front desk quickly remedied the situation, and we got new towels every day, but we never saw any more washcloths again. I have no doubt that a call would have brought us more washcloths than we could possibly use, and we weren’t too fussed about it, but that’s the sort of small detail that was frequently overlooked during our stay. Other minor negatives would include the absolutely ineffectual hair dryer in the bathroom, no ceiling fan, and no option to have a breeze-cooled room. The windows and sliding doors had no screens and the building was situated to catch any breezes anyway.

Most of our staff interactions were with the bartenders and the waitstaff, and we found them all to be pleasant and good-humored. In fact, I’d say that the staff members were what we liked best about the Sugar Bay Club.

All meals were served buffet-style, which I do not particularly care for. We ate all breakfasts on site and a few dinners, but the rest of the time we were off exploring. The food was mostly bland or otherwise inoffensive, with a few items throughout the week standing out as being pretty good, and these turned out to be more local fare such as pumpkin fritters, jerk pork, and rice & peas. Dessert was usually a choice of two different plain cakes, and I never tried to seek the “secret ice cream” that other reviewers have mentioned.

There are a few other niggling things I should probably mention, though I imagine that most of these are part & parcel of an AI resort experience at this price point. When we checked in we were given bright yellow wristbands to wear to identify us as being on the AI package. Yuck. After the first two days we took them off and found that nobody cared. We also had to sign for beach towels and could only take out one per person at a time, which is not a big hassle admittedly, but we didn’t like it. There was also a dress code for all public areas after 6:00 pm, which we found a little pretentious for the setting. Again, we are not in the anti-long pants camp, but I do feel that there is a time and a place for that kind of restriction, and in my opinion Sugar Bay Club is not it. All of this sounds like it might add up to a not-so-good time, but that’s not the case at all. We found ourselves growing to like much of the Sugar Bay Club, and I can’t argue with the fantastic value it gave us. I would go there again if I were working with the same budget and timeline parameters in the future, but overall the large resort experience is not my preferred vacation style.

MARRIOTT – Speaking of the large resort experience…we went here our first day because DH forgot to bring any swimtrunks with him. And I confess I was curious to see the place up close. It’s just up the road from Sugar Bay, so we made our way there because we just knew there would be a place to buy a pair of trunks there. Well, it’s huge, impersonal, and really out of place on the island. Its size alone makes it quite monstrous. Walking through the open-air, yet air conditioned, lobby and gazing up to the top of the four story atrium is quite jaw-dropping. It does have an undeniable sense of luxury, albeit a generic luxury. I think children in particular would find the resort enchanting (there’s a half-scale model of Columbus’ boat, La Nina for starters), but oddly enough it’s not the sort of place where I’d feel comfortable letting children wander about on their own.

BEACHES – On our first full day we picked up a rental car and then headed to Frigate Bay for the day. This is a fairly long stretch of sand just opposite Sugar Bay where the Timothy Beach Resort is located. We paid US $10 for two padded chaises longues and an umbrella and set ourselves up for several hours of swimming, reading, and people watching. There was a cruise ship in port (though it looked huge, we were told it was one of the smaller ones), so it provided plenty of fodder for our entertainment. The beach was dark sand with no natural shade along it, which is a big negative in our book. However, there were lots of congenial beach bars set up along that stretch, which balanced that out. One of the reasons I had resigned myself to a travel package was that I was eager to explore St. Kitts, a less touristy destination according to my reading. Unfortunately, with a cruise ship in port every single day, we didn’t get much of that off the beaten path feel. We spent about 8 hours at Frigate Bay over two different days and each time the umbrellas & chairs were cheek-by-jowl.

The afternoon after our island circumnavigation we made our way to Turtle Bay beach, home of Wilbur the Pig and many monkeys. The beach was very narrow and lined with probably 100 beach chairs and some nasty looking seaweed and debris. Beach chairs here are complimentary with a drink from the bar, so we spent a couple of hours here reading and taking pictures of Wilbur. I had my first BBC drink here and the only word for it is fabulous. Unfortunately, despite an application of Off!, the sand fleas were too much of a pest and we left earlier than we had planned.

We were more successful with Friars Beach one day, where we parked in front of one of the beach bars. I’m kicking myself now for not remembering the name of the place, but it was too bars down from Shipwreck (which was packed to the gills!). Chairs and umbrellas were complimentary with a bar tab and there were very few tourists around, so we felt like we struck gold. Even the snorkeling here was pretty good, much better than what I was expecting from my reading. We spent the whole day there, with one of the guys from the bar offering to go pick up a lunch and deliver it to us. Well, who could argue with that?

One morning we divided our time between Majors Bay and Cockleshell Bay on the tip of the southern peninsula, both with gorgeous views of Nevis. Majors Bay was breathtakingly pretty, the first truly beautiful beach we had seen. Both the sand and the water were lighter in color and it was a perfect cove for swimming. There was also some sort of barge in the water there—I didn’t take my snorkel gear with me, but I suspect there might have been some decent snorkeling around it—and a handful of kids were using it for making cannonballs into the water. We didn’t stay long there because there was not one spot of shade.

Cockleshell was also gorgeous, and with a handful of tall palms there we were able to secure the shade we were craving. Someone on TripAdvisor had recommended eating at Lion’s Bar there, but we waited for about two hours and it never opened. If it had, we would have stayed there for the rest of the day. The water was gorgeous and the snorkeling was pretty good.

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