We just returned from a fantastic week in Turks & Caicos! In summary, this is probably one of the best island vacations that we've had so far. Grace Bay Beach was simply gorgeous and irresistible. Add on a great villa rental, plus excellent food and drink, with that we have had a memorable vacation in the making. Bravo, TCI, we will be back.
Here’s the link to our photo album on Webshots:
AIR AND TRAVEL
We cashed out some Delta Frequent Flyer miles for the trip in order to save on travel. Flew out of LGA, with a stop over at Atlanta on both trips. May be because we were doing a Saturday-Saturday routine, we found both outbound and return trips quite chaotic. On our outbound flight, the Delta Terminal seemed overwhelmed by early travelers. We were still in line to drop off our bags one hour before take off. In the end they called out those with 6am departures (that's us), and we were able to drop off our bags first.
Flight to Atlanta was fine, as was the connection to Provo. Immigration/customs at PLS was a breeze, no questions asked. Could've brought frozen meat with no problems, which we didn't do this time. Provo airport is small in comparison to other ports of call such as St. Thomas or Nassau. In fact we got pretty backed up with security on our return.
Our car was a Daihatsu Charade, also nicknamed "Sardine Can," was reserved via AVIS online, $270 for the week - a pretty good deal. What's nice about the car is the high MPG - we burn through only 3/4 of the tank after a full week's worth of driving. Pick up was at airport, from a one person AVIS booth. Welcome to the islands! Be aware that depends on whom you rent from, you might be given a right-wheeled vehicle! Strange indeed.
Now as for our return flight, our tardiness had left us missing the mandated cut-off time for check-in. Well, what can we do? So instead of our 1:50pm flight we fly out at 4pm instead. Luckily, there was a later connection between ATL and LGA. Got home may be 90 minutes later than planned. Cost - $300. Those damn fees. I was quite upset that instead of helping us fly standby, the ticket agent was eager to charge us their $150pp change fee. We are over it now. In hindsight, with the opportunity to have lunch at Hemingway’s one last time prior to departure, we thought it was well worth the hassle (don’t tell the wife!). Check out the pictures, and I think you will “get it.”
DRIVING AND ORIENTATION
You can pick up a great map of Provo inside the "Where, When, and How" magazine on the literature shelves. They have the maps at AVIS too, but nevertheless you want to hold on to a copy of the magazine as they have restaurant reviews, calendar of events, and other useful (albeit commercial) information. Pick up a copy of "Discovery" too. Same thing, just a little different.
You drive on the left hand side in Provo, which is not a big deal for us as we had been to places like BVI with similar rules. The monkey wrench might be a right-wheeled vehicle, as I hadn't done it since England in the mid 1990's. Well the sardine can was left wheeled like the cars on Stateside, so no worries. If you rent from a local outfit like Grace Bay rentals, I had seen quite a few right-wheeled cars with their stickers on it.
Otherwise the Provo map in the magazine is detailed and we used it for navigation. As with most islands, street signs are in short supply, but the roundabout and gas station markers are accurate on the map which makes great reference points.
We were able to pick up groceries from the IGA Graceway on our way to the rental on Grace Bay.
RENTAL AND SUPPLIES
Instead of hotels (not our first preference), we had decided to rent the "Cottage" at South Fleetwood (SF).
There was an alternate choice with a rental located on Turtle Cove, that said SF won out because of its central location and honestly a better stretch of beach. Our hosts, Kit and Colin, are transplanted Canadians, and had built the property from scratch and operated it for over 20 years. It may not be the most fanciest of places, but it is well maintained and on really beautiful grounds.
Both Colin and Kit are very nice folk and eager to chat you up if you are around. So is their resident feline, K.C., who really knows how to lime. Our "hut" is one of three options available at SF (they have a studio, and a 2 BR suite). Located right by the pool and away the main building, we had the most privacy, consider that we were the only guests for the week. And Gracy Bay is a 60 second walk away. We highly recommend this place.
As mentioned before, we picked up supplies on the main IGA en route to the rental. This is probably one of the most well-stocked for an island supermarket (second best was on St. John). We were able to get good chicken, steak, and pork chops for our BBQ, and rum/beer/wine all plentiful. A case of Turks Head costs you $40, and rums around $17 for a local brand. We also picked up some whisky in the duty free as well. As for food, I'd say they are at par with prices that we see in New York, so not much sticker shock for us, but of course, prices are on the high side.
In the end we used the jerk seasoning to marinate the chicken and pork. The steak we did so with the Maggie sauce and chili flakes that we brought with us (a recipe passed on to me by a swiss chef). We grilled some corn too.
In the Grace Bay area there's a Graceway IGA Gourmet market, with prepared foods and a smaller but still nice spread of groceries. This one is very close to the rental and popular among the occupants of nearby resorts (including ourselves). From there I picked up some really nice mixed fruit juices from Jamaica, which I used to make rum punches for myself and Peg.
One thing of interest is that we had difficulty finding mosquito coils. Was later told by Kit that the "Do It" hardware store carries them. Do pack extra bug spray, apparently they have above average rainfall which means mosquitos are plentiful.
In essence, two words: GRACE BAY
This stretch of sand is simply gorgeous. And be honest, seeing is believing. Peg and I had been to our fair share of islands, and Grace Bay (GB) has to rank one of our top beaches. The water is blue, sand so soft, and really, not that busy when its busy. After the debacle we had in Curacao with beaches over used and full of debris and trash, GB is a breath of fresh air. Was told by Colin our host that this was not always the case but definitely something the government is working on. We like our morning walks, and in some days we would stroll the beach for shells. While the sand is fine you would be surprised how many intact shells we were able to find.
We find the sight of the beach so mesmerizing that time passes without us recognizing it. When its too hot you can always take a dip in the turquoise waters. The water temperature is simply perfect.
That said, not the entire length of GB is created equal. Farther west, as you get nearer to Turtle Cove like by the Gansevoort, the beach is just not as nice. We found the beach right outside Sands was very nice, with very quiet waters. East of the rental there is a string of developments, including the Grace Bay Club, which is posh. Further down you have the Club Med campus.
We had surveyed other beaches on the island, and we hope the "180" panoramic shot give you a better feel of what they are like. Peg and I are drawn by these two little bays in the Chalk Sound area - Sapodilla and Taylor. Both reminded us of Secret Beach at Vieques, as well as Ten Bay in Eleuthera. Calm waters, super shallow, and barely occupied. If there were 10 people on either at any given moment, we would have considered the beach crowded. The sight was so lovely that Peg went topless (rare for her) for a number of occasions. Well more eye candy for moi!
Sapodilla is reachable off the second left onto a dirt road after you turn on to Chalk Sound Drive. As for Taylor, left turn onto Ocean Point Cl. and the access point is right before the "Ocean Point" sign farther down the road. Be alert because they are both easy to miss.
We had also been to Leeward, Pelican, Long Bay, Cooper Jack, and Blue Bay. While scenic, they were nowhere close to Grace, Sapodilla, and Taylor. We ended up spending all our time on our top three. Peg - lucky her - was able to dig up multiple sand dollars at Taylor.
Our only regret was not having the opportunity to visit Malcolm's road beach. With GB in such proximity we were caught in island mode and decided that it was too much "work" involved with turning in our Sardine Can for a SUV, which is needed to reach the beach. Well, this will be the excuse for our return visit!
FOOD AND DRINK
Be prepared to pay New York prices when you go out, which means it is expensive. $6 for a beer, $12 or more for a cocktail, and $30 - $40 for a dinner entree. That's why we grilled and stayed in the Cottage for a number of nights. Here are some of the places that we had visited, and please check out the plate shots in our album:
Infinity Bar at the Grace Bay Club: Very chic, and you can tell its pricey. Had some apps and a couple of rounds at their black granite bar on our first night. After the drinks we were quite liquored up and went back to the rental for an early night. Conch fritters were so so, but the sea bass sliders were quite good.
Coco Bistro: Romantic setting, dining al fresco under palm trees. The food is solid and they are not afraid to charge you for it. It was a great date night for both Peg and myself. Knowing that they were expensive, I believe they over-delivered by island standards. My grilled shrimp app was well prepared.
Da Conch Shack: Local institution, located by the beach. We had a great lunch there, with a nice breeze on a sunny day. Had conch fritters, chowder, and cracked conch (lightly breaded and fried). Best bowl of chowder that we had in our entire trip. Their trick - spiking it with coconut milk. Portions were good too, and the staff very friendly. You can pick up conch shells on the beach, or to purchase one from the vendors, should you want something cleaned and polished. Simply a great meal.
Las Brisas: it overlooks Chalk Sound, and has an efficient and friendly staff. Don't miss their creole shrimp in plantain cups. Conch fritters were good, and our side of fried yucca was tasty. So so chowder. It was a breezy afternoon when we visited – al fresco can’t get any better.
Hemingway's at the Sands: recommended by Colin, it turns out to be our favorite lunch spot (thus late for our flight). Good fritters, fish and chips and fish tacos. Front row seat to one of the prettiest stretches of Grace Bay, with reggae playing on the resort grounds. Can't get that much more picture perfect, IMHO.
Ganesvoort Beach Bar: had a drink there, quite weak. The menu from Bagatelle was not that impressive. Did not order food there. Likewise at the Tiki Hut - had two rum and cokes, nice view, but menu not special. Kind of reminds me of Pussers on Tortola but definitely not as nice.
We also tried to pick up some fresh fish in Five Cays around 4pm on two different days, but had no luck. We also found the fish guys there not very nice nor helpful.
We signed up for a combo snorkel and conch trip with Silverdeep. We made 3 stops, including Iguana Island, and two places to snorkel. There was much life on the reefs, and saw a lot of coral and fish. At at stop on a beach we picked up our first giant starfish! For 80 bucks, add on the free rum punches, it was good fun for a few hours. What's cool is that the boat actually picks you up directly off the beach.
It was a great time. Since we are beach bums, Grace Bay is truly impressive, and thoroughly enjoyed. The food, while expensive, was good overall, and we balanced by hitting a few choice spots and eating in for certain meals. Crime and safety was not a concern, although there are certainly some rougher parts of the island, especially on our way to Five Cays, and closer to the downtown/airport area. The island is definitely hit by the recession, and we were able to take advantage of more reasonable/discounted rental rates. I am sure our expenditures would be higher if we were to visit during the high season. Otherwise, it was a great time, and simply said, "Sweet!!"
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