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Trip Report Provo trip report, August 13-21

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Hello! I just want to send out big thanks to everyone on this forum who helped me with our decision and things to do, especially Blamona, Kristen, Virginia and KVR. I’m going to post this in sections as I tend to write long trip reports with lots of photos. Hopefully it will help some of you in your future travels.

Day 1 – Saturday, August 13 – PHL to PLS
We left Saturday, August 13 from Philly direct to Provo and everything went smoothly -minus some turbulence on the way down which the kids thought was a roller coaster ride. At least they enjoyed it! I’m pretty sure that Disney couldn’t compare to the airport for my 3 year old son. I’ve never seen him so excited. He ran from window to window pointing out the planes to us. The rest of the trip every plane we saw fly overhead he asked, “Is that our plane?” And upon our return, it’s all he’s talked about –the airport and our plane. Such a boy ;)

Our party consisted of myself, my DH, my 6 yr old daughter Brooke, 3 yr old son Austin, and our friends and their 2 kids (same ages as ours) and our friend’s mom.

The airport and car rental were a breeze. We rented through Grace Bay Car Rentals who were great to work with. It took DH some getting used to driving though with the steering wheel on the right of the car and driving on the left side. The original minivan they gave us had shade coverings on the windows and it was very hard to see out, so we asked if they could provide us with a different vehicle with clear windows, which they brought to our villa later that day at no charge. We thought that was very nice of them.

We drove about 6 minutes to our villa, Crystal Sands on Sapodilla Bay.
We were greeted by the owners who were so kind and great to work with. They showed us around the property, which was beautifully landscaped with a variety of palm trees, flowers, and sculptures. The best part is it’s literally steps from the beautiful Sapodilla bay. Our friends stayed on the top floor and we stayed on the bottom. It’s one building but set up as 2 individual units so they can be rented separately. The top floor has 2 bedrooms each with their own bathroom, and the bottom floor has 2 bedrooms with a small bedroom off of the one with a twin in it, and 2 bathrooms. There is 1 private pool on the property. They informed us that construction had just begun on the property next door, and were very kind to allow us to use the AC to drown out the noise without any additional charge. We were very appreciative of that.

The guys ran out to the closest food store and picked up dinner, and we enjoyed the villa for the rest of the day. The kids loved the pool, which was the perfect size for Austin who was just about swimming by himself. It was small enough that he could push off one side and swim to the other by himself. By the end of the week he was swimming the length of the pool with no problem! And the bigger kids loved jumping in and having us “grade” their creativity of their jumps.

Of course my favorite part was the beach. WOW. It’s about knee deep out for quite some distance so we could relax watching the kids play. They loved it too! The sand was white and very soft, the water crystal clear, and there were at most maybe 5 other people on the beach at any given time. And we enjoyed talking to them as we did our walks on the beach. Our villa also had 3 beach chairs and umbrella stands that we could put on the beach, as well as a closet full of floats/snorkel gear/beach toys for guest’s use. And it had beautiful sunset views.

Day 2 – Sunday, August 14 – Villa and Las Brisas Restaurant
We relaxed at the villa on the beach and in the pool for most of this day. I spent about an hour snorkeling trying to find something to see, but all I saw underwater were a bunch of sand hills that looked like volcanoes. I have no idea what they were. DH said he kept seeing sea turtles popping their heads above the water but I wasn’t able to find them. We also broke out the 1000 piece puzzle DH brought, which I had a love/hate relationship with the rest of the week (the puzzle, not DH!). We all spent the rest of the week putting that thing together-and we almost finished it too!

For lunch we drove to Las Brisas,
which we realized after loading up the cars w/the kids that it’s literally across the street. You really don’t need to drive there from our villa. Las Brisas is a low key restaurant directly on Chalk Sound which is just beautiful. The water is almost white it’s such a light turquoise. We had conch fritters, conch salad, and some mixed fruity drinks. The staff was friendly too, and they had a really cool bar. Our friends ended up going back that Friday for date night and really enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, I had major camera issues this trip. My beloved out of water/underwater Canon D10 took on water when I brought it into the ocean with me, day 2 of our trip. It’s not even a year old and has had no underwater problems before! I was so upset. So we moved to using our backup Canon powershot which was already half broken to begin with but at least it made for a good backup. At least for a couple days til that one died…

Day 3 – Monday, August 15 – Conch farm, Da Conch Shack, Brilliant by Tropical Imaging professional photo shoot
Today we decided to try the Conch farm tour, which we’re glad we did. My friend and I both wanted to be marine biologists at one point so we were very interested in learning about the lifecycle of the conch, and thought it would be great for the kids to see as well. So we all headed to the far east of the island. The tour was $10 p/adult and $5 p/kid and was about an hour long. It was really interesting to see how they grow. This is the only conch farm in the world. There was a sweet little potcake there too (the owner’s dog) named Lady that our kids adored. They also had baby green sea turtles too which were a huge hit. And we all enjoyed “petting” Sally and Jesse, the 2 conch that come out of their shells as soon as they are picked up. We saw the damage that the previous hurricanes did to the farm, and I hope that Irene that just hit didn’t cause too much damage.

Then we headed to Da Conch Shack for lunch where we watched them bring the conch out of the ocean on a kayak and crack them right there. There conch salad was good, but I thought Las Brisas was better. We enjoyed the vibe there- tables on the beach in the sand with great views. And the pitchers of rum puch weren’t so bad either! (Side note - I enjoyed opening up my CT&L magazine that came in the mail today to see that the first page was the Rum bar from there! It's always neat to see places you've been in that magazine!)

Then back to the villa for more beach time and then we showered and got ready for our family photos with Brilliant by Tropical Imaging.
Our photographer came to our villa at 6:30 and did our shoot in the gardens there and on the beach. She was very nice and great with the kids. We should have our photos to view this week.

Here are some of our photos from days 1-3:

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    Great TR so far! Major bummer about your camera...seems to be a pretty common problem with them. But you still got some awesome shots. We have only visited Sapodilla but your pics make me want to stay there! The water was so calm and gorgeous. Good alternative to Grace Bay which can sometimes get rough. So glad to see the conch farm back in business. We took Ellie when she was 1! Can't wait to see the Tropical Imaging pics. And anxiously awaiting part 2!

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    Keep writing!

    So bummed not to have been there at the same time.
    Sorry about camera, I've had mine for a while, so far no problems. If it does break I hope it's in my town, not on vacation!

    Looking forward to more.

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    Thanks ladies! I'm hoping to get a really high quality camera for our next trip so I can take some higher end photos. It really hit me how much I love taking "artsy" pictures on our trips and by the end of the trip, using our phone for our camera wasn't cutting it. Okay, on to the next 2 days:

    Day 4 – Tuesday, August 16 – Caicos Dream Tour (1/2 day), Somerset beach BBQ
    This was our much anticipated boat tour, per Blamona’s recommendation. We left from Alexandria on Grace Bay’s beach. They had all 4 boats pull up to the beach and then let everyone know which boat they were going on. It looked like an ad for them with the boats lined up so nicely! We then went to Grace Bay Club’s beach for another pickup, and then headed out to dive for lunch, conch. I brought up 2 empty shells, and one that was too small so we threw it back. DH brought up 1 empty shell. Our captain brought up a bunch, and someone else brought up a couple. On diving for the 3rd shell, the current pushed me below the reef wall and when I swam back up to the surface, I found myself brushing up against the fire coral. That was my first encounter with fire coral –OUCH! My back and arm got it pretty bad. I swam back to the boat and the captain told me lime is the best thing to put on it as it kills the bacteria. It did help it feel better. I spent the rest of the week nursing my wounds. I still have a rash from it that’s really itchy, but hopefully it will heal soon!

    We then went to a snorkeling spot and tried to get the kids to do it, but they both freaked out when they got in the water. It’s a lot different snorkeling in the open ocean vs the beach. I think the waves scared them, so we put them back on the boat with DH. I spent quite a bit of time snorkeling and it was some of the best I’ve seen. I saw 3 grouper, or “grumpy old men” as I affectionately refer to them! Lots of gorgeous colorful coral of all kinds, and lots of colorful fish, including black durgons which were one of my favorites. I could have stayed out there all day.

    We then headed to half moon bay. I was confused as it didn’t look like the pictures I’ve seen of it. The captain assured me it was half moon bay but that the sandy half circle was on the other side. I was really bummed I never got to see that as that was the one thing I really wanted to see on this trip. The beach was nice though and we walked around and saw the iguanas and the other side of the island with the waves. Our captain then took each of the conchs (one per family) and cracked them for us. Each family got to keep their shell if they wanted it. We even got to try the conch cut fresh before being made into salad. It was delicious! The conch salad was great too-even better than Las Brisas. We saw some stingrays swimming around the boat, and then we headed back.

    The afternoon was spent at the villa, and our friends had their photos done with Tropical imaging that evening.

    Afterwards we went to Somerset for their beach bbq.
    It was $50 person (not including alcohol) and the kids were free. Our table was right on the beach near the bonfire. The food was excellent, and we enjoyed dancing to the DJ’s music by the bonfire. The Somerset’s grounds were beautiful – the hotel was very luxurious. With that being said, we just really aren’t hotel type of people. It was pretty to walk through, but we were happy to return to our home for the week, Crystal Sands.

    Day 5 – Wednesday, August 17 – our new friend Cutie Pie, Glow worm tour on Atabeyra
    This morning I did my usual routine of getting up early and sitting on the beach with my cup of coffee. This is my favorite time of the day on the beach. Solitude, gentle waves lapping, and beautiful lighting of the early morning sun. I was reading my book (Heaven is for Real –a great read and very inspirational) when next thing I know, I look up and there’s this adorable potcake curled up beside me on the beach! I didn’t even hear her approach! She was very friendly and had the same personality as our yellow lab at home. We ended up “adopting” her for the week and she would show up each morning, come and go throughout the day, and then leave after dinner. She had a collar on so we figured she had an owner, but we couldn’t make out her name, so Brooke named her “Cutie Pie”. We found out later in the week by locals who know her and her owners that her name is Amber. I was really hoping she was a foster dog because I would have taken her home with us in a second.

    We spent another wonderful day at the villa, enjoying the pool and beach.

    We had reservations to do glow worm tour with Sun Charters on their 77’ sailboat Atabeyra that evening.
    Here’s their description of the glow worm tour:
    A local phenomena offered every month on the 3rd and 4th days after the full moon. A front row seat to the mating ritual of the resident "glow worm". Right on cue, 50 minutes after sunset, the male and female worms perform a phosphorescent dance that, on a good night, will light up the channel.

    The waters light up around you like stars on the water. I had read great reviews on this place so even though it was on the other end of the island, and they were doing glow worm tours right on our beach via a ferry type of looking boat, we decided to stick with the old historic sailboat Atabeyra, and I’m glad we did. The guys opted to stay home as my DH got sea sick on the Caicos Dream Tour (he gets seasick in a hammock), so the girls took the kids while the guys stayed back and went to Las Brisas for drinks.

    While driving to the dock, we saw a flamingo along the road in a pond. It was the first flamingo in its natural habitat I’ve seen! I know I’m easily amused but I thought it was so cool! If we weren’t running late I would have stopped the car to get out and observe. Anyway, the large sailboat was beautiful, and we sat right up front on the bow. We completely forgot to bring along the kiddie lifejackets though so we were holding the kids tight. They were all very well behaved so it all worked out. They served us rum punch and fruit punch for the kids, along with chips and salsa. We sailed out and watched them hoist the sails. The glow worms didn’t light up as much as they usually do apparently (we saw about 10 glow specs –they looked like someone broke open a glow stick and emptied them into the water). I guess usually there are many more, but it was still neat to see, and the boat ride itself was great. I can see why they get such great reviews. A day trip with them would be fun.

    Here are some photos from days 4-5:

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    Too bad you didn't see more "glowing" on the glow worm cruise. We used to see it all the time in the Chesapeake...the boat wake would be fluorescent and if you jumped in the water the splash would glow. We know them as phosphorescents. Still looked like a great cruise! I love love love the shot of the potcake laying in the palm tree shadow on the beach.

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    I love seeing flamingos in real life. One ip to Middle Caicos, I passed by the bone fish flats and there was at least 30 or more of them, bright pink. I was so giddy!

    Another thing that makes me giddy are sand bars. Was this the time of year for them at Sapadilla Bay? I usually see them in Jan. I think Sapadilla Bay is the most kid friendly happy beach in the world.

    Please keep telling us!

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    Kristen, I didn't realize the Chesapeake had glow worms too! Very cool! No pics of the flamingo unfortunately. We took a couple wrong turns in finding the dock and were running late so we didn't have time to stop.

    Blamona, maybe someday we'll make it over to Middle Caicos so I can get my flamingo fix! That must have been beautiful! Do you have pictures? No sand bars at Sapodilla, but it was gorgeous nonetheless.

    Okay, now for the final portion of my TR:

    Brilliant by Tropical Imaging blog:
    We got our photos today! Ileana, our photographer, is amazing! Here are some of our photos that she posted to their blog. I highly recommend having your photos done by Tropical Imaging during your visit to Provo. These were taken at our villa and beach in front of our villa.

    And here are our some of our friend’s photos on the blog:

    Day 6 – Thursday, August 18 –Provo Ponies
    This was another much anticipated activity. Our friend’s mom stayed home with the 3 year olds, and we headed over to Provo Ponies for an hour ride. As soon as we got there the sky opened up and it poured, so we took cover in our van. Fortunately it cleared and the rest of the day was beautiful. As soon as I pulled out my backup camera to take some horse photos, it gave me the dreaded “officially dead” code. I couldn’t believe it. Of all timing! So we had NO camera for this activity! We ended up asking another rider if we could have them take a couple of us and have him email them to us, which he kindly agreed to. His family got stuck on Provo due to Irene, so he said he won’t be able to send me those photos for a couple weeks. So for now, the horse photos are downloaded from Provo Ponies’ FB page.

    Brooke has had some experience riding before and rode Cowboy, who was a sweetheart. She actually ended up trotting a lot on him and he was a trooper with managing her “reins up high” style. It was her first time trotting by herself and she loved it. I rode Ruby, a very sweet girl, and DH rode Levi, a large bay. Our friends rode Mango, (Ruby’s daughter), Ike, and their son was lead lined on Sunshine. It was his first time riding. Our guides were great and the kids had wonderful experiences. Brooke said it was the highlight of the trip. We rode the horses into the clear blue water up to my thighs which was a really neat experience. A first for me. And the 4 dogs that ran along with us were fun. This is a must do on Provo!

    The rest of the day was spent at the villa, and that evening was to be our date night (our friends were going to watch our kids). We had reservations at Anacoana on Grace Bay, but after being on Grace Bay for catching the boat tour and then for the beach bbq, we felt that we would rather stay at the villa. It’s tough to top wine, cheese, antipasta on our beach chairs watching the sunset. So we ended up spending date night with our family and friends, and don’t have any regrets.

    Day 7 – Friday, August 19 – last day at villa
    We enjoyed the villa for the day, but spent a good portion inside working on the puzzle, and running out to the Wine Cellar, food store, and looked for another camera. We ended up just getting a cheap throwaway underwater camera. The rest of the vacation’s photos were taken by our cell phone or the underwater camera, so they really aren’t that great which is upsetting. It took a lot of photoshop work on these to get them looking somewhat okay.

    We spent the early morning (as we did most mornings) walking around the beach looking for the 4 stingrays that lived there. They hung out towards the left of the beach near the rocks looking for breakfast. This was probably my favorite part of our trip. I loved looking for them each morning, and our kids enjoyed seeing them too. They were relatively unafraid of us and one even swam right up to my feet before turning around. We also saw how they would bury themselves under the sand so that just their eyes and tail were noticeable. Good camouflage! Although it did make me a bit paranoid about stepping on one! There were also plenty of snails along the rocks which my son enjoyed seeing, and a beautiful sea bird with lime green legs and face that we saw each morning. I’ve never seen a bird like that before! Oh, I finally saw the sea turtles too popping up out of the water.

    Later, our friends went out for their date night and went to Las Brisas. They said it was very nice.

    Day 8 – Saturday, August 20 – check out of villa and check in to The Sands on Grace Bay
    The villa rents Sat-Sat, so we tacked on an extra night at The Sands so that we could come home Sunday and squeeze an extra day into our trip. After much research on hotels on Grace Bay, we opted for The Sands due to their “lazy river” style pool. Since we were only going to be there 1 night, I wanted to find a fun pool for the kids. We also went with the deluxe oceanfront suite since it was one night. I’m glad we did. It was gorgeous! Very luxurious. Every detail was perfect, even the serving platters.

    We did our usual morning beach walk and found a starfish, packed up, and said our goodbyes to the Crystal Sands villa owners, and then went for a short hike up the hill at the end of our street, which provided great overlook views of Chalk Sound and Sapodilla Bay. We also saw the stones on which shipwrecked sailors from centuries ago carved their names and dates. It was pretty amazing to see these authentic stones. We heard that the government is beginning to take them now to protect them from being marred, but there were still quite a few there. We were hoping to do the jet skis on our beach but the operator didn’t show up until 11, when we had to check out, so we skipped it. We drove down the street to Taylor Bay and took a quick walk along there, but I still think Sapodilla is nicer, especially with our villa being right on it.

    Then we checked into Sands, and ate lunch at Hemmingways. Their fish tacos are amazing! Best I’ve had other than in St. John. And the ladies got the mango coladas, which were delicious! We got situated in our rooms, and then met up at the pool for a bit.

    We then went to Coco Bistro for our last dinner on Provo. It was a very romantic atmosphere, with tables nestled among the uplit palm trees. It would be great for a date night. They were very accommodating to the kids and provided them with crayons and coloring placemats, but we spent the dinner playing musical chairs with each kid taking multiple turns using the bathrooms. The food was good. The ceviche two ways app was outstanding. I got the mahi mahi but didn’t like the seasonings on it. It tasted like there was curry on it which I dislike, although they said there wasn’t curry in it. Oh well. It was cooked well, I just didn’t care for the seasoning on it. I did try DH’s lamb and it was excellent. DH was burning up the whole time, but said he really liked it there too.

    Day 9 – going home
    I woke up before everyone else and was on the beach by 6:30 for a quiet walk as the sun came up. There were a few others running, and I took some photos with our phone. Hemmingways didn’t open til 8, so I went back to the room and once everyone was up and about we went down for breakfast. I got the eggs bennedict, bacon and hashbrowns. All of which were delicious, but I felt like I didn’t need to eat for a week after that meal! The kids had their last mango smoothies which they enjoyed, and then we headed to the beach. This morning we did a quick sampling of the beach, the big pool, and the “crazy pool” as the kids referred to it. They loved the crazy pool the best. They really wanted no parts of the beach. I’m guessing because it gets deep quickly and the beach is wide to walk to from the chairs to the water line. So after “forcing” them to swim in the ocean for 5 minutes, we took them back to the pools where we enjoyed the morning going under the bridges and over the steps walking around the “crazy pool”. We checked out at 11, searched out the Provo mural for photos and grabbed lunch and drinks at Jimmy’s Dive Bar. Then off to the airport which was extremely over crowded as the flight to JFK was 3 hours behind. Fortunately our flight to PHL was on time and we boarded and got home without a hitch, and Austin slept the whole way home. Apparently we left just in time too as they closed the PLS airport the next day due to hurricane Irene.

    Here are some photos from days 6-9:

    My overall impression of Provo is that it’s what Long Island, Bahamas may be like in 25 years if and when it gets “discovered”. It’s very similar in topography/water/sand, but Provo is way more built up than Long Island. We really loved Sapodilla and are so happy we stayed directly on it at Crystal Sands. Grace Bay is a nice long beach lined with hotels and beach chairs, and lots to do. It’s nice, just not our speed. If we return to Provo I would stay at Crystal Sands on Sapodilla Bay again and do some diving and island hopping. Or we would stay on one of the other T&C islands (maybe Grand Turk?) to explore another less developed island. I’m glad we got to visit Provo and overall we had a wonderful trip!

    Next stop: St. John in June. ;)

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    Great report. Sorry to hear about your camera. I would just freak if my camera died while on vacation.

    Sorry, to see you didn't make the jetski tour.

    Loved the professional portriats. We tried to do this on our 10th in Key West last year and couldn't find anyone willing. We are going to get them done in Jamaica this December.

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    KVR, Thanks! Yeah, it's a pretty sickening feeling when your good camera breaks on day 2 of the trip, especially since I was really looking forward to getting some good underwater snorkeling pictures and some cool shots on the horses swimming. Oh well. I suppose if you look at the big picture it's not that big of a deal. Good thing we brought our phone anyway!

    We called the jetski tour company you recommended, Sun and Fun seasports (that's the one, right?) but they were pretty expensive-although your pictures looked amazing! We would have had to rent 2 jet skis or a boat and it was more than the Caicos Dream tour 1/2 day excursion. I believe it was going to be around $600 per couple for a 2 hour guided tour to rent the boat. It's less in the ad, but then they charge you for gas which adds up quickly if you want to go anywhere. So we were going to just rent 1 jetski on our beach for $150 for an hour and take 30 minutes with each kid, but it didn't work out unfortunately. Maybe next time!

    We're happy with our photos too. Glad you like! Please share your December portraits! Where are you staying in Jamaica? I've had my eye on Rockhouse or the Caves for a few years now...

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    It could have been worse Kelly..your camera could be lying at the bottom of the Caribbean like mine is! (my week old one to boot!) But the flooding is tragic..I am just glad mine occured in my pool instead on vacation. Don't think I could have dealt with the loss of two D10s on consecutive vacations!

    I have always like the looks of Crytsal Sands and will definitely consider it for a future trip. But for now..can't wait till St. John! :)

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    Kelly, we decided on the Jewell Dunn's River. It was actually a Sandals and we had booked it last July for our 10th but it closed right before we left and didn't reopen until September, so we are going to try again.

    I'm surprised the jet ski tour was so much. I guess things have gone up since we've been there.

    We are leaving in a few days for Seattle and an Alaska cruise. So glad we are not dealing with the Caribbean weather this year. You got me thinking about camera break down even though ours is relatively new. Maybe I should pack my Optio just in case.

    You are going to love St. John. Look into the Horizon II tour of the BVI's. It was awesome. We are thinking about Cosat Rica in June. We'll have to see.

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    KRV, I'll check out Jewell's site. I hear the Dunn's River hike is a really challenging hike but amazing. Have fun and please post a TR!

    Yeah, we were kind of taken aback the jet skis were so much too, but they were really friendly when we were inquiring. Maybe if we set out to do that at the planning of our trip we could have swung it.

    Have fun on your cruise! Hopefully it won't be too cold! Will you post a TR on fodors for that?

    The only reason I even thought to bring a backup with because Kristen who has the same camera, broke shortly before our trip. Also, her original brand new one decided it wanted to go scuba diving (sorry Kristen-couldn't resist!) during our St. Martin boat trip. This was actually the first trip I brought a backup and I'm so glad I did (thanks Kristen!). Although our backup ended up dying too! Next trip I'll just have to buy a camera for each day to make sure I'm covered...he, he...Fortunately our friends had a beautiful high end camera so we were able to use their photos too.

    We were in St. John a few years ago when Brooke was 3 I believe. It's one of our favorites and I can't wait to go back. We honestly discuss moving there (seriously) at least once a month. We're actually going with Kristen and some other friends in June. Check out our St. John home for the week!

    Is it bad I'm already counting down the days? ;)

    We've stayed on Virgin Gorda for week (on Mahoe Bay) when Brooke was about 7 months (actually with the same friends we just went to Provo with!) and loved VG as well. We've also done a day trip to JVD. We may tack on a few days in JVD to the St. John trip so in that case we'd probably skip the island hopping via boat. I have heard good things about Horizon II though.

    I would love to hear all about Costa Rica. We've been eyeing that up for when the kids are a bit older.

    It looks like you're next due for a TR! Can't wait for a winter getaway TR to Jamaica!!!

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    I want to go!
    Love St John and Virgin Gorda
    High on my list was staniel cay
    Costa rica didn't do much for me, but Peru was amazing
    Trying to convince family of Europe next summer

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    Kelly, love the house in St. John. Wow! You will love it there. The views look amazing. I have to say I am not a St. John fan, but I did really like the beach area of Jost Van Dyke.

    I will post a TR in the cruise section and in the US section under Washington for our Alaskan Cruise and Seattle trip.

    I've been researching CR for awhile now. I think we are going to do 3 areas; Poas, Arenal and Manuel Antonio. It won't be like our usual AI trips. DH's favorite Island to date is St. Lucia, so he is really looking forward to the tropical of CR and getting to see different areas. I love the water falls, hot springs and the outdoor showers most hotels have in their rooms. We would like to go to CR in December of next year instead, but DH insists that we finally go see the Cowboys new stadium in October, '12. So going to have to make that happen, so we'll see if we get to go to CR or not.

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    Blamona -check out Velodurt's TR on Staniel Cay. Gorgeous photos! 2013 we're there!

    Virginia -yeah, it's not a hard one to guess where the boys will be that trip. Or for that matter, the girls too! I have my name on that pool bar stool already!

    KVR -If you wouldn't mind, can you jump on this thread w/the link to your cruise TR post upon your return? I'd love to read all about it! And after looking at Velodurt's CR trip report, it just jumped up a few notches for places I want to visit! I love the wildlife there! We too loved St. Lucia. You guys would probably like Kauai, HI if you haven't already been. It's like St. Lucia on steroids!

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    Kelly, absolutely. I have also downloaded a free program called smilebox to do a slide show of our pictures for when we get back.

    I'm going to go check out that CR TR. We have been to Maui and Oahu and didn't like it, but I hear Kauai is so much different. I just wished it wasn't so far to get there.

    btw, my name is Kelly also. :)

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    KVR, I mean Kelly (great name btw!), Kauai is awesome. As much as I'm obsessed with the Caribbean, Kauai is our favorite place on Earth. We stayed at the Princeville, which as much as I'm not into hotels, this was top notch -best ever as far as I'm concerned! Kauai is a lot different than Maui, which we also spent a week on. Have fun on your trip to Alaska - I hear it's amazing!!!

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    I've been away from here the last several days while family was visiting, so I'm just now seeing this TR. I have to say, Kelly, that your photos are the first ones that have made me *really* want to go to Provo now and stay on Sapodilla. Grace Bay always looks lovely in photos but for whatever reason never had a big draw for me.

    And those professionally done photos of your family--wow, you all look just beautiful!

    Yes, we Fodor's gals do have a history of camera trouble, don't we?

    And your St. John house looks really amazing--I know y'all will have a great time and I can't wait to see the photos from you and Kristen.

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    Emily...while I love Grace Bay, I like Meads Bay better (: And Sapodilla is calm and shallow.

    We can't wait for St. John..and you know between the two of us we will come home with thousands of picures!!

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    Hi Kelly, per your request I have attached my Seattle/Alaska trip report. The picture link is at the bottom.

    KVR (Kelly)

    Seattle, WA - September 7th - 9th and 17th/18th, 2011

    Alaska Cruise on the Golden Princess - Inside Passage - Seattle Return Trip

    Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Victoria, Canada - September 10 - 17, 2011

    Background: DH (56), Myself (43), My Mother (73) and her Husband (80). We booked this cruise through my TA back in November, 2010. I had wanted to take this cruise since 2005, but it was so expensive it took awhile to get the funds together. This is my 4th cruise. 2 Caribbean Cruises on Carnival, which I hated and 1 on Princess that was OK, but not really my cup of tea. Personally, cruising is not my favorite way to vacation and feel for some destinations it is a necessary evil. If anyone has ever read anything I ever written, you will know I don’t like cruises and don’t tend to recommend. I have stated more than once I would never do another cruise vacation unless it was going to Alaska and I meant it. But, don’t stop reading now. This is not a cruise bashing review. On the contrary, this cruise was the exception to any others I have taken. I actually enjoyed it and would cruise to Alaska again in a heartbeat. I might even consider other destinations as well. I think the main difference was the overall atmosphere. I enjoyed the laid back vibe with the much more mature crowd with no party, party, party mentality and only a handful of children that were not obtrusive. I also didn’t think that the Golden Princess felt as crowded as prior cruises.

    Seattle: We spent 3 days in Settle before the cruise and then DH and I spent all day Saturday and Sunday morning/afternoon in Seattle after the cruise. I used Southwest Rewards tickets and couldn’t get a flight out after the cruise until Sunday at 3pm.

    We arrived at Sea Tac around 10am. My parents flew American so we had to wait about an hour for them to arrive. (they got a free upgrade to 1st class) We headed to the baggage claim, got our bags and then sat in a coffee shop and munched on blueberry muffins and milk until they arrived. I decided beforehand that we would take the LINK to the Westlake Station and then cab it to our hotel. From research, the walk really wasn’t as far as I have read, and we had no problems getting there with 4 bags per couple. The Link was $5.50 for 2 ($1.50 for 2 seniors) A really great alternative instead of a $45 cab ride if you have the time and patience to do it, which we did. Once we got to the Westlake Station, we grabbed a cab, which was $10, and headed to our hotel; Best Western Loyal Inn.

    Best Western Loyal Inn: We did not have any issues with this hotel. It was decent for the price and the rooms were clean. The neighborhood was a little on the iffy side, but we walked to and from even at night with no issues. There were many cruisers staying at the hotel. I paid $107 internet rate for a king standard room. The room had a fridge and microwave.

    Loved the soap/lotion/shampoo/conditioner/body wash dispensers in the bathroom and shower. I have the same in my baths at home. Wish every hotel would use those instead of the tiny bottles. I have to comment on the mattress. It was great. We have stayed at a many of hotels in which the mattress was too firm with no give, which hurts the bones, but these were very comfortable.

    The hotel offered an extensive free continental breakfast, which was decent. The breakfast room is way too small for all the guests, so we never found a place to sit, so we would gather our plates and take back to our room to eat. They also offer free internet services with 2 computers. No issues getting to use them. They also had a small gym area and a cute indoor whirlpool. For our after cruise stay for one night, they put us in a deluxe King room for $147. I would have preferred just the stand room instead of paying the higher price. The room was much bigger though and the bathroom had 2 sinks with a wide closet area. There was also a wet bar with the frig.

    From research, I do not agree that the location of this hotel is the best place to be for first time visitors that really want to enjoy everything Seattle has to offer. It was a 10 block (long) walk to Pike Place Market. We walked the first day to get lunch and to look around. My parents decided they would not be doing that again. For them, trying to figure out and use the bus system or metro was not to their interest, so we took turns paying for taxis to/from where we needed to be. At least that keep our individual costs down. Additionally, there are no restaurants or bars in close vicinity to this hotel. And, by close vicinity, I mean within a couple of blocks. So in the future, I would next time pay a little more and get a hotel closer to the Market area. There is a Walgreens about 4 blocks down and the Space Needle is about 6 blocks from the hotel.


    Steelhead Diner - We ate lunch here on our first day. Walked from the hotel to the Diner. Very long 10 block walk. The food was really good, but on the pricey side. DH and my mom’s husband had the cobb salad. My mom and I shared the quiche and I had a cup of clam chowder. Never seen clam chowder that was broth based instead of cream based. It was good, just different. They had the pecan pie which they enjoyed and we had the blueberry cheesecake and it was pretty bad. We took about 2 bites and was done. We don’t like hard cheesecake that tasted like it just came out of the freezer. We each paid for our own and my mom and split the price of the quiche. We all just had water to drink after that long walk and our bill was $51. A little ridiculous for what we ordered. After lunch we looked around the Market and then took a cab back to the hotel

    Sky City at the Space Needle - We had 6pm reservations. We walked the distance to/from the hotel. The place was packed. Was hoping that we could enjoy the view before being seated, but they prefer we eat first and view after. Dinner was really good and again pricey, but we excepted it here. Our waiter was snotty and acted disinterested like he wished he was anywhere else but there. I had this really neat smoking martini made with dry ice. After dinner, we went out on deck, took pictures and then headed back to the hotel.

    The Underground Tour - The next morning we took a cab to the Underground Tour. It was a very nice tour and they provided a lot of history of Seattle. There is a lot of walking and lots of stairs. I have grave issues with going up and downs stairs due to my knee, but was able to handle. Afterward, we had reservations for the Seattle Savor Gourmet Food Tour, so we took a cab to the Mayflower hotel where we were supposed to meet up. Very nice hotel. We were early, so we walked over the Westlake Mall and got a small bite to eat and looked around.

    Savor Gourmet Food Tour - We went to Andaluca in the Mayflower Hotel. They served Sangria and Duke Cake. We didn’t like the Sangria. Not sweet enough and missing the citrus flavors we are accustomed to. The duck cake was interesting. Not something I would order.

    Serious Pie - We tried 2 different gourmet pizzas. Good, but again not something I would order. DH really wanted just a traditional pizza with tomato sauce. Maybe if we had gotten to see the entire menu and pick something more to our taste we would have liked it better.

    La Buona Tavola - The gave us a cup of yummy potato soup and then added some truffle oil. My mom and I loved the truffles, but the guys weren’t too impressed. The truffle salt was awesome and my mom bought a bottle. They also let us taste several different variety of truffles and oils. I would have bought some, but since DH was so against the flavor I decided I better not.

    Il Bistro - They gave us risotto and a glass of red wine. I personally do not like rice in general. I did taste it and the sauce was OK, but not my cup of tea. DH loved it. We are not red wine drinkers either, so didn’t care for their selection. Very dry and non-sweet.

    Pike Brewing Company - We tasted 2 types of Seattle beer with cheese and bread. One beer we really liked and the other a little to dark for our taste. I really liked the cheese, but DH didn’t. I’ll eat any type of cheese though. The restaurant is really cute and I would have loved to gone back to just have lunch.

    Thoa’s Vietnamese Restaurant - I’m not big on this type of food, but was very impressed. They gave us noodles with vegetables with fish sauce. Yeah, no rice! Very good. The best fish sauce I have tasted.

    Gelatiamo - The last stop. They gave us strawberry and chocolate chip gelato. I don’t like strawberry flavored anything, so gave to DH and he gave me his chocolate chip. It was OK. Tasted a little freezer burned. Have had better gelato elsewhere.

    This was a very good tour and we enjoyed tasting things that we normally wouldn’t order on our own at restaurants we would probably not go to otherwise. Our tour guide was very nice, knowledgeable of all the restaurants/area and we appreciated his vigor for this tour . In hindsight, I wished we had also taken the Pike Place Market food tour also.

    Mama’s Mexican Kitchen - Later that evening, DH and I decided to walk from the hotel to this restaurant for a late dinner after the food tour. We are such Mexican food snobs, I don’t know why we keep venturing to Mexican restaurants in other areas knowing they will never live up to our expectations except we have to have some kind of Mexican food fix. The salsa and guacamole were good. The waitress failed to advised us that they use shredded beef and not hamburger meat in their tacos and enchiladas. Imagine our horror. J So we just ate around it. The sauce could have been a little more spicy, but we appreciated that they use refried beans and not those yucky black beans. We had enough to get our “fix”. For dessert, we have the coconut flan, which tasted like a cheese cake, but was very good.

    Upon return from the cruise, DH wanted to eat here again because he needed another “fix” and it was reasonably close to the hotel. I wanted to go down to the waterfront and eat seafood, but after all they food we had on the ship, he wanted Mexican. I wasn’t going to win, so we went back. He ordered chicken enchiladas. He wanted green/verde sauce, but the waiter said they didn’t have any. I think there was a failure in communication because we had seen people eating food with green sauce, but he had the red instead. I ordered the huevos rancheros. These meals were much better than our prior visit. Had another slice of the coconut flan. Afterward, we walked to an outdoor coffee shop ( can’t remember the name) and had coffee. I would have liked to try this restaurant for dinner.

    3 Hour City Tour with Northwest - The next day we took the 3 hour City Tour. It was good overview of Seattle. We hit a lot of tourist areas and attractions. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and had a good sense of humor. I really wished there had been more stops, but with 3 hours you really just get a running view of most areas.

    Waterways Cocktail Cruise - I know that in order for these type of companies to make money they have to get as many people as they can on these cruises, but with it crammed packed full of people, it is not that enjoyable. Standing in line for the bar and buffet for long periods of time is just annoying. Plus they had tables for 4 next to the windows and tables for 2 in the isle. Couples were taking up the tables for 4 because they were by the window leaving people with more than 2 people in there party stuck out. They should really seat people instead of letting us fend for ourselves. They offered chicken fajitas with Mexican fixings, which was OK, but not that great. I felt like that the description of this cruise on their website was a little misleading. The views of Lake Washington was really great and the most enjoyable part of the trip.

    Café Campagne - DH and I had Sunday brunch after the cruise. It was very good. I had the basil omelet and DH had the herbed scramble eggs. Both served with pomme frites and mimosas. Afterward, we walked to the Market and went to the original Starbucks for a hot vanilla cream with a touch of chocolate. Yum!

    Argosy Tillicum Dinner Cruise - Again, this cruise was packed with people. Around 300-400. At least the meal wasn’t being served on the boat. I didn’t think I would like the clams in nectar, but it was actually tasty. The salmon cooked on planks around the open fire was very good. Actually, the entire buffet meal was quite good compared to many other types of cruises we have done like this. Except the dessert was terrible. As berry crumble cobbler. Tasted like they forget to put the sugar in it in. Unfortunately, our table of 10 people was placed directly in front of a support beam blocking the stage, so we didn’t get to see much of the show.

    Pike Place Market - We visited the Market several times. It was crowded and packed with people except early Sunday morning. It really is a nice place. Would love to have a fresh fruit/vegetable/fish/flower market in my area. I would be there shopping all of the time.

    Weather - The weather in Seattle was awesome. Sunny skies and mid 60’s. We had packed for fall/winter/rain and ended up very hot and dragging our coats around. When we returned on Saturday, it was cooler, cloudy and drizzling, but not enough to be an issue. Based on my research, couldn’t have gotten better weather.

    On our return to the airport on Sunday, we had intended to use the Link again, but meet a couple in the hotel lobby that had basically the same flight time as us, so we shared a cab to the airport and split the difference.

    In summary, we had a great time in Seattle. Even with 4 ½ days, we didn’t get to eat/see/do everything we wanted, but made a great dent. Would love to return for a long weekend sometime.

    The Cruise:

    I chose Princess again due to our last cruise with them in 2007. We were on the Star Princess Western Caribbean. We thought the food on the Star was really great and one of the best features of that cruise. We arrived at the Port at 12:00pm and it took about 30 minutes to get on the ship. All of us booked a balcony cabin on the Baja Deck. I know there is a lot of controversy about inside vs. balcony, but personally, I will never cruise anywhere without the balcony. We both have claustrophobia issues and it’s great to just step outside and get some fresh air. Many times, we just left the door open even at night. I liked the Golden Princess better than the Star Princess. It felt like it was bigger and more room to move around. The Golden Princess also has more features than the Star Princess didn’t at that time.

    Dining: We enjoyed the dining, but felt that the food on the Star was a little better. The Golden had some really fancy-smancy food that I don’t remember the Star having. Additionally, the desserts as well as the ice cream on the Star was fabulous. Not so much on the Golden. On the Star we did the specialty dining options and the balcony breakfast and dinner. Found those to be a big waste of money and didn’t do this time, and didn’t miss it. We did enjoy the International Café for lunch. The Pizza and hot dogs on the lido deck were very good also. We avoided the crowded buffet like the plague. The first morning DH wouldn’t get up so we missed breakfast in the dining room. After fighting the crowds in the buffet and having to sit outside, he didn’t make that mistake again for the remainder of the trip. He added later that the food in the dining just tasted better anyway. My parents ate at the buffet a lot and liked it just fine. We used the room service continental breakfast several times due to early morning tours. The breakfast sandwiches were actually very tasty. We monitored our ship account closely. Our last cruise we spent more in alcohol, pictures and specialty dining than the cruise fare. We didn’t drink as much this trip. We found several opportunities for free alcohol. Just check the Princess Patters and be in the right place at the right time. We only spent $246 on our account. Princess needs to get on board and offer a pre-pay alcohol plan like some of the other ships are doing. I would gladly spend more upfront than monitor my account and not spend hardly anything. Their loss.

    Shows: We made a point to watch the shows this cruise. After 9 trips to Las Vegas and 4 seasons of America Got Talent, we have found a new appreciation for production shows. We saw the following shows ‘Welcome Abroad’ ,’Stardust’, ’Comedy of Carlos Oscar’, ‘Motor City’, ‘Variety Showtime’, and ‘British Invasion’. We missed the Illusionist, but heard it was very good. We really enjoyed all the shows.

    Formal Nights: The first formal night was on Sunday. We spent all day Sunday watching the 3 football games that were offered. The Cowboys/Jets game didn’t end until 9pm. We watched the entire game in the Player’s Lounge and then went and changed clothes for dinner, pictures and a show. At that time, we saw people wearing everything from dress clothes to pajamas walking around the Atrium. The second formal night we went to the return passenger cocktail party and then dinner, pictures and a show. When we started the cruise and I was unpacking our clothes, I discovered that my black slacks for formal nights did not make it into the suitcase so I ended up wearing my black jeans. The were brand new and dark and my tops covered the back pockets. They worked fine. I didn’t see anyone really dressed up like our last cruise and didn’t feel uncomfortable in the least.

    Pictures: We did all the pictures. Formal, casual and disembarkation at the ports. They were really pushing doing all the backgrounds with a card that could be turned in for a drawing for free pictures. I had a major issue with some of the pictures. The disembarkation port pictures were handled very poorly. These were the actual pictures I had planned on buying. While lining up in the hallway to get off the ship they had 2 employees dressed up in costume to take pictures with you. If they really want me to fork over $20 for these pictures I don’t not want other cruise passengers in the photo with me showing the back of their heads or their confused, startled facial expressions. Needless to say I did not buy any of those photos. Same for the Glacier Bay pictures. Luckily, they only got a partial arm/umbrella from the person standing next to us and I will be able to cover with some of my scrap booking materials. Have they ever heard of the crop function before printing? As for the formal/casual shots, if you are going to put us in front of a really nice background I would really like the full background to be in the picture instead of the camera in my face. Back up. I even asked one photographer to please get the entire background and he wouldn’t do it. Fortunately for my pocket book, I didn’t find the need to buy many pictures this trip. Formal prints were $25. All others were $20. The had some pictures buy two different backgrounds with the same picture for $35. They also had a special buy 4 get one free, buy 3 more get one free, etc. I only bought the 4 and got one free. Once thing I noticed is back in 2007 the pictures were 5x7’s and now they are 8x10’s.


    Juneau - We did the Princess sponsored Whale Watching Cruise. Nice cruise. Saw tons of humpbacks and orcas. We have done other whale watching cruises in different areas and this one had to be the most active whale sightings. Afterward, we went to the Red Dog Saloon. It was packed. Typical bar food that was very good. Really enjoyed the live music. We then went and did a little bit of souvenir shopping. The weather was awesome. Sunny and in the mid 60’s.

    Skagway - We did the 7 ½ train/bus tour with 15mintue dog sled ride with Chilkoot Charters. We did the train up and the shuttle bus back. It was a very long day, but very nice. Got to see many attractions and gorgeous scenery. The weather was cool and drizzling in the morning, but burned off by the afternoon. It actually got hot. The dog sled ride was very neat. On the way back it got cloudy and cool again, but not uncomfortable. Afterward, we went to the Red Onion Saloon. Again it was packed. The bar food was very good. We walked around town for a little bit and looked in some of the stores.

    Glacier Bay - No, we did not get up at 6am to watch the ship go into Glacier Bay. It was raining lightly all morning. It was more cool than previous days. We dressed with the full winter gear to the top deck to view the Glacier, but really didn’t need it. If it hadn’t been raining, I don’t think I would have even put a coat on. Saw many people in shorts and flip flops. The Glacier was very pretty, but I guess from research, I just excepted to see more.

    Ketchikan - We did the float plane of Misty Fjords with Princess. It was a nice tour with great scenery. Was disappointed when we landed on the water that we didn’t get the great pictures as I have seen on other people’s reviews. Never saw any wildlife. The weather was cool and cloudy. Afterward, we went to the Pirate restaurant for fish and chips. Not great and very expensive. We also walked around town, took pictures and popped into a few stores.

    Scra booker’s Alert: Every Alaska port had several scrapbooking supplies and albums. Being the end of the season it was all 50% off. I bought about $25 worth of stuff.

    Victoria, Canada - We ate dinner on the ship and then went into Victoria. We looked around, took pictures, bought a couple of souvenirs and then back to the ship. It really looked like a great port and would have loved to have been able to spend more time there and actually see it. The weather was windy when we arrived, but died down. We took our coats and ended up dragging them around.

    One of my issues with the Star Princess was getting on and off the ship. Fortunately, there were no tender ports on this cruise. That makes the process a lot faster. Plus they had 2 gangways to get on and off, which the Star didn’t. Much more efficient. The final disembarkation was painless. At times, we did feel lots of movement on the ship. I remember one guy saying that they needed to issue us seat belts for our beds one night. Didn’t get sick though.

    Disembarkation: We ate breakfast at the International Café and then went to the Explorers’ lounge for our color to be called. We were off the ship by 9am and grabbed a $10 taxi back to the Best Western Loyal Inn.

    In conclusion, this was a great vacation. The weather was perfect for us. So glad we didn’t freeze to death. I would do this trip again and recommend Princess to anyone.

    I took around 900 pictures, so broke them all up into separate books by ports. They are located at:

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