St. Kitts, Anguilla and St. Martin Trip Report

Old Dec 28th, 2008, 04:33 PM
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St. Kitts, Anguilla and St. Martin Trip Report

I’ve been back from my incredible vacation for a week now and have put off writing the trip report, because it means coming to terms with the fact that the vacation I had been looking forward to for months is over.

Some of you may remember my posting from earlier this year regarding my concerns about traveling to St. Martin. After planning a 12-day trip split evenly with time on both St. Martin and Anguilla, I became more and more worried about what I was reading about crime on St. Martin and wanting a stress free vacation for me and my mom. Not long after that post, I talked with my mom about my concerns and let her know about a package I had found for a stay at Ottley’s Plantation Inn on St. Kitts and after sending her some pictures from the Ottley’s web site, she was ready to make the switch as well. We were all set to spend six nights on St. Kitts and six nights on Anguilla (flying in and out of St. Martin and using inter-island flights to transfer) when Delta decided to discontinue its Thursday service from St. Martin to Atlanta, so we ended up tacking on two extra days in St. Martin before heading back home on a Saturday.

On Saturday, 12/6, we left Milwaukee for Atlanta and our connecting flight to St. Kitts. A communications problem with the plane and a blizzard in Milwaukee caused a one-hour delay and we arrived in Atlanta for our St. Kitts flight just in time to watch the plane pull away from the gate without us. We were then booked on a flight to St. Martin that was leaving 15 minutes after the St. Kitts flight with an inter-island connection on Winair. The flight to St. Martin was uneventful and we had a 4-hour layover in St. Martin before catching our flight to St. Kitts. We knew that the inter-island planes would be small, but, I had no idea how tiny they were until we boarded our flight to St. Kitts. Fortunately, the ½ hour flight went by quickly and we landed in St. Kitts without incident. Ottley’s had arranged a taxi driver for us and she patiently waited while we filled out the claim forms for our lost luggage.

As we drove up to Ottley’s all of our travel-related stress and worries about our lost luggage melted away. One of the front office staff waited for us to arrive and showed us to our lovely and spacious ocean/mountain view room in the main house. After a quick tour we went down to the Royal Palm restaurant for dinner which stayed open for us since we arrived so late in the evening. Our Luxury Link package included breakfast and a three-course dinner daily and the meals were one of the highlights of our stay at Ottleys. The restaurant staff was warm and accommodating, especially Melva, who would great us with a hug prior to seating us for dinner. We usually found that the breakfasts were so filling that we would just have a small snack in the afternoon before eating again in the evening.

On our first full day on St. Kitts we slept through breakfast and decided to have brunch instead. On our way down to brunch, we met Karen, who is the daughter of the inn keepers, and we were formally introduced. She immediately made us feel like family and after hearing about our lack of clean clothes to wear, she brought us up to the office to sort through her stash of staff clothing that she offered us until our luggage arrived. She even went down to her cottage and started pulling her own clothes out of her closet for us so we’d have shorts to wear as well. Karen and her parents, Art and Ruth, were absolute gems and truly epitomized the Ottley’s experience for us. I cannot say enough about their kindness, generosity and hospitality.

After brunch, we spent the rest of the day unpacking and exploring the grounds, which included beautiful gardens and a rainforest complete with monkeys! Since my mom and I are both animal lovers, we also ended up adopting one of the Ottley’s resident cats during our stay. Thelma is a sweet old girl (her sister Louise died last year). Every evening after dinner, she would meet us by the business office and we would entice her up to our room with some leftovers from dinner. She’s an equal opportunity kitty and would alternate between my mom’s bed and my bed every night during our stay.

On Monday, we took advantage of the Ottley’s shuttle that runs a free service into the capital of Basseterre for some shopping and exploring. Fortunately, shopping is not one of the reasons why we chose St. Kitts. My mom and I are much more interested in local crafts and art work and aside from a few shops and galleries in Basseterre, there wasn’t much to see. We were incredibly turned off by the sales pressure at the duty free stores in Port Zante and we were more than happy to head back to Ottley’s when the shuttle came to pick us up later in the afternoon.

Tuesday was beach day, and we paid an extra $10 to have the Ottley’s shuttle drive us to Cockleshell beach. The weather wasn’t great, and the rain would come and go in spurts, but, we were thankful Ottley’s provided us with a sun umbrella that we ended up using a few times for a rain umbrella. Aside from the rain, we had a great time at the beach, enjoyed the mystical cloud cover over Nevis and sang along to the holiday reggae songs played at the nearby beach bar. The extra charge for the drive to Cockleshell was worth it, since the views on this part of the island were amazing.

On Wednesday, we took an island tour arranged by the Ottley’s front office. We were especially looking forward to this, because there were several galleries and sights that weren’t easily accessible without a rental car that we wanted to make sure we visited before we left the island. During our tour we stopped at the Potter’s Shop, Romney Manor/Caribelle Batik, Brimstone Hill, Rawlins Plantation/Kate’s Gallery, The Golden Lemon and Black Rocks. We had our very informative driver, Winston, for five hours at a rate of $120. The weather again wasn’t so cooperative during this part of the trip, especially during our visit to Brimstone Hill, but, we did manage to catch in our photographs a beautiful rainbow at Brimstone. Wednesday was a much more successful shopping day. We bought a few batik pieces at Caribelle Batik and my mom purchased a print from Kate’s Gallery at Rawlins Plantation. We also both purchased gorgeous pieces of pottery from Carla at the Potter’s Shop. I think the highlight of the island tour though was the view of the Black Rocks and the crash of the surf.

Thursday was our last full day on St. Kitts and we decided to stick close to “home” by lounging around the plantation with a couple of good books and by taking some additional pictures of the grounds. Prior to dinner, Art, Ruth and Karen held a rum punch party for the guests in the plantation’s great room. This was just another example of their warm island hospitality. We had so much fun talking with everyone, and we were so glad we got to attend their party before we left the island. We left our last dinner at the Royal Palms by giving Melva a few more hugs with a promise to return next year.

Friday was bittersweet for us, because as we said our goodbyes to everyone at Ottley’s with tears in our eyes, we were looking forward to finally seeing if the beaches on Anguilla were as beautiful as the pictures and testimonials had indicated. We left St. Kitts on a Winair flight to St. Martin and had a 2-3 hour layover in St. Martin before taking an even smaller plane over to Anguilla. Since this was our second stop in St. Martin in over a week, we had become pretty familiar with the shops at the airport, and we’ve come to the conclusion that the hot pretzel stand near the C gates at the airport makes the most delicious and flakey soft pretzels we have ever eaten! The flight from St. Martin to Anguilla was over in 8 minutes, and while, I was holding on to dear life during all of those 8 minutes, my mom had a blast taking pictures from the plane.

Anguilla – To Be Continued
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Old Dec 28th, 2008, 04:46 PM
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I promise that the rest of the report will be a lot shorter, because we weren’t nearly as active on Anguilla and St. Martin as we were on St. Kitts.

Upon arrival on Anguilla we took a taxi from the airport to the Frangipani resort on Mead’s Bay. It was my understanding that the Frangipani was renovated during the off-season so that all of the rooms are configured as suites with a full living/dining room area, washer/dryer, kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances and bathrooms with mosaic/travertine tiles and vessel sinks. Since we had only reserved an ocean-front room, ending up in a spacious one-bedroom suite with two large bathrooms was a pleasant surprise, but, at closer glance, it looks as if the renovations were hastily completed in order to be ready in time for the guests arriving in early winter. I was also annoyed that when I called prior to arrival about the availability of laundry service, I was told our only option was to send things out, so, we spent over $50 having our laundry done on St. Kitts, only to discover a fully functional washer and dryer in our room at the Frangipani. We had continuous problems getting hot water to come out of the sinks in both of the bathrooms. There was also a drainage problem with the shower in the second bathroom that took almost three days to resolve. One of the other issues that was a constant bother for us was that the room key we were given only operated the main door of the suite and not the doors leading off the living room and bedroom that faced the beach. As we were staying on the first floor and used the living room and bedroom doors as our primary entry and exit from the room, it became a big pain to go around the resort and lock up the door when we wanted to leave for the day. I think if we were staying in one of the second floor rooms, this wouldn’t have been much of an issue, but, we found it to be problematic. We were also troubled that the room did not have a safe.

A nice bonus to being at the Frangipani was the recent move of the Straw Hat restaurant to the hotel grounds. The Frangipani room rate includes a continental breakfast (choice of two pastries, juice and coffee) every morning, and we loved sitting under the awning and fueling up for our very taxing days at the beach. We also had dinner there our first night on the island, and while the food was good, we found the staff to be a bit standoffish until they discovered that we were actually guests of the resort.

Almost all of our time on Anguilla (Friday, 12/12-Thursday, 12/18) was spent at the beach and then we would venture out to a different restaurant for dinner every evening. The Meads Bay beach was beautiful, and even though we had rain storms a few evenings, which kicked up the surf quite a bit, we loved lounging in the great Frangipani beach chairs and spending the days relaxing and sun bathing.

To break up our time at the beach, we had the hotel arrange a rental car for us on Monday, and so we could visit a bunch of the local art galleries on the island. We had a Huyndai for 24-hours at the cost of $65 that included the temporary driver’s license. The rental was through Highway Rental Car and they came to the hotel to meet us and take care of the paperwork. Driving on the left was a breeze and we enjoyed having a day to explore at our own pace. Our favorite galleries were the Devonish and Lynne Bernbaum’s studio. Both my mom and I picked up a few pieces of pottery at Devonish and my mom helped me purchase an original piece by Lynne Bernbaum as an early birthday present. While we had the car we also drove over to Cap Jaluca to take a look. Things were a bit chaotic since it was the first day they were open, and we didn’t stay long before heading back to the resort.

Here’s a list of the restaurants we tried while we were on the island:
Friday – The Straw Hat (see my thoughts above)
Saturday - Oliver’s, which was a recommendation by our hotel, after we found out Zurra closed. We enjoyed the view, the food and laughing with Miss B.
Sunday – Barrel Stay – This was probably our least favorite dining experience on the island. We found that the menu wasn’t descriptive enough and the mahi mahi we ordered came with an incredibly spicy sauce that wasn’t mentioned on the menu.
Monday – We picked up salads and treats at the Fat Cat while we had the rental car and ate dinner back on our patio at the Frangipani.
Tuesday – Trattoria Tramanto – This was the first night they were open and we had the place to ourselves. We had several nice conversations with the owner and the rest of the staff was kind and attentive. I loved my dinner of homemade pasta with shrimp and pesto, but, my mom found her pasta with a meat and pork ragu to be very salty.
Wednesday – Blanchard’s – For me, this was my favorite meal on Anguilla, but, my mom was disappointed with the quality of the pork in her reggae stew. We did agree though that the atmosphere, service and desserts were top notch.
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Old Dec 28th, 2008, 04:55 PM
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On Thursday afternoon, we sadly left the beautiful beaches of Anguilla for the last two days of our vacation on the French Side of St. Martin. Given my initial apprehension about staying on St. Martin, I was trying to approach these next two days with an open mind, but, upon arrival at the ferry terminal in Marigot, I really wanted to get on the next ferry back to Anguilla. After spending the last 12 days on two very peaceful and serene islands, I just wasn’t prepared for the hustle and bustle of Marigot. When Delta changed their flight schedule and we had to decide whether to extend our vacation by two days or take the refund that Delta was offering us and rebook on another airline it became clear that it would actually be less expensive to stay longer in the Caribbean. Since the Frangipani began their high season rates during our last night on Anguilla, we decided that we really wanted to give L’Esplanade, on Grand Case a try. L’Esplanade wasn’t starting their high season winter rates until several days later, so, we still got a nice deal for mid-December.

We took a taxi from Marigot from Grand Case and got checked into the hotel. The grounds of the L’Esplanade were beautiful and we really appreciated all of the gorgeous Spanish tile and the abundant gardens. Our room, an ocean-view studio, was only OK. It had a wood-paneled ceiling which made the room feel a lot smaller and darker. The layout of the hotel was a bit odd for us as well, since we had to go up the steps to get from our room to the main reception area and out to the back of the hotel and then back down a series of steps to get to the pool and main pathway that leads to Grand Case. The view from our room and small balcony though was stunning, and we enjoyed lounging on deck chairs watching the boats in the sea and the butterflies in the gardens.

After getting settled in our room, we didn’t have definitive plans for dinner, so, we decided to walk down to the Grand Case lolos. We liked the menu at Sky’s the Limit better than Talk of the Town, so, we ended up eating at Sky’s the Limit (and providing a good meal for a lot of the local insects). The $1 to 1 euro conversion rate was nice, but, my garlic shrimp was tasteless. My mom’s grilled marlin steak was better taste wise, but, it was also filled with bones. When we walked back to the hotel, we had a scary moment when we were accosted by a man who seemed to be pretty strung out on something. My mom and I did a quick side-step and proceeded to walk very quickly back to L’Esplanade. I had read previously that the hotel had security posted at both the bottom and top of the footpath that leads to Grand Case, but, in the two nights we were there, we only saw security posted at the reception desk in the evenings.

On our final full day of vacation, we decided just to lay low and relax on the grounds of the hotel. We took some pictures, visited the pottery studio and spent some time lounging on our patio. For dinner, we walked down the footpath one more time and ate at Spiga, which is the closest of the Grand Case restaurants to L’Esplanade. Spiga was also offering the $1 to 1 euro conversion, and it was a terrific value. The entire meal was delicious, but my favorite part was the pumpkin squash filled ravioli with a brown butter, sage and toasted pine nut sauce. I’d make it over and over again at home if I had the recipe.

On Saturday, we ordered the continental breakfast offered by L’Esplanade for $15/person. While it was nice to relax with breakfast in bed, the pastries were dried out and $15 seemed steep for 2 pastries and your choice of beverage (At the Straw Hat on Anguilla, the continental breakfast is only $8/person if you aren’t a guest of the Frangipani). My mom appreciated the nice touch of warming the cream prior to serving, so that she didn’t have to pour cold cream in her coffee. She joked that she was going to make my dad do that every morning for her coffee at home!

Shortly after breakfast, we finished packing and took a taxi back to the airport for our flights home. We encountered the same problems with Delta on the way home as we did on the way down to the Caribbean. We left St. Martin late, my mom only made her connection to Milwaukee because her flight was delayed, and I missed my flight to O’Hare entirely. Since it was the last flight of the day, I ended up calling a good friend in Atlanta to rescue me for the night. It was an unexpected surprise to see her and her family and I enjoyed the unplanned diversion before heading home. The real wake-up call that my vacation was over, aside from writing this incredibly lengthy trip report, was landing at O’Hare on Sunday when the temperature was -3 and I didn’t have a coat!

Looking back on our two weeks in the Caribbean, my mom and I have remarked several times that we wish we could have done the trip in reverse, because everything we did after St. Kitts and Ottley’s seemed to be a bit of a let-down. Our stay at Ottley’s was just amazing, and we are already looking at dates for spending just a week there in late 2009. We loved the beaches, dining and the galleries on Anguilla, but, we missed the intimacy of Ottley’s while we were at the Frangipani. Although I’m probably not giving St. Martin a fair shake, from what I saw of the island, it just didn’t seem to be for me or my mom. The island was just too congested and busy for us to feel like we could fully relax there.

Thanks so much for reading my trip report and letting me share our experiences with you!
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Old Dec 28th, 2008, 06:48 PM
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Thanks for the trip report. It sounds like you had a great vacation.
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Old Dec 28th, 2008, 08:11 PM
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Thanks for an engaging trip report. You don't often read here of pairing St. Kitts with Anguilla, and even fewer who prefer St. Kitts! I especially enjoyed reading about Ottley's, as my husband and I had dinner there one night during our trip to St. Kitts. Don't you just love the outrageous hospitality of family-run places in the Caribbean? I mean really, pulling clothing out of their closet for you and your mom--that's definitely above the call of duty, and yet it's not uncommon. Just one of the many things I love about travel in the Caribbean.

Since you loved St. Kitts and are already planning a return trip, be sure to check out Nevis on your next visit. I liked it even better than St. Kitts!
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Old Dec 29th, 2008, 11:07 AM
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Thanks. A day trip to Nevis is in the cards for the return trip to St. Kitts next December. I'm sure I'll be posting and asking for ideas when the trip gets closer.

I don't know if you can say that I liked St. Kitts better than Anguilla. I certainly favor Ottley's over Anguilla, but, Anguilla is on my list of places to return the next time I feel the need for an utterly relaxing beach vacation. I'm listening to the winds blow outside my window in Chicago right now and trying to replace the sound in my mind with the waves crashing against the Meads Bay beach!
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Old Dec 30th, 2008, 07:51 AM
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Thank you for letting us know how your trip went. I do remember your earlier posting. Ottley's Plantation sounds really lovely. I'm glad you and your mom had an overall great vacation.
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Old Dec 30th, 2008, 09:44 AM
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Nice report,thanks for posting.
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Old Dec 30th, 2008, 11:44 AM
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Thanks for a great report. The first time I was in St Martin was 1986 and Orient Beach was beautiful and the island had many lovely spots. When I returned 2 years ago I was shocked by the growth and congestion. I'm going back on a ship next month and can't decide what to do or whether to get off! Have you ever been to Tortola or Virgin Gorda? Judging from your remarks, I think you'd enjoy the BVIs as well.
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Old Dec 30th, 2008, 01:33 PM
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i would love to hear whether or not you would recommend Frangipani or not... i couldn't quite tell if the positives outweighed the negatives. i'm trying to plan a trip for my husband's 30th birthday in february (peak season unfortunately) and i had almost decided to stay at Frangipani. we stayed at Cuisinart for our honeymoon in 2005 with an incredible (almost unbelievable) deal of $240/night for a junior suite... my how 3 years has changed those prices!! Cuisinart spoiled us completely though, because everywhere else in comparison seems shabby. if anyone out there can afford Cuisinart- GO!! i would love any input anyone could give me on other places on anguilla. i think after reading this i've decided "no" on staying in st. martin/st maarten... i'm looking into st kitts now.
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Old Dec 30th, 2008, 09:09 PM
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LLindaC - If you're going to be in St. Martin for the full day, you could easily arrange a day trip to Anguilla using the ferry. It's about a 25 minute crossing and our tickets were $15 for the one-way trip. I believe the beaches there are all public. The BVIs were actually on the short list for this trip as we were pondering what to after deciding against an extended stay in St. Martin. I hope to visit them soon.

Rebeccan - I think the Frangipani is perfectly lovely and once they can work out their renovation kinks they'll be in good shape. You won't be pampered there like you were at Cuisinart, but, the beach is gorgeous, the rooms are spacious and I loved falling asleep to the sounds of the waves crashing against the beach. Since the resort is much smaller than the Cuisinart, I think that even in high season, there would be fewer people to contend with on the beach as well. Having the Straw Hat on site is a big plus if you feel like staying parked at the resort. Go and enjoy!
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Old Dec 31st, 2008, 02:46 AM
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What a great report...thanks for posting. Those are 3 islands I am wanting to visit. Anguilla sounded really nice. I've got to get myself there...and as far as St Kitss and Nevis, it's def. in the cards for '10.

Peace, Greenie
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Old Dec 31st, 2008, 09:03 AM
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ny....we did do the ferry last time we were in St Martin! The places were worlds apart. As soon as the ferry landed everyone was saying "welcome, welcome" and we got this jovial cab driver who gave us a mini-tour and history lesson before taking us to a good place to park on the gorgeous beach. He arranged a time to pick us up at well. LIGHT years away from the craziness of St Martin, although I do love Marigot and some of the great restaurants over there (Mini-Club, Mark's Place, L'Auberge, etc)
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Old Jan 1st, 2009, 09:12 PM
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Enjoyed reading your Trip Report and comments about Ottley's and St. Kitts.

You should post your review on our friendly forum

I too love Ottley's Plantation. It's the "real" Caribbean!
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Old Jan 2nd, 2009, 05:33 AM
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Thanks for letting me read about your adventures. Did you ever get your luggage back?
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Old Jan 2nd, 2009, 08:05 AM
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Thanks so much for the great comments!

At the beginning of our trip, 3 out of our 4 bags arrived at Ottley's during brunch our first full day on the island and the last bag arrived the afternoon of the 2nd day. It was very important to get that last bag since it had all of the bathing suits, cover-ups and sun block and we really wanted to get to the beach! If it had taken any longer, we probbaly would have taken advantage of our trip insurance policy and filed a claim so we could have purchased some new things, but, we were just so blissfully happy at Ottley's, we didn't mind not having everything we packed. It was certainly a lesson learned for next year though. Bathing suits and sun block go in the carry-on bag!
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Old Jan 3rd, 2009, 05:31 PM
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We did Ottley's for the start of our vacation 8 yrs ago and then on to Anguilla. Yes, Ottley's is a beautiful location with very personalized service--it is a very special place but so are the beaches and people of Anguilla. Glad you got to share the "best of both worlds".
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Old Jan 4th, 2009, 06:48 AM
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Having been to St. Kitts and St. Martin multiple times, I had wondered how Anguilla would stack up. It sounds great.
Ottley's property was beautiful, but we only toured it.
Glad you had fun.
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