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

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Nov 29th, 2006, 06:24 AM
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St. Kitts, the Green Flash and Cruise Ships, Oh My! Or, how ejcrowe spent her Thanksgiving vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cockleshell was also gorgeous, and with a handful of tall palms there we were able to secure the shade we were craving. Someone on TripAdvisor had recommended eating at Lion’s Bar there, but we waited for about two hours and it never opened. If it had, we would have stayed there for the rest of the day. The water was gorgeous and the snorkeling was pretty good.
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Nov 29th, 2006, 07:41 AM
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Very cool, ej! Sounds like you packed a lot into a short period of time. I wish I had known you were going - we have a good friend named Kolanji with a t-shirt shop on the dock with some veeerry interesting T's!

Sorry about your flights - yipes. That is never fun. I had one that was just insane between Nevis and St Kitts. I was never so happy to be on the ground. That five minute flight seemed like 5 hours.

I was just totally over-whelmed by the Marriott. It is quite large and sprawling, and I agree out of place on the island. They have good deals online frequently, but I could not bring myself to stay there.

Glad you are home safely!
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Nov 29th, 2006, 07:46 AM
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Sounds like a great trip, ejcrowe. You were just "across the harbor" from me.

Where is the part about the green flash? Or did I miss it?

Welcome back.
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Nov 29th, 2006, 07:52 AM
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Hi ej. Sounds like you enjoyed the trip. The dress code is an interesting tidbit. I don't think I knew cruise ships stopped in St. Kitts. We'll do St. Kitts one day although it's not high on the list. I've always had the impression that the Marriott seemed out of place for that island. I'm not hot on staying there but would be willing to do it via Priceline. I'll take a good deal anytime!
Looking forward to the rest of the report.

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Nov 29th, 2006, 08:14 AM
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Hi,thanks for the great report. We visited both St. Kitts and Nevis on one day cruise stops (on one of the very small ships, Seabourn Legend)last April and are returning to both in March because we loved them. I agree with you about the Marriott, it's really out of place and not exactly my cup of tea but the beach is nice (you can walk for miles) and we are going on points for three nights so I won't complain. Then balancing out that huge resort with five nights at Nisbet on Nevis which is much more my style. The great info on all the beaches is much appreciated and it sounds like Sugar Bay Club is a pretty decent resort for the price, I looked into it but then had the Marriott points option instead, but it's good to have some first-hand knowledge and I read your posts frequently as I know you travel the Caribbean a lot. What's your all-time favorite Caribbean resort? My all time favorite beach resort is Four Seasons Punta Mita in Mexico. Don't have one absolute favorite in the Caribbean yet, have lots that I liked for a variety of reasons and lots more on my list to visit -- Caneel Bay, Peter Island and several on Anguilla in particular. My husband is a golfer so lots of great place we haven't gotten to due to a lack of golf. Did you happen to have dinner at any St. Kitts restaurants that were particularly good or did you stick with the AI?
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Nov 29th, 2006, 09:15 AM
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sounds like a great trip overall, ej.
I had to laugh about no washcloths though.
That is one of my pet peeves. In Europeran hotels or Caribbean hotels which have the European influence,, you often do not find wash cloths being supplied. For the life of me I cannot figure out why.
I have learned to bring along my own. LOL

I also had to laugh at the after 6 dress code.
That is so typical of British islands.
My husband and I were in Grenada with friends many years ago. We were going to leave the next day on a 2 week sailing trip. Our friends had already packed and put their clothes on the boat.
The hotel we were staying at had a beach barbecue that night. Seating was in the open air dining area that was right on the beach. nothing fancy for sure.
Our friend had a nice pair of dress shorts on and they would not seat him. He had to borrow a pair of my husband's long pants. Now my husband is 6'1" and our friend is about 5'6".
the pants were baggy and long and he really looked funny, but that satisfied the dress code enforcers. LOL
stupid really.
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Nov 29th, 2006, 11:16 AM
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Thanks for the feedback so far, y'all. It's always nice to be encouraged.

Statia, I waved to you across the way when we stopped at the Brimstone Hill. I'll continue the trip report after I get home tonight--the Green Flash and food are yet to be covered.

Eileen, it sounds like you have a great trip planned. Between St. Kitts and Nevis, I definitely prefer Nevis, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time on St. Kitts. I don't even have a favaorite island, much less a favorite resort--it's too hard for me to choose. I'd better reserve my opinion until I have a chance to visit several dozen more place.

Barbara, your story made me chuckle. I have one to share with you, too. Sugar Bay only require long pants, so two guys came down to dinner wearing some really ratty looking blue jeans and sneakers. There's no way you can tell me that they looked better that way than in a nice pair of shorts. I'm really not against dress codes at all, but I do think they should fit the situation.

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Nov 29th, 2006, 11:37 AM
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Great report.
How about those DEACS?
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Nov 29th, 2006, 01:21 PM
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Glad to hear there is more coming, ejcrowe. Our property actually does face Brimstone Hill. Too bad I didn't know when you were there or I could have gotten my binoculars.

Looking forward to the rest of your report!
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Nov 29th, 2006, 03:20 PM
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ej, As always your trip reports are a delight to read!! You write in a beautiful style.

I spent a week ago looking at St. Kitts and lodging. If I remember correctly, there is suppose to be pretty good snorkeling off Timothy's Beach Resort. Is that where you snorkeled? Did you by chance go near Ottley's Plantation Inn? That resort interested me the most. I thought it would be a good opportunity to check out Nevis as well. If you had a choice, which island would you choose?

I've never had flights like you described. Couldn't have been fun. I'm glad you had a good time. Thanks again for sharing. Owa
 
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Nov 29th, 2006, 04:19 PM
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I am enjoying your report and admire and applaud your review of Sugar Bay, by keeping in mind the value for the money spent. It provides people with useful information to make their own decisions.

It seems that all too often, especially on tripadvisor, people are unhappy when they don't get 4 Season service and amenities at a moderate or relatively inexpensive hotel.

Thanks. Look forward to reading more.

CW

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Nov 29th, 2006, 05:08 PM
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Thanks for the trip report ejcrowe. I'm taking notes from your report on the beaches. Any particular restaurants not to be missed?

Welcome home!
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Nov 29th, 2006, 07:47 PM
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FOOD – As I mentioned, we ate the buffet breakfast every morning at Sugar Bay, which featured the usual fare of eggs, some kind of meat, pastries, fruit, bread, cereal, and either pancakes or French toast. We ate all but two evening meals there as well, which were also buffet and were fine. Nothing to merit real praise or criticism for any meal at the resort.

Cathy’s is one of the smaller beach bars on Frigate Bay where we had the best meal of our trip. If she hadn’t been handing out flyers to folks renting umbrellas & chairs, we might never have stopped there. She offers a small different menu every day, and the day we stopped she was barbecuing chicken that was out of this world. We shared a small platter of chicken consisting of two thighs and two drumsticks. It was so good that after licking our fingers and smacking our lips like satisfied cats we almost ordered another platter. One order of chicken plus three Caribs came to US $11. Best value of the trip, and best tasting food.

Golden Lemon – We stopped here for lunch on the day we drove around the island. It was quite lovely and the way it was almost a part of the village reminded me strongly of the French Quarter in New Orleans. There was an air of faded decadence about the place, and like many New Orleans courtyards the oasis inside the walls was unexpected. My flying fish sandwich was excellent, but DH’s conch chowder and chicken salad sandwich were merely good. Both meals came with sweet potato chips and cole slaw. With a yummy mango margarita, the meal came to US $31, including tax and service charge.

Ottley’s—On the same drive around the island we stopped here to make a dinner reservation for that night. FYI: If you’re not a guest, you will very snootily be asked for a credit card number in order to make a dinner reservation and informed that there will be a US $25 per person service charge if you’re a no-show. This didn’t make a great first impression, especially since the dining room turned out to be only about 1/3 full that night. However, the grounds were so gorgeous, and the views so breathtaking, that we returned that night with a real sense of eagerness. You have a choice for either a 4-course prix-fixe of US $72 per person or you can order anything a la carte. Not feeling up to 4 courses, we each ordered an appetizer, an entrée, and dessert, which came to within just a few dollars of the prix-fixe cost. DH ordered the heart of palm salad while I opted for the West Indian peanut soup, both of which were outstanding. We both ordered the coconut shrimp for our main course and were both a bit disappointed. It was perfectly fine, but definitely not worth the cost of US $40 for only three shrimp! For dessert, I ordered the coconut ice cream and DH ordered the banana upsidedown cake, but the server brought us two ice creams instead, even after verifying our order. When I told her that we had actually wanted one cake and one ice cream, she left the ice cream and brought a slice of cake about 10 minutes later, by which time the ice cream had melted. The cake was a little lacking, the ice cream was excellent, but our intent was to eat them both together. Another major service gaffe was the bartender. Twice my husband ordered gin on the rocks and twice he was served a gin & tonic. While we will always prefer good humored service (which Ottley’s provided in abundance) with a few mishaps over a cold but perfect execution, I for one was greatly surprised and a little disappointed with the service lapses. Ottley’s has an almost universal reputation for fine food and outstanding service and I’m sorry to say that our visit that night just didn’t live up to it. I kept comparing Ottley’s to Montpelier on Nevis, and it just didn’t cut it.

Monkey Bar – We ate here for lunch one day at this beach bar on Frigate Bay. Well, we should have just returned to Cathy’s for more BBQ chicken! I wasn’t feeling very hungry, so I just nibbled DH’s French fries that came with his US $10 hamburger. I was able, however, to finish a delicious Bailey’s Colada (US $4). The drink was excellent but the food was forgettable.

Shipwreck Bar – We never actually stepped foot into this place on the far end of Friars Beach, as it looked a little crowded. But we stationed ourselves at a small bar just down the way whose name still eludes me, and one of the men at the bar offered to fetch some food for us when we got peckish. He brought us back two cheeseburgers and fries and we ordered beers from the bar to wash them down. I believe that the food was EC $50, including a nice tip for the man who brought us the food. The burgers were okay but the fries were excellent. But best of all was not having to leave our lazy post to get it!

Mr. X’s Shiggidy Shack – With a name like that, how could we not give him our custom? On two clear evenings we returned to this place on Frigate Bay in order to watch the sunset and have some sundowners. The first night we ate a few nibbles from the kitchen, but I don’t know what the prices are there because I never saw the menu or the tab. The food was good, but the memory of seeing my Very First Green Flash (yes, it deserves capital letters!) far outstrips the memory of anything else that night. It was beautiful and elusive and magical and I almost wasn’t sure that I saw it, but then everybody around me started clapping. The next night we kept watch for it again and weren’t disappointed. The Green Flash that time was more lingering, almost caressing the spot on the horizon where the sun disappeared. Yup, I am a very happy camper. After about a dozen trips to various islands, I have finally seen it.

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Nov 29th, 2006, 07:58 PM
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Diana, I meant to say before that I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to greet your friend.

Owa, I did a little snorkeling at a few places. Of the places I saw, I'd say that Timothy Beach/Frigate Bay was at the lower end, after Friars Bay and Cockleshell Bay. Visibility was pretty low at Frigate Bay the two times I snorkeled there around the rocks, with lots of particles in the water. Visibility was much better at the other two places. Between St. Kitts and Nevis, I would choose Nevis, although the weather was so bad for my trip to Nevis that I never even unpacked my snorkel gear!

mymoosie, I'm afraid that Cathy's beach bar is the only place we would consider a "must-do" if we go back to St. Kitts. I wouldn't NOT go to the other places, if that makes sense. If and when we return to St. Kitts, I'd like to try out Serendipity for dinner, which was my second choice after Ottley's.

One more little tidbit about the whole dress code whining that was on an active post before I left...I did my own little experiment by wearing long black pants to dinner on two nights just to see if I would be uncomfortable. I am smugly pleased to announce that I was completely at ease in the long pants, and this was an open-air restaurant. For those men out there who complain about having to wear long pants, I say either suck it up or choose a restaurant without a dress code.
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Nov 30th, 2006, 06:34 AM
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Thanks ejcrowe for a very interesting and detailed trip report.
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Nov 30th, 2006, 06:41 PM
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Wonderful trip report ejcrowe!!!

My uncle has been telling me for years to "watch for the green flash" when I go on cruises...

Ive always been like, "um, ok..."

So it does exist!!!!!!??

Thats very cool to know!!!!!

Anyone know what causes this?

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Nov 30th, 2006, 06:55 PM
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ej...Thanks for the great report! Your information is very helpful to us all. Sounds like a great trip was had by all.
Had I been on those plane rides, once I landed I would never have left to come home with all that turbulence! Uh oh, sounds like an excuse to live in the islands!
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Dec 1st, 2006, 06:24 AM
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Okay, this is the last installment of the trip report...

ACTIVITIES – Most of our time was spent driving around the island or sampling beach bars, but we did manage to see Brimstone Fortress, which was amazing. The scale is not as large as El Morro in Old San Juan, but it was beautifully restored and the beautiful backdrop of Mt. Liamuiga on one side and the Caribbean on the other somehow contrived to make Brimstone feel more impressive. Listening to the audio tour was quite moving, as for once the history and legacy of slavery were not backpedaled. You’re supposed to be able to see a few islands from the top of the hill, but we could only see Statia clearly, with Saba being only a hazy outline on the far horizon. We spent about two hours here walking around and then finishing up with drinking cold Ting at the commissary and buying an antique map reproduction at the gift shop. Perfect timing, as a horde of cruise ship passengers were just arriving as we finished our tour. Admission is US $8 and the audio guide is an additional US $5.

On the same day we pulled off the road to take some pictures of the Black Rocks, a rugged formation of volcanic stone along the east coast. I had seen a few photographs online and figured it might be worth while to stop for just a moment. Like so many things in life, these rocks were far more impressive in person. Really quite magnificent and absolutely worth the several minutes we were there. I don’t know how many of you are Tolkien fans, but for me the rocks reminded me of what much of Mordor must look like.

MISCELLANEOUS – We found the water on St. Kitts to be surprisingly delicious and did not once buy any bottled water. There are several sources of fresh water on the island and we were very happy to drink it.

All of the main roads on St. Kitts are wide and in good repair, which made the driving quite easy for those of us accustomed to driving on the righthand side of the road. Even the few secondary roads that we drove on were pretty good, requiring a slower speed but not filled with huge potholes. Unlike other islands where I’ve driven, there was a noticeable absence of cars parked randomly on the side of the road and most of the livestock did not congregate in the middle of the road, either, both of which contributed to easy driving. One of our favorite activities while out & about was spotting the many monkeys. We saw hundreds of them but did not get one single good picture of any.

Overall, DH and I enjoyed St. Kitts very much, but while we would not hesitate to return to the island or recommend it to other travelers, we probably will not be planning a return trip any time soon. We’re fortunate that we’ve never had a bad time in our Caribbean travels, but the more islands we see, the more we realize that some of them exude a strong siren call on us and St. Kitts just isn’t one of them. I am very glad that we got to experience it, but there were two fairly big surprises for me, despite the many obsessive hours of online research I did. The quality of the snorkeling, while not excellent, far surpassed my very low expectations. The cruise ship crowds, however, were a very unpleasant surprise. I knew that there was a new port on the island, but nothing in my preparatory reading indicated how crowded certain parts of the island would feel, nor that there would be a large ship in port every day.

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Dec 1st, 2006, 06:28 AM
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Yes, NatureGirl, they really do exist! There was a thread about the Green Flash on this board about a year ago, where several people posted their experience with seeing it as well as website links to see photographs of the green flash and scientific reasons behind it. Part of it is the way the human eye sees red and green wavelengths of light but I don't know the rest. Conditions have to be just right for seeing the flash, and though I religiously watch sunsets while on vacation, this was my first time. It can also be seen from mountaintops or even top floors of skyscrapers--you don't need an ocean-horizon for it.

Some folks then chimed in about seeing a moon-bow, which is apparently a rarer phenomenon. I think Statia was one of the people who reported the moonbow.
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Dec 1st, 2006, 06:55 AM
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Thanks for that informative trip report, ejcrowe. I loved Brimstone Fortress too, and I am not one to tour those types of things. The views were awesome, and the story behind the building of the fortress is hard to believe.

Glad you got to see that green flash - that alone made the trip (and the flights) worthwhile!
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