Tortola Trip Report with Teen

Jul 13th, 2005, 09:29 AM
  #1  
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Tortola Trip Report with Teen

Just returned last night from a 4-night stay at the Sugar Mill with my husband and his 13-year old granddaughter for her birthday. Overall the trip was fantastic -- as much for our travel experience as for our bonding experience -- and I now feel as if she's as much "my" granddaughter as his.

We booked the 4-night Great Escape package, which included a room in a family suite and a 3 day car rental. The room was large, airy, and functional but somewhat lacking in decor. Overall, however, we loved the Sugar Mill. It was a very comfortable place lacking in pretension that did all of the important things well: food, service, atmosphere. The small beach usually only had a handful of folks on it at any given time and the snorkeling there was a nice way to end the day--tons of smaller, colorful fish that were fun to chase around the small swimming area. We ate three breakfasts, one lunch, and two dinners there and each meal was excellent. Our granddaughter's appetite grew more adventurous with each meal and I was very proud of her for trying (and liking) as many new foods as she did.

Other meals: we had breakfast at the Pub in Roadtown the first morning before catching our daysail. The banana pancakes were excellent and other breakfast foods were just solidly good. We had lunch day at Fat Hog Bob's, where the atmosphere was fun and the food good, but not spectacular. The view from the deck, however, was lovely. We walked up the road one night for dinner at Palm's Delight. The gingerwine chicken was everything folks said it would be and the vegetable curry roti was also delish. Another night we drove to Soper's Hole to have dinner at Pusser's. The food was good, the desserts were excellent (something similar to bananas Foster and a frozen mango souffle), but watching the sunset from the upstairs balcony was worth the price of admission. We tried to balance our meals between places my husband and I knew we would enjoy and places that would offer something "safe" for granddaughter.

Beaches/snorkeling: We drove to Smuggler's Cove our first free morning, which ended up being my favorite beach. We missed the turnoff the first time because the directional arrow on the sign pointed in the opposite direction we should have gone. The beach was a lovely stretch of light sand rimmed with sea grapes and palms. One fellow had a beach bar set up--chair rental was free with the price of your first drink. It was more crowded than I expected, with 40-50 people scattered about. Granddaughter and I spent most of our time snorkeling, where she saw her first barracuda. We thought the snorkeling was pretty good--the fish were plentiful and colorful but the reef looked mostly dead or dying.

After that we drove on to Brewer's Bay--talk about a harrowing drive! I was thankful not to meet any cars on the narrow road on the descent or ascent. It was another beautiful beach but nearly deserted. The beach bar there charged $10 per chair and by that time in the afternoon there was no shade to speak of. The snorkeling was comparable to what we saw earlier at Smuggler's, but granddaughter saw her first sting rays here, so it was another point for excited chatter on her part.

Our last day we drove out to Long Bay East on Beef Island which had no facilities whatsoever. There were a couple of dozen locals who were there doing a beach cleanup on one end of the beach, but we were the only folks there. The beach was stunning but lacking in all facilities. We were stupid enough to forget our drinks and snacks in our hurry to get there, so that took away from our enjoyment somewhat. The snorkeling there was also good--we swam with more rays and this time we saw sea turtles, too. Granddaughter LOVED that! We followed them around, first one and then another, both on the surface and below. It was as much of a treat to watch her enjoyment as it was to swim with those graceful creatures. We saw a couple of rays, too. The fish were less plentiful and colorful, but the coral looked healthier there than anyplace we had seen on the island. What's more, I think there was an old snorkel trail there, as we kept passing over various markers that were so overgrown that we could only make out a word or an image here and there.

to be continued...
ejcrowe is offline  
Jul 13th, 2005, 11:38 AM
  #2  
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Our big activity for the trip was a daysail with Patouche Charters on Saturday that went first to the Baths on Virgin Gorda and then to Haulover Bay on Cooper Island. I booked online in advance of the trip, based on reviews I've read and because their website stated that ample shade was available on board. Well, the only time there was any shade on board, much less an abundance of it, was during one hour under sail going and another hour under sail returning. Despite constant applications of sunscreen and wearing hats, t-shirts, etc, my husband got a little sunsickness that lasted until the following evening. We were all sunburned, even after making little tents with our towels on the return trip because we had gotten too much exposure. My other beef with Patouche is that I requested a vegetarian meal that was confirmed by reply email, but it never materialized. The crew, Shane and Clive, were both wonderful though, and they kept us entertained with stories about the BVI and their childhoods in Dominica.

I booked this trip specifically because the granddaughter had not done much snorkeling before and had never been in open water--we otherwise would have booked a trip to Norman Island and the Indians--so we wanted a place where she could build her confidence snorkeling close to shore. I assumed the Baths would be crowded and touristy, which they were, but was I was not expecting was the completely magical experience of snorkeling among humongous rocky grottos, not knowing what we'd find around the next boulder. It was purely enchanting--the combination of hidden recesses, the dappled sunlight, the explosion of color. We saw squid, lobster, eels, and more fish than I would have thought possible with all of those people milling around.

Lunch on board was decent for the others, but I was admittedly a little put out over my missing vegetarian meal. I settled for coleslaw and macaroons in the end. The rum punch was grainy and they ran out of water right after lunch. Again, mild disappoints.

Snorkeling at Cooper Island was very colorful and had the healthiest looking coral of all of our snorkeling stops on the entire trip. We had a good time overall, and as I said before, we liked the crew a lot, but I would suggest reconfirming everything once on island if you try to book in advance online. In retrospect, it was too bad that we saw our best snorkeling on our first day and that nothing from shore on Tortola could match what we saw on our daysail.

At the end of each day exploring, we would head back to the Sugar Mill beach for some swimming and relaxation. We made friends with a neighboring local who brought his 5-year old son down each day around 5:30pm, and by the end of the trip our granddaughter would prompt us in the afternoons that we needed to head back to the hotel in time to swim and play with the little boy.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the trip was being to observe the granddaughter throughout the week. At 13 (and at 5' 9" tall), she's already well on her way to becoming a caring and mature young woman, but there is still so much of the child about her--whether she was building sandcastles, chasing crabs, playing with the little boy, or riding up and down on the moving walkways at the airport in San Juan. But she was always on the lookout for little ways she could help other people on this trip--jumping up to offer a hand to a couple of elderly women on the airplane... offering to take pictures of families so they could all be in the picture together... going out of her way to hold doors open for people... looking forward to playing with the local boy and spending time teaching him to use a snorkel & mask. It was very rewarding, indeed.

Overall I liked Tortola very much, even though we were tailoring our activities to our young companion. We didn't get the chance to try several restaurants that we wanted--Brandywine for dinner, Sebastian's for breakfast, Mrs. Scatliffe's, North Shore Shell Museum, or Cane Garden Bay for anything. We loved Tortola, but even so, I think we would choose to stay on Virgin Gorda for our next trip to the BVI.

Other miscellanea: I was disappointed in the famed Painkiller. I tried them at two places and all I could taste was the rum, not any of the fun things. I found out that I loved two of the Sugar Mill's drinks, however. One was Pirate's Passion, a blended drink of passionfruit, pineapple and rum, and a drink called Swashbuckler, a blended drink of rum, coconut cream, mango, and raspberry puree.

Shopping in Roadtown was a disappointment, except for the excellent little bookstore. We bought most of our souveniers at Bamboushay Pottery, the Sugar Mill boutique, and the shops at Soper's Hole. We wanted to see Aragorn's Studio but didn't make it out there.

The driving was not as bad as I feared it would be. Using a left-handed steering wheel and driving on the left was easier than the right-handed steering wheel on Nevis. A couple of the hills made me nervous and I was glad to have four-wheel drive. My only regret was not being able to get really good looks at the views because I had to watch the road.

Although we seldom saw any bugs, we were eaten up each night, even after dousing our legs & ankles with an Off Skintastic spray. Weather was perfect for us--a few showers at night while were were playing cards under the large gazebo at the Sugar Mill, or an early morning rain right before sunrise--delicious to listen to while lying under the metal roof of our family suite.

Any questions? Fire away!
ejcrowe is offline  
Jul 13th, 2005, 12:52 PM
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Thank you EJ for your detailed and fun report! I haven't been to Torola and the Baths since 2001, and still have fond memories. The Baths were amazing and we too want to do a trip just to VG, so many places, not enough time....
Your bonding experience made me really smile. I feel the trips we have done, and are doing with our teens offer me the chance to really see and enjoy who they are, and becoming. So glad for you that you had a wonderful holiday together.
beachluver is offline  
Jul 13th, 2005, 01:13 PM
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EJ--Tanks for a great and detailed report. Haven't been to the BVI's yet but am thinking of a trip there. Sugar Mill was one place that intrigued me. Have their cookbook. Assume the beach there is rather small. Do they have a pool ?? Also Virgin Gourda and Anegada which may be a little remote. Maybe split time between both. Do you have any recommendations as to where to stay on Virgin Gorda ??
HowardC is offline  
Jul 13th, 2005, 01:34 PM
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Howard, you're correct about the Sugar Mill beach. It's very small, but it was certainly adequate for our needs since we were driving around to other beaches anyway. I was told by a local we met there that the SM beach is manmade. The coral/rocky area begins about 50 feet offshore and marks one end of the swimming area. The other sides are formed by two jetties (is that the right word? A row of rocks?) and the beach. Our last afternoon there during high tide I swam out over the coral but it was still extremely shallow and I felt a little nervous about hitting something. The snorkeling wasn't appreciably better on the other side, although the fish were quite a bit larger. During the morning the beach is shaded but in the afternoon there's no shade, though you can sit out at the Islands beachside restaurant at the tables and chairs. The pool is small and round, accurately depicted on the website.

A split between Anegada and Virgin Gorda is exactly what my husband and I are considering. I expect that Anegada's beaches could rival your favorites on Provo and Anguilla, from all that I've read about them. I like the looks of Mango Bay and Biras Creek on Virgin Gorda, but others here who've actually stayed on VG would be more helpful in that arena.

We got a signed copy of the Sugar Mill cookbook and a bottle of rum as part of our package--I'm looking forward to trying out some recipes. Any particular recs?
ejcrowe is offline  
Jul 13th, 2005, 01:43 PM
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ej, your report is a delight to read. was at the baths recently and thought them at first touristy and then began to discover the enchantment. i couldn't agree more about painkillers. too sweet for me.
i too am curious to know about staying on virgin gorda. is this island larger than i am thinking - which is tiny? if you stay on vg is there a day or time when the crowds are not around the baths? other beaches?
virginia is offline  
Jul 13th, 2005, 01:53 PM
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Virginia, I was told that early mornings and late afternoons are good times for The Baths and that during the week is better than the weekend, when daytrippers from the USVI traipse over for a look. And according to fellow Fodorite Saharabee, The Baths are less crowded during the summer than in the winter season. For example, when we arrived on Saturday around 11:30 am, there were still plenty of moorings available for other boats, but Saharabee said that when she and her husband went that the moorings were all taken. When Fodorite Diana stayed on VG a couple of years ago she stayed at Mango Bay and said it was one of the most beautiful beaches and some of the best snorkeling she'd ever seen. I'd like to experience it for myself. I also like the looks of Guavaberry Spring Homes, which come equipped with car rental for length of your stay. My husband and I would like to get back to the Caribbean just the two of us sometime in '06, as we will have had three back-to-back trips traveling with either his granddaughters or my mother. The other two will no doubt be as splendid as the Tortola trip, but the two of us just really want to get away for some time alone. You know? But it's a tough decision. Do we try Grenada? Return to Nevis? All life's decions should be so demanding!
ejcrowe is offline  
Jul 13th, 2005, 06:38 PM
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Thank you for a wonderful recount of your trip. I love the Baths too, and it's one of the reasons we decided to invest in the Virgin Islands. I'd never snorkeled around those "Flintstone" type formations before. Did you do the swim through? There's a short tunnel about 12 feet under water that we discovered on our first trip and we love darting back and forth through it whenever we go back. What's best about your trip report is that it seems you did some great bonding with your grand-daughter. I can tell you will always be in her heart after such a terrific trip.
Tuxedocat is offline  
Jul 14th, 2005, 11:05 AM
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Tuxedocat, I don't think I saw the particular tunnel you're talking about, but I don't think we would be daring enough to swim through something that far underwater. But we did submerge and swim through a couple of short passages just below the surface.

I remember that you frequently post on St. John. Is that where your investment lies, or is it elsewhere in the VI?

As for the Baths, Shane one of the Patouche crew, said that they were almost unique in the world and that the only other location with the "Flintstone" setting, as you dubbed it, is Mauritius. Have you been there?
ejcrowe is offline  
Jul 15th, 2005, 02:44 PM
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EJ,

Thanks for a wonderful trip report !

I was most pleased to read that you felt it was a "bonding" experience with your granddaughter That really made me smile. She sounds like a delightful and mature young woman...another smile from me.

Thanks for your encouragement about driving in Nevis. When anyone says "round-about", I have images of them in DC and of course the all-time worst in Portsmouth, NH.

I have time to work on my courage. Maybe I'll watch "The Wizard of Oz" a few more times ;-)

Marion
MarionCK is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2006, 12:43 PM
  #11  
 
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Thanks so much. I printed this out, and am taking it with me next week!
tewels is offline  

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