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Trip Report Turks & Caicos - Provo - January trip report

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Glad that first impressions are not always correct. We are a family of four – two 50 somethings and two 20 somethings. As a foursome we have been to St. John (loved it), Bequia (liked it a lot), Akumal, Mexico (loved it), Puerto Rico (liked it) and as less than a foursome to Jamaica, St. Lucia, Barbados, Grand Cayman, Bermuda and Costa Rica for tropical vacations as well as a few other stopovers on a couple cruises. I chose TCI because of the short travel time and slightly warmer temperatures than the Bahamas. We were looking to snorkel and scuba dive and swim and explore and relax.

After a direct flight from Boston, we got off the plane in Provo and were hit by intense humid heat and a fairly long walk to the terminal. It was sunny and windy. We got our rental car from Grace Bay Car Rental – a Nissan Sunny, equivalent to a Toyota Corolla, with the steering wheel on the right side. We made our way to Island Breeze with only one small detour and just a little apprehension about driving on the left side of the road. Along the way, the island was flat and uninteresting but so far so good.

We checked into our cottage at Island Breeze with Island Man Wayne – very nice and bright and beachy. It was the heat of the day and I was worried about only having air conditioning in the bedrooms but the cross breezes in the cottage are great. We walked to Grace Bay beach to get some lunch and check things out about 2:00. The beach access is by Seven Stars resort and opens up on the most crowded part of the beach. Yes, the water was very blue and the sand soft but the beachfront was filled with hotels and beach chairs, reminding me more of Miami than the vacation I had envisioned. The water felt cold to me. I wondered if we had made a mistake coming here.

We had lunch at Seaside Café. Got a bucket of 5 beers for a good price and all of our lunches were good and not too expensive. No more than any U.S. resort area. Our lunch for 4 totaled $90. Friendly service – something that was consistent through our whole vacation.

That afternoon as we sat on the back patio of the cottage and watched the flamingos and birds on the pond, I actually felt chilly with the breeze (and the rest of the vacation only used air conditioning a couple nights when we moved up to the other Island Breeze Villa unit.) I decided that the next day we would go to Taylor Beach – the “baby beach” because it is shallow for so far out- and maybe that would be warmer and less crowded.

Taylor Beach wasn’t too hard to find from directions I found online. We actually missed one turn and a truck driver behind us smiled and motioned back to where we should have turned. Seeing gorgeous Chalk Sound on the way to the beach was spectacular. Taylor beach is a beautiful expanse of beach with private villas. There weren’t very many people there and we could relax and wade and swim in the water. We did not come prepared as others did with coolers. We just brought water bottles so we didn’t stay as long as we might have. We had lunch at Las Brisas. Very scenic setting overlooking Chalk Sound. Good service. Drinks a little pricey and $16 for 3 coconut shrimp. But we enjoyed our lunches and then headed to Sapodilla Bay beach – not quite as shallow as Taylor Bay and also very nice, serene, not very crowded. Successful first full day of vacation.

Stopped at the IGA grocery store on the way back. Expected prices to be better than at Graceway Gourmet market in Grace Bay where we had gone the night before, but they really weren’t much different. A box of Special K with strawberries was still $7.79. Milk I think was $5.99. Lemonade was about $7. We didn’t go back to IGA again because we didn’t see any price difference and we could walk to Graceway. At both stores things seemed not quite twice the prices we have at home. Some things like a Colgate toothbrush ($2.50) and no-name Tylenol ($3.50) seemed the same price as home. We brought sunscreen but those prices didn’t seem too far above what we pay either. Sliced turkey breast was $12 a pound. Graceway also had a huge selection of fruits and vegetables and prepared foods and bakery items and really anything you could need, including alcohol (not sold on Sundays!!).

After Sunday, the days run together in my mind but over the rest of the week we explored the island a little and two of us went scuba diving with Dive Provo twice. Both times thoroughly enjoyed. Flamingo Divers were booked so if you want to dive with them, reserve ahead.

Two of us snorkeled from shore at Coral Gardens. Had lunch at the Somewhere Café at Coral Gardens – good tacos, expensive drinks – and we were able to use the beach chairs to relax and read. Saw lots of parrotfish which are our favorites and many other fish. The beach at Coral Gardens is narrow but the atmosphere is nice and the view down towards Turtle Cove has sections of undeveloped beach. We like this vibe better than up farther on Grace Bay. We made the mistake of walking down the beach to Turtle Cove in the heat of the afternoon – it took over an hour in the hot sun and hard walking in the sand. We passed Bight Reef and Smith Reef both good snorkeling spots, especially Smith Reef, but we didn’t stop. We headed inland and after a few wrong turns found our way into the town at Turtle Cove. Nice marina area. We had rum punch and shared some jerk chicken nachos at the Tiki Hut and brought half of it home. Good rum punch and good chicken nachos (ate dinner there later in the week and enjoyed that too, recommend the West Indian Chicken). We asked the waitress if she could call us a taxi. She did and she checked on it when it wasn’t there in 10 minutes even though we told her we were in no hurry. Nice taxi driver with his daughter in the front seat who he had just picked up from school. $18 from Turtle Cove back to Ports of Call.

I had read mixed reviews of Upstairs Bar and Grill at Ports of Call but it was a short walk from Island Breeze so we went there one night. There were only a few other people there. Service was very slow – which is what people complain about – but we were prepared for that. Several people had also mentioned that the drinks were very strong. True also. With the casual atmosphere (plastic tables) and slow service my husband did not expect to have a good meal. But he loved his grouper special which was more gourmet than he expected and my curry chicken sandwich was yummy and the fries were handcut. The jerk chicken was just okay and the conch fritters were good. There was a local musician playing. A successful relatively inexpensive dinner out.

One day we went out to Malcolm Bay beach. The scuba divers had seen the northwest side of the island on their dive trip so we ventured out. We saw greenery and rolling hills, a nice change of scenery. There are warnings about not leaving your valuables unattended on the beach on that part of the island. People apparently live in the brush and will sometimes steal things left unattended. We were told the same thing in St. John and other islands, as well as the same advice of leaving your rental car with the windows open and nothing of value inside, so we were not deterred. We got to Malcolm Bay beach and no one was there. I had seen rock formations in pictures online so we headed away from the beach access and across the rocks. Not another soul in site. Not long after we got there, two uniformed men (as in State official, not police) gave us the same warning about not leaving things unattended. Which we didn’t. The snorkeling from shore at Malcolm beach is awesome, it is more a snorkeling beach than a swimming beach. The waves crashing against the rocks give the whole place a more wild feel. After a while we decided to walk back towards the beach access. Now there were several people there. We did some more snorkeling from shore there – also excellent.

We went to Sailing Paradise for lunch. Pretty pastel buildings. Sailboat offshore, pelican diving. My fried fish lunch was an actual half of fish, bones, tail and all, fried. While it was not as I expected, the fish was sweet and good. I can’t recall what others had, no major wows, no major disappointments. Slow friendly service. Cash only.
One afternoon we went up to the Leeward and Pelican beach area. Beautiful beautiful swimming beaches. Shells and conchs on the beach. Amazing blue water, gentle waves. Only a few other people were there. I could have stayed there and swam and floated forever…..

We all took a half day boat trip with Island Vibes one morning with Spike and Mo. They were late picking us up at the Seven Stars beach because the first pickup down the beach had apparently thought pickup was in front of the hotel. Still we knew to expect that having gotten used to island time so it was no big deal. It was a very windy week the week we were there and this affected the dive sites and now affected our snorkel site. We want to a smaller reef but the snorkeling was still good – people saw barracuda and larger fish that we don’t often see from shore. (Oh, and after a couple days in Provo, the water did not seem so cold to me, I just plunged in and got used to it in minutes.) We then went to the back side of Little Water Cay (Iguana Island). There Mo showed us how they get conch out of the shell. Then we had free time to walk around and look for iguanas and/or sit on the beach or swim. We saw several iguanas in the grasses and waded through the shallow waters. There was another tour boat there and a Beaches boat over on the other side. Still a quiet setting. Back on the boat and conch salad for lunch along with rum punch, soda and water. Then we went out towards some mangroves and anchored while everyone who wanted to could climb up on top of the boat and jump off or dive off a diving board. Everyone from 22 to 72 did it. Got great pictures of each one in our family. Dropped off back at Seven Stars almost exactly 4 hours later. Highly recommended trip.

One night I was struggling to decide where to eat dinner for a nice but casual dinner on the water. Had checked out a couple spots on a long walk of Grace Bay earlier in the day and reviewed tripadvisor reviews and couldn’t decide. Ended up going to Hemingways at the Sands Resort. A long walk from Island Breeze but we walked it. Recent reviews had questioned the quality of the service but the restaurant, the service, the food, exceeded our expectations – all excellent. The setting was lovely. The furniture was nicer, less beach bar, more beach lounge, than I expected. We ended up ordering 4 or 5 drinks, a couple appetizers, 4 entrees and 4 desserts (that what always gets you, no matter where you go, is the $8-9 desserts.) Total bill, with tip was $250. The service was the best we had on the island, the most attentive and very friendly. (What struck us about the island was that service was pleasant everywhere, from the grocery store security guard and cashier, to the Giggles ice cream shop clerk, to The Patty Place staff to the taxi driver to the gift shop clerk’s, especially those at Ports of Call, like Mama’s and another one I can’t remember the name of. The only time we got more typical retail service with no greeting was at Dive Provo and another shop in the Salt Mills. These shops were not staffed by TCI people. Anyway, I digress.) We loved our dinner at Hemingways.

Places we wish we had gone – over to North and Middle Caicos, just didn’t have the time or inclination to either go on a guided tour or get over there after a $50 ferry ride and then rent a car but I would go there if I came back to TCI – and to Coco Bistro or Caicos Café or Da Conch Shack or various other restaurants we had heard about – food on this trip was universally good except for…...

Places we wish we hadn’t gone. The Pizza place in Grace Bay. Our last night we had one person recovering from too much rum punch on the Island Vibes boat, and one battling illness (ended up back home with the flu and pneumonia) so we went out and brought back pizza. The pizza took an hour, the service was not friendly here now that I think about it, and the food was mediocre. The tomato sauce tasted like tomato soup to me. The BBQ chicken pizza was okay but too sweet. The plain pizza had almost no cheese. The crust was okay.

But one bad meal did not ruin our trip. Although getting out of the country almost did. The disorganization was amazing at the check-in lines, and security lines, there were two airport guys yelling at each other, passengers in line yelling at us when an airport employee motioned for us to go up to a counter (they had apparently been waiting but through all the chaos had been neglected), and the terminal was crowded with not enough seats for everyone. Many people grumbling, well at least now I want to go home. This was a Saturday which might be the worst day to travel out of there. Get there 2 hours early, check in online and print your boarding passes if you can – it will save you time.

The water along Grace Bay beach and up at Leeward and Pelican is truly the most beautiful I have seen, and the white sand is powdery and cool underfoot. Once we got away from the crowded section of Grace Bay, we really enjoyed the island beaches. This is not a lush or geographically interesting island but the beaches are spectacular. And the water while cool to me at first, and cooler than islands farther south, was fine temperature-wise, refreshing. I did not get cold while swimming or snorkeling. And the people were probably the friendliest of all the islands we have visited. While there are parts of the island near the airport, that they tell you not to go to where your reception might not be welcoming, we felt safe wherever we went on the island. For a $400-$500 direct flight from Boston we would certainly go there again, but not on a Saturday….

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