Category Archives: Caribbean

Boat Sharing Promoted for Travel to Cuba

Boatsetter provides perivate option for travel to Cuba.

boatsetter-logoWhen Ernest Hemingway traveled between Key West and Cuba, he often did so on “Pilar,” his 1934 speed boat. It was described in a 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine as having been “marketed by Wheeler as a 38-foot, twin-cabin ‘Playmate’ with a 70-hp Chrysler Crown gasoline engine reportedly capable of generating a cruise speed of 8 knots and a top speed of 16 knots. But Hemingway had specified some addendums (and would later specify a few more), thereby making her one of the first—if not the first—custom sportfishing vessels of the 20th century.”

Now Boatsetter, likened to “the Air BnB of boating,” is promoting boatsharing as a way for visitors to reach Cuba in the Hemingway way.   (Sorry. Couldn’t resist. ) Who would have thought it?  The company offers a knowledgeable team from the boat rental community that includes boat owners and captains who know the southern waterways, as well as what needs to be done before setting sail for the island so newly accessible to American travelers. Boatsetter will walk customers through the process of filling out the right paperwork to finding the right yacht with boat rental options available in Miami and Key West.

Boatsetter Cuba is an international peer-to-peer boat rental service headquartered in Aventura, Florida. Currently, the company boasts the world’s largest network of U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captains and has a fleet of over 4,000 boats worldwide. Boatsetter provides safe and fun boat rentals, including “world-class insurance, 24-hour free cancellations, access to our network of certified captains and worldwide fleet of privately-owned boat rentals of all sizes and styles.”

It’s not a bargain way to travel, of course, but it certainly is a memorable way to reach Cuba. FoMoInfo: 305-570-4768.

Cuba Flights About to Take Off

JetBlue is the first with regular flights.

JetBllueWith the normalization of U.S. -Cuba relations, airlines are gearing up to start scheduled (i.e., non-charter) service. JetBlue is the first to pull away from the gate with one-way fares from $99 beginning August 1 flying between Fort Lauderdale airport (FLL) in Florida and Cuba’s Santa Clara (SNU) . The carrier has been servicing Cuba with charter flights. If all goes according to plans, Camagüey and Holguín flights are to be added in November, eventually also Havana flights are to begin.

Cruise Lines’ Broken Promises

Caribbean islands expected that money would flow into local economies.

TouristI am no fan of cruises — and the bigger the ship, the less I like them. Pictures of floating behemoths towering over local landmarks and landscapes make my stomach churn. The opposite aspect of tourism, especially in developing countries, is eco-tourism, cultural tourism and voluntourism.

The 'Oasis of the Seas,' currently the world's largest cruise ship, carries more than 6,000 passengers -- most of whom have no real interaction with the places and people they visit.
The ‘Oasis of the Seas,’ currently the world’s largest cruise ship, carries more than 6,000 passengers — most of whom have no real interaction with the places and people they visit.

A dispiriting Associated Press report” “World’s biggest cruise ships drop anchor in Caribbean, but ship-to-shore feud brews over cash,” starts with the observation that “tourists emerge by the hundreds from a towering, 16-deck megaship docked at the Caribbean’s newest cruise port. They squint in the glare of the Jamaican sun, peer curiously at a gaggle of locals beyond a wrought-iron fence and then roar out of town on a procession of air-conditioned tour buses.

“Few stop to buy T-shirts, wooden figurines or beach towels from the dozens of merchants lining the road outside the fence, or visit the colonial-era buildings that dot the town. Not many even venture beyond the terminal’s gates, unless it’s in one of the buses that whisk them past increasingly disgruntled vendors and taxi drivers.”

And the report continues along that vein. Bottom line is that these megaships exemplify everything that is wrong with a big part of the tourism industry: superficial visits often to private islands or fenced-in areas available only to passengers, the failure of trickle-down dollars into the local economy, visitors’ isolation from the place they are visiting. Read the piece and weep. At least that’s what I did.

RCCL Halts ‘Allure of the Seas’ Sailing

Super-sized  cruise ship out of service while propulsion problems are addressed

RoyalCaribbean-logoWhen Royal Caribbean announced its “Allure of the Seas” back in 2009, it boasted not only about its size (6,000+/- passenger, crew of 2,000, amenities aplenty). Along with its sister ship, the “Oasis of the Seas,” it ist the largest cruise ship on the planet. “Propulsion problems” became apparent last month and kept the behemoth from attaining full speed, meaning shorter port calls, disgruntled passengers and unhappy vendors in the eastern Caribbean.

The line has now canceled the February 23 sailing. The “Allure” will operate through the Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and MLK holiday, before putting in at a shipyard in the Bahamas, missing Presidents; Weekend. Pod propulsion systems are considered more efficient than conventional propulsion systems but are difficult to repair at sea.

Royal Caribbean's "Allure of the Seas," is the world's largest cruise ship.
Royal Caribbean’s “Allure of the Seas” is the world’s largest cruise ship. (Royal Caiibean photo)


The diagnosis was mechanical issue, with problems in one of the  three “propulsion pods.”” Bearings, the line said, were experiencing  “unanticipated wear.” Maneuverability was said to have been unaffected. This is not an isolated problem. Celebrity Cruises’ 2,138-passenger “Celebrity Millennium had its own pod issue that resulted in the cancellation of several voyages.

Frontier to Launch Denver-Jamaica Service

Second Caribbean island on Frontier’s route map

JamaicaFlagWhen Frontier Airlines inaugurates non-stop service between its Denver hub and the Jamaica’s resort region of Montego Bay just before Christmas, it will increase the carrier’s service to the tropics and become Denver International Airport’s ninth country with nonstop access. Frontier’s other tropical destinations include five destinations in Mexico; San Jose and Liberia, Costa Rica; and Punta Cana in the  Dominican Republic, which Frontier flies to seasonally in the summer months. That’s five for Mexico, two for Costa Rica in Central America and now two Caribbean islands.

Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, another major resort area, are on the island’s north coast, while the capital of Kingston is diagonally across the island from Montego Bay on the southeast area. All -inclusives have become increasingly popular in Jamaica. I like to start my morning with “Classical Stretch,” an exercise program on Public Broadcasting. Several seasons were filmed at Jamaican resorts, so a few square feet at a time appear on my television screen almost every day.

Grenada’s New Underwater Sculpture Park

Art now. Artifical reef in the future. A long-view vision

Vicissitudes back in Grenada's Underwater Sculpture Park. Grenada/Grenadaines image.
Vicissitudes back in Grenada’s Underwater Sculpture Park. Grenada/Grenadaines image.

In the Molinere Bay Marine Protected Area’s shallow water just offshore at St. George’s, Grenada’s quaint capital, the noteworthy Underwater Sculpture Park combines art and a  marine habitat as an example of creativity as well as sustainable tourism. Said to be the world’s first of its kind,  British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor designed it to act as an artificial reef as fish, soft coral and later hard coral began colonizing the installation.

“As artificial reefs, the 105 sculptures are proving to be highly successful in attracting a stunning array of varied marine life and are easing the environmental pressure on other reefs in the area,” commented Howard Clarke, chairman of Grenada Underwater Sculpture Management, Inc (GUSMI). “Creating artificial reefs is not uncommon, but using Taylor’s pieces of artwork is a unique way of helping out nature. It has opened up a new world of possibility for the diving and snorkeling industry,” concluded Clarke.

Molinere Bay was originally damaged by a storm surge, and the sculptures installed there assist in the regeneration of the area by providing new surfaces for coral to grow and a habitat for marine animals to live. Many of the statues have prolific coral life growing on them and are attracting diverse species of reef fish, turtles and more.

The latest addition to the park is a new 28-piece sculpture called “Vicissitudes” that was unveiled below the water’s surface in late November 2012. Better known locally as the “Circle of Children,” the new artwork replaced the original Vicissitudes, a collection of figures from diverse ethnic backgrounds holding hands, that were damaged by a storm surge. Vicissitudes, which means “a natural change or mutation visible in nature or in human affairs,” is one of the largest projects launched in the development of the park. Over time, the new statues will become part of the underwater marine environment and coral, soft sponges and filter-feeding marine life will soon start to inhabit them.  Locally operated boats offer snorkeling and/or diving tours to Grenada’s Underwater Sculpture Park.

A Bad Week for Cruise Ships

One ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico; fatal lifeboat drill on another

The "Carnival Triumph" floating helplessly is anything but triumphant.
The “Carnival Triumph” floating helplessly is anything but triumphant. (US Coast Guard photo)

What’s the opposite of “triumph”? That should be the new name for the “Carnival Triumph,” which suffered an engine fire on Sunday and has been adrift in the Gulf of Mexico ever since. Passengers are reporting the usual foul conditions that befall a ship stranded in tropical seas — no water, new air conditioning, little food, overflowing toilets, nauseating smells, desperate passengers camping on decks. overworked but ultimately helpless crews. Big tugboats that are to tow the “Triumph” to Mobile, Alabama, are supposed to arrive on Thursday — and I have no idea how long that tow is supposed to last, or whether they will also supply auxiliary power.

The ship departed from Galveston on February 7 with 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew members for a short cruise and was scheduled to return from Mexico yesterday, February 11. After the fire, the ship was supposed to have towed to a port in Mexico, 150 miles away, that strong  currents pushed the crippled ship 90 miles further.

Very small lifeboat alongside a very large cruise ship Manuel Gonzales photo.
Very small lifeboat alongside a very large cruise ship and behind a rescue vessel. Manuel Gonzales photo.

While all this was going on in the Gulf, a lifeboat from the “Thomson Majesty,” a British-operated cruise ship, fell upside down into the water at the port of Santa Cruz on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands during a safety drill, killing five crew members and injuring three others  Some 1,400 passengers were on board, but none were involved in the dockside accident. Of course, an investigation The small, white two-hulled lifeboat capsized alongside the large ship, which had  been  due to sail Sunday afternoon to the Portuguese port of Funchal on the mid-Atlantic island of Madeira.

Three of the crew fatailities were Indonesian men, one Filipino man and one Ghanaian man, according to reports. This is normally a festive season on La Palma, but island authorities canceled Sunday evening’s Carnival festivities but said they would resume as planned on Monday.

Lifeboat drills are supposed to help save lives, not take them, and cruises are supposed to be pleasurable not something out of Dante’s “Inferno.” Sadly, things do’t always happen the way they are supposed to.

‘Crown Princess’ Turned Back Due to Sick Pax

Scores of ill passengers on second consecutive voyage scuttle Caribbean cruise

“Have Cipro. Will Travel.” That would have been a good slogan for passengers embarking on one Caribbean cruise to follow.

The nearly full, 3,080-passenger “Crown Princess,” a floating behemoth, was directed back to Fort Lauderdale for the cruise industry’s equivalent of deep cleaning — a really deep cleaning — after scores of passengers and crew members took sick. If the ship had done so days earlier, it might have spared the 114 passengers and 33 crew members who became ill a gastrointestinal ailment — that is vomiting and diarrhea. Also, known, of course as turista.

Almost 400 passengers and crew had gotten it on the previous cruise, so you have to wonder why the now-canceled one left port on Saturday in the first place, even though it had been given a “thorough” cleaning. Not thorough enough, it appears, to battle the bug. This time, the two-day cleaning includes disinfection of the entire ship by crew members and reinforcements of by additional cleaning crews — including “multiple sanitizations” of passenger cabins, according to Princess.

Princess Cruises officials, in consultation with the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, believe the ailment to be norovirus, a fast-moving but nonetheless is extremely unpleasant under any circumstances and certainly wrecks a vacation. “millions of Americans” supposedly get it every year, spread often in schools, nursing homes, hospitals and offices. Individual local cases don’t make news, but when scores are taken ill on a floating Petri dish, it does attract media and public attention, especially since big ship cruises are promoted as such controlled and safe environments. (Of course, as the recent “Costa Concordia” sinking proves, reality and image don’t always coincide.)

To its credit, and as it should, Princess Cruises had promised the 3,078 passengers on this week’s cruise full refunds, putting some up in Fort Lauderdale hotels and is helping them rebook flights home home from Fort Lauderdale. It also promises passengers 25 percent cruise credit toward a future cruise. The “Crown Princess” is scheduled to resume its regular schedule on Saturday.

150 Cases of the Crud Curtail Cruise

“Radiance of the Seas” returns to port after 150 people come down with tummy troubles

Royal Caribbean’s “Radiance of the Seas” pulled out of the Port of Tampa on January 3 headed for Mexico but returned to port less than five days later after some 150 passengers and three crew members came down with what the cruise company diagnosed as “stomach flu,”  officially norovirus, which is very contagious. The ship and the cruise terminal have been sanitzed, an d the “Radiance” is is off again on another cruise.

The “Radiance,” which celebrates its 10th anniversary of service on March 10, carries 2,500 passengers. It is not the largest ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet. The “Oasis of the Seas” and the new “Allure of the Seas”each comfortably carry some 5,400 passengers and can accommodate well over 6,000 at full capacity — say, hundreds of children bunking in their parents’ cabin.

RockResorts Returning to Its Tropical Roots

Luxury resort in Costa Rica is latest acquisition of Colorado-based resort lodging company

Currnet swimming pool with mosaic wall at Xandari Resort.

RockResorts, a division of Vail Resorts, Inc., has just begun managing Xandari by the Pacific Resort and Spa on the west coast of Costa Rica. Next spring and summer, the sprawling property with magificent shoreline is to undergo what RockResorts calls a “thorough renovation.” It is to re-launch as Alma del Pacifico Hotel, A RockResort with totally renoved common areas, guestrooms, spa and food and beverage outlets.

Located on Playa Esterillos Este, the hotel and and associated master-planned development are located halfway between Jaco Beach and Manuel Antonio National Park. The total package includes the resort hotel, golf, a spa, spacious private beachfront villas and Del Pacifico at Esterillos, a 700-acre master planned, seaside resort community. Award-winning architects are tasked with the project. The future taps into Vail Resorts’ corporate experience operating high-end resort properties, but the RockResorts history is reflective of one (very rich) man’s, ahead-of-his-time vision that a hotel could offer beauty, luxury and service that are compatible with land and habitat preservation. 

The RockResorts Backstory

The first RockResorts were founded in 1956 by  Laurance Rockefeller, yes, one of those Rockefellers, who created or purchased luxury properties in beautiful settings.  He started with mountain properties, specifically Wyoming’s Jackson Lake Lodge and Jenny Lake Lodge.  The Wyoming connection was a natural, because Laurance’s father, philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and his wife Abby spent more than 20 years assembling tens of thousands of acres of land in the Snake River Valley lobbying the federal government to accept it. The Rockefeller holdings are now Grand Teton National Park and the US highway that passes it is called the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway.

Then came the  warm-weather getaways that made RockResorts famous in the hospitality business — Caneel Bay on St. John,  USVI; Dorado Beach Hotel and Golf Club in Puerto Rico, Little Dix Bayon Virgin Gorda, BVI, and Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii. Additional RockResorts included the Woodstock Inn in Vermont and The Boulders in Carefree, Arizona. 

RockResorts went through a series of owners, with properties added or removed from the portfolio along the way. In 2001, it became part of the Vail family. Present properties are all luxurious and all in stunning, sporty places. In Colorado, RockResorts  are the Hotel Jerome in Aspen; The Osprey at Beaver Creek and The Pines Lodge, both in Beaver Creek; One Ski Hill Place, opened earier this year in Breckenridge, Colo; The Arrabelle at Vail Square and The Lodge at Vail, both Vail. Others are La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa in Santa Fe, N.M.; Tempo Miami in Miami, Fla.; Snake River Lodge & Spa in Jackson Hole, Wyo.; and The Landings St. Lucia, Rodney Bay, St. Lucia.  RockResortsplans for 2011 include the addition of: Balcones del Atlántico, Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic; Half Moon, Rose Hall, Jamaica; and above-named Alma del Pacifico Hotel, Costa Rica. And beyond that, future RockResorts include The Mansfield Inn at Stowe in Stowe, Vt., Rum Cay Resort Marina, The Bahamas; and the Third Turtle Club & Spa, Turks and Caicos.