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Big Kahuna

Great Travel Deals

I’m always looking to compare travel prices to the big boys like Priceline and Orbitz so this might be a good alternative, and you know you want to come visit us :)

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Here’s what they got to say:

We find an “exclusive” deal in your city every day. That means you get outstanding discounts (up to 90% savings) on restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels, resorts, weekend getaways, spas, massages, facials, museum tickets, wine tasting, fun lifestyle activities for the social urbanite and the rest of the best your city has to offer.

Let us know what you think of them?

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Big Kahuna

St. Thomas Blog In St. Maarten Day 6

We started off the day at the Sugar Cane Cafe at the Atlantis Hotel in Cupecoy because the internet at our Timeshare Gold Crown Resort, the Wyndham Sapphire doesn’t work :( Imagine, me, without Internet! But we were glad we did because we got a great breakfast, fast Internet and a cutie pie French girl named Crystal.

We spent about 2 hours eating breakfast and updating the blog and then made our way to Waikiki Beach Resort on Orient Beach.

The Waikiki Beach Resort is bigger than most of the bars and restaurants on Orient Beach and with that comes a price tag. It’s freakin’ expensive. It cost us $25 to rent chairs and an umbrella versus the $16 we paid at Kon Tiki and $12 at La String. And the food is even more expensive. Good, even great food for a beach restaurant but way over priced.

We also got the worst service of all at Waikiki Beach. So we paid the most and got the worst service, not much of a value but we still had a great day because Orient Beach is beautiful! At some point these four guys started a pick-up soccer game at the water’s edge – inevitably a stray kick sent the ball into a wine glass belonging to the couple next to us, and we enjoyed a small show of Pissed Off French Guy Swearing Loudly. Nicci only recognized one word – Mard – which was used often. The four soccer guys moved down the beach after politely apologizing and we witnessed a second show, Pissed Off French Guy Gives Rude Hand Signals. Oh well, what can ya do.

However, I’m not recommending Waikiki Beach and would never go back. There are many more good bars and tasty restaurants very eager to take your money and smile!

Tonight we’re headed over to the ESPN Cafe in Simpson Bay to watch the draft and hang out at their “Rock the Dock” party which happens every Thursday night. Let’s see how well the Patriots do.

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Big Kahuna

St. Thomas Blog In St. Maarten Day 5

We got up early to head to the Sunset Bar and Grill located at Maho Bay/Airport beach. This is always Nicci’s favorite beach as you could probably toss a football up and hit a plane they fly in so low.  Not that we ever would, of course ;)

Here we go, these photos are the real deal, no photo-shop. Here is Air France flying in, around 2:30 as it does every day (click to enlarge):

We got lucky – the ash had grounded Air France but it was lifted the day before. The beach was packed with both the Oasis and Carnival ships in but most people left after the Air France plane landed (it’s the plane everyone wants to see fly in). We thought it was the biggest plane to fly in, until another larger one started approaching and everyone at the bar was like ‘There’s the big plane!’  Check out this monster 747! (click to enlarge)

Yeah – that’s a big plane! The pictures don’t even look real – even though we were right there. It’s odd to see a plane suspended over beach goers. I figure the big planes come in so low because they need more runway to slow and stop. Nicci likes to think the pilots are trying to thrill the beach crowd. We spent all day at Sunset Bar. Talk about a built-in marketing strategy and they use it to their advantage with this sign they write out everyday with plane arrivals (brilliant):

And the beach is beautiful so it was a really great day. One sad note, our big bottle of Cruzan dropped it’s last bit of rum here (note to self, bring 2 big bottles next year).

Back to the hotel for a rest and then off to dinner at La Gondola!

La Gondola was highly recommended by fellow blogger Jeff Berger on St. Maarten. Jeff says it’s the best Italian on island.

We arrived at 8:30 and sat down. Nicci and I review a lot of restaurants so my immediate response was to look around and see what was what. First thing I noticed was the speed at which the staff was moving. Fast. The people at the table to my left attempted to pour their own water and were immediately met by a staffer removing the bottle from his hands and continuing on with the pour. Each staffer had a small headset to improve the overall service of the restaurant.

The way they had the service set up was there was one head waiter that took all the orders and the remaining 3 or 4 servers did the rest. The head waiter spoke in a thick Italian accent and was very witty and funny. I asked what I should get between 2 items and he recommended the cheaper of the two. Honesty, ah so refreshing!

Okay so here we go…

This was by far the best service we’ve EVER received at a fine dining restaurant. The Best, period. All restaurant owners in the Caribbean should fly to St. Maarten and have dinner there and watch how it’s done. Nicci and I were amazed at how well trained these servers were. The minute I finished my glass of water a new glass was poured. Bread was brought out and replaced immediately. Wine was refilled immediately. No waiting, no asking for anything, it just was done. And they operated as a team with different servers just doing what they were obviously trained to do.

When the owner Davide Foini came to our table and asked how things were we immediately complimented him on the service. His response was “when you come to a fine dining restaurant you shouldn’t have to do anything”. Agreed. I wish more restaurants had that type of MEMORABLE service.

Now to the food. The portions are big and fantastic. The display was brilliant. I ordered their version of Chicken Parmesan and Nicci got the Cheese Raviolis.

Their tagline is “The home of homemade pasta” and we can honestly say the pasta was very good. Their pricing was a bit high $24 for chicken parmesan but once you get the service and ambiance it all makes perfect sense and ends up being a value. Nicci loved her ravioli and said the sauce was delicious.

Now to the ambiance. It’s cheesy but I honestly loved it. Hey, they’re an Italian restaurant, I only wished they put plastic on the chairs ;) If you’ve ever been to the North End in Boston you’ve seen the hanging plastic grapes, at least they didn’t have those…

La Gondola is rated 5.5 out of 5 stars ;) Don’t miss this one if you want great Italian food with unbelievable service!

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Big Kahuna

St. Thomas Blog In St. Maarten Day 4

Well we started off our morning with a second day of brown hot water so we checked out of the Belair Beach Resort and into the Wyndham’s Sapphire.

Unfortunately that ate up a few hours of our day but we finally made it to the Mullet Bay Beach around 1:30.

The name of this cat is Too Rhum Punch…great name!

It’s a pretty beach and they rent umbrellas and chairs much like Orient. They have a few shack type bars, not sure if they sell food or not. They also have beach peddlers and I decided to partake in a massage:

We spent the day at Mullet Beach then came back to our new hotel and relaxed until dinner. Dinner was going to be big as we were headed to Rare, a world class steakhouse. This will be our second trip to Rare so we’re excited.

Rare is the only steakhouse in St. Maarten to carry USDA Prime dry-aged CAB (certified Angus beef), Rare offers choices from a 12-ounce filet Mignon to a 28-ounce porterhouse that can be deconstructed several ways and is located at the Atlantis Casino in Cupecoy.

I went all out and had the bone in 22 ounce Cowboy smothered in rock shrimp – peppercorn – garlic butter sauce:
Prices aren’t cheap at Rare, this 22 ounce beauty was $47 and worth every penny. Nicci had a 5 oz filet with peppercorn sauce.
Rare is rated 5 out of 5 (I don’t give that out often) stars and is the only repeat restaurant we’ve been to on St. Maarten. If the price tag doesn’t stop you it is arguably the best steakhouse in St. Maarten.
Now for some night time fun. We drove a short distance to Sopranos Piano Bar. First thing I immediately noticed was the complete ripoff of the TV show’s logo and characters. I’m going to ASSUME and that’s a big assumption that they somehow have permission (cough)…
Anyway it’s a fun piano bar and a guy named Greg Asadoorian, from Massachusetts, was banging out the tunes.
Greg played some dirty Piano Man, Sweet Caroline and Pour Some Sugar On Me to name a few. Very fun night for a Tuesday!
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Big Kahuna

St. Thomas Blog In St. Maarten Day 3

We started off our day at our hotel (the Belair Beach Club) to dirty disgusting brown hot water. The water was so brown it looked like, well you know. I called the front desk and asked them what the problem was and they said they had to repair the hot water tank and there was sludge at the bottom so they had to let it run its course. Nice. We couldn’t shower in fear of catching hepatitis or something so we just packed up the white rental car and went to Orient Beach.

The Belair Beach Hotel’s tagline is “The only thing we overlook is the ocean”.  And apparently clean running water. My wife, who sometimes has a softer approach than myself (I know, this surprises none of you) would like me to mention the following: This is our second time at the Belair, which, to be honest, we only use as a place to sleep and shower before hitting other beaches and restaurants on the island. Last time we had a pleasant breakfast each morning at Belair – this year we bought food to eat in our room before taking off. Belair pros: a beautiful beach, satisfactory rooms, good location, pleasant employees (especially the car rental guys, they’re awesome!!). Belair cons: Small pool, a little run-down.

We decided to hang out at the Kon Tiki Beach Bar. It’s our 3rd trip there so we knew it would be fun. The beach chairs are a little more at $8/person and we didn’t get a free drink. But the food there is great. I got the sushi and pizza and Nicci had a proscuitto/mozzarella panini. We drank down a few more inches of our big Cruzan bottle. Good stuff.

During the day beach peddlers walked by and asked us to look at their merchandise, Nicci bought some trinkets. The peddlers are not aggressive at all and if you say no thanks’ they quickly move along. A few of them seem so happy and skip down the beach with a smile or dancing to their own music that it’s almost hard to not engage in conversation with them about their wares.

We left there around 5 and headed back to shower up and get ready for dinner. Upon our arrival back at the room we noticed we still had brown water coming out of the hot water tank. I once again called down to the front desk and they told me nothing could be done it will run its course. They did mention that the cold water was unaffected. Because a cold shower is so relaxing after a beach day, right?

Since this is a timeshare exchange I called RCI and told them what the situation was and they are contacting the hotel. If the water is still brown tomorrow we’ll be checking out.

We made our way to the Simpson Bay Yacht Club to the Saratoga Restaraunt for dinner at 8. The restaurant is really nice as it sits overlooking the lagoon and boat slips. Great spot. Very pretty restaurant.Very casual. It was our waiter’s first night so the manager was helping him. I ordered a Crown and Diet Coke and he literally brought me out a Diet Coke and Crown Royal on the rocks. We laughed and explained it’s one drink. I joked with the manager and said good thing I didn’t order a Jack and Diet because he’d be looking for a guy name Jack for awhile ;) Our waiter was from Romania and told us he’d been on island for three weeks, staying with his cousin. He ran out of money so he got a job as a server. Nicci thought he was very sweet and attentive.

This restaurant reminded me of Craig and Sally’s in St. Thomas as the menu changes daily. We had a steamed clam appetizer which Nicci loved. For our entrees Nicci had the baked Salmon in a puff pastry and I had the Colorado Herb Encrusted rack of Lamb.

The food was delicious, everything was cooked as ordered. The portions were very large as well as you can see. The pricing was higher than dinner at Spiga but in line with Craig and Sally’s in St. Thomas. The lamb was $36, salmon was $24.

One thing we chuckle about was that a Heineken (at $3.75) was cheaper than a Miller Light ($4.50 – ouch):

Overall we had a great dining experience. I would rate this a 4 out of 5 stars as well and we definitely recommend it.

We left there and headed over to the Red Piano for some live music. There was a really good guitarist called John Franco (I think) and a singer banging out the classic like the Beattles, Stones and Eric Clapton. We had a few drinks, people-watched the mix of locals and tourists in the bar and stayed until the music was done.

On tap for today? Hm, let’s see….beach, sun, rum, dinner. Rinse, repeat. It’s fun being a tourist!

*Well, just got off the phone with RCI – we are packing up and moving to a new place. We understand that brown water falls under the category of ‘Things you can’t plan for on vacation’…like a storm, or rain, or…whatever. It also falls under the category of ‘we want to come home and take a nice hot shower in clear water’, so we thank RCI for relocating us. Sapphire something-or-other, here we come!

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Big Kahuna

St. Thomas Blog In St. Maarten Day 2

We started off our day with a trip to Orient Beach. One thing we’ve noticed in the two times we’ve been to St. Maarten is the traffic is horrendous! If you think St. Thomas traffic is bad a drive around St. Maarten will make you yearn for a trip down waterfront. Traffic is bad until late at night especially in the Simpson Bay area. And they’re not friendly drivers here for sure. No beeping and letting you into traffic like St. Thomas! Although they do like to pass other cars like it’s a sport – much like STT. Another interesting note is that 85% of all rental cars are white in color and mostly Hyundai’s.

There are a lot of scooters and motorcycles here and they drive like complete maniacs. 90% of these morons drive right down the center of the road in heavy traffic:

They come within inches of your car with no fear. I can only imagine how many scooter accidents there are.

We arrived at Orient Beach and decided to lounge at La String Beach Bar. Like St. Thomas the beaches are public so we brought our cooler and a big bottle of Cruzan Dark for the day :)

Everyone gets a comfy lounge chair, table and umbrella. The cost was $6 each and it came with two free drinks :)

These little beach bars line Orient Beach which is fun because you can choose a new one everyday if you like.

And they have shops as well. Nicci bought this red paisley wrap:

After a fun day of the beach we came back to the hotel to clean up and get ready for our first upscale dinner at Spiga in Grand Case.

I made reservations at Spiga via email prior to arriving. I let the owner Lara Russo know we run the St. Thomas Blog and that we would be writing a review on all the restaurants we visited. So she was warned ;)

Lara greeted us and sat us at a table for two in the extremely cute Creole House. The restaurant was completely full for our 8:00 reservation. The waitress came over handed us our menu and left. No welcome to Spiga, hi how are you or anything. Then we patiently waited over 10 minutes before she came back. We started joking that maybe she forgot about us. Finally she came back and she said “are you ready to order”? I said could we start with some drinks? She took our drink order and came back within minutes.

We started with the Lobster Ravioli appetizer – for our meals Nicci ordered the Meat Ravioli with a bolognese sauce and I got their house specialty, Tagliatelle with Lobster and Shrimp. Spiga prides itself on their homemade pastas.

Our waitress had the personality of a tomato so we just shrugged her off and enjoyed the dining. The lobster ravioli appetizer was simply amazing. The best I’ve ever had and I’ve eaten to many to count. The freshly made pasta really stood out in this dish. Just scrumptious.

Nicci’s main course was almost as good but she mentioned there was a lot of meat in the dish. I thought it was fantastic.

Here’s my dish:

My dish was very tasty but not as good as the ravioli appetizer or Nicci’s ravioli. But overall it was yummy.

The waitress finally started to warm up to us as the dinner progressed so that was nice.

We ordered the Tiramisu with homemade Espresso ice cream for dessert. The Tiramisu was extremely light, not a traditional type found in a Little Italy (NY) or North End (Boston). I loved it and the ice cream was great as well.

Overall we thought the food was very good. I don’t think the pasta dishes were as good as, say, Romano’s though. I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars for food. Service started out rough but got better. It was priced very well with all dishes under $30. Overall I’d recommend Spiga but if we came back I’d probably try another Italian restaurant before I came back for a second visit.

Now for some fun, we headed to Simpson Bay to the Red Piano:

The Red Piano is located at the Pelican Resort. And it’s a piano bar ;)

We got there around 11 ish and Hooker Jones was doling out the cheesy songs you love to hate. When we arrived it was “Dancing Queen”. Do love me some Abba!

Before we had a chance to order our drinks he went into Sweet Caroline – so obviously we were won over (yeah, we know, Red Sox are starting off rough). The bar wasn’t packed, but he plays every night but Monday – so obviously there’s an ebb and flow. He plays until 1am and we stayed until he was through. We had a nice talk with him when he was done. He’s here for 3 or 4 months of the year and then he heads home to London.

It’s a great night out, we’ll be back there a couple of times this week.

Another note on the Red Piano – they have Cruzan rum! Well, it’s single barrel, so fancy (although Nicci had no problem ordering it rum-punch style). Trying to find Cruzan rum on St. Maarten is tough. You’d have better luck scheduling a lunch appointment with Rosemary Sauter.

A great first day on SXM, and Nicci ended it by gulping down her leftover Spiga dish. Yum.

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Big Kahuna

Trip To St. Maarten Night 1

We flew into St. Maarten late around 8:30 pm so by the time we got our rental car and got back to the hotel it was around 9:30. We immediately tossed our bags down and headed to Pineapple Pete’s for dinner and to watch some live music.

The dinner was good bar food similar to Jack’s or Shipwreck Tavern. Certainly not the gourmet restaurants we have lined up for the rest of the week.

We left Pineapple Pete’s around 11ish and made our way to their sister club called “The Alley” where they have Latin Night every Saturday night.

I must say the Salsa dancing we saw was amazing!

Very fun night at the Alley. We left there around 1am and headed back to the hotel.

Night 1, very fun!

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Big Kahuna

On Vacation

St. Maarten here we come. This is our second trip to Maarten, we love it because it’s so fun.

We love Orient Beach because  it is lined with bars and great restaurants. Unlike Magens Bay which just has the one, Orient Beach has dozens.

Here’s one of our favorites, the Kon Tiki:

And they set you up with great lounge chairs, umbrellas and tables (usually for $10):

I wish Magens Bay did this but then we’d have to listen to all the purists say it would take away from the “beauty” of the beach…go ahead purists complain now…Oh and the people that usually say “leave the island” if you want to change things…it’s your turn to complain now as well :)

Here’s another one:

It’s very Euro there so it’s a totally different vibe. Here in St. Thomas the very honest ;)  Magens Bay Authority runs everything so we’d never see anything fun like that. Having more than 1 restaurant on Magens would be travesty ;)  Again I know the purists will have a different view on it, that’s what the comment section is for…have at me!

Then there’s the nightlife which is far superior to St. Thomas. They actually have cool dance clubs like Bliss (very South Beach):

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And if you’re into gambling it’s like Las Vegas in the Caribbean.

Don’t get me wrong we love St. Thomas but if you’re looking for the action St. Maarten rocks.

So we’ll be doing posts all from St. Maarten next week. We’ll be reviewing the restaurants, bars, clubs and beaches. Now that’s a tough job :)

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