St Maarten/St Martin
26 October 2008 Newsletter

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Weather: Recently, the temperature has reached 85 to 87 during the day and drops about 10 F at night. The chance of precipitation has been running 20 to 60% which is a bit lower than in September. Obviously Omar changed the averages a bit as it passed about 70 miles to the west of the island, heading north. Given the counter-clockwise rotation of storms (and toilets) in the northern hemisphere and the fact that the hurricane was heading north, the island experienced high winds and waves, especially on the west side. Here's a YouTube look at the far NW end of Cupecoy. It shows the beach being washed away in front of the Great Wall of London. That would be Richard London, the man behind ShorePointe. Some of the water side spots like Bliss and Sunset were blown away, along with the watersports at Maho and La Samanna. They've already started reconstruction. Most people feel that the governments managed the on-set and post-storm periods extremely well. Both sent in extra hands to assist instantly and order was maintained. Clean up crews were on the roads at dawn Thursday and the curfew for cars on the roads allowed them to move swiftly. Most of the rest of the damage was from falling trees. Electricity and water were quickly restored (although sporadically). Mullet Bay Golf Course is now a beach with big rocks and boulders all over. Beacon Hill really got hit hard. There are reports of some homes washed out by the waves. Royal Islander is closed indefinitely. Sapphire is back in operation with little damage.

Click for Juliana Airport, St. Maartin Forecast Today's (26 October) sunset will be at 5.39PM. We lost about a half hour in the last six weeks. The amount of daylight changes quickly around the equinoxes and slowly around the solstices. Here's the local current local conditions and here's the forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel.

  Damage from Omar

Damage from Omar

Full moon dates for 2008 are: 13 Nov and 12 Dec. For 2009: 11 Jan 11, 9 Feb, 11 Mar, 9 Apr, 9 May, 7 Jun, 7 Jul, 6 Aug, 4 Sep, 4 Oct, 3 Nov, and 2 Dec.

Great Bay   SXM-Beaches: If you come on a cruise, most likely you will dock in Great Bay (Philipsburg). Smaller cruise ships can dock in Marigot and the largest ones have to anchor in Great Bay, at least until the new, larger pier is built. Cruisers can walk along the eastern edge of the bay about a half mile past Chesterfield's (pretty much standard American fare - it's owned and operated by an American - good Philly cheesesteak) to Greenhouse Restaurant which is similar having the usual hamburger (albeit from Angus Beef) and a lot more. The menu is online and includes numerous island drinks. The new boardwalk and beach start here and run to the west for about a mile. The beach has been replenished with the sand dredged during the building of the current pier and is quite deep (50 to 100 feet in most places) and has great views of the hills that protect the bay. The beach faces south, excellent for tanning. There is no nudity and most infrequent toplessness. There are many interchangeable beach bars lining the new boardwalk and most provide chairs and umbrellas in addition to the usual drinks and food. Taloula Mango's stands out because Dino Jagtiani (from Temptation Restaurant and Dare to be Rare, set up the menu. He also operates Rituals Coffee House at the pier in the center of town - good coffee, smoothies, and great sandwiches.
There are several restaurants serving more interesting food. On the beach at the other end of town is Antoine Restaurant. While they do have chairs, umbrellas, and a beach bar, they also have a lovely dining room serving fine French cuisine overlooking the beach that they have filled with palm trees. The lunchtime view usually includes the 12 meter boats racing in Great Bay and the menu usually includes some fresh fish. If you venture off the beach, check out L'Escargot Restaurant, also for French cuisine, featuring snails, of course, or, closer to the pier, but further from the beach, visit Shieka's Bistro tasty, authentic, and inexpensive local food. Kangaroo Court (near the courthouse in the center of town) has interesting sandwiches. We've heard good things about Harborview (local food overlooking the beach) and Fusion (new last year). If you don't know where the island's beaches are, visit SXM-Beaches for maps and photos.   12m boats on Great Bay

Michelin   Beach Reading: The Michelin Guide: France 2008 may not be riveting reading but anyone planning a trip to France (or any of several other countries) to sample the food and wine will want one of their guides. There are over 2000 pages covering every region of France (with Monaco thrown in as a bonus). Hotels and restaurants are divided into five categories based on comfort and the color of the rating changes from black to red for particularly pleasant establishments - usually a lovely view. I've never worried too much about the comfort of a restaurant and I have always wondered if somehow the quality of the food wasn't given at least a second thought? They do rate restaurants on their cuisine and award stars (commonly called rosettes) in three broad categories. In all of France, there are 26 restaurants that rate three stars, 65 that rate two stars, and 436 at one star. The book contains about 10,000 restaurants and France has even more than that, so having a star places one in the upper reaches of fine cuisine. We dined only in a few one star restaurants on our recent two week vacation and they were fantastic. We made almost all arrangements for hotels and restaurants based on advice in the guide. They give days of closings, annual vacations, prices, phones, addresses, email addresses (no websites, although many can be guessed from the email addresses), credit card info and much more. There are maps for major cities and several country maps. We did not try to navigate across France using these maps but bought a Garmin nüvi 370. It comes with maps for Europe and we tested them in Belgium and all over France in both car and pedestrian mode. It worked fine, acquiring satellites and giving us directions.

Kayaks   Activities: TriSport has a very informative website with listings for all races and/or events (walk, hike, run, kayak, bicycle, sail). If you are going down at a certain time, as most timeshare owners do, check out the 2008 calendar to see if their is an event you might want to join - or at least watch. There's also a weekly listing of events and news. They rent bikes and kayaks, so you can join any event, or you can just have fun on your own. They are located in Simpson Bay quite close to the Dutch Drawbridge on the lagoon-side closer to the airport (ie, the north west side of the bridge), just below Marci's Mega Gym 2000.

  Bikes at Sunset

Barracuda being caught   Here's two shots from Random Wind. Diane was complaining that they keep catching barracuda. You do have to take them off the line and given those teeth, I'm glad it isn't my job. BTW, barracuda rarely bother people. Nonetheless, Martha and I leave sparkly jewelry in the safe when we snorkel. We've gone by large schools of 2 foot barracuda and even met Flash, a four-footer on Anegada, without any problems. Anyone interested in a great day on the water should enter the SXM-Info contests for $40 coupon on Random Wind. Five lucky couples win this every year. It might as well be you.

Construction: Someone asked about Caravanserai, so I asked Diane how it looks as she sails by. She reports considerable progress over the summer and that it looks quite nice. When she called and asked about an end date for construction, she was directed to the sales office. Unfortunately, the head of sales was on vacation for three weeks. It looks good, but a December opening seems unlikely. The Blue Mall at Cupecoy was moving along smartly before Omar says Carter at Turquoise Shell Inn.

  Barracuda being caught
Burgundy   Alcohol: As I am sitting in a gite (rural country accommodation) at a winery in Burgundy I may as well expostulate on Burgundy. First, except for a small amount of Borgogne Aligoté, a light refreshing white wine, frequently used in kir, all white Burgundy is chardonnay and most red Burgundy is pinot noir, although the Macon region does use some gamay, the grape used in Beaujolais. Both main grapes like cooler climates which is why they can be found in Washington (state) and Oregon. It may seem strange that they are found in the southern regions of northern California until one realizes that the cool waters of San Francisco Bay keep the southern Carneros region of Napa and Sonoma counties cooler than the more northern regions.

Over here (and in St Martin), the pinots that one finds are burgundies and, unfortunately, they are the most expensive wines in the world. Most Burgundy is not red, largely because Chablis, the Challonaise, and the Maconaise regions are part of Burgundy. The Cote d'Or, centered on Beaune, the ancient capital, produces mostly red wines and these wines are responsible for Burgundy's great reputation. The best of the Cote d'Or is the Cote de Nuit toward the northern end centered on the village of Nuits St George. The southern half is the Cote de Beaune starting at Aloxe-Corton and including Beaune. There are four basic grades of Burgundy: regional wine, labeled Borgogne; village wine, labeled with a village name, premier cru wine, usually labeled as such with a village name and frequently with a vineyard name; and at the highest level, the Grand Cru, labeled as such and generally with a vineyard name. There are 33 Grand Crus and most of them are in the Cote de Nuits. Given the demand and the poor state of the dollar, it is unlikely that you will see any of these under $100 on any wine list (the best are over $1000, especially with age), so I won't list the names.

Before we start to talk about names, one must remember that the fields of Burgundy were divided up into very small plots, unlike Bordeaux where large estates still exist. Some plots are so small that the farmer sells his grapes to negotiant who buys more of the same from other similar small holders until he can cost-effectively vinify and bottle the product. Most negotiants own some vineyards and purchase some grapes, or grape juice, or even wine in barrels. At this point, you trust the reputation of the negotiant. Drouhin, Jadot, and Latour have been around for centuries and generally produce good quality wines. Bouchard may offer a better price/quality point as their price has yet to catch up with their recently improved quality.

Some small farmers own enough acreage to justify producing wine, but there are several thousand of small producers. Your only hope is that the wine steward in your restaurant or the proprietor in your wine shop has tasted his product and can offer good advice. On the island there is no shortage of good help in wine shops (Sylvain and Marina at Select Wine Cellar, François at Philipsburg Liquor Store, Sophie at Vinissimo, and Martial at Le Gout de Vin have been most helpful) and in restaurants. Stéphane at Le Cottage Restaurant came from Burgundy but most French restaurants, including those on the Dutch side, have someone who knows the wine list well.

Bargains can be found in the lesser known names in southern Burgundy. To be sure, they are not as powerful or perfumed as the Grand Crus, but Mercurey, Santenay, St Romain, Auxey-Duress, Monthelie, and Givry make good red wines at more affordable price points. These are good solid wines, fruity when young, mellowing to a smooth roundness that makes them great with food as they will not overshadow the meal. St Aubin, St Veran, Montagny, Macon, and Rully make good crisp whites that age well. When young, the crisp acidity makes them wonderful with oily fish, such as the smoked salmon at Bistrot Caraïbes. But do not be afraid of a few years age on these wines as the acids will mellow, making them excellent with fish and fowl.

Speaking of fowl, Thanksgiving is coming bringing the eternal question: What wine goes with turkey? Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar suggests a Burgundy, specifically his Savigny from Girard rather than the typical Merlot. I, Burgundy lover to the core, applaud this suggestion, but do recognize that a Merlot is pretty good with Turkey.

Groceries: I understand that the cook of the household does not wish to spend her (or his) vacation slaving over a stove, but the desire to save some money, the desire to dine at home and enjoy the expensive and luxurious rental accommodations, and the fear of draconian drunk driving laws may lead to several dinners at home. Given the fantastic array of fine produce and meats in the grocery stores, it is easy to assemble the ingredients for a fine dinner, although the cook may still balk at the effort in preparation. Our gite in France has quite the kitchen and I have quite the chef as my partner, but we just bought a rotisserie chicken at the supermarket. They are available at several locations on the island and the supermarkets generally have some quite interesting salads. Add a fish moussiline or paté as a starter, grab some cheeses, and pick up a dessert at the bakery. Get some wines and enjoy a four course meal with no cooking and limited preparation. This chicken was a black-footed variety, similar to the black australorps that we raise in NY.   Supermarket chicken

Diamonds International   Shopping: Diamonds International still has a discount coupon on their website that offers 15% off on any diamond or gemstone jewelry over $300 or 10% off on designer jewelry and watches.

Sapphire Beach Club: We have returned to our home in NY. Our condo will be available for rent at $1000 per week from 15 April to December 15, $2000 per week during holiday season (20 Dec until 4 Jan), and $1500 per week at other times. The rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients. Check the calendar on our website for available dates. Last minute Special: Any available days within one month are $100. For those of you who wish to sell or rent their week or unit, we have opened up the Sapphire Beach Club website for that purpose. We charge $25 per year. If you wish to rent or sell your unit, send us some text (and $25 to esk@sxm-info.com via Paypal). If you wish to rent or buy a unit without high middleman fees, check out the website. Given the large assessment that Sapphire just levied, there may be a lot of sales. At present, there are 20 sales and/or rentals available directly from owners. Given a 25 to 35% standard rental commission, there should be some bargains in eliminating the middleman and dealing direct.   ginger

Travel: We just flew over to Brussels to start a two week vacation in France. We find the Brussels airport and traffic in the surrounding area easier to negotiate than Paris. For what it's worth, US air worked fine for us, on time, no hassles. The only trouble was the five hour layover in Philly. Fortunately, I have several lifetime club memberships from a previous job traveling the world. Unfortunately, the drinks don't flow as freely as they did in olden times. We joined another couple in Philly, coming up from Tallahassee, and while they didn't waste as much time in the Philly airport, they did need a connection to get there. Moreover, on the return, US Air changed the schedule such that they missed their return connection and had to overnight in Charlotte - no compensation was offered! Get used to it. As I mentioned in the last newsletter, we have to overnight in Newark on our way to the island. All travel to the USA now requires a passport. Life is pretty easy if you allow enough time to renew by mail. All the details can be found at this State Department page.

gecko   Crime: I haven't mentioned this before, but most people know that Leta Lynn Cordes went missing last January, supposedly walking from her home in Dawn Beach to the new casino rather late at night and not returning. As far as I know, she was not seen on any security cameras at the casino, suggesting that she never got there. This was becoming a publicity problem for SXM much like Natalee Holloway in Aruba. Recently the local authorities arrested her husband for "serious discussions." There are still no charges, but it appears that the authorities have some doubts about the husband. It won't help her, but is should make most tourists feel a bit safer.

Nature: The last newsletter had this gecko photo and I nattered on about the nanotechnology involved: "each spatula is 0.2 micrometers long (200 billionths of a meter), or just below the wavelength of visible light." The next week I was reading MIT's alumni magazine, Technology Review and found that bioengineer Jeffrey Karp from the joint MIT/Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology was named one of the 35 top innovators under 35 by virtue of his Gecko-inspired surgical tape! Essentially, the tape grips much like the gecko's feet and being biodegradable, disappears over time.


Contest Winners for the 27 July to 26 October contest
Caribbean ViewCondo - half price summer rental (May-October) - Ken Anderson
Azure Guesthouse - seven nights for the price of four - Robert Doran
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket - Maria Chalkley
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two - Maria Chalkley
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine - Maria Chalkley
Random Wind - Two for one coupon for the Paradise Day Sail - Maria Chalkley
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Créole Rock - Steve Hseih
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two - Maria Chalkley
PassportMD - Six months free service - Gary C Clark

Current Contest - 26 October to 28 December
Caribbean ViewCondo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Bikini Beach - A DAY AT THE BEACH
(including 2 chairs and a parasol, 2 welcome punches and $50.00 credit towards food and drink)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Créole Rock
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service

Read our rules, visit the websites of these sponsors, find their contest codes, and enter them on our entry form.

One of the rules is that you should enter each contest only once.

Future Contests:

28 December to 1 March 2009
Caribbean ViewCondo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Créole Rock
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service

1 March to 26 April 2009
Caribbean ViewCondo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Créole Rock
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service


On 14 September the euro was at 1.415. Today it is at 1.264. Despite the fact that the world seemed to despise the dollar, as soon as there was a bit of trouble (much of it coming from the overheated US housing and mortgage market), there has been a flight to the dollar! The graph shows the euro dropping from 1.6 dollars per euro in the dog days of summer to about 1.26 euros now, approximately a 25% change. We may see more restaurants returning to 1 to 1 exchange rates as it is closer to reality now. We'll let you know as we hear from them.   Exchange rate

On our trip through France we dined at many fine restaurants. Almost every one offered a prix fixe menu that generally included an appetizer (called and entrée in French) and a main course plus a cheese platter or dessert. Most restaurants had a higher priced menu that provided both the cheese course and the dessert. The next step was generally to have both a fish course and a meat course. A soup course is always another possibility. In all cases, ordering from the menu was cheaper than ordering the same items a la carte. Given that Martha and I frequently have one ap and two main courses, I probably should not wish that the island would adopt this approach. My pants were just beginning to fit again after a summer of heavy construction labor. There are two places I know that offer menus on the island: La Petite Auberge des Iles in Marina Royale and La Guingette at Port de Plaisance. The menu is always a good value and the food is quite good in both. The Petite Auberge gets a bit crowded as it can get quite busy. La Guingette is quite large and rarely crowded with a porch overlooking the marina at Port de Plaisance.

Cottage and Montmartre
Another difference that we noticed was the increasing amount of whimsy (some say frou-frou) in the presentation. Certainly there was more froth or foam rather than sauce and I am not convinced that I like it as much. Certainly many people have expressed displeasure at the mere hints of flavor received at rather large costs. The two restaurants in France that come to mind were Le Foch in Reims and Le Charlemagne in Pernand-Vergelesses, just outside Beaune. Most restaurants on the island don't do much of the foam, but two of them have a striking amount of whimsy. They also happen to be two of my favorite restaurants. Bruno at Le Cottage Restaurant in Grand Case has had a cutting edge restaurant on the island for a decade. His original chef, Christophe Martinez, moved on and Bruno brought in a couple chefs that played several comic conceits. One of our favorites was a "hamburger". In reality it was fairly thin circles of top quality tuna, lightly seared them to give them the look of a hamburger bun. The chef placed cooked peppers and mushrooms inside and sprinkled sesame seeds on the top, just like a Big Mac. In the center of the plate was "ketchup", in reality a flavorful reddish sauce, and on the left were fries. These really were close to being fries as they were sweet potato fries, but done up in a batter with just a hint of heat.   Hamburger
Thierry Delaunay   The other establishment with a bit of whimsy is Montmartre Restaurant in the lowlands. Originally (in the previous millennium) this place served Alsatian food, sauerkraut, potatoes, and pig products. We loved it. Eventually Pascal and Karen from Auberge Gourmande took it over and changed it to the normal French cuisine at a high level. We liked it even better. Thierry Delaunay, one of the finest and most whimsical chefs on the island, sold his restaurant and came here to cook. We liked it even better. Pascal and Karen sold the restaurant to Gerald Romani who upgraded the wine cellar and added a fabulous cheese chariot, as he allowed Thierry even more freedom. We liked it even better.   dessert

Les Bouchons
Bouchons   At the other end of the spectrum are the "bouchons" of Lyon. Lyon is between Burgundy/Beaujolais and Rhone, a vast river of wine quite close to the breadbasket of France. It's no wonder that the greatest chefs not in Paris are found in the Rhone Valley. In their shadow are many restaurants serving copious quantities of very tasty food at spectacular prices. The liver may come from chickens, not force-fed geese and the filet mignon gives way to faux-filet, but the quality of ingredients is high and the ability of the chef is higher still. Tables are generally cramped and service may stress speed rather than comfort such that they make up in volume what they lose on cost. Nonetheless, we were never hurried out of a restaurant. Many of these restaurants in Lyon have banded together to form a group called the Authentic Bouchons of Lyon. We dined at two of them and with more wine than one should drink while driving (we were walking), our three course meals came to about $60 per person. At that price, the wine generally came from boxes with plastic bladders, but was quite drinkable. The restaurants did have higher priced bottles of wine, but when one can get a half liter of Crozes-Hermitage for about $10 from a box, why not? Our entire trip with more info on these restaurants and much more eventually can be viewed here. It is a work in progress at this point.

When Christophe Martinez left Le Cottage, he down-sized himself into a lunch business in Bellevue called, wait for it, Bellevue. He has no website but you can find the location on this map and enjoy great, hearty lunches at bargain prices. The wine list is thin. Quite close is Chez Bernadette and René. It's a butcher shop, a cheese shop, a wine shop, and has a few tables where in-the-know customers have hearty food at good prices.

Ti Bouchon in Cul de Sac also comes to mind. Momo started out with the second chef from Le Cottage and a desire to reproduce a Bouchon on St Maarten. The first year or two featured Bouchon-type food, but now, several chefs later, the menu is decidedly more upscale. There is a cheese plate and the prices (in dollars) are quite good.

Find our reviews of all these restaurants here.

  Ti Bouchon

Changes: Shrimpy's has closed. It was there one day, gone the next. We had a decent, but not earth-shattering, lunch there. They seemed to cater to boaters with free internet connections, laundry, and cheap eats.

Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar reports that they have stopped the Wine and Cheese tastings, but we do have "Table D'hote" in the Boutique. A reservation gets a special lunch from the Champagne Snack Bar and you get to choose some nice wine from the Boutique to go with the lunch.

Gerald at Montmartre Restaurant reports they are open every night in both restaurant (L'Escapade Restaurant in Grand Case is his other restaurant). The summer (until Omar) was very good. Currently he is doing 1 euro= $1.10 for cash and credit cards get the rate of the day. Olivier left Montmartre about four months ago and Sam is now in charge. Since early October fresh seafood has been arriving from France (oysters, sea snails, crab, etc).


  Our condo: It's that time of year. We have returned to our home in NY. Our condo will be available for rent at $1000 per week from 15 April to December 15, $2000 per week during holiday season (20 Dec until 4 Jan), and $1500 per week at other times. The rental includes about $400 in coupons from several of our website clients. Check the calendar on our website for available dates.

BALCON by Paul Elliott Thuleau   The Tropismes Gallery in Grand Case showcases many local artists. We especially like Paul Elliott Thuleau's work (left) and have one in our condo. Also from this gallery, we have a painting of some wine glasses by Patrick Poivre de La Freta at our home in the US. Have a dinner in Grand Case and plan on spending some extra time in the gallery. If you are not on the island, you can purchase art from their website. Similarly, Island Art and Treasures sells a few originals and lots of prints from several island artists online. They have added a few more things since I mentioned them last.  

Last year we wrote an article about Creole food for St Maarten Events. This year, the article will feature four recipes from four restaurants in (or close to) the Lowlands. Look for a moules appetizer from Mario's Bistro, a vichysoisse from Ti Sucrier, lamb chops from Montmartre Restaurant, and a blanc mange dessert from Boucaniers. Martha was testing the last recipe a few nights ago. I, of course, had to taste the test results. It's tough work, but somebody has to do it. The magazine is free and has considerably more content than the bigger glossy magazines. Look for it all over the island.  

Amazon: I'm not convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach, but it sure is a lightweight way to get some of your favorite books to the Caribbean, especially now that the second bag costs $25 or so on most flights! Martha has been downloading audio books from our local library to her Zune (an iPod knockoff) and that has been working rather well. Obviously, these are audio books and it's not the same as "reading" the text, but it works quite well.


Coupons: Look on the SXM-Info website for a list of all restaurants and others that have coupons for some freebie or discount. There are several coupons there to make your vacation a bit cheaper. Here's a list of what you'll find:

Bikini Beach
Beau Beau's
Kakao Beach
Oizeau Rare
Paradise View
Pirate Beach Bar
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Diamonds International

The Mario's Bistro Cookbook is now available. They are shipped via UPS and cost $49 for one, $87 for two, and $123 for three, delivered. Delivery via UPS should take a day or two in the US.

Sandy Molloy at Molloy Travel offers personalized service to fit your needs and budget.

  Mario's Cookbook

If you are looking for an inexpensive place to spend a night because of bad connections or if you wish to extend your timeshare week another day or two, consider the Turquoise Shell Inn. It's a lovely spot, quite close to all the action in Simpson Bay with a great pool and all of Simpson Bay Beach at your doorstep. The rates are so good, you could easily stay a week or two, especially as guests that say they saw this feature in the SXM-Info newsletter will get 2 nights free for 7 night or longer stays thru Nov 23rd, based on availability.

Pool   Hotel exterior   Simpson Bay Beach