Review: Royal West Indies Resort

19 04 2008

We stayed at the Royal West Indies Resort (RWI) on Providenciales in Turks & Caicos in March 2008 for 7 nights and we were very happy with our choice. This condo resort is located on Grace Bay, where most of the hotels and restaurants on Providenciales are located.

RWI

RWI has 8 3-story buildings scattered across a beautiful, lush property that includes two separate pool areas, a gourmet restaurant called Mango Reef, and of course direct beach access to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Although TCI is a chain of desert islands, the RWI grounds feature lush, tropical flora and fauna.

RWI Pool Area

We stayed in a studio botanical view, which was perfectly suited to our needs. The studio is larger than the typical hotel room, but also includes a small sitting area, a washer/dryer, and kitchenette. The resort has studios, 1 bedrooms, and 2 bedrooms available and they all come with with either a kitchenette or full kitchen depending on your room selection and a balcony or patio. The larger rooms have full kitchens, which saves a lot of money on an island where food is expensive.

RWI Studio

RWI Studio

RWI

Our third floor botanical view.

We found the rooms to be clean and well equipped. The kitchenette had utensils, glasses, bowls, and plates in addition to a refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker and toaster. Detergent is provided.

RWI Kitchenette

The bathroom was clean, and even though this is a condo hotel they provide the usual shampoo, conditioner, and lotion assortment for your use.

RWI Bathroom

Since we went during high season, resort umbrellas at the beach were always taken. My tip is to reserve your umbrella before 9 AM if you know you will be lying out all day. During the rest of the year, I have heard this is not an issue. If you don’t get a beach umbrella, you can lie out next to the pool. The sun is very hot in TCI, so an umbrella is pretty much mandatory.

RWI Beach

RWI has direct beach access to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

There are two main ways to reserve rooms at this resort. You can either book through the resort or any travel agency (Expedia, etc) or you can book through a direct owner of a unit through vacation rentals by owner at vrbo.com. You will typically get cheaper rentals directly through an owner, but the spaces fill up fast. Also, if you book through an owner you only get maid service once or twice a week while booking through the resort of travel agency will get you daily maid service. Once you get there, there is no difference in service quality. I will also note that you should not book through the website because the response is slow but instead use their 800 number.
Overall, we were pleased with our stay here. The hotel’s location was great right on the beach, the restaurant was delicious, the rooms were fairly clean, and it is a good value on Grace Bay.





A Caribbean Paradise: Turks & Caicos

24 03 2008

When I was thinking about what to write about my visit to the gorgeous Turks & Caicos Islands, I was seriously worried that I would come across like a commercial. How can you say anything bad about a chain of islands in the Caribbean with the most beautiful uncrowded beaches and the most turquoise blue waters you have ever seen?

Half Moon Bay

Beautiful Half Moon Bay is located on an uninhabited island and was created by a hurricane. It is reachable only by boat.

Turks & Caicos

You do not need to adjust the settings on your monitor. This is how blue the water really is in Turks & Caicos.

The Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI) are a chain of islands just southeast of the Bahamas and about 500 miles from Miami, Florida. A British Overseas Territory, Turks & Caicos is part of the British West Indies.  Automobiles are driven on the left here, but the U.S. dollar is the official currency.  Although it cannot be verified, many believe these islands represented the first landfall for Christopher Columbus on his famous sea voyage. These islands were also used by pirates, although they probably didn’t look like Johnny Depp.

Grace Bay

Grace Bay

Most of the resorts line the stretch of Grace Bay Beach on Providenciales (Provo), the island with the largest population. Only about half of the main 8 islands are inhabited and there are more than 20 other small islands in this chain. There are resorts from every price range on Grace Bay, but by and large the beaches are still relatively uncrowded compared to other Caribbean islands.

Dive for Conch

The home of the Queen Conch. You will literally trip over conch every 3 feet in these shallow warm waters off Provo.

Turks and Caicos’ natural resources include the spiny lobster, conch, and other shellfish. Although conch are considered an endangered species in many places around the world, these creatures are farmed on Turks & Caicos. This is one of the only places in the world that exports conch. You may bring up to 3 conch or conch derived products out of Turks & Caicos with a free permit from the department of the environment.

Conch Shell

Conch Shell

My freshly harvested conch. It must be larger than 7 inches across. We literally picked it out of the ocean.

Half Moon Bay

Our boat tour with Caicos Dream Tours consisted of snorkeling at the barrier reef, diving for conch, and having fresh conch salad prepared from the conch we caught while we explored the deserted beach of Half Moon Bay. Many boat operators in TCI do a version of this tour. It was a lovely morning in paradise.

Conch Salad
Conch salad (similar to ceviche) is a must-eat. This bowl is from da famous Da Conch Shack.


Turks & Caicos is well known among scuba divers. The barrier reef off TCI is the third largest in the world after Australia and Belize. There are a myriad of activities to do. Besides sitting on the gorgeous beaches, you can snorkel, snuba, sail, water ski, banana boat, explore sea caves, go on a pirate tour, or just worship the sun.

Grace Bay

I can really only find one downside for Turks & Caicos, and that is the expense of the food. Since everything needs to be imported onto this desert isle, groceries are expensive. The existence of several top notch gourmet restaurants also means dinners are expensive. Fortunately, since many resorts on TCI are actually condos, you can save a lot of money by using the kitchen provided for meals. While there is a great IGA supermarket on Provo, it is also expensive so we packed lots of snacks, which saved some money.

Grace Bay

We maximized our beach time on our visit to Grace Bay.

All in all, we found Turks & Caicos to have just the right mix of pristine beaches that are not too crowded (Grace Bay is comparable to Eagle Beach in Aruba), fun water activities, friendly locals, good seafood, solid tourist infrastructure, and good public safety.  In many respects, it’s similar to Aruba based on our experience.

We stayed at the Royal West Indies on Grace Bay, a condo resort that we recommend. Review to follow!





A Visit to Walt’s Creation: Disney World

21 03 2008

While in Orlando, Florida for a work conference, my friend/coworker P and I took the opportunity to spend two fun days at Walt Disney World before the start of the conference. Disney World is known primarily as a family destination, but it is also a tourist destination in its own right. Yes, it’s artificial and at times cheesy, but it is also undeniably the most visited theme park in the world, and one of the U.S.’s most popular destinations.

Magic Kingdom

Although eschewed by many more worldly travelers, there is still much to be appreciated about Disney World. Yes, it is part of a huge global for-profit corporation but Disney World was also the creation of a visionary who pioneered animation and theme park design. When Walt Disney first came up with the idea for Disneyland in Anaheim, California, which predated Disney World, there was nothing else out there even close to Walt’s vision. The idea for a theme park rose out of numerous requests by fans to visit Disney’s studios and and meet some of their favorite characters. Inspired by by the 1893 Chicago World’ Fair, European pleasure gardens, and amusement parks around the world, Walt sought to create a destination for tourists and Disney fans to visit.

Cinderella's stepfamily

Although I have visited Disney World several times in my life, most were when I was a kid. Even today, nothing captures the imagination of little kids around the world more than Disney World. I last visited The Magic Kingdom in 2002, but have not seen Epcot since circa 1993. For me, this visit was one part fun and one part nostalgia.

It's a Small World

The it’s a small world ride has not changed one bit since I first climbed onto this boat ride when I was 4 years old. Well, there may have been an update here and there but the same familiar yet cloying music lives on.

Geppeto's Workshop

One of the best parts of Disney World is its attention to detail. While everything is fabricated, they truly are bringing stories to life. Walt’s insistence that Disney employees stay “in character” at all times when in contact with visitors is one of the many details that sets Disney World apart from other theme parks. The organization and cleanliness of the parks are also worth noting. My friend and I were amazed at the efficiency of the parking lot and the system of lines for the rides. Fastpass was a great timesaver.

Pirates of the Caribbean

These visitors got sick of waiting in line.

One of my favorite rides is Pirates of the Caribbean. Even though it’s old technology by now, I am still amazed by Disney’s use of animatronics. It’s not just the fact that they are robots, but also the imaginative way Disney has used them in conjunction with theatrical audio, music, and dramatic lighting and costumes.

Jack

Disney updated its Pirates ride with less debauchery and more Jack Sparrow.

Note: The photo of Jack Sparrow is a Disney publicity shot.  Image copyrighted by Disney.  The use of this image is for informational purposes only and qualifies as fair use.  The inclusion of this photo in this post adds significantly to the post because it demonstrates the deft use of animatronics technology.  Source: Google Images.

Cinderella's Castle at Night

Too bad we weren’t invited to the Pirates and Princess Party that night!

Next: Epcot Center








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