Sunday, September 03, 2017

Sint Maarten Vacation

The time has come for a vacation get-away to someplace new, an island, in the Caribbean.
Mary and I really wanted to get away and as luck or timing would have it, Pam and Ted asked if we would like to go to Sint Maarten. We're all in!

Friday 8/25

A quick review...

After a great Beach Boys show Wednesday night and visit with family, we dropped our zoo off for boarding on Thursday.

We packed our bags and decided to turn in at 7pm.  Why so early?  We needed to be at the Salisbury airport by 5am, which means leaving to pick up Pam and Ted by 4am.

We got up at 3am to finish getting those last items packed, house secured and make some sort of breakfast. Pam and Ted were on time and we are on the road by 4:15. I made great time and even included a Royal Farms stop for drinks to wash down the pork roll sandwiches I made. Unfortunately, it goes down hill from here.

Salisbury Terminal...

We get checked in at Salisbury airport (KSBY) and await the TSA opening up the scanners.Of course the body scanner is not working today so I have to walk through the doorway device. After multiple attempts and my heads up to all my metal parts the agent gives up,  and requests a full body pat down, oh joy.  Even though  I had a pre-check, I now have to surrender my Nike's so they can go through the scanner again. After a pat down I'm finally cleared to join the general population.
The four of us are getting excited about our planned get-away.  The excitement is short lived as we notice the ground crew and flight crew starting one engine after closing all doors and hatches. I concentrate on the cockpit where the captain seems to be ticked off as he throws a clipboard and other sheets of paper across the glare shield, maybe the flight manifest. This series of checks produces an announcement that departure will be delayed until 7am.

Immediately we are in jeopardy of not making our connecting flight from Charlotte to Sint Maarten. Checking the Charlotte flight departure time reveals we need to be boarded by 9:20. There's a slim chance. We eventually board and get in the air. Our flight was smooth and lands with just enough time to 'maybe' make the connection. The pipe dream is short lived as we now have to hold short for our gate to clear. This really stinks!

We get into our gate at 9:14 which leaves just six minutes to board our flight at the other end of the terminal, not happening.  We proceed directly to rebook our flight, now slated for a 2:33 departure to Miami.  With hours to kill, Pam gets us into the Admirals club. My first experience with the club access, it's quiet, clean and we are treated like royalty. Comfy chairs, good food and open bar, I could get used to this. The flight to Miami was fine except for the frigid cabin temps.

It's finally time to board our flight and we quickly settle in. The cabin temps on this flight are perfect, much like living on planet earth. Our previous flights today have been, for lack of a better term, polar. We get into Sint Maarten well after nine.

The search for home...

Once the SUV rental is secured we try to follow the directions provided by the homeowner. We may as well be locked in one of those escape room adventures, it could not have been more vague.  I took on the navigator roll and with one new to me GPS and the email directions, we were heading out. Dear God, could this have been any more complicated. I've included a taste of the email directions.

Exit the airport compound turning right onto the main road.

Main road? Does this road have a name?  There were multiple airport exits and a road name other than 'main' would have really helped.

Travel approx. 1.0 mile and go past the Westin resort, stay on the right hand side of the road, expect a narrow roadway and follow this road (some short gravel and very bumpy sections) 0.5mile and you will reach the gates at Dawn Beach Estates (on the left).

The Short gravel and very bumpy description is very kind, this was off roading at its best, without a doubt. Somehow, Ted managed to find the place despite my navigation help.

We all decided on a midnight swim to close out day one.


After sleeping in we each slowly emerged from our rooms ready to have some breakfast. We didn't eat since dining on the pretzels and drinks provided by the airlines last night. The only problem was we needed to grocery shop and it's never good to shop on an empty tummy. The plan was to head towards the French side of the island for crêpes.  We couldn't find anything open so we headed back to the Dutch  side at the cruise ship terminal area.  Plenty of places to shop and eat. We decided on Chesterfields situated right on the water. We were served good food and the service was ok.
With full tummies we headed off in search of groceries. There were plenty of small mom and pop shops but none that I would feel comfortable with. Then we found the Le Grand Marche', a super store grocery shopping experience that puts any Ocean City Maryland store to shame. The staff even pushes the cart to your car and loads the groceries in your vehicle, great service, what a concept.
We headed back to home base, Villa Dolfijn, and unloaded our booty. The group decided on plenty of pool time, working on our tans and dreaming of our planned grilled filet's for dinner.
The BBQ grill, supervised by master griller Ted, provided the absolute best black Angus filets and roasted potatoes, onions and peppers. Life is good on the Island.

A lazy day of pool time, sun tanning, reading and grilling about sums it up. We did manage to shower and dress for dinner over on the French side. We left around three for some exploring and ended up at Le Tastevin located in Grand Case, ahead of our reservation time.
The restaurant was empty so we had prime waterfront seating.
There were sailboats anchored just off shore and plenty of beach activities.  I was treated to multiple arrivals overflying the coast for the Grand Case airport. It seems most of the aircraft were de Havilland DH6 Otters, with a few Cessna 208 caravans.
Our waiter was excellent, providing top-notch service, humor and magic. We each enjoyed perfectly prepared dinners; Mary had Sea Bass, I had scallops over mushroom risotto, Pam and Ted each had lobster, monster lobster, they were huge, each weighing three and four pounds respectively.
We eventually made our way back to the SUV and pointed for home. Retracing our route we found our way without a problem. As we traversed the gravel bumpy section we each laughed at the thought of our ride helping speed up digestion. The homeowners need to get that road paved. Mary and I turned in for the night while Pam and Ted went for a before bed swim.


Rise and shine to an overcast day making  the island of St. Barts vanish in the fog. As I sat poolside typing this there was a very light misty rain rolling in. We stayed dry, protected by the eight feet or so of overhang covering the gray weathered teak table and chairs. Ted and I each were distracted by our electronic devices while Pam picked the remaining Lobster clean for tonight's lobster cakes.
Mary slept in with a start of a headache and upset tummy. Meanwhile, the rain had started to pick up so we all moved inside. I randomly checked on my bride while catching up to today's events here on the blog. It's time to open up one of my books I downloaded for this vacation, reading while enjoying  the sounds of the ocean waves and the light raindrops on the pool was very relaxing.
Ted and I ran to the market to pick up a few items on 'the list'.  An exciting drive into town after dark, with no GPS. We made it out and back without issue; no locals, dogs, cats or goats were harmed, despite their best efforts to test Ted's driving skills. Once the groceries were restocked we settled in for the evening. Mary has been down all day and she thinks it's food poisoning. I'm just trying to keep her comfortable and hydrated.

Monday comes to a close after a fantastic lobster cake dinner prepared by Pam. Great friends, good eats, our life is very good.


I had a good night's sleep and Mary got up a few times, but she is feeling a little bit better. I was anxious to catch the sunrise this morning, but checking the posted time on the internet, I just missed. Maybe tomorrow will be the day.
Mary stayed in bed, for now, but is going to get up and try to function. I went out poolside and enjoyed a glass of lemonade and the view. Pam was already at poolside reading and Ted was just joining us. Eventually I went in to start breakfast and we enjoyed eggs over medium with toast and home fries. No meat today, instead I put a scoop of pasta salad on my plate, yummy.
It was closing in on 9:30 and the temps were rising, it's time to hit the pool! The water and view was prefect and I did my 'six million dollar man' imitation running around the pool in what seemed like slow motion. Running in the water has helped with working my foot to step more square, flatter, than putting more weight on the outside edge.
south view
Mary came out poolside for some tanning and a dip or two in order to cool off. I fired up the grill to cook up lunch and we spent the remainder of the day hanging out, reading and watching the news coverage about Huston.


It was a slow start this morning but we all eventually made our way to the great room. As a group, the decision was made to head out for breakfast over on the French side. It's a short ride to the other side of the lagoon and we found a nice little spot to eat at La P'tite Pause.
This eatery was set up as an outdoor cafe' and the cooking was done in a separate outdoor room adjacent to the cafe'. Our hostess spoke only in french and she was very bubbly. The meal was very good but I was confused by 'salad' on the menu. My order was eggs, bacon, toasted toast (another one I didn't get), salad, juice and a hot drink.The salad was baked beans or something very a similar and the toasted toast was in fact toast, but, with no butter.
We finished up and bid goodbye with the added, merci beaucoup, such a worldly guy. The next stop was shopping for the ladies near the cruise terminal. We were not allowed in without cruise ship credentials. Since that was a bust we headed to Maho Beach and the Sunset bar for some cheap entertainment.
Somehow we snagged perfect seats along the beach, just at the waters edge. The group enjoyed drinks and some munchies while we watched aircraft approach and land.  At least there were no idiots hanging off the fence, instead, they were lined up across the two lanes along the beach at the roadway.  I watched a few nut tickets get sand blasted and blown across the sand but no real tumbling tumbleweeds.
The group explored a bit more of the area before heading back to Villa Dolfijn.  With full tummies and overheated bodies we all settled in the air conditioning once home. Pam read, Ted took a dip in the pool, I updated my blog and Mary took a nap.
As a group, thoughts of dinner started to surface. Ted took the lead making meatballs and cooking a premade tortellini with cheese and spinach. Taking advantage of the large dining room table we gathered to break bread together and share laughs from today's travel adventures.
With our appetites squelched we watched the latest updates from Texas and tropical storm Harvey. It's heartbreaking to see what fellow Americans are going through. We pray for their families and the safety of the first responders and many volunteers. Americans stepping up, no politics, no race, no religion, just people helping people. Mary and I go to bed this evening thankful for our friends and family.


Our last full day on the island! We tossed around a few ideas for exploring the French side in greater detail. I made a arrangements for Mary and I to look at a sailboat, a what!? Yes, a sailboat. I have been exploring potential places to live for the winter months, in Florida, with our zoo. Rentals are out of the question with pets and we don't want to be locked into any one place that requires yearly HOA fees or property taxes. The temporary plan comes down to another motorhome, 5th wheel or a boat.
The boat of interest is a Moody 34 or 346.  A thirty-four foot fiberglass monohull, center cockpit. The ride to find the boat yard was an adventure. Down the mountain we went, through town and past the airport to the French side of the island. We managed to find the bridge and with a u-turn made it back to the correct driveway. There by the roadside the broker was waiting to lead us through the gate.

Tony was a very nice man and shared his knowledge of a few boats we had discussed and sailing. My lovely bride said she wasn't climbing the ladder and with that I figured this was a total waste of my time and the brokers. I was frustrated but Tony asked some great questions to help narrow our search. Being totally honest he said the Moody wasn't big enough for a winter home especially with our large dog and recommended a Hunter. With Tony steering us away from what I thought to be a great priced boat that would meet our needs I was instead disappointed and disgusted that I wasted everyone's time.

We said our goodbyes and headed for the French side shopping and bakeries. The ladies walked Ted and I up and down the streets and into a few shops.  We did find crêpes and enjoyed a cool drink with the good eats.
The heat was taking a toll so we loaded up for home. Forty minutes later we were all bobbing in the infinity pool like corks. We shared a dinner and then relaxed before heading off to pack for our flights tomorrow morning. Mary and I will be flying back to Ocean City and Pam and Ted will meet up with friends for a week on Scrub island in the British Virgin Islands.


We are up early and help get things squared away. Breakfast is not really on anyone's list but we all manage to pick on something. Pam and Ted are packing up for the quick hop to the British Virgin Islands to meet friends. Mary and I packed last night and if I was thinking straight I would have taken the early flight out of Sint Maarten. We are finally ready to roll for the airport by 10am, check out time.

One last treat of driving through Sint Maarten and listening to all the horns blow for thank you, keep it moving, and the typical USA honks. The roads are busy but we make the airport in good time. Check in is easy even though they do not have the electronic pass scan available so you must have a physical boarding pass. With a  quick check of our documents we are headed to the gate to wait for our flight. Ted and Pam catch up for a brief goodbye and head to their gate.

More American Airlines fun...

As we wait for our flight at gate A3, we hear an announcement that the flight has been moved to A4, no problem, its a short walk around the corner. Once settled in at A4 the first delay is announced, this can't be happening again. We were scheduled for departure at 2:27 and now not scheduled to board until 3:10, which technically makes us miss our flight from Charlotte to Salisbury. Just before we board I get an email from American to call and change flights, so I called. We got on the earliest flight to Philly since there was nothing else available and that will be Saturday morning. There was also nothing available to Baltimore. Maybe I should have checked Norfolk, but, I didn't think of it at the time.
I'm already getting aggravated but figure we can drive home from Philly if we need to, if there is no flight available to Salisbury.  Before we leave the gate my electronic ticket info is updated and we we're booked on a flight to Salisbury, at 9:38pm Saturday night. About now I could rocket out of my seat and fly home with out the plane, I calm myself down and think of solutions.

The plane ride was excellent, good temps, pretty smooth, well at least until we let down for Charlotte. The tailwinds were great and we were going to arrive in enough time that we had a chance, CHANCE, to get back on the Salisbury flight for tonight. I still held the old boarding pass so I had the info. As our luck would have it seemed we were vectored all over the place and then entered IMC conditions for the approach. As we broke out of the clag the plane really bumped hard and the passengers gave a collective gasp, except for one idiot that laughed, yep,me. I got a few strange looks.
Our chances were slipping away of making the original flight but we still tried. All we had to do was clear customs, recheck our bags then sprint for the gate. When we got to customs it was mobbed, the cattle lines were full and moving swiftly and efficiently wasn't even entering my mind.  We Moooed along like a good herd and finally cleared customs and then got our bags.

I asked the American airline agent about the chance of getting back on the Salisbury flight and she said, after calling the gate, "they are more than half boarded so you really don't have a chance". I thanked her, then turned to Mary, mumbled a few 'words' in Italian and said were driving home tonight. Yes, I got that look but we were both in agreement and just wanted to get home so we could pick up our zoo on time.
We rented from Enterprise and the challenge was on. I set up my phones GPS and plotted our course, it said we would arrive at 4:24 am, it was now 8:30pm. I can do better. I could not possibly know the route we took other than Route 85 to Route 58 across the Bay bridge tunnel and home. We made a stop for fuel, which took eleven gallons at that point, along with some food and drink from McD's. Hammer down for home was my motto and off we went. I drove through heavy rain north east of charlotte and then showers, off and on, along the way. We passed through plenty of road construction, thankfully it was overnight and not during the day because one lane each direction would have been a nightmare. With the fuel and food stop we made it home at 5:10am. We locked up the vehicle, walked in the house, and passed out.

The aftermath...

We were up at 8:15ish and stumbled around the house trying to find those extra toothbrushes you get from the dentist that you keep, just in case.  Well, this is that "just in case".  All our bags were still in the rental and we were not digging anything out. We manage to look presentable and find something to drink as we lay out todays plan. We have to pick up Inky, our cancer kitty at 10:00, have the rental dropped off by 10:00 and pick up Ziva, George and Jake at another place. I can hardly think straight but somewhere in there we need to get my SUV that is still parked at Salisbury Airport.

I unloaded the bags from the rental and just rolled them into the garage, we'll deal with them later. We decided to head over to Salisbury in the rental to spring my SUV out of long term parking. Now $70 lighter in the pocket, Mary is following me back to Ocean City to drop off the rental. We pull in at 9:50, good timing for two sleep deprived people. We don't waste any time as we get right back on the road, now pointed west bound again, this time for the VCA clinic.  We arrive just after 10am and get to see our Inky boy. The staff at the clinic is excellent, Inky boy looks great and he has his meow back, we haven't heard that in weeks. Mary is happy, I'm relieved, both of us still very tired and now I'm hungry. We point for home and make a stop for breakfast at a local place just a few blocks from the house, Inky is fine in the SUV.

Once back home I drag the bags in and go through everything.  Mary does the same and we notice the tired is gone, I guess we are getting our second wind.  The grooming and boarding place calls, Ziva is ready after her bath and nails, so off we go. A short ride maybe fifteen minutes and the zoo is all aboard ready to go home. I'm not sure what we did the rest of the day, it was a blur. We did finally go to bed, maybe around 7:30 after having a pizza delivered for dinner. Mary and I didn't get up until Ziva wanted out around 5:40.

The takeaway...

If and when we leave the country again we will book the earliest flight out to head home and leave a multi hour layover as a cushion for the what if issues.
  • We may consider Baltimore (BWI) and just hire a limo for the ride.
  • Pack lighter!
  • Find a pet sitter! The zoo cost us $1100 for boarding while we were away.
  • Travel in country, use 08Romeo for transportation.
  • Buy a real camera for better pictures.
Despite the travel issues, it was a fun trip. A new destination explored, and time spent with great friends. As always, it's great to be home!


Now that I am calm I decided to call and find out about a refund for the Charlotte to Salisbury flights for Mary and I. The American airlines rep was very professional, he asked for flight numbers and dates and put me on hold to research my info.  Mike, the CSR,  came back on the phone and confirmed my email, home address and phone number and advised a refund will be sent(3to5 days)to us for the flights not taken. Glad I calmed down before calling, it makes life easier on everyone involved.


Jim and Sandie said...

It's good that the destination and friends made that all worthwhile. My hope is to never have to get on an airplane ever again. I flew a lot when I was employed but that was back when flying wasn't such a hassle. When we worked and took vacations we used a pet sitter who came and lived at our house while we were gone. It was wonderful. Now they just go with us.

Gary said...

As I was reminded by friends Time to spare...go by air. I got a good laugh out of that, hitting me with my own book. I'm so glad I didn't have to travel for work, I wouldn't do well.

Mary found a friend that will pet sit for two of the cats, our cancer kitty is going back to the same vet. He came home as if a few years younger then when he was dropped off there. Hmmm...maybe I should check in.

Our Ziva girl would be fine anywhere we go, but, most people are intimidated by a dog the size of a pony. Actually she behaves better than some children. We get it, so we deal with it. We wouldn't trade her for the world.

Jim and Sandie said...

Our good friends flew from Michigan to Boston this last week-end for a family wedding. Went about like your trip. They headed home today but are in a hotel in Philadelphia for the night because they missed their connection due to a mechanical issue with their plane. Tomorrow they fly from Philadelphia to Charlotte and then to Grand Rapids. They also had issues making their connections on the way to Boston. Said they will never fly again.