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Despite 2017 storms, Caribbean is ready to welcome visitors

Despite 2017 storms, Caribbean is ready to welcome visitors

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Former President Barack Obama took up a new sport while on his post-presidency vacation with Richard Branson. The Virgin Group founder posted pictures and video of Obama kitesurfing in the British Virgin Islands. (Feb. 7)
AP

Dianne Newcomer(Photo: courtesy)

Q: I want to go to the Caribbean this summer. Can you give me an update on the islands recovery?

A: There is no doubt that several islands in the Caribbean were hard hit by either Hurricane Irma and/or Hurricane Maria, but here is the good news: that beautiful blue you’ll travel so far to see is now more prevalent in the ocean than on the rooftops!

In order to answer your question, let me a first-hand-state-of-the-island report  I received from clients who just returned from their 10 day Caribbean cruise: “When we flew into San Juan, Puerto Rico’s airport, the panoramic view from the air definitely showed the damage in the outlying areas of the island from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The blue tarps, piles of rubbish, and downed trees were visible, but,  once we were on the ground and headed to our hotel for a pre-night cruise stay, everything looked fine in the Condado strip area.”

“The next day we spent a typical day in San Juan; we relaxed on their beautiful beaches, gambled in busy casinos,  walked the streets of  Old San Juan, dined well, and even visited a salsa club that night. Just like the good ole days when we had cruised out of this great little port city, San Juan was hopping.  The El Yunque — Puerto Rico’s absolutely stunning rainforest — is about all we missed, because it is still closed because of the storms,” said Margie Dixon of West Monroe.

“Our first cruise port was St. Martin/St. Maarten, the part French and part Dutch island. We did see a pretty heavily damaged island, but it seemed most of the roads, beaches, bars and restaurants are all open again.  We talked to some fellow cruisers who enjoyed strolling the Front Street boardwalk and the Back Street, which is the home of the famous Guavaberry Store. Everything around the cruise port at Philipsburg was operational and bustling because our Viking ship, along with  Royal Caribbean and Carnival ships, were in port.”

Because I had once read a great little book where the main character left his home in New York and moved to the island of Anguilla, I convinced Harry we should take the ferry from St. Maarten and check it out for the day. What a great little island adventure it turned out to be!

 Anguilla is definitely off the beaten path, but we fell in love with this little place that is only 16 miles long and 3 miles wide! There is no doubt Hurricane Irma had paid them a visit, but, with no cruise ship crowds and no airport, those pristine white beaches are yours to roam. After a few hours of swimming in crystal clear blue water and relaxing on Anguilla’s uncrowded beaches, we joined the locals at Garvey’s Sunshine Shack before catching the ferry back to our cruise ship.” 

“Our cruise director told us Antigua, our next port stop,  was basically up and running within two days after Hurricane Maria hit.  Since the airport was spared, which was particularly good news for the islands‘ many hotels, restaurants and attractions, this island enjoyed business as usual. Unfortunately, Antigua’s sister island of Barbuda  was pounded by Maria and is still in recovery mode.”

Dominica was another island hard hit, but some the lushness that makes this island such a great port stop  was returning in its beautiful parks.  We had planned to hike the island’s Waitukubuli National Trail and see all its fabulous pools and waterfalls, but the park was  closed and recovery efforts were reported as “ongoing,” which seemed to be an appropriate way to descibe alot of things on this little island.

 (Photo: Royal Caribbean Cruises)

Now, if you only stay in Charlotte Amalie where all the duty-free shops and restaurants are, you might think Hurricane Marie gave St. Thomas the same pass it  gave St. Croix, but you are wrong.  Like St. John, another Virgin Island, the devastation is still visible. Both of these islands have only a handful of hotels open, so most islanders love the cruise ship passengers, who are keeping their businesses afloat!”

I hope Margie’s trip update answers some of your questions, but, please remember, the  Caribbean is a big place with 100’s of islands! The Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Caymans, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Turks, St. Lucia, Curacao, Grenada, and Barbados, to name the most popular ones we sell at Monroe Travel Service, are as good as ever. If  “island time” is calling, then you should be calling us to help show you the way.

Q: Ever since I read about the Pyramids of Egypt and heard their stories as a kid, I have always wanted to see them.  Is it safe to travel there now? Am I crazy to consider such a trip?

A:   I certainly do not think you are crazy to want to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World. In fact, in a couple of weeks, I can give you an update from travelers who will be returning from a 10 day  Trafalgar Tour of Egypt. What an eye-opening experience awaits–and, if you travel to Egypt with that in mind–I think you will be captivated by this strange and magical place.

First of all, I think you should capitalize on the words eye-opening. There is no doubt you will need to keep your wits about you, but isn’t this true whether in Egypt or at the mall in Monroe?  Being nervous, aware of your situation, is a good thing.

Also, when planning such a journey, I would definitely respect the U.S. travel advisories that state: Americans should avoid northern Sinai,  exercise caution when traveling to south Sinai, and, basically, expect travel to anywhere east of the Nile River to be generally safe. Instead of being overly concerned about safety, I would encourage you to prepare yourself for the intensity of Egypt.

Just having a different skin color is a big deal ; it sets you apart from the locals. You will be noticed, especially by the hawkers who want to sell you something! Whether an aggresively friendly but confrontational hawker, the crowds, the insane traffic and constant honking, or just the noise of another language being spoken, an intensity is there. 

It’s as thick as the cloud of smog that often hangs over Cairo, and, for some, it can be unsettling. Everything is so different, but isn’t that one of the best reasons to travel? As your travel agent, I would insist you travel with a tour group, mainly because you need someone with you who speaks Arabic. Not only will your tour guide help you avoid paying “tourist” prices (separate from the “local” prices), but you will enjoy an extra level of comfort and security, which helps you relax, enjoy the beauty, and appreciate the wonderfully kind people of this place you have dreamed about seeing since you were a kid.

At Monroe Travel Service, we are so happy to see some of the major tour and river boat companies who dropped Egypt from their itineraries in 2014 are finally  returning. Yet, unless you go soon, you might wish to consider waiting until the fall. Summers in Egypt can be exceptionally hot and humid, so come see us at Monroe Travel Service and let’s talk about a trip to this amazing ancient kingdom.  FYI: Page King, one of our travel consultants at Monroe Travel Service, has made this journey and would most certainly love to help you plan yours.

Dianne Newcomer is a travel agent at Monroe Travel Service, 1908 Glenmar, just off Tower Drive. For your next vacation, call 318 323 3465 or email info@monroetravel.com.

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