Doing it Again: A Private Boat Charter

Doing it Again: A Private Boat Charter

There’s something a bit romantic about the notion of spending the winter sailing around the Caribbean, dropping into sailors’ havens that dot the islands. The reality of it can be far less romantic if you aren’t a seasoned boater who loves the confined spaces of a boat for long stretches of time. There are other ways to do it, though.

We recently spent a few weeks in the Caribbean—a few days in Barbados, a fourteen-day Seabourn yacht-harbour cruise, then a few more days back in Barbados. The Seabourn “yacht” allowed us to see yacht harbours that larger ships can’t go to, all while enjoying the lifestyle of a luxury cruise ship.

With only 296 passengers, the Seabourn Ovation anchored off places like Soper’s Hole in the west end of Tortola BVI, Trois Ilets in Martinique and Terre-de-Haut, Iles des Saintes in Guadeloupe, all places larger ships can’t even go near. But we still wanted that private yacht experience.

We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again. We’ve done private charters in the past: private boats in Florida, St. Lucia, St. Martin, and the French Riviera. And even a private plane charter from Barbados to St. Lucia last year—an experience to remember. And we did a charter again this year.

While in Barbados, we enlisted the help of the young concierge at Waves Hotel and Spa (a Marriott property) to find the perfect charter. He came through for us with a half-day charter from Unseen Barbados.

The boat was called Princess Hope, a 58-ft Sea Ray yacht for just the two of us. (It can take up to 14 passengers.) The boat did a beach pick-up for us at our hotel—two crew members came ashore with the tender and motored us out. Onboard, the third crew member, a lovely woman with local culinary talents, had laid out a charcuterie board and told us lunch would be ready whenever we wished to eat. The captain took to the bridge, his first mate poured us rum and coke, and we were off to explore the island’s southwest coast.

The boat was truly lovely, and the captain and first-mate, Barbados-born and bred brothers, had the island in their veins. They were personable and polite to the core, knew every nook and cranny of the coast we motored by, and were more than willing to go wherever we wanted. Evidently, most passengers prefer the northern route because it’s calmer. We’d done that before, and since we’re pretty seasoned boaters, we preferred the road less travelled—so to speak!

The route took us south along the Platinum Coast of the island, past Bridgetown, to the Oistins area, the village best known for its Friday night fish fry.

We turned and made our way back toward Payne’s Bay Beach after a terrific authentic Barbadian lunch on board and a few more rum drinks!

The best thing about a private charter is that it is truly personalized. We have control over the itinerary without catering to the whims of other passengers or even the guide. This experience was one for the memory books as we look forward to our next private adventure. Newfoundland, here we come!

Now join us on the water!

A Villa in Mallorca

A Villa in Mallorca

When two friends email you this message: “How would you like to share a villa with us in Mallorca for a week?” what do you do? If you’re like us, you immediately look up a few particulars about the island of Mallorca and begin frantically figuring out how you can spend at least three weeks in the vicinity. After all, if you’re crossing six time zones, we figure it has to be for more than one week. So, a few months ago, when we received just such an email, we looked online at the villa our friends had discovered in Mallorca via VRBO, we said yes and started planning.

Mallorca is one of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean.
Cala Pi on the island of Mallorca

We decided to fly into Madrid and spend two weeks touring parts of Spain and Portugal we’d never visited before. (More to come about that wonderful part of the trip in upcoming blog posts.) From Madrid, it’s an easy hour-and-a-half flight to Palma de Mallorca, the capital of this extraordinary island.

The moment we started planning this trip, we discovered a Netflix series called The Mallorca Files, a British police procedural set in none other than Mallorca. The series had its endearing moments, but the most indispensable character in it was the island itself. After seeing the incredible scenery―beaches, mountain villages, dramatic caves, and the city of Palma―we were hooked. So we brushed up on our Spanish and were off to Mallorca.

The villa was located in a village called Cala Pi. A forty-minute drive from the Palma airport, the village consists of one hotel, a well-known beach, a few restaurants, several small convenience stores and a swath of fancy (and not so fancy) villas. This one fell into the fancy category.

Our companions for the week were arriving from a short trip to the south of England and planned to rent a car when they arrived. We arranged to be picked up at the airport and transported to the villa. Since Cala Pi is not close to anything of note (except the beach, as mentioned earlier), having a car at one’s disposal is essential unless you want to taxi everywhere. We would have been prepared to do that to avoid renting a car, which is not our preference unless we’re in North America. We see so much more when someone else is driving. (And our lovely friends did offer to drive us to various locations on the island throughout the week! 😊)

Whenever you rent something via a website, there’s always a bit of trepidation as you approach your first glimpse. It’s probably a bit like online dating―although we have no personal experience of that. We figure the question at top of mind would be this: will the real thing resemble the online photos? As we approached El Capitano―the villa’s name―we breathed a sigh of relief. From the roadside, it looked nice and was surrounded by other rather nice villas. But walking through to the ocean side of the villa, it became clear that it was more than nice. Its online profile didn’t do it justice. The view! That private pool! It was wonderful.

We settled into what was probably the principal bedroom on the main floor while our villa companions took the whole upstairs―two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Then we had to make some eating plans for the week.

The view from the patio door in our bedroom.

Dining was the one thing we were most concerned about in a week of renting a villa, and one of the reasons we’ve avoided it up to now. When on vacation, we prefer to be served our meals and have the cleaning up done by someone else. After all, we’re on vacation. However, we were open to a new experience.

Together with our friends, we planned to barbeque for three nights. Then they had a recipe they wanted to do one evening, and we planned to eat out the other evenings. There were three or four restaurants in the village of Cala Pi, a fifteen-minute walk from the villa. We tried several of them and they were all just fine. We dined one night at the posh Cap Rocat, where we had the eight-course tasting menu. It was heavenly. Of course, we made breakfast and most lunches at the villa in its extremely well-equipped kitchen and ate all our meals on the covered porch overlooking the tranquil pool.

If there were any “issues” with the villa, here’s what they were. First, why in the world would a vacation villa offer only one tiny icecube tray that makes the tiniest icecubes known to humankind? We had to buy a second icecube tray, and, frankly, they still didn’t cut it.

Then, on the second morning of the trip, the uber-expensive, commercial-grade, barista-friendly coffee maker died. Later that day, the very responsive property manager arrived and opened a locked door that led to a storage space behind the house. He then set up a Delonghi coffee maker―expensive, but not quite as eye-wateringly expensive as the first one. We noted that both coffee machines indicated that they needed to be decalcified. This should be done regularly to avoid coffee hiccups. Anyway, we loved the second coffee maker so much that these discerning travellers promptly bought one when they arrived home.

The third thing was the bedside tables in the principal bedroom. They had shag-carpet-covered tops. They might have looked interesting as part of the décor, but it was impossible to put anything small on them for fear of it being eaten up, never to be seen again in the fur. They also didn’t scream cleanliness to us.

Some photos of the neighbourhood:

Overall, it was a wonderful way to travel. Will we do it again? It’s not a vehement yes, but never say never. We’ll share more about the island itself (wonderful) in our next post.

If you’d enjoy seeing more of the villa’s interior, the property and the views, join us as we walk through it in the video below. Then just close your eyes and pretend you’re there.

Puttin’ on the Ritz? Worth the splurge!

Puttin’ on the Ritz? Worth the splurge!

When Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1927, the name “Ritz” was already well known―and no one doubted that it meant living in a grand style. It’s now almost a century later, and it still evokes that same meaning for travellers around the world.

Today, the Ritz Carlton Hotel chain―with its long and storied history―is owned by Marriott and, as far as the discerning travellers are concerned, is the feather in Marriott’s cap. We’re long-time Marriott loyalty members (with the status to prove it). We’ve stayed at just about every level of Marriott’s, from a Fairfield Inn in Flagstaff, Arizona at one end of the spectrum to J W Marriott’s, W’s, Renaissance’s, and too many Autograph collection hotels to even mention all over the world. We have just returned from our fourth Ritz Carlton adventure.

Until now, the Four Seasons Hotel in Beijing took the top prize for us as far as service, ambience and overall experience were concerned. (Why we were in a Four Seasons and not a Marriott property is a long story―but a good one!) We’d even stayed in three previous Ritz Carlton’s recently―Fort Lauderdale and Naples, Florida and Half Moon Bay in California, and none of them topped The Four Seasons. Now, one had.

Two days in the Ritz Carlton in Montréal, and we can never go back to the Chȃteau Champlain, where we always stay when we’re there―and since Montréal is a mere five-hour drive from our front door, it’s a place we go more than many others. The Ritz is expensive. That has to be said upfront. But the question is: do you get value for your money? Yes, you do.

Ritz Carlton properties are always well-kept, and their staff―their ladies and gentlemen as they are called―are well-trained in the art of making individual guests feel as if they are the most important people in the hotel. They do this by learning your name, offering to help, continuing a conversation with you as they walk you to your elevator and punching in the button for you. They do this by fine details: water in your valet-parked car when you pick it up to continue your trip (although to be fair, they did that in California, but in Montreal, it seems like they forgot. Tut-tut.) Or then there is the tiny, perfect spray bottle of lavender aromatherapy left on your p pillow during turn-down the evening of your second night (Montreal). Yes, they do have turn-down, a service that seems to have all but disappeared in the hotel industry. Perhaps it’s not essential, but when they add details, the experience always makes you smile.

The rooms are beautiful, although not always spacious. That depends on location. Our recent room in Montréal was delightfully spacious, and the bathroom was to die for, with no detail overlooked. Everything from the heated towel rack to the high-tech toilet to the bath and shower amenities―everything was divine. And it was so spacious!

The restaurants at the Ritz Carlton in Montréal are beautiful. The main restaurant is a Daniel Boulud outpost (we love Café Boulud here in Toronto. It’s at the Four Seasons, which is a ten-minute walk from our door). The food was terrific, and the service was equally lovely. They do know how to pick staff, even in these days of hotel and restaurant angst following the pandemic.

The other dining venue is one of the most well-appointed bars we’ve seen. It’s stunning. It’s more of a bar, although we ate dinner there on the second evening. The service was a bit spottier, but to be fair, the server was personable if a bit inexperienced. He did flub up a few times, and his boss, who was sitting at the bar, probably should have stepped in. Nevertheless, we had fun.

There is little doubt in our minds that the Ritz Carlton makes travelling a bit more pleasant these days. And for us, it’s worth the splurge. If you go, just remember this: there may be no going back!

Take a few moments to tour the Montréal hotel with us.

Chartering a Private Catamaran in St. Lucia: One perfect day in the Caribbean

Chartering a Private Catamaran in St. Lucia: One perfect day in the Caribbean

It’s not quite post-COVID yet, but life is short, and we just had to get away. After spending a week in Barbados and chartering a plane to get us from there to St. Lucia, we found ourselves at The BodyHoliday, chilling at a spa and wellness centre for a week. But what about all that water beckoning us? As far as we’re concerned, there is nothing better than a day spent on the water, exploring the coast of a Caribbean Island (or even the shore of the Mediterranean, for that matter!). So, we investigated our options.

The BodyHoliday offers a department they call “Special Experiences.” Their objective is to help you build special events and experiences that make for unforgettable vacation moments. And, of course, that means different things to different people. We visited the special experiences staff, and they booked us our private sail. (Of course, there is a price to be paid for such experiences, and at this point in our lives, we’re willing to pay it!)

Once we had the charter booked―a 42-foot catamaran and two crew members―the resort staff also booked taxis for us to get to Rodney Bay Marina and back and then asked if we’d like to have them pack a lunch. Who could refuse that?

We arrived at the Rodney Bay Marina, home to an impressive array of watercraft. When we approached the Southern Breeze, our transportation for the day, a crew member welcomed us and said, “Just the two of you?” When we said yes, he smiled broadly. An easy day, perhaps?

We set off from the marina and headed south along the west coast of St. Lucia past what is now Sandals LaToc where we spent our honeymoon thirty-five years ago (it was Cunard LaToc back then!) toward the pride of their natural environment. Les Deux Pitons are impressive volcanic peaks in the Soufriere area of the island―Petit Piton (small piton) and Gros Piton (large piton). They are at almost the southwest tip of the island, and it took us two hours under sail and with the engine running to get there.

Along the way back, we sailed into the lovely little Marigot Bay, famous for being the filming location for the tropical bits of the 1967 film Dr. Doolittle starring Rex Harrison. Now, there’s even a restaurant right on the water’s edge called Doolittle’s. It’s on our list to visit the next time we’re in St. Lucia―and there will be a next time!

A few minutes on the water…