Sunday, March 24, 2013

St. Kitts, West Indies Trip

There's this fun website I found about a year ago called Trekaroo. I started writing reviews and became a top reviewer, a Superoo in 2012. I'm also a big time Yelper. I don't know what it is. I love to write, and I spend so much time reading reviews when we travel, that I feel like my contributions will help people like me.  Okay, back to Trekaroo. It's a website geared toward traveling with kids. People with kids review attractions, hotels, and restaurants that are great for taking little ones.

And sometimes they have giveaways. I told my husband that they were giving away a four-night stay at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort & Royal Beach Casino and told him that if I enter and actually win, we have to go. He obliged. And you know what? I won.

We planned the trip for late winter (though as I type, it's spring and definitely still feels like January, ugh) for a getaway from the cold. We were told by Chicagoland natives that a Caribbean trip each winter is a must in order to maintain some kind of sanity with the horrid weather we deal with.

The trip was... relaxing. Fun. The plane rides... not so fun.

Day 1, March 14
He totally crawled under the seat at one point and came up between a woman's legs. Mortifying!
Marriott Resort, complimentary local brew at check-in, and baby on the ocean-view balcony which he loved. If you want to see inside of our hotel room from a video tour I took (just for fun), click here. We loved our spacious room! The ocean view didn't hurt, either.
Bath time baby. 
Day 2, March 15
Despite three cruise ships being in port, we chose to take a private taxi tour of the island. It lasted 3.5 hours and circled the perimeter of St. Kitts while stopping at some of the main attractions. Like most Caribbean islands, there are a number of universities that cater to Americans that want to become doctors. St. Kitts and Nevis are home to four of them, I think. It was definitely surprising to drive by tiny schools for Americans in a country with less than 40,000 inhabitants. And to walk around Frigate Bay and have half the people around you attending university there? Weird.
Dad/son communication on the balcony before breakfast - peanut butter sandwich & clementine breakfast on that balcony chair every morning - waiting in the lobby before our taxi tour of the island
Photos from our private taxi tour of the island:
L: Bloody Point where English & French settlers killed most of the Carib population in the 1626; M: railroad tracks used during sugar cane extraction/production that was shut down in 2005. Locals are not too happy about it; R: Green Vervet monkey butt.
We visited the Historic Romney Manor, once owned by Sam Jefferson, President Thomas Jefferson's great-great-great grandfather. Now it is a tourist destination to watch local women follow old Indonesian traditions of creating resisting dye with wax creations on cloth. You watch a demonstration and are sent into their tourist shop to buy things and get back in the taxi. While the creations were cool, the only people there were us and a boatload (haha!) of cruise ship tourists. We didn't buy anything, though we did find their work beautiful.
These next two sets were from the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park. It was designed by British engineers and built and maintained by African slaves. Cannons were first placed in 1690 and construction was done over the course of 100 years.
It was abandoned in the 1800s and in the late 1900s, it was restored. It was really fantastic to see and visit. It's really well restored, but the one-way road drive up was a bit scary! A few monkeys were spotted on the drive up as well, along with other places randomly on the island (said to be introduced by the French and not native to the island).
Sitting in our taxi before leaving the fortress. We bought a Ting drink at the local vendor along with some snacks to tide us over. Other than the three local beers (Carib, Skol, Stag) that we had plenty of because we love beer, local beers, and they were cheaper than water (!), we also loved Ting, which is a grapefruit juice carbonated beverage. We tried a Ginseng drink and Pear drink as well that were not favorites. Among the three beers, Stag was our least favorite and we really enjoyed Carib & Skol. They even give tours of their bottling plant on the island, but you must be 18 to enter, eliminating the family with the baby, of course.
Our next stop was Black Rocks, a rock formation on the northeast coast. The rocks were formed from lava flow from Mount Liamuiga, the volcano of the island. Again, it was mostly cruise ship tourists and ourselves. However, had those cruise ships not been in port that day, there would have no vendors to sell us touristy things like coconuts and sugar cane.
The donkey was a big fan of standing near us. Also, Benjamin was a big fan of drinking from a coconut. He easily took down 20% within a minute of receiving it from the vendor who cut it open with a massive machete. It reminded me of our 4x4 safari guide in the French Polynesia on our honeymoon. The guy whipped out a machete from his trunk and cracked open a coconut on the top of his Jeep. That's just who you want giving you a tour of an island in his open-back vehicle. A guy with a machete readily available.
Back in the taxi on our way back to the hotel with more snacks. They don't have carseat requirements on St. Kitts, but that wasn't stopping us from schlepping our bucket seat for him to use.
Back at the hotel, we headed to the beach. While Benjamin has touched both the Atlantic and Pacific before, he wasn't a big fan of the sand now that he's mobile. He perfected a crab walk (we saw one of those, too!) to avoid touching the sand with his knees. He did spend a good deal of time napping on beach chairs, however. This was his first of three beach naps while relaxing on our vacation.

L: For dinner, we headed to "The Strip" which is a string of restaurants about a 15-minute walk from our hotel. It also appeared to be the bar scene on the island. We caught the sunset while there and witnessed lots of American doctoral students playing volleyball on the beach and drinking at the restaurants. Again... weird.; M: Drinking a Stag at a restaurant on the beach for dinner. That sippy cup? Never made it home with us. We left it in the hotel room fridge. R: Old Sugar Mill we visited on our second day that I didn't manage to fit into the picture collages above.

Day 3, March 16:
We hired a taxi again to take us to the southernmost point of St. Kitts island looking on to Nevis, the sister island. The drive was about 30 minutes and gorgeous. When we were finished after a few hours, the taxi arrived to come pick us up again, as the area is pretty desolate.
L: Near the breakwater is our resort. They created a break so the water would be calmer for the resort. I read many reviews before our trip and everyone was complaining about the waters being so rough. When I saw that the waves were 2 feet maximum at any given time, I laughed. I grew up at the Pacific where the waves are always much higher.; R: This photo shows both the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
We had lunch at one of the most renowned restaurants on the island and one of the only restaurants at the "calm" Cockleshell Beach. I also think it was owned by an American. Smart marketer, I say. That said, the food was delicious. I had Mahi Mahi fish tacos and Ray had Mahi Mahi with pineapple salsa, fried plantains, slivered vegetables and Caribbean red beans and rice. The food was amazing!
Benjamin had some of our food, but mostly a peanut butter sandwich and goldfish crackers. That was pretty much his staple for the entire trip. He was staring at the ocean in the center picture. Not many restaurants on the island had high chairs. The first night on the island, we dined near our hotel at an Indian restaurant (that was delicious) and they had a high chair, but the kind you see in homes. Otherwise, this was the only other restaurant besides our resort that had a high chair for him, despite the massive amount of small children we saw vacationing with their parents.

We took a couple fun videos at the restaurant. Okay, the first one is just a view from where we were sitting at the restaurant. Gorgeous view. But the second? Benjamin made friends with two birds that came near us at our table and was a little excited at their presence.

Top Left Going Clockwise:
A. Dip in the water with Dad. The island we're looking at is Nevis.
B. Spice Mill restaurant beachfront. There are no private beaches on St. Kitts, but these restaurants required you eat there or pay a small fee for chair use. Again, that mostly applies for ships in port, but this day was very quiet, and we dined at the restaurant anyway.
C. Benjamin sleeping on the second beach chair. If you look closely, you can spot the rooster just above the beach chair that would've been kicked by my flip flop if he woke the baby. He crowed a few times, but the baby remained asleep. He lived to see another day.
D. Dad holding a sleeping baby before placing him on the beach chair for the nap.
We had a nice day at the calm beach, but other than to get a good view of Nevis and have a delicious lunch, it wasn't worth the steep cab-ride over. My husband might disagree, but I will admit that it was nice to see the rest of the island we hadn't visited. We didn't take a ferry over to Nevis because we knew there wouldn't be much to do there with Benjamin other than be stuck in a taxi or on another beach that was just as nice as the ones we'd been on in St. Kitts.

While having Benjamin with us couldn't have been more amazing, we would've planned our itinerary entirely different if he weren't with us. In the future, we hope to train again like we did for Mt. Whitney and Half Dome and take a Caribbean cruise hiking all the volcanoes on each day we are in port for each island. St. Kitts and Nevis both have peaks we would've loved to have hiked that take about 4-5 hours each. This time, we enjoyed the beach.
Back at the hotel... a little fun licking the dirt off the windows of our balcony doors. Delicious.

Day 4, March 17:
Out for our morning walk to the coffee shop, we saw a local scale a palm tree and drop down coconuts. These appeared to be on public property and we watched them load over 30 coconuts into his car. Can you see him in the green and brown? Perhaps he was camouflaged so no one would see him and bust him? We spent the rest of the day in the pool and on the beach. Third nap on the beach was not documented.

Day 3, March 16:
Travel Day. Not our best, that's for sure. Here's the story:

Ame.rican Airl.ines is the only one that flies daily into St. Kitts. We had to fly them because we only stayed four nights and not a week. Other airlines fly in once a week, which would have allowed for more flexibility in airline choice. The hotel stay may have been free, but the flights definitely were not, which made this whole debacle sting even more. We got up at 5:40 a.m. (which is 4:40 CST) and made it to the airport by 6:15. Around 7:30, our flight had not begun boarding for our 7:40 flight and the pilot came on the speaker to announce that we were grounded due to a dead battery. They wouldn't fly another battery in from the States or Puerto Rico and instead told us we'd be waiting EIGHT hours for the next flight to arrive with our battery. They comped our lunch and gave us free booze once we finally were on board. That's it. We didn't even board the plane until we were supposed to be landing in Chicago from our Miami layover.

They used language like, "It is what it is" and weren't terribly apologetic. We were stuck in a one-room airport for eight hours. Sure, we could've left, gone through security again, checked all our bags and explored the town or something... but then we'd smell like sunscreen, pay for more taxis, and questioned whether it was worth the hassle when Benjamin needed to sleep (and did so in his stroller). The airport was not walking distance to anything and waking a sleeping baby was just out of the cards for us. Plus, Benjamin needed to roam and if we left strolling, he wouldn't have any movement all day. So there we stayed. In the airport of a very small country. At least there was free wifi.

So when the next group of people arrived at the airport having spent an entire morning on the beach enjoying the sunshine, they boarded their plane (the one that brought in our battery from the U.S.) and took off before us to Miami. Finally, we boarded our flight to Miami and were off after them. The picture above describes how that flight went once the screaming terror baby finally decided to sleep. Not even landing woke him up!

Obviously having missed our connection by many hours at this point, we were all re-booked and on tight connections. We had to grab our checked bag (because we bought rum), go through customs, re-drop our bag off, go through TSA, and run to almost the last terminal in the Miami airport to make our entirely full flight. Benjamin was exhausted as this plane left just as he is normally going down to sleep for the night. Needless to say, this was not his best flight. One of his worst, in fact. We arrived into Chicago after 11 p.m. only to find out our bag didn't make it on our flight and never appeared on the baggage claim belt. They brought it to us the next day, but it made the night even longer because we had to file a report with complete detail with a very slow baggage attendant.

We arrived home close to 1 a.m. when we planned to be home around 3 p.m. Not a fun way to end such a relaxing vacation! St. Kitts was beautiful, though and we had a great time. 


Tiffany said... [Reply to comment]

Reading about that last flight makes me shudder. Lord I'm praying Juli does well with flying.

Kristi said... [Reply to comment]

I love all the pictures of Benjamin sleeping! Sleeping babies are so peaceful! I've been dreaming of the beach as I look outside and see that it's snowing...again! The trip home was certainly eventful, but you guys are such troopers and handle it with such grace.

Caroline said... [Reply to comment]

I totally missed that you WON this trip. That makes it so much cooler and makes me so much more jealous!

Way to travel, Wilsons! What's next?

Arun kumar said... [Reply to comment]
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Party of Three Heads said... [Reply to comment]

Looks like such a fun time! Can't wait for our upcoming vacay in May! yay

Brie said... [Reply to comment]

Oh man, that travel day getting home sounded horrendous, but I admit, I laughed at the pics of B. sprawled across the seats and your commentary.

We're debating a flight to Bali, layovers and all and the flight leaves at 1:00a.m. Who does this with a baby?! (Answer:crazy people like us?) even worse, the return flight leaves Bali at 4:00a.m.! Whaaaaaa?

Congrats, by the way on winning a holiday away (:

Brooke said... [Reply to comment]

I didn't realize this was a free stay that you'd won! You are awesome.

I love Benjamin's crab walk. Looks a lot like the way Zuzu moves now that she's officially "crawling"

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Wow girl- congrats on the free trip! It looks amazing- all except the trip home that is!

LauraJane said... [Reply to comment]

I can't believe how relaxed Benjamin looks on vacay- in the video he's totally chill! :)

Glad you had a good time, sucks about the flight. Brutal. :/

Rachel said... [Reply to comment]

Somehow I missed this update! I am impressed with your blog skills, a complete update with tons of photos, in a reasonable time frame. I still have to get through my Brazil details! How awesome that you won a trip and were able to go as a family. Once I spent 8 hours in the Buenos Aires airport because it seemed easier than sightseeing for part of the day, and I WAS SO BORED so I feel your pain being stuck in a small airport without good shops and restaurants to distract you. Glad you made it safely though.

Krista and David Hart said... [Reply to comment]

Wow! We actually went to St. Kitts on our honeymoon and stayed at the same Marriott! It was fun to re-visit it through your pictures. So sorry it was such a terrible experience with your flights! Having seen that airport, I can't even begin to imagine how hard that must have been with Benjamin!