The Windward Passage Hotel, St. Thomas

Blackbeards Castle Resort
Blackbeards Castle Resort

 

Looking for a modest priced hotel in St. Thomas right in the center of the action in Charlotte Amalie?

The Windward Passage is not a fancy beachfront resort but it is a moderately priced accommodation for the budget minded in an excellent location in Charlotte Amalie.

We’ve been kicking around the Caribbean for over forty years. Our business has taken us to well near three quarters of the Caribbean’s islands, several more times than we can count. At one point we were making plans to move to St. Croix but a storm named Hugo changed our minds. We have also operated a couple of offices in the islands and our children refer to a number of islanders as their aunts and uncles.

The Mamas & Papas 1965
The Mamas & Papas 1965

My first visit to the Caribbean was in 1965 when my Navy ship stopped in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas for three days. There was a popular club called Lion in the Sun where a band called the Mamas and the Papas were playing at night, usually after working restaurants and bars in the Creeque Alley area during the day (thus their song Creeque Alley). I was a diver and St. Thomas was my first visit to a coral reef and from that day on I was hooked on the Caribbean.

During our business travel days we rarely stayed at beach resorts but used hotels that catered to business travelers. We had a number of accounts in St. Thomas that required frequent attention so we were there often. Our favorite hotel in Charlotte Amalie was the Windward Passage.

The Windward Passage, is a large waterfront hotel in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Overlooking the picturesque Charlotte Amalie Harbor, it is a business-class hotel centrally located just steps away from duty free shops, good restaurants and nightlife. The hotel is a large building with clean, nice-sized rooms. It also offers complimentary van service to the airport, the beautiful white sands of Magen’s Bay Beach, Coral World, an underwater marine park and observatory, “The Sky Ride” cable car that takes you 700 feet above sea level, and the “99 Steps of Charlotte Amalie”* for the most amazing views of the Caribbean. With a good location on the Harbor in Charlotte Amalie it makes for convenient day trips to neighboring St. John. There is a ferry to St. John that leaves the waterfront in Charlotte Amalie several times a day for a $20 round trip (there is more frequent service from Red Hook).

We have some fond memories of this place as our oldest son, who is now in his thirties took his first steps at this hotel.

*Step streets in Charlotte Amalie are historical walkways called 99 steps (actually more than 99) and were built in the seventeen hundreds from the ballast bricks of the ships coming from the old world.

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Eating the Florida Keys (Part 3)

Part Three – Restaurants in the Keys

The Florida Keys
The Florida Keys

Coming to the Keys most people are looking for Sun, sand and water with fresh seafood being a good expectation. Our suggestion is to approach Keys seafood with a simple rule – “the simpler, the better”. Florida’s waters are famous for Florida lobsters (also called spiny lobster or Caribbean lobster) crab, shrimp, grouper and dolphin, and on and on. No it is not the Flipper kind of dolphin but a name for a popular fish. Because of the name issue you will probably find it more often referred to by the Hawaiian name mahi-mahi but whatever you call it it is a beautiful mild-flavored white meat fish.  Most locals have favorite hangouts often with picnic tables on docks or decks, cold beer and fresh-caught fish on the grill. Maybe throw a lobster on the grill too or a bucket of peel-n-eat shrimp.

One problem is you will find a lot of good places to eat but unfortunately there are probably more mediocre to bad restaurants around. In the past we had come to believe that one of the problems is the tourist character of this chain of islands. With an estimated number of visitors to just Key West exceeding 2.5 million and a local population of under twenty-five thousand it isn’t hard to see where the foundation of the economy is. Generally, in the past, restaurants in the Keys were high priced with little dependence on return customers which is a terrible combination. Over the years we had developed our list of favorites with the majority being local places and a few with long histories and reputations.

On returning after over a decade we were hopeful that the internet had helped to fix this restaurant problem. In this modern age it is very difficult for even small restaurants to escape the comments of thousands of online reviewers. After a week of reading reviews and eating around the Keys we decided that, unfortunately, not much has changed. While you can find great seafood still you really need to know where to look, read reviews and ask locals for advice.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Lorilei’sa bar in Key West in Islamorada is another institution in the Keys and a favorite for watching sunsets.

Sid & Roxy’s Green Turtle Inn located in Islamorada has been a Keys institution forever. Sid and Roxy bought the place in 1947 and the current owners work hard at keeping up the reputation. The originator of Key Lime pie.

Herbie’s in Marathon has been in business forever and is a favorite with locals. There have been new owners for a few years but everyone says they’re doing a good job of keeping up the reputation. And don’t get put off by the outside appearance.

Hurricane HoleHurricane Hole bar & grill Key west is just north across the bridge going out of Key West on Stock Island. This is a typical Keys place on a marina with lots of outdoor tables. The food is fresh and good and the prices very friendly.

Ship Wreck Bar & Grill in Key Largo is a little off the beaten path but worth the look. Again this place is a solid favorite with locals and while a little unrefined serves good, fresh Keys seafood and cold beer. Enough said.

In Marathon is Sweet Savannah’s a bakery and ice cream shop. If you are looking for a great slice of Key Lime pie – this is the place. An award winner for five years. 8919 Overseas Hwy, Marathon, FL 33050

Island Fish CompanyIsland Fish Company in Marathon was just an open-air Tiki Hut on the water a decade or so ago. Even then they grilled up some good, fresh seafood at reasonable prices and featured live music in the evenings. We were amazed how they had grown since our last visit. You can’t do that unless you’re doing something right.

Islamorada Fish Company

Islamorada Fish Company, like the Island Fish Company started out by just open-air grilling fresh seafood out on the docks. A while ago the got a new neighbor, Outdoor World, that started bringing in traffic and their business exploded. Now they are all grown-up, were taken over by Outdoor World and have over a dozen locations around the country. They still serve solid seafood.

Sloppy JoesKey West is ground zero for good restaurants in the Keys and you could spend a couple of weeks eating out and still have more to try. Like the Keys in general, some of the best food in Key West is served thru a window and enjoyed at a picnic table so keep that in mind as you decide where to eat.

Conch Republic SeafoodConch Republic Seafood Company in Key West is a good choice for seafood and at a good price. While it is a favorite with the tourists and the waterfront location offers good scenery it is still a solid choice.  Tip: The happy hour buy one get one beer tokens don’t have to be used on the same day.

Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Observation patio with fire pit

Our favorite hotel inside Walt Disney World is Animal Kingdom Lodge. We have traveled all over the world and have enjoyed stays at a number of resorts and with only a few exceptions, besides Animal Kingdom Lodge, have we really considered the resort the actual destination.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge is truly unique. Disney has made ever effort to offer the guests of this hotel a real taste of Africa. Most of the rooms look out on the savannah where you regularly catch sightings of giraffes, zebras, wildebeests and any number of exotic birds. The hotels grounds and decorations offer a genuine sense of being in Africq.

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The two main restaurants Boma and Jico take great care to provide an authentic taste of African fare while still provide a refuge for more traditional pallets. In addition staffing at the hotel also brings in groups from Africa, usually for a year contract, to provide guests with insight into the cultures and environments of their home countries. During a stay you will find a number of special events from lectures to night-vision sessions watching the animals.

In addition Animal Kingdom Lodge is also a deluxe resort with the additional benefit of being located inside Walt Disney World with all it has to offer. Unfortunately it is also one of the highest priced hotels on the Disney property with a standard room normally priced between $500 and $600 a night – still a lot cheaper than going to Africa.

For restaurants the family offering is Boma, a buffet restaurant offering a selection of “tastes” of Africa. Jico is the fine dining experience featuring food with an African heritage and a wine list of exclusively South African wines. There is also Sanaa next door at the attached Kadani Village Villas offering a menu of Indian cuisine while gazing thru windows onto the savanna.

Broad River Inn Chimney Rock

front of Broad River Inn Chimney Rock
Broad River Inn Chimney Rock

A couple of weeks ago we planned a trip thru the Blue Ridge and Smokey mountains of North Carolina and made reservations at the Broad River Inn Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock and nearby Lake Lure are somewhat isolated and have virtually no major chain hotels, so you have to pick from small local accommodations.

looking up at Hickory Nut Falls
Hickory Nut Falls

We made our selection based on a few reviews and what a great choice. The reviewers didn’t give the Broad River Inn enough credit. It seems the owner and family are new to this property and they are putting in a lot of effort to fix up the place and make guests feel welcome.

Our room was beautifully decorated, our bed was very comfortable and the owners placed a chilled bottle of wine in our room along with some chocolates and snacks.

Bedroom at Broad River Inn Chimney Rock
A room at Broad River Inn Chimney Rock

They include with the room a cooked-to-order breakfast and a daily speciality coffee from their attached coffee shop. Not to overstate anything the breakfast was incredible. Eggs, bacon or sausage and cinnamon monkey bread was our choice the first morning along with a yogurt parfait. The next morning – cinnamon bun french toast. The breakfast was almost worth the cost of the room.

Looking up the main street of the small tourist town of Chimney Rock
The small tourist town of Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock is a small tourist town nestled down in Hickory Nut Gorge with the attraction being the namesake rock formation standing on a cliff above the town. The buildings on the main street seem to alternate between small restaurants and souvenir shops. The Broad River Inn also runs an attractive miniature golf course along the edge of Broad River and you will find a good day of hiking and exploring at Chimney Rock Park.

The town of Chimney Rock runs into the end of Lake Lure which features its own collection of accommodations, restaurants, boating and a nice sand beach. While out of the way this area has enough to do to keep a family entertained for a few days. Broad River Inn Chimney Rock is also a good anchor for touring the wider areas growing selection of good wineries.

Some convenient links to follow:

 

Pub Hopping in Dublin

The Temple Bar Pub

Temple Bar in Dublin is famous. Many people mistakenly think it actually is a bar but it’s not. In the seventeenth century a famous Dubliner, Sir William Temple  was the provost of Trinity College. Sir Temple owned property along the river. In the river in front of his land was a sand bar and around that time a breakwater was built at the mouth of the river. That resulted in the sand bar growing and as it filled it became part of the real estate of the city. Locals began to refer to this land as “Temple Bar” and the districts name survives today.

Live music at the Temple Bar Pub

The Temple Bar neighborhood today is an area famous for its nightlife and has a number of pubs and bars. In 1840 an establishment opened named Temple Bar Pub and today it is still a popular institution. It features good food, libations and live music. Every new visitor to Dublin should put a stop at the Temple Bar Pub on their list of destinations. From early in the day to late at night it is full of energy, serves good, moderately priced fair and features live Irish music.

Dining room at The Bank

Dublin has a reputation for good food and we lean strongly toward pub fare. Corned beef sandwiches, fish n’ chips, Oysters & Guinness, Irish stew to name a few. During our recent visit we took advantage of a few and were pleased with them all.

The Bank Bar and Restaurant opened in 2003 and located on College Green next door to H&M in the heart of Dublin. The name comes from the building originally being a bank and it still has its original character with lots of brass railings, tiles, and ornate ceilings. It offers primarily a pub menu and features a live piano player. We give it high marks.

Murrays Pub located on O’Connell Street just north of the Spire. This pub has a good reputation for food and features live music and Irish dancers in the evening. It had a welcoming comfortable feeling and a good Irish Coffee which was just the thing on a wet afternoon.

The Grand Central Cafe

Grand Central Café Bar is also on O’Connell Street just south of the Spire. Located in a historic building that was shelled during “The Rising”, it offers a large collection of local beers and cocktails and an extensive menu of dishes, prepared in front of you in an open plan kitchen. It features music and dancing in the evening. Good food and service at reasonable prices.

Directly across the street from the Ha’penny Bridge on the south side is The Merchant’s Arch Bar which features live music and good bar snacks. We stopped in around happy hour time and joined in on a few Irish songs and a pint of Guinness. The atmosphere was lively and the staff was friendly and efficient.

The Merchant’s Arch Bar

 

For dessert and coffee look up The Wooden Whisk at 94 Talbot Street just a few blocks east of the Spire on O’Connell Street. It has a small deli and coffee shop vibe but after a few days of trying pastries and coffee around the city this was real find and the prices were more than fair.



And than there’s Starbucks. We have traveled the world in recent years and there is an American creation that has become as ubiquitous as McDonalds – Starbucks! From Australia to Thailand to Dublin you will probably walk past several Starbucks in a day. While we prefer local we also carry our Starbucks card with us when we travel, often because we know we can access free wifi. We’ve been told we can pay with funds on our card at any Starbucks worldwide but for some reason we have been skeptical. In Dublin we broke down (I needed to reload a Google map) and were surprised at the transaction. First it was instant. Second the receipt spelled out the transaction in Euros as well as the dollars used and the exchange rate was exactly what the mornings quote showed. Lastly it also showed the balance on the card in Euros as well as dollars.. Two big thumbs up for Starbucks.


 

Index to Restaurants & Articles

Yellowston’s Old Faithful Lodge

Last summer, after years of trying to plan a trip to Yellowstone, with a stay at the Old Faithful Lodge, we actually got there.

The Old Faithful Inn is as much an icon of Yellowstone Park as the nearby geyser(s) and was an experience we had looked forward to for a long time. We planned that trip around a land tour with Caravan Tours which included the two nights at the lodge and we couldn’t say more about the tour.

Named for the famous geyser in the basin its construction started in 1903, the Old Faithful Inn epitomizes the use of rustic architecture on a large scale and has been copied a number of times. Construction was done using local stone for the building’s foundation, and local lodgepole pine logs for its walls. Craftsmen framed the windows and stairways with gnarled wood selected for its beauty in the construction. It was designed by architect Robert Reamer, and the inn combines rugged materials and organic motifs in a way that expresses both frontier sensibilities and elegance.

The Old Faithful Inn opened in 1904, and was equipped with electric lighting, but Reamer designed the light fixtures to look like candlesticks. Both the electricity and the radiators were fueled by a unique steam generator. Dinner was accompanied by a string quartet (which still plays in the lodge), and dancing was customary on most nights. The east wing was added in 1919 and the west wing was added in 1927, both under Reamer’s supervision, bringing the inn’s total number of guest rooms to about 340. Since that time annexes have been added to increase occupancy and provide for park staff.

Just being in the Upper Geyser Basin is the experience of a lifetime and spending time at the inn is just icing on the cake. The lodge is a magnificent structure with a lobby that stands four stories high with numerous seating areas, a huge fireplace and includes a main dining room, a snack bar and a bar that features light fare. The rustic architectural details are worth special attention and there is a front deck where you can sit and view the geyser.

It seems almost a requirement to have at least one meal in this historic log dining room with its impressive stone fireplace, more for the ambiance than the food. Its best buy is a buffet breakfast and lunch along with a buffet option at dinner. There are several other eating options in the main lodge including a snack bar as well as out-buildings. The general store just down the hill has a good lunch counter and there is a cafeteria in the newest building off to the side of Old Faithful.

We had a good breakfast and dinner in the main dining room and really enjoyed the bison chili and burger in the bar. Prices are not really excessive considering the location. There is very little to brag about in the Spartan guest rooms that have no air conditioning, TV or WiFi but luxurious accommodations are not what we came for.