Friday, February 27, 2015

Sun, Fun and Snorkel in Nevis and St. Kitts

I woke up to palm trees swaying and a light ocean breeze. I didn’t take me long to remember I was a Nisbet Plantation in Nevis, a boutique slice of paradise.

After some light yoga, I walked down to the beach for breakfast. My cottage was one of the first ones so it wasn’t that close to the beach, but close enough so that the sense of the waves instantly relaxed me.

Coconuts is the restaurant for breakfast at NisbetPlantation and I don’t think I could have dreamed up a better scene for the morning. It’s open air dining with clear views of the beach.

They offer a buffet filled with fresh fruit and juice – including a different special juice each day – breads and yogurt. You can then order their specialties from their menu.

I thought I was keeping it simple with a veggie filled omelet and corned beef hash, but the hash turned out to be like no other I had previously. It included fruit (pineapple?) and was absolutely delicious.

My friend and fellow travel writer Sue Campbell is an absolute beach lover and I let her do her own thing while I walked along the sand and took it all in.

I had grown up near the ocean, but living away from it has made me appreciate it more and, this resort was on a perfect beach. 

While some people could lie on the sand and play in the water all day, I preferred to walk along the water and take in the blue hues.

Before getting ready for our catamaran boat trip to St. Kitts I did some laps in the pool. 

Despite the fact that the resort was full, there was so much room for everyone here that I felt like I had it all to myself.

It was a bit too warm for the hot tub, but I vowed to come back and take advantage of the beach views from that comfortable spot.

Calvin, my driver from the previous day, came to pick us up and take us to the boat. The dock was at the Four Seasons Hotel so we had a chance to take a look at that luxurious property before we took off on the catamaran with Leeward Island Charters.

I would highly recommend this tour company and can honestly say it was one of the most fun island trips I have ever had. They had an open bar, music, and dancing on the boat. At the St. Kitts snorkel site, they were very helpful with equipment and provided us easy access to the water.

The afternoon was a blast and I know Sue and Phaon, another travel writer we met at Nisbet Plantation, would completely agree as they had some great snorkeling and were on the boat deck for the dancing.

We were back at Nisbet Plantation in time for High Tea on the patio of the Great House. I enjoyed a cup of jasmine tea and some scones before heading back to my cabin for a rest. There’s nothing like relaxing in the sun for hours to make you want to take a nap!

I dressed for dinner and met Sue for cocktails at the Great House before dinner. It was a beautiful night and we decided to get an outside table so we could feel the breeze and look at the stars.

We had another luscious international dinner. I really went for the variety with a chicken enchilada, vegetable pasta, and chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert. Sue stuck with the steak and wasn’t disappointed.

We once again retired early, getting ready for another sun-filled day in Nevis.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Few Bumps on the Road to Beautiful Nevis

I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy trip when my friend and fellow travel writer, Sue Campbell, invited me to join her on the island of Nevis, but it sounded like an ideal way to spend a week during the winter.

Nevis Tourism booked my flights and I was set to leave Champaign in the morning for a flight to Chicago, then onto Miami, for a flight to St. Kitts. I would then take a ferry to the island.

It was a lot of traveling to get there, but we did plan to stay over a night at the St. Kitts Marriott to cut it down on the way back.

With all that travel planned, it just took one little problem for the trip to go off schedule, and that happened at the beginning. I missed my first connection and couldn’t get to Miami in time for the last St.Kitts flight of the day.

I didn’t want to take a chance of all those connections again, so I did continue on to Miami and got a hotel room at the Fairfield Inn for the night. I was onboard my flight to Nevis the next morning with a first class upgrade, thanks American Airlines.

Everything from there went smoothly and I boarded the van waiting for Nisbet Plantation visitors at St. Kitts airport. We headed to the dock.

The beach in front of the dock was quite crowded with students from the nearby veterinary college. They looked like they were having a lot of fun, but I just wanted to get to Nevis.

I didn’t have to wait long for the boat that would take me to Nevis. It is only a six minute ride. We were offered drinks when we boarded and didn’t even get to finish them before we arrived.

Although the ride is scenic, the boat goes a bit too fast to take it all in, but I had plenty of time to smile at the beautiful beach in front of me on this small island.

It was also unfortunate that the moment didn’t last for long as it began raining pretty hard. Our driver, Calvin, pulled up as close as he could in his van to pick us up and take us to Nisbet Plantation.

Calvin, with his famous van that reads “I am what I am” in the back, would be our driver throughout the trip.

It didn’t take long to register as my check-in was done by the General Manager himself, Alistair Forrest. Sue and I were scheduled to have dinner with him and I was excited to hear more about this amazing resort.

Just before I had left for my trip to Nevis, I had received word that the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club had been named “Best Beach Resort in the Caribbean” by Travel & LeisureMagazine.  

I had already been excited about the prospect of exploring this small resort (only 36 rooms) on this large beachfront property (30 acres). The award just made me more anxious to do so.

My room was not yet ready so I met Sue up in the Nisbet Plantation Great House. High Tea was moved to the inside because of the rain.

I actually started my tea time with a Pina colada so I could get into the Caribbean mood. It didn’t take long, though, to realize how hungry I was and the tea sandwiches and scones were next for me.

Alastair met us in the Great House and escorted me to my room. The cabins were nicely spread out, but there were two rooms in mine. I also had a visitor from next door – the farm next door. It seems a Nevis cow was ready to welcome me to my temporary home!

We went past my small patio into the cottage. It was adorable, with wicker furniture in a small living room and a bedroom, bathroom, and closet in the back. There was Wi-Fi, but no television. I did have a welcoming bottle of rum and a refrigerator filled with beer and water.

I used the next two hours to unpack and rest up before I met Sue, Alastair, and another writer, Phaon Spurlock for cocktails at the Great House.

There is only one restaurant for dinner at Nisbet Plantation, but I quickly learned there was no need for another. The menu was varied and the food was excellent.

For my first meal here, I started with Pork Satay as an appetizer.

My main course was Chicken Parmigiana. It was done beautifully and served with sautéed fresh vegetables.

I finished with a banana crepe topped with vanilla ice cream.

It had been a long day so it was easy to drift off to sleep, dreaming of the beautiful beach in front of me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Chula Vista Fun in Wisconsin Dells

It was day two of my first trip to the Wisconsin Dells. I had brought along my friend Paul and his kids to stay at Chula Vista with me and enjoy their facilities – mainly the indoor waterpark.

I had a meeting with Bianca from the Wisconsin Dells tourism board and they had gone ahead and hit the waterpark without me.

It didn’t take me long when I returned to get my bathing suit on and go down there myself. They were having fun with all the winding slides and I was more than content with a few rounds of the lazy river and some time in the giant hot tub.

Time seemed to pass quickly while we all had fun. The next thing we knew it was late afternoon.

We stopped after we left the waterpark at Fresh to Go, where they have a variety of snacks and baked goods. We each picked out a treat (I had a delicious chocolate chip cookie) before heading back to the room to relax.

It was so great that Chula Vista had everything connected through tunnels so we didn't have to walk outside in the cold. 

Our two bedroom suite was spacious enough that I could relax and read while the kids were in the living room Jacuzzi.

The one thing that did disappoint me at Chula Vista was that we felt there weren’t enough food options. Despite the fact that the resort was pretty full, some of the restaurants are only open in the summer.

Dinner was at Kilbourn City Grill. They had a family-friendly menu with lots of kids’ meals, burgers, sandwiches, and burgers.

We were in the arcade after dinner, playing the various games, before retiring to the room. I was exhausted and, even though they didn’t want to admit it, the kids were too.

We woke up refreshed and decided to make the most of our last day in Wisconsin Dells.

Kilbourn Grill has a breakfast buffet in the morning so we headed there first.  It was quite complete, with waffles, pancakes, and lots of pastries and fruit. They also had a station for made to order omelets.

After breakfast, we enjoyed a light hike around the property and down by the lake before heading to the waterpark one more time. We left in the afternoon with one of the Chula Vista pizzas.

The pizza was included in our family package and was actually quite good. In fact, there were a few things we never got a chance to use, such as the tickets to the 4D movie and the Cactus Kids Corral, where they have activities for kids only.

On the way out of town, we stopped at Paul Bunyan as Paul had a request from a friend to bring home donuts. He bought a few extras and we agreed they were delicious. The restaurant also looked quite interesting and gave me yet another reason to come back to the Wisconsin Dells

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My First Wisconsin Dells Waterpark

I had heard a lot about the Wisconsin Dells since moving to the Midwest. It was known as the “The Waterpark Capital of the World.” In fact, it’s more the “indoor” waterpark capital with more than a dozen resorts with large indoor waterparks.

Not only had I not been to Wisconsin Dells, but I had never stayed at a place with an indoor waterpark. I knew with my position as Midwest Travel Guide for I’d have to eventually hit all the waterparks in the Midwest, so I figured it was a great place to start.

I contacted Bianca Johnson, Marketing & Communications Manager for Wisconsin Dells tourism to help me narrow down the list of where to stay. She felt Chula Vista had just put in millions to expanding their indoor waterpark so it was the perfect place to start.

My daughter and her fiancĂ© are busy planning a wedding in the East and I needed to recruit a “family” to help me test out Chula Vista. My friend Paul and his kids, 9 and 12, were happy to come along.

It took us a few hours to get up there on Friday night and I was immediately surprised by just how enormous the place was. I was glad we were in the main building so we had access to all the restaurants and the waterpark without ever having to step foot outside.

We were given one of the two bedroom condominiums and it was more than spacious. The kids immediately gravitated to the Jacuzzi in the living room before we could even say, “close the door.”

While they were lounging in the hot tub, I made myself comfortable in the master bedroom, complete with a king bed, a fire place, and its own bathroom.

Paul and the kids were comfortable in the second bedroom with two queen sized beds and a bathroom next door. I also pointed out that the couch was a pull-out if they wanted more space.

The 1,500 square foot condo also had a fully equipped kitchen and a dining room. We also had a nice view from our windows of the Wisconsin River. I could easily see spending a week there, but we only had two days.

We all retired to our bedrooms for a good night’s sleep. In the morning, I left to go meet Bianca in downtown Wisconsin Dells.

I had no idea what to expect of this town, but I soon realized that it was without a doubt a vacation area. It was filled with attractions and though most seemed aimed at summer, it had enough indoor activity to keep people – mostly families – busy.

Bianca had suggested that we meet at Cheesecake Heaven and I’m never one to turn down a visit to a place that has the name of my favorite dessert in the title.

After a lengthy examination of the cheesecakes – they also have sandwiches and flatbreads – I settled on the Blueberry Shortcake and a latte. I was not disappointed.

The yearly population of this town is only just over 5,000 and it seemed like there were more people than that in the one tremendous resort I was staying in. I learned it was far from the only amazing family accommodation in this area. This area had a small town feel combined with a year-round vacation spot.

The more Bianca and I talked about Wisconsin Dells then more I knew I would need many more visits to explore and stay here, but I had to start somewhere. I bid her farewell and headed back to Chula Vista, for my first indoor waterpark experience.