Our resort report about our holiday at Beaches, Turks and Caicos on Providenciales Island in November 2008.
NB: Beaches T & C is now much larger than it was when we stayed there. Beaches were already building a new "Italian Village", and have since also built a new "Key West Village". Small and intimate, it's not!
Linda spotted an unbelievably good offer from Sandals/Beaches: two for the price of one. We couldn't have afforded this fortnight's all-inclusive holiday otherwise. And the clincher was that diving is included in the package – and the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) have been rated as one of the top ten diving destinations in the world. We'd enjoyed our previous holiday here in 2003.
Sandals and Beaches are part of the same group – Sandals resorts are for couples only, whereas Beaches is “family friendly” – they cater especially for people with kids. There isn't a Sandals in TCI, so to take advantage of the “free” diving, we had to accept the idea of sharing our holiday with other people's kids.
We originally booked to go in early November, but Hurricane Ike had other plans. In early September, a day or two after the storm, we had a phone call from Sandals to say that the hotel grounds had been damaged in the storm, and that the hotel was to be closed for two months for repairs. We were offered either alternative destinations for the same date (any of the Sandals/ Beaches hotels in the Caribbean), or wait a few weeks for the hotel to re-open. We decided to defer our holiday by three weeks. Full marks to Sandals for offering the choice. Because we'd booked the package including the flights, Sandals bore all the costs of the re-schedule – it didn't cost us a penny. Again, full marks to Sandals.
A good BA scheduled flight from London Heathrow Terminal 5 to Providenciales via Nassau in the Bahamas. Check-in online 24 hours before departure to choose your seats and save time at the airport – you don't have to arrive quite so early, either. The Nassau stop makes it a long 12 hours-plus flight. Good seat-back in-flight entertainment system, with a comprehensive library of movies, TV shows and music, all on-demand - slightly spoiled by regular interruptions from the crew on the PA. Smooth pick-up and transfer from the airport to the hotel.
The journey home
Once again, we'd bought a few minutes in the Internet lounge upstairs from Reception to check in and reserve our seats on the flight together 24 hours before departure.
Annoyingly, you get chucked out of your room at 11am on your last day, even though your transfer to the airport isn't until 5pm. They wouldn't let us keep our room until then. However, they do provide the “Departure Lounge”, where you can get a shower and sit in comfort until your minibus arrives.
Good overnight flight home from BA, again via Nassau.
We'd requested an upper floor room with a king-size bed, but the first room we were shown to had two double beds. We asked for another room, and were taken to a room on the middle floor with the right bed size. Although there was some noise from the room above, it wasn't too disturbing.
We'd booked into the “French Village” – a later phase of the hotel development set back from the beachfront. Tastefully designed and decorated two- and three-storey blocks laid in a rough semicircle around a huge pool. Next to the pool was Giuseppe's buffet restaurant, the Café de Paris (a coffee shop supplying pastries and cakes), a bar called Le Bar de Musique, and another restaurant called Le Petit Chateau. The main entertainment stage was also situated here.
Our room was huge and very well equipped. The bath had a powerful shower over it, with plentiful hot water (apart from one evening, when the whole French Village had no hot water). There were two basins, and masses of towels. Massive high comfortable bed, with four posts, but nothing at the top of them – no cross-pieces or hanging material – the posts were just there for effect. Lots of deep drawers in the bedroom unit and bedside cabinets, a minibar stocked with bottled water, and a bizarre high sofa with a pull-out third bed under it – this meant that the seat was about a metre off the ground so you had to climb up on to it. Plenty of hanging space in a cupboard, which also contained a free room safe, iron and board, and a couple of golf umbrellas.
There was a huge 42-inch plasma TV and a bedside clock-radio and CD player. Unfortunately neither of these sported audio input sockets for the MP3 player. Tea/coffee-making facilities were well provided – not only a filter coffee maker, but a kettle as well, plus tea bags, coffee, milk powder, sugar etc. A wicker table and chair completed the bedroom furnishing. Two chairs would have been better. There were a few spare US-type electricity sockets. The floor was tiled, with some bedside mats. There was aircon and a ceiling fan, though this latter only had one speed – fast, so we didn't use it. We only needed the aircon a couple of times in the Caribbean winter.
Although the room was near Giuseppe's and the main stage, and overlooked the pool, there was little noise at night. In
the early evening the on-stage
entertainment caused some minor noise, but we were either in the shower or off out for a drink and dinner.
There are lots of bars and restaurants, and we made good use of nearly all of them. Here's a quick run-down:
Giuseppe's was an excellent buffet restaurant. There was plenty of very edible food, with a good variety. It opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not haute cuisine, but acceptable-quality canteen food.
The Bar de Musique:
This bar was almost completely devoid of atmosphere. They held karaoke evenings here.
Le Petit Chateau:
This restaurant was adults-only, and waiter service with pretensions. The food was generally excellent, but the service let the place down on occasion.
No explanation needed. Tried it, didn't like it. Eating with chopsticks is too much like hard work. I could taste soy and wasabi sauces all night and all the following morning. Yuk.
A Japanese-themed restaurant where the guests are seated, ten at a time, around a griddle station. The chef cooks the food in front of you with a continuous flow of banter and showing off. The emphasis is on the entertainment rather than the food. A good laugh, worth going to. We had to book for Kimono's – none of the other restaurants required this.
Big buffet restaurant in the main building next to Reception. Variable quality food and slow drinks service. Unless we pushed, we wouldn't have got a glass of wine until after we'd finished eating. Not recommended.
“Tex-Mex” style buffet restaurant next to the Cascades pool and the beach. Variable-quality food at lunchtime. We didn't eat here in the evening. Also has a bar and a burger & hot-dog stand. Its big advantage is that it stays open for lunch until 4pm. Nearly all the other lunch restaurants close at 2.30pm, so this is the only place where you can get a bite to eat if you're late back from the morning's dives (more on this later). Excellent burgers.
Excellent waiter-service international cuisine near the beach, with a slight emphasis on seafood. Good food and service. There can be a long queue when you get there – they have a waiting area where you can sit with a glass of something until a table becomes available, which could take an hour or so. A standard pretentious greeting is delivered as you sit down at your table: “Hello, I'm Clark, and I'll be guiding you through your dining experience tonight… ”
Our favourite spot. An adults-only, waiter service restaurant. Excellent food, very friendly and attentive service, led by Pendley, the maitre d'. Again you sometimes have to queue at busy times, but Pendley will suggest you have a drink in the nearby bar, and he'll come to find you when your table is ready.
Adults-only bar with slightly more atmosphere than the Bar de Musique.
A mainly fast-food place in Pirate's Island (the children's entertainment area). Didn't use it. Its advantage is that it's open all day and most of the night.
Pizza bar next to the main Iguana's pool. We had a pretty average pizza there once.
In addition there are swim-up pool bars next to most of the pools. These provided speedy service and always had a Cocktail of the Day suggestion.
The house wine was the same at all the restaurants, and was perfectly acceptable quality, and is served by the glass. The waiters were usually quite prompt at refilling your glass. There is also an expensive wine list, which we didn't explore.
Things To Do
A lot of this, mostly aimed at kids. There is a big Sesame Street theme to a lot of it, with entertainment staff dressed up like the TV show characters. We don't have children, so we can't comment on this aspect of the Beaches activities. Many parents seemed to appreciate being able to dump their kids in the play areas and let somebody else entertain them while they chilled out on the beach or in one of the adults-only restaurants.
There was a stage show with singing and dancing every evening, starting at 6pm aimed at kids, but catering for an older audience as the evening wore on. It usually finished around 8 or 9pm. Many people seemed to enjoy this, but it wasn't something we watched, preferring to have a leisurely meal and a nightcap.
Masses of sunbeds available on the beach in front of the resort, with quite a lot of shade available – either big thatched umbrellas or canvas “cabanas”. There were big green beach towels available in huge quantities at every pool and in several other spots – many guests seemed to grab half a dozen, put them on their sunbed, then leave them there when they left the beach after an hour or so in the sun. We watched as many of the kids would grab another fresh towel every time they got out of the pool, towel themselves down briskly, then chuck the towel in the “used” bin. The pool and beach “lifeguards” spent most of their time gathering up mountains of abandoned towels. The resort must have been washing and drying many thousands of beach towels every day.
The beach was good white coral sand, but not as broad as it was where we stayed nearby in 2003. Beaches also own the plots on either side. The plot on the west side is used for staff and admin accommodation. The resort placed sunbeds and sunshades along this too, but we found that there were too many annoying flies here, so we didn't stay there long. We understand that Beaches are planning to open a Sandals resort on this plot, so we guess they'll spray this area with insecticide, as they presumably do on the Beaches beachfront. There were also some stalls set up by locals on this area, selling t-shirts, and the usual tourist trinkets.
There is an area cordoned-off with buoys next to the beach – the resort suggest that you do not swim outside this area as speedboats frequently drive to and fro along the beach. There are third party operators offering banana boat rides and parascending trips at extra cost.
The Gardens after Hurricane Ike
Full marks again to Beaches for the standard of the gardens, which showed no signs of the devastation caused by Ike a couple of months earlier. Although the buildings were structurally unaffected, they all suffered external damage in the 100mph+ winds, so Beaches took the opportunity during the two month closure to repaint all the buildings. They also renovated several of the accommodation blocks and a couple of the restaurants where the sea had flooded in.
The gardeners have been very busy. Most of the trees and shrubs were destroyed by Ike – it's plain that nearly all the decorative shrubs are freshly planted, as well as some quite large trees. According to a notice in the French Village reception, they had to ship in 7,500 cubic metres of sand for the beach, which had been washed away. They also had to remove tons of sand and salt-poisoned topsoil from the gardens, and ship in fresh topsoil. All this effort was rewarded with a colourful display of flowers and shrubs, attracting equally colourful butterflies.
The Italian Village
This is another phase of development on the plot next to Beaches on the east side, scheduled to be ready in early 2009. Some people in rooms nearby complained of noise from the building work. It looks as if it'll be pretty grand – it's supposed to have the largest pool in the Caribbean.
Beaches provide all your snorkelling kit for free. There is an area of coral reef about two hundred meters down the beach to the west where many people went snorkelling and reported seeing fish, lobsters, turtles and the occasional nurse shark. Unfortunately the sea was a bit rough, so we didn't take the opportunity to visit it.
This was one of the main reasons we came – the diving is included in the package. Even kit hire is included. The only exceptions are specially requested trips to West Caicos, night dives (both at a USD80 supplement), and wet suit hire (USD10 pd). They have a jetty out front and have three big, fast dive boats, two of which have room for 30 divers, and the third slightly smaller. They do a two-tank dive at 0815 (Sundays excepted), and a one-tank dive at 0930. There's an afternoon boat at 1430. The two-tank dive means an early start, so our room being next to Giuseppe's was handy for an early breakfast.
As usual you need to present your accreditation when you arrive and fill in the standard medical questionnaire. You'll have to get a doctor to examine you at your expense if you answer “yes” to any of the dozens of medical questions, and he'll probably refuse to allow you to dive. They also insist on an “orientation” dive in the pool with the usual exercises (mask removal, regulator recovery, buoyancy control etc) so they can check you know what you're doing. You also learn the dive centre rules and procedures. Tip: As soon as you've checked in, sign up for all the dives that you want to do. If they are busy, then those who signed up last might find there's no kit left.
There's a ridiculously tiny inadequate rinse tank for kit after dives. The first day I dived they had 77 divers on three boats, and the rinse tank area was pretty crowded afterwards – not sure how fresh the water was after 70 people had rinsed their wetsuits, BCDs etc in it.
You check in each day at the desk and get told which boat you're on and which dive leader you'll be with. You then go round the corner to the kit issue window and ask for the kit you want – BCD, reg, etc. They also provide you with a bag to put it in which is handy. There's an area indoors here for you to hang your personal wetsuit. After the dives you rinse off this kit and hand it all back in at the window. The kit all looked fairly new and in good condition, though several times there were small air leaks, and once my buddy's pressure gauge blew an o-ring towards the end of the dive, venting high-pressure air, and meaning that he had to share air to complete his safety stop.
A storm had passed through the day before we arrived on the Sunday, and diving had been cancelled on the Monday as there was still a big swell running. The following day there was still too much swell to dive around Provo, so the dive centre decided to take us to the more sheltered south side of West Caicos. This is a mixed blessing – there's good diving there, but it means a long day – you don't get back until 1430 or so. Normally there's a USD80 supplement if you want to go there, but as this was the dive centre's decision, they waived this charge.
In fact the sea was pretty rough most days during our fortnight. When this happens, the boats don't go from the Beaches jetty which is too exposed to the northerly winds. They move the boats round to a sheltered dock on the south side of Provo, and hire minibus taxis to carry you and your gear there. They can then take you over to West Caicos (60 minutes) or Northwest Point (45 minutes). Most of my dives were on Northwest Point - it wasn't until my very last day's diving that I got to dive in Grace Bay 10 minutes from the jetty.
The dive leaders, a mix of British, Canadian and Caribbean, were all very friendly and professional. The dive centre seemed to have dozens of staff. I dived with six different dive leaders on ten boat trips. They varied a lot in their attitude – some were forever sounding their noisemakers and signalling you to descend/ascend to their level, keep up, get closer to your buddy and so on. Others were far more laid back – one of the most relaxed was Leon who swam reeaaal sloooow, and only made a noise to point out something interesting. Most of the time my buddy and I were ahead of him.
The number of divers varied too – several days we had 25 divers on the boat which meant we were all treading on each others' fins. On another day we had just four divers on the same huge boat. They aim to provide you with at least 2700psi per tank (it's all feet and pounds, not metres and bars in TCI), but on several occasions the air tanks were highly variable – some plenty full with up to 3400psi, some half empty with less than 2500psi. They sent for replacements to ensure we all had 2700psi plus.
The most annoying aspect of the dives was that, like other places in the Caribbean, they restrict you to just 40 minutes dive time. Anybody who isn't a heavy breather ended up back on the boat with half a tank left, leading you to feel that you'd been cheated in some way. However, many of the less experienced divers were coming up with 500psi or less. In the Maldives you get a full 60 minutes dive if you're a light breather. At least the dive team always managed to buddy me up with somebody with similar experience.
They were always trying to drum up customers for night dives, but failing to get the minimum five divers to make it viable – maybe the surcharge of USD80 per night dive had something to do with it.
Anyway, I managed to pack in 20 dives during my fortnight, which would have cost anywhere up to GBP800 to GBP1000 from rival outfit Dive Provo (including BCD and reg rental), so I reckon I got good value. I saw Caribbean reef and nurse sharks, stingrays, hawksbill turtles, giant and spotted moray eels, the biggest spotted eagle ray I've ever seen, lots of lobsters, lionfish, crabs and loads of reef fish, in addition to good coral and great sponges. Flamingo Tongue molluscs (locally called Pink Flamingoes) were quite common on fan corals.
Visibility was at times not so good – 10 metres or so – said to be due to hurricane Ike and the windy weather we had while we were there. At other times it was much better – 20m plus. We could see that there was sandy sediment on some of the corals and sponges, again blamed on Ike.
There's a first come, first served process at the moored dive sites. This means that you don't know which dives you'll be doing until you get to the area and find out which dive sites aren't already occupied by dive boats from rivals Dive Provo etc. However, since the dives are all fairly similar, this doesn't really matter. You pick up the mooring buoy in 12m of water near the edge of the reef. You form up under the boat, then head over to the wall and drop down to 25m. You then swim along, rising gently, and finish up your dive on the reeftop back under the boat. After your surface interval, during which the Captain moves the boat to a different buoyed site, the second dive is exactly the same, except you only descend to 18m.
Thunderdome has been completely destroyed by a hurricane in 2004 and by Ike this year. The sections of the dome are now all strewn about higgeldy-piggeldy on the sand. The remote uninhabited Malcolm's Road beach behind Thunderdome was deserted in 2003, but they've built a very exclusive and expensive hotel on it now.
The dive sites I went to were:
- Boat Cove
- The Gully.
- Thunderdome/Chimney/Wall (5 times)
- Amphitheatre (3 times)
- Hole in the Wall
- North Wall (4 times)
- Eel Garden (twice)
Some photos for your pleasure - roughly ten to a page, each page adding up to a couple of megabytes.
Sandals/ Beaches resorts (like most of the Caribbean) are very popular with Americans and Canadians. If you like our transatlantic cousins, you'll like Sandals/Beaches holidays. Since Beaches specialises in catering for families, you have to be tolerant of other people's kids.
Our room was huge, comfortable, well-equipped and clean. The food in the restaurants was frequently excellent, and rarely sub-standard.
The staff at Beaches were unfailingly polite, friendly and keen to help. We never came across any member of staff who seemed to have got out of bed on the wrong side. They really seemed happy in their jobs, and keen to make your stay as pleasant as possible. Sandals/Beaches seem to have analysed every single aspect of a holiday to ensure that any problems are eliminated, and everything is arranged to make your stay go as smoothly and hassle-free as possible.
Would we go again? Possibly – the diving-included deal and the 50% off special offer made it excellent value.