from Columbus, Ohio
Submitted on 29-07-2016
When I was looking for a place for a family vacation this year, I wanted something more adult, since my kids are both teens now, and don‚??t need constant supervision like they used to. I wanted a Blue water getaway, but I also wanted exclusive and private. I am frankly tired of going on vacation to places with multitudes of rude tourists and all of the trappings that go with them. I needed to relax, and I didn‚??t want to spend two weeks running from activity to activity. Frankly a deserted...
When I was looking for a place for a family vacation this year, I wanted something more adult, since my kids are both teens now, and don‚??t need constant supervision like they used to. I wanted a Blue water getaway, but I also wanted exclusive and private. I am frankly tired of going on vacation to places with multitudes of rude tourists and all of the trappings that go with them. I needed to relax, and I didn‚??t want to spend two weeks running from activity to activity. Frankly a deserted Caribbean Island with a full bar would have been just fine with me. So when I found The Carambola, it shined like a beacon on a dark night. Nestled onto the shore and surrounded by the rainforest of St Croix, It stands out from the crowd of destinations available to the traveler but is easy to overlook because of St Croix‚??s reputation for being a crime ridden slum.
St Croix has never been like the other US Virgin Islands. Its former heavy industrialization which began in the 60s, made it seem to be a less desirable destination to tourists than St Thomas and other ‚??down Islands‚??. It has been largely developed for tourism only on the East End of the Island, away from the cities. The twin cities of Christiansted on the East and Frederiksted on the west are ruthlessly controlled by well organized gangs who have made preying on the tourists who visit the island a profitable business. Tourists who visit the island are advised to leave nothing in rental vehicles, leave the doors unlocked, and to avoid both cities after dark. Broken glass from car windows where tourists visit is a common daily site. Frankly, taking anything expensive to the island is unadvisable. Just take what you need. No laptops or expensive jewelry are needed. That way you only need to worry about your wallet and phone.
Carambolas location is its saving grace. Its Beaches are only accessible by water and the resort itself. It is located as far from both cities as possible. It only has one road in or out and it has round the clock security at the gate into the resort. It has its own restaurant, bar and diveshop so you never have to leave the resort if you don‚??t want to, and can afford the overpriced restaurant for every meal. They do have a bar menu with sandwiches that is more affordable but even that adds up quickly. $11 cocktails make any meal pricey.
So to the veteran Caribbean tourist, this place seems absolutely perfect for an exclusive hideaway. Add that we were travelling in the off season and even the price is attractive. This place seems made for the professional who gets a week or two off each year and is looking for a secluded island getaway with all the amenities. The concept is sound.
We had arrived late on a Friday, due to the mistake of flying through San Juan and Using Seaborne Airlines (which I had somehow never used before) as our flight onto the island. We learned very quickly that Seaborne is a consistently unreliable airline. We met a man at the airport who said they have never had an on-time flight that he knew of. So anyone considering this resort should fly through Miami and use United as your Island flight.
I had rented a Jeep at an advance reserve discounted rate so we went straight to the Centerline Rental Car Window only to find they were trying the old ‚??other Location‚?? trick, to avoid the online contract they had made. There is a seaplane port in Christiansted that absolutely no one ever uses that they call an airport, and I was told that was where my jeep was. I smiled and said, we were happy to wait until they got it here. I was told that they were closed at this hour and forced to rent a Ford Focus hatchback for the night. We would have to go pick up the jeep in town the following day in Christiansted. Of course the Focus was more expensive and, no they would not honor the agreed on rate until I was in the Jeep. I smiled and told her that I was an avid and popular reviewer of vacation destinations. Perhaps she had heard of me? It didn‚??t work. She ruthlessly overcharged us for the one night rental. Bad move. STAY AWAY FROM CENTERLINE CAR RENTAL ON ST. CROIX. THEY ARE CROOKS AND TAKE ADATANTAGE OF UNSUSPECTING TOURISTS. THEIR CARS ARE ALL SUBSTANDARD, WITH PLUGGED TIRES AND HIGH MILES.
We drove on the dark, narrow roads, using Google Maps as our guide. AT&T has excellent service on most of the island, so we made it easily to the resort. One should note however, that the names of roads on Google maps and the names on signs are different in many instances.
As we stepped onto the gorgeous resort, we were thinking positively and had the good attitudes of grateful vacationers. This quiet resort immediately relaxed us all as we checked in and happily said yes to the cocktail offered by the concierge. We were delivered by golfcart to our very modern, ocean view room, equipped with a small fridge, toaster and microwave. We spent over an hour relaxing and cleaning up before dinner.
Carambola has a big Seafood Buffet on Friday Nights, with a Caribbean Cultural show and dance. We were excited to attend so after relaxing and cleaning up, we walked back to the main building to a changed scene from when we arrived. We found ourselves surrounded by drunken local Crucians, who filled the restaurant and bar beyond capacity. This was when we began to discover that our ‚??exclusive‚?? resort was not so exclusive after all. Apparently, the resort is open to the public if they are paying customers or wish to use the beach. When we tried to get a seat, we were told that the buffet was overbooked and we would not be able to eat there. I, of course, insisted and was accommodated with a table in the bar area and we were allowed to make the walk between the table and the buffet. The music was ridiculously loud. I was literally pushed out of the way at the crab leg station twice by local diners. The food was substandard and the prices were high. We felt very uncomfortable and finished quickly. I had committed to paying for everything as I went as I had experience with huge bills at the end of Caribbean stays, so I presented my card to the Crucian waitress who looked at me like I was handing her a spider.
We spent a little time walking the beach under the gorgeous moon and tried to forget about our first experience at Carambola. The beds were comfortable and covered with luxury linens. The air conditioned and shuttered room was very quiet, so sleeping in was easy the next morning. When we woke and dressed we jumped in our rented Focus and headed out to find our missing Jeep.
Did I mention the Street signs don‚??t match Google Maps? Well In Christiansted this is worse. It took us in circles until we finally asked someone. Which was not easy, as the city seemed to be shuttered up and deserted. I found a little shop where a nice older local lady pointed me the wrong way down a one-way street to the rental car office surrounded by a tall chain link fence topped with barbed wire. We were buzzed in through a security door into a small office with cameras trained on us. The lady proceeded to scold me for causing her so much trouble. She first had to inspect the Focus we had been driving all of 12 hours to be sure we did not damage it. Then she led us to the Jeep. Now I understood my deal. It was at least 8 years old, had old mismatched and small tires, and had several damaged areas and the spare tire on the rear had plugs sticking out everywhere. It was a soft-top and reliable enough that I went ahead and took it. You get what you pay for in this world, but the next time I will definitely spend the extra $10 a day and go with Avis. We saw several other very nice and modern Jeeps during our stay with Avis stickers. Definitely Avis.
We headed back towards the resort looking for a grocery to stock up on food and beverages for simple meals when we didn‚??t feel like eating out for breakfast and lunch. After experiencing the drink prices we definitely wanted our own stocks for cocktails, beer and wine. We found this great Grocery called Park Express that was big and modern, up over the mountain (that the locals call the beast for its 15% grade switchbacking road) in Kingshill.
We went back to the resort and just hung around the room for a while. When we felt recovered from our travels and began to venture about into this beautifully laid out, exceptional piece of real estate, we began to notice details. With close-built, small, very modern rooms, attached by shutter partitions and stairways leading to upper units, built in clusters, what had seemed like buildings were actually separate, two level, bungalows. Just as private seeming the upper floors and lowers look onto lavish ocean front blueprint exclusives views. As I mentioned briefly before, our room had a microwave, and fridge, toaster, and a few minor eating utensils, plates and cups, and a single service coffee pot.
It really is a gem of a location. The beach is gorgeous, except for the fact that you can only use a small portion of its several hundred yards for swimming, as the rest is infested with underwater coral infested with sea urchins. If it was run by its Franchise namesake, it would probably be five star. But its not. And that‚??s the rub. Its run by the largely absent government of The USVI. Other than the Sweetbottom Dive Shop staff, who are world class in every way, it has serious enough issues that I cannot openly say this place is ready for prime time. The island itself is currently undergoing, in very very slow motion, the investment of outside interests into its risky with hurricane fears prime real estate market. Marriott went all in on a partnership franchise deal with the ST Croix Government and Carambola was born. No expense was spared. Every detail was considered. All this investment and effort is only as good however as the staff that puts it all in motion, and the management who control them. Carambola has a very serious labor issue. Only local Crucians are employed there and Marriott Corporate has little or no control or involvement. Don‚??t get me wrong, most of the staff tries its hardest to do its job with a smile, and great effort to make you feel the island love. Here is where I have to insert a big ‚??But‚?? though. ‚??BUT‚?? there are a few key staff you will be forced to interact with that you will find difficult, at best, as they insist on being rude, dishonest and condescending. Most of the Reception people were this way. There were a couple of exceptions, and as I said, the location and amenities make up for a lot, but in general, our experience with Carambola was negative.
That day, we spent all of our time on the beach. There is a little cabana bar right there, if you want $11 cocktails, a few hammocks in the shade, and a Volleyball net for some action. We were careful to use sunscreen as we had summer tans from home, but nothing like enough all over tans for the ruthless Caribbean sun. I snorkeled around for a couple of hours and discovered the wall I had heard so much about but never experienced.
The water off the north shore or St. Croix just a short swim from the beach drops into some of the deepest water in the world and the first big drop off is called the wall. I am a recreational diver so this was something I really wanted to explore. I spent almost every day of my stay diving for at least a couple of hours. I will do separate review of Sweetbottom Diveshop but suffice to say that the diving off St. Croix is the best in the world and Sweetbottom is the best shop. Period. Hands down, the best.
We spent our days at the beach or the resort pool. On the second or third day there, my son hurt his ankle. He could barely walk the first day or two, so we had to ask for help with golfcart rides to dinner a couple of times. This is where the problems with the Office/Reception staff became a real issue. We were treated so rudely by one of the staff members that my wife was quite unhappy enough to send me to management to complain the next day. Yet it did not seem to help. The Crucian Staff members that wore business attire all seemed have an active distaste for the guests. While the staff that did all the real work were very pleasant and helpful. One night I actually had one of the women at the desk, lie directly to me. We had asked for a golfcart for my son at 8. The girls got ready faster than expected, so I called asking if it would be a problem to come early. She said that was fine, and after the valet had finished with an arrival, he would come around. My wife and I were out front chatting when my daughter came out saying they had called and were on their way. We helped my injured son limp up the stairs to the road and waited. Half an hour later, I went back down to the room and called back. First the woman pretended she couldn‚??t hear me. She asked me to speak up 3 times. Then when I asked her what had happened, since they had called saying they were on the way. She said, ‚??No one called you sir, I have no idea what you mean.‚?? I repeated that we had received a phone call saying the driver was on his way. Again, she said that this could not have happened, but this time angrily. I simply hung up in exasperation. A few minutes later the driver arrived. As we drove I explained what had happened and the driver proceeded to tell me all about how this particular staff member was a member of a group of staff that intentionally harassed guests. He said they all hated us and thought it was funny.
This was not the end of our troubles with the resort staff. The night before we left, I went in late to get checked out in advance. With the bill all settled I went to get packed and some sleep before we flew out in the morning. We woke up with another bill, that had been slid under the door that was completely different than what was settled the night before. Confused, I went back to the front desk again for an explanation. The woman who was sitting there was the night auditor and explained that it was not possible for me to have checked out the night before as my bill had not been totaled. As I had sat in the same chair, in front of a different woman just a few hours before, who had told me the complete opposite, I was taken aback to say the very least. As we went over this new bill with several new charges on it, I saw the issue. There were several times we paid with a credit card after a meal and our room was charged a second time for the same meal. I learned a long time ago that the experienced traveler never charges anything to the room unless absolutely unavoidable. So when I saw all of the double restaurant billings, I looked her in the eye and asked her if it was standard practice to double bill clients. She removed the charges.
I must tell any person that is considering this resort that it is a great deal, but pay for your room through Marriott.com being sure to make sure there will be no daily service charges, or if so they credit your room each day to cover them, and to remember that It is badly run and badly managed. No one is watching this place and the staff knows and uses that to its own advantage on a daily basis and without remorse.