8 Days in Turks & Caicos: Lessons Learned

We vacationed in Turks & Caicos a couple of weeks ago and had a nice time. We loved being with the grandchildren and the beaches were clean and beautiful with some of the softest sand you can imagine. However, we tend to like to go to places with more historical interest or museums so TCI would not have necessarily been our first pick as a vacation spot.  In Providenciales, where we stayed, places to go of historical interest are slim and the tours to go to those places were very expensive for the amount of time that would be spent visiting the sites so we decided to forego those activities in favor of staying closer to our own surroundings (which can be relaxing but also a little boring).

So what did we learn? Well we already knew that it would be expensive. My son had already warned us about that and we discussed that a little bit in my previous post.  Again, this is an island where everything has to be imported – expensive comes with the territory. But we did learn some other things that may be useful to others who want to visit.

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After walking around for an hour in the new room

For most vacationers you will be staying in a condo owned by someone else. Because of that the consistency of quality when it comes to furnishings and general upkeep of a particular unit can be somewhat inconsistent. Our stay in our first room (a suite that costs about $200 a night) at the Ocean Club West was marred by a leaky roof, a stove that did not work, light bulbs not replaced in lamps and fixtures, and ants in the kitchen area. The roof only leaked one night so we ignored that but we called the hotel staff about each of the other problems. Each had to be called again after no resolution on the first calls. We didn’t even complain about the chest of drawers that was so old that the drawers would fall out when you opened it and the lack of closet space because a washer and dryer was installed in that area (suites don’t normally have a washer/dryer). We weren’t offered a different room until I tweeted my unhappiness. At that point we were offered an upgrade to a one bedroom suite. Of course, this was at the tail end of the vacation but we decided to make the move anyway. We ended up in a unit above the one my son and his family were staying in. Bigger with no ants it was nicely decorated and had a great view of the pool.  But, apparently, they don’t really prep rooms very well for incoming guests because the floors were filthy. And we found out that if we close the door to the bedroom the air flowing under the door from the air conditioner howled. We decided to leave the door open the next night. If you are looking for consistency of quality certain resort properties just don’t offer that.

News of problems does not travel fast. We only learned of a form of norovirus or sickness that had spread to the next door resort while listening to staff talk about it in passing. The outbreak literally shut down reservations at the very upscale Grace Bay resort located next door. We were lucky to not have gotten sick while on the trip.  We had planned to go to Grace Bay resort Infinity Bar one night during our stay but the place looked a little too isolated when we walked by. It was a couple of days later when we realized why the place was deserted. The outbreak also affected a couple of other resorts at that time.

But, theft, like on any tourist location, can be a problem. So rental car companies recommend you do not lock your vehicle so the windows do not get smashed in. Bottom line: don’t leave anything valuable in the car if you rent. We didn’t experience any problems with this but we’re from NYC – we NEVER leave anything in the car that can be ripped off.

Don’t believe anyone who says there are no mosquitos on TCI. Bring bug repellent especially for dining out (since most restaurants are al fresco).

Al fresco dining (especially at night) is highly overrated, especially when it’s windy and there isn’t enough lighting to see what you are eating.  This seemed to be the case at many establishments.

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Conch Shell vendor outside Da Conch Shack

Enjoy the local cuisine and local flavors. Our best dinners were at the local haunts such as the Tiki Hut and da Conch Shack. Da Conch Shack is right on the beach where you can dine on picnic tables outside or under a roof (everything is open air). There are vendors on site selling conch shells and most of the smaller souvenirs were reasonably priced.

If you are into water sports this is the place for you.  My son was able to enjoy a Hobie Cat while we were there and there are plently of opportunities for snorkeling, diving, swimming, paddleboarding, etc. I don’t swim so these are not enticements for me but for others this is what TCI is perfect for.

The people are the best thing about Turks and Caicos. Everywhere we went we felt welcome. They were all friendly and helpful.

 

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Providenciales Dining: Savoring Conch in All its Forms

We’ve been back from Turks & Caicos for a few days now and I’ve been meaning to write down a few thoughts about our trip.  We spent 8 days in a suite at the Ocean Club West Resort  in Providenciales. My review of that place will follow separately but we could have had a better accommodation than we did.  Nevertheless, the objective was to relax and spend quality time with the grandchildren and my son and daughter-in-law and that we did.

The challenge with TCI (as the country is referred to) is that it is quite expensive to both stay and dine there. It’s a series of islands and islands typically have higher costs when it comes to food. We knew that going in so we did what we could to keep costs down.  My son actually travelled with a portable cooler that contained frozen steaks, hamburgers, and hot dogs for his family’s consumption. He had no problem bringing the food into the country since it was frozen and was only meant for personal use.  The resort has a couple of very good grills on site so he was able to grill up some food for his family on a few occasions.  Steaks on the island typically cost in the area of $29-$36 so he saved considerable money there.

However, when I go on vacation I generally don’t want to cook and I do want to sample the local cuisine, so we did not go with the frozen food strategy. We do know that in most places breakfasts are over priced so we brought over breakfast snacks that we bought at Costco and went to the local supermarket near the resort and bought some items to make breakfast and lunch.  Food there was more expensive than we find in the supermarket at home but it was still cheaper than going to a restaurant for breakfast.  Since we had a kitchenette in the room we decided we could make french toast for a few meals and bought a small loaf of bread, a half-gallon of milk, a dozen eggs and some butter.  Those items totaled about  $18.00 – not cheap but cheaper than paying for one meal of French Toast at $10 a person.  We got 6 French Toast entrees out of that and Art made a couple of omelets with the balance of the eggs.  We also brought some flavored rum miniatures with us that we had purchased during our St Thomas vacation and I used portions of the Coconut Rum and Vanilla Rum to flavor the French Toast batter. Yummy.

And, even though dinners on the island aren’t cheap we found that many of the meals were high quality and delicious.  It also pays to eat what’s local or what is considered normal food for the area.  In TCI it’s conch in all its many forms.  We had conch fritters, conch fingers, conch ceviche and conch salad.  All were delicious, although the conch from Da Conch Shack was the best.  Listed in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die, the atmosphere was relaxed and fun.  The Conch Combo did not disappoint. It was accompanied by another island favorite – rice and peas.  I’m not a big fan of peas but these are pigeon peas.  If you are Puerto Rican (like myself) you know them as gandules.  So essentially rice and peas is Arroz con Gandules a dish I am very familiar with and love.  I was in heaven. Since this is considered the off-season the service was excellent.  I also had conch fritters at the Seaside Cafe at the resort and at the Tiki Hut Restaurant. 

Ribs and Fries from Seaside Cafe

The Tiki Hut deserves a shout out for some of the best ribs I’ve ever had.  Moist and sweet with sufficient meat on the bone to make them worth getting messy.  The entrée cost $18 and that seems to be the going rate for ribs across the island. Their drink specials were pretty good too.  Just make sure to apply your mosquito repellent before you go otherwise you’ll get eaten alive while you’re dining.

 

Conch Fritters from the Seaside Cafe

 

We also enjoyed Jimmy’s Dive Bar.  It is what it sounds like – a dive – but the half-priced piña coladas during Happy Hour were very good and the conch sampler was very tasty and well priced.  They serve breakfast all day – at high-end breakfast prices but are also known for a wide variety of hamburger platters.  As dives go, it was really quite civilized and the service was also very good.

The only restaurant we went to that we considered to be overhyped and with less than stellar service was Hemingway’s at the Sands Resort.  Our waitress did not take our order correctly and my entrée of crab cakes was ample but unremarkable. No one else was raving about their meal either so it was not the best experience.  It also didn’t help to be downwind from a cigar-smoker lazing after his dinner by the pool, which is adjacent to the restaurant. Cuban cigars are available in TCI so I understand why someone would want to savor the experience but not next to where I’m eating a meal.

Another place we enjoyed was Giggles, an ice cream shop located right near Jimmy’s Dive Bar.  Lots of selection in ice cream flavors and friendly service made this a fun stop.  But in the TCI heat you have to scarf down your ice cream pretty quick before it melts all over you.

Overall, our outlay for dinners wasn’t cheap ranging anywhere from $45 to $85 per night for two people, most of the time with some form of alcoholic beverage (the rum punches go down very smoothly) but we enjoyed our meals and the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurants and the friendliness of the service all across Providenciales.

 Priscilla (one half of the Travel2Some