In this guest post, my assistant Nancy, who is a keen golfer, shares her recent stay at Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort and Spa which we won in the Passports with Purpose Giveaway.
Life in the central United States offers a variety of climate changes. Stormy spring weather quickly morphs to the hot and steamy “dog days” of summer. Autumn brings relief with mild temperatures and colorful foliage. Then, often suddenly, comes the cold, sleet and snow. It’s then that Midwesterners seek respite from the grueling winter weather.
For many the perfect escape is sunny Florida. That’s why my husband and I were thrilled to be gifted a two-night stay for two at Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa. Located in the Florida community of Ponte Vedra Beach and close to the Atlantic shore, it’s a perfect winter break location.
A serene oasis
Marriott’s Sawgrass resort is located in an oasis of nature, just off the scenic A1A highway. The serene setting immediately put us into a tropical state of mind. After checking into our room with a lovely pool view, we set off to explore the Audubon rated grounds.
We strolled around the edges of the lake bordered by cozy villas nestled among lush plantings, where a gazebo provided a wide view of the main hotel building. Crossing the lake bridge, we approached an expansive outdoor deck. After a drink from the outdoor bar we settled in to watch ducks paddle around a waterfall in the distance. Signs indicated the possibility of an alligator sighting, but we were not so lucky. This seemed the perfect Florida setting, with gentle breezes, bright blue sky and Spanish moss-draped live oak trees.
Continuing our tour, we sauntered around the two pools surrounded by colorful plantings and sun loungers. Although still a bit cool for us, some hardy souls were splashing about.
Sharing your vacation experience
Nearing the lobby we encountered one of Marriott’s “Selfie Spots”. Guests are encouraged to frame themselves against the picturesque background and post the photo on social media using the tag #onlyatsawgrass. Complimentary wireless in the lobby and public areas of the resort make this a snap. This spot featured the opportunity to hit a golf ball to the green on the small island in the lake beyond. Although we are avid recreational golfers, we declined to attempt the shot. We imagined the employee designated to take the paddleboat across the lake to confirm a potential hole-in-one was not disappointed.
As evening approached we obtained our complimentary cocktails, the signature Sawgrass RumRunner. Finding a spot around the lower level outdoor firepit, we toasted to an enjoyable first day in paradise.
Heading to the sand
Bright and early the next day we boarded the complimentary shuttle for the short ride to the resort’s beach access. The Cabana Club, situated on Ponte Vedra Beach, boasts sugar-fine white sand, Olympic-size pool, and beach side dining. Although brave enough only to roll up our trousers and walk at the edge of the surf, we did partake of another Selfie Spot with the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean in the background.
Returning to the resort, we boarded a chauffeured cart that transported us to the adjacent TPC (c) Sawgrass clubhouse where we were met by one of Marriott’s volunteer “Storytellers”. We thoroughly enjoyed the intimate guided tour of this elegant facility rich with golf history, artwork and memorabilia.
After browsing the pro shop we returned to the golf cart for a tour of the Stadium Course. We marveled at hole 17, perhaps the most recognizable hole in golf, with its heart-shaped island green. Proof that this hole is challenging to even the best golfers are the many thousands of balls retrieved each year from the surrounding water. This day, however, we heard no one call “fore”, as the course was closed in preparation for the famous Players Championship held annually in May.
Thanks to Marriott for providing our stay at Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa through their donation to Passports with Purpose, a travel blogger’s initiative designed to raise funds for various causes around the globe. Our appreciation to Heather who generously gifted us this package.
Who is Sawgrass Marriott best for?
Serious and casual golfers alike will find an abundance of courses nearby. The resort is within easy driving distance to the beaches of the Atlantic Coast, and St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, is a short drive away.
The resort is conveniently located an easy 40 minute drive from Florida’s Jacksonville airport.
To book Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa
Book your stay at Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa on their website at Marriott.com and follow their social media channels on Twitter @SawgrassMR, on Facebook and on Instagram. To compare prices and book use my Hotels Combined Booking page.
Other places to enjoy in Florida
Stepping out onto the white painted balcony I breathed in the warm Caribbean air, edged with the freshness of morning. Below me the pool area was still, except for the murmur of running water. Over the tops of the palm trees a cruise ship was moored in the bay at Port Zante, with the green slopes of Mount Liamuiga rising beyond. This was Ocean Terrace Inn in St Kitts where I stayed recently, a stylish 4 star hotel that is looking fresh and bright after its recent renovation. Read on for my review.
Where are we staying?
On checking in I was shown to my bedroom, in one of the lower hotel buildings built on the hillside. Thank goodness for the helpful young man who carried my bag across the terraces and down all the steps. There are around 50 rooms here, mostly in the modern buildings around the pool that were built in the 1960s and have recently gone through a full renovation.
In my bedroom I found bags of space, with two queen beds just for all for little old me, cool tiled floors and cheerful yellow, red and green scheme that reminded me of the colours of the St Kitts flag. By the window was a cushioned built in seat and out on the white painted balcony, a couple of wicker chairs and a table to sit overlooking the pool area.
I wondered whether my room was exceptional in its size but when I had a look around some of the others, I found they were just as spacious, with dark, plantation style wood, fresh colours and contemporary style.
My bed was extra comfy, the ice bucket filled ready, with a percolator and ground coffee should I need to make some in the morning. The air conditioning kept everything comfortable, although having just left the chilly UK, I was more interested in feeling the warmth of a Caribbean than in shutting the heat out.
My huge bathroom with separate bath and shower incorporated a dressing and wardrobe area, with open hanging space, shelves and a small safe (although disappointingly not large enough for my laptop). The iron and ironing board was most welcome since the clothes in my case were looking a bit sad and crumpled.
My view of the Pool area
One of the favourite things from my two night stay at Ocean Terrace Inn was the view from my balcony over the landscaped pool area towards the bay and the island’s capital of Basseterre. There was often a cruise ship in port and I can see why the hotel is a popular choice for cruise guests and crew to come and spend the day by the pool.
The hotel is built on several different levels with most of the rooms overlooking the pool area. In some places the water was shallow for children to splash about, in others deeper for swimming. Everything was beautifully landscaped with local stone planted with palms, shrubs, and purple flowering bougainvillea, as well as a swim up poolside bar.
The jaunty turquoise sun loungers matched the turquoise of the pool with orange and white cotton sunshades completing the colourful scene. Even though I was out sightseeing most days so didn’t get much sun lounger time, I found the a walk around the pool and gardens before breakfast with the sound of the cascades and waterfalls very soothing.
Around the hotel
From the pool and surrounding garden area, steps led up to two tiled terraces for guests to sit outside. Wooden pavilions and green sunshades offered protection from the heat of the sun and colourful seating provided a relaxing place to sit, with flowering shrubs and palms to soften the tiling.
Continuing to the upper level, the reception and main hotel entrance adjoins the quiet residential road where a taxi will drop you off and opposite was the Verandah restaurant with more attractive planting and a water feature at the entrance.
Breakfast and Sunday Brunch
On my arrival I enjoyed a late lunch in the Verandah restaurant, at the end of the Sunday Brunch buffet which is quite a tradition on St Kitts. Sunday is very much family time on St Kitts when everyone will go to church in the morning and than relax with a big family lunch at home. Those who prefer not to cook will treat themselves to leisurely Sunday Brunch at one of the local hotels or restaurants around the island, so this is a popular weekend event.
Those who aren’t having an extended Sunday brunch will probably be found at the beach just liming (that’s the St Kitts version of relaxing and chilling out with your friends). I arrived at the end of the buffet when most guests had left but enjoyed the excellent spread of salads, and hot dishes both local favourites and international dishes.
The bright and airy Verandah restaurant, with traditional dark wood flooring and colourful paintings, is also where you’ll also have breakfast. Rather than sit inside, I preferred a table on the terrace with a view over the bay. My only quibble was that the clear plastic blinds were rolled down masking the view, due I think to catering for American tastes to keep everything fully air conditioned.
I didn’t get the chance to eat at Verandah in the evening, but their Carib-Asian menu using local island produce infused with an Asian flavour looked delicious. I also enjoyed my breakfast from the a la carte menu, and decided to order the bush tea which I’d heard about, made of local herbs like basil and lemon grass with an inbelievably fragrant aroma.
If you are from the UK or Europe where a breakfast buffet in normally included in your room rate, you should be aware that the hotel follows the American approach of breakfast being charged separately. You can either select from the a la carte menu or choose in advance to book breakfast under a set price meal plan. ($15 Continental buffet breakfast, $20 Full breakfast). Depending on how you book, be sure to check whether a breakfast package is included.
Dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf
During the stay I tried the Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant which belongs to the hotel, although it’s just across the road at the bottom of the hill (the security guard will let you out through the gate by the pool). The restaurant is set right by the water with an open verandah and a beautiful view over the lights of Basseterre and the port.
As the name suggests, Fisherman’s Wharf is all about the seafood, a highlight of St Kitts since it’s all locally caught and the fishing boats offload their catch along the seafront nearby. Typical island dishes are on the menu with starters of conch chowder or coconut crusted shrimp and for a main course Grilled Mahi-Mahi with a citrus salsa or Lemongrass scented grilled snapper.
Of course I couldn’t go without trying the lobster with ginger lemon butter sauce which was delicious, but if you are looking for meat dishes there are also several options such as steak, ribs or ginger chicken with passionfruit sauce. The restaurant is open evenings only from 6.30pm to 10.30pm Monday to Saturday, closed Sundays.
Are we being served?
From the reception staff to the guy who carried my bags down all those flights of stairs, to the waitresses in the restaurant, I found all the staff at OTI were friendly and enthusiastic, falling over themselves to be helpful. I’d heard that investment in staff training was part of the refurbishment programme and re-opening and it certainly showed in the positive attitude of everyone I met at the hotel.
Are we in the digital age?
The free wifi worked very well for me, both in my room and in the restaurant and reception areas – not bad considering the hotel is spread over a number of different buildings. You can also keep up with hotel news and happenings on the social media channels on Twitter @OceanTerraceInn on Facebook and on Instagram
Ocean Terrace Inn is set on the hillside, on the edge of the island capital of Basseterre, overlooking the bay towards the north of the island. It’s a pleasant 10 minute walk along the sea front into town or to the cruise port of Port Zante where there are plenty of shops catering for tourists. The location is ideal for those who want to be located close to Basseterre, but have a base to see the rest of St Kitts, since you’re a 15 minute drive from the beaches of the south east peninsula or the historic sites of the northern-east part of the island.
Who is Ocean Terrace Inn best for?
The hotel will suit leisure or business travellers looking a relaxing base for visiting Basseterre and the rest of St Kitts. The friendly atmosphere and medium size will suit couples, solo travellers and groups of friends as well as families with school age children. Because the hotel is built on multiple levels, visitors with mobility issues or with very young children may find it difficult to manage all the steps. The hotel is a short taxi ride from the airport, so would be a good choice for those who want to explore Basseterre and the surrounding area at the beginning of their holiday, perhaps combined with a stay at another hotel by the beach for a few days after that.
To Book Ocean Terrace Inn
Book your stay at Ocean Terrace Inn on their website at OceanTerraceInn.com and follow their social media channels on Twitter @OceanTerraceInn on Facebook and on Instagram. To compare prices and book for hotels on St Kitts use my Hotels Combined Booking comparison page.
Good to know
- There is no shop on site or close by so you might need to get any local items in Basseterre (10 mins walk) or walk along the seafront to the shops in the cruise shop, Port Zante (10-15 mins walk) if you need tourist items.
- If you’re visiting St Kitts on a cruise, the hotel can also sell you a day pass for use of the pool area and other facilities.
- The hotel offers a free daily shuttle service to the beaches on the south-west peninsula of the island.
- If you are there on a Sunday, be aware that shops will be closed and everything very quiet in Basseterre as this is considered a day of rest when Kittitians like to go to church and spend time with their family.
- If you want a change from eating in the hotel’s Verandah or Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant, there’s also Serendipity next door serving both Caribbean and International cuisine, with a view over the bay.
What to see in Basseterre
Your stay at Ocean Terrace Inn is the ideal opportunity to visit the island’s capital of Basseterre and some of the other things nearby. Here’s what we recommend;
- Wander around the streets of Basseterre, especially Fort Street and Bank Street to get the feel for the relaxed island capital of St Kitts. If you are looking for something in paricular don’t hesitate to ask for help from any of the locals, the Kittitians are known for their friendliness.
- Check out the green Victorian-style clock at the Circus roundabout, modelled on London’s Picadilly Circus and have lunch as Ballahoo with an open terrace that overlooks the Circus.
- Pop in to the National Museum close to the Circus. While the displays are rather old fashioned, there’s plenty of fascinating information about the island’s history.
- Walk through the shady and green Independence square that was once Basseterre’s slave market, noticing the doors to the cellars in the houses around the square where the slaves slept.
- Visit the Gallery Cafe on the north side of Independence square, featuring the work of local artists with a charming cafe serving home made cakes, fresh juices and coffee which you can enjoy in the shady courtyard garden.
- If you need tourist souvenirs, you’ll find plenty of choice at Port Zante, including a craft market. The covered Pelican Mall has more small shops and also offers free wifi.
- At lunchtime, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, check out the vendors along the Bay Road and in the steets of Basseterre selling all kinds of delicious street-food and local food specialities.
- Take a short taxi ride to Ital Creations close the airport, a small organic farm with a food trailer selling delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes at lunchtime as well as fruit smoothies and juices.
- The closest beach is a 10 minute drive away at Frigate Bay, normally quiet during the day but a popular place for locals, expats and visitors to enjoy a drink and a meal in the evening when all the beach shacks and restaurants are open on “The Strip” – we enjoyed the relaxed sports bar style and excellent local dishes at Boozies.
- If you’d like to explore further afield, there are plenty of beautiful spots on St Kitts – read about the 10 perfect postcard shots of St Kitts.
Have you visited St Kitts and if so, what did you enjoy?
Visitor Information for St Kitts
To plan your visit to St Kitts check out the tourism board website at www.stkittstourism.kn or follow their social media channels: Twitter @StKittsTourism | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | Pinterest |
British Airways flies to St Kitts from London Gatwick twice a week on Saturdays and Wednesdays with the flight going on to nearby Antigua. There are regular ferries every day to Nevis, with a journey time of 45 minutes from Basseterre, making it easy to plan a combined stay on both islands.
To start and end your holiday on St Kitts in style, the YU Lounge offers a private terminal at the airport. A private car will meet you from the plane and whisk you to the luxurious lounge where snacks and drinks are available. While you are waiting your luggage will be picked up and you’ll be cleared through security by the YU Lounge staff.
Thanks to Ocean Terrace Inn who hosted Heather’s 2 night hotel stay and to the St Kitts tourism board who provided Heather’s visit to St Kitts.
Read more about St Kitts
Bordering the United Arab Emirates and sporting luxury hotels to rival Dubai, Oman remains an enigma content to bask quietly in the shadow of its more showy neighbours. Muscat, the capital, is the springboard to Oman’s natural wonders – its desert landscapes, and the mountain ranges that rise above them – and the Bedu people, desert dwellers who have adapted to the arid conditions.
Most visitors to the Sultanate of Oman touch down in Muscat. Oman’s capital city doesn’t attempt to mimic the high-rise sheen of neighbouring Dubai or the other Gulf cities. It’s more a collection of old fishing villages and ports edging the Gulf of Oman coastline. Among the more modern edifices, traces of Portuguese and Asian influences still remain in the older buildings – architecture that harks back to a time when the city was fought over for foreign rule.
The green orchards of the Jebel Akhdar mountains
Jebel Akhdar translates to Green Mountains, and this imposing inland range is a cooling respite from the desert heat at its feet. The climate up in this elevated position – which rises to 3,075 metres at its tallest peak, Jebel Shams – is akin to the Mediterranean. Terraces are farmed to grow fruits, such as peaches, which wouldn’t withstand the conditions below.
Jebel Akhdar breaks the farmland that runs down to the coast and Muscat from Oman’s Empty Quarter, and thousand-year-old forts and other UNESCO World Heritage sites were built on this strategic vantage point. You can now visit many of these sites after an initiative to restore and reopen them by Oman’s current ruler Sultan Qaboos. We particularly recommend the well-known fort at Bahla, and Jabrin Fort with its brightly painted and decoratively carved cedar wood ceiling.
Walking trails dissect the mountains, and one of the most rewarding is the trek to the abandoned village of Wadi Ghul, which sits below the rim of Oman’s Grand Canyon.
The rose gardens of the Saiq Plateau
The Saiq Plateau is the central formation of the mountains. You can explore the terraces that step the hillsides, where orchards grow fruit and almonds and rose gardens bloom in summer. The petals are pressed and filtered into rose water by the local farmers, and there is the opportunity to visit a local distillery to watch (and smell) this production.
The Alila Jabal Akhdar Resort has a dramatic location overlooking a gorge and makes for an elegant mountaintop retreat as well as a good base for exploring local trails. All rooms have panoramic views, but the outdoor infinity pool is possibly the best place of all for admiring the vistas.
Visit the Nizwa Livestock Market
Each Friday, farmers and their goats, sheep and cattle travel down from their villages in the Jebel Akhdar mountains to barter and trade at the Nizwa Livestock Market. Wandering among the throngs in Nizwa’s main square, you can watch this platform of daily life for the Bedu, traditionally the nomadic peoples who inhabit Arabia’s deserts. Both sexes get stuck in with the haggling, wearing the contrasting attire of long cooling white robes (the dishdash) for the men and bright clothes and intricate face veils for the women.
The historic city of Nizwa
The city of Nizwa, a two-hour drive southwest of Muscat, was Oman’s capital for a brief spell in the 6th and 7th centuries. Its deep-seated Islamic traditions are evident in its many mosques, but perhaps its most obvious feature is the 40-metre-tower of the 17th-century Nizwa Fort.
Nizwa is a much wider trading hub than just a place to swap livestock. In the souq, antiques, spices and crafts fill the stalls and you can buy wares from silversmiths, potters, jewellers and other craftspeople.
Close to central Nizwa, The Falaj Daris has two swimming pools set in landscaped gardens and an outdoor barbecue area. This is the only hotel in town, but we also recommend The Golden Tulip. It’s a 15-20 minute drive away from Nizwa, but in the mountains with a fantastic view. A tasteful property built in the traditional Omani architectural style, all rooms overlook the swimming pool, with the Hajar mountain range in the background.
Camp in the desert in the Wahiba Sands
If you crave solitude, the stretching golden sands of the Wahiba desert, not far from Nizwa and a four-hour drive out of Muscat, are untouched by inhabitants save the scatterings of Bedouin tribes who have made permanent homes around its southern perimeter.
Sunset is, perhaps, the most magical time to be in the midst of these shifting sands, watching the dunes graduate through an extravagant mixture of honey-coloured hues into a deepening crimson before darkness falls.
Camel rides and quad biking in the desert
It’s possible to camp out under the desert sky and sample Bedouin hospitality. The Desert Nights Camp even offers the chance to sleep under canvas without compromising on comfort. Its air-conditioned tents have private bathrooms, bedrooms and lounges. Activities include camel rides and quad biking. We also like its location, nestled between two high sand dunes but easily accessible from the main road.
Believed to be about 6,000 years old, the Sands’ dunes measure up to 80 metres high. The fine-grained sand is ever moving, teased by the wind, and the tracks made by your 4×4 will soon disappear. They make a surprisingly lively habitat for some 150 species of plants and 200 species of animals, including desert foxes and the white-tailed mongoose.
Watch nesting turtles at Ras Al Jinz
Back on Oman’s coast, the Ras Al Jinz Scientific and Visitors’ Centre offers a neat stopping place between the Wahiba Sands and Muscat. The Arabian Peninsula’s most easterly point, the small cove is a hotbed for nesting green turtles which clamber out of the water year round to lay their eggs in dugouts in the golden sand. The most prolific time for egg-laying is between July and September, although this coincides with Oman’s hottest weather.
Green turtles are the largest of all hard-shelled turtles. You’ll be able to watch the females as they each lay somewhere between 100 and 200 eggs, and the resultant hatchlings’ struggle to reach the ocean.
The emphasis of the centre is on conserving the population, and this means any handling is discouraged. When you learn that only 0.01% of all the green turtle babies will survive into adulthood, you start to understand why.
You’ll stay at the only accommodation option, Carapace Lodge, which is part of the centre. As such, it is pretty basic with the choice of rooms or tents. Look at it as a practical option for being close to the turtles, and being able to walk down to the beach to watch them in the early mornings.
With all year round sunshine, Oman offers renowned Arabian hospitality, a traditional culture and unspoiled natural beauty. From the spectacular coastline at Muscat to the imposing rugged interior mountain ranges, Oman is just waiting to be explored.
This post was brought to you by Audley Travel. Audley trips don’t come off the shelf – they’re tailor-made down to the finest detail. When planning a trip with us, you will speak to a destination specialist who has either lived or travelled extensively within the country or region that you are visiting. They will create a bespoke trip based on your tastes, interests and budget and with an absolute commitment to providing quality travel experiences.