The island of Nevis is a paradise found

Destination West Indies

March 12, 2006|By CINDY STACY | CINDY STACY,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Long waits at airports for international destinations and inevitable travel glitches these days can make older singles think twice before spending money on exotic vacations.

My 84-year-old mother, for example, didn't want to navigate the travel waters alone anymore but was eager for a winter trip to the Caribbean -- specifically to explore the old-style West Indies island of Nevis.

A mother-daughter excursion -- with Mom as seasoned traveler and me on hand to smooth any bumps along the way -- yielded an ideal vacation for us in January. The only disappointment came from the airlines: no meals on board 3 1 / 2 -hour, round-trip flights, despite ticket information to the contrary.

But we didn't starve because Mom had stashed a couple of breakfast bars and some peanuts in her carry-on bag. I was toting a camera, notebook and binoculars in a backpack, figuring American Airlines would come through with its promise of breakfasts and dinners. Word of "no meals served on this flight" didn't reach passengers until boarding time. A flight attendant told me, "I'm sorry. We changed our meals policy Jan. 1. You probably bought your tickets before that date."

No kidding. I had booked our flight in November and even then tickets were going so fast online, I had to telephone a Capital One travel agent to snag a pair of $571 tickets, the cheapest I could find for a Washington Dulles International Airport via San Juan to Nevis flight.

For our joint Nevisian journey, we opted for a week's stay at Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, Nevis' only plantation inn on the beach. Though we intended to explore as much of Nevis as possible, we wanted posh accommodations and amenities. In short, Nisbet Plantation surpassed our lodging expectations in every way.

In making our reservations, Bev Plachta, who manages the resort with husband Wally Plachta, had suggested we request a wheelchair at each airport. "Play the age card for your mother," she told me. Quick dashes between gates at unknown airports can be exhausting for anyone, let alone weary seniors. The wheelchairs appeared on schedule and they were a godsend.

On Nevis, we continued to rely on suggestions from Nisbet Plantation's managers and friendly staff, who arranged for everything from island tours to horseback riding on the beach. (Mom passed on this activity.) Breakfast, afternoon tea and gourmet dinners are included in daily modified American plan rates from $475-$645 during high season. Rooms are tranquil with no television but include twice-daily housekeeping and upscale ambience. Wireless Internet is available to guests in a reception cottage, near a 200-year-old outdoor oven and historic sugar mill.

Originally a 1778 sugar plantation, Nisbit oozes 18th-century grace and luxury, especially in the property's original Great House, which was redecorated last fall with new furnishings and fresh touches such as sparkling pineapple light fixtures and a Caribbean rarity: air-conditioning.

The resort harbors everything quintessentially "tropical paradise." A trademark "avenue of palms" leads guests to an aqua sea and spacious beach beneath a canopy of swaying coconut palms. Clustered together on the 30-acre former estate, semidetached cottages house 36 rooms, each with private sitting areas and patios or balconies designed to catch breezes and provide privacy. Light showers nearly every day, spawned by the clouds forming over the 3,232-foot Mount Nevis, keep the island lush and green.

Succulent vegetation everywhere on Nevis keeps free-ranging sheep, goats and occasionally cattle not only well fed, but a nuisance on landscaped hotel grounds and on narrow roads, not designed for modern vehicles and livestock together. While nibbling animals may appear pastoral and cute, they often wreak havoc when too many try to cross a road -- or invade the airport. For wildlife control, workers were erecting a white picket fence around the airport parking lot while we were there.

Imported to Nevis in the mid-1600s, the green vervet monkey is another creature tourists seek out on rain forest hikes. Yellow "monkey crossing" road signs quickly alerted us to their presence, and we watched the antics of about a dozen monkeys at the Golden Rock Plantation Inn near hiking trails on the lower fringes of Mount Nevis.

But with no natural predators, the monkeys are extending their habitat and increasingly becoming pests to locals with garden plots and the like. "The monkeys are getting worse," said John Borchers, a Nevisian engineer. "They like tomatoes in my garden, so I have to pick them when they're green."

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