Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Belize--Labor Day weekend 2005

4 nights Victoria House, Ambergris Caye

Photos from trip 1 (trip 2 photo link in most recent Belize blog): http://tinyurl.com/ypzf94

Note:
We have now spent 2 vacations at Victoria House (4 nights each in September of '05 and July of '06). I wrote these reviews right after our trips, and am finally getting around to actually posting them! At any rates, on both trips we have just LOVED Victoria House, and we tend to be very picky :). We actually booked a stateroom as well, but got upgraded to a casita for the first three nights, so only spent one night in the staterooms. They don't have a private porch, but are much brighter and cooler than the casitas. The casitas have bigger beds, and again, the private porch with beach view is great, but may or may not be worth an extra $100+ a night to you*. Especially since you really won't be spending much time in your room anyway, with such gorgeous scenery outside!

*See note under stateroom section

We only stayed on Ambergris Caye, so I can't really tell you about the rest of Belize, but on AC, Victoria House is absolutely THE place to stay. We saw pretty much every resort on the island while we were there, and nowhere else even compared. In south Belize, on Placencia, Turtle Inn is supposed to be fabulous, though.


Tropic Air: Leaves BZE for San Pedro at bottom of every hour (or at :40?)
Maya Island Air: Leaves San Pedro for BZE at tip of every hour
Both $54 usd pp each way
Very similar—small 12 seat or so planes, great views


Victoria House:
Rooms: When we originally booked our package (through Travelocity) the only room available was the stateroom, which is the least expensive room. However, we inquired about upgrades upon arrival, and were given a free upgrade to casita instead for our first 3 nights. The casitas are set in the grass a bit back from the beach, and are small but pretty. Each has a porch with two chairs and a tile container filled with water (changed daily and topped with flower petals) with which to rinse your feet before entering the room. Victoria House is in the process of glassing in all the casitas, but right now most still have only screens and shutters on the windows. This definitely contributes to the “tropics” feel of the rooms, but unfortunately also is not great for keeping the room cool.

We liked the super comfortable king-sized bed draped with mosquito netting—until bedtime. Unfortunately, we discovered, the choice was air-conditioning or mosquito protection, as the netting blocked airflow. And even without the netting, the a/c unit was situated such that it was hard to feel the cool air while in bed. A few enterprising fellow guests told us they actually moved the mattress under the a/c, and that worked well. But my suggestion would be to ask for a glassed in unit when you book. But the bed itself was great—just the right firmness and luxurious bedding with high thread count sheets and a bright white duvet. The bathroom was tiny—about the size of a closet. But really, how much time do you spend in the bathroom? That didn’t bother us, but if you are looking for the huge marble bath, this may not be the room (or country, for that matter!) for you. The floors were tile, which was nice and cool on our hot and sandy feet. The room also contained a safe, minibar, desk and a couple of chairs. The casitas are a bit dark at night or when the shutters are closed, but once again, you won’t be spending much time in the room (and if you will be in the room a lot, you’re probably honeymooners, and won’t want bright light anyway!) There was some construction noise directly behind our casita (at times it sounded like someone was hammering on our wall), which I think was from the new “Villas at Victoria House” development.

Staterooms—On our last night we were “down-graded” as it were to the stateroom we had originally booked. To be honest, we liked these better than the casitas! The staterooms are located on the2nd floor of the main building. The rooms all share a wrap around porch, but that was nice for socializing—we had a little happy hour party up there! And the views of the resort are great up there as well—you don’t have the direct ocean view from some parts, but you can just turn your head and see it.  Because they are glassed in, the staterooms are much cooler and brighter (since you don’t have to keep the shutters closed) than the casitas. These rooms had 2 double beds instead of a king—I personally did not think they were quite as comfy as those in the casitas, but my husband thought the opposite, so that’s just a matter of taste, I suppose. The bathroom was actually a bit larger, but that may have been b/c the vanity was in with the shower and toilet.

Note: On our 2nd trip, we again stayed in a stateroom. Unfortunately, this time we got the worst (smallest, no view) room in the house. I believe it was #14, but it was whichever room is in the very corner of the building. If planning to stay in a stateroom, I would recommend making sure you do not get that one.

Both rooms: Bring a hairdryer—there’s not one in the room. There are also no TVs in the rooms, but they will bring you one, along with a VCR (you can borrow movies from the front desk). There are also no telephones in the rooms. This was a bit annoying the couple of times we needed to make calls, but overall it was not a big deal at all.

Food: Delicious! Victoria House really shines in this arena. At breakfast be sure to get a pastry basket 9I believe it is included with all the breakfast entrees). Every bite was delightfully fresh and yummy--muffins, banana bread, zucchini nut bread, etc. The jelly was particularly delicious—an unusual tropical fruit mix—I wish I had brought a jar home with me! We usually ordered the breakfast that included eggs, potatoes, and good, crispy bacon (I hate the limp, congealed bacon you are often served at hotels, so was pleased to see that they actually appeared to cook it properly here!) One morning I ordered the huevos rancheros on the glowing recommendation of another guest. This was probably the only dish I ate at Victoria House that I thought was only OK. Still, that may just be a question of taste.
Lunch—Both times we ate lunch at VH we both had quesadillas, which were very good. The lunch menu also had the typical burger, fish sandwich, salad, etc. selection.

Dinner- Oh, I still have dreams about this meal… We only ate dinner at Palmilla at VH once, and would be very upset about that if the dinners we’d eaten other places had not been excellent as well! But out dinner at Palmilla was truly one of the best meals I’ve eaten anywhere in the world. I had the Pecan-Crusted Grouper, and Bob had the grilled lobster. Both were absolutely fabulous. For dessert I ordered the “molten chocolate” cake with coconut ice cream and sliced bananas. Again, it was delicious.

Drinks—We loved the rum punch at VH—definitely try a glass or 10 while you’re there! I think the only beer they had was Belikan, which was very good (although I am not much of a beer drinker—reminded me a bit of Red Stripe, Corona, etc.. The margaritas were good too--and strong! I would recommend buying a bottle or 2 of liquor from duty free at the airport--perfect for cocktails on porch at sunset, and saves a bit of money over buying them at the bar. Plus, keeps you from having to run back and forth to the bar for refills!

Beaches: Gorgeous—the best in my opinion is at VH, but most of the beaches we saw were very clean and pretty, with powdery white sand and lots of tiny shells. They are dotted with palm trees dangling coconuts, and just all-around look like something out of a Corona commercial! The VH beach has 3 or 4 hammocks and some single and double loungers with cushions. They are sometimes all being used, but we could usually get a free one after a couple minute wait.

Water: Crystal clear and very calm, but not swimmable right off the beach due to an abundance of seagrass. You can walk to the end of the pier and walk down a short ladder into the water for good snorkeling, though. Even better , go to the end of the pier at Ramon’s resort. There, we saw thousands of brightly colored fish, a big stingray (there’s also one that lives by the pier at VH), and even some small barracuda. The water temperature was amazing as well—like a very warm bath.


Pool/grounds: Both the grounds and the pool itself are just beautiful. The grounds are covered in palms and tropical foliage, and kept impeccably clean and maintained at all times. The pool is also kept scrupulously cleaned, as is the pool terrace. There are always plenty of lounge chairs with fluffy cushions (as well as some without) and umbrella shaded tables and chairs where you can catch a few minutes out of the sun or eat some lunch. You can order lunch poolside from either the Palmilla or the bar --both have the same menu (tip: we found it was quicker to order from Palmilla.).

Atmosphere: Absolutely wonderful—the resort is very small and intimate, so you see the same people every day by the pool, on the beach etc. Everyone there (staff and guests) was very friendly and having a great time—we had some great conversations and fun times with other vacationers there! But it is definitely not a big party place, so if you are looking for total peace and quiet, you will still get it here. There were no children until last day, which was fantastic. Everyone was sort of sorry to see a family show up. I find that sometimes adults-only resorts draw a crowd looking more to party, so we liked the fact that while VH is not an AO, we weren’t subjected to screaming kids. Really, VH is just not the place for children. I also think it would be boring for them, since my guess is there are usually very few other children there. For a family trip, I would suggest Ramon’s or captain Morgan’s retreat.

Service: Just great! Everyone working here is always smiling, friendly, and happy to help with whatever you might want or need. This is the kind of place where you never hear no, which is always a plus!

Shuttle: When fly into San Pedro, tell people at airport you are going to VH, they’ll get a cab, which VH will pay for when you arrive at the hotel. It’s less than a 10 minute ride from the airport to VH. There is also a free “shuttle” that leaves from VH at 6:30 pm to take you into town. There may be other times it goes as well, but we only used it then. We tried to be on time for it, but missed it once, and VH had someone take us anyway, which was nice. You have to pay for a cab back to VH from town, but it’s a flat $5 rate each way, so no big deal there.

San Pedro town: Very fun and lively, with narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants. Traffic can be a little crazy (not in a gridlock sense, more in a “there are no traffic lights or stop signs or driving laws!”), especially if you are on a bike, but you just have to be a bit careful to make sure a van doesn’t hit you! The only vehicles you’ll see are vans, a few pickup trucks, and golf carts. The town is somewhat Americanized, but not so much that it loses its wonderful sense of Caribbean-meets-Central America. There are vendors selling things on the streets and on some of the beaches, but all you have to do is say “No, thank you” and they’ll leave you alone.

Restaurants: Caliente is amazing. Be sure to try the fisherman’s lobster--it is fabulous, and you'll be amazed at the size of the lobster you get (especially for the low price!) The shrimp wrapped in bacon w/ garlic sauce is also excellent. The entrees are served with delicious coconut rice and grilled veggies—onions, peppers, tomatoes. The margaritas are also great.

Fidos—lobster again—bob’s w/ bacon, mine plain so so so good
Lobster prices at both above restaurants about $20/entree.

Monkey Bites—bit icky, food not bad, lots of flies, small (3 tables)

Jerry’s Crab Shack—crab cake sandwich good, fries also good, sit outside—it’s actually cooler there than inside…frozen lime drink was very yummy

Golf cart rental: $70usd/24 hours $5.50/hr after that ($50 for 8 hours) Moncho's right in town—can’t miss / cheaper than from VH / will deliver the cart to VH and pick up for free

Bugs: The mosquitoes were only bad one day (and a bit of a problem at dusk the other evenings) of our September trip. During our June/July trip, we only had a bit of an issue with them at sunset near the casitas. You will want to bring heavy duty bug repellent though! On our 2nd visit we brought the stuff in the metal can, which was much more effective than what comes in the little spray bottles.

Bikes can be rented for no charge at VH—I would recommend that you rent early in day when it is cooler, though!

Activities—Seaduced (http://ambergriscaye.com/seaduced/) and Searious (http://ambergriscaye.com/searious/index.html) are two of the most well known and reputable tour companies on Ambergris. Their packages and prices are pretty much identical. You don't have to book in advance, but if there is a particular excursion you especially want to do, I would book as soon as you get there. The reason for this is that some of the tours have a 6 or 8 person minimum to go out. If they can't "fill" the tour, it is cancelled. Booking ahead will allow you to pick a day when the tour is already pretty much filled, lessening the risk of cancellation. If you don't want to book before getting to Belize, I would recommend at least running by the office of one or both of the tour companies to find out which days are open for the tours. Keep in mind that if you decide to not go on an excursion you've booked, there is a 24-hour cancellation policy--otherwise, you pay for the tour either way.

On our 2nd trip, we went on the manatee tour with Seaduced, which was fun, interesting, and a good value. The boat takes you to see manatees, then to snorkel off of and have a barbeque lunch on a tiny uninhabited atoll (Goff's Caye). From there we were taken to Shark Ray alley for more snorkeling, then to the seahorse park in the waters off Caye Caulker. The last portion of the excursion was an hour or so stop on Caye Caulker to explore. We were there during Lobsterfest (usually around the first weekend of July), which was quite an experience as well!

1 comment:

Amy said...

Hi Caroline,

I really liked your review of Victoria House - we're going to stay there for three nights in September and very much looking forward to it - it was great to read such a positive and detailed review. I also enjoyed your other reviews - very well written.

Best, Amy

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