Friday, June 09, 2006

On the beach at Labadee

Most of us think of Haiti as a place of strife, but the beach area near Labadee -- reserved for use by Royal Caribbean guests -- was an unexpected highlight of the trip. The 260-acre area is big enough for three separate beach areas, a waterpark, shaded seating under seagrapes and coconut palms, and three barbecue restaurants. No one went wanting for a chair (free), snorkel equipment ($16) or float mat ($5).

The private beach features parasailing and sea scooters. There's a large craft market, and though the salesmen were assertive, they were polite and backed off when you declined to look. Top picks: Beautifully honed wooden bowls, bright paintings, hammered tin artwork.

Here, more than any place on the voyage, your purchases have an impact; Royal Caribbean is one of the few significant employers in the country. The musicians all work for tips, so if you come, throw a dollar in the hat.

The one drawback: Royal Caribbean's food operation wasn't quite on target, at least today. Service dishes weren't quickly replenished, and the offerings were limited.

But the place is beautiful, a peninsula flanked by wooded mountains in a postcard-ready setting. Said fellow cruiser Kaki Lybbert of Dallas, "I wish I'd known how nice it is, so I could have looked forward to it the whole trip.''

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