Just back from a wonderful first trip to Provo. Thank you to all for the helpful advice we received on this board prior to our departure. Here’s an overview of our trip – I’ve tried to include prices where possible since I know this is a frequently discussed topic – apologies for the length and rambling!
Sunday – arrived around 1:30 pm and breezed through customs. We had bought some food and two bottles of wine, so we went to “declare items” line, which had no one waiting as virtually everyone from our flight seemed to be in the other “nothing to declare” line at customs. So while it may seem counter intuitive (we did have to open our luggage and show the agent the food/wine), the process was actually much quicker for us – although I can certainly see how it could go either way. We rented a car through Avis and had a very quick turnaround at the counter (after hearing some horror stories here about phantom reservations, I confirmed directly with the TCI office via email about a week before our departure). Our car was a small, Suzuki four door and it was great – we only used about 3 gallons of gas ($17) after six days of driving. We were on the road in no time and really didn’t have any issues other than 1) the rotary/roundabouts can be a bit tricky, especially when going right or turning around 2) the island seems to have gone roundabout happy, when three or four-way stops would have worked, 3) there isn’t much advance notice/signage – ie, when a sign shows a left/right destination, you really need to make that turn EXACTLY at that moment (case in point – the right to the IGA off Leeward when coming from the airport). We arrived at the Alexandra Resort and were happy that the room was ready well before the 4 pm “official” check in time. We had a great ocean view studio on the 5th floor of the Marilyn building. My wife was tired from getting up at 3:30 am, so she took a quick nap and I walked the beach down to Coral Gardens/Somewhere/Bight Reef and then headed back. The weather on our first day (and for most of the second day) was a bit worrisome/disappointing. It was pretty overcast, the winds were strong, ocean was rough, and it was pretty cool. There wasn’t anyone really on the beach during my initial walk along Grace Bay. In fact, the weather was so rotten that the beach BBQ at Seven Stars was relocated from the beach to a non-descript alternate location with the food arranged buffet style. We weren’t impressed, so we canceled our reservation and when to Ricky’s Flamingo instead. At Ricky’s we both had the grouper (no lobster was available due to the rough seas) with peas/rice along with a few drinks – the setting was nice and very casual – which cost $65 with tip and seemed very reasonable. I’d definitely add Ricky’s to the “Recommend” list. After dinner, we returned to the Alexandra and walked down the beach to the Veranda and had drinks at the Marin bar (the upstairs “skyline/deck” area was closed/empty due to the winds and cool weather). There was a cool seating area near some fire pits overlooking the beach, but these seats were all taken, so we sat at the bar. Service at the Marin was friendly, but this was a $12 drink sort of place, the Grammys were on the TV, and the very modern/trendy atmosphere just wasn’t my thing, so we headed back to the Alexandra and had several drinks at Mango Reef before calling it a night (the drinks at Mango Reef are about twice the size of most drinks we got other places and are more of the $9 variety).
Monday – Woke up early and jogged down the beach to Seven Stars and then walked back (any idea how far this is?), which became a morning routine. We cut through Seven Stars to the main “strip” and then found out way to Caicos Bakery where we had fresh ham and cheese croissants and coffee/tea ($8 total) in the nice seating area in front of Caicos Café. Since the weather was still so lousy, we followed the advice from the regulars on this board and headed to the other side of the island in search of less breeze/calmer beaches. We ended up at Chalk Sound (very beautiful) and although we arrived at about 10 am and the restaurant was not yet open, we parked at Las Brisas and hung out on the beach chairs of their small beach area. At this point, I had yet to swim in Provo, but I still found the water too cold to do more than a bit of wading. We were in our suits and the sun felt nice on our skin, but it certainly wasn’t hot at this time of day and I was a bit worried that the whole trip might have this sort of weather. After reading at the beach for a while, we had lunch at Las Brisas, where we shared three small plates of fish ceviche, shrimp with green plantains, and conch fingers and a bottle of water (about $65 with tip). The setting at Las Brisas was fantastic and very unique and the food was excellent (“Recommend”). At this point, there were a few kids swimming in Chalk Sound and having a blast, and since the sun seemed to have come out a bit, we headed down and across the road to Sapodilla Bay. This beach was very easy to find and had a lot of people and families enjoying the water. There was much less breeze/waves than at Grace Bay and lots of people were swimming. I would have gone swimming too, but it honestly seemed like you had to walk ¼ mile for the water to be deep enough. I can see why this beach is great for little kids. Regarding water temperatures (I’ll mention it here since I know it is often discussed on this board) – I found the water to be quite nice and comfortable ONCE you were in and were acclimated. That said, the water certainly wasn’t bathtub warm and once you got out, you’d feel pretty cold in the shade, if the sun went away for a few minutes, if the wind picked up, etc. I was very surprised how “fickle” the weather seemed to be this far south, since I’ve been to the DR many times before (only 100 miles further south) and the air and water temperatures are so much higher there. After spending some time at Sapodilla Bay, we left and unsuccessfully tried to locate Taylor Bay (there are many side streets that are not shown on the maps and also may private villas with long driveways in that area), before heading to the IGA on our way back to the Alexandra. That night, we walked down the beach for dinner at Bay Bistro (we brought a flashlight per the advice on this board) and had a truly exceptional meal. We had a reservation and had requested the stage seating (again, per this board), but due to the cool/windy weather, the manager suggested we sit a bit further back from the beach (the stage seating remained empty during our long meal). We started with a delicious conch crepe and each ordered the surf and turf with filet and lobster tail, along with a bottle of red wine and a banana tart dessert which we split. This was probably the best or second best meal we had on the island (“Recommend”), but was also by far the most expensive ($270 total) since we each had $70 entrees and a $42 bottle of wine (a cheap cotes du rhone that honestly costs about $8 at a liquor store back home). The setting at Bay Bistro is really great and I wish we had squeezed in a breakfast or lunch there (they advertise a $15 weekend brunch which includes a cocktail – seems very reasonable!) during the balance of our trip.
Tuesday – Walked down the beach to Hemmingway’s for breakfast. The setting was great, but the menu, food, and service were extremely mediocre (think $12 omelets and $6 for a frozen bagel and cream cheese). The weather was finally warmer and the breeze along Grace Bay had calmed down a bit. We took this opportunity to walk to the Bight Reef and do some snorkeling. Bight Reef is right in front of Coral Gardens, if roped off and easy to find, and can be a bit crowded. Although we saw a sea turtle and a few fish here and there, that section of reef didn’t seem to be in great shape and in my opinion was a bit overrated (I’ve been spoiled by snorkeling in Curacao, but would also rate some of the snorkeling in the Bahamas and DR above what we experienced in TCI and certainly at Bight Reef). There was also an extremely strong current which required either very vigorous swimming or pulling yourself along the reef marker ropes to navigate sections (in hindsight, I would have been okay if I had just started at the other side of the reef, but you really don’t know until you get out there). Feeling a bit disappointed, we headed to Turtle Cove and attempted to find Smith’s Reef. We ended up at a small beach at the main channel entrance to Turtle Cove – the water was very calm and the most beautiful shade of blue. Although this was not Smith’s Reef (we’d later learn that it starts about ¼ mile down the coast), we enjoyed this area a lot and spent a few hours there before heading to Tiki Hut for lunch. At Tiki Hut, I had the fish tacos, while my wife had the ribs ($50 total) – both were very good and the setting was nice (“Recommend”). That night (Valentine’s Day) we had a reservation at Mango Reef and we sat on the deck area and heard NaDa play (a male/female combo that was not only very good, but also covered a very wide spectrum of music). We started with escargot and then my wife had the open lobster ravioli, while I had the lobster curry. We enjoyed the setting and food a lot (“Recommend”) and the Mango Reef menu is quite extensive and pretty reasonably priced – if we had more time on the island, I’m sure we would have gone back for another dinner. We were too full for desert, but ordered one last drink after dinner just so we could sit out and enjoy the setting ($160 total – although my memory of prices gets a bit hazy from this point forward, so I’ll try my best to remember/estimate).
Wednesday – Walked/jogged down the beach to the Comfort Inn beach access point and exited to the main road and grabbed breakfast at Fresh Bakery (“Recommend”). We actually arrived before the place opened at 8 am and there were already a few folks waiting outside for fresh pastries/bread. I ordered a great breakfast sandwich on ciabatta and my wife had a cinnamon roll with tea/coffee ($20 total). With a better understanding of where we were going, we headed off to Smith’s Reef (you turn off Lower Bight Road at the Sharkbite/Baci – “Bridge Road” (?) – and then take a RIGHT at the next street and drive to the parking area – heading LEFT down that same road takes you to the Turtle Cove channel area we explored the day before). Once on the beach, we walked “up” (in the direction of the channel area), past the Atlantic Ocean Beach Villas (where we almost stayed – looked very nice) to until was saw a white buoy and a bunch of other snorkelers. The beach is very rocky at this point and not all that easy to walk on. The snorkeling here was pretty good with assorted small fish, but I’m still not sure we found the true “heart” of Smith’s Reef. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but the reefs we explored on Provo aren’t as “defined” as some of the other places we’ve snorkeled, both in terms of signage and also the reef itself. What I mean by that is that the Provo reefs we visited (except for Bight Reef), weren’t “standalone” reefs, but rather seemed to be vast systems of smaller reefs spread out over a very long distance. The upshot is that there’s lots to explore and you could spend hours moving along the coast (just make sure you have the current taking you in your desired direction). The downside is that until you really know where you are going, you can spend hours swimming from pretty mediocre reefs, over barren sand or sea grass areas, to other small reefs, without ever really knowing if you’ll ever find “the spot.” On a return trip, I’d definitely spend some more time trying to figure out Smith’s Reef. After all that swimming, we worked up an appetite and headed over to Sharkbite for lunch. My wife and I both had grouper sandwiches and frozen drinks ($50 total) and enjoyed the setting over the canal. The food was good, but the service bordered on unfriendly, which was a disappointment. Later in the day, we returned to the Turtle Cove area and caught the sunset at the Magnolia Wine Bar’s outdoor deck. The view was great and the sunset was beautiful. Although we just had drinks, the menu looked very good and worth checking out. I’d definitely suggest getting to Magnolia’s a bit earlier (their happy hour starts at 4 pm) since there are limited places to sit and the deck will be full prior to the sunset. After sunset, we headed down to the Tiki Bar, which was packed due to the chicken and ribs special night. After a brief wait (and a few more drinks), we were seated and my wife and I both ordered the grilled lobster (about $120 total). I think my wife actually enjoyed the lobster at the Tiki Hut more than at Bay Bistro – I preferred Bay Bistro because I thought the meat was more tender and “fell” out of the shell (my wife is a lobster connoisseur and believes that Bay Bistro may have boiled the tail a bit before grilling). Getting back to the “fickle” weather – as I mentioned, when the sun goes away, it gets cool very quickly. The plus side is that there was almost no humidity during our stay and we had no issues with bugs whatsoever. The downside is that the nights were pleasant, but cool – I wore pants and long sleeve shirts each night to dinner and am glad to have packed them! I mention this now because it started to briefly rain while we were at the Tiki Hut (the only real rain during our trip, despite the first two very overcast days), forcing the outdoor dinners to run for cover under the roofed portion of the restaurant and the people waiting in line to be pretty much out of luck. It became so cool that we were more or less shivering in our seats (teeth chattering) while some of the people in line shared a shawl like it was a blanket (some of the local kids there were actually wearing jackets). It was probably still about 60 or 65 degrees, but after a day of sun, a little bit of rain, and the return of the wind, it felt freezing! We stopped by Somewhere on the Beach on our way back to the Alexandra. It was pretty quiet that night, the upstairs area was closed/empty due to the weather, so we just had a quick drink and called it quits.
Thursday – Walked/jogged back to Caicos Café for another croissant breakfast before heading out to snorkel at that “other reef” down past the West Bay Club. I believe this area is called “Lower Bight Park” and there is a nice playground, bathroom facilities, picnic tables, shaded areas, and a parking area off Lower Bight Road. The beach here is wonderful and not very crowded - if I was going to pack a lunch and have a full day at the beach, this is where I’d go. The snorkeling here was also the best we experienced on the island – I pretty much just saw schools of fish and good coral formations, but my wife found a sea turtle and had an exciting encounter with a barracuda that crept up on her and was swimming closer to the surface. As I mentioned before, I think you could spend hours exploring all the different reefs along the coast (using a sea kayak to get around and then drop down over the reefs would actually be a pretty good idea). Aside from the snorkeling, I liked this location best because the beach was sandy and soft compared to the shore at Smith’s Reef and there were shaded areas to get out of the sun. We headed back to Mango Reef for lunch, where my wife had lobster quesadillas and I had fish tacos ($50 total) which we both very good (although I preferred the Tiki Hut fish tacos). Later we caught the sunset from our balcony and then headed back to Somewhere on the Beach for a pre-dinner drink. We sat upstairs and enjoyed the stars and some live music (not Justsplif, but someone else playing soft acoustic guitar), but the place was busy and our drinks took a long time (despite our sitting at the bar) and weren’t very good when they finally did arrive (sour mix to make a mojito?). Although we never tried the food at Somewhere on the Beach, my sense is that the place is similar to Hemmingway’s in that it can coast off its location, but the food isn’t anything to write home about. For our last night, we had our special dinner at Coco Bistro, which was packed and we were very glad to have a reservation. We arrived a bit early so we had to spend some time at bar waiting for our table. We got a bottle of wine that we ultimately took with us when we were seated. The setting at Coco Bistro Coco was great and very different from the beachfront restaurants – you basically sit in a grove of towering palm trees with other lush tropical plants (I would have guessed bugs could be an issue here, but no problems for us). To start, we had the “conch two ways” appetizer – ceviche and fried in a sweet/sour sauce – very good. Coco Bistro also has this wonderful homemade bread with garlic and pesto or something inside. For our entrees, we both had the seafood (lots of lobster, shrimp, and scallops) in the pink sauce with penne pasta. This was exceptional, but also very filling – I wish we had split a single entrée, since we unfortunately didn’t have room for their famous coconut cake, which I had been looking forward to since November! Coco Bistro has a unique setting, great service (the best we had during our stay – the manager also stopped by to introduce himself and ask how our food was), and a menu with many great options (“Recommend”). Although it was expensive ($200 total), the food, service, and ambiance was worth it and we’d definitely return in the future.
Friday – We had a 9 am flight, so we went straight to the airport. Given the early hour, returning the rental car, getting our boarding pass, and clearing security moved pretty quickly, which was great given some of the horror stories on this board.
Final Thoughts – We had a great trip in Provo and will likely return. The weather was a bit iffy during our stay, so I’d shoot for a late fall (November) or early spring visit next time. It simply costs too much to go to Provo to risk the cooler temperatures/cooler water (ie, you could go to St. John, BVI, Anguilla for probably about the same price). Eating on the island is expensive, and while there are many high-end places where the food quality justifies the prices, I felt that prices were out of whack at other places – $12 for an omelet, $14 for hamburgers or fish sandwiches, etc. I know that virtually everything is imported, but that is also the case in Anguilla (one of the more expensive islands) where we were able to find more reasonable/local places to eat simple lunches. As you can see from our lobster diet, we certainly could have saved some money with less expensive food choices. But short of making your own lunch/dinner or maybe having pizza, it seems difficult to have any meal for two for less than $50 (even with no alcohol). We really liked the Alexandra Resort and felt that it was very well maintained and centrally located. We loved being able to walk up and down the beach and hit most of the restaurants we wanted to try. We really like to have a car and explore, but if our trip had been a bit shorter, we would have been okay just walking around and using a taxi at night. I thought Grace Bay was fantastic and would rate it among the best beaches I have seen – my wife also liked it, but thought it was a bit overdeveloped and that that took away from some of its beauty (we have slightly different criteria – I thought the sheer length of the beach and the ability to use it like as a “roadway” through town made it very unique; I think my wife would prefer a more secluded, deserted paradise without the development). The island appeared to be very clean and well maintained (no trash on the beach and very little along the roadways) and the people were friendly, if a little reserved. We had no issues with people trying to sell us stuff on the beach or trying to get us into their shops. We never had any safety concerns, even when leaving our car in some pretty remote areas or leaving our belongings on the beach while we snorkeled. I like that many of the visitors own property on the island and that the island caters to a higher-end tourist – we didn’t see any people getting drunk on the beach, parents screaming at their children, or fast food restaurants, which was nice. We also liked that it was quiet and that a sunset drink or some live music followed by a dinner at 8 pm constituted a “night out.” In short, I’d say that Provo is a very beautiful place, with a laid back vibe, and many more great restaurants than you’d expect on an island of that size. It’s a great destination for foodies and those seeking solitude and R&R, but probably not a good choice for those with a more limited budget (this is not a knock, I just mean that the high prices could take away from the enjoyment of the island) or those seeking more activities and/or nightlife. Thanks again for all of the help/info on this board!