Sunday, July 15, 2007

Caribbean Cruise Guide

Caribbean Cruise Guide
by: Jonathan Medcalfe

Comprising of around 50 islands (750 if you count the archipelago of the Bahamas), the Caribbean is a real treasure trove when it comes to cruising. A rich variety of vistas, people and places await, along with swaying palms and idyllic beaches of golden sand. The network of islands in the Caribbean is in fact so extensive that it is possible to book several Caribbean cruises and avoid going to the same islands twice!

There are four basic Caribbean cruise routes used by cruise operators:

Western Caribbean Cruise Route - Departing from seaports in Texas, Louisiana and Florida, the Western Route takes in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, the island of Cozumel, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, and any number of islands off the coasts of Honduras and Belize.

Eastern Caribbean Cruise Route - One of the most popular Caribbean cruise routes, the Eastern Route typically departs from Florida and other seaports along the eastern seaboard of the United States. The route calls on destinations such as Key West, The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands the Virgin Islands (including St. Thomas and St. Croix), and Puerto Rico.

Southern Caribbean Cruise Route - This route normally commences at San Juan in Puerto Rico, and takes in many possible destinations along the Lesser Antilles and the Netherlands Antilles as far west as Aruba.

Exotic/Long-duration Caribbean Cruise Route - This route takes in any/all of the above destinations, and can sometimes end in a different place to where the cruise started.

Given this broad assortment of destinations available in the Caribbean, it can be a bit overwhelming when trying to make that crucial decision on which islands to fit into your itinerary. After all, you don't want to miss out on some true Caribbean gems, do you? So, whether you're planning a short vacation or a longer cruise break away from home, here is a selection of 'must-sees' & 'must-dos' on your Caribbean adventure.

St Croix (Virgin Islands) - Take a night kayak trip in Salt River National Park and visit the first landing site of Christopher Columbus on his voyage to the New World.

Grenada - Although ravaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Grenada is still well worth a visit for its scuba diving. You can explore the largest shipwreck in the Caribbean here and see an underwater volcano.

St. Thomas (Virgin Islands) - The Cinnamon Bay National Park offers excellent snorkeling opportunities. You can see a wealth of underwater life in the shallow waters around St. Thomas.

Jamaica - Why not try your hand at bamboo rafting in Montego Bay?

Puerto Rico - No Caribbean cruise would be complete without a visit to the world famous Condado Beach on the island of Puerto Rico.

Aruba - Want to find Caribbean paradise? How about relaxing on one of the 365 beaches that surround the Dutch island of Aruba.

St Kitts - Swim with the turtles in the waters around St Kitts and then relax on the pink sand beaches on this beautiful island.

Good luck with planning your trip and happy cruising.

About The Author
FG Cruise provides detailed information on cruise vacations including articles and tips for that perfect cruise. To find out more info visit here:

Saturday, July 14, 2007

St. Thomas: The Best Place To Shop In The Caribbean

St. Thomas: The Best Place To Shop In The Caribbean
by: Justin Burch

Beautiful beaches and lavish accommodations aside, St. Thomas is widely regarded as the Caribbean’s premier shopping destination. With over one million cruise ship passengers and overnight Caribbean resort guests visiting St. Thomas each year, the island’s ports have long been bustling centers of commerce and trade. Much of the finest duty-free shopping is concentrated near the waterfront of the island’s historic capital, Charlotte Amalie. At discounts of 40-60% off American mainland prices on goods such as jewelry, fine china, crystal, electronics, perfume, clothing and liquor, the bargains are seemingly endless. Adding to the allure is the fact that U.S. citizens are allowed a duty-free shopping allowance of $1,600, twice the amount of any other island in the Caribbean and three times that of European nations.

Visitors to St. Thomas should begin their shopping tour in Charlotte Amalie’s downtown and waterfront areas. The historic Dutch provincial warehouses along Main, Back and Waterfront Streets, beautifully restored to host a plethora of unique shops, allow visitors to shop and sightsee simultaneously. In the alleys surrounding the Main Street area (Royal Dane Mall, Palm Passage, Riise Alley and many others), shoppers will find smaller boutiques specializing in unique local products and Caribbean oddities. Inviting restaurants and entertaining bars are located amongst these stores, ideal for lunch or an island cocktail. Most shops in this exclusive shopping district are open Monday through Saturday; including holidays from 9am to 5pm. Shops in the downtown and waterfront areas are typically closed on Sundays, unless a cruise ship is in port. The shops at larger St. Thomas hotels usually remain open on Sundays, however.

The Havensight district is another concentrated collection of shops catering to St. Thomas’ visitors. Located near the primary cruise ship dock, this shopping area is comprised of The Havensight Shopping Center, The Buccaneer Mall and The Port of Sale. Featuring over 60 distinctive stores within the waterfront warehouses, the Havensight district is another great option for cruise ship passengers with limited time and overnight tourists alike. Like the shops on and around Main Street, tourists will find great prices on jewelry, clothing, perfume, liquor, electronics, music, sunglasses and assorted souvenirs. Also, Havensight is another great location for lunch, featuring a number of friendly cafes. Shops in the Havensight district are generally open from 9am to 5pm, 7 days a week when cruise ships are in port. Yet, during high season some cruise ships stay in port later into the evening. On such days, the shops in the Havensight will remain open until 7pm.

Also in Charlotte Amalie, across from Emancipation Park and Fort Christian, is the Vendors’ Plaza, an assortment of small booths, tables and tents displaying a vast assortment of souvenirs. Here, in addition to the luxury goods found in other shopping districts, you will also find many locally produced products and unique regional food items. Vendors’ Plaza is generally open Monday through Saturday from about 7:30am, when the vendors start setting up, until 5:00pm. On Sundays, fewer vendors set up, though the Vendors’ Plaza is still worth a visit when one or more cruise ships are in port.

Directly across the street from the Vendors’ Plaza is The Native Arts and Crafts Cooperative. Run by local artists, the Cooperative features a plethora of Caribbean artwork not available in any mall or shopping center.

For the more adventurous tourist, smaller shopping areas catering principally to residents are located throughout the island. Such shopping centers as American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook, Lockhart Gardens, Tutu Park Mall and Nisky Center offer visitors distinctive cultural opportunities in addition to essentials like grocery stores, pharmacies and clothing stores. Tillett Gardens is a charming local haven for pottery, silk-screened fabrics, candles, paintings and handcrafted jewelry. The Mountain Top and Paradise Point centers are also interesting options because shopping is accompanied by captivating, hilltop views. In Frenchtown, travelers can find some of the best cuisine the Caribbean has to offer.

As the heart of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas continues to astonish travelers with its refined pleasures. Combining a relaxed Caribbean atmosphere with the vibrancy of city streets, St. Thomas may just be the best of both worlds.

About The Author
This article was written by Justin Burch. Justin writes select pieces about travel in St. Thomas and other Caribbean resort areas for Marriott Resorts Marriott Resorts

Friday, July 13, 2007

Saint Croix: Marvel In The Colors Of The Caribbean

Saint Croix: Marvel In The Colors Of The Caribbean
by: Clinton Douglas IV

Beautiful Saint Croix Island, located in the tropical Caribbean Sea just 1,200 miles off the Miami coast, is the largest land body in the United States Virgin Islands. Long, peaceful beaches, sugar and rum plantations shape the landscape. Homes, historic churches, commercial ports and plantations boast architecture dating as far back as the early eighteenth and nineteenth century and reflecting Spanish, Dutch, French, Danish, British, Knights of Malta and American influences. Thriving sugar crops gave way to tourism in the late 1960s as the islands primary source of income. So you’re sure to be treated like royalty.

When visiting Saint Croix, you’ll discover a wealth of indoor and outdoor activities from which to plan your days around. Outdoor adventures abound, with scuba diving along 702 acres of vibrant coral reefs, horseback riding across lush, green hills and pastures, snorkeling among underwater trails, sport-fishing, bicycle riding, hiking and island exploration. From wide streets to haunted plantation ruins, this enchanting island is a perfect vacation get-away.

Golf is another popular sport, with several notable courses including the award-winning Carambola Golf Club which hosts the annual LPGA tournament and has received Golf magazine’s prestigious gold medal.

Nightlife abounds both at island casinos and clubs, and at seasonal local events. Many vacationers schedule their trip around Jump Up, a thrilling block party ideal for all age groups. Watch calypso and youth bands decorate the night, while streets are blocked from regular traffic. Enjoy face painting and watch the tall Mocko Jumbies, elaborately costumed characters on stilts, dancing and parading down the streets.

Indoors, you’ll find the thrill of casinos, duty-free shopping and fine dining. Island cuisine is influenced by St. Croix’s oldest crops, from okra to cabbage and corn. Food fair also includes succulent seafood, lobster, conch fritters, burgers, barbeque delicacies and savory mango salsa sauce. Then give your meal the perfect island twist with a Cruzan Rum infused Calypso Daiquiri.

Island tours and trails help you explore all of the island’s beauty, attractions and beaches, as viewed through local eyes. When visiting, discover the natural beauty by air, open-air jeep, open-air bus, four-wheeler or foot. You’ll gain a different perspective than you would staying poolside in your hotel or resort.

Purchased by the United States in 1917, visitors don’t need a passport to enter. However you do need some form of identification which may include a valid passport, government issued ID card or drivers license plus an original birth certificate.

Discover Saint Croix today by booking your travel vacation.

About The Author
By Clinton Douglas IV of who provides free, quality articles for your newsletter, website or publication on topics such as Saint Croix: vacations. Please link to this site when using this article.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Exploring The ABC Islands

Exploring The ABC Islands
by: Justin Burch

As a group, the ABC islands offer an incredibly distinctive Caribbean vacation. Consisting of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, the ABC Islands were under the control of the Netherlands as the Netherlands Antilles until 1986. In that year, Aruba gained independence, though the island is still aligned with the Dutch Kingdom. Today, the Willemstad, Curacao serves as the capital of the Netherlands Antilles, a colonial grouping which also governs Bonaire and the smaller islands of St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba. As a result of Dutch rule, each of the islands is dominated by Dutch colonial architecture and custom, though in most cases infused with colorful local flourishes. Yet, despite this European influence, the ABC islands are as exotically Caribbean as you can imagine. From the diverse sporting opportunities to the wonderfully rich history, these Caribbean resort islands definitely have much to offer any type of traveler.

Aruba, the most southwestern of the ABC Islands, is located 42 miles from Curacao and a mere 15 miles from the coast of Venezuela. The premier Caribbean resorts are located in Aruba, the most developed and glamorous of the ABC Islands. As a result, over one million visitors are attracted to the island each year. But Aruba has far more to offer than glitzy Caribbean resorts, casinos and restaurants. Nearly 20% of the island is devoted to Arikok National Park, home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the entire Caribbean. The island is also a popular destination for water sports, hosting an internationally recognized windsurfing competition each year. For many travelers, Aruba represents the ideal, picture book Caribbean vacation.

Bonaire, on the other hand, is the least developed of the ABC islands. The primary attractions here are the coral-filled waters off the coast and the laidback ambiance of the island. About 25 years ago, the local government designated much of the sea surrounding the island a marine park, preserving the reefs and beaches for the enjoyment of scuba divers and snorkelers. Expectantly, over half of the island’s annual visitors come to explore these waters. Beyond the 60 official dive sites, Bonaire is also known as a top bird watching destination. Inside the sprawling Washington-Slagbaai National Park and throughout the island, over 200 species of exotic birds can regularly be spotted. For a relaxing Caribbean vacation away from the crowds, Bonaire may be the perfect island.

Curacao, the largest island in the Netherlands Antilles, lies between Aruba and Bonaire in the Caribbean Sea. The island boasts an interesting history, visible in the museums and vibrantly painted buildings of the island’s capital, Willemstad. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city is also home to the oldest operating Hebrew synagogue in the Western Hemisphere and several other historic sites. Walking the streets of this colonial treasure, you will hear residents speaking four distinct languages: Dutch, English, Spanish and the indigenous Papiamentu. This cultural diversity is also present in the island’s cuisine, some of the most unique fare in the Caribbean. Like the other ABC islands, the opportunities for fun in the water are limitless. There are also plenty of great options for families including the Curacao Seaquarium and plenty of quiet, unspoiled beaches. While Aruba is the most luxurious of the islands and Bonaire the most pristine, it could be said that Curacao rests somewhere in between.

As you can see, each of the ABC Islands has a unique flavor and distinctive tourist opportunities. Whether you are looking for a culturally informative and historical trip, an exotic getaway or an active Caribbean vacation, you can definitely find what you are looking for on one of the ABC Islands. Best yet, why not tour all three of the islands? The result would certainly be an amazing, well-balanced Caribbean vacation.

About The Author
This article was written by Justin Burch. Justin writes select pieces about travel in the Caribbean for the Marriott Resorts

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tax Havens of the Caribbean-- the Tax Havens of the Caribbean-- Tax Havens of the Caribbean-- the Cayman Islands

Tax Havens of the Caribbean-- the Cayman Islands
by: Howard Giske

Investors and corporations desiring to get away from SEC regulations, and US taxes can conduct business operations from the Caribbean, including the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Dutch Antilles, and the Cayman Islands. The banking sector of the Caymans contains 450 banks from 65 countries, and is the fifth largest banking centers in the world.

The Cayman Islands have never implemented income tax or corporate tax. This is as a form of “tax competition”, against all the taxing monetary authorities and governments all over the world. Places like the Cayman Islands play a key role in “globalization”, since they are a place where investment deals between corporations from many countries can be made without the interference of national sovereignty or tax law. Unlike their reputation as rogue centers for finance, they are connected to all the money-center banks in New York, Tokyo, London, and Hong Kong.

Over 650 Hedge funds were recently registered in the Cayman Islands, bringing the grand total of hedge funds there to over 7,000. Hedge funds routinely set up in this tax haven to attract investments and avoid taxes in the USA, Europe and other countries. Even U.S. Pension funds invest in Hedge Funds, through their shell companies to avoid paying taxes. Assets of the hedge fund sector exceed $1.3 trillion. Another $2.5 billion in pension funds from Japan were moved into hedge funds and similar investment vehicles recently. There were also over 2,000 mutual funds operating out of the Caymans. Financial regulation is administered by the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority. International pressure exists to improve the regulation of the securities and investment business. These questions were dealt with in discussions in a British parliamentary White Paper. Tax-treaties between the U.S. and Great Britain and the Netherlands are being revised to deal with such problems.

The Caymans took steps to improve anti-money-laundering measures, which got it removed from the NCCT, the Non-cooperating Countries and Territories list. The Cayman Islands have complained that they want to make sure there is a level playing field so the regulations that they must exchange tax information are applied to other well-known tax havens.

With the U.S. stock-markets going nowhere for several years, there has been a shift to non-traditional investment methods. The idea of the hedge fund is to be market neutral. It makes money by taking short and long positions in a variety of derivative instruments. They often use a lot of derivatives, such as options, calls, puts, warrants and so on. Many hedge funds in Europe are headquarted in the Cayman Islands, and are listed on the Dublin Ireland stock Exchange, while others use Luxembourg as their European base of operations.

Hedge Funds can get investments through a “Fund of Funds”, which allows smaller investors to have their funds pooled and be invested in a hedge fund. So instead of a minimum investment of $1 million, investors can join the Fund-of-Funds pool for as little as $25,000. This involves hedge funds fees, and a second layer of fees at the Fund of Funds level

About The Author
Howard Giske is a legal consultant. For legal information for small business: Legal Form Guide, for Incorporation services:

Monday, July 9, 2007

Panama's New Real Estate Boom

Panama's New Real Estate Boom
by: Steven Rich, MBA

DONALD TRUMP can't be wrong, can he? Trump has fallen so much in love with Panama that he is building a $220 Million, 65 story (2.4 Million square foot) hotel/condo monoliths called the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower in a posh Panama City neighborhood. Trump will build 500 luxury condominium units along with a 312-room hotel. This complex will include a casino, private beach club and a marina. Groundbreaking is scheduled around this Christmas with a completion date in 2009.

Why is Trump doing this in Panama of all places? In an April 24, 2006 press conference in New York, Donald Trump said his interest in Panama was sparked three years ago when his "Miss Universe" pageant was held in Panama. He saw that Panama city was "beautiful" and vowed he would develop there if the right opportunity came up. His project was "easily funded", noting that as many as seven "major financial institutions were fighting to put up money." He agreed that "Americans are coming in droves to Panama," due to it's political stability, low cost of living, low interest rates, and being located outside of any hurricane path. "It's great for baby boomers." Trump said, although the project will be marketed worldwide. The condominium units will start at $180,000 with unobstructed ocean views.

Panama is just beginning to realize a real estate boom!

Besides Trump, many international real estate investors are also discovering Panama.

For example:

Bigger Than Trump: An even taller skyscraper will be built near Trump's Tower. The Ice Tower will have over 100 floors making it the tallest building in all of Latin America, tied with the Empire State Building as the second-tallest in the Western hemisphere and 9th in the world when it is completed in 2010.

And Another! Even before Trump's Tower and The Ice Tower are completed, another skyscraper (93 floors) called El Palacio de la Bahia will be completed in 2009 costing over $160 Million. They've already sold several dozen condos mostly to Europeans because this is a totally European investor project.

I asked a Panama City real estate brokerage owner, Daniel Hanna (Panama Real Estate Group, what he thought about how the Ice Tower and Trump's Ocean Club will affect Panama's Real Estate prices? His response echoes most real estate agents in Panama: "As Panama continues to grow in many different industries, these projects will definitely set a new standard of living in Panama, thus increasing the prices around the entire country."

So, why are all of these real estate investors coming to Panama?

A little History will help explain these phenomena. Panama has always had a close relationship with the United States, which helped Panama to secede from Colombia in 1903 and was the first country to recognize the new Republic of Panama. The U.S. government built the Panama Canal starting in 1904. Only until the year 2000 did Panama actually take control of its Canal after the U.S. closed all of its military bases and left. People used to jokingly refer to Panama as the "United States of Panama" due to its close ties to the U.S. After the U.S. left, Panama's economy slumped. Then American retirees re-discovered Panama as a peaceful, safe, and cheap place to retire.

Economical Growth: In 2004, real estate construction activity sprang up in different parts of the country. Mostly retirement communities nestled amongst the many beautiful unoccupied beaches and mountain valleys. In 2005, construction permits rose by 90% while Panama's economy grew by a respectful 6.4%. The Panama Canal recorded its third consecutive year of double-digit growth in toll revenues. Tourism and financial services also made impressive growth gains.

Americans came back to Panama because of the excellent infrastructure built by the Americans, low crime, numerous English-speaking natives, great Immigration Visa programs; the currency has always been the U.S. Dollar, and great Tax incentives.

The Best Reason is that Panama is so cheap to live! Land, housing, local foods, transportation, leather goods, clothing, and local artisan wares are all far cheaper than anywhere in North America or Europe.

Don't Take My Word for it. Read what leading experts have to say about Panama's real estate opportunities.

The NY Times recently wrote: "Panama is increasingly lighting up the radar screens of those searching for an affordable alternative to the more traditional south-of-the-border retreats in Mexico, Costa Rica and the Caribbean, where escalating prices increasingly rival those along America's own beach fronts."

Forbes Magazine (July 11, 2005) praised Panama as a recommended "PARADISE FOUND: WHERE TO RETIRE ABROAD" where a U.S. couple "purchased a lot on a hill overlooking a golf course and have built a three-bedroom white-stucco house with a red-tile roof (total cost: about $250,000)." in Boquete. "You can hear the sound of rivers here," says Janet. "It's very peaceful."

National Association of Realtors: Tom Stevens, who is their current President, recently visited Panama and explained: "We're seriously thinking of investing here. It's a great opportunity. Prices are what it was like in the U.S. 20 to 25 years ago."

The London Financial Times wrote in its April 14, 2005 issue that Panama is now passing Costa Rica as the place to invest. "Like Costa Rica, Panama is loaded with exquisite beach towns, has inviting tax and ownership policies for foreigners and a long history of political stability. Moreover, Panama City is an urbane, safe city that has long had a military and civilian US presence because of the canal. A gated-community, three-bedroom luxury home on a golf course in the mountains can be had for $250,000 to $350,000, real estate experts say... Chuck Bedsole, who oversees Latin American real estate for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, thinks Panama is at an earlier stage in the real estate boom."

Conde Nast Traveler's October 2004 issue declared: "Panama is the new Central American bargain where the U.S. dollar - the market currency - goes a long way."

Is it Safe to Buy real estate in Panama? Buying Real Estate in Panama is safe and secure for foreigners. The U.S. State Dept. verifies this by stating: "Titled land, and the process of buying this, is similar in concept to that of the U.S., and land deeds are duly recorded with the Public Registry..."

How Long Will this Boom Last? It's just starting. Donald Trump hasn't even broken ground yet.

Daniel Hanna, the Panama City real estate broker, reiterates: "Invest in Panama real estate now before the Towers are completed. Panama will become a hot real estate market because it has so many attractions than just real estate construction. Soon, the world will know Panama for its natural beauty, healthy climates, and charismatic people. Living in this beautiful country is just a benefit!"

The National Geographic Traveler predicted in December of 2004: "Panama is now where Costa Rica was 10 years ago. Panama is getting ready to explode."

"Boom" I can hear the distant rumbling of a Big Boom yet to come!

About The Author
Steven Rich, MBA is the Marketing Manager for Panama Offshore Legal Services at: Panama Offshore Legal Services.