After months of preparation, anticipation, and reading the forums, my girlfriend and I were more than excited to visit Provo for the first time; and it's safe to say that this trip is not going to be our last trip to the TCI :) The TA audience has been invaluable to us, and I’m more than happy to return the favor by posting.
Hotel: We stayed at the Coral Garden because we thought it was convenient to stay at the place with the best snorkeling on the island – Bight Reef, and we weren't disappointed. We originally booked the 1 bedroom garden view but got a free upgrade to the 1 bedroom ocean view grand suite. The difference was night and day to say the least. The grand suite's got a nice balcony with sliding glass doors and a great ocean view, large bedroom, 1 and 1/2 bathrooms, large kitchen fully equipped and a large living room. It was very convenient to stay here because we can just grab our snorkel gear and head to the beach in 2 minutes, lay on our own beach chairs (for hotel guests only), and go for the best snorkeling on Grace Bay. Hotel was very quiet, not a lot of loud noise (there is construction right next to Coral Gardens, but the construction had been on hold when we were there). The only down side is that there is no "front desk" - the front office opens from 8 to 5 (or something like that). We had a late check in (around 9 pm), and Coral Gardens had to send someone to the office to check us in. There is a bar/restaurant on site called "Somewhere on the Beach". The food is ok, typical bar food in my opinion. We heard that their nacho is really good, but we only ate there once because there are so many other restaurants we wanted to try. Swimming pools (I guess there's 2?) are small but I didn't care – you got the beautiful beach 4 seconds from the pool anyway.
Snorkeling: I’ve been snorkeling all over the world, and in my opinion, Bight Reef ranks among the best I’ve ever done – right along side Hawaii and Cayman Islands. The first time we snorkeled there, within the first 10 minutes, I saw a huge spotted eagle ray, barracuda and a turtle. It was incredible!! I think the best place to spot these beautiful creatures is the area between the red markers and the white markers, because the sea floor drops slightly in that area and gets a little deeper, and the bottom gets a little sandier. We saw the turtle along the left side of the red markers; I guess they usually hang out by the sea grass area. We wanted to try and snorkel at other places, but unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate with us as it rained most other days when we had the time to snorkel.
Diving: Simply amazing, best diving I've ever done, and I have been to many great places in the world. I don’t mean to brag when I list these places – I only wish to provide the readers perspective: Hawaii, California coast, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Cayman Islands, Bahamas, and Cozumel. The dive operator we went with was simply the best – bar none. We went with Flamingo Divers with Jayne and Mickey, and they were basically family to us. Everything you read in the forums is true about them. Nothing less than professional and good people. They pick you up, make conversations, set your gear up for you, take great pictures for only $10 on a CD, keep your gear with them and clean them for you if you dive more than once with them. They also go out of their way to do stuff for you just so they can make your vacation a little more pleasant. It’s too verbose to include them in this trip report, but trust me when I say that I must have said “wow you didn’t have to do that…” more than five times during the week I was there. They are honest people too – even though they have a no-refund policy, my gf didn't come on the second day of diving because of ear problems, they didn't charge her for it, even though it would have been perfectly reasonable for them to do so. Anyway, more about the diving: we dove at Boat Cove, the Gully, and Drum Beat with them, and the Gully was one of my favorite dives of all times. It was a good wall dive, and right when we got into the water, we saw 2 large reef sharks checking us out. They were magnificent and graceful animals. They weren't shy at all. Came within 5 feet of us and swam off. Throughout the dive at the Gully we saw at least 4 different reef sharks for a total of at least 10 different times. We also saw turtles, stingrays, groupers, lionfish, and some barracudas. The other thing that surprised me was how friendly the fish are here in TCI. In most places I dived at, the animal were pretty shy most of the time… but doesn’t seem that way here. The visibility was not great (but still very good) because it had been raining, and it was partly cloudy on the dive. The bottom line is that if you are a diver and are lucky enough to go to TCI, you simply cannot go wrong with Flamingo Divers – they will be one of the reasons why I will return time and time again in the future
Restaurants: Our favorite restaurant was Hemingway's because it had great food and the location was great - right on the beach. I had the grilled grouper there and it was fantastic. Try their conch chowder - it was absolutely delicious. It had a tomato-based (instead of cream base) broth that was amazing. We kinda got rained on and the waitress was kind enough to give us the dessert on the house – we had the crème brulee and it was pretty good. Be sure to make reservations – we got there on time and there was 3 people ahead of us waiting for inside seating (because of the rain). Another good place was Mango Reef. I had the snapper there and it was good, but what's really special is their open seafood ravioli - it's absolutely to die for. My gf wouldn’t share any with me because it was so good Their hot chocolate cake for dessert was very good too. We ate there for the second time when I brought in my own fish (I caught a mackerel an hour earlier). The chef came out and I told him I wanted half sashimi and half steamed. He prepared it really well and he topped the steamed fish with curry sauce. YUM. Another place we went to was Bay Bistro at Sibonee. The food was ok, nothing really jumped out at us from this restaurant. The location was great - right on the beach and you have a great view of the sunset and the beach. Another place we ate at was the Conch Shack. Again, nothing special in my opinion, and again, the location was GREAT - right ON the beach with your feet in sand. Their rum punch was really good and an absolute must. I'm not a big fan of deep fried food, because in my opinion, any one can deep fry; doesn't take skills to prepare and it all ends up tasting the same... sorry Conch Shack lovers. So the food was just ok. But the ambience was great. You can also buy conch shells on the beach. The last place we went to was Salt Mills Cafe. The prices were really reasonable and the food was very good. I had the special of the day - Ox tail (not ox tail SOUP) and it was fantastic. The mahi mahi roll wrap was also very good.
Driving around: Dispite what others say, I think it's very important to have a car here. Grabbing a cab can be a pain in the butt. A perfect example is that we called for a cab at IGA and waited for over 40 minutes for our cab to show up when he said he would be there "in 5 minutes". From that point on, it was ALL about having a car. We rented from Grace Bay car rental, and they were very professional, showed up at our hotel right on time, and the Corolla we got was great, no problems. Driving on the left was not a problem at all. Not having street signs was ok as long as if you just go by the roundabouts as your reference points. A tip: there is a really good FREE road map at the Graceway IGA, at the small counter where the batteries and odds and ends were.
Beaches: Without a doubt, our favorite beach was Grace Bay. The water is so calm, so turquoise, sand so soft and pearl white, and the long walk is very enjoyable. Sunset on Grace Bay was absolutely beautiful and peaceful. Our second favorite beach is somewhere in Sapodilla Bay (Taylor beach?). Once again, there are no road signs, you just have to turn on dirt roads and find them. The one we found was pretty close to the gas station. It was very quiet; we were one of the only two couples on the beach. The water was again very calm and shallow – you can literally walk ~30 yards out and still be waist deep. It was very enjoyable to have the beach pretty much all to our selves. Malcom Beach was also very quiet and secluded, but it's not one of our favorites. First of all, there is a very long dirt road ride to the beach, and you pretty much need a jeep to get there. I can't imagine taking a corolla through that drive. Second of all, most of the Malcom Beach has rocks and crashing waves that pretty much prevents you from entering the water... the exception is if you walk all the way to the right, there is a sandy entry to the ocean. It is quite pretty and peaceful there, no argument there, but we believe there are better beaches in Provo than Malcom Beach. Another good beach we found was on the Leeward side of Provo on Dolphin Drive. The turn off was a very narrow unmarked dirt road off the left side somewhere. On that stretch of beach there's a ton of conch shells - we weren't sure of the conch shells were collected by the homeowners or not so we didn't take them.
Weather: Here it is: the reason why I ranked the overall experience as above average instead of excellent was that it rained EVERYDAY we were there. We got there on Saturday night (5/16), and it rained everyday, including down right pouring on Monday through Wednesday. We also had 2 power outages. The locals say that this year the rain came early. They average 30 inches of rain all year; well, they had 5 inches on Monday and 5 inches on Tuesday... go figure. We definitely tried to make the most of the trip.
Overall, we thought that Provo is one of our favorite places in the world. It's stunningly beautiful, peaceful and relaxing. Our measuring stick has always been the Cayman Islands, and after this trip (dispite the rain), we are adding TCI as one of our favorite places in the world. Along with everything else, we found that the people in TCI to be one of the friendliest people we've ever came across. We will definitely come back in the future :D