|Secrets Of The Caribbean|
Basse-Terre, St. Kitts
We hired Thenford Grey himself for this "Island Tour". As of January 2015, the cost was $48 per person and ran from 8:00am until about 2:00 pm with beach time available at Cockleshell Beach at the end of the tour. Thenford first took us through the historic city of Basseterre which was founded in 1625 by French settlers. After the city highlights we stopped at the ruins of an old sugar cane processing factory and Romney Manor-Caribelle Batik which was once owned by Captain Samuel Jefferson, the great, great, great grandfather of Thomas Jefferson. The Plantation House which sits amidst 25 acres of lush tropical gardens, is now a batik factory and store. The gardens feature a large collection of exotic plants, palms and trees from all over the world. We saw numerous green tailed monkeys in the short drive between the ruin and the Manor. We then spent an hour at Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park which sets atop a volcanic cone that is 800 feet high and offers 360-degree panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and neighboring islands. Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park is a World Heritage Site. (The $8.00 entrance fee was included). The Fortress is indeed impressive. I could have easily spent 4 hours exploring this impressive site. A lot of monkeys make their home in the vegetation surrounding the fort. Thenford shared a lot of local history with us as we explored the island. We also saw a live cockfight (two roosters going at each other) in the middle of the street. Our last stop was Cockleshell Beach where we had an opportunity to swim, collect shells, and grab a beer. On the way, we saw wandering goats, cows, and more monkeys. Recommended!
On our second tip we wanted to spend a lot more time at the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park so we arranged with Thenford Grey to be dropped off early and then join his regular tour when they arrived at the fortress prior to continuing on to South Friar's Beach. We spent 3 hours exploring the fort and outlying structures. Hint: bring a flashlight to explore dark passages. Next to the fort is a tall grassy mound called Monkey Hill (aka Fort Charlotte). A worker had recently cut a 6-foot wide access path to the top of the hill which offers nice views. About 75% to the top is a side path that will take you to a recently rediscovered 15x20 foot (my estimate) stone out-building, with openings for 3 cannon, that was hidden under vegetation. It also offered views of the fort and the steep gorge behind it. After we left the fortress, we visited an overlook where you could see the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean on either side of a thin stretch of the island. The bodies of water could not have been separated by more than a quarter-mile. We the got dropped off at South Friar's Beach which offers an active bar and grill with lots of shade and picnic-style seating, restrooms, an outdoor shower, changing rooms, a nice beach with black and beige sands, a protected swim area and some snorkeling opportunities. We saw over a dozen different types of fish along the manmade reef and lots of sea urchins (some close to a foot in diameter).
Belize City, Belize
This will be one of your favorite ports IF you book an excursion. You'll hate the place if you do not. This fact has been chronicled time and again. Do yourself a favor and book an excursion! The two most popular excursions are the Cave Tubing and the Lamanai Ruins / Jungle River Cruise. Both get rave reviews. Our selection of the Lamanai tour was no exception.
Once at the Belize pier we were greeted with a nice Welcome sign. There are only a handful of shops at the pier. I am guessing there were about 90 folks on this tour. We were herded onto 1 of 3 air conditioned buses. Whatever bus you get becomes your tour group, and included a guide that not only narrated the bus tour and answered our questions but also drove our boat on the jungle cruise and lead our excursion of the ruins. Our experienced guide was Vel, and he was breaking in a very pretty young guide-in-training that joined us for the duration of the tour. Our guides were very friendly, knowledgeable, and proud of their country.
Belize is a poor country with great natural and historical assets. One idiot on the bus asked "Why are there bars on the windows of houses?" during an otherwise interesting Q&A about the country. (Answer: they have a crime problem related to a "crack" problem). The housing and habitat reminded us a lot of Waimanalo on Oahu (sans the bars). We learned a lot about the city and country on our 1.25 hour bus tour over a paved 2-lane road to the boat dock. [Side note: from visible signage along the road it appears Pepsi "controls" the less populated part of the country while Coca-Cola "owns" Belize City itself]. Each bus unloaded their groups into a large thatched roof building sporting restrooms and a couple of artisans. Within a few minutes we were loaded onto covered boats with comfortable seats and two powerful outboard motors.
We snaked South down the river to the Lamanai Ruin site. Our guide plying us with information and pointing out numerous birds (including King Fisher, Blue Herrin, Vultures, and Snow Egrets), baby crocodiles, and a huge green iguana, as well as various flora and fauna. We also found the huge termite nests in the trees to be of interest to all. One of the 3 boats experienced engine trouble which slowed us down a bit, but that boat was never abandoned. Our boat held back each time to make sure they were not stranded.
Once we arrived at Lamanai, we ate a hearty lunch of Mayan chicken, rice, coleslaw, coconut tarts, and bottled Pepsi and water. We started our tour in a small museum with interesting Mayan artifacts and continued on by foot through an impressive jungle featuring vines, "Jurassic Park"-sized palm fronds, medicinal trees, and Howler Monkeys. We spent about 1.5 hours exploring 3 large Mayan temples and the remains of a small Mayan town. Our guides provided an enormous amount of insight and kept us moving at a reasonable clip.
We returned to the boats, sped back up the river, and returned to the buses just before nightfall. We arrived back at the docks about an hour after the final tender was suppose to leave for the ship. Our guides, to their credit, had made the decision to give us the full tour --- not an abridged tour --- even though we had arrived late. After all, we were paying the full price of the tour and they weren't going to let us get anything less. It was clear, back in Lamanai, that we were not going to make the tender cutoff time. This began to cause great distress among some tour passengers. Just remember, that if you are on a cruise-sponsored tour, there are "no worries!" They were not going to strand any of their passengers in Belize if they are on a cruise-sponsored excursion. Sure enough, we were met at the pier with a nice large boat that easily and comfortably sped all of us back to the ship, which was beautifully illuminated out on the sea. Bottom line: take this tour.
Belize City, Belize
On our second visit to Belize we opted for a snorkel excursion. Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world, after Australia. We considered a ship excursion here due to the use of tenders and the fact that the Belize ocean-based tours booked through the ship will pick you up and drop you back off at the ship with no need to tender to shore. That's worth something, but since we're not big fans of the huge cattle call crowds common with ship tours, we opted to save $60 and privately arranged a snorkeling trip through EcoTours called the "Goff's Caye Island Getaway" for $45 pp.
It was a 4-hour tour that started at the pier at 10:30 am. Goff's Caye, a small 1.25 acre natural coral sand island, is about 40 minutes away from Belize City/Cruise Port by speedboat. Our boat ride took us past mangrove islands (natural habitats for Brown Boobies, Cormorants, Terns and Frigate birds). There are no beach chairs, so bring your beach towels. BBQ chicken kabobs and chicken quarters, grilled lobster tails (in season), cold bottled beers, "real" bottled Cokes (made with sugar, not corn syrup), assorted snacks, and coconuts are available for sale on the island. The tour price included snorkeling equipment (mask, snorkel, fins and vest), bagged water and rum punch.
Goff's Caye is a pretty island, wrapped in a beach, wrapped in a reef. The water was nice. The snorkel tour, just a couple minutes from shore, was guided. Stay close to your guide to make the most of this tour. There are lots of interesting reef formations but few fish. We did see 3 squid and a sea star.
We tendered into port using local charters which were so much nicer than the claustrophobic fire traps we rode several years ago. The tender took just 15 minutes into port and about 20 minutes back to the ship at the end of our day. While at the port, I took the opportunity to find the water taxi. For anyone concerned about this, don't be. It's too easy! Directions to the water taxi: upon arrival at the pier, walk as far left as you can and enter the building. You'll find numerous tour operators main desks to the left of the hall and souvenir shops to the right. There is also a restroom. Walk to the end of the hall and out the doors. Cross a very small parking lot to a pair of little pink shacks that say "Exit". The shack on the left is the exit. The shack on the right is the security entrance back into the parking lot.
Open the exit door, say "buenos dias" to the guard and exit the shack thought a second door immediately in front of you. You are now on the street in front of the terminal and will have a dozen folks ask you if you want their goods or services. Ignore them and turn left. Walk about 100 feet and turn left again into the ferry terminal. (You'll see a large sign above the pink wall advertising "San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi").
Walk to the end. You'll pass a few shops and bars. A water taxi ticket counter can be found in the last building on the right. The water taxis are on the pier jut past the ticket counter. To get back to the cruise terminal, reverse the process, enter the little pink shack on the left, show your credentials to the guard, walk across the parking lot, back through the terminal building, and you'll find yourself back on the pier. The water taxi is actually located just on the other side of a wall at the end of the cruise pier. You just have to totally exit the secured area to get there!
We really enjoyed Barbados. We prearranged for Glory Tour's "Best of Barbados Tour" (Option A) $124 per person (as of January 2015, after prepay web discount) plus tips which included lunch, entrance fees, and drinks. It was an all-day tour that ran from 9:00am to 4:00pm. All entrance fees were included. There were just six of us on this guided tour that took us all over the island. Our driver, Stephen, took us first to Harrison Cave where were enjoyed a guided tram tour underground. These caves are spectacular. Then on to Bathsheba on the East Coast for impressive views of the ocean and rock formations. We ate a delicious lunch of Flying Fish, rice and beans, cole slaw, macaroni and cheese casserole, and a coke. We then worked our way to the Wild Life Reserve where we saw an abundance of green-tailed monkeys, tortoises, iguanas, a python, peacocks, turkeys, and other critters I couldn't identify. Stephen then treated us to a Barbados Rum Punch at the bar there. On the West Coast, we took a glass bottom boat to two snorkeling destinations: first visiting a ship wreck, then a spot where we swam with sea turtles (West Coast). Recommended! Note: 1 US Dollar = 2 Barbados Dollars (BBD).
Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic
We docked at the pier in La Romana. You have an opportunity to purchase a number of excursions or take a shuttle, previously provided gratis by Celebrity Cruise Lines, to Altos de Chavon and Casa de Campo Resort. [I understand the shuttle now costs US$7.00]. Altos de Chavon is a recreation of a medieval Spanish village with cobblestone streets. It's an interesting stroll, but not of interest to kids. Casa de Campo is a 7,000 acre resort. The shuttle took you to the marina where there are shops and restaurants. During the Port Talk, we were encouraged to visit the marina after dinner. Unfortunately, it closes at 7:00pm.
We chose to take the Bayahibe Beach Break excursion at a cost of $44 per person. An air conditioned tour bus took us to the Sunscape Casa del Mar La Romana Resort. This is a very nice all-inclusive resort on Bayahibe Beach, about 30 minutes drive from the ship. The excursion included transportation, beach lounge chairs, use of the resort beach and pool, and access to the open bars. This is an excellent facility for families. There is a big white sand beach and lots of shade. Food and watercraft are available at a small additional charge. The large pool has a 12-foot tall tethered floating "Iceberg" climbing wall/slide that the kids couldn't get enough of. We got hit by a late afternoon downpour, but it didn't dampen the fun. I do recommend it. We felt secure at all times. When you've got an excursion like this available, I do not recommend staying on the ship.
We would have done the Bayahibe Beach excursion on our own, but we couldn't get any enough information on the Ports of Call thread to feel comfortable about it. Let me remedy that right now. You can do this on your own, and you shouldn't hesitate. At the port, it is easy to arrange for your own transportation to Bayahibe Beach. (A fellow passenger arranged for a van for their group of ten for $10 per person. They got roundtrip transportation to Bayahibe Beach and the driver even waited for them for 3 hours while they enjoyed the beach). If you don't need the resort facilities, you can access and use the beach just East of the resort.
You can do the Sunscape Casa del Mar La Romana Resort on a Day Pass, which would be great if you arrive in the morning. A day pass runs $50 per person (less for children under 11), from 10:30pm until 5:30pm It includes unlimited drinks, food, and access to non-motorized watercraft, snorkel gear, beach chairs --- pretty much the works! The resort personnel are extremely friendly. Shirley Sánchez, the Chief Concierge, is very good at answering any questions you may have via email. A taxi for 4 should run in the $30 to $35 range each way. If the driver doesn't stay, the resort will get call a taxi for your return trip to the pier.
Another fine day for an excursion on our own as we wanted to spend a few hours exploring Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, an UNESCO World Heritage site, and the largest fortification structure in the Southern Caribbean which kept foreign ships and pirates at bay for centuries.
Upon exiting the ship, you'll walk through a bird park (more later) to locate a taxi. This is where the mass confusion begins and advanced planning would be good. They will try to stuff you into the first available taxi. What to know: 1. you can hire a taxi for a 1-way ride. You'll recognize the official taxi drivers by their blue uniforms. The taxis are not metered, so you must agree on a price before entering the vehicle. The asking price for a 1-way ride to the old city from the pier is $20 per taxi (not per person). 2. You can hire a day guide. These taxi drivers wear a white uniform. Again, the guided taxis are not metered, so you must agree on a price before entering the vehicle. The asking price is about $20/hour (per taxi, not per person). 3. Ask for a guide that speaks good English. Test them. You'll find most speak just enough to get you into their cab. DO NOT get in until you have settled on a price and are happy with their english proficiency. 4. Most of the taxi's have no air conditioning. If it's important to you, ask for a new car with cold a/c. Otherwise you'll get a late model car that blows hot air through the vent (like we got). They will accept US dollars.
We negotiated with the dispatcher for a guide for 4 hours for $60. We wanted to go to explore San Felipe Fortress for an hour, visit the walled city, and explore San Pedro Claver Church. We had no interest in shopping. We reiterated this with our driver after we asked him if he spoke English. "Yes, Welcome to Cartagena. Please get in the taxi."
Me: "We'd like to go to San Felipe Fortress to explore it for an hour or so".
Driver: "See up there? (Points to La Popa Monastery up on a hill, which is actually a cool place to visit). That's the monastery. I take you there."
Me: "No. Take us to San Felipe Fortress."
(We arrive at the Fortress.)
Driver: "Ok, get out, take pictures. 15 minutes."
Me: "No. You park and we're going in. We'll be gone about an hour".
(Frankly at this point, I didn't care if he did leave as I hadn't paid him yet).
Admission was US$10 per person. Ask the cashier for a map (even though it's only written in Spanish) as it will help orient you. This is a pretty cool fort. Lots of walking. It has very steep ramps and inclines. Some stairs. Expect to sweat profusely. The heat is oppressive. I recommend going first thing in the morning. They open at 8:00 am. Wear sunscreen, a hat, good walking shoes, and bring water. Also take a flashlight so you can more easily explore the dark tunnels to the left, and center, of the fort. The tunnels to the left are not too steep and have numerous off-shoots. The tunnels in the center have a very steep incline and go down deep.
A local in period uniform plays trumpet with unwaivering allegiance to whomever he sees. "You from Canada?" He plays "O Canada". "You from USA?" He plays "God Bless America" or, in homage to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, plays "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head". He plays for tips. Since my wife tipped him $2, we also took his picture with her.
A souvenir shop with light beverages will greet you at the top of the fort. Cold water is reasonably priced at US$2 a bottle. Souvenirs are also reasonably priced. We explored for about an hour and returned to the taxi.
Me: "Lets go to the old city".
Driver: "Do you want to shop".
Driver: "I'll stop here (open marketplace)"
(We walked the marketplace and got back into the taxi).
We went into the old walled city where the driver parked his car and lead us on a tour. Our first stop was the Gold Museum, which was inexplicably closed for the day. Then on to Plaza de Santo Domingo, Plaza de los Coches, and finally Plaza San Pesdro Claver where we had an opportunity to explore the 400 year old church named after Saint Peter Claver, a Jesuit Priest, who dedicated his life to helping African slaves passing through Cartagena. This church has an old forest growing in its courtyard providing cool shade. It also has a religious relic --- the visible robed skeletal remains of Saint Peter Claver interned behind glass at the bottom of the alter. Admission was US$5.
Following our tour the driver asked if we wanted to go to an Emerald Museum in the new city. We agreed. The air conditioned Emerald Museum features a free escorted tour. We learned about Emeralds, mining techniques, saw stones being cut and polished, and were eventually led into the main showroom where we could buy Emeralds. There was no hard sell. We looked at a few pretty stones and left to find our taxi and head back to the ship.
Upon arrival at the pier, we gave the driver $60 and a tip. He looked unhappy.
Me: "Is there a problem?"
Driver: "This is only for 3 hours."
Me: "This is the $60 we agreed with the dispatcher to pay for 4 hours, plus tip."
Driver (shaking his head): "Okay..."
Hint: Given rates we were charged for admission, you'll do better if you have Colombian Pesos. At this writing, the conversion rate was about 2000 pesos to 1 USD.
When we returned we visited the bird park, known as the "Parrot Experience", located at the duty-free shop at the entrance of the pier. It features uncaged rabbits, monkeys, toucans, flamingos, peacocks, lots of colorful parrots, and a few other birds. They were loose, tame, and unafraid of humans. It was easy to take close-up pictures. We spent about 45 minutes looking at the critters, and it was free.
Castries, St. Lucia
We prebooked COSOL Tours "Island Tour". As of January 2015 the price is $75 per person plus tip. They picked us up at 8:30am and brought us back to the ship sometime after 2:30pm. What an exhaustive tour (and I mean this in a positive way). We toured most of the island's top sites and stopped for lots of local bites along the way, sampling bananas, mango, papaya, sugar cane, coconut, and lots more. Cold drinks were included (COSOL rum punch, Cokes made with sugar, water, and Piton beer --- a nice light lager. We visited a banana plantation, the Tourielle Waterfall and botanical garden, volcano (sulphur springs), a couple of fishing villages, spent beach time snorkeling at the Hilton Jalousie Beach Hotel whose beach spans between the Twin Pitons, and later overlooked Marigot Bay (where the original Dr. Doolittle filmed). There was plenty of time for shopping at the end of the tour. All of the entrance fees were included. Recommended! Hint: there is a lot of driving along mountain curves with drops and climbs in elevation. If you are prone to motion sickness, sit up front.
Our cruise didn't go through the Panama Canal, but we did stop at Colon. There's nothing at the port itself, so you really need to get out and explore. One thing we really wanted to do was to see the Panama Canal, though we didn't feel a need to have to ride through it at great expense. We prearranged the "Rainforest (Watching Birds and Monkeys) + San Lorenzo Fort + Gatun Locks" private tour through Almiza Tours for US$60 per adult.
The tour ran from 8:40am to 3:30pm (ship time). The tour included: Transfer from and to the Colon dock, touring in air conditioned minibus, an English/Spanish speaking guide, beverages (bottled Cokes, water, and local beer), a stop for fruit, and entrance fees to both Gatun locks (a set of locks on the Panama Canal) and San Lorenzo National park (which includes another fort to explore).
Our bus had seats for about 30 people, but only fits about 16 comfortably as each pair of seats really only fit 1.5 people. We had 26 passengers plus a driver, our guide, and a spotter (who was genuinely proficient at spotting wildlife). Let's just say we got to know each other really well.
The Gutan Locks are located 30 minutes from the pier. We got there in time to watch a huge cargo ship, with barely a few inches on either side of it, enter and exit the Gutan locks guided by mules (powerful little electric-powered train-like locomotive). Each lock is 1050 feet long, 110 feet wide, and 42 feet deep. As ships go through the 3 locks, they are raised or lowered a total of 85-feet. Each of the 3 chambers requires almost 27 Million gallons of water to lift a ship to the required hight before moving into the next lock. Interestingly, the Panama Canal was celebrating it's Centennial in 2014.
We then drove through the rain forest and took a short narrated walk. We saw Howler Monkeys, 2 or 3 sloths, and lots of flora and fauna. Panama has some 2300 species of trees.
Following the hike we stopped at Fort San Lorenzo, a late 1500's fort located near Ft. Sherman, an old US military base. Buccaneer Henry Morgan attacked the fort in 1670, leaving it in ruins, and then sacked the city of Panama a year later. It's a cool fort, in need of repair, with lots of cannons and good picture opportunities. We stopped for cold local pineapple and watermelon on the way back to the ship.
We had privately arranged for a jungle horseback ride. We found a taxi to take us to Los Palimitas Ranch. The email I received from CozumelInsider informed me the taxi would cost $6-$8 dollars. I confirmed this with the driver upon entering the cab. However, upon arrival at the ranch, the driver wanted $14. We paid him $6. The ranch owner looked over our paperwork and cleared up the taxi situation. As it turns out, they really do charge $14 for that short ride, each way. We paid $25 each for a 3-hour horseback ride. Other than the underfed condition of our horses, it was a nice experience. Our guide led my wife and I though the jungle to a road which led to a natural cave and back again. We saw numerous geckos, iguana, flora, large aqua blue butterflies, reddish orange butterflies with a white stripe on their wings, and tiny yellow butterflies, as well as goats, bulls, dogs, and other horses. We were startled by the pack of 4 barking dogs that charged us, but our horses paid them no attention, and the dogs gave up their charade. We enjoyed this tour and tipped our guide. A $14 cab ride back to the ship for lunch and a $6 cab ride took us into town. Everything appeared to be WAY overpriced, and we were turned off by the barkers in front of every store harping at folks to come in and buy. Carlos and Charlie's was rocking. Not too surprising since there were 8 ships were in port. Our friends had booked the "Catch a Wave" snorkel and booze cruise which they said was worthwhile. They had a fun time and enjoyed the drinks. (The captain even circled a couple times on the way back to allow folks to get full use of the open bar). My recommendation: avoid this excursion.
The last time we were here we took a horseback tour "through the jungle and visited Mayan ruins". Translation: we rode two emaciated horses through the woods and visited a small pile of rocks. This time we were hoping for better and settled on an all-inclusive resort to chillax. But which resort? A very helpful Cruise Critic member summed up the choices this way: Relaxing beach day = Nachi-Cocom. Party atmosphere = Mr. Sanchos. Kid friendly = Playa Mia or Paradise Beach. If you want snorkeling, Chankanaab or Money Bar is your spot.
Since 5 cruise ships were in port (about 10,000 passengers and crew), we booked this one early; and we chose Nachi-Cocom because we wanted to relax and they limit their resort to only 100 visitors per day. The US$55 per person charge includes lounge chairs under a Palapa (natural umbrella), hammocks, all you can drink (open bar including: beer, liquors, cocktails, water, wine, sodas, juices and bottled water), and a 4 course lunch served a la carte at your leisure. Bring towels from ship. Taxi is $16 each way for up to 4 passengers. A 5th passenger is $5 more. (Then it gets ridiculous if you have 6 passengers. 6 - 8 passengers is $32). Nachi Cocom is a nice facility with a beautiful beach. Service was good. Drinks and food were excellent. I also enjoyed a 45 minute massage for $50 plus tip. They have a pool with a swim-up bar, hot tub, and a pier. My wife said she'd like to come back here the next time we're in Cozumel.
Frederiksted, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
8:00am - 5:30pm. St. Croix is the largest of the four US Virgin Islands. We arrived on Sunday. A lot of businesses around the island (including the Captain Morgan Run Distillery) were closed. A reggae band was playing on the pier when we arrived. From the ship, you can see the quaint town of Frederiksted in front of the pier with lots of shops, to the left is an old fort (Fort Frederik) with a beach to its left and then about 2 miles further left was a popular beach called Rainbow Beach which had a bar and rented watercraft. We prearranged a 1.5-hour ATV jungle tour with Gecko Island Adventures for $135 for the two of us on a shared ATV (price as of January 2015). About one third of the tour is on paved roads and the balance is off-roading. There were numerous puddles and we did get a little muddy. (I'd have gotten real muddy if my wife had let me zip through the puddles rather than slowly go around them). There were 4 ATV's in our group, plus our guide. I would suggest you dress comfortably in clothes that are okay to get dirty, wear sunscreen, eye protection, water shoes, and a bandana to cover your nose and mouth from the dust the ATV's in front of you kick up. We had a lot of fun. At the end of the tour you have the option of staying at Rainbow Beach or catching free transportation back to town. We opted to go back to town, eat lunch on the ship, change into our beach clothes and hit the beach next to Fort Frederik. If you stay at Rainbow Beach, it only costs $3 to get back to town. It's only a few minutes away.
To find the Gecko office, exit the Pier and walk down the first street directly across from the pier (which is Customs Street). You will see a mini police station on the right. Enter into Strand Square Courtyard via the entrance next to the police station. Once in the center of the courtyard turn to your left and you'll find the Gecko office where you can pay with cash or credit card. You will then be fitted with a helmet. Our tour started at 9:30 am and we were asked to be at the office no later than 9:15 am.
After lunch we walked past the fort on the ocean side. Just past the fort is a reasonably nice beach with a bar and grill. Umbrellas and chairs can be rented. The sand was soft and the ocean pretty. Great place to take pictures of the ship from the beach. As forts go, there's not much to see, but the cannons are cool and there is a museum inside, but they don't make it very inviting to visit. There is one entrance gate, located on the town side. The gate was closed, but unlocked, though it looked like it was padlocked shut.
Frederiksted, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
On our second trip, we arrived on a Tuesday. This time we prearranged for a 4-hour island tour with Sweeny's Safari Tours. The tour includes the Cruzan rum factory, the town of Christiansted and Columbus landing. We covered about 3/4 of the island. The tour cost is $40.00 cash per person (plus tip), and Cruzan will charge you $8.00 per person (credit card only) for entry [prices as of January 2015]. We met our driver on the street at the dock entrance. The tour rep was holding a sign that reads "Sweeny's Safari Tours". We departed just before 10:30am and returned by 3:45pm. This is a very good deal. Just the cost of roundtrip taxi fare to Cruzan and back is $20 per person. This is a 4-hour tour (though ours actually lasted over 5 hours) that includes the Cruzan Rum tour. For just $20 more per person than taxi fare to Cruzan you can get a tour of the island!
There were 6 of us in a 14-passenger air conditioned van with a very accommodating driver who allowed us to stop and take pictures or alter plans on the fly. Our first stop was the Cruzan Rum Distillery where for $8 we were part of an escorted tour of the facilities and rum making operation. At the end of the tour you get 2 rum drinks (Rum Punch or Pina Colada) and samples of up to three of their premium, spiced, or flavored rums. Our bartender had a very generous pour and was anxious to give everyone basically whatever they wanted. Once my wife tried their Cruzan Velvet Cinn Rum --- a Horchata beverage made with rich dairy cream, bakery cinnamon, and Cruzan rum --- she was hooked and we bought 2 bottles for $18 each to enjoy at home. It's great by itself or as topper to your morning coffee.
We viewed the sunny countryside, got rained on as we drove through the rainforest (go figure), drove by Cane Bay Beach, traversed "The Beast" (a steep winding road that is part of St Croix's annual triathlon-qualifying event), and viewed picturesque Columbus Landing. From there we headed to Christiansted, the larger of St. Croix two main towns where we had 1.5 hours to eat lunch and explore the sites. Our driver recommended Harvey's for an authentic local lunch which 4 of us enjoyed. Among our entrees we ordered Goat Stew (very tender meat with a nice rich dark gravy), Fried Grouper, and very tender Conch in butter sauce. Each of the meals was about $14 and included 4 sides like macaroni and cheese, rice, fungi, cassaba, slaw, and mixed vegetables. Cold Carib beer was $4 bottle. Service was very friendly.
After lunch we split up and explored the town. My wife went window shopping and I headed to Fort Christiansvaern. There is a $3 entrance fee. I got lots of good pictures from the second floor of the fort. Resuming the island tour, we drove past the Hovensa Oil Refinery which was once the largest in the world and would still qualify as one of the 10 largest. The 1500-acre site currently sits dormant but is in talks to be reopened. It took us fully 10 minutes to completely pass the entire complex --- the scope of which is pretty awesome. (Check it out on Google Earth). We returned to town at 3:45pm in plenty of time to take some additional pictures, hit the beach quickly, and casually walk back to the ship.
Additional information from Cruzan [as of January 2015]: Cruzon Tour Hours During "the Season" (which runs from the first week of November through the second week of April): Monday through Friday, From 9:00 am - 4:30 pm, with Saturday and Sundays from 10:00 am - 2:00 pm. A guided tour of the Cruzan Rum distillery takes approximately 30 minutes and leaves every 30 minutes at the top of the hour. The tour entails a walk through the Mixing Tank Room, the Fermentation Room, the Still House, the Warehouse, and the Filter Room. Following the tour they take you to "The Pavilion Visitors Center" which houses the Gift Shop and their "Don't Hurry" Tasting Room, where guests are invited to sample award-winning rums. The gift store has many items for sale including hats, T-shirts, shot glasses, and of course, rum! They do not accept cash but they do accept credit cards (Mastercard, Visa, and Discover). When cruise ships are in port, the distillery is very busy. To avoid the crowds, they recommend visiting between 9:00 am and 11:00 am. The drive from the cruise ship port to the Cruzan Distillery is about 10 to 15 minutes. The Taxi fare is around $20.00 round trip. Walking is not recommended, as the path between the port and the distillery is a busy road. It is approximately 5 miles from the cruise ship port to Cruzan Distillery.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman
If you arrive by ship, you will likely anchor offshore and tender in to this port. We walked around the pier shops awaiting our privately arranged Sting Ray City / Coral Gardens tour with Native Way at noon. There were 13 folks on our tour. We boarded a small van which took us to a boat awaiting us at the Yacht Club. Our boat could comfortably hold 50 people. It took about 20 minutes to motor out to the Coral Gardens reef where we donned mask, snorkel, fins and optional snorkel vests (which made my wife very happy). The snorkel vests provide buoyancy and can be inflated to a level that is comfortable for you. There were no lack of pretty fish here. We then motored 5 minutes out to Sting Ray City, a sandbar in the ocean where the water is only 4-feet deep. Even though the place was crowded, we had a great time. Stingrays with 2-to-4 foot wingspans were in abundance and very tame. Boat captains were catching them and passing them around for everyone to view and hold. Plenty of squid was available for feeding. We were happy to have been on a private tour ($40 each, plus tip, as of January 2015). Some double-decker boats were absolutely jam-packed with passengers. Squeals pierced the air every time a stingray glided a wing against someone's leg. We spent about 1.5 hours between the two locations. Plenty of time. It was a very memorable and fun experience. Highly recommended! Upon our return we were driven back into town where we spent some more time shopping. We were hungry so we checked out the new Margaritaville Cafe. A raspberry margarita and a basket of fries set us back $18 including tip. Won’t do that again. The menu prices were displayed in Cayman dollars which are worth 20% more than US dollars, and we didn’t realize it until the adjusted bill with itemized tip arrived. We bought gifts at the conveniently located Tortuga Rum Company. They have a very nicely bottled Tortuga Citrus Honey for $8. They will also arrange to get any liquor you purchase delivered to the ship for free. We bought a couple bottles of Margaritaville Island Lime/Tequila Liqueur for $11 each as gifts and then got in line to board the tenders and headed back to the ship. We liked this tour so much we repeated it on our second trip to Grand Cayman! Bottom line: Grand Cayman is gorgeous! Stingray City will be the highlight of your visit.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman
On our third trip to Grand Cayman we were looking to check out 7-mile beach, the Turtle Farm, and go to Hell. We tendered into shore on local charters which took about 15 minutes. The ship started tendering at about 8:00 am.
Georgetown has a great "public bus" system that is pretty easy to find from Royal Watler Terminal by walking about two blocks inland on Fort Street to the corner of Edward St and Fort Street. (From North Cruise Terminal, follow Cardinall Street two blocks and turn left on Edward Street and walk two more blocks). The buses (little minivans that hold up 10 - 16 passengers) leave every 15 minutes or so (between 6:00 am to 9:00 pm) from a small lot near the public library across the street from Heroes Square. They go pretty much all over the island to the major attractions.
The bus drivers (who speak English) will drop you off anywhere along a route that you want to go. The fare is usually $2.50 U.S. and you pay when you leave the "bus." To catch one going back, you stand on the opposite side of the street from where you're dropped off (or locate a covered bus stop), keeping in mind that locals drive on the left side of the road. If you see a minivan coming, wave at it and it will stop. If it honks at you when approaching, it is because the driver is asking if you want to get on the bus.
The difference between the bus and the taxi (other than price): Taxis license plates are red numbers on a white background; the bus has white numbers on a blue background. Logos located on the front and rear of buses identify routes: Route 1 (yellow) and Route 2 (lime green) cover George Town to WestBay (which includes Seven Mile Beach, Turtle Farm, and Hell) and that's all we needed to know. Here's a look at all of the bus routes.
Hell is only worthy of a 15-20 minute stop --- about enough time to view and take photos and mail a couple of post cards. Hell has jagged rock formations made of ironshore, a type of limestone with a black coloration due to algae. This bleak landscape is how some folks might imagine Hell on Earth would look like. If you look carefully you'll notice Iguanas dotting the rocks. There are two main buildings in Hell: a tourist trap and a Post Office with a fence separating the two. You can view the formations from either location. I recommend asking your driver to drop you off at the Hell Post Office. There are 3 little souvenir shops next to the Post Office which offer what we thought were better post cards than the tourist trap next door. Post cards are 50 cents and stamps to the USA are 25 cents. It was fun to go just so we can say we "went to Hell and back".
Although Hell and the Turtle Farm are only 1.5 miles apart, there are no sidewalks between the two. Riding a bus is recommended. Seven Mile Beach is a definite bus ride from either.
The Turtle Farm, home to 16,000 turtles, is a government-run operation which raises the endangered green sea turtles to increase their population in the wild. Established in 1968, it's the world's only commercial green-sea-turtle farm. "This eco-sensitive turtle farm exists to provide the local market with edible turtle meat (preventing the need to hunt them in the wild) and to replenish the waters with hatcheling and yearling turtles. Visitors can observe turtles in every stage of development in 100 circular concrete tanks. Turtles here range in size from 6 ounces to 600 pounds. At a snack bar and restaurant, you can sample farm-raised-turtle dishes". Not entirely true. The restaurant no longer serves turtle dishes.
Adult cost is $18 for the "Turtle Farm Exploration Tour" which includes just the Turtle Farm (where you can pickup and hold baby turtles) or $45 for the "Turtle Adventure Tour" which includes the entire park. Children 5 to 12 are $9 and $25 respectively (and under 5 are free). You might be able to take advantage of a couple of discounts. The Turtle Farm offers a 20% discount when tickets are bought in advance, and Explore Cayman says you can get a discount of 10% at the Turtle Farm if you walk up to the ticket booth and mention "EXPLORE". This not-so-secret word will also get you 10% off at the Schooner's Bar & Grill and Splash Gift Shop.
We bought tickets online in advance and traded our vouchers for wristbands. Upon entering the farm, the first tank you see is loaded with HUGE 6-foot sea turtles. Several other tanks hold turtles of varying sizes. Loose chickens and iguanas also roam the property. There are a dozen tanks holding baby (1-foot sized) sea turtles. It's fun to catch them for a photo opportunity.
Skip the restaurant. While the view along the rail is good and the shade is comfortable, a jerk chicken sandwich, conch chowder, and a root beer will set you back $28 US. The food wasn't bad but at this price it should be tastier. They also no longer serve turtle here. Two locals suggested Myrtles at Queen's Court next to the 7-mile shops (reasonable close to the pier by bus or taxi) as the "go to" place for great turtle dishes. "They do it right". That's a definate stop for us next time we're here. The Turtle Farm is worth a visit.
If you choose to take a taxi to or from Seven Mile Beach, the cab fare is $4 - $6 pp depending upon how far up the beach you are. Rates are fixed and posted, but be sure to confirm the fare before the driver takes off.
Seven Mile Beach (really 5 miles of nice sand, but who's counting?) is located just north of George Town between the pier and places like the Turtle Farm and Hell. All the beaches on the Cayman Islands are free public beaches. Like everywhere, some of the hotels will charge you to use their chairs and facilities. Since Seven Mile is a sand beach, don't expect much snorkeling, although I understand you can swim about 100 - 200 yards offshore at Cemetary beach and snorkel the reef. The southern part of the Seven Mile is the most heavily developed and closest to the pier.
We asked to be dropped off at Cemetary Beach which is further away from the pier than popular beaches like Sea Grape and Public Beach in an attempt to avoid the crowds from the 5 ships in port that day. It has a public beach access path and shade trees. Our plan was to get dropped off at the far end and walk along the beach back towards the ship. We ended up walking about 1.6 miles to Tiki Beach. It was fun and the beaches were beautiful. We got back on the main road and caught another bus for US$2.50 that dropped us off near the tender and then got in line to board the tenders and headed back to the ship.
We also considered going to the Caybrew Brewery which is about a 10 to 15 minute bus ride in the opposite direction. (Take bus #3, 4, 5, 8 or 9). The Brewery Tour is US$6 and are available Monday through Friday on the hour from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Gustavia, St. Barts / St. Barts / St. Barthelemy
All ports except St. Barts had piers. We anchored in Gustavia Bay and took tenders to Port de Pleasance in Gustavia (which is located directly across from Sunset Hotel on Rue De La Republique on the left side of the harbor. The tender procedure was slow, primarily due to regulations in St. Barts limiting the tender speeds to 3 MPH in the harbor. We were on a 10am tender and got to shore about 10:30am.
Upon arrival we set out on a 35 minute walk across the island to visit the airport and Saint Jean Beach (Baie de St. Jean). To get there, walk to your right (facing the island) until you get to the first cross street (Rue De La Suede) and turn left. Turn left again on the next street (Rue August Nyman). Keep right at each fork. The second intersection is a roundabout with an awesome bronze Indian statue of “Savaku” the Arawak spirit. Turn right here as well. This area is the highpoint of your walk and offers breathtaking views of the airport and west side of Saint Jean Beach. Commuter aircraft (puddle jumpers) begin their landing just 50 feet above your head and must land on a very short looking runway that ends in the ocean. It's lots of fun to watch planes land. They also come in off the ocean but those flights are more fun to watch from St. Jean Beach.
Continue down the road parallelling the airport. Just across from the airport terminal (which has free, clean, modern restrooms on the northern end of the terminal) are a couple of strip malls. The second strip mall has a grocery store where we purchased litres of cold water for 1.35 Euros (about $1.50 US) and a 16-inch sandwich made on an awesome local baguette for 4.75 Euros (about $5.50 US). These prices are 25% to 50% of what you would pay in town. You'll find the sandwiches near the small deli counter in the rear of the store. The sandwiches are very popular and may sell out at lunchtime. The store will take US currency and give you change in Euros.
At the end of the airstrip (about a block past the shops) is an entrance alley to St. Jean Beach. St. Jean Beach is actually 2 beaches separated by Eden Rock, upon which sits a hotel with restaurant and attached "Sand Bar". St Jean is a very pretty beach, with several shops, bars and restaurants, where you can watch planes flying over surfers while landing or taking off at an airport whose runway spills out into the ocean. Don't bother renting chairs and umbrellas here as these command $50 to $100 for a set!
Head back to the ship the same way you came, making a left at the Indian Statue and keeping left at the next intersection. (You'll still get to the port if you make a right at the second intersection --- it'll jut take you a little longer. This same intersection (which has a dialysis/medical center on the corner) is the entrance to the lighthouse and the smaller of two forts guarding the harbor. A very short uphill walk to the fort/lighthouse will reward you with picture-worthy views of the ship, harbor and surrounding area.
Continue down the road, make a right at Rue De La Suede, and you'll find yourself back in Gustavia. From here we meandered through the shops and worked our way to Shell Beach (aka Anse de Grand Galet), the closest beach to the ship and a very easy 10 minute walk --- longer if you linger in the stores. Shell Beach is so named because the beach is covered in small and medium-sized shells. It's a good idea to wear water shoes. The further from the entrance you get, the less crowded you'll find the beach and the more large rocks you'll find where you can leave your towels and "claim your territory". Other than the bar and grill, there is very little shade here.
Notes: 1. The walk to the airport is along a fairly narrow road and can be uneven at times. There are sidewalks from the airport to Saint Jean Beach. Although we never felt in danger you should definitely stay alert to traffic and road conditions. 2. Taxi service from the port to Saint Jean Beach runs $30 to $50 each way. 3. Some passengers rented a car and enjoyed a beautiful day exploring the island and her 14 beaches. 4. Most of the shops, bars and restaurants in town are outrageously expensive and close from 1pm to 3pm. 5. While we enjoyed our visit to this beautiful island, I heard from Celebrity personnel that they may not return due to the logistics and passenger complaints about tendering and absurdly high prices for almost everything from beer to t-shirts.
Isle Catalina, Dominican Republic
Catalina is a small island off the south shore of Dominican Republic. Our large section of the island featured a beautiful white sand beach (about a half-mile expanse), palm trees, free beach chairs, and umbrellas. Snorkeling was available along the left side of the beach next to a 12-foot cliff. A BBQ lunch, featuring hamburgers, hotdogs, ribs, chicken, salads, fruits, deserts, and drinks, was served by Celebrity beginning at 11:30am. Large tents with picnic tables were provided. No host bars, beach volleyball, and nice bathroom facilities were available. A quarter-mile walk past the restrooms to the old pier found you amongst cactus, scrub brush, lizards and nice views of the beach and ship. We were not bothered by locals selling trinkets unless you ventured past security into the shopping hut area. Shops, numbered 1 to 15, were located on the far right side of the beach. They were very aggressive. Snorkeling was uneventful but the water was very clear and comfortable. We returned to the ship at 2:10 and received a cold towel to refresh ourselves upon arrival. This was a free beach day excursion on Celebrity and a very enjoyable day at that.
Key West, Florida, USA
Key West, Trip #1
We berthed at the old Navy pier and were brought into town aboard Conch Trains and Old Town Trolleys. Conch Trains and Old Town Trolley tours of Key West are available for $27.41 per passenger (online rate, as of January 2015). We hopped on the Old Town Trolley. It has 10 stops and you are allowed to exit and reboard at any station. We got the grand tour of the island in about 1.5 hours, and tipped our driver "AL" who we thoroughly enjoyed. Hint: if you plan on visiting any of the houses or museums, buy your tickets at the Train or Trolley booths and you'll save a dollar per person. We spent some time in Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum which we found educational and fascinating. We headed to Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville Cafe for a late "cheeseburger in paradise" lunch. I can't brag about the burger, but the fries and margaritas were great. We also bought pricey t-shirts next door in his gift shop. Jimmy got the bulk of our tourist dollar in Key West, and we're still smiling! I recommend all the experiences we partook here.
Key West, Trip #2
This trip we visited the Hemingway House, walked around town, stopped in for drinks at Hog's Breath (don't make the mistake I did and order a draught beer. It comes in a small plastic cup as opposed to a chilled glass) and bought a t-shirt at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville Café on Duval Street. There really are 6-toed cats in residence at the Hemingway House. I also found the tour and landscaping interesting. Hint: there is a sandal shop called Kino Sandal, located on Fitzpatrick Street off Front Street. It's not easy to find, but worthwhile. They make and sell really comfortable sandals. My wife, who was skeptical and has hard to fit feet, tried on a pair and ended up buying two pair (at only $9.00 per pair).
Labadee, Hispaniola (Haiti)
Haiti itself occupies the Western third of the island of Hispaniola, while Dominican Republic occupies the Eastern side. Labadee is not a private island off of Haiti as some believe. It's actually a peninsula on the beautiful northern coast of Haiti. This is a really pretty port offering a nice beach day with expensive excursion options for the more adventurous. Here's a map of Labadee you can print. I'll walk you clockwise around the map starting at the pier:
From the pier (bottom left) you are spilled out on Buccaneer's Bay where you can schedule tours. North of there is Dragon's Bay which includes the main tram station (#2), and 1 of the port's 5 lunch pavilion "cafes" (#4), a drink station "pub" (#5), a lookout point (#6) worth a view of the entire north side beach areas and the zipline landing. There are no swimmable beaches in Dragon's Bay due to the rocks and reefs in the water.
As you move inland (to the east) on the north shore you'll encounter Adrenaline Beach which has waves and good views of the zipline participants. The further east you walk, the sparser is the shade. The Dragon's Tail Coaster (#33) is located at the far eastern border, just past rentable cabanas (#35), and the zipline is up the hill to its left but is only accessible by truck.
Just south of Dragon's Tail is Town Square, with a bar (#18), lunch pavilion "cafe" (#19), the second tram station (#25), small amphitheater (#30), and Artesian's Market (#21, housed in a building). This is where the friendly no-haggle, no-hassle, local shops are located. They sell local arts and crafts. As you head south from here, you'll run into the Artesian's Village (#20, looks small on the map but it's really over 200 yards long and on both sides of the walkway). This is an uncomfortable gauntlet of outdoor "hassle and haggle" shops, manned by very aggressive locals offering similar wares, that stretches until you reach the sanctuary of Columbus Cove.
Columbus Cove is an oasis of sun, sand, and lots of shade with a beautiful beach, no waves, and an unobstructed view of the ship. It's very pretty and the water is very comfortable. Being the furthest beach from the ship, it will typically have the lightest crowds of all the full-access beaches. It also has a tram station (#43), "pub", "cafe" (#38), and an aqua park (#39) with waterslide (fee applies for both).
Now, heading west across the south shore you'll hit Nellies Beach, a beach cove featuring rentable cabanas (#31, if you rent one, be sure to pay a little extra for the cabanas on the water). This is also the southern route to Columbus Cove which will thankfully bypass the entire Artesian Village complex.
Heading further west toward the pier on the south shore is the Barefoot Beach Club, an exclusive gated beach cove for guests residing in Grand Suites and above. It's the closest southern beach to the pier. They have rentable cabanas (#13), a tram station (#15), and their own food and beverage facilities.
Our day at Labadee started when we left the ship at 10am and wandered around the peninsula as we made our way to Columbus Cove, the furthest beach from the ship. We came across the Artesian Market building with low-key local vendors doing a brisk business. Just past the Market, you hit a gauntlet of high-pressure local vendor shops. There must be over 50 of them. All of the stuff they were selling looked very similar. As you pass by the shops you are greeted with "Follow me", "Where are your from?", and "Can I ask you a question?" --- all intended to get you to engage with them and look at what they are selling. Most folks will feel very uncomfortable and want to exit the area as rapidly as possible. (If you do buy here you can easily haggle their first price down by 50% to 75% as long as you don't show too much interest). If you have no interest, just ignore them (or say "no thanks") and keep walking. You'll survive the ordeal unscathed.
We eventually worked our way to Columbus Cove and found lots of beachfront shade at the far end, complete with unobstructed views of the water and ship. This is despite being the second of two ships to arrive in port and having arrived at this beach at 11am. The beach will get a lot busier come 12:30pm. A buffet lunch was served in the pavilion behind us starting around 11:30am. Lunch was free and included juices, water, tea, breads, grilled chicken, pork chops, beef, hamburgers, hotdogs, ribs, slaw, green salad, potato salad, corn on the cob, light desert bites, and a few other items. Each pavilion offers several additional covered structures with lots of shaded picnic tables.
We enjoyed our lazy beach day at Columbus Cove and exploration of the peninsula. Fee-based activities available included Dragon's Breath Flight Line (zipline, $96 per ride), Dragon's Tail Coaster ($26 per ride), Adrenaline Coastal Boat Tour ($50), Haitian Cultural TOur ($75), Labadee Wave Jet Tour ($100), Sandbar Island Getaway ($50 - $55), Parasail Adventure ($86), Kayak Adventure ($40), Dragon's Splash Waterslide ($24) and Arawak Aqua Park ($20 per hour). [Prices current as of January 2015].
Notes: 1. small lockers are available at several locations for $8. 2. Alcohol was available and free if you were on a beverage plan (same rules as on the ship). 3. The south side beaches were prettier and nicer than the north side beaches, offered more shade, and calm water. North side beaches offered more sun, wind, waves, and great views of folks using the Dragon's Breath Flight Line (zipline) and Dragon's Tail Coaster. 4. You only needed your Sea Pass Card (no other ID required at this private port) and your beach towel from the ship. Lounge chairs are free but you might tip an attendant a dollar or two to haul and setup your lounge chairs and wipe them down.
Montego Bay, Jamaica
We prearranged for a Black River Safari and Pelican Beach Bar Tour with A-Z Planners. As of January 2015 this tour is unavailable but they do offer the Y.S. Falls and Black River Safari for $95 per person. Two other cruise critic couples joined us. The six of us were the first passengers off the ship and we met our driver Clive who was waiting for us in the pier terminal. The seven of us got into a van and headed for the Black River, a scenic 90 minutes away. About 30 minutes into our tour, we busted a wheel on one of the many potholes that plague the island streets. This necessitated a 40 minute wait for a backup van and we proceeded on our way. (We were very thankful that A-Z Planners had a good contingency plan). Upon arrival at the Black River, we boarded a canopied pontoon boat with 6 other passengers and our captain for a pleasant cruise around the Black River where we saw birds, alligators, and interesting floral and trees. While you can’t see to the bottom of the river due to the black peat moss floor, the water itself is very clear. One of our braver cruise mates took a cool swim in the river. We tipped the boat captain and headed across the river for lunch at Riverside Dock.
While lunch was downright excellent (I had Guava Jerk Chicken with rice and peas) it took about an hour to get it out of the kitchen. We split the lunch ticket six ways. Lunch ran $11 including tip per person and that included picking up lunch for our driver as well. Pelican Bay was a relatively short drive, where we boarded a seemingly unstable, though eminently seaworthy, fishing boat for a quarter-mile trip to the Pelican Beach Bar. The elevated stick and thatch bar is located on a sandbar in the middle of the ocean! It is a sight to be seen. Running short on time, we left the bar after a brief stay. It would have been nice to kick back a little and maybe swim some too. We stopped at a local IGA grocery store for some Blue Mountain Coffee ($J 1065/lb, about $US 14/lb) and other provisions and rushed back to the port in time to make our cruise departure. We recommend A-Z Planners and this tour.
Nassau, Trip #1
Get out and see the island. The ship berths at a pier. We opted to take it easy and just walk around and enjoy some shopping. We started with a very pleasant horse and buggy ride for $10 per person. It was a nice way to start the morning. The Straw Market is full of vendors selling the same merchandise (or junk, depending on your point of view). You can easily get 20% to 30% off the original asking prices if you don't appear too interested in anything you want to buy. On Sundays, many shops are not open. The ones that are will do a fairly brisk business. Postage stamps can be bought in machines in the pharmacies. 68 cents worth of Bahamian stamps for $1 US. You can drop your postcards in the red PO boxes on the street. Several passengers caught taxis and water taxis to the Atlantis Casino. The water taxis will wait until they're way overloaded before sailing, despite the captain's warning that "we are getting full and are leaving right now". We saw one taxi bob precariously to and fro under the weight of the upper deck passengers. We thought it would tip over for sure, but it did not. We bought a cool embroidered t-shirt, made with the new photosensitive thread that changes from white to vibrant colors in the sun, at Del Sol.
Nassau, Trip #2
Try jumping on the #10 Jitney ($1.00 each way, payable when exiting) to Cable Beach. The drivers are really friendly. Greet them with a hearty "Good Morning" as you board. You can catch the #10 near the British Colonial Hilton (a few blocks to your right after you leave the pier). The trip takes about 20 minutes. We got off at Sandals, the all-inclusive "adult couples only" resort. It was a good thing we had brought our email confirmation of the Day Pass option as there was some confusion at the gate and upon check-in. A Day Pass (9am to 6pm) costs $220 per couple, or $50 per person ($100 per couple) if you view a 10-minute presentation and go on a 30-minute site inspection tour. We opted for the tour.
If you are short on time, consider a 45-minute "cheap tour", jumping on the #10 Jitney. The roundtrip will only set you back $2. Also consider checking out the beach at the Wyndham Hotel Casino on Cable Beach.
Everyone was quite friendly. They make no effort to differentiate someone on a Day Pass from an overnight guest. You have free reign of the property. We took a speedboat out to Sandals Cay --- their semi-private island --- which includes a pool with swim-up bar, hot tub, hammocks, chairs, and a restaurant. There was less than 12 guests on the island for the first hour --- 24 by the time we left after two hours. The speedboat operators are real pros and a joy to watch in action as they secure the boat to the docks in high wave conditions. We enjoyed a couple of drinks on a hammock as waves crashed nearby. Atlantis could be seen in the distance. Very relaxing. They don't skimp on the liquor here. All quality, branded names, and local beers. Back at the main property we enjoyed a few more drinks, the hot tub, and a conch fritter lunch. Nice laid back day. We would look forward to visiting Sandals again on a Day Pass.
We prearranged two activities here. First we headed to MooMba Beach on Palm Beach for Jolly Pirates' "Sail, Snorkel, Swim, and Swing" from 9:30am to 2:30pm. You can easily get to Palm Beach via taxi for $10 or via local bus for $1.30 per person. There is a free shuttle from the ship to the cruise ship terminal. To catch a bus, simply exit the terminal, turn right, and cross the street to the Bus Terminal --- an orange building with white columns and benches. Take the #10 "Hotels" bus. Palm Beach has several stops. Get off at the Holiday Inn, walk through the lobby to the beach, turn right, walk about 100 yards to MooMba Beach. Jolly Pirate's office is just behind the large thatched roof beach bar. Check-in for Jolly Pirates was at 9am. It's $53 per person (as of January 2015, after a 15% online booking discount) plus tip. We set sail in a pirate ship for three snorkel sites: two reefs and a WWII sunken German cargo ship. We also got to enjoy swinging off the ship into the ocean. We were fed a very tasty lunch which included pork ribs, chicken skewers, pasta salad, slaw, fried banana and a roll. The free bar offering up rum, whisky, Pirate Poisson, Pina Colada, sodas and water, was open the entire trip. Snorkels, masks, vests, and fins were provided. This is a very fun excursion for all ages. Recommended! Hint: if you are just looking for a nice beach, consider Eagle Beach which is on the way to Palm Beach.
We enjoyed drinks and an appetizer at the MooMba beach bar from 2:30pm to 3:30pm. At 3:30pm, our taxi driver, Bully, picked us up in front of the Hadicurari Restaurant next door. Our traveling companions ate lunch here and said the fish was outstanding. Bully took us on a nice two-hour tour of the island and returned us to the pier. His rate is $40 per hour (just $10 per person per hour in our case) plus tip. Recommended!
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
In Puerto Limon, we prearranged for the "Limon Highlights: 6 in 1 Combo Tour | Puerto Limon Tours" with
Greenway Tours at $99 per person (as of January 2015). The tour included: 1) A very short City Tour. 2) Visit to the Rain Forest. "La Jungla Trail offers a 1 km trek through a secondary forest offering beautiful landscapes, various flora and fauna, and including many opportunities to see the remarkably fascinating different frog species of Costa Rica". We saw a couple different-colored poisonous tree frogs: one red, one teal and black; spiders: a large tarantula and banana spiders; and saw a toucan fly overhead. 3) Visit a Banana Plantation and Packing House where we learned about the banana crop, harvesting, processing, packing and exportation. "Costa Rica is the second largest banana producer in the world and 80% of the plantations are located in Limon province, becoming one of the most important economical activities in the region". 4) Coastal Drive where we saw caught a view of the ship from the Puerto Limon coastline. 5) The Tortuguero Canals, which we thought was a highlight of the tour. We traveled through the jungle canals in a covered boat for about an hour while our guide explained the rain forest eco-system and pointed out sights of interest. We saw Howler Monkeys, sloths, toucans, aquatic birds, lizards, iguanas, and exotic flora. We'd like to take a longer canal tour next time we're here. And 6) the tour ends near the port terminal where there is a local flea market where you can buy souvenirs.
Hint: a Cruise Critic member suggested we try to purchase bottles of vanilla here as these proved to be very popular gifts and recommended "Vainol" which comes in a brown bell-shaped bottle. Rather than buy them at the flea market, we ventured 5 blocks into town and bought them at a local supermarket. at a wonderful price. The supermarket also has 1820-brand coffee at a great price. Simply exit the flea market, go through the very small cruise port building and gate, cross the street, walk 1 block along a park to a colorful pedestrian-only street, turn left and follow the pedestrian street 4 blocks. The market will be on your right.
We prearranged the "Roseau Valley Treasures" tour with Bumpiing Tours (Levi Baron). $49 per person plus tip. We tendered into Roseau. Tendering was very efficient. Levi Baron met us just outside the pier and turned us over to Gary, our awesome driver and guide for the day. Gary kept us one step ahead of most of the tours. We started our day at Wotten Waven Sulphur Springs which entailed a short walk to view small boiling pools. Then it was off to Trafalgar Falls which features two large waterfalls in the same area. There was about a 10 minutes walk through a rainforest to a viewing platform where we took pictures and then proceeded past a "Proceed Only At Your Own Risk" sign and descended down to some hot springs where we relaxed and played in several hot pools. We also got some closer views of the falls. From here we drove to Titou Gorge where part of Pirates Of The Caribbean 2 was filmed. It was an easy 10 minutes walk to the Gorge, where we got into cold mountain water and swam a short distance through a cave to a waterfall. (If you go, don't wimp out. It's worth the chill). We instantly warmed in the sun upon exiting and got toasty in a nearby hot spring. We visited the Botanical Gardens where we learned about see different plants, trees and flowers grown on the Island. A short 5-minute drive to Morne Bruce presented us an overview of the entire city of Roseau, and port, from the top of a hill. We ended the tour snorkeling at Champagne Bay, where we hired an snorkel guide for $10 to show us the fish and underwater sites just offshore. There is no way we would have seen as much without our water guide, T.J. The entire tour lasted about 7 hours. Gary kept us well hydrated with Kubuli Beer (the best local island beer we tasted on this trip) and water. Gary was also quick to stop the van for any pictures we wanted to take and often stopped to pluck a leaf, nut, fruit, branch or root for us to smell and identify as one of the many local spices grown on the island. Recommended! This tour is so spectacular that we booked it again on our second trip to Dominica.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Upon arrival we immediately headed for San Cristobal Fortress on foot. Then on to El Morro Castle via the city wall walkway by the sea. Both were really cool to visit. Very impressive, massive, structures. Cost is $5.00 per person for either or both sites --- just save and show your receipt. [Price current as of January 2015]. Don't make the mistake of hiring a taxi. It is pretty easy to walk around town as places are closer than they appear on maps. Highly recommend visits to both. (Check out the restrooms in El Morro. You won't find a restroom anywhere with better views). On the way back to the ship, just off The Street of San Francisco, we stopped at a street cafe for papaya and guava frappes, chips, and guacamole. It was a nice break. On another trip we lunched at Parrot Club (my wife’s new favorite eatery in San Juan), and then shopped for liquor at Bacardi Liquors, located in the cruise terminal, before reboarding the ship. Bacardi Liquors offered some of the best prices on liquor that we saw at any port.
Both San Cristobal and the better known El Morro fort are very impressive, massive structures worth detailed exploring. The combined fortresses and connecting wall are designated as a United Nations World Heritage site. San Cristobal, covering 27 acres, is the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World. Yes, it's actually larger than its more famous sister El Morro.
Highly recommend visits to both which offer lots of history, information, and picture opportunities. Adventurous kids and adults alike will enjoy crossing over the drawbridges (which span dry moats), exploring numerous tunnels, unique stairwells, arched passageways, barracks, storerooms, ramparts, cannons and dungeons. Each fort also offers a gift shop with cold bottled water for under $2.
The walk from San Cristobal to Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) is an easy 20-minute walk via the city wall walkway parallelling the sea. You can also take a free US Parks Service shuttle between the two forts, or wait for the free hop-on/hop-off trolley. However you may have to wait a long time as these are often packed, and yes, you can also catch the trolly from a stop near the port to both forts.
El Morro is a real gem of a fort, with 6 levels and 60-foot walls overlooking the ocean. It also features a pair of spiral stairwells, one of which is triangular. Even the restrooms in El Morro offer picturesque views. (You won't find a restroom anywhere with better vistas). It's a 30-minute walk back to the ship from El Morro.
Here's a great excursion if you are flying out of San Juan and have some time to kill before your flight. When exiting the terminal building for transportation you will see two orange booths. The one on the left is for "Taxis". The one on the right is for "Sightseeing Tours". For $25 per person, we gave our bags to the sightseeing tour guide. He loaded the bags into the back of his air conditioned van, and we jumped in, took a seat and waited for the large van to fill. Once full (about 16 or 18 passengers), our driver Hector left the port and headed for Old San Juan. He gave us information about the city, stopped for pictures, allowed us 15 minutes to tour the Capital, 40 minutes to explore Fort San Cristobal, a quick stop at Casa Don Q's (2 blocks from the OSJ docks and across the street from Tijuana's Bar and Grill) for a quick pitch on Don Q rum and free rum drinks. (My wife enjoyed a Pina Colada). Hector then dropped us off downtown to shop for 45 minutes. We grabbed a quick trinket and walked a block to the Parrot Club for lunch. Very interesting place. My wife just loves the decor. Our waiter was friendly, very courteous, and efficient. While not inexpensive, the food is outstanding and well worth the visit if you enjoy nice flavors. At 12:40pm we boarded the van and he dropped a few folks (who had evening flights) off at Lupis to enjoy lunch while the rest of us went to the airport. He then went back and picked up the Lupis group to continued their tour. Recommended! This was a great way to spend some free time in San Juan and get to the airport.
St. Georges, Grenada
We arranged for a 4-hour half-day "Spice Plantation Route" tour with Mandoo Tours, currently $60 per person, plus tips (as of January 2015). It ran from 8am to noon plus beach time. The spice plantation route is going to give you a great feel of the island. We visited the Douglaston Spice Depot where we saw a presentation on many of Grenada's spices, and where fresh quality spices were available for purchase. We drove through the lush volcanic mountains to where multiple spice plants, cocoa and bananas plantations were pointed out to us. Great photo shots. We visited Grand Etang Crater Lake where we saw our first Mona monkey. We drove through the rain forest and made a stop at Annandale Waterfall. At the end of the tour we were given time at the beach and then returned to the ship. We had lunch on the ship and then walked to Fort George, very close to the ship. We exited the pier terminal and turned right. There is a stairwell to the right of a tunnel. Just keep climbing until you get to the top. It's about a 15 minute walk up stone stairs and ramps. This might have been an awesome fort at one time. It has fallen into disrepair and is being used for multiple other purposes. Really too bad. However Fort George will give you lots of photo opportunities from its elevated point. Recommended!
On our second trip we hoped to take it easy on Grand Anse Beach, a non-snorkeling 2-mile crescent stretch of sand not too far from the ship. Most folks take a water taxi to Grand Anse Beach for about $6 per person each way. The water taxi is about 1/2-block to the left of the ship (as you face the island). We opted to take a local bus ($1 US). The bus depot can also been seen from the ship. Just look for the 2-deck parking garage with a hundred mini-vans another half block from the water taxi dock. It's easy to catch a water taxi or bus in either direction to and from the cruise pier. If you take the bus, you want the Zone #1 bus to Grand Anse (and back to St. George). It's clearly written on the windshield. The bus holds about 14 passengers and the driver (working with a conductor) will work to keep it as full as possible throughout the trip. You will not save time taking the bus. You take it because you want to get a better flavor of the island and it's residents.
If you take the water taxi, upon arrival you'll get swamped with offers for chairs and umbrellas (among other things). I suggest you walk away from the dock, past the spice market, and settle in an area away from the heavier crowds. If you arrive by bus, get off at the Spiceland Mall, cross the street and walk 1 block down a driveway where you'll find yourself at a great beach bar and grill called Umbrellas. It's an airy, clean, comfortable restaurant with great food. Don't panic when you read the menu. The prices are in Eastern Caribbean Dollars and $1 USD = $2.70 ECD. We enjoyed their grilled barracuda (two thick nicely grilled mild flaky white filets) with a side of "rocket and potato salad". Rocket is a non-bitter local leafy vegetable. Lunch was awesome. We also ordered a locally bottled ginger ale and a bottle of their local Carib Lager. There was plenty of food for two to share. With tip, the total was $58 ECD (about $22 USD). Upon exiting Umbrellas, you'll find yourself on the less crowded section of the beach (3/4 down the beach from the water taxi dock). When your beach day is done, reverse your steps and take either the bus or water taxi back to the ship.
The skies were cloudy and it rained most of the day (sometimes torrentially). I estimate that there were no more than two dozen folks from the ship on the beach, and they outnumbered everyone else, except the vendors at the spice market. We had a great adventure despite the lack of an intended sunny beach day.
St. John, US Virgin Islands
We berthed at Havensight Pier in St. Thomas. Our destination was Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay on the Island of St. John for snorkeling. Despite what everyone at the pier will tell you (and they will lie to you), you can get local transportation for $2 per person in an open-air taxi to Red Hook to catch a ferry to Cruz Bay on St. John. Simply walk out of the Havensight pier main gate, cross the street, turn left and walk until you get to the Bus Stop (there is a pullover area) across from K-Mart and cross the street so that you are standing on the K-Mart side of the street. It is a leisurely 15-minute level walk. When you see an open-air taxi drive up (they look like a pick-up truck with several rows of seats in the back and a metal canopy) flag him down, tell him where you wish to go and enjoy the trip. The drive takes about 20 to 30 minutes each way depending upon traffic. The taxi will drop you off at the Red Hook ferry terminal. Pay upon exiting the taxi, go through the gates and hop on the ferry to St. John. We caught the 8:00am ferry and paid our $5.00/pp fare. [According to StJohnUSVI it's now $8.15]. Normally, you would pay at the booth prior to boarding. The very pretty ride across the bay runs about 15 minutes.
[Notes: 1. there is also a downtown ferry that runs directly from Charlotte Amalie for $13/pp. The ferry dock is a short taxi ride from the Charlotte Amalie pier, or about $5-$6/pp from Havensight. This is a very pretty 40-minute ride. As I recall, it runs less often than the Red Hook ferry. 2. Yes, you can take a regular taxi from the pier to Red Hook. The ride will be faster and the price is in the ballpark of $7 - $10/pp.]
Upon arrival at Cruz Bay, St. John, we caught a 10-minute taxi ride ($6.00 - $8.00/pp) to Trunk Bay, stopping once along the way to take pictures of Trunk Bay from a picturesque spot along the road. We arrived at 8:30am which allowed us to get in free. Once the admission booth opens, it costs $4.00/pp to enter this beautiful white sand beach with clear waters, awesome views of islands and cayes, nice facilities, and an underwater snorkeling trail. The snorkeling trail can be found on the right hand side of the beach. It begins on the far side of the little island and works its way around the island and ends on the closer side. The snorkeling is very good, with lots of fish and colorful coral. Including the four of us, there was a total of 7 people enjoying this beach from 8:30am to 10:15am when larger groups began arriving —– at which time we left and caught a $4/pp - $5/pp taxi for Cinnamon Bay. (Trunk Bay is now one of our top three Caribbean beaches).
Cinnamon Bay is part of a campground with good facilities, snorkeling equipment rentals, and kayak rentals. The beach is not as pretty as Trunk Bay but offers good snorkeling as well. Sea Turtles can be spotted here in the middle of the bay feeding on the sea grass, but we did not spot any this trip. We caught a taxi back to Cruz Bay ($7-8/pp) at 11:40am. We just missed the noon ferry so we ate lunch at High Tide Bar and Grill adjacent to the pier. We enjoyed the Virgin Island Pale Ale (a fruity beer made for distribution in St. John by a brewery in Maine), and especially liked the sweet mango salsa which accompanies the chips and salsa appetizer. We shopped until 1:45pm and bought tickets for the 2:00pm ferry, which was 30 minutes late arriving. A very large crowd anxiously waited in a long line in the hot sun on the pier. There was no problem getting everyone on the ferry. We arrived back in Red Hook at 2:40pm. Ignore the regular $7-$10/pp taxis and wait for a $2.00 taxi again EXACTLY where it dropped you off. (Do not cross the street). We got dropped off a couple blocks closer to Havensight than the K-Mart where we picked up the taxi. St. Thomas is a major shopping destination. Havensight has a large number of shops convenient to the ship, however, the real shoppers head into Charlotte Amalie to do their shopping. It is very easy to get to St. John from the ship. We look forward to doing this excursion on our own again.
St. Johns, Antigua
(Do not confuse St. Johns, Antigua for St. John, USVI). We prearranged an island tour with Lawrence of Antigua ($35/pp + $5/pp entrance fee to the national park). Since our tour was not expected to start until 10:30am, we walked around the pierside shops. The taxi drivers and vendors are very aggressive. You’ll be offered a taxi ride at least a dozen times. Souvenirs and food are very expensive here. No bargains to be found. Most local shops carry the same trinkets and shirts. The shops carrying original merchandise are even more expensive.
We met Lawrence and the rest of our small (10 people) tour group at the pier and headed for Lawrence’s beautiful air conditioned bus with comfortable seats and large windows. Lawrence gave us a wonderful guided tour of the island including English Harbor, the Nelson dockyard, Shirley Heights, and a rain forest. Free range goats and sheep roam the countryside, streets, yards, and high school athletic fields. We also saw donkeys, cattle, and mongoose. We had an option ($10/pp) to stay at Turner’s Beach, a pretty shell-sand beach on the Caribbean side of the island with a bar and grill, and changing facilities. Due to the heat, we opted to return to the ship. After dropping of 6 of us back at the ship, Lawrence returned to the beach to pickup the 4 that stayed. We recommend Lawrence’s tour.
St. Maarten / St. Martin
This island half owned by the French and half owned by the Dutch. We dock on the southern Dutch side. The northern French side (actually a little more than half) is named St. Martin. We shared a taxi ($6.00 per person when you have at least 6 people) from the pier to Orient Beach. Hint: if you only have 2 people, wait a few minutes for someone else to join you. We got dropped off at Pedro's Bar which was empty upon our arrival at 9:30 am but standing room only when we left the beach at 2:30 pm. Hint: tell your driver when you wish to leave and he’ll be waiting for you at the prearranged time. After walking the beach we settled in at The Pirate Beach Bar and Grill. We got two lounge chairs on the waterfront with a 3-inch-thick white chair pad, an umbrella, and two drinks for $14.00. Service was great. They would check on us and reposition our umbrella to allow for more shade or sun as desired. Orient Beach is a beautiful white sand beach with blue and green waters which appeared clearer than Coki Beach on St. Thomas. This is a clothing-optional beach, and yes, folks exercising this option do walk the length of the beach or sunbathe along the beach. This beach had everything available for a price: jet ski, parasail, windsurfing, and more. To our surprise, we discovered that Orient Beach also has some good snorkeling. Head for the dark reef area to the right of Pedro's (as you face the ocean) in front of the nude beach area. Schools of fish and a ray could be spotted.
The cab ride from the Dutch side to the French side, past the official border marker monument to Orient Beach, is rather interesting. We saw a large herd of feral goats, a couple of fighting rooster coops, a cockfighting ring, and two bordellos. (We weren't looking for the later. They were pointed out by our driver). Cockfighting is apparently legal on the French side, while the Dutch side has casinos.
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
St. Thomas, Trip #1
St. Thomas is a major shopping destination. A large number of passengers bought digital cameras at this stop. We privately arranged for an island tour with Godfrey's Tour, now $25 per person (plus tip). He picked us up at the ship at 10:00 am and dropped us off downtown. At noon he picked us up for a 2-hour island tour and dropped us off at Coki beach (no beach charge) from 2pm to 4pm. We would have preferred Meagan's Bay ($3 per person), but the majority of our tour mates brought their snorkel gear and were set on Coki Beach with the clearer water and more abundant fish. The downside of Coki is that it is a small, crowded, relatively unattractive stretch of sand maybe 25% as long as the considerably less crowded, more picturesque, Meagan's Bay. $20 will get you 2 beach lounge chairs (unpadded) and a very large umbrella at Coki Beach.
St. Thomas, Trip #2: Sapphire Beach
This trip, we opted to enjoy Sapphire Beach on our own and shop Havensight at the pier. Despite what everyone at the pier will tell you (and they will lie to you), you can get local transportation for $2 per person in an open-air taxi to Sapphire Beach. Simply walk out of the Havensight pier main gate, cross the street, turn left and walk until you get to the Bus Stop (there is a pullover area) across from K-Mart and cross the street so that you are standing on the K-Mart side of the street. It is a leisurely 10 to 15-minute level walk. When you see an open-air taxi drive up, flag him down, tell him where you wish to go and enjoy the trip. The drive takes about 20 to 30 minutes each way to Sapphire Beach depending upon traffic. Pay upon exiting the taxi. If you are going to Sapphire Beach, you will be dropped off at the entrance to the Sapphire Beach hotels which is at the top of a hill. A short 5-minute walk will get you on the beach. Sapphire Beach is a gorgeous white sand beach with lots of shade trees and awesome views of several nearby islands including St. John. The snorkeling is good. We saw several schools of fish (previously unknown to us), an eel, and a small stingray. Unpadded beach lounge chairs are $7 each if you want to rent one, or free if you just occupy one of the many chairs abandoned by their previous inhabitants. A dive shop, bar and grill, and restrooms are available. Some water sports are also available. Pick up the taxi again where it dropped you off.
St. Thomas, Trip #3: St. John
7:00am - 5:00pm. Our destination this trip was Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay on the Island of St. John for snorkeling. Just like our second trip, we caught local transportation for $2 per person in an open-air taxi to Red Hook to catch a ferry to Cruz Bay on St. John. The drive takes about 20 to 30 minutes each way depending upon traffic. The taxi will drop you off at the Red Hook ferry terminal. Pay upon exiting the taxi, go through the gates and hop on the ferry to St. John. We caught the 8:00am ferry. Fare is now $7/pp. Normally, you would pay at the booth prior to boarding. The very pretty ride across the bay runs about 15 minutes. Upon arrival at Cruz Bay, St. John, we caught a 10-minute taxi ride ($6.00/pp) to Trunk Bay, stopping once along the way to take pictures of Trunk Bay from a picturesque spot along the road. We arrived at 8:30am which allowed us to get in free. Once the admission booth opens, it costs $4.00/pp to enter this beautiful white sand beach with clear waters, awesome views of islands and cayes, nice facilities, and an underwater snorkeling trail. The snorkeling trail can be found on the right hand side of the beach. It begins on the far side of the little island and works its way around the island and ends on the closer side. The snorkeling is very good, with lots of fish and colorful coral. Including the four of us, there was a total of 7 people enjoying this beach from 8:30am to 10:15am when larger groups began arriving —– at which time we left and caught a $4/pp taxi for Cinnamon Bay. (Trunk Bay is now one of our top three Caribbean beaches).
Cinnamon Bay is part of a campground with good facilities, snorkeling equipment rentals, and kayak rentals. The beach is not as pretty as Trunk Bay but offers good snorkeling as well. Sea Turtles can be spotted here in the middle of the bay feeding on the sea grass, but we did not spot any this trip. We caught a taxi back to Cruz Bay ($7/pp) at 11:40am. We just missed the noon ferry so we ate lunch at High Tide Bar and Grill adjacent to the pier. We enjoyed the Virgin Island Pale Ale (a fruity beer made for distribution in St. John by a brewery in Maine), and especially liked the sweet mango salsa which accompanies the chips and salsa appetizer. We shopped until 1:45pm and bought tickets for the 2:00pm ferry, which was 30 minutes late arriving. A very large crowd anxiously waited in a long line in the hot sun on the pier. There was no problem getting everyone on the ferry. We arrived back in Red Hook at 2:40pm. Ignore the $7/pp taxis and wait for a $2.00 taxi again EXACTLY where it dropped you off. (Do not cross the street). We got dropped off a couple blocks closer to Havensight than the K-Mart where we picked up the taxi. We look forward to doing this excursion on our own again.
St. Thomas, Trip #4: Sapphire Beach
We considered visiting Meagan's Bay which requires a regular taxi at a cost of $8 per person each way plus a $4 per person admission. Instead we hopped a $2 taxi back to Sapphire Beach. Sapphire Beach is a gorgeous white sand beach with lots of shade trees and awesome views of several nearby islands including St. John. The snorkeling is good, especially on the right hand side of the beach where the sand disappears into reef rocks. We rented two unpadded beach lounge chairs for $7 each and sat under a nice shade tree. A dive shop, bar, grill, and restrooms are available. We lunched at Banana Cabana which serves burgers, mahi sandwiches, and chicken sandwiches for $10 - $15. We opted for the Jerk Chicken sandwich for $12 which we enjoyed. Banana Cabana is semi-hidden between the first two buildings on the far right of the beach (as you face the Caribbean). We saw three iguanas of various sizes checking us out on the beach. Pick up the open-air $2 taxi again where it dropped you off and ride it until you get back to the Wendy's. You'll see the ship in full view in front of you.
Tortola, British Virgin Islands
There is no need to prearrange any excursions here. Taxis line up at the pier to take you anywhere you want to go. Several passengers hopped into taxis and got the exact same tour that other passengers paid double for through the ship. Our sights were set on visiting Virgin Gorda. We got off the ship just after 8:00 am and walked 15 minutes to the red-roofed ferry terminal off to the left of the pier. Click on map for larger image of walking route from cruise pier to ferry dock.|
Speedy's and Smith's both offer service to Virgin Gorda. However, only Speedy's could get us back before our 3:00pm departure. So we caught the 9:00 am Speedy's Ferry over and the 12:30 pm ferry back. Cost was $25 per person roundtrip, including roundtrip Speedy's Taxi service from the Virgin Gorda docks to The Baths. (You will not want to attempt to walk to The Baths from the dock). We brought our mask and snorkel with us. Rentals are available at The Baths for $10 plus a $30 deposit. We sat upstairs in the open air seating atop the ferry. Cool winds and great views. 30-35 minute ride each way followed by a 10-minute taxi to The Baths.
There is a $3.00 (adults) and $2.00 (children) entrance fee to The Baths which are part of the BVI National Parks Trust. A restaurant appropriately named “Top of the Baths” is nearby and offers incredible views of the surrounding islands. A 5-minute walk (350 yards in length) down to The Baths was rocky and uneven. At the bottom, single-use-only lockers can be rented for $2.50 each, via a token that can be purchased at the shop nearby. They are large enough to hold a beach bag or backpack. Tokens are also required if you wish to take a shower. The Baths are an incredibly fun experience. The Baths were really fun to explore. Highly recommend water shoes, a water camera, and a swimsuit. A beautiful beach with crystal clear waters awaits visitors on the other side of the rock maze. While not the greatest snorkeling site for fish, the coral formations were interesting. A beautiful beach with crystal clear waters awaits visitors on the other side of the rock maze. The water was nice and clear. Visibility was easily more than 50 feet! We would have liked to stay another couple of hours, and look forward to another visit. Highly recommended!
On our second trip to The Baths, we opted to pay an additional $10 ($35 total) for Speedy's “Sun and Fun” package which also included lunch and rum punch at The Bath & Turtle. After visiting The Baths for four hours, our taxi driver returned for us at 1:30pm, as agreed, to take us into town to eat. The Bath and Turtle Bar and Grill, located in a small strip mall with a dive shop, bank, and a few other shops, has little atmosphere but they make it up with good food and friendly service. Our coupon indicated that we could spend up to $10/pp, but our waitress allowed $12/pp which covers most items on the menu. We enjoyed our rum punch with a lunch platter consisting of a Caribbean Jerk Chicken sandwich, coleslaw and potato salad. We shopped a little after our leisurely lunch, then headed for the pier. The pier is a short 5-minute walk across a parking lot, past a small grocery store, and beyond an old partially-fenced park. Our ferry was already at the dock when we arrived at 3:00pm. We promptly boarded and departed on time at 3:30pm, arriving back in Road Town at 4:05pm. We had no problem getting back to the ship before the 4:45pm cutoff. Highly recommended!
On our third trip to Tortola, we stayed on the island and set our sights on Brewer's Bay. Taxi service here is on a "per person" basis. Brewers Bay costs $6.00 per person each way for parties of 4 or more. (For the curious, it's also $6.00 per person to beautiful Cane Garden Bay, heavily populated with cruise passengers). What a way to end our cruise! There were less than a dozen folks at Brewers Bay when we arrived at 9am and about 50 when we left at 1pm. This is a spectacularly beautiful bay with awesome snorkeling to the left of the bay. We saw a number our variety of fish including Tarpon (about 4 feet in length), box fish, trigger fish, loads of colorful parrot fish, thousands of interesting little reef dwellers and various coral formations. It was impressive to see large schools of fish descend across the reef devouring whatever morsels they enjoy and moving on to the next like locusts in a field. If you aren't into snorkeling, lay back and watch the dozen or so pelicans plunge into the ocean for fish all day long. They would dive within a couple feet of a snorkeler --- neither bothering the other. Beach chairs can be rented for $5 (loungers) or $3 (chairs) but we didn't see any umbrellas. There is plenty of shade on the left side of the beach (snorkeling side) in front of Nicole's Bar. Nicole's Bar offers mixed drinks and a collection of $3 bottled beer as well as a grill ($6 for a cheeseburger or $8 for shrimp and fries).
The local currency is Guilders. The quick math is $1.00 US = 1.50 Guilders. It was really closer to $1.59 when we were there. Galaxy was at the Mega Pier, a short 10-minute walk to the Queen Emma floating bridge. We walked around the town in the morning then headed out by local bus ($1 US / 1.50 Guilders) to Hato Caves. There are a couple of bus terminals. We caught a bus from the bus depot located NNE of town, just across a small bridge beyond the round "New Market" building. Note: A taxi to Hato Caves from the Mega pier was quoted at $25 each way. Considerably quicker, but very expensive. Board the "Punda-Hato-Souax" bus. The bus ride to Hato Caves is 45 minutes. (The return was 55 minutes). The bus stops ("BusHalte") directly in front of the caves. Walk to the bar, pay $8.00 US for a guided tour, plus tip, and wait for the next tour to begin. Hato Caves is worth the trip. We were given a very interesting guided tour and history of the cave. This cave has about 300 small fruit bats which will not bother you. We saw maybe a dozen active bats during the tour.
We originally set out to see the caves in the morning and wanted to enjoy Kon Tiki beach in the afternoon, but never made it. If we were to do it over again, we would go to Kon Tiki beach first thing in the morning, return to the ship for lunch and do the Hato Caves in the afternoon. We understand that Kon Tiki is a beautiful protected beach with excellent snorkeling beyond the reef. Only $3 each for a chair and $5 for a thatch roof hut you can lay under.
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Detailed information, hints, and tips to assist you in visiting popular Mediterranean cities and ports.
Secrets of the Caribbean|
Detailed information, hints, and tips to assist you in visiting popular Caribbean cities and ports.
Celebrity Equinox and 6 Western Caribbean Ports|
Detailed information on cruising aboard Celebrity Equinox and the ports of George Town, Cartagena, Colon, Puerto Limon, Belize City, Belize and Cozumel.
Celebrity Constellation and Four Eastern Caribbean Ports|
Detailed information on the Celebrity Constellation and the ports of St. Barts, St. Croix, San Juan, and Labadee.
Tips for Eastern Caribbean Cruisers|
Detailed information to assist you in preparing for your Eastern Caribbean cruise.
Tips for Western Caribbean Cruisers|
Detailed information to assist you in getting ready for your first Western Caribbean cruise.
Tips for Southern Caribbean Cruisers|
Detailed information on Aruba, Curacao, Grenada, Barbados, St. Kitts, Dominica, St. Lucia, and Tortola.
Celebrity Millennium and Four Eastern Caribbean Ports|
Detailed information on the Celebrity Millennium and the ports of Dominican Republic, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Nassau.
Celebrity Constellation and Seven New England and Atlantic Canadian Ports|
Detailed information on the Celebrity Constellation and the ports of Boston, Portland, Halifax, Quebec City, Charlottetown, Sydney, and Saint John.
Cruising Alaska on a Budget|
Detailed information to assist you in preparing for an Alaska cruise on a budget.
Tips for Bermuda Visitors and Cruisers|
Detailed information to assist you in preparing for your Bermuda visit.
Celebrity Zenith and Nine Caribbean Ports|
Detailed information on Celebrity Zenith and ports in Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Isle Catalina, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Antigua, St. Maarten, Tortola, and Key West.
Celebrity Summit and Five Eastern Caribbean Ports|
Detailed information on Celebrity Summit and ports in St. Croix, St. Kitts, Dominica, Grenada, and St. Thomas.
Carnival Glory to Halifax and St. John|
Detailed information on cruising aboard Carnival Glory and the ports of Halifax and St. John.
© 2008 Topher
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