Port and Shore Excursions
Following a fellow CC member's advice, we walked about a mile from the dock along the waterfront / walkway until we reach the public bus station. For $.75/person each way, we took a bus to Payne's Bay and snorkeled out to where all the catamarans go to swim with the sea turtles. My daughter even got to pet a sea turtle being held by one of the catamaran guides. No one seems to mind if you swim out for free (vs. paying $80/person to do the catamaran excursion), there were many other people on the same beach who appeared to have either taken a cab or bus to get there. There's a glass-bottom boat anchored just offshore that offers rides out to the sea turtle area for $20/person, I believe, if you are not comfortable swimming that far out - but if you're in "reasonably decent" shape you will not have a problem with the distance. I am 41 years old and eat healthy, but do not work out/go to a gym - my exercise regime consists of power walking 3 miles a day during the summer months of Minnesota - and this was December. I did not wear a snorkel vest, just fins & a mask/snorkel, and I actually swam out 3 different times that morning (when various catamarans would show up). My daughter only swam out once, she is not a very comfortable swimmer and I think she would have appreciated a vest if she'd wanted to go out a 2nd time - but she still had no problems getting out there/back. Payne's Bay is a popular beach (not overly crowded, but still popular enough to feel safe) and there were lots of teens/adults snorkeling out on their own, some with vests & some without. Some younger kids also snorkeled out with other adults, I would say most (if not all) of those kids wore vests. DO IT, you won't be disappointed!
I had read mixed reviews of St. Kitts, and it seemed the highlights were either Brimstone Fort (but we had already done forts in San Juan) or the overcrowded, pushy-vendor Cockleshell Beach (and we had already had some great beach/snorkeling days as well). We opted to take a 40-minute ferry out to the island of Nevis, which I'd heard was a truly beautiful, pristine, uncrowded beach - and that not many cruisers ventured out there, so it seemed like the kind of place we wanted to see... something "different". As mentioned in my full cruise review, this was the only regret of our trip. First, the ferries do not exactly follow the schedule, and the 9:30am ferry left 40 minutes late. Upon arriving in Nevis, we could see Pinney's Beach off to the left of the ferry dock - about a mile walk each way, most of which was a paved walkway (then a 10-15 minute walk along a street that wound around a neighborhood of sorts). No problem, we were prepared for that. What we weren't prepared for was the 1/4- to 1/2-mile stretch of run down, abandoned shacks we had to walk past in the "neighborhood" area mentioned above (there is really no alternative route to this). This was the only time we felt a bit uncomfortable on this cruise, though nothing specific happened that made us feel "unsafe" - it just seemed a little TOO run down/abandoned for 2 women to be walking around alone. We were on the roadway but there was no sidewalk here, and upon reaching an clearly inhabited/operating hotel (resort) - which I knew would be the beginning of Pinney's Beach behind it. We walked between the buildings which seemed clean enough from the outside, but saw nothing but garbage and filth strewn throughout the common areas. It property smelled awful and we thought to ourselves "who the he** would stay here?" But, we only needed to get to the beach behind so kept walking through the property... only to find a concrete barrier blocking any access to the beach from this hotel. So, not only do people actually pay to sleep in this *beachside* hotel, but they can't actually walk through to the beach (seemed very weird to us). The concrete barrier was more of a combined retaining-slash-privacy wall, I think, but we could find no opening/stairs/pass-through of any kind. Since it was only about waist-high from the hotel side, and we are in semi-decent shape, we decided to just climb over and "jump" down to the beach area below (from the beach side, the concrete barrier was now about chest high). This end of the beach truly does not have much for population, but we could see some beach buildings and a long pier further down, just as I had read about on CC. We walked barefoot about 1/2 to 3/4 mi. down to the Four Seasons area, but only ever saw maybe 10 people on the beach itself. It WAS pretty, and it WAS un-crowded, but we just felt weird being there (and I generally love getting off the beaten track). There were 2 few beach bars along the way to this area, and a shack set up for renting water toys, etc., so I'm guessing maybe it gets busier on other days or in the late afternoons? We ended up walking through the grounds to the Four Seasons (which are truly beautiful, by the way) and visited their gift shop. We used their poolside restroom (which is more like an art museum - absolutely exquisite), then sat at their cabana bar and ordered a lemonade and virgin Pina Colada (only $16, including tip). The lemonade was THE BEST I've ever had, certainly fresh-squeezed, and my daugher loved the Pina Colada. After that, we decided to walk back along the beach and catch the next ferry back to St. Kitts - which of course, we saw pulling away just as we walked up to the dock. Bought tickets for the next one (only 45 minutes later, thankfully) and then sat in the port area being harrassed by a local pervert who made some very suggestive propositions to my daughter. Of course we tried politely walking away, toward the open-air bar area, through a little gift shop area, etc., but he seemed to keep following us and we finally just went to stand in the sun near the port authority/security guard at the dock. Lo and behold, the "pervert" ended up being a local luggage porter for the ferry co., and he ended up going through the gate with us and working just outside the ferry steps - thus enabling him to make one more proposition to my daughter as we boarded. We ended up wishing we had just stayed in St. Kitts and had wandered around the very nice and clean shopping area near the port, which we DID get to spend some time doing before our all-aboard time of 4:30pm. I'm guessing the people who went to Cockleshell Beach had a much better time, and if I find myself on St. Kitts again that's exactly where I'll be heading.
Took the "Land and Sea Safari" tour through Herod's Tours (Herod Stanislaus), which was one of the highlights of our cruise. The island is beautiful, very lush and green with lots of open/undeveloped areas (in contrast with some of the other islands we visited). This is a place I would love to go back to on my own someday and stay for a week. We visited the large banana plantation and ate fresh bananas from the tree - free of pesticides or preservative sprays - and all I can say is YUMMMM. Stopped at the drive-through volcano where my daughter partook of the mud bath, she seemed to be enjoying herself (although she said it is HOT). Where else will you have the opportunity to do that in your lifetime? The pictures are priceless. :) We had an authentic creole buffet lunch at Herod's mom's house, which was the personal touch that sold me on this excursion over other comparable tours - and I was not disappointed. Our final stop was at Jalousie Bay between the Pitons for an hour of swimming, snorkeling, or relaxing as you desired. A water taxi hired by Herod then took us back to the port, taking us into Marigot Bay for photos and pointing out a few other highlights along the way back. Highly recommended tour.
"THE" highlight of our cruise, we walked around the famous shopping area for an hour or so before catching the $2 public bus on Back Street -- desination: Maho Beach. My son being a recent graduate of UND's Commercial Aviation program (and currently a flight instructor for the university), one of my bucket list items was to watch the planes at Maho Beach. Reluctant at first, my daughter eventually grabbed the fence and stood in the famous jet-blast of an airliner taking off (my 2-minute video is the first thing she posted on Facebook when she got back, if that tells you anything). Had to get a famous Guavaberry Colada from Sunshine's beach bar, which I really didn't like at all (but choked down anyway, just to say I'd had one). The beach itself is really quite beautiful and if I'd thought to bring my swimming suit, I would have been out there riding the waves with everyone else. We spent about an hour and a 1/2 here before my daughter was anxious to get back - we'd saved most of our "shopping" money to blow in Phillipsburg - but I personally could have hung out at Maho all day. St. Maarten is definitely a place I'd want to go back to on my own and spend more time exploring, as we didn't really see a lot of the island because I was on a mission to see Maho - but I know other people rave about Mullet Bay, Orient Beach, and many other places that I hope to see one day.
Being my 2nd time in St. Thomas, I skipped the all-over island tours offered at the port and walked about 4 blocks to catch a $2 public bus (taxi) to Sapphire Beach for the day. Didn't see a ton of fish at first, but after 30-40 minutes I ended up making "friends" with a glorious Manta Ray and got a few good pics. I say "friends" because the first time I saw him, I hadn't brought the camera out with me - so after swimming back to shore to tell my Fish Tale to my daugher, I grabbed the camera, hoping beyond hope that I could swim out to the same area and find him again... and he appeared to be waiting for me and posed several times photos. :) Also saw a regular stingray shortly afterward, and heard there'd been a sea turtle in the same area earlier that morning. Sapphire Beach is just past Red Hook, so faces the island of St. John. The beach is beautiful, the bus drops you off right outside the resort there (we had researched the resort name on CC, and asked the bus driver to make sure and stop there). It's about a 1/4 mile walk downhill from the driveway of the resort thru the parking area/reception and out to the actual beach. Rented 2 loungers for $7.50/ea. from the dive shack and spent a good 3 hours snorkeling/relaxing before bussing it back into town - at which point we road the tram (skyride) up to Paradise Point, about $22/ea. if you buy tickets right there at the booth (I'm told you can save $2 by buying them from the excursion desks of the cruise ships instead). Had brought snacks with us for the day, and bought some virgin Daquiries at Paradise Point - so just waited to have lunch back onboard the Victory late that afternoon.