We just got back from a wonderful cruise on the Jewel of the Seas out of San Juan. We cruised to Tortola, St. Maarten, St. Kitts, Dominica and Barbados. We have visited two of these islands before (St. Maarten and Barbados) but looked forward to exploring three new Caribbean islands. Our journey first began in San Juan where we stayed at a wonderful boutique hotel called the Princess Coral. It was located in the Condado area of San Juan right near shops and great restaurants. They served a wonderful breakfast and you can eat and hang out on a patio garden with all sorts of tropical plants. Since the hotel is near the beach, the trade winds are wonderful coming into the little garden patio. We actually purchased some Blue Moons and chilled on the patio - it was so nice just to relax, especially since our "real lives" are full of work and responsibilities. Our stay at the Coral Princess was fantastic and set the tone for the entire (wonderful) trip.
The first island we visited was Tortola where we rented a car at the Alamo at Maria's by the Sea, a hotel adjacent where our ship docked in Road Town. It was just a 5 minute walk to get there. We went all over the island and hit some stunning beaches. Brewers Bay and Cane Garden Bay were our favorite. We named Cane Garden Bay "Pelican Bay" as the pelican’s bomb dive into the water to catch fish ... it was very entertaining. The water was clear, turquoise and warm and the sand was sugar white. Neither beaches were crowded and it felt like our own secluded beaches. We also got some spices from Sunny Caribbee and went to Pussers Outpost and got some rum. A bit touristy for my taste though.
We also rented a car on St. Maarten through Hertz that is located right there on the pier where we docked. St. Maarten has always been one of our favorite islands. We like to watch the airplanes come into the Princess Juliana airport - one can almost touch the wheels of the planes as it comes over the land from a nice beach called Moho Bay. We had a brewskie watching the planes come in at Sunset Bar and Grill then we headed to our favorite beach just northwest ... Mullet Bay. We happened to come across Mullet Bay three years previous and fell in love with this beach. It is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. You can literally see tropical fish swim by as float in the warm clear turquoise blue water. We actually drove all over the island and shopped in Marigot, a quaint little town on the French side of the island.
We actually took excursions on St. Kitts and Dominica and were glad that we did. I read a lot about these two islands prior to our cruise and decided it was best to book an excursion through RCI versus explore these islands on our own. On St. Kitts, we took a catamaran excursion that took us to a cove where we snorkeled. We had a blast as they played Bob Marley to and from Basseterre. We had some brewskies called Carib which is from the islands and very delightful. Dominica is where the second Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed. It is very tropical and we took the River, Tubing, Rainforest Drive and Hibiscus Falls excursion. The Hibiscus Falls is beautiful - I was surprised that Dominica had such a large rainforest area, it truly was beautiful but they have a lot of poverty. The river tubing was okay but they are always trying to sell you something wherever you go.
Our last stay was Barbados where we rented a little car (thing) from Drive O' Matic. The car didn't have doors and it was a convertible which we did not take down (we are from Washington State where we hardly ever have sun and would burn within minutes of being exposed to the Caribbean sun). I must say - we had a blast driving all over Barbados with this little puddle jumper car. We have rented cars on Barbados before and just need to remember that we had to drive on the right side of the lane and the right side of the car. My husband got an International Driving Permit prior to our sailing; however, no one ever asked for it on our trip. We particularly like driving from Bridgetown and going up north on the west side of the island. There are beautiful beaches along the way and they have many walkways that provide public access if you want to go for a swim. We always go to the Park where they have parking for free, a (very clean) changing area to change into and out of your swim suites and showers to wash off the salt from the beach. It is a very beautiful beach and it now has a walkway where you can stroll around the beach to the resorts that are located in this area. We took the Mount Gay Rum tour on the way back to the ship which was very interesting about the history of the island and how rum is made.
And then there was the Jewel of the Seas itself. What a beautiful ship she is. I always heard the Radiance Class ships were very nice and the Jewel of the Seas did not disappoint us. It is a very clean ship despite her age and there are a lot of glass and openness to the ship. We hung out a lot in the centrum and listened to Segundo Vasquez artfully playing his guitar. We got to know Eartha who was very personable and served us our drinks as we took in the comings and goings of the patrons on the ship. This was our fifteenth cruise and the second time on RCI. We took the Adventure of the Seas in 2011 to Aruba and Curacao which were a couple of great destinations; however, we will definitely take another cruise on a Radiance Class ship again. I think it would be a great ship to take to Europe with all the multitudes of glass that surround the exterior. Although, it did not have the great entertainment or hydrotherapy suites that the NCL ships have or the superb high-end feel that the Princess or Celebrity ships have - the Jewel is still just that ... a Jewel ... at least in my books!