Port and Shore Excursions
E. St. John's, Antigua
I had booked an outing in Antigua with Creole cruises--a lobster lunch and snorkeling outing. I had given them my credit card number to hold the opening, but I decided to pay in cash because I got a 10% discount, so instead of US$130, I paid US$117 for myself.
We were picked up on time (9:45am) by Captain Glen on the dock outside of the Exotic Antigua store just off the pier. There were already about 16 people on the ship from local resorts and I and two fellow cruise passengers joined them. We took a 10 minute speed away into the Caribbean Sea and then were served non-alcoholic drinks, then had another 25 minute speed into the Atlantic Ocean and to Bird Island, part of the nature preserve which has between 22 and 24 smaller islands around Antigua (the numbers kept changing).
I got off here with about 10 of my fellow passengers. We decided to explore this lonely, lovely beach instead of snorkel. I am really quite bad at snorkeling and was glad for this option. The beach was wonderfully deserted. I walked up and down the beach, talked with many of the other passengers, and watched the young mate, Mario, clean up and get ready to cook our lunch.
We were able to drink freely of the water, juice, rum punch, and beer that they had brought, all served with a smile by Travis, another mate on the boat. No alcoholic beverages before snorkeling, but since we weren't snorkeling, we were fine. A few other boats stopped by and disgorged their passengers, but it was still a beautiful and peaceful beach.
After lunch of four different salads, wood-fire grilled spiny lobsters, a bottle of white wine for each of the four tables, and a perfect macaroon to top it all off, most of us embarked on a short nature walk. Warning: Wear sneakers or hiking shoes. There is a difficult climb up a rocky path with few footholds. I and many of my fellow passengers made it wearing crocs and flip flops, but it was not easy.
The walk was worth it because the view from the top of the island was unbelievably beautiful. The opposite side of the island is rocky and craggy, not like the side we had been on. It was a perfect ending to our day on this island.
After we were all aboard and everything was cleaned up on the island, we stopped at Maiden island where some people went in to see an amazing array of starfish. I did not go, but I hear they were many colors and sizes. We arrived back at the dock at 4:10pm, a little later than the promised 3:45pm, but in time to reboard our ship by 4:30pm.
A. Oranjestad, Aruba
Aruba is a part of the Netherland Antilles. It is an island of stunningly beautiful beaches. Located only 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is only 75 square miles in size. The official language is Dutch, but almost everyone also speaks English and Spanish.
We had planned to spend the day at either Palm or Eagle Beach (both come highly recommended), but it was raining quite hard all morning and so this scuttled our plans. My husband and brother-in-law did spend time in Oranjestad and found a nice little "hole in the wall" place which served cold beer and tasty schwarma. They were there with a local named Armando and the owner. They also picked up some Caribbean/Hawaiian shirts as well as some t-shirts.
I stayed on the ship and enjoyed the ability to nab a chair in the sun (when the sun came out in the afternoon).
D. Bridgetown, Barbados
This was also our first visit to Barbados, which is also a British Leeward Island. The pier is a combination cruise pier and working cargo pier. We were docked pretty far down the pier and the cruise line offered free shuttle buses for us so that we did not have to walk down the pier.
We walked through the pier shops and took a taxi to the Hilton Beach (US$7.50 per person). All of the beaches are publicly accessible in Barbados, but at first the Hilton wanted to charge us US$80 for each person to use their chairs, an umbrella, and the pool, as well as have lunch. After some discussion with the man who handled the chairs and umbrellas in the area, we got two chairs under a palm tree for nothing. He helped us out; I tried to find him later to tip him, but he had disappeared.
The beach at the Hilton was under a red flag which meant that there should have been no swimming, but with the waves so strong, it was irresistible. There were many people out in the water, and the lifeguard was very attentive.
After a couple long rounds of bodysurfing by the three guys in our group, we were ready to return to the ship. We used the freshwater showers, dried off, and went through the hotel lobby and got a taxi back to the pier (US$4 each person). Again, there was free (but slow) WiFi at the pier. We bought some aged Mount Gay Rum (made on the island), Banks Beer (also made on the island) and rum cake (a local version made, you guessed it, on the island).
B. Willemstad, Curacao
Also a part of the Netherland Antilles, Curacao is not as famous for its beaches as Aruba. However, Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one look at it tells you why. This is exactly what you expect a Caribbean city to look like with its bright, Easter-egg colored buildings.
In the morning, we walked through Curacao, visiting the floating market and walking the packed and small streets. The fort is well-developed now (it wasn't the last time we were here) with lots of high-end retail shops and some bars and eating establishments. The floating bridge was great to walk over, even though it was moving at the time (it made our sea legs seem all too real).
In the afternoon, we went to Cabana Beach near the Seaquarium. It was a nice, little beach. The prices for food were steep since it is part of the Kontiki Resort, but we just enjoyed the sun. It cost $20 for the taxi each way to the beach (for 3 people) and $3 per person to use the beach. A chair cost $5 to rent, but no one ever asked me for money for that.
It rained for part of our stay on the beach, so we just enjoyed a few hours of sun and sand. It was enough to whet our appetites for what was to come.
Be warned. The ship will leave without you. Rumor has it (I heard it from several sources) that we left a family of 6 waving and yelling at us on the floating bridge as we left Curacao. If you think you might be late, take your passports and credit cards without and be willing to pay and arm and a leg to get to the next port.
C. St. Georges, Grenada
This was our first visit to Grenada. Grenada, known as the "spice island," is part of the Lesser Antilles' Grenadines and is part of the British Realm. My husband and son visited Great Anse Beach all day. After mailing my Christmas cards (I had 51 cards and mailed them for $39 with beautiful stamps I obtained just inside of the pier at a wonderful little post office stall), my brother-in-law and I went in search of spices.
First, we tried walking to the Market Square and got hopelessly lost, so we decided to take the local "buses" to Guyanve to see the Dougaldston Estate which is famous for its spices. For US$2.00, we hopped a #5 bus (really just a large passenger van that, at times, held up to 19 people) for the 30-40 minute ride to the Estate. They dropped us off on the main road near the estate (and a beautiful stream where some Grenadians were doing their wash). We walked into the jungle on a path and a small boy (maybe 6 or 7), sent by the ladies washing their clothes, came to show us the way.
I tipped the small boy US$1.00 for being our guide. He seemed surprised, but grateful. He led us to a run-down building with large trays of a spice drying in the sun. Had I been less surprised about my surroundings (I had expected something much more commercial and touristy), I would have smelled the cocoa drying in the sun.
We were the only tourists there, and we went into the building where one of the ladies did her demonstration of the various types of spices they process--bay leaves, all spice, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, cocoa, vanilla, cloves--and then we could buy some. Each packet (a good-sized amount) was US$1-2.00. We loaded ourselves with spices and then bought some water, grapefruit soda (called "Ting") and ginger beer. All of the spices were sealed and as long as we don't open them before we go into the US, we are good with US agriculture.
After getting directions to the nearest bus stop, we started walking again through the cocoa-scented jungle to the road. We were followed by some friendly stray dogs and a saw a few not-very happy goats tied up near the road. Right after we got to the main road, we caught a bus. About 5 minutes into the ride, I realized we were going the wrong way. I mentioned this to my brother-in-law, but we decided to go with the flow.
The flow took almost 2 hours to the end of the route and back to St. George's. It was a great, though sometimes harrowing, experience and we saw a lot of the coast and the people of Grenada--all for US$2.00 per person. It was probably the least expensive tour of the island that anyone from our ship had all day.
Upon our return to St. George's, we stopped at a local supermarket and bought some local rum. It was less expensive than at liquor stores and was just as good--two small bottles for US$7.00. I also stopped in the Duty Free store and bought some Nutmeg Syrup for US$5.00. There was free (but slow) WiFi at the pier.
My husband and son went to Grand Anse Beach via water taxi (directly from the pier, US$4.00 each way per person).
Grenada was the only location where we had to go through a magnetometer and put our bags through an x-ray machine just to get onto the pier. This was in addition to the same thing once we got back on the ship. I am not sure why this was.
F. Philipsburg, St. Maarten
St. Maarten/St. Martin is an island owned by two different countries: the first section by the Netherlands and the second by the French. My husband, son and brother-n-law joined 3 others recruited from the Cruise Critic boards in a private deep-sea fishing excursion with TaylorMade cruises. I had contacted them through the internet, and had paid a $100 deposit to hold the date and time. The cost was US$117 per person.
I hear the trip was fun, although not fruitful. The waters were very choppy, so the ride was bumpy and the only fish caught was a large barracuda by my son.
G. Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas
There were 4 ships in port (that I saw) on the day we were at this US Virgin Island. Everywhere we looked was packed. We docked at the Havensight Mall. Remember to take a photo ID with you on shore because you need it to get back on to the pier. We walked to the taxi stands at the outside of the mall and got a taxi (SUV) for the 8 of us (we had friends with us) for $8 each to Magen's Bay Beach. The entrance fee to Magen's Bay is another $4.
The beach is beautiful and it was packed with people, but we did find a place to sit. With chairs at $5 each with a $5 refundable deposit when you return them, we parked them near some overgrown shrubbery and enjoyed our day. This is truly the most beautiful beach I have ever been on (okay, it is a tie between this beach and Waimanalo Beach in Oahu, Hawaii) and we had a great time. The taxis were $8 to get back to the ship after our wonderful day