Beautiful island. Picturesque historic buildings right at the end of the pier. Limited shopping in a tent market in park by pier but main shopping area is a $7 taxi ride each way. Pay $14 to go shopping? No way! Excursion choices were surprisingly limited. Otherwise this port would get a 5 rating. Of note, driving is on the left here despite being a US territory. RECOMMENDED: The Buck Island snorkeling tour. After a short bus ride to the boat dock, we boarded a roomy dive boat (not the more common catamaran). Following a scenic boat ride out to the reef, we enjoyed decent snorkeling with a colorful variety of fish including 4 barracuda and some coral. Sadly, the reef had sea urchins and fire coral -- signs of decline like most shallow reefs in Caribbean now, but still in better shape than many we have seen. Strong swimmers were taken on an extended tour of the reef. Crew helped beginner snorkelers get out to the reef using tow rings. Delicious rum punch served after snorkeling had everyone in a party mood!
This was actually the Aquaboat and Jeep Tour. RECOMMENDED for the adventurous - minimal walking on flat ground but boat ride is hard on the joints. A very short bus transfer took us to the Jeeps - newer, well-maintained, roomy vehicles with A/C. Of note, driving is on the right (same as USA) despite being a Dutch/French territory. There's just no explaining Caribbean traffic rules, but at least the islanders are very polite and forgiving of driving faux pas. We shared driving with another couple. After a drive around beautiful St. Martin to the Aquaboat dock, we were given a brief tutorial and boarded the boats (similar to a jetski) for a wild ride along the coast. Do not take anything along that can't get wet. No place to store items on boats. Upon returning to the dock, back in the jeep for the drive to an upscale resort at Orient Beach. Lunch was on the pricey side but large tasty portions and includes beach chair. For those with small children or voyeuristic tendencies, Orient Beach is next to the nude beach and there was some...ahem...exposure. This is a relaxing stop with soft white sand beaches ringing turquoise waters. Once more to the Jeeps for the drive back with a stop at a scenic overlook ending with bus transfer back to the pier. Abundant and varied shopping at cruise port. Reasonable prices, some bargains.
If scuba certified for open water, be sure to do a dive on Dominica. We did a wall dive at L'Abym and a reef dive at Champagne Reef nearby. Despite some trouble with getting down and tooth squeeze, I was able to enjoy the amazing array of fish including spotted eel and seahorses and a rainbow of coral. Pain drove me out of the water on the reef dive but I was able to snorkel through the "champagne" bubbles venting from old lava flows and see more amazing fish. The dive masters were knowledgeable and very helpful in dealing with my dive issues. Bottled water was provided and most equipment included but a $10 fee was charged to rent a "shorty". Luckily we had brought extra cash as this was not mentioned in tour description. Stunning vistas on the boat ride out and back of Dominica's towering volcanic mountain peaks. Of all the islands we stopped at, Dominica was the most majestic.
Whale & Dolphin Watching Rating:
Other members of our party who were not SCUBA certified went on this excursion and found it very enjoyable. No whales were spotted; however, dolphin were abundant and put on quite a show for the tour boat. Boat crew was knowledgeable and provided background on sea life found in the Caribbean. The port of Dominica shows some wear to the buildings but was very clean. A tent market is next to the pier but mostly knick-knacks from China at prices higher than elsewhere in the islands. Some trendy shops on side streets had better quality wares, but no bargains. Expect to pay full retail. Local water was $2 a bottle but as delicious as Fiji water since it is also sourced from volcanic springs on the island. The port area was strangely deserted as compared to other ports - only tourists and vendors. Traffic was almost nonexistent.
I would give the port a 5 except for the fact that the shops were closed when we arrived and there was quite a bit of trash in the streets and in the water. We were scheduled for the Helicopter Tour of Montserrat Volcano but this shore excursion was cancelled the day prior due to mechanical difficulties. We were given to understand that this happens rather frequently so be sure to have a backup plan. RECOMMENDED: Wadadli Catamaran Sail & Snorkel tour. We were able to book this excursion instead of the helicopter and were glad we did. We would give this excursion a 5. The tour leaves from the dock adjacent to the pier. The catamaran had ample seating and was well kept. Water and soft drinks were served on the trip out to the reef. The reef itself was essentially dying with bleached out coral but there were a few fan coral and an abundance of fish thanks to generous helpings of bread crumbs. It was a good site for beginner to intermediate snorkelers. After snorkeling, the crew served strong rum punch and delicious sandwiches while sailing to a semi-private beach in a protected cove - a tropical paradise. Local vendors sold island paintings and handmade jewelry under palm trees as we relaxed in the warm sand and swam in the clear blue sea. As the sun began to dip low in the sky, we sailed back to the dock listening to Caribbean music and drinking rum punch.
This is called the Quad Biking and Beach tour by RCCL. RECOMMENDED for the adventurous due to strenuous nature of ATV riding and walking over uneven ground. The tour left without us even though we were at the terminal 10 minutes before set tour time. There seemed to be some miscommunication between RCCL and the tour operator, Kantour, who didn't appear to know we were on the tour. The bus returned to pick us up luckily since this is a tour you would not want to miss. After a drive down the coast of this beautiful island, we arrived at a former plantation with lush grounds. The ATV tour was amazing and we give this part a 5+ rating. Following a brief tutorial on the ATVs and a practice turn around a track, we set out on dirt roads winding through sugar cane fields dodging goats and cattle. As we climbed the mountain, our guides stopped at a former sugar mill to tell us some local history. Then it was up into the twisting rainforest trails. As we returned back down the mountain, we stopped at another scenic spot overlooking the ocean for some bottle water and an informative talk from our guides, Addison and Kevin, about local plants and their medicinal uses. In retrospect, I would suggest bringing goggles and a handkerchief to cover the mouth due to the dust as well as wearing blue jeans for the tour. One tour member tipped her ATV going downhill and scraped up her leg but got back on and finished the tour. The former plantation is now the Nirvana restaurant where we had refreshments of fresh fruit punch and cake before boarding the bus to the beach. This part of the tour we rate as a 3. Instead of the relaxing break on a golden beach at a resort promised by RCCL's brochure, we were dumped off at a public beach by our driver who then took off. No beach chairs were provided. We were told we would have to pay $10 if we wanted to use them for the 45 minute break. We declined. The black volcanic sand beach was extremely hot and there was no shade so after a few minutes in the blazing hot sun we had to retreat to sit on the concrete steps in the shade of a bar. Not relaxing. The driver then returned early and demanded that everyone get on the bus immediately before hustling us back to the port. I would rather they left the beach break off of this tour.
Scenic Railway Rating:
RECOMMENDED. Other family members went on this tour and had a wonderful time. They did the Rail and Sail, although the Rail Tour can be done separately for those who do not like to sail. The tour began with a scenic sail around the end of the island (no snorkeling or beach stops) and then the group transferred to the rail terminal. The railway tour includes historical info about the island and plantations. During the trip, a choir sang holiday music with an island flavor. The tour returned to the port area which had an abundance of shops and restaurants. This was a good place to find bargains.