We sailed to the Caribbean in early October -- in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria -- and found the ports of Nassau, Half Moon Cay and Amber Cove open, unscathed and welcoming. While the six-night Carnival Splendor cruise replaced a visit to Grand Turk with a day at sea, cruisers seemed undeterred in their mission to enjoy their Caribbean cruise vacation.
Our Carnival Splendor cruise sailed out of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, October 8. Spirits were high and the ship was nearly full at 98 percent capacity.
While many passengers gathered on main decks to cheer their departure from Fort Lauderdale, others sought romantic seclusion to toast calm seas and the onset of an adventure at sea.
Carnival Splendor pulled into Nassau early on October 9, as passengers were enjoying breakfast and looking forward to their first day in port. Here, a Carnival staff member eagerly watches our approach to the dock.
As downtown Nassau came into focus, we found it as beautifully intact and inviting as ever before. Both storms sidestepped Nassau and Paradise Island, leaving nary a leaf out of place.
Disney Magic was already docked in Nassau as we arrived. Later, Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Sea also docked. In the distance loomed the towers of Atlantis, where many passengers headed for shore excursions. Carnival staff reported that the storms disrupted none of Splendor's excursions.
Junkanoo Beach (aka Western Esplanade) beckons crowds of cruise passengers within walking distance from the docks. White powder sand, the Bahamas' inimitable gem-toned waters and vendors selling rum punch and Kalik beer made this a popular Nassau destination for those exploring on their own.
The private cruise ship island of Half Moon Cay awed visitors with its dazzling beach. Most Splendor passengers opted to soak up sun on the silky white sands, cool off with dips in the warm aqua waters and partake from the alfresco buffet.
A day at sea followed on Tuesday, replacing the originally scheduled stop at Grand Turk in the Turks & Caicos. Thursday, the original sea day, brought another helping of mostly smooth waters in mesmerizing shades of deep cerulean. Hanging out at one of Splendor's pools constituted the favorite activity -- or lack thereof.
Between days at sea, we made our final port stop at Amber Cove, on the northern shore of the Dominican Republic. Shops at the dock suffered minor damage from flooding, which was undetectable to arriving passengers.
Duty-free and artisan shops greet cruisers as they arrive to Amber Cove, a port developed by Carnival Cruise Line. Super-sized masks decorate the plaza to give visitors a sampling of local carnival and craftsmanship traditions.
City shore excursions transported cruisers to Puerto Plata, where they enjoyed a tour, rum tastings and yummy cocktails at the rum bar. Others headed to a beach or snorkeling aboard a catamaran -- just a couple of the wide range of excursions currently departing from Amber Cove.
A visit to Puerto Plata's town square gave cruise visitors the opportunity to meet some colorful characters, visit a cathedral and shop for local crafts. The nearby Amber Museum reveals how Amber Cove got its name from the area's store of semi-precious gems.
The town square in Puerto Plata was a popular stop for visitors on city tours from Amber Cove. They got a true taste of local culture by meeting characters such as the "Pigeon Man."
Majestic mountains, waters too-blue-to-be-true and historic sites added dimension to our Amber Cove shore excursion. Fort San Felipe's Caribbean seaside stance made a photogenic stop steeped in bygones dating from the 16th century.