Our first Caribbean cruise began in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We arrived a day early so we could spend some time in San Juan. Old San Juan is very quaint, with cobblestone streets and interesting architecture. At the ocean end of the harbor is one of the most important tourist sights, Castillo de San Felipe del Morro or just El Morro as it is known locally. El Morro is a quintessential Spanish Fort and has steadfastly guarded the entrance to the harbor for hundreds of years. We strolled the tree-lined Paseo de la Princesa which leads around the outside of the city walls. Inside the walls is La Fortaleza, the residence of the Puerto Rican governor, and Casa Blanca, a home built for Ponce de Leon by his son-in-law (although the explorer never lived here). There are also some interesting churches, many pastel-colored residences, other fortifications and numerous shops and restaurants.
Our next stop was Trinidad where we took a tour of the island, which included a stop at the Botanical Gardens, a scenic drive through the highlands, and a stop at a well-known beach. The capital city, Port of Spain, is rather seedy so we briefly strolled the main street and headed back to the ship.
Next on the itinerary was the beautiful island of Barbados, easternmost of the Caribbean islands. Once again we chose to tour the island by bus, stopping at the lovely Andromeda Gardens, wild and rough Bathsheba Beach, with its interesting offshore rocks, and a drive through the countryside.
On Antigua, we decided to forego an excursion and just wander the streets of St Johns, our embarkation point. The girls enjoyed the shopping while the guys did some bar hopping.
Next was Martinique, an island with a definite French flavor which its name suggests. Here we did some snorkeling at one of the numerous reefs, then walked the streets of Fort de France, with its interesting architecture. The highlight for me was seeing Mt Pelee, the volcano which dominates the island and which is notorious for its devastating eruptions.
Then we headed for St Thomas, the most popular, almost obligatory stop for cruise ships because of its incredible duty-free shopping. Every alleyway and street is lined with hundreds of shops or mini-malls, trying to entice visitors to come in and browse. One wonders how all the jewelry shops can possibly survive! A few of us took the excursion to St John, another island in the US Virgin Islands chain. Much of St John has been set aside as a National Park. Our scenic drive from the port brought us to Trunk Bay, a lovely stretch of white sand beach in a protected bay, fringed with reef. What a great spot!
After returning to Charlotte Amalie, our port on St Thomas, we boarded and returned to San Juan and then home.
1. Cruise ships make a lot of money on excursions. Remedy: Don’t hesitate to venture off on your own, just be sure to pre-arrange everything with your cabby or driver. Time is especially critical, since the cruise ship will not wait for you if you are on your own.
2. People pack too many clothes for trips like this. Remedy: Pack light. Expect to get at least two wearings from each piece of clothing (except underwear and socks, please) and bring things which can be mixed and matched for greater versatility.
3. Tipping on cruise ships has totally gotten out of hand. Remedy: Tip only for exceptional service! If someone like a supervisor in the restaurant has barely spoken to you, don’t bother. Save your money and give generously to the people who have truly made your stay comfortable and enjoyable.