As viewed from Paradise Point
The Eastern Caribbean: 7 Islands in 7 Days
May 16 - 22, 2010
Are you looking for a warm paradise island to escape to for awhile? With over 35 unique destinations, the Caribbean provides a wide variety of tropical isles for all kinds of vacationers, especially cruisers like us. We chose this particular cruise on Carnival because of its itinerary: seven islands in seven days, including several to which we had not yet traveled.
On Sunday, May 16, we flew to our port of embarkation, San Juan, Puerto Rico, arriving around 8 p.m., and taxied from the airport to the cruise ship terminal. Check-in was quick and easy, as we were among the last guests to arrive before the 11 p.m. departure. The Carnival Victory is a huge ship with a capacity of 3500 passengers, and on this particular cruise there were about 3,000. After dinner and the obligatory lifeboat drill, we retreated to our cabin, which was spacious and had a balcony.
Monday: Island of St. Thomas, one of the three U.S. Virgin Islands with St. John and St. Croix. We docked at the busiest cruise port of call in the world, Charlotte Amalie,
a colorful town known for its shopping and historic sites. The previous time we cruised here, we took a ferry to the nearby island of St. John, so this time we elected to stay on St. Thomas and explore. We walked to the taxi stand, where a dozen or so colorfully painted Ford and Chevrolet trucks waited. Each had its truck bed retrofitted with three or four rows of seats and colorful canopies overhead. We were directed toward the one that was going downtown because we wanted to visit one of the newest attractions on the island, the Caribbean World Amber Museum on Government Hill overlooking the bay. We had hoped to be driven to the top of the hill and then walk down, but the taxi couldn’t or wouldn’t take us there. As a result, I walked the famed “99 Steps” up the hill to the World Amber Museum while Bill remained in the park below and read and people-watched.
Although really 103 steep steps instead of the 99 as in its name, the museum was really worth the climb. The Caribbean region has a long history of amber arts and amber trade, and it is said
that Christopher Columbus received gifts of amber from the natives—a gift as prized as gold--when he arrived in 1494. The first thing you see as you enter through a stunning colonial manor house built in 1827 is the breathtaking Amber Waterfall, which at 16 feet high and 7 feet wide is the world’s largest. The cascade is comprised of over 12,000 stones of various hues of amber from all over the world with water flowing over it. The entrance to the museum is reached by walking through the “Amber Forest,” built of artificial shrubs and trees, which shows how amber is formed. The museum contains exhibition rooms with amazing collections of various kinds of amber, each carefully described and explained, and a retail store.
The descent down the famed 99 Steps gave magnificent views of the island and delightful fragrances of bougainvilleas and other flowers. We boarded another truck/taxi to the St. Thomas Skyride, an aerial tramway that took us 700 feet above sea level to spectacular views from Paradise Point. We enjoyed magnificent panoramic views of the harbor, our cruise ship, downtown Charlotte Amalie, and surrounding islands as we relaxed on the spacious observation deck while sipping
Crushed bus from 1979 hurricane
the famous Bailey’s Bushwacker. The Bushwacker contains Kahlua, rum, and crème de cocoa, as well as CocoLopez and half and half, and is absolutely scrumptious—not to mention potent! That’s why it’s called the Bushwacker—it sneaks up on you!
We did some obligatory St. Thomas shopping before returning to the ship for a late lunch and an afternoon relaxing on our balcony overlooking the island.
Tuesday’s port was Roseau, Dominica, a stunningly gorgeous island that is often called the Caribbean’s “nature island” because of its famous rainforests and dozens of waterfalls. On our previous visit here, we enjoyed the aerial tram ride into the heart of the beautiful pristine rainforest, so this time we chose a different excursion. We began with a stop at Morne Bruce, a splendid vantage point with a marvelous view of the colored roofs and buildings of Roseau and the waters of the Caribbean. Another stop was at the Botanical Gardens (an annex to London’s Kew Gardens), where the 'crushed bus' is a silent testimony to the force of the winds of Hurricane David (1979) and also the regenerative power of nature (the tree is still growing, on top of the bus). A small
Royal Poinciana tree
Dominica Botanical Gardens
aviary has some of Dominica's rare parrots, and a stroll through the gardens revealed exotic flowers and tropical plants.
A scenic drive along the Layou River, the longest in Dominica, took us to the picturesque Jaco Falls, tucked away in rainforest greenery, where we also enjoyed a taste of local seasonal fruit along with complimentary rum punches.
Upon returning to the Victory midafternoon, we again enjoyed afternoon tea, relaxing, and reading on our balcony with one of the most beautiful views in the Caribbean.
The port of Bridgetown, Barbados, was Wednesday’s port of call. The most “British” of the Caribbean islands, Barbados has a population of 280,000 people and about 20,000 green vervet monkeys. Again, having visited here before, we tried to choose an excursion with different experiences, so we chose an afternoon, coast-to-coast excursion to enjoy the magnificent scenery, history, and culture of this bustling island. We began with a scenic drive of the west coast, past the posh homes of Steven Seagall, Oprah, Tom Selleck, and Julia Roberts, as well as the exclusive luxury resort where Tiger Woods was married. Land on this calm Caribbean side of the island costs about $400 per square
foot, thus its nickname, “the gold coast.”
First stop was at the Highland Adventure Centre for commanding views of the east coast, complimentary rum punches, and entertainment by Nissi, a pet green vervet monkey. Continuing around the island, we observed a variety of local fruit trees, including the West Indian cherry, a tiny red fruit about the size of a Garbanzo or chickpea, that contains a day’s supply of vitamin C in one piece of fruit. Others included mango, papaya, plantain, cashew, starfruit, avocado, banana, and breadfruit.
Next stop was Bathsheba beach on the rugged east coastline (Atlantic Ocean side). It is breathtakingly beautiful; wide white sand beaches stretch along a dramatic coastline of striking rock formations against which the Atlantic rollers break in cascades of foam. What at first glance are huge boulders washed up on the beach, are actually rock formations broken away from ancient coral reef! A short drive further around the island brought us to St. John Anglican Church, a classic Gothic church situated on a cliff overlooking the picturesque east coast. The cemetery with its traditional Caribbean tombs dates back to the early 1600’s.
The next day we visited
Highland Adventure Center
an island that we had never visited, but one that would become one of my favorites: St. Lucia. Docking in the capital city of Castries, from our balcony we had a stunning view of magnificent St. Lucia, with its towering mountains, dense rain forest, fertile green valleys, and acres of banana plantations. It is nicknamed “the Helen of the West Indies” because of its natural beauty. Our morning excursion was a nice mix of fun, history, and sightseeing with a most enjoyable tour guide. We began with a journey through Castries taking in the sights, followed by a stop at elegant St. Marks, an authentic colonial house typical of successful merchants of days gone by, dating back to the 1700s. A brief tour of the exquisite, handmade antique furniture in the restored house was followed by complimentary snacks and, of course, rum punches as we took in the view of the harbor below from the balcony.
Our next stop was Caribelle Batik, where we observed skilled craftsmen creating gloriously colored works of art on silk and cotton in an old Victorian mansion, high atop Morne Fortune, site of the battleground between the French and British for control of
St.Lucia. . A garden full of tropical orchids and lilies was enjoyed by those of us who were not waiting in the long check-out line.
Bananas and tourism carry the country, which bounced between ownership by the British and French 14 times, according to our very personable guide “K.” He also entertained us with these tidbits of information: 160,000 people on the island in a ratio of 7 females for every male; the main crop was once sugar cane but is now bananas; the blue bags over the bananas keep the fruit from ripening too fast and also keep birds, monkeys, and insects away; and the cashew is the most expensive nut in the world because each tree produces only about 50 nuts.
A brief photo stop overlooking stunning Marigot Bay (where Superman and Dr. Doolittle were filmed) was followed by a visit to La Sikwi, an 18th century sugar mill hidden away in a lush and tropical secluded valley. We learned how sugar cane was harvested and sugar and molasses were produced, and at the end of the tour we enjoyed complimentary local breadfruit, sugar cane, coconut, bananas, plantains, and starfruit, plus, you guessed it—rum
Bathsheba Beach, Barbados
The "rocks" are actually portions of an ancient coral reef.
punch. Surrounding the mill is a lush botanical garden, reached by a wooden bridge over a stream.
On our drive back to the terminal, “K” told jokes and taught us some words in the local Creole patois dialect, including “doodoo,” which means “darling.” This very enjoyable tour was concluded with some shopping in the new shopping center in the terminal before returning to the ship.
Friday, May 21, brought us another first-time-visit to the island of St. Kitts, docking in the capital of Basseterre. We boarded the St. Kitts Railway for a memorable three-hour journey around the beautiful island. The old narrow-gauge train that had transported sugarcane to the central sugar factory since 1912 is all that remains of the island’s once-thriving sugar industry. Two-story rail cars bedecked in bright Kittitian colors took us along the Northeastern coastline and across tall bridges, winding through villages and farms. We had our choice of a downstairs air-conditioned seat fronting a vaulted picture window and an upstairs open-air observation spot. Island ambience surrounded us with comfortable rattan furniture, island music, a colorful narrative history of the Caribbean, and a variety of complimentary local sweets and specialty drinks. I had
a guava daiquiri. We disembarked the train for an enjoyable drive through the island’s small villages before going back to the ship.
St. Kitts (which means St. Christopher) has an area of 69 square miles and is one-half of the Federation of St. Christopher and Nevis, the smallest sovereign nation in the Americas in both population and area. The population of the island consists of 40,000 people and 80,000 rampaging vervet monkeys. Roving troupes of the African monkeys are a threat to farmers’ crops, and studies are underway to reduce the population. It is believed they came to the island with the slave trade in the 1600s and 1700s and developed a taste for alcohol by eating fermented sugar cane left in the fields. Today they satisfy their thirst by raiding local bars and by stealing drinks from tourists sunbathing on the beaches. Here’s a link to an interesting video that shows the sneaky devils at work: http://www.prosebeforehos.com/video-of-the-day/10/04/drunk-ass-monkey/.
Our 7th day brought us to our 7th island, St. Maarten/St-Martin: one tiny island of 37 square miles, yet two different sovereign nations. Here French and Dutch have lived side by side for hundreds of years, and when
you cross from one country to the next, there are no border patrols or customs agents—just a small sign and a change in road surface. It is the world’s smallest land mass divided into two countries and has only one traffic light, which is currently not working. Everything on the island is imported—food, clothing, etc.—and they have no exports. A gallon of milk costs $10, and water is desalinated from the sea because there are no rivers or lakes.
Our ship docked in the Dutch capital of Philipsburg, and we chose an excursion adventure in French St-Martin, above and below the sea! We traveled to the quaint fishing village of Grand Case and boarded a semi-submarine called the Explorer. We descended into the hull of the vessel and sat in air-conditioned comfort for a 45-minute narrated tour of the coral reefs surrounding Creole Rock, a haven for fish, situated between St-Martin and Anguilla. We observed underwater gardens, coral reefs, and many varieties of sealife, including colorful fish such as sergeant-majors, red snappers, parrotfish, wrasses, tangs, and grunts, as well as sea turtles, conch, and different types of sponges and sea urchins.
Back on land we continued
Caribbean wax rose
Botanical Garden, St. Lucia
to the French capital of Marigot and its beautiful harbor front teeming with colorful sailboats and yachts, open-air cafes, sidewalk markets, and a great view of imposing Fort Louis, completed by the French in 1789 to protect the waterfront. Visiting Marigot feels as though one has been transported to a village in France, as it is a microcosm of French culture in the tropics.
The next morning we docked in San Juan and were among the first off the ship because we had an early flight. The process was easy because we carried our own luggage. Five hours later we were back in Houston.
In conclusion, the Caribbean Sea contains hundreds of tropical islands that some call paradise. As befits heaven-on-earth, there is much to enjoy, see, and do. The number 1 playground for the Americas comprises movie-set beauty, coconut-tree-clad mountains, verdant valleys of sugar cane and bananas, and seashore galore. Each island is different from the others, and they are all worth a visit!
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