Cruising the Caribbean is synonymous with blue-green water glistening beneath the ship’s bow like sapphires and emeralds. This is the part of the world where bright-blue sky meets warm gulf waters at the horizon, creating a masterpiece on nature’s canvas and spectacular views from your stateroom balcony.
One of the many reasons we love cruising is that it allows each of us to experience what we individually love to do. As we explored the southern Caribbean on a recent cruise, we each found a piece of paradise. Here, we offer our highlights, his way and hers.
One of the things I like most about cruising the Caribbean is experiencing the activities aboard the ship itself. I never recommend consuming enough alcohol to sing karaoke, but enjoying margaritas garnished with colorful umbrellas while singing Jimmy Buffet songs with other passengers at the ship’s piano bar is a great way to get into the Caribbean spirit.
Viewfinder Tip: If you are feeling queasy from the motion of the ocean, eating a green apple or a ginger candy can help settle your stomach.
As someone who has trouble staying focused on one thing for too long, the clanging bells and flashing lights of the ship’s casino always beckoned me. I finally have learned to quit while I’m ahead just enough to purchase some Caribbean spices or duty free libations while in port. Every time I try to win enough money to pay for my cruise, I end up donating all of my winnings (and then some) back to the casino.
Since fantastic beaches are a staple of most Caribbean destinations, I always consider at least one excursion into the countryside to experience a little more history and culture. Most recently, when we ported in La Romana, in the Dominican Republic, we hopped on an open-air safari bus and toured the nation’s largest sugarcane plantation. Along this adventure, we were able to chew on stalks of sweet, freshly cut sugarcane, and taste smooth Dominican rum made from sugarcane grown on the plantation. We left the plantation and traversed over bumpy terrain that should be avoided if you’re pregnant or suffering from hemorrhoids. We ended up at the home of a Dominican local who rolled (and sold) handmade cigars in a shed in his backyard.
Since I am the Foursquare mayor of a Mexican restaurant in my hometown, I found it necessary to eat tacos and ceviche when we were in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. This has been on my culinary bucket list for a while, and as we enjoyed spectacular views from the rooftop bar at The Palm at Playa Hotel, I met my goal head-on. (I got bonus points because most of the tacos contained tongue.)
Key West, Florida, is the last port of call on many Caribbean itineraries. It happens to be one of my favorite destinations. Known for some of the most spectacular sunsets on the planet, this charming city is resplendent with bars, restaurants, public art, and museums. My recommendations for your time here include having your photo taken beside the marker depicting the southernmost point in the United States; looking for six-clawed cats at the Ernest Hemingway Museum and Home, visiting the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, and eating a slice of tangy-sweet key lime pie at Kermit’s on the corner of Green and Elizabeth streets.
My style of cruising is relaxed and laid back, and my selection of shore excursions reflects this.
Lucky you if Grand Turk (Turks and Caicos) is on your itinerary. The island is 7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide and is the capital of the Turks and Caicos archipelago. The beaches are pristine and the water is crystal-clear. While the island offers endless options for those seeking adventure, I chose the serenity and simplicity of the beach right at the port, which is owned and developed by Carnival Cruise Lines. Here you can get from gangway to gorgeous in just 390 steps. While we were in port for about 6 hours, that’s more than enough time to explore and relax on this beautiful beach. The chairs are free to use on a first-come, first-served basis. Also, there are plenty of palm trees, in case you’re the type who prefers the shade.
Warm dry air and cooling trade winds combine to give Aruba an average annual temperature of 82 degrees, and make for perfect beach weather all year-round. Many of the resorts in Oranjestad (the capital city) offer day passes, which means you can lounge at resort pools. Just one-quarter mile from the cruise port is one of the most unique in the area, the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. A day pass here will cost you about US$99 per adult; it includes transportation to the resorts private island (which has an adults-only side and a family side), lunch, a beverage, and dessert. During my recent visit, I chose the adults-only side, which also included a wide variety of birds, flamingos, and iguanas. Palm trees, silky white sand, calm blue-green water, and a hammock that called my name made for a perfect day ashore.
One of my favorite ways to unwind and experience new places is to meander the streets with no intention. I did this when we visited Curacao and docked in Willemstad, the capital. With its Dutch architecture and culture, Willemstad is one of the Caribbean’s few UNESCO World Heritage cities. It boasts sherbet-colored buildings in hues of bright orange, blue, pink, and green, as well as the Marsha Bieuw (Old Market), with dozens of vendors selling local dishes such as stewed goat, salted fish, Guiambo (Okra soup), and polenta. Wading through the crowds, we walked across the floating Queen Emma Bridge that connects the two sides of the city; the bridge sits on top of pontoons and it opens and closes throughout the day for ships to pass. There are a number of outdoor cafes along the harbor where you can sit for a bite, a beverage, and the view. All of these activities are great ways to enjoy Curacao. And any other Caribbean city, too.
How would you describe cruising YOUR way?