St Martin/St Maarten
Due to the rough seas heading south, we did not get onto dry land until 3:15pm when our original docking time was 9am. This completely messed up our plans for the day, as we had booked a 6 hour tour and planned to meet friends who were also ashore from a different Princess cruise ship. Unfortunately, there was no renegotiation on the price of the tour, which was disappointing, but it was neither the tour company’s fault nor ours, it was all beyond our control.
We still managed to squeeze what we could in the daylight hours left to us, including visiting two galleries where our friends made purchases at both. We particularly liked the work at Minguet’s Art Gallery (run by the artist’s daughter), and bought two small but charming lithographs.
We stopped here and there on our drive to admire the views, the colonial architecture and marvel at the ‘two countries, one island’ concept of this tiny shared French/Dutch speck between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Our time with our jet setting friends was all too short, but we enjoyed a beer together near the marina at Chesterfields Bar before they had to leave. The light at this time of the evening provided spectacular photo opportunities and we savoured the enhanced colour in the sky as the lights of the Royal Princess came on in the distance.
St Kitts & Nevis
Another tricky start to the day with passengers not being alerted to the fact that our docking location had changed – we were no longer 2 minutes walk into the centre of the capital, Basseterre, which is what all our brochures and information stated. This resulted in many passengers doing the walk into town, unaware of the location change, which would’ve taken them half an hour (about 2km).
So we also ignorantly strolled off the ship, and while all the other freelance tour companies were there to greet passengers, there was no Royston (from Royston Island Tours). Another gentleman, Thenford Grey (from Grey’s Island Excursions) asked if we needed help, so he rang Royston who then spoke to me. Royston said he sent an email yesterday explaining that he couldn’t come, but that he sent a guy to the other port (thanks, Princess!). (He should’ve sent a text – I don’t know anyone who pays the exorbitant price for slow and inconsistent internet access on board ship.) Okay, this sounded solvable, just have the driver come to the correct port…but, no, his man couldn’t come to the port where we were because he didn’t have the right pass to get in the gate. I said, fine, we’d meet him outside the gate. But no, not possible – Royston said that his man already had another gig from another passenger on another ship that DID dock where it was scheduled. When I asked what we were supposed to do, he said that we’d find someone to take us. Damn. Very happy that we didn’t pay in advance for this tour. But what can you do – island life is island life (although this pattern had become tedious).
The helpful Thenford didn’t have room on his tour, so he lined up another guy – Wentworth – to take us around. It ended up being a fab day. Went to the old sugar mills, Brimstone Fort, Romney Manor, and Ottley Plantation, which is now a hotel, but we had a look around and had some snacks at the restaurant. Momentarily enjoyed the fantasy of living at such a place in its hey day as a plantation, but were quickly turned off by the idea of condoning the slavery that enabled such a life.
Xmas Day on Board Ship
Christmas away from home is often something sought by many a traveller. Those responsible for all the celebratory rituals sometimes like to escape from the work and obligations and holiday ‘elsewhere.’ A cruise ship certainly takes care of all the work and fuss, and all one has to do is turn up!
Our delightfully relaxing day began with a sleep in, continued with some masterful accomplishments at trivia, and a decent prize in the form of a bottle of champagne (beats the lanyards and pens we have been accumulating!). The festive decorations that had been adorning every available surface since we boarded were now matched by staff wearing various versions of Xmas spirit. Guests were taking pictures next to the gigantic gingerbread house in the Club Bar and calls of ‘Happy Holidays’ could be heard throughout the day (most of the clientele on board were unsurprisingly from the USA).
Our Christmas dinner was made memorable with the formal dress, the Verve Champagne and the company of new friends made on board. Our table of eight all went to the evening show, featuring solo performer Oli Nez – an extremely versatile musician who wowed us all with his skill on saxophone, tenor sax and flute. His repertoire was also broad enough to please everyone with pieces ranging from Ave Maria to Adele. He can even do the circular breathing of the Indigenous Australians who play didgeridoo. Such impressive skill!
St Vincent’s & The Grenadines
I thought we might be “third time lucky” with the tour planned for this day, hopeful of everything going smoothly, but we weren’t! Our guy from Sam’s Taxi & Tours was not there. We waited 15 minutes for him to show and then went with someone who actually wanted our business. We were definitely not having much luck regarding freelance tour companies in the Caribbean! With a few more organised ports of call ahead, we hoped things would improve!
We instead went with a gentleman called Hilary, and we paid him the same amount as we would’ve paid Sam’s Tours. We tackled the falsely advertised Vermont Nature Trail. I say ‘falsely’ because the literature said the trail was “well maintained” and that it was a “wooden walkway.” Well, they fibbed about the maintenance, and what they meant by “walkway” was a few logs lodged in as steps, NOT an actual wooden board walkway. We didn’t go with a guide, which meant we took ourselves the LONG way around – we did the whole circular track. The people who did the cruise tour (at $20 pp more than us), did a pathetically small section of the walk and turned around and came back. This experience was made worse by the fact that it rained pretty much the whole time, most of it quite heavy, which contributed to the difficult conditions and resulted in one of our party suffering two falls.
At the end of this adventure, some of us in wet, muddy clothes, we abandoned any idea of further exploration of the island and instead went back to the ship for dry attire and some lunch. The problem I have with the Panorama buffet is that the pizza is too damned good! While we were pretty hungry after our strenuous and somewhat hazardous walk, I really didn’t need one and a half gigantic pizza slices (as well as my salad and veggies) only three hours before our next meal! Oh, well. Dragged my pizza laden body off to trivia again where winning was not our destiny this day, but we still had a smashing time, and witnessed a new team bringing the braggers to their knees. So, entertaining all round, really.
After dinner was spent being tickled by actually funny comedian Brian Bradley – the performers on this cruise are continuing to prove wrong all my previous opinions of cruise show acts! He even handled a tricky heckler beautifully. More fun was had at the musical lyrics quiz – not our forte, but our friends were very talented in this area. Happy to watch, sip cocktails, and contribute in whatever small way possible.
Trinidad & Tobago
Finally! A tour that went according to plan!!! We turned up at the port of Scarborough, Tobago, and Wayne Kennedy was waiting for us. Since arranging the tour, he had secured an extra gig, so his man, Esbert was there for us and we had a lovely day. We drove around the entire island, enjoying the many sites, went to Argyle Falls, both the Atlantic and Caribbean sides of the island and lunched at Eule’s at Englishman’s Bay Beach. We had a swim in Castara Bay, completely unaware of the Naturalist Resort at the end other end of the beach, and kept our swimming togs on. We took our time and rented lounges, which we parked under a tree for shade, alternating between paddling, reading and chatting. It was a lovely, calm spot for a swim, and we loaded back into the van, very refreshed and Zen.
Back on board, the chill vibe mandate took the form of hanging in the pool and hot tub, cocktail in hand, where the most strenuous task was choosing the next beverage.
Had a lovely dinner, even though we were still full from lunch on the island – does anyone see a pattern forming here? But the best bit of the night was again the evening’s entertainment – Oli Nez for a second night, and still impressive.
Read our full Caribbean story here:
Part 2 (current): St Martin, St Kitts, St Vincent’s, Tobago