I have nothing planned for today as far as sightseeing goes, but I go for a drive this morning. First stop is Hastings Rocks Beach, which is only a couple of minutes’ drive from where I’m staying, and offers a public access beach, a boardwalk along the beachfront, and easy parking. There are also lots of restaurants in the area, which I’ll make use of for dinner each day starting today.
I drive towards Bridgetown and get within sight of the cruise terminal when I visit Pebbles Beach along the Aquatic Gap, where there are also some hotels. As I drive back, I visit the Garrison area where the Barbados Turf Club Racecourse is located along with the Garrison historic buildings. (See banner image above.)
After I return to my vacation rental, I see a troupe of Barbados Green Monkeys roaming around the yard and feeding. After my previous encounter with hostile monkeys in Borneo, I am very cautious around these ones. They appear to be somewhat scared of humans, so they keep to themselves, which is reassuring. This afternoon I drive to the Massy Stores Supermarket in nearby Worthing to buy more food and beverages for snacks, breakfast and lunch.
I go out for dinner to Blakey’s Bar & Restaurant, which is beside the boardwalk on the Hastings Rocks beachfront. I order grilled Barracuda, the catch of the day and a new fish for me to try. It’s quite good, but it could use a bit more spice, since it’s a very mild flavoured fish. I also order a Martini, which is barely cold and not well-mixed. I should have known better and ordered a Gin and Tonic or beer instead, but I enjoyed the meal and watching the sunset over the beautiful Caribbean.
I wake up at 6:30AM as the Royal Clipper enters Bridgetown harbour and docks. It takes until 8:30AM for the ship to be cleared by customs and immigration. I don’t have to rush, since my airport transfer is scheduled between 9:30AM and 10AM. I go to the dining room and have an omelette and coffee with my friends, and say my goodbyes to them. I then leave the ship for the last time, retrieve my big bag in the cruise ship terminal, and clear customs and immigration.
There are three big cruise ships in port in addition to our tiny ship: P&O Azura, Seaborn Odyssey and Norwegian Escape, so there are lots of people in the terminal, and it’s a bit chaotic. That said, the Barbadians are well-organized, and keep people moving onto their tour buses. I have pre-booked a van transfer direct to the airport, so I can pick up my rental car for the next few days I’m spending on Barbados. Once everyone checks in for the van, we are away from the crowds and down the new highways that have been built since I was last here in the mid-1980s.
I’m dropped off at the end of the airport terminal where Stoute’s Car Rentals is located, and sign for my rental car – a Mazda 3, which is considered a full-sized car in Barbados! I drive to the Lantern’s Mall on the main road in Hastings to hang out for a couple of hours, since I’m too early to check into my vacation rental. There is a Royal Bank ATM in the mall so I withdraw some Barbados Dollars, have a small pizza for lunch, and also have a cappuccino later on while I catch up on social media using the coffee shop Wi-fi. I also purchase a few snacks and some beverages at a convenience store to take with me.
I drive the short distance to the vacation rental using Google Maps navigation on my iPhone, but it still takes me a couple of tries to find the place. Street number addresses are not often used in Barbados, but I eventually find the 10 Springcourt vacation rental after asking a man walking the New Rockley Road for directions. I meet the rental representative there, and pay for the 4-nights. After I unpack and get settled, I have a beer and some chips while I run some clothes through the in-suite washing machine. It’s a nicely-configured studio suite that meets my needs perfectly.
The 5,000-passenger MSC Preziosa docks before we anchor, so their passengers are crowding the dock area and the downtown. Some of us walk the few blocks to the town, where there are festivals and busy open air markets. I soon return to the ship to escape the heat and chaos.
An excursion is late returning passengers to the ship, so we depart Kingstown at 2:00PM instead of 12:30PM. I’m concerned, since I have an excursion scheduled for a 2:15PM departure from Bequia, the next island. The Cruise Director assures us the excursion will run, since it is a short trip to Bequia.
I try some roast suckling pig for lunch. The crackly skin is pretty tough and the meat is dry, so I use some gravy to make it edible. There is a 30 knot wind in the harbour by lunch time, and the crossing to Bequia is exceedingly rough, with the ship rolling wildly – passengers are struggling to not crash into things and each other. Welcome to the Windward Islands!
Our Magical Coast of Bequia excursion this afternoon is delayed but still leaves from Port Elizabeth as promised. It isn’t pleasant because of the high winds and being on a speed boat means we are pitching and banging wildly. The crew are constantly asking us to move to a drier part of the boat as they struggle to put up tarps to keep us from getting completely soaked. Nobody can hear the narration describing the sights we are passing because of the roar of the engines and the strong wind.
Moon Hole is one location where the waves and wind subside, so we can actually take some photos and hear the fascinating story behind the place. Nearby is an old whaling station at Sempler’s Cay. Apparently residents of Bequia still have the right to take a whale or two each year, but it hasn’t happened for awhile.
We also go around West Cay to see the airport (unimpressive) before retracing our route. The last stop before we return to the ship is to swim and snorkel at Princess Margaret Beach. Due to the late start, it is almost sunset by the time we arrive, so it is pointless for me (and others) to go in the water, since we won’t see anything and we only have 20 minutes. Some go in for a swim anyway, while the rest of us stay aboard and enjoy the rum punch.
The ship’s servers and kitchen staff all parade through the dining room at dinner this evening, and sing “We Are The World” waving flags as the rest of us wave our napkins. Tomorrow the cruise is over – we dock in Bridgetown, Barbados. After returning to my cabin, I pack everything in my big travel bag, and put it out for the porters to take ashore tomorrow morning. I’m feeling a bit nauseous due to the extreme pitching of the ship as she takes the strong winds on the nose. Once I finish packing and go to bed I am fine, and sleep well.
This morning, our first port-of-call is Marigot Bay, which is basically a yacht harbour. I don’t find this port too interesting, so I take the next tender back to the ship. After a couple of hours, we raise anchor and proceed to Soufrière, our second port for today on St. Lucia, arriving after lunch.
I’m on the Soufriere Morne Choval Horse Ride excursion this afternoon, which is a lovely way to spend an afternoon on St. Lucia. There are only four of us on the excursion, and it’s only a five minute drive up the hill out of town to the Morne Coubaril Estate Reserve. We spend a little over an hour riding around the estate, and then we have some snacks and drinks after the ride. They have some nice things for sale in their shop, and they also offer zip-lining, estate tours, and horseback riding to the volcano and beach.
We have an opportunity to photograph the Royal Clipper from the tenders while she is under full sail departing Soufrière at sunset (see banner image above). Now I know how passengers take those terrific photos of the ship! I also observe the Green Flash from the launch, and for the first time manage to take some photos of it, although they aren’t great.
After we are underway, the Captain’s Dinner is served in the dining room this evening: Chateaubriand, baked Alaska (just Neapolitan ice cream with cherry sauce), and bubbly to toast with. The Captain comes around to each table to toast and chat with us in person – a very nice touch!
I have breakfast with two women who are travel friends, and decide to go ashore with them to look around Cabrits. We are on the first tender just before Noon. As it turns out, we are in a National Park, which charges US$5 each for admission to the trails and facilities, however none of us are interested in hiking in the tropical heat.
We talk to a couple of taxi drivers who approach us, and eventually retain Patrickson Wallace. Our original plan was to wander around the nearby small town, but there really isn’t much there. He offers to take us on a short tour for a reasonable fare in US$, which we agree to, providing he returns us to the tender dock by 4PM at the latest. We drive north across the island through the tropical rainforest, passing through many small communities and the Indian River, one of 365 rivers on Dominica. There is damage from Hurricane Maria apparent everywhere, even inland.
The north coast of Dominica is particularly beautiful, so we stop at viewpoints along the way before arriving at Pointe Baptiste Estate chocolate factory in Calibishie. This quaint establishment is off the beaten path, but it turns out to be a treasure for the three of us, who appreciate the tour given by a Dominican woman.
She shows us the cocoa fruit, how they ferment and air dry the cocoa beans, grind and combine the cocoa with the other ingredients, and finally make the result into chocolate bars. Each of us buy two chocolate bars of various flavours and give the woman a small tip as well.
Patrickson drives us back along the same scenic route. It turns out to be a very nice tour which we all enjoyed, and we are back at the tender dock by about 3:30PM. We pay him the agreed-to fare and also give him a tip for his “building fund” for house repairs, as we say our goodbyes.
Patrickson Wallace – email Live Edge Tours and Taxi, 1519 Pembroke St., Portsmouth, Dominica +1 (767) 235-5346 or +1 (767) 445-5346
Once I’m back on board the ship and get cleaned up, I take my MacBook Pro up to the Tropical Bar and have a beer as I work on my photos and journal. For the first time on this cruise, I take advantage of the afternoon snack served at 5PM in the Tropical Bar, since I had no lunch today. Despite normally ordering cappuccinos, today I finish off with two cups of brewed coffee, which tastes pretty good too!
Ile des Saintes is a tiny bit of France that happens to be in the Caribbean. There are fast passenger ferries zooming into the harbour at Terre de Haut as the Royal Clipper sets anchor.
There are no excursions on this small French island today, and the beach for our use was supposed to be a pebble beach with a wet landing – not ideal. After the captain checks it out he discovers it has too much weed, so he arranges for a much better beach which has a dock (dry landing), full service hotel, and great swimming and snorkelling from a beautiful sand beach! (See banner image above.)
I’m on the first tender to the beach, and spend the whole morning relaxing in a beach chair, swimming and snorkelling. There are reefs at both ends of the beach, where I take some pretty good underwater video and photos. I return to the ship for a late lunch, a shower, and an afternoon nap. This is the life!
I take the launch into the little town in the afternoon when it cools down a bit. It’s a cute place and another French department, so there are some pretty fancy shops on the main street aimed at high-end travellers. I take a few photos, but I’m on the next tender back to the ship. We are treated to a beautiful sunset as we leave the harbour, bound for the island of Dominica tomorrow.
I am up early this morning to take the tender at 9:15AM for my Segway tour. We are met at the dock by a driver who takes us across the island to the largest city of St. Johns, where we hook up with the Segway tour company. They spend quite a bit of time instructing our small group on how to operate the machines safely, since we are all newbies.
Then we are off, following our tour guide as she talks to us with radio earphones, keeping us on track, safe, and describing the sights. Our first stop is at the Minister of Tourism’s estate on top of a ridge, where we can take photos while overlooking the beautiful harbours, coastline, and an abandoned sugar mill.
We next stop at beautiful Runaway Beach (see banner image above) for a refreshment break. Before the new airport was built, small passenger aircraft would land on the hard sand on this beach. Fort James is our next stop – an abandoned fort with lots of cannons still on the rock walls overlooking the harbour. We scoot along Fort James Beach, and then back to the starting point.
Our driver takes us back across the island to Falmouth Harbour, where our ship’s staff are staging a barbeque lunch on the local beach. I stop to have some lunch, but take the next tender back to the ship and then relax with a beer while on deck overlooking the beautiful harbour. A steel band comes aboard in the early evening to play Caribbean beats before the ship sails out of the harbour.
I get up late and spend my morning spotting Caribbean islands and sea birds (Frigates and Boobys) as the Royal Clipper slowly approaches St. Barts. First is Sint Maartin/St. Martin, then striking Mount Scenery on the island of Saba, and finally the northern islands of St. Barts itself. We anchor near Grande Vigie in Gustavia harbour by 11AM. The 3-masted clipper Stad Amsterdam is anchored in the outer harbour near us. There are the usual complement of super-yachts docked at the marinas in the harbour (see banner image above).
My afternoon excursion today is aboard a charter sailboat, and includes sailing to the leeward side of the island, with a stop at a beach and cove for swimming not too far from Gustavia. I go for a swim in the lovely warm water, and walk the beautiful uncrowded beach. There are snacks and beer served after our swim, as we sail around the windy point back into Gustavia harbour. All-in-all, a sublime and relaxing day!
Saint-Barthélemy is a department of France, and like all of the other French Caribbean islands, it is an expensive place to visit or to live on. That said, all these French islands are also noticeably better off than the other Caribbean islands colonized by other European nations.
I sleep in yet again this morning to 8:45AM, but it doesn’t matter since today is a sea day. After getting cleaned up a bit, I wander down to the dining room for breakfast: ordering a cappuccino to start, have some fruit, yogurt, pastries and a pancake.
The captain gives an interesting presentation this morning titled “Everything”, which covers the questions posed to him from passengers over the last few days: sailing ship configurations, navigation and GPS, and the physics of how to sail ships with sails. Amazingly, he has written a PhD on using Super-cavitation for fast underwater propulsion – a subject I knew nothing about!
Our course is 090 due east with a stiff wind on our nose, so no sails are set today. We pass by Puerto Rico this afternoon, so I turn off my cellular data roaming, since I don’t have a roaming plan for the US, only the other Caribbean islands.
Lunch is served on deck from the Tropical Bar. It was quite a spread…it took the staff an hour to haul everything up from the kitchen to serve to us. They work hard, and for long hours! My cabin steward gets some time off in the afternoon.
I attend a presentation given by a passenger this afternoon which profiles his working life aboard the Union Castle Line on the Royal Mail route between London and South Africa. It was somewhat interesting to see glimpses of life at sea in the 1950s and 60s for the passengers.
The wind is strong and it’s also hot outside this afternoon, so I stay in the Piano Bar working on my journal and photos while sipping a cappuccino. Later in the afternoon the clouds come in, making it more pleasant outside as the sun sets.
I join a table for eight for dinner this evening: five from the UK and two from Canada (Sidney, BC, but former Brits). I have a bunch of Internet time to use, so this evening I work on my photos and manage to post a new album to Facebook.
I sleep in again this morning, but leave my cabin by 8:45AM to have a cappuccino and some breakfast. The ship is sailing along the coastline of the Dominican Republic for quite a while until she pulls into the port of Santo Domingo at noon. I’m on deck while the ship is being cleared by customs and immigration, and ask Camilla, the Tour Director if there are any spaces left on today’s city/walking tour. She indicates there are two spots left, so I take one, even though I’ve arranged to walk the town with my friends as well.
We are some of the first to disembark the ship, find our way across the busy street in front of the cruise terminal, and climb the stairs up into the historic colonial zone. The local kids have been let out of school to have their lunch outside, and I get some cute photos of them. We walk around the old cathedral (Catedral Primada de America), but I soon peel off and return to the ship. Walking around in the heat of the day is not my idea of fun!
I have some lunch in the dining room and then grab my camera bag before debarking again to board the small tour bus for this afternoon’s excursion. Our first stop is across the river from where the ship is docked to see and photograph the Christopher Columbus monument and lighthouse. His remains are in this massive concrete monument, but we don’t go in. He landed here in the New World, representing the King of Spain. By most accounts, he was the first European to reach the Caribbean.
We then drive back into the colonial zone and are dropped off at the cathedral. Our guide gives us a narrated tour of the many interesting and historic buildings in the colonial zone: Catedral Primada de America, the Alcazar de Colon, the National Pantheon, and the National Monument commemorating national heroes.
We continue walking down the Calle las Damas a favourite haunt of the Vicerene Maria de Toledo, niece of the King of Spain and wife to Diego, son of Christopher Columbus. Apparently she used to walk there on her way to Mass with the other ladies of the court, hence the name Calle las Damas (Ladies Street).
As we cross the Plaza España, there is a giant Coca Cola Christmas tree display setup on the plaza in front of the impressively reconstructed house of Diego Colon (Columbus), who was a viceroy for the Spanish colony. It is fascinating to learn how the viceroy and his family lived, and to see the beautiful artifacts placed in the various rooms where they were originally.
It starts to pour rain just as we re-board the tour bus, and are taken along the first part of the city’s Malacon near the port, to the Presidential Palace (a photo stop I didn’t take advantage of), and drive through Chinatown on our return to the cruise terminal. We arrive about 15 minutes before the gangway is pulled up, so I’m glad I took the organized tour since the ship is guaranteed to wait for you! Thanks to our very good tour guide, I certainly have lots of interesting information about the city’s history, and better understand the country’s context in the Caribbean.
I watch a beautiful sunset as our ship leaves port, bound for St. Barts. We have a sea day tomorrow, which I am glad of. I have dinner with three men in their 70s who are best friends, and who travel together once or twice each year without their wives. They are wine connoisseurs who are working their way through the ship’s wine list, to the great pleasure of the wine steward!