Explore. Experience. Engage.

Planning excursions on 7 islands

Author: noseadays
Date of Trip: January 2010



This was the 6th cruise for my husband and me. We have done 3 Royal Caribbean, 2 Carnival and 1 Princess. I choose a cruise by the itinerary since I am most interested in the ports and in spending as much time as possible off the ship. This cruise offered a wonderful itinerary with no sea days which is a definite plus for me.

My husband and I are 60 and 59 respectively and quite active. In the past I have often been disappointed by the ship excursions. For the first time I decided to explore the option of booking our own excursions. I am a nature lover and our major interests tend to be hiking, snorkeling and enjoying beautiful scenery. I used cruise critic, trip advisor, travel guides and island tourist web sites to determine what to do on each island with the exception of Barbados which I will explain later.

Puerto Rico
This was our third trip to the Island and I was looking for some new experiences. We did the Bio Bay Tour with www.kayakingpuertorico.com. We loved the bioluminescence experience and yes it is like pixie dust. Since there was a half moon, we were covered with a tarp to eliminate light when we reached the center of the bay after travelling thru the tree lined lagoon. The experience was even more dramatic then. My husband and I had never kayaked before (but we had canoed) and we had little trouble mastering the art despite the darkness. The guides were wonderful, patient and very professional. They directed or helped anyone who was in need. If you can schedule when there is no moon the experience would be even better. Although we tend to prefer outdoor activities to museums we were very surprised by what we found at the Museum of the Americas which is diagonal to the entrance to El Morro. The exhibits on the Indians, colonization, slavery, arts and crafts, Amazon, etc. were fascinating.

St. Thomas
This was our third trip to the island. We had previously taken tours here and on St. Johns, done Ocean Park, visited Blackbeard’s Castle, etc. We got off the ship as soon as we could, walked to the port gate and asked a taxi driver to take us to Sapphire Beach. The driver was very professional. The island has set taxi rates. There were some very pretty views along the way and the driver was informative. He was willing to return whenever we wanted but also assured us that there would be taxis waiting when we were ready to return. Since we were so early we had this beautiful beach to ourselves for most of the morning. We snorkeled around the reef to the right and also walked to the point on the right for some beautiful views of other islands. There were bathrooms and other facilities at this beach. After lunch we found a taxi waiting and returned to Charlotte Amalie. My husband and I have mastered the art of travelling light and I do not particularly like to shop. However, I have made it a custom to buy a different silver stone pendant on each of our vacations to bring back the beautiful memories of our trips. With some bargaining I always manage to find something beautiful for a very reasonable price.

Dominica
We booked the Roseau Valley Best Hike with Levi of www.bumpiingtours.com. He offers many tours and we wanted something that would be a bit of a challenge and a variety of experiences. Levi is very personable, professional and informative. I had read that the roads on the island were quite scary. With Levi at the wheel we were never uncomfortable. Local beers, soft-drinks and bottled water were included however it was obvious that Levi would not be drinking anything alcoholic. He recommends that you wear a good pair of waterproof strapped sandals such as Keens. We had lots of hiking experience but only in sneakers or hiking boots. We were so happy we took his advice although it was not easy finding hiking sandals in January in Pennsylvania. My husband found a pair made by Columbia and I bought a pair made by Teva. Both pair served us well on this hike and on other excursions during the cruise. They were also excellent for the short showers that are common in the islands. We have no intentions of ever taking sneakers to the islands in the future. It takes too long for them to dry when wet. Also by having waterproof sandals you eliminate the need for changing into water shoes. From the time the 10 of us got into Levi’s comfortable van it rained. When we arrived at the trailhead the rain was very heavy. We waited a few minutes and when it appeared obvious that it was not going to stop, Levi suggested we start our hike to one of the tallest waterfalls on the island, Middleham Falls. I knew we were with the right people when no one objected and we went charging into the rainforest.( On a previous ship excursion hike in the rainforest on another island 75% of the people including the guide wanted to return to the bus when it started to rain in the rainforest!!) I agree with Levi that you must be in good shape to do this hike. I would not recommend it to someone with knee, hip or back problems. We saw waterfalls along the way and Middleham was spectacular. Our experience with waterfalls in Hawaii, Canadian Rockies and across the US could not compare with sight of this waterfall surrounded by thick vegetation. Levi was very attentive to the needs of his hikers and found hiking sticks for those of us who wanted them and always seemed to be ready to offer a sturdy arm when it might be needed. We did not go to Titou Gorge because the water was flowing too heavy from all the rain. We headed to Trafalgar Falls which were also spectacular but not nearly as high and dramatic as Middleham. Since we could not enter the hot springs where planned because of the swollen water conditions Levi took us to a different place where we relaxed in the hot mineral springs. When we got to Champagne Reef the waves were crashing on the beach. Levi swam out to find that the bubbles were not visible because of the very rough conditions. Although he had flotation devices for everyone all of us chose not to go in. Because of the all day rain we did not do exactly all that was planned. However I doubt that anyone was disappointed. The rain made for spectacular waterfalls that were many, many times normal flow. We loved this island.

Barbados
Last year the first people we met on a Western Caribbean cruise were two people from Barbados. We quickly became friends. I planned this cruise because the gentleman was convinced I would love Dominica and St. Kitts and I was hoping to see them again in Barbados. As it turned out the gentleman was at a conference on another island. He put together a wonderful itinerary and the woman assured us that it would be no trouble to take a vacation day and take us around. She met us at the main gate along with her sister-in-law and her brother who would be our driver. We saw sights in Bridgetown, Oistin, Bathsheba, and Speightstown. We explored signal stations, churches, Codrington college with its lovely grounds, east coast road, a mill, and west coast drive. Along the way we enjoyed the lovely views of the coast, a mahogany tree lined road, interior and coastal rock formations. We had lunch at the wonderful Atlantis Restaurant with its dramatic black rocks. There we enjoyed golden apple drink and numerous delicious local dishes which our hosts patiently identified for us. We saw and did so much but nothing could compare to the warm and friendship these local islanders showed us. We felt that we had known them for many years. What a joy it was to have enjoyed their company. We talked, we laughed, we hugged and hated to see the day end.

St. Lucia
We had visited this island before and taken an island ship excursion there. This time I decided to book with Cosol of www.cosol-tours.com because of all the wonderful reviews I had read. Cosol met over a hundred of us cruisers. He was bursting with enthusiasm as he told us we were about to experience St. Lucia and that he was about to prove that everything we had read about his tour was true. I will not take the time to summarize all that we did. The itinerary is listed on his site and we did every bit of it. We were broken into groups of about 10 and travelled in separate comfortable vans. Our driver was personable, informative and professional. I knew from my readings that food and drink would be plentiful but that is not something that normally appeals to me. Luckily I took the advice to not eat breakfast on the ship. Around 10:00 A.M. all the vans met at one location for breakfast with Cosol. It is hard to convey just how exciting and fun it is to be around this man. There were numerous plates of fruits, local dishes and even candy. All were identified and Cosol encouraged people to try things. My husband and I sampled all and we enjoyed all. As a snack during the day our driver stopped for coconut crackers. For lunch he picked up wonderful cheese at one place and delicious bread at another. Despite the fact that Piton beer, alcoholic rum and soda were very plentiful I never saw anyone out of control. Our driver did not drink and it did not appear that any of cosol's workers were drinking. The atmosphere was fun but professionally run. The boat ride to our snorkeling spot between the pitons offered great views. The snorkeling was wonderful and I especially enjoyed seeing the florescent dark blue fish. There was no comparison to the ship excursion around the island that we took on a previous cruise. In fact we had so many lovely scenic stops and beautiful views I felt as if we had never visited this island earlier. It was a wonderful day and I think it will be hard to find another excursion that gives you so much for such a reasonable cost.

St. Kitts
On this island I decided to use someone whose business is much younger and smaller than that of Levi in Dominica or Cosol in St. Lucia. Once again we had a great experience. I first learned of Javin in a trip advisor forum posting which also provided his web address (myislandstours.shutterfly.com). My husband and I expected to meet Javin at 9:00 A.M. for the full day tour I had booked on the internet. We and Javin arrived about 20 minutes early and off we went to experience our first time on St. Kitts. He told us about some sites as he carefully drove thru town and identified other things outside of town. We enjoyed the beautiful views of Mt. Liamuiga (dormant volcano) and the Black Rocks along the Atlantic coast before we did our Gaunt hike (river hike in the rain forest) near Cayon. My husband and I are in good hiking shape and blessed with no hip, back or knee problems. Nevertheless, at 59 & 60 there were several times on this unique hike (often over lots of rocks in the river) where we appreciated a little help from Javin in addition to using the sturdy bamboo hiking poles he provided. We never had to ask for help. He had a keen sense of when his sturdy arm might be needed. Some unique aspects of the hike were the sounds of the huge towering bamboo forest, the unusual ferns, the towering walls covered with all kinds of unusual vegetation, the small holes used by the Caribes and having the ability to relax in the cool but comfortable soaking pools -- where Javin learned to swim as a child. After the hike, Javin treated us to wonderful homemade Ginger Beer and Coconut rolls. We then headed for the lovely scenic views of the peninsula. Javin was extremely patient with my picture taking during the entire day. He was not only willing to stop anytime I wanted but gladly took pictures of my husband and me. The drive to Cockleshell beach was gorgeous. After lunch, we snorkeled and saw many fish. I especially appreciated it when Javin joined me in the water and pointed out a colorful starfish that I would have missed because it was partially covered by sea grass and all the starfish I have seen at New Jersey beaches have been white. A real thrill was a later discovery of another colorful starfish that was huge and totally visible for an underwater picture. On our way back to the ship Javin pointed out numerous wild monkeys on the side of the road. We watched them for a few minutes, enjoyed the views of the scenic peninsula once more, road thru a lovely neighborhood with beautiful landscaping and were back to the main cruise ship gate in plenty of time to take a leisurely walk back to the ship. What a joy it was to spend the day with this polite, young gentleman who gave me the flexibility to plan the day I wanted. But then again I would not have expected less from someone who along with his fiancée, Krista, has the patience to offer nature camps for children. I had told Javin that I loved nature and we wanted to really experience the beauty of St. Kitts. HE DELIVERED THAT AND SO MUCH MORE.

St. Martin
We had been to this island twice before. It is a lovely island with great views on both the Dutch and French sides. I wanted a different experience and asked a taxi driver to take us to the Guana Bay point. We first hiked up the mountain on our right, returned to the point where we had been dropped off and then headed down the easy single file coastal trail along the ocean, travelling with the mountain to our right and the ocean to our left. There are great views from the mountain but not much of an established path and you do have to be careful to avoid touching the cacti and other bushes with thorns. The coastal hike is easy. During our mountain and coastal hikes we saw colorful cacti, wild goats, colorful butterflies, unusual flowers, humming birds and large birds. The views of the cacti, rocky coastline and other islands were wonderful. At one of the small beaches along the way we found at least 8 different types of unusual coral that had washed in. I found several pieces together and it made for an interesting pix. After eating the lunch we had brought we headed back to meet the taxi driver. We had asked him to come at 12. We arrived back at 11:30 and to our surprise he was waiting for us in case we had finished early. We spent the remaining part of our day relaxing at the beach in Philipsburg before walking back to the ship. My husband and I always independently rate our excursions on a scale of 1-5. We both concluded that all that we did had been a 5 except for Barbados which was even better because of the company of our dear islander friends. I could not have been more pleased with my first experience of booking our own excursions. I felt that we got to experience so much more than we had on previous ship excursions. It did require considerable research. I appreciated the help I received from the reviews of other people and am happy to be able to share this information.

Related Trip Reviews
Barbados Trip Reviews
Dominica Trip Reviews
St. Kitts and Nevis Trip Reviews
St. Lucia Trip Reviews
U.S. Virgin Islands Trip Reviews
Caribbean Trip Reviews
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