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Caribbean WHS by cruise ship

 
Author kintante
Partaker
#1 | Posted: 17 Dec 2015 09:27 
I just came back from a cruise in the Caribbean ant wanted to share my experiences of this option for visiting the Caribbean WHS. I guess even though most of you are well travelled, few have considered a cruise as a travel option so far.

What cruise to select?
I went for Carnival's 7 day Southern Caribbean cruise. It currently includes 4 WHS. If Antigua gets in, a cruise with Royal Caribbean might be the better choice, as they include Antigua instead of St. Maarten. I did not find a cruise that includes all WHS.

What stateroom (cabin)?
I was travelling with my wife and my boy. We had a Suite. I think this was a smart choice if 3 people travel in the same room. A Suite has about the size of a normal to larger hotel room. I peeked into some interior cabins. There is not much more space than for a bed and a shower. If traveling as a couple I would suggest you take a balcony room. Reasonably big, not too expensive and of course you have a balcony. I was on deck 7 and this was a good choice. not too loud and less movements.

What can I expect from a cruise?

I was positively surprised. We got better treatment than in any of the 5* hotels we've been so far. Everything is constantly cleaned and the crew treats you like a king. Food was very good and you get a very professional entertainment program that could keep you busy without even leaving the ship. Most food, some beverages and most entertainment options are included. There is even free child care.

The fare is very low for what you get. They tried to generate additional revenue by trying to sell alcoholic beverages and pictures and offshore excursions. There were also many pictures taken from you on every occasion which they tried to sell us for up to 22 USD a picture.

My fellow travellers were a very mixed crowd. But most of them did seem to care more about food and stuff on board than the islands we sailed to. I feared that a ship filled with 3000 people would flush any of these small islands and make the visit of all the attractions and beaches I planned to visit a living nightmare. This was not the case. Most people seemed to have stayed on board or at the harbour shopping facilities near the ship. The few that explored the island went on organized tours. These groups were easy to avoid.

The ship was huge, so there were only a few locations where it got crowded. Mainly food related. Breakfast is a nightmare if you arrive after 8am.

The islands
In general I have to say that the islands I visited are not cheap at all. Renting a car, food and drinks and public transport are all above the cost level of most European countries. You can pay with USD on all islands. In Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Barbados you drive on the left.

We started and finished in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The main port is also the first WHS you will visit and deserves a few extra days. There are other places of interest on the island you might consider visiting, such as EL Yunque rain forest or Vieques island.

St. Thomas was the first stop. No WHS and no TWHS. The island is US territory. The capital is Charlotte Amalie. It's basically a huge shopping mall with no clear sightseeing value rather than the nice colonial houses. The highlight of the island is Magon's Bay: a really nice beach to relax for a few hours.

After an entire day at sea we arrived in Barbados. I rented a car for a day. The WHS Bridgetown is underwhelming, but the TWHS are interesting. Both TWHS and the WHS can be seen in 1 day, as roads are ok and there is not much traffic. The country also offers some fine beaches, but if you want to see all the highlights, there is not much time left for relaxing.

In Saint Lucia I also rented a car. It was the island I liked the least of all those visited. Roads are very winding and in bad condition. You need a lot of time for relatively short distances. The island would probably need more time than what you get till the ship leaves again. I visited beautiful Marigot Bay and drove into the core zone of the Volcano. Castries, The Port of Call and capital, is rather ugly and not worth a visit.

Saint Kitts was my personal highlight. Again I chose to rent a car (my favourite option). The WHS can be reached in about 30min from Basseterre (Port of Call). Basseterre is also one of the 2 TWHS. I did not have time to visit the second TWHS, Charlestown, as it's on Nevis and would require an additional boat trip. The beaches in the south of Saint Kitts are nice places to relax and can be reached in about 20mins.

Sint Maarten has no WHS and no TWHS. Philipsburg (Port of Call) is a nice little town with a white sandy beach. The other highlight of the island is Maho Beach – the plane spotter paradise. Traffic was horrible and it took us over an hour to go there and another hour to go back. The same road leads to the French part of the island. I skipped a trip to Saint Martin due to this traffic and spent the rest of the day at the beach.


How much time did I have on the islands?
The ship was in the port from 7am or 8am until 5pm. Usually we could get out about 8:20am and had to be on board until 4:30pm. In Barbados and Saint Lucia my rental car was delivered to the port. In Saint Kitts, the office was within walking distance. Due to the small size of the islands it was manageable to visit most places of interest within the hours I got.

What are the advantages?
· It's cheaper than visiting these islands by plane and staying overnight
· You bring your hotel room to every island. No packing/unpacking and baggage transport needed
· You have a fix spot for breakfast and dinner at no additional costs
· Entering the country is very easy. Your ship card is enough. No immigration, no lines

What are the disadvantages?
· It's probably not the most effective way to visit the region's WHS. A cruise does not cover all WHS, but you will be obliged to visit islands without WHS instead (even though that's not too bad)
· You are restricted to about 8 hours per island

Would I recommend it?
Yes, it was a rather pleasant trip and I would recommend this a valid option to visit the WHS in the Caribbean. I am sure it wasn't my last Caribbean cruise. Dominica and Curasao are still on my list. And it's quite relaxing.


If you have any more questions I'm happy to answer them.

Author elsslots
Admin
#2 | Posted: 17 Dec 2015 23:48 
Thanks for sharing, kintante!

Author meltwaterfalls
Partaker
#3 | Posted: 18 Dec 2015 05:33 
Yep I will second that, thanks very much. My parents are big cruise fans and I have always wondered what the experience would be like from a WHS hunting perspective, so thanks for this write up.

Much like Els' end of trip write ups on the blog, these can be excellent resources when ruminating on ideas.

Author Solivagant
Partaker
#4 | Posted: 18 Dec 2015 07:05 | Edited by: Solivagant 
kintante:
I guess even though most of you are well travelled, few have considered a cruise as a travel option so far.

Thanks for your experiences in the Caribbean, Kintante
Actually there is at least one other member of this Community who has used "Cruises" reasonably extensively as a mode of travel! I have just calculated that, across the last 12+ yrs we have spent c 250 days "sea cruising" plus another 40+ days "River cruising".
The former figure is significantly extended by the inclusion of a "Round the World" trip of 115 days. I remember Els's reply when I mentioned to her that we were going to be away "for a while" that she feared that she might go crazy if stuck on board for that long. And she has a point. But an RTW is a bit like extreme distance running - one has to pace oneself and be prepared for long periods of boredom. 5 or 6 continous full days at sea needed to cross the Pacific (even with an Island stop) or the Atlantic takes some managing if you are at heart an "Independent traveller"! Something to do just "once" in one's life!
However, I do feel that every "traveller" needs to experience a deep sea voyage of several days - preferably with some really rough weather - in order to begin to appreciate what it was like to travel around the World in the pre-aviation era and thus begin to comprehend just how "remote" many of those WHS, which we now get to after less than a day's flying, really were for many centuries - just as one "needs" to have the experience of a rail journey extending across several days or a bus trip of 24hrs+ etc in one's "travel portfolio".
You quite seem to have liked what I might call the "Cruising" aspects of your cruise - A "State Room" - or even a "Balcony" ("Not too expensive")! For those not attracted by such facilities I should mention that we always travel as near to "steerage class" as we can get - i.e Inside Cabin low down (Better in rough weather as well - try to get midships), and enjoy it. Chacun a son gout, but we find that one actually spends very little time in one's cabin (though that could be because of our "little black hole" cabin of course!) and one can "see the sea" just as well from the deck or a public area. On most ships nowadays, all (or most) of the ship is open to passengers of all "classes" so one isn't excluded from other aspects of the voyage. I appreciate that you are travelling en famille and Mrs Kintante (as well as yourself) may have certain "standards" which have to be maintained! We, on the other hand, always measure our cabin on the sort of criteria we would use to choose a hotel, where 3*** or 2** is our target! You also mention the "Entertainment". When I draw up a list of the "Negatives" of cruising, very high up my list come
a. Entertainment
b. Captain's dinners
c. Formal evenings
They CAN all be avoided. However, what can't be avoided is the Cruise director's holiday camp-like announcements of the upcoming day's/evening's "fun". We usually find on board that there is a small but dedicated group of "Travellers" who are NOT on board for "Fun"! We are characterised by studiously avoiding such functions , getting up early to see the sun rise or the sail into port.

It is perhaps worth highlighting that there is "cruising" and there is "cruising". I divide the cruise market as follows
a. "Adventure Cruising" - small ship (c 50 -150 pax), most "landings" by Zodiac or at most a "Tender" as the "ports" being visited are not capable of taking a vessel. Some larger ships will use tenders (either their own, or ones coming out from the nearby port) but, for ships much larger than 1500 pax, many of whom might be infirm this is an option they try to avoid and, even if they arrive at such a port the captain may take any excuse to "cancel" the landing and rely on the local hawkers coming on board instead to sell their wares
b. "Destination Cruising". These will be "Larger" ships (I personally put a limit at around 1200 pax) but ones on which the "on board" aspects are not the main/sole attraction. These may well offer a different port nearly every day. They attract what I might term a "cross-over" clientel. But there will still be many passengers who are "SOBs" ("Stay on Boards") or those for whom wandering around the port town is itself an "adventure". You may however come up against "difficulties" when wanting to "do one's own thing". First - getting on shore. Some ships are known to give priority to those on paid excursions, especially if a tender is involved. Second - getting one's passport. Ship's Pursers HATE giving out passports once they have all their passengers safely on on board and their passports filed away for review by Immigration (You may get ashore with your ship card but the local immigration will still have viewed the passenger list and documents before clearing the ship) - passengers tend to do things like losing them or forgetting to hand them back!! I always insist on having my passport whenever I am ashore and have had to "go to the top" before now to get it. You might need it for - reductions in entry price, car rental proof of citizenship, police checks. money change etc etc and can't guarantee that a photocopy will suffice.
c. "Entertainment Cruising" - I guess the ultimate are the cruises ex-Miami or other US Eastern Seaboard ports for whom the trip is primarily an excuse to leave the US licensing and gambling jurisdictions and provide fun, sun and booze. Such ships might well visit e.g "Haiti" by stopping at the cruise line's very own resort where the passengers are cossetted, protected and only meet "carefully selected" Haitians!

I would suggest that the issue for WHS travellers is to try to choose ships/cruises from Categories "a" and those in "b" which provide opportunities in their route/ports of call for a degree "(semi-)adventurous" self organised travel. So - to indicate how our cruises have fitted in to our "WHS" and individual travel needs.
a. Antarctic and Atlantic Islands. 49 days - Purely Category a cruising and fairly low in WHS terms - We only got Gough/Inaccessible! (But you can pick up some in Argentina on the way to the ship). But as we know the WHS list has some major gaps. Antarctica itself and South Georgia for example -and there are those "other" Travel lists of birds, mammals, ecosystems and islands to pick up. You will get some "Nice" rough weather at some time too and on a fairly small ship!
b. West Africa. 30 days Mid Category b with a good chance for some "personal adventure" opportunities and a few WHS (Goree, Abomey. Gold Coast forts). We stopped off in Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, Togo, Benin and Sao Tome. Such a trip can in part "cover" a series of individual African trips - but of course without the "overland experience". On this trip (and on the RTW) we ofetn tended to rent a taxi with a driver -at most ports these are waiting at the entrance though, sometimes, we pre-booked off the Web. It also has an advantage of giving access to a number of countries for whom getting a visa would otherwise be a hassle. But, beware, not all countries give Cruise Ship passengers "easy entry". I think of Japan and Australia which needed a "face to face" and fingerprints
c. Indian Ocean. 18 days Category a. Quite good for WHS -took in Zanzibar, Kilwa, Aldabra and Valle de Mai. And T List on E.g The Comores
d. Svalbaard. 10 days. Category a. Only 1 T List but SUPERB!! By far the best way of seeing Svalbaard
e. Eastern Aegean - 10 days. Category b. The equivalent of Kintante's Caribbean trip but in Europe - a different port/island nearly every day - and quite good for WHS. We took in (or could have if we hadn't already seen some of them so that we saw other things) Rhodes, Ephesus, Acropolis, Bahai, Akko plus several T List such as Knossos. But this sort of cruising is not for the "Completist". Just as Kintante found, one will still have to go back for the islands which got missed out. Another factor to consider is the "risk" of Car rental. There is a saying in English about "Not missing the boat" and, when you are on your own with a rental car and a ship which will leave whatever at, say, 5pm, it begins to take on a special meaning!! How much spare time do you need to allow for possible breakdowns, traffic jams etc ( We got held up for over 2 hours trying to cross Tel Aviv on this trip - luckily we had an extra day in port but we would have been in trouble otherwise! )?? Sometimes you may just have to accept that what you "need" to see is just too risky time-wise to do on your own and pay the outrageous prices for a Ship organised excursion - but at least the ship will wait for them!

I would like to finish with a suggestion that people might like to look at River Cruises. We have crossed from Amsterdam to the Black Sea and from Astrakhan up to St Petersburg. Now, I am very prepared (and do - 6000kms around Spain and another 6k in Turkey this year) to drive many kms around Europe to see its sites (And rather less to rely on its trains) - but a River Cruise can provide a fine alternative experience. There is nothing quite like seeing the Middle Rhine, Wachau, Vienna, Budapest, Kazan, Novgorod etc etc from the River. The "Cruising" is far more interesting than just being "At Sea" and every day will bring 1 or 2 stops where one can easily do ones "own thing"

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 Caribbean WHS by cruise ship

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