I have to admit, I’ve never thought much about cruising, always been more of a “feet planted firmly on the ground” kind of person. Having done trips to Kilimanjaro, Machu Picchu and Everest Base Camp, trekking is more my style, I am however always open to engaging in new experiences.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, my wife Trudy and I really hadn’t travelled anywhere for about two years. With countries having so many different entry protocols which seem to change daily, Trudy threw out the idea of doing a cruise. It didn’t take long for me to warm to the idea, I just knew we had to get out and do something. Since we retired and moved to Barbados with the idea that we could island hop anytime we wanted, the idea of a Caribbean cruise made a lot of sense. We chose Regent Seven Seas, a cruise line with smaller ships which cater to hundreds instead of thousands. A seven day Barbados to Barbados with six ports of call was what we opted for. With plenty of free shore excursions to choose from, this turned out to be a great selling point.
Evening departure from Bridgetown, adventure awaits!
Our arrival at the port for check in started with a hiccup. We presented our negative Covid test certificate and almost immediately there was some discussion as to whether it was done within the correct time window. After some back and forth, a few tense moments, meetings with the ship’s infectious disease director, everything was thankfully sorted out and we were able to board, what a relief!
We made our way to our state room which I would describe as cozy but well appointed. There was a welcome bottle of champagne and some fruits. Our luggage was delivered soon afterwards. The beauty of cruising is that you unpack once and don’t have to worry about suitcases until the end of the trip. Since we’re not heavy drinkers, we requested the beer in the mini fridge to be switched out for some other beverages and that was taken care of almost immediately. Two members of the service staff were assigned to our room and we got to know them pretty well. They would greet us by name in the morning as we made our way to breakfast and also in the evening upon our return from shore excursions. The service was first class from the beginning.
Dinner the first evening was as good as advertised. The dining and service experience was at a very high standard which set the tone for the duration of the cruise.
DAY ONE : ST. LUCIA. Morning has broken, first stop, Castries.
After dinner, we relaxed, settled in and was able to get a good night’s sleep. I was up at the crack dawn, itching to get a glimpse of the first island. We’re very much looking forward to this first shore excursion, obviously with only one day on each island, you’re not going to be able to see a lot but we’ll surely make the best of it. Knowing that, we tried to tailor the excursions to things that would be somewhat unique and be of interest to us. The islands in the Caribbean all have nice beaches, that’s a given, and since we live on Barbados, we were looking for those experiences that are unique to each island.
This first tour was an all day affair so after a big and hearty breakfast, we boarded a private bus and set out from the port of Castries which is located on the northwest coast. We headed for the town of Soufriere which is one and a half hours away in the south west. St Lucia is part of the string of volcanic islands in the Caribbean region which is quite different from our Barbados which is a coral island and relatively flat. We took a very scenic drive through mountainous terrain, along narrow roads, up steep hills with deep drop offs. The vegetation was lush and the hillsides were dotted with houses. We had an excellent tour guide who kept us entertained and informed us as we drove through small towns and fishing villages. She was well versed in the history of St. Lucia, offering tips along the way of other things to do if we were to make a return trip to the island. We won’t be hiking the Pitons this day but maybe another time.
We made a quick stop at the Marigot Bay overlook to check out the panoramic view of this stunning area. There were vendors hawking the usual souvenirs. Some local products such as banana ketchup, hot sauce, coffee, the Piton beer and fruit and spiced infused rums were also available. Trudy is the coffee drinker in our household so everywhere we travel, we pick up some of the local roast to compare taste and flavor. So far, Jamaican Blue Mountain has been the one to beat.
It’s about a ten minute drive from the town of Soufriere to the Diamond Botanical gardens which would be our next stop. This garden dates back to the 1700’s and is the oldest in St. Lucia. The site is famous for its thermal and mineral enriched baths which are said to have healing properties. They have been restored and are available for public use today. This is a great space to enjoy some quiet time while being serenaded by the sounds of the many birds that inhabit this area. We were lucky to have a proper guide who, as we walked along the well defined paths, pointed out and identified several species of flowers and trees like anthuriums, heliconia, ginger lilies and hibiscus, nutmeg, cocoa and cashew. To the far end of the garden is Diamond Falls. As we started on the short hike, it began to rain. Fortunately we had packed some rain ponchos that we saved from a previous trip to Niagara and they sure came in handy. Thankfully, it didn’t rain for very long. The Falls certainly has a unique look. It is fed by the Diamond river which runs through the area of Sulphur Springs, known for it’s geo thermal activity, mineral and mud baths. The many minerals that are carried in the water stain the rock giving it the distinctive coloured features that it’s famous for.
After enjoying the botanical gardens and uniqueness of Diamond Falls, we set out for a quick tour of the Morne Cubaril Estate. This is a working cocoa and coconut plantation that dates back to the 1800’s. While at the estate, we toured the cocoa house where beans are processed and dried and got a demonstration of old school bean mixing. There is a replica of a Carib village, they being some of the earliest inhabitants of the island. We sampled fresh coconut water, checked out a copra oven which is used in the extraction of coconut oil from meaty flesh. We saw a donkey driven sugar cane mill used for crushing cane. Fresh juice was available for sampling.
After the tour, we had a not so impressive lunch at the estate restaurant, seemed like they were running low on food. We were not the only tour group there and they were definitely rationing. After lunch, we drove to the pier in Soufriere, boarded a catamaran and took a cruise along the leeward side of the island. This would be our route back to the ship. We were rewarded with spectacular views of the majestic Pitons as they rise dramatically from the sea. We passed the sprawling Sandals Resort property on our way to the beach at Anse Cochon. A nice swim was welcome as it was a hot day and perfect time to cool of in the crystal clear waters. After about forty five minutes swim time, we’re back on the catamaran. With rum punch flowing and the music pumping, the crew tried to get the party going but after such a long day, everyone just wanted to relax. As we continued along the coast, we stopped in at Marigot Bay, an area filled with luxury hotels, villas, beach bars and plenty yachts. This is also the area where portions of the original Dr Doolitle movie was filmed.
Anse Cochon Beach.
After a very long day out, we were looking forward to dinner and it truly didn’t disappoint. I don’t know a whole lot about cruising as this is my first one, but with the level of service we received, the quality of the food, the constant supply of great wines, the welcoming and attentive staff, I’m not sure if it could get any better than this.
DAY TWO : DOMINICA: For the outdoor enthusiast, there’s so much to offer here. Welcome to the nature island.
Dominica is about seventy percent rain forest and jungle and not heavily populated. Volcanic in nature and mountainous, there are lots of rivers, waterfalls, hiking trails, boiling lakes and other thermal features. We were picked up at the port by a very entertaining driver and guide who promised us a great day which we did have indeed. Leaving the capital Roseau, we drove along the west coast for a bit, then headed inland into the hills. On the way to the first stop which would be the Emerald Pool Nature area, we began to get the feeling of being in the rain forest, everything was lush and green and there was always the sight of water trickling down through the trees. We were only about half way into our one hour trip but the temperature was suddenly cooler and there was always the threat of rain showers. There would be no showers this day, good for us.
After arriving at the visitor center of the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, we took a short hike through the rain forest, past massive trees with moss covered trunks, giant ferns, heliconia, ginger lilies, vines with huge leaves just to name a few. The once cool air is becoming very humid as we go deeper onto the forest. You could hear small animals as they scurried about and the sounds of birds filled the air. This soon gave way to the sound of falling water. We hiked down to the viewing platform and then around the pool where people were swimming. The crisp, cool water of the pool with it’s emerald green hue looked very inviting but unfortunately, no time for a swim.
Leaving Emerald Pool, we stopped at a local restaurant for rum punch and other refreshments. One very kind lady in the neighbourhood, picked some guavas from her garden for us to sample. This is the hospitality of the island people. Our next stop was the trail head for the Trafalgar twin falls which was just a short drive away. For being so deep in the jungle, these falls are quite accessible from the visitor’s centre. Another short hike, albeit a steeper climb and we’re at a viewing platform for the 125 ft Father and the 75 ft Mother falls. We hiked down while clambering over boulders for a closer look. There’s a pool under the Mother Falls where you can cool off but the water is very cold. Click Here for more on Morne Trois Pitons National Park.
The rain forest is home to an array of tropical flowers like heliconias and ginger lilies.
DAY THREE : ST. BARTHELEMY where the super rich and famous play.
Pulling into St Barth’s, you already get the sense that it’s different here. There’s no port so we went ashore by tender boat. There was concern the evening before that the sea swells might be a problem on arrival but luckily the ocean calmed and we were able to go ashore as scheduled. This overseas French territory is only ten square miles, very clean, expensive with lots of high end shops. Despite it’s small size, St. Barth’s has a lot of hills, but a great network of roads makes it easy to get around to the awesome vista points. For this segment of the excursion, there were only three of us. We took a private car around the island with a local driver who showed us all the points of interest and told stories of some of the celebrities he had driven. We could tell how proud he was of his island. He took so much time with us that he was a little late getting back to the dock for his next pick up. This is truly a hot spot for the rich and famous and you couldn’t help but marvel at all the yachts anchored in the bay and the constant stream of private planes flying in. There’s no true international airport but there is ferry service to and from neighbouring St Maarten and it takes about forty five minutes one way.
Back at the dock, we hopped on a catamaran for a relaxing cruise to a secluded beach for swimming, we even spotted some turtles along the way. Once again, rum punch the drink of choice. Catamaran sailing is becoming one of our favourite pastimes and I think it’s a “must do” any time you’re in a tropical island setting.
Another exquisite dinner! At this point in the cruise, I think we’re drinking more wine than water, maybe not a good thing. On shore excursions seems like we’re doing a rum punch tour (every island has it’s own version) and we had one every day, sometimes twice, meanwhile on the ship, its a true gastronomic experience.
DAY FOUR: Antigua on the horizon! They claim to have 365 beaches, one for every day of the year.
First thing on the agenda in Antigua is a stingray encounter. We boarded a private bus from the port in St John’s and drove out to Stingray city. After a brief orientation, we hopped on a power boat for an exhilarating twenty minute ride to one of the shallow bays with floating platforms. We’re not keen on seeing animals and birds in cages and enclosures for entertainment purposes but this is different. The rays are free and in open ocean and they show up when they hear the sound of the boats knowing there will be some feeding going on. The rays were gentle and playful. We held and petted them and they swam between our legs and followed us around. Such a great experience especially for Trudy as this was her first time with this type of encounter. Back on shore, as at the end of each activity we’d done so far, there was rum punch.
After the rays, we’re back on the bus to Nelson’s Dockyard. This historic site comprising English Harbour and the surrounding Shirley Heights has UNESCO world heritage status. This is a well sheltered and strategic harbour used by the British dating back to the 1600’s. Now a marina, and a jumping off point for Antigua’s annual sailing week, we were able to check out all the yachts, the period buildings some of which are original including the Galley Bar where we stopped in for a drink. There are hotels here, a bakery, museum, wood working shop and a still operational old screw dock.
A trip up to Shirley Heights, a former gun battery, military lookout point and garrison sits about 600 ft above sea level and offers excellent views of English Harbour and the surrounding area including blues rock legend Eric Clapton’s cliff top property. You can clearly see why this location was chosen by the British to protect their assets. On our visit, there wasn’t much going on. There’s a restaurant and bar and some souvenir vendors but on Sundays, the place comes alive with a sunset barbeque and entertainment.
DAY FIVE: Good morning St Vincent!
After enduring the Soufriere volcanic eruption and being battered by hurricane Elsa in 2021, it was interesting to see how the island has recovered. You could sense the feeling of normalcy as people went about their daily lives. St Vincent and the Grenadines as they’re officially called, consists of thirty two islands with only nine being inhabited. There’s ferry service that runs from the mainland to all the smaller islands including Bequia and Mustique which are two of the more well known ones. This would make for an interesting side trip if we’re ever back in St. Vincent.
We drove through bustling capital of Kingstown on our way to Fort Charlotte. There are many forts scattered throughout the Caribbean and St. Vincent is no exception. This fort was completed in the early 1800’s and sits six hundred feet above sea level. After exiting our tour vehicle, we walked up a very steep incline to the fort. Needless to say, the views were spectacular with Bequia, one of the Grenadines islands just in the distance. We checked out the cannons which seemed to be in great shape for having been around so long. The lighthouse however, really showed it’s age but it’s still operational and is used as a landmark for ships entering the port of Kingstown. We were told that more recently that the fort was used as a women’s prison but that’s no longer the case.
Leaving the fort and working your way down these narrow mountain roads with the deep drop offs and in some places no guard rails is not for the faint of heart. Much respect to the island drivers. Next, we paid a visit to the botanical gardens which had a wide array of trees, some over 200 years old. We had a very entertaining and creative guide who turned the tour into a gameshow. We played “guess the name of the flower or tree” and points were given for the correct answer. Loads of fun a great time for everyone.
Our excursion continued with a drive through the Mesopotamia Valley. It took us past elegant mansions and simple bungalow style houses that dotted the countryside. At various elevations, we were able to see some of the islands of the Grenadines. This verdant region with it’s rich volcanic soil is noted for it’s agricultural production and unlike most of it’s island neighbours that are tourism dependent, agriculture and all that it encompasses is the driver of the economy.
After long days ashore, it was always good the get back “home” and enjoy the fabulous dinners.
DAY SIX: Hello Grenada! The isle of spice.
After five days of perfect weather we were greeted with rain showers on arrival in Grenada. It didn’t make for the of greatest of shore excursions and as it turned out, this was our least favourite tour. Surely Grenada has a lot to offer, but we weren’t able to experience much of it on this day.
They don’t call it the “spice island” for nothing. Nutmeg, cocoa pods and cashews.
Our tour selection, “Discover Grenada” was eight hours long and entailed a lot of driving. It was raining and our driver who was also the tour guide, seemed rushed. All of our previous excursions had separate guides who were quite knowledgeable about what we would experience for the day and could engage more with the participants. Apart from the designated stops, there wasn’t much sightseeing. You literally had to ask him to pull over if something interesting caught your eye. The first stop was Grenada Distillers, the largest rum distillery on the island which produces the world famous Clarke Court’s rum. On site are the remnants of an old sugar factory. We learned that since harvesting and producing sugar is no longer cost effective, the raw materials for the rum production are imported. A section of the old factory is now used for that purpose. This very interesting and educational tour was conducted by a young lady who was very knowledgeable in all aspects of the making Grenada’s award winning rum. After the tour, we were treated to a complimentary rum tasting. There were products available for purchase as well which we took full advantage of.
Grenada’s award winning rum comes in a variety of fruit flavours. The more traditional white and dark rums can be as much as sixty nine percent alcohol.
Rum selections were plentiful.
The rain held up a bit as we made the ten minute drive to the next stop. Dating back to the 1700’s, the twin forts of Fort Matthew and the better maintained Fort Frederick sit on top of a ridge overlooking the capital. We entered through the very impressive thick stone arches and got an immediate view of St. Georges to the south and the hilly residential north side. As the British and French were constantly fighting to gain control of this island, the French built Fort Frederick with the cannons facing inland to avert an attack coming from within. There wasn’t much to do here except learn a little of the history and enjoy the 360 degree views.
We left the fort and we’re in for a one hour drive to the north east side to visit the Belmont Estate. Dating back to the 1600’s this property has changed ownership several times throughout it’s history and is now locally owned. Previously a producer of sugar, cotton and bananas, the focus now is on nutmeg, cocoa, high quality chocolate, goat cheese production and organic farming. The on site restaurant where we had lunch uses products sourced directly from the farm.
Cocoa beans ready for fermentation.
Explaining the cocoa bean drying process.
The Estate with it’s lush grounds and eco friendly approach to farming, has a thriving chocolate making business that we were eager to check out. We were educated on the cocoa and chocolate making process from picking the right pods, extracting the beans, fermentation, drying, hand sorting, grinding all very labour intensive, but the end result is well worth it. Trudy stepped up to demonstrate one way the beans are turned in the drying process. After fermentation, the beans are placed on racks to dry in the sun. The racks are equipped with rollers and in the event of rain, they can be wheeled into the cocoa storage house. Everyone got a chance to sample the chocolate and cocoa and we purchased a few bars for ourselves.
Chocolate processing room.
Bulk bars of white and dark chocolate
After the chocolate experience, we continued our trip around the island. It was still raining sporadically, sometimes light sprinkles, sometimes a bit heavier. In retrospect, there were so many other places we could’ve seen but as I mentioned earlier, our driver/tour guide seemed rushed. We were in the vicinity of Carib’s Leap, a place where the indigenous Caribs leapt to their deaths to avoid capture and enslavement by the French, not on the agenda. The Seven Sisters Waterfalls, not on the agenda. We however did do a drive by Grand Etang Lake, a crater lake located within the Grand Etang National Park. Situated in the central highlands, you can explore the numerous hiking trails and waterfalls. There are tropical birds, troops of monkeys and armadillos within the park but only a quick stop here was on our agenda. It wouldn’t have been a great day for hiking anyway as it wet and soggy and nothing much to see or do. The day wasn’t a total loss as we did experience some interesting things but at this point in the day, we were all ready to get back to the ship. Hopefully in the future we get a chance to experience more of Grenada.
With the first cruise under my belt, I can honestly say that it exceeded my expectations. I even lost my sea legs a bit on the lengthy Antigua to St. Vincent leg but recovered quickly. Despite that, we’ve booked another one for next year, I’m on my way to becoming a serial cruiser.