How To Spice Up Your Cruise To The Caribbean

We saw some amazing islands, enjoyed some quality family time, and as much as I complain about the evening cruise ritual, it was actually a lot of fun in its own right!

Carlisle Bay Barbados
Carlisle Bay Barbados. PHOTO JASON CANTER

When my parents told me they wanted to celebrate their 50th anniversary with us at sea, I was a little apprehensive. Bingo, shuffleboard, dinners at 5pm, etc. all came to mind. But I love the islands, so I decided to make the best of it. We proceeded to book on Oceania, which apparently is a very high end cruise line with capacity for 700 passengers and 400 staff (compared to 5000 passengers on the larger Carnival type boats).

Our cruise started/stopped in Puerto Rico and visited 5 islands along the way. Good to start in the Caribbean, less unnecessary boat time to get to destinations and back.

Now, I figured I had to get off the boat for the maximum amount of time, so I looked through the shore trips the boat offered. They were ridiculously expensive ($100 – $150/person depending) and what I came to learn later from others is that they are all quite slow, safe, and geared towards geriatrics.

I started doing my internet research on the destinations. I used Tripadvisor and found the top things to do on each island in general to start making my plan. I ended up finding one thing on Grenada that sounded very interesting, and nothing like what was offered from the cruise – a 45 minute hike to some beautiful waterfalls. I emailed a few that offered it and made a plan for $45/person including a four hour full island tour which would drop us off at a nice beach bar at the end. I then Googled “best beach bars” on each island and found a few options and figured that was enough research for the time being.

Nikki Beach St. Barth
Nikki Beach St. Barth. PHOTO JASON CANTER

We boarded the boat around 4pm. 4pm to 9am on the ship is pretty identical on a daily basis. Not bad, just similar. You hang out in the pool for a bit, catch the last rays of the day, meet up for happy hour that ends at 6pm for half off drinks, and head to dinner at either the Italian, Steak, fancy, or casual dining room. The food was actually fantastic on this boat. Dry aged beef, lobster available for any meal, excellent duck, caviar, etc. I enforced an appetizer round, a soup/salad round, mains, and dessert (much to the dismay of our servers and my embarrassed mother). They even had sugar-free gelato for the diabetic in me, a different flavor daily. Heaven! Dinner was followed by a very cheesy song and dance show, of which I watched a little, but not much, then off to bed, slept, woke up, hit the breakfast buffet, then got off the ship.

Here is what I found (and did!) ashore. First, although I had WiFi in Puerto Rico, I knew I wouldn’t have it on the boat ($30/day for 1980 speed Wi-Fi …), but figured I would be able to find it on the islands in a few spots. My plan was to get off the boat very early each morning, find the tourist office, get some Wi-Fi, and figure out my plan for the day.

After a day at sea, we arrived in Grenada, the Spice Island! The one thing I booked ahead of time was to meet Grainger from JNJ Tours for a 4 hours island tour including a hike to Seven Sisters waterfalls. Along the way, we were told all about the island, the history, etc. It is called the Spice Island because a good portion of the world’s supply of certain spices come from here (think nutmeg, cinnamon, cocoa). While thinking, I seemed to recall there was a war here. I couldn’t imagine this beautiful tropical island had a war, but I asked and got the local history (fascinating). In the 80’s, the Cubans were helping them build, but were sending in arms with shipments, gearing up for an invasion. When war broke out, Reagan sent in the troops because their medical school was 75% American, but ultimately, Grenada remained free. It’s interesting to note that Grainger is from Grenada, but served in the US Military in Tacoma when troops from his base were deployed to Grenada, but he was never sent himself.

We parked along a gravelly road in the Etong National Forest and started our 45 minute hike. It was very steep up, then down, then back up, but mostly down, along a very muddy trail. We saw that they were putting in a new tram and zip line facility, so it will be way cooler in the future to get to. We finally arrived and it was as breathtaking as you can imagine. It was hot out, particularly after the hike, but the water was a beautiful temperature, about the same as the sea. We swam up the right side (reverse current) to get to the waterfall itself to feel the spray. We were told there is sometimes a guide who will walk you up a few waterfalls and show you where/how to jump off, from one pool to the next.

We continued our tour to see some friendly Mona monkeys, an original fort, and ultimately ended up at a gorgeous beach. $20 later (this is apparently the going rate in the Caribbean as we would come to find) we had 2 chairs, an umbrella, someone asking us our order for drinks and another asking us our order for food. The water was crisp, clear, and calm. Paradise! We took a short taxi back to the ship in plenty of time for the nightly routine on the boat…

Lobster Alive Bar
Lobster Alive Bar. PHOTO JASON CANTER

We woke up in Barbados. I checked with the tourist office and booked a 2-tank scuba dive with Rogers Scuba Shack in Carlisle Bay, and confirmed a nearby beach bar for after. A short taxi ride later I was again in paradise. Idyllic is the only way to describe it! After the aquarium like dive, including several wrecks, I made my way to meet my wife at the Lobster Alive beach bar, got some chairs, an umbrella, some delicious rum punch with nutmeg shaved on the top (love it!) and wasted the rest of the day away there. Back to the boat.

Next morning we docked in St. Lucia. There is little to do here from what I could tell, not a very quaint town, a lot of poverty and crime, so I booked a dive with Dive Fair Helen under the watchful eyes of the Pitons, the main iconic geographic feature of this island, two towering mountains that come right down to the sea. The diving was fantastic with bright corral and a lot of reef fish. It was a short day ashore due to a long upcoming sail that night, and I noticed that it was already 1pm after the first dive. We asked the dive operator if they were aware we had to be back on the boat by 3:30. They assured us they were monitoring the situation and would take us straight to the boat by dive boat if time required it. It did, and we made it back to the boat 15 minutes early, which, to be clear, is 45 minutes before we pushed off anyway, so no worries. Moral of the story, no matter how much a cruise ship tries to scare you about non-approved tour operators and the risk of getting you back to the ship on time, they always do, or else they would not be in business.

Dickinson Bay Ana's Beach Bar
Dickinson Bay Ana’s Beach Bar. PHOTO JASON CANTER

Good morning Antiqua! We headed straight to Ana’s beach bar on Dickenson Bay. $20 later, chairs, umbrella and a waitress! Paradise again. I need to find a new word, I know. Apparently, there are 365 beaches on this island, one for every day of the year, so we will have to come back 364 more times.

The sun from beautiful St. Barth streamed into our balcony! Oh yeah, that is the other thing, make sure you get a balcony/veranda room,. It is more expensive, but so worthwhile to have the sliding door and chairs outside in the fresh sea breeze. This was our last island. It’s a French island, where the likes of Beyonce and U2 vacation. If you have to ask how much things cost, you can’t afford it, that is this island. I was told it was $30 for a 5 minute cab ride to the beach or $90 for an hour long tour and return trip at the end of the day back to the boat. I opted for $90. The tour was less than impressive, but we did circumnavigate the island. This island is 100% tourism dependent; they have no other industry but they do have an endless amount of cute little shops. Every bit of food and beverage consumed on this island comes from somewhere else. They can’t even drink the water on the island, bottled only, which only adds to the uber rich life style you can imagine.

Nikki Beach St Barth champagne
Nikki Beach St Barth champagne. PHOTO JASON CANTER

We ended up at the only beach bar on St. Jean beach, which is Nikki Beach, yes that Nikki Beach. It is 200 Euros for a sun bed right on the sand, free for the couch and table right behind it. Clear choice! We overheard them giving prices on the day bed to different people, all different prices, some more & some less than we were quoted. The people next to us were Russian, and they were drinking a Dom Perignon Brut Rose 2003 and had a huge lobster platter. The place started filling up and magnums of French Rose were being popped like nobody’s business. People were even having double magnums and Jeroboams (3 magnums) of Rose. $300 later and we had had fantastic food, literally the best grilled calamari we have ever had, the equivalent of a bottle (not a magnum) of rose, and too many frozen daiquiris to count.

Back to the boat for one more night at sea, then off the ship at 8am. One more thing to avoid: the boat will book transfers to airport for $79/person, which is four times the price of a single cab that fits 5-6 people.

In the end it was a fantastic trip; we saw some amazing islands, enjoyed some quality family time, and as much as I complain about the evening cruise ritual, it was actually a lot of fun in its own right!

Dickinson Bay Antigua Ana's Beach Bar
Dickinson Bay Antigua Ana’s Beach Bar. PHOTO JASON CANTER

Jason Canter

Contributor

Jason loves beaches, sailing, diving & trying new foods. His travel style is about staying central & close to the action. His favorite country is Mexico & he never travels without his Tumi roller.

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