Cruising to Chile: Live Blog #2 (Days at Sea)

There’s something about the ocean. Of course to even consider taking a cruise, you have to have at least a grudging love of the sea.

Even if it is transportation to wonderful new experiences in interesting places, there will be days at sea between destinations when you have a chance to unwind, sit back and enjoy your conveyance. In this instance, we’re getting to know Silversea Cruises’ newest addition to their fleet: the Silver Muse.

With some 580 or so guests, it’s really considered a small ship, although we’ve sailed on smaller ones. Being new, everything shines. With a low-key sophisticated decor, the Muse is a mellow space that suits the Discerning Travelers’ taste!

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So, what, you may ask, does one do with two sea days in a row? In addition to dining and relaxing, there are plenty of other activities on offer for the gym to the casino to the bars. Gyms are generally out of the question for us on vacation, with the exception of the odd yoga class for Patty.

We’ve been boning up on the history of the Panama Canal which we will reach the day after to,orrow. The on-board lecturer is really knowledgeable as well as entertaining…and we learned that we’ll have to get up before sunrise to really get the full value of one the modern wonders of the world.

We’ll do that, but tomorrow we’ll be in Costa Rica for an Eco-river cruise.

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Cruise Ports on Your Own: A Day in St. John’s, Antigua

IMG_3176The first time we ever set foot on the island of Antigua was on a six-hour layover at the airport enroute from St. Kitt’s to Toronto. That was a few years ago when the airport was little more than a Quonset hut with a small duty-free shop and the inevitable bar where the hordes congregated awaiting their flights. Oh, and we suppose it’s worth mentioning that the airport at the time was sans air-conditioning!

We had been in St. Kitt’s for Art’s medical school reunion and were in a bit of a group traveling back to Canada. One of the groups had been on an earlier inter-island flight so by the time we arrived in Antigua someone had already booked a van and driver and planned an island tour. So we spent our time soaking in the beauty of the island vowing to return for a longer holiday – which we did a year later.

We fell in love with Antigua and Barbuda, its beauty and its people, so whenever we take a Caribbean cruise that lands in St. John’s, Antigua’ s capital, we always look forward to our day.

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St. James’s Club in Antigua where we spent a wonderful holiday a few years ago.

 

Just a stone’s throw from where the ships usually dock are the small streets of the town offering an array of the usual duty-free shopping as well as some shops unique to the island. If you need a new bathing suit, you’d do well to wait until you get to Antigua so that you can avail yourself of the dizzying array on offer at Sunseekers. Then, on your hunt for a unique piece of jewelry and/or art, eschew all those shops you see as you disembark and head to Goldsmitty on Redcliffe Quay. Uniquely original, Goldsmitty’s pieces are the creation of artist and jewelry designer Hans Smit. Patty has acquired a pendant and earrings on trips to St. John’s.

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Too many cruise ship in port that day!

 

This most recent visit to St. John’s though was a bit disappointing. The town was overrun with cruise ship passengers that day. The main docking area in the town was jammed with ships so that our own didn’t even dock there. The alternative port is in an industrial container port area a ten-to-fifteen-minute drive from the town through an area that you would not choose to walk – and we’ll walk practically anywhere.

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The opal and gold pendant Patty acquired at Goldsmitty.

 

We took the shuttle into town, walked around for an hour and then headed back to the ship to enjoy the Antigua sunshine from the vantage point of the deck. The town seemed a bit shabbier than on previous visits and we have to wonder if the recent recession has had a negative impact.

St. John’s is still worth a port visit and Antigua and its people are still beautiful!

 

The 5 best Caribbean cruise ports – for discerning travelers on their own

Colorful Old San Juan (Puerto Rico) is a wonderful place to spend the day strolling & taking photos.
Colorful Old San Juan (Puerto Rico) is a wonderful place to spend the day strolling & taking photos.

And so we’re back at it.  The dog days of summer are waning and the thoughts of discerning travelers of the Canadian sort turn to winter – winter vacation planning of course!  As we begin to consider the options, we’ve been thinking back to our many cruises and island vacations in the Caribbean; we thought that we’d share our choices for the best cruise ports for travelers to venture on foot on their own.

When you’re on a cruise for the first time, there is something to be said for booking a few shore excursions – but inevitably, after a while, you just want to stroll off the ship (or the tender in some smaller ports) and wander on your own without benefit of the constant drone of the tour guide’s voice, or the chatter of other cruisers.

To give you a bit of context for why we think we have an opinion that you might find credible, you need to know that we’ve actually visited some 28 Caribbean cruise ports.  So, our list of the five best ones for strolling about independently is based on considerable experience!  So let’s get started!

Number 5: Georgetown, Grand Cayman

The first time we visited Grand Cayman, there were five large cruise ships moored off the port with thousands of passengers being tendered to Georgetown all day long!  Despite these large numbers, most of the cruisers were actually on shore excursions, so although there were crowds in Georgetown, they weren’t unbearable.  Although not a great port culturally in our view, the reason Georgetown figures on this list at all is because of the shopping.

On most cruises we take, we plan to shop only once.  We don’t pick up souvenirs (we’ve told you about that before), but we do like a bit of interesting shopping.  Georgetown offers a wide array of duty-free goods and if you’re in the market for something like a watch, high-end perfume, cosmetics (like Chanel), a piece of good jewelry, or even a camera this is the place to find variety, and the shops are well-laid out.

The last time we planned our shopping for Georgetown, the last cruise port on our Regent cruise, the ship had engine trouble in Cozumel and stayed there an extra day (where we ate copious amounts of Mexican food!).  The Grand Cayman stop was cancelled.  Oh well, we saved a lot of money on that trip!

Number 4: San Juan, Puerto Rico

We love San Juan; although we didn’t the first time we visited it on a cruise ship.  That time we took a tour and didn’t really get to see San Juan.  A later visit when we stayed there for a few days prior to our cruise actually leaving from San Juan endeared it to us in so many ways.  But this one is on the list of places to stroll to only if your ship docks in Old San Juan.  There are two cruise ship ports in San Juan: the other one is called the Pan American cruise terminal and you’ll need a taxi to get anywhere, including Old San Juan. But it’s worth doing on your own.

Old San Juan is a wonderful labyrinth of cobble-stoned streets with a wide variety of shops, pubs and restaurants.  You can easily while away several hours walking around, visiting the fortress and museum, doing a bit of shopping and then grabbing a bite of Puerto Rican food for lunch.  Be sure to sample the local Medalla beer.

By the way, if your cruise leaves from San Juan, this is even better!   You can then stay in PR for a few days and enjoy the rest of this beautiful island.

Art in Williamstad, Curacao.
Art in Williamstad, Curacao.

Number 3: Willemstad, Curacao

What a lovely little town this is!  A UNESCO World Heritage Site (as is Old San Juan, by the way), Willemstad has wonderful architecture, and offers you a variety of sights, shops and restaurants.  It’s really worth strolling around and you could easily spend the morning, have a bite of lunch, and then stroll back to the ship.

The two districts that make up Williamstad, Punda and Otrobanda, are connected by two bridges: one is a pontoon bridge you can walk across – unless it has been removed temporarily to let a boat pass.  Watching the bridge come back together as you sit in a waterfront café sipping an early morning beer is a terrific way to enjoy your port visit!

Number 2: St. John’s, Antigua

Enjoying St. John's, Antigua
Enjoying St. John’s, Antigua

Maybe it was because Art is from St. John’s, Newfoundland that this little city resonated with us so quickly, but for whatever reason, it’s a terrific place to stroll around.

We’ve visited this from a cruise ship as a port visit, but we have also spent a vacation on the island of Antigua (which we highly recommend) and had an opportunity to get to know this town.

Whenever we visit St. John’s we go immediately to The Goldsmitty on Redcliff Quay, a jewelry store that stocks only the unique creations of jewelry artist Hans Smit.  Patty owns several of his creations and we’ll return on our next visit as well. The second store not to be missed is Sunseekers on Heritage Quay.  They claim to have the largest selection of swim wear in the Caribbean, and we believe it!  More than that, the service is wonderful.  The sales staff will search out bathing suits to suit every body.  If you need a new swim suit, wait until you reach Antigua to buy it!

Number 1: Phillipsburg, St. Maarten

You can't get lost making your way from the ship into Phillipsburg.  Patty points the way.
You can’t get lost making your way from the ship into Phillipsburg. Patty points the way.

We love Phillipsburg.  Stroll off the ship and along the cruise ship terminal.  Don’t bother with a taxi: it’s a nice ten-minute walk into town.  Follow the signs to the boardwalk and when you emerge into downtown, you’ll be on a beach!  The town has done a terrific job of developing this board walk along which you’ll find an array of shops and fun restaurants.

Take a walk to the very end; if you’re beach people, you can rent a chair and umbrella with a bucket of beer and watch the waves.  If you’re shopper, walk to the end of the board walk and then take one of the alley-ways (well-marked) to the next street and walk along it all the way back to the end where you started.  This is where the duty-free shops are located.

Many cruise ship passengers never eat off the ship.  It seems they feel that since the paid for their meals, why eat anywhere else?  Well, because you may miss something wonderful.  If you’re interested in a light lunch, try The Greenhouse near the beginning of the boardwalk.  If you are a bit more discerning and want a really lovely experience, walk a bit further along to the Ocean Lounge at the   Holland House Beach Hotel that opens right onto the board walk.  You’ll have a

The boardwalk on the beach, Phillipsberg
The boardwalk on the beach, Phillipsburg

table with a view, wonderful professional service and a meal to remember.

Ah, it’s so wonderful to think back on all the great experiences we’ve had.  We haven’t decided on a destination for that winter vacation yet – we’re already booked on a European river cruise for April, but we’re exploring.  Where are you going to escape the winter weather for a few weeks?

Caviar & champagne on a beach? A cruise experience not to be missed

Champagne in the surf?  Even better with a bit of caviar!
Champagne in the surf? Even better with a bit of caviar!

The promotional DVD was impressive: a group of white-uniformed ship’s employees standing waist-deep in sparkling water just off a beach on some unnamed tropical paradise.  Smiling, they offered caviar and champagne flutes to the beautiful people.  What kind of gimmick is that, we wondered? But, when we booked our Seabourn cruise of Caribbean yacht harbors, we were determined that we’d find out.  And we did.

The day began as we anchored off Prickly Pear Island in the British Virgin Islands.  It was a spectacular day with calm seas and brilliant sunshine.  We are not usually the type of travelers who like to spend entire days on a beach, reading, sunning and drinking.  In fact, our plan for that day had been to stay on board the ship until near noon, then to take the tender ashore just in time for the caviar ‘thing’ and the beach barbeque.  The thought of a beach barbeque and eating a hamburger in the sand wasn’t very enticing, but we thought we’d like to experience the event for ourselves.  Oh how wrong our preconceived ideas can be!

We made our way into the lounge where passengers awaited the tenders, just to see how things were going.  It was about 10:30 am and according to the crew members there, the preparations had all been made, crew had taken over to the island all of the trappings needed for the day, and we were free to go ashore.  Never wishing to wait in crowded lounges for anything, we looked around, saw nobody and quickly scooted back to our suite to change into bathing suits and gather beach accoutrements.

caviar 2Within minutes we were aboard the tender making our way toward the beach.  As we arrived on the pier, we could see the grass hut where several hundred fluffy white towels had been individually rolled and stacked earlier by crew for the arriving guests.  A young crew member approached us and offered water or fruit punch.  We noticed that there were only a very few people who had evidently made it on to the first guest tender ashore before us – and this, despite the fact we thought the place would be mobbed.  Silly us!  With only 200 passengers on board in total, mobs were simply out of the question.  And it must be noted that this is a deserted island, save for the beach bar and grill that was commandeered by Seabourn for the day.  There was no one else there.

We made ourselves comfortable on lounge chairs mere feet from the lapping waves, and settled the umbrella so that we could have some shade.  Then the beach service began.  Barefoot bar servers from the ship, today in casual uniforms, delightedly served frozen drinks – any kind you want, as many as you want.  After sipping a frozen margarita, we explored the beach and discovered something wonderful.

The captain and crew of the Seabourn Spirit bringing champagne and caviar from the ship.
The captain and crew of the Seabourn Spirit bringing champagne and caviar from the ship.

There were to be not hamburgers eaten in lounge chairs.  No, Seabourn had something completely different in mind for its discerning travelers.  They had brought china, silverware, table cloths from the ship and had set up an open-air dining facility.  And on the menu was a vast array of barbequed pork, shrimp, and beef…too much food to even imagine.  Then there were the sides, salads, desserts – all brought from the ship that morning by hard-working crew members.

Late in the morning, the water sports activities were live. We spent some time enjoying the island from the water in a paddle boat and later Art water-skied.  All of these activities enjoyed while under the watchful eye of the two crew members aboard the fast rescue craft that floated unobtrusively offshore the whole day.

At around noon, the chef from the ship, accompanied by several of his bar staff took up striped sun umbrellas and waded into the water.  Shortly after, a rubber dinghy, driven by the ship’s captain (!) left the ship making its way toward the beach – they were bringing the caviar and champagne.  And so, we were served caviar by the chef himself while the bar staff happily opened bottle after bottle of wonderful champagne that the guests delightedly imbibed as they waded out of the water to the clicking of a hundred camera shutters.  What impressed us most is that the crew members all seemed to be having as much fun as the guests – they never gave the slightest hint that they felt it was work.

Chef opens the first bottle of champagne.
Chef opens the first bottle of champagne.

After this impressive hors d’oeuvre we took up plates and made our way through the buffet.  We had a wonderful lunch, not hunched over on a beach chair as feared; rather we ate at a white linen-topped table in the shade with a friendly American couple from the New York area, while sipping on a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc.

We were among the last guests to leave the island that day!  So, was the promotional DVD honest?  Absolutely – except for the champagne flutes.  No glass was actually permitted – you’ll have to watch our video to see…or you can just book a Seabourn Caribbean cruise and see for yourself!  Happy cruising!