Cruising the Eastern Caribbean

Lisa Fritscher December 13, 2010 1 Comment

Carnival Glory Cruise Ship Port

That's one big cruise ship!

Cruising is a wonderful way to introduce your kids to international travel. You only have to unpack once, and you can relax and enjoy yourselves while others take care of everything from cooking your meals to cleaning your room. My Cruises for Families article is filled with tips for parents considering a cruise with their children. In 2008, my family took a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean on the Carnival Glory.

The Ship

Carnival Glory Cruise Ship

The Carnival Glory in port

The Carnival Glory was breathtaking. Although some people do not care for the “Vegas glitz” décor scheme that Carnival uses, I just love the soaring atrium, glass elevators and sparkling lights. Carnival has long been one of our favorite cruise lines, and the Glory lived up to our high expectations. Unfortunately, we were running late and nearly missed the ship! At the time, we lived about three hours from the port. I always recommend that people spend the night before a cruise in a nearby hotel, but for some reason we didn’t take our own advice. Thanks to construction traffic and other hurdles, we arrived at the port with less than 30 minutes to spare. All of the shoreside staff members were very nice, and helped us rush through check-in procedures in time to board the ship.

Once we were finally on board, we had just enough time to check out our cabin and grab some quick lunch at the Welcome Aboard buffet before the mandatory lifeboat drill. The drill was short, and almost before we knew it, the cruise was underway. We found a spot on deck, where the party was in full swing. Sailaway is a big deal, so make sure you are outside.

Dinner is one of our favorite parts of any cruise. We always ask for late seating (around 8:15 p.m.) and a large table. We were seated on the main floor at a table for eight. Our tablemates were very nice and we hit it off well, but we had the impression that they were somewhat conservative. That notion was blown out the window on formal night, though. One of the men arrived wearing a jacket and tie, stating that his wife insisted that he should make the effort. Once we had all seen him, he proceeded to remove the jacket and tie, telling us that he had to be comfortable to eat. We all laughed, and one by one every guy at the table removed their ties and jackets! It was fun and perfectly appropriate.

Nassau, Bahamas

Pirate Museum Nassau Bahamas

The interactive Pirate Museum in Nassau, Bahamas

We’ve been to the Bahamas several times, so we decided not to sign up for any major shore excursions. Instead, we opted for a bus tour of the city and a return trip to the Pirate Museum. If your kids are into pirates at all, do not miss this museum! It’s a fun walk-through of a port town and pirate ship, with plenty of interactive displays and photo opportunities. The bus tour was a lot of fun as well, and taught us some things we didn’t know about the city’s history. Make sure you leave some time in your schedule for shopping at the Straw Market, and be prepared to haggle on prices. Dad has long hair and a beard, and all the salespeople kept calling him Jesus (or Bob Marley, oddly enough!).

St. Thomas, USVI

St. Thomas Port

I was stunned by the beauty of St. Thomas

There’s some history behind our trip to St. Thomas. My dad visited back in the late 1970s, when he was in the Navy. While he was there, he bought some items at a small shop called Mr. Tablecloth. Now, he was so smitten with that particular shop that he never stopped talking about it. One day, he was going to show me Mr. Tablecloth. So of course Mr. Tablecloth was at the very top of our to-do list in St. Thomas. However, there was also a long list of shore excursions that we wanted to do. So we booked an extremely packed day in St. Thomas.

When we stepped off the ship, my jaw hit the ground. My absolute favorite city in the world is New Orleans, but I also adore small beach towns. St. Thomas was both. From the architecture to the people to the laid-back energy, I was completely smitten. I still don’t understand why Dad never told me about the REST of St. Thomas, beyond Mr. Tablecloth.

First up was the Pirate boat. It was advertised as a combination water taxi and history tour on a small boat. We didn’t have a lot of time before our next planned adventure, but we had all-day passes for the Pirate boat, so we headed over. It was so much fun! We were the only ones on the boat, so the driver gave us an abbreviated harbor tour and assured us we could get the full tour when we came back. I just love small boats, and it was great to chat with the locals.

On the way to our next scheduled excursion, we were waylaid by a time share rep. I’m sure you’ve seen these guys; they stop you on the street to offer you a gift for sitting through a presentation. We didn’t have a lot of time, but something made me stop anyway. While talking to the rep, it came out that we were from New Orleans and had relocated after Hurricane Katrina. When we showed up to the presentation, it turned out that the manager was also from New Orleans. Rather than make us sit through the talk, he handed us our prize (a free 3 day/2 night vacation) and sent us on our way! He was a very nice guy.

St. Thomas Submarine Tour

We sat down on the floor of the Caribbean Sea

Back on the street, it was time for our next excursion–a submarine tour! I was extremely excited for this one, and it did not disappoint. We actually dropped to the sea floor and sat there for a few minutes watching the sea life go by as Yellow Submarine played over the loudspeaker. A few people got nervous when the song switched to the Jaws theme, but we saw only one small shark.

We finally made it to Mr. Tablecloth, and it really was a neat store. I bought a hand crocheted white dress, and we picked up a new tablecloth. The sales staff was friendly, prices were staggeringly low, and the sheer amount of inventory was mind boggling. After our shopping stop, we headed back to the Pirate boat, where a young, very cute guide let me drive the boat through the harbor! It was such a quintessential Caribbean moment.

Paradise Point St. Thomas

Overlooking the Glory from Paradise Point

We finished up the day at Paradise Point. It’s a tramway up the mountain directly across from the cruise terminal. There are shops and restaurants at the top, generally with at least one live musician playing. Our cruise director had warned us not to get distracted and lose track of time at Paradise Point, but we did exactly that! So did a bunch of other people, though. We all piled onto the tram to go down and rushed back to the ship. Dad uses a cane when he’s not on his travel scooter, so we weren’t able to go too fast. We made it on board with a couple hot on our heels. As soon as they were on, the gangway snapped shut and the ship departed! Talk about cutting it close!

St. Maarten

St. Maarten (aka St. Martin) was just a lot of fun. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos that day because we didn’t have a waterproof camera. Our big adventure in St. Maarten was a short version of the America’s Cup Regatta! They divide the crowd into two groups and take everyone out on boats that have actually participated in the regatta.

Each boat has a crew of three professionals, but everyone on the tour is assigned a job. I took “medium duty,” which involved turning a winch to move one of the sails. Dad took “light duty,” which involved passing out canned beverages to everyone and working the stopwatch at the beginning and end of the race! Kids are welcome if accompanied by their parents, and the tour is suitable for the disabled, provided you can hang on to a rope with at least one hand. Our captain knew more dirty tricks than the other captain, so our team won the race!

After the tour, I had to get a bit of work done, as I was on a deadline. So we jumped on a water taxi to downtown, where we located a library. It was a challenge to figure out the French keyboard, but I managed to get my work done on time. By that point it was pretty late, so we wandered through the waterfront and headed back to the ship.

What We Learned

Virgin Islands Heat

Even in this outfit, I was boiling hot

The Caribbean in August is hot. I know that should go without saying, but we’re from the South. We’re used to summer heat. But that much further south, it was the kind of hot and humid where you step outside and are instantly soaked in sweat. Dress in thin, light-colored clothing and carry plenty of water. The ships generally sell big bottles on the gangway. They’re expensive, but worth every penny. If you need to buy water in port, pick it up from an actual store. There are rumors that some of the water stands actually refill bottles from a hose and pass them off as “bottled water.” Whether or not that’s true, it’s not worth taking a chance. There are plenty of grocery stores and convenience stores in every port.

St. Thomas Virgin Islands

We were out on a small boat off St. Thomas

Cruise ship Shore Excursion desks are great sources of information for average, healthy young adults. But they are generally unaware of whether kids, people outside traditional height and weight categories, and disabled people are able to participate in a specific tour. For instance, the America’s Cup Regatta excursion was listed as moderately strenuous. Due to his health limitations, Dad nearly didn’t sign up. As it turns out, even those in a wheelchair can be accommodated with advance notice. If you want to participate in a specific activity, a bit of internet research can usually provide the name of the tour provider. Call or email the company directly with any questions you might have.

The Eastern Caribbean is a fantastic itinerary for families of all ages. Filled with history and culture, reasonably safe and generally clean, the ports truly offer something for everyone. Meanwhile, the cruise experience softens some of the edges of international travel, allowing your family to maintain your daily routine.

avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

Tags: , Reviews, Travel Excursions
One Comments to “Cruising the Eastern Caribbean”
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