Spring break is over and my 7-day cruise through the Caribbean has come and gone. So, how was the trip? Nothing less than stellar. If you are thinking about a Caribbean cruise, the Jewel of the Seas has a really cool itinerary and staff. The first vacation for 2017 began in planning last year after a group of friends and colleagues threw out the idea of a spring break cruise. What was suppose to be a group trip of educators venturing on another cruise turned out to be an intimate vacation with just my boyfriend and me. And quite frankly, I wouldn't have had it any other way.
The decision was made early on to travel to Puerto Rico to cruise on the Jewel of the Seas, which was porting at six Caribbean islands. The biggest challenge in planning was finding decent flights from Texas to Puerto Rico during the week of spring break. With the help of my boyfriend, we made the decision to fly out from Washington D. C. and take a direct flight back to Dallas on the following Monday. To my surprise, when I arrived at the airport, I found that I was sitting in seat 1A to D. C. and 2A to Puerto Rico. Yep! First class the entire trip!
When we arrived in Puerto Rico, we caught a taxi to a quaint little eatery for brunch before heading out to board the cruise ship. I have to admit that I had once said I would never take another 7-day cruise because I didn't like being out at sea so long, but with a nice stateroom, numerous port of calls, and fully planned excursions with the love, I was able to enjoy this cruise and now look forward to the next. The Jewel of the Seas is just EXQUISITE! The ship offers outside and inside pools and hot tubs, a children's area, a running track, miniature golf, rock climbing, a basketball court, a gym, and multiple restaurants.
The crew was extremely courteous and service was wonderful. Dinner on night one was reserved at Tides, the general dining hall. We were discouraged from eating here by crew, surprisingly, because of the long lines, but on night one, the lines were not bad and dinner was tasty. None of the activities for the night really intrigued us, so we decided to walk the ship and take in a windy stroll before retiring for the night.
Saint Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands
The first stop, Day 1, for the cruise was St. Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands. We arranged our excursions through TripAdvisor and Viator prior to cruising. On some stops this was a little tricky because most of the vendors and guides at the ports were associated with the ship's excursions. So, we would sometimes have to search for our guide. This was one of those days. There was no set transportation arranged from the port to the resort, so we caught a taxi. For today's excursion, we chose to spend the day at Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort. Though the ride was some 30 minutes from the port, the views were spectacular and the service was phenomenal. If you desire some quiet, intimate time, this resort is a good choice.
Each day the ship arrived at port at 8 am. It took about 30 minutes to be cleared to debark. Most stops required us to be back on the ship by 4:30 pm and the ship pulled out at 5:00 pm. Being on the ship, allowed us to capture magnificent views of the island.
After returning aboard each day, we would go to the deck to catch the music and watch the dancing and events before setting sail. This was usually the liveliest time on the ship. We would then grab a sit and drink and take a nap out on deck 12 before dinner.
Monday night was the first of two formal nights on the ship. We chose to have dinner in Tides. It is recommended that you make a reservation, although we couldn't tell what good it did because anyone without a reservation that arrived before us was serviced in the order we arrived causing us to be seated often well past our reservation time. So, if you eat in this general dining area, be prepared to wait. The lines can get long, and for the first formal night, the lines were indeed long. Like the first night, service was nice and dinner was delicious, but when we went back later in the week, the quality was definitely not the same. My recommendation is to spend a little more on a dinner plan and visit the specialty restaurants for dinner.
Basseterre, Saint Kitts
Day two's stop was at the port of Basseterre, St. Kitts. We originally thought our excursion for the day began at 8:30 am, but after walking out and meeting the guide, we found that we were in the second group. Booking through the cruise ship is easier and more convenient once you are at the port, but not all excursions are available through the ship. Although some excursions are listed on the ships itinerary page on the website, there is a larger variety on the ship. I also noticed that pricing varies with some excursions actually cheaper if booked on the ship.
While waiting on our 10:00 am excursion, we took the time to explore the people and culture of the island. The two hour wait provided time for us to visit a museum of the country's history as well as walk the city.
During our stroll, we visited a museum to learn more about the history of St. Kitts. As we talked with the curator, we learned about the politics and economics of the island. We also learned about the history and influence of slavery. In addition to the rich history about slavery, her commentary about Christopher Columbus, who has been removed from history books as the "discoverer" of the islands, was truly intriguing. You cannot claim an island already inhabited nor do so just by looking at, never setting foot, on the land.
Poverty was undeniable as we strolled the streets, but we felt safe and were told that crime is low. However, as we walked to and from the port, we were bombarded by islanders offering us a taxi, selling us jewelry, or an opportunity to play with the monkeys...any way to make a dollar. Though overwhelming, I appreciated the hustle. So, we paid $10 to the trainer to spend some time with Jack, and he was the most adorable little thing.
Our excursion for the day was an ATV ride through the mountains. We met up with our driver and group around 10 am back outside the port's gates, hopped into an air conditioned van, and headed to the mountains. The ride was scenic, giving us a view of villages, mountains, and sea. We rode up to this little hut in a colorful village to be greeted by our young tour guides, Manners and Kevin, who were very hospitable and charming. After our quick training and the signing of waivers, we jumped on our ATVs and headed through the dusty, winding roads, up the mountain where the views were simply phenomenal. Make sure to bring sunglasses. Goggles are not included. I forgot mine on the ship, but Manners was kind enough to grab me some goggles.
The beautiful volcano, Mount Liamuiga.
Mount Liamuiga is a 3,792-foot (1,156 m) stratovolcano which forms the western part of the island of Saint Kitts. The peak is the highest point on the island of Saint Kitts, in the federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, and in the entire British Leeward Islands, as well as one of the tallest peaks in the eastern Caribbean archipelago. The peak is topped by a 0.6-mile (1 km) wide summit crater, which contained a shallow crater lake until 1959. As of 2006, the crater lake had re-formed. The last verified eruptions from the volcano were about 1,800 years ago, while reports of possible eruptions in 1692 and 1843 are considered uncertain.
Mount Liamuiga was formerly named Mount Misery. The renaming took place on the date of St. Kitts' independence, September 19, 1983. However, many older citizens still refer to it as Mount Misery. The name Liamuiga is derived from the Kalinago name for the entire island of St. Kitts, which means, "fertile land."
The mountain sides are covered in farmland and small villages up to the 1,500-foot (460 m) height, after which lush tropical rainforests drape the slopes until cloud forest takes over at 3,000 ft (900 m). Many tours and guided hikes are organized to the peak's summit and surrounding rainforests, usually starting from Belmont Estate in the village of St. Paul's. From the summit, the views are outstanding, including the entire island and the beautiful Caribbean Sea, as well as the neighbouring islands of Saba, Statia, St. Barths, St. Martin, Antigua, and Nevis. Wikipedia
One of our stops was at an old sugar cane plantation and ground zero for the start of the region's African slave trade. Both the top and bottom pictures show the views.
On the way back to the village, I had the privilege of leading the pack. Being that heading up, I truly couldn't get my speed up due to an elderly couple in front of me, I finally had the opportunity to get the rush I was seeking and it was worth the wait. Manners would look back and smile as he sped away and saw I was right behind him. In this picture, you see our guide, Kevin, who manned the back of the group.
We ended the excursion by washing up, grabbing something to drink, and taking a ride back down the mountain jamming to Bob Marley. Definitely an excursion worth every penny if you are a thrill seeker and nature lover.
Back on the cruise ship at 4:00 pm, we showered and enjoyed a little relaxation. My one disappointment about the ship was a lack of activities or free entertainment available most days on the ship. There just wasn't much to do if you didn't want to continue to lie out by the pool or spend money in the casino.
For dinner, we went to Izumi for sushi. Definitely a must! This restaurant is not part of the general dining, but rather a specialty restaurant that offers less crowds and food cooked to order. It was wonderful and we were glad to have chosen to go here two of our seven nights on the cruise. A bit pricey, but definitely a wonderful date night.
Saint John's, Antigua
On day three of the cruise, we ported in St. John's, Antigua. Like St. Kitts, we took a walk around the city and visited a museum to learn more about the history of the people. On each island, there was no mistaking their political views and here was no different as one of the mountains has been renamed Mount Obama after President Barack Obama.
We must have been asked a thousand times if we needed a taxi during our walk. So do not worry about transportation. Here is my warning. If the goal is to walk around and enjoy local life from the port, make sure to pack away beach towels. Seeing them, we had locals telling us what we needed to be doing and where we needed to be going, which sometimes interrupted the sight-seeing. The driver we finally chose was AWESOME! Not only did he take us to our beach destination, he also scheduled the time to come pick us up. We paid him once we returned to the port.
When planning each day, I wanted to make sure not to tire myself out, but rather rest while getting in a little culture and adventure. Today was a second beach day to relax and do absolutely nothing. To accomplish this mission, we chose Dickenson Bay where Sandals Resort is located.
For some reason, when I hear the name St. John's, I picture clear, blue water and white boats. So, when I got to the beach and actually saw what I pictured, it was definitely a picture moment. We rested here for a few hours and also grabbed lunch. The customer service was slow, but the food was good.
Castries, Saint Lucia
Day four we ported in Castries, St. Lucia, met our tour guide at 8:30 am, and immediately began an hour and a half journey through the island. We stopped by a church in the city of Castries before heading to Sulfur Springs, stopping at local vendors along the side road to sample banana ketchup, banana barbecue, and various rums before taking a tour through one of the villages in Soufriere, Saint Lucia on our way to Piton. The banana dishes were absolutely delicious! I am use to bananas overpowering dishes, but the banana taste was very faint, if noticeable at all, in any of the food and drinks we tried. Banana ketchup and barbecue...AWESOME! The rums...SUPERB!
A country with no monkeys, the banana industry is an important part of St. Lucia's economy. What I found intriguing is that none of the plantations are owned by corporations, but rather individual citizens to help every citizen make their own living. Each tree only produces one harvest of banana, but as nature would have it, it produces off-spring that continues the process. Bananas in St. Lucia are only exported to The United Kingdom.
On our way to the drive in volcano, we stopped frequently to not only be treated to local fruit, rum, and treats, but also to capture to beauty of the island.
The Pitons are two mountainous volcanic plugs, volcanic spires, located in Saint Lucia. The Gros Piton is 2,530 ft high, and the Petit Piton is 2,438 ft high; they are linked by the Piton Mitan ridge. The Pitons are a World Heritage Site 7,190 acres in size and located near the town of Soufrière.
Know that if you decide to take this excursion, it is a tourist hot spot. There were a lot of people waiting. But if you do decide to experience the mud bath, you will not be disappointed.
Sulphur Springs is the "world's only drive in volcano"; it is located in Saint Lucia towards the southwestern side of the island, near Soufrière (French for Sulfur). The creation of the sulfur springs, came from a weak spot in the crust of the enormous collapsed crater creating an upheaval of lava 410,000 years ago. The water located at the center of the springs boils at roughly 340 Fahrenheit (170 Celsius) creating large plumes of steam. The water coming out of the spring is blackened by a chemical reaction between the high content of sulfur and iron. The spring water also contains large deposits of copper, iron oxide, alkaline lead, calcium oxide, and carbon.
Also, the water is HOT! The first step was shocking, but after a while, my body adjusted to temperature and I was able to enjoy the experience. My skin was so soft when I got out.
After the mud bath, we jumped back into the van and headed to the waterfall. There are multiple waterfalls. Our tour guide decided to take us to a less crowded location. After enjoying the cool water, we enjoyed the natural hot tub where you notice one of our companions on the excursion joined in the picture! Photobomb!!!
Once we were cleaned up and relaxed, we headed to the local's beach. This excursion came with lunch and we were offered two choices: chicken or the fish of the day. We chose the fish. The fish was extremely bony, but the meal was tasty.
Because this beach is not attached to a resort, it is not as clean as others we visited. In fact, some of our tour companions said they saw syringes along the beach hinting at a local drug problem. Glass was also visible in the grass, so shoes are recommended. Despite that, the water was clear and the beach offered a spot for those who dared to jump from cliffs into the water. The beach also provided a great view of Petit Piton.
Day five brought us to Bridgetown, Barbados. For this stop, I had arranged a walking tour of the city before we headed to Pirates Cove. Like the other islands, I felt a deep connection to the people and our ancestors. The locals were friendly and we were invited to attend carnival by multiple residents. The pier marked a drop off point during the slave trade and the first picture is one of the parliament buildings, which was in session.
An interesting fact about Barbados: The guide explained how Barbados was the first stop for slaves in the West Indies. She explained that those slaves who were mild tempered were sold here. As their behavior and temperament grew more aggressive, those slaves were kept on the ships and dispersed along the other islands based on their aggressiveness with the final stop being Jamaica for the most aggressive. As she explained this, I thought about the stories I'd heard about slaves who were sent to my home state of Mississippi where it is said that the most aggressive slaves in the United States were sent.
As part of the tour, we stopped at a cigar factory to see how cigars are made. It was an honor to have the women share with us the process.
We ended the tour at Pirate's Cove, which for me was the best beach visited. What I loved about the beach was that it was vibrant with music, live music, eateries, and plenty of beach chairs. There was an energy at Pirate's Cove that made the beach come to life. It is the locals' beach and a party area. It is also walking distance from the port.
Of all the beaches, this is the one where I could have stayed for two or three more hours.
Back on the ship, we showered and later dressed for the second formal night. We went back to Izumi to enjoy sushi. There were two other restaurants that we visited during the week, Giovanni's, which service was slow and food average, and Chops Grille, a steakhouse that was 5-stars. We then enjoyed the live music before retiring for the night. If you cruise the Jewel of the Seas and like sushi, definitely visit this spot. Oh, and you are welcomed to bring two of your own bottles of wine on the ship.
Day at Sea
Today was by far the best day on the ship. We woke up and ate breakfast at the usual spot, Windjammer cafe. By the way, the breakfast and lunch buffet are stellar and it offers a variety of selections.
We got in a little rock climbing...well, the beau did. I videotaped it and cheered him on as he quickly climbed to the top. We also enjoyed the parade of nations as so many were represented on the ship. Then, we explored the ship, caught the movie LaLa Land, and went out to the helipad that sees very few passengers.
The Jewel of the Seas is a great cruise to take. It not only goes through the Caribbean islands, but also crosses the Atlanta and cruises Europe and the Greek islands. I hope to take that cruise one day with my guy.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
For our last day of our trip, we stayed overnight at the Sheridan Old San Juan, which is located in the heart of the picturesque city and walking distance from the fortress.
One day was definitely not enough time to truly explore Puerto Rico. I must get to the rainforest to tour El Yunque Rainforest! I want to hike and swim in the waterfalls. I also want to enjoy the beaches and other spots that native Puerto Ricans have told me to visit. So, there will definitely be another trip here really soon.
So stay tuned...
XOXO The Sassy Pearl