Saturday, January 30, 2016

Carnival's 7-Day Southern Caribbean Cruise--Alluring Islands With A Connection to Charleston's Past

Petit Piton
Cruising south from Castries City, for a glimpse of the island's major attraction, the rugged cliff-lined coast of St Lucia was dotted here and there by stretches of secluded beaches overshadowed by thick droves of palm trees and dripping wet rainforest-covered mountains. Glistening in the equatorial sun, well positioned luxury resorts clung to the lush, rocky landscape for optimum views. We exchanged cutesy group poses and soaked in the natural beauty as the boat cut through the warm Caribbean waters and balmy breezes. Despite the rolling surf, I strategically positioned my bobbing camera to record each passing panorama.

After many snapshots and a couple of complimentary rum concoctions, the islands oldest town, Soufriere, came into view and not far beyond, the two volcanic spires of the Pitons--our first stop. From peak to surf, the steeper Petit Piton sharply descended from a dizzying height of 2,469 feet before disappearing into the surrounding arsenic blue waters to a depth of 3000 feet. Separated by Sugar Beach, the taller Gros Piton descended from a height of 2619 feet. The captain slowed the boat to a crawl. We humbly gazed upon its majesty and fantasized about diving from its rocky ledges. With first leg of our excursion accomplished, it was time to move on to our next stop--a sandy beach and a relaxing swim.

The preceding commentary described one of the memorable highlights of my first trip to the turquoise-wrapped islands of the Caribbean. An extra special trip because I spent it with my oldest daughter and a group of some thirty other spirited vacationers brought together by our cruise organizer and friend, Tony Colon of Tony's Travel Service. Initial destination was Old San Juan in Puerto Rico. Moored in its port, Carnival's 2974 passenger ship Liberty awaited our presence. For 7 days, we cruised around the sundrenched, rum soaked islands of the Southern Caribbean to five different ports-of-call: St. Thomas/St. John, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten, respectively. We were nurtured by an abundance of sunshine, caressed by warm tropical breezes, gently rocked by calm seas, soothed by the rhythmic sounds of the steel drum, and treated to an abundance of food, drink, and entertainment.

After a 20 minute drive from the airport through the busy, narrow streets of Old San Juan, we arrived at the terminal around 4:30 pm, Puerto Rico time. Docked nearby Carnival's drop-off point was a fully outfitted replica of a pirate ship--a tantalizing preview of what was yet to come. We checked in, received our sail and sign cards, and made the exhilarating walk to the gangway where we crossed over and through Liberty’s teak-trimmed entryway into its beautifully decorated Main Lobby. We located our cabin on Main Deck 2, went to Lido Deck for our first buffet dinner, returned to cabin to unpack our suitcases, hung out with fellow travelers, attended the safety meeting, back to Lido Deck and the RedFrog Rum Bar for a celebratory drink, and at 10 pm, stood on Panorama Deck to view the historic sights of Old San Juan as the ship gracefully exited the port and entered the open sea. Destination--the cosmopolitan island of St. Thomas/St John.

Day 2: St. Thomas/St. John. The Liberty eased into the port of Charlotte Amalie around 7 am. I was up early on Panorama Deck to watch the 110,000 ton steel behemoth gently make contact with the pier bumpers for a picture perfect docking. Our plan was to spend the day at Cinnamon Bay on John's Island. We didn't purchase the excursion on the ship, Tony nimbly negotiated transportation. We would take a tour bus to Redhoook Bay for $16 round trip, board a ferry to Cruz Bay on St. John for $12 round trip, and then take another tour bus to Cinnamon Bay for $8 round trip. The beach was picturesque, the water pure Caribbean, and offered terrific snorkeling for the hearty swimmers. We tossed the football and drank Carib beers (reminded me of a Corona).

Day 3: Fun Day At Sea. We hung out at the pool, watched drink mixing contests, played corn hole, sat in the hot tubs, and ate awesome burgers from Guys Burger Joint on Lido Deck--Liberty's onboard activities.

Day 4: Barbados. On this day, the group went two different directions. Some went to Harrison's Cave, but the majority of us purchased the 4 hour Jolly Roger Pirate Party Cruise and Snorkel for $69.99--this was the only excursion purchased on ship. It was a short transfer from the ship to 110 foot Jolly Roger pirate ship--not exactly a tall ship, no sails, but it did have a big ship's wheel. We snorkeled around a sunken ship and cruised the coast to a location to snorkel with sea turtles. Though I personally did not see a sea turtle, I did have a blast walking the plank for a twelve foot plunge into the warm Barbados waters. We partied like pirates, drank rum and Banks beer, danced on the upper deck, and made one water rescue--an over-enthusiastic partier did a face-plant overboard while dancing on the boat’s rail--courtesy a little shove.

Day 5: St Lucia. By far my favorite island, the scenery was dramatic and strikingly impressive. After fellow cruiser, Dane, skillfully haggled for a $25 boat excursion, we piled into the tour bus ($18 round trip) to the boat where we traveled the rugged coastline of St. Lucia to the island's number one attraction--The Pitons. After taking in the splendor and grandeur of the Pitons, we spent the rest of the excursion on one of the island's secluded beaches. Rum concoctions were served on board and I learned how to blow into a conch shell like a fog horn.

Day 6: St. Kitts. The ride ($20 round trip) to Cockleshell Bay at Reggae Beach Bar and Grill was filled with winding, steep hills and picturesque vistas--expensive homes and beautiful, emerald bays. The beach was crowded. "There is nothing free on the beach," the local beach attendant said in a typical island accent. Negotiating for a chair and umbrella for a large group was tricky, but Dane did his best--two chairs and an umbrella for $10. The snorkeling wasn't the best and the beach was narrow, but the view of the volcanic mountain on Nevis was spectacular. We played beach volley ball and drank $2 Caribs.

Day 7: St. Maarten. A beautiful tropical breeze greeted us in port. We secured a tour bus ($18 round trip) that would take us to the Pinel Island ferry at Orient Bay on the French side of St. Maarten. It was a pleasant ride through the small towns of the interior. The ferry was $8 round trip, which was a short ride over shallow waters. The beaches on Pinel Island had soft sand and marked off swimming areas. Two chairs and an umbrella was $15 for the day. The snorkeling was decent near the rocky shorelines outside the swimming areas. On the beach, the Karibuni Restaurant served excellent food and selections were made from your chairs and brought to you by beach attendants. We soaked in the warm, tropical sun and drank Presidente beer and Pina Coladas.

I have always said, "I am happy doing anything, along as I am doing something," and my cruise to the Southern Caribbean on Carnival's Liberty was something. It was well worth the $625 per person fee for an Ocean View cabin. The Liberty was nicely presented and graciously represented. The dinners were satisfying, the buffet filling, the shows entertaining, and the dining service top notch.

It was a wonderful 8 days spent with my daughter, revisiting old acquaintances, and forming new friendships. The group of fellow cruisers I had the pleasure of hanging out with, mostly young couples, were refreshingly open and exceedingly entertaining. My late seating dinner group were a pleasure to break bread and tilt a glass with. I partied like a pirate, drank rum like Captain Jack Sparrow, busted a move with our head server, participated in a dance-off, and succeeded at not embarrassing my daughter. For everything else I did, blame it on the Malbec.

St. Thomas/St. John Excursions
Barbados Excursions
St. Lucia Excursions
St. Kitts Excursions
St. Maarten Excursions

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