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Caribbean Islands – Cruising and Sightseeing

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By J. M. Bhandary, USA [ Published Date: July 24, 2010 ]

Click here for more photographs

Caribbean Sea and the islands are popular destinations for travels during the winter months for people living in colder areas in USA. Going on a cruise ship and seeing these places offers opportunities to see a number of islands while at the same time enjoying the fine hospitalites offered by the cruise ships. My wife and I had excellent experience travelling with Holland America Line (HAL) a few years ago in Alaska and based on those pleasant memories, we selected the same cruiseline for this trip also. Holland America is one among the many fine cruise lines that offer numerous sailings in the Caribbean Sea.



Map of Eastern Caribbean Islands


The cruise that we selected and booked, in its itinerary, covered several of the eastern Caribbean islands – St. Thomas, St. John, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and Puerto Rico. We started our journey from Fort Lauderdale, Florida from the Port Everglades cruise terminal. This cruise terminal is located on the intercoastal waterway just a few minutes from downtown Fort Lauderdale. This is the second busiest cruise terminal in the world. The day we departed seven other large ships also departed from the same terminal. Below is a picture showing the view from the cruise terminal – intercoastal waterway on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.


View from the Cruise ship terminal

As we were all settled in our ship (Eurodam of Holland America Line), we could see the “Oasis of the Seas”, currently the largest cruise ship in the world, leaving the port. This ship has the capacity for about 6,000 passengers and a crew of 2,100. It has 16 passenger decks and four retractable telescopic funnels. Total length is 1,187 feet. This ship was recently built in Turku, Finland, which is the hometown of my wife, and there was the hometown pride showing while watching this massive ship majestically gliding out of the waterway and into the ocean. There are pros and cons of sailing in various size ships. Ours is a midsize ship with 2,100 guests and a crew of 925.


Mega-Ship  "Oasis of the Seas"

US Virgin Islands - St. John and St. Thomas

These islands used to be under Danish control for about 250 years and in year 1917, United States purchased them from the Danes. Many of the streets still have Danish names and the driving is on the left side of the roads, where as in rest of the United States it is on the right side. These are very picturesque islands full of fine sandy beaches and coves, mountains lush with tropical greenery and flowers, and rich and diverse animal life. St. John is home to the Virgin Islands National park, a pristine Island National park, covering about two thirds of the entire island. Development is very well controlled under federal laws – the park protects tropical forests, pristine beaches and coral reefs. Some of the pictures below provide a sampling of the beauty of nature in these islands. St. Thomas has one of the best harbors and is a major cruiseship docking area in the Caribbean. Also, it is famous as a tourist mecca for jewelry and gift shopping.


Caneel Bay, St. John 


in St. John Island (US Virgin Islands) 


in St. John Island 


in St. John Island 


in St. John Island 


in St. John Island 


in St. Thomas Island 


in St. Thomas, ship docking, "Snug as a bug in a rug" 


St. Thomas cruise ship major harbor 

Island of Puerto Rico (Port of Riches)

As the Cruise ship approached Puerto Rico harbor, it passes fairly close to the El Morro Fort (picture below). This is an impressive and imposing sight. The six level citadel rises 140 feet above the sea, and its 18 –foot thick wall would be an impenetrable shield against any canon fire. Caribbean was known for waves and waves of attacks from various European nations as well as numerous pirates. Christopher Columbus discovered Puerto Rico in 1493 during his second voyage looking for gold, spice and other riches for the Spanish kings. Spain ruled Puerto Rico until 1898 for almost 400 years, at which time this island became part of the United States.

A visit to the historic San Juan National History Museum is very interesting and a great way to appreciate the history of this island as well as the general history of the Caribbean. Some of the common things to all the islands are the history of wars among Spanish, French, Dutch and the English . They fought for controlling the natural resources, lucrative slave trade, rich sugar plantations and mills, flourishing rum business (started as a by product of sugar mills). Caribbean also has a colorful history of  pirates. San Juan’s old town is a charming reflection of old Spanish architecture with cobblestone narrow city streets.  There are several plazas that we visited that reminded us of strong European influences.


Approaching Puerto Rico…view of the Fort 


San Juan, Puerto Rico….Christopher Columbus plaza 


View from inside the Fort 


A street scene in  Old Town, San Juan 


Cruise ships in harbor in Puerto Rico 

Grand Turk Islands

Small, idyllic and gorgeous beaches and not many other tourist attractions here. Beaches are unspoiled and pretty much empty of gift stores and eateries. Seashore is packed with peach colored sand and also full of huge conch shells. We saw some shells that may be over 10 lbs. each.  There are plenty of shells of many kinds washing ashore all the time.  France and Spain fought for control of these islands for a few centuries, but Britain ultimately succeeded and is ruling ever since.  During the pirate years, among the most notorious pirates, “ Calico Jack”, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read were long time residents here.


Sea shore in Grand Turk 


Eurodam (ship that we just got out of) in Grand Turk 

Cruising - General

The hospitality offered every day while on the ship (you do spend some days entirely in the ship while cruising) is outstanding. The HAL staff is primarily from Indonesia and Philippines. They are extremely, polite, friendly, attentive and caring. That is among the best memories of this travel experience.


Culinary expertise on  board..Dessert Extravaganza 


More Dessert Extravaganza 

Some Commonly used Cruising Terms:

KNOT - The primary unit of speed, equal to one nautical mile (NM) per hour
         = 1.15 land miles per hour = 1.85 Kilometers per hour

AFT  - towards the back, rear or stern of a ship.
BOW - The forward most part of a ship.
PORT SIDE - The left side of the ship when facing forward.
STARBOARD SIDE - The right side of the ship when facing forward.
GROSS REGISTERED TON  (GRT) - A measure of the ship's volume. The measure is equal to one hundred cubic feet of space enclosed.

HULL - The frame and body of the ship exclusive of masts or superstructure.

POST-PANAMAX  - Refers to a generation of ships which are too wide to go through the Panama Canal (over 100,000 GRT) limiting them to the Caribbean, Atlantic and Europe.

Post-Panamax ships are also known as mega-ships. The “Oasis of the Seas” picture shown above belongs to this class. Cruise ship that we sailed on, Eurodam, HAL belongs to the Panamax class of ships. These are ships that can transit via the Panama Canal. These ships are less than 975ft in length and 108ft wide. Cruiseline industry and Ship builders are very knowledgeable of the Panamax standards, because being able to transit via Panama canal is big business. Panama Canal itself is going through major reconstruction and renovations to accommodate larger ships.  One among the fascinating sea journeys that is on the priority list for our future travels is that of cruising the Southern Caribbean and transiting from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean via the Panama Canal. The reality of these large ships being lifted up to 85 feet above sea level using the locks and gates system, and then cruising on the mountain lakes fed and replenished by rain water, then the ship stepping down in stages to the Pacific ocean is one among the great man made wonders of the modern world.

To all travelogue readers, my best wishes in your real world travels as well as armchair travelling. In the words of the pleasant Indonesian crew that
pampered us during the time we were on the cruise, "Salamat siang" meaning - Have a nice day. 

Click here for more photographs

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Cdr GP Mallya(retd), Korea:
Thanks to your suggestions in this columns, I could succesfully complete two cruises..one of Northern Europe Baltic capitals and other of Alaska. Thanks Bhandari maam for all the valuable suggestions and advice...they were very handy..
J M Bhandary, USA :
Hi Vijay Kumar,

Thanks for your comments. I agree with you that Kerala, Goa and Mangalore are wonderful places to travel and explore and relatively less expensive. There are many historic and scenic wonders all over India that are world class travel sites. My previous travelogue titled “Malenaadu to Mangalore”, explores and details many aspects of the beauty of our Ghats and the Coastal region. The article is still active on this website and the link is given below this particular article. My very first Travelogue article on this Website is on the Western Ghats. You may like to see these articles. In the Mangalorean.com Travelogue section, there are several other nice articles on travels in Goa , Kerala, Karnataka and other areas in India. As you also travel in India, please try to share your experiences on this website, which will encourage further travels to those places by the readers and their families. Having said these, I like to mention that appreciating ones own country and culture should not exclude any one from appreciating other countries, cultures and people. My thanks to this superb internet website, maintained by web-maestro Roshan DSouza and the Team Mangalorean for providing a wonderful gathering place for Mangaloreans in Mangalore as well as the ones who are spread all around the globe.
Vijay Kumar, USA, USA :
It's not worth visiting compared to the money spend. I have been to most of the caribbean I feel if one wants to enjoy a true holiday experience visit Kerala - God's own country, Goa or Mangalore.

The caribbean looks good only on photos and we Indians always want to praise when we visit foreign lands.

We need to encourage our kids to explore our country first eg the Taj and many more our country has to offer.
J M Bhandary, USA :
Hi Tina, Nelson, Shenoy, Mallya,

Thanks for your kind comments.

Tina,

In these cruises, while on shore there are no reasons for car rentals. Mostly ships are docked close to places with local activities. You can explore them by walking. You can also go in and out of the ship as many times as you like and is convenient to you. You can use the already paid excellent dining facilities on board by revisiting the ship and going back for more exploration and shopping etc to land.

Shore excursions are totally at your choice. There is no coercion. In some locations, you may find that these are great opportunities to enhance your travel experience, of course at additional costs. You can study your options well in advance before the cruise and then while you are on the ship and then make up your selections while you are sailing. I found them to be of reasonable price, good quality and safe . Moreover, you do not have to be concerned whether the excursion returns back for boarding the ship on time, since they are recognized and approved by your cruiseline.

Lot of passengers do not even get out of the ship while on port. They stay inside and enjoy the on board facilities.

Tipping; while you are on board you do not do any tipping. This way it is carefree. No calculation of 15 percent, 20percent etc.. At the end of the journey, in our case, there was a charge of 11 dollars per day per person to cover all tipping. This was known in advance and I found it be very reasonable.

Ships also promote special dining at extra cost as exclusive dining experience. I think it is a waste of your travel money, because you already have paid for excellent eating facilities and why go for the extra.

Please review your Cruiseline brochure. Every Cruiseline may have slightly different policy. You may also call them and clarify about any extra costs, just to make sure that you have a good feeling while on vacation and after you return. Generally speaking, Cruise vacations are high quality and good value. Hope this helps in your travel plans.
Nelson Lewis, Bahrain :
Dear Mr. J.M. Bhandary,

You article is fantastic and I would like to visit the Caribbean islands one day. I personally feel that these Caribbean islands are a rich man's Goa.

Moreover, your photography is simply breath-taking. If you wish to contact me, you could send an email on: rediffmail.com.

With best wishes,

Nelson Lewis
SHENOY R, India :
Is renting a car for a day to go around the islands a safe decision?
-Tina

Car rental companies will be delighted to rent you their car. Happy motoring.
Tina D'costa, USA :
Amazing travelogue Mr. Bhandary. It was full of useful information along with beautiful pictures. Especially the detailed explanation regarding the onshore excursions and "No-surprises" final bill amde my day!
My husband and I were planning on a cruise, but the extra expenses put it on hold... after readin your experience looks like we will embark on our cruise pretty soon...

Had a silly doubt though- Is it possible to simply stroll around the port and visit places on foot?
Is renting a car for a day to go around the islands a safe decision?
The excursions prove a bit expensive for people with a tight budget and renting a car looked more realistic when we were planning on the cruise...

could you shed some light on this!

Again, wonderful experience... and thanks for sharing the same!
Cdr GP Mallya (retd), Korea:
Thank you very much Mr. Bhandary for your preservance and explaining in detail each and every aspect of the cruising on board. I think all my apprehensions about cruising have evaporated now. Looking forwards to one in near future...
J M Bhandary, USA :
Jay.bhandary@gmail.com

1. Dear Sanjay,

Thanks for your comments and the kind invitation. May be someday we will visit Barbados, which is a popular vacation destination. It will be an extra thrill to visit a friendly Mangalorean family in a Caribbean island, on the opposite side of the world. Most importantly thanks to your offer of kind hospitality. Please send me your E-mail address for future reference.
My E- mail is
jay.bhandary@gmail.com

2. Dear GP Mallya,
Thanks for your kind comments and compliments. With your background in Navy and interests in traveling, you certainly would appreciate and enjoy Cruiseship travel. From your comments it looks like you already have quite a lot of information to make preliminary plans. I am attaching a few web links that could also be helpful in your planning process.

Some of my thoughts: a) on accommodations, no need to book the higher price suites. You are not going to be spending a lot of time inside the cabin. It is also good to avoid the cabins that are not open to the outside view from all sides. These are on the lower decks and are the inside cabins with walking hallways surrounding both sides. Please refer to the ship deck maps that are on their respective links to check this out. My rule is..not the cheapest ones, nor the higher priced suites.

b) On Shore excursions..no need to book in advance. Book while you are on board. There is plenty of time and availability. You may be amazed to see that a big proportion of the passengers don’t even get out of the ship while the ship is docked. Ships like to sell shore excursions in advance (of course, good business practice for them). But, if you are considering the Mega ships ( 4,000 to 5,000+ passengers) , this consideration may be different, since a larger number of passengers are going to get out at the same time. My own experience so far is with ships of 1,500 –1,800 passengers. Also, good to know that Shore excursions are available from other land based operators, not connected with the Cruiselines.


c) Only additional charges while on the ship are for alcohol, gift purchases, casinos, Spa, etc..…none for meals, coffee, tea, desserts, for use of gym, libraries,…...no tipping while on the ship …at the end of the cruise, for tipping, they charged us some nominal amount on a per day per passenger basis. We were informed of this before booking the cruise... There were hardly any surprises in the final bill.

d) final bill is delivered the previous night of final disembarkment for passengers review. Eventually, the charges come home on your credit card.

e) Visas are required where necessary. Please follow the guidelines. Ship link will have the details.

f) Communication to land is not easy..Internet charges are high. You may want to do additional research on this or plan in advance to curtail the need for ship to land communication.

NOW, with all these factors, Cruising on these wonderful Cruiselines is still one of the great modern day travel experience. If you compare the cost to land travel these are great bargains for similar quality products and services. You will be fascinated with the technology and at the efficiency of operations. My guess is that you may be spending some time in the Engine room and with the Captain and the Chief Engineer!!

Some helpful links:
There are numerous other similar links are available by Googling the topics or the names of the Cruiselines.

1.CondeNast Traveler Magazine
Cruiseship survey results..useful while selecting cruiseships
http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/articles/502255

2. Holland America Line Website
This site is for Holland America Line. Every cruiseline has similar site. That will provide most of the answers. A travel agent is also a good resource.

http://www.hollandamerica.com/main/Main.action

3. Latest Megaship “Epic” belonging to Norwegian Cruise Lines

http://www.epic.ncl.com

Hope this helps. If you would like to ask more questions or discuss further, please write to me to my above E- mail address.

I hope the other readers of this article also find the above comments useful.
Best wishes to all readers.

Note: If the links do not open, you may Google the topic in your own computer and get fresh links on your desk top and open them.
Cdr GP Mallya (retd), Korea:
I also request Mr. Bhandary to throw some light on the accommodation available on board with rough average pricing. My research shows that there are usually these types of accommodation...Inside, outside (ocean view through window), outside(with balcony) and suites and the prices go up accordingly. Average prices vary from minimum 800 to 2000 USD for a week cruise depending on class and ship. This fare consists of accommodation (air conditioned) all meals (in the designated restaurants) and all on board entertainment. However, additional costs for say coffee, tea, bottled water, meals in non designated restaurants, use of spa and sometimes gym and more important tips....for waiters, bell boy etc. Some companies even ask for gratuity at a fixed rate to be paid to the employees! I understand you have either deposit your passport or register your credit card and all these expenses are automatically charged to your account and this adds to a substantial amount....However, some liners like Norwegian Cruise lines (NCL) etc. offer all inclusive packages where everything is included in the package..Otherwise these extras amount to sometimes upto 30 to 40 percent of package cost!So while booking a cruise, dont go by what you see in advertisements, many companies later add a port tax also....Plus the shore excursions in each port if arranged by the cruise company will blow a big hole in your pocket since they are exorbitant and company insists you book them along with the cruise and caution that you cant book in once on the ship! Plus the visa requirements, for Indian passport holders need to be checked if you want to go ashore in these exotic locations. Otherwise you have to stay on the ship . Many nationals like US, UK and European countries dont need visas in these places. So for first time cruisers ...be careful and read the fine print...which I intend to in my first cruise, whenever it materializes...
J M Bhandary, USA :
Dear Shenoy, Chris, Judith, Shaly, Rajanikanth, Dots, Sudhir and Nelson,

I am glad that you enjoyed this article and the pictures of the islands. Thanks for your kind comments. Best wishes.
Sanjay Kini, Barbados :
Dear Mr Bhandary

Great travelogue. I love when people write about the Caribbean. I am a Konkani (incidently there are only 2 families) living in the island of Barbados. I am sorry that you did not make it to Barbados as I would have been pleased to take you and your family around. Hopefully, with your article, more people will visit this part of the world.

Sanjay Kini
Cdr GP Mallya (retd), Korea:
Another Master piece from Mr. Bhandary. He has brought his cruise experience in such vivid detail ...it feels like being there and experiencing it one self..the pics are superb and also the eye for detail...he has correctly described the nautical terms like port, starboard, knots which we use both in the Navy (where I served earlier) as well as in shipbuilding (where I am now) everyday. One correction is however called. Panamax ships are ships upto 112,000 DWT which can pass through Panama canal. Similarly ships upto 158,000 DWT which can pass through Suez Canal are called Suezmax. Very large Crude Carriers(VLCC) which are more than 3,00,000 DWT cant go through either and hence have to circumnavigate around Cape of Good Hope or South America....(DWT=Dead Weight Tons)...though I have spent considerable time at sea sailing to several countries on a warship...this Cruise ship experience is a different ball game...and I wish I play this one at the earliest...
Nelson Lewis, Bahrain :
Dear Mr. J.M. Bhandary,

A fantastic travelogue on your cruise to the Caribbean islands. The pictures are very good.

I am sure you must have had a fantastic time and returned back with fond memories of the people you met, the cultures you saw, exotic cuisine you tasted and many other things.

With regards,

Nelson Lewis
Sudhir Pai, USA :
Me and family did the cruise experience this summer and boy I'll tell u, it was the best vacation ever. We took the Carnival cruise to island of Bahamas and it enjoyed every moment of our trip. Honestly, this trip was way above our expectation and we plan to do it again next summer, Puerto Rica maybe ?
Thanks Bhandary mam for posting this article.
Keep cruising !!
Dots Rego, Chicago, USA :
Great travelogue, an excellent write-up and beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing your traveling experience with us Mr. Bhandary.
Cruises Fan, UK:
Thank you these great photos, I love cruising and there are loads of great cruise photos which I have added on http://www.Cruises.co.uk. Cant wait for our next cruise.
Kudpi Rajanikanth Shenoy, India :
Wonderful pics and article, Mr. Bhandary. Thanks for taking us on a virtual trip!
Shaly Pereira, India :
Simply Superb....both the write-up and the photographs.
Judith Serrao, UAE:
Hi Mr. Bhandary...always a pleasure to browse through your travelogues. Looks like you had a wonderful time. Keep traveling
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